Monday, April 24, 2017

Week #17: Enigma of Fire by Marilyn Leach

 
 
As the season of Pentecost approaches, Berdie Elliott's husband, the vicar for the Aidan Kirkwood village prepares for the Whitsun Long Weekend Regatta boat race. But one amongst them is in a van explosion that puts Berdie right in it. The shock of the blast sends her whirling and when the Yard arrives, fingers point to a profiled suspect that ignites village fears. Who would think that business vans, one heroic dog, mistaken identity, an evocative book, and enduring friendships could help solve the crime? Berdie must recapture her investigative brilliance, sift the ashes, and ascertain who is responsible. Will the enigma of fire be laid bare? This mystery sizzles.
 

1st Chapter:

 
“Sometimes it feels the sweeping hands of that clock are wrapped round my toes and squeezing.”

The kitchen aroma of a well-prepared meal tickled Berdie Elliott’s nose as she placed decorated picnic ware in the ample food hamper, whilst aching feet reminded her that she hadn’t had a sit-down since early this morning.

“I tell you,” she said to her friend, Lillie Foxworth, who added folded linens to the plates, “sometimes it takes all one possesses to keep up.”

“True,” Lillie mumbled.

“When I followed my dear Hugh into the pastorate after his military retirement”—Berdie took a deep breath—“and I came with the same commitment of faith and service, mind you, I hadn’t reckoned that I’d be a hostel hostess in a small English village, racing the clock to feed the five thousand at Whitsun.”

“Oh, but remember, Berdie,” Lillie ribbed with a large grin and hazel-green eyes dancing, “to be hospitable at all times is a grace. You could be entertaining angels unawares.”

Berdie waggled a fork toward her friend. “Night wanderings, unwelcomed pets, demanding diets: if the guests staying here are angels, I should think their halos have slipped slightly.”

“Come now, Berdie.” Lillie took the fork from Berdie’s hand. “I’ve not noticed five thousand, just nine people at last count, and it’s a picnic al fresco at the lake, not the village fete.”

“You’re such a stickler about minor details.”

Lillie put the fork next to the others in the utensil basket and surveyed the situation. “There’s no room in the hamper for the main dish.”

“You see? Stickler for details.” Berdie chuckled and Lillie joined her. “Take out the jar of pickled onions to make room. It’s quite clear, Lillie, where our nattering gets us.”

The sound of the vicarage front door chime sang out its plea for attention.

“Oh bother,” flew from Berdie’s lips.

“Ah, angels have come knocking. The word’s out all cross the heavens,” Lillie shouted as Berdie left the kitchen. “There’s a room going spare at the vicarage and food to be had.”

Berdie chortled while she hustled through the front hall.

She arrived at the pub mirror, placed just alongside the door, and glanced at herself. Middle age had been kind to her, but she hoped her brown eyes didn’t appear as tired as she felt at the moment. She pushed an errant piece of her red-brown bobbed hair to its appropriate place, adjusted her tortoiseshell glasses, wiped her hand cross the ditsy designs of her apron that covered her more-pudgy-than-lean body, turned with steady mind for whatever may greet her, and flung the vicarage door open.

There before her stood Milton Butz, the inevitable dots of maturing adolescence decorating his fourteen-year-old face, and behind, his tall, ginger-haired friend, Kevin McDermott. Hardly heavenly beings.

“Milton, Kevin, hello,” Berdie greeted.

“That big dog is running all over the village again, Mrs. Elliott.” Milton released a slight pant.

“He’s been digging in Mrs. Hall’s herb garden, again.” Kevin’s round eyes held an element of panic as he took a deep breath. “And he’s scary.”

Berdie wanted to shout, “That annoying canine escape artist is more trouble than he’s worth, and seeing as he belongs to retired Leftenant Commander Cedric Royce, just one of our ‘angelic’ guests, the commander can ruddy well chase about after it.” But instead, she offered a more refined response that was in line with her position and wouldn’t shower the boys with her displeasure. “The dog’s name is Sparks, and he’s quite”—Berdie searched for a constructive word—“energetic for an animal his size and difficult to contain.”

“He doesn’t seem very friendly either,” Kevin added.

“He’s not a lap dog, no.”

Milton’s barrel chest rose and fell—the boys had obviously rushed. “Do you want us to collect him?”

“Milty.” Kevin’s eyes grew wider, and he kicked the back of Milton’s shoe.

“He’s just a dog.” Milton’s demeanor was fearless.

“Thanks for the offer, lads, but I believe Leftenant Commander Royce is at the Upland Arms enjoying a swift half. Perhaps you could fetch him and let him deal with the beast.”

“Beast?” Kevin’s cheeks flushed under the freckles.

Milton looked slightly disappointed. “Are you sure you don’t want us to try to collect Sparks?”

