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Pretty as a Peach (E-Book)

Pretty as a Peach (E-Book)

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Mainer Farms is steeped in family history, but it’s also deep in debt from the effects of the ever-changing farming industry. Not about to let his family’s legacy go under, Colt Mancinkus is willing to do anything he can to save the farm.

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Darby Culhane is the new farmer in Whynot, North Carolina, and she’s proving to be quite the forbidden temptation for Colt. Darby isn’t looking for anything but a fresh start, and she’s got it all figured out. Get settled in? Check. Apply for the rural county grant? Check. Confrontation with the steaming mad, smoking hot local farmer? Well, that wasn’t on the agenda.

As pretty as she is sweet, Colt can’t help but be drawn to Darby’s…peaches. No really, she’s a peach farmer. Get that mind out of the gutter, and get on down to the farm to see what happens when circumstances force Colt and Darby to team up. They may just find that the peach trees aren’t the only things in bloom.

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Chapter 1

Darby

The miles pass by slowly, made even more painful by the fact Linnie will not talk to me. The back of her head rests against the car seat, and she stares blankly out of the windshield. She’s been in that position ever since we left our home in Illinois over four hours ago. As we were pulling out of our driveway, I told her not to look back.

Apparently, she took me at my word.

“Want to stop and get a late breakfast when we hit Indianapolis?” I ask my seven-year-old daughter pleasantly, hoping to transfer some positive attitude to her.

She doesn’t respond.

“I know you have to be hungry.”

Crickets.

“Are you just going to never talk to me again? I mean, when you need something, how are you going to convey it? Are you going to point at food and assume I’ll know you’re hungry? Or maybe you’ll start communicating with grunts?”

When I take my eyes off the road briefly to give her a playful smirk, I get nothing in return.

With a heavy sigh, I turn up the radio slightly, trying to listen to the words of some meaningless song that has no chance in hell of taking my mind off my daughter’s sadness.

She’s heartbroken to be leaving the only home she’s ever known. Once I made my decision to relocate to North Carolina, she did nothing but beg and plead me with me not to. I had to hear about how much she would miss her friends, her school, her horse, and her father. The friends, horse, and school I totally understood.

Her dad? I can’t quite figure that one out. Deep down, I think she’s laying it on extra thick about her father to hurt me a bit for making her leave. Linnie and her dad are not overly close, so she has an ulterior motive for sure.

In the two months I have been separated from Mitch, I can count on one hand the number of nights she has spent with him. He’s always too busy with his career and travel. This was no different than how things were throughout the course of our nine-year marriage. The reality is Mitch was never a very “present” father in either the literal or figurative sense. Sure, he provided us with a beautiful house and bought Linnie a horse when she was five. He’s taken us on extravagant vacations, and pretty much bought our daughter anything she ever wanted. But past that, he just doesn’t know how to be connected in the most important ways with our child. It’s why it’s baffling to me how she’s suddenly using him as a “need” for us to stay. She makes me feel like I’m traumatizing her by moving away from him, but in truth, she’s not losing out on a lot of interaction with him.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Linnie says and because it’s been hours since I heard her voice, I jump slightly from the surprise of it.

I turn to her with such a bright, hopeful smile on my face that she even bothered to ask me for something. She rolls her head on the seat toward me, glaring from behind her glasses. My smile falters.

Turning back to the road, I spy an exit with several gas stations coming up. “I’ll pull off up here. We can also grab something to eat if you want.”

She doesn’t reply.

I take my foot off the gas and naturally slow as I approach the exit. I’m pulling a small U-Haul trailer behind my old BMW Mitch bought me seven years ago, and I’ve been nervous as hell. I’ve been driving a lot slower than I normally would, but I’m terrified the darn thing is going to rip loose from the back of my car or something.

After I pull into the gas station, deciding to go ahead and top off my tank, I steel myself to have some type of heart-to-heart with Linnie because I’ll never survive the next eleven hours on the road with her like this.

Linnie takes off her seatbelt and starts to open the door. I put my hand on her arm and say, “Wait just a minute.”

My daughter flops back into the seat with a pained sigh and stares out of the windshield. Her lips are pressed flat together, and she crosses her arms over her chest.

The message is clear. We are still in battle mode.

I take a calming breath to keep my anger in check. This has been extremely difficult for her. I keep reminding myself that outside of the last few weeks, Linnie and I have a beautifully strong and loving relationship. I take my fingertips and rub them across her brow, bringing my hand down to the back of her neck where I squeeze it gently. “Honey… I know how hard this is on you, and I wish I could do something—”

Linnie’s head snaps my way, her eyes all round and hopeful from behind her thick glasses that showcase her baby blues that match my own. She’s been wearing them for four years now, and I think they make her look adorable. She hates them with an undying passion and can’t wait until the day she’s old enough to have contacts.

“Let’s just go back,” she says earnestly. “Please, Mom, we can make this work if we go back. I know Daddy would take us back.”

