The following ran as my July 27, 2016 Just a Thought column in the Terrace Standard. Because I’ve been distracted by wonderful things this summer (namely my new grandson🙂 and my whopping 25th wedding anniversary), it was a reprint of something I wrote in July 2012 . . . and while the weather right now is glorious, hot, sunny and perfect, and I haven’t complained about it a bit, the words still resonate with me. I hope you like them too. Enjoy!
Hello and happy (sunny!) Thursday greetings,
I just wanted to pop up a quick note for all KOBO readers. Kobo’s having a huge sale to celebrate the first week of summer. Hooray! For just a few days, a huge percentage of their stock is 50% off, including each of my River’s Sigh B & B novels and Bigger Things. Load your summer reads now–and please spread the word. Click this link to get shopping! 🙂
Wishing you a wonderful weekend (Come on, let me have it — it’s almost the weekend, after all) and, of course, happy reading!
I’m ashamed to admit that kindness used to be way down on the list of what I valued as a character trait in myself and in others. Actually, it didn’t place at all. Sometimes I’d even scoff at people I dubbed (as if it were the worst of all things to be) “nice.” I thought intellectual ability mattered more. Or work ethic. Or strength of conviction. Or sense of humor. Or, or, or . . . so many things.
“Kindness Matters” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February January 24, 2016, as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” It’s part of a theme I want to explore in 2016—“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.” If you missed January’s, you can read it here: “What Do You Know?“
Happy news for all my newsletter subscribers, new and old, plus any and all River’s Sigh B & B fans. :) New Year’s Resolution: ONE TO KEEP, a holiday novella, set in River’s Sigh B & B, is coming out to help you celebrate this winter – or hide from it.🙂
ONE TO KEEP hits digital sale shelves December 15, but to thank all you who read my books and subscribe to my newsletter, I’ll be giving it to you as a free gift and sneak preview early December, so watch your inboxes!
Haven’t signed up for my newsletter, but want to enjoy a free River’s Sigh B & B getaway? What are you waiting for? :) Sign up for EV’S NEWS today by clicking here! (I fully admit I’m trying to seduce you into reading all the books, LOL. I hope you do and that you love them.)
And please spread the word to any friends or family you think might enjoy my world. I’d love to give them ONE TO KEEP too, so get them to subscribe. The more the merrier!
It’s promising to be a windy, rain-soaked, cold and dreary weekend, which is perfect, perfect, perfect–if you’re a reader that is!😉 Dig out your coziest blanket, round up snacks and warm bevvies, get yourself a good book and snuggle in for the next few days. Enjoy!
p.s. In case you’re in between reads or want something new, considering visiting River’s Sigh B & B. Here are the first two chapters in Book 2. I hope you get Hooked.😉
~ Chapter 1 ~
Sam was fresh from the shower, barefoot and dressed only in a robe. She wrapped her arms around herself and turned in a slow circle. Five stars or not, a hotel room was always just a hotel room, wasn’t it? It was beautiful with its teak four-poster bed, matching highboy and desk, and snow-white linens, but generic nonetheless.
She settled into the leather wingback chair, the room’s best feature in her opinion, and put her feet up. A niggle of surprise tickled her as she uncapped a pen and reached for her spiral bound notebook. Who’d have thought? Samantha Kendall using a diary. But she couldn’t help it. The movement of her hand across page, the scent of the paper, the process of filling the sheet with the mess in her head—slowly at first, then so fast her hand cramped—soothed her and helped her see more clearly than she had in a long time. Her life, once so beautiful and busy, felt empty. Come to think of it maybe that was the appeal of the journaling. She filled something. Created a tangible mark that she was here. That she lived.
The coffee pot on the desk across the room sighed and sputtered.
“Ah, my faithful friend,” she whispered, then got up, doctored herself a mug of the dark espresso blend, and settled down again.
She sipped her hot drink and drummed her fingers on her notebook. What to say, what to say?
She paused, drank more coffee, and ran her fingers through her damp hair. Finally she began to write.
Sheesh, three pages minimum is going to take hours today.
But it didn’t. By the time she had two cups of caffeine in her, she’d churned out her minimum, plus another three pages—yet she wasn’t calmed. She was edgier than ever. She scanned the last page, bit her lip and barely resisted the urge to tear the sheets loose and throw them away.
