Love Mercy

Love Mercy

4.5 16
by Earlene Fowler
     
 

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National bestselling author of the Benni Harper mysteries

Widow Love Mercy Johnson still listens for her husband's comforting laugh, but with her friend's help, she's trying to move on. Then her 18-year-old estranged granddaughter shows up, forcing them both to confront old resentments. And when disaster strikes, they must discover if they can change

Overview

National bestselling author of the Benni Harper mysteries

Widow Love Mercy Johnson still listens for her husband's comforting laugh, but with her friend's help, she's trying to move on. Then her 18-year-old estranged granddaughter shows up, forcing them both to confront old resentments. And when disaster strikes, they must discover if they can change their lives-and the lives of those they love-for the better.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

The mysteries of the human heart fill Fowler's first of a sweet new series about Love Mercy Johnson of Morro Bay, Calif. This delightful departure from her Benni Harper mysteries (Tumbling Blocks, etc.) features cameos of Benni and husband Gabe, but Love, photojournalist and co-owner of the Buttercream Cafe, takes center stage with former Las Vega cop Melina "Mel" Le Blanc and Love's 18-year-old granddaughter, Loretta Lynn "Rett" Johnson. Rett suddenly arrives in San Celina County with a banjo stolen from her two-timing ex-boyfriend, Dale Bailey. Thirteen months have passed since Love lost her husband, Cy, and 14 years since Tommy, Rett's father, died. As Christmas approaches, Love must deal with Dale's hot pursuit of said banjo, her father-in-law's struggle with Alzheimer's and Mel's brush with a menace from her Vegas past. Fowler delivers some wise lessons on life (e.g., "Looks fade... a good heart doesn't") in a heartfelt tale sure to please her fans.
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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781602854352
Publisher:
Center Point
Publication date:
04/28/2009
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Pages:
479
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

 

ONE - Rett

TWO - Love Mercy

THREE - Mel

FOUR - Rett

FIVE - Mel

SIX - Love Mercy

SEVEN - Rett

EIGHT - Mel

NINE - Love Mercy

TEN - Mel

ELEVEN - Rett

TWELVE - Love Mercy

THIRTEEN - Rett

FOURTEEN - Love Mercy

FIFTEEN - Mel

SIXTEEN - Rett

SEVENTEEN - Love Mercy

EIGHTEEN - Mel

NINETEEN - Love Mercy

TWENTY - Rett

TWENTY-ONE - Mel

TWENTY-TWO - Mel

TWENTY-THREE - Love Mercy

TWENTY-FOUR - Rett

TWENTY-FIVE - Mel

TWENTY-SIX - Mel

TWENTY-SEVEN - Love Mercy

TWENTY-EIGHT - Rett

TWENTY-NINE - Love Mercy

THIRTY - Rett

THIRTY-ONE - Love Mercy

THIRTY-TWO - Rett

THIRTY-THREE - Mel

THIRTY-FOUR - Love Mercy

Titles by Earlene Fowler

THE SADDLEMAKER’S WIFE
LOVE MERCY

 

The Benni Harper Mysteries

FOOL’S PUZZLE

IRISH CHAIN

KANSAS TROUBLES

GOOSE IS THE POND

DOVE IN THE WINDOW

MERINER’S COMPASS

SEVEN SISTERS

ARKANSAS TRAVELER

STEPS TO THE ALTAR

SUNSHINE AND SHADOW

BROKEN DISHES

DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS

TUMBLING BLOCKS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

 

Copyright © 2009 by Earlene Fowler.

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

The name BERKLEY® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

PRINTING HISTORY

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Fowler, Earlene.
Love mercy / Earlene Fowler.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01457-8

1. Widows—Fiction. 2. Grandmothers—Fiction. 3. Granddaughters—Fiction. 4. Morro
Bay (Calif.)—Fiction. I. Title.

 

PS3556.O828L68 2009
813’.54—dc22
2008049051

 

For Jo-Ann Mapson
beloved friend and sister in heart
may you never run out of words or chocolate

 

 

and

 

 

For Kathy Vieira
dearly loved friend, favorite riding partner
and chosen hermana

Acknowledgments

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

ROMANS 12:9-12

 

My gratitude to:

 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

 

Ellen Geiger—dynamite agent and wonderful friend—thank you for your support, wisdom and awesome sense of humor!

