Since we’re giving everyone a sneak peek at our upcoming Christmas boxed set for 99c, I figured I’d add my teaser to the pile. But before I do, I’d like to introduce you to Jude Knight. She lives in New Zealand and she’s joining us. I’ll let her introduce herself to you on Wednesday. We are all excited about having her here on Main Street. Besides no where else can a group of international authors sit down for a virtual cuppa except at our little café here on Main Street. 🙂
I told you about these characters around the end of July while I was busy divorcing them. It’s almost time to give them to you. And as always, I’m sad to see my heroes go, but maybe I’m just as sad to see these females leave, especially the littlest one. I’ll let you decide.
Here’s my first chapter of my Christmas offering. Enjoy!
A Sister’s Christmas Gift
The brick building was supposed to look modern, but it didn’t. It resembled a fortress or maybe a jail. Brandy Devin didn’t really care.
Once inside, she stood and read the directory encased in a glass box on the wall. Social Services, third floor. She walked to the elevator and pressed the call button. The doors slid open with a slight metal-on-metal scraping sound. Stepping inside, she pushed the lighted numeral three with a fingertip. Then she took a quick glance at her nail to be certain it had remained perfectly manicured. Two other people got in, and one was stopping on the second floor. Her gut clenched as the elevator rose with a groan. When the light above the door flashed two and the elevator bounced to a stop, so did Brandy’s stomach. Maybe if she hadn’t eaten, she would have done better, but her coffee and croissant sloshed. She swallowed hard only to repeat the sensation as the elevator came to a moaning stop on the third floor. She shuddered as she stepped off, and then pressed her hand against her abdomen as if she could somehow settle the contents of her shaken stomach. Ms. Allison Jackson. The name resonated in her mind with each step she took down the long hallway.
Yanking the heavy door open, Brandy discovered a no-frills office environment. The waiting area looked slightly dirty, toys were scattered around, and a half-dozen magazines with movie stars on the covers decorated the tables. A large TV was displaying a show about thrift shop finds. A shiver ran down Brandy’s back.
On the other side of a set of sliding windows, there was a reception desk. She walked to them, and a young woman opened the glass. Brandy put on a smile. “I’m here to see Ms. Allison Jackson.”
“And your name? Do you have an appointment?” The pink-haired gal behind the desk had a tattoo on her arm of either a phoenix rising from a fire or a lotus blossom with a butterfly. Lousy artwork.
“Brandy Devin. Yes, I do, at nine fifteen.”
“Have you been here before?” The woman snapped her gum, and the stud that protruded from under her lower lip moved as though it might fall out.
“No.” She tried to remember to smile, but she could no longer force it.
“Fill this out.” The gal handed over a clipboard with a form for food assistance.
“If you want help, we have to have your application. Now if you need help reading it, I will assist you.”
“I’m not here for any sort of assistance. I have no idea why I’ve been called to this office in this town.”
“Well, you don’t have to get snippy with me. Have a seat.”
Brandy turned and looked at the cloth-covered chairs that needed a good cleaning. Preferring her white Versace suit to remain white, she decided she’d stand. A police officer came in, flashed her badge at the pink-haired woman, opened a door, and vanished into the bowels of the office. Another woman came in with three children who appeared to be under the age of five. The children headed for the toys.
Brandy watched at the little ones who were shoving a plastic car back and forth a little too close to her feet. The problem was that there was no place to retreat. The room was cramped. The youngest child decided he wanted the plastic car and began to wail. The mother ignored all of it. Get me out of this place and as far away from children as possible. If I wanted kids, I would have had them. Another shiver ran down her spine.
Brandy raised her gaze from the offending plastic toy and held her chin high. “Yes.”
“This way. I’m Allison Jackson.”
Brandy decided Allison probably wasn’t any more than a couple of years older than herself. Tiny and petite, she had on a pair of khaki slacks and navy-striped blouse that looked as though it had seen better days. Guess they don’t pay social workers very much.
