Welcome to Apple Grove, Ohio (population 597), where everyone has your best interests at heart, even if they can't agree on the best way to meddle. When the townsfolk of Apple Grove need handiwork done, there's no job too small for the Mulcahy sisters: Megan, Caitlin, and Grace.
He's not so sure about small town life.
She can't imagine living anywhere else.
Specializing in hard work and family loyalty, tomboy Meg Mulcahy has left behind any girlhood dreams of romance. Enter newcomer Daniel Eagan, looking to bury his own broken heart and make a new start. He's surprised-and delighted-by the winsome girl with the mighty tool belt who shows up to fix his wiring.
But Dan's got a lot to learn about life in a small town, and when Meg's past collides with her future, it may take all 595 other residents of Apple Grove to keep this romance from short-circuiting.
Apple Grove series:
A Wedding in Apple Grove
One Day in Apple Grove
Welcome Back to Apple Grove
Praise for C.H. Admirand:
"Admirand does an excellent job of setting the scene with her amazing flair for scenery and description."—RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars
"Admirand has a sassy writing style that is simply irresistible!"—Huntress Reviews
About the Author
C.H. Admirand was born in South Carolina, but grew up in New Jersey. She uses family names in her books, and her husband as the inspiration for her heroes. Welcome to Apple Grove is her second series for Sourcebooks. She lives with her husband, sons, and a black lab mix they rescued.
Read an Excerpt
The sweet scent of wild roses filled the air as the late morning sun warmed the blossoms spilling over the arbor. Blackbirds trilled across the meadow as the bride walked toward her husband-to-be, careful not to trip on the long, white satin runner-the path reaching from her past to her future.
Folding chairs fanned out on both sides of the bride's backyard, enormous white tulle bows adorning every other one. When she passed by Megan Mulcahy, the bride reached for Meg's hand and squeezed it before continuing. Tears filled Meg's eyes as Edie reached the end of the satin walkway and turned so her father could lift the veil covering Edie's face and press his lips to his daughter's cheek before putting her hand in that of the man she would marry.
Who would have thought Meg would be one of the last of her friends still single? If her life had followed her youthful plans, her name would have been the one up on Apple Grove's water tower, Jimmy Van Orden would have been the man doing the asking, and she wouldn't be sitting here wondering how different her life could have been.
But life is full of twists and turns. Her mind drifted toward the last time Jimmy had come home for a couple of days. He'd wined and dined her and she'd been so sure that he was going to ask her to marry him-this time. But they'd had the discussion a long time ago; he wanted out of Apple Grove, and she didn't want to live anywhere else. After replaying that horrible argument multiple times, they'd just let it drop and tried to enjoy each other's company. She kept hoping that on one of his trips back he would change his mind and see how wonderful life here could be. When would she learn?
Reverend Smith's words rang out, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." He paused to smile at the friends and family gathered to celebrate, and then at the couple. "You may kiss the bride."
Bill Stanton tilted Edie's chin up and gently pressed his lips to hers.
A collective sigh whispered through the crowd witnessing the loving touch between the bride and groom. Meg's stomach ached, but she fought not to show it; her friend deserved all of the happiness she could get. This was Edie's day, and Meg wouldn't do anything to ruin it for her.
"Did you ever see such a lovely bride?"
Megan smiled at Mrs. Winter. "It's been a long time since we had a wedding in Apple Grove."
The older woman patted Meg's hand and soothed, "Never you mind about that Van Orden boy, Meg. The perfect man is waiting for you. Don't give up hope."
Meg laughed. "I haven't thought that way about Jimmy in years." Liar. "I hear he's doing well playing for the Bengals."
As expected, Mrs. Winter tut-tutted and patted Meg's hand again. "Your eyes say far more than you realize."
Before Meg could contradict her, the woman moved on to speak to the McCormack sisters.
"There now, Meg," her father's deep voice soothed the ache in her belly. "It's time you forgot about Jimmy-"
"I wasn't thinking about him," she insisted. A rumble in the distance made her heart freeze in her breast. She looked up at the lone cloud floating above her and then over at Reverend Smith. The Lord didn't like it when Megan lied. "OK," she admitted. "I might have been thinking about him."
Joseph Mulcahy pulled her close and kissed her forehead. "He isn't the right man for you, even though I should probably thank him."
"Whatever for?" Meg asked.
"He left, but you stayed and helped me keep the family business going. I don't know that I could have done it if you had married him and moved away."
"I love you, Pop."
"I love you back, Meggie." She loved the gruff sound of his voice and leaned into him as he put his arm around her. "Let's pay our respects to the newlyweds, then go find your sisters and dig into the potluck buffet. I'm hoping for some of Slim's barbecued ribs."
"You'll get sauce on your tie," she warned, smiling up at him.
"That's OK." He grinned and pulled her toward the receiving line. "I hate ties."
Meg had to work hard to keep from laughing at the way her father was staring at the food-laden tables just behind the beaming couple. "Congratulations, Bill," Meg said. "You do realize that you married the finest woman in Apple Grove, don't you?"
He smiled and pressed his lips to his wife's cheek. "I'm a lucky man."
Edie laughed and pulled Meg in for a hug. "I'll miss you most."
The words were like a hug she hadn't realized she needed. "I still don't understand why Bill couldn't keep on working at the farm with his father."
"I'm not handy like you, Meg," Bill said. "Besides," he leaned close and asked, "do you really want me to drop my pants in front of God and everyone here just to show you-that wicked scar from my dad's combine again?"
"Oh," her sister, Caitlin, cooed, moving to stand beside their father.
"Can I see?" Grace, the youngest Mulcahy sister, asked, squeezing in next to Meg.
Meg looked over at them and shook her head. "Bill is a newly married man and will not be mooning anyone but his lovely bride from here on in."
"Too bad." Miss Trudi Philo shook her head as she waited in line to congratulate the newlyweds. "I was hoping for a peek, seeing as how I missed out on that particular harvest mooning."
Meg could not help but join in the good-natured laughter the sassy eighty-year-old's comment incited.
"Now, Miss Trudi," Bill soothed. "I don't want to make my wife jealous today of all days."
She agreed. "I expect to see your first offspring nine months from today, so you'd best get to it; I'm not getting any younger."
Meg looked around for her father and noticed Edie's mother walking toward him. Mrs. Parrish linked her arm through Joe's. "You poor man, don't be shy," she said as she led him toward the tables. "Just grab one of those plates and help yourself."
Meg and her sisters stood side by side watching as the Widow Murphy joined her father at the food table. The two had their heads together, looking awfully chummy, making Meg wonder if there was something going on between them. "Hey, guys... I think Mrs. Murphy's flirting with Pop."
Cait and Grace turned as one to stare at their father and the dark-haired widow. Caitlin was the first to speak. "Maybe he's placing an order for supplies; you know she takes pride in the fact that she carries everything from soup to nuts... the metal kind."
Meg frowned up at her sister. "Are you being facetious or just naive?"
Caitlin shrugged. "Just giving Pop the benefit of the doubt."
"Besides," Grace said, "I like seeing him smile."
Cait hooked her arm through Meg's on one side, while Grace did the same on the other. "Give it a rest," Caitlin said. "Pop deserves a little flirtation, just the same as you do."
Looking up at her willowy sisters, Meg wished that she too could have been born with just a smidge more of their father's height. Knowing it was useless to wish for what you didn't have, she sighed and said, "Yeah, but I'm not interested in a little flirtation." Thunder rumbled in the distance and Meg fought the urge to make the sign of the cross as she looked up at that one cloud still hanging above them in the clear blue sky. "Maybe I could be interested, but not right now."
