I was eight years old when I saw the movie Gone With the Wind for the first time. I remember the moment vividly: sitting on our threadbare couch (the only furniture in the matchbox-sized living room in our apartment), my little brother sniffling beside me, snot dripping from his nose, and Scarlet O’Hara silhouetted in front of the orange-hued sunset on the tube television as she boldly proclaimed, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.”
Something heavy pressed down on my breastbone at that moment—different from the hollowness in my middle that had been my constant companion for as long as I could remember. When Scarlet O’Hara made that vow, I mouthed the words with her…minus the lying, cheating, stealing, and killing addendum she’d tacked on.
That vow had led me to where I was that fateful day in July—sitting in a conference room on the sixth floor of an office building in my role as head of the budget analyst department of a top-tier finance conglomerate, despite the fact I’d never cared for mathematics and had a love/hate relationship with money. I loved the security money brought but hated what people would do to get it. Had I mentioned Scarlett’s willingness to lie, cheat, steal, and kill?
“That about wraps things up.” Jayden, the epitome of a Southern California surfer boy with his sun-soaked blond hair and perpetual tan, spoke from the front of the large oval teak conference table. He’d traded in his Rip Curl board shorts and Oakleys for an Armani suit and shiny Italian loafers, but I wasn’t one to speak.
My closet looked like it belonged to two separate women. On the left hung my tailored business attire, which transformed me into prim and proper Jocelyn Dormus—the woman people could put their trust in to analyze their financial well-being and facilitate a workable budget that would allow them to realize their monetary dreams.
The right side of my walk-in would trigger a blood pressure spike in my clients. Flowy Bohemian dresses with whimsical patterns and carefree material. Though there wasn’t even a hint of correlation, one glance at me in a billowing peasant top, my riotous natural curls confined in an artfully arranged headwrap, and my clients would assume I’d be just as loose with their money.
Tonya, the only other woman sitting around the massive table, poked a perfectly manicured nail in the air. I’d tried to be friendly with her—we women really needed to be allies and stick together in this male-dominated corporate world—but she was cut-throat and had a hard time believing I was for her and not against her. Sad, really.
“The corporate retreat?”
Ten pairs of eyes trained back on Jayden as I slammed my spine straight. I might have let some of the figures that had been droned on about for the last hour float around my head, but I wasn’t about to miss this announcement.
Jayden flushed under our undivided attention and rearranged a stack of papers in front of him. I kind of felt sorry for him, as I wasn’t sure he even wanted to be here. Were the waves of Tourmaline calling to him? Far be it from me to scream nepotism, but he was the CEO’s nephew and had thrown his cap in the air with an undergraduate degree in marketing only last year. The weight shifting didn’t give him a bearing of confidence and authority either.
Not that I had been jockeying for his position. To be honest, I’d pretty much reached the highest rung they’d let me climb to already, and it had cost me plenty of blood, sweat, and tears to get there. I was the minority’s minority. Besides Tonya, the only other female. Besides Sam Yo, the only other non-Caucasian. But I had the privilege to earn 61.6% of my white male counterpart’s wage, so there was that.
I flushed at the sarcastic thought and wiggled my toes in my Jimmy Choos. I’d bought the pumps from a resale app, but never would my younger self have imagined I’d ever get to a point in my life when I’d slip my feet into designer anything. So, yes, there were injustices in the world, unfairnesses that begged to be made right, but there were also miracles. And just being here in this sixth-floor room was one of them.
I willed Jayden—I really should start remembering to call him Mr. Weidel, since he was technically my boss—to speak another miracle. This would be my first corporate retreat with the company, since I’d only been promoted two months ago. I’d heard tales of their legendary getaways. I’d even applied for a passport in the hope this year’s retreat followed along the same lines as last year’s—a week-long cruise on the Riviera.
Jayden—I mean, Mr. Weidel—cleared his throat and mumbled something under his breath without lifting his gaze.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Weidel, but could you repeat that? I missed what you said from down here.” Bill from investments leaned his pinstripe-covered forearms on the opposite end of the conference table. He didn’t have any trouble remembering to address the boss properly, even though, with fifteen years’ experience and a DBA in finance, he was more qualified for the job. And I couldn’t blame his hearing loss for not having picked up Jayden Weidel’s words. I was sitting three seats down and I hadn’t been able to make out a single syllable.
Surfer-boy-boss lifted his fingers into the neckline of his button up and pulled the cotton away from his throat. “This year’s annual retreat will take place on the Double B Dude Ranch.” He glanced up for a split second, then quickly fell into the upscale office chair with a four-digit price tag and occupied himself with his papers.
A finance conglomerate department head meeting wasn’t exactly on the same decibel level as a bar of rowdy bikers, but the room grew so quiet I began to think we’d all forgotten to breathe. I swept my gaze around my coworkers frozen in their seats. Henry McNamiss from the actuary department appeared to be running statistics in his mind.
