ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Anna Prentiss wants to be a nurse, but first she has to spend a summer in Cades Cove apprenticing to the local midwife. Anna is determined to prove herself…but she never expected to fall in love with the Cove. Has God’s plan for Anna changed? Or is she just starting to hear Him clearly?
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2012)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Mountain air was supposed to be cool. At least that’s what she’d always heard.
Anna Prentiss couldn’t be sure because she’d never been this far into the mountains before. But if truth be told, they still had a fair piece to go before they reached the hills that rolled off into the distance.
The narrow dirt road that led them closer to those hills twisted and bumped its way along. The June heat had dried out the winter mud in this part of Tennessee and produced a dust that threatened to choke her, roiling up and around the buggy. Anna covered her mouth with the lace handkerchief her mother had tucked in her dress pocket and sneezed. The smudge left on the cloth made her wonder what her face must look like.
She glanced at Uncle Charles, her father’s brother, who sat beside her on the leather seat of the buggy. Perspiration had cut meandering, dusty trails down his cheeks, but he didn’t appear to notice. His attention was focused on trying to avoid the holes that dotted the road.
She wiped at her face once more before stuffing the handkerchief back in her pocket. It really didn’t matter what she looked like. There was no one to see her. The only living creatures she’d seen all day were some white-tailed deer that had run across the road in front of them and a fox that had peered at her from his dusky hiding place beside the road. In front of them trees lined the long roadway that twisted and turned like a lazy snake slithering deeper into the mountain wilderness. She’d come a long way from the farm in Strawberry Plains.
A twinge of homesickness washed over her. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. The uneasy feeling lingered a moment, but with a determination she’d only recently acquired, she banished thoughts of those she’d left behind to the spot in her heart where her grief lay buried.
Just then the buggy hit a hole, and Anna grabbed the seat to keep from bouncing onto the floorboard. Uncle Charles flicked the reins across the horse’s back and glanced at her, his spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose. Wispy gray hair stuck out from underneath a black hat.
“Hold on. These roads can be a little rough. We had a hard winter up here.”
Anna nodded, straightening herself on the buggy seat and studying her uncle’s profile. How many times had he ridden this way to take care of the mountain people he loved? He looked every bit the country doctor. His smooth hands, so unlike her father’s work-roughened ones, gripped the reins tighter as he grinned at her.
The corner of his mouth curled downward when he smiled, just as her father’s had always done. That was the only similarity she’d ever seen in them, though. Uncle Charles used to say he got the brains and Poppa got the brawn. When she was a little girl, she wondered what he meant. But she knew no matter what it implied, the two brothers shared a bond like few she’d ever seen. And they were the only ones who’d ever encouraged her to follow her dream of becoming a nurse.
Anna took a deep breath and inhaled the heavy, sweet smell that drifted from the forests on either side of the road. She turned to Uncle Charles. “I’ve been noticing those white flowers that look like shrubs growing along the road. What are they?”
“Those are our mountain rhododendron,” said Uncle Charles. “There are also pink and purple ones. Sometimes in the summer you can stand on a ridge and look across the mountains at the rhododendrons blooming, and it looks like somebody took a paintbrush and colored the world. It’s a mighty beautiful sight.”
Anna swiveled in her seat again and looked at Uncle Charles. “Thank you for working out this trip for me.”
A grin tugged at his mouth. “How many times would you say you’ve thanked me today?”
“Not enough yet.”
A sudden breeze ruffled the straw hat her mother had given her, and Anna grabbed the wide brim. After a moment she released it and pulled the handkerchief from her pocket again. Grasping it with both hands, she twisted the cloth until it stretched taut between her fingers. “I hope I don’t disappoint Mrs. Lawson.”
He didn’t take his eyes off the road but shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about that. She’s been delivering babies in Cades Cove for a long time, and she’s glad to have an extra pair of hands. It’ll be good experience before you leave for nursing school in the fall.”
