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Second Chance Sunset

Second Chance Sunset

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They say true love only happens once in a lifetime. But what about a second chance with your first love?

  • Small ski resort town during Christmas
  • Retired hockey player
  • Spunky city girl
  • Cabin neighbors
  • Family feud
  • Brothers/family saga


An age-old family feud keeps them apart. Can the spirit of Christmas bring them together?

Francesca Costa is a spontaneous, lively chef who escapes to the mountains to get some space from the demands of her family and job after she loses the lease on her restaurant. She wants to regroup and figure out her next steps. What she doesn’t expect is the bear on the front porch of the family cabin or the bear of a man who comes to her rescue.

Rocky Hawkins is a serious, private mountain man who once had it all: a successful hockey career and heir to the Hawkins family fortune. After his father added a stipulation to his will, he and his brothers went their separate ways, breaking the family apart. He escaped to the mountains to live a quiet life. Then a beautiful woman moves in next door.

She brings him cookies to say thank you for scaring off a bear. It’s the neighborly thing to do. He only resists because the Costa and Hawkins families are not supposed to like each other.

But it’s nearly Christmas. The time of forgiveness, family...and food. She doesn’t want him to be alone and her attempt to reunite them over a meal fails. He just won’t let any sweetness into his life, but he does want her even though she’s not looking for a relationship. They’re not looking for a miracle, but they might just need one.

This is book 5 in the Hawkins Family Romance series. Each book stands alone but reading them in order provides a deeper, richer experience. It is a sweet, “clean and wholesome” romance without swearing or mature content and contains a happily ever after.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1: Frankie

The jingle of bells and the sound of Christmas carols came from a nearby shop as the door opened and closed. Frankie wasn’t feeling festive. In fact, she felt as green as the Grinch. She’d told herself not to let the situation get her down. But she was not feeling the comfort and joy the song playing professed.

Frankie locked the door to Mangia Bella for the last time. The restaurant had been her baby, her pride and joy, and a culinary hub. She’d lost it to a bad building owner who’d written a loophole into her lease. She wasn’t able to find a new suitable space—and she’d looked. Her patrons, employees, her family— everyone had tried to help her land a new spot, but property in New York City was at a premium and location meant everything.

She still gripped the doorknob as though unwilling to let go of her dream. Not just her dream, but her livelihood, along with everyone else who’d relied on her for employment.
Her phone chimed with an incoming call. Her heart leaped. Maybe it was good news.

“Hey, Frankie,” a male voice with a strong New York accent said after she answered. It was Mauricio, another restaurant owner. “I’m sorry, kid. I tried, but, well, you know how it is.”

“Thank you. I owe you dinner. You’ll be among the first I serve when I get back on my feet.”

“I know you will.”

They chatted another moment and hung up. Frankie had pulled favors with every other restauranteur and chef in the five boroughs—Isabella and Matteo from Il Bacio were especially generous, knowing a thing or two about loss. Frankie managed to get her former waitstaff, cooks, and bussers interviews, but she still felt like she’d let everyone down. She’d let herself down. If anything, Frankie was tenacious. But as her fingers stiffened around the cold knob on the chilly December morning, her shoulders dropped. Her drive and her passion were inside those four walls, and she had to return the key.

A guy with a breakfast sandwich in one hand elbowed her aside and rattled the doorknob. “I’m here with Ace Construction. You the manager of the new restaurant movin’ in?” he asked around a mouthful.

Frankie shook her head. She was the old owner and shuffled away, feeling the weight of disappointment pressing against her.

Crossing the busy street, she climbed the stairs to the property management company. The landlord hadn’t managed the eviction himself but had hired a third party to do his dirty work.

Her parents were back in Italy and she’d begged her brothers not to tell them—not yet.

They’d worked hard their entire lives and finally had some peace. She didn’t want to disappoint or, as was more likely the case, worry them.

She was their bambina— their little girl and the youngest of seven. If they caught wind, they’d be on a flight back to Manhattan, fretting and threatening to break someone’s knees. Not really. They were both originally from Italy but had moved to the United States before they had children. After settling in New York, they quickly became aware of the stereotypes surrounding the Italian mafia.

Her father was as gentle as they came—at least after getting to know him. Her mother was fiery—probably where Frankie got her passionate personality.

On the other hand, her brothers weren’t joking when they offered to take care of things. As if channeling her thoughts, her phone rang with the sound of a starting bell for a boxing match. She checked the message. It was one of her brothers who was a trainer at a boxing gym uptown.

Need me to throw knuckles?
Probably not the best solution, but thanks
, she wrote back. She hardly had the energy to lift a finger and didn’t want to have to break up any brawls.

There were six Costa brothers, and that intimidation factor alone could make the landlord rethink his decision if he’d ever show his face.

Frankie had a lawyer look at the lease—something she should’ve done before she signed it. Unfortunately, it was valid. The landlord’s sneaky plan became clear as day to lease the space, wait until the business was successful, and then go in and replace it with a restaurant that he backed, hoping to edge in on her customer base.

When Frankie reached the top of the stairs in the building, she glared out the window. The new sign filled the spot that had previously said, Mangia Bella. He was so slimy, he’d even named his new restaurant Mangia Mama.

Frankie couldn’t bring herself to fight. She just wanted to go somewhere quiet and lick her wounds.

Frankie entered the office and presented the key to the property management assistant, a young man wearing a bowtie—in a hipster, ironic way. He had neatly trimmed hair and deliberate movements.

“That look on your face,” he said, alarmed.

Frankie arched an eyebrow, taken aback.

The man held his hands up in surrender. “Don’t shoot the messenger. You look like you might start sending laser beams out of your eyes.”

