How do you know if a first love is made to last?
Addison Monroe was eighteen when she fell for Jake Grady, a college student working on her family’s farm for the summer. With his sapphire eyes and killer smile, Jake could have had any girl in Lakeside, Georgia. But he wanted Addy, and for those brief, wonderful months—before circumstances drove them irrevocably apart—they belonged to each other.
Ten years later, Addy is engaged to a doctor and working in Atlanta as a physician’s assistant. Life feels full and satisfying. Yet memories of that long-ago summer and wine-flavored kisses are hard to shake. On a return visit to Lakeside, Addy crosses paths with Jake again, and soon finds herself at an unexpected crossroads. So much has changed, and Addy has chosen another route. And the magic of first love can never be rekindled...can it?
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By Darly Jamison
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Darly Jamison
All rights reserved.
Jake Grady was every eighteen-year-old girl's wildest dream. He was tall and broad shouldered, with dark wavy hair that fell carelessly over his tanned forehead, and piercing blue eyes that crinkled slightly at the corners every time his lips curved into a sexy smile. He had the easy confidence of a man who had grown up knowing he was attractive, yet modest enough to not come across as arrogant. Combine those swoon-worthy qualities with some well-developed muscles and a cowboy hat, and you've got the first guy I ever fell in love with.
Sounds like a heartbreak waiting to happen, right? Come to think of it, I don't know many who can say their first love didn't end in heartbreak. Other than my grandparents, but that's another story.
Summer had just begun and I had plans to make it my best vacation ever. Come August, the chaos of college applications and essays would begin, along with researching scholarships and grants and the unending deadlines that would inevitably follow. I felt I owed it to myself to get in as much fun as possible while I didn't have the responsibilities of higher education looming overhead. Basically, my summer agenda consisted of lazy days at the lake, bonfires at night, and a whole lot of living in between.
Jake spent the summer I turned eighteen employed at my family's farm. He was going to be starting his junior year at the University of Houston that fall and was hoping to spend his time off working and saving money. Shoveling horse manure wasn't a glamorous job by any means, but it paid the bills — and his scholarships only went so far.
Gramps would never admit to it, but I know he was impressed with Jake. He didn't offer just anyone an icy beer after a long day slaving away in the hot Georgia temperatures, but Jake managed to sit and enjoy a cold one with my dad and grandpa almost every night after the sun went down. Now, that's really saying something if you know the men in my family.
The women in my family sang a different tune. "A nice, ambitious, and respectful young man, that Jake is," Mags was fond of telling me. "He's got a good head on his shoulders, too, Addy."
Mags was what I called my grandmother. Apparently as a toddler I had a hard time pronouncing Grandma Maggie, and somehow it just came out as Mags. Anyway, it stuck, but she didn't mind. She was one of the most important influences in my life, growing up. She never treated me like a child, and I could go to her with just about anything, and believe me ... I did! You know, people always say you never know what you have until it's gone. That woman was nothing short of amazing. God, how I miss her.
The sun was already high in the sky that morning he pulled up to my grandparents' house. For some unknown reason, I had managed to crawl out of bed before noon, and I sat with Mags on the front porch, watching his beat-up old Ford truck leave a cloud of dust as it made its way up the long gravel drive. It was a dull shade of blue with a thick horizontal white stripe going down the center of each side. What a hunk of junk! I thought with a huff. I didn't realize it at the time, but I would be getting to know the backseat of that old truck very well during the course of that summer.
The opportunity to meet Jake came later that same day, when Mags convinced me to offer him a glass of lemonade. Looking back on it now, I'm pretty sure she was trying to play matchmaker. She had an endearing habit of trying to mingle in a person's love life, but this was the first time she had taken an interest in mine. I remember walking up to him on that sunny afternoon with an ice-cold glass of lemonade dripping in my hand.
"Hey there," I called out. "You need a drink?"
Jake turned to me with that lazy smile of his and looked me up and down. Slowly. Suddenly, I felt naked. As if the flimsy cotton sundress I wore had disappeared into thin air. If I hadn't been holding that damn glass of lemonade, I would have folded my arms across myself to conceal what I knew he was scrutinizing. Instead I just stood there, like an idiot, with my hand dripping wet.
"Well, I don't know," he drawled. "What did you have in mind?" Jake leaned casually against the digging fork he had been using, his eyes squinting slightly in the hazy afternoon sun. He looked as if he had just stepped right out of a sexy cowboy postcard. You know, the kind that say "Wish you were here" in big, bold letters? An unfamiliar feeling of lust stirred as I gaped at his confident sapphire gaze. Was he trying to make me uncomfortable? If so, it was working.
"This," I retorted, shoving the glass at him. Our fingers brushed together as he took the drink from my hand, and I quickly pulled mine away, shocked by the electric sensation that shot up my arm. I was hoping Jake hadn't noticed my reaction, but I suspected he had when he let out a chuckle.
