Redwood Bend by Robyn Carr

   I love Robyn’s Virgin River series. I loved Hidden Summit which I reviewed Monday and so saying I really, really, really loved Redwood Bend, the latest story in this series. I love the first meet and greet between our hero and heroine Katie and Dylan. Katie Malone is a young Army widow with 5-year-old twin boys and Dylan Childress was a child actor turned pilot and charter service owner. Katie is headed to Virgin River from Vermont where she was hiding out during the time her brother Connor was awaiting to testify in a murder trial. She is relocating after almost making a wrong choice in love to try to give her sons a good life with the help of her brother’s influence.

Dylan is on an annual motorcycle trip his friends and co-workers and he is stressing about the economy and how his charter service is not doing so well. It’s doing so bad he’s thinking about going back into the movie business just long enough to make a lot of money to get them through the worst of the troubled economy.

They meet when Katie’s big SUV get’s a flat on a narrow twisty road in the middle of a downpour and Dylan and his” biker buddies” stop to help. They take over changing the tire and when Dylan turns around, there’s Katie looking like a little drowned rat in a wet t-shirt contest and shaking like a leaf. Dylan takes off his big, warm and smells like man and heaven leather jacket and drapes it around Katie while he helps finish changing her flat with his buddy Walt who is the acting guide of their group.

I’m going to tell you about their next meeting too because I love it. It’s been a few days since Katie has moved into town and Dylan and his buddies are at Jack’s Bar enjoying Preacher’s cooking. When in comes a happy, bubbly glass of champagne named Katie with her brother and introduces him to her knights in shining armor. Dylan turns and takes a look and his mouth drops open for gone is the little drowned rat and in her place is a cleaned up and beautiful Katie in all her loveliness.

Dylan has some rules about dating: don’t date where you live and don’t date women with kids and well he’s about to break his own rule and he just canna seem to help it. I enjoy Jack so much here’s a little tet-a- tet between jack and Dylan after this second meeting with Katie.

After Katie has moved away and is eating with her kids and future sister-in-law Dylan is still watching her and turns to ask Jack about the cabin Katie is temporarily renting and if it’s available in the future.

Jack looks at him  and asks if he is interested. Dylan replies that he may be interested if he ever makes it back here in the future. Jack glances at him then looks over at Katie and says “Really, I thought maybe you were interested right now.”       Yeah, gotta love Jack.

I like the back story for Dylan and how he feels he wouldn’t be good in a relationship or a good role model for anyone, especially where kids are involved. But as you’ll see he is beating himself up unnecessarily. He is also willing to go back to something that he hates in order to help his friends and company.

Katie is a fierce little mama and her kids come first. She’s recovering from almost making the biggest mistake of her life in her pursuit to give her sons a man in their lives back in Vermont. She’ll even try to take on a real mama bear with triplets wanting to take over her meadow and kids play set.

I appreciate how Robyn incorporates the economical concerns and worries of today into her stories. Those worries of business owners today is reflected in Dylan’s story of trying to save his charter service which is slowly going under. He’s even willing to go back into the movies in order to raise some capital to save his business and pay his employees in these hard times.

The cast of characters as always is wonderful, helping enhance and move the story along. I love Dylan’s grandmother and driver, it reminded me of Driving Miss Daisy a bit. There is a surprise at the end that will have you chuckling…it did me after the tears that is, and it’s so fitting for this story, I just hope we get an update in a future book.

I have really, really enjoyed this trip to Virgin River and I have to say that any man willing to put himself in harm’s way for a child is a true hero and a keeper in my book.

   Book Blurb:  CAN CHANGING A TIRE CHANGE YOUR LIFE?  

Katie Malone and her twin boys’ trip along the beautiful mountain roads to Virgin River is stopped short by a tire as flat as her failed romance. To make matters worse, the rain has set in, the boys are hungry and Katie doesn’t have the first clue about putting on a spare. As she stands at the side of the road pondering her next move, she hears a distinct rumble. The sight of the sexy, leather-clad bikers who pull up beside her puts her imagination into overdrive.

Dylan Childress and his buddies are on the motorcycle trip of a lifetime. But the sight of a woman in distress stops them in their tracks. And while the guys are checking out her car, she and Dylan are checking out one another.

In one brief moment, the world tilts on its axis and any previous plans Katie and Dylan might have had for their futures are left at the side of the road.

Excerpt:

Chapter OneWhen Katie had escaped to Vermont in March, she had left behind her minivan with the license plate that could identify her. It was to be sold and Conner had arranged for a late model Lincoln Navigator SUV to be waiting for her — a mammoth vehicle that she could barely park. As any carpooling mother might, she had grieved her minivan — it was light and easy to handle and felt like an extension of her body. But she came to quickly love the big, gas guzzling SUV. She felt like queen of the road — so safe and invulnerable; she could see over everything and everyone. She loved to drive that car and looked forward to some time on the road for reflection, to consider her options. The act of seeing the miles vanish in the rear view mirror was a good way to leave the past behind and welcome a new beginning.

It didn’t take Katie long to get out of town. She had UPS pick up her boxes on Monday, phoned the school and arranged to have the boys’ kindergarten records scanned and emailed to her, invited the landlord over to check the condition of the house and asked her neighbor to come over and help herself to the perishables that would be otherwise be thrown out. She arranged to have the Lincoln picked up in Orlando and moved to Sacramento while she and the boys did a little Disney. She packed not only clothes, but the cooler and picnic basket. Her tool belt, which was pink and had been given to her by her late husband, Charlie, went with her everywhere. Armed with portable DVD players and movies, iPads and rechargers, she loaded her monster SUV and headed south.

