I jerked awake, arms and legs tangled in the sheet and comforter, my pillows in a heap on the floor. What happened? What did he say?
Where am I? Oh no, not again. Not another nightmare, another shadow on my day.
If I were wearing a red-bordered name tag, it would read, “Hello! My name is Charlotte Angstrom Eddy McAntic.” At school, I enrolled with my given name, but I changed it to Charli when I was a preteen. Now I answered to hon, Mom, Auntie, “Where are you?” or “Help!”
When I was a teenager, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, my friends and I were convinced that we wouldn’t live, or didn’t want to live, past the age of thirty. But of course I did survive to cross that infamous, untrustworthy threshold. I spent my thirties, forties, and even my fifties in peace and harmony aligning marriage, mortgage, careers, and children.
I married Pud, a no-nonsense, hardworking, establishment-type guy. Somewhat surprisingly, based on his serious, no-frills demeanor, he parlayed a math degree into an exciting career supporting open-wheel auto racing. I started out as a free spirit, and I ended up taking the more traditional route. I earned a law degree, focused on contracts, and then dedicated myself to my favorite jobs—wife and mother. Our two boys were young adults now, almost launched, although still within the orbit of Planet Home.
Thanks to love, the stars, and a little help from my friends, the seasons gently went round and round.
So why was I having bad dreams?
I aimed to be joyful. Most of my screen names and usernames contained some form of the word joy to remind me every day to be a positive person. I believed that something wonderful was always around the next corner. From a first grader who daydreamed during reading circle and then discovered an exciting game on the playground to a shy teen who bought an ice-cream cone and then flirted for the first time with the guy behind the counter, I always knew that something thrilling would be around the next turn.
But now, my husband was newly retired, and some of my home responsibilities had eased up, as well. Yet my personal positivity was challenged. Was there really something amazing ahead for us at this point in our lives? I didn’t even know how many miles or corners remained for us, let alone thrills.
Pud and I had been in harness for over thirty years, creating a home, raising a family, being responsible. After all that, I had to admit that I was bewildered by the way Pud and I were getting along now. Not only was Pud leaving me and heading to the golf course morning, afternoon, and early evening; even when he was at home, he was quiet and withdrawn. We didn’t talk very much, and I didn’t feel close to him. When he was away at the golf course, I was lonely. When he was home, I was even lonelier.
We seemed to be at a distance from each other. We were like people passing each other on a walk, smiling politely and saying nothing beyond “Hi” or like acquaintances waving across a busy restaurant. We were cordial but not close—and certainly not husband-and-wife close anymore.
Who was this stranger in my house? I suppose when Pud worked and I was more involved with my home and children, we had grown used to going our different ways. Pud traveled so much for his job that we literally were physically apart for much of the time. Had we also separated emotionally through the years?
I had high hopes that when Pud retired, we would have fun together. But what exactly should we do? Just take it easy and binge watch multiple TV seasons? Or have contests to see who could read the smallest print without reading glasses, or who could count his or her pills into the plastic compartments faster?
I didn’t seriously expect that we would spend dreamy hours of bliss in twin hot tubs sighing at the ocean view like in the TV commercials, but I did crave some romance now that we had time together after the busy years. I yearned to hold hands as we smiled and looked deeply into each other’s eyes. I desired to lovingly stroll together into our golden years. Pud was strolling, all right—hand in hand with a golf club.
Part of me understood that the guy had worked hard his whole life and certainly deserved the opportunity to indulge his golf passion, and I could even go so far as to say that I was glad he had something interesting to do and wasn’t just hanging around the house with the retirement blues. Truth be told, we lived on a golf course, so I had to expect some golf. But the other part of me wasn’t expecting golf to be a new forty-hour-a-week job.
The men’s league was on Tuesday; Wednesday was a men’s group at another course in town; Thursday, Pud and his buddies traveled to different courses around the state; and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were mandatory golf days. What about me? What was I supposed to do? Sit on a bench at the clubhouse and wave as he made the turn?
