On Tall Pine Lakeby Dorothy Garlock
Nona Conrad has been making it through "by the hardest." Each day is a struggle - to go on after her parents' sudden death, to win her rightful inheritance from her untrustworthy half-brother, and to raise her high-spirited younger sister. Hired to manage a fishing camp deep in the Arkansas woods, the strong-willed redhead is eager to settle down - until she
Nona Conrad has been making it through "by the hardest." Each day is a struggle - to go on after her parents' sudden death, to win her rightful inheritance from her untrustworthy half-brother, and to raise her high-spirited younger sister. Hired to manage a fishing camp deep in the Arkansas woods, the strong-willed redhead is eager to settle down - until she clashes with the camp's new owner. Simon Wright persistently dogs Nora's steps and is instantly drawn to her. But is he an ally or a charmer with his own agenda? While Nora decides, someone driven by greed will do anything to find out what she knows - and soon Nona and Simon will have nowhere to run.
- Grand Central Publishing
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On Tall Pine Lake
By Dorothy Garlock
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Dorothy Garlock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHome, Arkansas, 1980
EXCUSE ME." Nona had come out of the small grocery store carrying two heavy sacks of groceries and run head-on into a man coming into the business. She hadn't hit him hard, but she felt the red sting of embarrassment just the same. Glancing up quickly, she saw that he was definitely a city man. He didn't look like a person who belonged in Home, Arkansas.
His clothes were expensive, certainly too new to have been worn long, unlike those of most men in town, who wore faded work clothes that had seen many washings. His head was bald, but the black mustache on his upper lip was thick. Nona wondered why bald men were compelled to have hair on their faces. It was hard to tell if he was young or old. The coldness of his dark eyes unnerved her. Her mind absorbed these impressions in a few seconds. She hadn't realized that she'd been staring until he reached out and grabbed her by the arm.
"Apology accepted," he mumbled through uneven teeth. Even from those two words, Nona could hear an accent, but one that she couldn't place. With an expanding smile, the man added, "You're Mrs. Conrad, aren't you?"
"No," she answered, "I'm Miss Conrad."
"I was told you managed the camp at Tall Pine Lake. My friend and I are looking for a place to fish. Do you have a vacancy?"
"Not for a couple of weeks." The words came out of Nona's mouth before she'd giventhem any thought. Even though most of the cabins were currently empty, something unpleasant about the man prompted her to lie.
"That's too bad," he said.
His eyes began to roam across her body before settling on her breasts. "But then it might be worth waiting for." The thumb on the hand that held her arm began to move across her skin in a caressing motion. Suddenly angry, Nona tried to jerk her arm away, but the man's grip tightened.
"Let go." Her voice was loud and strong. She felt a quiver of fear and looked around to see if anyone was near. Her hopes leapt as she saw a deliveryman carrying a large box coming her way.
But before she could call to him, the strange man abruptly released her arm, stepped back, and opened the door for the deliveryman, who quickly disappeared inside the store. Nona feared that the stranger would grab her again, but instead he said gruffly, "I'll be seeing you, Miss Conrad." With that, he turned and walked away.
For a moment, she stood frozen in front of the store. He knew my name!
Shaking the thought loose, Nona hurried to her car. Bright sunlight bathed the small town, and the first hint of the July heat hung in the air. The leaves of the tall maple and oak trees fluttered in the light breeze.
As she moved down the sidewalk, Nona caught sight of her reflection in the large window of the hardware store. Mr. Finnegan's window was full of saws, hammers, nails, and even an antique cast-iron stove, looking out of season in the warming weather. Amid all the clutter, there was still enough space for her to clearly see herself, a slim woman with a mop of fiery red curly hair that floated around her face like a halo. It was what drew people's eyes to her. She wore slacks and a tucked-in shirt. Nona thought of herself as only passably pretty. Although small, she appeared taller because she carried herself proudly. She considered her large sky-blue eyes her best feature. They sparkled when she was angry or extremely happy. She had a light sprinkling of freckles across her nose. When she was younger, she had hated her red hair, but now she had to either accept it or dye it, and she didn't want the bother of that. She had grown used to being called "that redhead."
