Sunday Bookends: Warm weather, animal activity, and good books


Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.

What’s Been Occurring

We finally got our warmer weather this week, but I think Pennsylvania forgot spring and ran right into summer. That’s okay, as long as the trees have some green on them and the lilacs and other flowers are blooming.

No, I don’t have any photos of the lilacs yet, but hopefully next week. They are blooming, but I didn’t find time this week to photograph them.

Thursday, Little Miss had some friends over and they played hard all day, including sliding on a slip-n-slide for about 15 minutes, after which they decided the wind was too cold. They wouldn’t have been too cold yesterday (Saturday) because it was close to 87 during the day.  It is supposed to be as hot today, but the rest of the week is supposed to be a little cooler.

On our way back from picking them up, we saw a porcupine in the middle of the road, which is maybe only the second time in my life I have seen a porcupine in real life. I thought it was a racoon at first.

It was crossing the road in a bad spot, and I couldn’t drive around it so I honked at it, which I knew was a bad idea because freaked out porcupines can lead to quills flying and maybe putting out one of my tires. Luckily, he simply waddled off the road and his quills came up only after he was out of our way. I don’t know if he ever shot them or not.

Last week was apparently the week for wildlife to be seen and heard. Early in the week Little Miss and I heard something screaming. I thought it might be a fox because I’ve heard people say they sound like they are screaming when they bark but the neighbors thought a rabbit had gotten caught and was killed. *Shiver*. 

On our way to gymnastics for Little Miss, we saw a box turtle crossing the road and five minutes later two deer crossed the road as well.


The saddest sight, though, was when we saw a dead bear along one of our major highways on Friday. We think it was a young bear because it wasn’t very large. I have to say it is the first time in my life I have seen a bear hit along the road. I would imagine the car that hit it wasn’t in very good shape afterward.

We saw the dead bear when we drove 45 minutes north to where we used to live to drop The Boy off at a friend’s house for a sleepover. We spent some time at the local playground, The Boy rode his bike around his old neighborhood, I stopped at the health food store for a favorite natural soda of mine (which tasted horrible thanks to the lingering effects of Covid), and another store for some milk from one of the local farmers who now have their own farm store. After we dropped The Boy off, Little Miss wanted to go to the playground again, which meant a longer day than I planned. She had a ton of fun, though, and it was nice to see children playing together again.

Saturday afternoon I had a little bit of free time when The Husband and Little Miss went to pick up The Boy from a sleepover he’d been at. While sitting in my very quiet living room I heard something or someone wheezing. For a minute, my health anxiety-riddled brain thought it was me. Then I remembered I haven’t actually wheezed in a long time and that there is one other family member who wheezes when she sleeps. I looked up and sure enough — Pixel (aka Fat Cat) was asleep in the dog bed by the TV. Yes, it is a dog bed, but more often than not, the dog sleeps on the ottoman and the cat curls up in the bed that was meant for the dog.

Yes, we really should buy an extra bed so they can both have one.


What I/We’ve Been Reading

I’m almost finished with Walking in Tall Weeds by Robin W. Pearson and I’m really enjoying it. I wrote a little bit about the book in last week’s Sunday Bookends. It releases July 19.

I will probably finish it today or tomorrow because I can’t put it down.

I’m hoping to jump into another Miss Julia book by Ann B. Ross later this week and possibly balance that with either another CJ Box (Joe Pickett) or Craig Johnson (Longmire) book. I like to have two books to switch back and forth in case one gets too “heavy” for me.

The Boy is still reading Smoke and Mirrors.

Little Miss and I are finishing Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For the last two weeks of school, we will be reading The Years of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill as well.

The Husband is reading Shots Fired by CJ Box.

What We watched/are Watching

Last night we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.

It is streaming on Paramount. It was very good. Much better than I expected.

Earlier in the week, The Husband and I watched more of The Larkins. I have already watched the first (and only so far) season but am enjoying rewatching it. I’m catching things I didn’t before.

I also started a documentary series about Scotland. It was interesting but the man hosting it kept using the weirdest voice when he quoted women, which was very unnerving.


What I’m Writing

I found a bit of time this week to work on Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles and came up with several ideas for it, as well as a few scenes. I’m not totally sure, but I might be able to write this book a little faster than past books. I shared chapter 3 from it Friday here on the blog.

I also shared a Randomly Thinking post yesterday.

What I’m Listening To

This week I listened to CeCe Winans, Matthew West, and The Shires.

Your turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

Randomly Thinking: Pot photos, horses in the street, and other craziness

When your husband works for a newspaper, it is not unusual to receive photographs or texts others might consider unusual. For example, a month or so ago I looked at my phone and there was a photo of pot (marijuana) in jars waiting for me.   Under it was a photo of bills of various amounts and a handgun spread out on a large table. No explanation was offered for either of them.

This was around the same time we were dealing with some financial strains so I shot back a text to my husband telling him the financial situation would work out, he didn’t need to turn to a life of crime.

Of course, I had a feeling there was something more to these photos, and indeed there was. They were from a press conference my husband was attending in his capacity as a reporter/editor where the police were talking about a group of college students who had been busted for running an illegal pot manufacturing business, as well as possibly some other illegal drugs.

After that press conference, he called me to assure me he had not turned to crime (although all that money spread out on the table was a bit tempting, he told me as a joke). We chatted for a bit because he was stuck in traffic. He thought traffic might be moving slowly because of an accident, but instead, he said to me, “What in the world are all these horses doing in the road?”

I can’t see what is going on obviously so I’m asking, “What’s going on? What do you mean?”

He tells me he’s going to hang up and let me know later and while I’m waiting my mind races through all the weird scenarios which could have occurred. There was an accident with a horse trailer and the horses escaped. There were a bunch of rednecks at a bar whose licenses had been taken away so they had to ride the horses home. I didn’t know.

Turns out the reason for horses riding down the road was much nicer. A local horse farrier had recently passed away and the horses were part of a funeral procession to escort his body to the cemetery. That photograph was much nicer than the one of the illicit drugs and weapons.

****

I was pouring honey into my tea the other day and the kids were watching.

“That’s too much honey,” my son informed me.

I looked at him in confusion. “I don’t know what those words mean. ‘Too much honey.’ I’m confused.”

I then poured some more honey in.  

***

My mom called on a Saturday night and asked if we wanted chicken for lunch the next day (we usually go over there on Sunday afternoons). I said chicken would be fine and she asked if we wanted, chicken breast, drumsticks, or thighs.

I told her any was fine but that our family liked chicken breast.

“We’re breast people,” I said with a mischievous snicker.

Mom holds the phone away from her mouth and says to my dad. “She says her family are breast people.”

She comes back on the phone and says, “Your dad says he’s a thigh man himself,” and then sighs.

Poor Mom. She has to put up with our weird humor.

***

One morning two weeks ago all three of our animals were crowded by the back door, waiting to be let out into the sunshine. I decided to take a photo of them all together so I made them wait. Bad idea because that’s when the older cat reached over and smacked the younger cat.

This resulted in me posting the photos to Instagram stories with some funny captions.

***

Our kitten (who isn’t technically a kitten anymore) has been a killing machine lately. She’s been carrying dead mice and moles to us for a while now. Last week she killed three moles but the week before that she came running up the sidewalk with something in her mouth and at first I thought it was a bird. As she got closer I realized it was a baby snake and about passed out.

