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Fairfield Orchard #3
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The Apple Blossom Café
a Fairfield Orchard novel
by Emma Cane
To the world,
she’s the famous movie star Gabrielle. But inside she’s just Gabby, with a
secret she’s never shared weighing down her heart. She comes back to Spencer
Hollow, Virginia, hoping to put down roots and become almost a normal person
between filming movies. But she can’t escape work when her producers expect her
to research her next role as a chef. Who better to ask than Noah Fairfield,
brother of her former costar? Though they’d never gotten along, she’s
determined to become friends and find a way to ask the prickly chef for
permission to invade his kitchen.
Noah Fairfield has a secret of his own—he’s been fired from his Pittsburgh restaurant, even though he won a major award. He hasn’t told anyone, because he knows his family will pity him and try to convince him to run the café he’s about to open at Fairfield Orchard. He just wants to return to Pittsburgh and prove himself, but gorgeous Gabrielle is making things difficult. He tries to resist falling for his brother’s ex, but Gabby has surprising depth beneath her legendary beauty. The more they’re together, the more confused he becomes about the future. How can he show he’s a five-star chef, when everyone thinks he’s hitched to her star?
(The Apple Blossom Café, both e-book and paperback, is available ONLY at online bookstores)
“Delight in the warm, toe-tingling romances of Emma Cane.”
Maggie Shayne, New York Times Bestselling Author
Noah Fairfield stood alone inside the Apple Blossom Café, the first restaurant he’d been able to plan from the architectural drawings to the menu. In another week or two, as spring unfurled itself at Fairfield Orchard, so would his café, with a grand opening all his family members were helping to plan. Though it had been his dream, he wasn’t going to stick around to watch it grow.
He moved between the tables to the wall of glass windows, beyond which he could see acres of apple trees, their pink and white blossoms a fragrant reminder of the earth’s renewal. It was still early on this April morning, before his family’s orchard opened for the day. He’d agreed to come back, because it was his turn to help rejuvenate the orchard. Their new customers needed something more than bar food in the tasting room, and Noah’s café was going to give it to them. He had everything ready—except the new chef who would replace him when he headed back to Pittsburgh.
Not that he’d told the family all of his plans. Hell, he hadn’t even told them his sabbatical from his Pittsburgh restaurant, La Folie, had actually been a dismissal. Last thing he wanted was for his family to feel sorry for him, or assume he’d lick his wounds by staying. He’d escaped the orchard and his conflicted feelings about his dad a long time ago, and he was never coming back permanently to Spencer Hollow.
He stood looking out at the orchard, arms crossed over his chest, frowning. It was a beautiful view, no doubt about it, but he’d take the view of the three rivers from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh any day.
Yet there was something about the smell of apple blossoms that truly made him know it was spring, no matter where he went. It brought to mind tractor rides between rows of trees, the buzz of bees enjoying their crucial work, blossoms falling around him like snow as he waded through long grass in anticipation—or dread—of the first mowing. It was also a tense time of year for a farmer, anticipating the fall harvest by monitoring the buds, searching for insects, and praying that frost wouldn’t wind its way through the trees at night like a bank of deadly fog.
None of that was Noah’s concern right now; he was focused on the Apple Blossom Café. He was about to step out onto the terrace for a deep inhalation of spring, when he spotted a woman and froze.
Or should he just think of her as Gabrielle, like all her fans did? He meant to back into the shadows before she could see him, but it was too late—she waved so cheerfully he felt his frown deepen until a headache threatened.
What was she doing here? And why was she looking at him with a friendly eagerness that seemed foreign on her? They hadn’t exactly gotten along when they’d met a few months ago. They’d been in the same room together only a handful of times. She was an international movie star, an ex-girlfriend of his brother Tyler. She and Tyler had starred in a soap opera together a few years before and had steamed up the screen so much that Gabrielle had won an Emmy. Instead of being grateful to Tyler, she’d used him to restore her reputation last fall, then left town to film a movie. Noah thought they’d never see her again, now that she’d gotten what she’d wanted, injuring Tyler’s reputation in the process. He could never trust a woman who’d hurt his brother.
She was coming across the terrace, that beguiling smile still in place, moving with a languid grace that was sexiness incarnate. And God help him, like every other man in the universe, he felt something hot and urgent rise up inside of him. She was known as the most beautiful woman in the world, small and delicate, with curves that made a man wonder if his brain cells were leaking away. Her tanned, toned legs were shown off by a short, white casual skirt and strappy high-heeled sandals. She had long blond hair, the kind that seemed made of every color of gold, all mixing together in an exotic fall around her shoulders. With one hand, she pushed it back from her face, but it only fell sinuously in waves again—was that deliberate?
