When waitress Bree Miller wakes up in the hospital after a blizzard in a tiny Vermont town, she can’t recall the tragedy that landed her there. But she’s certain of only one thing—that she has been magically granted three wishes. Are the things Bree longs for—a home, a soul mate, a family—now within her grasp?
After all, one of her wishes seems to have already come true: at her bedside is Tom Gates, a renowned author who’s come to town to make sense of his fame—and who, as the accident’s only witness, is determined to make sure Bree is safe and sound. As Bree recovers and Tom learns more about her, they discover that they will have to take unimagined risks to truly live their dreams.
Entwining courage, community, and the magic of second chances, this “heartwarming, tear-jerking small-town romance” (Kirkus Reviews) asks: What if wishes really could come true?
|Product dimensions:||4.12(w) x 6.75(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 9, 1945
Place of Birth:Boston, Massachusetts
Education:B.A. in Psychology, Tufts University, 1967; M.A. in Sociology, Boston College, 1969
Read an Excerpt
It wasn’t the first snow of the season. Panama, Vermont, lay far enough north to have already seen several snow-dusted dawns. But this wasn’t dawn, and these flakes didn’t dust. From early afternoon right on into evening, they fell heavy and fat and wet.
Truckers stopping at the diner complained of the roads growing slick, but the warning carried little weight with locals. They knew that the sun would be back, even an Indian summer before winter set in. Snowfall now was simply frosting on the cake of another wildfire fall, thick flakes silencing the riot of colorful leaves, draping a plump white shawl on the town green’s oak benches, on marigolds that lingeringly lined front walks, on a bicycle propped against an open front gate.
The scene was so peaceful that no one imagined the accident to come, least of all Bree Miller. Winter was her favorite season. There was something about snow that softened the world, made it make-believe for the briefest time, and while she wasn’t a woman prone to fancy—would have immediately denied it if accused—she had her private moments.
She didn’t bother with a jacket. The memory of summer’s heat was all too fresh. Besides, with locals wanting to eat before the weather worsened and with truckers bulking up, the diner had been hopping, so she was plenty warm without.
She slipped out the door, closing it tight on the hum of conversation, the hiss and sizzle of the grill, the sultry twang of Shania Twain. In the sudden hush, she ran lightly down the steps, across the parking lot, then the street. On the far side, she flattened her spine to the crusty trunk of a large maple whose amber leaves hung heavy with snow, and looked back.
The diner was a vision of stainless steel and neon, rich purples and greens bouncing off silver, new and more gallant through a steady fall of snow. Gone were little items on her fix-it list—the scrape Morgan Willis’s truck had put on a corner panel, a dent in the front railing, bird droppings off the edge of the roof. What remained was sparkling clean, warm, and inviting, starting with the diner’s roadside logo, concentric rings of neon forming a large frying pan with the elegant eruption of FLASH AN’ THE PAN from its core. Behind that were golden lamps at each of ten broad windows running the diner’s length and, in booths behind those lamps, looking snug and content, the customers.
The diner wasn’t Bree’s. She just worked there. But she liked looking at it.
Same with Panama. Up the hill, at the spot where East Main leveled into an oval around the town green, snow capped the steel roofs of the row of tall Federals and beyond, white on white, the church steeple. Down the hill, at the spot where the road dipped past the old train depot, snow hid the stains that years of diesel abuse had left and put a hearty head on the large wood beer stein that marked the Sleepy Creek Brewery.
Panama was ten minutes off the highway on the truck route running from Concord to Montreal. Being neither here nor there was one of its greatest strengths. There were no cookie-cutter subdivisions, no planned developments with architect-designed wraparound porches. Porches had been wrapping around houses in Panama since the days of the Revolution, not for the sake of style but for community. Those porches were as genuine as the people who used them. Add the lack of crime and the low cost of land, and the town’s survival was ensured. Bright minds sought haven here and found inspiration. The brewery was but one example. There was also a bread company, workshops producing hand-carved furniture and wooden toys, and a gourmet ice cream factory. Native Panamanians lent stability. Newcomers brought cash.
Bree drew in a snow-chilled breath, held it deep in her lungs, let it slowly out. The occasional snowflake breached the leaves overhead to land in an airy puff on her arm, looking soft, feeling rich, in those few seconds before melting away. On impulse, she slid around the tree trunk to face the woods. Here, the snow picked up the diner’s lights in a mystical way. Drifting leaves whirled about, forest fairies at play, Bree fancied. From nowhere came childhood images of carousels, clowns, and Christmas, all more dream than memory. She listened hard, half expecting to hear elf sounds mixed in with those of nocturnal creatures. But, of course, there were none.
Foolish Bree. High on snow. Time to go inside.
Still she stood there, riveted by something that made her eyes mist and her throat ache. If it was wanting, she didn’t know what for. She had a good life. She was content.
Still she stood there.
Behind her came a fragment of conversation when the diner door opened, and the subsequent growls, muted by billowing flakes, of one big rig, then a second. By the time the semis had rumbled out of the parking lot, cruised down the hill, and turned toward the highway, the only sound left was the cat’s-paw whisper of snow upon snow.
The diner door opened again, this time to a louder “Bree! I need you!”
Brushing tears from her eyes, she pushed off from the bark. Seconds later, she was running back across the road, turning her head against the densest of the flakes, suddenly so desperate to be back inside, where everything made sense, that she grew careless. She slipped, fought for balance with a flailing of arms, landed in the snow all the same. Scrambling up, she brushed at the seat of her black jeans and, with barely a pause to shake her hands free of snow, rushed inside, to be met by applause, several wolf whistles, and a “Way to go, Bree!”
