Authors: Ava Miles
Tags: #romance, #contemporary, #small town, #New Adult, #foodie romance
An exciting new contemporary romance with a New Adult and foodie flavor.
Small-town biz wiz Jill Hale has been in love with her childhood best friend Brian McConnell for as long as she can remember. A falling out led to years of estrangement, but when Brian returns to Dare Valley after trying to make it big as a chef in New York City, Jill’s determined to make amends. She’s convinced that starting a restaurant together will be the perfect win-win situation, allowing her and Brian to work together
After a series of missteps sliced and diced Brian’s career in the Big Apple, he came home to regroup and find himself. He’s convinced that reestablishing his connection with Jill, the girl who got away, will put his life back on track. And when she approaches him with her plan for going into business together, he’s certain it’s the one way he can have it all—his dream job and his dream girl.
Jill and Brian are falling for each other all over again when Brian’s ex sashays into town, intent on sabotaging their reunion. Add in a mysterious investor who’s determined to get Jill on board with his project, and the bond between the couple is tested to the limit. Will their second chance at love implode, or will they find their own recipe for a happy ending?
“Ava Miles’s debut novel is warm, funny, and wholly entertaining.”
“Debut author Ava Miles combines small-town romance with big-world issues in a full-bodied romance fiction in the first of the Dare Valley series… and paints a wonderful idyllic setting for this small-town series with great characters.”
—USA Today, Happily Ever After
“Ms. Miles has created a love story where REAL love can triumph over all! A perfect summer read!”
“Ms. Miles does a great job in creating a story that shows how much the heroine loves Nora Roberts books and how determined she is in finding her own small town hero of her own ala Nora Roberts. The writing is tight, story flows smoothly and the few twists and turns left me on the edge of my seat, waiting for baited breath for what happens next.”
—Love Romances & MORE
“An enjoyable book…leaves readers eager to find out if Meredith will find her Nora Roberts man, and if Meredith and Tanner’s romance can survive considerable adversity. The chemistry between Meredith and Tanner, and a dangerous, exciting plot line woven throughout this love story, makes this a fast read. We’ll see what author Ava Miles has in store for the second book of this trilogy!”
—Romance Reviews Today
The smell of onions, wine, and herbs blended with roasted chicken wafted up at her, making her mouth water. He held the wooden spoon to her lips and placed a gentle hand on her waist. She opened her mouth, acutely aware of his touch, feeling a little off balance. He was feeding her like they were characters in a silent film about the Roman Empire, sans the succulent grapes.
The creamy sauce just about exploded her taste buds. “Yumalicious.”
“Is that a Jill-ism?”
The sauce’s seductive flavor only inflamed her desire for him—a lifetime of repressed feelings. She linked her arms around his neck again and brushed her lips across his, wanting more, needing it. She ran her fingers across the base of his skull, and he tilted his head to make the kiss deeper. A wooden spoon clattered to the counter. The stove’s heat only added to the rising burn in her body. She yanked her mouth free.
kissing you.” The connection, the texture, the heat was even better than she’d remembered.
To my grandmother, Lanone Miles Bosn, who taught me how to tell stories by recounting amusing tales about the family farm, which ushered me into a peaceful sleep when I was a child. She also taught me how to cook, so everything food-related in this book has its roots in the summers I spent with her although she later said I always took cooking up a notch. I miss you, but know you are always with me.
And continued thanks to my divine entourage, whose support and love make life the beautiful and magical thing it is.
There are always so many people who support us in giving birth to our dreams. Here are mine:
The earth angels of Team Ava, including my publicity helpers, Joan Schulhafer, Debby Tobias, and Alissa Di Giacomo of Joan Shulhafer Publishing and Media Consulting; Elizabeth Bemis and Sienna Condy of Bemis Promotions for my website; my wonderful editor, Angela Polidoro; the Killion Group for the cover art; my copy editor, Helen Hester-Osstra; Gregory Stewart for my publicity photos, the awesome Dare Valley map, and always being willing to pinch hit when something comes up; Janet Geary for being my research consultant on all things law enforcement; and lastly, my amazing Indie guru, Meredith Bond.
My former agent, Jennifer Schober, and her early comments on this manuscript.
