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SOMEBODY LIKE YOU (DARLING, VT) BY DONNA ALWARD
Release Date: February 7, 2017
A kiss to last a lifetime
Aiden Gallagher was only five years old when he appeared in a photograph on the Kissing Bridge. The town of Darling, Vermont, has used Aiden’s image on the famed bridge—local legend has it that a kiss there results in everlasting love—as part of its tourism campaign. Now, twenty years later, Aiden is asked to recreate the moment with the woman he once kissed: Laurel Stone.
Recently divorced, there’s nothing Laurel wants less than to pretend happily-ever-after with Aiden. As teenagers, their romance was no fairy tale—and Laurel has never quite forgiven Aiden for breaking her heart. But now that she is back in her hometown, and keeps bumping into police officer Aiden, Laurel can’t deny that there’s still a strong flicker between her and her old flame. Could it be that the Kissing Bridge is working its magic on Laurel and Aiden—and that all true love ever needed was a second chance?
REVIEW: SOMEBODY LIKE YOU (DARLING, VT) BY DONNA ALWARD
Somebody Like You by Donna Alward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
ARC Review: Somebody Like You (Darling, VT) Donna Alward
Can a mythical legend make an illusion into reality? Somebody Like You is a nod to nostalgia. Ms. Alward takes readers through the many phases of love. From puppy love, to teenage romance to heartbreak. She delivers a reunion story that worms it's way into the heart. From childhood Aiden and Laurel have heard the legend of love everlasting and happily ever after. The poster for the perfect couple, these lovebirds were far from ideal. Youth and life tore them apart. Can maturity and a legendary town bring them back together? A feel good read that blends the fantasy of fairy tales with the hope for the future.
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Every single terra- cotta pot was smashed.
Laurel Stone blinked quickly, annoyed at the sting at the back of her eyes as she stared at the mess. She was angry. Furious. Most people would rant or turn red in the face. But not Laurel. When she got mad, she angry- cried. And right now she was so infuriated that she could barely see through the hot tears.
She’d come in early to do some watering and deadheading before starting the weekly stock order, but discovered the gate hanging limply from its hinges, its lock busted. She immediately took out her cell and called the cops, working extra hard to keep her voice from shaking. Falling apart was not an option. She’d made it through a lot of life changes lately and had kept it together. This time was no different.
Now, as she waited for the police, she swiped at her face and bit down on her lip. It was only six thirty in the morning and she hadn’t even had her first coffee yet. The brew sat cooling, forgotten in her ladybug print travel mug.
Normally she hummed away to herself, unwinding the hose in the cool morning air. Not today. Today she had to deal with the fact that crime actually happened in quiet,
idyllic Darling, Vermont.
And that left her shaken.
The Ladybug Garden Center was her pride and joy, her foray into building a new life for herself. There’d been little incidents in her first few weeks of opening, but she hadn’t
thought much of them. The parking lot had been messed up a bit where someone had pulled doughnuts with their car. Two lilac bushes from the bed by the store sign had been stolen. She’d sighed at the inconvenience, but chalked it up to simple mischief.
This time the intent was obvious. Deliberate. And it felt personal.
All the pottery was in shards on the floor. Six- packs of annuals had been pushed off their tables, spilling dirt and crushed blossoms. Hanging baskets had been carelessly dropped, so that the planters cracked and split. Tomato and pepper plants were strewn everywhere, broken and wilting. The lock on the little safe had been smashed, and they’d taken the small amount of money set aside for a float.
Laurel was sweeping shards of pottery into a dustpan when she heard the gritty crunch of tires on gravel. She stood up and braced her hand on her hip as the cruiser crept slowly up the drive and into the parking lot. Might as well get the report over with, and then get on with the cleanup and the call to the insurance agent.
The cruiser door opened.
Damn, damn, damn.
She’d forgotten, though she wasn’t quite sure how she could have since Darling was such a small town. Aiden Gallagher. One of Darling’s finest, complete with a crisp navy uniform, black shoes, and a belt on his hip that lent him a certain gravity and sexiness she wished she didn’t appreciate.