 

Kate Seaver—my enthusiastic and talented editor—I appreciate your hard work, your deft touch and your high-spirited encouragement.

 

Andy Rau—gifted musician, banjo player, songwriter and teacher—thank you for your patience in answering all my crazy questions.

 

Lela Satterfield—faithful friend, talented musician and writer, sister in Christ—your loving spirit and devotion to Jesus always inspires and amazes me (and thanks for the bridge!).

 

Tina Davis, Janice Dischner, Jo Ellen Heil, Cathy Higgins, Christine Hill, Karen Meek, Carolyn Miller, Pam Munns, Karen Olson, Laura Ross Wingfield—some gave information, some prayed, some listened to me whine and some sent chocolate. You are dearly loved and cherished friends. Thank you all.

 

Always to Allen—all my days—if I had a choice, again I would spend them with you.

Note from the Author

The Central Coast of California holds a special place in my heart, so when I started Love Mercy, I decided to set this book in some of the same places I’ve used in my Benni Harper mystery series. The town of Morro Bay resides in the fictional county of San Celina. The series characters my readers have come to love—Benni Harper, her police chief husband, Gabe, and her gramma, Dove—are minor characters in Love Mercy. The difference is that the Benni Harper series is set in the 1990s and Love Mercy is set in 2008. And, to those of you who have not read my Benni Harper books, yes, I know that San Celina is improper Spanish. If you want to know the reason why, check my website’s FAQ section.

The Love Mercy novels (and I’m hoping there will be more) are not mystery novels, so don’t expect a dead body behind every hay bale. But they will deal with another kind of mystery: that of the human heart, especially with how it pertains to family. I’ll still write the Benni Harper novels, but I hope you fall as much in love as I have with Love Mercy Johnson, her friends Melina LeBlanc and Magnolia Sanchez, and Love’s banjo-playing granddaughter, Rett.

ONE

Rett

The Magic Genie Weight and Fortune machine in the gift shop of Larry’s Speedy Time truck stop in Amarillo, Texas, gave Rett her weight but stole her fortune. She smacked the silver machine in frustration. A perfectly good quarter down the drain. Rett needed that fortune. She already knew how much she weighed. One hundred thirteen pounds. In her scuff-toed Justin boots.

“Hon, that contraption ran out of fortunes years ago,” said the gum-smacking woman behind the shop’s cash register. “It’s just a big ole piece of junk, if you ask me.”

Rett ducked her head and didn’t answer, embarrassed to be caught putting money in something so stupid. She picked up her dirty aqua backpack and black banjo case and headed for the Speedy Skillet café attached to the gift shop. Dwaine said they’d be stuck here for at least six hours.

Loretta Lynn Johnson—who would only answer to Rett despite her mom’s insistence that Loretta Lynn was a perfectly nice name—figured a person could have a real full life traveling around the country from truck stop to truck stop. You could do about anything you wanted at a Flying J truck stop or a TravelCenters of America: take a hot shower; get a haircut; buy sugar-free Red Bull, a banana MoonPie or some banjo strings; even learn Spanish from a bilingual Bible.

Rett contemplated becoming a trucker while she chewed her grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. How old did a person have to be to drive long-haul trucks? Her twenty-first birthday was still two and a half years away. Would she have to know how to parallel park? She’d never gotten the hang of that. She wasn’t too hot at backing up either. Dimpled trash cans back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, bore witness to that fact.

She nibbled at the gooey sandwich middle and considered her options. She had a for sure ride until Albuquerque with Brother Dwaine Porter Wilburn, a traveling evangelist who held nondenominational church services in the back of a white Peterbilt truck he’d christened the Holy Roller. From there, he was driving north to Denver for the national board meeting of the Jesus Loves Truckers Outreach Ministries. He was vice president this year. Rett was headed for the West Coast.

