Special Fiction … Wednesday? Mercy’s Shore Final Chapters

Umm…whoops! I completely forgot I had promised to post the final chapters of the book Sunday night so here they are now.

As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite it, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

If you would prefer to read the book when it is all complete, you can pre-order a copy HERE on Amazon. It releases on January 31, 2023. There is also a link to the previous chapters HERE.

Chapter 36

Judi snatched the phone off her bedside table. So much for sleeping in this Saturday.

The caller ID said Evan, though, so she didn’t mind losing a couple hours of sleep.

“Hey, you.”

“Hey, you,” she said back, a broad smile tugging at her mouth at the sound of excitement in his voice.

“I’m back in town for a week, maybe more. I was wondering if you’d like to meet me out at the Tanner’s new pumpkin farm today. Maybe around noon?”

She rolled on her stomach, propping herself on her elbows. “That sounds very nice. I wasn’t sure you’d want to be around me again.”

Evan laughed. “You got all those flowers I sent, right? Of course I still want to be around you. I thought maybe I could buy you a donut and a cup of apple cider. Plus, it’d be somewhere  — um —neutral.”

She agreed to meet him at noon and spent the next two hours looking for the perfect autumn outfit. She spent another half an hour looking at herself in the mirror, adjusting her makeup, brushing her hair, then wiping some of the makeup off. Letting out a huff of breath she blew her bangs out of her eyes and shook her head in resignation.

“Don’t overthink it, Lambert. Just go.”

But she did overthink it. All the way to the pumpkin farm and in the parking lot, looking at herself in the rearview mirror. When a face appeared at her window out of the corner of her eye she screamed, then burst into laughter as she watched Evan lean back and laugh loudly.

“You jerk.” She laughed as she climbed out of the car and gently slapped his upper arm with the back of her hand.

“Sorry. That was just too funny.” His smile made her heart lurch. “You look beautiful, by the way. You don’t have to keep fixing your hair.”

Warmth spread up from her chest to her face. “Thank you.”

He tipped his head sideways to the entrance behind the store. “Care for a walk? I think the cider and donuts are back there.”

“Sure. That sounds nice.”

Leaves crunched under their feet as they walked. Judi slid her hands in her sweater pockets, her gaze drifting across a pumpkin field to her left, filled with pumpkins but also children swarming the pumpkins, loading them into carts, or carrying them to their parents. Beyond the pumpkin field were drying stalks of corn and a sign marking the entrance to the maze. Haybales were positioned at various places around the walkway, and she breathed in the scent of the drying hay, remembering her time growing up on the farm. During her teenage years, she avoided barn chores, using any excuse not to help with the milking, or shovel manure, or feed the calves. She was glad her dad had her sister and young men he’d hired to help him in the barn now, but a part of her did miss that time, a much more innocent time.  

“How’s work going?”

The question was one that used to cause her stomach to clench. In the last few weeks, though, she’d helped Ben draw up wills, help close sales for properties, and watched Ben calmly walk a woman through a divorce from an abusive husband.  Working for Ben gave her more of an opportunity to help others than any other job she’d ever had. She felt like she was actually contributing to society instead of floating through it.

“It’s going well, actually. I still don’t really know what I am doing, but Ben’s been patient with me.”

Evan ordered them apple cider and donuts at the small concession stand and motioned toward a wooden bench off to one side. “How are you doing otherwise?” he asked and she noticed he positioned himself a good distance from her as they sat, practically on the other end of the bench.

“I’m doing okay, really.” She sipped her cider. “I’m sure Ellie filled you in on some things.”

He shook his head once. “No. She said it wasn’t her place to and I respect that.”

She sipped more of the apple cider, enjoying the tartness on her tongue as she considered what to say next. “I’m sorry, Evan. I don’t know why I reacted that way. Well, I do, but I shouldn’t have with you.”

He laid an arm across the back of the bench, watching her as if waiting for her to continue. Concern etched his face.

She cleared her throat. “One night a year and a half ago, a little more, a guy tried to get further with me than I wanted. I was able to get away from him but another woman, a girl really, wasn’t as lucky.” Tears pricked at her eyes. “I don’t know why he let me go and not her and maybe other women, but he did.” She laughed softly, a tear slipping down her cheek. “Of course, my knee to his groin probably didn’t do much to make him want to try to keep me there.” She drew the back of a finger across the tear. “I guess I didn’t realize how much it had all affected me. I tried to laugh it off, drink it off, and run away but it seems like it all has been catching up with me lately and hit me full force that night with you.”

He winced and reached a hand toward her, but then pulled it back again, closing his fingers into a fist briefly before letting the hand drop to the back of the bench again. “Judi, I’m sorry. If I had known, I never would have been so forward.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Evan. It was me. I tried to move faster than I was ready that night. I wanted to forget everything, and I guess I thought I could erase all the memories of him by being with you. I’m the one that is sorry.” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth briefly. “And embarrassed.”

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You couldn’t control that reaction, as much as you wanted to. I understand.” A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Well, I don’t totally understand, because I’m not you and didn’t experience what you did, but I can see how that could have triggered some negative memories.”

Judi reached out and laid her hand on his. “I just don’t want you to think that you somehow triggered anything negative. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Evan kept his arm over the back of the bench and sat the cup of cider on the seat next to him. “What happened to this guy? Did you report him or anything?”

She pushed a strand of hair back from her face and hooked it behind her ear. “No, I never did. He’s going to trial for the other woman he assaulted, though. He’s somehow out on bail and called me a few weeks ago.”

Evan’s eyebrows lifted. “He called you?”

“Yeah and he doesn’t want me to tell anyone what happened, but I’m going to. This girl’s lawyer called me a while ago. Ben and I talked to him yesterday.” She drew in a shaky breath, startled by the emotion gripping her. “I talked to the girl a few days ago. Her experience was so similar to mine, from everything he said to everything he did.” She closed her eyes briefly against the tears. “I knew she wasn’t lying.”

When she opened her eyes, Evan’s jaw had tightened, and he swallowed hard.

 “I’m scared,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “But I’m going to be with her in the courtroom. I don’t want her to feel like it’s her against him. It will be us against him.”

Evan leaned toward her, then leaned back again. “I’ll be there for you if you want me to be. I really want to hold you right now, but I don’t want to touch you unless you want me to. I talked to a therapist friend of mine and she said I shouldn’t try to make the first move in any way. I should let you tell me when it is okay for me to physically be near you.”

A smile pulled at her mouth. “You talked to a therapist about me?”

Crimson colored his cheeks. “Yeah, but I mean, I didn’t tell her your name or anything. I just told her a little bit about the situation and asked how I should handle it because I care about you and — yeah —” He rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “I just told her I want to pursue a relationship with you, so I want to know how to help you heal from all of this.” He cleared his throat. “That’s why I thought it might be good to meet here where it’s a little more neutral.”

He cared enough to talk to a therapist about how to talk to her? Was this for real?

A small laugh came from her throat. “Evan McGee, I think that you really are as sweet as I’ve heard your brother is.”

He made a face. “Ew. Don’t compare me to Saint Matt. I’m not that good.”

She moved closer to him on the bench, touching a hand to his cheek. “Well, you are very close and that’s not a bad thing.” Leaning closer she lightly touched her mouth to his. “Thank you.”

He grinned, tipping his head closer to hers. “You’re welcome. And listen, we can take this slow and just hang out. We can go out to public places, or have friends over when we watch movies, or —”

She slid her hand to the back of his neck and pulled his head down to hers, pressing her mouth to this.

“Thank you,” she whispered several seconds later, her lips grazing his. “All of that sounds really nice. I’m not used to men being so nice to me so it may take me a bit to get used to it.”

He smiled. “That’s fine by me. I’m a patient man.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “Is it okay if I kiss you again?”

She tilted her face toward his and they resumed their kiss, pulling apart a few minutes later when Judi heard a voice call out behind them.

“Oooh! Judi and Evan sitting on a bench, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.”

Judi glowered at Ben. “Bench doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know.”

Ben laughed. “Yeah, I know, but you’re not in a tree.”

Judi glanced at Angie beside Ben. “How about you two? Any k-i-s-s-i-n-ging between you two?”

Ben held up a hand. “That, ma’am, is privileged information.” He gestured toward a hay wagon to the right being pulled by a tractor being driven by Alex. “Anyone care for a hayride? I’m willing to ride with you two, as long as you can keep your hands off each other.”

Judi scoffed and folded her arms across her chest. “With Alex at the helm. I don’t know if I’d feel safe.”

Alex looked over his shoulder and scowled from under his hat. “I heard that, Lambert. Even over this tractor engine, which just shows everyone what a big mouth you have.”

Judi hooked her arm through Angie’s. “Come on, Angie, let’s go find the pumpkin cannons instead. We can pretend we’re shooting them at Ben and Alex.”

“Hey!” Ben cried. “What did I do?”

Evan laughed. “I don’t know, but I’m glad I wasn’t included in that list.”

Judi fell into step with Angie, glancing over her shoulder at Ben and Evan. “You think you two will be able to work things out?”

Angie smiled. “Yeah, I think so. I hope so anyhow. How about you? Will you be sticking around the area for a while?” She winked. “Maybe hanging out with Evan?”

The light feeling in her step and the way her muscles had lost their tension was a foreign, but welcome feeling to Judi.

“Yeah. I think so. I hope so anyhow.”


“Hey, you still coming to dinner tonight at mom’s?”

Judi paused at her car and looked up at Evan, smiling. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I can’t wait to taste her cooking again. I have to do something quick before then, though. Meet you there?”

 “How about I pick you up. Say 5:30?”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

After years of being fiercely independent, she wasn’t lying when she said she would like to be picked up. She’d also been liking Evan being home more in the last two weeks as he started a job with a local construction company.

She turned the music up as she pulled away from her apartment building, wishing the cold temperatures didn’t preclude her from sliding the window down. Half an hour later she pulled into a parking space and checked her hair and make-up, then laughed at herself. She didn’t need to worry about her hair.

She had a feeling he wouldn’t care.

The sanitary smell and squeak of her soles on the newly mopped floor reminded her of where she was and where she was headed. Her chest tightened. Hospitals weren’t her favorite place, and she wasn’t sure what reaction she’d receive.

She asked for his room number and if visitors were allowed at the nurse’s station.

The shades were open. Sunlight poured across his bed. She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders, trying to recapture the confidence she’d once possessed. She pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and sat quickly before she changed her mind.

“Hey, Jer. You’re not looking so great.”

Jerry blinked the one eye free of the bandages, grunted through bruised and scarred lips, and lifted one stitched-up hand. Judi was expecting a rude gesture, but instead, his thumb raised slowly. 

He pointed at the notepad on the small table by the bed. She handed it and a pen to him. After a few long minutes of scrawling, hampered by bandages and fingers that didn’t seem to want to bend, he pushed the pad toward her. The letters were shaky and a couple were missing, but she got the drift.

I owe you more than one. Not a beer. A soda. When I get out of here.

A smile pulled her mouth up and she looked up at him. “You definitely do. How about a root beer float down at that new ice cream place on Main? Be warned, though, I might look light a lightweight, but I can pack it away.”

A raspy laugh came from Jerry and to anyone else it might have been unnerving, but to Judi it was one of the best sounds in the world.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 25

I’m continuing to work on this story to release it as a book in January. As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite it, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 25

“And for Mr. Oliver, the usual.”

Mr. Oliver. Yikes.

Ben cringed at the formality of the server at the coffee shop down the street from his office. He knew Patrick, the young man who had been waiting on him almost every morning for the last year, was affectionately poking fun at him, but the moniker still unnerved him. He wasn’t anywhere near the respect level of the real Mr. Oliver in his life — his dad.

He accepted the cup, the scent of vanilla cinnamon creamer wafting up toward him. What was even happening to him? He’d never used to drink coffee with creamer and now he was getting all fancy and had even asked for a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. Judi had rubbed off on him and he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.

“Thanks, Pat. Have a good day and keep Betty over there in line.”

The sixty-something owner of the café winked at him over her shoulder from where she stood at the end of the counter pouring a cup of coffee into a customer’s mug. “Telling me to keep in line. That’s rich coming from a lawyer.”