Kevin’s eyebrows knit into a deep frown.
 

~~~~~

Thanks for joining in the fun with this sneak peak at Enigma of Fire. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 1.

 


Monday, April 17, 2017

Week #16: Sunrise at Honeysuckle Cove by Mary Manners

 

Honeysuckle Cove Inn has been in the Brennan family for three generations. When Maggie Brennan’s parents retire, they call her home to Honeysuckle Cove and hand over the reins of the historical inn. If Maggie successfully maintains the business over the course of a year, the inn is hers forever. Maggie considers the timing perfect, with one exception—she finds her path entangled once again with that of Dylan O’Connor.

Dylan has made a name for himself as the go-to guy when it comes to renovations and repairs in Honeysuckle Cove, and he’s waited nearly a decade for high school sweetheart Maggie Brennan to return home. But his handyman skills will be put to the test when it comes to rebuilding the bridge between Maggie’s heart and his, and designing a future…together.

 

1st Chapter:

 
 
Maggie Brennan tossed her overnight bag across one shoulder and slammed the door of her SUV. Her belly skipped with excitement and a jumble of nerves as she turned toward Honeysuckle Cove Inn. Her breath caught at the Victorian structure perched along an undulating knoll, its sweeping wrap around porch and turn-of-the-century style back-dropped by sun-dappled breakers of Wanderlust Lake. Whitewashed wood encased panels of glass that shimmered beneath late afternoon light, while a regal spire soared three stories to kiss the winter sky.
 
The rooms inside were filled with countless legends and stories that had grown throughout the years. Maggie wondered how many more tales might be woven over the coming months. The thought sent her pulse into a barrel roll.
 
Easy there, Maggie…pull it together. You can do this.
 
A light breeze ruffled her hair and whispered beneath the collar of her cotton shirt as she made her way up the winding walk. She shivered and gathered the overnight bag to her chest like a shield, wishing she’d thought to grab a sweater from one of the many suitcases and boxes piled in the SUV’s trunk and stacked across the backseat. She’d forgotten how cool January afternoons could be in East Tennessee. Not hard to do, since it had been several winters since she’d come home.
 
But an unexpected phone call from her mother had changed everything.
 
“Dad and I are heading south to the coast for the foreseeable future, Maggie. Surely the warm weather will soothe relentless aches that have worsened in your father’s battle with arthritis. The inn is yours. It’s too much for us to manage now, and it pains me to say we’ve really let things slide over the past year or so. Coaxing it back to life won’t be easy, but we know you have never shied away from a challenge…”
 
Maggie drew in a breath. With her sister Candice gone, the task of rescuing the family’s inn fell solely upon her shoulders. Her parents were right—she rarely shied from a challenge. But there had been one situation she’d run away from many moons ago. It remained the reason she hadn’t returned to the cove for more than a handful of days here and there since she’d graduated college and moved west.
 
And on those occasions she’d popped in for a visit, she’d done her best to stay put along the grounds of the inn, enjoying time with her parents and the beauty of the landscape while avoiding any chance of running into the one person she wanted least to see—Dylan O’Connor.
 
But the lure of the inn with all its intrigue and history…the many fond childhood memories that danced through her dreams when she lay her head against a pillow at night…made it impossible to stay gone any longer. Despite the fact that living twenty-four/seven in a small town like Honeysuckle Cove would make it much harder to avoid Dylan, she considered her parents’ offer to rejuvenate and manage the inn a blessing in disguise.
 
Who was she kidding? Considering recent disasters in both her work and personal life, their offer proved an answer to her prayers.
 
Except for Dylan…and the still-raw memories of her sister Candice, as well.
 
Maggie forced the thoughts from her mind before they had time to bloom. There was work to be done, and no time to waste energy on recent failures or regrets from the past.
 
The scent of honeysuckle drifted, drawing Maggie’s attention to a tangle of flowerbeds surrounding the inn and gardens. Broken pavers lined what once served as a walkway to the rear patio and lakeshore beyond, while unseasonably heavy rains had washed away layers of mulch, leaving trenches of dirt in their wake.
 
Maggie shook her head and heaved a sigh. Mom hadn’t been kidding when she said she and Dad had let things go. It would take a small army to put things to right. Not very promising, since she proved a lone soldier.
 
Refusing to be deterred, she made a mental note to launch an attack on the mess as soon as she had her bearings. She’d have to get moving if she planned to stick to the rigid schedule she’d outlined. Her parents hadn’t booked a guest room in more than six months and the inn’s business account now straddled the fence between operating in the black and plunging into red. But Maggie planned to start taking reservations just as soon as she had things in order again. She’d revitalize one room at a time, and also open the dining area to local dinner patrons as soon as the revamped website and a workable menu—as well as adequate staff—were up and running.
 
Which circled ’round to the fact that she’d need to hire a chef…and a landscaper…and possibly even a carpenter or handyman to help with simple—and not so simple—repairs.
 
Again she considered Dylan. He was the best carpenter she knew. Too bad she couldn’t call on him now. It would make things so much easier.
 
And so much more difficult.
 
Maggie’s belly blanched. So many things to consider. The enormity of the tasks that faced her threatened to wash over her like a tsunami, taking her prisoner if she allowed them to.
 
So she would keep her chin up and stand tall. She’d focus on first things first. The once-beautiful gardens tumbled with a graveyard of untended plants and tangled weeds. It wouldn’t do well to have visitors arrive to such unkempt grounds. And pulling weeds was a task she could manage on her own. She’d found digging in the dirt to be cathartic…at least when she was eight years old.
 
Clean-up would take some elbow grease, but all was not lost. As she neared the porch, a closer look at the flowerbeds proved that buried beneath the weeds a flurry of honeysuckle bushes lay dormant, their sleepy buds curled against the cold, waiting patiently for spring. Maggie imagined after so many countless seasons drenched in blooms, the inn itself had taken on the sweet scent that seemed to linger like a spirit, drawing its warm, fruity bouquet into the inn’s wood and fabric.
 
Even now, the inn sighed and whispered, welcoming Maggie home. The thought made her smile as she reached the front steps.
 
Suddenly a deafening screech ripped the air. Maggie tripped and stumbled. She clutched the stair rail and waited a beat for her heart to jig back into rhythm. What on earth…?
 
The earsplitting whine died and then wailed…died and wailed in a rhythmic assault to her eardrums. It took a moment for the realization to dawn that the brain-numbing sound came from inside the inn. She tilted her head and peered up toward the third floor of the spire. A shadow crossed the window and she zeroed in, studying the rangy figure that moved with an unmistakable, languid swagger. Her brain struggled to process information. It couldn’t be…it wasn’t…
 
Dylan?
 
No way. The inn was supposed to be empty—especially from the likes of Dylan O’Connor.
 
Maggie’s spine turned to steel as she climbed the porch steps and paused at the front door. She toed a worn welcome mat and found the keys her mother had tucked there waiting beneath. She bent, clutched them in her fist, and quickly realized there was no need for them as the door stood unlocked and more than slightly ajar.
 
It was just like Dylan to waste good money letting a steady stream of frigid winter air into the house.
 
She gave the door a shove, then dropped her bag in the hallway. Familiar scents of warm cedar, cinnamon-hazelnut coffee, and oak logs piled beside the fireplace conjured memories, while force of habit had her padding through the living room and past the library to a winding staircase that led to the third floor. She attacked the staircase, her heart thrumming with each footstep.
 
When the stairway opened to the third floor landing, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
 
There he stood—Dylan O’Connor—leaned over a pair of sawhorses with his back to her as he waged battle with a circular saw against a length of two-by-four.
 
The day had just become much, much more difficult.
 
 
~~~~~
 

 

Thanks for stopping by for a sneak peek at Sunrise at Honeysuckle Cove. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a free copy. The winner will be announced on Monday, Aril 24. Good Luck!

