Love Notes – Excerpt
Hope Anderson’s heart is finally starting to thaw. Even Tommy Love’s is melting around the edges. They both want Rainbow Lake Lodge.
For Tommy Lubinski of Tommy Love and the Love Notes fame, Rainbow Lake means coming home – peace, quiet, seclusion – and a second chance at stardom.
Once he’s bulldozed the lodge and built his dream house overlooking the lake, everything will be perfect. Hope is sinking fast, but she’ll be fine if she can just keep her head above water until spring. Tommy’s troubles run a little deeper, but there’s no need to worry for now… Rainbow Lake is frozen solid. Or is it?
The wave hit the boat hard on the port and disappeared into a frothing swirl of white. Tommy Love tightened his life vest and squinted at the pastel-colored cabins scattered along the beach and in the forest off the starboard side. “That’s the place?” he yelled over the wind.
“Yep. Rainbow Lake Lodge,” Billy yelled back as the motor strained to beat off the whitecaps slapping at the bow.
Tommy peered through the haze of pine and birch trees blocking his view of the top of the hill and felt a surge of joy. He’d been dreaming of building a house in a spot like this since he was a kid stuck in a trailer house on the edge of Miller’s Swamp.
Now, it was finally going to happen. He shielded his eyes against the sunshine, but all he could see was a part of the roof. Not that it mattered. Billy had assured him the old lodge was nothing a bulldozer wouldn’t take care of in quick order, and he’d already had an architect look at aerial and topographical maps so he could draw up tentative plans for the house he planned to build on the site.
Still, he was curious. The pastel, rainbow colors she’d used on the cabins were a little too cutesy for his taste — thankfully she hadn’t painted the cedar and stone cabin by the water. “Come in a little closer, Billy. I want to see if the cabin nearest the lake is big enough to convert to a boathouse.”
“Hope might be home,” Billy said. “What if she sees me? Or recognizes you?”
For starters, maybe he could stop feeling like he was sneaking around and make the woman an honest offer – face to face. “You’re sure there’s no way this Hope person can make a go of the place?”
Billy tried to bring the boat around. “Not if God Almighty himself came down to earth and managed her finances.”
Tommy ignored the pin pricking his conscience and tried to picture himself sitting in his leather recliner, his guitar cradled in his arms, with one of northern Minnesota’s most picturesque views to inspire him. It had been years since a parcel of land this big – this private – had come on the market anywhere in the vicinity of Embarrass, Minnesota. It was perfect.
Except for the smidgen of guilt in the back of his brain. Tommy Love and the Love Notes was practically synonymous with making women’s dreams come true. It wasn’t in his nature to dash anyone’s hopes. But this wasn’t a normal situation. Billy had crunched the numbers – if he said there was no way this Hope woman could hang on to the place, then Tommy was inclined to trust it was so.
Hope Anderson was going to lose the place one way or the other – he’d be a fool to let something he’d been dreaming of since he was a kid slip through his fingers because he felt sorry for the woman. No sense both of them being frustrated.
“Don’t worry about Hope Anderson,” Billy said, fussing with the throttle. “Once she gives up this unrealistic dream of renovating the lodge, she’ll be free to move on and do something useful with her life.”
“I’d like her to have an extra ten grand over market value. Can you do that?”
Billy looked pained, but he nodded, took another swig of beer, and burped like it didn’t bother him. “She’ll be fine. With that kind of money, she could go back to school and get trained to do something she’d be good at. You know. Like a school teacher, or a nurse.”
“There’s a huge demand for nurses,” Tommy said, trying to put a positive spin on the woman being forced from her home. “They can practically set their own salaries. And live in whatever part of the country they want to.”
“She wouldn’t need any training to work in the nursing home in Embarrass,” Billy said. “They’re always hiring – caretakers, aides, cooks, people to do laundry. Those kinds of jobs come naturally to a woman.”
Yeah. At minimum wage. Tommy felt a flicker of pity. He was starting to wonder if Billy was telling him the whole story or if the truth was a little more complex than his old friend had let on. He knew Billy and the board of directors at Embarrass National Bank planned to call the Anderson woman’s note, which would force her to sell.
As Tommy’s Realtor, Billy stood to make a hefty commission on the resale. Unless her loan balance was a lot steeper than lending ratios typically allowed, Hope Anderson would walk away with a lot of money when he plunked down market value for Rainbow Lake Lodge.
His eye caught the flash of a blue jay flying from the shoreline, up the hill, closer to the buildings. “It looks like she’s done a lot of work on the cabins already. You’re sure she can’t turn things around?”
“There’s no way she can run this place all by herself. If the resort wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere if the Andersons had left the place in decent shape when they died, she might – might – have pulled it off.” Billy steered a little closer to the beach.
“But the way things stand – the insurance money she got when her husband died is long gone. If it weren’t for that old outhouse, she wouldn’t have a pot to –”
“I get the picture. Turn around and make one more pass, will you?” Tommy said. “It’s hard to get the lay of the land from this perspective.”
“She can see the lake from the lodge. She’s gonna get suspicious if we keep doubling back.” Billy cut the throttle and let the boat float as free as the choppy surf would allow.
“I just want to check out the –”
“There she is,” Billy said, pressing the starter and frantically urging the boat away from shore.
