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Lorana Hoopes

Once Upon a Star

Once Upon a Star

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Can a single mom find love with an old friend?

Audrey left Star Lake to pursue acting, but after an unplanned pregnancy, her jobs and her money dwindled. With no other options, she must return home and start over. Will she find a new flame there?

Blake was the quintessential nerd in high school and was never able to tell Audrey how he felt. Now that he's gained confidence and some muscle, will he finally be able to reveal his feelings?

The third in the Star Lake series, Once Upon a Star will take you back to Christmas in Star Lake. Revisit your favorite characters and meet a few new ones in this sweet Christmas read. This sweet romance can be read stand alone or as part of the series, so click above and join the journey today.

First Chapter

Audrey stared at the nurses leaning over the silver table, obscuring the view of the thing she wanted to see most.

“Are you ready, Mom?” The head nurse turned to Audrey, a tiny blue package in her arms. 

Mom. The word had never applied to her, and she wasn’t sure it fit. Was she ready? Probably not. Would she ever be completely ready? Probably not. But that didn’t change reality. She tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear and nodded.

“Here’s your son.” The nurse held the swaddled bundle out to her. Audrey opened her hands, unsure of what the nurse wanted her to do. The nurse’s face softened and her warm brown eyes sparkled. With one hand, she adjusted Audrey’s arms to place the tiny bundle in them. “Hold him like this.” She demonstrated the proper technique. “You always want to support his head.”

Audrey nodded, trying to keep her arms from shaking. She was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, but mostly afraid she’d drop the infant, so she kept her eyes glued to him. Would he shatter like a piece of glass? The image sent a shiver down her spine. She didn’t want to find out.

The nurse’s eyes twinkled as she watched Audrey adjust and readjust her holding position. “There is a bassinet here.” The nurse pointed at a clear plastic tub that looked like a large shoe box on top of a wheeled table. It didn’t look comfortable to Audrey, and she wondered how a baby slept in it. “If you want to take him walking, you need to put him in the bassinet, okay?”

“Do I hold him the rest of the time?” As much as she was enjoying the baby in her arms, what happened when she needed to sleep or use the bathroom?

The woman chuckled. “You hold him as much as you want and put him down when you need a break. We’ll come in every few hours to check on you, and we’ll show you how to change his diaper and dress him. You’ll be a pro before you know it. Don’t worry.” She patted Audrey’s arm like her grandmother used to when she asked a silly question, and then the nurse walked out of the room, still smiling and shaking her head.

Audrey’s eyes dropped to the sleeping baby. His shock of dark hair reminded her of his father, the olive-skinned Italian who had charmed her with his fast tongue. She hoped it was the only trait Cayden would get from him. The world didn't need another heartbreaker. “I have no idea what we'll do, Cayden, but we’ll figure something out.”

* * *

Blake turned the glass on the countertop and glanced up at Max who leaned against the back counter, arms folded across his chest as if he were waiting for the answer to a question. The green of his plaid shirt matched the faded ball cap turned backwards on his head. “Sorry, did you say something? I’m distracted; it’s just getting close to Christmas, and I miss Connie.” A vision of the day she left popped into his head.

Blake opened the door, expecting to see Connie on the other side in her Sunday best. The church service started in half an hour. Though Connie stood there, his smile faded as he took in her jeans and t-shirt. There was no requirement of the patrons to dress up, but Connie always wore a dress or skirt. "What's going on?" Blake asked.

Connie bit her lip and her eyes fell to the ground. "I wanted to say goodbye."

"Goodbye?"

"I can't stay any longer, Blake." Her eyes lifted to meet his, and he saw the shimmer of liquid in them. "I hoped I could make a life here, but I'm a city girl. I miss the lights and night life. I miss the excitement."

"But, we were discussing marriage last week." Blake struggled to make her words compute in his brain.

"I know," she nodded, "and that's what got me thinking. The thought of living the rest of my life here is depressing, so though I love you, I have to say goodbye." She leaned in and pecked his cheek before flashing a sad smile and walking back to her car. 

With a heavy heart, Blake watched her drive away before shutting the door and leaning against it. His brain tried to make sense of her departure.

 “I get it,” Max said, leaning forward and dispersing Blake’s memory. “It’s not the same, but you’re welcome to spend Christmas with Layla and me.

Blake offered a half smile. “I’ll consider it, but it’s your first Christmas together. You’ve been in love with that woman since I’ve known you and I don’t want to be a third wheel. Besides, I'll probably hit the Christmas Eve service at church and spend the day with my mom. She’s been lonely without my father around.”

Max shrugged and turned back to the kitchen to finish serving the lunch crowd.

Blake took a bite of his hamburger, but while he knew it was delicious—Max was known for his burgers—it held no taste in his current mood. He fished a few dollars out of his wallet, laid the money on the counter, picked up his coat, and walked out the door.

The McAllister development where he worked sat a mile up the road, but as he still had fifteen minutes remaining on his lunch break, he decided to walk through downtown. His own house resided on the quiet outskirts of town, so other than hanging out with Max at The Diner, he didn’t spend much time in the downtown area.

Blake pulled his coat tighter as the winter air bit through the heavy wool. Star Lake generally received one or two good snowfalls every winter, and though Christmas was still a few weeks away, the chill in the air made him believe the first snow was coming.

He didn’t mind the snow, but he enjoyed it more when he had someone to share the experience with. Curling in front of the fireplace alone held little appeal.

* * *

Audrey shoved the last item in her suitcase and pushed down on the bulging bag as she tugged on the zipper.

“Where are you going to go?” Desiree asked, leaning against the doorframe.

Desiree was Audrey’s roommate, and the two were about as different as night and day. Where Audrey was pale and blond, Desiree had darker skin and long dark hair.

 “The only place I can,” Audrey said with a sighing. “Home.”

The thought held little appeal. Her wealthy parents had given her access to her trust fund at eighteen, and Audrey had opted to move to LA to try her hand at acting. At first, it had been fun. She’d found a few jobs and been in a few commercials, but then the jobs had become fewer and farther between, and after she ended up pregnant, they had dried up completely. Now all the money she had saved was almost gone.

Desiree’s nose scrunched in disgust. “You'd go back to that tiny town, why?”

“I haven’t had a job in months Dez, my savings have run out, and I can’t go to work without someone to watch Cayden. If I go home, I can get help from my parents until I get back on my feet.” 

At least she hoped they would help. They hadn’t been too happy when she decided not to go to college, but she didn’t think they would turn their grandson away, even if they didn’t want to help her.

Desiree shrugged and flicked her hair behind her bony shoulder. “Nothing in the world would make me return to my crappy hometown.”

Audrey knew Desiree’s home life had been rough, but while she hadn’t wanted to grow up under her mother’s thumb, it hadn’t been a bad childhood. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, but I wish you luck.”

After a quick hug, Audrey picked up Cayden’s car seat, slung her bag over her shoulder, and left the apartment she had called home for the last few years.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.