Preston’s Mill

M-PMcoverPreston’s Mill

A Hidden Mountain contemporary novel

When her disastrous marriage ends in the most humiliating way, Meg Hanson doesn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Unhappy with her life as it was and unwilling to become what her mother and sister envision, she retreats to the little Appalachian town of Prestons Mill, the place where her father was raised. Meg has promised herself six months away from the influences of home to find out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Her Great Aunt Annie doesn’t hold with such nonsense, but she does believe that good food, hard work and fresh country air have the power to heal the soul and she sees in Meg a soul that belongs to the mountain.

Coming from wealth and privilege, Meg isn’t sure at first what to make of a place where much of your wardrobe comes from Gorton’s Farm Supply and the only coffee available is what’s brewed at the Downtown Café. It doesn’t take long for her to become attached to the people of Prestons Mill with their blunt honesty and strange speech or to reluctantly fall for the boy who kissed her under the apple tree when she was only ten. He’s grown into an intriguing man with problems of his own.

Artist JT Preston is burdened with his family’s past sins, sins that prevent him from seeking the life he’s always envied and longed for. Annie thinks this is nonsense, too, and sets about bringing Meg and JT together.

When a coal company makes plans to begin mining the mountain, Meg finds herself in the middle of the battle between those who consider it progress and those who see it as the end of a way of life. Greed rears its head, people are hurt and lives are endangered, Meg’s most of all.

It takes an old fashioned cliff hanger to make two otherwise sensible people realize that the past can be buried and their love for each other can create a new future for themselves and the people of Prestons Mill.

Here’s what they’re saying about Preston’s Mill:

“Preston’s Mill is a wonderfully crafted work. It has everything I look for in a romance…” Amazon Reader

“I totally 100% loved this book…” Goodreads Reviewer

“What wonderful characters, they just come alive.”- Goodreads Reviewer

 

Here’s an excerpt from Preston’s Mill

You have reached your destination,” the car’s voice informed Meg quite clearly, except this wasn’t an address. It was a town or maybe you’d call it a village and not a quaint picture post card village either.

Downtown Prestons Mill consisted of a row of buildings bordering each side of the road that looked like they’d been built when the last century was new and hadn’t seen much maintenance since. The facades were blackened to the point where there was no distinction between brick and mortar and most of the paints had faded to a dingy gray that merely hinted at their former multi-hued variety and that was only where the paint still existed.

Some of the storefront windows were boarded over with ancient plywood, the layers of pressed wood curled and separated at the broken corners. Others were swirled with dry soap on the inside and years of street grime on the out. Several were cracked.

There were probably a dozen buildings total and only four appeared to be used. Beyond this cluster of buildings, sitting in the middle of a broad expanse of white and weedless gravel, sat a snowy white one story house with bright blue shutters. An American flag flew from a tall pole in the center of the lot, its base surrounded by a riot of colorful flowers. Bold gold lettering above the front door announced the Prestons Mill United States Post Office.

Meg chose the corner restaurant over the Post Office to make her enquiry. The building that housed the Downtown Cafe was one of the few where an attempt was made to spruce things up. She parked her car between two pick-up trucks, one ancient, one brand new, both shiny and spotless, and entered through the door cut into the corner of the building. The wide steps were cleanly swept and large pots, neatly planted with marigolds, sat to either side of the door. Unlike the other storefronts, the windows sparkled and a sign on the door said OPEN in red letters.

The interior was old and worn, but scrubbed scrupulously clean. The tops of the stools at the counter only showed red around the outside now, their leather tops having long ago been worn to a silvery gray. The chrome, however, that held the leather in place and formed the base, looked new and incongruous against the faded tile squares on the floor. A cup of coffee would be good after the long drive, although what kind of coffee she’d find was another question all together.

The restaurant was quiet, too quiet for the number of people inside and Meg felt conspicuous even though no one looked directly at her as she took a seat at the counter. Nine hours and four hundred and fifty miles away from home, her entrance could still silence a room. She made a show of checking out the contents of the three glass domed pedestal plates the likes of which she’d only seen in old movies. One held an assortment of donuts and another a half of the most delicious looking pie she’d ever seen and the last held a single slice of yellow cake three layers high and frosted with something that looked like fudge.

“What can I get for you, hon?” the waitress asked.

Naturally rosy lips framed a smile that could only be described as merry. Apple red cheeks accented the corners of her mouth and set off her sparkling blue eyes. For all Meg knew, the woman could be evil incarnate, but put her in a long red dress and a white mob cap and she’d make a perfect Mrs. Claus.

Meg held up her hand to refuse the proffered menu. “Just coffee, thanks, with artificial sweetener if you have it.” Her eyes slid to the slice of cake. She hadn’t eaten that much sugar in a single sitting in years. You didn’t maintain a size 4 and eat sweets, too, although she’d dropped to a size 2 over the last six months. Surely a few calories couldn’t hurt.

A cup and saucer appeared from beneath the counter followed by a spoon on a paper napkin pulled from the chrome and black holder a few feet away. The coffee pot appeared next and the rich steaming liquid filled the cup. The cup was heavy and substantial in her hands, the coffee fresh and aromatic. One sip told her she wouldn’t miss the barista who served her each afternoon back home. With the second sip Meg closed her eyes and sighed.

