Restoring Heritage Series #3
Genre: Fiction / Christian / Contemporary Romance
Date of Publication: September 7, 2021 – 336 pages
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With her vision and his know-how, this thing just might work . . .
Leah Williams is back in the quaint town of Heritage, Michigan, and ready to try again to make her business a success. But blank slates are hard to come by, and a piece of her past is waiting for her there. Heir to the Heritage Fruits company, Jonathan Kensington is the guy who not only made Leah’s past difficult, but he also seems determined to complicate her present as well.
In order to avoid forcing a buyout of Leah’s building, Jon will have to strike a compromise. Can the two of them work together? Or will their troubled past set the tone for their future?
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This scene would have come between Chapters 10 and 11. It is right after Leah tells Jon they can only be friends and it shows their interaction as they tube down the river together chaperoning Abby from a distance. It ended up on the cutting room floor simply because of space. When I write a main plot and subplot, everything has to be tight and every scene has to count to fit it in my wordcount limit. So even though it was a swoony scene, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be summed up in the next chapter so that is what happened. But I hope you enjoy.
CHAPTER 10 ½
Leah hadn’t missed the way Jon had tensed when she’d agreed to this water adventure, but the why of his reaction seemed to have escaped her until this moment. Helping Abby make friends with some good kids seemed like a no-brainer. But as she stared at Jon’s bare chest and shoulders sticking out of the tube, clarity sank in.
Who was she kidding? Clarity had sunk in the moment he’d stepped out of the campground changing room with those navy trunks hanging low on his hips, dispelling any question as to whether he’d stayed in shape since leaving basketball.
Leah had muttered something unintelligible and tossed a tube at him. Then they’d spent the next fifteen minutes huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf as they inflated the oversized rings. But at least they didn’t have to talk.
Now as they floated down the river, even the afternoon sun that highlighted the ripples on the surface couldn’t distract from the growing awkwardness. However, it did disguise the murky water below.
Big Sable River wasn’t polluted or anything, but the slow current combined with the masses of leaves it collected every season kept the waters dark and the bottom slimy. A slight shiver stole over her at the thought of the bottom. That was why she kept as much of her body out of the water as possible. Although without her legs down in the current, the path of her tube was more influenced by the afternoon breeze.
Leah kicked her feet in an attempt to steer herself away from the “bug tree” hanging low over the far side of the river. She managed to avoid the branches, but since her ankle barely reached the water, she still ended up in a patch of grass that grew from the bottom of the river up toward the edge. Ugh.
“What are you doing?” Jon’s voice carried equal parts humor and irritation.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m trying to keep from drifting deeper into these weeds.” She arched her back so her feet reached deeper and kicked a little harder. As she flopped this way and that on the tube, Leah gave up a silent thanks that she had settled on the suit with the higher neckline even if the flower pattern was a little too trendy for her taste.
“Just jump in and walk out.”
“I don’t want to touch the bottom.” She reached back and tried to get some momentum with her hands. Nope.
She wasn’t usually vain, but who wanted to spend the day looking like a drowned rat? Not to mention she hadn’t worn waterproof mascara and her makeup would be a disaster. “I’ll figure it out. Give me a minute.”
He rolled his eyes then shook the water from his hair. Stupid boys who looked good even soaking wet. So not fair.
He moved behind her and gave her tube a shove.
Leah squealed, gripping the sides. “You better not tip me, Jonathan George Kensington the Third.”
Jon paused mid-push. “Spend a lot of time memorizing that?”
He muttered something she couldn’t hear then gave her another shove. “I’m not trying to tip you over. Just trying to keep us in sight of Abby and her new friends.”
“You could tie us together.” She lifted one of the ten-inch nylon cords that hung from the side of her tube. “That’s what these are for.”
“And let me do all the work?”
“You’re already doing all the work. Those muscles should have some benefit.”
A snicker escaped as he opened his mouth to comment, but he must’ve thought better of it because his gaze dropped to the black nylon ropes. Then he formed a square knot with them and tied the tubes together. “There. Now you have to go where I want.”
“You say that like it’s a punishment.” Leah leaned her head back, letting the sun warm her face. “But I’m happy to be dragged along.”
“If only that were true.” Jon kicked his tube in the direction Abby had gone. When he got back within fifty feet of his sister, he slowed down and let them drift a bit. With his head and arms resting on the tube, his long legs floated up in front of him. It seemed as long as they stayed in the middle of the river, it kept them moving at a pretty good pace. At least at the same pace as Abby and her friends.
Jon had his eyes closed now and Leah had to admit that the rocking of the water was about to put her to sleep. Even some turtles rested on a nearby log, their necks stretched out but unmoving, like mini statues. “Who do you think took Otis?”
“I have no idea.” His eyes remained closed. “Someone strong, that’s for sure. That thing is heavy.”
“You’ve lifted it? There is a law against that.”
He opened his eyes and pointed to himself. “I was the reason for the law.”
“What?” She splashed him.
“Don’t start something you don’t want me to finish.” He wiped the water from his face. “And it wasn’t just me. Luke was there and so was Thomas, Ted, and my cousin Derek. Probably his idea.”
“What’d you do?”
“We were in high school and decided it would be funny to move him to the middle of the street. Like he was trying to cross the road.”
“That would’ve been funny.” Leah snagged a passing stick from the water and threw it toward the woods.