Her sisters were laughing as the three joined their father and Mrs. Murphy by the main dish table. "Check it out," Grace said. "Mrs. Winter's chicken marsala. Don't you just love the way it melts in your mouth?"
Caitlin nodded. "Her chicken is always so tender, but what about Mrs. Hawkins's firehouse chili?" she asked as she handed plates to her sisters. "I love the way it heats up as it makes it way down to your stomach."
"Fire in the hole," Meg quipped. She perused the dazzling array of food spread out before them, all the while keeping a discrete eye on their father... just in case he needed saving. Women were always trying to tempt Joe Mulcahy with their feminine wiles. "Jeez," she whispered, leaning close to Caitlin. "The way she's hanging on Pop, he's gonna drip barbecue sauce all over his shirt and tie!"
Caitlin reached across the table to grab a buttermilk biscuit and glanced at the couple. "I think Pop can handle her," she said as she broke it open and slathered butter on both sides.
Grace scooped up macaroni, tomato, and cheese casserole and wrinkled her nose. "We'll just make sure to use a little bleach on his shirt and hang it outside tomorrow."
Meg smiled. "Mom always said the sun and a healthy dose of bleach helped get stubborn stains out." Remembering tidbits of their mother's advice always made her feel as if their mom were still close by.
"Here," Grace said, plopping a huge spoonful of the macaroni casserole onto Meg's plate. "Your plate's still empty."
"I was going to have the ribs first," Meg grumbled. "I guess I can come back for seconds."
The three looked up in time to see Joe and the Widow Murphy walking toward them from the other end of the table. "Hi, Mrs. Murphy," the sisters said. "Hey, Pop."
As if he knew they were up to something, he stared at Meg first, then Cait, then Grace. "My three darling girls," he said at last. "Don't overeat; you want to save room for the cake the McCormack sisters baked."
Meg glanced at the dessert table and the three-tiered ivory confection covered with pink wild roses and agreed. "Did Peggy say if it was chocolate or vanilla? Edie wouldn't tell me, said it was going to be a surprise."
Joe's chuckle had them all smiling. "I can't spill the beans," he said with a glance at the Widow Murphy. "But it's not vanilla and it's not chocolate."
"What other kind of cake is there?" Meg asked.
The widow laughed and Meg noticed the way her father was staring at Mrs. Murphy, as if he'd only just noticed something important. Meg shook her head; she'd have to sort through how she felt about that later.
"It's green," Mrs. Murphy told her.
Meg nodded. "Well, at least we know the color will be a surprise to the other guests."
Joe took another bite of his ribs and licked sauce from his thumb. "Jeez, Pop," Grace said, handing him a napkin. "You're not supposed to lick your fingers in public."
He smiled at his youngest daughter. "So it's OK to lick them at home?"
Grace flushed a bright pink and Meg felt sorry for her. Moving to stand beside her sister, she frowned at their father. "Now, Pop. Don't tease; you know Grace means well."
He agreed. "I know she does. Sorry, Gracie." He and Mary Murphy moved off to wait for the cake to be sliced.
"Come on," Cait urged. "Let's go see if we can get Peggy to tell us what flavor cake they baked." She paused when Meg didn't immediately follow along behind. "You coming, Meg?"
Meg shook her head; she was watching the way Edie leaned into her husband. Cait and Grace headed to where the McCormack sisters were chatting with a group of young people. When her friend wrapped her arms around her new husband and kissed him, Meg looked away. "I guess I'll never see my name on the water tower," Meg whispered. "Or wear my mother's wedding dress or kiss my new husband beneath swags of daisy chains and wild roses."
"Never you mind about that Van Orden boy," Miss Trudi soothed, coming to stand beside her. "I happen to know of a very eligible bachelor who just moved to Apple Grove."
Meg didn't want to be interested, but Miss Trudi had a way of speaking that drew you in. Just to be on the safe side, she grumbled, "I'm not interested."
Miss Trudi shook her finger in Meg's face. "You're too young to give up on men. There's just something about making whoopee out under the stars that keeps a heart young, a mind sharp, and"-she leaned close to whisper in Meg's ear-"your coochie ready to do the hoochie!"
Meg nearly swallowed her tongue, trying not to picture the eighty-year-old in her birthday suit. "I'll, uh... keep that in mind."
"You do that," Miss Trudi told her. "And remember, you aren't dead yet. There's still time to snag your man."
"I don't need a man," Meg insisted. "And I don't want to get married."
Miss Trudi's eyes gleamed. "You are going to eat those words when you meet him."
Meg didn't want to admit to the nerves jangling inside of her. She waited a beat until they settled back down and said, "I don't think so."
"I'll take that bet." Miss Trudi stuck out her hand and Meg knew then that she'd been reeled in, hook, line, and sinker. A firm believer in playing fair, Meg shook hands, but had a funny feeling that Miss Trudi had an ace up her sleeve.
Needing a few moments to herself, she sought out her dad to tell him she was going for a short walk and would be right back. She was relieved that the widow wasn't with him. Mary Murphy was very observant and might pick up on what was really bothering Meg.
But if her father suspected she was brooding, he didn't let on. "I'll save you a slice of cake," he promised.
Daniel Eagan downshifted then accelerated through the curve in the road leading him toward his new home-his new life in Ohio. Weeping hemlocks and spruce trees grew side by side with oak and maple trees. The sheer size and number of the trees were daunting.
The shades of green melded into a blur as he picked up speed on the straightaway. "No sidewalks." He knew he was getting closer to the town of Apple Grove but still hadn't seen more than a handful of homes along Route 70. Up ahead, there was a break in the trees; he slowed down to see if it was a driveway or the street he'd been looking for: Eden Church Road.
It was a pond just a few feet from the edge of the road. The weathered split-rail fence by the road was covered with vines. He couldn't guess what it was-he'd have to wait until spring. He checked his watch and saw that he'd made good time and could slow down and admire his surroundings. What he saw made him smile. There was a brightly colored, inflatable, kid-sized canoe on the other side of the pond next to a beat-up rowboat, with a fence just beyond. Seeing the horses grazing on the other side of the fence, he wondered if the owners competed in equestrian events, like his friends back home in Sussex County, New Jersey. He'd have to find out later; he wanted to get to his destination before late afternoon.
He'd started to wonder if he'd missed his turn when all at once he noticed the bright yellow water tower looming ahead and knew he was almost there. He drove past a cornfield with a ship's mast and crow's nest and had to pull over, grab his cell phone, and snap a picture out the window to send to his cousin back home. As he approached the water tower, he noticed writing on the side of it; in bold green letters it read: Marry me, Edie, Love Bill. He wasn't sure if it was the John Deere color scheme or the fact that someone would write a marriage proposal on the side of a water tower that tipped him off to the fact that he wasn't back East anymore-life was definitely different in the Midwest. He only hoped he'd fit in. He couldn't go back; he could only go forward.
A few miles later, he saw the sign for Eden Church Road and slowed down to make the turn. He smiled. The county name at the top of the street sign-Licking County-just added to the charm. The road ahead wound through gently rolling hills. Ten minutes down the road he noticed a farmer's wall-stones piled a few feet high and deep-outlining the property he could see up ahead. A huge barn, corral, and freshly painted white, two-story farmhouse, complete with the requisite wraparound porch and rocking chairs, were off to the left. As he drove past, he saw a crowd of people gathered out on the lawn. He slowed down and took it all in-the women dressed in myriad colors standing amid the background of grays and dark blues of the men in jackets and ties. There were long tables clothed in white and folding chairs sporting ridiculously large bows. Everyone seemed to be talking, laughing, and having a wonderful time. A wedding-he wondered if it was Edie and Bill from the water tower.