Nona finally reached her car, a ten-year-old Ford, dust-covered from its travels down the dirt roads. When she moved to open the driver's door, she was startled to find another hand there before hers. In that split second, her heart sank at the thought that the strange man had followed her. But when she looked up, she found the bright eyes of a tall cowboy in a battered Stetson and a faded plaid shirt.
"Ma'am." A smile lit the man's handsome, sun-browned face. "A pretty woman shouldn't be carrying such a load."
"That's all right. My husband will be here shortly," Nona said defensively.
"He's a lucky man," the friendly cowboy said as he opened the car door. "But until he gets here, let me help." Nona placed her bags on the seat and pushed them across to the other side. After she got into the car and slid under the wheel, the man shut the door behind her and stood at the open window.
"My pleasure. Good day, ma'am." He smiled warmly as he put his fingers to his hat brim. His grin was contagious; Nona couldn't help but return the smile.
She started the car, put it in reverse, and began to back out. The loud blast of a horn caused her to slam her foot down on the brake. Glancing quickly over her shoulder, Nona saw the deliveryman frown at her before driving his truck past her and down the street. Damn that bald-headed man! He's got me rattled. When the road was clear behind her, she eased out and drove out of town.
Home, Arkansas, was a small town at the foot of the Ozark Mountains in the southwestern part of the state, the main supply hub for a twenty-square-mile area. Home had received its unlikely name more than a hundred years earlier when a travel-weary family from Ohio paused to spend the night along a clear stream. The man looked around, liked what he saw, and declared, "We're home."
The town now consisted of only two rows of business buildings lining a main street: the grocery store, hardware store, barbershop, pool hall, gun shop, and two cafes, Alice's Diner and the Grizzly Bear Tavern, where a man could get nearly anything that he wanted to drink. Nona had learned all of this when she and Maggie came to town to attend the Baptist church, a small clapboard building that sat on the edge of town. Church was the ideal place to catch up on the local gossip.
The Ozark Mountains loomed over a wild and unsettled terrain. The merchants in Home depended on hunters, fishermen, and campers for their livelihood, and the region drew them in droves. But this was not only a haven for hunters; hippies had also been settling here for the last ten years. The town was usually peaceful until sunset, when the roughnecks came to town and the bar was crowded to overflowing. Nona was becoming fond of Home and its wooded surroundings.
She drove east along a road that snaked through a heavily wooded area. The sound of the car's tires crunching over loose stone echoed off the looming pines that lined both sides of her route. She had traveled this road at least once a week since she and Maggie, her sister, had come to manage the camp, and had never been nervous about traveling it, but now, for some reason, she was uneasy as she drove away from town. Was it that the bald-headed man had held on to her arm so tightly? The encounter bothered her more than she was willing to admit. She would feel more comfortable when she made it to the turnoff to the camp. A little afraid but determined, Nona concentrated on her driving.
After a couple of miles, Nona became aware of a black car coming up quickly from behind her. In the rearview mirror, she could see a truck behind the car. It was probably old Mr. Wilson, who lived on the other side of the lake. He was almost eighty years old. Fearfully, Nona gripped the wheel. There was nothing along this lonely stretch until she came to the camp. She kept her eyes on the road and waited.
Checking the side mirror, she was surprised to see the car pull out to pass her! Tapping lightly on the brakes to keep from spinning out of control, Nona saw that the driver was the bald man who had grabbed her arm at the store. The black car passed her and barreled on down the road. The man in the passenger seat hadn't even glanced at her. The car rounded a bend and was soon out of sight. For the next several miles, Nona kept expecting to see the car blocking the road, the man out, a gun in his hand.
Nona rounded an easy curve in the road and came within sight of Tall Pine Camp. She could not remember it ever looking so inviting. The manager's house itself wasn't much; it was the largest of the buildings but was otherwise identical to the seven other cabins set back from Tall Pine Lake. All of the buildings were roomy and painted a crisp green. As she turned onto the lane leading to the cabins, Nona was proud of what she saw. With Maggie's help she had cleaned away the brush and clipped the hedges from around the cabins.
