Read an Excerpt
Beyond the Storm
Quilts of Love Series
By Carolyn Zane
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Carolyn Suzanne Pizzuti
All rights reserved.
"Good morning Rawston, heart of the American Midwest! We've got seven a.m. straight up on your Saturday, May 3rd, and you are listening to Mike and Julie on 101.5 K-RAW. Keep it right here for traffic and weather on the tens as head meteorologist Ron Donovan's got some breaking news about a thunder boomer headed our way, right after this!"
* * *
The bell over the Doo Drop-In Hair Salon's front door jangled as it opened. "I got wings!" Isuzu Nakamura shouted as she did every morning when she arrived for work. As usual, she gave the door a healthy, window-rattling slam.
"Mmph." Twenty-eight-year-old Abigail Durham, the salon's owner/operator jerked awake and blinked around the break room. Ah, man. She'd been dozing. And the day hadn't even begun. What on earth had possessed her to stay out so late last night? Isuzu's massive purse crashed onto her workstation table and moments later, Abigail could sense her standing at the door, frowning as she sat up and peeled a granola bar wrapper off her cheek.
"You look terrible."
Abigail yawned up at Isuzu-fresh-as-a-lotus-flower-Nakamura. She might be tiny in stature, but the dainty Japanese national was as tough as the acrylic she used for her customers' French-tip nails. Isuzu rummaged through the cupboards. "I make more coffee. You stay out too late at Kaylee bachelorette party last night?"
"Golly, mom. Why do you ask?" A person would never guess that Zuzu was three years younger than Abigail, the way she acted like such a granny at only twenty-five.
Isuzu dropped the metal coffeepot into the sink and turned the water on, full blast. "You wear two different shoe."
"Oh?" Abigail frowned at her feet. "Oh. Don't worry. I'm not actually here yet. I just came down to check my appointment calendar. I don't have anyone till 8:30."
The smell of the coffee beans Isuzu had ground began to tease Abigail awake. "So? How was party?"
"Kaylee hated it ... so, it was fun." Dancing and party shenanigans had never been the virginal bride's bag. Probably would have left before the whole thing started, but Kaylee wasn't one to hurt anybody's feelings. Had Kaylee been an animal, she'd have been a dainty, coal-black poodle, all soft curly hair, soulful brown eyes, and perfect manners.
"Too bad you miss Friday service at church last night. They dedicate big, fat baby to Jesus. Baby cry and smack pastor in nose. Blood everywhere. Very exciting."
"Ah. Yeah. Well. Next time." As if. Abigail ducked her head and crossed her eyes. Church on Friday night? Isuzu needed to get a life. Sunday morning was enough for any normal person and even then, only if one couldn't come up with a good excuse for sleeping in.
The door jangled again, and Isuzu glanced up. "I do prom nail for my niece, Brooke, this morning. She invited to prom dance with nice boy tonight. Fresh coffee in two minute, okay?" Isuzu pointed at the hissing machine and then rushed to greet her niece, leaving Abigail to mull over memories of last night while she waited for her java to perk.
Kaylee's bridesmaids had gone all out. A piñata filled with party favors and gifts, line-dancing lessons, and some dude named Bob Ray Lathrop—part-time personal trainer—had dressed as a cop, arrested Kaylee for "breaking hearts everywhere," and then proceeded to do a dance that had everyone howling. They'd all taken a turn on the dance floor with Bob Ray, and he'd passed out business cards and coupons for one free personal training session down at his gym, The Pump.
But, to Abigail's way of thinking, the best part of the night had arrived too late. "Whoooie! Get a load of the Marlboro man!" one of Kaylee's bridesmaids had shouted over the blaring country music, just as Abigail staggered off the dance floor and flopped into a chair to rest up. Craning to see, Abigail had snapped to attention. Oh, my. Yes, indeedy. Cute, cute, cute. Real cute. He wore his plaid shirt untucked, and his Levi's and cowboy boots gave the impression that he'd just climbed off the rodeo bull. In her professional opinion, he could use a good haircut, but it was hard to tell as he'd covered most of the offense with a backwards ball cap. She ignored the niggling voice of caution that cried, Anybody that good-looking has to be a womanizing jerk. Don't you have enough scar tissue on your heart from meeting guys like him in places like this? Feeling rebellious, Abigail had pointed her fingers, like twin revolvers, at cowboy-man and pulled the trigger, then blown at her fingertips.
"Abigail! He saw you!" the bridesmaid had shrieked and ducked her head in a fit of laughter.
"Uh-oh," she'd said and laughed. Right about that time, the bride, killjoy-Kaylee, began making noises about heading home. Seemed the bachelorette had family arriving from Seattle over the weekend and wanted some beauty rest. Plus, her fiancé had called her twice, which Abigail had razzed her about, teasing that he was probably worried about Kaylee's virtue.
"Marlboro," as the girls had nicknamed the newcomer, stood just inside the door, arms folded—making it obvious he spent time in the gym—and surveyed the joint for a few minutes. Then, much to the bridal party's delight, he strode across the room and asked Abigail to dance. It had been like something out of a movie.
