He'd always managed to best her…
Jodi Chapman will do whatever it takes to get top care for her autistic son. If that means going home and convincing local farmers to sell their land, so be it. Even if her biggest opponent, childhood rival Daniel Gleason, is equally determined to convince farmers to buy into his co-op plan. And he's not playing fair.
Facing off against Daniel is the last thing Jodi wants. The attraction that's always fueled their competitiveness is as strong as ever and just as distracting. But with both their futures on the line, and years of distrust between them, how can they ever be on the same side?
At last, off they went with a jerk that made her teeth knock together.
Wow. The thrum of the machine beneath her and the sense of control as she steered filled her with a rush of adrenaline. It’d been such a long time since she’d driven a tractor, and the thrill of it returned to her. The wind whipped her hair behind her, carrying away her fear. Tyler’s screeching echoed her own elation and the air she breathed smelled slightly sweet, like growing things.
When she looked over her shoulder, Sue waved and Daniel jogged beside them. When they rounded the last barn and headed out into lush, open fields, Tyler squealed and she wanted to join him. She hadn’t been surrounded by this much unbroken greenery in a long time. Even when she spoke with farmers, she met them in their homes, not on their fields. Perhaps she should have followed up on Midland’s purchases and seen the improvements they’d made as Daniel had suggested. She’d actually missed this. When she returned to Aunt Grace’s house, she would set up an appointment with a company farm and bring Daniel as promised.
Daniel disappeared for a moment and she thought they’d left him behind until she felt the tractor dip in back and his voice whisper in her ear.
“So far so good.”
She shivered in awareness of his proximity as he balanced behind them on the storage box. His fingers rested on her shoulders as he stood to his full height.
Jodi peeked up at him and took in the handsome picture he made. Beltless, low-slung jeans rode on his narrow hips and a thin T-shirt stretched across his well-defined chest. From this angle, his jaw looked more square than ever, his muscular neck rising from broad shoulders. The bright blue sky behind him contrasted with his dark hair and hazel eyes.
Another bone-jarring mud hole made Tyler flap his hands and Jodi return her eyes to the straightaway. And that’s when she saw them...
The sun-kissed rows of plants stretched to a distant tree line, the berries so blood-ripe, so rich and lovely, that the invitation to pluck and sink her teeth into them was irresistible. How long since she’d gathered fruit? Delight filled her.
“The local schools and families have picked most of the fields, but this section is unharvested,” he hollered over the engine’s roar.
“Okay.” She slowed the machine, feeling shaky but victorious when it rolled to a stop. Since her father’s accident, she’d avoided machinery like this. Now she’d conquered it, and a feeling of lightness grew within her.
Daniel jumped off and held out a hand, his eyes dancing. The sun brought out the lighter brown in his hair and made the yellow flecks in his eyes shine like gold beneath thick lashes. “Ready?”
More than, she thought, her excitement hard to contain. She wanted to rush through the rows of plants, trailing her fingers along the crinkly leaves, inhaling the earthy goodness. Her hands fumbled to take out Tyler’s earplugs before she undid the buckle and handed him to Daniel. He held the wiggling boy with one hand and extended another to help her down.
“Thank you. Oh.” An idea pulled her up short when her heels sunk into the ground. “What will we put the berries in?”
Daniel grinned, set down Tyler and raised the lid on his storage bin. He dumped some tools from a container and lifted his shirt to wipe it, exposing a toned stomach that Jodi did her best to ignore. She took the container and followed the twosome into the strawberry patch.
The site of him shuffling beside her son, his large hand enveloping Tyler’s as they trod down the plant rows, made her heart skip a beat. Tyler peered up at Daniel the way he’d looked at the tractor. And maybe for him, the two were in the same category. For the past year it’d been just her and Tyler, and now seeing him with Daniel made her wish her son had a strong male role model.
Daniel glanced over his shoulder, his profile outlined by the sun streaming over distant treetops. “How does this look?” He swept his arm in a circle, and all around, plump berries peeked through jagged-edged oval leaves.