Brother Dwaine approached her yesterday while she was perusing the candy aisle at a Petro truck stop in Little Rock, Arkansas, trying to decide between a dark chocolate Milky Way and a PayDay candy bar. He said if she needed a safe ride to somewhere, he’d be glad to help her out. He had an accent like Roy, her second stepdad: pure Texas Panhandle.

When he gently repeated his offer, Rett glanced nervously over at the big-haired woman stocking the potato chips shelves. She wore a Petro name tag. The woman smiled and said, “He’s okay, girlie. You’ll be fine.” She reminded Rett of Dolly Parton, so she believed her.

“I reckon I could find you rides with decent people most the ways to where you’re going,” Dwaine said after he cajoled a little of her story out of her. “Young ladies like yourself shouldn’t be out on the road alone. Jesus says to love your fellow man, but I’m here to tell you, there’s some bedbug-crazy folks traveling the highways and byways of our fine country.”

“Yes, sir,” she’d murmured, staring out the window at the toy-sized cars darting around them. She loved the high vantage point of the semi’s orange-scented cab. It made her feel like she was in charge of the whole world. On the truck’s satellite radio, a gospel group was singing an a cappella version of “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” The alto was slightly flat.

Normally a statement like his about the dangers of young girls traveling alone would cause her to roll her eyes. But she wasn’t stupid. Attitude was fine, but survival was better. Ten years of navigating the fringes of the gospel and bluegrass music business taught her that. It had been her good luck to run into Brother Dwaine. He’d called it God’s Providence.

Whatever, she thought. He was kinda preachy, but that was easy enough to tune out. She’d been doing that most of her life. Listening to him definitely beat taking a chance on another van full of college guys, which had been her transportation from Knoxville to Memphis. At the Winn-Dixie two miles from her house, while standing in the ten items or less line, Rett met a Vanderbilt student named Derek. She was buying a bottle of water and some Hershey bars for the road. She’d vaguely thought about taking the bus to California, but she didn’t want to waste what little money she had saved. Luckily, the Vanderbilt guy and his buddies were heading in her general direction and offered her a ride. They were okay, didn’t hassle her at all and she did pitch in ten bucks for gas. Things were fine until the driver pulled out a Jack Daniel’s bottle. She’d ditched them when they’d stopped for snacks at a Wal-Mart outside of Memphis. She wasn’t about to become a grease spot in the middle of Interstate 40 because of some drunk frat boy.

She had stood at the side of the road with her thumb out, trying not to think about all the Dateline NBC shows she’d seen about serial killers and missing girls. A little later, a girl not much older than Rett picked her up. Her name was Eunice Shumaker, and she drove an older white SUV with a faded pink Mary Kay cosmetics sign plastered on the driver’s door. She offered Rett a ride clear to Little Rock, where Eunice’s mother was having kidney stone surgery. Eunice dropped her off at the Petro truck stop and handed her some samples of Mary Kay sunscreen.

“Do not leave the house without wearing this,” she’d warned. “You might have brown hair, but, girl, you got the skin of a redhead.”

Brother Dwaine had approached Rett not ten minutes later, a concerned look on his grizzled face.

“More coffee?” The waitress stood in front of Rett holding a stained Bunn coffeepot. She had tired brown eyes and a cool-looking heart-shaped mole on her left cheek. Or maybe it was a tattoo.

“No, thanks,” Rett answered, looking down at her plate where a shriveled pickle was the only thing she’d left uneaten.

“Brother Dwaine says this is on his tab,” the waitress said in a gravelly, Tanya Tucker voice that Rett immediately envied. “He does that all the time. Cook just baked some peach pie. Want some?”

Rett almost refused, hating to take more of the minister’s help, but she thought about the crumpled money tucked down into her dusty red boot. Sixty-eight dollars and forty-three cents, and she still had half the country to travel. She’d started out with a hundred bucks but hadn’t paid real close attention to how much she was spending, a trait her mom often pointed out. At the Wal-Mart where she’d ditched the frat boys, she’d bought wool socks, gloves and a red knit hat. It hadn’t occurred to her to stick those things in her backpack when she left Knoxville. But it was the first week of December and cold across most of the country. It had seemed likely that she’d be spending most of her trip on the side of the highway with her thumb out.

