Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 15

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 15

“So, the dude with Angie is her boyfriend.” Judi pushed a bite of cake into her mouth. “He’s a doctor.”

The cake was amazing. Judi hadn’t eaten cake in — well, she didn’t know how long. She’d always stayed away from cake to try to keep her figure. She couldn’t believe what she’d been missing. This had been her third piece since they’d gotten there.

She stared at the half-eaten piece for a few seconds, then laid the fork back down. Whoa. She was about trade one addiction for another. The sugar addiction wouldn’t kill her as fast as the alcohol might, but still. She pushed the plate away.

“Anyhow, that’s what Mark says. He’s a nice guy when you get to know him.” She wiped frosting off her upper lip with a napkin. “He hates you, though. We should probably duck out before Angie and the kid gets back before they give you another concussion.”

Ben pushed a hand back through his hair and sipped from the cup of coffee Leona had brought him earlier. A handful of guests were still lingering, helping Leona and Adam clean up. Judi had heard them agree they’d stay around until Amelia came back and opened her gifts. The mention of gifts reminded her of the stuffed bear Ben had shoved in the trunk a few miles back. They’d stopped at a toy store in town. He’d had no idea what to buy but Judi had grabbed the bear, shoved it at is his chest and declared bluntly, “Kids like stuffed things. Let’s go.”

“Should I go get that bear out of the trunk?”

Ben stared into the coffee cup for several moments then jerked his head up suddenly. “Huh? Oh. Yeah. That would be a good idea, I guess.” He sat back in the lounge chair he was sitting in and rubbed the back of his neck. “You know what? Let’s go get that and then let’s head out.” He looked at his watch. “It’s getting late and we’ve got a long drive back.”

Judi wanted to go back. Evan’s suggestion they get together when she got back to Spencer was at the forefront of her mind. Still, something tugged at her conscience and she decided not to agree as quickly as she usually would have.

“Shouldn’t we stay?” She shrugged a shoulder. “Just to see how Amelia is?”

Ben shook his head and sipped the coffee again. “No. I think we should go. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Sure you should. You’re her dad.”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that, and I’ve never acted like a dad, so, no I shouldn’t be here. Plus, it looks like she’s got someone to be her dad anyhow.”

He had a point. Should she tell him he had a point? She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and watched him drinking the coffee and staring blankly at the back of the house.

Actually, both Jesus and Ellie would probably not point out to Ben that he was right about Amelia having a replacement dad. That definitely wouldn’t help his mood.

“Well, still, it would look bad if you just left and didn’t see how she was.”

Ben finished off the coffee. “I’m sure she’s going to be fine. It was just a bloody nose. I got them a ton when I was a kid.”

He said the words but his dipped brow, far-off stare, and hunched shoulders told Judi he didn’t believe it.

“Well, this party has been a bit of a bust, huh?” Adam laughed as he walked over to the table and sat next to Ben. “Angie just called, though, and Amelia seems to be doing fine. No broken bones. They’re heading home soon.”

Ben’s muscles visibly tensed at the word “they’re.”

Ben placed the cup on the table and rubbed a hand across his eyes. “We should be heading out too. We’ve got a long drive back.”

 “You’re welcome to stay the night,” Adam said, folding his hands in front of him as he leaned on the tabletop.  “We’ve got a pullout couch in the den and Angie can sleep in Amelia’s room tonight.”

Ben shook his head quickly. “No. Thank you, but I need to get back and rest up. I’ve got court Monday morning.”

Judi cleared her throat. “Actually, I could use a rest before we head out.”

Adam’s expression brightened as if he was glad he could help somehow. “Sure. You can crash in Angie’s room. It will be a little more private than the den and I’m sure she won’t mind.”

Ben’s expression darkened and he shot Judi a glance she knew meant he was not happy with her. It was true, though. She could use a nap before the drive back.

Manipulating situations was a talent of her’s and she was glad to be able to use it for good this time instead of bad. Stalling their departure would give Ben another chance to see Amelia and say goodbye and maybe give her the gift they’d brought. Leaving now would only leave him on a lower note than he’d been on when he’d arrived. Maybe they could redeem the trip if he and Amelia had another chance to bond. It might make him less grumpy at work on Monday too. Judi wasn’t completely without an ulterior — and self-serving — motive.

She followed Adam into the house. He paused in the kitchen to let Leona know Judi be laying down in Angie’s room and then led Judi up a flight of stairs leading from the dining room and down a narrow hallway with a large window at the end of it.

Adam pushed the door open to a room on the right and as Judi looked to her left, across the hall, she noticed a closed door with a unicorn picture taped to the outside. Turning her attention to Angie’s room, she took in the sunlight pouring in streams across a queen-sized bed with a cherry wood headboard and a comforter featuring pink roses against a white background spread across it. The room even smelled of roses. Clean, tidy, and picturesque. The whole scene made Judi want to roll her eyes. She might have if Adam hadn’t been there and also hadn’t interrupted her thoughts by letting her know where the upstairs bathroom was if she needed it and asking if she’d like an extra blanket from the hall closet.

She thanked him, declining the blanket, and when he’d left and shut the door, she tossed her purse on a chair next to an armoire, stretched her arms over her head while yawning, and looked around the room before flopping back onto the pile of pillows at the top of the bed.

“My-my, Angie Phillipi, you sure know how to live in style.”

She yawned again and rolled onto her side, intending to take the nap she’d said she needed. An open drawer in a desk across from the bed caught her attention briefly but she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t get up and go to look in it. She was turning over a new leaf, changing her ways. She wasn’t about to snoop in the drawers of a desk owned by a woman she barely knew.

When she reached over and laid her phone on a book by the bed the book and the phone fell. The book must have been closer to the edge than she realized. She leaned over and picked the book up and when she did a photograph fluttered to the floor.

“Great. Just trash Angie’s stuff, Judi,” she said to herself as she flipped the photograph over to slide it bask into the book.

Ben and Angie’s smiling faces looked up at her from the photograph and she paused, studying it. Ben’s arm was around Angie who had her body pressed into his side. They were definitely a couple whenever the photo was taken, not only because of Angie’s intimate posture but because of Ben’s hand resting on her thigh. Judi studied the photo for a moment then opened the book to lay the photo inside. Handwritten dates and journal entries made her realize the book was actually a journal. As much as she wanted to know what, if anything, Angie had written about Ben. She was going to stick to her personal promise to not pry into the private lives of others.

She pulled herself back into a comfortable position and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep quicker than she normally did.

The sound of her phone ringing woke her. She answered it without thinking and without looking at the caller ID, her eyes still closed.

“Hey, gorgeous. I didn’t expect you to pick up when you saw my name.”

The voice sliced a chill through her and she sat up, her eyes popping open. She swallowed hard, wanting to slide her finger over the end call button but feeling as if she were in a daze. Her arms wouldn’t move, her mouth had gone dry, and an odd roar filled her ears.

“Speechless huh?” A sardonic laugh filtered loudly through the phone, causing her to flinch as she realized she’d bumped the speaker button.  “Yeah, well too bad you weren’t speechless when you lied to Seline about that night in my apartment.” Jeff’s cheerful timbre slid into a more mocking tone. “Funny how you didn’t mention to her how you were all over me all night in the bar and all those highballs you kicked back before you asked me to take you back to my place.”

Judi pulled the phone back and started to hit the end call button, noticing the tremor in her hand.

“You wanted it, Judi. You know it. I was only giving you what you wanted before you decided you weren’t going to let me have it. That’s how girls like you are. You beg for it all night long and when we finally give in, then you cry rape. That’s what sluts do, Judi. You know that right? You don’t want your family to know what a slut you are, do you?”

She gasped as the phone was snatched from her hand. She looked up to see Ben standing above her with her phone in his hand, anger flashing in his eyes. She couldn’t figure out where he’d come from or how she hadn’t heard the bedroom door open.

“Who is this?” he hissed at the phone.

“Who is this?” Jeff shot back. “Judi’s new boyfriend?”

“No. This is Judi’s lawyer, and it sounds to me like you’re trying to blackmail my client and I don’t appreciate that and neither will a judge when we — “

Jeff spat a curse word and the line went dead.

Judi hugged her arms around herself, suddenly aware her entire body had grown cold and she was trembling.

“You okay?”

She started to shake her head but changed her mind and nodded.

He lowered his voice and she noticed out of the corner of her eye that the bedroom door was open and she could see into the room across the hall. Amelia was sitting on a pink canopy bed with a doll, brushing its hair.

“Amelia is showing me her room but when I’m done, we need to talk about what just happened. Don’t tell me it was nothing. I don’t know who that guy was but he was threatening you. Is this related to that text you got from some Seline earlier?”

Judi’s head jerked up and her mouth dropped open. “Wha —”

Ben held his hand up and turned toward the doorway. “No. Don’t tell me now. Take a deep breath, calm down and we’ll talk when we get in the car.”

“How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know whoever that guy is he’s a piece of garbage.” He paused, his hand on the doorknob. His tone had softened. “Are you going to be okay for a few minutes?”

Judi nodded but didn’t speak. Ben studied her for a few moments, eyes narrowing, then stepped into the hallway and closed the door. She’d been afraid to speak. If she had, the wall might have fallen, the emotion might have spilled over, and she wouldn’t have been able to put the lid back on again.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 14

I shared a chapter from this story yesterday to make up for missing last week.

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 14

Ben felt like he was going to throw up and it wasn’t only because of the gas station hot dog he’d eaten a half an hour before.

Parked in front of a cozy stone farmhouse surrounded almost entirely by flat land and corn fields , he narrowed his eyes and chewed on his lower lip, tapping the side of his finger against his chin.

“Let’s forget it.”

Judi laughed at his words and finished applying her make up. “After driving four hours, which included sitting for almost two, eating garbage food and being used as your therapist? I think not.”

Evan had said he’d run into Angie’s brothers somewhere in Spencer, something Ben been able to avoid for the last couple of years since he’d moved back to the area. He wondered if they’d be there today and if they were, he wondered if he’d get out of this party alive. The pair owned and ran their own construction business and were about as big in the shoulders as Jason Tanner. Together they could have made up half of the defensive line of a NFL team. He was actually surprised they hadn’t killed him already.

“I’m not really well liked in there, Judi.” His palms were actually sweating. Nausea gripped him and he had a sudden urge to drop his head between his knees and gasp in a few mouthfuls of air. “This could really end badly.”

“Her parents wanted you here, right?”

Ben nodded slowly, his eyes on the front door, drifting across the yard lined with cars, two of them large, black pickups he knew were Dan and Mark Philippi’s. His gaze lingered on the back of the truck and he wondered if that’s where they’d throw his body before they drove somewhere remote to dispose of it.

“Yeah, they did want me here, but actually being here is another story.”

Judi laughed, a carefree laugh which grated on his nerves even more. “It’ll be fine and if it isn’t, then at least it will be entertaining for me.” She winked and slid on a pair of sunglasses. “Come on, big Mr. Attorney. You can handle this. It’s not like it’s any worse than a murder trial.”

Ben took a deep breath and opened the door. “My clients aren’t usually murders, but thanks.”

Each step he took up the sidewalk was like walking knee deep in mud. He’d only seen photographs of Amelia. For all he knew she might run away screaming from him. He looked at the stone underneath him and knew Adam had crafted this sidewalk like he had the one at their old house back in Spencer. The man was a craftsman through and through, whether it was with stone or wood.