She dropped the snake on the pavement and my dad scooped it up and laid it under the pine tree by our driveway to let it die in peace since it didn’t seem to be in very good shape.

I guess Scout wasn’t done with it because she wandered over there a few minutes later to try to finish it off. This resulted in my husband grabbing a shovel, scooping up the snake again (which was hard for him since he hates snakes so much), and tossing it over the bank across the road.

I also took a photo of the snake so we could decide if it was poisonous or not, even though we assumed it was a garter snake, which we have a lot of in this area. As far as we could tell it was a garter snake, thankfully.


***

I felt really nerved up the other day and my husband said, “Shut your laptop. Get off social media and I’m putting Dick VanDyke on for you.”

He knows what helps to calm me.

***

My dad was trying to be deep the other day at dinner and asked me who could hear a tear fall.

I said, “Hank Williams can hear a tear fall in his beer. That’s what he said in that song anyhow.”

Dad sighed. “I was going to say that only God can hear a tear fall but thanks for that.”

Oh. Oops.

***

The Boy and I were recently talking about how much we actually like the cooler weather and are not really looking forward to warmer weather. He likes being able to wear sweatshirts and I like being able to huddle under a blanket while reading a book or watching a good show. Of course I wanted some warmer weather and some green trees but I’m not a fan of sweltering temperatures and muggy days.

He decided that spring is his favorite time of the year while I decided that my favorite seasons are both spring and fall because they aren’t too cold or too hot.

***

So about you? Any random thoughts or events happening in your life? Let me know in the comments.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 3

Here we are to chapter 3 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.

Book three is now for sale on Amazon and other sites.

To read the previous two chapters in this current story click HERE.

Chapter 3

Ben opened one eye and squinted in the sunlight, expecting to see the bedroom at his apartment — clean, matching furniture and set up to fit his organized personality.

Instead, his gaze fell on a poster of Cal Ripkin Jr., golden trophies lining shelves above a small desk, and a collection of CDs in a bookcase where books should have been.

Oh right. His brother Luke’s room. He squeezed his eyes shut again and pulled the covers up over his head. It hadn’t been a bad dream after all. He really was staying at his parents while he recuperated from a concussion and a broken ankle.

He’d been placed in his younger brother’s room because his room had been transformed into his father’s office long ago and because Luke was away at college. His other brother, Travis, had moved out a year ago and was working for a construction company in the western part of the state. Travis’ room had become a library for his dad’s law books. The only sibling who wasn’t out of the house yet was —

“Hey, Binkie! Mom says breakfast is ready.”

He glared through the blanket at his younger sister Maggie. He was an adult, nearly 30. Why in the world was she still using his childhood nickname?

“Go away,” he mumbled.

Maggie giggled and something soft, which he figured was a pillow, slammed into him. “Just like the old days. You’re still not a morning person. Come on or I’m eating all the pancakes.”

The door slammed and he winced. Did she forget he had a concussion?

He flung the covers back and squinted at the Pittsburgh Steelers clock on the bedside stand. Any other day and he’d already be in the office, preparing for his day in court or for a meeting with a client. He still planned to go over a few briefs and hold a couple of video conference calls with clients, but Cindy had purposely set those meetings up for later in the morning, urging him to take his time and heal up.

He adored the woman, but it was a challenge working with a woman his mother’s age who sometimes acted like she was his mother.

Cindy was great at her job, though, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else working for him or with him. She’d been employed as a secretary for the lawyer who’d had the office before him for 25 years. He counted himself lucky that she’d agreed to stay on when he took over. Her experience was irreplaceable even if her maternal tone grated on his nerves at times.

He grimaced as he swung his legs over the bed. The air cast on his ankle was cumbersome but necessary if he wanted the break to heal. The doctor had told him if he’d hit the ankle any harder, he’d be in surgery receiving a pin in it. That would have put him out of work even longer. He took the stairs one at a time, gritting his teeth against the pain.

His mom set a plate filled with pancakes, eggs, bacon, and two pieces of toast on the table as he reached for the back of the chair to steady himself.

“Those painkillers still doing a number on you?” His mom asked.

He waited for the room to stop tilting before he tried to sit down. “Yeah. I’d like to stop taking them but when I do the pounding in my head is almost unbearable.”

He pressed his forehead into his hands and wished the food looked more appetizing to him at the moment. He knew his mom already made breakfast for his dad and sister every morning but adding an extra plate to her day didn’t seem fair to him, especially if he couldn’t eat it.

“Going stir crazy yet?” Maggie stuffed a bite of pancake in her mouth and quirked an eyebrow at him. She smirked as she chewed.

Ben watched her through half open eyes. “Shouldn’t you be at school already?”

Maggie giggled and took a sip of chocolate milk through a bright red straw. “You’re still a big grump in the mornings, huh?” She wiped the milk from her upper lip with a napkin. Don’t worry. I’ll be out of your hair soon. Jenny’s on her way over.”

He reached for the glass of milk his mom sat in front of him. “Whose Jenny?”

“Jenny Fitzgerald. You know her.”

“You don’t mean she’s driving over here, do you? She’s like 12.”

Maggie rolled her eyes. “She was 12 five years ago, Benny. She’s 17 and got her license two months ago.”

Emily Oliver placed a hand on her hip as she stood by the table. “And if Maggie wants her license, she needs to start studying that book I brought home.”

Maggie rolled her eyes while Ben rubbed a hand over the stubble along his jawline. How was his little sister old enough to be getting her license? He could have sworn she was eleven just yesterday.

Maggie was the surprise baby for the Olivers. After three sons they thought they were done, but six years after their youngest son was born, Maggie made her appearance.

“I thought you were menopause,” Emily was fond of telling her daughter jokingly.

Ben took a sip of the milk, the only thing which tasted good to him at the moment. “Where’d you get the milk? It’s good.”

“The Tanner’s. Their bottling their own milk and expanded the store.”

Oh right.

The Tanners.

Molly Tanner.

His girlfriend in high school. The sweet girl he’d dumped to go out with Angie because Angie was skinny, blond, and – well, more willing to do things Molly wasn’t.

His stomach clenched at the memory.

He’d apologized to Molly about a year ago, told her how stupid he’d been, how sorry for what he’d done to her. In true Molly fashion she had forgiven him, and it has eased some of his guilt, but not all of it.

In reality he’d been stupid in and after college too, only with Angie instead of Molly this time. Apparently messing up the lives of women was a talent of his.

His mom gestured at his plate as she sat across from him with a cup of tea. “Aren’t you going to eat? You need to keep your energy up.” She dropped two cubes of sugar into her cup. “
It will help your healing.”

Ben smiled. “Once a mom, always a mom, huh?”

“You know that.” Emily winked. “You’ll always be my baby.”

Maggie snorted a laugh as she shoved her last bite of bacon in her mouth. “Probably because he still acts like a baby half the time.”

Ben reached out and gently pinched his sister’s arm as she walked by to put her plate in the sink. A horn honked from outside. “Your book bag is over there. Get going, smart mouth.”

Maggie leaned over as she reached for her book bag and kissed his cheek. “I’m glad you’re okay, Benny.”

He leaned back in the chair and reached up to ruffle her hair. “Thanks, kid.”

“My hair!”

He chuckled at Maggie’s cry of despair as she walked toward the back door.

Emily stood and reached for a pile of envelops and folders on the island. “I hesitated giving all this to you now, but Cindy dropped your mail off this morning. I want you to rest your brain but maybe this will tide you over a little bit until you can get back into the office.”