He heard the affection in her tone but had to agree. Lawyers weren’t always great at keeping themselves out of trouble either.

Out on the sidewalk he slid his sunglasses on with one hand and looked up at the trees lining Main Street, admiring how greens had been replaced by crisp gold and orange almost overnight.

“Well, isn’t it a small world?”

He looked down at the sound of voice, surprised to see Adam walking toward him carrying a brown paper bag in one arm, hugged against his chest, and a bucket in the other hand.

“Hey, Adam. Officially back, huh?”

Adam set the bucket down and thrust his hand out toward Ben. “Yep. It’s official now. Just waiting for the moving company to deliver the furniture inventory from my shop. Everything else is in the house. It’s not all unpacked or in the right place just yet, but it’s in there.”

“Good to hear it. You guys need any help or has the company got it?”

Adam winced. “Well, to be honest, this company hasn’t been the greatest. I’m a little nervous about them unloading the furniture. I had to watch them like a hawk when they loaded it. I was glad the boys were there to help guide them, but they’ve got a big job three hours away and won’t be here when the truck arrives tomorrow.”

Angie probably wouldn’t like him offering, but —  “Want me to come and help supervise?”

Adam’s eyebrows raised. “Hey, would you? That’d be great and Leona would be glad to cook you some dinner.”

Ben reached for the bag in Adam’s arms, taking it from him. He didn’t like the dark circles under the man’s eyes and the way his shoulders stooped as if he were having trouble holding them up.

“No need for dinner. I’d be glad to help for nothing. What time are they supposed to stop by?”

“Around 3 but it could be later knowing the way they’ve been doing things.”

“Which way is your car?”

Adam gestured down the street. “Just a block down. You don’t need to carry that. I’m sure you’re on your way to work.”

Ben laughed as he turned to walk down the street Adam fell in step with him after picking up the empty bucket again. “I’m my own boss, remember? There’s no one there to scold me if I’m running a little late.”

“That’s a good point.” Adam waved at a man who walked by, then paused as the man reached out a hand and offered a “welcome back.”

He and Ben resumed walking once Adam filled the man in on his arrival, what still needed to be done, and the health of Adam’s mom.

 Adam nodded toward the bag Ben was carrying. “Leona asked for a few things to clean the kitchen. The nurses we hired did the best they could, but the floor needed an extra scrubbing.” He lifted the bucket as they walked. “I needed this for a plumbing project in the bathroom I’m going to need to tackle. That’s what happens when your mom still lives in an old farmhouse.”

They stopped at a blue sedan and Adam opened the back door for Ben to slide the bag in.

“I thank you for your help, Ben and we’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

Not all of them would look forward to seeing him, but, well, that couldn’t be helped right now. Ben turned to head back to his office “See you then.”

“Hey, Ben.”

He turned around again. “Yeah?”

“She asked about you after you left.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that. He knew who Adam was referring to. It certainly wasn’t Angie.  “Oh. She did?”

“Yeah. She wondered where you had gone and asked if you would come play with her again.”

Warmth prickled across Ben’s skin, his throat thickening. “That’s really nice.”

Those three words didn’t convey how hearing his daughter wanted to see him again really made him feel, but he couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say.

After he was in the office, he let out a shaky breath and pulled Amelia’s photo out of the drawer.

He thought back on the night Leona had called him to tell him she’d been born. He hadn’t actually picked up the phone. He’d let it go to voicemail when he saw the caller ID.

“It’s a girl, Ben. She’s beautiful. I hope you’ll be able to meet her one day.”

That’s all Leona had said. He’d never called back, even though he’d wanted to. He’d wanted to run to the hospital and hold Amelia in his arms and forget all the mistakes he’d made. If only it had been that easy.

How could he run into the hospital, ask to hold the little girl he’d rejected and face the woman he’d made go through a pregnancy on her own? He couldn’t. He’d sat in a pew and asked God to forgive him for his mistakes probably 50 times in the last year. And he knew God’s love was as endless as his failings.

That love wouldn’t come as easily from others, though. God would and had forgiven him, but he didn’t expect the same absolution from Angie. He’d never asked for her forgiveness, and he never would. He only hoped that someday she’d allow him to see their daughter, even without it.


“So, it was good?”

Evan looked at Judi across the small table Ellie and Jason had passed down to her a couple of months ago. He’d propped his hands under his chin, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

She gestured to her empty plate as she picked it and her empty glass up and walked to the sink. “Do you see any more on my plate? It was obviously amazing. Where did you even learn to cook like that?”

He followed her, leaning around her to place his own plate and glass in the sink. “Did you forget who my mom is?”

She turned and noticed he hadn’t stepped back like she’d expected him to, leaving him standing dangerously close. “Oh right, of course. Your mom’s food is amazing, especially her desserts.”

A soft laugh came from him, but he still hadn’t stepped back. Instead, he’d propped an arm close to her on the edge of the counter. “Sadly, I didn’t bring any of her desserts.”

She leaned her hip against the counter and folded her arm across her chest. “I don’t need any more dessert after all that ice cream I had earlier.”

Boy, was he close. She could feel the heat coming off him. Or maybe the room had just gotten warmer. Either way she slid to her right, turned, and headed toward the living room. “Want to watch a movie?”

“Yeah. That’d be great. Have one in mind?”

She didn’t and maybe she shouldn’t even try to think of one and instead send him home. “Um . . . maybe a classic?”

He followed her to the living room and sat next to her as she sat on the couch. “How classic? Like black and white classic or 80s classic?”

“I’d prefer 80s. Ellie’s the old black and white movie buff.”

They picked a favorite of Evan’s — The Goonies — and Judi found herself thinking about how she had never sat next to a man and simply watched a movie with him. She shifted to pull her feet under her, then so they were off to one side, then under her again. She kept a foot or so between them at first but during the second adjustment she found herself closer, practically leaning into him, her arm brushing his.

As they laughed and joked about the hairstyles and how young Sean Astin and Josh Brolin looked she forgot about analyzing if she was sitting too close or far away or if she was holding her arms or legs awkwardly.

She didn’t know exactly how it happened, but it felt completely natural when he slid an arm across the back of the couch and absent-mindedly played with her hair. She closed her eyes briefly, enjoying the satisfying feel of his hands in her hair.

Soft lips on her neck opened her eyes and she smiled. “Hey, we’re supposed to be watching a movie.”

“I’m totally watching it,” he whispered against her ear. “But your neck is distracting me.”

“Oh, is it?”

That smell. What was it? It smelled good yet there was something also foreboding about it, an ominous memory connected to it that she couldn’t yet draw to the forefront of her mind. His mouth moved from her neck to her earlobe.  Flashbacks of that night with Jeff fired off in her mind as his mouth slipped to her neck again. In Jeff’s apartment the light from billboards and red neon signs outside had lit up the room. Here it was the light from the TV. She could still remember the smell of Jeff’s cologne, the feel of his hands pushing down.

Her breath quickened and she swallowed hard, trying to bring herself back to the present.

This was stupid. Evan wasn’t Jeff. Evan was good and kind, gentle, caring.

She closed her eyes, turned her head into his kiss. The kiss was soft and welcoming, like before. When his hand slipped to her waist, though, alarms went off again, exploding against the inside of her like mini bombs which hurt as much physically as they did mentally.

Evan was not Jeff but all she could feel were Jeff’s hands on her, his mouth roughly pressed against her hers as he pushed her down on the couch, grabbed at her skirt.

She willed the thoughts away, grabbed the front of Evan’s shirt and kissed him harder, pulling him toward her as she leaned back toward the arm of the couch until he was almost on top of her. She needed to move on. She needed to get what happened with Jeff and Jerry and everything else out of her mind.

You know you’ll give it to me.

Jeff’s voice, dark, cold, and full of arrogance. Why were those words playing over and over in her head? No! She wouldn’t let that memory ruin her time with Evan. She focused on the kiss and on his hand that he’d pushed into her hair.

You’ve been asking for it since we met.

She pulled away from Evan, gasped in a mouthful of air and shoved at his chest as his cologne overwhelmed her. She couldn’t deny it now. The cologne was triggering memories she didn’t want, suffocating her senses, clouding her mind.

“Get off!” She gasped in another mouthful of air, her chest tight. “Get off!”

She pushed hard against Evan’s chest, and he leaned up fast, sitting back on the couch.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?” He reached out, took her hands in his. “You’re trembling, Judi. And pale. Super pale. Talk to me.”

She wrenched her hands out of his and stood. “Just stop!” She stumbled backward, holding a hand to her throat, which felt like it was closing. “Please, leave.”

Evan stood and took a step back toward the door, hands raised, palms out as if in defense. “No problem. I can totally leave, but, Judi — Did I do something wrong?”

She shook her head, pins and needles sliding up her arms now. “No. No. I’m just — can you leave?”

If she was going to pass out, she wanted to do it without an audience.

Evan was clearly bewildered but still nodded and stepped sideways toward the door. “Yeah, sure. If you want me to absolutely, but you’re still really pale and you’re breathing funny. Can I just stand over here until you’re feeling better because I really don’t feel right leaving when —”

Her words were coming out in short gasps now. “I just need you to go.”

“Okay, again, no problem, but please sit on the couch and put your head back, okay?”

She sat on the couch, hunching forward and hugged her arms around herself, trembling to the point her teeth chattered.

“I’m going to get you a blanket, okay? Where is your bedroom?”

“No. Leave.”

“Okay, but can I call someone for you?”

She shook her head and pulled her knees up against her chest. Everything needed to stop spinning.

“Take slower breaths, okay? I’m going to step outside but please, try to make those breaths further apart or you’re going to hyperventilate.”

The door clicked closed behind him as a sob choked out of her. What was going on? Why did she feel this way? Fear surged through her, taking her thoughts hostage, warning her that she was in danger, even though logic told her Evan was someone she didn’t need to be afraid of.

His voice, faint, but audible, came through the partially opened front window. He was still on the landing, and he was talking, but not to her. “Hey. Do you have a number for Ellie Tanner? I’m at Judi’s and I think she’s having a panic attack.” A brief pause and then, “Yeah. Great. Have her come over here as soon as she can.” Another pause, during which Judi sucked in a breath and tried to stop sobbing. “No, I’m outside. She told me to get out. Yeah, I’m staying here until Ellie gets here.” She pressed a hand against her mouth as he continued to talk. “Sure, prayer is always a good thing.”

Her thoughts needed to stop racing. The images needed to stop playing. Her heart needed to stop pounding, her hands to stop shaking.

She couldn’t take it anymore.

One drink wouldn’t hurt. She just needed to take the edge off. Where could she even get a drink right now?

“Judi, I’m right outside if you need me, okay? I’m trying to get a hold of Ellie. I hope that’s okay.”

She didn’t answer him, just squeezed her eyes shut even tighter and tried to focus on the breeze blowing in from the window, on the sounds outside in the street, anything to keep her from focusing on the images in her mind, the smell of Jeff, the feel of his hands on her.

She didn’t even know how much time had passed when the front door to the apartment swung open and hurried footsteps pounded across the floor toward her. Warm hands encircled her wrists. “Judi? I’m here.”

Ellie didn’t ask if she was okay. She didn’t ask what was wrong. She didn’t suggest a prayer.

She just knelt in front of her sister, held Judi’s wrists for a few seconds, and then slowly slid her arms around her, holding her tight as the tears came fast and furious.

Fiction Thursday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 13

Because I missed posting a chapter last Friday for Fiction Friday, I am posting an extra chapter today.

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Chapter 13

Judi leaned back on her hands as she watched the man climb down from the cab of the truck. Pulling her lower lip between her front teeth, she was torn between checking him out and letting worry clutch at her as he turned and slid his sunglasses off. Scenes from movies she’d watched late at night when she couldn’t sleep flashed through her mind, but were quickly replaced by the striking figure in front of her.

The tall, dark-haired, and rugged man strolled toward her with confidence, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a gray t-shirt that fit nicely across his broad shoulders and clearly well-toned torso.

“It really is you,” he said as he came close, a broad smile flicking a spark of energy across her skin. “Judi Lambert. What in the world are you doing out here?”

