Authors: Ashley Ludwig
Her voice came as a whisper.
“Didn’t you ever want to hide from anything?”
Cain pursed his lips. “Didn’t have to. I just never went anywhere.” He shrugged his broad shoulders, and then stretched, one arm casually draped across hers. “So, we’re just a couple of cowards, hiding out in a slice of heaven. Could be worse.”
“Yeah?” She smirked at his smooth move then tilted her face to take in the warmth he sent in her direction. “How’s that?”
“We could’ve never met.” He looked off at the horizon.
His gaze elsewhere, she observed the hard line of his jaw, the dusting of stubble at his cheeks, and swallowed down her racing heart.
“That would have been tragic.” She jogged her shoulders at the weight of his stare, the heat behind his gaze, pouting in an attempt to keep it light. “Then who would I have conned into painting my grandma’s house?”
He closed the gap between them. His generous mouth paused for her to meet him in a tentative kiss.
Heat from his lips, his breath, she closed the distance, and gasped at the electric shock of his lips brushing hers. The tips of her fingers reached to trace, explore the hollow of his throat.
His hand found the back of her neck. He dragged her closer, mouths, lips, gently exploring one another, tongues slow dancing in perfect step.
Just the tips of their toes held on to the porch. Her thoughts swirled in a twister of wonder. When was the last time she’d sat like this? If ever? How could he know to be so cautious?
Praise for Ashley Ludwig
ALL OR NOTHING
“Ashley Ludwig’s energy and passion shines through every page of
All or Nothing
. If you like the Old Southwest, don’t miss this affectionate tale of trials overcome and love discovered, against a backdrop of mountains and desert that you will practically feel the heat.”
~Linore Rose Burkhard, author of
The House on Grosvenor Square
Before The Season Ends
“…I was tense up until the very end of the book worried about the ending. I recommend this book to all who enjoy a romance with a bit of suspense.”
~Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio
BY ANOTHER NAME
“Reading this story is like drinking a cup of hot chocolate next to a fire. It is smooth, sweet, and heartwarming. Not a drop of it is wasted.”
~Vasiliki Scurfield, reviewer, Between The Lines
“I recommend this book to all those who love to read a super-sweet love story with very real emotions. It’s a story of forgiveness, love and the fact that when you get older, yes, you really can have what you desire.”
~Val Harris, You Gotta Read Book Review
His and Hers
Ashley Elizabeth Ludwig
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
His and Hers
2010 by Ashley Elizabeth Ludwig
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
Visit us at www.ashleyludwig.com
Published in the United States of America
This story is dedicated to the women in my life…
To my sister, my mother, my grandmothers,
and my great-aunt—each integral in teaching me what true love is all about.
And thanks also, to God,
for keeping my cup overflowing…
Cain Trovato refused to write love songs anymore. He vividly recalled the last one, composed over ten years earlier for the girl who’d been his final muse. Unfortunately, Tuesday Martin—a sorority girl with stormy gray eyes—had her sights set quite a bit higher than on a townie like him.
Long Valley, California was a blip on the map, and Almond Valley College an even smaller pinprick. He grinned and stepped into the shadow of its scrolled metal archway. Glancing up, he admired the scene of grapes, of agriculture, and a setting sun worked into the frame. He had grown up here, graduated from college at the local campus, and Cain knew he would never leave—not then, not now.
And, his girl, Tuesday? She’d known it, too.
Summer school students hung out at the library, walked from the student union, and hurried on to points unknown. Cain had nowhere to go until his shift began in an hour.
No time like the present to post some concert flyers.
He might not write love songs, but man, could he sing them. A few advertisements for his upcoming show might drum up some new blood. He could bet money on who would show up, and where they’d lay their picnic blankets these days—his regular crowd consisted of friends of his parents, and fellow high school grads who’d stayed behind in Long Valley.
Gotta step out of my comfort zone sooner or later.
He adjusted the pages under his arm.
Sure’d be nice to see some young faces out in that crowd.
Cain strolled down the middle of campus, or The Mall as the students called it, flicking a glance to the shuffle of red brick-fronted buildings, set back from the sidewalks with large lawns. Twisting oak trees planted in bare dirt squares reached to worship the scattered cotton sky. A graduation banner fluttered in the cool, mid-day breeze.
Right before graduation—ten summers ago—Tuesday fell for and married a med-student. She’d been kind when she broke his heart at the restaurant on Main and Third. Cain wished her well, and watched her vanish out the door and out of his life. He returned home, ripped every song he’d ever written for her from his piles of notebooks, and wadded up the pages until his hands hurt—he rubbed the phantom pain in his palm, and flexed his fingers. Nothing eclipsed the ache she’d left in his heart. He’d never put pen to paper for another one. No girl had touched that space in his soul where love songs were born ever since.
