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James Hensley stepped back from his easel with satisfaction. It will be a fine painting, he thought as he smiled at his canvas and the scenery. Before him shone the panorama of Oberon Woods, New Hampshire: the radiant summer sun, the azure sky, the majestic Mount Washington, a tranquil lake, bucolic woods, leaves, grasses, and wildflowers. A small rowboat bobbed against a weathered dock on the lakefront. A wooden bench and table stood beneath a shade tree on the beach.
When he had asked for some pastoral scenery for painting near the Verdant Hotel, where he was staying, the hotel staff had recommended this place, named "Arcadia Lake," but most of the time simply called "the lake." He liked the place and its surroundings.
He had set up an easel on the sandy lakeshore. He had been painting this landscape for some time. He sat on a portable chair, wearing cotton shorts, a T-shirt, a wide-brim hat, and sneakers, all in white. He whistled sometimes, content with the peaceful environment.
As he was focusing on the distant mountain, suddenly he heard a lively soprano voice from the narrow beach ahead. "Sophie, come here. It's beautiful."
He wanted to guard his solitude, to concentrate on his work, but the voice sounded familiar. He turned his face to the direction of the voice. A young woman in her late twenties came into view, pausing on a bicycle. She wore microshorts and a small, thin tank top, both of light peach color, innocently exposing her shoulders, slim arms, tight belly, and long legs, which were pale and untanned, suggesting she was visiting from a city. Her yellow hat and pink sandals set off her clothes and her long blond hair.
Another woman soon joined her, also riding a bicycle. She looked older than the first. "Yes, this is splendid," she said as she dismounted. "It was a good idea to take a bike ride after all." She wore a long, white one-piece summer dress with long sleeves, a white hat, and white sandals.
Am I dreaming? James thought. They are like a pair of two sylvan nymphs in the green world. This is my lucky day.
Prior to his vacation here, his colleagues in his office had warned him: "Be careful of summertime romance in the mountain resort. You might get swept away up there in the green world. You could meet Ms. Right — or Ms. Really, Really Wrong, and get your heart broken. You never know. Blame it on the summer." James had shrugged off the teasing. He hadn't expected to meet any women so far from New York City. And now here were two of them!
The younger woman gazed across the lake to Mount Washington. "I told you," she said. "I don't understand why you just want to stay in the hotel room and read a book. This is our vacation. We should have fun, excitement, adventure." She took an exaggerated breath. "Ah! Out here the air is so fresh, and the scenery is awesome."
James thought how picturesquely they blended into the scene he was painting. They must be nymphs.
The younger woman opened her eyes wide. "Helloooo, James!" she called, waving her hand.
"Remember us? We met in the hotel dining room last evening."
The two women approached, pushing their bicycles with them. He now recalled them as guests at the same hotel where he was staying. They were sisters. The woman in shorts was the younger sister, Kelly Burnett, and the woman in white was Sophie. James greeted them, regretting the lost privacy but not the apparition of two beautiful sisters. He hastily cleaned his hands with a paper towel and shook their hands in a courteous manner.
"I didn't see you this morning in the dining room," he said.
"We needed a good rest," Sophie answered. "So we were quite late for breakfast this morning, and then —"
"We were bicycling around here," Kelly cut in, seemingly impatient to skip the formalities. "It's so gorgeous." She gestured widely, taking in the view. Then she lowered her eyes toward his canvas. "I knew you were an artist of some kind. You paint! Fabulous!"
The sisters moved behind James to examine his work. He spread his hands to try to cover the canvas, which was thirty inches by twenty-four inches — too big to hide.
"Guys, please," he said. "I just started this painting this afternoon. It's embarrassing. I prefer to keep my work to myself until I finish."
"Aha! You're shy," Kelly said, still trying to see the painting.
"Watch your mouth." Sophie gave her younger sister a sharp look and a nudge with her elbow. "We should respect his wish and leave him alone."
