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The Apple Tree by Kara Jimenez
Aspiring food blogger and ex-college student, Bianca Phillips, is sick and tired of her mother’s immature behavior. Desperate to escape family drama and responsibilities of caring for her brother, she goes for a bike ride in the country and stumbles upon an apple tree. With her stomach rumbling, Bianca reaches for a fruit and is startled by a mysterious and delectable man.
Over a hundred and fifty years ago, Levi Elwood and Peter Cabrera had their world turned upside down when they ate a slice of apple pie. Through the loss and heartbreak that followed, their friendship turned to loathing as both men struggled to come to terms with their new and unusual life.
Charming, seducer Peter has no idea it was the apples that made him immortal, but he’s desperate to find the cause and he knows Levi has the answer.
Rugged outdoorsman, Levi, now guards the apple tree, hoping to protect others from the same fate as his own. One fall evening, his life changes forever when a beautiful redhead wanders onto the property.
Bianca unknowingly becomes entangled in a centuries old feud that could leave her and her loved ones in grave danger. Will Levi be able to protect others from the pain of the curse or will Peter get control of the tree and the woman Levi is falling for?
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An Excerpt from The Apple Tree by Kara Jimenez
Bianca shoved moss-covered branches out of the way as she stumbled through the woods. Where the heck was the highway?
She kicked a pebble across the forest floor and cursed the deer who’d led her into the dense vegetation. The animal had stood only a few feet from the road and would’ve made a lovely photograph. Easy, right? She should be cursing herself for being so foolish.
The sun slipped lower in the sky. No way was she spending the night out here. Her heart pounded as she dug the phone from her backpack and glanced at the screen. A photo of Owen smiled back at her. If she didn’t find her way home soon, she’d miss her little brother’s bedtime story and the boy didn’t need any more disappointment in his life.
Above the toddler’s golden hair, the clock read just after six. Didn’t cougars come out at dusk? A vague memory of a sighting, written in the newspaper, lingered in her mind. She shivered and held the phone above her head— still no signal. “Just my luck.”
In every direction, tangles of trees, ferns and thorny bushes scraped against her skin. A low hanging branch blocked her way and she ducked, squeezing beneath it. On the other side stood several apple trees surrounded by a waist-high wire fence. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that lunch had been hours ago.
Pushing the wire down, she stepped into the tiny orchard. Surely the owner wouldn’t mind if she ate one? And maybe this meant there was a house nearby where she could ask for directions.
A sweet, earthy scent filled the air and made her mouth water. She removed a golden apple from the nearest branch and bit into the crisp, ripe flesh. It tasted every bit as delicious as it smelled.
Light bulb moment— Apple cobbler would be a fantastic recipe for her blog. And then she could do a tutorial on homemade ice cream. Or even better, homemade ice cream made with coconut milk for those who avoided dairy. Maybe she should be thanking that deer for leading her to such an inspiring place, except, she was still lost. And there were still cougars.
She glanced around the labyrinth of twigs and thorns before taking another chomp. The ache in her stomach eased. Unfortunately, the bite revealed a tunnel and a green tail wiggled out of the core.
“Ugh!” She grimaced, tossed the apple into the woods and stalked to the center of the grove where the biggest tree stood. On her tiptoes, she pulled a shiny, crimson fruit off the branch with a snap and inspected for bugs.
“Drop it!” A deep voice broke the silence.
She jumped and the apple slid from her hand.
A man stood about ten feet away, on the other side of the trees. He looked mid-twenties, maybe the same age as her. A burgundy flannel shirt stretched tightly over his muscular body while broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist and flat stomach. Brown hair hung in short, coarse curls over his forehead and stubble covered his square jaw.
Her heart pounded under the thin blouse. Was it caused by exhaustion, fear or attraction? Who knew such handsome men hung out in the middle of the woods?
“What are you doing?” An irritated expression covered his face and his hand tightened around a rifle, thankfully pointed down. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I-I’m sorry. I got lost. I’ve been walking for over an hour.” She bit the inside of her cheek. Hopefully he didn’t use the gun on trespassers. Her fingers clutched the straps of her backpack. A pocket knife lay tucked in the side pouch. Would she be able to reach it, if needed?
Who was she kidding? A tiny knife was no match for a gun.
“Did you eat an apple?” His gaze darted from the branches overhead to her face.
