Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Little About a Lot

Where did the month of June go? As a matter of fact, where did half the new year go? I'm not sure if time flies faster when you're having fun or when you're getting older!

I've been busy this summer with the soon-to-be-seven-years-old Small Person who comes to Mimi School two days one week and three days the next. We have a nice (flexible) schedule of cursive writing, math, science, history, journal time, reading corner time, lunch, quiet time...and, on days when it's not raining (which haven't been frequent of late) deck time. Next summer we'll add the Wee Bear Cub to the mix since she'll go to kindergarten the following fall. I'm already planning how to juggle two learning schedules!

The big focus has been getting The Dreamland Series ready for publication. Special thanks to my dear friend and volunteer editor/proof reader Debbie Coates for all her time and hard work! If all goes well, Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland will make its debut on July 3, followed by Under the Silv'ry Moon on July 11, and Come with the Love Light Gleaming on July 18. Watch for free days and special offers!



Then I'm taking a well-earned (in my opinion) vacation from writing to organize some personal business and just kick back and enjoy life. Not that I don't enjoy writing, but any author reading this will agree that writing/publishing is hard work!

I discarded a writing conference the end of August because it was on Labor Day Weekend, and one of my eccentric rules for living (or maybe just staying alive) is that I don't get out on the highway with all the crazies on a major holiday! Besides, I planned to drive 40 miles north to ye olde ancestral hunting grounds for some genealogical research, but with the courthouse being closed on Monday, a hotel room is too expensive to waste just waiting around.

In September, however, I'm signed up for the Fall Arts Festival in a smaller town not far away. It will be a good opportunity to showcase my growing inventory of books, meet people, and just enjoy.

Then--oh, when the leaves begin to turn, and the weather begins to cool--then I leave for my two-week writing sabbatical in the town where I went to college. I visit twice a year, but during the last visit, my warm feelings for the campus and the town reignited, and I found an extended-stay facility (already checked out by a friend who pronounced it squeaky clean) where I can headquarter without breaking the bank. I'm calling it "Writing the Square" as I intend to work on 2500 words/day in every coffee house on and around the renovated historical square. The color is purple--but more on that later.

There's a new page at The Dreamland Website where you can read an excerpt from Book 1.

And if you haven't met Penelope Pembroke, be sure to visit her home on the web, too.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Branding Myself

One hears a great deal about 'branding' yourself as an author. In fact, it's considered one of those must-do absolutely necessary things to do. It's one of those you-won't-be-a-successful-writer-unless-you-do-it things. I'm not hear to argue that branding isn't a good thing, maybe even necessary in some cases. I'm here to say I'm not branded--in other words, I'm a maverick, a free-range roamer, NOT a git-along-little-dogie. 

But, you say, you can't do that...you MUST be branded! You MUST follow the rules or... 

Or what?


Okay, if you insist, here goes:
  1. I write vintage romance.
  2. I write cozy mysteries.
  3. I write romantic suspense.
  4. I write novels.
  5. I write. 
How's that? It works for me.

I write because I enjoy it, like some people hit the golf links every day or the tennis courts. I make a little extra money, which is an added bonus. Okay, sometimes I make a lot, which is an extra added bonus. If I didn't enjoy it,  I wouldn't do it. Period.

I don't do writing groups or clubs, and some of you reading this--who don't do them either--will understand why. I attend a few selected conferences where I enjoy meeting other writers (the ones whose ego isn't so large as to prevent them seeing beyond their noses), picking up a few pointers, and exhibiting my wares. If I'm lucky, I spend an extra night or two and do some sight-seeing in the area. I rarely enter a writing contest connected with a conference because I have observed that the same people make the conference circuit and walk away with most of the awards. Certainly that would be discouraging to a new or aspiring writer. For me it's simply not worth the effort or the entry fee.

 I have some wonderful writing friends, online and otherwise, who are free with their critiques, and I appreciate them and hopefully let them know it on a regular basis.

Writing is something I've always loved to do. When I stop loving it, I'll stop writing. Meanwhile, I have no ego riding on this. Of course, it's nice to see sales numbers rise. Of course, it's fun to hear compliments from readers. Mostly--it's just fun.

So, open that gate and let me roam the writing range. Yippee-ay-ki-yippee-yippee-o.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Coming Soon to a Kindle Near You!

The proof copies of The Dreamland Series have arrived, and I've been busy working on them. While there are a few typos, there are more sentences which need tightening. Other writers know what that means: sentences that just don't flow; sentences that are too long; sentences that need combining with others; sentences which need the addition of a few explanatory words. When a writer is "creating", she already knows the story, so sometimes she misses inserting those little nuances which make it more understandable for the reader.

The other proofreader just received her copies yesterday, so she hasn't had a chance to get started. Meanwhile, I'm ready for Book 3, and then the books can "simmer" a bit until she is ready for the phone conference on them.

