Home » , , , , , , , » Small Town Romance & Recipe Sampler by Magdalena Scott

Small Town Romance & Recipe Sampler by Magdalena Scott

A lifetime later, Rebecca hated Christmas. Hated the tiny white rental car she’d had to settle for. Hated, hated, hated snow. It was blowing hard, coming at her in waves it seemed, as she gripped the steering wheel for dear life and stared in what she hoped was the direction the road was headed. She wished now that when she’d exited the Interstate eons ago, she had just pulled up to the entryway of a friendly motel and asked for a room.
Small Town Romance & Recipe Sampler
Small Town Romance & Recipe Sampler by Magdalena Scott
If she saw a motel now, she would do it, no question. But Rebecca hadn’t seen one in a long time. She hadn’t even seen a house in quite a while. Or another car. Or even one of those dratted SUVs that had towered over her and sprayed the little rental car with snow and road salt for so many hours. During her flight from the City to Ashville, Rebecca marveled at the fact that she was on her way to Tennessee for Christmas. She’d never been in the state before. And except for the fact that it was generally shaped like a parallelogram, and had a famous mountain range, she knew little about it. Midnight Shelby had moved there after the ugly divorce Rebecca had represented her in. Midnight had been done with men, done with the corporate life, and had wanted a major change. She found the little town of Legend, Tennessee on the internet by way of a realtor’s web site. She bought a building sight unseen, moved there and started a business, The Emporium, selling locally made arts and crafts. Not long after, Midnight had fallen in love with her realtor, the handsome Martin McClain. Now she was Martin’s very happy wife, and step-mom to Daniel, age fifteen. What a difference two years had made! And now, finally, Rebecca was on her way to her friend’s new hometown. At least she had been on her way, while she’d been able to follow the printed directions and see road signs. Now…who knew? Finding Midnight’s idyllic town was turning into a stress-fest all its own. She was definitely in a mountain range, on a small road or highway. She didn’t know which and couldn’t see enough outside to know if there were road signs or not. It was just one big white blur all around her, and further out was the darkness of night. The little white car was invisible in it, even to her. There wasn’t a working radio so she could hear meteorologists tell her she was in the middle of a blizzard. Which she definitely was. The only thing that kept her going was the set of tracks she’d been following. She hoped the person ahead of her was going somewhere she’d be welcome, too. She knew better than to try to catch up with the vehicle, as the snow was slippery. Was there ice underneath? She’d never seen whatever had made the tracks. It seemed forever since she’d seen another human being. Any human being would be such a welcome relief to her right now. What about Gerald? Tall, blonde, handsome, successful Gerald with the amazing kisses and talented hands. She wondered if she would be glad to see him. It had been a few weeks now since the text message. Dprtr chngd. Thx 4 evthg. G. He’d changed the departure date on the romantic cruise Rebecca had planned and paid for, and had taken another woman. Rebecca phoned his cell from the doorman’s desk at her apartment building, to fool Gerald’s caller ID. When he answered, Rebecca confronted him and asked point-blank. He admitted he’d found someone else. He did, however, offer to remain Rebecca’s friend. At least she had the satisfaction of hanging up on him. Maybe Gerald was looking for something more. Something like happily ever after. Rebecca, in her vast personal and legal experience, knew it didn’t exist. No, even as lost and weary as she was, she knew she’d cheerfully run Gerald down in the road if he’d had the misfortune to be there. Without taking her eyes off the tracks in the snow, Rebecca reached across to her little tapestry handbag perched on the laptop case in the passenger seat. She pulled her cell phone out of its exterior pocket and flipped it open. No tiny light shone up at her. She’d left the phone on during the drive when its battery had already been low, and now it was totally dead. The charger in her suitcase wouldn’t do any good—it was for a wall outlet. Rebecca didn’t own a car charger, since she didn’t own a car. “Great!” She snapped the phone closed again, slipped it into its pocket. “But who would I call anyway? And what would I tell them? Hey Midnight, I’m on the way. But I actually have no clue where I am. Can you come and get me? I’ll be the one in the invisible white car in the giant blizzard. See you in a sec, girlfriend. Bye.” Earlier, if she’d called to ask Midnight if she was taking the right exit, that would have helped. But Rebecca had the printed directions and tiny map. She’d been too sure of herself to ask for help. Self-assurance was a plus in her line of work. You don’t take a client into divorce court if you’re uncertain of your abilities. Rebecca had always been self-assured, self-confident, self-reliant. She found it difficult to be glad for those qualities at this moment, however. Having a harder time seeing the tracks, she wondered whether she was falling further behind, or if the snow was coming down faster. The term snow-blindness entered her mind. The way it swirled in her headlights was hypnotic. She just wanted to lay her head down and sleep. Her eyelids drooped time and again, and once they stayed shut for a fraction of a second too long. When she opened them, the little car was sliding off the road into a very soft, white ditch. The sound of metal against metal told her that somewhere along the right side of the car there was a fence. She wasn’t hurt, had been traveling too slowly and come to such a cushy stop, there hadn’t seemed to be much of an impact, except for the scraping of the fence. Plus she always wore her seat belt. Rebecca sighed with relief. She knew it was ridiculous to be glad she was stuck in a snow bank, but in a way that was fine. She didn’t want to drive anymore. How long would the little car have traveled on the most recent tank of gas she’d bought? It had been too long already! She painfully removed her shaking fingers from the steering wheel. Should she let the car run or turn it off? Not knowing, she let it run and left the lights on, hoping someone would come along and notice her. Preferably someone in one of those four-wheel-drive SUVs with lots of room, and the ability to get where they were going. She looked at her watch. Eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve night, sitting in a rental car in a snowstorm. Not her cup of tea. But no way was she going to get out of the car and try to walk to shelter. Her stomach growled. She’d stopped at a fast food place when she’d filled the car with gas, but that was hours ago. Drinking the last of her cold coffee from the Styrofoam cup, she settled back into the seat to rest…and wait. ~End of Chapter One, CHRISTMAS COLLISION~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. SWEDISH NUT CAKE CAKE 2 c. sugar 2 c. self-rising flour ½ c. chopped pecans 2 tsp. soda 1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple (do not drain) 2 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla Combine first 3 ingredients and stir in eggs, vanilla, pecans & undrained pineapple. Mix well. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake 40-45 minutes at 350˚ (325˚ if glass pan). Cool, then spread on Topping. TOPPING 1 stick butter 1 tsp. vanilla 1 8-oz. package cream cheese ½ c. chopped pecans 1 ¾ c. powdered sugar Cream together butter and cream cheese. Beat in powdered sugar, then vanilla and pecans. Spread over cooled cake. Store in refrigerator, tightly covered, until ready to serve. About the Recipe Although this recipe isn’t mentioned by name in Rebecca and David’s story, I can picture it sitting on Charles and Dorothy McClain’s sideboard on Christmas Day. In fact, I can imagine Dorothy would make at least two of them the night before, since she’s hosting the entire McClain clan! Click here to return to the Table of Contents. WHERE HER HEART IS ~*~She's only back in Legend for a short while, but he's determined to make her want to stay. ~*~ Betsy McClain left Legend, Tennessee two years ago, with a broken heart, a baby to care for, and precious little else. She's done well in the city, and so has daughter LizBeth Ann. A heartfelt request from Dorothy McClain is the only thing that could bring them back to Legend, even temporarily. Mike McClain wants to get to know his only child, but Betsy isn't cutting him any slack. Good looks and the old McClain charm seem to be failing him. Betsy is not the same love-struck girl he married, nor the girl who left Legend in a flurry of anger and tears. But he's changed too. Can't she see that? Mike is renovating the house where Betsy and LizBeth Ann are staying, and everyone in Legend would like to see them get back together. The only thing standing in the way is Betsy's stubbornness...or is it Mike's? Chapter One Betsy had barely set her foot back onto Legend soil before being almost lifted off it again. “Betsy! There you are! I’m so glad you can be here to watch the house while we’re gone!” Dorothy McClain, all five feet of her, swept Betsy into an enthusiastic hug. Immediately the building trepidation she’d felt in the last fifty or so miles melted away. Coming back to Legend, even temporarily, hadn’t been an easy decision. Not after the way she’d left. Dorothy pulled back gently from the hug, and she moved her attention to the only other occupant of their world at that moment. Dorothy dropped to her knees, her eyes sparkling. “And how are you, Miss LizBeth Ann? You are certainly looking all grown up.” Dimples showed shyly, and LizBeth Ann’s big blue eyes grew even larger. Her chubby arm went around her mother’s jeans-clad leg. Betsy sighed. She really had no one but herself to blame for the fact that LizBeth Ann was unfamiliar with one of the sweetest members of the McClain family. And there was lots more family in Legend… “Honey, this is your Aunt Dorothy.” Betsy knelt, and LizBeth Ann immediately stepped into her mother’s arms, regarding Dorothy from a safe haven. Dorothy’s enthusiastic smile never wavered. She rose to her feet, then took a step toward the front door she’d flung wide open. With a twinkle in her eye she looked over her shoulder at the two-and-a-half year-old. “LizBeth Ann, why don’t you bring your mommy on into the house? Let’s see if we can find some cookies you-all like. I baked chocolate chip this morning. Does your mommy like that kind?” A smile lit the little face and the dimples showed again. With her head cocked slightly to one side, she looked up at Dorothy. The quick intake of breath indicated Dorothy noticed it too. When LizBeth Ann cocked her head that way in concentration, she looked so much like Mike. The moment passed; LizBeth Ann looked up at Betsy, and took her hand, tugging a bit, taking a step closer to the house. “Yes. Mommy likes chocolate chip.” Half an hour later, some of the awkwardness was gone. The miracle of cookies and milk! “Betsy, there are a few things I need to show you before we flit off.” Dorothy quickly cleared the table and put the dishes into the dishwasher. “LizBeth Ann, you might have to help Mommy remember some of these things. Okay?” Hopping off the chair in the large cheery kitchen and smoothing her red-and-white