Ozark Sweetheart (Heartsong Presents Series #1086) [NOOK Book]

Overview


CALLIE BLAKE CAN'T AFFORD TO FALL IN LOVE

She's too busy helping her family survive the Depression. When she returns home to their Missouri farm, she sees her childhood crush, Trace Gentry, and it stirs up old dreams she tries hard to ignore. Trace is kind, handsome and wealthy. He'd never be interested in a poor girl like her—would he?

Successful businessman Trace is crazy about Callie, and he knows she thinks she's not good enough for him. ...

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Ozark Sweetheart (Heartsong Presents Series #1086)

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Overview


CALLIE BLAKE CAN'T AFFORD TO FALL IN LOVE

She's too busy helping her family survive the Depression. When she returns home to their Missouri farm, she sees her childhood crush, Trace Gentry, and it stirs up old dreams she tries hard to ignore. Trace is kind, handsome and wealthy. He'd never be interested in a poor girl like her—would he?

Successful businessman Trace is crazy about Callie, and he knows she thinks she's not good enough for him. But he's clueless how to woo her. Until he devises a plan that will prove his love to Callie and make all her dreams come true.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460328071
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 3/1/2014
  • Series: Heartsong Presents Series , #1086
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 400,692
  • File size: 217 KB

Meet the Author


Helen Gray grew up in a small Missouri town and married her pastor. They have three grown children. If her writing in even a small way touches others, she considers it a blessing and thanks God for the opportunity.
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Read an Excerpt

Missouri, 1930

Callie Blake picked up a couple more sticks of firewood from the slab pile and added them to her load. Arms full, she rounded the sawdust pile near the family sawmill and headed for the house. She twisted her head, wishing she had a free hand to wipe the sweat that trickled from beneath her bonnet and dampened the collar of her blue cotton dress. The smell of fresh sawdust permeated the still, parched air.

The family dog lay panting in the sweltering shade of a huge oak tree, his tongue hanging out. The calendar said today was the third of September, but the heat of August persisted in the Missouri Ozarks.

The sound of a motor drew her attention to the road.

A 1927 Chevrolet truck slowed and pulled into the strip of ground between the road and the yard.

Callie paused as the visitor got out of the truck and came closer. Then she got her first look at his face.

Trace Gentry.

The sight of him sent her tumbling back in time. He was as tall as she remembered, six foot or a little more, and as good-looking as ever. His dark brown hair held just a hint of curl, and deep-set blue eyes made hearts flutter-including Callie's, once upon a time. Time and trials had changed him from a "cute" boy to a lean, muscular man. A heart-stoppingly handsome man.

He carried himself with assurance and always seemed at ease with everyone. Nobody else had ever fascinated Callie the way he did, or sent her stomach into somersaults at the mere thought of him. Or been so far from her world.

Time stood still as he came closer. Suddenly his eyes collided with hers in recognition. She struggled for control and forced the shock from her expression.

"Callie?" Surprise colored the word.

She nodded, held mute at his sudden appearance.

"Are you just visiting, or have you moved back here?" His voice was deep and smooth.

"I came home six months ago." She had to force the words past numb lips.

As a child-and as she grew older-she had adored him from a distance. In high school he had only seen her as the poor little Blake girl he had once felt sorry for. Trace had dated Joanna Michaels, a girl his own age who had been a perfect match for him, and Callie had put away her childish fairy-tale dreams.

"Are you looking for Dad?"

He gave her a breathtaking smile. "I want to get some advice from him and order wood to build a display case in the showroom."

She tipped her head, slowly regaining her composure. "For all your trophies?"

A smile hovered around his mouth. "No, for my license plate collection."

"He was at the sawmill, but the steam engine stopped running a few minutes ago. If he's not right there, he may have gone to the barn." Callie indicated with a jerk of her head where the engine sat just beyond the second sawdust pile. She clutched the load of wood tighter and hooked her hands together around it to keep it from slipping from her tired arms.

Trace looked at the wood in her arms. "You're busy. I'll go on down and find him."

He moved toward the barn, and Callie continued to the house. Just then a movement to her right caught her attention. Her brothers, Riley, one year older than her at twenty-three, and eighteen-year-old Delmer, sprinted from the barn and cut across the backyard to the other side of the house where the buckboard sat, a team of horses already hitched to it.

Callie's mouth tightened in irritation. Ducking out on their chores again. Why did she have to be the only one who took care of everything? Would she never be free to have a life of her own?

Callie picked up her pace and opened her mouth to yell that Mom needed more wood for the cookstove. But the sound of another approaching motor brought her to a halt.

A black car pulled to the side of the road. A man in black pants, shirt and hat got out and rounded the front of the vehicle, its motor still running. She froze in her tracks. Could it be? The familiar-looking man stopped at the ditch and stared across it at Riley and Delmer. A bolt of fear zinged up her spine as he studied them from beneath the shield of his hat brim. He said something she couldn't hear.