Some of our friends assumed that I golfed and that I enjoyed golfing with Pud. Wrong on both counts. We attempted to hit the links together early in our marriage, but I was too much of a type A personality and competitive. Pud was just as type A as I was, and when I had trouble learning the game, he became an impatient teacher. I was his frustrated student. Pud was a scratch golfer and relished the competition with his male buddies. I gave up and decided that I had better things to do than spend four hours on a Saturday afternoon on a good walk spoiled.
It was time for me to get up, but the dream had left my thoughts swirling and careening like an out-of-control carousel. Carousel? Oh, that was part of my bad dream too. There was something about clowns leaning from carnival horses and waving signs as they went round and round. What had the signs said? Pud, stay home! You can’t make him stay home! What should I do? I needed to catch the brass ring of blissful married retirement. Charlotte! You need to stop tormenting yourself. Take a deep breath, and think calmly.
Charlotte McAntic spent her thirties, forties, and even fifties in peace and harmony aligning her marriage, mortgage, careers, and children. As she stumbles into a new phase of life—also known as the Golden Years—Charli cannot help but wonder where the gold and her husband, Pud, are hiding.
Pud is happily
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It was difficult, the incredulity she feigned, for Callm to speak, clearly at that. But he need only consider her poor bastard lover lying dead at her feet for him to find his voice. “Stay exactly where you are.”
Actually, to be truthful? What iced his brain? He had retreated to some place beyond that. Because this was his life, wasn’t it? To stand here looking hard. The defender of the glen. Whatever the cost. Whatever the consequence. And it was always going to be that now, so long as the tinker chief sat on Lochalpin’s doorstep. Peace? Jesus Christ.
He dragged the back of his hand across his nose. A crowd, armed with whatever they could lay their hands on, had swelled from nearby doorways. People were used to him and his men chasing raiders down this end of the glen. They weren’t used to him killing his own.
“It’s all right, Maisie. Go back indoors.” He huffed out a breath. “He’s not a McDunnagh. And that… Hell that…” That he could fix. “That’s not even a man.”
He’d waited for this. For four damn days he’d waited for this. Discovering her bedecked in a McDunnagh plaid and half his bed pelts, only added to the fury storming through his veins. He’d feel calmer when he’d dealt with that aspect of things at least.
She stepped back against the door frame, lifting her chin, as he strode crisply through the crimsoning snow toward her. The devious creature was used to being without clothes, although the flinch as he snatched what covered her, the flinch was masterful. Christ. He’d never seen a flinch like it. What did she think? She could throw her arms around his neck and he would forgive her?
“It’s a woman.” He flung pelts and plaid to Wee Murdie. “Now isn’t that so, Princess?”
June 15, 1865
Lily sat on her horse looking intently south, up the valley. The mountains blocking their path to the west, endless prairies as far as the eye could see behind them. They had joined a large wagon train at Fort Laramie and were into their second day on the Oregon Trail. The train was turning right, headed to the north, away from the valley and toward the mountain passes discovered by the mountain men decades before.
“What’s this valley called?” Lily asked the scout riding alongside.
“Doesn’t have a name I know of, ma’am. Maybe Chugwater? I’ve heard some call it that after Chugwater Creek way up the valley,” pointing to the south and east of where they sat.
“How far to Denver City from here?”
“Denver City’s about due south of here, ma’am. If you were a bird, you could fly there in a little less than two hundred miles.”
“Thanks. And the name’s Lily, not ma’am. Lily Smoot.”
She trotted over to the wagon. Gus was driving. John swaying up and down in a Cheyenne cradleboard on his back. Lincoln was riding alongside. As in the previous train, he had taken the job of getting children up and down the back of the wagon to ride with Auggy the bear.
“This is it, Gus,” she said.
“Look all around. This is the valley Iliff told us about. The greatest ranchland ever.”
The two men looked around at the gentle hills to the base of the mountains, the trees green in the few creek beds to the south of them. A sea of ravines hidden among the hills all the way to the looming mountains in the western distance.
“Must be quite a sight when it’s covered with buffalo,” Lincoln said.
“It’d be an even better sight covered with our cattle,” Gus said.
