Title: Blends – The Prequel to Crescent Lake Winery Series
Author: Lucinda Race
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Can two hearts blend together for a lifelong love...
His mother’s final illness waylaid Sam Price’s college dreams, but he’s content working in his family’s vineyard in Finger Lakes, New York. When he finds a woman with a flat tire on a vineyard road, he’s stunned to discover it’s the girl he’d had a crush on in high school. He’d never been confident enough to ask her out back then. He’d been a farm kid. Her daddy was the bank president. Way out of his league.
Sherry Jones is tired of her parent’s ambitious plans for her life. She’ll finish her college accounting degree like they want, but how can she tell them about her real love: working with growing things? Then a flat tire and a neglected garden offer her an unexpected opportunity, with the added bonus of a tall, gorgeous guy with eyes that set her senses tingling.
What does a guy with dirt under his nails and calluses on his hands have to offer a woman like Sherry? It will take courage for her to defy her parents and claim her own dreams. Sam and Sherry’s lives took different paths, but a winding vineyard road has brought them back together. Are they willing to take a chance to create the perfect blend for a lifelong love?
Sherry Jones kicked the gravel road with the toe of her bright-pink sandal. Pebbles flew across the road to the scrubby grass on the other side. A flat tire and she was in the middle of nothing but grapevines. She turned three hundred and sixty degrees. As far as the eye could see, vines.
Why did it have to be so damn hot today? It was spring, not mid-July or August. A trickle of sweat ran down her back. Whether she went right or left, it was going to be a long, hot walk. She knew how far the gas station was from the direction she had come from, so it was time to go the opposite way. She couldn’t remember ever being in this part of Crescent Lake before. Surely she’d find a house or a gas station that was closer down this road, and hopefully someone would be around so she could use the phone.
She jammed her keys in her distressed short-shorts pocket and walked at a steady pace. She hadn’t gone more than a quarter of a mile when a blister began to form between her big toe and the thong. In the distance, she could hear the faint rumble of thunder, or was that a truck? If it was a storm, could her spring break get any worse? Last week, she broke up with Brad the cheater, her boyfriend of all of three months, and now she had to deal with a flat on her new used car, and a blister. She kicked off her sandals and walked in the sparse grass on the side of the road. There was a break in the never-ending field: another dirt road. The rumbling grew closer. A pickup truck slowed and came to a halt.
Her day just got worse. Arrogant and obnoxious, Sam Price stopped and leaned out the driver’s window. “Well, look at you.”
He flashed her a wide smile, his teeth even brighter against his tanned skin. She guessed it was from working outside all day. She hated to ask, but getting help was better than walking for miles, and it wasn’t like he was the worst guy in the world. Just, they weren’t friends.
“Hi, Sam.” She shaded her eyes with her hand. “Any chance you know how to change a tire?”
“Sherry Jones, of all people to find wandering in my vineyard; of course I do. You don’t drive around in trucks all day without knowing how to do simple repairs.” His smile was broad, and his tone was slightly cocky.
She put a hand on her hip and glared at him. “Well, not everyone drives around in trucks all day.” She wanted to snap at him but if she did, there’d be no way he’d help change her tire.
“Touché.” He shrugged. “I’m gonna take off. See ya around.” He looked toward the road in front of him. With a wave of his hand, he dropped the truck into gear and eased forward.
She groaned. “Sam. Wait.”
He turned to her. His lips twitched as the smile grew wide.
“I’m sorry. Is there any chance you have time to change my tire?” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “My car is back that way and the passenger side is flat as a pancake.”
He propped his arm in the open window and pointed to the seat. “Hop in.”
She tossed the offending thong in the truck and climbed inside. “Thanks. I appreciate you taking the time to help.”
He gave her a sidelong look. “Why are you limping?”
“Blister. My sandals aren’t made for walking any distance.”
“Just for looks?”
Was that his way of paying her a compliment or was he being a smart aleck? “Something like that.”
He threw the truck in reverse with a slight jerk and did a three-point turn to go back in the direction she had come from. She wasn’t sure what to say to make small talk. They bumped over the dirt road without talking. He whistled off-key, and she stared out the windshield.
“Thanks again for helping. I’m sure you’re busy.”
“I’ve got time.” He pointed to a car off to the side of the road. “Is that you?”
