How exactly do you introduce your date…to your husband?
Holly Combs must figure that out fast when she and her date show up at the same restaurant as her husband of four years, Justin. She has made a life outside of Riverview, keeping her friends and family at arm’s length due to a horrifying event that happened several years ago for which she blames herself.
Unable to hide from the past any longer, Holly must reveal the secrets that sent her running away from the love of her life years ago.
Justin Meyers has given his wife space and time—possibly too much—but he has never stopped loving her. Seeing her on a date with another man, even after years of separation, makes him realize it’s time to reclaim his bride or end the marriage once and for all.
Holly is given a choice: divorce papers or wedding rings? But once Justin finds out why she ran away from Riverview in the first place, he might make that decision for her.
Praise for book one of The Riverview Series:
"JoAnna Grace has managed to make me a fan of contemporary romances and I look forward to seeing what she has next in store for us. WHY THE RIVER RUNS has everything you could want in a great book, strong characters, realistic story lines and a hard fought, well deserved ending.” – Fresh Fiction
Read an Excerpt
Four years ago, down by the river.
Holly's stomach turned cartwheels as she faced Justin Meyers and held his hands.
The minister cleared his throat and smiled. "Repeat after me. I, Holly Grace Combs ..."
"I, Holly Grace Combs ..." Thank God he said her name. She might've forgotten it, as nervous as she was.
"Take you, Justin Alexander Meyers ..."
"Take you, Justin Alexander Meyers ..."
"As my lawfully wedded husband."
Husband. Holy hell. Justin would be her husband; to have and to hold until death they did part. She said the words, meant them with all her heart. Justin had been the great love of her life since they were kids playing house together. College had pulled them apart the last couple years, but as he repeated his vows back to her, she knew this was the right thing to do.
The Sanguine River flowed behind them as the preacher pronounced them man and wife and Holly kissed her best friend since childhood in the presence of her brother and his flavor of the week.
"Now, y'all don't get me wrong," said the preacher with a wide smile that shined as bright as the moon on the river. "I don't mind performin' this ceremony 'cause I've known it was comin' since you was both runnin' 'round the playground at church. But y'all might wanna tell your parents b'fore you file the actual paperwork. I usually don't do this without the license. But you got your witnesses present and it's better than you kids livin' in sin, I guess. You're married in God's eyes; that's what counts." He slapped Justin on the back and left with Hunter and his girlfriend.
Holly and Justin stayed hand-in-hand, staring at each other with matching grins, the water flowing gently behind them. She loved his smile. She loved that special spark in his eyes when he smiled at her. No one else saw it. Only Holly.
"We're married," he whispered.
"Yeah, seems that way." Holly met his dark hazel eyes and bit her bottom lip.
Justin ran his fingers over her cheek and through her hair. "I love you, Honeycomb. Always have, always will."
"I love you too." His hand cupped her cheek and she kissed his palm. "Our parents are going to freak out."
"I'm not worried about it."
She let out a huff of air. "You never worry about anything." Which was why she worried about everything.
They laughed and kissed until excitement turned into desire. Justin rented a hotel room down the river and they didn't come up for air until the next afternoon.
Holly lay naked in the bed, her legs intertwined with Justin's. "We have to get back to reality."
Justin propped his head up on his elbow and frowned. "Yeah. We should tell our parents, and our friends ...and you should make sure Lance isn't going to be an issue."
Chills vanquished all the elation from the last twenty-four hours. It was time to face her ex-boyfriend once and for all.CHAPTER 2
Holly sighed and glanced at her watch one more time. Only ten minutes had passed since the last time she'd checked it. Dang. Twenty more minutes until the bank closed. Those twenty minutes would be busy with everyone trying to deposit or cash their paychecks for the week.
Three and a half years was a long time to work this job. It had quickly become stale. She often found her mind drifting as she sat, waiting for cars to come through. Her thoughts centered on a watery grave that could've been her own, a night that forced her from her hometown and transformed her identity.
