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Hey, I get it. Nothing to be sorry about. Life is busy, especially at this time of year.

Sometimes I’m super jazzed about a book, but I don’t get to reading it for a while. Sometimes it takes a friend or two to remind me why I WANT to read it. Sometimes just a reminder email, and I go, “Oh, yeah! I’ve got that book! Let me open it right now!”

🙂 This can be any of those for you. No matter what, I want it to be EASY to read my books. Easy to find them on a variety of retailers, including libraries. Easy to find them in your country. Easy to read them anywhere you read – your phone, an eReader, on an app, in your web browser.

So if you have a few minutes, keep reading for the first couple of chapters of THE DAY HE LEFT TOWN – that free book you got a few weeks ago!

If you can’t remember where you got it, you should be able to find it inside the BookFunnel app, or perhaps you had BookFunnel send it to your device…

Either way, enjoy this beachy, heartwarming romance between high school sweethearts, Tony and Cat!

The Day He Left Town - Chapter One:

The Day He Left Town - Chapter One:

Anthony Herrin tossed in another bottle of water and whistled for his beagle to come in from the backyard. If he moved to Oregon for the fire marshal position, he’d probably have to leave Alfie here.

One of his brothers would take him, as they both adored dogs. Even his mom and stepfather would take Alfie.

Another wave of disquiet hit Tony, the youngest of the Herrin brothers. His oldest brother was the Chief of Police in their small beachside town of Hawthorne Harbor. Adam demanded and got respect from everyone, and it was well-deserved. Andrew had completed several trainings, paramedic medicine, fire safety, and others, and currently lived in Medina, where he served with the fire department there.

Tony had followed both of them into public service, and he had a post at Firehouse One here in town. Something nagged at him that he wasn’t meant to stay here, and he’d been applying to Forest Service jobs all over the Pacific Northwest.

When Alfie didn’t come inside, Tony moved over to the door and cracked it. “Alfred,” he bellowed. The beagle turned from the back fence and started sprinting toward him. He wore such a happy look on his little beagly face that Tony couldn’t stay angry at him for long.

“We’re going hiking today,” he told the dog as he leapt up the back steps. The tension in Tony’s shoulders softened with the arrival of the black, brown, and white dog. Alfie came right up to him and sat, and Tony crouched to give him a scrub.

“Hurricane Hill, boy,” he said. Sometimes he ran on the beach with his brother, but most of the time Tony took Alfie and headed into the National Park, the surrounding forests, and the local hikes. He didn’t mind being alone, as he’d spent four months in a twelve-by-twelve cabin with four walls of windows, looking for smoke. If he found it, he used a huge map in the middle of his house to locate the fire, and then he’d call it in.

He hadn’t been in the Forest Service for a decade, but he was trying to get back in. He picked up his pack and led the way toward the front door. He held it for Alfie, who bounded outside like they had a great adventure to get to.

Tony grinned at the dog, because perhaps they did. Several hikers had gotten lost on Hurricane Hill, and the emergency services department that coordinated efforts in Olympia National Park and the few surrounding towns hated the spring hiking challenges, as they had to send out crews to get people off Hurricane Hill every single year.

He’d personally hiked to the peak dozens of times, most of them alone. Most of what Tony did outside of the fire station, he did alone. He had a family in Hawthorne Harbor, but he’d always felt a couple of degrees away from them. His brothers at the station, however, had always provided that safe spot for him to be himself.

In fact, after he got behind the wheel of his shiny black pickup truck, he texted his two best friends on his fire crew: Alex Benson and Bennett Patterson. They both told him not to be late to Firehouse One, as Chief Carroll had sent out a mandated meeting for everyone at ten-thirty.

I got the message, Tony said, and then he dropped his phone into the cupholder and put his truck in reverse. He rolled down the window for Alfie and made the drive to the trailhead only a couple of miles inside Olympia National Park.

As he’d suspected, no other cars sat in the parking lot. It probably helped that today was Sunday, and most people had probably slept later than it was right now. Not only that, but now that summer had ended, Mother Nature blessed Hawthorne Harbor with rain most days.

Tony looked up into the sky, finding it half full of clouds. Not the kind that dumped rain, at least not yet. The weather here had a way of shifting quickly, with new currents and storms coming off the Pacific Ocean faster than the weathermen could predict them.

Today’s air held promise, and Tony took a deep breath of it. “Maybe today,” he said to himself, as Alfie had run ahead of him on the trail. What today maybe held, he wasn’t sure, but he had a good feeling about it.

He had two applications out right now. He’d interviewed for each of them twice, and he expected a call from Cameron Morgan any day now. He managed the hiring for the Emigrant Creek Ranger District, and Tony would love to have the superintendent fire control position for the Malheur National Forest.