Ben poked at a piece of pancake as he rifled through the mail. “Junk mail, a couple of signed documents I actually asked to be dropped off in person and not mailed, and a couple of bills. Looks like I haven’t missed much.”

A stack of the envelopes slipped off the table onto the floor and Emily stooped to grab them. Ben saw the envelope before she reached for it, but he couldn’t move fast enough. He hoped she wouldn’t see the return address.

 She held the envelope in front of her.  Too late.

“Oh. It’s from Adam and Leona.” She smiled and handed it to him. “I wonder what they sent you.”

He took the envelope, avoiding her gaze, and shoved it under the pile.

“Wouldn’t know,” he mumbled, drinking more milk.

Emily sat down and smoothed her hands across the red and white tablecloth. She cleared her throat and reached for her tea, holding the cup in both hands as she raised it to her mouth. “Don’t you want to know what they sent?” She sipped the tea, keeping her eyes on the tea in her cup.

He finished off the milk and started in on the pancakes. “I already know what it is.”

“Oh?”

He kept his eyes on the pancakes. “Angie left me a voicemail. She doesn’t want me there.”

The cup hit the table with a soft clink. “Oh.” It wasn’t a question anymore. He wasn’t sure what he heard in her voice. Disappointment? Resignation? Definitely not surprise.

He pushed his plate back and picked up the mail. “Anyhow, thanks for breakfast. I’m going to head up and see if I can get a few online meetings scheduled for this week and some briefs written.”

“Don’t you want to get to know her, Ben?”

The question stopped him as he started to shuffle back toward the stairs. He tipped his head back and let out a breath. He answered without turning around, the mail under his arm. “Angie doesn’t want me around, Mom.”

“That isn’t what I asked.”

Ben dropped his head and raked his free hand through his hair as he continued to walk toward the stairs. “My head is pounding, and I’ve got work to do. Maybe we can talk about this another time.”

Climbing the stairs, he was grateful his mom didn’t push the issue. He heard her placing dishes in the sink instead. It didn’t matter if he wanted to see his daughter or not. Angie didn’t want to see him or for him to see their daughter and he couldn’t blame her.

Most days he couldn’t even stand to see himself in the mirror.

He tossed the mail on the bed, picking up the envelope from Angie’s parents as it fell on the floor.

He held it in his hands few moments before finally ripping it open. A handwritten note and a small photo fell out with the card, an invitation with colorful writing and the number four on the front, surrounded by a bunch of red balloons. The party was the next weekend, four hours away where Angie and her parents now lived.

He reached down for the note, leaving the photo of a blond-haired little girl on the floor by the bedside table.

Ben:

We didn’t know if we should send this, but you are Amelia’s father, and we feel you should be a part of her life.

We hope you will at least consider attending her birthday party.

We know there has been hurt between you and Angie and that you have struggled to move past some personal issues, but you are welcome in our home anytime.

Below are the directions to our house.

Sincerely,

Leona and Adam

 

He had no idea how Angie’s parents could still be willing to extend an olive branch to him after what he’d done.

He crumbled the note and the invitation and tossed it in the trash can then reached for the photo. Tiny, bright blue eyes looked back at him above a cute nose that was definitely her mother’s. Her blond curls fell to her shoulder and her smile was also Angie’s — a mixture of sweet and sass.

Her eyes, though, except for the color, were his. They were shaped the same and held a stubbornness he clearly recognized. He hoped that stubbornness worked out better for her than it had for him and that she’d learn to use it for good versus the evil he’d used it for too many times.

He opened his brief case next to the bed and shoved the photo in the inside pocket. Pulling out a stack of manilla folders full of case information, he shut the briefcase again, and with it closed his thoughts about the woman and the little girl he’d walked away from four and a half years ago.

Author Interview: Lisa R. Howeler, author of Beauty From Ashes — on The Lily Cafe

Thank you to Kat at The Lily Cafe for interviewing me about Beauty From Ashes for her blog today!

The Lily Cafe is thrilled to welcome author and blogger Lisa R. Howeler, here to talk a bit about her Christian romance novel Beauty From Ashes. Lisa blogs at and shares early drafts of her novels on Boondock Ramblings. Even though I don’t identify as Christian, I love her novels as they’re clean, sweet romances […]

Author Interview: Lisa R. Howeler, author of Beauty From Ashes — The Lily Cafe

Sunday Bookends: finally some sun, a variety of books, and yummy cheesesteaks are back.

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing, and listening to.


What I/we’ve Been Reading

This week I started a book I needed to read for a book tour and had a hard time enjoying it. I feel bad for that and for skipping through most of it so I’m going to go back this week and read it a little slower. The book is called The Prayer Shawl by Jenny Lynn Cary and it has a sweet premise of two cousins making amends, but I just couldn’t seem to enjoy the dueling storylines in it.

The book is about two cousins who do not get along well and are brought back together after their grandmother dies. Their grandmother raised the one cousin, Cami, after her parents died and now Grandma (Kate) has left directions for Cami to complete a task before she can receive her inheritance. This is not the first time I have either read a book with this plot point. I’ve also seen it in movies. My question is if it really ever happens in life and how a lawyer can actually ensure the person’s last request is met appropriately when these tasks are often so vague.

Elderly relatives leaving money only if the heir completes a task, is a very common plot point in Christian Fiction and romances these days, I have discovered. I feel it is becoming a little bit overused, but it does create some interesting storylines and characters, which is what happened in Cary’s book. I do like her writing style and the characters she creates so I want to give the book another chance this week.

It really wasn’t fair that I started Cary’s book at the same time I started an ARC by a favorite author of mine, Robin W. Pearson. I mentioned last week that I was reading the book which comes out at the end of July. The book flows so smoothly and the characters are so real that it is hard to put down. Robin’s books don’t have a lot of “action” per say and some readers might not like that, but I don’t mind at all because Robin’s action is in the way she makes the reader think. Plus, there is a bit of mystery to this one and I have to keep reading to find out secrets the dad and son are both holding on to.

So far, the book is tackling race issues, as well as family relationships. It’s a different take on race issues for me because I am used to reading books where the racist feelings are directed toward African Americans. That does happen some in this book, but it’s also directed toward the wife in the book who is mixed race with light skin and married to an African American. The book has some heavier topics than other books, but it isn’t so heavy you can’t stand up.

I’ve also started The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates for some lighter fare. This book was one of my Mother’s Day gifts from last week.

Little Miss and I were reading Paddington but we are back to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Please, someone send help. I am tired of reading the Little House books. I need to find something else to interest her.

The Husband (I feel weird calling him “The Husband” as if that is his title. I asked him as I wrote this, if he wanted me to use his real name or if he wants a blog nickname like the kids. He said he is fine with me simply calling him The Husband.) finished The Hundred Year Old Man Who Went Out the Window.

There is a sequel to the book, but my husband said it dives into politics and he gets enough of that at work these days so he’s decided not to read it. He is now reading Shots Fired by C.J. Box.

The Boy is still reading Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.

What’s Been Occurring

I had a very nice Mother’s Day last week. I visited my parents for a little bit on the actual day but we had visited with them for dinner on Saturday because my dad had a minor procedure on Monday and couldn’t eat Sunday.

My husband and children bought me the book I mentioned above, a new journal, and a new purse. The Husband also made dinner for me on Mother’s Day on the grill and drew me a bath, which was wonderful.

