Three years have passed since Joelle Gordon came home to Landon, Minnesota, following her heart back to her family of women and their little café on Flickertail Lake. Joelle, her sister Jillian, and her daughter Camille have grown closer through the shared heartaches and passionate loves they experienced since that first summer. Now the Shore Leave Café is again basking under the brilliant June sunshine, and this summer promises to be hotter than ever. Jillian is pregnant with her third child, but her happy life is threatened by Justin's ex-wife, and a frightening stranger who arrived unexpectedly at the lake. Camille, plagued by dreams of a girl with haunted eyes, cannot shake her fear of losing Mathias. A journey into the mountain country of Montana is where she counts on finding answers—or will her actions only fulfill a Davis family curse?
About the Author
Abbie Williams' love of the outdoors, changing seasons, and steamy romance is exactly why she is addicted to writing a saga about the lives and loves of a family of women who live on a Minnesota lake. When not curled over her keyboard, you can find her listening to bluegrass music and hanging out lakeside near her home of Rochester MN.
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Landon, MN - June, 2006
Sultry June heat, sticky as fresh honey and manifesting as sweat upon my temples and a thin trickle down my spine. The sky appeared quilted with clouds, low and sullen on this late Saturday afternoon, and I was crabby as hell. I'd just scraped the driver's side fender of the Shore Leave work truck against the headlight of a pristine little Audi with Michigan plates, clearly belonging to an out-of-towner. Though my father-in-law, Dodge, would offer to fix it as good as new, the owner would undoubtedly be annoyed at this destruction, best case scenario; the Audi's headlight was in pieces at my feet.
I stood in the hot parking lot scribbling a note on a piece of lined paper torn from my order pad, which I'd plucked from the passenger seat of my mother's truck, my daughter tugging on the hem of my tank top and fussing that she was thirsty. I didn't voice it but I was also craving a drink, something ice cold and about fifty-proof; because I was pregnant, this possibility was unfortunately out of the question.
"Rae-Rae, give me just a second," I told her with as much patience as I could manage to inject into my tone, trying to brace the note I was writing against my thigh. Rae bumped my leg with her belly and the pen jerked in my hand, creating a long scribble across the paper.
"Dammit," I muttered in an undertone, flipping it to the other side and starting over.
I could feel the gathering edges of a headache and wished that my husband would magically appear and take our child off my hands, at least until I could collect my thoughts. Rae was just past two years old and though she resembled a golden-haired, brown-eyed angel, she could be hellaciously temperamental; I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised, given her genetics, and at that thought I almost smiled, finally successful with the second attempt at an apologetic note. I stuck it under the windshield wiper on the driver's side of the Audi, thinking that I wouldn't feel too terrible if the wind just happened to blow it away before the owner finished shopping ...
Jillian, I scolded, hitching my purse strap over my shoulder and collecting Rae by her hand. She continued complaining as we made our way across the parking lot of Farmer's Market, though upon entry into the familiar old grocery store she brightened considerably, breaking from my grasp and darting for the red-painted carts.
"Mama, can we get cake?" Rae asked as I lifted her into the basket seat, angling her chubby legs so I wouldn't get inadvertently kicked.
"There's cake at Shore Leave, sweetie." I paused to select apples.
"Let me help!" Rae insisted and I indulged her, unable to keep from smiling, passing the fruit piece by piece into her small hands and letting her drop it into the plastic bag.
"Can we get cookies?" Rae asked next. "Daddy gets oatmeal cookies!"
Justin was such a sucker when it came to our kids, Clint and Rae both, but most especially Rae; he was definitely the softie of our parenting team, but again I smiled at the thought.
"We'll see." My favorite parenting line of all time.
"Please, Mama," she wheedled, already starting the begging campaign.