There’s nothing I hate more than my sister being right about anything, but I have to hand it to Jo. She is right about this, and the pros and cons I wrote yesterday confirm it.
I always figured Aisha would reenter my life at some point, if only, like seems to be the case, for medical information and “closure.” (How I hate that damn word!) I just thought I’d be at a spot in time, personally and professionally, that I could be proud of—or at least not a bloody embarrassment. But at the same time, I guess it’s not about me, is it? (Ha ha, quick, someone tell Jo I actually said that!) I would’ve done anything to have someone to talk to, when I was stuck in the same boat Aisha’s in, so how can I refuse her request to meet?
My two biggest fears: that she’ll ask about the asshole who fathered her. (What can I say about him that won’t just be a huge ugly shadow over her?), or that she’ll hate me—which is pretty hilarious because I definitely don’t want her in my life permanently.
That was the line that stopped her. She shook her head, crossed the last line out, drew an arrow, and scribbled furiously.
That she’ll hate me, which I’ll totally understand, or worse, want something I don’t have to give her. All of my love for her went out the door with her the day I gave her a chance for a better life. (Not that it seems to have panned out—but don’t even get me started!) And what if she does want a relationship? I have no frigging clue what I’ll do.
Samantha closed the book, and stashed it in her suitcase.
She paid special attention to her outfit and did her makeup and hair just so, but it wasn’t until she sprayed a light mist of perfume in front of her and walked through it that she admitted she’d made up her mind.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. She’d return to Greenridge. She’d see if she could be of any help to Aisha and answer any awkward questions her biological daughter had.
And then, so long as Jo and Callum were willing to let her monopolize one of their B & B cabins—and why wouldn’t they? Her cash was as good as anyone’s—she’d spend some concentrated time figuring out what exactly she wanted next and why her life, which she’d always enjoyed, wasn’t enough for her these days.
She cocked her head, smiled at her reflection in the mirror, and nodded approval at both the image she projected and her new thoughts. She was an excellent planner and there was no reason she couldn’t get herself back on track. And once she had a new direction, she’d leave Greenridge in the dust and never return. The place was a black hole. In lieu of a welcome sign at the beginning of town, there should be a plaque that read, “Abandon all hopes of having a life, ye who enter here.”
And if Jo wanted to visit now and again? Well, she’d have to sojourn out of her hobbit village and head for the city. Sam was done with the ghost town of bad memories. She was sick of the family-focused “great place to raise kids” motto that everyone in town seemed to spout. Not everyone had kids or even wanted them. And she was beyond weary of how the place reminded her that except for her one solitary sibling, Jo, she had no family. Everyone was dead. There’d be no TV movie worthy reunion or redemption scene. Greenridge was like one big beer commercial for all the things she didn’t have. And didn’t want, she reminded herself.
~ Chapter 2 ~
Charles tripped over the stuffed-to-bursting rucksack he’d stowed by his office door and stared at the ringing phone like it might bite. The call display showed T.C.O. Literary Management all too clearly, and unfortunately his agent Theresa, the “T” in T.C.O., knew he was home. After all, he’d just sent an e-mail seconds ago admitting it. He sighed heavily and picked up.
“Theresa, hi. Good to hear from you.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, and get real. You knew that e-mail wasn’t going to fly.”
“And no buts.” Her voice softened. “I feel for you. You know I do. And I’m on your side even if it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s time, Charlie. Past time. And if you can’t see that, maybe it’s time to rethink your career.”
Charles sank into his office chair and rolled back and forth across the room. He didn’t want to “rethink” his work. He loved what he did, what he wrote. Or he used to. And anyway, it wasn’t like he hadn’t considered doing something else. Just absolutely nothing came to him that didn’t sink him even more deeply into the mire of apathy and disillusionment he seemed unable to pull himself from. And now, with Aisha living only God knew where and insisting she was staying there to have her baby, he didn’t even have the occasional bright spot of her presence.
“You’ve used up all your reserve books, even your earliest ones that were previously unpublished for pretty good reasons. It’s just a good thing some readers don’t care what you write as long as the story says Jax Bailey on the cover.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Oh, you know what I mean. Don’t get pissy. I love your books. You’ve earned reader loyalty, but even diehard fans are starting to grumble on the Interwebs. You can only play the dead wife card for so long before people start to think you need to get over it.”
Charles managed to not throw the phone across the room, but only just.