He knew her, that was clear. Studying the dimple on one cheek, bright green eyes framed by fairly long dark eyelashes, she was having a hard time placing him, though. As much as she wanted to.

Her confusion was clearly evident on her face.

He laughed. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

By now Ben had stepped out of the car and was standing next to her with a dipped brow and a tight jaw, watching the man walk toward them.

Judi shook her head and slid off the hood. “Um, no. Should I?”

The man stopped, placed his hands at his waist, and flashed a smile that made Judi involuntarily giggle. “Yeah. You should. You were one of the best make-out sessions I ever had in high school.”

Judi bit her lower lip again. She hadn’t had many make-out sessions in high school, and she knew this wasn’t the person she’d gone even further with. If she made out with this guy she’d definitely —

No way. It couldn’t be. “Oh wow. Evan? Evan McGee?”

Evan winked and shaped his thumb and index finger like a gun and pointed it at her as another rich laugh escaped. “The one and only.” He pulled the trigger on the finger gun, grinning.

“What in the world are you doing in the middle of nowhere?” she asked, immediately self-conscious of her hair, which she was sure was a mess. She dragged a hand through it and then across it, hoping to smooth away any stray strands.

“I could easily ask you two the same thing,” Evan said, glancing at Ben. “Oh, sorry. Are you Judi’s boyfriend?”

Ben shook his head and folded his arms across his chest. He wasn’t smiling. “No. I’m Ben Oliver. We went to school together.”

Evan’s face registered recognition. “Ben! Oh wow! Of course! It’s been years.” He stuck his hand out toward Ben and the two men shook hands briefly. “Sorry I didn’t recognize you.”

Judi smoothed her hands down her skirt, hoping it looked less disheveled than it felt. She smirked and tilted her head toward Ben. “He’s my boss now.”

Evan’s eyebrows raised. “Oh yeah? You went to law school, right?”

Ben nodded and slid his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, looking a little more relaxed than he had a few minutes earlier. “Yeah. Opened an office in Burkett a year ago.” In fact, Judi had never seen him look so casual. Almost as if he’d finally unclenched a little.

Ben glanced at her and back and Evan. “So, not to break up this reunion or anything but what in the world are you doing out here?”

“I drive long distance for a trucking company now and have a delivery in a town a couple miles from here,” Evan said. “I saw Judi when I drove by. I didn’t think there was any way it was actually her, though.” He grinned again and let his eyes slide down Judi’s legs. “I mean, she had the same legs, but I still wasn’t sure.” He shrugged a shoulder and looked back at Ben. “It takes a lot to turn one of these rigs around but I found a place so I could see if she — well, both of you needed some help.”

Judi twisted a strand of hair around her finger and bent her ankle back and forth. “It’s such a small world, isn’t it? And we do need help. My car croaked and the only mechanic around said it would take him 45 minutes to get here.”

Evan nodded toward the car. “Let me take a look before you spend a bunch of money. Maybe it’s an easy fix.” He glanced over his shoulder as he leaned down to pop the hood. “What are you guys doing this far south anyhow?”

“We’re headed to Lancaster to see —” Judi paused, not sure how much of Ben’s personal life she should share. She slid her gaze quickly to Ben who was watching her with an unreadable expression.

Evan filled in the blank. “Angie.”

Ben transferred his attention from Judi to Evan.

“Yeah,” Judi said. “How’d you know?”

Evan had opened the hood and propped it open and was looking at the engine. “I just took a guess. I heard she’d moved to Lancaster with her parents. I bumped into her brothers a few months ago on a visit back to Spencer.” He leaned over the engine and unscrewed a cap. “I didn’t think you two were together anymore.”

Ben cleared his throat. “We’re not.”

Evan turned and winced. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to assume.” He held his hands up, palms out. “None of my business.”

Ben nodded curtly. “It’s fine.”

It was time to change the conversation. Judi stepped closer to Evan. “So where are you headed after this delivery?”

Evan unscrewed another cap and pulled out a stick Judi figured she should know the purpose of but didn’t. “Back to Spencer for a visit actually.”

Judi could smell a musky cologne or aftershave coming off Evan. “How long will you be staying?”

“About a month. I’ve been working non-stop for about two years straight, so my boss said I needed to take some of my vacation time.” He leaned back and wiped his hands on a rag. “Mom’s been asking me to come home for a visit for a while now, so I figured I’d finally grant her wish.” He nodded toward the car. “I’m going to slide underneath to double check but I think this might be a simple fix.”

Judi watched him lay on his back under the front of the car, biting her lower lip as his shirt pulled up and revealed a hint of toned skin.

“Looks like you’re out of coolant,” he said after a few minutes.

Judi pursed her lips. “Oh. What’s coolant?”

“It keeps the car cool,” Ben quipped.

Judi rolled her eyes. “Thanks.” She turned her attention back to Evan. “So how do we get coolant?”

“Actually, I have some. It’s in the back of my cab.” He jerked his head toward his truck and smiled at Judi. “I’ll be right back.”

Judi folded her arms behind her and shot a smile right back at him. “I’ll be right here.”

“Of course he has some in his truck,” Ben mumbled, loud enough so only Judi heard it as Evan walked away.

 She elbowed him in the side as she walked past him to stand on the other side of the car and watch Evan. She ignored the gagging noise that came from Ben.

Ben cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

“You are excused to wherever would like to be excused to.”

“Uh no – I mean you’re obviously ogling Evan. So —”

“Uh. Yeah, I am.” She turned and fanned herself with her hand. “Because he’s hot. Like seriously hot.” A soft growl came from her throat. “I don’t remember him being this hot when I knew him in high school.”

Ben rolled his eyes again. “Good grief. I don’t care if he’s hot or cold as long as he can get us moving again.”

Twenty minutes later, Evan had the car started and Ben shook his hand as he asked for directions back to the highway. Evan reached his hand out to Judi next and held it longer than he had Ben’s. Much longer, rubbing the top of it with his thumb. “Well, Judi Lambert, promise me you’ll look me up when you get back to Spencer, okay?”

The way his green eyes sparkled should have been a crime. “I’ll definitely be sure to do that.”

He let her hand go and held up his hand. “Hold on.” When he came back from the truck he was holding his phone. “Let me get your number so I can call you sometime.”

After she’d given him her number, she thanked him and slid in behind the steering wheel. Evan looked over his shoulder as he walked back to his truck and waved one more time at her, then climbed inside. She smiled at him, waving back as he started the truck and she started the car. When she looked away from Evan, she met Ben’s amused expression.

“Are you two done with your cute meet or whatever they call it in romance novels?”

Judi rolled her eyes and shifted the car into gear. “I don’t know what it’s called in romance novels, but yes, I guess we are done saying goodbye as people tend to do when they are parting ways.” She adjusted her rearview and side mirrors. “How would you know about what is in a romance novel anyhow? I doubt you have a romantic bone in your body.”

Ben scoffed. “I know about those novels. My little sister reads them all the time. Angie did too. They’re ridiculous. About as ridiculous as you fawning all over Evan. Now come on. Let’s get going before you break us down again somewhere.”

Judi gave him a mock salute as she pulled out onto the road. “Yes, sir, Captain Oliver.”

“You’re not as funny as you think, you know.”

Judi winked. “Luckily I don’t think I’m that funny.”

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye as he scrolled through his phone. Maybe Ben would be doing some ogling of his own soon. Ogling his old flame Angie, who Judi was going to try her best to make his current and future flame. She needed a challenge, something to distract herself from the past that seemed to be trying to catch up to her.

Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 27

I will be sharing the last chapters of this story tomorrow. This chapter has a bit too much cheese at the end so that may change before this book is final.

Chapter 27

She couldn’t get her hands to stop trembling.

Even now, standing at her apartment door, unlocking it, far away from the scene of the shooting. She’d called Ginny and Ginny had agreed with Matt. She was closing the library early anyhow because of all the police activity down the street. 

A conversation she’d had with Molly over a year ago resurfaced.

“I’m just friends with Matt. It’s not like that. He’s easy to talk to and I like hanging out with him, but — he’s Matt. I’ll always think of him as a brother more than a boyfriend. Maybe because he’s friends with Jason and I just remember him as that weird military obsessed guy from high school.”

Molly had tipped her head in a pitying way, more pity toward Matt than Liz. “He’s a nice guy, Liz.”

“Yeah, I know, but he’s also a cop. I don’t know if I can date a cop. I mean, what if I develop more feelings for him and then I’ll just worry about him out there on the streets . . .”

Molly had snickered. “On the streets of Spencer? Where what — he might get punched by a drunk guy down at Mooney’s or get kicked by a cow?”

Liz had turned from the list of coffee flavors behind the counter at the coffee shop they were at and tipped her head. “Molly, you really are naïve about what happens in this county, aren’t you?”

And Molly had been, but maybe she’d been a little naïve too. Sure, she knew there were issues with drugs and alcohol in this town, but someone being shot on the street? No, she hadn’t thought that would happen. Matt could have been killed. It was a thought that surfaced, but that she pushed back down again. If she thought about that too long, she’d trigger a panic attack and those had been better lately. She didn’t want them to come back again

She glanced at the sunlight streaming in through the windows in the living room as her phone rang and she shut the door behind her, locking it.

“Are you okay? Martha said there was a shooting on Main Street. Is that true? Do you know?”

She tossed her keys on the kitchen table. “I’m fine, Mom. Yes. Matt was there and he’s okay too. He told me to go back to my apartment so I’m there, with the door locked.” Sliding her shoes off she yawned. Since her mom and dad were watching Bella, maybe she could manage a nap.

“Where is Molly? Is she with you?”

“She’s at the store. We’ve talked and she’ll be home early tonight.”

They chatted a few seconds longer about Bella and the fact she was taking a nap so Marge would bring her to the apartment in the evening. Liz’s shoulders relaxed as she slid her finger over the end call button and dropped her phone into her purse, then hung the purse on the back of the kitchen chair. Her bed was definitely calling to her.

“Are you okay, Liz? Really?”

A scream ripped through her at the sound of the deep voice from behind her. She swung around to face the dark hallway. Gabe’s laughter boomed off the walls, sending a chill shivering through her. When he stepped forward, sunlight brightened one side of his face and the other remained in darkness. What the sun hit was bruised and swollen, dark purple mixing with light purple.

Liz took a step back toward the kitchen.  “What are you doing here?”

Gabe gestured outward with his arms, leaning against the wall, more of his face coming into the light. “Just thought I should see what the mother of my child is up to these days.” His leather jacket was open, revealing a white T-shirt, stained with red and brown. “What? Don’t you like visitors?”

Liz’s chest constricted as she bumped into one of the chairs pushed into the table. “Not those who aren’t invited, no.”

Gabe pushed himself off the wall, and walked into the living room, slumping into the chair next to the couch.

Liz could clearly see his black eye and a deep cut across his cheek now. He winced and lifted his foot, stretching out his leg, and propping it on the coffee table. “Don’t worry, drama queen. I’m not here to hurt you. I just got myself in some trouble. Needed a place to lay low for a bit.”

“How did you even get in here?”

He smirked. “You know, for having a boyfriend who’s a cop, your apartment isn’t very secure. I climbed in one of the bedroom windows. Must be Molly’s room with all those cow photos hanging all over.” He grimaced as he lifted the other leg and propped it next to the first. “That’s what McGee is, right? Your boyfriend?”

Liz kept moving backwards until she bumped into the kitchen counter. Two more steps to her left and she’d have her hand on the drawer with the knives.

“You need to leave, Gabe.”

“Oh, Liz. Liz. Calm down and have a seat. Let’s just chat a while. I already said I’m not going to hurt you.” He hugged his arm around his side and made a face. “I’m not in any shape to hurt anyone right now anyhow.”

Her fingertips touched the edge of the knife drawer. He wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were focused somewhere outside the window, his eyelids heavy. She wasn’t sure she cared, but she asked anyhow. “What happened to you?”

He scoffed. “Life happened to me, Lizzie dear.” He tipped his head back, closed his eyes. “It finally caught up to me. All the fun couldn’t last forever, right?”

