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Her name is Lark, and she's here in Last Chance, looking into her father's past-and stirring up a whole mess of trouble without meaning to. As the chief of police, Stone sure has his hands full trying to keep up with her. Ever since his wife died, Stone's put everything into raising his daughters and dodging the Christ ...
Her name is Lark, and she's here in Last Chance, looking into her father's past-and stirring up a whole mess of trouble without meaning to. As the chief of police, Stone sure has his hands full trying to keep up with her. Ever since his wife died, Stone's put everything into raising his daughters and dodging the Christ Church Ladies' Auxiliary matchmakers. And it's clear Lark has been through some trouble and could use a place to finally call home. I only hope Stone can let go of the past soon enough to keep her . . .
Goodness, I need to stop talking and finish up Jane's highlights so we can make the town tree-lighting. You come back by because the Cut 'n' Curl's got hot rollers, free coffee, fresh-baked Christmas cookies-and the best gossip in town.
See you real soon,
Jesus looked like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. The statue of the son of God lay on its side, its fiberglass infrastructure torn and ragged. Scattered on the gravel beside the bleaching carcass were the remnants of a sign that read “Golfing for God.”
Lark Chaikin hugged her elbows and tried to keep warm against the December gust that blew her bangs into her eyes. Who knew South Carolina could be so cold. She looked up at the tops of the pine trees, swaying in the wind. She shivered.
She had to be crazy to have driven all the way from New York on this fool’s errand. Roadside America was littered with the corpses of mini-golf courses, their windmills suspended in time, their giant Paul Bunyans toppled. And it sure looked like Golfing for God had gone the way of all the fiberglass dinosaurs.
Pop should have checked before he made his last request. But, of course, Pop had been sick for a long time.
Lark turned back toward her late father’s SUV, a giant silver thing that drove like an ocean liner and guzzled gas like one, too. She opened the back door and stared down at the cardboard box containing Pop’s ashes. The box was eight inches square with the words “Chaikin, Abe” scrawled across its top.
She pressed a couple of fingers against the ache in her forehead that had been growing all day. “Why’d you make a big mahgilla about being buried here in the middle of nowhere on a closed-up mini-golf course?” She couldn’t go on. Her throat closed up, and tears threatened her eyes. She swallowed back the grief that was too new to be expressed yet.
Lark leaned on the tailgate, her gaze shifting from the box to the canvas camera bag sitting beside it. Her fingers itched to pick up the Nikon, maybe shoot a few photos of the broken statue. She might be able to capture the Picasso-like perspective of its smashed face. Maybe shooting a few photos would help her get back the balance she’d lost during the Libyan civil war. She had experienced a lot of heavy fighting during the battle for Misurata.
But she couldn’t find the courage to pick up the camera. She slammed the tailgate and turned toward a gravel path clearly posted with “No Trespassing” signs.
Something violent had damaged the stand of pines growing on the right side of the path. The trees looked as if they had been blasted by napalm or something. A wave of nausea gripped her. Man, she was really losing it. The nightmares were bad. But the waking flashbacks were worse.
She took a few calming breaths and focused on the noise of her feet crunching on the gravel. She looked up. Clouds, heavy with rain, scudded across the sky, and a lone hawk circled, watching and waiting. She felt light-headed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten or slept.
She lowered her gaze. A medium-sized structure resembling Noah’s Ark loomed ahead of her. Scaffolding had been set up around it, and it looked as if someone were giving the Ark a fresh coat of paint. Still, for all that, the place seemed sad and abandoned. A few dead leaves, driven by the wind, swirled across the path.
She turned right and made a circuit of the place, hole-to-hole, past Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, and David and Goliath, feeling as if she’d slipped through the bounds of reality. She stopped at the tee box labeled “Plague of Frogs.” Something terrible had happened here. She remembered Pop talking about how the frogs used to spit water over the fairway. But there weren’t any frogs left. Just random frog legs stuck onto concrete lily pads.
She turned and walked past the undamaged Jonah and the whale, then cut through the Wise Men with their bobbing camels and Jesus walking on water, until she reached the eighteenth hole.
She halfway expected this hole to be the much-laughed-about Tomb of Jesus. It would be just like Pop to want to have his ashes installed in the ersatz tomb of a messiah that wasn’t his. She could see him laughing his ass off as people putted golf balls across his grave. After all, Pop had a murderous short game.
But the eighteenth hole wasn’t a tomb.
It was a statue of Jesus. The sign beside the tee box displayed a quote from Mark 16: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Apparently the eighteenth hole was a celebration of the resurrection.
Stonewall Rhodes, the chief of police for the incorporated city of Last Chance, South Carolina, drove his cruiser south on Palmetto Avenue, taking his second-to-last circuit of the day. It was nearly five o’clock, and the light was fading quickly into dusk. It would be dark by the time he drove out to the edge of town and back.
He got about halfway to the Allenberg County line before he saw the silver Cadillac Escalade parked in the lot at Golfing for God. The New York tags caught his attention.
Cars with New York plates didn’t come through this neck of the woods very often—unless the folks in them were lost tourists searching for the road to Hilton Head, or people making a pilgrimage to Golfing for God.
At one time, Golfing for God had attracted a fair number of pilgrims. The place was listed on RoadsideAmerica.com and had made it into a couple of tour guides. But the place had been closed up for more than a year—ever since its propane tank had been struck by lightning.
Of course, Hettie Marshall and the Committee to Resurrect Golfing for God had just hired a contractor to begin fixing up the place. They were aiming for a big reopening in the spring. In the meantime, though, the “No Trespassing” signs were designed to keep the pilgrims and the pranksters away.
Stone pulled his cruiser into the golf course’s parking lot, the gravel crunching under its wheels. He eyeballed the Cadillac. It appeared to be unoccupied, but appearances could be deceiving. Before getting out of his car, he keyed the plate information into his cruiser’s computer. An instant later the Cadillac’s history came back to him. There were no outstanding warrants involving the vehicle, which was registered to one Abe Chaikin of Kings Point, New York.
Stone stared at the name for a long moment as the little hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end.
The past had come back to haunt his town.
He snagged his Stetson from the passenger’s seat and dropped it on his head as he left the cruiser. He pulled his heavy-duty flashlight from his utility belt as he cautiously approached the vehicle. He shone the light through the driver’s side window and confirmed that the car was unoccupied.
The SUV was a late model, clean and fully loaded, with a GPS system and satellite radio in the dashboard. A well-worn canvas bag in army green occupied the cargo area, loaded with what looked like expensive camera equipment. The SUV was locked.
