Date Published: April 9, 2013
Publisher: BloominThyme Press
The Blurb:A deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the Tennessee forest bring Delaney Wilkins and Nick Harris together in a dramatic fight for the rights to Ladd Springs.
Delaney Wilkins finds herself at odds with hotel developer Nick Harris over a deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the forest. Both are after title to Ladd Springs, a mecca of natural springs, streams and trails in the eastern Tennessee mountains, a tract of land worth millions. But Ernie Ladd, current owner of the property and uncle to Delaney, is adamantly opposed to them both.
Felicity Wilkins, Delaney’s daughter, deserves to inherit her family’s legacy, but neighbor Clem Sweeney is working against her, ingratiating himself with Ernie Ladd. Clem is also harboring a secret that will make him a very wealthy man—unless the others stop him before he can bring it to fruition.
Complicating matters is Annie Owens. Ex-girlfriend to Jeremiah Ladd, Ernie’s estranged son living in Atlanta, she declares her daughter Casey is Jeremiah’s, making Casey every bit as entitled to the property as Felicity—only Annie hasn’t proven this claim. Yet.
All are fighting to get the property, but only one will walk away with the gold. Which will it be? Find out in the first installment of Ladd Springs…
The Excerpt: Chapter 1
Crouched in the Tennessee mountain brush, Delaney Wilkins pushed up from her knees and moved farther into the thicket for a better view. Beneath the canopy of laurel and oaks, the scent of wet earth and decomposing leaves rose thick in the air around her. She craned her head to look between the trees. Some blackened, others gray, trunks stood in varying stages of decay, victims to the slew of storms that ripped through the area several years back. And among them, two strangers. By the outline of their build, the rough jerk to their movements, they appeared to be men. But gender didn’t matter. Trespassers were trespassers and they were on her land.
Delaney held her breath, suppressing all thought but one. No one was supposed to be in her part of the woods. Did they venture too far off the USFS trail and get lost?Her instincts hummed. These two were up to no good, she was sure of it.They seemed too intent on whatever it was they were doing to be lost hikers. She could hear their voices but was unable to make out the details of their conversation, or what—exactly—they were doing. Damn it, she had to get closer.A quick survey of her surroundings told her the answer wasn’t here. Not unless she wanted to take up cliff diving down the slope before her, causing a ruckus that would obviously reveal her presence. Delaney scanned the upper ridge beyond the men. The trail behind her would take her to the top, but it was a twenty minute hike at a good clip. But they could be gone by then. She dropped her focus back to the strangers. There was one other way. She spied the narrow trail leading off to her left. It was a footpath she had forged years ago, one created as her secret weapon in games of “hide and seek” played with her cousin, Jeremiah Ladd. At one time, she had used the trail to kick his butt. At the moment, it would serve to get her thirty feet closer. Unfortunately, the pace she’d have to travel to remain undetected would have to be excruciatingly slow.Delaney considered her options. Her Palomino, Sadie, was tied to a post at the base, the landmark her family had built to mark the opening for this trail. If she had to get anywhere fast, she knew Sadie would take her. Physical confrontation didn’t concern her—not with a pistol holstered snug in her boot.Gravel and sticks crunched behind her. A thunderbolt of fear slammed into her. Shooting hand to boot, she whirled, ready to pounce.“Hi,” came the hushed greeting.With a sharp intake of breath, Delaney recovered from the initial shock and took in the unexpected sight of Nick Harris, the real estate developer determined to buy her family’s property—but what the hell was he doing here?There, in the middle of the path, the six-foot-four man stood like a fool.“Get down,” she hissed, her pulse continuing to hammer as she waved him toward the ground. Surprise swirled around a sudden suspicion teeming in his swarthy black eyes as he spied the hand sliding free from her boot. With a quick check on her quarry, she growled under her breath, “And be quiet!”Squatting, he glanced in the direction she’d been looking and asked, “What’s going on?”“Nothing,” she said, her focus darting between him and the men. “Why are you following me?”“I saw your horse tied to the post and became concerned.”“Don’t be.”Across the woods, the men rose to their full height and it was then Delaney got her first decent look at them. One was tall and bulky, the other was short and wiry. Wearing tattered cowboy hats and dirty T-shirts, they weren’t tourists. Were they squatters?Laughter punctuated the quiet, drawing Nick’s quick attention. “Who are they?” he demanded.“Don’t know,” she replied, wondering what the men would do next.“Let’s get out of here.” He pulled at her arm. “Those men could be trouble.”Delaney shot him a hard glance and jerked away from his grasp. “Those men are trespassing on my land. If anyone needs to get out of here, it’s them.”