Excerpt of The Impossible Groom

I'm thrilled with how well The Impossible Groom is doing! It got down to #161 in overall Amazon books and hit #1 in several categories. I'm so grateful for my readers.

Here's an excerpt of the book:

Something was up. Ryleigh could tell from the looks passing between Tess and her client Gemma. “What am I missing?” When neither of them answered, she zeroed in on her younger sister. “Tess, what’s going on?”
Tess’s eyes gleamed with excitement as she clasped her hands together and leaned forward across the kitchen table where they were sitting. “I did something.” A sheepish expression cloaked her face.
Ryleigh tensed. Tess was as free-spirited as Ryleigh was sensible. Over the past few years, as Ryleigh had worked to get her business up and running, Tess had proved invaluable. Still, she enjoyed pushing the envelope. There was no telling what she’d done this time. “Will one of you please tell me what’s going on?” Ryleigh demanded, not trying to hide the exasperation in her voice. 
A large smile filled Gemma’s round face, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening. “We’re so proud of you,” she cooed.
“Proud of me for what?”
“You’ve been selected for the Grilling and Chilling Cooking Competition,” Tess exploded with glee.
Ryleigh’s head did a one-eighty spin. “What?” she swallowed, trying to take it all in. The competition was huge! In a month, professional chefs from all over the country would gather at the convention center in downtown Dallas to compete for a $15K prize. The publicity alone would boost Ryleigh’s business as a personal chef. She’d desperately wanted to enter the contest, but the entry fee was fifteen hundred dollars. Ryleigh nixed the idea knowing that hundreds of people would enter, but only ten would be chosen to compete. No way could Ryleigh throw away fifteen hundred dollars on a pipe dream. She shot Tess an accusing look. “You went behind my back and signed me up.”
Tess arched an eyebrow. “Yes, I did. You can thank me later,” she added tartly.   
Ryleigh let out a long breath. “Where did you get the entry money?” The look on Gemma’s face instantly answered her question. “You paid the entry fee.” Gemma and her husband Doug were Ryleigh’s best clients. For the past year, she’d been coming to their home on a weekly basis to prepare meals. The retired couple had become close friends with Ryleigh and Tess, to the point where the sisters felt closer to them than they ever had to their own parents. Still, Tess shouldn’t have taken advantage of Gemma’s generosity.  
“Yes,” Gemma admitted. “I knew it would be money well spent and that you’d make the cut.” She chuckled, touching her stomach. “After all, I know firsthand how wonderful your cooking is.”
Ryleigh clenched her fist, an invisible cord tightening around her chest. “What if I hadn’t made it? You would’ve thrown away fifteen hundred dollars.” Gemma’s money might still go to waste. Ryleigh would be competing against top chefs from all over the US. Could she handle the pressure? She felt hot and cold at the same time. 
Gemma lifted her chin, a sure note coming into her voice. “That was a chance I was willing to take.”
Tess’s brows drew together, her lips forming a pout. “Why’re you being such a sour puss? You should be jumping for joy right now. Gemma and I did you a huge favor.”
“You should’ve told me what you were doing,” Ryleigh grumbled, “instead of going behind my back.”
Sparks shot from Tess’s eyes. “If we had, you would’ve put a monkey wrench in the whole thing like you always do.” Her expression grew pleading. “You work so hard. You deserve a break. Don’t let your fear of failure choke out your opportunity for success.” She clutched her neck, gagging.
“I get the point,” Ryleigh countered.
Tess’s voice grew intense. “You can do this!”
“Yes,” Gemma piped in, “Tess is right. You’ve got this, Ryleigh.”
The air crackled with unleashed opportunity. Ryleigh drew in a breath. Was Tess right? Was she afraid of success? Things had been hard for her and Tess growing up. Their mom had left on a quest “to find herself” when Ryleigh was ten, leaving their father a broken-down and bitter man, who had no idea how to raise two daughters. Consequently, Ryleigh and Tess had raised themselves. Then Ryleigh got married to the man she thought would be the love of her life, only to have the relationship end in divorce. She’d become jaded, never allowing herself to get too hopeful about the future. She had to keep her feet firmly planted in the present so she could provide a good home for Noah. Her heart softened as she glanced to the adjoining family room where her seven-year-old son was sprawled out on the floor, watching TV. Despite the pain she’d experienced over her failed relationship with her ex-husband Joey, Ryleigh was intensely grateful for her young son. 
Ryleigh was an official participant in the contest. She’d made the cut! Her stomach tingled with anticipation as a smile tugged at her lips. She looked at Tess and Gemma.  She needed to think more positively, stop being so afraid of the sky falling all the time. “Do you really think I can do it?” 
Tess pounded the table with the flat of her palm. “Absolutely!”
Everything began to sink in, as Ryleigh’s eyes glistened. “I can’t believe I was selected.” Her head spun with possibilities. “What should I make?” 
Gemma tucked a lock of silver hair behind her ear. “I vote for your peanut butter pie.”
Ryleigh wrinkled her nose. “Do you think it’s sophisticated enough?”
