A Single Kiss
Book 1 in the Sweetest Kisses series
The last place she wants to be…
Attorney and single mom Hannah Stark agrees to spend six months helping out in her new employer’s family law department, though an upbringing in foster care has left her determined never to set foot in a domestic relations courtroom.
… and the first guy she’s ever really wanted to be with.
Single dad Trenton Knightley, the law firm’s family law expert, loves his job and isn’t looking for complications. Then Hannah and Trent are thrown together on one tough case after another, and as Hannah grows less and less pleased with her vocation, she’s increasingly impressed with Trent. Trent is taken with Hannah as well, and not simply for her courtroom skills.
Hannah is out of patience with the law, but does that mean there’s no room in her life for another lawyer?
NOTE: The Sweetest Kisses series was originally published in 2015, and went on hiatus in 2022. The republished versions are slightly updated (does anybody watch DVDs anymore?) and sporting spiffy new covers!
Enjoy An Excerpt
“Hannah Stark has that twitchy, nothing-gets-by-her quality.” MacKenzie Knightley flipped a fountain pen through his fingers in a slow, thoughtful rhythm. “I liked her.”
Trenton Knightley left off doodling Celtic knots on his legal pad to peer at his older brother. “You liked her? You liked this woman? You don’t like anybody, particularly females.”
“I respected her,” Mac said, “which, because you were once upon a time a husband, you ought to know is more important to the ladies than whether I like them.”
“Has judge written all over him,” James, their younger brother, muttered. “The criminals in this town would howl to lose their best defense counsel, though. I liked the lady’s résumé, and I respected it too.”
Gail Russo, the law firm’s head of human resources, thwacked a file onto the conference table.
”Don’t start, gentlemen. Mac has a great idea. Hannah Stark interviewed very well, better than any other candidate we’ve considered in the past six months. She’s temped with all the big boys in Baltimore, has sterling academic credentials, and—are you listening?— is available.”
“The best kind,” James murmured.
Trent used Gail’s folder to smack James on the shoulder, though James talked a better game of tomcat than he strutted. “You weren’t even here to interview her, James, and we’re considering her for your department.”
“The press of business…” James waved a languid hand. “My time isn’t always my own.”
“You were pressing business all afternoon?” Mac asked from beyond retaliatory smacking range.
“The client needed attention,” James replied. “Alas for poor, hardworking me, she likes a hands-on approach. Can Hannah Stark bill sixty hours a week, and will she be good for my morale?”
“We have a decision to make,” Gail said. “Do we dragoon Hannah Stark into six months in domestic relations then let her have the corporate law slot, or do we hire her for corporate when the need is greater in family law? Or do we start all over and this time advertise for a domestic relations associate?”
Domestic law was Trent’s bailiwick, but because certain Child In Need of Assistance attorneys could not keep their closing arguments to less than twenty minutes per case, Trent hadn’t interviewed the Stark woman either.
“Mac, you really liked her?” Trent asked.
“Hannah won’t tolerate loose ends,” Mac said. “She’ll work her ass off before she goes to court. The judges and opposing counsel will respect that, and anybody who can’t get along with you for their boss for six months doesn’t deserve to be in the profession.”
“I agree with Mac.” James dropped his chair forward, so the front legs hit the carpet. “I’m shorthanded, true, but not that shorthanded. Let’s ask her to pitch in for six months in domestic, then let her have the first shot at corporate if we’re still swamped in the spring.”
“Do it, Trent,” Mac said, rising. “Nobody had a bad thing to say about her, and you’ll be a better mentor for her first six months in practice than Mr. Press of Business would be. And speaking of domestic relations, shouldn’t you be getting home?”
Grace Stark bounded into the house ahead of her mother, while Hannah brought up the rear with two grocery bags and a shoulder-bag-cum-purse. Whenever possible, for the sake of the domestic tranquility and the budget, Hannah did her grocery shopping without her daughter’s company.
Hannah’s little log house sat on the shoulder of a rolling western Maryland valley, snug between the cultivated fields and the wooded mountains. She took a minute to stand beside the car and appreciate the sight of her own house—hers and the bank’s— and to draw in a fortifying breath of chipper air scented with wood smoke.
The Appalachians rose up around the house like benevolent geological dowagers, surrounding Hannah’s home with maternal protectiveness. Farther out across the valley, subdivisions encroached on the family farms, but up here much of the land wouldn’t perc, and the roads were little more than widened logging trails.
The property was quiet, unless the farm dogs across the lane took exception to the roosters, and the roosters on the next farm over took exception to the barking dogs, and so on.
A good spot to raise a daughter who enjoyed a busy imagination and an appreciation for nature. Damson Valley had a reputation as a peaceful, friendly community, a place to set down roots. Hannah’s little house wasn’t that far from the Y, the park, and the craft shops that called to her restricted budget like so many sirens.
The shoulder bag dropped down to Hannah’s elbow as she wrestled the door open while juggling grocery bags.
“Hey, Mom. Would you make cheese shells again? I promise I’ll eat most of mine.”
“Most?” Hannah asked as she put the milk in the fridge. The amount she’d spent was appalling, considering how tight money was. Thank heavens Grace thought pasta and cheese sauce was a delicacy.
“A few might fall on the floor,” Grace said, petting a sleek tuxedo cat taking her bath in the old fashioned dry sink.
“How would they get on the floor?”
“They might fall off my plate.” Grace cuddled the cat, who bore up grudgingly for about three seconds, then vaulted to the floor. Grace took a piece of purple yarn from a drawer, trailing an end around the cat’s ears.