“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “If they’re trespassers, you need to call the police.”She scoffed at the notion. Calling the police would not help her discover why they were here. It would only alert the men to the fact that she was onto them. The larger man suddenly slapped the shorter on the back and said something, but not loud enough for her to discern the first word. Within minutes, the strangers collected their belongings and took off in the opposite direction.Delaney shot to her feet. Where were they going? That trail didn’t lead back to the government forest land. It led straight back to her cabin.“I’m getting you out of here,” Nick said, his voice closing in on her back.Delaney wasn’t going anywhere, especially with Nick Harris. “I’m going after them,” she said, right after she searched the area below where she’d first seen the men.“Oh, no you’re not.” Nick encircled a large, firm palm around her bare bicep.Hot and unwelcome against her skin, his hand tightened. The hair on the nape of her neck prickled in rebellion. She looked up into his face, noting his thick brow gathered in a storm of its own. “Excuse me?”“I’m not about to let you run off and chase after strangers. Those men could be up to no good.”“You’re damn right they are—and on my property!” Delaney yanked her arm, only to find it immovable. “Let me go,” she spat.“No.”At the force of his objection, she stopped. Glaring at him, Delaney performed a rapid assessment of the situation. While trained in physical defense, taking on the over two-hundred-some pound muscular Mr. Harris was not what she wanted to be doing at the moment. She wanted to get over there and find out what those two men had been doing. She wanted to follow them to see where they were going. She stared up at Nick, her displeasure intensifying as she noted the hint of amusement in his eyes. “Why are you here again?”“I told you. I saw your horse back there without you on it.” He relaxed into a smile. “I became concerned.”Dimples carved into his cheeks on either side of his mouth, compliments to the slight cleft in his chin centered within his angular jaw. Black-brown eyes appeared seamless beneath his heavy brow and deeply tanned skin. His appearance was one of rugged masculinity that seemed right at home in these woods, his short, dark hair rich and full, combed away from his face. But this was Ladd land. Her land. He had no business interfering.“My whereabouts and well-being are none of your concern,” she said, making no effort to conceal her annoyance at his gallant show of male dominance, “and I hereby officially relieve you of duty. I can take care of myself, thank you.”“I’m not leaving without you.”She grumbled under her breath. She could stay and protest, wasting precious time, or she could feign conciliation and take Sadie after the men. No doubt they were taking the back way out. Nick didn’t mention anything about a horse of his own. Delaney savored a private smile, a plan forming in her mind. There was no way he could stop her once on horseback. “Fine,” she retorted and headed back toward the trail, taking the incline in three long strides.Once on the path, she walked as fast as she could, eager to lose him.Nick caught up with her easily, matching her stride. “Do you have much trouble around here with trespassing?”“Some.” Boots jarred her legs as she navigated the hard-packed, uneven clay, littered with rocks and roots. As they walked side-by-side, Delaney couldn’t help but notice her five-foot-five inches and a buck twenty in weight were dwarfed by comparison to Nick.“How do you handle it?”Anger rose hot and fast in her breast and she turned on him. “Why? So you can map out a response to silence the trouble, once you swindle the property from my uncle?”“I’m not trying to swindle the property,” he said, his tone measured and even, as though it required effort for him to remain calm.“Aren’t you? Ernie already said no. Why are you still here?” she asked, taking him in from the side as she marched down the trail, passing an opening that revealed a river. Water crashed over rocks and gullies and fallen logs as it made its way down. It was Zack’s Falls, one of Ladd Springs’ many assets.Nick raised his voice over the roar of waterfall. “I’m a patient man, Ms. Wilkins. I understand he needs time to think it over. I’m willing to give it to him.”“You don’t know my uncle.”“Why don’t you tell me about him?” he asked, his voice drenched in friendship and camaraderie. “I’m not a bad guy. I’ll make it a win-win proposition for everyone.”Delaney didn’t like the abrupt switch from rawhide to velvet. Nick was trying to con her and she was not a woman easily conned. Well, not anymore anyway. “No sale,” she told him.Nick raised a brow. “Excuse me?”