Strawberry Hill (Mystic Creek Series #5)

Strawberry Hill (Mystic Creek Series #5)

by Catherine Anderson

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The New York Times bestselling author of Spring Forward returns to Mystic Creek, Oregon, where an estranged pair are given a second chance.

As a camp cook, Vickie Brown loves feeding any size crowd in the great outdoors--with one notable exception. She never would have predicted she'd join the crew led by gruff cowboy Slade Wilder, the man who broke her heart just days before their wedding.

Life has gone on since Vickie left him, but Slade can admit his attraction to the one woman he's ever loved remains stronger than ever. If he wasn't in such desperate need of an experienced cook for his paying guests, he would send Vickie packing. He knows better than to seek out the company of the woman who broke off their engagement so many years ago.

Except there's no escaping each other in the confines of the wilderness area, especially once their anger begins to soften in the shared close quarters. But after Vickie finds the courage to confront Slade, it will take a leap of faith for them to put their past behind him, even if it's the only way to recapture their once-in-a-lifetime love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399586378
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/31/2018
Series: Mystic Creek Series , #5
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 10,746
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Catherine Anderson is the author of more than thirty New York Times bestselling and award-winning historical and contemporary romances, including Spring Forward, The Christmas Room, and Mulberry Moon.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Three and a half years later


What the hell am I doing up here? Erin De Laney had asked herself that question at least two dozen times over the last hour, and the only answer she could think of was, Shit happens. Only she wasn't really certain she would survive this to laugh about it later. She was all alone in the middle of a montane forest and on a horse, for Pete's sake. Given the fact that she'd never ridden a horse and her idea of a wilderness foray was a trip to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, she was completely unqualified for this assignment. When she'd been five, her uncle Slade had put her on the back of an old mare and led it in a circle around a corral, but that was the grand total of her experience with equines. She knew even less about remote, high-elevation woodlands. And, damn it, the gelding she rode had no digital compass like the dashboards of patrol vehicles did. What if she got lost out here? Most of the time, she could tell her direction by studying the sky, but in this jungle of towering old-growth trees, she couldn't find so much as a sliver of blue without nearly breaking her neck to look up.


Hands clenched on the reins, Erin stared hard at the open space between her mount's ears. His name was Butterscotch, probably because of his color, a mottled-caramel body with a mane and tail the off-white of whipped cream. Sheriff Adams, his owner, said the gelding was a red roan. Not that Erin cared. What mattered to her right now was being on top of a four-legged giant when her cell phone and portable radio might not have reception to call for help if she fell off. A thirty-minute predawn riding lesson hadn't prepared her for this, and, emergency or not, she didn't appreciate being asked to do something when there were other deputies far more qualified. How was she supposed to check hay for noxious weeds with only a skimpy pocket manual as a reference? While tending the flower gardens that bordered the front lawn of her rental cottage, she'd pulled more actual plants than she had weeds, and her landlady had nearly fainted when she saw the damage. In Erin's parents' neighborhood, most people hired all the gardening done, and Erin's mother reviled practically everything that came in contact with dirt. As a result, Erin had never learned anything about plants or the weeds that invaded flower beds.


Calm down, she lectured herself. Being a deputy in this laid-back county is so much better than working in a crime-ridden metropolitan area, and you don't want to lose the job because you're a whiner. Focus on your surroundings. Take a deep breath of the pure mountain air. Watch for deer. Notice the ferns and wildflowers. This is why you left the Greater Seattle area, remember? You wanted a slower lifestyle and to be surrounded by nature. Instead of being such a grump, why don't you try to enjoy this?


She straightened her spine and filled her lungs. It was silly of her to be so tense. Horses were just larger versions of dogs. Right? And she loved dogs. Well, she liked them from afar, anyway. She'd never actually had one. Her mother had forbidden it, afraid that Erin would sneak it inside her spotless house.


