The first in Emma Cane’s sparkling new series, set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Emma Cane welcomes you to Fairfield Orchard, where new love blooms and romance is always in season.
For Amy Fairfield, the family orchard is more than a business. With its blossom-scented air and rows of trees framed by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s her heritage and her future. But right now, it’s also a headache. Putting a painful breakup behind her, Amy has come home to help revitalize Fairfield Orchard. She doesn’t have time for the handsome-distracting-professor who wants to dig into her family’s history for his research.
Jonathan Gebhart knows he needs the Fairfields’ cooperation to make his new book a success. As for Amy-nothing in his years of academia could have prepared him for their sudden and intense attraction. He doesn’t want to complicate her life further, especially since she seems uneasy about him poking around in the past and he knows he’s not the sort of man built for forever. But some sparks can’t help but grow, and Jonathan and Amy may just learn that unexpected love can be the sweetest of all.
Amy heard the crunch of gravel beneath Jonathan Gebhart’s feet, and she ducked her head until she could watch him walk away. He’d been an interesting man, all sober and serious, and seemed a little taken aback when she’d teased him. She could still see his short, wavy black hair that looked difficult to tame. It was hard to forget his eyes, green as spring in the orchard—and that moment when he’d really looked at her as a woman. That had been surprising and unsettling. He didn’t have laughing eyes—she imagined he didn’t laugh much at all, which was a shame, when he looked so gorgeous.
Would he be one of those boring professors who droned on and on about something that no longer mattered to anyone? No, he’d sounded too passionate about his request. Maybe he brought that focus to kids who only needed his course as an elective, who stared out the window on a gorgeous day and wished to be anywhere else. That had been her, once upon a time…
But not where history was concerned. That was an interest she had once had in common with the professor. But she’d let it all go, pushed it from her mind just as she’d pushed her family and friends away. She was surprised how much the amateur genealogist inside her had tried to come creaking back to life when he’d told her his hypothesis about Jefferson and her family land. But she wouldn’t let it.
When the professor reached his car, Amy saw that his broad shoulders were squared, and he moved like a man who always knew exactly what he was doing, had everything planned out. She always found confidence sexy. He’d been professionally attired in a buttoned-down shirt and chinos beneath the jacket she’d ruined, while she was grubby, with torn jeans and old shirts. He’d been dignified and educated, and she’d dropped out of college to spend her time with a man who hadn’t proven worthy of the sacrifice. It hadn’t been a sacrifice at the time, of course; she’d been giddy with what she thought was love. Amy knocked her forehead into the nearest branch, as if that could knock some sense into her. It had taken far too long for that sense to take hold, and it had proven costly.
She heard his car start, and then he was gone, dirt rising up behind as he traveled at a respectful speed down toward Spencer Hollow, the little village between the orchard and Crozet, the nearest small town. She used to take the quiet dirt road as an invitation to speed, roaring down the hill, the rolling countryside stretched out below her, rows of apple trees rising and falling as far as the eye could see. Life had been full of excitement and possibilities then—full of the promise of foolish mistakes, too, but she hadn’t known that. Otherwise, she would have stayed holed up in her childhood bedroom forever.
She was back there now, in that same bedroom, her cheerleading trophies and school certificates still on the wall. She’d chosen this path, of course. When she’d gotten the call that her parents had wanted to retire, she’d been only too glad to run home for a fresh start. She’d been so excited to help her family, to spend more time with her siblings, to prove that they were all so important to her. But underneath all those good reasons she had to admit that coming home also meant pretending she hadn’t let her life get so horribly, humiliatingly out of control as she’d spent years with a man who’d developed the same issues with alcohol that her dad had once had.
No one knew, of course, not even her twin brother—which Amy worried was causing a certain distance between them these last few years. But no one was ever going to know how foolish she had been. Her ex-boyfriend, Rob, certainly wouldn’t tell; he’d moved on to the next woman, one even more malleable than she’d been. Amy had quit college for that idiot, she thought, groaning aloud. But at the time, it had seemed like a great move. Her grades had suffered because all she’d wanted was to begin a life with Rob, to live with him and make a home.
