“So exquisitely titillating, full of hope and second chances, and so honest, this is Rachel Blaufeld’s best and swooniest romance yet! I LOVED it!”
– Katy Evans, New York Times Bestselling Author
Heart Stronger, an all-new emotional romance from Rachel Blaufeld is available now!
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m watching a movie . . . that it’s not really me, Claire Richards, getting this second chance at life.”
“Open your eyes, it’s you, and I’m damn glad it’s with me.” ~ Aiken
Single mom and college professor Claire Richards only wanted a few hours of me time to soak in her tub, read a book, and drink wine.
But tragedy struck, and Claire found herself with a lot more me time than she bargained for.
Three years later, Claire is still mourning her losses when Aiken Fordham-who looks young enough to be one of her college students-moves in next door.
Forcing Claire to face her fears, Aiken almost forgets his reason for moving to Small Town, Pennsylvania. Falling for the sexy, smart, and strong professor next door was never in the plan.
But now it is . . . until their future intersects with their pasts.
When Heart Stronger begins, readers are presented with a heroine who is merely surviving. The focus of her life is her job and the work that needs to be done in order to prevent her mind from thinking about the past and the darkness that continually threatens to drown her alive. It’s been three years since her life was categorically altered due to tragedy, and in that time, she hasn’t moved on…choosing to remain a hopeless and faithless woman just looking for a way out of her pain…her grief…her self-hatred.
Claire Richards never anticipated her life moving forward in any other way but time, but when Aiken Fordham becomes her neighbor and he goes out of his way to become a part of her life, Claire will have to decide if her fragile heart is strong enough to explore the connection she and Aiken share or if the potential heartache she could possibly have to endure is too much of a risk to take.
There’s a lot of information to absorb when it comes to Claire and Aiken’s story. Claire’s backstory is heartbreaking, but it’s necessary to understand the reasons behind Claire’s closed-off demeanor. With the amount of loss that Claire has had to endure, it makes sense that she would choose to lead a very solitary life, but the longer she stays trapped in her brokenness, the more difficult it will be to pull herself out, and for Aiken Fordham, that’s completely unacceptable.
Aiken Fordham is the perfect hero for Claire Richards; he refuses to give Claire any space because he knows that she’ll try her best to bolster the wall she’s already constructed around herself. Even though it’s clear that Aiken has his own agenda and reasons for being in ‘Small Town Penn,’ his reaction and connection to Claire is real, it’s just the extenuating circumstances that have the potential to destroy what Aiken’s been working so hard to procure.
Rachel Blaufeld provides readers with both the hero and the heroine’s perspective, which is absolutely essential due to the nature of the story line and the fact that they have insight about how the characters’ pasts and presents intertwine. I have to admit that I was caught off-guard by the twist that comes towards the end of the book; it took me a bit to wrap my head around its significance and what it meant for Claire and Aiken, separately as well as a couple who want a future together.
Heart Stronger is an emotional second chance love story. It’s a book that will take readers on a journey of self-discovery as Claire tries to deal with her past and build a future that’s about more than her career. Both Aiken and Claire have some hard truths to face along the way, but the prevailing theme seems to be that there’s always a way to find a light amidst the darkness; the person just has to be willing to look in even the most minute spaces and accept guidance when it can no longer be done alone.
4 Poison Apples
The downpour stopped just as I did, soaked in rain and sweat. Rolling my neck, I took in my house. It was cute. Too cute for a single dude, but it was all fixed up, and I wasn’t in the mood for a renovation project.
I bent over to stretch, touching my toes, and before I could stand up, Smitty was at my feet, tail wagging, tongue lolling, begging to be petted.
“Smitty!” Claire came running out her front door, dark hair tied up in a messy bun, wearing tight black pants and a fitted green blouse. No shoes. She stopped in front of me, and I noticed her pink toes and tanned feet.
“Smitty, bad boy! You can’t leave the house.” She grabbed his collar and tugged him to her side.