As he drove past, he saw a figure up ahead and laughed. "Must be my perspective." A few more feet and he saw he wasn't hallucinating; there was a young woman walking along the top of the fence as if it were a balance beam!
His heart stuttered as the figure windmilled her arms to keep from falling, barely regaining her balance. Swerving to the shoulder, he threw the gearshift into park, cut the engine, and ran toward her as she lost her balance a second time. This time she pitched backward off the fence and into his waiting arms.
She weighed more than he'd thought she would, but that wasn't as much of a problem as the warning bells going off in his head as her curves brought his libido roaring to life. He opened his mouth to speak as she turned her head, and he nearly lost himself in the endless blue of her eyes. The sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose captivated him, and they both laughed suddenly, for no apparent reason. He gently set her on her feet and noticed the bright green polish on her bare toes. It somehow fit the intriguing young woman.
Irritation tangled with thoughts he had no business thinking. "You could have been seriously injured," he ground out. "What were you thinking, pulling a stunt like that?"
The imp's head was even with his shoulder. She tilted back to look up at him. "I didn't ask you to stop-"
"You could have broken an arm or leg." It was his "coach" voice, he realized with some chagrin. He was here for a new teaching job, and he was used to being the boss. Kids, and their parents, respected his authority. Why was this disconcerting new acquaintance giving him a problem?
She put her hands on her hips, giving him a measuring look, and he began to wonder if she was older than he'd first thought. He took in the swirl of pale green silk-but then remembered that some of the teenagers he'd taught dressed as if they were in their thirties. Looking for other clues as to her age, he focused on her face. The freckles hinted at youth, but he just wasn't sure. He shook his head and demanded, "Does your mother know you walk on fences?"
Her smiled slipped and tears filled her eyes. "She used to."
Now he'd gone and done it. It was obvious she'd lost her mother recently. "Can I call someone to pick you up?" He was reaching in his pocket for his phone when she brushed a strand of fiery silk out of her eyes. Damn him for noticing the color and texture of her hair. If she was a minor, the local law would be taking him out behind the first available barn and shooting him for harboring the kind of thoughts he was having.
He had to put some distance between them. "Here," he handed her his phone, but she shook her head, declining his offer.
"I'm just taking a walk and I'll be heading back to my friend's wedding." She tilted her head to one side and asked, "Are you driving through Apple Grove or staying on?"
"Moving here. I'm Dan Eagan," he said, holding out his hand, "your new phys ed teacher."
At her lilting laughter, he withdrew his hand and balled it into a tight fist. He didn't like to be laughed at. While he searched for the diplomatic words to put her in her place, she crossed her arms beneath the breasts he was trying his best to ignore and said, "Well, Dan Eagan, you would have been a welcome addition to the teaching staff a dozen years ago when I was there. Mr. Creed didn't have the high school girls' hearts all aflutter, like I am sure they will be when you walk into class."
She smiled and he noticed the fine lines around her eyes and the maturity that comes with living life. He narrowed his eyes. "You're not one of my students." Relief speared through him.
This time, she held out her hand. "No," she agreed. "I'm Meg Mulcahy. Welcome to Apple Grove."
He clasped her hand in his and realized she'd known all along what he was thinking-and she seemed to enjoy the fact that he'd been caught off guard. In his book, he owed her... and payback was a bitch.
He held her hand captive. "Well, Meg," he said, "I'm glad you're not one of my students."
"Oh?" She seemed surprised by his comment. "And why's that?"
Encouraged by the catch in her voice and interest in her gaze, he drew her even closer. When she tumbled against him, he felt the jolt of energy all the way to his soul.
Her eyes said yes, but her body tensed as if she wanted to say no. He waited a heartbeat for her to make up her mind. The instant she relaxed against him, he lowered his mouth until it was a breath from hers. "What is it about you?" he asked. "I don't even know if you have a boyfriend waiting over at that reception, or a husband, and I still want to kiss you."
She slowly smiled. "No boyfriend, no husband."
Right answer, but still he hesitated, asking, "If I kiss you now, will you hold it against me?"
"If you don't, I just might."
Unable to resist her sassy mouth, he brushed his lips against hers. She might have expected heat, but it was their first kiss-a kiss that shouldn't even be happening-so instead of heat, he gave her softness and the promise of more to come.
Then, unable to resist, he pressed his lips to the freckles on her nose and eased her out of his arms, wondering what had possessed him.
Indecision filled her gaze for a heartbeat before she grinned and launched herself at him. "That wasn't a kiss-" She wrapped her arms around him and used his shock to her advantage, tangling her tongue with his.
He groaned and would later swear that he'd lost his mind on the side of Eden Church Road.
When she finally slipped out of his arms, she rasped, "That's a kiss."
He had to agree. "Are all of the female residents of Apple Grove this friendly?"
She frowned. "They better not be."
Before he could think of a reply, she was walking away from him, searching the side of the road for something. "What did you lose?"
He could have sworn she said her mind, but when he asked her again, she called out over her shoulder, "My sandals-I dropped them when I fell."
Dan found himself following her-he just couldn't seem to keep his distance. He reminded himself that he wasn't ready for a relationship, and given what he'd been told about the size of Apple Grove, if he started an affair with the winsome Meg, one of their 597 residents would be sure to find out. Was he ready for that?
"Welcome to Apple Grove," he mumbled beneath his breath, finding one of her shoes. "This yours?"
"Thanks." She reached for the strappy sandal, put her hand on his shoulder, and slipped it on.
"You'll break your neck, walking around on one heel," he muttered.
"Not if you find the other one for me."
He was right; she was going to be trouble.
Meg watched Dan's eyes change from a soft, clear gray to the color of winter storm clouds and she wondered if he was angry or aroused. He turned toward her and she got distracted by his strong jaw and the deep cleft in his chin. The temptation to touch it with the tip of her tongue had her staring at him, mesmerized... she couldn't look away. He was built like a linebacker, but moved with the grace of a dancer. But the last thing she needed in this life was to get involved with another football player-a reminder of a past that would never be her future.
She used to have a weakness for broad shoulders and muscular biceps. When she'd fallen against Dan, tingles of awareness set off sparks of desire wherever their bodies had touched. He was a big man-the only part of her that hadn't brushed against him were the soles of her feet. She shivered at the thought; the reawakening of her libido was acutely painful.
That was the only explanation she could think of for why she'd been tempted beyond reason to kiss him-really kiss him: she'd lost her mind. Maybe it was the celebratory atmosphere of Dan and Edie's wedding... maybe it was seeing yet one more proposal on the water tower. Whatever the trigger had been, she'd acted on the impulse and had been rewarded. Although he'd been a perfect stranger, there was something perfectly wonderful about Dan Eagan, something she intended to explore-later.
"Here it is."
The sound of his deep voice broke through her wandering thoughts. When Dan handed her the other sandal, she drew in a calming breath. It had been years since a man had affected her. It felt as if she'd been reawakened to sights, sounds, scents, and touch after years of moving through everyday life without feeling anything.
"Are you all right, Meg?"
"Uh, yes," she said. "I was just thinking."
His eyes sparkled and she could tell he was trying not to smile. "About that kiss?"
She laughed as she stopped to slip into her other shoe. "Yeah," she confessed. "And boy, do you pack a wallop."