“Cats have to eat too, you know,” she said. “They love cheese. Henry says his mom lets him feed cheese to Ginger.”
“Ginger is a dog. She’d eat kittens if she got hungry enough.” The groceries put away, Hannah set out place mats and cutlery for two on the kitchen table. “You wouldn’t eat kittens just because Henry let Ginger eat kittens, would you?”
Did all parents make that same dumb argument?
And did all parents put just a few cheesy pieces of pasta in the cat dish? Did all parents try to assuage guilt
by buying fancy 100 percent beef wieners instead of hot dogs?
“Time to wash your hands, Grace,” Hannah said twenty minutes later. “Hot dogs are ready, so is your cat food.”
“But, Mom,” Grace said, looping the string around the drawer pull on the dry sink, “all I did was pet Geeves, and she’s just taken a whole bath. Why do I always have to wash my hands?”
“Because Geeves used the same tongue to wash her butt as she did to wash her paws, and because I’m telling you to.”
Grace tried to frown mightily at her mother but burst out giggling. “You said butt, and you’re supposed to ask.”
“Butt, butt, butt,” Hannah chorused. “Grace, would you please wash your hands before Geeves and I gobble up all your cheesy shells?”
They sat down to their mac and cheese, hot dogs, and salad, a time Hannah treasured— she treasured any time with her daughter—and dreaded. Grace could be stubborn when tired or when her day had gone badly.
“Grace, please don’t wipe your hands on your shirt. Ketchup stains, and you like that shirt.”
“When you were a kid, did you wipe your hands on your shirt?” Grace asked while chewing a bite of hot dog.
“Of course, and I got reminded not to, unless I was wearing a ketchup-colored shirt, in which case I could sneak a small smear.”
Grace started to laugh with her mouth full, and Hannah was trying to concoct a request that would encourage the child to desist, when her cell phone chirped. This far into the country, the expense of a landline was necessary because cell reception was spotty, though tonight the signal was apparently strong enough.
“Hi, this is Gail Russo from Hartman and Whitney. Is this Hannah?”
The three bites of cheesy shells Hannah had snitched while preparing dinner went on a tumbling run in her tummy. “This is Hannah.”
“I hope I’m not interrupting your supper, Hannah, but most people like to hear something as soon as possible after an interview. I have good news, I think.”
Grace used her fork to draw a cat in her ketchup.
“You interviewed with two department heads and a partner,” Gail said, “which is our in-house rule before a new hire, and they all liked you.”
Hannah had liked the two department heads. The partner, Mr. MacKenzie Knightley, had been charm-free, to put it charitably. Still, he’d been civil, and when he’d asked if she had any questions, Hannah had the sense he’d answer with absolute honesty.
The guy had also been good-looking, in a six-foot- four, dark-haired, blue-eyed way that did not matter in the least.
“I’m glad they were favorably impressed,” Hannah said as Grace finished her mac and cheese.
“Unfortunately for you, we also had a little excitement in the office today. The chief associate in our domestic relations department came down with persistent light-headedness. She went to her obstetrician just to make sure all was well with her pregnancy and was summarily sent home and put on complete bed rest.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Not domestic relations. If there were a merciful God, Hannah would never again set foot in the same courtroom with a family law case. Never.
“She’s seven months along, so we’re looking at another two months without her, then she’ll be out on maternity leave. Her situation changed the complexion of the offer we’d like to make you.”
“An offer is good.” An offer would become an absolute necessity in about one-and-a-half house payments. Grace was disappearing her hot dog with as much dispatch as she’d scarfed up her mac and cheese.
“We’d like you to start as soon as possible, but put you in the domestic relations department until Janelle can come back in the spring. We’ll hire somebody for domestic in addition to her, but you’re qualified, and the need, as they say, is now.”
“Domestic relations?” Prisoners sentenced to life-plus-thirty probably used that same tone of voice.
“Family law. Our domestic partner is another Knightley brother, and he’s willing to take any help he can get. He was in court today when Janelle packed up and went home, otherwise you might have interviewed with him.”
What Hannah saw was Grace, helping herself to her mother’s unfinished pasta.
“You’d be in domestic for only a few months, Hannah, and Trent Knightley is the nicest guy you’d ever want to work for. He takes care of his people, and you might find you don’t want to leave domestic in the spring, though James Knightley is also a great boss.”
Gail went on to list benefits that included a signing bonus. Not a big one, but by Hannah’s standards, it would clear off all the bills, allow for a few extravagances, and maybe give her a start on a savings account.
God in heaven, a savings account.
“Mom, can I have another hot dog?” Grace stage-whispered her request, clearly trying to be good, if not quite grammatically correct.
Except there wasn’t another hot dog. Hannah had toted up her grocery bill as she’d filled her cart, and there wasn’t another damned hot dog.
Thank God my child is safe for another day… But how safe was Grace in a household where even hot dogs were carefully rationed?
Hannah covered the phone. “You may have mine, Grace.”
“Hannah? Are you there?”
A beat of silence, while Hannah weighed her daughter’s need for a second hot dog against six months of practicing law in a specialty Hannah loathed, dreaded, and despised.
“I accept the job, Gail, though be warned I will transfer to corporate law as soon as I can.”
“You haven’t met Trent. You’re going to love him.”
No, Hannah would not.
Gail went on to explain details—starting day, parking sticker, county bar identification badge—and all the while, Hannah watched her hot dog disappear and knew she was making a terrible mistake.
Order your copy of A Single Kiss!
End of Excerpt
A Single Kiss is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
March 18, 2023