07 Dec New Work In Progress
Though my writing time is limited, I am busy working on a new book for you in the Star Lake series. I’m hoping to release it at the end of January or the first of February. Please enjoy the first chapter:
Lanie Perkins Hall stared at the two-story house she had once called home and sighed. Not how she imagined her life at thirty, coming home felt like a failure. At nearly thirty, she was supposed to be married with three kids – two boys and a girl or two girls and a boy. Instead, she found herself divorced, childless, alone, and back in Star Lake where single men were as prevalent as four-leaf clovers, but she hadn’t known where to turn when her marriage fell apart.
After nine years, she and Denny had admitted they were no longer in love. Roommates who hung out on occasion, they had spent the last few years on opposite sides of the small two-bedroom house they owned.
“I can’t do this anymore, Denny. We hardly talk, and when we do, it’s short and curt. I want to experience something again.”
“You’re right,” he nodded. “Neither of us are getting anything out of this marriage any longer. I think it best we go our separate ways.”
Lanie blinked at him, but nodded. A part of her had hoped he would fight, that he would suggest counseling or something else, but his quick agreement informed her he no longer cared to try. It saddened her a little, but she didn’t have the energy to fight for them both.
Because they hadn’t desired the same items from the house, the smooth process had taken no time. Before she had even processed it, her hand was bare, and she had half the money from the sale of the house in her account but no idea where to go.
She’d met Denny at college, and though they’d stayed in Dallas, close friendships had never formed. When he left, she realized the last place she remembered feeling comfortable was home in Star Lake. At least friends and family existed there.
With a sigh, she turned the engine off and popped the trunk. Inside was a small suitcase with some clothes and toiletries, her tablet, and a few books as the rest of her furniture and clothes would arrive later.
“Lanie, you’re here!” Her mother’s voice carried from the porch where she stood waving. Lanie shut the trunk and grabbed her purse from the passenger side before mounting the few steps to join her mother, an older, plumper version of herself.
“Hi, Mom. Thanks for letting me crash here a few days while I find a place.”
“We couldn’t leave you on the street, Honey, and don’t worry about a place.” She held the door open for Lanie to enter. “You can stay here as long as you’d like.”
Lanie forced a smile and swallowed her reply. If she had anywhere else to go, she wouldn’t be crashing with her parents. Though she loved them, they were easier to tolerate in smaller doses like at Christmas or Thanksgiving. If she’d planned better, she could have rented a room at the inn, but winter was Layla’s busiest time, and Lanie didn’t want to be an inconvenience.
“Dad is watching TV if you want to stop in and say hi.”
“Can I drop my bag off first?” Lanie asked. Elaine, her mother, was easy to get along with, but her father was another matter. Ex-military, Bob had always been strict, and he hadn’t jumped for joy when she moved away or when she married Denny. He’d be even more disappointed if he learned about her latest indiscretion, but she hoped never to have that discussion with him.
Her mother seemed to understand the hesitation as she nodded and ran her hands over the apron across her front. “I’ll be in the kitchen. When you get settled in, come and join me.”
“Thanks, Mother.” Lanie continued down the familiar hallway to her old bedroom. A faded patch stood out in the middle of the door where her “Danger! Moody Teenager” sign used to hang. The door opened revealing a room decorated in pink and beige. That hadn’t been the way it had looked in high school, but after she moved out, her mother had removed the posters, repainted the walls, and mellowed the color scheme. Lanie couldn’t blame her. While John Stamos had aged well, he was no longer the teen heartthrob he had been at one time.
Lanie set her suitcase down on the floor and plopped down on the full-size bed. It wasn’t as comfortable as her own bed, but it would do for the few days she planned to be here. House hunting was in her immediate future.
The ceiling regarded her back as she lay, wishing she didn’t have to greet her father. Not that she didn’t love him, but he was a ritualistic Christian who didn’t believe in divorce. While she didn’t either, sometimes life didn’t turn out as planned. With a sigh, she pushed herself off the bed and prepared to face the music.
True to form, he occupied the old recliner and faced the television. A home improvement show blared back at him. For as long as she memory served her, this was how he spent his evenings. Elaine would cook, they would eat, and then her father would retire to the living room. Lanie wondered if her parents loved each other any longer or if they had decided being roommates was enough after such a long time together.
“Hi, Dad.” Lanie perched on the tan couch, ready to flee if he became too disagreeable.
“Hello, Lanie.” An eye flick her direction, but words cool as ice. “You couldn’t try counseling, huh?”
“It wasn’t all my decision, Dad. Denny didn’t want to try counseling. What was I supposed to do, beg?”
“Pray for one.”
“I prayed, Dad, but it didn’t work out.” Lanie recognized this would be an ongoing conversation with her father.
“What are you planning for employment?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I’m not sure yet. Being a disc jockey was fun, but no radio station exists around here, and even if it did, I doubt the pay would be enough.” Lanie had thought little about work, but the question gave her pause. There weren’t many skills in her arsenal. Radio had been her passion in college and had become her career. A few odd jobs existed in her past, but nothing boasting much talent.