But here's a sneak preview of Book 1 which will hopefully release by June 30:




     Newly-widowed Trixie Blake returns to her hometown of Dreamland, Arkansas, to see the building left to her in her grandfather's will. She has only vague memories of the town she left at almost five years old. After her mother divorced her father and moved away from Dreamland, she never saw her grandfather again. She has no idea why John Quimby Lloyd, Jr., left her a building and nothing to her older brother Bill.
     On her first evening in town, she is delighted to find two high school classmates, now married to each other, have moved to Dreamland. She is less pleased to learn that an unknown development company wants the entire downtown, including her building, for some yet to be explained business. The local front man, Guy Langley, has an unexplained relationship with her mother Lucy, and none with his son Mitch, a local attorney and widower.
     Still reeling from her husband's sudden death and without roots, Trixie digs in her heels and decides to renew the Quimby Building's first floor lease held by two senior citizen sisters, the Misses Drummond, proprietors of the successful Sunshine Style Shoppe. She decides the second floor will be perfect for her own gift shop and tea room.
     Danger stalks her from her temporary lodging at the hotel to the small cottage she's offered by Hetty Green, a retired English teacher. Miss Hetty taught most of the town's residents, including Trixie's mother and also Doug Everton, the police chief, who takes an instant dislike to Trixie. Then local historian Candace King—who has a few secrets of her own—fills Trixie in on the small town, including its most infamous part-time resident, Al Capone.
     Though Al is history, the Drummonds insist he still haunts the Quimby Building. Even Trixie smells cigar smoke after a while. But it's the threats on her life that keep her guessing if she's made the right decision or not. To stay grounded, she has to take a page from the playbook of Danny Jefferson, a young man with Down Syndrome, whose gentle nature masks a keen awareness of what's really going on in Dreamland, Arkansas.
     And she finds a special friend in Mitch Langley who knows about trying to move on, because he’s been there—done that—and has the scars to prove it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Monday's FREE READ: Book 6--Sam's Last Stand--Chapters 1&2



