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House-sitting her aunt's lake cottage in the Berkshires while mending a broken heart, Manhattanite Natalie bonds with a smitten shopkeeper who is caring for an aging parent and a reluctant stay-at-home mom with whom she commiserates over romantic complications. By the best-selling author of Heat Wave. (general fiction). Simultaneous.
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Nancy Thayer is the "New York Times" bestselling author of "Heat Wave, Beachcombers, Summer House, Moon Shell Beach, "and "The Hot Flash Club." She lives in Nantucket.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When Aaron’s Volvo pulled up to the curb of the Barnaby house, Bella felt just a bit giddy.
She’d met Aaron Waterhouse in December, right after she’d returned home to Dragonfly Lake to help her mother, and the connection had been instantaneous and electric.
Aaron was handsome, sweet, sexy, and smart. He was the first man she’d ever wanted to marry. While Bella was growing up, her own family had been happy—noisy and messy, but happy—and Bella wanted one like that for herself. Lots of children, toys on the floor, flour on the kitchen counter while she taught her son or daughter to make popovers (so much fun for children), a husband who would come home from work with a smile on his face to toss his children into the air—and who could make her melt at the sight of him, the way she was melting now.
She could have all that with Aaron. He had just gotten his master’s in architecture. He was putting out feelers for jobs and was sure to get a good one. He was so bright, so reliable. He wanted children. He was in love with her. She was in love with him, and the vision of their life together was enticing.
But there was one enormous problem: Aaron had been invited to interview for a job in San Francisco.
San Francisco excited Aaron. Bella didn’t want to leave Massachusetts.
She’d left already, plenty of times. She’d seen foreign places.
She’d traveled to Paris, to Italy, to Amsterdam. She’d lived in Utah and in Texas.
Now she wanted to get started with her own real life. She wanted to live here, near Dragonfly Lake, a world she knew and cherished. It wasn’t just the landscape and the closeness of her family. It was more than that—it was as if she were falling in love with a new vision of herself, as if at twenty-seven a mist were evaporating from a mirror, allowing her true image to show clear.
It was early June. Bella and Aaron had been together for five months, growing closer every day. She was pretty sure Aaron was about to propose to her. And she didn’t know what her answer would be.
“Bell!” Her older brother, Ben, stuck his head into the living room. “I’m driving down to the Hortons’ with our beach chairs and the food.”
“Okay,” Bella answered. “Aaron and I will walk down.”
Ben went out the door and headed to his Jeep Cherokee, with its four-wheel drive, good for the snowy months, and its back hatch, good for carrying lots of stuff. Ben was practical, scientific, and methodical. He had a PhD and a tenured position at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His life revolved in a precise circle like planets orbiting the sun.
Bella’s life felt more like a Slinky flopping down the stairs.
She grinned at her own joke. At least she still had her sense of humor. You couldn’t live in a family of four Barnaby children, all with a first name that began with the letter B, without developing a sense of humor. And she was happy, and an optimist, glad to be home, full of hope for the future. Her life wasn’t tragic. Just a puzzle.
Bella had spent the last two and a half years teaching third grade
in Austin, Texas, until last Christmas, when her mother, while trying to put the angel on top of the tree, fell off the ladder and broke her leg. Bella’s father taught high school English five days a week. Bella’s older sister, Beatrice, was busy in her house an hour away with her three little children. Ben, of course, had his own apartment in Amherst, his students, and lab. Seventeen-year-old Brady was still in high school. So Bella abbreviated her contract, left Austin after the first semester, and flew home to take over her mother’s shop and help around the house.
She was surprised to discover she didn’t miss teaching. She was exhilarated to be back home, which for her was not just the comfortable house she’d grown up in on a lake surrounded by woodland, but the entire region where forests and farmlands stretched like a vast Eden on either side of the wide Connecticut River. This area boasted five of the best colleges in the world, drawing students and faculty from all over the planet.
As a child, she’d hiked with her family up Mount Hadley and Mount Tom, and canoed on the Connecticut River. She’d visited Emily Dickinson’s house several times, and heard Billy Collins speak when he was the country’s poet laureate. She’d contemplated modern sculpture at the art museums, and she’d witnessed a four-point stag, branched with heavy antlers, step over their lawn and down to the lake to drink in the early-morning light.
She loved this area, her family, their house . . . and that was part of the problem. Perhaps she loved them too much.
Now, as she watched, Aaron stepped out of his Volvo. He waved at Ben as Ben backed the Cherokee out of the drive. Aaron had incredibly muscled arms and thighs, an aftereffect of wrestling in high school and college. She loved the heft of them, the safety she felt in his arms. He had dark, curly hair and wore glasses over his hazel eyes. He was her Superman, looking academic, restraining so much strength and sexuality.