 



Monday, April 10, 2017

Week #15: Guardian by Terri Reed

 
 
When a fellow FBI agent is kidnapped and a protected witness vanishes, Leo Gallagher will stop at nothing to find them both. So when he discovers a link between the case and a single mother in Wyoming, Leo and his trusty K-9 partner rush to question Alicia Duncan. Could she be the key to locating the missing persons? Not if a killer has anything to say about it. Someone is determined to keep Alicia from talking, so Leo and his chocolate Lab must keep her and her little boy safe on their family ranch. With danger lurking around every corner, Leo must work overtime to not lose another person who's important to him.
 

1st Chapter:

“Mommy, where are the fishies?”
“Hey, be careful, buddy. Don’t slip off the rock.” Heart lurching, Alicia Duncan grabbed her son, Charlie, by the back of his green life vest. If he leaned over any farther, he would go headlong into Wyoming’s Blackthorn River. His fishing pole clattered against the outcropping of smooth rocks, where they’d plopped down to fish. The exact place she’d fished from as a kid and teen. “Hang on to your pole, sweetie.”
Heat bounced off the stones and reflected off the river water from the unseasonably warm April morning sun, making perspiration break out at her nape beneath her long dark hair. It was a beautiful spring day for spending time outdoors with her son in the middle of Wyoming’s northwestern mountain range. The clear, smog-free air smelled sweet with the scent of ponderosa pines. So different from city life. A welcome change.
Alicia had always loved the river. About five miles downstream, the lazy flow of water cut a path through the rural town of Settler’s Valley, where she’d grown up. There was something soothing, comforting even, about the way the mountain runoff filled the riverbed.
Especially in this particular area, where the river pooled into a deep canyon with high cliffs across the bank and more cliffs a little ways upstream. The water was deep enough here that she and her friends would jump off the cliffs into the river. Those had been the days when her husband had been her boyfriend and had promised her the world.
She sighed wistfully, as the bittersweet memories washed over her.
The summer after high school she’d married local football hero Jeff Duncan. She’d believed his promise. She’d believed him.
How innocent she’d been…
She and Jeff had escaped their small-town life for the city of Tacoma, Washington. He’d been her hero, both personally, as the love of her life and the father of her child, and professionally, as a highly decorated police officer. But nothing had been as it seemed.
Now eight years later, she was back home in Wyoming. A widow, raising her son and caring for her elderly father.
Oh, and let’s not forget, licking her wounds. She hadn’t even known until after the funeral that her marriage had been a sham. That Jeff hadn’t been the man she thought he was.
Never again would she fall for charm and slick promises.
She shook her hands as if somehow the motion would relieve the restlessness that seemed to plague her these days.
“But I want to catch a fish,” Charlie grumbled. Sunlight reflected off the water and lightened the blue of his eyes, shaped exactly like his father’s. She could see Jeff in the jut of Charlie’s chin as well. Only on Charlie it looked good, not arrogant, the way it had on Jeff.
Okay, she was being uncharitable. There’d been a time when she’d loved her late husband. When he’d been everything to her. But that was before.
Alicia sighed and ruffled Charlie’s thick dark hair, which he got from her gene pool. They’d been out fishing for over an hour without even a nibble. In the world of fishing, an hour was nothing, but with a three-year-old it was more than enough. So much for trout for dinner tonight. “I know, sweetie. They don’t seem to be biting today.”
She reeled in the lure on the fishing rod she’d borrowed from her father’s collection. A fat worm still dangled from the hook. “How about we call it a day and treat ourselves to rainbow sherbet?”
“Yay! Sherbet.” Charlie swung his legs in anticipation. His rubber boots slapped against the rock. She helped her little boy to his feet. He stood with his back to the water. She kept a hand on his shoulder in case he took a step backward.
The sound of a powerboat echoed off the walls of the stone cliffs rising up on the far side of the river. A boat, traveling downstream, rounded the bend into the mouth of the canyon. Alicia didn’t pay the noise any attention as she gathered their fishing gear.
The motor sputtered to a halt. Silence echoed off the walls of stone. She glanced up to see a sleek, fiberglass sport boat floating in the middle of the river.
That was a little odd. The boat looked more like one used for waterskiing, not fishing.
A large man lifted a slim woman into his arms. Her head fell back, her long red hair cascaded in loose waves over the side of the boat and her arms hung limp at her sides. Was she asleep?
At this distance, about the length of a football field, Alicia couldn’t tell. She frowned as her pulse sped up. What was he doing with the woman?
Without hesitation the man tossed the woman into the water. Her body splashed and then disappeared beneath the surface.
Alicia gasped and held her breath. Unwilling to believe what she’d just seen, she prayed the woman would come bursting to the surface. She didn’t.
Shock punched Alicia in the stomach. She took a deep breath, and then another. She’d just witnessed a murder. Or rather, the woman was probably already dead and the man was disposing of her body.
A cold shiver of fear slithered down Alicia’s spine. She glanced at Charlie, who studied a bug crawling on a nearby rock, and was grateful to realize he hadn’t witnessed the horrifying scene.
When she returned her gaze to the boat, the killer shaded his eyes and locked his gaze on hers.
“Oh, no,” Alicia breathed out in a panic.
The powerboat’s engine roared to life, spurring Alicia into action. Her and Charlie’s only chance was to get to the shelter of the forest along the riverbank and make their way to the marina, about a half mile away. She knew this part of the river like the back of her hand. She and her school friends had spent almost every summer day along the shores of the Blackthorn River.
“Charlie, we need to go,” she urged. “Now.”
“Why, Mommy?”
This was one time she couldn’t explain her rationale. She hated when parents of the kids she taught gave their kids commands without explaining the reasons why the child needed to comply. “Because I said so” wasn’t an acceptable form of communication in Alicia’s book.
But right now she didn’t have the mental or emotional wherewithal to use her words, let alone explain that she’d just witnessed a man dump a woman into the river and now said man was coming after them. She needed Charlie to do as she asked. “Charlie, please, do as I ask. Get up.”
She glanced over her shoulder. The sport boat was closing the distance. Was that a gun the man held in his hand?
Terror fastened around her throat like a noose. Please, Lord, protect us!
She hooked her hobo bag with one hand, slipped the strap over her shoulder to hang across her body and grabbed Charlie around the waist with her other arm and drew him to her chest, using her own body as a shield against the man with the gun
“Mommy!” Charlie protested. “Too tight.”
“Sorry, honey,” she muttered but didn’t lessen her hold as she stepped carefully off the rock, leaving behind the fishing gear. Dad would be irritated, but she didn’t have the time to grab the poles and tackle box. She’d have to come back later, when it was safe.
