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Ladies of the Lake

Ladies of the Lake

3.2 18
by Haywood Smith

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From Haywood Smith, the New York Times bestselling author of THE RED HAT CLUB novels comes a pitch perfect story of four sisters who are forced to come together after years of silence

Sisters Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose—all with grown children of their own—have a complicated relationship, so when their grandmother's will requires


From Haywood Smith, the New York Times bestselling author of THE RED HAT CLUB novels comes a pitch perfect story of four sisters who are forced to come together after years of silence

Sisters Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose—all with grown children of their own—have a complicated relationship, so when their grandmother's will requires them to spend the whole summer—without friends or family—"camping in" at her run-down lodge on re mote Lake Clare in order to inherit the valuable land, old rivalries and new understanding emerge, with plenty of laughs along the way.

Desperate to save her Buckhead home from foreclosure after being left in the lurch, recent divorcee Dahlia must complete the summer and sell her share immediately. Practical, even-tempered Violet will be no problem, but Iris has been Dahlia's nemesis since she learned to say, "no" to her big sister. And super-sweet, quirky Garage Sale Queen Rose is so "green" she'd test the patience of a saint.

As tempers flare and old secrets are revealed, four grown women discover that the past is never truly buried, in Haywood Smith's Ladies of the Lake.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith (The Red Hat Club) conjures up four mature sisters: Dahlia, Rose, Violet and Iris-each with her own distinct (and sometimes clashing) personality-in this entertaining yet realistic account of sisterhood. When their former dancer grandmother Cissy dies, she allocates her lakefront Georgian estate to the foursome with a contractual clause that forces the women to move from their tidy homes in Atlanta to her house in the mountains for 90 days, in a posthumous attempt to reconnect her granddaughters. With a plan-hazmat gear and all-in place to clean up the musty house before putting it on the market, the sisters get to work, their endeavor laced with humor, emotion, sisterly jibing and the occasional heated argument. The requisite romantic subplot featuring a strapping and wealthy mystery man flops in the romantic sense, but his role in unlocking the secrets to their grandmother's life at least gives him a reason to be present. Smith's convoluted descriptions border on fluff, but aside from a few small tumbles, Smith gives readers a lovely comedy with poise.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

“Smith gives readers a lovely comedy with poise.” —Publishers Weekly

“Cynthia Darlow…ably captures each sister's range of moods…A nice, light listen.” —Library Journal

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St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt

Ladies of the Lake

By Haywood Smith

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Haywood Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3056-7


There's nothing wrong with this family that a funeral or two wouldn't fix. — MY PATERNAL GRANNY MAMA LOU

I have some family secrets to tell, but first, I need to make one thing crystal clear: With two glaring exceptions, my mother is a true Southern lady of infinite grace and discriminating taste.

The first exception — and by far the least — is the fact that as soon as the four of us girls were safely on our own, Mama moved to a double-wide in Clearwater, Florida, where in short order she married, then buried, two "diamonds in the rough" who smoked cigars. Good men, but phew. Only recently did she find the second great love of her life besides Daddy: retired rabbi David Rabinowitz, who loves her back just as much as our sainted daddy did.

The second, and worst, exception is that Mama (who hated being named Daisy) broke her own vow to give her daughters normal names and succumbed to the centuries-old tradition of christening all female descendants of our direct ancestor Lady Rose Hamilton with floral names. Mama said she wasn't afraid of the ancient "unlucky in love" curse that's supposed to fall on nonfloral daughters, but Daddy, romantic that he was, loved the idea of siring his own little bouquet, so Mama finally gave in, sparing herself the infamy of breaking the chain of ages. Her only rebellion was naming me, the firstborn girl, Dahlia instead of Rose.

Frankly, I would have preferred Rose. Weird names like mine made me fair game for the Susans and Patricias and Nancys and Cathys of my era. Not to mention the fact that I still have to spell out Dahlia for everybody.

I was unlucky in love, too, so maybe there's something to that curse, after all.

Two years after I was born, feisty, colicky Iris arrived. After another two years, we were blessed with precious Violet, an angel-child from her first breath. I was eight before placid baby Rose was born and Mama made her nod to the woman who started the whole tradition back in England.

We've forgiven Mama for our names, but Mama hasn't been able to forgive our grandmother for her shortcomings, which were many, as you shall see.

My three sisters and I had the privilege of growing up in Atlanta during that golden illusion of domestic innocence between World War II and the sixties. For us, magic was real and had a name: Lake Clare. We didn't know and didn't care that the lake was Old Atlanta's premier summer watering hole, its rustic homes handed down from generation to generation, among them our great-grandparents' impressive three-story Hilltop Lodge and Mama's tiny Cardinal Cottage. We only knew we loved spending our summers in the little log cabin just down the hill from our beloved great-grandmother and our black-sheep grandmother Cissy (short for Narcissus), who was so vain she never let anybody — even Mama — call her anything but Cissy.