The trail ahead crawled ever upward through a stand of old-growth ponderosa pines. Massive tree trunks the color of cinnamon sticks peppered the terrain. Drooping lazily under their own weight, pine boughs formed an overhead canopy of interlaced green and shielded the forest floor from the late September sunlight, allowing only splashes of butter yellow to spill through. On a light, capricious breeze, the smells of evergreen, fern, moss, manzanita, and wildflowers created a heady perfume unlike anything she had ever experienced. This was why she'd pulled up stakes over a year ago and moved to Mystic Creek, Oregon. This was why she'd abandoned a promising career as a law enforcement officer in King County to become a deputy in a country setting. For her, this place should be like a dream come true. Except for the man-made trail ahead of her, there were no obvious signs that humans had ever been here. No buildings. No litter. No city sounds. It was so different from where she'd grown up.


If she hadn't been on a horse, the majesty of this place would have made her want to linger. She'd find a comfortable place to sit at the base of a tree and just absorb the peacefulness, reconnecting with the basics of life and pondering the fact that she was only a tiny speck on a gigantic canvas painted by a divine artist. Just ahead, the terrain grew steep on one side of the path. Huge slabs of shale and lumps of lava rock, trimmed with clumps of fern, composed much of the hillside. So beautiful and serene. She could almost imagine woodland fairies living here, momentarily hiding so they wouldn't be seen. Somewhere up ahead, she even heard the rush of what sounded like a stream. If she quit making noise, she'd be sure to see animals. Maybe even a deer or elk. But she'd be happy just to study the squirrels and birds that would surely show themselves.


With a mental jerk, Erin snapped back to the moment and, with a lurch of sick dread, realized that the gelding had stopped walking. It was almost as if he'd sensed that her mind had wandered off, and he'd been uncertain what to do. The rhythmic clomp of his hooves had ceased. The rocking motion of his gait no longer shifted her from side to side on the saddle to make her thighs burn.


"Butterscotch?" She leaned forward to pat his neck. "We aren't where we need to go yet, buddy. You need to keep moving."


With a flick of his ears, he snorted and then blew air out his nostrils. Erin's heart caught. What did that mean? Sheriff Adams, her boss, had given her very few tips during her riding lesson that morning. "There's nothing to it," he'd told her. "He knows what to do. Your only job is to stay in the saddle."


As Adams had directed, Erin tapped the gelding's sides with her feet. In response, he chuffed, snorted again, and angled his head around to look at her. She didn't like that she could see the whites of his eyes. Surely that wasn't a good sign. She could only hope he wasn't thinking about different ways he might get her off his back. The thought stripped her of the magical feeling that had come over her moments before. Fact-check. She'd been trained how to fall so as not to injure herself, but during those sessions, she'd been on a gym mat. The dangerous hooves of a slightly overweight male quarter horse and countless jagged rocks hadn't been factored into the equation. If she got hurt out here in a wilderness area, her goose might be cooked.


"Okay, Butterscotch." Who in his right mind named a male horse Butterscotch? "Maybe I'm forgetting part of the go signal." He'd started fine for her down at the trailhead. She nudged him with her heels again, then clicked her tongue. At the sound, he flicked his ears but didn't budge. "Let's go!" she tried. "Giddyup!" Still nothing. Finally she nudged him and made the clicking noise both at once, and the gelding moseyed forward into a walk again. "Awesome!" she said, uncertain of whom she felt prouder, herself or the equine. "You're such a good boy. I think I heard the sound of a creek while we were stopped. Maybe when I find a place to set up my checkpoint, it'll be where you can drink and graze. Sheriff Adams said to make sure you have grass to eat. He didn't mention water, but if I'm thirsty, you must be, too. You're the one doing all the work."


Only Erin didn't feel as if the animal had been doing all the work. Being on a horse made her nervous, and she'd been vising her legs around his belly all the way up the mountain to make sure she didn't fall. She tried to stay in shape, working out five days a week without fail and jogging six miles each weekend morning. But apparently she needed to focus more on her legs. Her inner thighs and glutes hurt. As in, ouch. What was that all about? She'd been convinced as recently as yesterday that she had thigh muscles of iron, but they were sorely disappointing her now.