The last time she’d seen Aiden, she’d been home from school, barely twenty- one, and he’d flashed her a cocky take- a- good- look grin, all the while parading around the Suds and Spuds pub with some girl on his arm. Not that she’d expected any other sort of behavior from him. But still. Ugh.
Aiden approached the gate and she took a deep breath. He was a cop answering a call. Nothing more. And that was how she’d treat him. She definitely wouldn’t acknowledge that they’d known each other since they were five years old. Or that he’d once had her half- naked in the backseat of his car.
“Laurel,” he greeted, sliding through the gap in the fence. “Looks like you’ve had some trouble.”
She would do this. She would not cry again, especially not in front of Aiden. She had too much pride.
“A break-in last night.” She opened the gate a bit wider so he could get through. He passed close by her, his scent wafting in his wake. She swallowed. After all these years, he still wore the same cologne, and nostalgia hit her right in the solar plexus. He took off his cap and she saw his hair was still the same burnished copper, only shorter and without the natural waves, and his skin showed signs of freckles, but nowhere near as pronounced as they’d been. He wasn’t a boy any longer; he was a man.
He looked over his shoulder, his gray- blue eyes meeting hers.
Definitely a man.
“Wow.” He stopped and stared at the carnage. “They made a real mess. Was anything taken?”
She shrugged, focusing on the issue at hand once more.
“Inventory- wise, I won’t know until I get things cleaned up and do a count. But I doubt it. The float for the cash is gone, but that’s only a few hundred dollars. Mostly they just made a mess.”
Laurel bent over and righted a half- barrel of colorful begonias, purple lobelia, and million bells. Her gaze blurred as she noticed the crushed, fragile blossoms and pile of dirt left on the floor.
She clenched her teeth. If he saw her with tears in her eyes . . . today was upsetting enough without adding humiliation to the mix.
“Laurel,” he said, softer now. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She bit out the words and pushed past him, going to the counter area. She could stand behind it and the counter would provide a barrier between them. “You don’t need to worry about me, or take that soothing-the-victim tone. What do you need for facts?”
She sensed his withdrawal as he straightened his shoulders, and she felt momentarily sheepish for taking such a sharp tone. But she was angry, dammit. Hell, she was angry most of the time, and starting to get tired of hiding it with a smile. This was truly the last thing she needed.
“Do you have a slip or anything with the amount of the float?” Now he was all business. It was a relief. She took a piece of paper from beneath the cash drawer in the register. “This is our rundown for what goes in the float each night. It’s put in a zip bag in the safe. Like a pencil case.”
He came around the counter, invading her space, and knelt down in front of the cupboard. “This is the safe?”
“I know. It’s not heavy- duty . . .”
“It looks like they just beat it open with a hammer.”
Great. Now she was feeling stupid, too. “It’s Darling. I didn’t expect something like this to happen here.”
He stood up and gave her a look that telegraphed “Are you serious?” before stepping back beyond the counter again. “Something like this happens everywhere, Laurel. What, you didn’t think crime happened in Darling?”
Well, no. Or at least, not until today. The fact that she’d already come to this disappointing conclusion, and then he’d repeated it, just made her angrier.
Coming home was supposed to be peaceful. Happy. The town was small, friendly, neighborly. Even after years away, many of her customers remembered her from her school years and recalled stories from those days. Darling even had a special “Kissing Bridge” in the park. There were several stories around how the bridge got the name, so no one really knew for sure. But the stone bridge and the quaint little legend to go with it brought tourists to the area and made Darling’s claim to fame a very romantic one. In a nutshell, those who stood on the bridge and sealed their love with a kiss would be together forever.
She should know all about it. Her picture— and Aiden’s— hung in the town offices to advertise the attraction. Just because they’d only been five years old at the time didn’t make it less of an embarrassment.
“I’m not naïve,” she replied sharply. “Is there anything else you need or can I get back to cleaning up?”
“Can you think of anyone who might want to give you trouble? Someone with a grudge or ax to grind?”
