Tuesday, October 13, 2015

One Downside of a Long Writing Career

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter the other day that made me look at my world in a whole new--and not entirely pleasant--way. We were talking about re-releasing the very first mystery series I ever wrote, the Fred Vickery mysteries. When I wrote those books, I created Fred as a mixture of my dad, who was in his 70s at the time, my maternal grandfather, who had passed away years before, my next-door neighbor, Fred, and me.

When I pictured Fred, I saw him as an elderly man, at least a full generation older than me. I based his speech patterns on those I'd heard my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents use. Fred was elderly. No doubt about it. If I imagined the books being made into a movie or a TV series, I pictured actors of the day taking the role of Fred -- Andy Griffith, maybe. The older Andy, not the younger Andy of Mayberry version. Andy in his 70s, just like Fred.

Even though I created Fred in 1992, which means in the real world he would have aged a good 20 years, in my mind he was still Andy-Griffith-in-Matlock-esque.

But the other day my daughter said something that blew me right out of the water. "Ooh!" she said. "If they made a movie now, Kurt Russell could play Fred."

Excuse me!?! What??? Kurt Russell?  No! No way!

To begin with, Kurt is my number one go-to hot guy. Kurt is not old enough to play Fred in a movie. Kurt is Wyatt Earp in Tombstone tough (and have I mentioned hot?) Kurt isn't 70-ish and slowing down. Kurt is timeless.

When I wrote my very first published romance, Call Me Mom, the hero, Kurt Morgan, was based on Kurt. Kurt was Kurt. Kurt still is Kurt. When I reworked Call Me Mom to be republished as Picture Perfect by Harlequin Heartwarming, Kurt was still ... Kurt.

But, as my mother always says, "If wishes were fishes, we'd all have a fry." I can't change reality just by refusing to acknowledge or even accept it. The fact is, I've aged. Kurt has aged. And the hot guy who was the hero in my very first romance novel probably could now play the septuagenarian in my very first mystery novel. I'm still not okay with it, but I'm not okay with a lot of things that show up in my world--like the fact that I'm not 30 anymore.

But I'll tell you one thing--if and when I write more books in the Fred Vickery series, I'm going to be looking at good old Fred in a whole new light!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book of the Week - 10/12/2015

Recently, I discovered that several books from my back list (books I thought long out of print and unavailable) are actually still available in digital format. I couldn't be more excited since some of these books are very dear to my heart.

To celebrate, I'm featuring a "new" book from my back list every week by posting an excerpt from the book and providing links for all the places I've discovered you can find the book.

In case you missed it, last week's featured book was High Mountain Home.

This week I'm celebrating That Woman in Wyoming, published by Harlequin Superromance in 2001 and made available in digital format last year. Click on the book or the title above to read an excerpt.

I loved writing this book and getting to know Max and Reagan. I loved creating the town of Serenity, Wyoming, which appears again in The Christmas Wife

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

An Excerpt from NO PLACE FOR DEATH

Fred Vickery's fourth foray into the world of murder and mayhem, No Place for Tears, is set for re-release on November 17. I thought I'd celebrate that by offering an excerpt from the third book in the series today.

If you haven't yet met Fred, he's 70-something, a widower, and retired from his job as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for the school district in his rural Colorado county. Fred has four adult children whom he loves, even if they do make him crazy at times. Fred's a family man through and through, and that's what readers seem to love about him.

So, for your reading enjoyment, Chapter One:


(copyrighted material) 


Pleasantly full after a great meal, Fred Vickery followed his brother-in-law, Porter Jorgensen, from the Jorgensens’ kitchen into the living room. In the nearly fifty years since they’d each married out of T.S. Cooper’ daughters, they’d done this hundreds of times—a big meal in the kitchen, after which the men were shooed into the living room where he and Porter saved the world (in theory) while Phoebe and Harriet chatted and cleared the table.

