The Secret Son

by

Joan Kilby

A birthday card out of the blue from his estranged father sends successful Seattle marketing man Alex Chernoff on a detour to Sweetheart, Montana in search of answers about his past. A day, maybe two, to tie up loose strings and he’ll be out of there, heading for Mexico, margaritas and blondes in bikinis.

Emma Stanhope is all too familiar with hot, rich, entitled guys like Alex. They never hang around for long, especially not for a Plain Jane like herself. No problem. She’s smart and logical, like any good scientist, and knows better than to lose her heart.

What Emma doesn’t count on is chemistry—of the romantic kind. What Alex doesn’t count on is meeting the girl who’ll make him want to change his ways. But when he learns that he’s a secret from his father’s real family, he can’t stay in Sweetheart… even if he wants to.

Will love be enough to convince Alex to stay… for good?

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“I’m sorry, we’re booked solid. Always are at cherry festival time.” Margery, the buxom woman with tight gray curls behind the desk at the Lake View Motor Inn, gave him a worried frown. “There’s one cabin available but it’s not renovated. It’s pretty rustic.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Now that he’d seen his father’s house—a family home judging by the size—he realized that simply knocking on the front door out of the blue wasn’t going to work. He needed to formulate a plan and for that he would need to stay overnight.

“If you’re sure…” She handed him a registration form and a pen decorated in bright red cherries.

The timber walls of the office were covered in original landscape paintings of cherry trees with a backdrop of either the lake or the mountains. Shelves and racks held cherry mugs, cherry tea towels, cherry greeting cards, T-shirts with cherries on them, even a cherry-colored shoe horn. Whoever was responsible for marketing the town was overdoing the cherry theme but he guessed there wasn’t much else to recommend the place. Lake looked good if you were into fishing, which he wasn’t.

“We renovated all the other cabins this summer except that one. Hoped to have it done by now but the contractor got sick,” Margery prattled on.

“Sorry to hear that.” Alex had been on the road nearly eight hours and he was having trouble focusing on Margery’s steady stream of commentary. He needed to email his Cancun hotel and tell them he’d be few days late. “Do you have WiFi?”

“Oh, yes, we’re right up to date. How many nights, Mr…Chernoff?” Margery asked, reading upside down.

“Just one. No, better make it two.” That should be ample time to make sure his father was alive and well and be on his way. Chances were he and his dad would have nothing to say to each other after so many years. Already he was thinking this was a wild goose chase. If Robert couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see him, he could always get a flight from Spokane and pick up his car later.

“Are you sure?” Margery adjusted her red-framed glasses more firmly on her nose and peered at him sternly. “You don’t want to miss the Cherry Festival next weekend, not after coming all the way from Seattle. You won’t find any other accommodation at this late date.”

“I’m sure. Two nights,” he said firmly.

“Well, you let me know if you change your mind. Once folk get a taste of Cherry Lake they often don’t want to leave.” Margery handed him an old-fashioned iron key. “You’re in Cabin Number Five. You have the use of the row boats and if you haven’t brought your own fishing rod you can borrow one from here.”

Alex took the key. “I won’t be doing any fishing but I appreciate the offer.”

“You’re here on business then?” Margery clasped her hands comfortably above her rounded stomach. Her bright brown eyes reminded him of a bird eyeing a juicy worm.

“In a way.” At the door he paused. “Oh, do you know a young woman, late twenties, long red hair in braids, drives a blue Honda with an I Love Cherry Lake bumper sticker? Bit of an attitude.” It was a long shot but he hadn’t been able to get her laughing green eyes out of his mind. He wasn’t sure if he was annoyed or attracted or a bit of both.

“That sounds like Emma Stanhope. Lovely girl. So smart, too.”

“So she lives here?” She needed a little talking to. Let her know he didn’t appreciate being mocked.

“Her mom and sister do. Her mom works here at the motor inn, in fact. I expect Emma’s in town for the festival. I can look up her phone number if you want.”

“No, that’s okay, thanks.” On second thought best to stay right away from her. He was here for one reason only, to check on his father.

He got back in his car and drove the short distance down a lane to his cabin, a tiny log house with a rickety front porch and a path down to the lake. Margery wasn’t kidding about it being rustic. The steps were loose and the linoleum floor creaked with every footfall. Basic kitchen, well-worn furniture in the tiny living room, one bedroom and a bathroom with the shower over the tub. No airconditioning but there was an electric fan in the living room. Not even close to the five star accommodation he had booked in Cancun. But it was clean, spotless in fact.

