Welcome, Readers… Your Search for Great Books Has Ended!

With the advent of ebook readers, reading has become more fun than ever!

But with the avalanche of fiction novels hitting the market every single day, how do you decide what to read and what to pass on? How can you find great books that take your breath away?

It’s tough, we know, but here at Ebook Romance Stories, we want to help you find great Christian and inspirational fiction novels that you will want to read again and again and again.

In fact, here’s what one of our readers said,

“I fell in love with this story, so much so, that I read the novel again the next day. I hated to say goodbye to these characters.”

That’s what we think you should say about every book you choose to read too!

We’re not talking about just good books.  We’re talking great books!

The problem is, how do you find those kinds of great books–the kind you want to read again and again?  Searching through Amazon and Barnes & Noble can be tedious and time-consuming.  So we want to take the guesswork out of the equation and introduce you to a Christian author you are going to fall in love with…

Best Selling Christian Romance Author

Staci Stallings

However, instead of us telling you about the great books you can find on this site, we’ll let actual readers tell you what they think of these awesome fiction novels:

  • “I was just going to start this story when going to bed and finish reading the next day…I was hooked.”
  • “I started reading the first two chapters on the author’s site….and got hooked for a variety of different reasons.”
  • “I had problems getting anything else done while reading this book.”
  • “This book makes you realize how many things in life keep us from being where we should be.”
  • “Full of truths and illustrations of God’s grace…”
  • “The ending of this wonderful novel actually made me cry, in a good way. It was a beautiful ending to a most beautifully written love story.”

So if you’re looking for quality novels, you’ve definitely come to the right place.

Feel free to browse the fiction novels available.

Read The Stories

Peruse an Excerpt or two

Even read the first Chapter of every fiction novel on the site.

You can’t go wrong choosing a Staci Stallings book from Ebook Romance Stories!

There truly are great books galore all over this site, so enjoy!

Peace and blessings to you…

And have a fabulous time reading and being inspired!

Flight 259, Chapter 1

Flight 259Chapter 1

 Heat. Unmitigated, unimaginable, unquenchable heat seared through the silk blouse Jenna wore and began melting the skin underneath. As she lay, stunned by the scene playing itself out before her, her mind screamed at her to get away—to save herself, to move, to do something, anything. But her body wouldn’t move—couldn’t move. The ground held her fast—clawing, clutching, clinging to her, holding her there even as she fought to get free. But she was paralyzed. Paralyzed by the fear, the pain, and…


Tearing herself upward, Jenna jerked upright. Instantly the ground released her, and she came straight up, gasping, shaking, blinking. But there were no flames in front of her now, only darkness and a silence more deafening than any explosion. She fought to breathe, to right her world, but even as she lay back down on the sweat-soaked pillow, she knew nothing in her world would ever be right again.


The water slid over her arms as the terror from the night before dissolved from her mind. There had always been something soothing about the water to Jenna Davis. Somehow, in the water, all of her troubles disappeared, and she could pretend, if only for a few moments, that everything was all right again. In recent years the water had become her only refuge from long days—and even longer nights—filled with memories and nightmares. In the water it all washed away as though the nightmares were no more than devil dreams from her childhood. Here, she could relax and believe for one improbably desperate moment that everything was again perfect, like it used to be.

She forced even that thought from her mind as she turned at one end of the pool and pushed off for the other side. One more lap, she told herself firmly, and then she would have to go. Her arms sliced easily through the cool water. This was her domain, her solace, her world, and she was determined to enjoy every last minute of it.


Toys lay scattered across the room. There was no way Scott Browning was going to get all of this stuff back into the three suitcases lying open on the beds. Why did his mother have to give Lane six million toys every time they came out here? However, he smiled in spite of himself as he surveyed the mess. He couldn’t be annoyed with her. She and his father had just seen him through one of the worst years of his life. How could he begrudge them a few toys for their only grandchild?

Somehow, he would just have to make them fit. He pulled yet another carry-on bag out of the closet. He hadn’t wanted to take this much luggage. It was always such a pain to get someone to help at the airports, but with a two-year-old, three suitcases, and a carry-on bag in tow, he wasn’t going to have much of a choice once he got to Newark.

Carefully, Scott stowed his laptop into the bottom of the carry-on. The long list of patients he would have to contact when he returned played itself over in his mind. Two weeks was too long to be gone from a private medical practice, but the downtime had done him good. He’d needed it more than even he had realized when they left. However, it was a luxury that wouldn’t come again anytime soon.

And downtime was over now. Reality was back. He knew the pressures of work would descend as soon as they stepped off that plane. Raking his fingers through his off-blond hair, he thought that at least with the laptop along, he might be able to get some work done before he got to Newark—that was if Lane would behave himself. That was always a big if as Scott had learned so well over the past year.


When she entered the house, the same wave of expectation flooded over her that always did. It had been almost three years, and still she expected them to greet her every time she returned. With a by-now-familiar shake of her head and her spirit, Jenna pushed her mind to more pressing matters. She had spent far too much time at the pool, and now she was going to have to hurry to make her flight. It was a good thing her bags had been packed for a week, she thought grabbing them up.

She swung one bag to her shoulder, but it slipped back to the floor as she caught sight of the pictures that still lined the dresser. Slowly she walked over to them and fingered the eight-by-ten family picture that dominated the top of the polished wood. Jeff would understand why she had to go, why staying here was going to kill her. He would, even if she didn’t. She forced the emotions that threatened to overflow back into their home in her heart. Now was not the time for tears. Now was the time to move on as everyone she knew had been telling her she needed to do for three years. Yes, it was time for her to do what she had been promising herself she would for two weeks.

This trip was about moving on with her life, about finally going forward rather than backward. Her gaze fell as it always did to the band of diamonds and gold on her finger. How could she move on with Jeff’s ring still planted firmly on her finger? She looked at it as though for the first time, and the tears came again, stinging her eyes. Beautiful had never adequately described that ring in her mind, and the word didn’t come close even now. It wasn’t that the ring was huge exactly, but he had picked it out for her. For that reason alone, it was beautiful.

Still. It had been three years, and they all said… She slipped the ring off her finger and picked up the box on the dresser she had gotten out two nights before when she had planned to do this very thing and then couldn’t. He would understand, she told herself firmly as she placed the ring in the box and then slid it into the top drawer. Yes, Jeff would understand.

With a jerk of her head to get her dark braid off her shoulder, Jenna picked up her bags again and walked resolutely out of the room, her heart aching more and more with every step. She had only taken a few steps from the room when the pain stopped her. No matter how hard she fought against it, she felt like she was leaving a piece of herself in that drawer. Surely, she reasoned, it wouldn’t hurt to just bring it along. She didn’t have to wear it—just put it in her purse. Teri would never know the difference, and Jenna was sure she wouldn’t have to answer the age-old question of why she was still wearing it.

Before she could lose her nerve, she raced back, grabbed the box from its hiding place and shoved it into her purse. Instantly she felt better. With Jeff with her, she was ready to go show Teri that she was ready to move on with her life.


The hugs and kisses overflowed as did the tears when Scott and Lane finally broke the bond and boarded the plane for home. It was difficult to explain to a two-year-old who had been spoiled rotten for two weeks why they had to leave. Worse, Scott’s heart didn’t fully understand it either, but the fight to get Lane onto the plane escalated to the point that his heartache over the situation became secondary. Embarrassment swept over him as several of the passengers eyed him when he finally swung his son, kicking and screaming, into his free arm and warned him in no uncertain terms that he’d better start behaving or else.

The kicking stopped, and Lane lapsed, thankfully, into a pouting silence. Scott sighed in relief. It wasn’t Lane’s fault, Scott thought as he looked at his son and gave him a tired hug. As hard as this past year had been on Scott, it had been infinitely worse on Lane. He tried not to let the melancholy sink into his thoughts, but it was never far away. He was not excited about the prospect of leaving any more than Lane was, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided. They had a life on the other side of the country whether they liked it or not.

He settled Lane into the middle seat and opened the overhead compartment. Then he thought better of stowing the bag up there and took his own seat next to the window. He stuffed the bag with the laptop and snacks under the seat ahead of him. If Lane needed something in-flight, Scott certainly didn’t want to have to climb over him and the other passenger to get it. Besides, with the laptop in there, there was always that slim chance that he might get to do a little work before they touched down in New Jersey.


The lights of the police cruiser flashed behind her as Jenna heaved a sigh and pulled to the side of the road. Now there was no way she was going to make her flight.

“Is there an emergency?” the officer asked as he approached the car.

“No, Sir,” she said, already digging for her identification. “I’m just late for a flight.”

He checked the usual papers and registration which took another precious five minutes. Jenna sat helplessly in the car willing him to hurry. So many things she hadn’t planned for, and now she was going to miss her flight to Newark and her chance to move on.

The officer returned and issued her a citation. He wished her a nice day and told her to slow it down, and once again she was on her way. Why do they always seem so happy to give you a ticket? she wondered angrily as she pulled into the overflowing parking lot of the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. There was no way she would make this flight.


“No leave. No leave!” Lane cried for the millionth time as Scott tried desperately to distract him from the memory of Grandma and Grandpa standing at the last checkpoint.

“Look, Lane, see the big planes,” Scott said pointing out the window.

“No leave,” Lane wailed as he kicked even harder. “No leave!”

“Lane,” Scott said sharply, his patience running thin. “Listen to me. You need to sit there and be quiet! Here.” He fished for the Tell-a-Bear Grandma had given him as a going away present. He handed the bear to Lane who immediately hugged it to him.

“No leave,” Lane said pitifully as a man in a three-piece suit took the seat next to him.

Scott took Lane’s tiny hand in his and willed him to go to sleep. The eight hour flight was going to be a disaster if Lane behaved like this the whole way. The whining stopped for the moment, and he seemed to settle down as Scott made the final preparations for them both. Then they taxied down the runway, bumped once, and were airborne—leaving Grandma and Grandpa waving at the window.


Why had she packed so much stuff? The bags crashed into her legs as Jenna raced through the crowded airport. They were draped over every inch of her as she made her way to the ticket counter. Lines and more lines. She let out an exasperated sigh and attached herself to what looked like the shortest one, praying it would move quickly.

However, by the time she reached the front of the line another thirty minutes had slipped by, and now she had only a few left before her precious flight to sanity would leave.

“Flight 734 to Newark,” Jenna said as she reached the front.

“That flight is going to leave soon,” the agent said.

“I know, but I need to catch it.”

The agent looked doubtful even as she punched in the numbers. “That will be Gate 84, follow the Concourse down through the security checkpoints and then take a right.”

“Thanks,” Jenna said and took off for the gate as fast as her legs and the carry-on would let her. The line through security was another maddening delay. Shoes. Jewelry. Belt. When she finally made it to the Concourse, she checked her watch—two minutes to spare. “Please be late. Please be late.”

Her legs were about to give out when she finally spotted Gate 84, but she pushed on with every remaining ounce of strength. She had to make this flight. However, just as she rounded the last corner, she could see the plane backing out and the attendant closing the door to the boarding platform.

“No!” Jenna yelled, rushing to the door. “No. Please. I have to make that flight.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the attendant said, shaking her head and latching the door behind her.

“No, you don’t understand,” Jenna said as panic gripped her soul. “I have to make that flight. I have to be on it.”

“I’m sorry,” the attendant repeated and walked away.

“But I have a ticket, and I’m here.” Jenna knew she sounded like a spoiled brat but she didn’t care about anything other than getting on that flight.

“I’m sorry,” the attendant said as she resumed her position at the counter and went to work on her computer.

“But you don’t understand. I need to get to Newark. I have to go to Newark.” Jenna stepped up and dropped her bags around her. It was true—Teri didn’t even know she was coming, but Jenna felt like this was her last chance, and she was doubtful that she would ever get herself to take another one.

“I may be able to get you on a plane that doesn’t go directly to Newark,” the attendant said.

Hope surged. “Oh, could you? That would be great.”

“Now, you would have to pay for it again,” the attendant said, her fingers poised over the keys.

“I don’t care.” Jenna shook her head and re-righted the last bag strap on her shoulder. “I have to get to Newark.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” The attendant started punching buttons on the computer as Jenna watched hopefully. “Yes, Flight 971 leaves in about thirty minutes from Gate 92. It will make a stop in Chicago where you can catch Flight 259 to Newark.”

“That’ll be great,” Jenna said, nodding. Anything. Anything at this point was great as long as she could leave.

“Now, you won’t get to Newark until around nine.”

“That’s all right,” Jenna said.

The attendant took the necessary information, punched some more keys on the computer, and Jenna was on her way to Gate 92.


“Eat, Da-da,” Lane whined, squirming in his seat. “Eat!”

“Lane, come on, you just ate at Grandma’s,” Scott said, and as soon as he said it, he regretted it.

“G’a’ma.” Little Lane became more pathetic. “No leave.”

The man in the seat next to Lane looked at him with sympathy. Scott smiled what he hoped was a winning smile and continued to work with Lane.

“I’ll tell you what.” Scott fished again in the bag at his feet, while commending himself for his foresight in stowing it where he could get to it. “I have some animal crackers.”

“C’ackers.” Both little hands shot out, reaching for the food and dropping the bear, which Scott retrieved. Scott gave him a few crackers, hoping they would get the chance to get some more at Chicago. If not, he would be down to a health bar and gum.


Finally on the plane, Jenna slipped the headphones over her ears and closed her eyes. She had never been a big fan of flying. That was why she and Jeff had gone to Colorado on their honeymoon. He had tried so hard to talk her into going to the Bahamas, but she wouldn’t budge—no flying, no way. The grudging compromise had been Colorado. However, she recalled with a smile, it wouldn’t have mattered where they were as they hadn’t seen much of anything for the week other than the inside of the cottage where they had stayed and each other.

The opening strains of St. Elmo’s Fire poured over her like rain, and she settled in for the three-hour flight.


The gentleman seated next to Lane was quickly becoming annoyed. His glances at Scott had turned from sympathetic to annoyed somewhere over Nebraska, and Scott was now fighting to keep his son occupied and happy—neither of which was working.

“Do you want to look out the window?” Scott asked as cheerfully as possible.


“Do you want to read a storybook?”

“No. G’a’ma!”

“Lane.” Scott shook his head. “Grandma had to stay at home, but we can call her when we get home. Okay?”

“G’a’ma,” Lane wailed, a move that ripped Scott’s patience in two. In one motion he snapped off the seatbelt, pulled the little boy up out of the seat and crossed in front of his annoyed fellow passenger. This couldn’t continue. He headed for the lavatory and once inside, locked the door.

“Now you listen here,” Scott said, trying to keep his own anger in check. It wasn’t easy. “Look at me. You cannot keep crying like this. There are other people on this plane, and you have to be a good boy. Do you hear me?”

“No,” Lane wailed, trying to squirm away from his father’s grasp.

“Lane Scott Browning,” Scott said furiously, and without thinking he did something he had rarely ever done—he reached down and swatted Lane—hard. Lane whimpered and cringed away. The sight twisted Scott’s heart right out of him. “Now look. You’ve got to behave. Okay? We’re going out there, and you’re going to sit still, and be quiet. Do you hear me?”

Lane said nothing, just sucked his thumb with big, scared eyes.

The puppy dog look was no match for the anger. “I said do you hear me?”

Lane looked at him, and the tears trickling down his son’s face ripped Scott’s heart out. This was not what he had bargained for when Amber had announced she was pregnant what seemed a lifetime ago. Then again, he hadn’t bargained on much of any of the rest of it either.