I’m shaking my head before she can even get out the last words because we’ve had this discussion before.

Numerous times.

“No, baby. We can’t make it work.”

“But Daddy will take us back,” she pleads.

“I know, honey,” I tell her sadly. “But I can’t go back.”

Linnie takes an index finger and pushes her glasses up her nose. “You’re not even trying. You didn’t even try to make it work.”

I don’t respond to her because she’s only seven, and she has no clue how long I tried to make it work. She’ll never understand the pieces of myself I abandoned in the early years of our marriage to keep Mitch happy. She’ll never understand the sacrifices I made to give her a good life.

I harden my voice slightly, so she understands we can’t keep going around and around about this. “Linnie… listen to me. I know this seems impossibly difficult right now, but it will get better. We’ll settle into our new place, and you’ll meet new friends.”

She turns around with a huff of frustration and glares out the passenger window, effectively telling me she doesn’t want to listen to a damn thing I have to say.

My lungs expand with an automatic sigh followed by a tiny flash of anger-laced frustration that she won’t even give me an inch. I stifle that sigh, though, and tell her, “I’m done talking about going back. I understand your position, and I hope that you understand mine. But this is happening whether you like it or not.”

Her head whips back to me, causing her glasses to slide down her nose again. She automatically pushes them up, which I bet she must do a hundred times a day. She stares hatefully and the enmity in her eyes takes me aback. Her voice is low and harsh. “Then take me back and let me live with Dad. I don’t want to live with you.”

The other thing Linnie will never understand at age seven is the power that words have over people. Hopefully, it will be a very long time before she ever feels the intense ache in the center of her chest—like I have right this minute—when someone she loves tells her something hurtful.

What I would really like to tell her is the truth. I would like to take her face in my hands, get up close to her, and tell her the God-awful truth that her father would not want her to live with him. That he does not have the time nor the inclination to raise a child, and those were his exact words when I tried to work out custody arrangements with him. I would love to make her understand he had not one single qualm about Linnie moving. Sure, he was completely irate and affronted I would leave him, but Linnie just didn’t matter. A child to Mitch is nothing more than arm candy. It’s a way for him to show his cronies he has a beautiful family and it’s all his doing.

No, I will never let Linnie know what a bastard her father is. So I only say, “Well, I love you more than the air I breathe, and I need you with me. And your father agreed to it. So that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

I get another glare from her, and then she’s pushing her way out the passenger door. She slams it behind her and leans against the car, her arms once again crossed over her chest to remain in her battle posture.

I have a moment of great weakness, and I consider the possibility of returning to Mitch. To give up all of my hopes and dreams so my daughter can have her friends and her horse. I think about how it wouldn’t be so bad to endure his verbal abuse, crazy possessiveness, and constant shaming. Certainly, I could look past the mistress I recently found out about.

My eyes cut to the rearview mirror and the ones staring back at me look utterly defeated.

It would be so easy to give in.

My phone rings, startling me, and I grab it from the center console. I see from the screen it’s my older sister Kelly, and I don’t hesitate to answer. “Hey.”

“Just checking in to see where you are,” she says, and I immediately feel my resolve bolstering just from her voice. Kelly has been an immense source of strength to me since I decided to leave Mitch.

“I’m just outside of Indianapolis,” I tell her as I pull the key out of the ignition. “We’re just now stopping for gas and a bathroom break.”

“How is Linnie?” she asks hesitantly. Kelly is well aware her niece has been fighting me every step of the way with this move.

I give a forlorn sigh into the phone that probably tells Kelly all she needs to know. “She fluctuates between silence and open hostility. I’m not sure how to deal with either.”

“You know how to deal with both because you are the best mom in the world,” my sister tells me, and the surety in her voice bucks me up even further. “Just give her time, Darby. That’s all she needs.”

Yes. That’s all she needs, and it’s all I need as well. I just need time and distance. Hopefully my life will get back on track, and both of us will be the better for it.

When my former brother-in-law—Kelly’s ex-husband—offered me the chance of a lifetime to move to North Carolina and become his operations manager for a farm he had just purchased, there was no way I could say no. It was my chance to break away from Mitch.

Even though Kelly and Jake have been divorced for more than a year, they remained the closest of friends. It’s quite remarkable how well they get along since the divorce, and that’s evidenced by the fact Kelly is his right-hand man in the multimillion-dollar tech company he owns.

Jake bought the farm in Whynot, North Carolina to help me out of a bad situation. Oh, he will tell anyone who will listen that it’s purely for the tax break, but he never even thought about such a thing until I spilled my guts to Kelly about how badly I needed out of my marriage.

About how badly Mitch was starting to scare me.

While I never intended for Kelly to run to Jake with my problems, in hindsight I can’t regret it. Jake jumped into action, and now I’m on my way to a new and better life for both me and Linnie.

I know one day she will appreciate it.

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Product Release Date: March 15, 2018

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