At the same time she’d foolishly splurged on a Rhonda Vincent CD, the one the bluegrass singer recorded at the Sheldon Concert Hall in Missouri. Rett had the CD at home, but at the last minute decided to leave it since her backpack had been jammed full, and she knew every song lyric and banjo lick by heart. She sighed. If she had an iPod, that would have solved her problem. But Mom was old school, thought they were a waste of money and Rett never had the discipline to save her own money for one. So, unable to resist, Rett tossed the CD in her basket at Wal-Mart. Somehow it made her feel less scared to have it nestled in her backpack against her favorite Nashville Sounds sweatshirt.

“Sure, I’ll have some pie,” Rett said. She might as well fill up while she could. But, after this, she wouldn’t accept any more charity from the minister. If she was careful, her money would last her until she reached Morro Bay. Then, hating that it was her mom’s stupidly optimistic words that sprang to her mind first, she’d “reassess her opportunities.”

While she waited for the pie, she reached over and rubbed a nail-bitten thumb over a new scar on the black banjo case. Riding in the college student’s van had banged it up more than twenty county fair gigs.

“You can leave your banjo in the cab,” Dwaine had said when they pulled into the truck stop where he was going to have a pinging sound in the engine checked on. “Won’t no one bother it there.”

“That’s okay,” she replied, hugging the case to her chest. “I’ll keep it with me.”

The preacher would probably be shocked to know the banjo inside the raggedy case was worth twenty-five thousand dollars. And even more shocked to learn it wasn’t exactly hers. He’d probably call it stolen. Rett called it getting even.

TWO

Love Mercy

Love Mercy Johnson stared at the bright computer screen, trying to resist the urge to grind her molars. The uncooperative numbers blurred before her eyes. Balancing the books was her least favorite part of co-owning the Buttercream Café. December was usually a good month, but so far they weren’t in the black. She sighed and leaned back in her old office chair, the loud squeak startling her dozing tricolored corgi, Ace. He jumped up from a dead sleep, his full, chesty bark loud enough to rattle the windows of her little bungalow.

She twirled around and laughed. “Calm down, flyboy. It’s only my chair. Like the tin man, it just needs a little oil.” He shot her a distinctly cranky look and flattened his batlike ears before settling back down on the braided rug in front of her gray river stone fireplace. She stretched her arms out and flexed her long fingers, then turned to the screen, pushing back the discouragement that was starting to build a wall in her chest.

“We can figure this out,” she said out loud. “We’ve been in worse financial straits when Cy and I owned the feed store, right?” Ace didn’t lift his head. He was accustomed to Love’s conversations with herself.

Unless the Buttercream raised its prices, something that would cause the locals to howl like wounded wolverines, she and Magnolia would have to dip into the money that they’d been saving for a new stove. Dang. Magnolia had mooned over that commercial stove catalog like a teenager would an American Idol finalist. Three months ago Love had told her the silver and black Viking stove of her dreams was practically being loaded on the delivery truck. That was before the dishwasher had to be repaired—twice—and the ancient garbage disposal had to be replaced. Plus it seemed people just weren’t eating out as often as they used to. Not really a recession, the government kept assuring everyone.

She and her best friend, Magnolia Rosalina Sanchez, bought the restaurant three and a half years ago. It was something they’d fantasized about from the first week they met twenty years ago while working as waitresses in the very same building, back when it was called Freddie’s Fish House. A small inheritance from Love’s great-aunt Bitsy and Magnolia’s ability to squeeze a nickel had helped Love and Magnolia to buy and fix up the café. It had been a struggle from the beginning, but they’d always made a small profit. Until three months ago. Love even used some of the money she’d made when she sold the feed store after Cy died, but she’d had to set back a little to live on. Even though her house was paid off and she lived frugally, that wouldn’t last forever. The café had to start making a profit again, or they’d have to sell it.

“What now?” she said, wishing for what seemed the millionth time in the last thirteen months that her calm-spirited husband was here to give his two cents.

“Since when have you ever taken my advice?” he would have asked.

