Do you love the cover for my upcoming novella? The Music of You and Me will be included in the Authors of Main Street Christmas Box set. I love this story. You may not have noticed this, but not too long ago, I had a paradigm shift with my books (and life.) I decided I wanted to help people. And to do that, I started addressing real-life issues that I saw around me and created characters who have to deal (hopefully in healthy ways) with those issues. Does that mean I'll abandon paranormal elements? No, because I think life can be extremely "magical." Does that mean my books will be heavy rather than light? I hope not. That would be a drag to write let alone read.
But my hope is that more than one reader will relate in a profoundly personal way to a crisis one of my characters is facing...although, the book now brewing in my head involves a billionaire with amnesia. Of course, it's basically wish-fulfillment, but it will be super fun to write. But it will also include ridiculously over-protective brothers. If you have experience with ridiculous brothers, please let me know. I'd love to chat about it.
Here's the first chapter of the Music of You and Me. It will be in the released in the box set in November and I'll publish it in December.
This is my future. Tara set her suitcase on the porch of her Uncle’s craftsman style home and gazed at the front door. Her feet froze on the bottom step. Her knees locked. She tried to coax herself forward, but remained rooted, frozen in place.
“Darling,” her Uncle Will called from inside the open doorway, “come on in! What’cha waiting for?”
After his urging, Tara planted a smile on her lips, picked up her suitcase, and pushed her way across the porch.
Uncle Will shuffled through the darkened foyer and opened the screen door to welcome her in. Reaching for her bag, he took it from her before giving her a one-armed hug.
Tara pulled away as soon as it was polite to do so. “Where’s Auntie Darrel?” Her nose wrinkled from the cooked cabbage smell coming from the kitchen.
“Still at the dad-burned school. Since they started rehearsals for the fall play, I hardly see hide nor hair of her.” He nodded sagely. “She’ll be right glad to see you.”
“I’m not really sure how much help I can be,” Tara said, apprehension fluttering in her belly at the thought. She had been home-schooled so a private ritzy school like Canterbury Academy both fascinated and terrified her.
Uncle Will squeezed her arm reassuringly. “You’ll be fine. It’s more about herding cats than teaching music.”
Tara nodded and tried to look buoyed up by his words. Uncle Will shared her disorder, so he should understand her concerns, but since he worked the farm for his living, his interaction with the outside world was very limited. Which was just the way he liked it.
And that was the just the way Tara planned on living, too. She followed Uncle Will up the stairs that led to the guest bedroom. He climbed slowly, his breath labored, making her wonder how long he’d be able to dedicate the long hours the farm demanded. Auntie Darrel worked at the school teaching music and acting as the nurse, but Tara didn’t know if that income alone could support her aunt and uncle. She felt a twinge of guilt and promised herself that she wouldn’t contribute to their financial burdens. She prayed that she’d be able to help, rather than hurt. But given her condition, she didn’t know if that was a prayer Heaven could answer. Especially since Heaven had ignored her prior pleas for help.
Uncle Will dropped her bag in the doorway of the guest bedroom and brushed his hands on his overalls. “Take all the time you need to settle in. I better get back to picking the apples. If I don’t, the deer will do it for me.”
“Thanks, Uncle Will, I’ll come and help you.” She looked longingly at the crazy quilt on the bed. “I don’t need to settle in.”
“Nope. I promised your aunt that I would get you behind the piano first thing. I’m under strict instructions that you’re not to be out in the yard…with me. You’re to learn the music pronto.” He turned to leave. “The score is on the dresser,” he said over his shoulder.
Tara picked up the music and flipped through it. Much like her aunt, the songs were predictable and bordered on boring.
Tara lugged her bag to the closet and pushed it inside. Her case wasn’t very big—not because she didn’t plan on staying very long—but because she didn’t own a lot of clothes. It didn’t take her long to hang up her four dresses, stow her three pairs of pants, five tops, and collection of underwear in the dresser. She placed a framed photo of her mom and her Bible on the nightstand. That done, she sat down on the bed, closed her eyes, and tucked her feet beneath her. As much as she wanted to, she didn’t allow herself to lie down. She breathed in through her nose, pushed away homesickness, and reminded herself of her plan.
Earn enough money working at her aunt’s school to buy her own laptop and then start teaching English to foreign students via the internet. She only hoped that the light from the computer wouldn’t trigger episodes.
Liam Grant pulled his Ford 150 down his Gram’s bumpy drive. The scent of burning brush that always reminded him of this time of year hung in the air. He parked near the barn, shut off the engine and climbed out. The tinkling from a piano escaped the windows of the neighboring farmhouse. In the distance, a man in overalls pulling a wagon plucked apples from gnarled trees. Liam tried to place the music, it sounded like a familiar tune, but—like the trees—twisted somehow, as if the pianist had chosen a familiar tune and had decided to change it.