“Right in here.” Allison motioned to her office. “I’d like you to meet Detective Krocken. She’s with the Brighton Police. Have a seat.”
Brandy quickly examined the chair before sitting in it. “What does all of this have to do with me?”
Allison Jackson sat behind her desk and opened a folder. “You are a twin, and your twin’s name is…”
“Breanna. What has she done?” She looked at the young detective. “She has a rather lackadaisical attitude about social conventions. But she’s never been in trouble. If she needs a lawyer…”
Detective Krocken leaned forward in her seat. “I get the impression that you were not close to your sister?”
“Were is past tense.” She glared at the officer. “I’ve not laid eyes on my sister for probably eight years. She calls me occasionally – usually when she needs money.”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your sister won’t be calling you any more. She died five weeks ago,” the detective said softly. “My sincerest sympathies.”
“Dead?” The word reverberated through her. “Breanna is dead? Are you sure?”
The officer nodded. “She was crossing the street when she was hit by a car. She was taken to Mercy Hospital in Gatestown. She died two days later.”
“Yes, that was the date of the accident. Did someone from the hospital contact you?” the officer asked.
“No, actually I was in L.A. that day, and I remember feeling as though I’d been punched, as though I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Every part of me seemed to ache, and the feeling lasted for several hours. I had to cancel some appointments and return to my hotel suite. I wasn’t certain if I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me, or if I was coming down with the flu. Two days later, I was home. I can’t explain it, but I felt horribly depressed as if part of me had been torn away. The feeling lasted for a few days and then lifted.” She looked in her purse for a tissue. When she found one, she wiped at her eyes. “I’m no longer feeling depressed. I did talk to my doctor about it. She said it was perfectly normal for women to have hormonal swings, which may cause a temporary feeling of depression.” Brandy inhaled, and her skin prickled. “I must have somehow sensed what happened to my sister.”
“I’ve heard that twins often share such things.” Allison Jackson nodded, and then asked, “Was there a falling out between you?”
“No. We were always different. I was studious, and she was the class clown. I was neat, and she was a slob.” Tears were trying to form. “But we’ve always been there for each other. It’s not easy to explain other than to say we were sisters – twins.” She dabbed the area under her eyes with the tissue.
Allison Jackson placed a box of tissues where Brandy could easily reach them.
Brandy inhaled a deep breath. “I went to college, and she got a two-bit job. The last time I saw her was at Mom’s funeral.” She wiped the moisture away again. “I was still in college and coming home every weekend to be with Mom. She’d take care of Mom on the weekdays.” She tried to compose herself and force a smile. “That was a long time ago.”
“Did you know your sister had a child?” Allison asked.
Child? “No. I didn’t know she was married.”
“She wasn’t. We looked for the baby’s biological father, but the child’s birth certificate doesn’t list one.” Det. Krocken flipped though some papers that were contained in a file. “At the time, we didn’t know of any family for Breanna. We did some research and found you.”
Allison Jackson jumped into the conversation. “Being you are the only living relative, we’d like to place the child with you.”
“Me? Child? My sister’s child? How old is this child?” Visions of a snotty nose ran through her head.
“Not quite a year old.” Allison looked through some paperwork. “Eight months the end of this month. She’s been placed in a temporary foster home until we could contact you and have you approved to take over the child’s care.”
“A little girl, Breanna had a little girl?”
“Yes, and as soon as we can get you approved–“
“What do you mean approved? If I am her aunt, she obviously belongs with me. I’m family! This is my twin sister’s baby. I am her family. There is no question as to where this baby goes.”
“Yes, agreed,” Allison said. “But we have to verify that you are capable of taking care of a child. We don’t want to jeopardize the child’s welfare.”
“Well, of course I’m capable of taking care of a child. How soon may I have her, and what is the child’s name?”
“Geraldine Devin. And it shouldn’t take very long to process you.” Allison stared at Brandy as though assessing a horse before placing bets.