Pretty sure I could jump in on the probability of a group of business personnel who worked inside a skyrise for sixty hours a week coming out of a seven-day experience around thousand-pound animals unscathed.
Zero. The probability was zero.
One of us would end up dead. And since I was the only Black person in sight, I’d go first. Hollywood always killed us off before anyone else, didn’t they?
I took in Donald Hartwell’s pale complexion. Sam Yo’s tan skin had turned the yellowish color of paper from an antique book.
I winced. Maybe I shouldn’t have made that comparison. My own skin had been compared to coffee and chocolate, among other food items, and while I enjoyed eating those things, I wasn’t sure how I felt about being compared to products of consumption. Especially ones my ancestors had been forced to cultivate through slavery. But people didn’t really take those things into account and, usually, didn’t mean to be offensive (I know I didn’t with my antique paper comparison), so I ordinarily let it go.
Tonya folded her hands on the table. Jeff covered a cough behind a fist.
Had anyone here ever had any outdoor experience?
I most certainly hadn’t! Camping had been a joke in my neighborhood growing up. Why would anyone want to pay hard-earned money to go and live like a homeless person for a weekend? It had been a struggle to keep a roof over our heads. Spending a night in a tent was something I’d feared, not dreamed of.
“This is where you give us a disarming grin and tell us you were just kidding.” My fake smile was likely as wide as my eyes, but I couldn’t seem to get either one to go back to their regular proportions.
In a swift move, Jayden yanked down his Windsor knot and stripped himself of his tie. His hand knocked his hair, disheveling it like a coastal breeze. This was why I had such a hard time remembering to call him Mr. Weidel. All-American boy-next-door who appeared to be playing dress up in Daddy’s—or in this case, Uncle’s—work clothes didn’t elicit immediate office-space respect.
My smile softened with sincerity. I did like him better this way.
“Look, guys. I tried to talk him out of it. I really did.” His hands splayed in a please believe me sort of way.
Bill started chuckling at the foot of the table. A little one at first that grew into a full-fledged belly laugh. Henry’s fingers inched toward the conference telephone in front of him as he regarded Bill with all the caution a citizen of Gotham would give Jack Napier after he escaped Arkham.
“Joe has been threatening to go Texas on us for years.” He shook his head as his laughter fizzled.
Joe? He didn’t mean…
Of course he did. Bill wasn’t chairman or a relative, but he still played a round of golf at the boys’ club with big boss Joseph Whalen at least once a week. And Mr. Whalen hailed from Texas. Cattle money, if I remembered correctly.
Good-bye, cruise. Good-bye, glorious Riviera. Hello, dude ranch. My lips curled. What did one even do on a dude ranch?
As if reading my thoughts, Sam gave my question a voice.
Jayden picked up his stack of papers and passed them around the oval. “It’s a working ranch. My uncle believes that collaborating together in this type of environment will bring cohesion and synergy to the team in the office.”
The closest I’d ever been to a cow was when I ordered a medium-rare steak from a restaurant. I enjoyed the movie Secretariat, but I’d never ridden a horse in my life. Henry passed me a print-off, and I scanned the paper, my throat tightening at a four-letter word plus -ing.
Money and Scarlett O’Hara had failed me.
“Anyone know of a cowboy-outfitters store nearby?” Donald laughed at his attempt at a joke, but his voice held a nervous pitch.
I snorted. Might as well make it a corporate field trip. Neither the left nor the right side of my closet held items appropriate for a week as Annie Oakley. Pumps and sandals but no boots. Business suits and boho dresses but no jeans. That’s right, I didn’t even own a pair of jeans.
Tonya slid her cell off the table. Though she held her posture perfect, her gaze darting to her lap every once in a while gave her away. No doubt the woman was researching the ranch and making a list to prepare for the trip. A list she wouldn’t share with the rest of the group.
“There’s a Tractor Supply out in El Cajon.” Jayden spoke from the head of the table.
Donald’s face reflected my thoughts. Jayden not only knew there was a store called Tractor Supply, he knew its location.
Boss-boy flipped the handout over. “If you haven’t noticed, I took the liberty of adding a list of suggested items to pack, based off the ranch’s recommendation, along with a number of stores in the area where you can purchase said items if you don’t already have them at home.”
I turned my paper to the other side, scanning the list. The only recommended item I already owned was sunglasses. A line from Maria’s song from The Sound of Music floated through my mind--Totally unprepared am I.Except I wasn’t about to face a world of men but a world of… I didn’t even know. Cattle and horses seemed a given. Dust. Insects. And yeah, probably men. Cowmen. Er, cowboys.
