Join me in welcoming author Betty Bolte and her latest release, Traces!
Reed, a forty-year-old architect turned demolition expert, desperately searches
for the means to bury her grief. When she inherits her family’s historic
plantation home in Tennessee, she decides to start anew by razing the
antebellum house and replacing it with a memorial garden.A plan met with outrage from her family and
her grandmother's estate lawyer.
Maximillian “Max” Chandler needs two things to complete his life plan: become a
senior partner and find his soul mate. He's been promised a promotion once his
proposed legislation to protect all of the county’s historic properties is
approved. The wife part he finds more challenging, having never met the right
woman in all of his forty-six years. If only the talented and attractive
Meredith weren’t so aloof toward him and didn’t want to destroy the very
property he’s grown to cherish.
Meredith's estranged sister moves in and refuses to leave. The memories of
their childhood spent there causes turmoil between them. And while Meredith
struggles to reconcile her past and her future, she learns a lesson from the
spectral Lady in Blue that may save both her family and the family home from
Meredith Reed glared at the plantation home she’d
inherited from a grandmother she only vaguely recalled and plotted its demise.
A pair of ancient live oaks, the inspiration for the Twin Oaks name, guarded
either side of the sprawling two-story brick dwelling, providing shade and
funneling cool air through the house. Sunlight filtered through the Spanish
moss draped on the massive limbs. Meredith raised one hand to shield the glare
as she scanned the façade. The architect in her appreciated the symmetry of the
Greek Revival style as well as the quality workmanship of the brickwork, but
neither aspect added value for the salvage companies.
First, she’d dismantle it one piece at a time, removing
anything of value and selling it off quickly to whomever had the money to buy
it. She studied the once-elegant antebellum house, its wide front steps missing
a brick here and there, its six elaborate Corinthian columns and intricately
carved woodwork surrounding the double doors. The property description listed
ten bedrooms, four bathrooms dating from the early twentieth century, a gourmet
kitchen, two parlors, an upstairs ballroom, and several outbuildings. Despite
the building’s grand scale, the house was too small to warrant using dynamite
to implode. Damn. But she could
visualize a nice, hot fire licking up the exterior. Yes, a fire would serve the
purpose of bringing it down.
The estate lawyer, Max Chandler, who had driven her out to
the four-hundred-acre property, had barely spoken during the entire trip except
to relay pertinent details of the surprise inheritance, including the fact she
had also inherited her grandmother’s sizable and diversified investment
account. She’d have preferred to drive her own car, especially since he drove
one of those redneck pickup trucks. Sitting in any vehicle, let alone with an
attractive man, set her teeth on edge. Worrying about what might happen tensed
every muscle in her body. He also didn’t need to know how edgy being with him
made her, as if her skin burned the closer he drew. But he’d insisted until she
ungraciously relented. She picked her fights, and that one wasn’t worth the
effort. The rolling Tennessee countryside had flowed past the window, immense
fields dotted with horses and cows. Green shoots poked through the tilled earth
in rows, reaching for the early spring sunshine. She’d noticed her surroundings
automatically, but none of the hauntingly familiar sights held her interest.
Once she no longer sat in the unfamiliar truck, her tense muscles eased, and
she drew a deep breath as she studied the building.
Why on Earth had her grandmother, whom she hadn't seen in
nearly thirty years, chosen her to receive the grandiose house that stood for
everything she would never have? The family she could never have? Pain combined with a deep-seated longing
blossomed in her chest. Three front steps led up to a brick porch with its
immense white columns announcing to passersby that the building was more than a
house. Unlike the small, boxy ranchers and nondescript houses they’d passed on
the drive to the plantation, this structure cried out for a large family. Her
parents had often carried her and her sister Paulette from Memphis to visit
Grandma when she was a young child. Back when love and laughter echoed through
the many rooms. The huge yard, graced with several shade trees—the site of
barbecues and softball games, with the extended family arguing over who
potentially cheated or whooping with glee when a good shot was made—now stood
silent, accusing her of neglect and indifference.
So be it. She stiffened her spine. She would not wallow in
self-pity nor give in to the temptation to hug her arms around her waist and
cry. She squinted at the glare from the windows nestled into the brick walls,
noting the ivy climbing up one front corner. Willy would want her to move on,
build a new life, but she couldn’t. Not yet. Even after five years, the grief
and anger stewed in her brain, sizzled in her veins, and throbbed in her heart.
