With irresistible humor, warmth, and affection, author Sheila Roberts serves up a generous, open-hearted story about the friendships we make, the chances we take, and the lives we touch every day.
Keep the heart in Heart Lake. That's exactly what three small-town shop owners hope to do when they launch their "Have a Heart" campaign-asking neighbors to commit one random act of kindness every day. Emma, Sarah, and Jamie love their lakeside community, but the little town is growing too big too fast, and doing a good deed never hurt anyone. Or so they thought...
"Readers will laugh and cry with the women lovingly portrayed in this heartwarming story."-RT Book Reviews
When Emma slashes prices at her quilt shop, she almost stitches her way into bankruptcy. Sarah's free cooking class boils down to a hotbed of crime when some punk kid swipes her favorite heirloom. And at Jamie's chocolate shop, things take a bittersweet turn when a local policeman starts giving her grief, stirring up feelings she's tried to forget-and slowly melts away her defenses...
"Will doubtless warm more than a few hearts."-Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Sheila Roberts is the author of On Strike for Christmas, Small Change, The Snow Globe, Bikini Season, and other bestselling books. Before settling into her writing life, Roberts did lots of other things, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Now, when she's not speaking to women's groups or at conferences, she can be found writing about the things near and dear to women's hearts: family, friends, and chocolate. She lives on a lake in Washington.
Read an Excerpt
Another day in Mayberry, Jamie Moore thought as she waved the last two customers of the day out the door of the Chocolate Bar. A gust of autumn wind slipped in as the old women left, tickling the chime hanging in the window: little chocolates nesting in pretend paper cups dangling from a pink, heart-shaped chocolate box. They looked good enough to eat, just like the vast array of temptation Jamie kept on trays behind the glass counters. Except Jamie's truffles and fudge and other chocolate concoctions weren't simply good enough, they were great, to die for. That was what all her customers said anyway.
Jamie watched through the window as the two women started their snail-paced progress down the sidewalk, the late October wind whistling under their skirts. On the other side of the street another gust playfully stripped blushing leaves from the big maple on the corner. They danced off, swirling onto the sidewalk. The swirling leaves made Jamie think of fairies, and that made her smile, something she'd done a lot lately. Maybe it was Heart Lake, maybe it was the magic of chocolate — whatever it was that she'd found here, it had given Jamie back her smile. Her struggles in L.A. were behind her now and she had a new business and a new life. She had come home, stepped back in time, and found herself again.
Jamie hadn't found a fortune, though, at least not yet, so that meant only part-time help, low-rent living, and a beater car. But the low rent was on a lakefront cabin that her aunt, Sarah Goodwin, had found for her. And the beater was a Toyota that gave her pretty good gas mileage. So it was all good.
She turned the sign on the door to CLOSED, then hurried through her closing chores, cleaning the espresso machine, wiping down counters, and washing dishes. Her final chore was to jot down her grocery list. She bought her chocolate from a supplier in Seattle who had it shipped from France, but for her other supplies she shopped locally. Tonight she needed to get cream, a necessary staple for really good truffles. She also needed some more strawberry liqueur, which Tony DeSoto at Bere Vino was holding for her.
Tomorrow she'd be in the shop by five, making truffles. Her part-time help would join her at ten and man the counter. Wednesdays were always busy thanks to a walking group, the local MOPS moms who came in after their weekly meeting, and Lakeside Realty, who always bought truffles to serve at their realtors' open houses every Wednesday. And that was only the morning customers. Just thinking about tomorrow made her tired, but that was nothing compared to how tired she felt when she thought of Fridays, when half of Heart Lake came in searching for hostess gifts, shower presents, and a little something to help them celebrate TGIF. Tired is good, she reminded herself, it means your business is growing and you can pay the rent.
By the time Jamie stepped outside and locked the chocolateria door behind her those gusts of wind were spitting rain everywhere. Look at all the cars parked out here, she thought, surveying Valentine Square as she prepared to make a dash to her Toyota. Who'da thunk it?