In the early years, Fred had often tried to help but Phoebe had always sent him away. He’d finally given up after she explained it was her only chance to spend time alone with her sister and that the dishes provided a convenient excuse.

An air conditioner unit in one window churned out cold air and a fan whirred softly on the other side of the room, trying to take the edge off the hot August evening. Fred settled into an easy chair and listened to the clatter of silverware, the rush of water, and the low murmur of conversation in the kitchen. If he closed his eyes, he could almost believe nothing had changed. But the kids were all grown and out on their own now—except Douglas, who’d moved back home in the spring—and Phoebe was gone. Had been for nearly three years now. Fred had grown used to living without her—almost. But times like this brought the pain back so sharply, Fred wondered if he’d ever truly adjust.

The past three years he’d avoided Phoebe’s family almost entirely—four sisters, all too much like Phoebe in one way or another, one brother, and too many children among them all to keep an accurate count. Porter and Harriet lived closest to Fred, and he’d missed the times they used to spend together. So when Harriet called last Sunday with this invitation to dinner, he’d convinced himself he’d healed enough to make it through the evening without trouble.

He’d been wrong.

Stifling a groan, he patted his stomach and forced a smile. “Harriet sure hasn’t lose her touch with a meal.”

Porter grinned and dropped heavily into his easy chair. “Nope, I’ll say that for her. She’s still one of the best cooks in the county.” His ample frame provided silent proof of his words. His snow-white hair, once nearly jet-black, testified to how many years he’d been enjoying Harriet’s efforts in the kitchen.

He picked up the remote control from the TV tray beside him and almost instantly a picture popped onto the screen. With a satisfied grunt, he settled back in his chair as if he’d been watching the blasted thing all evening.

From the kitchen, a burst of laughter erupted and Fred’s heart twisted. But it wasn’t Phoebe’s laugh. Tonight, Harriet and Nancy Bigelow, the Jorgensens’ youngest child, had joined forces and kicked the men out of the kitchen. The laughter drifted away, then erupted again before facing into muted conversation. Nancy’s voice blended with Harriet’s like Phoebe’s had. Both voices were soft and melodious. Both a little husky. Both pleasant and soothing.

Fred leaned his head against the chair and tried to push away the longing for the life he’d never get back. He’d had forty-seven years with Phoebe. Many people didn’t get that much time together. This year they’d have celebrated their golden anniversary, but no matter how much he longed for the past, he couldn’t bring Phoebe back. All he had was the here and now. He wanted to make the best of it.

Tonight he’d shared some pleasant company and had eaten a good meal for the first time in years. Obviously, Harriet and Phoebe had learned to cook from the same teacher. His daughter Margaret had cooked that well once, but lately she’d let her fear of fat grams and cholesterol chase all the taste from her food. The only flavor he got these days was what he snuck into his own recipes.

Cutting a glance toward the kitchen he said, “It’s good to see Nancy again. I didn’t expect her to be here.”

Porter grunted again and wiped a trickle of sweat from his temple. “We all thought Douglas would come with you, and she was looking forward to seeing him again.”

“I passed along the invitation,” Fred said, “but I can’t predict what Douglas will do now any better than I could when he was a boy.”

Porter nodded, no doubt remembering the younger Douglas and his tendency to leap from one interest to another without warning. “Did you say he’s working now?”

Fred’s mouth tightened into a frown. “He’s still looking.”

With an expression full of understanding, Porter leaned back in his chair. “If it’s not one thing it’s another, isn’t it?” He shot a quick glance at the kitchen door. “Nancy’s been on my mind a lot lately. She comes by more than she ought to, but that husband if hers spends all his time working, so she’d be alone if she didn’t spent time with us.”