After emailing the hotel in Mexico to postpone his arrival date he showered and changed into a fresh polo shirt and shorts. Then he drove slowly back through the commercial end of town, telling himself he was looking for a restaurant for dinner later. The Montreau Hotel looked promising. There was also a pizza place, a diner called, naturally, the Cherry Pit, a few cafes and a tavern that looked as if it served food.

He rolled his shoulders and moved his jaw, conscious of the tension. It was only three pm. Forget dinner, forget making a plan. He could drive up to the house right now. Why put off confronting his father? Because now that he was here, he realized it wasn’t to make sure his father was okay. He’d come to demand to know why the hell Robert had abandoned Alex all those years ago.

He wanted answers to other questions, too; questions that had bothered him for years. Like, what had Robert and his mom talked about that day in the cherry orchard that left Robert sad and his mother angry? His mom had always been close-lipped when it came to his father, refusing to speak about him after he’d left.

He’d never gone looking for his father before this. He’d been too angry. Maybe his mom’s attitude had put him off. Maybe he’d just figured that if his dad didn’t need him in his life, then he didn’t need his dad. But he was here now. He needed to get this over with.

Retracing his route through town he located Jackson’s Cherry Farm again easily enough. He turned in the driveway and drove up to the two-story log house sitting proudly on a rise looking west over the lake. Surrounded by ornamental trees, broad manicured lawns and colorful garden beds, it was an impressive home.

One door in the three car garage was open. Stored on shelves or along the wall were bicycles, skis, tennis rackets, all the paraphernalia of an outdoor lifestyle in various sizes and types. His hunch had been correct. Robert had a family. He pressed a hand to his solar plexus as a rush of adrenaline flooded his system. He had half-brothers or sisters and never known it.

A golden retriever trotted around the side of the house, saw him and barked a warning. The front door opened and an attractive blonde woman in her mid-fifties wearing a pink blouse and a white skirt came out and down the wide front steps. She must be Robert’s wife.

Alex dragged a hand through his hair and felt perspiration along his hairline. It was a hot afternoon and the sky overhead was a burning blue but that wasn’t causing him to sweat. This encounter could prove just a tad awkward. What, if anything, had his father told his wife about him?

He got out of his car and walked toward her. “Hello. I’m looking for Robert Jackson. Is he available?”

“He had to go to Billings for a couple of days.” The woman gave him a warm smile. “Can I help you?”

Billings. That was another day’s drive. How would he find him if he did go? His wife wasn’t going to give information on his whereabouts to a total stranger. Nor was he ready to tell her who he was without first talking to his father.

“I…need to see him personally.” Alex resisted the urge to press his damp palms against his khaki shorts. “When will he be back exactly? I may not be in town long.”

“Tuesday or Wednesday, depending.” She didn’t say depending on what. “If it’s important I can let him know you want to speak to him and he’ll call you when he’s able.”

“No, don’t do that.” Damn. This is what he got for making impulsive changes to his itinerary. He was going to have to mooch around this hick town for three days when he could have been sitting in the pool bar by now at the resort in Cancun, taking his pick of bikini-clad babes.

“You weren’t looking for a job picking, were you?” Her eyes lit hopefully. “We’re so short of help this year.” Then her gaze strayed to his late model sports car and his resort wear and she flashed him a quick smile. “I guess not.”

Alex opened his mouth to say no, he wasn’t a picker, and then closed it again. What better way to learn about his father’s life than to be here, on the spot, interacting with his wife and children? The thought was disturbing on many levels, not the least of which was that it felt sneaky, but the situation was evolving quickly. “Actually, I have come to pick cherries.”

“Really?” Her perfectly shaped brows drew together in confusion. “So did you want to see Robert or did you just hear that the orchard needs pickers?”

“I…both.” Did she even know of his existence? Had Robert ever said, by the way, I’ve got a son by a previous relationship in Canada? If Alex told her his name would she welcome him in—or would she send him on his way? Under the force of her scrutiny he stumbled through an explanation he hoped sounded plausible. “We have a mutual friend. Had, I should say, since she passed away. Anyway, I’m in the neighborhood for a few days. Thought I’d drop in and say hello. I don’t mind helping out while I wait.”

“Well, that’s wonderful. I’m Linda.” She shook his hand, her large diamond ring pressing into the fleshy undersides of his fingers.

