Authors: Ruth Logan Herne
“Interesting turn of phrase,” Jeff replied.
“A trait I'm trying to change.” Tonight, a part of her longed to embrace change.
“Let's eat.” He drew her chair out, a gentlemanly gesture, then sat in the chair opposite her.
Hannah flushed. “You could have sat over here.” She indicated the chair to her right.
He smiled. “If you'd preferâ¦”
“Not what I meant and you know it.”
The smile deepened. “I'm good here for the moment. The extra space gives me a buffer zone.”
This time Hannah smiled. His teasing look was tinged with a hint of compassion, just enough to help calm the encroaching waves within.
She wanted new memories. New chances. New beginnings. Isn't that why she'd come to Jamison in the first place?
You came here to hide. Nothing more, nothing less.
Then she wanted to stop hiding.
Waiting Out the Storm
Made to Order Family
Born into poverty, Ruth puts great stock in one of her favorite Ben Franklinisms: “Having been poor is no shame. Being ashamed of it is.” With God-given appreciation for the amazing opportunities abounding in our land, Ruth finds simple gifts in the everyday blessings of smudge-faced small children, bright flowers, fresh baked goods, good friends, family, puppies and higher education. She believes a good woman should never fear dirt, snakes or spiders, all of which like to infest her aged farmhouse, necessitating a good pair of tongs for extracting the snakes, a flat-bottomed shoe for the spiders, and the dirtâ¦
Simply put, she's learned that some things aren't worth fretting about! If you laugh in the face of dust and love to talk about God, men, romance, great shoes and wonderful food, feel free to contact Ruth through her website at www.ruthloganherne.com.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when
they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from
anger and turn from wrath; do not fretâit leads
only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those
who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
This book is dedicated to Melissa Endlich, whose patience
and rolling pin have proven necessary on more than one
occasion. Your continued confidence blesses me abundantly.
And to Amanda, Seth, Lacey and Karen, four wonderful
high school teachers who've worked the front lines of
adolescent development. God bless you guys!
Wonderful teachers are never forgotten.
Special thanks to Mrs. Fenlon (now Mrs. Steiner),
Sr. Mary Cordis, Sr. Mariel (deceased), Sr. Natalia,
Mrs. Bagley and Thomas Dowd. I'm grateful for your
encouragement and kindness. And to Alice McCarthy,
my Girl Scout leader, who became a stand-in at every
parental function. Alice, thank you for treating an abnormal
situation with sweet normalcy. God blessed you with
a generous heart and I thank you for the times you sat
with me, accompanied me and covered my “dues.”
There's a special place in heaven for people like you.
Special thanks to Mandy for traipsing the hills of Allegany
with me, taking the time to meet perfect strangers with a
smile and a handshake. Weren't those sheriffs adorable???
To Beth and Jon for their constant help in so many ways.
To Matt and Karen and Seth and Lacey for their
continued support and help. And to Zach and Luke
who advise from afar and take the couch so I can
have the bed when I visit them. You guys rock.
To the Seekers, www.seekerville.blogspot.com.
Your light shines for so many. I'm blessed to have you
in my life. Audra, thanks for the read. You rock. Andrea,
for the steady belief for so many years.
And especially to Dave for his continued love and support.
He makes a mean tuna fish sandwich! Love you, Dude.
eff Brennan stood slowly, facing his illegitimate half brother, their gazes locked, a silent war of wills waging in their squared-off stature. Nice to see that twenty years of separation had changed absolutely nothing. “What do you want, Matt? What are you doing here?”
Matt Cavanaugh didn't match Jeff's caustic tone, but then he'd always had a way of wriggling out of things right up until he nearly cost Katie Bascomb her life. He did cost her a leg, but guys like Matt didn't worry about things like consequences. Ever.
Matt leveled a firm look at Jeff, not cringing. Not asking forgiveness. Not apologizing for all he'd put the family through two decades back. Which meant he might need to be punched. And with the current demands and conditions of Jeff's job as the chief design engineer for Walker Electronics, his business partner Trent Michaels called away for life-threatening family illness and the in-house rush to nail down a mobile surveillance system designed to keep an eye on threatened American borders, Jeff was ready to duke it out with just about anyone.
Throw in the matching funds library project his grand
mother and CEO threw at him an hour ago, and Matt had no idea how close he was to risking his life.
Jeff swallowed a growl, glanced down, then up. The look in Matt's eyes said he might just be getting it, but on an already bad day, the last thing Jeff wanted or needed was the long-awaited showdown with his lawbreaking half brother. “I said, what do you want?”
Matt raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I'm in town to scout out some possible work. I'm a housing contractor now, and I didn't want to blindside you or anyone else in the family by running into you in the street.”