“Work at the store,” he suggested. “I’m getting older, and would like to spend more time at home. I’d always hoped you would take it over.”
This was not new information. Her father had been pushing for her to run the shop since she was sixteen, and while it wasn’t where she wanted to end up permanently, it would solve her immediate employment issues and give her a steady income while she decided what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “I can do that, Dad. I can’t guarantee I’ll take it over, but I’ll help until I decide what I want to do next.”
His sniff showed his annoyance she was still not following his footsteps, but he kept the thought to himself. “Fine then,” was all he said.
Lanie rolled her eyes, wondering if she and her father would ever have a better relationship. “I wonder if Mom needs any help,” she said, standing and moving toward the exit.
Her father nodded as she exited the room and made her way to the kitchen where her mother was finishing cleaning. A neat nick, her mother never retired for the night until the kitchen was spotless.
“Up for a game?” Elaine asked.
Lanie and her mother had often passed the time playing card games when Lanie was growing up.
“Sure, how about some Yahtzee?” Lanie pulled out a barstool and sat down across from her mother. Though she hadn’t played in ages–Denny had never been interested–Lanie enjoyed the challenge.
Lanie woke the next morning as the first rays of light peeked in her window. A visit to Layla, her high school chum, was on her docket before approaching the realtor to see what was available. After pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweater, she ran a brush through her hair and headed to the kitchen for some coffee and cereal.
Her father sat at the table, a mug on his right and his Bible open in front of him. He read it every morning before work without fail. Lanie wished she had his passion for studying the important book, but some days, even though she knew she should, she couldn’t get into it.
“Will you be able to work the evening shift tonight?” he asked without looking up.
Lanie stifled a sigh as she pulled a mug from the cupboard. Couldn’t he have started with a ‘good morning’ at least? “Yeah, Dad, I should be able to. I’m visiting the realtor today hoping to find a house to rent, but I should finish by four. Will that work?”
“We close at eight,” he said, looking up at her. “That’s a short shift.”
Lanie bit her lip as she poured the coffee. She didn’t want to start the morning by fighting with her father. “It’s just for today, Dad. Once I have a place rented, I can start earlier, okay?”
His hazel eyes regarded her, and just like when she was younger, she shrunk under the gaze. How did he make her feel small even at age thirty?
“I suppose it will have to do,” he said, as his eyes dropped back to the Bible.
With a shake of her head, Lanie took a sip of her coffee and decided to get breakfast out. She no longer felt like sitting even for a bowl of cereal.
Another few large gulps of coffee sent enough caffeine through her system she assumed she could make it until she found more. Max served coffee at The Diner, and she had seen a new bakery which might have an even better option. She rinsed the cup in the sink and placed it in the dish rack.
“Tell Mom I’ll be back later,” Lanie called as she headed for the front door, grabbing her coat on the way. Without even bothering to pull it on, she opened the door and stepped outside.
The January chill nipped at her light sweater, sending a shiver down her spine as she closed the door behind her. She jammed her hands in the coat sleeves and snuggled down into the coat as she zipped it up. The keys jingled in her right pocket, and she retrieved them as she walked to the car. It wasn’t a long walk into town, but it was a little too cold for the jaunt today, especially since she had left without her scarf and gloves.
The cold leather seats had barely warmed up when she parked the car in front of the Star Lake Inn.
“Lanie,” Layla shrieked as she entered the foyer.
Lanie smiled as her high school friend came around the desk and enveloped her in a hug. “Hey, Layla. You look good.” Layla always looked good. With her long dark hair and blue eyes, she had been the focus of the boys in high school, though her eyes had only been on Max and the rumor was they had finally gotten together.
“You do too,” Layla said, stepping back to inspect Lanie.
“I’m okay,” Lanie said, rolling her eyes. “I need to increase my gym time.”
“Oh pooh, you look amazing. Now you need a man.”
Lanie shook her head, remembering the last night before she left. It wasn’t an awful experience, but it was a mistake that should never have happened. “I’m in no hurry to jump back into a relationship, but it looks great on you. When did you and Max get together?”
“A few months ago,” Layla said, returning to the desk. “He finally gathered the nerve to tell me how he felt. Of course, true to Max form, it wasn’t the most romantic revealing. He blurted it out one evening as he was closing, and all I could say was ‘what took you so long?’” Layla chuckled as she arranged things on the desk.
“Well, better late than never,” Lanie said. “I’m glad you two got it together. Will there be a wedding soon?”
“I don’t know,” Layla said with a shake of her head. “Maybe after another decade, but a wedding is happening soon.”
“Oh yeah? Who’s getting married?” Lanie wasn’t a fan of gossip, but in a small town where everyone knew everybody, it was hard not to be curious.
“Presley Hays and Brandon Scott. Remember them?”
Lanie searched her memory. “Behind us in school, right?”
