“I started with romance …” This is the first book I ever wrote and it holds a special place in my memory. Appalachian Paradise takes you on a five-day backpacking trek in the mountains of North Carolina. You get to take the hike without taking the hike. Get it? Rob Neufeld of the Asheville Citizen-Timessays “Maggie Bishop’s novel ‘Appalachian Paradise’ is a romance that gets off to a good start and maintains an exciting tension that manages to carry to the end. ”
“APPALACHIAN PARADISE by Maggie Bishop is a beautiful and heartwarming hike down the path of finding true love. Wes is an outstanding hero who finds his soul mate when he least expects it and through his patience and love helps her discover what she really wants in her life. This story grabbed hold of my heartstrings from the beginning of the book and didn’t let go until the end. I was completely drawn into Wes and Suzanne’s life and it felt like I was there on the beautiful hike with them. If you are looking for a book that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, please pick this book up and be prepared to fill your heart with love and happiness.” Char, reviewer for Romance Junkies.
Hope you enjoy the beginning of this story.
“You want my daughter’s safety to depend on the outcome of a hand of poker?” Billy Bowers whispered to his brother.
John Bowers drained his glass and put it down, adding to the rings on the scarred game table. “Any better ideas? Wes doesn’t have a stake in her welfare. He’s got no reason to agree. This’ll give him one.”John shuffled the cards. “Damn that Suzanne. She may be my niece but I’ll still call her the most bull-headed woman alive.”
Billy craned his neck toward the stairs but saw no sign of Wes. “At least she’s talkin’ to you. She hasn’t spoken to me in ten years.”
The two of them turned and raised questioning eyebrows at Conard, Wes’s brother-in-law.
“I’ll play along,” Conard said. He was a round-faced guy with sandy hair and ready wit. Conard sported an Atlanta Braves t-shirt which he would sooner die than part with, though Wes’s sister had threatened to throw it away for years. “He’s pulled a few stunts on me over the years.”
Wes returned from the bathroom upstairs and settled in his chair. Tallest and youngest of the four, Wes wore jeans, a faded Appalachian State University t-shirt and leather work boots. “You guys finish stacking the deck while I was gone?”
“Who, us?” Billy said. He wiped his hands on his Hawaiian shirt, then realized Wes was kidding about the cards. “Would we set you up like that?”
“I’m innocent,” Conard said.
John dealt the cards, and the four men sat poker-faced, playing the hand. Wes added the winnings to his meager stack of ones and finished his Budweiser.
“Have you talked to Suzanne lately?” Billy leaned back from the scarred oak table.
John shifted in his chair. “A few days ago. You know she’s been working too hard since that promotion. Sounded like hell.”
“Gets that from her mother working hard I mean obviously not from me.” Billy sipped the last of his iced tea as John continued to shuffle. “I worry about her, you know. Wish I could do something to help her.”
Wes glanced between the two older men and shook his head. “You guys are just alike. I don’t care how different you look. Both of you determined to do all you can for little Miss Independent. From your stories, Suzanne doesn’t need or want your help.” Wes shook his empty can. “I’ve never met the woman but I know more about her than you to do. Leave her alone.”
These weekly poker games at Wes’s house might be the only way for Billy to catch up on his daughter, but enough was enough.
“That’s right, Billy,” John said. “Beat yourself up for something that happened a long time ago.”
“I need a refill.” Wes got up from his chair. “Anyone need something to drink?”
“I’ll take one.” Conard saluted his brother-in-law with his empty can.
“I’ll take care of my own.” John grabbed his glass, drained the ice into his mouth, and followed Wes upstairs to the kitchen sink. He pulled his own bottle of single-malt scotch from the cabinet.
Wes took two beers and a pitcher of sweet tea from the refrigerator. “That hard stuff’ll kill you, old man.”
“Not before my niece gives me a heart attack.”John wrenched the cap off the bottle. “She’s driving me crazy. Now she’s got a crazy idea to use my place for a week’s vacation.”