Theresa seemed to sense she’d crossed a line. “Sorry, that was crass. Obviously, healing isn’t an easy one, two, three process. I know you’re doing the best you can, just barely hanging on, and I know it will take time—but I’d hate to see you lose everything you worked so hard to build.”
Too late. Everything he’d worked for died when Maureen did. Still, Theresa wasn’t the enemy and she was on his side. He knew this. He also knew he’d probably exhausted every possible extension. He made a decent living, and Maureen’s life insurance had paid off the mortgage and left a little besides, but not enough to see him through life—and definitely not enough to provide ongoing stability to Aisha and her little one, should she decide to keep it. And he was a young(ish) man still. Forty-four was nowhere near the time to retire even if it felt closer to eighty these days.
“They need a new book, or, and it’s pretty nice of them, almost human in fact, they’ll forgive the contract without penalty, but if you ever want to write for them again, it’ll be like starting new.”
Perish the thought—and no, that wasn’t melodrama. “How long?” he asked.
“I got you six months, but that’s it, final offer, last extension.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay?” Even though their connection was a little static-filled, the surprise in Theresa’s voice was loud and clear. “Just like that you say okay?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No, but I still thought you’d be a harder sell.”
They wrapped the conversation up quickly from there, and Charles was careful to sound more positive than he felt. Six months, if he was his old self, was more than enough time to get a solid book to his publisher. But he wasn’t his old self, and didn’t think he ever would be again. Maureen had been gone three years, yet in some ways it was like she’d passed away yesterday, the grief would hit so fresh and raw. In other ways, however, it was like she’d left a lifetime ago, which, hard as it was, was sort of the truth. Neither his nor Aisha’s lives were the same. They had new existences altogether, as if their time on earth had been divided into separate realities: Life with Mo. Life without her.
He stood up, scooted his chair under his desk and turned off his computer, then grabbed his laptop. He was sick of himself and the endless woe-to-me pool he wallowed in. Even his self-pitying thought about everything he’d worked for dying when Maureen did wasn’t fully honest. Only half of what he worked for and lived for had passed on when she did. He still had their daughter, and who knows, maybe a grandbaby too.
He hit the lights and hefted his bag. Soon, with any luck, he’d be in a better writing space and headspace. For a moment he wondered if he should’ve told Theresa his plan, then shook his head. Where he spent his time wasn’t her business and she’d just worry. Besides, though she’d be skeptical, he could write—or not write—just as easily in the boonies as he could at home.
And if Aisha was intent on setting up a temporary home in Greenridge, wherever that was, with this aunt whoever she was, in the hopes of connecting with her birth mom—who back in the day had seemed level-headed, but now he worried was a callous flake . . . well, he wasn’t going to just abandon her to the wolves and wilds. He’d take up residence in one of the cabins that were “so far beyond cool that he couldn’t possibly imagine how cool they were,” to quote Aisha, and support her in whatever ways he could. She was the only family he had left, and if anything came between them, damaged their relationship, or hurt her, it would be over his dead body.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Get Hooked today!
Paperbacks available at Misty River Books in Terrace, Eddie’s News in Prince Rupert, online pretty much everywhere🙂, and libraries across northern BC.
Have a fantastic weekend! I hope it’s filled with good food, comforting thoughts and company, and great reads. (All things I’m hoping for today too! :D)
Sometimes in the middle of a moment or event, I find myself slightly removed, watching with my psychic pen in hand, wondering even as I experience something how I will write about it.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It’s gray out there today and the crisp, smokey scent of the air says fall is definitely on its way. It’s a great night to stay in, make snacks and read on the couch–and if you don’t have a book, what a coincidence, I have one for you!😀 And for just one more week, it’s only 99 cents. That’s a whole lot of romance and adventure for a buck. Yay! Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.🙂
WEDDING BANDS by Ev Bishop
JO SAT ON THE CHILLY metal bench under the grimy shelter in front of the bus station for as long as she could, kicking up gravel with the scuffed toes of her sneakers and drawing designs on the fogged up glass. Where was he, where was he, where was he?
She doodled her and Callum’s names inside a heart-shaped flourish, then scrawled “True if erased!” beside it.
When she couldn’t hold still any longer, Jo hopped to her feet and paced, not wanting to go inside the building because what if he arrived and thought she was the one who hadn’t shown up? But it was raining harder now, and cold wind blew sheets of water into the shelter. She could care less if she was soaked to the skin usually, but the long bus ride would be uncomfortable if her jeans were soggy. Plus, she had to pee. Really bad.
