It's winter out there now...so it's good time to cuddle up with a good book. And how about my newest, Lies in Chance (availble in print or for the Kindle on Amazon, but also available for the Nook and e-Reader where all fine digital books are sold!)
Here's a fairly random slice for you to nibble on while you're buying a copy of the whole thing!
It was Thanksgiving, and the Shepaski house dripped with good smells by the time the church bells rang across the parking lot. With the service over, Drew, Joanna, and the kids would be home soon, with their guests. Shara hoped this dinner, the first Thanksgiving dinner she'd cooked, would please her adopted family.
Bryan arrived before the rest of the family. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Shara, surprised at the nearly polite tone from him smiled. “Thanks. You, too.”
“Did you cook the whole dinner?”
Shara nodded. “I did. I mean, Joanna gave me her recipes, and she sort of supervised things. But I did the cooking.”
Bryan leaned against the railing and watched her put the last place setting at the table. “Yeah, well, it won’t be Joanna’s cooking, but I’m sure it won’t kill us, will it?”
Well, that took care of that, didn’t it? She blinked a stinging tear. Why does he always seem to want to find the harshest thing to say to me?
And why on earth does it matter to me what he says?
Shara tried to look beyond the exterior, and into him. She heard he was the most desired male in the county, a profile he certainly didn’t fit in her mind. But Molly loved him and she knew very well how much the children, as well as Drew and Joanna, adored him. He was family to them.
So maybe Molly was right. Just by being here I’m the problem he has. Well, whatever. I have work to do.
Drew’s mother, a jolly old woman with powdery cheeks and pale blue eyes, greeted Shara like a long lost child. “I hear you are the angel from heaven.” She kissed Shara’s cheek.
“Mrs. Shepaski, you’re giving me too much credit.”
“Nonsense, and call me Mother S. Everyone does.”
“Everyone who’s family, that is.” Bryan seated himself at the table. Shara did not miss the angry look Joanna threw at him.
With a twinge of sadness, as Shara surveyed the table heaping with wonderful food and circled with loving family, she remembered her own Thanksgivings with Grandmother. Quiet affairs, usually experienced at one of the finer restaurants in Milwaukee. Resentful wait staff bringing impersonal plates to their table. Grandmother grumbling because every year people wanted not only Thanksgiving Day off, but also the next day. That Friday was the biggest day of the year for sales. Didn’t anyone understand business?
“What are you thinkin’ about?” Joanna sidled up to her, carrying a bowl of yams to the table.
Shara sighed and brushed at the corners of her eyes. “It’s just all so beautiful.”
“Yeah, it is,” Joanna agreed. She nodded to Bryan. “It would be perfect if Bryan wasn’t in a mood.”
“That’s a mood? I thought that’s how he always is.”
“No. It’s always worse on Thanksgiving.” Joanna shook her head.
Joanna studied Bryan across the room carefully before answering. “Bryan and Jenny got engaged on Thanksgiving. They’d only known each other a few weeks. I think they met at a Halloween party. Since she left, he’s been a beast on Thanksgiving. Or, more so than any other day. Except Christmas.”
“I see.” She turned her gaze to the man in question. “What happened on Christmas?”
Joanna’s smile held little mirth. “They got married on Christmas Eve.”
“Wow.” She ignored the brief thought of her own impending wedding, scheduled for Christmas Eve.
“Yes. She ruined him completely. Bryan used to be the sweetest guy I know. And I’ve known him for a very long time. Then she came along.”
“He’s not too crazy about me, is he?”
“Don’t worry about that, Bethany. He’ll come around.” Joanna gave her a quick one-armed hug. “He has little choice in the matter, given just how great you are, and how much it will hurt it I smack him with my frying pan.”
Shara returned Joanna’s hug and tried to shut out the nagging feeling that her friend was wrong. Bryan may never come around. She glanced at him, standing at the other end of the table, just as he looked in her direction. Holding no warmth for her, his gaze felt like an icy slap. She turned away quickly. I am not going to let him bother me. She turned back and gave him a cold glare of her own. You’re attitude is not going to bother me, Bryan Jacobs.
* * *
Shara ate until her stomach was more than full, reveling in the bond she felt with her adopted family. Don’t focus on what you didn’t have living with Grandmother.
“Drew, did you hear your cousin Randy is getting married in February? On Valentine’s Day.” Mother S. dug into her third helping of stuffing with gusto.
“No, Ma, I didn’t hear that. Who to?”
“Well.” Mother S. lowered her voice as if relating a scandal. “He’s marrying a girl he met last month at work. Someone he was training at work. You can imagine his parents are up in arms. He hardly knows the girl.”
“Well, Mother S., that doesn’t seem to stop any of the Shepaski men from attaching themselves to people.” Bryan spooned out more potatoes for himself. “The men in your family have a strange need to turn their lives over to complete strangers.”
Shara’s stomach twisted. His words reminded her too well that she did not belong with these good people. “Will you excuse me, please?” She scurried from the table , down the stairs, and out of the house.
“Bryan Jacobs, that was horrible.” Joanna’s hiss cut through the stillness.
“What did I do? Did I lie?” And don’t look at me like I don’t know what I’m doing. This has nothing to do with Jenny and everything to do with that girl.
Joanna rounded the table toward him. “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe she’s here because she doesn’t have a family?”
Drew stopped chewing and glanced up. The children stared in wonder. Mother S. helped herself to more stuffing. Bryan sensed a war with Joanna coming on and he knew no one ever won a war with her. So what? “Did it ever occur to you that she doesn’t have a family because she killed them?” He crossed his arms and waited for her to volley back.
“Bryan Jacobs!” Joanna stood up, her rage purpling her face. “Nate, take your sister to your room. NOW!”