She ran her finger along the edge of the drawer, ready to open it if he moved. He kept talking as her eyes drifted to her purse, now several feet away.

Gabe sighed. “I’m in trouble.” He coughed out a laugh, his eyes still closed. “When am I not in trouble, right? But, alas, I am in even bigger trouble than ever before.”

Her mind flitted between opening the drawer and lunging for the phone in her purse. “What’s going on?” She should probably keep him talking until she decided. “Who did this to you?

She took a step toward the purse at the same moment his eyes opened, and he tipped his head to look at her.

“Do you really care? Really, Lizzie?” He sneered. “You know you don’t.”

He was right. She just wanted him to leave. She knew she should care, though. She should see him the way God saw him – as a flawed human who deserved a second chance. That wasn’t how she saw him, though.

She saw him as a threat.

He tipped his head back again, but kept his eyes opened, focused on the ceiling. “I never thought I’d be where I am today. All I did was borrow some money to keep the business going. Then a little more for the pills to keep me going. Who knew my uncle would call in the loan by manipulating me into running his drug business?” He laughed again, the sound sending a mix of pity and anxiety skittering through Liz.

She stood frozen between the kitchen table and the counter, unsure which direction to go. Gabe’s lack of predictably always had been a problem.

“Are you on the pills now?”

He stood abruptly and turned toward her, but leaned forward quickly, hands on his knees, grimacing. He lifted his head without straightening. “You think I’d be in this much pain if I was?” He stood, his arm wrapped around his side, and moved toward the other side of the living room, near a display of photographs on the wall above the television. His eyes moved from photo to photo as she took two steps closer to the purse.

He glanced at her. “She looks like you. That’s a good thing.”

Liz drew in a breath slowly, glad Bella was with her grandparents.

He kept his eyes on the photo as he spoke. “I screwed up, Liz. I borrowed money from him, lost it gambling and fueling the pill addiction. When I couldn’t get it back to him, he told me I’d either help him with deliveries and production or he’d end me.” His smile was unnatural considering the topic he was discussing. “Fitting isn’t it? He did to me what I did to you. Manipulated me into getting what he wanted like I manipulated you.” He pushed a trembling hand through disheveled, dark brown hair, laughed sardonically. “What goes around comes around, right? Isn’t that in the Bible?

Liz folded her arms across her chest, keeping her gaze locked on him. “No, I don’t think it is.”

He turned to face her. “An eye for an eye, right? Same thing?”

She tilted her head to one side, her jaw tight. “Not exactly. No.”

He walked toward her slowly. “I’m not going to hurt you, Liz. I already told you that.” He stopped a couple of feet from her, hands at his side. “I came here because I can’t figure you out and I want to figure you out before I go to jail.

The muscles in her body tensed. Her gaze flitted to the purse again. Only a few more steps and she could have it, but could she get the phone out before he reached her? He took another stepped toward her and she had her answer. “What are you talking about?

He tipped his head back slightly looking at her through narrowed eyes. “Why didn’t you press charges against me?” He tipped his head back down and shrugged a shoulder, pulling the chair with her purse on it out and sitting in it. “I pretty much assaulted you that night in my apartment. We both know it.” He laid his hand on the table. “Are you still so afraid of mommy and daddy finding out about you that you never told anyone how that baby was really conceived?”

Liz folded her arms tighter across her chest. What was his game, really? Was he kidding right now? Did he feel guilt or pride over his actions? She couldn’t read him.

“You really need to leave, Gabe.”

“It was wrong, Liz.” He leaned forward on his knees, winced again, and touched a hand to his ribs. “What I did. You deserved better than that. You’re a good person. Better than me and almost anyone else and I stepped all over that.”

She pivoted quickly, ripped open the knife drawer and grabbed the first one she could reach. Swinging around she held it out in front of her. She knew him too well. He never apologized. There was another reason behind his words.

“Get out, Gabe.”

He raised his hands, still sitting, a smirk twitching one corner of his mouth upward. “What are you going to do, stab me?” He laughed, his hands still up. “It would serve me right at this point. You should just go ahead and get it over with.”

She gripped the knife handle tighter, stepping slowly around the table until she was in front of him. “Just leave, okay?”

“So, you can call Matty-boy to come arrest me?”

He laughed again, lowered his hands, and then tipped his head forward, closing his eyes. “Just do it.” He opened his eyes again as he lifted his head and looked at her. “Call McGee. Show’s over for me.” He reached behind him, reached into her purse and slid out the phone, laying it on the table. He pressed a finger on top of it and slid it across the table toward her. “Jail is the safest place for me right now, trust me.”

She kept the knife in front of her, glancing at the phone then back at him. He inclined his head toward the phone. “Take it. Call him.” He slid his finger over the screen, opening it. “Here, I’ll help you.” He looked at the phone and tipped his head, pushing his lower lip out. “Aw, look at that. McGee’s in your favorites. “How cute.” He tapped his finger on Matt’s name. “There, I dialed it for you. Tell him to come rescue you from your scary ex-boyfriend.”

Instinct told her not to reach for the phone. Gabe tapped the speaker button instead.

Matt’s voice came from the phone. “Liz? What’s going on? Are you okay?”

Gabe kept his eyes focused on hers, smiling as he leaned toward the phone. “Liz needs rescuing, McGee. At her apartment. Better drop your Bible and get on over here.” He leaned closer to the phone. “And feel free to bring the calvary.”

He slid his finger over the end button and leaned back in the chair. “Uncle Buck was running the overall operation. I agreed to take over the part in this area to keep him off my back about all the money I owed him. Bernie was just a scape goat. I tricked him into make deliveries. He needed the money for his family. When he caught on to what was going on he tried to break loose, and I tried to blackmail him. It didn’t work and he walked. The police already had him pegged as trouble, so it was easy to set him up.”

Why was he telling her all of this? She stepped back against the corner of the wall, pulling the knife closer to her. “You can tell the police this.”

“I will, but I wanted to tell you too.”

“Someone shot Bernie Denton.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “I didn’t know that. Is he going to be okay?”

Her knuckles whitened as she clutched the knife. “I don’t know. Matt was with him.”

Gabe tipped his head back and laughed. “Of course he was.” He looked at her again, the smile fading. “Ah, then Bernie will live. Having McGee around is like having your own personal Jesus, right?”

Liz ignored the snarky edge to the comment. “Were you using?”

He shook his head. “Never sampled the product. Alcohol and pills are my vice. You know that.” He kicked the chair next to him out and propped a leg on it. “So, you officially with McGee now?”

She had no idea why she was standing here. She could reach the door, but part of her worried what he was really up to, if he’d grab her when she tried to run, take the knife and turn the tables on her.

“If you’re asking if I am in love with Matt, then yes I am.” Sirens sounded in the distance. “I used to think I was in love with you, but I was in love with the idea of you. Sadly, you were never what or who I thought you were.”

He snorted a brief laugh. “I wasn’t who I thought I was either.” He tapped the top of the table with his hand. “Sounds like the calvary is almost here so listen Liz, good luck with your life. With the kid. McGee. All of it.” He glanced at the door, the sirens louder now. “I’ll be in there a long time, so I won’t be messing anything up for you.”

Footsteps pounded on the steps outside and Liz lowered the knife slowly. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t reaching out for her.

He was a man beaten. He knew it and as his shoulders stooped, he even looked the part. She kept her eyes on him as she reached over and unlocked the door. It slammed open and back against the wall behind it seconds before Matt rushed into the room. Behind him were two uniformed Spencer officers, one she recognized as his former partner Tom Stapleton. The other must have been the rookie he’d mentioned to her.

Gabe brought his wrists together in front of him and held them up, his eyes still on Liz. “Cuff me, Officer McGee. I’m ready for my close up.”

Tom cuffed Gabe instead, one wrist first, while the rookie held a hand against Matt’s chest, as if to hold him back, remind him he was still on suspension.

Tom pulled Gabe to his feet, pushed him against the top of the kitchen table and pulled his arms behind him, hooking the other cuff in place.

Gabe pulled his gaze from Liz and looked up at Matt. “Look familiar, McGee? Bet you wish you had your knee in my back again, don’t you?”

Matt took a step back toward Liz as Tom pulled Gabe to a standing position and pushed him toward the front door.

Gabe tilted his head down, focused on the floor as he walked. “Take care of her, McGee. She deserves better than me.”

Liz swallowed hard, surprising herself when she told Gabe she’d pray for him.

He scoffed, head still down. “Pray all you want. I don’t believe in that crap and never will.” He swallowed hard and looked back up as Tom pushed him through the doorway. “But thanks for saying it anyhow.” He pushed back against Tom, pausing and looked at Matt, winking. “See what I mean? She deserves better.”

Matt stood in front of Liz and pulled her against him as the rookie followed Tom out the door, pulling it closed behind him. She buried her face against Matt’s chest and let out a shaky breath.

“You okay?”

She nodded, grateful for the numbness that was currently settled over her mind. “This day has been really, really weird.”

The vibrations of his laugh against her cheek made her smile. The warmth of his arms around her made her smile. Him being here when he could have been in a hospital right now fighting for his life like Bernie was made her smile. The fact she somehow wasn’t having a panic attack despite all that had happened also made her smile.

She closed her eyes as he held her and kissed the top of her head. For the first time in a long time, she felt safe and calm. Safe in Matt’s arms, safe in his love, and safe in the love of God.

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 26

For the next three days I’m going to share the last of the chapters of A New Chapter (renamed Beauty From Ashes). The complete book will be available in full on various sites on April 26. You can pre-order it HERE or HERE.

Chapter 26

Millie Baker stared at him through the glass door of her shop, her eyes widened in curious terror. He heard the lock on the other side of the door click and the door squeaked as it opened a few inches. “Matt, what should I do? Is that young man hurt? Should I call 911?”

“Yes, Mrs. Baker. Lock the door again and get to the back of the shop and call 911. Tell them we have an active shooter, okay?”

The elderly women lowered her head and he thought he saw a tear on her cheek. Poor Millie. Gunshots weren’t something the people of Spencer ever heard on their Main Street. The world was changing, and it wasn’t something anyone was comfortable with, not even Matt who’d known for years it would all spill into this picturesque scene one day, marring its quaintness.

He turned his attention back to Bernie. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dan running toward him down the street in the direction of the coffee shop. 

“Active shooter! Everyone, get down!” Dan’s voice echoed through the street that had vacated within seconds after the gunshots sounded.

Dan kneeled next to Bernie in the doorway, looking at Matt. “Did you hear where the shots came from?”

Matt gripped the gun, looked down the street. “Somewhere low, I think. Not up from the buildings. There was an echo when it fired. Like off walls or a hallway.”

“Call it in. Tell them we need back up.” Dan’s jaw clenched as he gripped his service weapon and headed for the alley across the street. Matt used his cellphone to contact 911, pinning it between his shoulder and chin while he tried to get a better look at Bernie’s wound. Mille could report the incident, but he would need to give the police the information they needed before they came in to the scene.

Bernie groaned as Matt yanked his own jacket off while talking to the dispatcher, pressing it against Bernie’s stomach to try to stop the bleeding. “One man down, gunshot to the stomach, trooper on scene needs back up.”

“The ambulance is already on its way, Officer McGee.” The female dispatcher spoke in a calm tone. “I need to tell them if this is an active shooter situation. Is it? They won’t come in until the scene is cleared.”

Matt’s chest tightened. Bernie needed to get to the emergency room as fast as possible. “The scene is not cleared.” He hated saying it, but he couldn’t put the paramedics or anyone else at risk. “Active shooter situation. Have them set up at the end of the street.”

Stan stepped from the other side of him and kneeled next to Bernie. “What can I do?”

“Help me get his head propped up and him stretched out so I can keep pressure on the wound.”

Stan sat and slid Bernie’s head into his lap. “It’s going to be okay, kid. Hang in there.”

Stan’s eyes glistened and Matt knew it wasn’t the cold air causing it. The poor man was a real estate agent who had expected a quiet, calm day and here he was holding the head of a man who had just been shot in their usually quiet, calm town.

When Matt looked up, Reggie was running toward him, weapon drawn, the rookie and his former partner behind him.

