Published by Montlake Romance
Devoted single dad Dane Madden knows he hurt Neely in the worst way. He’s got a lot to make up for. And as passionate as their reconnection is, it’s a lot to hope for. Having her back in his arms feels so right. But falling in love all over again with a woman who wants to live a world away is bound to go so wrong.
What’s it going to take for Neely to give him—and Dogwood Lane—just one more chance?
She resides in the Midwest with her husband, her sons, two dogs, two cats, and a bird. She spends a large amount of time playing with her kids, drinking coffee, and cooking. You can find her outside if the weather’s nice, and there’s always a piece of candy in her pocket. Besides cinnamon gummy bears, boxing, and random quotes, her next favorite thing is chatting with readers. She’d love to hear from you! Look for her at www.adrianalocke.com.
“I’m stuck at work dreaming about a vacation and dealing with office politics. You, my friend, are free. You should totally live it up for a few days.”
“Livin’ it up in good ole Dogwood Lane,” I say in the phone with a laugh. A little yellow-painted building with a patched roof passes on my right. “Maybe I’ll pull into the Bait Shop over there and count the worms.”
“Worms? Gross. But on the bright side, I bet there are cute country boys in there, probably even in flannel.”
“Flannel?” I laugh. “That’s random.”
“Yes, flannel. Your job is to find a hot country boy in flannel and roll around in some hay. Drink some lemonade in mason jars. Ride around in old pickup trucks. Do whatever it is you do down there and forget life for a couple of days. I’ll be working some angles around here.”
My spirits slip, just like the sun slips behind the clouds. My life in New York City was anchored by my position at the magazine. My entire routine was centered around my job. The stories. The people.
The magnitude of the situation, of starting over from scratch, combats the feel-good energy from the pine-scented air. I cringe. “Remind me again I didn’t just screw up my life.”
“Stop that,” Grace warns. “You didn’t screw up anything, and this will all work out for the best. I know it.”
“I hope so, but, man, now that the adrenaline has worn off . . .” I try to laugh, to play it off as a joke, but no sound comes out.
“Look, I have friends in high places. I have a list of names I’m going to call this week to see if anyone is looking for a brilliant sports journalist.”
My fingers grip the steering wheel. Grace is a bloodhound: once she sets her sights on something, there’s no turning back. We met a few years ago at a conference and realized we lived the New York equivalent of “right around the corner” from one another. We bonded over cereal from the box, afternoon movies, and ballpark hot dogs. Grace decided we were friends, and that was that. I love her for it.
“I know you want to help,” I tell her, swallowing my pride. “But I’ll find something. I already sent my résumé out this morning to a couple of places. I got this.”
“Okay, but I can’t be blamed if something just falls in my lap while you’re on vacation.”
“I wouldn’t call this a vacation,” I note. “More like a chance to see my mama.”
“Well, I still think you should make the best of it. Just don’t fall back in love with your hometown too much, because you aren’t leaving me.”
I drive through the center of town and take in the quaint buildings and the kids riding bicycles on the sidewalks. There are no drive-through coffee shops, no chain restaurants. Dry cleaning must be taken two towns over, and if you want more than the cheap toilet paper, you’re out of luck. Nothing has changed in the decade I’ve been gone. Not physically, anyway. My stomach bottoms out as I think about the people and the things I’ve avoided all my adult life. My spirits sink as I consider the topics I’ve forbidden my mom from even mentioning over the years.
Shoving them out of my mind, I sigh. “Trust me. I won’t fall in love with this place. I’ll be home before you know it.”
“Why? What’s wrong with Dogwood Lane, Tennessee?” she asks in her best southern voice.
“Your New Yorker attempt at a southern drawl is pathetic.”
“I’ll work on it. Now, tell me what you see. Paint me a picture of whatever you’re looking at. Bonus if it includes flannel.”
I take in the first building. “The post office was built a hundred years ago and has needed a new coat of paint for at least the last twenty years.” I flip my turn signal on. “Across the street is a church with musket balls from the Civil War lodged in the steeple.”
“I’m afraid not,” I tell her. “The whiskey barrels lining the main drag are filled with pansies because the first year they planted those, the high school football team made it to the state finals. That never made sense to me because they lost, but apparently, that’s close enough and no one wants to rock the boat. Superstitions and all.”
Grace goes into a monologue just to hear her newfound accent while I watch Dogwood Lane roll by. Styrofoam cups spell out Good Luck to the softball team in the chain-link fence surrounding the high school.
“Okay,” I say. “I’m now stopping at the Dogwood Café, the only place in town where you can get a cup of coffee besides the gas station, because even I am not that desperate.”
“Doesn’t your mom have a Keurig?”
“My mom started drinking decaf.” I pucker, flipping off the ignition. “It’s like I don’t even know her.”
“Ew. Okay. Call me later.”