When she straightened up, he reached for her hand, entranced by her refreshing honesty. "I'd like to get to know you better, Meg," he said, squeezing her hand briefly before letting it go. "And I could use a friend in Apple Grove. I'm a long way from home."
The plaintive note in his voice tugged at her heartstrings. She may have jumped the gun by tangling tongues with Dan before she got to know the man, but there was no use regretting a kiss that she would be replaying in her mind for days to come. Deciding to go with her gut, she said, "Town's closed up on account of Edie and Bill's wedding, but I know where we could get a good cup of coffee-my treat-and I could introduce you to some people."
When Dan smiled, laugh lines formed around his eyes. It was nice to be attracted to a man who she hadn't known since grade school. This was a first for her and she felt giddy. There was an air of mystery about him, his personality a puzzle to be figured out-she couldn't wait to get started. "I could really use some caffeine," he told her. "Is it far from here?"
She laughed and felt the years fall away. "Nothing is that far away in Apple Grove." She fell into step beside him as they walked to his car. Easy in his company, she marveled that the day had done a complete one-eighty. Nothing like a little gut-burning passion to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Thoughts of Miss Trudi's prediction occurred to her and she asked, "Are you a betting man, Dan Eagan?"
He shrugged. "I used to be."
That was a loaded statement-she'd have to find out what was behind that comment. As he moved to open the passenger side door for her, she stepped back and shook her head. A sidelong glance in Dan's direction had her mouth drying up. She swallowed-it was either that or drool. She knew she wouldn't be waiting long before she'd be following up that heart-pumping kiss with another. Good Lord, she needed to talk to Honey B. She smiled up at him, took his hand, and led him away from the car and toward the boisterous crowd still gathered in Edie Parrish's backyard.
Trudi Philo looked up from where she sat beneath the hundred-year-old oak tree and slowly smiled. "Why, Meg dear," she crooned. "I see you didn't waste any time finding a man."
Meg couldn't help but laugh. With a shake of her head, she grinned. "Miss Trudi Philo, meet Mr. Dan Eagan."
Trudi's smile was wide and welcoming. "Welcome to Apple Grove, Daniel."
He leaned close so he could gently grasp her hand. "It seems like forever since you've visited, Aunt Trudi."
Aunt? "I thought you didn't have any family left, Miss Trudi." Meg was confused. "I thought you were the last Philo in the great state of Ohio."
Like the crafty old dear that she was, Miss Trudi patted Dan's hand and drew him into the empty chair beside her. "I am dear, but my grandnephew Dan, here, is from my mother's side of the family: the Eagans."
"No wonder you gave him such a glowing recommendation to the Board of Ed." Meg looked at Dan in a new light; he wouldn't be as much of a mystery as she'd thought-she actually did know his family. Small world.
Miss Trudi's eyes flashed a split-second warning that Meg was wise enough to heed. "Daniel's a wonderful teacher and a fine man. Our familial relationship had absolutely no bearing on the decision. Everyone on the Board knows of our connection, but they wanted Daniel because of his résumé."
Meg stared at Dan and noticed the tinge of pink on his cheeks. Was he embarrassed? It made him all the more human in her eyes. Unable to help herself, she gave in to the overwhelming need to tease. "I have a feeling he'll get on famously with his students-especially the troublesome female ones. Won't you, Dan?"
The sidelong look he cast her way had her fighting to hold back a bubble of laughter. Fifteen minutes in the man's company and she felt more alive than she had in months. Deciding to give the poor man a break, she urged, "Why don't you tell your aunt how we met? I'm sure she'd find it humorous."
Dan's jaw clenched, and Meg wondered if she'd gone too far. Once she started to tease, it was hard to stop.
He drew in a deep breath and rumbled, "Meg was walking on top of the fence and was about to fall off when I came along. I caught her."
Miss Trudi turned toward Meg. "Really? How providential. Did you get hurt?"
"Not a scratch." Dan frowned and flicked a glance at Meg. "But if I'd gotten there just a few seconds later, she would have done a header off the fence and knocked herself unconscious."
It was Meg's turn to frown. "I wouldn't have fallen if he hadn't scared the crap out of me."
"Watch your language around Miss Trudi," came a gruff voice from behind them.
Damn, she'd done it again, and after she'd been doing so well lately. It would have to be Sheriff Wallace catching her backsliding into her old habits. Sometimes the eight-year difference in their ages felt like two... and other times... "Sorry, Mitch," she answered without missing a beat. She'd been on the wrong side of the man more than once growing up. The last time had been her wake-up call that she wasn't immortal.
The memory of having been caught and, worse-having to be rescued a third time-made her face burn with embarrassment. The sheriff had seemed like a god to her youthful imagination the time he'd climbed up the water tower and reached out his broad-palmed hand to grasp hers, pulling her to safety. She owed the man her life. Since she hadn't come up with a way to repay the favor, the very least she could do was listen to him.
"Sorry, Miss Trudi." And she was. She liked Miss Philo; she just got carried away every once in awhile and forgot about her colorful language. In her defense, she'd learned most of it working alongside her father.
"Mitch," Meg said, "this is Dan Eagan, he just moved to Apple Grove."
"He'll be coaching our soccer team and teaching physical education," Miss Trudi added.
The sheriff held out his hand while she continued, "Dan, I'd like you to meet Sheriff Mitch Wallace," she said with a nod in the lawman's direction as he joined their little group. "He's been the law around here for..." Searching her brain, she couldn't exactly remember when he hadn't been sheriff. "How long has it been, Sheriff?"
He chuckled. "You mean you really don't remember?"
She could tell by the teasing tone of his voice that he wasn't bothered by the fact that she didn't. "You're part of the fiber of this town, Mitch. I can't remember when you weren't."
"How old were you when I plucked you off the water tower railing?"
He would have to bring that up. She felt her cheeks flush with heat and answered, "Fourteen."
"How old were you when you climbed up on Weatherbee's barn roof and got stuck?"
She felt her face growing even hotter. She'd almost forgotten about that time. "Thirteen."
"What about the time you decided to climb the ship's mast to get in the crow's nest over at the McCormack farm?"
"Our Meg has an affinity for climbing to high places," Miss Trudi confided to Dan, "but once she gets there, remembers she doesn't like heights."
Dan's face was alight with amused interest as her childhood high jinks were being recounted. "Well? Aren't you going to answer?"
She sighed. "Eleven."
"Your poor momma was fraught with worry that time," Trudi said. "Caitlin and Grace were just four and three at the time and were starting to follow you everywhere."
Meg cleared her throat. She didn't want to dredge up any more of her past history. That was enough for one night. Although she enjoyed the odd moments when memories of her mother came flooding back, she didn't like to dwell on them because they always reminded her of mother's untimely death.
As if he sensed the direction of her thoughts, Mitch chuckled, drawing her attention back to him. "Climbing up that ship's mast was my first official juvenile delinquent rescue."
"Hey. I wasn't a delinquent."
"Close enough," he said with a grin. "Every year on the first day of spring, you climbed something."
She blew out a breath and said, "I didn't get stuck every year." Her gaze met Dan's and she warned him, "If you stay here for any length of time, the entire town will know your deepest, darkest secrets and will happily pass them along over a cup of coffee at the Apple Grove Diner."
"Aunt Trudi highly recommended their pecan pie," Dan said.
If being the subject of morning gossip over coffee at the local diner didn't bother him, maybe he'd fit right in. The points in his favor were rapidly adding up.