The trail suddenly grew steep, and without warning, Butterscotch decided to do the horse version of a jog to scale the incline. Erin's butt parted company with the saddle and slammed back down, not once but repeatedly, each landing hurting so much that it nearly took her breath away. Only she was so scared, she couldn't focus on the pain. The saddle seat was slick, and no matter how firmly she tried to grip with her knees, she could barely stay on. Her right boot came out of the stirrup, which started flapping without her foot to anchor it, and Butterscotch seemed to think she wanted him to shift from fast to jet speed.


"No, Butterscotch! Whoa! Are you trying to kill me?"


The horse only increased his pace, and in her panic, Erin couldn't think how to make him stop. The lunging motion threw her backward, and she almost went flying off over the gelding's rump. It flashed through her mind that she could mortally injure herself if she fell and hit her head on the rocks. Realizing that she'd completely lost control of the situation, she turned loose of the reins and threw her arms around the horse's neck to stay on him. That decision resulted in breath-robbing punches from the saddle horn to her belly.


When they reached the top of the hill, Butterscotch settled back into a walk, and Erin sent up prayers of thanks, silent ones because she felt as if her lungs had collapsed. As the horse moseyed forward, she finally caught her breath and dimly registered that the reins were dangling from the roan's nose. Now what? Butterscotch was still moving, and she'd lost her grip on her only way to steer him. She got both feet back in the stirrups and leaned as far forward over his neck as she dared, trying to grab the long strips of leather. He stopped and raised his head, bringing the reins closer so she was able to catch hold, one in each hand.


"Thank you, Butterscotch! Thank you!" She was so grateful that she wanted to hug him. As she got herself situated in the saddle again, she said, "Maybe you don't like it any better than I do when I have no control."


The horse chuffed, and Erin smiled shakily. She could have sworn he was saying, "Of course I don't, you idiot."


Erin sighed, took a moment to collect her composure, and then realized Butterscotch had stopped again. This time, she knew to click her tongue and nudge him with her heels simultaneously, and he moved back into a walk. She scanned the grassy flat that stretched to another tree line about a quarter mile away. Just ahead of them was a trail that intersected with the one they were on. At the junction was the large wooden box with a rickety, hinged lid that her boss had told her about. A drop station, he'd called it. When outfitters who provided guided hunts ran out of things at their base camps, they could find a hilltop that got cell phone service and text someone in town to bring what they needed to the drop station. It saved them from having to ride clear back down to the trailhead for a trip into Mystic Creek, and the people who delivered the goods were tipped handsomely for their trouble.


"We made it, Butterscotch! Sheriff Adams said there's only one uphill trail that flows into this one, so that has to be it. We can set up a checkpoint right on the other side, and nobody will be able to get past us without me seeing them." Erin couldn't help but feel proud of herself. She'd made it, and for a born-and-bred city girl, that was no small victory. The sound of rushing water that she'd heard earlier came from just ahead of them, too. That would be ideal. She'd brought water for herself, but it would be nice if Butterscotch could get a drink as well. "Yay! Now if I can just find some shade, we'll have a reasonably comfortable place to set up shop. I don't know about you, but I'm more than ready for a break."


They didn't go far before Erin saw the stream off to her left. It wasn't very wide, and due to the rocks, brush, and trees that peppered its banks, the water was almost inaccessible. But she did see one reasonably level place where she thought Butterscotch could slake his thirst. She also saw a big boulder partially shaded by trees, which would offer a comfortable spot for her to sit and watch the trail. She'd be a little way off the beaten path, but she saw no problem with that. If anyone pulling a string of packhorses appeared, she could just holler out and check their hay before they went any deeper into the wilderness. Perfect.