“Perfect. I mean, fine.” She cleared her throat. “This is good. Thanks.” Why was she babbling like a schoolgirl? This was Daniel. Not a man she’d see romantically. Not again. Daniel got on his knees, pinched off a deep red fruit and handed it to Tyler. “Want
Tyler shoved it in his mouth, then patted Daniel’s cheeks.
Daniel smiled up at her. “I’m thinking that’s a yes.”
She got on her knees beside him and kicked off her horrible shoes. It warmed her from
the inside out to see Tyler so excited and interactive. She wouldn’t let her rivalry, or her conflicting emotions with Daniel, spoil this moment.
“I’d say so!” Happiness added a lilt of laughter to her voice and Daniel eyed her, his expression wary. Maybe he was afraid of her charms for a change.
She plucked berries and placed them in the container. Daniel followed suit and, to her amazement, Tyler grabbed a few, as well. They might have been squashed, flattened even, but they were the best berries in the world as far as she was concerned.
Karen Rock has adored romance since receiving Harlequin Presents books from her grandmother each summer. She formed her Young Adult writing partnership, J.K. Rock- pseudonym for the CAMP BOYFRIEND series, with her sister-in-law and Blaze author, Joanne Rock in 2011. When Karen heard of a call for submissions to Heartwarming, Harlequin’s latest line, she was inspired by the possibilities of writing unforgettable, deeply romantic, tender love stories that mothers would feel comfortable sharing with their daughters. When she’s not writing, Karen loves scouring estate sales for vintage books, cooking her grandmother's family recipes, hiking the ‘high peaks’, and redesigning her gardens. She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, daughter, and two Cavalier King cocker spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch” though they know a lot about love.
For more information about Karen's upcoming books, check out her website at http://www.karenrock.com, Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites or follow her on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/karenrock5 . She’d love to hear from you!
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
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-Shadow's Curse by Alexa Egan
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A heartwarming second chance romance, Karen Rock’s His Hometown Girl focuses on the healing power of love and on the crucial roles that home, family and community play in all of our lives. Well developed characters, good dialogue and a child with special needs kept me turning the pages from start to finish. Set in a rural community determined to keep its identity through a tough economy and a changing society, Ms. Rock’s book made a lasting impression on me.A single mother trying to do what’s best for her autistic son, Jodi Chapman needs more money than her salary and child support provide. Presented with an opportunity to get both a coveted promotion at work and a generous bonus, Jodi finds herself going back home to the farm community she left behind to talk the farmers into selling their land. She just never planned facing the man who broke her heart years ago.Daniel Gleason loved Jodi Chapman until the day she betrayed him and walked away. Now she’s back and determined to talk his friends and neighbors into selling their land, which would ruin his plans for a farmer’s co-op. Prepared to do whatever it takes to get his way, Daniel never expected their attraction to get in the way.The scenes between Jodi and Daniel are full of lively dialogue and plenty of emotional angst. While attracted to each other, their miscommunication from the past and their current situation makes trust difficult. Ms. Rock does an excellent job developing both Jodi and Dan’s characters both individually and when they are together. She also addresses the realities of having a special needs child and the burden it places on marriages and relationships. As the aunt of an Autistic child, I can honestly say Ms. Rock’s knowledge of the financial, emotional and even societal burdens facing families with Autistic children is spot on.The secondary characters, mostly Jodi and Daniel’s family and friends are also well developed and contribute emotional support. There is also a villain of sorts; Jodi’s despicable ex who seemed to exist just to make Jodi’s life worse and who I personally wanted to introduce to my cast iron skillet (I really feel a good whack on the head would have done the man wonders…lol).Will Jodi and Daniel realize their love can heal them both? Will Jodi’s son get the help he really needs? You’ll have to read His Hometown Girl to find out, I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of Ms. Rock’s work.My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Crowns
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.