Oh well. Nothing to it. If I could conquer fiscal statements and wrangle expenditures, then I could surely figure out how to survive a week on a working ranch. I’d use the time before the retreat to study up on everything I’d need to know about horseback riding and—I glanced back at the hand-out—whatever team penning was, so that by the time I walked onto that ranch, I’d appear the confident cowgirl instead of the girl who’d grown up in the inner city and never come face-to-face with an animal larger than a pit bull.
Jayden called the meeting adjourned, and I filed out of the conference room with the rest of my peers. Bill didn’t seem too worried about the unexpected locale of the retreat and even offered a few encouraging words to the rest of us.
“This is an insurance nightmare,” Henry muttered as he pushed the elevator button. I didn’t disagree with him, but there was no point in wasting any more time complaining. What was done was done, and none of us had enough influence to change anything, so we might as well get on board and make the most of it.
I collected my black, second-hand Kate Spade satchel from my desk and locked my office door behind me. A quick twenty-minute drive and I pulled into the driveway of the Spanish-style house I shared with my roommate Molly.
“Mol, you home?”
“Back here!” she called, surprising me. Lately she’d been spending more time at her boyfriend Ben’s house than she did here. Not that I blamed her. Ben was as great as they came, and his four-year-old daughter was cuter than a kitten in a handbasket.
I let my bag fall to the floor, my heels clicking against the terra-cotta-colored tiles as I made my way down the hall toward Molly’s bedroom.
She stood with her back to the closet, holding a sequined evening gown out in front of her. “Will this work?”
Betsy sat cross-legged on Molly’s bed, her lips puckered to the side. “Do I have to go?”
Molly’s brows folded over her eyes as she marched the dress to Betsy. “Yes.”
Betsy rolled her eyes but unfolded her legs. “Fine. Give it to me.” She stood and took the hanger. “At least it’s black.”
Molly closed the bedroom door behind her so Betsy could try on the dress. She grinned and leaned her shoulder against the hall wall.
Molly and I had been friends since college, when she’d marched right up to me and declared, in no uncertain terms, that we were going to be BFFs. Since then Molly had collected a few more friends that she’d turned into a family, Betsy being the most cynical and acerbic among us. Which was one of the reasons we loved her.
I waggled my brows toward the direction of the closed door, a genuine smile unclenching my jaw. “What’s that all about?”
“Oh, nothing much. She’s only been invited to attend a big music award, and I’m making her go.”
“You’re not my mother, and it’s not like it’s the Grammys.” The door muffled Betsy’s words a bit, but the sarcasm managed to leak through the wood grains.
“You’re going and that’s final.” Molly locked eyes with me, hers shining with delight.
I laughed at her unadulterated joy. “You’re getting the hang of that mom tone mighty quickly.”
Her cheeks pinked, and I knew her thoughts had flown to Ben and Chloe. Who knew? Maybe one day soon she would be a mommy. Just not to Betsy.
The door flew open, Betsy standing in the doorway, a frown pulling at the corners of her lips. “Happy?”
Molly covered her mouth as she nodded. “You look so pretty.”
Betsy nailed her with a glare. “If you cry, I’m not going.”
Molly blinked then lowered her hands. “Who’s crying? I’m not crying.”
Betsy rolled her eyes. “Whatever.” She reached for her holey jeans, her back toward us.
She’d let the attention stay on her longer than normal. I was proud of her and willing to help her out. “Speaking of people being forced to go someplace they don’t want to, I found out where the corporate retreat is taking place this year.”
Molly sat on the edge of the bed. “Where?”
“The Double B Dude Ranch.”
She let out a little squeal. “That sounds like so much fun!” She paused as she studied my face. “Wait. You don’t look excited.”
“She did say she was being forced somewhere she didn’t want to go.” Betsy pulled a T-shirt on over her head and turned around. “Not sure I see the problem though.”
“Oh, where should I start? Maybe the fact I’ve never ridden a horse before in my life.”
Betsy shrugged like putting one’s life in the hands—er, hooves—of a four-legged creature with a mind and will of its own and enough weight to crush your bones was no big deal. “I took lessons when I was a kid.”
I blinked that information in, along with her People like you are the reason people like me hate people T-shirt. Maybe playing a team sport as a kid would have served her social skills better.
“What? My parents wanted me to experience some of our Argentinian culture. My grandfather was a gaucho, kind of like a cowboy here, so they made me take riding lessons for a year. All you need to remember is to keep your heels down and your chest out.”
My brain sputtered. “Excuse me?”
“It’s more like shoulders back, but my teacher kept telling me to stick my chest out and imagine I was Dolly Parton.”
I looked down at my chest, heat rising up my neck. No way would I draw attention to any, uh, attributes that made me different from the majority of my coworkers. There had to be a way to ride a horse that didn’t involve shoving one’s bosom into the air.
“Thanks for the advice.” Unhelpful though it was.