"Maybe," I hedged, kissing her nose and then turning to choose bananas. At the same moment, Rae leaned from the cart like a little monkey and plucked an orange from the bottom of a pile, displacing about seven thousand other pieces of fruit. I squeaked in alarm, dropping the bananas I'd grabbed.
"Uh-oh, Mama!" she cried delightedly, bouncing in the seat.
I sighed and looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of a "real" adult who would come take care of the problem, before kneeling carefully, mindful of my six-month pregnant belly, to collect the errant produce. I retrieved the last orange and stood to tuck it back on its stand when a female voice behind me drawled, "Well, hello there, Jillian."
I looked over my shoulder in semi-annoyance which changed at once to a burst of consternation, suddenly confronted with the sight of Aubrey Pritchard. More specifically, my husband's ex-wife.
"Hi, Aubrey," I managed, pleased at the relative calm of my voice. Aubrey looked much the same as when I'd last seen her, tall and willowy, her skin a deep, glowing bronze from the summer sun. I noticed small wrinkles webbing her eyes and felt a spurt of purely vindictive glee. I couldn't truly claim to hate this woman but I still disliked her way down deep in my bones; I was reminded of this fact as her gaze roved over Rae.
"Congratulations," she said after an uncomfortable silence. Her eyes swept down to my belly before returning to my face and she studied me with unapologetic appraisal for the space of two heartbeats. There were many things she might have said, but she chose, and I was not mistaking the bite in her voice, "Your hair's gotten so long."
The situation was surreal, facing off here in the produce department, Rae watching with unblinking fascination; Jim Olson called hello to the both of us as he pushed by with his cart. As though in response to my silence, Aubrey flipped her auburn hair over one shoulder, an old, self-affirming gesture I recalled from our teenage years. Throwing me a nasty, unexpected curveball, she said, "He always had a thing for you, you know. Yet, I'm the one everyone blames."
My eyebrows lifted, my chest went tight; she really wanted to get into this now? In the grocery store?
When I didn't take this bait she pressed the point, shifting her weight to the opposite hip. "He used to talk about you all the time, how worried he was about you. And yet when I step outside our marriage, I'm the cheater, I'm the —"
"Aubrey." I kept my voice low but allowed an unmistakable note of warning.
She bit back further comment with real effort, I could tell, her sparkly, mauve-shadowed eyelids lowering. Flipping her hair to the other shoulder, she settled for, "Like it matters anyway. I'm just in town for a few weeks. Like I could ever live in this shithole again."
"Come on, Rae-Rae," I murmured to my daughter, clutching the cart handle. Aware that I was running away, I pushed the cart around Aubrey without another word.
"Tell Justin I said 'hi,'" she called in a singsong and I just barely resisted the urge to flip her off over my shoulder.
"Aw, baby, I'm sorry," Justin said later that night as I lay over his chest on our bed, my cheeks hot with frustration as I related the story. He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and let his warm hand linger on my jaw. We were virtually alone; Rae had been in bed for an hour and Clinty was sleeping over at his best friend, Liam's. Justin added, "If she knew you were upset it would only make her that much happier. She's that way, mean-spirited. Jilly-honey, I'm sorry. I wouldn't have let her talk to you like that."
"I shouldn't have let her talk to me like that." Tears broiled and wet my eyelashes, which made me even more furious. "She totally caught me off guard. And Rae was right there, J. I'm just so pissed."
Justin grinned at my use of the letter as a nickname. It was a joke between us; his full name was Justin Daniel, shortened by some to J.D. – which didn't suit my husband at all, but this didn't stop his sister and her husband from using it. I'd started using "J" to tease him, and the habit had stuck. He shifted and used both thumbs to brush away the tears that spilled onto my cheeks. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."
"It's not your fault," I said, tenderness displacing the swell of my anger. In the amber-tinted lamplight, I studied this man I loved beyond all else, his strong jaws stubbled with dark beard a day past shaving, framing the sexy mouth that routinely kissed every inch of my skin. His straight nose and incredible, long-lashed eyes of rich brown, the shade of coffee without cream and just as hot. His black hair that was as unruly as ever, through which I spent most every night stroking my fingers. The planes of his cheeks, the squint-lines in the outer corners of his eyes, the shape of his firm chin.
