When I first moved to the Smoky Mountains for our summer retreat, I knew the setting would be the perfect place to write. I didn’t know that the setting would become the setting for a new series of books. But it did and since moving here last summer, I’ve written four books in the Smoky Mountain Series – all sweet contemporary romances. Today, I release the third book, Mountain Miracles. Book #4 will be released in October, as an individual title, A Merry Mountain Christmas, and as a part of Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 box set.
Some of the same characters return to the small mountain town, but they are joined by David and Cecelia. Although strangers when they first come to the mountains, they don’t remain that way for long once Fran makes sure the single, attractive, and enterprising young adults are brought together for social gatherings. Both of them discover that family and community are truly possible through the miracle of love.
Here’s the first chapter of Mountain Miracles for your enjoyment.
SISSY JONES LEARNED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY that she’d been duped into moving to the small North Carolina town in the Smoky Mountains.
“You’ll love the place where I grew up,” Becca Cole had said. “And a friend of mine has an adorable house he’s dying to sell.”
Sissy’s first mistake. She had trusted Becca when she should have known better.
Now here she was in the small town where the nearest city was a two-hour drive. She came to forget the breakup with her boyfriend and to escape her mother’s grip. Instead of escaping, she’d landed right smack in the middle of a place filled with lovers and happy families. It only reminded her that she had neither of those things. It was bad enough when Stu decided his career as a rising country singer was more important than their two-year relationship, but when her mother started harping about Sissy’s inability to keep a man, she knew it was time to leave. Becca’s offer appeared as the perfect solution.
She’d left a good, although boring, job in Nashville. But at least that job had put her MBA degree to good use as the general manager of the Radisson. But here in Murphy, North Carolina, she’d had to revert to something she’d done during her college years at the University of Memphis. She was dealing cards at the new casino on the outskirts of town.
No, she never should have believed Becca when she said, “Move to the mountains with me. We’ll have a blast.”
Sissy had barely signed the mortgage papers on the house when Becca bailed and headed to New Orleans with her new boyfriend. Fortunately, the few people she did know in town, such as Becca’s ex-husband George, sympathized. But Sissy would survive. She hoped Becca’s son Jed understood why she’d left him in the care of his father. It was probably for the best. George was an excellent dad, but still the kid must wonder why his mother had left him so abruptly.
As Sissy dressed for the wedding she was attending later in the day, she smiled to think of her new friends. She’d known George back in Nashville when he’d been Stu’s agent. When Becca and he divorced, he moved back to his hometown and ran the music scene at a local bar. Now he was engaged to Lacy, the woman who had been evicted when Sissy bought the house. The previous owner, Lacy’s landlord, didn’t know he wanted to sell the house until Becca convinced him to kick his loyal and long-time renter out into the street. But Becca’s plan to break up George and Lacy backfired, and now Sissy was making a new life for herself.
She’d only met the groom and bride, Nick and Molly, once, but they’d welcomed her into their circle, simply because of her connection to George. When Lacy and the others realized she’d been tricked by Becca, they immediately opened their hearts to her, which came as a relief even though she didn’t quite believe her good fortune. When Becca fled town she hadn’t even bothered saying good-bye, which made Sissy very happy.
Her phone beeped. We’re on our way, Lacy texted. Sissy found her sandals under the couch and slipped into them. She felt a little weird about Lacy picking her up at her former home, but Lacy had assured her, it had all worked out for the best. She moved to the cabin the new bride was vacating, and Lacy seemed very happy about the whole thing. Lacy had assured Sissy that Becca had arranged the whole thing out of jealousy. Sissy questioned her own gullibility in believing that Becca had once been a friend.
She ran outside when George and Lacy pulled into the driveway.
“It’s such a beautiful day for a wedding,” she gushed when she settled in the backseat, next to George’s son Jed. “Somebody must have ordered this day.”
“I’m betting on Fran,” Lacy said, speaking of the mother of the groom. “She’s a mighty powerful woman who likes to have her way.”
