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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cyber Launch Party FRIDAY

August 1, is the release date for ACCIDENTAL HEARTS -- the 12th Tabor Heights book, from Desert Breeze Publishing, and the final book in Year One.


Make sure you check out the Cyber Launch Party blog on Friday, August 3, to chat about Tabor Heights, about ACCIDENTAL HEARTS, about the "year" in retrospect, and what you can expect in Year Two -- and the first book, which I have to turn in really, really, really soon.

Like ... I'm going to be LATE!
But the wait will be worth it.
And my publisher is very, very, very understanding and patient.

Oh, and remember to look for the announcement of the New Year's Eve party we're going to have, to close down Year One and launch Year Two -- in October. But that's all I'm going to say about it now.

Stop by the Cyber Launch Party Friday, August 3.

(For those who checked earlier, this is a CORRECTION of the blog posted on Tuesday, July 31 -- sorry!!)

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30: from FIRESONG

Katie, Stephanie, Pastor Glenn and Rita stood with Aunt Betty and Uncle George at the front of the store by the windows, watching as fans started lining up nearly fifteen minutes before the store was to open at ten. Uncle George took pictures with half a dozen different cameras, so everyone had their own record of this special day. The McCreadys beamed brighter than anyone else. Every member of Firesong had worked at their music store during the last ten years. In a way, Dani reflected, this was a day of triumph for the McCreadys, too.
"Ready, gang?" Kurt asked, as the clock in the shape of Elvis' face inched toward the hour.
"Ready as we'll ever be." Tom bowed toward the door.
Mr. McCready grinned as proudly as a new father while leading the procession to the front door. He opened it with a flourish. The waiting fans standing on the grass and the sidewalk and even in the parking lane of Main, in front of the old house-turned-shop, let out cheers that could probably be heard past City Hall. Flashbulbs popped and someone at the edge of the crowd had a video camera.
Later, Dani estimated more than half of Tabor Heights had come for the release celebration, and a good number of people from surrounding towns as well. The day passed in vignettes, like snapshots of memories:
Kurt organizing the waiting fans into lines to buy their CD or poster at one table, then move to the next table where Firesong sat and signed autographs.
Aunt Betty and Uncle George, pushed back into the store by the sheer press of traffic, both wearing proud smiles.
Katie and Stephanie, wisely retreating into the shadowy shelter of the store, making faces at Dani -- they had promised not to leave her alone with the guys.
Mr. McCready, making multiple trips in and out of the store, getting more change, getting more CDs and posters, grinning broadly despite his growing weariness.
Mrs. McCready, making change faster than the hucksters at Progressive Field selling pop and cotton candy and peanuts before the Indians started playing.
Dani lost count early of how many fans stepped past her to get signatures from her brother and cousins. She knew she should feel slighted, but after two hours of signing autographs and trying to answer questions that couldn't be heard over the noise of the crowd, she was honestly relieved to be ignored. She decided she could safely retreat without anyone noticing her absence -- until they matched signatures with pictures.
They weren't only girls who adored Firesong, were they?
                 Kurt followed her into the quiet shelter of McCready's store. Dani didn't look behind her, sliding through the press of the crowd, and nearly shut the door in his face.
"Hey, I'm on your side!" Kurt yelped.
Dani grabbed his arm to pull him inside and shut the door with a bang. She stepped back and turned slowly, holding her arms out to fully enjoy the quiet and cool inside the store.
"Sorry. I didn't want anybody sneaking in after us. Although..." She paused to look outside. "I don't think anybody has noticed I've left."
"You sound relieved."
"I shouldn't be? It's crazy out there."
"You're just as much a part of Firesong as the guys."
"I don't appeal to the -- the--"
"Teeny-boppers?" he offered with a grin.
                 Dani was glad to laugh with him. The laughter sounded so natural, as if he hadn't accused her and they hadn't yelled at each other and she hadn't allowed such strange, wistful, searching thoughts into her head. As if the two weeks of silence hadn't happened. Maybe Katie was more right than she knew.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29: from DETOURS

"Good time yesterday?" Bekka asked.
"Didn't Kat tell you anything?" Morgan grinned at her and sat down at his desk.
"She was still in bed when I left for work." She settled down on the corner of the desk. "Everything okay?"
"Sure. Why?"
"Well, she's a little bugged by going to church."
"She doesn't have to if she doesn't want to. Though I would be very happy if she'd get into the habit."
"That's just it -- nothing more than a habit. Kat does a lot of things to make people happy and she doesn't tell them when she's uncomfortable. Look what happened with Chef Creepo," she hurried to add when Morgan opened his mouth to deny her words. That stopped him short.
"That's the last thing I want," he murmured, and slouched a little further into his seat. He nodded, frowning, and thought for a few moments. "I guess I should talk to Lynette. Maybe she could give me some ideas."
"That's part of the problem." Bekka hated this part. She took a deep breath and studied her clasped fingers as she hurried on. "Kat thinks her mother is going just to please you, and she's afraid it'll break you two up. She thinks church makes her mother uncomfortable."
"Of course it would. Those hypocrites at her home church in Chicago--" Morgan shook his head.
"They made it hard on her because she was an unwed mother who wouldn't identify the father. Somebody probably found out she refused to marry you, and used that against her, too."
"Marry me?" He forced a sickly smile onto his face. "What makes you say that?"
"Because Kat looks like the two of you put together and it makes a whole lot more sense, the way you look after Kat, if she's your kid. I doubt you were ever the kind of guy who would walk away from his kid, so her mom made you go away, didn't she?"
"She wanted me to keep going, onward and upward," he whispered, "make my mark on Hollywood, and then come back for them. I got a job and cut back on my classes and got an apartment so I could take care of her. When I wouldn't stop asking her to marry me, she left town." He blinked hard against a sudden glimmer that Bekka suspected was tears.
"You can't imagine how Kat's face haunted me, the first couple of weeks of her freshman year. And just when I was convinced that it was just a coincidence, I went to Thanksgiving at your place, and there Lynette was, Kat's mother." He let out a loud sigh. "All the praying I did, all the bargains I made with God for years, until I finally gave up. Please, just give me back Lyn and our baby. I didn't even know if she had a boy or girl until that day."
"I just love coincidences, don't you?" Bekka drawled. They shared a grin.
"I guess I've just been taking it for granted that God's given us a second chance and nothing is going to go wrong this time." He let out a long, loud sigh and seemed to deflate a little. "Thanks for not saying anything. Lyn doesn't want Kat to know just yet."
"If you're not careful, she'll never know. Kat really needs a dad. Her mom needs a knight in shining armor."
"Slightly dented armor," Morgan said with a crooked smile. "Thanks, Bekka. I thought I was supposed to be your advisor."
                "Hey, summer break." She shrugged and slid off the corner of the desk. "Now that I've totally disrupted your day, I should get on to my class."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

See it here, first!


