The Best Man
Harlequin HQN / February 26, 2013 / $7.99 print, $6.71 digital
Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she's ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family's vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there's some great scenery there....
Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief—and best friend of her former fiancé. There's a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it's not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she's having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.
One thing you can depend upon Kristan Higgins for (aside from a terrific story and not a whole lot of explicit sex) is great settings. In fact, her setting becomes another character in each of her books. The hero and heroine would not be who they are without their town: its geography, its history, its commerce, its people. Because Kristan Higgins is a New England girl, I recognize a lot of the characters in her books, including the towns.
The Best Man is set in upstate New York (and I mean upstate—in wine country on one of the finger lakes.
The town depended on visitors, and September was prime tourism season; the leaves were starting to turn, buses had been rolling in and out of town all week and every vineyard in the area had some special event going on.
At this moment, Faith Holland returns to New York from her apartment in San Francisco, where she fled after being jilted at the altar. Her former fiancé is still in town and his best man is now chief of police. She runs into both at an old hangout.
Hugo's had been a good choice; it was quieter here, designed more for the tourist industry than a year-round townie kind of place. The view of the lake was gorgeous, the tablecloths were crisp and white, sprigs of orchids in little vases.
Here is where, escaping from running into her ex before she's lost 15 pounds, Faith first runs into Levi. Well, first since the wedding when Levi was complicit in her jilting. And before that was the kiss, her senior year in high school.
Thick mounds of moss blanketed the ground, and the leaves were so green the air seemed tinted with it. They passed a huge grove of birch trees, the white bark glowing, and the edges of hemlocks brushed Levi's cheek as he walked. He slapped a mosquito, and a chipmunk peeped and ran across the narrow path. The sound of rushing water was louder now. Faith had spread out the blanket on a rock and sat down. Juicy as a ripe peach. An image of her under him, legs around him, practically made him stagger.
Yes. This is the lead up to that long-ago kiss. By the time you get to it, the sensuality of this description has put everyone of your senses (and probably Levi and Faith's) on high alert.
Faith's longing for connection is manifest in her response to returning to Manningsport. This is not just a “well, it's good to be home” moment. This is remembering an old love.
Faith stood on the top of Rose Ridge and looked down through the woods. Once, this area had been fields, and Faith's ancestors had grazed cows up here. In the hundred years since, maple and oak trees had taken over, as well as ferns and moss. Today, a cold front had moved through, bringing heavy-bellied clouds over the lake and a chilly wind. Rain couldn't be far off.
Down below, she could see Ned driving the grape harvester down in the Tom's Wood's chardonnay vines, could catch the hum of the engine when the breeze stopped. There was a certain smell to late summer, the air was so sweet with the scent of grapes, but there was a hint of melancholy in the air, too, as the leaves prepared to die their beautify deaths and earth prepared for winter.
As she did each time she came home, Faith wondered how she'd ever left. San Francisco seemed like a distant dream compared to this.
Faith is a landscape architect, and quite a bit of setting revolves around her projects, particularly, the conversion of an old barn on her family's vineyard into a site for functions. When the renovation is complete, it's a revelation to Levi, a revelation intimately linked to Faith.
The structure in front of them was both modern and old—the old stone barn, topped with a clear-paneled roof, glowing from the soft lights inside. All around, trees had been lit from below—white birth and silver maple, beech and hickory. There were flower beds, but it wasn't fussy or precise; it was kind of…magical. Like something out of a fairy tale.
The denouement of The Best Man could not possibly have happened anywhere but Manningsport and probably nowhere but the vineyard. The town is an integral part of the relationship. And Faith's happily ever after comes during her family's the ice wine harvest.
Faith got to work. The frozen clusters of grapes came off easily in her hand, firm, cold little bundles. The stars were brilliant overhead; no moon tonight, the brief snow squall finished. The night air was filled with the sounds of her family bickering, laughing, shouting insults and encouragement to each other. Lights shone over at the Lyons Den, too, as just about every vineyard around made ice wine.
Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.