He closed the truck’s door and went to find his gram and her cat, Ragamuffin. A once white picket fence surrounded the gray-blue farmhouse and kept the daisies as well as the chickens in the yard. Ragamuffin perched on a branch of a maple tree and stared down her nose at him.
“You look fine to me,” Liam said. “What’s wrong with you now?”
Gram banged through the back door. “Don’t you be fooled by him,” she told Liam. “He might be acting all la-dee-da, but he’s not eating his kibble.”
Since Gram called him at least once a week to come out and check on Ragamuffin’s health, the cat’s lack of appetite didn’t worry Liam. He suspected that the frequent house calls had more to do with his gram’s loneliness than with the cat’s well-being.
A warm cinnamon smell wafted through the open door. Apple pie. If Liam wasn’t careful, Ragamuffin’s lack of appetite would make him fat.
Liam nodded at the neighbor’s house. “Sounds like a musician moved in.”
Gram huffed. “That racket has been going on day and night ever since that scrap of a girl got here.” She held the door open for Liam and he followed his gram through the mudroom to the kitchen. A pie sat on the counter. Steam escaped through the lattice crust. His stomach rumbled just from looking at it.
“Ragamuffin?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“He’ll come in when he’s done with his adventures,” Gram said. “We might as well enjoy ourselves until then.” She slid him a glance. “Do you want ice cream with your pie?”
Did she really need to ask? “Always. But here, let me get it.”
She pushed him aside before selecting a knife and slicing up the pie while Liam went to the freezer and pulled out a container. His shoulders screamed a complaint while he scooped up the ice cream.
Gram must have noticed, because she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing much,” Liam said after he placed a scoop of ice cream in a bowl. “I helped deliver a colt this afternoon.” He had spent almost an hour with his arm inserted into the back-end of the mare and this hadn’t been pleasant for any of them. He flexed his hand, grateful it still worked.
“Where’s Teague today?” Gram asked as she took a seat in the ladderback kitchen chair and poised her spoon above the pie.
“With his mom.” Liam couldn’t help it, he moaned in pleasure as soon as the pie crossed his lips.
Gram made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and snort. “What about school?”
“He’s having a hard time,” Liam admitted. “Eva wants to send him to a private school, but—”
“And where would that be?” Gram huffed.
“Exactly,” Liam said. “I’m not willing to give up custody just so he can attend—”
The sound of drums interrupted his sentence.
“What in the tarnation?” Gram bounced to her feet and went to the window. She pulled back the lace curtain and stared through the window at the neighboring farmhouse. “I have had just about enough of this!” She rested her ample butt against the kitchen counter and pushed her hand through her gray curls. “All this noise has upset my girls.”
“The chickens,” Liam murmured.
“They’re so distraught, they’re molting! The yard looks like there’s been a pillow fight and the pillows lost.”
“All chickens molt in the fall. Are they still laying?”
“Yes, but…you should see that child. Pale, skinny as a broomstick with a shock of bright red-hair. She looks like a walking cherry tootsie pop!”
Liam continued eating his pie, amused by the thought of a tootsie pop playing the drums.
“Will you go and talk to her? Tell her she has to take it down a knot or two?”
“Why me?” His gram had never been shy.
“You know Darrel hates me.”
“Mrs. Poole hates everyone,” Liam said.
“But she especially hates me, and if I tried to suggest that her niece stop her infernal noise, I just know the woman would be urging the chit to ramp it up.”
“You’re being silly.” Liam licked his spoon, sad that he’d taken the last bite.
“No, I’m not. I need you to go over there and talk to her…the niece, not Darrel.”
Liam set down his spoon. “My visit had nothing to do with Ragamuffin, did it?”
Gram blushed. “Just go over there and speak to the girl. I’m sure she won’t be as difficult as her terrible aunt. Please ask her to close her windows when she practices.”
Liam rolled his eyes, but he didn’t dare say no. His endless supply of baked goods depended on his staying in his gram’s good graces.
An avocado orchard and a couple of split rail fences separated Gram’s property from the neighbor’s. The music stopped before Liam even got halfway through the trees.
He knocked on the door and peered through the window. The piano stood in a shaft of sunlight. He couldn’t see the drums. Maybe they were set up in the barn. Thinking that that was where he put a set of drums, he went in search of them and the girl that may or may not look like a cherry tootsie pop.
“Can I help you?” The man he’d spied earlier in apple trees stopped him and ran his gaze over him.
“I’m Doctor Grant.” Liam extended his hand and the man took it. His hands were calloused and his skin weather-beaten. His thin hair blew about in the breeze. “My grandmother sent me to ask if whoever is playing could turn down the volume, she and her chickens would really appreciate it.”
The man didn’t respond but stared at Liam with cold eyes, one of which wasn’t looking directly at him. “Her chickens?”
“Yes. They don’t like the noise. They’re molting.”
“All chickens molt this time of year.”
