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Excerpt for A Heart That's Just Right

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(Loosely based on 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears')


Chapter 1


Coco Goldy pushed the doorbell, hearing it ring inside the huge brick home. Wind, sleet, and snow blew onto the covered porch, making her hide her face in her old black coat. Her hands shook and her heart still raced from the car accident that left her stranded on the desolate country road west of Denver. Granted, it had taken a while to trudge through the ice to the house, so she kept telling herself she was shaken from the walking trip but not from the accident. However, she couldn't drive her car in the condition it was in, the thought of dying in the accident terrifying her.

The wind blew hard, the sleet hitting her face once more. Her frozen hair blew hard against her cheek as if slapping her, chastising her for being out in such a storm. But hadn't she been punished enough in her life? With her past, it certainly seemed true.

The house light turned on and the inside dark wooden door opened. A man stood in front of her, wearing gray sweatpants and a blue sweatshirt, with no shoes on his feet. With one eye opened, his hair was askew as if he'd just woken up. However, his face was so handsome—Coco couldn't believe her luck.

A blast of warmth hit her face as he opened the outer door. Her cheeks and ears felt sore from the cold, bringing her back to reality from staring at this man.

"May I help you?" The man checked his watch with a yawn. "You do realize it's two in the morning." He yawned. "On a Saturday." He seemed almost angry. "When I can finally sleep in."

She got the message, feeling guilty and unworthy to ring the doorbell to the mini-mansion. But she needed help and was willing to grovel if need be. "Yes, sir, and I'm really sorry." She pointed behind her, her teeth trembling. "My car just slid on the ice and it looks dead. I don't think I can drive it, let alone get into the driver's side from the ice. Can you call a tow truck for me?"

He wiped his eyes and stared down over her. "You're soaked." He paused for a moment, his expression turning angry. "Wait. You're the Burglar Lady in Black. Get off my porch." He started to close the outer door, but Coco knew this was her only chance before he locked the big wooden door behind it. His home was also the only house around that she could find in the blinding sleet and snow.

She reached out her hand and held open the door. "Who? Who are you accusing me of being?" With her free hand, she pointed behind her once again. "I had an accident and need a tow truck."

He didn't move for a moment, studying her from top to bottom, as if he was memorizing what she looked like. "Wait right there while I call the police." As he backed away and closed the door, Coco tried to wrap her head around the man's comments while letting go of the outer door. She heard a lock click. The man was either terrified or didn't trust strangers.

She was hardly scary or untrustworthy. Burglar Lady in Black? He was calling the police? What did she do wrong? She just needed a restroom and to get her car towed. As she sighed in frustration, her neck muscles strained, feeling like whiplash. From the look of the accident when she'd walked away, she wasn't surprised her neck hurt, because she'd probably been going too fast. She considered running back to her car, but since it took so long to get to this house in the ice and she was so cold, she just had to pay the price and wait. However, if he called the police, she'd probably end up in jail again. At least it was warm in jail, from what she remembered.

While weighing her options to run back to the cold car, the inner door lock clicked again and the door opened.

The handsome yet angry man stood in front of her with the phone at his ear. "She's still here." He nodded, his gaze traveling from her head to her feet. "Yes, sir. She's wearing all black, but no, she didn't try to get inside." He sighed, shaking his head. "I understand." He moved his mouth away from the receiver. "You don't behave like the Burglar Lady in Black. I'm to ask you where you were two nights ago, on Wednesday night."

She thought back to that night. "I was working until eleven at night. I'm a clerk at Ralph's Groceries in Arvada. You can check. I started work at three in the afternoon."

"What's your name?" the man asked.

"Coco Goldy." She lifted a lock of her hair and studied it, seeing the ice clinging to the strands. "It matches my golden hair—at least it's golden when it's dry. I've been nicknamed Goldilocks because of my hair and name."

"Goldilocks?" He laughed slightly and recited her name over the phone, returning his attention to her a moment later. "I'm Jonathan, or Jon, Beare and live here with my parents."

She couldn't believe her ears, a small chuckle escaping from her lips as she shivered. "So the three bears live here? Momma Bear and Daddy Bear…which makes you Baby Bear?"

"Sure, but if there's a real bear on this property, I'm running the other way." He grinned slightly, returned to the phone, and repeated the information on her whereabouts from two nights before. "Yes, officer. Thank you. I'm going to keep her here, because there's no way she can leave in this storm. If you need any more information, just call me." Jon nodded and laughed. "Yes, sir. You have a good night, too, sitting in your office watching the ice fall." He ended the call and opened the door. "I'm sorry, Miss Goldy. I need to apologize for my behavior. It's just that you're wearing all black and that's the Burglar Lady in Black's signature color. Come on in and be my guest."