It's the cover art for the upcoming, NEW Tabor Heights novel, ACCIDENTAL HEARTS.
Due out in August.

Isn't it gor-gee-ous?

Desert Breeze authors are SO lucky to have Jenifer doing our cover art. I just love everything she does for my books!

Now, you may be wondering what an older model Corvette has to do with a romance... and the only answer you're going to get is that it has to do with the hero and heroine meeting for the first time.

You'll have to check back here later to find out. Or you can go through earlier blogs and see the excerpt for ACCIDENTAL HEARTS, and find out!

Check out Desert Breeze Publishing at the beginning of August for your copy!

And remember, there's always a Cyber Launch Party for new Tabor Heights books, so check that blog for the date -- and here, of course!

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27: from DETOURS

"I've seen her like this before. She does things to make people happy, not because she wants to or likes to. If Morgan keeps dragging her to church with him, they're going to break up." Kat rolled over onto her back, nearly pushing herself off the couch in the process. "Which could be a good thing -- I mean, my mother and my adviser! But they're so good together. You can tell they're really happy. They really like each other. I feel like an intruder, but they keep asking me to come eat with them and go to the park and they want me and Marco to go to Cedar Point with them tomorrow. Should I?"
"Are they paying?" Bekka said.
"You're no help!" Kat sat up long enough to lob a decorative pillow at her. But she subsided back onto the couch with a crooked grin. "I couldn't stand it if Morgan hurts my Mom."
"Sounds like she hurt him, the last time."
"What?"
"Oh, nothing anybody said," Bekka hurried to say. She closed up her computer, putting it in standby because she sensed she wouldn't get back to her story for a while. "Just some things they've both let drop. I guessed a while ago they knew each other at Northwestern, and your mom pushed him out of her life."
"That was the stupidest thing she ever did -- no, the second stupidest. The stupidest was marrying Mike the Creepoid!" She shuddered. "But why does he have to drag her to church? Why does he have to drag me along with them?"
"Because I think he's serious about her. Church is important to Morgan, just like it is to me." Bekka settled into the beanbag chair facing Kat. "If you have something wonderful in your life, you share it with the people who matter most to you, don't you?"
"I guess." Kat nodded and scooted backwards to halfway sit up against the arm of the couch. "But you don't shove it down my throat all the time. You ask and you don't push when I say no."
"Is that what Morgan's doing to you and your mom? Nagging you? Shoving it down your throat?"
"Well... no. Not really." She groaned and tilted her head back; far enough Bekka's neck ached in sympathy. "I wish things were simple. I wish I knew what was going on between them."
"They like each other."
"Yeah, but this family togetherness thing is creeping me out."
"Family?" Bekka held her breath.
"Stupid, huh? I mean, I can't help wondering. Wishing. They must have broken up before Mom met my father. My real father, not the pervert. Maybe he broke them up, you know? Maybe Morgan was even more religious back in school and that scared Mom away. Just think -- if they hadn't broken up, he might be my father."
"You wouldn't be you, if that happened." She crossed her fingers, just in case.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25: from THE MISSION

"Can I help you?" Jennifer said, stepping to the door. She silently prayed that he was a building inspector, here to see Paul about the cracks in the outer wall of the room that would become a coffee house hopefully by next spring.
"Uh -- hi." He glanced once more at the dogs as he walked between their big, sprawled bodies. Then he stepped from the shadows of the lobby into the light spilling out of the office. "My name is Doug Farnsworth. I have an appointment with Pastor Wally in about half an hour." He shrugged and glanced up and down the hallway to either end of the building. "Got here faster than I thought."
"Doug Farnsworth." Jennifer hoped her expression stayed pleasantly neutral while panic tied her insides into knots.
Please, please, Lord, let me be so changed he doesn't recognize me!
She certainly recognized him, despite his pleasant expression being so different from the rage that had made his eyes spark with flames and flattened that firm mouth and dug furrows around his eyes the last time she saw him. His shouting matches with her parents and the accusations that flew back and forth had been the beginning of the end for her family. Looking back, Jennifer knew she should be grateful, but knowing was very different from doing and being. The scandal on the Air Force base had been brewing for years, but her parents had only aggravated the situation and Doug had been wounded enough to fight back.
Puck whined and scrambled to his feet again, sliding around Doug to put himself between the man and Jennifer.
"Whoa -- hey, boy. What'd I do?" Doug stepped back, half-raising his hands in surrender.
"Doug Farnsworth?" Claire stepped up to the doorway.
                 Jennifer gladly stepped aside. She went down on one knee and wrapped her arms around Puck. Her bodyguard was only reacting to her spiking emotions, not to any danger from Doug. She hesitated to reassure him of that, though. That was petty of her, but she was in the mood to be immature for a little while, and not just because she had cancelled her summer day camp inspections for the duration of the crisis. At the beginning of the week, she had planned to spend this morning playing in the wading pool at Bonnie Park with the four-year-olds.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24: from A QUIET PLACE

