A brand new novel in Amber Kelly’s Balsam Ridge series is out this week, and I have the whole first chapter for you from this emotional small town romance.
One Year Later
I take one last look in the mirror as I step into my black stilettos—my power heels. Long-sleeved black pencil dress and simple jewelry. Hair hanging loose down my back. Makeup light and natural.
Here we go, Anna.
I grab my bag and rush into the living room, where Leona Tilson, my friend Taeli’s mother, is bouncing my eleven-month-old daughter on her knee.
“Wow, look at you,” she says as I do a little turn.
“Do you think it looks professional enough?” I ask.
“I don’t know about professional, but you sure look stunning.”
It’s too much.
I drop my bag to the floor and head back down the hallway.
“Where are you going?” Leona calls after me.
“Back to the room to change,” I reply.
I hear her feet hit the floor, and then her footsteps follow me.
“Oh, Anna, you look so nice. Don’t change,” she says.
I kick my shoes off at the foot of the bed and reach around to unzip the dress.
Leona appears in the doorway with Kaela on her hip.
Michaela Kunder was a surprise. Well, her being a her was a surprise. I can still see the look on my mother’s face that day in the delivery room. I gave one last push and heard the most beautiful cry. I glanced up at my mom as I squeezed her hand. She was staring at the business end of the bed with a look of confusion.
When I asked if the baby was okay, her eyes turned to me, and she muttered, “It’s a girl. Your baby boy is a girl.”
So, instead of naming her Michael after her father, as planned, I added the A to the end and branded her with the nickname Kaela.
“You’re right. It’s too much for an executive assistant at a hemp farm. I should wear something more … farmy,” I say as I struggle to wiggle out of the formfitting sheath.
“I think it looks amazing, and I’m not sure what farmy office attire is,” she states.
I don’t know either.
The problem is that I haven’t worked since we moved from our hometown in Kansas to Balsam Ridge, Tennessee, eight years ago. The only clothes I have in my closet are of the casual, lounge, or church variety. No business-appropriate pieces at all.
I sit on the edge of the bed and cover my face with my hands.
Leona walks over to look at the discarded selections I tossed on the chair in the corner of the room.
“What if you wore the pink blazer over the dress? That will professional it up, and then if you want to have cocktails with the girls after work, all you have to do is remove the blazer and add some red lipstick, and you’re ready to go,” she suggests.
I drop my hands and look up at her. She has the blazer hanging from a finger.
“That’s not a bad idea,” I say.
“Try it and see what you think.”
I take the garment from her and slide into it. Then, I take the blush pearl earrings from my jewelry box and fasten them to my earlobes.
Facing the mirror, I do a turn. The blazer is fitted, but it softens the lines of the dress. I take a deep breath.
“I like it,” I say.
“I think it’s the perfect first day of work outfit,” Leona agrees.
I step back into my heels.
Let’s do this.
Sliding my bag onto my shoulder, I kiss Kaela’s cheek and thank Leona again for babysitting today. Then, I get into my car and head to the first day of my new life.
After Mike’s line-of-duty death while fighting a wildfire last year, I received the Tennessee Survivor Benefits from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which I used to pay off our home and my car. Both Michaela and I also received health insurance coverage for two years, one year of which has already passed. The fourteen hundred dollars per month I get in Social Security Survivors Benefits for Michaela won’t be enough to cover all our bills and an insurance policy, and I’m close to depleting our savings account. As much as I appreciated being able to spend her first year at home with her, the time has come for Momma to get a job.
Sara-Beth Tuttle—Leona’s best friend and the fire chief, Corbin’s, mother—informed me that one of her sons, Weston Tuttle, was in the market for a new office employee. She and her husband, Hilton, have six sons—Langford, Graham, Garrett, Corbin, Weston, and Morris.
Weston owns the Balsam Gold Hemp Farm here in town. I’m not entirely sure what running a hemp farm entails, but I have a business degree and excellent computer and organizational skills.
After a brief phone interview, Weston offered me the position with a good starting salary and a full benefits package.
I follow the GPS directions to the farm’s office.
When I arrive, I park beside the black Dodge Ram truck and make my way to the building.
The door swings open before I reach the top step, and there stands Weston. He has a cup of coffee in his hand and a wide smile on his face, revealing a playful dimple.
“Hey, good morning, Anna. Come on in,” he greets as he steps aside for me to enter.
The office is a double-wide mobile building. The floor is covered in gray indoor-outdoor carpeting; a metal frame desk is in the corner, facing the door; and a large cherry wood conference table is to the left. A compact break room has a two-seater table, microwave, toaster oven, mini fridge, and restroom, and a small office is just beyond the conference table. The walls are painted gray-blue and are bare of any decor. The three large windows facing the fields are covered by white blinds and no curtains.
“This is lovely,” I say.
“It’s a shithole, but it serves the purpose,” he says.
I giggle at his candidness.
“Is that my desk?” I ask.
“Yes, ma’am. I also cleared the closet beside the bathroom for you. You’re welcome to store your belongings and any supplies you need in there. You and I are the only ones who will be in and out of here regularly, so everything should be secure, but we’ll add a lock on the door for you just in case.”
“If you want to get settled and pour yourself some java while I run out to talk to my agricultural manager, we can go over everything when I get back.”
“That sounds great.”
“Make yourself at home, Anna,” he says.
I watch as he disappears out of the door. I plop down in my new desk chair and sigh.
Maybe I need to buy a plant or two.