Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Release: The Lady's Blessing

THE LADY'S BLESSING
by Liz Botts

Tagline:  Always remember to count your blessings.

Blurb:
In May of 1812, American militiamen raid Felicity Hawthorne’s home in British Canada. Life as she knows it ends: her mother is killed, her brother is taken captive, and her father is injured. In a matter of weeks her father decides to send her to England to live with her mother’s parents. He sends her in the care of Lord Graham Blessington, who has been serving in the Royal Navy as he runs away from the pain of his life back home. 

After an eventful sea voyage, fate intervenes, allowing Graham and Felicity the chance to spend more time together, along with his small daughter. As she becomes deeply attached to the pair, Felicity must decide if she will go back to London to submit to social expectations or if she will follow her heart.


*****

Author Bio:
Liz Botts was born, raised, and still lives in northern Illinois with her husband and three small children (two boys and a baby girl). When not writing, she enjoys reading, sewing, trying new recipes, and hanging with her kids. She is proud to pass her love of stories on to her children, and makes several trips to the library each week. After working with teenagers for several years, she decided to write stories about them instead.


Available for purchase at:


Excerpt:
The sound of gunfire broke the damp early morning air. My eyes flew open as I tried to orient myself. A thunderous knocking at the door nearly caused the latch-pin to burst from the hook. Father sprang from his bed and immediately reached for the musket that stood ever at the ready. The boots of his uniform lay slumped in the middle of the floor. I could just make out their outline from my bed in the corner. To my surprise Father deftly skirted them, making his way to the door as quietly as he could. The banging continued, accompanied by harsh shouts in an American accent. I shuddered.
“Fliss, get down.”
My brother, James, appeared at my bedside and scooped me, blankets and all, onto the floor with him. With the barrier of the bed between us and the door, I craned my neck to see through the dimness, only lit by the glow of the banked fire. Father crouched next to the door, carefully and calmly loading his gun.
I tried to recall if Father had mentioned anything that could explain this situation. He had come home from the fort late, just as dusk settled her rosy fingers over the valley. We had already eaten our supper, but Mama served him a meal while he sagged wearily at the table. James had been whittling a new knife handle by the fire while I worked on a cross stitch piece to send back to my grandmother in England.
Father had let out a heavy sigh, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back on his chair. Mama had laid a hand on his shoulder, and he covered it with his much larger hand. They stood that way for only the briefest second, but in that fleeting moment I saw the love that had driven my mother to leave her privileged life in London to move to the wilds of a new continent with two small children while my father served as commander of the new fort in British Canada.
“Is it as bad as we’ve heard?” Mama’s soft voice seemed to boom in the silent cabin.
I raised my eyes a fraction of an inch to meet my brother’s gaze. He wasn’t looking at me, though. His hand had stilled mid-movement and his eyes were wide as he waited for Father’s answer. None of us drew a breath as Father straightened in his chair and opened his eyes.
“Worse.” His voice sounded coarse. “The Americans have been skirmishing all along the border. They have already killed three. If this continues, war seems a certainty.”
“Do we have the resources for a war, Father?” James ventured the question although he had not been part of the discussion. I drew a sharp breath as I waited for Father’s reaction.
Instead of being angry, Father shook his head in the most sorrowful way I had ever seen in my life. A jagged edge of fear tore open my heart. If Father did not have confidence in Britain’s ability to beat back the vile Americans, then what hope did we have?
“Our forces are strained, to be sure,” Father said. “If the war with Spain and Portugal were not draining so many resources, we could surely take on the American forces in a heartbeat. As it stands now, I am not at all certain how many troops will be sent to help us. I expect that when Lord Blessington returns to England, he will make a full report to the commanders.”
Despite the panic that kept threatening to overwhelm me, I felt a small thrill run up my spine at the mention of Lord Blessington. Although I had only glimpsed him on two occasions, everyone in and near the settlement knew a great deal about the brash young lord. Prudence and Sarah, the only other girls my age, had both swooned upon meeting him. Both were simpering twits, but I couldn’t help agreeing with their assessment that he was the most handsome man ever to grace the fort with his service.
“When does he leave?” James set down his whittling and stood. Without an invitation, he joined Father at the table. I had never known my brother to be so bold, but as I watched him from the corner of my eye, it occurred to me that he was indeed a grown man. At eighteen he would certainly soon be joining Father in service.
“I expect he’ll be gone by the beginning of June,” Father said, sounding a bit calmer, more in control. “He’ll take a bare bones crew so that we have as many troops here as possible. If we could detain him any longer, we would.”
“Lord Blessington has been a tremendous help, hasn’t he, dear?” Mama had started clearing my father’s meal off the table. Her soothing words created the illusion that everything was normal. Even as I wanted to trust her influence, I couldn’t get the sound of Father’s voice out of my mind. There were so many things he was not saying. Those things — the unknowns — filled me with terror.
“He has, at that. With him able to report back to Commander Smith, I will not have to leave my post. A trip like that would take months, possibly even a year. I would not leave you and it would be nearly impossible to arrange your passage to come with me. This is better for all concerned.” Father accepted his pipe from Mama and struck a match against his boot. The flame glowed brightly for a moment, illuminating Father’s face, eyes so serious, before the light dimmed as he dipped it into the bowl of his pipe.
The acrid smell of the pipe filled the cabin, making my eyes water briefly before the smoke dissipated. My breath felt stuck in my chest, like a band tightening, until no air was left. The embroidery hoop gripped firmly in my left hand trembled as I attempted to make another stitch. Mama wanted me to have the sampler done in time to send it back to England with Lord Blessington’s envoy. She thought it would be a delightful surprise for my grandmother, whom I knew she missed dreadfully.
Silence stretched through our home until all things seemed to settle back into normalcy. Then Mama’s voice broke the spell as she asked, “And what shall we do if the war does come to fruition?”
Thinking about her words now filled me with more fear than did the shouts coming from outside. Where was Mama? Panic made me try to scramble to my feet, but James pulled me firmly back down.
“Stay put,” he whispered in a no-nonsense voice that brooked no argument.
“But where’s Mama?” The voice that came out of my mouth caught me off guard. It certainly sounded nothing like my own.
James gave my arm a squeeze. “She’s just over on the other side of the cabin. Now, Fliss, you have to stay quiet. And stay down.”
“Wait! Where are you going?” I grabbed my brother’s arm as he moved to stand up. The alarm in my voice shamed me, but I couldn’t quell the anxiety.
“I have to help Father,” James said, squeezing my hand before he dislodged my fingers.
I shrank back behind the metal frame of my bed, pulling the quilt tighter around my shoulders. The shouting grew louder, as did the banging on the door. The latch-pin would not hold much longer. Of that much, I was certain. I dared not let myself think of what would happen when it broke. At the moment that tiny piece of wood was all that stood between us and the enemy.
Suddenly the sound of shattering glass filled the cabin and Mama uttered a small scream. I longed to run across the cabin to her, but when I peeked from my cocoon I saw that whatever had been thrown through the window had been lit on fire. Bright flames licked along the edges of some sort of fabric. James used his jacket to beat out the fire, then grabbed the shovel from the hearth. He scooped the offending object into the fireplace just as another round of gunfire broke the air.
“James, get your sister and mother to the root cellar. Now.” Father’s command sliced through the confusion.
Before I had time to process the order, James was tugging me toward his corner of the cabin. Quickly he pushed aside his straw tic mattress and yanked open the rough wooden door that led down to our tiny root cellar. I stumbled on my quilt, but adjusted it around my shoulders.
“I can’t go down there, James,” I whispered, trying desperately to swallow the lump in my throat. My brother gave me a firm push toward the opening, and the lump dissolved. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I stepped onto the crudely cut ladder. Draping the quilt over my neck, I grasped the sides and started the descent into darkness.
“Wait,” James said. He reached down and pressed a candle and match into my hand. “Don’t light this unless you have to. Be brave, Fliss. Don’t come out until everything is quiet. Mama will be down in a minute.”
Tears still streaming from my eyes, I climbed down into the root cellar, instantly surrounded by inky blackness as James shut the trap door. The overpowering smell of earth filled my nostrils and I thought I might be suffocating. Where was Mama?
Nothing in my sixteen, nearly seventeen years had prepared me for this. I thought of all the years living in the Canadian wilderness, just miles from the fort, and the trials we had experienced in that time. When I was small there had been a conflict with the natives of the area, but since then an uneasy alliance had been struck. Illness was more feared than any aggressor. Until now. Although that wasn’t quite true. The past year had brought ever more news of American aggression. Small bands of militiamen had taken to attacking British settlements along the border. But never here. Not so near the fort.
I drew in an unsteady breath as the darkness closed around me. James had promised that Mama would be down in a moment. To keep myself from crying out, I clung to his promise. The moments seemed to stretch into hours.
My mind began to race with worry over what was happening to the rest of my family. Surely Mama should have been down by now. True, she hadn’t been moving as quickly since she’d found out she was with child. She never complained, though, because she viewed this child as a miracle. After years of failed conceptions, I knew she deserved this happiness. Could her current state be detaining her?
I wiped beads of sweat from my brow. What was taking her so long? My lips felt impossibly dry and I was having trouble drawing a breath. Perhaps I should climb back up the ladder and peek out. Mama might need help, and if James and Father were occupied defending our safety, she would need me.
An enormous crash stilled me. Gunfire, muffled though it was, cut through the air. If I strained, I could hear shouts. Then a scream pierced the air. Cold fear washed over me. Mama.