gingham sundress down over her knees, the child gazed seriously up into Dorothy’s eyes. “Yes. I’ll help Mommy remember. And I can help her do work too. We’re a team. Girls gotta stick together.” She cocked her head again. “Aunt Dorothy, you’re a girl too, huh? You can stick together with us, okay?” Betsy felt tears sting her eyes, but quickly got herself under control. Tears were pointless, even the happy kind. There had been plenty of the other kind before, when they were still in Legend. There was a lot riding on this homecoming, not the least of which was laying the past to rest. “All right, then.” Dorothy blinked, too, and wiped her hands on a dish towel. “We girls shall stick together. Come on and I’ll give you the low-down.” Betsy and her daughter followed the white-haired lady as she wafted out of the kitchen and up the back stairs to tour the second story bedrooms and baths. A while later they came down the large front staircase and looked at the remainder of the first floor—formal dining room, Charles’ home office, family room, formal living room, four-season back porch, Dorothy’s sewing and sitting rooms. Betsy was introduced to circuit breakers, and plumbing cut-off valves. As many times as she’d been a guest in this house, she’d never needed to know their location. As they walked down the hallway toward the last room on the main floor, Betsy anticipated a quick peek into her favorite room, the library. She had spent many happy hours here, and looked forward to her daughter’s reaction to the large room full of beautiful books. Double walnut pocket doors at the end of the hall were closed, and squeaked a little when Dorothy pulled them open. Betsy stepped forward, then stopped and stared. “What happened here?” she gasped. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I decided to have it redone simply ages ago, and you know how hard it is to get skilled craftsmen—they’re nearly extinct!—so I waited and waited, and of course wouldn’t you know it, Greg could only fit us into his schedule this month!” Dorothy paused for a quick breath, her face slightly pink. “So there you have it.” “So there I have what?” Betsy shook her head as she viewed the devastation. “This is a big mess, Aunt Dorothy. Who made this big mess in your house?” LizBeth Ann wrinkled her nose. “Mommy, do we gotta clean this up?” She looked suspiciously at Dorothy, as if suddenly the girls weren’t going to be so tight after all. “No, honey, you don’t have to clean it up.” Dorothy stepped gingerly across the room which was littered with scraps of wood, dirt, sawdust, and miscellaneous wads of paper. “There is a man named Greg Andrews. He—he has a business of redoing people’s houses.” She picked up an empty soda can and retraced her steps to join them at the double walnut doors. “When there’s a big project, sometimes it makes a mess. Cleaning it up—that happens after.” “Oh.” LizBeth Ann tiptoed to a wooden sawhorse and studied it. “What’s this?” “It’s called a sawhorse, honey,” Betsy said. “Carpenters use those—” “Can I ride it?” “It’s not that kind of a horse, sweetie. It’s to put wood on, when the carpenter is going to saw the wood.” The quizzical look again. “Oh.” Betsy looked at Dorothy. “So. Greg Andrews. I don’t know that name.” “He moved here just a year or so ago,” Dorothy answered. “He does beautiful work, and got so busy he had to hire help.” “That sounds good.” Betsy looked around, searching for hints of the beloved old library. “Uh-huh. Deluxe Home Improvements is the company name. You’ll see his little signs in people’s yards after he’s done renovation for them. You know Legend. Word of mouth is enough, really. But Greg’s still got some city in him.” “Hm. So he hires local people?” Legend always needed new employers. The small town was far enough from any cities to make commuting expensive. Just then Charles McClain arrived, loudly. “Dorothy!” His booming voice resounded throughout the large house. McClain men were notoriously loud, Betsy remembered. Loud and handsome. And some other things, too… A flash of Mike’s face flitted across her memory before she could stop it. She quickly shook her head, willing it to be gone. “Dorothy!” he called again, evidently standing just inside the door he had entered instead of looking for his wife. Men. Come and wait on me, honey. Come fix my dinner, honey. Put everything else aside because the man of the house has arrived. Honey. Dorothy was already on her way toward the sound. Betsy braced herself for an awkward reunion and took LizBeth Ann’s hand, leading her that direction too. “Charles, of all things. Don’t walk in here and start hollering like you don’t have a bit of manners.” Dorothy chastised him gently as they approached him in the entryway. “Sweetheart, we have visitors. Remember?” The couple hugged for long moments, and Charles leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on his wife’s lips. “Whoops. My bad.” His blue eyes twinkled as he uttered the youthful comment. He winked at Betsy. “Sorry, Betsy. Really glad to see you. Just feeling a little rushed here. Say! Who is this fair princess?” LizBeth Ann had pulled her hand out of her mother’s grasp and was hiding behind her, plastered to Betsy’s denim backside. Betsy felt the little girl shake her head no, trying to avoid an introduction. But Charles had closed the space between them and pulled Betsy into a big, warm embrace. “Honey, it’s good to have you home. We’ve all missed you.” The little girl came around to her mother’s side, and he reached down and gently tousled LizBeth Ann’s hair. “And we’ve missed you too, Princess. Why, you were just a tiny thing last time I saw you. And now look.” He moved a step away, bent his long legs and knelt in front of her. “You’re half grown up! I can see we’re leaving the place in capable hands.” LizBeth Ann lifted her hands and looked at them. “Exactly,” said Charles. “You have good, strong hands, Princess, and I know you’ll take special care of our house while we’re gone.” She put her hands into the strawberry-shaped patch pockets of her dress. “My name’s LizBeth Ann.” She shifted her weight to one white sandal, leaning slightly against Betsy’s leg. “But if you want, you can call me Princess, I guess.” Everyone laughed at that, even LizBeth Ann, who had managed to rid the air of any remaining tension and make everyone feel comfortable. Then there was a flurry of activity as Charles explained that their son Joe, mechanic extraordinaire, had pronounced their car ready for the trip to Knoxville. They would spend the night in the city with their other son, David, and his wife Rebecca. In the morning, Rebecca would drive them to the airport to catch their flight. The three adults grabbed the luggage standing neatly beside the door and hauled it out to the sedan. Charles painstakingly loaded it just so as Dorothy rolled her eyes and looked at her watch. They’re just the same. Even though I’ve been gone a while, even though my life took a wide detour, these dear people haven’t changed. And they still want me in their family. Thank goodness for that. All the rest of the family, including daughters Maureen and Janelle, had said their good-byes at last night’s going away dinner. So it was only Betsy and LizBeth Ann who stood in the driveway of the big white colonial and waved good-bye. “Bye, Uncle Charles! Bye, Aunt Dorothy!” LizBeth Ann spoke softly as she waved, still smiling. Charles honked the horn repeatedly as they turned out of the drive and headed up the road, away from Legend. And it was suddenly very quiet. Betsy silently cursed the horrendous traffic that had kept them from arriving earlier. LizBeth Ann squeezed her hand. “They’re nice, huh, Mommy?” “Yes, honey. They’re about the nicest people I know.” “Me too. ‘Cept you, Mommy. You’re the very most nicest.” Betsy looked down and smiled, brushing a stray curl from her daughter’s forehead. “Sorry. No more cookies ‘til after supper.” “Awwwww!” ~End of Chapter One, WHERE HER HEART IS~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Tea Party Sandwiches Using heart-shaped or other favorite cookie cutters, create the fancy bread for your sandwiches. Fillings can be as simple as peanut butter and jelly (not too thick, or you’ll risk a messy party), or soft cream cheese (perhaps with brown sugar mixed in, for the younger palate). Arranged on a pretty plate, they will look festive and inviting. About the Recipe LizBeth Ann’s father, Mike McClain, attends his first—but certainly not his last—tea party in this story. The super easy recipe above is something that Mike and LizBeth Ann can do together. I love the tea party scenes in this story. They make me teary-eyed because I picture them so vividly—Mike’s awkwardness with everything, LizBeth Ann’s innocent encouragement. There’s also a sweet tea party scene in BUILDING A DREAM. Click here to return to the Table of Contents. BUILDING A DREAM ~*~One month to build a dream, or to watch it die. It's a renovation project that will change their lives. ~*~ Chloe McClain needs a classy art gallery, ASAP. She's invested years of her life, and everything she owns, in the upcoming event that can make or break her career, and possibly give her beloved hometown a much-needed boost. Chloe has heard that the handsome new builder in town is the best one to hire for the job. She'll just have to ignore the fact that his personality stinks. Building contractor Greg Andrews thinks Chloe's pile of bricks should be put out of its misery. But since he knows better than to get on the wrong side of the McClain family, he takes the job. His decision has nothing to do with the way Chloe's eyes sparkle when she's excited, or the view when she stomps away from him in her snug jeans. Women like her are bad news—he learned that the hard way. Chapter One The customer is always right. Greg Andrews looked around the interior of the derelict building and knew that was one of the stupidest sayings ever inflicted on the service profession. The customer’s got no clue would come a lot closer. He sighed, knowing that if the customer had the money, he’d likely take the job anyway. Although it made him want to hurl just thinking about the amount of work required to do the thing right, it could be an interesting project. He would write up an estimate, present it, and see what happened. Greg made rough notes on the yellowed paper hinged to his clipboard. He had pored over the owner’s meticulous drawings, understood what was expected, and appreciated the possibilities. Sure would be a lot easier, though, to just knock down the building and put up something new. Not that anyone besides him would consider the possibility. It hadn’t taken long to realize that people in Legend, Tennessee, weren’t much into new. A lot of them were into preservation. Since moving himself and his business here a year and a half ago, Greg had done mostly renovation work. He could build new houses—loved building new houses—and had a guy on his crew who was as talented and fast as anybody in the business on new construction. They’d had to adapt, though. He’d hired some local help with different skills. Even changed his business name from Andrews Construction to Deluxe Home Improvements when he came here. Nobody in Legend knew or cared about the Andrews name. Deluxe, though—that was the way to go. People saw Deluxe in the phone book, or on the little signs he put in the yards of satisfied customers, and they were likely to call. Business was good. He had as much work as he and his employees could handle. Walking to the middle of the