He had the qualifications, and he’d love a change of scenery. Sometimes he loved his gypsy soul, and sometimes it created an itch beneath his skin he couldn’t scratch.

He realized he hadn’t seen Alfie for a while, and he whistled for the little dog to come back to him. Rustling in the brush met his ears among all the silence, and Alfie burst out onto the path several paces ahead of him. The dog always expressed his joy, and Tony would hate to leave him behind.

“Then don’t,” he told himself. “You don’t even have the job yet.” He kept putting one foot in front of the other, just as he’d been doing his whole life, and before he knew it, he reached the pinnacle of the peak.

The world opened up before him, with his sightline above the tops of the pine trees, the rocks, above everything. He spread his arms wide and turned in a full circle, drinking in the energy of the earth.

His mother hated it when he talked like that, but Tony didn’t know how else to explain it. The adrenaline from reaching the top always flowed through him like live electricity, and that felt like the energy of the earth. The sky. The water. All of it.

Tony loved it, and he’d always enjoyed spending his time outdoors. His brothers did too, and Adam had confessed to Tony a couple of weeks ago that the desk work his job required would probably suck the life right out of his soul one day.

He could admit he hadn’t spoken to Drew in a while, and Tony needed to be better about keeping up with his siblings. He’d always been somewhat of a lone wolf, and that got his thoughts moving to his last relationship.

A failed one, of course. Tony didn’t seem to have relationships with humans that lasted longer than a few months. Animals he could get along with great, and he’d had Alfie since Giselle had told him she didn’t even know him after they’d been seeing each other for four months.

You tell your friends more than you tell me.

He’d wondered at that for a while, and in the end, he’d decided she was right. Alex and Bennett did know more about what Tony wanted than she had. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t open up to a woman, only that it wasn’t the easiest thing for him.

He’d tried dating a couple of the women he worked with, but nobody had ignited any kind of spark inside him. He needed to feel that spark, and since he loved fire—or, rather, putting out fires—it felt appropriate to categorize his romantic relationships in terms of sparks, embers, and infernos.

He hadn’t had any of those roar through his life, and Tony wasn’t quite sure how to ignite one. His only saving grace for remaining single in his thirties—as if such a thing was gasp-worthy—was that both Drew and Adam were still single too. Their mother had given up her lectures about finding someone they could each settle down with.

Tony didn’t like putting himself in the same slot as “settling down,” and he didn’t know if that could ever happen.

“Maybe for the right woman,” he said, picking out a rock and perching on it, his eyes raking across the ocean in the distance. He loved the way it could look still from a distance and yet be in constant motion on the surface. Tony loved dynamic things that didn’t seem as dangerous as they really were—like fire. Like water.

Like love.

Alfie barked, drawing Tony’s attention. His dog rarely used his voice, and Tony got to his feet, instantly scanning the area up here on top of the peak. He didn’t hear anything but his own thoughts and the breeze drifting by. Nothing came out of the scrub brush, but Alfie trotted over to the trail where it went back down. He yapped again, and Tony took a couple of strides in that direction.

“What is it?” he asked as Alfie’s tail started to wave like a flag in a stiff breeze.

A figure appeared there, and it wasn’t a what at all. It was a who.

Tony froze as the woman came further into view with every step she took. She hiked alone too, and Tony’s heart started to pump like he’d done a run up to this peak. He did that sometimes, when he had a particularly frustrating experience he’d like to get out of his head.

His breath caught as he recognized the woman now bending down to pet his dog. His mind blanked even as a chuckle started down in his stomach. He had no idea what the universe was trying to tell him or how hard he should pay attention to it if it was speaking.

The woman rose, her blond hair all scraped back into a ponytail. It seemed like it wasn’t quite long enough to reach, but she’d used a thin, stretchy headband to make it comply. Her bright blue eyes sought out his, and when their gazes locked, Tony’s whole body froze at the same time heat licked through him.

Catherine Magleby smiled and stepped past Alfie. The little beagle had been utterly charmed by her in less than five seconds, as most living things were. Tony had been, once.

“Good morning, Tony,” she said as she approached.

Good morning? he thought. Really? She was going to lead with good morning after the way she’d dumped him a decade ago?

He shook his head, finally breaking their connection. He hid his smile. “Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.”

Daggers filled her expression, and she cocked that gorgeous, curvy hip. “Really? You’re going to go to that?”

“Tell me everyone around here doesn’t call you Cat, and I’ll apologize,” he shot back.

She couldn’t tell him that, and they both knew it. Just because Tony had been in and out of Hawthorne Harbor over the past several years didn’t mean he didn’t know the happenings in the town. Triumph filled him when Cat remained silent, but that only allowed his heart to start beating things at him about how he and Cat could possibly, maybe, kind of, perhaps have a second chance at the relationship they’d tried a decade ago.