CHAPTER ONE

Penelope placed her sweet tea and salad on an out-of-the-way table in the mall food court and wrestled her packages into the extra chair. Then she slid into the other one and leaned on her elbows. Why do I do this? It’s a madhouse in here this time of year with all the back-to-school shopping, and being Saturday just makes it worse. She sipped her tea and glanced around. Mothers with children and teens formed double lines at all the food booths. Babies in strollers screamed because of the noise, the heat, and probably their overdue feeding times. She closed her eyes. I could’ve waited on this trip to Little Rock. I could’ve shopped online. So what if I pay a little more in shipping to avoid all this?
She’d just slid a plastic fork out of its wrapping when her cell phone rang. “Penelope, where are you?” Cold fear knifed through her at the sound of Shana’s eerily flat voice.
“I came over to Little Rock this morning. What’s wrong?”
 “We just got a call from the FBI agent in charge of the kidnapping.”
Penelope’s heart lurched. “They found Tabby?”
“No. They found her grandparents—murdered in the house they’d rented near Lake Como in Italy. Tabby wasn’t there.”
“Murdered? Gone?” The fork spun out of Penelope’s fingers.
“It looks like a robbery gone wrong.”
“But do they…I mean…”
“They don’t have any idea where Tabby is…or even if she’s still alive.” Shana’s voice broke then. “They won’t say it, but they’re just looking for her…for her little body.”
“Hush! Don’t even think it!” Penelope stood up and began to pace back and forth.
“Peter’s…I’ve never seen him like this. Losing Tabby is like losing her mother all over again.”
“He has you now.” Why did I say that? She’s right. Bethany was his first love.
Shana seemed to read Penelope’s mind. “Bethany was his first love, and Tabby’s living proof of what they shared. I’ll always understand that.”
“It was a stupid thing to say. I’m sorry. Look, what can I do?”
“There’s nothing anyone can do. I just wanted you to know.”
“Have you called Ivana? Or Mary Lynn?”
“I called you first.”
“Do you want me to call them?”
“No, I’ll take care of it.”
“Look, Shana, I’m done here. I’ll be home in about an hour.”
“I’m in Russellville with Peter. He’s finishing a job here. The agent called his cell.”
“Shana, it’ll be all right. I’m sure of it.”
For a moment Penelope thought Shana had hung up. Finally, “You’re the only one who’s sure of anything then. I’ll talk to you later.” The line went dead.
****
Sam sat at the kitchen table reading Wednesday’s Bugle. “When did you get here?” Penelope asked as he got up and took her armload of packages.
“About an hour ago. Jake said you’d gone to Little Rock.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her.
“Why are you here this time?” She slipped out of his arms and went to the refrigerator for a bottle of water.
“Does there have to be a reason?”
“There usually is, and it’s not me. Listen, Shana called and…”
“I know about Tabby’s grandparents.”
Penelope closed the refrigerator and leaned against the door. “I won’t even ask how.”
“I couldn’t tell you anyway.”
“That’s why you’re here then. So what do you think? Shana said it looked like a robbery gone wrong.”
He shrugged. “It could be.”
“And they took Tabby for insurance?”
“Maybe.”
“And they’ll get rid of her when they don’t need her anymore.”
Sam didn’t reply.
She held the cold plastic bottle to her forehead. “Dear God.”
Sam crossed the kitchen and took her in his arms again. “I’ll be here a few days. I guess you have an empty room since it’s Saturday, and the place is empty.”
Penelope nodded. “Nothing until Fall Festival in October.”
His arms tightened around her. “I wish I could tell you everything will be all right.”
She slumped against him. “Nothing will ever be all right again. Never.”
****
Jake suggested the Sit-n-Swill for supper. When Penelope said she didn’t feel like being around people, he said, “Honeychild, sitting at home brooding isn’t going to help that little girl. It’s not going to help Shana and Peter either. You’ve got to be the strong one.”
“I’m tired of being strong, Daddy.”
He sighed and caressed her shoulders. “Some people are meant to be that way, and you’re one of them. I don’t know what I’d have done without you all those months your mother was sick…was dying. You kept me going.”
“You think it was easy for me?”
“I saw it eating at you, but I needed you, Nellie. We both did.”
Sam shifted in his chair. “A beer and a Reuben sounds good to me.”
“I don’t care.” Penelope’s head went down on her arms. “I just don’t care anymore.”
“I’ll go change my shirt,” Jake said.
When he’d gone, Sam circled the table and lifted Penelope to her feet, cradling her in his arms. “Nell, Jake’s right. Shana and Peter are going to need the people around them to hang together.”
“Why does it always have to be me? I’m tired.”
“I’m tired, too.”
Penelope pulled back to look at him. Expressionless eyes in a face more lined than she remembered from even a few months before, told her he meant what he said. “Why, Sam?”
“Story for another time,” he said.
She placed her fingertips on his face and began a futile effort to smooth the lines. “I’ve always taken you for granted, haven’t I?”
“I think you see me as more than I am. Nobody has all the answers, Nell.”
“Not even a guy who knows things, huh?”
“Not even him.” He kissed her. “I come back here to hold you and take in some of your strength. Then I go back out there and try to do the impossible.”
“What’s the impossible?”
“A lot of things. Almost everything.”
They sprang apart as Jake came back to the kitchen. “Don’t mind me,” he said. “I see nothing, hear nothing, speak nothing.”
“You’re a fraud, Daddy, and you know it.”
He grinned and reached for his new hounds tooth  driving cap on the rack by the back door. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
