Romance Novel by RITA Award Winning writer Inglath Cooper
Country Roads always seem to lead you home. . .
Culley Rutherford is doing the best he can to raise his young daughter on his own. One night while at a medical conference in New York City, Culley runs into his old friend Addy Taylor. After a passionate night together, they go their separate ways, so Culley is surprised to see Addy back in Harper’s Mill.
Culley is willing to explore the attraction between them, but Addy is back in town to help her mother run their family orchard—that’s all. Slowly, Culley and his daughter, Madeline, try to break down Addy’s defenses, hoping to show her that coming home for good is the best move she can make.
. . .“Do you ever miss the orchard?”
“Only every time I get a whiff of apples.”
He nodded. “I missed being in a small town. When we were kids, I couldn’t wait to move on to somewhere bigger. Bigger had to be better. But then living in Philadelphia, I actually figured at six minutes a day, five days a week for thirty years, I’d be spending about thirty-two days of my life sitting at this one stoplight. Kind of changed my perspective about bigger.”
Addy laughed, forgetting for the moment everything but the fact that she was sitting across the table from Culley Rutherford, who, since their sandbox days, had been able to make her laugh.
“So what happened between you and Mark? Why did you two stop keeping in touch?”
Culley’s expression had gone suddenly serious. “That was his choice, not mine.”
“There must have been a reason.”
“If there was, he’ll have to be the one to tell you.”
“Now you really have me curious.”
He met her gaze then. “People change, Addy.”
“They certainly do.”
Across the room, his buddies were standing, waving for a waiter.
“Let me just go tell them to go on without me,” Culley said, sliding out of the booth, looking a little relieved by the opportunity to change the subject.
“I don’t want to mess up your plans with them.”
“You’re not messing up anything. And I’m sure they’re done for the night, anyway.”
She nodded, watching him make his way through the still-crowded bar. He clapped one of the men on the shoulder, laughed at something another said. A sudden gladness washed over her for the fact that she had run into him in this place that was home to neither of them. It was like having a little piece of Harper’s Mill handed to her. Comforting. Familiar.
A memory drifted up. A hot August afternoon, the summer before Mark had moved to Harper’s Mill. She could still hear the melodic voices of the migrant workers in the orchard beyond the pond. The apples she and Culley had given their horses still fresh on their hands as they’d sat there on the dock, feet dangling in the water, the setting sun warm on their faces.
Addy had been garnering up her courage for days. Ever since they’d gone to the movies together the week before and sat in stilted silence while the couple on the screen settled into one of those mouths-wide-open kisses after which they declare undying love for one another. “Okay,” she’d said, “so I want to know what all the fuss is about.”
“About kissing. I want you to show me.”
Culley had leaned back, surprise raising his dark eyebrows. “You need to save that for Mr. Right.”
“What if he never comes along?”
“He will. He’ll show up one day, and you’ll change every thought you ever had just so they’ll be like his.”
“Not if his thoughts are anywhere near as chauvinistic as yours.”
Culley grinned. “Realistic. Not chauvinistic.”
“I’m not like that Pied Piper posse that follows you all over school.”
Silence again, except for the knocking of their heels against the old wooden dock.
“So I’m serious. Kiss me. Just once, and I’ll know what the big deal is. Or not.”
“If I kiss you, you’ll melt into a puddle, and then what will I tell your mama?”
Addy laughed. “How do you drag that ego around with you?”
“It’s a chore,” he said.
They both laughed then. Somewhere in the middle of it, their gazes snagged, and the laughter faded.
And then as if not giving himself time to reconsider, Culley dipped his head, brushing her lips with his, the tail end of the kiss lingering a moment, then ending as quickly as it had begun.
He planted both hands on the edge of the dock, looked down at the water. “Well?”
Addy lifted a shoulder. “It was okay. I haven’t melted yet.”
He looked at her, clearly not pleased with the answer. “Okay?”
“Yeah.” She rubbed a thumb across her lower lip, giving it consideration. “Pleasant, I suppose.”
“Pleasant is a Sunday afternoon drive with your great aunt Ethel.”
Culley’s gaze got hung up with hers again, something in his eyes going warm and liquid. He looped a hand around the back of her neck, pulled her to him and kissed her again.
No friendly peck, this one.
He opened his mouth and kissed her like he meant to close the deal.
The intimacy of the kiss shocked Addy, sent waves of never before felt feelings tumbling through her. She made a soft sound and opened her mouth to his, following his lead.
He slid an arm around her waist, gathered her closer. All of a sudden, that was the only thing in the world Addy Taylor wanted. To be closer to Culley Rutherford.
They kissed like they’d done it a hundred times, and it was this which Addy thought about years later. How easy and right those kisses had felt.
Maybe too right, because the intensity of what had happened between them that afternoon set them both back on their heels.
Culley let her go, quickly, as if not giving himself time to reconsider. They’d never before been awkward with one another, but suddenly, they couldn’t look each other in the eye. No more joking about whether the kiss had been any good, either. They’d gathered up their things and headed home, both quiet.
They kept their distance from each other for the next few weeks. That kiss had changed the chemistry of their relationship. On the first day of school, the two of them sat in separate seats on the bus. Since kindergarten, they’d sat together, and every kid on their route wanted to know what was up with Addy and Culley.
Addy wished she’d never asked him to kiss her. She wanted her friend back.
She had met Mark on the first day of school that year. He’d transferred to their high school from another county, and Culley’s prediction had proved true. Addy fell in love. Oddly enough, he and Culley had become best friends. And just as Culley had said, she’d changed every plan she’d made for the future to synchronize with his, left the hometown she loved only to wake up one day to discover that the reality in which she’d been living wasn’t reality at all.