Fred heard the disapproval in Porter’s voice and saw it on his face. Fred empathized with his brother-in-law. He knew how it felt to disapprove of a son-in-law, but Phoebe hadn’t liked him to voice his opinion of Webb in front of Margaret, and he figured Harriet would feel the same way about Nancy’s marriage. Besides, Fred had known Adam Bigelow since childhood. He’d watched the boy grow up as he went through school, and he’d always kind of liked the kid. For all those reasons, he tried to keep his voice neutral. “What’s Adam doing now? Does he still have that government job?”

“He’s a subcontractor,” Porter said. “Soil and water testing, that sort of thing. What it amounts to is he plays in the dirt and mud all day.” Porter made a noise at something on the television and leaned forward slightly. “For hell’s sake—” he muttered, then dropped back again and shook his head. “So are you and Douglas coming to the picnic on Labor Day?”

“I don’t know,” Fred admitted. “Douglas could have found a job and left town by then.”

“The real question is, what about you?” Porter asked. “We’ve missed having you around.”

Fred appreciated that, but he didn’t want to make a promise he might not keep. “I don’t know,” he said again. “There are lots of memories in this house. More than I expected.”

Porter’s chins waggled as he studied the living room. Maybe he thought he could see the memories if he looked hard enough. “Well, I suppose there are reminders here, and I’m sure it’s tough. But you can’t make yourself a hermit forever. Phoebe’s gone, sure, but that doesn’t mean you’re not part of the family anymore.”

“I know that.”

“You should have been at Bev’s for the Fourth of July,” Porter went on. “We had quite a party, and everybody asked about you.”

Phoebe’s eldest sister, Beverly, had long ago claimed the Fourth of July as her exclusive bailiwick, but Fred hadn’t joined them at once of her parties since Phoebe passed on. It just wouldn’t be the same. But he knew the others wouldn’t understand so he just nodded slowly and said, “Margaret told me.”

Porter chuckled at some picnic memory and adjusted his shirtfront over his ample stomach. “Viv brought a date—did Margaret tell you that?”

Vivian, the sister between Phoebe and Harriet, had divorced her husband more than twenty years earlier. Every year or so she’d date someone new. Nothing serious had ever developed with any of her callers, but her descriptions of the dates kept the family in stitches.

Fred smiled, realizing that he’d missed hearing Vivien’s stories. “Do I need to run out and buy a wedding gift?”

Porter snorted in reply. “No, not yet. She called the next week and said the guy turned out to be the Date from Hell.” He changed the channel on the television and went back to ignoring the program. “So what about Labor Day? I’ve got to warn you, Bev said that if you didn’t show up this year she’d drive down and drag you up here by the seat of your pants.”

Fred grinned at the image. Beverly had been a year ahead of Fred in school, so he knew she had to be at least seventy-four, but he had no trouble picturing her carrying out her threat. “Labor Day’s still over two weeks away, “Fred said. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”

In the other room, water shut off and chairs scraped against the floor. Porter jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. “Sounds like they’re coming. You know Harriet’s not going to let you rest until you give her the answer she wants.”

Before Fred could respond, footsteps clattered on the hardwood floor and a moment later Harriet and Nancy burst into the room. Harriet still wore her apron, and she’d left a kitchen towel draped over one shoulder. She had lighter hair than any of her sisters, but there was no mistaking which family she came from.

Nancy followed her mother, carrying a tray loaded with steaming mugs of coffee. She must have been about thirty, Fred calculated—give or take a year or two. The only girl out of the Jorgensens’ five children, she had her mother’s light hair, but her eyes were honey brown, just like Phoebe’s had been. Those eyes, inherited from a maternal grandmother, had marked the family connection through several generations.

Harriet beamed at them and waved Nancy toward the coffee table. “Well, here we are. Anybody want coffee?”

“It’s not decaf is it?” Fred asked.

She handed him a mug and jerked her head toward her husband. “Are you kidding? Porter would divorce me if I tried to give him decaf.” She perched on the edge of the couch and let her gaze linger on Fred as he sipped cautiously. “So, did he talk you into coming for Labor Day?”

