Just a little taste...

Summer is hard for me as a writer because my kids are home and there is much shuttling, feeding and referee-ing that goes on. While I do have a share of down time, it's super hard to get into that writing mindset when there is someone in the next room who any minute is going to need a snack or a mediation. On the upside, I'm almost caught up on laundry and am actually enjoying spending time with my little ones. With that said, I'm posting a short excerpt from my WIP for your perusal, feedback, titillation...


"This is Sarah MacAlpin interviewing Alex Budge, October 12th 1995. Also present, Randy Budge and Dermot Sinclair." Sarah said into the microphone before setting it down on the little table facing Budge. They had returned to their original seats on the porch each with a jelly glass of Budge's best stump water to sip while they talked.

"Simon Budge was my grandaddy." Budge said with great significance looking directly at Sarah. "And he did teach me that song you're talking about. But I'm not much of a singer, so I'll tell ya the story he tolt with it."

"Alright." Sarah would keep her talking to a minimum as long as Budge kept going.

"My people come from Scotland back in the colonial times, and they been passing this story down all that time. I can't say how much it's changed, but here 'tis as I learnt it." He leaned back took a deep breath as if he were gettting ready to sing after all. When he spoke again his voice had a far away quality as if he was in a dream.

"Long ago when Scotland was just a wild place with different tribes running their own territories, a family came over from Ireland and made to take over the place. They wanted control of the land. Now, some say they were more civilized than the tribes that were there before, but I don't know that that's true. They say that these fellers tried to get the tribes to all work together, but the old folk, that's what my grandad called the old tribes, they weren't havin' it. They fought over everything and some of 'em made friends with the new tribe and some of 'em resisted. The new people maybe didn't mean any harm, they just thought their ways were better, and they couldn't get why some of the old folk didn't want to change.

So one day the king o' the new folk goes out wandering to think. He's trying to figure out how he can get everybody to come over to his side and get along. So he gets tired and he stops by a riverbank. While he settin' there, up swims this girl. Now, she's about the prettiest thing the king's ever seen and she's wavin' to 'im, 'Come on in, the water's fine'." Budge gave a beckoning wave.

"So he goes in for a swim. Only this girl is so pretty he doesn't pay attention and they drift downstream to an island. Now, the king thinks they're lost, but she says it's her home and he should come and meet her family.

So, she takes the king to meet her father, but her pa is old and sickly and lame. The king starts to wondering who's gonna take care of this girl and her people when her pa dies. He thinks they've got to be pretty poor if they're just living on this island and he's never even heard of her tribe before. But then she takes him over to the hearth and shows him their cookpot. It's a big ole iron kettle and every time he sees someone go to the kettle and put in a bowl or a ladle, it comes up full of food. He keeps watching and thinking that kettle's got to be empty, but they still keep comin' up with food, and they're not even scraping the bottom.

Then she takes him and shows him a cave that's hidden under a hill, and in that cave is a big stone.   And she tells him, 'This is the heart of our people.' Only he's got a different heart in mind. Remember, she's the prettiest girl he's every laid eyes on. So, he kisses her right there in the cave and tells her that he loves her and wants to protect her when her father dies.

Now, just when that happens, a big storm like a hurricane comes up and hits the island.

When the king wakes up he and the girl aren't in the cave anymore, but on shore. And the island is gone. But they find that big iron cookpot on the beach too. So he takes her back with him and makes her his queen. They work to bring the tribes together. The old folk see that she's with him and she's one of them. And they see that he's got this cookpot that never runs out, and they start coming over to his side.

It goes slow, but by the time their son becomes king, all the tribes have come together and since his mother taught him the old ways and his father taught him the new way, he was a good king."

It seemed important to Budge that she understand that the king was good. Sarah nodded. "Did your grandad ever tell you any names for this king or the queen?"

Budge took a sip of moonshine from his glass and shook his head. He blew out a breath     so thick with fumes that Sarah had to blink fast to keep her eyes from watering. "No. He never said names. He did say that the queen's people were older than names. Old as the stone, he used to say."

It was an expression that Sarah had heard before, one that Granny had used. "Do you know where in Scotland your people came from?"

"Can't say I do." Budge shifted in his chair and took another sip of moonshine. "That museum in Franklin says the Budges are Lowlanders. Way I figure it, we been here so long it doesn't much matter."