I let my hands glide from his muscular chest to frame his face with its livid scars that I never noticed anymore, moving so that my breasts rested flush against his bare chest. I was wearing an old, periwinkle blue tank top, so threadbare that it was nearly worn through in spots, and absolutely nothing more. Justin's eyes kindled with a familiar heat and his lips curved in the wayward grin I'd come to know so very well in the past three years.
"Jilly," he murmured, sliding both hands slowly over my ribs, continuing downward along my hips, at last taking firm anchor around my ass, which he cupped and used to settle me atop his nearly-naked body.
I spread my thighs over his boxers, smoothing my hands over his collarbones and then to his wide shoulders, so solid and warm beneath my palms. I sighed a little, in pleasure, a jolt of heat between my legs as he shifted. His fingertips teased the juncture of my thighs and I arched my spine, skimming the tank top over my head.
"God, you are a beautiful woman." His voice was hoarse with desire. "Come here, woman, and put your nipples in my mouth."
I curled my fingers into his chest hair and shook my head. Justin caught my hips in his hands and his dark eyebrows lowered menacingly, like a pirate who was intent upon having his way with a captive. My smile widened at the thought; we'd played that little game on more than one occasion. Justin kept an old red bandana in the nightstand on his side of the bed, which had done its fair share of duty as a headscarf, a garter, and sometimes to bind my wrists. And there was truth to the rumor about the second trimester of pregnancy, of which Justin took wholehearted advantage; to be fair, I couldn't get enough of him as it was.
"We're so naughty," I reflected as Justin cupped my breasts, heavy against his broad palms, and told me with his eyes that I should bend forward and let him have his way.
"Hell, yes," he agreed, and I giggled, then moaned as he tipped me into his mouth and lightly bit my nipple before taking it sweetly between his lips.
A soft thump from the bedroom across the hall; I murmured, "Dammit."
Justin rolled me beneath him, growling against my neck as he tugged the sheet over us. Not a moment too soon, as Rae pushed open the door and came straight into our room, dragging her tattered elephant by its trunk. She stood regarding us with her eyes squinted in the bright light of the lamp.
"Mama," she implored, rubbing her nose with her free hand, just like Clint used to do.
My heart melted and I reached for her. "C'mere, little one, what's wrong?"
Justin leaned and caught Rae under the arms, hefting her effortlessly atop the mattress and smoothing a hand over her soft golden hair. His wide palm bracketed her head. Rae burrowed against Justin with a happy grunt, her little feet churning to get beneath the covers with us.
"Daddy, I had a bad dream," she whispered. "Elephant, too."
Justin tucked Rae into the crook of his arm and rocked her close. My heart was undone for the countless time since giving birth to our daughter; Justin was an amazing father, as I always knew he would be, and tears wet my eyes as I snuggled against them, sandwiching her between us.
"Tell Daddy all about it," Justin soothed, but Rae's long eyelashes were already fluttering closed.
I kissed Rae's forehead, feathering her downy hair. She sighed and popped a thumb into her mouth, and moments later fell fast asleep. I leaned and kissed my husband's forehead, whispering, "Now get this girl to bed and get back in here. And hurry."
Justin grinned and covered Rae's ears. He added, "Don't start without me. Wait ... on second thought ..."
"Hurry," I ordered again.
"Holy shit, baby," he said upon reentry a minute later, locking the door behind him. I had started without him.
Justin was out of his boxers and braced over me before I could blink, and I muffled a shriek, giggling and struggling, but he held his ground, dark eyes lancing heat right through me. He cupped the flesh between my legs, displacing my hand and biting my shoulder. I groaned, lacing my arms about his neck, lifting my hips into his touch.