But soon Twin Oaks would help her define the path to alleviate the pain. She’d
finally struck on a course of action that would assuage her turmoil, thanks to
the surprising inheritance. She’d bury her grief through the catharsis of a
fresh beginning by returning the once-beautiful but now decaying plantation to
nature. Let the land heal her, as her grandmother had long ago told Meredith
their Irish ancestors believed, though perhaps not in the way she meant.
“Shall we go inside?” Max leaned his tall frame against
the hood of the green F-150 pickup, arms folded, his curiosity evident in his
The color of his eyes as he waited for her response
reminded her of the crystal blue of glacier ice, and that thought evoked the
bittersweet memory of her and Willy on their honeymoon trip to Alaska. The
glorious clear sky that day had created a perfect backdrop to the pod of whales
they watched blowing a mixture of air and water. She heard again the cry of
eagles as they soared majestically above the surrounding mountains. The trip of
her life with the love of her life. Back when they had their entire lives
stretching before them, full of promise and hope.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, breaking the spell of
Max’s intent gaze. She fished the contraption out and glanced at the screen
before answering. “Buddy, what’ve you got for me?”
“One close to home for you. Salisbury, Maryland.” Her
boss’s brusque, businesslike voice helped her focus, steady her breathing. “An
old chicken processing plant needs to be refurbished. Two months enough time
for you to finish your mysterious personal errand and then go assess the scope
Scanning the front of the house, she automatically
categorized which pieces of the architecture were salvageable. One shutter
clung precariously to an upper window frame. Ultimately, what could be saved
didn’t matter as much as how quickly she could do her job and subsume the grief
into the ground. The chickens would have to wait, but soon she’d return to
work. Hopefully, the inside decor didn’t include any faux painting. Otherwise,
much of the woodwork would prove worthless. With any luck, the fireplaces would
be real marble. She’d have to contact a local appraiser to determine the true
value of the items worth recovering from a historical perspective. Then salvage
anything else for scrap that would help offset the cost of either the heavy
equipment needed to take it apart or for hiring the guardian firemen to conduct
a controlled burn.
Burning down the building in a controlled fashion tugged
at her desire to contain the pain, to manage it and flush it once and for all
out of her system. Perhaps afterwards she could breathe without the raw hiccup
of intense grief snatching at her lungs. Maybe she’d be able to sleep in her
half-empty bed without missing her Willy like a severed limb, the ghostly ache
never far from her mind.
A flash in an upstairs window drew her attention, and she
peered at the pane. A pair of turkey buzzards spiraling high above reflected
off the window, wings outstretched so that the tips of their feathers stood out
against the sky. She didn’t have long, as her schedule stayed tight because her
expertise remained in high demand. She’d figure something out, but her stay in
the little rural community of Magnolia Grove, Tennessee, would last no more
than a month, maybe two, tops. “Sure. That gives me enough time here to wrap
things up. Is it a partial demolition or the entire thing?” She yearned for the
satisfaction of a complete demolition, allowing a tiny spark of hope to kindle
in her soul that she’d need dynamite to bring it down. The brief joy that
thrilled through her when she ripped apart a building never lasted long enough
to dissipate the pain in her heart.
“Partial. I’ll e-mail you the details.”
Meredith ended the call and slipped her phone back into
her pocket as Max pushed off from his spot near the front of the truck.
“What is it you do again?” Max aimed mirrored sunglasses
in her direction.
“Demolition.” She slid her purse strap more securely onto
her shoulder. She snatched the manila folder off the hood of the vehicle, a
file Max had handed to her at his office. Inside were copies of the legal
papers he’d reviewed with her across his massive mahogany desk. “Why?”
“Your grandmother said you were an architect. Demolition
is a rather unique profession for a woman, isn’t it?” He let his gaze drift
away from her to scan the hundreds of acres of fields and trees and the various
outbuildings surrounding the plantation house. A circle of trees nearly hid the
old gazebo from view, but they couldn’t stop the surge of memories of afternoons
spent with her sister, Paulette, playing under its roof. Glimpses of white
painted boards and black wrought-iron trim appeared through the dense branches
and limbs sprouting with new growth.