Tony shrugged. "It's practically a scenario from the clichéd books we both hate -- a guy taking advantage of a girl in crisis, to make her fall in love with him."
"Yeah, well, Jeannette sure doesn't love me."
"No. Please tell me you didn't ask her."
"I did. The last thing she needs in her life right now is another man to clean up after. Her words," Nathan added, a bitter chuckle burning his throat.
"That's because you're a moron," Max said, making both of them jerk and turn to see her standing against the library wall, arms crossed. Nathan didn't want to know how long she had been there, listening to them. "Did you tell her that you loved her before you asked her to marry you?"
"Uh..." Nathan's face burned as he sorted through his memories of that argument by the water. "No. But I did tell her I loved her."
"Yeah, right." She rolled her eyes and pushed off the wall to come stand in front of him. It didn't help matters any that Tony just stood there, smirking, when Max poked Nathan in the breastbone with one finger. "Give me the exact words you used."
"Uh... I think she said I didn't really want to be BJ's father, and I said I loved BJ and her, too."
"Wrong. So wrong," Tony muttered.
"You weren't much better, buster. I practically had to beat the confession out of him," Max said, eyes sparkling. Her frown twitched, trying to morph into a grin.
Nathan hated the hot surge of jealousy that their love was out in the open, signed and sealed, and they were planning a long life together.
"Go back to Jeannette and get down on your knees and tell her you were an idiot," Max said.
"She already knows that," Nathan sighed.
"What you should have told her was that you can't live without her."
"She accused me of wanting to marry her just to rescue her." He shrugged and turned to Tony, knowing a man would understand. Or should he be asking Max for some explanation of what was going through Jeannette's mind?
"See? That turns the whole thing around to you. You get to be the hero." Max poked him once more in the chest. "How long have you wanted to marry her?"
"Honestly..." He sighed. "Since before she was engaged to Brody."
"Ouch. You're making it really hard on yourself. Why would Jeannette want to marry a wimp?"
"Hey, I'm not a wimp! I was in Afghanistan -- I caught those poachers last winter, remember? I helped chase down that lunatic that tried to kidnap Angela Coffelt."
                "Yeah, but you didn't have the guts to fight for the woman you loved. That makes you a wimp." Max shook her head and turned to head back into the library. "There's no way I can write you out of this one, Nathan. Wait until Jeannette cools off, and try again. And keep trying until she believes you." She stopped at the library door and looked back. "And for Pete's sake, tell her you love her before anything else comes out of your mouth." She shoved on the bar for the automatic door and pushed it aside when it didn't open fast enough for her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23: from A QUIET PLACE

Jeannette was in no mood for 'chances are good.' She wanted the whole situation resolved and the Evans family permanently barred from her life. It was no comfort to know that Mrs. Evans, James and Vince were unwelcome in that part of Cleveland because of the ruckus they raised when they checked out of their hotel room at three-thirty, long past the official check-out deadline, and were charged for another day's stay. It was some small satisfaction for Jeannette that no one in Cleveland or Tabor Heights cared to kowtow to the woman's demands, and they weren't impressed with her alleged status and rights.
"She won't stop until she gets what she wants," she complained to Nathan, who had been covering a friend's shift in the Metroparks, saw her sitting by the waterfowl refuge as sunset painted the water gold, and stopped to check on her. "I wouldn't be surprised if her next step is to try kidnapping. She's just arrogant enough to take BJ home with her, instead of hiding, and then painting herself as the victim when we come take him away from her. And once she has him on her home turf, she'll have all those people who support her."
She almost blurted her panic-induced plan to grab BJ, empty her bank account, and head north to Canada. Nathan would scold her for being so silly and having no faith in the legal system, the Tabor Heights police, and in God.
"The only way she can succeed is to prove he's being abused and that you neglect him," Nathan said. He wrapped an arm tight around her shoulders and tipped his head so it rested against hers. "She'll have to spend an awful lot of money to bribe dozens of people to forget what she did while she was in town."
"It's been done before! She certainly has the money." Jeannette fought the urge to get up and pace back and forth between the bench and her car. She needed Nathan's arm around her. Even the solace of her quiet place here by the water had fled. He was her only security and foundation.
Besides, the sensation of being watched dogged her constantly nowadays. What kind of picture did she present to the unseen watcher -- if she wasn't losing her mind under the stress? What image of her did he put in his report? She gasped and nearly leaped to her feet, to free herself of Nathan's supporting arm. What kind of nasty, promiscuous picture could Mrs. Evans paint from this little scene of comfort and tears?
"The only fact she has straight is that you're a single mother and a little boy needs a father," Nathan said after a few seconds. His voice sounded odd to her. She couldn't put her finger on it. Most likely Nathan was under just as much stress as she was. After all, wasn't he the most important man in BJ's life? Hadn't he proved how much he loved her son? He had been there from the day the boy was born -- he had been there, supporting her, before BJ was born.
"BJ has plenty of male role models in church. He has Pastor Glenn and Pastor Wally and you! It certainly wasn't my choice to be a single mother. I was planning to go through all this with Brody. If anybody in the church thought I wasn't being a good mother, they'd have told me before this, wouldn't they?" Jeannette wondered if she sounded as pitiful and scattered to Nathan as she did to herself.
                Please, God, let the spies be in my imagination and not real. The last thing I need is to give that witch the satisfaction of knowing she's driving me crazy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20: from DETOURS

"What's wrong with Nathan?" Bekka wanted to know. "Did the Evanses threaten him, too, just because he's BJ's favorite uncle?"
"You really don't know, do you?" Shane shook his head and tipped his hat back.
"Know what?"
"Nathan's got it bad for Jeannette. Poor guy, he probably doesn't even realize it."
"Nathan... and Jeannette." Bekka thought it over while they crossed the last street and cut down the alley between two buildings, to get to the massive sandstone building that was the armory fifty years ago. "You know, I think you're right."
"Of course I'm right. And it's tearing him apart, thinking about Jeannette having to fight for BJ."
"They've never had anything to do with Jeannette since she came back to town. Why are they here now?"
"Nathan says they called Jeannette a liar when she told them she was pregnant, and then they threw her out of town. Somebody must have told them Jeannette had a baby." He led the way back behind the building, to the rear entrance.
"I thought my grandparents and their old fogey friends were bad." Bekka shook her head. "What can we do to help?"
"Besides help Jeannette sneak out of town and get a new identity?" Shane dug the keys out of his pocket as they reached the door.
"That's not funny."
"Who says I was joking?" He sighed. "If Jeannette had family, those people wouldn't be attacking her like that. They think it's an easy fight because she's all alone."
"She's not alone. Everybody at church is her family." Bekka shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. "It's kind of scary, how things like this can happen right under your nose, and you don't even realize it's happening."
"Hey, it's okay." Shane grasped her shoulders and shook her a little. "Our Bible study group is praying hard, and Common Grounds is standing with her, and the Mission won't let that old witch get her hands on BJ, and it's gonna be okay."
                "Promise?" Bekka felt a little better when Shane solemnly crossed his heart. She looked around the quiet tree-lined back parking lot before she followed him into the gym, and wondered if she would ever feel the same about quiet, friendly Tabor Heights.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 18: from A QUIET PLACE