“Alex Chernoff.” He watched her face closely but saw no sign of recognition. His chest hurt somewhere deep inside knowing that his father hadn’t told his wife about him. As if he didn’t exist. Well, he did, as he’d proved over and over throughout his life, taking out honors in school, captain of the basketball team, first in his class in college, partner before he was thirty. His mom always said he was driven and maybe he was.

“You’ll need to speak to my son, Will, down at the processing plant.” Linda pointed past the garage to a hangar-like steel shed two hundred or so yards away. “Public access is from Ralston Road but you can go down that lane. Save you going back to the highway.”

Alex glanced down the muddy lane pock-marked with puddles that led to the shed. Empty white bins were stacked outside. More bins sat aboard a flatbed trailer attached to a tractor parked in the dirt yard.

And then who should come strolling up the driveway from the street but the red-head from the blue Honda? She wore blue coveralls and carried what looked like a metal suitcase.

“Oh, here’s Emma,” Linda said. “She’ll take you down and introduce you to Will. Emma, come over here, dear!”

“Hey, Linda,” Emma called. When she saw Alex, her smile faded and her warm green eyes cooled. Her long stride slowed as approached. “What’s up?”

“Em, this is Alex,” Linda said. “He’s here to pick.”

“Yeah, right.” Emma snorted with laughter.

His eyebrows rose. Her reaction was a bit harsh considering his only crime was tailgating. Keeping his cool, he gave her a subtle ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ look. “I am.”

“Do you have any experience?” she asked skeptically.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m a fast learner.”

“He looks strong and fit. That’s good enough for me,” Linda interjected. “Maybe you haven’t heard, Emma, but our regular pickers got tired of waiting for the rain to stop and left for Washington. Will’s rounding up a new crew for next week. Right now all we have are half a dozen backpackers and a family. Frankly, we can use all the help we can get.”

“I know you must be struggling,” Emma conceded, her mocking gaze still fixed on Alex. “Don’t be surprised when he stops work to check his stock options twenty times a day.”

“Only a dozen times, max.” His eyes narrowed. Who flipped who the bird?

Linda glanced from him to Emma in confusion. “Do you two know each other?”

“No,” Emma said.

“Yes.” Alex held her gaze. “We passed each other on the road coming into town. I was worried she would get a ticket for impeding traffic so I offered a friendly suggestion that she go a little faster. And then she returned the favor.”

“Ah, I see.” Linda frowned, clearly not seeing at all. “I’ve got to get back inside. I’m in the middle of making jam. Emma, can you take Alex down to the plant and introduce him to Will?”

“If that’s what you want.” She glanced at Alex. “I hope your Beemer can handle a few mud puddles?”

“Of course.” He turned to Linda. “Nice to meet you. And thanks for hiring me.” He got in the car, leaned across and threw open the passenger door.

Emma climbed in, placing her case on her lap. Alex put the car in gear and turned down the rutted lane, splashing through puddles. The windows were rolled down and the sound of grasshoppers in the long grass at the edges of the orchards was deafening.

“What’s your game, Alex?” Emma asked. “Have you ever worked a day of manual labor in your life?”

“You’d be surprised.” He refused to take offense at her tone, choosing to keep it light. Beneath their antagonistic banter a tension hummed that with another woman he would call sexual. “Do you have a thing against men in sports cars?”

“Don’t be silly. Seriously, why are you pretending you’re going to pick cherries? Is this a bet, or some frat boy prank? You look too old to be part of a fraternity.”

“What’s your beef? I’m a friend of the family’s.” Briefly he had to concentrate, placing both hands on the wheel to negotiate an unusually large puddle. “Are you Linda and Robert’s daughter or niece?” God, he hoped they weren’t related.

“Nope. Emma Stanhope, long-time neighbor. Which you would know if you really were a friend of the family.” She twisted her metal case so he could read the stamped faded black letters, Montana Agricultural Department. “I’m here to sample for fruit flies.”

“Hence the colorful outdoor wear.” She was not unattractive, if you liked that girl-next-door type and could ignore the coveralls. Which he couldn’t. And he really didn’t need anyone asking pointed questions about his motives. “Are you always so suspicious of strangers? Is that the small town friendliness I’ve heard so much about?”

Her small pointed chin jerked up. “I’m protective of people I care about. We get all sorts coming through for the cherry harvest. Backpackers, students and professional farm workers, mostly. But I’ve never seen a man sign up who manicures their nails.”

