Saturday Excerpt: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne

November is here, which means we can really dive into all the holiday reads we love so much. Kicking off the first Saturday Excerpt of the month is from the wonderful RaeAnne Thayne. Keep reading for a preview of Season of Wonder.

About Season of Wonder:

Season of Wonder by RaeAnne ThayneIt’s a long way from New York to Idaho…but could they have found a home at last?

Dani Capelli has never truly belonged anywhere. And from her earliest days as a foster child in Queens, she would have been lost if it weren’t for her love of animals. Until high school, when she fell hard for the wrong boy, and found herself pregnant—and married—by graduation. Two daughters later, Dani realized her mistake and filed for divorce, and with the help of scholarships and loans—and a lot of macaroni and cheese dinners—she enrolled in vet school. Things were finally looking up…until her ex-husband became her latehusband, in the most notorious way possible.

Now Dani and her daughters need an out-of-town pass more than ever. So when the retiring Haven Point veterinarian offers her a chance to settle in the small Idaho town and take over his practice, she jumps at it. But adjusting to the charming mountain community isn’t easy; thirteen-year-old Silver begins acting out while six-year-old Mia is growing too attached to Haven Point and everything in it, especially their next-door-neighbor, Deputy Sheriff Ruben Morales. And Dani can’t blame her. Ruben is everything she’s secretly wanted—and everything she can’t bear to risk loving…and losing.

As the holidays draw near, their shared concern for Dani’s daughters brings them closer together, giving Ruben the chance to show this big-city woman just how magical Christmas in Haven Point can be…and that the promise of a home at last is very real in the most wondrous season of the year…

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***

This is totally lame. Why do we have to stay here and wait for you? We can walk home in, like, ten minutes.” Daniela Capelli drew in a deep breath and prayed for patience, something she seemed to be doing with increasing frequency these days when it came to her thirteen-year-old daughter.

“It’s starting to snow and already almost dark.”

Silver rolled her eyes, something she did with increasing frequency these days. “So what? A little snow won’t kill us. I would hardly even call that snow. We had way bigger storms than this back in Boston. Remember that big blizzard a few years ago, when school was closed for, like, a week?”

“I remember,” her younger daughter, Mia, said, looking up from her coloring book at Dani’s desk at the Haven Point Veterinary Clinic. “I stayed home from preschool and I watched Anna and Elsa a thousand times, until you said your eardrums would explode if I played it one more time.”

Dani could hear a bark from the front office that likely signaled the arrival of her next client and knew she didn’t have time to stand here arguing with an obstinate teenager.

“Mia can’t walk as fast as you can. You’ll end up frustrated with her and you’ll both be freezing before you make it home,” she pointed out.

“So she can stay here and wait for you while I walk home. I just told Chelsea we could FaceTime about the new dress she bought for the Christmas dance there and she can only do it for another hour before her dad comes to pick her up for his visitation.”

“Why can’t you FaceTime here? I only have two more patients to see. I’ll be done in less than an hour, then we can all go home together. You can hang out in the waiting room with Mia, where the Wi-Fi signal is better.”

Silver gave a huge put-upon sigh but picked up her backpack and stalked out of Dani’s office toward the waiting room.

“Can I turn on the TV out there?” Mia asked as she gathered her papers and crayons. “I like the dog shows.”

The veterinary clinic showed calming clips of animals on a big flat-screen TV set low to the ground for their clientele.

“After Silver’s done with her phone call, okay?”

“She’ll take forever,” Mia predicted with a gloomy look. “She always does when she’s talking to Chelsea.”

Dani fought to hide a smile. “Thanks for your patience, sweetie, with her and with me. Finish your math worksheet while you’re here, then when we get home, you can watch what you want.”

Both the Haven Point elementary and middle schools were within walking distance of the clinic and it had become a habit for Silver to walk to the elementary school and then walk with Mia here to the clinic to spend a few hours until they could all go home together.

Of late, Silver had started to complain that she didn’t want to pick her sister up at the elementary school every day, that she would rather they both just took their respective school buses home, where Silver could watch her sister without having to hang out at the boring veterinary clinic.