"Peace," Shaun said, settling back down on the edge of the table. He nodded toward the back room, where Jeannette could hear voices. "I'm officially off the case. She fired me."
"Why?" Her heart skipped a beat. Jeannette's fingers tightened around the bag with her lunch, hard enough she could feel the peanut butter squirt through the bread inside the plastic zipper bag.
"I confronted her with the lies she told me about you. It doesn't take very long to do a preliminary character investigation. Especially in a town this size." He sighed and rubbed at his eyes, and Jeannette had an instant image of how much Mrs. Evans had harangued him before she fired him. "She didn't like what I found and insisted that the facts weren't facts. Everything I've found says you're a good, decent, hard-working woman who loves her son."
"In spite of the facts, your in-laws are trying to have you declared an unfit mother," Xander said, emerging from the back room.
"I didn't say that," Shaun said, raising both hands defensively.
"Yeah, well, lawyers can read minds. That's the tactic I'd expect her to take." He nodded toward the back room. "And a friend of mine in the county social services division has been on the lookout since the showdown on Monday, waiting for that move. The motion was filed today. The report is still coming by fax." Xander bared his teeth in a grimace. "It seems she wasn't too happy that the judge wouldn't simply take her word for it and send some officers to take BJ out of the Mission and hand him over to her. Unfortunately, the law states that because a complaint has been made, he has to order an investigation. Depending on the severity of the complaint, it could extend for weeks and include a social worker investigating your home, as well as talking to BJ, his teachers, your neighbors, and anyone else who can testify to your relationship."
He held up his hand to stop her when Jeannette opened her mouth to ask what she could do. In the silence, she heard a long, high beep, and guessed that was the fax machine turning off. Xander winked at her and hurried into the back room. Jeannette and Shaun exchanged slightly uncomfortable, polite smiles, and waited. A strange sound emerged from the back room, and it took her a few seconds to realize Xander was... laughing.
"I know you warned me about her," Xander said, coming back up to the front of the office, shuffling through papers as he walked. "Both of you warned me, but I guess I needed more evidence."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17: from ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

From the UPCOMING Desert Breeze Publishing release -- look for it in August!

"It's nice to meet you," Abby said, shaking hands with Thomas after Tyler made introductions.
"No getting formal on us," Tyler's mother said, laughter bubbling in her voice, as usual. "We're Grace and Thomas. So, how long have you known each other?"
"Seventy-two hours exactly," Tyler said, after making a grand show of checking his watch. "Danny sabotaged my car on Monday, and it died when I was dropping the kids off at camp. Abby came to my rescue."
"Mechanic and a pilot, huh?" Thomas said, cocking his head to one side and studying the patch on her pocket. "Any good?"
"Enough to know better than to play with bubble gum on the cables," Abby said with a sideways glance at Tyler.
Explaining what had happened with the car and the children took them through the waitress bringing Thomas and Grace's order, and taking Abby and Tyler's orders. All four were laughing as they shared escapades they had endured with the children, with Abby comfortable enough to throw in the exploits of Candy and Chad. There was some comfort in knowing that Danny and Pam weren't unusual, Tyler thought. Then he muffled laughter a moment later when he wondered if he should be worried. Especially since his niece and nephew seemed to have paired up with Abby's niece and nephew. Was the fate of the world threatened by those two pairs of troublemakers joining forces?
This wasn't exactly the breakfast conversation Tyler had been planning on, but at least his parents weren't asking personal questions of Abby. He remembered the first time he had brought a girl home to meet his parents -- not that he had actually brought Abby to meet them. It was Thanksgiving break, his sophomore year of college, and they had grilled the poor girl until she could only stare like a deer caught in oncoming headlights. She hadn't exactly run in terror, and his parents had certainly been welcoming and warm, not intending an Inquisition, but by Christmas he and that particular girl were no longer together. Strenuous pleading before subsequent meetings with other girlfriends had only yielded slightly better results, until he realized that his parents were actually doing him a favor, screening his love interests for undesirable traits, such as cowardice and lack of an iron constitution or strong self-esteem. This time though, when he hadn't even begun to establish a relationship with Abby, Tyler hoped his parents remembered that first disastrous encounter and would grant her a reprieve.
Maybe being told outright he had just met her would give him some leeway -- but he didn't think so. It wasn't that his parents were malicious or stupid; on the contrary, they were too perceptive and honest. They knew that college sweetheart -- what was her name, anyway? -- hadn't been the right one for their only son. Just like they had known a number of other girls weren't going to last and weren't good for him, each in her own way. They had even known Victoria wasn't right, but Tyler thought her gracious resistance to their inquisitiveness and hints marked her as "the one." He had been wrong. He had also learned the difference between strong character and a one-track mind focused on a target, to the detriment of everyone and everything else.
If his parents gave Abby some leeway right from the start, did that mean they approved of her?
Tyler nearly choked on his orange juice when that thought came to him. He wasn't aiming for the altar already, was he? The one thing that drove him away from women was the sense they were marriage-minded. Would that drive Abby away, if she sensed it in him?
Slow down and take it easy, boy, he scolded himself. Get to know her. Be friends. Get to know the girl's mind. That's the important part.
           It was hard to remind himself of that, when he could still recall two dreams from last night, both of which involved kissing. Funny, but while he avoided cheesy scripts that promoted love at first sight, he was all for it now that it had hit him in real life. Or maybe it wasn't love, but obsession? Either way, he liked it. Why not enjoy it?