I struggled to my feet, ready to rush to Mama’s aid, but as I climbed the first rung of the ladder, another scream stopped me. Before I knew it, the ground rose to meet me, and I pulled my quilt tightly around my head and shoulders. Sobs wracked my body as the sounds of conflict swelled above me.
Screams.
Shouts.
Shots.
Twice I heard footsteps on the floor above me, and I wondered if I was about to be discovered. But both times the sound faded. Eventually the commotion lessened. The gunfire erupted only sporadically. Finally silence.
I unwrapped the quilt from my head and squinted up at the rays of light barely visible through the cracks in the trapdoor.
I needed more light. Yes, more light would help me think clearly. With trembling fingers I grasped the bucket that held the flickering rushlight from the candle James had sent down with me. My hand shook as I stuck another tallow candle into the bucket. The wick twitched as I attempted to steady myself, but it didn’t light. I tried again and a flame sizzled to life. With the candle lit, the root cellar didn’t seem so oppressive. A row of shelves lined the wall opposite the ladder. They were sparse from the hard winter, not that we ever had an abundance, but now there were only two small barrels of brined fish.
My mind drifted to the long days from the past autumn when Mama and I had salted and dried the fish before immersing them in the brine. Mama had laughed and told me that she had never imagined needing to learn such skills growing up on her family’s estate outside of London.
I took another deep breath to further calm myself. The silence seemed all-encompassing. I wondered if I could go up yet. James had said… my heart seized at the thought of him. I needed to find my family, but the thought of coming face to face with an American soldier paralyzed me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t move. I stared at the flickering light of the candle on the walls, but I didn’t really see anything. My mind spun in a dizzying swirl that threatened to make me sick.
“Ouch.” The sound of my own voice shocked me out of my stupor. Hot wax from the candle had dripped onto my fingers, burning my skin.
A moan drew my attention. It had come from close to the trap door. Another wave of fear washed over me, but I felt a new resolve strengthen in my heart. I needed to know what had happened. With a stuttering breath I blew out the candle and laid it on the floor. I pulled my quilt around my shoulders like a cloak. The rungs of the ladder felt clammy against my skin, and I forced myself to focus on the sensation rather than think ahead.
When I reached the top, I pushed on the trap door. It opened partway before catching on some unseen obstacle. Bright light burned my eyes, causing me to squint. Lingering smoke from all the gunfire stung my nostrils. With all the strength I could muster I pushed against the door again. A soft scraping sound told me that James’s mattress was nearby.
I climbed out of the root cellar and gasped as my gaze swept around the cabin. The front door creaked open on its hinges. Most of our furniture was either broken or upended. The stillness belied the violence that had taken place here. Another moan made me freeze. Slowly I turned in a full circle, half expecting to see an American staring me in the face. Nothing. Not one other person shared the space with me.
Pain bloomed in my chest, burning through my heart and racing through my veins. My family. Where were they? Had the Americans carried them off?
Another moan.
Thoughts cluttered my mind. A moan meant that someone had to be here with me, but where? In the shadows cast by the mid-morning sun, my gaze landed upon what I initially thought to be a pile of rags and blankets that moved. And moaned.
With tentative steps I made my way toward James’s corner of the room. When I got within a few feet, I gasped.
“Father!” Dropping to my knees, I rolled him gently onto his back. Blood, bright red and sticky looking, oozed from a wound near his shoulder. His unshaven face appeared ashen gray behind the scrubby black hair. When he opened his eyes, I could see that it took him extra long to focus on me.
“Felicity,” he said in a hoarse whisper. The corners of his mouth lifted in what I supposed was to be a smile, but turned into a grimace as the pain overwhelmed him.
“Papa,” I whispered, reverting to the name I hadn’t called him since I was a small child. “Mama. James.”
Father’s eyes fluttered shut. For a moment I thought I had lost him and my heart seized with fear and sadness. Then he forced himself to look at me. I could see the physical toll such effort took as his jaw clenched.
“My girl, you must get to the fort. Tell them what has happened. Get help.” With that, my father lapsed into unconsciousness.
Tears that had abated briefly flowed once again. Hot streams of salty tears ran rivulets down my cheeks. I pulled my quilt around my thin nightdress. No time for a shawl, I thought, but surely this morning in mid-May would be cold. Thinking about the weather outside calmed me a bit. My brief respite lasted only until a smattering of gunfire broke the air. I turned back to Father, but he lay still.
I strengthened my resolve. The fort was only one mile away. Surely I could remain undetected on such a brief walk. Swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat, I swept the corner of the quilt across my eyes. I glanced around the cabin once more. My gaze lit upon James’s boots slumped near the door. Without thinking I hurried over, slipped my feet in, and made my way to the door, which had slammed shut again.
In a heartbeat I was standing in the cold May morning. Gunfire erupted again, only this time it sounded farther away. Another wave of panic threatened to overwhelm me as I wondered if the fort could be under attack. Surely if that had been true, someone would have come to fetch Father, and as far as I could tell that had not been the case. Sticks cracked beneath my feet as I stepped into the wood surrounding our home.
Father moaned, the sound fainter now that I was outside. I began to run, stumbling over exposed tree roots. Squirrels and chipmunks scurried out of my way. James’s boots were sizes too big for my feet, and I tripped, landing hard on my knees. I knew I had wounded them, but a scrape was nothing compared to what Father had suffered.
Gripping the quilt tighter around my shoulders, I struggled to my feet and ran on. Tree branches snagged the blanket and my hair. I paid no mind as I pressed on. A spate of gunfire brought me to a halt. It was so near I could taste the gunpowder drifting on the breeze. The acrid odor burned my nostrils. I ducked behind a tree.
I sank down between the roots, wishing that I could disappear into the ground. Horror stories ran through my mind as I remembered the tales of the war not twenty-five years earlier. Mama had always cautioned that women have to be extra careful. When I was younger I had not understood, but as I tried to make myself as small as possible, I knew exactly what she had meant. And exactly why James and Father had sent me to the root cellar. They had wanted Mama there with me. Oh, Mama! Where was she?
What had happened to her?
The questions lingered in my mind as another round of shots rang out around me. I could hear the stomping of boots and the coarse language of the Americans. Father never spoke in such a way, and he had expected his officers to act accordingly. Small-minded people used such vulgar words. Father. He needed help, medical attention. Someone at the fort would know what to do.
A stick broke just feet away. Someone spat, the loud, juicy glop landing on the ground nearby. I pulled the blanket tighter around my head, certain that I would be discovered at any moment. My heart beat faster than a hummingbird’s wings. Blood pounded in my ears, creating a roaring vacuum that made me dizzy.
I imagined a large hand pulling me from my little hole by the scruff of my neck, like one would pull a baby rabbit from its den. Shudder upon shudder raced through my body, until I was trembling so violently my teeth chattered.
Another burst of gunfire.
My heart hammered harder until I thought I might faint.
More yelling.
More cursing.
Then silence.
Slowly my heart calmed and my breath evened out. More silence. The only thought that stood out in my mind was that the Americans could be lying in wait. Not for me but for an unsuspecting soldier from the fort to happen out into the woods.
No matter what, I had to continue. I waited a few moments as the sounds of the American militiamen faded away, then I climbed to my knees. Assured that no one was around, I slipped out from my hiding spot.
Keeping hidden in the shadows of the trees, I made my way to the creek that would lead me straight to the fort.
I hastened my steps, alert to each twig snapping, each bird fluttering. My breath calmed finally, and I adjusted the quilt around my shoulders. A cold wind swirled around me. I hoped that a snowstorm was not brewing on the horizon. Even in May the winter could come back with a vengeance.
James’s boots felt clunky as I moved forward. They slid back and forth. It was all I could do to keep them on. I should have taken longer to secure them with his laces. The rough strands of thin rope could have easily been wrapped around my ankle. The inane thoughts gave me a bit of relief from the crushing panic that propelled me forward. I got so caught up in berating myself about my foolishness that I missed the large tree root until I tripped over it and landed with a dull thud on the soft mud next to the stream. I pushed myself to my knees, grateful not to be hurt, but furious that I was wasting even more time.
Streaks of mud sullied the front of my soft pink nightdress. The shade had been a source of contention between Father and Mama. Father had thought the pink indecent and frivolous, but Mama had said it was beautiful. She’d sewn the garment with small, perfectly even stitches. We had worked on the intricate embroidery together. I loved to look at the roses and birds along the hem.
Now I had ruined it. And who knew where Mama was. Fear gripped my chest, making it hard to breathe. I broke into a run the best I could, stumbling over my brother’s boots.
A sob broke loose from my throat. Grief and terror and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I could feel the tears spilling from my eyes, burning my cheeks. My vision blurred, but when I pushed my tangled hair from my face, relief rushed through me. The fort. I had finally reached the edge of the woods.
Without pause now, I ran forward. The heavy log gate at the front of the fort was shut. I pulled on the rough wooden handle, but my fingers felt weak. With everything left in me, I let out a primal yell for help. No words formed as I screamed with all my might, but the sound conveyed exactly what I needed it to.
A moment later the gate swung open, and I found myself staring up into the face of the most handsome man I had ever seen. He used one broad shoulder to open the heavy gate further. His dark brown hair trembled in the wind, setting the curls dancing. As I stared up into his dark blue eyes that seemed full of concern, I felt myself break.
“What’s wrong, child?” His voice, warm and deep, wrapped around me. I had found safety.
“They attacked us. Father sent me.” Could that hoarse whisper have been my voice?
“Who is your father?”
I could feel darkness descending on me. I tried to fight it off and focus on the man’s question. “General… General Lord Hawthorne.”
The words slipped from my lips as my world went black.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Town in Three Photos - Hudson Valley, New York