It mattered to Sarah though. It could help her trace the source of the song. She tried not to show her frustration. She glanced over her shoulder at Randy. He was leaning against the post gazing out at the mountain. Turning back to Budge, "Did you teach that story to your grandchildren?"

"Aw most of em don't have time for an old man and his old stories. 'Cept for Randy over there. He likes learning the old ways." He gave her a wink and a devilish grin, "And you have a lotta time for tellin' stories while you're mindin' a still."

She smiled back at him. That was a fact she knew all too well. She'd learned many a song by the ever present beat of a thumper tank. She was glad she had found Alex Budge. Even if he hadn't known the legend behind the song, she'd have been happy to know him. She laid her hand over his knarled work-worn one where it rested by his glass on the table. "Thank you for talking with me. I appreciate your help."

He turned his hand over to grasp hers his face serious. "I'm glad you could record it. You'll make sure people remember."

She gave his hand one last squeeze before switching off the recorder and beginning to gather her equipment. Dermot pushed himself up off of the top step to help her. Sarah looked over to where he'd been sitting and noticed that his jelly glass was empty. She hadn't taken more than a couple of polite sips.  There hadn't been much in the glass but it was strong. Fortunately Dermot seemed pretty steady.

Sarah was just stepping down from the porch, Dermot by her side when a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Budge?"

"Mmm?" He had been looking into his jelly glass in deep concentration.

"You know a man they call Old Duff?" She realized that she missed the old man, and felt guilty for not having done more to keep track of him.

Budge let out a hearty belly laugh and slapped his knee. "Shoot, girl! Everybody in the hills knows Grant MacDuff! He comes round this way at least twice a year."

Sarah couldn't help smiling back at the man with his dirty worn clothes and missing teeth, and his jelly glass full of stump water. He and Duff and Granny were why she did what she did. Their beauty and their humanity hit her so hard sometimes it took the breath right out of her chest. They were people who lived and died in these hollers and without someone like her their culture would die in these hollers too. "Well, next time he passes this way, you tell him I was here."  She felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes.  and tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. "Tell him I remember everything he taught me."

The old man gave her a solemn nod. He knew what it meant to her. Sarah started to turn away again, but his voice stopped her. "Wait! You never did tell me the secret to your Granny's peach brandy."

Sarah gave him a knowing smile before walking back up the porch steps. Slowly, She leaned over Budge's chair and planted a kiss on his weathered cheek before whispering Granny's secret in his ear.

Budge looked at her closely as if he could verify the truth of what she said in her eyes. After a couple of seconds he burst into gusty laughter accompanied by more knee slapping. "Ha! I knew it! I just knew it!"

Sarah and Dermot climbed into Randy's truck for a ride back down to their car. When they pulled away from the house they could still hear the old man's cackling laugh.


As Yet Untitled

I'm going to cheat again by giving you another excerpt. This one is from the novel that I'm working away on. I have yet to make up my mind on a title for this book, but I can tell you that it's the first of my Once and Future Series.  The only other thing I'll say about this is that I only speak a little Scots Gaelic and writing this really stretched by skills and vocabulary. If you happen to be a Gaelic speaker (Scots not Irish) then please feel free to correct the Gaelic parts.  

early March 1976

Kettle Hollow, North Carolina


It had been a long winter and full of darkness. Màili filled her lungs with what felt like her first deep breath in months. It burned her nostrils and was sharp with the tang of damp rotting leaves. Brittle twigs snapped and crunched beneath her feet as she stepped surely through the forest keeping her eyes on the ground until she found what she was looking for.

"A' Mhòrag, a mise. Tha cròch a'bhos."  She shouted for her daughter keeping her eyes on the little patch of small yellow crocus that peeked through the carpet of winter compost their sharp leaves sticking straight up like spikes. The little girl came crashing up behind her with the careless enthusiasm of the very young, and Màili put out a hand to stop her before she trampled the blooms.

"Tha iad sgèimheach." the girl breathed kneeling in the damp leaves to look at them, and Màili thought she was right. They were beautiful. They stood small but proud giving the first color of the year to the great gray forest. Màili decided these blooms with their smooth rounded petals as bright as the sun itself were a balm for the rough places on her heart.