They got off to a great start, but after a few hours the boys started to wiggle and squabble and complain. She stopped for the bathroom for one when the other one didn’t have to go and fifteen minutes down the road, had to stop again for the second one. They picnicked at rest stops every few hours and she ran them around to tire them out, though the only one who seemed tired was Katie. She repaired a malfunctioning DVD player, set up some snacks and loaded them back up to hit the road again.

She couldn’t help but wonder how parents did this sort of thing ten, twenty, thirty years ago before portable movies and iPad games. How did they manage without fifth wheel sized cars with pull down consoles that served as tables to hold games and refreshments? Without cars that, like cruise ships, had individual heating and air conditioning thermostats? How did the pioneer mothers manage? Did they even have duct tape back then?

Most women, at times like this, would be reduced to self-pity because they were left with these high maintenance, energetic boys, but Katie just wasn’t that kind of woman. She hated self-pity. She did, however, wish Charlie could see them, experience them.

Katie met and married Charlie when she was twenty-six. They had a romantic, devoted, passion charged relationship, but it had been too short. He was a Green Beret — Army Special Forces. When she was pregnant with the boys, he deployed to Afghanistan where he was killed before they were born.

How she wished he knew them now. When they weren’t in trouble they were so funny. She imagined they were like their father had been as a child; they certainly resembled him physically. They were large for their ages, rambunctious, competitive, bright, a little short tempered and possessive. They both had a strong sentimental streak. They still needed mother-cuddling regularly and they loved all animals, even the tiniest ones. They tried to cover up their tears during Disney movies like Bambi. If one of them got scared, the other propped him up and reassured and vice versa. When they were forced together, like in the backseat of the car, they wanted space. When they were forced apart, they wanted to be together. She wondered if they’d ever take individual showers.

And for all her griping at Charlie for never closing the bathroom door, she
now longed for a little solitary bathroom time. The boys had been in her bubble, no matter what she was doing, since they could crawl. She could barely have a bath without company in the last five years.

So her life wasn’t always easy. Was theirs? They didn’t seem to realize they didn’t have the average family life — they had a mom and no dad, but they had Uncle Conner. She showed them the pictures of their dad and told them, all the time, how excited he had been to see them. But then he’d gone to the angels…. He was a hero who’d gone to the angels…

So Disney World was a good idea. They’d all earned it.

******************************Katie intended for the boys to have fun at Disney, a reward for being the brave little troupers they didn’t even realize they were. She also hoped a couple days with Mickey and friends would tire them out, but the Mouse didn’t wear the boys down quite enough. Three days and nights at Disney World seemed to energize them. They squirmed the whole way to Sacramento on the plane and because they’d been confined, they ran like around the hotel room like a couple of nutballs.

They set off for Virgin River right after breakfast, but as for the scenic drive to Virgin River, it was dark, gloomy and rainy. She was completely disappointed — she wanted to take in the beauty Conner had described — the mountains, redwoods, sheer cliffs and lush valleys. Well, ever the optimist, she hoped the gray skies would help the boys nod off.

But not right away, apparently.

“Andy has Avatar! It’s my turn to have Avatar!”

“Christ almighty, why didn’t I buy two of those,” she mumbled.

“Someone wants soap in her mouth,” Mitch The Enforcer muttered from the backseat.

It was hard to imagine what she’d be up against if Charlie were still with them. He had no patience and the filthiest language. Marines blushed when he opened his mouth. For that matter, Katie wanted to shout into the backseat I took you to goddamn Disney World! Share the goddamn movie!“If I have to stop this car to deal with your bickering, it will be a very long time before we get to Uncle Conner’s house! And then it will be straight to time out!”

They made a noble effort, but it involved a great deal of grunting, shoving and squirming.

As soon as she got off Highway 5 and headed for the narrow, winding road that skirted Clear Lake the driving became more challenging. Sometimes it was harrowing. She passed what appeared to be a small dock house or shed that had broken apart in the lake, right off the road, but as she slowed she saw that it was an RV that had slipped off the road and crashed into the water. She slowed but couldn’t stop; there was no place to pull over and behind her were the sirens of first responders.

Once they got to Humboldt County, she turned off the freeway right at the coastal town of Fortuna and head east on Highway 36, up into the mountains. This was a good, two-lane highway and as she rose into the mountains, the views took her breath away. Huge trees on the mountainsides reached into the clouds, lush farms, ranches and vineyards spread through the valleys below. She couldn’t indulge the views — there were no guardrails, nor were there wide shoulders. And before she’d gone very far up the mountain she found herself buried in the forest on a winding road that broke left, then right, then up, then down. The trees were so large, blocking what little light there was, and her headlights in the rain were a minor help.

Then it happened. She felt a bump, then heard a pop. The big car swerved, then listed to the left and went kathump, kathump, kathump. She pulled over as far as possible, but was on a very short straightaway between two curves, so still stuck out into the road a bit. Here’s where having the super-sized SUV wasn’t so convenient.

“Stay in the car, in your seats,” she told the boys. And she cautiously exited the car, watching for traffic coming around the curves in either direction. The rain was coming down in a steady sheet, although it was filtered by the boughs of huge pines and sequoias. Those pine needled didn’t do much to keep her dry, however. She shivered in the cold rain and wondered, This is June? It had been so warm in Sacramento, she hadn’t taken jackets or sweatshirts out of their suitcases. She hadn’t accounted for the temperature drop in the mountains.

She crouched, sitting on the heel of her right Uggs, and glared at the traitorous tire in disgust. Flat as a pancake, rubber torn away. What a mess. It wasn’t going anywhere, that was for sure.

