When Lacy and George begin dating, each of them keeps a shield around their hearts. Lacy’s been hurt so many times, she’s afraid to let another man come close. George, reeling from a bitter divorce, doesn’t trust women. If they can put down their shields long enough to discover the love growing between them, then nothing will stand in their way to finding happiness.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’d written the first book in the Smoky Mountain Romances and became fascinated by one of the minor characters. She always fell for men who didn’t fall for her. I wanted to tell her story and I paired her with an equally damaged character to see if they could overcome their past rejections to find their way to each other.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Lacy appeared in Minty’s Kiss, and as I wrote her, she impressed me with her ability to forgive. That’s what I wanted to explore. At the end of the first book, she meets George who is the brother of one of her former lovers. Their story turned out to be fairly interesting.
LACY SCHUMACHER LIFTED A TRAY filled with hot chicken wings from the kitchen window countertop. When she turned to head to a booth in her section, “Your Cheating Heart” blasted from the stage at the front of the bar. Suddenly, her feet went out from under her when she slipped on a puddle of beer spilled by one of the customers. Chicken wings flew in the air, and the small cup of blue cheese dressing landed on top of her head and rode with her on her descent to the floor. A celery stick landed on her chest.
She heard the laughter all around her, making the humiliation complete. Then a hand appeared to help her to her feet. She felt the growing wetness on the back of her jeans from the beer as she stood and faced George. She pulled the container from her head. Blue cheese dripped down her long brown curls. He grabbed some napkins from a nearby table and started dabbing at her hair. That’s all she needed. They’d only been dating a few months, but now any doubt he had about her abilities to do anything gracefully were probably dashed.
“It’s all right,” she said, as she took the napkins from his hand. “I’ll be right back.” She headed for the bathroom, hoping she could clean up well enough to continue her shift at Misty Mountain, the bar where she’d worked for several years.
Misty Mountain hopped on a cold Thursday night in January, and Lacy longed to go home and soak her aching feet in a hot bath as she used a wet paper towel to dab at her hair. Too bad her house didn’t have a hot tub like so many of the rental cabins in the Smoky Mountains.
The economics of the town depended on the tourists whose visits to the mountains were as unpredictable as the weather during the winter months. Locals accounted for a fraction of the crowd most of the time, and the part-timers were scarce from Christmas to Easter. But tonight, the restaurant was enjoying the first busy night of January.
“It’s the winter festival in Blue Ridge,” Julie Cole had told Lacy when she’d come in for her shift a few hours earlier. “We could have a big crowd tonight.”
Julie and Lacy had started working at Misty Mountain about the same time several years earlier. Julie, more outgoing than Lacy, gravitated to bartending. She loved teasing and laughing with the customers. Lacy enjoyed her job most of the time, but she was quieter.
“The band from Nashville will draw a crowd, too,” Lacy had responded. “I can use the tips, and I bet you and Johnny could use the business.”
“That’s for sure. It’s been a slow month so far.” Julie had stopped washing glasses and put her elbows on the bar. “So have you two talked yet?”
Lacy tied a black apron around her waist. She knew Julie meant well, but she didn’t want to talk about George. Julie, and her husband Johnny, owned Misty Mountain, and George was Johnny’s brother. Even though she and Julie were good friends, she felt uncomfortable discussing George with her. Small towns bred familiarity—she knew that all too well.
Lacy shook her head. “It hasn’t come up.”
“It will. Especially if Becca ever finds out the two of you are dating.”
Becca, George’s ex-wife, lived in Nashville, where the two of them had moved twelve years earlier. She knew Julie was right. Maybe it was time to just end it with George before it went any further. It was inevitable that Lacy would be left heartbroken when Becca found out, and George inevitably succumbed to her demands. Even though they were divorced, they had a child together, and Lacy felt certain Becca would use that to manipulate George.
“George is buying into the bar,” Julie had said as she poured the pitcher of beer. “Did he mention it to you?”
Lacy shook her head. George had moved back to Murphy after his divorce, but his son still lived with Becca in Nashville, four hours away. Last time they’d talked about it, he said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He’d been handling the music end of the bar for a month, bringing bands in from all over the south for live music on the weekends. Maybe he’d decided to stay, even though it made seeing his son more difficult. He certainly didn’t need to tell Lacy about all his decisions.
“He sure has been bringing in some good music.” Lacy had said. “I guess he’s decided to stay in Murphy for a while.”
She’d been burned too many times in the past by men she fell for who hadn’t fallen for her in return, so she tried not to think about George’s sandy brown hair that fell softly over his collar or his brown eyes that sparkled whenever he talked about music and his passion for finding just the right sound. She didn’t think about his broad shoulders or the way he looked in his solid-colored flannel shirts rolled up halfway on his forearm. She most certainly didn’t think about those things or about the way he kissed her good night when he walked her to the door of her house. So far that was as far as the relationship had gone, and that was fine with her. She liked George and enjoyed spending time with him, but that was it. She didn’t need another relationship to turn out like the last one—with her boyfriend engaged to another woman.
“George has lots of connections back in Nashville,” Julie had continued, as she put wine glasses in the racks above her head. “It must have been awful with Becca for him to leave his career. He was making a name for himself as an agent, at least that’s what Johnny says. George doesn’t mention Nashville very much.”