He approached the house, tapped on the front door, and let himself in, as everyone did who knew the Barnabys well.
“Hi, Aaron.” “Hey, Bella.”
Just the sight of him made her short of breath. He pulled her to him and kissed her thoroughly.
She gently pushed him away. “We should go.” “Right. I brought some wine. It’s in the car.”
Together they left the house, picked up the bottles of Pinot, and began walking along the narrow road winding around Dragonfly Lake. The lake was tucked in a hollow snuggled up against a gently rising mountain, or what was called a mountain in New England; in Colorado, it would be downsized to hill. It rose to a ridge running north and south, covered with evergreens, birches, and oaks, home to deer, porcupines, foxes, and numerous other creatures, including the clever raccoons that made human lives miserable if they didn’t use the proper tight-locking trash receptacles. Various styles of houses surrounded the lake: A-frames, modernized log cabins, seventies split-levels like the Barnabys’ house, and a few fabulous minimansions like the ones on either side of the Barnabys’.
All the homes looked out onto the lake, which curved in a capricious blue oval around the hill, its banks thick with grasses, forest, and wildflowers. Much of the shore was dotted with boathouses and docks, because the lake was big enough to sail on. Here and there, man-made beaches of golden sand sloped to the water. Everywhere there were trees, and over the lawns and road, the sweet green leaves of spring were casting the first delicate shadows. Tulips opened their petals to the light; pansies spilled from window boxes.
Aaron inhaled a deep breath of air. “Nice day for a cookout.” Bella nodded. “Mmm. Funny, it usually is. The Hortons have
held the first neighborhood summer cookout for years.” “How many people will be there?”
“Not a real crowd. Lots of these houses are just vacation homes. Like the one to the right of us—”
“That place is just for vacations?” Aaron turned to look back at the house.
“I know. An interior designer from Boston, Eleanor Clark, owns it. She usually comes here in the summer. I heard she loaned it to her niece this year while Eleanor goes around the world with her new boyfriend. She’s an artist—Natalie, not Eleanor—about our age.”
“Have you met Natalie?”
“Not yet. I think she’ll be at the cookout. I hope so. I’d like to meet her.”
“I’d like to see the inside of that house,” Aaron said.
Bella knocked his shoulder with hers. “Ever the architect.”
· · ·
Natalie noticed the man when he stepped out of the Jeep parked in front of the Hortons’ house. He was a hunk, with a stern countenance that gave him an air of intelligence. Judgment. Responsibility.
She thought: Now there is a face I would like to paint.
A wide brow—poets would call it “noble”—over romantically
down-slanting pale blue eyes. A straight, slender nose, neat ears, a long face with a firm jaw. Wrinkles at the corners of the eyes and across the forehead, not, she figured, from laughing but from thinking. Here in the five-college area, lots of people thought for a living. The man was perhaps thirty. His hair was golden brown, like toast; she would have bet he’d been a towheaded child.
“That’s my son,” Louise Barnaby told Natalie. She was sitting next to Natalie, both of them in rockers on the front porch of the Hortons’ house. Louise still had to baby her leg, although she could walk on it without a cane, and Natalie had brought her a glass of chilled white wine.
Louise was Natalie’s first lake friend. She’d visited when Natalie moved into her aunt Eleanor’s house this week, presenting her with a casserole and a vase of fresh flowers. She’d insisted Natalie come to the cookout with Louise and her husband, Dennis, who was out on the front lawn, stabbing croquet wickets into the ground.
“He’s awfully cute,” Natalie said.
Louise smiled. “I know. The great thing is, he doesn’t realize it.” Natalie was grateful for Louise’s company. Louise was older, but
still chic, her blond hair cut in a sexy shag, her trim body clad in chinos and a blue tee that brought out the azure of her eyes. Louise didn’t look like a fifty-five-year-old who’d given birth to four children. For that matter, Dennis was tall, slender, with lots of floppy gray hair. He still looked pretty fine as well.
It was shallow of Natalie to be so judgmental, she knew, but she’d been afraid when she made the decision to move out here from Manhattan she’d find everyone sporting Birkenstocks, feeding chickens, and discussing compost.
Was she a snob? Really, she could only claim to be, at most, a wannabe snob. She didn’t have the pedigree to be a real one.
Also, she was learning, there were different kinds of snobs. Here, near Amherst, Massachusetts, home of Amherst College, where the old money went, and Hampshire College, where the hip gifted went, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Bill Cosby and Jack Welch had gone, near Smith College, where poor, brilliant Sylvia Plath had gone, and Mount Holyoke College, where Emily Dickinson and Wendy Wasserstein had gone, the snobbery would be intellectual.