****
Millie Dancer dropped into the fourth chair at their table as Hank Williams mourned his love’s cheatin’ heart. “I stopped by the B&B this morning. Your watch cat showed me his fangs.”
“Abijah has definite preferences.”
“He prefers nobody comes in and out except you. Anyway, I wanted to run an idea by you.”
“Shoot.” Penelope dipped into the basket of chips in the middle of the table.
“Well, I know Prissy Pendleton is doing a Fall Extravaganza to incorporate Halloween and Thanksgiving—though I’m not sure how the two can mesh. Anyway, I was thinking of having a Halloween party at the Sit-n-Swill. For adults, of course.”
“Invitation only?”
“No, although I think the people who’d come would be those who patronize us regularly.”
“No bikers.”
“They haven’t been around in a while, but I’d advertise, so they might show up. They don’t usually cause any trouble. It’s not a real rough bunch anymore. I was thinking of a costume contest or maybe showing a horror movie. We might even tell ghost stories.”
“Vincent Ives still haunting your fireplace?”
Millie laughed but didn’t meet Penelope’s eyes. “You know he’s not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. So what do you think about the party idea?”
“Halloween is on a school night this year, you know.”
“That’s the whole point. The trick or treating will wrap up early, and the party can start later but not too late.” Millie leaned toward Penelope. “See?”
“I guess so.”
“I can’t think of anyone with small children who would come anyway—except for Harry and Mary Lynn. I’m still getting used to thinking about them as parents.”
“They’re still getting used to being parents.” Penelope snickered. “There’s a reason God gives children to the young.”
“They’re doing all right, aren’t they?”
“Sure, they are. The girls are settling in, but it’s not like starting with a clean slate.”
“Ellie still has to testify against her uncle or whoever Archie  is, doesn’t she?”
“Cousin. Yes, unfortunately it’s still hanging over her head, and until it’s done and over, she’s not going to move on completely.”
“I thought maybe Mary Lynn would put both of them in school in town when school started this year.”
“They’re more comfortable in familiar surroundings, and besides, Evie soaked up kindergarten while she was there unofficially last year, so she’s unofficially in first grade.”
“I don’t really understand that.”
“The Possum Hollow school flies under the radar in a lot of ways. They make decisions based on what’s good for the individual student. Nobody in town asks any questions.”
“I guess that’s all right.”
“It’s worked so far.” Penelope studied Millie’s eager face. “You don’t know about Tabby Taliaferro, do you?”
“No! Did they find her?”
Penelope looked around to see who else was in the bar, but it was still relatively empty, so she gave Millie the story in a few well-chosen sentences.
“Oh, no! Oh, that’s awful! Poor Shana and Peter.”
Penelope opened her mouth to say more, but Sam caught her eye and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
“The FBI hasn’t given up, haven they?”
Penelope shrugged. “I hope not.”
“Another beer, Jake?” Sam asked.
“Wouldn’t mind.”
Millie scooped up the empties. “I’ll get them.”
“The less said, the better,” Sam said when she’d disappeared behind the bar.
“I understand, but she had to know. Everybody’s going to know sooner or later.”
“Right.”
“It’s so darned unfair!”
An unfathomable sadness filled his eyes. “Yep, that’s what it is.”
****
“Let me know if I can help with the party,” Penelope said to Millie as they left.
“I will. And tell Shana when you talk to her that Mike and I are praying for Tabby.”
“Thanks, I will.”
Jake went to his room as soon as they got home, but Sam took Penelope’s arm and guided her toward the dark stairs. “We’ve got to quit meeting like this,” he said as he settled onto the third-from-the-top step and circled her with his arms.
“I don’t care where we meet as long as we do it,” Penelope murmured, leaning against him and wishing her heart didn’t always speed up when he touched her.
“I wasn’t criticizing what you said to Millie tonight.”
“I know, and I agree with you—the less said, the better.”
“Right. I remember once seeing an old poster from World War II in a magazine. It said ‘Loose lips sink ships’.”
“You like history?”
“Well, I majored in it.”
“How did you end up teaching medieval history?”
“When I did my graduate work, I specialized in that time period. Don’t ask me why, but it fascinated me then. I wrote my dissertation on the different levels of knighthood.”
Penelope squirmed around until she was facing him. “You’re Dr. Sam?”
He repositioned her in his arms. “Yeah.”
“So what you’re doing now, whatever that is, is totally opposite of what you planned?”
He put his lips against the nape of her neck. “The road of life has a lot of twists and turns, Nell.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
He reached under her collar and felt for the locket chain. “Still wearing this, huh?”
“I never take it off.”
“I meant it, you know. Mae hyn yn fy annwyl. ‘This is my beloved.’”
“I tell myself that when I can’t sleep at night.”
“When you can’t sleep at night?”
“I think about you all the time, Sam, especially when you’re not here. I worry about you.”
“Don’t.” His warm breath on her neck made her tense briefly.
“That’s blessed easy for you to say. I think about you leaving and never coming back. I’d never know what happened to you. I don’t want to live with that.”
“You won’t have to.”
“You’re sure of that, are you?”
“As sure as I can be.” His hands slid from her shoulders down her arms and back up, but they didn’t stray. “Nell, just hang on for a little longer.”
“How little?”
“Not much.”
“Sam, I…”
He turned her toward him and began to kiss her, but he didn’t say he wanted her. She wondered if the omission was significant. Much later, when they parted at the top of the stairs, he seemed to be drinking in her face, as if he were memorizing every feature. Then he touched her cheek gently and walked away.