The children, wide eyed like rabbits, scooted away without protest. Bryan braced himself for the battle.
“Now, Bryan, you explain yourself.” Joanna leaned over him, her puffy face a picture of barely controlled fury.
“Do any of you even care that she might be Shara Brandt?”
“Shara who?” Drew, for the first time, stopped eating long enough to speak.
“That girl from Milwaukee. The one that was engaged to Richard. The one that killed her grandmother in the car dealership.”
Joanna slammed down into a nearby chair as if struck. “Do you taste the words that come out of your mouth, or do you just spread this poison on everyone without any feeling?”
“I’m serious. You all just took her in, and we know nothing about her. She shows up the day after this woman is murdered, and this Shara is missing. Not only that, but her fiancé says Shara Brandt is mentally unstable.”
“Her fiancé, you mean Richard Bennett? Weren’t you disappointed he didn’t die in that attack?” Drew dabbed a roll into some gravy on his plate.
“You know, Bryan, you know that this is all about Jenny.”
Bryan did not want to back down from Joanna’s tiger-like frown. “It is not, Jo. This is about the kids.”
“Well that young lady out there is pretty much a kid herself. She ran away from an abusive boyfriend, and all but died in our back yard. She’s not from Milwaukee, she’s from Escanaba. Molly vouches for her. Why would Molly lie?” Joanna sighed and dabbed some sweat from her face. “Bethany doesn’t have a devious bone in her body. And since when do you believe a word Richard Bennett says? He’s your advisor now? Then you have lost your mind, Bryan Jacobs and I don’t want you here.”
Looking in Joanna’s eyes, seeing her conviction, Bryan mentally noted that it was unlikely that everyone he knew could be fooled. There was a chance that Bethany was genuine. It probably is all about Jenny…and Richard Bennett. “Maybe you’re right, Jo. Maybe.” He sighed and rubbed his head with his hands. “I guess I could be less of a jerk, couldn’t I?” And restore some peace in the process.
Joanna softened visibly. The war was over. “I know you have a lot of hurt inside.” She waddled over and hugged him. “But you’ve got to remember the great guy you really are, and be him once in awhile.”
Yeah, but I don’t have to be the nanny’s cheerleader, either. “I’ll go find her and apologize.” And that will keep the peace for now. Bryan got up from the table and left the house. Dirty snow melted under the tires of Drew’s station wagon. She wasn’t in the garage. He opened the garage door and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. Puddles formed on the sidewalks and driveways as snow melted in the forty-degree warmth.
She was sitting on the front stoop. “Hey.” He sat next to her. “You didn’t go far.”
“Where exactly would I go?” She turned a tear stained face to him. Dark smudges under her eyes told him she had been crying hard.
Her eyes tore away another shred of his doubt. Could she possibly be less sinister? “Look, what I said was… uncalled for”
“It’s not like you haven’t been building up to it.” She sniffled and buried her face in the crook of her arm. “I’d like to know what I ever did to you.”
Nothing. Call it preemptive jerkiness. “It’s not really you. I love those kids like they were my own. You just show up one day and no one ever questioned whether or not you were right for them.” He shrugged and leaned his elbows on his knees. “I’m very protective.”
“So you’re saying you don’t trust me.” Her sniffle punctuated her pitiful aura.
“I’d like to know you better.”
“Really?” Her tone showed no interest. “Aren’t I the lucky one?”
Bryan frowned. He’d always had the opposite effect on women. Mostly, women wanted him to know them better. Not this one. “I don’t mean in the way it sounds.”
“Like what then?” The anger and hurt in her eyes tore away the last shred of pride he had.
If I shove my foot all the way in my mouth maybe I’ll shut up and stop botching this apology. “I’d like to know more about you before I’m comfortable with you, you know, watching the kids.”
“Fair enough.” She sniffled again and wiped her eyes.
“So.” He handed her a tissue. “What about it?”
“What about what?”
“What about your story?”
She shook her head. “You know my story. What’s your story?”
And she’s not going to let me off the hook easily. “Fair enough. Let’s see: I was born, I grew up, went to school, got the job teaching here, got into trouble at dinner just now.”
Her lips twisted into a half smile. “I like that version. Simple and short. I can do that. I was born, I grew up. I left home, wound up here, and just stormed out of the best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had.”
“You missed the part about being the creek.”
“You missed the part about being married.”
“Touché.” He stared out over to the school and nodded. “I keep forgetting you don’t keep too much hidden in a small town.” He looked sideways at her. “How about a truce? A truce with ground rules. Anytime I want to know something about you, I have to tell you something about myself.”
She nodded. “We don’t ask questions if we aren’t ready to answer any, right?”
“Deal.” He stuck out his hand. She took it in hers, and they shook. “Now, how about some pumpkin pie?”
She gave him a worried look. “You want to know a secret?”
“Is this a freebie question for me? Because I don’t think I’m ready to reveal much more this afternoon.”
“Don’t sweat it.” She gave him a wan, yet utterly enchanting smile. “I’m actually a little afraid about how it turned out. I’ve never had pumpkin pie before. I don’t know if it’s right.”
Her words startled him. “You’ve never had pumpkin pie?”
She shrugged. “My Thanksgiving Day dinners were always rather untraditional. Grand..pa wasn’t big on pies.”
“Well look, the rest of the meal didn’t kill us,” Bryan grinned at her.
“Oh thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Seriously. Dinner was great. I’m sure the pie will be great.” He opened the front door for her. I’ll still keep an eye on you, though, Bethany Elias.
Watching her walk up the stairs, Bryan realized that wasn’t going to be such a terrible thing to do.