“Okay,” Scott finally said more calmly as he picked the child up. He unlatched the door and walked with his son in his arms to his seat. He could feel the eyes of every person he walked by on him, and he was thankful he was only a few seats from the back. Lane continued to whimper even as he settled back down into the seat. Maybe holding him wasn’t such a bad idea, so Scott simply cradled Lane next to him. It seemed the better idea for both of them.


Jenna’s mind was working overtime. This was exactly why she had avoided being alone. Alone meant time to think and remember. Her thoughts bounced back and forth until they found a resting place on the events of the previous evening. She willed the thoughts away, but nothing would replace them for very long. Finally she gave in and let them take her.

It wasn’t the first fight she’d ever had with her mother, she reasoned, and surely her mother would eventually understand her decision, but right now the fight was replaying itself over and over in her head.

Had her mother really said those things to her? Had she really said those things to her mother? Jenna shook her head at the thought as the familiar tears threatened. Why did her mother have to be so clingy? Why did Jenna have to be so stubborn? They were questions that would never be answered, but they plagued her just the same.

She could still see her mother standing in the kitchen, the hurt and the anger in her eyes, yelling at Jenna that she was throwing her life away by leaving.

“What life?” Jenna had yelled back furiously. “Playing tennis with my mother during the day and coming back to an empty house filled with memories every night? I’m 29 years old. I can’t live like this forever. It’s not my fault you think you can’t start over. I’ve spent three years trying to make up for what happened, but I’m tired of trying, Mother. I’m tired. Do you understand that? I am sick of it, and I can’t do it anymore. Nothing I can say or do is going to bring them back. Don’t you get that? Nothing! They’re gone! And they’re not coming back!”

“But we still have each other,” her mother said as the tears overflowed her eyes.

“No, we don’t.” The pain tore holes in Jenna, and she cringed from the words. “I don’t have you. You have me, but I’ve never had you. I can’t talk to you. I can’t lean on you. I spend all my time trying to fill the void that is my life and yours, but I can’t do it anymore. I can’t, and I won’t!”

“So, you’re leaving then? Just like that. You’re going to pack up and leave me here by myself—your own mother? This is your solution? To run away? That’s just so typical of you.”

Hurt crawled over the ache. “I can’t stay here. Don’t you see that? I have to find a place to start, and then maybe I can go on with my life.”

Her mother still looked regal even under the haggard scowl she wore. “But you can do that here.”

“No, I can’t.”

Crossing her arms over the satin sheen of her blouse, her mother looked like a petulant two-year-old. “Yes, you can.”

But Jenna knew better, and this time she wasn’t backing down. “No, I can’t, Mother. You won’t let me!”

Hate bled through her mother’s eyes. “And Teri will?”

“Yes, Teri will—at least for a while, for now—and then we’ll see.”

“What does that mean?”

Tired slithered over Jenna’s spirit as she sat down heavily on the little stool overlooking the kitchen counter. “I don’t know what it means. It means I’m leaving, and I don’t know when I’m coming back.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

It was at that moment something in her snapped. She stood, pulled her purse to her shoulder, and looked her mother square in the eye. “You know what, I really don’t care…”

Those had been the last words she had spoken to her mother before walking out and slamming the door behind her. Now, here she was flying somewhere high over Missouri—headed who knew where, and strangely for the first time in a long time, she felt almost free.


The final hour of the flight had been mostly uneventful. At least they hadn’t had to go back to the lavatory again. Scott had regained some of his confidence in his own parenting abilities, which was saying something. Lane was now sleeping peacefully in his arms, and the man across the abyss of the seat next to him had long since ceased the dirty looks.

“Sir,” the attendant said kindly. “You need to put the little boy back in his seat for landing.”

Scott looked at her with unseeing eyes. She couldn’t be serious.

“He needs to be buckled in,” she said, indicating the middle seat. Okay, apparently she was serious.

“Oh, sure,” Scott said, sitting up straight. “Okay.”

He tried to deposit Lane into the seat without waking him up, but one too many jostles brought the child back to life, and he whimpered softly.

“No, Lane,” Scott said softly. “Shh. It’s okay. Just sleep.”

As gently as possible he buckled Lane’s belt, and the transfer was completed successfully. Scott breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ding!” The speaker above him crackled to life. “We are now preparing to make our final decent into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.”

Scott did not hear another word of the announcement because Lane let out a terrified scream that obliterated all other sounds.

“No, Lane, hey buddy, it’s okay,” Scott said, jumping into frantic action. “It’s all right I promise. No, no don’t cry. Lane, we’re going to land, see…”


“Flight 259 to Newark, now boarding at Gate 134.”

Jenna gathered her things, fighting tired with everything in her. One more flight and she would be in New Jersey—far, far away from Texas. If she could just get there, surely everything would be better.

She glanced out the window once again, and apprehension rose in her. The rain outside zigged and zagged down the windows in crazy patterns. This was something she hadn’t counted on. Flying was bad enough, but flying in the rain was worse.

Her courage was harder to gather up than her luggage. It was all she could do to keep her eyes from wandering back to that window—back to the dismal scene outside.


“Excuse me, Miss.” Scott hailed a passing flight attendant. “Could you tell me if we have enough time to go get some extra snacks?”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” the attendant said, eyeing Lane squirming to get into the aisle. “It’s only going to take us a few minutes, and we should be back in the air again.”

Scott sighed, nodded, and thanked her. With one hand on his son, he pulled the bag out from under the seat and fished through it trying to get an accurate assessment of how many snacks they had left. The sad and terrifying truth was he would have to be very sparing in his snack offerings this flight. He was already dreading the next three hours. This trip was murder on him. Lane, he was sure, couldn’t take much more.


Jenna stowed her purse under the middle seat about halfway from the front of the plane. She had no desire to sit by the window and watch it rain so she chose a seat next to a man who was busily reading a magazine next to a closed window.

The plane around her filled quickly. Surely it couldn’t be long before they would take off. She surveyed her fellow passengers. They all looked much like she was sure she did—harried, tired, and frazzled. Traveling like this was one of her least favorite things to do, and she contemplated simply driving home when that time came, if it ever did.

“Stop it, Jenna. Just don’t think about it.” The words under her breath came as she flipped the dark strands that were rapidly coming loose from the braid back.

A nice-looking, young couple passed her on their way to the back. She smiled to herself—probably on their honeymoon. The thought slid through her mind, and it snagged in the deep dark webbing that now surrounded her heart. There was something about honeymooners that set them apart from everyone else. She thought of Jeff again. He was never far from her thoughts. Tall, lean, dark and very handsome. They had made such a great couple.

“But, sweetheart,” Jenna heard the young man say just above her, “there just aren’t two seats together.”

“But I want to sit by you,” his bride said, and fear tinged the words.

“I…” The young man looked around in barely disguised frustration, trying to find a way out of this situation.

“Here.” With no further thought, Jenna jumped to her feet and yanked her purse up from the floor. “You can have my seat.”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t.” The young man shook his head even as his eyes pleaded with her not to rescind the offer.

“No, no, I insist.” She smiled kindly. “You two should sit together.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” the young woman asked, her eyes spilling gratefulness everywhere.

“No, of course not.” Jenna moved out into the aisle so they could slip in front of her.

“We really appreciate this,” the young man said. “It’s her first time to fly.”

“Don’t mention it.” Only then did Jenna realize she had to find another seat. Looking around, she realized that wouldn’t be easy. Except for a few unoccupied middle seats, there weren’t many left. Finally she saw an aisle seat toward the back of the plane. She headed for it and smiled to the young man and little boy sitting there. “Is this seat taken?”

The man who sat by the window with his arm around the child looked up, and pools of clear blue gazed out from under the tumble of disheveled blond hair. “What? Oh. Uh. No. No.”

Jenna wasted no time getting into the seat. She pushed her purse under the seat ahead of them. The flight attendant requested that seatbelts and tray tables be readied for take-off. But as Jenna reached for hers, there was an un-Godly scream from right next to her. Instinctively she put her hand out to sooth the child.

“Shhh, it’s okay, sweetheart,” she said without thinking.

Suddenly she stopped and looked up in embarrassment. He was staring at her over the child’s head. Nothing moved. All she could see were the incredible blue eyes gazing right through her soul.

The squirming between them brought them both back to reality.

“Lane,” the man said harshly. “Settle down!”

However, Lane continued to squirm and was now starting to scream.

“Here.” Jenna grabbed up her purse and reached inside. “Look what I have.” She produced a sucker from the depths of the bag and held it out to Lane who reached for it without hesitation. She unwrapped it and handed it to him just as she realized what she had done.

“Oh!” she said more embarrassed than before. “I’m sorry. Do you mind?”

“Are you kidding me?” The man blinked and then smiled. “I think you’re our savior.”

She looked down at Lane already happily munching away on the sucker, and it was clear he was not going to relinquish it anytime soon. It was all she could do not to reach out and touch him. He looked like a tiny angel that had alighted on earth. “He’s precious.”

“Thanks.” The man settled Lane back into his own seat and buckled him in before checking his own. He was young, early thirties she guessed though she didn’t dwell there. He smiled at her again with an impish, weary shrug. “But you might have a different opinion by the time this ride is over.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Jenna said, and she couldn’t stop the smile as she looked down and watched Lane. He was beautiful.

The guy’s smile faded. “Yeah, well. You didn’t see the last guy who got to sit by him. I think he was more than happy to see the airport.”

“Oh, you didn’t just get on then?” Jenna asked as the plane began taxiing to its take-off point.

“No, we’ve been on since Boise.”

“Boise? Oh, wow, no wonder he’s tired of that seat.”

“Tell me about it.” He laughed, seeming to relax.

“We’ve been cleared for take-off,” the attendant announced.

Jenna sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Take-off and landing—the worst times of the flight. She would fly forever if it weren’t for those two times.

The plane made a final turn and began to pick up speed. The points outside the window became indecipherable blurs until the bulk of the plane lifted off the runway, and without so much as a bump, they were airborne.

Available June 28 in the “Whispers of Love” Collection

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When I’m Weak, Excerpt

When I'm Weak 4-20-2016


When I’m Weak

The Grace Series, Book Two


With a smile curling under the scruff between his nose and lip, Derek watched her.

Jaycee felt his gaze and shrank from it. Looking at her watch, she let her shoulders slump. “So. You about ready? I could get the check.”

Although she had expected him to bounce right up, he didn’t move except for his finger going up and down the moisture on his glass. “I don’t know.” He glanced over to the tiny dance floor that now had a few couples scattered on it. Tipping his head that direction, he shrugged. “You into dancing?”

Her eyes jerked up so quickly, they almost came loose from her body. “Dancing?” she asked in barely disguised horror. “Oh. No. I don’t really…” She glanced over at the little wooden floor as that song ended and the guitarist thanked the audience.

“Oh, come on. One dance,” Derek said. “I promise I won’t step on your toes.”

One dance. Was he out of his mind?

“Then we can go home and finish the laundry,” he teased, and Jaycee felt her chest going warm. When did they turn on the heaters?

Picking up the edge of her glasses, she let out a breath and reached for her tea mostly to stall. It took amazing amounts of effort not to spill the liquid right down the front of her.

At that moment he stood and held his hand out and down across the table to her. “Come on.” He tilted his head toward the dance floor, and Jaycee thought she might actually pass out. In fact, if she could have made that happen, she would have.

Not seeing any way to turn him down, she nodded to herself. Okay. It’s one dance, Jayc. Don’t freak out here. It’s just one, little dance. Just get through it, and we can go home. Putting her hand into his took a supreme act of willpower, and standing from the table took even more because his hand proved to be so warm and solid around hers. “But I’m not very good at this,” she said, cowering behind his advance as he wove their way through the tables, his hand wrapped around hers so she couldn’t have run if she had wanted to. “I haven’t…”

The dance floor was bathed in a soft golden light that made it shine, and when they got there, Derek turned to her and smiled. Gently, he put his hands at her waist, and Jaycee somehow got hers up and onto his shoulders though her gaze wisely chose to stay at their feet.

“See,” he said after a minute. “This isn’t so bad.”

Bad? Was he completely, certifiably insane? This was horrible. This was dangerous. This was crazy.

“You’re pretty good,” he said, his gaze sliding down to her and staying right there.

She whipped her head back, sending her ponytail back and off her shoulder as she looked up at him. “I haven’t done this since high school. The prom. And I was horrible at it then too.”

However, the look in his grayish-green eyes was soft. “I wouldn’t say you’re horrible. A little quirky. Kind of bossy sometimes. But not horrible.”

The compliment or whatever it was drove right down into her heart because she was not at all prepared for him to be so charming. Why that was, she wasn’t sure because she had seen him be charming. More than a few times. Then she wrenched her gaze from his and dropped it between them. What was she thinking? This was Derek West. The Derek West. The man who was practically a household name with more women than she cared to count in their many travels. Just because they were here dancing didn’t change that fact. More to the point, the reason he was even dancing with her was because there was not a better choice in the place.

Thankfully, before she completely humiliated herself, that song ended, and she let go of him and backed away, tucking her hands in her back pockets. “Uh. Thanks.”

However, he didn’t move from the spot as the next song started. “One more, and then we’ll go.”

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When I'm Weak 4-20-2016

When I’m Weak, Chapter 1

When I’m WeakWhen I'm Weak 4-20-2016

The Grace Series, Book Two

Chapter 1

“And that’s a wrap! Thanks, everyone!” Jaycee Lawrence called over the crowded front lawn. Cameras, boom mics, and cords snaked in all directions, save for the direction where Derek West stood, hugging the grateful homeowners one last time.

“Thank you so much, Derek,” John Walters said, shaking her star’s hand like an old-time pump he was trying to get water from.

Derek. Smooth, cool, easy-going Derek just smiled under that thick scruff of whiskers that got all the girls’ hearts a-flutter. “It really did turn out beautifully.”

June Walters gave Derek a hug. “You are so amazing. I still can’t believe how incredible the kitchen is. I might never leave.”

“Well, I hope you leave sometimes,” Derek said with a laugh. “John here might get lonely.”

“Are you kidding? I’ll be in there with her!” John put his arm around his wife and hugged her to him. “We, really… we’re so grateful.”

Staying just slightly to the side and back out of the way, Jaycee waited. Soon enough Derek would tear himself away from the adulation and rejoin reality. She used to worry about that, jumping in to tell him they needed to go right away. Now she knew he knew that well enough, but he also understood the value of spending just a few more minutes after the cameras stopped rolling so the homeowners didn’t feel like they were just one more stop on his agenda.

“Thank you, too, Jaycee.” John came over and shook her hand though maybe not as enthusiastically.

“You’re so welcome. We hope you love it.”

“Oh, we will,” his wife said. “In fact, I already know what I’m going to make tonight.”

John looked at her. “Let’s go get started.”

They turned and waved their good-byes. With one more wave back at them, Jaycee looked up at Derek and patted him on the back. “Another miracle makeover. The ratings people are going to love it.”

He shrugged and smiled that smile that almost wasn’t as they started for the cars. The crew had already started the cleaning job that would take most of the next two hours. “Making dreams come true. That’s what we’re all about, right?”

She liked that about him. His focus. He got a job, did the job incredibly well, and was happy just to make others happy.

“So where’re we off to next?” He accepted a bottle of water from one of the assistants to an assistant and downed half of it in one chug before they even got to the car.