Fred smiled and shook his head. “He asked, but I don’t know—”

Harriet put a hand on his knee. “Please, Fred? We’ve missed you. Holidays aren’t the same without you.”

“They’re not the same without Phoebe,” he said.

He half expected Harriet’s eyes to grow misty, but in her typical bullheaded way she refused to let the emotion take hold. “No, they’re not. But we can’t change that, can we? This is ridiculous, Fred. We live less than thirty miles apart, but we’ve hardly seen you in the past three years.”

“I’m here tonight,” he pointed out.

“Yes you are,” Harriet admitted. “And it’s a good thing, too. I’ve just about reached the end of my patience with you.”

Nancy grabbed a mug and wedged herself into a corner of the couch.  “Come on, Uncle Fred. Admit it. You’ve missed us too.”

He had. No denying it.

As if sensing his hesitation, Harriet touched his knee again. “Dorothy’s bringing that casserole you like so much—”

Against his will, a laugh escaped. “Now you’re fighting dirty.”

Harriet pushed at his knee and chuckled. “The best way to win you over has always been with food. Why do you think Phoebe spent one whole summer learning how to bake? We all thought we’d die in that hot old house before you got around to proposing.”

Porter flicked through another couple of channels. “You might as well give up, Fred. You don’t stand a chance. They’ve been plotting against you all summer, planning a menu with all your favorite dishes and who knows what else.”

Fred laughed, but before he could reply the front door slammed open and cut off what he’d been about to say. Nancy’s husband, Adam Bigelow, stood in the doorway, his chest heaving from exertion or emotion, Fred couldn’t tell which, and a stream of hot summer air swept into the room with him.

As just about six feet tall, Adam wasn’t a small man. He had the broad-shouldered build and weathered complexion of a man who worked outdoors, and now that he’d reached his early thirties, he had a fine sprinkling of fray in his dark hair and beard.

Pausing only a second to get his bearings, Adam stormed into the living room toward Nancy. His dark eyes glinted and his breathing was ragged.

Nancy’s smile faded. “Adam? What are you doing here? What’s wrong?”

He jerked his head toward the door. “I want to talk to you right now. Outside.”

A flicker of uncertainty crossed Nancy’s face, but she put down the mug she was holding and stood to face him. “Now? Adam—”

“Right now!” The angry look he gave her made Fred uneasy.

“For Pete’s sake, boy—” Porter snarled.

“Don’t get involved, Porter,” Harriet interrupted. “Let the kids work out whatever it is.”

Nancy looked at each of her parents and managed a weak smile in Fred direction. “I’m sorry—”

“I said now.” Adam grabbed her arm roughly and tried to pull her toward the door.

Nancy jerked away from him.  “Let go of me.”

Porter struggled to his feet and tried to step between them. “Whatever you’re upset about, there’s no need to get pushy.”

Adam ignored his father-in-law and grabbed for Nancy again. This time she managed to sidestep him.

Harriet scrambled for Porter’s remote and aimed it at the television. But when she turned up the volume on the first try and changed the channel on her second, she tossed it aside with a cry of irritation.

“Are you coming with me?” Adam demanded.

“Not while you’re acting like this,” Nancy said with a toss of her head. She was trying to look brave, but Fred could see anxiety in her eyes.

He wondered if he should leave. He’d recently seen Douglas through a divorce and he didn’t have the stomach to hear more angry accusations and bitter recriminations. But a quick glance around the room told him that it wouldn’t be easy to slip out. Harriet was blocking the door to the kitchen and Adam was standing between him and the front door. Leaving right now would call more attention to himself than he wanted so he sat back in his chair and tried to make himself invisible.

When the television show gave way to a commercial, the volume jumped again. Growling in frustration, Porter marched toward the set and turned it off manually.   “You’re not going anywhere with him, Nancy. Not until he calms down.” He turned on Adam with an angry scowl. “You have some nerve barging in to my house like this.”