She considered the cozy interior of the station—well, cozy by comparison to where she was now anyway—once more. Then looked up the street and down it. Callum’s red Honda Civic was still nowhere to be seen. And anyway, he’d said he was going to walk. It was getting darker, but there were streetlights. She could see all too well there was no one walking toward her in any direction. She cracked her knuckles. The movement sparkled under the streetlight, and she looked down at the delicate gold band on her left ring finger. A tiny diamond twinkled up at her. She rubbed it with her thumb and grinned.
“Callum,” she whispered. Then she laughed out loud. “Callum, hurry up!”
It boggled her mind that they were doing this. They were really doing this. They were running away to get married!
But at 9:30, Callum still hadn’t shown up and the bus was supposed to board at 9:48. Jo’s bottom lip had a raw groove in it from her teeth. A slow but steady trickle of people filed past her into the station to buy tickets, ship boxes, and say good-bye to departing family and friends. Jo’s bladder moved past discomfort. It was going to burst. And her heart might too.
She headed into the station and beelined to the washroom. The stall was cramped but clean. She relieved herself without finding any real relief at all. Why hadn’t he come? Where was he?
She made her way to the payphones on the back wall by the vending machines. Her sister Sam said one day people would have miniature phones they’d carry on them at all times to call people whenever they wanted. Jo always thought that was far-fetched. Who on earth had so many people to call that they couldn’t wait till they got home? But tonight, picking up the gummy receiver, she changed her mind. Personal phones weren’t a terrible idea. Maybe Sam was onto something.
Jo inserted her quarter and pressed each digit in Callum’s phone number with utmost care, like she was performing a ritual or charm that would bring them together—or not.
The phone rang once, rang twice—was answered midway through the third ring by a clipped, impatient voice. “Yes?”
Rats. Mr. Archer. Callum’s dad. He hated her.
“Um, hello, Mr. Archer?”
No acknowledgement that yes, it was him. Not even a grunt.
“Is Callum there, please?”
Mr. Archer’s voice warmed suddenly. “Is this you Tracey?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Selene?”
A chuckle interrupted her. “Sorry, sorry. You know how it is for an old dad, trying to keep up with a young buck’s does.”
A young buck’s does? Jo traced a crack in the tile with her toe. What a creep.
“It’s Jo,” she said, “Jo Kendall.”
“Oh, sorry, lad—thought you were a girl for a minute. Must be a poor connection.”
Jo exhaled. Her knuckles were white on the receiver. “We’ve met, Mr. Archer. I’ve been dating Callum all year.”
“Oh, oh . . . ” There was a shuffling sound, then a porcelain clank, like a plate dropped too quickly onto another. “Well, I don’t keep track. He took off with someone in a blue Volkswagen about an hour ago. I just assumed the driver was the girl in his life these days. That’s not you? Not your car?”
Jo bowed her head and mumbled into the mouthpiece, “No, not me. Thanks anyway. We’ll probably all meet up at the same place later.” She hoped she didn’t sound as miserable as she felt. Who wanted to give the horrible man the satisfaction that she’d been ditched?
She hung the phone back in place, but stayed by the booth a moment, heels of her hands pressed into her eyes. What should she do? There was another bus at 5:30 a.m. Should she try to round Callum up? But on foot in the pouring rain in the growing darkness? She had no idea where to even start to look. Green- ridge had a small population, sure, but it was scattered over a huge geographic area. At the very least, she should call Ray. Of course she should! Obviously Callum would’ve called to say he was held up. He wasn’t an asshole.
Breathing easier, she dug for another quarter. “Yeah-lo,” a raspy voice answered.
Jo smiled at the familiar, corny combination of “Yeah and hello” her uncle always used.
“Hey, Uncle Ray. It’s Jo. Has Callum called by any chance?”
“He sure did, kiddo. Sounded upset. I took a message. Let me see. . . .”
Jo waited for Ray to rummage through his head for scraps of the conversation, a familiar, confusing mixture of love and irritation swirling in her gut. She prayed he hadn’t hit the bottle too heavy already, or who knew what mixed up, incoherent babble he’d pass on.
But Ray didn’t sound overly tipsy and wasn’t slurring when he said, “Ah, here it is, princess.”