by Mya O’Malley 
 
            The Hudson Valley is a cultural area that is rich in the theater and arts. It is known for its creativity and charming river towns. The Hudson Valley is famous for its eclectic shops, restaurants and pubs. Boasting spectacular river views, this area has many opportunities for outdoor hiking and recreation. The historic homes, entertainment and culture draw many visitors from near and far.
 
 



Thursday, September 25, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: Teresa Howard


 
Teresa Howard
 
Website: teresahoward.net
 
 
Describe yourself in three words:
Passionate Romance Novelist
 
Tell us a little about your latest release:
My Aug 12 release is a historical romance titled FOR LOVE ALONE.  According to NY Times Bestselling author Haywood Smith a novel that from the first chapter to the last love and danger leap from the pages of this engaging read.  Haywood finishes by saying Don't miss it!  Actually, it is the story of the incredible path Duchess Summer Skye Clayton takes to reunite with her soul mate Lord Charles Zachery "Chaz" Clayton, the Earl of Somerset.
 
What is your earliest memory?
I remember my mama rocking me to sleep, singing those wonderful old hymns that I love to this day.
 
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
Finding and marrying my own soul-mate Dr. George E. Howard.
 
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
What a good question!  I have so many to choose from.  But hands down, the singular hardest moment in my life is saying goodbye to my precious mama Nelda Ingram who died at age 57.
 
What have you learned in life so far?
That love is the greatest gift God has given us to share with others.
 
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
Jesus, mama, the child I miscarried, of course, my husband, and you.
 
 
Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about Teresa Howard?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Release: The Test of Time

THE TEST OF TIME
by Nicole Zoltack



All that stands between Katia and finding the love of her life is the test of time.