It was Rob who’d introduced her to real estate, his family business. She’d started learning the ropes while still in college, helping out agents part-time. She discovered she loved working with people, and had a knack for knowing how to find the most important reason why someone looked for a home, and then delivering on it. She didn’t need college for that, so she’d dropped out. Gradually, as things with Rob got worse, it was harder and harder to be a part of his family business. Breaking up with him had meant eventually quitting her job, and it was almost a relief to be done with anything to do with him.
Now she was facing a new future, and she didn’t want to look back, to see again the mistakes she’d made.
But the professor wanted to talk about the past—her family’s past, and the memories weren’t always pleasant. Did she really want such a reminder? And, of course, there was the fact that she was always so quick to help a guy out, she thought with dismay. But she wouldn’t let her own hang-ups interfere with her promise to give his request some thought. He was right about her family’s link to Thomas Jefferson. If he had discovered new information, how could she deprive him of finding out the truth?
To clear her head, Amy took a deep breath of the apple blossoms all around her. This was the scent of springtime, fragrant and lush, of her childhood, of her family obsession for generations. She’d been molded by the rhythm of the seasons, of planting baby trees with her father in the spring, of morning walks through the orchard in the fall, examining apples to predict when each variety would be at peak ripeness. There definitely was a history here, the good kind—and the bad. She just didn’t know if she wanted to talk about it with a stranger, for there were dark episodes, like her father’s drinking, that warped some of her memories.
Yet being back at home with her twin brother, Tyler, made her feel all about family right now. Late last year, her mom, Patty, had had a breast cancer scare, and though it had turned out to be a benign lump, everything had changed for her father. Though sober for the last ten years, he’d never forgotten how his wife had taken up the slack when he’d been hungover, when he’d forgotten family events, when he had to be guided home after parties. Now Patty deserved the retirement she’d always dreamed of, and Bruce had intended to give it to her—even though the orchard’s finances were shaky. He couldn’t just give the orchard to his children and leave; there was no money for that. He would have had to sell it, and the thought had horrified the whole family. As the professor had pointed out, there’d been a Fairfield on this land for one hundred and ninety-nine years—Amy did know a lot more of her family history than she’d let on. It was their heritage, their history, their children’s future. Their sister Rachel, who’d been Dad’s right hand for years, couldn’t resurrect it all on her own.
So Amy’s oldest brother Logan, who’d made a fortune as a hedge fund manager in New York City and was now a venture capitalist, had offered a financial gift to their parents so they could buy their RV and begin their adventures. He’d insisted it was his right to share what he’d earned, and they’d reluctantly, graciously accepted. But Amy and the rest of her siblings had balked when he’d tried to bail out the orchard, too. After all, he was in business with several partners—it should be an official investment, a loan. The siblings even insisted on offering a business plan for what they intended to do to make Fairfield Orchard a success again.
And Amy, who’d been away from the business for a good ten years—except for working weekends at the height of autumn harvest—was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. Coming up with a new idea to change things up at the orchard was now going to fall on her, Tyler, and Rachel. Thank God for Rachel, who knew everything there was to know about the family business. With her help, they’d come up with a great way to position Fairfield Orchard for the twenty-first century.
Amy took a step higher in the ladder so she could look across the tops of the other pink-draped apple trees and see the Blue Ridge Mountains, the backdrop of her youth. She took a deep breath of the sweet fragrance and momentarily closed her eyes with happiness. It was so good to be home.
“Hey, are you still up the same tree?”
And then there was Tyler. Amy looked down to find her twin leaning against the tree, arms folded across his chest. He was giving her that killer smile that had won over legions of soap opera fans before the show had been canceled. He’d played Dr. Lake, dreamboat hunk and dedicated neurosurgeon— who always seemed to be in the ER to treat every other kind of trauma, too. Both twins had the same light brown hair and blue eyes, but his short hair seemed tousled naturally, rakishly—although she knew he spent a half hour in front of the bathroom mirror every morning, complaining the whole time about the necessity. His agent had several screen tests lined up over the next few months and was confident they would lead to work. Most of the time, Amy couldn’t even be bothered to blow-dry her hair, just tossed it up in a ponytail. Tyler took good care of his body, and had already been after Amy to start running with him. As if she could keep up.
They talked or texted several times a week where once it had been several times a day. When Tyler said he’d come home to help her run the orchard, she’d been so happy knowing they’d spend time together again. College and life had separated them, and it had been jarring at first. He was a part of her.