Det. Krocken passed Brandy several papers. “We need to perform some official background checks, and we need your signature for us to do that.”
Allison passed several more papers to Brandy. “These are the other papers that we need to keep on file for you to become Geraldine’s legal guardian. There is a process that we must follow. Is there any reason that you know of that would possibly prevent you from guardianship?”
Brandy filled out so many forms that she lost track of how many she had completed. They gave her copies of each one. But inside she could feel herself crumbling. Losing Breanna seemed unreal. How could her sister be dead? Now she had no one. No family…none. At twenty-nine, she was an orphan. She was an orphan about to gain custody of an orphan. A child. A drooling baby that pees in a diaper. Oh ick! Breanna, what have you done to me? I hate you for doing this. What gave you the right to die and leave a child in my care? You are probably sitting on some cloud, laughing at this whole situation.
“It’s best if you don’t leave town until we can verify that you are who you say you are,” Det. Krocken said. “It will only take us forty-eight to maybe as much as seventy-two hours. Everyone is anxious to close this case.” The woman opened a tiny kit. “I will need your fingerprints. Let’s do this carefully. I’m sure you don’t want to ruin your suit.”
Brandy drove back to the small hotel where she was staying. Once in her room, she sat on the bed and looked around. The bedspread was done in shades of mauve, blue, and gold. The striped curtains matched the bedspread. It was about as generic as possible for a hotel. At least, the place was clean. She tried to imagine herself holding a baby. Instead she cried.
When she awoke, the room was dark. It took a second to remember where she was, and why she was in a hotel room. Realizing she was hungry sent her looking for nearby restaurants on her phone’s app. She found one that appeared as though it might have good food based on its website. Without wasting time, she changed clothes and left to find a respectable meal in a hick town.
The restaurant was decent, actually better than decent. The food was good. She finished eating and returned to her hotel room. Having several weeks of vacation coming to her, she made the decision to take them. Since she was going to have custody of a child, she needed to make a few arrangements. There had been several conversations with her boss about telecommuting. Now I will have to insist upon it.
She looked at a few of the papers Allison had handed her. Whatever Breanna had possessed was now held in storage. There were bills, and her sister’s body was in the morgue at the local funeral home, awaiting someone to claim it. The police report of the accident gave the gruesome details. I need to hire a lawyer. None of it would be pleasant.
I need another apartment, maybe a condo, because I’ll need a home office. Make a note to check the lease. She punched a few notes into her phone. I think I have six months to vacate if there is a child. Certainly, I can find something that isn’t going to require a pirate’s ransom every month. I hope. She pressed her fingertips to her forehead. Breanna, what have you gotten me into, and how am I going to survive it?
Ed Dautree was ready for a change. For the last five years, he had dated Brandy Devin. There was always chemistry between them. That constant sparkle had kept them together, but over the years, things changed. Brandy made it clear that she wasn’t interested in being married to him. That’s not what he wanted. She claimed she was married to her career. And she was constantly chasing that new big account. She had succeeded. She was good. She’s the best.
He had tried to get her to live with him in his penthouse condo. He even offered for her to take the bedroom with the view, but she had insisted that it would ruin their relationship. What relationship? I take you to dinner or a show, and you’d take me whenever you needed a date. Aside from that one time, that night that they had started kissing… Oh, yeah! Scared of the fire, Brandy? Is that why you’ve never allowed me to do more than kiss you, and you’ve never allowed me to kiss you like that again?
He walked out of his office for the last time and to his car in the parking garage. The feeling was bittersweet. His entire adult life had been spent with the company, and as a young boy, he could remember visiting his father’s office. It was the same one that he eventually occupied when his dad stepped back and gave him the company reins. He wasn’t certain he knew how not to work.
He needed to get away, a nice country estate someplace that he could call home. At forty-nine, he was retiring. He could do anything he wanted with his time.