The last was from a trucker, one of the regulars. Another round of applause broke out when she wrapped her icy hands around his bull neck and gave an affectionate squeeze on her way to the kitchen.
Flash, the diner’s owner and executive chef, met her at the swinging door. A near-full gallon of milk hung from his fingers. “It’s bad again,” he said, releasing the door once she was inside. “What’re we gonna do? Look of the roads, no delivery’s coming anytime soon.”
“We have extra,” Bree assured him, opening the refrigerator to verify it.
Flash ducked his head and took a look. “That’ll be enough?”
“Seventeen’s up, Bree,” the grillman called.
The diner sat fifty-two, in ten booths and twelve counter stools. At its busiest times, there were lines out the door, but bad weather slowed things down. Barely thirty-five remained now. LeeAnn Conti was serving half. The rest were Bree’s.
Balancing four plates holding a total of twelve eggs, twelve rashers of bacon, six sausages, six slabs each of maple nut and raisin toast, and enough Flash browns to crowd everything in, she delivered supper to the men in seventeen, the booth to the right of the door. She had known the four all her life. They, too, had gone to the local schools and stayed to work in the area, Sam and Dave at the lumber mill three towns over, Andy at his family’s tackle store, Jack at the farm his father had left his brother and him. They were large men with insatiable appetites for early-evening breakfast.
The Littles, two booths down, were another story. Ben and Liz had fled a New York ad agency to run their own by way of computer, fax, and phone from Vermont. Along with seven-year-old Benji, five-year-old Samantha, and two-year-old Joey, they hit the diner several times a week to take advantage of Flash’s huge portions, easily splitting three orders of turkey, mashed potatoes, and peas, or biscuit-topped shepherd’s pie, or American chop suey. They were currently sharing a serving of warm apple crisp and a large chocolate chip cookie.
At Bree’s appearance, the two-year-old put down his hunk of cookie, scrambled to his feet on the bench, and opened his arms. She scooped him up. “Was everything good?”
He gave her a chocolaty grin that melted her heart.
“Anything else here?” she asked his parents.
“Just the check,” said Ben. “That snow keeps coming. Driving won’t be great.”
When Joey squirmed, Bree kissed the mop of his hair and returned him to the bench. At the side counter, she tallied the check, then put it on their table and set to cleaning the adjacent booth, where the drivers of the newly departed big rigs had been. She cleared the dirty dishes, pocketed her tip, wiped down the black Formica, straightened shakers, condiment bottles, and the small black vase that held a spray of goldenrod. She set out new place mats, oval replicas of the frying pan from the logo, with the regular menu printed in its center. Specials—“The Daily Flash”—were hand-written on each of two elliptical chalkboards high behind either end of the counter.
She moved several booths down to Panama’s power elite —postmaster Earl Yarum, police chief Eliot Bonner, town meeting moderator Emma McGreevy. Before them were dishes that had earlier held a beef stew, a pork chop special, and a grilled chicken salad. All three plates, plus a basket of sourdough rolls, were empty, which was good news. When sated, Earl, Eliot, and Emma were innocuous.
Bree grinned. “Ready for dessert?”
“Whaddya got?” Earl asked.
“O-kay. We have apple, peach, and blueberry. We have pumpkin. We have strawberry rhubarb, banana cream, maple cream, maple pecan, pumpkin pecan, lemon meringue—”
“Anything chocolate?” Earl asked.
“Chocolate pecan, chocolate mousse, chocolate rum cream—”
“How about a brownie?”
She might have guessed they were headed there. Earl was predictable.
“One brownie,” she said, and raised questioning brows at Emma. “Tea?”
“Please.” Emma never had anything but tea.
Eliot played his usual game, letting Bree list as many ice cream flavors as she could—Flash owned part of Panama Rich and stocked every one of its twenty-three flavors—before ordering a dish of plain old strawberry.
Working around LeeAnn, the grillman, the cook, the dishwasher, and Flash, Bree warmed the brownie and added whipped cream, hot fudge, and nuts, the way Earl liked it, and scooped up Eliot’s ice cream. She served a chicken stir-fry to Panama’s only lawyer, Martin Sprague, in the six spot at the counter, and pork chops and chili to Ned and Frank Wright, local plumbers, two stools over. With carafes in either hand, she topped off coffees down the row of booths, then worked her way along the counter.
At the far end sat Dotty Hale and her daughter, Jane. Both were tall and lean, but while Dotty’s face was tight, Jane’s was softer in ways that had little to do with age. Not that Bree was impartial. Jane was one of her closest friends.
LeeAnn had her elbows on the counter before them. In contrast to the Hales, she was small and spirited, with short, spiked blond hair and eyes that filled her face. Those eyes were wider than ever. “Abby Nolan spent the night where? But she just divorced John.”
“Final last week,” Dotty confirmed, with the nod of a bony chin. “Court papers came in the mail. Earl saw them.”
“So why’s she sleeping with him?”
“She isn’t,” Jane said.
Dotty turned on her. “This isn’t coming from me. Eliot was the one who saw her car in John’s drive.” She returned to LeeAnn. “Why? Because she’s pregnant.”
LeeAnn looked beside herself with curiosity. “With John’s child? How?”
Bree smiled dryly as she joined them. “The normal way, I’d think. Only the baby isn’t John’s. It’s Davey Hillard’s.”
Dotty looked wounded. “Who told you that?”
