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Always With Me - Signed

Always With Me - Signed

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From #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy comes the first book in the WHISPER LAKE series! Set in the majestic Colorado mountains, the books feature sexy romance, heartwarming emotion, family drama, compelling mystery, and a town full of fascinating characters. Once you come to visit, you'll never want to leave!

After her third broken engagement, Gianna Campbell comes home to help with the family business and to heal her heart, only to realize that she has become the town joke—dubbed the runaway fiancée.  If that wasn't bad enough, who should show up in town but her former crush Zach Barrington, a man who has other reasons to hate her.

Zach returns to Whisper Lake not only for a job opportunity but also for a chance at personal redemption. The last person he wants to see is Gianna, who once got him kicked out of the only place that made him feel whole. But when an accident sends her into the lake, their first face-to-face meeting in years leaves them both breathless.

And suddenly the past feels a lot closer…

Zach and Gianna back away as fast as they come together, both wary of more danger to their damaged hearts. But their search for a truth leads them to surprising secrets, life-changing revelations, heartbreaking emotion, and the chance for a love more powerful than they ever imagined. Can they trust each other the second time around?


“Drama, secrets and heartache. If not careful, falling in love could prove to be their undoing. Romance wrapped inside of a gripping mystery. A breathless combination, indeed.” Isha C – Bookbub

“A little mystery and a little romance all adds up to another great Barbara Freethy book. Can’t wait to spend more time with these new Whisper Lake friends!” Mary – Goodreads Review

“Barbara hooks you with amazing characters, suspense. love and laughter. Reeling you in and leaving you wanting more. But, never disappointing.” Mommymoose – Goodreads Review

“A beautiful second chance love story with a bit of drama and mystery. Zach and Gianna are wonderful characters. Fell in love as young teens, broke each other's hearts and reconnecting now after many years and many other heartaches. It was interesting and complex. I loved it!” Peggy – Goodreads Review


"Well, if it isn't the runaway fiancée. You can put a ring on her finger, but you can't get her down the aisle." 

Gianna Campbell turned away from the cash register at the Big Sky Café to look into the mocking smile of a man she'd once allowed to put a ring on her finger, her college boyfriend, Jeremy Hutchins. Jeremy had put on a few pounds and his brown hair had thinned on the top. He'd also lost the cheerful smile he used to give her. Now there was only anger simmering in his dark eyes. 

She and Jeremy had grown up on the same street in Whisper Lake, then gone to college together in Denver, and had impulsively gotten engaged the night of their graduation. But six months later, she'd broken things off. That had been eight years ago. Jeremy should have moved on by now, but clearly her most recent failed engagement had only reinforced his theory that something was wrong with her, and he had never been to blame for their breakup. 

"Leave her alone," Chloe Morgan chided, as she set down Gianna's coffee. Chloe was a pretty brunette with warm hazel eyes. She was not only one of the most popular women in town, she was also one of Gianna's best friends, although that was a relationship Gianna had neglected the past couple of years, something she hoped to correct in the next several months.

"It's just a joke," Jeremy defended. "Gianna used to be able to take a joke."

"And I still can." She fought the urge to toss her hot coffee into his smug face. Why she'd ever wanted to marry him she couldn't even fathom now, but at twenty-one she just hadn't seen him clearly. In fact, that was true of most of her life. She would like to say she was a good judge of character, but, clearly, she wasn't. She tended to see people as she wanted them to be and not as they were. "How have you been, Jeremy?"

He looked taken aback by her casual question. "Uh, well, fine. I'm great. I took over my dad's auto shop."

"Good for you." She handed Chloe a ten-dollar bill and asked her to add a turkey wrap to her order.

"How's your aunt doing?" Chloe asked, as she took a wrap out of the refrigerated case. 

"Her leg is broken in three places. She's out of commission for at least six weeks. My parents are busy with their own business, so I told Aunt Lois I'd come back and run the antiques shop until she can return to work."

"It's nice that you had the time."

"I'm making time. It has been awhile since I spent a summer in Whisper Lake. I'm looking forward to it."

"It's probably easier to make time since you're not getting married—again," Jeremy put in. "Third time, right? Guess three wasn't the charm for you."

"I see news still travels fast in this town." She turned back to Chloe, who was running a hand over her large baby bump. "It's getting close to your due date now, isn't it?" 

"I'm three and a half weeks out," Chloe said with a smile. "I'm almost to the finish line. But I need Kevin to come home before the baby arrives."

"Is there a chance he won't?" she asked with concern. "Where is he deployed?"

"I'm not sure. He's in some special unit now. Everything is very secret. But he told me he wasn't going to miss the baby's birth."

"I'm sure he won't."

"We need to catch up, Gianna. Let's have a girls' night this weekend. What are you doing Saturday night?"

"I haven't gotten that far. I just arrived yesterday. But I would love a girls' night."

"We'll figure it out." 

"Sounds good." 

She moved away from the register as Chloe tended to her next customer. The café was crowded for a Thursday, especially since it was in between breakfast and lunch. On the other hand, it was late June, and with the Fourth of July holiday less than two weeks away, there were already plenty of tourists in town.