"So, Mitch," Dan said, bringing her attention back to what he was saying, "you never mentioned how long you've been keeping the peace-and Meg out of trouble." When Dan turned toward her, she added the first check to the negative column. When he started to chuckle, she had the overwhelming urge to stick her tongue out at him. It was a struggle, but she managed to control the urge.
Mitch didn't miss a beat or seem to notice the byplay between Dan and Meg. "Fourteen years. I came back to town with my criminal justice degree and old Sheriff Stuart hired me as one of his deputies on the spot... just like he'd promised."
"Smartest decision he ever made," said a familiar female voice.
Meg smiled. "Dan, I'd like you to meet Honey B. Harrington. She owns Honey's Hair Salon over on Main Street, catty-corner to the sheriff's office." She didn't add that Honey was one year older than her and had been trying to get the sheriff's attention since that night he'd rescued Meg from the water tower railing, while Honey looked on from the ground. Honey had gone for help and lost her heart to the heroic deputy Mitch Wallace that night.
When Dan looked at Honey and smiled, Meg added, "Dan Eagan is our new phys ed teacher at the high school."
"And their varsity soccer coach," Miss Trudi said with a smile. "He played on the varsity team in college."
"Really?" a deep voice called out, joining them. "I like watching soccer almost as much as racing. Can't always find a game on TV, though."
Dan smiled as Meg introduced him to the latest newcomer. "Dan Eagan, meet Robert Stuart. He owns Bob's Gas and Gears and is the man you want to know if you've got car trouble. He can fix anything under the hood."
"Nice to meet you, Robert." Dan grasped the other man's hand and shook it.
"Call me Bob."
"Bob used to race stock cars, had a winning season back in '81," Sheriff Wallace told him.
"My dad's a huge NASCAR fan," Dan said. "I grew up beneath the hood of his '65 Corvette. In my spare time, I like to tinker with engines."
Bob's eyes narrowed as if he were concentrating. "Big block... carbureted or fuel-injected?"
Dan grinned and Meg's belly did that fluttery thing again. There was something so boy-like about Dan's open smile, as if he hadn't a care in the world and was ready to experience everything all at once. Her dad got that way about cars too.
"My grandfather never liked a fuel-injected engine," Dan answered. "He preferred carbureted engines; dad still does."
"Fully restored?" Bob asked.
"Cherry condition," Dan answered.
"Car talk," Meg said to Honey B. and Miss Trudi. "Good thing my dad's not here or else we'd never talk about anything else."
The ladies laughed and made room as the McCormack sisters joined them. "Dan, I hate to interrupt your manly discussion," Meg said, "but I'd like you to meet Peggy and Katie McCormack."
He nodded to the sisters. "Owners of the Apple Grove Diner?"
When they smiled, he confided, "I'm real partial to pecan pie."
Peggy's smile was friendly and flirtatious, a combination that baffled Meg. She herself could never manage to pull off that particular look; Meg was either friendly or she was flirtatious. "I'm sure we can save you a slice if you want to stop by the diner later," Peggy said.
"We're going to be open later than normal," Katie added, "on account of closing up for Bill and Edie's wedding."
Dan smiled at the sisters. "It's good to know there's a place to eat nearby."
"People come from miles around for a piece of pie and our biscuits and gravy," Peggy told him.
"But they come back because of Apple Grove," Katie added. "There's just something about Apple Grove. Even if you've only been here a few years, you feel as if you've always lived here. People care about each other here-always have, always will."
Dan hung on every word and was quick to agree. "I can see why people would be tempted to stay." He glanced at Meg and added, "I've met some intriguing people so far."
Warmth spread from her belly to her heart. It felt good to have Dan pay her a compliment-intriguing wasn't quite what she hoped for, but it was still good, wasn't it? Before she could decide, Sheriff Wallace's sister Beatrice walked over to say hello. "Beatrice runs the library. It's open three days a week," Miss Trudi proudly proclaimed.
Meg nodded. "We have a huge selection of classics and a first-class reference section."
"That's right," Beatrice agreed. "If the book you want isn't on our shelves, we're connected to three other libraries in Licking County and have an extensive online catalogue. We can have the book you need sent over from any of the libraries in our group."
Dan's brow was furrowed when he asked, "Do you have cookbook and automotive sections?"
His question surprised Meg, but she was encouraged that he was interested in their library.
"Do you want to learn to cook?" Beatrice asked Dan.
He shook his head. "My mom taught me when I was a kid, but I didn't actually start to put those lessons to good use until I was at college and hungry all the time. I'm always looking for new recipes to try out."
It was nice that he wanted to know more about the library. His interest in her town, added to the fact that he could apparently cook, gave him major points in Meg's book. The way Dan interacted with Apple Grove's townsfolk only added to his appeal. He was relaxed, open, and friendly. She could see that he'd be an asset to their community and had a feeling that the kids at the high school would respond well to Dan. Time would tell, and the gossip chain would keep everyone in town up-to-date on his progress.
When her father and the Widow Murphy walked over, she introduced them. "Dan, I'd like you to meet my dad, Joseph Mulcahy, and Mary Murphy. She owns Murphy's Market in town." She stumbled over the introduction, unused to seeing her father with a woman.
Mary Murphy was polite as always, and even though Meg wasn't sure how she felt about her father spending time with Mrs. Murphy, she had to admit the woman had a way of making everyone feel comfortable in her presence. "Lovely to meet you, Dan."
"Nice to meet you, Dan." Her father took Dan's measure in three seconds flat. She'd have to ask him later what he thought. Of all the folks gathered in Edie's backyard, her father and Sheriff Wallace would have Dan's character defined and dissected most accurately and ready for public consumption by the time the wedding guests dispersed.
"Joseph owns Mulcahy's," Miss Trudi informed Dan.
"What's Mulcahy's?" he asked.
Meg smiled. "It's our family-run handyman business."
"You have brothers?" Dan actually scanned the crowd to look for likely candidates.
She frowned up at him. "Two younger sisters, why?"
"Do you have male cousins?"
Was the man trying to irritate her? "No, is there a reason that you think my sisters and I cannot work for my father?"
He looked at her father and then back at her. "I, uh..." His voice trailed off and he stared down at her. "You look like you're about to open up on me with both barrels."
Her dad smiled. "Megan inherited my temper. It's always best to know about it before she works on your house."
"I don't need any work done on the house"-he paused-"that I know of."
Her dad smiled at Dan. "If you bought the Saunders place, and don't plan to keep on top of the daily maintenance on a house that old, you'll be calling me sooner than you think."
Dan fell silent, digesting what he'd just been told. Meg took that as a good sign that he was at least willing to listen.
She caught herself staring. In her defense, the man was gorgeous-and damn him for waking up those particular thoughts after all these years. She'd been comfortable in her rut... er, routine... working hard all day six days a week, grabbing a cold one when she got home from work, and then watching TV with her dad. If Jimmy was in town, she would spend all of her free time with him until he left town again. Lately her dad went off by himself. She'd heard through the grapevine that he was visiting the widow but she hadn't come right out and asked him yet. It wasn't easy to give her dad the third degree, the way he had done to her and her sisters for so many years. Besides, it wasn't really any of her business, was it?
She glanced over at her dad and watched the proprietary way he slid his hand to the widow's waist. The signs were there for a blind woman to see, so how had she missed that particular fact? In a moment of clarity, she realized it was because she'd been so wrapped up in her own little world, merely existing in between Jimmy's visits, that she'd kept her emotions hidden-like sorrow and pain-but the downside was she also didn't experience happiness or joy. Face it: up until today, she'd been a workaholic with an empty life. She had walked a straight path and kept her emotions in check most of the time-except for her temper. She had a hair-trigger temper. She had a feeling that was all about to change.