“Indiana.” Jaycee slid into the driver’s seat of the little white rental car they’d been using for the past six weeks and stowed the clipboard that was never far away in the backseat with the rest of her things. “Gary. It’s a cute little two-story with a dad and his daughter. The mom passed away a couple years ago. They’re still trying to recover, move on, you know?” She started the car and headed out of the little neighborhood for the last time, bound for the airport. If they were lucky, they’d be in Gary early enough to get some decent food and maybe even a good night’s sleep.

“Kitchen? Family room?” He finished the water and eased back into the seat. She couldn’t blame him for being exhausted. He’d been working night and day on this last remodel, and like most of them it had gone right down to the wire.

“Basement and maybe the master.” Glancing both directions, she turned out onto the four-lane and checked the direction on the GPS. North. Good. At least she wouldn’t get them hopelessly lost this time. Driving had been one of the most challenging parts of this job at first, that and keeping her heart in check every time Derek West walked into the room.

Nobody had to tell her why he was such a hit on the Home & Hearth Channel. Tall, with massively good looks. Just the right amount of build. Kind. Affable. Hard-working. He was the guy every woman in America wanted in her kitchen. The fact that she got to work with him nearly round the clock and up-close-and-personal had not been lost on her heart for the first several months, but eventually, they had settled into an easy rhythm and she couldn’t be upset about that. After all, she, more than anyone, knew Derek West was not the kind of guy who would ever settle down with someone. Oh, no. He had hot dates lined up from one coast to the other, and Jaycee had finally accepted that none of those dates would ever include her. As they sped out onto the freeway, she looked over at him because he hadn’t replied, and sure enough, he was already sleeping.

She wasn’t even going to count how many hours of sleep he had missed the last three nights. The job had been going so well, and then the pipe behind the sink ruptured, and after that, well, it was all kind of a blur to her as well.

Her cell phone beeped, and she dug for it in her purse on the console between them, finally coming up with it just as another motorist honked his displeasure with her driving. “Pick a lane,” she said to the car in front of her. With Derek sleeping, she didn’t want to use the speaker phone, so she swiped it on and put it to her ear. “Jaycee Lawrence.”

“Jaycee. I’m glad I caught you. Listen, we’ve decided to bump up production on the Smith house.”

“Bump it up? Brent? You can’t be serious.” With only one hand on the wheel, she maneuvered into the split lane veering off to the right. “Derek is done for. Seriously. He needs a few days.”

“Days he doesn’t have. Tell you what. It’s Thursday. If you guys can be at the Smith house in the morning to do the initial run through, he can take Saturday and Sunday off. How’s that?”

Gee, thanks for your magnanimous generosity. She wanted to say it, but she didn’t. “Can we at least make it ten tomorrow? We’re going to be lucky to get there tonight at any decent hour.”

Another horn honked, and she struggled to keep her nerves in check.

“Fine. Ten, but don’t be late.”

“When have I ever been late, Brent? Will it be Elle or Katie?”

“Elle is setting this one up. I’ve already got Katie scouting in Nevada. I thought that would be a nice change of pace. We haven’t done anything in Nevada yet.”

Jaycee couldn’t think about Nevada. Indiana was taxing her coping mechanisms. In fact, if they made it to the airport alive, she was going to celebrate. “Okay, listen, Brent, I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you soon.”

“All right. Have a safe flight.”

And with that, she beeped the phone off and flipped it onto her purse.

In the other seat Derek shifted and opened one eye. “Brent?”

“Yeah.” However, Jaycee shook her head as her gaze took in all the traffic. “We’ll talk about it later.” She glanced over at him. “Get some sleep.”

“Hm. Okay.” And it was clear he was already there.


The airport wasn’t much better than the traffic, and Derek was glad he had a trail guide who would chop down the Amazon to get him where he needed to be on time. It was nice not to have to worry about things like flights and schedules, tickets and when he would eat. Mostly he just worked and let her take care of the details of living.

“I figured we could grab something quick for a late lunch,” Jaycee said as they stood in the line taking off their shoes and pulling everything out of their pockets. This part had at first been awkward, but they had done it so many times, now it was just routine.

Derek flipped his wallet into the little gray plastic container and added his boots and belt too. “Okay but nothing with grease. Whatever those burgers were the guys brought in last night… wow.”

Stepping into and then through the scanner, he collected his things back on the other side.

“That was not my fault,” Jaycee said, stepping through the scanner and being cleared to continue. “I told you we should’ve ordered Chinese.”

“And you were right as usual.” He put one terracotta-colored Chukka boot on and then the other before grabbing his belt and putting the rest of himself back together.

Jaycee was on the other side doing much the same thing except with bracelets and her watch, her clipboard, purse, tablet case and boots, she didn’t get put back together quite so easily. He was ready and waiting long before she was. Finally, she strode over to him attaché in one hand, purse in the other. “Kendall said the proofs from the photo shoot came in,” she said as he turned to follow her up the concourse. “I thought maybe we could look at them on the plane.”

“Are any of them worth anything? I still think we should have postponed that one. I felt like I was going to die that day.”

“You don’t have to remind me. I was there, remember?”

At Gate 15, they stopped to check all the pertinent information on the little board. When Jaycee was satisfied that everything was on-schedule and correct, she let out a hard sigh. “So, something to eat. A sandwich? There’s bar-be-que down the way I think.”

“How about a steak?”

She appraised him with one slow nod. “How about when we get to Gary?”

Derek put his head back. “Fine. Then I guess a sandwich.”

With no more discussion, they headed back the way they had come. “You know, I really think that last stand-up with the Walters went well,” she said as they walked. “Mrs. Walters loved that pull down faucet on her sink.”

“Oh, you noticed that too, huh?” At the door to the first little restaurant they came to, he opened it and held it for her.

Once inside she ordered up the table, and they were seated in the dimly lit area over by the bar. It was 3:15 in the afternoon, so it wasn’t like the place was hopping.

Taking his menu, Derek blinked his eyes wider. “Wow. Either they don’t want you to see the menu or the prices. What is up with the lighting in this place?” He looked up and frowned. “Well, no wonder, they’ve got three lights out, and this overhead is doing nothing but creating ambiance if you want to call it that.”

Jaycee shook her head. “Do you ever stop? Seriously? Can’t you walk into a single space without figuring out how you would redo it if you got the chance?”

His smile was sheepish. “Sorry. Habit I guess.”

She perused the menu. “What sounds good?”

“I told you. Steak.”

“And I told you we’ll do steak when we get to Gary.” She reached over and snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Focus. This is lunch. Remember?”

“Well, if I had gotten more than three hours of sleep, or if there was maybe more light on the subject…”

With that, Jaycee reached down into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She snapped it on, the light coming on with the intensity of a backlit computer. “There.” In one motion she handed it to him. “Happy now.”

Derek angled the light at his menu. “Oh, wow, look. They have steak.”

Letting her shoulders slump, Jaycee gave up. “Fine. What do you want with your steak?”


In no time they were on the plane winging northward over corn fields and the little towns that dotted the Midwest. Destination O’Hare International in Chicago which Jaycee was still trying not to think about. She pulled out her NotePad and swiped at it to bring up the photo shoot proofs marketing had sent over.

“There were a couple of these I thought were pretty good,” she said, swiping some more. “Like this one. I like the leaning back thing.”

Derek took one look at it and grimaced.

“Bad?” she asked, gauging his reaction.

He shook his head. “You know I hate this stuff.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry, but Brent wants your opinion. It’s your show as you keep reminding everyone within earshot.”

“I know, but I’m a contractor not a male model. This stuff is just weird.” He took the thing from her and swiped through the pictures. Most of them he couldn’t have even seen because he went too fast. “Bad. No. Hate it. Yuck.” Holding it out, he contorted his face. “Seriously? I look like I just ate a lemon.”

Reaching for it, she took it back and went back a couple. “They are not that bad. Look. This one’s good with the sledgehammer. Makes you look all macho and tough.”

“Okay. That one’s not so bad. But these others? What is this one?” He crossed his arms like he had them in the picture and put a haughty look on his face. “I look like the unhappy librarian right before closing time.”

Jaycee laughed at his theatrics. “It’s a good thing the marketing team can’t hear you. They would fold up their tents and go home. We only spent half a day on these. Now come on. We’ve got to narrow this down to like five or six they can use for the promos.”

With a sigh, Derek took the little device back and started swiping through them again.

“That one’s okay,” Jaycee said, leaning over his shoulder to see. “I like the fence with the black background.”

“It’s not too bad I guess,” he admitted without enthusiasm.

“And I like this close up.”

“Really? I look like I’m trying out for a soap opera.”

“I guess you could be the handyman,” she teased. “I could mention it to Brent.”

Instantly Derek sat up, wide-eyed. “Don’t you dare even think about doing that. You do and I will so kill you and bury your body so no one will ever find it.”

Biting her lips to keep from laughing out loud, Jaycee ducked even as she looked around. “Shhh. Other people will hear you.”

He gave her a hard, angry look. “Yeah? Well, it would serve you right.”

“Oh.” She sat up again. “By the way, I was going to mention. They called from marketing, and one of the syndicated radio talk shows called.” With a brush, she ran her hand through the air. “Totally a fishing expedition to see if you’d like to do their show. I told marketing I’d run it by you.”

“A radio show?” he asked dubiously. “What would we talk about?”

“I’m guessing your meteoric rise to the top of the remodeling world. Either that or the host’s leaky faucet and how to fix it. Could go either way.”

“Ha. Ha.” Tiring of the task of looking at himself, Derek handed her the NotePad back. A second and he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Surprise jumped on her. “What? Aren’t you going to help me pick something?”

“You pick. I don’t care. Just not the one with the lemon face.”

Swallowing her sigh, Jaycee sat back in her own seat. Yes, she thought sarcastically to the part of her that registered frustration, she had such a hard life. Staring at a handsome guy who could sweep any girl he wanted to off her feet. Yes, yes, she had the hardest job in America.

And with that, she pulled out her notebook and set about choosing the pictures he would have chosen if he was actually choosing them himself.


O’Hare turned out to be a madhouse. Jaycee had known it would be, but still she had hoped. “I wish we could get a cab.”

“To go to Gary?” Derek followed her from the baggage claim to the car rental counter. “What would that cost like a million bucks?”

“I said I wish. Then again, it might be worth it.” She stepped up and explained what they needed to the rental car attendant. Thankfully Derek wasn’t the hard-to-please type. Four wheels that wouldn’t break down and that was good enough for him.

While the attendant punched in the information, Jaycee dragged her purse back up to her shoulder and checked her watch. “I knew that layover was a bad idea. Traffic is going to be a nightmare.”

Standing there, with the black shoulder strapped bag dangling from his shoulder, Derek put his hands in his pockets and smiled and nodded to a few people who passed by. Instantly they ducked behind their hands as they stared.

“Here we are, Ms. Lawrence,” the attendant said. “I just need your signature. Here. Here. And here. And then, here as well.”

She fought to keep the purse strap on her shoulder as she juggled the attaché. No one would ever be able to read this signature. “Done.”

The attendant nodded. “The shuttle outside will take you to the car lot.”

“Thanks.” Jaycee reached down and retrieved the handle of her rolling suitcase. “Okay. All set.” It was interesting how normal the odd looks had become from others in airports and everywhere else they went. Outside and with him trailing her, she checked one way and then the other before heading down to the little green van. Getting in, she looked at her watch again. “It’s going to be eight o’clock even if we’re lucky. I sure hope Elle has the hotel thing all ironed out. In fact…” She scooted over for him to follow. With difficulty, she dug the cell phone out and placed the call. “Elle, hey, this is Jaycee. Yeah, we just landed. Can you give me the address for the hotel? K. Yeah. Hold on.”

The juggling continued as she fished for a paper and a pen, knowing she should have had those ready. “Yeah. Okay.”

With a screech the van pulled out into traffic, sending Jaycee careening right into Derek’s shoulder.

“Ugh. Crud. Sorry,” she said and scooted farther over. “Yeah. I’m here. Okay. What is it?”


Chicago traffic proved even more challenging than Jaycee had anticipated. The GPS system on the little car kept saying, “Turn left in 500 feet” because they had sat in the exact same spot for ten minutes.

“I know that!” Jaycee finally said to the thing. “Will you shut up already?”

With concern, Derek looked over at her. “How much coffee did you have this morning?”

She glared at him. “Clearly not enough.” Coming up, she hit the horn. “Come on, people! Move already!” Frustration stacked on top of her as around the seatbelt, she put her head onto her fist that was propped there at the top of her elbow on the windowsill. “I do not believe this. We’re never going to get there.”

“So, what’s the rush?” He stretched out his long, jean-clad legs and crossed his arms. “You late for a hot date or something?”

Corralling her frustration with life so she didn’t outright growl at him, Jaycee reached down and flipped on the air. “No. I was hoping to have some time to get out of these clothes.” She angled her nose down to her shirt. “I’m not even sure I changed this morning.”

He leaned over and took a sniff as well. “Probably not.”

“Ha. Ha.”

With a tip of his head, he smiled at her. “Seriously. You should learn to chill a little. Look around. It’s a beautiful day. We’re in Chicago, the windy city on a day that’s not even windy. You don’t think that’s something to enjoy?”

Enjoy? That word was not a word in her life’s vocabulary at the moment. “I just want to get to the Interstate and out of this wall-to-wall nightmare. Is that really so much to ask? Come on!” She honked at the guy cutting right into her lane. “Are you kidding me? Where did you learn to drive?”

One eye on her, Derek reached over and hit the radio button. “Maybe some music would help.”

“Not likely.” Still she watched his arm, brushed with just the right amount of glistening hair. Masculine. Did every part of him have to scream that word so loudly? She re-anchored her gaze outside and forced a calming breath into her lungs as thankfully she made the final turn. “Yes. The Interstate. Finally.”

Next to her Derek bobbed his head to the beat. “I love this song.”

It would’ve been nice to have a song to love or to have heard a song in the past year. Unfortunately, songs in her world were few and far between.


“Two rooms for Starr Productions,” Jaycee said when she tumbled up to the extended stay hotel counter barely making it before she dropped everything. “I think Elle Peterson already booked them?”

“Let’s see here.”

It was then that Jaycee noticed Derek hadn’t followed her all the way to the counter. In fact, he was no longer even behind her. In concern, she scanned the lobby and found him, chatting up a cute blonde who sat on one of the comfortable-looking couches.

Fighting the annoyance, Jaycee tugged at the slightly-rounded bottom of her blouse and then resettled the strap of her purse on her shoulder. He’s a grown man, Jayc. He can do whatever he wants.

“Ah, yes. Here it is. Ms. Peterson is in 515 in the tower, and the other two rooms are adjacent to that. 517 and 519.”

“Excellent.” Three more signatures, and Jaycee was ready to call it a life and die. “Thank you very much.”

“We hope you enjoy your stay with us.”

“Oh, I’m sure we will.” She accepted the little credit-card looking key things, gathered up all of her belongings one last time and with a sigh to get herself moving again, headed over to the two now chatting away as if they had been friends forever. It wasn’t easy to smile at the woman, but Jaycee did so anyway. Then she looked up at Derek. “Here’s your key-card. We’re up in the tower.”

“Oh, great. Thanks.” He accepted the card and shoved it in his pocket. “Jaycee, this is…” He looked at the woman who Jaycee now saw had a small waist cinched with a tiny belt and jewelry dripping from every limb.

“Bree,” she said with a thick Wisconsin accent.

Derek smiled his approval. “Bree. Right.” Then he turned his attention solely on Bree. “Listen, I’ll be back down in about 30 minutes if you don’t mind waiting?”

Wanting to crawl into a hole somebody else had dug, Jaycee fought to not put her head down although she did wind her lips under her teeth to keep from screaming. Humiliation drained through every pore of her whole body, and she could not stop the sigh.