“I like to be different.” Meredith dropped her attention
to the folder, severing the thread of the past, and turned a page without
reading it. Once she’d built homes and offices, spaces conducive to living and
loving, but that was five years ago. Why did Max care what she did? She slanted
a questioning glance his way. “Keeps things interesting, ya know?”
“I’d imagine. Listen, I hate to rush this,” Max said, his
words clipped, “but I have a client to meet in an hour. Let me show you
around.” He indicated for her to lead up the steps.
Bristling at his tone, Meredith pinned him with a stare.
“Look, you don’t need to. It’s been a while, true, but I have been here before.
I know the layout. We can go.” Then she wouldn’t have to go inside and relive
the happy, carefree days of her childhood through the weary eyes of an adult while
He shook his head, his dark chocolate hair touched with
gray sweeping his collar, watching her. “Things have changed. You may be
surprised by what you find inside.” He tapped a hand against one thigh and
cocked his head to gaze at her for a long moment. “Either way, you should take
stock of what you’ve inherited.”
He didn’t appear much like a lawyer, truth be told. Didn’t
lawyers wear prescription glasses and look nerdy? Not that she believed in
stereotypes, but all that studying must make their eyes weak. Max was the other
end of the spectrum. Perhaps her grandmother had a need for eye candy when she
chose him as her estate planner.
He was delicious to contemplate, that’s for sure. Probably
a couple inches taller than a cornstalk with a soccer player’s physique, Max
could double for a cover model. She appreciated his classic good looks,
straight nose, and strong jaw. Dressed in khakis and a deep red polo shirt, he
seemed more ready for a round of golf than a client meeting. He represented the
unattainable type of man for her. The kind embodying something too smart, too
handsome, too much for her taste.
Even if she were in the market for a man, which she was not. None of that
mattered since she would be staying in the area for a short while. Despite her
hard shell of indifference to the opposite sex, she couldn’t help a moment of
succumbing to the temptation of drinking her fill of his appearance. But only
for an instant. If she let her guard down, her personal destruction would soon
“I don’t want to keep you, is all.” Meredith waved a hand
at the vehicle. “I’m a big girl. Take me to my car. I’ll come back on my own.”
“Actually, your grandmother made it clear she wanted me to
show you around when you claimed the place,” he replied. “She wanted to be sure
you appreciate the extent of the inheritance and had an opportunity to see how
much work is needed to put it to rights. So, if you’ll follow me?” He nipped up
the steps, obviously expecting her to concede the point.
“And Grandma always gets her way.” With a sigh, Meredith
shadowed him through the white double doors into the chilly front hall. She
stopped inside the doorway to look around. The sickly smell of mildew hit her
senses like a wrecking ball, bringing tears that smarted the corners of her
eyes. Crossing the threshold into this house made her feel as though she
stepped back in time to another era. “It’s exactly like I remember. Well,
except for the smell.”
Max nodded. “Mrs. O’Connell prided herself on ensuring any
necessary repairs matched the original decor and architecture. But as time went
on, she wasn’t able to keep up with the issues of an old, historic home. A few
repairs will be necessary. Your talents, skills, and expertise are why she left
Twin Oaks to you instead of your father. You know, so you can ensure the
repairs are appropriate to its original grandeur.”
Dark wood floors reached throughout the plantation house.
The stairs rose slowly from the left, boasting dark wood treads with white
painted fronts, up to a wraparound loft. A cherry table sheltered against the
wall beneath the stairs, showcasing a dainty crystal lamp centered on a lace
doily. She smiled, spying the small door standing invitingly ajar, leading to
what she recalled was a games closet tucked under the stairs. A colorful rug
bade guests to cross the space toward the ladies parlor on the right or the
double parlor on the left. In days gone by, the gentlemen would have adjourned
to the larger retreat after dinner to smoke and drink. Farther down the hall leading
from the foyer, light spilled onto the wood floors from the windows in the back
rooms. A chill settled on her shoulders. The back room on the right had been
her grandmother’s sewing room—her favorite spot in the entire house—and the
room in which she’d died, according to Max. Meredith shook off the thought and
focused instead on the condition of the house.