When she looked over at Dan, her gaze collided with his and she sensed that he'd been watching her. There was no doubt in her mind that they had a definite spark that could lead to something amazing. She wouldn't see her on-again, off-again boyfriend for a few more months and, not for the first time, wondered what he did-and who took her place in Jimmy's life back in the city-during those long months they spent apart. Her stomach clenched as the cold truth slithered into her belly. Maybe it was time she started living. She definitely wanted to get to know Dan Eagan better.
"Melanie Culpepper has the most adorable twin toddlers," Miss Trudi was saying when Meg dragged her gaze from Dan's.
"Boys," Mitch added with a glance in Honey B.'s direction.
Meg wondered if she was the only one who saw the longing in Honey B.'s eyes or the fire burning in the sheriff's. Why was the man so hardheaded about courting Honey B.? It was clear to everyone in town that they were perfect for one another. "Melanie owns the Knitting Room," Meg added. "Our local Internet café. She had to close up her shop when the twins were born, but she's thinking of starting up a knitting circle during the day and keeping the Internet café going at night."
Dan looked skeptical. "My grandmother knits, but my mom doesn't. Is it that popular around here?"
He was looking at Meg when he asked, so she answered, "You'd be surprised. There are women everywhere who like to knit or crochet."
He shrugged. "I don't know of any."
"But you're a guy," Meg said, as if that explained it all.
Dan's smile was like a magnet, and a few of the unattached females in town wandered over until they were surrounded by women, the men having stepped back to make room for the swirl of skirts and waft of perfume. She introduced him to women between the ages of eighteen and eighty and stood back and watched the way he chatted and smiled with everyone.
"Small towns are a lot different than the suburban area where I grew up."
"I'd love to hear all about it," Peggy said, tugging on Dan's arm to draw him away from Meg and toward the empty chairs.
He didn't resist, and to Meg's dismay, she felt the green monster of envy rear her ugly head. She'd just met the man, and although he'd been the one to make the first move, she'd taken it up a notch. But that didn't explain the feelings swirling around inside of her, other than the fact that so many of her emotions had been bottled up for too long, waiting for a promise from Jimmy that was never coming. It was easier to accept than the reality that she'd fallen hard and fast the moment their eyes met.
"Quite a catch, isn't he?" Miss Trudi hooked her arm with Meg's. "Daniel's a hard worker and honest to the core," the older woman continued. "You can trust him to keep his word."
Meg nodded and said, "He seems to be enjoying himself, getting to know the good people of Apple Grove."
Joe Mulcahy walked over carrying a plate with a slice of green cake and cream-colored icing. Meg was laughing as she held out her hand. "Thanks, Pop... it really is green!"
He shook his head. "Apparently Edie's favorite kind of cake is pistachio pudding cake."
Miss Trudi joined in their laughter and added, "Mrs. Parrish had the devil of a time convincing Peggy and Katie to create the wedding cake of Edie's dreams when they found out the recipe came off the back of a pudding box."
Meg held the plate close and sniffed at it. "Smells OK." She cut off a tiny bite with the side of her fork and put it in her mouth. "I wasn't expecting the pistachio flavor, but it is delicious." She was polishing off the last bite when Dan walked back over.
"Was that cake?" Dan asked.
His aunt patted his arm before hooking her arm through his. "Why don't we go on over to the dessert table and I'll get you a slice."
He looked over his shoulder at Meg and called out, "Don't leave without me!"
Meg felt the heat of her dad's gaze on her. When she lifted her eyes, he was waiting to speak. "Why would he say something like that?"
Meg could either tell the truth or fib... and five minutes later her dad would call her out on it. She looked over at the table and the rapidly shrinking cake and sighed. "We uh... that is... when he caught me, I... uh."
Her dad crossed her arms and stared down at her. Not a good sign. Time to fess up. "He kissed me."
"Really? I might have to change my opinion of him." Her father's stare turned to a glare. She'd swear she saw steam coming out of his ears. Rather than get into it with her dad at her friend's wedding, she backed away declaring, "Would you look at the time? Gotta go, Pop. See you at home!"
She waved in Dan's direction, but she wasn't sure if he saw her leaving. Self-preservation had her hotfooting it down the road; no way was she going to sit next to her dad on the ride home and listen to him asking what a woman her age was thinking throwing herself at a man, a complete stranger. But after five minutes of walking, she had to stop to take her sandals off and walk the rest of the way barefoot. She smiled at the emerald green toe polish, her sisters' handiwork and not her normal plain-Jane look.
The ache in her arches had her feeling sorry for her poor feet, which were not used to high heels. Her normal footwear consisted of three different pairs of work boots... all of them worn down at the heels. Funny thing, until she'd met Dan, she'd been starting to feel the way her boot heels looked.
She heard the sound of a car coming up fast behind her. Figuring it was one of her neighbors, she didn't bother to look over her shoulder. When the car pulled up alongside of her, she glanced over and was surprised to see that it was Dan behind the wheel.
"I thought you were going to wait for me."
She couldn't decipher what emotions were hiding behind those dark gray eyes. "I'm sorry, I kind of told my dad about you kissing me and then he got that look on his face."
Dan nodded. "The ‘what were you thinking' look?"
She brushed her hair out of her eyes and heaved a sigh of relief. "Exactly."
"It's a dad thing," he agreed. "So... do you want a ride home?"
She grinned and reached for the door handle. "Sure," she said, climbing inside. "Thanks, Dan."
He smiled at her and a shiver raced up her spine. "You cold?"
"No," she insisted. "It's warm for this time of year-feels like summer."
"So where to?" he asked. "Is it far?"
She laughed, and it felt good. "Didn't I tell you that nothing is that far away in Apple Grove?"
He smiled. "Yes," he said. "You did. But exactly how much farther?"
"About two miles ahead on the left, you'll want to turn onto Goose Pond Road, then right onto Cherry Valley Lane."
"OK, so you live on Cherry Valley?"
"We live on Peat Moss Road."
He shook his head. "No reason."
He glanced down at his gauges and then up ahead. "Goose Pond?"
"Uh-huh. Left turn up there." She pointed to a spot in the distance and he signaled, although why, she had no idea; there wasn't anyone on the road behind them.
Dan turned and started looking for their right-hand turn. She fell silent, not really sure how to get back to the earlier camaraderie. He stopped to look at her before making the turn onto her street. "I thought you were kidding."
"What's so strange about the name of my road?"
"Uh, nothing. It's just so rural."
She laughed. "More than half of Licking County is farmland."
"Yeah," he agreed. "I saw that on the drive in."
Meg shrugged. "I suppose the street names in your city were all named after important people."
She couldn't think of anything more boring than naming your town's streets after former presidents.
"That's our house-last one on the left."
Dan pulled into the driveway of an old farmhouse and noticed the barn out back as they were getting out. "You wouldn't happen to have an old clunker just waiting for someone to restore her in that barn, would you?"
Every single hair on the back of her neck stood on end. "How did you know?"
He stopped dead in his tracks. "You're serious?"
She smiled. "My great-grandfather's 1929 Model A pickup."
His entire demeanor changed; gone was the responsible mature man she'd met when he kept her from falling, and in his place was the eight-year-old who couldn't wait for Christmas morning to unwrap his presents. "I have got to see it."
"Dad never had time to work on it; he was too busy keeping the business going, and then after mom..."
She shook her head; she hadn't meant to say anything, so she glossed over it and motioned for him to follow. He followed, as eager as a puppy. "What kind of shape is it in?"