He stopped at the door and Judi stepped next to him. The gold door hanger glinted in the sun as he shoved his hands in his pockets.

“That’s not how you knock on a door,” Judi said reaching up and slamming the knocker twice.

“I’m absolutely regretting agreeing to this,” he told her as footsteps broke through the muffled sounds of children’s giggles and squeals and adult laughter.

The person he’d hoped would be standing on the other side of the door when it opened was not who appeared and he visibly flinched, stepping back in anticipation of Mark Philippi’s fist hitting his face. The smile Mark had been wearing immediately slipped as dark brows furrowed and the rugged jawline clenched.

Ben expected the door to be slammed in his face and it might have if Judi hadn’t leaned into the doorway. “Hey! Is this the right place for a party? Also, do you have a little girls’ room because I could really use one.”

Judi’s appearance seemed to throw Mark off his game almost as much as seeing Ben standing at his parents’ door. “Uh. Yeah. Sure.”

Judi didn’t wait for Ben to make the first move. She stepped past him and m Mark, looking up at the latter  on the way by. “Oh, you’re a tall one, aren’t you?” She lifted her sunglasses for a minute, looked Mark up and down and winked. “Do you work as a bouncer? You’ve got to with those shoulders.”

Mark’s expression faded to an unreadable mask, but one eyebrow lifted. “The bathroom is down this hall. First door on the left.”

Judi didn’t miss a beat. She placed the sunglasses on top of her head and kept smiling. “Awesome. Thank you so much.”

Her departure left Ben standing with a stone faced Mark still holding the front door open before the tension was finally cut by Adam appearing from behind Mark, almost as if by magic. “Ben!” He stuck his hand out. “You made it! What a great surprise!”

Ben accepted the handshake and Adam shook it firmly. “Come on in. You must be exhausted. That’s a long drive.”

Adam gently pulled Ben forward, forcing him to step around Mark who was now scowling down at him like a Sumo wrestler who’d just been told he wasn’t getting any dinner.

“How was your drive?” Adam asked as he released Ben’s hand outside the living room entrance.

“Okay, but we did break down about an hour from here. I apologize that it made us late.”

“No worries at all.” Adam smiled and motioned toward the hallway Judi had walked down. “Things are just getting started. Everyone is in the backyard with the piñata and bouncy house.” He laughed and held his hand up toward his mouth like he was letting Ben in on a secret. “Yes, we went a little over board and splurged for the bouncy house, but she only turns four once. And it was a good deal.”

Ben took Adam’s appearance in. Short cropped brown hair with flecks of gray in it now, maybe thinner than before but good-colored complexion. His brown eyes sparkled with excitement and he seemed well. Maybe he wasn’t sick. Maybe it was Leona. Or maybe it was Angie. Or —

“Ben!” Leona’s voice from behind him turned him from Angie’s father to a petite woman in her mid-50s with graying honey blond hair cropped along her jaw line.

Leona held her arms out to him and embraced him before he could respond. The parents of the woman he’d abandoned four years ago were certainly being very welcoming and he wasn’t sure how to take it.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Leona said with a warm smile. “We didn’t think you were going to be able to make it. I thought you weren’t allowed to drive yet.”

“Oh, I’m not yet, but —”

Once again Judi had horrible timing. She came down the hall with a broad smile and stood next to him. He gestured briefly at Judi. “But my secretary nicely offered to drive me.”

“Hello.” Judi smiled and waved at Adam and Leona whose smiles faded briefly then returned. She waved again at Mark who managed a faint smile. “So nice to meet you.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you too,” Adam said. “Thank you for driving Ben down.”

 Leona’s smile was as warm as before as she motioned toward the hall. “You both must be starving. We have plenty of food in the backyard.” She looked at her son. “Mark, why don’t you and your dad walk Judi out and grab her something to drink.”

Mark kept his gaze on Ben for a few seconds then looked at his mother and smiled a smile Ben knew was forced. “Sure. I’d be glad to.”

When Adam and Mark led Judi to the backyard, Leona turned toward Ben and he felt the knot in his stomach return. “Leona, listen, it was really nice of you and Adam to invite me and to want me here, but Angie —”

Leona held up her hand. “Didn’t want you here. I know. We are going against her wishes but we felt it was time for you to get to know your daughter more.” She laid her hand against Ben’s shoulder. “Will you come into the living room with me for a moment?”

Ben followed the woman who had once been like a mother-in-law to him into a cozy room with white walls, blue flowers on white couches and chairs, and a high-backed recliner that he imagined was Adam’s. Along one wall was a floor to ceiling bookcase which he immediately envied. A television sat inside a cubby in the wall of the bookcase, which in addition to being filled with books was also lined with various frames full of photographs of a bright-eyed, blond haired little girl, some with Adam and Leona, one with a laughing Angie. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw her laugh. She probably laughed a lot now that she didn’t have to deal with his various issues.

He also couldn’t remember when he’d last seen Angie in person. Probably when Amelia was a year old and he’d run into them when he was home for a visit around Christmas and her family was preparing to sell and move to Lancaster. It had been in a small farm store the Tanner’s ran and he’d been picking up milk his mom had asked for. Amelia and Leona had been picking up sweet potatoes and various baked goods.

He’d ducked behind tall rows of canned vegetables and fruits like a coward while they passed by. His gaze had fallen to Angie first, his chest aching at how beautiful she was, then had drifted to the baby propped against her hip, full and pouting lips, wide eyes that looked so much like his own, and Angie’s blond hair. In that moment he’d felt like the scum of the earth and left the store without the milk, lying to his mom and telling her they were out.

He looked at the photos again. Amelia on a swing at a playground, on the back of a pony, in a pool, in Angie’s arms. His chest ached like that day in the store. What was he even doing here? He kept thinking of a song from the early 90s where the singer called himself a creep and lamented he didn’t belong here —wherever here was. Ben felt the same way. He was a creep who didn’t belong in this house.

“I know this is awkward for you.” Leona’s voice brought him back to the present and turned him around. “It’s awkward for us too. We didn’t even know if you wanted anything to do with Amelia, but we had to take a chance. We really felt like —I mean, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but we felt like God was leading us to reach out to you. Adam and I truly feel Amelia’s father should be a part of her life.”

He kept his hands in his pockets and nodded his head slowly, looking at the photos again briefly before he moved his gaze to Leona’s. “I don’t mind you saying that, Leona, but this isn’t what Angie wants.”

“Is it what you want?”

“What do you mean?”

“To be a part of Amelia’s life.”

Ben scratched rubbed a hand against the back of his head, scratched there. “Listen, I —”

“Mom, we’re getting ready to open presents, where are —” Angie’s expression as she came around the corner and saw Ben standing there switched quickly from shocked to annoyed within five seconds flat. Her smooth jawline tightened and her lips pressed into a thin line. One hand flew to her hip as she gestured toward him with the other hand. “What’s he doing here?”

Leona cleared her throat. “Your father and I invited him.”

“I know, but I told him I didn’t want him here.” Angie was mainly looking at her mother, occasionally casting looks Ben’s way, as if he could see them but couldn’t hear them.

“We invited him again and —”

“Decided not to tell me he was coming.”

“No, that’s not it, he had a concussion and couldn’t drive so we didn’t think he was coming. His secretary drove him here.”

Angie rolled her eyes. “I knew that girl looked familiar. Judi Lambert.” She scoffed. “Secretary. Yeah right. Nice try.”

She still wasn’t looking at Ben.

“Angie, honey, we’re not trying to cause any issues, we just felt Ben should see his daughter before the move.”

Ben cocked an eyebrow and looked between the two women. “The move?”

Leona turned her head to face him. “We’re moving back to Spencer Valley. Adam’s mother is very ill and we’re going back to take care of her. Adam also wants to move his furniture business there to run it with his brother.”

“Oh,” Ben said.

“He doesn’t need to know about the move because he’s not involved in it,” Angie snapped.

Leona left out a heavy sigh. “We didn’t want him to be shocked if he saw us, or you, around.”

Pink flushed along Angie’s cheekbones. “So call and tell him. He didn’t need to be told in person.”

Ben rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger, the muscles along his neck and shoulder tensing. “Yeah, okay, well thanks for talking about me like I’m not in the room. That’s been fun, but I’m more than willing to —”

“Maybe I’m talking about you like you’re not in the room because you aren’t supposed to be in the room.” Angie’s words snapped his sentence off and left him with a sick feeling in his stomach. Her voice dripped with absolute vitriol.

Leona stepped forward between them and held up her hands, palms out. “Okay. Truce. There was some miscommunication. Your father and I invited him again and we didn’t tell you because we thought he wasn’t coming. Now he is here, and I think he should be allowed to meet Amelia. With your permission.”

Angie folded her arms across her chest. “No. I’m not giving you my permission. I don’t want him here.” She looked at Ben. “Oh, sorry. I don’t want you to feel left out so I’ll tell you.” She pointed toward the front door. “I don’t want you here. You and your so-called secretary need to leave.”

“Angie, please —”

“Mom! She doesn’t even know him. What do you think I’m going to do walk out there and tell her I got her a daddy for her birthday?”

“No, I don’t think that, Angela. We don’t have to tell her who he is right now. Just that he’s a friend of yours —”

“Of mine?”

“Fine, of your father’s and mine.”

“Hi.” Ben waved slowly, wishing he had taken painkillers before he walked in. “Can I have a say in any of this?”

Angie’s eyes flashed with anger. “You haven’t for the last four years so why should you now?”

Leona tipped her head back and let out an exasperated sigh. “Angela…”

“It’s true, Mom. Where has he been? He sends money. That’s it.”

“At least I do that,” Ben mumbled. “Not to mention, you made it very clear more than once that you didn’t want me around.”

The muscle in Angie’s neck that always jumped when she was angry was bouncing over time. Ben knew he should be focused on what she was saying, but instead he was remembering when he used to kiss that neck, smoothing the muscle, and her, into submission.

Before Angie could respond — and Ben did wonder what she had been about to say — a small figure bounced into the living room wearing a purple tutu and a hot pink shirt with a white kitten on it. She turned her body toward Ben and placed her hands on her hips, striking a pose right out of her mother’s playbook.

Her eyebrows dipped. “And who are you?”

Her little voice demanded an answer.  She had his blue eyes and his nose and the way she was scowling at him right now he had a feeling she had a bit of his temper in her too. He only hoped she learned how to manage it better than he had.

“Uh, I’m Ben,” he said hesitantly, unable to look away from her even as he felt Angie’s eyes boring into the side of his head.

The brow relaxed. “Hey, Ben, I’m Amelia. Are you here for my party?”

“Uh. Yeah. I am.”

Her eyes dropped to his foot, still wrapped in a boot, though smaller than it had been three months ago. She poked a finger in her mouth and slid it out again then pointed down. “What happened to your foot? Do you have a booboo?”

He nodded slowly. “Yes actually. It’s broken.”

“Did you fall?” She looked up at him and blinked a few times. For a moment  he almost lost himself in those eyes, spiraling down into racing thoughts of all the years of her life he’d missed, all the firsts and milestones — first words, first steps, books read before bed . . .

Her little hand reached out and in seconds her tiny fingers had curled around two of his. She tugged him forward. “Come see the backyard. It’s pink for my birthday.”

