Home is where you open your heart to love.
Returning home to the beautiful coastal town of Graciella, Oregon, with a bruised heart and a brittle self-confidence, Gabriella Flores is determined to start afresh, opening a beauty salon downtown. Done with men, single, successful and fabulous is her new mantra.
Thirty-three-year-old single dad Luca Rossi has moved across the country to Graciella to give his small daughters a better life. He’s excited to partner with Lily Brockman in his new landscape design business…and may even be open to love again.
When the magic that is Graciella puts Gabby and Luca together to work on the Spring Blossom Festival, they fall for each other and realize they both want love and family. Luca is all in, dreaming of a life with Gabby and his girls, but Gabby has a secret, one she believes will make her ultimately unlovable—and unkeepable—by someone as wonderful as Luca.
With her biggest fear threatening to swallow her, can the couple conquer it and find their happily ever after together?
Let the magic of Graciella sweep you away again in a story of new beginnings, found family and great love.
Reader advisory: This book contains references to the death of the MC’s partner, death by drowning, and a manipulative former relationship. There are references to infertility, and threatened miscarriage.
General Release Date: 23rd May 2023
Using the brand-new keys—two silver ones on a simple ring—Gabby unlocked the gorgeous double doors and propped them open to let the soft spring breeze flow. She stood outside for a moment, observing. Afternoon in downtown Graciella, the prettier, happier version, rising from under the decades-long shroud of oppression, was such a lovely place. Now, there was a joy and a lightness to the town. Excitement and growth, coupled with that charming small-town feel, were present everywhere.
And she was here, back in its warm embrace, finally.
To say she’d missed her home was an understatement. Part of her didn’t even recognize the place anymore, but, more accurately, she was the unrecognizable one. Disillusioned, changed, but determined to prosper. She would heal her soul, shove away the last few years and claw her way back to joy and independence.
Seems so much easier to imagine than to actually do. Easy didn’t have anything to do with it. It was a must, and she would succeed.
No more standing on the threshold, she ordered herself and stepped inside. One wide-open empty space greeted her. She set her bag down and slowly strolled the building’s length, the clip of her sandals echoing throughout the room. It looked so much better than the gutted skeleton of a few months ago. Now it was a perfect blank slate ready for her.
Gabby knelt and ran her hands over the newly finished hardwood floors, sun-warmed and light in the brightness of a sunny day. She lay on her back, stretched out her arms and legs and smiled. I’m here. I did it! Sun streamed in through the windows and warmed her skin, warmed her soul. She took a deep breath and let the heat strengthen and soothe the broken pieces inside her.
The old insurance office had been sitting vacant on a pretty corner in Graciella for over fifteen years, waiting for new life. She’d ogled this spot since she was a teenager dreaming of her very own salon. Today the floors were refinished, new drywall had been hung and the old windows replaced. One wall had exposed old brick she was delighted with. Everything crappy was gone, even—especially—the ugly foam ceiling tiles.
Above her rose high ceilings draped in soft wood planks. This space was hers, every single battle-earned inch. She might have taken a few wrong curves in life, dated a man who crushed the light inside her, but never again. Now she was more determined than ever to bring her dream to fruition.
The beautiful light flowing in through the floor-to-ceiling windows infused her with calm, with anticipation. The floor against her back felt solid, grounding her. Her mind cleared and she focused her energy on this new space, her dream salon that she’d imagined ever since she was a young girl.
White walls, white trim and white linen curtains along the windows. It needed to be clean, crisp and bright. She’d stick with simple white cabinets for each station and brown leather salon chairs. Polished and sophisticated, that was what she was aiming for. A plant or two, scattered about. No, one plant at the front desk or a vase of fake flowers to add one stoic pop of color. No sense cluttering up the place. Gabby leaned into the calm picture she drew in her mind.
If she were lucky, it would only be a few more weeks until she could open. Her friend Lily’s construction company had rocked things so far, and the sinks, cabinets and chairs were due to arrive this week. Lucky? Gabby used to consider herself lucky, but opening her own salon didn’t involve luck.
Only a ton of bullshit followed by sheer, hard, bleeding determination had gotten her to where she was today. “Moment by moment,” her new therapist had said. “Take things however you need, at your own pace. Sometimes all we can do is go moment by moment.”
Gabby closed her eyes as if that could ward off the ugly reminders of the past few years. She was achieving her goals, albeit a few years later than she’d planned.
She couldn’t think like that. What mattered was that she was back in Graciella, her home in a gentle valley on the West Coast of Oregon, nestled into the farmland and guarded by the rugged cliffs and deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, her true place.