“Not often,” she’d have answered, grinning. “But it’s always amusing to hear your opinion.” The truth was, he wasn’t really much better than she was at business. He’d been too much of a soft touch to make a real profit at the feed store, always giving away free dog, cat and bird food to grateful rescue groups and allowing folks credit far longer than he should have. He’d been a sucker for every sad story that trotted up the trail.

How she missed his laid-back personality and that foghorn laugh of his, the laugh that rarely failed to make her join in, even if they’d been quarreling. He’d been totally in favor of her and Magnolia buying the café when it came up for sale. Whenever she worked the counter, he’d come in, pretend he didn’t know her and flirt outrageously. He’d leave her a twenty-dollar tip, which she always slipped right into the cash register.

They’d met in Redwater, Kentucky, when he was on leave from Fort Knox. He bid seventy-five dollars for her strawberry-rhubarb pie at the Redwater Baptist Church Vacation Bible School fund-raiser. That was good deal of money in 1967, so it was clear he was announcing to her and the congregation his serious intentions. He was visiting with one of his training buddies, Jim Shore, whose father was head deacon at the church. Both boys were shipped out to Vietnam a few weeks later. After charming her mother, father and twin brother, DJ, Cyrus courted Love the old-fashioned way, through the mail. He wooed her with his square, neat printing, his silly jokes, his kind and thoughtful observations about the Vietnamese people and his mesmerizing descriptions of the Valley oaks, red-tailed hawks and rolling emerald hills of the cattle ranch his family owned on California’s Central Coast. They’d married two weeks after he was discharged from the army.

Love glanced at the calendar. Thursdays were Italian day at the Buttercream. This week Magnolia was serving her famous gnocchi and homemade lasagna. Maybe if they cut down on the cheese and imported sausage in the lasagna, they could save a little money. Or they could make the portions a little smaller. Shoot, they could do that with all the menu items. The media was always saying that people ate too much. Would anyone notice?

She shook her head. Even if no one else knew it, Magnolia would, and she’d not stand for it. Her daddy was from Alabama, but her mama was pure Italian. Magnolia had spent every summer of her first eighteen years visiting her mama’s sisters on Chicago’s Italian West Side. She’d been taught to cook and bake by her aunts Teresa, Marie and Bettina, loving taskmasters who showed her the secret to flaky cannoli and, as Magnolia called it, smack-your-daddy-good spaghetti sauce. Magnolia’s recipes were the one reason, Love believed, that San Celina County Life readers had voted the Buttercream Café as Best Locally Owned Restaurant for the last two years.

Love turned back to the computer and stared at the unchanging figures. Maybe they could find cheaper hamburger buns that still tasted good. Or quit using the incredible maple syrup from that cute little family in Springfield, New Hampshire. It was unbelievably delicious, but was also a lot more expensive than what they could buy at San Celina’s new Costco.

She traced a forefinger over the boat-shaped crystal desk clock next to her computer. It had been a gift to Cy from the guys at the Morro Bay boatyard when he sold his boat shortly after his second round of chemo, when the doctors said things didn’t look hopeful. That had been a hard day for everyone.

Cy bought the battered old boat thirty years ago when their son, Tommy, was ten years old. He and Tommy spent countless hours fishing and bird-watching on that boat. They’d sanded, scraped, painted or stained every bit of the old vessel. Cy named it the Love Mercy, despite her protests or the fact that she’d ridden on it only a handful of times. She loved the ocean, never grew tired of photographing its endless colors and eclectic variations, but she preferred to remain onshore. She always claimed it was because of her eastern Kentucky genes.

“I’m a backwoods girl,” she’d declare when anyone teased her about it. “I prefer solid ground beneath these size-eight feet.” The ocean and its mercurial moods were too unpredictable. She remembered that every time she walked by the tiny Anchor Memorial Park on the Embarcadero. The seven-thousand-pound iron anchor set into a concrete square showing the names of the men and women lost at sea reminded her too much of the coal mines in Kentucky that stole so many people from her life.

The boat was the one subject that Cy and Tommy could always discuss when the pangs of adolescence and later, the disagreements between generations had made everything else unapproachable.