In a few seconds it was clear their weapons weren’t needed, though, as Dan emerged from the alley with his hand gripping the back of a man’s shirt as he pushed him into the light and toward the bake shop.

 Disheveled hair fell across the man’s forehead and dark brown eyes. His mouth twisted into a snarl as Dan pushed him up against the hood of the cruiser and yanked his arms behind his back.

“You got what you deserve, Denton!” the man’s voice echoed off the buildings on Main Street. “You snitch! You can die!”

Dan pinned him to the cruiser as he hooked the cuffs. “Are you serious right now? Did you really think you’d get away with shooting a guy in broad daylight?”

The man spit toward the ground, much of it landing on the hood. “No and I don’t care. Bernie got what was coming to him for being a snitch.”

Dan yanked the man to a standing position and shoved him toward the back of the car. “And you’re going to get what’s coming to you too.”

The sound of Dan reading the man his rights were drowned out by the sound of the ambulance. Matt’s attention returned to Bernie whose head was now propped up by Stan’s winter jacket.

“They’re almost here, Bernie. Stay with me, okay?”

Bernie’s head nodded slowly, his eyes closing. “I’m still here. Hurts like hell but I’m still here.”

“You did the right thing, okay? We’re going to get Gabe and anyone else he was working with.”

“I —” Bernie winced. “I shouldn’t have taken that package. I should have known there was more going on than Gabe said.”

Barriers were being set up at the end of the street by Reggie and the state police, but they stepped back to let the ambulance through. Matt only hoped the paramedics could stop the bleeding long enough to get Bernie to a trauma unit, which was a 45-minute drive. It was a clear day. Maybe they could call in the medivac helicopter instead. Living in a rural area had clear benefits but on days like this it also had clear drawbacks.

He sat back only when the paramedics arrived and took over. Standing, he lifted his hands, his throat thickening with emotion at the sight of dark red blood staining his skin. For several seconds he couldn’t think of anything but the blood, Bernie groaning in pain, the overwhelming worry that this man who had started turning his life around wouldn’t get the chance to see his children again.

The voice of the paramedic calling for a landing point to rendezvous with the helicopter blurred with the voice of Stan asking if he was okay. The older man clapped a hand on his shoulder, shook him. “Hey, let’s get you cleaned up. Come back to my office.”

Matt moved his head back and forth slowly. “No. I’ll need to give a statement and —”

Stan’s voice deepened into a firm tone. “We’ll tell the troopers where you are going to be. Come on.”

Matt staggered back away from the scene of the paramedics gently loading Bernie onto a stretcher, turning slowly to follow Stan. He watched the blood mix with water and soap, spiral down the sink as he washed his hands a few minutes later. He lifted his hands and stared at the tremble before clenching them into a fist and reaching for the towel.

“Your trooper friend is looking for you.”

Stan’s voice sounded far away, somehow, like in a dream, but he followed him back out onto the sidewalk to look for Dan.


Ginny’s voice stopped them both and they turned to see Ginny at the barrier, clutching her coat closed, anguish and worry distorting her usually calm features.

Stan waved at her dismissively. “I’m fine.”

“They said there was a shooting.” The tremble in Ginny’s voice made Matt want to hug her, but apparently Stan didn’t feel the same. “We heard the gunshots at the library.”

Stan’s tone was strained, abrupt. “I said I’m fine. I’ll fill you in later.”

The brusqueness startled Matt, but he tried not to show it. Ginny was clearly upset and worried, but Stan didn’t seem remotely interested in comforting her.

Maybe Stan was made of sterner stuff because seeing Liz walk toward the barrier with an expression on her face that told him she’d thought the ambulance had been for him broke something inside him.

The only people he’d ever had to worry about worrying about him were his parents and his siblings. It had always meant a lot that they didn’t want to see anything happen to him, but it was an entirely different situation watching the woman he’d fallen hard for almost go to pieces in front of him.

When he thought of her, he also thought of Bella and the idea that a future in law enforcement could leave them behind —Liz without a husband, Bella without a father.

Wait a minute. What am I talking about?

He wasn’t either of those things to either of them. Not yet anyhow. He couldn’t deny that he hoped to be both one day. He broke rank with Stan and stepped the barrier grabbing the front of Liz’s jacket with one hand and holding her a few inches back so Bernie’s blood that was on him wouldn’t get on her. His eyes locked with hers and realized that, yeah, he’d be proud to be Liz’s husband one day, and also honored to be Bella’s father.

He pressed his mouth against hers firmly then pulled back, keeping her at a physical distance. Her eyes trailed down his form.

“Is that your blood?” Her bottom limp trembled when she asked it. He’d only seen her that vulnerable one other time, in the front of his pickup truck with a baby covered in vernix on her chest.

He shook his head once. “Bernie’s.”

She looked up sharply, her eyes meeting his. “Wh-what happened? Did you shoot Bernie? Is he dead?”

“No.” He kissed her briefly again. “I’ll fill you in later, but right now I need to make a statement and head home to get cleaned up.”

The dealer who’d shot Bernie was in custody and Gabe would be too soon, but a sudden desire to protect Liz rushed over Matt. “Go home, okay? Can you do that? Go home and stay there until I tell you it’s okay?”

Liz’s brow dipped in confusion. “Yeah. I can do that. If Ginny says it’s okay.”

“She will. Where’s your car? Do you have your keys?”

She nodded and he could tell she was still confused.

He stepped around the barrier, placed a hand under her elbow, steered her away from the scene where more state troopers were now gathering. “Next to the library, right?”

“Matt?” She looked at him as they walked, eyes darkening with worry. “What’s going on? Are you in some kind of danger? Am I?”

He picked up the pace, knowing he needed to get back to the scene and talk to Dan. “I don’t think so, but I just want to be sure you’re somewhere safe. Where’s Bella?”

“With Mom and Dad.”

He scanned the sidewalks and buildings around them as he walked. “Good.”

She didn’t ask any more questions until they reached her car. “Does this have something to do with Gabe? Is he threatening you? Did he shoot Bernie? I can’t believe he’d shoot someone.”

“Don’t worry.” He took her keys from her trembling hands and unlocked the car, still looking around him, avoiding her gaze. “I’m sure everything is fine.”

But he wasn’t sure everything was fine. He’d never pegged Gabe for a drug dealer, but it sure looked like he was based on what Bernie had recorded. Not only that, but someone had ordered Bernie taken out, and that someone could have been Gabe. Of course, there was always the possibility the shooter had just been a little off his rocker, which was also possible, especially if he’d been sampling the product.

He kissed her quickly before she slid behind the steering wheel, closed the door behind her, and when she rolled the window down he told her he’d call her as soon as he was done. He watched her drive toward her apartment before turning to walk back toward the scene. He was glad she didn’t have far to go. Maybe he should have followed her.

He dragged a hand through his hair. No. She was fine. He was over reacting. Gabe had somehow gotten himself messed up in trafficking drugs but he wasn’t a psychopath. A jerk and a horrible boyfriend, yes. A crazed maniac, no. He’d clearly been reading too many Harry Bosch novels lately.

This was Spencer Valley, not Los Angeles, and yes, while there had just been a shooting in broad daylight on Main Street, there wasn’t a full-blown crime spree underway. Not yet anyhow.


He shouldn’t have walked away from Ginny, but he couldn’t talk to her. Not there, in front of everyone asking him if he was okay. Of course, he was okay. It was Bernie he was worried about. The man had just been shot and his color hadn’t been good at all when they loaded him in the ambulance to meet the helicopter.

He watched the aftermath of the chaos hundred feet from his office as if watching something in a movie. Was this real? It certainly didn’t feel like it.

A shooting outside his real estate office.

There was something he never thought he’d see. The world was certainly a mess and while he once thought that mess was confined to bigger cities, it wasn’t. It was spreading out, touching even little Spencer Valley.

When he was done talking to the trooper he went back to the office, filled Emily in on what had happened and told her to go home, he was closing up for the rest of the day, maybe longer. The young woman hugged him briefly, told him to go wash up and get some rest.

Wash up. Right. He looked down at his suit and dress shirt, at the red stained there. This certainly hadn’t been his week.

First, he’d found out his wife had kissed another man and now he’d somehow gotten himself mixed up in a drug deal gone wrong. It was surreal and even more surreal was that he wasn’t going back to his house to clean up and try to calm down, he was walking toward the Blueberry Inn where his clothes were, where he’d spend the last couple of nights because, apparently, his life was falling down around his ears.

Unlocking the door to his room — after assuring the young woman at the front desk he was fine and avoiding her questions about what had happened — a rush of emotion pressed down on him. He swallowed it, though, and reached for a towel and a change of clothes. Under the hot water of the shower the dam broke and the tears came. He pressed his hands against the wall, dropped his head under the water, trying to ignore how much he wanted Ginny here with him now, the old Ginny, the Ginny he used to know, not the Ginny who’d betrayed him by kissing Keith.

“He kissed me.”

He heard the words over and over in his mind, but he didn’t know whether to believe them.

Her pleading expression, the tears on her cheeks swam in his mind as the water pounded against him.

“I wanted you to kiss me. Not him.”

He shut the water off and toweled off slowly, remembering the many slow kisses he’d given his wife over the years, thinking about how long it had been since he had, though. Exhaustion seeped through his muscles to his bones and he collapsed on the bed after pulling on a pair of boxers and an undershirt.

Images of Ginny’s worried expression at the scene filled his mind seconds before sleep slammed him hard into darkness.

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 21 Part 1

We are getting closer to the end of this story and I just wanted to let regular readers know that the book will not be called A New Chapter when I am done with it and publish it in book form. Last week it struck me that I already have A New Beginning and now I was going to call this book A New Chapter. It seemed a bit lazy on the naming side so I have changed A New Chapter to Beauty From Ashes and at this point it is scheduled to be released in full on April 26. I haven’t decided if I will keep the book in Kindle Unlimited or not yet.

For those who are new here, I share a chapter of a novel in progress on Fridays for Fiction Friday but sometimes I also share a part on a Thursday or Saturday. The version I share here often changes before I push publish on the final book down the line.

If you want to read the other chapters click HERE and if you want to read the other books click HERE.

Chapter 21 Part I

A cool breeze brushed Ginny’s hair back as she stepped out onto the sidewalk. She rubbed her hands across her arms and breathed in the smell of winter on its way.

“I was going to suggest we go for a walk, but maybe it’s a little too chilly for that.” Keith tilted his head toward the riverwalk across the street as he zipped his coat. “What do you think?”

It was chilly and she needed to get home, yet part of her wasn’t ready to go home. She was still angry at Stan, disappointed that he’d stood her up once again.

She zipped her coat up under her chin. “I could go for a walk. I need to burn some calories after that desert.”

The river was high, the streetlights lining the riverwalk reflecting a bright, blue-tinted white off the surface. The town of Clarkston had installed the riverwalk ten years ago, but replaced the electric lights with LED a year ago to be more energy efficient. Ginny understood the need to care about the environment, but she missed the cozy orange glow of the old streetlights.

“It’s cold but it’s beautiful.” Keith paused at one of the observation areas and leaned on the metal railing, looking out across the river. “I remember kayaking in this river with my dad. We tipped one,” he pointed toward a bend island further down river. “right about there. I thought I was going to drown but the old man grabbed the front of my vest with one hand and yanked me all the way to the island. The kayak floated to the other shore. There were no cellphones back then, as you know, so we waited, not sure what we were going to do. I was pretty sure I could swim to the other side.” He winced. “But dad wasn’t so sure. The water was pretty deep and there was a current there. We were lucky a fisherman came by an hour later and rescued us.”

Ginny stood next to him and smiled. “You were a lot more adventurous than I was as a teen. I can’t remember ever climbing into a kayak. You couldn’t get me to climb into one now either.” She laughed. “Then again, maybe it would spice up my life a little bit.”

She regretted saying it as soon as it was out of her mouth. Why was she sharing the need to spice up her life with a man she barely knew? Sure, she’d known him years ago, in high school, but not now. He was practically a stranger, even if they did have some shared memories and had been talking to each other off and on the last few weeks.

