Although they have yet to meet, Catherine Carlsen already hates the man who just bought the beloved Iowa farm that has been in her family for generations. The dedicated elementary school teacher believed the Carlsens would always own this special piece of land, and marriage to her distant cousin and childhood sweetheart would guarantee their future. But Cathie’s sprawling home on the Boyer River now belongs to Robert Douglas, a big-city businessman whose arrival in their Midwestern town creates a huge stir.
The divorced single father came west to start over with the little boy with whom he has just been reunited. Rob’s devotion to his child isn’t the only thing that draws Cathie to him. Her attraction to the new owner of Homeplace is impossible to ignore. As their relationship deepens, can Cathie and Rob’s dreams expand to include a family and promise of a love that could give them all a place to belong?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Americana Series: Iowa
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE BOYER RIVER WAS FROZEN OVER. A blanket of snow covered the pasture ground. Out of the leaden sky came more flakes gently drifting down like white flower petals on a spring day. The wind was still, although there was a nippiness in the air. Except for the crystalline flakes, the whole world seemed to have come to a standstill. Nothing moved, not even the girl standing so silently on the knoll above the river.
Her jade-green eyes surveyed the scene, nostalgia gripping her throat over all the bygone memories, but Catherine Carlsen refused to cry. She was taking a walk back into the past one last time and she didn't want tears blurring her vision.
Below her, where the river made its sweeping bend, was the place where the gentle rapids began, the place that, as a child, she had been allowed to swim. At the bottom of the hill where she was standing, the water was deeper. It was there that she and Clay used to fish for bullheads and catfish with their bamboo poles and a can of night crawlers unearthed behind the machine shed. Farther on was an island, barely discernible now from the ice-covered river, but that was where they had launched their homemade raft. They had watched their visions of reenacting the adventures of Huckleberry Finn sink with their raft.
The memories were endless. Each place her gaze rested brought more recollections of her childhood days. The lone willow tree lay horizontally, almost covered by the winter blanket. It looked bleak and lonely with its limbs sheared of summer foliage. The tiny spring-fed stream that the willow bridged wasn't visible under the snow, but many times she had quenched her thirst in its icy-cold waters in the height of a hot summer day.
Although the majority of her memories came from the summer seasons, Cathie recalled, too, the ice-skating on the river when the ice grew thick and firm and sledding down the hill toward the river, always stopping a hair's breadth short of its bank. Or the time the adults built a bonfire at the top of the hill so there would be a place to warm themselves in between trips down the hill on a sled or a shovel. Cathie remembered so well how she had sat with her feet close to the fire so she could warm her freezing toes. She had warmed them, but she had also melted the soles off her brand new rubber boots.
How often had she visualized the day when she would bring her own children out here and show them all the places she had played as a child? Now it was never to be. The land no longer belonged to the Carlsen family. The Homeplace, as it had been affectionately called, was no longer home. And she, Cathie Carlsen, was at that very moment a trespasser.
Something brushed the side of her leg. As she turned her gaze down, Cathie's eyes met the earnest, imploring look of the English shepherd dog, Duchess. No matter what the circumstances there was always an apologetic look about the dog's face. The sad brown eyes were expressing their sorrow at intruding on Cathie's solitude even as Duchess inched closer for a reassuring caress of forgiveness. Obligingly Cathie removed a gloved hand from her pocket to fondle the red gold head.
"Hello, Duchess. What are you doing down here so far from the house?" Cathie noticed with sadness the collection of gray hairs around the pointed muzzle. Even Duchess was beginning to show her age, and it seemed like only yesterday that she had arrived on the farm, a frightened and bewildered puppy. "Did you get lonely up there, pretty lady?"
"She misses your grandfather."
Cathie turned toward the man standing a few paces behind her. "Hello, Clay," she said. "I didn't expect to see you here today."
Clay Carlsen studied her thoughtfully, choosing to ignore the vague ring of sarcasm in her low-pitched voice. He silently admired the way the brown fake fur coat enhanced the golden highlights of her honey-colored hair. The shoulder length cut curled beneath the strong line of her jaw and softened her high cheekbones. Yet her feminine features retained their look of strength and determination that was carried through so dominantly in her personality. The saving grace of her femininity was the vivid green of her eyes surrounded by thick dark lashes and the supremely sensuous line of her mouth. The vision of those lips, soft and yielding under the touch of his own, brought a smile to Clay's previously somber face.
"Like you, Cathie," he answered her quietly, "I thought I would make a sentimental journey over our old stamping grounds."
"Mother and Aunt Dana are up to the house packing the personal things that won't be put up for sale at the auction," she sighed, turning away from him to stare out over the river. "I'm supposed to be up there helping them sort through Grandpa and Grandma's things."
"It's a thankless job, but it has to be done."
"I know that." She flashed him a fiery look.