He turned away from the car and walked up the charred remains of the main walkway. He saw the woman as soon as he turned the corner by the first hole. She sat on the wooden bench at the feet of the resurrected Jesus on hole eighteen, with her head bowed as if deep in prayer. For a brief moment the Savior’s hand seemed to move outward toward the praying woman, as if He were trying to comfort her.
A shiver inched down Stone’s spine, and he blinked a couple of times. Only then did he realize the deepening dusk had played a trick on him. A little sparrow sat in the hand of Jesus. It turned its head this way and that and gave the appearance of the statue’s hand in motion.
The woman was as tiny as the bird, with short-cropped dark hair that spiked around her head. She wore jeans and a peacoat. A stiff wind might blow her away.
She looked up, turning a pair of dark, hollow eyes in his direction. All the breath left his lungs as he found himself caught up in her stare. For an instant, he felt as if he might be looking at a ghost from some forgotten past. Her face was oddly gray in the fading light, the skin beneath her eyes smudged with the purple of exhaustion.
She looked hopelessly lost, like a small waif or street urchin.
A hot, tight feeling slammed into his chest. The unexpected intensity of the emotion was tempered by the immediate clanging of alarm bells in his head. She was trouble.
She had arrived in a car registered to Abe Chaikin—a man who had so upset the balance of things in Last Chance that practically everyone still remembered the incident.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that the woman was here for the same purpose. This tiny person was going to rend the daily fabric of life in his town, and he couldn’t let that happen.
She looked up at him, and he recognized his doom right there in her hollow eyes, just as he recognized something about her that he couldn’t even put words to. He had this odd feeling that he had known her for a long, long time.
Lark gripped the edge of the bench and stared at the fiberglass Jesus. This had to be the Excedrin headache to end all headaches. Was this Pop’s idea of a joke?
The sound of boots on gravel drew her attention to the walkway by the Ark. A policeman came into view.
Holy crap, she was in trouble now.
“Ma’am,” the cop said. “What part of ‘No Trespassing’ do you not understand? Golfing for God is not in business, and I’d be obliged if you would move on.”
She stood up, feeling dizzy and disconnected as she focused on the cop’s face. She recognized the green eyes, dimpled chin, and meandering nose. Crap. She was going crazy.
“Carmine?” she asked. Her throat hurt.
“Ma’am?” The cop went on alert. His shoulders stiffened, and his body coiled in that ready-for-action pose she’d seen in the marines patrolling the streets of Baghdad.
She blinked a couple of times, trying to clear her vision. He wasn’t Carmine, of course. And she was not losing her mind. She cleared her dry throat. “I was wondering if you could tell me where I might find Zeke Rhodes. I need to speak with him about something.”
“Ma’am, Zeke Rhodes has been dead for more than forty years. I would have expected you to know that.”
“Oh,” Lark said as she fought a wave of disappointment. “More than forty years? Really?”
“Yes, ma’am. He died the day Abe Chaikin left town.”
Her head throbbed, and her face went from hot to cold. “You knew my father?” That seemed unlikely.
“No, ma’am. But I’ve heard the stories about him. He hightailed it out of town the same day Zeke Rhodes died. They found Zeke’s body right where you’re standing now.”
She took a reflexive step backward as if to avoid the long-dead body of Zeke Rhodes.
“Of course, not everyone thinks Zeke was murdered. There’s a big debate on that topic.”
“But you think he was.”
The cop’s shoulders moved a little. “Maybe. It happened before I was born. So you’re Abe’s daughter?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m his daughter.” The world started tilting sideways.
“Well, ma’am, some folks think your daddy murdered Zeke.”
Abe Chaikin’s daughter gave Stone one wide-eyed look before her eyes rolled up in her head and she crumpled. He caught her before she planted her face in the Astroturf.
He hoisted her up in his arms and realized that she was burning with fever. No telling what kind of bug she’d brought to town. She could be carrying anthrax or some deadly virus for all Stone knew. But that was nothing compared to the fact that she was Abe Chaikin’s daughter.
He lugged her deadweight up the gravel walk. She regained consciousness before he laid her in the backseat of his Crown Vic. She cracked one bloodshot eye.
“I passed out, didn’t I?”
“Where are you taking me?”
“To the clinic, you’re sick.”
“But my car and cameras and—”
“I’ll make sure they’re safe. You need medical attention. You just rest there for a minute.” He opened the trunk and pulled out an emergency blanket, which he wrapped around her.
“Thanks,” she said through chattering teeth. “I’m so sorry. I never get sick. Really.” Her eyes closed. Her chest rattled ominously when she took a deep breath.
Just his luck. He needed this like he needed a hole in the head. She was the daughter of the most notorious man to ever set foot in Last Chance. What the hell was she doing here?
He slid into the driver’s seat, dropped his Stetson on the seat beside him, and radioed back to main dispatch. He gave them his location and an outline of the situation. Winnie, his night dispatcher, replied that she would give his momma a call to let her know he would be late for supper.
Momma would call Miz Polk, and Miz Polk would call Miz Hanks, and Miz Hanks would call Miz Bray, and pretty soon every member of the Christ Church Ladies’ Auxiliary would know that Abe Chaikin’s daughter had just arrived from New York.
By this time tomorrow morning, the entire county would be in an uproar. And wouldn’t that be fun?
“You think you can stand?” he asked Abe Chaikin’s daughter when they arrived at the urgent care center five minutes later.
The woman tried to push herself up, but flopped back onto the cruiser’s seat. He hopped out of the driver’s seat, opened the back door, and pulled her up into his arms.
She was as delicate as a dragonfly’s wing. Not his type of woman at all. But when she looked up at him out of those glassy brown eyes, something pressed hard against his chest, and he had trouble breathing.
“I’m so sorry,” she murmured as her head fell against his shoulder. For some inexplicable reason, the weight of her head against him felt impossibly good.
He needed to run this woman off just as soon as he could. She was big trouble.
Winnie had already alerted Annie Jasper, the night nurse, who directed Stone into one of the half dozen exam rooms. He eased Abe Chaikin’s daughter down to the exam table. “You’ll be fine, ma’am. Do you have your car keys? If you do, I can see about moving your car to a safer place.”
She dug into the pocket of her jeans and handed him the keys.
“Thank you, ma’am. Now, what’s your name?”
“Lark? Like the bird?”
She nodded and swallowed hard. “Yeah. Mom and Pop were nonconformists.”
Now, there was an understatement. Folks of a certain age in this county still remembered her daddy. They mostly referred to him as that Yankee hippie.
“Is your last name Chaikin, too?”
She nodded. “Who runs the golf course these days?” she asked.
Stone hesitated. “That’s a complicated question. Elbert Rhodes holds the deed to the land, but there’s a committee that has taken over the rebuilding and expansion of the place. Hettie Marshall chairs that.”