Fury contorted Adam’s face. “This isn’t your concern, Porter.”

Harriet fluttered her hands toward the couch. “Why don’t you sit down, Adam? I’m sure you two can work out whatever’s wrong.”

Adam laughed bitterly. “I don’t know what I’m thinking. There’s nothing to work out. I’m talking to an attorney first thing tomorrow.”

It had gone this far, then. Fred sure hated to see it. He knew how deep the wounds of divorce could cut.

Harriet cried out as if Adam had struck her. “What? Oh, Adam, you don’t mean that.” She turned to Nancy and grabbed her arms. “He didn’t mean it, sweetie.”

Nancy’s eyes filled with tears and her face crumpled in pain. “Yes he does, Mom.”

“No,” Harriet insisted. “You’ll see.” She reached a pleading hand toward her son-in-law. “Maybe you and I should talk about it, Adam.”

Nancy tugged her backward. “No, Mom. Adam’s right. This is between him and me—”

Adam barked another angry laugh. “If that were true, we might have a chance. But it’s been a long time since things were between the two of us, hasn’t it?”

Harriet let go of Nancy and began to wring her hands. Adam took advantage of that to grab Nancy’s arm and jerk her toward the door. He must have gripped her too tightly or pulled too roughly because she cried out in pain.

That’s all it took for Porter to lose his temper. Red-faced and breathing hard, he lunged toward Adam. “You hurt her again and I’ll take you apart.”

“Please don’t, Dad,” Nancy begged, trying in vain to pull away from Adam.

Adam refused to let go and jerked her toward the door again. “Now, Nancy. I’m not waiting all night while you milk your parents for sympathy.”

Embarrassed to witness the argument and concerned for everyone involved, Fred wished they would stop. That they’d go their separate ways tonight and discuss it later, when their emotions had cooled. If they let this go on too long, it would be hard to repair the damage later. 

Nancy bit her lip as if Adam had hurt her again, and Porter’s round face turned even redder. “Let go of her, you little son of a bitch—”

Adam finally let go of Nancy, but only so he could get in Porter’s face. “Stay out of this, Porter, unless you want to hear things you’d rather not know about. Nancy can tell the whole damned lot of you about it later. . .” His mouth twisted into an ugly smile. “. . .if she wants to.”

As if she’d suddenly regained control, Nancy snarled at her husband. “Stop it, Adam. You want to talk? Fine. We’ll talk. But leave my parents out of this.”

At least she was willing to talk, Fred thought. Maybe they’d discuss it rationally—whatever it was—when they were alone.

And they might have if Porter hadn’t rushed after Nancy shouting, “You’re not going anywhere with him. Not unless he calms down.”

Adam’s face turned to stone. He leaned too close to Porter and when he spoke his voice came out low and frighteningly controlled. “If you had any idea. . .”

“All right, you want a divorce?” Nancy shouted. “You’ve got it. Just get out of here before you do any more damage.”

Harriet looked at Fred as if she thought he should do something, but he stayed put. Much as he hated watching this scene play out, he had no intention of getting involved. He’d learned his lesson with his own children. He worked hard not to interfere in their lives, and he wasn’t about to walk into the middle of his niece’s troubles. Besides, he was no match for Adam physically and he doubted Adam would listen if Fred tried to calm him down.

“Before I do more damage?” Adam demanded. He laughed bitterly. “You’re something else, you know that?”

Nancy turned away from him and Harriet started to say something, but Porter put one arm around Harriet’s shoulders and spoke before she could. “You heard her. Get the hell out.”

Adam’s lip curled. “That’s the way you handle everything, isn’t it? Can’t even think about telling you the truth about any of your precious children because you wouldn’t believe the truth if it hit you in the face. Well they’re not the angels you think they are, Porter.”

As if Adam had given him an idea, Porter shot out his fist and connected with Adam’s face. Blood spurted from the boy’s nose and all hell broke loose. Nancy cried out in shock. Harriet ran toward her husband shouting something, and Adam answered with a right hook to Porter’s stomach and a quick left to his jaw.