“I like Fran,” Sissy said.
“Join the Fran Fan Club,” George said. “She’s nearly adopted Jed as her grandson.”
“She said I could call her Franma,” Jed said. “That’s what Gracie and me are going to call her. You know instead of Grandma.”
“That’s a very good name,” Sissy said, smiling at the young boy dressed in a white shirt and pressed jeans. “You look very handsome today, Jed.”
He blushed and smiled slightly. Jed was a good kid who’d been hurt too much in his short life. Sissy had babysat for him often back in Nashville after George left Becca, who’d taken to the single life quickly. Sissy sat up a little straighter when the realization hit her that Becca resembled her mother. It was a good thing for Jed that George had full custody.
“Are you ready to meet the rest of Murphy?” Lacy asked, turning around slightly. “I bet there will be one hundred folks at the wedding today.”
“I won’t remember names, but I’m ready.” Maybe she’d meet some other single folks so she didn’t feel like an extra at these group gatherings. She’d been invited to a couple of events, and everyone was paired off, or so it seemed to Sissy.
“We’re going to Gracie’s new house,” Jed said. “She’s my best friend.”
Sissy tried to remember how Gracie, who Jed had already mentioned twice, fit into the picture with the others. “I’m sorry, but my head is swimming with all the new names and faces. Who’s Gracie again?”
Lacy laughed. “I’m sure it’s like putting together a puzzle. Don’t worry, it will all fit together soon enough. Gracie is Molly’s daughter. She’s a year older than Jed, but they’ve become very close since Jed moved here.”
“I almost forgot,” George said. “Did either of you hear that we’re going to get a newspaper right here in town? Some guy from Atlanta wants to make it a paper for the town, not the surrounding counties.”
“Where’d you hear that?” Lacy asked.
“Who else? Don and Kathy Sampson, Murphy’s town criers.”
They all laughed. Even Sissy knew the couple was notorious for knowing everyone’s business in town—personal and otherwise. She sat with them at the bar at Misty Mountain one night, and she learned everyone’s business, not that it mattered. No way could she put all the names with faces, most she’d never even met.
“They might be nosy, but they’re usually accurate,” Lacy said. “Now, Sissy, have you given any more thought to opening the coffee shop?”
“I have. I’ve made thinking about it a full-time job. Actually, I started drawing up a business plan last night. And I gave the casino notice. Tomorrow will be my last day dealing cards.”
“A business plan?” Lacy asked. “That sounds very serious and professional. Have you started a business before?”
“Sissy has an MBA,” George said. “But she doesn’t like to flaunt her brains.”
“I didn’t know that,” Lacy said. “I mean about the degree and all.”
“I haven’t started a business because I’ve always worked for others. Starting my own business brings everything I’ve done so far all together.”
“How did you end up dealing at the casino?” Lacy asked.
“I worked as a dealer when I was getting my MBA, so I decided I’d get a job at the casino here, until I figured out what I really wanted to do.”
“You don’t like the job?” George asked. “I always thought it might be a hoot to work at the casino.”
“I don’t like the hours or the smoke. And a lot of the time, I don’t like the customers. So I guess I’d have to say on the whole that, no, I don’t like it very much at all.”
“They offered me a job booking music for the bar in the hotel,” George said. “But I won’t have to go there very often, if I take it on.”
“That sounds infinitely better than dealing,” Sissy said. “I can’t wait to be done with it and own my own business, something I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”
It was true. As a kid, she played grocery store with all the neighbor kids, but she wasn’t the housewife shopping for groceries. She always managed the store and made the other kids play the role of housewife.
“Did you ever think of opening something in Nashville?” Lacy asked.
“I wanted to when I graduated, but it was too expensive. I had a small inheritance from my grandmother when I turned twenty-one, but it wouldn’t have covered much of anything in the city.”
“It will be a lot less expensive here,” George asked. “Do you have a place in mind?”