CHAPTER TWO

Despite all indications he’d be staying a while, Sam was gone the next morning, and he hadn’t left a note. Before early Mass started, Penelope knelt and tried to pray the rosary, but her mind kept drifting to Sam. I can’t stand this much longer. Sam comes, he goes, Tabby’s gone, and I’m supposed to be strong for everybody. Nothing makes sense anymore.
On Monday morning, she stopped by the police station on her way to see Shana at the library and confronted her son in his office. “Bradley, I know you can’t answer me, but I’m going to ask you anyway. Who is Sam, and why does he seem to know everything that’s going on?”
Detective Bradley Pembroke rolled a ballpoint pen between his fingers and didn’t meet his mother’s eyes.  “If you know I can’t answer you, why are you asking?”
“He magically appeared at the B&B Saturday while I was in Little Rock, said he already knew about Tabby, and indicated he’d be here for a few days. Sunday morning when I got up, he was gone. He didn’t even leave a note.”
“Would it help if I said all that’s news to me?”
“I don’t know. He says you’re a good cop, and for what it’s worth, I agree with him.”
“Thank you, Mother.” His face lit up.
“Is he a good cop?”
Bradley’s eyes dropped to his desk. “I can’t answer that.”
“Yes, you can, but you won’t. It’s all right. I understand. At least, I think I do. But all this is eating me up. Daddy says I’m the strong one, but I’m not. And Sam says he comes to get some of that strength, but I don’t really believe him.”
“Believe him.”
“One of these days, he’ll leave and never come back, and I…”
Bradley reached across the desk and touched her arm. “He won’t do that if he can help it, Mother.”
“I never knew where your father was or whose bed he was in, just that it wasn’t mine. And now I know he’s out at Pembroke Point for all eternity, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Bradley’s eyes met hers. “It doesn’t make me feel any better either, but I’ve moved on. You have, too, I hope.”
“I thought so. It’s just that I don’t know what I’m moving on toward. I’m glad you have Rosabel.”
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” The stern detective voice softened.
“I know it.” She stood up. “I’m going over to the library to see Shana.”
“Rosie’s going to go by before her shift.”
“I like the way you’ve all become real friends, you and Rosabel and Peter and Shana.”
“That’s part of the moving on, I guess.” He leaned back in his chair. “You’re all right then?”
“I’ll make Swedish meatballs some night this week if you and Rosabel want to come for dinner.” She waved over her shoulder as she left his office.
****
           
