L.L. Diamond

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It’s a new week! Thank you so much for all of the well wishes for He’s Always Been the One! I’m so excited to finally have it released so you can read it and so I can really get going on what I’ve started writing. 🙂 If you haven’t previewed the first chapters yet, you can read Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, and Chapter 3 here. If you want to follow along with my inspiration board, here is the link to the Pinterest board.

Since this has been a fly by the seat of my pants release, of course I waited until now to have a giveaway! I’ll be giving away 3 Kindle copies of He’s Always Been the One so don’t forget to leave a comment below to enter! If you entered on Austen Variations, you can comment here for a second chance to enter. 🙂 If you didn’t enter at Austen Variations, make sure you click on the link to chapter 3 above to enter there.

 

Chapter 4

I’d just opened my closet on Saturday morning when a sound downstairs made me step back and be as quiet as I could manage. Was that sound what I thought it was? The knock repeated itself as Gram called me from her perch on the sofa. I hurried down the stairs to the front door, wrapping my robe around myself before I glanced through the peephole.

I drew back with a jerk. What was he doing here, and so early on a Saturday?

“Who is it?” asked Gram.

When I opened the door, Elliot smiled and held out a cup of coffee. “Good morning.”

My hand wrapped around the warm cup from Starlight and pulled it closer. “Thanks,” I said slowly. “Did I forget something?”

I’d seen Elliot at the gym twice this week and once at the grocery store. We always talked whenever we bumped into one another. Of course, some days we chatted more than others. Lately, he asked about Gram and Harper, and I’d made sure I’d asked if his license had come through. Nothing was mentioned about dropping by on Saturday morning.

“We’d discussed finishing up the stairs this weekend. I didn’t consider that you might have plans.” His eyes traced over my face. “Based on your hair and make-up, I’d guess something special.”

My hand flew to my hair, which Gram had managed to tame and pull back into a braided up-do. “Jena’s wedding is today. I assumed you were going?”

He shrugged and leaned against the door frame. “I’ve met her, of course, but I don’t know her very well.”

Gram called over from her comfortable sofa corner. “Margaret, where are your manners? Invite the young man inside.”

I stepped back from the door as Elliot peered around me. “Good morning, Mrs. Dashwood.”

“Oh, call me Cora.” Gram’s eyelashes practically batted as she smiled. I barely kept myself from rolling my eyes.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said as I motioned for him step across the threshold. “How are you feeling, Mrs. Dashwood?”

“I’d be much better if Maggie would let me do something around this house. Do you know she won’t even let me load the dishwasher? I can walk well with the walker, but she still won’t hear of it.”

He nodded and stepped over to Gram while I closed the door. “I’m sure you’re capable, but you’ll heal more fully if you don’t resume all of your usual activities right away.”

This time, Gram rolled her eyes and huffed. Elliot’s shoulders shook while his smile grew wider. “How are your physical therapy exercises going?”

“She hasn’t been doing them,” said Harper from the kitchen table. “My mommy was fussing at her for it yesterday.”

My grandmother crossed her arms over her chest and gave Harper a stern glare over her glasses. “Thank you for that.” She turned back to Elliot. “I’d like them better if they didn’t make me sore.”

He sat across from her and propped his elbows on his knees. “Those exercises are meant to strengthen your hip so you don’t injure it again. Am I going to have to come by and make sure you’re following doctor’s orders?”

Gram’s eyes made this slight shift to me. Oh, crap! That woman would love nothing more than to have a handsome man helping with her physical therapy several times a week. I also suspected that she’d use this in an effort to set me up with a man she happens to like. She’d never liked Sawyer, even before we broke up, though she’d never said why.

I gulped hard as he stood from the sofa and my eyes honed in on his toned rear end. I was in big trouble. If my grandmother agreed to his help with her physical therapy, and he wore shorts like he was wearing today, I might have to take a huge bite out of his ass.

“Sweetheart,” said Gram with a wide-eyed smile. That look was one worthy of convincing a priest she’d never sinned in her life. I knew better.

“Yes, Gram?”

“Maybe Elliot could go with you to the wedding.”

Why did I suddenly feel like Samantha in Sixteen Candles when her grandparents insisted she take Long Duck Dong to the dance? “He may not want to go. Besides, I’m not simply a guest. I’m also coordinating everything.”

“I know, but wouldn’t it be nice to have company for the reception?”

“It’s okay, Cora,” said Elliot with a smile. “I think Maggie would rather go on her own.” He lightly rested that fine ass on the back of my sofa while he spoke to me. “What about Harper and your grandmother? Do you have someone coming over for them?”

I crossed my arms over my chest, even though I still held my coffee in my hand. “Gram and Harper will be fine. Mei and her daughter Lu, who’s Harper’s best friend, are coming over around lunchtime to bring them food. Mei said they’d stay for an hour or two so the girls can play.”

“Well, if it’s okay, I’ll work on the steps and the ramp. That concrete should be good and cured by now.”

I sagged back against the door. I couldn’t have him doing manual labor around the house without my help. Just the thought of leaving him here to work made me feel guilty. “Would you like to go to the wedding with me?”

“You don’t have to take me. I’m a big boy, you know.” One side of his lips curved up in this wicked grin. Damn if he wasn’t flirting with me. I certainly hadn’t needed him to point that fact out to me. I’d known he was a full-grown man for a while now.

“I know that. It’s one thing for you to help me with fixing the deck, but I’m not going to leave you to do it on your own. You aren’t slave labor.”

He glanced at his watch. “What time do you have to be at the wedding?”

I stepped around so I could see Gram’s antique clock on the shelf. “Shit! Twenty minutes.”

“Mommy, you have to put a dollar in the swear jar!”

As I shook my head, I pointed at Harper. “I’ll do it when I get home. I have to get dressed and go.”

Before Gram could say a word, I ran up the stairs two at a time and threw on my cornflower blue wrap dress with white flowers. I loved the flowy skirt which worked perfectly for my height when I wore my platform sandals.

I grabbed my purse and booked it downstairs where I slipped on my heels and grabbed my gift from the kitchen table. When I turned, Elliot sat on the sofa, near Gram, sipping his coffee.

“Don’t worry about us, dear,” said Gram with a sly grin. “We’ll be here when you get back.”

I pointed at Elliot and levelled my sternest glare. “Don’t work on the deck without me.” He merely waved me off as I closed the porch door behind me.

Three hours later, I stood on the pavers that made up the patio behind the office. We’d done a lot to the spacious yard in the past few years, adding a gazebo in one corner as well as more potted plants and flower beds. We didn’t have clients use the space often, but it was a great spot for small weddings and receptions when the rare occasion presented itself.

The ceremony had been beautiful. Jena glowed in her ivory satin gown, and Freya, Jena’s niece and Ellie’s daughter, stared at her aunt as though she were a fairy princess.

