Monday, July 24, 2017

Week #30: Moonlight Kisses by Mary Manners

 
 

Jaylie Caldwell shared her first kiss many moons ago with Holt McCaffrey along the property of Honeysuckle Cove Inn. She’s sure he’s forgotten the moment, but she never will. Jaylie’s dreams led her to Chicago and a coveted position as evening anchor for Channel 8 News, while Holt stayed behind to climb the ranks of the Honeysuckle Cove Police Department. But, when an emergency calls Jaylie home, Holt is waiting.

Holt McCaffrey is honor bound to protect the community of Honeysuckle Cove, so, when an accident puts the life of a friend in jeopardy, he holds himself personally responsible. He’s finally gotten his wish from a long-ago moonlit night when he shared a sweet kiss with Jaylie Caldwell—she has returned home. But will the terms of her homecoming leave any room for forgiveness...or for him?
 
~~~~~
 
 
Jaylie Caldwell leaned forward in the chair and pressed her cheek against the kitchen table with a sigh. Exhaustion burrowed into her bones. She’d give away her entire collection of shoes for a cup of coffee, but she couldn’t summon the energy to rise from the seat and crank up the coffeemaker on Grandma Nan’s kitchen counter to brew a pot.
Thank goodness Gran had come home from the hospital and was finally in her own bed again, sleeping peacefully with the help of painkillers Dr. Metz had prescribed. The past few days had been nothing short of a raging tempest woven with worry and frazzled nerves.
Gran had taken a tumble down the back porch steps and cracked her head hard enough to open a gash that required half-a-dozen stitches. It was no small miracle she hadn’t broken a leg or a hip, as well. Thankfully, Gran’s bones proved as hardy as her stubborn streak.
Thank goodness…
Jaylie’s gaze wandered along painted sunflower yellow cabinets and over walls where a flurry of carefully-framed photos and drawings spoke to the years she’d spent growing up in the modest frame house. The pastel of an outdoor scene that she’d designed for Gran’s sixtieth birthday stood the focal point. The image was frozen in time, a cheerful splash of color that spoke to Gran’s vibrant personality.
Hopefully, that fighting spirit would carry Gran through this tough time and into a full recovery. As far as Jaylie had gathered up to this point, something in the back yard had spooked Gran during a storm that swept through last Friday night. When Gran had ventured outside to check things out she’d slipped on the porch stairs and taken a tumble. How long she’d lain there on the pavement, unconscious and bleeding, remained a mystery. Mrs. Talley, Gran’s longtime neighbor, had discovered her as she went to fetch the morning paper. Zeke, Gran’s quirky chocolate lab, had alerted Mrs. Talley with a lengthy bout of uncharacteristic, frenzied barking.
News of the accident traveled fast through the tightknit Honeysuckle Cove community. During the forty-eight hours Grandma Nan had spent in the hospital, good wishes, along with enough food to fill a supermarket chain, filtered into the house. Platters of various sizes filled the fridge and overflowed onto countertops. Mrs. Werner’s apple cobbler sweetened the air while a plate of brownies that had been heaped tall enough to feed an army winked from the center of the cozy dining table tucked into the bay-windowed breakfast nook. And the fridge…Jaylie could barely get the door to close after storing all the perishables.
No one in this house would go hungry. No, sir. Jaylie’s hips widened just thinking about the buffet of fried chicken and vegetable lasagna, baked honey ham and sweet potato casserole. Just about everyone in town had stopped by to check on Gran.
Everybody loved Grandma Nan. She’d taught third grade at Honeysuckle Cove Elementary for over forty years. Just about every resident under the age of fifty had come through her classroom at one time or another. Each had stories to share about their adventures. Whether they proved class clown or valedictorian mattered not an ounce to Gran. She loved each and every one of them with every fiber of her being, just as she’d spent a lifetime loving Jaylie. Memories of a school year spent with Grandma Nan were sure to last a lifetime.
Tears welled in Jaylie’s eyes as the events of the past forty-eight hours filtered through her mind. Exhaustion and worry burrowed into her bones.
“I almost lost you, Grandma Nan,” she whispered. Her only response was the tick of the clock on the wall over the sink. She wished with all her heart that she could turn back its hands. She might have arrived in time to shelter Gran from the fall. Then, instead of Gran sleeping off the pain of her injury while Jaylie fretted, they’d be sitting here together, playing a board game and laughing over silly things. She sniffled as tears spilled over to run down her cheeks. “And I couldn’t bear to lose you. I need you, Gran. You’re all I’ve got.”
How many times over the years had Gran sheltered her from danger…from heartache and pain? More than she could count.
Jaylie had come to live with Gran the summer between her second and third grades of school. What was meant to be merely a weeklong visit together while her mom went off on a honeymoon with her third husband, stretched to two weeks and then an entire month. Before she knew it, August rolled around without any sign of her mother.
When Jaylie finally asked, Gran gently explained that her mother had gotten into a tight spot and she was going to get some much-needed help to get back on her feet. It was years before Jaylie realized that ‘tight spot’ included the new husband, prescription drugs, and a very serious brush with the law.
Being separated from her only living parent might have made other girls her age homesick, but not so much Jaylie. Life with her mother had meant missed school days, spotty meals, soiled clothes that never seemed to fit, and lots of lonely afternoons spent tiptoeing around the rundown apartment they leased while mom holed up in her bed, nursing a chronic headache.
But with Gran Jaylie experienced warm hugs, loads of laughter, chicken and dumplings, and clothes that smelled like sunshine. Best of all, Gran never cocooned herself in the bedroom, begging a headache. Jaylie longed to stay with Gran forever. She’d told Gran as much.
