Often the quietest people...
Josie Nightingale has always been the odd girl out. While her sisters swoon over guys, she's busy trying to change the world! Which isn't easy with Eric "Scooter" Wilson watching her every move.
...have the biggest secrets!
She may be out of his league, but the day Scooter rescued Josie from jail and discovered her secret, he vowed he'd do anything to protect her. And if keeping Josie safe means not letting this stubborn dame out of his sight—then so be it!
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Lauri Robinson lives in Minnesota where she and her husband spend every spare moment with their three grown sons and their families—spoiling the grandchildren. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Northern Lights Writers. Along with volunteering for several organizations, she is a diehard Elvis and NASCAR fan. Her favorite getaway location is along the Canadian Border of Northern Minnesota on the land homesteaded by her great-grandfather.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
White Bear Lake, Minnesota, 1925
If only this was something she enjoyed...
The outdoor dance floor covering the ground between the resort building and the water fountain overflowed with men and women set on having a good time. More people crowded the tables covered with alternating red, white and blue tablecloths that gave everything a patriotic feel, and the colorfully decorated Chinese lanterns hanging on the wires stretched from the tall corner posts added to the overall festive appearance.
Even the hill, as it gently sloped toward the lake on the other side of the fountain, was a flurry of activity, with people lined up outside the little red-and-white tents set up for them to change in and out of their swimming attire.
Her sisters had been right. As usual. People had come from miles around. Dressed in everything from fringed dresses and suit coats to beachwear. Age made no difference today. Betty Sandstrom, who'd turned ninety-one last month, sat in a chair with her cane hooked on one arm and on the other side of the table, Hannah Willis bounced her six-week-old baby boy, Henry. He was a cutie, with his tuft of blond hair and big blue eyes.
From her stance on the resort's balcony, Josie Nightingale held her customary role, that of being a bystander, wishing she could embrace all of this. She'd much rather be watching from her bedroom window, but that wasn't an option. She was expected to be in attendance today. Front and center, along with the rest of her family.
Resort employees served beverages by the trayload. Soda pop with striped straws and cocktails created to disguise the liquor filling the bottom half of the glasses. There was food, too. Lots of it. The scent of fire-roasted meat and corn boiled on the cob still hung in the air. Soon there would be dessert. Cake and ice cream.
The sigh that built in her lungs became too large to hold in. Too powerful. Josie let it out, feeling no relief when she did so. Everything was running smoothly. Extremely smoothly, but there was little pride inside her. Even less excitement.
There should be. A lot of work had gone into the party. The planning had started weeks ago. That wasn't unusual. Nightingale's Resort was known for its parties. What was different about this one was that it wasn't just a Fourth of July celebration—it was her sister's wedding.
Twyla and Forrest Reynolds had been married less than an hour ago. They were dancing right now, looking at each other with stars in their eyes. They'd been meant to be together. Josie had always known that. Had seen it with her own eyes years ago when they'd all been kids. She had a knack for that, seeing what others didn't always see, especially in themselves. Still, Josie's shoulders wanted to slump clear to her knees.
It wasn't that she wasn't happy for her sister. She was, and not just for Twyla, but also for their oldest sister, Norma Rose, who would marry Ty Bradshaw in a couple of weeks, and Ginger, who'd married Brock Ness down in Chicago last month. Everyone had been surprised this morning when Ginger and Brock had shown up, having driven from Chicago for Twyla's wedding. Ginger and Brock, along with Norma Rose and Ty, were on the dance floor next to Twyla and Forrest, all of them looking happier than ever.
Josie tried to not feel it, but it was there. That deep, somewhat bitter sense of being the odd one out. The story of her life. For years, she'd told herself that was her choice. It still was. She truly didn't give a hoot about all the fuss and finery surrounding the resort, surrounding her family.
She did love them. Her family. And she was thankful for them. That's why she did all of this—planned parties she'd rather not attend, made beds and swept floors, even waited on tables and wrote out admittance tickets. The resort was the family business.
Today it was all just a bit unsettling.
Something must have changed inside her. In the past, she'd been better at putting on a smile—for show—when needed. Maybe it was just that currently, her life was in such disarray that keeping up the pretense that the world was as wonderful as her sisters claimed it was grew more impossible by the minute. She wanted to believe the world was a wonderful, happy place. She always had. But she knew otherwise. That notion weighed more heavily on her mind today than usual.