In many ways, he was the same old Tyler, charming and happy, but in other ways, she
sensed . .. something else. Was he hiding part of himself? But of course, she hadn’t told him what had happened with Rob either.
“Have you been watching me?” she called. “You can see a lot from the house.”
“But not enough to come join me.” “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“After sleeping in,” she teased.
He shrugged. “We famous actors have busy evening schedules. Have to see and be seen, you know—however annoying it is.”
“No one to see you here at the orchard.” She climbed down the ladder. “Or did you go out last night after I’d gone to bed? Oh, wait—didn’t I see a Tweet about watching a TV show? Me and your thousands of followers?”
He rolled his eyes, then nudged her elbow with his. “It’s part of the job, and my agent keeps hounding me about it. Keeping track of me?”
“Always,” she said fondly, smiling. “It’s my job as your big sister.”
He snorted. “By five minutes.”
“It’s still five minutes,” she said sweetly. “Think we’ll have any groupie interruptions today?”
He grimaced. “I hope not. Sorry.”
Yesterday, a group of forty-something women had supposedly been on a wine tour of the region, and “accidentally” gone out of their way to see Tyler. He’d signed autographs, chatted personably, and Amy had gotten to watch her brother in action. He’d always been good with fans, just as she’d always been good with clients. Just another thing the twins had in common.
“I don’t want them to interfere with the orchard,” he said. “Come fall, when we’re officially open, I can’t guarantee what will happen. The public is welcome, after all.”
Her smile fading, she touched his arm. “This is a temporary job for both of us. Six months. No one’s asking you to leave Manhattan permanently.”
He gave her a crooked smile. “I know. But I’m as glad to be here as you are. We’re both running away from something, aren’t we?”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Tyler—”
But he already had the ladder in both hands and was walking to the next tree. “It’s been a while since I checked for disease. Let’s remember together.”
She followed him, and soon they were trying to remember spraying schedules, how to keep ahead of apple scab, and when the beekeeper was supposed to arrive. Those were some of the topics of her childhood, and they should have felt safe as they prepared questions for their sister Rachel. But the topics were also part of the past, and it was difficult to feel safe there, when their father had so often let them down.
A couple hours later they went back to the house for lunch. Afterward, Tyler retreated to his room to return phone calls and messages, and so did she. It wasn’t easy to abruptly walk away from a real estate career. She’d been a little concerned that it would be difficult not to be out in the community every day, dealing with buyers and sellers, being in a crowded office on occasion. So far, so good. It was peaceful to be with only a handful of longtime employees. And when the fall season began, she’d have more people around her every day than she knew what to do with.
For a moment, she stood still in her old bedroom. The sun shone through the windows, glinting off her MVP trophy from her senior year of competitive cheerleading. There was a good citizen certificate from the Rotary Club, a cross she’d been given for her First Communion. There was even a stuffed animal some boyfriend had won her at the county fair. The blue-and-white checked comforter matched Rachel’s old one, from when they used to share bunk beds in the same room. It felt familiar and comfortable. She was home, ready to begin her new—perhaps temporary—future.
She looked through the photos pinned to her corkboard: prom group shots, lots of photos with her siblings, especially Tyler, and then the family shot they’d taken at the fair, where they’d all dressed up in nineteenth-century clothes and posed with serious expressions.
She’d once had another photo just like that. Only it had been real and rare and a hundred years old. The professor would have liked that, she thought hollowly. Once, genealogy had been a passion of hers, and she had spent hours talking to her grandfather, going through old letters and photos with him. The discovery of this photo had been the culmination of her private research, a way to surprise her grandpa with a picture of his own grandfather and his family. She reached behind the desk for the manila envelope where she kept the small pieces that were all that was left of the photo, of her attempt to do something to honor her family history for the two hundredth anniversary next year. Her stupidity had ruined it all. She couldn’t keep the evidence here where Tyler could find it; she couldn’t throw it away, because it was proof of a life she never wanted to return to, of what her mistake had cost her. She’d find a hiding place, perhaps her old one in the barn.
Now, the future had to be all that mattered.
But not to Professor Gebhart. He was all about the past—he wanted her family’s past, and it only felt like another reminder of her mistake in trusting a man who didn’t think he had a drinking problem.
Emma also writes USA Today bestselling historical romances under the name Gayle Callen.