Luckily, this Friday afternoon, the line was bustling with cars and her thoughts couldn't go too deep.
She smiled at the customers in the drive-through, laughed at their poor jokes, and was vigilant about making sure she didn't screw something up. People tended to get upset when you deposited their checks in someone else's accounts or transposed numbers. She had only done that once, when she first started. The screaming woman chewed her a new one right in front of her manager. Thankfully, he was a God-fearing man who believed in second chances.
The bank-teller gig provided her a paycheck, but it wasn't anything her heart was into. She wanted to get home to finish working on the sweet car in her garage. The black 1970 Plymouth Barracuda was her dream come true. An older man who frequented the bank saw her wall calendar and asked if she liked muscle cars or if her boyfriend had given her a crappy birthday gift. Luckily, the drive-through was empty and they talked muscle cars for ten minutes before he told her about his collection. Holly's face must've lit up like Christmas morning, because the man and his wife invited her over for dinner.
The Barracuda had belonged to their son, who was killed many years ago. The wife struggled to let it go until she saw how Holly drooled when her husband removed the tarp. They had to talk it over first, but they finally agreed to sell it cheap to Holly if she swore to fix it up and give it an adventurous life. That vow was the easiest she'd ever made ... well, second easiest.
With so much time on her hands, it presented the perfect project. As much as she wanted to call the best mechanic in three counties and tell him all about it, she wouldn't bring herself to dial those numbers.
Holly's direct line rang and she jumped.
"First Bank of Dalton, this is Holly. Can I help you?"
"Holly, good afternoon, this is Danny over here at the Dalton Monthly Magazine. Um, it's that time again and I know you said last year was your last year, but, uh, all the boys at the fire station were hoping you'd model again for their feature issue."
Her eyes clenched tight and her face drew up. "Isn't it a bit early for that?" Holly still took a light sweater to work during those cool March mornings and the magazine usually didn't feature the firemen until September or October.
"This year, we're doing their feature early."
"Oh ... well ... I haven't really done any modeling work in a while, Danny. I haven't seen a gym in three months." Her snug dress slacks could testify to that.
Danny had a deep southern drawl to make any woman melt. The voice lent to the image of a tall strapping cowboy who worked shirtless with horses and tilted his hat to women. The reality was so not that. "Oh, now, you know that's no deal breaker, Holly. You're still the prettiest girl in Texas and those past issues sold out in a matter of days." He chuckled, and she imagined his face red with blush. "It's a huge fund raiser for the department too."
"In the last three years I've been modeling for this magazine, I've had fifteen marriage proposals, nine men who openly told the bank they would move their accounts here if I personally saw to their business, two of which were married, and one full-on stalker whose picture is on the board in the break room as a security risk. I nearly lost my job over that one."
The other woman working the drive-through with her clapped a hand over her mouth to contain her giggle. She had worked with Holly for the last year and knew all the gossip.
Danny guffawed. "Guess it's a handy thing you haven't been working out, huh? Maybe men won't go crazy this year. The theme is May, men, & muscle cars, and I know you're into that."
She fisted her hand. This was a prime opportunity to show off her new baby. "Can I be in a racing suit instead of a bikini? Maybe even a helmet?"
An indignant snort came from beside her and Holly shushed the other teller.
Danny snickered. "Ah, shucks, Holly, you're centerfold material and you know it. Is that a yes I'm hearing?"
"Danny, if I get another stalker, I swear I'm going to gain fifty pounds and shave my head, ensuring you won't ever ask me again. Got it?"
There was deep, victorious laughter on the other end of the line. "You'd still be the prettiest bald chick in Texas. I sure appreciate you, Holly."
"Don't say that yet. I have two stipulations."
"Uh, sure thing." The hesitation in his voice made her think otherwise.
As she ended the call, her coworker had a single black brow raised on her ebony forehead. "It's a good thing you's pretty. Cause you's a glutton for punishment, sister."
Holly's shoulders slumped and she exhaled a heavy breath.