“Abby,” Bree said. She, Abby, and Jane had been friends since grade school.
“Then why’d she spend the night with John?” LeeAnn asked.
“She didn’t,” Jane said.
“Were you there?” Dotty asked archly.
“Abby just went to talk,” Bree said to divert Dotty’s attention from Jane. “She and John are still friends. She wanted to break the news to him herself.”
“That’s not what Emma says,” Dotty argued. Emma was her sister and her major source of gossip. “Know what else she says? Julia Dean got a postcard.”
“Mother,” Jane pleaded.
“Well, it’s fact,” Dotty argued. “Earl saw the postcard and told Eliot, since he’s the one has to keep peace here and family being upset can cause trouble. Julia’s family is not thrilled that she’s here. The postcard was from her daughter in Des Moines, who said that it was a shame that Julia was isolating herself, and that she understood how upset she had been by Daddy’s death, that they all were, but three years of mourning should be enough, so when was she coming home?”
“All that on a postcard?” Bree asked. She didn’t know much more about Julia than that she had opened a small flower store three years before and twice weekly arranged sprigs in the diner’s vases. She came by for an occasional meal but kept to herself. She struck Bree as shy but sweet, certainly not the type to deserve being the butt of gossip.
“Julia’s family doesn’t know about Earl,” Jane muttered.
“Really.” Bree glanced toward the window when a bright light swelled there, another eighteen-wheeler pulling into the parking lot.
“And then,” Dotty said, with a glance of her own at that light, “there’s Verity. She claims she saw another UFO. Eliot says the lights were from a truck, but she insists there’s a mark on the back of her car where that mother ship tailed her.”
LeeAnn leaned closer. “Did she see the baby ships again, the squiggly little pods?”
“I didn’t ask.” Dotty shuddered. “That woman’s odd.”
Bree had always found Verity more amusing than odd and would have said as much now if Flash hadn’t called. “Twenty-two’s up, LeeAnn.”
Bree stayed LeeAnn with a touch. “I’ll get it.”
She topped off Dotty’s coffee and returned the carafes to their heaters. Scooping up the chicken piccata with angel hair that was ready and waiting, she headed down the counter toward the booths. Twenty-two was the last in the row, tucked in the corner by the jukebox. A lone man sat there, just as he had from time to time in the last seven months. He never said much, never invited much to be said. Most often, like now, he was reading a book.
His name was Tom Gates. He had bought the Hubbard place, a shingle-sided bungalow on West Elm that hadn’t seen a stitch of improvement in all the years that the Hubbards’ health had been in decline. Since Tom Gates had taken possession, missing shingles had been replaced, shutters had been straightened, the porch had been painted, the lawn cut. What had happened inside was more murky. Skipper Boone had rewired the place, and the Wrights had installed a new furnace, but beyond that, no one knew. And Bree had asked. She had always loved the Hubbard place. Though smaller than her Victorian, it had ten times the charm. She might have bought it herself if she’d had the nerve, but she had inherited her own house from her father, who had inherited it from his. Millers had lived on South Forest for too many years to count and too many to move. So she contented herself with catching what bits of gossip she could about restoration of the bungalow on West Elm.
None of those bits came from Tom Gates. He wasn’t sociable. Good-looking. Very good-looking. Too good-looking to be alone. But not sociable.
“Here you go,” Bree said. When he moved his book aside, she slid the plate in. She wiped her palms on the back of her jeans and pushed her hands in the pockets there. “Reading anything good?”
His eyes shifted from his dinner back to the book. “It’s okay.”
She tipped her head to see the title, but the whole front looked to be typed. “Weird cover.”
“It hasn’t been published yet.”
“Really? How’d you get it?”
“I know someone.”
“The author?” When he shook his head, the diner’s light shimmered in hair that was shiny, light brown, and a mite too long. “Are you a reviewer?” she asked.
He shifted. “Not quite.”
“Just an avid reader, then,” she decided. Not that he looked scholarly. He was too tanned, too tall, too broad in the shoulders. Coming and going, he strode. Flash bet that he was a politician who had lost a dirty election and fled. Dotty bet he was a burned-out businessman, because Earl told of mail from New York. LeeAnn bet he was an adventurer recouping after a tiring trek.
Bree could see him as an adventurer. He had that rugged look. His buying a house in town didn’t mean much. Even adventurers needed to rest sometimes, but they didn’t stay put for long. Panama bored men who loved risk. This one would be gone before long.
It was a shame, because Tom Gates had great hands. He had long, lean, blunt-tipped fingers and moved them in a way that suggested they could do most anything they tried. Bree had never once seen dirt under his nails, which set him apart from most of the men who ate here, and while he didn’t have the calluses those men did, his hands looked well used. He had cut himself several months back and had needed stitches. The scar was nearly two inches long and starting to fade.
“I just finished the new Dean Koontz,” she said. “Have you read it yet?”
He was studying his fork. “No.”
“It’s pretty good. Worth a shot. Can I get you anything else? Another beer?” She hitched her chin toward the long-neck on the far side of his plate. “You know that’s local, don’t you? Sleepy Creek Pale. It’s brewed down the street.”
His eyes met hers. They were wonderfully gray. “Yes,” he said. “I do know.”
She might have been lured by those eyes to say something else, had not the front door opened just then to a flurry of flakes and the stamping boots of four truckers. Shaking snow from heads and jackets, they called out greetings, slapped the palms of the men in seventeen, and slid into sixteen, which meant they were Bree’s.
