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In Heather Heyford’s second Willamette Valley Romance, a single mom and attorney with deep roots in the rolling hills of Oregon’s Ribbon Ridge wine country thinks her family is perfect as is—until she crosses paths again with a gruff police officer who has two boys of his own . . .
After detective Alex Walker’s last case in Portland is skewered by a tough-as-nails attorney, he decides to finish out his career on a quiet note in the Willamette Valley. Dedicated to his job and committed to his family, he’s fine letting his brusque exterior keep even the thought of a relationship at bay—especially once he realizes his new hometown is the old hometown of the attorney who ruined his last case . . .
Single mom and attorney Kerry O’Hearn is just as wary as Alex is, thanks to her disastrous first marriage. But she isn’t fooled by Alex’s tough-guy image. When he asks for her assistance in gaining custody of two little boys from an abusive foster home, she sees what he desperately tries to hide: a giant-sized heart. Between them they have five kids and a whole barrel of bad experience. And yet, Kerry can’t shake the feeling that she and the crusty cop were meant to be . . .
Praise for the Willamette Valley Romances
“Heather Heyford always pulls at my heartstrings.”—Guilty Pleasures on Right All Along
“Heartfelt and engaging.”—Urban Book Reviews on The Sweet Spot
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Alex Walker stared at the woman fielding reporters' questions outside the county courthouse. Along the lower edge of the TV screen scrolled a continuous line of text: Breaking news — Newberry business exec found not guilty of embezzlement.
Kerry O'Hearn! Alex had known her when she was a bright young thing at Portland's most prestigious law firm. Now, apparently, she was working her legal charms here, in Newberry.
He squinted hard at the screen. It couldn't be her. But it was. The dark-framed eyeglasses were new, but that was definitely Kerry. Even after all this time, he'd recognize her anywhere.
Just his no-good, miserable, rotten luck.
A commercial came on and he tore his gaze away from the TV suspended above the bar, just as a woman slid onto the stool parked at a forty-five-degree angle from his.
She slipped off her glasses, folded them, and laid them on the bar. "I'll have the house Riesling," she told Laurel, the bartender, tucking a curtain of golden brown hair behind her ear.
One glimpse at her straight-nosed profile and Alex's blood began raging in his ears, drowning out the buzz of conversation and Taylor Swift's "Begin Again," playing in the background of the tavern.
The woman appeared to have sensed something, too, because she glanced at him from the corner of her eye.
Those navy-blue eyes ... the resolute line of those lips ... the ever- present lock of hair running diagonally across her brow ... confirmation hit him like a jab to the sternum.
He tipped his glass to his lips, his thoughts on fast rewind. The case that had pitted the State of Oregon against Kerry and her crack team of trial lawyers was, to a great extent, to blame for his losing his taste for the fast, furious life of a city cop. He'd hung in a few years longer, his dissatisfaction growing until finally he'd gone on the hunt for a sheltered little town in which to wind up his career. Newberry seemed to fit the bill. But now, it seemed he was right back where he'd started.
Does she remember me?
If she did, she didn't let on.
Then again, he wouldn't want to play poker with her.
Unlike Kerry, whose telegenic face had been plastered all over the Portland news media, Alex's public role in the long-ago trial was that of a bit player. Even though he'd spent countless hours investigating the crime behind the scenes, he'd been on the stand all of an hour and a half. After testifying, he'd slipped back into the courtroom to watch the proceedings every chance he got. But Kerry wouldn't have noticed him sitting there, in the back row. To her, he was just another blue uniform.
Time took its toll. You could go for years feeling invincible, and then one day your barber starts dropping hints that maybe you should go high and tight to give the illusion of more hair, and you take a long, hard look in the mirror and that's when it hits you that you're not the youngest guy on the force anymore. Not by a long shot.
It didn't take a trained observer to see that time had taken its subtle toll on her, too. Her curves had softened a bit and, apparently, his barber wasn't the only one who believed in lopping off length once you hit a certain birthday. Fine lines extended horizontally from the outer corners of her eyes. But the eyes themselves still glittered like cold, hard sapphires.
* * *
Kerry was sure they'd never been formally introduced, and yet there was something familiar about the guy sitting kitty-corner from her at the Turning Point Tavern.
Maybe it wasn't who he was so much as what they had in common. Amid the animated small talk punctuated by occasional bursts of laughter, he and Kerry each nursed their drinks, solo. Like her, the man was in the crowd, yet not of it.
There was a time, back when she was an assistant DA still learning the ropes, that she'd been a card-carrying member of the happy hour tribe. Out every night, getting to know the right people, finding her niche in the big city. Back then, she'd thought she'd said good-bye to her pastoral hometown for good.
An elbow thumped her in the back, sloshing wine over the edge of the glass in her hand.
"Sorry." A young woman in a dress with spaghetti straps — a style that, regrettably, Kerry no longer had the arms for — smiled wryly and raised her glass in apology as best she could. She was hemmed in by an HVAC technician with DAN and HARMON'S ELECTRIC embroidered on his chest and a man who had already loosened his tie and was now undoing his top button.