Approaching the three-room house she shared with her sister and Mabel Rogers, a longtime friend, Nona surveyed the camp grounds. A battered old house trailer sat near the lake. Russell Story, the old man who lived in the trailer, had been hired by the owner to take care of the boats and the bait for the camp. He also cleaned, filleted, and packed the fish in ice for the camp guests. Mabel had won him over with her apple pie, and in return he kept them well supplied with fresh fish.
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
The words burst from Nona as she turned her Ford into the drive in front of her cabin. For the second time in the last three days, the man who was staying in cabin number two had parked his pickup in her drive and she couldn't squeeze past it.
"Some people have a lot of nerve," she muttered angrily. She pressed her hand down on the horn and held it there. The horn's blaring bounced off the buildings and over the lake. Nona hoped it sounded as belligerent as she felt.
"Nona! Chill out!" Maggie shouted as she came down the steps of their cabin and knocked on the window of the passenger's side.
Nona let up on the horn, leaned over the seat, and rolled down the window.
"He isn't here," Maggie yelled over the knocks and ticks of the idling engine. "He took his dog and went off into the woods."
"Not here?" Stress lines formed between Nona's eyes and the corners of her mouth, turned down in a frown. "Well then, I'll just park behind him and see how he likes it."
Maggie stood by the car with her hands on her bony hips. At fourteen, she was a pencil-straight girl with light brown hair who had just begun to emerge from her childish awkwardness. While she and her sister were both slim, Maggie was already taller than Nona, who was twelve years her senior. Maggie's legs seemed endless, and her blue eyes shone large in her perky, freckled face. She wore blue jeans and a faded T-shirt. Not at all shy, she had an openness that was a large part of her charm. She made a frown of her own as she watched her sister park directly behind the truck, then get out of the Ford.
"Take a pill, Nona. Why are you so mad? You'd think this is the only parking place in the whole world."
"I'm not mad . . . just exasperated." She was still shaken from her encounter with the man at the store and on the road. "Ours is the manager's cabin, number one," she explained impatiently. "This is our drive. He has his own drive. It's simple. Why does he insist on parking on this side of his cabin?"
"Seems to me you're making a mountain out of a molehill," Maggie retorted with a shrug. She gathered up one of the bags of groceries and leapt up the steps like a young colt.
Nona edged through the front door that Maggie held open, dumped her large sack on the table, and sighed. A thin woman in slacks and a sleeveless shirt stood in front of the sink peeling potatoes. She turned and smiled at the two girls, her high cheekbones rosy with rouge, a cigarette hanging from her bright red lips.
Four years earlier, when Nona and Maggie moved into an apartment after the death of their parents, Mabel Rogers, a widow, had been their neighbor. A woman who had no family of her own, she had taken the two girls to her heart. Mabel had volunteered to care for Maggie while Nona was at work, a blessing to both the sisters. They loved her dearly. She had been "Aunt Mabel" to Maggie since they'd met. When Nona had taken the job of managing the camp, it seemed only natural that Mabel would come with them.
"Hi, Mabel," Nona said.
"Is something wrong, dear?" Mabel asked with concern. "Why were you honking the horn?"
"She's having a fit, Aunt Mabel."
"A what?" Mabel asked, wrinkling her brow.
"You know. Losing her cool."
"I am not!" Nona said nothing about what had happened in town and on the road to the camp. There was no point in worrying Mabel and Maggie. "There's the whole out-of-doors for him to park in, yet he insists on putting that pickup in our drive!"
"He's really very nice," Mabel said. "Handsome, too," she added, with a wink at Maggie. Pushing a strand of henna-colored hair behind her ears, she began unloading the sacks of groceries.
"This one is Mrs. Leasure's," Nona said. "I'll have Maggie take it down to her."
Once everything had been placed on the table, Maggie wailed, "Nona! You didn't get my Seventeen magazine!"
"I had to choose between a magazine and raisin bran. The bran won. Our grocery dollars will only stretch so far, you know. When I think of how fast our money is going, I get panicky."
"Did you call Little Rock again?" Mabel asked.
Nona was reluctant to place a long distance call on the camp telephone. "I tried to call while I was in town, but they said Harold was out to lunch."
"That's a heck of a note," Mabel mused as she carefully folded the empty sacks.
"I think it was a lie. He just didn't want to talk to me."
