Musician Angelica Cannon arrived in Smoky Hollow, battered suitcase and precious violin in tow, to rediscover her passion for music--not to fall for the town's most eligible bachelor, Kirk Devon.
Kirk's faded jeans and laid-back charm are a million miles away from the sharp-suited businessmen of New York. But his warm chocolate eyes most definitely put the harmony back into her soul!
City girl Angelica has already fallen for Smoky Hollow's magic--now she's succumbing to Kirk's spell....
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March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Angel of Smoky Hollow by Barbara McMahon
Angelica Cannon stepped off the bus into another world. Dragging her backpack down the steps, she made sure she did not let the precious violin case hit anything. The air was thick with humidity, sultry and hot. The trees that lined the street offered scant shade with the sun directly overhead, but gave some illusion of cool, dashed by the reflecting heat from the asphalt.
Running away wasn't as easy as she'd thought when she stuffed a few things into her backpack and left without telling a soul where she was headed. Withdrawing a hefty sum from her bank account, before buying a bus ticket south, she was officially off the grid. She'd pay cash for everything and defy anyone to find her before she was ready.
She did not expect to be stepping into another world. Maybe--just maybe--she'd bit off more than she could chew.
Three pairs of eyes watched her disembark from the old bus. Two men had to be close to eighty, their scant gray hair covering little of their heads, their overalls looking as if they'd been made during the Great Depression. They sat on rocking chairs, but were still, as if watching people get off the bus was too important to miss by rocking back and forth.
The third set of eyes latched onto hers and for a moment she caught her breath, unable to step away from the bus, unable to breathe. The man leaned casually against one of the posts holding the roof above the wide porch. His stance was decidedly male.
Dark and dangerous, his eyes reflected the image perfectly. His black hair was wavy and longer than that on the men she normally associated with. He could be the grandson of the other two, as he couldn't be much over thirty. Buff and brawny--she almost swallowed her tongue as she stared at him, consumed by the spark in his eyes, the way he let his gaze move slowly over her then snap back to hold her eyes in that compelling stare. Her heart sped up. Her sophisticated veneer shattered. She'd never felt such an instant raw sensual attraction before. It was as if every cell in her body became attuned to his. And she hadn't a clue who he was.
She took a breath and, conscious of someone waiting behind her, stepped away from the bus--toward the trio on the porch of the rough-hewn building that served as bus terminus, general store and gas station. And a place for old men to watch the world go by. A place for a man to mesmerize with his stare.
Wide shoulders, muscular arms and chest, nothing was hidden by the skintight navy T-shirt he wore. Faded jeans tucked into motorcycle boots covered long legs. His face was all angles and planes, tanned a dark teak. She'd never seen anything as gorgeous in her life. The fluttering feelings inside kicked up a notch and she wished she could check makeup, hair and clothes. And find something scintillating to say that would impress him with her wit and sophistication.
Clothes--darn. She looked down at her outfit. The two of them almost matched. She wore a cotton top and faded jeans. So unlike her normal attire. In fact, she'd bet her mother didn't even know she owned a pair of jeans.
Not that she was going to think about her mother! The great escape included thoughts about her parents, her job, and where she was going in the future.
"You miss your stop, sugar?" the man asked as she approached the porch.
Attuned to musical pitch and tone, Angelica almost swooned with the deep baritone voice and sweet Southern drawl. Talk some more, she almost said. Instead, she replied, "Is this Smoky Hollow, Kentucky?"
"Last I heard," he acknowledged.
"Pretty thing," one of the older men said, as if she weren't standing six feet in front of him.
"Why's she here? Kin of anyone we know?" the other asked.
"Just fixing to ask that myself." The fascinating man stepped off the porch in a casual and utterly masculine manner that had Angelica wondering if her hormones had spiked in some weird way since crossing the state line. She wanted to step up and flirt.
Flirt? She had never done so in her life. Where was that thought coming from?
"Can I help you?" he asked. "I'm Kirk Devon and I know almost everybody around here. Who're you here to see?"
She blinked. His heah didn't quite sound like here did at home.
