The Orchard Brides – Book 2
Christian Contemporary Western Romance
Date Published 04-11-2022
Can forbidden fruit lead to sweet romance?
After standing up to the wrath of the owner of a private apple orchard where her daughter picked some of the tantalizing, but off-limits, fruit, will Skye Palmer allow the handsome cowboy to atone for making her little girl cry?
New owner of Humble Tree Orchards Troy Sutton feels terrible – he shouldn’t have come down so hard on the child for taking some of his ripe produce – even if the farm’s profit margin is in the red zone. Can he find a way to make it up to her and her gorgeous angry mother? And can they come up with a plan to save the apple orchard before the winter frost arrives?
Sweetness is in the air… and perhaps an “apple-y ever after” might just be possible after all…
EXCERPT – Chapter 2
Skye Palmer reached into the open cardboard box sitting on the floor of her childhood bedroom and pulled out another stack of clothes. Being home again was bittersweet. Her room was smaller than she remembered but bless her mother – the woman had kept it exactly the same since she left. Skye looked around. Silver, bronze, and gold gymnastics medals still hung from colorful ribbons tacked onto the wall and trophies of various sizes lined the upper shelf of the white bookcase Daddy had fashioned for her out of plywood when she was still in elementary school.
She dumped the pile of wrinkled clothes on top of the twin bed, covered with the buttercup yellow-and-white checked quilt Mama had helped her to sew when she was 17. A cluster of frames on the bedside table held grainy photos of herself with her teenage friends, arms draped across each other’s shoulders. She smiled wryly at the outdated hairstyles and clothing and wondered fleetingly what had ever become of those other girls. Did they ever get married, move away, have children like she did? Were any of them divorced now, too? Were they happy?
It felt almost surreal to be moving back into her own room, almost as though she’d never left. But so much had changed in the past eight years. She said a silent prayer of thanks that Mama would have her back at all after what she’d done. The disappointed look in her mother’s eyes when she told her was running off to marry Drew in a shotgun wedding because she was pregnant still haunted her. She almost thanked God Daddy had gone to be with Jesus before Drew had even come into her life. Mama was pretty much a saint for agreeing take her and back in – along with Ashley – but then again she knew Mama loved them both dearly despite everything. And now Mama needed help too given her health and all.
A stray tear slid down her cheek and dripped onto the pair of jeans she was folding.
“I know this is hard for you, baby,” Mama’s voice called from the doorway. Skye glanced up. How long had she been standing there? The woman was holding two glasses of iced tea and nodded, offering one out to her. Skye gratefully accepted it. The house was hot, given it didn’t have central air conditioning. All the windows were open but the slight breeze that drifted in from outside wasn’t enough to lower the indoor temperature by much.
Skye took a sip, the cool sugary sweetness quenching a thirst she hadn’t realized she was feeling. She wiped the tear with the back of her hand and took a deep breath.
“I think I’m still in shock to be honest,” she said. “Drew didn’t turn out to be the man I thought he was. I don’t even know where things went wrong – right from the very beginning I guess.”
Mama’s dark eyes, mirroring her own, filled with sadness. She was several inches shorter than Skye with dark hair than had gone grey years ago. Shawna Rogers had never been one to put much fuss into her appearance, never bothering to put on makeup or do anything with her hair. For as long as Skye could remember, her mother simply put on a t-shirt and pair of jeans after she got up in the morning, washed her face, and pulled her hair back into a low ponytail before going about the day. Today was no different. However, Skye was shocked to see the physical changes that had occurred in her mother over the past few years since they’d all been together. Where the woman had always been full of life, bubbling with energy despite her small stature, now she appeared tired. She’d lost a lot of weight since giving up her daycare license, and her thin shoulders drooped, making her appear even smaller and withdrawn. It worried Skye. Hopefully now that she was home, she could help out – at least do her best to start making up for all the pain she’d caused.
Her mother walked into the room and set her glass on the small desk in the corner where Skye had spent hours pouring over textbooks and working out math problems. She reached into the box and pulled out more clothes, joining Skye by the side of the bed to fold them before transferring them to the open drawers of the dresser.
“When you’re young and a good-looking man talks pretty to you, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of right and wrong,” she said.
“I know, Mama, I realize that now,” Skye replied miserably. “I thought I was in love but looking back I can see I didn’t know what love really was. I guess I was hurting so much after Daddy died, and being with Drew helped make the pain go away. I didn’t ever deal with it as I should have or stop to take time to get to know Drew properly. He claimed he was a Christian but pressured me to do things we had no business doing before we were married. He said he’d marry me someday anyway – which he did, but then nothing was the same after that. After we found jobs and got settled in Seattle, everything shifted. We started arguing about stupid stuff – what to have for supper, what to watch on TV. And after I had Ashley, things between us just got worse.”
Shawna folded the sleeves of a red t-shirt slowly with gnarled fingers.
“The few times I saw all of you over the years since you left, I wondered about your marriage. Having a baby never solves the problems between a couple – it only makes the trouble more apparent. To me, Drew always seemed on edge, irritated. He never seemed eager to hold Ashley, and he was always talking about how much having a child cost.”
“Exactly,” Skye said, putting the last pair of pants she owned into the dresser drawer and pushing it closed, remembering to lift it slightly to get it to slide all the way in.
“He became almost obsessed about money. I really don’t know why. It wasn’t like we weren’t rich or anything, but we were making ends meet. He was bringing in a steady income through the electrical union and I took as many shifts waiting tables as I could at the diner. After Ashley’s birth I had to make sure my hours were within her childcare and school schedules. Drew still expected me to do all the cooking – which of course I didn’t mind since you know I love to cook– but I was also the one doing all the cleaning at home plus taking care of the baby too. I know he worked hard too – being an electrician isn’t easy – but he would get frustrated with me if I was tired or something around the house didn’t get done to his liking.”