When she was a kid, downtown Heart Lake had been a slow, lazy place, with an occasional old lady browsing a few shops on a long stretch of cement. Vern's Drugs, with its narrow aisles and slightly off-kilter hardwood plank floors, had been the popular destination spot for friends in search of some gossip as well as kids on the hunt for penny candy. The town had grown up all those years she'd been away. Vern's still occupied the same spot on downtown Lake Way, the main drag, but now it was crowded on all sides by new shops. And the downtown district had spilled over into nearby streets like this little U-shaped one, where her shop sat along with a card shop, a jewelry store, a lingerie shop (of course, they'd all chosen Valentine Square on purpose), and an old brick two-story Tudor that housed a divorce lawyer on the ground floor and a romance writer on the top. This street wasn't too crowded, but Lake Way was getting ridiculous. When Jamie had gone to Vern's the week before looking for aspirin she'd had to park clear at the end of the street.
Just two quick stops, she promised her tired self as she drove up Alder, headed for Lake Way. Then she could go home and snarf down the leftover lasagna Sarah had sent her away with after their dinner together the night before.
Poor Sarah. Tomorrow her daughter left for the East Coast. She'd be ready for a chocolate bender when they got together after work for their weekly confab with Emma Swanson.
At the four-way stop where Alder intersected with downtown Lake Way she found herself in a mini rush hour. "What's this?" she muttered. Cars never used to line up for this stop sign coming even one direction, let alone all four.
The car conga line inched toward the stop, each driver reaching the intersection and barely waiting for the next in line to zip across before jumping his or her vehicle forward like a racehorse out of the gate. And there stood her two little old ladies, clutching their Chocolate Bar goody bags and hovering over the crosswalk, afraid to put out so much as a toe. The short, plump one clutched her wool coat tight to her chest and huddled next to her friend as if for protection. Some protection. That woman was taller, but her legs looked like matchsticks. Her thin lips puckered in a frown and she was holding her felt hat down as if she were afraid the back draft from some rushing car would whoosh it right off her head.
Jamie understood that everyone was anxious to get home for the night, but couldn't somebody spare even a minute to let the old ladies cross the street and get out of the rain and back inside their senior housing? If they were still stuck on the curb when she reached the stop sign, she would.
Four more cars bolted across the street and the women remained rooted to the corner, looking uncertainly at the passing vehicles, probably thinking they'd never see Senior Gardens again. Jamie pulled up to the stop and waved them across. They stepped out nervously, linking arms and looking right and left at the other cars, probably mentally begging the drivers not to squash them. Once in the crosswalk they hobbled for the other side like contestants in a slow-motion three-legged race. After a millennium they safely reached the corner. The plump little one smiled at Jamie and blew her a kiss.
She smiled back and waved. That had felt good. And it only took a minute to be nice. People should always be nice. She started to take her turn only to have a red Mustang holding two high school Britney Spears wannabes bolt across the street right in front of her, gobbling up her warm, good Samaritan moment with a squeal of their wheels.
"Excuse me?" Jamie laid on the horn and one of them flipped her off. Well, of all the ... She caught sight of their bumper sticker. ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE. "And driving lessons," she muttered. What a couple of little beatches.
Oh, well. Every town had 'em, probably even Mayberry had one or two. Somewhere. Hiding off camera.
Even though the angle parking downtown was clearing out she failed to find a spot close to Bere Vino. By the time she walked through Tony's door she was a cloud with legs, dropping water everywhere.
Tony DeSoto wasn't old enough to be her father, but almost. He was divorced and hungry for sex, and before Sarah took Jamie into the shop to introduce her to him, she had warned Jamie that Tony imagined himself a cross between Sylvester Stallone and Leonardo DiCaprio. He was very fond of blondes, and he'd been known to sing under windows when there was a full moon. The last thing Jamie needed was an Italian-lover wannabe serenading her at the lake, so after Sarah had introduced them Jamie told him how much she and her partner were enjoying their new home. And did Heart Lake have a Gay Pride week? The drool on his chin had dried instantly. Now Jamie and Tony were just business pals, and every once in a while when she came in she'd catch him looking at her sadly and shaking his head.
"That will get around faster than free caviar. Now every man in town is going to think you're a lesbian," Sarah had chided her when they left the shop.
"And the problem with that is?" Jamie had retorted. Like she wanted a man in her life again? Ever? The day her ex broke her jaw was the day she swore off men.
"My God, you look like a drowned cat," Tony greeted her, eyeing the puddles forming at her feet. The first time she'd come into his shop he'd slicked back his salt-and-pepper hair and sucked in his gut. Now the hair stayed untended and the gut hung over his belt, a hedge of untrimmed fat.
