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Love is about family, romance, and finding a place to call home . . .
Publishing November 15, 2013: THE PICKLE QUEEN, Book 2 of The MacBrides Trilogy, a Crossroads Cafe Novella.
Pickles are mentioned in the Bible. Cleopatra ate them as a beauty regimen. Shakespeare put them in his plays. Mason designed jars for bottling them. So did Ball. Did Mason and Ball fight over the King of the Pickle Jars title? I don't know. I did know this much: I used pickles to keep fear, pride, and my love of Jay Wakefield behind a door I would not risk opening again. Even now.
Wakefields take what they want. MacBrides never surrender. For nearly a hundred years, a battle of wills between these two deeply-rooted Appalachian families has ended in defeat and heartache--most often, for MacBrides. Now the MacBride name is barely more than a legend, and it's up to Gabby MacBride to deal with the pain of her childhood memories and also the challenge of a MacBride legacy she's only beginning to understand.
That will mean coming to terms with her bittersweet love for Jay Wakefield, the lonely rich boy who became her soul mate when they were kids, before the dark demands of his own legacy forced him to betray her.
The modern outlaws, preppers and recluses of the Little Finn Valley called this cozy cavern beneath the mountain the Wolf's Den--a cross between a sports bar, a frat-house TV room, and a co-op, family-friendly pajama-party. There were dozing dogs, sly cats, a few pet raccoons, small monkeys wearing sweaters, and sleeping children among the audience sprawled in chairs around a stage in one corner. Another gaggle gathered near flat screens showing Christmas concerts, ESPN highlights of fall football games, and A Christmas Story.
Ralphie's dreams of gaming Santa for a BB gun was a hit.
There were couches, small tables, recliners and other assorted seating arrangements cobbled from a catch-all collection of furniture. About a hundred people occupied the Den that cold Christmas Eve night, most of them looking mellow--but when the Moon sisters shoved me out of the hallway into their presence the karaoke machine went silent. Eyes turned toward me. I saw a lot of military patches on rugged jackets, a lot of holstered pistols and sheathed hunting knives, and a lot of damp boots drying next to thickly socked feet.
The men were pretty tough-looking, too.
"Greta Garbo MacBride," one of the Moons announced.
A MacBride had returned to the Little Finn Valley.
Just as before, when I was met on the road down from the ridge, there were looks of awe.
Behind an ornate, marble-topped bar sat some rough biker types in 'do rags and cracked leather lounged on tall stools and a blond woman in a denim jumper over black leggings mixed drinks and guided tall glasses under beer taps. On the wall behind her was a large framed poster with Little Finn River Whiskey in scrolling letters. On one side of it was a sepia photo of a vintage bottle with the caption 1915's Best beneath it; on the other half of the poster was a modern color photo of an updated whiskey bottle with 2012 beneath it.
TRADITION AND PRIDE ENDURE, a slogan said.
I called out, "Who wants potato salad and pre-Christmas turkey sandwiches on whole wheat with fresh dill relish and sliced mushrooms drizzled with balsamic vinagrette? Also, pickle-flavored martinis and a blueberry reduction on baked brie with a side of sugar cookies?"
After a startled moment, smiles broke out and hands went up.
One of the 'do rags rose like a bandana-wearing African lion, carrying the fresh double of Little Finn whiskey he'd just been handed by Blond Tats. He offered it to me, and smiled. "The nectar of the mountain gods," he said in a Boston accent straight out of Harvard. "Welcome, a great honor. A MacBride has come home."
Dawn was just three hours away. Christmas Eve was only a few hours old, and the Cavern couldn't shield us from the pit-of-the night mood, emptiness and regrets. The long day had scraped ruts in my throat. My hands hurt, and my attitude was testy; I felt a vise squeezing my temples.
"She's got them eating out of her hand, Jay," Pug told me. "And yeah, that's not a metaphor. She's feeding all the valley's late-nighters like they're baby birds she rescued out of a nest, and they're chirping and asking for more. You know the kind of after-midnight crowd that hangs out at the Den. The ones who've got no family to go home to and too many nightmares to fall asleep. And when the holidays come around their shit is stirred up, times ten. She's their holiday mama bird. It's the MacBride effect. I've read about that in old Caillin's journal but I never really believed in it, until now."
"Food is comfort," I said. "Gabs and her brother and sister understand that. It's that simple."
"Huh," she said, as we walked out of the cold into the warmly lit alcoves of the Den.
