In Carla Neggers’ THE RIVER HOUSE, her new Swift River Valley contemporary romance, Felicity MacGregor loves organizing social events for others, but her own personal life? That’s a mess. After a failed attempt at a financial analyst career, she returned to Knights Bridge, where she enjoys running a thriving party-planning business.
But now her childhood friend, Gabriel Flanagan, a high-flying businessman, is also returning. Gabe couldn’t wait to get out of Knights Bridge, but he’s back to speak at the local entrepreneurial boot camp Felicity’s been hired to organize. They’ll finally have to face each other, their complicated past—and a chance at a future together.
In The River House, Felicity MacGregor and Gabe Flanagan grew up in little Knights Bridge but left after high school, thinking they’d never return. Knights Bridge is a classic, small New England town I created, but it’s inspired by my own hometown and various small towns where I’ve lived.
“Home” for me still is the 18th-century former carriage house where I grew up in western Massachusetts, and my mother and oldest brother still live there. The surrounding woods and fields are a sort of tree farm now, still laced with trails my six siblings and I explored as kids. I love showing my young grandchildren where to find lady slippers, and we’ve crossed the brook, jumping from rock-to-rock, just as I did when I was growing up.
My idea of “home” was also affected by growing up on the western edge of the Quabbin Reservoir. The reservoir was created early last century when four small towns were depopulated and leveled, dams were built and three branches of the Swift River were allowed to flood the valley, creating a water supply for metropolitan Boston. This happened well before I was born, but I knew people who’d been displaced—whose hometowns are now under water.
Then there’s my own family. My father was a Dutch immigrant, one of the youngest of a large family. He went to sea as a teenager and never returned home to the Netherlands to stay. My mother is from the Florida Panhandle. (How they got together is a great story for another time!) She and my father moved to our small town just before I was born, and I learned about their childhoods through their stories. All four of my grandparents died before I was born, but I “met” them and a wide range of relatives through my parents’ memories of them. By the time I got to visit my mother’s hometown and, later, went to Holland, it was like a homecoming of sorts. Everything felt familiar. That’s the power of storytelling!
Felicity and Gabe have their own story in THE RIVER HOUSE, their own memories and experiences as they figure out what their hometown and their ideas of “home” mean to them. I hope you enjoy this new book in my Swift River Valley series. Perhaps, after reading how they struggled with their second chance at love, you’ll think of them when you chance to see a quiet spot on the shores of a river.
THE RIVER HOUSE
Swift River Valley Book 8
March 27, 2018 mmp original
As she reached her Land Rover, she mentally went through everything that needed to be done before tomorrow’s party. Satisfied she had finished here, she got in her Rover and drove back out Carriage Hill Road and onto her quiet river road.
Gabe had left her a note on the kitchen counter.
Meet me at our old swimming hole. It’s hot. Time to cool off.
She let out a long, controlled breath.
Their swimming hole.
Why not take a refreshing dip in the river?
Felicity changed into a swimsuit, added shorts and a T-shirt over it and slipped into flip-flops. Before she could change her mind, she set off on a path down through the trees toward the river. Gabe’s car, she’d noticed, wasn’t in the driveway. Either he hadn’t arrived yet or he’d parked farther down the road and taken a shortcut to the swimming hole. That meant she could either walk back on her own or ride back with him in her wet swimsuit.
She followed the path through trees, grass and ferns. She almost talked herself into turning back twice before she reached the quiet, deep spot where she, Mark, Gabe and other kids had leaped into the river.
Mostly she and Gabe.
She spotted him by an oak tree that clung to the steep riverbank, and for a moment, he might have been the teenager she remembered, playful, dreaming of all he’d do in life, making plans so he wouldn’t end up “stuck” in Knights Bridge. He was more muscular now, all man with no hint of boy as he tied the fresh, new rope to a branch of the oak that reached out above the water.
He tugged on the rope. “It should hold.” He grinned at her. “Want to go first?”
“Why not? What could go wrong?”
“The rope could come loose, and I could end up dropping onto the rocks instead of into the water.”
He peered down the bank and shook his head. “There aren’t any rocks you need to worry about. You might hit shallow water, but it’s unlikely you’d get hurt. You’d compensate and fling yourself out to deeper water.”
She shook her head. “You first.”
