Sometimes I get the most pleasantly surprising emails. One that came recently was an invitation to spend the day with a certain couple on the shores of Otter Tail Lake. Being an adventurous sort, I was more than willing to pack up my van and head out. The drive was long, but stunning, and the deeper I got into the beautiful state of Minnesota, the more I fell in love with it. Summer was at its peak, the thick trees seemed to engulf me as I drove along the dirt road leading to Derrick Andersson`s fishing retreat.
Otter Tail Lake came into view, as did the modest cabin Maggie, Derrick, Maggie`s son, Trevor, and his girlfriend, Ashley, were spending the week in. It was rustic log home, nothing grand or overstated. It fit in perfectly with the crystal blue lake that backed it as well as the heavy pines that hugged it. Stepping out of my van I inhaled deeply. The air was similar to what I was accustomed to back in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Perhaps the wind held a touch of metallic lake water scent, but aside from that it was crisp, clean, and soothing.
"You can tell a country girl. They always breathe deep when they`re in the woods. Those city girls wrinkle their noses."
I turned from looking at the lake to find Derrick and Maggie, hand in hand, walking towards me. The couple looked relaxed, tan, and deeply in love. It made my heart sing.
"I never wrinkled my nose," Maggie stated after she and I exchanged a long hug.
"And I never said I was talking about you, now did I?" Derrick countered, tugging me into his huge chest for a bear hug. It was like embracing a freezer: wide and firm. My nose got smashed into warm flannel. "Good you could come," the ex-Wildcats captain said before releasing me. Maggie looped an arm around my waist as we walked down to the lake.
"I`m thrilled to be here. Are you sure you have room for an overnight guest?" I asked, glancing over my shoulder at the cabin.
"Oh yah, we got lots of room. The kids can sleep in the living room. So, you brung a camera?" Derrick asked. I nodded, noting that he was not wearing a sling. "Good. I wanted to make sure them readers see what I`m doing with the Cup."
"The Commissioner will not be pleased," Maggie whispered in my ear. The soft sounds of the lake lapping on the shore grew louder.
"It ain`t the worst thing that ever was done to it," Derrick argued.
When we broke from the woods Maggie and I stopped. We were both dressed similarly in jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers, and a light cardigan. She was in shades of yellow. I was in blues. I looked around the small clearing. A rowboat bobbed on the water, secured to the shore by a rope tied around a fat oak tree. Three fishing poles were resting in sticks with V`s on one end, the other end was shoved into the soft soil surrounding the water.
My husband and I do that very same thing when we go lake fishing. The poles are placed gently against the homemade holders, and there they sit, lines out, bobbers resting on top of the water, waiting for a strike. When a fish bites the pole will jump sharply as the fish tries to swim away. The scene could have come right out of a sporting goods catalog or an ad for a serenity weekend getaway if not for one thing: a huge silver trophy sitting beside the lake as bait fish leaped out of the bowl-like top. I rolled my head back to look at Derrick. The bearded man was smiling like an imp.
"Tell me you did not fill the top of Lord Stanley`s cup with minnows," I said.
"We needed something to hold the bait." He winked, his green eyes merry then moved around we ladies. I looked at the blonde next to me.
"Is there really an escort for the Cup?" I asked then peered into the dark Minnesota woods.
"He`s in the cabin taking a nap. Come on, let`s get fishing. Derrick has been waiting for you to arrive."
Maggie led me down to the shore. I got settled on one of several stumps that were used as seats. The Cup sat behind us. Filled with minnows. I shook my head as I chuckled to myself.
"Yah, and they was jumping this morning, don`t you know?"
"Sorry," I said as I reeled in to check the hook. It was bare as I had assumed it might be sitting unattended.
"It takes time to drive up from Pennsylvania."
"You could of flew. I`da paid." Derrick sat on the left of me, Maggie on the right. "You need me to bait that?"
"Nope." I smiled proudly as I reached into the Cup, grabbed a wiggly minnow, then hooked him up.
"Looks like your man taught you good. That one," he jerked a thumb at Maggie sitting with an empty hook dangling at the end of her line, "don`t got the heart to be a real angler. Makes her sad to bait the hook."
"Just stop grumbling and bait my hook." Maggie passed her pole to me. I handed it to the big man in chopped flannel and worn denim.