Relax. Kerry blew out a breath, dabbed her fingers with her bar napkin, and forced her shoulders down. In the twenty years she'd been gone from Newberry, the wine boom had brought an influx of new residents. In addition to the newbies, there were no doubt a couple of old acquaintances in here she didn't recognize due to the passage of time. Still, she felt a kinship with these people that went beyond living in the same town. All of them radiated the same low- grade anxiety that comes from sacrificing forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year to putting a roof over the heads and shoes on the feet of those who depended on them.
"Ready for another?" asked the bartender, bottle poised to pour.
"No, thanks." She put her hand over the top of her glass. "One and done."
She had to pick up the kids at the Community Center in less than an hour. She pictured Chloé's and Ella's moon faces smiling up at her and was engulfed in a wave of maternal protectiveness, followed instantly by a sinking feeling when she recalled that morning, when Shay, her oldest, had flat-out refused to change out of her too-short skirt.
But the skirt was the least of Kerry's concerns. According to Shay, twelve going on thirteen was way too old to be enrolled in the after- school program. Kerry got it. She did. But she refused to let Shay go home to an empty house by herself. She'd been practicing law too long, seen too much.
As hard as it was being a single, working mom, those kids meant everything to her. In a matter of minutes, little Ella would come barreling into her arms, threatening to topple her off her conservative, two-inch heels, while Chloé, in sixth grade but mature beyond her years, would sling her purple backpack over her shoulder and yak to Kerry all the way out to their 4Runner, as if she had saved up all her thoughts from the whole day and couldn't hold them in another minute. Bless Chloé's heart. Being raised without a father affected every kid differently. Chloé had become glued to Kerry's hip. She couldn't care less if her classmates caught her holding her hand.
As for Shay, Kerry would be lucky if she merited brief eye contact.
"That trial's all anyone's been talking about for weeks," said the bartender.
"I hadn't figured on an embezzlement case being headline news. Back in Portland, it would have been buried beneath a story about the latest protest march or the homeless problem they can never seem to get a grip on."
But she knew the talk around town wasn't 100 percent positive. Not guilty wasn't the same thing as innocent. Whether the woman had actually diverted company funds into her own account, it had been Kerry's job to defend her, and she had come through with flying colors. Some people had a problem with that.
Maybe that explained the furtive glances of the guy next to her. He had started frowning into his pinot as intently as a wine critic when she caught him looking at her.
And here she'd had the tiniest spark of hope that maybe, just maybe, his interest might be more than idle curiosity over the trial.
Kerry had had her share of admirers in her thirty-eight years, including one who'd actually cared enough to walk down the aisle with her. But parenting three kids by herself while juggling a high- profile caseload had taken its toll. Lately she'd started to feel invisible ... sexless. It had been a long time since a man had given her a second glance.
Maybe her time was past. She'd had her chances at romance. And she'd blown them.
The man lifted his glass to his lips and she stole a closer look. His uniform consisted of jeans and a gray, V-neck sweater pulled over a red T-shirt. The way his shoulders filled out the fine-gauge wool hinted of regular, serious workouts. No ring. If he'd ever been married, it'd been over long enough for the telltale narrowing at the base of his finger to fill out. Unless he was one of those guys who liked to keep his status on the down low in case something better came along. There were plenty of those around.
No. His eyes were stormy gray and guarded. The inch-long, horizontal scar on the crest of his cheekbone said here was a man who could handle whatever life threw at him. A man who wouldn't be toyed with, who had seen things most people would never see, if they were lucky.
And that close-cropped, no-nonsense haircut combined with a utilitarian watch and clean shave couldn't be more straightforward. Whoever he was, he wasn't a player.
He reached into his back pocket in a smooth, controlled movement, revealing the sliver of black leather and gold metal at his hip. Pulling out his phone, he answered it in a deep voice. "Walker."
A cop. Detective, Kerry corrected herself. Those gold shields were highly prized. Patrolmen wore blue to make their authority immediately obvious to both criminals and the public they aimed to protect. Detectives delved deeper in their work behind the scenes.
While he propped both elbows on the bar and bit off curt replies at a low volume into his phone, Kerry leaned back slightly, letting her eyes travel from his broad shoulders down to his narrow waist.
There it was, the hard bulge of his service weapon shoved into the small of his back beneath his sweater, only noticeable if you knew where to look.
She should have known. He had cop written all over him. How had it taken her so long to see it? This case, combined with Shay's issues at her new school, had really done a number on her.
She lifted the edge of her own phone yet again. It would only take five minutes to get to the Community Center. One of the many advantages of small-town living. Back in Portland, there was never a day when there wasn't traffic to contend with.
The detective — Walker — ended his call and slid his phone back into his pocket.
"You didn't grow up in Newberry," she heard herself say.
Oh, Lord. When it came to hanging out in bars, she was woefully out of practice. A few sips of wine and here she was, chatting up a stranger. But cops didn't qualify as strangers, did they? Cops were solid, steady, and true down to the core. Or they were supposed to be.
"Don't tell me you did."
What was that supposed to mean? She should have kept to herself. Too late now. She smiled mildly. "Not far from here. Ribbon Ridge. You probably never heard of it."