While I stood to one side with a glass of champagne, Charlie stepped up beside me, rubbing her belly as she did almost constantly these days. “Look at my brother,” she said, flicking her chin in Brandon’s direction. “He hasn’t stopped grinning since he woke up this morning. If his mouth keeps stretching, it’s going to crack his face in two.”

We both giggled while Brandon remained oblivious, twirling his new wife out and back in for a dip. “He’s happy. They both are. At least they’re old enough to know exactly what they want and who makes them happy.”

Charlie’s arm looped through mine. “I don’t think it’s a matter of age. I knew I wanted Jensen, and he knew he wanted me when we were sixteen. We simply had a difference of opinion as to when that was supposed to occur.”

I took a sip of my champagne and swallowed while I watched the bride and groom continue to dance and kiss in the middle of the make-shift dance floor.

“Do you think you and Sawyer were too young?”

“I suppose I wasn’t,” I said. “I just didn’t realize he was. I thought he would be there for whatever was thrown our way.”

“You’ve never told me why you broke up.” Charlie’s voice was soft. “I think everyone simply assumed it was because of Harper.”

“More because I wouldn’t put her up for adoption. After he signed away his rights, he did his best to convince me to do the same.”

“You’ve said enough for me to know you don’t regret it,” said Charlie. “You’re an amazing mother. You work your ass off for her to have whatever she needs. I admire you for it.”

My eyes burned and watered. I wasn’t going to cry! “Thanks.”

Charlie’s finger on her free hand pointed at me. “Don’t you dare start blubbering because I’ll join you before the first tear hits your chin.” Her hand wrapped around to her back and rubbed some more. “Damn if these Braxton-Hicks aren’t killing me today.” She blew out a heavy breath as I shifted around to face her.

“Are you sure they’re false labor?”

“I’m still three weeks away from my due date,” she gritted out through her teeth. “It’s just with the back pain I’ve had for the last month, Braxton-Hicks make me miserable.”

I set down my glass on a nearby table. “Humor me and let’s time them.”

“It’s not labor, Maggie.”

“Like I said, humor me.” After I steered her to a nearby chair, I pulled up another, facing her, and opened the stopwatch on my phone. “Let me know when the next one starts.”

After watching the happy couple for a time, Charlie gripped my free hand. “Mother trucker,” she said, squeezing as though she were trying with all of her strength to amputate my fingers. I touched “start” on my phone but it was the clock that concerned me. It’d only been three minutes since I unlocked my phone.

Her grip let up, and she relaxed when it ended. “I’m so tired. I can’t wait to have him and hold him in my arms instead of him pressing on my sciatic nerve.”

“He’ll be here sooner than you think. I promise. If we didn’t have the swollen feet and uncomfortable parts to make us crazy, we’d want to stay pregnant forever.”

My eyes met Jensen’s. He’d been talking to William, Ellie’s husband, by the bar for a while, though he’d stopped paying attention to William. His forehead furrowed. “Is she okay?” he mouthed.

I shrugged as best I could without Charlie seeing. She’d raise hell if I scared Jensen out of his wits. Right as I turned back to her, she gripped my hand again. I may not have had a perfect time from earlier, but it gave me a close enough time to compare.

As Charlie let up four contractions later, Jensen appeared at her side. “What’s up, buttercup?”

“Dear, Lord,” she said breathlessly. “How much have you had to drink?”

He laughed and kissed her hair. “One glass of champagne. I promise.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, and Jensen lifted his eyebrows in my direction. I’d been using the stopwatch and hitting lap for each contraction, so it listed the times for each gap. He took a deep breath when he saw them, but fortunately, it wasn’t loud.

“How’s our little slugger?” He sat in the chair beside her and flattened his hand against her stomach. When she gripped my hand again, he kissed her temple. “Breathe, Charlie.”

“I’m not in labor.”

“Your last four contractions have been exactly four minutes apart, and your stomach is hard as a rock. We’re going to the hospital.”

“It’s a wasted trip. I don’t want to miss Jena and Brandon leaving,” she whined.

After approximately five minutes of coaxing and another pain, we finally managed to get Charlie’s grumbling surrender, but when Jensen helped her stand, she nearly crumpled in front of him.

“Fuckity-fuck-fuck,” she muttered.

Jensen whispered in her ear while she breathed heavily and leaned against him. “Don’t forget that you aren’t supposed to use that word anymore, Mrs. Worth.”

“Shut the fuck up.” She managed to pant out between breaths.

When the pain subsided, she lifted the bottom of her maxi-dress where a small puddle was now soaking into the stone pavers. “My water broke.”

The next five minutes were a flurry of excitement as Jensen hustled Charlie toward their car while I informed Jena and Brandon as well as the Taylors, Charlie and Brandon’s parents. Jena and Brandon departed not long after, and the rest of the reception didn’t take long to follow.

Greta and I hauled all of the gifts upstairs to Jena and Brandon’s home, which was above our office in that historic brick house. We also locked up once the caterers finished cleaning and the rental company had loaded the tables and chairs.

As soon as I arrived home, I kicked off my shoes and dropped back against the door. “You look exhausted—beautiful but exhausted.”

My eyes shot open to Elliot sitting on the sofa watching Disney channel with Harper, who was more interested in the television than who walked through the door. “Where’s Gram?”

“She’s taking a nap. Working on her physical therapy tired her out.”

“Thanks for helping with that.”

“It’s no bother. She does like flirting, which is something I should get used to with some ladies.”

“Oh, Lord,” I sighed. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”

“Nothing bad. Just some blushing and batting her eyelashes.”

I blew out a loud exhale and stepped into the room, dropping into the sage-colored arm chair. “Well, it definitely could’ve been worse.”

“How was the wedding?”

“Beautiful, except the reception wrapped up a bit early because Charlie went into labor.”

He sat forward and turned more to face me. “Are you serious?”

“As a quadruple bypass. She insisted it was Braxton-Hicks until her water broke.”

With a snicker, he leaned back again. “With that hard head of hers, I’m not surprised. Still, isn’t it a somewhat early?”

“She has three more weeks until her due date. From what I remember, the lungs should be developed by thirty-seven weeks. He should be okay.”

“Good,” he said. “She’s a good friend. I want to see her and Jensen happy. They deserve it.”

“Yes, they do. Mrs. Taylor said she’d call when there was news. I think the entire family followed Charlie and Jensen to the hospital.” I brushed a few curls back from my face. No matter how we pulled it back, my hair always did have a mind of its own.

“Have you eaten?”

I propped an elbow on the side of the chair and supported my head. “I ate a little at the reception before the caterer needed me for something. By the time I’d returned, my plate had been picked up.”

“Your friend Mei left food for you when she came.”

“But then I’d have to get up,” I said with a weak chuckle.

Elliot stood and stepped around the sofa. “If you want, I can heat it up for you while you change.”

I laid my head on the back of the chair as he walked toward the kitchen. “You would do that?”

“Of course.” He walked back and held out his hands. “Come on. Up! Before you fall asleep in your dress.”