Her throat tightened and her eyes stung as she watched the wonder on her daughter's face. At six, Mórag was still young enough that the whole world was new and she bent her small head closer for a better look. In the practical way of all mothers, Màili thought the child's head must be cold, but her riot of thick golden curls defied all attempts to be contained by a hat. Màili laid a hand ever so lightly on the girl's head feeling the down-soft hair slip through her fingers. She could sense the shape of the skull beneath her hand, a shape she knew well. She had been cupping her hand around it since before Mórag was born. Then it had been a round lump in her belly pressing out against her hand, and later the soft sweet fuzz covered head of her baby girl as she fed, and now that she was a girl it was a rare treat only allowed when the child was tired or distracted. It was a mother's caress. Flesh of my flesh.

"A' bheil tuilleadh idir?"  Are there more? the girl asked. Màili took the child's hand and began to look about for more clusters of flowers. Just over a slight rise she found them. A large round patch of crocus at the base of a great oak spread out before them in a mad profusion of yellow, white, blue and violet. Màili was so enchanted by the sight, she couldn't help but grin. She felt little Mórag bouncing beside her in excitement.

"Am faigh mi trus flúraichean a'Mhami?" May I pick the flowers, Mommy? the child asked hopping from one foot to the other.

"Tha." Yes. Màili certainly intended to pick some, and felt a little ashamed when the girl stopped bouncing, raised her hands palm up, elbows at her side and asked for pardon for picking the pretty flowers. Màili was never one to stand on religion, even at Mórag's age she had questioned everything she was taught. But Mórag didn't need teaching. She seemed to know instinctively everything that Màili had always questioned. For Mórag, every tree, hill, wind and stream had a name, some that Màili didn't even remember. She felt a shudder run through her as she wondered how the girl knew so many things that she herself had forgotten.

"Tha mi a'càraich an crun agad!" I'm going to make you a crown! Mórag exclaimed wading into the patch of flowers and beginning to select the prettiest of them.

When they had picked enough, they settled on a fallen tree. Mórag had gathered her supplies and set about twisting some vines into a circlet. As Màili tucked flowers into her daughter's hair, the little girl began to sing. Her high clear voice picked out a jaunty puirt a beul about a boy and his boat. The rhythm was contagious and before she was aware of it Màili was singing along foot tapping. Her richer woman's voice blended with the girl's in a fast-paced round. Màili couldn't remember when she'd been happier.

By the time they were finished, Mórag had a crocus stuck in every curl as if each gold spiral were a bud vase. She had indeed made a crown of twisted vines with crocus stems anchored between them. They were accented with birch twigs and some brown leaves she had found that were still intact.

Mo`rag climbed up to stand on the log and placed the crown on top of Màili's head before dropping into a curtsy. "Tha mi gad shamhlachadh ri bànrigh sitheag." You look like a fairy queen.

Màili lifted a hand and touched the crown self-consciously. With a self-deprecating chuckle she said, "An bana-bhuidseach, móran nas coltaiche." A witch, more likely.

Uncomfortable, she grasped the crown carefully to remove it, but the girl stopped her with a firm hand on her arm. Her green eyes were bright, determined. "Chan eil. Fuirich." No. Stay.

'It's not mine,' she thought, 'And I hope it's not yours either.' She shrugged to hide the shiver that coursed down her spine, but left the crown in place and quickly changed the subject.

"Tha sinn a'thoir flúraichean gu seanmhair." Let's give some flowers to Granny.

They went about picking an armful of crocus for Màili's mother who had stayed at home claiming sore knees from the damp. Màili had never seen her mother anything but spry and thought the excuse was more out of a desire to avoid another argument with her. A winter stuck together in their small farmhouse was enough to make even the most sympathetic adults cantankerous, but Màili and her mother were rarely on the same page. Their main source of discord was the thing most precious to both of them, Mórag.


Maighread's hands were elbow deep in a sink full of dishes when she caught sight of them coming out of the forest. They were dancing, and the beauty of it made her throat close tight and tears prick her eyes. She'd had little more than cross words and rolled eyes from her daughter for months. Màili was forever wanting more than their life on the mountain could offer and Maighread knew that were it not for Mórag, her daughter would have left years ago.

But there they were, mother and child dancing across the yard leaving a trail of flowers in their wake. The little one's curls were mixed with blooms and bounced like springs as she tripped along the dirt path her feet beating out a bright tattoo. But nothing could compare to the sight of her daughter with her arms full of flowers and a fairy crown on her dark head. Her feet seemed to glide inches above the ground, only coming down to touch on the appropriate beats.