Other than you? she thought darkly. This was the first time they’d actually spoken since she’d poured vanilla milkshake over his head in the school cafeteria in their senior year. “No,” she replied. “I can’t imagine who’d want to do this.”
“I don’t suppose you have any video cameras installed.”
She shook her head, feeling inept and slightly stupid. Maybe she was a little naïve after all. She hadn’t lived in Darling since she was nineteen— nine years. Things had changed in her absence. New people, new businesses.
“I’ll have another look around. It looks like a case of vandalism more than anything. Probably some teen agers thinking it’s funny, or after the cash for booze or pot, and smashed some stuff for show.” His gaze touched hers.
“Kids can be really dumb at that age.”
Her cheeks heated. He hadn’t had to say the actual words for her to catch his meaning. “You never know. They might have been dared to do it. Or some sort of stupid bet.”
He held her gaze a few seconds longer, and she could tell by the look in his eyes that he acknowledged the hit.
He’d kissed her because of one of those bets . . . more than kissed her. They’d been parking in his car and he’d rounded second base and had been headed for third. And then she’d found out about the wager and lost her cool. Publicly. With the milkshake.
The only thing she regretted was saying yes to going on that drive in the first place.
“So you still haven’t forgiven me for that.”
Laurel lifted her chin. “To my recollection, you haven’t asked for forgiveness.”
Aiden frowned, his brows pulling together. “We were seventeen. Kids. That was years ago.”
Which didn’t sound much like an apology at all.
“Yes, it was. Now, I have a lot of mess to clean up. Is there any more information you need or are we done here?”
He stared at her for a long minute. Long enough that she started to squirm a bit at his continued attention. Finally, when she was so uncomfortable she thought she might burst, she turned away and retrieved the broom and dustpan from where she’d left them.
“Do you want some help with this?”
She didn’t want him to offer. The idea of spending more time with him was so unsettling that she immediately refused.
“No. Don’t you have to get back to work? Besides, I have someone coming in at eight. You go do what you need to do, Officer Gallagher.”
“Officer Galla . . . oh, for Crissakes, Laurel. Is that necessary?”
She pinned him with a glare. He was standing with his weight on one hip, accentuating his lean, muscular physique, one perfect eyebrow arched in response to her acid tone.
She wasn’t the kind to hold a grudge. Not generally. Heck, she’d forgiven Dan months ago, and that was for something far bigger than a silly teenage bet. Why did Aiden get under her skin so easily?
Maybe it was because he’d been so callous, even after the fact. If he’d shown any remorse at all . . . but he hadn’t. He’d taken the paper cup the milkshake had been in, and fired it across the cafeteria floor before charging out. And he’d never once spoken to her again. Until today. And despite the change in circumstances, she felt much the same as she had that night in the backseat of his car. Out of her depth, over her head, and at a distinct disadvantage.
She looked away. “Sorry. I just want to clean this up and get ready to open.”
She picked up the broom and began sweeping the little bits of broken pots and dirt into the dustpan. She saw his shoes first; big sturdy black ones that stopped in front of her. Then his hand, warm and reassuring, touched her shoulder. She’d been rude and brusque, and he was being kind. Damn him. Emotion threatened to overwhelm again. Couldn’t he see that gentle compassion was harder for her to handle than cool efficiency?
“Are you afraid to stay here alone this morning?” He throat tightened. “No, of course not.”
“I’m on duty until this afternoon. I can check in from time to time.”
“I’m fine.” She looked up at him and set her jaw. “I can take care of myself. I’m a big girl.”
He stepped back. “All right. But if you think of anything or anything else happens, call right away.”
She kept sweeping and listened to his footsteps walk away across the concrete floor. The building always smelled delicious thanks to the flowers, but this morning the scent was even more pungent because many had been crushed and mangled. She sighed and rested her weight on the broom handle. He was just doing his job. And she was pissed off—at the state of the garden center and the fact that the one person in Darling she didn’t really care to see was the one who’d been sent to help.
He turned when she called his name, but his expression was neutral. She wished she could be that way. Unfortunately she always seemed to wear her emotions all over her face.