She opened them to find the slice of cake in front of her and a fork now occupying the napkin.

“Go on now, eat up,” the waitress told her. “You look more tuckered than a mouse on market day.” She laughed and leaned conspiratorially over the counter to whisper, sotto voce, “It’d be a shame to let that one slice go to waste and it’d do a lot less damage to your hips than it’ll do to mine.”

Her comment broke the awkward silence for the others.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with those hips, Suze, so why don’t you wiggle ’em on over here and pour me another cup,” said the gray haired man sitting alone at the table nearest the counter, “And I wouldn’t mind a piece of that pie.” He tipped an imaginary hat to Meg. “Name’s Hardy Curran.” He held out his right hand to Meg.

She reached to accept his hand and started to say her name when a voice behind her said, “That’s Piggy Hanson, Hard. Who could forget that turned up nose, though I’ll admit, it’s a lot cuter now than it was back then.”

Rudely ignoring Hardy Curran’s outstretched hand, Meg whirled on the stool to face the speaker of that hated name. She hadn’t heard it in years, hadn’t thought about it in ages, not since the last time she was in Prestons Mill. The man she turned to was tall, with broad shoulders and a chest that spoke of hard physical labor or a really intense personal trainer. Judging by the open flannel shirt worn over a dark blue tee and faded jeans, she’d lean toward labor. His face was darkened by the sun and the creases around his eyes and mouth gave him a weathered look that added to her conviction. His hair was dark and in need of a trim, but it was his eyes that drew her attention, almost made her catch her breath. She knew those eyes. Deep green and fringed with full, dark lashes, they wouldn’t be easily forgotten. Yet she, who was schooled in remembering names and faces, couldn’t place this man. He must have seen it in her face.

“Oh, come on, Pretty Piggy, surely you haven’t forgotten me.” He took a step forward, kissed her quickly and stepped back before she could react. “Remember now?” He laughed and winked, playing to the customers as much as to her. “Every girl remembers her first kiss, particularly if that kiss came from yours truly.” The customers laughed appreciatively.

Meg slipped off her stool to face him and one of the two older women sharing a booth yelled, “Wait!” and dumped the contents of her purse onto the table. A tube of lipstick rolled off and skittered under the seat while she grabbed a small box. “If you’re gonna whomp him, I need my camera! It’ll make the front page of the Tattler!”

Meg envisioned the headline of the local paper, OUT-OF-TOWNER WHOMPS LOCAL BOY, and smiled. “I wasn’t going to hit him,” she told the woman. “I was merely going to say that if that was an example of his kisses, I can understand how easily a girl could forget.” She waited until the laughter subsided. “And it’s Meg…” She almost said Anderson and caught herself in time. “Meg Hanson. And you are?”

But she knew who he was and he was right; a girl never forgot her first kiss even if she did bombard him with apples after the deed was done.

He stepped back with his hands crossed over his heart and a stricken look on his face. “I’m fair wounded. You’ve pierced my heart with such cruel words,” he said and then smiled a smile so disarming, she might have relented if Edward hadn’t taught her so well. Charming was something to avoid.

She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head as she sighed in exasperation. “You’ll get over it. I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard it.”

“I’ll bet it is, Missy.” Hardy Curran slapped his knee and guffawed. Before this, Meg had only read that word, guffaw, but the way the man laughed, it was the only way to describe the sound. “Women got a lot to say about the boy, but forgettin’ ain’t usually a part of it. He’s got heads turned all over this county. You’re Jeb Hanson’s girl, ain’t ya? Shoulda known Jeb wouldn’t raise no fool. Annie said she was expecting kin, but she weren’t sure when. Been a good five year since we seen Jeb, a whole lot longer since you been to call.”

“Eighteen years,” she said and confessed, “I should have come sooner.”

Her mother hated this place, said the girls came back wild and Edward preferred to forget where his father-in-law came from, but always remembered to mention her mother’s maiden name.

“You’re here now, and Annie’ll be glad of it,” Suze told her. “If you set a while, she’ll be here directly. It’s her day to set with ole Mose so Lily can do her shopping. She always stops in for supper on those days. Says she don’t know how Lily does it. Mose plum wears her out. Got that Alzheimer’s, you know.”

“He’s getting mean,” a woman from the booth added, “Last week poor Lily had a bruise on her cheek to beat all. Said she fell, but I’m betting he hit her. I read somewhere those Alzheimer folks can get that way. Hard to believe, though. Poor ole Mose, he used to make hisself sick every time he had to lay a hand to those boys of his. I won’t go up there anymore lessin Walt goes with me.”

“Being neighborly don’t mean putting yourself in danger, June, but I can’t see Mose getting mean. I stopped by the other day and he was meek as a lamb.” Hardy pushed himself up with his arms and reached for the crutches behind him. “Here I sit a-jawin’ when poor JT over there needs to get home and wash that egg off his face.” He tucked the crutches under his arm and swung out onto the floor. His pant leg was folded where his left knee should have been and pinned up behind his thigh. “Soon’s I get my leg back, I won’t have to bother you no more.”