Cain glanced around the campus, eyeing their old stomping grounds with a slight smile. Just fond memories. Shafts of sunlight through the oak leaves. Not happy, not sad, just subtle remembrances of days gone by.
A rumble of an approaching engine and thin sound of a radio drew him back to the here and now. He glanced up, focusing on the bright, polished black and white Buick Roadmaster—a 1959, by the look of those fins. Forget the car. His attention zeroed in on its driver.
She slowed to a stop at the sign and signaled left.
The girl, maybe in her late twenties, sang along to a familiar Bon Jovi ballad. Dark glasses obscured her animated face. Her blonde ponytail whipped in the breeze from the open windows.
Jaw half-cocked, Cain listened as she belted out the words, her tone drenched with emotion. She promised to hold on to heaven, and never say goodbye on key and on tempo with the tune.
Not a half bad voice, either.
Like a magnet, his gaze hooked on her while she waited for traffic to pass. So familiar, so easy on the eyes, had they met before? He stared in wonder.
Her slender hands drummed out the beat on the steering wheel. Cain swallowed down the déjà vu, as his heart thumped the beat of his silent plea—
see me, see me…
She turned toward him through white-framed sunglasses, hesitating at the sight of his stare. The shades obscured the slim line of her face, though she did a double take his way just as the traffic cleared. Like a finger snap, she drove off toward the center of town.
Cain’s mind turned back to his task, and his empty wishes vanished with the car and its driver, a mirage in the summer sun. With all of his time spent working or performing, he had scant opportunity to meet anyone of consequence. Still, Long Valley was a small town. Hopefully he’d catch her around, somewhere.
Yeah. And with his luck, she’d be married, with three kids in tow.
His heart jogged to an old cadence from an early song—a Tuesday song. He pushed it from his mind. That was the worst thing about writing love songs, Cain thought, thumbing the top copy off his stack of flyers. Not the lack of audience, but having the songs spin around in your head long after your lover had hit the road.
Above his head, a retro-antique movie poster advertised the release of the classic film
His and Hers
at the college theater in two weeks. Cain gaped at the perky, image of Nona Darling smiling back at him, looking demure and sexy at the same time.
The girl in the Buick looked a dead-ringer for the fifties actress at her prime…his mouth went dry at the sight.
No. Nona Darling still lived in that house up on the hill near his parents’ olive groves. Mrs. Darling was an old lady now, and ghosts don’t drive around singing along with Bon Jovi. Maybe the girl was one of those star look-alikes, most likely, a relative, in for the festival. A divorcee, perhaps…looking for love?
He plastered another concert flyer to the message board, humming an impromptu melody under his breath. At the bridge, he tried out the fifties movie title in a lyric, singing as he stapled.
“When will they learn?
That one’s his,
And this one’s hers…”
Not bad, he mused. Not great, but not bad. Cain gave a shake to clear his view and frowned up through his shaggy bangs. Time for a haircut, he sighed. He surveyed the campus of Almond Valley College. The brick buildings at his back, across the grassy mall, the great glass front of the library, the bookstore, and the student union shops where he’d played his first concert an eon ago.
A batch of sorority girls in matching Greek-lettered shirts strolled by, book bags slung across their backs. They barely cast a glance his way.
One did pause long enough to take his extended handbill. “My mother loves classical guitar. I’ll make sure my parents get this.” The tall, slender girl flipped her hair, folded the flier, and shoved it inside her purse.
“Great.” He blinked, and nodded. “See them there…I guess.”
“Thanks, sir!” With a grin, she exposed teeth embraced by a retainer, and jogged back to join her friends, ponytail dancing side to side.
Cain winced. Only ten years since he’d received his degree from this same institution, and now he was relegated to being a sir?
The pack of blonde, giggling girls crossed the street. He rubbed a free hand across his chin and watched them traipse along the grassy lawn and up the stairs to the library. They shot animated waves at four frat guys, lounging shirtless in the California sun. Not so much as a glance back to the longish-haired, early-thirties guitarist dressed in jeans and his Long Valley Olive Oil Company t-shirt. He tugged at the bottom and tucked it into his jeans. Sloppy
. Should have changed, maybe.
No sense in kidding himself. He’d probably said his share of ma’ams to thirty-two year old women when he was in school, too.
What was he doing ogling college girls, anyway? Just more proof he’d been single way too long.
Checking his watch, he had fifteen minutes to get back to the family olive oil shop off Main Street. Cain stepped away from the message board, casting one last glance at his handiwork.