"I'd appreciate it," James said. "Painting is my pastime. It's not for a show."
Sophie nodded and moved back from James, gesturing for her sister to do the same. But Kelly hovered close by. The two sisters gazed at him, as if they were relishing his appearance. This tickled his vanity because he knew that he was physically presentable as a tall masculine man in his mid-thirties. He grinned inadvertently. Immediately he tried to disguise his grin by looking around at the scenery.
"I enjoy the solitude of nature while I paint," he said. "I believe the summer spirits dwell here in the air, the greenery, the water. I want to paint them all."
"Summer spirits?" asked Kelly, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," he answered firmly. Then he whispered, placing his index finger at his mouse, "Shhhh. ... Listen and watch carefully. They are here. You can feel it."
All three regarded the surroundings in silence for a moment.
Inclining her head with a smile, Sophie said in a hushed tone, "I understand."
She was tall and willowy, he estimated in her early thirties. She had a fine complexion, with a high forehead, a straight nose, hazel eyes, and short brunette hair. Her face was placid, and she spoke softly. He thought her smile endearing.
"I work for a Wall Street company, and my job is very stressful," he continued. "I've been so busy at work I was completely burned out. So I took a two-week vacation. Painting this beautiful scenery here, alone, is rejuvenating."
"I know what you mean," Sophie said. "I'm longing to just sit and read. I'm glad I brought Emily Dickinson's poetry. She lived in seclusion to write, you know, so this is an ideal place to read her. I hope the serenity will inspire me, and I'll be able to appreciate the depth of her works."
Sophie pushed her bicycle to the bench, leaned it against the table, and pulled a book from the saddlebag. She sat on the shady bench and started reading.
"She's always like that, a bookworm," Kelly said, lingering next to James. "That's why David is not always pleased with her."
"Kelly! I heard you," Sophie snapped from the bench. "Why do you have to expose my private life to James? You're an impossible child." She glowered at her younger sister. "Don't disturb my mood. I'm very happy here. I want to concentrate on Dickinson." She returned to her reading.
So Sophie has a boyfriend, thought James, feeling disappointed. But he realized she was now occupying the bench and the table that were empty in his painting. A thrill passed through him at the sight of Sophie in her white attire on that bench. And she was reading Emily Dickinson! Such a poetic view! He wanted to paint her this way. He made up his mind that he would bring an extra canvas tomorrow.
"James, I found a perfect poem for this place," Sophie said, beaming at him from the bench. She read aloud.
"The mountains grow unnoticed,
James regarded Mount Washington, mysteriously screened by the ultraviolet reflection of sunshine. "Yes, it's beautiful," he said. "The poem could have been written for that mountain as we see it from here."
"It sounds that way, doesn't it? I'm glad you liked it." She gave him a little wave, which he returned; then she contentedly went back to the book. James thought she looked like a Greek goddess in a white robe, preparing to recite her divine poems. Definitely, I have to paint her in that pose.
He resumed working on his original landscape. But Kelly remained close to him, watching as he applied the brushes swiftly to the canvas. From time to time, he surveyed her. She had shoulder-length blond hair, sparkling green eyes, a straight nose, fine complexion, cute bust, and long slim legs. In her skimpy attire, she appeared dazzling.
"You said you just started painting this afternoon," Kelly said. "You paint fast. The canvas is already entirely covered. Is this the typical way?"
"I'm not sure," James answered. "But my teacher always tells me I have to catch the surrounding mood, and painting instinctively and fast is the only way to do that."
"I see." Kelly kept watching his brush movements. "In college I majored in art history and minored in fine art. So I have a little experience with painting. Your landscape reminds me of the Hudson River School."
"Wow! I'm impressed. You know the Hudson River School?" said James. "It's too early to see my intention fully on the canvas, but I'm exactly after the Hudson River School style here, with a mixture of Impressionist style."