“Amelia, honey. You don’t even know —”

Angie left the final word hanging in the air. Ben looked over his shoulder and saw her lips parted, her eyes focused on his, and then the quick intake of breath as she dropped her gaze to the floor. She was right, though. Amelia didn’t even know him.

He dutifully followed his daughter, though, with Angie and Leona close behind. How could he say no to this little girl whose fingers were so soft against his, whose eyes had met his and still decided he should come see her birthday party.

They passed through a cozy, bright kitchen that smelled of fresh lemons and something else sweet that made his stomach growl. Squinting in the bright sunlight as they stepped through the patio doors made his head pound. He reached for his sunglasses, to cut down on the glare.

When his eyes adjusted behind the darkened lenses, he wished he’d still been blinded by the light. Mark’s hard stare had been joined by an equally hard stare from his brother Dan, both of them standing like two burly security guards by a table full of food, their arms folded across their broad chests. Judi was sitting at a small table with a group of young children, sipping from a pink paper cup with a unicorn on the side.

Amelia was right. The backyard had indeed been decorated in pink, with pink streamers hanging down from the ceiling on an erected white tent, pink tablecloths on the tables, pink balloons tacked to a back fence and along the streamers. Even the bouncy house was a pink unicorn castle with pink flags on top.

“Come on.” She tugged him toward the small table where Judi was sitting. “You can sit with me. I’m the birthday girl.”

Ben looked over his shoulder at Angie standing on the patio, watching him closely. Sitting down with his little girl might make her eyes flash even more with anger but refusing to do so might also break a little heart. He made himself comfortable on a preschool sized chair next to Judi show smirked at him as she lifted her cup and took a sip.

“Fruit punch with sherbert,” Judi told him with a grin.

Amelia sat on her chair and lifted a silver plastic tiara off the table, placing it on her head.  “So, Ben, are you friends with my mommy?”

Ben swallowed hard. “Um…”

He glanced at Angie who had stepped into the backyard, sitting a few feet away at an adult sized table with her parents and some other people he didn’t recognize. They must have been the parents of the other children running around. Angie was watching him but everyone else had gone back to eating and chatting.

He had no idea if she could hear him or not. “I know your mommy. Knew. I mean I knew your mommy.”

Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. Knew her mother was a definite understatement.

Amelia studied him in a way that made him feel like she could see right through him for several seconds. Then she abruptly pulled her gaze away and scooped her finger in a glob of icing, sticking the finger in her mouth.

“I like ponies,” she said when she pulled the finger out with a pop. “Do you like ponies?”

What was the rule about lying to children? It wasn’t that he didn’t like ponies, but he also didn’t exactly like them. Still, her bright blue eyes were boring into him the same way his bored into a witness on the stand.

“I like them okay.”

There. It wasn’t a lie. A very lawyer-like answer and totally acceptable.

“Do you like cake?”

Actually, he liked pie more but she clearly liked cake and he didn’t hate cake so, “Sure do.”

She lightly touched her fingers to her tiara. “Do you like my tiara? My grampy gave it to me.”

His throat thickened with emotion. He wondered what she’d been told about her other grandparents, or if they ever mentioned them. His father would love to give Amelia gifts like tiaras and purple tutus. He hated he was the reason his parents didn’t have that opportunity.

“I love it,” he choked out.

Her smile sent his senses spinning. Wow. He’d missed out on so much by staying away.

She sighed, propped her chin in her hand for a few seconds, then stood up quickly. “Imma gonna get you cake. It’s a party. You need cake at a party.”

She headed toward the table with the cake. He watched as a little girl ran to her with a ball. Amelia was quickly distracted and ran to a clear space in the yard to toss the ball with the girl and a few other children.

“She’s adorable,” Judi whispered. “And she’s way too friendly to take after you.” She winked at him. “I’m going to get some more of that amazing potato salad Leona made. Want anything?”

He shook his head. “No. I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

She patted his shoulder as she stood. “Suit yourself. Just don’t puke in my purse while I’m gone.”

Her seat wasn’t empty long. This time it was Dan Phillipi’s turn to glare at him. Mark must have tagged him in.

Dan sat backwards on the little chair and leaned toward Ben across the table. “What are you doing here, Oliver.”

Ben folded his arms on the top of the table and leaned forward even though he really wanted to lean backward. Very backward. “Your parents asked me to come.”

Dan’s voice was hard. “You’ve been asked to be involved in your child’s life before and you never have. What was different about this time?”

Ben kept his eyes on Dan’s, trying to act like he wasn’t intimidated by the man, but also realizing he had no idea how to answer that question. If he told him he’d been worried about someone in the family being sick, Dan would call it a garbage. If he told him his doctor had said he’d been very lucky not to die in that car accident, then Dan would probably laugh and say he wish Ben had died.

Luckily he didn’t have to answer because everyone’s attention was drawn to a cry of pain from the gaggle of children and then a wail that sliced into Ben’s headache. Angie flew up from her chair, knocking it over as she turned around and darted across the yard, her parents close behind. Ben’s heartrate increased as other parents stood and looked on anxiously. Dan stood and followed his sister, briefly forgetting about his interrogation of Ben.

Ben stood and walked slowly toward the chaos, his knees trembling when he saw Angie holding a crying Amelia, blood pouring from the little girl’s nose and running into her mouth. He wanted to lunge forward, take her in his arms, wipe the blood off and find out what happened, but it wasn’t his place. It was Angie’s place and she was already doing what needed to be done.

Someone bumped his arm, pushing past him and rushed toward Amelia and Angie. Ben watched a man with short, wavy reddish blond hair kneel beside Angie, who was now on her knees with Amelia in her arms.

“What happened?” the man asked.

“The ball hit her face,” a little boy said as the parents looked on.

The man touched Amelia under the chin and tipped her face upward. He studied her as tears streamed down her face. “It’s coming from her nose and it doesn’t look broken but there’s a lot of swelling.”

“Should we take her to the hospital?” Angie asked, her worried gaze focused on the man’s face, clearly looking to him for guidance.

The man pondered Amelia’s blood-stained face for a few moments before answering. “It might be good to get it x-rayed. Yeah. Just as a precaution. I’ll drive us.”

Drive us? Ben studied the scene before him with a stern expression. Who was this guy who straightened from his stooped position, holding his daughter?

“Hey, kid, don’t worry. We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” the man said, smiling at Amelia. He glanced over at Angie as she stood. “Let’s get a wet cloth and clean some of this blood off so I can see how bad it actually is.”

Angie nodded and Ben saw the tears in her eyes. The man laid a hand on Angie’s back, leaned down and kissed her mouth. “Don’t worry, okay? She’s going to be fine.”

Angie nodded again but a tear rolled down her cheek and dripped off her chin. She followed the man closely as he headed toward the patio and into the house. Watching them, Ben felt even more like an outsider than he had in the living room. Apparently, those three were a family. A family he wasn’t a part of.

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: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 12

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 12

Sitting in the car, adjusting her side and rear-view mirrors, Judi couldn’t believe Ben had agreed to let her drive him to the party. Finally, someone was going to give her a chance to correct her errors, improve herself, and best of all she was going to be able to get a small break from Spencer Valley, and all the boredom it had to offer. She connected her phone to the Bluetooth and looked over her playlist while she waited.

All the music on her list might be too wild for Ben. He seemed more reserved. Then again, he needed a little waking up. She picked a favorite band of Molly’s that Ellie had told her about and pushed play. A growling voice and a Southern-rock rhythm filled the car. Not necessarily what she usually listened to, but it would work.

Hopefully Ben wouldn’t mind the music if he ever finished getting ready. He’d told her he’d be grabbing a few things and then he’d be down. He’d already showered and surprised Judi by emerging from his bedroom with wet hair and wearing a pair of jeans and a Chicago Cubs t-shirt. The fact he owned casual clothes was a shock to her, let alone the fac he was actually going to wear them out in public.

She’d texted Ellie and told her what she was doing, leaving out who she was taking Ben to see, only that she needed to take him to see someone in his family. She’d also texted Lonny and told him she wouldn’t be available for her shifts this weekend. Not being at the bar and grill on a weekend would be a relief, since that’s when men seemed to be at their wildest and most grabbing moods.

Most of the men at Lonny’s were good, respectful, and kind. The old saying of it only takes one rotten apple to spoil the bunch didn’t necessarily hold true here, but it did make her less willing to work evenings and weekends.

Ben slid into the passenger seat a few minutes later wearing an unzipped brown leather jacket, a pair of sunglasses, and a frown. He tossed a light-brown messenger bag into the back seat and set a laptop back on the floor in front of him. Judi smirked. She didn’t think he could look any more casual than he had in the apartment, but this leather jacket — wow. It had him looking downright normal.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he mumbled.

Judi snorted a laugh. “You know what I like about you, Oliver? You’re so optimistic and cheerful.” She shifted the car into drive and hit the accelerator before he could change his mind. “Come on. This is going to be fun.”

Ben placed his hands against the dashboard and winced.  “Hey! Slow down! I haven’t even buckled in yet.”

Judi turned up the music and cranked up the air conditioner. “You’ll be fine, Boy Scout. Just hook yourself in now.”

She caught Ben’s tightlipped expression out of the corner of her eye. He clicked the seatbelt in and tipped his head back against the headrest.

“Okay, I looked up how to get to Lancaster, and put the directions in my phone,” she said as she turned the car out of town. “I don’t have Angie’s address though.”

“It’s in my phone.” He closed his eyes. “I can look it up when we get closer.”

She glanced at him again. “Headache back?”

“No.” He opened his eyes briefly and closed them again. “Just tired and not looking forward to this.”

“To seeing your daughter?”

He opened his eyes and looked out the front window. “To seeing Angie, actually, but yeah, seeing Amelia worries me too. She doesn’t even know who I am.”

Judi turned the music down. “So, what happened anyhow? Did you bolt as soon as you knew she was pregnant or before?”

Ben took a deep breath. “You don’t really have tact, do you?”

Judi laughed and flipped a strand of hair over her shoulder. “Nope. Ellie got all the tact. It was all gone by the time Mom had me.”

Ben couldn’t help but huff out a small laugh. “Yeah. I can tell.”

Judi glanced in the rearview mirror. “Dude, get off my bumper,” she told the driver behind her. “I’m already going ten miles over the speed limit.” She pushed her foot on the accelerator. “So did Angie go through that pregnancy on her own?”

Ben pushed back against the seat. “Hey, you want to slow down?”

“Oh.” Judi lifted her foot off the accelerator slightly. “Yeah. Sorry.” She flicked the air conditioner on. “So, do you pay child support?”

“Yes.” Ben’s voice was tight. “I do.”

“But you don’t see her?”

“No.”

Judi winced. “Well, at least you’re paying something, I guess.” The car that had been following them passed them and she made a rude gesture as it slid back into the lane in front of her. “Hope you don’t cause an accident, jerk!” She bit her lower lip and glanced at Ben. “Sorry.”

She sighed, placing both hands at the top of the wheel and leaning back. “Anyhow, I thought my drinking caused problems. Okay, it did, but at least I didn’t abandon a kid.”

Ben slid the sunglasses to the top of his head and scowled. “I’m glad this conversation is helping you realize how much better you are than me.” He narrowed his eyes as he turned to look at her. “Wait a minute. What do you know about my drinking anyhow? I’ve never said anything to you about my past.”