The day ended with him and The Boy making me watch the latest Spider-man which was a bit depressing honestly and not my favorite. I’m over the whole comic book schtick requiring the hero to suffer and go through life alone. That’s all I’ll say about that.

The weather finally warmed up which helped my sinuses immensely. Aren’t you glad I won’t be lamenting every Sunday about how hard it has been for me to breathe? At least for a while anyhow.

During the week we spent as much time as we could outside, or at least Little Miss and I did. We chased each other in the yard in a game she simply calls “Zombie.” All the chasing showed me that my lungs are not totally healed from the crazy sinusitis-type thing I had all through April and the Dreaded Virus last year but they are way better than they were.

One day during the week we visited my parents and made pizza for dinner. Our oven is currently broken so this gave us a chance to use up the dough I’d purchased (forgetting about the oven issue) and to see my parents. Zooma The Wonder Dog enjoyed rolling in the dirt road, covering herself with dust, and I enjoyed watching the Canadian geese who have decided to take up residence in my parent’s pond. That pond has been there my entire life and I have never seen geese land there or stay there. I’m interested to see if they have lain eggs there or not.

On Friday we visited a restaurant we really enjoy but which isn’t open during the winter. It’s located pretty much in the middle of nowhere by a beautiful covered bridge. We chose to sit at the tables outside the building and then admired the creek and covered bridge during our meal and afterward. The restaurant makes amazing cheesesteaks.

They are so amazing they were named one of the top ten cheesesteaks in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s no surprise they are so good since the owners are originally from Philly. Ironically, no one ordered an actual cheesesteak. I had a cheesesteak salad, so that was close. The husband had a buffalo chicken cheesesteak, The Boy a chicken wrap, and Little Miss a chicken tenders basket.

The boys also ordered some Jersey Dirty Fries, which are French fries with cheese whiz, barbecue sauce, garlic sauce, and bacon on top.

When we came home, I sat on the back porch in silence and just enjoyed the beautiful weather and view, petting our dog and cat, and reading. I didn’t have my phone or computer near me and it was the most relaxed I’d been all week.

What We watched/are Watching

This week I start watching that old show J.A.G. — Do you remember it? Lt. Harmon Rabb. Swoon. I remember watching the show in high school. If I remember right, it got a little crazy at the end, but most shows do. I enjoyed it at the beginning at least. It was nice to be nostalgic this week and to see the show now that I’m older and understand a little more about, well, everything.

Enjoy the comments on this Youtube video, by the way. Most of them are slamming all the military errors on the show.

As I mentioned above, we also watched the latest Spider-Man and it wasn’t my favorite. There were aspects I enjoyed but there were also some heartbreaking aspects that simply brought me down into the dumps.

Friday, after our trip to the restaurant, we watched another Brokenwood Mysteries.


What I’m Writing

I worked on Mercy’s Shore this past week and shared Chapter 2 on Friday.

I did not share much on the blog but hope to this upcoming week. I am working on a Randomly Thinking and maybe a post about our last couple of weeks of homeschooling.

What I’m Listening To

I’ve been listening to CeCe Winan’s Believe For It.

I’ve also been listening to the Matthew West Podcast and a podcast by Life Church and Pastor Craig Groeschel.

The Husband found a new podcast by Phil Rosenthal (creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) and I hope to listen to that this week.

Now it’s your turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 2

Here we are to chapter 2 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.

Book three in the series is currently out on Amazon and will be out on other sites next week.

As always, let me know what you think of the latest chapters and where you think the story should go next in the comments.

Chapter 2

The Spencer Valley Police Department wasn’t a rush of activity like police departments on television. It was three rooms, three desks, two chairs to each desk and one of the rooms was an office that Judi assumed must be Chief Reggie Stoddard’s office. At this time of day, before noon, there were only three people in the office — a secretary sitting at a small table in one corner, the chief leaning back in a creaky, black office chair with a cup of coffee resting on his belly, and Spencer Valley Police Officer Matt McGee.

Matt gestured to the chair across from his desk as he led Judi to his desk under a dim fluorescent light. “Sorry I was pulled away before I could get your statement last night. Unruly customer at the grill and they needed some backup.”

Judi pulled her straight blond hair off her shoulders and into a ponytail as she sat. “Not surprised. We get unruly customers there all the time.” She laid her purse on her lap and sat back in the chair, flinching as it creaked under her. “Is this thing going to break?”

Matt grinned. “Nah. It’s just old. You’ll be fine.” He pulled a notepad from the top desk drawer and laid it on the desk. “So, you started telling me about the accident last night. Let’s pick up from when you were at the stop sign.”

“I looked both ways and he came out of nowhere.” She raised her hands up in front of her. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Did you stop at the stop sign?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Matt quirked an eyebrow. “You either did or didn’t, Judi. Did you come to a complete stop before pulling out?”

Judi sighed, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling for a few seconds. “I stopped for like a few seconds, I guess.” She leaned forward toward the desk. “But I looked both ways. I didn’t see him so he must have really been flying.”

Matt scribbled a few notes. “So, he swerved to miss you and that’s when he hit the tree?”

“Yep. Then he got out, fell to the ground, got up again, and marched straight to my car and let me have it.”

“Mmhmm.”

“What does mmhmm mean?” Judi stretched her neck out to try to see the notepad on the desk in front of Matt. “Does that mean that you’re writing down it was my fault? It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t see him.”

Matt snapped the cover closed on the notepad and laid the pen on top of it, raising a hand. “Just calm down. If you didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign then technically it is your fault, but all that means is your insurance will cover the cost of repairs for Ben’s car.” He stood and walked across to the water cooler behind Judi,  pouring water into a paper cup and handing it to her. “Accidents happen. This could result in a couple of points coming off your license but if you’re careful and don’t let anything like this happen again, you’ll get those points back.”

Judi made a face, taking the cup. “Points? What points? Is driving like football? We score points for driving well?”

Matt paused before sitting down, his eyebrows dipping as he studied her. “No. Well, sort of. I mean, you have six points on your license and certain driving offenses can result in you losing those points. If you lose all six, then you lose your license.” He sat back down, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. “No one has ever explained this to you?”

Judi tapped her index finger against her chin and pushed her bottom lip out. “I think Dad said something about it to me one time, but I wasn’t really listening.”

Matt laughed, pushing his hands back through his hair and letting his arm come to rest across the back of his chair. “Well, now you know.”

Judi could see why everyone in town liked Matt so much He was a genuinely nice guy, even if he was probably going to write down that she caused the accident. He’d been a good guy in high school too, so it was nice to see he hadn’t changed.

She slid her gaze over his forearms and up to his biceps as he pushed the notepad to the side and reached for his coffee mug.

He wasn’t too hard on the eyes either. Liz Cranmer was lucky to have him as her boyfriend. Or was it fiancé? Judi wasn’t sure what their status was at this point, other than they were an item and some of the women in town didn’t like that.

“So, what did Ben say?” she asked, tapping her fingernails against the side of her purse.

Matt took a sip from the mug. “Haven’t talked to him yet. He was out by the time I got to the hospital, as you know, and when I called this morning, they said he still hadn’t woken up yet. Hope he’s going to be okay. He took a huge hit on the head out there.”

