Sensible and self-reliant, Shelby Meyers knows exactly what she wants. She’ll never again depend on her errant mother, Jackie, who abandoned Shelby when she was a baby—and is forever searching for an elusive, glittering life. All Shelby needs is her beautiful, windswept Lake Superior, her loving grandparents, and the treasured-but-struggling family apple orchard she helps run—until a new love, Ryan Chambers, opens her heart to chance, and her eyes to a wider world than she ever imagined.
But just as Shelby is looking toward an exciting future, Jackie unexpectedly returns—determined to make up for the past and “help” her daughter get everything she never could. Her confidence shaken, Shelby finds herself at odds with Ryan, and with his wealthy family’s overbearing expectations. Now, through wrenching change and sudden loss, Shelby must find a way to see herself, and her mother, in a new light, forge an all-too-fragile understanding—and risk the kind of freedom that brings its own unexpected, enduring rewards . . .
“[An] impressive setting . . . March is skillful not only at rendering her setting, but also at raising questions in the reader’s mind about Shelby’s fate and withholding answers for many chapters.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“March’s debut novel visits the charming, idyllic town of Bayfield, Wisc., nestled on the shore of Lake Superior . . . March’s setting is lovingly drawn.”—Publishers Weekly
“A wonderful debut novel . . . March is a stellar new author.”—RT Book Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Kerstin E. March
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Kerstin E. March
All rights reserved.
A letter with familiar handwriting scrawled erratically in purple ink sat atop the entryway table. It taunted Shelby Meyers as she reached for her keys. She hesitated, and then picked up the white envelope with its crooked stamp. Running her finger over its sharp corners, she considered dropping it into the trash bin and walking out the door of her grandparents' farmhouse.
Over time, corresponding with her mother had become a game. Experience taught Shelby to stop lobbing heartfelt words across the country to whichever city her mother called home. Thoughtless words were slammed back in reply. Her mother's comments were too forceful, and too well positioned, for Shelby to volley back. She learned at a young age to swing lightly, to never challenge, and to accept the fact that she had an opponent rather than a parent. Love–40. Game. Set. Match. Jackie Meyers racks up another win over her only child.
"That you, Shelby?" Her grandmother's voice wafted down the hallway along with the heavy aroma of fried bacon. Even on a Saturday morning in August, the activities in their household were in full swing before the sun rose.
"In here, Gran."
Although Shelby knew the letter in her hand would contain nothing but more disappointment, she slipped it into her backpack with a pang of expectancy. Maybe this time her mother had put down her racquet and was ready to greet her daughter peacefully at the net. Maybe this time she had written with affection.
"A piece of mail came for you. From your mother." Ginny Meyers walked toward Shelby, wiping her wet hands against a faded paisley apron that was tied snugly around her waist. Ginny believed in hard work and modesty, gratitude and honesty. Her body was still slender and toned from years of working in the outdoors, but her cheeks were round and flushed pink with an abundance of nurturing kindness. Her heavy-lidded eyes were as brown as the earth, warmed with grace, and sparkled with more than a hint of mischief.
"Yep, I found it," Shelby said.
"Fair enough." Ginny looked at the empty space on the table where she had set Jackie's letter the evening before. "She means well."
Shelby gave her grandmother a knowing glance. They both knew the truth.
"You know how busy she is. It's nice that she keeps in touch." Ginny nodded her head, as if willing Shelby to agree with her.
"Right. Well. She'll come around. I'm sure of it." Ginny's shoulders dropped with a heavy sigh. She reached out to Shelby and gave her a motherly kiss on the cheek. "It's just a matter of time."
Shelby closed her eyes while in her grandmother's embrace and she, too, relaxed. "I should get going."
"Sorry—can't. I want to catch the first ferry."
"Yes, of course. Now scoot!" Ginny opened the front door and affectionately pushed Shelby out of the house that had been her home since birth. "Promise me you'll have some fun this weekend."
"Don't I always?" Shelby called over her shoulder.