The wood nearly slipped out of her hands, but Callie tightened her arms just in time to keep from dropping it. Could it be him? How could he have found her? Oh, please, no.

Callie edged backward around the corner of the house, keeping her eyes glued to the man and her brothers. Intent on each other, they hadn't noticed her. The man suddenly reached behind him. When his hand came back around, he was pointing a gun at the boys. Cold, paralyzing fear held Callie's feet rooted to the ground.

Run. Move-before they're both dead.

A shot rang out, and Riley collapsed. In a flash the man swung his arm around toward Delmer, who flung himself to the ground in a fast rolling movement. More shots fired, bullets hitting the dirt around him.

Callie screamed and broke into a run, nearly tripping over the wood that fell at her feet. Acting on sheer instinct, she flung a chunk at the man. It landed several feet short of him. Still running, she fired another missile from the middle of the yard. It bounced off his ankle. The man hesitated and turned, giving her a partial view of a face identical to the one in her nightmares.

Regaining her balance, Callie hurled another stick, then another, while running up to within a few feet of him. When a stick of wood pelted him in the neck, he whirled and ran back to his car.

Delmer scrambled on hands and knees to where Riley lay. The car sputtered and rumbled away. Callie had a fleeting impulse to chase after it, but Riley was her first concern. Heart pounding, she dropped the last of the wood and landed on her knees next to the boys.

"Is he…" With her heart in her throat, she couldn't finish the question.

Delmer yanked Riley's shirt back, and blood poured from his chest. Delmer pressed a hand over the wound.

Dear God, please don't let us lose another brother. Please, please don't let that happen.

Their mother and youngest sister, Clementine, came running across the yard to join them. Callie jumped up. "I'm going to get some towels," she shouted, breaking into a run. In the kitchen she grabbed the towel from the nail by the door and yanked a dishtowel from the supply cabinet. Then she ran back to Riley and skidded to a breathless halt on her knees beside him. She pressed the towels over the wound.

"We have to get him to a doctor," she gasped, trying to ignore her mother's pitiful moans at her side. Lord, why didn't You let me get enough saved to buy a car?

"What happened?" Trace Gentry came at a run around the corner of the house.

Callie pointed at the car headed up the road. "A man drove up and shot Riley. We have to get him to a doctor."

Trace squatted and grasped Riley's feet. "Let's put him in my truck. It's faster."

Delmer hooked his hands under his brother's shoulders, and they carried him the twenty yards to the truck and eased him into the open end of the bed. Heart pounding, Callie followed them, and nearly forgot to breathe when a soft moan came from Riley. "I'll ride back here with him."

Callie crawled up beside Riley and placed his head in her lap, while Delmer stayed at his feet. Thank You, Lord, that Trace was here with his truck.

As the truck took off, Callie ran one hand over Riley's forehead and pressed the towels over the wound with the other. "Riley, Riley," she crooned. "You know you drive me crazy at times, but you also know I love you. Where were you guys going that was so important?" She feared that she knew.

"You look too much like me." She groaned and ran her eyes over his oval face and black hair that matched her own. Tears coursed down her cheeks, knowing that very likeness might have cost him his life. How had that man found her?

She leaned forward. "Don't you dare die on me, big brother. Don't you dare. Do you hear me?" Pain cut through her heart.

Please don't let him come back. God, hasn't my family suffered enough? Grief and backbreaking work have aged Mom and Dad so much since Everett's death. Lord, I'm sorry I neglected You for so long.

"Did you hear me, Riley?" she demanded fiercely. "You are not going to die."

The three-mile ride to Deer Lick seemed to take forever. Her neck grew tired from looking every direction for the gunman. By the time they reached the four-way stop sign at the center of town, Callie was holding on to her nerves by a thread.

The horn sounded continuously as the truck careened left, sped to the middle of the block and stopped in front of the drugstore on the west side of Main Street. Delmer hopped to the street and ran inside the store. As he passed the soda fountain to the doctor's office in the back, his panicked shout carried to the street. "My brother's been shot. He needs a doctor."

The gray-haired Dr. Randolph came running out with his nurse, then removed Callie's hand from Riley's chest and made sure he was breathing. "Help me get him inside," he ordered gruffly.

"Careful now," he cautioned as Trace helped him carry Riley up onto the sidewalk. They were just easing through the door when the buckboard came racing up the street. Callie's father jumped from the seat. A stocky man with broad shoulders and sturdy legs, he wore a look of sheer panic.

"Clem said Riley's been shot. Who did it?" he demanded, his face flushed. When he got no answer, he jerked off his dirty hat, leaving his thinning gray hair plastered to his head.