“There’s a storefront for rent downtown. It’s small and narrow, but it could be perfect for a coffee and maybe some sweets.”
“I’d like a coffee shop close to Misty Mountain,” Lacy said. “Or at least another choice than just going to the same old place.”
“I hope it doesn’t upset folks to have two coffee shops downtown,” Sissy said. “I know the other place does different things, and they’re open in the evenings with music. I plan to only be open through lunch, but open by six in the morning.”
“Now that would be different,” George said. “Even during the season, nothing opens up downtown until after eight, even the coffee shop.”
Sissy noticed that right away, but she surmised it was the difference between living in a small town and a larger city. She’d adjust, but she still thought some folks might like coffee first thing. Even if it wasn’t busy until later, it would give her time to get organized.
“I guess I’d better think about advertising, too, now that you’ve mentioned the new paper. Most of the world is getting away from print media, but I bet here in Murphy folks still read the papers for the ads.”
“And the police blotter,” George said. Lacy playfully hit his arm. The intimacy of it gave Sissy a jolt.
“I wonder if the guy starting the newspaper is single,” Lacy said.
“Why would you wonder about that?” George asked. “Are you in the market for a new guy?”
“No, I’ve got my hands full with you. I was thinking about Sissy. We need to fix her up on a date.”
George groaned, and Sissy laughed. Lacy must have been reading her mind.
“He’s probably married or gay,” Sissy said. “That’s what they say about all the good ones, and since Stu and I broke up, I can confirm it’s true.”
DAVID BELLWOOD WAS NEITHER MARRIED NOR GAY, but it didn’t stop all the wives of his friends from making that assumption after setting him up on dates with their single friends. However, his bachelor status meant he was hounded by his friends to go on blind dates with the divorced, dejected, and demoralized friends of their wives.
Most of the women were nice, but he couldn’t talk to them. The more attracted he was to a woman, the worse his shyness became. Most didn’t want to go out with him a second time. He’d been raised by his father after his mother died when he was five. Then his father had sent him to an all boys’ boarding school in upstate New York during the crucial years when boys first start noticing girls as something other than an annoyance. By the time he attended college, his fears of the opposite sex were only reinforced by two stepmothers who treated David as an annoyance. They scared him so much that he tried to be invisible when he came home for school vacations.
“I’ve given up on women,” his father had told him after the last divorce a year before. “I can’t afford another divorce. Janice just about did me in.”
“I can’t believe you let her have the cabin,” David said after his father told him what it cost to divorce her. “It’s been in the family for generations, and Janice hated the place.”
“It was the easiest way, son. We can build another one someday.”
“She did it for spite.”
“You bet she did, but I’ll never let her know it.” His father ended the conversation. David knew any further questions would be rebuked.
It broke David’s heart every single time he thought of Janice owning the cabin. She’d hated every minute she’d spent there while they were married. But he couldn’t argue with his father. He’d already battled him on the biggest issue, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for another one.
“What do you mean you don’t want to be a lawyer?” Michael Bellwood had roared to his son when David announced he wanted to change his major in college during his second year of college. “You come from a family of lawyers, son, not journalists. I built this firm for us.”
“But that’s what I want to do.” If females scared him, his father terrified him, especially when David defied him, which hadn’t been often. He didn’t dare tell his father what he really thought and that he’d never asked him to build the firm up for him. He chose his battles by priority, and being a journalist was David’s highest priority.
“I want to own a paper,” David continued.
His father pursed his lips together. David knew that he’d said something the elder Bellwood understood. Owning a paper meant power. Except his father never dreamed David meant a small town paper with very little power at all. But it had silenced him long enough to let him finish his degree through to his master’s while working at a couple of papers in the Atlanta area as an intern.
“I want to start a small weekly newspaper in Murphy,” David had told his father in the final months before he received his master’s degree. “There’s a need in that town because they’re growing into a tourist destination, and they need something besides the weekly county paper that’s mostly about crime.”
