Welcome Home Excerpt
Next week, the first book in the Three Creeks, Montana series will be available at your favorite online book retailer. Here is a little peek at what is inside the cover.
There was an unmentioned but widely known truism in Three Creeks, Montana. If you don’t want to be noticed, go out wearing your Sunday best. Venture out wearing yoga pants, no makeup, and a baseball cap, and you will meet eleven of the twelve disciples.
Abigail Cahill got reacquainted with more people in one short trip into town than all her annual visits back home combined. By the third person who hadn’t seen her “in forever,” Abigail’s homecoming was official.
She smiled as she recalled the rule. Of course, they hadn’t seen her. Back then, a younger Abigail refused to leave the house until her hair looked perfect and her outfit coordinated with whatever activity she and her father planned for the day. After sorting through years of “memories” her family saved, she was too tired to care. If people didn’t approve of her I love Montana t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap that she used to control her hair, too bad for them.
Most politely offered condolences on her father’s passing. Others greeted her with a friendly welcome home statement. However, she prepared herself for the one or two people who were sure to remind Abigail why she’d been glad to leave the small town in the first place.
Jadine Renton caught up to Abigail as she walked through the doors of Parker and Son hardware store. The older woman wore a sun hat that hid her eyebrows. Her skin hadn’t changed to show her age. “It’s been a long time since you’ve given us the pleasure of your acquaintance.”
With the conversation beginning on a cordial note, Abigail refrained from mentioning that she saw her father twice a year. She had more pressing concerns. The first on the list was a trailer loaded with her belongings in front of a house full of items that were important to her parents but were of little use to her
It was better to avoid talking with Jadine all together and get home from the hardware store as soon as possible. After a day and a half of work, Abigail emptied the contents of only one closet. In the name of being civil, Abigail replied, “Thank you. It feels good to be in familiar places.”
Through a smile most likely pasted on her lips with dental adhesive, Jadine said, “Too bad you couldn’t have come around sooner. Your father may have lived to get as old as me.”
Abigail’s father passed away a year ago, but the urge to find something that was missing lingered in her mind. She walked around with an ache in her heart and a gray fog that had her second and third guessing every decision she made.
An extensive list of responses formed in Abigail’s mind. Sifting through the first of them rendered her silent. Indignation did not give her permission to reciprocate Jadine’s jab. All of Abigail’s comebacks would have been rude. Instead, she found herself sputtering in search of a dignified response. The only thing that she could come up with was, “I did visit my father.”
“Next you’ll blame her for the extinction of the dinosaurs.” The familiar deep voice that still had the power to make butterflies appear came to rescue Abigail. She turned around to see a man who looked like Hercules, dressed in a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up enough to show the muscles in his forearms. Her stomach melted, and all the air left her lungs. She held her hand over her mouth to keep the “wow” that was in her head from being spoken.
A sparkle appeared in Jadine’s eye, and she coughed out a laugh. Apparently, the voice had a similar effect on her too. She raised her chin to acknowledge the speaker. “Most people don’t remember I’m that old.”
“Close your mouth, Abigail,” Jadine whispered. “He talks to me like that all the time.”
Abigail cleared her throat and averted her glance away from Kent Parker. When she left for college, he’d looked like he needed to eat a couple of good meals. From what she could see over the counter, he’d found a way to accommodate the need.
The only thing that looked the same from the person she knew growing up was how he parted his brown hair to the side. It waved around his ears. Back then she played with the curls and he’d laugh at her silliness. The inclination to play with his hair struck her. The serious look in his eyes warned her to not think about trying it.
Her first impression of him being Hercules may have been an exaggeration, but not by much. The shirt he wore did little to hide his broad shoulders. Abigail was certain that if he flexed, the back of his flannel shirt would rip to shreds. She forced herself to blink away the mental image that made her heart beat even faster.
Her brother Zach mentioned Kent changing over the years, but she’d assumed it was in the same way everybody else grew up. Most people who stayed in Three Creeks after high school settled down, had two kids and a dog, and mirrored the way sitcoms depicted people in small towns.
“What can we do for you?” he asked.