"Did you try to call the man who hired you?"
"We've been here for several weeks and haven't heard a word from the owner of the camp. Isn't that a bit strange?"
"I suppose so," Nona admitted. "I send everything we take in, plus the bills, to the accountant. Unless we get more bookings in a hurry, there'll be only the bills to send. To make matters worse, the pump on the well is acting up again. It'll cost a mint to have someone out here to fix it."
As she took a load of groceries over to the cupboard, Nona stumbled over a big dog stretched out on the kitchen floor. The mutt with the yellow coat looked up from where he lay, and then plopped his head back down onto the wooden floor. "Maggie! What's Sam Houston doing in here? I've told you time after time to leave him outside. He gets hair all over the place."
"Sam Houston doesn't like the dog next door."
"That's because he's a coward! It's time he decided if he's a dog or a pussycat," Nona declared.
"He's no coward."
Nona knew that Maggie regarded her complaints with the usual teenage tolerance for adult's irritations, but she couldn't help insisting on what was right. The mass of red hair curled around Nona's face, and little tendrils of it clung to her cheeks and forehead. She blew the bangs away from her forehead and decided that rather than argue with Maggie, she would take Sam Houston and go outside.
"Come on, you mangy hound."
"You're gonna hurt Sam Houston's feelings, calling him that."
"I should call him a hairy, worthless, mangy hound."
Following Nona through the kitchen and out the back door, Sam Houston lumbered down the steps and eased himself into a cool spot of shade at the base of the porch. Nona sat down on the steps, rested her chin in her hand, and let her mind drift. She found herself back in Home, the strange man's hand on her arm. Inwardly, she shivered. Most of the men she had encountered since coming to the camp had been polite and rather bashful. This man had been quite different.
The loud blast from a car horn startled her, but then a secretive smile curled on her lips. The man in the next cabin was back and wanted to move his truck. Not much fun is it, buster? she thought. She went back into the kitchen and peeked out the window. A tall, well-muscled man in faded jeans and an old plaid work shirt was standing beside his truck, his hand firmly pressing on the truck's horn.
Excerpted from On Tall Pine Lake by Dorothy Garlock Copyright © 2007 by Dorothy Garlock. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
This is Dorothy Garlock's 50th novel. Combined, her titles are published in 15 languages. She lives in Iowa.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The trio marched into chasm result one.
On the back cover (describing the plot), Nona is spelled correctly once but the other two times - her name is spelled "NORA"! If you cannot get your main character right on the cover - geez. Ms. Garlock needs a better editor - or whoever proofs her books. I could understand maybe the name not spelled correctly once or twice in the book (for it was 332 pages long). But twice on the back cover! I was given this book & tried to read it. I could not get into it. I recommend anything by Judith McNaught - especially "Someone to Watch Over Me".
This is a very good book. It keeps you on your toes. I don't usually read books like this, but I can say this book really opened my eyes to other generes.
Home, Arkansas is the new home of Nona Conrad, her teen-age sister Maggie and their adopted Aunt Mabel. She moved from Little Rock because she needs a job and the owner of the fishing camp hired her to look after things and take care of the finances. Her half brother Harold, who she knows is a thief and a liar, sent her a package begging her not to open it but she is so busy with the new job and her next door neighbor Simon Wright that she forgets all about it. Simon drives her crazy with his over protectiveness but she begins to understand why when he explains that Harold stole a lot of money and jewels from one of the vaults in the bank that belongs to his grandfather. Two men from the mob are in the area looking for the treasure and the jewels and they kidnap Maggie hoping she knows something that will lead them to Harold. A Good Samaritan frees Maggie, takes her to his parents home where they spend the night before returning home. The danger is far from over because the men want the money and they will do whatever is necessary to get it. Between kidnapping, chases, and injuries, Nona and Simon find time to fall in love. This is Dorothy Garlock¿s fiftieth book and it is one of her best to date. Taking place in a tiny backwater rural town, readers soak up the atmosphere of small town living. The way the protagonists bicker the audience knows they¿re starting to fall in love surprisingly, the person who is one of the stars is Maggie, a young girl who keeps her head during dangerous situations. It would be great to have Maggie¿s story when she grows up.------------- Harriet Klausner