“It’s no bother, Hardy. You’ve given me a hand a time or two.” JT spoke to the old man, but his eyes were on Meg. He remembered her, short, round and freckled faced. She certainly wasn’t that now. She was still short, tiny almost and pixie faced with big blue eyes like the sky on a summer’s day. “My name’s JT Preston and it was a pleasure seeing you again.”

“I wish I could say the same,” Meg told him, but she gave him a ghost of a smile when she said it. There was something about him that melted her anger.

“Come on, boy,” Hardy laughed and held the door. “She’s not goin’ anywhere. You can regroup and make your next move another day.”

The door closed behind them and Meg finally got her first forkful of cake while Suze refreshed her coffee.

“Oh my Lord, this is heaven. Where do you get your cakes?” She took another forkful and rolled her eyes.

“Jerry makes them.” Suze pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.

In white cotton pants and t-shirt, with a day’s growth of beard and an anchor tattooed on his forearm, Jerry leaned against the back counter and gave her a nod. No taller than Suze, about five foot seven, his massive belly bulged over his stained cook’s apron. He nodded at Meg, eyed Suze and pointed to the clock.

“Supper’s about to start.”

“I know, honey. I’m ready.” Suze beamed at his retreating back. “And now you know why my hips look like they do. Jerry was a cook in the Navy. He came down here for some fishing, saw this place, bought it and said he’d be back. Took two years, but he came back, cleaned it up, bought some stuff for the kitchen and opened up. He had a waitress wanted sign in the window and I applied.” She grinned. “I got the job and a husband to boot.” She patted her stomach. “Come next February, we’ll be three.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” The door opened and two young men walked in. Suze gave them a finger wave. “Gotta go. Why don’t you take your cake and coffee over to that booth? Miz Annie doesn’t like sitting at the counter.”

Meg had just settled into the booth when the door opened again and her great aunt walked in. Meg had been afraid she wouldn’t recognize her, but the tall, spare woman walking briskly toward her was the woman she remembered. Her hair was still steel gray and still pulled tightly into a neat round bun at the back of her head and Meg would swear the steel rimmed glasses were the same ones she wore eighteen years ago.

“Saw that fancy car out there and figured it must be you. No one around here would have much use for something like that. Not many could afford it either.” Annie folded her long, angular body into the seat. “How was the trip?”

“Longer than I thought it would be.” Meg leaned forward as she spoke. “Aunt Annie, I can’t thank you enough for taking me in like this and on such short notice.”

The old woman reached across the table and gave Meg’s hand two quick pats. “Nonsense and call me Annie. Aunt Annie’s too big a mouthful. You’re kin and you’d be welcome with no notice at all. Besides, you’re pa said you’d help me out with a bit of work.”

“Yes. Please. I don’t want to be a burden.”

Annie nodded and the corners of her mouth curled up in a hint of a smile. It was the right answer. “Good. Now, the first thing we need to do is feed you up. There’s nothing to you, girl. How much weight did you lose pinin’ over that sonofabitch?”

“I-I didn’t lose anything,” she lied. Meg remembered her aunt as being direct, she’d just forgotten how direct.

Annie’s head reared back and she squinted her eyes. “You sickly or are you one of them women thinks you can’t be too rich or too thin?”

“I’m not sickly.” The other, maybe.

“That’s a mercy. Too thin we can work on. Lord A’mighty child, a woman’s supposed to have hips and breasts. Had them both myself, once.” The quirk at the corner of her mouth was the only sign it was a joke. “Suze, honey, we’ll have that hot roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes. You want corn or peas?” she asked Meg.

“Corn?” she squeaked. How was she ever going to eat dinner after that half slice of cake?

“Corn it is.”

Annie made small talk for the rest of the meal and as the little café filled with customers, Meg was introduced to them all. Annie seemed to know everyone and asked about them; mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and in one instance, Cousin Ed’s brother-in-law’s boy from his first marriage who moved to Kansas City. Meg’s head was overflowing with names and faces and it was only seven o’clock. Before she knew it, half her plate was empty and fully sated, her eyes began to droop. Her head nodded and snapped back up. She heard Annie chuckle.

“Come on, child. You’ve had a long drive and the Perroni’s close up right after supper. You can follow my truck, but once we’re on Fox Run you go slow and watch the road. I’m the only one lives up on the hill and the county don’t see fit to grade my road. Bud Stiver says he’ll borry the grader some day and smooth it out, but it’ll have to wait till the work brings them out this way. We’ll get you to bed and we can talk in the morning.”

Half way up the ‘hill’, Meg worried the little Mercedes wasn’t going to make it on these roads. She only hoped that if she could make it up, she could also make it down. Her father had warned her and she hadn’t listened. These mountains only looked gentle on the map.

She barely saw the room Annie led her to in the old farmhouse. She didn’t argue when Annie helped her undress and made no dispute when the old woman tsk-tsked the boniness of her body. She mumbled what she hoped was a polite good night before she fell into bed and she slept more soundly than she had in years.