She was walking down the path to the cabin closest to the shore, her long hair fluttering around her face in the wind. “She’s holding on to something,” Tommy said, squinting. “Looks like a shovel.”
“Turn around,” Billy hissed at him. “If she sees you –”
“She probably doesn’t even know who I am,” Tommy said.
“Yeah, right,” Billy said, riding the waves like a cowboy on a bull as he steered the boat against the wind. “She grew up in the eighties right along with all the other screaming teeny-boppers who were always hot on your trail.”
There hadn’t been a groupie on his tail since he turned forty, and that was eight years ago. As for teeny-boppers… “Middle-aged housewives and grumpy old men would be a lot closer to the truth,” Tommy said, wishing that he were still a star and not a hitless has-been.
Like it or not, his fans were getting old. The baby boomers who’d loved his music as teenagers and young adults would be dying off faster than fruit flies before long. That’s why he needed a new hit. A strong, upbeat, cross-generational, mega-hit that would make today’s teens love him as much as their parents had, way back when.
He glanced back at the shore. Hope had her hand to her brow, watching the boat. He could understand why this Hope woman would want to stay on at Rainbow Lake Lodge even though she’d lost her husband – she might not have any money, but she must have a lot of memories wrapped up in the place.
Did that make it wrong for him to want the one thing stardom hadn’t given him? He lived in one of the biggest mansions in Nashville, but he’d never really had a home. He had a star on Hollywood Boulevard, but no children to carry on his name; a list of friends who read like the nominations on Grammy night, but no family; a staff to cater to his every whim, but no one to love.
A rogue wave slapped the bow. Tommy grabbed the gunnels and held on. All he really wanted was to have a place to call home again.
Billy looked over his shoulder, revved the engine, and bucked as the front of the boat surged into the air. “She’s looking at us. She’s coming this way.”
“You’re going to bounce me out of the boat or tip the thing over if you’re not careful,” Tommy yelled. “It’s gonna be hard writing a new hit single if I’m at the bottom of a lake blowing bubbles.”
“It could ruin everything if she sees us out here. It’s not like we can pretend we’re out for a swim. It’s October. It’s freezing cold,” Billy yelled back.
Tommy watched as Hope Anderson waved at the boat in a neighborly sort of way. Billy was beating such a quick get-away that she was a mere speck on the shoreline by the time he pried his fingers from the gunnels, raised his arm and waved back.
“It’s for her own good,” Billy said. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”
“She ought to be able to do anything she wants with the money she’ll make,” Tommy said, trying to soothe his conscience. “I’m sure I could make her see that if I just had a chance to talk to her.”
“I told you I’d take care of it,” Billy grumbled, easing off the throttle once they were far enough from the shoreline.
“I’m not out to hurt anyone.” Was it his fault that he had the wherewithal to make his dream a reality and she didn’t?
“Why don’t we drive over to the airport and take a spin in your plane? Fly over the property once or twice,” Billy said.
Billy grunted and turned the boat to the west. “I think I’ll head back to the shoreline where it’s not so choppy. It’ll take a little longer to get back, but we’ll have a smoother ride.”
Tommy grabbed the gunnels, anticipating the surge of power that would rock the boat when Billy cranked up the throttle.
“Is something wrong?” Tommy asked.
“The engine died,” Billy said. He turned the key. The engine sputtered and coughed. He fiddled with the choke, pulled out the throttle and waited for the engine to kick in.
Nothing. The boat listed toward the shore, then bobbed back toward the center of the lake, caught in a current, pushed by the wind.
Billy tried to start the engine again. And again. And again.
“I smell gas.” Tommy scanned the horizon. They hadn’t seen another boat the whole time they’d been out on the lake. Nobody else was dumb enough to be out on a day like today.
Billy punched the starter. The boat responded with an ominous whine.
“The check engine light is on.” Billy fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “No signal.”
“Grab an oar,” Tommy ordered, picking up the first of the pair and stabbing it into the water. “We can row her in.”
“In these waves?”
“We have to try!” But after a few seconds, he could see it was futile.
“I’ve never had any trouble with this boat,” Billy said, fussing with the starter again. The whines had faded to a series of snapping, crackling, and popping noises – the kind that didn’t leave a good taste in your mouth.
“We’re dead in the water,” Billy said.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.” Billy slammed his fist against the steering wheel.
“Did you tell anyone we were coming out here?” Tommy asked.
Silence from Billy. Plenty of noise from the waves crashing into the boat.
“We have to do something,” Tommy said. “We could be out here all night.”
“The lodge is the only place anywhere near the water on this side of the lake.”
Exactly the reason he wanted to buy the place. “You’d better pray that this Anderson woman can hear me when I start yelling,” Tommy said.
“I’d rather freeze to death than let that woman rescue me. Assuming she even knows how to start a boat.”
“What would you suggest?” Tommy said, wondering how much worse the weather might get before someone discovered them.
“We’ll drift ashore eventually,” Billy said, kicking the steering wheel.
The boat was drifting – but not toward shore.
“Right. An uninhabited, bear-infested island in the middle of nowhere.” Tommy said.
“Be quiet so I can think,” Billy said.
“There’s nothing to think about. It was twenty-five degrees when I woke up this morning and the wind is getting stronger by the minute. We have to do something.”