“You heard me.” She flipped her face up to meet him directly. “No sale—in every sense of the words.”Delaney didn’t speak for the remaining ten minute trek to her horse. She had nothing more to say to the man. He was here to get her uncle to sell the property, land that bordered the Tennessee/Carolina state line on one side, the public forest managed by the United States Forest Service on the other, and was chockfull of rivers and creeks, waterfalls and springs. She’d grown up on this land, buried her mother on this land. In her family for over six generations, this property was not only priceless, but of sentimental value. None of which Mr. Harris cared about. He wanted to develop it, build some fancy hotel and spa and exploit the natural resources of the property. He didn’t care what it meant to her family. But that was neither here nor there. Uncle Ernie would not sell to an outsider. At least they had that much in common, Delaney mused sourly, as she pushed a branch out of her way.The trail opened to a small patch of grassy field, tall strands of willowy green littered with tiny purple and yellow blossoms, butterflies hanging low and plentiful. Between here and the property, a river flowed, the same one that wound down along the trails from Zack’s Falls. Sadie neighed at the sight of her owner and shook her blonde mane in excitement. Warmed by the sight of her mare, Delaney begged off. “Thanks again for your concern, but I’ll be okay from here on out.”He eyed her warily. “Where you headed?”“Back to the cabin.” As if it was any of his business. She grabbed the worn leather bridle and unwrapped it from the post. Holding it in her left hand, she seized Sadie’s mane, reached over her back, and hoisted herself up and on, slinging her right leg over the rear end of her horse. Sliding into a seated position front and center behind the horse’s neck, Delaney gently pulled the reins secure and looked down at Nick. It occurred to her that this was a much better view of the man. A handsome man, but a meddling one nonetheless. “See you around.”“Doesn’t it hurt to ride without a saddle?”“Not a bit,” she replied. In her book, there was no other way to ride a horse. After a quick rap to her rump, Sadie took off at a gallop, tail waving high and proud.Nick crossed arms over chest and watched her go. Delaney Wilkins was like poetry in motion. A natural on bareback, she rode with the fluidity gained by a lifetime of experience. Not only did she move as one with her horse, but her skin glowed with the same silky suede coloring of her Palomino, her white blonde hair—a similar glossy mane in both length and style—crashing in waves down her back as she rode. Her light brown tank revealed fit upper arms, small round breasts and a narrow waist. Then there were her jeans. Nick felt a surge in his loins. He’d never met a woman who wore a pair of Levi’s like Delaney did—rough, ragged, the ripped edges of white thread shredding around heavy brown boots, boots that looked to be the one and only pair she owned. Yet somehow he found the shabby attire sexy as hell.She was sexy as hell. Which would be a bonus if he could convince her to stay on and manage the stables of the hotel he planned to build. And he would build it. Ernie Ladd was a tough old goat, he’d give him that. But when it came to negotiating land deals there was no one better to get the job done than he. Patience was a virtue. Setting fire to greed was part of the process. Nick understood that once the kin folk got wind of the money he was offering, they’d press the old man to sell. Legacy was a powerful driver. But dollars were more powerful.Nick began the haul back to the main house for another go-round with the old man. He hadn’t added a single new property in over five years, but after the gem he’d opened in the rain forests of Brazil, it was understandable. Visions of a particular brunette slipped into the forefront of his mind, stirring the pot of need. Feisty and fantastic, she had been a great distraction, but so had his attorney. Nick beat the big guys to the punch in securing a property in South Americas’ largest growth market. Fueled by the rising domestic traveler in search of eco-luxury, property value had exploded, but so had his headaches as he fought lawsuit after lawsuit. Most were bogus claims stating he didn’t receive proper authorization from the Brazilian government, while others were straight-up accusations of corruption. None of which were true. Nick played by the rules, even agreed to the extortion tactics for financial contributions to the Amazon rain forest preservation fund. As the leader in boutique eco-hotels, he was more than happy to make these financial contributions. It was his business to conserve resources, work his hotels into the environment with minimal impact. He simply didn’t like to be forced to contribute or be accused of skirting the law. Mandatory anything rubbed him the wrong way. But then again, he had learned a long time ago, greed usurps all. A concept to which his investors were not immune. The pressure to produce was on. Between expensive litigation and a weak economy, Nick needed to inject new excitement into his hotel chain, and Ladd Springs would do the trick.
Dianne Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children--and her part-time Yellow Lab (Cody!). An avid gardener, she spends her spare time growing organic vegetables. Surprised by the amazing discoveries she finds there every day, she wondered, "Who knew there were so many similarities between men and plants?"
In addition to writing women's fiction and romance, she pens the blog for BloominThyme.com. What began as a brief hiatus from writing has blossomed into a garden blog, children's fiction series and more volunteer hours at school than she imagined!
At the end of the day, if she can inspire someone to stop and smell the roses (or rosemary!), kiss their child and spouse good-night, be kind to a neighbor and Mother Earth, then she's done all right.
To learn more about Dianne Venetta and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.