Maighread had never seen a better dancer than Màili. Since she was Mórag's age, Màili had danced through everything in life. Every trial of growing up, every lost pet, every argument with a friend, every teenage rebellion had been smoothed over by dancing.  But somewhere along the road, that part of Màili had been knocked down one too many times, and the dancing had stopped. It hurt Maighread's heart to think that she had been the agent of her daughter's disappointment.

She didn't realize she was crying until she heard their feet on the back steps. She went to wipe her cheeks only to find her hands dripping with dishwater. She grabbed a towel and managed to give her cheeks a quick swipe before the door burst open and Màili and Mórag half walked half danced into the kitchen. They were still giggling when Màili deposited the flowers on the old worn kitchen table. She looked up at her mother and started to speak, but stopped noting her mother's red cheeks and too bright eyes. Maighread too pulled up short her eyes going to the crown of crocus, birch and oak resting on her daughter's head. Màili's lips firmed into a grim line and she turned stepping into the pantry to get a vase for the flowers.

"Lorg sinn na ceudan móre de flúraichean an sin." We found hundreds of flowers over there. Wee Mórag piped in pointing to the forest in the direction they had come from.

"Chì mi. Tha iad àlainn." I see that. They're lovely.

"They were under that great oak over the rise from the still." said Màili as she filled the vase. Her English jarred Maighread's ears. Her heart had broken a thousand times over when she had had to leave her home in Scotland. Keeping her native language in her home had helped to ease some of that pain, but Màili never spoke Gàidhlig anymore. She had said that it was to make sure the child learned both languages. Maighread didn't protest because she hadn't wanted Mórag to start school without having the English. But now her English was good and school gave her plenty of practice. Still Màili only spoke English, and each word was like a jab in her mother's ear. Maighread wondered if she would ever again hear the language of her heart from her daughter's lips.

"A'bheil sibh leis an acras? 'S furasta dhomh deisealach an biadh-nóin." Are you hungry? I can easily fix lunch. Maighread fussed to hide her hurt.

"Tha an t'acras gam tholladh!" I'm starving! the child answered.

"That sounds good, Mama." Her girls spoke at the same time. Màili giving her an unexpected smile that was genuine.

Maighread beamed back at them. Her girls. For all that they battled over wee Mórag and her education, it was all done out of love. She and Màili would do well to remember that.

"'S math sin. Ach an toiseach, mo nighean, thusa gabh abar." Good. But first, my girl, you take a bath. She said looking pointedly at the smudges on Mórag's face.

“She’s right. You’re so dirty there are things growing in your hair.” Màili joked, pulling an errant flower from the little one's curls. “Come on, into the bath with you.”

She swung the child into her arms and proceeded to tickle her senseless while carrying her upstairs only releasing her at the top and chasing her into the bathroom.


“Alright. Get those clothes off.” Màili ordered while running the bath.

Mórag threw her arms around her mother’s thighs and squeezed. “I wish every day could be this good.”

She stroked the girl’s hair. “We all do, baby.”

“Will you and Granny stop fighting, now?” Mórag asked hopefully, releasing her mother and starting to peel off her clothes.

“We’ll see. I hope so.” Molly tried to sound reassuring. She helped Mórag into the great clawfooted tub and handed her the soap before turning to get towel from the rack by the door.

As she turned she caught her reflection in the mirror. She had forgotten about the crown and now was struck by how out of place it seemed on her head. It's lively flowers a stark contrast to her pale angular features. She had bloomed like them once; beautiful and vibrant with the enthusiasm of youth. Now she felt worn down to a husk. Her skin was winter pale. Her cheekbones jutted out almost white between tired eyes and sunken cheeks and her dark hair hung lifeless. All under the circlet brimming with life. It seemed a cruel joke.

“Mommy? When I go away from here, will you come with me?” Mórag's question broke her revery and she turned back to the tub.

“Are you going somewhere?” Màili was puzzled as she pulled another flower from the girl's hair and dropped it into the water. The subtle fragrance of the crocus drifted up from the warm bath.

“I had a dream about going far away. “I was going to meet the king."

"The king of what?" Please let it be a fancy, she thought as she looked at her little girl. Mórag bit her lip, uncertain.