large, empty room, he tried to imagine its transformation—and nearly broke his leg when part of the rotten floor gave way. Cursing fluently, he jerked his leg free and carefully moved back the way he’d come. He roughly tossed his long blond braid over his shoulder so it hung down his back. Yeah, this is definitely looking good so far. **** “You must be kidding,” Greg said, walking carefully around the hole he’d dropped his leg into earlier. “No way can this be rehabbed in a month. No possible way. Mike said you had a time frame in mind—but thirty days is plain crazy.” “Fine,” said Chloe McClain. “I'll get someone else.” She closed a small notebook and slid it into the back pocket of her snug jeans, then stuck the ballpoint behind her ear. The motion made the cascade of bell-shaped earrings tinkle softly. The sterling silver caught what little light came through the crud-encrusted windows. There was also a diamond stud up high in one ear. Greg had never considered ears to be particularly sexy, but on Chloe McClain, it seemed everything was sexy. At least, everything he'd seen. Her blonde-and-dark-brown streaked hair was wavy and cropped close to her head, but it grew a bit long in the back, and curls caressed her delicate neck. Her eyes were big and brown and bright as a child's. The long lashes and dusky eye shadow had him wondering what those big dark eyes would look like if Chloe were feeling passionate about something besides an ugly old building. Her mouth was generous and shaped as perfectly as any he'd seen on lipstick commercials. Even her nose intrigued him. Short and straight, but turned up on the end. It made her look spunky, and he had an idea it wasn’t false advertising. Her body wasn't runway model thin, but slender and pleasantly curvy. She looked even better once you started talking to her. Then her eyes began to snap, her head moved in emphasis to her words, the music started from her strange earrings, and that gorgeous mouth had you looking there more of the time than you probably should. Good thing she was nuts, or he might be attracted to her. “So... You’re Mike’s sister?” he asked. Mike McClain had worked for Greg a while now, but there were so many McClains in and around Legend, Greg couldn’t keep them straight. “Cousin.” She rolled her eyes, turned on the heel of her beat-up sandal, and headed for the door, where she flicked off the lights. Greg looked up at the half dozen bulbs hanging from the ceiling, suspended by dangerous-looking wires. Pathetic. The whole place was pathetic. He sure didn’t want to get into a situation of trying to bring this dump up to code in thirty days, let alone do the project to her unreasonable expectations. Chloe shut the door after them, and locked it. Right. As if anybody in his right mind would actually want to go in there. “Well. Thanks for the opportunity, Miz McClain. Sorry I can't help you with this. Good luck finding somebody else. “Uh-huh. Thanks. Well, I've got some contacts around. I'm sure there's somebody who could take it on. I need to have the place ready to go on deadline, or else...” She let the sentence trail off. “Or else?” Not that he cared. Just making conversation. “Or else I can't do the exhibition I've committed to.” She pushed some round-lensed dark glasses onto her nose, and caught her lower lip between her teeth. Frown lines marred that perfect brow, below the fall of wispy dark-and-light bangs. Exhibition. Whatever. He needed to move on down the street. “So what kind of exhibition is that?” He hadn’t meant to ask. “Nothing. I need to go.” A sultry breeze came down the street, making the bells in her earlobes play again. She turned without another word and walked away from him into the breeze. Greg shivered. Some brush-off. Why he cared, he wasn't sure. He enjoyed watching her from behind until she turned the corner, and was gone. Oh well. Cute, but not my type. Dating a cousin of Mike's would surely be more than he wanted to deal with, anyway. Might get awkward when it ended. Greg's relationships generally ended dramatically. Yelling and name-calling were sometimes part of it, and he sure didn't need Mike to be in that picture. It was complicated being a single man in Legend, Tennessee. **** “You what?” Mike McClain was clearly incredulous the next day when he heard about it. Greg dumped the old grounds from yesterday’s coffee, and jerked a new filter out of the plastic bag on the open shelf. “Turned her down.” “You can't do that!” Mike was in his usual spot in the Deluxe Home Improvements office. He slid way down on the worn green Naugahyde couch with his long legs crossed in front of him, and his head resting on the plastic paneled wall. At least he had been in that position until Greg told him about Chloe. Now Mike sat ramrod straight, his eyes bulging a little. “Of course I can turn down a job. Don't get weird on me, Mike. This is my business, and if you're gonna try to tell me what to do, we could have a problem.” His free hand fisted as he finished pouring water into the reservoir, concentrating on slowing his breathing so he wouldn't say something more. He didn’t appreciate being second-guessed. Especially by the help. Of course, Mike was a friend, too, but Greg couldn't let any of his guys forget who was boss. “Greg, that's plain stupid. You can't turn her down. She's Martin's sister.” “So?” Martin McClain owned a real estate business. He was also an occasional fishing and card-playing buddy. “What's the big deal?” “Chloe is Martin's sister. Martin gives us referrals all the time. Remember the job at Charles and Dorothy's? The library redo? Martin’s the one who suggested you to them. That was a cherry job, Greg, and they could have hired somebody from out of town. They have the money to do it. But we got it, and I did fantastic with it, if I must say so—” “Yeah, yeah. The place looked just the way she wanted. You did great, Mike. I told you so then.” Mike had also ended up getting his estranged wife and daughter back in the bargain, so he really didn't need to make such a big deal of throwing this into Greg's face. Mike was this perfect family man now, acting more like a newlywed than a guy with a two and a half year old daughter ought to, in Greg's opinion. “Greg! Listen to what I'm saying!” The McClains have done you some major favors since you came to town. You've had great referrals. This job of Chloe's may be a hassle, but you better rethink it. Not only is she a McClain, but this show of hers is big. She's made a name for herself with her paintings of the mountains, and lately she's doing some other kind of art... I forget, but Betsy’s all excited about it.” Exasperated, Mike ran a hand through his hair. “Chloe had a chance to do a show at a gallery in Knoxville, but decided she wanted to bring Legend into the spotlight with her. That's why she needs her own gallery ASAP. The timeline on this thing is set in stone. She's promised to do it in Legend and bring in some big tourism money because of the artsy people who'll be here for it. You let Chloe down, you're letting down the entire McClain clan, which is not a good idea. More than that, you're letting down the whole town of Legend. You know Legend can use this kind of opportunity. It could even translate into more business for you in the long run.” Mike stood up, obviously too agitated to remain still. “You do this job and do it right, and it'll reflect great on you for years.” Mike put his hand on the doorknob, shook his head and frowned. “You let Chloe down when she's got her big chance and is sharing it with her hometown, and I think you might want to think about relocating.” “People here would be that ugly about it?” “People would be that disappointed. One thing you need to remember about Legend—we pull together. If you're not gonna pull with us, you'd just as well pull out.” Mike left, closing the door a little louder than necessary. ~End of Chapter One, BUILDING A DREAM~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Fruit Punch 1 large frozen orange juice 1 small frozen lemonade 1 large can pineapple juice 1 bottle ginger ale 1/2 gallon sherbet (or less, as desired) Mix all ingredients together in punch bowl. About the Recipe Some of Chloe McClain’s cousins will be serving punch (one bowl contains champagne punch, and is non-alcoholic) at the grand opening of McClain Art Gallery. Do you think Greg Andrews will be there, schmoozing with the art lovers? Click here to return to the Table of Contents. SECOND CHANCES ~*~Trying to escape their painful past, Anne and Pete move to the middle of nowhere...and find each other. ~*~ Anne McClain Bradley has returned to Legend, Tennessee after a tragedy destroyed her successful, well-ordered life. She moves into the apartment over The Emporium, and Anne is cautiously hopeful that her heart, and her frayed family connections in Legend, can be repaired. Becoming general manager of The Legend Post-Dispatch was an unexpected break for Pete Garrity. Hundreds of miles from his old life, the small town seemed a perfect hideaway. But the elderly owner dies, and he's stuck with the business, and stuck in Legend. Anne and Pete knew each other in San Antonio. A strong attraction existed between them, but she was married, and they didn't act on it. Then disaster struck both their lives, pushing them further apart. He wants to convince her that they have a second chance. But without changing the past, that may not be true. Prologue: Obituary from The Legend Post-Dispatch Mrs. Adeline Hamilton Bynum, 83, known to the Legend community as Ms. Addie, passed away on April 8 in the comfort of her home after a yearlong illness. A lifelong resident of Legend, she was preceded in death by an infant daughter Caroline, and her husband Roger Bynum, the owner of the Post-Dispatch and other community businesses. Ms. Addie was a member of the Legend United Methodist Church where a public celebration of her life will be held on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. In life, Ms. Addie was a private woman, who enjoyed her rose garden and grew championship roses. Over the years, she also touched the lives of many children, participating in the county foster family program and giving part-time work to deserving teens. She also had a soft heart for stray animals. Cats were her favorite, but she also contributed to the local animal rescue charities. Ms. Addie is survived by a great-nephew, Jeremy Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky. Memorial gifts can be made to the Legend Animal Shelter or Alley Cat Advocates alleycatadvocates.org. Chapter One Back in Legend, Tennessee, after so many years, Anne was putting her trust in this little town and its people to help heal her heart. She parked her car in a spot just off the alley and killed the engine. Leaning back against the headrest, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d made it! She had driven more than one thousand miles with only short breaks, so eager to reach Legend, Tennessee, once she had decided to make the trip. She pulled the keys and slipped them into the pocket of her jacket. No more nagging worry about the location of her keys, which might mean being locked out of the house or her car in an emergency. She was in Legend now—a town where many people never locked their doors. She slid her cell phone out of the console and into the side pocket of her handbag. The little phone had served as her connection to the world, her lifeline. Now it would be just a convenience. The location of her keys and phone was no longer a cause for panic. She