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16: from THE MISSION

Puck whined and nudged her hip, pushing her toward the park bench angled to give a view of the jogging path as well as the waterfowl sanctuary. Jennifer let him, even as she shook her finger at him. The big Dalmatian half-reared up on his hind legs and played at snapping at her fingers. If he had actually wanted to bite, he wouldn't have missed.
"You're a regular danged nursemaid, you know that?" she said, and settled down on the park bench. Her head was tired, but not her body. She didn't want to sit down until she actually got her weight off her feet. Then she was grateful once again for her guardian.
Puck settled down with his front paws on the bench, his head resting on his paws, and his gaze fastened on her. He whined and tipped his head sideways so it rested against her thigh. Jennifer laughed and gave in, bending over him to give him a good, long, luxurious scratching from head to tail.
"It was a great day. I love those kids to pieces. But they're going to tear me to pieces." Puck snorted. "Yeah, you too, huh? I sure hope the spoilsports at the other churches don't pull out like Nikki is afraid they'll do. This is too important. Think I'd get in trouble if I made them think that acting like a bunch of brats fighting over a sucker will ruin their chances to get funding?"
"Would it be the truth?" a scratchy female voice asked.
Jennifer's first thought as she sat up straight was that Puck hadn't warned her. Either he didn't hear the newcomer approach -- unlikely -- or he knew the person.
Also unlikely, she decided, after getting a good look at the gray-haired woman dressed in oversized green polka-dot shorts, Hello Kitty leggings, leopard print sneakers with the toes cut out, and a pink Butler-Williams University tee shirt that was four sizes too big. Jennifer had never seen this woman before in her life. She seriously doubted Puck had gone running around Tabor in the middle of the night while she was sleeping, making friends on his own.
"Well, would it?" the woman said as she settled down on the far end of the bench, with Puck between her and Jennifer.
The Dalmatian whined and scooted down the bench to put his head on the woman's knee. She chuckled, her voice sounding like rusty nails clattering over each other in a rotating barrel, and gave him a good rubdown.
"He's a glutton for loving, ain't he?" She winked at Jennifer.
"Yeah, he is." She swallowed down the urge to ask how this total stranger knew that.
"It's okay to be scared, you know." A hoot of laughter escaped her and she leaned back, spreading her arms to rest along the back of the bench. Puck stayed with his head on her knee for a few seconds after the woman stopped scratching him. "I know what you're thinking -- scared of me? Nah, you don't never gotta be scared of me. Your guardian here knows I'm a friend. As long as you trust him, and you trust your heart and the common sense the good Lord gave you, and you don't listen to what people say or what people try to do to you, you'll be okay." She nodded, and her gaze resting on the top of Jennifer's head was like a palpable, warm, gentle touch. "There's a reason why you were left here, and nothing wrong with you that time and some good, fresh aspirin can't heal."
"A reason?" Jennifer whispered. She clenched her hands in her lap, to keep from resting them on top of her head. The scars from her surgery itched. Her scalp prickled where the hair was growing back in, as if something had irritated every single root.
"You gotta let go of the stupid, dark stuff behind you. All that schooling, it done you some good. You know you don't gotta be guilty about what happened, because there was nothing you could do to stop it, and nothing you could do to heal it. Just let go, okay?"
"Let go." She swallowed hard, her thoughts racing faster than her blood hissing through her veins. The last thing she wanted was to think about that big, ugly, lumpy blob of pain.
"Don't be ashamed of things you didn't do, okay?" She patted Jennifer's knee. "You listen to old Maggie, and you just settle down and keep your eyes and your ears and your arms open. Good Lord's gonna drop some good stuff on you, but you gotta be ready before it hits." She leaped to her feet with remarkable spryness that contradicted her aged, skinny appearance. "You know, it ain't a crime to love what you're doing. Now, if you could tell those girls you work with the same thing, and get them to believe it, I'd consider my job here done for the whole summer."
                "Huh? Who-- " Jennifer leaped to her feet, turning to follow the old woman -- Maggie, did she say her name was? -- as she scooted around out of her sight. She tripped over her own feet and let out a squawk as she slammed one knee into the bench. When she was steady again, she turned around, but Maggie was nowhere to be seen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 15: from A QUIET PLACE

The antique cars ride was their first stop once they got inside Cedar Point's gate. BJ insisted on having a race, boys against girls. Nathan didn't say anything, but he could see Jeannette's struggle not to point out to her son that there was only one track for the cars, meaning it was impossible to race. He gave her points for agreeing, and even letting the 'boys' get into the first car. Nathan sprawled in the back, watching BJ have a great time, turning the big, useless steering wheel with all his might, egged on by Tony, who was responsible for pressing on the gas pedal for the sputtering, puttering car. When they made wide turns and faced the cars behind them, BJ and Tony had a taunting contest with Max, while Jeannette just relaxed and laughed at them.
"Mommy's happy now, isn't she?" BJ asked, when they got off the ride and the threesome strolled down to the exit, to wait for Max and Jeannette to join them.
"Oh, yeah, she's having fun," Nathan assured him.
"She cried yesterday." He reached up and caught hold of Nathan's hand. "You gotta spank that mean lady at the church. She yelled at Mommy. That's wrong."
"You got that right," Tony muttered. The two men exchanged grim looks.
"Why'd that mean lady say she was my grandma?"
"Oh, boy. I wouldn't be in your place for a million bucks."
"Thanks a lot," Nathan muttered. He sighed and went down on his haunches to look BJ in the eyes. What was taking Jeannette and Max so long? "Well, actually, that mean lady is your daddy's mother."
"How come she doesn't give me birthday presents, then? Ginny's grandma gives her presents for her birthday."
"She had a fight with your mom right after your daddy died, and told your mommy to go away."
"That's mean." BJ's little face wrinkled with solemn thought.
"Yeah, that's very mean. And you know what you can do to help Mommy be happy?" Nathan picked up BJ under his arms and stood up, lifting the boy high, turning him at the last minute and settling him on his shoulders.
"What?" He giggled and dug his fingers into Nathan's collar.
"Don't talk about that mean lady, okay? If you have any questions, ask me or Uncle Tony or Mr. Xander, okay?"
"Okay." BJ bobbed his head hard for emphasis.
            "Saved by the bell," Tony muttered, as Max and Jeannette slid through the gate leading out of the antique cars ride.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 14: from A QUIET PLACE