Judi slipped a small jar of strawberry flavored lip balm from her purse and began applying it. “Tell me about it. He was dripping blood all over and all that yelling wasn’t helping any either.” She popped the lip palm back in the center pocket and stood, looping the strap over her shoulder. “I’m good to go then?”

“Yep.” Matt stood too. “If I have any more questions, I’ll give you a call. You have a shift at the grill this afternoon?”

Judi gestured toward her white t-shirt and black jeans. “However could you tell?” She rolled her eyes. “I wish Lonny didn’t have a dress code. This outfit is so boring and depressing. I need some color in my life, you know?”

Matt smiled. “Yes, I know. You’ll have to make up for it on the days you’re not working.”

Matt told her to have a good day and she thanked him with a tinge of sarcasm before heading to her car. Inside she slid the key into the ignition and pulled out to head to Lonny’s Bar and Grill two miles outside of town.

Her phone rang and she tapped accept button and the speaker button with the phone still on the front seat.

“Judeeee! I can’t believe you finally answered.”

She immediately wished she had checked the caller ID before accepting the call.

“Selina, hey. How are you?”

“Good, except I’m missing you. Where have you been?! I’ve been trying to call you for days! I thought you were run over by a tractor or something.”

Run over by a tractor? Really?

“I’m fine. Just been busy at work.”

Selina giggled. “I still can’t believe you’re a waitress. You always said that was beneath you.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Selina. We have to do what we have to do to make a living.”

“Come on, Jude. You aren’t really going to stay in that little dinky town, are you? You always said you hated it there. Come back to me. I’ve got tickets for Hamilton this weekend and reservations at La Grenouille. Everyone is going to be there.”

A chill shivered through Judi. “Everyone?”

“Well, not Jeff of course. You know that. I haven’t spoken to him since you told me about what he tried.”

“I just need a little more time,” Judi said. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I don’t feel like I can just go back to the way things were right now.”

“What do you even do down there in Nowhereville? Are there any clubs?”

“Not locally, no. But there is one about an hour from here.” Judi knew she should tell her friend there was a reason she wasn’t visiting that club, but she didn’t have the mental energy for it right now. Plus, she was pulling into the parking lot of the grill, and she was already late.

“Hey, Sel, I’ve to get into the grill. I’ll call you back later, okay?”

She hung up and hurried into the grill, sliding the phone into her purse, which she tossed over a hook in the kitchen. Reaching for her apron she hooked it quickly, hoping Lonny wouldn’t notice her coming in.

“Lambert!”

Wishful thinking.

“You’re late! Again!”

“Or I’m just early for tomorrow’s shift!” She called over her shoulder as she kept moving toward the dining room.

“Table four is waiting for you,” her co-worker Hannah Larkin said as Judi reached for a menu and an order pad.

Judi started for the table while looking down in her apron pocket for a pen. When she looked up her heart sank. She turned on her heel and walked back to Hannah. “You take him.”

Hannah shook her head. “Oh, no way. I’m not taking him. You’re the one he always asks for anyhow.”

Judi pushed the order pad toward Hannah. “You take him, and I’ll work two shifts for you next week.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “No chance. Way too handsy for me.”

Judi blew out a breath and turned back toward the table. “You can do this, Judi,” she mumbled under her breath as she walked. “It’s just a job.”

Just a job waiting on the table of the guy she’d made out with a few weeks before she hit rock bottom. The guy who later almost led to her sister’s death.

She stood next to the table, pen tip against the pad. “Okay, Brad. What is it today?”

Brad Tanner flashed her a toothy grin, one muscular arm draped over the back of the chair. “Hey. There’s my favorite girl. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Right.” Judi placed a hand on her hip and scowled. Her eyes flicked quickly over the black t-shirt pulled tight across his well-toned chest before settling back on his face. “Fancy seeing me here. Where I work. Every day. And where you come almost every day.” She tapped the pen on the pad. “Now what can I get you?”

Ben leaned forward, arms folded on the table. “The usual. With a root beer.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “What? No beer?”

“Nope.” He smirked. “I quit.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “And I’m Queen Elizabeth.”

Brad leaned back again in the chair, the smirk fading. “I did.” A somber expression softened his features. “I quit.”

Judi scribbled the words burger, fries, and root beer on the pad. “Okay. If you say so.”

Brad’s fingers encircled her wrist as she turned to leave, stopping her. “I did. Actually, that’s one reason I wanted you to wait on me today. You still going to those meetings?”

Judi pulled her hand away. Brad wasn’t known for being forthcoming. She wasn’t sure she was ready to believe him. Six months ago, she’d come back to the area to try to figure out her life. Brad had complicated her return first by taking her to clubs where she’d drowned her pain and memories in alcohol, and then almost killing her older sister.

“Who told you I was going to any meetings?” Judi asked, eying Brad suspiciously.

 He shrugged. “Troy told me you turned him down for a party a few weeks ago. You never turn down a party. I knew something was up and followed you out of here one night. I saw you go into the meeting.”

She placed a hand on her hip. “Why didn’t you come in? You could use it too you know.”

He folded his arms across his chest, “Yeah, I do. That’s why I’m asking you now.”

She still wasn’t sure she believed him, but . . . “If you’re serious, we meet every Thursday at 7.”

She turned toward the kitchen to place his order before he could respond.

Did she really want Brad at the meeting, listening to her talk about how far she’d fallen? A small laugh came from her as she keyed the order in. It wasn’t like Brad didn’t know how far she’d fallen. They’d fallen together part of that time.

Hannah bumped her hip against her as she walked by. “When you get a break tell me what happened with the lawyer. Is he going to sue you, or what?”

Judi shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. He says he isn’t anyhow.”

“How’s his head?”

“Not sure,” Judi answered. “Haven’t talked to anyone about him today and he was out of it when I left last night.”

Hannah scooped up a tray and headed toward the dining room. “Fill me in on the rest later.”

Judi headed toward the kitchen, thinking about the night before. When the morphine had finally knocked Ben out in that hospital bed Judi had been relieved. She already had his reassurance he wasn’t going to sue her for the accident so there was no reason for her to wait around any more.

If she’d been like her older, sweeter, and more caring sister, Ellie, she would have stuck around to make sure his injuries weren’t serious.

Judi wasn’t Ellie, though, so she’d shrugged her shoulders and taken off for her apartment where she’d fallen asleep on the couch with a carton of moose tracks ice cream. It was a scene far removed from how she used to spend her nights in the city. The fact she was back in her tiny hometown of Spencer instead of still living in the city surprised even her.

When she’d first left Spencer shortly after high school, she’d vowed never to return.

Spencer was way too slow and way too backward for her. At least that’s how she’d felt until the town she’d once despised became her safe haven from a life turned upside down.

Her sister had been right, much to her embarrassment. She couldn’t keep going at the speed she’d been going in the city without eventually hitting a brick wall.

That brick wall had been in the form of Jeff Brock who’d tried to ignore her “no” to his “yes” one night in his apartment.

“Judi, these two go to table six, this one to table eight.” The voice of the cook cut into her thoughts.

She carried the plates to the tables and headed back to the kitchen for Brad’s lunch, placing it on his table quickly and then turning to wait on another customer. The less time she spent with Brad, the better. She wished she hadn’t spent any time with him at all in her past.

“Judi, hello.” The older gentleman sitting at the table with two other men smiled as she handed him a menu.

Her day didn’t seem to be getting any better. First Brad and now Ben’s dad. Maxwell Oliver, Bedford County’s District Attorney. She had no idea who his lunch guests were, and she didn’t want to know. They were most likely all lawyers and lawyers put her on edge.