Too late, Porter jerked to cover himself too late, groaning when Adam’s fist knocked the wind out of him. Belatedly, Fred realized that maybe remaining neutral was the wrong decision. He worked his way to his feet, a lot slower than he wanted to. He still didn’t think he could restrain Adam, but he had to do something before someone got seriously hurt.

Before he could cross the room, Nancy threw herself between her father and husband. Harriet shouted and Adam tried to hit Porter again, but because Nancy had planted herself between them, he struck her arm and shoulder instead. She cried out and gripped her arm with her free hand.

Porter pulled himself upright, still trying to catch his breath. “Call the sheriff, Harriet.”

Harriet said something Fred couldn’t quite hear, and Nancy sank onto the couch, burying her face in her hands.

Adam let his gaze wander over Nancy slowly, and Fred saw bare hatred there. “Congratulations,” Adam said softly. “You’ve got what you wanted. I don’t ever want to see you again.”

“Adam, no!” Harriet cried and tried to grab him.

He shrugged her off and slammed out the door.

Harriet caught back a sob and rounded on her husband. “Now look what you’ve done. Go after him.”

“The hell I will,” Porter snapped, his angry red face a sharp contrast to his snowy white hair. “And neither will anyone else.” He dropped heavily into his chair and rubbed his jaw gingerly. The look on his face left no doubt that he meant what he said.

Harriet looked just as angry as her husband. “You’ve ruined everything. The kids could have worked things out if you hadn’t jumped into the middle of their argument. Did you hear what he said to her? Did you hear?”

“I heard, and I say good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Harriet shoved her hands onto her hips. “You’ve going to have to apologize to him tomorrow, you know.”

Porter glared at her. “I’m not apologizing. I’m not a bit sorry for anything I said. Or did.”
Harriet stared at him for one long moment as if she couldn’t believe her ears. “One of these days, you’re going to go too far,” she said. And without another word, she walked out of the room.

(copyrighted material) 


Want to keep reading? You can buy a copy for your Kindle here or read the book free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Excerpt from A Time to Dream

(copyrighted material) 

Hannibal, Missouri 1999

Heart thudding, head fuzzy, and eyes still blurry from sleep, Shelby Miller tried not to trip over the hem of her robe as she raced down the grand staircase. She’d been in the middle of a perfectly lovely dream when someone started pounding on the door and jerked her mercilessly awake. Whoever it was, she thought as she stumbled past the landing, they’d better have a good reason for waking her.

Early morning sunlight spilled down the staircase from the huge window on the landing and into the foyer through the full-length windows flanking the door. Even this early—surely not later than seven o’clock—the temperature and the dense Missouri humidity made her long for central air conditioning.

Clutching the collar of her robe, she ran her free hand through the curls she could feel bobbing wildly with every step—the hated curls that had earned her the nickname “Medusa” as a child. She’d probably scare whoever was so rudely—and insistently—banging on the door. Well, if she did, it served them right. Maybe it would teach them a lesson in manners.

Before she could make it to the bottom of the staircase, the pounding started up again. “Hold on,” she shouted impatiently. “I’m coming.” Shelby had never been at her best in the morning, which was one of the reasons she loved her position at Winterhill. She didn’t have to look perky, dress for success, or even be coherent before noon if she didn’t want to be.

Slipping a little as she crossed the polished wood floor, she skidded to a stop in front of the massive door and yanked it open. Jon Davenport, her dearest friend in Hannibal—her only real friend anywhere—stood on the porch, backed by the rising sun, his hand raised to knock again.

She let out an annoyed sigh. “What are you doing?”

Jon lowered his arm quickly and ignored her question. “It’s about time you answered. Where were you?”

“In bed. Asleep.” She stepped aside to let him enter and closed the door behind him. “Why aren’t you at work? And why are you banging on my door like the world’s coming to an end?”