“Iliff told us we wouldn’t last a week up here,” Lincoln said. “The Cheyenne and Sioux aren't even crazy about the wagon trains headed west through here, but they’ve agreed to give them free passage as long as nobody stays.”
As if on cue, two of the scouts trotted over.
“Gus,” one of them said. “Craziest thing. There’s a group of Indians approached us from the west when we made the turn to the north. The scouts said they came in peace. They asked if we had a wagon with a big black bear on it.”
Lily looked out to the west. Toward the magnificence of the mountains. And Mount Laramie towering over all. On a hill above the pattern of threaded ravines, about two miles away, she could just make out a small group that looked to be two of the wagon train’s scouts with three Indians.
“What’d you tell them?” Gus asked.
“I said we’d go look and see.”
“You got anybody who’ll drive our wagon for a while?” Gus asked.
“Sure. You going out to see what they want.”
“We know what they want,” Lily said.
Rachel took a sip of water and heard a tender voice. "At long last we finally meet." Water dribbled from the glass onto Rachel's chin. She wiped her chin with her hand and turned to see Cole. He looked the same the last time she saw him. Same short brown hair and dark brown eyes that could hypnotize anyone. He wore a gray suit, with a white button shirt and black tie, the first time Rachel had ever saw him in a suit. She couldn't believe Cole Ashton; her ex-boyfriend was standing in front of her. Feeling uncomfortable, she began to fidget; running her fingers through her hair. She didn't know what to say or do.
Finally Cole broke the silence. "Hey, Rach."
"Hello, Cole." Rachel took another sip of water.
"I'm sorry about your mom."
"She was a great woman." Cole picked up a cracker
"I've been hearing that a lot lately."
"It's true, she really was. I've always thought a lot of her. She was always nice to me, treated me like I was her son."
Rachel took a few more sips of water. It was no secret that her family adored, actually loved Cole. They always thought he was the perfect man for her. It broke their hearts more than it did hers when she and Cole broke up. But Cole remained a close friend of the family. Whenever Rachel called home, her mother would give her updates about Cole. Even though Rachel acted like she didn't care, she was curious about what went on in his life. "She treated everyone like they were family."
“C’mon Allison…don’t be afraid, I promise I’ll catch you!”
Seventeen-year-old Allison Roberts sat by the pool wearing a new red one- piece bathing suit. She was huddled in a corner on the floor of the huge patio where Jamie Marsden, one of the kids from school threw the biggest pool party she had ever seen. Jamie’s family had money and loved to flaunt it every chance they got and this night was no exception. She shook her head “No” as her boyfriend Joshua Patterson held out his arms to coax her into joining him and their friends in the large pool.
“Allison c’mon! You’re not going to drown, I promise! He shouted to her but as she looked at him…she saw her father standing in the river with his arms stretched out to catch a six-year-old Allison who was learning how to swim for the first time and was terrified of getting into the water.
“C’mon babe!” her father shouted as he motioned for her to jump into his arms. He promised her he would catch her and she trusted him more than anyone in the world, after all, he was indeed her father.
“Don’t let me drown daddy,” Little Allison said as she stood on a rock, prepared to jump.
“I won’t let you drown I promise. On a count of three ok?”
“Ok,” she replied reluctantly.
“One…two. Three!” he said.
Allison then raised her arms like a bird taking flight and jumped, no longer feeling the hard surface beneath her feet anymore but deep, shallow water as it quickly began to cover her face. As the cold water entered her nose she gasped. Her arms and legs moved wildly as she tried to stay afloat.
“Daddy help!” she cried out.
Russ Roberts watched her for two minutes with these dark cold eyes that made Allison’s blood turn colder than the river that began to consume her senses. He didn’t move, he didn’t blink, he didn’t flinch. He just watched his little girl scream and struggle to keep from going under; waving her arms wildly. It was her first time being in open water and she was terrified.
“Daddy!” she cried out.