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
Shelby heard the front door shut gently behind her as she stepped off the front porch and into the early morning light. She inhaled deeply, taking in the healing powers of Lake Superior's South Shore air. Crisp and clean, she welcomed the familiar scent of balsam, wildflower, white pine, and the damp soil of her grandparents' apple orchard. It was an aroma that always made her feel connected to this place atop the bluffs of Bayfield, Wisconsin.
All was quiet aside from the sound of her footsteps. She sensed a shift occurring in the nearby woods, a changing of the guards, of nocturnal creatures heading for their burrows while the sun-loving animals were just beginning to stir.
Shelby opened the door to her '84 Chevy pickup with a grinding creak, its white paint dulled by rusty edges and a faint layer of dust. She hoisted herself into the cab with ease, pulled a seat belt across her chest, and started up the engine. With the truck in gear, gravel rolled and crunched under the tires' weight as she passed groves of gnarled apple trees, the processing barn, and a hand-painted sign that welcomed customers to Meyers Orchard.
The road leading down the hills into Bayfield Township took her past acres of robust orchards, a few remnants of rusting machinery discarded on the roadside, and a long-retired fishing boat sitting lopsided in a hay field. Knowing the sun would cast a rosy hue on the lake at this time of day, she anticipated the view at her favorite point in the drive. The spot where, for just a moment, she would see Chequamegon Bay sprawled out at the foot of town. It was never a conscious decision to slow down, but somehow her foot always lifted slightly off the gas pedal so she could hold the view for just a moment longer.
The lake never disappointed her. Continuing her drive into town, Shelby marveled at the expanse of water that spanned across the horizon and was adorned by the Apostle Islands archipelago. She watched seagulls circle above a departing fishing boat that motored steadily through the calm, sunrise-reflecting waters.
Her truck coasted around the bend before descending down the sloped road toward town. The marina stood at the water's edge and was wakening with day sailors washing down decks and checking lines. Some were already heading out zigzagging their way across the steel blue bay that separated her historic hometown from the islands.
Bayfield was populated with an eclectic blend of artists, craftsmen, and mariners. It was a place where the Chippewa culture ran as deep as the lake. A town where whitewashed clapboard houses and picket fences were reminiscent of immigrants who made their living fishing, lumbering, and quarrying for brownstone. It was the home to families who loved the land, their children, and the lives they built. This was a community that buttoned up in the wintertime, braving barren isolation, ice road lake crossings, and bitter cold temperatures. In reward, they basked in the glorious summer sun amidst lavender lupine, shimmering poplars, and fragrant apple trees.
And the grand force of it all was the lake herself. As lovely and temperamental as a woman, Lake Superior could dazzle admirers one moment and then, without warning, lash out in fury. When gentle, she would allow a kayak to lightly caress her sparkling surface. And when wicked, she could take a man's breath away and swallow him whole into her icy belly.
This was home. Shelby couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Shelby drove past the marina and continued on to Main Street. She knew there would be ample street parking at this time in the morning, for the town was like a teen who lazily rises in the mid-morning hours. She spotted a familiar old flatbed truck parked beneath the outstretched branches of a maple tree and pulled in behind it.
"Hey, Gloria!" Shelby hopped out of her truck and called out to the woman who was organizing pint-sized cartons of blueberries into a makeshift fruit stand in the back of her truck. It was a wonder Gloria's truck still ran. Rusted parts dangled precariously from its body, which seemed to be held together with nothing more than yards of chicken wire and silver duct tape.
"Mornin'," Gloria replied, looking up briefly and flashing a broken-tooth smile. She was a tattered woman who looked twice her age due to hard living.
"You don't waste any time setting up, do you?" With her backpack slung over her shoulder, Shelby pressed down the door lock and pushed the door shut.
"You know, early bird and all that."
"You buyin' berries?" Gloria lived just outside of town in a neglected cabin that sat on ten acres. Although her home was located just off of the main road, very few knew of its existence because it was carefully hidden away among the pines. The land had been passed down through her family and was once the site of a nineteenth-century brickyard. When she wasn't tending to her garden, Gloria regularly scoured her property and the quiet creek that ran through it, searching for remnants of old bricks, pottery, and artifacts in the ground. She used whatever the land provided to make a living, whether dirty remnants of Bayfield's history, twig baskets and honey in the fall, or holiday wreaths made from delicate ground moss and pine.