Katia jumps at the chance to go to England with her best friend after Rose ditches her deadbeat boyfriend. While walking through the market, she spies a large mansion and recognizes the guy out front as her high school friend Tony. Just as they start to reconnect, Katia passes through times and lands in the arms of Lord Landon, who looks like Tony but certainly doesn’t act like him.

Soon, Katia learns that this 1815 is different from the one in history books. Trapped in a parallel world, Katia struggles to not fall for Landon but his charm proves too much for her. Just when she is about to confess her love for him, Katia travels through time yet again.

The course of love never did run smooth and if Katia can’t figure out and master the test of time, she’ll never see or friends again, or worse, never be reunited with Landon.

**** 

About the Author:
Nicole Zoltack loves to write in many genres, especially romance, whether fantasy, paranormal, or regency. When she’s not writing about knights, superheroes, or zombies, she loves to spend time with her loving husband and three energetic young boys. She enjoys riding horses (pretending they’re unicorns, of course!) and going to the PA Renaissance Faire, dressed in garb. She’ll also read anything she can get her hands on. Her current favorite TV show is The Walking Dead. To learn more about Nicole and her writing, visit http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com.

Available for purchase at:
Amazon US     Amazon UK     Smashwords     Kobo     Barnes & Noble     iTunes

Excerpt:

Katia Willgrave stared at the vendor's products. A blue silk scarf drew her attention, but the price the British salesman asked for was more than she could afford. Not if she wanted to be able to buy dinner tonight.
She glanced up. Most of the rest of her travel group had already made their way down the street, but still she dawdled, enjoying the sights and the sounds. She and her best friend had settled on this trip after Rose ditched her jerk wad of a boyfriend. Originally, Rose and Derek had planned it together.
His loss, my gain. She breathed in the fresh air. Some moisture hung in the air, but she did not mind, having spent a good deal of her childhood in Seattle. Then her father's job relocated their family to the East Coast.
But she did not want to think about her father right now, think about her own losses.
Rose was haggling with another vendor, and Katia smiled. If anyone knew how to get their way, it was Rose. She flipped her blond hair over her shoulder, and Katia snickered. The vendor didn't stand a chance. The pink tips of Rose's hair caught the last streaming remnants of sunlight.
After catching Derek hooting around, Rose had dragged Katia to the beauty parlor. In solidarity, Katia had the last inch of her almost black hair dyed a midnight blue. Only when the light caught her hair just right was the blue visible. She had expected to hate the color and figured she'd have it cut off in a week, but it had lasted a month now, and she often thought about dying it all to match.
Wouldn't Bob die if I did? Her boss was a stickler for everything. The editor-in-chief of the biggest newspaper in Philadelphia, he was no-nonsense and expected the same from his employees. I'm just glad he gave me the time off.
Her feet had continued walking as her mind wandered, and she reached the edge of the street. The rest of the group headed to the east, following their guide like lost sheep.
Feeling impulse, Katia moved to the west. The land stretched out here, into soft hills, and she just wanted to see the sights over the ridge. She'd keep the tour group in sight.
She reached the crest. A tall, mansion stood in the distance, majestic and awe-inspiring. Before Katia could grab her camera, a hand touched her arm. Rose, wearing new huge dangling earrings, sported a wide grin. "You wanna get lost?"
"Why not?" Katia smiled back. She had never felt more relaxed since she had come. Between the stress of deadlines and the incompetent nature of her staff—Bob liked to hire those with less qualifications to save a few bucks—Katia needed this as much as Rose did, albeit for different reasons.
"Find a hot English guy first," Rose reasoned, her grin growing wider.
"Like that guy you were chatting up at the café at lunch?"
They fell into step together as they rejoined the tail edge of the group. "Precisely. He's taking me out to dinner tonight. Henry." She all but swooned.
"You and your rebounds." Katia shook her head.
"Hey!" Rose knocked her hip into Katia's. "Okay, well, Derek had been a rebound. Maybe a rebound of a rebound is different. I mean, it's not like I want to marry the guy. Just hear him talk. Gotta love an accent."
Katia couldn't disagree there.
"Besides, you haven't gone out in forever yourself."
"I've gone out," Katia protested.
"I don't mean with me." Rose pursed her full, pink-painted lips. She had no problem getting guys to ask for her number or to buy her drinks. Katia, on the other hand, didn't. Work was all she had time for. Especially after…
Not now.
"Don't worry. I promise I won't eat dinner by myself since you're ditching me."
Rose's eyes took on a faraway look. "Henry… Remind me to ask him if he has a brother."
Katia laughed. Their tour guide shot them a "hurry up" look but they meandered, taking their time. What else was the point of a vacation? Their first time in Europe. They definitely wanted to take it all in.
Maybe after dinner, she could come back and snap a picture of that mansion. Ever since she was a little girl, she had always imagined she'd live in a place like that. Strange how similar the mansion resembled her dream one.