“Right? Well, Sheriff Hammond didn’t agree. We all got two weeks of community service even though we’d only managed to move him a couple inches. Whoever does move that thing must be a beast. Anyway, the new law was passed within days, and the sheriff agreed not to tell our parents if we helped paint the firehouse.”
“I remember that summer.” Leah ran her fingernail along the seam of her blue tube. “Hannah and Janie were always coming up with reasons we needed to walk that way. We must have passed by fifty times.”
“We noticed.” Jon held her gaze.
That was the summer he’d said he first noticed her, but back then she only had eyes for Luke. The idea made her laugh now. What would she have thought then if she could see a photo of this moment? She wouldn’t have thought they were only friends, that was for sure.
A burst of laughter from Abby and her friends caught his attention. He glanced over then maneuvered the two of them a little farther down the river.
“So, your dad never found out?”
“Oh, he found out. I couldn’t sneeze in Heritage without it getting reported back to my parents.”
“What’d he do?”
“He gave me a book. And told me to study it.”
“Watch Repair as a Hobby.” He floated on his back, his gaze unfocused above him. Then he seemed to shake away the memory and dove under, coming up in the middle of his tube again. “I thought it might be like a wax on, wax off secret training for the company, but if it was, he died before he ever gave me the lesson of it.”
“So can you repair watches now?”
“No. But I, at least, understand the basics of how they work. My guess was that it was a metaphor for all the pieces working together in the company and I needed to step up and be the cog I was meant to be.” He lifted his fist in a mock gesture. “To be the Kensington I was meant to be.”
He let his fist fall with a splash. But there was a sudden distance in his eyes.
“Did you hate growing up in Heritage?”
“No. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. But looking back I can see what a blessing it was. What about you?”
“Oh I loved it. But then we had bounced around a lot by the time we settled here when I was thirteen. So a place to call home was welcome.”
“And you didn’t have the Kensington name to live up to.”
“No. People knew my grandparents. But if we ever messed up, it wasn’t reported back. More like hushed tones where you knew everyone was excusing our behavior because our parents were gone. ‘Those poor girls.’ We had everyone fooled.”
“You didn’t have me fooled.”
“Yeah, I did, or you wouldn’t have liked me back then.”
“Not true. I didn’t like you because I felt sorry for you. I liked you because you were fiery and full of life. You were your own person with a touch of sass and a whole lot of . . .”
“Nothing.” He slipped out of his tube, then linked it under one arm and swam the side stroke, tugging the tubes along.
“You can’t stop mid-sentence.” She sent another splash his direction. “We can be honest with each other. Didn’t we just establish we were able to be working friends?”
“You really don’t want to splash me.” He sent a half effort of a splash back at her. “Some things you just need to let go.”
Why, because she couldn’t take it? His honesty?
She skimmed the water with her arm, sending a wall of water at him. “I can take your honesty. A whole lot of what? A whole lot of red hair? A whole lot of crazy outfits? A whole lot of—”
“Sexy, all right?” He closed his eyes and dove under the water. He resurfaced and stood, the water here only chest high on him. “I found you attractive, but you know that. I didn’t halt my words to spare your feelings. Was just trying to keep us in shallow . . . platonic waters. You’ve made your position clear, and I didn’t want you to think I was hitting on you.”
“Oh.” Brilliant comeback. But with him standing there, every other thought washed away. She closed her eyes and tried to remember why again she had said no to more, because she was not going to get there ogling at his bare arms and chest. Not to mention the way he seemed to be able to look into her and really see her. Accept her.
Why couldn’t this work again?
Trust. She breathed the word in and out.
Trust was key to—
Her tube lifted in the air, sending her sailing over the side. Her stomach dipped as the water engulfed her, the chilly river water cooling her heated skin.
But Jon’s muffled laughter that reached her even before she surfaced said otherwise. Leah’s feet sank into the muck as she stood and wiped at her eyes. Her black fingers let her know it was a lost cause. She pushed off the sludgy bottom and flung herself onto Jon’s back, putting all her weight on his neck. “You’re dead.”
Not that he wasn’t already wet, but there were water rules. And rule number one was that anyone who dunked . . . deserved to be dunked. Her weight had little effect on him.
“What? You looked like you were getting too serious. I thought you needed to lighten up. Besides, I warned you not to start something I’d have to finish.” His laugh grew deeper as he pried her off and tossed her a few feet away with little effort.
When she surfaced again, he held out his arms, that charming grin across his face. “Want to try again?”
Blast him and his big, strong arms. Arms that had just held her days before. Arms that had—she shook the thought away, but not before he’d read her expression. At least that was what she assumed when his smile faded. “You can’t have it both ways, Leah.”
He unknotted the ropes that held the tubes together and pushed hers toward her. “We better catch up with Abby. They’re almost out of sight. Now that you’re wet, can you manage on your own?”
Without waiting for a response, Jon jumped on his tube belly first and began kicking, leaving her to follow. Or not.
This “only friends” situation was her choice. If she was getting what she wanted, then why did every kick moving him forward, away from her, feel so wrong? What was the old song? “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers.” Someone really should write the counterpart. “Heartaches Because of Granted Wishes.” Maybe she’d tell Colby to write it. After all, he knew a little bit about that too.
Tari Faris is the author of You Belong with Me and Until I Met You. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers and My Book Therapy, she is the projects manager for My Book Therapy, writes for learnhowtowriteanovel.com, and is a 2017 Genesis Award winner. She has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and lives in the Phoenix, Arizona, area with her husband and their three children. Although she lives in the Southwest now, she lived in a small town in Michigan for 25 years.
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