Penelope found Shana shelving books in an empty library. “We’re hanging in there,” Shana said. “What else can we do?”
“I don’t know.” Penelope toed a step-stool closer and sat down. “I wish there was something somebody could do.”
“Sam said to say as little as possible to anybody.”
“Sam? How is he involved with this?” But as soon as the question was out, Penelope knew the answer.
Shana shoved another book into place on the shelf. “He came by Sunday morning and…”
“So that’s where he went.” Penelope’s stomach rolled.
“Are we on the same page here?”
“He was at the B&B when I got home Saturday, and he already knew about Tabby. He gave me reason to believe he’d be here a while, but when I came down on Sunday morning, he was gone.”
“He showed up at our place around nine-thirty and stayed about an hour.” Shana leaned on the book cart. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Do you think he’s FBI?” Penelope asked.
“Peter sort of leans that way.”
“So why did he come if he’s not officially involved in the search for Tabby?”
“He asked a lot of questions about the Bainbridges. Peter couldn’t answer all of them, and he’d already told the FBI agent in charge of the case everything he knew.”
“But Sam asked different questions?”
“I’m not sure. I wasn’t there for the first interrogation or whatever you want to call it. We weren’t married then, remember, and I drove up when I got off work that day. The FBI agent had come and gone. He talked to me later.”
“So what’s Peter’s take on Sam?”
“He thinks he’s undercover FBI.”
Penelope put her head in her hands. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“It makes sense when you remember things he did and said when he stashed us in Eureka Springs after the fire at Pembroke Point.” Shana emptied the cart of its last book. “Come on back to the desk. I made coffee.”
“Bradley knows more about Sam than he’s telling me.”
“Well, he can’t, can he? I mean, if Sam really is undercover, and Brad knows it, he can’t let it out.”
“I guess not.”
Shana poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Penelope. “He did say…maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but I know you won’t repeat it.”
“Of course not.”
“He said if Tabby had been…killed…they’d have found her by now.”
“So he thinks she’s still alive.”
Shana hesitated. “He said he’d read the Italian police report and agrees it was a robbery gone wrong. But he says what’s missing is interviews with the staff—a cook, a maid, a gardener, and a chauffeur—and he thinks that’s strange.”
“They might have seen something?”
“No—he doesn’t think Tabby was ever at the villa, and he doesn’t understand why the police haven’t pursued that.”
“I don’t understand how he got hold of that blessed police report so quickly.”
“None of it makes sense, Penelope.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m glad Sam’s involved.”
“I guess I am, too. He did keep us alive in Eureka Springs, didn’t he?”
“The jury’s still out on that one,” Penelope said, thinking of the anti-climactic night at Pembroke Point following her return to Amaryllis. “Look, next time Peter stays over, give me a call, and I’ll make something special for supper.” She hugged Shana. “Sam’s on the case, and I’ve got St. Jude busy, too.”
“The patron saint of hopeless causes.”
“Before you panic, just remember he always comes through.”
Shana’s eyes filled. “I hope so. Peter and I are just hanging on by our fingernails.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