Two weeks later, when Holly arrived at the outdoor photo shoot, there were at least ten off-duty firemen there. She hopped out of her truck, closed the door, and folded her arms, glaring at Danny, who trotted over. "I only asked for two things, Danny. We use my car, and no guys at the shoot." She ticked off the points with her fingers.
"I'm sorry, really, but if it makes you feel better, they wanted to help with the car. You said it didn't run, right?" He feigned innocence, raising his hands in surrender.
"Help with the car, my ass."
"Well, they'd help with that too," Danny muttered as Holly rolled her eyes. Even though she was only five foot three inches, Danny met her nose-to-nose. He was a short, thin, slow-speaking bundle of sweetness who handled a lot of the promotions and fund raisers for the fire department. "I hired the same photographer from last year. You liked her, right?"
She sighed, nodding. "At least there's that." As someone who worked as a model all through college, that said something. Holly worked with some of the best photographers in Texas. She forced a smile. "She's great."
The firemen helped her offload the Barracuda from the trailer and push it over to the area the photographer had chosen. All the while, they oohed and ahhed over her baby. A couple volunteered to polish up the car while she changed and did hair and makeup. They were all being civil and polite, but when Holly stepped out of the changing tent in her thin robe and high heels, their attention came straight to her.
This is why I didn't want to do this again.
She walked over to the car, sitting on the bank of the Sanguine River, a perfect sunset in the background. The 'Cuda shined up nicely, she had to admit.
The photographer, Lisa, went right to work, and Holly slipped off the robe, revealing her red bikini and lots of spray-tanned skin. She took a deep breath and wished like hell she hadn't let her gym membership go as she tossed it to the photographer. All the guys went quiet, their eyes wide and round, their tongues hanging out. Danny had apparently told the guys not to say a word, but they were all casually standing around, staring, and ogling her in obvious appreciation.
Being the professional model that she was, Holly tried to focus on the job. Lisa had many connections around Dalton and could refer her to other jobs. Thanks to those connections, Lisa had landed Holly a sweet gig modeling wedding dresses for a local shop's brochures. No matter how much she didn't want to be half naked in the cold air, it was a paying job.
Holly lay on the hood, arched her back, and gave the camera her signature smile, then her smoldering, sexy stare. Each pose loosened her up and, eventually, the guys didn't stay silent any longer. The jokes and innuendoes started and Holly giggled. Men.
"That's the sexiest ... uh ... hood I've ever seen."
"Holly, he wants under your hood."
She smirked and walked to the front of the car, opened the hood, and bent over the bumper, casting a deliberately sexy wink his way, the photographer capturing it all. The tall, handsome fireman grasped his heart dramatically, entertaining his buddies. The environment of the shoot lightened and it was a positive reminder of why she did the calendar in the first place.
These guys worked hard, gave their time, and risked their lives for the community. It took bravery and honor to do that. Their calendar fundraiser helped get these men the equipment and training needed to keep people safe. If putting on a bikini helped that way, why not? Thanks to the good Lord and good genes, her physical attributes were blessed.
"Let's get a group shot," Lisa said, waving the guys over to the car at the end of the shoot. Some of them jumped at the opportunity, while some of them were more shy. The one guy of the group who was openly smitten with her came jogging over. The photographer put him right in front of the car, leaning on the windshield. The other guys were positioned around the car and, being men, had some of their own suggestions.
"Should we pretend that we're washing it?"
"I vote for a wet t-shirt contest."
"We should mimic Holly's poses," one guy said as he opened the hood and stuck his butt out, then fluttered his lashes at the camera.
"Oh, yes!" Holly teased. "Work it, work it, baby."
A couple of the other sillier men copied her poses as the more stoic guys filled in the gap. Lisa gave Holly one of her extra cameras and told her to get in the picture.
"Jump up there, piggy-back on that tall one," the photographer said.
"Oh yeah." The fireman nodded and held out his arms. "Come on, cutie-pie. I've gotcha."
