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Come home to Ribbon Ridge, a close-knit community in the heart of Oregon’s wine country. In Heather Heyford’s third Willamette Valley Romance, childhood friends reunite and discover that time apart has only deepened their feelings for each other . . .
From the time they were in grade school, graphic designer Harley Miller-Jones believed that Jack Friestatt was her destiny—until she was blindsided by Jack’s sudden engagement to another, right after high school graduation. Ten years have passed. Now Harley’s back in Ribbon Ridge, successful beyond expectation, intent on buying a bed and breakfast—an independent woman ready for the next chapter in her life.
Jack Friestatt has his hands full managing his winery, precocious twin daughters, and an iron-handed family matriarch. But behind the gentleman farmer’s handsome exterior beats an empty heart. Life has taught Jack some tough lessons and now the lonely widower is ready for a new life partner. But has he learned enough to win back the woman whose world he once turned upside down?
“Heather Heyford always pulls at my heartstrings. She always has a way of telling a story that can be sweet and innocent yet hot and steamy.”—Guilty Pleasures
Praise for the Willamette Valley Romances
“Heartfelt and engaging.”—Urban Book Reviews on The Sweet Spot
“A sweet story, rich in family relationships, small-town comfort, and a romance between two deserving people.”—The Romance Dish on First Comes Love
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Late May Marlborough, New Zealand
One of Jack Friestatt's twins ran up to him, rust-colored braids flying out behind her.
Jack's hand went to her upper back in response to her side hug. "Where's Frankie?" he asked, scanning the soccer field. Where there was one twin, the other was usually close by.
"She sprained her ankle," Freddie puffed, pointing to a bench where her sister sat, holding an ice pack on her ankle.
Jack jogged over to Frankie with Freddie on his heels.
Sister Mary Margaret — guidance counselor, French teacher, and girls' soccer coach — excused herself from another parent and came over to where Jack knelt before his daughter.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Bit of a sprain," said the nun in her heavy Kiwi accent. "Might want to wrap it when you ge' home, just ta keep down the swellin'."
"Let me see."
Gingerly, Frankie peeled back the ice pack. Jack saw nothing out of the ordinary, other than that the skin was pink with cold.
"Does it hurt?"
"You'll live," he said, giving her a grin and tugging her braid.
"How do you know what it feels like?" spat Frankie, scowling.
What had happened to his sweet little girls over the past several months? One minute they were perfectly complacent, the next they'd started arguing with him and their grandmother over everything.
"Do you 'ave a minute?" asked Sister.
"Hang tight," Jack said to the girls. "I'll be right back."
He and the coach meandered away from the shouting children and the other parents who were arriving to pick up their kids.
"How's the harvest coming along, then?"
May was autumn in New Zealand. "The new vines are finally producing. We're in the midst of our first crush." Speaking of which, there was plenty of work that needed doing. Jack was impatient to get back to it. He glanced behind him at his girls.
"And the twins?"
Why was Sister asking him? She saw the twins every day at school.
"Their grades might be slipping a bit."
"Maybe a little. But they're not failing anything — are they?"
"I still 'ave their French finals to grade. Tell me ... is Frances still enjoying playing soccer?"
"She's whined a little." Actually, a lot. "Don't all kids complain when it comes to doing what they're supposed to do?"
"Middle school can be a difficult time. Children are experiencing change on a daily basis, simply through the process of growing. There are the awkward, physical manifestations. The emotional and hormonal changes that make them that much more vulnerable ..."
Jack watched his girls from a distance. "What exactly are you trying to say?"
"I wonder if her injury isn't more psychological than physical."
"You think Frankie's faking?" he asked, incredulous.
"Faking's too strong a word. It could be that an injured ankle is an expression of pain she's feeling inside. Is there anyone the girls can talk with about these confusing changes they're experiencing?"
"They can always talk to me," said Jack, becoming a little miffed.