Judi clutched the steering wheel tighter and mentally scrolled through the various ways she could change the subject. There was no way she was going to betray Molly. “I see they’re finally tearing that old building down outside of Spencer. I overheard Liz tell Molly it’s going to be a warehouse of some kind and bring a bunch of jobs to the area.”

Ben slid the sunglasses back down over his eyes again and leaned back. “Yeah, yeah. Nice try. I’m guessing you pieced some things together when I attended the AA meeting.”

 Judi rolled the window down and propped her arm on the open window. “So, did you love Angie?”

Ben’s scowl was a full-on glare now. “Not that it’s any of your business but yes, I did love Angie.” He looked back at the road, a muscle working in his jaw as he clinched it briefly. “I still do. Now let’s change the subject. Take that exit up there, it will get us there quicker.”

“Which one?”

“The one to the right. It’s right there. Coming up.”

“What number?”

“Judi, there is only one exit in front of — Great. We missed it. Now we’re going to have to take the exit ten miles ahead and that’s going to take us a half an hour out of our way.”

“Well, you didn’t give me directions, so what was I supposed to do?”

Ben groaned in frustration. “Just keep driving. We’ll figure it out at the next exit, but when I say to turn next time, do it.”

Judi stifled a laugh behind her hand. This trip was definitely going to be a lot more fun than sitting at home on the couch eating ice cream and watching reruns of shows she watched in high school.

***

All Ben had wanted to do was take a brief nap. He had no idea when he woke up, he’d be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees, in a car that wasn’t running and without a driver.

He blinked his eyes and lifted his sunglasses, looking in the backseat and then out his window for Judi. Where in the world was she?

This hadn’t all been a dream, right? His secretary coming to his apartment and insisting he let her drive him to the home of his ex-girlfriend and their daughter? He opened the car door and stepped out onto a dirt covered pull off next to a paved road. They were definitely not on the highway anymore.

Was he losing his mind? Maybe he’d woke up in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Had they somehow teleported back to Spencer Valley while he was asleep?

He rubbed his hands over his face and took a deep breath as he scanned the brush and woods around him. “Judi?” He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Judi! Where are you?”

Nothing.

A few birds chirping. A breeze rustling some leaves, but otherwise silence.

A chill shuddered up his spine. He’d read a book like this one time. It hadn’t had a pleasant ending. Maybe he’d actually slipped into a coma and this was his dream. If so, the dream was very boring.

“Judi!” He spun to his right at the sound of twigs breaking and bushes moving. When Judi stumbled out with a leaf in her hair and looking disheveled he blinked in the sunlight and dropped his sunglasses back down over his eyes again. “What is going on?! Where are we?!”

Judi pulled a twig out of her hair. “I was looking for a bathroom.”

“So you drove into the middle of nowhere?”

“No, I drove into the middle of nowhere because my car was making weird noises and steam was pouring out of the hood. I pulled off the first exit I could find and saw a sign for a gas station, so I was trying to get to it.” She brushed the back of her skirt off. “The car stopped and while I was sitting there trying to figure out what to do, I had to tinkle.”

Ben raised an eyebrow. “You had to what?”

Judi tossed her hands out to her side like she should understand what she was saying. “I had to tinkle!” She gestured toward the bushes. “In the bushes!”

“Tinkle? Did you really just say tinkle? What are you, three?”

Judi stuck her tongue out briefly. “I’m trying to be polite, okay? But yes, I had to use the bathroom in the bushes, and I might have poison ivy on my bottom and my car is billowing smoke. I’m not exactly having fun either.”

Ben turned to follow her as she walked toward the car. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

She opened the driver’s side door, reaching inside for her phone. “Because you’re grumpy when you first wake up. Also, I realized how bad I had to go when I was about to wake you.” She tapped the screen on her phone. “If I can figure out where we are maybe I can find a mechanic to come figure out what’s wrong with my car.”

Ben scoffed. “I can check out the car.”

Judi laughed without even looking up from the phone. “Okay, Mr. Attorney.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ve seen those hands. You’ve definitely never worked on cars before.”

Ben shoved his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and sighed. “Yeah, but I still might be able to figure something out.” Five minutes later, after looking under the hood, he turned toward her again while she looked at her phone. “What did the exit say when you pulled off?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember. The car started smoking then and I thought it was going to blow up.”

“Do you have triple a?”

Her finger hovered over the phone screen as she looked up with a confused expression. “Is that like a battery?”

Ben was never sure when Judi was serious or seriously being an airhead. “It’s a roadside service for cars. Your insurance information should say whether you have it or not. Where is your insurance paperwork?”

Judi bit her lower lip. “Um….in the glove compartment? I think?”

Ben slid back into the passenger seat and popped open the glove compartment. Hair scrunchies, a makeup case, and a few pieces of crumpled up paper tumbled toward him. He caught the scrunchies and makeup case and shoved them back in and reached for the papers that had fallen to his feet.

“It’s not here.” He stepped out of the car and walked toward her with the papers in his hands. “These look like your past insurance information and your current registration.”

She snatched the papers from him. “That can’t be right. I always keep my insurance information in —” Her expression morphed from confusion to resignation and then a frown as she tipped her head back with closed eyes. “Oh right. I left my insurance information on my kitchen table after the accident. I never put it back in the car.”

Ben propped a hand on his hip and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s just do a search online for mechanics in this area. The GPS on my phone should pinpoint where we are so I knew which mechanic is closest to us.”

He leaned back into the car and picked up his phone. The screen was black. There was no way the battery was dead. He’d charged it before he left.

He shook his head slowly. No, actually, he hadn’t had time to charge his phone fully.

He turned toward Judi. “Do you have a car charger?”

She motioned toward the middle console. “Yeah. In there.”

He pushed aside empty gum wrappers, two chocolate bar wrappers, a receipt from a theater, and pulled out the charger. Without the car running, the phone wasn’t going to charge much, but it would some at least.

“Okay, let me use your phone to find out where we are,” he said after he’d plugged his phone in.

Ben scrolled through pages of apps on Judi’s phone as he walked to the front of the car, looking for her GPS feature. “I’m sure we can find a mechanic to come pick us up and fix the car. Where is your GPS app?”

Judi shrugged a shoulder and began inspecting her fingernails. “Dunno. Never use it.”

No surprise there. Ben slid his thumb across her screen and finally found what he needed. “Okay. We’re ninety minutes out of Lancaster. Near Mechanicsburg.” He found the internet browser, thankful that they at least had data service where they were. “Looks like the closest mechanic is thirty minutes away.”

Judi hopped up on the hood and laid across it on her back. “Maybe someone will come by.”

Ben squinted into the sunlight, looking down the cracked paved road at rows of green bushes mixed among pine trees and maples and a group of dead Ash trees. “I haven’t seen a car the entire time we’ve been talking. Did any come by before I woke up?” He dialed the number of the mechanic, not waiting for Judi’s response.

No one answered from the first mechanic shop, so he tried another. It was a Saturday. All the shops were probably closed. It wasn’t until the fourth call that someone picked up.

“You’re where?” the man on the other end of the phone asked. His voice was deep, gruffy, like he’d been up all night.

“We’re on a small back road off Route 81, somewhere near Mechanicsburg.”

 “Got a road name?” the man responded.

Ben scanned the road. “No. Not from where I’m standing. I can try to find one.”

“Why don’t you do that?”

Ben didn’t appreciate the man’s sarcasm.

“Where are you going?!” Judi shouted after him as he started down the road. “Don’t leave me alone! I could be kidnapped, killed — eaten by a bear!”

“All of your yelling will scare a bear off, don’t worry,” he called over his shoulder.

The man chuckled through the phone. “Little lady naggin’ you, huh?”

Ben ignored him and looked for a road sign. He’d walked several hundred feet when he found it. “It’s Dempsy Hill Road.”

The man winced. “Never heard of it. I don’t think you’re as close to me as you think. You’re sure you’re near Mechanicsburg?”

Ben started back toward Judi, wishing he’d been awake when all of this had happened so he could have seen what the exit had said. “Let me call you back when I find out for sure where we are.”

“Yep, it’s a good thing to know where you’re at,” the man said with a laugh. Obviously, he thought he was funny, but Ben had lost his sense of humor. He hung up without saying goodbye.

“Are you sure you didn’t see a road sign when you pulled off the exit?” he asked when he reached Judi. “How far did you drive after the exit?”

Judi yawned, still sprawled on the hood, now with her eyes closed and an arm draped over her forehead. “Maybe five miles or so? I kept seeing signs for a gas station.”

He looked at the GPS again, then zoomed in. “Good grief. We’re an hour east of Mechanicsburg. No wonder that guy hadn’t heard of this road. We’re also going in the wrong direction to get to Lancaster.”

He searched for another mechanic while Judi continued to lounge. As the phone rang, he kept his eye on a pickup driving down the road toward them, wondering if the driver was someone who could help them or someone who might kill them. He wasn’t sure if it was good or bad when the truck zoomed past, a man with a cigar in one corner of his mouth watching with narrowed eyes through the open window as he drove by.

“Billy’s Auto.” A deep male voice answered the phone, bringing his attention away from the truck.

“Hey, Billy, my name’s Ben and —”

“I’m not Billy.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. You just said Billy’s Auto so —”

“Billy’s my dad.”

“Oh. Okay. Is your dad there?”

“He’s been dead ten years.”

Ben cleared his throat and resisted the urge to scream. “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. Listen, I’m broke down on Dempsy Hill Road and I’m wondering —”

“I don’t have a tow truck.”

“Your website says you do.”

“Mine’s in the shop.”

“But you are a shop.”

“It’s in my shop.”

Ben’s jaw tightened and he shook his head. “Okay. I’ll just call someone else.”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t help you. I just can’t tow you.” Ben heard the man spit. “I can be there in about 45 minutes. I’ve got a car on the lift for an oil change and tire rotation, then I’ll be down.”

Ben pushed a hand through his hair and clutched it. “How far away are you?”

The man huffed a breath out. “I don’t know. About fifteen minutes?” He spit again. “Give or take.”

“Okay, well, I’m actually on a schedule and —”

The man chuckled in Ben’s ear. “Aren’t we all. See you in 45.”

The loud click that slammed through Ben’s eardrum told him the man answered calls on an old-fashioned rotary phone. He looked at the time on the phone and winced. They definitely weren’t going to make it to the party on time at this rate.

Judi’s voice was drowsy, and she was still in the same position. “Did you find someone?”

Ben rolled his eyes. Nice that she was able to get some rest while he tried to figure out how to get her car fixed. “Yes, but he said it would take him 45 minutes, I’m going to try someone else.”

He sat in the passenger seat while he looked for another mechanic. When the sound of an engine grew louder, he looked up briefly at a large Bic Mack coming up over the hill then kept scrolling. The truck, complete with a trailer, barreled past them, which didn’t surprise him. A truck that big was usually on a schedule of their own and couldn’t easily pull over to help anyone, even if they knew anything about how to fix cars.

The other mechanic shop he called was closed. Apparently, they were going to have to wait for the 45-minute guy. He tossed Judi’s phone onto the driver’s seat and pushed the passenger seat back. His head was starting to throb again, and he was sure the stress hadn’t helped. He reached for the ibuprofen he’d tossed in his bag, popped two, and washed it down with the rest of the water in a bottle he’d brought with him.