She pointed behind her, not moving an inch. Wasn't he getting this? "But I just need a tow truck. My cell phone's dead. I can wait outside for it." Since he didn't seem to trust her, she wasn't about to ask to use the bathroom.

"No, you can't stay out there. Come in and get warm. You look frozen."

She crossed her arms and shivered, not wanting to go inside this unknown home. "I just need to use a restroom and call for a tow truck. That's the reason I took this road, because the sign on the main road promised a gas station with a restroom."

He backed away, flipped off the porch light, and turned on the inside hall light. "I can't let you die out there." With one arm extended, he ushered her into his home. "Come inside and we'll see what we can do to help you."

She entered his home, the warm air surrounding her as if she'd walked into a furnace. She just hoped it wasn't a nasty place to be. "Thank you," she said. "I'll pay you as soon as I can get my purse out of the car. I couldn't get back inside because I kept slipping on the sheet of ice. It's not nice out there."

"Come with me," he said. "The bathroom's this way."

"Thank you." She entered the warm home and shut the outer door, following him down the hallway. Her black heels clacked on the wooden floor to a bathroom, beside what looked like a kitchen in the dark.

He flipped on the bathroom light. "I'll wait right here for you."

She inched past him, worried it may not be safe. "Thank you. Then I'll be on my way."

"We'll talk."

Coco walked inside, closed the door behind her, and used the bathroom, her freezing wet clothes sticking to her skin. She took a chill, hoping she wouldn't get sick.

After she finished, she opened the door and turned out the light. She took a step into the hallway, walking right into Jon, who was leaning against the wall in the shadows.

She jumped back, her heart beating a million miles an hour. "Sorry. I didn't see you there."

He smiled as he went into the hallway, the soft light illuminating his stubble, which hid two small dimples beside his lips. He glanced down over her as she shivered, but she was unable to control it. "You don't look well," he said. "I can't send you back out there. Everyone's been told to get off the roads, so even if you are the Burglar Lady in Black, you won't get too far if you steal anything."

"Steal? I've never stolen anything in my life." Accused, yes, but guilty, no.

With a sigh, he crossed his arms, still watching her. "The cop said you probably aren't her. I need to be less judgmental."

She headed toward the door, her heels making that noise again. The sound sliced through the banging of the wind hitting the house. Coco didn't need to be here, because she refused to be considered a criminal ever again.

She thrust out her chin in determination, turning her entire body to see him one more time before she walked out door. "I'll be in my car waiting for someone to pass by who doesn't hate me. Maybe they'll call a tow truck if I'm lucky. Thank you for the use of your bathroom."

She turned back toward the door and reached out in one swift movement. As the cold metal doorknob chilled her hand, he grabbed her elbow, making her spin toward him, her neck hurting even more. She winced and took a deep breath, her hand flying to the side of her neck.

"Are you in pain?" He appeared to be concerned with lowered eyebrows and a frown.

"I'm fine. I'll just be leaving." She turned again, but his hand stayed on her arm, making her look up at his face.

"No," Jon said. "I can't leave you out there. I'd feel guilty all night long and worry about you. Please stay here. I trust you."

Her eyebrows careened toward her hairline. "You trust me? But you just thought—"

"I thought wrong. The real Burglar Lady in Black wouldn't give the cops her name or her alibi. I'm sure they're checking it out, too."

Coco crossed her arms. "It's true and I can show them my driver's license as soon as I get my purse. The cop can call anyone and they'll know I was there, because I had to mop the floors that night. Some lady fell, threatening to sue because of me. That was my second strike, even though I was doing my job. They're open twenty-four hours a day, so they can call tonight. I hope they do to prove my innocence for whatever they thought I did."

Jon's mouth fell open. "A lawsuit? Seriously? You have an exciting life."

"Not exciting, sad." She felt like life kicked her when she was down, making sure she could never get back up again. "I may have to get a lawyer if Ralph doesn't help me. I even put out signs that said the floor was wet, but she didn't notice, or so she said to me. She was reading her phone—probably a text message—right before I tried to stop her from walking on the wet floor. That happened around seven at night." She shook her head. "I hate that job, but it's all I have now, considering my car doesn't run."

"Well, it looks like you have to stay here tonight." He took her arm. "I can't let you die from the cold." He led her toward the stairs, left of where they were standing. As he turned on a light upstairs and flipped off the hall light, a dim nightlight softened the darkness. They climbed the stairs in silence, worrying her.

The feel of the soft thick cushioned tan carpet under her heels made her realize this guy had money…lots of money. But it only made her trust him less. People with money—like her ex-boyfriend—usually wanted more than she could give, judging her in the meantime.

She'd humor this guy, stay for a few hours, and go back to her car. She really didn't like staying at a stranger's home, but she didn't think he'd hurt her. Her choice was simple…she could either stay here or freeze outside in the cold. She didn't think she'd die in the house, but staying in her car was another story.


 
 




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