“I never got the chance to ask you if you were okay last night,” Maxwell said.

Judi shrugged. “Oh, I was fine. I hit my brakes hard but didn’t get hurt in any way.” She should ask about Ben. She really didn’t want to be any more involved than she already was though. Still, she was trying to be a better person so . . .

“How’s Ben doing?”

“The ankle is broken, he has a fairly severe concussion but he should be okay in a couple of days.”

“That’s good to hear.” She tapped her pen on the pad. That was as much as she wanted or needed to know at this point. “So, what can I get everyone?”

She took the men’s orders, turned, and hoped, yet again, that she’d make it out of this accident situation without being sued. Of all the people’s cars she could have almost slammed into in this county and it had to be the car of the District Attorney’s son. The district attorney’s son and a well-known jerk from her high school.

After her shift, she leaned against the side of her car next to Hannah, who was lighting a cigarette.

“So, the lawyer is the son of the county DA?”

Judi nodded and sipped from her water bottle. Hannah offered her the cigarette, and she shook her head. “That’s one vice I never picked up. The other ones were bad enough.”

Hannah blew a puff of smoke out and grinned. “What I really want to know is if the lawyer is cute.”

Judi made a face. “Cute, yes, but he’s also a total jerk. I went to the same high school as him. He dumped his really nice girlfriend before he left for college so he could go out with this stuck-up girl who everyone knew was easy.”

Hannah winced. “Ouch. Sounds like a real piece of work.” She tossed the cigarette onto the ground and pushed it into the dirt with the tip of her sneaker. “But what’s he like now? Is he single?”

Judi rolled her eyes and laughed. “I have no idea, Hannah. I’m not interested anyhow. If you are you can find out. All I care about is keeping him from suing me.” She opened the door and tossed the empty water bottle into the passenger seat. “I have to go. I’m supposed to meet my sponsor for a coffee before I head home.”

“Alright, have a good night.” Hannah pushed off of the car and pushed her cellphone into her back pocket. “Judi.” She touched Judi’s arm and Judi turned to face her. “I’m proud of you, you know. We haven’t known each other very long, but I think it’s great that you’re working hard to get your life together. If you ever need anyone to talk to if you — you know, get tempted? Just let me know, okay?”

Judi hugged Hannah briefly. “Thank you, Hannah. That means a lot.”

And it did mean a lot, but as Judi slid behind the steering wheel she also felt the pressure of Hannah’s comments heavy on her shoulders. What if she couldn’t do it? What if she fell back into the trap of using alcohol as a crutch again? What if she went back to her flippant, selfish ways and disappointed not only her family but herself?

None of those scenarios were something she wanted to entertain as a possibility.

Book news: Beauty From Ashes out on Amazon

The ebook for Beauty From Ashes, the third book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles, is out today on Amazon and will be available on other sites at the end of the week.

The book is 99 cents through the end of the week and even better? The first two books in the series are also 99 cents. Whoot!

Here is a description of the book for those not familiar with it:

27-year-old Liz is a bit lost, trapped in a prison of shame after becoming pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. Well, technically ex-boyfriend. Now she is a single mother who feels like the whole town, or at least her church-going parents, view her as a trashy woman with no morals. That’s not what she used to think of herself as but — could they all be right? And if they all think that, what about God?

53-year-old Ginny Jeffries has hit a snag of her own in life. She hit the snag a couple of years ago, in fact, and now she’s still stuck on that snag, with no sign of moving forward. Her husband, Stan, hasn’t noticed her in at least a year, maybe longer, her job as the town’s library director has become mundane and stagnant, and her youngest daughter is having some kind of identity crisis. Pile on the return of her ex-boyfriend from high school to town and she’s about to collapse under the weight of it all.
Can the two women figure out their chaotic, confusing lives together?

Links to buy the books:

The Farmer’s Daughter: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08TVHHL4B

Harvesting Hope: https://www.amazon.com/Harvesting-Hope-Spencer-Valley-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B094M615GK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Beauty From Ashes: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09T2P69XV

If you enjoy the book and would like to review it, you can do so at the following places:

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09T2P69XV

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60599967-beauty-from-ashes?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=fb1J5HBdtW&rank=1

Bookbub:https://www.bookbub.com/books/beauty-from-ashes-the-spencer-valley-chronicles-by-lisa-r-howeler

Or you can share a review on your blog or social media as well.

If you would like to use any of my graphics and would like me to email them to you, let me know and I can do so. As always, thanks to all my blog readers who have supported my writing either by reading the chapters on the blog and commenting or purchasing the books and recommending them to others.

Paperbacks of the book will be available within the week.

Sunday Bookends: Happy Mother’s Day, C.J. Box survives my test, and waiting on warmer weather

Welcome to Sunday Bookends where I ramble about what I’ve been reading, doing, watching, writing and listening to.

And first, Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers!


What I/We’ve Been Reading

I finished Open Season by C.J. Box Friday and my fingernails suffered a bit from the tension. It is the first book in the Joe Pickett series and also the book they based the new show Joe Pickett on Paramount Plus on. There are currently twenty-some books in the Joe Pickett series. Joe is a game warden in northern Wyoming who apparently always finds himself in the middle of some sort of crime.

You know you’re completely invested in a book when you text your husband at work and tell him that a certain person in the book better die a seriously gruesome death for the crimes they committed, or you are never reading another of this author’s books again.

I won’t spoil the book, but I will say that I was satisfied enough with the ending that I’ll most likely read another by C.J. Box in the future. I’ll need a palate cleanser though so I am probably going to pick up a romantic comedy this week to read in between my other books – or I might just continue Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain which has enough humor in it to cleanse my mind off the sadness our world has to offer at times.

My brother asked me if Open Season was as good as The Walt Longmire Mysteries and I can say that no, I don’t feel it’s quite as good. I’m still a bigger fan of Craig Johnson in the end, even though I will read more Box in the future.

This week I will also be reading an Advanced Readers Copy of Walking in Tall Weeds by Robin W. Pearson. The book comes out in July. I really enjoyed her first two, A Long Time Comin’ (A Christy Award winner) and ‘Til I Want No More.

Here is the description of Walking in Tall Weeds:


From award-winning author Robin W. Pearson comes a new Southern family drama about one family who discovers their history is only skin-deep and that God’s love is the only family tie that binds.

Paulette and Fred Baldwin find themselves wading through a new season of life in Hickory Grove, North Carolina. Their only son, McKinley, now works hundreds of miles away, and the distance between the husband and wife feels even farther. When their son returns home, his visit dredges up even more conflict between Fred and Paulette.

McKinley makes it no secret that he doesn’t intend to follow in his father’s footsteps at George & Company Fine Furnishings or otherwise. Fred can’t quite bring himself to accept all his son’s choices, yet Paulette is determined McKinley will want for nothing, least of all a mother’s love and attention—which her own skin color cost her as a child. But all her striving leaves Fred on the outside looking in.

Paulette suspects McKinley and Fred are hiding something that could change the whole family. Soon, she’s facing a whirlwind she never saw coming, and the three of them must dig deep to confront the truth. Maybe then they’ll discover that their history is only skin-deep while their faith can take them right to the heart of things.

Thanks to a very busy work week last week, the husband is still reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Went Out the Window.

