A little Southern comfort goes a long way
To the world she's Vanessa Valentino, the poison-penned gossip columnist and blogger, but back in Georgia, she's just Tressie Valentine. After digging up one scandalous secret too many, she's forced back home to the sleepy town she thought she'd left behind forever. And now she must face Nathaniel Woodberry, who became her sworn enemy when one of her stories hit too close to home. Yet for some reason, Tressie can't turn off her longing for the irresistible investigative journalist.
Nate can't believe Tressie's back to wreak havoc on the close-knit community they both grew up in, and he can't help holding a grudge against her past deeds. But soon the commitment-wary bachelor discovers that the Southern belle is still a compassionate, loving woman. Nate finds himself drawn to her and he can't stop thinking about seducing her with a healthy dose of down-home passion. But can he stop Tressie from making a mistake that could destroy their hometownand their blossoming love?
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Not even the throwback R & B blaring from the earbuds in Tressie Valentine's ears could keep her energized long enough to get through the exhausting task of airing out and packing up Juanita Valentine's entire house in one afternoon. Her grandmother, who'd affectionately been called Ma'Dear by everyone who knew her, had collected all sorts of decorative knick-knacks during her lifetime, and now there had to be hundreds of the little things scattered around the house. Each and every one of them was a dust magnet, and, unfortunately, Tressie had inherited all of them along with the house itself. If she'd had the energy to lift her leg, she would've kicked herself for letting the house sit unattended for the past five years. Even with the preliminary packing and tidying that she and some of Ma'Dear's lifelong friends had done after Ma'Dear's funeral, there was still a month's worth of work that had to be done in a fraction of that time.
The plan had been to get the second floor done, break for lunch and order a pizza for delivery, sit down and recuperate long enough to devour it, and then tackle the first floor. But when the muscles in her arms and legs threatened to revolt, she knew it was time to give it a rest. With the kitchen, dining room and living room still left to get through, she switched off her iPod, fixed herself a tall glass of ice water and took it with her out onto the back sunporch.
"God, even the porch furniture is dusty," she whined as she dropped into an ancient rocking chair and drank deeply. Her mental list of things to do was getting longer and longer. She hadn't dusted and cleaned so much since she was a teenager and now she remembered why. Ma'Dear had been the most loving grandmother that anyone could ask for, but she had also run a tight ship. As a teenager, most of Tressie's daily, weekly and monthly chores had revolved around housekeeping, which she had always detested, and Ma'Dear had stopped just short of following her around the house wearing a white glove to test for residue just to make sure that she was doing the cleaning correctly. When Tressie was first starting out on her own, far, far away from Mercy, housework had been a necessary evil, but as soon as she'd been able to afford it she had hired a housekeeper and never looked back.
A moan slipped out of her mouth as she put her aching feet up on a nearby stool, let her head fall back against the chair and closed her eyes. It didn't help matters any that the temperature outside was at least ninety degrees. Inside the house it felt as if it was twice that, even with the windows wide-open and the electric fans that she'd found in the attic going full speed. After less than forty-eight hours in Mercy, Georgia, she suspected that she'd already lost at least five pounds just by virtue of sweating alone.
And she still had the downstairs to finish up.
Consolidated Investments, the firm that Norman Harper represented, wanted to take immediate possession of the house and the five acres of land that it sat on. She was scheduled to meet with him tomorrow afternoon to discuss terms and sign over the deed, and by then she was hoping to have everything in the house completely packed up and cleared out.
There wasn't much that she wanted to keepjust a few odds and ends. The rest she was going to donate to charity. As for the house itself. .well, giving it up would be bittersweet, but she had to face facts. She never intended to live in Mercy again and she desperately needed the money. It didn't make sense for the house to continue sitting there like an unwanted and abandoned museum, or the land to go on being an unused burden on the town. As it was, she was itching to get back to New York and start reviving her career, and nothing here could help her do that.
Traffic to her online weblog had drastically fallen off in the months since her column had disappeared from the Inquisitor. Her website had once attracted nearly a million unique visitors daily, mostly because she had always reposted her print articles there, but there were also other tidbits and points of interest that drew attention. Fashion tips, popular highend cosmetic and fragrance ad placements, updates on some of her favorite scandalous reality TV shows, exclusive celebrity interviews, and on and on. The kinds of stuff that interested women, which was her target audience, and kept them coming back for more. Just as she'd hoped, it hadn't taken the public long to notice her absence and sound off about it both on her blog and in the Letters to the Editor section of the Inquisitor.
But the loyalty that she'd counted on had turned out to be a joke, and Saul was probably laughing his head off about it now. She could just see him, mumbling I told you so's to anyone who'd listen, and comforting himself with the knowledge that he'd been right all along about her impulsiveness ultimately being her downfall.
