Authors: Sharon Coady
Copyright 2015 by Sharon Coady
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events that are portrayed in this novel are either used fictitiously or are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events, or locales is coincidental.
Twitter: @srcoady Sharon Coady
Summer of Change, Elizabeth’s Story
Romantic Suspense: Broken Lies
Mavy’s Christmas Miracle
o my mother, Elma Baird: you are my heart, my life, and my inspiration. You have always loved and supported me. You believed in me when others did not. You have always known how much I love you and how much you mean to me. The memories of times we spent together and the special bond we have is something no one can ever take away from either of us. I will always remember how much you love me in return. I love you, Mom. Even when we can’t be together, I will hold you in my heart and you will live there forever.
ulling the curtain back, Rhian looked out the window into the courtyard. The gardens were lightly dusted with an early morning frost and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” played softly on the radio.
I really am going to miss this city while I’m in Italy.
She loved living in Savannah, especially at Christmas. There was rarely any snow but occasionally frost would linger on the trees and branches, giving the streets an almost magical feel.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. She hurried to grab it before the answering machine clicked on. “Hello.”
“Rhian, you have to come quickly. This is Denny, there’s a fire. You have to come!”
Dread washed over her. “What? Denny, slow down. Where’s the fire? What are you talking about?”
“At the restaurant! I’ve done called the fire department and the ambulance. I called as soon as I saw the smoke.”
“Where’s my grandfather?”
“He’s in the ambulance. He ain’t looking too good. He scared me. I’m standin’ by the ambulance. They’re working on him now.” Sobs escaped the man’s throat.
“Denny, I’m on my way. Can you call Daddy for me?” Denny loved her father, and her father could always reason with him.
“I’ll call him now. He’ll know what to do won’t he? Are you coming?”
“Yes, Denny. I’ll be right there.” Her heart pounded as she hung up the phone. Closing her eyes to calm herself, she said a prayer everything would be okay. Then she grabbed her keys and purse and headed out the door.
She sped along the interstate while her thoughts drifted back to the first time she had gone to her grandparents' restaurant. She remembered the pride on her grandfather’s face when they finally opened the café of grandmother’s dreams. He had hand painted ‘Hazel Nut Café’ on the sign out front of the old southern home, nestled amongst gardenia bushes and magnolia trees.
Grandmother had laughed when she saw the sign and playfully hit her husband’s arm. “Harry, are you still calling me a nut for wanting to open this place?”
“No, Hazel. Why would you ask such a thing?” His eyes had been full of mischief. “I couldn’t resist. Now, you tell me what you really want to name it, and I will paint you a real sign.”
“I think the name has already been chosen, dear.”
Rhian pulled herself from the memory and pressed the gas pedal, praying her grandfather would be okay and that her father was on his way.
Oh, please don’t let the café be gone. It’s all I have left of Grandmother.
As she pulled over to the side of the road, her heart sank. Fire trucks were everywhere, lights flashed. People stared as the ambulance pulled away. She parked her car and ran towards the crowd. Tendrils of smoke curled over the roof, the scent of burnt wood heavy and thick in the air. She spotted Denny standing alone, his head down. “Denny, I’m here.”
He opened his eyes and grabbed her in a big hug, pulling her right off her feet. “Oh, thank the Lord. They just took your granddaddy away all hooked up to machines. It scared me.”
“Put me down, Denny!” She grunted. “You’ll break me.”
He set her down carefully and backed up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean no harm.” Denny, a big man more than six-feet tall, had arms larger than Rhian’s thighs.
Denny had grown up in the neighborhood. Her father had hired him as a handyman when his mother died. He quickly turned into a good family friend. Rhian had always loved when he came to visit the café and helped her with her homework. He was always kind and funny, treating her like a princess.
He’d been involved in a car accident a few years ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her family, helpful during his long recovery, moved him into the carriage house on their property and provided round the clock care. She had grown even fonder of him during that time. Though he could not articulate as well now, he was still the smart, kind man she knew before.
She reached out and took his massive hand in hers, “I know you didn’t. You’re scared that’s all. Do you know what happened?”
“No ma’am, I don’t. I came up the street and saw smoke coming from the back of the café. I ran inside and yelled for your granddaddy, but he didn’t answer. I went into the kitchen. I know I’m not s’possed to, but I was worried about him. He was on the floor not moving. I yelled at him again, but he didn’t answer me. So, I called 911. Do you think he is going to be okay?” He fidgeted from foot to foot, wringing his hands.
“I hope so. You did a very good thing today, Denny.” Rhian heard her father call her name, turned, and saw him running through the crowd. She ran to him and threw her arms around his waist. “Daddy, do you think grandfather will be okay? I can’t lose him, too.” She sobbed as she fell against him, her knees almost giving out.