The Day He Left Town - Chapter Two:

The Day He Left Town - Chapter Two:

Catherine Ashford couldn’t believe the single black truck in the trailhead parking lot belonged to Anthony Herrin.

Of course, everything in Cat’s life lately had been all of her failures blowing back into her face.

Tony Herrin was just another example, so she wasn’t sure why her fingers twitched toward him, toward that sexy beard he kept neat and trim, toward the breadth of his chest, toward stealing some body heat from him though the wind today hadn’t really taken a proper breath and started to blow yet.

“Everyone does call me Cat,” she said, conceding to him. The victory glint in his eyes turned into a full-blown beam. So he was still as arrogant as ever. Good to know. “What are you doing up here?”

“Contemplating my life?” he guessed, and some of Cat’s walls crumbled. She’d always had a soft spot for Tony, because they’d grown up together. Her, from one of the most well-known families in town, and him out on the lavender farm that won in the town’s festival every July.

They’d dated for the duration of their senior year, celebrated their diplomas together, and even gone to University of Washington for a year. He hadn’t stuck with college, choosing to move into training programs like his older brothers.

They’d tried to stay in touch, but Cat had met someone else, and she’d sent Tony a text to let him know.

A sharp stab of regret hit her between two upper ribs, where there wasn’t room for a blade. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him since. He hadn’t fought for her or their relationship. He’d moved to the wilds of Northern California and lived in a tiny cabin while he searched for wildfires, continued his firefighting training, and followed the whims of his spirit.

He’d been back in town for a couple of years, if her aunt Mabel was to be believed, and Cat did. Aunt Mabel knew everything that happened in Hawthorne Harbor, to everyone. She may be in her late sixties, but she hadn’t lost her touch at all.

“How long have you had him?” she asked, nodding toward the little dog. Tony didn’t seem like a small dog type of guy, and Cat reminded herself that a lot could change in ten or eleven years. How well he could grow facial hair certainly had.

The sexy smile sliding across his mouth had not, and a blast of heat struck her in the chest. Oh, she’d lost wars to that smile in the past, and Tony absolutely knew when to pull it out as his best weapon. She wondered how many women had fallen to their knees after that smile.

Or how many he’d kissed.

Her lips tingled, their cellular memory stronger than she’d given them credit for.

“About two years,” he said without moving a muscle. “How long have you been in town?”

She dropped into a crouch again, because then she could focus on the beagle and not her ex-boyfriend. “About three weeks.” Cat didn’t want to detail what had brought her back to town. She didn’t want to talk about her failed marriage that had driven her into her job as a field nurse for the Army, and she sure as heck would not talk about anything she’d endured overseas.

“Last I heard, you were working in what? Sudan?”

“Djibuoti,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t know where that was. No one did. She hadn’t when she’d been assigned to Camp Lemonnier.

“What?” he asked.

Cat straightened to her full height, which wasn’t as impressive as his. Still, for a woman, she had some height on her. “It’s on the horn of Africa,” she said. “Big military base there. I worked there as a field nurse for about seven years.” Her throat narrowed to the point she couldn’t speak anymore, and she didn’t want to. Tony didn’t need to know more than that.

“Wow, Africa,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t,” she said, well-aware of Tony’s restlessness.

He shrugged one shoulder and said nothing, his way of saying a whole lot. He hadn’t done—yet—what he wanted to do. His life wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t have to say it for Cat to feel it.

“What are you up here contemplating?” she asked, moving past him to the edge of the peak. The view of the ocean and the world beyond was why she’d come this morning.

“Do you really want to know?” he asked from behind her.

She didn’t turn to face him. Why not? she thought. “Sure,” came out of her mouth.

“I’ve got some job applications out,” he said, and that did make her turn. “I’m waiting to hear on them and slowly going insane. So I needed an escape this morning.” He tried to play it off as nothing, but Cat knew him better than that even if she hadn’t seen him for a while.

“Where did you apply?”

“The Forest Service,” he said, and dang if Cat didn’t have the biggest, most drowning wave of déjà vu.

“Wow,” she said. “Just like last time.”

A flash of surprise hit Tony, and then he laughed. “I suppose so, except we’re not dating and no one will miss me for a few weeks, then text to break up with me.”

Cat’s lungs stung her. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “I suppose I should’ve gone to California and hiked out to your remote post to tell you in person.”

Tony simply studied her, and Cat didn’t like the scrutiny. She’d had enough of that overseas, and since she’d been back in Hawthorne Harbor? The eyes existed everywhere, and they followed her into her nightmares.

“Are you on the firefighting crew here?” she asked, lifting her arms to hug herself though the temperature conditions hadn’t changed in the past several seconds.

“Yes,” he said. “What are you doing?” His footsteps came toward her, crunching over the dirt and loose rocks up here.