****

By the time dinner rolled around, and Rose had left for her date, looking like a model in a slick red dress and cute wedge sandals, Katia opted for a stroll by her lonesome. Their tour guide had repeated to them all endlessly not to stray from the group, but it would not be late for hours, and besides, this was England. Everyone spoke English. It wasn't as if she was in Germany or Spain. She'd be fine.
Her own sandals soon dug into her toes, and Katia untied them and carried them over her shoulder. Down into market she went and beyond, back to the same hill as before. The mansion crept into view like a castle floating above a mist. A fog had rolled in, making the mansion seem more dreamlike than before. With turrets and towers on either end, numerous windows, arches and flags, the building seemed too perfect to be real.
Mesmerized by its beauty, almost unaware of what she was doing, Katia moved toward the mansion. Despite the distance between them, she drew nearer far quicker than she would have thought. Rose bushes lined the paved walkway leading up to the front door, the grass trimmed short and impossibly green.
One perfect rose caught her gaze, and she bent down to sniff it. The floral scent filled her nose, and she closed her eyes, drinking it in.
"Can I help you?"
Broken from whatever trace had called her here, Katia jerked up and backward until she bumped into the twin bush on the other side of the walkway. A thorn snagged her skin. Not completely perfect after all.
"I…" She took in the man before her, his bare chest and heaving muscles. A bead of sweat eased down the ripples of his abs, and she forced her gaze up to his face. "Tony, is that you?"
Nearly impossible to recognize the scrawny, nerdy boy from high school as the man standing in front of her. A lot had happened since they graduated in six years.
"In the flesh." He glanced down at his bare chest, and a flush colored his cheeks. "What are you doing here, Katia?"
Knowing she couldn't return his question although she was dying to know why he was here—perhaps he works here—Katia gestured to the mansion. Up close, mansion did not seem to fit how massive the house was. "I wanted a closer look," she explained lamely.
He chuckled and ran a cloth over his face before draping it over one huge shoulder. "Want a tour?"
"I would love one."
Tony Wilson moved toward the front door, but she hesitated. "I had assumed you wanted a tour of the interior." He cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows raising, disappearing within his bushy brown hair.
In high school, he'd always sported a crew cut. This style, wild and crazy, just begging to be fixed, suited him quite well. Ugh, I'm going to turn into Rose at this rate.
She cleared her throat and stared at his mud-coated sneakers.
"What is it?" He crossed his arms, his muscles flexing with the simple movement. "You have that look in your eye."
"What look?"
"The 'I'm dying to ask a question' look." His chuckle was as warm and inviting as it had been in high school, and she joined in, just like old times. She had never had this flutter in her chest back then, though. Each year, she had had a different crush, but she had never fallen for her good old friend Tony.
Unable to hold back any longer, Katia burst out, "What are you doing here? What is this place? What have you been up to? Why didn't you go to our high school reunion last year? You never kept in touch like you said you would."
Tony laughed again. "Poke a hole in the dam and a flood of questions pour forth. Should've known better. I'm here because this…" He held out his arms. "…is mine."
Katia lifted her gaze from him to the mansion to the rose bushes to the lawn and back to Tony. "All of it?"
He nodded. "My grandparents lived here for years. There was some kind of mix up with the deed for a while and then my parents died and somehow, yeah, Philamore Mansion is mine."
"Wait, your parents died?" Curse her and her reporter mind for wanting to know every detail. She crossed the distance between them and placed her hand on his arm. Wow, rock hard biceps. "I am so sorry."
A veiled look crossed his eyes for a moment before disappearing. "So once the deed was changed to be in my name, I moved here. Wasn't making any name for myself with my screenplays anyhow. Too tough a business. Instead, I've been fixing up the place and working here and there, doing what I can." He nodded to the left, where a hole was dug. "Gonna plant a tree there, for shade. Far enough to not block direct view of the mansion. I'll plant another over there." Tony pointed to the right. "I forget what question was next."
Her mouth turned dry. How she wanted to open up to him, to share with him her own misery so that he didn't have to feel so alone, but she couldn't bring herself too. The hurt in his eyes had been so great as it was. She would not risk adding to it. "Our reunion."
But the pain returned to his blue eyes. "Too busy," he said, his voice clipped and curt. "Next."
"Wasn't a question so I'll rephrase. Why didn't you keep in touch after we graduated?"
"It takes two to keep in touch," he pointed out.
True. Oh so true. Katia could have called or texted or emailed. She was just as much to blame as he was. A lump formed in her chest, and she failed to rub it away. "I'm here with my college roommate, Rose. She's into sports medicine. A real fitness nut. Thought about being a fitness model but she likes chocolate a little too much."
Tony nodded politely. "And you? World famous reporter yet?"
"Have you read any of my articles?"
He shook his head. "Can't say I have. Not any that weren't under the heading Mount Holly High."
"Then I'm not world famous yet. I am a reporter though."
"Good for you. Now, about that tour…"
At that moment, Katia's stomach grumbled. Heat rose to her face, and she crossed her arms over her stomach, praying he hadn't heard it. Her mother used to say her stomach could wake the dead.
And of course, Tony heard it. His grin erased her discomfort. "I'm hungry too. First stop, the kitchen."
"No, no, I don't mean to impose."
That laugh again. So relaxing, the antithesis of his anguish. She'd do anything to keep him happy. "You marched on to private property but no, you didn't mean to impose." His gaze traveled over her body, noting her summer dress, her bare feet, and windblown hair. A strand blew into her face, and he caught it. Another gust of wind blew it out of his hand. "Blue," he noted, his voice colored with surprise.
"You like?"
"It suits you. Now, before you stomach demands substance again…"
She scowled.
He held out his arm for her to take. Once she did, he led her toward the house. "Don't act like this is the first time I've heard it. Come."
They passed pillars on their way to the front door, which creaked upon opening. A few boards groaned beneath their feet as they walked inside. Katia gasped. They were standing in a ballroom straight out of the days of old.
"My grandparents kept this floor in great condition. The others, not so much." He removed his sneakers and allowed her a few minutes to walk around, to see the various paintings up close, to take in the ornate crown molding, before moving past a curtain to a concealed hallway.
"I thought your grandparents lived in Manhattan."
"My father's parents did. This belonged to my mother's parents. I never met them. They hated planes, or so I was told."
Planes. Katia shuddered.
"Are you cold?" Tony entered the massive kitchen. The island in the center alone was a large as the kitchen Katia and Rose shared in their apartment back home. No, the island had to be larger. Despite being outfitted with a double oven, as well as one built into the island, and other modern commodities, even the kitchen had an old-time feel to it. "I can get you a coat."
"I'm fine." But she wasn't. Her mouth had grown so dry Niagara Falls could not moisten it. Her breathing grew short, and her vision spotted. She had attempted to sit onto one of the stools near the island, but she missed. Down she fell, and her head connected with the ground.

New Release: Rest Thy Head

REST THY HEAD
by Elaine Cantrell


Two sisters find love at a haunted inn.


Running away from a fiancĂ© who betrayed her, Peyton O’Malley finds employment at a beautiful mountain inn called Rest Thy Head.  She didn’t expect to live in the haunted room or to fall for the inn’s owner, a fire-scarred, war veteran who uses the inn to hide away from the world.  She didn’t expect her sister to show up at Rest Thy Head either, much less her formidable mother.


Now, thanks to the aid of a friendly ghost, Peyton has a shot at true love, and so does her sister Ashley, provided the guys cooperate of course! 

**** 

About the Author:
Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina where she obtained a master’s degree in personnel services from Clemson University.  She is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary society for women educators, Romance Writers of America, and EPIC authors.  Her first novel, A New Leaf, was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest.  When she’s not writing or teaching, she enjoys movies, quilting, reading, and collecting vintage Christmas ornaments.  

Available for purchase at:
Amazon US     Amazon UK     Smashwords     Kobo     Barnes & Noble     iTunes


