Tag Archives: Deborah Grace Staley

Unforgettable, The Next Angel Ridge Novel, Excerpt No. 5

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Unforgettable

The Fifth Angel Ridge Novel

Available from http://www.bellebooks.com

and at Amazon.com in Trade Paperback and NOW for Kindle

October 2012

Excerpt No. 5

           Abby brought their food, refilled their drinks and left.

         “Thanks, hon,” Patrick said to his daughter’s retreating back. Returning his attention to Frannie, he said, “That’s a lot of change, in a short amount of time, for such a small town.” He tucked into the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Having skipped lunch, he was starved.

“It’s an opportunity to create positive change for the community.”

Patrick wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You’re a master at spinning anything in your favor.”

“I choose to see obstacles as opportunities.”

Patrick lifted his chin, observing her as he chewed. She was chasing salad around her plate with a fork, but hadn’t yet taken a bite. The devil inside made him ask, “Does that apply to all areas of your life or just business?”

She set her fork aside, took a deep breath and sipped her water before responding. “I can’t see how that’s relevant to our discussion, Mayor.”

“Patrick. We’re very informal in Angel Ridge. Along those lines, can I give you some advice?”

“Of course,” she said, but caution laced her words.

“I appreciate that you’re educated and have thoroughly thought out your plan, but when you present this at the Town Hall Meeting, you might want to use plainer language. Otherwise, people might read you as too slick.”

“Excuse me?”

“When you talk about this, you sound kind of like a lawyer or a salesman. By that I mean, you have an answer for everything, and you put a positive spin on anything that could be construed as negative.”

“I don’t understand the problem.”

“I’m just saying that people here have a basic mistrust of those kinds of people.”

“Lawyers and sales people,” she said.

“Right.”

She raised an eyebrow. “People also have a basic mistrust of politicians.”     Patrick smiled. “True enough.” He was enjoying their verbal exchange a little too much, which made him want to push a little harder, just to probe around to see if there was a chink in her armor. “How’s your salad?”

She looked at the plate in front of her like she’d just noticed it was there. “Oh, I haven’t tried it yet.”

“Go ahead. I won’t ask any more questions for now, if that’ll make you feel more comfortable.”

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Frannie insisted.

Patrick leaned in, looking to his left and right before quietly confiding, “I

wish I could say the same. I can’t remember being this uncomfortable in quite some time.”

Frannie pressed her back against the seat. “Please don’t do that.”

“What?”

She looked around this time. “Do anything that would make it appear that

we’re having an intimate conversation.”

Now she was uncomfortable, and again, it was his fault, but he couldn’t seem to stop baiting her. “People are going to think what they will.”

Placing her napkin on the table, she scooted out of the booth. “Then this was a mistake,” she said before turning to walk out of the diner.

“Damn it,” he mumbled as he scrambled to catch up to her in front of the

building. “Frannie—”

She spun to face him. “Don’t follow me,” she said, then immediately turned again and increased her pace.

Ignoring her request, he got close enough to grasp her arm, halting her

progress. “What was that?” he asked.

“I don’t want even the hint of impropriety in our relationship.”

“Then don’t make a scene by storming out of the only eating establishment in town while we’re having a business dinner.”

She moved her arm out of his loose grasp and started walking again. “You

made it impossible for me to stay.”

“You certainly lay a lot of blame at my feet.”

She stopped and looked back at him, her face flushed and a hand on her hip. Fire flashed from her dark blue eyes. Lord, she was stunning.

“You created this situation. If you hadn’t kissed me that night,” she moved

her hand back and forth between them, “having a business relationship now wouldn’t be a problem.”

“And yet you’ve returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He took her arm and guided her to the side of the building to get them off the sidewalk and away from curious stares. “I’m not proud of my behavior, and I’m not excusing it. All I can do is apologize for it, which I’ve done. But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? You were at a bar that night, in the middle of a blizzard, and a willing participant in that kiss when you don’t seem like the type. It begs the question, why?”

She folded her arms defensively. “I don’t owe you any explanations. Furthermore, I won’t appease your conscience by giving you my forgiveness and wiping the slate clean for something that was unforgivable.”

