I’ve definitely crossed the two-thirds mark and rounding into the final quarter or so of the book. YAY. I’ve got a few emotional things to tie up, and then the final surprise for Jeb. I think I need another scene or two in the story within a story, but I’ll have to figure out what I want to do there. I’m going to concentrate on pushing the main story line through to the end first.
2104 words today.
Excerpt: this scene was a fun reunion from all of the other books (except for Mal). If you’ve been missing Conn and/or Victor, they’ll make brief appearances in Virginia’s book! And of course Miss Belle has to stick her nose into her daughter’s business too. This scene takes place one week after the opening scene when she’s released from the hospital.
Virginia paused at the bottom of the porch steps and looked up at the front door. It might as well be ten miles away. “Whose idiotic idea was it to put in so many steps?”
“That would be yours,” her oldest son, Victor, said with a smile. “You wanted to have a good view. Remember?”
“Of course I remember,” she snapped. “I’ve got a busted up arm and some stitches, but I didn’t lose my ever-loving mind. Just my spleen.”
“Well you did have a concussion.” He wasn’t intimidated by her temper, because he had the same biting disposition. “I’m just checking to make sure.”
She sighed and leaned on him harder. “I’m sorry, Son. I don’t mean to bark at you like a mean old junk yard dog.”
He wrapped his arm gingerly around her waist, mindful of her stitches. “I know, Mama. If you’d take the pain medication…”
“I hate feeling like my head’s stuffed with cotton.” She managed the first two steps and then had to pause a minute. Her head swam and her knees trembled. “Damn my fool pride. All right, Son…”
She didn’t have to finish the sentence because he was already sweeping her up against his chest. Luckily he didn’t say I told you so.
Vicki rushed ahead, shifting an armload of flowers around so she could open the door. “Mama, how many times do we have to tell you to lock the door? It isn’t safe way out here in the country.”
“If she’d locked the door, then I would have had to break it down.”
At that voice, Virginia groaned and pressed her face against her son’s shoulder. “Who called Miss Belle?”
“Nobody had to call me, silly girl. Bring her into her bedroom. We’ve gotten everything ready.”
She might be matriarch of the Texas Connaghers, but Miss Belle ruled them all even from six hundred miles north. Trying not to grumble at people who obviously loved her, Virginia let them tuck her into bed instead of the couch. At least they propped her up with pillows so she could visit for awhile. Vicki hovered, Victor and Conn hugged and pounded each other on the back like they were trying to kill each other, while Miss Belle sat at Virginia’s own dressing table like a queen. Or at least a movie star from the fifties. Which she was, among other things, not the least of which was her mother.
But Miss Belle had never liked to be called anything but Miss Belle.
She wore a gorgeous cream-colored dress covered with delicate pink roses, either a retro hourglass style or more likely, something she really had worn forty or fifty years ago. When Virginia had been a child, Miss Belle’s hair had been a vibrant red, but it’d softened over the years to pinkish peaches and cream. Of course Miss Belle wore a hat—a proper lady would sooner go out without underwear—wide-brimmed straw dotted with pink and cream roses to match her dress.
Which is probably why Miss Belle had despaired of ever turning her daughter into a proper lady.
Conn finally quit hugging on his brother long enough to give his Mama a proper kiss. She didn’t see him nearly as often as she wanted now that he was a professor in Missouri, but at least he was close enough to keep an eye on Miss Belle who was nearly eighty. “We would have been down sooner but Vicki assured us you were out of danger, and that you’d rather see us at home instead of the hospital.”
“Definitely.” She patted his cheek, pleased at the soft light in his eyes. Conn had always been her poet son, and emotion and angst sometimes hit him hard. Finding the love of his life had taken the hard edges out of his eyes. He can be hard when he needs to be, but he’ll never be mean like Victor. Or me. “By us do you mean you brought Rae too?”
“I sure did, even if I had to threaten to tie her up so she didn’t try to jump out of the car as we got close to the Texas line.” Conn laughed and by the glint in his eye, she thought he might very well mean it. “She’s in the kitchen with Shiloh.”
“Thank God,” Virginia muttered. “I’d rather go back to the hospital than eat Miss Belle’s cooking.”
“Miss Belle’s cooking would put us all in the hospital,” Conn joked.
“I’ve taught Rae Lynn everything she knows about cooking,” Miss Belle sniffed and removed her hat, then her pretty lace gloves. “She just happens to execute better than I.”
Conn snickered and ran his finger across his neck in the universal death gesture. Victor laughed and even Miss Belle had to smile at their antics. It was hard to believe they were both well into their thirties. Seeing them laughing and so happy made tears pool in Virginia’s eyes.