We never suspected how much Mama hated it at the lake, or why. All we knew was that there, in the cool beauty of the mountains, we could go barefoot, drink café au lait instead of milk with our eggs and bacon, and spend our days swimming and exploring and playing. And, in Iris's and my case, fighting. We were so busy, we never suspected the secrets that hid in the shadows of Hilltop.

* * *

The last time my sister Violet and I saw Cissy was two years ago, and she was trying to kill us — and enjoying herself immensely.

But that was Cissy for you. She never had been anybody's idea of a grandmother — or a mother, for that matter.

It was just before Christmas, and Violet and I were on our regular holiday run up to Lake Clare, bearing gifts and a perky little decorated tree along with the food we and my other two sisters took turns delivering every month. Normally, Violet and I really look forward to our December drive from her place in Clarkesville to the northeast corner of the state. We both love the bare-bones splendor of the mountains in winter, and the trip provided welcome escape from the pressures of the season and a chance to visit.

But this time, an unexpected Canadian Clipper had barreled down on us, sending the temperature plunging in the cold, hard drizzle. By the time I picked her up and got back onto Highway 441, the Bank of Habersham sign said 31 degrees, and the pine trees were already bowing slightly under a coating of freezing rain.

"I should have let you drive," I fretted, slowing down to fifty. There wasn't much tread left on my ten-year-old Mercury Sable's tires, but the home-building crisis had put a serious dent into my developer husband's income and his ego, so I'd used the car maintenance fund to buy him a new golf club for Christmas to cheer him up. "These tires are okay for regular driving, but not ice."

"Nothing's okay for ice," Violet said without alarm. "But we'll be fine. WSB said it wasn't going below freezing, even up here." As always, her blue eyes and soft expression radiated calm and reassurance.

It took a lot more than the prospect of running off the road to ruffle Violet. Of the four of us Barrett sisters, she was the most stable and well-rounded.

"Oh, gosh." Violet delved into her huge purse. "I almost forgot to call Cissy." We were nearing the fringes of the cellular network, and it wouldn't do to arrive unannounced in our grandmother's isolated mountain realm. Even when we called ahead, there was no guarantee what we'd find when we got there.

After dialing, Violet stuck her finger in her ear (we all have midrange nerve deafness) and waited, then hollered, "Cissy? Hello? Cissy!" She frowned at the phone and muttered, "Still plenty of signal. She just hung up."

Our grandmother Cissy was almost as hard of hearing as she was crazy, so even the special amplified phone we'd gotten her didn't make communicating much easier. You have to pay attention to the other person for it to help, something Cissy never had mastered.

Violet dialed again, waited, then hollered hello again. After a brief pause, she brightened. "Hi! It's Violet! We're on our way with your groceries!" Pause. "Violet! Your granddaughter!" Her soft alto voice wasn't made for yelling. "No, Daisy is my mother! I'm Violet!" She gave the thumbs-up (Cissy had remembered Mama, at least), but she crossed her eyes at me when she did it, which made me laugh. "Dahlia and I have your groceries!" Pause. "Dahlia! Your granddaughter Dahlia! We're coming with the groceries!" A sigh of resignation and renewed volume. "We're on our way with the groceries! Your groceries are coming today!" Her lips folded briefly. "No, we're bringing groceries to you!"

The routine was so familiar, I could hardly keep my tickle box from tumping over, which would only set Violet off, too.

Violet enunciated every word emphatically. "We ... are ... bringing ... your ... groceries ... today!" She frowned, then gave up and flipped the phone shut. "Boy, that wears me out. I have no idea if she ever connected with what I was saying before she hung up on me."

Based on experience, things wouldn't be much easier when we got there, even though Cissy seemed to be having a fairly good day. I mean, she'd remembered Mama, which was something.

Beside the road, pine saplings were bent double now. I gripped the steering wheel. "Let's get her the food and get back home ASAP."

"Works for me," Violet said.

Thirty minutes later, I was relieved to turn off the slick pavement onto the rough tar and gravel road that led over the mountain to the family compound where we'd spent our summers as children. The way was steep, but offered a lot more traction than the highway's slick blacktop. It took us another twenty minutes to navigate the cutbacks up and down the other side, but at last we reached the single-lane dirt road at the edge of Cissy's fifty-three acres, and scraped our way through ice-laden rhododendrons and mountain laurels down to the turnaround at Hilltop Lodge.

"Let's take the stuff to the side door, so it won't get wet," Violet said as we broke out the umbrellas and hurried to unload.

Nobody ever used the side entrance on the verandah, but there was no protection from the elements at the kitchen door, so I agreed. I didn't hear Foxy (Cissy's mangy old red mongrel that she insisted was at least half fox), but the dog was as deaf and ancient as she was, so I didn't think anything of it.