wouldn’t need to make a rushed trip to the emergency room or call the nurse line for advice. Memories started to flood her mind, and Anne shook her head to block them. That was the past. She had to let go of it as much as possible and move forward, or she knew there was a dangerous chance she’d be consumed by the depression that awaited her in the shadows. She’d done her very best for Steven, and now she needed to be concerned with her own well-being. Everyone had told her what an amazing caregiver she’d been. But Anne didn’t feel amazing. She felt exhausted, as if she’d been walking in a thick fog for a very long time. She checked the makeup mirror on the visor and did a little repair work. Of course makeup couldn’t hide all evidence of her recent history, but it helped. She didn’t want pity. She stretched for a moment standing by the car. The fresh breeze was full of rhododendron scent, mingled with a light whiff of pine. The riot of brightly colored rhododendron bushes grew along the alley, escaping from the vacant lot where a house had once sat, the work of some long-forgotten gardener. Anne raised her face to the sun, felt its warmth on her skin. Spring had always been her favorite time of year in the Smoky Mountains, the vibrant color a welcome surprise to the senses after the grey and brown of winter. As she needed a renewal herself, the timing of her arrival seemed perfect. Anne was dead-tired of making one hard decision after another. Literally thousands of decisions in the last few years, most of them tinged with pain and loss. But she had no doubt this one—coming back to Legend, at least temporarily—was definitely right. Being here after such a long absence could well be awkward, but she was determined to make it work. “Anne! I thought I’d heard a car door back here. How wonderful to see you!” Midnight Shelby McClain emerged from the back door of her shop and left it standing wide open. Her impossibly black hair shone almost blue in the sun, and she was dressed in slim jeans, black kid flats, and a white V-neck knit shirt. Midnight made simple items look like designer clothes just because they were on her. She stopped and her black eyes searched Anne’s. “I’m so glad you’re home. This will be wonderful.” Gentle arms went around her, pulling her close. It felt good to be held, to have simple human contact after such a long time of being physically alone. Out of pure relief and gratitude, Anne relaxed against her, the hug a balm to her soul. In a moment, she cleared her throat, gave Midnight a brief tight squeeze, and took a half step backward. She pulled her bag back onto her shoulder from her elbow where it had slipped, and forced a smile. “Thank you for that, Midnight. I needed a hug.” Looking closer, she said, “Uh-oh. Some of my makeup smeared onto your perfect white shirt. I’m so sorry!” Midnight shook her head. “I’m sure it’ll wash out. If not, who cares? What’s a little smeared makeup between friends—or family?” She flashed her brilliant smile. “We’re all so glad to have you back home. Let me show you the apartment. Martin will be over in a while to carry up your things.” From the back seat Anne pulled out an overnight bag, which Midnight took. She put her arm through Anne’s and led her to the fire escape-style stairway. “This isn’t your only entrance, but it’s one of them. Game for this, or should we go up through the shop?” Anne looked overhead at the open stairway that weaved back on itself a couple of times as it climbed to the small balcony on the second floor level. “I’m game.” She started up the stairs. “I take it you’ve upgraded quite a bit since buying the building.” Midnight laughed. “Yes, over time we’ve done more upgrading than I realized a building could ever need. It’s been worth it, though.” She joined Anne on the balcony. “Just look!” She waved her arm at the view of downtown Legend, cozy and inviting as a picture postcard. “No matter how many times I see our little town, or from what angle, it always tugs at my heart.” She sighed and smiled at Anne. “I really never had a home ‘til I found Legend. It was just what I needed—where I needed to be, so my heart and mind could finish healing.” Anne remembered Midnight had found Legend by way of an online real estate ad posted by McClain Realty. It hadn’t been long after her purchase of the building and arrival in Legend—in that order—that she’d started spending time with realtor Martin McClain. The rest, as they say, was history. And a beautiful history it had been for Midnight and Martin so far. Beautiful, too, for Martin’s son Daniel, who had immediately become close to Midnight. She was the mother he’d never had. Anne held onto the railing and inhaled deeply. Could it be the town smelled even more Legend-ish from up here? She thought she was getting a stronger pine scent. “How are Martin and Daniel?” “Martin is well, and business is better than ever. Daniel is thriving now he’s taking some college classes online. High school was so dull for him until he had that extra work to keep his mind busy.” Anne chuckled. “You mean you and Martin are trying to keep him busy with school so he’s not too caught up with girls.” Midnight smiled but shook her head, her black hair streaming across her shoulders. “No. That’s not it. He has lots of friends, but not a particular girlfriend. He’s so focused on getting out of school so he can go into business for himself. He wants to have his own IT consulting firm. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but working toward the goal makes him happy.” She touched Anne’s hand on the railing. “Ready to look inside? Or should we pull the bed out here so you can take a nap in this lovely breeze?” “Tempting. This is the most perfect weather, isn’t it?” “Sure is. That’s why I opened the place up when I knew you’d arrive today.” Midnight walked through the open doorway, and after a moment Anne pulled herself away from the breeze and the view, and followed. The sweet fresh air was circulating through the apartment since Midnight had also opened windows on the opposite end. “You’ve renovated up here too?” “Yes. Martin says I ‘had my way’ with it. It’s fun to make the place available for friends or family. While I lived up here, it felt a little boxed in, so we removed the non-load bearing walls and put up these posts.” She ran a hand along a wooden column. “I love the open plan! Greg Andrews and his guys did the work. They’re amazing. You know Mike McClain works for Greg?” Anne nodded, reasonably certain she had heard this about her nephew Mike. The young man had made a mess of his life for a while, but seemed to have found his way, and regained his wife and daughter in the process. “Mike actually did most of the apartment renovation. He has talent.” Midnight walked to the kitchen area, an L-shape with maple cabinets and black granite countertop. “He did this too.” She ran her hand along the countertop. “I love the black granite, but you’ll find it shows every speck. I probably wouldn’t choose it again. Our kitchen at the cabin still has Martin’s old fake butcher block countertop.” She laughed. “He says it has a few more good years in it.” She turned around, gestured at maple door fronts. “Dishwasher, garbage disposal.” Nodding to the side, “The fridge has been cleaned. You may want to put new shelf paper in the cabinets.” She walked to the other side of the space to an open door. “Bathroom, of course. There are towels and some basics in that cabinet on the wall.” She turned and led the way to the other end of the space. “I bought this bed at an auction. Always thought Jenny Lind was sweet looking. I took my other bed to the cabin. Sentimental…” She waved a hand toward a set of double doors. “And in there is the mother of all walk-in closets. I got a little carried away with it. I’ll let you prospect.” She shrugged. “Anyhow, lots of storage. You could empty a decent sized moving truck into that closet and not overfill it, I think. That’s a little embarrassing.” She walked to the center of the room, turned to face Anne. “Well? Will it work for you?” Anne looked at her friend, the wife of her nephew Martin. Beautiful Midnight, who had somehow decided to love Legend more than many of its own inhabitants did, and who had done so much to get the town moving in the right direction, away from seeking salvation from corporations that didn’t care, to capitalizing on what Legend already had: A talented citizenry with lots of heart, and a setting in unsurpassed natural beauty. “Legend has come a long way since we—since I was here last.” Midnight’s smile was gentle. “Yes, it has. We’ve all worked together really well.” “It’s wonderful to see the place thriving. It hasn’t done that since almost before I can remember. This apartment is gorgeous, Midnight. With all that’s going on in Legend, I’m sure you could rent it out to someone long-term.” “But I don’t want that. I love having it here, furnished and ready at short notice, if someone needs it. I love having it ready for you, Anne. It’s centrally located to everything in town, and very easy to take care of. And you’ll be glad to know the shop downstairs doesn’t make too much noise.” Anne laughed. “Much quieter than when it was Jim Bob’s Saloon! Of course back then, it was the owners, Jim Bob and Sylvie, and their daughter Lila Sue who lived up here. Oh my goodness! I hadn’t thought about Lila Sue in forever. She was just a couple years older than I. Wonder what ever happened to her.” “I’ve been told the parents moved to Arizona when they sold out, but I don’t know about the daughter. No one seems to have heard from her.” “Maybe once she left Legend, life changed for her. Lila Sue was spoiled and unpleasant, but was an intelligent, beautiful young woman who could have gone far. Maybe she did just that, and chose not to look back.” Anne walked to an open front window and looked down on Second Street. Several people walked along the sidewalks, and there was more traffic than when she’d grown up here. “Who could blame Lila Sue for not coming back to Legend, when our memory of her is like that? Pretty sad, really.” She turned back to Midnight. “Coming back is hard for me too, even though my memories of Legend are mostly good ones. I can’t get away from memories of Steven, no matter where I am. Not that I want to—Oh! I’m probably not making any sense.” “Sure you are. Even happy memories can be painful for you, I’m sure.” Anne’s throat constricted. “Yes. I now have a thorough understanding of the word bittersweet.” “I think Legend, and this apartment, can be good for you, Anne. A bit of a retreat. If you want to invite people up, you can. Otherwise, you’ll have your privacy. No one is going to come knocking on your door, expecting things of you.” Anne smiled. “It seems perfect, Midnight. Thank you so much for suggesting it to me. I had just sold the house and wasn’t sure where to go next. When you’re suddenly on your own after thirty-plus years of marriage… Well anyway, I was glad for your call.” “Good. The place is yours for as long as you want it. Now I’m going to give you some time to yourself. Lie down if you want, take a shower, or have a glass of lemonade or sweet tea. They’re in the fridge, and glasses in that next cabinet. I’ll go down and make sure no customers have come in while I’ve been up here. I think I’d have heard the bell above the door, but maybe not. Poke around in the closet, see if there are any books you’d like to read, reorganize if you want. Make yourself at home.” She smiled and disappeared down the indoor staircase in the front