Tessa Milner never had much, but when she lost her mom, she lost everything. Her dad became a mean drunk and lost his job. What little the high school dropout makes bussing tables helps keep the lights on and food in the fridge, but she has little hope of ever escaping. When her dad takes things too far, and Tessa ends up in the hospital, she finds a hero in an unlikely place. A man she’s had a crush on since she was a kid, someone she’s always idolized. And now he’s here, by her side, and doesn’t seem ready to leave anytime soon.
Dr. Morgan Hilliard has felt drawn to Tessa ever since he first noticed the woman she was becoming, with curves that begged to be touched. He’s wanted to ask her out more times than he can count, but because of their age difference, he’s tried to keep his distance. The small town of Blossom Creek might be accepting of an interracial couple, but their nearly twenty year age gap is sure to set tongues wagging. Now things are different. Tessa needs him, whether she’ll admit it or not, and Morgan will do anything to keep her safe — even something as crazy as marrying her.
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Tessa Milner slowly backed away from her dad as he swayed on his feet, a nearly empty bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand. Ben Milner was a mean ass drunk, and ever since Tessa’s mom had died a few years ago, the drinking had gotten worse. He’d once been a handsome man, his red hair thick and curly, his eyes bright and kind. Now his hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks and his eyes were lifeless. When Nicole Milner died, her husband’s heart had died too. Her mom had been beautiful. A mocha goddess who’d smiled and laughed all the time, bringing out the best in everyone. But when her mom died, so did the laughter in the house, and the love. Tessa didn’t recognize the man in front of her anymore. The guy who’d carried her on his shoulders or played tag with her was long gone. A monster now resided in his body.
Her dad let the rusted screen door slam behind him as he staggered across the sagging front porch. His boots kicked up paint chips from the peeling boards under his feet. Peaches, their beagle, was resting on the top step. A twisted smile crossed her dad’s face before he pulled back his booted foot and kicked Peaches off the top step, the dog yelping as she went airborne and tumbled to the ground below. Peaches whimpered and couldn’t seem to get up.
Tessa’s heart pounded as tears fell down her cheeks, and she wanted to rush to Peaches, but she knew better. Her dad nearly fell down the stairs as he came after her, and not for the first time, Tessa wished he’d fall and break his damn neck. Anything to end the torment. She couldn’t run because that would only make it worse when he did catch her, and he always caught her. For an uncoordinated drunk, he could move damn fast, and he was downright vicious on the best of days.
“Pretty girl like you could get us out of this mess,” her dad slurred.
She knew exactly what he was asking, and she wasn’t about to do it. Tessa shook her head and took a step back.
“Stan would treat you right,” her dad said.
Stan Trotter was nearly sixty, and he’d been eyeing Tessa since she’d turned fifteen. Sick perv. The man had always made her skin crawl, with his inappropriate touches and innuendo, and now her dad wanted to sell her to the man. They’d hatched some plan over drinks, twenty thousand dollars for Tessa to crawl into Trotter’s bed and obey his every command, but Tessa refused to go along with it. She wasn’t whoring herself out just so her dad could live a better life while she suffered at Stan’s hands.
“No, Daddy,” she said.
“You little bitch.” Her dad lurched forward, his hand a blur as he lashed out toward her.
Pain exploded across her cheek, but she remained upright. Her dad came at her again and caught her on the side of the head with his closed fist and she saw stars. Tessa swayed, but refused to go down. If he got her on the ground, the real torment would begin. A few more blows to her face and ribs, and he seemed to lose interest in her, the fight draining out of him. He tipped up his nearly empty bottle, draining it dry, then tossed it into the yard, where it clinked against the other discarded bottles, before staggering back into the house, probably looking for another drink. With some luck, he’d pass out.
Tessa openly cried as she pulled Peaches into her arms, ignoring her own aches and pains. Loading the beagle into her rusted car, she snuck into the house to grab her purse, and drove to the vet clinic in town. Dr. Hilliard had treated Peaches before, and Tessa hoped he’d be able to help her now. She didn’t know if she had enough money for the visit, but maybe he would work with her on payments. She couldn’t let her dog suffer. Peaches had been her best friend for the last six years, and she deserved a better life than she had now. They both did.
Tears blurred her vision as she pulled to a stop in front of the clinic. It was nearing five, but the open sign was up. She pulled Peaches from the car and carried her into the clinic, ringing the bell on the front counter. She knew this late in the day, most of the staff would be gone, but she’d seen Dr. Hilliard leaving the clinic sometimes hours after closing time.
“Dr. Hilliard!” she called out.
A door opened and he stepped out of the back, his lab coat still on and his hair mussed, as if he’d been running his hands through it. The man was sexier than anyone had a right to be, with his dark hair and neatly trimmed beard, and when those hazel eyes looked at you, it almost felt like you were the most important person in the world. Or maybe it had something to do with the crush she’d had on him half her life.
“What’s wrong with Peaches?” he asked, coming closer.
“Dad kicked her off the porch. She wouldn’t get up and I’m worried something might be broken.”
The doctor looked at the dog, stroking her head and ears, before really taking a look at Tessa. When he did, his eyes narrowed and some not so very nice words spilled out of his mouth.
“It seems the dog isn’t the only one he abused today,” the doctor said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning author Paige Warren spends her days weaving tales about alpha males and the women who love them. There’s nothing hotter than a man in tight Wranglers, dog tags (especially if he’s ONLY wearing dog tags!), or bad boys covered in ink. When Paige isn’t creating romantic tales, she enjoys reading and watching movies – romances, of course. If you see her out in the wild, you’ll most likely find her at Starbucks, sipping a white mocha with a distant look in her eyes as she figures out the right wording for the next scene in her latest book.