After a short-lived, failed marriage, he had stayed out of the pool of money-hungry females and casually dated when he needed to have someone at his side for some function. Then he met Brandy. Tall, with what he considered smoky-blonde hair, even though she called it light brown, it fell just barely past her shoulders. She turned heads. Her curves were in the right places, but she could be as brutal as any man during negotiations. Her take-no-prisoners attitude was known in the corporate world. But unlike her male counterparts, Brandy always remained polished and feminine. Her smile could be deadly.
He admired her. She had drive and wasn’t fazed by his money. Sometimes she acted as though she couldn’t care less. A few casual dates turned into a monogamous arrangement. But Brandy wouldn’t cross the barrier, wouldn’t give in to him.
The concept of a house in the country and the genteel lifestyle that went with it appealed to him. He imagined Brandy at his side, dinner parties and barbecues with all the right people, and morning coffees as they sat on their porch. Gracious living in a beautiful setting made even better with Brandy in a silk negligee. Oh, yes. We’ll make a great team, Brandy. You can retire with me. My beautiful young wife…
No longer did he need to stay in the traffic and noise of the city. He’d keep his condo and return for all the cultural things that he enjoyed. But city life no longer appealed to him. Once on the expressway, he kept driving until he picked up the interstate, and when the interstate sign said the exit for Buxton Brighton was up next, he figured he’d take it and look around.
A few miles off the interstate, he concluded Buxton was a bedroom community for those who didn’t mind a long commute to another city about an hour away. Most of what had survived from the original town looked to be in bad shape. The Haves and the Have-nots. The area was covered in housing developments, each hawking the concept that it was gracious living. McMansions. Double incomes to pay for a little piece of land and a poorly designed house. And it seemed that at every turn, there was a cluster of stores and grocers of all varieties.
Eventually the suburban landscape yielded to farmland. Horses dotted fields enclosed with white fences and cows lazily stood in grassy pastures. He could feel himself relaxing. Over the rise, a small town was tucked in a valley.
The town of Brighton wasn’t very big and appeared as though it had been built in the late 1800’s or maybe early 1900’s. He could picture a sepia-colored photograph with Model T’s traveling through the streets. Slowing to the posted 25 MPH speed, Ed found himself almost laughing at the quaint little place. How does a florist even stay in business in such a small town? A realtor sign hung over a doorway. He stopped.
Craig Jenski was finally coming home. He’d been counting down the days. After enduring seven surgeries and months of rehab, he now was capable of walking without limping. He had three weeks to decide if he wanted to stay in the Navy and be permanently transferred to the desk job, or if he wanted to get out. He had no desire to return to farming and couldn’t imagine living as a civilian, but he had leave time coming to him, and he was taking it.
Growing up in Brighton had been boring. He was thrilled to be accepted at the Naval Academy and get as far away as possible. Shortly after graduation, he was assigned to the Navy SEALs. As a young officer, he couldn’t think of a better place to be. The physical training was tough even for the farm boy that he was. The adrenalin rush of an assignment was astounding, but it was cool-headed thinking and coordinated effort that got them through everything. Until he returned to the base… Who would have thought? Stuff happens.
He drove past The Village Apartments on the far side of town. I wonder if Breanna is still here? Oh, what a total free spirit. He could remember her laughing and saying that she didn’t do letters. No ties. Just live life. Enjoy the moment. Life is too short, and she wanted to relish it.
Thinking about her made him smile. She put the fun in coming home. Sometimes, he wanted someone like her. She had a lot of good qualities, but she never wanted to reach beyond Brighton or do anything important in life. She swore that life was just fine where she was. He wanted more.
The thought of children ran through his head. He had always imagined a houseful, a pack of boys to play football. He smiled and turned down the road that would take him to his parents’ house. I’m getting too old to think about a big family when I don’t even have a wife.