"Smallest AVA in the Willamette," he replied without missing a beat.
Kerry cocked a brow. Most people didn't even know what an American Viticultural Area was. Even fewer had heard of Ribbon Ridge, precisely because it was so small.
"The Willamette, then. Because you don't strike me as a tourist."
He fondled the underside of his balloon-shaped glass as he considered his answer. "Originally? Right over the border in Washington State."
A beer tap near the intersection of Kerry and the cop put Laurel in the perfect position to eavesdrop. As she waited for a pilsner glass to fill, she said to him, "That Friestatt pinot noir you're drinking?" She tipped her head toward Kerry. "That's her family's place."
"That right?" He grunted in reluctant approval, tilting his glass, looking with renewed interest at the transparent, garnet color.
Kerry rolled her eyes and groaned inwardly. Name-dropping wasn't her style.
"The Sweet Spot belongs to my cousin Hank. Well, technically, he's my second cousin. The Friestatts and the O'Hearns are a fertile bunch. You'll find half the valley comes from one side or the other. In some cases, both. That what brought you to the Willamette? The pinot?" "That," he said, "and the quiet."
Laurel glanced at Kerry's empty drink. "Check, Counselor?" She nodded once, stood up, and felt beneath the bar for the purse hook.
"Know why a shark won't attack a defense attorney?" the cop asked Laurel, loud enough for Kerry to hear.
Rummaging in her bag for her wallet, Kerry's hand stilled.
"Er ... why?" Laurel replied, giving Kerry a wary look.
Laurel laughed in the obligatory way reserved for difficult bar patrons while accepting the bills Kerry held out. "Change?"
Walk away, Kerry told herself. Just walk away. But the litigator in her couldn't resist a parting shot.
"Why does a cop always go by the numbers?" she asked.
The server folded her arms. "Tell me."
"Because he never learned the alphabet."
Alex had spent all last summer driving around the Willamette Valley's storybook farm towns in search of the ideal spot to relocate.
He wasn't interested in any of the shiny new housing developments sprouting up as a result of the wine boom. Alex was old school, and he didn't care who knew it. He'd take substance over gloss every time.
He'd explored the back roads of McMinnville, Silverton, Troutdale, and Dundee, eating at their restaurants, drinking in their tasting rooms. One Saturday morning on his drive past farm stands selling honey and vegetables on the honor system, he found a seat in the corner of Newberry's Java coffee shop and pretended to read his copy of Wine Spectator. But after a half hour he found he was merely flipping the pages. He'd become caught up in watching the stream of young families waiting patiently in line for to-go cups to take to their ball games and the respectful students from the small, liberal arts college ... listening to the low-key conversations of the workers from the medical center and the Rustical Furniture Company and the weather prognostications of dairy farmers and grape growers.
He became cautiously excited. But Newberry still had to pass the final test. It had to have the ideal watering hole: unpretentious, but with a decent wine list. As far as that requirement went, most of the drinking establishments in the Willamette qualified. But it also had to have a staff that was friendly but not intrusive. And it had to be popular enough so that Alex wouldn't look conspicuous for being the only patron sitting at the bar by himself night after night. He had nothing against company, as long as they kept their distance. You couldn't get rejected if you kept people safely at arm's length.
Then he discovered the Turning Point, and everything clicked.
"Women. Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em." A man slid onto the stool recently vacated by Kerry.
Alex looked up at a grizzled face with bloodshot eyes. Just what he needed ... some old coot about to chew his ear off.
"Kerry O'Hearn always was a piece of work. Smart, sassy, and easy on the eyes."
"You know her?"
"Know her? We went to school together."
How could that be ... even if this guy were a few classes ahead of her? He had to be fifty if he was a day.
"That right?" It took all kinds. His curiosity got the better of him. Who knew? Maybe he'd learn something.
"She was always quick with a comeback. Hell, I just ran into Danny at the Thrifty Market and her name came up. You know, on account of that trial everybody's been talking about.
"Danny Wilson?" the man clarified at Alex's confused expression. "They were a couple all through junior and senior year. She broke up with him right before she went off to college. Ended up staying in Portland after she graduated and made a name for herself as a big- time lawyer. Wasn't so lucky in the love department, or so I hear tell. But then, that's life. No one has it all. Not even Kerry O'Hearn." He swigged his beer thoughtfully. "Danny said that after all these years, he still dreams about her."
"What's this Danny guy doing now?" Alex harbored a warped hope he was tethered to a demanding wife on a short leash, with a passel of kids and a time-sucking fixer-upper mortgaged to the hilt.
"Danny done pretty good for himself, too. Worked his way up to new head vineyard manager at the Sweet Spot. Kerry's cousin's place. The Friestatts and the O'Hearns run rampant in this valley. Can't move without bumping into one of them."
The guy had neglected the most important part — Danny's relationship status. But Alex had interrogated enough people to know all he had to do was bide his time. The man was a talker.
Of course, a little encouragement never hurt. "Alex Walker," he said, extending his hand.
Excerpted from "First Comes Love"
Copyright © 2018 Heather Heyford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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