“Thanks for your help this morning.”
He nodded. “Just doing my job.”
He walked to his cruiser and got in while Laurel stood there with a flaming- hot face. Once he’d turned to exit the driveway, she kicked a plastic bucket that had been abandoned in the middle of an aisle, sending it spinning away with a loud clatter. No sooner had she decided to extend an olive branch than he came back with a line that deflated any sort of possibility of amity. He was just doing his job, like he’d do for anyone else. She was no one special. Never had been. The knowledge shouldn’t have cut, but it did.
Anyway, the bigger issue was the prob lem at hand— getting the store ready to open in just a few hours. The Ladybug Garden Center was her baby now. She’d invested all of herself into it, and she was determined to see it succeed, not only this spring and summer but into the fall and winter. In order for that to happen she would have to take steps to ensure this sort of thing didn’t happen again.
Just as soon as she cleaned up the mess.
And stopped thinking about how Aiden hadn’t changed that much, either. In good ways and in bad.
Copyright © 2017 by Donna Alward and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
If you’d like to read the prequel to the Darling, VT series, visit http://www.donnaalward.com/
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By the time they were through, it was nine o’clock and time to open. Being a Saturday, business was brisk. Her dad dropped off the supplies and offered to stay to help cover the tagging, but with the heavy shopping traffic, Laurel decided to wait until things died down. For now the tarps covered the tags, and she’d focus on her customers. Otherwise her anger would get the best of her and that was bad for business. By six p.m., things had slowed considerably.
Laurel had been going flat out for ten hours, stopping for only fifteen minutes to run to The Purple Pig for a sandwich. Her stomach growled, her feet hurt, there was dirt beneath her nails and she really, really wanted a shower and a glass of wine—in that order. Laurel had just dragged out the hose to water the fruit trees when a half- ton truck drove into the lot and parked in an empty space.
The driver hopped out, and her heart slammed against her ribs as she immediately realized how she must look. Dirty jeans, mannish golf shirt that did nothing for her figure,
scrubby ponytail through a Ladybug Garden Center ball cap, and prob ably smudges of dirt on her face and arms. Not that she was trying to look nice for Aiden or anything, but it was him getting out of the truck, looking sexy as hell in faded jeans and a T- shirt that stretched across
his chest and shoulders.
She could pretend she hadn’t seen him. Resolutely she turned on the hose and started watering the apple trees.
“Hey, Laurel,” he called out, and that erased any hope of avoiding him.
She turned off the hose and faced him. “Aiden. What brings you by? Looking for a shrub or tree or something?”
Keep it businesslike, she reminded herself. The last thing she needed was for him to know that he had the ability to fluster her.
“I heard about what happened.”
Of course he had.
“Don’t even. I’m still pissed.”
“I know it’s not what you needed. Did Crystal tell you that you weren’t the only one hit?”
Crystal must be the offi cer from this morning. “She did.”
“Well, that must make you feel better.”
She stared at him. “Better? Seriously? Since I opened a month ago, I’ve had to have the driveway re- graded, I’ve had to replace shrubs that were stolen from out front, deal
with a break-in and vandalism, and now tagging. Trust me, Aiden, the only thing that would feel better is if you actually did your job and found out who was doing this.”
She turned the hose back on.
He waited. He waited a long time. Several seconds, maybe thirty. Which was really not that long at all but definitely felt that way. She was watering the third tree when he sighed. “ You’re upset.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
He met her gaze, and his eyes were soft, even though she’d basically just accused him of not doing his job. The understanding she saw there made her stomach churn. She didn’t want to lash out, but that was what she did when she was hurt. Angry.
Stopping by was kind and thoughtful. She kept trying to make him out to be a bad guy, and he kept being nice. It definitely made it difficult for her to hate him. Particularly since her biochemistry betrayed her at every turn. Even now, when she was utterly preoccupied with the day’s events, she seemed to notice everything. His hair, his eyes, the breadth of his chest, the armband tattoo that looked like some sort of Celtic braid, peeking just below the hem of his T- shirt sleeve. The shape of his lips . . .
