by Sarah Storin (@SarahStorin)
Editor: Heidi Shoham (@heidishoham)
Adult Contemporary Romance
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There’s no such thing as a sealed record in a town with a memory longer than Main Street.
When nurse Morgan Dunn returns to Milk Creek, Montana, to check on her injured father, whispers at the diner and a rock through her window reinforces her desire to run right back out of town. Her dream job is calling, and her relationship with her dad is as bad as ever. Almost being arrested by her childhood crush is only the beginning of her troubles when there’s a cluster of copycat crimes, and she’s the prime suspect. It’s not just Morgan’s freedom and her nursing license at risk. The intense attraction she has for Carter puts her heart on the line, too.
Acting Sheriff Carter James is third generation law enforcement, and he’s proud to do the job. But recent break-ins he can’t solve are ruining his chances of winning the election and fulfilling his family legacy. Not only is Morgan’s return a distraction, she’s also a reminder of the tragic car crash that shattered both their families.
Carter soon discovers Morgan’s not the hell-raising teenager she once was, and he can’t resist the strong, caring woman she’s become. But giving in to his desire for her would be a mistake. If anyone finds out just how close they’re becoming, his career in Milk Creek could be ruined, and Morgan has no plans to stay in the town Carter can’t leave.
I am seeking representation for my single-title contemporary romance, LOVING TROUBLE, comparable to stories from authors like Susan Mallery, Nicole Helm, and Julie Anne Long. Complete at 93,000 words, this story was a finalist in the NJRWA Put Your Heart in a Book contest and the WHRWA The Emily contest. It was also the grand prize winner of the Nola Stars The Suzannah contest.
LOVING TROUBLE has strong series potential and will appeal to fans of small-town romances and those who love stories of found families, adorable dogs, and sexy heroes in uniform who move from heartache and past mistakes to happily ever after.
I am an active member in my local chapters of RWA, Washington Romance Writers, and Maryland Romance Writers, and I’m the programming co-chair for MRW.
As a nurse, I have experience in both urban trauma centers and rural ERs, but in my house, my family thinks duct tape and dirt work just fine. As a writer, I create contemporary romances set in small towns and big cities featuring sexy, smart heroes and heroines who will never be billionaires—no matter how much overtime they work—but who still manage to find passionate HEAs.
First Five Pages
In life, there are terribly long days, and there are horribly bad days, and then there are those epic shitshow days that even a bathtub full of Chardonnay wouldn’t fix.
Morgan Dunn’s day had hit the thirty-seven-hour mark and counting, with no tub in sight. Of course she was locked out of her dad’s house on a freezing Montana March night. Gulping down that cup of coffee before the last flight had been a lousy idea.
The piquant scent of wood-smoke hung on a gust of bitter wind that swirled around her, and she shivered in her shearling-lined suede jacket. She’d give anything to be safely inside next to a crackling fireplace right now—after a long, cathartic trip to the bathroom. She’d found napkins in the rental car, and the shadowed area between the yard and house appeared dark enough, but given her luck today, she’d probably get arrested mid-stream.
If she knew anything about her hometown, it was that there was no such thing as a scofflaw. With a year-round population of under three-thousand people, the county sheriffs were never too busy to hand out tickets.
After accidentally knocking over the barren terra-cotta flowerpot while searching for the house key, she half expected the cops to show any second. Maybe none of the neighbors had heard the pot smashing to the ground. To her, it had sounded like a tiny train wreck in the silent, suburban night. Hopefully, all the residents were snug in their cozy beds, content in their uncomplicated lives.
That sensation was foreign. The pressure of coming from nothing, being seen as nothing, had seeped into her skin and dripped into her blood until her heart pumped with a persistent need to succeed. She didn’t have to close her eyes anymore to visualize the door to the director’s office she wanted her name on. The desire was always right in front of her.
She contemplated the window on the side of her old house, between the front stoop and the fenced-in backyard. Out of her reach from the ground, the window sat slightly higher than the top of her head. Even if she could get up there to try, there was no guarantee the window would be unlocked.
After years of living in urban areas with the comforting yolky glow of city lights, the dark streets of Milk Creek needled the nerves in her neck. Surrounded by homes full of people, the creeping sensation of someone following her hovered, the echo of a memory tipping toward fear.
She hadn’t noticed anything on her first pass around this side of the house, but if she could just find something to stand on, to give herself a boost up…
She froze. It wasn’t just the order she responded to, but the tone. Sharp and commanding, the sound touched a vestigial nerve deep inside.
“Keep your hands where I can see them. Do not make any sudden moves.” The deep, male voice had a familiar quality, but her fatigue lent to the fog obscuring recognition.
“I’m going to come closer. Then I’ll ask you to turn around.”