The sweet flavor lingered in her mouth and she licked her lips. Angering the guy would be a terrible idea and technically, she hadn’t eaten the whole apple… “No, I’m just trying to find my way back to the highway. But I am hungry—”
“No apples. Did you put any in your bag?” He gestured toward her backpack.
She shook her head. “No.” Geeze, this guy was possessive.
“Let me see.” His gray eyes remained dead serious as he reached toward her.
“No. I’m not going to let you search my bag.” She took a step back, stumbling on a rock behind her.
He sighed, stood the rifle on the ground and leaned against it. “Do you want me to help you find the way to the road or would you like to wander around the woods some more?” His head nodded in the direction she’d come. “I think you have about an hour of daylight left. Just enough time to build a nice little shelter out of sticks and leaves.”
She grimaced, pulled the bag off her back and unzipped it. Who did this guy think he was, the TSA? This was so demeaning.
He stepped forward, grabbed the bag and rummaged through the contents. When satisfied, he handed it back. “The road’s this way.” He pointed behind him. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
She stood in place. “You don’t… use the gun on trespassers, do you?”
An amused scoff broke through his tense demeanor. “Only if they try to eat my apples.” His eyebrows rose.
That had to be a joke, right? She swallowed and grabbed a piece of her hair, twisting it around her finger.
“Come on.” He waved his hand.
Her gaze darted over his well-developed muscles as she considered whether it would be safe to follow him. “I don’t know if…”
His features softened. “I’m not going to hurt you. I want to get you out of here just as much as you do.”
She took a deep breath and walked toward him. It wasn’t like she had any other options. “Why are you so protective of the apples anyway? I mean, isn’t that why you grow them? For people to—”
“Just forget about the damn apples, okay? They’re not for eating.” The hard expression returned to his face.
“What else do you do with apples besides eat them?” Her brows furrowed.
He turned and stalked down a thin dirt trail into the forest.
She scanned the area behind her. Where had that half-eaten core landed? Fallen apples and twigs littered the ground, but no obvious bites. It’d better be hidden, because she didn’t want to be discovered as a liar. Even if she was long gone by then. She took a deep breath and followed him down the trail.
His boots crunched over the dead leaves and sticks littering the path. Otherwise, he remained silent, glancing at her only occasionally. She studied his features, telling herself it was in case she needed to recall anything in a police interview later. But if she was being honest, she couldn’t stop checking him out. His sturdy figure moved through the woods easily and when his eyes flicked toward her, there was something there, written in the gray depths— sadness, worry, fear? What could he possibly have to fear from her?
After a few minutes, the woods opened to a clearing where there was a tidy, one story log cabin with navy blue curtains hanging in the windows and a swinging wooden bench on the porch. On the side of the house, a fence surrounded a large garden with neat rows of vegetables. An older, blue Toyota pickup truck was parked in front.
She smiled at the homestead. It looked similar to what she envisioned herself having one day. A perfect fit for the Oregon landscape surrounding it.
“Follow the driveway about a mile and you’ll reach the main road.” He pointed toward the gravel path, which curved and disappeared into the trees.
“Thank you.” She headed down the long driveway, her sandals crunching on the tiny stones as she walked.
“Wait,” he called.
Turning, she found him standing on the porch with what looked like a forced smile on his face.
“Do you need a drink or something?”
A drink sounded nice, but she wanted to get home. Despite the man’s attractiveness, she got some really creepy vibes from this whole situation. “I have, um… water in my bag. So, I’m fine, thanks.”
He nodded, opened the door and walked inside.
Did he live way out here by himself? There weren’t any signs of female influence on the little house, but he seemed too young and gorgeous not to have a companion.
She continued down the long driveway for at least a mile. Her leg muscles burned and wobbled like noodles from the all the walking. The road appeared ahead and about a hundred feet away, her bike lay against a tree where she’d left it two hours ago.
Thank God. There’s no way she could afford another bike, not to mention, it would have been a very long walk home.
She climbed on the seat and started toward town. The sun fell lower in the sky, casting long shadows from the trees onto the road. A shiver tore through her and she wished she’d brought a sweater. But, seriously, how could she have guessed that she’d be out so long?
For once, her irresponsible mother had been right— she’d have been better off just staying home. Even though she loved riding her bike along the quiet roads south of Corvallis, as she’d done for years, she’d never been tempted to venture off in the forest before. What had she been thinking? What if she hadn’t found the road? She shuddered and pedaled faster at the thought.