Will they be able to make a home for Christmas?
Nia Alexander is leaving the costume rooms of Hollywood in her rearview mirror and taking her son across the country for a fresh start and a white Christmas. She’s also hoping to leave behind the threats from the jerk who didn’t want to hear the word No.
Jaz LaChance is never going back to the limelight. It’s been almost a decade since his photos were splashed in magazines and on billboards. Funding new businesses in Bloo Moose is better. Until Nia turns out to be a new tenant. Nia saved his ass once, but every time he looks at her, he remembers the humiliation of that night.
When Jaz discovers Nia is being threatened, he needs to figure out how to leave the past truly where it belongs. If they can trust each other, they might be able to make a home of their own for the holidays.
Reaching For Home is the 9th book in the Bloo Moose romantic suspense series. Each book can be read as a standalone. The book contains some strong language and sexy times. Enjoy.
Release date: November 16, 2021
Publisher: Jemi Fraser @ Just Jemi Books
Content advisory: Reaching For Home is the 9th book in the Bloo Moose romantic suspense series. Each book can be read as a standalone. The book contains some strong language and sexy times. Enjoy.
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Reaching For Home: A Bloo Moose Romance
Nia Alexander turned off her car and thumped her head on the steering wheel.
She’d made it.
A dozen states in four ridiculously long days with a nine-year-old.
But she’d made it.
Even if it was almost four in the morning. Even if they’d spent their Thanksgiving driving. There’d be lots to be thankful for next year.
Nia didn’t have a key to their new apartment yet, but she’d planned to catch a little sleep in the car before meeting with her landlord.
She hadn’t been expecting the cold. It was barely past Thanksgiving, but Vermont didn’t appear to care. A layer of snow covered everything, and the wind had nearly frozen her lungs when she’d filled up the tank a few hours before.
At least the snow was a good sign she’d be able to produce the white Christmas she’d promised.
A peek over her shoulder showed Malik still sleeping like the baby he’d been five minutes ago. How was it possible he was approaching double digits?
She’d have to turn on the car periodically to keep him warm, so she couldn’t risk falling asleep herself.
At least she’d charged her tablet. She could work on her business plan.
Nia Alexander had a business plan.
She had a meeting with Bea Davis in the afternoon to look at the boutique that would be Nia’s business as of the following morning.
Nia couldn’t stop the seat dance. Her own business. Lots of terror in those words, but so much joy as well.
A dream come true.
One for her and Malik. A way to ensure his future and his happiness. Nothing else mattered.
A flash of headlights brightened the interior of her car. Nia checked her locks and put her hand on the key. Did she need to run?
She’d been too tired to think to back in. It should be habit by now.
A bright blue compact car pulled in beside Nia. Hand still on the key, Nia checked out the driver.
Female. Curly white hair. Thick glasses. Warm smile.
And a big wave.
Nia knew appearances were often deceiving, but if this woman was a threat to her or Malik, she’d go back to working under the nightmare that was Madame LeBreque. That woman had made everyone unpick all the seams and start again if the wind blew from the wrong direction.
The woman in the blue car got out and walked around the front of it to approach Nia’s door.
Knowing she was acting ridiculous, Nia rolled down her window a few inches and kept her hand on the key.
The woman peered into the backseat, and her smile grew. “Is that your boy? I didn’t realize you had a little one. He’s a sweetie. They’re so angelic when they’re sleeping.”
Nia didn’t respond, but that didn’t stop the woman’s smile from growing.
“I’m Megs Carter. I’m the baker for The Lucky. I start every morning at this time. Can’t sleep like I used to. I imagine you’re Nia Alexander. You’re the one taking over Bea’s Boutique. She’s so excited to be moving down south with her grandbabies. Having someone to take over the store has been a big relief.”
Nia found herself smiling back even as she wondered how Megs knew so much about her.
“It’ll be a few hours before you get your key. It’s too cold out here for both of you. Come on into the kitchen with me. We’ll find a good spot for your little one to sleep.”
Minutes later, Malik was snuggled on some coats laid over a couple of chairs pushed together and Nia was sitting with a big mug of coffee and a cranberry muffin.
She couldn’t have been further from her life in LA than if she’d been on the moon.
Megs chatted away as she mixed up dough and batters. Cookies. Muffins. Breads.
The woman might look like a grandma from a fairy tale, but she had the energy of the stunt people in the movies.
Nia imagined fitting Megs Carter for a costume would require the same energy as fitting one of the action heroes she’d worked with.
“So what made you choose Bloo Moose? It’s a long way from California.”
Which was one of the main reasons for choosing it.
Another was sleeping softly in the chairs.
The third she wasn’t discussing.
“Malik and I have always thought snow sounded like fun. It was time for a change and when I saw the ad for the boutique, it seemed like a dream come true.”
A dream that would take her far from a nightmare.
“No family back in California?”