Night was falling softly around them. The constable would soon be lighting the old-fashioned, oil burning streetlamps that lined Main Street’s brick sidewalks. People were tucked in their houses, living normal lives. How he envied them.

“It was just a kiss,” he said softly. Or was it? For her to have such a strong reaction after so many years had passed, it must have rocked her world. That made him want to kiss her again now, even more.

“You were married.”

“I guess you didn’t notice my wedding band.”

That gave her a moment’s hesitation before she responded. “I didn’t.”          Patrick sighed. Blame it on the alcohol. “Have you never done anything that you regretted, Frannie?” he asked. “Something for which you didn’t deserve forgiveness, but wished for it anyway? Not to ease the guilt you feel, because trust me, the guilt is a demon that won’t leave me alone. The forgiveness is so you know that the person giving it has gotten past what you did.”

Frannie focused on the intensity in his eyes, giving what he’d said some thought. She almost wished she could say she had done something that needed forgiving. The sad truth was that because she’d been gravely ill and survived, she’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it, including the one time she’d kissed a stranger in a bar. That was something she regretted—that and the fact she’d wasted the years since her illness playing it safe. In both instances, the only person she had to blame was herself. She didn’t want to be afraid to live her life, but fear had been her constant companion for many, many years.

When she didn’t respond, he said, “It must be nice to have lived a life with no regrets.”

She crossed her arms. “I didn’t say that I don’t have regrets. I regret having been in that bar and kissing you.”

“And we’ve come full circle with the blame lying at my feet.”

“Okay. If it makes you happy, I’ll accept my part of the responsibility. I was in a bar getting drunk, and that impaired my judgment to the point that I kissed a total stranger, who was drunker than I was.” She laughed. “People get drunk and hook up in bars all the time. Leave it to me to find a married man the one time I do it.”

“You were drinking that night because you’d lost your sister.”

“Yes. I wanted something to ease the pain and help me stop thinking about losing her,” she admitted. “And you were drinking because your wife was terminally ill. I suppose the excuses make it all okay if we can understand the ‘why’

of it.”

“You’re wrong on two counts. First, nothing makes what I did okay. And second, I was drinking that night because I’m an alcoholic. Even if my wife hadn’t been ill, I would have been drunk anyway.”

© 2012 Deborah Grace Staley

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Excerpt No. 3, Unforgettable, The Next Angel Ridge Novel

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Unforgettable

The Fifth Angel Ridge Novel

Available from http://www.bellebooks.com

October 2012

The files have been uploaded! Be looking for it on Amazon as a Download. It should show up any day!

Excerpt No. 3

As she stepped out of the courthouse into the bright morning sunshine, Frannie slid oversized dark glasses onto her nose. She walked briskly across Town Square to a park bench near the tall, bronze angel monument standing sentinel on a brick pedestal. She sat, dropping her purse and briefcase onto the damp grass.

Anger roiled up inside her, teasing the edges of a full-on anxiety attack. She took a deep breath, in through her nose, out through her mouth on a slow eight count—just like the therapist had taught her. She gave up after losing track of how many times she’d repeated the technique. Her anger still simmered, but the panic had subsided.

She’d been in and out of town now for months and hadn’t once run into the man from the bar that night. It had been a full-on blizzard and just after her sister had gone underground. They must have been the only two people crazy enough to venture out in the weather, because it had just been the two of them there. He’d been drunk, and she’d been three whiskeys on the way there. His kiss, like the liquor, was a distraction from the pain of losing her sister. But in the sobering, bright light of the next day, she’d run into him at the town diner. Not only had she learned that he was married, but also that his wife had just been diagnosed with cancer.

She closed her eyes. Big mistake. The memory was there, raw and vivid, as if it had just happened. That night Frannie had to swipe at the tears as she drove the icy roads. Visibility had been bad enough without her blubbering. Staying at Jenny’s house, instead of feeling comforted, she’d felt closed in by her things, claustrophobic. She’d missed Jenny so much, and Frannie just wanted her sister back. How could Frannie go through life knowing Jenny was out there somewhere all alone?

Ahead, a sign glowed in the darkness through the snow. Frannie slowed and pulled over. Jimmy’s Bar. Perfect. She could use a drink. In fact, getting smashed held great appeal at the moment. Anything to not feel for a while.