My mouth felt as dry as the Sahara. Good gravy, was he hot! I tried to overlook his annoying self-assurance and decided to introduce myself. "Um, we've never met before," I began, painfully stating the obvious. "My name's Addison Monroe, but everyone calls me Addy."
"It's very nice to meet you ... Addison." He rewarded me with the sexiest smile I'd ever seen in real life. "Thank you kindly for the drink." He downed the pale yellow liquid and handed me back an empty glass. Then he tipped the brim of his sandy brown hat and turned to walk away, leaving me standing there with my mouth wide open. A swarm of bees could have attacked and I still would have stood rooted to that spot, staring after him. I'll be honest, my first impressions of Jake were stuck somewhere in between lust and frustration. I frowned to myself and finally marched back toward the house, my brunette ponytail swinging impatiently behind me.
"Did he like it?" Mags asked in amusement as I passed by.
My eyes rolled toward the sky as I played back the scene that had just taken place. "Something like that."
I heard her laughing as I stomped into the house.
* * *
"Need a lift?"
I turned and saw an old blue pickup following behind me down the long dirt driveway as I walked home that afternoon from my grandparents'.
My pulse quickened and I tried to think of something clever to say. "I don't get into cars with strangers," I answered, and gave myself a mental high five. I was used to having smart remarks present themselves well after the moment they should have been made, so my quick wit in this moment pleased me no end.
"Well, I'm not a total stranger," he said, his lips tilting up into a lazy grin that revealed a tiny dimple in his right cheek. "You did offer me a drink this afternoon, remember? Thanks again for that, you came along just in the nick of time. It was awfully hot today."
Oh no ... I thought, shaking my head. He was not going to charm me that easily!
"You never even introduced yourself," I shot back, trying to ignore the way his eyes danced as he watched me.
Jake raised his brows in surprise. I guess he wasn't used to having teenage girls resist his down-home, country-boy ways. "I'm sorry, ma'am," he confessed with just a hint of Texas twang. Not so much that it hit you in the face, but noticeable enough to make a girl weak in the knees. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Jake Grady, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance," he said, tilting his cowboy hat slightly. "May I offer you a ride?"
And just like that, it was over. Hook, line, and sinker. I never stood a chance.
I couldn't take my eyes off him. Even after working outside all day in the harsh Georgia sun, he still managed to look incredible. He embodied every single teenage fantasy I'd ever had about impossibly hot, too-good-to-be-true Texas cowboys. I took a deep breath before I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck, shutting the door carefully behind me. I noticed Mags waving good-bye to us in the rearview mirror, but pretended I didn't see. I knew she would give me the third degree over what had transpired the next day, so I decided not to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging her sly smile.
Glancing around me, I was surprised at how clean the inside of his pickup was, not even one discarded fast food wrapper in sight. And the smell made me feel dizzy — in a good way — like a mixture of pheromones and Calvin Klein.
"You know," I began, struggling to ignore the building apprehension I felt at being this close to an impossibly attractive, older male. "I really don't need a ride. I just live next door."
Jake gave me an irresistible crooked smile as he pulled out of the drive. "I know where you live, Addison," he said, slightly emphasizing my name, letting me know he had no intention of calling me Addy. "I'm in the mood for some ice cream. I was wondering if you would be interested in helping the new guy in town find his way around?"
"Are you asking me out?" I questioned in disbelief. My eyes felt like they were going to pop right out of my head and land on the floor of his immaculately clean truck.
"I guess I'm asking you if you want to get some ice cream." He laughed lightly. "I promise, you won't need to clarify when I ask you out."
Holy crap. Did he really just say that?
Looking straight ahead, I tried to play it cool and not act like a total spaz. Like getting asked out by a drop-dead gorgeous college guy happened to me every single day of the week. "Sure, I'll show you where to go for ice cream." I shrugged with indifference. I sneaked a peek over at him just in time to catch him quietly chuckle.
Oh my God, I sighed to myself. He probably thinks I'm such a child!
It wasn't like I didn't know how to talk to boys. I had started dating that year. Group dates, but dating nonetheless. Not to mention I'd had three different invitations to prom that spring. Believe me, I was no slouch when it came to talking to the opposite sex!
But Jake was not at all like the other guys I knew. I'm not sure if it was his ceaseless self-confidence or the fact that he was a college man, but he had me slightly unnerved.
"Why are you off work so early anyway?" I asked, trying to find something to talk about. "It's not like Gramps to finish up at this hour. It's not even four!"
Jake removed his cowboy hat and laid it down gently on the seat between us. "The tractor I was using took a turn for the worse," he explained gravely. "Your grandpa's working on it now. I offered to stay and help, but he insisted I come back in the morning." He cocked his head, presenting me with a slow, lopsided grin, and a nest of butterflies promptly moved into my stomach.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to ignore my nerves and began asking Jake questions about himself, even though I had already grilled Mags earlier in the day about every tiny detail she could recall. As it turned out, he was invited to stay with his aunt and uncle in Lakeside, Georgia, a small farming community nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That's where I lived. Jake's family went to church with mine, and they had somehow managed to convince my grandpa Henry to hire him for a few months during his summer break.