"Hey, what happened?" Nathan murmured. He settled down on the bench and rested a hand on her shoulder. His hand felt hot through her thin cotton dress. Then Jeannette realized she was cold. "Can't be too bad, or BJ would be yelling."
"He doesn't understand. I hope he never understands," she half-growled.
"Understand what?" He rubbed her back a little, just enough to make her hungry for more. But Nathan would never go beyond that. A hug once in a while, a kiss on the cheek when they couldn't escape the mistletoe at someone's house at Christmas. A gentle touch to wipe a tear away. Most of his touches were saved for BJ, she realized.
What was wrong with her, that Nathan loved BJ more than her?
Get back on track! Jeannette screamed silently at herself.
             "My in-laws showed up at the Mission today and tried to take BJ. Armed with a lawyer and everything." She almost smiled when Nathan went perfectly still. She could imagine the anger that would stiffen his loping, casual, constant good humor. "Then they followed me back to church and tried to badger Pastor into handing over BJ. Fortunately, Nikki and the gang ran interference and Xander Finley jumped in to play Superman." She tried to smile, but the effort pushed her perilously close to the edge of bursting into tears.
"Jen," he whispered, and slid over to wrap both arms around her.
She wanted to cry, knew she could give in and let out probably the only good sob storm she would be permitted until the whole awful mess was resolved. But the shock of being held in Nathan's arms overrode everything else. Jeannette wrapped her pain into a tight, hard ball inside and let herself sink into the warmth, the hard muscles, the slightly musky scent of a park ranger in a cotton uniform after a long, warm day. A few tears escaped her eyes, blotting his shoulder. She let herself clutch at his shoulders and buried her face in the front of his shirt and just hung on. If she could have stayed there forever, safe, every sense muffled, every danger blocked, she would have.
"Mommy?" BJ's hesitant little voice cut through everything. "Mommy, are you sick?"
"No, honey." Jeannette scrubbed at her eyes as she reluctantly sat up under her own power again. She very carefully did not look at Nathan. "I'm just tired and my head hurts."
"And those people at church were really mean," he added, nodding for emphasis. "Uncle Nathan, can you make those mean people go away? They were bad. Mr. Xander had to come make them leave Pastor Grandpa alone." BJ's eyes got wide as he made that statement. He didn't quite understand what lawyers were or what they did, but he lumped them in with policemen, firemen, soldiers and park rangers; very powerful, to chase away the bad people.
            "Yeah, I just bet they were mean people. But I think Mr. Xander can do just fine without my help. I think God wants me here to cheer up your mommy. Is that okay with you?"

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13: from THE MISSION

"Jenny?" Mrs. Balflear waddled up to Jennifer, appearing through the crowd with no warning.
"It's Jennifer."
"But Jenny is so much cuter and warmer and... well, submissive." The woman chuckled and wrinkled up her nose. It made her look like an overweight rabbit with a nervous tick.
Submissive? Jennifer made a note of that and added it to her already enormous mental file on Mrs. Balflear. She admired Claire and Nikki for trying not to prejudice her against anyone with any influence over the Mission, even if it was only to give advice. Unfortunately, since being introduced to the congregation that morning, she had wished a dozen times that someone had done more than warn her that the people on the board were all "strong personalities." That should have been warning enough, she knew.
The Arc Foundation had gone through similar troubles in the past few years with its Advisory Board, especially the ones who made promises the foundation had no intention of fulfilling. She didn't envy Joan one bit the struggle she would face when Harrison Carter succumbed to his lingering illness and left Arc in his daughter's hands. There were several "good old boys" on the board who had already given hints that they would never stand for a woman to be in authority over them, and used Scripture like battering rams to back up their stance -- even though other members of the board constantly reminded them that though Arc operated on Christian principles, it was not a church.
Before Jennifer could decide whether to face down the overbearing woman or not, she saw the crowd part again and a man in a Tabor Heights police uniform stepped up in response to Mrs. Balflear's imperious gesture. He looked about as happy to be there as she felt.
"Jenny, darling, this is Officer Mark Donovan. One of Tabor's finest. He was a hero in tracking down a serial killer this past winter. I don't suppose you heard anything about it. Mark, dear, why don't you get Jenny a glass of lemonade and take her outside somewhere private and tell her all about the marvelous work you did?"
"I don't think that would be polite." Jennifer muffled a bubble of laughter when Donovan's eyes widened at her response, and his gaze shot to Mrs. Balflear. Obviously, nobody dared to contradict her. Or more accurately, people didn't often get a chance? "After all, this party is for everyone to meet me, and if I'm not here, that would defeat the purpose and waste the time of everyone who put this together."
"But my dear child--"
"I am not a child, I just met you, so I can't possibly be your 'dear' anything. My name is Jennifer, not Jenny. The last person who called me Jenny did this to me." She tipped back her hat to reveal her turban scarf, covering the stubble of her hair growing back from surgery. "So you can understand if I have bad associations with the diminutive."
"What did you do to him?" Donovan asked, his grin so wide Jennifer's mouth hurt a little in sympathy.
"He's in prison. I'm sure his broken arm has healed by now."
"Well," Mrs. Balflear huffed. "Some subjects just shouldn't be brought up in church." She turned so fast, Jennifer thought the heavyset woman would fall off her ridiculously high heels, and bulled her way through the crowd.
                "This isn't a church," Donovan said, watching her go. "Some people... " He chuckled and held out his hand. "Let's start over, okay?"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12: from FIRESONG