After five minutes Allison grew tired and couldn’t fight it anymore as she slowly began to feel the weight of her body plummet down to the bottom of the river, salty water filled her mouth and breathing was no longer possible. Soon came darkness as she lost consciousness. Her long, curly blonde hair waved in the water as the fish began to swim around her small form lying still on the river’s surface.
Frozen with fear, she continued to sit on the patio and watch her boyfriend and her friends have fun without her.
“Allison?” Brooklyn repeated as she sat down next to her. They grew up together and had been best friends since kindergarten. She knew Allison better than anyone and knew it was a bad idea for her to come to this party. Brooklyn was a lovely African American girl from Chicago’s northwest side, whose parents moved her to Milwaukee Wisconsin when she was four -years-old. She came from a good family with a doctor for a father and a Singer for a mother who had sung backup for many famous artists throughout her career. It kept her mother away from home a lot and often times put a strain on her parent’s marriage. Brooklyn never noticed just how much of a toll her mother being away so much took on their family. She was too busy trying to battle the daily misery machine called School.
Being one of the few black people in the entire school made Brooklyn feel isolated and alone. If it weren’t for Allison, she probably would’ve killed herself by now. She was a very pretty girl but rarely ever thought so herself. She was a perfect size ten but thought she was too fat. Allison talked her into wearing the yellow bikini they bought during one of their many shopping excursions but she chose the blue one- piece instead. The two girls sat together trying to look like they were having fun, but soon their cover would be blown.
“Where were you just now?” Brooklyn asked.
“The River,” Allison responded.
“You flashbacking again?”
“Was it that obvious? Allison knew she would have been better off staying home and watching a movie on Netflix or something. But it wasn’t every day that you get invited to a party at Jamie Marsden’s house. That was something you just didn’t turn down if you were lucky enough to be invited.
“This party blows…” Brooklyn said as she watched everyone drink and act like complete idiots. Parties were never her thing.
“Josh should’ve known not to ask you to get in the pool, after what your father did to you?” Brooklyn said as she watched him guzzle down a can of beer while talking to one of the guys at the party. Every now and then stealing a glance at Allison, his longtime girlfriend of two years.
“He doesn’t know about that Brook, and don’t you tell him either.”
“Why not, he loves you.”
“He won’t love me so much if he knew about my past.”
“But He’s going to find out eventually.”
“Not until I’m ready for him to know,” she said looking at her.
“Ok, fine. He won’t hear about it from me,” Brook promised.
Jamie and her boyfriend Jake approached the girls, both with a beer in their hands and appearing to be very drunk as they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other; looking like they just had a quickie in one of the bedrooms.
“You girls are killing my party, what’s wrong with you two?” she scolded.
“Hey Jamie,” Allison said as she tried to fake a smile.
“You girls are two of the finest looking bitches at this party,” Jake rattled off while trying to stand up straight.
“Hey!” Jamie shouted as she smacked him upside his head, “What about me dick head?”
“Oh sorry I meant you are the finest looking bitch at this party, is that better?” he corrected.
“Much,” she replied with sarcasm as she dragged him away from the girls and disappeared with him into the house.
Allison and Brooklyn laughed at all of the fakeries at the party. Every guy there was trying to get laid and weren’t even being discreet about it and whatever bullshit they were laying on these girls, seemed to be working. The party raged on until 1:00 am and then people started clearing out leaving Allison and Josh alone to talk as they prepared to go home. Josh was visibly concerned as he watched Allison not having any fun that night. He was hoping she would and felt like bringing her there was a bad idea. He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. He helped her put on her jacket and lifted her long curly blonde locks to let it cascade down her back. He could smell just a hint of strawberries.
“You should’ve told me you didn’t want to come to this thing Allison. I can’t read your mind.”
“I did want to come until I had to watch you drinking with your friends all night. I guess I have to drive us home now…your too drunk,” Allison couldn’t help but smell the liquor on his breath, but she was kind of used to it now. Josh always
partied hard when he was around his friends, and it was ok with her as long as he didn’t forget she was in the room; like he did that night.