My hands tingled like they’d been asleep when his fingers closed around them. After he helped haul my butt out of the chair, I caught his eye. “Just out of curiosity. Why are you still here?”

“Your grandmother kept insisting I stay. I also thought having someone here in the event your grandmother fell again wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”

“They wouldn’t have been alone for long.”

His one shoulder shrugged as he looked down to our hands where they were still joined between us. “I know, and I’m sure they would’ve been fine. I simply didn’t want to take any chances.”

“That’s sweet.”

“No, no, no.” He groaned and shook his head. “A grown man isn’t sweet or cute. He’s ruggedly handsome or hot as hell. Sweet is the kiss of death.”

I rolled my eyes before I rose on my tiptoes and planted a kiss to his cheek. “I happen to like sweet,” I whispered near his ear.

His eyebrows were nearly in his hairline when I pulled back, but I waited until I turned away and was climbing the stairs before I smiled. If only Elliot knew some of the dialogue that rattled around my brain, he might not have been so disappointed in “sweet.”

Hi everyone! He’s Always Been the One is up and running on Amazon. I hope everyone reading is enjoying it. I really adore Maggie, Harper, Elliot, and Cora. I can’t wait for you to get to know these characters. If you haven’t previewed the first chapter yet, you can read that here. If you want to follow along with my inspiration board, here is the link to my Pinterest board. 🙂 So, without further ado, let’s get on to chapter 2!

 

Chapter 2

I’d been languishing in the surgical waiting room since Gram was wheeled into surgery. For the past hour, I’d stared at the muted grey-blue walls that had been paired with that horrible blue, vinyl furniture that adorned nearly every waiting room in existence. The decorator had, no doubt, taken a class on calming colors, yet I still tapped my foot in a frantic rhythm on the floor. I swear time had crawled slower than a herd of turtles while I read and re-read the obligatory signs posted around the room, unwillingly committing them to memory. I blew out a breath and dropped my head to rest on the back of the sofa, putting the heels of my hands on my eyes. I’d tried to read a novel on my phone. My mind refused to cooperate so I was stuck, the practically sterile surroundings closing in on me.

“Coffee?”

My body jolted at the proximity of the low, familiar voice, and I removed my hands to find a coffee cup from Starlight café held in front of me. “How’d you know?”

“I checked in on your grandmother yesterday after my shift. She might’ve mentioned her surgery was today.”

“Oh.” That might’ve explained why Gram had given me that shit-eatin’ grin yesterday. She could be devious when she wanted, though always for a good cause. I had to admit it was hard to stay angry with a five foot nothing elderly lady. She could give you some pathetic eyes capable of guilting even the iciest of hearts when she felt it necessary.

Elliot chuckled, a deep noise that rumbled through me. “She tried to persuade me to smuggle some whisky in for her.”

“Geez, Gram,” I muttered as I took the coffee. “She knows it’s the last thing I’d do.”

“Don’t worry. I told her no. I didn’t want to thin her blood before surgery.”

“Thanks.” I took a sip, waiting for the bite that comes from no milk or sugar of any kind, yet it never came. Instead, the perfect combination of milk, coffee, and hazelnut flavor rolled across my taste buds. “How’d you know?”

“I asked what you usually order. You know Miss Bates has the regulars’ orders committed to memory.”

“I don’t always order the hazelnut.”

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “She claimed you ordered the hazelnut more than any other flavor.”

My eyes traced over his cleanly shaven jawline. I preferred the stubble, but he was still hot. “Do you have to work today?”

“No, I went into the gym earlier to work out, and now I’m here.”

“You didn’t have to come,” I said softly. Shit! I sounded like such a bitch.

“I know. I wanted to.” He dropped into a chair in front of me and propped his forearms on his knees. “Look, Maggie. I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve never really come out and said it before, so I am now.”

“What about Harper?” My fingers tightened around the coffee as everything inside me clenched.

“What about her?”

I took another sip of coffee and rubbed my palm up and down the thigh of my jeans. Darned sweat! “Well, she’s not exactly a guy magnet.”

He frowned and shook his head. “Any guy who makes a kid his excuse is a douche canoe.”

An amused bark burst from my throat. “I agree.” His deep, warm laugh did strange things to my stomach. I closed my eyes, breathing evenly in the hopes it would stop. “I’m very flattered.”

“Mags—”

I held up my hand. “You’re a great guy, but I’ve busted my ass to build a life for Harper and me. I rarely have free time, and when I do, I spend all of it with my daughter and Gram.”

He sat up and watched me with an odd dip of his eyebrows I couldn’t interpret. “Don’t you want to marry some day? Maybe have another child?”

“I fucked up my chance for that,” I said quietly while I traced the letters on my cup with my finger. “I’m happy with the way things are. I’m not ready for them to change.” I might wear out my vibrator in the next six months. A battery-operated boyfriend, however, didn’t have the same demands as a living, breathing man. They also didn’t leave. “I hope we can be friends.”

“As a friend, am I allowed to try to change your mind?”

My head shook back and forth. “I’m not changing my mind.”

He drank from his own cup before his eyes latched back onto mine. “Do I know Harper’s father?”

“No, he doesn’t live in Marysville anymore.” I couldn’t explain how I knew he would ask the history. Most people in Marysville remembered Sawyer from high school. Elliot hadn’t grown up here, so he’d never met him. I suppose it was natural he would wonder. “I started dating Sawyer Crawford when I was sixteen. We stayed together through graduation, and we both decided to attend the College of Charleston. He was majoring in systems engineering, and I was majoring in art. When I learned I was pregnant and refused to have an abortion, he decided he wasn’t ready to be a father. He’d hoped I would give the baby up for adoption. I simply couldn’t do it. I loved her too much. That ended our relationship. Fortunately, his father’s job was moved to Virginia shortly after we started college, so I don’t have to deal with them either.” That little detail was a blessing. His parents had always hated that Sawyer had “taken up” with me. I never knew what they hated about me. I only knew that they never wanted me around. 

“Did you finish school?”

“Harper was born in June, so I was able to finish out my second year; however, even with Gram’s help, I couldn’t imagine trying to finish my degree full-time while being a single mom. For one thing, I needed a job of some kind to support us, and art classes are time consuming. Meanwhile, Gram’s house needed some work, and she was struggling to pay for the repairs on her limited income. In the end, I changed my major to business administration and finished online. I also bartended and waited tables at Mugs in the evenings to pay bills and help out Gram.”

“How did you end up wedding planning?”

“Jena, Charlie, and Ellie put out an ad for an assistant. Harper qualified for Head Start, so I dropped her off at school and Gram picked her up. I still worked at Mugs for nearly a year to save up some money. Tips were always good, so we were able to fix Gram’s house and I was able to buy a decent car.”

“Miss Dashwood?” I looked toward the doctor, who stood a few feet away.

I shot out of my chair and took a step forward. “Yes. How’s Gram?”