“You've grown a conscience?” Jeff's hands tightened. His skin prickled. The hairs on the nape of his neck rose in quiet protest. “Since when?”
Matt didn't answer the question. “I've come to make amends, Jeff.”
“Too little, too late.”
A tiny muscle in Matt's jaw tightened. “You could be right. I hope you're wrong. But I wanted to come here and see you face-to-face. Pave the way.”
“So you're in town looking for work.” Jeff mused over the words, wishing Matt wasn't so calm while he felt ready to jump the desk and settle old wrongs. “Or you're here because Walker Electronics is doing better and you want a piece of the pie.”
Matt swiped Jeff's office a quick glance. “Right. I just now decided to fulfill a lifelong yearning to understand microchips, nanoseconds and satellite-fed communications. Sorry, but that part of our father didn't bleed through to me.”
“No.” Jeff shut his desk drawer with more force than necessary. “You got the drinking, gambling, womanizing and lawbreaking genes. How's that working for you, Matt?”
Matt stepped back. “I didn't come to fight, Jeff. I just wanted you aware. And if you'll point me toward Helen's office, I'll let her know, as well.”
What Jeff wanted was to show Matt the exit in no uncertain terms, but that would label him an even bigger jerk. He hiked a thumb left. “Out the door. Down the hall. I know she's there because we just finished a meeting about a matching fund drive for the Jamison library.”
“Your grandfather's wishes.”
Matt nodded and backed toward the door. “I'm not looking to get in your way down here.”
“You already did.”
Matt acknowledged that with a shrug and a straight-on look. “Those are your issues, then.”
He turned, leaving Jeff with nothing but riled-up memories, twenty years of absence not enough to warrant Matt's presence as a welcome addition.
His grandmother would disagree. Jeff knew that. She'd always seen Matt as a broken soul, a lost kid, a troubled heart.
Whereas Jeff saw a conscienceless user, just like their father.
Long ago, Peter had asked the Lord about forgiving his brother, wondering if seven times was enough. And Jesus said no. Not nearly enough. Which only meant Jeff had some serious work to do if forgiving Matt was added to his already overflowing plate.
egan Romesser's eyes brightened as Hannah Moore walked through the back door of Grandma Mary's Candies on this quiet September afternoon. Quiet equated good in Hannah's book, because she longed to vent loud and long, knowing Megan would listen, commiserate and then tell her to get on with it.
Megan understood the role of a good friend.
But venting would mean explaining why heading up a library fundraising drive with weekly meetings and full immersion into what everyone else considered normal life thrust Hannah into an emotional tailspin. Opening that door meant facing things she'd tucked aside years ago.
If not now, when?
How about never?
Hannah shoved the internal questions aside. If keeping that door closed guarded her mental health, then so be it.
She nodded toward the trays of fresh candy and the wall of boxed chocolates shipped in from Grandma Mary's Buffalo-based factory. “Just being around this much chocolate adds inches to my hips. Why do I work here? To torture myself?”
“To see me.” Megan sent her a quick grin, finished pack
ing an order, then waved toward the back. “New sponge candy in the minikitchen. See what you think.”
“I love the perks of this job. Have I mentioned that lately?”
“Which is why you run voraciously. Nothing sticks on you.”
“A blessing and a curse.”
“Ha.” Megan sent a doubtful look over her shoulder. “Not packing on pounds is never a curse. Bite your tongue.”
“Let's just say I'm not afraid to augment as needed,” Hannah shot back, grinning. “Aiding and abetting my lack of curves.”
Megan laughed out loud. “Seriously, Hannah, the way you look in a dress? In your running gear? Head-turning. Brat.”
“Thanks.” Hannah nipped a piece of fresh sponge candy, closed her eyes in appreciation and breathed deep. “Wonderful. Marvelous. Words escape me.”
“That'll do for the moment. The chocolate is smooth enough?”
“The perfect blend of slightly bitter chocolate to golden, sugary honeycomb. Need any more convincing?”
“I could use you to write my ad copy.” Megan grinned, then turned to answer the wall phone. “Grandma Mary's Candies, Megan speaking. Hey, darlin', when are you coming home?”
Honeymooner talk. Hannah moved into the kitchen, removing herself from the inevitable love-yous and miss-yous of being separated for two whole days.
Right now, the last thing Hannah needed was another reminder of her empty life.
She tried to appear normal. She'd done a morning stint at the library, followed by a mandatory meeting with Helen Walker, CEO of Walker Electronics, which put her into this
current tizzy. Now she would put in four hours of work helping Megan in the family candy store in Wellsville.