What’s Been Occurring

Thanks to the fact our weather can’t make up its mind, my sinuses are still suffering and I’ve been fairly miserable. If it doesn’t clear up this week, I am going to head to the doctor, but I have a feeling it will clear up as soon as we have a few days in a row of warm temps.

Last week we had a couple of warmer days, but they were still cloudy days. By Friday morning it was cold and rainy again but for some reason my nose had cleared some and I was breathing better. For the morning at least. All the stuffiness came back later in the day and then again with vengeance yesterday and today.

It was warm enough one day for Little Miss to splash some water on her feet after she watered the tulips that came up.

On Friday when my nose was open, Scout curled up on my chest for 45 minutes and it was wonderful! She snuggled against my arm and fell asleep, like when she was a tiny kitten, and I needed breakfast, but I didn’t want to move.

Earlier in the week, Little Miss and I went for a walk down the street and visited with our neighbor. All of our pets followed us at least half way down —

We celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom yesterday because my dad has a minor procedure on Monday and can’t eat today. We didn’t think it would be nice to cook and eat a full meal while he was only allowed to sip water. We made our Mother’s Day dinner very simple with hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.

What We watched/are Watching

Last week I finished up The Larkins, which is about a quirky farming family in the 50s from Yorkshire, England. It’s based on books by M.E. Bates.

The husband and I also watched more Brokenwood Mysteries, an old Perry Mason from the original show in the 60s, and another Shakespeare and Hathaway. Burt Reynolds had a guest appearance on the one we watched and his range was not very good at that time.

Yesterday I watched My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carol Lombarde with my parents.


What I’m Writing

Last week I shared a hodge-podge of blog posts, about a variety of subjects.

I also worked on Mercy’s Shore but not as much as I wish I had. Hopefully, I will get a chance to write more on it this week.

What I’m Listening To

I listened to Matthew West almost all week mainly while I struggled with the breathing issues. His songs are so perfect for easing my anxiety. Especially this one:


I needed to sing this song a lot throughout the week.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. What have you been doing, watching, reading, listening to or writing? Let me know in the comments or leave a blog post link if you also write a weekly update like this.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 1

As you can tell, I’ve decided to try blogging my next book.

I can’t guarantee I’ll have chapters every week, but we will see how it goes.

As always, this will be a work in progress, chapters will not have been proofed and at the end, I’ll create a book that will be self-published.

The last book I presented this way comes out on Amazon/Kindle on Tuesday and I have set the price at 99 cents to allow my blog readers a chance to get it cheap. If you prefer to have a free copy in exchange for a review, leave me your email address or send it to me at lisahoweler@gmail.com and I’ll send you a Bookfunnel link with a copy of the book.

I hope you enjoy the first chapter of Ben Oliver and Judi Lambert’s story. As always, comments are welcome.

Chapter 1

If mentally unhinged and obnoxious had been Ben Oliver’s type Judi Lambert’s fluttering eyelashes and head tilt might have worked to calm him

But neither of those things interested him, which was why his heart was racing and a vein had popped out on the left side of his neck.

He gestured aggressively toward the tree his BMW was now wrapped around.  “You didn’t see the stop sign?”

Judi twisted a strand of straight, blonde hair around a finger and avoided eye contact. “Yeah, I saw it, I just —”

“You just what? Thought the stop sign was a suggestion?”

She blew her gum into a bubble, popped it between her lips, and sighed. “Calm down. I’m sure your car is —”

“Totaled, Judi. My car is totaled.” He tapped the screen of his cell phone. “My car is totaled because you thought you could beat me through the intersection.”

Holding the phone to his ear, he paced in place, waiting for someone to pick up.

“Hello, Attorney Ben Oliver’s office.”

“Cindi, hey, yeah. It’s me. I’ve been in an accident.”

“Oh my gosh, Ben. Are you okay?” The concerned voice of his middle-aged secretary sent a flurry of frustration rushing through him.

“I’m fine. I just need you to call Judge Stanton’s office and tell him I’m not going to be able to make court today.”

“No, problem. Should I call anyone else for you?”

There was no one else to call, other than his parents, and he could talk to them later.

“No. Thanks. See you later this afternoon.”

He slid his thumb across the screen of the phone and turned back to what was left of the car he’d purchased last year to congratulate himself on the opening of his own law office.

No, the office wasn’t in a big city, like he had thought it would be. It was located in a town thirty minutes from where he’d grown up in rural Pennsylvania. It was a law office, though, and it was his.

When he turned from inspecting the car, the lanky blond standing across from him slid her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and pushed out her chest at the same time she pushed out her bottom lip. Behind her was the red convertible she’d been driving, completely unharmed, of course.

She tipped her head to one side. “I’m sure we can work something out, right?”

No way. Was she seriously trying to seduce him?

She winked.

Yes, she was trying to seduce him. Luckily, he knew what a train wreck she’d turned into after high school. He wasn’t about to fall for her overplayed act.

“Work what out?” The more he yelled, the more his head throbbed. “My car is destroyed because of you.” He tossed his hands in the air. “There’s nothing to be worked out!” He pointed a finger at her. “You better hope your insurance covers this.”

She held her hands up in front of her. “Dude, calm down. You’re bleeding from the head. It can’t be good for you to be screaming like this.”

Ben practically growled as he took a step toward her, wincing as pain sliced through his ankle. “I know, I’m bleeding!” He spoke through gritted teeth. “You don’t think I know I’m bleeding?! My head bounced off the windshield when I swerved to miss your car!”

He pressed his handkerchief to his forehead as blood dripped into his eye with one hand, dialing 911 on his cellphone with the other.

“Yes, I need to report an accident,” he answered when the dispatcher asked what his emergency he was.

“Location?” the dispatcher asked.

He swiveled to look for the road signs at the intersection but when he stopped moving the rest of the world didn’t.

“Sir, can you give me a location?”

Black encroached at the edges of Ben’s sight, and he bent forward, propping his hands on his knees. The phone clattered to the dirt surface of the road.

“Sir? Are you okay? Sir?”

When he came to, Judi was leaning over him with his phone against her ear.

“Yes. He’s opening his eyes now. How far out are they?” She rolled her eyes. “Okay. I’ll try but he’s very stubborn.”

Judi held the phone to the base of her throat, slightly above her cleavage, still leaning over him.

“Ben, the dispatcher says you need to stay still until the ambulance gets here. It shouldn’t be long, ‘Kay?”

Kay? Yeah – kay. Where else was he going to go? His head was pounding, pain was shooting up through his ankle, and every time he tried to open his eyes the world — and Judi — spun into a whirl of colors. He clenched his eyes closed against the pulsating agony sliding back and forth from the front to the back of his head.

The next thirty minutes was a blur, voices fading in and out, images merging together, lights bright in his eyes. He didn’t know how much time had passed when the world came into focus again and the beeping of monitors drowned out his muddled thoughts.

“There he is. I think he’s coming to.”

What was Judi doing in his bedroom? This could not be a good sign. “Hey, buddy. How you feeling?”

Wait. He wasn’t in his bedroom. Thank God. That meant Judi wasn’t either.

A deep voice boomed across his thoughts. “I know it’s family only. I’m his father.”

Ben struggled to open his eyes, blinked in bright fluorescent, and squinted. He searched the room of hospital equipment, nurses, and Judi to find his father’s face etched with concern.

“Dad?”

“You’re awake. Thank God.”