"Of course. They're blessed to have you. Never underestimate the role of a father. But there comes a time in a young girl's life when she might prefer to talk to ... someone who has been through what she's experiencing. In other words, a maternal figure. Someone consistent, who can ground her when she's feeling unsure. Establish predictable routines."
Jack's mother, the undisputed family matriarch, immediately leaped to mind. Just as quickly, he dismissed her. As much as he respected her and appreciated the help she'd given him since Emily died, Melinda Friestatt was CEO of the family vineyards and winery. Even though they all occupied the same house, she was often busy working. Not only that, he sensed a growing gulf between her and the twins.
Maybe he was spending too much time in the vineyards himself. That's why he'd come to New Zealand from his home in Oregon five years ago, to add sauvignon blanc to his family's growing list of wines. Mother said if he was successful, she would consider granting him a bigger role in running the company.
Or maybe he just hadn't wanted to see it. But now that he thought about it, Sister was right. The twins had begun pushing the envelope.
"I don't want to overstep. St. Catherine's has grown extremely fond of the girls, and we'll miss them when they're gone. But we always knew the day would come when you would take them back home, to America, where they belong. The school year is winding down. Factoring in the state of your business, of course, perhaps now might be a good time."
From the beginning, the plan had been to stay in New Zealand until the new vines produced fruit and then reevaluate.
"Whatever your decision, I know you'll do what's best for your girls." Sister enfolded his hands between hers and patted them. "God bless you."CHAPTER 2
Ribbon Ridge, Oregon
Harley Miller-Jones drove through the flat swath of the Chehalem Valley, past modest family farmsteads with ambitious vegetable gardens until she came to rolling hills combed with grapevines.
Slowing, she peered through the windshield up at the grand Victorian mansion crowning the ridge right before she pulled into the driveway of the little concrete-block house she'd grown up in, built during the Depression with economy in mind.
Neither Dad's truck nor Mom's SUV were there. Letting herself in using the key from under the hollowed-out fake rock on the stoop, she set her backpack on a kitchen chair and looked around in the quiet. There was the same shabby-chic living room furniture that had been there forever. She fingered new, printed cotton curtains. Recognized Mom's chicken scratch on a scrap of paper: detergent — toilet paper — garden center: impatiens.
For years, Harley had been waiting tables to make ends meet. Finally, her hard work and dedication to her craft were finally paying off. When she'd decided on the spur of the moment to make the three-hour drive from Seattle to tell her folks the news, she should have realized there was a chance they might not be home. Now she'd just have to wait.
Restless, she opened the fridge. Score! Dad's epic lobster mac and cheese ... his specialty. Dad had always been the cook in the family.
She sat down with a bowl and a spoon and thought about how she used to boost herself up on a cushion at this very kitchen table with her tongue curled over her lip, frowning over her beginner attempts at copying pictures out of library books.
In high school, Harley took every art elective she could, even staying after school sometimes to wash paintbrushes and scrub sinks. Junior year, Mrs. Rhoades entered one of her drawings in a contest. Harley was thrilled when she won. Senior year, she won again. Mrs. Rhoades told her that she had been born with a gift that, with practice and dedication, might be honed into a useful skill. She encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. But Harley had no specific vision for her future. All she knew was that she liked to draw. Not only that, there was no extra money for college tuition. And even if there was, where did you even begin to pick a college? Then there were all those applications and financial aid forms to fill out. Harley's parents had never gone beyond high school, so she knew they couldn't be of much help.
When Mrs. Rhoades realized there wasn't much chance of her continuing her education, she took Harley under her wing. She explained that to understand how shapes work in three dimensions, it was better to draw from life than pictures. The Victorian was the ideal subject. It dominated the view from Harley's bedroom window. In the summer, the sun etched the shadows of the surrounding oaks onto its pale yellow façade. In fall, the turrets peeked through the autumn mists like a castle in a fairy tale. Winter revealed its sharper angles. Harley had drawn it in every season and from every perspective.
By the time she graduated, her house drawings had become her signature. She started selling prints on a popular arts and crafts website, investing her meager profits in higher-quality art supplies: sable brushes, handmade Japanese papers with deckle edges. Having found some success with that, she developed her own website and began selling directly from there.
