Today I am so pleased to welcome Leta Blake back to Joyfully Jay. Leta has come to talk to us about her latest release, Smoky Mountain Dreams. She has also brought along a great excerpt and is giving away a backlist book to a lucky reader. Please join me in giving Leta a big welcome!
In my latest book, Smoky Mountain Dreams, my two main characters, Jesse and Christopher, have a romantic date in a beautiful place here in the Smokies called Cades Cove. It’s an area I’m very familiar with having gone on family day trips there all of my childhood and it being one of the first places I ever drove my friends after getting a licence.
To me, it is almost unfathomable that someone doesn’t know Cades Cove. So when my editor asked, “Where is the water? This is a cove, so there’s water, right?” I was kind of boggled.
“This is a mountain cove.” I answered.
And that’s when I realized that people who live outside of Appalachia apparently don’t know what a mountain cove is! It might, in fact, be an Appalachian-only regionalism! Who knew? Not me!
So for those who aren’t familiar with the use of the word cove referring to a place without any more water than a small creek, according to Wikipedia: In the central and southern Appalachian Mountains of Eastern North America, a cove is a small valley between two ridge lines that is closed at one or both ends.
Cades Cove is 6,800 acres (five miles long and two miles wide) of mostly flat land in the midst of the oldest mountain range on earth–the Appalachians. It’s a place where wildlife flourishes and native people used the land for hunting long before Europeans came to settle the area. The cove has a fascinating history and tourists flock to it. But unlike most tourist destinations, locals love it, too.
In Smoky Mountain Dreams, Jesse and Christopher have an evening autumn picnic, deep, important discussion, and then later…dun, dun dun…they warm up from the chill with the steamy stuff. The exclusive excerpt I’m bringing you today is from the beginning of that scene.
CADES COVE, THE FLAT VALLEY between the two ridgelines including Thunderhead Mountain and Gregory Bald, was nearly devoid of tourists, though the weather wasn’t terribly bad. It was late in the day and the sky was typically autumnal—overcast with the sun peeking out occasionally— not the brilliant blue of summer, but Jesse thought it was beautiful.
The cove stretched for five miles and was completely hemmed in by mountains. The fields and creeks served as a refuge for deer, bear, and wild turkeys. The autumn leaves on the mountains were well past their prime but a remarkable palette of rich autumn color continued in the lowest elevations and in the hidden parts of the cove, providing interest alongside the evergreens.
As always, the mountains held a mysterious beauty, and Jesse and Christopher were quiet as they drove around the cove’s loop until Jesse pulled the car into a small gravel parking area near the place he’d taken Hope on their ill-fated date. He sincerely hoped this date would fare better.
Christopher unbuckled his seat belt, looked out at the mountains, and whistled low. “That’s a gorgeous view right there, don’t you think?”
“It’s why I chose it.”
“You have excellent taste, good sir.” Christopher grinned and opened the passenger door, climbing out. He stretched, lifting his hands way above his head, and from where Jesse still sat in the car, he watched Christopher’s shirt ride up, exposing the line of dark blond hair under his navel that disappeared beneath his pants.
Gorgeous view? Hell yeah.
Christopher ducked down. “Coming?”
Jesse popped the trunk of his blue Mercedes. He’d packed a picnic and brought a blanket to sit on—an old quilt Nova had made during her hippie quilting phase. As far as Jesse could tell, every hippie was required to go through a quilting phase and a knitting phase. Nova had been through both twice now. He suspected glass blowing might be next. Or maybe canning.
“I was happy when you wanted to get together today,” Christopher said as they spread their blanket on the mountain side of a massive oak tree so that other cars passing on the loop couldn’t see them. “After the other night with Brigid, especially.”
They both kept their jackets on, the temperature too cold even in the late sunshine. Christopher’s cheeks had pinked up. Jesse didn’t know if it was entirely from the cold or if some of it was embarrassment at bringing up Brigid’s behavior.
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. How is Brigid? Did your talk with her go okay?”
Jesse sighed. “I talked to her about how her behavior wasn’t acceptable, how it had embarrassed me and also worried me that she’d do something so unkind to someone she doesn’t even know.” He didn’t add that he’d been relieved her behavior hadn’t run Christopher off.
“What did she say about her reasons?”
“She mainly just begged me not to take her iPad away, which, I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in, too. I’d hoped for remorse for being awful to you and I’m not sure what I got. She lost her iPad for a week and she’s supposed to apologize to you when she sees you.”
“That’s not…I mean, I don’t need that from her.”
“I want her to grow up to be a decent person, and learning to apologize is part of that.”
“I’m sorry that something about me set her off. Do you think it was seeing us in your studio?”
