The Somerset Girls | Lori Foster

The Somerset Girls

The Somerset Girls

No one knows you quite like a sister…

Summer in Sunset, Kentucky, means long, hot days—and sometimes surprising new beginnings. Through it all, the ties of sisterhood will be there, guiding Autumn and Ember to the lives, and loves, they need…

When they’re running the animal-rescue farm they inherited from their grandparents, Autumn and Ember Somerset are perfectly in sync. At all other times, not so much. Dependable Autumn would rather curl up with a good book than paint the town red with Ember. After the disaster that was Autumn’s last relationship, it’s pure self-protection. But when her high school crush comes back to town with his adorable young daughter, igniting memories best left forgotten, there’s only one person Autumn can turn to…

Beneath Ember’s free-spirited facade is a layer of deep hurt. She’ll gladly nudge Autumn toward a second chance. But risk her own heart? Not likely. The closer Autumn gets to her own happily-ever-after, the more Ember wonders what she might be missing—and if it isn’t her time to be bold, too.

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Reviews of The Somerset Girls

Foster convincingly brings her characters to life against the idyllic backdrop of Kentucky farmland. This down-to-earth romance will especially appeal to animal lovers.

Publishers Weekly

Foster once again blends small-town charm, loving family relationships, relatable hardships, and delectable romance…her big-hearted characters carry the day and the humor throughout keeps this women's fiction confection light and fun. Sweet as ice cream on a hot summer day.

Booklist

A sweet, fun contemporary that will captivate readers in many ways.

Fresh Fiction

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The Somerset Girls

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Chapter 1

A refreshing shower, ice cream and the book she was reading.

As Autumn Somerset got the unhappy pigs into the back of her truck, she repeatedly recited the awards that awaited her at the end of her day.

A day that should have ended…oh, about three hours ago.

As a designer, she’d wrapped up appointments promptly at five o’clock. Yes, she’d been thinking about that tub of carrot cake ice cream in her fridge even then. In fact, she’d thought about it since it had arrived a few days ago. Being a dedicated member of an ice cream club had its perks, like new flavors every month. Her efforts at healthier eating meant she only consumed ice cream on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and holidays.

True, every so often she created a holiday all her own. Like “Cleaned the Kitchen” day. Or “Completed a Job” day.

Or “Mother Didn’t Insult Me” day. That particular holiday earned her two scoops.

This being a Monday, she didn’t even need a fake holiday.

“Sure do appreciate it, Autumn.”

Forcing her mouth into a polite smile, Autumn turned to the man who had, over the past two years, gotten several pets that he then no longer wanted. Ass, she thought in her head, but what she said was, “It’s no problem at all, Ralph.”

“Got that first pig thinking it’d be small, ya know? Like a dog.”

“Yes, I know.” He’d thought he was getting a miniature pig – then he’d found out differently.

“Got the second one to keep it company, but that first one outgrew it in no time-”

“I do understand.” And damn it, she wanted her ice cream. If she had to converse, she’d rather do it with the pigs now squealing inside the cage of the truck. “I have to get going so I can get them settled.” Trying for a speck of diplomacy, she suggested, “You should really think about gifts other than pets, don’t you think? Perhaps your kids would like a nice swingset? I could design one for you.”

“Can’t afford that.”

Smile locked in place, she volunteered her sister without pause. “Ember and I help with that, okay? But only if you promise me, no more animals.”

His face lit up.

Good. One job down. She’d tackle Ember next.

At least her sister loved animals as much as she did – which, honestly, might be the only thing they had in common other than blood.

By the time she got the pigs to the farm, it was after nine o’clock. Pavlov, their six-year old Redbone Coonhound met her in the yard, jumping around the truck in excitement. Because she lived on a farm, Pavlov didn’t have to be locked in the house while she was away. The doggy door let him in when he wanted – to her house, her sister’s, or their parents’ – but more often than not he preferred to visit with a cow or mule or even a turkey.

“Hey buddy. Miss me?”

Too busy seeing what new friends she’d brought home, Pavlov paid her no attention. Never had a dog been so taken with other animals.