She moseyed into the parlor, noting the dusty, cobwebby,
overstuffed chairs and dark wood furniture. Faded and peeling, the
rose-patterned wallpaper competed with the brocade drapes for attention. Above
the rose marble fireplace, she spotted the relief carving of the Irish
Claddagh: two hands reaching toward the center where a heart wore a royal
crown. Her grandmother loved to tell stories about the Claddagh, representing
bonds of love, friendship, and loyalty. She inhaled, smelling dust and cold
ashes from the fireplace mingled briefly with a faint yet familiar scent she
couldn’t place. She mentally shook her head. No matter.
Scanning the room, Meredith let her gaze touch each piece
of antique furniture, each grimy objet d’art, each vase of tired silk flowers.
The dismal scene before her contrasted sharply with how everything once shone
with loving attention. She hardened her resolve. Emotional reaction must not
sway her course. She had made up her mind before she even packed her little
suitcase, tucked Grizabella into her cat carrier, and started her car to make
the two-day drive through Roseville and back to Magnolia Grove. Back to her
past. She couldn’t stay. Tennessee would never be home again. She’d call an
auction company to take the furnishings and furniture. Then arrange for the
dismantling of the house and outbuildings. What difference did it make if the
floors were dusty or the furniture saggy? If cobwebs draped over everything
like Spanish moss? Nothing would remain standing when she was finished
returning the property to a green field.
Meredith wandered through the rest of the house, Max
following silently. Her tour of the upper floors was cursory at best. She
avoided the attic entirely, not prepared to open that door to the past. Max’s
silence suited her. She didn’t want to talk about her plans with anyone. Others
wouldn’t agree with them, for one thing. They didn’t understand the hurt and anger
deep inside her. Hell, she didn’t totally understand it. She surveyed the
interior, knowing without thinking it through what she’d need to do to put this
past firmly behind her once and for all. She glanced at Max when he stopped
beside her in the kitchen, his spicy aftershave helping to obscure the odors of
the old house.
“I guess I’ll stay here until I can make the necessary
arrangements.” Meredith refrained from touching the white ceramic counter
dotted with green mold. Outside the window, the backyard extended for about
five acres before opening up to a large—perhaps two hundred acre?—meadow
beyond. A separate two-car garage was tucked at the end of the driveway near
the small caretaker’s cottage, out of sight from the front of the property,
likely to ensure its curbside appearance remained faithful to that of the
nineteenth-century expectations. Primordial oaks and maples, ones she and
Paulette used to monkey in, provided shady oases across the expanse. Two giant
magnolia trees stood sentinel at the back, where she knew they marked the
entrance to the O’Connell family cemetery nearly hidden at the edge of the open
area. She leaned slightly to the left. There.
The grave stones, some drunken with age, were clearly visible and surrounded by
a black wrought-iron fence and gateway. The arch above the gate announced the
family name in wide, rounded letters. From here she could discern the weary
steps leading up to the ancient gazebo, the gingerbread trim drooping over the
entrance to the shadowy interior.
“Good. You’ll have chance to decide what you’ll do with
such a lovely property.” He regarded her and appeared to wrestle with what to
say next. After a pause he said, “I envy you, Mrs. Reed. I realize it needs a
bit of work, but this is a wonderful place. Both peaceful and historic. I wish
I could afford such a home as you’ve been given.”
Meredith turned and gaped at him, wondering if he was
joking. He wasn’t. “Peaceful? Have you heard crickets in the summer? Or
roosters? God, the roosters crowing all day drive me insane.” She wouldn’t
listen to him go all sentimental on her. Restoring the property was not her
agenda. “Shall we go? I have to take care of a few matters, and I’d like to put
the wheels in motion.” Meredith shook off the glower Max gave her at the abrupt
change in conversation. She headed for the front door.
Once outside, she sauntered toward the truck, hearing Max
close the door and lock it. She didn’t look back as she reached the truck and
stepped up and inside. Only then did she permit herself to scrutinize the
home—no, the house—she’d inherited.
Above the front porch, a set of French doors opened onto a balcony with a black
wrought-iron railing. Not even a chair occupied the space. With such an old
house, she doubted that the balcony floor could support any weight. She had an
image of ladies in hoop skirts and men in Confederate uniforms dancing inside
the open French doors in the upstairs ballroom, and shook the daydream from her
head. She scanned the rest of the area. Over the decades the expanse between
the main house and the separate kitchen behind it had been closed in to form
one building where at one time there stood two. Soon, after her plans came to
fruition, there would be none.