Jeremy followed her out the door. "Hey, you weren't upset by what I said, were you?" 

"You were just trying to be funny."

He cleared his throat. "Sorry things didn't work out." 

"No, you're not," she said candidly. You're happy that you weren't the only man I walked away from." 

"Well, you obviously have a problem with commitment. How many women get engaged three times and call off the wedding three times?"

"I don't know, but I have to go."

"Back to the shop?" he asked, dogging her heels as she walked down the street. "I was sorry to hear about Lois."

"I'm not going to the store. I'm picking up inventory at the old summer camp." She paused by her aunt's black pickup truck. "Apparently, there's a new owner, and it's going to be completely rebuilt."

"I heard that. You know, Gianna—you look good. Not happy, but still good."

She didn't know what to make of his awkward words or the odd look in his eyes. "Thanks." She got into the truck and slammed the door on whatever Jeremy was planning to say next. She didn't know what he was after, nor did she want to find out. She quickly backed out and headed down the street. 

A mix of emotions coursed through her as she drove through town. Jeremy's words had stung. She suspected he'd told his joke more than a few times to more than a few people. She should be used to teasing. She'd spent her childhood and teenage years being the gawky art girl, who had paint on her fingers, braces on her teeth, and wild blonde hair that could never quite be contained in a ponytail. 

She had grown out of most of that awkwardness. Her blonde hair now swung about her shoulders in styled waves. Her teeth were perfect, and she did most of her art on her computer, although she could occasionally be found with paint on her fingers on the weekends. But despite the outward changes, she was still the same girl on the inside, and that girl couldn't seem to get her life right. 

She didn't know why she kept saying yes to the wrong men. She supposed she should feel lucky that three men had wanted to marry her, but none of those guys had really known her. There was always a disconnect. She'd felt like they were marrying their vision of her—not the woman she really was, which begged the question…who was she?  

Maybe it was time she figured that out before accepting any more rings. 

While this trip home hadn't started on the best note, she had hopes it would be a good break for her. She'd been back to Whisper Lake for holidays, of course, but her visits had been very brief the last eight years. She was looking forward to reconnecting with her parents, her friends, letting the majestic Colorado mountains and the beautiful waters of Whisper Lake heal her battered heart and bring her clarity. 

She needed to start over—both personally and professionally. She hadn't just blown up her engagement, she'd blown up her job. Her boss had also been her fiancé. Thankfully, she had enough freelance graphic gigs plus a small salary from her aunt's business to get her through the next few months. 

She grabbed the turkey wrap out of the bag and bit into it, needing some fuel for the drive. She actually appreciated the opportunity to drive up to the camp. It would help clear her mind. After finishing her snack, she rolled down the windows, welcoming the warm, dry air that blew through the truck. 

It was after noon, and the temperature was climbing into the mid-seventies. The tall conifers, pines, and aspens that towered on the hills were thick with leaves after a snowy winter, and the creek that ran next to the road was full and rushing toward the lake where it would swell the water level to even greater heights. 

It would be a good summer for boating, skiing, tubing, fishing—all the things that kept her parents' action sports business thriving. And when summer ended, they would be renting skis, boards and snowshoes for cross-country treks.  

Thinking about her parents brought a smile to her face. They were both superior athletes. At sixty-five, her still-agile dad, Dave, led rock climbing tours and hikes into the wilderness. Her mom, Jeannie, a former professional skier, continued to light up the slopes with her speed and style. She, on the other hand, had no athletic skill whatsoever. 

To go along with her lack of physicality, she had very strong fears of heights and deep water, which was why she'd spent most of her childhood engrossed in art and books, and why she'd spent her twenties in Los Angeles, where yoga wear was as much for running errands as it was for actual yoga. 

While she loved the city life, she had to admit to feeling waves of nostalgia now that she was back in the mountains that had sheltered her and inspired her. That feeling intensified as the two-lane highway turned into one long and winding road, and the traffic thinned out as she headed around the eastern side of the lake. 

The south shore of Whisper Lake was the most populated, with eight thousand or so full-time residents and an even greater number of tourists coming in and out of town depending on the season. The north shore was more wild and rugged and catered to the serious winter sports enthusiasts, boasting a population of about two thousand full-time locals. The eastern and western portions of the lake were dotted with remote cabins and a few mom-and-pop grocery stores and gas stations. 

Seeing the sign for Echo Falls Camp, she made a turn onto an even more narrow road that was filled with potholes and pebbles. The two-mile drive into the campgrounds had once been pristine and well-kept. The camp, named after a nearby waterfall, had been a mecca for kids all over Colorado, offering everything from horseback riding, to canoeing, arts and crafts, wildlife exploration, and water sports. She'd spent a few summer weeks there, the last and most notable when she was fifteen.  

Her smile faded at that thought. She wanted the carefree memories back, but all she could see in her head now was Zach's face—his sparkling green eyes, wavy brown hair, and slightly crooked smile that had charmed all the girls, especially her. He had been great…until he hadn't.

She shook his image out of her mind and focused on what was happening now. 