Abigail thought better of sharing her first response of, “I’d like to have something that looks like you help me in the garden.” Even if it was true, it seemed improper. And, that wasn’t why she went to the store in the first place. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to answer. Nothing came out, so she closed it and pretended to search her purse for a list.
Time also blessed Kent with a stony glare that altered her perception of his once affable personality. He probably wouldn’t want to help her anyway.
Jadine gushed, “I came by because Denny McConnell said your cat litter is on sale.” The stark change in the way the older woman presented herself was enough for Abigail to take a second look to see who stood beside her.
Kent stepped out from behind the counter and headed for the kitty litter. In his absence, the spell his presence cast on Abigail broke. Abigail blinked herself back to reality. She had to ask herself why she’d visited the hardware store. Boxes. She needed boxes to separate items her brother or sister might want and trash bags to fill with things that should have gone to the dump, decades ago.
She meandered through the aisles of the hardware store that was small enough to fit in the garden department of the box stores in the larger cities. Yet it seemed to have something for everyone in their community.
As a child, the shelves at Parker and Son were monoliths that formed a labyrinth designed for their entertainment. Now, they were only slightly taller than her. Abigail smiled at the change brought by time. She recalled the numerous times her father and Hank Parker got caught up in a conversation about the latest and greatest tool and thought nothing of Zach, Abigail, and Kent playing hide and seek among the shelves. The memory pricked at Abigail’s heart and she found herself agreeing with Jadine. She should have come home sooner.
“What can I do to help you?”
Abigail pulled her hand away from the cord of rope she’d absentmindedly touched. As quickly as it vanished, the spell Kent’s presence cast on her returned. She said the first thing that came to her mind. “Muscles.”
He blinked twice and responded with a straight face. The man was not impressed with her comment.
With his reaction, Abigail noted her mistake. Her inner thoughts escaped out of her mouth. It was time to get out of this conversation. “I mean, boxes and trash bags.” The more she talked the worse she sounded. Abigail wished for a sinkhole to swallow her.
Abigail pushed through the awkwardness and spoke while she moved away from the conversation. “I need boxes and trash bags to clean out my father’s house.” She pointed as far away as possible from the ropes toward where she hoped the boxes were shelved. “We have a lot of things to send to thrift stores and whatnot.”
The corners of Kent’s mouth turned down slightly. “They’re two aisles over.” He led her in a direction that was opposite of where she pointed and stopped in front of a shelf display of corrugated boxes. “You can get boxes for free behind the general store.”
It was a great idea. However, being prone to the law of “Darn, I should have thought of that sooner,” Abigail could predict the outcome before it happened. “I didn’t know who to ask, and with my luck, I’d ask ten minutes after they stuffed them in the trash compactor.”
He nodded and waited while she tried to decide the box size that would best serve her purpose.
“Do you need help unloading things?” His eyes focused on something behind her.
Her father mentioned that Kent helped with several projects around the house. He most likely offered to help out of duty. Abigail politely declined his offer. “If I knew what half the things were, I’d say yes. But I don’t.”
With one last glance at whatever it was behind her, he returned his attention to Abigail.
Hoping to add a degree of humor she added, “It is as if the ghost of Christmas past left every present my parents received in every available space. Speaking of, I have a plaque your mother gave my mother in 1986. If you want it back, I’d be more than happy to re-gift it to you.”
His lips tightened to convey his disapproval of her answer.
She murmured, “Or, I can just pass it along to Goodwill.”
A trip to the second-hand store jumped to the top of her ever-increasing to-do list. The mental scroll of information unwound like a roll of toilet paper that accidentally got dropped and kept getting longer and longer. “On that note, I have places to be and things to do.” Abigail reached for a pre-bundled pack of boxes. “I’ll just get two of these for now. It will give me time to figure out when the general store will have another delivery.”
Without bothering to ask, Kent grabbed a stack of boxes for her. He made his way to the register and Abigail, lost in her memories, followed behind him. Kent was her brother’s best friend. He probably thought she was a nuisance too.
“It was good talking with you.” Kent laid the boxes beside the cash register. His smile added a measure of politeness to the dismissal. He had things to do as well. Abigail’s eyes followed him until he disappeared somewhere in the back of the store.
She sighed and thought to herself. As much as things change they stay the same.