"You read my mind" Shelby said, walking over to Gloria's humble display. "I'm heading over to the island today. These will be perfect."
Gloria eyed Shelby's backpack. "Playin' hooky?"
"Something like that," Shelby said, picking up two pints and laying down a five. "My grandfather rarely gets the house to himself. Whenever I'm away, Gran likes to visit friends in town, which gives him a chance to have the guys over for poker. He said something about wanting to win back the money he lost in the last game."
After stuffing the bill into her pocket, Gloria ended the conversation with an abrupt nod to Shelby and returned to unloading berries.
Typical Gloria, Shelby thought, smiling in amusement as she began her walk down Main Street. As usual, she was dressed in tune with the outdoors rather than fashion. Her wardrobe mainly consisted of faded jeans, neutral-colored T-shirts, worn boots, sandals, and a turquoise pendant necklace that was a gift from her grandfather. She did little to accentuate her brown eyes, naturally bright skin, and long waves of brunette hair that was often pulled back into a lose ponytail. However, while casual, she always appeared polished. Most of all, Shelby carried herself with confident ease and a warm disposition that drew people to her like seagulls to the water.
"Look at you!" Lou Olson emerged from the grocery store next door, a cheese Danish in his mouth and a newspaper folded under his arm. With his barrel chest, thick upper arms, and a beard that stood out around his face as thick and gray as the fur on a timber wolf, her grandparents' friend always reminded her more of a lumberjack than the town dentist. Lou would have retired years ago, except that even after eleven years, he still didn't have enough faith in his "rookie assistant" to let her take over the practice.
"Hey, Lou! Funny running into you. Were your ears burning?" Shelby stopped to ask. "I was just talking about you."
"About tonight's game? Can't wait to sit Olen's ass down at the poker table—pardon my French." He grinned, rubbing his thick hands together and scrunching up his face in anticipation. "Gotta win back the cash he snaked away from me at the last game. The old bastard."
"But I thought ..."
"No disrespect, but that grandfather of yours is a real sneaky son of a bitch. Has been as long as I've known him."
"So, you're ..."
"What's that?" Lou leaned toward Shelby with his good ear. "A sore loser? Is that what he called me?"
"No!" She laughed, swinging her backpack to the other shoulder. "I'd say he's as eager for the game as you are."
"I see. Good. That's good." He hesitated, readjusting the paper tucked under his arm. "Say, while I have you here, I want to say that I still feel real bad about, you know ... what happened a while back. Can't seem to get it out of my mind. Especially when I run into you like this."
"Oh." She looked down at the sidewalk and shuffled her feet.
"I just ..." he stumbled. "We all hope you find someone as good as he was. You know? You deserve that."
"That's nice of you to say." She looked past him, toward the lake, biting her lip and suddenly eager to leave.
"You know, my nephew and his son are visiting this summer. A real nice guy, his son. Works in banking. Maybe you two—" he began to offer, before she cut him off.
"I appreciate it, but, you know ..." She looked back at Lou and offered a slight smile. "I'm doing fine."
"So," he wrapped up, leaning down to look her in the eye.
"You take care."
"You, too. Good luck tonight."
Lou wasn't the first to offer up an eligible bachelor. Walking away, she thought of the men she had been fixed up with in the past three years since Jeff's accident the summer before their senior year in college. While there hadn't been many guys, those she had agreed to see were all good people. Men who would be ideal for other women, but to her were best suited as friends.
By now, she had her share of friends.
Shelby was content in knowing what her future held. The years ahead would simply be variations of her past and present. Same place. Same routine. Same people. The only thing she expected to change was the calendar year and the people who would wander in and out of her life. She no longer dreamed of a slow walk down the aisle to become someone's wife. She wasn't looking for a man to feel complete. She had her grandparents, the orchards, a few close friends, and of course, the lake. It was enough.