Keith turned and leaned back on the railing. “It’s never too late to add some excitement to your life, you know. I could take you kayaking.”

Ginny laughed. “And you’d be dragging me out of the river, I’m pretty sure.”

Keith winked. “I wouldn’t mind that. Much more rewarding than that time I had to push a dead beaver out of the way.”

Ginny made a face. “Oh gross. I’m not sure that’s the adventure I’d like to have.”


Keith’s laugh was rich and sent a rush of energy through Ginny. It was nice to hear a man relaxed enough to let out an authentic laugh. He pushed off the railing and started walking again. She fell in step with him, her muscles relaxing as she began to enjoy the freedom and lightness of the night. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been able to simply talk with another adult — well, beside Liz — without feeling like what she said wasn’t important.

Keith sighed. “I feel like I’ve missed a lot of the good things of life, Gin. I worked a lot during my marriage. Missy and I weren’t compatible. Not at all. But it didn’t help I was at the office more than I was home. I don’t want to keep missing out on life. I don’t want it all to pass me by while I’m on a conference call or sitting in a boardroom somewhere.”

He slid his hands in his jean pockets as he walked. “Maybe this is just a getting old thing. Do you ever feel like you’ve missed out on life?”

Boy, did she. “In some ways, yes.” She bit her lower lip, not sure how much she felt comfortable sharing. “There are a lot of things I wished I had done. I wish I had traveled more, tried more new things. That’s why I was at the art class, actually. I wanted to try something new, or, well, a little old for me since I took some art classes in college. I wanted something just for me again. Reading used to be just for me but then I became a librarian, and we don’t have the time for reading people think we do. We’re shelving and checking books out, but we aren’t reading them very often.”

She pulled her hood up to block the breeze. “It’s weird but when you’re a mom you feel like you’re whole life revolves around your children when they are home and then when they move out, well, you wonder what the purpose of your life is.” She smiled faintly. “I know. It’s silly.”

“No.” Keith stopped walking and turned toward her and she stopped too. “It’s not silly. It’s real. Life is real and messy and yeah, sometimes we lose our way in it and forget that it’s not only about making money or raising kids or making our spouses happy. Life is also about being happy, experiencing every last drop of being alive there is until we aren’t alive anymore.” He threw his hands out to his side. “Don’t you miss feeling alive, Ginny? I do. I miss feeling like I did when I was a teenager – that my future was unmapped and it was ripe for excitement and adventure and all the things that make life worth living.”

Yes, she missed feeling alive. She sighed. She missed feeling alive with Stan.

“I want to feel alive again, Ginny and when I’m with you, that’s how I feel.”

His gaze focused on hers. “I kissed you on that water tower. Do you remember?”

Ginny’s cheeks flushed warm, panic bubbling up inside her fast, ready to explode through her body and send her running up the sidewalk along the river and back to her car. “Yes, I remember.”

“It was a nice kiss.” The step he took toward her was full of purpose and the shock of it left her frozen, unable to move away. “A kiss full of life.”

The sudden movement of his hand behind her head brought a gasp from her throat and she put her hands up, but his mouth was already on hers. She pressed her hands against her chest, planning to push him away, but the kiss was fierce, hot, sending flames skittering through her blood stream, awakening what had been asleep for too long. Her mind clouded, the pleasure of his mouth against her making her forget where she was and who she was for a few second. She let the kiss linger without even thinking how wrong it was.

His hand on her lower back pulled her against him and the kiss deepened, but as it did, she saw Stan in her mind, his smile, his laughter, the flash of passion in his eyes when he lowered his mouth to hers so many times over the years  — the Stan she used to know so well.

She pulled back quickly, gasping for a breath, yanking herself from Keith’s embrace, her hands still out in front of her. “Keith. I’m a married woman.”

“Ginny, I’m sorry.” He stepped toward her, but she pushed her hands toward him again and he stopped moving his arms still out as if he was holding her. “You’re a beautiful woman and it drives me crazy that Stan doesn’t seem to notice that. You’re smart, bright, funny, engaging. . .You deserve better than some man who is married to his job.”

Ginny hugged her arms around her and shook her head, closing her eyes. “I shouldn’t have let you do that, Keith.”

“Why? I felt you come alive in my arms, Ginny.” Keith set his hands on his waist and gestured toward her. “You clearly needed to be reminded you’re still a vibrant, passionate woman. Admit it. That kiss made you feel alive again.”

For a few seconds, it had. He was right. But it had also made her feel weak with guilt and horror at betraying her wedding promise to Stan. She’d promised to have and to hold, for better or for worse, not to let an ex-boyfriend kiss her when she felt neglected and lonely.

“I’ve had a wonderful night, Keith, but I need to go home.”

She turned, walking briskly toward the top of the riverwalk, her arms still hugged tight around her.

“Ginny! Wait!”

Keith’s footsteps behind her only quickened her steps. His hand on her wrist stopped her and she turned to look at him.

The confidence was gone, replaced with an expression she read as contrition. “I’m sorry.” He swallowed hard. “I got caught up in the moment, in my own desires to feel alive again.” He closed his eyes briefly as he shook his head. “It was wrong. You’re married and —” He looked at her again. “I’m just sorry. Can you forgive me?”

She folded her hands in front of her face, blew on them to try to chase the chill away. “I do forgive you, if you forgive me for leading you on.”

Keith laughed. “You didn’t lead me on. You were just being your normal sweet, amazing self and I took advantage of it. I didn’t plan on doing that, just so you know. It was the atmosphere, the good conversation, how beautiful you looked in the moonlight. It was like we were in high school again. I suddenly regretted walking away from you and letting Stan have you.”

Ginny stepped back again. “You didn’t let Stan have me, Keith. I chose him.” She gestured toward the direction of her car. “I need to go. It’s late.”

“Can we still talk sometimes?”

She shook her head, turning away from him. “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” She looked over her shoulder. “I hope things work out with your business and you enjoy your time back in Spencer.”

She saw him standing in the middle of the sidewalk, watching her, as she turned the corner to head toward her car. The tears came when he was out of sight, flowing freely, cooling on her cheek as soon as they fell. Her body trembled as she walked, horror slicing through her. How had she let herself lose track of reality back there?

What[lh1]  was she even thinking walking along the river after a dinner alone with a man who wasn’t her husband? What had happened to her? Stan wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t as if he was abusing her, beating her, screaming at her. He was inattentive, yes, but he didn’t deserve this – for her to be going behind his back, kissing another man.

She quickly unlocked the door of her car and slid behind the steering wheel, slamming the door closed and locking the door. Clutching the steering wheel, she pressed her forehead against the middle of it and sobbed.

“You are so, so stupid, Ginny Jefferies. So stupid.” The sobs came fast and hard, causing her to gasp for breath as an ache spread from her chest up her throat.

“God, what has happened to me? Who have I become? Forgive me, Father. Forgive me for being swept away by Keith’s charm, for losing sight of the commitment I made to Stan on our wedding day. Can you forgive me?”

She turned the ignition, checked her side mirror, and yanked the car out of the parking space, pressing her foot on the accelerator.

“Forgive me, Father.” The words choked out of her as she drove, fighting past the tears. “Forgive me for what I did. And please, please let Stan forgive me too.”

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 14 Part One

To catch up with the rest of this fiction story click HERE.

I will not have a post for Christmas Eve, partially because I don’t have the second part of the chapter finished.

Chapter 14

The run had felt good. Had long had it been since she’d gone on a run?

Liz didn’t even know but now that she had this whole blood sugar and fluid intake while breastfeeding thing figured out, or mostly figured out, she felt like she could start exercising again. Thankfully she’d only run out of energy a small distance from the apartment and had been able to make it back without having to call Molly for a ride.

Now, standing in the shower, the water pouring down her, she tried to chase away of the chill autumn morning. She didn’t have long to do it, though. It was her first day back at work and her mom, unfortunately, was on her way over to watch Bella. Rubbing the shampoo into her hair, she thought about a show she’d watched the day before.

The woman being interviewed by a counselor was dealing with panic attacks, much like Liz still was from time to time.

“What’s one happy memory you’ve had in the last year or so?” the counselor had asked the woman. “A child being born? An event you attended maybe? I want you to focus on that memory when you start to panic. I want you to take yourself back to that moment, or one moment, and visually walk yourself through the moment that brings you joy, as if you are experiencing it again through your mind.”

Liz started to think about her own good memories, specifically those over the last year. Yes, Bella’s birth was one, but when she thought of one of the last times she could remember really laughing Liz had found herself mentally catapulted back to a night of bowling with Matt three months before her encounter with Gabe.

She’d only been bowling a couple of times before and it showed. Matt finally asked if she’d like the bumper rails up so the ball would stop going into the gutter.

“No! I’ll get it!”

She’d scolded him but she was laughing so hard tears were in her eyes.

On one try she almost flew with the ball across the slippery floor and Matt had had to catch her, holding her up against his side to keep her from going with the ball. They’d both been laughing so hard they’d almost fallen again and when she looked up at him, she’d been mesmerized by his smile and the sparkle in his eyes. She’d had a brief thought, which she’d pushed aside quickly. The thought that she wished she’d gotten to know Matt better, before she’d become involved with Gabe.

Gabe who she’d known wasn’t good for her but who paid her attention when others didn’t. A man who half the women in town thought was “hot, dangerous, and a total catch.” She’d thought the same at first and that’s probably why it had taken her so long to admit their relationship was on a fast track to nowhere. That and he was controlling, manipulative, and seemed to have only started dating her because he saw her as someone he could practice all those attributes on.

Worse than all of that was that she had let him control and manipulate her. He’d manipulated her through his words, his touch, the way he’d told her she turned him on the way no one else had before. If that was true then he shouldn’t have needed those other women, the ones who hung around him at parties and laughed at his jokes or the one she found him making out with in their friend’s bathroom during a party. He’d claimed she’d been kissing him, and he’d been trying to push her away.

Liz hadn’t believed him but, well, he’d been drinking. He’d messed up and he still cared about her so maybe he’d straighten up and stop drinking as much now. He’d promised he would and for a month he had. They’d spent their evenings at home watching movies, going to the gym together, and sometimes going for walks together.

Then she’d reached in the couch one night looking for the remote and there it had been. A pink bra with red flowers splattered all over it. A bra much less practical than what she usually wore, something he’d often commented on, in fact. She’d stared at it a few seconds before registering that one, it wasn’t her bra, and two, it had been shoved in her couch. The one she’d picked out at the local furniture store. She’d jumped up from the couch and stared at it in horror.

Could it had been left over from one of their parties? No. She’d never had enough to drink that she would have forgotten someone doing that on their couch.

She knew.

She’d known for a long time.

What was she doing? Living this way? After all the talks she’d given Molly about being good enough, about being worth more than she thought. Now she needed to give herself the talk.

She didn’t even wait for Gabe to come home. She’d called Molly, packed her bags, and finally walked away, into a new future.

Or so she thought.

She shut off the shower and reached for a towel, thinking about how Matt had been with her each step of her pregnancy. Telling him she was pregnant in the first place had been beyond awkward. She’d told him when he’d called to ask her to the movies.

“McGee, listen. I don’t know if anyone told you, but,” she’d swallowed hard and taken a deep breath. She knew this would be the end of his phone calls. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh. I didn’t think you and Gabe —”

“We aren’t together anymore. I —” she’d wanted to say she’d messed up, but she really didn’t want to hash all that out with the man she’d fallen for but knew was out of her league.

She’d thought that would be the end of it. He’d stop calling, stop coming over to hang out with her and Molly and Alex. He’d make himself scarce.

But he didn’t. Instead, he’d asked her if she needed a ride to the doctors the day her car had broken down. He had driven her to her next four appointments, but he wouldn’t have had to if Bert Tanner had worked a little quicker to fix her car.

After the doctor’s appointments, Matt had invited her to lunch, asked if she’d be at the apartment when they held movie nights, and asked if she would like to go to fishing with him.

They weren’t an actual couple, yet he’d been there for many important moments in the last year; a little too much there the day of Bella’s birth.

And now she knew he’d even been there at her apartment that night. Had he known then that she was pregnant?