“We could take the rope down to the edge of the river, but it wouldn’t be as much fun as swinging from up here.” He frowned at her. “You’re swimming in your shorts?”
“I have a suit on underneath.”
“Ah.” He hooked the rope onto a chunk of one of the old rungs they’d nailed into the tree years ago. “I didn’t pack swimming trunks. Shorts will have to do.”
Felicity made no comment. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it into the grass at the base of the tree trunk. She averted her eyes from his bare chest, the taut, developed muscles a reminder they weren’t kids anymore. They could relive the past with a quick dip in the river, but they hadn’t gone back in time.
He kicked off his sandals and grabbed the rope. He’d tied a knot at the lower end to provide footing. He gave the rope a tug, seemed unsurprised when it
Held, and hopped up, swinging out over the steep bank and silvery water. He shouted woo-hoo and plunged into the deep pool.
He shot up instantly, swearing. “Holy hell, the water’s colder than I remember.”
Felicity laughed, catching the rope as it swung back toward her. “You’re used to heated pools.”
“Damn right.” He gave his head a toss, flicking river water off his hair, and swam to a boulder a few yards below her. He hopped up onto it and sat, stretching out his legs on the sun-warmed rock. “Feels good on a hot day, though.” He pointed up at her. “Your turn.”
She peeled off her shorts and T-shirt and tossed them onto the ground next to his shirt. She adjusted her swimsuit, hoping it wouldn’t hike up or tug loose and expose more than she wanted to as she was swinging on the rope—something she never used to consider.
She tugged on the rope, making sure it was still secure after Gabe had used it. It held firm.
“Use your muscle memory,” he said from below her on his boulder. “You’ve done this before.”
Many times, she thought. She shut her eyes, concentrating on the still, hot air, the faint coolness rising up from the water below her, the sounds of the river coursing downstream, the chattering of a red squirrel in the trees. She could feel the roughness and newness of the rope. She remembered hanging on too long as a teenager and getting rope burn. Gabe hadn’t sympathized. “Let go sooner next time. Lesson learned, Felicity.”
She wouldn’t screw up or chicken out now, with him watching her.
She opened her eyes, pulled herself up onto rope, one foot on the knot as she swung out over the water and dropped before she naturally swung back, pendulum-like, to the bank. She tucked up her knees and cannonballed into the river, plunging underwater. She’d had fair warning it was cold, and it was. At the same time it felt good, and she resisted shooting to the surface. She swam a few yards underwater, toward Gabe’s rock, and then came up, taking in the warm, humid air.
Gabe swam next to her. “The water feels fine now,” he said. “Either that or I have hypothermia and can’t tell the difference.”
“Too soon for hypothermia.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re a forever New Englander.”
She smiled. “Don’t you forget it.”
They swam to the boulder and climbed onto it together, sitting next to each other, dripping as they watched the river. Felicity pointed to mallards clustered by rocks on the opposite shore. “I wonder if they’re related to the ducks from last time I was out here,” he said.
“When was that?”
“Summer after my sophomore year at UMass.”
“We went to a Red Sox game that summer. We sat in the bleachers.”
“That was the next summer.”
He leaned back on his elbows and stuck his feet in the water. “Was it?”
She nodded. “We drove together. I worked at my dad’s office that summer.”
“Oh, right. I picked you up after work. You were wearing eyeshades like Bob Cratchit.”
“I was not,” she said, grinning at him. “We drove straight to Fenway. The Red Sox lost to the Yankees by three runs.”
“Tied going into the eighth and the Yankees stole second base with two outs and ended up getting the lead. Red Sox got two men on base in the bottom of the ninth but didn’t score.” He sat up straight. “We should take another dip before we get too warm.”
He stood on the flat boulder, backed up as far as he could and cannonballed into the water. He swam out of the way and flipped onto his back. “You’re next.”
She leaped into the river in a sloppy cannonball. The water felt good now, just cold enough on the hot day. She popped up, and Gabe was there. He caught her around the waist. “I’m standing on a rock.”
She knew the rock at the river bottom, allowing him to stand up in water that otherwise would have been over his head.
“You know what to do,” he said with a grin.
Felicity did, indeed. She threw her arms over his shoulders. “Okay. Go ahead. Fling me.”