The old anger rose in Anna’s throat. “Only if Robert agrees.” She spit out the barbed words as if they pierced the inside of her mouth. “Why does he have to be so selfish?” She clenched her fists tight together. Ever since their father’s death Robert had assumed the role as head of the family, and he took his responsibilities seriously. Too seriously, if you asked Anna. He never missed an opportunity to tell her how their father wasn’t around anymore to cater to her every whim. The first time he’d said that she felt as if he’d shattered her heart. The pieces had never mended as far as her relationship with him was concerned. But if things went as planned, she would soon be free of his authority.
“I don’t want you to be angry with your brother, Anna. You may not understand his reasons, but he’s trying his best to be the head of your family. He’s still young and has a lot to learn, but he loves you and wants what’s best for you.”
Anna crossed her arms and scowled. “All he wants is for me to stay on the farm and marry somebody he thinks will make a good husband.” Anna shook her head. “Well, that’s not what I want. Poppa promised me I’d be able to go. Robert has no right to keep that money hostage.”
“I know. Your father would have been so proud to know you’ve been accepted.” Uncle Charles’s shoulders drooped with the sigh that drifted from his mouth. “Try to see it from his perspective. You’ve led a sheltered life on the farm, and Robert feels like you aren’t ready for what you’ll see and have to deal with in a big hospital in New York. You think you’ll be able to assist injured and dying people, but it’s different when you’re right there with somebody’s life in your hands. If you find you can’t do it, then Robert is out the money for your tuition, not to mention travel and living expenses.” He cocked a bushy eyebrow at Anna. “And he doesn’t need to be wasting money that can be put to good use on the farm.”
“I know. He’s told me often enough.” Anna smoothed out her skirt and straightened in her seat. “I’m just thankful you came up with a plan that Robert agreed to. Spending the summer with Mrs. Lawson ought to prove I have the grit to handle New York.”
“Remember you’ll need a good report from Granny Lawson.”
Anna smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m going to listen to her and do everything she tells me, no matter how distasteful I think the task is.” She clenched her fists in her lap. “When I board that train for New York in the fall, it will all be worth it.”
Uncle Charles shook his head and chuckled. “I’ll leave New York and all its hustle and bustle to you. I prefer to spend my time right here in these mountains.”
Anna let her gaze rove over the trees on either side of the road. “Still, maybe you’ll come visit me someday. I can show off the maternity ward!”
He flicked the reins across the horse’s back. “I’ve read a lot about that ward. First one in the country. You’ll be fortunate to work there. But don’t forget you may see a lot of babies born this summer while you’re at Granny’s cabin. And there’s not a better place in the world to learn about nursing. She can teach you things you would never learn at Bellevue. Listen to her and do what she says and you’ll be fine.”
Anna nodded. “I will.” Her hat slipped to the side, and she reached up and straightened it. “I really can’t thank you enough, Uncle Charles. Everything’s coming together just the way I planned it, and nothing—not even Robert—is going to stand in my way.”
Uncle Charles sucked in his breath and directed a frown at her. “Nothing? We can only follow the plan God has for us, Anna.”
She settled back on the seat and cast her eyes over the hazy hills in front of them. “But that is God’s plan for me.”
“And how do you know?”
“Because it’s what I’ve dreamed about all my life. God’s never tried to change my mind.”
“Maybe you’ve never listened to Him.” Uncle Charles stared at her a moment. “Like I said, pay attention to what Granny says. She’ll teach you how God uses those He’s chosen to take care of the sick. It isn’t all done with medicine, Anna. A lot of my medical successes—and Granny’s as well—have come about after a lot of prayer.”
The buggy hit another bump, and Anna bounced straight up. As far as she could see, the rippling Smoky Mountains stretched out toward the horizon. A plume of wispy fog hung over the valleys. A strange world awaited her out there.
Mrs. Johnson, the owner of the inn where they’d stayed in Pigeon Forge last night, had taken great pleasure in warning her of what she might face in Cades Cove this summer. Anna clasped her hands in her lap and glanced at Uncle Charles. “Mrs. Johnson said the folks who live in Cades Cove don’t take to strangers.”
Uncle Charles nodded. “That doesn’t surprise me. What else did she say?”