The camp had closed six years earlier when the owner, a widower by the name of Tom Rowland, had become ill. Over those years, the property had fallen into complete disrepair as Tom battled cancer, and his heirs debated what to do with the vast property. 

Tom had passed away five months ago, and his estate had apparently found a buyer, someone who wanted to bring the camp back to life. His heirs had been in touch with her aunt and asked her to take the few pieces of antique furniture that were on the property, which was what had brought her to the camp today. She hoped nothing was too heavy, and that it would all fit into her truck, but she'd get what she could, and if she had to make a second trip, she would. 

She had to admit it would be nice to see the camp working again, to hear kids' laughter. Right now, it just looked depressing.

As she drove closer to the lake, the long pier came into view. There had once been rowboats and canoes tied to the dock. Now, it was empty. As she slowed down, more memories flooded her brain. 

Impulsively, she pulled over to the side of the road and got out. Maybe she'd just take a quick minute to look around…

She walked past the three camper cabins closest to the pier, noting that most were still boarded up, and all showed signs of age and weather. When she got to the pier, she strolled out to the end, which was about fifty yards from the shore. It was dead quiet out on this part of the lake. During summer camps, this cove had been filled with action: canoes, Jet Skis, a floating dock with a slide and basketball net, and kids everywhere. Today it was so still she could hear nothing but the breeze through the trees, whispers of long-ago voices. She smiled to herself, thinking that that was exactly how the lake had gotten its name. The early settlers had felt like the wind was whispering to them that this was home. 

It still felt like home to her, even though she'd been gone a long time. She had so many memories in this small part of the world. Fourteen years ago, she'd stood on this pier and wondered what her future held: what would come next, where she would go to college, who she would marry… 

She still didn't know the answer to the last question. Her life was a work in progress. She was twenty-nine and thirty was looming. It was a big birthday. It made her feel like she was a little behind. Deep in her heart, she knew she had accepted the last engagement ring because she'd been feeling the pressure to settle down, move on to the next stage of her life. Eventually, she'd realized she wasn't being fair to herself or to Jeff. Ending the engagement had been a better decision than starting it—at least, she hoped so. She was beginning to doubt if she was making any good decisions at all. 

With a sigh, she turned around. It was time to stop thinking and get back to what she'd come here to do. 

The sudden sound of a motor drew her glance toward the trees. A pickup truck was coming down the road. Did it belong to Tom's son? Or someone else? She suddenly felt very alone, very vulnerable. 

That was crazy. This was Whisper Lake. She wasn't in danger. But she did need to get back on solid ground. 

As she took a few steps forward, she heard a loud splintering sound, and she froze, not sure what was going on. Then her foot went through a broken board. She tried to scramble backward, but another board broke apart, and another. The pier was crumbling beneath her, and all she could see was the deep, dark water. 

She flailed her arms, searching for some way to get her balance back, but there was nothing to hang on to. She crashed into the water, hitting her head on the way down. The stunning blow, along with the cold water, made her heart stop and her brain went numb. She went under, deeper and deeper. It felt like there was no bottom, but there had to be.

Panic ran through her. She'd never been a great swimmer. Why the hell had she come out onto the pier? 

She kicked and kicked, weighed down by her clothes and her shoes, but finally she reached the surface. The shore felt like a mile away, even though it was probably only about thirty feet. She tried to swim, but she couldn't seem to get anywhere. And then she saw someone running toward her. 

He wouldn't be able to get to her because the pier was completely gone.

That didn't stop him. He kicked off his shoes and jumped into the water, and in that moment, she had a sense of déjà vu—this had happened before. Not exactly like this, but close. 

Or was she losing her mind? 

Was the bump on her head turning her rescuer into the guy she'd just been thinking about—into Zach Barrington? 

As he drew closer, she saw dark hair and startling green eyes. 

Her stomach turned over. 

No way! It couldn't be!

"I've got you," he said, grabbing her arm. 

She stared back at him in shock and saw an echo of surprise in his expression. 

"Gianna?" he muttered. 


"You're bleeding."


"Your head. Come on, we need to get you out of the water."

"What are you doing here?" she asked in a daze. 

He didn't answer, just put his arm around her waist and started dragging her toward the shore. She kicked along with him, relieved when she could feel the ground under her feet. 

They staggered out of the water, onto the shore, and then stopped and stared at each other. It was a long look filled with so much emotion—shock, curiosity, sadness, anger… 

"I can't believe it's you," he muttered.

"Are you sorry?" she asked, the words spilling out before she could stop them. "That you pulled me out of the water?"

His gaze narrowed. "Am I going to be?"

Irresistible romance, compelling characters, heartwarming emotion, mystery, and drama await in the Whisper Lake Series. Set in the Colorado mountains, this small-town romance series features some of your favorite storylines including runaway bride, second chance romance, enemies to lovers and more... Along with the romance, you'll find secrets and family drama, because I love to complicate a good love story and send my characters on a life-changing journey.

Each book can be read as a standalone novel. No cliffhangers.

Don't miss any of the books in the series:

  • Always With Me
  • My Wildest Dream 
  • Can't Fight The Moonlight
  • Just One Kiss
  • If We Never Met
  • Tangled Up In You