corner of the apartment. Anne shook her head, amazed at her good fortune. Midnight had provided a selection of current magazines on the low coffee table, and bookshelves offered classics, romance novels, and Agatha Christie. She chose The Man in the Brown Suit and poured a glass of sweet tea, then took them onto the little balcony and sat in the sun at the small table, breathing in Legend. Coming here had done wonders for Midnight, and for other women who’d been hurting when they arrived. Maybe Legend could work its magic for Anne, too. She sincerely hoped so. ~End of Chapter One, SECOND CHANCES~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Meat Loaf Spray large loaf pan. Preheat oven. Mix together: 2 eggs ¾ c. milk ½ pkg onion soup mix ½ c. bread crumbs 2 T parsley flakes Add 1.5 lb ground beef and mix thoroughly together. Bake @350 for 1.25 hours. TOPPING: ¼ c. catsup 2 T brown sugar 1 tsp dry mustard. Put onto hot meat loaf and return to oven for 10 minutes. About the Recipe Meat loaf isn’t Anne’s normal faire, as she tends to eat healthy, and exercise, to stay in shape. But since her husband died she has given in to comfort food at times. For best comfort food results, serve with creamy mashed potatoes. Click here to return to the Table of Contents. CHRISTMAS CHARM: A SHORT STORY In spite of her intentions to spend Christmas on the beach, Meg is on her way to Legend, Tennessee for a small town Christmas with her boyfriend and his family. When Christopher's flight is delayed, Meg finds herself staying with his mother, Anne McClain Bradley, and in the midst of an old-fashioned holiday with a family that's not her own. But the McClains, and the other good people of Legend, Tennessee, know how to make anyone feel loved and welcomed. Especially at Christmas. Spend your Christmas in Legend, Tennessee. Hot cocoa tastes better in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains! Chapter One Meg sat in the crowded, noisy airplane, wondering if it was physically possible for her anger to burn a hole through the big, floppy sunhat sitting on her lap. People had looked at her quizzically as she’d paced the waiting area of the airport with the orange sombrero-like headgear hanging around her neck by its thin leather cord. She’d brought it as a sign of protest, and her agitation was nudged up a level by their observation. Most of the other waiting passengers had been carrying heavy parkas, and Meg guessed any accompanying hats would be lined in rabbit fur or whatever people in the mountains of Tennessee killed and skinned in order to keep themselves warm in the winter. Meg’s plane was headed from Dallas, Texas to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she would be met by a complete stranger—an unknown member of Christopher’s extended family. She dreaded that, dreaded meeting all the people she’d no doubt be afflicted with during the trip. She seriously did not want to be on this plane. Her Christmas plans had involved white sandy beaches, tiny bikinis, and tall, cool drinks. But in a moment of weakness, because Christopher Bradley had more charm than was fair, she’d chucked her plans. Every stitch of warm clothing she owned was jammed into her carryon bag, and she was on the stupid plane, headed to stupid Tennessee. The sunhat was a show of rebellion, a reminder to herself and everyone she saw today that she should have been jetting somewhere tropical—and interesting. She especially hoped Christopher would understand the message the hat was displaying: Merry stinking Christmas. **** Anne McClain Bradley sat at the coffee bar in The Emporium, watching as her nephew’s wife systematically created the perfect café au lait and poured it into one of the tall glass mugs bearing the shop’s insignia. After taking a bolstering sip, Anne set the mug down, and fiddled with the tiny beverage napkin. “Christopher and his girlfriend are coming in today.” Midnight McClain cleaned nonexistent crumbs from the beautifully refinished walnut bar top. “Right. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? You look concerned.” “I am, a bit. Christopher hasn’t been in Legend since he was a little boy. I haven’t met Meg in person yet, but from what he says, she’s a city girl through and through. I’m afraid they’ll both be miserable while they’re here.” Midnight shook her head, and her glossy black hair moved across her shoulders. “Not possible, Anne. They’ll be with you, so the holiday will be great. That’s what makes Christmas special—being with people you love.” Anne nodded, staring into the depths of her coffee. “Being together at Christmas is important to me, but I also don’t want my kids to feel burdened by my choices.” “Choices... Such as?” “Moving to Legend. I know both Christopher and Katharine were shocked that I decided to stay here permanently, not just visit as I’d planned. When you’re a widow, a lot of people don’t know what to do with you. Not even your kids. My coming here to grieve and heal was a relief to them, I think, and gave them space to adjust to the loss of their dad in their own ways.” “I can see that. Not that I’m a specialist in raising kids. I’m just a step-mom, and Daniel’s always been easy. I’m definitely clueless about what you went through, and continue to go through, as a widow.” Anne smiled, covering Midnight’s long-fingered hand with her own. “Not so clueless. You and Martin invited me here after the house in San Antonio sold, and let me live in that beautiful apartment upstairs. It was just what I needed.” “I’m glad. We’re all glad, Anne, if we helped you in any way. We love having you in Legend.” That was apparent. From the first day, Anne’s brothers and their families had made it clear that any past unpleasantness was forgiven and forgotten. Her son and daughter were busy with their own lives, and Anne had needed to make a new one for herself after Steven died. She hadn’t intended to make that life in her old hometown of Legend, but the place had a calming effect on her. When she’d been ready, the owner/editor of the local newspaper had had quite the opposite effect. That was another part of her concern about Christmas. Pete Garrity and Christopher would meet for the first time, and it was important to her that they like each other. She hoped Christopher wouldn’t be in one of his moods during this visit. Sometimes he was difficult to communicate with. Maybe having his girlfriend along would help. **** Christopher Bradley couldn’t stop looking at his watch. He realized it was only about a minute since last time he checked it, but still he checked again. The unexpected business trip to Manhattan had played havoc with his schedule, and although he had managed to get a red-eye flight to Nashville, Tennessee, now it looked like the blasted thing was going to be delayed. He’d just texted that info to Meg, and her response had been as expected—terse. Which meant she was angry. He knew her well, and realized if she was in that mood while traveling, it would take some work to get her cheered up. Sometimes Christopher wondered why he made so much effort to make Meg happy. Looking at his watch again, and up at the monitor, he groaned and hoped he could get on the plane, with his phone in airplane mode, before Meg sent him another message, or decided to call. She knew he would never use the plane’s Wi-Fi, or any public Wi-Fi, due to security concerns. It was cowardly not to want to talk to her just yet, but it was always easier to smooth things over with Meg in person. **** Meg’s flight was uneventful, and after they reached cruising speed some of the noisier passengers—those under three feet in height—had fallen asleep. That was a mercy, at least. When they had landed and the all-clear was given for turning on her phone, she checked for updates from Christopher. Nothing. That had better mean his plane was in the air. She hit the airport ladies’ room before starting toward the non-secured area where someone was waiting for her. Christopher hadn’t known which member of the large McClain family it would be. Meg was glad for a little more time before she had to meet Christopher’s mother in person. She had only seen Anne Bradley in photos, and in a couple of FaceTime visits with Christopher by Meg’s side. How did one interact with a woman whose life had been in such shreds that she had sold her home and left her world behind, to become a hermit in a tiny town no one had ever heard of? Although their brief chats had been fine, Meg suspected Christopher’s mother was, at least to some degree, unhinged. After making sure her hair and makeup were perfect, and that the orange sunhat hung down her back at the correct angle, Meg sauntered toward the unknown with her head held high. **** Pete Garrity adjusted the star on top of Anne’s Christmas tree until she gave him a thumbs-up. He smiled, and those beloved crinkles showed around his eyes. “Relax, Anne. Everything will be fine. You know your son is glad to spend Christmas with you, no matter where you are. I’m sorry your daughter couldn’t be here too. That would have made it just about perfect.” Anne met him at the bottom of the stepstool and leaned in for a kiss, ran her hand down his cheek that he had shaved close, even though it was the weekend, just because she liked it that way. She lost herself for a moment in his blue eyes, and sighed happily. So often she was surprised all over again that the two of them had been given a second chance at love in spite of the tragedy that had nearly destroyed both their lives. Anne took Pete’s hand, big, warm and reassuring just like him. “I suppose you’re right. I’ve been excited about having Christopher here ever since he accepted my invitation. I totally understand Katharine and her husband wanting to keep their little ones at home for Christmas. I would have done the same in her place—did, in fact, all our married life.” After marrying Steven, she had never come back to Legend for Christmas. Had seldom been here at all, in fact. Steven and the McClain family hadn’t bonded, and that was putting it mildly. Anne hoped that in time Christopher, and Katharine too, would learn to appreciate the little town and their McClain relatives, and want to visit at least occasionally. She looked around at the living room in the small house she had bought and lovingly renovated. It was home for her now, cozy and serene. But how would her children and their significant others see it? The place was very different from the large house she and Steven had raised their family in. “Maybe it’s too much to expect them to like Legend. Maybe I should go to them next year.” Pete kissed the tip of her nose. “It’s up to you, honey. I’ll go with you, or you travel on your own if that’s best for family dynamics.” Being in a relationship with Pete was so different. They loved each other, but maintained separate homes in Legend, and sometimes didn’t see each other for a couple of days straight. There were some perks that were like being married, yet Anne always knew she was free to make decisions on her own. It was a big change after thirty years of marriage, even though she and Steven had had a wonderful life together. Pete pulled her closer for a longer, deeper kiss. “How much time do we have before your guests arrive?” He wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully and glanced toward the bedroom door. Anne checked the wall clock and did mental math. “Enough.” Tugging his hand, she led the way. **** Christopher stared at the overhead monitor. Flight Cancelled. Please see airline staff. Awesome. He was on