"I can see that. You're a good painter — more than an amateur, I must say."
"What do you want? Chocolate?"
They laughed. Sophie looked up at them but went back to her reading. On canvas, he focused on the lake water in blue, green, yellow, and white.
"The water on your picture looks seductive." Kelly raised both her hands high, stretching. "Ah, it's irresistible." She wandered toward the lake. "I have a policy — don't resist a temptation."
"What kind of policy is that!" he said, meaning to give her advice, but he sounded like coaxing. He couldn't resist grinning. "It's dangerous for a young woman like you."
"Never mind. I want to swim in this lake," she said, flipping her hair over one shoulder. "Fortunately, I brought my bathing suit and towel. Do you want to swim with me?"
"I wish. But I have to paint. Besides, I didn't bring my swimming trunks."
"You can swim naked," she said, her high-pitched laughter skipping over the water. Birds took off from tree branches and flew away.
"Kelly!" Sophie shouted from the bench. "You are becoming wild. Behave!" She frowned, then sighed in resignation and resumed her reading.
"Too bad you can't come," Kelly told James. "I'm going to change." She pushed her bicycle to the bench and whispered something to her sister.
Sophie pursed her lips and shook her head in disapproval. "You're too influenced by Steve."
James heard it. He guessed that Kelly, too, had a boyfriend, feeling jealous. But remembering his colleagues' warning, he thought: So they both have their own boyfriends. I didn't come here to find a girlfriend. This may be a blessing. They are just my hotel acquaintances. But still. ... He felt relief and disappointment at the same time.
Without responding to her sister, Kelly found her bathing suit and towel in the bag on her bicycle and then went behind a bush to change. Shortly she emerged in a tiny emerald-green bikini, holding her clothes, hat, sandals, and towel. James eyed her exposed body. She was slim but well proportioned and curvy. Her skin was a healthy pink-white, pretty with her green eyes and golden hair. As she walked back to the bench, she swayed her hourglass waist and hips, her round breasts bouncing. James followed her with his eyes as she left her belongings on the bench. She strolled to the beach and gradually disappeared into the water. She emerged and shook her head, like a nymph surfacing from a spring.
"Aaaaah! I feel soooo goooood!" she purred loudly, splashing the water all over her body. She started swimming a leisurely breaststroke. Several yards away from the beach, she turned back and flapped her hands in a big swinging motion to Sophie and James, spattering water around her. "This is fun!" she called. "You don't know what you're missing. Why don't you come in?"
Sophie shook her head again, uttering, "Such a spoiled child!"
Fascinated by Kelly's confidence, James followed the golden head moving in the green water, creating reverse-V-shaped waves as she swam farther away from the shore.
She changed direction, now swimming parallel to the shore with a backstroke. Then she stopped swimming and just floated on the water. He wanted to swim beside her, as he was a good swimmer. He promised himself that he would bring his trunks with him tomorrow.
She glided back near the shore and held on to a piling of the dock to rest. James studied his painting, where the dock was empty, then regarded Kelly. Breathing heavily, she wafted up and down on the green, transparent water, her white shoulder appearing above the surface, decorated with tendrils of her long hair. Her plump breasts, hardly covered by the tiny emerald-green bikini top, emerged from the water and submerged in rhythm. A spring nymph! He wanted to paint her in that alluring pose, ideally without the bikini top. A hallucinatory picture flashed in his mind, of her white breasts and cherry-like nipples bobbing at the surface of the water. He swallowed. Overlapping in illusion and reality, he saw her smiling at him. He felt he would melt down.
* * *
That evening, James and the two sisters had dinner together in the dining room of the hotel. A small chamber orchestra played classical music as well as dance music, stimulating the appetite of the guests. The restaurant was renowned for its prix fixe four-course dinner, the menu changing every day. This evening, the dinner consisted of melon wrapped with prosciutto as appetizer, Niçoise as salad, sautéed lobster with garlic sauce as entrée, and mixed fresh fruits as dessert. Immediately they decided to augment that with a bottle of red wine.