Damn. He curled his fingers into his palm. Manicures weren’t normally part of his grooming routine but someone had given it to him as an early birthday present and he’d thought what the hell. Last time he’d fall for that nonsense.

He glanced at her short blunt nails resting atop the sampling case. “I’d say it takes a manicure buff to know one but clearly that’s not the case here.”

“Smirk all you like,” she said airily. “I’ll have the last laugh when you come crying because you broke a nail climbing the ladder.”

He smothered a laugh. She was actually amusing to spar with, not that he’d let her know he was enjoying himself. That would spoil the fun.

Then her sharp green gaze raked his profile. “Which family member did you say you were friends with again?”

“I didn’t.” In a few days he’d have talked to his father and everything would be out in the open. Or else his father wouldn’t acknowledge him publicly. In that case he would drive back to the coast, a soon-to-be-forgotten mystery to the inhabitants of Cherry Lake. He nodded at her sampling case. “Is there a disease problem?”

“Fruit flies have been spotted in a neighboring orchard. Will says he hasn’t seen any in his trees but I’m checking anyway. Last thing they need is an infestation.”

“That would make for bad press.”

“It would make for a failed crop and no harvest.” She slanted him a curious glance, her voice softening. “Have you had any experience with cherries?”

“No,” he admitted. “I work in marketing. I’m on vacation and felt like doing something completely different.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that. Maybe. Is that an accent I detect?”

“I’m originally from Canada, just north of here, in Castlegar, British Columbia.”

“I have a cousin in Vancouver. Maybe you know her, Sylvia Davies?”

“Right, because there are so few of us Canucks that we all know each other. Even though Castlegar is hundreds of miles from Vancouver. Even though Vancouver has a population of roughly two and a half million people. Even though I live and work in Seattle.”

Her easy laugh was devoid of embarrassment and ended on a distinct but charming snort. “Okay, so it was a long shot. It’s that small town mentality. We never quite get used to not knowing everyone.” She paused then added, “Do you know Robert and Linda’s kids, Will, Taylor and Jodi?”

Three half-siblings he’d never met, never even knew about. How old were they? What did they do? What did they look like? His grip tightened around the wheel as he schooled his face not to reveal the shock. He didn’t dare meet her gaze. “What do you think?” he drawled when he’d recovered slightly. “You’re not nosy at all, are you?”

“I’m a scientist. We’re curious by nature. Why is that nosy? I’m making conversation.”

Alex concentrated on navigating between the puddles. His headache, never far away all day, was back. Emma was right. He was being too defensive. Only people with something to hide didn’t like answering questions. Which was crazy. He’d done nothing wrong.

Rows of cherry trees spread out east and south and seemed to grow right up to the foothills of the towering snow-capped mountains about fifty miles east. If his mother and father had never split up he might have grown up here. This could have been Alex’s home and the orchard his property one day. It was an odd feeling to think his life might have turned out so differently. But maybe it wouldn’t have. He’d left the tiny town of Castlegar for the big city, first Vancouver and then Seattle. He might have done the same if he’d grown up here.

He pulled into the yard of the packing shed and parked behind a shiny red HiLux. Time to put an end to the question and answer session. He was no spider who liked to prey on weaker beings and Emma didn’t seem at all timid but he thought he knew just how to make Miss Muffet turn tail and run. Twisting in his seat, he leaned a little closer and let his gaze drift down to the open top button of her blouse beneath the bulky overalls. “I’m curious, too. What do girls wear under their coveralls?”

Pink flooded her cheeks but she met his bogus flirtation with a scathing glance. “Maybe those crude lines work on women where you come from but here in Cherry Lake we’re a little more subtle.”

“Ouch, that’s harsh.” He pretended to be stung by her words. Really he was pleased she’d thrown his shit back at him. And frankly he was fascinated by the sun throwing fiery sparks off her hair and the gleam in her emerald eyes. His taste ran to willowy blondes, cool and detached but hot in bed. What was it about this freckle-faced girl-next-door that made him sit up and take notice? And Emma did have freckles, a smattering of them straddling her nose, almost invisible beneath her tan. He wanted to trace them with a fingertip, joining the dots and then sweep that burning hair behind her ear and see just how soft her skin was there.

For a split second, her features softened under his gaze and her lips parted, showing a thin line of white teeth above a full bottom lip and a pink tongue. The tension between them shifted like smoke and the antagonism became overtly sexual. He moved closer, only a fraction of an inch, but it was enough to break the spell.