Once Shelby reached the end of Main Street, she had just enough time to duck into West Bay Outfitters, which was across the street from the town marina and ferry landing. It was an unpretentious shop down by the lake that offered outdoor gear, kayak rentals, and adventure guide services. Even though Shelby had little time for outdoor adventure, she was one of the shop's favorite patrons. And that had everything to do with the shop's owner, John Karlsson.
"Hey, gorgeous," John called out as she approached his work counter, which was laden with open nautical charts and stacks of hiking maps and travel brochures. Whenever Shelby looked at John's face, she saw beyond the handsome, rugged man he had become and beheld the soft, endearing face of her towheaded elementary school friend. And she was still caught off guard, at times, that the gangly teenager with braces who ran through the orchards with her on summer evenings now owned his own home and business. "How's my girl?"
"The ever-charming John Karlsson." She leaned across the counter to kiss him on the scruff of his cheek.
"Only for you, Meyers." He turned his cheek at the last moment and her lips settled on his for a brief kiss.
"Fiend!" she scolded.
"You want me. You just don't know it yet." He flashed his most magnetic smile.
She set her backpack on the counter, unzipped the top, and pulled out John's black Windbreaker. Shelby looked at her old friend with a twisted smirk and raised eyebrows.
"So you're not here to get your hands on me?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll put my hands on you all right." She raised a clenched fist. "You're the most forgetful person I know. I swear you do this on purpose just to have Gran send me down here."
"Guilty. But come on. Admit it. You love it," he replied, walking around to her side of the counter and pulling her into a one-armed hug before taking the jacket. "So, what are you up to today? Work ... or more work?"
"No, no," she said, wiggling out of his embrace. "I'm going to hang out with Nic."
"The boss actually gave you a reprieve?"
"Something like that. Nic and I are just heading over to the Island for an overnight at the Gordons'."
"Perfect day for it. And how is Miss Nicole today? Dark and brooding as usual?"
"Be nice." She walked over to a stacked kayak display and ran her hand over the smooth orange exterior of a new model.
"Remind me again why you're such good friends with her."
"Stop. That question is getting old. Just because you don't like her doesn't mean she can't mean something to me."
"That tells me nothing." John walked up beside her and put his hand on the kayak she was admiring.
"I never know what she's going to do or say, and I like that. She challenges me. She's fun and crazy and tough. What can I say, she keeps things interesting."
"I still don't get it."
"Well, there. That's something you two have in common. She doesn't get you, either."
"Ouch!" He grabbed his chest, feigning injury.
She shook her head and walked around to the other side of the kayak without taking her hands off its sleek surface. "I love this one. How much?"
"Twenty-seven hundred," he replied. "We just got it in this week. Fantastic, isn't it?"
"You should buy it."
"Right. On my salary. Besides, I know a great guy who lets me use the demos for free."
"No! Who is it? I'll have him fired!"
"Shoot! John, I'm sorry—I have to run," she blurted out, looking at her watch and rushing to the counter to grab her bag. "Ferry's here—love you!"
"Love you, too," he said softly, taking a step forward as she rushed away. They had been connected since childhood, with John always seeming to follow one step behind.
Rushing out of the shop's front entrance, Shelby took a last look over her shoulder toward John, then she slammed squarely into another man's chest. She made an audible "Oomph!" upon impact, before collecting herself and seeing that she was in the company of three surprised, but amused men.
"Oh! Sorry! I didn't see you." Scanning their faces and recognizing no one, Shelby easily pegged them as tourists. She smiled and made her way through the narrow entrance as they parted to make room. When Shelby came to the third man, the one holding the door, she paused. Although a stranger to her, he seemed familiar somehow. Standing just over six feet tall, he was lean with a muscular build, broad shoulders, and a sun-kissed face. Dark brown hair that curled playfully around his ears. A slightly upturned smile. Striking green eyes.
Excerpted from Family Trees by Kerstin E. March. Copyright © 2015 Kerstin E. March. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.