Brandy awakened to a gray rainy day. It fit her mood. She had a long list of things to handle concerning her sister, starting with her sister’s body, and then she’d tackle whatever possessions had been placed in storage. At the funeral home, she managed to get through the paperwork without falling apart. The local bank had escrowed whatever funds Breanna had. It wasn’t much. The post office had weeks of mail. The rain slowed to a drizzle. Brandy should have stopped for lunch, but she wasn’t exactly hungry, and she wanted all the loose ends behind her. The next stop was The Village Apartments and their storage area where all of Breanna’s worldly possessions had been placed. I can’t imagine her having anything I want or need.
At the far end of the apartments was a cinder block storage building. She followed an older man to one of the smaller storage units.
“We tossed all of the food items, anything considered perishable or open, including any cleaning products,” the man said, as he opened the compartment door.
“What am I supposed to do about the things I don’t want?”
“Just leave it. You’ll be asked to sign a paper allowing us to dispose of it.”
“Sounds good.” She stepped into the narrow room that was half the size of her walk-in closet. Furniture was stacked to the point that she feared it might fall on her. She saw a crib and realized she would need one, but what her sister had… No thanks. A few things were left from her mom’s home. But there was nothing that she wanted. She had taken a few mementos when their mom died. She remembered telling her sister to take the rest, even though her sister protested that wasn’t splitting possessions evenly. Whatever Breanna didn’t want and sold, she was to keep the money.
One carton contained a china box and in it were a few trinkets that Breanna had saved from childhood. Brandy kept that box for Geraldine. Another box contained some baby clothes, but nothing was worth keeping. After going through all the boxes, Brandy had saved only a few things for her niece. Brandy knew she wasn’t sentimental, but Breanna was. The family photo album that now contained a few pictures of Breanna with the baby, Brandy knew she had to keep the album for Geraldine. When all the boxes had been checked, there was only a tiny pile of things, and they wouldn’t require a very large box.
There was also a plastic bin filled with important papers, bills, and receipts. Surprisingly, Breanna was diligent about some things and obviously paying bills was something she took seriously, even though she never seemed to have enough money. Also in the bin were several important papers. Her mom’s death certificate, wedding certificate, divorce papers, and even her mom’s birth certificate were in a file. Brandy found her own birth certificate along with her sister’s. Mom must have had them. Brandy didn’t bother to do anything more than casually peruse the contents and knew the entire container needed to be kept. She could sort it later. Satisfied that she had everything she needed or wanted, she signed the paperwork allowing the contents of the storage area to be disposed.
The rain had ended before she left the apartments’ storage area. Now it was hot and muggy. Perspiration had soaked everything she was wearing. She went back to the hotel room, took a quick shower, and dressed for the evening in a casual pair of wolf gray slacks. Then she returned to the same restaurant where she had eaten the previous night. Sitting and shopping online with her phone, she found an adorable crib for Geraldine and several other things for the child at a store online. She ordered them and had them shipped to her apartment. Also, she found an ebook on babies, bought it, and began to read it while she ate. Immunizations, fevers, diaper rashes, teething, introducing foods. How am I going to manage to raise a baby? Oh, Breanna, why did you do this to me?
Back in the hotel, she flipped through the papers that Social Services had given her until she found the list of things she would need when the baby was delivered to her. She put the list in her phone and knew she needed to shop for everything else in the morning. Satisfied that she had done all she could for one day, she tried to settle down and sleep. But the loss of her sister washed over her, sending her into another round of tears.
When morning broke, she found a place that served breakfast and she asked the waitress where she might find some necessary baby items. Near Buxton there was a super-sized mart that was supposed to carry everything.
The mart was bigger than any store she’d ever visited. Acres of things under one roof, each proclaiming the lowest price anywhere. There was an adorable little stroller, but picking the right car seat was a bit complicated. Within a short time, she had managed to obtain everything she needed, except for the diaper bag. She hated each one she saw in the infant department. But in women’s accessories, she found a colorful beach tote with all sorts of pockets and bought that instead. In the grocery section, she looked at baby foods and formula. Teething? How am I supposed to know when a baby teethes? Breanna, if you were here right now, I’d kill you.