With a startled blink she snapped out of it, her lips clamping together. She grabbed her sampling case and wrenched her door open. “Will’s in the shed. I’ll introduce you and then I have to get going.”

Alex leaned back in the red leather bucket seat and took a moment to recover his composure. He’d run through too many emotions in one day for a hungover thirty-year-old. He knew himself too well not to realize that shooting the shit with Emma, while amusing, had been a delaying tactic. Now he had to come face to face with his half-brother.

Slowly he got out and followed Emma across the dirt yard to the shed. He considered himself capable of handling most tricky situations but this was unprecedented. Up until this moment he’d been in almost a dream state, not really sure what he was doing, or why. Now it was all becoming very real. Part of him was excited to meet his half-brother. Part of him was resentful that he was metaphorically the poor relation, the outcast.

None of that was Will’s fault, of course. But his ruse about looking for a picking job meant he had to tamp down the emotional impact of this encounter. If he wanted to be hired he’d better play nice.

A tall sandy-haired man wearing a blue denim shirt, Wranglers and a straw cowboy hat dented in the crown came out of the shed. Holy hell. This “kid” looked to be about his age. How was that even possible? What kind of dog was his dad anyway? Had Robert been two-timing his mom?

“Emma, good to see you!” Will gave her a warm hug. “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem. I’m in town on vacation, anyway. You know me, I never miss the cherry festival. Sucks about the rain delaying everything.”

“No kidding. We had to get the helicopters in yesterday to dry out the fruit.” Will’s glance shifted to Alex.

“This is Alex.” Emma made an offhand gesture. “He’s come to pick.”

“Hi, I’m Will Jackson.” Will extended a hand in a firm strong handshake.

“Alex Chernoff.” His father’s eyes, a lighter brown in color but the same shape, stared disconcertingly out of his half-brother’s open, friendly face. As with Linda, there was no flicker of recognition at his name. Clearly his father hadn’t ’fessed up to his other family about Alex and his mom. But then, neither had Robert ever said anything to Alex about Will even though he’d visited for a few years after he’d moved out. What kind of double life had his dad led? “I’ll probably only be here three or four days, I’m afraid.”

“Better than nothing,” Will said. “Have you had any experience?”

“Not in an orchard. I worked as a laborer for a landscaper every summer during college if that counts.”

“It shows you know how to work hard.” Will paused. “You went to college? What do you do now?”

“Marketing. I’m with a big firm in Seattle.” No point mentioning he was a partner. It would just make this whole scenario even more implausible.

Will scratched under his hat, a frown tugging at his brow. “You came here to pick cherries what, for the fun of it? Most of our pickers are from Mexico or Central America and we get a few backpackers and a couple of families who come every summer as part of their vacation. Not usually young professionals like yourself.”

Alex spread his hands, shrugged. “I wanted to get out of the office, do something different. It was kind of an impulse. To tell you the truth, I had no intention of picking cherries until I saw the sign at the end of your driveway.”

He was very aware as he spoke of Emma taking everything he said in and processing it in that busy brain of hers, looking for contradictions and discrepancies. All he could do was tell the truth as far as possible and stick to it.

“Okay, whatever your reason doesn’t bother me. Every extra hand is an answer to my prayers,” Will said. “Come inside and I’ll show you around the packing and processing plant. We can assign you a unit in the workers’ accommodation. Unless…” He paused, frowning slightly. “Do you live around here? You look a little familiar.”

Alex’s pulse kicked up. He could speak up right now. If I look familiar it’s because we’re related. Your father is my father. His mind raced at the thought of opening that can of worms. What would Will’s reaction be, denial? Disbelief? He bit his tongue, calling on all his self-control to keep his voice even. “I don’t need accommodation. I’m staying at the motor inn north of town.”

“The Lake View? My mom, Karen, works there,” Emma said. “Don’t leave too much mess and she’ll give you extra soap.” His mouth curled in an incredulous smile. “Don’t laugh,” she added. “You’re going to need it if you’re picking cherries.”

“Come inside and I’ll show you around.” Will led the way into the cavernous shed and gestured to the cherry processor. “All the machines are quiet now but when the fruit starts coming in it’s pretty noisy in here. Cherries get loaded into this hopper and go from here into the tub for washing. They’re carried up the rack and dried with those fans and end up on the conveyor belt. Process workers pick over the cherries and on the far end they’re packed into those boxes.” He indicated flat cardboard boxes labeled Jackson’s Cherries stacked along the wall. “The boxes are loaded onto trucks and transported to either local markets or to a trucking company for shipment across the country. We sell nationwide.”