They had all dressed for dinner. Sophie wore a long white informal evening dress with a peach floral pattern. Kelly was trendy, as during the day, but more conservative, in slim white pants and a white baby-doll top. James did not look bad himself, he thought, in white trousers, a white shirt, a light-blue jacket, and a matching tie. He indulged in observing the sisters, both of whom he deemed adorable. He asked about their lives and background.
Sophie started first. "I received a BA in English literature at Smith College. Then I moved to Boston University for graduate school, because Kelly began her undergraduate studies there. We lived together in an apartment in Boston. I got an MA in English lit, then went to law school there, but couldn't take the pressure, so I quit. Fortunately, I found a job as an editor of a law review in Manhattan. The magazine is small, but it gives me job security and a steady income." She spoke calmly, suggesting her contentment with her life. "In my private time, I read poetry. Occasionally I indulge in scribbling my stupid poems." She shyly giggled.
"And her boyfriend is David Shimon," Kelly added, poking her fork in the air at her sister. "He's an attorney."
"Oh, what a naughty girl you are." Sophie sighed. "Now it's your turn."
"I don't have much to tell you," Kelly said. "I went to Boston University and got my BA in art history. I work as an administrative assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." She scooped up some of the lobster meat from her dish.
"And her boyfriend is Steve Mancini," Sophie said, chuckling at James. "He claims to be a real estate broker, but actually he's a son of a wealthy family and doesn't need to work."
"Hey, Sis, you're impossible, too." Kelly said, raising her voice but grinning. "Now, James, what about you?"
James sipped wine and then spoke. "I was born in Minnesota. I went to the University of Chicago and got a BA in economics. Then I came to New York City and got an MA in economics and an MBA, both at Columbia. I work at a Wall Street firm as an economist, specializing in financial market forecasting."
"That's impressive," Sophie said. "Speaking of Wall Street, our father made his fortune in investments by founding his own mutual fund. So he was one of those Wall Street guys like you. He and our mother are now retired in Florida. Kelly and I are the only children. We live together in our parents' three-bedroom co-op apartment on Park Avenue. They pay the monthly maintenance, and they stay in our place whenever they visit Manhattan. This way, fortunately, Kelly and I can spend our modest salaries as we please."
James discovered that the sisters' apartment on Park Avenue in the 70s was only fifteen blocks from his coop apartment on Madison Avenue in the 80s. The two sisters promised to invite him for dinner someday soon after this vacation.
"Are you a bachelor?" asked Kelly, gazing at him expectantly.
Excerpted from "Awakening of the Summer"
Copyright © 2018 Yorker Keith.
Excerpted by permission of BookBaby.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite Awakening of the Summer by Yorker Keith is an exciting story with romance and relationships as its theme, and will keep readers captivated with its twists and turns, love, passion, sacrifice, and unpredictability. The story begins with James Hensley, who is looking at the panorama of Oberon Woods, New Hampshire and painting the landscape. He runs into two sisters, Sophie and Kelly, and is attracted to both of them, but he finds out that both of them have boyfriends. James tells them painting is his passion and they discuss their lives and boyfriends. James decides to paint two more pictures, that of Sophie and Kelly and using the same pastoral landscape. He names the pictures the Summer Lake Series. Sophie confides in him about the fight she had with her boyfriend, David, and how he is more interested in her inheritance than her. David comes to visit Sophie and Steve comes to visit Kelly, and amid all this James tries to handle the situation where the two women are attracted to him. The story is fabulously sketched, just like the paintings James has done, and I like the way the author weaves the characters into the plot and unfolds each one’s personal story effortlessly. James’ Summer Lake Series makes James, Sophie, and Kelly famous once it goes on display in the hotel. The narration is descriptive and detailed and depicts the picturesque images and love triangles very vividly to readers. It is an unconventional story about love and relationships, and looks into the finer details and nuances of love, attraction, and relationships, and this makes it a compelling read. The author manages to keep the tempo of the story with all the drama, friendships, and love triangles.
Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite Awakening of the Summer by Yorker Keith is a literary fiction story with fine elements of romance. Featuring an interesting cast of characters, the story introduces readers to a love triangle explored from very unique angles. James is an economist at a Wall Street firm, a man with a strong passion for painting. When he takes his summer vacation in a mountain resort, he encounters two sisters, Sophie and Kelly. While he is excited by Sophie’s intellect (she is an editor of a law review magazine), he is hopelessly attracted to Kelly’s sensual beauty. When James rescues Sophie from drowning, Kelly sees him as a hero and falls for him. There are twists in the story, and through a series of events and heartaches, James gets to gamble with the hearts of both sisters. But for how long can the love triangle continue? This is a brilliantly plotted story that deals with love, family, friendship, and art. The characters are complex and I enjoyed the way the author builds up the tension, creating an emotional conflict that is at the same time intriguing and at the center of character development. James is a fascinating character, a skilled professional with a powerful gift with the brush. This is a story for readers who enjoy examining the hearts of complex characters and navigating hidden and delicate pathways. Yorker Keith’s writing is beautiful and polished, filled with insightful passages and dialogues that read like real life conversations. Awakening of the Summer is an emotionally engaging story with characters that are easy to like.
Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite Love, lust, and art are beautifully depicted in a story that features a complex love triangle. In Awakening of the Summer, Yorker Keith creates memorable characters in James, Sophia and Kelly. James is taking his summer vacation in a resort in the mountains where he meets two sisters. The economist for a Wall Street firm also has a gift for painting and he indulges in it, working on a canvas he names the Summer Lake Series, which depicts breathtaking scenery. He is about to do paintings featuring the two sisters as well. Sophia is an intelligent woman who works as an editor for a law magazine while her sister, Kelly, is a secretary at a museum. While one attracts James by her intellect, the other’s beauty makes his heart throb. The reader is plunged into a world of seduction where two sisters will find themselves falling irresistibly for the same man. But can James handle the two without setting them up against each other? Yorker Keith won my heart with his ability to bring life to the characters and create scenes that are normal, sometimes intense, and focused. The pace is just perfect for this kind of novel and there are powerful and passionate moments that will linger in the minds of readers. I enjoyed the way the conflict plays out in this narrative and the surge of emotional energy that accompanies the interactions between the characters. The language in Awakening of the Summer is beautiful, and while the characters are memorable, it is the author’s storytelling skills that won me over. A very engaging read!
Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers' Favorite Awakening of the Summer by Yorker Keith is an intriguing and complicated novel, a romance that takes the reader deep into the minds of the characters and keeps them guessing as to what the characters want and mean. This is the story of two sisters and a man who comes in their life and changes everything. Kelly and Sophie are sisters who adore each other. Kelly is a secretary and Sophie is a magazine editor; however, despite their differences, they love each other. James is from Wall Street but he loves to paint in oils. When the three of them meet, there is an instant chemistry that is undeniable. While James and Kelly hit it off, Sophie falls in love with James too. Soon the three of them fall into a vicious triangle of love, passion, wanting and needing with no end in sight. When the two sisters find out that they have fallen in love with the same man, things get even more heated. What will happen to them and their relationship? Who does James love? Can the sisters’ relationship sustain this breach of trust or will something else happen? This was a really surprising novel; I was not expecting the ending or this outcome of passion. The story was complex and full of surprises. I was very happy with the way Yorker Keith handled these three characters and how they appeared on the page. I wanted to both love and hate James, and sometimes I was very frustrated with the sisters, which just tells me how well the characters were developed and how real they seemed. I really enjoyed Awakening of the Summer by Yorker Keith.