She slipped slightly in the soft dirt along the shore, but the bottoms of her boots dug in and kept her upright. She was thankful she’d worn her hiking boats instead of the deck shoes she’d almost put on this morning. With the roar of the powerboat drawing closer, she ran into the woods and headed south. There wasn’t a clear trail, but she didn’t hesitate. She knew her way around these woods and just hoped whoever was on the boat didn’t.
The sudden quiet sent a fresh swell of terror hurtling through her. Had the man reached the shore? Behind her, something crashed through the forest. A loud pop and a thud in the tree to her right startled her. Debris spit from the tree trunk. The killer was shooting at them!
Using every ounce of strength she possessed, she forced her legs to pump faster. She zigzagged through the trees and scrub brush. Jeff had always said a moving target was harder to hit, especially an erratic one.
“Hang onto me, Charlie,” she said softly as she hunkered down, trying to make them as small a target as possible.
She broke through the trees to the marina’s gravel parking lot. She ran down the parking lane, intending to head straight to the boathouse for help. But her car was right there. The forceful thought to get away, to put as much distance between her and the killer, pounded inside her head.
Jamming her hand into her hobo bag, her fingers curled around her key fob. She pressed the button that unlocked the doors and ducked behind a car parked two spaces from her own white all-wheel-drive hatchback. She needed to catch her breath. To think.
Charlie’s hands grasped her face. “Scared, Mommy.”
“Yes, I know, sweetie. A bad man is after us.” Staring into her son’s trusting gaze, Alicia vowed she’d do whatever it took to keep her son safe. “So I need you to be very quiet, okay?”
The skidding of feet on the gravel echoed through the still air. The killer had reached the parking lot. She shuddered with dread.
Please, let him think we went to the boathouse, Alicia prayed.
She scooted closer to the car so that her feet were blocked by the tires in case he looked beneath the undercarriages of the row of vehicles hoping to pinpoint where they were. Terror ricocheted through her and she held her breath. As if sensing her fear, Charlie buried his face in the side of her neck and grabbed fistfuls of her shirt.
Listening intently, she made out the crunch of heavy steps on the loose rock as the killer moved closer. She titled her head and closed her eyes. He was coming down the lane to her right. Adjusting her grip on Charlie, she edged to the left and around the back of the vehicle.
In a low crouch, she risked sprinting to the rear end of the next vehicle. She pressed her back to the tailgate of a truck and waited. After a moment, she darted to her car. Carefully, she opened the back passenger door far enough for her and Charlie to climb inside.
Pulling the door closed but not latching it for fear the click would alert the killer, she squatted awkwardly on the floor and set Charlie on the seat. She quickly undid his life vest and set it aside. “Charlie, I need you to get into your seat and buckle up, okay?”
He nodded solemnly, his eyes big and his lower lip quivering. She hated scaring him like this, but there was nothing to be done. They needed to get away.
She stayed crouched behind the driver’s seat until he was secured in his car seat. She grabbed the life vest and pressed it to his chest. “Hold on to this, okay?”
It wouldn’t stop a bullet but she had nothing else to provide a barrier.
Taking a deep breath, she squeezed herself across the middle console and climbed into the driver’s seat. She slunk down in the seat and could barely see over the dashboard. Adrenaline surged as she saw the back of the killer’s head as he lumbered toward the boathouse. She hesitated with her hand on the key in the ignition. The second she fired up the engine, he’d know where they were.
When the killer reached the boathouse and disappeared inside, she sprang into action. She started the car, threw the gearshift into Reverse and stepped on the gas. Heart in her throat, she barely managed to brake before hitting the car parked in the opposite space. She spun the wheel, put the vehicle into Drive and stomped her foot on the gas pedal. The car tires spun and found traction, and they hurtled forward.
The killer ran out of the boathouse with the gun aimed at the car. Alicia sucked in a quick breath and took a sharp turn at the end of the lane. She sped toward the main road, which would take her into town and to the police station.
Up ahead one of the three traffic lights turned red. She took her foot off the gas, letting the car slow, and glanced in the rearview mirror. A big 4x4 truck barreled out of the marina parking lot and raced toward her.
Her breath hitched. She looked in both directions for oncoming traffic. Seeing that it was safe, she gunned the accelerator. The car shot forward through the intersection. She hung a quick right on Elm Street, then a sharp left on Cedar Drive, hoping that the killer wouldn’t be able to track her. Racing down Cedar, she hooked another right on Evergreen Avenue. Up ahead the new brick building of Settler’s Valley police station was a beacon of sanctuary.
The squeal of tires behind her sent a chill of terror over her flesh. The killer’s truck rounded the corner and roared down the street after her. She gripped the steering wheel so tight that her hands ached.
Only a few more feet to safety. She laid her hand on the horn in an effort to attract attention. She lifted a prayer to God that someone inside the building would hear the commotion and come out to investigate.
Because surely, the killer wouldn’t risk doing something to her and Charlie within plain sight of the police station, would he?
*
Leo and True slipped through the ground-floor doors of the FBI’s Tactical K-9 Unit headquarters in Billings, Montana.
His boss, Max West, had called for a team meeting, pulling Leo and True in from a morning run. His T-shirt was damp with sweat and his running shoes were silent on the concrete floor. He hoped this powwow meant some news about Jake.
Leo left True in the care of one of the dog trainers, then scrubbed a hand over his bristled jaw as he took the stairs. He’d hardly slept in the week since Jake went missing. They’d had no word on his whereabouts. The silence and lack of information concerned him deeply. For the millionth time, Leo prayed that his buddy was alive and that the team would find him.
The six-story brick building was the unit’s base of operations, but at any moment each team member could be deployed to any crime scene in any state in the country. That was how they’d ended up in that Los Angeles warehouse a week ago.
The K-9 unit consisted of the training facility on the ground floor, while the second floor housed the agents’ offices and computer tech center. The other floors were occupied by a variety of government officials. Both the training center and the presence of other governmental employees helped to disguise the team’s covert operations 
Stopping by his desk in the bullpen, Leo shrugged off his lightweight jacket and hung it over the back of his desk chair. He checked for messages in his inbox on his FBI-issued laptop, flagged a couple to return to later, then headed to the communications center. Pausing in the doorway, he noticed the team wasn’t gathered there. There was only Dylan O’Leary, the computer genius. “Hey.”
