Today it is my pleasure to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Carla Neggers to HJ!
In your new book Cider Brook, your main character Samantha Bennett aims to solve a 300-year-old pirate mystery. What inspired you to throw pirates into the mix?
Pirates are endlessly fascinating! Samantha is a treasure hunter on a personal mission to prove a pirate buried treasure in quiet, little Knights Bridge. It’s a theory that’s gotten her into a bit of trouble. It also stirs up long-buried secrets in the out-of-the-way small town and gets the attention of Justin Sloan, a volunteer firefighter and Knights Bridge native who just might know more about buried pirate’s treasure than he’s willing to admit.
Have you ever discovered a “treasure” of your own that someone left behind?
When I was seven, my family moved into an 18th-century carriage house in a small town much like Knights Bridge. An old man had lived there on his own for twenty-five years. It was quite the fixer-upper! We unearthed all sorts of “treasure” he left behind: musty books, a brass bed frame, an antique coffee-grinder, Depression glass bowls. It was great fun. It’s a gem of a house now. Our family homestead. My husband and I have lived in a number of old houses. I always find something left behind by previous residents that fires up my imagination.
How did growing up in a family of nine with a storytelling father impact your desire to become a writer?
My three brothers and three sisters and I loved to listen to my father’s stories of his childhood in Holland and his years at sea as a Dutch merchant marine and my mother’s childhood in a remote part of the Florida Panhandle. Their lives before we came along were so different from what we knew growing up in small-town New England! Their stories brought to life things I’d never seen or experienced. I pictured Dutch canals and cathedrals, war-torn Holland, cramped ship’s quarters, Florida swamps and beautiful camellias. There’s no question their true stories inspired me to create my own fictional stories.
When you first climbed up a tree with a pad and pen at age 11, did you know one day you’d become a famous writer?
I dreamed of becoming a published writer but it was because I loved to write! I had little idea of what that meant. After sixty-plus books, I love to write as much now as I did as a kid up in my favorite sugar maple. I’m happiest as a writer when I put aside the “business of publishing” and dive into the story at hand.
What do you love about the Swift River Valley series that sets the books apart from your others?
The Swift River Valley series returns me to my contemporary romance roots. It’s been great fun creating a small town and populating it with compelling, interesting people—and secrets! Secrets of the Lost Summer, the first book in the series, came to me in a whoosh. I could see Olivia Frost in Boston, picking up the pieces of her self-esteem after a friend’s betrayal and making the decision to take the bull by the horns and return to her hometown and open an inn. I could see Dylan McCaffrey, a wealthy ex-hockey player, getting Olivia’s letter to come clean up his eyesore of yard…at a house he didn’t know he owned in a town he’s never heard of. And Grace Webster, a starchy former teacher now in her 90s, with a fateful secret that affects Olivia and Dylan and surprises everyone in Knights Bridge. I knew I had to write this story! And as I wrote Secrets of the Lost Summer, I knew this out-of-the-way little New England town would yield more stories.
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Samantha Bennett slipped her grandfather’s antique silver flask into an outer pocket of her khaki safari jacket. He’d claimed the flask was from an old pirate chest, but she’d discovered in the three years since his death at ninety-six that not everything he’d told her had been factual. Harry Bennett had been a grand spinner of the strategic tall tale. He’d probably been drinking run from the flask when he’d spun the pirate-chest story.
No rum for me, Samantha thought, glancing around her grandfather’s cluttered office on the second floor of the Bennett house in Boston’s Back Bay. She’d filled the flask with the smoky Scotch he had left in one of his crystal decanters. If she was going to hunt pirate’s treasure, she figured she ought to have whiskey with her.
Although what could go wrong in little Knights Bridge, Massachusetts?
Her grandfather smiled at her from a framed black-and-white photograph hanging on the wood-paneled wall behind his massive oak desk. At the time of the photo, he’d been forty-seven roguishly handsome wearing a jacket much like hers. He’d just arrived back in Boston after the Antarctic trip that had sealed his reputation as a world-class explorer and adventurer. It had almost killed him, too. Her couple of nights’ camping in an out-of-the-way New England town hardly compared to an expedition to Antarctica.
She buttoned the flap of her jacket pocket. There were endless pockets inside and out. She was already forgetting where she’d put things—her phone, compass, matches, map, the earth-tone lipstick she’d grabbed at the last second, in case she went out to dinner one night during her stay in Knights Bridge.
Out to dinner? Where, with whom—and why?
If nothing else, a few days away from her grandfather’s clutter would do her good. He had been born on a struggling New England farm and had died a wealthy man, if also a hopeless pack rat. Samantha hadn’t realized just how much he’d collected in his long, active life until she’d been hired by his estate—meaning her father and her uncle—to go through his house and his Londom apartment. She swore she’d found fum wrappers from 1952. The man had saved everything.
The morning sun streamed through translucent panels that hung over bowfront windows framed by heavy charcoal velvet drapes. Her grandmother, who had died twenty-five years ago, when Samantha was four, had decorated the entire house herself, decreeing that gray and white were the perfect colors for this room, for when her husband was there, being contemplative and studious—which wasn’t often, even in his later years. He’d spent little time in his office, mostly just long enough to stack up his latest finds.
Samantha appreciated the effect of the filtered sunlight on the original oil painting that she’d unearthed from the office closet a few weeks ago. The painting was unsigned and clearly an amateur work, but it had captivated her from the moment she’d taken it out into the light. It depicted an idyllic red-painted New England cider mill, with apples in wooden crates, barrels of cider and a water wheel capturing the runoff from a small stone-and-earth dam on a woodland stream. She’d assumed it was untitled but two days ago had discovered neat, faded handwriting on the lower edge of the simple wood frame.
The Mill at Cider Brook.
Her surprise had been so complete that she’d dipped into the Scotch decanter.
She didn’t know if the mill depicted in the painting was real, but there was a Cider Brook in Knights Bridge, barely two hours west of Boston.
Of all places.
A quick internet search had produced a year-old notice that the town of Knights Bridge was selling an old cider mill in its possession. Had someone bought it? Was it still for sale?
Samantha had checked the closet for anything else her grandfather might have stuffed in there related to Cider Brook. Instead, she discovered a legal-size envelope containing about fifty yellowed, handwritten pages—the rough draft of a story called The Adventures of Captain Farraday and Lady Elizabeth.
She suspected but had no way to prove that the story was by the same hand as the painting, but it didn’t matter. It had sealed the deal, and now she had Harry Bennett’s antique silver flask tucked in her jacket and her plans made for her return to Knights Bridge—a town she had expected, and hoped, she would never have to visit again.
Excerpted from the book CIDER BROOK by Carla Neggers. Copyright © 2014 by Carla Neggers. Reprinted with permission of Harlequin. All rights reserved.
Unlikely partners bound by circumstance or by fate?
Being rescued by a good-looking, bad-boy firefighter isn’t how Samantha Bennett expected to start her stay in Knights Bridge, Massachusetts. Now she has everyone’s attention—especially that of Justin Sloan, her rescuer, who wants to know why she was camped out in an abandoned old New England cider mill.
Samantha is a treasure hunter who has returned to Knights Bridge to solve a 300-year-old mystery and salvage her good name. Justin remembers her well. He’s the one who alerted her late mentor to her iffy past and got her fired. But just because he doesn’t trust her doesn’t mean he can resist her. Samantha is daring, determined, seized by wanderlust—everything that strong, stoic Justin never knew he wanted. Until now