Worried that a huge branch might break off and kill one of us any second, we skirted the thick laurel hedge that shielded the little vegetable garden and the kitchen door, then carefully picked our way up the mossy flight of native quartz stairs to the verandah.

Built in 1919 from virgin timber as a hunting lodge, the rambling old three-story place had sunk and sagged till it seemed to have grown up out of the sodden drifts of leaves like a giant mushroom fantasy, with thick moss on the log walls and curling shingles. Down the slope of the orchard beyond, Lake Clare lay shrouded in mist like a Turner painting.

I put down the gifts and groceries on the ancient wicker settee, then turned to gaze across the lake and breathe of the cold, clear air, mold be damned. No other place on earth had the power to calm me like this one.

Sending me half out of my skin, Violet shattered the quiet with an ear-piercing rendition of the distinctive five-note whistle that had been our family's summons for generations.

"Violet!" I scolded, heart pounding. "You scared me half to death."

She just smiled her graceful little smile, but I knew her calm façade hid a streak of mischief a mile wide.

We listened for some sign of life inside, but there was none.

Violet whistled again, but this time, I was prepared.

After the brief echo died, we heard nothing but the rain and the ominous creak of ice-coated branches from the surrounding forest.

I jumped at the crack of a breaking branch in the big hemlock by the kitchen, but when I whirled toward the sound, there was only the soft whuff, whuff, whuff, whump as it fell through the foliage to the ground.

"She's probably holed up under the electric blanket," Violet said. "I can't blame her." The screen door was hooked, so we picked up our umbrellas and headed back out into the rain toward the kitchen door.

When we got there, we found its screen hooked from the inside, too, so we circled around to the terrace. Violet and I both peered into the sliding glass doors that made up the corner of the master bedroom — a sixties renovation the Captain and Cissy had made that included a sunken tub (the only one in the whole house) overlooking the terrace, the verandah, and the path to Mama's now-derelict guest cottage. Amid the piles of old magazines, clothes, newspapers, and junk, Cissy's unmade bed was empty except for the black plastic mesh hair protector she wore to keep her French twist in place as she slept. She was a dead ringer for Queen Nefertiti with it on.

The sunken tub was full, a film across the cloudy, hard well water.

"Uh-oh," Violet said. "Her boots are gone." Summer, winter, rain or shine, Cissy wore those bright green rubber barn boots whenever she went out.

I checked the pegs by the hall door. The rest of her "uniform" — a tall-crowned, floppy denim hat stuffed with newspapers to keep it from coming down over her face and the Captain's WWII trench coat and wool army trousers — was missing, too. "Oh, lord. She's gone out in this weather." I scowled. "Perfect. We'll have to call Mountain Patrol to bring the search dogs." Again. So much for getting home before dark.

It never occurred to Violet or me that this time, something might have actually happened to Cissy. As our other grandmother was wont to say about people as difficult as Cissy, "The Good Lord wouldn't have her, and the devil's gettin' too much use out of her to kill her."

The Mountain Patrol had to be getting sick of finding Cissy when she got lost (which was often), but she was so fiercely determined to live out her last days in her own home that even the authorities didn't want to mess with her. They'd tried carting her off to a nursing home once, but she'd escaped three times in less than a week, leaving rampant destruction in her wake. So they, like us, left her pretty much alone, except for the visiting nurses, who — thanks solely to her — had the highest turnover rate in the state. Maybe even the whole Southeast.

"She might have just gone to get the mail," Violet suggested. "Let's check the boathouse." Which was where the postal boat delivered.

Wary of falling ice and debris, we headed down that way.

"Damn." I scowled when we found no sign of her there. God forbid, we should have to spend the night in Hilltop with the mildew and the fleas and who knew what else. And if we had an ice storm, there was no telling when we'd escape. I shuddered at the prospect, but at least we'd brought a HoneyBaked Ham we could eat without fear of ptomaine. "Crap, crap, crap. We'll have to call the patrol."

"At least we know she hasn't been gone long," Violet said. "She answered the phone when we called. Let's look awhile longer."

We were almost back to the house when the first shot went off.

At first, we both thought a tree had snapped, so we frantically scanned the oaks and white pines overhead to see which way to run.

Only when the second shot blew a huge hole in the furled rhododendrons not three feet from Violet's shoulder did I realize what was happening. But sound plays tricks on the steep slopes beside the lake, and I couldn't tell where it had come from.

"Run!" Violet shrieked, dropping her red umbrella in the path as she took off for the neglected orchard's open spaces.

Hearing the click of reloading nearby, I dropped my umbrella, too, and launched myself toward my sister, barely catching her raincoat in time to drag her down into the vinca minor beside me. "Stay down."