Working odd jobs offered a semblance of normal, but normal had disappeared on a rainy afternoon almost five years ago, taking a hefty part of her self-reliance with it.
Pretense worked now. Fake it till you make it, an old sales adage that applied. Only Hannah hadn't gotten to the “make it” part yet. Lately she'd been wondering if she ever would. Perhaps Helen Walker had been right, maybe shouldering this library fundraising task would be good for her. Anything that pushed her out of her self-imposed comfort zone wasn't bad, right?
Depends on your definition of bad,
her inner voice scoffed.
Oh, she knew bad. Been there, done that, had no desire to return. Not ever again. Keeping her responsibilities minimal meant downsizing risk, and that had become her current mantra.
“Yes?” She poked her head around the corner, then shifted her attention to the phone. “You done with lover boy?”
Megan laughed. “Yes, but he's not coming home until tomorrow. Problems with staffing at the Baltimore store. Wanna do a movie tonight?”
Hannah shook her head. “Too nice to stay inside. What about walking the ridge?”
Hannah smiled as she weighed sponge candy into one-pound boxes. “Promise.”
“I'm in. You're okay on your own here?”
Hannah glanced around the empty store. “Fine. You're leaving?”
“Just for a bit. Ben needs a ride home from the restaurant.”
Ben was Megan's developmentally challenged younger brother who lived in a group home a few blocks from the
store. “You go get Ben. I'll do quality control on the sponge candy. And maybe the caramels, as well.”
“Can't be too careful.” Megan paused and gave Hannah a quick hug on her way out. “Are you okay?”
“Fine. Why?” Steadying her features, Hannah glanced up.
“You seem a little off.”
“I'm a girl. That happens, doesn't it?”
“Hmm.” Megan didn't look convinced. “If you need to talkâ¦”
“Which I don't.”
“Even so.” Megan gave Hannah a look, her expression unsure. “If you do, I'm available.”
“I know.” Hannah turned her attention back to the task at hand, shoulders back, feet firm. “I appreciate it.”
“Well, then.” Megan sounded dubious but she'd never delve. More than Hannah's friendship, she respected her right to privacy, a wonderful plus in this age of girlfriends-know-all.
Hannah couldn't afford to have anyone know all. Bad enough she carried that burden on her shoulders. She refused to bring others down. But that weighted the yoke, and with the Allegheny foothills hinting gold and red, fall's beauty carried heavy reminders of love and loss.
The antique bell announcing a customer's arrival provided a welcome interruption. Hannah left the half-filled box on the scale and moved to the front of the east-facing store. A man stood scanning a new display kiosk, a man who'd become distressingly familiar two hours ago. “May I help you?”
Surprise painted his features as Jeff Brennan turned from a corner display. Hannah fought the rise of emotions his expression inspired. In three years she hadn't crossed paths with this man, and now twice in one day?
Obviously God had a sense of humor, because the last person Hannah wanted to be around was a rising young executive, no matter how great he looked in gray tweed, the
steel-and-rose pinstriped tie a perfect complement to the silver-toned oxford. She'd seen enough in the library council meeting to know he was self-confident, self-assured and slightly impatient, a condition that might arise from lack of time or lack of compassion, not that she cared.
His crisp, clean, business-first air had Brian's name written all over it, a CEO in the making, driven and forward-thinking. With the leaves beginning their annual dance of color, thoughts of her former fiancÃ© only worsened matters. She shoved the memories aside, kept her expression calm and stepped forward, determined to get through this library fundraiser somehow, since her library contract allowed her no other choice.
“You've got time to work here, but you're reluctant to help with the new library?” The hint of resentment in Jeff's tone said her lack of enthusiasm was unappreciated in light of Helen and Jonas Walker's sacrifices.
But then Jeff had no idea what dragons loomed in her past as summer faded to fall and kids marched off to school, pencils sharp, their backpacks fresh and new, a world she'd been part of until that dark November day.
She met his gaze, refusing to let the clipped tone get to her. “My library job in Jamison is part-time. Last I looked life was full-time and that includes living expenses. An extra job helps pay the bills since the county couldn't afford more hours in the library budget.”
“And you tutor?”
He'd actually been listening when she'd tried to beg off the fundraising committee earlier, but that shouldn't surprise her. You didn't get to Jeff Brennan's rung on the corporate ladder at thirty-plus without having a working brain. Of course being the boss's grandson couldn't hurt, but somehow she didn't see that happening at Walker Electronics. She slipped on fresh plastic gloves, ignored his question and indi
cated the glass-fronted candy display with a tilt of her head. “Would you like a hand-chosen collection, Mr. Brennan?”
His eyes narrowed, his look appraising once again. She got the idea that Jeff Brennan did a lot of appraising.