Max joined her in the vehicle and drove for a time in
silence, the only sound the symphonic muzak oozing from the stereo. She felt
the weight of his assessment. Even after he returned his attention to the
winding road before them, she sensed his appraisal, weighing her words and
actions and the silences between them.
“I assume you’ll go through with the application your
grandmother had me submit.” Max shot her a glance and then focused on
navigating the streets of Roseville. “Right?”
Outside the car’s window, the quaint town square slipped
past. Roseville had been established early in the nineteenth century and served
as the county seat of government. The stately brick courthouse with its white
clock tower stood in the center of the square surrounded by a hodgepodge of
antiques stores, diners, boutiques, and a two-screen movie theater. A woman
holding the hand of a child skipping along the sidewalk hurried toward the
Hideaway. The popular restaurant once housed the old jail. Eating in the former
jail cell with her parents had been a highlight once upon a time. Shoving away
the sharp stab of nostalgia, she refused to allow the past to influence her
“What application?” Did the man have to speak in riddles?
Keeping her eyes averted, the young family held her attention as she waited for
“To have the plantation added to the National Register of
Historic Places.” Max turned on his indicator and waited for the light to
“That’s what I said.” Was he hard of hearing too?
“It’s already in the system.” He cut her a glance and
focused on the traffic. “Why don’t you want it to be listed?”
“I have other plans for the property.” She looked at him,
observed the frown pull down between his brows. “It is mine to use or sell as I
choose. No strings attached?”
He steered the car onto Market Street. “I’d assumed you’d
want to honor your grandmother’s intent and keep the house in the family like
so many others in these parts choose to do. Or at least, given your background,
appreciate the need to preserve the area’s history for future generations.”
“You know what they say about assuming things.” Meredith
tugged on the seat belt strapped between her breasts where it bit into her. She
held on to the vinyl strap to relieve the discomfort. “And, to be clear, I
never said I was selling.”
“But you don’t want to have official protection for the
structures, to keep them as testimony to the history of this area?” Max eased
the car into a parking spot in front of the old house that served as his
A white sign hung on a matching post beneath a spreading
maple tree growing next to the sidewalk. The former residence housed Estate
Planning Attorneys, specializing in historic preservation law, with five
attorneys listed. She scanned the names until spotting Max’s—James M.
Chandler—second from the bottom. Not a ranking member of the firm. Good to
“I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll do, but I will over
the next week or so.” Electing to keep her own counsel, she opened her door and
stepped out into the soft morning air. Max soon followed suit, studying her
over the roof of the pickup. The sound of tires on asphalt joined with the
thump of music blaring from radios in passing cars. She should say something.
“I’ll collect Grizabella from your secretary and head back out to settle in for
“You make it sound like you’re preparing for a siege.” Max
chuckled and closed his door, and then strode to meet her in front of the
vehicle. “I put my card in the folder I gave you earlier. Call me if you need
“I doubt that will be necessary.” She extended her hand
and met his curious gaze, steeling herself from any memories attempting to
assert themselves. “I appreciate all you’ve done for my grandmother and for
“My pleasure.” He engulfed her hand with his larger one.
Never had the touch of a hand ignited such a warm buzz
against her skin. The sensation brought to mind the practical joke Paulette had
played on her not too many years ago. The stupid buzzer handshake had jarred
and left her tingling all over. The feeling sparked by Max’s grip topped even that.
Did he feel the same jolt of electricity that zinged through her? He peered at
her, probing her expression. When his gaze landed on her mouth, she inhaled
sharply, lips parting involuntarily. Damn.
That did not happen. She would not permit anything to distract her or sway her
self-imposed mission. She pressed her lips together and ended the contact
between them. She had no time for complications in her life. No interest in
“Um … is the grocery still off the square on College?” She
took a step backward, putting distance between them, away from whatever vibes
Max smiled, a slow, sensual movement that implied they
shared a secret. “Edna’s? Yep, it’s still there.”
She nodded and moseyed up the sidewalk toward the office
door, careful to step over the eruption of concrete under pressure from a tree
root threatening to trip her. “I’ll get Grizabella, stop at the store for
essentials, and then head back to the house.”