“You can dress it up a little.” Tess waved a hand. “Put a gourmet spin on it.”
“Yes, I could.” Ryleigh bit her lower lip, thinking. “For the grill part … should I do fish? Or beef or chicken?”
Tess flicked her fingers through her hair. “Fish is your specialty. Then again, we are in Texas so beef is always a good choice.” She shrugged. “It’s up to you. You’re the chef.”
“Hmm … I’ll have to think about it,” Ryleigh mused, drumming her fingers on the table. 
“The wheels are already turning,” Gemma laughed. 
Noah bounded into the kitchen and tugged on Ryleigh’s t-shirt sleeve. “Can we go to the park now?” He peered at her with big, brown eyes ringed in thick, dark lashes. “Please,” he chimed. 
Ryleigh ruffled his hair as she scooted back her chair and stood. “Yep. To the park we go.”
“Yes!” Noah pumped a fist in the air and started jumping up and down.
Giving him an indulgent smile, Ryleigh put a hand on his shoulder. “All right. Take it down a notch.” She looked apologetically at Gemma. “You’ll be glad to get us out of here, so you can have some peace and quiet.”
The corners of Gemma’s lips turned down as she stood and brushed aside the comment with a wave of her hand. “Oh, no. I love having y’all here.” She grinned at Noah. “This one, here, keeps me young.”
Earlier, while Ryleigh worked on preparing freezer meals for Gemma, Tess had picked up Noah from school and brought him here to Gemma’s house so they could finish up for the day. After downing a half dozen cookies and two glasses of milk, Noah started running circles around the kitchen, demanding Ryleigh’s attention. Needing a diversion for Noah, Gemma had turned on the TV to one of Noah’s favorite cartoons. Ryleigh promised to take Noah to the park, if he’d entertain himself long enough for them to finish up. 
“Tess, do you want to come with us to the park?” Ryleigh asked.
Tess flipped the ends of her long, brown hair, hazel eyes sparkling. “I would, but I have a hot date.”
A grin slid over Ryleigh’s lips as she winked at Gemma. “Who’s the lucky guy tonight?” Tess went out on so many dates that Ryleigh couldn’t keep track of them all. 
“His name’s Marshall.”
Gemma flashed a large smile. “Speaking of guys, I spoke to my neighbor about you the other day.”
For a split second, Ryleigh thought Gemma was talking to Tess before realizing she was referring to her instead. She swallowed, pointing to herself. “Me?”
“Yep.” Gemma’s light, watery eyes shimmered beneath her wire-rimmed glasses. “Chas said he’d love to meet you.”
Tess pumped her eyebrows in amusement. “Way to go, Gemma. Ryleigh needs to get out, let her hair down a little.”
“Yeah, with Noah, I don’t really have time to date,” Ryleigh hedged.
Gemma waved her hand. “Nonsense. Douglas and I’ll watch Noah while you go out.”
Heat crawled up Ryleigh’s neck, and she felt like she was pinned to the wall. “I don’t think so.”
“We’ll get pizza and go see a movie,” Gemma added, looking at Noah. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Mom! I wanna go with Gemma and Doug,” Noah chimed. “Tonight?” he asked eagerly.
Gemma brought a finger to her chin, looking thoughtful. “I guess I could call Chas and see if he’s available.”
“No!” Ryleigh blurted. Geez. She felt like a charity case. She straightened to her full height. “I don’t wish to be fixed up with anyone right now,” she said stiffly.
“Oh, Chas O’Brien’s not just anyone,” Gemma said. “He’s a cutie and the starting running back for the Texas Titans. The Irish Flash is what they’re calling him because he’s so quick on the field. Chas recently broke up with his girlfriend. Right now, he’s footloose and fancy free. Strike while the iron’s hot.”
“Goody,” Ryleigh bubbled sarcastically. She was not going to let Gemma set her up with some egotistical football player. She had enough ego from her ex, Joey, and didn’t need to add another problem to the list. 
Interest lit Tess’s eyes. “If Ryleigh won’t go out with him, I will.”
Gemma pursed her lips together, shaking her head. “No, Tess. Chas is for Ryleigh,” she said decisively. 
A thundercloud passed over Tess’s face. “Fine,” she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Don’t worry, honey, you’ll get your turn,” Gemma soothed. 
The absurdity of the conversation—Tess being disgruntled about a hypothetical relationship—struck Ryleigh as funny. She couldn’t stop the peals of laughter from leaving her throat. 
Tess and Gemma gave her puzzled looks. “What?” Tess asked.
Ryleigh wagged her finger. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for the two of you to spend time together. You come up with too many hare-brained schemes.”
Tess’s hands went to her hips. “What exactly do you mean by that?” she snipped.
Noah tugged at his mom’s shirt. “Can we go to the park now?” He sighed in exasperation.
“Yep, you bet.” Ryleigh was happy to put an end to this conversation.
Gemma gave her a sharp look. “Don’t think this gets you off the hook with Chas.”
Ryleigh rolled her eyes. 