“Hey, Ben?”

Oh boy.

Judi had already been more than blunt during this trip. What would come out of her mouth this time?

He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, bracing himself. “Yeah?”

“I used to not like you because you broke up with Molly to go out with Angie.”

He winced without opening his eyes. Oh yeah. Here she went again. “Can’t say I blame you.”

“But maybe you’re not so bad. Everyone makes mistakes. Maybe you went about it the wrong way but maybe you and Angie were meant to be together.” There was a pause, “And maybe you still are.”

He didn’t want to open his eyes when he heard her move, but he opened one and saw her leaning back on her elbows, smiling out into empty space as if a lightbulb had gone off in her head. Oh, that could not be a good thing.

The beep of a text message startled him, and he looked down at his phone.

The text message popped up on the lock screen.

Seline: Hey, did that lawyer call you? I should have given you a heads up. Call me back, okay? I know you don’t want anything to do with anything involving Jeff, but if he did the same thing to this other girl then this might be a chance to make him pay for what he tried to do to you? You know?

Seline? Who was Seline? He didn’t know anyone named — Oh wow. He really must be tired. That wasn’t his phone. It was Judi’s. He looked away from the phone and yawned, closing his eyes again.

He tried to let his thoughts drift away from the frustration of the day, but the idea he should try another mechanic nudged at him. Or maybe he should start walking and find a gas station himself. Or maybe — Wait. His mind drifted back to the text message. Who was Jeff and what had he tried to do to Judi?

The loud roar of an engine opened both of his eyes and when the big truck he’d seen earlier pulled off into the space behind him his heart rate picked up. He had a bad feeling about a large transportation truck, complete with a trailer, pulling up behind their broken-down car in the middle of nowhere.

He pulled the passenger seat up into an upright position and kept his eyes on the driver, sitting up high, behind a darkened window and wearing a pair of sunglasses. This could either end up being good or very, very bad and Ben’s muscles tensed as he waited to see what the outcome would be.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 11

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.

Chapter 11

Judi had vowed not to ask Ben any more about his daughter. Her brutal curiosity about the personal lives of others was a flaw she’d told herself she would work on when she left the city.

After their conversation, she’d managed to get the letter typed, despite almost forgetting how to, since she hadn’t typed more than a text since her high school business class. He’d thanked her for her help and then told her she could go home early. He had a headache, he’d said.

While she previously would have simply skipped out of the office, excited to head off to a club or a party, she found herself fighting mixed emotions. One of those emotions was depression over the fact she really had nowhere to go except back to her apartment. The other emotion was guilt. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be dealing with these reoccurring headaches, and he’d probably be able to drive to his daughter’s birthday party.

She really hadn’t seen him coming that day on the road, but, well, she had sort of glided through the stop sign. She wouldn’t have glided if she had seen him buzzing down the road toward her, however. It wasn’t like he was completely innocent either. He had been driving much faster than he should have been.

Standing by her car, her thumb on the unlock button on the key fob, she sighed and hesitated. Ben had been nice enough to give her a job, which though part time, had helped her not have to be at Lonny’s as often. He seemed to be going through a rough patch, and like her was trying to keep himself clean and sober.

She didn’t want to go back to drinking and she had a feeling he didn’t either. Maybe she should make sure he was okay, lift some pressure from his shoulders a little.

He visibly jumped from where he was standing at the filing cabinets behind her desk when she walked back in. “I thought you were heading out.”

“I was, but I thought I should check on you.”

Ben eyed her with what she felt was suspicion, though she couldn’t be sure since he often looked suspicious, which she imagined was because he was a lawyer.

“Uh. Okay. Well, I’m fine.”

“You say you’re fine, but you’ve had a lot going on. I mean, you’ve got brain damage and —”

“Brain swelling, Judi. A concussion. Would you stop saying I have brain damage?”

“Right. Anyhow, you’ve got that and now you can’t go to your daughter’s birthday party. and I feel like that’s my fault even though I totally didn’t see you coming that day.”

“I’ve told you already that I’m not upset about the accident any — wait.” Ben’s brows dipped and he placed his hands on his hips. Judi wasn’t sure what that pose meant but she didn’t think it could be good. “Were you listening in to my conversation?”

Oh. Right. She wasn’t supposed to know about the party.

She grimaced, closing her eyes. “Well, not exactly.” She slowly opened one eye to spy on the angry expression his face was now featuring. “Okay, so here is the thing — when I transferred Mr. Phillipi, I accidentally hit the speaker button. Then I was afraid to push it back off in case it beeped, and you thought I was listening in, but then I realized I was actually listening in so I shut it off, but before I did I heard something about a party.”

His expression relaxed slightly, but the suspicion had returned. “And you assumed it was a party for Amelia?”

“Yeah, if Amelia is your daughter’s name.” She waited for him to respond, but he didn’t. He simply stood there looking at her as if he was waiting for her to continue. “Soooo…is it a party for her?”

Ben folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against her desk. “It is. But as you heard, I can’t attend it because of the concussion.”

“Right.” Judi took a deep breath and stepped toward him. “That’s why I was thinking that maybe I could drive you to the party.”

Ben held a hand up. “Judi, no. Thank you, but no.”

“Why not? I promise I’ll be careful and drive better than usual.”

“It’s a four-hour drive for one thing.”

“So? I drove all the way here from the city. I know how to drive long distances.”

Ben sighed and shook his head as he turned toward his office. “Listen, I appreciate the offer, but I already told Adam I couldn’t make it, so it’s fine.” He shut his briefcase, picked it up, and shut the light off on his way out. “I sent him a check for her gift, so she’ll have something from me.”

“But don’t you want to see her?”

She knew as soon as she asked it, she shouldn’t have. Ben’s expression darkened as he walked toward the front door. “It isn’t that I don’t want to see her. It’s that Angie doesn’t want me to see her. Angie doesn’t want anything to do with me.” He pushed the door open and waited for her to walk through, then turned and locked it after she stepped out onto the sidewalk. “In fact, Angie specifically asked me not to be there.”

“Oh.”

She didn’t know what else to say, other than, “I’m sorry. Again. I seem to have this compulsion to ask too many questions and stick my nose way too far into other people’s business.” She shrugged her shoulders in a quick motion.

Ben pushed a hand back through his hair and held it there for a few seconds. “I really do appreciate you wanting to help. I know you mean well.”

Judi nodded and told him she’d see him tomorrow. In her car, she sat for a few minutes before pulling out to start the 20-minute drive home. Ben had said he didn’t want her help and maybe he didn’t, but she felt like he needed it. He needed someone to light a fire under him and get his life back in order.

He was going to regret not getting to know his daughter. Judi wasn’t even sure she wanted a family someday, but Ben? He seemed like the kind of guy who would fit into that kind of life. What he needed was a push in the right direction and if there was anything she liked, it was pushing people around.

***

Ben woke with a start. What time was it? The sun told him it was way past when he normally woke up. He fumbled for his alarm clock, squinted at it and groaned. 8:45. He should have been up an hour and a half ago. It was Judi’s day off and he should have been in to answer phones and — Wait. No. He rubbed a hand through his hair.

It wasn’t Friday. He’d already worked through Judi’s day off.

He fell back on the bed and squeezed his eyes shut against the sunlight. It was Saturday. He didn’t have to answer any phones, meet any clients, or even go anywhere. He pulled his feet up onto the bed and slid them under the covers, ready to go back to bed and ignore the buzz in his head from the sleep still lingering there.

Ten minutes later, though, he was woken up again with a crisp knock on his front door. He peeked an eye open and closed it again. Whoever it was would get the message and go away when he didn’t respond.

Two minutes later, there was another knock.

No way. He was not climbing out of his bed. The headache he’d had the night before had faded to a dull ache, but he still felt like he could sleep for another eight hours.

Four solid, louder knocks later, he finally crawled out of the bed and stumbled through the doorway of his bedroom, through the living room and to the front door. He propped his head against the wall next to the door and took a deep breath to try wake himself up before he opened the door.

When he opened it he wanted to close it again, but Judi was too quick. She breezed past him with two cups of coffee in a holder and a brown paper bag.

“Good morning!” she chirped cheerfully while he stood watching her with half open eyes.

“Yes. It’s morning. Good? Well, it was good before you woke me up.”

She sat the coffees and bag on the table and turned toward him. “Ooh. I thought you were a morning person. I guess not.”

He closed the door and staggered toward the kitchen table, flopping down into a chair and resting his head on the top of the table. “What are you doing here?” He lifted his head quickly. “Not only what are you doing here, but how did you find me?”

Judi popped the lid off her coffee and poured in creamer she pulled from the bag. She stirred it with a small stir stick. “Seriously? Burkett isn’t much bigger than Spencer. I asked around.” She sipped the coffee. “So what day is that birthday party?”

Ben rubbed a hand across his face. “Today. Why?”

“What time?”

“3 p.m. Why?”

Judi pulled a donut from the bag and bit into it. “Because deep down you want to be there and you want me to drive you.” She spoke around a mouthful of donut.

“No. Deep down I want for you to get out of my apartment so I can go back to sleep.”

Judi pulled the coffee from the carrier and set it down in front of him. “I’m going to drive you down to your daughter’s party.”

“I already told you I’m not going.”

“It’s 9:30. If you hurry up and get dressed, we can totally make it.”

Ben took the lid off the coffee and stood. He walked to the refrigerator and reached in for a bottle of creamer. “No way. I am not going anywhere with you. You’re a horrible driver.”

“Excuse me?” Judi scoffed, brushing donut crumbs off her hands. “I am not a horrible driver. That was a total accident, you know that.”

“Judi.” Ben poured the creamer in the coffee and sat back down at the table. “Go home.”

“Aren’t you going to stir that?”

Ben propped his chin on his hand and sipped the coffee. “I’m too tired to stir.”

Judi placed her hands on her hips. “You could have died in that accident you know.”

He quirked an eyebrow as he looked up at her. “I don’t know about that, but the doctor did say I could be learning to walk and talk again right now.” He sat back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Thanks to you.”

“Didn’t you also say something about that doctor saying this was your second chance at life?”

Ben reached for the donut and broke it in half. “It’s strange you can remember all the things the doctor told me when you can’t remember to bring me files that I ask for or to finish typing up letters I need to send out.”

Judi sat at the table across from him. “Ben, you’re going to regret not getting to know your daughter.”

Ben shoved the half of donut in his mouth and stood, walking back toward the counter. “Go home, Judi.” He reached for a cup in a cupboard by the fridge and poured himself a glass of milk. “Thanks for the coffee and donuts, but, seriously, go home.”

“You need to go see your little girl. Don’t throw this opportunity away.”

“Judi!” Ben turned with the glass of milk in his hand. “This isn’t any of your business. I am asking you to —

“I want to help you, Ben. When I stopped drinking, I said I wanted to be a better person and this is one way I can be a better person. I can help you get your life back on track. My life is a disaster. I don’t have any friends left. My sister treats me like a lost puppy or one of her preschool students. My parents call me several times a day to make sure I haven’t fallen off the wagon. I’m pretty sure my sponsor thinks I’m already back on the bottle.”

Ben held a hand up. “I’m sorry your life is so messed up, but my life is fine, and I want to leave it that way.”