“Yeah, but she wasn’t kind to you when she met you either. I guess she sensed…well, it doesn’t matter what she might have been sensing. Because after the disciplinary aspect was dealt with and her friends had gone home, we had a long talk.”
Christopher began unpacking the picnic basket, and Jesse helped. French bread, Nutella and a knife, pumpkin-spice almond butter, and apple-cranberry stuffed pork roast.
“It wasn’t an easy talk. I realize now that I should have had it with her some time ago, and I plan to have a version of it with Will over Thanksgiving weekend.”
Christopher nodded, opening the almond butter and spooning some onto the plates Jesse had packed.
“Essentially, I reminded her that some men are romantically and physically attracted to other men, and that I am one of those men. That was hard for her to hear again because she’s older now and gets what that means. She hears the nastiness directed at boys in her school deemed to be faggots, and I think she’s scared of what me being bi might mean for her socially.”
Christopher frowned slightly but nodded.
“I can’t blame her for that. I think it also confuses her about what it means for our family. What it would look like for a man instead of a woman to be in our lives. I tried to explain that it doesn’t have to be that different, but how do I know? I’ve never been in a relationship with a guy. We’re, what? A month into whatever is happening between us, and I don’t actually know what it will be like.”
“Anyway, she kept asking me why I wouldn’t just please date a woman, so I told her that sometimes I liked women, but that right now I like you—” he broke off, his heart leaping into his throat. Was that too much? Surely Christopher knew how he felt about him. It had to be obvious.
With a smile, Christopher glanced up at him. “I like you too.”
Phew. “And I let her know that I understood it was confusing, but her mom has been gone a long time now and I’m ready to…at least entertain the idea of…well, starting something romantic with someone I really like.”
Christopher swallowed hard. “How did she react to that?”
Jesse sighed. “She cried.”
Christopher stopped putting together a sandwich with the pork and French bread and looked up at Jesse, his face pinched. “Oh my God. I’m sorry.”
“I think it was in reaction to a lot of things. She wouldn’t really talk to me about it. I’m thinking about setting her up for more appointments with Dr. Charles. He was the kids’ therapist for the year after the accident. They still see him occasionally.”
Christopher squeezed Jesse’s wrist. Encouraging warmth spread through his skin, and Jesse grabbed hold of Chris’s hand to bring his fingers up to his lips and kiss them. They weren’t dainty fingers at all—nothing like Marcy’s or even Hope’s. They were masculine, and golden hair glistened at his knuckles and wrist. Christopher pulled his hand away to brush a leaf from Jesse’s hair and then smiled at him. “Go on,” he said, returning to his food prep. “I’m listening.”
Jesse cleared his throat and held back the thank you, instead picking up where he left off. “I think she’s had some idea that if I ever dated, it would be a woman, and maybe there’s been a lingering hope that she might end up with…” Jesse didn’t want to say the words.
“That she might have a mom again.”
Christopher sighed and gazed off toward the mountains, his brows creased and sorrow laced with empathy on his face. “Poor kid. God, that’s just so rough.”
“It’s not easy.”
“I want to make it easier for her.” Christopher turned to him. “How can I do that? Stay away? Come around more? I mean, assuming you want me around. I just—we’ve gone kind of from zero to sixty and I don’t want your daughter to be a casualty of that.”
“I don’t know how to slow this down. Do you?”
“Stop seeing each other?” Christopher suggested half-heartedly.
“Hell no. I like seeing you.” Jesse wondered if Christopher realized that this Cades Cove excursion marked a month since they’d met. He still couldn’t believe the luck of Christopher coming to him about his grandmother’s locket. It sometimes stuck Jesse as too perfect, and that terrified him and gave him comfort all at once.
Christopher worried at his lip, looking like his next words cost him a bit. “We could still hook up.”
“No. Sex aside, you’re interesting, and you make me feel…hopeful.” Jesse felt his own cheeks get hot. He’d wanted to say happy. He’d wanted to say that Christopher made him feel in love for the first time in years and years.
After giving up on his career as a country singer in Nashville, Christopher Ryder is happy enough performing at the Smoky Mountain Dreams theme park in Tennessee. But while his beloved Gran loves him the way he is, Christopher feels painfully invisible to everyone else. Even when he’s center stage he aches for someone to see the real him.
Bisexual Jesse Birch has no room in his life for dating. Raising two kids and fighting with family after a tragic accident took his children’s mother, he doesn’t want more than an occasional hook-up. He sure as hell doesn’t want to fall hard for his favorite local singer, but when Christopher walks into his jewelry studio, Jesse hears a new song in his heart.
Leta’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively, but her passion has always been for writing. She most enjoys crafting the romance stories that she would most like to read. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
Leta has brought a backlist book to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Sunday, November 23rd at 11:59 pm EST.
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