“Glad to see you pulled off the road.”
Annoyance bubbled up. “Do you think I’d just leave it so no one could get around?”
He held up a hand. “It’s a dirt road. Not many people come this way.” He looked at her. “What are you doing out here?”
“Just driving around.” The last thing she was going to tell him was the real reason she was driving through endless miles of grapevines. She was hiding from the world.
He pulled off and parked. “Pop the trunk so we can get the jack and spare.”
He walked next to her. She couldn’t help but notice he had grown taller since graduation but he still had those molten brown eyes, long eyelashes, and bleached-blond hair. Even though he had a hat and sunglasses on, she remembered them and him. He was easy on the eyes, and all the girls had thought so in high school.
She unlocked the trunk and the lid sprang open. He lifted up the tire well. It was empty. She felt the color drain from her face. Now what? No spare and she was stuck.
“Sherry, what are you doing driving around without a spare tire?”
She threw up her hands. “How should I know? I just bought this car when I got home for spring break. Don’t they always have them?”
He flicked the trunk closed and leaned against it. He pushed his ballcap back and propped his sunglasses on the brim. His deep-brown eyes were fixed on her.
“Did you check the trunk when you took it for a test drive?”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she said, “No.” She tilted her chin up.
“You can’t assume when you’re buying a used car.” He kicked some stones with his work boot, causing little puffs of dust to float in the air. He looked down the road as if weighing his options. “Get your stuff and I’ll drive you home. But I need to stop at my house first. You can use the phone to call a tow truck.”
“I don’t want to put you out. I’ll call my mom and she can pick me up.”
He seemed to consider what he wanted to say next and gave her a sidelong look. “I’ll drive you into town. I need to go to the hardware store anyway.” He walked around to the driver’s door and opened it. “But the tow truck can be on its way out here and you could get your car back tomorrow. Leave the keys under the mat and we can get going.”
She didn’t move. “Are you sure the car is safe with the keys in it?” She pursed her lips. She had been saving for the last three years to buy her first car and she didn’t want to have it stolen. Her hard work would have been for nothing if that happened. Besides, in two short months, she would need it to drive to her first full-time job.
“Out here, we’d leave our keys in the ignition with a flat. No one would bother it. Your car is safe.”
She looked from Sam to her car. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to believe him but— “I’m not sure.”
He extended his hand but it never contacted hers. In spite of that lack of touch, the racing sensation down her arm felt like he had. His voice softened. “Trust me. If someone steals your wheels, I’ll replace it.”
“Well, that wouldn’t be necessary.” She looked at him. It felt like it was the first time she was seeing Sam. It was a cliché, but if eyes were the window to the soul, this brash guy had a gentle side. “Alright.” She took her bookbag and rolled up the windows and then placed the keys underneath and in the center of the rubber floor mat.
Sam waited for her before he walked back to his truck. “I have to swing by the house before we head into town. I need to get my list for the hardware store. Now, when we get to my place, don’t worry about the dogs. They’re big and bark a lot but they’re harmless.”
When he had seen Sherry walking barefoot down the dirt road, her shoulders slumped, he had to stop and help. She was the one girl he had wanted to date in high school but had never asked. She was out of his league. Her mom was a high school English teacher and her dad was the president of a bank in Syracuse. His family worked the land. Not that he was ashamed that his fingernails had dirt under them and there were calluses on the palms of his hands. They had a great life and he wouldn’t trade it for anything, but she was out of his dating pool.
“When we get to the house, I’ll get you something to put on your blister. You don’t want to have it pop and get infected.”
“Sam, you don’t need to fuss over me.” Her long blond ponytail swung from side to side. She looked like she was barely sixteen.
“Two more months and then I have to start working full time.”
He nodded as they drove. “Any ideas?”
“Office job. I’ll have a degree in accounting, but it is so boring.” She rolled her eyes.
With a chuckle, he asked, “Then why are you studying it?” He gave her a side-glance.
“My parents think it’s a sound career choice. I might take the CPA exam.”
“What’s that?” He couldn’t imagine not doing what he wanted to every day. It was like he had grape juice in his veins instead of blood. He loved the winemaking business. The ups and downs of a growing season, it was the ultimate thrill ride. This was something he wanted to do until he took his last breath.
“Certified public accountant.” She released a heavy sigh. “I can become a controller for a company or something like that.”