“She came through surgery like a champ. She’ll be monitored in recovery for an hour or so before she’s moved back to her room. We’ll need to watch her carefully for leg pain—more specifically thigh pain—for the next few weeks. The nurses should have her sitting up by this evening. Hopefully, we’ll get her standing by tomorrow.”

“So soon?” It sounded more painful than beneficial to me.

“Yes, we’ve found the sooner the better.” The doctor smiled and glanced at the wall clock. “You might as well get something to eat since there’s not much you can do before she wakes.”

“Thank you,” I said, holding out my hand to shake his.

“You’re welcome. From the conversation I had with your grandmother’s primary care doctor, she’ll benefit from this procedure more than a lot of people her age. With a little rehabilitation and physical therapy, she should be able to resume her former lifestyle in time.”

After saying “goodbye,” the doctor walked away while everything in me sort of sagged, a large exhale leaving my lungs in a whoosh.

Elliot twitched his head toward the door. “Come on. Let’s celebrate. I’ll take you to lunch.”

“Friends, Elliot.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Friends take each other out to eat—especially after good news.”

I cocked my head to the side and took stock of the man in front of me. Yes, I was the one who asked if we could be friends, but how much of a friendship could I handle with a man I was crazy attracted to? “Okay, sure. Why not?” Screw it. It was one lunch.

The hospital was on the outskirts of Marysville, though after its construction, a small community of businesses grew around it: a low-priced motel, a florist shop, a few medical supply companies, and a couple of restaurants—no doubt kept afloat by those who worked or convalesced in the hospital. The proximity to the medical complex made matters a lot more convenient.

Elliot led the way into a small place set on a corner. Outdoor seating begged for someone to enjoy warm air and sunshine, yet due to an overnight thundershower, no one braved the grey clouds to eat outside. Inside, a row of booths lined the windows while small tables were spread through the center of the room. A waitress invited us to seat ourselves, so Elliot walked backward for a few steps. “Where do you want to sit?”

“The booth that’s open by the window looks good.” It was still early for lunch, so while the restaurant had patrons, they weren’t packed to the gills yet.

As soon as we seated ourselves, the waitress dropped two menus on the table and took our drink order before bustling away in the direction of the kitchen.

“How long have you been an EMT?”

He relaxed back into the shiny ivory vinyl while he fingered the roll of silverware on the table. “My parents didn’t have the money for me to go to college, so I joined the Army National Guard in high school to become an EMT. I went to school part-time after to complete my bachelor’s degree. Three years ago, I started the physical therapy program at MUSC.”

“Oh, wow,” I said. “How much longer do you have?”

“I finished my coursework and clinicals last month and took my licensing exam two weeks ago. I’m just finishing out my last few weeks on the rig until my license comes in. I already have a job waiting for me.”

“How long will it take for your license?”

“About four weeks.”

“Congratulations.”

He reddened a little and nodded. “Thanks. It’s been a long road, but worth it.”

“Are you still National Guard?”

“I am. Since I’ve finished physical therapy school, I’m now an officer. I’ve only got two more years before I hit my twenty years. I plan on retiring. I paid for physical therapy school myself so I wasn’t obligated to stay any longer.”

The waitress put our drinks in front of us, took our food order, and departed once more.

“You said you were an art major,” he said. “Do you still draw or paint or whatever you did before Harper?”

“I sketched using powdered graphite and a brush, and no. I simply don’t have the time.” I shrugged and sighed. “I hated the classwork for my business degree, but it seemed more practical for a single mom. I love working with the Three Weddingteers because I can stretch those creative parts of my brain that haven’t seen the light of day for so long.”

He laughed and lifted his eyebrows. “The Three Weddingteers?”

I smiled in return. “I made the joke not long after I started working with them. It’s kind of stuck.”

He shook his head. “Who are your art heroes?”

“Art heroes?”

“Yes, who would you love to emulate? What artists speak to you?”

I crossed my arms under my breasts and peered out of the window. “That’s tough. I might not like an artist’s overall work, but one of their works might touch me or impress me with its technicality or emotion.”

“You’re stalling.” He leaned forward and put his forearms on the table.

“I am not.” My tone wasn’t petulant, it was a bit high pitched, incredulous. With a huff, I clenched my arms a little tighter. “Fine. There’s an artist out of Minneapolis named Melissa Cooke. She does these amazing hyper-realistic graphite and brush self-portraits. Some are quirky, some are strange. It’s her ability to make her artwork so life-like is amazing. I also like Alfred Conteh and Amy Sherald, even though their art is very different than mine.

He nodded and clasped his hands, his long fingers wrapping around the backs. I don’t know why they caught my attention. I couldn’t help but watch the way they moved as well as their strength.

“I’ll have to look them up,” he said. “Does Harper share any of your talent?”

“Who said I have talent?”

“You don’t go to art school without being able to draw more than a stick figure.”

I unrolled my silverware and put my napkin in my lap, smoothing it more than once. “Maybe I draw the best stick figures ever.”

He lightly kicked my shoe under the table. “You’ll have to show me those sometime. I’d love to see them.”

The rest of the meal was nice. We chatted about work and our experiences. The only problem was my body hummed like a tuning fork on overdrive the entire time we were together. What was it about Elliot that made my body stand up and shiver? Yes, he was attractive. He had these amazing chestnut curls that I’d never seen neat and tidy. They were always adorably tousled. His hazel eyes stood out from his lightly tanned skin, and when I was lucky, he wore a slight scruff that boosted his appeal even further.

I’d occasionally seen him in workout gear at the gym. I still don’t know how I kept my tongue in my mouth instead of letting it loll around on the floor in front of me. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall flat on my face.

Yes, he was good-looking—no, he was fucking hot—and I knew other good-looking men who didn’t affect me in the same way. Jensen, Charlie’s husband, was known for the way he filled out a police uniform, yet I didn’t have this reaction to him. Jena’s fiancé, Brandon was attractive. Again, nothing when I’d first checked him out. I had no reaction to Ellie’s husband either. Of course, that was a relief. The last thing I needed was to lust after one of my bosses’ significant others!

After we paid the bill, we walked outside, more strolling than moving with a purpose.

“Can I ask you a question?” He watched his feet while we headed back in the direction of the hospital.

“You’ve already asked me several without permission.”

His inhale was audible and uneven as he laughed under his breath. “Touché. I was just wondering about your parents.”

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Where are yours?”

“Mine live in Louisiana. My dad still works part-time at Home Depot to help pay bills, and he’s a handyman of sorts. Mom works for a florist.”

“Is that where you grew up? In Louisiana?”

“I did,” he said with a dip of his chin. “In Covington, which is across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans.”

I watched one foot step in front of the other. “My mother died of cancer when I was three. My dad tried to go on. I believe he didn’t know how to cope without her. He was in a car wreck a year later. He hit a tree off Highway 78. Thing is, no one knows why he was out that way. He had no reason to be.” I’d never said the word suicide. The last thing I wanted to do was say it now.

“Gram took me in, raised me. She was great. She went to every school event and art exhibition. Now she takes care of Harper when I have to work. She sews and quilts, and even has her own Etsy shop. Most of her sales are quilts for cribs, bumper pads, and matching patchwork and crochet animals. Larger quilts take up a large amount of time, are expensive, and don’t sell as often.”

“Not much of a profit if you’ve spent a ton of time on it.”

“That’s why they’re expensive.”

As we approached the rotating front door, Elliot stopped and turned toward me. “I’m not going to barge into your grandmother’s room while she’s not feeling her best. Tell her I hope she feels better. I’ll be by to check on her soon.”

“Okay. Thank you for lunch.”

I stared as his hand reached out and took mine, this odd current traveling up each and every nerve, creating this prickling that made me struggle not to squirm. “Do you need someone to pick up Harper?”

“Um, no, thanks. Jensen’s picking her up and bringing her to his and Charlie’s.”

He nodded and tilted his head in the direction of the parking lot, letting it sort of pull him that way. “I should go.” He held up a hand.

“Bye.”

“Bye,” I said. Shit, this was awkward!

When I went upstairs, Gram was sleeping, so I settled in and opened the reading app on my phone. I needed to get my mind off the way Elliot made me feel. Usually sappy romance novels were the perfect distraction when I needed one—except now, the handsome earl out to win his fair lady bore Elliot’s face. Well, crap!

Hi, everyone! As you may remember, the wicked-talented Andrea Aguirre illustrated a fun cover for Confined with Mr. Darcy, and since then, the cover won the Cover Wars Cover of the Week and now has been selected to compete for the Creme de la Cover contest at InD’tale Magazine.

This contest is a bit different than Cover Wars in that only one vote is allowed per person and they must have a log in to vote. I do hope you’ll consider voting for our cover! Andrea and I would greatly appreciate it!

Click here to vote!

 

Don’t forget you can purchase Confined with Mr. Darcy on Kindle, paperback and Audiobook!

PCS (Permanent Change of Station) is something military families know well. We’ve PCSd 6 times in 16 years, which is actually not a lot. Since tech school, we’ve managed a minimum of 4 years at each station. That can depends on whether a military member has dependents, rank, job, as well as other factors.

PCS during Covid can only be described as an unpredictable cluster**** of epic proportions. Am I exaggerating, I don’t think so, but someone might tell me differently. We’ve had complications with housing on this side of the move, so I could be biased, but when you factor in everything, it’s stressful.

Every PCS starts the same way, with orders! Every move and assignment has orders. When you live overseas, you hand carry copies of those orders as well as leave paperwork on every vacation just to make sure you can get  back home when having to re-enter your host country. Even on school trips, my daughters had to take copies of my husband’s orders. Everything is dependent on orders.

We received orders before the UK locked down in March, but we were unsure of how that would effect the move. One of my good friends had been set to move about a week after lockdown and was frozen in the UK until the military opened back up those travel channels. All of her household goods were packed up and on the way to South Korea, her car was shipped, and she was in limbo.

The military began moving people again in late May. My friend left out right at the end of May but required paperwork at certain spots as they made their way to their new base. Thankfully, I had another friend already stationed at that base, and I’d introduced them via Facebook in the event my PCS friend needed groceries or was in a bind during the mandatory quarantine upon reaching South Korea.

We were initially told our move would be pushed back to October, then it was on hold, then it was back in July. We weren’t absolutely positive of anything until they packed up the house in June. My husband managed to get our travel dates approved fairly early so we could call the pet shipper and arrange for our fur babies to travel as well.

Did you know one of the biggest issues with military family PCS right now is pet travel? At this moment, one airline (British Airways) is shipping pets out of the UK, so multiple US bases and DOD/civilian employees moving out of England are having to almost vie for places on flights. We arranged for me and my daughters to fly out on the 15th with my husband and son flying out the 18th while we prayed, we’d get (16 July) for the pets. On Friday the 10th, we’d learned we didn’t get the 16th and began to panic. Then, first thing Monday morning, we finally received the call that they’d the pets for travel on Friday the 17th July. Not everyone has been so lucky—especially people with snub nose cats and dogs.

We packed up, sold some belongings we didn’t need or couldn’t use anymore, and gave away others. We’d lived off-base for part of our time in England, so we had UK (220V) appliances we couldn’t use in the US, transformers for some of our US appliances, etc. We shipped my car on 30 June since it’s road tax was due on 1 July and my husband’s car shipped the day before he flew out so we didn’t have to rent a car.

Other than that, we said our see you laters. In the military, you make friends and then hope you are stationed somewhere near them again. Sometimes that’s easier than others, but it’s definitely something we all hope for. I think we all ignored the Covid rules on hugging for that. Every going away picture I’ve seen lately has everyone hugging. It’s honestly hard not to!

On Wednesday the 15th, my husband drove us to Heathrow. Terminal 5 was virtually empty. He parked in short-term parking and came inside to help us check in our suitcases. We get more weight and we’re allowed 2 suitcases per family member. He wanted to make sure we didn’t have any problems. We hugged him goodbye just before TSA, and made our way onto the train to reach the part of the terminal where our gate would be. We didn’t have a gate number yet. They don’t assign those until about 30 minutes or so before boarding.

Masks were mandatory in Heathrow, so we were thankful we’d brought plenty. I’d also bought some carbon filters that fit inside a pocket in the mask or that we could just put inside the mask. Our flight was on British Airways, which I had to say did a great job. We were given a little package with a disinfecting wipe everyone used to wipe down their seats, tray tables, and TV remotes as well as a small package of hand sanitiser. We had plenty of both on us, but the gesture was appreciated.

Our flight attendant was friendly and helpful. He had what resembled a phone that gave him the reservations and with how empty the flight was, let us know how many rows we could use that allowed us to space out. During the flight, the flight attendants wiped down the insides and door of the toilets what appeared to be every hour, so they were doing an amazing job to help keep it clean. We even arrived in Chicago early!

After we cleared customs, we collected our bags, and ran the Covid temperature check gauntlet. We picked up the mini-van we rented (with 5 suitcases between 3 people we needed it!) and settled in at the hotel to wait for the pets.

 

Coming next . . . The second half of the trip (I think!)

 

I mentioned in the author’s notes in Undoing that I was inspired by a scandalous story of the Duke of Cumberland. I’d toyed with the idea of calling him the Duke of Cumberland in the book, but due to a real life Darcy connection to the Duke of Leeds, I swapped over to that title. I did not use the Duke’s story per se, but a situation in the story gave me an idea that created Thomas. I thought you might find him as interesting as I do.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read Undoing yet, the following might be a spoiler of sorts, so you might want to decide whether you read this now or after you read Undoing. 

Prince Ernest Augustus, The Duke of Cumberland (and later the King of Hanover) was the fifth child of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenberg. He fought against France in the Hanoverian army, which caused him to have disfiguring scars on his face as well as the loss of his sight in one eye. In time, he also gained a rather notorious reputation.

The duke’s most famous scandal was the 1810 death of his valet, Joseph Sellis. In the early morning of 31 May, cries of “Murder! Murder!” came from the bedchamber of the Duke of Cumberland.

Supposedly, between 2 and 3am, someone intruded in the duke’s bedchamber, picked up the duke’s sabre, struck the duke multiple times while he slumbered. When his page, Neale, entered the room, the duke had 4 wounds from the attack, including one to the head, which was said to have split through his skull, using the flat side of the blade. The room was empty and a door left open, giving an escape route to the murderer.

After obtaining a physician to help the duke, the staff searched St. James Palace only to discover Sellis, the duke’s valet, was missing. He was found in his locked room, his throat slashed. Oddly, they’d found Sellis’s slippers in the Duke of Cumberland’s closet.

Several stories of Sellis’s past were revealed during an investigation into the events, including that Sellis had left Corsica years ago a thief. In the end, it was decided that Sellis, in a fit of madness, was the one who attempted to murder the Duke of Cumberland and then slit his own throat.

With the determination being suicide, why would it be scandalous? There are a number of reasons historians and society of that time had other suspicions. One reason, aside from the slippers, was the nature of Sellis’s wound, which was so deep, his spine had been the only thing keeping his neck from being completely severed. The razor used to kill Sellis was also across the room, but was claimed to have been moved from its original position. Regardless, how did one slit their own throat so severely with a razor?

A companion to Princess Charlotte wrote in her journal that there were some circumstances that threw doubt upon his guilt. The slippers were old, and the name written in them appeared to be in French whereas Sellis was a Piedmontese, and there were reasons for supposing it was a greater person who had counselled the crime. According to the companion, Sellis was left-handed, and the physician who examined Sellis after his death, claimed the wound could not have been made by someone who was left-handed.

“The wash basin was in the stand, but was half full of bloody water! Upon examining Sellis’s cravat, it was found to be cut. The padding which he usually wore was covered with silk and quilted; but what was most remarkable, both the padding and the cravat were cut as if some person had made an attempt to cut the throat with the cravat on, then, finding the woollen or cotton stuffing to impede the razor, took it off in order more readily to effect the purpose.” – from the newspaper

In an odd and morbid turn of events, Sellis’s room and body became fodder for the public, and the palace allowed a few people at a time to come view the room like it was a drawing room in a National Trust home.

After that fateful morning, theories abounded as to what actually happened that night. Sellis’s wife claimed Neale (the duke’s page) had been messing with the duke’s expenses. One paper hypothesised that the Duke of Cumberland and Sellis were lovers until Neale arrived and replaced Sellis. When Sellis discovered the duke and Neale together (Excerpt from paper -“A short period before this dreadful catastrophe, the Duke had been surprised in an improper and unnatural situation with this Neale by the other servant, Sellis, and an exposure was expected.”) Sellis wounded the duke in a rage, and the duke retaliated by having Sellis killed. In another variation of this theory, Sellis discovered the duke and Neale together so Cumberland killed Sellis to keep him quiet and wounded himself so he could claim Sellis attacked him. Neal was bribed to disappear. The queen’s companion wrote in her journal, “The duke gave a pension to his Irish page, and dismissed him. This man had a brother who had a good appointment in Windsor Castle, and a family, but he resigned, and went away.”

Cumberland sued the journalist who printed the rumour of the love triangle for libel and won, jailing the man for fifteen months. The rumours, however, persisted and were dragged back into the limelight after the husband of one of Cumberland’s lovers died in much the same manner as Sellis, only adding further fuel to the rumour mill.

 

 

Undoing is out on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and audiobook! Check out what the duke’s story inspired.

Narrated by the amazing Stevie Zimmerman!

 

 

 

Sources:
https://www.historyextra.com/period/georgian/the-duke-of-cumberland-and-his-valet-a-bloody-tale-of-attempted-murder/
Rictor Norton (Ed.), “Scandal Involving the Duke of Cumberland, 1832”, Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 27 May 2012 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/cumber1.htm&gt;.

Hello, all! I’m so excited to tell you that Undoing is now on Audiobook at Audible and Amazon. Stevie Zimmerman did an amazing job narrating the characters and breathing life into their words. I even have a sample for you to listen to!

I can’t wait for you to hear the book in its entirety!

I have some codes for a free Undoing audiobook. Just leave a comment below to enter. I’ll pick two winners on Sunday. Please make sure you specify whether you use Audible US or UK 🙂 so I know which code to send you.

 

Every year, the Harry Potter tour in Leavesden decorates for Christmas. The Great Hall is decked out in its Christmas finery and the model of Hogwarts is dusted in snow. We’ve toured the studio before but not for about 5 years and not during the Christmas season.

Most of the weekends had been completely booked by October, but fortunately, we found a Monday the children had free from school and had an opening, although a 2pm opening.

Since our last visit, we knew the tour had added a Platform 9 3/4 as well as the Hogwarts Express, so we were eager to see the new additions and enjoy some of the new experiences offered.

We drove to Leavesden, which isn’t too far into the London area for traffic and easily found the car park. Upon entering, you wait in a large lobby until your scheduled time when you pass through a hall in a long line to enter a theatre where you watch a short film.

From there, the tour starts. The first room, The Great Hall, is only for a specific time so they can shuffle in the next group but once you enter the main portion of the tour, you can walk as leisurely as you wish through to see everything. It’s definitely not something you want to rush since there are objects and props stacked and displayed everywhere. The hallway to the Leaky Cauldron might be on one side of the room and in the middle might be the clock from the tower and on the opposite Dumbledore’s office. It’s so much that you will miss something on that first walk through. I don’t know how to avoid it, which is why I suggest walking slowly and making sure you try to cover as much as you can.

The first half of the tour is mostly props and sets before you reach a cafe area. We were impressed we could find gluten free and vegetarian options available for lunch and each had our obligatory cup of Butterbeer.

On the second half of the tour, you start with the set for Privet Drive and the Hogwarts bridge, which are outside with a few other props. We had some fun recreating photos from the last time we were there, our kids laughing harder than usual at their younger photos.

Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express were great. It’s a bit of a queue to get inside and files through which doesn’t give you much time to really look for long. A cabin for you to sit and take photos as opposed to just look would’ve been nice, but unfortunately, wasn’t there.

The second half of the tour also boasted several new items. You can be Dobby while a computer interprets your movements for a screen. Gringotts and a hologram of the dragon escaping the vaults is in another room. They’ve also added a wonderful walk through the Forbidden Forest.

As always, the last part of the tour is the enormous model of Hogwarts, which is dusted in snow.

Whether you’ve been before or not, touring during Christmas is definitely worth it! The Great Hall is amazing decked out in trees with the flaming Christmas puddings on the table. The little touches throughout the tour are wonderful as well, including the cake at The Borough with the skating penguin on top. I definitely recommend going when you have the chance!!

 

Next up…The Anatomy of a Military Move (The end of my Expat days-for now hopefully!)

We spent the following day after Sagrada Familia simply walking around Barcelona, specifically searching out architecture by Antonio Gaudi. Gaudi not only designed Sagrada Familia, but a number of buildings around Barcelona, which still stand today. He was one of the first architects to design in the Art Nouveau movement.

Casa Batlló

We started by walking to Casa Batlló, bedecked in tile with Gaudi’s unusual curved style present on the exterior. The building had a crowd of people waiting in line to get inside so we didn’t tour the interior, but instead continued walking down that same road, which boasts several Gaudi creations.

Our next find was Casa Milà, which like Casa Batlló was obviously a Gaudi creation. Gaudi didn’t always use these curves and almost sci-fi or fantasy-looking conventions on his exteriors, but these works were reminiscent of that style.

After Casa Milà, we continued until we reached the next buildings. Casa Vicens is one of Gaudi’s earlier works, still showing his unusual style, though not as curvilinear as what followed.

 

We stopped for Sangria, which we enjoyed often while touring the city and with our dinner each evening. Unlike what we usually do, trying new restaurants all of the time, we found one with great service and food that was happy to help us with the gluten free we needed so we ate there every night.

 

Our last full day in Barcelona, we made the crazy trek out to Tibidabo. An amusement park on the peak of Mt. Tibidabo (Yes, Friends fans, there’s actually a Mt. Tibidabo.) The tram was out of commission when we went, so we took the train and the bus as far as we could before we had to hire taxis to get to the top.

We had a fun day and enjoyed the amazing view. Our only issue was that it’s really more geared toward younger kids, so our teenagers enjoyed bits of it, but weren’t crazy impressed overall. We did enjoy the view of Barcelona below as well as walking up to the church right at the entrance and even check out the view from that platform as well. The lower level is older than the top, which is much newer.

Overall, we adored Barcelona and would return whenever afforded the opportunity.

 

Next up…Harry Potter Tour for Christmas!

I know! It’s a lot, but there’s a lot going on with me right now.

So, let’s start with the latest news. Confined with Mr. Darcy is not only doing well, but I have someone who’s agreed to narrate the audiobook! Hopefully, we’ll have an audiobook version soon, so keep an eye out!

Not only is Confined with Mr. Darcy being made into an audiobook, but so is Undoing! Stevie Zimmerman has begun narrating. I’ve listened to a couple of chapters tonight and they’re spectacular. I can’t wait for you to hear it!

 

 

Now, the winners of A Matter of Chance giveaway! 

Congratulations

PEdmisson, cyndyhenry, sheilamajczan, Lis Batten, and Sue Beatson!

I’ll be getting those out to you as soon as possible!

 

Lastly, thank you so much to everyone who has purchased, read, and reviewed Confined with Mr. Darcy! I am excited about the reviews and I do hope everyone is enjoying my little bit of fluff. Remember that every sale results in more money for Jane Austen House Museum! Confined with Mr. Darcy makes a great gift for the JAFF lover you know. Let’s help give them the boost they so desperately need!

And because y’all have been so amazing, I’m giving everyone another chance at the giveaway! If you left a comment on my Austen Variations release day/giveaway post, you have one chance at the giveaway! Comment here and you get another 🙂 So tell me anything about today’s post. It can be about one of the audiobooks, how amazing Stevie Zimmerman is, or your favorite thing about any of this post.

Just a reminder about the giveaway.

So, what do we have? Well, in the main giveaway, you get:
1 Talk Darcy to Me Mug
1 set of Mr. and Mrs. Kit-Tea tea infusers (Isn’t it cute hanging from the mug) They’re food-grade silicone.
1 bag of Yorkshire Gold Loose leaf tea
1 Pride and Prejudice Postcard, which was probably bought at Jane Austen House Museum
1 pair of Jane Austen SockSmith socks
and 1 Sense and Sensibility book bead bracelet

It’s a fun giveaway. You can put on your JA socks and the bracelet and make a cup of tea for while you read

I also have two extra bracelets to giveaway!

Just tell me in the comments which giveaways you want to be entered into!!

 

 

We’re wrapping up May and while things have remained busy, I’m still cleaning out, which means another giveaway. Today, I have 5 copies of A Matter of Chance for you! All you have to do is comment for a chance to win a signed paperback. Sorry, but I need to limit the giveaway to the US and Europe. I’ll pick a winner next Thursday and make the announcement after I’ve contacted the winners.

Also! Don’t forget to preorder your copy of Confined with Mr. Darcy! Release day is almost here and it will be on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and Paperback! Half of the first month’s royalties are being donated to Jane Austen House Museum’s Covid-19 Survival Appeal, so please give it a read. Also, if you have a bit to spare, please consider donating to the survival appeal.

Also! I’ve started a podcast! I’ve been considering it for a while, but in the first episode, I just talk about JAFF and how I got into writing it, what I read, and there’s a bit about this project. I hope you’ll check it out!  https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-b9dz9-dde03f

Okay! Back to A Matter of Chance!  I’m posting a short vignette I wrote after A Matter of Chance. This short was based on something that really happened in our house. My daughter had this crafty kit that allowed you to make different animals from puff balls. The children are fictional versions of my own. Our dog Layla was young, and well, you’ll see. This was something that was written quickly and never truly edited, so it’s definitely not perfect, but entertaining.

 

A Funeral for Lobsty

Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for 9 years, Melly is 12, Ella is 7, Andrew is 4

 

For a late Sunday morning, Longbourn wasn’t any noisier than it was usually.  Lizzy Darcy relaxed in bed with her morning cup of café au lait and her laptop, browsing through the online stores for Christmas present ideas for the children.  Her husband of nine years, William was propped up on pillows beside her while he poured over something for work on his own laptop.  She had just taken a steaming sip when her seven-year-old daughter, Ella, came running into the room with a four-year-old Andrew following close behind.

“Look what Layla did!” she exclaimed, pushing her cupped hands filled with red fluff and pieces of pipe cleaners in Lizzy’s face.  Layla was their nine-month-old Springer Spaniel puppy that they’d adopted from a rescue organization, and she was always getting into something.

Lizzy stared at the pile intently, attempting to figure out what the mass of trash was in her daughter’s hands.  “What is it?”

Ella gave an exasperated exhale.  “It’s Drew’s lobster!”  Her hands thrust forward a bit with each word in an attempt to emphasize scope of the tragedy.   The puppy then came trotting in and plopped down beside Ella, panting and looking like she was grinning widely.

She turned back to the mess and looked again, finally seeing the resemblance to the craft project she and her son had made a few months ago.  She looked up into his face and smiled softly in sympathy.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  We’ll have to break out the craft kit and make you another animal.”

Drew looked at her sadly.  “I want to make another Lobsty.”

“But we can’t,” she began carefully, “there aren’t any more red puffballs and pipe cleaners in the kit.  If we find the directions, then you can pick out a new design, and we’ll make that one.”

Little Drew’s face reflected his skepticism of that idea, and Lizzy fought a smile.  Suddenly, Layla made a jump for the mass of fluff, and Ella raised her hands to keep it away from her.  “Why don’t the two of you go throw what’s left away before Layla finds it again and eats it.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” came William’s voice from behind Lizzy.  “We wouldn’t want her to get sick.”

That was when Ella’s face perked up.  “We can have a funeral for him!”

Lizzy was sure her eyes widened, but she tried to behave unfazed.  “A funeral?” she asked, the doubtful tone that was in her head coming through in her voice.

“Yeah!  Let’s go, Drew!”  The two of them bounded out of the door, where she could hear the pounding of their feet as they ran around the upstairs.

She looked to William.  “A funeral?”  He only smiled widely, shrugged, and went back to his work.

Looking back at the monitor, Lizzy began browsing once more while she listened to the voices outside of her door.  She was sure she heard the word casket, but most of the time the kids sounded like they were in Drew’s room.  Maybe twenty minutes later, Ella and her brother came running back into the room.

“Daddy!” they yelled, “look at the casket we made!”  Lizzy’s head shot up to see what looked like a short tray made out of Legos with Lobsty’s remains perched on top.

“That’s nice, but it’s not really a casket,” explained William.  After that, she really didn’t hear what her husband was saying since she was too busy staring at “The Casket.”  She hoped that he was attempting to straighten out their idea because she was worried they would want to bury the thing.  The last thing she wanted to do was to have to dig it up later when Drew wanted his blocks back.

The children disappeared again, but reappeared about fifteen minutes later.  “We’re ready for the funeral, come on!” Ella and Drew called out from the doorway.

“Really?” she asked, regarding William warily.

“Really,” he responded before kissing her quickly on the lips.  “Let’s go, Mama.”  Her husband pulled her out of bed and laced his fingers with hers as they followed the children down the stairs to the kitchen.  There were three barstools set up a few feet in front of the pull out that contained the trashcan, and Mrs. Reynolds was already seated in one of them. Melanie, who’d thus far been absent from the lobster saga, was standing beside the cabinet with the “coffin” carrying Lobsty in her hands.  Ella and Drew joined her, the latter wearing a Jedi tunic made out of brown felt that he’d gotten at a friend’s birthday party.

“What’s with the Jedi robes?” asked William, chuckling.

The real Layla

“Funeral clothes?” ventured Lizzy.  She felt something soft brush her foot and looked down to see their older Springer, Maisy, lay down next to her foot.  Layla was standing beside Melanie, waiting for Lobsty’s remains to fall at her feet. One would’ve thought she was holding a steak the way the puppy was sitting and staring at the cotton fuzz.

Ella seemed to wait patiently until they were all comfortably situated, and she raised some pages torn out of an old composition notebook that were covered in a purple crayon handwriting.

“First we will have a speech, then Melanie will dump him, then there will be a prayer.”

Lizzy couldn’t hold it in any longer.  The absurdity of it all combined with what her daughter had just said made her erupt in a fit of laughter.  She wasn’t alone.  Mrs. Reynolds and William were both laughing, and when she looked up, the children were laughing as well.  Once their chuckles were back under control, Lizzy apologized.

“I’m sorry, but when you said that Melanie would dump him, I couldn’t help it.”  She could hear William beside her now fighting to control his chuckles as Ella raised the papers and began again.

“This lobster was very special to me and my brother, Drew.  Lobsty was the best lobster I’ve ever seen.  My mom and Drew built this lobster from puffballs, pipe cleaners, and glue.  That’s my vulnerable speech.”  Her husband snorted from beside her, and she grabbed his hand, squeezing it gently.

“Do you mean venerable, Ella bean?”  Her daughter shook her head and furrowed her eyebrows.

“Did you really mean vulnerable?” asked William.  She smiled widely and nodded before turning to face her sister.

“Now, Melanie will dump Lobsty,” said Ella in a very official tone as she opened the cabinet.  Their oldest turned the tray over into the trashcan, and the mass of red fluff dropped into the white plastic bag, covering whatever Mrs. Reynolds had put in there last.  Once the cabinet was closed, they all turned back to Ella.

“Now for the prayer.”  She flipped a page and produced a new page also written in purple crayon.

“It was once a pile of puffballs, and a little boy came along.  He put the puffballs together, and made a lobster.  And then a dog came along and chewed it all up.  And that’s what brought us here today.”

During the “prayer,” the three adult spectators couldn’t control themselves any more and began laughing again.  By the time Ella had read it all, Lizzy and Mrs. Reynolds were laughing so hard they were crying, and the children had joined them.

Lizzy stood and kissed and hugged each of her children.  She looked over her son’s head as she embraced him, seeing William wiping his eyes as he hugged Ella.  Beside her daughter, on the counter were the sheets of paper with the purple crayon writing.  Lizzy picked them up and read them, finding the actual speech and prayer from the funeral written out on them.

When the hugs were passed all around, Melanie went off to read the latest book she was engrossed in, and Ella and Drew returned to the Legos to his room.  Lizzy quickly pocketed Ella’s papers and returned upstairs with William to lounge around with him some more.

When they were once again comfy in the bed, Lizzy called Jane and described the entire event to her, including reading the speeches from Ella’s notes.  Jane was giggling madly by the time Lizzy had recited the entire episode.

“They’re so creative,” her sister gushed.  “Just like their mom.  “You’ll have to scan those pages and email them to me.  I want to tell Charles, but it won’t be the same if I don’t have the words right.”

“I can type it out and email it quicker, if you want.”

“That’ll work.  Thanks, sis!”

“You’re still coming over this afternoon to grill, right?”

“Oh yeah, we’ll be there,” responded Jane.  “Jacob and Sarah are so excited.  You know they love playing at Longbourn.  Apparently, Netherfield just isn’t as cool.”

Lizzy laughed.  “I don’t know about all that.  I happen to think Netherfield is a neat house, but I should get going so I can get some work done before y’all come over.

“Okay, Bye Lizzy.”

“Bye,” she said and hung up.

“What did Jane say?” asked William as he closed his laptop and scooted closer to her.

“She said that they’re so creative… just like me.”

“She’s correct, you know.”

Lizzy rolled her eyes.  “I think they’ve got some of my intelligence along with you’re massive brains, and we’re going to be lucky to keep up with them.”  She felt William’s hand caress up her leg as he leaned over to kiss her softly on the lips.  He dipped down, and she felt his soft lips brush her neck.

“I’m thinking that perhaps we should begin working on another.”

Her eyes widened as he lifted up and looked down at her.  “Another?” she squeaked.  His hand roamed up to stroke her stomach, and she squirmed.  “William, the door is open.”  She heard and felt his low chuckle.

“Then perhaps you should go close and lock it.”

The words and the “prayer” came directly from the composition notebook pages my kids wrote from Lobsty’s funeral. I still have them packed away somewhere.

 

Okay! So, we have 5 copies of A Matter of Chance! Leave me a comment below and you’ll go into the draw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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