Katie knew how to change a tire, but just the same, she got back in the car and took out her phone. On a vehicle this size, it could be a challenge. Maybe they were close enough to Virgin River for Conner to help.

No bars. No service. No help.

Well, that certainly diminished her options. She looked into the backseat. “Mommy’s going to change the tire and I need you to stay in the car and sit very, very still. No moving around, all right?”

“Why?”

“Because I have to jack up the car where the flat tire is and if you wiggle around it could fall and maybe hurt me. Can you sit still? Very still?”

They nodded gravely. She couldn’t have them out of the car, running wild in the forest or along this narrow highway. She shut off the SUV and went to the rear, lifting the hatch. She had to pull out a couple of suitcases and move the picnic basket to open the wheel well cover and floorboard. She pulled out the lug wrench and jack.

The first thing to do was actually the hardest for a woman her size — loosening the lug nuts before jacking up the car. She put her whole body into it, but she couldn’t budge a single one. Not even the slightest bit. This was when it didn’t pay off to be five-foot-four and a lightweight. She used a foot and two hands. Nothing. She stood up, pulled a rubber tie out of the pocket of her jeans and wound her long hair into a ponytail. She wiped her hands down her jeans and gave it another try, grunting with the effort. Still nothing. She was going to have to wait for someone to…

She heard a rumble that grew closer. And because today wasn’t turning out to be one of her luckier days, it couldn’t be some old rancher. Nope. It had to be a motorcycle gang. “Crap,” she said. “Well, beggers can’t be choosers.” And she waved them down. Four of them pulled up right behind the SUV while the one in front got off his bike and removed his helmet as he approached her while the others stayed balanced on their rumbling bikes.

Whew, wasn’t he a big, scary looking dude. Huge and leather clad with lots of hair, both facial and a long pony tail. He also jingled a little while he walked — there were chains around his boot heels, hanging from his belt and adorning his jacket. With his helmet cradled in the crook of his arm, he looked down at her. “Whatcha got?”

“Flat,” she said, and shivered. “I can handle it if you’ll just help me with the lugs. I’m in good shape, but I’m no match for the air compressor torque that tightened ‘em down.”

He cocked his head and lifted one brow, probably surprised that a woman would know about the torque. He went over to the tire and squatted. “Dang,” he said. “Doesn’t get much flatter than that. I hope you have a spare.”

“In the undercarriage. Really, I can…”

He stood up and cut her off. “Let’s just get ‘er done. That way the lugs on the spare will be as tight as these.”

“Thanks, but I hate to hold you up. If you’ll just—”

He completely ignored her, walking back to his bike and stowing his helmet. He pulled a few flat road warning triangles out of his side pocket and handed a couple to riders. “Stu, take these warning markers up the road to that curve.
Lang, go back down to that last curve and put these out. Dylan, you can help change the tire. Let’s do it.”

And then he was walking back to where she stood, still holding the lug wrench. Now, Conner was a big man and this guy was yet bigger. As she stood dripping in the rain, she felt about half his size. As two bikers rode away with their road markers, the fourth, Dylan, propped up his bike, removed his helmet and came toward them. And her eyes almost popped out. Warning! Major hottie! His black hair was a little on the long side, his face about a couple of days unshaven, his body long and lean with a tear in each knee of his jeans and what might just be a gym sock shoved in his snug jeans. He walked with a slight swagger, pulling off his gloves and stuffing them in the back pockets of his jeans, though they were so tight there shouldn’t be much room for anything. She lifted her eyes back to his face. He should probably be on a billboard.

“Let’s make this easy,” Number One was saying to Dylan. “How about you lighten the load a little bit.” And then he applied the lug wrench and with a simple, light jerk, spun the first lug nut, then a second, then a third. Piece of cake. For him.

Dylan approached her and she noticed his camel-colored pointy toed cowboy boots, tan leather jacket, great big cowboy sized belt buckle and amazing blue eyes. He completely ignored her and began to pull things out of the back of the SUV — first a large, heavy suitcase, a smaller one, then the cooler. Meanwhile, the SUV was lifting, apparently already on the jack.

Dylan paused, cooler in his hands, looking down at her. He looked up, she looked down. Swell. Her white T-shirt was soaked, plastered to her skin, her pretty little lace bra was now transparent, her nipples were tan bullets pointed right at him. He frowned. He put down the cooler, stripped off his leather jacket and draped it around her shoulders, pulling it closed.

Nice, she thought. Wet T-shirt display on the deserted road for a biker gang. Great. There she stood in a thin, transparent-when-wet shirt, her jeans as tight as his and her Uggs up to her knees over her jeans. “Thank you,” she mumbled. And she backed away so he could empty the back and get the tire from the under carriage.

“Must’ve hit a pothole or something,” the first biker was saying. “That tire is done for.”

She hugged the warm leather jacket around her and his scent rose, his very pleasant musk combined with rain and forest. It was toasty warm inside the jacket, dripping on the outside. Okay, maybe they weren’t Hell’s Angels. Just a bunch of nutballs out for a ride in the rain?

When Dylan took the spare around the SUV to his buddy, Katie got into the suitcase on top and pulled out a dark cowl-neck sweatshirt. She put the leather jacket in the back of the car and pulled the sweatshirt over her wet T-shirt. She looked down. Better.

Not long after her clothing adjustment, Dylan came around the back of the car carrying a destroyed, useless tire, his long sleeved shirt soaked and glued against a totally cut, sculptured, muscled chest. His shoulders and biceps bulged with the strain of carrying the heavy tire and he was having that little nipple problem himself. But God, what a body. He probably shouldn’t be out riding in the rain — he should be modeling or working with the Chippendales.