Her bloodshot gaze wandered over his face and then down to the name badge on his chest. Her eyes widened a little. “Deputy Rhodes?” she said.
“That would be Chief Rhodes, ma’am.”
“And the ‘S’ is for…?”
He tried not to grimace. “Stonewall. Everyone calls me Stone—Stony if they know me well.”
The corner of her mouth twitched. “And you thought I had a strange name? So, are you related to Zeke and this Elbert guy?”
He didn’t want this interview to get personal, but it was heading in that direction. It wasn’t as if he could lie. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I need to talk to Elbert.”
She closed her eyes, and the shivers took her for a long moment. Stone took off his uniform jacket and draped it over her legs.
He was about to shout for Annie when Lark said through chattering teeth, “My father wants to have his ashes scattered on the eighteenth hole. He died a week ago.”
“I can tell that I’ve surprised you,” Lark said. The shivering seemed to be passing.
“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, ma’am, you have.”
Lark’s eyes flew open. “Look, I heard what you said, before. But my father didn’t murder Zeke Rhodes. Pop always said he ‘found himself’ on the eighteenth hole at Golfing for God, whatever the heck that means.”
“Really? That’s hardly evidence of his innocence, is it?”
She stared at him like he was an alien. “No, I guess not. But, to be honest, Pop never explained why he used to say that.”
“There you go. There is also the fact that your father left town suddenly on the same day as my granddaddy died.”
“Zeke Rhodes was your grandfather?”
The Last Chance chief of police stared down at Lark out of a pair of oddly familiar green eyes. “Yes, ma’am,” he drawled in a deep voice that sounded like it came right up from the earth itself.
“And you think my father murdered him?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. My granddaddy’s death was ruled an accident. But my daddy always said it was kind of hard to explain how a man gets that beat up by accident.”
She must be having a fever dream because the gorgeous policeman was saying stuff about Pop that made no sense whatsoever.
Just then, a thin, youngish nurse wearing blue scrubs and bearing a badge with the name “A. Jasper” bustled in. The nurse interrupted the mutual interrogation. “Ruby called,” she said to the cop. “She’s holding dinner for you. You need to be getting along home.”
“It’ll keep. I need to ask the patient a couple of—”
“Your questions can wait.” The nurse advanced with a digital thermometer, which she pressed into Lark’s ear. It beeped inside of thirty seconds.
“Uh-huh, you see? One hundred and three.” Nurse Jasper looked down at Lark. “You take any medicine?”
“A couple of aspirin about four hours ago, when the headache started.” Lark sank back into the pillows. Her head felt like an anvil. Every muscle screamed in agony if she so much as twitched, which was problematic because she was twitching all over with the shivers.
“All right,” Nurse Jasper said. “Let me go get Doc Cooper.”
“I’ll just stay here and ask a few—”
“I told you, Stony, the questions can wait. Now, you go on home to your girls.” Nurse Jasper’s voice knifed through Lark’s head and sent pinpricks of pain shooting behind her eyes.
The chief folded his big arms across his chest. He didn’t look very impressed with Nurse Jasper. “Can she drive?” he asked.
The nurse gave the cop an imperious stare before replying, “The patient has a hundred-and-three fever. She isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. What’s the problem?”
“Y’all gonna keep her here, then?”
“Depends on what Doc Cooper says. He’ll either send her up to Orangeburg or see if Miz Miriam can nurse her.”
Lark was not entirely sure, but this news didn’t seem to make the chief of police happy. Truth to tell, it didn’t make her happy either.
“Um, no hospitals. It’s just a virus,” she managed between her trembling jaws. “And as soon as I’m feeling better, I’d be happy to leave. Is there a hotel nearby with room service?”
The nurse and the cop laughed. Lark’s head pounded.
“This ain’t like New York,” the cop said.
The nurse put on a professional smile. Lark would give her points for her bedside manner. “Honey, don’t you worry,” Nurse Jasper said. “We’ll take good care of you.”
Then the nurse turned toward the cop. “And you quit harassing her. What’s she done, anyway?”
“She’s Abe Chaikin’s daughter.”
That stopped the pretty nurse right in her tracks. “You’re kidding?”
Chief Rhodes glanced toward Lark. “Am I kidding?”
Lark shook her head.
Big mistake. Her stomach roiled, and her brains rattled. She must have made some kind of gagging noise, because when her stomach heaved an instant later, Nurse Jasper was there with a basin.
“Aw, honey,” the nurse soothed, “there aren’t any hotels worth staying at around here. So I reckon you’ll be sent to the nursing home in Orangeburg. Or maybe Miriam Randall and the Ladies’ Auxiliary will look after you. But don’t you worry. And don’t you listen to Chief Rhodes, now, you hear? Because there are plenty of folks in town, like Nita Wills, who think your daddy was a hero.”
Stone and his family sat at Momma’s dining table. Elbert, Stone’s father, sat at one end, and Ruby, his mother, at the other. Stone and his two daughters, Haley and Lizzy, occupied space in the middle. Stone and his girls actually lived in a small rented house down the block, but they always took their meals with Momma and Daddy. Momma had been helping Stone raise his girls ever since Stone’s wife, Sharon, had died in a car wreck six years ago.
Predictably, the dinner conversation turned to the stranger in town.
“She wants to do what?” Daddy said. He looked up from his plate of pot roast and gave Stone his pale-eyed, scary-Daddy look.
Stone was impervious. Daddy might look scary, but he was about as gentle as a kitten. Today he wore his “Global Warming Is Nothing Next to Eternal Damnation” T-shirt. The garment was black with white block letters and hot-rod flames curling across the chest.
“Well, I think it’s nice that Abe Chaikin’s daughter wants to scatter his remains out at the golf course,” Ruby said.
“What’s nice about it?” Daddy asked as he scooped up a fork of butter beans and rice.
“Well, it’s nice that a person of the Jewish persuasion would want to have his mortal remains scattered at the feet of Jesus. You think he accepted Our Lord as his savior before he died? You know if he did kill Zeke, but accepted the Lord, we ought to forgive him, because I know the Lord has.”
“Uh, well, I don’t know, but I reckon it’s something to think about.” Daddy chewed for a few moments as if giving the matter serious thought. “Nope, I don’t think I can forgive him for beating up my daddy.”
Like a bass rising to the bait, fifteen-year-old Lizzy leaned forward in her seat, her long dark hair hanging down over her face as if she were trying to hide herself behind a veil. “Granddaddy, you don’t actually know that this man killed Great-Granddaddy. I mean the official cause of death was accidental, wasn’t it?”
“Who knows what the official cause of death was. The fact is that Andy Bennett made the official ruling. And you can’t ever trust a Bennett.” Daddy gave Lizzy one of his scary stares. It bounced off Lizzy, too.