Max strode in front of her and opened the door, waiting
for her. She slipped past him, avoiding both touching him and looking at him.
She smelled cinnamon and apples as she scanned the homey reception area. More
of that instrumental music similar to the compositions she’d heard in Max’s
truck made her think of happier days with her husband. The antique furniture,
flowered wallpaper, and apple pie combined to make the law office feel surreal.
If it weren’t for the laptops and printers scattered among the vases of flowers
and stacks of files, she’d feel like she were visiting someone’s home. The
secretary, Sue Grimwood, approached her with a smile on her maroon-painted lips
and two cups of coffee in hand. The woman had welcomed her warmly when she
first arrived to meet with Max, sharing that she loved old homes and had three children
and a grandson all in the space of minutes. If Meredith was planning to stay,
which she wasn’t, Sue could become a good friend.
“No cream with two sugars, and black.” Sue handed Meredith
one cup and Max the other, and then tucked her hair behind both ears, making
her appear like an eager teenager. “So, ready to move in?”
Meredith shrugged lightly. “For a while anyway. Thanks for
remembering.” She lifted the cup in salute and took a sip. Hot and sweet.
“Has Griz been any trouble?” Meredith cradled the steaming
cup between her hands. The cat carrier sat where she’d left it, but the top
door stood open. She looked around, searching for the feline. “Where is she?”
“She’s fine.” Sue gestured with a manicured hand to the
elegant settee situated in the bay window, sunlight streaming in to highlight
the calico snuggled there. “I took pity on her and let her out.”
“Thanks for keeping her for me.” Meredith took a long gulp
of coffee and set the mug on the desk. “I should be going.”
“First,” Max said, “let me give you a copy of that
application so you’ll at least know what’s been put into motion. You’ll want
one for your records, I’m sure.”
Sue nodded her head rapidly, silky hair escaping from
behind her ears to bob frantically about her chin. “You know what Max always
says. That beautiful old plantation really ought to be preserved for future
generations to enjoy and learn from. You’re fortunate to own such a splendid
“Yes, it is beautiful.” Meredith didn’t have the heart to
burst the woman’s bubble of excitement. While nothing would change her mind on
this subject, she’d learned how to play the angles until the plans became
actions. Max folded his arms, waiting, his expression guarded. She should at
least pretend to care. She shrugged. “Fine, but make it quick.”
Max motioned for her to follow him and then strode to his
office. Pacing behind him, she estimated the weeks needed to make the necessary
arrangements and have the right people do the right things to carry out her
plans. Given the very real possibility of resistance from local historians and
probably her own family, she’d have to allow extra time. She hated to draw this
process out any longer than required, but she’d learned long ago to be
realistic when setting the timeline for a demolition. Her reputation rested on
her ability to carry through with the detailed plans. Once she’d set the
schedule for a project, she had never missed her deadline.
“I expect we’ll hear one way or the other in a few weeks,”
She stopped beside him. His desk, an expanse of highly
polished wood, reflected not only the late morning sunshine but the apparent
extreme orderliness of Max’s mind. Or perhaps Sue’s. The inbox matched the desk
and contained a pile of folders, stacked with military precision. Not the
haphazard mishmash of Meredith’s desk at home, but with the corners aligned and
the tabs all pointing in the same direction. Pens and pencils stood at
attention in separate wood cups, likely, Meredith thought with a grin, to
prevent them from mingling after hours and procreating. Mixing the two just
wasn’t done in polite society.
“Working with the National Register is never easy.” She
fingered a gold-tipped pen, angling it against the flow of the others in the
cup to see if Max would notice. She hid a conspiratorial grin at her little
rebellious act. “I’ve managed to avoid working with them any more than
“We have plenty of time, though. Right?” Max glanced at
her and then back to the folder on the desk. One manicured finger, the nail
clean and blunt-tipped, toyed with the edge of the manila stock, capturing
Willy’s hands sprang into her mind, his long fingers and
wide palms calloused and capable. How many times had those fingers clasped her
own, squeezing gently to share a joke or convey his feelings? She’d watched
Willy work magic with those hands, creating a work of art from bushes and
flowers and rocks. They’d joined forces once they married, she designing the
homes, the developments, and other buildings, and he designing the artistic
landscapes to enhance the overall appearance. Walking through his gardens was
like exploring a fairy world, complete with blossoms and lighting and winding
paths. Willy’s designs had won multiple awards over the past decade, and she’d
been proud to be his wife.
