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  from Hello Hell by Sheila M. Good

Chapter One
Chance Encounter

Claire’s feet made soft lite taps on the pavement. A swirl of multicolored leaves fluttered across her path like confetti as she rounded the last curve. Grateful Blossom Street Bridge was in sight, she slowed to a walk, pushed stop on the iPhone strapped to her arm, and pulled the water bottle from the runner’s pack around her waist. She crouched next to Sadie, her three-year-old collie, “I beat my last time by thirty-seconds,” she said, pulling a biscuit from her pocket. “You did a good job, too.” She ran her hand over Sadie’s shiny coat, “I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Claire hadn’t always been a runner unless you counted the mental gymnastics she’d perfected over the years. Two years ago and with a push from her therapist, she finally tried it for real. It didn’t take her long to discover the benefits. It kept her in shape and gave her the time to clear all the noise from her head. Within weeks, endorphins replaced her morning caffeine and every day, rain or shine, she set out at six o’clock sharp for a five-mile run. Her daily trek around the Esplanade was her favorite time of day. Next, to sex, running was the best stress reliever on the market.

“Beautiful dog you got there.”

Claire jumped up startled by the unexpected presence. Damn, she needed to be more observant. Keeping her hand on Sadie's head, she turned to face the stranger. He wore a Boston sweatshirt and jeans; too old and rugged for college, but Claire could’ve run into worse looking strangers.

“Sorry, ma’am didn’t mean to scare you.” He glanced at Sadie, “I couldn’t help but notice your dog. I had a collie like her as a kid. Mind if I pet her?”

Before Claire had a chance to respond, he was beside Sadie. Ma’am? The man was definitely, not from the Boston area.

“You’re a beauty.” He rubbed his hand over Sadie’s coat. Her tail thumped excitedly against the path. Jeez, Sadie, you’re such a pushover!

The man stood and extended his hand. “My mom taught me better manners. I’m Gabriel Lawrence - Gabe for short.”

She accepted his outstretched hand. “Claire Nelson and you’ve already met Sadie.” Why in the hell did she give her full name? A private person, she cringed at the thought.

“Are you new to the area or visiting,” she asked.

He pulled his hand free. “I&r...

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