“And besides,” Elbert continued between chews, “that Yankee hippie was the last person to see my daddy alive.”
“That’s not evidence. Is it, Daddy?” Lizzy looked up at Stone.
He was going to get drawn into this argument whether he wanted to or not. “No, it’s not,” Stone said.
Elbert turned his stare at Stone. “Don’t encourage her, son. She’s already too big for her britches.”
Stone swallowed his food. “Daddy, just because you have a long-running grudge against the former sheriff of Allenberg County doesn’t mean everything he did was totally wrong.”
“No? I don’t see you singing the praises of his idiot son any.”
Stone should have seen that coming. Andy Bennett had been sheriff of Allenberg County for decades. And when he retired, his son ran for the position. Of course Billy was elected, seeing as his last name was Bennett. But Billy wasn’t much of a cop. Stone had reserved his opinions about Billy’s father, though. Andy Bennett had been sheriff when Stone was a kid.
He gave his father a pointed stare. “I know you were angry when Granddaddy died, but that’s not a good reason to go off blaming folks for his death when you have no proof.”
“He was only fifty-four. He should have lived for a long time.”
Stone heard the unmistakable note of anger in his father’s voice. Daddy was a pretty mild-mannered man. He was a good man. But he was a little eccentric. Most folks believed that Daddy’s oddities were a result of his war injuries. But Daddy believed something else. The first time Daddy ever saw an angel was the night Zeke died. And Daddy had been seeing angels pretty regular ever since.
So naturally, Daddy held a grudge. Especially since Zeke died so young.
“You can believe what you want,” Stone said. “But there isn’t any evidence that Abe Chaikin killed Granddaddy. And to be honest, I have to believe that, if there had been proof, Sheriff Andy would have pursued it. Besides, Chaikin’s daughter was pretty surprised when I suggested that her father might have committed murder. In fact, she didn’t even know that Zeke was dead. She asked to speak with him.”
“Did you tell her what Nita’s folks think about her father?” Momma asked.
“No, ma’am, I didn’t.”
Haley, Stone’s eight-year-old daughter, suddenly stopped fidgeting in her chair. “Granny, did you mean Miz Wills? Miz Wills is really, really smart. All librarians are really smart.”
Momma laid her fork across her plate and smiled at Haley. “Yes she is, darlin’. Now eat your pot roast.” Momma rolled her eyes in Daddy’s direction. “I think we’ve had enough of this conversation, don’t you?”
“Well, maybe,” Daddy grumbled.
“I’m serious, Bert, we need to let this go once and for all. Maybe letting that woman scatter her father’s ashes at the golf course would be a good first step.”
“I ain’t letting her scatter anything there. So don’t even start.”
“All right.” Momma turned toward Stone. “Once this woman is well enough to travel, I think maybe it would be best if you would explain the situation to her and send her on her way. It’s clear that scattering her father’s ashes out at the golf course is going to upset your father.”
Daddy snarled at the other end of the table.
Stone nodded. All in all, that would probably be best.
Lizzy let go of one of those eloquently annoyed teenaged sighs. “Daddy, are you just going to agree? I mean there’s a big question here. Maybe her father actually did murder Zeke. Or maybe someone else did. Or maybe—”
“He fell off the roof of the Ark, honey. That’s what happened,” Stone said.
“Ain’t no way,” Daddy said. “They found him on the eighteenth hole, and there was no way his body would end up there if he fell from the roof.”
“Maybe the angels put him there,” Haley said.
Lizzy glared at Haley. “No one asked your opinion so—”
“Keep a civil tongue, young lady,” Momma said.
“Yes’m.” Lizzy looked down at her plate and hid behind her hair. Stone thought the matter was settled. But a minute later, Lizzy looked up.
“I’ll try to be civil, Daddy, but there’s something wrong here. I mean, if old Sheriff Andy fudged something, we ought to find that out. We didn’t have a policeman in the family back when Great-Granddaddy died. You could investigate this and lay it to rest.”
“It was more than forty years ago. As cold cases go, this one is practically frigid.”
“But if there was an injustice done, if Zeke was murdered by someone, don’t you want to know that? I mean, it probably wasn’t Abe Chaikin, but what if—”
“Lizzy, this is like a stick of dynamite. Pushing an investigation would upset things in town, and I don’t think Miz Chaikin came here to have her father’s reputation posthumously trampled.”
“She probably didn’t, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to find out the truth.”
“No. But the timing isn’t good, honey. We’ve got a new mayor who might object to my spending time on a forty-year-old case in which her mother played a prominent role. Right now, I want to be friends with Mayor LaFlore, not alienate her. My contract with the city comes up in the spring.”
“That’s not a good reason.” Lizzy gave him one of those heartrending stares that convinced him he was no good as a father. He could see the disappointment in her green eyes.
But there was nothing he could do about it. Agreeing with her wasn’t an option.
Haley Rhodes sat up in her bed, listening carefully. Lizzy was asleep in her bed across the room. Haley could tell by her sister’s little snores.
The wind rattled the windows a bit and moonlight came through the curtains, making the room look kind of silvery.
The house made a few creaky noises. Daddy said it was just the old place settling on its foundations. Haley wasn’t so sure. When the house creaked, it was kind of spooky.
Haley listened to the wind sounds, and the house sounds, and the sound of Lizzy’s breathing. And she heard it—the noise that had really pulled her from sleep.
The Sorrowful Angel was weeping. Again.
The Sorrowful Angel had been with Haley for a long, long time. Haley had been trying to get her back to Heaven, but that was proving to be really hard.
Haley slipped out of her bed and padded down the hallway toward Daddy’s bedroom. The door was ajar, and the flickering light of the television lit her way. Daddy often fell asleep with the television on.
She tiptoed into his bedroom.
The angel was waiting. She stood in the corner, all twinkly and pale, her long white hair coming down to her shoulders. She always shimmered like that when the moon was shining or in the TV light. She looked the way an angel was supposed to look.
Except for the wings, of course. The Sorrowful Angel didn’t have any. She was kind of like that angel in the Christmas movie that Granny always watched about the angel needing to do a good deed to get his wings.
Maybe that’s what the angel needed.
Haley crossed the carpet and took the Sorrowful Angel’s hand. Her hand was cold, but the angel’s long fingers curled around hers and squeezed.
Haley felt safe with the angel’s hand in hers. Nothing could hurt her when the angel was there. She knew this from experience. Sometimes she wondered if maybe the angel was a kind of guardian, in which case Haley probably shouldn’t be working all that hard to get her back to Heaven.