Anna took a deep breath and brushed at the new layer of dust on her skirt. “Oh, not much. Just that everybody knows it’s a closed society in the Cove, but it doesn’t matter because no sensible person would want to live there anyway. She called the people there a strange lot.”
Uncle Charles cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “Is that right? I hope you didn’t believe her. I know every family in the Cove, and some of them are my good friends.” He hesitated a moment. “Of course you’re going to find some who cause problems—just like you would anywhere else.”
“Like the moonshiners?”
He turned to stare at her with wide eyes. “What did Mrs. Johnson tell you about moonshiners?”
“She said all the men were moonshiners. Are they?”
Uncle Charles threw back his head and laughed as if he’d just heard the funniest joke of his life. After a few seconds he shook his head. “Nothing could be further from the truth. There may be a few who give the Cove people a bad reputation, but most of the men work too hard to waste their time on such nonsense.” He reached over and patted her hand. “I wouldn’t leave you in a place where you weren’t safe. Mrs. Johnson may run a good inn, but she’s the worst gossip in these mountains.”
Anna heaved a sigh of relief. “I guess I’m just a little nervous. I want everybody to like me.”
“They will. Just be yourself and they’ll all love you.”
Uncle Charles meant well, but doubt still lingered in her mind. Would the people of the Cove accept a stranger into their small community? And if they didn’t, what good could she possibly do in this place?
She had to succeed. Her future depended on it. She squared her shoulders. There was no turning back.
As the day wore on, they found themselves deeper in the hills. As they did, a slow awakening began to dawn in the deepest corner of her soul. She’d never seen anything as beautiful as the lush growth that covered the vast mountain range. The air now grew cooler, just as she’d expected it to be, and the sweet smell of mountain laurel mingled with the rhododendrons. As her uncle’s horse, Toby, plodded along the rocky trail that grew steeper with each step, she saw the world through new eyes and stared in awe at the wonders of nature unfolding before her.
For the last hour she’d sat silent and watched the shallow river that flowed beside the road. The water bubbled over rocks like huge stepping-stones scattered across its bed, and the rippling sound had a lulling effect. She wished they could stop so she could pull off her shoes and wade in the cold mountain stream, but there was no time for such fun today. She turned her attention back to the steep hillside on the other side of the road.
“It’s beautiful here.”
Uncle Charles glanced at her. “We’re just about to Wear’s Valley. When we get there, we’ll be close to Cades Cove.”
Anna wondered if Uncle Charles was tired of her questions about the Cove. She hoped not. She settled in her seat and said, “Tell me more about Cades Cove, Uncle Charles.”
He pushed his hat back on his head and stared straight ahead. “Well, if you’ve noticed, we’ve been following that stream as the road’s climbed. Pretty soon now we’re gonna reach a place where we turn away from it and head into a flat valley right in the middle of the mountains. That’s Cades Cove. It’s almost like God just took His giant hand and tucked a little piece of heaven right down in the Smokies. The land’s fertile—not so many rocks you can’t farm—and completely surrounded by mountains. You’re gonna love it when you see it, Anna.”
“How many people live there?”
He pursed his lips and squinted into the distance. “I’d say there are about two hundred fifty scattered throughout the Cove nowadays. Some left for town life—better work there, you know—but they’ll never find a place that’s as beautiful as these mountains.”
“How far is it from Mrs. Lawson’s house to where you live?”
He thought for a moment. “It’s not that far as the crow flies, but it takes me almost three hours going around these roads.”
A lump formed in her throat. Now that they were closer, she didn’t want him to leave. She scooted a little closer to him on the bench of the buggy. “Will you stay at Mrs. Lawson’s tonight?”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll have enough daylight left to get home. But don’t worry, I’ll come to the Cove from time to time to check on you. Granny does a good job of taking care of the folks there, but she knows when it’s serious enough to send for me.”
Anna clasped her hands in her lap to keep him from seeing them tremble. The time had come to begin the test. She couldn’t fail. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. She dredged up all the determination she could muster. No, she wouldn’t fail.
“How long before we get there, Uncle Charles?”
“Not much longer. The entrance is up ahead.”