Fake it till you make it had been my motto since the first day I’d stepped foot onto UCLA’s campus, the only person in my family to ever attend college. I’d slipped a mask on over my insecurity and smiled like I belonged among those who’d grown up in Bel-Air instead of Hyde Park. I faked it all the way to graduation, through my interviews at Whalen Financial, and pretty much every day since.
How hard could pretending I knew what I was doing on a ranch be?
Just call me George Washington. You know, because of the whole cherry tree thing. Although, now that I think about it, that’s more legend than actual historical fact, and considering Washington was a politician, the likelihood of him never telling a lie is drastically more improbable than gas prices ever lowering to less than a dollar again. So maybe I should stick with my real name because I, Molly Jane Osbourne, really do always tell the truth. Unfortunately, unbending honesty isn’t without consequences, a truth I learned the hard way. And no, the irony of that is not lost on me. Never would I have dreamed, when I awoke that sunshiny morning in spring, that storm clouds formed on my horizon. Clouds that bore a distinct resemblance to a certain teacher at a certain Montessori preschool…
* * *
Mrs. Bardowski steepled her fingers over the stack of papers on her desk and gave me a squinty-eyed look. I tried not to squirm under her scrutiny, but I’d never been called to the principal’s office before. Not as a student and certainly not as a teacher. Well, teacher’s assistant. I still had to finish this semester of classes and student teaching before I could take the CBEST and CSET exams and receive my license to teach in the state of California.
Not that I hadn’t been to Mrs. Bardowski’s office before. I’d had my interview in this room at the end of last summer when I’d been hired, and Mrs. Bardowski often conducted morning meetings with all the teachers—there were only five of us total—here. So the pedestal desk with filing cabinets on each side and veneer wood top was familiar. As was the bookcase filled with children’s books—organized by unit subject—on the far wall, metal marquee letters D R E A M perched on the top. The walls were the same eggshell white as the rest of the small, private Montessori preschool and had framed diplomas proudly hanging on them. One day, I’d add mine to the collection.
But this time my presence in the office had a distinct disciplinary flavor. Which made me itch to reach into my bag and raid my emergency stash of leftover mini candy canes from Christmas to overpower the bad taste.
Mrs. Bardowski puffed out a breath and sat back hard in her desk chair, the back bending with her weight as she shook her head at me. “What am I going to do with you, Molly?”
I blinked back a mental image of the sixty-year-old woman with a penchant for wearing oversized silk flowers on her blouses pressing her palms together, looking up to the ceiling, and starting to sing How do you solve a problem like Molly? But Mrs. Bardowski was not the Reverend Mother from The Sound of Music and I, though I loved kids, was no Maria von Trapp. No one, and I meant no one, wanted me to sing. Even my sweet little preschool charges covered their ears if I had to lead out in the months of the year song instead of Mrs. Turner.
“You’re excellent with the kids and they love you.”
I scooted closer to the edge of my seat. “I love them too, ma’am.” And didn’t love cover a multitude of sins? Not that I was confessing to anything but truth-telling, and since when did having integrity become a crime?
Mrs. Bardowski pinched the bridge of her nose. “Yes, I know.” Rubbing the skin between her eyes, she looked at me.
I met her gaze, the bright red poppy pinned over her heart trying to distract me in my peripheral vision.
“But I’m afraid you’ve gone too far this time. I admire your honesty, I really do, but you need to learn to temper your stark truthfulness with common sense.”
Now wasn’t that a bell that had tolled before. Why did people equate a lack of willingness to deceive with a deficiency of sound judgement? I shifted my weight in the chair. “Would you have me lie to the children, ma’am?”
She mumbled something under her breath that I couldn’t make out before gritting her teeth. “No, not lie, but redirection is a very useful tool when dealing with students.”
I leaned forward even farther. Only an inch of my bottom stayed atop the seat, but I needed Mrs. Bardowski to see how earnest I was in this. How much I believed the truth and nothing but the truth (so help me God) was better for everyone. “We are a Montessori school, are we not?”
“Yes.” She nodded grudgingly.
“And is student-led learning not a pillar of the Montessori method? Would Maria Montessori have wanted teachers to redirect a student when their curiosity had been sparked?”
“I see what you’re doing, Molly, but it’s not going to work. Knowledge and discovery need to be appropriate for the child’s age and development.”
I placed my hand palm down on the top of her desk, reaching in her direction as if I could pull her toward my way of thinking. “Who are we to say what a child is ready for? If they ask a question, shouldn’t we be prepared to answer it?”
Mrs. Bardowski didn’t miss a beat. Neither the sunburst-patterned lines around her eyes nor the parentheses around her mouth flinched. She crossed her arms over her chest. “No.”
I blinked, taken aback. No? A student asked a question in the classroom and we as teachers weren’t supposed to answer truthfully?