Excerpt:
With an air of reverence, Eleanor O’Malley passed her hand across the white damask tablecloth in the box. “This is very nice, Peyton. Feel how heavy it is. It should last you a lifetime.”
Peyton opened and read the card that accompanied the gift. “Best wishes for a long and happy marriage. Henry and Anne Williams.”
Her mother flashed her best high-wattage smile. “Can you believe it? The Williams family sent you a wedding gift! They’re one of the nicest families in town.”
“Considering the fact they’re best friends with Drew’s parents, I sort of expected a gift from them.” Peyton tossed the card back into the box. “I’m not as happy with the tablecloth as you are. I’d rather give a barbecue and eat outside.”
Peyton frowned when she noted the patronizing smile on her mother’s face.
“Darling, that’s fine for right now, but later on after Drew goes to work with his father, you’ll be expected to entertain his clients and business associates. I imagine they’ll expect more than a barbecue in the back yard.”
Peyton rolled her eyes at her mother. “Yuck.”
Eleanor glanced at her watch. “It’s three, and we have to meet Ashley at three thirty; we’d better get going.”
Peyton picked up her purse, which sat beside an antique trunk her mother used as a coffee table. It had belonged to some famous Civil War general, a fact her mother repeated over and over to anyone who visited them. Eleanor hadn’t come right out and said so, but she had given Drew’s parents the impression her family was related to the famous general. Peyton sighed. “Mother, I really want Ashley to be in the wedding. Be nice to her.”
“I admire your loyalty to your sister, but frankly, I think it’s in poor taste to let her be a bridesmaid.”
“I wanted her to be the maid of honor, but thanks to you she refused when I asked her,” Peyton complained with a scowl.
A pained expression came to rest on her mother’s face. “I’m so tired of having to explain things to a daughter who should understand but refuses to do so. The Roberts would not appreciate someone like Ashley serving as your maid of honor. Be grateful you have Roberta to fall back on.”
“Roberta is Drew’s sister, not mine,” Peyton cried. “I don’t even like her.”
“She’ll grow on you. Now, we’d better hurry.”
Peyton ran to put the tablecloth on the dining room table with her other wedding gifts. Pausing for a moment, she stroked the table’s smooth, gleaming surface. Her mother had found it in a second hand shop and spent a long time refinishing it. No shabby chic for Eleanor! It now looked like a prized family piece, which was exactly what her mother had wanted.
Everything in this house looked old, elegant, and well-tended. She didn’t think anyone would guess most of the furniture came from thrift stores and junk shops.
“Peyton? Where are you?”
“Coming, Mother.”
As they drove across town to meet Ashley, who was having her bridesmaid dress altered, her mother chatted non-stop about the wedding. Like that wasn’t all she’d talked about for months! Peyton didn’t have to contribute to the conversation; all she had to do was nod and say uh huh at the appropriate time.
Bet if she’d gotten engaged to Willie Lucas her mother would’ve killed her. Willie’s father worked at a local convenience store and lived on the edge of a not-too-nice neighborhood, but Willie had had quite a thing for her in high school.
She turned up the radio when her mother started talking about Ashley. There wasn’t any use getting into a quarrel with her mother now when they were on their way to a fitting. Of course, there was no reason why she and her mother had to go at all. Ashley was capable of getting herself to the shop and taking care of business.
Why did her mother treat Ashley like a red-headed stepchild? Yeah, Ashley had made a few mistakes, but that didn’t make her a bad person. Whether her mother liked it or not, Ashley was her daughter, and families needed to stick together.
Peyton’s heart sank the moment they entered the alterations shop. Ashley hadn’t been able to get a babysitter. She’d had to bring her little boy Griffin with her, and Griffin was not a happy camper. His wails and cries grated on Peyton’s ears and brought two round, red spots to her mother’s cheeks. “Griffin,” Eleanor snapped. “Stop that horrible noise at once!”
Ashley took a deep breath and pushed her chestnut hair behind her ear as though she was trying to hold on to her patience. “Mother, he’s little. He can’t help getting bored. If you’ll just play with him while Mrs. White pins my dress, we can get out of here a lot quicker.”
Eleanor’s lips thinned, but she held out her hand to the small boy who tearfully clung to Ashley’s legs. “Let’s go and find you an ice cream, Griffin.” The child smiled and took his grandmother’s hand. “We’ll be across the street at The Ice Cream Parlor. I must say this isn’t what I expected.”
The two of them crossed the street to the restaurant, leaving Ashley and Peyton alone with Mrs. White, who smiled at Ashley. “We’ll be done soon.”
A look of relief crossed Ashley’s face. “I’m glad. Mother isn’t too good with children.”
Mrs. White removed a pin from her mouth. “Yes, I noticed. Your mother and I went to school together way back in the dark ages. She wasn’t good with people then either.”
Peyton cringed. She could only imagine how her mother had probably treated Mrs. White.
When they finished pinning the dress, Peyton and Ashley crossed the road to The Ice Cream Parlor. “Hey, sugar,” Peyton cried when she saw her sweet nephew licking a chocolate covered ice cream cone. “Do you feel better now?”
Griffin nodded and smiled at Peyton, but he reached for Ashley and accidentally smeared Eleanor’s new silk blouse with sticky ice cream. “Oh, Griffin!” Their mother’s piercing cry reverberated around the room, causing several people to look their way. “Look what you’ve done!”
Ashley grabbed a pile of napkins and tried to wipe the spot off her mother’s arm, but the chocolate wouldn’t budge. “I’m sorry, Mother. I hope the blouse is washable.”
“It isn’t, but never mind that. I take it you got the dress pinned.”
“Yes, I did.” Ashley paused to wipe Griffin’s sticky hands. “Mrs. White promised we’d have it by the end of the week.”
Eleanor sniffed. “I hope so, but she never was too reliable. That’s why I wanted to come today. I wanted her to understand how important it is for the dress to be finished on time. The wedding’s in two weeks. If you’re going to be in it, you need the dress.
Peyton rolled her eyes, and Ashley bit her lip. “We’d better go, Mother. Griffin’ll be getting hungry soon.”
“Hey, how about a burger for dinner?” Peyton exclaimed, remembering that Ashley had had to work today and was probably tired.
Eleanor frowned. “You’re supposed to have dinner with Drew’s grandparents.”
“Oh, I can…”
“You go home and get ready, Peyton. You and Ashley can have a burger later.”
Eleanor picked Griffin up and carried him to Ashley’s car, leaving Ashley and Peyton to trail along in her wake. “Sometimes I’d love to choke her!” Peyton whispered to Ashley, whose eyes sparkled wickedly at the very idea of it.
As her mother drove past a local farmer’s market, Eleanor decided she needed something fresh for dinner. “I’ll drop you off at home first, Peyton. I want you to have plenty of time to get ready for your dinner engagement. It won’t take a minute for me to circle back.”
Peyton sat home alone for all of fifteen minutes before she got bored and decided to go over to Drew’s apartment. He’d said he would pick her up at six, but she wanted to see him now. It would be fun to surprise him.
She skipped outside and got into her car, a dark blue Mini Cooper that she bought for herself after she graduated from Tri State Tech. Drew always said the car matched her eyes, and it did. If she did say so, she had beautiful eyes. She laughed aloud. Drew thought the rest of her looked okay too, especially her long, slim legs. In fact, that’s what he said attracted him to her in the first place.
They had met at a fraternity party two years ago. Peyton’s date, a creep by the name of Josh Pope, got drunk and tried to put the moves on her. It had made her so mad when he wouldn’t take no for an answer that she took off her shoe and beat him until he let her go and ran for cover. She still smiled when she thought about it.
Drew had witnessed the whole thing from the safety of the bar. “Boy, I’d sure hate to make you mad,” he exclaimed when Peyton came to get something to drink.
“Yeah, well, that jerk deserved what he got.”
“How about we leave the party and find something to eat?”
Peyton hadn’t thought she wanted to go off with a stranger, even one who looked like a Greek god come to life, so she cornered her roommate, and the three of them went to an IHOP for pancakes. Drew had called her the next day, and from that time on they had spent virtually all of their free time together.
Her mother loved Drew. His family had both money and social standing, while Eleanor had neither and wanted both.
She did wish her mother had been nicer to Ashley this afternoon, but that was probably expecting too much. Once Ashley got pregnant without the benefit of a wealthy husband, their mother was done with her. Why couldn’t she see a sweet grandson was worth more than social position and money? Griffin was adorable, but it looked as if he’d never have a grandmother who’d love and spoil him.
That dress had looked like a million dollars on her sister. Ashley imbued grace to every movement she made, just like Eleanor, but she was short like their father. Both of them had the same dark chestnut hair, though. Ashley had blue eyes too, but hers were much lighter in color than Peyton’s.
What a beautiful day to be alive! Milford always looked its best in the spring as sunshine flooded the little town with warmth and new life and chased away the chill of winter. Peyton popped a CD into the player and sang along with Garth Brooks. Drew hated country music so even though she loved it, she only played it when he wasn’t around.
As she turned into Drew’s apartment complex, she paused to comb her hair with her fingers before she went in. She had let the windows down to take advantage of the balmy, spring breeze, but it had almost blown her hair away. Oh, well; Drew liked the tousled, casual look.
She got out of her car and strolled down a winding, concrete walkway to Drew’s apartment. To her surprise the door stood open a small crack. Peyton frowned. Did he think robbers would pass by so tempting a target? True, this upscale complex had excellent security, but really!
The living room was deserted, but she heard voices coming from the kitchen. She tossed her purse onto the sofa and went in search of her man. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she froze. Megan Thomas, whom Drew used to date, was with him in the kitchen, and the two of them were hugging each other so tightly it was a wonder either of them could breathe.
Peyton gasped, and when Drew saw her he shoved Megan away, causing her to fall against the stove. “Peyton, I can explain!”
Peyton could hardly speak around the rage that almost choked her. “What’s to explain, Drew? I’m not an idiot. You don’t have to say a thing.”
She spun on her heel and ran from the kitchen with Drew right behind her. “Peyton, wait.” He grabbed her arm and brought her to a stop before she could escape.
“Peyton, don’t! Don’t do this. We’ve been together too long for you to throw everything away.”
Pain penetrated her anger. Did he really think a couple of sentences would fix this? What was she supposed to do? Forget she caught him in Megan’s arms? Peyton bit her lip hard to hold back tears as the reality of his betrayal started to sink in.
Drew was right about one thing. They had been together for a long time. She’d promised her heart and her future to him, and he had promised the same to her, but he had betrayed their love. He had betrayed the shared life she’d expected to have.
She had seen Drew as the best thing that ever happened to her. He was the one who had her back, the one who’d stand between her and the world, but she had been wrong about him.
At that moment, Megan peeked around the corner. The little smirk on her face sent Peyton’s temper soaring.
“I believed in you! I believed in you!” She jerked her arm from Drew’s grip and ran for her car. He and that little heifer deserved each other! Megan had a bad reputation in Milford, and the entire town talked about her. If that’s what Drew wanted, let him have her.