"We don't know," Mom said, resisting his effort to take her place. He walked beside her into the doctor's quarters where a strong antiseptic smell greeted them.

"Please have a seat, everyone." The nurse motioned to the sofa and chairs in the small waiting room. "We'll call as soon as we have everything under control." She, the doctor and Trace disappeared into the examining room with Riley.

Callie took one of the two chairs by the door. She wiped her hands on her dress and clasped them tightly together to control their trembling. Moments later Mom, Dad and Trace returned, firmly shut out of the doctor's office. When Trace sat in the chair next to her and their arms brushed, Callie stiffened and edged away. The tingle that shot through her made heat rise in her face. She forced herself to ignore his presence beside her-and keep her mind on Riley.

Leon Gentry, the city marshal and Trace's brother, appeared in the doorway and dipped his head in a polite greeting. "Hi, folks. I heard y'all come tearing into town and recognized Trace's truck. Care to tell me what happened?"

Callie eased back into the sofa and did her best to be invisible.

As soon as she'd graduated from high school, she had gone to Saint Louis to work and send money to her mother so the family wouldn't go hungry. That had ended abruptly six months ago. As the weeks passed, she had begun to breathe easier. Now this.

The partially visible face of the gunman filled her mind. The brief glimpse she had gotten looked like the man she had run from in Saint Louis. She tried to deny it. Maybe someone else had been after the boys because of something related to the bootlegging she knew they'd been involved with. But if it was him, how had he found her?

The marshal's eyes pierced all of them. "Was he alone?"

Mom's eyes darted to her offspring. "Delmer and Cal-lie wuz there."

He focused on Delmer. "Tell me about it."

Delmer swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "This car came up and stopped. A man got out. He asked our names. I said, 'Who wants to know?' He looked at us real mean, then he stared at Riley and said, 'You're the one.' He pulled out a gun and shot Riley. Then he tried to shoot me, but I rolled away."

"Do you have any idea why?"

Delmer shook his head. "No."

The marshal glowered. "You're sure?"

The doctor emerged at that moment, his manner brusque. "The bullet just missed his heart. I think he'll make it."

A breath of relief whooshed from Callie, leaving her weak.

"He's unconscious but fairly stable. You may go to him, but not everyone at once." He looked at Dad and Mom. "You two first."

As soon as her parents disappeared through a door, Marshal Gentry shifted his attention to Trace and Callie. He started to speak, but hesitated for a moment, as if uncertain about questioning his brother.

"Why don't we walk up the street to Trace's office at the car dealership? It's closer than the jail and more private than this. You won't be gone long." His tone suggested they should not refuse his request.

Without comment Callie and Delmer followed the Gentry brothers across the street and up the sidewalk to the Gentry Chevrolet building. Callie had to tamp down a twinge of envy that the Gentrys still had a livelihood and such a nice business, unlike most of her friends and family members. And the whole place stirred too many memories. That ride to town years ago had been too much like the one today. She plucked at the skirt of her dirty dress.

"Do you know any reason someone would shoot

Riley?"

Delmer's eyes darted to the door, as if he wanted to escape through it. "No, I don't," he practically shouted, his face nearly matching his red hair.

"Tell me again exactly what the man said," Leon ordered.

Delmer clenched his fists. After a few deep breaths he seemed to calm a bit and met the marshal's gaze. "Like I told you, this guy drove up, got out of the car without shutting off the motor and came to the edge of the road. He asked our names, but we didn't tell him. Figured it wasn't none a' his business, since we didn't know his. He pulled out a gun, shot my brother and took off. And I was too scared and worried about Riley to go catch him," he choked.

Leon turned his attention to his brother. "How did you get involved in this?"

"I went out there to order wood for a display case I plan to build back there for my license plate collection." Trace nodded toward the back wall as he explained what he'd seen.

"So you didn't see what happened or who did it."

"Nothing but the car. It was a 1928 Dodge Coupe." Leon made a note. "Any little detail might help. What about you?"

He had switched his focus to Callie so quickly that she blinked in surprise. "Tell us what you saw."

Callie drew a deep breath and fought for control. She ran her tongue over dry lips. "I came around the house just as the car pulled up. The boys had started to get in the buckboard, and I meant to speak to them. But when the car stopped, I backed up so I wouldn't interrupt."

"Could you hear what the man said?"

She shook her head. "No, I backed out of sight, figuring it was someone the boys knew." She couldn't bring herself to explain what she feared.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Great debut novel. Realistic characters that I could relate to

    Great debut novel. Realistic characters that I could relate to and plot development that also included some history about the depression era. Loved that it is set in my home state, so that I can truly picture the settings in my mind. Looking forward to more from this author. Wondering if a future book will pick up the story of Riley and Jolene.

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