Good God, I’m turning into a weepy sap. She busied herself adjusting the sling supporting her left arm, propping up the heavy cast with a pillow. She still didn’t remember much about the accident, but they’d told her a drunk driver had T-boned her car on the way to the grocery store. Her arm had been pinned in the wreckage and she’d almost lost it. At least it wasn’t my right arm. I can still write and I won’t have to depend on grueling physical therapy to bring my strength back.
Her mind flinched away from that nugget, refusing to dwell on the reason she needed strength in her right arm. She hadn’t had a reason to keep her shoulder and arm loose and strong for quite some time.
Thinking about that only brought her back to Ty and that incredible dream. It’d been so real. His scent of leather, the roughness of his palm, even the tickling of his mustache. Could she make up little details like that in a dream?
“You know that wasn’t any old dream.” Miss Belle said in a low voice as she sat on the edge of the bed. “He’s been worried about you a long time.”
Virginia concentrated on the cast, absently scratching her fingers beneath the edge. Miss Belle swore she still talked to Colonel Healy, her husband who’d been dead nigh on thirty years. She’d always thought her mother was crazy—everybody did. But now I’m talking to my dead husband too.
“He said you’re always right.”
Miss Belle laughed and it sounded genuine, not girly and deliberately silly like she usually did to fool people into thinking she had a few screws loose. She wanted people to think she was just a crazy old lady. Forty years ago, she’d pretended to be an airhead actress without a thought in her pretty little head. Whether she was playing poker or dabbling in politics or playing amateur sleuth, she managed to fool most people so well that they never knew what hit them while she skipped off into the sunset.
But that laugh… That was real, the rare and special Miss Belle she only shared with her beloved family.
“Tyrell always was too smart for his own good. Stubborn as a mule, slow and silent and careful until he was sure, he never backed down from a fight, which is exactly what you needed the most. He was definitely the man God must have created just for you.”
Virginia had to swallow to keep the tears locked away. Before he’d died, she could have counted the number of times she’d cried as an adult on one hand. Twelve years might have passed, but his loss haunted her like a phantom limb that had been amputated. “I figured you were going to side with him.”
“I am.” Miss Belle patted her leg gently.
“But you just said…”
“Do you really think there was never any other man for me other than your father?”
Luckily her children had disappeared into the kitchen to help the girls with dinner. “Mother! I so do not want to hear about how many men you might have loved and left over the years. I certainly don’t want to know that you cheated on Daddy too.”
Miss Belle smacked her thigh, whether for slipping on her name or for the affair comment, she wasn’t sure. “Who said anything about cheating? We had a one-of-a-kind love, the kind that lasts down through the years of children and grief, victory and defeat, war and sickness and eventually death. It was wonderful. But he wasn’t the only man I loved. I don’t believe we were put on this earth to love only once and then die. Else couples would always die together, wouldn’t they? What kind of God would join two hearts and then leave one cold and alone the rest of your days without a single hug or kiss or affectionate word ever again?”
The kind of God who took Tyrell and left me alone all these years. Though Virginia didn’t say it aloud.
“Besides, I’ve got the perfect solution.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but Miss Belle was already shouting.
“Girls! I need your help!”
The three young women came running, probably terrified that Virginia had suffered a seizure or something by the volume of Miss Belle’s voice.
Dark haired and fiery like all the Connaghers, Vicki was a lot like her Mama. Maybe too much. It’d taken her years to find the right man and in fact, she’d settled on two. She needed the explosive fireworks with Elias—the same as her parents—but Vicki also needed the softer, gentler side of her submissive, Jesse. There was something about that young man that made all the ice and iron in Vicki’s heart melt.
Rae and Shiloh would soon be her daughters in law. Each head over heels in love with her Connagher boy, both submissive, but yet entirely different. Rae was shy and too timid for Virginia’s patience. It was all she could do not to bark at the girl to buck up and put some starch in her spine. But that wide-eyed doe look appealed to Conn’s protective side. There had to be more spunk to the girl than was on the surface, because she’d managed to evade Conn for over five years, definitely giving him a run for his money before surrendering the fight. And of course, Rae not only survived living with Miss Belle, but she also seemed to actually enjoy the woman’s company. No small feat, because God knew Virginia would probably be ready to murder her mother before she finally went back to Missouri.
Shiloh was completely opposite from Rae: bright and cheerful and bold. Yet when the oldest Connagher son touched her—even a simple arm around her shoulders or an innocent touch of his palm in the small of her back—she went on complete and wholly dedicated alert. If Victor told her to jump off a cliff, she’d do it or die trying, even while cursing at him all the way down.
We done well with our boys. Virginia closed her eyes a moment and tried to bring up Tyrell’s image in her mind as fresh and vibrant as that vision, but he was still hazy and softened by the passing of years. You’d be proud of them, Ty. You’d like these girls too.
“Girls,” Miss Belle declared, “I’m charging you with a most solemn duty. You must find a man for your Mama.”