“You do not tell a group of three- to six-year-olds that Santa isn’t real—”
I sat up straighter. “But if grown-ups lie to kids, then their faith in our word is shaken. What else might they suspect we lied about? They could conclude that Jesus, like Santa, can’t be seen, and if an adult lied to them about Santa, then perhaps they’re lying about God as well.”
But Mrs. Bardowski continued like I hadn’t said a word. “And you can’t explain to a five-year-old what a tampon is.”
My cheeks heated. Whether from her direct glare or the way she’d said tampon—a two-syllable bark that evoked a guilty sentence all on its own—I wasn’t sure. “In my defense, Cyrus was rummaging around in my bag without permission. I tried to answer his initial inquiry of what the object he was waving around was called and what it was used for with as little detail as possible.”
All the while trying to shield the way he brandished the female hygiene product like a sword, a sure-fire way to attract the other boys. Mrs. Bardowski may think my handling of the situation had been reprehensible, but it could have been so much worse. If Thomas had gotten a glimpse of what he would no doubt have considered a great object to pretend to be a dagger, there could have been a full-fledged duel of menstrual proportions.
I sighed. “He kept asking why. He led the conversation, Mrs. Bardowski.” And didn’t that signal his readiness to learn?
“This is what I mean by common sense, Molly. You tell Cyrus that it isn’t right going through other people’s things and that if he has any questions to ask his mother. Then you go to his mother and explain the events of the day so that she can be prepared to answer Cyrus, not you.”
Easy for Mrs. Bardowski to say. She hadn’t had Cyrus shooting off whys like bullets in a machine gun. And I hadn’t gone into detail. I’d kept everything scientific. The body had different systems. We even taught units on the skeletal and muscular systems. Why did people get all weirded out by reproductive organs?
Besides, I thought most parents had a problem with privacy when they had small kids. As in, they no longer had any. As in, their kids followed them everywhere, even to the bathroom, and picked the lock if the mom even tried to keep them out. How had Cyrus’s mom been able to keep her hygiene products hidden from her son for so long?
I snapped my attention back to Mrs. Bardowski. Her eyebrows were raised expectantly. I rolled my lips between my teeth. I knew what she wanted, but I couldn’t give her the assurances she required—that I would cover the truth in a blanket of, well, what she called common sense but I considered suggestio falsi. Or, for those of us who don’t actually speak Latin, a big fat lie.
I could give her some reassurance though. “There were no mentions of birds, bees, or special hugs. I didn’t use, you know, that three letter word. I didn’t tell him at all how babies are made or where they come from. Just facts. Scientific facts about the human body.”
Whereas her fake poppy pin still appeared as fresh as the day it had come out of the factory, Mrs. Bardowski wilted. She rested her forearms against her desk and looked at me like I was a puppy in the pound and my euthanasia date had come up. “I really hate doing this, Molly, but I’m going to have to let you go.”
My palms felt clammy, and I retracted my hand from Mrs. Bardowski’s desk and laid them in my lap. “You’re…you’re firing me?”
“I am so sorry.”
“For telling the truth?”
Her eyes drooped but held mine. “We both know it isn’t that.”
“I see.” About as well as I could without my glasses. I lifted my hand to make sure the black, vintage-style frames still perched on my nose. They did. The blurriness wasn’t due to my horrid vision problems then.
I blinked and was surprised to feel a single tear glide down my cheek. Notching my chin, I rose, ignoring the tightness in my throat and refusing to draw attention to the tear by wiping at it.
“Thank you for the opportunity to work here, Mrs. Bardowski. The experience has been…enlightening.”
“We wish you only the very best, Molly. I hope you know that.”
Fired. The very best. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe.
I turned, and that’s when I noticed the door to Mrs. Bardowski’s office hadn’t been shut all the way. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal if I hadn’t been sacked and if there wasn’t a very long, very masculine leg leading down to an impressive pair of brown leather chukka boots visible in the three-inch crack between the door and the doorframe.
The curse of my fair skin washed over me, and I knew even without the benefit of a mirror that my cheeks pinkened.
An audience to my humiliation. How par for my course. Oh well. Naught else to be done.
I squared my shoulders and collected my bag while Mrs. Bardowski shimmied around me and pushed the door open the rest of the way.
The man in question rose, as did my gaze. Chukka boots led to starched, gray, fitted slacks, a trim waist cinched with a leather belt and plain silver buckle, and a torso covered by a tailored, gray-and-white pinstriped button-up that hugged the man’s impressive arms like the peel of a banana clings to the fruit.
My eyes lingered, but I forced them upward. One humiliation in the span of a few minutes was enough. I didn’t need this man to catch me ogling his toned physique as well. My complexion adhered to my strict honesty policy. The truth of my thoughts would be written all over my face.
Another system mostly ignored in the elementary years: the endocrine system. Mine was working quite well at the moment, hormones shaking their pompoms like mini cheerleaders in my bloodstream.