“Great,” Derek said, touching Bree’s arm, and Jaycee didn’t miss the wink he gave the woman. “It won’t take me long.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

I’ll be waiting, Jaycee wanted to mimic. Ugh, could the woman be any more transparently coquettish? Even Jaycee was embarrassed for her. “Are we going now?”

Derek looked down at her as if he’d forgotten she was standing there. “Ready when you are.”


It took less time than even he had thought it would, and Derek West, shined up and polished, headed out for his night on the town with Bree Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Was. She was hot. That’s really all that mattered.

Coming out of the hotel room, he glanced down the hallway at Jaycee’s door and thought about knocking to tell her where he was going and not to wait up. However, she had things to do, and he didn’t want to disturb her. With a check for his wallet and his room key, he headed out. Maybe Gary, Indiana wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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When I'm Weak 4-20-2016
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Mirror Mirror, Chapter 1

Mirror Mirror Large coverChapter 1

“She’s coming. I cannot believe she is coming. Seriously.” Jaycee Lawrence plunked down next to Luke Baker for two seconds and then jumped back up and continued to pace in front of the back step of his parents’ home. He watched her—back and forth, back and forth—unsure of just what to say to defuse the time bomb in her voice and movements.

“Is it really so bad?” Luke finally asked, his longish, blondish hair threatening to slide down his forehead and into his eye as it always did. He scratch at the summer scruff on his jaw in concern and worry. He’d been trying for ten minutes to calm Jaycee down, but he of all people knew when she got riled, calm was a long shot on a short horse.

Just like that she spun on him, sending her high, light brown ponytail swinging behind her. She glared at him through the harsh black glasses she insisted on wearing so everyone knew she was not just a dumb girl. “You’re kidding me. Right?” She crossed her arms and the glare became a scowl. “Please tell me you’re kidding. How can you even sit there and ask that question? You know as well as I do that nothing good can come from her coming here. And for the whole summer too!” Jaycee’s hands went into the air simultaneously and then crashed down onto her hips. With a shake of her head, she pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed as if focusing their laser-heat onto a target. “I cannot believe they are doing this to me. This was supposed to be my summer. Mine. Not hers. Mine.”

“Well, how long is she staying?” Not that there was any way of talking Jaycee down at this point, but Luke was still searching for an angle just the same.

“Three months.” Storm waning, she sat down next to him in a huff and shook her head, the desolation trailing every movement. “I’m done. Seriously. I am so done. She is going to waltz in here like the Queen of Persia, and I’m going to totally be yesterday’s news.”

Luke’s smile only lifted half his lips, and he anchored his arm on the porch planks behind her. They weren’t together in a dating sense, but they had known each other since well before kindergarten, and with only one year separating them not to mention only a little more than half a mile between their houses, they had been fast friends for practically forever. Jaycee was more the tomboy, basketball-playing type where Luke much preferred more laid back pursuits that didn’t involve scoreboards or report cards. But somehow, their friendship fit them both.

Besides, Jaycee had her eye on Rory Harris, the top jock at Ridgemount High School, and that didn’t look to change any time soon. With no warning, she put her forehead over onto Luke’s shoulder and moaned. “Ugh. My life stinks on ice.”

Gamely, he put his hand on her opposite shoulder and patted it. “I think you’ll survive. I can almost guarantee it.”

But that only brought out another moan. It was going to be a long summer.


Sage Wentworth pulled out her compact to check her makeup once again. Yes, she was being banished to nowheresville North Carolina, but she didn’t have to show up looking like a doormat. Lips, perfectly perfect red; eyeliner remarkably holding up even after the second leg of the cross-country flight, and blush that had begun to fade just slightly. Ugh.

Taking out the applicator, she brushed a touch more on, checked her reflection in the tiny mirror and clicked it shut just as the stewardess came to offer ice water.

“Ma’am,” the stewardess said, handing her the water.

However, Sage expertly dogged the offer. “Do you not have some that’s room temp? I don’t do ice. And not this off-brand either.”

The stewardess swallowed whatever she was about to say and smiled. “Certainly.”

When she was gone, Sage wiggled herself straight up in the first class seat. At least not everything was completely, horrifically awful about her life at the moment. Okay, so her parents were starting their summer trip around the world—without her. And, true, she was being shipped off to live for three months with people she barely remembered. And, granted, she had wanted to stay in Beverly Hills for the summer, shopping with Mackenzie and Patelyn.

Sage sighed. Okay. Her life stunk, royally.

Why had they insisted on making her completely miserable? What had she done to deserve this exile to the netherworld? Carefully, she ticked through the options. Her grades were good. Not stellar maybe, but adequate. She didn’t overspend. Sure there was that binge two months ago, but no one could blame a girl for wanting to look good at the Prom. She wasn’t a druggie or an alkie. Though both were frequent options in the crowd she ran with.

No. There was no real rhyme or reason to this banishment.

They said it was because her dad wanted to see her before she headed into senior year and then off into her life, but the sad fact was, Sage wasn’t even really sure what that “life” might look like. College? Maybe. Okay. Probably. But where?

Berkley? UCLA? Or somewhere farther away?

Maybe she could study abroad for a semester. Sweden or France. Studying in Paris. How amazing would that be?

“Ma’am.” The stewardess was back with the requested water. So this brand wasn’t much better, Sage accepted it with the graciousness due her station in life.

“And may I have just a bit of lemon?” she asked in her sweetest, asking-for voice.

It was truly astonishing how quickly the stewardess could eat words that never came from her mouth but shot from her eyes. “Of course.”

It was to be expected. The help, helpful though they were, often seemed one request away from losing it completely. Her mother always said it was the plight they suffered under—trying to keep good help. Sadly, it was true. As she sipped on her water, Sage let her mind trace back through her childhood nannies. There were truly too many to count. Of course, most of them were less than adequate, but still…

There was Mika from Italy, and Olga from Germany, and Carmela from Spain or was it South America? Sage had never really been sure. But she had learned, her place was to tell the nannies what to do, and it was their place to do it. When they got that dynamic out-of-sync—and they always did, it was time for a new nanny.

Sage reached into the pocket with the reading material and thumbed through the fashion magazine that held little fascination for her. Those people didn’t know how to dress, and they wouldn’t know a tasteful accessory if it walked up and introduced itself.

Bawdy and classless. That’s what most of them were, and those were the ones who were trying. She flipped three more pages and gave up completely, pushing the magazine back into its holder. Putting her head back, she let her gaze go out to the soft, sunlit day beyond. They had told her that her father would be meeting her at the airport, and her mind traced back over the one photograph she had of him along with the dusky images she barely remembered.

In the picture he was young, mid-twenties, maybe, with dark curly hair. A nice nose. Nice eyes. Her mother had said once that she had her father’s eyes, which seemed a strange thing to say at the time. Then again, she was five and didn’t know you could have someone else’s eyes without actually having someone else’s eyes. She took another sip and let the sigh out in an inaudible breath.

Ladies of her station didn’t sigh, not for others to hear anyway. No. If nothing else in the whole world, she had learned how to carry herself in public, how to be graceful, charming, and cheerful—even if the whole world was falling apart around her. She wasn’t royal exactly, but her training had gone right up to that gate and knocked. Teas. Ballet. Violin in the orchestra.

Oh, yes. She had culture running out her ears, and she was proud of it.

So all she had to do was get through the next three months, and when she returned, her mother was planning the biggest coming out party for her 18th birthday that the Hills had ever seen. No one would ever, ever forget it, and to Sage, that was what life was all about—being completely unforgettable.


“I thought I told you to dust the living room,” Jaycee’s mom said in an all-out panic. The queen would arrive in less than two hours, and the place still did not resemble the palace her mother clearly wished it was.

“I did dust. Twice.” And with that Jaycee turned and stalked off. Halfway to her room, she stopped when her mother called something about the entertainment center.

Putting her head back, she fought the frustration clawing at her. “You have got to be kidding me. I don’t think a little dust is going to kill anyone.” But she knew her mother was frantic, and she knew why. Everyone was—her father, her mother, even her little brother, Ryder who had taken an outright shower that morning without being asked, something he never did. In fact, most of the time they were lucky if he wasn’t covered in dust, dirt and grime when they went to church.

It was what normal 10-year-old boys did. So long as the queen wasn’t coming. But today, the queen was coming, and so nothing was normal.

“Jaycee!” her mother called again, and Jaycee had to say a quick prayer to get God to give her patience. The only question was, could she conceivably pray her way through an entire summer?


“Sage?” The man was older, much older, than the picture. However, he had those same grey-green eyes and the nice smile that was at once boyish and a question.

“Dad?” It was such a strange place to stand in life—with fellow travelers bumping this way and that around them, staring at her past as the present swirled around her.

His smile filled out with even more questions and words he never said.

What was the protocol in such a situation? Should she shake his hand or Heaven help her, hug him? A moment more and he put his hand out even as his gaze continued to drink her in. Thankful it was turned for a handshake and not a hug, she took it and let her gaze drop beneath his.

“I’m so glad you could come,” he said, sounding choked.

“Thanks for having me.”

His hand dropped from hers, and she lifted her gaze and fought to put it on his and keep it there. But it was just all so awkward.

“Did you have a good flight?”

She nodded. “It was fine.”

“I’m glad.” Standing there in jeans, a pressed shirt and a light grayish jacket, he looked like all the dads on television. Nothing at all like her dad. Okay, her stepdad. Jason Wentworth the Fourth. The man she had called dad practically her whole life if you didn’t count the short visits during the first five years of it, which she hadn’t until this very minute.

His eyebrows went up questioningly. “I’m sure you have luggage?”


“Great. Why don’t we go get it and get you home and settled?”

Home and settled. They were such strange words.


Luke wondered as the day wore on if Jaycee’s stepsister had made it yet. Truthfully, he couldn’t imagine the whole step situation. The youngest of five, he had never known a time until just this past year of not having siblings who were in the bathroom when you had to go or who could keep their hands off of your stuff even when it was clearly marked My Stuff!

Down the aisle of the grocery store he went, ticking off items for the church outreach day. It was a twice-a-month thing for their youth group. The other two weeks were taken by the women’s society, and sometimes the youth helped out for those as well.

As cultures went, their little town didn’t really have any homeless people, but they did have their share of disadvantaged ones. Luke pulled several large cans of tomato sauce from the shelves and put them in the cart. If he had learned no other words in the time Pastor Steve had been there, the words “help others” were seared into his brain and on his spirit. That was, according to Pastor Steve, the point of everything in life and especially Christianity—helping others, reaching out to them, making them feel welcome and loved. It truly didn’t matter if they ever showed up for church beyond those meals. That was what the church was about, and if they failed in that mission, nothing else really mattered.

He looked at the list Ms. Patty had given him. Ms. Patty, or Ms. P, as most of the youth referred to her was a large, African-American woman with a personality to match her girth. She had never met a stranger because according to her, once you hug a person, they are no longer a stranger, and Ms. P hugged everybody—whether they needed one or not.

In fact, Luke had had his fair share of hugs from Ms. P because next to introducing herself with a hug, she also paid with them as well. As president of the youth group, he was often tasked with… well, tasks. Cleaning the church center’s kitchen, getting the groceries, working out the schedules, covering when others couldn’t make it.

“He’s my Superman,” Ms. P often said of Luke, and though it embarrassed him, he’d learned not to try to get out of the compliment because Ms. P really came after you good then.

Pulling five large bags of spaghetti off the shelf, he added them to the growing mound in his cart. Only bread remained on the list, and he pushed his way around the aisle cap to get it. As soon as he finished here, he needed to get over to the church. They wouldn’t be cooking until in the morning, but the food needed to be put away, and he would probably have to do some cleaning on the kitchen as well. The last thing he wanted was for Ms. P to show up and have to do it. She did enough.

Grabbing loaves of bread, he thought again of Jaycee. Normally she would be here, meeting up with him with another cart about now. But not today. Today, she was re-meeting her sister, and Luke had to admit he was glad he was here rather than there. “God, help them… both,” he breathed as he headed for the checkout.


From her seat in the aging family minivan, Sage did her best to check her adverse reaction to practically everything as they rolled through the little town and out into the country. Somehow she hadn’t really remembered this part. Not that the town would have been any better. She was quite sure the newest home there was at least a decade old and had not weathered its age very well.

“Jaycee and Ryder are really excited you’re coming,” her dad said, glancing over at her. “It’s all they’ve been talking about.”

Sage smiled, but it was forced. Had it not been for his efforts, no one would have even spoken on the ride. She just didn’t know what to say to the man. It wouldn’t be, couldn’t be what she was really thinking, and the truth was, pretending her thoughts were something they were not was not working at all.

“So, do you remember any of this?” he asked as if hoping she might.

The smile got swallowed in her fight to cushion the truth. “Not much. I kind of remember going to the church. It’s the little one, right? With the wooden floors?”

His smile was the brightest one she had seen so far. “You remember that, huh?”

“Yes.” Clutching her white handbag, she willed the panic in her to settle down. Why had she agreed to this? The second she got the chance to text her mother, she was going to find another option and take it because this was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.


“They’re here.” Jaycee’s mom veritably swooned as she checked both children before heading for the front door of their house which no one ever used. It took more than one wrench of the doorknob to get it open after she fluffed and fretted about her own appearance.

Jaycee knotted her arms and shook her head. “Mom, come on. This is ridiculous.”

When her mother turned and caught sight of her, she scowled. “Jaycee Marie, stand up straight. We want to make a good impression.”

With a deep sigh and a roll of her eyes, Jaycee straightened. This was going to be a long three months.


The house was small, tiny in fact, and as Sage exited the vehicle, she took it all in, wondering how many rooms it could even have. Five? Six? And that was being generous.

“I can come back and get your bags,” her dad said, coming around the front of the van to walk with her. Wow. That felt so off-kilter, him standing there waiting for her, looking at her like she was an angel fallen from Heaven.

Fighting every horrible thought in her, Sage squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and put her head back. Somehow she managed to smile at him brightly.

“Ready?” he asked, and he offered her his arm.

The nod was kind of sideways, but she did get her head to go down. Her heels clicked on the concrete sidewalk as they passed the modest flowerbed that was filled with growing things and a few flowers all the way to the front door. There, he opened it for her, and called, “We’re home!”

He took a step back to let her enter first. Stepping up and into the home was a challenge mostly because it seemed so very dark and dim inside. The last thing she wanted to do was trip.

“Oh!” The woman with the long, dark wavy hair on the other side of the threshold clapped her hands and put them to her mouth. “Sage. Oh! You’ve grown so much. We’re so glad you could come.”

Without warning, she was pulled into a hug that lasted mere seconds but felt much longer than that.

“Oh. Yes. Thank you.” Exiting the hug, Sage tugged on her short white skirt and had to square her shoulders again to get her composure back in hand. “Hm.” Smiling was beginning to hurt.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Mrs. Lawrence, Gregory’s wife.” The woman was going in five directions at once, and Sage did her best to keep her own nerves in check as the woman shook her hand. “You can call me Mrs. Lawrence or Emily or… Stepmom if you would like.” She laughed a hollow, nervous kind of laugh.

“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Lawrence.” Okay, the truth was, she didn’t really remember seeing her the last time, but it was something to say that didn’t sound totally ridiculous.

“Oh good. Okay. And these are our children.” Mrs. Lawrence went over to the two figures on the other side of the room. “This is Jaycee. You probably remember her from last time, and this is Ryder.”