"I feel like one," Jamie said.
"Well, I got just what you need to take the chill off: a new liqueur. You're gonna love it."
Tony always had a new something she was going to love. She'd spent a fortune on wine and cheese since she moved back. "Yeah?"
"Blackberry," he said, holding up a little bottle with a gold-foil label.
She walked over to the counter like a fish swimming to the lure.
"Take it home, try some in your truffles, see what Ginger thinks."
Ginger, her imaginary girlfriend. "Thanks," she said, taking the bottle and examining it. Blackberry with white chocolate — that could prove to be a deadly combination.
Tony had set aside her other liqueurs and was now ringing them up. "You should go home and get a hot bath," he advised. "You're going to catch your death. And you'd better buy an umbrella and a warm parka. We're gonna have a nasty winter. My bad knee is already acting up. Football injury," he added, in a moment of macho. "If it does what it did last year, we're gonna have some pretty bad snows."
"I hope not," Jamie said. "My candy is good, but I can't see people coming out in the snow for it."
"Around here people don't come out in the snow for nothin'," said Tony. "But rain? That's another story. I was swamped all day. Everybody getting ready to go home and tuck in with a nice bottle of wine and some cheese."
Actually, that sounded like a good idea. In addition to what she came in for, she left the store with a bottle of white wine, some brie, and a little box of sesame crackers.
At the Safeway store, she dashed from the parking lot, but hordes of icy little drops still sneaked under her jacket collar to torture her with every step. Ugh. That was the one good thing about L.A. Less rain.
But more cement and less green. She'd take Heart Lake and its lush woods any day.
She was chilled and miserably aware of her wet jeans rubbing against her skin by the time she got to the express lane. Where a middle-aged woman cut in front of her. Okay, Jamie obviously hadn't gotten the memo. Today was National Rudeness Day.
Never mind, she told herself. It's the rain. Everyone's in a hurry to get out of it and get home.
Including her. All she could think about as she left the downtown area was getting inside her cozy little cabin and sinking into a hot bath. She had some vanilla spice bath melt that made the yummiest bubbles, and she'd light some candles. The way the hanging flower baskets lining Lake Way had been swinging, she might find herself out of power, but if she lost power, no big deal. She'd still have enough hot water for her bath. Bubbles, glowing candles, a glass of wine ...
A flash of red lights behind her jerked her out of her mental bathtub with a jolt and sent adrenaline racing through her veins. She pulled her car over with hands suddenly damp. She hadn't been speeding. Why was this cop stopping her? She choked the steering wheel and chewed her lip. It's just a routine stop. Get a grip. AND DON'T DO IT.
She looked in the rearview mirror and saw the door of the police car behind her open. Out climbed a big man with a chest the size of a whiskey barrel and hands as big as hams. She tried to ignore the irrational banging in her chest and let down her window.
A face appeared. It was a good-looking face with deep-set eyes, full lips, and a strong, angular chin, the kind of face her friend Emma Swanson would have swooned over. It just made Jamie want to run.
Part of her itched to inform him that she wasn't speeding, that he had no right to stop her. It was silenced by a wiser voice, cautioning, "Appeasement works best. Keep your big mouth shut."
"Did you know you have a taillight out?" he asked.
"That's why you stopped me?" Any flimsy excuse to intimidate a woman. Okay, so no reason to embarrass me, she warned her body. DON'T DO IT. She took a deep breath and held it, just to be safe.
His eyebrows took a dip. "Did you know you had a taillight out?" he repeated.
"Of course not," she snapped. Okay, snapping was dumb on so many levels. She tried again, her voice smoother. "I thought you thought I was speeding," she said, then went back to holding her breath.
"Actually, you were going two miles under the limit," he said, and smiled. The man had a great smile. He could do toothpaste commercials. Hell, he could probably sell anything. He gave the car a friendly tap. "Be sure and get that fixed," he added. "Contrary to popular opinion, cops don't like giving out tickets."
She nodded and he turned and walked back to his patrol car.