I shot my gaze away, swallowed, and then resettled on the man’s face. He had a hint of dark scruff along his chin and jaw, dark half-moons under his gray eyes, and a head of thick hair somewhere between a really deep brown color and true black. Our gazes collided and tangled for a second, pity making the slight downturn at the outer corners of his eyes—not too dissimilar to that of a Bassett puppy—become more prominent.
“Dr. Reed, thank you for coming.” Mrs. Bardowski lifted her arm in invitation to enter her office.
Looking down, I held my bag to my chest and hurried through the hall, trying to outrun the voice in my head—that of my close friend, Amanda, and her slight obsession with a certain medical drama and one of the dreamy characters. If she were here, she’d have already come up with several objectifying nicknames and used them in hashtags all over her social media. #doctordaaaaang #doctorswoony #medicinemanofmydreams
“Hey. Hey, wait up a second.”
My ballet flats paused on the heavy-duty industrial carpeting. I didn’t want to stop. If I stopped, I would notice the students’ artwork I’d hung on the walls only a few hours before. The tissue paper flowers I’d helped six of them create. I’d remember Annabelle telling me I smelled like roses and the excited look in Aiden’s eyes when he wrote his name for the first time without the aid of tracing. I’d remember that I wouldn’t get to see any of my precious students again. Never get to say goodbye to them.
I pressed my finger to the corner of my eye and collected the moisture gathered there before it could fall. Pushing my lips up into a semblance of a smile, I turned toward the man who had followed me down the hall instead of keeping his meeting with Mrs. Bardowski, for whatever reason.
“Dr. Reed, was it?”
He stopped in front of me and offered me his hand. It was easier to look at his sculpted fingers and notice how my dainty limb was nearly engulfed in his than it was to look into his eyes. If I raised my face, he’d know. That Amanda’s voice had been in my head. That I was barely holding it together as the sweet reminders of what I’d lost stared at me from their places on the cinderblock walls.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on your meeting. I hope you know that.” There seemed to be an edge of remorse to his baritone voice.
The thin, optimistic thread that he hadn’t witnessed me getting fired severed. I hadn’t put much weight on it—and good thing too, or I would be flat on my face after the swift kick in the pants Mrs. Bardowski delivered.
“But did you really explain to a preschooler what a tampon is?”
My gaze snapped up to his eyes. Not a trace of laughter on my account. No hint of censure for a perceived lack of common sense. I wasn’t sure, but he seemed to be waiting. Almost on bated breath. Willing me to confirm that what he’d overheard was correct.
“In scientific terms?” he pressed.
“Yes?” I’m not sure why my answer came out as a question except that I hadn’t pieced together what any of this had to do with him.
“And you were fired? You are, in fact, now seeking employment?”
Well, he didn’t have to sound all happy about it and rub it in my face. I pulled the strap of my bag up over my shoulder and crossed my arms in front of my chest. “Don’t you have a meeting with Mrs. Bardowski? She hates to be kept waiting, you know.”
His lips tipped in a grin, flashing a set of dimples that had been hiding behind his scruff. “Yes, I know. But a moment more of your time and I think she’ll be quite pleased. With me, at least.”
Was that a jab? Was he teasing me and making light of the fact Mrs. Bardowski was not “quite pleased” with me? I narrowed my eyes, and my lips puckered like I had just tasted a sour lemon.
“Oh.” His small smile vanished. “Don’t look at me like that.” The glimmer of hope that I had detected fled, replaced with a tired, haggard expression. Almost like one beaten. Certainly, like one desperate.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have met under different circumstances, Dr. Reed.” I turned on my heel, eyes down lest more of my students’ proudly displayed projects pricked at my aching heart.
“Wait!” The good-looking doctor’s voice sounded frantic behind me. “I need you, Miss Osbourne.”
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Journey through all eight stops, following the order in the schedule. Each stop will include two or three clue words in red. Collect them all and enter to win our grand prize at the final stop on February 17th on Crystal's site.
Along each stop, you’ll get to meet an awesome author friend, read a super fun excerpt from one of their favorite kiss-or-miss scenes, and enter some sweet giveaways.
Here Are the Deets: Scavenger Hunt Schedule: February 13th through the 17th.
Once you have all the words, arrange them in order to complete the mystery quote and enter it at the final stop of the event on Crystal’s site, 2/17.
Grand Prize: A paperback from each participating author, as shown in the image below.