Saturday's FREE READ: Chapters 1&2 of Book 5: The Larcenous Legacy



CHAPTER ONE

“I can’t believe he’s really going.” Penelope Pembroke gripped the steering wheel of her SUV as she made the sharp right turn down the road leading to the Possum Hollow School.
Her best-friend-since-high school, Mary Lynn Hargrove, wife of Amaryllis, Arkansas’s long-time mayor, grimaced. “Fr. Loeffler’s been here for a long time.”
“Thirty-six years. He baptized Bradley and buried Mum. I’m glad he was still around to marry Bradley and Rosabel.”
“He deserves to retire, don’t you think? Especially after what he told us on Sunday about the heart thing and all.”
Penelope sighed. “He’s part of the town, even the Protestant part. It won’t be the same without him.” She pointed the car so that it straddled a pothole in the narrow road. “That needs fixing.”
“I’ll mention it to Harry, but it’s the county’s responsibility.”
“They don’t blessed do squat out here.”
Mary Lynn shook her head and murmured, “Little pitchers,” referring to Ellie and Evie sitting quietly in the back seat. With their father in jail awaiting trial for his involvement in the murder of their mother, they’d been taken briefly to a foster home in the northwestern part of the state. Then, with Jeremiah Hadden’s cousin Archie arrested for killing the girls’ mother, almost killing Principal George Harris, and kidnapping Miss Maude Pendleton, social worker Tonya Cisneros had pulled strings to get Ellie and Evie returned to the Hargroves, hopefully forever.
“You two all right?” Penelope said over her shoulder.
“Yes, ma’am,” replied ten-year-old Ellie.
“Everyone will be glad to see you back,” Mary Lynn assured her. “And Evie will be just fine with Miss Carol in the kindergarten room.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
Mary Lynn sighed. “And I’ll be just down the hall, Ellie.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Everything is going to be just fine,” Penelope added, hoping it was the truth.
In the school parking lot, she headed to her usual space. “Here we are. It’s early, so you girls can stay with me in the library if you like.”
Mary Lynn opened the back door, unfastened four-year-old Evie’s seatbelt and boosted her out of the car. “There you go.” She smoothed the girl’s short curls, light brown like her sister’s, and adjusted the blue and purple plaid bow holding it away from her face. Ellie came around the car and took Evie’s hand.
Penelope noticed Ellie hesitated at the school’s front door, long-since repaired since Archie Hadden’s shotgun had shattered the glass. “It’s unlocked,” she said, pushing it open.
Ellie squared her shoulders and stepped through, pulling Evie after her. George Harris stood in front of the display case replacing the red and green Christmas decorations with plastic snowflakes and snowmen.
“Good morning, girls,” he said, turning toward them. “We’re real glad you’re back.”
Ellie ducked her head.
“Are you ready to go to kindergarten?” He stooped with some residual difficulty after his recovery from the gunshot wound inflicted by Archie Hadden, and addressed Evie. “I happen to know Miss Carol has a desk waiting for you right up close to hers.”
Evie quivered with excitement. “Weally?”
“Really.”
“Miss Mary gave me this.” She thrust a bright pink backpack in front of her. “It’s got lots and lots of school stuff inside.”
“That’s fine.” The principal stood up. “And I see you have one, too, Ellie.”
The girl nodded.
“I have some good news,” George went on. “Tammy Turney is coming back next month.”
“Oh, wonderful! But what about her fiancĂ©?” Mary Lynn brushed an imaginary thread from the shoulder of Ellie’s brand-new camel-brown coat which exactly matched her sister’s.
“He’s been released from the VA hospital, and they’re getting married next week. He’s taking a medical discharge and planning to use his military benefits to go to school in Little Rock. He wants to get a degree in occupational therapy and work in a VA with other wounded vets.”
“What about…his legs?” Penelope’s voice dropped to a whisper.
“Well, he lost both of them below the knee—that’s an unfortunate fact. But Tammy says he’s learned to walk well with his prostheses, and while they’re honeymooning, they’ll pick up his new car with hand controls.”
“Technology can do anything these days,” Mary Lynn said.
“So we’re being sprung,” Penelope said. “I’ll miss this place, but I have to admit just managing the B&B is going to be enough.” She put her hands on the girls’ shoulders. “Well, come on girls, let’s get this day started. Or maybe I should say this new year.”
****
After school, Evie chattered about her day all the way to the car and most of the way into town. Even Ellie was more talkative. George Hollis had done damage control before the holidays, just on the off chance the girls would be back. The other children knew the shooting and kidnapping were closed topics—forever. They also knew, because they were Possum Hollow children, too, that Jeremiah and Archie Hadden were in jail and not likely to get out soon. Loyalty to their own kind—and perhaps kin—dictated that wouldn’t be talked about either, especially around Ellie and Evie.
Penelope let Mary Lynn and the girls off in front of the Hargrove house. “See you same time tomorrow.”
“It was hard enough getting me ready to go at that gosh-awful hour,” Mary Lynn said, sticking her head back in the car after Ellie and Evie scampered up the walk.
“The perils of motherhood.”
Mary Lynn smiled. “I can only hope.”
“Jeremiah will give up his parental rights to you and Harry. It’s either that or have them terminated and let the girls go to foster care. He knows he isn’t coming out of there before either one of them turns eighteen.”
“That’s what Tonya says. Well, I’ve got to go start supper. See you, Pen.”
****
Jake Kelley, Penelope’s father, straightened from the oven where he’d just slipped in the chicken his daughter had left ready to bake. “How was your day?”
“Busy. But Tammy Turney is coming back, so my days at the school are numbered.”
“Coming back?”
“She and her fiancĂ© are getting married. He’ll commute to school in Little Rock.”
“Double amputee, right?”
“Apparently getting along fine.”
“Things have come a long way since so many boys came home from our war like that.” Jake poured two mugs of coffee and sat down at the table. “Some did okay, some not so well.”
“People look at disabilities differently these days, too.”
“That’s true. Less pity, more admiration for the come-back.”
“I have to admit I’ll be glad to be home more. So will Mary Lynn.”
“How did the little girls get along today?”
“Great. Evie talked a mile a minute nearly all the way home.” Penelope wrapped her hands around the warm mug. “I still can’t believe Fr. Loeffler is leaving.”
“He’s almost my age, Nellie. He should retire with time left to enjoy it.”
“You didn’t want to retire after your stroke.”
“No, I didn’t, and I was pretty hot about being replaced at the Garden Market. But in the end, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I enjoy life more every day the good Lord gives.”
“You worked hard, Daddy. You deserve it.”
“And so does John Loeffler.”
“Laura Barton is going to live with her sister in Eldorado when he goes, so the parish will have to find another housekeeper for the new priest.” Penelope sipped her coffee. “I wonder who he’ll be?”