But then, Silver complained about nearly everything these days.

It was probably a good idea, but Dani wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on having the girls alone every day after school. Maybe they would try it out after Christmas vacation.

This working professional/single mother gig was hard, she thought as she ushered Mia to the waiting room. Then again, in most ways it was much easier than the veterinary student/single mother gig had been.

When they entered the comfortable waiting room—with its bright colors, pet-friendly benches and big fish tank—Mia faltered for a moment, then sidestepped behind Dani’s back.

She saw instantly what had caused her daughter’s nervous reaction. Funny. Dani felt the same way. She wanted to hide behind somebody, too.

The receptionist had given her the files with the dogs’ names that were coming in for a checkup but hadn’t mentioned their human was Ruben Morales. Her gorgeous next-door neighbor.

Dani’s palms instantly itched and her stomach felt as if she’d accidentally swallowed a f lock of butterflies.

“Deputy Morales,” she said, then paused, hating the slightly breathless note in her voice.

What was it about the man that always made her so freaking nervous?

He was big, yes, at least six feet tall, with wide shoulders, tough muscles and a firm, don’t-mess-with-me jawline.

It wasn’t just that. Even without his uniform, the man exuded authority and power, which instantly raised her hackles and left her uneasy, something she found both frustrating and annoying about herself.

No matter how far she had come, how hard she had worked to make a life for her and her girls, she still sometimes felt like the troublesome foster kid from Queens, always on the defensive.

She had done her best to avoid him in the months they had been in Haven Point, but that was next to impossible when they lived so close to each other—and when she was the intern in his father’s veterinary practice, with the hope that she might be able to purchase it at the end of the year. “Hey, Doc,” he said, flashing her an easy smile she didn’t trust for a moment. It never quite reached his dark, long-lashed eyes, at least where she was concerned.

While she might be uncomfortable around Ruben Morales, his dogs were another story.

He held the leashes of both of them, a big, muscular Belgian shepherd and an incongruously paired little Chi-poo and she reached down to pet both of them. They sniffed her and wagged happily, the big dog’s tail nearly knocking over his small friend.

That was the thing she loved most about dogs. They were uncomplicated and generous with their affection, for the most part. They never looked at people with that subtle hint of suspicion, as if trying to uncover all their secrets.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” she admitted.

“Oh? I made an appointment. The boys both need check-ups. Yukon needs his regular hip and eye check and Ollie is due for his shots.”

She gave the dogs one more pat before she straightened and faced him, hoping his sharp cop eyes couldn’t notice evidence of her accelerated pulse.

“Your father is still here every Monday and Friday afternoons. Maybe you should reschedule with him,” she suggested. It was a faint hope, but a girl had to try.

“Why would I do that?”

“Maybe because he’s your father and knows your dogs?” “Dad is an excellent veterinarian. Agreed. But he’s also semiretired and wants to be fully retired this time next year. As long as you plan to stick around in Haven Point, we will have to switch vets and start seeing you eventually. I figured we might as well start now.”

He was checking her out. Not her her, but her skills as a veterinarian.

The implication was clear. She had been here three months, and it had become obvious during that time in their few interactions that Ruben Morales was extremely protective of his family. He had been polite enough when they had met previously, but always with a certain guardedness, as if he was afraid she planned to take the good name his hardworking father had built up over the years for the Haven Point Veterinary Clinic and drag it through the sludge at the bottom of Lake Haven.

Dani pushed away her instinctive prickly defensiveness, bred out of all those years in foster care when she felt as if she had no one else to count on—compounded by the difficult years after she’d married Tommy and had Silver, when she really had no one else in her corner.

She couldn’t afford to offend Ruben. She didn’t need his protective wariness to turn into full-on suspicion. With a little digging, Ruben could uncover things about her and her past that would ruin everything for her and her girls here. She forced a professional smile.

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s  go back to a room and take a look at these guys. Girls, I’ll be done shortly. Silver, keep an eye on your sister.”

Her oldest nodded without looking up from her phone and with an inward sigh, Dani led the way to the largest of the exam rooms.

She stood at the door as he entered the room with the two dogs, then joined him inside and closed the door behind her.

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