It never even occurred to me that it might be somebody besides Cissy shooting at us. A crack shot, she had hunted with Hemingway in Africa and taught us all how to use and clean a shotgun. Even with cataracts and arthritis, she posed a very real threat.

"Head for the basement," I whispered to Violet. It was hidden from the yard by an overgrown hedge that offered the closest cover, and the doors hadn't been lockable in decades.

When the third shot blew Violet's umbrella to bits, showering us with red nylon confetti, we screamed and flinched in unison, then made a break for the hedge.

"We got rid of all her guns," Violet panted out as we cowered behind the ancient tractor stashed behind the hedge. "We both went over every square inch of that house. Where did she get this one? Nobody in the county would be stupid enough to sell her one!"

"I don't know," I snapped, in mortal terror for my life. "Maybe Santa Claus gave it to her."

Another blast sent my umbrella soaring, sieved with holes. "Hah!" Cissy crowed from somewhere nearby. "Got the other one!"

Better my forty-five-dollar Brookstone umbrella than me. My son thought I was an old stick-in-the-mud, but he'd miss me if I was gone. And he'd be mortified to have to tell everybody his great-grandmother had killed me.

I peered gingerly over the tractor and was hugely relieved to see no sign of Cissy, so Violet and I picked our way over to the only pair of functional French doors that led into the basement, and tried to pull one open. When we did, ice cracked and fell from the wisteria and honeysuckle that covered it, so we retreated back to the tractor.

Then we heard a rustle from the woods, followed by heavy steps treading up the path toward the house.

"Vile rapists!" Cissy's voice rang out. "My womanhood is all I have left for them to take, but they shall not have it, my Captain." Our step-grandfather the Captain had been dead for fifteen years. "I know I sought the ideal lover many times before we met," she went on dramatically. (She did everything dramatically.) "We both dipped our oars into many a lake of passion, but all that's over now." I heard her start up the stone stairs, followed by the click of Foxy's labored pace behind. "It was war. But my chamber of treasures opens to no one but you now, my darling. No one but you." She started toward the side door.

Gripping each other's hands, Violet and I pressed ourselves hard against the stone foundation under the verandah so she couldn't see us.


Excerpted from Ladies of the Lake by Haywood Smith. Copyright © 2009 Haywood Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Haywood Smith is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Wedding Belles, Red Hat Club and The Red Hat Club Rides Again.

Haywood Smith is the author of Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch, The Red Hat Club, and Red Hat Club Rides Again. She lives in Buford, Georgia.

Brief Biography

Buford, Georgia
Date of Birth:
April 21, 1949
Place of Birth:
Atlanta, Georgia
One year of college and several professional real estate degrees and appraisal certifications

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Ladies of the Lake 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
With the death of the family matriarch Cissy, her granddaughters (Dahlia, Rose, Violet and Iris) must follow her stipulation in her will to inherit. The late former dancer demands the four sisters move from their respective Atlanta homes to her lakefront estate in the Georgia Mountains for 90 days. The siblings agree on cleaning up the hazardous to your health house so that in three months they place it on the market to sell. They fail to comprehend that their late grandma wanted one last connection to her beloved ones even if that is from the grave. Cissy hoped they would understand how she lived her life and how she wants them to do likewise. From the Hazmat cleaning debate to the sibling squabbles to the legal legacy, LADIES OF THE LAKE is an amusing poignant sisters' drama that reminds readers of the importance of making quality and quantity time for loved ones. The four sisters, their late grandma and a catalyst hunk come across as full blooded especially the siblings when they mix war and love with each other. Although a romance with the key male outsider never quite gels, Haywood Smith leaves the red hats safely stored for another day as she provides a jocular yet profound family drama. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like the middle age characters in the book, I was " piddling" my pants by the fourth page from laughing so hard! These southern females are so true to life and Haywood Smith relates realistically to the women of this age group as well as educating to the southern culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book a chore to finish. Main character, Dahlia is impossible to like. She is awful to her sisters and full of boring health issues. It drags on and on about a neighbor who has had a crush on her since she was young. Predictable and unbelievable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I am only half way through this read it has been fabulous - this would make a great Hallmark Channel movie!
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LuckyPatty More than 1 year ago
My first book to read from Haywood Smith and I found this book to be most entertaining, especially because the majority of characters were around my age. The locale is also familiar to me so mention of areas and streets made the writing more realistic. The storyline is steeped in Southern tradition and idiosynchrysies that just seem somewhat unbelievable at times. Sometimes I even laughed out loud at the high jinks these ladies were up to. Sometimes I wanted to drop kick one or two for their actions. The love story is somewhat weak, but overall an enjoyable read. I have to say that this book makes me want to read more from this author
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Niesa Wilhelm More than 1 year ago
Great book.