So as Gran set out to prepare her classroom for the coming year, Jaylie tagged along. When the school bell ushered in a new school year, Jaylie was issued a front row seat—right next to Holt McCaffrey who lived in the sprawling house right next door to them. Jaylie knew this because while riding the shiny new bike Gran had given her for her birthday, she’d spied him in the yard, chasing his dog and playing fetch when he returned from a summer-long trip out west with his parents.
She’d spent the entire year—a magical year—catching the bus, sharing lunch snacks and trading notes with Holt. She’d learned the meaning of friendship and discovered her first—and only—true love.
Blue-eyed Holt McCaffrey.
Jaylie stayed the next year with Gran, and the next. And every one that followed. Gran gave her more than money could ever buy. Jaylie felt wanted…and loved. Gran was never too busy to help her to bake chocolate chunk cookies or listen to her school day adventures. They’d even performed together in the mother-daughter talent show Jaylie’s eighth grade year. The crowd had issued a standing ovation.
As high school graduation loomed, Jaylie had confided to Gran her feelings for Holt. Gran had listened with a twinkle in her eye and a grin on her lips.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Gran had assured her with a tone of confidence Jaylie wished she also felt. “You’ll see, Jaylie.”
Wasn’t that the truth! Less than a month later Gran had dried Jaylie’s tears when Holt asked Megan Daniels to senior Prom instead of her. Not that Jaylie could blame him for that. Megan was a petite brunette bundle of TNT and the cheerleading captain. And, as the only daughter of the most successful real estate agent in Clover Cove, she owned a closet full of designer clothes. She zipped around town in a cherry-red ragtop Miata—a far cry from Jaylie’s department store wardrobe and the used sedan she shared with Gran.
It didn’t help matters when Megan confided an unsettling secret to Jaylie just a few weeks later, implicating Holt in her misadventures. The unexpected news broke Jaylie’s heart.
She couldn’t even consider the details now and forced all thought of that fateful day from her mind. There was no going back, no undoing what was done.
Instead of dwelling on what couldn’t be changed, Jaylie had embraced the opportunity to put distance between her and Holt. High school graduation came and went. She’d packed her suitcase and moved halfway across the state to study journalism. Four years later, bachelor degree in hand, she’d snagged a job as a reporter with the Windy City’s Channel Eight News.
Since then she’d been woefully lax on her visits to Gran. Her studies had left little free time and the move to Chicago made day travel impossible. She learned early on that vacation days proved few and far between for an inexperienced college graduate trying to stake her place in the media world. Over the course of six years she’d worked her tail off. She’d climbed the ranks of the fickle news industry in record time, clawing her way to the coveted position as evening news anchor. Life had been a dream come true.
Except for missing Holt and wishing…always wishing for something more in that arena, though she knew it could never be.
Then a few months ago the station was bought out and wham, the hard-won position was snatched from her. It mattered not one iota that she had more talent and experience in her pinky finger than the new GM’s niece, who had happily—and with a haughty dose of arrogance—slipped into Jaylie’s seat at the anchor desk.
Jaylie had seethed over this turn of events. She’d buried herself in a dark pit and covered the hole with self-pity. She’d finally crawled from the trench to phone Gran and share her disappointment. Together, they’d decided her best option was to come home to the cove and hash things out. Jaylie had felt a surge of optimism. Gran always knew just how to tackle even the toughest problem and come out on top. Jaylie had actually been packed and ready to head this way when the call about Gran’s fall had come through.
“You need to come home right away, Jaylie.” Holt’s voice, steeped with concern that had her nerves standing at attention, drifted through her ears. “Nan’s had an accident. I’m not sure if she’ll be…I mean, I don’t know how bad it is.”
Emotions churned through Jaylie. Worry over Gran blended with the most subtle hint of delight over speaking to Holt again after so many years.
God works in mysterious ways…
Zeke sauntered into the room. He padded over to Jaylie, sniffed the tile, and plopped down at her feet.
“There’s my good boy.” Jaylie swiped tears from her cheeks and extended a hand to offer him a soothing stroke along his flank. “You’re my hero, baby. You summoned help for Gran. I owe you bigtime. I’ll never forget that.”
A low-pitched rumble bubbled up from Zeke’s throat. He pressed his grizzled snout to Jaylie’s knee as if he understood the depths of her appreciation.
“Yes, you’re a good boy,” she cooed. “The best.”
The sound of a motor drew Jaylie’s attention through the broad bay window that flanked the breakfast nook. Zeke’s ears perked as he rose on all fours. He lumbered to the window and propped his front paws along the ledge.
A police cruiser wound its way up the drive. Impeccably-waxed paint along the front hood glinted beneath the mid-May sun. The driver’s eyes were shielded by a pair of reflective sunglasses but Jaylie would recognize the strong curve of that chiseled jaw anywhere, even after all this time.
Holt McCaffrey.
He pulled beneath the shade of Gran’s beloved century-old elm tree and killed the motor. A breeze rustled through the leaves as he leaned back in the seat and rested behind the wheel, probably debating whether or not to come inside.
That in itself brought a whole new level of heartache.
 
 
~~~~~
 

Thanks for visiting! I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into Moonlight Kisses. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a copy. Winner will be announced Monday, July 31.

2 comments:

  1. Love these sneak peeks you are sharing! This sounds like a great book!
    sallyshupe1 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for visiting, Sally. I am sending your copy now. I apologize for the delay. Please stop back later today to see Clare Revell's latest book featured.

    ReplyDelete

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