The windowless metal door swung inward. The interior was dark and sparsely populated, which suited her fine. She sat at the bar.

A thin man with a face that said it had seen more than he’d care to recount asked, “What’ll you have?”

“Jack and Coke.”

The man turned away to get her drink. Frannie put her purse on the bar, and the folder the lawyer had given her slid out. The words “Last Will and Testament of Violet Jennings Thompson” glared at her. What a lie she was living. When the man had heard she was in town, he’d hiked through the snow to Jenny’s house to bring it to her, instructing her on the probate process she wouldn’t be able to begin. Another thing she’d have to discuss with the sheriff when the weather cleared. How was she supposed to deal with all this when she was still grieving for her sister?

She shoved the file back into her bag and shrugged out of her coat. Before she could unwind the long, green scarf her sister had gotten Frannie for her birthday, the last birthday they’d ever spend together, the man returned with her drink then went back to watching the basketball game on the television that sat in the corner of the long, narrow room. No conversation. That suited her, too.

She tossed the dark straw on the wooden bar and disposed of half the beverage in one long swallow. A man sitting four chairs down from her watched. She didn’t much care; let him look. The initial burn of the whiskey spread a delicious warmth through her chest and lower. She downed the rest, and her fingertips started to tingle. She set the heavy tumbler down with a satisfying thud.

“Another.” Screw the niceties. Her sister had been taken from her. There was no room for nice in her world.

The man took the glass and made her another drink.

The other lone customer was still looking at her, so she looked back intending to say, “What?” but when she met his gaze, she stopped short. From the glassy look in his clear gray eyes, she’d say he’d had a few himself. He lifted his glass, took a drink, and hunkered down, forearms on the bar, his focus returned to the liquid in his glass.

At some point during the silent exchange, the bartender had brought her drink—minus the straw—and disappeared. He’d also left a bowl of pretzels. Her gaze swung back to the man with the empty eyes, but he’d obviously forgotten about her and returned to his own personal hell. She wondered what was going on at home that prevented him from getting drunk there. Maybe he was from out of town like her. She chuckled and took another drink. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would be traveling the back roads of East Tennessee in a blizzard.

He shifted his gaze to hers.

She looked back. He was good looking, in a disheveled, dark-whiskered, shaggy-hair-that-needed-a-trim sort of way. It fell in waves around his face. He shoved a hand into the mass and pushed it back toward his crown, then stood, stumbled and found his balance before moving her way. She turned away and took another long draw on her drink, not sure she wanted company, but nevertheless intrigued by the dark stranger whose high-end, designer clothing said he didn’t fit in a dive like this. She chuckled again. She supposed she didn’t fit either, but the selection of bars in the heart of the Bible belt was not wide or varied.

He sat next to her without asking her permission. His empty glass had been abandoned at his previous spot at the bar. The bartender set another in front of him without asking, making Frannie reassess. The guy must be a regular.

He swallowed half his drink, set the tumbler down and said, “What brings you to a place like this in a snowstorm?”

Frannie took a drink as well. Her whole body was warm now. “I could ask you the same question.”

“If you were from around here, you’d know.” He had another sip of his drink and turned back to her. He took his time looking at her. “You don’t belong here.”

Emboldened by the whiskey, she looked her fill of him as well. The warmth radiating to the rest of her body from her midsection shifted lower. “Where do I belong?”

They were sitting close, too close, but she noted the fact too late.

“Is this a guessing game, then?”

“I don’t play games.”

“Everybody plays. Not everyone wins.” He swallowed the rest of his drink. “What’s your name?”

She considered for a moment, then said, “Frannie.”

“I’m Patrick.”

He held out his hand and she stared at it, then twenty-seven years of

breeding kicked in, and she offered hers. His fingers were warm and well-shaped. This wasn’t a man who worked with his hands. He was a professional of some sort. Maybe he was a lawyer, too. He had that air about him, like he’d stripped off a jacket and tie and left them in an expensive car before coming into the bar.

“You have nice hands,” he said, still holding hers. He brushed his thumb across the ring she wore. Her college ring. She didn’t miss his glance at her other hand to see if she wore a diamond or wedding band. “What brings you here, Frannie?” he asked, his thumb now moving back and forth across her knuckles.