Internally cringing, Holly hopped up and wrapped her arms around his neck. She was all too aware of his hands on her bare thighs, holding her up.
"That's the cover, right there." Lisa snapped a ton of pictures and Danny nodded his head.
After the shoot was over, the car loaded, and Holly was in full clothing again, she hoped herself free and clear of the men. She exchanged goodbyes with Lisa, thanking her for a fun day and reminding her to keep Holly in mind for future projects. She collected a check from Danny and thought about all the things she could fix on the 'Cuda with the money. Only steps away from her truck, she heard the cute one call her name. He came jogging over, a huge, gorgeous smile on his face.
He's so hot. A wave of guilt hit her.
Lord, but he was tall and built, nice smile, nice eyes. Practically perfect. He could've been in that photoshoot with her. They could grace the covers of romance novels worldwide. Her stomach cramped up, nervous that she might possibly be attracted to him.
"Hi." She pushed her hair behind her ears and pasted on a kind grin.
He held out a hand. "I'm Ben."
Being raised a true southern girl, she gave a firm handshake. "Holly. Nice to meet you, Ben." Holly had never been rude to a person in her life. She wasn't going to start now. That was not how Mama raised her.
"Thanks for doing all this. Danny said the last few years have been a real success." Ben twisted his hands together. His massive shoulders swayed as he rocked from foot to foot.
Was he nervous?
"So he says. I don't believe him, but I'm happy to help." Holly played with her keys.
"Your car is great." He stepped towards the trailer holding the 'Cuda. "Your boyfriend's?"
Yep, he went there.
Heat rose in her neck and made its way up to her cheeks. "Mine. No boyfriend. That was a smooth way of asking, though. Good job."
Ben smiled and shrugged innocently. "Can't blame a guy for trying, right?"
"I guess not." Holly wanted to melt at his smile. How many women had fallen into his blue eyes and got lost in the desire found there? Thanks to her past, she always wondered what was behind charming smiles.
"Who's rebuilding it for you?"
Truth or a lie? Truth or a lie? Damn you, morals. "I'm, um, doing it myself."
At this point, she usually received one of two reactions. One, they balked and didn't believe that a model also worked with her hands, much less could be a mechanic. Because somehow it fried the man's brain that a pretty girl might be anything more than pretty. Or two, they practically started drooling and went retarded, acted like they'd found the holy grail of women. Which way you going, Ben?
His brows raised high. "No kidding? That's, wow, that's cool." He tilted his head, "Danny said you worked at a bank?" "I do. This is a hobby. The day job pays for parts."
Ben nodded and ran a hand through his dark-blonde hair. "You're full of surprises, Holly." He took a deep breath and met her eyes. "Wow, you've left me no choice. I'm going to have to ask you out now."
Holly chuckled, genuinely entertained. "Oh, you have to?"
Dimples formed on his cheeks. "It's your fault, truly. There's no other direction to go from here. We have to talk cars over dinner."
As charming as he was, Holly feared relationships more than anything. She possessed more complications and baggage than most men possessed patience to handle. Holly's mouth opened to kindly reject his offer, but her phone chimed with an incoming text.
Tina is getting married. OMG! Get your ass home so we can celebrate.
Jayden's message hit her in the gut. As excited as she was for one of her best friends, it only reminded her of how far away she was from her dream life. Married. Kids. Happy. She had been so close with Justin, but fate had not been kind to them.
"Everything okay?" Ben asked, his voice kind.
"One of my best friends is getting married."
Ben narrowed his eyes at her. "That's exciting, right? Why do you look so sad?"
Holly shook her head and smiled. "Oh, no, I'm thrilled for her. It's great news; surprising, but great. What were you saying?"
"I'd love to take you out. Maybe dinner ... tonight?" Ben's blue eyes begged her to say yes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A River Between Us"
Copyright © 2019 JoAnna Grace.
Excerpted by permission of Y&R Enterprises, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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