He hoisted her up, and she put her feet flat on his thighs. Then he tossed her into the water back first, as they’d done countless times as teenagers.
She swam back to him. “I wish I could flip you but you’re too big these days.”
“All grown up,” he said with a grin.
Yes. Definitely. She cleared her throat. “I should get back. I have a few things to do before dinner.”
“One more jump from the rope?”
“I’ve got all summer.”
“Yes,” he said. “You do.”
“All right. I’ll stay while you jump once more. Someone needs to be here in case you split your head open.”
“You’re all heart, Felicity.”
She climbed out of the water onto the bank and, grabbing a skinny poplar sapling by the trunk, hoisted herself up to the steep path. She had to crab-walk midway, holding on to embedded rocks and tree roots. She finally launched herself to the oak tree where they left their clothes.
Gabe was right behind her. She hadn’t realized it. He hopped up and grinned at her. “You still have a nice butt.”
He leaned out and grabbed the rope. Ideally, he’d have stayed on the bank on her turn and caught the rope as it swung back, but he’d been in the water. As kids, they’d tied the rope farther out on the branch, allowing for a landing in deeper water, but one of them would have had to crawl out along the branch to reach the rope. This worked fine.
“I’ll catch the rope when it swings back,” she said.
“Why don’t we go together?”
“What? It won’t hold—”
“It’ll hold just fine.”
And he hooked an arm around her middle, lifted her and leaped for the rope, using the momentum to swing them out over the river. He let go of the rope, and down they went in a tangle of limbs. She clung to him as they hit the water, went under, disentangled and surfaced.
She spit out water and brushed wet hair out of her eyes with one hand. He treaded water next to her, grinning. “That was fun,” he said.
“It was insane.”
“You used to like insane.”
“Within reason. This wasn’t within reason. We both could have split our heads open.”
“But we didn’t.”
She sighed. “No, we didn’t.” She treaded water next to him. “Now I have to climb up the bank again. I should make you carry me.”
“Now that would be dangerous.”
“Are you suggesting I’m too heavy?”
“No. Not suggesting anything of the sort.”
She saw it in his eyes then. Lust. Plain and simple. She recognized that look for what it was and flipped on her stomach and swam away from him, toward the
riverbank. She lifted herself onto a small boulder next to the path. “You first, Mr. Flanagan.”
He swam toward her, his strokes strong and smooth—which only added to her sense of physical awareness. “Your turn to watch my butt?”
“I didn’t say that.”
He grinned. “I did.”
“I was thinking I don’t need you watching my butt.”
“Since when are you self-conscious?”
“Gabe, we’re flirting with danger here. You’re bored.”
He flicked a drop of water off her chin. “What if I kissed you right now?”
“Where would that get you?”
“Gee, I wonder.” He ran his hands through his hair, squeezing out some of the water. “I’ll go first. Enjoy the view.”
He wasn’t the least bit self-conscious, she realized. He took the path quickly, using momentum to carry him up the steep bank. He only needed to grab one tree root. When he got to the top, he reached down, took her hand and all but hoisted her up next to him. “Should I have gone slower?” he asked. “Given you more time?”
“I had plenty of time.”
“I think you should kiss me and get it out of your system. Then we can go back to my place and check for ticks. Nothing to do with your kiss, of course. Just summer.”
“The thought of ticks could ruin the moment, but that was your point.” He smiled. “And the operative word is could.”
Felicity found herself leaning against the oak, feeling grass, dirt and small rocks under her bare feet, aware of the outline of her body—breasts, hips—under her wet swimsuit. It might not be a sleek bikini but she wasn’t hidden under jeans and a sweatshirt, either. “Okay,” she said. “Go for it. Kiss me.”
“Is that supposed to deter me?”
“No.” He cupped the back of her neck with one hand and lowered his mouth to hers. “Not even close,” he said, touching his lips to hers.
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About the Author:
Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 70 novels, including her popular Swift River Valley contemporary romance and Sharpe & Donovan romantic suspense series. In addition to writing, Carla is a dedicated runner, recently completing the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon in Vermont. She is also a whiskey enthusiast and avid traveler. She and her husband are frequent visitors to Ireland and divide their time between Boston, home to their two grown children and three young grandchildren, and their hilltop home in Vermont. Read more about Carla on www.CarlaNeggers.com