He muttered something that was as creative a curse as she’d ever heard, and sounded suspiciously Irish. She couldn’t help but laugh, and tried to clamp her lips shut again. But not before he saw and heard, and his eyes took on an impish gleam.
“ You’re not fine. You’re tired and upset and rightfully so. You’re also just as stubborn as you always were.” He put his hands on his hips. “I take it you’re not adverse to help, just help from me in particular.”
Her face heated. Dammit.
“Maybe this could be my penance,” he suggested, giving her a quick grin. And she wished she could take him seriously, but he always seemed to be teasing. It was one of the things she’d really liked about him and hated at the same time. Particularly now, when she wanted to be, if not mad, completely unaffected. And she wasn’t. He was trying to cajole her out of her mood and it was working.
“It’s Saturday night. Don’t you have a hot date or something?” She turned on the hose again. Focused on the large plastic pot holding a cherry tree.
“Nope. Free as a bird.”
“Come on, Laurel. Peace offering. Manual labor for you to stop hating me.”
She glanced over at him. “Why do you care so much?”
He was quiet for a moment, and to her surprise the teasing expression left his face. After a while he answered, his voice a little lower. “I don’t know why I care what people think so much. I always have. I don’t like anyone to be mad at me. Maybe it has something with being one of the younger siblings in the family. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t like it that you’re still so angry.” His intense blue gaze locked with hers. “It’s starting to become a personal mission to win you over. To atone for past sins.”
“Good luck,” she said dryly, more touched than she wanted to admit.
His boyish grin was back. “Come on, Laurel. You know you can’t hold out forever. You think I’m hot.” He had the audacity to wink at her.
She rolled her eyes.
“You do. You have a thing for gingers. And you have to admit, I grew up kinda good.” His hands were still on his hips and he tensed his muscles so that his shoulders and chest tightened beneath the thin T- shirt.
“I think you’re a bit taken with yourself, to be honest,” she replied. And tried not to smile. She didn’t want to be charmed, but he was incorrigible.
Damn, his voice was all silky- smooth now. “Yes, Mr. Narcissist?”
“You know damn well you want to hate me and you can’t. Besides, I saw your face just now. Maybe if I took off my shirt . . .”
“Would you like to go somewhere private to be with yourself?” she asked, biting the inside of her lip. She shouldn’t be enjoying this so much. And she wouldn’t be, if she thought he was serious. But he was teasing her.
Like he used to do when they were friends. And today . . . she swallowed against a ball of emotion. Today she needed a friend, and all she’d had were well- meaning customers.
She looked over at him. “Jeez, Aiden. You’re looking a little flushed. I think you could stand to cool off.” And before he could reply, she flicked her wrist and aimed the spray of the hose right at the center of his chest.
The abrupt shock on his face was gratifi cation enough, but then he grinned and reached to take away the hose. She danced away, still spraying him, admiring how the shirt now clung to his skin and the little droplets lit up his face and hair. A laugh bubbled up through her chest and out her mouth as she darted around the trees, dragging the hose with her. But there were too many pots and not enough room to maneuver and within seconds he caught her, wrapped one strong arm around her and wrenched the hose away with the other, spraying her in the process.
Cold water dripped from her nose, down her neck, over her bare arms. Aiden held her close against his body, close enough she could feel the hardness of his muscles, and thrilled at it. Their breaths came fast, their chests rising and falling with both laughter and the exertion of the struggle over the hose. But it was the way he was looking down at her right now that made her feel as if the lack of air was strangling her lungs. All it would take was the tiniest move and he’d be kissing her. Her gaze dropped to his lips— he’d always had fine lips— and she swallowed, nervous and scared at her reaction and turned on as hell.
She looked up, which was a mistake. Because he was staring at her lips. And his arm tightened just a little bit at the hollow of her back. Oh God . . .
A car horn honked and Laurel jumped back. He let her go, but the gravity of the moment remained.
Copyright © 2017 by Donna Alward and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
DONNA ALWARD BIO
While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!
Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.