“Nothing else?” she asked Tom Gates again. When he shook his head, she smiled. “Enjoy your meal.” Still smiling, she walked on down the line. “Hey, guys, how’re you doin’?”
“A regular round for starters?” she asked. When the nods came fast, she went to the icebox on the wall behind the counter, pulled open the shiny steel door, and extracted two Sleepy Creek Pales, one Sleepy Creek Amber, and a Heineken. Back at the booth, she fished a bottle opener from the short black apron skimming her hips and did the honors.
“Ahhhhh,” said John Hagan after a healthy swallow. “Good stuff on a night like this.”
Bree glanced out the window. “How many inches would you say?”
“Four,” John answered.
“Nah, there’s at least eight,” argued Kip Tucker.
“Headed to twenty,” warned Gene Mackey for the benefit of a passing, predictably gullible LeeAnn.
Bree nudged Gene’s shoulder. “He’s putting you on, Lee. Come on, guys. Behave.”
“What fun is that?” Gene asked, hooking her waist and pulling her close.
She unhooked his arm. “All the fun you’re getting,” she said, with a haughty look. “I’ll be back to take your order once I’m done scraping down plates.”
“I’ll have my usual,” T. J. Kearns said fast, before she could leave.
“Me, too,” said Gene.
John pointed at himself and nodded, indicating beef pot pie topped with mashed potatoes and gravy, served with hunks of bread for dunking and whatever vegetables Flash had that day, buttered.
Kip was eyeing the specials board. “What’s he got up there that I want?”
Bree knew Kip. “Brook trout,” she said in a cultured way, “sautéed in butter and served on a bed of basmati rice, with sun-dried tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, and broccoli.”
Kip sighed his pleasure. “One up, right here. Thanks, doll.”
• • •
Panama lay in hill country. Come the first of November, sand barrels sat on most every corner, trucks carried chains, and folks without four-wheel drive put on snow tires. But this wasn’t the first of November. It was the ninth of October, and the snow was coming heavy and fast. By eight, only a handful of stragglers remained.
Armed with a laptop computer and her own serving of trout, Bree slid in across from Flash. He was reading the newspaper, alternately sipping coffee and pulling at one of two sticky buns on his plate, no doubt his dinner. She never failed to be amazed that a man who was endlessly artful when it came to creating meals for others had such abominable eating habits himself.
“You’re missing good trout,” she said.
“I hate bones.”
“There aren’t any bones. Not in your trout.”
“That’s what we tell the customers,” he said, without looking up, “but I never know for sure if I get them all out, and the fear of it would ruin my meal. Besides”—he looked up then—“there aren’t usually any sticky buns left after five. Why are there today?”
Bree opened the laptop. “Because Angus, Oliver, and Jack didn’t make it in”—and wisely so, since the three were in their eighties and better at home in a storm.
“Flash?” asked LeeAnn. She shot a look at the last man at the counter. “Gav says he’ll drive me home, since I don’t have boots or anything, but he can’t hang around till we close.” Her brows rose.
Flash shot a look at Bree. “Ask her. She’s the one who’ll have to cover for you.”
Bree shooed her off. “No one else is coming in. Not tonight. Go.”
“She skips out early too often,” Flash said. “You have a soft heart.”
“Yours is softer than mine, which is why you didn’t say no first. Besides, she has kids at home. I don’t.”
“Why not?” he asked.
Bree pulled up the supply list. “I think we’ve been through this before.”
“Tell me again. I especially like the part about needing a man to have kids, like you couldn’t have any guy who walked in here. Know what turns them on? Your disinterest.”
“It isn’t disinterest. It’s caution.”
Caution sounded kinder. Disinterest was probably more to the point. The men who passed through the diner were just fine for conversation and laughs. They gave appreciative looks to her hair, which was thick, dark, and forever escaping whatever she tied it with, and her body, which was of average height and better toned than most. What they liked most, though, was the fact that she served them without argument and, more, that she knew what they wanted before they said it. Her father had liked that, too. She had been his cook, his maid, his tailor, his barber, his social secretary . . . the list went on and on. In the days following his death, she’d had her very first taste of me time. Now, three years later, it was still both novelty and prized possession.
“Caution. Ahh. Well, that is you, Bree. Cautious to a fault. Have you hired someone to get you a decent heating system, or are you still getting estimates?”
“I’m still getting estimates.”
He glanced at the snow. “Time just ran out.”
“Give it a day. Sun’ll be back.”
“You’re only postponing the inevitable. Last winter you were racing over here half frozen. Why wait? You have money.”
“I have money for a new car. That’s first on my list. Heating is second.”
“Why? I have a woodstove in the kitchen and quilts in every room. I can stay warm whether the furnace works or not. But I can’t go anywhere without a car.” She tapped the laptop’s screen. “We have to talk about getting a new milk supplier.”
She softened her tone. “Stafford’s local. We both want to support him, but his deliveries are late more often than not, and lately a full quarter of what he brings is bad. Think back two hours. You were in a panic.”
“I was tired, is all. Stafford’s working the kinks out.”
“He’s been working the kinks out for two years, but they aren’t going away.”
“Give him a little longer,” Flash said. He flipped up his paper and resumed reading.
Bree didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Oh, yes, Flash was softhearted, a sucker if the truth were told, though that was a good half of the diner’s charm. He was an artist. Try as he might to look like a trucker in the black jeans, purple T-shirt, and bill cap that were the diner’s uniform, he couldn’t pull it off. Even without the long mane spilling from the hole in the back of his cap, he had too gentle a look, and that was even before he waved off the difference when one of the town’s poorest came up short on cash at the end of a meal.