The VanGaars were just parking their car, two tires over the edge of the handicapped parking slot, when Dani skipped out the door of the church after finishing her errand. She nodded to them as she floated over to her car.
"You. Danielle Paul," Mr. VanGaar called, jerking himself out of his car. "What's this I hear about you preaching?"
"Preaching?" Dani blinked and felt like she had been jerked back to Earth with a bump.
She had never expected to hear that cold tone from Mr. VanGaar. He was one of the pillars of the church. Even if he did smell of mothballs half the year, the children liked him. He did corny magic tricks for the toddlers -- the only ones who couldn't see through his flawed sleight-of-hand -- handed out king-size chocolate bars at Christmas and Easter, and sponsored camp scholarships for those who memorized reams of Bible verses.
"You've never been to seminary, so who told you that you could preach?" he continued.
"I don't preach--"
"My grandson was at that concert of yours last night. He was all excited about what you talked about in between the songs."
"That's right. I was talking, not preaching." She offered a shaky little smile and tried to edge around him toward her car. Mr. VanGaar headed her off. Mrs. VanGaar stood there in her tiny rosebud print dress and matching hat. The sad disappointment on her face said Dani had done something blasphemous, like spray-painting profanity on the walls of the church.
"You had a Bible in your hand and you were reading verses and you had the gall to tell people how to live their lives."
"I shared what I had read in my devotions. That's all."
"Some people think it's perfectly fine for women to preach to men," Mrs. VanGaar said in that sad, guilt-inspiring voice she did so well. "I can't imagine what this world is coming to."
The VanGaars, Dani remembered, still found it hard to accept women wearing pants to church during the week.
"Women can teach in Sunday School, can't they?" Dani offered with a smile. She didn't want to get them angry with her, though it was hard to remember she liked them.
"What does that have to do with it?" Mrs. VanGaar asked.
"It's all right to teach infants how to live their lives -- but not teach immature Christians how to live?"
Mrs. VanGaar looked as if she had never considered the idea before. Her husband shook for several seconds before he could get his mouth open.
"You'd better watch your tongue, young lady."
Dani knew better, but she let the words come. "Did your grandson tell you what I talked about? Or did you get so upset at a woman -- who's four years older than him -- teaching him, that you didn't bother to listen?"
"No one so arrogant could say anything worthwhile. Your brother is a saint to let you travel with his band."
            "I'm arrogant?" She wasn't ashamed to admit she shrieked. "Get the plank out of your eye before you criticize the dust in mine, you nasty old Pharisee!" Dani stomped across the parking lot to her car while Mr. VanGaar gaped like a stranded fish. She trembled as she jerked the car door open and jumped inside. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she saw the VanGaars stomping toward the door of the church.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11: from FIRESONG

"Don't you ever take a break?" Kurt asked, stepping out of the darkness of the gym, into the pin spots set up on the stage.
"From what?" She stayed on her knees, trying to get one last twist of the wire around the contact posts. It was hard when her hands shook at the shock he had given her. Almost as if her thoughts had conjured him.
"Steph sent me to get you -- it's time for supper."
"Is Andy here yet? He went to get Katie from work."
"So you don't eat without your big brother? Boy, you really are tied to him." An edge to his voice made Dani turn away from her work, finally. She saw his teasing grin, but there was still something about his voice that bothered her.
"What are you talking about?" She got up off her knees and put down the screwdriver. Anything to get her mind off Kurt and those looks he gave her, that could turn her upside down and melt her knees. His heart belonged to someone else, so she obviously misinterpreted what she read in those devouring glances.
"Nothing. Come on and eat. You're getting as thin as Katie."
"Hah! I just look at ice cream and I gain ten pounds."
"Keep dancing around on stage, you'll never get fat."
"I don't dance."
"Yeah? What do you call it then?" He settled down on the edge of an amplifier and crossed his arms, daring her to defend herself.
"Interpretive movement." She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Hair-splitter."
"Nope, got rid of those at my last haircut."
"You're hopeless, you know that?"
"Nope. And as long as I don't know it, I still have hope. That's what I learned in logic class, by the way, so public education is not a total waste of time."
"I give up. Come on and eat, okay?"
"Hey." She almost laughed as she realized Kurt was supposed to be in Los Angeles today -- not that she kept up on his schedule. Not on purpose, anyway. "What are you doing in town?"
"She finally noticed I'm here!" Kurt raised his arms to the ceiling. "Take me home, Lord. I can die a happy man."
"You are a lunatic."
            "Takes one to know one." He flipped her a salute and turned, vanishing into the darkness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10: from A QUIET PLACE

"Really, George, I still cannot understand why you threw away a wonderful career to start over in a hick town like Tabor," Mrs. Evans said with her patented martyr's sigh. "It's much too close to Cleveland to do you any good, despite their pitiful attempts at decent theater and museums. If you must leave Glenwood, go to New York or Chicago." She fanned herself with the lace-trimmed black and gold fan Vince had brought back from his trip to Spain last year.
Vince gambled and drove a taxi on the weekends to pay for his expensive lifestyle, and got along with his decorative little wife so well because they never saw each other.
"I didn't throw it away, Mother." George chose to ignore his mother's jabs at Cleveland's cultural scene, which was rated as exceptional by anyone who knew anything. "The company is going out of business. I'm getting out while there's still something to leave, and while I can still get a severance package."
Before he had to go through the indignity of being fired.
George had friends in the top levels of the company who warned him what was going to happen. To help the company keep going a little while longer, maybe bring on a miracle, the middle management people were being axed. It would save on salaries and rent on those expensive offices on the far side of Glenwood, and the leases on those fancy company cars.
"They need you even more, dear. Maybe those morons will finally wake up and realize that if you had been at the helm all along, like your father, they wouldn't be facing these problems." She opened one eye and glanced at the far end of the long, tree-lined yard, where little Isabelle chattered to herself while playing in the sandbox. "Really, George, can't you teach that child some manners? I came over here to see my granddaughter, and the child acts like she's afraid of me. And the noise she's making. Someone would think she's not all there."
"She's staying away while you have your headache, Mother."
"But the noise..."
"Maybe you should go inside until your migraine goes away, Mother." George bit his tongue against retorting that he could barely hear Isabelle, and he liked the sound of her happy chatter and little giggles. Heaven knew the poor child hadn't been able to laugh, hadn't even wanted to talk, for nearly a year after her parents died. Being scolded for nothing at all by a woman who glared at her for no reason hadn't helped her emotional adjustment. George sometimes wondered if he and Marian had done the right thing for Isabelle by adopting her.
                 Now, BJ was the way a child should be at that age. Chubby and energetic and curious and happy. Full of life. Polite, and shy when it was good to be careful of strangers. George's heart ached still at the thought that his own brother's son considered him a stranger.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9: from THE MISSION

