In the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains lies a small town with a big heart—and a chance to begin again . . .
When Hannah Montgomery buys a lavender farm in Blue Hollow Falls with three friends, she’s creating a life she never imagined—one she hopes will honor the memory of the sweet young son she tragically lost years ago. Standing on the porch of the sprawling farmhouse, looking out on row upon row of those lush purple plumes, Hannah is ready to embrace this fresh, new start . . .
Then she meets Wilson McCall. The stonemason hired to fix their crumbling chimneys and leaky roof is quieter than most folks in the Falls. Hannah’s not surprised to learn the widower struggles with his own grief. Who could blame her if she finds joy in making Will laugh again, or if she feels a poignant kinship when she sees him with his teenaged son? But her deepening friendship with Will reminds Hannah that there’s a part of her that still needs to heal—awakening a tender yearning to have a life that isn’t just good enough, but lived fully—even if that means taking risks once more . . .
Praise for Donna Kauffman
“Charming characters, emotion galore, a small town—you’re going to love Donna Kauffman!” —Lori Foster
“We all know where there's Donna Kauffman, there's a rollicking, sexy read chock‑full of charm and sparkle.” —USAToday.com
About the Author
Donna Kauffman is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over 70 novels, translated and sold in more than 26 countries around the world. She is the recipient of multiple RT Book Awards, a RITA® finalist, a National Readers’ Choice Award-winner, and a PRISM Award-winner. Born into the maelstrom of Washington, D.C.’s politics, she now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia surrounded by a completely different kind of wildlife. A contributing blogger for USAToday.com, she is also a DIYer, a baker, a gardener, and a volunteer transporter for the Wildlife Center of Virginia and Rockfish Sanctuary. Please visit her online at www.DonnaKauffman.com.
Read an Excerpt
It wasn't every day Hannah Montgomery got to pick lavender and watch a half-naked man rebuild her bluestone fireplace. Four fireplaces, actually. Be still, my heart. "But I'll take all of those I can get," she murmured as she walked from the fields toward what was once known as March House. Now it was the Lavender Blue Farmhouse & Tea Room. Or soonto-be tearoom, she thought, a happy, satisfied smile curving her lips.
Hannah swore she wouldn't stare this time. He was up on the roof again today, under a blazing, late May sun, restoring the stone chimneys to those four beautiful fireplaces. Well, they would be beautiful. As would the rest of the place. All in due time, she thought, surprised at how serene she felt about the whole thing, this monstrously enormous task that she and her three closest friends had undertaken.
She had goals now. Clear, direct-line-to-the-finish goals. It felt good and a little terrifying all at the same time. But even the fear of the risk she'd taken by selling her home in Alexandria, along with most of her worldly possessions, to move lock, stock, and paintbrushes to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia felt good. Taking the risk made her feel alive. And that had been precisely why she'd done it.
He didn't look up — or down, as the case might be — as she drew near the four sets of French doors that lined the south-facing side of the sprawling farmhouse. Originally built during the Civil War, the house had been renovated, restored, and refurbished many times. There had been several additions built onto it, including the deep veranda. When the four sets of French doors that lined the exterior wall of the enclosed veranda were all opened and latched against the house, it turned the space into a porch, with an unparalleled view of the lavender fields and the mountains beyond. The veranda would be the setting for their tearoom. Eventually.
She did glance up again. One last time. Aside from being aware he was the only stonemason in Blue Hollow Falls, Hannah didn't know much about Wilson McCall. Well, other than that he did amazing things to a sweat-soaked, white T-shirt. He lifted a large, flat piece of bluestone from the chimney and balanced it carefully on the roof. The motion had her glance turning into a protracted and very appreciative gaze. My, my, my.
Vivi had been the one to hire him and he certainly seemed to have a good work ethic. Unlike most of the folks Hannah had met since moving to the Falls, Will wasn't the chatty type. Or the talk-at-all type, really.
She climbed the steps to the veranda, then turned to look back out over the fields. She could feel her heart swell inside her chest at the panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, laid out before her. Their timeworn, ancient tumble, the endless rippling of granite and slate, pine and cedar, never ceased to move her. In the months since she'd moved in, she'd watched in awe as the fields that spread out before her began to regain their color with the advent of spring. That awe deepened further as the proof-of-life green had slowly marched its way up into the hills, higher and higher in elevation as spring moved toward summer. Around boulders, into every fold, through every nook and cranny, color bloomed, bright and bold, cheerful and happy, as new shoots reached for the sun. If that hadn't been a sign of hope and proof of the resilience of the life she'd come to champion, she didn't know what was.
She actually laid a hand over her heart, feeling the thumping beat of it. She'd lived in the newly christened Lavender Blue Farmhouse for five months now, and she already knew she'd never, not ever, take that view, that confirmation of life, for granted. "Look at it, Liam," she whispered. "Look what we're doing here. Can you believe it?"
"You going to bring those stalks into the house or do I have to wait until you quit mooning over those hills?"