“You might think it has ended when I tell you what I just heard on the morning news.” Jon’s eyes were dark and uncharacteristically solemn, his mouth nothing more than a thin slash cut into his tanned face.

Shelby made another vain attempt to tame her curls. “Okay, I’ll bite. What did you hear?”

“The news report said that Evan McDonald has put Winterhill up for sale.”

It took a moment for Jon’s words to sink in completely, but when they did, the old, familiar anxiety began to pulse through Shelby’s veins. “He’s done what?

“He’s listed this house on the market.”

Praying that she’d heard wrong, Shelby shook her head. “That can’t be right. He can’t do that.”

“He can,” Jon said, “and, according to the news, he has.”

“But why?” Her voice came out sharp, but she made no effort to soften it as she went on. “I thought he’d decided to restore Winterhill.”

“Apparently, he’s decided not to.”

Time slowed, ice water flowed through her veins, and a steady pounding started somewhere behind her eyes. Working as caretaker at Winterhill for the past six months had given her the first security she’d ever known. She’d even started to believe it would last. She should have known better. “But why didn’t Evan tell me first?”

“Who knows?” Jon moved closer and put a hand on her shoulder. The weight of his hand and the depth of his concern bore down on her.

She tried to step away from both. She’d spent most of her twenty-eight years on her own. Jon’s friendship was the first real tie she’d ever had to anyone or anything, and it still left her slightly off balance.

Jon didn’t let her escape. “Even when Evan’s mother was alive, he didn’t like this house, Shelby. And to tell you the truth, everyone at the historical society was surprised when he hired you instead of selling it after she died.”

She couldn’t bear the gentleness in his voice. It made the pain worse somehow. She’d grown to love Winterhill. She’s let herself dream of staying here in Hannibal. Its history appealed to her and made her long to be a part of it.

She moved toward the front window, glancing outside and letting her gaze linger on the crumbling turrets of the neighboring house that was barely visible above the rows of trees separating the two properties. “What about Summervale?” she asked softly, turning back to face her friend. “What about the movement to save the twin houses?”

“There is no movement,” Jon admitted reluctantly. “I haven’t been able to whip up much excitement about saving Summervale. Most people think it’s already too dilapidated to save. And without Winterhill—” He broke off and shrugged helplessly.

“But the twin houses are a piece of Hannibal’s history.”

“A piece nobody’s much interested in,” Jon reminded her.

Shelby pushed a curl away from her forehead. “Maybe whoever buys Winterhill will be interested in restoring both houses.”

“I doubt it,” Jon said, shaking his head slowly. “People are speculating that Evan will sell this place to some industry or developer.”

Shelby’s heart twisted painfully. “And they’ll tear it down. And Summervale will follow.”


Tears stung her eyes, but she refused to give in to them. Crying had never solved a problem for her, not even once in her life. “I won’t let that happen,” she said, lifting her chin.

A shadow flitted behind his eyes. “You can’t stop it, Shel. The only real selling point we’ve ever had in trying to save the houses was that they’re less than two miles apart, built by the same man within only a few years of each other, and virtually identical in every respect.”

“Yes. Exactly!” She in front of the window, ignoring the pity she saw on his face, fighting her sudden flash of resentment. “And the mystery, of course.”

“There’s no mystery.” Jon’s voice sharpened slightly as it always did when she raised the subject. “Summervale belonged to a crazy woman who lived as a recluse most of her life—”

“Yes, and Winterhill belonged to the husband and children who lived within spitting distance of her and never saw her.” Shelby let the fear building inside her come out as anger. “And nobody knows why. You can’t tell me that’s not fascinating stuff.”

“It’s not fascinating stuff,” Jon said, his voice slightly more gentle. “Not fascinating enough to convince anyone to shell out the fortune it would take to restore Summervale. Not enough to save Winterhill.” The pity in his eyes deepened. “Nobody cares, Shelby.”