Those were the parts of her past that she’d resurrect. Those are the parts that will hold me together, keep me from losing myself again. My home, my foundation. Gabriella Flores, infinitely smarter and a bit world-weary, was back to make a name for herself. Successful, single and fabulous. That was her new motto. She’d wrapped it around her being like the perfect dress, pretty but deceiving, showing off her assets, allowing others to see only what she wanted while keeping the vulnerable parts of her hidden and protected.
A cloud drifted over the sun, a shadow nudging into her vision. Gabby sensed it as sure as she had the brightness of before. Then came a touch on her cheek. “Holy shit, what the—” Gabby yelled, slamming her eyes open, her heart leaping from her chest.
“Oh! She swears like you, Daddy,” a bright voice from a tiny mouth echoed above her.
Two small people were bent over her body, head-to-head, gazing at her with soft brown eyes, big and wide and sparkling with a dancing hint of gold around the rim of each iris. Dark long baby lashes, full cheeks and two halos of black curls. Identical tiny people.
Maybe she’d fallen down the rabbit hole of some foreign universe. Her heart raced as she blinked at the light flickering between these two tiny bodies. The sun is still here. I feel the floors against my bones. One child put her soft chubby hand on Gabby’s cheek, patting it gently. The other had taken one of her hands and linked the two together, Gabby’s larger one enveloping the small warm one.
“I think she’s alive,” the other tiny mouth whispered.
Suddenly a man was in her space, lifting the two brown cherubs away in a swift but careful hold, setting them behind him and kneeling his body down beside Gabby. “Are you okay? Where are you hurt? Don’t move.” Large hands mapped her body, gently but with intention. One hand stopped at her throat. Two shaking fingers felt for her pulse. He moved both hands to her chest.
“Whoa,” she said, pulling his wrists away from her boobs. “Stop…stop. I’m fine.”
Gray short-sleeved T-shirt, baseball hat and sunglasses were right in her face. Whoever he was, he was breathing as if he’d just scaled a mountain at a record pace to get to her. His body vibrated under her hands and his backpack pressed against her thigh. “I…”
Something was happening. He was warmer than the sun. All she was doing was holding his wrists and she wanted to run the pads of her thumbs across the sensitive skin, feel his pulse beating, concentrate on its rhythm. Gabby shut her eyes again and tried to steady her own breathing. What’s happening? It was like—
“Christ!” he yelled and jerked upright to standing. “What are you doing?”
Gabby blinked. Something in her tugged at the loss of his touch. Confused, she raised her eyes up his body. Old running shoes and shorts, he towered above her, hands on his hips, no longer shaking, or at least she couldn’t tell. Body held rigid in anger, he shoved his sunglasses off his face and glared at her. He was tall with broad shoulders blocking the sun completely now with his angry warrior silhouette, a pink cross-body bag strapped across his chest.
“Uh…thinking?” she answered. She blinked again to clear the fog in her vision. What the hell is happening?
“Passed out on the floor?” He crossed his arms over his chest.
Wait just a second. She lifted herself off the floor and stood to face him. She did not enjoy being yelled at, and especially not while he towered above her. “Why are you yelling at me? Who are you? I… This is mine.” She pointed to the floor and the windows, stepping out of his shadow to allow the warm rays to calm her heart. She wasn’t afraid, not exactly. He was acting like a jerk, but the pink bag, the cartoon characters on his shirt and the two tiny humans who belonged to him whisked away any hesitation.
Rigid and angry, there was not one single ounce of kindness on his face. Gabby crossed her own arms—she could project warrior too—and met his stare. Scowl more like it. Gabby sucked in a breath. Eyes the same shade as her Pacific, deep swirling blue, stared back at her. Everything safe and exciting all rolled into one color. Home.
No, nope, no way. She shook her head and took a step back. That can’t be right. He’s not my home. He’s not my foundation. I don’t even know this rude man. Weird emotions surged through her. She glanced at her surroundings and grounded herself in this new space that would soon be her salon.
This is my home. Graciella. I’m already here, in my safe place, all by myself, exactly as I want.
Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher, Salvaging Love, Seducing the Dragonfly, Igniting Love and Flirting with Forever.
Sara loves creating imaginary worlds with tight-knit communities in her romance novels. She credits her mother, Mary, Nora Roberts and Rosamunde Pilcher for her love of romance.
If she’s not reading or writing, you will most likely find her in the kitchen creating scrumptious meals with her kids and husband, or perhaps cooking up her next love story.
She once met a person who both “didn’t read books” and wasn’t “that into food” and it nearly broke her heart.
You can follow Sara on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Check out her website, Goodreads, Bookbub and Facebook.