“Anxious to meet, huh?” While Pavlov bounded around, jumping into the truck and then out again, she set the pigs loose in the wide open pen.

He barked in excitement.

Noses to the ground, already rooting through their new digs, the pigs moved forward. “I present, Matilda and Olivia.”

Pavlov, aptly named, went into the pen too, only because the gate was open. With the sun splashing crimson across the sky, she waited, arms folded over the wooden post, while they got acquainted. It warmed her heart to see the pigs so happy. The smaller of the two ran circles as he explored the area. The biggest one found the shade and then rolled around, wallowing in freedom.

How often had Ralph even had them outside? She’d taken them from the basement, poor babies. Yes, they’d been fed and had straw to lie on, but it wasn’t the same. Farm animals needed fresh air and sunshine.

Here, at the Fresh Start Farm, they’d get that – and more.

“You’re home now, babies.” Stepping into the pen too, Autumn found a grassy spot to sit and spent another half hour lavishing love, scratches, and hugs to the affectionate animals.

Finally, as the sun sank behind the trees and mosquitoes filled the air, she headed in. All it took to get Pavlov to come along was to open the gate again.

The dog walked through every open door, every single time. That, in part, accounted for his name.

Because he’d jumped into the truck bed, she took her time driving the short distance, going gently over ruts and small hills so she wouldn’t jostle him too much, and then parked on the gravel lot behind the sprawling farm house. Porch lights had automatically flicked on.

“Race you in,” she told Pavlov and then took off running. Ears flopping, he gave chase and they hit the door together, her laughing and him barking.

Unfortunately, two steps into the foyer, she found Ember waiting on her.

“About time!” From the couch where she’d been flipping through a design magazine, Ember stood. “Where have you been anyway? It’s late. And euewww, Autumn, you reek.”

“Nice to see you, too.” Putting the shower on the back burner, she made a beeline to her kitchen sink where she washed her hands and arms up to her elbows.

Pavlov ate the food she put into his dish like he hadn’t eaten in a month, which was just his way, then drank noisily, splashing water everywhere. Finally, with slobbering chomps, he greeted Ember.

Laughing, Ember said, “You are such a pig, Pavlov.”

Speaking of pigs…

As Pavlov headed into the living room and his big pillow bed, Ember shook her head. “I take it he’s sleeping with you tonight?”

Pavlov varied his routine, sometimes staying at her side of the house, sometimes Ember’s, and sometimes even with her parents or their hired man, Mike. “Looks like.”

“That dog is so fickle.”

“He loves us all.” Ignoring the reason for her sister’s visit, Autumn took the ice cream from the freezer.

“Is that going to be your dinner?”

Unwilling to debate her eating habits, Autumn pointed a spoon at her. “I volunteered you today.”

With a groan, Ember flopped into a chair at the table. She, at least, looked fresh and pretty in a sundress and cute sandals. Her dark hair, much like Autumn’s but with reddish streaks supplied by a salon, didn’t look frazzled and wasn’t soaked in sweat.

No matter what Ember did, she never seemed to sweat. If she weren’t her sister, Autumn might dislike her on principle alone.

“Ralph gave us two pigs, one miniature – maybe – and one definitely not. I just got them settled, thus the lovely aroma you noted.”

“What a jerk! Two dogs, a cat, ducks and now pigs? What part of not-animal-friendly is he not getting?”

Luckily they’d found good forever homes for the dogs and cat. It was a little tougher with the farm animals, since they didn’t want them turned into food. “That’s why I volunteered you. I promised him we’d build a swingset for his kids, if he’d stop getting animals.”

Skewing her gloss-covered-mouth to the side in thought, Ember frowned, then gave a decisive nod. “I should have enough scrap wood to make something nice. Good thinking. You draw it up and then help me put it together, and you’ve got a deal.” She offered her palm.

Autumn high-fived her. “It’s a genius plan, thought of spur-of-the-moment, but only if it actually works.” More often than not, they agreed on most everything when it came to saving animals. They were well suited to run the animal rescue together.

The rest of life? Not so much.

Using that as a perfect segue, Ember gave her a sideways look. “Speaking of genius plans-”

Autumn froze. Ember’s plans were always proof positive that they led very different lives.