Jo rolled her eyes. Her uncle was the only person in the world who looked at her and saw a princess.
“I wrote it down.”
“Wow, will wonders never cease?” The words slipped out before she could stop them.
Uncle Ray only laughed. “Wait a minute, I thought you said you were Jo? How come you’re sounding like your big sister Sam?”
Jo shifted from one foot to the other. It was 9:39. People streamed out of the small station toward the big Greyhound rumbling outside.
“He said, um . . . ” Jo could practically see Ray squinting at his barely legible scrawl. “He’s sorry, but it’s over. It won’t work—repeated that three times, angry-like. ‘It won’t work—just won’t work.’ Does that make any sense?”
Jo closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose. It made no sense. It also made perfect sense. She could hardly speak. “Yeah, yeah, it does. Thanks.” “Call me when you get settled back at your mom’s, all right?”
Jo forced a few more words out. “Yes, yes, I will.”
“I love you, baby girl.”
The words coaxed a blurry-eyed smile. Oh, Uncle Ray. “I love you too.” And she did, but like everything in her life, it was so damned complicated. How could you love someone and not really ever be there for them? Never get your shit together? You’d think with her history, Jo would be used to it by now, but she wasn’t. Some day she was going to have a home. A real one. A non-temporary, longer than a summer or a school year place to stay. She and Callum both wanted that—or then again, maybe not. Maybe just she did. She alone. Again.
She swallowed hard and stared up at the ceiling, willing the tide of saltwater in her eyes to recede. She pressed a hand to her sickish-feeling stomach. What was she going to do?
A crackly voice came over the P.A. system and announced last call for eastbound travelers.
Her suitcase was already stowed in the belly of the bus, loaded while she’d sat around waiting. It would be hard to change her mind now, even if she wanted to—and did she want to? Did she want to wander around the small town all summer, facing memories of Callum everywhere? Did she want to have some big high-drama face off with him about the how and why of him calling everything off so randomly and so last minute? No, she just couldn’t. It was too hard. And Ray’s, much as she loved him, wasn’t the place for her anymore. Things were going from bad to worse for him—and she’d just turned eighteen, just graduated. She was too young to settle down to take care of her uncle who was drinking himself to death and refused help. Even through the pain, she knew that.
She took a deep breath, hoisted her backpack, then limped outside as if physically injured. It felt like she was. On her way toward the silver-haired bus driver who stood by the bus door collecting tickets, she passed by the shelter. The blurred words “Callum + Jo, forever. True if erased!” jumped off the glass at her. Out of habit, she lifted her hand to rub the words away, then realized how dumb she was. Her hand returned to her queasy stomach. She boarded the bus.
THE EVENING AIR WAS CRISP but not yet freezing. Jo stopped in her tracks just to inhale. The comforting scent of cedar smoke from the house’s chimney, the salty-sweet smell of smoking salmon, and the earthy fragrance of the changing season thrilled through her. She wanted to pinch herself. It was all really hers—well, theirs. Her sister Samantha would see the light eventually. Imagine living here all year round. It would be like a postcard every season. All the work was worth it. How could Samantha want to get rid of this place? Was she crazy?
The first fallen leaves gleamed gold against the dark lawn and crackled under her boots as she continued toward the old house. The porch light glowed a friendly welcome, though its beam created shadows around her that she wouldn’t have noticed if there’d been no light at all.
Jo climbed the three steps to the home’s wraparound porch, and leaned her trout rod against a wall, well out of the way of the door. She was careful to make sure the pretty—and more importantly, lucky—wedding band lure, a bright beaded thing encrusted with rhinestones, was safely held in one of the rod’s eyes. She tucked her tackle box beside the rod and carried her basket of treasure into the house. Fresh caught Rainbows—even their name was gorgeous. She whispered a prayer of thanks for the beauty and bounty of the area. Her stomach rumbled.
Jo whistled for Hoover, but the dog didn’t come. He was probably still by the river, roaming about. She crossed her fingers that he hadn’t found something disgusting to roll in—his favorite trick—and whistled again. Still nothing. Used to his selective hearing and even more selective obedience, she happily transi- tioned to thoughts of side dishes. Asparagus and oven-roasted baby potatoes? Rice pilaf and broccoli rabe? Mmmm.