He looked into that gorgeous oval face, with wide lavender eyes surrounded by dark lashes. That’s when he realized that she was just on the other side of the glass door, staring up at him as her brow wrinkled and her head cocked with bemusement.
“You’re not locking me out, are you?” came her muffled voice.
He wanted to turn the bolt and keep her out, so he didn’t have to resist the need to touch her. She’d be silken to caress. And that voice—even through the glass, the seductive, deep tones were alluring. He was just as weak as every other man where Gabrielle was concerned. He was determined not to show it.
He pulled on the door and slid it open silently. She crossed the threshold, and he told himself to step back. But he didn’t.
For what seemed like a long moment, Gabrielle looked up at him. That friendly smile started to fade as their gazes met and held. The pull of awareness, of temptation, moved through him almost like a shudder.
Gabrielle suddenly looked past him. Her lips parted, her eyes widened. “Oh, Noah, just look at this place! Tyler told me you’ve done a great job, but words didn’t do it justice.”
Hearing his brother’s name was like taking a cold shower. He was grateful for the renewed ability to keep his distance.
He closed the door and turned around, trying to look at his café, rather than the way her hips moved as she seemed to glide with all the grace of…an actress on the red carpet. That’s how practiced she was, he reminded himself.
He tried to see the café through her eyes, and because it was so new, still smelling of fresh paint, that wasn’t difficult. The wall next to the terrace was almost completely made of windows, letting in the sun. Wooden columns rose from stone bases; the exposed dropped ceiling beams were draped with lights of all sizes, some twinkling about the beams, others hanging above tables. The tables themselves ranged in size from two-tops for intimacy to community tables.
She arched her neck to look up at the lights on the ceiling, then glanced at him. “Did you always know?”
“Did you always know that being a chef was what you were meant to do?” She wasn’t smiling now. She watched him with serious eyes, suddenly deep and unknowable. Tyler had told him once that there were depths to Gabrielle that Noah had never seen.
“Since I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to cook.” He pressed his lips together, inwardly grimacing at how husky his voice sounded.
“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” he echoed, confused.
“Why do you care?”
She blinked at him. “I’m trying to be friendly. I didn’t mean to pry. We’re both in creative fields, and I was just…curious.”
He regarded her warily. Was he supposed to spill his guts about something so personal, tell her what it was like to grow up with an alcoholic dad and how that had led to the discovery of his passion for food? He didn’t do that with anyone, let alone a woman who was almost a stranger—especially not a woman whose every move made lurid headlines around the world.
So he shrugged. “I’m not very deep. I like cooking, and I discovered I was good at it.”
He thought he glimpsed disappointment in her eyes. He was momentarily curious, but he let it go.
“Yet you’re not going to stay here and cook.”
“Nope. Going back to Pittsburgh after the grand opening.”
“And who’ll be the chef then?”
“I’m in the process of figuring that out.”
Gabrielle walked past the tables where the chairs were stacked upside down on top. She put her hands on the bar and eyed the shelves behind, made of apple crates.
“Shelves for all the hard cider?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Yes.” He didn’t want to be curious about her, but he was. “So why are you here, in Spencer Hollow, I mean? I thought you’d gone back to your career.”
When she glanced up at him, desire stirred again. It made him uneasy to be attracted to a woman who’d been in his own brother’s bed.
“This little corner of Virginia is a beautiful place,” she said. “I’m thinking about buying the house I’ve been renting. It’s on the creek that winds down from the Blue Ridge Mountains. And there’s your adorable little college town of Charlottesville not too far away, if I want a little more to do.”
“Why don’t you live there?”
She went pale. “Are you worried about me being around, that I might throw myself at Tyler?”
He shook his head. “It wouldn’t matter. My brother only has eyes for Bri. He moved into her place.”
She swallowed and nodded, her stiff shoulders relaxing. “If you think I might try to come between them, other people might, too. I don’t want that.” She studied his face with concern. “You really believe I would be bad news if I stayed? I would only be here a few months of the year, between movies. Six months at the most. It’s so peaceful, and people are getting used to me and almost treat me like a normal person. But I would never willingly cause Tyler grief…” Her voice trailed off.
He’d never seen this vulnerable side of Gabrielle, and it made him uncomfortable. “He’d be the first to say you should do whatever makes you happy. I just don’t know why you’d want to stay here. It’s not all that great.”
He’d read that she hadn’t had an ideal childhood, but Tyler said she was pretty private. After all, everything about a celebrity had to be managed just right, to put a false front before the world.
“You’re crazy,” she said good-naturedly. “Spencer Hollow is a gorgeous place, and so peaceful. Though living in New York and L.A. can be fun, sometimes I just need to get away.”
He nodded, eyeing her though he tried not to. She had a presence, a bigger-than-life vibe that was probably one of the reasons she was so successful. That, and her ability to use men to her advantage, he reminded himself. There were a lot more men in her wake than just Tyler. A failed affair was one of the reasons she’d ended up hiding out at Fairfield Orchard last fall.
The silence grew dense and uncomfortable again. Gabrielle didn’t look at him, as she meandered behind the bar, her movements slow and deliberate. She never seemed to do anything impulsively.
“I used to be a waitress in my struggling days,” she said.
“Don’t tell me you’re asking for a part-time job during your downtime.”
She laughed, and the sound lingered, deep and husky.
“No, I need that downtime, where I have nothing to do but read or cook or relax.”
He arched a brow at her. “Someone told me you like to cook.”
“Nothing that would impress you,” she insisted.
“You once asked for fat-free cheese at a party,” he said dryly.
He thought she stiffened just a bit—that had been her reaction then, too. Had he wanted that reaction, a way to keep the distance between them?
“No food judgment from the chef,” she said, her voice a forced lightness.
Where was the usual snide comeback? She seemed to be trying too hard, and he didn’t know why. Was she trying to get along to appease Tyler and Amy?
“Okay, no judgment,” he said. “To each his own.”
“Are we both on vacation, then?” she asked. “I heard you’ve been home for a few days, getting the café ready to open.”
“Yep.” He didn’t say anything else—he was hardly going to tell Gabrielle he’d been fired when he hadn’t told the rest of his family.
“I’m looking forward to working my way through your menu.”
“I hope your entourage sticks by your side to fight off the crowds.”
She turned and leaned back against the bar, elbows resting on the top behind her. The position thrust her breasts out a little too much, and he wished her scoop-neck top was a bit looser. Or that she were one of those celebrities who disguised themselves from the public with baggy clothes. Nope, not Gabrielle.
“My entourage?” she echoed.
“Your bodyguard—or maybe you have a fleet of them.”
“Like they’re cars?” she asked dryly. “Not a fleet, no, but sometimes a strong man is necessary.”
Those words lingered in the silence, as if they had a double meaning.
She tilted her head and eyed him. “So, are you saying your café will be crowded, or that my fans will be getting in the way?”
Their gazes met and held in a challenge that seemed to be closer to their usual interaction.
“Maybe I’m saying both,” he shot back.
She cocked her head, that polite smile lingering. “You can’t say you’d turn away my fans as customers.”
“Of course not.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of your entourage, where’s the bodyguard I remember?”
“You mean Smalls?”
“Yeah, the big guy in the suit. Intimidating, but a little out of place around here in the clothes department.”
“He has a very professional air about him. I gave him the weekend off. I might give him a few weeks off, he and Marcella, his backup. I get really tired of being followed around.”
He leaned back against the bar next to her, crossing his arms over his chest. “Isn’t that kind of dangerous? I remember the threats you got last fall.”
She glanced sideways at him, a corner of her mouth curled up. “You were watching my Twitter feed, were you?”
“My brother was pretty worried, so I heard about it.”
“Yeah, well, that’s died down, thanks to Tyler. I won’t forget how he put himself on the line for me, and how close I came to ruining his relationship with Bri.”
“He said fake-dating wasn’t your idea.” Noah hadn’t believed that was true. He studied Gabrielle, even as she looked away, not meeting his eyes.
“That doesn’t matter,” she murmured. “I went along with it after my managers asked him to pretend to date me. It wasn’t fair to Tyler.”
“But it worked,” he said dryly.
She sighed. “It worked. The crazies stopped calling me—well, I won’t even repeat what they called me after Brock died, and I dared to go on with my life. I thought my career was over.”
“‘Going on with your life’ and getting photographed kissing a European playboy only a few weeks after your boyfriend’s death aren’t quite the same thing.”
“Look at you, the possessor of some isolated facts, but not the truth.”
She was prickly now, and it made those eyes flash at him. “No? Then what’s the truth?”
“Now it’s my turn to ask why you want to know.”
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