This is a mistake. I should be home in my PJs, wallowing in bags of Dove chocolate and a George Clooney marathon. Instead, I’m going apple picking with sweet little Ellen and Allen. Because I grew tired of hearing Ellen say, “It’s been months. If you don’t get out of the house now, you’ll be alone and lonely forever.” Because being the third wheel to a lovey-dovey couple is the perfect way to recover from a breakup.
God, even the sign is cutesy: “Welcome to Newton’s Apple Farm,” with a cartoony Isaac Newton reclining happily under an apple tree. Then there’s the idiot dressed as an apple and wearing an extra-large fake mustache who waves as we turn onto the dirt drive. WHY am I here?
“Oh, it’s so beautiful!” Ellen sings as she dances out of the car. “A perfect fall day!” She and Allen entwine hands, and they waltz over to pick up a basket.
I stay a respectful distance behind, fake happiness pasted on my face.
“Janey! What are you doing all the way back there?” Ellen jerks Allen to a stop and waits for me to catch up. “Where’s your basket? You can’t pick apples without a basket.”
Please, keep talking to me like I’m five, I want to say, but I bite my tongue. “I’m only shopping for one,” I say. “I’ll just use the baskets Mother Nature gave me.” I hold up my hands. Ellen giggles. Allen smiles. Mission accomplished.
We reach the orchard and spend an interminable hour walking up and down a single row while Ellen searches for the perfect apple. Finally, she pulls two off a tree and tosses them into the basket.
“You really shouldn’t do that,” a voice calls from behind us.
Ellen freezes. Allen’s shoulders tense. I swallow a smile.
A well-built, good-looking man with short reddish-brown hair strolls up. “It bruises the fruit. Better to place them gently, like an egg.” He pulls an apple off the tree and rests it in the basket. “This way.”
His blue eyes sparkle when he winks at me. Then he strolls away.
I turn to watch him, as much to enjoy the view as to hide my amusement at Ellen and Allen’s discomfort. I can’t help noticing he has a very nice . . . view. He looks back and waves.
As he disappears up the next row of trees, I’m still thinking about that wave, about his hand, about the length of his fingers—
Oh, my, I have been alone too long
“Jane?” Ellen and Allen stare at me, twin confused looks on their faces. “You with us?”
Oops. “Who was that guy?”
They shrug in unison, but give each other a knowing look.
Time to change the subject. “Hey, those look pretty good!” I start toward a tree one row over, hoping my companions don’t notice the blush burning my cheeks. I don’t bother to check that they’re following me.
I see waving-guy farther up the row.
“Hey!” I call. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Anything,” he calls back, and I notice the musical timbre of his voice.
“So what do you want to know?” he asks when he reaches my side, and I realize I’d better come up with a question.
“What is this?” Stupid.
“An apple.” His grin reveals perfectly aligned teeth, dimples as deep as the Grand Canyon, and a wicked sense of humor.
My mouth twitches. “Thank you, Einstein. What kind?”
“Ah.” I scramble for a way to continue the conversation. “So, do you work here?”
“You could say that.” He holds out his hand. “Oscar Newton.”
“Jane Harris.” I feel a tingle of electricity when our hands clasp. “Wait, did you say Newton? As in Newton Apple Farm?”
“The very same.”
I make sweeping gesture. “All this is yours?”
“Not yet,” he says. “The farm belongs to my dad; I fill in wherever I’m needed.” He pulls something out of his pocket and holds it up to his face. “Guess what I’m doing today?”
I recognize the waving apple’s fake mustache and laugh.
He flashes that grin again. “You have a great laugh.” He steps closer and offers me his arm. “Can I interest you in a private tour of the grounds? All the laughs you can handle, free of charge.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ellen and Allen slink closer, obviously trying not to be obvious in their eavesdropping. I take Oscar’s arm, and he leads me further into the orchard. I don’t have to turn around to know that Ellen and Allen are gaping at us.
“You know,” I tell Oscar, “I didn’t want to come today.”
“With the Stepfords over there? Why ever not?”
My heart soars at his sarcasm. “My point is, I’m glad I did. Meeting you is just what the doctor ordered.”
“You know what they say, ‘an apple a day…’”
We both laugh, and his turns my knees to pudding, it’s so rich, so genuine. If it were a kiss, it would be toe-curling. I have to turn away to get hold of myself again.
When I turn back, he asks, “So, Jane Harris, why did you come today?”
I quote Ellen. “I’m mourning the end of a relationship and needed to get out of the house.”
He reaches out and takes my hand. I feel that tingle of electricity again. “Well, I’m glad you did.”
My inner flirt stirs. I raise an eyebrow. “You’re glad I’m in mourning?”
His smile is honest and gentle. He squeezes my hand. The voltage surges down to my toenails. “I’m glad you’re not in a relationship,” he says. “And I’m especially glad you got out of the house.”
I intertwine our fingers. “Me, too.”
He kisses me, oh so gently, and I can’t help but kiss him back. I wonder ever-so-briefly why I’m kissing a stranger, but I can’t stop. We step closer together, and our kiss deepens. I feel a warmth inside that I’d forgotten I’d ever known, and before I know it, I’m wondering what it would be like to be an apple farmer’s wife.
I step back to catch my breath, but his pull is too strong. My fingers end up in his hair and stroking his jaw and in no time flat, we’re kissing again.
Turns out, apple picking really can cure the breakup blues.
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