Nodding and trying to smile at both of them, Sage willed her polite training to overtake her judgment of everyone and everything. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ryder said, staring at her as if he had been star struck.

“Yeah,” Jaycee said, and Sage noted without any trouble the dismissive nature of the syllable from the young woman in jeans with the hard, black framed glasses. Then Jaycee looked over at her mom. “Can I go now? I’m supposed to meet Luke at church to do the groceries.”

Mrs. Lawrence glanced over at Sage with an apology in her eyes and then leveled her gaze at her daughter. “Don’t you think it would be better to stay and help Sage get settled? Maybe she could go with you afterward.”

The tilt of Jaycee’s head and eyebrows told Sage loud and clear that if that happened, it would not be a welcome change of plans.

“Oh, that’s fine, Mrs. Lawrence,” Sage said quickly, wanting to rescue the situation if that was even possible. “I’m sure Jaycee has better things to do than to wait on me. I’m sure I’ll be fine getting my things set up.”

Hope and vindication sprang into Jaycee’s eyes as she looked at her mom. “Please. Can I go now?”

A moment and Mrs. Lawrence sighed. “Fine. Go.”

“Awesome.” And that’s all it took for Jaycee to be out of the room.

“But be back by seven!” Mrs. Lawrence called.

“Will do.” And a door somewhere on the other side of the house banged closed.

Mrs. Lawrence looked down at Ryder who was still staring at Sage with a goofy look on his face. “Ryder, why don’t you show Sage to the guest room?” Then her gaze came back up to Sage. “It’s not much of a guest room. It’s honestly my sewing room, but we’ve moved some things around, and there’s a daybed in there.”

“I’m sure it will be lovely.”


Lovely it was not. Cramped, crumpled and befuddled came much closer. The cabinet didn’t even close for all the scraps of cloth sticking out of it, and Sage had no desire to open the closed closet doors to find out what else might be in there.

“Like I said,” Mrs. Lawrence continued, “it’s not much.” She worked on fixing and fluffing the daybed which didn’t help at all.

The bedspread was lime-green and white striped with small pink flowers on it. Sage didn’t even want to contemplate how old it might be. Her skin crawled just thinking about sleeping there.

“We freed up a little room in the closet.” Pushing the things in the closet back, Mrs. Lawrence stepped back to show Sage who wondered what she was going to do with the eight suitcases of stuff waiting in the van.

“It’s wonderful,” Sage said with a smile, wondering how she could even say the words.

“Ryder,” her father said from the doorway, “why don’t we go get Sage’s things?”

In a daze, Ryder followed his father out.

“Don’t mind him,” Mrs. Lawrence said when they were gone. “He’s just discovered that girls are on the planet.”

“He seems very sweet.” Sweet. It was how her voice sounded, and she was having great difficulty trying to force it not to crack right down the center.

“We’re so glad you’re here. Gregory was thrilled when your mom called about this.”

Sage was still a little fuzzy on the details of how her banishment had come to be, but she smiled and nodded as if she knew every fact by heart. “I’m glad it worked out.”

“Ryder!” her father’s hushed voice traveled with nearly no trouble down the hall and right to her.

“I’m just saying. How much stuff can one person need?”

Horror and surprise coursed across Mrs. Lawrence’s face as she rushed for the door. “I’ll just go help the guys.”


“No. I’m being serious. She looks like a Barbie doll. Perfect hair, perfect nails, perfect makeup. It’s like she’s made of plastic.” Jaycee was transferring the lettuce into the refrigerator from the bags on the counter, and Luke was becoming a bit concerned that it might be both bruised and shredded in the process. “I think her hair is made of real platinum. And you should have seen Ryder. His tongue was practically hanging out. Ugh.”

“Well, at least she’s not an ogre.” Not that he was trying to help, but Luke knew that wasn’t going to sit well.

“And you should have seen Dad. He looked like someone could snap a flashbulb in his face and he wouldn’t have even noticed. And Mom, oh my gosh, she was just… ‘this needs dusted… put this away… fluff these pillows… why didn’t you dust this?’  It’s a good thing I had to come here, or someone was going to be put out of their misery in that house.”

Finished with the lettuce, she turned and put her hands over the back pockets of her jeans. “What else?”

“We need to get the trash bags in the cans, and the plates and plastic ware out on the line.”

“Got it.”

Luke watched her as he worked to get things in order in the kitchen for the next morning’s marathon cooking session. Efficient. Hardworking. Down-to-earth. All the things he’d always thought he would want in a girl. The smile that crossed his heart was sad and futile. No, Jaycee Lawrence would never see him like that, and he really didn’t blame her. What did he have to offer in the boyfriend department anyway?

He wasn’t the guy who stood out in the class pictures, and he was as apt to make a goofy move as to make a smooth one. Truth was, he admired her taste in not choosing him. She was smart enough to know he wasn’t worth the time or the effort. Pushing those thoughts back and away, he finished up at the sink and went to take care of the trash on his own. Even Jaycee shouldn’t have to be subjected to that job.


Ten seconds after they left her to the room, Sage yanked out her cell and typed like her life depended on it, which it almost certainly did. She had to get out of here. She could act with the best of them, but this place would require more than acting. Mom. I made it. I know we talked about me going to stay with Aunt Anna as well this summer. Can we talk about doing that sooner rather than later? PLEASE!

She hit send and sat very gently on the edge of the bed. It squeaked with the movement. Pulling up the next number in her phone, she sent a text to Patelyn and then one to McKenzie. Desperation texts, meant to explain the horrible plight she now found herself in. There was no mall here, no shopping centers that she had seen. There was one grocery store that they passed on the way through town, and it had cars with actual dents in them sitting there.

Her fingers told the sad, sad tale of just how far she had fallen in the world, and the more she typed, the worse it got. When she finished, she considered letting the tears start, but she didn’t dare. First off, they would surely ruin her makeup. Secondly, if anyone knew she was crying… Well, they couldn’t know. She would put on the Wentworth charm until she could escape this disaster, and then she would leave and all things Lawrence would be forever behind her, a sad chapter in her life that she would never have to think of again.

With that thought, she glanced across the room at her luggage stacked there. It was pointless to unpack. She wouldn’t be here long enough to make it worth the effort.

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Mirror Mirror, Excerpt

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As much as he hated washing dishes, Luke was having an immense amount of fun watching her walk in and out. He began to notice that each time she came back, she would say something to him. “Don’t quit your day job.” “I feel like Santa.” “I hope you don’t blame me for this.”

Each time he retorted the comment, but each one brushed across his heart like the gentle wing of an angel. By the time she brought the final items from the line, he was sad to see her reason for coming back here go.

“That’s it,” she said after stacking the last two empty bowls that had been full of cheese at the very end.

“You sure? I haven’t seen the water cooler or tea thing.”

She snapped her fingers. “Tea thing. Right. I’ll be back.”

He could hardly hold the laugh as he watched her go through the other door. In seconds she was back, hefting the tea dispenser.

“Ask and it shall be given,” he said, shaking his head. Just then he realized she was going to have the thing all over the floor if she tried to get it up onto that counter by herself. “Oh, here.” And with no more than that, he was next to her, picking the thing up and setting it gently down.

“Whew. Manual labor.” She swiped off her hands and wiped them on the backs of her jeans. “Not my forte.”

“You need help with the water?” When he stepped back, how close she was washed over him.

“I think I can get it, but don’t go too far.” With a wink, she headed back out, and Luke froze solid to the spot.

“Luke, these dishes are not doing themselves,” Ms. P said, bustling about as she stacked more pans on the other side of the counter.

He shook his head to clear it of the intoxication and went back to work. “I’m on it.”


Sage couldn’t explain it, but it was very much like remembering what sunshine felt like. Never would she have thought she would feel that way immersed in dirty pots and pans, but every time she went into that kitchen, her spirit said it was filled with warmth and safety. Maybe the first real safety she had felt since landing here three weeks before.

“Finally. That’s the last of it,” she said, setting the water dispenser up on the counter. This one was almost empty so it wasn’t the impossible task the tea one had proven to be. Stepping back, she put her hands on her hips. “Wow.”

“Yeah. Wow,” Luke said from the sink, looking over the pile. “So, you just going to bring them all in here and then leave me with all the hard work?”

“Hey, I brought them. You should be grateful.”

“Oh, I am. I am. Grateful is my middle name.”

“Luke. Grateful.” She came over to his side, leaned her elbows on the sink next to him and looked up at him playfully. “I-don’t-know-your-last-name. Yep. That has a lovely ring to it, don’t you think?”

His gaze fell to hers, and he shook his head. “Hey there, Ms. Sarcastic, you know how to use a dish towel?”

Her eyebrows came up. “Do I look like I know how to use a dish towel?”

“No.” He tried not to smile, but he did anyway. “But maybe it’s time you learned.” Jerking his chin up, he indicated the other side of the counter. “They’re over there in that top drawer.”

Waiting one more second, Sage picked herself up. “I said I don’t know how to use one.”

He shook his head again. “Just get a towel and start drying, Ms. Hollywood.”

From anyone else, she probably would have taken the moniker as an insult. Somehow, from him, it didn’t sound like one. She got one of the towels, trying not to notice all the holes in it. Back at his side, she picked up one small pan from the top of the new stack he was creating in the draining sink. Running it back and forth to dry the pan, she let out a breath. Strange how a month ago she never would have pictured herself doing such a thing.

“At least we didn’t have spaghetti today,” he said, leaning over just enough to bump her shoulder.

“Ugh. Don’t remind me.” She set that pan down to the side and grabbed up another one before leaning toward him. “I’m surprised Ms. P even let me in the kitchen today.”

“You and me both.” He smiled down at her, and Sage had that feeling of knowing she was safe again.

“I’m not exactly a kitchen kind of person,” she said, not looking up at him.

“Nah. You totally could have fooled me.”

“Really,” and her tone dropped into serious. “All of this is just so… surreal to me. The people. This.” She held up a pan and then set it down. “It’s so not…”

“You?” he asked gently. “I’d have never guessed.”

With a shrug she pulled up another pan. “The weirdest thing is how nice it is to be here. Today. At least I’m not staring at my walls, wishing I could be somewhere else.”

“You don’t want to be somewhere else?” He sounded actually concerned as if her feelings mattered one way or the other to him.

“Well, this is definitely better than the alternative. Believe me, I have a new appreciation for the torture of solitary confinement.”

“That bad, huh?”

She retrieved another pan as he replenished her stack. “I’m telling you, I thought I was going to lose my mind when I didn’t have my cell phone last week. At least I finally got that back.”

“Yeah. They can be pretty strict.”

“Tell me about it.” She put that pan down and got another, rotating her towel to try to find a not-wet place. “I guess you know all about that though, huh?”

“Me?” He turned surprised eyes down on her.

However, Sage just shrugged. “Yeah, you and Jayc. I mean, with you guys dating and everything.”


She said it so matter-of-factly that Luke felt like he’d been hit in the chest with a double-barrel shotgun blast.

“Oh, uh.” He reached up and scratched the back of his head, not realizing he’d managed to transfer suds there. “We’re not dating. We’re just friends.”

“Friends.” Sage laughed. “Yeah. Right.”

Defensively and trying to figure out what that laugh meant, he plunged his hands back in the soapy water. “Really. We’re just friends.” Before she could question it or laugh at him again, Luke plowed forward. “Good friends. The best. But we’re totally not dating.”

“Huh.” She made the sound and nodded with a scowl on her face as she dried a bowl. “But you want to… date her, right?”

If Luke had had any air in his system, he would have yelled Fire to get out of this conversation. “Uh. No. I…”

“Oh, come on. Seriously? Now, no lying over dishes.” Her gaze came up to his face, and he hated that he couldn’t think of a way to get away from her.

Lifting his eyebrows, he let his gaze slide over her face. “No lying over dishes? That’s a new one.”

“No, now, come on. No changing the subject on me. You like Jaycee.”

This was not a conversation he wanted to be in. Suddenly her word from before, surreal pounded through his mind. “As a friend, yes. I like Jaycee.”

Sage shook her head, looking imminently more comfortable than she had 20 minutes before, which did nothing for his nerves. “But you go out?”

“Not like that. Not like you mean. Not like dating.” He shrugged and reached up to push his sleeves up, realizing only after he did so that he had only succeeded in getting them wet. “We go out. We hang out sometimes, but we’re not dating.”

Something approaching sadness brushed her face. “But I see how you look at her.”

That backed Luke up. “Oh, yeah? How do I look at her?” The second the question was out of his mouth, he deeply regretted asking it.

However, instead of getting sarcastic or mischievous, she grew pensive. “Like she’s holding your whole world in her hands, like you would do anything to be with her, like you love her.”

The shotgun blast was beginning to sound merciful. He let his gaze fall to the dish water that was getting greasy instead of soapy.

“I’m right,” Sage said softly. “Aren’t I? You’re in love with Jaycee.”

“I’m going to have to switch out this water,” he said, reaching for the plug. He pulled his sleeve up to his face and rubbed it there, sensing moisture there. No way was he going to ask what was causing it to be there.

Sage continued to dry the pans, and remarkably there were now more on her side than on his. “So why don’t you ask her out?”

His heart was really starting to hurt, and the shake of his head did nothing to stop the pain. “She’s not…” He shrugged and washed the last of the old water down the drain before starting the faucet and filling the sink with new hot water. “It’s not… She’s not into me like that.” This shrug was only mildly easier. “I’ve accepted it.”

Now Sage had grown completely quiet as she continued drying, and Luke wanted to ask what she wasn’t saying. “Well, for what it’s worth, I think she’s missing something… someone pretty cool.”

It was the first chance he’d had to laugh, and Luke took it. “Cool? Me? I’m here washing dishes on a Saturday afternoon.”

She tilted her head and looked up at him. “And that’s a bad thing?”

“Well, it’s not cool, that’s for sure.”

A second and she half-nodded. “Maybe not to everyone.”

Mirror Mirror Large cover



“I fell in love with Sage. My heart went out to her, and I could so relate to how she felt. It’s no fun trying to be someone you’re not even when you don’t know that’s what you are doing.”


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The Long Way Home, Excerpt

The Long Way Home

by:  Staci Stallings

She had heard nothing but her father’s infuriating voice in her head for two hours when her finger snapped the back stitch button on and then off.  You would think he could at least try to be reasonable… for once in his miserable life.

Carefully cutting the thread away, Ami pulled the lacey material free. The curtains were turning out nicely— even Mrs. Sanders, her home ec teacher, would’ve been pleased. With one more snip she freed it from the thread and held the finished product up next to the chair to inspect her work.

“Good deal.” Pleased, she stood, unfurling the curtain onto her bed where its mate laid. Then she stepped back to examine her handiwork. It was times like this that she believed somehow she was going to make this work. She was going to make it by September, and she would show her father and prove to him he had been wrong about her and her grandfather and this farm the whole time.

“Ami?” Jaxton called from the stairs.

“I’m in here,” she called back, pulling at the material to measure for the tie-backs.

She tried not to notice as he appeared at her door and leaned there. “Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.”

“What’s the good news?” She tipped her head in his direction as she pinned the material together, trying to act like any bad news would be only a little bump she could easily handle.

“Well, I found the last wall.”

“Cool. So, what’s the bad news?”

“The sheet rock’s no good,” he said clearly wishing he didn’t have to be the one to tell her that.

Looking up, she scowled in confusion. “No good? What does that mean?”

“Come see.”

And with that, her feet were moving to go inspect the thing.

“It’s all crumbly,” he said as she stepped past him and headed for the stairs. “It looks like it got wet at some point.”