“Murphy?” His father seemed perplexed. “Why in Murphy? And for God’s sake, son, don’t you know newspapers are a dying breed?”
“Not in small towns like Murphy with a large tourist base, not to mention the folks who have vacation homes there. It’s a growing community with a need for an intelligent and thoughtful paper that also provides a place for businesses to advertise.”
“That’s not what I read in The Wall Street Journal. Where are you getting your information?”
“I’ve done my research, and The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and all the other big newspapers like to cry about the loss of revenue in the print editions. That has nothing to do with small community papers. Those folks want grocery store flyers and real estate offers they can hold in their hands.”
“I’m still not convinced.”
“Dad, I am a little more versed in this than you.” David had never spoken to his father with that tone, but never before had something meant so much to him. “I’ve worked at small papers all around the Atlanta area for the past three years. I know what’s happening, and there’s a different market depending on the per capita and on the population.”
His father looked at him suspiciously. “Why Murphy? You know we don’t own the cabin any longer.”
“I know, but I’m going to buy it from Janice. One of my lawyer friends is already negotiating with her.”
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing. I won’t fight you, but I won’t support it either.”
“That’s all right. I plan on using my own money.”
“Your inheritance from your grandfather?”
His father shook his head, but he stopped arguing with him. Above all else, his father loved him, and David knew he wanted him to be happy, but it was hard for Michael Bellwood to lose an argument.
Michael’s grandfather had built the cabin near the Cherohala Skyway east of Murphy more than seventy years ago. David grew up spending summers and some holidays there as a kid. He loved both the cabin and the area, but his father always seemed restless when they were there. David begged to go to the cabin because the mountains gave him a sense of peace, and it was there he imagined he could do whatever he wanted. It’s also the place of his only memories of his mother. And in those memories, the beautiful woman with long dark hair and copper skin, held him and sang him Cherokee songs of hope.
David also longed for something else by moving to a small town. He hoped to overcome his fear of women. So far he hadn’t met anyone except the realtor who was old enough to have been his mother. Linda Lewis put him at ease at once with her mountain drawl and friendly manner. And she remembered both his father and mother.
“They were a handsome couple,” Linda had said when she made the connection with the last name. “But then they just disappeared from town.”
“My mother died, and my father didn’t like coming up to the cabin much. I usually stayed with my grandfather.”
“I heard something like that. Inola, your mother, was as beautiful as you are handsome, but she stayed up in the mountains most of the time. I hadn’t heard she died.”
“It was a long time ago.” David wanted to hear more, but he didn’t think Linda knew much more about his mother. “What about a place for me to open an office for the paper? Do you think you have anything?”
“Yes, I do,” Linda had said. “I think I have the perfect place. It’s an empty storefront right downtown. I think it might be charming to have the town’s newspaper right in the middle of things, don’t you?”
“I have someone else looking at the small space next door. She wants to open a coffee shop. Isn’t that what all you reporters do? Just like cops, drink coffee all day and smoke cigarettes, right?”
He laughed. “I don’t smoke, but caffeine is my drink of choice. The movies at least got that part right.”
He rented the spot immediately. There was a room in the back where he could put a futon. Once he owned the cabin, he could stay at the paper some nights instead of driving all the way home. He liked the accessibility so advertisers could just walk over on their lunch break and take out an ad. But first, he needed to hire someone to handle that end of the business. He needed to keep what he wrote separate from the paid part. Even if it was a small paper, he wanted the advertising side separate from the articles. Objectivity and integrity meant as much to him as pleasing his father, which he hoped to do by making a success of the venture.
Smoky Mountain Romances
A Merry Mountain Chrismas – Kindle release date in October.
Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 – Preorder now, released October 11.
FREEBIE ALERT – Native Lands may be downloaded for free September 13-15! And it’s always free in Kindle Unlimited. Paperback and Audible also available.