In 1924, Carver Fowler, a young man raised on his family’s farm in North Alabama, has long been in love with one of the girls who lives in town. Her name is Mallie Phillips. Mallie has always treated Carver as beneath her notice since in her opinion he’s nothing but a country yokel. The county’s fall festival is soon and, as a joke, Mallie is dared by a friend to ask Carver to be her date to the party. Mallie takes her up on the dare and visits Carver to invite him to accompany her to the festivities. In the midst of all the intrigue about whether Carver will be her date or not, a young man is killed and another is attacked. Carver becomes a suspect and Mallie begins to understand that Carver may not merely be the backwoods boy she thought he was.
Carver Fowler, twenty years old, turned the pumpkin around and around to assess all angles. This was serious business. The final product had to be perfect, and the best side needed to face the front.
Once he was satisfied with his choice, he opened the drawer in the rickety old workbench that served him well in his shop. He dug around for a nub of a pencil and then opened the next drawer over. He sighed in pleasure at the array of knives. He loved all of his tools, but his knives made him the happiest.
He carefully selected one with a wide blade and tested the edge with the tip of his index finger. A small drop of blood pooled on the side and he sucked it off. He wiped his hand on his dusty coveralls and set the knife down.
Carver picked up the pencil and drew on the side of the pumpkin. He then picked up the knife and started to cut.
A throat clearing startled him. The knife slipped and gouged the façade of his creation. He whirled around, thinking it was his younger brother. Ready to lay into the little brat for messing up his masterpiece, he stopped short when he saw who it was.
Leaning against the weathered wooden slats of the old barn that had been converted to a woodworking shop was none other than Mallie Phillips. The girl of his dreams. Eighteen and beautiful. Of course, she didn’t know he dreamt of her every night. But what was she doing here?
Mallie wore a long blue faded cotton dress and a pair of old Mary Jane shoes. Her stockings were dusty like she’d walked a long way. She had one knee bent and her foot rested on the wall. “Whatcha doing, Carver?”
“What are you doing is a better question. How’d you get way out here to my daddy’s farm? Li’l city gal like you don’t have no business out here in the boonies.” Carver set the knife down and wiped his brow that suddenly seemed to be manufacturing an inordinate amount of sweat. Good God, I hope I don’t smell bad. He resisted the urge to sniff his armpits, but just barely.
“My brother Joseph had some business out this way and he brought me in the wagon.”
Mallie came over to the workbench and picked up the knife. She used it to point at the pumpkin. “Are you carving that for the contest down at the Fall Festival this weekend?”
“I am. I think I’ve got a good idea for a very spooky fella and I’m planning to win that jackpot.”
“A jackpot for a Jack-o-lantern.” She giggled. “I like the sound of that.” She handed him the knife. “Show me what ya got, Carver Fowler.” She batted her eyelashes at him and he was lost.
He could barely speak English when she stood so close and smelled so good. Just like lemon verbena. As she continued to stare at him, he found his voice. “I can’t carve with you standing here. I can’t handle an audience. You’ll have to wait to see it at the festival.”
“I like that too, Carver.”
“What?” Embarrassed as his voice came out in a squeak, he ducked his head.
She lifted his chin with her index finger until he was looking at her. “I like that Carver is carving. See how nice that sounds? Jackpot for jack-o-lantern and Carver is carving. You have to admit it’s kind of poetic.”
“I don’t know nothing about poetry, Mallie.” Carver pulled away from her.