Winning His Heart
Michael St. Claire, a widower and single father, fears his heart could never make room for another. Between raising his young daughter Annalise and rebuilding his dreams as a race car driver, love isn't on his mind... Until feisty Franchesca shows up and changes everything.
With her mom's health failing, Franchesca needs extra income. An offer from Mike St. Claire to be his daughter's nanny is an offer she can't refuse. She has always dreamed of making it on Broadway and living in New York, but her immediate attraction to Mike challenges all she thought she wanted.
Mike can't deny his feelings for Franchesca, even with the risk of losing his heart again. But he doesn't want to stand in the way of Franchesca's dreams. Will his past and what she wants in the future tear them apart?
“Winning His Heart is a great story about loss, love and second chances.”
“Winning His Heart is a sweet story of two people trying to figure out a way to fit their lives together. It's a clean, but believable romance. I don't normally enjoy clean romances, because I've found they're a little too prim for my tastes, but here in Winning His Heart, the heat may be missing, but the emotions are heartfelt and enough to make up for any lack of steam.”
—LIVE THRU BOOKS BLOG
“I absolutely recommend this book.”
“Winning His Heart is a loving story of two people finding a way to meld their lives together – and letting the fear of “what if’s” get in the way. Told with the solid framework of Marietta, Montana and its small town charm as a backdrop, this is a story that is so real parts of it will make your heart ache.”
“Winning His Heart by Lara Van Hulzen is a wonderful well written 5 star book.”
“The plot is full of bumps and curves as Mike and Franchesca go from helping each other, to friends, to finding love with Annalise at the very center of it all. It is a sweet story that pulls at your heartstrings.”
“I could feel the zing of initial attraction.”
—GETTING YOUR READ ON
“This story really resonated with me, exemplifying that it’s okay to recognize your limitations and accept the help of friends. Ms. Van Hulzen is a great story teller...”
Michael St. Claire steered his black BMW M6 Grand Coupe south on Highway 89 from Bozeman to Marietta. He’d driven into the city to meet with a racing team owner who’d flown in for the day to see him, trying to woo Mike back to racing.
He shifted gears with the tap of a button on his steering wheel and took the next turn a bit faster than the last. It was a waste of a plane ticket, in his opinion, and he’d said as much. But the man had hopped a flight anyway. Over lunch, Mike told him yet again that it wasn’t about him needing to be wooed anywhere. Racing pumped through his veins. He couldn’t remember a time he hadn’t been behind the wheel of anything that moved, urging it to go just a bit faster, always pushing things to the limit.
His mother had told him countless times that every gray hair on her head was from him and his desire to go Mach 3. Although she never dared crush his dream of racing, she didn’t keep it a secret how much his chosen profession overworked her worrying mother’s heart.
Man, he missed her. His mother had been a pillar of strength in the St. Claire family, especially for him. Her death only a few years ago had been devastating, cancer ravaging her body until she shriveled up and all but blew away. His wife Anna’s death came not long after.
He took another turn, this time down shifting. It was almost summer, the temperatures rising to a much more pleasant degree, the sky a cobalt blue against the plush green hillsides. As much as Mike appreciated being able to drive the way he liked on roads not slick with ice and snow, the last thing he wanted to do was make his daughter an orphan. Annalise had already lost her mother, and to a car accident of all things.
The irony was damn near comical. Almost, but not quite.
There was nothing humorous about the past few years for Mike and Annalise. For the St. Claire family, as a matter of fact. Their mother’s death had rocked his father’s world. Enough for him to move from their home in New York to the house they’d built in Marietta when Mike was thirteen.
Second in line of the St. Claire brood, Mike’s older brother Wes was ahead of him by two years. He too decided not long ago to make Marietta home over New York. That had to do with a much happier reason. He’d met Noelle Olsen during a Bachelor Bake Off their father had volunteered Wes to be a part of. Wes had been livid with their father and terrified at having to bake in front of the entire town, but it was for charity, and he got Noelle out of the deal so it turned into a win/win.
Mike chuckled at the memory of his stoic big brother going out of his mind, not only from having to learn to bake and do it front of a crowd, but because he’d fallen hard for Noelle. A beautiful ballet dancer who ran the dance studio in town.
Dance class was the one main bright light in Annalise’s day. Always a happy child, part of her had dimmed when Anna died. She had nightmares of losing Mike and would cling to him for hours afterward. Some days she simply would not go to school. Many times he’d sat with her in her kindergarten class trying to get her to focus and engage. But she’d sit in his lap, not willing to leave his side.
Mike was grateful to Noelle. Since entering their lives, she’d been nothing but loving and kind to Annalise, always taking time out of her week to do something with her. Girly things. A coffee date then shopping, or out for ice cream, Annalise’s favorite thing in the world. Or even sitting in the house’s playroom and having tea parties with Annalise and her dolls. Mike was willing to sit in tiny chairs and sip tea with his cherub faced daughter, but he owed Noelle for bringing a feminine presence back into Annalise’s life. His younger, and only, sister, McKenna, adored Annalise but she floated in and out for visits. Annalise needed more than that. Mike was beginning to wonder if he did as well.
He hadn’t been able to even think of dating or having another woman in his life since Anna’s death. He loved Anna and mourned her, but even if he was interested in a woman, taking care of Annalise was his main priority. And that took up most of his time and energy.
His friends said it was time for him to move forward, but what the hell did that mean? Was there an expiration date on missing a loved one? Sure, he was only in his early thirties with a life ahead of him to share with a woman, but who wanted a guy with an emotionally fragile kid and no clue what he was going to do with life now that he wasn’t racing? The team owner he’d met with talked to Mike about coming in as a manager. It was tempting. He’d be around racing, but he wouldn’t be behind the wheel. And the travel schedule was still an issue. It was almost summer where Annalise would be home full time. Without school, Mike would need help during the day with her. Sure, their housekeeper, Glenna, was around but she was a busy woman. Running the St. Claire household was a full-time job and then some. And his dad had been a big help since Mike and Annalise had moved from New York to Marietta, but his father still had business to do and wasn’t exactly the right age to watch a spirited little girl all day. His thoughts were derailed by the sight of a car pulled off to the side of the road. A woman with dark curls trailing down her back stood beside it, kicking the tire. The hood was propped open, steam rising off to one side. Mike guided his car to the shoulder not far beyond her. He parked in front of her practical tan colored Toyota, about ten years old if he had to guess.
Being sure of no cars passing on the road, he pushed open his door and got out. Still lost in her tirade that involved not only kicking the front left tire but also hollering colorful adjectives on how she was feeling at the moment, she didn’t notice him standing there.
Not wanting to startle her, or be on the receiving end of her anger, he stayed a few feet away as he spoke.
“Hey, Franchesca. Looks like you could use some help.”