She didn’t say another word as she climbed the stairs and went into the room to inspect the damage. Horror hit her square. He wasn’t kidding. The floor was covered with white dust and crumbs from the wall. It was worn completely through in one, large place, and in several others it wouldn’t take much to make it fall.

As she stood looking at it, she could hear her father’s lectures, and piece-by-piece her dream began a slow crumble inside her. She closed her eyes to the stinging in the backs of her eyes, pushing back at it with her eyelids and her hand. She should have known. She should just give up now. Why was she even doing this? He was right. She would never be able to make this work.

“I’m not sure the rest is like this,” he said from behind her. “Maybe it was just this one place that got wet.”

However, she shook her head, fighting to keep the tears from spilling over. “Dad said it wasn’t worth it. I should’ve just listened to him.”

It wasn’t said for his benefit. After everything she’d been through, to make it this far and then to have the house crumble from the inside out just ripped the last piece of determination from her. The only thing left was surrender. Surrender to the utter hopelessness of it all.

“But no,” she continued in a mumbled anger, “I didn’t listen, did I?  No, I thought I knew better. I thought I could make it work. What a joke.”

“Ami.” Jaxton’s presence closed the distance between them. “Come on, don’t say that.”

“Why not?” And she spun on him as the anger flashed through her eyes. “Why shouldn’t I?”

But he never so much as blinked. “Because it’s not true, that’s why.”

“Yes, it is,” she said as one tear escaped from the corner of her eye and threaded its way down her cheek. She looked away and swiped at it furiously, hoping he hadn’t seen it, but it was too late. Still, the fury made her come back at him. “Look around you. They might as well knock this place down, and put it out of its misery.”

He put his hands on his beltline and licked his lips as he stared down at her. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do,” she said vehemently. “I do. I was such an idiot to think I could make this work.”

He took one step toward her, and the fury didn’t let her think she should move.

“But it’s probably better, you know,” she said, laughing sarcastically as the tears now wound their way down over her nose, not thwarted or even held back. “It was a stupid idea anyway. Always has been.”

“No, it wasn’t.” With worry in his dark eyes, he took hold of her arm. “Please don’t say that.”

Then her senses came back to her, and she jerked at her arm. “What do you think you’re doing?”

But he held her firmly. “Come here.” Not brooking any argument, he pulled her from the room and down the hallway.

“Where are we going?” she asked as fear overtook the anger. He was so strong, she knew as she followed she wouldn’t be able to fight him off if he had anything other than honorable intentions. “Jaxton!”

However, he never stopped as he pulled her down the hallway and into the library. “I want to show you something.”

“What?” she asked as he opened the door and pulled her across the room to the French doors.

On the other side, he stopped for one second and looked down at her. “This.”

And with that, he flipped the handle and flung the doors open. Never releasing her, he pulled her out onto the balcony.

“What?” she asked again as the anger returned to her voice.

“This. Listen,” he said as he took a deep breath.

“What? I don’t hear anything.” She latched her arms in front of her to hold onto her anger and frustration as he let go of her arm and took a step over to the railing.

“Listen,” he said again, closing his eyes, and peace descend on his face.

In annoyance, Ami shook her head and pushed the beauty of the day and the way he looked enjoying it away from her. “I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s just it. There’s nothing there. Nobody yelling at you or telling you what to do or telling you that you’re doing it wrong. Nothing. Just you and the wind.” A moment and he opened his eyes so his gaze came right down to hers. He was looking right at her then, right into her, and she couldn’t look away. “Don’t you see, Ami? You can’t give up now. People need this.”

However, her spirit held only disgusted anger with the whole horrible idea.

“Can’t you feel it?” he asked as peace found his voice and his movements.

Although she knew exactly what he meant, at that moment, she didn’t want to feel what he was talking about. She wanted to be mad. She wanted to be frustrated. She wanted to give up, and she knew if she let herself feel the peace of that balcony, she would find a way to talk herself out of it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She shook her head, pushing the peace away from her just as easily as she brushed away the strand of hair that caught the breeze and ended up in her face.

“Okay, then, here.” Once again he took her hand and led her over to the railing where he put her hand on it gently.  His gaze slid down and rested on her. She felt it thought she never looked up.

“Now close your eyes,” he instructed, and when she moved to protest, he said, “Just do it.”

With a shake of her head, believing she could hang on to the anger no matter what, she closed her eyes.

“Just listen.” He was right beside her, his arm practically around her, and heat she wasn’t sure was from the sun began seeping into her. “Listen to the wind in the trees.”

She pushed the pain in her chest down and squeezed her eyes closed to keep it there. It was a stupid dream, a child’s fantasy.


“Let it go,” Jaxton said, watching her, mesmerized by her and the day. She was so incredibly beautiful. “Just let it go, Ami. For once, just breathe and let it go.”

She shook her head vehemently. Once and then harder.

His heart broke for her, for the struggle and the deck that was stacked against her. “Your grandfather gave you this place because he knew you understood,” he said softly. “He knew you’d share this feeling with everyone who came here.”

“But,” she started to protest.

“And he knew that no matter what you wouldn’t give up,” he said, knowing in his heart it was true.

“But,” she started again, just as he reached down and laid his hand on the small of her back. That touch brought her back from keeping the pain down, and she looked up, right through the depths of his eyes. He had never felt anything like that moment.

“Listen to me.” His gaze held hers gently. “It’d be so easy to let everybody else talk you out of this. I guarantee you it’d be a lot easier than trying to make your dream come true. But if you do that, if you let them talk you out of your dreams, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

She shook her head and mashed her lips together. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do.” And he knew she did as he was now looking right into her soul. “You think they’re right. You think they know more about what’s possible than you do. Well, they don’t. They don’t understand your dream.”

“And you do?”

A second and he had to admit the truth. “No, I don’t see all of your dream either, but I know if you give up now, you’ll think about this moment forever and wonder what if. What if you hadn’t given up? What if you did what you had to to make this happen?”

“And what if it doesn’t happen anyway?”

“Well, then what have you lost?” He shrugged slightly. “A few months? A little time? If you don’t try, you’ve lost your dream. That’d be a thousand times worse.”

Ami ducked her head to the side, and her gaze fell onto the little grotto below.

“He gave you this place for a reason,” Jaxton said, watching her struggle, feeling it in the depths of his own soul. “He believed in you, Ami. He knew you could do it.”

She shook her head again, sending strands of hair skittering on the breeze.

“And you can,” he said softly, putting his hand once again on her back because that just felt so right to all of him.

Her spoke of exhaustion and defeat. “But there’s so much to do…”

“I’ll help you all I can,” he said solidly.

“Why?” she finally asked, looking up and searching his eyes.

With no hesitation, Jaxton enveloped her with his. “Because I know how many people need what this place can give them,” he said with a soft smile. “Just say you’ll give it to September. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried.”

“But what about you?” she asked slowly, a new worry tripping into her dark eyes. “Don’t you have to go back to Chicago?”

His gaze sank to the planks at their feet as the question raked through him. But then he knew, and he picked his gaze up to meet hers. “Chicago’ll still be there in September. I think I’m standing exactly where I need to be right now.”

Ami exhaled slowly and shook her head. “But there’s so much to do.”

“So, we take it one project at a time,” he said, “one day at a time, and we get done whatever we can.”

“But I don’t have the money to pay you,” she said, the determination to quit waning with each new excuse she found.

“So we’ll just call it payback.”

“For what?”

“For showing me what’s really important,” he said.

Although she couldn’t have known the depth of those words, she nodded. Then she closed her eyes. “Okay. So, what do we do about that sheet rock?”

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The Long Way Home, First Chapter

The Long Way Home

by:  Staci Stallings

Chapter 1

“I wish I could go, John, but the Rothschild account’s taking up so much time these days, I just can’t,” Phillip Anderson said into the phone as his son, Jaxton, sat on the other side of the desk, pen poised, listening. “Yeah, I know it’s important, John, but now’s just not good for me.  Can’t you go? … Yeah, I know…”  He sighed heavily. “Okay. Well, I’ll see what I can do, and I’ll get back to you…Yeah, I will. ‘kay. Bye.”

The phone hit the cradle with a clang, and Phillip shook his more-salt-than-pepper head before looking across the expanse of mahogany desk into the questioning eyes of his son.

“Bad news?” Jaxton asked without really caring.

His father shook his head and sighed again. “It’s your grandfather.”

Jaxton nodded. Grandfather Snyder. More than one conversation about him had bounced across the phone lines from Los Angeles to Chicago during the past three months.

Phillip leaned forward in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose with his finger. “That stupid man’s going to kill us all.”

“Mom can’t talk to him?”

“Oh, you know your mother. There’s always something more important than dealing with life,” Phillip said. “And John’s not much better. He thinks someone should go down there and at least make sure the estate’s in order, but you think he’ll go?  He’d sooner go to hell on an ice flow.”

“Somebody in Rayland can’t look it over and make sure everything’s square?”

Phillip sighed and shook his head, looking like his ulcer might be getting the better of him. “It’s Kansas. I’m not sure I trust anybody down there.”

Jaxton nodded his understanding of the situation that had his whole family vexed although sympathy for anyone in the situation came nowhere near his consciousness.

“Too bad Blake isn’t around anymore. He’d be perfect,” Jaxton said absently looking back to his notes, already tiring of the subject. He tapped his pen on his notebook a few times and then moved back to the real reason he was in the office on Memorial Day weekend. “So, what do you think about the Manning books? Did you get a chance to look at them yet?”


Over the rolling green of the Kansas Flint Hills, the sky hung in painted color combinations only God could get away with. Periodically the scene outside the balcony doors caught her gaze, and Ami Martin paused to take in its beauty for a moment.

Beyond the nearly full-grown red cedar trees, the land stretched in an endless parade of emerald until it rolled right off the earth’s edge. That land, this house, those trees— together they comprised the only true home she’d ever known. Even now with life devoid of any real family, the safety of those hills enveloped her like a warm hug.

She returned to her task, pulling books off the shelves and stacking them onto the little coffee table. They were a link—  a precious, priceless link to the past, and the sadness in her chest expanded with each volume she took down. How many times had she and her grandfather sat in this very room with the balcony doors opened, reading the works of the great ones? Emerson, Twain, Frost. Even when she couldn’t understand the full depth of the words, her grandfather had seen fit to share them with her.

In this room, she’d learned about life and the pursuit of true happiness. Even now at the tender age of 25, she felt the wisdom of her grandfather’s years wafting through her soul. Although he was a simple farm boy, raised in this very house by the generation before him, she knew in her heart that he had been much more than that.

Her father didn’t see it. He had called his father a stubborn old goat so many times even the tone of those words had been forever etched in Ami’s brain. It seemed odd that the wisdom her grandfather had to offer could’ve skipped an entire generation, but that was exactly what had happened. And that was why she was here at this moment, lovingly removing dust from the old, yellowed pages. She understood what no one else in her family ever had because of her grandfather’s teaching and because no matter what he had always been there for her. Yes, he had been there, even when it wasn’t convenient, even when she was sure it was difficult. She brushed the tendrils of wavy almond-colored hair from her face as tears weaved into and over her heart.

He had stayed. Not even her own mother had done so much. She had left before Ami was two, and her father wasn’t much better. His decision to send her to Rayland wasn’t about making her life more stable— it was about making his less complicated. She pushed that thought away as she ran the cloth over the shelf. Don’t think about him. Not here. Not now.

Yes, her grandfather’s steadfastness had been her one and only lifeline for 24 years, until last Thanksgiving. She pulled the black-bound Emerson anthology from the shelf and ran a loving, sad hand over it. She could almost hear his low baritone lilting over the words.

The sunset beyond the doors blurred as she slowly dropped the volume to the table with the others. The wisdom of Grandpa Martin’s years was now tucked safely in her soul. However, as she pulled another volume off the shelf and ran the cloth over it, she couldn’t help but wonder what his advice would be at this moment.

If she could just hear Grandpa Martin’s assurances that everything would be okay, then somehow she would have the strength to keep fighting. But with the money dwindling and her father calling every other day to ask if she was ready to give up and simply sell the place, her determination to make this work was waning quickly.

She pulled the Poe volume off the next shelf and laughed softly. If only her scariest problems were ravens and casks of amontillado as they had once been tucked safely in the crook of Grandpa Martin’s arm. Yes, this was the only place that had ever been home for her. The others could keep their high-stress lives and their gazillion neighbors. This was where true happiness resided, and whether they agreed or not, this was where she intended to make a home for herself— right here in Rayland, Kansas.


“Maybe Jaxton could do it,” Elizabeth Anderson said to her husband as she sat on the side of their bed stroking the beige silk tie on her robe like an anxious cat.

“Jaxton’s got the Manning account.” Phillip shook his head from the sink in the bathroom beyond. “I can’t pull him off that.”

Elizabeth sat silently for a moment. “You know. It’s silly I guess, but I just hate the thought of some stranger pawing through Dad’s books. I mean his heart can’t take a whole lot more right now, you know.”

Coming back into the room, Phillip reached for the remote and flipped on the television though it made no sound. “I know that ‘Lizbet, but what do you want me to do?”

She sighed in exasperation. “I just know Dad. It’d be better coming from family.”

Phillip exhaled, crawled into bed, and patted his wife’s hand. “Well, don’t worry about it tonight. I’ll come up with something.”

Just what that something was, he had no idea.

*          *          *

“Listen, I know you’ve got Manning,” Phillip said the next morning as he sat across the expanse of desk watching his son pace the room in front of him, “but your mother and I discussed it, and we think it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Come on, Dad. You can’t be serious.” The trap shadowed Jaxton’s every movement. Why had he felt that coming in on Memorial Day was a good idea again? He should have taken that vacation he was always saying he was going to. Anything to get out of this surreal discussion. “What about Easley?”

“I can get Linda to take it,” Phillip offered.

“Linda?” Jaxton raised a sarcastic eyebrow. “Easley’ll bury her the first day. You know how he feels about women.”

“Then Bob can take it.”

In a slow crawl the room began closing in on Jaxton. “What about Chambers?”

“I can get Leslie to take it.”

“Dawson?” Jaxton turned and pointed at his father. “Now you know I know more about that account than anyone else here.” He was scrambling, clawing for any shred of hope to pull himself back from the hellhole of Rayland.

“Look, I didn’t say I’m happy about this, Jax, but I don’t know what else to do.” Phillip’s voice barely stayed on the light side of demanding. “Mr. Fowler called me again last night— you know, Mr. Fowler, Grandpa’s foreman. He said Grandpa’s going fast— one more setback could take him out for good. We need to get this done before it’s too late. Uncle John can’t go. I can’t go.”

The words hung in the air as Jaxton fumed.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Phillip finally said again, and fatigue laced the words. He waited a moment before adding hopefully, “I really don’t think it’ll take very long. A week or two— tops. And I promise you’ll get all your accounts back the second you walk back through that door. Besides it’s not like you can’t keep in touch. You can bring your fax and your laptop…”

Jaxton put a heavy hand against the wall, set his jaw, and examined the painting hanging there without even seeing it. At one time he could have discoursed for hours about the artist’s subtle brushstrokes and brilliant use of back lighting, but at that moment it was all he could do not to rip the thing from the wall and tear it to shreds.

“So, that’s it then?” he finally asked as bile and anger stuck in his throat. A long pause settled in the room between them.

“Here’s your ticket to Kansas City.” His father pulled a thin sheaf from the desk drawer and slid it across the desk. “Your plane leaves at two. It’s a two-hour trip from Kansas City to Rayland. You can rent a car when you get to…”

Jaxton never heard the rest of the itinerary. His mind was alternating between red hot flashes of anger and trying to figure out the quickest way to get this job done so he could get back to his real life— back to something other than fields full of nothing but dust and old, worthless dreams.