The crown of her brown Stetson, which was as much a part of her uniform as the tan britches and dark chocolate shirt, absorbed heat from the sunlight that bathed the clearing. As she steered Butterscotch toward the boulder, she realized that her head felt sweaty, and a hank of her dark brown hair had worked loose from the twist at her nape to tickle her neck. It felt like a bug was crawling on her. She'd be so glad for some shade, and a drink of water would be welcome, too.


Butterscotch quickened his pace and whinnied softly, indicating to Erin that he was as eager for a rest and some lunch as she was. She leaned slightly forward to pat the animal's neck, which was as sweaty as she felt.


"You okay, buddy?"


The gelding snorted and then blew air out his nose. That didn't sound like a positive reply.


"We'll get to rest in a minute," she assured him. "I'll take you over to the stream to wet your whistle first. How does that sound? And just look at all that grass! Sheriff Adams stressed that you'd be happiest if I could find a place where you can graze. This will be awesome for both of us."


The sky, now visible since they'd entered the clearing, was incredibly blue and wisped with fluffy white clouds. Erin could barely wait to get down, stretch her legs, and take off her hat. As they drew near the large rock, she pulled back on the reins to halt the gelding. Grabbing the saddle horn in both hands, she lifted her right leg back over the cantle and shifted her weight onto her left foot still in the stirrup. The next thing she knew, she hit the ground with such force that it nearly knocked the breath out of her. Stunned, she pushed up on her elbows and looked at Butterscotch, who'd turned his head to study her. He looked bewildered. That made two of them. She couldn't feel her legs. What the heck? Even her butt felt numb. What if she couldn't get up? The horse might step on her.