She wrapped the towel around her hair and dressed in the t-shirt and shorts she’d worn to bed. Once again, she’d forgot to bring her new change of clothes with her.

 Heading toward her bedroom to find the clothes she planned to wear to her first day back at work, a knock at the door stopped her, but she hesitated.

She was wearing a towel around her head and no bra. She bit her bottom lip and took a chance. She didn’t have to open the door all the way.


Matt smiled from the small space between the door and the door frame. Sunlight caught the glint of golden in his eyes

“Hey,” she said back.

“Can I come in?”

The man who had lied to her about knowing about her suicide attempt wanted to come in? The man she’d tried to call two days earlier but had been somewhere they couldn’t talk and then hadn’t even bothered to call her back? Not that a phone call was the best way to talk about it anyhow. “No. I just got out of the shower.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest. He was in uniform, apparently on his way to the office. “Um, Liz. You do know that I delivered your baby so I —”

“Seriously, McGee?”

He grinned. “I’m just saying that there is no need to be modest at this point.”

She rolled her eyes as she flung the door open and walked into the living room area.

“I wish you wouldn’t bring that up. It’s really embarrassing for me.”

His tone had softened but she still didn’t turn to look at him as she tipped her head forward and tightened the towel on her head. “Liz, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep picking on you about that. Listen, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t actually focused on anything other than Bella that day. I really didn’t see anything. I mean, you know, I just caught her and didn’t —we covered you with my coat so I really only reached in and caught her.”

Liz sighed. “I know. You’ve said this before. It’s still just awkward for me.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” He paused as she dropped a couple pieces of bread in the toaster. “Anyhow, I brought you something.”

She turned and he was holding a small bottle toward her. “What’s this?”

“It’s for your anxiety.”

Her eyes narrowed. “My what?”

“Your postpartum anxiety. It might help some and it should be safe to take while nursing. It’s CBD oil.”

“What makes you think —”

“You get the same look my sister used to get when she was battling panic attacks after she had her second. They came out of nowhere, most of the time for no reason. It was a physical reaction too, not in her head. She tried to hide them, but she had one at church one day and couldn’t slow her breathing. She almost passed out. All the ladies at church meant well and kept reciting Philippians 4:7, telling her to be anxious for nothing. They didn’t seem to understand her hormones were trying to regulate and triggering the attacks. That might be what’s happening with you. I don’t know but it can’t hurt to try and see if it helps.”

How did he do it? How did he see through her so easily?

Could he see inside her now? Did he know how upset she was that he didn’t tell her he’d been there that night?

She took the bottle slowly. “Thank you.”

She set the bottle on the counter and buttered her toast, her back to him.  “Is something wrong?” he asked. “You seem tense this morning.”

“I’m fine. Just nervous about my first day back.”

“Your mom is watching Bella?”

“Sadly, yes.”

He stepped in front of her as she reached for the refrigerator door. “You’ll do fine, you know.”

She looked up at him and his green eyes met hers. They swam with concern and she knew she should tell him what she was really upset about, but she couldn’t. She had to get dressed and go to work. She didn’t have time to hash out what he’d witnessed that night in her apartment.

She swallowed hard. “Thank you for the CBD oil.”

He nodded, breaking his gaze with her. “You’re welcome. You can ask Linda more about it at the store. I’m sure she knows all about it.” Pink flushed across his cheeks as he stepped back to the other side of the table. “Or, well, you probably already know about it after working there for the last three years.”

She wanted to giggle at how shy he suddenly seemed, but she was also still angry at him. The waring emotions in her made her want to run away but luckily a knock on the door interrupted them and she stepped out of the kitchen to answer it.

Marge swept past her as soon as she opened the door. “Sorry I’m late. I had to stop at the church and pick up some books for the ladies group tonight. We’re starting a new series.” She pulled her jacket off and turned to hang it on one of the pegs next to the door, pausing when she saw Matt.

“Oh.” She smiled, looking over her shoulder at him as she hung her coat up. “Hello, Matt.”

He nodded. “Hello, Mrs. — I mean, Marge.”

Liz didn’t even want to know what her mother was thinking at that moment. This was the first time they’d all been in the same room since her mom and her had had their blow up about the birth announcement.

Marge and Matt looked at each other for a few moments and Liz silently prayed neither of them would broach the elephant in the room. Finally Matt broke the stand off by clearing his throat.

“Welp, have to get to work, so you ladies have a good day.”

“You too,” Liz said. Please hurry and leave.

Marge drew in a breath and Liz tensed. “Matt, wait, I—” She let out a slow breath and looked at the floor. “Matt, I think, I mean I’m wondering if you told the people at the hospital you were Bella’s father to protect Liz and Bella.”

Matt stood with his hand on the doorknob and nodded, looking directly at Marge as she raised her gaze again. “Yes, ma’am, that’s what I was doing. It wasn’t really well thought out, I realize that, but the nurse already thought I was the father, so it wasn’t much of a jump. I did ask her to keep it out of the paper, but she must have forgotten. I apologize if this has caused any difficulties for your family.”

Marge sighed. “It hasn’t caused anything difficult for us, it’s you I’m worried about Matt. What others might think of you. What the people at church are thinking.”

Matt laughed. “I’m not worried about that Marge.” His expression became serious again and his gaze drifted to Liz. “Liz and Bella are more important to me than all of that.”

Liz swallowed hard and she felt like instead of only being braless she was standing naked in her kitchen with Matt and her mom both looking at her, as if waiting for a response. She couldn’t respond, though. She didn’t know what to say. He’d never said anything so blunt to her before and she was having a hard time wrapping her mind around it.

“Anyhow,” he said before she had a chance to respond. “Off to work. You ladies have a good day.”

Liz turned toward her bedroom as soon as he closed the door behind him. She was not having a conversation with her mom about this right now. “I’m going to go get dressed.”

She filled her time before walking out the door filling her mom in on where the bottles of breastmilk were, how to warm them, and where the extra diapers were, not giving her a chance to broach the topic of Matt.

“Bye, Mom.” She rushed for the door. “Thanks again.”

“Good luck, honey!” her mom called after her.

In the car Liz gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. She needed to focus on her first day back at work, not on Matt McGee.

Why had he said it that way? That she and Bella were more important to him than what people thought of him? And in front of her mom.

She growled in frustration as she turned the car toward the health food store, anxious to get her first day out of the way.

Fiction Thursday: A New Chapter Chapter 12

Just a couple of notes: I wrote this chapter and several others after it before I got sick with Covid so if it doesn’t make sense, it was simply my normal brain fog. I also tentatively changed the name of the book from The Next Chapter to A New Chapter. We will see if I stick with that. What do all of you think? Don’t care? I wouldn’t blame you. Let me know in the comments.

For anyone new, these chapters are part of a book in progress so there are typos and errors and plot holes that I fix before I self-publish the book later down the road. Or hopefully, I fix them and don’t upload the wrong file like I did for a couple previous books. Argh! Anyhow, moving right along to chapter 12.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.

Chapter 12

Ginny looked at the dress and blouse Liz had lain on the bed and pondered it for a few moments. She turned to her closet and pulled out a blue dress and then a maroon one. The blue dress was sleeveless, like the black one. The maroon one featured short, puffed sleeves, which had never looked good on her. She eliminated it from her selection and looked between the black and blue dress.

Liz was probably right about the black dress. It would look nice with the white blouse pulled over it.

The problem was, Stan had seen her in all of these dresses. She worn the black one for last year’s banquet. She shouldn’t wear it two years in a row, should she? She could wear the white blouse with that blue skirt with all those funky swirling patterns on it. It had been a gift from Olivia. She hadn’t been brave enough to wear it yet.

She bit her lower lip and studied the skirt then slipped it on. It fell down to her shins, perfect to wear with those brown suede boots she’d picked up at the consignment shop at the beginning of summer.

She tried the boots on and pulled on the blouse then stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of the door.

Huh. Not too shabby.

She turned to the side and her gaze fell on her belly. It was slightly less pronounced than the last time she looked, but she would still need another few bike sessions before it went all the way away.

She thought about what Liz had said earlier. “Just wait until Stan sees you. He won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

Ginny’s chest tightened. Wouldn’t he, though? He was certainly able to keep his hands off her a lot these days. She couldn’t even remember the last time he’d hugged her, let alone held her in his arms.

The engine of Stan’s car rumbled in the driveway and she took a deep breath and reached for the necklace she’d laid out on the dresser. She needed to hurry. Stan loved to be early to these banquets.

She had already pulled out the suit he like to wear, along with the white shirt, blue tie and matching cuff links.

She looked at her earrings in the mirror, leaned back and took a deep breath. The outfit wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. She was out of time.

She descended the stairs and found Stan loosening his tie in the living room, looking down at an opened newspaper on the coffee table. “Hey, hon. I’ve only got a few minutes. I’ve got to head up and get dressed.”

“I set everything out for you,” she said, stepping off the bottom step.

He slid the tie he’d been wearing all the way off and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his dress shirt. “Thanks.” He turned and started to walk toward the stairs then stopped. His brow furrowed and he frowned. “What are you all dressed up for? You have another night out with Liz? It isn’t time for the fundraiser yet is it? I thought that was in a couple of weeks.”

Her chest constricted. Was he joking? If so then that would be a departure from his recent demeanor. “What do you mean why am I dressed up. Your banquet is tonight, right.”

Stan was still frowning. He shrugged a shoulder. “Well, yeah, but you told me a few weeks ago you hate these things. I gave your ticket to Frank. He had a date he wanted to bring.”

She tossed the small black purse she’d planned to take on the recliner next to the couch and turned away from him, her hands on her hips. Her lower lip quivered, and tears stung her eyes but she wasn’t going to let him see she was upset. It wouldn’t matter anyhow. He’d probably call her too sensitive or remind her she was “going through the change and that makes everything seem worse than it is.”

“You don’t mind, right?” He walked toward the stairs.

She drew in a shaky breath and tried to keep her tone calm. “No. I guess not. It’s just that I go with you every year and —.”

He was half way up the stairs. “Yeah, but you’ve been so busy this year with the library and the fall fund raiser and now helping Liz. I talked about it with you the other day, remember?

“No,” she mumbled as the bedroom door closed upstairs. “No. I do not remember.”

She sat on the couch, smoothing the skirt down over her knees. Maybe he had talked to her about it. Maybe she’d been texting Sarah about the fund raiser at the same time. Maybe Olivia had called with another California Crisis while he was talking or maybe it was the day Clint had called to say they’d be moving back out in about a month now instead of the two months he’d thought it would be.

She bit her bottom lip and swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye. It was just a banquet and she did hate them. They went on for every with every real estate agent who every walked and breathed in a three-county area taking the podium to update the attendees about every single accomplishment they’d had that year. Then there was Stan, accepting his award, thanking her and while he’d once meant it and they’d once been like a team, that wasn’t true anymore.

His appreciation of her wouldn’t be sincere this time. They barely knew each other these days. He’d be putting on an act at that podium, just like she was putting on an act now. She pulled her shoulders back, straightened her back as she heard the bedroom door open. Time to pretend she was fine with this. Time to pretend she didn’t care. Time to be a grown up and realize her life was changing.

She and Stan weren’t the people they used to be. Not every marriage was like Robert and Annie Tanner’s, close and romantic even 30-years later.

Some people just slowly grew apart and that’s what was happening with her and Stan. She’d never consider divorce, of course, but it was time to accept that their future years would most likely be lived mainly apart.y apart.

Their romantic moments had happened, and been wonderful, but that part of their life was over.

She barely noticed as he leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Hey. You’re okay, right?”

She nodded and stood quickly, heading toward the kitchen, and tightening her jaw with resolve. “Of course I am.”

“Good and listen don’t worry about me. I know you support me. I appreciate that.” He pulled on his suit coat and reached for his keys. “Plus, don’t you have stuff you wanted to do before Tiffany and Clint come back? And what about Olivia, did she ever make up her mind about coming home?”

Ginny pulled a mug for her tea out of the cupboard by the fridge. “Hmm? Oh yes. She said she’s going to stay out there until Christmas break.”