Bit by bit, her sales grew. Not satisfied with designs on paper, she conceptualized them on dinner plates and researched ways of making that happen. After a few false starts and wrong turns, a dinnerware manufacturer agreed to collaborate with her on a small collection of china. A branding guy came up with the name Honeymoon Haven. While family was of utmost importance to Harley, she'd never been seduced by the idea of the white lace gown or having cake smashed in her face. But she had to admit, the name had a ring to it. Consumers thought so, too. The first and now the second run of Honeymoon Haven dishware had sold out.
An hour later, when neither of her parents had shown up yet, she decided to hell with the surprise and called her mom's cell.
"Hello?" Mom's voice was all but drowned out by jangly music, loud beeps, and chimes.
Harley winced and held the phone away from her ear. "Mom? Where are you?"
"At Dotty's. Where are you?"
"I'm here. At home, in Newberry."
In the phone, she heard the telltale metallic ratchet of a handle being yanked.
"Talk louder. These slot machines are so loud I can't hear a thing you're saying."
"I said, I'm here. At your house."
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I'd have stayed home."
"I wanted to surprise you —" she adjusted a light blue iris in a vase, "— and Dad. I'm taking a couple of days off."
"Well, I'm here now, and I just won a hundred dollars on this nickel machine. Whoa!" Ding-ding-ding-ding. "Make that a hundred and fifty! Mama's on a roll, baby girl!"
Harley sighed. "Where's Dad?"
"I said, where's Dad?"
"Tillamook. He'll be back early tomorrow morning."
How could she have forgotten? April was spring Chinook season. Dad always took a few days off his job fixing and selling used motorcycles for Joe Bear to go to the cabin. He even let Harley cut school and go with him, before she started high school and got so in to her artwork she didn't want to miss classes.
"Figured it'd be just me tonight, so I headed up here to Dotty's."
"We probably passed each other on the road. How late do they stay open?"
If Mom kept winning, they'd have to sweep her out of the casino with a broom.
"I'll wait up for you."
"Oh, honey, don't do that. You know what they say: when you're hot, you're hot. No telling how late I'll be."
Mom might like her slots, but she didn't touch so much as a drop of alcohol. She said she'd seen more than her share of drunks in her dancing days, and she wouldn't be caught dead looking like that. Besides, though she'd given up dancing long ago, she had filled the void with hard-core hiking and yoga. Downward dogs and hangovers didn't mix.
"See you in the morning, then. Be careful driving."CHAPTER 3
Harley got up early to catch her parents before Dad had to go to work.
"I have something to tell you," she said as she stirred her coffee. It's about my dinnerware with the Honeymoon Haven motif."
"Cin?" said Dad, hopping on one foot on the backdoor mat, pulling on his work boots. "Throw some of that macaroni and cheese in my lunch bucket, will ya?"
Mom opened the fridge and peered inside. "It's gone."
"Whaddaya mean, gone? There was just some of it left in there yesterday. Who ate it?"
"I did," said Harley. "Last night, for supper." She took a deep breath. "Dad. Mom. The china company wants to expand our brand partnership. Starting next year, my Honeymoon Haven designs are going to be on serveware and table linens ..."
"Really!" Mom smiled. "Hear that, Tuck? Tucker Jones! How many times do I have to tell you not to wear those boots in the house? I just cleaned the floor."
"Three steps," he said, edging past Mom to get to the freezer. "Just want to show Harley my catch and then I'll be out of your hair." He reached into a plastic bag and carefully withdrew a firm length of silver iridescence with a bright black pupil and a hint of pink along its belly. Dad cradled the fish with hands like meat hooks at the ends of beefy forearms covered in tattoos of cancan girls and mermaids. "How do you like that?"
Harley talked and texted with her parents regularly. Sometimes they even video chatted, though that usually ended with them suddenly remembering something urgent they had forgotten they had to do and had to go without delay. But Dad had an intense physicality that could only be truly appreciated in the flesh. Even if he would never understand the first thing about her work, she adored him. She grinned up at him. "Nice."