Stop, she told herself. Great to look at, but I’m sworn off. I’m concentrating on my future and my family. But wow.

After he stowed the tire, she picked up the jacket and held it toward him. “Here you go,” she said. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure. Hard to believe it’s June.”

“I was just thinking that.”

And then he did the most unexpected thing. He put the jacket down in the back of the SUV and stripped off his soaked shirt; he put the jacket on over skin. Her mouth stood open slightly, her eyes riveted to his body until he snapped the jacket closed. Then she slowly looked up and he smiled and winked. He walked back to his bike, shoved the wet shirt in a side pocket and returned to the back of the SUV just as it was lowering onto a new tire.

Dylan began to reload the SUV and for a second she was just mesmerized, but then she shook herself and began to help, every once in a while meeting his eyes. Oh God, he had Conner’s eyes — crystal blue and twinkling beneath thick, dark lashes. She also had blue eyes but they were merely ordinary blue eyes while Conner’s (and Dylan’s!) were more periwinkle and almost startling in their depth. Paul Newman eyes, her mother used to say. And this guy had them, too! Her parents must have had a love child they left on the church steps or something.

No. Wait. She knew him — the eyes, the name. Not personally. It had been a long, long time ago, but she’d seen him before. Not in person, but on TV. On magazine covers. But then, surely it wasn’t… Yes, the Hollywood bad boy from years ago. What had become of him since way back then?

“You can get back in if you want to,” Dylan said. “Turn the heat up. I hope you don’t have far to go.”

“I’m almost there,” she said.

Dylan put the cooler in, then the heaviest suitcase. Then he took a handkerchief out of his back pocket, wiped down his rain-slicked face and then began to wipe off his dirty hands. “You have a couple of stowaways,” he said, glancing into the car.

She peeked into the SUV. A couple of identical sets of brown eyes peered over the backseat. “My boys,” she said.

“You don’t look old enough to have boys.”

“I’m at least fifty,” she said. “Ever been on a road trip with five-year-old twins?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Of course he hadn’t, because he was some gorgeous god-like hunk of hoodlum who was free as a bird and out either terrorizing or rescuing maidens in the forest. Wow.

“You’re all set, miss,” the big biker said as he came around the SUV, pulling on his leather gloves. Jeez, he had chains on those, too.

“Thanks for your help. The lugs get me every time.”

“I’d never leave a lady in distress by the side of the road, my mother would kill me. And that’s nothing to what my wife would say!”

“You have a wife?” she asked. And before she could stop herself, she added, “And a mother?”

Dylan burst out with a short laugh. He clapped a hand on the big guy’s back and said, “There’s a lot more to Walt than meets the eye, Miss… I didn’t get a name…”

She put out an icy hand. “Katie Malone.”

“I’m Dylan,” he said, taking the hand. How in the world he had managed warm hands after changing a tire in the freezing rain, she would long wonder. “And of course, this is Walt, roadside good Samaritan.” Then he addressed Walt. “I’ll ride back and get Lang. We’ll scoop up Stu on the way up the road.”

“You should be just fine, Katie,” Walt said. “Jump in, tell the little guys to buckle up, crank up the heater and watch the road.”

“Right. Yes. Listen, can I pay you for your trouble? I’m sure it would’ve cost me at least a hundred bucks to have that tire changed.”

“Don’t be absurd,” he said, startling her with his choice of words. It just didn’t seem like the vocabulary that would fit a big, scary biker dude. “You’d do the same for me if you could. Just be sure to replace that tire right away so you always have a spare.”

“You always go out for a ride in the rain?” she asked.

“We were on the road already. But there are better days for it, that’s for sure. If it had been coming down much harder, we’d have had to hole up under a tree or something. Don’t want to slide off a mountain. Take care.” Then he turned and tromped back to his hog with the high handlebars.

And as promised here is a look into the rest of the Virgin River series including Sunrise Point the next story in this series.

   Reverend Noah Kincaid moved to Virgin River to re-open an abandoned church he bought on eBay. Like Noah, the place is a little empty inside and needs some loving care.

The young widower arrives ready to roll up his sleeves and build a place of worship and welcome, but he needs some help. And the Lord works in mysterious ways….

With her tight shirts and short skirts, “Pastor’s assistant” is not a phrase that springs to mind when Noah meets brassy, beautiful Ellie Baldwin. The former exotic dancer needs a respectable job so she can regain custody of her children. And Noah can’t help but admire her spunk and motherly determination.

The pastor and the stripper: an unlikely team to revitalize a church, much less build a future. The couple has so many differences, but in Virgin River anything is possible, and happiness is never out of the question.

Sean has settled down in spite of himself—he’s not the cocky young fighter pilot he was when Franci left, and he wants them to try again. After all, they have a history…but that’s not all they share.

Franci’s secret reason for walking away when Sean refused to commit is now three and a half: a redheaded cherub named Rosie who shares her daddy’s emerald green eyes. Sean is stunned—and furious with Franci for the deception.

News travels fast in Virgin River, and soon the whole town is taking sides. Rebuilding their trust could take a small miracle—and the kind of love that can move mountains.

    With her beloved younger siblings settled and happy, Erin Foley has got empty nest syndrome. At age thirty-five.

So she’s hitting the pause button on her life and holing up in a secluded (but totally upgraded, she’s not into roughing it) cabin near Virgin River. Erin is looking forward to really getting to know herself…not some shaggy-haired mountain man she meets wandering the woods.