He reached for his jacket and slid the keys into his pocket, walking toward the front door. “Good. That’s settled then. Okay, I’ve got to head out. There’s an abandoned warehouse out on highway 10 that Jake Landsdale wants me to look and I’m going to check it out before the banquet. We’re trying to track down the owners because there’s a huge commercial firm that is interested in the property. I’ve heard they might build a distribution center there. It would mean a lot of jobs for the area. I’ll call you on my way home and let you know how I did, okay?”

“Yeah,” she said at the already closed door. “Okay.”

She sat at the table and swallowed her emotion with a sip of tea. He hadn’t even noticed her hair, she realized as she propped her chin in her hand and her elbow on the table. She laughed softly, her eyes burning with unshed tears. Her prediction had come true. She had told herself he wouldn’t even notice, and he didn’t.


Stan turned his car toward Paskey Road at the bidding of his GPS, Ginny’s expression when he’d left the house still in his mind.

Well, that was weird.

Ginny hated these real estate banquets. Why had she seemed so annoyed that he had given her ticket away? He thought she’d be happy. Now she could stay home and read a book or bake or whatever else she did when he wasn’t home.

“Turn left onto Anderson Road.” The woman’s voice on the GPS was warm, soothing.

Ginny’s voice had once been warm and soothing. Now she just rambled about night sweats, the library, art classes, every single crisis their kids had going on, and most recently about Liz Cranmer. He scoffed, shook his head as he turned the car left. There was a development he hadn’t expected — her forming some kind of connection with their daughter-in-law’s younger, somewhat troubled sister.

He felt guilty calling Liz troubled. Just because she’d tried to kill herself last year didn’t mean he should be placing a label on her. Still, she was a bit, well, troubled. She’d lived a full year with that physical therapist who had made a scene a couple of years ago at a restaurant he and Ginny had been at. Obviously the man couldn’t hold his liquor very well.

“In half a mile, turn left on Henderson Road.”

A twinge of guilt tugged at him. He wasn’t supposed to even know about Liz’s suicide attempt, and he wouldn’t have if Matt hadn’t asked for prayer for her during the men’s meeting last year. Matt hadn’t said at the meeting what had happened or even named Liz. Stan had overheard him talking to Jason Tanner when he’d gone to get his coat. Matt had sworn Jason to secrecy but was deeply worried about Liz, not only her physical health but her spiritual health. Jason had promised to pray and to assuage his guilt, Stan had promised himself to pray for Liz too. He had prayed that night but knew he should have prayed for her more over the last year.

He couldn’t figure out what had drawn Ginny to the woman.

Maybe his wife felt like she needed some kind of project to occupy her time when she wasn’t at work.

He squinted into the setting sun, then reached for his sunglasses hooked in the sun visor.

Where was this building anyhow? He needed to check it out before he brought the representatives of that firm from the city here to show them the land. He also needed to find the owner to see if they would sell. This could be a big deal for the area. More jobs would be a definite boon to this area hard hit by recessions and crashing milk prices.

“Three-twenty-eight Henderson Road. There it is.”

The two-story brick structure was barely visible behind a veil of vines and overgrown trees and bushes. Sliding the car into park, Stan reflected again on his wife’s demeanor when he’d told her she didn’t have to go with him to the banquet. The way she’d flopped onto the couch, kicked off her boots. Brown boots he’d never seen her wear before.

There was something different about her too. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe her make-up. Was her lipstick a different color?

He shrugged a shoulder as he stepped into the chilly autumn air and headed toward the building. He didn’t see any signs posted, nothing to indicate who the building belonged to or when it had been built. It was clear, though, it wasn’t in use and hadn’t been for a long time. The windows were broken out, the shingled roof was breaking apart, large metal doors rusted at the top of a flight of stone stairs.

The metal doors were slightly open, and Stan wondered if he should investigate, but decided against it and walked around to the back of the building instead. Maybe he could find a clue to who owned the building there. From what he could remember, this building had once been a factory warehouse of some kind. Despite living in this area his entire life, other than the four years he’d spent away at college, he’d never heard definitively what the building had been.  

When he reached the back parking lot, overgrown with grass poking up through the cement and asphalt, he noticed there was another door around the back. It was cracked open like the front, a chain and bolt hanging down from the metal door handle as if it had been cut open.

It was probably someone living in the building, squatting as it was called when the person hadn’t been given permission to live there. Stan would report it to the building owner, if he knew who it was. He walked up the steps toward the door and reached for the handle, then hesitated. This was probably a job for the police, not a real estate agent used to sitting at a desk and on his way to a banquet in one of his best suits.

This building was in the state police’s jurisdiction and Stan doubted they’d come out and investigate a possible squatter. Matt might come with him on his day off, though, if the kid ever had a day off. It seemed like he was always working or volunteering somewhere, which is why it had surprised Stan when he’d read in the paper he’d had a baby with Liz.

When had he had any time for a dating life? Stan turned to walk back toward his car and laughed softly. Not like a man had to have a dating life to father a baby. Still, Matt didn’t seem the type to simply sleep with a woman and walk away. There had to be more to that story. Unlike Ginny, though, he didn’t have any interest or time to take on a personal project. Not too mention Matt’s personal life was none of his business.

He rubbed his hands together to brush off the dirt and slid behind the steering wheel. Turning the car on he realized he didn’t feel the anticipation he should be feeling at the prospect of earning another Real Estate Agent of the Year Award. These banquets really were boring. Having Ginny with him had always broken up the monotony, given him someone to chat with while the other agents droned on and on about their triumphs over the last year. She’d never been too hard on the eyes those nights either.

Oh well. Couldn’t be helped now. She’d probably changed into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt by now. He’d have to make it up to her next year, if he was nominated again. If he wasn’t, then maybe he’d stay home too. There were only so many speeches about real estate he could listen to and give.

He turned the car back onto the main highway toward the sportsmen’s club, the annual site for the banquet. No more feeling guilty about giving Ginny’s ticket away.

She hadn’t wanted to go anyhow.

This would be a good night. He could go talk shop with his fellow agents without feeling like he needed to rush her home.  Besides, she liked quiet nights at home with a cup of tea and a book. She was always saying how much she looked forward to nights like that.

Why was he even thinking about all this? There was nothing to think about.

He flipped the radio station to the oldies channel and leaned back. Singing along to Fat Domino he tapped his hand on the steering wheel.

Yep. It was going to be a good night.

Fiction Thursday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 10

I’m posting a chapter on Thursday because Bettie asked me to. That is all.

To catch up with the story click HERE or see the link at the top of the page.

Chapter 10

She glared at her reflection, at the boring, straight strands falling around her shoulders, and wished she was young again.
When she was younger, she could cut her hair and feel like a different person. Not now. Nothing she did made Ginny feel like a different person. She was the same, boring, never-does-anything-exciting woman she always was, whether her hair was pulled back in a ponytail or hanging across her shoulders.

Still, maybe a change would help her feel less stuck somehow. She pulled the hair up on her head and held it in place with her hands, turning her head and looking at the effect in the mirror.
Maybe she should have it styled differently. Or cut it short.
What would Stan think, though?

She snorted.

He’d never even notice.
His nose was buried too far into real estate paperwork.
She picked up her phone as it rang. She heard her thoughts in Liz’s voice. “I want to make a change and I’m starting with my hair. Is that stupid?”
Ginny huffed out a breath blowing at a strand of hair that had fallen across her forehead. A strand of hair that had once been blond but now featured streaks of gray. “No. Not at all because it’s the same thought I had.”
“I’ll get us an appointment with Missy.”

Missy Fowler? Ginny had always gone to Betty Richardson. Missy was for young women. Her styles were more modern, bolder, and — exactly what she needed.

“See if she has anything Friday afternoon. I’m free then.”


Most of the time she didn’t think about the night with the pill bottle clutched in her hand, the way she’d swallowed all those pills and wanted it all to end but then all of the sudden, when her chest had gotten tighter and her breathing was shallow, she suddenly didn’t want it all to end.

She’d tried to throw it all up but it didn’t work, no matter how many times she shoved her finger into the back of her throat.

Her hand had trembled when she reached for the phone, her vision blurring as she hit the number 9, as far as she got but luckily enough for her cellphone to tap into the local emergency center.

She’d tasted bile and choked out the words around a rush of vomit. “Help me.”

When she woke up bright lights blazed into her eyes, deep into her brain. Voices swirled in her mind, running together, overlapping, making no sense.

“Pills . . . floor . . . bottle . . . Hold her down we need to get an IV in . . . pregnancy test. Check that, Tom.”

She hadn’t known who Tom was at the time. Maybe that good-looking emergency room doctor she later found out Jessie Landry was dating, which means he obviously had no taste anyhow. Later she learned Tom Stapleton was Matt’s partner, a veteran police officer, on the force some 20-years. He must have been the responding officer, the first to arrive before the ambulance. She wished she could remember but by then her world had begun to fade around her and she’d started imagining her friends and family crowded around her casket in Homer’s Funeral Home.

Matt’s partner was how he had found out about her being in the hospital. Tom had thought the two were dating and asked Matt if she was okay. The day Matt came into the hospital room to check on her she had wished her bed would transform into a venus fly trap so she could disappear inside.

She’d smoothed a hand back through her hair but she knew it wasn’t going to help. She was a mess. There was no getting around it.

Matt’s expression had been hard to read. He seemed to be trying to be cheerful but there was something else lingering behind his eyes. Was it concern? Disgust? Liz seized on the disgust interpretation in that moment because it was the emotion she held toward herself. Absolute and total disgust. How had she sunk so low that first she was pregnant with the baby of a man she despised and second she’d actually tried to kill herself? Kill herself. My God. She’d fallen so far. It wasn’t something she’d ever considered before, even when she’d battled depression while living with Gabe. What had snapped in her brain to make her think that was the logical way to handle the news of her pregnancy?

And now here she was in a hospital room with the handsome police officer she’d gone out on two dates with looking at her like she was a complete crazy person, most likely wondering what he’d been thinking asking her out in the first place. Until the moment she saw those two lines on that pregnancy test she had seen the possibility of a new future with Matt, one full of tenderness and friendship and maybe even love. A future very much unlike the bleak one she’d been looking at when she’d been living with Gabe, before she woke up and gathered her courage to walk away.

“I took too many pills from a prescription I had for painkillers. It was an accident.” The lie spilled out of her before she even thought. There was no way she could tell Matt the truth. Not now. Not ever. She laughed a little pathetic laugh that she hoped sounded real. “It was for a knee injury I had a few months ago. It had flared up again but I guess I forgot how many pills I was supposed to take. When I realized I had taken four instead of two I tried to throw them up. It didn’t work so I called 911.”
It wasn’t all a lie. The pills had been painkillers and she had been prescribed them for a knee injury. The pain from that injury had been long gone before that night, though, and she’d definitely taken more than four pills. It was clearly not an accident.

Matt seemed to buy it, hook line and sinker.
“Yeah. Those directions can be confusing sometimes.” He’d reached over from the chair he was sitting in, leaning toward her, and covered her hand with his. “All that matters is you are still with us. It all could have ended a lot differently.”
The words haunted her for weeks afterward and even now she thought about them often.
“It all could have ended a lot differently.”

She looked at the baby asleep in the crib next to her and took a deep breath, grateful she had a breath to take, grateful she had a baby to look at.

She tossed the covers off of her and walked gingerly toward the desk on the other side of the room. Opening her laptop she blinked in the light, waited for her eyes to adjust, and read the email she’d received a couple hours earlier.

Dear Liz Cranmer:
Thank you for taking the time to apply to Travers Community College. We are pleased to let you know that you have been accepted for the fall semester for online classes and may begin scheduling your classes upon receipt of this letter.

There it was. Her green light to improve herself. Her green light to forget the past, change her future. Her green light to reject who she’d been before. Her green light to at least pretend she was a fully functioning adult and not an abject failure at everything she tried.

Maybe she’d fail at this too.

Maybe she’d be unable to understand the coursework.

Maybe her thoughts about being stupid were true.

Maybe. Lots of maybes.

But maybe she’d succeed and maybe she’d make a better life, not only for herself but for her daughter.