Dylan spun from the bank of computer monitors to grin at him. His spikey, sandy blond hair and dark framed glasses screamed techno geek while his loud Hawaiian shirt over his official FBI Tactical K-9 Unit polo made it clear he was a man with a sense of humor. “How’s it going, Leo?”
“Going.” Leo leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb. “You?”
Dylan sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “I miss Zara, but Radar and I are doing okay. We’re getting along.”
Leo was glad to hear his fiancĂ©e’s dog wasn’t giving him trouble. Zara was at Quantico, training to be an official FBI agent so that she could come back and officially join the team. “Where is everyone?”
“The debriefing room.”
Leo chuckled. In other words, the kitchen. “You coming?”
Dylan turned back to his computer monitors. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Leo left Dylan to his gadgets and headed into the large open area of the “debriefing” space. Along the far wall was a state-of-the-art kitchen, complete with oven, stovetop and fridge, all in stainless steel. A bank of windows provided natural light and an extralarge monitor hung on the wall near the door.
A long hand-carved wooden table with bench seats dominated the middle of the room. The team was already seated and munching on fruit platters and trays of pastries from Petrov Bakery, a favorite with all the agents.
Max stood at the coffee machine, making himself a latte. He glanced up and tipped his chin at Leo. He was a tall man with short blond hair and a ragged scar on one side of his face. “The gang’s all here.”
Not quite. Jake was missing.
The familiar burn of guilt ate at Leo, killing any appetite he might have had. He straddled the end of the closest bench next to Ian Slade. The tall, muscular agent cracked a joke that had Harper Prentiss and Julianne Martinez and the team’s general assistant, Christy Burton, laughing. As usual the good-humored Ian was charming the ladies.
Max moved to the head of the table and sat. “Where are we with the Dupree case?”
“Reginald Dupree isn’t talking,” Harper replied. “He’s lawyered up and so have his henchmen. The US district attorney is spitting mad about it.”
“Angus Dupree escaped, we assume on the helicopter,” Timothy Ramsey, a junior agent, added. He sat across the table from Leo between Harper and another junior agent, Nina Atkins.
“And Agent Morrow?” Max asked, his piercing blue eyes surveying his team. “Jake’s brother, Zeke, has been hounding me for answers. I don’t have any to give yet.”
Leo’s jaw tightened. It had to be tough for Zeke thinking he’d never see his brother again. Jake had mentioned once he and his brother weren’t close and barely spoke, but still…family was family.
“The press is also pestering me for a statement,” Christy said with a flip of her auburn hair. “I can’t keep them in the dark for much longer.”
“It’s been a week and no word,” Julianne said, her voice soft. No doubt she was thinking Jake was dead. Leo wouldn’t accept that.
“Angus took Jake,” Leo stated. “We know that. We tested the blood we found at the scene. It was Jake’s.”
Ian swiveled toward Leo. “Why would they take him?”
“For leverage. To get information out of him.” Leo couldn’t help the growl in his voice. He should have had Jake’s and Buddy’s backs.
“Angus might use Jake to reduce Reginald’s sentence,” Harper added.
Ian shook his head, his normal good humor disappearing as he sobered. “If Angus was going to use him, he’d have done so by now, right?”
“Jake has intimate knowledge of our investigation into the Duprees,” Harper said. “He knows that we have Esme Dupree stashed away in witness protection ready to testify against her brother.”
“But Jake doesn’t have access to Esme’s whereabouts,” Ian pointed out.
Dylan stepped into the room carrying a computer device. “Hey, guys, I received an alert on a crime I think you might want to hear about.” He tapped some keys on his console. “A witness in Settler’s Valley, Wyoming, claims to have seen a man dumping a body into the Blackthorn River. By the description, it sounds like the victim could be Esme Dupree.”
Leo’s stomach muscles clenched. Could the report from Wyoming be true? Had a witness seen Esme Dupree’s dead body? Without Esme, their case would fall apart. “Is the witness reliable?”
“The Settler’s Valley police chief thinks so,” Dylan replied. “A school teacher named Alicia Duncan. She saw the killer, who she claims shot at her and her three-year-old son.”
Leo’s breath caught in his throat. A child. Memories assaulted him. He fought them back with the practice of over two decades. He focused his gaze on his boss. “We’ll go. True is the only dog qualified for the task.” True’s specialty was Water Search and Rescue.
Max’s eyebrows hitched upward. “Good point. Leo, you and True make your way to Wyoming. I’ll call the US Marshals to verify they haven’t lost our witness. Dylan, contact the nearest SAR team that has a qualified diver and send them to Settler’s Valley. Also get everything you can about this new witness to Leo, as well as any info you can get on the supposed killer.”
“On it.” Dylan pivoted and exited as quickly as he’d arrived.
By the time Leo had showered and changed into khakis and a black, long-sleeve polo shirt with the FBI logo on the breast pocket, Dylan had a dossier on Alicia Duncan ready.
After he had True secured in his special compartment of the official K-9 unit SUV, he flipped through the file on the witness, getting the basics. She seemed legit. A widowed schoolteacher with a young child living with her father. Not some attention-seeking nutcase wasting his time. Leo placed the folder on the passenger seat and set off for Settler’s Valley, Wyoming. He’d interview the witness and then take True to the river. If there was truly a body to be found, True would find the victim. He always did.

~~~~~

Thanks for joining in the fun with this sneak peak of Guardian. Leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on Monday, April 17.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Week #14: A Place to Call Home by Merrillee Whren



STARTING OVER

After six years in prison, Kurt Jansen must overcome a lot of bitterness if he wants to start a new life. That means securing a restoration job, finding the person who actually killed his wife and getting his kids back. Molly Finnerty can hire him to restore her old Victorian house so she can open a bed-and-breakfast where she plans to train and employ women from the women’s shelter she is building, but first she has to believe he is innocent. As they work together, Kurt and Molly seem like the perfect match. But when circumstances force Molly to reveal secrets from her past that could hurt both of them, she believes ending their relationship is the only solution. Can they overcome the past and find forgiveness and love?

 

1st Chapter:


Kurt Jansen sat in his rusty, red pickup and stared at the Victorian house surrounded by tall pines and bare-branched hardwoods. Faded black shutters hanging cockeyed by a single hinge and peeling white paint on the clapboards testified to many years of neglect. The place didn’t look much better than the penitentiary where he’d spent the last six years, but it was better than staring at prison bars.

The structure resembled his life. A life in disrepair.

He stared at the photo in his hand. His heart twisted at the innocent faces of his two children. He vowed to put aside all the bitterness and anger from his unjust incarceration in order to get this restoration job. This was the first step to seeing his children again—the children he hadn’t seen since they were six months old. He put the photo back into his wallet.