“Your place is a mite isolated, isn’t it? It’s practically inside Pisgah. I mean, it’s great for you and your consulting anywhere with internet will work or for me when I want to get away. What does she plan to do way out there?”
“That’s not the half of it. She’s only using my place for a jumping off point. She’s planning to hike for a week. Get this she plans to walk the city grime off her body,’ as she put it. Her therapist told her to get away for a while.” He poured himself a stiff one.
“Who’s she going with?”
“Alone? You’ve got to be kidding.”
They returned to the card table, and Wes handed the sweet tea pitcher to Billy and the other beer to Conard.
John continued, “Trouble is, I don’t feel comfortable with her being alone in the mountains. Plus, it’s harder than she thinks. She’s can’t hike that long five days, six to eight hours a day, steep rocky slopes. It’s not like a jog around a track.”
“She could fall and break something,” Conard volunteered. “Then she’d be up a creek for sure.”
“Exactly my point!” John brought down his fist for emphasis, making the glasses and cards jump.
Billy poured tea into his glass. “Her mother was independent or started out that way.” He put the pitcher down and stared at the glass in front of him. “She should have left me, you know . . . I’m the reason she died early.”
John sipped his drink. “Worrying over that doesn’t help now. One day, you and Suzanne’ll have to settle your differences. I’m sick and tired of being in the middle of your father-daughter mess.”
Billy shifted in his chair. “She returns my letters unopened. She won’t answer my calls, probably has that caller ID gadget. Doorman keeps me out of her building. You’re more of a father to her than I am.” He swallowed hard. “But I still care about her.”
“I’d as soon you dropped that sensitive stuff, Billy,” Wes said. “You’ll have me cryin’ in my beer.”He turned to John. “I don’t like being alone on those trails anymore myself. I’ve got a friend who’s a park ranger at Pisgah. I’ll ask him to be on the lookout for her. When’s she going?”
“Next month. May is early in the season, so there won’t be many hikers out. I’d appreciate the park ranger being on the lookout. On top of everything else, the week she picked is the one I have to be in London.” John played with the cards, absently cutting them repeatedly. “Didn’t know how to say no’.”
Wes gulped from his beer. “You going to deal those cards or make love to them?”
John dealt slowly still talking. “She only visited a few times and doesn’t know the mountains. It’s just like her to go to extremes. Her therapist suggested some time off, and she decided on a solo hike. She went on and on about the great maps she’d downloaded as if maps are going to save her.”
They picked up their cards. John sized up his brother, cleared his throat, and said to Wes, “Where are you going while they finish changing your barn to offices?”
Wes considered his cards. “I’ll stay here for the barn changes; they start next week. I’ll spend a few days helping Conard here and Mary do some work on their house and hit a hotel for a few more days when they start on this place. The contractor swears he can do the kitchen and baths in two weeks. Can’t stay there then well, I guess I could bunk down here.” Wes glanced around at the basement game room. It had been added to his family’s home in the early 80s and was the one part of the house not involved in the remodeling. “But there’s no bath. I can’t get any work done while the computer equipment is being installed, it would drive me nuts to hang around and just watch.”
John tossed his ante into the middle. “Why don’t you stay at my cabin?” He maintained perfect dead pan as Billy and Conard, watched, fascinated. “Plenty of room. Better yet, you could go hiking with Suzanne. The timing’s right.”
Wes yelped and slapped down his cards. “Oh, no you don’t. Kindly leave me out of this. The way you tell it, she’s no fun, always has a schedule, and has definite opinions on all subjects. Not my type at all. I’d rather stay longer with my sisters. No thank you.”
“Suit yourself.” John shrugged, rearranging a card in his hand. “Still, it seems like you’d be willing to help out with something this important. Since you’re not doing anything that week anyway.”
“It would only be a few days, and you like to hike,” Billy chimed in.
John added, “Suzanne’s not unpleasant, exactly, just prefers computers to people. She wouldn’t be bad company. I’ve seen you with your three sisters. You know how to gentle and kid women to get your way.”
