After her mother’s tragic death, Dani Wilde had no choice but to abandon her dreams. She left Columbia University and returned to her family’s Montana cherry farm, intent on being a maternal figure to her brothers. Now the kids are grown, and it’s finally her time to fly. Her sights are on New York City, and nothing will stop her—not even an old flame with gorgeous green eyes.
Celebrity photographer Ben Denton hasn’t seen Montana in years—and hasn’t spoken to Dani since “that night” so long ago. When he discovers he’s a dad to a four-year-old—and the child’s mother refuses to care for her—Montana and the Wilde farm spring to mind. The orchard is the only place that’s ever felt like home, but will the warmth of the Wilde family be enough to help Ben figure out how to be a father?
As the Wilde family gathers for the yearly cherry harvest and Dani struggles to figure out what she really wants in life, she discovers the shocking truth about her own mother—and learns that following her heart may lead her to her dreams after all.
“Twenty cupcakes, purple sprinkles, princess wand,” Dani Wilde muttered to herself as she peered into the box on the counter, the homemade treats aligned with military precision. She closed the lid and laid her niece’s sparkly wand across the top. “Perfect.”
Turning from the cupcakes, she surveyed the rest of the kitchen to ensure that all was in order. Only to find a pile of women’s dry cleaning dumped on one end of the ten-person table. She stared up at the ceiling as if she could see right through it. Most likely, Michelle would claim another headache and wouldn’t be able to run her own errands again today. Including delivering the cupcakes to the preschool for Jenna’s last day of day camp.
Dani sighed, grabbed the pile of mail for her clients and the flyers for the summer sale at The Cherry Basket, and shoved it all into her Cinderella tote. Jenna had given her the tote last Christmas. The four-year-old loved Cinderella above all else.
Then Dani headed for the stairs.
When her father had moved into town six years earlier, stepping aside and leaving her brother, Gabe, to manage the family orchard, Gabe and Michelle had taken the opportunity to move into the master suite. But having Michelle in her parents’ room often reminded Dani of her mother. Carol Wilde had suffered from headaches, too. Only . . .
Dani shut off her thoughts. Possibly Michelle really had migraines. Who was she to say?
And if they were anything like Dani’s mother’s had been, then driving a car was the last thing she needed to be doing. That had been proven by the accident that had brought Dani back home from college.
Reaching the far end of the hallway, Dani knocked on the closed door and waited for a reply.
“Yes?” a muffled voice answered after several seconds. Dani cracked open the door to find the Vera Wang bedspread pulled over a slim mound in the middle of the bed and the shades drawn on the windows.
“Do you need me to take the cupcakes to the school?” Dani asked quietly.
“Do you mind?” Michelle didn’t even lift her head.
Guilt tugged at Dani. The woman was probably experiencing severe pain, and here she was being judge and jury. “I don’t mind,” she admitted. And she didn’t. She loved being there for Jenna. “There’s dry cleaning on the table . . .”
“Gabe took it down for me. Can you drop it off?”
Michelle rarely left the house in anything that didn’t need to be dry-cleaned.
“No problem.” Dani glanced at her watch. “I need to run in to see Mrs. Tamry anyway.”
Mrs. Tamry was one of their best customers at The Cherry Basket, but had been unable to come in for the last few weeks due to chemo treatments. Her husband would be happy to stop by for his wife’s favorite treat, but Dani preferred to take the fresh cherry scones herself. The weekly errand was the least Dani could do.
There wouldn’t be a lot of time for visiting with the Tamrys today—not with needing to drop off Jenna’s cupcakes—but adding in a run to the dry cleaner wouldn’t cost her more than a few minutes.
“Anything else I can do for you while I’m out?” Dani asked.
Several seconds of silence passed and Dani decided that Michelle had gone back to sleep, but then the covers shifted and she peeked out from behind her silk sleep mask. “Will you take care of Jenna tonight? I don’t want her coming in here and bothering me.”
The words cut Dani in a way that almost bent her over. She so wished she had the power to do something about Jenna’s mother. That was the only worry she had about her upcoming move from Montana to New York. She would be leaving her niece on her own. And this request wasn’t uncommon in the girl’s life.
Dani had never understood why Michelle had decided to conceive if she didn’t want to be a mother.
“Sure,” she nodded, even though Michelle had already disappeared back under the covers. “I’ll make sure we do something quiet once we’re back at the house.”
Everything about that sentence bothered Dani.
She shouldn’t have to keep Jenna quiet. She shouldn’t have to take care of Jenna.
If Michelle were a decent human being, she’d have an actual interest in seeing her own daughter grow up. But so far, that didn’t seem to be the case. What Gabe had ever seen in his wife, Dani had no idea. Or any sense as to why he continuously put up with her.
Dani backed out of the room, pulling the door silently shut as she exited, then shoved her tactless thoughts out of her mind. She checked her email as she hurried back down the staircase, one hand holding the phone up in front of her as the other slid along the stair rail. There were five emails from local marketing clients, three more from potential clients she simply didn’t have the time to take on, and one from San Francisco.