“I have a sense about these things,” Gemma continued. “The two of you would be perfect together. Chas is a good guy, but he’d be even better with the right woman by his side.”
“Sure, I’ll just run next door and claim the Irish Flash,” Ryleigh retorted. She regretted her cattiness when Gemma’s face fell. She blew out a long breath. “Sorry, I’m not trying to be mean. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I really do. It’s just that I’m not ready for that. I don’t need another man in my life,” she grumbled under her breath.
“Sure, you don’t,” Tess harrumphed. “And you don’t need air to breathe either, right?”
The comment hit Ryleigh right between the eyes. Before she could say something smart back, Noah clasped her hand with an iron grip. “Let’s go,” he urged, his eyes bulging like it would kill him to wait another minute. 
“All right.” Ryleigh shot Tess a look that said, Go jump in a lake, but it didn’t faze Tess in the slightest. Ryleigh brushed aside her angst at Tess and turned her attention to Gemma. “Thanks for paying my entry fee.”
“Of course,” Gemma said, smiling.
Tess looked expectantly at her.
Ryleigh let out a loud sigh as her insides softened. It was impossible to stay mad at her little sister. Yes, Tess was annoying as all get out, but she had a heart of gold. “Thank you for signing me up,” she pushed through her teeth. 
“You’re welcome,” Tess said in a cheeky tone. She waltzed over to Gemma’s side and gave her a tight hug. “All right. I’m off. See ya later.”
“Yes,” Ryleigh added as she went to Gemma and hugged her. She caught a whiff of Gemma’s expensive perfume as Gemma enfolded her in soft, comforting arms. “Thanks for everything,” Ryleigh breathed. Gemma was such a blessing. She always ordered twice the amount of food she and Doug could eat in a week. She claimed it was because she liked to have extra in case company stopped by and enjoyed taking food to her neighbors. However, Ryleigh knew Gemma ordered the surplus food to help her out. The extra income was great, but Ryleigh felt guilty about it. 
Ryleigh picked up Noah’s backpack as she glanced around the kitchen. “Did you get everything?” Last week, they’d left a water bottle and Noah’s math workbook. The minute Ryleigh had gotten home, she had to put Noah in the car and come back for those items. She wanted to make sure they got everything this time. 
“I forgot my ball,” he said, as he ran into the living room. A second later, he returned with it. Gemma walked them out, waving as they went down her walkway to the car. Noah skipped to the car and opened the door. Ryleigh expected him to get in, but he dropped the ball. Before Ryleigh could blink, Noah ran into the street after it. Time seemed to slow to an excruciating pace as Ryleigh saw the approaching car. Tess screamed, but Ryleigh’s voice was frozen with terror. Ryleigh heard the squeal of brakes at the same time she caught the flash of movement out of the corner of her eye—a jogger—darted over and pulled Noah out of the path of the car in the nick of time. The force sent them both tumbling to the asphalt.
Ryleigh, Tess, and Gemma rushed to the road as the car door opened. A teenage girl got out, her eyes wide, lower lip trembling. She twisted a finger around a lock of her hair, tears filling her eyes. “H—he just ran out.”
Ryleigh’s entire body trembled as she went over to Noah and the man. Noah was sobbing, the sound escaping in muffled gulps. Ryleigh helped him to his feet. His knees were scraped and bleeding, otherwise, he seemed okay. Relief swept over her, making her legs go weak. She looked at the man. He, also, had skinned knees and arms. He rose to his feet. “Thank you so much,” she said. Tears rushed to her eyes as she hugged Noah. “I thought I’d lost you.” She offered a silent prayer of gratitude, trying to calm her heart, which was pounding like a jackhammer against her ribs. Thinking about how close Noah had come to disaster sent shudders slithering down her spine.
She glanced at the man without really seeing him. “I’m so grateful you were there and that you reacted so quickly. Thank you.” 
He nodded. “You’re welcome.”
“My knees hurt,” Noah whined. 
Gemma patted his arm. “It’ll be all right.” She looked at the teenaged girl. “Everything’s okay. No harm was done. You can go.”
The girl. Ryleigh had forgotten about her. “Yes,” she piped in, flashing an apologetic smile. “I’m really sorry.” Thank goodness Noah was fine! Emotion lumped in her throat as she looked at Noah, her hand instinctively going to her heart. 
The teenage girl nodded in relief as she hurriedly got in her car and drove away.
“My ball!” Noah stretched out his arms as he looked across the road to where the ball was resting against the curb.
“I’ll get it,” Tess offered, jogging over to it. A minute later, she handed it to Noah. 
“Let’s get you cleaned up and bandaged,” Gemma said to Noah. Her keen motherly eyes went to the man. “Both of you.”
The guy looked down. “I’m all right,” he said offhandedly.
“Nonsense, Chas. You’re bleeding,” Gemma argued. She draped an arm around Noah’s shoulders. “We’ll see you inside,” she said to Chas, in a tone that was more of a command than a request, as she led Noah to the house. Ryleigh jerked as the man’s name clicked in her mind. Chas. The guy Gemma wanted her to meet.

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