It took a couple of deep breaths before Nia answered. “No. Malik’s grandmother passed away recently, and she was our last tie to the area. I want him to have a fresh start, and a place with a name like Bloo Moose has to be fun. He deserves more fun.”
Nia rolled her lips together to stop the shake audible in her voice.
She should have moved years before. Malik hadn’t been touched by much of the wackiness that was in the industry itself, but her marriage had.
Clay had wanted to be part of it all. He’d wanted to be at the center of it all.
Nia had wanted to run in the other direction.
And now she was.
Shaking her head to clear it, Nia took another sip of coffee. This kind lady who loved to talk appeared harmless, but Nia wasn’t sharing any nightmares.
Those were behind her, and her focus was going to be on building a healthy and happy future for her little guy.
“How did you find our town?”
Nia was glad her dark skin would cover most of her flush. This was where it was a little tricky. A little embarrassing, some might consider it borderline creepy.
She looked over at her boy and knew it wasn’t. She’d made the best choice she could for him.
“I once worked with someone who lived here. He told great stories about the town and when it was time to move, I remembered those stories.”
“Sounds like he made an impact.”
The kindest man she’d ever met in the industry. One of the sexiest, too. He certainly hadn’t been part of the darkness and slime that covered so much of Hollywood.
They’d worked together a few times, and he’d always treated her with respect. Which wasn’t nearly as common as it should be.
Instead of answering the implied question as to the man’s identity, Nia took another sip of coffee. “Anything I can help you with?”
Megs laughed and shook her head. “No, but thank you. I’ve got it down to a pattern. If anything throws me off, it takes me far longer than normal. But, I do like to have company.”
When the clock showed seven, Megs smiled. “Your keys should arrive any moment now.”
Megs hadn’t made any calls or texts that Nia had seen, so apparently Nia’s landlord was a stickler for routine. As she’d only dealt with the realtor, she didn’t know who the landlord would be.
On cue, Nia heard a key in the lock of the back door and the door swung open.
Her mouth dropped open as the man strode in. When he looked up, he froze for a second before moving forward again and forcing a fake smile.
“Nia? You’re the new tenant?”
Nia nodded. Apparently, the kind and sexy Jaz LaChance was her new landlord.
And he wasn’t happy about it.
Jaz LaChance nearly stumbled over his feet as he walked into the kitchen of The Lucky.
The woman sitting at the butcher block counter was connected to one of the most humiliating times in his life. A time he’d locked into the past.
A time he didn’t want encroaching on him in the kitchen of his coffee shop.
Or in his town.
Or anywhere in his life.
He’d been a fool. And a coward.
It took Jaz's brain a few seconds to realize Nia had to be the woman taking over Bea’s Boutique and renting the apartment above.
The store and apartment right next door to The Lucky and his own place.
He’d have to see her every day, have those reminders every day.
Megs interrupted his thoughts as she grinned at him, oblivious to his thoughts. “Good morning, Jaz. From the look on both your faces, I’m going to guess you’re the man who told her those great stories of Bloo Moose.”
Why hadn’t he kept his mouth shut with her like he had with most people? Something about getting costume fittings with Nia had always loosened the tongue.
She was unlike most people he’d had to deal with. Most of them were looking for the next opportunity, the next angle.
Nia had simply done her job. She’d been friendly and easy to talk to.
She’d been witness to that embarrassing moment.
And she’d saved his ass from it being any worse.
At least she didn’t know about the rest of it. He was incredibly grateful to her, but he didn’t want the constant reminder her presence would bring.
Not that he could say, or even imply, that. She had every right to live in Bloo Moose.
“Hello, Nia. How are you?”
Her smile was small, but friendly. He’d bet every last coffee bean in the shop that she was remembering that day and eyeing him with pity.
“I’m good.” She looked over her shoulder at the pile of coats spread on a couple of chairs. “We’re good.”
Jaz looked again and realized there was a boy under the pile. “Your son?”
Nia nodded with a proud grin.
The boy had been a baby when Jaz had last seen him. But he could see sneakers poking out one end of the pile and a mop of dark, curly hair out of the other.
“How old is he now?”
“Malik is nine.”
“I’m almost ten.” The sleepy voice preceded a shifting of the coats as Malik sat up.
The child’s dark skin and hair echoed his mom, down to the eyes that indicated Asian heritage.
From what he remembered of Nia’s jackass of a husband, he’d been of mixed race as well, but all he could see in the boy’s face was a copy of Nia.
When the boy grinned, the resemblance was even more striking.
“It’s morning? We’re here? Is there snow?”
Not waiting for an answer, Malik raced to the front window of the shop and stared out past the sign. He let out a whoop and ran back. “There’s snow. The real stuff. Not that fake crap they tossed around at that stupid company Christmas party.”
Nia flushed and frowned at her son. “Malik.”
He rolled his eyes. “It was lame, Mom. You’re just too polite to say so.”
Nia sighed, but her eyes sparkled and Jaz knew she totally agreed with her kid.