Over her sandwich Ami surveyed her to-do list, marking each entry with a one through ten and trying to decide what needed attention most. The pickup sitting in the garage received a one; painting the porch a three; repainting the guests’ rooms a four; cleaning the chicken coop a two. By the time she got to the end of the list, she was already exhausted. There was so much to do. So much to get ready before she could even think about putting her plan into action.

She pulled out her calendar and checkbook and laid them on the table next to the to-do list. September 1, circled in purple, stared back at her. Just the sight took her breath away. She had less than three months to get the place in order, and a rapidly dwindling amount of funds to accomplish that.

Somehow when she had started, the money her grandfather had left her along with the place seemed like plenty, but it didn’t take long for the majority of it to evaporate. It was clear sitting here staring at the numbers that she would have to start watching the budget more closely.

Sighing as she brushed back the strands of hair that had escaped from the loose braids cascading down her shoulders, she slid the to-do list into the calendar and closed the checkbook. Sitting here worrying about it wasn’t getting anything finished any faster. She carried her lunch dishes to the sink and ran water on them. The dishes could wait; the pickup couldn’t.


Jaxton had only been to Rayland twice in his lifetime, and he hadn’t been overly excited about the trip either time. But this time was worse. He’d been building a client list for six years, and to be told that someone else could just take it over with no questions asked made his blood boil. Reaching up, he ran his hand over the hard-gelled sticks of brown hair lying perfectly on his head. Leslie’ll never be able to handle Paul Chambers. He’ll go to Franklin & Capshaw so fast it’ll make Dad’s head spin.

Then he snorted. It’d serve his father right if Chambers did move it. How many times had he said, “You take care of your customer before you take care of anything else”?  That lesson had been practically hammered into Jaxton’s head, but apparently that meant until you get in a bind, then the customers can fend for themselves.

He swiped at the right turn signal of the new red sports car angrily. The car was supposed to make him feel better, but it wasn’t working. His father had said, “Spare no expense.” It was a pay-off, and Jaxton knew it. How dare they send him to do what they should be doing.  He didn’t even know his grandfather for Pete’s sake. He was as much of a stranger as anyone else his father could’ve sent.

The tires kicked up dust billows behind him. If anything happens to my accounts, heads are going to roll. I’m not the president’s son for nothing. Bob’d better not screw up, or I’ll personally hand him his walking papers.

That was just all there was to it.


Ami crawled into the cab of the pickup and hit the starter for the third time.

“Rrrennerrr. Rrrennerr. Rrrenner.” The pickup engine sounded like a sick dog, and exasperation escaped from her throat in a low growl. Three days and $60 down the drain and still all she got was Rrrennerrr. Rrrennerr. Rrrennerr. How many times had she watched her grandfather do this?  How many times?  Apparently not enough.

“Stupid thing.” She hit the steering wheel as the sickening sound continued. Finally letting it go, she raked both hands onto her head and squinted into the problem. “Okay, Ami, you’ve got to think. The battery’s got to be good I just changed it. The cables are connected. What else could be wrong?”

Getting out of the driver’s seat, she went around to the front, mentally checking every cable she’d already checked ten times. Carefully she leaned over the hood of the pickup and examined the maze of wires and metal. She traced the battery cable away from the starter. There was a trick to this, and Grandfather knew it. All she had to do was figure out what that trick was, and she was home free. But the trip from here to home free was looking more and more impassable by the second.


Jaxton had always prided himself for being able to find any address in Chicago— no matter how bad the directions were, but after driving up and down identical farm roads for 45 minutes, he knew he was lost. In fact, if he’d been forced to give directions back to the main highway at that moment, he’d have been in major trouble.

“Whose stupid idea was this anyway?” he asked, the frustration pouring out of him as he turned into a tree-lined driveway.

The farmhouse just beyond the trees looked like it was about a hundred years old as did every other building on the place, and as he killed the engine and looked around, he wondered if anyone even lived here anymore. In fact, the thought crossed his mind that the whole place would probably be better off if a wrecking ball just took it out of its misery.

Slowly he crawled from the car and stretched as his legs and back reminded him how long he’d actually been behind that wheel. He took a deep breath, smoothed his tie, and shook his head at just how far he’d fallen in such a short time. As he climbed the steps up to the front door, he couldn’t help but notice that the whole place was covered with chipped white paint, and the wooden porch boards creaked and groaned as he crossed the porch threshold and knocked. Putting his fists on his hip where his slacks met his belt, he arched his neck and waited, looked around and waited some more. He knocked once more.

When no one appeared, he backed up and peeked through the window. He could vaguely make out a sofa and a chair sitting by the far wall, but as for people, he saw no one.

“Well, so much for that idea.” He shrugged to the ceiling of the porch as he stepped back down onto the cracked sidewalk. He really should’ve known he couldn’t get that lucky. This whole rotten day was just another notch to add to his whole rotten life. Letting the anger and bitterness take hold, he rubbed his hand over the five-o’clock shadow that had shown up two hours early. It must be the stress.

“Yes, Dad. Whatever you say, Dad,” he said, the sarcasm dripping from each word. But just as he reached for the car door handle, his ears picked up something he hadn’t noticed before. Music.

Curious but fighting back the hope, he turned and headed for the sound.


“Okay, baby,” Ami warned as she lay under the front fender, wrench in hand. “If this doesn’t help, I’m afraid we’re going to have to give you last rites.”


The graying boards were clearly visible under the peeling red paint of the old garage, and Jaxton could see the decrepit green pickup sitting forlornly in the middle of it. Some old farmer’s. How backward can these people be? Man, I wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that.

The tune on the radio reminded him of hoe down music although he’d never actually been to a hoe down in his life. He looked around the small expanse, but there was no sign of anyone— only the small radio sitting on the workbench crackling something about a broken heart.


Before Jaxton could react to the sound, a wrench flew out from underneath the pickup and hit the cinderblock wall next to his foot with a clang. Instantly he jumped out of the way although another couple of inches and the thing would have nailed him before he saw it coming. For one, brief moment his head said he should run— just get out of there before the farmer had a chance to turn that wrench on him, but then he thought better of the crazy thought. All he needed was some information. Surely that wasn’t such a bad thing.

“Uh-hmm.” Jaxton cleared his throat, hoping to get the old man’s attention. “Umm, excuse me, Sir. Sir?” He rapped a knuckle on the side of the pickup in case the old farmer hadn’t heard him and leaned down as if to see under the vehicle.


Heart, body, and soul Ami froze the instant she heard the voice. Her mind spun through who it might be and what they might want. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and people didn’t just show up on her doorstep for no reason. After all she lived more than a mile from the highway.  Quickly she looked out from under the metal pickup body, and all she could see was a pair of black slacks ending in a set of shiny black shoes.

“Sir?” the voice said again, and she fought to gather what was left of her nerves from around her.

“Hmm. Yeah.” She cleared her throat and rolled slowly out on the creeper before sitting up and pulling herself up from the floor. “Something I can help you with?”


“Oh,” Jaxton said with a hard swallow, thrown totally off-guard when he caught a glimpse of the grease-stained beauty who’d just stood up in front of the pickup. Gray tank top, denim shorts, and a face that was at once young and heart-stopping, she was the epitome backwoods country, and for one second too long, Jaxton forgot he was supposed to be asking for directions. “Um.” Where had all the words gone? And why were the only ones he could find telling him embarrassing jokes about farmer’s daughters and Daisy Duke shorts? “Uh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… I thought… I’m sorry.”


“’S okay,” Ami said quickly wiping the grease from her hands and coming around to the side of the pickup. She wanted to tug on her tank top, but she didn’t dare let him think she was nervous, so instead she worked on removing the grease from her fingers. At the fender she regarded him as she leaned there.

“Umm… I… I was looking for the owner,” the guy that looked like a GQ model said. He had slightly wavy dark brown hair clipped and cut just so, a multi-hued blue striped tie over a crisp light blue button down. In fact, he looked like he’d just stepped out of a board room from a million-dollar deal.

Still, Ami fought not to notice or to let the intimidation of his presence rattle her. She brushed one strand of hair back off her face. “That would be me.” Although she tried, it wasn’t easy to act like this was an everyday occurrence as she extended her still-stained hand to the Armani-suited man standing in her garage, but she did a passing job of it just the same.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said again as he extended his own hand. When she looked at him and tilted her head with a half-confused smile, he tried to clarify that statement even as he retrieved his hand. “I mean I’m not sorry you own the place. I’m sorry I didn’t realize…”

Ami smiled then, knowing the best defense was a good, strong, full-on offense. “You’re not from around here, are you?”


Her smile, framed by those deep dimples, was dancing circles around Jaxton’s heart as his brainwaves zipped and zinged in disparate directions. “Umm, no. I’m not. How can you tell?”

“Your shoes.” She pointed at his feet before returning to the front of the pickup. “They’re too shiny to be a farm boy’s.”

He looked down at his shoes but never saw them, and when he looked up again, the only thing his mind could concentrate on was the curve of her face under the wisps of hair trailing down the two braids. Gorgeous did not do her justice.


“Well, Sir, I have a full set of Encyclopedias, and I’m not in the market for insurance or a vacuum cleaner,” Ami said as casually as she could, and she slammed the hood for punctuation. The pickup would have to wait. Right now, her main priority was figuring out exactly what this guy was doing in her garage, and then getting him out of there as fast as possible.

“Oh, I’m not selling anything,” he said as she moved over to the workbench. Having tools within reach if he tried anything was a very good idea. “I was just looking for the Snyder farm, but I… I seem to have gotten lost.”

She turned an inquisitive, confused and concerned gaze on him. “The Snyder farm?”


“Yeah.” Jaxton hesitated. For some reason the tone in her voice and the look in her eye made his nerves jump to attention, and the mere thought that this farm girl was getting to him unnerved him further. He smoothed his tie down as if to emphasize his station in life compared to hers. “Umm, I’m Mr. Snyder’s grandson. I was supposed to come help him, but I can’t do that if I can’t find him.”

It was supposed to be a joke, but it thudded like a lead brick on the dusty floor between them.

“Oh.” Her eyes narrowed as she nodded knowingly, and her smile disappeared as she turned back to the workbench. “Well, if Mr. Snyder’s your grandfather, seems to me you should know how to get to his farm.”

“Yeah… well, it’s been a few years since I’ve been around here, and I wasn’t driving at the time,” he said, running out of steam mid-excuse.

Her brown braids twisted side-to-side with her head as she worked cleaning and replacing the tools. For his part, Jaxton was left trying desperately to keep his mind away from the long, tanned legs curving below the denim shorts that were making thinking straight increasingly difficult.

“So, you’re from California then?” she asked, straightening the tools on the wall, her back to him as if she wasn’t interrogating him. However, he felt every syllable of the challenge.

“No, Chicago.” He ripped his mind away from the gentle curve where her tank top met her shorts. “Why?”


“Just wondering,” Ami said, but wondering was the last thing on her mind. Next to her grandfather, Mr. Snyder was the only person on the planet who’d ever believed in her, and she wasn’t about to sic this shiny-shoed, tie-wearing, smooth-talking shark on him without checking out his story first. “So, your mom…”

“Elizabeth,” he supplied as if he sensed he was being quizzed.

“She sent you down here?”


“Uh-huh.” She nodded again as she replaced a wrench on the wall. “And why didn’t she come?”

The guy shifted feet. “She’s busy.”

“Must be awful important to be too busy to come see her dad,” she mumbled not altogether to herself.

“Well, she said she might come later.” He shrugged as if they were talking about the weather, not a whole family abandoning their father. “But Grandpa needed someone now.”

“I see,” she said, thinking of all the times she had been witness to Mr. Snyder’s talks with her own grandfather. She knew more about Mr. Snyder’s family than she did about her own, and she didn’t like a single one of them. “And this is important now— why?”


“Oh, well, I don’t know if you know it, but my grandpa had a heart attack a few months ago,” Jaxton said as his mind suddenly caught up with the conversation, and immediately asked him why he felt the need to justify his visit to a total stranger. “This was the first chance we’ve had to come and see him.”

“I see,” she said again slowly and the angelic quality of her voice had been replaced by ice. That tone was beginning to grate his nerves as he ripped his gaze from her and glued it to the old pickup.

“Look, I really didn’t mean to bother you,” he finally said, and his annoyance with the whole situation screamed through every word. “I’ll just drive back to town and see if someone there can help me.”


She heard him turn to leave and then start out.

“Go out to the road and turn right.” Ami turned and surveyed him coldly, wrench in hand and arms crossed at her chest. “About two miles down the road off to the left, you’ll see the Snyder place. It’s the one with the trees. You can’t miss it.”


He fought not to bristle under the scrutiny of the almond-eyed she-beast. “Thank you.”

And these people think city people are unfriendly, he thought as the anger rose to his clenched fists.

“No problem,” she said, and she turned back to her workbench without another look.

Jaxton’s gaze fused to her for one more moment as he seriously thought about telling her just where she could put her judgments, but with a shake of his head, he forced his gaze down to the dust-covered floor. His chest might explode at any second with the rage clawing through him. Who was this person, this girl, to question him anyway?  What had he done that was so wrong?  He was just following orders— trying to be the good son. He kicked the wrench and sent it flying back into the cinderblock wall with a clang before stomping out of the garage.

She had no right to make him feel like a jerk. It wasn’t his fault his family didn’t come to visit. There was nothing to do here anyway. Situated a million miles from nowhere, Rayland was the most boring, backward place on the whole earth, and the second he got the estate in order, he was gone.


It took next to nothing for Ami to hear the car roar out of the driveway, and she wondered with easy loathing which one he was. It’d been more than ten years, but she still remembered the last time Mr. Snyder’s family had come to visit. They’d all sat around complaining because it was hot and whining about how boring everything was.

She could still hear them mimicking the townspeople and joking about how backward their grandfather was. Most of all she could hear them saying how they couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago and “reality.”

It was true she’d hated them then, but she hated them even more now. Mr. Snyder had never been anything but kind to her and her family. When her grandfather had died, it was Mr. Snyder who tended the trees and kept them alive. It was Mr. Snyder who had encouraged her to take what her grandfather had given her and chase her dream. It was Mr. Snyder who showed up every day for the first month she was here just to check on her.

She was sure his visits would have continued, but then the heart attack had almost taken him out two months before. There was no way to count the hours she’d spent at the hospital sitting by his bedside, reading to him, and assuring him that his family would be there soon. But her assurances had made little difference to him. He said more than once that she was the only real family he had left and that the others were just waiting for him to die so they could split up the inheritance.

Even thinking about it now made her head pound and her heart ache. It was the same way her grandfather had felt, and regardless of how accurate it was, it still made her furious. The two most incredible men in her life, and everyone else thought they were trash.

The anger in her reached a boiling point, and she yanked the hedge trimmer from the wall. In this state she knew she would make the pickup problem worse, but she couldn’t do too much damage to the hedges. After all they could always grow back.


Who does she think she is to talk to me like that? No one. Not one person had ever treated him like that in his entire life. They wouldn’t dare. With a single flick of his little finger, he could squash any person he wanted to. He was Jaxton Anderson, and no one treated Jaxton Anderson like that and got away with it— least of all some greasy, conceited, little farm girl a single rung up from trailer trash.

As he turned into the driveway of the next farmhouse, he couldn’t help but notice with a hint of pride that this one looked much better than hers. It was still old, and it couldn’t compare to the houses he was used to, but at least it didn’t look like it was about to fall down.