Peals of laughter rained down the stairs like rays of sunlight cascading through the tree tops. Maighread hummed to herself as she put together a lunch of biscuits and stew that she'd set simmering on the old wood burning stove earlier that morning. She knew she probably should have put in an electric cooker years ago, but just couldn't let go of some old habits. She still cooked the way she had learned as a child, by keeping a pot of something simmering all the time adding to it whatever ingredients came to hand.  Even after all her years in America, she still half expected her cousins to drop in wanting to be fed just as they had when she was a girl.

She had just finished warming the biscuits when she realized that the laughter from upstairs had stopped. She cocked her head and held her breath to hear what she could. No longer the careless cackle of the girls she had sent upstairs, now there was a soft splashing and a muttering sound.

“How long?” she asked herself as she bounded up the stairs. How long had her thoughts been clouding her hearing? How long had it been since the laughter had stopped?

“They can’t have you.” Her daughter was mumbling over and over as Margaret burst through the door. “They can’t have you, not you.”

Molly’s arms were stiff as planks. Her hands gripped the child’s shoulders like talons holding her under the water. Flowers had fallen from the crown she still wore and floated on the surface above the terror stricken face of the little girl.

“They can’t have you. I won’t let them.” Màili cooed reassurance to her daughter. “I won’t let them.”

Maighread tried to pull her away by her shoulders, but her mad will was stronger than the old woman’s hands. Màili didn’t even see her, she was so focused on the child.

“They’re not going to get their hooks in you.”

Maighread had to think fast. Her heart felt ready to burst and blood sang in her ears. She backed up searching for a weapon, something to hit Màili with. She knew it would have to knock her out. She wouldn’t get a second chance. The toilet lid! Maighread grabbed with both hands and swung the lid low and to the side. Then with all her strength she heaved up and the porcelain block flew hard through the air. She felt a sickening jolt as it hit the back of her daughter’s head. Màili fell face first into the water the crown slipping off her head to land in the bath.

Margaret grabbed Molly’s shoulders and pulled hard.  Her daughter flew back sending a spray of water and flowers onto the walls and ceiling. Then the old woman was reaching into the water, lifting her granddaughter’s limp body. The child’s lips were beginning to turn blue. Margaret laid her on the floor next to the sprawled form of her mother.

She couldn’t be dead. She pumped the girl’s chest, lifted her up and pounded her back. She couldn’t be. The little body jerked. Then there was a cough and a splattering of water as it spilled from her lungs. A gasp rocked Mórag and the child breathed again. She threw her arms around her grandmother. Maighread rocked back and forth as the child stared bewildered at her mother limp and wet on the floor.

A Fond Kiss

What with colds and stomach viruses, I haven't had much time to get work done in the last week or so. So, I will ply you today with a teaser from my upcoming novelette, A Fond Kiss. The ebook should be available soon. A Fond Kiss

“Mr. French, will you be able to visit your family before beginning your clerkship?” Mrs. Manney, as was her habit, made polite conversation while Minerva, bustled around the table serving dinner. This was the regular way of things at meals in the Manney household. Despite her northern roots, or perhaps because of them, Maria Manney was forever striving to outdo her southern neighbors in hospitality and elegance. Each day at the dinner table she set about providing her daughters with an ideal example of womanly behavior. She kept up a steady stream of pleasant if vapid conversation, diffused potential conflicts, and demonstrated impeccable manners for her children. The result of her hard work being that her children all had manners so fine that she never realized that they found her efforts at conversation to be a somewhat of a nuisance.

Charles cleared his throat. “I’m afraid not, ma’am. I will be starting in Philadelphia almost as soon as I arrive. I am told that the attorney I’ll be working with is a stern taskmaster. I doubt that I will have time to visit them before I become an attorney myself.”

“You should try to find the time, young man.” Dr. Manney’s gruff voice cut in from the head of the table.  Where Mrs. Manney ensured that meals were pleasant for everyone, Dr. James Manney ruled like a stone-faced monarch caring little for the opinions of the others. Although he never missed meals, Charles had always had the impression that his mind was frequently elsewhere, likely on his next business venture. Rarely did he allow himself to be drawn into the conversation, save the rare occasion when something caught his attention. “Family is important. You’ve been separated from yours for too long.”

“I have, sir, and I do miss them. However, my mother and I correspond frequently. She keeps me abreast of the news at home, and living with a family as generous as yours has prevented me from getting homesick.” He smiled around the table being careful not to let his gaze linger on Nancy too long.

