Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Smitten is an anthology about friends written by real life friends Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter.

Four friends devise a plan to turn Smitten, Vermont, into the country's premier romantic getaway-and each finds her own true love along the way. With Smitten Lumber closing, residents wonder if their town can stay afloat. Then four friends and local business owners-Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese--decide the town is worth saving. How will they do it? They'll turn Smitten into a honeymoon destination! As Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese work to save the town, each discovers romance in her own life. Meanwhile, the faith of a little child reminds the whole town what it means to have real faith in the God who is the always and forever Love.

Colleen Coble

The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee overpowered the less appetizing smell from the drum roaster in the back room. Natalie let her employee Zoe handle the customers at the bar and took the hot beverages to the seating area by the window where she and her friends could see white-topped Sugarcreek Mountain. Spring had come to their part of Vermont, and the sight of the wildflowers on the lower slopes would give her strength.

"So what are we going to do?" she asked, sinking onto the overstuffed leather sofa beside Reese Mackenzie.

"Do? What can we do?" Reese asked. Her blond ponytail gleamed in the shaft of sunlight through the window. She was the practical one in the group. Reese was never afraid of hard work, but while Natalie saw only the end goal, Reese saw the pitfalls right on the path. "We can't make them keep the mill open."

While rumors about the mill had been floating for months, no one had really believed it would fold. The ramifications would be enormous. Natalie's business had been struggling enough without this added blow.

She took a sip of her mocha java. A little bitter. She'd have to tweak the roast a bit next time. "If the mill closes, the town will dry up and blow away. We can't let that happen." If Mountain Perks closed, she didn't know how she would provide for Mia.

And she wasn't leaving Smitten. Not ever. After being yanked from pillar to post with an alcoholic mother until she was ten, Natalie craved the stability she had found here with her aunts and her friends.

Julia Bourne tossed her long hair away from her face to reveal flawless skin that never needed makeup. "This is one of those things outside your control, Nat. I'd guess we'd all better be looking for jobs in Stowe."

Shelby Evans took a sip of her tea and shivered. Her Shih-poo, Penelope, dressed in a fashionable blue-and-white polka dotted shirt, turned around in Shelby's lap and lay down on her navy slacks. "I don't know about you all," Shelby said, "but I wanted my kids to grow up here."

The women had no children of their own—and none of them was even close to thinking about settling down—but that was a moot point for Shelby. She had a storybook ending in mind that included a loving husband and two-point-five children for each of them. Natalie was sure her friend would find that life too.

Natalie moved restlessly. "There has to be something we can do. Some new export. Maple syrup, maybe? We have lots of trees." She glanced at Julia. "What about your New York friends? Maybe you could ask some of your business friends for advice?"

Julia shrugged her slim shoulders. "They know spas. I hardly think a spa is going to save us."

Reese had those thoughtful lines on her forehead. A tiny smile hovered on her full lips, and her hazel eyes showed a plan was forming. "We don't have time for exports, but what about imports? Tourists would love us if they'd come visit. We have heart." She took out her ever-present notebook and pen and began to jot down ideas.

"They come to ski in Stowe anyway," Shelby said. "All we have to do is get them here."

Natalie rubbed her forehead where it had begun to ache. "But what do we have to offer that's different from any other town?"

Julia crossed her shapely ankles. "Smitten is cute with its church and all, but cute doesn't bring tourists. I can't even get a decent manicure in this dinky town. People aren't going to pay for ambiance. We need some kind of gimmick."

Reese tapped her pen against her chin. "I have an idea," she said. "Everyone jokes about the town name. Why not capitalize on it?"

"How do you capitalize on a name like Smitten?"

"What does Smitten make you think of?" Reese asked. "Love, right? What if we turn the town into a place for honeymooners?"

Julia snickered and nodded toward the man striding past outside the window. "I have a feeling Carson would have something to say about that. He hated all the jokes about his name in high school."

Natalie followed the angle of Julia's nod. Her gut clenched the way it always did when she saw Carson Smitten. He was a man who attracted female attention wherever he went. He looked like his lumberjack great-grandfather, with his broad shoulders and closely- cropped dark hair.

Natalie dug a paper and pen from her purse, a Brighton that Julia had given her for her last birthday. "There needs to be a cohesive plan. What would this love town look like? Besides romantic songs playing over speakers around town."

"The honeymooners won't spend all their time in their rooms," Reese said, her eyes gleaming. "We offer great outdoor activities. The skiing here is as good as anywhere in the country. People just don't know about us." She gestured toward the mountain. "And look at that view."

This was not going to be an easy sell to Carson Smitten. Natalie stared out the window again and watched the man yank on the door to his hardware store in his usual confident way. She had no doubt she could convince the rest of the town over his objections. After all, what did they have to lose?

Excerpt © Colleen Coble, 2011. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Visit Colleen's website at www.colleencoble.com

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