“Uh, I don’t know.” She glanced over to him as he joined her. “Just helping my aunt with the Mansion for now. Fixing up the house my brother lived in for a while for my dad.” She wanted to roll out the tension in her neck from both of those projects.

“Are you giving up nursing?”

“No,” she said, the word like ash in her throat. “I just applied to a new place this morning.”

“Yeah? The hospital here in town?”

She shook her head, not wanting to say where she’d applied. She’d been up since three-thirty, and since there was nothing to do that early in the morning, she’d gone online to search for jobs. She had seven years with the government, and she could move to a different branch and not lose her service years.

“So you’re not saying,” he said, and it sure sounded like he was teasing her. “Is this one of your superstitions? If you tell me where you applied, they won’t call you back? Something like that?”

Cat felt like she’d changed dramatically since the last time she’d seen Tony, but he wasn’t far off. “Maybe,” she said, infusing a hint of coyness into her voice.

He laughed again, this time for only a few moments. “Fair enough. I hope it goes well for you.”

“It’s government,” she said. “They take forever.”

He sighed out the last of his joviality. “They sure do.” He turned away from the view and walked away. “Well, I have to go,” he said over his shoulder. “Come on, Alfie. We’ve got a meeting we have to get to.”

Cat twisted to watch him go, sudden loneliness attacking her. She said nothing, because she’d done and seen some truly horrific things during her time in the military. She knew how to button expressions behind closed doors and closet emotions until a more appropriate time to feel them.

She hadn’t anticipated feeling so alone once she’d returned from her service. Because of the utter heartbreak she’d gone through, she’d expected to feel comforted and welcomed back in her family here in Hawthorne Harbor. Yes, her mom had been thrilled to see her and feed her—and throw relentless questions at her.

Her dad had offered her a silent friend in the evenings, and he’d given her something to do during the day. So had Aunt Mabel, and Cat was grateful for them. She didn’t love the physical, outdoor labor, but it had kept her mind clear and off why she’d returned to her hometown with her tail tucked between her legs.

Her family and friends thought it was because her assignment had ended, and she was mourning the loss of her connections in her unit. They were partially right. She did miss her nurse friends, the doctors, the men and women she’d worked with for years. So many people came and went from Camp Lemonnier, and Cat couldn’t help getting attached to those she aided.

Tony started down the path she’d climbed up, and she lost another couple of inches of him with every step she took. His little dog didn’t go with him, and Cat smiled at him. “You better get going. He’s going to bark at you.”

As if on cue, Tony yelled, “Alfred,” from somewhere down the path, the name followed by a whistle. Cat giggled to herself, because only Tony would have a nickname for his dog and one he used to chastise the animal when he didn’t do what Tony wanted him to.

She couldn’t imagine anyone disobeying Tony, and once Alfie had been called with his full name, he trotted away and followed his master down the path.

Cat sighed, finally alone. She didn’t truly want to be alone, because at times like these, with no one else around and nothing to occupy her mind, she inevitably thought of Brooks. She and the doctor had been quite the item in Djibuoti, and everyone had known about them.

Not a single person had told her that Brooks Dent already had a wife and family. Not one.

The level of foolishness she experienced had her sinking onto a nearby rock, as if her body was suddenly too heavy for her legs to hold up. She hated thinking about Brooks—hated it—but he’d been such a huge part of her life for the better part of two years.

She’d thought he’d be at her side for many more to come. How wrong she’d been.

Unbidden tears came to her eyes, and she didn’t move to wipe them away. The best part about Hurricane Hill was that few people frequented the path and the peak. She could cry for however long she wanted, then she’d put on her brave face and go back to town to get some work done.

Only five minutes passed before her phone chimed, and she tugged it free from the side of her leggings. Tony had worn gym shorts to hike in, of course. The man never wore pants if he didn’t have to, and she could only imagine him on the top of the mountain, scouting for smoke on the horizon. Or in a fireman’s uniform.

That image made her smile, and as she read the text, that grin only grew.

This is Tony. I got your number from my brother. I hope you aren’t mad about that. I may have told him I needed to get in touch with you about an emergency situation.

She shook her head, giggling again. Honestly, she wasn’t a schoolgirl, and she wasn’t ready to start dating again. Especially not someone who could pack up his life and leave at any moment.


She went back to her phone when it sang again. I could use some help coming up with a better explanation of what that emergency situation is, so I don’t find myself in jail at the hands of my brother. How about dinner tomorrow tonight? I’m at the firehouse tonight.

Cat looked up, shock filling her from toe to scalp. “He asked me out.”

If she said yes, she’d have to tell him things she’d bottled up and only allowed herself to think about—to cry over—on the tallest peak in this part of Washington. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do that, but she bent over her phone to answer him quickly.

After all, he’d lose service soon, and then he wouldn’t get the message until he made it back to the trailhead.

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