“I’m sorry Ally, I didn’t mean to ignore you. I just thought you wanted to hang out with Brook since she was here to,” he said as he looked into her pale green eyes. Allison then turned away and headed for the parking lot until he stopped her and took her in his arms. His penetrating ocean blue eyes always seemed to stop her in her tracks when he gave her that look, you know the one that says you’re his and no one else’s? And the way he caressed her soft oval face in the most loving way. He really was sorry.
“Hey…will you forgive me, baby?”
Damn, he always knew how to destroy whatever resentment she had for him and his many issues. Even making his issues her issues, but when you are in love with someone you really don’t care. You just deal. He slowly leaned in and allowed his lips to capture hers for a long lingering kiss. When they broke away he smiled and that was it, her anger had melted away.
“I hate you so much,” she said smiling as she put her arms around his waist.
“I know, and I am helplessly in love with you,” he said as they walked to his car.
This is a story about a woman named Kenzie.
A woman who knows what she wants and likes things just the way they are, thank you very much.
This is also a story about a man named Max. Max can be a real pain in the ass.
And finally, this is a story about Dash, ex-husband extraordinaire, who likes to get down to the Scissor Sisters and parties a little too much.
And Katie, the best friend who parties far too much and can expertly defend herself against sexual harassment accusations.
And Claudia, sister, mother and head of the school parent's association, long time tea drinker. The chalk to Kenzie's cheese.
And Michael, the one that got away.
Must Be Quacking Up
"I don't think so Kenz." he said, no grimace or frown, just a serious look on his face, parental almost. Condescending was another word that came to mind.
'Oh, ok, no worries." she laughed to cover her embarrassment but she knew her face looked as if she had just played the 50-minute game of soccer in the sun instead of her niece.
"Ok well see you round." she shook her arm from where he still grasped her and started for the car, pretty sure she was walking weird, knowing she was. There was something distinctly duck like about her walk, dear god she was waddling. Yep definitely a waddle. What the hell was wrong with her?
"Kenzie wait." he followed her.
Even if she ran she wouldn't be able to lose him, especially now that she had the speed and agility of Huey, Dewey and Louie combined, or maybe it was just Donald, who would be the most uncoordinated out of the four she pondered to herself idiotically.
She stopped, not sure what he was going to say but wishing the ground would swallow her up, grateful her family hadn't overheard her be shot down so brutally, when she didn't even want to hang out with this with this guy, well at least she didn't think she did 5 minutes ago.
Oh god, she thought, Dash witnessing this would be even worse, she could imagine how much he would torture her.
“To what do I owe this very great honor?”
She shut the bedroom door. Mitchell Killgower sat at his easel in the window—the window that overlooked the courtyard. So it probably was an honor. Not only could she not allow her calm to break again as it had earlier when she’d got upset about her nails, for days he’d wanted her to help him. This was her chance to capitalise.
“Christian has sent more servants. Now, before you say anything, as is probably your intention, I know it is my fault. Here is what I propose.”
“Hmm. Servants? So that’s who that man was you were trying to kiss?”
Despite his fiddling with a brush stroke as if this was God and the universe, she held her poise.
“I wasn’t trying to kiss him exactly. I just wanted him to do something for me.”
He hovered the brush over a blue spot. “And you thought that was how to go about it?”
She shrugged. “I never thought anything.”
She bent her head. The surprise would have been if he hadn’t seen her. Now, she knew he had, she also knew how to deal with this.
“While it must give you the greatest of pleasures to insult me—small minds and all
that.” The pause was as deliberate as was the way she fixed her gaze on him. “Only a fool can see that with this amount of servants about the place, it’s only a question of time before Christian knows we’re not married.”
“And you somehow think this bothers me?”
“Oh don’t pretend.” She glided closer. “Pretending is really very unbecoming. Killaine House is—”
“I’ll tell you what’s unbecoming. You coming in here because you’ve been seen, in all probability by half the house, myself included, and thinking you can somehow sort this out to your satisfaction, that’s unbecoming.”
“Your lack of understanding is breath-taking.”
"Not half as much as your effrontery."
This from a man whose inability to keep it zipped had landed him in this mess? He placed another blob on the canvas.