She kicked off her rubber boots and left them where they fell. Yes, they blocked the door, but wasn’t that one of the luxuries of living alone? The time would come soon enough when she had to worry about appearances and keeping everything just so. She imagined a houseful of paying guests and smiled.
She left her old black and red checked flannel jacket on. She’d get the fish frying before she cleaned up.
Halfway down the darkened hall toward the kitchen, Jo’s stomach tightened. There was a light on—and she knew she’d turned them all off.
“Hello?” she called, and felt stupid when she realized she’d clutched the buck knife attached to her belt. What was she going to do? Stab an intruder?
“Hello,” she said again, louder.
The voice that answered almost stopped her heart. “Jo, is that you, finally? I’ve been waiting all night. Where were you?”
Jo relaxed her grip on the knife handle reluctantly. If there was someone she actually wouldn’t mind stabbing it would be—
“Come on, don’t you have a kiss for your sis?”
—Yep, her “sis.” Samantha.
Jo flipped a switch, and another feeble bulb lit up.It didn’t do much to brighten the wood panel hall, but would keep Jo from colliding with Sam—or colliding literally, anyway. That was the first of many things Samantha complained about regarding the cabin they’d inherited from their uncle: its “archaic” lighting.
Samantha’s high heels clacked across the hardwood floor in the living room, then moved into the kitchen. Jo cringed, envisioning the dints she was probably leaving in her wake.
“Good grief, Jo. It’s a tomb in here. How do you stand it?”
Had she called it or what? “Every bulb doesn’t have to glare. I like soft—”
“What’s in the basket?”
How Jo wished she could disappear into one of the bedrooms, any one of them, no matter how cluttered or unfinished. But as she knew from a lifetime of experience, it wouldn’t help. Samantha would be there, in her face, until she tired of chewing at whatever she was after this time—and since “this time” involved money, she wouldn’t drop the bone till the cash was in hand.
“Trout,” Jo admitted miserably, all fantasies of a candlelit dinner for one dashed to hell.
Jo shrugged. If only that opinion meant Samantha was planning to eat elsewhere—but Jo knew better than that. She headed for the counter beneath the big window that had a gorgeous mountain view, and dumped her catch into one of the stainless steel sinks. “Dot’s doing Italian specials all week.”
“Pasta? Like I’d eat pasta. Goes straight to your belly.”
Jo patted her own “belly” with affection, not caring if she got fish slime on her shirt. It was due for a wash. “Well, I’m making potatoes.”
Samantha followed her, keeping a safe three-foot distance from any potential food mess. She gave Jo a quick once over and frowned.
“What are you wearing? You stink like fresh air and you look like a lumberjack. And tonight of all nights!”
“What do you mean ‘tonight’? What’s so special about tonight?”
Jo scrubbed her hands and started peeling potatoes. Samantha sighed dramatically. “I was hoping you’d look human when you met my lawyer, but thankfully I’ve already warned him about you.”
“Your what? Here, now, what?”
Samantha flourished one hand. “Callum, we’re ready for you.” A shadow moved in the dining room.
Jo was so angry she could hardly see.
And then she was so startled she almost sliced her thumb with the potato peeler. She put it down. Callum? As in Callum Archer? Her old Callum? No . . . the first name was a coincidence. Had to be. A tall man walked out of the living room and extended his hand.
“Callum Archer,” Samantha said and Jo’s brain swam. “Josephine—or Jo, as she’s sometimes called—my sister.”
Jo tried to give the hand gripping hers a firm shake, but as she met his piercing aqua blue eyes— eyes she’d never forget—she started to freak out. An irrational observation hit her: the man, Sam’s lawyer, her old Callum, had strong sexy-rough hands for a guy working a desk job. Her stomach churned. Breathe, she commanded herself. Breathe. It was absolutely no comfort at all that he looked as shocked as she felt.
“Hello Callum,” she said, hoping desperately for a dry, casual tone. “It’s been a long time.” And it had been. Fifteen years, four months. Not that she’d counted. . . .
“Jo? I’ll be damned.” And Callum did look like he’d just been damned. All the blood drained from his already fair skin, making his blue eyes burn even brighter and his black hair seem all the blacker. “You look exactly the same,” he said.
“When it’s half dark, perhaps,” Jo said wryly. “But thanks.” So he was still a flatterer. That much hadn’t changed.
Samantha’s eagle sharp gaze darted to Callum, then speared Jo. “So what—you guys know each other?”