Judi huffed out an exasperated sigh. “But your life isn’t fine! You don’t have anything to do with the little girl you helped bring into the world and one day you’re going to regret it. I don’t want to live with regrets anymore. Do you?” She stood and stepped toward him. “You have a second chance to make things right, even if it is just —”

“Angie doesn’t want me involved in her life or our daughter’s life.” Ben hated how sharp his voice came out. He knew Judi was only trying to help and she was right, he didn’t want to have anymore regrets, but still  — He softened his voice. “I can’t just force myself into a situation she’s told me she doesn’t want me involved in.” He stepped back to the table and sat down and drank the rest of the milk. “Thank you for trying to help. Really. But I need to respect Angie’s wishes.”

Judi sat down with a heavy sigh and picked up the cup of coffee. “I thought you had some fight in you Ben Oliver.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Apparently, that’s not the case.”

Ben wasn’t about to tell Judi that he’d already had another phone call from Adam, asking him if he would reconsider coming to the party. Luckily the call had gone to his voicemail, and he hadn’t had to tell the man, again, he wasn’t going to come.

There had been something in Adam’s voice though. Something that made Ben think maybe he should take Judi up on her offer. A sudden thought made Ben’s stomach tighten. What if that “something” was related to Amelia. What if she was sick? Maybe Adam and Leona wanted to talk to him about that. Or what if it was Angie? Could something be wrong with Angie?

He raked a hand through his hair and growled softly. “Fine. I’ll go.”

Judi looked up from her coffee, startled. “Really?”

Ben shook his head as he walked toward his bedroom. “Yes, really. I’ll take a shower, get dressed and we’ll go.”

He couldn’t believe he was doing this and Judi’s squeal from his kitchen sent an annoyed shiver crawling up his spine. He had no idea how Angie was going to react to this visit, but he had a feeling it wasn’t going to be positive.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 9

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.

Chapter 9


Judi smoothed a finger across her lower lip, smoothing in the dark red lipstick she’d applied a few minutes earlier. She studied herself in the mirror on the visor and took a deep breath. Glancing down at her white button-up shirt and gray pencil skirt and a pair of sensible black flats, she grimaced. What had she become? She pushed a strand of hair that had fallen from the messy bun she’d pulled her hair into behind her ear and slid a pair of sunglasses on then made a face at her reflection.

“I’ve become Ellie. That’s who I’ve become.” She sighed and rolled her eyes before she opened and reached for the door handle. “Good grief. I’m my sister.”

 Fine, she was dressed like her sister and acting way more strait-laced than she had in the past, but she’d wanted a change, so this was a change. She’d wanted to leave her old life behind and working for a well-known local lawyer was one way to do that. It was time for her to grow up and if she had to look like a spinster librarian to do it, so be it.

She smoothed her hands down her skirt and squinted at her reflection in the large front window between the stenciled words, Benjamin A. Oliver, Attorney at Law.

She’d called Ben a couple of days after he’d offered the job to her and accepted it, even though she couldn’t imagine what he had been thinking when he’d offered it to her. She also wasn’t sure what she’d been thinking accepting it, considering she’d now have to wake up super early on the days she worked here.

She squinted at her reflection in the front window, wishing she had grabbed that suit coat Ellie had offered her. It would have made her at least look professional. She smoothed her hands down the front of the skirt again. At least it was cute.

Walking inside, she was surprised at how well-decorated Ben’s office was. She’d been expecting something much drabber and a lot less eye-catching.

Instead of boring, dull-colored paintings of landscapes on the wall, though, he’d hung colorful paintings of life in the city in the 1950s, including what looked like a scene at a jazz club. Three dark brown, leather-bound, chairs with top-grain, soft cushions lined the walls in the lobby. She could easily curl up one of those and take a nap. Also in the lobby area was a tall gray desk with a high wall at the front of it and a counter on top of the wall. She wondered if that was where the secretary — er she — would be sitting.

A few feet behind the desk a door opened to a white-walled office with a large window and mahogany-colored desk. A black, leather-plush chair sat behind the desk, and behind the chair a wall full of what were probably law books lined built-in bookshelves. Ben peered from around the open door and the clink of a filing cabinet door shutting made Judi flinch.

 He stepped fully into the doorway wearing a light blue button-up dress shirt and a red tie, dark dress pants, and dress shoes. “You made it. Great.”

Apparently, he’d thought she wasn’t going to show up. His instincts had been right. She almost hadn’t.

Even now she felt sick to her stomach. What had she been thinking? She didn’t have a clue how to be a secretary at a law office.

He didn’t pause in the doorway but kept moving toward the desk at the front with a smile she was sure charmed the pants off more than a few women he’d met over the years — maybe even literally.

 He gestured toward the chair behind the desk. “This is where you’ll be sitting most of the time unless I need you to come into the office to take some notes for me.” He propped his hands on the back of the chair and leaned on it. “You do know how to take notes, right?”

With a quick smile, she did her best to be truthful. “Not exactly, but it can’t be that hard, right?”

Ben’s smile flickered for a brief moment before it returned. “Right. It’s not that hard to learn.”

Her gaze moved across the neat desk with a computer and photos of an older woman with what Judi guessed was the woman’s husband and adult children. To the left of the desk, behind the tall partition, stood a row of filing cabinets. Ben explained how to use the phone, what the filing cabinets were for, and how to use the electronic appointment book before telling her that he’d show her how to file cases in the cabinets later.

“Did you want to take any notes?” he asked after he’d reached what she hoped was his last lesson for the day.

“Notes?” Her brow dipped in confusion. “Do you need me to take notes for you now?”

“No.” He shook his head briefly. “I mean for yourself. So you’ll remember what I just told you.”

“Why?” She was genuinely confused. “Aren’t you going to be here? I can just ask you if I have a question, can’t I?”

Ben sighed. “Yes, you can, but if I am on the phone or can’t help you for some other reason then . . .” His voice trailed off as he looked at her. “Never mind. That’s fine. You’re right. I’ll be back in the office if you need me.”

He walked to a coffee pot set up on a small counter next to the soft chairs. “I’ve been making the coffee when I come in, but if you’d make that each morning it would help me out. I haven’t booked a ton of clients today because I’ve got court in the morning, and I need to prepare for that. From ten to eleven I have a video conference with a client downstate who is in the middle of a divorce, so I don’t want to be interrupted. Lunch is from noon to one, but I’ll need you back five minutes early today because I have an appointment at one with a new client who has filed a defamation complaint against the newspaper in the next county.” He shrugged a shoulder. “He’s going to lose the case, but he’s persistent so I said I’d take it on. He’s got a lot of money.”

He took a long drink of the coffee then stood with the mug in one hand and the other hand propped on his hip. “Any questions for me?”

“Just if you always talk this fast.”

Ben laughed. “Most of the time, yes. I’m one guy and I have a lot of clients, so I can’t afford to take my time.”

He walked into his office and closed the door, leaving Judi alone with a quiet lobby area and a phone that should have been simple but was severely intimidating her at the moment. What button had he said to push again when she needed to transfer a call? She hoped it would come to her when she needed to actually do it. He’d probably been right to suggest she take notes.

Her phone rang while she was making herself a cup of coffee. Walking back to the desk to retrieve it from her purse, she decided she’d better leave a reminder in her notes app to pick up some flavored creamer. Ben’s coffee was as boring and plain as he was.

She looked at the lock screen. The number was the one from New York again. She needed to tell this guy she was not interested in anything to do with Jeff.

“Miss Lambert?” a man’s voice asked as she answered.

“Listen, if this is that lawyer, I’m not interested in talking about anything that has to do with Jeff Burke, so please stop calling me. Thank you.”

“Miss Lambert, wait. Please. Just hear me out.”

“I’m not inter—”

The lawyer spoke quickly. “I think Jeff Burke tried to do to you what he actually succeeded in doing to my client and I am asking if you would be willing to testify at her trial to prove that this is a pattern with him.”

Judi’s mouth went dry, and she sat hard in the chair as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her throat tightened and her heart fluttered inside her chest.

“Miss Lambert? Are you still there?”

A chill shivered across her skin as she swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

“I know it would be hard to talk about what happened or almost happened, but we know, or at least we feel, that there are other victims. The more women we have who can say Jeff did this to them, the more chance we have at convincing a jury he needs to be put away for a long time so he can’t do it to anyone else.”

Judi rubbed her hand along her arm. “How did you even find me?”

“Your former roommate. Seline.”

Judi’s throat tightened more. “Did he —”

“No,” the attorney said. “But she knows the other woman. She’s a co-worker of Seline’s. Seline said you didn’t want to press charges because nothing happened that night and I understand, but Miss Lambert this is a chance to stop Jeff from doing this to other women. Will you at least think about it?”

Judi cleared her throat and took a sip of her coffee. “Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

She slid her finger over the end button and dropped the phone back into her purse. When the office phone rang a few minutes later she literally jumped in her chair, the ringing pulling her from her thoughts.

“Hello?”

“Um, hello.” The male voice on the other end of the phone was hesitant. “Is this Ben Oliver’s office?”

Oh great. She forgot the greeting already.

“Oh yes. Sorry. Hello. Attorney Ben Oliver’s Office.”

“Oh. Okay, well, may I speak to him?”

“May I ask who is calling?”

“Yes. This is Adam Phillipi.”

Judi pursed her lips. Ooh boy. Phillipi. This was someone connected with Angie. This should be interesting. She wished she could listen in.

“Just a minute, please.”

She bit her lower lip and searched for the hold button. After pushing it she tried to remember what buttons she needed to push to transfer the call. Was it 22 star or star 22? Or was it — She pushed the buttons she thought were the right ones and set the phone back in the cradle, bumping the speaker button as she moved her hand away.

“Adam, hey, did you get the check I sent?” Ben asked through the speaker.

Her finger hovered over the speaker button. If she pushed it, would there be a click and if there was a click, would Ben think she’d been listening in on purpose, instead of by accident?

“Yeah, Ben, I did,” Adam responded. “That was very nice. Thank you. The thing is though, Leona and I were hoping you’d also be able to make the birthday party.”

Ben winced. “Oh, I’d love to, Adam, but, unfortunately, I was in a car accident a month ago and I’m still recovering from a concussion. The doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Adam said. “Then, I understand why you can’t make it. That’s a shame, though. Leona and I had hoped to see you in person and discuss a couple of things with you.”

“Well, I’m here now, if you’d like to discuss anything.” Judi heard the strain in Ben’s voice as a twinge of guilt pulled at her.

She shouldn’t be listening to this conversation. But if she pushed the speaker button — Forget it. She had to take a chance that it would beep because explaining that she had listened into his entire personal conversation would be even harder than explaining she wasn’t sure if pushing the button again would be disruptive to the conversation.

She tapped the button and let out a long breath, bracing herself for him storming out of his office to ask if she had been listening in. After a few seconds, with no shouting coming from his office, she decided she must be in the clear. Her eyes slid over the desk in front of her again. Now what? Ben hadn’t told her what else to do yet. She shrugged her shoulder and pulled out her nail file. It was as good of a time as any to shape her nails before her pedicure in a couple of days. It would at least give her something to think about other than the call from that lawyer.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 8

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.

Chapter 8


Judi rolled onto her back in bed and stretched, wishing she didn’t have to crawl out from under the covers today. She closed her eyes against the sunlight, a familiar empty feeling settling in the center of her chest. She didn’t have much of a life without alcohol and bars. The friends she used to hang out with had faded into the background once she started declining their offers to go out.