Not that Bree was complaining. Had her boss been anyone else, she would still be waitressing, period. But Flash wasn’t hung up on formalities. She was good with numbers, so he had her balance the books. She was good with deadlines, so he had her pay the bills. She worked with the people who printed their place mats, the people who serviced the drink machines, the people who trucked in fresh eggs, vegetables, and fish.
Hungry, she dug into her trout and broccoli. Focusing on the computer screen, she plugged in the week’s expected deliveries, noted shortages that had arisen, set up orders to be placed as soon as she hooked the computer to the modem in the back office. Flash was a softie there, too. That modem had been installed within twenty-four hours of her saying it might be nice.
The sound of spinning wheels drew her eye to the window, where a truck was heading out of the lot. After a minute, the tires gained traction, the sound evened out, and taillights disappeared in the thickening snow.
• • •
By eight-fifty, the last of the diners had left, fifty-two places had been wiped down and set for breakfast, dishes had been washed, food put away, the grill scraped. Minutes after Flash officially called it a night, the staff was gone.
Bree was pulling on her jacket when he said, “I’ll drive you home.”
She shook her head. “Driving is slow. It’ll be faster if I walk.” Tugging up the leg of her jeans, she showed him her boots. “Besides, you live downhill, I live uphill. No need backtracking in weather like this.”
But Flash was insistent. Taking her arm, he guided her out the door.
The world had changed dramatically since Bree’s earlier foray into the storm. With the exception of bare pavement where others of the staff had parked and just left, everything was pure white, and colder, far colder than before.
“It’s too early for this,” Flash grumbled as they approached his Explorer. While he dug behind his seat for a scraper, Bree started on the windows with the sleeve of her jacket. When he took over with the brush, she climbed inside. Leaning over the gearshift, she started the engine and, once the windshield was clear, turned on the wipers.
Since the parking lot had last been plowed, another several inches of snow had fallen. Between those inches and what had been left around cars that were parked, the lot was ragged. Flash gunned his engine to back the Explorer over the pile of snow at its own rear, then shifted into drive. The Explorer jolted its way to the street.
Bree stared hard out the windshield. As far as she could tell, the only thing marking the road was the slightly lower level of snow there. The headlights of the Explorer swung a bright arc onto East Main. Flash accelerated. His tires spun, found purchase, started slowly up the hill. They hadn’t gone far when the spinning resumed. The Explorer slid sideways. He braked, downshifted, and tried again.
“Bad tires?” she asked.
“Bad roads,” he muttered.
“Not if you’re going downhill. Let me walk. Please?”
He resisted through several more tries, shifting from drive to reverse and back in an attempt to gain traction, and he always did, but never for long. The Explorer had barely reached the first of five houses that climbed the hill to the town green when, sliding sideways and back this time, he gave in.
Bree pulled up her hood and slid out. “Thanks for trying. See you tomorrow.” Shutting the door, she burrowed into her jacket and started up the hill.
At first, with the Explorer coasting backward, its headlights lit her way. When Flash turned at the diner’s driveway and came out headfirst, the lights disappeared. Moments later, even the sound of his engine was gone.
In the silence, Bree trekked upward. The snow on the road wasn’t deep, rising only to the top of her boots, but she had the same problem the Explorer had. With the drop in temperature, the thin layer of packed snow left by the plow had frozen under the new-fallen stuff. She kept slipping on the steepening incline.
Tightening her hood, she tucked her hands in her pockets and plodded on. When she slipped again, her arms flew out for balance, hands bare and cold. She wished she had gloves, wished it even more in the next instant, when she lost her footing and landed wrist deep in the snow. Straightening, she shook herself off and went on. One more slip, though, and she trudged to the side of the road. The snow was deeper there, well past her calves, which made the walking harder but safer.
Head bowed against the steady fall of snow, she leaned into the climb. She had walked the same route for years, barely had to lift her eyes to know where she was. One foot rose high after the other to clear the drifts. By the time she passed the last of the houses, her thighs were feeling the strain. She felt instant relief when the road leveled off at the top.
Turning left, she started around the town green under the gaslights’ amber glow. There were no cars about, just snow-shrouded shapes in driveways. Wood smoke rose from high chimneys to scent the air. Snow slid, with a rush and a thud, down tall steel panels from roof to ground.
The curve of the road took her past the Federal that housed the bank, with smaller offices above for the town’s lawyer, realtor, and chiropractor. The one beside it housed the Chalifoux family, the one beside that the Nolans, the one beside that the library. Farther on, in a more modest house, lived the minister and his family. At the end of the oval, spire high, large green shutters and doors finely edged in snow, was the church.
The wood fence circling the churchyard had disappeared under the snow, as had the split-rail one around the town green. But the green wasn’t to be missed. A true common area, it had recently been host to sunbathers, picnickers, and stargazers. Now the limbs of maples, birches, and firs hung low to the ground under the weight of the snow, transforming stately trees into weepers.
The sound of an engine broke the silence. At the opposite end of the green, a pickup coasted down from Pine Street and cruised slowly around the oval. When it reached Bree, it stopped.
Curtis Lamb rolled down his window. “Just comin’ from work?”
Bree raised an arm to shield her eyes from the snow. “Yeah.”
“Want a lift?”
But Curtis lived downhill, not far from Flash. She smiled, shook her head, gestured toward Birch Hill, just beyond the church. “I’m almost there. You go on.”