“Impressive.” His marketing brain immediately started to wonder how the Jacksons could get their product into overseas markets. Weren’t the Japanese big on cherries? Again, he held his tongue. Their business was nothing to do with him.

“My dad and I run the orchard together—when he’s not at his realty office, that is. He had to take a couple days off everything recently. Work is piling up.” Will moved to a makeshift office tucked in a corner with a cluttered noticeboard, a desk with a computer surrounded by a sea of paper and an overflowing In Tray.

“I can see you’re swamped with your father away.” Alex had no idea his father’s cherry orchard was so big. Despite the extra work, Will was clearly proud of their business and rightly so.

“There are spare coveralls hanging in the locker room through that door,” Will went on. “The cold room is next to that. Sometimes we have to store the cherries for a day or two before they can be shipped. Showers and toilets are in the concrete building behind this shed next to the workers’ units if you want to wash up before you leave.” While he spoke he fished a form out of the filing cabinet in the corner next to the desk and handed it to Alex along with a pen. “Fill this in—address, social security number, etc. Have a seat if you want.”

Alex sat down, pushed aside a stack of bills and started filling out the form. Emma and Will drifted a short distance away. Will leaned on the hopper. Emma shoved her hands in the pockets of her coveralls and frowned up at him. Even though they were speaking in low voices Alex couldn’t help but overhear.

“How is your dad?” Emma asked. “Your mom didn’t tell me much when I called earlier but she seemed worried. What’s this about him getting medical tests? Why did he go all the way to Billings?”

“He’s been having chest pains and was short of breath. His GP referred him to a cardiologist in Billings. Mom wanted to go with him but with the festival coming up and the harvest, she needs to be here.”

Alex’s hand paused and he tilted his head, his ears straining to listen. Chest pains. Cardiologist. Shit. He hadn’t seriously expected his hunch to be right.

“What’s wrong?” Emma asked. “Is it critical?”

“Nah. He’s stressed over the harvest being delayed. He does too much, what with the realty business, the orchard and being president of the cherry growers’ association. And of course the festival takes another chunk of his time. He’ll be okay.”

“I hope so. Anything I can do to help, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, thanks. We appreciate it. I’ve taken over running the orchard. Mom is doing the website. Taylor and Jodi have both come home to help out.”

“I’ll pick, too.”

“I can’t ask you to do that. This is your vacation.”

“I don’t mind, honestly. Your family has done so much for me over the years.”

“Well, great. You could show our new friend the ropes if you like.”

Silence from Emma. Alex bit back a dry smile. She must really be happy with that suggestion. He’d rather help with the website or give advice on marketing. That was his field, after all. But they wouldn’t allow a stranger to do that. He picked up his completed form and walked over to hand it to Will. “All done.”

“I’ll get started sampling,” Emma said, taking a step away. “Will, I’ll talk to you later about what I find.” Her gaze transferred to Alex. “See you tomorrow at dawn, Slick. We’ll see what you’re made of then.”

His gaze followed her as she walked across the yard and plunged into the cool green of the orchard. “Is she serious about dawn? I don’t even know what time that is.”

“She’ll be here at dawn,” Will said with a smile. “But that’s Emma, she goes all out. Everyone else starts at seven a.m. Meet here at the shed.”

“Okay. See you then.” Alex shook hands again then hesitated, wishing there was something more he could say. Condolences on his father—their—father. Ask for more information, about his dad’s condition and about the past. But he could do none of that, not and maintain his cover. Now that he’d signed up to pick, he couldn’t even go to Billings and sit by his father’s bedside. What had he gotten himself into? And what was his father going to say when he discovered Alex had passed himself off as a cherry picker and insinuated himself into his family’s life. Would he be glad to see him or pissed off? For that matter, what kind of a man was his father?

All these questions plaguing him. How would Will and Linda feel when they discovered he’d misled them? When they learned Robert had either lied or withheld information from them about a secret son. Did Linda even know he’d lived with another woman? Alex might harbor anger and resentment toward his father but even so, he didn’t want to destroy his father’s current life, or upset innocent people.

Up until this morning he hadn’t even considered what his father’s life was like. Or that he needed to rethink his own. Or that his journey would detour to the unlikely town of Cherry Lake.

End of Excerpt

The Secret Son is available in the following formats:

ISBN:

August 25, 2015