“Resistance is futile,” she said under her breath.
The laughter bubbled up, wild and out of control. Oh God. She wasn’t just giddy with fatigue, she was being damn irrational. “You forgot to say, ‘resistance is futile’.”
Her eyes were gritty, and though she’d pulled double shifts before, there was always an on-call room available for a power nap. She hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane, and now the spot between her shoulder blades ached, and her 24-Hour Bra was deep into overtime.
She clamped her lips. This situation wasn’t funny. Not the rush to her apartment to pack, or the sprint across the airport to catch her connecting flight, nor the drive to Milk Creek. The call she’d received in the middle of her shift about her father had set off a cascade of events in the last day and a half that were no joke.
The reminder of why she was in this position finally penetrated and leached the laughter from her body. Her shoulders sagged, and her arms followed.
The faded vinyl-sided wall in front of her wavered as her heartbeat thudded in her throat. No other sounds penetrated the roaring in her ears. A few choice words fought to get out, but she clenched her teeth against the troublemakers and concentrated on slowing and deepening her breathing. Now was not the time to panic.
An arrest could cost her her nursing license, everything she’d worked to achieve and everything she still wanted to accomplish.
“Do you have any weapons on you? Any illegal substances or items I should be aware of?”
The rote words sluiced down her back like ice-water, and a stinging shame wriggled in her gut. Memories of the last time she’d heard those words directed at her almost twelve years ago banged in their lockbox.
“No.” The word tangled in her tongue, stumbled out of her lips. “No,” she repeated with greater force before the voice behind her decided a more thorough search was necessary.
“Turn around, slowly. I’m holding a flashlight, and it will be bright for a moment. I’ll show you my badge, then you’re going to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.”
The voice was imperious, the commands precise, his expectations clear. This man did not mess around.
She rotated her body, immediately clamped her eyes tight, and turned her head away from the blinding brightness.
“Goddamn it, Morgan,” the man cursed. “What the hell are you doing here?”
She blinked at the loud exclamation, then a few times more to clear the floating spots, and suddenly, she could see. No wonder the voice had sounded familiar.
Carter James, subject of an intense girl-hood crush, Milk Creek High’s home-run king, and the closest thing Milk Creek had to royalty, stood before her in full uniform.
A badge opened in front of her face. The flashlight’s glow shone on the picture, glinting off the gold metal shield. She compared the face before her to the one on his ID. He still had the same nearly black hair, unfairly long lashes, deep-blue eyes, and firm lips she remembered. The face in the picture appeared more youthful than the man in front of her, but still harder than the boy she’d once known.
Had life sharpened those edges until they stood out in stark relief, or were they a result of the accident? She tamped down the apology that always seemed to hover in the air whenever she was near a member of the James family.
“What are you doing here, Morgan?”
“None of your business,” she snapped, impatient to get out of this ridiculous situation, her embarrassment adding to the horror of the moment.
“This is exactly my business,” he said, his voice wry. “I’m here as a responding officer to an attempted break-in.”
“You damn well know it’s my dad’s house, Carter. He’s at Milk Creek General. I just spent the last day trying to get here. Unless this town has changed over the last decade, I doubt I can get a room anywhere else this time of night. Dad used to keep a key under the mat, but it’s not there now.” And if I’d returned his calls more than once or twice in the last year, I might know why.
He stared at her for a moment, his dark-blue eyes nearly black in the inky darkness surrounding the flashlight’s halo. Other than knowing he despised her, she’d never been able to read him. She couldn’t read him now. The weak airplane coffee she’d gulped earlier swirled in her stomach and burned the base of her esophagus.
“Carter?” She wouldn’t beg, but the panicky sensation was too close to the surface for pride to maintain control.
His frown firmed. “Why didn’t you go to Redband and get a hotel room?”
Embarrassment blared in the center of her chest, and she shoved her hands in her pockets. “Carter, I haven’t slept in… I’m exhausted. Can’t you help me get into my dad’s house?”
He looked down his perfectly crooked nose at her. In high school, he’d taken an elbow to the face in a basketball game, and the next day, the gleaming championship trophy had reflected his blackened eye and broken nose. The game had been so intense, even she’d heard about it.
Damn. She didn’t want to admit anything to him. She took in a deep breath, the frigid air fiery in her chest.
“The rental is nearly out of gas.”
Carter didn’t even blink.
Morgan sighed. She could guess what he was thinking.
It wasn’t that you couldn’t go home again. You just couldn’t go home as anyone else. It was as though a shadow of her old self had waited for her return, needle and thread in hand. None of her accomplishments or successes of the past decade, including not becoming like her mother—as predicted by many—could ever erase who she’d been, once upon a time.