I care.” Desperation made the pounding in her head worse. If she couldn’t even convince Jon to fight for the houses, how could she convince anyone else? She waved a jerky hand toward the window and Summervale and tried again. “There was no hint of insanity before Agatha married Zacharias.”

“So, her husband drove her crazy,” Jon said with a lazy shrug. “The point is—”

“The point is,” Shelby interrupted, growing angrier and more hurt by the minute, “if we could find out what happened to her, maybe we could generate public interest in the houses.”

“We’ve tried to find out what happened,” Jon reminded her, “over and over again. Zacharias’s papers hardly mention Agatha at all, and we can’t find any of her letters or journals.”

“That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There has to be some record somewhere. Some explanation for why Agatha turned her back on her children.”

Jon’s eyes roamed her face, searching, probing, and making her distinctly uncomfortable. “Is that why you’re so obsessed with the Logans?”

“I’m not obsessed,” Shelby insisted. “I’m interested. There’s a difference.”

“Aw, Shelby.” Jon touched her shoulder again. “Finding out why some woman—a woman who’s been dead for more than a hundred years—turned her back on her children isn’t going to explain why your mother abandoned you.”

Shelby jerked away and wished she’d kept that part of her past secret from him, as she had from everyone else. “My mother didn’t abandon me. She put me up for adoption. The fact that nobody ever wanted to adopt me wasn’t her fault.”

Pity filled his entire expression now. “Why do you stick up for your mother, Shel?”

“I’m not sticking up for her,” Shelby said quickly. She hated thinking anyone felt sorry for her. She might not have any idea who her mother was. She might have bounced from one foster home to another as a child. She might even have moved from one city to the next as an adult, but that didn’t mean anybody had to feel sorry for her. Many people had difficult childhoods. It happened, and she’d long ago adjusted to the hard parts of her own life.

She forced a laugh and tried to change the subject. “We’re not talking about me,” she said firmly. “We’re talking about the twin houses.” She put some distance between herself and Jon again, trailing her fingers across the gleaming wood of the bannister. “If Agatha hadn’t died so young. Or if Zacharias had stayed in Hannibal. . .  If they’d stayed together, there’d probably still be Logans living in both of these houses, and they wouldn’t be in danger now.”

“Maybe,” Jon said without conviction. “But Agatha did die, and Zacharias didn’t stay. And the houses have brought bad luck to every family who’s tried to live in them since.”

“That’s nothing but superstition.”

“Maybe.” Jon glanced at a scowling portrait of Zacharias hanging on the wall of the landing. “But wishing things had turned out differently won’t change anything.”

“I know that.” And she did. Only too well. She dropped onto one of the steps and stretched out her legs in front of her. “I’m not delusional, but I can’t stand by and let these houses be destroyed, Jon. I just can’t.

Jon sat beside her, his shoulder barely grazing hers. “What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing, unfortunately. Not yet, anyway.”

Jon put a hand over hers and rested his cheek on the top of her head. “If I thought you had a chance, I’d help you in whatever way I could. You know that, right?” She nodded uncertainly and he let out a sigh that spoke of tested patience. “Why don’t I ask around and see if I can find you another job somewhere?”

Shelby fought the urge to draw away. “I don’t want another job. I want to save the twin houses.”

“I know. And I wish I knew of a way for you to do that. But I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. You can’t rewrite history.”

“Well, I wish I could,” she muttered as a wave of futility crashed over her.

Maybe she should know better than to get her hopes up. Maybe she should have learned her lesson after watching her dreams vaporize one by one over the years. But everything had seemed so different here in Hannibal, and the longer she stayed, the more she loved it.

She took a deep breath and tried to pull herself together. But she couldn’t face losing another home and having to start all over again. After the last time, she’d vowed it wouldn’t happen again. And that was a promise she intended to keep—no matter what it took.

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