In fact, beneath his faded fatigues and bushy beard, Aiden Riordan is a doctor, recharging for a summer after leaving the Navy. He’s intrigued by the pretty, slightly snooty refugee from the rat race — meditating, journaling and definitely keeping him at arm’s length. He’d love to get closer…if his scruffy exterior and crazy ex-wife don’t hold him back.

But maybe it’s something in the water — unlikely romances seem to take root in Virgin River…helped along with some well-intentioned meddling, of course.

These are New Year’s resolutions worth keeping!

Take a risk. At the inaugural New Year’s Eve party at Jack’s Bar, two lonely revelers decide the best balm for their broken hearts might just be each other.

   THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: WHENEVER ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER ONE OPENS.

THAT’S TRUER OF VIRGIN RIVER THAN ALMOST ANYWHERE ELSE ON EARTH.

After years spent on ranches around Los Angeles, Clay Tahoma is delighted to be Virgin River’s new veterinary assistant. The secluded community’s wild beauty tugs at his Navajo roots, and he’s been welcomed with open arms by everyone in town—everyone excerpt Lilly Yazhi.

Lilly has encountered her share of strong, silent, traditional men within her own aboriginal community, and she’s not interested in coming back for more. In her eyes, Clay’s earthy, sexy appeal is just an act used to charm wealthy women like his ex-wife. She can’t deny his gift for gentling horses, but she’s not about to let him control her. There’s just one small problem—she can’t control her attraction to Clay.

But in Virgin River, faith in new beginnings and the power of love has doors opening everywhere…

    SOMETIMES LOVE TAKES ROOT IN UNEXPECTED PLACES—IF YOU’LL ONLY LET IT GROW

Colin Riordan came to Virgin River to recuperate from a horrific helicopter crash, the scars of which he bears inside and out. His family is wonderfully supportive, but it’s his art than truly soothes his troubled soul.

Stung personally and professionally by an ill-advised affair, PR guru Jillian Matlock arrived in town via golden parachute. She’s bought an old Victorian with a promising garden and is looking forward to cultivating something other than a corporate brand.

When Jillian finds Colin at his easel in her yard, there’s an instant connection. But both are holding romance at arm’s length— looking to simplify, not complicate, their lives. And Jill may yet be lured back to Silicon Valley…

No one arrives in Virgin River without a story, and no one leaves—if they ever do—unchanged.

    THE RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS: MAKING IT UP AS YOU GO ALONG

Rising sous-chef Kelly Matlock’s sudden collapse at work is a wake-up call. Disillusioned and burned out, she’s retreated to her sister Jillian’s house in Virgin River to rest and reevaluate.

Puttering in Jill’s garden and cooking with her heirloom vegetables is wonderful, but Virgin River is a far cry from San Francisco. Kelly’s starting to feel a little toounmotivated…until she meets Lief Holbrook. The handsome widower looks more like a lumberjack than a sophisticated screenwriter—a combination Kelly finds irresistible. But less appealing is Lief’s rebellious stepdaughter, Courtney. She’s the reason they moved from L.A., but Courtney’s finding plenty of trouble even in Virgin River.

Kelly’s never fallen for a guy with such serious baggage, but some things are worth fighting for. Besides, a bratty teenager can’t be any worse than a histrionic chef…right?

    New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr brings you home to Virgin River in a Christmas story about reuniting with the one person you just can’t forget…

This year, Becca Timm knows the number one item on her Christmas wish list: getting over Denny Cutler. Three years ago Denny broke her heart before heading off to war. It’s time she got over her silly college relationship and moved on.

So she takes matters into her own hands and heads up to Virgin River, the rugged little mountain town that Denny calls home, as an uninvited guest on her brother’s men-only hunting weekend. But when an accident turns her impromptu visit into an extended stay, Becca finds herself stranded in Virgin River. With Denny. In veryclose quarters.

As the power of Christmas envelops the little town, Becca discovers that the boy she once loved has become a strong and confident man. An the most delicious Christmas present she can imagine.

     ROMANCE UNDER CONSTRUCTION…  

Sick of running into her cheery ex-husband and his new wife, Leslie Petruso accepts a job at the Virgin River branch of Haggerty Construction and takes the high road right out of town. Now she’s got Paul Haggerty’s business running like a well-oiled machine. In fact, things are so busy Paul jumps at the chance to hire an extra set of hands.

Just like Leslie, Conner Danson has been burned by love. But Leslie was disappointed by her relationship going bad, Conner was decimated. He’s got no time for woman…although he spends an awful lot of time pretending not to notice Leslie. And she’s pretty busy “ignoring” the chemistry between them.

According to Conner and Leslie, they have only one thing in common—they’re done with love. But everyone in Virgin River can see that things are heating up at Haggerty Construction. And as far as Paul Haggerty can tell, the best thing he can do is hang on to his hard hat and watch the sparks fly!

And here is peek at the next story in this series which releases in May 2012.

    TOM CAVANAUGH MAY THINK HE WANTS A TRADITIONAL WOMAN, BUT IN VIRGIN RIVER, THE GREATEST TRADITION IS FALLING IN LOVE UNEXPECTEDLY…

Former marine Tom Cavanaugh’s come home to Virgin River, ready to take over his family’s apple orchard and settle down. He knows just what the perfect woman will be like: sweet, decent, maybe a little naive. The marryingkind.

Nothing like Nora Crane. So why can’t he keep his eyes off the striking single mother?