She put up her window. Hic. Oh, stop, she told herself irritably. Another hiccup rose to mock her. At least they'd held off until the cop walked away. Her little problem would have been too totally embarrassing to explain. She watched him in her rearview mirror, waiting for him to pull out and drive on past her. Of course he didn't. They never did. They deliberately sat there in back of you to make you nervous. Well, she wasn't nervous. So there. Hic. She took in a deep breath and then moved out onto the street. He only followed her for a block, and then turned off in search of some new schlub to torture.
A huge hiccup carved a painful trail up her chest. You can stop now, she told her body. It's all over. Hic. She took a deep breath and told herself he'd been a nice cop. The policeman is your friend, her mother had always said.
Right. Jamie had thought that until she married one. He had burst her bubble for good. Not every cop was your friend. And the saddest thing was when you married one and expected him to be your best friend and he became your worst enemy.
Rude drivers, rain, cops — it was no wonder she felt grumpy by the time she dripped her way into her cabin. The poor spider lurking on the wall didn't have a chance.
She felt bad after she murdered it. You could have trapped it in a glass and put it outside, she scolded herself. Not very Mayberry of you.
Where was everyone? Emma Swanson paced to her shop window and looked out. Not one single person was hurrying up the sidewalk, worried about being late to her big event.
She frowned at the table she'd set up in one corner of her quilt shop, piled with squares of fabric in varying shades of pink, waiting for volunteers to embroider or decorate with fabric paint. She'd advertised in the paper and everything. Didn't anyone want to quilt for the cause? Was she going to be the only quilt shop owner in the whole Northwest who wouldn't be contributing squares?
It was looking very much that way. She should have known. The signs of failure were there in the attitudes of the few customers who had come into the shop in the last couple of days.
Emma had heard all kinds of excuses and evasions. "I'll try." (This was said in a tone of voice, that added, "But not very hard.") "I think I've got something going that night." (Which translated into, "Don't hold your breath.") The most creative excuse had come from one of her older customers. "I don't go out at night, dear. Carjackers."
As if any self-respecting carjacker would go near Heart Lake. It was like Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life, only without mean old Mr. Potter. "I could come pick you up," she'd offered.
"Oh, no. You'll have too much to do getting ready for the big event. I'm sure it will be wonderful, though."
Emma sighed. This nonturnout was not wonderful. What had she expected, really? She was having a hard enough time to get people to come into her shop during the day. Why would anyone want to brave a dark, rainy night to do it?
She leaned her head against the storefront window. During the day the downtown shop area was so pretty with its hanging flower baskets and cute shops. But at night, darkness sucked the life out of it, making it look deserted and unloved. Kind of the way she felt right now.
Excerpted from "Angel Lane"
Copyright © 2009 Sheila Rabe.
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.
Reading Group Guide
Have you ever wanted to change the world for the better?
In this heartwarming novel, three small-town shop owners and best friends set their sites on doing just that. But their aspiration to "keep the heart in Heart Lake" by asking their neighbors to commit one random act of kindness every day leads them to some pretty wild situations, and shows one woman that love can grow from the most unexpected places.
Rip with irresistible humor, friendship, and delicious recipes inspired by the story, Angel Lane teaches the important of kindness, friendship, and taking a chance on love.
1. At the beginning of the book, Jamie likens Heart Lake to Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town made popular by the Andy Griffith TV show in the sixties. What do you think is the upside to small town life? Is there a down side?
2. Emma is an old movie buff and an idealist. Do you think what we read and watch on TV and the big screen affects our attitudes and outlook on life or do we choose to watch what confirms what we already believe?
3. Sarah Goodwin was able to get past her empty nest syndrome by opening her home and heart to new people. Have you experienced empty nest syndrome? If so, how did you cope?
4. Emma's small quilt shop struggles to compete against a larger chain store. How do you feel about shopping with local merchants versus shopping at a larger store to save money? Does the state of the economy affect where you shop?
5. Have you ever owned a shop or toyed with the idea of opening one? If so, what kind of shop was it?
6. If you owned a bakery or a chocolate shop, would you eat all of your inventory?
7. Could you identify with Jamie's fear of falling for Josh the cop and repeating history? If so, how?
8. The importance of keeping a sense of community is a favorite theme in this book. How do you think that feeling connected benefits members of a community?
9. Do you feel a connection with your neighbors? If not, do you think you need one? Can you think of any way you could build one?
10. What is the most memorable good deed you ever did?