“Unless, of course, you were wheedling our way around him, offering your favors? I’m not sending him back to Christian’s if that’s what you’re after.”
“Mornings were steel edged now, water on the village font ice-crisp. Instead of clear blue skies, tatters of clouds stuck fast between firs on the mountain slopes and leaves on the beech trees dropped yellow and rust to the forest floor. Some days our village floated upon a sea of clouds, forming an island, heralding the separation from the rest of the world that winter would bring.
Before I drifted into sleep, I lay on my sack mattress stuffed with dried corn-cob leaves and contemplated the stars. I wondered if the sky would look the same down on the Maremma plains. It was time to leave.
Tomorrow the men and older boys would be setting off. Boots had been mended; in fact I had lost count of how many old shoes I had studded with nails to help them last the eight-day journey down mule tracks and dusty mountain roads. Paolo, our neighbour, had a new pair of goatskin breeches and had proudly shown me his stick, whittled from chestnut wood in the evenings by his fireside. On one end he had skilfully worked a hook to yank necks of wayward sheep. Rossella, his wife, had wrapped chunks of pancetta in cloth and he had bought himself a sturdy green umbrella from the fair at Ranco.
I believed Mamma had no inkling I would soon be gone. Part of me felt bad; she wanted me hear her now she understood our brother, Francesco, was never coming back from the battle of Asiago. One of the shepherds who had come to have his clogs repaired told us the newspapers had reported the deaths of 147,000 men. And all for what? At the seminary, during a geography lesson, Fra Alonso had shown us the range of mountains called Altopiano where the battle had been fought. I remember hoping, for my brother’s sake, that those mountains were as beautiful as the Apennines he had left behind here. On the newly-erected monument in the square in Badia Tedalda, when everybody had disappeared after the commemoration service, I had crouched down and run my fingers over the raised letters of my older brother’s name: Francesco Tommaso Starnucci. I wanted to feel close to him, have some sort of connection. But instead all I felt were twenty five cold, metal shapes.
Since the episode with Fra Domenico, I vowed never to return to the seminary in Arezzo and I’d been making secret preparations. I removed Nonno’s moth-eaten wool cloak from the wooden trunk at the end of my parents’ high matrimonial bed. I’d been squirreling away morsels of pecorino cheese and wild boar sausage whilst Mamma wasn’t looking and wrapping them in a rag in readiness for my departure. And nothing was going to stop me.”
The old, beat-up Chevy pickup came to an abrupt stop about a foot from the back of Ruby’s prized Jeep. She scowled with disapproval as the driver shoved open the door and dropped to his booted feet before the engine even had a chance to shut off.
"Help you, miss?" he asked, with a slow, deep twang, wiping the dirt from his hands with a handkerchief he’d pulled from his back pocket.
She squinted against the midday sun a little harder now as his voice rang a touch familiar. She watched him for an over-long moment, the mother cat twisting her lithe body around his legs in greeting. Sweat glistened on his tanned, muscular arms as he bent to pick up the kittens that came out to join their mother.
She smiled. There had to be something special about a man who elicited the love of animals. He was at least six foot two, and built like he could lift a hundred pounds straight over his head with no problem at all. A smudge of dried mud followed the line of his strong, stubbled jaw. He could be the most handsome man Ruby had ever seen. Not a sophisticated, city kind of handsome. More a Russell Crowe, gladiator, kind of handsome.
The irritated scowl returned to his face after he put the tiny, tabby kittens down, almost like he’d just remembered he wasn’t pleased about being pulled away from something important. This made him all the more interesting. Part of Ruby was glad she'd been such a bother. The day just became more intriguing.
“They’re adorable. And they seem to like you.” She tried to break the awkward silence.
Curious, soulful green eyes peered out from under his dusty Stetson hat. He gazed first at her well-worn Justin cowboy boots, then slowly up her long legs to the khaki shorts, pausing momentarily at the denim shirt she had tied loosely around her waist, showing just a hint of pale skin. His gaze stopped momentarily at the mess of red-blonde hair she’d pulled away from her face, before he finally met her eyes.