Completely engrossed by his husky voice and the casual way in which he spoke, I hung on to every word that came out of Jake's mouth. He could have been singing the alphabet in pig Latin and I would have felt compelled to listen. I gave him directions through the small tourist town, pointing out any landmark I thought might be of interest to him. The remaining drive to the ice cream shop was filled with witty banter and sideways smiles, and my confidence began to build.
Until we arrived at our destination.CHAPTER 2
As we pulled into the gravel drive, I noticed half of my senior class loitering in the parking lot. A feeling of unease ripped through me and I sat up a bit straighter.
Since when did this become a high school hot spot? I grouched to myself. Living in a rural community, everyone seemed to know everyone else's business, and I was not looking forward to explaining who I was with to my friends, especially since I was just getting to know Jake myself.
"You know," I began, praying my voice wouldn't crack with trepidation, "there's another ice cream shop just around the corner. Why don't we go there instead?" I suggested, trying to make it sound like a good idea.
"Why?" Jake questioned. His eyebrows knitted together in confusion. "We're already here, and this seems like a perfectly nice place." And with that he pulled his pickup into a parking space and turned off the engine.
I took a deep breath and hopped out of the truck.
A large group of kids outside stood around together, laughing and goofing off as they listened to country music blaring from someone's car stereo.
For a split second, the thought of making a break for the cornfield situated behind the parking lot filtered through my mind. If I ran fast enough, maybe no one would see me and I could avoid the embarrassing scene I knew waited for me once everyone got an eyeful of Jake. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I would seem like a crazed lunatic in front of the guy I was trying to impress, a look I definitely wasn't shooting for. Instead, I bit the bullet and decided to act like a mature adult.
Smoothing out the wrinkles in my sundress, I attempted to put on a nonchalant expression and walked quickly toward the entrance before anyone noticed. Jake stepped ahead and opened the door to let me in first.
"Such a gentleman." I couldn't help but smile at the polite gesture and Jake threw me a half grin, making my heart officially skip a beat.
When we walked into the ice cream shop, a waft of cool air and regret hit me square in the face. At least a dozen kids I recognized were hanging out inside. Perfect. Here's the other half of my class.
The noise level in the small shop was at an all-time high as laughter and conversation took place around us, but one mocking, male voice stood out from the rest. "Hey there, Addy." My eyes followed the source of the greeting and I was dismayed to find Brett Lawrence, captain of the varsity football team, checking me out with approving eyes. My chest tightened and I stopped dead in my tracks.
"Hi, Brett," I answered cautiously as goose bumps made their way up my arms. Brett had been my chosen date to the junior/senior prom a couple of months back, and the night hadn't ended very well. I quickly discovered that Mr. Hotshot Football Player liked to pressure his dates into something more than what they were ready for, and that unfortunate evening I happened to be on the unlucky end of that exchange.
I'd ended up storming out of the dance with my high heels in hand, one broken spaghetti strap, and an insurmountable amount of humiliation sitting on my shoulders. Brett followed me out into the parking lot and continued his pursuit, forcing me to sideswipe his head with the heel of my shoe. I had done a pretty good job of avoiding him ever since.
I turned quickly toward Jake and asked again, "Are you sure you don't want to go somewhere else? This place is so ... crowded," I lamely pointed out. I suddenly felt queasy, realizing I was now stuck in the same establishment as the guy who had tried to force himself on me. But it was too late. The group of teenagers was upon us, spewing out more questions and comments than I could keep up with.
"Who's your boyfriend, Addy?" someone asked.
"Oh my God, I cannot believe you missed my bonfire last weekend! You could have brought your friend along," stated another.
"Damn, girl," came one more observation. "Looks like you've already grown a cup size this summer ..."
Blah, blah, blah ...
I sighed heavily and attempted to study the menu that hung on the wall. Glancing sideways at Jake, I could tell he was amused by the scene unfolding. Reluctantly, I made the introductions and answered all of the questions — ignoring the one about my bra size.
"Addy — who is this guy and why haven't you mentioned him to me before?" my best friend, Ruby Sinclair, sneaked up and whispered fiercely into my ear.
"Shhhh!" I glared back at her as discreetly as I could and threw a glance over my shoulder to see if Jake had overheard. Luckily, he only had eyes for the assortment of frozen flavors displayed in the freezer case in front of us. "I only just met him. My grandparents know him. He's working at their farm this summer."
"How convenient ..." She smiled coyly. Her perfectly plucked eyebrows rose to an annoying height that made me want to slap them back down to their normal resting place.
Excerpted from Strawberry Wine by Darly Jamison. Copyright © 2017 Darly Jamison. 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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