Nora may not have a formal education, but she graduated with honors from the school of hard knocks. She’s been through tough times and she’ll do whatever it takes to support her family, including helping with harvest time at the Cavanaugh’s orchard. She’s always kept a single-minded focus on staying afloat…but suddenly her thoughts keep drifting back to rugged, opinionated Tom Cavanaugh.

Both Nora and Tom have their own ideas of what family means. But they’re about to prove each other completely wrong…

Excerpt:

Chapter OneThere was a small note on the bulletin board at the Virgin River Presbyterian Church. Apple harvest to begin at Cavanaugh Orchard. Apply in person.

Virgin River newcomer, Nora Crane, studied the board regularly and when she saw the notice asked Reverend Kincaid what he knew about the job. “Very little,” he answered. “It’s a fairly long harvesting season and the Cavanaugh’s like to add a few full-time workers to their staff. Not many, though. I hear they pay pretty well, it’s very demanding work and it’s all over in a few months.”

The words that stuck were pays pretty well. She was holding her two-year-old daughter’s hand and carried nine-month-old Fay in her backpack.

“Can you give me directions to the orchard?” she asked.

He wrinkled his brow. “Nora, it’s a few miles away. You don’t have a car.”

“I’ll have to go there, find out what the pay and hours are. If it’s a good job with good pay, I bet I can afford Day Care at the new school. That would be so good for Berry,” she said of her two year old. “She’s almost never with other children and needs socialization. She’s so shy. And I’m not afraid of walking. I’m not afraid to hitch a ride around here, either — people are generous. And a few miles — that’s really nothing. I’ll get some exercise.”

Noah Kincaid’s frown just deepened. “Walking home could be tough after a long day of physical labor. Picking apples is hard work.”

“So is being broke,” she said with a smile. “I bet Adie would love a little babysitting money to add to her budget. She barely squeaks by. And she’s so wonderful with the girls.” Adie Clemens was Nora’s neighbor and friend. Although Adie was elderly, she managed the girls very well because two-year-old Berry was so well behaved and Fay didn’t get around much yet. Fay had just started crawling. Adie loved taking care of them, even though she couldn’t take them on full time.

“What about your job at the clinic?” Noah asked.

“I think Mel gave me that job more out of kindness than necessity, but of course I’ll talk to her. Noah, there isn’t that much work available. I have to try anything that comes along. Are you going to tell me how to get there?”

“I’m going to drive you,” he said. “We’re going to log the miles and get an accurate distance reading. I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“How long has that notice been up?” Nora asked.

“Tom Cavanaugh put it up this morning.”

“Oh good! That means not too many people have seen it!”

“Nora, think of the little girls,” he said. “You don’t want to be too tired to take care of them.”

“Oh, thanks, Noah. It’s nice of you to be concerned. I’m going to go ask Adie if she can watch them for a little while so I can go to the orchard to apply. She always says yes, she loves them so much. I’ll be back in ten minutes. If you’re sure you don’t mind giving me a lift… I don’t want to take advantage.”

He just shook his head and chuckled. “Bound and determined, aren’t you? You remind me of someone…”

“Oh?”

“Someone just as unstoppable as you. I fell in love with her on the spot, I think.”

“Ellie?” she asked. “Mrs. Kincaid?”

“Yes, Mrs. Kincaid,” he said with a laugh. “You have no idea how much you two have in common. But we’ll save that for another time — hurry up and check in with Adie and I’ll take you to the Cavanaugh’s.”

“Thanks!” she said with a wide smile, dashing out of the church and down the street as quickly as she could.

It would never occur to Nora that she had anything in common with the pastor’s wife. Ellie Kincaid was so beautiful, so confident and clearly the kindest person she’d ever known. And by the way Noah looked at his wife, he adored her. It was kind of fun to see the preacher was a regular man; he gazed at his wife with hunger in his eyes, as if he couldn’t wait to get her alone. They weren’t just a handsome couple, but also obviously a man and woman very deeply in love.

Nora went straight to Adie Clemens’s door.

“Just bring me some diapers and formula,” Adie said. “And good luck.”

“If I get the job and have to work full time, do you think can help me out a little bit?”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” Adie said. “Maybe between me, Martha Hutchkins and other neighbors, we can get you covered.”

“I hate to ask everyone around here to take care of me…” But hate it or not, she didn’t have many choices. She’d landed here with the girls and hardly any belongings right before last Christmas — just one old couch, a mattress that sat on the floor and the clothes on their backs. It was Adie who alerted Reverend Kincaid that Nora and her family were in need, and the first gesture of help came in the form of a Christmas food basket. Through the generosity of her neighbors and the town, a few necessary items had been added to their household — an old refrigerator, a rug for the floor, sheets and towels, clothes for the children. The church had regular rummage sales and Mrs. Kincaid skimmed the used clothing to help dress Nora as well. Her neighbor three doors down, Leslie, invited Nora to use her washer and dryer while she was at work and Martha offered her laundry as well. She’d never be able to repay all these kindnesses, but at least she could work to make her own way.

Picking apples? Well, as she’d told Noah, she’d do just about anything.

Noah drove a beat up old pickup truck that Nora thought might be older than she was, and it definitely didn’t have much in the way of shocks. As they bounced along the road out to highway 36, Nora had the thought that walking probably wouldn’t be as hard on her spine. But as they trundled along, she became increasingly intimidated by the distance, further than she expected. She wasn’t sure how long it might take to walk it. She’d have to get the mile count from Noah once they arrived. If the odometer actually worked in this old heap of tin.

