Meet Pemberton. He's on his way back from spending three months in Boston settling his old man's estate (read: dealing with his dad's death) when the book opens.
He arrives to his hometown of Waynesville, near the mountains of North Carolina, to a waiting surprise: His spring fling, Rachel, is knocked up.
To make matters more complicated, he's traveling with his brand new wife, Serena. Well, this could get awkward…
Pemberton's thoughts race back and forth from his wife's nightmares last night to the fact that his own nightmare is awaiting him on the platform.
Rachel's dad is ticked off at Pemberton and wants to give the guy a piece of his mind so he rushes over to the newlyweds.
As Pemberton and Serena jump off the train, they meet some of Pemberton's friends, Wilkie and Buchanan. Everyone is surprised by Serena.
First of all, she doesn't wear dresses like the other women at this time. History snack: The book is set around in Great Depression, in 1929 to be exact.
Women were expected to be the quiet and submissive type, but not Serena—she shakes everyone's hand as if she were a man, and talks like one, too.
The men are a little taken aback when she claims she wants to see a mountain lion; they aren't used to a woman who gets her hands dirty.
While everyone's catching up, Rachel and her dad, Harmon, break up the happy reunion.
Harmon reports that he has business with Pemberton so everyone else better back off.
Serena is having none of it, though. Whatever he wants to say to her husband, Harmon can say to her, too. She doesn't scare easily.
Fine, he warned her. Harmon explains that Pemberton has gotten his sixteen-year-old daughter pregnant, and should step up to the plate.
Instead of getting upset, Serena congratulates Rachel on finding such a great guy to be her baby daddy. Um, okay…
Then Harmon threatens Pemberton to a knife fight. Too bad for him Pemberton trained at Harvard—the guy slashes Harmon in the guts, killing him.
Without missing a beat, Serena picks up Harmon's knife and hands it to Rachel, advising her to pawn it for money. Pemberton could keep it, but they'll be charitable for once.
Serena warns Rachel not to come near them for money again. Ever.
Pemberton and Serena are about to leave when Sheriff McDowell stops them and demands that they answer some questions.
Even though Pemberton claims it was self-defense, he has to pay a fine for disrupting the peace. He pays, answers McDowell's questions (which we don't hear), and is on his way.
Finally the newlyweds leave the station together, and Pemberton points out different places and trees along the way home.
When Serena comments on certain trees, they talk about how profitable they would be. We gather that Pemberton is in the timber business, and Serena is making it her job to learn every facet of his work.
She asks him a bunch of questions about the worker's pay, houses, and living situations to figure everything out as they explore the land.
After they get home, Serena bandages the gash in Pemberton's arm that he got from fighting Harmon.
She asks him if killing Harmon was different than the knife fight he got into in Boston in a bar. It turns out that other brawl was an accident, which disappoints Serena.
In any case, she's pleased that he was able to kill Harmon since everyone will respect him now.
Pemberton thinks about how unique Serena is compared to other women he's known—she's not embarrassed by her body and doesn't shy away from blood.
He marvels to himself that he just may have found the perfect woman.