Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, July 5, $22.99
Dylan Jackson can’t let go of a past that haunts him. Grace Lyndon can’t run fast enough from hers. When their worlds collide they are forever changed and no longer able to stay lost in what was, opening them up to the possibility of what could be…
Jeffrey Stepakoff is no stranger to fiction; his credits include the Emmy-winning The Wonder Years, Sisters, Major Dad, Disney’s Tarzan, and Dawson’s Creek (as co-executive producer). His debut novel, Fireworks Over Toccoa, was a tale about the power of destiny, fate, and true love. Stepakoff’s words weave into your soul, leaving their imprint forever. When you turn the last page of The Orchard, you will not be able to deny how much his words have changed you.
Grace Lyndon is a rising ingénue in the world of perfumes and flavors; a stiletto-wearing, work-a-holic in Atlanta, she develops aromas and tastes to enthrall the senses. Dylan Jackson is a widowed single father whose heart and hands have been calloused in the fields of his North Georgia apple farm. When Grace happens to taste an apple picked from Dylan’s trees, it changes both their lives forever.
Determined to track down the apple’s origin, Grace sets off in the middle of the night where she finds not only a beautiful mountain orchard in the clouds, but the mysterious man who owns it. Their sudden yet undeniable attraction is threatened—leaving readers with a momentous finale that proves Jeffrey Stepakoff is a master craftsman of the heart.
The Orchard opens with Grace hanging high above the rain forest trying to capture a rare scent. Known for her daredevil antics, she stops at nothing to get what she wants. This drive lands her a new job in Atlanta, where she is still in control and taking chances. Life is just they way she likes it.
Dylan stands in a hotel elevator and sees a woman, unsure whether she’s real or a vision of his deceased wife. He pursues her, and she disappears from sight, but her very real scarf is left behind—proof she was real and proof he has yet to let go of a ghost.
A year and a half later Dylan is working hard on his family farm while raising his ten year old daughter, Carter. He still can’t let go of his wife’s memory of or the woman from the hotel. But something inside him has shifted and the possibility he may be able to love again stirs.
Grace doesn’t have time for love. While being grilled by a friend for her lack of a social life, she bites into an apple. An apple that stops her cold, awakens her pallet, and changes the course her life was headed in. It’s the most delicious things she’s ever eaten. She must capture its essence and trace its origins. While waiting for a blind date, she gets a call from her assistant that she’s tracked down the origin of the apple, but the farmer wants no parts of their proposal. Grace ditches her blind date and calls this apple farmer herself. No one successfully says no to Grace Lyndon.
Dylan is tired of late night calls from telemarketers and lashes out at the woman on the other end of the line. As the persistent woman goes on, Dylan is captivated by her voice. A familiar ease comes over him and it’s been quite a while since he’s spoken like this with another person, especially a woman. Despite the enjoyable banter that ensues between the two, Dylan assures Grace the flavor of his apple is not for sale.
Later that night, Dylan sits, looking out on his farm, and memories invade…
“She loved the orchard as she had loved him, and keeping it was somehow to keep her. To work the soil by hand and implement was to do something, to tie and solder unto a thing he could see and touch as each apple grew, even as the thing spun from season to season to season to season. Memories on the mist could end a man, but keeping the orchard alive was somehow to keep her alive…
It had been just short of three years, and nearly everyone he knew thought it was time to let her go, time to move on…And as much as it generally annoyed him, the truth was that lately he’d come to understand and even feel what they all believed, and sometimes, during the day, had started even to consider the terms of letting go. That’s why, of course, he’d occasionally go out for those coffee dates. And despite how dreadful those were, the conversation with Grace tonight was nothing of the kind. No, to the contrary, it suggested that he could, in fact, still connect with a living person, albeit the mere voice of one.”
Grace isn’t used to hearing no, and she drives out to the farm. Lost, confused, and tired, she arrives early in the morning in her expensive high-heels and literally stuck in the mud. A little girl’s laugh finds her and Grace meets Carter. It’s a delicate thing to chat with a child when trespassing on someone’s land. But the child’s wit and intelligence captivates Grace. Carter etches her way into her heart when she talks of her deceased mother, something Grace has experience with. So, she lets Carter lead her around, assuming eventually she’ll meet the elusive Dylan Jackson. A figure emerges as Grace is playing with Carter in the barn.
“Grace froze, Clinking pop-top chains swinging from her hands; she just stood there, still, and looked at him.
He was covered, literally covered, from head to foot with light gray clay. His boots, jeans, belt, flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves, his skin, all thick with dry kaolin like a figure who’d just stepped from the doors of an open kiln. Flecks fell from him as he moved.
As he continued toward her, his form tall and steady, cutting precisely into the brilliant light and throwing a long shadow before it, Grace tried to make out his face, but there was nothing to make out. The sun directly behind him, features masked with dry clay, he seemed imagined and unreal, but he kept walking straight at her, slowly, methodically, a pair of black high-heeled shoes hanging by their straps from the fingers of his right hand.
Grace stood speechless as he walked right up to her, silt rising between them. She was a woman who faced off with some of the most powerful men in America and remained unflustered, but the man gave her all kinds of butterflies.
He stopped before her and spoke, ‘Wow, you weren’t kidding. You really don’t listen when people say no.’
And from his voice, Grace knew immediately it was him, the man on the telephone. ‘Hello, Dylan Jackson,’ she said confidently, raising her chin so she could see better into his eyes.
‘Hello, Grace from Southern Comp Corp,’ he replied just as evenly.”
A business relationship blossoms into something else, something neither Grace nor Dylan know how to handle. They confide in each other in ways neither has for along time with anyone else. Dylan tells her of his bizarre meeting with the ghost of his wife from the hotel. Grace asks him to get the scarf. She recognizes the scent on it, a very rare perfume. She offers a proposition; she’ll help track down this ghost if he lets her study his apples. Intrigued by Grace and the idea of seeing this mystery woman, Dylan agrees.
One night, after Grace shows Dylan how she’s capturing the scents of his apples, they almost kiss. A thick fog rolls in forcing Grace to spend the night. In the guest room she hears him in the hall but freezes, refuses to give into her feelings. On the other side of the door, Dylan is just as torn and sits atop the steps all night, fighting the urge to go to her. As she quietly leaves the next morning, Dylan silently observes from his perch on the landing.
“Above the foyer, Dylan took a few more steps forward, his face just out of the shadows, his toes approaching the railing on the ledge, looking down at beautiful, smart, Grace Lyndon in faint light cast only by the stars and planets and moon outside. This lovely kindred soul who had shown him how to taste huckleberry sorbet, to open his senses further than he’d ever considered. He felt that he was on a ledge, on the brink of a sheer drop from which there could be no turning back. And where he went, his daughter went, too. So he had to get this right. There was no room not to get this right.”
But what happens when Grace finds the mystery woman? Will Dylan follow his heart or pursue a ghost?
Oh, I won’t give you anymore than that. You’ll have to read it yourself. The Orchard is a novel you can taste, feel, and smell all the way to your bones. It tantalizes all the senses. You will savor the passion of Dylan and Grace, and will want to, over and over again.