“Yep. Presley moved back about six months ago, and Brandon came home early December to help his father out. I guess sparks rekindled, and the rest is history as they say.”
Lanie longed for a love story like that. Having always been a hopeless romantic growing up, she had pined for her wedding day, probably so much that she had put expectations on her relationship with Denny that he would never have been able to fulfill. “Well, that’s great,” she said, swallowing her own disappointment and faking happiness for the couple. “I should run to the realtor soon, but I wanted to ask, is The Diner the best place for coffee or have we gotten anything better?”
Layla chuckled. “I’m a bit biased, but I think Max’s coffee is fine. However, if you’re looking for something other than black, Presley opened Sweet Treats across the way and makes a decent cup too.”
“Thanks, I’ll try it. I’m working for my father until something better comes along, but we should get together soon.”
“You bet,” Layla said, as the phone rang. She waved goodbye as she picked up the receiver. “Thank you for calling The Star Lake Inn, how can I help you?”
Lanie exited the way she had come and climbed back in her car. Though she desperately wanted a cup of coffee, with no idea how long the house search would take, she figured she should hit the realtor first.
A petite blond woman was opening the office as Lanie pulled in. Since she didn’t recognize the woman and the name of the building wasn’t what she remembered, Lanie assumed she was newer to town.
After locking the car doors, Lanie dropped her keys in her pocket and pushed open the door to the realtor office.
“Hello,” the woman said, greeting her as she walked in. “I just opened, but I’ll happily help you in a minute. Would you like coffee?” She pointed to a Keurig and Lanie smiled, nodded, and walked to the table.
A silver metal tree-like apparatus sat next to the dispenser holding a variety of pods. Lanie grabbed a caramel mocha one and popped it in the coffee maker. When the coffee had filled, she held it to her nose, sniffing in the wonderful aroma before taking a sip. The warm beverage flowed down her throat, warming her from the inside out.
“Okay, I’m ready now,” the woman said. “Have a seat.” She pointed to the chairs across from the desk, and Lanie sat down in the one closest to her. “I’m Annie Goodman,” she said, reaching her hand across the desk for a shake. “What can I do for you today?”
“I’m looking to rent a house. One or two bedrooms. Something in town if possible.”
Annie’s pink lips pursed as she turned to the computer on the right side of her desk. “Hmm, I rented the last two-bedroom house in town a few weeks ago, but let me see if there is a one bedroom available.”
Lanie wasn’t surprised at the lack of real estate. Few people moved to Star Lake unless they were moving back to be near family, like she was.
“Well, I have two. I’m sorry that’s not much selection, but would you like to see them?”
“Yes, please.” Large selection or not, Lanie needed a place that wasn’t her old room in her parent’s house.
Annie led the way, flipping the open sign over so it now read ‘be back soon.’“Aren’t you going to lock the front door?” Lanie asked.“No need,” Annie said. “There’s nothing here to steal and besides, it’s warmer in here than waiting outside if someone else comes by. Shall we take my car?”
Lanie nodded and climbed in the passenger side, curious how Annie could stay warm in her knee-length pencil skirt and heels. Though she wore a long-sleeved jacket, she hadn’t even grabbed a coat.
The first stop was a small brown and tan cottage on blank street. It appeared in good shape from the outside with a little garden area and a single car garage. The inside was also in decent shape. A beige carpet lined the floors, and the kitchen and bathroom boasted a neutral color scheme. Though the bedroom was a little smaller than she was looking for, Lanie liked that the house was close to work, which meant she could walk and save on gas.
The second house was a little bigger, but farther on the outskirts of town, and though it was a little cheaper, it didn’t have the homey feel the first house had presented.
“Well, have you decided?” Annie asked as Lanie finished the tour of the second house.
“Yes, I like the first place. I’ll be working at my dad’s ice cream shop, and I like that I could walk to work.”
Annie’s eyes lit up. “Oh, Mr. Perkins? I love his triple chocolate brownie sundae.”
Lanie smirked as she remembered the day she created that dessert. She’d just been dumped by a boy from a nearby town, and she had been looking for chocolate to drown her sorrows in. “Yep, that’s my dad and my favorite dessert too. I named it when I was sixteen.”
“Wonderful, I shouldn’t frequent the shop as much as I do,” Annie said, leaning in as if sharing a juicy secret, “but with no real night life and few men around, a girl’s gotta do something for fun, you know?”
“What brought you out here then?” Lanie asked. She knew how boring her town could be.
“My uncle owned the realtor office before me, but he retired to Florida. Having no kids of his own, he called me up to see if I was interested. I was working in a competitive agency in Atlanta, so I thought owning an office might be a good change of pace, but I failed to realize just how small this town is.”
“It grows on you though,” Lanie said, “and the town puts on great festivals near the holidays.”
“I’ll look forward to that then,” Annie said with a laugh. “Well, shall we head back and get your paperwork in order?”
Lanie nodded and a few minutes later they were pulling into the office parking lot again.