On the other hand, having a weepy guardian angel was kind of a pain. People thought Haley was crazy because most of them couldn’t even see the angel. So Haley had come to a firm decision this Christmas. She’d written a heartfelt letter to Santa Claus and mailed it down at the post office. And she’d written a letter to her mother and left it in a Christmas wreath down at the graveyard.
She figured, if anyone could help get the angel back to Heaven, it would be Santa. And since Momma was in Heaven with Jesus, maybe she could put in a good word, too.
Getting the angel back to Heaven was the only thing Haley wanted for Christmas. Except, of course, for the Barbie Glam Vacation House. She had kind of mentioned that in her letter to Santa, too. But only in the PS.
The angel bent down so that she was at Haley’s height. She wrapped her arm around Haley’s shoulder and drew her close. The hug made Haley feel all shivery inside. But it wasn’t scary or anything like that.
“Your daddy needs to make room in his heart for love,” the angel whispered. Her breath had no warmth to it. In fact, her whisper seemed to have come without any breath at all.
The shivers down Haley’s spine got a little bigger. The angel had only spoken a couple of times before, and what she said usually didn’t make much sense.
But this time, the angel had given Haley a clear mission. A really easy one, too.
She could do this. It would be simple.
Maybe she didn’t need Santa after all.
The next morning, everyone in town knew that Abe Chaikin’s daughter had come for a visit. So Stone wasn’t at all surprised when the county dispatcher’s voice crackled over the radio in his Crown Vic just as he finished his first patrol of the day. “Alpha 101 to Lima 101.”
He toggled his radio. “Go ahead, Alpha 101.”
“You’ve got a 10-25 for a signal-17 out at Lee Marshall’s place.”
“Ten-Four,” he acknowledged.
He’d just been summoned by the big man in town.
He motored up Palmetto Avenue and headed north. Five minutes later, he turned up the drive that led to the old Marshall home place, which had been built on the foundations of Heavenly Rest, the old plantation that had once belonged to Chancellor Rhodes before the Civil War. The house, with its colonnade and wrought-iron balconies, left Stone feeling like a poor relation, especially since it was supposed to be a replica of the earlier mansion—the one that had belonged to Stone’s forebears.
The place looked decidedly festive. The five Doric columns that spanned the front of the Greek Revival home were swathed in red ribbon, making them look like candy canes. Holly swags topped every one of the six-over-six double-hung windows. A wreath the size of Alaska hung on the door.
Lee was waiting for him on the porch, sitting in a straight-backed rocker with a plaid blanket across his lap. Last night’s rain had given way to a bright, sunny, and unseasonably warm day, perfect for porch sitting.
Lee was in his middle sixties, but the years had not been kind to him. He was fond of bourbon, and the booze had taken a toll on his face. Broken blood vessels gave his nose a red sheen. It was a well-known fact that Momma had turned down Lee’s proposal of marriage more than forty years ago in order to follow the advice of Miriam Randall.
And for that reason, Lee Marshall had never been particularly friendly to Stone. Not that Lee was a particularly friendly man.
“Nice porch weather for December,” Stone said with a little deferential tip of his hat.
“Don’t talk to me about the weather,” Lee growled. He waved toward the rocking chair beside him, but Stone ignored the invitation and leaned back on one of the porch columns.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Marshall?”
“You can run that woman out of town.”
Stone thought about playing it straight and asking Lee who he was talking about. But he just didn’t have the energy for one of Lee’s cat-and-mouse games.
“Lark Chaikin is sick right at the moment. Can’t exactly do anything about her until she recovers.”
“Well, it’s damnably inconvenient.”
Stone said nothing. Arguing with Lee about the state of the Chaikin woman’s health was just a waste of time.
“When she recovers, you need to tell her what’s what.”
“Okay, Lee, you mind telling me what’s what first, so I get it right?” Damn. He hadn’t bothered to disguise the sarcasm in his voice.
“You’re asking me that seriously? After what happened? I would think your people would be happy to see her leave.”
Stone made no comment on the snide reference to his people. “I get why my daddy wants her gone, but why you?”
“You know as good as I do that this woman is a walking time bomb. We don’t need to revisit that sad time in our history. It would be a distraction.”
“A distraction from what?”
Lee glowered. “Don’t be stupid. Last Chance has a new mayor who doesn’t want to deal with this woman. And I don’t want Kamaria to have to. So, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll run her out of town. You got that, boy?”
Stone fixed his expression. There was no point in letting Lee know just what he thought of him. Lee was an a-hole, but he was powerful. His son, Jimmy, owned Country Pride Chicken, the biggest employer in the county. And the Marshalls had been running this town for as long as anyone could remember.
To make matters even more complicated, Daddy was now beholden to Jimmy Marshall’s wife, Hettie, who chaired the Committee to Resurrect Golfing for God. Jimmy and Hettie had been estranged for the last several months, but the scuttlebutt around town was that they had reconciled. So making nice to Lee, Jimmy, and Hettie was in Stone’s best interest.
Not to mention the fact that Kamaria LaFlore, the mayor-elect and soon to be Stone’s boss, had her own good reasons for wanting Lark Chaikin gone.
“I hear you, Lee,” Stone said.
“That’s good. You keep me apprised of this situation, and you have a real nice day.”
Stone knew a dismissal when he heard one. He turned and headed back to his cruiser, his annoyance growing with each step he took.
He was not going to be pushed around by Lee Marshall, or Jimmy, or Hettie, or even Mayor-Elect LaFlore. In fact, the more they protested, the more he was starting to think that Lizzy was right.
Maybe he should dig up those old files and see what had happened in 1968.
Lark opened her eyes. Pale winter sunshine slanted through the curved turret windows to her right. Spanish-moss-laden branches waved beyond the windowpanes. The dance of branches and sun made a pattern across the dusky green carpet of the room where she had been sleeping and sweating out a raging fever. She didn’t feel feverish anymore. Just tired. The nightmares had taken a lot out of her.
“You feeling better?” a voice asked from her left.
Lark shifted her gaze from the oak windowsills to the wizened lady sitting beside her bed.
“You remember me, don’t you?” The little old lady gazed at Lark from behind a pair of upturned trifocals decorated with rhinestones. She wore her white hair parted down the middle, with twin braids pulled up over her head like a crown. Her skin was ivory, with a network of lines radiating from her eyes and the corners of her mouth. It was a good face, a kind face. The lines and wrinkles told of a life well lived. Lark wanted to capture her portrait.
This old lady had been holding Lark’s hand on and off during the nightmares.
“How long have I been out of it?” Lark asked.
“Oh, a day or so. It’s Sunday, December sixteenth. Christmas is almost upon us.”