Ruby held her giggle as he finished his perusal, not wanting to make him self-conscious since she’d recognized him. Billy MacCallister. Had to be. My, how he’d grown from the runny-nosed brat who used to follow her around so many years before. He’d been the pain-in-the-butt, kid brother of her best friend.
But, this grown up Billy MacCallister was a whole different creature. Mercy, he’s definitely a full grown man now. Ranch life looks good on him.
"So," Ruby avoided his eyes to keep him at a disadvantage for just a bit longer. She reached down to pet the dogs again, calming them. "How's your sister these days, Billy?"
He stopped wiping the dirt from his jeans and searched to get a better look at her face.
"What's the matter, Billy? Think you're seeing a ghost?" A smile crossed her lips.
"Ruby?" he asked, quietly at first then louder. "Ruby?" This time with unashamed excitement. Billy took two long-legged strides toward her, tilting his hat to get a better look. "Well, look at that, it is you."
Before Ruby had a chance to respond, he lifted her off the step and twirled her around, not caring at all that she now wore half the dirt he once had all over him.
The enticing scent of musk shampoo, salty sweat, and horses swirled around her, drawing her in. How could a man smell that good after working in the mud? It took all her strength to keep from leaning in and making a fool of herself. He smelled like home to her and she had to admit, it felt good to be held.
"Billy, good grief, put me down." She tugged at her shirt to keep it down, embarrassed. The pups jumped up, anxious now to play, as Ruby tried to gain composure. Not an easy task when being twirled around by a handsome cowboy.
"Ruby Lattrell, it’s so good to see you. How the hell are you?” The honest joy in seeing her poured from him. “Oh my God, you look fantastic!" He set her down and brushed the hair away from her face, looking her over now with those same hungry eyes he'd had as a love-struck kid.
She glanced away, self-conscious. When she finally mustered the courage to gaze up at him, she couldn't help but return his infectious smile. There was no worry there, or pretense. The tiny lines around his joy-filled eyes showed only that he knew how to smile. How to laugh. Something she’d forgotten how to do a long time ago.
"Well, that’s certainly more of a welcome than I expected." She stepped back to get some space and a better look at him. He had to be coming up on thirty now. Strapping. Still driving his mom crazy with that unruly chestnut hair tucked behind his ears, no doubt. Same innocent, broad smile that held secrets.
He continued talking and following her every move, anxious to know everything all at once. Where had she been? How had she stayed so perfect? Finally, he realized she hadn’t said a word. He stopped then, smiled that secret smile again, his eyes slowly filling with concern. "Ruby, I'm sorry I'm just going on. How are you? Are you all right? Oh Lord, I'm so sorry about your grandmother."
Ruby flushed when he caught her staring. "Oh, I ah, I'm fine. Thank you, though. I can’t believe she is gone. This place will be really weird without Granny Rube here." She took a step back toward the door, gathering herself, hoping she'd find the key in the usual hiding place so she could make a graceful exit.
"You don't act fine." He caught up with her, supporting her elbow like a real southern gentleman. "Let's get you inside."
Ruby didn't protest. She kind of liked the fuss he made. This was someone she'd known for nearly all her life. It felt good to know he'd missed her.
"Just wait till Claudie finds out you're home. She's going to just die." He reached behind the rusted iron pot for the key and turned it in the lock. "She's not living out here anymore. She's got a place in town. Married a nice city guy who moved here from Arizona, Mike Calloway. They bought old Fike's Market and fixed it up real nice. Doing real well with it. She likes living in town so much better than out here." He kept talking as he closed the door behind them.
The familiar smells of the house hit Ruby first, distracting her from what Billy was saying. Gingerbread cookies, Pledge furniture polish giving off an ever-present hint of lemon.
Ruby stopped in the entry, closed her eyes, and visualized her mother and Granny Rube laughing in the kitchen, handmade aprons tied around their waists, shoving cookies in that old Wedgewood oven, sharing private giggles.
Ruby stood for a long while as she replayed the memories over in her mind, only vaguely aware Billy had gone silent and held a supportive hand at the small of her back.