Jaz stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Malik. I’m Jaz and this is Megs, best baker in the world.”
“Hi. It smells great in here. I’m starving.”
Nia tugged him into her side for a hug. “You’re always starving.”
For having been awake for an entire minute, the kid crackled with energy. Jaz remembered that age, when the world was all about adventure and food.
Megs raised an eyebrow. “Any allergies?”
Malik shook his head, curls waving wildly.
Megs reached over and tossed him a couple of muffins. “On the house. Welcome to Bloo Moose.”
The first one disappeared in about three bites.
Nia sighed. “It helps to actually chew and not just inhale.”
Malik grinned at his mom’s words and peeled the wrapper off the second muffin.
Jaz kept his tone serious. “I’m glad you didn’t rent a gingerbread house. You’d be living in a pile of crumbs in twenty-four hours.”
Malik’s eyes widened before he realized Jaz was joking, and he laughed. “Sounds tasty.”
Megs grabbed some loaf pans out of the oven. “Jaz is your new landlord, Nia. Bea moved into the B&B last night so you could get settled into the apartment right away.”
“She didn’t have to do that. We could have stayed there. Or a motel.”
Megs laughed. “She wanted to spend a couple of nights at Darby’s B&B so she could enjoy her cooking. And she wanted to make sure you didn’t change your mind. She’s really looking forward to seeing those grandbabies.”
“We wouldn’t change our minds. This is where we want to be.”
Malik polished off his second muffin with a nod.
Jaz grabbed the keys that Bea had left with him the day before and motioned them out the back door. Megs passed Malik another muffin on the way.
In the parking lot, the boy reached down to pick up a handful of snow with his free hand. He squashed it with his fingers and then opened it to watch it melt. Then he did it again.
“Your boutique is right next door. You’ve got two entrances to the apartment. One’s via this set of stairs.” He pointed up at the small balcony that led to two doors. “The one on the left is yours. I’m on the right. If you need anything, you just need to knock.”
He’d have to get over his reaction and be a good neighbor and landlord. Neither of them deserved anything less.
“The other entrance is through this door. It leads down to the boutique and storage areas. Let’s go in this way.”
He opened the door and pushed it in, then motioned for the two of them to precede him inside.
“Can I check it out, Mom?”
When Nia nodded, Malik bounced off. The kid had enough energy for three people.
The boy reminded Jaz of Lil’s energy growing up. “He’s a great kid.”
Nia beamed at him. “He is. That’s why I needed to get him away from the crazy and into some normal.”
Jaz nodded. He’d felt the same, something Nia probably suspected.
He also noted the I, not we. And her finger was bare. “You’re not married anymore?” He kept his voice low, even though he heard Malik’s footsteps pounding up the stairs.
Nia’s smile dropped. “No. Clay died eighteen months ago.”
She nodded, but turned away and opened the door of the nearest storage room. Topic closed, especially with Malik around.
“I’ll let Bea go through the store with you, but you’ve got the main storefront, two storage rooms, a powder room, and an office down here.”
Nia nodded as she moved to the stairs. “Let’s follow the bamboo sprout and see the apartment.”
Her natural smile was back. He’d always thought Nia could have made a killing on screen instead of working in the costume department.
“He’s growing so fast, I can almost see it happening.”
“Not surprised with the way he inhaled those muffins.”
“I may have to do fundraising to feed him once he’s an actual teenager.”
When they opened the door at the top of stairs to enter the apartment, they found Malik at the front window.
He turned with another wide smile. The kid could easily make a living on screen as well.
“Mom, you gotta see this view. It’s killer. The lake is huge.”
Jaz followed them as they looked at his favorite view in the world. The one that said home.
“In six weeks or so, the lake will be covered with ice and huts for ice fishing.”
Malik raised his eyebrows. “That’s a thing? A real thing? Fishing on the ice? How does that work?”
“One question at a time.”
“That’s way too slow, Mom.”
Jaz laughed. The two of them were a perfect fit. Nia was gentle and the love between them was obvious.
“When the ice is thick enough, you can drill a hole through it and fish that way. Lots of fun.”
“How thick does it get?”
Jaz shrugged. “Depends. The middle of the lake never gets more than a couple of inches. No one is dumb enough to fish out there. Nearer the shore, the ice can get two feet thick.”
Both of them goggled at him, then looked back out the window.
“That’s a lot of ice. Exactly how cold is it going to get here?”
Nia’s concerned look made Jaz laugh. He looked over their sneakers and hooded sweatshirts.
“Let’s just say you’re going to need to get some new clothes.”
Malik grinned at his mother. “Good thing we know someone who owns a clothing store.”
Nia tilted her head in question and then surprise and delight flowed over her face. “You mean me.”
Her kid rolled his eyes, hard. “Obviously.”
Even as Jaz laughed along with them, he wondered how in the world he was going to be able to avoid the pair.
A small part of him wondered if that was even what he wanted to do.
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