They’d built a good life together, filled with love and
promise. Their love had brought a deep abiding happiness into her world. Until
the attack stole everything from her.
* * * *
Paulette O’Connell drew up to the curb and killed the
engine. The pale spring sky provided a backdrop to the house she’d shared with
Johnny for the last four years. Across the street, the bungalow sat dark and
empty, a for-sale sign swinging in the early morning Indiana breeze. She
clutched the steering wheel, wishing she felt something akin to the sadness or
grief she ought to feel at the end of this once oh-so-promising relationship.
She’d fallen in love with the tall, sandy-haired man with
the quick smile. He liked to joke and chat about anything and nothing. He
seemed to be the perfect man for her. Only somehow she hadn’t noticed Johnny’s
lack of willingness to share his feelings with her. His inability to actually
care about most everything. Or, at least on the surface, he showed no signs of
possessing a flicker of emotion, good or bad, about anything. Including her.
Even when she finally had had enough and told him she held no ill will toward
him but she couldn’t live with him any longer. He’d blinked and nodded, as
though she’d told him the mail had arrived. Then he’d gone on about his plans
to move, alone, to his dream job in Alaska.
Her car held the entire sum of her possessions, crammed
into two good-sized boxes and a pillowcase. When she’d thrown her things
together two days ago, she didn’t think through her actions. She’d crashed on a
former coworker’s couch while she contemplated her situation. She no longer had
a home, a man, or even a job after the house she’d been assigned to decorate
had been completed. The firm she’d worked for told her they had to cut back on
staff, and she’d been the last one hired. Time to face the awful truth. She had
one last place she could go, one person she could descend upon who couldn’t
refuse her. And after all the sacrifices she’d made, surely her sister, Meredith,
owed her. Even though Paulette had tapped her before to get her out of a scrape
here and there, they were still siblings. Sisters looked out for each other,
right? It was no matter that they hadn’t actually seen each other in years or
talked on the phone in many months.
Paulette laid a hand on her abdomen for a moment, her
resolve slipping as she envisioned the murky path ahead. Given that Meredith
now owned the plantation, she definitely had the room as well as the means to
provide a home for Paulette. There was enough space in the old place that they
could go for weeks without ever seeing one another should push come to shove.
If only Paulette could manage to stifle the impulse to argue with her, perhaps
they could coexist in relative peace. Maybe.
She turned the key and slipped the car into gear. Pulling
away from the curb, she glanced at the once-welcoming house for the last time.
The flowers and bushes she and Johnny had carefully planted when they first
moved in were beginning to bud in anticipation of spring. White lacy sheers
hung at the windows bordered by green shutters. Her dream home, or so she’d
thought. She choked back a sob. Such a forlorn hope, after all.
Johnny had already left for his new job in Ketchikan, one
of the tipping points that told her he didn’t truly care about her and what she
wanted in life or, for that matter, in their relationship. She’d argued against
his taking the job, hating the idea of living where it snowed and stayed cold
the majority of the year. She’d tried to convince him to look for a different
position in the South, where the climate stayed warmer on average than the
north. Hell, Indiana had been difficult enough for her, with the gray skies and
cold, windy winters. She longed for the sun like a cactus in the desert longs
for rain. He’d ignored her, told her she was being selfish, and continued
making the arrangements necessary for his move.
Now it was her turn. Driving faster, she merged onto I-65
southbound and headed for her new home.
Bolté writes both historical and contemporary stories that feature strong,
loving women and brave, compassionate men. No matter whether the stories are
set in the past or the present, she loves to include a touch of the paranormal.
Traces is a contemporary romantic
women’s fiction novel set in a haunted plantation home in Tennessee, scheduled
for release on April 28, 2014. Hometown
Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure (2012) is a
collection of short historical fiction based on the real-life achievements of
19 American girls in the 19th century, each with a landmark in the
United States of America. The first edition won Honorable Mention in the 2003
Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards and 2000 Writer’s
Digest Writing Competition. She’s the author of several nonfiction books and
currently marketing a romantic historical fiction trilogy.