target for having his worst Christmas ever. **** The tall, dark man reminded Meg slightly of Christopher. The fact that he was smiling directly at her and holding a sheet of paper that said MEG in huge, felt-marker letters was part reassurance and part embarrassment. She forced a smile and brought her carryon to a stop in front of him. He jammed the paper into a coat pocket and stuck out his hand. “Hey there, Meg. Nice to meet you. I’m Martin McClain.” They shook hands and dithered for a moment about the carryon. Martin retracted the handle and picked it up, walking toward the exit with a stride that had her hurrying to keep pace. “Have a good flight?” “It was okay. Thanks for meeting me. You’ll have to refresh my memory about how you’re related to Christopher.” Not that she cared, but small talk might be expected. “My dad is a brother to his mom. So Chris and I are first cousins.” Meg flinched inwardly at the idea of this being a so-called family Christmas. Nobody who really knew Christopher referred to him as Chris. They were in the parking garage now and her stiletto heels were making a satisfying racket. “And you live in the same town where Anne is now?” Martin nodded. “Yep. Always have lived in Legend. Most kids grow up dreaming of getting away, but it’s surprising how many eventually come back, even if it’s just to retire—or, like Auntie Anne, to start over again.” “How interesting,” Meg lied. Martin shot her a sideways glance. “Probably not, to you. At least not now. But give Legend a few days, and you may start to like it.” “Hmm.” Meg just wanted to live through Christmas and be back in this airport on her way home ASAP. Christopher needed to make up to her in a big way for this ridiculous adventure. Martin McClain’s old Jeep could have been a reject from an off-road rally. Meg hoped the tires were better than the body, because a snowstorm hit at approximately the moment they pulled out of the airport parking lot. Horrified, Meg gave herself a mental pep talk. It was highly unlikely her holiday would be bad enough to include a Jeep wreck in a snowstorm, on top of being stuck in a town where she didn’t know anyone but her boyfriend. She tried to relax in the seat, and pretended to be asleep. She wondered when Christopher’s plane would arrive, and regretted again that the only flight he could find routed him to Nashville instead of here. Why couldn’t he have realized all the confusion of making connections was karma telling them they shouldn’t have made this trip at all? Since checking her phone again would alert her companion that she was awake, she simply hoped very hard that she’d accidentally left it on Silent and there was good news from Christopher waiting for her. Eyes closed, she concentrated on the slight weight of the sunhat on her lap. ~End of Chapter One, CHRISTMAS CHARM: A SHORT STORY~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Hot Cocoa MIX: 8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or pieces 2/3 c. sugar ½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder ½ tsp. ground cinnamon Mix all ingredients. Spoon into a container. Cover or seal. TO MAKE HOT CHOCOLATE: To make 4 servings of hot chocolate, in a medium saucepan combine 2/3 cup cocoa mix and ¼ cup water. Stir over medium heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Whisk in 4 cups milk, half-and-half, or light cream. Heat through, whisking occasionally. Pour into mugs. Entire container of mix will make a total of 12 servings. About the Recipe There’s nothing like hot cocoa when you’ve been in your first snowstorm, or any snowstorm thereafter. I’m certain that Meg’s heart will begin to warm a little once she’s tasted this drink, Anne’s cooking, and the loving kindness of the folks in Legend. What do you think? Click here to return to the Table of Contents. UNDER THE MISTLETOE ~*~They want to escape their little hometown forever, even if that means giving up on love. ~*~ 1975: Dorothy Robbins is working hard to build up her Leaving Legend Fund. But she's waitressing at Jim Bob's Saloon, where the only thing worse than the tips are the songs on the jukebox. Charles McClain is back in town—just for the holidays. He's a different person than he was when he moved away, and the family has changed while he was gone. He doesn't belong in Legend anymore. But it's Christmas... The air is cold, hearts are warm, and mistletoe is overhead when you least expect it. And sometimes the path that led you away can also lead you home. Spend your holiday in Legend with this series prequel, and discover that love is sweeter, and hot cocoa tastes better, in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains! Chapter One Legend, Tennessee Friday Night November 28, 1975 “Ugh.” Dorothy Robbins wrinkled her nose in disgust when her broom pulled a load of crud from underneath the table. People ate like pigs sometimes. Did they behave like that at home? She shrugged. Some of them probably did. But a lot of people certainly treated Jim Bob’s Saloon like their own personal feeding trough. And they didn’t mind slopping their mess all over the floor so she had to clean it up. She was the only one here tonight who’d do it, that’s for sure. Lord knew Jim Bob’s daughter wouldn’t be caught dead cleaning up like this. Which is why Dorothy’s job was secure. That and the fact that she never complained when ending up with the rowdy tables, and the bad tippers. Dorothy knew everybody, and could get along with all of them. There weren’t a lot of jobs in Legend, Tennessee available for somebody who didn’t have any skills, so she was lucky to have this one. She sure would like to make more tips, though. How else was she going to save up enough money in her Leaving Legend Fund to get out of town for good? Ed and Fred Gentry, the most obnoxious twins Dorothy had ever met, started to noisily re-enact a skit from last week’s Saturday Night Live, a new television show that debuted about a month ago. Dorothy only got to watch the show by sneaking into the living room after her parents and her siblings had gone to bed. It was too risqué for the kids, and her parents didn’t approve of the content, but Dorothy thought it was the best thing that ever happened to television. Of course, when Ed and Fred did the skits, or pretended to be the guest hosts, it was horrible. But she tried to block out their voices and replace them with the people who’d really been on the show. Hilarious! How could you help but like a show whose first host had been George Carlin? The man was cutting edge. Crude, but so intelligent. That was the thing with Legend. There wasn’t anybody interesting like that. If somebody was crude, he was stupid, like Ed and Fred. If a person was intelligent, they were deadly dull. And evidently that last group included Dorothy. She scooped the last bits of the mess into the dust pan and went into the back to dump it into the garbage. Then she scrubbed her hands up to the elbows at the sink in the ladies’ room, adjusted her little apron along the waistline of her faded bell-bottom hip huggers. Her tee shirt was snug and black, with The Eagles printed on the front in puffy plastic letters. She loved that band. One day she’d get to hear them live—another thing she wanted to do when she got free of this sad little town. Heading toward the front of the building again, she checked on her tables. Everybody liked the food tonight—the Friday night fish special was always a big hit—but it sure made them thirsty. Dorothy wished she got commissions for the beers she served. It would probably be better than most of the tips. Stepping up to the bar, she gave a brief insincere smile to Lila Sue, who did the same. Jim Bob set mugs of foamy beer on Lila Sue’s tray and she pranced off to her big tipping table. Tonight she was doing especially well. She’d flashed a twenty dollar bill at Dorothy earlier before stuffing it into her bra. Dorothy wondered how there was any extra space in there at all, the way Lila Sue was built. “Four more, Jim Bob.” He turned to her and grinned. At least he was a nice guy, and decent to work for. His daughter was rotten, but neither he nor his wife seemed to notice, and it wasn’t because they also acted that way. “You doin’ okay tonight, honey?” “Sure, Jim Bob. We’re busy.” She pasted a happy look on her face, wishing his daughter would find something else to do with her time so Dorothy could make some money. Lila Sue was smart enough to go to college, but didn’t want to. Dorothy shook her head, watching Jim Bob pull the beers. Imagine having the opportunity to better yourself, and not being interested. Lila Sue was just looking for a rich man to marry, and she’d tell you that to your face. That’s the only thing about her that wasn’t smart, because there wasn’t anybody like that in Legend. Jim Bob was one of the most prosperous business owners in town, and look where that got him. Working six days a week, breathing clouds of cigarette smoke and listening to the same country songs on the jukebox every night. His marriage seemed to consist of little besides work. Sylvie, his wife, was the cook. Even though they worked in the same building, they didn’t see each other much. Sylvie spent her time in the back of the building, in the big old kitchen, and Jim Bob was always behind the bar. When she found a man—if that ever happened—not only would she not ruin it by getting married, she definitely wouldn’t try to run a business with him. The way she figured it, once she finished college and got a good job, she could afford to live on her own. If a guy came along, even if they moved in together, there’d be no stupid marriage certificate. That was just a paper ticket to misery. No, she’d keep things fun and exciting, and if that wore off, somebody would have to go. Walking to her rowdy table for four with beer foam drooling onto her tray, Dorothy straightened her posture. Sometimes thinking about how to get out was overwhelming, but she couldn’t afford to be depressed at work. People sure didn’t tip extra if you were depressed. She forced a smile, and tried to ignore the subtle pounding in her right temple. How many times had Convoy played on the jukebox tonight? **** Charles McClain turned up the collar of his leather bomber jacket as he crossed Main Street. He’d been walking for a while, trying to clear his head, after having a yelling match with his dad after supper. He wasn’t sure what the old man was angry about, but he was in rare form tonight. Most McClains—particularly the men—had hot tempers. It was part of the Scottish heritage, he’d always been told. They’d been lairds in the old country, evidently. And his dad still considered himself laird—lord—of everything he surveyed. It was awkward for Charles, staying in his parents’ house after being gone all this time. He’d left for the Marines right after high school, served in Vietnam, and when he was discharged, stayed on the west coast and got a college degree in business. He worked as a loan officer in a bank, and hoped to keep heading up the ladder. But then the bank had trouble, and closed his branch. A few of his co-workers moved to other locations, but most of them, like him, were simply out of luck. Charles didn’t have much in savings, having sent a lot of his money home while he was in ‘Nam, to help out the family. Dan, the oldest, a year older than Charles, was married. He and wife Sharon had a young son named Martin. The next in age, Anne, was a high school senior, and William a junior—two more reasons it was really hard being back at home. All that teenage angst, and