Curtis rolled up his window. The pickup went slowly forward, turned right at the bank, and started down East Main.
Bree resumed the hike. She was making good time now, was actually enjoying the snow. It was cleansing, coming so soon after summer’s sweat.
Another engine broke the stillness, with a growing sputter. Bree guessed the vehicle was climbing Birch Hill. Its headlights had just appeared when a second pickup swooped down Pine, far off to her right. It was going fast, too fast. She watched it skid onto the oval, regain traction, and barrel toward her end.
Eager to be out of its way, she quickened her step. At the corner, she turned onto Birch Hill. The car climbing it—a bare-bones Jeep—was twenty feet off but approaching steadily, so she hopped from the street into the deeper snow at the side.
The pickup kept coming. Alarmed by its speed, fascinated in a horrified way, Bree stopped walking. The pickup looked to be dull blue and old. She figured that whoever was driving was either drunk, inexperienced, or just plain dumb.
“Slow down,” she warned. At the rate it was going, it would surely skid when it turned. And it was going to have to turn, either right onto Birch Hill or left around the oval. If it went straight, it would hit her head-on.
Suddenly frightened, she moved. Running as quickly as she could through the deep snow, she started down Birch Hill, but it was an ill-timed move. Seconds after she passed the Jeep, she heard the crunch of metal on metal. Then the Jeep was skidding back, sliding faster than she could run and in the god-awful same direction.
Its impact with her was quieter. She felt a searing pain and a moment’s weightlessness, then nothing at all.
Table of ContentsWhat if wishes really could come true? What would you wish for? With this enticing premise, Barbara Delinsky, bestselling author of A Woman's Place and For My Daughters, delivers a spellbinding tale about the possibility of magic in everyday life, in her latest novel, Three Wishes.
Bree Miller, the delightful heroine of Three Wishes, is a practical, down-to-earth woman who has everything she needs. Then, one snowy night in her Vermont hometown, she miraculously survives a near-fatal car accident. When she awakens in the hospital, she remembers little of the accident or of the hours afterward, except for a very bright light, a beatific smile, and a mystical force granting her three wishes.
Three Wishes is also Tom Gates's story. Once a successful lawyer and bestselling author who handled success badly, Tom has taken refuge in Bree's small Vermont town. After hitting her with his Jeep that snowy night, he dedicates himself to aiding her recovery and, in the process, finds both great pleasure and redemption. Through his relationship with Bree, Tom regains his self-respect and musters the strength to approach his estranged family and heal his wounds.
For self-sufficient, independent Bree, life changes dramatically when she meets Tom. Suddenly within her grasp are those things she always wanted most -- a home, a soul mate, a family. But there is unfinished business: the mother who abandoned Bree when she was an infant, the family Tom misses deeply, the child doctors say Bree can never have. And there are those three wishes. But are those wishes real? And if they are, at what price?
Not only a wonderfully romantic story, Three Wishes is a novel of redemption, courage, second chances, and the importance of home and putting down roots. With a magnificent cast of characters in a town that revives the true meaning of community, Three Wishes is about people who take risks to live their dreams.
On Monday, December 1st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Barbara Delinsky to discuss THREE WISHES.
Moderator: On Monday, December 1st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Barbara Delinsky, bestselling author of 65 books, including her latest spellbinding novel, THREE WISHES. Welcome to our Live Events Auditorium, Ms. Delinsky. We are pleased you could join us this evening to discuss THREE WISHES. Is there snow on the ground where you are in New England?
Barbara Delinsky: Thanks so much for the welcome. It's an honor to be here, and yes, there is snow on the ground here, not much yet, but enough to remind us that winter's almost here.
Susan from Framingham, MA: What I remember from reading your novels is your strong female characters. Could you tell us about Bree Miller? What is she like? I can't wait to read THREE WISHES.
Barbara Delinsky: Bree Miller is strong, as are so many of my other female characters, but she is different, too. She isn't wealthy or a professional. She lives in a small town and works at a diner -- and is quite content with her life. She's a capable woman -- always knows what other people want and provides it. The question is, Who fills her needs?
Margaret McKinna from Lansing, MI: I had a hard time trusting the character Tom Gates in THREE WISHES. He seemed like he was such a jerk in his prior life, which was just a short time ago. But he never faltered. Do you think that people deserve second chances if they truly set out to change their life?
Barbara Delinsky: I definitely do believe that people deserve second chances -- because I also believe that people sometimes get caught up in a life that isn't them at all. Public people are like that -- actors and actresses, politicians. They are surrounded by people who tell them things and they buy into it hook, line, and sinker. Tom Gates was that way. He bought into the hype of being the successful writer. He got caught up in the whirlwind of it -- until his mother died. I don't believe that high-profile life was really him, which is why he is such a wonderful candidate for that good old second chance!
LarryD from Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Do you use an outline in preparing the novel or just let it flow? Do you start from one central idea (like someone getting three wishes) or do you sort of piece a story together from you life experience? Finally, do you write longhand or use a word processor? Thanks!
Barbara Delinsky: Easiest first. I use a computer now, though I didn't when I first started writing 18 years ago. I had young children then, and used to write by hand during the day while I was supervising their play, and type everything up (on a manual typewriter) at night. Now, it's computer all the way! Do I use an outline? Of sorts. Sometimes it's a chapter-by-chapter thing, sometimes a vague list of ten things that must happen, in that order. The important thing is that any outline is only good until something better happens to the story. In other words, sometimes the characters take off on their own and do things I hadn't planned. If those things are better than what I had planned for them, I yield. Yes, I do start with one central idea. In the case of THREE WISHES, it was the near-death experience and those three wishes. By the way, none of that was from personal experience. i actually researched near-death experiences on the Internet -- a first for me. I did find them fascinating, though, all those people having seen and felt similar things!