“Could I speak to your niece?”
“No.” The man turned on his heel and strode away.
Tara trailed after her aunt through the school’s parking lot.
“This is a very prestigious academy,” Aunt Darrel said over her shoulder. “These girls are all from very wealthy families.”
“All of them?” Tara tried to swallow down her fears.
“Well, there are few here on scholarship,” Darrel admitted. “But my point is, our productions are always top-notch!” She sucked in a deep breath. “Or at least, they always were in the past.” She shook her head. “But now, we have a new English teacher.”
“You don’t like her?” Tara asked in a hushed tone.
“She’s just not cut out for the school! I honestly don’t know how she got this job!”
“If you don’t think she’s qualified, then what am I doing here?”
Aunt Darrel swiveled and pointed her finger at Tara’s thin chest. “You’re the finest pianist I know—and that’s saying a lot, because I know a lot of people! You don’t need a Ph.D. to accompany a children’s choir! You need musical talent and you have that in abundance. But—” Aunt Darrel hesitated.
Aunt Darrel wrinkled her nose. “I heard what you were doing to the songs. I think it’s best to keep them simple, don’t you?”
“It’s Alice in Wonderland. I thought the score could use some…jazzing up?”
Aunt Darrel shook her head. “With these girls, it’s best to keep things uncomplicated.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Believe me, they don’t want to think too hard.”
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be harder, just more fun.”
“No.” Aunt Darrel pushed her way through the wide double doors of the building bearing a sign that read Humanities Hall.
Hundreds of lockers lined the walls. Tara peeked in the small windows of the classroom doors at the students sitting at the desks as she trotted after her aunt. Tara had finished high school at sixteen and college, via the internet, at twenty. So, she’d be older than the girls, but she guessed she would be smaller than most of them.
She reminded herself that her brusque aunt would be issuing the orders and keeping the girls inline. If Tara kept her head down, no one need know she was hiding behind the piano.
“That went as well as can be expected,” Aunt Darrel said at the end of the day.
Tara, still rooted behind the piano, felt the tension between her shoulders begin to ease as the last of the girls filed from the auditorium. She envied them their giggles and whispers. She’d had a few friends from church, her choir, neighbors—but most had left Simi Valley for college or careers.
Darrel gathered up the sheet music and placed it in a plastic crate on top of the piano. Tara added the score to the collection. She caught the whispers of the owner of the school, a stunning but middle-aged brunette, and the English teacher/play director, a tall, willowy blond coming from the orchestra pit. Darrel had introduced her to them earlier, but Tara had already forgotten their names.
As she followed her aunt down the now deserted hallway, her head swam with the music and the potential for change, even though Darrel had asked her not to modify or embellish it in any way, she couldn’t help herself. If the alterations were subtle, there was a good chance that Darrel wouldn’t even notice.
To get from Humanities Hall to the parking lot, they had to cross the quad. The fading sun hovered on the tops of the distant foothills. The giant oaks cast long shadows across their path. A man stepped out from behind a building. Even though he wore mud-caked jeans, boots, and corduroy jacket, something about him told her he wasn’t a laborer, but because of his casual, and filthy appearance, she also knew he wasn’t a faculty member. He was Cary Grant-handsome and when his brown eyes met her gaze, she flushed.
He smiled as if he knew her.
Tara hurried after her aunt and slipped into the Dodge Stratus. “Who was that man?” Tara whispered as soon as Darrel got into the car. It smelled faintly of over-ripe apples despite the fact that Darrel kept her car spotless and bare.
“That man—” She nodded in his direction, but he had disappeared. “Never mind,” she said out loud with a sigh, reminding herself of her vow.
Aunt Darrel cut her a sideways glance and put the car into gear.
“Auntie, how long after you met Uncle Will did he tell you about his epilepsy?”
Darrel pulled the car out of the school parking lot and headed for the road that led to the tiny town of Oak Hollow. “We grew up together. He didn’t have to tell me. I saw it for myself.”
“And it didn’t frighten you?”
“Of course, it did. It’s a terrifying thing.”
“But you still married him.”
Darrel rolled her eyes. “We’re all packages, girlie. Every one of us comes with good parts and bad. If I wanted the good parts of Will, I had to be okay with the parts that frighten me.”
“And you were okay with not having children?”
“I work with children all day long. It’s enough.”
“You’re special.” Tara knew that most people found her aunt difficult, but Tara’s heart warmed toward her.
“Someday, you’ll find someone special, too,” Darrel predicted.
“No,” Tara said with conviction. “I’m married to my music.” She smiled and echoed her aunt. “It’s enough.”
Darrel pinned Tara with a hard stare. “Now girlie—”
A large brown bear wandered on to the road.
Darrel returned her attention to the road and slammed on her brakes. The car skittered to the gravel shoulder and went into a tailspin. The bear yelped as the front bumper connected with him and sent him flying.