***

Peyton sat up when she heard the front door slam. Great. Her mother had returned. She considered jumping out the window and escaping. Of course her room was on the second floor, but who cared. Maybe if she got lucky she’d kill herself, and no one would ever know Drew had dumped her for Megan Thomas.
She heard Eleanor coming up the steps and braced herself. Knowing her mother, this wouldn’t be pretty.
“Why are you still here?” Eleanor demanded as she burst into Peyton’s room without knocking. “You aren’t even dressed yet. Don’t you know how important this evening is?”
Peyton stared at the wall just below her mother’s left ear. “I’m not dressed because I’m not meeting Drew’s grandparents.”
“Why not? Did they cancel?”
“Let’s just say that Drew should take Megan Thomas to meet them, not me.”
Eleanor frowned. “You’d better tell me what you mean. I don’t like riddles.”
When Peyton told her, Eleanor sank down onto the side of the bed as if she couldn’t stand up any longer. “Sweet goodness! Why now?” she exclaimed. Peyton watched as her mother tried to control her emotions. She seemed to have a harder time of it than usual, but she eventually got her ‘I am your mother, and I know best’ look firmly in place.
Eleanor reached for her hand. “Darling, I know this hurts. I can imagine what you must be feeling right now, but truthfully, this isn’t the end of the world. Megan Thomas gets her reputation honestly. I’m sure the entire thing is her fault.”
“I saw her in his arms.”
Eleanor nodded. “I understand. She undoubtedly offered, and Drew gave in to temptation this once, but he loves you, Peyton, not Megan. Go and call him, and give him a chance to apologize. I’m sure he’ll never do a thing like this again.”
Peyton’s bitter anger subsided as she stared at Eleanor. Could her mother possibly be that naive? “You can forget it. Drew and I are through.”
Eleanor smoothed the fat fringe on one of the decorative pillows on Peyton’s bed. She sounded calm and composed. “You’re not thinking with your head. A marriage to Drew is a dream come true for a girl like you.”
Peyton bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean, a girl like me?”
“A girl with no money, no family, and no prospects.”
“Gee, thanks, Mother.”
“Be sarcastic all you want,” Eleanor shot back, “but if you want an easier life than I’ve had, get off this bed, and let Drew make it up to you.”
“Why would he want to make up with me?” Peyton sniffed. “As you’ve pointed out, I’m not exactly the kind of woman you’d expect Drew to be interested in. You remember; no money, no family, and no prospects.”
Eleanor turned a cold eye on Peyton. “I’ve done a lot for you. I scrimped and saved and did without so you and Ashley could have opportunities I never had. You owe it to me to marry Drew.”
Peyton’s mouth fell open. “I refuse to discuss this anymore. This is my life we’re talking about. I’m not a bargaining chip in a marriage market to ensure your future.”
Eleanor’s hands clenched. Her face looked so angry that Peyton shrank back into the pillows. “Oh, you refuse, do you? What’s wrong? Are you ashamed of your selfishness? I’d counted on you and Drew to be there for me in my old age. Huh! Ashley sure can’t. She couldn’t even manage to get herself a husband before she got her baby.”
“Let it go!” Peyton cried. “I’m sick of hearing you talk trash about Ashley.”
With a suddenness that stunned Peyton, her mother grabbed her and shook her until her hair tumbled around her shoulders. “Don’t ever speak to me in that fashion again!”
The ringing of the doorbell brought Eleanor to her feet. “You remember what I said. I’ve got a lot invested in you, and I have no intention of losing Drew to a hussy like Megan Thomas.”
She strode from the room, leaving Peyton too shocked to even cry. A moment later Eleanor called from downstairs, “Peyton, Drew is here to see you.”
What now? What should she do? Peyton pressed her hands against her burning face. She didn’t want to talk to Drew, but stunned by her mother’s attack, she called, “I’ll be down in a minute.”
She ran into the bathroom and splashed cool water on her hot face, careless of the makeup that she had so carefully applied earlier in the day. Her mascara dribbled down her cheeks like black tears. Staring at herself in the mirror, she swiped at the streaks with the backs of her hands. Great. Now she looked like a raccoon. She’d die before she let Drew know how badly he had hurt her, so with hands that trembled she snatched a washcloth from the linen closet and scrubbed her face. She hated Drew, she hated Megan Thomas, and she hated her mother most of all!
With her head held high, she descended the stairs to find Drew and her mother waiting for her in the living room. She paused for a moment to listen when she heard Drew’s contrite sounding voice. “Mrs. O’Malley, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I don’t know how I could do such a thing. She came over, and…I am so sorry.”
Peyton clenched her teeth as Eleanor patted his shoulder. “I understand. You don’t have to say anything else.”
“I feel…”
He broke off when he saw Peyton standing in the doorway and rose to his feet. “Could I talk to you for a minute?”
Eleanor smiled at him. “I’ll leave you two alone to talk.” As graceful as any ballerina, she left the living room and shut the door behind her.
Peyton retreated as Drew reached for her hand. She’d throw up if he touched her now. “Why did you come here, Drew?”
“To explain. Honey, you’ve got to believe me. I…don’t…I don’t know why I did it. She just showed up at the door, and…”
Peyton threw her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to hear the dirty details.”
“I love you, honey. You’re the woman of my dreams. I’d never do anything to hurt you. Please tell me I haven’t wrecked everything. Don’t let my mistake ruin things for us.”
Peyton turned her back on him and moved to the window to put a little more distance between them. A pretty cardinal landed on the bird feeder. He flashed his wings at a female who moved aside for him to eat. “We don’t have anything to say. Go home and leave me alone.”
Drew didn’t go. He joined her at the window and pulled her stiff body into his arms. “It doesn’t have to ruin anything, baby. Don’t you know how much I love you?”
Ice dripped from Peyton’s voice. “Actually, I don’t.”
“Well, I do, and you know it. Please, sweetie, don’t do this. Everyone expects us to get married. Your mother likes me, and my folks like you. Don’t let one mistake screw up our future.”
Yes, Eleanor certainly liked Drew. Peyton remembered what her mother had said. Eleanor had raised two children without a father to help her; Peyton knew how hard her mother had worked for her and Ashley. She bit her lip. Maybe she did owe it to Eleanor to marry Drew. He certainly seemed sincere when he said he was sorry. Maybe Megan really was to blame. She’d give anything to think so.
Her chin went up. “I’ll think about it, but I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank God! I love you, Peyton; you won’t be sorry that you gave me another chance. Uh…you don’t still want to have dinner with my grandparents do you?”
“No.” Ugh, she’d rather die than sit through dinner with him.
“I’ll make your excuses and reschedule dinner.”
“I didn’t say I’d still marry you,” she snapped, resisting the urge to slap his handsome face.
“No, but, baby, I have to believe you will.”
He attempted to kiss her, but Peyton pushed him away. If he tried to kiss her she’d barf all over him. Thankfully, Drew accepted her rebuff. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Don’t bother.
The minute he let himself out the door, Eleanor joined Peyton. “You did well. I knew you’d do the right thing. You’ve always been my good girl.”
Peyton pressed the tips of her fingers between her eyes where she’d developed a massive headache. “You eavesdropped on us.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I had to make sure you didn’t make a mistake you’d regret.”
What would her mother have done if she had told Drew to get out and never speak to her again like he deserved? Probably throw her out of the house like she did Ashley when she had Griffin. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to my room.”
“Of course. Can I get you anything?”
“No, nothing.”
Eleanor leaned over and kissed Peyton’s forehead. “You did the right thing. You go and rest now. You’ll see; you did the right thing.”

