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Darlene Caldwell has spent a lifetime tending the estate known as Sycamores. She cared for a husband and raised two children in the spacious house, and now that she’s a widow and grandmother, she enjoys hosting the Peculiar Quilting Club and the Ladies Book Club in her living room. Friends call her the “Southern Martha Stewart,” and Darlene relishes her expertise in all things domestic. She may own only one-third of the estate, but she sees Sycamores as a kingdom where she reigns as queen . . . until her lime-light stealing twin sister unexpectedly returns.
Carlene Caldwell, veteran of the Broadway stage, is devastated when she realizes that an unsuccessful throat surgery spells the end of her musical career. Searching for a new purpose in her life, she retreats to the home she and her sisters have inherited—Sycamores, a spacious estate in north Florida, five miles from the heart of a little town called Peculiar. She may not be able to sing like she used to, but she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to create a new life in the place she once called home.
Haunted by a tragic romance, Magnolia Caldwell is the youngest of the Caldwell girls, and though she’s never lived anywhere but Sycamores, Nolie inhabits a world of her own. Innocent and nurturing, she spends her days caring for her dogs and the magnificent gardens she’s created on the five-acre estate. When she meets a man haunted by troubles of his own, she develops feelings for him, but they cannot have a future unless she cuts the apron strings that keep her tied to the dear and familiar.
Can these three sisters reach an understanding and discover who they are meant to be now that life is leading them down a different path? Three different women, with three opposite temperaments, reunite in a season of destiny and take an unexpected journey of the heart.
The problem with turning fifty, Darlene Young philosophized as she sank into a rocker on the front porch, was that the dog days of summer and hot flashes didn’t cancel each other out. Weren’t two negatives supposed to make a positive?
She pulled a tattered Japanese fan from her apron pocket and opened it, then frantically thrashed at the hot air. The porch lay in deep shade, but beyond it simmered a sun-spangled garden where roses nodded their heads and sunflowers followed the blazing torch in the sky. Nolie was staking the top-heavy gladiolas while her dogs, Lucy and Ricky, romped across the wide lawn stretching beside the mile-long driveway.
Darlene frowned at the lawn. The grass looked to be ankle-deep, and Nolie didn’t like to ride the tractor mower—the big machine probably intimidated her. Darlene would cut the lawn herself, but in this heat, she’d have to cut it either before sunup or after sundown, and she didn’t want to risk running over a possum or armadillo in the half-light.
“Lawn needs mowin’,” she called, trusting that Nolie could hear her above the sound of the barking dogs. “Do you think we could get Henry to find a boy in town to come out and take care of it?”
Nolie looked up, her eyes shaded by the wide brim of her straw hat. “Didn’t we just cut it?”
“Been nearly two weeks.” Darlene fanned herself again. “Your dogs are gonna be itchin’ if the grass gets too long. We won’t be able to keep the fleas off ‘em, and I’m not gonna put up with fleas in the house again.”
Nolie turned, the hot breeze ruffling her long over-the-head apron as she watched the dogs play. “You’d better call Henry, then,” she yelled, picking up her gardening basket. “Ask if he can find someone regular.”
“Only till the heat passes. Might as well save the money and do it ourselves once the weather cools down a bit.”
Nolie waved in silent agreement as she followed the dogs and walked toward the driveway.
Darlene propped her hand on her chin and watched her baby sister move away. Oh, to be young and carefree again. Though Nolie had just celebrated her fortieth birthday, she was still a child in many ways. She’d never been married, never raised children, never been widowed . . .
Darlene straightened as an unfamiliar sound reached her ear. A red pick-up truck was rattling down the gravel drive, its bed loaded like a gypsy’s and covered with a bright blue tarp. Nolie slowed as the truck approached, then the driver stopped and lowered his passenger window.
A sudden chill climbed the chinks of Darlene’s spine as she stood and walked to the edge of the porch. This was how every crime show on TV began—some suspicious vehicle stopped beside an innocent woman while the driver asked about a child’s birthday party or which way to the police station. But this road led to this house and nowhere else, so the stranger had either made a wrong turn or he was about to kidnap one of the Caldwell women.
Darlene clenched her teeth. “Don’t you get in that truck, Nolie.”
As if she heard and wanted to disobey, Nolie stepped over the shallow drainage ditch at the side of the drive and approached the vehicle. She reached for the door handle, stepped up into the cab, and slammed the door.
Darlene stood in hypnotized horror. If that truck raised dust in a sudden u-turn, she was calling the sheriff and raising an alarm—
But the truck continued toward the house, its giant tires making soft popping sounds as it rolled over the gravel. Darlene pressed her lips together, then stepped inside the foyer, where Daddy’s shotgun waited.
The stranger in the truck might not intend to harm them, but when two women lived alone five miles south of the only town within half an hour’s drive, Darlene would rather be safe than sorry.
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