Jo raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “Uh, no. I wouldn’t say that really. Used to. A bit. Kind of.”
“Kind of,” Callum repeated with a bitter note in his voice that Jo didn’t understand—and that pissed her off. What the hell did he have to be bitter about?
There was a moment of uneasy silence, then Callum had the nerve to laugh. “Sisters. Wow.” Jo hated the sexy, low timber of his voice and his easy confidence. “Here I’d just assumed the Josephine Kendall everyone in town was talking about, and that you went on about, was some aunt or something. I didn’t link Jo to Josephine at all.”
“Well, it’s a terrible name, but it’s better than Jo,” Samantha said.
“She doesn’t really strike me as the next thing to a bag lady,” Callum said, his head tilting as he studied Jo.
The next thing to a bag lady? What on earth had Sam been telling people?
Samantha sounded as affronted as Jo felt. “Have you taken a good look at her?”
Callum was still gripping Jo’s hand and she yanked away, suddenly conscious of her muddy jeans, old man’s shirt, and leaf and branch strewn hair. Shit. She was making an excellent first impression as a business professional, able to single-handedly turn the old cabin and overgrown property into a successful bed-and-breakfast, wasn’t she? She could practically hear Samantha’s victory chant.
She tried to fight the heat rising to her cheeks but failed, imagining how the room looked from his eyes. Breakfast and lunch dishes piled messily by the sink. A mishmash of junk littering the floor by the dishwasher. . . . She’d meant to box it up for Goodwill, but the beautiful fall afternoon had called to her. And what kind of ignoramus shows up unannounced and basically breaks into someone’s house anyway?
“I’m not sure what my sister told you, or why either of you thought an impromptu, unscheduled appointment would be at all appropriate or beneficial”—she glared at Samantha for a moment—“but it’s neither of those things. It’s a Friday night, and I have plans. We can set up a time next week to meet at your office to discuss the estate and terms of my uncle’s will, or, if you’re from out of town, we can conference call.”
Oh-so-confident Callum looked startled, and Jo made a couple more observations, all equally irritating. Time had been more than kind to him. While she’d found him gorgeous, like a rock god or something, back in the day—his tall, lanky frame had filled out with age. He looked more like a professional athlete than what her mind conjured for a lawyer. His icy blue eyes were still penetrating—and stood out spectacularly against his shock of silky raven hair— but he had just the start of crinkling laugh lines that softened his intensity. And he smelled good. Like fresh baked cookies, vanilla, cinnamon—
Callum’s voice, sharp and irritated, cut through the buttery attraction melting through Jo. “You didn’t arrange this? We just surprised her?” he said to Samantha.
Samantha waved her hand dismissively, and Jo wished she could lop one of those constantly gesturing hands right off. “She would’ve stalled indefinitely. And she doesn’t really have plans. She’s having dinner by herself.”
Like it’s a capital crime or something, Jo thought.
Callum cleared his throat. “Sounds nice, actually. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding—sorry we disturbed you.”
Jo didn’t lie and say it was fine. She herded them to the door.
“I don’t know why you’re being like this. We need to talk, get this figured out, decide what works best for everyone.”
“We have talked, Samantha. We disagree on what ‘works best’ means. Your lawyer may call me next week, anytime Monday through Friday between nine and five. I’ll consult my schedule and we can set an appointment.”
“Your schedule?” Samantha mocked.
Callum placed a hand low on Samantha’s back and guided her toward the door. “She’s right, Samantha. This wasn’t the right way to proceed.”
“And just so you’re aware. If you break into my house again, I’ll call the cops and press charges.”
Callum turned back from the door. “I’m not sure it’s so simple as ‘your’ house, Jo—but again, my apologies for the intrusion. It was a misunderstanding. I’ll be in touch.”
“Let’s just go, Samantha.”
“Yes, go, Samantha. Take your slimy lawyer’s advice. That’s what you’re paying him for right?”
Jo leaned against the mudroom’s wall after they left and closed her eyes. Why had she been so rude? Yes, even after all these years, the very thought of Callum was a slicing barb—but that was no excuse. They’d been kids. She needed to let him off the hook. For her own sake, not just his.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Curious about what happens next? I hope so.🙂 Snap up Wedding Bands tonight–-and spread the news, the 99 cent sale price is over in a week. :)