"Not bad, considering its age and the fact that my great-grandfather drove it every day until he parked it in the barn, where it's been ever since. It needed a lot of work and with the nature of our family business, we don't have a lot of spare time."
"I'm sure you heard back there that I love cars-it's in the blood."
"You should talk to my dad; he's car-crazy."
Meg slid the side door open and flipped on the light. The soft glow of the incandescent bulbs hanging from the rafters shone down on the black-tarped mound off to the side. Waiting until Dan was standing beside her, she grabbed the closest corner and pulled on the tarp.
Dan's low whistle of appreciation gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. He was a lot like her dad in his love for classic and antique cars. The way he looked over his shoulder at her, waiting for her nod of permission to touch, just added to the positives that were making it hard to ignore her fascination with the man.
"This could be a beauty."
"My dad has pictures of it when it was new. My great-grandfather bought it in 1933, so he wasn't the original owner, but he had it all his life. My dad got to ride in it, but it was off the road a long time before he got his license. It's one of his dreams to restore it and get it back on the road."
"I don't blame him," Dan said, his look solemn. "This would be an amazing project to get my hands on."
She nodded to the tarp and he grabbed the opposite corner and helped her cover the pickup. "Why don't you ask him if you can help?"
"I might just do that."
Walking to the house, she said, "I know you got to have a piece of cake, but did you ever get that cup of coffee? I got so caught up introducing you around... and then when Mitch started telling you about my misspent youth, I forgot all about it."
He nodded. "I did have a cup, but that was awhile ago."
"Come on inside. I'll make some."
While she brewed coffee, he made himself at home at the scarred oak farm table. "Do you think he'll be back soon?"
"He would have to take the Widow Murphy home first."
"Why do you call her that?"
Meg shrugged and wiped her hands on a flour sack dish towel that was so thin it didn't really dry much, but her mom had bought them, and she couldn't bring herself to consign them to the rag bag yet. She opened the antique copper cookie jar that had stood on the counter since her great-grandmother Molly had set it there. Reaching in, she selected two kinds of cookies-chocolate chip and peanut butter, nothing but the best-and put them on a plate. "Because she is."
"Why don't you call her Mary?"
She shrugged. "As far back as I can remember, folks in town called her that. The name just sort of stuck."
"Once you make a name for yourself in Apple Grove-good or bad-can you ever change it?"
Meg took the time to think about it and tried to answer honestly, sensing that what she said would be important to Dan's understanding and expectations of the town. "Not that I've ever heard of, but hey, it could happen. One small whisper could start a roar-especially if Miss Trudi is behind it."
As she'd hoped, he smiled at the mention of his great-aunt. "She really loves getting into the thick of things."
It was Meg's turn to smile as she set out the plate of cookies and steaming mugs. "Real milk or two percent?"
"Real if you have it."
"Great, thanks." As he prepared his coffee, she noted that he used two heaping spoons of sugar and two drops of milk. She noticed things like that-always had, always would.
She watched him bring the blue enamel cup close enough to blow across the surface to cool it. He sipped, closed his eyes, and sighed. "That's the best cup of coffee I've had in days."
"Thanks." She pushed the yellow-ware plate closer. "Have a cookie. Grandma's recipes can't be beat."
Dan noticed the way Megan bit her bottom lip when she was deep in thought. Megan Mulcahy had thrown him for a loop from the moment she'd fallen off the fence into his arms. The image of her cradled against his heart filled him. Mine, his heart whispered. Whoa! his head shouted. Don't get carried away... isn't that what happened the last time? But nothing about Meg reminded him of his ex-they were light years apart in temperament, stature, looks, and personality. He had no worries in that regard; why not follow his heart? He could still pull back if things got too hot too quickly. With Meg, he had a feeling they might.
As Meg quietly talked about cookie recipes, he noticed the competent way she held herself, comfortable in her own skin. He admired that in others, but in Meg it was tempting as well as attractive. And it wasn't just the fact that she had a Model A pickup in her barn. Smiling, he bit into a second cookie. "I'm glad I uh... caught you today."
She set her mug down. "I don't remember if I thanked you properly and for that I'm sorry. I should have done that right off."
"You were distracted at the time," he said slowly, watching the hue of her blue eyes darken to sapphire. "So was I."
"That's no excuse. My parents taught me better than that."
"And you're a dutiful daughter?" He could get behind that; he'd been raised the same way.
She nodded and a couple of hairpins pinged on the tabletop. He glanced up in time to see a long, silky strand caress the side of her face. Without thought, he reached out to smooth it behind her ear.
The back door slammed as a deep voice called out, "I didn't think I'd see you again so soon."
Dan nearly jumped out of his skin and knocked over his coffee. Meg was out of her seat like a shot and snagged the paper towels, mopping up the mess. She bent forward to reach across the table and his mind went blank as the scooped neckline of her dress let him glimpse the lacy edge of her flesh-toned bra. He didn't think she realized that she'd flashed him. The no-nonsense way she cleaned up the mess and smiled at her father spoke volumes.
Joe cleared his throat and Dan's brain kicked back into gear. "I saw Meg walking alongside the road, so I offered her a ride."
He needed to go slowly and lay the proper foundation for a relationship this time, because he sensed that there was something special about Meg and he didn't want to make the same mistakes he had with his ex.
"Meg's stubborn," her dad said. "I'm surprised she agreed."
Dan shrugged. "Meg seems reasonable to me; besides, I think it was the thought of walking home in those heels-or barefoot-that had her accepting my offer of a ride home."
Joe's frown turned around and Dan noticed one side of the man's mouth twitching. Was he trying not to smile? Deciding to deflect and protect Meg from her father's grumbling, he said, "Meg showed me the Model A in the barn. I'm handy with engines and would be happy to give you a hand sometime."
Her dad was watching him. Was he thinking about Dan's offer? Needing to sway the man, he said, "I was telling Sheriff Wallace about my Dad's 1965 Corvette-"
Joe stepped closer to the table. "Coupe or convertible?"
"Big block or fuel-injected?"
"425 HP." Joe nodded and sighed deeply. "I'd love to get under the hood; any chance of your dad driving it out to Apple Grove?"
Dan shook his head. "He drives it locally in sunny weather, mostly to the Tuesday night car meets where he shows it off. Guys come from miles around to drool."
"Cherry," he answered with a grin. "I've got a picture in my wallet."
Her father stepped around Meg, pulled a chair over, sat down, and waited for Dan to show him the picture.
"Dad likes cars almost as much as baseball," Megan said with a smile.
Dan handed over the snapshot and looked up. "Really?" Turning toward Joe he asked the name of his favorite team.
Joe smiled at him and said, "The Cleveland Indians. Yours?"
"Diehard, third generation Yankee fan."
Meg's father snickered. "Figures."
"Well, you are from back East," Joe said. "Now if you had that '65 'Vette with the fuel-injected 327..."
Dan laughed good-naturedly. "Carbs-you either love 'em or hate 'em."
They were both laughing by the time Meg had poured Dan another cup of coffee and offered one to her dad. Instead of sitting down, her dad nodded toward the barn. "Want to go look under the hood?"
Dan's heart skipped a beat. "Now?"
Joe nodded and Dan knew then he'd follow the man anywhere as long as he got a good look underneath the hood of that pickup. He did a double take as he stepped outside and saw the pristine, glossy black 1950 Ford F1 pickup gleaming in the late afternoon sun. "You are one lucky man, Mr. Mulcahy."
Joe grinned. "I've worked hard for what I've got."