The doctor merely grunted and returned to his beef. When the main course was removed and Minerva brought the dessert, the doctor picked up the subject. “I suppose a young man in your situation has to be willing to leave family behind in pursuit of professional success.”

Charles wasn’t sure how to respond to that. What had the doctor meant by ‘your situation’? He was rescued by Nancy who asked in seeming innocence, “You mean the way that you did when you moved here from New York, Papa?”

All eyes turned to the doctor to guage his reaction to this question. He eyed his eldest daughter for a moment one eyebrow cocked high.  “Hmph, indeed.”

“I do believe this pudding has been burnt!” Mrs. Manney burst in from the foot of the table. “Minerva. I have told you that I cannot abide an overcooked pudding.”

“Yes’m. Can I get you some of that cantaloupe?” the house slave deftly lifted the pudding from in front of the doctor’s wife and placed it on the tray of dishes to be returned to the kitchen behind the house.

“No, I believe I have had enough. Nancy, when you are finished I would like for you and Francis to walk with me down to the mercantile. I want your help picking some ribbon for the new bonnets.”

“Yes, Mama.” Nancy cast Charles a look as she lowered her head appearing suddenly very interested in her pudding.




At the sound of her footstep in the hallway, Charles stepped from his room and silently followed Nancy into hers easing the door shut. “I’m going to talk to him while you’re out.”  He whispered.

She took a nervous breath. “Should I try to delay us returning?”

“I hope there will be no need for that.” He took her hand in his. “I will give him the final progress reports on James and Julia, and that should conclude any work that I have left to do. Once I’m no longer working in the house, I don’t see how he can object.”

“I wish I had your confidence. I just don’t know how he’s going to take this.” She stepped away from him to her wardrobe to retrieve her bonnet and lace gloves from a top drawer. Charles was suddenly struck by the novelty of being in her room, of knowing in which drawer her gloves were kept. Had he not been so nervous he would have savored this small intimacy. “You’ve seen all the young men he’s introduced me to over the last couple of years.”

“I have," He refocused his eyes on her face. "And in a few years once I’m practicing law I’ll outshine them all. He saw enough promise in me to bring me here, surely he can believe in my future success.”

A sound in the hallway silenced them and they held their breath for a moment afraid of being discovered. It wouldn’t do to find the family tutor in Nancy’s room. They had managed to keep their romance a secret for over a year.

When she was satisfied that they had not been overheard, Nancy began fumbling with the tiny crocheted buttons at the wrist of one of her gloves. She made a guttural sound of impatience. “My hands are shaking. This blasted button loop is twisted!”

He took her hand and attempted the button himself, but his blunt fingers weren’t of much more use on the tiny buttons and the twisted loops that were supposed to fit around them. “How do you ever wear these things!”

“Charles, what if he says no?” Her voice sounded impossibly small. He looked up to find her watching him, in her eyes a blend of uncertainty, hope and fear.

“He won’t.”  He turned back to the button and finally managed to push the button through the tiny loop. He held her wrist up to show her. “See? It will work out.”

Her eyes began to get misty and she merely nodded and began fervently examining her bonnet.

He titled her chin up with his other hand and tried to sound more sure than he felt. “No matter what he says, we will be together. We were going to wait anyway until I am set up. If I can’t convince him now, then I will convince him then. I would rather leave here knowing that I have his blessing to return, but even without it I will be back for you. As long as I know that you believe in me, I can bring your father around eventually. You do believe in me, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Then that is all I need.” He lifted her gloved hand and placed a kiss just where the glove ended at her wrist feeling her pulse jump. “I love you. No matter where I go or how long it takes me to return you have to know that.”

She swayed toward him and leaned her cheek against his lapel. It was the most contact they had allowed themselves in their long but secret courtship. Charles fought against the urge to wrap his arms around her and simply hold her there until all else fell away. He had to satisfy himself with bending to his head to kiss the top of hers taking a moment to mark the lemony scent of her hair.

“Nancy!” Her mother’s sharp voice barked from the bottom of the stairs. They both leapt apart.

They said nothing more but sought courage in each other’s eyes for a few more heartbeats before Nancy opened the door just enough to slip outside. Charles stood listening to the silence in the hallway and staring at the door she had just closed. He muttered a quiet prayer to himself before slipping into the hall.