"My hero!" she'd shouted for the benefit of the girls. They'd all catcalled and whistled as she'd skipped out to the dance floor after him. Abigail's hands had felt feminine in his work-roughened ones, but his touch had been gentle and polite and his smile genuine. He was all beautiful teeth and twinkling eyes and five o'clock shadow. He'd taken enough time to slap on a little aftershave that morning. Armani. It wasn't cheap. Abigail knew this because she carried it at the salon. Mm-mm. Such deep blue eyes. And eyelashes? Long enough to sweep her off her feet.
As she reminisced, Abigail found a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee.
"Come here often?" he'd asked in a deliciously rich baritone.
She'd leaned back in his arms and grinned at the dopey line. "Nope. You?"
"To be honest, the only reason I'm here now is because I just finished some work I was doing on a charity project and I'm starving. If I come here at all, it's usually with a group of work buddies for burgers and to catch the game scores."
"Sounds fun." Charity thing. Yeah. Sure. Whatever. It was true, however, that Low Places offered burgers as big as your head and a trough of fries for a song.
"Your boyfriend mind me asking you to dance?"
She'd laughed. "No boyfriend. No husband." He'd seemed inordinately pleased, which pleased her. Inordinately. "You?" she ventured.
"None of the above." He was probably feeding her a load of baloney, but she was a sucker for a pretty face.
"Ah. What about a girlfriend or wife?"
"Nope. I'm relatively new to the Midwest. Haven't lived here a full year yet."
"Welcome to Rawston," Abigail murmured and smiled into his shirt. Oh, yes. He was a great dance partner. Nice and tall, which made her 5' 6" plus heels feel perfect.
Just as things were getting interesting, Kaylee appeared at her shoulder and announced that the clock had struck midnight and she was leaving the ball. And, since Kaylee had driven most of them, it was time to bid Prince Marlboro adieu. Abigail's friends were all laughing as they pulled her off the dance floor.
"Goodbye," Abigail had mouthed and thrust out her lower lip in disappointment.
"Next Friday?" he'd answered, seeming just as disappointed.
What the hey? Maybe this time it would be different. Maybe he was that rare combination of good-looking and unmarried good guy. Eeh. Probably not. But she'd nodded anyway, grinned, given him a thumb's up, and that had been that.
Abigail couldn't wait for Friday. She opened the fridge for some creamer and suddenly remembered.
"Oh, no," she muttered and stared at the refrigerator door. "I forgot to ask his name!"
"Nothing. Hey, Zuzu? I'm gonna go home and shower." She headed toward Isuzu's nail station. "I'll be back in by 8:15 for my first appointment. Aunt Selma is scheduled for 8:30. Oh, and if she gets here before I do, put her in the chair and give her a magazine."
"Okay. Look at this polish Brooke pick. Nail going to be perfect for tonight." Isuzu held up a bottle of sparkly color and waved it at Abigail.
"Hey, Brookie-cookie. How you gonna dance without any ice under your feet?" The Olympic hopeful and her figure-skating twin brother were the local celebs. "Excited?"
Brooke snorted and laughed. "Uh, yeah? To finally dance with a normal boy, and one who won't be tossing me into the air and then not catching me? Totally."
"What's his name?"
"Nick Gleason." Her face flared crimson, and Abigail had to wonder if there was more to the story than that. "He's my best friend."
"That's cool. Friendship is more important in a relationship than the mushy stuff, trust me." Abigail sighed. "Not that I'd know. I haven't had a date with a friend in ... ever. But hope springs eternal."
* * *
"It's time for weather on the ten's with head meteorologist, Ron Donovan."
"Thanks, Jack! Right now, we've already got 72 degrees; looks like it's gonna be a sizzler today. There's a cold front moving in from Canada, bringing a strong chance of a thunderstorm arriving by six or seven o'clock tonight. Possibility of some hail and lightning, so park in the garage and keep the kids and pets inside this evening. Stay tuned here for any changes in the storm's severity and direction. Traffic and weather brought to you by Quilty Pleasures Quilt Shop."
"Thanks, Ron. Hey folks! If you're looking for some family fun, be sure to head over to the 17th annual Rawston Quilt-o-Rama May 17th and 18th. That's just two weeks away, so be sure to put it on your calendar. My family went to that last year, Julie, and I gotta tell you, the quilts are beautiful, but the food? Oh, man. Good eats down there at the Rawston Taste!"
* * *
The thing Justin Girard appreciated about living in a small town like Rawston was the charm, he thought as he snapped off his radio and pulled the keys from his truck's ignition. Partially because the city planners insisted on it and partially because the shopkeepers down here had a ton of civic pride, all the shops in the entire Old Town area were required by city ordinance to have western storefronts and covered wooden sidewalks. Barrels and baskets of flowers were encouraged, as were benches, twinkly lights, and alfresco seating for diners. The stores all had catchy names like Quilty Pleasures, Quick Draw McGraw's Art Supplies, and The Sarsaparilla Soda Fountain. The trees that lined the streets were huge and shady and a hundred and fifty years old if they were a day. The area was so quaint and welcoming that even in times of heavy recession it flourished.