"I understand," Dan said, distracted by the pickup in the driveway and the antique in the barn. "I intend to work even harder so that I can buy back a rookie baseball card I pawned..." his voice trailed off. Damn. If he'd been paying attention to what he was saying, that last part wouldn't have come out.
Joe was watching him intently. "What year?"
Dan hesitated before deciding that it really didn't matter if Meg's dad knew about the damned card. At least he hadn't been shocked about pawning it. "1952."
Joe's look intensified. "Holy shit. Don't tell me it was Mickey Mantle's!"
Dan's shoulders slumped. "Yeah. Long story. Family and a couple of exes involved-ends badly."
The older man regarded him for a moment, glanced over his shoulder at the house, and then asked, "You coming?"
Dan grinned, glad that he'd dodged that particular bullet. "Yeah!"
Their mutual love for classic and antique cars led them to the barn first; they had plenty of time to check out the F1 later-if he didn't wear out his welcome or forget and slip up and talk about things best left unsaid. His gut told him he'd better get to his new home before it got dark, but he was car crazy and had two stellar Fords to check out, inside and out, first. Whatever problems waited for him would still be there when he arrived later.
Two hours later, he followed Joe back inside to find the kitchen empty and their coffee ice cold.
"Do you want me to brew a fresh pot?" Joe offered.
Dan hesitated; he'd love to spend more time talking cars, but knew he had to check things out and make sure he had everything he needed for the first day of his new job at Apple Grove High. "I'd like to take a rain check on the coffee. Thanks, Joe."
"Come on back and talk cars anytime, Dan."
They shook hands on it.
"No problem. Will we see you tomorrow at church?"
Dan paused in the doorway. "I hadn't really thought about it. I haven't even begun to unpack."
"Service is at ten o'clock. Reverend Smith was the minister you met at the Parrish's farm. He welcomes all newcomers."
"I'll think about it."
"Your aunt has her special spot in the front pew opposite the pulpit."
Dan knew then he'd better go. "All right then. See you in the morning." He paused on the threshold. "Would you please say good-bye to Meg for me?"
Instead of pausing for one last look at the gorgeous pickup in the driveway, he turned and looked up at the farmhouse to see which window had a light on. Second story, third window from the front. He caught himself staring and forced his thoughts back to square one and the plan he'd already begun outlining in his mind: get to know Meg better before he gave in to the overwhelming need to talk her into bed. Even though he would have liked a little more time to plan his strategy, tomorrow at church would be the perfect place to start.
What People are Saying About This
"A heartwarming romance that is fast-paced and engrossing. The small town setting adds warmth and appeal to the story" - Book Reviews and More by Kathy
"A Wedding in Apple Grove by C.H. Admirand hit the spot with everything that I like in a small town romance-a likable main character, a cast of eccentrics, and a great romance." - Wendy's Minding Spot
"I love Apple Grove. Can I live there?" - Books Like Breathing
"I like the quirk and humor Admirand writes with. And her attention to details on her setting and idiosyncrasies of her characters stand out and grab your attention." - Author Kelly Moran's Blog
"Truly a pleasure to read... Strap in and be prepared to fall in love with the tiny town of Apple Grove and its residents." - Fresh Fiction
"There is just so much to love about this novel whether it be the romance, the small town or the charming characters... Admirand is a great storyteller. " - The Romance Reviews
"A light-hearted story full of colorful characters. It describes the sweet, simple life of a small town and a sensual romance full of heat and heart" - Joyfully Reviewed
"An enticing contemporary romance of life and love in a small town." - Romance Junkies
"I loved this charming little book... Apple Grove could be the small Ohio town in which I live... " - The Royal Reviews
"This sweet, sassy and sexy tale is sure to provide readers will plenty of pure reading enjoyment." - Fallen Angel Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story line was okay. I do not need 6 pages of extreme intimate detail every time a couple touches each other. This is also true of the second in this group, A Day in Apple Grove. These could have been very enjoyable books if the author was more discrete and let the reader figure out what happened when the lights went out.
I enjoyed this grouping of books very much. Good storyline and very enjoyable reading.
The town of Apple Grove, Ohio, is unlike any other. Everyone is friendly but nosy; small in population but big in heart. When the locals need any handiwork done, they know that there is no job too small for the Mulcahy sisters: Megan, Caitlin, and Grace. Meg is the oldest sister. The petite redhead works hard in the family-run business. All day long she makes her scheduled rounds to fix whatever needs fixing in the homes of Apple Grove. Since this is a small town, everyone knows everything about everyone, and not all customers pay in cash. A few bake the most mouthwatering deserts that the entire Mulcahy family is more than happy to receive them in lieu of cash. <br /> <br /> Daniel “Dan” Eagan is determined to put his ex-fiancé and his ex-buddy firmly in the past. Dan is looking to make a new start in Apple Grove. The only person Dan knows in the town is Aunt Trudi and according to her, Dan will fall in love with the place. Dan has only just crossed into the county when he spies a lady walking on a fence as if it were a balance beam. Dashing from his car to the fence, Dan reaches the redhead in time to catch her as she falls. The instant their eyes meet, neither can deny the attraction that springs up between them. Meg no longer believes in romance and Dan fears another rejection, but their hearts refuse to be denied. And when Meg’s past collides with her future, it may take all the residents of Apple Grove to keep their romance from short-circuiting. <br /> <br /> *** THREE STARS! I must admit that there are some very interesting characters that live in the town of Apple Grove. It is the type of place that resembles Mayberry (from the Andy Griffith Show). Everyone seems to know about everyone else’s families and gossip spreads faster than a virus among kids in school. This story starts out pretty slowly and many character names are thrown at the reader early on, but you will not have to worry about trying to remember them all. To help readers out, the author has listed the cast of characters in the front of the book for quick reference. <br /> <br /> Though the relationship between Meg and Dan is the primary focus, there are one or two others happening simultaneously. Watching Honey B. make a certain sheriff crazy with her internet dating is just as fun as wondering what color the little beautician will dye her hair each week. For me, there are times that Honey B.’s love life was even more interesting than Meg’s! By the story’s end, I was grinning from ear-to-ear and wondering who finished up Mrs. Doyle’s perm – if anyone. <br /> <br /> I am eager to return to the people of Apple Grove. I have come to care for several and I find it awful to leave them, even if it is only for a short while. Admirand needs to write faster! *** <br /> <br /> Reviewed by Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews.
Tomboy, Megan Mulcahy, took over her father's handyman business at the same time she gave up girlish dreams of romance. But when newcomer Daniel Eagan roars into Apple Grove as the new high school football coach, sparks fly. While Dan tries to adjust to small town life, Megan's past comes back to haunt her. It may just take the whole city population to keep these two together. I've always been a big fan of these small town romances. The townsfolk always seem like a whole secondary character, as does the town itself. In honesty, though this book had a cozy feel to it, I didn't find myself falling in love with Apple Grove or any of the secondary characters. The way Megan and Dan met was cute, but then came a highly unrealistic kiss, and it went downhill from there. There was no build-up, no tease. I think what my issue boils down to is conflict. There wasn't any, and what conflict was presented was weak. He's trying to adjust to a small town, but obviously does right from the start. She's trying to get over a break-up that happened eons ago, and really has by her actions before the hero shows up. There was one misunderstanding after another to carry through. In saying that, I like the quirk and humor Admirand writes with. And her attention to details on her setting and idiosyncrasies of her characters stand out and grab your attention. I would buy future books by this author in a heartbeat, but the plot/story of this one just didn't do it for me.