CHAPTER TWO

Fr. John Loeffler said his last Mass at St. Hyacinth’s on the first Sunday in March. When the parishioners filed into the pews the following Sunday, they were greeted by a much younger face that someone whispered was way too good-looking to be a good priest.
Penelope, freed from her responsibilities at Possum Hollow School when Tammy Turney—now MacMurray—returned the first of February, had organized lunch in the parish hall to welcome the new pastor. He’d slipped into the rectory earlier in the week, unannounced and unnoticed, but now he moved comfortably among his new flock, his curly black hair falling over his high forehead with decidedly unsanctified abandon.
“Kristopher with a K,” Penelope heard him say to Mrs. Pfieffer with a P.
“Dombrowski?”
“It’s Polish. I’m second generation. My grandfather came to this country after World War II with his wife. It wasn’t just the Jews who fled Europe. Whole villages had been destroyed and their populations all but wiped out. Many people just didn’t have the heart to rebuild and start over in a place occupied by a country—Russia, in the case of Poland—whose occupation might not be much better than the Nazis.”
“Why didn’t your grandfather taken an Americanized name?” someone asked.
Kristopher’s smile, revealing even white teeth, dazzled his listeners. “I get asked that all the time. My uncle did change his name as an adult when he finished college and went into business. Brown. That’s a good American name. But my grandfather is proud of his name, and so is my father. And so, as a matter of fact, am I. The Dombrowskis were prominent in Spokojna Dolina for generations before the war. Helped to found it even. The name translates to Peaceful Valley, because that’s what it was.”
The hall buzzed.
“The chalice I used for communion this morning was a gift from my grandfather when I was ordained.”
“Did it come from Poland?” Harry asked, joining Mary Lynn with Evie in his arms. He set the child down and wiped his forehead. Ellie edged closer to her sister.
“Who’s going to keep house for you?” Mary Lynn asked.
“To answer your question, Mayor Hargrove, yes, it did, and there’s a story behind it. And to answer yours, Mrs. Hargrove, my sister will be here next week. Ivana is a widow. She has a nine-year-old son, Will, whose father died in a trucking accident when Will was just a few weeks old. She’s been keeping house for me ever since I finished seminary and the diocese had no problem with her coming along to Amaryllis.”
“We’ll welcome her,” Penelope said. “And her little boy, too. We have a good school here in town. He’ll do well there.”
“I’m sure Ivana will be glad to hear it. She dotes on Will. We both do, I guess.” He greeted two or three other people who stopped to speak to him before turning back to Penelope. “Mrs. Pembroke, right? The B&B.”
“That’s right.”
“Are these your granddaughters, Mayor?” Fr. Dombrowski bent over and made a silly face, sending Evie into a fit of giggles.
“It’s a long story,” Mary Lynn said. “We’re hoping to adopt them soon.”
“Wonderful!” The young priest made a face at Ellie, too, eliciting only a small smile.
“This is my father, Jake Kelley,” Penelope said as Jake joined the group.
Oh, Mr. Kelley and I have already met.”
“Really?” Penelope glanced at her father, her eyebrows lifting. “He didn’t mention it.”
Jake rolled his eyes. “She’ll have me in the old folks home before evening,” he said.
The young priest laughed. “Actually, I stopped in at Rose’s Bakery for some kolaches for breakfast the morning after I arrived, and Mr. Kelley and two of his friends were having coffee. They invited me to join them.”
“The Toney Twins,” Mary Lynn said. “Lucky you.”
“They were, um…interesting characters,” said Fr. Dombrowski. “But not Catholic, I understand.”
“Not much of anything,” Penelope said, “except rich and eccentric.”
Jake wagged a finger at her. “Now, Nellie, that’s not very nice.”
“They did make a large donation when we restored the old school as a community center,” Mary Lynn said.
Penelope flushed. “They did that all right. But did I ever mention I saw them talking to that Snively character before he picketed our Christmas program?”
“Snively?” asked the new priest.
“Harrison Snively, the low-life who tried to shut down our Christmas program at the new community center we worked so hard to get going. Brought in a bunch of heathens to protest and scared the little kids coming to participate.”
“He left pretty quick,” Harry reminded her. “After the bikers roared up.”
“Bikers?” Fr. Dombrowski shook his head. “The Bishop didn’t mention this was such an interesting place.”
“It’s the best place in the world,” Penelope said firmly. Or at least, it used to be. Now I just sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering what’s going to happen next.
****
Sam sat at the kitchen table eating a piece of chess pie. “I came for lunch, but there wasn’t any.”
Jake grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Had lunch at the parish hall to welcome our new priest. Good to see you, son.”
“Thanks, Mr. Kelley…Jake.”
“I’ll make you a sandwich,” Penelope said, setting down her purse.
“I already had one. This is dessert.”
“You make yourself right at home, don’t you?”
Jake chuckled. “I’m going to watch TV.”
When he’d gone, Sam circled Penelope’s wrist and pulled her into his lap. “Hello, Nell.”
“Hello yourself. Where’ve you been now?”
“Around. I thought I’d get back for the Valentine Dance, but it didn’t work out. You wear that red dress again?”
Penelope struggled only briefly as Sam’s lips sought her neck. “You didn’t even send me a card.”
“I thought about you. Does that count?”
“It shouldn’t.”  She snuggled against him. “Oh, Sam, I missed you.” 
“Missed you, too.”
“How long will you be here this time?”
“You never know.”
“That’s the problem. I never know anything.”
Sam stroked her shoulders and back and put his lips against her hair. “Neither do I, Nell.”
“I’m not complaining. Not really.”
“Let’s go in the parlor. There’s more room.”
“More room for more trouble.” But she got up and went with him.
On the sofa beneath the front windows, with the streaming sunlight warming their bodies, Sam got down to business. “Sometimes I lie awake at night and try to remember how warm and soft you are.” His hands, however, didn’t wander.
Penelope gave herself up to the feelings his touch engendered. “Sometimes I wake up in the night and smell your aftershave.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“I don’t even open my eyes, because I don’t want to know you’re not there.”
“Someday, Nell.” He felt inside the neck of her sweater and pulled out the locket he’d given her for Christmas. “Mae hyn yn fy annwyl.”
This is my beloved. “Am I really your beloved, Sam?” She straightened to meet his navy blue eyes.
He traced her lips with one finger, then moved in for the kill.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she murmured, waiting for him to kiss her again.
“Sure I did.”
She laid her head against his broad chest. “I never take it off. The necklace, I mean. And I haven’t shown it to anyone yet. It’s just too personal.”
“It’s meant to be personal, just between you and me.” He kissed her again. “So, you have a new priest.”
“I told you the last time you called that Fr. Loeffler was retiring.”
“Right. Who’s the new one?”
            “Fr. Kristopher Dombrowski. Kristopher with a K. Thirty-ish, good-looking, very personable.”
“Polish heritage.”
“How’d you know that?”
“I know things, remember? It’s the name.”
“He said his uncle changed his name to Brown for business purposes.”
“People do that sometimes.”
“He said his grandfather was proud of the name, that it meant something where they came from in Poland.”
“That’s good, too.”
“He talked like his grandfather was still alive and said he gave him the chalice he’s using now when he was ordained. That’s sort of a custom. But you know that.”
“I know that.” 
“You’d like him.”
“I’ll drop by and meet him sometime.”
“His widowed sister is coming to keep house for him. She has a little boy about nine.”
“This is a good town to raise a kid in.”
“You think so? So much has happened in the last few years, starting with that mess at Pembroke Point.”
“Things happen everywhere, Nell.”
“Daddy says I just never realized what was going on all the years I was growing up here. But moonshine out in the Hollow doesn’t seem very dire compared to drug-running, art theft, kidnapping, bombing, and murder.”
“It’s not. But the drug-runners will move on after a while. In fact, this latest fiasco was probably their swan song.”
“You mean Darby Dolan? I don’t think she’ll ever go to trial.”
“Her lawyers will run out of legal maneuvers eventually, and she’ll be convicted of murdering those three people. And, if her husband’s body ever turns up, the prosecutor will tack on accessory to his murder.” Sam stretched. “How are Evie and Ellie?”
“They were a little apprehensive about going back to school at Possum Hollow, but they’ve settled in. Tammy Turney—Tammy MacMurray picks them up every morning now that Mary Lynn and I don’t go out there.”
“Are the Hargroves going to adopt them?”
“They want to. It’s a matter of their father giving up his rights to them. I don’t know where that stands. Oh, and Miss Maude still goes to the school, too. Did I mention that the last time I talked to you—over a month ago?”
Sam chuckled. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, she’s so useful out there, so George asked her if she’d keep coming. The children adore her, and what she does frees up Tammy for other things. Tammy and Mac are living in the guest house attached to the old Pendleton place, so it makes things convenient.”
“I thought you were terrified of Miss Maude in high school.”
“We all were, and she meant for us to be. But children have a sixth sense, and they know she reads stories like they never heard them before. Besides, she’s something of a folk hero to them for surviving time with Archie Hadden. Him they were really scared of.”
“So everyone is living happily ever after.”
Penelope put her face against his shoulder again. “Almost, Sam.” She felt his arms go around her again and sighed.