This friendly, slow-lane lifestyle was new to Justin. Last summer, he'd transplanted from the East Coast to escape the rat race and a failed relationship and also because he needed to be closer to his grandparents. They still lived by themselves but were now in their eighties and beginning to have some health problems. Since he was the only one in the family who wasn't saddled with a spouse and kids, Justin had been elected to head out to the Midwest to help them and to keep an eye on things.
For the most part, small-town, middle-American life really agreed with Justin, except that he missed his friends and family. Although he had to admit, venturing out on his own for dinner last night had been a step in the right direction. The place he'd selected? Normally, he avoided the bar-and-grill scene in favor of a drive-thru window. And dancing had certainly been the last thing he'd expected to be doing. But the smell of charbroiled burgers wafting from Low Places had been more than his rumbling gut could ignore as he'd driven home late last night, so he'd given in to his hunger pangs and pulled into the crowded parking lot.
Loud country western music greeted him before he even got out of his rig, and he'd followed the thrumming bass through the front door. When he'd entered the room, a tall, curly-headed blond was jumping to the beat and was obviously the life of a bachelorette party. Even from across the room, he could see she was different. A real spitfire, yes, but there was something else. Something unpretentious and oh-so-joyful. As he'd laughed out loud at her antics, he decided that he had to ask her to dance before the night was over.
Her huge green eyes seemed to miss nothing, and she had a single, deep dimple in one cheek that only appeared when she laughed. Her hair was wonderful—wild, shoulder-length blond stuff done up in a big old mess of curls that was losing its gravitational hold with every jerky dance step. Like a compass needle to due north, her carefree abandon had drawn the attention of every guy in the place. He'd zeroed in on her, a decision that had given him second thoughts in the middle of the night. A pang of guilt had him regretting his promise to meet her next Friday night. Just because he'd lived here for a year and hadn't met some nice girl who shared his beliefs didn't mean he had to start looking in bars.
He shook his head. Focus on business, Girard.
The pungent smell of hair chemicals assailed him as he stepped into the upscale hair salon.
"I help you?" A petite Asian lady sat painting the toenails of a kid who he assumed was her daughter. They were both pretty as porcelain dolls.
The nail lady eyed him with suspicion. Must not get a lot of guys in tool belts looking for hairdos and nail jobs. "Uh. Yeah." Justin fumbled in his shirt pocket for her info. "I'm supposed to talk to somebody named ... uh, Abigail Durham. She around?"
"Abby? No. You just miss her. She go home for little bit. Maybe one hour. I give message for you or you come back later."
Coming back held no appeal. "Yeah. Okay. Tell her Justin Girard stopped by?" He dug around in his shirt pocket some more and produced a business card. "I'm donating the labor for the Quilt Fair food cart? I hear—since Jen Strohacker is having a baby any day now—Ms. Durham is taking over her job for the high school booster club."
"Yeah, yeah. Abby doing that. She used to be Rawston Rah-Rah so she think she qualify for running little restaurant." The nail lady seemed to find that hilarious. "This long message. You want to wait and tell her? Sit there." She waved at a comfortable grouping of chairs in the corner. "Sit, sit, sit! She be here later to work."
"Oh, no. I just wanted to tell her that I ran into a bit of a permit problem, and we need to talk before I put on the awnings. City ordinance won't allow us to build it the way it's designed without more fees. It's going to be expensive, so we need to discuss options. Have her call that number when she gets a chance, okay?"
* * *
"It's 8:10 here at K-RAW 101.5 FM. Hey, Julie, don't know about you, but I'm already sweating. Feels like you could just grab the air and wring it out, huh?"
"Yeah, Mike, you know I've been thinking about starting a new fad and making all my clothes out of beach towels. Attractive, yet functional."
"Hey, that'd be cool! Make me something fetching?"
"Aaanyway! We've got a set of concert tickets for the fifth caller in our Name That Hair Band contest sponsored by Doo Drop-In Hair Salon! So let's wake these sleepyheads up with some rock and roll! Who's performing this oldie but goodie?"
* * *
A refreshing shower, some fruit, oatmeal, and a huge cup of coffee later, Abigail felt as if she'd rally. She lingered another moment on her back balcony lounge chair, knowing that in a few minutes she'd be inside for the rest of the day. It would be too hot to do otherwise. Feet propped on the deck's railing, she jotted down a quick grocery list as she watched a small cloud, like a puff of meringue, float across the crystal clear sky. Ron Donovan predicted a T- boomer, huh? Wouldn't be his first misdiagnosis. Wouldn't be his last. Seemed like he'd been wrong every day this week. Even so, she added batteries to her list. Her flashlight was dead.
Man. It was gonna be a hot one. Tiny beads of sweat were already collecting on her upper lip. She'd changed out of her sweats and mismatched shoes and into a bright, flowery mini-skirt, a periwinkle blue tank top and flip-flops. Wielding the blow dryer in this heat would no doubt make even this skimpy ensemble too much by midday. A quick glance at her watch told her Aunt Selma was due any minute now. She was notoriously early for everything.
Excerpted from Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane. Copyright © 2012 Carolyn Suzanne Pizzuti. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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