She glanced back toward the window, to the building across the street, and the sign. The place where she’d poured in blood, sweat, and tears for years. She snorted. If only she had superpowers.

The assistant peered left and then right before leaning close. “Listen, I don’t like this any better than you do. Your lunch specials—” He bunched up his fingers, kissed them, and then spread them wide. “Welk marched in here, demanded we handle his property, and have the premises vacated. When I found out it was Mangia Bella, I begged my boss to reconsider. My life will not be the same without your lasagna.”

Frankie smiled thinly, flattered and surprised at his candor.

“Okay, I didn’t beg because that’s beneath me, but I did tell my boss that it was a bad idea. All my boss sees are dollar signs and Welk is a tycoon so...” He lowered his voice another octave. “But you better be sure I’ll patronize Mangia Mama and then make a call to the health department. A place like that is sure to attract rats.” The assistant’s lips curled into a sly smile. “Now that is not beneath me.”

Frankie could hardly believe her ears. He certainly wasn’t the first to offer revenge. “That’s very, um, thoughtful of you, but—”

“But?” He got to his feet. “Girl, you just walked in here with murder-face. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like the perfect plan.”

In a way, it did, but the whole thing left her feeling helpless and hopeless and like maybe having her own restaurant wasn’t meant to be. She straightened her shoulders. “Thank you,—”

The assistant held out his hand. “Markus. It’s nice to meet the talented and fabulous chef at Mangia Bella. I wish it were under different circumstances.”

She shook his hand and introduced herself. “Likewise.”

“Could you do me a favor?” he asked. “Will you let me know when you reopen and where? I’m addicted to the lunch toast you make—those crostinis with the burrata.” He closed his eyes in reverie.

“I could just give you the recipe.”

“Oh, I don’t cook and I know that you’ll make a comeback, Frankie.”

She snorted. Not likely. She felt deflated, as laden as the gray sky outside.

Once back on the sidewalk, Frankie said a final goodbye to Mangia Bella. It was so named because that was what her dad always said, encouraging her to eat. Eat, beautiful. As the only daughter of seven, he always called her Bella. Her brothers did too—never letting her forget that she was pretty, inside and out. But right then she felt something else.

Empty. Alone. Sad.

When she got to her studio apartment, only three blocks away, she sunk onto the sofa.

She still wore her hat, scarf, and gloves. Her head tipped back and she stared at the ceiling.

“What am I going to do?” she asked out loud.

Frankie had given her all to Mangia Bella—even staying in the tiny apartment with the low rent so she’d have more to invest back into the restaurant. It also helped that it was so close to the location because she was at work most of the time. In fact, not one member of her family had ever been to the apartment. They’d find her at the restaurant, day and night. And it showed. The small studio wasn’t dirty, but it wasn’t tidy either. She had a plant by the window that was past the point of resuscitation.

She hadn’t put up one Christmas decoration—not in the four years that she’d lived there. A stack of unread magazines sat on the table and on top of it, a large manila envelope her father had given her before he and her mother left for Italy at the end of the summer.

He’d said, “Your mama and I are getting old. It’s time we got our affairs in order.” She hadn’t liked the sound of that, so she’d ignored the envelope, assuming it contained their will—not something she wanted to think about then or ever.

The whole idea made her feel like she couldn’t breathe. She tossed her gloves on the table and frantically tore at the scarf wrapped around her neck. As she did so, the large envelope fell on the floor with a thud and a plink. She frowned, hoping nothing broke, and retrieved the envelope.

Inside, sure enough, was a will. But there were also numerous black and white photographs that had yellowed slightly—her grandparents and great grandparents. She studied each one, dropping into the distraction, feeling a sudden connection to her ancestors who’d overcome greater hardships than losing a restaurant—they’d survived wars, illnesses, and losses.

There was one image of her grandfather standing in front of a sign that said Costa Christmas Tree Farm.

Her mother had attached a note that said You’re now entrusted to be the keeper of the family tree and carry on our lineage.

She unfolded a thick piece of paper that spread to cover the entire coffee table and scanned a family tree, written in an old script that was much different than handwriting nowadays. Her finger traced the Costa line from her great-great-great-great Nonno, to her great grandfather, to her grandfather, Francesco, to her father and then to her. The family tree limbs spread in every direction with aunts and uncles and cousins. So many cousins.

Her mother and father had never said it, but she sensed they were disappointed there weren’t any grandkids yet.

Frankie hadn’t found love. No, that wasn’t true. She had, and it was called Mangia Bella. Her brothers had joked that she was married to the place. Now she’d suffered a bitter divorce. But she hadn’t wanted to break up. Begging to get back together wasn’t beneath her, but she kept telling herself that it wasn’t meant to be.

She had to let it go.

She went to put the items back in the envelope, but there was something else inside keeping the papers from sliding in smoothly. She pulled out a key taped to a postcard. Majestic mountains capped with snow and the words Hawk Ridge Hollow were on one side and the key was taped to the other.

In her father’s handwriting was the message A great place to escape if you ever need to get away along with an address.
Then at the bottom, the words Stay away from the Hawkins family were scrawled as though added as an afterthought.

Frankie slouched back on the couch. Her stomach dipped.

They knew. Her parents knew she’d lost the restaurant. The eviction had been set in motion before they’d left for Italy, when she still held onto hope that she could save Mangia Bella. If she hadn’t told them then which one of her brothers did? She dug into her bag to pull out her phone when the name of the place on the postcard, surrounded in happy little pine trees, caught her eye and an idea bloomed.

“Hawk Ridge Hollow,” she whispered.

A memory flooded back and she shivered.

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