• Fact sparks fiction at Vt. Country Store
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     | February 12,2014
     
    Provided Photo

    The cover of the first “Green Mountain Romance” series novel inspired by the Vermont Country Store.

    WESTON — The story began circulating this month: Over at the historic family-run country store (which, for discretion’s sake, shall remain nameless) father and sons were fighting when a New York City assistant totaled her car upon hitting a moose, only to fall harder for the brother whose first touch, she’s telling everyone, “sent a shocking bolt of heat straight through her.”

    Yes, Cabot, Gardner and Eliot Orton are familiar with the whole steamy tale. They’re the third-generation proprietors of the Vermont Country Store, an institution that’s now the inspiration for a new “Green Mountain Romance” series of novels by a surprising author.

    Marie Force was a mild- mannered Rhode Island mother of two when, rejected by major publishers, she began to write and release her own books. Soon she landed on the New York Times best-seller list, signed a contract with Penguin Random House and, most fatefully, turned on the NBC Nightly News.

    “A story about the Vermont Country Store and the hunky brothers who run it with their dad caught my attention,” she recently told USA Today. “That led to a trip to Vermont, some retail therapy at both of the Vermont Country Stores, an idea about a moose, a Mini Cooper, a city girl arriving in mud season wearing $500 suede boots — and the Abbott family of Vermont was born!”

    When Force initially contacted the Orton family, the latest generation to run the 1946 store didn’t respond with similar exclamation.

    “We’re guys,” says Cabot, the oldest. “We don’t think about romance novels. It’s not on our radar.”

    Then the author came to Vermont to share her story — and sales figures totaling more than 2 million.

    “We realized this woman is not only serious but she’s also a dynamo,” Cabot says. “She has an army of really devoted fans.”

    And an equally active imagination. Yes, the series’ just-released first book, “All You Need Is Love,” centers on what Weston’s 566 residents will recognize as “a quaint little New England town with a signature white-steeple church, a volunteer fire department, a combination café and gallery, and there, in the middle of everything, the Green Mountain Country Store.”

    But that’s where fact turns into fiction. The novel focuses on Will Abbott, “the most handsome hero” who works with the family patriarch and nine brothers and sisters — yes, a total of 10 children — in the fictional town of Butler. As the book opens, father and son are arguing over the store when a city girl, colliding with a moose, is saved by the country boy.

    “Turning, he caught her inches from his chest,” Force writes, “and the awareness that had sizzled between them downstairs chose that moment to reappear.”

    You get the idea. Alas, so did the Orton brothers, who saw the author’s previous work featured men covered in muscle and not much else.

    “We were concerned this might be racy,” Cabot admits.

    Fortunately, the winter setting requires the characters wear layer upon layer of clothing. Besides, the Ortons reasoned, it’s just a book. Who’d believe they’d fight over business as cupid’s arrows flew?

    Then again, readers may remember when the store made national headlines five years ago after father Lyman introduced a few “sexual wellness products” for aging couples and his sons publicly sided with critics — until customers began buying what’s now a 19-item line.

    So if romance does mirror reality, who’s the inspiration for the book’s buff brother?

    “I politely decline the opportunity to answer,” says Cabot before elaborating on why it could be either of his two siblings.

    Perhaps they should wait to decide who’s who: The author is planning at least nine more Vermont novels, one profiling each of the Abbott children and all bearing titles based on Beatles songs.

    “The road to happily ever after,” she notes, “promises to be muddy and pitted with potholes.”

    And potential misunderstandings.

    “If Marie is opening up our corner of the world to a new audience, that’s extremely exciting,” Cabot says. “But are people now going to wonder if we have seven other siblings?”

    @Tagline:kevin.oconnor

    @rutlandherald.com

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