Approaching the house, he wondered whether the inside looked as bad as the outside. Outward appearances didn’t always tell the whole story, in houses or in lives. Piles of melting, dirty snow lay alongside the lane, sidewalk, and in the shady parts of the surrounding acreage. Despite his vow, his heart felt like the snow—cold and corrupted. Resentment and despair still hovered in the dark corners of his mind, even though he’d prayed to God to take them away.

Stepping onto the wooden porch, he let the vision of an elderly lady with white hair, glasses, and sensible shoes flit through his mind. The image suited the proprietress of the future Hawthorne Valley Inn of Hawthorne, Massachusetts. Was she the answer to his prayers? Even though he prayed, he still wasn’t sure whether God answered prayers.

The floorboards creaked as Kurt stepped toward the door. He wanted to pray that the Lord would help him get this job, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice the words. Instead, he released a harsh sigh and rapped his knuckles on the weathered wood of the warped screen door. It rattled in the frame.

Moments later the inside door opened. A tall, slender young woman, dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt spattered with several colors of paint, answered the door. She stared at him through the screen with wary, pearl-gray eyes. “May I help you?”

Her throaty voice reminded him of a female disc jockey who played love songs on the radio late at night. Curly strawberry-blond hair framed her face and fell to her shoulders. A sprinkling of freckles across her nose made an attractive face strangely youthful, but he sensed she was older than she appeared. He figured she was only a little younger than his thirty-two years. Somehow she seemed familiar, but he didn’t know why.

“I’m Kurt Jansen. I’m here to see Molly Finnerty.”

“I’m Molly Finnerty.” She squinted as she continued to view him through the screen. “Are you the one Steve Barnett sent about the restoration work?”

“Yes.” Kurt tried to reconcile his mental image of Molly Finnerty and the woman standing before him. He had gotten it so wrong. What had Steve said to leave the impression that the woman he was meeting was someone’s grandmother rather than a beautiful young woman? This wasn’t what he’d expected or wanted. But he needed a better job. “You’re the Molly Finnerty who’s planning to make this house a bed-and-breakfast?”

“That’s me. Were you expecting someone else?” She raised her eyebrows.

“Just someone much older. That’s all.” Forcing himself to smile, he pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out. “Steve sent this with me. Did he talk to you?”

“Yes, Steve mentioned that you’d be coming by.” She opened the screen door and stepped aside. Taking the envelope, she smiled in return. “Come in and get out of the cold. I suppose Steve’s been making me sound like an aging widow again.”

“He didn’t say you were aging, but I have to admit that his saying you’re a widow made me think I’d find you in your rocker with a cane nearby.” Kurt walked through the doorway. The smell of fresh paint permeated the room.

“I’m not in the geriatric crowd yet.” Closing the door behind them, she laughed.

The pleasant sound of her laughter echoed off the bare walls and floors of the empty rooms and drew Kurt’s thoughts away from her and toward the interior of the house. Plank hardwood flooring, in desperate need of refinishing, ran throughout all the rooms within his sight. A staircase rose along the foyer wall. A small round stained-glass window overlooked the landing where the staircase turned at a ninety-degree angle and continued to the second floor. The banister needed work as well. On his right, decorative columns separated the foyer from the living room, and a fireplace stood in the far wall.

“Well, what do you think?” Molly’s sultry voice brought his attention back to her.

He looked her directly in the eye. “I’d like the job.”

She stared back at him, her gray eyes not giving a clue as to what she was thinking. “And why should I hire you?”

He wanted to blurt out, Because I need this job. But he managed to conceal his desperation. “I’ve done several restorations of Victorian houses. I have some photos of my previous work. Would you like to see them?”

“Yes.”

“Great. They’re out in my pickup. I’ll get them.” As he moved toward the door, he let a sliver of hope settle in his heart.

“While you’re gone, I have a phone call to make.” She pointed to the deacon’s bench sitting near the front door. “You can wait here, if I’m not done when you get back.”

“Sure. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Kurt stepped outside. What had Steve told her? Even if she didn’t already know his recent history, she would certainly find out. He headed for his pickup and hoped the quality of his work would outweigh his past.

 

***

 

Molly stared after Kurt as he left the house. At five foot eleven, she stood eye-to-eye with most of the men she knew, but she’d had to look up at Kurt with his handsome face and sandy blond hair. His startling blue eyes held a haunted expression when he’d gazed down at her as if she were some kind of apparition. Was it because he’d expected someone much older?

She smiled to herself, thinking that she’d expected the same. A man with decades of woodworking experience. Kurt couldn’t be much older than she was. Although she was only thirty, she sometimes felt like the aging widow he had expected. Her life had been filled with more than her share of tragedy.

After going into her office on the left side of the stairway, she closed the double doors. Her oak roll-top desk sat between the two windows with a view of the side porch. She plopped into the chair, ripped open the envelope, and pulled out a single sheet of paper. Steve’s scrawled handwriting covered the page. When she took in the meaning of his words, a lightheaded feeling came over her, and the note fell from her hand. She reached for the phone. This time Steve was asking too much.

She punched in Steve’s phone number then listened to the ring while she tapped the fingers of her free hand on the arm of the chair. As soon as he said hello, she launched into her speech. “Steve, what do you think you’re doing sending this Kurt Jansen over here? I can’t have him working for me or living in my carriage house apartment. I just can’t.”

“It’s nice to hear from you, too.” She heard the chuckle in Steve’s voice and imagined his plump round face sporting a smile.

“I’m sorry, but this note you sent with him doesn’t exactly inspire my confidence.”

“Moll, you wanted someone who could help you with that house. Kurt seemed like the answer to your prayers.”

“With you, everything’s an answer to prayer.”

“Personally, I think that’s a good way to live. Seeing everything that happens as though God’s hand is in it somewhere.”

“Don’t make me feel guilty.” Molly twisted a piece of hair around her index finger.

“If you feel guilty, it’s not my fault.” Steve’s voice still held a hint of amusement.

“You should feel guilty for not telling me he went to prison for manslaughter in the death of his wife.” Molly took a deep breath. “Please, don’t make me do this.”

“I’m not making you do anything. Kurt has the skills you need, and you have a job and a place for him to live—two things he needs.”

“You’re asking me to deal with a violent man—a man responsible for his wife’s death. I don’t need another one of those in my life.”

“I know. At first I hesitated to send him your way…” Steve sighed. “But he’ll be able to restore that old house so you can have your bed-and-breakfast, and he can also build your shelter for battered women.”