“S’okay.” Wetness seeped into my eyes, and I swatted it away, making the burn worse. Squinting and blinking, I remained focused on the woman in front of me, and all woman she was. There wasn’t one girlish thing about my neighbor, and no-before you think it-I didn’t have mommy issues.
I had lean-muscular-legs and pouty-lips issues, both of which Claire had in earnest. Not to mention, I had a separate thing for independence after growing up around all these farming wives, who basically did all the heavy lifting for none of the credit. Then there was my dad, unable to move on, the epitome of lost.
“Don’t say that. He can’t be running out of the house.” Her breath was short at this point; she was almost panting. “He’s all I have.” It was a whisper of a sentence, but I heard it. Fuck it, I felt it. I got pain. Hated anyone else having to experience it.
She was eaten up with pain, but kept her head up-I could tell. I wanted to crack her veneers, let the pain ooze out, and see her smile in earnest.
Deep shit for a young guy, but I’d grown up fast. Like in the last forty-eight hours.
“I put my hand out to feel if it was still raining, and he bolted as soon as he saw you,” she continued to explain.
“Like I said, I’m cool with Smitty, but I get it. He can’t be escaping.”
“Thanks for understanding.” She stood, prim and proper, her gaze heavy on the concrete, clearly avoiding any direct eye contact.
“You okay, Claire? I’m sorry about last night.”
“I’m fine.” She turned back toward her house.
“Claire, listen, we got off to a bad start. Can we start over? Aiken Fordham, nice to meet you.” I held my hand out, flexing my bicep, waiting for her to return the favor.
“Claire Richards.” She took my hand, her smaller, dainty, and way smoother hand slipping into mine.
“Ugh. What do you want, Aiken? Look at you, shirtless, dripping from running in the rain.” Her hand whipped out of mine and began whisking up and down in the air, motioning at my very naked torso. “What could you possibly want from me? If you need an egg or a stick of butter, pop next door. Otherwise, let me be. I need to get out of here and beg Mary to give me a class full of students, probably not much older than you.” She alternated between eyeing me and her disobedient dog.
“You’re a beautiful woman, Claire,” I called, running up behind her. “And I’m a warm-blooded man, who’ll probably never have a need for a stick of butter. I’m a big boy. I know how to find a grocery store. All by myself too.”
She flung open her door and motioned Smitty inside. He stood at the screen door, staring us down with sad doggie eyes.
“Is there something wrong with getting to know my neighbor? I don’t know anyone here. Maybe you could be neighborly? Or are you so closed off you can’t do that? Because if so, that’s a damn shame,” I said through gritted teeth. Admittedly, I was more frustrated than I should have been. I was a man who desperately wanted the broken woman in front of me.
Rachel Blaufeld is a bestselling author of Romantic Suspense, New Adult, Coming-of-Age Romance, and Sports Romance. A recent poll of her readers described her as insightful, generous, articulate, and spunky. Originally a social worker, Rachel creates broken yet redeeming characters. She’s been known to turn up the angst like cranking up the heat in the dead of winter.
A devout coffee drinker and doughnut eater, Rachel spends way too many hours in local coffee shops, downing the aforementioned goodies while she plots her ideas. Her tales may all come with a side of angst and naughtiness, but end as lusciously as her treats.
As a side note, Blaufeld, also a long-time blogger and an advocate of woman-run anything, is fearless about sharing her opinion. She captured the ears of stay-at-home and working moms on her blog, BacknGrooveMom, chronicling her adventures in parenting tweens and running a business, often at the same time. To her, work/life/family balance is an urban legend, but she does her best.
Rachel has also blogged for The Huffington Post and Modern Mom. Most recently, her insights can be found in USA TODAY, where she shares conversations at “In Bed with a Romance Author” and reading recommendations over at “Happy Ever After.”
Rachel lives around the corner from her childhood home in Pennsylvania with her family and two beagles. Her obsessions include running, coffee, basketball, icing-filled doughnuts, antiheroes, and mighty fine epilogues.
When she isn’t writing, she can be found courtside, tweeting about hoops as her son plays, or walking around the house wearing earplugs while her other son, the drummer, bangs away.
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