Laughter and applause accompanied a group singalong of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" as Pug and I rounded a bend in the wall lined with deer skins, old photos of the Little Finn Distillery and the Woolen Mill.
"Holy singalong, Batman. She's Lawrence Welk without the bubble machine."
Up on the small stage, barefoot, with a mustard-smeared apron over her bedraggled slacks and blouse, her towering height and extraordinary hair filling all the available show space, Gabs waved a glass of whiskey with one hand and led the chorus with a microphone in the other.
Platters of sandwich crumbs and nearly empty stainless serving bowls smeared with the residue of potato salad littered the bar top. Open jars of pickles sat on every mismatched table.
Singing in loud unison, the crowd chorused,
Underneath the mistletoe last night . . .
"They're going to wake up in the daylight and hold their heads and regret this," Pug shouted in my ear.
No, they won't, I thought. They'll be in awe of the way Gabs soothed their hunger.
As the last beats of the song faded from the big amps beside each end of the stage, Gabs took a long swallow of Little Finn whiskey and, as if drugged by the essence of her ancestors, found me instantly. She stiffened, shoulders back, chin up.
She pointed at me in sly challenge. "That man, right there, can sing like a baritone angel." Everyone turned to stare.
She remembers. I nodded, bowing a little.
Her eyes flared. "He has a great singing voice," she continued.
"Sing, Wakefield," someone yelled. People began to clap in rhythm. "Sing, sing, sing."
"You don't have to give in," Pug said. "I'll break out the tequila and distract them."
"I can handle it." I wound my way through the assorted chairs and mismatched tables, the recliners filled with snuggling couples, the dogs curled up by their humans' feet on sheepskin pads, the aura of communal energy, the spirit of the tribe and the cave. Fire crackled on a hearth, and the scent of the stone and the earth reminded us all of this was real, and eternal, and essential.
The welcome and warning in Gabs' deep green MacBride eyes, tearing me apart with the challenge of our history and the promise of what we still might become.
Bell Bridge Books
See the prequel to THE PICKLE QUEEN -- THE BISCUIT WITCH -- here:
The final novella in the trilogy, THE KITCHEN CHARMER, will be published in winter 2014.
Deborah Smith is the NYT and WSJ bestselling author of A PLACE TO CALL HOME, THE CROSSROADS CAFE, and many other novels. She's also a founding partner and VP of BelleBooks and its main division, Bell Bridge Books. Check here for news and updates on the titles she and her partners are publishing.
Deb writes almost exclusively about romance, family drama and "other," and many of her settings are the Appalachian mountain communities of Georgia and North Carolina. Her family heritage is based in those areas and, like many legacies of Appalachian kinfolk, is a mixture of Scots-Irish, Scots, Irish, English, Welsh and Native American, primarily Cherokee and Creek Indian. Her mother's family, the Powers, came from Donegal, Ireland in the late 1700s and by the early 1800s had settled in the wilderness near what would become known as Atlanta. The Powers were a founding family of Cobb County, Georgia, and ran a ferry on the Chattahoochee River. "Powers Ferry" continues to be a well-known place name in that community. Deb's mother, Dora Lee Powers Brown, grew up playing in cornfields on the banks of the river where apartment complexes, office buildings and restaurants now stand. (Precisely: Rays on the River, a popular restaurant in the Atlanta suburbs, is located where one of those cornfields existed.) She recalled playing in the remnants of Civil War trenches as a child, and, in the years before Buford Dam leashed the river, sitting with her brothers and sisters on the one-lane bridge at Powers Ferry where, during floods, the river rose so high that she and her siblings could dip their feet in it.
Asheville, North Carolina, is a favorite setting for Deborah's books. She fell in love with the city during visits to the local rivers (for rafting) in the early 1980s. Many many visits later, she and Hank consider the city and its amazing mountain region their home away from home. The Biltmore Estate inspired the mansion in BLUE WILLOW, the Cherokee and gem mining history inspired SILK AND STONE, and THE CROSSROADS CAFE resulted from a wandering day trip in the highlands above Asheville, where Deb, her mother and their friend Ceil Garrison discovered the best homecooking ever! at a tiny diner at an isolated crossroads near the Tennessee line.
Many of Deb's current and older titles are now also available in unabridged audiobooks here at Amazon and at iTunes also Audible.com. Check out Deb's fantasy romance, ALICE AT HEART, because Deb narrated that audio herself (hey, at least it's unique...)