His dad’s voice was thick with emotion. He stepped past the nurse and stood at Ben’s bedside, reaching out a large hand to clasp his son’s shoulder.

Ben closed his eyes briefly, trying to remember how he’d ended up here, IV needles sticking out of his arm, nodes glued to his forehead and chest. A vision of his car wrapped around a tree filled his mind and his eyes flew open, his gaze falling on Judi again.

It all came back to him, including the anger.

“What is she still doing here? She didn’t do enough by making me wreck my car?”

His dad looked at him through disappointed dark green eyes, lowering his voice. “Ben, she’s been waiting here for you to wake up. She easily could have left. I’ll cut you some slack since you’re injured, but I hope to see a little more kindness when your head is clearer.”

In his father’s words, Ben felt the sting of the reminder that he would never be as good, or as kind, as Maxwell Oliver.

How did his dad even know he was here? He certainly hadn’t called him. Then again, maybe he had. His brain was a little fuzzy on the last — how long had he been here?

“I need to call the office. I have a client coming in at 2.”

A smile tilted his dad’s mouth up. “It’s well after two, kid. Cindy already called and rescheduled. You need to lay back and relax. I’m going to find a doctor and see what the verdict is on that head injury of yours.”

With his father gone, Ben took the time to look around the room, his gaze settling once again on Judi, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, dark red lipstick freshly reapplied, finely manicured nails showcasing pink nail polish as she held her phone and texted furiously. She was sitting in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing.

“Go home, Judi. I’m fine.”

She didn’t look up from her phone. “I have to stay. Matt McGee wants my statement about the accident. He said he’d meet me here.”

Ben shifted up on the hospital bed, looked down at his arm with the IV, his white button-up shirt stained with blood, and his khakis with the knees dark from when he’d fallen in the mud climbing out of the car.

Maybe it was the painkiller running into his bloodstream, maybe it was the exhaustion or the head injury, but a laugh came out of him.

“And what are you going to tell Officer McGee? The truth? That you completely ignored a stop sign and drove straight through the intersection and in front of me?”

Judi looked up, pursing her lips, and studying Ben for a few minutes before speaking. “Are you going to sue me?”

“Excuse me?”

“Just let me know if you’re going to sue me. I’ve got tons of bills already, okay? I need to know if I’m going to have even more to pay if you sue me.”

He sighed and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. “No, Judi. I am not going to sue you. The worse I’m going to do is have my insurance company send a claim to your insurance company.”

“Okay. Well, you’re a lawyer so, I wasn’t sure what you’d do.”

Ben made a face as he lowered his hands. “Lawyers don’t sue everyone just because we know how, Judi.”

Judi shrugged a shoulder and looked back at her phone, tapping her finger across the screen. “Just checking.”

“Mr. Oliver. How are we doing?”

He heard the voice before he saw the doctor who swept into the room. He tried to follow the imposing figure with his eyes, but they wouldn’t focus so he tipped his head back against the pillow instead.

The doctor flicked a light into his eyes quickly then held up a finger. “Can you follow my finger?”

Ben tried but his eyes kept going where he didn’t want them to.

The doctor dropped his hand and glanced over his shoulder at Maxwell, who Ben noticed had stepped back into the exam room. “That’s pretty consistent with what I suspected.”

“What’s the verdict then, Jim?” Maxwell asked, arms folded across his chest, expression serious.

“Pretty clear grade three concussion. I’d like to do an MRI to confirm.”

Ben tried to focus on his father and the doctor as they conversed but moving his gaze back and forth proved to be too much to handle and he eventually closed his eyes.

He listened to the conversation, not in the least surprised his father knew the doctor by his first name. It seemed like there wasn’t anyone in this smalltown Maxwell didn’t know.

“For now, I think we should keep him overnight for observation and if all the tests come back normal, he should be good to go in a couple of days.”

Ben opened his eyes, squinting in his father’s direction. “You two are aware that I’m right here and an adult with all my facilities?”

Maxwell laughed. “Sorry about that son. Jim and I went to high school together. I was already talking to him outside about your head injury, so we were simply continuing the conversation.”

Ben tried to nod, then winced. “Okay, well, listen, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I don’t want to stay here overnight. I have a court case in the morning and —“

“There’ll be no court for you for a while, kid.” His father’s stern voice overlapped his. “In addition to that head injury, Jim’s pretty sure your ankle is broken. You’re going to need some time to heal up.”

Maxwell pushed his hands into his front pant pockets and tipped his head down, looking over his gold-rimmed glasses. “Listen, I know it’s going to be hard for you not to be on the move, but I have a feeling you won’t be cleared to drive for at least a couple of weeks so I think you should stay with me and your mom while you recover.”

“Dad, come on, that’s —“

“Probably a good idea,” the doctor said. “We’ll see what the MRI shows but even if it doesn’t show anything worse, your head is going to need some time to heal. Driving could put you and others in danger. I’m going to call a nurse and have her finish cleaning out that gash and then we’ll sew it up for you.” He turned to Maxwell and held out his hand. “Max, good to see you.” He turned his head toward Ben while still holding Maxwell’s hand. “You’ve got a good dad here, Ben. I hope you know that.”

Ben leaned his head back again, eyelids drooping. “Yeah. I do. I certainly do.”

Sleep overcame him a few minutes later and when he woke up, he was in a hospital room, alone except for a nurse pressing buttons on a blood pressure machine next to the bed.

He patted his chest, then reached toward the bedstand next to the bed. “Is my phone around here?”

The nurse nodded toward the bedside table. “Over there charging. Your dad said you’d want it when you woke up.”

“How long have I been out?”

The nurse smiled as she turned to leave the room. “Sometime since yesterday. The morphine hit you hard.”

Ben winced as he pushed the button on the side of the bed, lifting the top so he could sit up. His head and ankle were throbbing. He glanced under the blanket and saw a temporary cast on the ankle, which probably meant it was broken after all.

“Great. Just what I need.”

He reached for the phone, wondering how many calls he’d missed while he was out.

Ten all together. Two were from clients, one was from his secretary. The last one was from the Spencer Valley Police Department, which was most likely regarding his statement about the accident.

His finger hovered over the last voice mail. He didn’t recognize the number, but the phone had already transcribed the first few lines of the message and it had done a horrible job. All he could make out that made sense was parents and birthday. Whose parents and whose birthday?

He pressed play on the message, groaning softly when the familiar voice started speaking.

“My parents sent you an invitation to Amelia’s party and I just want you to know that they sent it, not me. I don’t want you there. One call a year on her birthday doesn’t make you a father, Ben. So, just . . . just ignore the invitation.”

Muffled voices followed. Angie must have forgotten to hang up the phone. Ben heard what sounded like Angie’s mother in the background, then it was Angie again. “Yes, I did call him.  . . Because I didn’t ask you to contact him. . . . I understand he’s her father, but he’s never wanted to be in her life before, why would he now?”

The voicemail ended abruptly, and he sat staring at the screen for a few seconds, his thumb hovering over the delete button.

Taking a deep breath, he moved his thumb away from the button. He was under the influence of some heavy-duty painkillers. Maybe he’d better listen to the voicemail again when was more alert.

Then again —

His thumb moved back to the delete button and he tapped it.

Listening again wouldn’t make any of what Angie had said less true. He hadn’t even seen the invitation yet, but if he did, he knew what to do with it. Toss it in the trashcan like he had with all the other invitations he’d been sent for the last four years.