Her yellow gold hair was a gift from the Scandinavian ancestors of her grandparents, but her mother's Irish side of the family received the credit for her jewel-colored eyes and the blame for her quick temper. Clay had never known quite how to handle that spitfire temper even when they were children. He was twenty-six, nearly three full years her senior, yet he had always been the one to bow to her wishes rather than bear the brunt of one of her rages. Normally Cathie was a loving, generous person, and that was the side of her that he adored. Over the years she had learned to control her temper, but it was those odd times when it sprang to the surface that Clay liked to avoid.
"I shouldn't have snapped at you like that, Clay," Cathie apologized, but her voice was tinged with the bitterness that had been building inside her. "I can't get used to losing Grandfather and the farm in less than two weeks."
"I know it's a terribly trite thing to say, but it's probably better that it happened this way," Clay said. He wished that Cathie would cry and release some of the grief she had kept bottled up.
"Why?" she demanded.
"First, because ever since your grandmother passed away last fall, your grandfather has been lost without her. And secondly, I think it was a good thing that the farm was sold almost the very day it was put on the market. It leaves no time for uncertainties and doubts. Often it's better that the separation is swift and sure. There's no time left for agonizing and brooding over the coming loss."
"We didn't have to lose it at all," Cathie retorted grimly. Her unseen hands were doubled into tight fists in her pockets.
"You didn't really expect your father to buy the farm, did you?"
"He could have." Her chin tilted upward as she cast him a defiant glance.
"Then what? Did you expect him to give up his professorship at the university? He isn't a young man any more. He couldn't have managed the farm by himself. Or would you have preferred him to lease it out as your grandfather did and have someone else farm it for him? With no one living in the house, it would have deteriorated in no time." There was an exasperated sound in Clay's voice. "Be sensible about this, Cathie."
"He could have bought it," she repeated. "And after you and I were married, we could have lived here and farmed it ourselves."
"I'm a lawyer, not a farmer," Clay stated emphatically. "I didn't spend all those years in college studying law to throw it aside because of some sentimental nonsense."
As soon as Clay had said it, he realized he had just waved a red cape in front of Cathie. Her reaction was instantaneous.
"It is not sentimental nonsense! And if you think it is, then I'm proud to be a sentimental fool! The very first plowshare that broke this ground when it was a wild prairie was held by my great-grandfather Carlsen. He was one of the first settlers in this area after the Civil War. Look at this land, Clay. It's one of the richest sections of bottomland in Iowa. The dirt is black and fertile, made to grow food and families. This is where our family began. This is the Carlsen home, our legacy given to us by our ancestors. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Of course it does," he placated. "All of the family is sad to lose it, your father and myself included. But family farms are a passing thing. And you just can't live in the past anymore, not if you want to succeed in life. It's progress, Cathie."
"Then progress be damned!"
"Don't swear, Cathie. It isn't becoming," he admonished gently, all the while thinking what a bewitching creature she was when she was in a temper, her eyes flashing green fires and her face alive with passionate zeal.
"Why? Is swearing strictly a masculine right? Surely we've progressed to the point where a woman can swear if she wants to," she demanded sarcastically. "Sometimes I wish I were a man!"
"Well, I'm glad you're not. Otherwise you wouldn't be wearing my ring on your finger," Clay laughed, attempting to instill some lightness in the overcharged atmosphere. But Cathie deliberately ignored him.
"The thing that angers me most of all is that the farm is being sold to an outsider, to some imbecilic person from the east coast! He's probably some big business executive who's only interested in a tax deduction. He'll probably send some stupid manager out here to live on it while the farm falls to rack and ruin."
"You're being melodramatic. If he is a business man, and we know absolutely nothing about him, then he definitely will bring someone in who knows farming so he can get a return on his investment."
"Don't bet on it," she jeered.
"Why are you putting yourself through all this?" Clay sighed, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him, his hazel eyes taking in the belligerent and rebellious expression on her usually lovely face. "You can't change the fact that the farm is sold. It's useless to torment yourself with visions of what may or may not happen. Everything always works out for the best. This all was probably what was meant to happen."
"Fate, that's your answer for losing the Homeplace." A dullness clouded her eyes as her shoulders sagged beneath his hands. "You're probably right, but I'll never accept that it's for the best. It just doesn't seem right that there never will be a Carlsen living on this farm again."
"Do you want to know something?" He lifted her chin with his gloved finger. "You're usually always so practical that it's rather nice to discover again how emotional you can get."
"How angry, you mean." A rueful smile curved her lips. "But I never could stay mad at you for very long, even when we were children."
"That's what made it so nice to be only kissing cousins." Clay Carlsen smiled. "It was always so much fun to make up."
"Kissing cousins" had become a standard joke between them since they had reached their teens and were able to understand that even though they shared the same last name of Carlsen, the actual blood relationship between them was virtually nonexistent. Clay's great-grandfather had been a second cousin to Cathie's great-grandfather. With that knowledge, Clay and Cathie had progressed from childhood playmates to sweethearts and had reached the stage of engagement.