They turned off 36 and drove down a road, through a gate that stood open and down a tree lined lane. Nora became distracted by the sheer beauty. There was something so pure and homespun about row after row of perfectly spaced apple trees, the fruit in various stages of ripening hung from the boughs, some still small apple green while others wore a slight blush of red. And at the end of what seemed a long driveway through the orchard stood a big house — a white fairy tale house with red shutters and a red front door and a wonderful wrap-around porch with chairs separated by small tables. She couldn’t even imagine the luxury of relaxing on such a porch at the end of a long day. At wide spaces in the road there were large bins, probably for collecting apples. They passed by a fork lift tucked into a row of trees and a bit further down the road, a tractor.

As the house grew closer Nora noticed that there were two large buildings behind it — either barns or very large storage sheds or… Ah, the housing for machinery and farm equipment, she realized, looking into some large open doors. One of the buildings bore the sign Cavanaugh Apples.

For a girl who grew up in a small house on a busy street in Berkeley, she looked at this house, land and operation in both fascination and envy. A person would be very lucky to grow up in such a place.

There was a collection of pickup trucks and four men standing outside a door at the end of one of the buildings.

“Nora?”

She turned toward Reverend Kincaid’s voice.

“You probably should get going. While you go talk to Tom Cavanaugh, I’m going to pay a visit to Maxie, the lady of the house. She’s almost always in the kitchen or on the porch.”

“Where should I go?” she asked, suddenly far less sure of herself.

He pointed toward the short line of men. “Looks like that’s the place.”

“Right,” she said. She got out of the truck, jumped down, but before she closed the door she peered back inside. “Reverend Kincaid, if I need a recommendation, will you give me one?”

She saw him frown again; she knew he was worried about how in the world she’d manage a job like this. Then his frown melted into a smile and he said, “Of course, Nora.”

Noah pulled away from her to park on the drive near the house and she went to stand with the men. “Are you applying for the picking job?” she asked.

All four turned toward her. Only one nodded. Feeling a sense of competition, she assessed them. One was an old guy, and old was relative — he was balding, what was left of his hair was wispy and thin, but he stood straight and tall and appeared to have wide, strong shoulders. One was a teenager, around sixteen years old, good looking and buff. One was a short Mexican man in his twenties, healthy and hearty, and the fourth looked as if he could be his father. “Am I in the right place to apply?”

The older man frowned, the teenager grinned, the older Mexican man looked her up and down and gave her the impression he was merely judging her ability by her size, which was small. And the man who could be his son said, “This is the place. You ever pick before?”

She shook her head.

“Want some advice? Maybe you should tell him you have.”

“Why? Is it hard to learn?”

The men chuckled together. “Hard to do,” the teenager said. “I’ll show you the ropes if you get hired.” Then he looked her over from her head to her feet, but his appraisal was a little more personal. “You sure you’re up to it?”

She sucked in a breath. She’d do anything to take care of her girls. Mel Sheridan and Reverend Kincaid had helped her get some county subsistence — food stamps and Medicaid — but that wasn’t enough to live on. She’d been getting by on that plus part time jobs at the clinic and the new school’s summer program, but it was very part time, given her small children.

She wanted to earn her own money. There just hadn’t been much opportunity.

“I’m stronger than I look,” she informed him. “I am. I can’t lie about my experience, though. I have this…” This deal I made with God, she thought dismally. Nora was trying so hard to rectify past mistakes, she wasn’t about to make more along the way. “When I make a commitment, I’m good for it. I’ll take any advice I can get, though. Did you guys see the notice in the church?”

“We pick every year,” the teenager said. “I’ve been picking since junior high, Jerome has been picking for a hundred years,” he said, indicating the older man. “Eduardo and Juan live down the valley and the apples here pay better than the vegetables. Juan’s wife has her own little business — they’re doing pretty good these days, right Juan?”

The older Mexican gentleman nodded solemnly. Proudly.

“Tom usually works around the grove; it’s usually Mrs. Cavanaugh and her foreman, Junior, who handle the hiring.” The boy put out his hand. “I’m Buddy Holson, by the way.”

She took the hand with a smile. “Nora,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

The latch to the door finally unlocked, the door opened a crack Jerome went in first. He came out just a moment later and then Eduardo and Juan entered together. They were out in a second.

“We’ve all worked here before,” Buddy explained. “Everything is on file for the regulars. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Hope to see you around.”

“You bet, me too,” he said, giving his hat a little touch. And Nora realized, he probably thought she was much younger than she was. It would never occur to him she was actually a single mother. “You must live around here.”

“Virgin River,” she said.

“I’m in Clear River. I better go in — see you around.” And he disappeared inside, but was back out in just seconds, slipping a piece of paper into his pocket. With a handsome parting smile and another touch to his hat, he headed for the last pickup parked there.

Nora took a deep breath and pulled open the door. The man behind the desk looked up at her and she was momentarily frozen. For no particular reason, she’d been expecting a much older man — the husband of the Mrs. Cavanaugh who usually managed the hiring. But this was a young man. And so handsome that he almost took her breath away. He had wide shoulders, a tanned face, brown hair, expressive brows and the kind of dark brown eyes that would glitter in the sun. His features might be ordinary, but put together so perfectly, he was a hunk. A hunk with that dangerous wholesome look about him — the look that had trapped her in the past. Her face probably flushed before going completely pale. She had bad luck with such men and had no reason to assume her luck had changed.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m here about the job. The apple picking job.”

“You have experience with apple harvesting?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’m a very fast learner and I’m strong. I have tons of energy. And I need a job like this.”

“Really? What about this job seems right for you?”

“Reverend Kincaid says it pays pretty well and is kind of short. I’m a single mother and I can probably get help with the kids for a while, then I have two part time jobs in Virgin River to fall back on when the harvest is over. Sounds perfect for someone like me.”