****

“You’re an idiot,” Ashley bluntly informed Peyton as she took a bite of the chocolate chip cookie Griffin had rejected. “You know he cheated on you with Megan Thomas, but you’re letting Mother bully you into marrying him anyway.”
Peyton sighed as she shifted Griffin in her arms and tried to find a more comfortable position in Ashley’s old, broken down recliner. She loved that little boy almost as much as Ashley did. He had come running down the sidewalk to meet her when he saw her car stop in front of Ashley’s apartment, and they had played until he finally ran out of energy and climbed into her lap for a little nap. “Drew’s sorry. He didn’t mean to do it, but Megan…”
Ashley snorted. “Save it for somebody who doesn’t know better. You’re doing this because of Mother. Did she give you the old ‘I’m depending on you’ speech?’
Peyton squirmed in her chair. “Well, she is, and no matter what you say, you know how hard she worked to give us a good life.”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “I don’t think she deserves any special credit for that. Parents are supposed to take care of their children.” She gave a bitter, little chuckle. “Anyway, look how she’s treated me and Griffin. Oh, yeah. She has our best interests at heart, doesn’t she?”
Peyton couldn’t deny it. Once Ashley got pregnant Eleanor had washed her hands of her. Their mother could have made Ashley’s life a whole lot easier if she had wanted to. Instead, she left Ashley to fend for herself. With a small child and no education, Ashley hadn’t had an easy time of it.
Peyton indicated the butter yellow bridesmaid dress that hung in the doorway to Ashley’s bedroom. “Does your dress fit okay?”
“All right, Peyton. I’ll drop the subject, but I intend to bring it up tomorrow and every day after that until you see reason. Yeah, my dress looks fine. Mrs. White told me she could cut it off after the wedding and make a regular dress for me if I wanted.”
Peyton nodded. “That’s exactly why I picked it. It isn’t fussy and doesn’t have sequins and junk on it.”
Ashley smiled, looking very much like the little girl Peyton had loved from the moment her mother returned from the hospital with a bundle wrapped in pink. “I appreciate it, too. I’ve been dying for something new, but I haven’t had the money to waste.”
She knew Ashley hadn’t exaggerated. When she and Drew got married, she intended to help Ashley as well as her mother. Ashley had planned to study small business management until she got pregnant because she had always dreamed of owning an inn. Not a motel, an inn. Months ago she and Drew had agreed they’d help Ashley financially until she finished school. Yeah, she had plenty of reasons to marry Drew.
Peyton stood up and passed Griffin to his mother. “I’ve got to go. Drew and I are having dinner with his grandparents tonight.”
“Won’t that be fun?” Ashley scowled at Peyton. “Old Mr. Hamilton is nothing but a pervert.”
“Why would you say a thing like that?” Peyton pulled on the pretty eyelet jacket she had bought to wear with her jeans. “You know he isn’t a pervert.”
“I think he is. He brought his car to the car wash, and while he was paying me, he asked me if I’d care to go out with him.”
“Then I guess he thought you were pretty,” Peyton retorted, but inwardly Ashley had shocked her. Mr. Hamilton had always treated her like a lady. She wouldn’t have dreamed he’d go around making dates with young women behind his wife’s back.
Actually, a lot of things had shocked her lately. I guess it’s best not to think about it. I’ll feel better if I don’t.