"I'll leave 'er out on the counter to thaw and tonight when I get home, I'll clean 'er. You'll be here for supper?"
"I wouldn't miss it."
Dad slid the salmon back into the bag and laid it on a plastic tray on the counter and headed toward the door.
"They also want me to come up with designs for a holiday tabletop line for both china and paper ..."
"It's trash day," Mom hollered to Dad's back as she cranked on the water in the sink full blast to wash the breakfast dishes. "Don't forget to put the cans out."
"I been taking the trash out for twenty-nine years," said Dad. "I don't think I need instructions."
"That's not all," said Harley, still trying to get their attention. "I'm in talks with a furniture company about doing a full line of home dÃ(c)cor, lighting, and bedding."
"How about that? Won't Louise be psyched," said Mom, plunging her yellow rubber gloves into the soapsuds.
Louise and her husband, Abe, owned the Victorian on the ridge. Mom had been making good money as an exotic dancer, but she gave that up when she got pregnant with Harley and started cleaning houses for Newberry's upper crust, of whom Louise was one.
"Louise always got a kick out of hearing me talk about your little drawings. Oh, Tuck? Take the lid off the can. Last time they threw it onto the flowerbed."
"Have you seen the guys that lift them cans? They're kids. What do they care about a few flowers? Few lids won't hurt 'em anyway."
"... And so, now that I can afford it, I've decided to adopt a baby."
The faucet shut off with a thunk and a shudder of the old pipes.
Dad spun around on the threshold and stared at Harley, his forehead furrowed.
For a long moment, the only sound in the kitchen was the muted voice of the local newscaster on the kitchen TV, reporting on the effect of the recent weather on the county's wine grape crop.
"What's this?" Dad walked back to the table like wading through wet cement.
This time, Mom didn't say a word about his boots.
"You heard. I'm going to adopt."
Mom came over to the table, drying her hands on her dish towel, and lowered herself into the chair across from Harley's. "It's hard raising a baby by yourself. Don't you want to wait till you find Mr. Right?"
Mom was a good one to talk; she and Dad had never officially tied the knot. Yet their relationship seemed to grow stronger with time until now, despite their separate interests — or maybe because of them — they were solid as a rock. But apparently, when it came to their only daughter, they had a different set of standards.
"I've given up on finding a man."
"What about one of those dating apps? I thought you said you were on one of them."
"I am. And you're right; it's almost too easy. I can have five guys a night, if I want — "
Dad clapped his hands over his ears and screwed his eyes shut. "Do me a favor, wouldja? Save that kind of talk for after I go to work."
"— but no one I want to have a baby with. My clock is ticking. I'm almost thirty years old. You know how much I've always wanted children. If I can't have any of my own, I'm just going to do it."
"Thirty's nothing. You got plenty of time. Doesn't she, Tuck?"
"You always said how glad you two were to have had me so young," said Harley. "You said you loved growing up along with me."
"Well, sure, but ..." Dad frowned, while Mom twisted the large turquoise stone Dad bought from a Navajo artisan on a road trip to New Mexico that took the place of a traditional wedding ring.
"Didn't I always say you was artistic?" said Mom finally.
"That's true, Mom. You always did."
Harley's heart warmed. Mom never failed to look on the bright side. People like the Miller-Joneses, who lived paycheck to paycheck, couldn't afford to buy their kids electronic tablets or ski weekends at Mt. Hood. Slim as her pocketbook was, though, somehow Mom had always found money for art supplies. Once, clutching a set of Electro Pop Sharpies Mom had waited a half hour for her to pick out, Harley had peered up at her from where they waited in the line for her weekly lottery tickets and asked, "Are you sure?" "Don't worry about it," Mom had barked. And whenever Harley's sketchpads ran out, a ream of snow-white copier paper would mysteriously appear after her next cleaning job.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Right All Along"
Copyright © 2018 Heather Heyford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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