Apparently, Vanessa Valentino was just another disposable commodity. After a few weeks' worth of inquiring comments, her audience had dropped her like a hot potato and moved on without a second thought. The blog was silent as a tomb now, which had initially struck like a blow straight to her heart, but the more she thought about it, the more she was beginning to feel that maybe it was for the best. When she did make her comebackand she would make a comebackshe'd make that much more of a splash. Saul wouldn't be laughing then.
Ma'Dear had never completely understood what she did for a living, because Tressie had never really been completely forthcoming about her occupation. If there had ever been a Bible-thumping, God-fearing woman, it was Ma'Dear. She would've seen Tressie's occupation as a celebrity gossip columnist as a complete and utter waste of God-given time. So Tressie had led Ma'Dear to believe that she was simply a staff reporter, a lowly one at that, who spent her workdays doing research and writing copy for the big-name reporters. If Ma'Dear had ever suspected that there was more to the story, thank God she'd never said so, because Tressie would've hated lying to the woman who had raised her after her mother had died in childbirth.
But she would've, in a heartbeat.
Fortunately, that was all behind her now. Ma'Dear was the only family that she'd had left in the world and she missed her every day, but without her to act as Tressie's long-distance conscience, Vanessa Valentino was free to take her game to the next level. And without Saul breathing down her neck and constantly trying to rein her in, she could expand her reach in ways that she'd been wanting to for years. Vanessa Valentino could finally become a brand name.
No, Vanessa Valentino would finally become a brand name. She had the contacts, the ideas and the guts to make it happen for herself. All she had to do now was get her hands on the money from the sale of the two things still tying her to Mercy, Georgia, by a thin threadthe house and land that Ma'Dear had left her.
Determined to meet the deadline that she had set for herself, Tressie forced herself to rise from the rocking chair and stretch her tired muscles. Suddenly starving, she deposited her empty glass in the kitchen sink and went in search of her cell phone. First she'd take a quick shower and then order lunch. Then she'd finish dealing with the house today if it was the last thing she did.
After an inexplicably delayed clearance from the airport in Darfur and then an excruciatingly long red-eye flight that was riddled with nonstop turbulence, all Nathaniel Woodberry wanted to do was make his way to the nearest bed and hibernate for at least the next twenty-four hours. But there was still an hour-long drive to look forward to once his flight landed in Atlanta and he finally made it through airport security. Fortunately, his bag was the first to appear on the luggage ramp and, thanks to his publicist, who also doubled as his personal assistant, a rented SUV was waiting for him at the valet station outside.
Already missing the love of his lifea vintage Jeep Wrangler that had seen just as much combat as he hadhe tossed his gigantic duffel bag into the backseat of an idling Lincoln Navigator, peeled off his leather blazer and slid into the driver's seat. With the air-conditioning set to high, the radio tuned in to an all-jazz station and his cell phone switched off, he drove away from the airport and headed for the interstate and home.
For the past two decades he had called Seattle, Washington, home, but there was home and then there was home. Seattle was where he had settled right after graduating from college and accepting an entry-level staff reporter position with the Seattle Times. It was where he had gotten his start as a local news reporter and honed his craftwhere he had fully indulged his photography hobby and invested in his first Nikon. Even back then his camera had pointed him toward chaos and controversy, which was how he'd found his twentysomething self wandering into the midst of an infamous Seattle riot and snapping a series of pictures that had ultimately catapulted him from staff reporter to frontline investigative journalist.
From there, his camera had taken him into the kinds of volatile and unpredictable situations that many journalists wouldn't even dream of going into, let alone getting up close and personal withwars in the Middle East and Africa, the jungles of South America, guerrilla soldier camps By now the list was endless.
Somewhere along the way he had earned a reputation for being a daredevil. Probably right around the time he had decided to strike out on his own and become a freelance journalist, Nate thought as he picked up speed on the interstate, activated the cruise control and relaxed back into the plush leather seat. Some had thought him a fool for wanting to make his own rules and choose his own path, and others had predicted quick and brutal career suicide for him. But he'd been just hungry enough, just stubborn and fearless enough, to put both himself and his camera in imminent danger again and again for the sake of a story.
His pictures, the words he paired them with and occasionally the sound bites that he sometimes risked his life recording on locationall had graced the covers of magazines and newspapers around the world and been featured on countless online and television news outlets. Now his services were so in demand that his publicist was overworked and in need of a raise, and Nate was lucky if he was able to carve out time for a quick vacation here and there between assignments.
It'd been months since he had actually met with his publicist in person and even longer than that since he'd stepped foot inside his apartment in Seattle, and covering the aftermath of the conflict in Dar-fur was only partly to blame. Trips like these, trips back home to Mercy, Georgia, were the other half of the equation.