Hannah laughed and turned to find her friend, fellow life warrior, and new business partner, Vivienne Baudin, standing in the doorway that led from the broad veranda into the biggest kitchen Hannah had ever seen in her life. Born in New Orleans, Vivienne had known early on she was destined for the bright lights of Broadway, where she'd happily spent more than forty of her sixty-seven years. A former Broadway showgirl turned costume designer, now lavender farmer, she tackled every part of her life with gusto. One only had to glance at the wild swirl of carefully arranged, lavender-hued, silver curls piled up on top of her head like a showgirl headpiece to know that while the showgirl might have left New York, she would never quite be leaving Vivi. And Hannah wouldn't have it any other way.
"I tried to pick the ones that were just opening, like Avery's chart showed," Hannah said, handing the big basket over to Vivi. "Let me know if I'm not getting the right ones."
Vivi grinned. "Honey, like I could tell the difference." She took the basket and leaned down to breathe in their scent. "We'll do something with you, my pretties," she said, closing her eyes in momentary appreciation. Then she straightened and let out that marvelous, smoky, infectious laugh of hers as she added, "Even if it's wrong, we'll have fun figuring out how to make it right." And that, Hannah thought, pretty much summed up Vivi's entire worldview, which was why they'd become such fast, if unlikely friends.
Hannah — thirty years Vivi's junior — was a painter, a former children's book illustrator, and now, too, a lavender farmer. As recently as Christmas, neither of them could have told anyone a thing about how to make tea, soap, essential oils, or anything else from stalks of lavender.
But they could now.
Time would tell if the end result was anything worth crowing about. Much less packaging up and selling. But that didn't matter. Not yet. Now was the time for building and restoring, for repairing and learning. The time for opening their doors, their lavender fields, their tearoom, and welcoming the world into their new home would come soon enough. Hannah didn't want to rush any of it.
A loud crash on the roof above made both women jump and look up. A moment later a rumbling reverberation came from the dining room that made the black-and-white tiled floor of the kitchen vibrate beneath their feet. "What in the world?" Hannah said, pressing her hand over her racing heart.
"Dear Lord. Sounds like half the roof just came down the chimney into the dining room fireplace," Vivi said, her hands also clasped against her chest. "I'll go that way," she said, motioning toward the door to the dining room. "You go on out there and find out what on earth is happening."
Hannah nodded, still processing the sudden turn of events. "Be careful," she told Vivi. She turned and headed straight back through the door to the veranda, to the set of open French doors, where she was immediately grabbed by both arms and tugged sideways, pinned between the open door and a warm, damp, and very hard chest.
"Watch out," came a deep voice next to her ear, followed a split second later by the sound of heavy debris rolling off the roof and bouncing into the yard just a dozen feet away.
"Oh!" she said, jumping at the loud sound it made, the word muffled against the hard, T-shirt-clad shoulder as he instinctively jerked her closer and turned to shield her from the falling stone, brick, and other debris. Her body reacted instantly — and quite favorably — to the sudden, full-body contact. It took her mind a few seconds longer to catch up. Will McCall, he of her rooftop fantasies, had her pinned to her own French door. So she could be excused for being a little muddled.
"Chimney's coming down," he said by way of explanation, not letting her go quite yet.
"Intentionally?" she asked, her voice still a bit high pitched, her body and mind at odds over the clamor happening on the rooftop and the one happening inside her own body. The sudden change to her previously uninhabited personal space was as jarring as the pieces of chimney thumping into the side yard. Likely because it had been a very, very long time since her personal space had been so thoroughly ... inhabited.
"No," he said, as succinct as always. "Sorry for the scare. You okay?"
"Startled, but yes, I think so," she said, knowing she sounded a bit breathless, and perhaps not entirely due to almost being pummeled to death by falling chimney debris. "I might not have been if it wasn't for your quick reflexes." She lifted her gaze to his. "Thank you."
Now that the immediate danger had been averted, she tried not to stare. Again. Of course, she'd been trying and failing to not stare at the man for two weeks running now, and this moment proved to be no different. But now that all of him was right up close and personal with all of her, it was kind of impossible not to. Her first thought was that he was older than she'd realized. Closer to her own age, maybe even a few years older. There were lines at the corners of his eyes, which might have come from working in the sun. Not from smiling, she thought. At least she couldn't recall seeing him look anything other than serious and focused on his work. Green, she noted, as her gaze got hung up in his, filling in another detail she'd wondered about. Beautiful, dark, almost gemstone-rich, green eyes.
His hair was dark — which she'd already surmised — and average in length, cut close on the sides and back, a little longer on top. But now she could see how thick it was, and just on the side of unruly, maybe because of the heat. Maybe because he raked his hands through it. Her fingers itched to do the same. He was clean shaven, though there was a hint of shadow already coming through on the hard lines of his jaw, and it wasn't two in the afternoon yet.
