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.
Who are Sam and Kate you ask? They are the characters in the fourth book in the Ashbrook, Montana series. But don’t let me get ahead of myself it’s story time. Picture if you will, a beach at the beginning of May. Seagulls are flying overhead. The sun is generating the perfect amount of warmth to feel good on your shoulders.
We were there because our son Christopher graduated with a Masters Degree from Troy University. Several of his friends from the Air Force base joined us for a celebratory barbecue. So now add hot dogs, burgers, ice cold beer and Pepsi, and you have the makings for one of those scenes out of Top Gun.
Mixed in with the families searching for crabs and children building sand castles, Christopher and his friends tossed around a frisbee, played football, and soaked up the sun. We were living one of those Zac Brown “Summer in the Sand,” life couldn’t get any better moments.
Christopher and his friends had taken a break from playing around to eat when we noticed another summer in the south moment. On a different section of the beach, people, dressed much nicer than us, were setting up for a wedding. We’re talking tulle linking chairs together to form an aisle and an arch decorated with flowers. The seagulls played the part of the doves flying overhead.
Christopher was standing with a woman I totally approved of when a plane with a banner flew by. Someone in the group read it. “It says marry me.” The romance writer in me (I had written three books by this time) gushed. But I didn’t say anything. Christopher said to the woman who turned out to be one of his besties, “Oh my Gosh, wouldn’t it be funny if a couple was on the beach and she thought the proposal was for her, but it was for somebody else.”
She laughed in agreement.
The entire story of Sam and Kate popped into my head. Two days later, I came home to Montana and finished the first draft in five weeks. Except Sam and Kate were single parents who helped each other through the teenage years. And, secretly the liked each other. A year later, Marry Me Kate was live for everyone to see.
So there you have the story of Sam and Kate. If you’re curious to know what the story is like the I have attached a hyperlink to their names that should take you to a preview of the first ten percent of the book. Check it out.
And so I close this week’s post with warm summer wishes.
Until the next story
This week I’m sharing a story a different way. I hope you enjoy it…
This is an excerpt from the fourth book in the Ashbrook, Montana series. The book is free for this weekend only. If you like what you’ve read so far, click the link at the bottom of the story and get yourself a copy. It goes back to regular price on July 24th.
Kate overheard someone whisper, “I think it’s Sam and Kate from the airplane. Maybe they’re making up.”
“You and I have a history. We have a common bond. You just met pretty boy this morning, and here you are almost kissing him.”
This was not Sam talking. Kate knew it. The Sam she knew talked about engines, fishing, and stunts he pulled with his friends. The Sam she knew pined for his wife that left him twelve years ago. The painful truth slapped her. The Sam she knew ignored her until another man showed interest. She was just a toy he was at risk of losing. To keep her resolve, Kate reminded herself of these things.
“And stop thinking,” he yelled. “You do that when you’re in a situation and you want to say the right thing. You’re not a mother right now. You don’t have to be logical. I’ll tell you the right thing to say. Say something like Sam you’re right, or what the hell let’s give it a go.”
She tried to think of something that would hurt him to make him go away. “Sam, you go outside to pee sometimes.”
“That’s your best argument? I hunt Kate. Pretty boy may know the right thing to say, but I know what to do.”
The intensity of his demeanor declined and brightened with revelation. “You’re playing hard to get. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
“Where do you get these things from?” she asked. “I’m not playing anything.”
Satisfied with his conclusion, Sam said, “Well, kissy, kissy, huggy, huggy time with Luke is over. I will block every attempt he makes at taking you from me.”
“Sam!” Kate scolded, “That’s what dolphins do.”
The eagerness in his voice changed to that of a driven man. He pointed at her. “And, that is the Kate I want. The one who knows how to keep up with me.”
Streams of sunlight streamed through the branches of the tree behind the gravestone. One ray seemed to be pointing at the name: Jesse Duncan March 4,1978-July 11, 2015. Annie Duncan offered a sad smile in response. Nature was sending some sort of a sign. She wished she knew what it was.
One of the flowers in the vase was turned in the wrong direction. Annie bent down to readjust it to align with the others. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it for some reason unknown to her it did. She stepped away from the flowers to assess how they’d look from a distance. Pleased with the slight alteration, Annie gave them a nod of approval.
“Noah’s working at the clinic. They really needed another doctor. So everyone was happy about him coming back to town. But I suppose you knew that was going to happen.” She pressed her lips together. “You always told me that he wanted what we had. People say that sort of a thing all the time.” Annie threw a furtive glance at the car parked on the gravel path and took a deep breath. “Then again, you said you’d be back in time for supper.” Her frown was so deep she felt the dark cloud loom over her head. “I sold that four-wheeler as soon I saw Jesse eyeing it the way you used to. Like father like son.” Her chuckle was more from sadness than appreciation of the similarity. There was no way I was letting it take both of you from me.” Her anger dissipated as quickly as it appeared, “We’re using the money for a down payment on a pickup for him. You know he’s excited about that.”
She pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. “Anyway, I came to tell you that once again you won. I should have known you’d argue with me even after you left. I didn’t believe it at first. But when Jesse and Noah started taking your side it took all the steam out of my boat.” It was as though her world was on mute and the sound had returned. Some birds in the tree above her chirped loudly. Maybe they were arguing with her. Annie’s eyes searched through the branches to find where exactly they were. The last thing she wanted was a present from above. Just in case she stepped out of the shadow into the sunlight.
When she heard the car door shutting she knew her time with Jesse was coming to a close. “I will love you always, Jesse Duncan. Nothing will ever change that.” The crunch of the grass beneath the footsteps counted down the time she had remaining. Annie took one last breath. “I’ll be by again soon. I promise.”
“Hey, Jesse.” Noah’s eyes clouded and cleared. He slipped his hand into Annie’s and fiddled with the diamond ring on her finger. “I’m sorry to have to cut this short. If we don’t leave soon we’ll be late for Jesse’s graduation.”
Annie nodded and pulled the slip of paper out of her pocket. She released her hold on Noah’s hand and noted how quickly the coolness from its absence discomforted her. “I’m bringing this back to you. To let you know you won.” She looked into Noah’s almond brown eyes. “And, I’m not mad about it anymore.”
A small smile formed at the corner of his lips. It was the same smile he gave her when he showed her the note the first time. Annie folded the note until it fit in the palm of her hand. It fit perfectly in the gap between the flowers and the vase.
With her task completed, she returned to Noah’s side and took his hand. They headed toward the car in reverent silence.
Noah stopped for one last looked at the grave. He whispered, “Thank you, Jesse. I’ll make sure to do right by her.” This time Annie gave his hand a gentle tug.
Her heart wasn’t as broken as she thought it was after all.