“-guess who’s in town?”

Shrugging, Autumn shoved a big bite of ice cream into her mouth. She had a feeling she’d need it.

Looking much like a magician about to perform an amazing trick, Ember announced, “Tash Ducker.”

The ice cream stuck halfway down her throat. Disbelieving, suffering a mix of dread and curiosity, Autumn choked. When she finally got her breath, she asked, “Tash is back?”

Many years ago – sixteen to be exact – she’d had a ridiculous crush on him. Two grades above her in high school, and oh-so-gorgeous, she’d gotten severely tongue tied whenever he looked her way. Even after they’d graduated, she couldn’t seem to look at him without going mute. Once he’d finished college, he’d moved away and she hadn’t seen him since.

Going into self-survival mode, a necessity with her family, Autumn replied, “Huh,” with as much nonchalance as she could muster. To further that lie of disinterest, she asked, “What’d you do today? I tried to call you about the pigs, but you didn’t answer.”

“Now that I know it was about pigs, I’m glad.” Ember flashed the smile that made all the local guys stupid. “Actually, I had a date and didn’t want to be interrupted. I figured whatever it was, you could handle it.”

That answer, given far too often, took some of the delight from the ice cream. “So…what if it had been an emergency?”

“You didn’t leave a message.” One brow lifted. “I assume you would if it was life or death?”

“Meaning you’ll only answer my calls if someone is dying?”

“Meaning,” Ember stressed, “that just because you don’t date doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. Besides, I’d already checked in on Mom and Dad.”

Well, that was something. Hopeful that Ember wouldn’t start in on her lack of a social life, Autumn nodded her gratitude.

“They needed groceries, and I swung by to get their stuff on my way home.”

“Thanks.” A few years past, their dad had suffered a debilitating stroke, leaving him largely dependent on the care of others. Ten years older than their sixty year old mother, Flynn Somerset still had his wit, but not the use of one arm and one leg.

Together, she and Ember had built their parents a small house on the forty acres left to them by their grandparents. It made helping them easier and more convenient, plus Autumn liked that she could get to them in minutes if anything came up.

As a designer, she’d fashioned the house for her father’s disability, making everything wheel chair accessible and putting all handles and light switches lower, so he could reach them. The walk-in tub and shower made bathing so much easier. An open floor plan kept the home airy and filled with light, and made it possible to see their dad from almost every room.

Ember, who’d learned carpentry from him, had overseen the construction – and they’d only butted heads a few times in the decision making process. When it came to design, Autumn insisted on having her way.

That wasn’t something that happened very often.

Their parents loved the end result because they still had their independence, but weren’t really alone.

The old farm house had been divided into a duplex with Autumn living one side, Ember on the other. One interior door allowed them to visit without going back outside.

Ember used the door quite often, always on the presumption that Autumn had nothing “good” going on.

True enough.

However, Autumn never dared to intrude because Ember was the opposite, meaning she always indulged the good stuff – aka mancandy.

“That’s where I saw him, by the way. At the grocery.”

Avoiding eye-contact, Autumn asked, “Mom and Dad are all settled now?”

“Yup.” With a knowing smile, Ember said, “But hey, you’re changing the subject. Want to tell me why?”

“I wasn’t,” she lied. Everyone knew lying to one’s little sister wasn’t a sin. Heck, it barely counted at all. “You mentioned them so I thought I’d-”

“Avoid talking about Tash?” Ember didn’t bother to hide her amusement.

Oh, how that sisterly laugh annoyed her – enough that she gave up any pretense of disinterest.

Whispering, because seriously, this was nerve-wracking, Autumn asked, “You’re sure it was him?”

Just as quietly, Ember leaned in and replied, “Yes.”

With just a tiny bit of evil hope, Autumn asked, “How’s he look?” By now he could be balding. Maybe he’d picked up a beer belly. Lost his studliness altogether. She was thirty-two, so that made him thirty-five. Plenty old enough for him to have drastically changed.

Ember leaned even closer. “He’s even hotter now.”

End of Excerpt

The Somerset Girls

is available in the following editions: