Annie Turner has lived in small-town Thompkin all of her life. Her family is poor, but she and her siblings have loving parents and a roof over their heads. As far as she’s concerned, she’s a lucky girl.
Travis Quincy’s ancestors founded Thompkin, deep in the Shenandoah Valley. He’s known immense wealth from birth, and for him that wealth is a part of his life that he’s never had to question.
While still in grade school, Annie and Travis meet and fall in love. Neither understands why they’re drawn to each other, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Like two halves of a whole, they’re only complete when they’re together. And nothing is more important than the vow they make to someday marry.
Growing up together, the rich, privileged boy and the girl from the wrong side of town find that when it comes to keeping their pledge, it’s easier said than done. Travis’s mother, Ruth, has plans for her son and they don’t include his marrying a Turner. Her painful and secret past gives her an unwanted connection to the Turner family and a reason to hate them all. With cold determination she sets out to destroy the bond between her son and Annie.
Love is magical at any age…and a promise is forever.
As Travis rounded the far edge of Bogg Pond, he saw Annie in her old, faded jeans and muddy sneakers, her green tee shirt already damp with sweat. A big smile wreathed her face when she spotted him, and she started running. The bait bucket she carried swung in her hand and her thick braid bounced on her shoulder. Without conscious thought, Travis picked up his pace. Beneath the hot summer sun, they sprinted toward each other.
They met in the high grass along center Bogg Pond, both breathing fast in the humidity. Travis looked at her as if he’d never seen her before, this girl-buddy of his, three years younger than him, but in many ways so much smarter, so much more alive. Rich in all the things he didn’t have. Things he never knew he missed until he’d discovered them through her eyes, her life.
She dropped her bucket on the grass and the load of night crawlers and leaves threatened to spill out. He loosened his grip on the two fishing rods he carried, and they slipped to the ground. He couldn’t stop staring at her.
She really was . . . cute. Big brown eyes, pretty hair, a smile that didn’t quit. Half tomboy, adventurous, nothing grossed her out or made her squeal in disgust, not even the slimiest worm or the ugliest fish. She wasn’t afraid of snakes or spiders, liked frogs, read tons of books, just like he did. They shot hoops together, and she could beat him at one-on-one if she put her mind to it. She told him some of the dopiest jokes he’d ever heard.
His very best friend, Annie. Someday she’d grow up into the kind of girl who’d be perfect for him to love, to share a life with. It hit him with sudden certainty.
Less than a foot away from her, he gazed right into her wide eyes. One of his hands reached for hers. Grimy from worms and leaves, clammy with dampness, it fit into his palm like it belonged there.
He said the first thing that popped into his head.
“I’m going to marry you someday. When we’re out of school and I’m home for good. When we’re old enough that nobody can tell us what to do. I don’t ever want anyone else. Just you.” His defiant and passionate words might not make sense coming from a kid his age and aimed toward a girl who was still in grade school, but it seemed the right thing to say to her.
“I think that’s a great idea.” She sounded dazed. “I don’t want any other boy, either. It was always you. The first time I saw you, it was you.”
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For Kendall Martin, a remote village in Southwest Alaska seems like a good, safe place to start over. On the run from a dangerously abusive relationship, she leaves everything familiar behind and begins a new life as owner of a small souvenir and sportsman trading post in picturesque Staamat. The locals are friendly, the town welcoming, and she quickly acclimates to the slower, easier pace.
When she meets Denn Nulo, Staamat’s Chief of Police, Kendall begins to believe there truly are good men in the world. Denn is everything she wants: strong, loving, dedicated to family, protective . . . and patient. Instant attraction blooms between them, but Kendall is leery of men, and Denn craves a serious relationship that includes marriage and children. Their courtship is a conflicting mix of hesitancy and passion.
As Kendall learns how to trust again and her romance with Denn grows more intense, a local woman who has had her eye on Denn for years releases a torrent of damaging jealousy . . . and the nightmare from Kendall’s past discovers where she’s hidden herself.
“Let’s talk about something else.” Denn cuddled her closer.
“Like what?” But Kendall already knew.
“Like the way you shiver when I do this.” He brushed his tongue over her ear. “The way you tremble when I do this.” He traced the curve of her spine and gripped her low, pressed her against his heat and hardness. His voice dropped to a thick purr. “The way you melt . . .” His lips covered hers in a deep, penetrating kiss.
Helpless, overwhelmed, she kissed him back. Her hands fisted in his hair, using it as an anchor in a dark, whirling world where nothing mattered except the heavy press of his body on hers. Their lips met and clung, broke apart, clung again. He scattered nipping kisses over her cheeks, her chin, and down the sensitive cord of her neck. She caught his ear and bit it, hard. His heart pounded against hers.
Too fast, too fast.
He slipped urgent fingers along her ribs, under her breasts, and gently cupped them. Her body shook, one long, quivering shudder.
Not fast enough.