She paused, trying to muster the courage to reveal the rest. “He started going out with his friends and coming home drunk. That’s when things got really bad.” Tears welled in her eyes.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” Shawna replied. She laid her hand gently on Skye’s arm and looked at her with concern. “Please tell me he never raised a hand to you – or my granddaughter.”
Tears began to stream down Skye’s cheeks as she started to cry. “Oh Mama,” she said. “I’m so embarrassed to admit this, but that’s what finally made me decide to leave him. Praise the Lord he never hurt Ashley, but I got to be afraid he could have it in him to do so one day. Whenever he drank, I never knew what was going to happen. I’d try my best to keep him happy, but he always seemed to find a reason to yell at me. He started hitting me. I kept trying to get him to come to church with me and Ashley, and sometimes he would, but he refused to meet with the pastor for marital counseling or get any other kind of help. One day my manager at the diner sat me down at work after my shift and said customers were asking if I was OK because they’d noticed the bruises.”
“Oh Heavenly Father,” Shawna said, wrapping her arms around Skye tightly. Skye’s chest racked with sobs as her mother tenderly stroked her long hair. The comfort of being held by the woman who raised her was a balm to her broken heart.
“I’m so glad you found the strength to leave – and that you’re home now, where I can look after you,” Shawna said.
“Mama, I’m so sorry,” said Skye, sniffling. “For all the pain I’ve caused. I’m so ashamed. But I promise, I’m going to do my best to make up for it now. At least Drew granted me a quick divorce. He definitely didn’t want me airing his dirty laundry, that’s for sure. As long as I took Ashley away and he wouldn’t have to pay a dime, he said I was free to go. So that’s what I did. Thank you for having us back here, I didn’t know where else to go.”
“You are always welcome home, child, don’t you know that?” Shawna held Skye’s face between her palms. “You are my daughter.” They held each other’s gazes silently, sharing the fullness of unconditional love between them.
Skye leaned forward and planted a kiss on her mother’s pale cheek. “I love you Mama, thank you for being my role model. I’m glad I’m here now.”
“Me too, sweetheart,” Shawna replied. “Plus, now I get to spend time with Ashley. The two of you are just what my heart needs right now.”
“Giving up the daycare hasn’t been easy for you, has it?” Skye asked.
Shawna sighed and walked to the closet. She grabbed a couple of empty hangers and brought them back to the bed.
“Let’s hang up your dresses and then we can start unpacking Ashley’s things in her bedroom.”
“You mean your sewing room, Mama,” Skye said. “This is only a temporary arrangement, remember? Just until we get back on our feet. If my food truck doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to waiting tables.”
“Baby, the two of you can stay here as long as you want,” Shawna said. “And to answer your question, no, closing the daycare has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I’m so used having children here in the home. After your sweet daddy passed, and then later when you left, the babies were what brought me through the hard times. That and my relationship with the Lord, of course. But once my arthritis got so bad that I couldn’t manage to pick up the little ones anymore it was clear that my time had come. I couldn’t risk something happening to the children because of my worsening condition.”
Shawna massaged her wrists, a defeated expression on her face.
“How is the pain, Mama?” Skye asked. “Is it very bad? Do the medications help keep it under control?”
“I like to say the meds take the edge off,” Shawna replied. “But the pain’s still there, and it makes me tired. I’m not used to being tired, and I hate it. The medications make the fatigue even worse, so I don’t like to take them unless I get to the point where I have no choice. I suppose I need to make my peace with aging.”
She looked around the room, a faraway look in her eyes. “The house has been so quiet without my children, though. Empty. I suppose I’ve been lonely. Maybe even depressed.”
She turned back to Skye. “Daughter, I hate what happened to you. But my heart is lifted having you and Ashley back home. I believe God has a plan for you. Remember your sweet daddy Jeremiah’s birth scripture.
Skye smiled and wiped her cheeks. “Of course, Jeremiah 29:11. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
A loud knock sounded from the front of the house.
“Who could that be?” asked Shawna, frowning. “I’m not expecting one.”
“Wait a minute – where’s Ashley?” Skye asked, following her mother into the hallway. She stopped to glance into the spare bedroom, which her mother had used as a craft/ storage room, and bathroom on the way to the living room.
“She was playing out back when I came inside to make tea,” Shawna called, hurrying to the foyer. Skye turned to the sliding glass door that led out to the back patio. She didn’t see Ashley anywhere. A little red wagon full of dolls sat in the middle of the yard.
“She’s not there,” Skye said, meeting her mother at the front door, breathless with worry.
Shawna pulled the door open. On the porch stood a tall, broad-shouldered man with with sandy-colored hair that peeked out from beneath a cowboy hat. His bright blue eyes were shooting sparks in Skye’s direction at the moment, which made her almost – but not quite – fail to notice how his biceps bulged as he crossed his arms over his chest and how his tight jeans sat low across his slim hips. At the curb sat a large metal-gray pick-up truck.
Suddenly, Ashley stepped out from around the man’s legs and ran sobbing past Skye and Shawna into the house.
“What’s going on?” Skye asked, heat rising in her cheeks. “Why is my daughter with you? And pray tell why is she crying? What did you do to her?”
About the Author
Author Annee Jones writes heartwarming romance and will soon be adding cozy mystery, fantasy/ PNR, suspense, and more to her list of genres since her imagination often runs away with her. She is passionate about writing stories that offer readers a place where dreams come true!
Professionally, Annee works as a disability counselor where she helps her clients navigate through complex medical and legal systems while rediscovering their wholeness in Spirit.
Annee also enjoys freelance writing for Publishers Weekly and multiple publishing companies.
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