Similar to the marketing firm she’d be joining in New York City next month, she’d done freelance work with the San Francisco company for the last three years. She hated the thought of giving up any of her clients, especially considering the potential attached to the one in San Francisco, but the contract she’d be signing with her new employer would force her to do just that. Not to mention, she’d likely have zero time left over for anything else. She had to prove herself when she got to New York. That was priority number one.
She stopped by the kitchen to scoop up the cupcakes and clothes, then headed out the back door. Peering across the field, she wondered if her brother was within cell service, and couldn’t help letting her gaze hang on the Salish Mountains on the far side of Flathead Lake. She’d lived in Montana her entire life except for the eight weeks of freshman year at Columbia University. She’d made it to New York City briefly. And she would do it again.
She’d miss this place, of course. A lot. But New York was her dream. She had to do it. If not for herself, then for her mother.
Not seeing any sign of her brother, she settled the desserts into her car before sliding behind the wheel. She dialed his cell as she turned the vehicle around and headed down the long drive.
“Yeah?” Gabe always answered as if he had no time to talk.
“Michelle’s in bed, I’m taking the cupcakes to the school.”
He didn’t reply at first, then grunted out a single “Thanks.”
“You know she eventually has to do these things herself, right? I am leaving, Gabe. In a month.”
She’d discussed making a permanent move to New York for so long, it had crossed her mind that her family might not believe she’d really do it. She’d been a constant for them, here for the last fourteen years. But things were different now. Jaden had just graduated college; everyone else had their own lives. They didn’t need her anymore.
In fact, of her five brothers—all younger—Gabe was the only one still at home. And that was because he ran the farm. He’d been one year behind her in school, and where she’d come home from college to take over responsibility for the house, he’d gone off to college to ensure he had the most up-to-date knowledge to run the farm. It had been a given since childhood that he’d one day take over for their dad, and since graduating, he’d done an incredible job. Production on the farm had increased—they now rivaled any of the other orchards running along the coast of the lake—and they’d introduced two new cherry varieties in the last five years.
“I know,” Gabe said in her ear, bringing her back to the present. “And she will. I promise. I’ll talk to her.”
What went left unsaid was “again.” He’d talk to her again.
And what Dani didn’t respond with was, “It won’t do any good.” They both knew it wouldn’t.
“Jenna needs her,” she said instead.
“I know,” he bit out.
And you do, too.
But she wouldn’t say those words. That would really set him off. He’d been snapping at her for weeks, a situation she attributed mostly to whatever was going on in his marriage. Things had been going downhill for a while there.
But she’d also wondered if her upcoming departure didn’t play into his bad mood, too. They’d struggled once, around the time their mom had died. They’d fought a lot. But things were good between them now. They had been for years. And she didn’t want that to change because of something she might do.
“I do know, Dani,” he reiterated, this time more polite. “I’ll talk to her.”
That’s all she could ask. “Want me to stick around until the party is over and bring Jenna home?”
“Could you? I need to get this tractor working or we’ll be short one come harvest.”
Harvesting the fifteen acres of cherries on their farm would start in about two weeks, lasting for another two weeks, into the first days of August. Then she’d board a plane and start her new life. “Will do,” she confirmed.
She disconnected and headed down the road. Due to the mountains immediately to their west, the climate in the area was more temperate than in the rest of the state, making it the ideal location for the many orchards running along the eastern coast of Flathead Lake. Dani loved how the whole community came together at this time of year. The Cherry Festival was next weekend, migrant workers would soon move in, then picking would commence up and down the entire lake region—weeks filled with roadside stands and trucks weighted down with cherries, all heading to the packing plant.
Because of the cherries, the lake, and the fact that the town curved around the most gorgeous bay in the state, Birch Bay became a popular little tourist attraction in the summer months.
Pride swelled in her as The Cherry Basket came into view. Her days of living here might be coming to an end, but just because she was leaving didn’t mean her past accomplishments would disappear with her. The Cherry Basket had been her creation from the ground up. Not only did they serve fresh-baked items made with fruit from their very own orchard, but they had mixes, cookbooks, jams, jellies, and pretty much any culinary delight one could want. They held cooking classes, and they’d even partnered with a big-name chef to develop their own line of kitchen utensils. It had been a proud moment for her when the doors had opened for the first time.
But it would continue without her. She’d made sure of it.
She’d worked hard to ensure that only the best employees were in place for both the local and online businesses. It was a well-oiled machine. Plus, it’s not like she wouldn’t check in on them. She wasn’t cutting Montana out of her heart. Just her everyday life.
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As a child, award-winning author Kim Law cultivated a love for chocolate, anything purple, and creative writing. She penned her debut work, “The Gigantic Talking Raisin,” in the sixth grade and got hooked on the delights of creating stories. Before settling into the writing life, however, she earned a college degree in mathematics and then worked as a computer programmer. Now she’s living out her lifelong dream of writing romance novels. She’s won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award, has been a finalist for the prestigious RWA RITA Award, and has served in varied positions for her local RWA chapter. A native of Kentucky, Kim lives with her husband and an assortment of animals in Middle Tennessee.
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