Lark studied her surroundings: old-lady wallpaper and Victorian furniture. “Where am I?” she asked, pushing herself up in the bed.
Lark’s caregiver rested a pair of arthritic hands on an aluminum cane. Her nails were painted bright red, which clashed with her 1980s-vintage, purple plaid pantsuit. “Oh,” the lady said, waving one hand, “this is Randall House. Back a hundred years ago, it used to be a hotel for the folks who traveled the railroad. We sometimes take in boarders for short periods. Doc Cooper sent you here because there was no room at the nursing home, and the hospital in Orangeburg didn’t think you were sick enough to take in. We’ve been nursing you for a couple of days.”
“The ladies of the Christ Church Auxiliary.”
Oh. My. God. She was in the hands of good Christian women. Who knew the Bible Belt was really like this? She pasted a smile on her face. “Oh. Well, thank you.”
“It’s nothing, darlin’. Helping out poor wayfarers is a joy, especially this time of year.”
The woman wasn’t even being ironic or sarcastic.
“Thank you,” Lark said again because it seemed appropriate.
A pang of grief hit her chest as Lark fluffed up her pillows and leaned back on them. For a little while she had forgotten that Pop was dead. Where the hell was Pop?
“You wouldn’t happen to know where my car is?”
“Oh, don’t you worry. Your car’s in the lot down at Bill’s Grease Pit. Your daddy’s remains and your camera equipment have been removed, of course. No sense in tempting fate.” The old woman gestured toward a rosewood armoire that matched the dresser and the bed. “We reckoned you’d want to keep your daddy close. And, what with all the upset forty years ago, Stony felt it might not be a good idea to leave his ashes laying around. No telling what some folks might do, even if we have, more or less, turned the page on the past.”
“Stony? The chief of police?” A mental image of Carmine Falcone filled Lark’s head.
“Yes, ma’am. He is.” The little lady gave Lark a smile as mysterious as Mona Lisa’s.
“Um… I didn’t get your name,” Lark said.
“Oh, darlin’, I’m sorry. I’m Miriam Randall, and this is my house.”
“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for imposing. I—”
“Oh, it’s no imposition. You were pretty sick. I’m guessing you let yourself get worn out in the days before your daddy passed. What did he die of? He wouldn’t have been very old.”
“Cancer, and he was only sixty-two.”
“I figured it had to be something like that. And you were at his side?”
Lark nodded. Miriam Randall might look like a harmless old lady, but she had mad skills as an interrogator.
“And your momma?” Miriam asked.
“She died a long time ago, when I was a kid.” Lark looked down at herself. She was wearing a pink cotton nightgown that didn’t belong to her. It looked exactly like the sort of thing a little old lady would wear. If the guys at the Baghdad Hilton ever saw her in something pink and frilly like this, she’d be laughed right out of the brotherhood of war correspondents.
“You should know that everyone in town is dying to know why your daddy wanted to have his remains scattered on the eighteenth hole,” Miriam said.
Lark looked up. “And how does the entire town know of my father’s last request?”
“Darlin’, this is Last Chance, South Carolina,” Miriam said. “News travels faster here than it does on The Facebook, or whatever you young ’uns call that thing. Of course, the speed of the gossip probably has something to do with the fact that, around here, your daddy is somewhat notorious.”
“Notorious? Really? I didn’t think his books were that controversial.”
Miriam frowned. “Books? What books?”
“Pop’s pen name was Vitto Giancola. He was the author of the Carmine Falcone mysteries.”
Miriam’s brown eyes lit up. “Oh, my goodness. I just love Carmine Falcone.”
“Of course you do.”
Miriam must have heard the sarcasm in Lark’s tone. “Honey, I wasn’t talking about that pretty-boy actor who plays Carmine in the TV show. I was talking about the Carmine Falcone in the books. Now, there’s a man who is sexy and complicated. You know, the kind of man who doesn’t say much, but manages to speak volumes with his actions.”
For an old lady, Miriam was remarkably with it. “Yeah,” Lark said, “but being an author didn’t make Pop notorious.”
“Well,” Miriam replied, “when I said notorious, I meant that back in 1968 he took Nita Wills to breakfast at the Kountry Kitchen. I tell you, Lark, when Nita sat down at that lunch counter she stirred up a big heap of trouble. See, Nita is black.”
“But it was 1968. Wasn’t the Civil Rights Act passed in ’64?”
“Well, we aren’t at the cutting edge of things here,” Miriam said. “By ’68, Clyde Anderson, the owner of the Kountry Kitchen, had taken down his offensive ‘whites only’ sign. But no one really wanted to test Clyde’s commitment to integration. The irony is that a year later Clyde died, and T-Bone Carter bought the place. It would probably have served us right if T-Bone had put up a sign saying ‘African-Americans only.’ The Kountry Kitchen is the only real café in town, unless you count the doughnut shop.”
“And people here still remember that? After all this time?”
The little lady leaned forward. “You know, darlin’, we probably would have forgotten all about it, but your daddy disappeared the same day he challenged our social order. And that would be the same day Zeke Rhodes died. You can imagine how people put two and two together.”
“Just because he left the same day?”
“Well now, you see, your daddy was what some folks referred to as a no-good Yankee hippie. And some ignorant folks believed that Nita wouldn’t have done what she did except that your daddy put her up to it. God help us when the ignoramuses band together—they go looking for someone to blame. And since Zeke had let your daddy camp out at Golfing for God, I’m thinking old Zeke might just have gotten himself in the middle of trouble that wasn’t his. Of course, that’s not the official story. The official story is that, within a twenty-four-hour period, the rednecks ran your daddy out of town. Nita’s mother put her on the next bus heading toward Chicago, where her aunt lived. And Zeke died in an accidental fall out at Golfing for God.”
“That’s a lot.”
“Yes, ma’am, it is. So you can imagine that there are some folks in this town, notably Elbert Rhodes, the current owner of Golfing for God, who think your daddy was responsible for Zeke’s death. There is another group of folks who think maybe Zeke got into an altercation with a group of idiots. So, you see, any light you could shed on this would solve a long-standing town mystery.”
“Mrs. Randall, I hate to disappoint you. I don’t know a thing about Pop’s stay in Last Chance. All I’m sure of is that Pop didn’t murder anyone. He could be a real pain in the neck, but he wasn’t mean or violent.”
Just then, the door opened, and a zaftig woman with blue-gray hair stepped into the room bearing a bed table and tray. She wore a printed polyester dress splashed with blue flowers that did nothing for her larger-than-life figure.
“Ah,” the woman said, stepping across the room in her old-lady flats. “I see our patient is awake.”
She placed the bed table over Lark’s legs. On the tray was a breakfast that would never get the American Heart Association’s seal of approval: eggs, bacon, biscuits, and a bowl of something that looked like Cream of Wheat with a large pat of butter melting in it.