Christi Barth and her heaven-sent support in my writing journey and for embracing this book and providing wonderful feedback to make it shine even more.
My old chef and all my other colleagues in the back of the house who taught me egg whites could be frozen, how to make a traditional tiramisu, and a million other things.
My family, whose love, laughter, and support mean the world.
My T.F. For infinite reasons.
All of you reading this book. You are priceless jewels in my life.
Lastly, just a note to say that I’ve played with time regarding the city council aspects in this story to make everything come together. Don’t you love fiction? Have fun reading.
ill Hale surveyed the cookie sheets dotted with her mother’s famous mocha chocolate chunk cookie dough. The clumps would already be spreading in the oven by now if her mother had written down the baking temperature on the recipe. Jill hoped her mom would get home soon from shopping for Jill’s high school graduation party. They had about six hours before family and friends descended upon the house.
Too bad a party was the last thing on Jill’s mind. The song,
It’s my party,
seemed appropriate, since all she wanted to do was cry. She gave into temptation and plucked one of the dough clumps off the cookie sheet.
The garage door to the kitchen opened. Finally! “Mom, what the heck do I cook these at? The temperature isn’t on the recipe.”
“Three hundred and seventy five,” a young man’s voice answered—one she’d desperately hoped never to hear again.
Her childhood friend and the love of her life, Brian McConnell, stood at the edge of the kitchen, shoulders hunched. His navy shirt brought out the blue of his eyes. He shoved a hand into his cargo shorts, jingling his keys. Of course,
would know the temperature;
was taking off in a few days to train as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, blast him.
“You don’t have the right to just walk in here anymore,” she answered, dropping the rest of the cookie ball in the sink and wiping her fingers on a yellow gingham towel. Praying she wouldn’t tear up, she turned around to face him.
“Jill, I’ve been walking into this house since the day I could turn a doorknob. Don’t lay down new rules because we had a fight. We need to talk.”
She threw the dish towel aside and strode across the kitchen. “A fight? That’s tame. What we’re dealing with here is pure betrayal. The kind that ruins friendships.”
His brow furrowed “Don’t say that. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was going to the Culinary Institute instead of Cook Street in Denver. I didn’t know how.”
What a bald-faced lie. Her hands gripped the kitchen island’s granite countertop. “You’ve always been able to tell me everything. That’s why we were best friends. I decided to go to the University of Denver so we could be together. I thought…” The first tear rolled down her face. She scrubbed it with her palm.
“Shit, don’t cry. Look, I know it’s hard, but I need to do this.” He walked forward and reached for her.
She shoved him back. “No. You don’t get to touch me. You made it clear you didn’t want that either.” Her cheeks heated into horrible red splotches. She would never overcome the humiliation of his rejection.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jill, I know you’re upset because I wouldn’t be with you, but—”
Unbelievable that he’d even try to defend his actions. “But what, Romeo? Did you want someone more experienced? Is that why you turned me down and hooked up with Kelly Kimple?” The roar inside her head was reaching epic levels, so she dug her teeth into her lip.
His throat moved when he swallowed. “Dammit, I knew I was leaving. Jill—”
“But I didn’t.” She slammed her hand on the tan granite counter, her palm smarting from the contact. “
did you ask me out anyway? It’s what I’ve wanted for years, but you always held back. You kissed me senseless, and then you turned me down when I said I wanted to be with you. You’re a tease.”
His lip curled. “I didn’t ask you out before because I didn’t want to ruin our friendship if things didn’t work out between us, and I didn’t want to lose your family, who’s meant more to me than my own ever could. Dammit, you know that.”
She stared at the baby blue wall over his shoulder, not wanting the trickle of compassion she felt to weaken her resolve.
“But when I knew I was leaving Dare, I couldn’t fight what I felt for you anymore. I didn’t want to leave without going out with you for real. It was a mistake. I was selfish, and I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d want me to be your first after one date. Jesus! It freaked me out, okay? I could almost hear your dad telling me he’d kick my ass. Jill, you always jump in the deep end head first. I know I hurt you. Please tell me how to make it better.”
Her hands fisted at her sides as the shock waves of his rejection coursed through her again. “You can’t!”