Amie from Portsmouth, NH: The cover of your book THREE WISHES is very inviting. I'm just wondering if you had any input in its creation. Who did the artwork?
Barbara Delinsky: I'll bet that coming from NH, Amie, you can appreciate that cover more than some! The artwork was done by Wendell Minor, who does Pat Conroy, among others. I believe he also recently did Doris Kearns Goodwin's book. I knew that I wanted a New Endland-y scene, something giving a feeling of magic, perhaps mysticism. My publisher hired this artist because she felt he was so good. We actually had to wait, because he was booked up for a bit, but the wait was worth it, don't you think?
Rose Ann from Garden City, NY: Hello Barbara -- THREE WISHES had me totally enthralled and quite tearful at times. There was a definite spiritual element to the book. I just wondered where that came from -- do you believe in "out of body experiences"? Or "life after death"?
Barbara Delinsky: I believe that OBEs may happen, though I've never had one. I also believe that there may be life after death, though, clearly, I don't know that for sure. What I do know for sure is that we can deeply affect people here on earth after we die. My mother died when I was eight. She had been sick for five years, so I have precious few memories of her. I got to know her when I was an adult, though, through things that people told me about her. She has been a strong presence in my home, though she has never met either my husband or children. I like to think that she and I would be close. So even that concept -- closeness between parents and children -- comes from her and affects my own life.
Melyn from New York City: Hello, Ms. Delinsky. I read that your novels have been printed in 18 different languages. Wow! What do you think makes your novels so universally appealing?
Barbara Delinsky: My novels deal with family issues, personal issues -- parent-child relationships, sibling rivalry, friendship, marriage. These things are universal. I have to say, though, that I get a kick out of some of my foreign covers. The issues may be universal, but marketing is as different as night and day from one country to the next!
Simmie from Fresno, CA: I love reading your books -- the relationships you portray seem so alive and vital. Would you consider yourself a romance author?
Barbara Delinsky: I started in romance. Am I a romance author now? When I was writing romance, the love story was 70 percent of the novel. Now it's less than half that. So, no, I don't consider myself a romance author. I write books that have love stories in them, but there's much, much more.
Krazgrl from AOL: Family seems to be a very important element in your new novel. Both Bree and Tom have no family (for different reasons, of course) but find a surrogate family in the people of Panama, VT (and eventually one another). Do you think their lack of family was something that drew them together?
Barbara Delinsky: That's a really good observation. I'm sure it did. They had nobody, then they had each other. I think that if there hadn't been a spark between them, their lack of family wouldn't have done it, but that was one of the elements that "worked" with them. Yes, family is VERY important in THREE WISHES. But you're right -- the town becomes a surrogate family. I wish there was more of that in real life.
Adrien from Brooklyn: I think I read somewhere that THREE WISHES will be made into a miniseries. Could you confirm that? Do you have any more information on that rumor?
Barbara Delinsky: Consider it fact. I have the contracts right here on my desk, all signed. THREE WISHES will be a TV movie (no miniseries), starring Valerie Bertinelli. It could be out as early as next fall. I'd love it to coincide with the paperback release of THREE WISHES, but since that is happening in July, I doubt it will be. A Christmas showing of the TV movie would be nice, I think. This is a good Christmas story!
Leslie from Dorset, VT: The small-town Panama, where THREE WISHES unfolds, seems very familiar. Is Panama a pseudonym for a real Vermont town?
Barbara Delinsky: Oh, Lord. My NIGHTMARE is having a Vermonter say that I did it all wrong! Actually, it really is fictitious. But I've lived in New England all my life, have vacationed any number of times in VT and traveled through it on other occasions. I also read Vermont magazine and Vermont Life, along with other New England magazines. So I guess Panama is an amalgam of many VT towns. Hence, the familiarity you feel.
Rory from Florida: Hey Barbara, I have two questions for you: 1) I am planning to write a book of commentaries very soon (I am already in the eighth grade and figured that December 2nd -- tomorrow -- would be the perfect time to start). When I start writing this book, should I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do? 2) How do you overcome writer's block? Thanks a bunch!!!!
Barbara Delinsky: Hi, Rory! I'm not quite sure what "commentaries" are, but what you need to do by way of research is to read a whole lot of them before you write your own! As for writer's block, you write your way through it. In other words, there are some days when I sit down at my computer and don't know what in the world to write, but I FORCE myself to put something down. If it's not right, I change it the next day -- or add adjectives, or delete filler. But I do write something every day. Writer's block is a luxury I could never afford!
Frederique from Boston, MA: What is your personal opinion on wishes? Do you think wishes come true?
Barbara Delinsky: Yes, I think wishes come true, but I think we're the ones who make it happen. I'm a believer in the old saw "God helps those who help themselves." People who are "lucky" are usually ones who take advantage of opportunities. Wishes are the same way.
Joanne Lager from Bethesda: I write romantic stories as a hobby. I only share them with my closest friends, who enjoy them a great deal. Could you give me some advice about getting published?
Barbara Delinsky: I'm a little out of the loop now about getting "romances" published, but as for books like mine, what you do is to go to the bookstore, make a list of the publishing houses that publish people writing things like you've written, and either call or write, telling them that you have a manuscript of such-and-such a length, on such-and-such a topic, and would they like to see it. I have to warn you that publishing is very tight now, and volatile. Houses are bought and sold, personnel are being hired and fired. The whole field of book publishing is changing. Take this right here -- on-line bookstores. A very new thing. Publishers are just learning how to handle them! But aren't they great?