“Isn’t that a little ironic? A man with his background working on a shelter for battered women?”

“Maybe, but personally, I think he’s telling the truth when he says he’s innocent.”

“Aren’t they all?” Molly couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her voice.

“He’s served his time, and he deserves a break, just like a certain young woman who needed help not too long ago.”

Molly leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. How could she say no when some of Steve’s friends had been her lifeline at the time of her own arrest? “This is different.”

“Yes, but a lot is the same.” Steve’s voice held a serious note. “Just think it over. Pray about it.”

“Okay, but I didn’t claim to be innocent.”

“But you did claim the same need for help.”

“That’s true.”

“When I found out about his restoration work, I thought you and he were a perfect match. The way I see it, you two need each other. I’m telling you again. I believe his story.”

“What makes you so sure?” Molly rubbed her fingers across her forehead in an effort to ward off the headache this conversation triggered.

“I met his mother while he was in prison. Talking with her convinced me his story’s true.”

“Why doesn’t he live with her?” Molly asked in frustration.

“She died early last year after a long battle with cancer and her house was sold to pay medical bills.”

“Oh.” Molly wasn’t sure what else she could say. Was Steve’s assessment correct? Over the past few years she had come to know him as a man with a great deal of wisdom and compassion. “I don’t know, Steve. Besides my own concerns, I’ve already heard a few comments in town about my employing parolees even when their crime was petty theft. What will people here say when they find out I have a man convicted of manslaughter working for me?”

Molly knew Steve would be rubbing a hand over his balding head as he contemplated her question. “If I thought he’d harm you or anyone in that town, I wouldn’t have sent him to talk with you.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

Steve cleared his throat. “Listen, Moll, if you ever have any trouble with folks in that town because you’re helping parolees and ex-convicts, send them my way. I’ll talk to them.”

Molly heard the front door open and close. Kurt had returned. “Steve, I’ve got to go. I’ll take everything into consideration before I make a decision. Say a prayer for me.”

“I always do.”

“Thanks.” Molly gently hung up the phone. Heading for the front hall, she prepared to deal with the giant of a man who might have the talent to make this her dream house but a past that alarmed her.

 

***

 

Kurt sat on the deacon’s bench with the photo albums on his lap. The muffled sound of Molly’s voice filtered through the closed doors. Then there was silence. The doors opened, and she stepped into the foyer. The worry in her eyes told him that she knew.

Standing, he wanted to take away her apprehension. Should he bring up his past or wait for her to ask? Waiting would definitely be easier. He hated talking about it. He hated thinking about it. He hated the way it had ruined his life. Besides, what could he say that would ease her concerns?

Kurt offered her the albums. “Well, here they are.”

She glanced at them, then back at him. “Let’s go into my office. We can look at them there.”

He made no reply as he followed her. At least she wasn’t sending him away. As he entered the room, he took in the dark oak-paneled walls with a rich patina. Shelves full of books lined two walls. Three leather wingback chairs surrounded an Oriental rug near the fireplace on the wall opposite the door. In sharp contrast to the rest of the house, this room gleamed from floor to ceiling.

“Who did the restoration in here?” Kurt asked.

“The previous owners.”

“Why didn’t they finish the project?”

“They were a relatively young retired couple who also wanted to make this a bed-and-breakfast, but during the course of the remodeling, the man had a stroke. They decided to sell.”

“How long have you been working on this?”

“Since last fall. I’ve owned the house for about a year, but I needed to tie up some loose ends before I started full time with this. I’ve done a lot of work myself with help from some of the people Steve has assisted in his prison ministry.”

“Is that why Steve sent me your way? Because he knew you’d give me a job?” Kurt asked.

“Just because Steve sent you, doesn’t mean you automatically have the job. If I think you’re the right person for the project, I’ll hire you.” A warning glance supplanted the earlier apprehension he’d seen in her eyes. “Steve just sets up the interviews.”

Kurt hoped he hadn’t overstepped his bounds, but at least she didn’t seem afraid of him now. Maybe he had imagined her fear earlier. Paranoia had been his constant companion since he’d been released from prison. He wondered whether he’d ever shake it. Could he go about business as though he was any other craftsman, not one who had been recommended by a man who ministered to prisoners and ex-convicts? “I understand. Let me show you my work.”

“All right. Let’s sit over here.” She motioned to the uncomfortable-looking sofa covered in red velvet.

He loved Victorian houses and their marvelous woodwork, but he hated the furniture that went with them. The sofa seemed more suitable for viewing than for sitting. As he settled his large frame onto the delicate sofa, he hoped it wouldn’t break.

After he had opened one of the albums, he glanced up to see Molly still standing. The wary expression in her eyes told him she realized she would have to sit next to him. He hadn’t imagined her previous trepidation. He wanted to tell her he wouldn’t bite, but he didn’t think she’d take kindly to the joke. What could he do to put her at ease?

Even though Steve had helped Kurt turn his life over to God, Kurt still had to tamp down the anger that surfaced whenever he faced the way people would view him for the rest of his life, unless he could find the person who had killed his wife. Where had God been when he’d been sent to prison for something he didn’t do? Would he ever know the answer? His mind buzzed with the unfairness of it all, but he couldn’t let his thoughts take him to that dark place—the place where hatred and revenge ruled. Each day he struggled to keep his mind focused on something other than the injustice he had suffered.

Maybe he could offer Molly an out. “You can take these and examine them at your leisure, then get back to me.”

She continued to watch him, almost as if she was gauging whether he’d attack. “No. No, let’s look at them together now. Pictures without a commentary will mean nothing to me.”

“Okay.” He hated feeling as though he was under a microscope like some specimen in a lab. Would everyone view him this way? He might as well be Hannibal Lecter searching for his next victim. Is that what she saw when she looked at him? The thought sickened him.

“Fine.” She sat on the edge of the sofa as if poised to run at any moment.

“These are before-and-after photos of restorations I’ve done in both Colonial and Victorian houses. I’ll answer any questions you have.” He pointed to the first page and glanced at her, but her eyes were trained on the album.

She studied the pictures, then turned to the next page. Without warning, she took the album from him and put it on her lap. Her fingers caressed the pages. He noticed the little paint splatters dotting the back of her hand—a sign that she wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Wonder crept across her face. “Oh, these are magnificent. The changes are amazing. Will mine come out like this?” She turned to him. For the moment, she seemed to forget that he was a monster.