the unrelenting hormones! Since leaving Legend, he’d seen some of the world—a few beautiful places, like the beaches in Southern California, and some horrible, like pretty much everything in Vietnam. The war finally ended in April, but Charles doubted it would ever end for some of the vets. He’d been lucky and got out in one piece. Which made him more determined than the average citizen of Legend to do the most he could with his life. He’d seen too many promising lives end too early. Turning another corner, a cold wind hit him full force. The feel of winter in the air was something he thought he was homesick for when he was in Southern California. No four seasons there. Now, in late November, it would be cool and dreary, but not really cold. With an unintentional extended vacation, and very little money left over from unemployment checks after paying his half of the apartment rent in a suburb of Los Angeles, Charles was hardly a cheerful holiday guest. He hadn’t told his parents about losing his job, just called and asked if they’d like him home for the holidays. Now he almost regretted it. Thanksgiving was yesterday and he didn’t know if he could stand his family all the way until Christmas, which is what he had promised his mom. She thought the bank was giving him a huge vacation because he was so important and hard working. He hadn’t told her that—she’d made it up in her head. And it made sense, of course—he had worked hard, but the enforced time off was hardly a reward. Charles grimaced. He had been sending out resumes and applying at all the banks in his area, but no solid leads yet. He had left his parents’ number with Mark, his roommate, in case somebody did call and want an interview. If he were in L.A. tonight, he and Mark would be out on the town, acting very unlike the upstanding young businessmen they were. There were always pretty women ready to spend time with them, let the guys buy them drinks, dance, go to dinner. Et cetera. It was a great life, and of course Charles would be missing the night scene—movies being filmed, stand-up comedians who were sometimes funny and sometimes pathetic, and almost-famous singers wailing away on poorly lit nightclub stages and street corners. In Legend there was no scene at all—Friday and Saturday nights in Legend were pretty much like any other night. Charles smiled to himself. One thing, though. He definitely felt rested. He’d slept on the plane, and like a baby ever since he got home. Nothing like his old twin bed with the squishy foam mattress, in the room he used to share with his brother Dan. The whole family was together for the first time in forever. His mom was excited about it, and had cooked so much food for Thanksgiving, the refrigerator could barely hold the leftovers. In one way Legend should be the perfect break, because nothing here made him think of banking, or being unemployed. Unfortunately, though, there was nothing else in Legend to think about. After just three days in town, he was frustrated with his family and miserably bored. “Hey! Watch where you’re goin’, buddy!” Charles stepped back, giving the loud and very drunk man room to stagger back onto the sidewalk. Another guy who looked just like the first one was a couple of yards behind and catching up. Oh yeah, Ed and Fred. Looked like Fred—or was that Ed?—anyway, the second one was relatively sober at least, and when he caught up with his twin the guy leaned on him heavily. They continued down the sidewalk, and the strains of Convoy rolled through the open doorway of Jim Bob’s Saloon. Charles stopped. Why not? What else was there to do in Legend at nine o’clock on a Friday night? The place sure hadn’t changed. The room was filled with a dozen brands of cheap cigarette smoke that made a haze of the light coming from the big moss-green glass globes hanging from the high dark green tin ceiling. The old bar that ran along the left wall had seen a couple generations of Legend folk on one side and a couple generations of Jim Bob’s family on the other. Relatively clean beer mugs hung from tarnished brass hooks above the bar, and a few wooden tap handles were being put to use by good old Jim Bob. A couple dozen of Legend’s more interesting citizens were strewn about the place, some of them trying to keep up with the song on the jukebox and doing a poor job of it. There were no aisles, just narrow walkways between tables scattered as if nobody cared where they landed. Yep. Just the same. “Hey there. You new in town?” The gorgeous blonde had a killer body, and makeup she must have applied with a trowel. Hm. She almost looked familiar... “That you, Chuck?” Charles cringed. He hated the old nickname, and nobody beyond the county line ever called him that. Turning to Jim Bob, he stuck out his hand and got a big bone crusher handshake, spiced with sticky beer. Jim Bob and Charles’ dad went way back. They’d grown up together hunting and fishing in the mountains, often skipping school to do so. “You met Lila Sue, I see.” Oh man. This was Jim Bob’s daughter? He remembered avoiding her as a brat kid. He turned and smiled at her and saw what was in her eyes. Okay. Definitely need to steer clear of this one. Mankiller alert. No need to get caught up with some female while he was in town anyway, and since everybody knew everybody, the chance of keeping anything quiet didn’t even exist. “Yeah. Hey, Lila Sue.” “Hey yourself. I didn’t recognize you at first. It’s been a while.” The older man smacked the bar top. “Sit up here at the bar and talk to me, Chuck. The place is hoppin’, but I’m never too busy for one of Ray’s kids.” Charles lowered himself onto one of the worn vinyl-covered stools and ordered a beer, expelled a long breath full of big city, and settled into the ambiance—if you could call it that—of the place. Just because I’ve been gone a while doesn’t mean I’m better than any of these people. I just need to lighten up and try to fit in while I’m in town. The glass and oak front door opened again and a few more Legendarians blew in with the bitter cold air. The song changed—Freddy Fender launched into Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. That pretty much summed up this visit so far. Someone bumped his elbow and he glanced around. Wow. Now here was something special. Stick straight blonde hair down to her waist, big blue eyes, very little makeup as far as he could tell, but she was beautiful. Her bell bottoms and black tee shirt fit like they’d been sewn on her. “Hey there.” “Hey.” She glanced at him, then away again. “Jim Bob, five more. It’s crazy in here tonight.” Charles leaned toward her and said softly, “Holidays make people crazy. Are you too young to know that, uh...what’s your name?” Her eyes narrowed as she turned toward him again, and he thought she might not answer. “Dorothy.” An old-fashioned name, but somehow it suited her. “Well, Dorothy, holidays make people crazy. Especially family holidays. Brings out the worst in a lot of us.” He sipped his beer, watching her. “Are you actually old enough to work here?” Her blue eyes snapped. “I’ll have you know I’m twenty-two years old!” He couldn’t quite stop the chuckle. “Wow. That old?” Silky blonde hair whipped his shoulder and arm as she turned away from him again in obvious disgust. Jim Bob set the last of the mugs on her tray and she sashayed away with them to the other side of the room. Interesting girl. The total opposite of Lila Sue, except they were both pretty blondes. But this one... This one had something else. “You not remember Dorothy Robbins?” “No. Not really. I’ve been gone a while, Jim Bob.” “I guess. Can’t even imagine that myself. You lose track of people, I s’pose. She’s Dale and Betty Robbins’ oldest. Lives up on the mountain.” He shook his head. “Sorry. Still drawing a blank here.” Another swig of beer and Charles swiveled the stool to watch Dorothy move among the tables, writing down orders on a little pad, smiling. “Dale and Betty Robbins. House full of kids, about fifteen minutes outside town. Dale carves stuff.” “Oh! The sculptor!” “That’s him. One of the younger kids had a real bad bike wreck, and insurance wasn’t what it shoulda been. Dorothy was in college but had to come back home.” “So she’s supporting the family on what she earns here?” “Oh no. That was a while ago, and I guess Dale sold one of those things he makes, so the money’s better now. Family’s taken care of, and the kid doesn’t even have a limp. It was rough on them all for a while, though.” He shrugged. “Dorothy’s a good girl. Good worker.” “Uh huh. Looks like she works real hard.” Charles saw her cleaning a table that Lila Sue had pranced by, picking up the tip. Lila Sue seemed to stand around and visit with the customers a lot, or sit down at the tables and visit with them. Lila Sue threw her head back and laughed at something one of the guys said. Even in the noisy room her laughter was loud. Charles glanced at Dorothy, who subtly shook her head as the sound rolled over her. Poor little Cinderella. She needs a Prince Charming. Well, he had a month here. Maybe they could have some laughs together. It would cheer Dorothy up, and give him a break from the family part of the time. Her prickly manner wasn’t fooling him. She was shy and lonely. All he had to do was get past the prickliness to the softness underneath. Charles grinned in anticipation. Yeah, getting to the softness would be an enjoyable part of his holiday season. ~End of Chapter One, UNDER THE MISTLETOE~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Creamy Mashed Potatoes Potatoes - about 5 lbs, washed, peeled, chopped, and boiled in water until soft. Mix into drained potatoes: 1 stick butter (not margarine) 16 ounces sour cream 8 ounces cream cheese Mash thoroughly with a hand masher, or use an electric mixer until smooth, if desired. Add a little milk if necessary to reach desired consistency. Can be kept on low in a slow cooker, for buffet meals. About the Recipe Charles’s mother has a house full for the holidays, and McClains have healthy appetites. Even Charles wouldn’t mind peeling potatoes for a while, because he’s anticipating the evening meal when he can spoon out a mountain of these mashed potatoes from Mom’s trusty orange slow cooker. Click here to return to the Table of Contents. THE HOLLY AND THE IVY ~*~There's no chance for happiness when your least favorite person is the love of your life. ~*~ 1978: Eli McClain is in Legend, Tennessee, as an honored guest, and everybody but Jeannie Adams is thrilled about it. She doesn't want to see his smug, handsome face, or be reminded of the kiss they shared right before he abandoned the small town they both called home. Eli remembers Jeannie as the girl who was always competing with him in school for the best grades. Now, all grown up, she's just as competitive and stubborn as before—but also completely irresistible. It's almost a shame he'll just be in Legend for a few days. And a shame he can never let her know the results of the fame and fortune he left Legend to pursue. Spend your holiday in Legend with this series prequel, and discover that love is sweeter, and hot cocoa tastes better, in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains! Chapter One Christmas Season, 1978 “Sour grapes. I know that’s what you’re thinking—I can see it in your eyes.” Jeannie Adams shoved a dress hanger along the clothing rack in the big Knoxville dress shop. “You think I’m being silly about this, but you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care what anybody thinks! The whole thing is just plain