She already knew the way his T-shirt clung to every ripple and curve of the muscles in his back, chest, and shoulders. Shoulders she was now getting intimately acquainted with, given her palms were plastered to both of them. Throwing around big chunks of granite and bluestone all day long apparently did a body good. Really, really good. That led her to wonder what he'd look like with that dirty, white T-shirt stripped off and —
She jerked her gaze back to his, feeling a hot flush rise to her cheeks at being caught staring. Only he didn't look amused. Or insulted, for that matter. Just concerned. Clearly, he wasn't experiencing the same awakening of the senses she was. The "ma'am" part should have made her feel ancient, only from him it had merely sounded polite. The kind of politeness instilled by generations of southern mamas ... or maybe by the military, since he had no southern accent that she could discern.
"I'm sorry — I'm fine," she assured him, quick to smile, while trying not to get lost in those emerald-green eyes of his again. They really were something. "You — this just caught me more off guard than I thought," she said, having completely forgotten about her close brush with the falling chimney until that moment. "And it's Hannah, please."
"Will," he replied, not quite gruffly, but close. He finally, carefully set her back a step, keeping hold of her elbows, concern still clear on his face. He was taller than she'd expected, too. Though why she'd expected anything one way or the other, she couldn't have said. He was a good three inches taller than her own five-foot-nine, which was nice. Even if it didn't matter. At all.
His concerned look didn't ease, but he did turn his attention toward the side yard.
She glanced past him and gasped at the array of broken stone and brick that littered the side yard she'd traversed less than thirty minutes ago. "What happened?" She automatically started to slide out from her spot between him and the pinned back door, only to have him hold her right where she was.
"Don't," he warned. "There's more to come down yet." Trying hard to ignore his broad, warm palm wrapped around her bare arm, and the feeling of her chest rubbing up against his chest, and the skitter of sensations that sent through her, she shifted her gaze past his shoulder to the yard again. "We heard a loud crash and a rumbling sound in the dining room, but I had no idea what —" She broke off and her eyes widened as she looked at him again. "Wait, are you okay?" She looked him up and down, or as much as she could given the tight quarters, searching for signs of injury. "You didn't tumble off —"
"No," he assured her. "I thought I could contain it, but when I realized the whole chimney was going to go, I climbed down to warn you not to go outside for a bit. Only it followed me down before I could knock on the door."
"I think it came down inside as well," she told him, relieved that he hadn't been hurt. "It sounded like the Thunderdome opened up a location in our dining room."
The corner of his mouth might have curved the slightest bit for the briefest of moments at her Mad Max reference, but she wasn't sure because a second later he was shaking his head, his jaw flexing, possibly due to the words he looked ready to mutter, but didn't, in deference to her presence. "I'll head in and check that out, but you'll all need to use the front entrance to the house until I give the all clear."
Hannah nodded her assent, then grew worried again. "Wait, Vivi went to check the dining room fireplace. Should she not be in there? Is there a chance —" But Will was already moving her safely inside the enclosed veranda, then letting her go and heading through the door into the kitchen. She followed right behind him. "Stay here," he told her in a tone that left zero opening for argument, then cut through the spacious kitchen toward the arched doorway that led into the formal dining room. "Ms. Baudin," he called out as he went. "You shouldn't be —"
Vivi met him in the arched doorway, bringing him up short. "I'm fine, I'm fine. And I believe I've mentioned, it's Vivienne," she told him. "Or Vivi. Sounds like you're calling my mama otherwise. God rest her soul."
Hannah's worry immediately lifted. She hid her amusement at the abashed look on Will's dirt-streaked face. A moment ago he'd looked like a five-star general commanding the troops. Only Vivi could reduce a general to a chastised schoolboy.
"Sorry, ma'am." At her perfectly arched eyebrow, he said, "Miss Vivienne."
Vivi accepted the polite, southern form of address with a smile and a regal nod that did her showgirl background proud. She always carried herself as if she was casually balancing a thirty-pound headpiece. In heels. "As I was about to say, it appears half the chimney is now filling the fireplace grate and a good part of the stone hearth. What on earth happened?" "It collapsed," Hannah said. "Almost took Will with it."
Vivi's eyes traveled from Will to Hannah, paused consideringly, then moved back to Will. "You're okay, though?"
Will nodded. "The stonework on the front room chimney that I restored first was bluestone veneer on block, redone from the original brick back in the mid-eighties. It was just as stated on the plans I got from the county. Supposedly all four had been redone the same way. Only when I went to repoint the joints on the dining room chimney, I learned — too late — that they had just slapped the stone to the front of the brick, which had been crumbling due to leaks that weakened the structure from the top down. Hence the remodel in the eighties. For some reason, they didn't replace the brick on that one, just put the stone over it. Only whoever did the job didn't do anything to shore up the disintegrating brick joints first. Maybe they thought attaching stone to it would do the trick, and, I'll admit, it's held up for a long time. But once I started to remove the stone, they all started to go. The brick behind the stone essentially crumbled. There was no way to know until the stone being removed revealed the brick, and by then it was already too late."
"Well, I don't see how you could have known otherwise," Vivi said, seeming calm about this unexpected state of affairs. "I'm just grateful you weren't injured. Will you be able to rebuild using the bluestone?"
At the same time, Hannah asked, "Are the other two chimneys like that one? Or the first one?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lavender Blue"
Copyright © 2019 Donna Kauffman.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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