“Yeah.” Hope filled his heart.

“You did these?”

“Uh-huh.” Her question and skeptical demeanor shattered his optimism. She couldn’t reconcile his work with the criminal she perceived him to be. He wondered about his chances of getting the job when she obviously didn’t trust him. Was this the first time she had interviewed someone who had been convicted of a violent crime? He couldn’t let negative thoughts take over. He had to fight for what he wanted. “I can do this here, too.”

“Let me show you around.” She took the album and stood. “I’ll tell you what I have in mind.”

“Okay.” Kurt followed her into the foyer. He wasn’t sure what to make of her sudden enthusiasm. His emotions in the past half-hour resembled a roller coaster ride.

She walked over to the stairway and ran her hand along the banister, then looked at him. “What would you do with this stairway? I really like this one you did here.” She pointed to a page in the album.

Kurt stepped closer as he gazed at the picture. For the first time, he smelled her perfume or shampoo. The scent reminded him of the lilacs that grew in the yard of his house—the one he used to own. He didn’t want to think about the past and all he had lost. He needed to put his mind on something else. Remembering hurt too much.

Trying to forget the past only made him more aware of Molly. The soft curve of her cheek peeked out from behind silken hair that gleamed under the foyer chandelier as she leaned over to study his photo album. For a moment, he had the urge to reach out and touch the reddish-gold strands. The combination of red and gold reminded him of a sunset. He shook the thoughts from his head. He didn’t want to feel anything, but her nearness reminded him that he hadn’t touched or held a woman in a long time. He didn’t need these feelings now. Not ever. The pain ran too deep.

“Well, what do you think?” Her question brought his thoughts to an abrupt halt.

“I can do whatever you want. We can work with what’s here, or I can get new railings and spindles if these are in bad shape. As long as you want to pay the price, the sky’s the limit.”

She continued to study him as though she was contemplating his response. Putting her free hand to her forehead, she turned abruptly and walked into the living room. She held the album out in front of her as she stood near the fireplace. She tapped the open page. “I want this in here. This one with the mirror.”

Kurt went to stand beside her. He studied the fireplace and imagined the possibilities. “Do you also like the detail work in this picture on the mantel and the surround?”

“Yes, that would be wonderful.” Her voice held a trace of excitement.

Kurt turned and walked toward the decorative columns that separated the living room from the foyer. Touching them, he glanced at her. “If you like, we can put the same detail in the columns and put rosettes at the corners of all the doorways and windows.”

“That sounds lovely. And in here is the dining room.” She stepped through a double doorway. “You see the pocket doors?” She pulled one of them out.

“Yeah—”

“I want to keep these.” She pointed to the windows on the right side of the room. “And I want to put French doors there instead of a window so I can serve meals on the porch in the summer. Can you do that?”

Kurt smiled inwardly. Her passion for this project had made her forget everything except her vision for this place. “Like I told you before, I can do just about anything you want as long as you want to spend the money.”

Hesitating, she glanced down at the floor, then raised her gaze to meet his. “Can you work up an estimate for me?”

He couldn’t mistake the expression in her eyes. She looked as though she had just made a pact with the devil. “Are you sure?”

“I didn’t say you had the job. I just want you to give me an estimate as soon as possible.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a call when I get it done. Then we can go over it.”

She handed him the album. “Do you have my phone number?”

“I can get it from Steve.”

“Let me give you my card. Then you’ll have all of my contact information.” She headed toward her office.

Kurt followed, feeling better about the whole situation. Maybe things would work out after all, but at the same time, he had his reservations about working for this woman. He worried that she would always see him with a jaundiced eye. Could he learn to deal with it?

When they reached the office, she opened a drawer and pulled out a card. Turning, she handed it to him. As he took it, their fingers brushed. He didn’t miss the awareness that sparked between them. A physical attraction—that was all it was—an appreciation for a good looking woman. But it made him wary.

“Thanks.” He quickly stuffed the card into his shirt pocket as he tried to cover his own unease. “I’ll need to do some measuring before I leave.”

“I’ve got a tape measure right here.” She reached into a cubbyhole on the desk and laid it on the nearby table. “Measure away.”

He took the tape measure and left the room, wondering whether she had purposely not handed it to him in order to avoid further contact. He spent the next half hour measuring and recording the size of each room and all the parts for which he would need to buy materials.

When Kurt finished, he stuck his head around the doorway to Molly’s office. She sat bent over at her desk while she went through some papers. The sight of her made his thoughts race. Could he put together a proposal that would satisfy her? Would she always look at him with a hint of fear in her eyes? His insides churned. He wanted this job—the perfect fit for his skills. Did he dare pray about it? He wasn’t sure God was listening.

When he finally settled his emotions, he stepped into the doorway. “I’m done, so I’ll be on my way. I’ll get that estimate to you as soon as I can. Thanks. You won’t be sorry if you hire me.”

“Just one thing before you go.” She got up from the desk and followed him to the front door. “Could you give me the name of someone for whom you’ve done a restoration? Your pictures are wonderful, but I’d like to have a reference also.”

Kurt’s heart sank. He wasn’t sure anyone would give him a good reference. He slowly shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been in prison for six years.” He ran his hand across his brow. “When I was convicted most people turned their backs on me. I don’t know what they’d say now.”

“Won’t they give me a straight answer on the work you did for them?” she asked.

“I hope so. I can give you one name. Harold Sullivan. He lives right over the town line in Brookston. I don’t know his number, but I’m sure you can find it. That’s the best I can do.”

“Thank you.” She gazed at him with understanding and sympathy. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you.”

“As soon as I prepare my estimate for the job.” He stepped outside.

As he walked to his pickup, he didn’t dare look back. Was she watching, or had she simply closed the door behind him? He didn’t want to know. After getting into his vehicle, he sat there for a minute and stared at the house. It didn’t appear quite as bad now that he’d seen the inside. Maybe his life was like that, too. The hope God put in his heart would make his circumstances look better.

He would get this job.
More money in his pocket meant that he could hire a lawyer and a private investigator to help him find the person who had killed his wife. Getting his kids back depended on it.

 
~~~~~
 

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into A Place to Call Home. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a free copy!