“Well, it might be longer than you think. The end of August to almost December, most years. So I guess it wouldn’t be right for—”

“I might be able to do it — there’s a new Day Care and pre-school in town, if I can afford it.”

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Twenty-three.”

He shook his head. “Already a divorced mother at twenty-three?” he asked.

The surprise showed on her face for less than a moment. She stood as straight as possible. “There are some questions you’re not allowed to ask me,” she informed him. “It’s the law. If they don’t pertain to the job…”

“It’s irrelevant. I’m afraid I’ve already hired my max — all people with experience. I’m sorry.”

That took the starch out of her. Her chin dropped and she briefly looked at the ground. Then she lifted her eyes to his. “Is there any chance something might become available? Because there aren’t many job openings around here.”

“Listen… Your name?” he asked, standing from behind his messy desk proving that he was taller than she even guessed.

“I’m Nora Crane.”

“Listen, Nora, it can be back breaking labor and I mean no offense when I say, you don’t appear to be strong enough for a job like this. We generally hire very muscled men and women. We haven’t ever hired kids or slight women — it’s just too frustrating for them.”

“Buddy’s been working here since junior high…”

“He’s a great big kid. Sometimes you have to carry fifty pounds of apples down a tripod ladder. Our harvesting season is grueling.”

“I can do that,” she said. “I’ve carried my nine month old in a backpack and my two year old in my arms.” She flexed a muscle in her upper arm. “Motherhood isn’t for sissies. Neither is being broke. I can do the work. I wantto do the work.”

He stared at her in shock for a moment. “Nine months and two years?”

“Berry will be three before long. They’re beautiful, brilliant and they have a terrible addiction to eating.”

“I’m sorry, Nora. I have all the people I need. Do you want to leave a number in case something comes open?”

“The church,” she said with disappointment. “You can leave a message with anyone at the Virgin River Presbyterian Church. I’ll check in with them every day. Twice a day.”

He gave her a very small smile. “I don’t expect anything to come up, but I know the number if something does.” He wrote down her name and referenced the church phone number beside it. “Thanks for coming out here.”

“Sure. I had to try. And if you hear of anything at all, anywhere at all…”

“Of course,” he said, but she knew he didn’t mean it. He wasn’t going to help her get a job.

She left that little office and went to wait by Noah’s truck, leaning against it. She hoped he had a nice visit with Mrs. Cavanaugh since she had inconvenienced him for no reason. No matter what Tom Cavanaugh had said, she knew he had rejected her as not strong or dependable enough for apple picking.

Life hadn’t always been like this for Nora. Well, it had been mostly difficult, but not like now. She hadn’t grown up poor, for one thing. She’d never been what one could call financially comfortable, but she’d always had enough to eat, a roof over her head, decent if inexpensive clothes to wear. She’d gone to college briefly and during that time had had a part time job, no different from most co-eds. She’d had an unhappy family life, the only child of a bitter single mother. Then she’d found herself to be very susceptible to the flirtations of a hot and sexy minor league baseball player with no earthly clue he’d turn into a hard core drug addict who would dump her and their two children in a tiny mountain town with no money, hardly any means to survive, robbing them of everything but the clothes on their backs so he’d have something to sell for his own, um, recreational use.

Even though times were about as tough as they could get as income went, she’d been lucky to find herself in Virgin River where she had a few good friends and the support of people like Noah Kincaid, Mel Sheridan and her neighbors. It might take a while and a little more luck, but eventually she’d manage to pull it together and give her girls a decent place to grow up.

She heard the slamming of a door — it had the distinct sound of a wooden screen door. There was laughter. When she looked up she saw Noah with an attractive woman with thick white hair cut in a modern, short, blown-out style. She was slightly roundish with a generous bosom and just slightly plump hips; her cheeks were rosy from either makeup or sun and her eyebrows shaped and drawn on with a dark brown pencil. She wore lipstick and laughed, showing a very young, attractive smile. Nora couldn’t guess her age. Fifty-eight? Sixty-four? She looked like she should be hosting a country kitchen cooking show. And then she let go a big laugh, leaning into Noah’s arm as she did so.

Nora straightened, since they were walking toward her. She smiled somewhat timidly, feeling so unsure of herself after being rejected from the job.

“Nora, this is Maxie Cavanaugh. This is her orchard and cider operation.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nora,” Maxie said, putting out her hand. Nora noticed that she had a bit of arthritis that bent her fingers at the knuckles, but her nails were still manicured in bright red. “So you’re going to pick apples for us?”

“Well, no ma’am,” she said. “Your son said he had enough pickers already and couldn’t use me.”

“Son?” Maxie asked. “Girl, that’s my grandson, Tom, and I raised him. Now what is it Reverend Kincaid told me? You have a couple of little daughters and only part time work at the moment?”

“Yes, ma’am, but I think I’ll go steady in the fall when they need almost full time help at the new school. I’ll get a discount on day care, too. Thing is, it’s a brand new school and still needs all kinds of certification so we won’t get help from the county for a while and I got all excited about a job that could pay pretty well for a couple of… But if there are already enough pickers…”

“I bet there’s room for one more,” she said, smiling. “Wait right here a minute.” And she strode off across the yard to the big barn and its small office.

I so canna wait to get to Nora’s HEA. If you want to go visit Robyn you can go here : http://robyncarr.com/index.html or here http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RobynCarr_Chatgroup/

Oh and if you’re not sure how I felt about Redwood Bend, just go back up and count all those Loves and reallys up there!

Z Seawitch