"I'm looking for Webb Francis Muldoon," she said.
He tilted his head slightly, his eyes intent on her face. "Webb Francis isn't here," he said.
She swallowed. Great, she left home and fled fifteen hundred miles and the man she was running to wasn't even around. A second of uncertainty surfaced. Then she took a breath, needing more information. She was not going to be stopped at the first setback. She had yearned for this for too long.
"When will he be back?" she asked. "Don't rightly know. Might be a few days. Maybe longer. What do you want with Webb Francis?"
He took a step closer and Angelica wanted to step back. He was tall, at least several inches over six feet. Next to her own five and a half feet, he seemed to tower over her. But it wasn't only his height. Tapered waist and hips, long legs and those broad shoulders made him look as if he could carry the weight of the world easily on those shoulders. Strong and masculine in an earthy way she wasn't used to. She was fascinated, and overwhelmed. Her senses roiled.
"I prefer to explain that to Mr. Muldoon," she said stiffly.
The bus door clanged shut and the old bus belched a puff of black smoke as it pulled away and groaned down the street.
Angelica watched it go, then looked back at the man in front of her. His eyes were still intent, studying her every expression.
"Looks like your transportation's gone and left you here. Webb Francis is in hospital at Bryceville. He has pneumonia."
"He's sick?" Professor Simmons had assured her she'd be welcomed by Webb Francis. No one had counted on his illness. Least of all her.
"Friend of yours?" Kirk Devon asked still studying her.
"He's a friend of--a friend." She closed her mouth without saying another word. She dare not trust anyone. She wasn't giving out who she was or why she was there until she'd spoken to Webb Francis to see if this was where she belonged. She gazed after the bus. Where was Bryceville? Would the bus have taken her there?
"Got a place to stay?" Kirk asked.
She shook her head slowly. She had thought Webb Francis would help her by recommending a place to stay. She knew Professor Simmons had written a letter for his old friend explaining everything. It was in her backpack, to be given once she met Mr. Muldoon. Looking around she squared her shoulders. She'd traveled in Europe, called Manhattan home, surely she could handle one small town in Kentucky.
"Any hotels around?" She would have seen one, she felt sure, watching as she had the foreign scenery as the bus drove in from Lexington. No skyscrapers here. But maybe there'd be a small boutique hotel on a side street.
"There's a B&B in town. Sally Ann's place. You can stay there tonight, decide what to do tomorrow. Don't reckon Webb Francis will be home before a week. And not then unless folks rally around to keep him fed. You staying long?"
He stepped closer, almost crowding her. Reaching for her violin case, he offered to take it. She snatched it out of his reach, stepped back and swung slightly around so the case was almost behind her. "I can manage. Just point me in the right direction."
His dark eyes watched for a moment. The air was charged with tension, then he gave a lopsided smile and relaxed. It was hard for Angelica to adjust to the change. The smile did crazy things to her. He looked like some harmless guy trying to help. But she didn't feel reassured. He was big and strong and too sexy for her own good. She couldn't get beyond that attraction. His dark hair almost shimmered with streaks of blue, it was so black. When he smiled, she felt a catch in her heart. He could probably charm the birds from the tree with a single smile.
She was not a bird. She had to remember she had a goal and falling prey to the first good-looking man she saw was not in her plans.
Reseating her backpack on her shoulder, she glared at him. No one touched the valuable violin but her.
"I'll take your backpack, then," he said, lifting it from her shoulders before she knew it. "Can't let a lady carry all those heavy things," he drawled as he turned and gestured for her to proceed in the direction away from the store.
The sidewalk ended fifty feet beyond the store. The road narrowed, feeling closed in with the trees that flanked it. With the sun overhead, there was little shade to ease the heat reflecting from the asphalt. If she'd had any idea of how hot it was in Kentucky in summer, she'd have--done what? This was her only bolt hole and she was grateful for it. She'd just have to deal with the heat. She hoped the walk to the B&B wasn't long, or she'd be a puddle in the road. Glancing at her companion, she was annoyed he didn't seem to notice the heat at all. If his pace was any indication, he didn't. She was already growing winded.