“I’m Lillian Bray, chair of the Christ Church Ladies’ Auxiliary,” polyester lady said.
“Hi, I’m Lark. Thanks for taking care of me. And, um, is that grits?”
“You’ve never eaten grits, have you?” Lillian asked.
“No, I haven’t. I usually have a bagel and a cup of coffee. I’m not much of a breakfast eater.”
“Oh,” Lillian said, “I didn’t think. You don’t eat bacon either, do you?”
Lark looked up, right into Lillian’s blue eyes. The woman’s concern over Lark’s dietary habits masked something else. There was just a hint of uneasiness in Lillian’s gaze, as if she didn’t like outsiders, or maybe she didn’t care for people who weren’t exactly like her.
Or maybe she was just worried that she’d made a big mistake.
Lark needed to quit projecting things onto people. It was a sure sign that she’d spent too much time knocking around places where people went to war over small, insignificant differences.
Well, at least she could put Lillian’s fear about her dietary restrictions to rest. She smiled and picked up a thick slice of bacon. “That rumor about my being a vegetarian is completely untrue,” Lark said between chews.
Lillian seemed a little nonplussed by Lark’s snappy comeback. She cleared her throat. “I reckon that’s a good thing. I mean, seeing as pork is one of the staples of our diet.”
“Yes, and it’s very nice to be in a place where bacon is readily available. You should try ordering a BLT in Baghdad.”
Lillian dropped her bulk into an empty chair on the other side of the bed. “So you’re not Jewish?”
“Nope,” Lark said. It was amazing how one little word eliminated the need to explain how Pop had been born Jewish and died an atheist, or how Mom had been born Catholic and died a Buddhist. Or how, as a kid, Lark had been dragged off to Humanist Sunday School at the Ethical Culture Society. Best to enjoy the bacon and keep her mouth shut.
“Lark was just telling me that her daddy went on to become Vitto Giancola, the author of those mystery books,” Miriam said into the sudden silence.
Lillian’s gaze narrowed. “You don’t say so. The Carmine Falcone stories? Oh, I just love that TV show. Clint Burroughs is so handsome, don’t you think?”
Neither Miriam nor Lark answered Lillian’s rhetorical question.
After another awkward moment, Miriam once again picked up the stalled conversation. “You’ve been through a lot lately, haven’t you, Lark?” she said.
Lark went on alert, pausing in the middle of slathering butter on a biscuit. She didn’t look up.
“So,” Miriam continued in a leading tone, “those cameras look like something a professional would have. Are you a photographer?”
Lark nodded and took a bite out of the biscuit. It practically melted in her mouth, no doubt because it was made with copious quantities of lard or something. No one cooked with lard where Lark came from. She concentrated on the heavenly taste of the food and remained silent.
The conversation stalled completely until Miriam said, “You know, honey, I’m thinking that you need to find someone who understands you. Someone you can talk honestly with.”
Lark looked up from her breakfast right into the glittering eyes of Miriam Randall. “What do you mean? Like a therapist?”
“Why, do you need a therapist?”
Lark’s face burned, but she said nothing.
Miriam shook her head. “No, I was thinking that you need to be on the lookout for a lost friend. Someone you may have missed or overlooked. Someone who understands you and your demons.”
Lillian straightened in her chair. “Demons?”
Miriam snorted. “Not demons from hell, Lillian. I was talking about the other kind.”
“Are there any other kind?” Lillian gave Lark another assessing gaze, as if she were searching Lark’s forehead for horns.
“Well,” Miriam said. “I was talking about the demons that people create for themselves.”
Lark put down the half-eaten biscuit, her appetite suddenly vanishing. “Excuse me, but I don’t think I’ve created any demons for myself. And why do you even think I have demons?”
“Because you do,” Miriam said, her deep brown eyes clear and sober.
Lark looked away. The old lady liked to meddle in other people’s business, didn’t she? “Any demons I have were created by the bad guys,” Lark finally said.
“Bad guys?” Lillian asked.
Excerpted from Last Chance Christmas by Hope Ramsay Copyright © 2012 by Hope Ramsay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2012
Lark Chaikin has just arrived in the small town of Last Chance, South Carolina where she intends to leave her father's ashes on a "Golfing for God" mini-golf course per his last wishes. She's still grieving and totally shocked when she meets the town's Chief of Police, Stonewall ("Stone") Rhodes. Before he tells her she can't leave the ashes, he makes some comments that indicate she will not at all be welcome in this town since it's believed that her father caused the death of Stone's grandfather. No, there's no proof but Lark's father left town on the same day Zeke Rhodes died. Stone proceeds to inform her she will have to get permission from the group that now is in control of this mini-golf course.
Lark is obviously upset but determined to honor her father's last wishes. It turns out that won't happen so quickly; in the meantime the town begins to take sides, with some believing the "assumption" about Lark's Dad and others now wondering and questioning what the precise facts are about the rumors that have been accepted as fact for years. Lark sets her sights on finding out as she knows her father only as the most gentle and kindest of souls. In the process she and Stone begin to get used to each other and she learns he is grieving still over the loss of his wife. While they discuss and seek answers for the death of Lark's father, the town matchmakers are also making their future plans for this unsuspecting couple. Lark isn't interested at all at first as her track record with romance is a bummer and full of trouble.
But there's something reasonable, something soft, something truly manly about Stone that begins to become quite appealing to Lark. As the romantic side of the plot heats up, the tension heats up as well when the background town plans and characters connected to Zeke Rhodes' death come to light.
So get ready for some Southern comfort food and hospitality mixed with small town thinking and attitudes that might not be so welcoming - all of which blend into a blooming romance that sifts out the garbage, solves a mystery, and leads to what you can predict between this couple. However, because the reader knows where the plot is going on the romance side only increases the pleasure from sharing their story. Very nicely done, Hope Ramsay!
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Posted February 20, 2013
Reviewed by Terri Tumlin for Readers' Favorite
In response to her father’s last request, Lark Chaikin travels to Last Chance, South Carolina, to scatter his ashes in a miniature golf course named Golfing for God. The first problem is that the town doesn’t want her there; the second is that something happened 40 years ago when her father was in town and the town doesn’t want to revisit what happened. Thus the stage is set for Lark to meet and enter a push-pull encounter with the town’s sheriff, Stonewall Rhodes, also known as Stone. Lark, who is a professional war photographer, has a past, as does Stone. As the story unfolds, the two main characters confront their own demons as well as the insistence of some of the town’s prominent citizens that Lark leave town immediately. Throw into the mix the Sorrowful Angel that Stone’s younger daughter keeps interacting with and his older daughter’s teenage romance with a shy newcomer in town whose parents have strong objections to their son becoming involved with a girl of a different religion.