He parked the car and crawled out as his nerves shifted from the monologue detailing each of her faults to screaming that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. With each step he took, they told him to just get back in the car and go home. However, he had come this far— even braving the wild she-beast, and he wasn’t going to back down now. Pulling his pride back up to him, he stepped onto the front porch, lifted his hand, and knocked.

One moment became two, and then he looked around and listened for any sign of life. When he heard none, he reached up and knocked again just as a sickening feeling hit him. What if his grandfather had already died?  What if he was lying inside somewhere waiting for someone to find him? What if…?

The squeak of the door brought him back to reality, and he turned and found himself staring into the eyes of a grandfather he hadn’t seen in fifteen years.

“Hi, Grandpa.” He fought to smile warmly, but it never quite made it that far. “How are you?”

“Well, I’ll be tarred and feathered.” The old man shook his head as he pushed the screen door open. “Jaxton? Is that you, Son?”

“Umm, yes, Sir, it is,” he said, fighting the hesitation and having no idea what to do next. Why couldn’t his eyes hold on the old man’s? He’d never had this eye contact problem before, now he couldn’t seem to get it together.

“Well, I thought they were pulling my leg when they said you wanted to come see me, but here you are.”

“Here I am.” Jaxton attempted another smile, wondering which brilliant person had lied to the old man.

“Come on in. I was just making out next week’s work schedule,” his grandfather said, waving a hand over the papers scattered across the coffee table. “Here, have a seat. You want something to drink— water? Tea? I might even have a Coke left if you want one.”

“Oh. No, thanks. I’m… I’m fine,” Jaxton said uncomfortably as he felt the old man’s eyes appraise him like a piece of junk at a garage sale. He swallowed hard and attempted another smile, which got no farther than its predecessors.

Shifting his weight to the other foot, Jaxton stole a glance at the old couch waiting for him, and he cringed as a decade’s worth of dust jeered up at him. So this was what his life had degenerated to. He took a deep breath and folded himself carefully onto the plaid nylon hoping he wouldn’t have to breathe again before he got up.

With supreme patience he waited for his grandfather to resume his seat in the cracked brown recliner chair before he plunged ahead purposely keeping his mind off the dingy surroundings. “So, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. ‘Course I’ll be better once I get this wheat harvest out of the way,” his grandfather said, looking back at the papers lining the table. “You’d think it’d get easier after all these years, but it ain’t getting no easier. Just harder and harder to find anybody who’ll do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

Jaxton nodded as if he saw the gravity of the situation. “I can imagine.”

Then like magic, his grandfather’s face brightened. “But Ed says we should make 80 bushels this year. That’s about the best I’ve ever seen. ‘Course, it’s still a month out, so anything’s possible.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it is,” Jaxton said, hoping he didn’t sound short but knowing he did. He could feel the dust from the couch creeping up onto his suit, and it was doing very bad things to his patience and his nerves.

“So, how’s your mom? Staying busy?” his grandfather asked, and his voice regained the heaviness.

“She is.” Jaxton forced his mind away from the dust and attempted another smile. “She says, ‘Hello.’”

Silence filled the room then as Jaxton fought to keep his body still. He didn’t want to disturb the dirt any more than was absolutely necessary.

“I guess your dad’s business’s good,” his grandfather finally said.

“Oh, yeah. Pretty good.” Jaxton rubbed his hands together, fighting to breathe and stay seated.

His grandfather surveyed him with curiosity. “You’re working with him now. Aren’t you?”

The old man’s gaze felt like a python wrapping around Jaxton’s chest. “Yeah. I’ve been there about six years now.”

Mr. Snyder sighed and shook his head. “Time sure gets by fast these days. Seems like just yesterday when you and Blake came down for the summer. How long ago’s that been anyway?”

Jaxton looked around the room, searching for some comfortable place to put his gaze. There wasn’t one.

“Fifteen years,” he heard his voice say. It sounded rotten, but it felt worse.

“Fifteen, huh?” his grandfather said slowly, and the room was once again engulfed in a long, uncomfortable silence. “Time sure gets away.”

Jaxton nodded, unsure of what else to do or say.  He chanced a hesitant glance at his host sitting in the shadows as the fading sunlight played through the folds of the curtains. From the looks of the old man, Jaxton didn’t have a moment to waste.

“Tell you what.” Mr. Snyder suddenly vaulted himself out of the chair. “Why don’t you bring your bags in, and I’ll go make us some supper?”

“Oh, I’m not that hungry.” Jaxton stumbled to his feet quickly. Unconsciously, his hand smoothed the front of his tie.

“Nonsense. You just flew all the way here from Chicago. Of course you’re hungry. But don’t worry.” His grandfather smiled. “I’ve got just the thing.”

“Well, if you’re sure…” Uncertainty swathed the statement as the old man crossed past him to the kitchen.

“You can have the room at the top of the stairs.” His grandfather pointed up the narrow staircase. “Why don’t you go on up and get settled?  I’ll call you when it’s ready.”


Ami wondered what was going on at the Snyder Farm as she started washing the dishes. By now she would’ve thrown that obnoxious jerk off the place. What right did he have to show up like this anyway? It was obvious he was only here to assess how long it would be before the farm changed hands. A shiver crawled up her spine at the very thought. Surely Mr. Snyder would see right through him and send him packing. Surely…


With his handkerchief, Jaxton wiped the layer of dust off the dresser top and carefully set his fax machine in front of the mirror he could see no reflection from. As soon as the requisite family time with his grandfather was over, he was going to get back up here and get some real work done.

Cord in hand, he sat on his heel to plug it in but stopped cold. Slowly he turned and surveyed the room, looking for a plug just as a sick feeling hit the pit of his stomach. There wasn’t a single phone jack to be seen anywhere. How was he going to get any work done with no phone jack?

“Supper!” his grandfather’s voice cut into the fury rising in him.

“Oh, you’re so going to pay for this one, Dad,” he mumbled to the empty room as he dropped the cord and crossed to the door. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now, but he vowed to find a way out of this forced imprisonment as soon as he returned.

His feet tromped their way down the stairs, and with each step the anger in his chest grew until he felt like he might explode when he stepped into the kitchen.

“Chicken rice casserole.” His grandfather glanced up as he set the steaming pan on the table. “Best food in Kansas.”

Jaxton took one whiff, and in spite of his anger, his mouth began to water. “It smells delicious.”

He sat down at the opposite side of the table as his grandfather handed him a plateful.

“It does more than smell delicious, my boy,” Mr. Snyder said, filling his own plate and sitting down across from Jaxton who already had a forkful headed for his mouth. “Shall we say grace?”

“Oh, umm, yeah.” Jaxton set his fork down with a reluctant clink. He bowed his head and listened as the older man said the prayers he hadn’t heard in years. It was truly incredible how backward his grandfather was.

“…Amen,” his grandfather said.

“Amen,” Jaxton echoed, and this time he waited for his grandfather to start eating first.

They ate in silence for the first few minutes. The thought crossed Jaxton’s mind that his grandfather was right, this was about the best food he’d ever eaten. It was so good in fact, that for a moment he forgot about all the complications in his life and just enjoyed eating.

Besides the meals he’d eaten alone in his apartment, this had to be the quietest meal he’d ever had. Even in his apartment, sirens were always going off somewhere below him, and the sounds of the traffic were always right outside his kitchen window.

As the thoughts of Chicago, home, and normalcy invaded the silence around him, he quickly decided that now was as good a time as any to start the process he’d come to finish.

“So, how’s the farm?” he asked as nonchalantly as possible between bites. “You said the harvest should be good this year?”

“Ed thinks The Old Camdon place will be ready in three weeks,” his grandfather said, brightening to the subject.

“Ed?” Jaxton asked as he took another bite.

“Fowler,” his grandfather supplied. “Been my right hand man for more years now than I care to count. Anyway he said the boys from upstate should be here ready to harvest on the 15th so long as we don’t get any rain the week before.”

Jaxton nodded for no reason other than to keep the old man talking. “And how many people did you say you’ve got working out here?”

“There’s just the four of us for now,” his grandfather said. “Me and Ed. And then Chris Delvin and Steve Porter. I’m hoping to hire some school kids during the summer, but you never know.”

“Oh,” Jaxton said. “And Chris and Steve?”

“They’re a couple of guys who used to work for Murphey Gray.”

“And he doesn’t need them?”

“Not any more— he lost the farm a few years back.”

“Lost it?”

“The bank took over– sold the land right out from under them,” his grandfather said with a sympathetic shake of his head. “It’s not uncommon these days. Everything’s getting too big. The little guys just can’t compete.”

“So, what happened to Murphey?”

“He moved to Emporia and started selling fertilizer, but his workers were left with nothing. Chris and Steve had worked out there since they were little fellas, but by the time the place sold, they both had young families to think of and no real desire to move away from here. I hated to see them have to leave Rayland— especially with the little ones already established in the school. Besides with only 253 people, we need every person we can hang on to.”

“I’ll bet,” Jaxton said barely disguising the condescension in his voice.

“So, how’s that chow?” his grandfather asked without any indication he was about to change the subject.

“Oh.”  Jaxton looked down at the empty plate in front of him. “Excellent. I didn’t know you could cook.”

He reached over and put a second helping on his plate— having never realized just how hungry he actually was. The next two bites were in his mouth before the plate was even on the table again.

“’s not me,” his grandfather said with a smile. “Ami brought it over.”

“Ami?” Jaxton asked absently as he forked another bite into his mouth.

“Yeah. You remember Ami, Hank Martin’s granddaughter. She lives just east of here. You probably passed her place on your way in.”

Instantly the food in Jaxton’s mouth rotted. He dropped his fork and pushed the plate away trying not to look at the food or spit the foul tasting stuff out of his mouth. With Herculean effort he swallowed that bite and took a long drink of water.

“I can’t believe you don’t remember her,” his grandfather continued. “You met her when you were here the last time.”

Jaxton tried to recall the meeting his grandfather was describing, but nothing other than the disgusting plate of food staring back at him from the table was getting through to his brain.

“I wish I had a granddaughter like her,” his grandfather rambled on. “Such a sweet girl.”

Sweet? Jaxton thought as the rage from the preceding 18 hours crowded back in on him. I can think of a word for her, and it certainly isn’t sweet. But he pushed that thought down and smiled what he hoped was politely.

“Not that I’d trade you boys, of course. But sometimes it’d be nice…”  His grandfather’s words trailed into silence before he looked back across at Jaxton’s plate. “You full?”

“Uh, yeah.” Jaxton fought to erase the picture of her from his mind. Why was that so hard? “I’ve got some work I need to get done— umm, that is, if you don’t mind.”

“Course I don’t mind.” The old man shrugged. “I’m sure your father’s got you working on all his biggest accounts.”

“Yeah,” Jaxton said half-heartedly feeling sorry for himself again for a split second and then reflexively pushing that down.  He had business to do, and he was going to get it done. Putting his hand on the hard sticks of gelled hair, he worked to get the next question out diplomatically. “Umm, I noticed there isn’t a phone line in my room. Where might I find one?”

His grandfather let out a little snort. “Only phone I got ’s right there.” He pointed to the old dial around phone on the wall.

Jaxton’s eyes widened at the thought. “You’re kidding.”

“Only one. But you’re welcome to it,” his grandfather said, reaching for Jaxton’s plate. “You finished with this?”

“Uh. Yeah,” Jaxton said as he tried to figure out how to plug both his laptop and the fax machine into the same outlet. If, in fact, he could actually get to the outlet, he thought getting up to look at the phone more closely. It looked about a hundred years old, and the ingrained dirt on it made it appear brown although Jaxton was sure it had been white at some point.

He wished he could take out his handkerchief to pick up the receiver without his grandfather noticing, but the old man was still standing at the table scraping the food off the plates and watching him intently. Slowly he inspected the phone from as many angles as possible, and then he sighed and looked at his watch. 9:30.

He was too tired to deal with this tonight. Maybe if he went to bed now and gave it a few hours, when he woke up again, this would all be one big nightmare, and he’d be back in Chicago headed in to work.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” he said, trying to keep the sigh out of his voice.

“So soon?”  His grandfather took the plates to the sink. “Thought you had work to do.”

“I can do it tomorrow.” Fatigue hit him for real then. “It’s been a long day.”

“I can imagine.” His grandfather nodded with sympathy. “Well, there’s towels in the cabinet in the bathroom upstairs. If they aren’t clean enough, let me know. Nobody’s been up there in a few years, so there’s no telling what it looks like by now.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Jaxton said, wanting only to escape the kitchen and be alone. “Well, I guess I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Yeah.” His grandfather smiled but never quite met Jaxton’s gaze. “Have a good night.”

“You too.”  Jaxton crossed past the old man being careful not to touch him. Once around the corner, he fled up the stairs.

“I just need a nice shower and some sleep.” In his room, he yanked his suitcase from the floor and without thinking, dropped it onto the bed, which immediately sent a noxious dust cloud wafting into the air.

Ugh. Dust. Everything’s in this house is so disgusting. Clicking the suitcase latches open in frustration, Jaxton yanked his Yale sweats out and slammed it closed again. Instantly he choked on the fresh dust cloud. Now I know why we never visited. These people should really get a life— and a maid.

He stalked into the bathroom and reached for the light, but nothing to this point had prepared him for the sight of that bathroom. Immediately all-out nausea closed in on him. Moldy rust formed a path down the back of the sink, which rose on a pedestal from the decaying tile floor. As he looked at it, all he wanted to do was run— far and fast. How had he gotten talked into this? Why him? Why not Blake? Or Uncle John? Or his father?

“What did I do to deserve this?” he asked in disgust.

On unsteady legs he forced himself to step into the bathroom knowing what was coming would be even worse. Reluctantly he glanced into the toilet, and the same nasty molded stains stared back at him.

“Ugh.” He covered his nose and backed away. “When was the last time anybody cleaned this place?”

Fearful of what he would find, he squinted at the shower curtain. “Oh, this can’t be good.”

He took a deep breath to steel the churning of his stomach as he reached for the curtain. The sight of the tub— mold crawling up the back wall and sickening green slime covering the portion of the curtain he held in his hand disintegrated the last of his resolve. Without another thought, he dropped the curtain and fled from the bathroom not even bothering to turn off the light.


Ami had spent the entire afternoon trying to forget about the stranger from Chicago. If only she didn’t feel such loyalty to Mr. Snyder, she could’ve easily dismissed him from her mind. But inevitably as he had for the last two months, Mr. Snyder crossed her mind again, and instantly a picture of the shiny shoes flashed through her mind.

What a jerk! What a total, unmitigated jerk! How can anybody be that callous? That calculating? He could’ve at least waited until the body was cold before moving in to divide the spoils. She shook her head to clear the intrusive thoughts away, but they weren’t going anywhere.

“I could call,” she said to the empty chair across from her as she sat in the living room, an open, un-read book on her lap. “Just to make sure supper was all right.”

Then she shook her head vehemently. As much as she wanted to check on Mr. S, the last thing she wanted to do was appear interested in the jerk who happened to be his grandson. Tomorrow she would call, or maybe if she biked out past the South Quarter she’d get lucky enough to catch Mr. S there. She needed to bring him another casserole anyway, and she was sure the jerk from the big city would do everything he could to avoid the fields.

She could get the full story then. Now she needed some sleep.

“Dear God,” she prayed silently on her way to her room, “please take care of Mr. S. I think he needs Your help more now than when he was in the hospital. Be by his side and protect him from all evil. Amen.”

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