Another sigh built and burned inside her chest as an arm fell around her shoulders.
"Well, Josie-girl, it looks like it'll be just you and me."
The souring sensation in her stomach she'd had for days increased. Bucking up, for there was little else she could do, Josie planted a grin as big as her father's billfold on her face and leaned against his shoulder as he hugged her close to his side with one heavy arm. However, she made no comment in response to his statement.
Roger Nightingale was feared as strongly as he was revered by everyone, including his daughters.
He kissed the top of her head. "Dare I say I'm happy there's no man waiting in the wings to steal you away from me?"
The lump in her throat grew big enough to strangle a cow. Refusing to give in to the sadness or to peek toward the edge of the dance floor, Josie shook her head. "No chance of that, Daddy."
"Don't fret," he said with another kiss. "The right man's out there for you, too. Give him time."
"I'm not fretting." Lifting her gaze, because depending upon his answer, she knew things could get a whole lot worse, Josie asked, "Are you?"
"Nope." His grin was broad and his blue eyes shimmered. "Losing three daughters in a matter of weeks is more than enough. I'm going to hang on to you until the very end."
The strangling sensation happened again, and this time Josie couldn't speak around it. Scrounging up a painful smile that was as wobbly as her insides, she once again rested her head near the front of his shoulder. Her gaze wasn't controllable, either. Of their own accord, her eyes landed on Scooter Wilson. The sinking feeling within her could have sent her all the way to the other side of the earth.
Scooter was looking up to see if she was looking down at him, and when their gazes met, he lifted a brow. Though the Chinese lanterns were hung and the music had started, night had yet to fall, and she could clearly see, and feel, the challenge Scooter sent her way.
Josie swallowed. Why had she called him, of all people, when she'd been arrested? Because he'd been the one person she could count on to get her out without too many questions. Way back when she'd worn pigtails and hand-me-down dresses, Scooter had been the one to come to her rescue when any of the other boys, or girls for that matter, had picked on her for one reason or another. He'd never told anyone about those incidents. True to form, just like he'd kept all her other secrets, he was keeping this one. Despite the ultimatum he'd laid down. Either she stopped her activities, or he'd tell her father.
Neither of which could happen.
"Did Scooter fix your car?" her father asked, his gaze following hers.
"Good," he said gruffly. "I still think I should have Ned look into that entire escapade. One of my daughters being arrested for speeding is ludicrous. They should have told you to slow down and nothing more."
Getting Sheriff Ned Withers involved would completely blow her last bit of cover. Her father thought she'd given Colene Arneson a ride up to Duluth to see a niece and that the speeding incident had happened on the way back home. "It was like Scooter said, Daddy," Josie replied, her nerves hitting a high gear. She'd never blatantly lied to her father, and it didn't settle well with her. It hadn't settled well with Scooter, either. "The gas pedal stuck. He promises it won't happen again."
"It better not." Her father spun her around by the shoulders to directly face him. "Matter of fact, it won't." He grinned broadly. "I told Scooter you need a new car. Come Monday, he'll go with you over to Big Al's to pick one out."
Her stomach sank. Avoiding Scooter hadn't been easy over the past weeks, not when she'd had to arrange for him to set off the fireworks later tonight, but she had no intention of going anywhere with him, not even to pick out a new car. When searching for an excuse didn't result in one, Josie asked, "Couldn't it just be delivered?" The way her father frowned made her add, "I mean, with Twyla married, she won't be here to help and Norma Rose is busy planning her wedding, and—"
He kissed her forehead. "No, it can't be delivered. I know you. You'll want Scooter to check it from bumper to bumper. Being the only one of my girls here, you'll need a car—one you can depend on—while Norma Rose and Ty are on their honeymoon. They'll be moving into the farmhouse when they return, and don't worry, she'll be taking over the helm again before the end of the summer."
It wasn't the work at the resort Josie was worried about. She didn't mind covering the front desk and helping with all the parties. Just like she'd never minded cleaning rooms and doing laundry. The resort was her responsibility as much as it was anyone else's. She just didn't know how she'd manage everything with Twyla gone. Unlike her, Twyla thrived on being the life of the party. She'd been thrilled to step up and help Norma Rose and had completely plunged herself into making sure the events at the resort were top-notch. Twyla had planned tonight's party, in fact she'd planned the whole day of activities that included the entire town of White Bear Lake, and it had been a success.
