The Bachelor's Baby

By: Mia Ross



CHAPTER ONE

Liberty Creek was the last place on earth she wanted to be.

Lindsay Holland reluctantly dragged her feet up Main Street of the backwater New Hampshire village she’d escaped from five years ago, berating herself for allowing her life to slide so far out of control. As her mind took an unpleasant spiral down memory lane, she resolutely jerked her thoughts out of the past to focus on her immediate—and precarious—present. A long line of bad decisions had landed her here, she reminded herself sternly. Now she was completely out of options, and the only thing she could do was find a job so she could begin digging herself out of the black hole that had engulfed her and swallowed up what had once seemed to her like a promising future.

It was a frigid January morning, and a Monday to boot, neither of which did much to lift her mood. Pausing outside the only place in town that was currently hiring, she couldn’t help smiling at the hand-lettered slab of cardboard hanging in the grimy window of Liberty Creek Forge.

“Office Help Wanted” it had said at one point. Apparently, things were getting more urgent, because someone had crossed out “Wanted” and in bold black marker had written “Desperately Needed.”

Constructed in the 1820s by the founders of the town, the building and run-down cottage beside it didn’t look as if they were capable of housing anything other than a lot of spiders and archaic ironworking equipment. But the ad that had been tacked to the bulletin board inside the post office was dated only two days ago, so she’d decided to take a chance on it. How bad could it be? she mused as she knocked on the door. Worst case, they’d tell her she wasn’t right for the job. She’d heard that so often recently, she’d become immune to the sting of being rejected. Almost.

But this time, she couldn’t let that happen, she reminded herself. She had to make this work because this was the end of the line for her, and as hard as she’d tried, she hadn’t been able to devise a plan B. So Lindsay squared her shoulders and did her best to think positive. It had been so long since anything good had happened to her, she’d almost forgotten what confidence felt like. How depressing.

When no one answered her knock, she inched the door open and realized that whoever was inside couldn’t hear anything over the loud rock music and clanging of steel. She’d been on field trips to the old metal shop during middle school, and as she stepped inside and set down her single duffel bag, it struck her that the lobby probably hadn’t changed a bit in the twenty-six years she’d been alive.

Neat but unapologetically functional, the bare-bones area held four mismatched folding chairs and a battered table that looked as if it could have been left behind by the original owners of the business. The stainless steel coffee maker on top of it looked decidedly out of place, and the collection of teas and coffees alongside it was an encouraging sign. Despite the rustic environment, it was clear that someone thought enough of their staff to provide them with some creature comforts.

A set of wide sliding doors stood at the rear of the entryway, and even though they were closed, she could hear the muffled hard-driving bass from a rock classic. Funny, she thought as she edged one of the doors open, it had been one of her favorite songs since high school. Unfortunately, that brought up more unpleasant memories, and she batted them aside as she strode into the production area of the metalworks.

As tidy as the front was, this section of the building was a step short of a disaster. A tall man wearing a protective mask and leather apron was welding one old piece of equipment to another, possibly even older, machine. Really, he should just call a scrap metal firm to haul everything out so he could start over. Then again, this was her prospective new boss, and in her situation she couldn’t afford to be picky.

Before she could lose her nerve, Lindsay crossed the dusty floor and waited for an opportune moment to tap him on the shoulder. Clearly startled, he whipped around so fast, she had to dodge the glowing torch in his gloved hand.

“Oh, man,” he muttered as he turned away and doused the flame. “I’m sorry.”

He’d scared her half to death, but she forced a bright tone to avoid coming across like a baby. “No harm done. I’m pretty light on my feet.”

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