"What's going to be done with Duchess?" Clay asked as the dog whined to attract attention.
"I'm taking her to town with me," Cathie answered, moving out of Clay's hold to kneel beside the dog. "The Darbys offered to take her, but she's getting so old that I think she would have trouble adjusting to new people and a new place, too."
"Do you think she's going to find it any easier living in town? At least with the Darbys she would be on a farm and there would be someone around all the time. Whereas you'll be at school the biggest part of the day."
"We'll work it out, won't we, Duchess?" The aging shepherd wagged her tail enthusiastically in answer to the crooning voice, but Clay caught the disguised determination that plainly said Cathie intended to keep this last link with the farm.
"How much longer is Mrs. Carver staying on?" He conceded to her unspoken request to change the subject as he inquired about the housekeeper who had remained living in the farmhouse after Grandfather Carlsen's death.
"The real estate man asked her to stay on until a date has been set to turn the place over to the new owner," Cathie replied grimly, hating to acknowledge the existence of a new owner. "He didn't want the house to sit vacant."
"Which disproves your theory that the place was going to fall into rack and ruin."
"That was the real estate man's idea, so it proves absolutely nothing," she retorted sharply, rising to her feet, to the dog's disappointment. She looked out over the rivers cape, shivering at the chilling reality of the situation.
"It's getting cold. Maybe it's time we were heading back to the house," Clay suggested. He pushed back the sleeve on his heavy corduroy parka to glance at his wristwatch. "Nearly four o'clock. That's later than I thought. I have a couple of stops to make. Which also reminds me, what time do you want me to pick you up tonight?"
"If you don't mind, I'll take a rain check for tonight." Cathie accepted his guiding hand on her elbow that turned her in the direction of the house. "This is mother's last night. She's driving back to the university tomorrow afternoon, so I think I should spend the evening with her."
"No, I don't mind at all," he said as he helped her negotiate the barbed wire of the pasture fence while Duchess trotted to a small ditch and burrowed under the fence to keep up with them. "Are your parents driving back for the auction?"
"No," Cathie sighed. "And I can't say that I blame them. I don't think I will go either."
"It might be a good chance to pick up some furniture for our house," he ventured, unsure as to how far he should push the issue of forcing her to accept the sale.
"All the good furniture is antique and you know how these antique dealers drive up the prices at farm sales. We couldn't afford to pay that much plus the cost of storing until we find a decent house in our price range." Cathie shook her head with resigned sadness. "The family decided I could have the set of crystal in the way of a wedding present and a few other inexpensive mementoes. I'm satisfied with that."
The rutted pasture track had brought them to the farmyard. Cathie refused to let her gaze roam over the various buildings and once more fall in the grip of her many poignant memories. She kept walking toward the two-storey house with friendly gray smoke rising from its chimney to mingle with the scattering of snowflakes.
"Are you coming in? I'm sure Mrs. Carver would fix us some cocoa," she offered as they reached the green compact car that belonged to Clay.
"Not this time. I'll see you in church tomorrow, won't I?"
Cathie nodded and lifted her head for his goodbye kiss. He claimed her mouth with the gentleness and tenderness that was so much a part of his nature. Then Clay was climbing behind the wheel of his car. Cathie watched him as he drove out of the yard onto the county road that led to the highway before she turned toward the house, following the sidewalk through the metal gate to the back door of the white structure.
"I'm back," Cathie called out as she walked in the door and climbed the few steps of the inside landing to the sun porch. The snow-white hair atop Mrs. Carver's head caught her eye, drawing Cathie's attention to the kitchen. "Where are my mother and Aunt Dana?" she asked, traversing the narrow width of the sun porch to the large kitchen.
"They're in the back bedroom packing away Mr. Carlsen's clothes for the Salvation Army," the housekeeper replied, not pausing in her brisk stirring of some liquid in a bowl. The vigorous movement sent her rotund figure vibrating. A sharp eye was turned on Cathie. "Didn't you ask your young man to come in? I was just stirring up some frosting for a chocolate cake I made."
"Clay had some errands to run, so he couldn't stay."
"There you are, Catherine. I thought I heard your voice." Her mother stood in the kitchen doorway, her auburn hair glinting in the artificial light that couldn't detect a trace of gray. "Didn't Clay come in with you?"
Cathie repeated her previous statement to Mrs. Carver as she marveled again over her mother's youthful appearance even though she had passed the forty mark several years ago.
"That's too bad," Maureen Carlsen replied when she heard that Clay had left. "I was going to ask him to carry this box of clothes out to the station wagon. I'm afraid it's too big for Dana and me to carry. I suppose we could scoot it along the floor and down the steps."
Excerpted from The Homeplace by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1976 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.