RIGHT ALL ALONG
Exclusive pre-publication excerpt for Newsletter Subscribers
Harley skipped up the steps to the law offices of O’Hearn Associates, scarlet leaves crunching beneath the soles of her buttery leather boots. Her mood matched the spring in her step. A decade ago she’d left Newberry for the big city with nothing but her portfolio full of drawings and a broken heart. Now she was coming home, a strong, self-made woman.
Home . . . endless, rolling vineyards. Wildflower meadows to roam in place of crowded sidewalks. Goat yoga. Deep down, Harley’s heart had never left wine country.
But she wasn’t coming home to the same little block house she had left. She was about the purchase the home of her dreams . . . the Victorian on the hill that she’d grown up admiring but was way beyond her means. And what better time than harvest? The air hung with the heady scent of ripening grapes while the vineyards swarmed with pickers’ brightly colored hoodies.
A glass door opened silently to a sleek reception area. Her eye skimmed over the quality chrome and glass furnishings, and she sank a little inside. Then she squared her shoulders and smoothed down her new dress. Her watered-silk dress was as far as you could get from the days when she’d excused away her thrift shop finds by claiming to have a thing for vintage.
An assistant made a quick call and soon, Ryan O’Hearn materialized with a smooth smile and an outstretched hand. “Harley.”
“Hi.” One glimpse at Ryan’s well-cut suit and crisp white shirt, combined with the cold, hard press of his gold signet ring against her skin brought the past rushing back to her yet again—the chasm that existed between the haves and the have-nots, back when she was growing up in this town. But after the check for her latest design contract she’d just deposited into her bank account, there was no longer any reason for her to feel inferior . . . less than.
Ryan’s eyes registered surprised approval as they flickered over her. “Last time I saw you—“ he bit his tongue.
“The country club.” Harley had waited regularly on Ryan and his extended family at the big table outside, under the pergola. “Still ordering your steak medium-rare?”
Ryan was too well bred to take the bait. He smiled thinly and launched into polite small talk. “How’ve you been?”
“I seem to recall you liked to draw, back in the day.”
The implication was that she couldn’t possibly be making a living from her art. She cringed. But though her dinnerware designs were taking off, she doubted Ryan had ever set foot in a HomeGoods store. Little did he know she’d come a long way since then. She lifted her chin and looked him in the eye. “More than fine.”
“Let’s head over to the conference room, shall we?” he asked, extending his hand down a hallway.
The thick carpeting absorbed their footsteps. Pretty sure I’ll never be using words like shall, even if my designs get as big as Kate Spade’s, she thought. Just one of the many differences between old money and new.
The seller of the Victorian had prepared Harley in advance not to expect him to be present today. He’d hired Ryan to represent him. Transferring the property was a simple matter of signing the papers. One stroke of her pen and the house of her dreams would be hers.
Ryan opened a door and stepped aside, revealing a long, polished wood table surrounded by leather swivel chairs. At the opposite end, a man with hair that just touched his collar rose to his feet and adjusted a silver cuff link. His artfully rumpled shirt, jeans, and tweed jacket with the collar popped-up exuded the certainty of a man who labored for pleasure rather than profit. The quintessential gentleman farmer.
Harley’s breath caught. A deliciously familiar masculine scent stirred a thousand memories as her heart slammed against her ribs. It’s him. It’s him it’s him it’s him. Her eyes flew to his, and a shared flash of recognition bound them together. Would the day ever come when she could run into Jack Friestatt without her pulse going haywire, her mouth drying up?
She whirled around to Ryan. “What’s he doing here?”
The three of them had gone to Newberry High together. Sat in the same classrooms, studied the same subjects. Ate lunch in the same cafeteria that smelled of spam and dish soap. But outside the chain-link fence surrounding the athletic fields, Harley’s life couldn’t have been more different from theirs.
The O’Hearns and the Friestatts were cousins, as entangled as the vines covering Ribbon Ridge, planted by their great, great grandfather.
And then there was regular, middle-class Harley, daughter of an ex-stripper.
Dazed and desperately outnumbered, she returned her gaze to Jack, her face full of questions.
“Harley!” God almighty, thought Jack, fighting to maintain his cool. “It’s been ten years . . . “ Ten years, and he still couldn’t look at her without seeing drops of wine spilling onto her tied-up T-shirt, the night of his bachelor party, when they were only eighteen.
He remembered it like it was yesterday. Untamed waves of curly chestnut hair caressed the shoulders of her denim jacket. He used to tell her it would be a crime to get it cut. It was insane, but seeing her now, after a decade, he wanted desperately to believe that the fact that she hadn’t was, in small part, in deference to him. After all these years, she made him believe there might still be a tiny part of him that hadn’t been bridled, clinched, and buttoned down. His blood rushed through his veins like whitewater. Hard as he’d tried—and he’d tried plenty hard—he’d never been able to forget her. As the years had gone by, he’d conveniently put out of his mind the sour note on which they had ended. But judging from the fire in her eyes, she hadn’t.
“The question is, what you doing here?”