“Kelly was nothing. It didn’t mean an-y-thing.” He pronounced each syllable as if that might change things.
She put her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to hear it.” Kelly was a perky, blond, petite cheerleader, whereas Jill was red-haired, tall, and
not petite with her size eleven shoes. He’d chosen the prettier girl. And she’d live with that stab to her self-esteem for the rest of her life.
Brian grabbed her hands and yanked them against his chest. “You
listen. Dammit, I am not leaving Dare like this. We’re going to get through this together.”
His strength had outpaced hers when they were sophomores. She couldn’t dislodge her hands, so she kicked him in the shin.
“Oww,” he cried, falling back and jumping on his good leg. “Jesus! Cut it out.”
Swiping at her tears, she dashed over to the door to the garage and threw it open. It smacked into the wall so hard it left a mark on the white paint. “Maybe if you’d only done one thing wrong we could make it, but the Culinary Institute omission was too much. Bri, you’ve told me everything since we learned how to talk. You didn’t mention this. Not once. And it affects me too.”
His hand massaged his shin. He straightened and looked her dead in the eye. “I haven’t told you everything, dammit.”
Her breath sucked in. Right. The other girls…the ones who weren’t just friends. They’d never discussed
“I didn’t know if I’d get into the Culinary Institute, but I had to try,” he continued. “It’s my dream come true. When I found out, I didn’t know how to tell you. I knew you had the whole Denver scenario worked out in that stubborn brain of yours.”
“Stubborn? Get out!”
He strode over to her. “You
stubborn. When you’re like this, there’s no talking to you. I’m sorry I hurt you. This whole thing is tearing me to pieces. I’m leaving everything I know, all my friends…and you. I don’t want to lose you, Jill. I don’t know how to go a day without talking to you.”
Her lip quivered. Seeing his anguish hurt her, but she couldn’t relent. Wouldn’t. “You’re going to have to figure it out. I can’t trust you anymore, and that’s worse than anything.”
He grabbed her to him and hugged her, his taller frame making her feel less like a giant than she had before his growth spurt. “Don’t say that. We can work this out before I leave. I won’t lose you, Jill.”
His scent—a mixture of cedar aftershave and salt—tickled her nose. She muffled her cries against his chest as his hands rubbed her back.
“Don’t cry, Jillie, please don’t cry. We’ll get our balance back.”
His earnest, aching voice broke her heart into tiny, unfixable pieces. She pushed away and met his eyes. “You don’t get it, Brian. It’s over. Go to the Culinary Institute. Have a good life. But this ends here.”
His eyes narrowed into his telltale determined look. “No, it doesn’t. I’ll call you.”
“I won’t answer,” she replied with an edge. How was she supposed to go on being his friend after everything, particularly when she’d thought their date would lead to what she’d always wanted—them falling in
, getting married, raising their kids in Dare. He could pretend not to know how serious she was about him, but he did. She’d never been able to hide anything from him.
His face fell. “Jill, we’ve always made up before.”
She rubbed away the tears and straightened to her full height, reaching deep for the inner strength to do what must be done. “I don’t want you at my party. I mean it, Brian. We’re done.”
His mouth gaped. “But our friends. Your parents. It’s the last time the Four Musketeers will be together for months, maybe years. What will Jemma and Pete say?”
“They already know how I feel.” Their best friends were high school sweethearts, just like she’d always wanted to be with Brian, but he had never pulled the trigger. Any compassion evaporated. “It’s better this way.”
His head lowered. He kicked at the linoleum, silent for a long moment. “Okay, Red, I’ll honor your wishes now, but I’m going to call you when I get to my new place. I’ll give you some time to cool down.”
An Alaskan winter wouldn’t change her mind.
He dug into his pocket. “I just bought it at Old Man Jenkins’ jewelry store, so it’s not wrapped, but here’s your present.”
She stared at the little black box. Numbly reached for it.
He strode toward her and kissed her forehead before she could duck. “Don’t stay mad.” And with that parting command, he shut the door behind him.
Jill opened the box. A heart-shaped necklace winked at her. Her finger flipped the shape over, searching for answers. The engraving made her knees give out.
. She sank to the floor, clutching it to her chest.