Natalie felt awkward in her black jeans and black silk shirt. This was about as cookoutish as her New York wardrobe got. She’d just moved to Aunt Eleanor’s house. She hadn’t had time to buy different clothes yet.
Just for a moment, Natalie put her hand to her own head. At least her hair was growing out. Two years ago, when she had moved to Manhattan, she’d gone to a hairdresser and had it all chopped off into a severe, chic, scalp-clinging crop. It had been a part of her statement. She could still remember leaving the salon, head high and suddenly weightless, feeling the fresh air on her bare neck, knowing that now her real life was about to begin. She’d been twenty-eight. She’d struggled to get there. At times in her life, she’d despaired of getting there. For years she’d had to drop her studies to work, often two jobs, to pay for more studies, because her parents could never help her financially. If it hadn’t been for her aunt Eleanor, she would never have made it to Manhattan.
She dropped her hand. As soon as she’d decided to leave Manhattan, she’d begun to grow her hair out. Already dark curls clustered over her ears.
“We’re ready!” Morgan called. “Shall I fasten Petey in his stroller?” Her husband was in his study, tapping frantically at the com-
puter. A sunny Saturday afternoon, and he was working. “Josh?” She tried not to sound waspish. “The cookout.” “Coming.”
Morgan took a deep breath. During the past year, she’d learned to achieve feats of patience she never before dreamed possible. First of all, her adorable boy, just a year old, had taught her a whole new range of deep breathing. Then Josh had taken this job with Bio-Green Industries—and she had wanted him to take it, she had encouraged him to take it—and suddenly her husband was too busy to haul out the trash, give her a hug, or notice their child.
Although they did have their house. Their amazing, slightly overwhelming, new house.
The O’Keefes’ home was on the shores of Dragonfly Lake. It rose in its concrete-and-glass glory, modern, boxy, space-age. They were able to afford it because the couple who built it had to move to Spain and needed a quick sale. And, of course, because Josh’s new job paid so well. They didn’t love the house, but the location was sublime. A beachfront with sand for Petey to play on. A wilderness to hike in. Morgan and Josh enjoyed kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and dreamed of teaching their children all that and more in the clear, pure waters of this lake. Before the move, they’d been living in a condo on the outskirts of Boston, commuting to jobs on crowded expressways, not getting home until late, too tired to enjoy life, and completely uninspired by the views of malls, highways, and office buildings out their condo windows. This place had seemed like a little corner of heaven to them.
Sometimes, though, to Morgan, it was just a bit like the top circle of hell.
Morgan was a scientist, a hazardous materials expert. Until recently she’d worked in the biosafety department at Weathersfield College outside Boston. She was really good at her work. It challenged her, used all her mental and interpersonal skills; it gave her a sense of accomplishment, of keeping things safe in a turbulent world.
Since Josh had joined Bio-Green, Morgan’s life required a whole new set of skills.
First of all, since Ronald Ruoff, CEO of BGI, Bio-Green Industries, was Josh’s new boss, paying Josh a salary he’d never even dreamed of before, it was incumbent upon Morgan to make nice to Josh’s boss and his wife, Eva.
Morgan had made nice. She and Josh had gone out to dinner last week with Ronald and Eva, and Morgan had been as charming as she could be, which frankly was a big fat private pain for Morgan. She didn’t like to do charming, and she really didn’t like to pretend interest in vapid Eva’s frivolous enthusiasms: massages, pedicures, shopping, and whether Kate Middleton was truly suitable for Prince William; Eva’s personal and lengthy opinion was that Kate was beneath him, and she didn’t even get how her statement was funny. Morgan didn’t understand how a woman perhaps only a decade older—Morgan was thirty, Eva somewhere in her forties, already Botoxed and face-lifted—could be so insipid. Especially with a husband like Ronald, who might not be the most debonair dog in the kennel but at least was interested in saving the world. Or, more realistically, in making money while saving the world.
Morgan had hoped—she had fiercely hoped—that she would like Eva, that they would have interests in common, that they would make plans to get together, because even though her toddler, Petey, was the beating center of her heart, Morgan was quietly and sweetly going out of her mind being a stay-at-home mommy. But if she had to spend more time with Eva Ruoff, she’d hang herself. Okay, that was a bit dramatic, she’d never want to leave Petey, or Josh either, even though these days Josh annoyed her no end. Was she going nuts?
Josh came into the living room, where Petey was babbling to himself as he swept his books off the coffee table and Morgan stood lost in her thoughts.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Center Point, U.S.A., 2012. Library Binding. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. Large Print/Large Type. Other Large Print titles available. Seller Inventory # 018692
Book Description Center Point Pub, 2012. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M161173469X