"Welcome home, Ruby," he whispered, his sweet eyes searching hers.
She didn't know why, but just then she couldn't keep herself from turning and wiping the dust from his cheek, feeling more true compassion from this one understanding look than she'd ever felt before.
"Thanks, Billy." She realized suddenly her eyes filled with tears. "Thanks for making me feel so welcome. I'm glad to be home."
She felt as if she’d stepped back in time. She was just a teenager when she left home almost two decades ago. Nearly everything in the house remained in the same place. The fireplace room still held the same worn velvet couches and mahogany side tables. The faded ivy wallpaper she'd helped Granny hang curled at the corners where moisture and age had gotten to the glue. The heirloom rug passed from her grandfather's family, now worn and fraying around the edges.
The same photos capturing a more innocent time continued to be displayed on the dusty river-rock mantle. Yellowed images of Granny Rube's parents looked too small and frail to have endured such a rough pioneer life. Next to that picture, Ruby saw the photo of her Grandpa Mac, taken only days before he was trampled to death by his prized bull, Heathen.
Ruby picked up the tarnished frame and held it close, realizing only now how handsome a man her grandfather had been, tall and lanky, his deep set eyes full of the devil. Reminded her of her mother.
"Granny used to say it served him right to get taken by the one beast on the ranch that was ornerier than him." Ruby wiped the dust from the frame and replaced it back on the mantle in the exact place it was before. "Momma told me Granny put Heathen down herself with a twelve-gauge shotgun the night he killed Grandpa Mac, but I still don't know if that's true. She had such a flair for the dramatic, it was hard to tell fact from fantasy."
"Your granny was a good woman, Ruby," Billy finally offered, a measure of respect in his voice. "Always remember that. She helped me out more times than I can count."
"I'm just sad I missed so many years with her. All I have are old memories of how things used to be. Silly stuff like, I remember when she calmed Jake and me during those hell-raising thunderstorms, and chased us into the pond when we were driving everyone nuts because we were so bored." Ruby turned away from the photos and took in the room once again. "She always had time for us. I can't believe I let her die alone."
Mary Shelley dedicated Frankenstein to her father, her greatest champion. Charlotte Brönte dedicated Jane Eyre to William Makepeace Thackeray for his enthusiastic review of the book’s first edition. Dostoyevsky dedicated The Brothers Karamazov to his typist-turned-lover Anna Grigoyevna. And, as this collection’s title indicates, F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated his masterpiece The Great Gatsby to his wife Zelda.
Often overlooked, a novel’s dedication can say much about an author and his or her relationship to the person for whom the book was consecrated. Once Again to Zelda explores the dedications in fifty iconic books that are an intrinsic part of both literary and pop culture, shedding light on the author’s psyche, as well as the social and historic context in which the book was first published.
THE MANCINI SAGA. A family of six close Italian siblings each has a compelling story of romance, danger and mystery that could tear them apart or bring them together.
What if you escaped from a cult and found yourself alone on the streets of NYC.
Twenty-seven-year-old detective Carlo Mancini is your average do-good kind-of-guy with an insatiable appetite for justice. However, Carlo has one personal setback: his inability to let a senseless crime become a cold case. His obsession to uphold the law has led him on a ten-year, dead-end search for the infamous IOU thief.
Twenty-six-year-old Mia Baker lives a normal life: a quaint apartment overlooking Central Park, cherished friends, and Pirate, her one-eyed cat. To most people, Mia’s life seems perfect; but to Mia, that couldn’t be further from the truth—especially when her disturbing past comes back to haunt her.
When Detective Mancini bangs on Mia’s front door, he has no idea he will soon unravel some disturbing truths about himself, and the woman in front of him. One chance encounter can destroy the very fabric of their woven lives when Carlo realizes reality is not always black and white…
. . . Especially when secrets are involved.
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Relic Tech (Crax War Chronicles) by Terry W. Ervin II Narrator: James Conlan Series: Crax War Chronicles #1 Published by Gryphonwood Press on 03-03-14 Genres: