Copyright © 2017 by T. L. Haddix
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
…The Old Box
Every spring when the weather got warm, right before the beginning of summer, Sarah Campbell liked to have a purge. An in-depth spring cleaning had been her annual tradition since she was young, and the process was meant to get rid of unused and unwanted items. Too, it was a sheer defense mechanism, preventing the farmhouse she and Owen had called home for fifty years or so from exploding at the seams. After all, with five children, twelve grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren, “stuff” tended to accumulate.
While she had boxes upon organized boxes of precious mementos tucked away that she’d not part with until the day she died, Sarah had no intention of becoming one of those people who left a mess for her children to deal with when she passed. She fully intended to aim for one hundred years at a minimum, but given that she was approaching eighty, she didn’t want to leave the task of clearing things out until she wasn’t able to do it. Thus, every year, the purge.
In recent springs, the exodus of things had become something of a family event. Being wise and not above using her age as an excuse to spend time with her various offspring and their progeny, Sarah would rope whatever child or grandchild was at hand, or even near to being close by, into the process. The kids were on to her by now, but they didn’t seem to mind. If they weren’t tied up, she’d often get volunteers. All she had to do was announce her plans on Facebook and sit back and wait.
This year, she’d snagged Colin and Easton, as well as Colin’s baby sister, Sadie. The boys were each twenty-three, and Sadie had just turned fifteen. They were helpful workers, cheerful and funny, and their bickering often had Sarah in tears from laughing so hard. So too did Sadie’s almost motherly exasperation with the boys’ antics. As a particularly loud series of thumps and thuds sounded from the attic, along with muttered words Sarah was glad she couldn’t quite make out, Sadie growled.
“What in the world are they doing up there, Grandma? They probably found some more old toys and are having another battle or something. They’re worse than old biddies fighting over two-dollar grab bags at the bargain bin at Goodwill.” She stood at the foot of the pull-down ladder, hands on her hips, and glowered at the attic opening. “Come on already, guys! Daylight’s burning. Chop, chop! You can kill each other outside. We’ve got stuff to do.”
With her head tilted a bit and her long, golden-blond hair pulled back into a sassy ponytail, she looked so much like her mother, Amelia, it was eerie.
A shiny, multicolored piece of fabric floated down in response to the question, landing squarely over Sadie’s head and shoulders despite her efforts to dodge it. As she coughed and swore mildly, promising mayhem and retribution, Colin appeared at the opening.
“Move, squirt. We found a big box stuck behind a rafter, and we had to fight to get it out. Looks like it’s been up here a while, Grandma,” he said as he came halfway down the ladder and stopped. He took the dark gray box from Easton, then descended the rest of the way. “Porch?”
“Please,” Sarah said. “Good grief, there’s an inch of dust on that thing. Sadie, get a damp cloth, please?”
“Sure.” She shot Colin a glare before she dashed down the stairs.
“You’re so mean to her, she’s liable to put a snake in your bed.” Sarah couldn’t keep her face straight, and she chuckled.
Colin grinned, nearly a mirror image of his father. “Nah, she loves it. We can’t let her get too full of herself. She’d be impossible to live with.”
“That little princess?” Easton said, shooing Colin out of the way as he reached the bottom of the steps, then lifted them into place and closed the attic door. “She has every one of you wrapped around her finger, and you know it.”
Colin sighed. “Just don’t let her hear you say that.”
Sarah gestured for Easton to bend down so she could brush cobwebs off his hair. “Boys, I think that secret’s well and truly out of the bag. Let’s head down and see what kind of treasure you’ve found. Where was this again? I can’t imagine how we’ve missed it all these years.”
“The front corner, over the dormer space for one of the bedrooms,” Easton said as the three of them descended to the first floor. He held the door for her and Colin to pass, drawing in a deep breath of fresh air as he stepped onto the porch. “Ah, that breeze feels good. Anyhow, it was tucked kind of to the side, and it’s really dark back there. I can see how it got missed. What’s in it, do you think?”
“We’ll find out.” Sarah frowned as Easton adjusted the compression glove on his left hand. “Everything okay?”
“What?” He glanced at his hand as though he hadn’t realized he was touching the glove. “Oh, yeah. It’s fine. The glove was just a little loose. It isn’t hurting or anything, I promise. No need to shake your finger at me.” He winked and gave her a quick hug. “The glove really helps keep it from hurting when I use it a lot. I’ve almost gotten to the point where I can go without it most of the time, so long as I don’t do any heavy-duty lifting or whatnot.”
Last summer, he’d had a severe injury that had resulted in lasting damage to his hand. Though he was finally rebounding mentally, Sarah still worried.
Sadie joined them, tray with lemonade and glasses in hand, at the small table where they’d set up a sorting area. “I thought this might be nice. I could use some calories after all that work. I’ll grab some cookies and be right back.” She handed Sarah the damp cloth before she went.
“How’s the apprenticeship going, Colin?” Sarah poured their drinks while they waited for Sadie to return. “Is Emma a good teacher?”
“She is. I like it so far. I’m learning a lot. It’s sure not as simple as point and click like I thought,” he said with a smile. “I’m taking tons of notes to pass on to Sean, and I think our video quality is going to undergo a drastic improvement.”
He was spending the summer working under Emma at her photography studio, learning the basics of the trade. He and his brother Sean had a burgeoning online channel where they uploaded videos of camping and survival gear and techniques, as well as product reviews of the tools related to such.
“It isn’t his calling either,” Easton added, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief, “but he’s meeting all the ladies in town, so he doesn’t mind.”
“Shut up.” Colin snorted, his cheeks turning red. “Grandma, don’t pay him any attention.”
Sarah laughed. “Oh, honey, I’m taking notes!”
After they finished their snack, Sarah handed Sadie the damp rag. “Do the honors?”
“Please and thank you,” Sadie said with a wink. “If there’s a million dollars in here, I’m claiming half.”
Colin tossed a wadded-up napkin at her. “Half? Squirt, there are four of us here. Your math is off.”
She scoffed as she laid the dirty rag aside. “No, it isn’t. Consider your quarter my reward for putting up with you two. You and Easton can split his part. Right, Grandma?”
“Absolutely. That sounds like a solid plan to me.”
Sadie scooted the box closer to Sarah, then lifted the lid. “Treasure! What is it?”
“Oh, goodness. It’s a cap and gown.” Sarah picked up the cap and flipped it over. “John’s, from his eighth-grade graduation. I thought this disappeared years and years ago.” She held up the gown with a fond smile. “He hit a growth spurt that spring, and the gown ended up being at least three inches shorter than it should have been. You could almost see the knees of his pants, it was so short.” She handed it to Easton to fold.
“Aww, look! Pictures that your mom drew.” Sadie held up the stack of papers, then handed it to Easton. The faded, yellowed sheet on top featured a crude drawing of a family of seven shown from the perspective of a then-four-year-old Rachel.
But what captured Sarah’s attention was the intricately carved box that had been hidden beneath the papers. When Sadie reached for it, Sarah stopped her with a gentle hand. “Let me. Oh. Oh, my.”
With fingers that shook, she traced the flowers carved into the top of the wooden box. A foot square and around eight inches tall, it was a box Sarah had thought was truly lost and gone forever, a box whose contents she and Owen had mourned. Almost afraid to breathe, Sarah lifted the box onto her lap, then closed her eyes briefly, saying a prayer the contents were intact, before she opened the lid. When she saw the neat stacks of envelopes, dozens of letters tied with ribbons, lovingly tucked away so many years ago, she gasped.
“Grandma?” Colin’s concerned voice interrupted her thoughts. “Are you okay?”
Though her smile trembled and fell apart before she could stop it, Sarah nodded. She wiped her damp cheeks, chasing the tears that slowly fell with a clean napkin. “Yes, I’m fine. Sweetie, go get your grandfather. He needs to see this.”
Colin hesitated only a second, evaluating her words, then hurried off the porch, heading for the studio behind the house. Owen was working there with Sophie, their granddaughter by marriage and his assistant.
“What is it?” Sadie asked quietly.
“Letters. Beautiful, wonderful letters.” Sarah rested her hand on the girl’s head then sighed. “What else is in the big box?”
Sadie kissed the back of Sarah’s hand, then sat forward. “Looks like an old afghan and a raggedy doll with a bad haircut.” She pulled the items out.
“That doll is Emma’s,” Sarah said with a soft laugh, regaining some of her equilibrium. “She didn’t have a single one with normal hair. If she wasn’t trying to dye it or curl it, she was cutting it to their scalps, the poor things. As for the afghan, I have no idea where it came from.”
Easton grinned. “Knowing Aunt Emma, I’m surprised she didn’t try to blow her dolls up.”
Sarah pursed her lips. “Oh, she did. I think that phase started when she was about ten or eleven. She put those dolls through the torments of the damned—much more so than the boys ever thought about doing with their toys. Owen didn’t know whether to be worried or proud.”
Voices sounded from inside, and a moment later, the door opened. Out came Owen, Colin, and Sophie, who carried her daughter, baby Owen. Judging by the looks on their faces, Sarah hadn’t managed to convince Colin she was okay after all.
“What’s wrong?” Owen asked, looking her over carefully.
But before Sarah could answer, he spied the box in her lap and went still. Even from a distance, Sarah saw his throat working. He looked at her, the question in his eyes easy for her to understand.
“They’re here,” she said.
He cleared his throat and slowly approached, moving as though he was afraid the box would disappear if he went too fast. Once he’d pulled a chair close and sat down, Sarah handed him the box. The kids were all silent as he laid his hands flat on the top.
“Where was it?” he asked after a minute.
Easton answered, his voice quiet. “The attic, tucked into a corner.”
Owen tipped his head in acknowledgment, then took a deep breath and lifted the lid. He stared at the contents for a moment, two, then closed the box. After a minute, he huffed, staring out over the pasture between the house and the newly renovated barn, blinking fast. “Well. Well, then. I wasn’t expecting to ever see these again.”
“What are they?” Sophie asked softly as she rubbed the baby’s back. “If you don’t mind telling us, that is.”
Sarah held her hand out to Owen, and he clasped it tightly. “You all know how prolific a letter writer this man is, and you probably all know about the letters each child and grandchild receives at a certain point in their lives.”
Everyone except Sadie nodded. “Fill me in?” she asked.
“Grandpa writes letters when we’re all born or when we officially join the family,” Colin said, looking at Sophie. “When we turn eighteen, we get those letters as a gift.”
“Or in my case, on my wedding day,” Sophie added. Her eyes widened and she gasped. “Oh, wow! Are those the lost letters I’ve heard about?”
Sarah smiled. “They are. See, when Amelia was about a year old, maybe? This box disappeared. It has all the letters Owen wrote the kids when they were born or anytime something momentous happened and he wanted to remember it on paper for them.”
Owen cleared his throat. “It also has all the letters Sarah had written me. We turned this house and the studio upside down when the box vanished. It was just gone one day. I kept it in the studio, you see, high up on a shelf and behind some things so that it was safe from a horde of curious little Campbells. I didn’t realize it was gone until I went to put a letter inside and the box wasn’t where it was supposed to be.”
That had been a somber day, Sarah recalled. The weeks that followed had felt a bit hollow as realization set in that the letters were truly gone. “We were devastated. After a while, Owen tried to recreate the letters for the kids, but it was still a big loss for both of us.”
“So this really was a treasure box,” Sadie said around a sniffle. She leaned her head against Owen’s leg. “That’s better than a million dollars any day.”
Everyone laughed, but Owen was nodding, solemn. “Yes, it is. Kids, I don’t know what to say other than thank you.”
Easton waved the words away. “You know that’s not necessary. I’m glad that Colin tripped on the corner of the box and found it.”
“No kidding,” Colin said. “We wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. It blended right in.”
“All these years…” Owen sighed. “I don’t think I realized how much I missed this box until just now, or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’d pushed aside the heartache. I wonder how it got up there.”
“What will you do with the letters?” Sophie asked, lightly bouncing the baby. Baby Owen was teething, and as a result, she was fussy. “Shh, sweetie, it’s okay. Oh, she’s so miserable. Poor thing. Mommy can’t seem to do anything to help you either.”
“Want me to try?” Easton asked.
“You do seem to have the touch.” Sophie handed him the baby, who promptly curled up on his shoulder with a contented sound, chewing on the frozen ring she held for all she was worth. Sophie exhaled and shoved her hair back, slumping against one of the porch posts. “So you’re moving in with us tonight, right?”
Easton glanced at her. “If you’ll fix me up with some of Noah’s marinara, absolutely. Though I don’t know about leaving this hoodlum alone in my house.” He gestured to Colin, who snorted. They were rooming together in Easton’s rental while Colin was in town.
Sophie touched Easton’s shoulder. “I’m serious. Do you know how long it’s been since we slept? I can pack you a bag and get the playpen… you can take her home with you.”
The senior Owen laughed. “I remember those days all too well. You know we’ll be happy to keep her if you and Noah need rest.”
“I know, but I hate to ask the two of you. She’s so fussy lately, except when Easton holds her.”
Owen raised an eyebrow. “Young lady, I think you just came one hair of telling us we’re too old to babysit.”
Sarah could tell he was amused, not offended, and she laughed.
Sophie huffed. “I would never say that. But you’ve certainly earned the right not to be disturbed by a teething baby. We’re fine. Just… sleep deprived.”
Easton glanced at Colin, who nodded. “We can stay here tonight, and you can leave her with the five of us. That way the experts are here to supervise, and you and Noah get some much-needed rest. How does that sound?”
Sophie placed a smacking kiss on his forehead. “That, I can live with. Name your price.”
“You have it—marinara. And maybe a jar of pesto, if you have any.”
Noah’s concoctions were famous within the family, and they were often used as bartering items.
“Deal. So… the letters?” Sophie asked, sinking down to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Owen traced the edges of the lid. “I’ll read them, and the ones I wrote for the kids, I’ll give to them. The rest…” He glanced at Sarah, his eyes full of warmth and love. “Well, those will stay with us.”
“Exactly where they belong,” Sarah said softly. “I think this might just be the most successful purge we’ve ever done.”
He picked up her hand and laced their fingers together. “I’d say it definitely is.”
…October 3, 1960
Sunlight flooded the room when Owen rolled over, coming awake slowly to the sounds of birds chirping. The open windows carried their cheery song inside to greet him, borne on the back of the soft breeze loaded with the unique crispness of fall air, and a bit of a chill as well. The bed was empty—no surprise given that Sarah had left for work hours earlier. A bleary-eyed glance at the clock showed Owen that he’d slept well past noon again, and he let his head fall back to the pillows with a muffled curse.
He was tempted to simply roll over and go back to sleep, but he had a list of chores that seemed miles long, tasks that had been accumulating and wouldn’t take care of themselves.
For the past week and a half, he’d been on a tight schedule, working from morning until the wee hours to finish up the final bits of the first draft of his latest H. O. McLemore book. This would be the first installment he’d completed since becoming Sarah’s husband, and working around the needs of a wife and the logistics of having his writing studio in their home, largely in their bedroom, had presented a unique set of challenges he naively hadn’t been expecting.
They’d muddled through things, not without some bumps and bruises, and he’d finally been able to close the lid on this latest book last night. He knew Sarah would be relieved.
“Thank God,” he said around a yawn, sitting up to rub still-tired hands across his face. “You’re going to have some fence-mending to do, I expect. At this rate, you might not even get a birthday cake.”
Deciding a hot shower was first on his list of priorities, he padded naked to the bathroom as he considered how to make amends to his wife.
He knew he wasn’t really in the doghouse—Sarah was irritated, not angry. She was as eager for their trip to Laurel County tomorrow as he was. They planned to spend a couple of days with Owen’s uncle and aunt, and Owen figured one of the reasons for that was the birthday party he suspected she’d been setting up with his aunt Amy. It’d be his first birthday since they were married, and that fact alone made it special.
While the first months of their marriage hadn’t been easy, what with dealing with Sarah’s grief over losing her niece and nephew earlier that year, they’d been good months. So good, in fact, that Owen still expected to wake up and find everything had all been a dream, that Sarah wasn’t real, that none of this life he was coming to cherish existed outside his dreams.
If that happened, he didn’t know if he’d be able to stand it. With any luck and a lot of effort, that wouldn’t ever happen.
As he toweled off, mentally running through the list of things he needed to do, a familiar scent wafted into the bathroom to tease his nose. Stilling, Owen sniffed, then he inhaled more deeply. “Coffee?”
With the towel wound around his waist, he opened the door and listened. A soft rustling sounded from the bedroom.
“Hello? Sarah? Are you here?”
She met him at the door with a soft smile. “Morning, sleepyhead. I brought you coffee.”
Owen kissed her, distracted as he tried to puzzle out what was going on. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
She bit her lip. “I think so. I’d planned to take half the day off as a surprise, but when I got there, the power was out, so we didn’t open. I went ahead and did the grocery shopping and a couple of other things, then I came home.” She trailed him to the dresser, taking the towel and holding it in front of her as he pulled clothes from the drawers. All the while, she observed him. “That never gets old, you know.”
“What? Watching me?”
She nodded, her cheeks turning a bit pink. Though she was smiling, tension was plain in every line of her body.
Owen decided to play it light. “Yeah, well, you’re the lucky one, I guess. I’m always asleep when you get ready for the day. Most of the time anyhow.” Once he had pants on, he went to her and tossed the towel aside. Wrapping her in a loose embrace, he studied her. “What’s wrong?”
Sarah closed her eyes and laid her cheek against his chest, over his heart. “I wrote you something.”
After a moment, she pulled back with a huff and took an envelope from the back pocket of her jeans, but she didn’t give it to him right away. Instead, she clasped it tightly, biting her lip so hard that Owen winced.
“Here,” she finally said, handing it over. “Read it. Please.”
Mouth dry, Owen took the envelope and moved to the bed, easing onto the side. He had a gut feeling he needed to sit down to find out whatever was going on.
As he carefully split the seal, Sarah crossed her arms and walked to stand in front of the door that opened onto the deck outside the bedroom. He stared at her back, wondering if this was the moment every dream he had would come crashing down around him, and pulled the folded paper from the envelope. Opening it took every bit of mental strength he could muster, and still, for a few seconds, he couldn’t bring himself to look at the words.
When he did, they didn’t make sense. Two words, written in Sarah’s neat and feminine hand. Two words that, yes, completely changed everything, just not in the way he’d been dreading.
Stunned, Owen stared at the paper, barely aware that he was shaking his head with befuddled shock. “You… wha… how?” Memories of one exceptionally torrid, steamy night where things had gotten out of hand a couple of months ago popped into his mind with what he could have sworn was a ding. “Oh.”
Sarah turned, her countenance somber and concerned. “Yes, oh. I’m sorry.”
Owen didn’t know what to say, but he did know what he had to do—if he could get his body to cooperate. He got to his feet, embarrassed to find them a bit weak, and managed to cross the distance between them. Without a word, he folded her into a hug and held on tight, his nerves settling as soon as he felt the realness of her in his arms.
After a brief hesitation, she hugged him back.
“Pregnant. As in… with child. My child. Our child,” he whispered, lifting his face to gaze down at her. He cupped her cheek, pushing back a stray hair. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I went to the doctor this morning to find out. Is this… I know this isn’t what we’d planned.”
Solemnly, Owen kissed her forehead. “No, it isn’t. I’m not angry, if that’s what you’re worried about. Are you okay? What’d the doctor say? It’s a boy, right?”
She ducked her head and chuckled. “That, we don’t know. He said I’m fine and that everything looks perfectly normal. I’m about two months along, we think. I’m almost certain that I know when we, uh… when we conceived. I kind of figured we were in trouble as soon as that happened, but it was worth it.” When he laughed, she raised her head, surprised. “What’s funny?”
“We are. And yes—it was worth it. Oh, Sarah Jane,” he whispered before kissing her. “I love you.”
She clung to him as tightly as he was holding her. “You mean that?”
“Yes, I do. All of it—that night being worth this result and that I love you. A baby… I can’t grasp what that means fully. We’re going to be parents.” He was grinning too widely and probably looked like a fool, but he didn’t care. “We’re gonna need a bigger room.”
Sarah laughed softly, and her voice was tight with emotion when she spoke. “Probably, yes. I was so afraid you’d be upset. I know the idea of children scares you a bit.”
He held her close, relishing the feel of her. “No. I couldn’t be happier. How could a baby be a bad thing?” he asked in a whisper. Owen brushed his mouth against hers, then came back for a deeper kiss. “I’d say that’s the best birthday present anyone has ever given me. Hands down, I know it is.”
Her lips curved. “Does that mean my note is going in your box?”
“Oh, yes. One of these days, many years in the future, we’ll look back through that box and fall in love with each other all over again. I can hardly wait.”
“That implies we’re going to fall out of love at some point,” she said, tracing his lower lip with her fingertip, her eyebrows arched.
Owen shook his head and captured her hand, kissing the palm. “Never. Not for the rest of my days and beyond.”
Her smile was beautiful and full of happiness and love. “Sounds good to me.”
~ * * * ~
A Quick Note from Molly
Dear Awesome and Fabulous Readers,
Molly Campbell here. I’m getting ready to run away from home, and I didn’t want to just up and leave without letting you know I was going. See, life isn’t working out quite the way I’d hoped it would. My job ended in utter disaster, so for the past few months, I’ve been helping out here and there in the family where I was needed. However, I’m not feeling particularly useful at the moment, and that’s not a normal mode for me. I’m going to go stark, raving mad if I don’t find something to do.
Plus, if I stick around Firefly Hollow much longer, my sweet, loving, overbearing, overprotective, obnoxious brothers are going to have me running a daycare center for Campbells! As much as I love babies, particularly nieces and nephews and the like, I’m not signing up for Noah and Eli to be my bosses. No way, nuh-uh. Not in a million years. I’d maim both my brothers and then end up having to take care of them, given that I’m a nurse practitioner.
Grandma and Grandpa are giving me their full blessing and support, and I’m so grateful to have that. I’m also grateful that I’ll be off their radar so far as it pertains to the Campbell Matchmaking Machine. I’ll find someone on my own time, thank you very much. Not theirs. As much as I love and adore them, that’s a path I’ll start on my own. Sometime, maybe. A few years from now when I’m settled. The last thing I want in my life right now is the complication of a romance.
Well, I’d best run. It’s getting late, and I want to be well and clear of Perry County before midnight. I’m sharing a house with Easton at the moment, and he tends to get up for a literal midnight snack every blessed night. It’s best if he doesn’t know I’m gone till the morning.
Hope to see you out there on the road!
Hugs and love,
If you’re curious, here’s the blurb for Burning Springs. And yes, it contains that romance Molly is sure she wants to avoid. 😉
Molly Campbell never expected to find herself working as a waitress in a diner in the middle of small-town Tennessee. She certainly never anticipated that she would develop feelings for one of the diner’s patrons, never mind that she would find herself homeless and having to rely on his kindness for shelter. But that’s where she ended up, struggling to reconcile reality with her hopes and dreams in order to come to terms with both.
Jonah Sutton doesn’t trust the redheaded Kentucky girl his aunt hired to help out in the diner. Convinced she’s hiding something, he vows to stick close so he can keep an eye on Molly. It doesn’t take long for his suspicion to turn to intrigue, and when a crisis hits close to home, he’s more than happy to step up and offer her his support. He never imagined his toughest battle would be figuring out a way to convince her to stay in Burning Springs and build a life with him.
Burning Springs is the thirteenth book in the “Firefly Hollow” series, women’s fiction romances set in Appalachia that follow the Campbell family through generations. It contains paranormal elements of traditional Appalachian folklore. It’s available on Amazon, BN.com, iTunes, and Kobo as an e-book, and coming soon as a paperback. Happy Reading!
In case there are some of you who aren’t subscribed to my New Release Newsletter (which is fine, no pressure!), or in case someone wants to come along and read this later, here’s the letter “Lily” wrote to readers to let them know about her story, Murky Pond. Enjoy!
When I was summoned for the purpose of writing you a letter, I’ll admit to being a bit nervous. First, I’m not anywhere near being the correspondent my grandfather Owen is, and there are quite a few of you who’ll be receiving this missive. That’s intimidating.
Second, when I was informed that the purpose of this letter was to let you know about my book, “Murky Pond,” and to give you reasons to consider purchasing said book, I really wanted to back out. I hate pimping and promoting, even if I do think you’d enjoy reading the story of my relationship with Warren Sullivan.
That said, it is a good story, a sweet and poignant tale, so I’ll do my best. Plus, it’s a cold day here on Dragonfly Creek Farm, and if I can take a few minutes in a warm office with some coffee, I’m not going to argue.
Bulleted lists seem to work best, I’m told, so let’s see what I can come up with.
- It’s a love story. Who doesn’t love a good romance?
- There are horses.
- You get to see the Campbells again, lots of them—and they can admittedly behave quite like certain rear parts of horses from time to time. Not me, of course, but the rest of the family. I’m perfectly laid-back and easygoing. Someone has to keep the stubborn mules in line, right?
- There’s heart-wrenching tragedy… poor Warren goes through so much in his life. Is it any wonder I gravitated toward him and held on tightly? The answer is a resounding “no” but you’ll have to pick up “Murky Pond” to know exactly what I’m talking about. And it isn’t just Warren who suffers this time around. We all do, thanks to a horrible event that could have turned out much worse than it did. Don’t worry—we’re all still here. It was just a close call.
- We have a ton of good food that I hear made the author quite hungry as she was writing. (And my recipe for truly yummy chicken salad is in the back of the book if you like that sort of thing.)
- If nothing else, our story is one of the power of hope in the face of unspeakable adversity. Not just how we fell in love, but from start to end, everyday life to the romantic scenes, it’s about keeping on and not giving up even when you want to hide (or when we do try to hide, even). I think we can all use that sort of thing from time to time, that sense of hope.
- Did I mention the super-sexy, funny, charming, stubborn man? Yeah. There’s that. Of course, I’m somewhat biased.
I hope you’ve seen enough reasons to give “Murky Pond” a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
I’d best sign off for now. There’s a ton of work to do here on the farm, and I’m helping Mom and Dad decorate the house. We’ll be hosting the whole family in a few weeks, and it’s important that we get the halls decked and festive. It’s been a very difficult year for us Campbells as a whole, but we’re all stronger for what we’ve been through, and we want to celebrate that strength.
Yeah, you read that right. I’m pointing the finger at you, lady.
See, I had this all laid out in my head. There were two options to choose from at the top of the list. One was Confluence, the standalone romance based on a short story I’d written a few years back. It’s a danged good story, has some emotional punch, and I want to expand it and make it full length.
The second option was Inside, the story of an agoraphobic woman who helps solve a mystery while dealing with some very dark, very persistent personal demons.
Is either of those what I’m writing? Nooooooo….
Instead, I’m finding myself in Leroy, Indiana, in the middle of winter, causing poor Ethan and Wyatt and the gang to have to all sorts of difficulties to sort out. Dang it! And I blame you, DeAnn.
See, there was that blog post last week where she and Cory got to “sit down and interview” characters. Beth and Jason were elected to represent Leroy, and they got to bickering, and it just reminded me of how fun that universe can be. And how challenging.
So instead of writing about Cassie and Morgan and their love affair, or Lydia and her demons, I’m shoveling snow and murder in Leroy.
Now I’m eating crow. “Noooo,” I’d answered in that blog post, “I won’t be writing another Leroy book for a while. I have other things that are sparking my muse.” HA!!!! Oh, you muses, you. Playful little things. Just like cats, they love to prove you wrong after you’ve declared yourself.
I’m not really upset with DeAnn, in case any of you wondered. I’m fine with going back to Leroy. A little jetlagged and whiplashed from the one-eighty I ended up doing creatively, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. So far, we’re off to a smashing nearly six-thousand-word start.
What can I tell you about this book, you ask? Let’s see…
This book is Carrie’s story. Carrie’s a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department, and she’s played small roles in most of the other books. Who’s the hero? That would be sweet Robbie Bailey.
The book takes place about eight or nine months after In the Heart’s Shadow.
This book may or may not have a “Shadows” title. Why? Because holy cow, I don’t know if I can come up with another title that makes sense and fits the book with some version of “Shadow” in the title. I like to joke that the next book is going to be titled Secrets Under the Grave’s Heart of the Moon’s Hidden Shadows. Or perhaps even Shadows Book No. 6, just like Chanel. Because I would rather write three books than come up with a single title at this point. It’s that hard. (Hint hint, suggestions would be appreciated.)
When can you all expect this book? Let’s see, today is January 15th. If all goes according to schedule, meaning things take a similar route to what they have with my stuff over the past year, I’d expect it sometime in April or May. Hopefully sooner than that, but we’ll see. And there will be a T. L. Haddix release prior to that–the fifth book in the Firefly Hollow series, Cricket Cove, is at the editor’s now. So probably mid-February for that one.
Anyhoo, I have to go tackle some real-world errands for a bit, but then I’ll be back in my chair, plugging away. These poor characters. They’re going to get off to a rough start. Hopefully that will make for some good reading, though. It usually does. 😉
So a few days ago, an idea popped into my head. I’m still new at all this reader-interaction stuff, but I wanted to do something that would be fun. I asked fans on my Facebook page and Twitter feed to submit questions they wanted answered. These could be questions for me, questions about the books, questions about writing, or even questions for the characters. Several people responded, and several of the questions made me laugh out loud.
I’m going to answer those questions here and now. I’ll start with the non-character stuff. Then we’ll have some fun. 😉
Geraldine asks: Where did you go to school, and what do you write?
I went to school in Perry County, Kentucky. R.W. Combs for elementary, Dilce Combs for high school. I was supposed to be in the last graduating class, but construction delays made us the second-to-last. Interestingly enough, one of my uncles was in the first graduating class, way back in 1955, I believe it was.
I write romance, romantic suspense, erotic romance, and romantic parodies. I’m hoping to venture into a couple other genres in this upcoming year.
I have four series – The Shadows/Leroy series (romantic suspense), the Firefly Hollow series (romance with light paranormal elements), the Sunset Motel series (erotic romance), and the Vapid Vixens series (romantic parodies.)
Jaime would like to know the following: Where do your ideas come from? Have these characters been in your head for a long time or do you create them as needed? Will there be more books in the Shadows series? Who is YOUR favorite character?
My ideas come from… I’m not sure where they come from, to be honest. Not all of them. Some come in dreams. Some come from little glimpses of things I see in the real world. But beyond that, I have no idea. I used to tell myself stories when I was a young girl, and then as an adult, in order to go to sleep. Yes, I’m something of an insomniac. And that storytelling led me to where I am now. I still use that time to plot things out, work scenes out in my head.
The characters–both. Some are old friends. Some are new acquaintances. And just like in real life, getting to know them can sometimes lead to some surprises.
I’m not sure is the best answer I can give you about the Shadows series. I do have some ideas I’d like to play with for that series, but the creative muses are riding me pretty hard to do other things first. I’d like to come back to Leroy someday but for right now, other things are going to come first.
Who is my favorite character? Oh, boy. From the Shadows series, I really like Beth and Ethan. Their dynamic just… works for me, I guess you would say. And Jason Hudson. Someone asked me once in an interview which character I’d choose to spend a day with, and I answered Jason. He’d be a blast. He’s such a hoot, and I kind of hate that he hasn’t gotten his own book. I may remedy that some day.
From the Firefly Hollow series, it has to be Owen. He’s so sure that no one will ever love him, and he’s so confounded when he meets Sarah… He just melts my heart. I think Ethan has a little of that, too, and that’s probably why he’s my favorite hero from the Shadows series. Beth just walks in and loves him, and he doesn’t know what to do with her.
Ashley – She, too, asked about the next Shadows/Leroy book. She thinks Garrett Gordon needs his own story, and I tend to agree. Garrett is still a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve struggled for a while now trying to figure out who he is, and he’s just so stoic and surly, he won’t let me in. He isn’t ready, I suppose. And I do have someone in mind to pair him up with… but he’s being stubborn.
She also wants to know what has happened to all the other Leroy characters. Where are they now? They are plugging along. I’ve not quite figured out where I want certain storylines to go just yet, so I hesitate on giving specific answers. If I feel that I can do it justice, I may do a web-based series updating everyone. Little “slice of life” stories to keep you all updated. I’ll keep you posted on that and if I do decide to do that, I’ll send out notice in my newsletter. (If you haven’t signed up, the link is here.)
Now, the character questions. I’ve decided to have a bit of fun with this, so you all bear with me here, please. Those of you who asked character questions, I’m going to “write you in” to this scene. 😉 I hope you enjoy it.
~ * * * ~
When the call from T. L. Haddix went out early this past week for questions from readers for the characters, a collective groan went up from most of the men who appear in the books. The women, for the most part, were pleased as punch. On the date the post was to go live, they “gathered” in a room to do the interview.
“It’s nice to have someone interested in asking us questions,” Sarah Campbell said. “Exciting and more than a little flattering.”
Owen, her husband, looked at her and sighed. “It’s flattering. I’ll give you that. I don’t know how exciting it is, though. You know I don’t like putting on a public face.”
Beth Hudson Moore, who “drove down” to Hazard from Leroy just for this occasion, nudged him with her shoulder. “Oh, now. It won’t be that bad. You’ll enjoy it, I promise. Those two ladies standing outside the green room looked as nice as they could be.”
Owen wasn’t convinced. He quirked an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Let’s get on with it.”
Beth’s brother, Jason, sent the older man a grin. “You sound just like Ethan would.”
“Doesn’t he?” Beth asked. “It’s sweet.”
Owen’s cheeks flushed, but a hint of a smile played around his lips.
T. L. stepped into the room with a wide-eyed look on her face. “Why am I so nervous about this? You all are getting all the questions.”
“Because you don’t want any of us to be uncomfortable,” Sarah answered. “Don’t you worry. We’re fine.”
“Okay. In that case, is everyone ready? The readers are a little anxious, especially Cory. She’s already run around the building three times, she’s so giddy. She may even squeal,” T. L. warned.
Jason grinned, his dimples and blue eyes making every woman in the room smile back in appreciation. “I’m used to making the ladies squeal. Bring her on.”
Beth smacked him while Sarah and T. L. snickered. Even Owen seemed amused. “You’re a married man now. Behave,” Beth admonished.
“And she hasn’t met you yet, besides,” T. L. told him. “You’re not the man who has her all aflutter.
Everyone looked at Owen, whose face turned pink. “Oh, you’re kidding me. Really?”
“Mm-hmmm. I told you our female readers just love you.”
When he groaned and covered his face with his hands, everyone laughed. Sarah turned to T. L. with a sparkling smile. “This is going to be fun.”
“I hope so. I’ll be right back.”
A minute later, she opened the door and led the two women into the room, directing them to the empty chairs she’d placed around the circle. Once they were seated, she made the introductions. “Everyone, this is DeAnn and Cory. Ladies, you know who these folks are. Well, Cory doesn’t because she hasn’t read the Shadows series yet.”
Beth waved from across the coffee table. “I’m Beth Hudson Moore, and this is my brother, Jason. My book is the second one, Under the Moon’s Shadow, and Jason makes an appearance in all of them.”
“Hey, I get my own short story,” he protested.
She rolled her eyes. “A whopping less-than-a-thousand words in a flash-fiction anthology. Big whoop.” Her wink told them she was teasing. Jason stuck his tongue out at her, and she gently pushed his shoulder.
“Remind you of anyone?” Sarah asked Owen in a soft murmur.
He smiled, looking much more relaxed than he had before. “Reminds me of five someones.”
A tiny squeak sounded from Cory, who was practically vibrating out of her chair, she was so excited. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were as big as silver dollars. She kept looking down at her papers, then up at Owen and Sarah. Particularly at Owen.
“Omigod, omigod. I just–you’re so–Eeeep!!! Omigod. He’s real!” Her feet tapped on the floor as she danced in her chair, and she grinned at T. L. “I can’t–omigod!”
Across the coffee table, Owen was looking uncomfortable, but Sarah was chuckling.
Without a word, T. L. handed Cory a paper bag. “If you start to hyperventilate, use this. Do you still want to go first, or do you think you need a few minutes?”
When Cory put the bag over her mouth and started breathing into it, shaking her head no, T. L. smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “DeAnn, looks like you’re first.”
DeAnn’s face was a little flushed, and she smiled at Beth and Jason nervously. “My question was actually about Galen, but T. L. explained that he had to stay home with Stacy and the baby. And she also made us meeting you conditional–I have to ask the question I brought up on Facebook,” she said, sitting forward to look around Cory to make a face at T. L.
There was a good amount of wickedness in T. L.’s answering grin. “It was a good question.”
DeAnn shook her head, but she was smiling. “I wanted to know if I could borrow Galen Gordon for a day or two. So I guess maybe my question was for Stacy, instead of him.”
Beth laughed. “Given the way she beat up on the skanky you-know-what down in Kentucky, I’d say you’d be safer to not ask. Though they both would be flattered that you did. The man is too attractive for his own good.”
“I’m going to tell Ethan you said that,” Jason teased.
“I’m sure you will. He can handle it. He’s not too jealous of Gordon anymore. It usually works to my advantage when he does get a flare of the green-eyed monster,” she told DeAnn with a mischievous wink.
Owen coughed. “I don’t even want to know.”
“You’d know if you read the books,” Sarah told him pertly. “As I understand it, though, Garrett is still single, isn’t he?” she asked Beth. “And he does bear a remarkable resemblance to his brother.”
“Only in looks,” Jason put in. “Once you get to know him, he’s a horse’s–” He scowled and rubbed his arm where Beth had smacked it. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Don’t say that about Garrett. He’s a nice guy. He just has some… issues to work through. That’s all.”
Jason huffed out an offended breath. “Well, I wish Tabby would hurry up and work them out for him.”
T. L. shot him a look. “Really? Tabby? I’m trying to be serious here.”
“Yeah, and you’re just going to have to be a serious Tabby.”
She shook her head. “You characters…. What am I going to do with you?”
“Write more books,” came Jason’s prompt answer.
“Working on it.” She exchanged a look with Owen, who was smiling. “You know how it is, meeting deadlines, keeping up the pace. I just want to rest for a day or two, but my brain won’t let me.”
“You’ll rest when you need to,” Owen assured her.
“So DeAnn, was that all?” T. L. asked.
The other woman nodded. “But this is fun. Thanks for inviting me.”
T. L. shook her head. “Thanks for asking in the first place. Cory, I guess it’s your turn. Are you ready?”
Cory blew out a comical breath, holding the paper with her questions on it out from her chest. “I can’t believe you’re making me ask this. If I wasn’t meeting Owen… I could make you disappear, you know.”
T. L. grinned. “Ain’t skeered. Ask your questions, girlie.”
Cory shot her a fake-evil look and sighed. Not looking at Owen and Sarah, she read from the paper. “Owen. If we were to make sweet, sweet love…”
Sarah laughed so hard, so fast, she snorted. She had to cover her mouth, though her laughter was plain to see on her face as she watched to see how her husband would react.
Owen scowled at her, his cheeks bright red flags. “You laugh. Go ahead. How in the world did I end up being a sex symbol?” He shook his head. “I can’t answer that, young lady. I’m old enough to be your father, you know.”
Cory, mostly over her intimidation, gave an innocent shrug. “You weren’t in the first book. And you’ve only gotten better with age.”
Sarah nodded. “Yes, he has.” She winked at Cory, who winked back. “So is that it?”
“No. Sarah–if Owen and I were to make sweet, sweet love…”
Owen was shaking his head, which was buried in his hand. But Sarah tried to answer seriously. “It wouldn’t be lovemaking. You know that.”
Cory sighed. “I do know that. But a girl can dream. Besides, I have my own Owen.”
“I’m glad. Everyone needs an Owen,” Sarah said with a smile.
“I do have a serious question for the two of you. What is the most difficult challenge you faced while raising your children?”
Owen, mostly over his embarrassment, exchanged a look with his wife. “That is a good question.”
Sarah nodded. “It is. And not easy to answer. We have five great kids. They weren’t angels, not by any stretch.”
“Especially Emma,” Owen added with a smile. “But they never did push the boundaries in ways that other kids tend to. Not even our little hellion. I don’t think our kids are going to be as lucky with the grandkids, though. Eli and Noah have been fighting a lot lately.”
Cory frowned. “Real fighting or just brothers fighting?”
“There’s some real angst there I never saw with our boys,” he answered.
Cory turned to T. L., instantly suspicious. “What do you have planned?”
T. L. spread her hands. “It isn’t me. It’s them. I’m just the transcriptionist.”
Though she didn’t look pleased, Cory turned back to the Campbells.
Sarah continued to answer her question. “I think the most difficult part of raising five kids was just the logistics of it from time to time. That and the worry.”
Owen was nodding. “Even though I was home with them, and Sarah was until after Rachel was born, being a work-at-home dad was a challenge from time to time. I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked, especially when I had a hard deadline pressing down on me.”
“Although our kids never really complained about that,” Sarah added. “You did a fine job of balancing things for the most part, and when you didn’t, we let you know before it caused hard feelings.”
When Owen put his arm around Sarah’s shoulders, Cory practically melted in her chair. But she went back to something else Sarah had said. “What about the worry?”
Sarah’s smile was a little sad. “When we first became parents, I thought we’d get them out of the nes,t so to speak, and then we’d be able to relax. But that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter if your kids are two or twenty-two, you worry about them.”
“That’s true. Even though they’re starting to settle down and have their own kids, you still fret about them being happy, about their kids being happy, about their spouses being happy. We’re lucky that we have great children-in-law,” Owen said.
“You do have a great family,” Beth surprised them by saying. “What? I read the books. I want to know what’s going on in the alternate universe, too.”
After some idle chit-chat, the question and answer session broke up. T. L. walked DeAnn and Cory out. “Thanks for coming, you guys. I really appreciate it. This has been a blast. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.”
~ * * * ~
And I seriously did enjoy this. Thank you all so much for the interest, for the questions, and for reading the books. I could not do this without your support, and I hope I continue to do you proud. 🙂