wrong.” Dorothy McClain smiled. “You’ve never cared what anybody thought, Jeannie. Why would you start now?” She picked up a hanger and held an emerald green dress at arm’s length, shook her head at the tiny waistline, and replaced it onto the rack. “Why go to the dinner at all? Or if you go, just wear whatever you want. Jeans and a sweatshirt. Not like you’re trying to impress anybody.” Jeannie slid a look at her friend and let out a quick breath. “You’re trying to bait me. Stop that. I thought you’d be on my side.” “I don’t understand why there are still sides at all, after so many years. Eli comes to town, everybody makes a big deal about him, he leaves. So what?” “So what?!? So everything. You graduated summa cum laude, for gosh sakes! And I was second in the class. Eli was only third. He had that rotten grade in chemistry.” She smiled, remembering how good it had felt to razz him about the bad chem grade. She hadn’t missed a single opportunity during senior year. “This isn’t about grade point average, Jeannie. It’s about—” “It’s about power. Plain and simple. The McClains—” “Whoops. Don’t go there. Remember, I’m one of the McClains.” “No you’re not. You only married into the clan. That doesn’t count. You’re still a normal person, basically.” Dorothy laughed. “Gee. Thanks for that.” “You know what I mean. Eli had everything he ever wanted, growing up. Now he’s rich and famous. So the school board is making a big deal of him; he’ll come to town and lord it over everybody and disappear again. The school board makes some money off the meals because the whole population feels like they have to go to this stupid thing. Everybody buys new dresses and shoes, pays an outrageous price for a ticket to the catered dinner, and has to listen to Eli give a speech.” She cringed. “He never was that good in speech class.” “Jeannie.” Dorothy turned to her friend and gently held her arms. “You need to put high school into the past. We’ve been out since seventy-one. A lot has changed.” “Some things have changed. You’re married and have a good job. You contribute to the community. A lot of us are just doing our own little part in keeping Legend alive, as well as we can. It stinks to invite somebody from outside for this honor dinner. We ought to be honoring you. Eli is a singer, of all things. So what.” Dorothy patted her pregnant tummy. “Honestly, I couldn’t care less about being honored. I’ve got enough going on as it is. Life is good.” Sometimes when Dorothy said things like that, Jeannie got irritated with her best friend. Sure, she was married and crazy in love with her husband Charles. But it had been a rude awakening for her to find out early in their marriage that Charles had a son in Southern California. He had fathered the child with a girl he loved; she hadn’t told him she was pregnant and just disappeared from his life. After she died in a car wreck, her parents contacted Charles, and he had immediately done the right thing—brought baby Joe to Legend, gave him the McClain name, and Dorothy had become his adoptive mother. From the way she treated him, you’d have thought she was his natural mother. It really was beautiful. Joe was six now, and David a year old. Charles and Dorothy were expecting their third child, and Dorothy never once complained about morning sickness, fatigue, balancing her job as a pharmacist with home life—any of it. Sometimes it was tiring to have Mrs. Perfect as your best friend. What Jeannie didn’t say, of course, was that nothing had changed for her. She had never left Legend. Her mom had been ill, and Jeannie had been willing to stay close to home and help her dad and siblings instead of heading off to college like most of her friends. When Mom improved, Jeannie had time but not inclination to go to a college campus on her own. Instead she entered the family business. She’d taken some grief about it at first, but before long people realized she was good at what she did and cared about her customers. Now that so much time had passed, her excitement about the future was gone—completely. She was doomed to live in Legend, Tennessee for the rest of her life. Looked like she might do it as an old maid, too. But Eli McClain, that jerk, had left everything and everybody behind in his rush to make his mark on the world. And all of Legend would turn out to congratulate him for it. It was just not fair. The fact that all this was happening right at Christmastime somehow made it even worse. The department store’s loudspeakers were playing Christmas songs, everything here in the city, and everything in Legend, was decorated to the nth degree for the holidays. Jeannie loved Christmas, but Eli’s coming to town was going to ruin it for her. Figures. Eli always ruined everything. **** Eli McClain drove his expensive sports car around a curve in the crazy mountain road and saw it. Legend, Tennessee spread out below him like a perfect diorama. He pulled onto the wide gravel overlook he’d frequented as a kid when he had a date with a pretty girl. The cold December temperature didn’t keep him from rolling down the window glass and getting a first breath of clean, crisp mountain air. God, the pine smell was almost intoxicating! Inhaling deeply, eyes closed, Eli went back a few years to the day he left Legend. His mom and dad had been giving him a rough time for saying he’d never return, but Eli hadn’t cared. He hadn’t cared about much of anything or anyone. It was his future that concerned him. Legend was his past, and best forgotten. He’d done a good job of that, too. College had been okay, but he’d chucked it after a couple of years. A summertime job in a Nashville recording studio doing back-up vocals got him noticed by the right people, and he was on his way. His McClain charm and self-assurance had garnered some important contacts, and before long he was on a fast track to fame. Since leaving Legend, Eli had made the most of what he had. Take no prisoners was his personal mantra, and it had served him well. To the tune of a very nice bank account, features in national magazines, and important friends pretty much everywhere. Not to mention a long line of beautiful brokenhearted women. It was no surprise that the school board in Legend had chosen him as this year’s distinguished alumni. He was distinguished. But it had taken him a while to decide whether or not to make the trip to accept the honor. After being gone all these years, he hated to ruin a perfect record by returning to the little burg. Finally the school board had told him he could choose the time the event would occur, and he decided to go for it. Set it at Christmastime when Legend was at its most festive. This timing would gain him some brownie points with his family for being home at the holidays. Should help ensure an even bigger crowd for the event, too. No doubt the powers that be had advertised in Knoxville and maybe even Gatlinburg. Wire services might have picked it up as well. The school board would make a ton of money, and Eli would make an unforgettable impression on the extremely impressionable people of his hometown. His parents were thrilled about the whole thing—Eli’s time in Legend would be full of family. He was the fifth of six kids, but also had innumerable cousins, aunts, and uncles. Most of them still lived in Legend or the surrounding county and were fine, upstanding, if boring, citizens. Eli figured he would have gone crazy if he’d had to stay in Legend. By the time high school graduation rolled around, he was more than ready to cut and run. In fact, he’d had his shined-up, souped-up car packed and ready to leave as soon as the ceremony was finished. He’d signed up for college classes that summer, and had a couple of jobs lined up so he could pay his own way through school. Nothing could slow him down from making a bee-line out of Legend. Nothing, that is, except Jeannie Adams. She had been a thorn in his side all through school, but senior year was the worst. Of all the things about Legend that Eli was glad to leave behind, Jeannie was the biggest. It was amazing serendipity that just as Eli was rounding a corner on his final walk through a deserted back hall of Legend High after the commencement ceremony, he’d met Jeannie. Startled, she stared at him momentarily, all wide-eyed. Her face was pink because it had been hot in the gym with those stupid graduation gowns on. She was still zipped into the ugly gown and was wearing the ridiculous mortar board, being too much of a ninny to throw it up in celebration like a lot of the kids had done. Black bobby pins secured the mortar board into her auburn hair. Her National Honor Society cowl was a little askew, probably from hugging her nerdy girlfriends, and the sash that showed she was Magna Cum Laude was hanging crooked. Without a moment’s thought, Eli grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a big wet kiss on the mouth. She melted against him for a minute, then started to struggle. Eli released her and strode away. Before he went out the door he called back to her, “See ya, Jeannie Adams. Have a nice life.” There had been times over the last few years that he’d replayed that scene in his mind. He had heard someone talk about life’s defining moments being those that you can remember vividly even years later. He wondered why that would be one of his defining moments, but it sure seemed to be. Probably because it was the last thing he remembered prior to leaving town. It was definitely not because it involved Jeannie Adams, whom he had dubbed Obnoxo-Brain when she overcame his GPA due to a lousy chemistry grade. Still, Eli couldn’t help wondering if he might run into Jeannie while he was in town. She was probably fat and had a half dozen kids. It would serve her right, after what she’d done to him years ago. One of his cousins had started teasing him about being hot for Jeannie, and Eli had gone into a tirade about what a crazy idea it was—then spent a sleepless night thinking about her in an entirely different way. Somehow everything he knew about chemistry went out of his brain—except the kind of chemistry between a guy and a girl. He had flunked the test big time and blamed Jeannie for it. Yeah, she’d always been a problem for him. He hoped she had a big wart on her nose along with being fat. Who would have married her, anyway? Eli felt the hairs on his neck rise. Shaking his head to get the teenage Jeannie out of his mind, Eli started the powerful engine again. It purred just the way it was supposed to. You could depend on cars. As long as you took good care of them, they’d take care of you. Women, though—women were just the opposite. If you took care of them, they’d expect more and more. Eli had successfully kept women happy in the short-term and was careful never to stay around for the long-term. Worked great. Checking his mirrors, he pulled back onto the winding road and headed toward his parents’ house. Might as well get the first wave of hero worship taken care of. ~End of Chapter One, THE HOLLY AND THE IVY~ Please click here to read more, and find links to your favorite book vendor. Chili Mix in a Dutch oven: One pound hamburger, browned and drained One can Cincinnati-style chili Two cans chili hot beans One can tomato soup + 1 soup can of water One can diced tomatoes Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until flavors are blended and chili is at desired temperature. OR, put all ingredients into a slow cooker, cook at high for one hour, and turn to low until ready to serve.

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