Wes groaned. “Don’t ask me to do this. She aims to go by herself, she doesn’t want company, she doesn’t like you interfering in her life.”
“You’re right. We’ll have to make it look accidental.” John’s face lit up as he warmed to the idea. “You’ll just happen to be there at the same time. She won’t have a chance to say no.
“Yea, that’s a super idea,” Wes muttered. “Hi, Suzanne. I just happen to be here, so let’s go camping together! Yeah, she’ll love that.”
“It could work,” Billy said.
“Forget it, guys. Get somebody else to . . . Suzanne-sit. I’m out of it.”
“Who else could I get?” John said. “You know your way around the mountains. You’ve that southern respect for women. I trust you.”
“That’s not what I meant. She won’t like it no matter how you put it. Right, Conard?” Wes looked to his brother-in-law for support. “Right, Conard?”
“Uh. . . . Sure.” Conard glanced from one man’s face to another. Then he inspected the tabletop in front of him. ” Of course, she might come to be glad you’re there. I mean if she gets in trouble.” He snuck a glance at Wes who glowered at him.
“I’ve got it!” John’s eyebrows shot up. He squinted at the younger man across the table from him. “Let me sweeten the pot a little. Double or nothing. You win, I pay you double. You lose, and you take a hike.”
“The pot’s not that big.” Wes squirmed in his chair. He wanted none of this. “Look, I understand both her need for independence and your desire to protect her. But . . .”
John dealt the cards. “At the end of the week, you could bring her to your Mother’s Day cookout. Billy will be there. You could help pull them together.”
“I haven’t agreed to anything. You’re trying to push me the same way you do Suzanne. No wonder she doesn’t like it.” Wes took in Billy’s hopeful expression and smothered a groan.
“It’s a good way to re-introduce them,” John continued. “You could talk to her during the hike and smooth the way. Great idea! Glad I thought of it.” John grinned at Wes. “Place your bets, boys.”
Suzanne unloaded the groceries, checking each bag as she hung the plastic handles over her hand. She snagged the Mast General Store bag from the trunk of her Acura, and surveyed her uncle’s cabin.
A rampant wisteria vine, heavy with purple blooms, was trying to devour the porch, and giant rhododendrons loaded with fat pink buds threatened to take over the entire property. Though it was springtime, and everything was fresh and green, there was something creepy about the place. Anything or anyone could be concealed in all that mess. It really was a burglary waiting to happen. She listened but heard only soft forest sounds. She was being silly. It was just the constant fog that made the forest seem forbidding, that made the surrounding mountains seem to loom threateningly on all sides. Still, this place needed the civilizing influence of a chain saw and weed whacker.
Just another depressing day in paradise.
She stuck her nose in the Mast Store bag and inhaled the rich odor of new leather, then tramped up the steps to the porch. The beginning of success is having the proper equipment. Her new hiking boots were almost two hundred dollars, but cross trainers wouldn’t give her feet enough support for a five-day hike. Might as well be pampered, since she was following doctor’s orders. Mid-weight Italian boots with Perwanger leather upper.
Inside the front door, she hung a left to the kitchen and set the bags on her uncle’s kitchen table. Carefully selected groceries for the hike included freeze-dried entrees, trail mix, instant coffee Ugh pancake mix, instant oatmeal, granola, hot cocoa mix, whole wheat bread, peanut butter and zipper baggies. She glanced around the spacious kitchen with its pine cabinets. No need to put most of this stuff away, as it was going into her backpack.
Suzanne froze. What was that noise? Had she left the radio on?
A chill traveled the length of her frame. A quick look around the kitchen revealed nothing unusual.
Waiting for another sound, she held her breath. The spring wind whistled through the trees. There were bound to be noises she wasn’t used to hearing in her apartment in Baltimore. Probably just all those bushes brushing against the house. After all, she hadn’t spent time alone in this house before, this way-back-in-the-woods place. Day two by herself and already she was jumpy. No doubt about it, she needed a vacation. Some independent woman you are.