When her sister moved into town, to live at the Plantation with Forrest, it would create a hindrance to Josie's other duties, namely her Tuesday runs. Twyla had assured her she'd come and help while Norma Rose was on her honeymoon, and afterward, whenever they needed her assistance.
Norma Rose was planning ahead, too. The resort had been her first love—although many people had thought Forrest Reynolds had been Norma Rose's first love. Josie had known Norma Rose had never been in love with Forrest, just as she knew Norma Rose would never relinquish the resort to someone else. Not even one of her sisters. Norma Rose had made Nightingale's what it was today.
While her father had been busy amassing a fortune from bootlegged whiskey, Norma Rose had been busy making the rest of the world believe the family's resort was where they'd struck it rich. Hospitality was what she called it.
Josie had been very thankful for Norma Rose's, and her father's, drive and ambition. While her father had been focused on getting Minnesota 13 shipped worldwide and Norma Rose had been busy catering to the rich men their father did business with, Josie had had the freedom to pursue other adventures.
Twyla and Ginger had complained they were little more than prisoners, sent up to their bedrooms as soon as the sun went down. Freedom, Josie suspected, was like most everything else. Each person perceived it differently. Crawling into her bed while the parties below were still going strong had never bothered her. She'd been exhausted most nights, and more than ready for a good night's sleep.
Her sisters would never understand that, and she'd never admitted it, not to anyone. Just like she wouldn't admit she couldn't fill in for her sisters and keep helping the Ladies Aid Society.
It wouldn't be forever.
Just for the next couple of months.
That was if Scooter didn't follow through on his threat and put a stop to it all.
That's what truly couldn't happen.
There were simply too many lives at stake.
"I'm not worried," she told her father. Another lie, but he'd been waiting for her response. "Norma Rose hasn't booked another large party until Labor Day." Taking a deep breath, Josie added, "Everything will be fine. Just fine."
"You've always been the most sensible and levelheaded one of the bunch," her father said. "I've always appreciated that. Even if I haven't told you." He kissed her forehead again. "You've never given me the worries your sisters have."
Once again her smile wobbled.
"Must be that Ladies Aid Society you're so involved in," he said.
Josie closed her eyes, fighting harder to keep the smile on her face.
Letting go of her shoulders, her father straightened the maroon suit coat over his black shirt and vest. "I'm going to mingle," he said. "It's not every day a man gets to rub elbows with Babe Ruth. You should have some fun, too—visit the dance floor. Looks like your sisters are having the time of their lives."
Her sisters all had reasons to be having the time of their lives. They'd not only found love, but in a sense they'd also found their freedom. Being one of Roger Nightingale's daughters wasn't an easy road. Up until a few years ago, they'd been just one more poor family among many others in the area. That had changed. Wealth changed a lot of things. Once again she told herself to be grateful for that. Luck had been on their side. If not for their father, and his determination, their lives would be very different.
"There's Babe," her father said, pointing toward a man as large as he was, and just as boisterous. "You coming?"
Inviting Babe Ruth had been Twyla's idea, and the stunt had worked. People from all across the state had driven to the resort in hopes of meeting the baseball legend. "In a bit," she said. "I have a few other things to see to up here." Gesturing toward the empty ballroom—most of the tables had been moved outside, leaving a mere smattering of them in the adjoining dining room—she added, "Now that the barbecue is over, I want to check on dessert and make sure the chefs are making hors d'oeuvres for later on. The fireworks won't go off for hours. We wouldn't want anyone getting hungry. Especially Babe Ruth."
Prohibition restricted the sale of alcohol, but the resort didn't sell drinks. It sold tickets that included all the food people could eat. The tickets weren't cheap, but people paid the price because along with the food came free drinks. Her father chuckled and patted her shoulder. "That's my girl. Your momma would be as proud of you as I am. Of all of you."
Josie nodded and watched him walk to the stairs leading to the ground. Reggie, the resort's long-standing bartender, had set up a portable bar beneath the balcony. Now that she was alone, the noise—that of the people beneath her, the music, the gaiety in general—vibrated against her eardrums. This was by far the largest party the resort had hosted and the entire day had gone without even the tiniest mishap.
She was thankful for that, but would be even more grateful when the day was over.
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