Barbara Simpson from New Canaan: I found it interesting that Tom thrives in the small-town atmosphere, especially after coming from such fame and fortune in NYC. What do you think that says about our culture? Are more people looking for life outside the hustle and bustle of major cities?
Barbara Delinsky: You hit it on the nose. I think many people are ODing on big-city life. They've made it, and find something lacking. They've also become physically (and emotionally, often) distanced from their families. That takes another something away from their satisfaction in life. I think people are looking for closeness, warmth, intimacy. They're looking to connect with people in ways that the hustle and bustle of urban life precludes. Hence, the interest in small-town life. Mind you, some small towns are brutal. But, of course, I'm writing fiction ...
Nicolas from Hanover, NH: Hello Barbara, you are one of my favorite authors! Who are your favorite authors?
Barbara Delinsky: I have to tell you -- I don't get much time to read. But I'm in a book group, and we're currently reading Wallace Stegner's ANGLE OF REPOSE. It won the Pulitzer in 1971 and is a remarkable book. So right now, Stegner is my favorite author! Ask next month, and you may get a different answer.
Angela from Rhode Island: Hi. The holidays are such a magical time. How much of THREE WISHES takes place during the holidays? Is there magic?
Barbara Delinsky: Only a small part of THREE WISHES takes place during the holidays, and there isn't magic of the David Copperfield type, but there is certainly a magical feel to the book. The issue is those wishes. Are they real? Can wishes really come true? Does Bree get what she wants because of the mystical something to do with those wishes, or were very logical reasons behind those wishes coming true? The warmth of that small town is magical, as is the love between not only Tom and Bree, but so many of the other characters. So I do think that THREE WISHES is the most "magical" of my books!
Francois from Montreal: Do you have any of your books translated in French?
Barbara Delinsky: I believe that all of my recent books have been translated into French -- but in France, rather than Canada. If THREE WISHES isn't already out, it should be soon!
Daria Mitchell from Mt. Desert Island, ME: I devoured THREE WISHES. It was beautifully written and had wonderful characters. I was slightly shocked and a bit choked up by the end of THREE WISHES. I hope I'm not giving too much away if I ask whether or not Bree's destiny was a matter of choice, fate, or circumstance? Thank you.
Barbara Delinsky: I'm not quite sure how to answer your question, Daria. I think that Bree's destiny was a matter of all three of those things -- which is a total cop-out on my part. Oh, dear. But it was. All three. She chose. But the circumstances were such to set her up. And perhaps it was fate...
Marie from Morris Plains, NJ: What can we expect next from you?
Barbara Delinsky: I'm SO glad you asked! I'm currently halfway through my next book. It's called COAST ROAD and is actually set on the West Coast (near Big Sur), which is a first for me. My husband and I vacation in Big Sur every summer, so I speak from personal experience when I describe the place. We love it there. Anyway, the book is about a couple who have been married for ten years, divorced for six. He is an architect in SF, and gets a call in the middle of the night from a friend of his ex-wife's, saying that she has been in an accident and is in a coma. He drives down to take care of their daughters (age 13 and 14), and hangs around for old times' sake to be with his ex. The ex, Rachel, is in a coma for the three weeks during which the book takes place, yet she is the main character. Her voice comes through her daughters, her friends, and her art (she's a painter). That's been the challenge for me. So this is the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of a marriage. P.S. There's a happy ending! COAST ROAD -- coming in July! It has artwork by the same artist who did THREE WISHES!
Samantha from Washington State: Greetings, Barbara Delinsky! I LOVED THREE WISHES! I was especially intrigued by the character Verity in your book. Why did you decide to include her? Where does her name come from? Did you mean it to mean "truth"?
Barbara Delinsky: Verity was a fun character, and, yes, I did mean it to mean "truth." She was a little voice of conscience, helping Bree to determine what she wanted her own truths to be.
Maggie from Illinois: Why the ending?
Barbara Delinsky: I believe that the ending is in keeping with the story, that for me to have done anything different would have been a compromise. For what it's worth, those were the hardest pages I've ever written (after 65 books, that says a lot!). I also believe that the ending was a happy one. It's what I said earlier, about the immortality of love.
Ann from Jackson, MS: Hello, Barbara! Have fans ever contributed to your story ideas or characters? Thanks so much for taking my question.
Barbara Delinsky: No, Ann, fans haven't ever contributed before the fact. After the fact -- that's something else. I have often gotten letters from readers saying that they have lived my story, or that I was describing them. One of the quirks I have is that I can't even bear to have my agent suggest a story line, because I want it to be solely my own. I pour so much sweat and blood into each book that it would be a travesty to use someone else's story. That said, I do get story ideas from newspapers and magazines. I daresay, though, that by the time my book is finished, it is nearly unrecognizable from the story that inspired it!
Rory from Florida: Barbara, two more questions: 1) Out of all the novels you have written, what was your most favorite character to write about? 2) What are your future plans for writing? Thanks again. :-) :-) :-) :-)
Barbara Delinsky: FOR MY DAUGHTERS was my all-time favorite -- and Leah the character I loved. But I think I loved her because the whole story worked for me. I still cry when I read that book! As for the future, see my comments on COAST ROAD. After that, I'll write something else. What would I do with myself, if not write?