Of course, Kurt wasn't able to answer his phone. If he was smart, he had turned his phone off for some personal time. Doug chuckled as he waited for the prompt to leave a message. Kurt was smart, but that didn't mean he ever gave himself much personal time. He was probably in a meeting, talking with some official, having a PR-related dinner with someone. Or maybe crashed out after an exhausting day.
"Kurt, it's Doug Farnsworth. Gimme a call when you have a chance. I'm looking for information on a place in Tabor Heights called the Mission. Run by Tabor Christian Church. Dr. Hezekiah shot me some intel on a position opening up there. Wondered what you thought of it. Thanks."
Doug snapped his phone closed. He thought for a minute, marked his email as new, shut down his Internet connection, and closed down his computer for the night. He did a quick ridding job on his desk while the outdated machine dragged through the process.
He was at home on his own computer, printing out everything he had read through when Kurt Green called. His friend was in his car, heading from one meeting to another and didn't have much time to talk.
"Keeping it short and sweet," Kurt said. "If you don't go for it, you're an idiot."
"Oh, thanks a lot." Doug laughed and studied the picture on the computer, of Pastor Walter Mankowicz and Claire Donnelly, the administrators of the Mission. He wondered what the problem was, that the Mission's directors were looking for an assistant for the elderly pastor. Shouldn't Claire be in line to take over when he retired? He didn't want to walk into a situation tangled up in politics and probably some old-fashioned gender bias.
"I grew up in Tabor. I know a lot of the people there. Pastor Wally is great. You'll love working with him, and you'll learn more than a dozen classes in seminary could ever teach you."
"Okay. But what about this Donnelly woman? What's her story?"
"She's new to town. I ran into her at the Firesong concert back in April, but haven't talked with her since." Kurt groaned. "Look, I'm getting on the highway. Not a smart thing to do, talking and driving. Go check them out, make contact, and if I'm there when you come to town to candidate--"
"That's assuming they invite me."
"They will. We'll get together, grab a pizza, maybe catch a ballgame. I'll introduce you to my relatives here in town. Deal?"
             "Deal."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7: from A QUIET PLACE

Jeannette saw George after she had stepped off the parking lot, to take a shortcut across the grass to the playground gate. She considered turning around, making a detour to go to the front door, but BJ saw her and came running to the fence. Max waved. George raised his graying head and looked right at her. What else could she do?
"I'm not here to steal your son, Jeannette," George said in a cracking voice. "Honest."
She could only stare. How could he know that was her greatest nightmare? To come pick up her son after work and find police there, a stable of lawyers, and Mrs. Evans in the middle of the mess with her arms around BJ, proclaiming to vicious tabloid reporters that Jeannette had kidnapped her only grandchild and kept him from his loving family.
Well, she knew at least the Tabor Picayune would print the truth, even if no one outside the Cleveland area paid any attention to a small town, twice-weekly newspaper. That was something.
"Can I ask what you are doing here?" she managed to say in a reasonable voice. She waited for him to come to her. From the corner of her eye, she saw Max pick up BJ and swing him up onto her shoulders. She was grateful her friend would distract her son long enough she could send George on his way without any confrontation.
"My daughter is four. I was told the Mission has the best daycare in the area."
"It does. Congratulations. Does she take after you or--"
"She doesn't look like either of us. It would be some help if she at least looked like Marian, but... Izzy is adopted. Isabelle. Marian's niece." George tried to smile as he said it, but a flicker of pain told Jeannette all she needed to know.
"Your mother won't accept a granddaughter who isn't of the exalted Evans bloodline, will she?" she whispered. "I'll just bet she's making Marian miserable for not producing."
"It's not Marian's fault!" He flinched and looked around when the faded red brick walls of the old elementary school building echoed the sound back at them.
"That doesn't matter to your mother, does it? The only mistake her sons ever make is to marry an unsuitable woman. Everything else that goes wrong is the wife's fault. I'm sure she's found a way over the years to blame me for the accident that killed Brody. Right?"
George nodded. "I guess you know us too well," he half-whispered. "Look, Jeannette, I didn't come here to see your boy. I didn't even think about him. I was just trying to scout out things for my own family." He glanced over his shoulder at BJ and Max, who were racing for the slide for one last trip down. "It would be great if the cousins could play together and make friends, wouldn't it?"
"Is he bothering you, Jeannette?" Nathan asked, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. From the path of his footsteps in the wet grass, coming from a side door, she guessed he had been inside the Mission doing something.
"No. George was just leaving." Jeannette met her brother-in-law's gaze, daring him to contradict her.
Part of her stood back in amazement at her reaction to the man. If only she had been this forceful and strong back in the days when she had first met Brody's family. Maybe if she had fought back instead of trying to make peace; maybe if she had refused to endure Mrs. Evans' criticism and snide remarks before the wedding... there would have been no wedding. Maybe Mrs. Evans would have given Brody an ultimatum: his family or his fiancé. Maybe Brody would have taken her to live somewhere besides the old hometown and he would still be alive today.
No, another part of Jeannette scolded herself sadly, tiredly. Stop wasting time on maybes and what ifs. The past is done and over with.
She had learned strength and the difference between making peace and letting people walk all over her. She had to, in those first months after Brody died and she had run home to Tabor. She had found her quiet and rest and peace, and her adoptive family had soothed her wounds. She could face this new trouble. It wasn't really new, was it, merely another fold in the pattern, a return to what had happened before?
              But this time, she refused to let it turn out as it did before. BJ, the newest Brody, would never follow the Evans family tradition.