“I take it that’s not for you.” He saw the look of resignation on her face.
“I’ll make a decent living, but doesn’t it sound dull to go to an office every day for the next forty-plus years?”
Now he was curious. “What would you do if you could?”
She looked out the side window and waved her hand, trying to dismiss the question. “You’ll laugh.”
“Come on. Try me.” Now he had to know. “If you tell me, I’ll share a secret with you.”
She gave him a curious look. He could tell she was trying to decide if she should or not.
It came out almost as a whisper.
She liked plants. He grinned. They had something in common after all. “Then why aren’t you studying horticulture? Growing anything is gratifying.” He pointed out the window to the passing landscape. “Look around you.” The vines gave way to the long driveway leading to his parents’ house. His mom always had beautiful flower gardens, but since she had passed away, they had become neglected.
Stately maple trees lined part of the drive as they grew closer to the house. “Don’t look too close at the flower beds; they’ve been neglected the last couple of years.”
Sherry’s eyes were glued to them. Her eyes were bright as she saw the terraced gardens to the left of the road.
“Mom has, had, her vegetables there. She always had a huge garden and preserved a lot of what she grew. She also gave bushels of vegetables to the field workers each season.” He smiled, remembering the baskets he’d have to lug down to the warehouses each afternoon after she harvested. Well, that was before he got involved with working in the fields to learn about the cultivation of grapes from Dad.
“Your mom doesn’t garden anymore?”
“I guess you didn’t hear.” His hand tightened on the steering wheel and he swallowed the lump in his throat. “She died. Cancer.” It still burned and probably always would.
She touched his arm with a featherlike gesture. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s just me and Dad now.” He stopped the truck and looked at her. She curled her fingers into the palm of her hand. Silence filled the cab for the few moments they sat there. He could still feel the warmth of her touch.
He cleared his throat and mumbled, “Thanks.” He pushed open the door. “Come on in.”
She followed him to the back door. Two large German shepherds came racing around the corner at full speed. The scream died in her throat. They jumped against her and pushed her back. She stumbled. Sam put his arm out to catch her, but she still landed on her butt. They continued to bark. She cringed.
“Doc. Moe. Sit.” Sam snapped his fingers. The barking ceased.
She was surprised to see the dogs’ butts on the ground, and then they lay down, their heads resting on their paws. Sam extended his hand and pulled her to her feet.
“They won’t hurt you.”
In a few flicks, she brushed off her backside and straightened her top.
She glanced at them, suspicious. “Their teeth don’t look harmless.”
“They love people.” He knelt on the ground and spoke quietly. Their ears twitched. “This is Sherry and she’s my friend. Be nice.”
She wasn’t sure which dog was which, but first one’s tail began to thump on the ground and then the other.
He looked up at her. “Do you want to pet them?”
She wasn’t a dog person. Her parents had an old cat who spent her days and nights snoozing. Sherry was cautious but knelt on the ground in front of the dogs, feeling confident because of the way Sam looked at her. He had an intensity about him. Her pulse quickened and her eyes locked on his. “Okay,” she breathed. But what she had just agreed to was anyone’s guess.
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What’s your favorite activity to shake off the winter doldrums?
Planning to garden as soon as the weather breaks, looking at plant and seed catalogs is so uplifting
Why is your featured book a cure for the winter blues?
This book is a quick read and it is set in the springtime – so something for us all to look forward to.
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Runs March 1 – 31, 2021.
Drawing will be held on April 1, 2021.
Award-winning and best-selling author Lucinda Race is a lifelong fan of romantic fiction. As a young girl, she spent hours reading romance novels and getting lost in the hope they represent. While her friends dreamed of becoming doctors and engineers, her dreams were to become a writer—a romance novelist.
As life twisted and turned, she found herself writing nonfiction but longed to turn to her true passion. After developing the storyline for The Loudon Series, it was time to start living her dream. Her fingers practically fly over computer keys as she weaves stories about strong women and the men who love them. Lucinda lives with her husband and their two little dogs, a miniature long hair dachshund and a shitzu mix rescue, in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts. When she's not at her day job, she’s immersed in her fictional worlds. And if she’s not writing romance novels, she’s reading everything she can get her hands on. It’s too bad her husband doesn’t cook, but a very good thing he loves takeout.
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