Her hand felt good in his; human contact felt good after so much loss and emptiness, so she traced the lines of his palm with her fingertips. “I needed a drink.”

He chuckled. “I think you had two, not that I’m counting.”

She smiled. “And I’m still not drunk, so I think I need another.”

He lifted his chin, looking at the bartender, taking care of her request. She

brought the drink to her lips and downed it in one swallow. She resisted the urge to cough and ruin the effect.

“Impressive,” he noted with a raised eyebrow. “Better?”

She smiled, but her hair fell like a curtain, separating them. He pushed it

back, leaving her face and neck exposed and vulnerable. He leaned in, his bourbon-laced breath warm on her cheek, his dark stubble not unpleasantly rough against her cheek. He sighed and nudged her ear with his nose; his warm lips caressed the lobe.

She should move away, but the whiskey and the sadness pressing on her soul interfered with her ability to act like the proper young lady her mother had raised her to be.

“Tell me to stop,” he whispered, but pressed another kiss to the vulnerable spot behind her ear. He put his arm along the bar in front of her and slid the back of his fingers along her jaw until their gazes locked again.

Raw pain had flowed between them. They’d both wanted to feel something else—needed to feel anything else. So she’d leaned in and tasted his lips.

© 2012 Deborah Grace Staley

Excerpt #2 from Unforgettable, An Angel Ridge Novel

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Unforgettable

The Fifth Angel Ridge Novel

Available from http://www.bellebooks.com

October 2012

Excerpt No. 2

 

         The mayor stood and walked around his desk. When he was close enough to touch, he extended his hand and said, “Patrick Houston. I’m the mayor of Angel Ridge.”

Patrick. The mayor’s name was Patrick. Frannie didn’t take his hand. Didn’t speak. Just looked into those haunted, gray eyes she remembered so well. She also remembered having the devil of a hangover the next day after. Learning the truth about him had only made it worse.

Finally, she found her voice. “You’re the mayor.”

He rested his hands on his hips and tried to look anywhere but at her, indicating he just might feel remorse. “Yes. Won’t you sit?” he said, waving a hand toward the chairs situated in front of his desk.

She did, heavily, and tried to keep her mouth closed as he leaned against the front edge of his desk, facing her. Only inches separated them, and her treacherous body reacted to an attraction she wished she didn’t feel.

He cleared his throat. “What can I do for you, Ms. Thompson?”

“Did you consider skipping our meeting because you wanted to avoid seeing me? Is that why you were late?” she ground out, anger displacing the shock.

“I’m afraid I didn’t look at my schedule at all, so I wasn’t aware that I had an appointment.”

Was he actually going to pretend he didn’t know her? “What can I do for you, Ms. Thompson?” he repeated. Frannie looked at the file resting on top of her briefcase in her lap. Unbelievable.

“Ms. Thompson?”

He was in for a shock if he thought she would play along to make this more comfortable for him. “I had no idea you were the mayor. Your first name isn’t on any of the information I’ve seen. Just your initials.”

He absently rubbed his chin, which made her notice he hadn’t bothered to shave. “Yes, well, the only thing anyone around here cares about is that my last name is ‘Houston.’” He actually smiled then and added, “A Houston has been the mayor of Angel Ridge for more than a hundred years.”

“How nice for you.” Anyone else might have found that smile charming, but not her. She stood. “However, it’s your first name that would have mattered to me, since that was all you cared to share. It would have also been nice if you’d included that you’re married.”

He pushed away from his desk, standing straighter. A frown pulled at his brow. Dear Lord, in the light of day he was too handsome for words. Dark wavy hair, brushed back from his face and spilled over the collar of his casual polo-style shirt. There must be any number of women who wouldn’t care that he was married. She, however, was not one of them.

“I don’t understand.”

“No? Neither did I.”

She took a long step forward that brought her to stand squarely in front of him. The palm of her hand itched with the desire to slap him. A lot of years had passed since that night, and the rush of emotion she felt surprised her. But no woman liked to be played the fool. Frannie was no exception.

She tossed the folder containing her plans onto his desk. “I’d like to submit that at the next meeting of the Town Council. If you have questions, you can call my architect.”

Turning, she strode from the office.

 

© 2012 Deborah Grace Staley