The novel is a delightfully complicated romantic tale with elements of suspense and danger as well as a story line that delves into the emotional lives of the main characters. Hope Ramsay writes well and constructs a satisfying story that has many elements that evoke the ambiance of the rural south. The book is the latest in a series about the town of Last Chance and it may make the reader interested in seeking out the earlier books. It is definitely an enjoyable read.
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Posted March 22, 2013
Author: Hope Ramsay
Published by: Forever
Age Recommended: Adult
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Book Blog For: GMTA
"The Last Chance" by Hope Ramsay was my first read from this author and
I found it a nice romantic 'Christmas Holiday' novel with a bit of paranormal.
I did find this novel some what very interesting as it deals with 'racial issues' many years ago dealing with ...'black and white couples in the sixty's, teenage drinking, prejudiced of different faiths and the horrors of wars.' Now, if there is any doubt, this will be a good read. We find that is widower..Stone Rhodes is the sheriff of 'Last Chance, South Carolina' and has two daughters...one that sees angels. Next, we find Lark Chaikin has arrived in Last Chance to bring her fathers'(Abe) ashes to a 'Golfing for God' which was a mini golf course which were his last wishes. However, would this Chief of Police Stone allow this to happen? Then this is where this story really picks up where Stone tells Lark that she would have to get permission from the new ownership of this mini golf course. Little did Lark know that her father was not very popular in that town. Why was this? Now, this is where I say you must pick up "Last Chance Christmas" to see where, why, who and the how of it all in the well written novel. Be ready for a love story, with mystery and drama that will keep
you moving quickly through the read to definitely put a touch in the holiday spirit.
Would I recommend "Last Chance Christmas?" YES!
Posted December 19, 2012
Last Chance Christmas by Hope Ramsay
Last Chance Christmas seems like a simple romance, but it deals with a lot of different problems. Thier are a lot of layers to this story. Some issues brought up predjuced of black & white couples in the sixtys,teenage drinking, predjuced of different faiths, the horrors of wars.
Lark Chaikin has come to Last Chance,South Carolina to spread her late father's ashes on the 18th hole of Golfing for God. She has no idea why he wanted to be spread around a place so far from New York.
Chief of Police Stone Rhodes sees the car parked by the closed golf course with New York license plates. He runs the plates and the name if familar to him. A name that could tear apart his town again. He finds Lark on the 18th hole and she passes out on him.
Lark finds out that her father came to town for 10 days and caused a stir. He took a black girl into the cafe and they sat together at the counter. He was camping out at the golf course. The owner was found dead and some people thought it was murder. Others a accident. It was Stone's grandfather who died.
Lark needs to get a bunch of okays before she can spread the ashes thier. Stone's father is against it, but he does not own all of the golf course anymore.
Stone is a widower who has two girls. The youngest is in 3rd grade and sees angels especially one that cries a lot. Haley wants for Christmas is the crying angel to get her wings and go to heaven.
Lizzie is a writer for the school paper. Her friend David is a photographer. David's family is Jewish. Some people don't like that they are different. Haley gets David & Lark to help them decorate thier Christmas tree that they have not put in years. Then David will invite Lizzie the next day to see how they celebrate Hanukkah.
I thought how they shared a little about each holiday was done in a good way. That they blended a lot of issues into the story showing how different it was from the 60's but thier is still room for improvemnt on predjuced. I got lost in the story while it unfolded.
Thier are two love scenes in the story. Lots of talks about angels.
I would like to read more books by Hope Ramsay in the future.
I was given this ebook to read in exchange for honest review by Netgalley.
09/25/2012 PUB Grand Central Publishing 352 pages ISBN-10: 0446576077
Posted December 14, 2012
Posted October 23, 2012
Posted September 26, 2012
I must admit, I'm wasn't a huge fan of the Last Chance series. Don't get me wrong, there's anything wrong with the series. I didn't connect with the characters from reading the sample of the second book, Home at Last Chance, thus I didn't go back to reading the series until Last Chance Bride. I did read the first book, Welcome to Last Chance and the anthology, I'll Be Home for Christmas, which I LOVED.
In my opinion, you need to at least read Welcome to Last Chance in order to understand some of the things that are happening in this book.
Last Chance Christmas is FINALLY Stone's chance at love. I wasn't much of a Stone fan after I read Welcome to Last Chance. Reading Last Chance Bride had me liking Stone but Last Chance Christmas has me loving him. I was finally able to understand Stone and see what makes him tick.
The object of Stone's attraction is New Yorker Lark Chaikin. Lark is a world renowned photographer who specializes in wars and disasters. She sees her friend get blown up, only to realize that she should have been standing next to him, instead she captured his death with her camera.
Lark Chaikin has arrived in Last Chance, South Carolina to bury her father Abe, who has a notorious reputation in the town, on the eighteenth hole of Golfing for God. You see, Abe Chaikin use to always say that he "found himself on the eighteenth hole of Golfing for God".
Because of something that happened forty years ago, Lark isn't permitted to scatter her father's ashes as he requested. Lark sets out to convince the powers that be to allow her to complete her father's last request and find out why everyone in town hates him. Of course with this being Last Chance, things just aren't that simple at all. Surprisingly there's murder and a cover-up. Secrets which have been kept for more than forty years are revealed.
The Sorrowful Angel is one of my favorite characters in the series. She makes a return appearance in Last Chance Christmas but this time she's speaking and not just to Haley.
Miriam Randall, Last Chance's renowned matchmaker, is around to offer her love advice to Lark and Stone. Miriam tells Lark that her soulmate is a lost friend who understands her and her demons. Stone just so happens to resemble Lark's childhood imaginary friend. Stone's soulmate is a crusader and he is supposed to be her anchor.
I love reading stories where the characters are forced to face truths that they never acknowledged, where they're forced to look within themselves and discover things about themselves. Stone has carried around guilt relating to Sharon and her death since he was eighteen years old. No wonder he feels like he has to watch out and protect those around him and not let anyone get close to him.
I believe in soulmates. Stone has spent almost his entire life believing that Sharon was his soulmate, to the point of allowing himself to not open up his heart and forgive. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "I happen not to believe that God is so mean-spirited that He would give you a soulmate, take her away, and then insist that you spend the rest of your life battling the empty place inside. Love is God's greatest gift."
I love Christmas romances because you have the magic of the holiday season and Santa can make even the hollowest of hearts full again. Hope did a fantastic job with this book.
I received this book through NetGalley.
Reviewed for Read Your Writes bo
Posted December 4, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 19, 2012
No text was provided for this review.