“I can tell by the names of some of his clients that he was doing well. Sometimes when life gets difficult, it’s best to make it less complicated. So he came home to Murphy.” She headed to her first table of customers, anxious to stop talking about Julie’s brother-in-law.
George, six years older than Lacy, left Murphy for good after he graduated from college. He and Becca married a few months after George finished school in Atlanta. They left right after the wedding. Lacy knew why Becca wanted to leave Murphy. And Lacy approved, and only felt relief when she left. She vividly remembered Becca and her nastiness after the accident that killed Becca’s father and Lacy’s sister, but Lacy didn’t remember much about George. He faded into the background behind Becca’s monstrous personality.
When George returned home two months before for all the activities surrounding Johnny and Julie’s Christmas wedding, she noticed him immediately. He’d divorced Becca, and when he turned up in town, single and handsome, all the single women noticed him, too. When he entered Misty Mountain, the women didn’t hesitate to tell Lacy what they’d like to do with him. George was handsome, no doubt about it, but she wasn’t going to fall for his rugged good looks. When he’d asked her out his second week back in Murphy, she’d been surprised, but she agreed. Neither one of them were looking for anything serious, since both were coming off broken relationships. They’d been casually dating ever since, but they hadn’t discussed Lacy’s sister and her connection to Becca’s father. And Lacy had never met George’s nine-year-old son. Casual and easy—just what she needed.
Julie and she had stopped talking as people began to fill the bar. Lacy hadn’t had a chance to even think or stop moving, until she had fallen on her rear end, sending chicken wings flying through the air. In the bathroom, she attempted to clean herself up so she could finish her shift with a little more dignity. She dabbed at her face and pressed dry towels against her backside, hoping to lessen the obvious beer stain. Fluffing her hair, she gave herself a pep talk so she could finish out the night. When she returned to the floor, the band played “Crazy” as a female singer with died black hair held the microphone close and channeled Patsy Cline to the stage of Misty Mountain. The song carried her back to the bar, where she almost ran into George when he turned around abruptly. He’d been talking to Julie at the wait station.
“Lacy, you clean up nicely,” he said. “How do you like the band?”
“They’re good.” Lacy glanced over at the stage and then back to the bar. “Julie, I need a pitcher of Bud and two shots of Jägermeister.”
“I wish we could get together later, but I have Jed tonight—he has a long weekend off school so Becca met me halfway.”
“Where is he?” Lacy asked, looking around for a nine-year-old boy.
“I dropped him off at the Johnson’s to play with Gracie for an hour while I checked in down here. You know Nick’s mom loves kids.”
“I know. She’s practically adopted Gracie. I’m sure she’ll do the same with Jed.”
“Jed may be more of a challenge, I’m afraid.”
Lacy looked at him, waiting for him to explain. But instead he gave her shoulder a pat, then headed to the small office next to the bathrooms in the back.
Small towns bred their own soap operas. Brains not occupied in noble pursuits dipped into the depravity of the human condition. Lacy knew it very well. Nick Johnson had been her boyfriend up until four months ago. He said he wasn’t ready to commit. But then just two months after making that declaration, he asked Molly Parker to marry him. Molly had returned to Murphy in the fall with her ten-year-old daughter, Gracie. And despite the engagement of Molly and Nick, Lacy chose to forgive them both. She and Molly had been childhood friends, and Lacy had fallen in love with Gracie. She didn’t believe in holding grudges, but she knew that placed her in the minority. She knew plenty of people still talked about her sister, and now they probably talked about her friendship with Molly and her relationship with George. She squared her shoulders while she waited for the drink order.
“Becca is a real bitch,” Julie said as she set two full shot glasses on the tray. “She called George at the last minute today and made him drive two hours to pick up Jed. Johnny and I both were happy when George left her. It’s just too bad Jed lives so far away. He needs his father. Wait until you meet him, and you’ll know what I mean.”
“I have a feeling Becca might not be too keen on me having anything to do with her son.”
Julie raised her eyebrows. “That’s why I’ve been telling you the two of you need to talk about it. Becca holds her father’s death against you, even though you didn’t have a damn thing to do with it.”
Lacy’s ‘elephant’ in the room sat on her chest, suffocating her. The secret. The scandal. The shame.
“It’s been twelve years,” Lacy said, while Julie poured the pitcher. “Can’t she just move on?”
“You don’t know Becca,” Julie said. “She never forgets anything. She still remembers the first time Johnny brought me home for Thanksgiving dinner, and I refused to eat her pecan pie.”
“Aren’t you allergic to nuts?”
“Exactly. But try telling Becca that. She said I had offended her and her mother’s recipe.”
Lacy shook her head. Becca seemed to forget that the accident killed someone else besides her father. It also killed Angel, her sister. Angel—that’s what her mother decided to name her first child, and that’s how both of Lacy’s parents treated her, especially after her death. When the wheels of the town’s gossip truck began, the Schumacher family retreated into the cocoon of their mountain home.
Angel was Lacy’s elephant, the favored child of her parents, until that night, that awful night of revelations and death. The town didn’t give the Schumachers any room to mourn Angel’s death because as soon as news of the two riding in the car together on the road to Cherokee became public, the rumors of Richard Perry and Angel Schumacher’s affair began. Angel received the brunt of the scorn, while Mr. Perry became the victim. Becca, one year older than Angel, never forgave the Schumachers, who she loudly proclaimed raised a whore of a child.
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