Ready to Dive in? Follow the blog hop order below:
Stop 1 - 2/13/17: Crystal’s blog, featuring Pepper Basham
Stop 2 - 2/13/17: Pepper’s blog, featuring Stacy Claflin
Stop 3 - 2/14/17: Stacy’s blog, featuring Juliette Duncan
Stop 4 - 2/14/17: Juliette's blog, featuring Sarah Monzon
Stop 5 - 2/15/17: Sarah’s blog, featuring Jessica Patch
Stop 6 - 2/15/17: Jessica’s blog, featuring Melanie Snitker
Stop 7 - 2/16/17: Melanie’s blog, featuring Melissa Tagg
Stop 8 - 2/16/17: Melissa’s blog, featuring Crystal Walton
Stop 9 - 2/17/17: Crystal's blog, final entry
Stop #5 Featuring Jessica Patch
Today's guest is the wonderful Jessica Patch!
Jessica R. Patch lives in the mid-south where she pens inspirational contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. Her passion to see women’s faith grow into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ compels her to draw out biblical truths through flawed but redeemable characters in fiction. She’s the author of the Seasons of Hope series, several Love Inspired Suspense novels, including Fatal Reunion, Protective Duty, and Concealed Identity, and a contributing author on Everyday with Jesus, a devotional releasing in April 2017 from Guideposts. She enjoys laughing with her husband, bingeing on Netflix with her teenage daughter, and winning at UNO with her son. You can connect with Jessica at her website:www.jessicarpatch.com
Thank you so much, Sarah, for hosting me today. I’m super excited to be sharing Seasons of Hope with y’all! This book is the full series, so you’re actually getting four stories not just one!
If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, including Christmas movies, then you’ll enjoy reading this series.
Rather than give you cookie-cutter characters, I’ve chosen a cast that face real-to-life situations and have relatable flaws. Here’s a peek!
Welcome to the small town of Mistletoe, where hope blooms in every season. Sometimes love is discovered with the most unexpected person. Grace is lavished upon the least deserving. Forgiveness is granted to the flawed. And mercy is poured out on the heartbroken.
**For those on mobile that can't see the red words they are "than" and "face".
Ready for Stop #6? Did you collect your clue words in red above? Jot them down and hop over to Jessica’s blog for the next set of clues, goodies, and more.
Before You Go
For a chance to win an ebook of Just the Way You Are, let me know whether you think this excerpt from Just the Way You Are (book 2) ends in a kiss or a miss.
Gabe turned Audrey toward him and framed her face. “He made the choice to leave. You didn’t do that. Don’t you dare blame yourself for breaking up your family. He couldn’t handle his grief. He left. You did this.” He pointed to the flowers. “You did this. Audrey,” he whispered and cradled her against him. “Can I pray for you?”
She nodded and he prayed—his words like a garden of sweetness and beauty; it moved her to fresh tears even through the wave of comfort that covered her like a glorious summer day.
“Amen,” he murmured. “Tell me you’ll come back to church Sunday. Tell me you’ll sit in the front row again. I liked it.”
“You did?” She swiped under her eyes. “I admit I did, too, until Dotty’s butt dial.” She sighed. If every day could feel this peaceful. At this moment she had a confidence that most days she lacked. Not necessarily because of Gabe—though he was definitely a big part. But God had really poured out the peace until she felt content. Able. Ready to face something new. “You’ve been so good for this church…for…the community.” For her. “I just wanted to show you an extra measure of support, and I was going to bake cookies but Eden reminded me I can’t, so…”
“You wanted to bake me cookies?” His voice caught, and he ran his thumb across her cheek bone.
“Chocolate chip,” she murmured. She licked her lips as a delightful shiver raced through her veins in anticipation. Could pastors even kiss? Like did they even know how? She inched closer. “Do you like chocolate chip cookies?”
“My favorite,” he whispered…
Okay, tell me what you think? Enter either “Kiss” or “Miss” and your email address in the comments below to enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of Just the Way You Are.
Second Chances. If we're honest, they're not only something we want. They're something we need . . . most every day. A fresh start. A do-over. A chance to learn from our mistakes and seize the opportunities we missed in the past. There's something intrinsically beautiful and redemptive about seeing that theme come to life on the pages of a compelling romance, isn't there? With the start of a brand new year, we can't think of a better time to celebrate that theme than a sale and giveaway of some of our favorite second chance romances. Sales, Gift Cards, and Giveaways! Each day, Jan 16-20th, one author will be highlighting a clean romance we've put on sale for you this week. Be sure to visit each author's website and Facebook page to catch every deal, see what each author's giving away, and enter the grand giveaway of five signed paperbacks! Day 1: Melanie Snitker - Join her at https://facebook.com/melaniedsnitker Day 2: Stacy Clafin - Join her at https://facebook.com/stacy.claflin.author Day 3: Crystal Walton - Join her at https://facebook.com/crystalwaltonwrites Day 4: Kris Noorman - Join her at https://facebook.com/bykristanoorman Day 5: Sarah Monzon - Join her at https://facebook.com/sarahmonzonwrites Don't miss out on the giveaways each author will be offering. And enter the grand giveaway below for your chance to take home five signed paperbacks!