"You didn't tell me your name," he commented after a few yards.
"Angelica Cannon." She was sure no one around here had ever heard of her. She felt she'd stepped into a time warp, looking around at the lack of amenities and action. She felt curiously free knowing people here would only learn what she chose to share about her life. She could be totally anonymous if she wanted.
"Sally Ann runs a B&B, you said?" she asked. The shoulder was gravel and dirt and not wide enough to walk on. Would it be any cooler if she could take to the dirt instead of the asphalt? She was growing grateful to her guide that he'd taken the backpack. She was so hot!
"She does. And makes the best pancakes this side of the Mississippi. You tell her you want some one morning, she'll pile them on your plate. You look like you need some good down-home cooking."
Angelica frowned. Was that a backhanded comment about her slender frame? Or an insult? Did he think women needed more curves to be attractive? What did she care? He was some backwoods guy, not one of the men of influence she was used to dating. Not a patron of the arts, not a subscriber to the symphony. He probably wouldn't recognize genuine world class music if it hit him on the head.
His longer gait had her rushing to keep up. Not that she'd ask for him to slow down. That would only prolong her listening to the slow Southern drawl and risk forgetting any good sense remaining.
Though how dashing away in the night showed good sense, she wasn't sure. She hadn't been a prisoner. She should have stayed and shown the logic of her choices. Only, she still couldn't envision herself standing up against her parents. They had done so much for her. They only wanted the very best. How ungrateful she'd be to rail against everything. And it wasn't as if she was turning her back on her life. For the most part she enjoyed music. It was only lately--she needed a break. She was flat-out burned out.
But try as she might, they never listened to her. Always pushing, always saying they knew what was best for her. She was almost twenty-five years old. Surely she had to know what was best for her by now. Coming here without confirming her would-be host was available didn't show such good sense--even she had to admit that. But she had, and now she'd make the most of whatever chance she had. It was only temporary. Worst case, she could relax for a few days and then make new plans.
Through the trees she caught a glimpse of a large white clapboard structure. As they rounded a slight bend in the road, Angelica saw the house straight-on. A bit shabby in appearance, nevertheless it was impressive, with a wide porch, dormer windows flanked by green shutters and an immaculate green lawn. Flowering bushes encircled the base of the house. A colorful flower plot in the center of the lawn surrounded an old oak tree whose shade was just starting to touch the wide front porch of the house. Rocking chairs and benches lined up in a row.
Did every building in Smoky Hollow have a porch? She'd heard Southerners were a laid-back group of people. Had to be the heat. She'd like to lie down until the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. Maybe sitting in the shade was the next best thing.
Kirk stepped on the porch and banged on a screen door. The wooden door to the house stood open wide and a moment later a woman bustled down the hall that stretched out from the door, wiping her hands on a dish towel.
"Kirk, gracious, good to see you. Is there something wrong?"
"Hey Sally Ann. I brought you a paying guest."
"I declare." She opened the screen door and stepped out, looking at Angelica with curiosity. "Was I expecting you?" she asked, tilting her head slightly and smiling. She tucked the dish towel in the top of her apron.
Angelica shook her head. "Mr. Devon said you take guests. I came to see Webb Francis Muldoon and learned he's not here."
"No, poor man, sick as can be in Bryceville. Mae went over this morning to see him. Evelyn and Paul will be going tomorrow. When are you going back, Kirk?"
"Might take this young lady to see him tomorrow if that's what she wants," he said, flicking a glance at Angelica.
Angelica studied him for a moment. Her common sense told her to stay away from this man. She could forget her own name if she wasn't careful. Yet if he offered transportation she would not have to spend another moment on the local bus. That would be well worth some time with Kirk Devon.
With her expected ally gone, she needed to reassess everything. How long would Webb Francis be sick? What was she to do in the meantime?
"I'd pay for the ride to Bryceville," she said looking straight at Kirk.
His face pulled into a frown. "Not if I'm going that way anyway. I'll leave around ten. Meet me at the store." He turned and gave Sally Ann a wide smile. "You take care of this one. She's not used to Kentucky."
He handed Angelica the backpack.