Beckett Walker hasn’t stepped foot in Maple Valley in years. There’s no getting past the painful memories, and there’s every chance he’ll be arrested as soon as he shows his face. Which is exactly what happens when he finally returns. Suddenly his dream of adventure as a military lawyer comes skidding to a halt.
Horticulturist Kit Danby has spent too much time missing home and her childhood best friend–Beckett Walker. Now she might have a shot at reclaiming both. After years of living abroad, she returns to run her family’s apple orchard. She has one season to turn a profit and impress the father she barely knows. But she can’t do it alone.
It should be simple: Beckett needs community service hours. Kit needs a helping hand. But there’s more at stake than either of them planned. With a tangled past and futures that look nothing alike, they’ll have to find a way to weather the storms of the present . . . or risk losing everything.
“I am not racing you up a tree.”
Kit flung the words from her perch on the back of the wagon Beckett had been using all morning to transport orchard visitors from the main lot to this field.
This was the first she’d been out to the field all morning, and she’d known Beckett had something up his sleeve when he insisted she join the latest group of wagon-riders. She’d known and had willingly walked right into his playful little trap all of her own free will.
She squared off with him, head tipped to meet his wheedling gaze. “You can try to get a rise out of me by insisting you’ll win. You can shepherd the crowd into chanting until they’re hoarse. But there is nothing you can say that will convince me to make a fool of myself climbing a tree in front of everyone.”
He stepped into her space, so close she could’ve puffed and blown the tuft of dark hair off his forehead. His expression was one of smug knowing. “I will run the cider press all afternoon.”
She blinked. Okay, so maybe there was something he could say. She’d spent all of an hour at the press this morning and already her arms ached. “You’ve got ourself a deal.”
He let out a whoop. “Too easy.” He turned to the crowd of people spread throughout the trees. “Hear that, folks? We’re on. This is happening.”
And then her hand was in his and he was pulling her to the tree she knew he would – tallest in the field – and pointing to a lone apple hanging from a high branch and telling her not to fall.
“I’m not going to fall, Beck.”
“Says the woman who fell through a stairway in the very recent past.”
And then they were racing to the trunk and grabbing for the same low-hanging branch. Laughing. Climbing. Shoving through leaves and branches while the people below cheered, their paths to the top separating and then coming together again.
Until . . .
Kit’s fingers closed around the apple just as Beckett’s arm snaked around her in an attempt to grasp it first. The branch beneath her feet shook from their shared weight, and she clasped onto the trunk with her free hand. Behind her, Beckett wobbled until he reached for the trunk as well, pinning her between both arms.
She shuffled to face him, still steadying herself with one hand behind her. If her hair had been a mess before, it had to be full of knots and twigs now, and she’d likely broken every fingernail during the climb. She gasped for air, the cotton of Beckett’s t-shirt fluttering in her face. “I won.”
“You won.” His breathing was just as heavy as hers.
“Bet you’re sorry you insisted we do this.”
His chest heaved as he inhaled, exhaled, slanted his gaze to lock with hers as he caught his breath. “Not even a tiny bit.”
Suddenly the crowd on the ground, still clapping and cheering, the rustling of branches, the apple in her hand . . . it all faded as she stared at the best friend she hadn’t realized until this very moment how deeply, achingly she’d missed in the past six years.
Oh, Beckett… Oh, Kit… *sigh* Melissa Tagg writes some of the most emotionally satisfying contemporary romances out there, but this one? This one was special. For starters, I love ‘best friends to more’ stories. Put that in the hands of one of my favourite authors and you have anticipation of ‘fan girl’ proportions! But the individual journeys she took them on? Beckett and Kit had to work through challenges and disappointments that are at the very heart of who they are as individuals, and doing so had them walking side-by-side, and yet also being pulled in different directions – the most delicious sort of tension in any romance in my opinion! And Melissa has this way of putting her characters’ hearts right there on the page and making them your own, capturing them in all their contradictory, messy glory, and with her trademark mixture of humour, tenderness, and poignancy.
Good friends since their pre-teen years, Beckett and Kit’s friendship hit something of a bump six years ago – one that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, but which is related to the outstanding warrant against Beckett, and his avoidance of Maple Valley since. Both have returned to Maple Valley for Seth and Ava’s wedding (from Three Little Words), not realising that the other will be in attendance. There’s some awkwardness, a little pain, but also a good dose of humour in their initial interactions, and you definitely get the sense that they never really lost their connection, despite all that has passed.
Kit has also returned to Maple Valley to talk her brother, Lucas, out of closing the family’s apple orchard; the one their grandparents spent their lifetime cultivating. When she arrives at the family home to find Lucas AWOL and some of the orchard’s trees affected by fire blight, she enlists Beckett’s help to control the disease and decides to run the orchard herself, putting her all into reviving her grandparents’ dream.
As if this isn’t enough, she also needs to come to terms with a brother who has never been the same since fighting in Afghanistan and being convicted of desertion, and a military father who has never been there for either of them. It’s overwhelming, it’s physically and emotionally draining, and at times she questions whether this is really where God wants her to be, but she can’t ignore the sense of rightness she gets from being there.
Beckett is on the cusp of a career in the United States Army JAG Corps. He had hoped to clear up the little issue of his outstanding warrant before it raised a red flag, but even when that doesn’t quite go according to plan, the JAG Corps is the future that’s firmly in his sights. Yet the labels ‘impulsive’ and ‘reckless’ continue to haunt him, and during his extended stay, a family situation brings back the pain of not having been in Maple Valley to say goodbye to his mother.
As his friendship with Kit flowers into something more, Beckett feels as though he stands “somewhere between everything he’d planned and hoped and worked for . . . and something else so very unplanned, yet staggering and remarkable. And he didn’t know which way to lean… Knew only he couldn’t hold on to both.” My heart is squeezing again just thinking about it! How do you know which dreams to let go of, and when to keep holding on?
This novel is everything that is delicious about romance novels, and I loved that I never had the sense that Kit’s and Beckett’s paths had been laid out for them. They had to stumble and struggle and work things out. They are such opposites – Beckett the impulsive talker, and Kit the quiet thinker – and yet they are so good for each other, too. And as usual the dialogue and characters are authentic, enjoyable, and difficult to surpass.
I defy anyone not to absolutely fall in love with this story!
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 27 September 2016
Publisher: Larkspur Press
Author’s website: http://www.melissatagg.com/
Read my review for Like Never Before