“Rhian, shhhh. The paramedics said he’d be fine. Come on, honey, quiet yourself now,” he said stiffly. “Wipe your eyes.” He took his handkerchief out of his suit pocket and handed it to her. Glaring at the crowd that had gathered, he turned her away from it. “What would your mother say about you making such a spectacle of yourself? Now get yourself composed and we’ll go to the hospital together.”
“I’m sorry, daddy. It’s just I’m so worried about Grandfather. I... ” She stopped talking when she saw the stern look of disapproval on her father’s face. She knew he believed in the old traditions, which is why he was stern and stodgy all the time. Her mother would have understood and expected her to show her emotions. She wished, just once, he could be more like her mother.
“Stop talking nonsense, now. We St. Claires are a tough bunch. You come from hardy stock, so straighten up.” He glanced at the crowd. “Thank you. Everything is all right. Please go on about your business, and give me a chance to speak to the captain.”
Rhian watched the neighbors nod and glance her way, offering a brief smile. She lifted her head and tried to smile back. Catching the look on her father’s face, she knew she would hear more from him when they were alone. She stood in her father’s shadow, as lost as the day her grandmother and mother were buried. Glancing up at the sky, she silently vowed she would soon make her own way in the world—far from here.
As they walked through the remains of the café, Rhian forced herself not to cry. She shoved her emotions down deep and resigned herself to the fact that as long as she lived in this town, she would never be able to show her feelings to anyone. Her father meant well, but he constantly tried to control everything about her life. He had even decided where she would live when she wanted a place of her own. She found out after moving into her apartment, he owned the building and screened anyone applying to live there.
When they got to the kitchen area, she sighed. Nothing was left.
Thank God, Denny came by. Grandfather would have burned to death.
The thought made her tremble, and she couldn’t focus on the conversation between her father and the fire chief.
“Rhian.” She turned when her father raised his voice. “Captain Harris said we should be able to start the rebuild soon. He doesn’t suspect arson, just a case of a grease fire. I’ll put you in charge of overseeing everything here. Keep an eye on the contractor for me while I’m gone to L.A. I’ll let you know as soon as I hire someone for the job.”
Captain Harris spoke up, “There’s a new startup company getting some great word of mouth from people around here. Give me a sec, I think I have a card old man Compton gave me last week.” He took his wallet out of his back pocket and searched through business cards.
Rhian stood patiently while he fumbled through the cards, found the correct one, and handed it to her father. She sighed. He had found another reason to postpone her trip to Italy.
Why does this surprise me?
Every time she tried to do anything for herself, he found some way to prevent her from doing so.
“Here we go. Guy’s name is Kellen Slade. He moved here from somewhere out West. Knows what he is doing, from what I hear.”
If this Kellen was known to be a fair, decent worker then her father would hire him. She only hoped that he was easy to get along with.
Her father motioned her to follow him. She knew “the lecture” about how to conduct herself in public would be next. Rolling her eyes, she walked slowly out the door into the back garden and braced herself for the stern words. She wanted to get it over with and get to the hospital to see Grandfather.
week later, Rhian went to meet the contractor and go over the blueprints for the café. She stopped as she rounded the last bend in the walkway, taking in the sight of Kellen Slade. He leaned over a workbench set up just outside the kitchen door. She figured he was nearly six-feet tall with dark, almost black hair peeking out of his baseball cap. A scruffy growth of beard covered his chiseled face. She could see the muscles ripple under his long-sleeved black T-shirt as his hands smoothed out a large paper in front of him. She looked up at his face and froze. He tilted his head and dark brown eyes took in every inch of her, a smile playing across his lips. She had been caught and embarrassment flushed over her face.
He straightened and walked over to her, his hand extended. “Hey, I’m Kellen Slade. You must be Rhian? Your father hired me to rebuild the café. He told me we’d be working together," he said in a deep, throaty tone.
Rhian took his hand and felt a jolt of heat rush through her; feelings she had never experienced coursed through her. Her knees weakened and warmth flooded through her body.
What is wrong with me?
She quickly released his hand and cleared her throat. “Yes, that’s me. Daddy told me to keep him informed about everything and asked me to work closely with you."
God help me.
“It will be a pleasure. Chief Harris told me how special this place is to your family.” He backed up a few steps. “Why don’t I show you what I’ve come up with? Your father called me earlier. He figured we should update the kitchen area and enlarge it, but he wanted me to run it by you.”
He turned and leaned back over the table as she walked toward him. His cute bum thrust out, and she noticed how tightly his jeans hugged him. When she bent toward him, a gentle breeze stirred the air and his woodsy leather scent hit her nose. She leaned a little closer and took a deep breath.
He turned slightly, his eyebrow raised. “Did you just smell me?”
Her head flew back as if he had slapped her. “What? Why the hell would I do that?” Anger made her nostrils flare, and she stood up quickly. “Are you going to make this difficult for us?”