At the Mercy exit, Nate left the interstate and cruised along the two-lane service road that led into town. Traffic on the usually quiet and scenic road was heavier than usual, inching along in some spots and coming to a complete standstill in others. He passed a long stretch of farmland before the scenery opened up to clusters of residential communities and then a small industrial park. It was the same scenery that had always been there, except that now there was a new addition. Just past the industrial parks, new construction was going on, ground being broken and buildings leveled.
Seeing it caused a wrinkle of irritation to appear in the center of Nate's forehead. He knew without having to track its progress that it was heading straight toward Mercy, Georgia. Short of a miracle suddenly happening, in a matter of months those demolition crews would be destroying the entire town and leaving hundreds of displaced people in their wake. People who wouldn't be able to afford to live in the resort-style, luxury gated community that was slated to be built in its place. In political terms, it was called eminent domain, but as far as the people of Mercy were concerned it was theft, plain and simple. Nate tended to agree.
When the Welcome to Mercy, Georgia, sign finally appeared on the side of the road up ahead, Nate picked up his cell phone from the passenger seat, turned it on and pressed a button to connect to his publicist. The phone on the other end had barely rung once before it was answered.
"It's about time you called," Julia Gustav said by way of greeting. "I was beginning to wonder if I should call the police and have an APB put out on you. Oh, but wait, I wouldn't be able to give them an accurate description of you, now, would I? God knows I haven't seen you in forever. Do you even care that I miss you?"
Nate chuckled, glad that Julia couldn't see him just then. He was blushing like a schoolboy, which was exactly what she made him feel like sometimes. "I know, sugar, and I'm sorry. It can't be helped right now, but I'll tell you what. How about I take you out for a night on the town when I get back to Seattle?" he said. "We'll take in a show, have a lavish dinner and drink bubbly all night. Maybe take a walk by the lakefront and catch up. Sound good?"
"Better than good," Julia purred. "Promise?"
"Of course. It'll be just like old times."
Julia had been his publicist and personal assistant for more than a decade, which meant that she knew him better than he knew himself most of the time. At sixty years old, she was the closest thing to a favorite aunt he'd ever had, and he was crazy about her. Ever since his mother had passed away six months ago, Julia had taken it upon herself to become his keeper, insisting that he call her at least once every other day, regardless of where he was in the world or what he was doing, just as he had called his mother. Normally, he was able to deliver, but being damn near undercover in Darfur, with limited or no cell access for hundreds of miles and very little human contact that hadn't required a translator, had kept him out of touch for longer than usual this time. It went without saying that he had some making up to do.
"No, it won't," Julia told him. "The last time we went out for a night on the town, your mother was with us." Her voice turned wistful. "You flew us both to New York on a private jet, like we were queens, and took us to a Broadway show. We sat next to that famous actress and her husband, and your mother couldn't believe that you were actually friends with them." Julia laughed throatily. "She had the best time."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Good story loved the characters
First book I have read from this author not bad, I would read more books by her
This is the first book by Terra Little I have read and I will give her another try provided it wasn't a continuation of her previous series. This is because the book relies too much on the assumption that the reader had already read the author's previous books. Once I got past the confusing references, I loved the characters Tressie & Nick. Their brilliant plan of indulging in a no strings summer fling went horribly wrong when cupid sneaks up on them and they fall in love. The carefree way they related to each other and worked together to help their town was very well written. Last, but the most important ingredient of a romance novel, the love scenes are flaming hot, hot, hot!!!
You know that couple that doesn’t get along before they start dating? I had a friend like this. They harassed each other all the time, seemed to hate each other. Next thing you know they’re dating. It’s that fine line between love and hate that you have to watch for. Nate hates Tessie, right? He doesn’t like her job and therefore she is someone he hates… because of what she almost did, but didn’t. Tessie thinks Nate is a snob and a bully. Of course neither of them ever noticed how good looking the other was. So as Tessie says the answer is a summer fling while they work to save their hometown. What happens next is not what either expected…except for the bad ending!? You’ll have to read it because it’s too juicy to spill here. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to shake them until their teeth rattled. Enjoyed reading the historical information on the underground railroad. Definitely a summer reading must. I give this story 4 out of 5 clouds. This product or book may have been distributed for review; this in no way affects my opinions or reviews.
I so enjoy a good love story and this one did not disappoint! “Beneath Southern Skies” centers around Tressie Valentine and Nathaniel Woodberry. Both grew up together in Mercy, Atlanta, left after high school to pursue careers in journalism and did not really like one another. Fast forward about 12 or so years and they end up back in their hometown for various reasons. I love the way the author, Terra Little, incorporated history into the storyline as well as the way the couple had to learn to push beyond fears to find happiness. The story was well written. I love romance novels and happy endings and Ms. Little did not disappoint; it was a very enjoyable read. I will look for more in the future from this author. Keep up the good work, Terra! Reviewed by: Lisa M. 4.5 stars