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Strawberry Hill (Mystic Creek Series #5) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read every one of Catherine's and I was so looking forward to this one. Was sadly disappointed. To me it was just too silly. That doesn't mean I will not buy her next book because she is s great story teller, this one just came up short.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A true Catherine Anderson story with heartbreaking emotions but in the end love overcomes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So disappointed i wasted my money on this book. I usually lov this author and hav reread many of her books, but this is a clunker. Not worth the time or money.
Anonymous 25 days ago
Charming, as all the books in this series are
Anonymous 4 months ago
Rhodes123 9 months ago
Vickie Brown excepted a job as a camp cook for Slade Wilder, the man who broke her heart and never cared that he had a son, 41 years ago. Vickie loves to feed people, the more the better and doing it in the great outdoors in her hometown is a bonus. She has a plan which includes pranks to get answers one way or another from Slade and make him face his obligations by being a father to their son. Slade has never forgotten Vickie, she was the one that got away and no woman since her can compare. Life did go on but he didn't expect her to show up as camp cook, he would send her away if he wasn't so desperate for an experienced cook to feed his paying guests. Vickie is still angry about the past and he knows he should avoid her company but he just can't seem to stay away. There is no escaping each other in the wilderness camp, they exchange heated, angry words until a prank goes wrong and Slade could have died. The anger lessens and Vickie finally confronts Slade, it will take more than admitting that they still love each other to put the past behind them. The truth and a barroom brawl may be the only way that they can recapture the once in a lifetime love they share.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book but it did not flow as most of her other books have. The characters seemed as though their stories were not finished and hard to follow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great book! I can’t wait to read Erin and Wyatt’s story!
Sailon More than 1 year ago
Strawberry Hill was a really cute and endearing story about a couple that reunites in their sixties and a blonde black bear that just won't quit. From the blurb, I thought this was Wyatt, deaf rancher, and Erin, newly appointed county patrol officer, story. Even though it starts with Wyatt and Erin, they become the back story and Vickie, a single mother of three now adults, and Slade, the ranch owner, who never Knew he had a son, reuniting. I liked the characters and found the story quite enjoyable but was a bit thrown on who I should become invested in reading about which kept me from loving it. I received this ARC copy of Strawberry Hill from Berkley Publishing Group. This is my honest and voluntary review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ReadsWithGranddaughters More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Smoothly written, I fell in love all over again with Mystic Creek, Oregon. Connections between two families have a way in allowing more than one romance in the making to happen. It took a lot of courage and outrage for Vickie to return to where Slade still lives. Both are in their 60’s and have not seen each other in 40 years. Vickie needs answers and is determined to confront Slade to get them. Slade’s niece, Erin, is also a main character, and meeting Wyatt is a story of its own. I hope their story continues in the future. I laughed a lot from the antics of Four Toes, who is a bear. I enjoyed the thoughtful and well-written descriptions of the wildness and beauty of the area. A lot of turmoil happens in this story. Misunderstandings and blame get in the way. Yet the strength of the characters are remarkable on their own and make for a happily ever after ending. I look forward to more in this series. This can be read as a standalone.
Barb-TRC More than 1 year ago
Strawberry Hill by Catherine Anderson is the 5th book in her Mystic Creek series. Each one of the books in this series usually centers on two couples; one being an older couple. In Strawberry Hill, the older couple is the main couple, though early on in the book, it seemed to be focused on the younger couple. I was surprised, especially since the younger couple was centered more at the start of the book, and the official description doesn’t even mention them. We meet Erin, a new cop, who is sent by her commanding officer to make sure riders are following the rules. She comes across Wyatt, a rancher, whom she finds out later works for her uncle, Slade, whom we met in the prologue, which took place 40 years earlier when he was rescuing a baby bear. Unbeknownst to Erin, when she tries to question Wyatt, he rides on ignoring her. She later finds out that he is deaf, and slowly after a bad start they become friends, with a common bond to help her uncle. At this point, they become the back story, and Slade Wilder takes center stage, trying to hire a cook for his ranch. When Slade meets his new cook, Vickie Brown, to his chagrin, he recognizes her as the girl who broke his heart 40 years ago, whom he never forgot. Vickie came to the Wilder Ranch to confront Slade about his ignoring her letters years before, telling him she was pregnant and now is determined to confront him with the truth about his son. What follows is a nice romance about a couple that never has forgotten their love years before, and in a short time the chemistry between them comes flooding back, but first they need to resolve the misunderstandings from the past that cost them all those years. Vickie had left Slade when she find out he slept with a friend, which he denied, but she had proof. When she sent him three letters about his son, she went on with her life til now. Slade was upset that she didn’t tell him; despite her saying he ignored her letters. They will discover the truth about the sabotages to their relationship, and who was responsible. Will they find a way 40 years later to stay together and resume their love for each other? It was a nice romance of a likeable older couple, and Vickie was a riot pulling pranks on Slade. I did keep waiting for the continuation of Erin and Wyatt. I really enjoyed the glimpses of the bear (the baby he nursed back to health all those years ago), as this was a fun part of the story, as some of the bear’s antics were hilarious. Catherine Anderson once again gives us a wonderful story that was very well written. I suggest if you have not read the Mystic Creek series, you need to do so soon and start with the first book.
DJTP More than 1 year ago
Strawberry Hill by Catherine Anderson, a enjoyable book. Even though I hadn't read any of the Mystic Creek series I was still able to enjoy the storyline. Reading this book reminded me of the times long ago when I used to read this author's books and always enjoyed the characters and storyline. I look forward to reading more of her books.
MBurton More than 1 year ago
I'm a bit confused to why the author wrote the blurb on a couple that wasn't the focus of the book. This book was actually all about Vickie and Slade. Erin and Wyatt were a side story that never came to completion. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It's not to often you get a love story about a couple in their 60's. There was the back story to how Slade and Vickie began when they were younger, what caused them to split up and then what brought them back together. I also enjoyed the part a bear cub played in the book. He had a starring role as one of the side characters. I do tend to enjoy books with animals as part of the story. I'm guessing that Erin and Wyatt will get to finish their journey in the next book maybe? It was their story in the blurb that was the reason I was drawn to read this, so I hope the author plans to finish their story.