 If she wasn’t at work, her nights were either spent helping her dad in the barn — something she swore she’d never do again when she moved to the city  — or watching a show on one of the streaming services she’d subscribed to. She often fell asleep wondering how she had ended up here and if being sober was supposed to be so boring.

Most mornings she woke up with a gasp, never sure what the day would bring, but glad to have left the night behind where nightmares often clawed at her in her sleep.

She glanced at her phone. There were three voicemails, but she refused to listen to them. The caller ID said one was Seline, the other Ellie and the third a number in New York City she didn’t recognize. Answering any of them meant being responsible and she didn’t feel like being responsible today anymore than she had yesterday.

She’d already answered a call from Rachel last night, letting her know she wouldn’t be drowning her sorrows in a cocktail over Jerry’s comments. She’d agreed to let Rachel pray with her and they hung up after making plans to meet at the downtown diner for lunch the day after tomorrow.

Now she had a full shift at Lonny’s which she wasn’t looking forward to. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with people, especially with some of the regulars. Granted, the bar and grill wasn’t a gritty bar with the main focus being on alcohol. It was more upscale than a regular bar, serving professionally cooked food and hosting high profile community or corporate events. It was after nine and on weekends when some of the customers became a little looser with their tongues and hands.

While their actions bothered Judi, she also knew she’d been them not even a year ago. When she’d drank, she let go of anything holding her back and enjoyed the feeling of not having to think of anything other than the buzz in her head and the urge to giggle over everything, even men touching her bottom when she didn’t want them to. She wasn’t drinking anymore, though, so now she was more uncomfortable with men who thought that by delivering their order they were entitled to a tip of their own.

Two hours later, though, that’s exactly what one of the customers was doing and it wasn’t even the night shift.

Judi pushed the man’s hand off her shoulder. “I’m here for your order, sir, not your unwanted attention.”

“Come on, sweetie.” The man grinned, revealing teeth brown from years of smoking. “I’m just being polite. Letting you know how pretty you look today.”

Judi guessed his age to be anywhere from 50 to 70 with the way wrinkles had cut into his skin and the tuft of graying hair on his head. All she knew was that he was old. She took a step back as the smell of stale cigarettes wafted toward her. “You’re welcome to let me know with your words, not your actions. Now, what can I get you to drink today?”

“Sounds like someone isn’t appreciative of compliments,” the man said, his smile slipping into a sneer. He tossed the menu onto the table while the man across from him smirked. “Bring me a whiskey sour.”

Judi took a deep breath and turned back toward the bar area, hoping when she returned to get the orders for their food the man had calmed down. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Ben walking slowly behind his father and three other men toward a table in Hannah’s area.

Better her than me, she thought picking up an order for another table. She’d had her fill of Ben Oliver in the last couple of weeks.

She delivered the meals to the table to her right and a drink to a man sitting alone in the corner. When she returned to the kitchen, Hannah cornered her with a mischievous smile.

“There’s a group of lawyers in my section babbling about lawyer stuff. Pretty boring. All of them are old except that one guy.” She winked. “He’s pretty cute. He isn’t your lawyer, is he?”

Judi rolled her eyes. “I don’t have a lawyer, Hannah, but, yes, one of them is the guy who swerved to miss my car, if that’s what you mean.”

Hannah’s eyes widened. “Really? I was joking. Which one?” She peered through the door as it swung open. “Oh! Of course! The one with the cast on his ankle and the bruise on his cheek? No way. Judi. You should have told me how good looking he is.”

Judi accepted the loaded tray she was handed. “What I did tell you was what a jerk he can be. He cheated on a friend of our family’s years ago when they were in high school, and he yelled at me at the accident scene.”

Hannah scoffed. “That’s high school. People mature. Plus, you did total his BMW. I would have yelled too.”

Judi rolled her eyes. “All I know is that I’m not interested in him in that way or any way.” She nodded toward the chef standing behind Hannah. “Enough talking. James is waving at you. I think your orders are ready.”

After another food delivery she retrieved a whiskey sour and a Black Russian for the table with the elderly flirt, ready to take his order. He gave it without the flirting he’d offered with his whiskey order, and her shoulders relaxed. Maybe her day was looking up after all. Once she reached the kitchen, she rubbed the muscle between her shoulder and neck and felt a twinge there, realizing how tense she’d been all afternoon, waiting for something bad to happen.

She refilled a drink, took two more orders, and delivered to two more tables before she returned to the man’s table to ask if he needed a refill.

“I’d take a refill of you, sweet thing,” the man responded sliding a hand against her lower back. She shifted away from him. “Oh, come on, young lady. Let an old man feel some soft skin for once.”

The muscle tension returned, but this time spreading from her shoulder, down her back and across her chest. Her heart rate increased, and her legs weakened.

 “Don’t touch me.” Her sharp voice shattered the noise of the dining room, silencing it for a few seconds as heads turned and eyebrows raised.

“Whoa. Whoa.” The man laughed and held his hands up in front of him. “Calm down, hon’. There’s no reason to get all riled up.”

Judi kept her eyes on the floor and took a step back. “I’ll get your bill, sir and then you can leave.”

The man’s laughing stopped. “I’ll leave when I want to, and I don’t want to leave. I’m not done with my drink.”

“Yes, you are.”

The voice behind Judi brought her gaze up to see Ben standing next to the man’s chair.

“Who are you? The police?” the man asked as the other man with him started to laugh.

“No, I’m her attorney,” Ben responded.

“But I’m the police,” another male voice said. “And the young woman asked you to stop talking to her.”

Judi didn’t recognize the man behind Ben and wasn’t sure if he was actually a police officer or not, but his presence was certainly intimidating. With dark hair and eyes and broad shoulders, he towered above her and Ben and the men sitting at the table.

“Fine.” The man tossed a handful of dollar bills on the table as he stood. “The food here sucks anyhow.”

Judi’s legs were at a full tremble now and that infuriated her. What was wrong with her? She’d handled these types of guys before. Why was this one setting her off so badly? The chatter in the restaurant continued again, signaling the show was over.

“You okay?”

Her gaze met Ben’s and she saw the concern there, but she didn’t want it. She was fine. This was something she dealt with all the time, and she didn’t need someone to protect her. Still, Ben had been kind enough to stand up for her when others hadn’t, including her boss and co-workers, though, in fairness, she didn’t think any of them had heard what was happening until the voices grew louder.

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

She wished she could be kinder in her response, truly express how grateful she was but instead her stomach twisted inside her and her legs threatened to give way. She needed to get out of there and fast, find somewhere to sit down and maybe even throw up.

***

Ben placed his hand under Judi’s elbow. She looked like she needed steadying. “Why don’t I walk you out for some fresh air?”

Judi shook her head briefly. “No, really.” She pulled her gaze from his, rifling in the pocket of her apron. “I’m okay. This isn’t anything new.” She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Thank you both for your help. I really do appreciate it.”

Ben watched her walk toward the kitchen where the owner, Lonny, was now standing outside the door. He said something to her, brow furrowed, and then she walked away from him toward the restrooms.  

Ben followed Scott Leonard back to their table. Scott was a probation officer that worked in the courthouse with his dad and he was glad he’d been there. Ben was sure he wouldn’t have been able to convince that guy to back off Judi without Scott standing behind him.

“Maybe lunch here was a bad idea,” Lance Morrison, one of his dad’s assistant district attorneys said.

“I’ve never seen anything like that happen here before,” Maxwell said rubbing his chin and glancing toward the table where the man had been sitting. “I know we’ve had to prosecute a couple of cases from fist fights from here over the years, but they usually happened at night.”

Carl Roberts, Maxwell’s other assistant, sitting across from Ben, sipped from his water. “If I had known this place attracted customers like that, I wouldn’t have picked it for lunch.”

“Sadly, those type of customers can be anywhere these days,” Ben said. “Especially if alcohol is involved.”

Maxwell had asked Ben if he’d be comfortable at a bar and grill when he had invited him for lunch.

“I let the guys rotate choosing a place for lunch on Wednesdays,” Maxwell had said that morning. “Carl chose Lonny’s, but I didn’t know that when I invited you. Is it going to be hard to be at —

“Dad, I can be at a bar,” Ben had said. “I’m good. Really. I’m past the withdrawal struggles. It’s not like it was in the beginning.”

He had to admit, though, seeing that man inebriated had triggered some uncomfortable memories for him.

“It was nice what you did for Judi,” Maxwell said, patting his son on the shoulder and bringing him back to the present. He looked at Scott. “Thanks to you too, Scott. Glad you guys were here.”

“I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been here,” Scott said. “Do you think anyone else would have stepped up?”

Ben shrugged. “Probably. Eventually. I’ve heard Lonny’s a pretty good guy, actually.”

Maxwell turned in his chair toward Ben. “Still, it’s too bad Judi has to work here. It might be better for her to be someone else while she gets back on her feet. Somewhere like a quiet law office in Burkett.”

“Dad —”

Maxwell held his hand up. “I’m just saying. It’s a thought.”

Scott chuckled and patted Ben on the back. “Ah, Dads. Aren’t they great?”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “They can be. At times.”

His dad was right, though. It would be nice to give Judi somewhere other than Lonny’s to work at, even if he was only able to get her off a few shifts during the week. Here he’d been worrying about trying to train her and he didn’t even know if she’d be interested. A small, boring law office really wasn’t her speed compared to the life he heard she’d been living in the city. Then again, she was back home and attending AA meetings for a reason. Maybe slower was what she wanted, or at least what she needed, right now.

When they finished their lunch, he asked his dad to wait for him in the parking lot and then looked for Judi, hoping to at have a chance to mention the job to her. Maybe if she knew she had a chance to work somewhere else it would make the rest of her shift seem less like a prison sentence.

“In the back,” the girl behind the register told him, jerking her head toward the back door. “She’s on a break.”

Ben walked through the restaurant to the back door and found Judi leaning against a tree on the other side of the employee parking lot, her arms hugged around her. The waitress who had waited on his table was standing next to her, smoking a cigarette. He tried to remember the other waitresses name, but drew a blank. 

 Judi looked up as he approached and straightened her shoulders. Her usual confident manner had faded into the background and she was definitely more subdued than normal. He waited for a witty comment or a snarky verbal jab, but none came.

“Hey,” she said. “You need something?”

“Just wanted to double check you were okay,” he answered, knowing he was only giving her half an answer.

She shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. I’m pretty used to that stuff. They usually back off when I tell them to. I guess this guy just didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

Ben glanced at the other waitress. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask Judi about working for him with her standing there, but he also didn’t know how to tactfully ask her to leave.

Maybe he could hint. “I actually had something I wanted to discuss with you. Maybe I can give you a call later.”

The eyes of the other waitress widened, and he could only imagine what she was thinking after he’d said he had a question for Judi. Now he seemed to be asking for her number.

 The rumors would be flying within the hour.  

“Now is okay.” Judi gestured to her co-worker. “This is Hannah. She’s a friend.”

Hannah winked at him. “Yeah. I’m a friend.” She placed a hand on her hip, the other one still holding the cigarette. “Don’t worry. I’m really good at being discreet.” She took a puff of the cigarette, blew a long plume of smoke out the side of her mouth, and looked at him through heavy eyelids. “Oh, yes. I can be very discreet. About whatever you need me to be discreet about.”