"You're so ... incredible at that ..." I whispered, growing ever more breathless, my head bent back against the mattress. I told him this at least twice a week.
"Fuckin' right," Justin replied in his usual poetic fashion, licking along my throat, closing his teeth around my earlobe; I shuddered and gasped, feeling his grin against my neck.
"Don't you dare stop," I ordered, and he deepened his touch at once. I clung to his back, leaving nail marks, biting the firm muscles along the slope of his shoulder as I came against his stroking fingers, reaching immediately to grasp his cock. I shifted and took him within the slick, heated wetness he'd created.
He groaned, "Holy Jesus, woman ..."
I arched upward and Justin slowed his pace at this wordless request, grinning down into my half-closed eyes as I quivered beneath him. He pressed soft, suckling kisses upon my chin, whispering, "I know you've got one more ... c'mon, baby ..."
"Justin," I moaned, as turned on by his words as his touch, as he bent to my breasts and lifted my hips in his big hands. No more than minutes later I tightened in bursting waves and he shuddered, overcome, sweat trickling along his temples as he plunged one last time.
"See?" he murmured, forehead bent to my shoulder. "I knew it."
"You always know it." I was utterly content, my fingers sunk into his hair. I kissed his jaw, scratchy with stubble. "You're the world's best lover."
He laughed, tickling my skin, and gently shifted us, turning so that my spine fit against his chest.
"I aim to please, that's all."
"That's the secret," I giggled.
From behind, he slipped one hand over the sloping curve of my belly and murmured, "How's the boy?"
"No doubt traumatized."
Justin's chest rumbled with laughter. "Nah, he must be used to it by this point."
As though in response, our son poked what was either a knee or an elbow just beneath my belly button. I caught Justin's hand and maneuvered it to the spot. He smoothed his palm over my skin and said with quiet reverence, "Hello there, son. Did we wake you?"
"I'd say that's a big yes," I responded. The baby pushed against our joined hands and I snuggled closer to my husband.
"G'night, my sweet little woman," he whispered, leaning to click out our bedside lamp. He was snoring within a minute but I lay awake while the baby moved in gentle somersaults, content to watch the waning moon as it inched diagonally across our bedroom window on its journey westward. Though we hadn't officially confirmed that I was pregnant with a boy I knew my prediction was correct, just as I'd known with Clint and Rae.
Since childhood, I'd experienced these inexplicable flashes of absolute knowing; my great-aunt, Minnie Davis, had also been endowed with such illogical (but no less real) abilities, and it was from her that I learned, if not when, at least what to expect when a Notion overtook me. Notions were unpredictable; spontaneous, they often occurred in the form of dreams, though a dream containing a Notion was different than the regular, disjointed jumble of images from any other night. I had learned to accept and even appreciate these strange instances of precognition, and thanked the powers that be for Minnie's presence in my early life; without her, I'd probably have assumed I was crazy — or eventually become so.
Great-Aunt Minnie foresaw my first husband's death when Chris and I were still teenagers and only dating; he'd gifted me with a promise ring for my birthday less than a year before this particular Notion struck Aunt Minnie. I could even pinpoint the moment the Notion overtook her thoughts — a warm spring evening in 1985 as we sat together on the porch, along with Gran (my grandmother and Minnie's little sister), while Minnie fixed my hair. I'd sensed the sorrow flowing from her fingertips, the briefest of pauses in the motion of her gentle hands. She refused to divulge anything that evening except for the fact that I would be all right; though it took me over a decade and a half to fully realize it, Great-Aunt Minnie was correct in this prediction. When I was twelve years old she'd said, You'll never see more than you can handle, Jillian. My grandma had the gift. It stretches far back in our family. Trust it, doll, always trust it, even when you don't understand exactly what it shows you.
And I always had.
Excerpted from "Wild Flower"
Copyright © 2017 Abbie Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
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