I stood, casted, then sat down. "Where are the kids?" I inquired as I got my pole situated just so in the holder.
"They went for a nature walk," Maggie said, purposely not looking at the hook-baiting taking place next to me.
"Yah, right, nature walk. They think we forget what it was like to be a teenager. They`re out there rolling around in the pine needles like a couple of horny badgers," Derrick said. I snorted. Maggie made a sound of disbelief.
"Derrick, for the love of God!" She snatched her pole back angrily then casted out. The cast was an ugly one, her fish landing with a huge 'plop' that sounded like she had a shoe tied to the end of her line.
"What? You think Vicki don`t know about the birds and bees? She wrote our book. I think she knows what sex is, Mags."
"I do," I reassured the blushing blonde. Maggie`s cheeks were as red as Derrick`s old flannel shirt. "I think I did a pretty good job with the sex scenes, don`t you two?"
"Oh, yah! I got no complaints. You got any complaints about the way I—"
"That`s really enough." Maggie couldn`t look at either of us so she stared out at the lake."I don`t have any complaints either," she mumbled a moment later. Derrick elbowed me. I slid off the stump to the ground.
"Sorry," he murmured as he helped me from the damp shore.
"No worries," I smiled as I got settled again. "I`m really glad to hear that you both are satisfied with the sex scenes. Who says couples in their forties or fifties can`t be smoking hot?"
"Not us," Maggie and Derrick said in perfect harmony. We all laughed over that. I reeled the slack out of my line then put the pole back. A soft wind whipped over the water.
"I wanted to tell you two that your book broke into the bestsellers list on Amazon. That`s the first time a book of mine has done that to my knowledge. Thanks." I looked at Derrick warmly. He patted my back, taking care not to pat me off my log. Maggie reached over to grab my hand and squeeze it.
"We`re pleased as punch to hear that. It`s so nice to know that readers don`t cotton to the notion that romance can only happen to perfect people who are barely old enough to vote," Maggie said.
"Hey, who you saying ain`t perfect?" Derrick asked with feigned indignation.
"You," Maggie replied quickly. "And me, and V.L. and everyone else on the planet. Love isn`t contingent on being a young thing with big hooters."
"I like big hooters."
"Derrick, just fish," Maggie chastised the man. He chortled then tended to his own hook and line for a few minutes. "You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do, and I agree. I`m so happy to see that readers are enjoying the books. Maybe if we keep writing romance novels starring older women, or curvy women, or women with disabilities or are too tall or skinny or shy or whatever, the world will start to see that life does not end for a woman at twenty-nine. And I`ll get off my soapbox now," I said sheepishly.
"Nah, you keep preaching. I got no troubles with it. I figure it goes the same for a man. I ain`t no spring chicken. Hell, just watch me get out of bed in the morning if you need proof." Derrick laughed as a small brown bird soared over the surface of the lake in pursuit of a large dragonfly.
"The ladies that read your book don`t seem to mind you having some scars or a bum knee or two." I gave the man a poke in the side. He grinned.
"Well they can`t have him. He`s mine, scars and all," Maggie spoke up.
"I`d kiss you right now if I didn`t have a fish nibbling at my line," Derrick said. We all sat breathlessly, watching the bobber go up and down then still. "Damn thing is playing with it," Derrick grumbled.
"Probably stole your bait," I offered.
"Yah, more`n likely."
"So have you heard from any of the others since you`ve been up here?" I asked, letting the peace and quiet wash over me.
"No, there`s no internet or cell service. The kids are ready to curl into balls and die," Maggie said then giggled merrily.
"That`s why they`re out in the woods getting busy," Derrick added under his breath.
"I heard that," Maggie said.
"I knew you would," Derrick retorted, shot to his feet, grabbed his pole then jerked. The big lake trout gave him quite a fight but eventually the ex-Wildcats captain reeled in his prize. We ladies both praised his angling skills as he held the fish up for our inspection.
"Well, the buzz is that the next book in the series, Reality Check, will have a wedding as well as a big shock or two that may just upset the Wildcats apple cart," I announced, pretending to be intent on my curly fishing line resting on the now placid lake surface.
"Shocks? What kind of shocks? Bad shocks or good shocks?" Maggie asked. I lifted a shoulder than began humming a Cat Stevens song. "You are not going to leave us hanging here like…like…like—"
"A fish on a hook?" Derrick tossed out perfectly.