Well, he could stuff his appraisals for all she cared.
Feigning patience she waited, a box in hand, letting him make the next move. Which he did.
“Are you free for dinner tomorrow night?”
It took her a moment to register the words, shield her surprise, think of a response and then shelve the comeback as rude, a quality she chose not to embrace.
This is not Brian.
And yet the quick looks, the straight-on focus, the let's get-down-to-business mode pushed too many buttons at once, especially with the distant hills hinting gold behind him.
He angled his head, his eyes brightened by her reaction. Which was really a nonreaction, and he seemed to find that almost amusing.
“I'm not, no.”
“The library is open until eight on Wednesday.”
He sent her an exaggerated look of puzzlement, crinkled his eyes and moved closer, his manner inviting. “You can't eat after eight o'clock? Are you like one of those little aliens that couldn't eat after midnight?”
“Thanks for the compliment. Sorry. Busy.”
“Look, Miss Mooreâ¦”
A smile softened his features; he was probably remembering they'd had this conversation before, like two hours ago in the conference room of Walker Electronics.
“Hannah. Pretty name. It means favored. Or favored grace.”
“And you know this because?”
“I looked it up on my computer when I got back to my office.”
to the list of reasons to avoid Jeff Brennan. Too smooth, too handsome, too winsome with his short curly brown hair, hazel eyes, strong chin, great nose and lashes that girls spent way too much money for.
Hannah flashed him a cool smile, not wanting or needing to dredge up a past best left buried, not this time of year. “You and the wife picking baby names, Mr. Brennan?”
He raised unfettered hands. “Not married, never have been, nor engaged. And dinner is simply so you and I can go into Thursday's meeting on the same page with similar goals, if neither one of us successfully ducks this project. No strings, no ties, no ulterior motives.”
The sensibility of his argument enticed Hannah to accept. Chronic fear pushed her to refuse. She waffled, hating this indecision, longing to be the person she used to be. Strong. Self-motivated. Forceful.
But that was before Ironwood, and nothing had been the same since. She shook her head, needing to decline and hating the cowardice pushing the emotion. “I can't. Sorry.”
He'd tempted her.
She'd telegraphed the reaction as she weighed her response, a quick, vivid light in her eyes, quenched as seconds ticked by. Jeff liked the bright look better, but either way, something about Hannah Moore piqued his interest.
Which made no sense because shy, retiring women weren't his type, although something in her stance and bearing made him think she wasn't as timid as she made out. Perhaps hesitant was a better word, and that only made him wonder what caused the timorous look behind those stunning blue eyes.
And if he couldn't persuade Grandma that his sister Meredith was the better choice to cochair these weekly meet
ings, he had to establish a common ground with this woman. Clearly she shared his displeasure about spending the better part of a year on the project.
Even with her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail for her candy store stint, she was lovely. And cautious, a trait he'd learned to deal with if not love because his mother embraced caution as her middle name. But beneath the carefully constructed and controlled features, he sensed something else.
Right now he needed a cooperative attitude with this whole library business, and since he'd happened upon her here, at the Romesser family's new tribute store, fate was obviously throwing her into his path. Or maybe it was the fact that he needed a box of chocolates for a friend's wife who'd just given birth. Either way, Jeff wasn't about to waste an opportunity. He shifted his attention to the chocolates. “I need a pound and a half of mixed chocolates including cherry cordials, if you don't mind.”
Her face softened, dissipating the glimpse of worry. “Josie O'Meara.”
He laughed, amazed. “How'd you know?”
Hannah leaned forward as if sharing a secret. “She stopped by for one cherry cordial nearly every day until she delivered. It was her way of rewarding herself for being a working mom with a baby on board.”
“That's Josie, all right. Do you know all your customers like that? At the library and here? And the kids you tutor?”
She shook her head as she filled the box, then shrugged. “Yes and no. It's easy because I work at small venues. If they were bigger, it might not be the same.”
Somehow Jeff doubted that. Hannah's soul-searching eyes said she was a woman of marked intelligence.
So why was she working part-time in an out-of-the-way postage-stamp-size library, gilding the lack of pay by boxing chocolates?
She wrapped the box in paper decorated with tiny dino
saurs, perfect for the mother of a brand-new baby boy. “Tell her I packed extra cherry cordials in there from me. And that Samuel is a great name.”
“Samuel was Hannah's son in the Bible, wasn't he?”
Her eyes shadowed, the hint of self-protection reemerging.
“That will be eighteen dollars, please.”
“Of course.” He let the subject slide, not sure how or why, but pretty certain he'd prickled a wound. “And Wednesday night?”
She glanced away, then down.