Settings can anchor a story, add flavor, and create mood. I plunked Ian McGregor, the love interest in my romance, COOKING UP TROUBLE, in the small town of Mill Pond. I wanted a story with a close-knit community, where people know and care about each other. Their shops rely heavily on tourists, who stop to eat and shop on their way to the national forest and park close by. To attract them, Mill Pond’s already added old-fashioned street lamps on Main Street and a public dock at the lake. When Ian buys property on the lake to open a resort, they see it as a good thing. They want him to succeed, but Ian’s from New York and doesn’t really understand the feel of a small town where everyone knows everybody else. His neighbor, Tessa Lawrence, tries to enlighten him:
Ian turned his light-brown eyes on her. They looked almost golden in the center. "Does everyone know everyone else around here?"
She laughed. "It's a small community. If you fart in your front yard and the wind's blowing east, your neighbor will be talking about it the next time you see him."
He blinked. "I'll try to wait till the wind's blowing toward the lake."
She shook her head. "No good, the wind usually blows to shore. You'll have to wait a long time."
He stared at her a minute, then threw back his head and laughed. "I get it. Everyone knows your dirty laundry here."
"Then I'd better learn to be discreet."
When Ian asks to see her bakery and farm stand, Tessa goes on to explain that even though Mill Pond is small, it’s beginning to be a foodie mecca, and he has more to choose from than he ever expected. I wanted Mill Pond to be a small town that bursts with good people with lots to offer:
After the apple pie, she took him on a tour of her house and property. When she unlocked the barn and led him into its stainless steel, commercial kitchen, he let out a low whistle. "This looks pretty serious."
"It is serious. Grandma and I make a lot of pies and jams, pestos, pickled vegetables…." She raised an eyebrow at him. "Right up your alley. All kinds of baked goods. We make one specialty cake and pie a week, all year round. People buy them ahead to freeze."
He turned in a slow circle in the large, front sales room. A glass case lined one wall. Empty now, but filled with pies and cakes on weekends. Wood tables of different shapes and sizes, scattered here and there, held their jams and jellies, but his attention focused on the shelves on one entire wall that were dedicated to pickling—vegetables, sauerkraut, beets, and onions, as well as every way to pickle cucumbers she and Grams could think of.
He blinked. "That's a lot of pickles."
"Not close to enough. They're one of our best sellers."
"Really." The thought clearly amazed him. His gaze scanned the store. "Would you be interested in supplying anything for the lodge's dining room once I get the business up and going?"
"We can talk about that later. I'd have to hire someone else if you'd need a lot, but you can get a lot of artisan goods around here. Carl Gruber raises grass-fed beef." She nodded to the property on the other side of hers. "Evan Meyers raises goats and is known for his milk and cheeses. The Maxwells raise free-range chickens, ducks, and geese. Pheasants and rabbits, in season."
He stared. "I knew this area was known by foodies, but I didn't know there were so many options."
She shook her head. "We offer a lot. There's a vineyard on the north side of town." Ian had lucked into a prime food area.
Tessa Lawrence swore off men when she found her fiancée in the arms of another woman. These days, she concentrates on caring for her small farm and running a bakery and farm stand out of its barn. Ian McGregor moves to Mill Pond to build a resort on the property next to Tessa’s. Tessa’s fine with that. Mill Pond’s trying to attract more tourists. The problem is, Ian understands business, but he’s never changed a tire or pounded a nail. She finds herself helping him more than she expected, and spending time around Ian is a dangerous proposition. The man’s far too good-looking and fun to be around.