His neon-blue ad for the show at the Long Valley olive groves looked small time next to the ads for the college film festival. He read the fine print detailing an awards banquet announcement, then jotted down a name and number for a sponsorship opportunity to promote Long Valley Olive Oil Company. He’d have to ask his folks, but his sister, Desiree, was always on the lookout for marketing ideas.
Again, he eyed the fifties movie poster. A sassy-looking, young and gorgeous Nona Darling stood, arms crossed, back to back with the guy who played Tarzan. Or was that someone else? Old movies were his mother’s thing. The picture was set to play in a few weeks. His mom was a sucker for any Nona Darling flick. Maybe she’d want to go with him. Pathetic, but true. These days, his mother remained his best choice for company.
He left the college main gate, turned left, and strolled a few blocks to Main Street, face upturned to enjoy the sunny day. Much of Long Valley had turned out to do the same.
People of every shape and size wandered the sidewalks. He smiled, leaving a trail of brightly colored ads in his wake with the folks who window-shopped in the district off the campus or ate in outdoor restaurants. He handed them to shoppers as they exited stores, or dropped off letters at the Pak Mail, to others as they sipped frozen coffees out of green straws, strolling toward the town center fountain.
He turned, considering that circle of cement centered with the shooting spout of water. It rained down into four, tiered bowls, and finally trickled into the broad, foot-deep pool. Sunlight brought the depths to a gleam—bright-colored tiles lined its bottom, a mosaic, covered with loose change that shined like gold and silver. A wish or two of his rested in there. The most important remained on the bottom, unanswered. He shoved a hand into his front jeans pocket for a penny.
Never hurts to hedge your bets
. Cain stepped to the edge, jangling coins in hand. He closed his eyes. His wish splashed and settled with the others.
Only a handful of people had paused rather than rush by the town square fountain—a young mother, helping her toddler balance his way around the edge, and a woman in a bright red sundress.
His shoe caught on a crack in the sidewalk. Cain covered his trip with a slight jog, and glanced around to see if anyone noticed his clumsy act. Shoppers slung crinkling bags. The mother whispered something to her son, making him giggle. The girl never looked up beyond her toes.
All clear, he stopped to breathe in the sight. Like an answer to prayer, she sat, feet bared with a pair of jeweled flip-flop sandals tucked by a slumped leather handbag. She kicked out her heels next to a stack of three, large cardboard packages. A string tied, pink bakery box crowned the pile.
Her sundress skirt teased and flipped in the breeze, denying a better view of those shapely, suntanned legs. She reached down to tame it, and the thin strap fell from her shoulder. With a manicured hand, she pushed it into place. Her downcast gaze focused on her toes.
The girl from the Buick.
Hope bloomed in his chest, along with the quick rush of blood in his ears.
You asked for it
, his thoughts churned.
No time like the present to say hi to a pretty girl
Her elegant fingers idly traced the tiled edge of the fountain—décor provided by years of Long Valley Valley Elementary School students and a visit to the local tile factory. Over and again, she traced the child’s drawing—a painted yellow sun, a pentagon-shaped house, finally, the family of four smiling stick-people. It held her total attention.
Cain edged closer, tilting his head to the pyramid of boxes at her feet.
Moving day, maybe?
A quick glance at the top label showed box three of three, sent from San Francisco, by express. That must have cost a pretty penny. He rubbed at his jaw, wondering how long before she noticed him.
A gust of wind blew his hair into his face. He shook it back, mesmerized as a spray of water rained onto her skin.
The bright fabric of her dress jumped to her knees. She brushed it into submission, picked up the pink bakery box, opened it, and inhaled a chocolate chip cookie.
Around them, people came and went. They walked by wearing shorts, t-shirts, or short skirts and sundresses. Some licked at ice cream cones as they ambled. He caught snippets of conversation, about weather and food, the latest movies—their discussions background noise to the splashing from the tiered fountain into its pool below.
Waves dashed and splashed into each other, dancing, reflecting the white sunlight. Wind blew the raining overspray, dampened the concrete, and cooled off the overheated. Still, the girl didn’t move to a drier spot.
Unable to resist, he took another step closer.
White-framed sunglasses obscured her face, but not the aura that she put off. It struck like a wave as he approached. A definite back off, buddy! vibe.
A couple passing by gave her a wide berth, but he remained glued to the spot. Something troubled her. Still, she’d centered herself smack dab in the middle of town.
Cain never had been one to avoid trouble. He stood right beside her, and nodded.
She cast a frown in his direction then looked away. The tile held her complete and utter focus.
“Great day, huh?”
Brilliant opening line, Cain!
What are you, the weather man?
“Sure.” She looked up. Her hands stopped tracing the design and floated to her lap.