Ben pulled his gaze from Hannah’s and cleared his throat. “Ah, thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He noticed Judi shoot Hannah a glare. “Didn’t you come out here before me, Hannah? I think your break is over.”

Hannah sighed and dropped the cigarette on the ground, grinding it in with the tip of her sneaker. “Fine. You get to have all the fun, Judi.” She smiled and winked again. “At least this one isn’t old and a pervert.” Her gaze traveled down Ben and back up to his face. “Or at least he isn’t old. I don’t know about the other part . . . yet.”

“Hannah!” Judi pointed toward the restaurant’s back door while trying to swallow a laugh. “Go back to work.”

She rolled her eyes as Hannah walked back toward the restaurant. “Sorry about her. She’s a little crazy.” She flipped a strand of pale blond hair over shoulder. “And a hopeless flirt.”

Ben laughed softly. “Yeah, I can tell.” He slid his hands in the front pockets of his khakis. “So anyhow, I have this temporary position at my office. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in it. It would only part time and until my secretary gets back but maybe you could take a few less shifts here in the meantime.”

Judi’s expression was difficult to read, but he thought he recognized a hint of amusement. “Wait a minute. You want me, the woman who you say totaled your BMW to come work for you?”

A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Yes. On a temporary basis. If you can promise me that you won’t total my BMW again when I get it back.”

Judi folded her arms across her chest and studied him for a few minutes. “You know I don’t know anything about attorney stuff, right?”

Oh, this was such a bad idea. Curse his father for passing on a desire to help others to him.

“Yes, I guessed that, but the job is fairly simple. It’s some filing and answering phones and if you are able, there might also be some note taking and letter writing involved.”

Judi quirked an eyebrow. “You should probably know that I flunked out of college. I’ve only ever worked in retail.”

Ben laughed softly. “One thing you do seem to be good at is sabotaging opportunities in your life.”

Judi pushed a hand back through her hair and let the strands fall down her back. “Actually, yes, I am an expert at that.”

Ben pulled his wallet out and slid a business card from a inside pocket, handing it to her. “My secretary’s husband is undergoing cancer treatments and she needed some time off. I’m a one-man show right now and I could use some help. Give me a call at that number if you’re interested in the job. Like I said, it won’t be permanent or full time, but it could give you a little breather from this place.”

Judi took the card and slid it in the back pocket of her jeans. “Okay. I’ll think about it. Thanks.” They both started toward the restaurant, falling in step with each other. “Your bruises are fading. How’s the brain damage?”

Ben scowled at her out of the corner of his eye. “Brain damage? It was a concussion and it’s getting better but I’m still having a lot of issues. Thanks for asking.”

Judi bit her lower lip as they reached the back door. “Listen, I know I’ve never really apologized, but I really didn’t see you when I pulled out.”

He opened the door for her. “Apology accepted but if you want to make it up to me, you can come help me out at the office and do your best not to make my job even harder.”

Judi smirked as she walked back into the restaurant. “Wow, with an offer like that how could I refuse?”

“So you’ll take it?”

She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll think about it, Mr. Oliver.” When he got to the car, Ben filled Maxwell in then leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He could only hope that if Judi came to work for him, it would help ease the headaches not make them worse.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore (The Shores of Mercy) Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 7

Ben flipped through the appointment book, grimacing as the paper sliced across his finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth, tasting blood.

“Yes, we have a meeting at 3:45, Mrs. Anderson. You were right. Glad you called to confirm.”

Since I just set up an appointment with Arthur Jenkins at the same time and now have to call back and reschedule.

“Oh, good and what paperwork did I need again?” the elderly woman on the other end of the phone asked.

Ben slid a pen behind his ear and reached for his now cold cup of coffee on the end of his desk. “Just the deed and any mineral rights paperwork you have.”

Mrs. Anderson thanked him, and they said goodbye just as the phone rang again and he switched lines to answer it.

“Staying busy at work, kid?”

“Dad, hey. Yeah. Very busy.”

“Not so easy without a secretary, is it?”

Ben sighed into the phone and sipped the coffee, wincing at the bitter flavor and the coldness of it. “No, but I’m managing.”

“You did the right thing, though. I know it meant so much to Cindy having these two weeks off before Bill‘s treatments start.” Ben heard the creak of the chair at his dad’s office at the courthouse. “Have you given any more thought to call Judi Lambert in on a temporary basis?”

Ben rubbed his hand across his face. “No, I haven’t honestly.” Pain throbbed through his head, and he squeezed his eyes shut. “Right now, I’m just trying not to overbook.” But failing at it. “It would help if this concussion would heal. I didn’t even think I hit my head that hard.”

“It doesn’t take much to rattle your brain in there,” Maxwell said. “I’ve got someone here who wants to talk to me, so I’ll be there around 6 to pick you up. That work for you?”

“Dad, yeah, but I’m going to have to do things on my own at some point. I can walk to my apartment.”

“I know and I agree but your mom is worried about you. She wants to keep an eye on you, and I think she might be right this time. Still having dizzy spells?”

Ben propped his elbow on his desk and leaned his cheek against his hand, wishing he hadn’t had that dizzy spell in front of his parents and sister the other night at dinner.

“Minor ones here and there, but they’re better. I know I can’t drive yet but I can —”

“Pass out in your apartment and not be able to call for help, so I’ll see you around 6. I’ll also keep asking around to see if we can find someone to help you out until Cindy gets back.”

Ben thanked his dad and hung up, leaning back in his chair, and thinking how, yet again, his dad was taking care of him, cleaning up his mistakes. He spun the chair toward his computer and grabbed the side of the desk as the room kept spinning.

The dizzy spells were getting better, but there were still times they threw him off balance. Occasional blurry vision was still plaguing him too, almost a month after the accident. His foot was healing but definitely still broken based on the pain that shot through it when he tried to walk on it without the protective boot. He had backed off the narcotic painkiller, though, worried he could become addicted to it as easily as he had alcohol.

The one good thing was that Judi’s insurance company was covering the repairs on the BMW and he should have it back in another couple of weeks.

He had three clients coming in later in the day and hadn’t yet found their files. Cindy had filed them perfectly; it was his fault they were missing. He’d placed them somewhere in the office, maybe a drawer in his desk? Or maybe his briefcase. Opening the case, the photograph he’d tucked there fell out and he glanced at the floor, at the bright blue eyes staring back at him.

Those eyes took him back to the night he learned of her existence and that she was growing fast in her mother’s womb.

“It wasn’t like I was the only one involved in this, Ben. You get that right?”

He’d poured himself a half a glass of bourbon and sat on the couch. “Yeah, I get that, Angie. I know how it works. I’m just saying I thought you were on birth control.”

Angie had been standing across from him, wavy dirty-blond curls draped across her shoulders and back, one hand resting on her slender hip, the other pressed against her forehead.

“I missed a couple of days, okay?” She’d tossed her hands out to her side in frustration. “I didn’t know I could get pregnant from just missing a couple of days. I tried to catch up, but I guess things got thrown off or something.”

He’d downed the alcohol and slammed the glass on the coffee table, cracking the glass. “We can’t afford a kid, Ange. I’ve still got classes to finish and the bar to finish studying for. I told you I didn’t want to get married right now and you think I’d want a kid?”

“No, I didn’t think you’d want a kid, but it’s happened, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

He’d scoffed. “No. I don’t have to figure out what to do.” He’d pointed at her aggressively as he stood. “You have to figure out what to do. I don’t want to be a father and you’re definitely not qualified to be a mother.”

The memory of his words stabbed him in the center of his chest. He lifted the photo and noticed his hand was trembling.

Tasting bile at the back of his throat he jumped up, gagging on his way to the bathroom and vomiting the small breakfast he’d been able to manage that morning, his entire body trembling now, head pounding.

He’d been going to church more in the last year, praying for God to forgive him for his past words and actions. Maybe God had forgiven him, or would forgive him, but he knew he could never forgive himself for the things he had said and done that night and the days afterwards.

He knew Angie couldn’t offer him forgiveness either and he didn’t blame her or want her to. He didn’t deserve it. It was high time he stopped asking God for something he didn’t deserve, including a chance to get to know the daughter he’d told Angie she should kill so their lives wouldn’t, as he had put it back then, “be ruined.”

He heard the phone ringing and wiped his mouth and splashed his face with water before stumbling to answer it, grateful for the interruption to the memories.

“Oliver! Thought you were dead, man!”

Ben raked a hand through his hair and tried to gather his thoughts. “Mark, hey. Nope. Not yet anyhow.”

The lawyer on the other end of the phone laughed but Ben knew this wasn’t a wellness check. Not really.

“I thought you might be out longer based on what I heard in the grapevine. Totaled the BMW huh?”

“Yeah, but it looks like it can be fixed.”

“It’ll never be the same, though. You know that. Better off scrapping it and getting a new one.”

“We don’t all have the money you do, Mark.”

Mark scoffed. “Get yourself a couple of corporate clients and you will. I’ll hook you up sometime, but for now I’m sure you know why I’m calling.”

Ben stood and poured the rest of the coffee from his cup down the sink in the bathroom. “I do and I also know you won’t be very happy with my answer.”

“Oliver, now come on. It’s a fair offer.”

“It isn’t a fair offer for my client. Not at all. Mrs. Henderson is not entitled to more than half of what Mr. Henderson is worth, I don’t care what she thinks. She will accept what he has offered to her, or we will pull back our offer to let her have the house and property in full without her paying him for his half.”

“Ben, how hard did you hit your head in that accident? What your client is offering is completely out of line with standard practices and Mrs. Henderson is entitled to much more than what her husband is offering after the mental anguish he put her through.”

Ben’s jaw tightened. “With all due respect, Mark, she’s getting full custody of the kids in this matter. The fact she’s demanding even more money is making her look pretty greedy at this point.”

Mark laughed ruefully. “Don’t even give me that. They were married 25 years. He cheated on her. She has every right to demand more from him. And he is also being granted visitation rights. She’s never been against that.”

Ben leaned forward across the desk, tapping it with his finger as he talked, which might have been intimidating if Mark could see him. “Let’s be clear, she alleges he cheated on her. He denies that and there is no proof. She’s taking his children away from him. Isn’t that vengeance enough? No, Mark. I’m not going to let my client agree to these terms.”

Something thudded on Mark’s end of the phone and Ben wondered if he’d punched the desk. Or maybe a wall. “Then it looks like we’re going to be seeing you in court. I was hoping we could hammer this out amicably but apparently that’s not possible.”

“Apparently not. Thanks to your client.”

“See you in court, Oliver. Hope you’re ready to lose.”

“I won’t lose, Mark, but, yes, see you in court.”

Hanging up, Ben took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. That had felt good.

He’d been worried the concussion had addled his brain to the point he wouldn’t be able to fight or his clients anymore, but that conversation had just shown him that it hadn’t. He might be horrible at personal relationships, but he was spot on when it came to being a lawyer.

Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore Chapter 2

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you stop at the stop sign?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

“Mmhmm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Selina, hey. How are you?”

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

Run over by a tractor? Really?

“I’m fine. Just been busy at work.”

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

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

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

A chill shivered through Judi. “Everyone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lambert!”

Wishful thinking.

“You’re late! Again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nope.” He smirked. “I quit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s his head?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s Ben doing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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