He's coming up on her blind side...
How can Shelby Hawkley forgive Gage Jamero for bailing on her when she needed him most? He and her husband, Nick, were the best part of her life. Now her former best friend is back, shaking up the widowed wine harvester's world. The safest bet is to protect herself. Except Gage is awakening feelings that are decidedly unfriend-like.
Shelby is the woman Gage has secretly loved since high school. Starting over—together—could be the best dream he's ever had. If only he can find the courage to say what he should have said all those years ago.
Heat level: As with all Harlequin Heartwarming books, this story is sweet (has no overt sensuality, rated PG).
One Perfect Year
The day he met Shelby, she'd stumbled into his high school science class during his senior year. He’d felt as if he’d been sucker punched. Unbelievably, he, who’d always relied on proof and facts, had fallen in love at first sight. How else could he describe how discombobulated he felt just seeing Shelby? But while he’d over-analyzed those strange, new feelings, Nick, who’d never hesitated in his too-short life, acted right after Gage introduced them.
Once Gage discovered his feelings for Shelby were substantial and real, it was too late. He’d fallen for his lab partner, and she’d fallen for his best friend. And his feelings hadn’t waned. Not at their high school and college graduations. Not at the engagement party. Not at the wedding. Not at the funeral.
He’d never acted on his impulses. And tonight would be no different.
“Gage?” Shelby’s voice. So unsure.
He closed the distance between them slowly. The slower he approached the longer he had to take note of her features. That no-nonsense, short blond hair beneath a yellow knit cap. That slender figure bundled against the late October chill. That tentative look in her eyes.
He was the reason for that look, while she was the reason his pulse kicked up a notch.
He stopped and brought out the heavy artillery—his smile. “Did somebody call for a grape picker?”
Without missing a beat, she put her hands on her hips. “You didn’t answer any of my messages.”
He shook his head. The crowd of volunteers watched silently, as if this was enthralling cinema.
“You didn’t reply to any of my texts or emails either.”
His smile dimmed.
“You un-friended me on Facebook.”
The crowd gasped. A few chuckled.
“I shut down my Facebook page,” he told her, and the crowd. There, at least that was a defendable excuse.
“And your phone?”
Don’t do this to me, Shel.
He’d never admitted to anyone that he was supposed to have been with Nick the day he died. The secret ate away at him. It probably always would.
“Gage?” Her vulnerability was strong enough to slip past his guard.
“I couldn’t.” The words were wrenched out of him.
She made a sound that was half disapproving huff-half sob and ran toward him, practically tripping over her own two feet. He couldn’t say later if he’d met her halfway, couldn’t remember much beyond her arms coming around him, pressing against the hoofprint contusion near his spine. But the hug…the hug was worth every pang in his bruised and sore back. She held Gage as if he was a precious gift she never wanted to lose.
For a moment, Gage drew Shelby close, inhaling the intoxicating scent of her hair, imagining what life would be like if she were his: No . No careful responses. No distance.
Like there was a chance of that happening.
The power of his emotions made him realize coming home was a good thing. He’d needed to see Shelby again, if only to say goodbye to her once and for all.
The Story Behind the Story
The impetus for this story actually came from a situation my brother-in-law was in. When he was in his 20s, he was dating a woman he planned to marry. He was living with his best friend, who began dating someone he immediately fell in love with. But he didn’t act on those feelings because he loved his best friend. People married other people. People divorced other people, and then finally my brother-in-law had his chance with this woman. Twenty-two years later, they’re still together.
One Perfect Year is not my brother-in-law’s story, but it begins with the question his situation inspired: what would happen if the hero’s best friend asked a girl out before the hero could?
Many of my elderly characters in Harmony Valley are also inspired by little gems from people I know. Mae’s collection of dresses was actually inspired by a day I spent helping my dad clean out his closet. He had a pink velvet blazer in the back, along with a cream colored corduroy suit. I asked him why he’d keep items that no longer fit – either him or his lifestyle – and he told me he hoped that someday one of his 34 heirs would enjoy wearing them.