Home > Season of Joy

Season of Joy
Author: Annie Rains

Chapter One


Joy Benson picked up her pace, walking faster as she burrowed into the depths of her lightweight jacket. Fall in Sweetwater Springs was as chilly as it was beautiful. As an artist, she could appreciate how the colors of the valley changed from varied golds and greens to deep crimsons. Try as she might, she’d never fully captured the magic of it on a canvas, but one day…

Her steps slowed as she approached an empty storefront in the downtown area. Wasn’t this the old clockmaker’s shop? Where had it gone? Joy guessed there wasn’t a lot of need for handmade clocks anymore, but still, the shop had once been a living, breathing part of Main Street. Now it stood vacant—and a little sad.

Joy eyed the time on her cell phone. She was already running late but she couldn’t help taking a moment to cup her hands over the glass and peer inside. She’d been looking for a place to open an art gallery. A place where she could display and sell her work along with other pieces from local potters, sculptors, and artists like her who dabbled in everything. For a while now, she’d run a successful Etsy store online. Her goal at the start of this year, however, was to find a physical location to work out of. A place where she could also teach her classes instead of doing so at the local library.

This place would be perfect.

Except for the tiny detail that this was Main Street, a location that was undoubtedly out of her price range. That was especially true now that her car had decided to die and she was using a chunk of her savings to fix it. Which was why she was walking to the library this afternoon. And if she didn’t hustle, she’d be late for the class she was scheduled to teach there.

Reluctantly, Joy turned from the store window. It wouldn’t hurt to call the real estate agent handling the property later and at least inquire about the details. Maybe by some miracle it wasn’t out of her price range. The season of miracles was almost upon her after all. Not that Joy had ever experienced a Christmas miracle herself. In fact, she’d experienced the opposite last year around the holidays.

A chill ran down Joy’s spine, and she quickened her steps as much to outrun the memory as to make good time. She walked another half mile away from the downtown area until she reached the Sweetwater Springs Library. Then she opened the door and stepped inside, standing in the entryway a moment to catch her breath. As she removed her jacket and repositioned her bag on her shoulder, the door opened again, and two little girls rushed in, nearly knocking her over.

“Whoa!” Joy’s arms flew out to catch herself against the door to the main room of the library. Then her purse slipped off her shoulder and spilled out onto the floor.

She’d been meaning to clean out her bag, and the contents were now laid out before her. Gum wrappers galore. A comb. A notepad. And a business card that Aunt Darby seemed to have in endless supply for a local matchmaking service. Every time Joy saw her favorite aunt, Darby was handing her a card and urging Joy to “try again.” Joy wasn’t necessarily anti dating right now. She just didn’t need a service to help. Thank you very much, Aunt Darby.

Joy knelt to collect the items.

“Are you okay? Willow doesn’t know her own strength,” a deep voice said.

Joy knew that voice. Something warm moved over her as she looked up and met Granger Fields’s dark gaze. “Oh. Hi.”

“Joy,” he said, acknowledging her with a dimpled smile. “I didn’t realize that was you down there. Do you need help?”

Before she could insist that she didn’t, Granger knelt in front of her and grabbed the business card.

Mortification flooded Joy’s system. “That’s my aunt Darby’s.” She snatched the card, hoping he hadn’t read the name. His grin told her he had though. Great. He was going to think his girls’ art teacher was clumsy, gum smacking, and desperate.

“The contents of a woman’s purse are supposed to be kept secret, right? Should I cover my eyes?” he teased.

Joy nodded seriously. “Yes, please.”

Apparently, Granger was only joking, however, because he continued to grab her items one by one and toss them inside her bag. Then he stood and reached out a hand to help her up.

Joy stared at it for a moment, her brain misfiring right along with her heart. She had a teeny, tiny crush on Granger that she’d been actively ignoring for months. When he’d first started taking his girls to her art classes here, she’d promised herself that, despite being incredibly attracted to him, he was look-but-don’t-touch where she was concerned. She had no intention of getting involved with a handsome single father. That was too complicated, and if and when she started dating again, she was keeping things simple.

Granger kept his hand outstretched. Reluctantly, she slid her palm against his calloused one, no doubt the result of chopping trees on his farm. As soon as she was on her feet, she pulled her hand away and took a tiny step backward, giving her attention to his two little girls who were now bopping up and down on each side of him.

“Hi, Abby. Hi, Willow,” Joy said, smiling as she looked at them. Joy was a sucker for a cute kid. She’d spent a large part of her teens and twenties working in childcare. In fact, being a nanny was how she’d put herself through art school. Her parents had refused to pay when she’d dropped out of nursing to follow her passion but she’d taken out a loan and she’d persisted. People had told her that she’d never make it as a starving artist but she hadn’t given up then either. And now, she fully supported herself with her art. Yeah, she’d walked here because her car was on its final miles. But she had a car and a nice town house. And she had more than enough food in her fridge.

Not a starving artist.

“Ladies first.” Granger opened one of the double doors that led into the main room and looked at Joy. “I promise we won’t try to bowl you over this time.”

She glanced over her shoulder to catch him wink at her. It was an innocent wink but it still made her insides turn to something akin to Jell-O. Then she stepped into the room filled with quiet whispers and the smell of books, old and new.

“Hi, Joy!” Lacy Shaw, the librarian here, waved from behind the counter.

Joy waved back. Lacy was a good friend of hers. She’d always been quiet, but her new beau was bringing out a less introverted side of her these days. It showed in the way Lacy wore her hair down on her shoulders. Gone were her cardigans, replaced by cropped lightweight blazers.

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