Today's Feature – The Isaac Project
Buy e-book here for only $0.99!
Becky Sawyer’s life unravels in a single day. Not only does she catch her boyfriend, the man she hoped to marry, lip-locked with another woman, she also receives the gut-wrenching news that her grandfather, the man who raised her, is dying. His last wish? To see her happily married. Heartbroken, Becky seeks inspiration in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. And finds it in the story of Isaac and Rebekah. If love couldn't keep his parents together, Luke Masterson wonders what will make a marriage last. He decides to steer clear of all women—especially crazy ones like Becky Sawyer, who employs a friend to find her a husband. But when he feels the dogged promptings of the Holy Spirit to move across the country and marry a complete stranger, it seems love has little to do with it anyway. With commitment their only foundation, and love constantly thwarted, can an arranged marriage find happiness in the twenty-first century?
I'm so excited to have you visit my little corner of the web and enter this amazing giveaway! The Issac Project is a contemporary story inspired by the Biblical account of Rebekah and Isaac. This, my debut book, was loads of fun to write and I have been blown away by the response it has gotten. My mind has been perculating on writing more books like this--contemporary Biblical retellings. What Biblical story would YOU be interested in reading an "inspired by" account of? Answer in the comments for your chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card!
Five-Paperback Giveaway Love clean romances? For a chance to win five paperbacks from authors: Stacy Clafin, Sarah Monzon, Krista Noorman, Melanie Snitker, and Crystal Walton, join their author email lists below and be the first to hear about the latest inside scoops, giveaways, and behind the scenes looks at the sweet romances you love. Earn extra entries for sharing!
Confession time. I'm a book cover snob. You know that saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well, I do. I know I shouldn't, but I just can't help myself. If it's a new-to-me author and the cover doesn't grab me right away, then I won't even turn it over to read the blurb. I'm sure I've passed over some really great books that way, but that's my punishment for my snobbery.
With all confessions, I'm sure I'm not the only one suffering from this specific character flaw. That being said, I don't want anyone passing over my books because the cover didn't reel them in right away.
That's where you come in. Instead of doing a cover reveal, we're going to do a cover vote. Below are two options for my upcoming release in early summer.
Here's a little info on the book.
The same evil that stole her mother’s demise stalks Isabella Castellano. Afraid for her safety and with no one to help her, Isabella disguises herself as a cabin boy and hires on to one of His Majesty’s treasure fleet vessels. But has her flight from a known threat only led her to be ensnared in a sea of dangers?
Present Day, Florida
Summer Arnet will go anywhere to capture the perfect shot that will get her marine photography noticed by the prestigious natural magazine, Our World—even diving in waters haunted by Great White sharks. When a treasure hunter with a ladies’ man reputation approaches her about a sunken ship at one of her past dive locations, it might be the chance she’s been looking for to launch her career…if his charming smile doesn’t derail her first.
A past tragedy has left a hole in Trent Carrington’s life—a hole he’s tried to fill with women, money, and adventure. Could the feisty marine photographer be the missing piece or will Trent finally accept that the treasure he seeks can’t be found where rust and moths destroy?
So to recap:
Setting -- Florida in the summer and on board a treasure fleet vessel
Time period -- both present day and the 17th century
Genre -- dual timeline so both contemporary and historical romance
Can't wait to hear your opinions. Oh! And bonus points if you can guess which cover I made myself. =)
Have you ever wondered what authors do on the day their book launches? It may not be quite the party you had imagined. Here's a little peek into what my launch day looked like today.
The first thing on the agenda for the day was a weekly bible study I attend with some other young women. Most of these ladies have small children of their own, so while the mommy's get some grown up time and share in God's Word and encouragement in prayer, the littles have fun on the playground. Bible study lasts about two hours then it's time to head home and put my 15 month old daughter down for her nap and prepare lunch. Today we had a gourmet meal of Top Ramen and grilled cheese prepared by my lovely husband while I rocked the baby to sleep.
The kids and I headed off to Petco after my daughter woke up from her nap to pick up a pet fish for my son. It is was going to be a birthday present from grandma but the store was out of the tank mommy wants (I have a history of killing fish so I want to get him this EZ care tank to lessen the chances of mortality).
**Has anyone's eyes glazed over yet?**
And to end the totally exciting launch day festivities, grocery shopping.
What about you guys? Is this how you imagined an author's launch day would look like?
On June 21, I will put all the names of those commenting in a hat and draw a winner. The winner will receive an advanced ebook copy of The Isaac Project the beginning of July (at which time I hope to have the formatting complete!).
Without further ado, here are the contestants.
Carol award finalist and Selah award winner, Sarah Monzon is a stay-at-home mom who makes up imaginary friends to have adult conversations with (otherwise known as writing novels). As a navy chaplain's wife, she resides wherever the military happens to station her family and enjoys exploring the beauty of the world around her.