After Tommy up and married Karla Rae Murphy and they moved to Nashville a week after the wedding, when Cy missed their son, he would take the boat out and float aimlessly around Morro Rock, watching the peregrine falcons and their chicks through his old binoculars. Love still used those binoculars to watch the ocean from her backyard, placing her fingers in the same spots worn smooth by Cy’s calloused fingers. It comforted her to put her hands where she knew his had been.

After Tommy was killed fourteen years ago, working on the boat had been Cy’s way of coping with a grief too big for him to talk about, even with her. Love spent hours walking on the beach with only her old Nikon camera for company. The photos she took those first weeks after Tommy’s death were packed away in a trunk. Once developed, she’d never looked at the photos, though they were as fresh in her mind as the gash that scarred her heart the moment she received the phone call about Tommy’s accident from a friend of Karla Rae’s. It always hurt Love that she’d heard the news from someone she didn’t even know.

She remembered in detail each photograph she took those weeks of walking. She could still see the loopy wave-diving surf scoters who reminded her of crazed bodyboarders, the black oystercatchers with their chisel-shaped, blood-colored bills, the frantic western sandpipers who were always running and screaming their high-pitched, teenage-girl screech—a sound that, at the time, she was tempted to mimic—and the peregrine falcons, so majestic and distant, perched high on the sheer edges of Morro Rock, looking down on them all, like they possessed the answers to any number of life’s complex questions. But the ones she found the most heartbreaking were the black turnstones: plump, tiny birds with streaks of white in their plumage. They liked rocky areas and, true to their name, spent most of their time turning over stones and seaweed looking for food. Their frantic searching echoed something deep inside her. She spent hours watching them, capturing their struggles to survive on film. Those first few months she and Cy seemed to live on separate planets, each trying to make sense of why their only child was killed by a drunk driver one rainy night in Nashville. The irony of how much that sounded like a country song was something that occurred to her during those long, solitary walks.

She pushed her chair away from the computer, rubbing her stinging eyes. A walk. Yes, what she needed was a good long walk with Ace. Stop thinking about all the losses of her life and concentrate on the living. Maybe it would clear out the cobwebs, and she’d figure out how to keep the café going, serve their expected high-quality dishes, not lay off anyone or cut back on portions. She’d take the Nikon and see if something inspired her. Clint would be wanting February’s photo and column soon. Then she’d head to the café and talk to Magnolia about how they could cut costs and still keep everyone happy. Wasn’t that every middle-aged woman’s lament—how do I keep everyone happy? For pity’s sake, she thought, who in the heck made us keepers of the world’s contentment?

She was in the kitchen pulling Ace’s leash off the hook when the phone rang.

“Love, you got to get down to the café right now,” Magnolia said.

Love touched her right temple with her fingertips, already feeling a throbbing start. What had broken this time? Where would they get the money to fix it?

“There’s this girl here,” Magnolia said, her voice as big and lush as the curly black hair that drove her crazy. “She says she needs to talk to you. Darlin’, she favors you some around the mouth. I’m thinking she might be one of your granddaughters.”

One of her granddaughters? Love’s stomach twisted into a knot. Over the phone she could hear the café’s normal background sounds, a cacophony of rattling pans and loud laughter. Music twanged from the jukebox, a frenetic, vaguely country-sounding song. Love couldn’t make out who was singing, but it didn’t matter. As talented as they were, all those narrow-hipped, pretty young girls being pushed by the record companies looked and sounded so much alike. What happened to singers who’d actually lived a little life before they sang about it? Patsy Cline would be appalled. Or have a good belly laugh.

“I offered her one of my cannoli, but she turned me down flat.” Magnolia took it real personal when someone turned down her food. “She just ordered coffee. She’s sitting there staring at the wall and drinking it.”

“Maybe she just ate,” Love said, making excuses for the girl before she even knew whether they were related.

“Maybe so.” Magnolia’s voice sounded doubtful. “Her arms are as skinny as broom handles. A little cannoli would do her a world of good. She said she hitchhiked here.”

“Hitchhiked? From where?” The last Love knew, her three granddaughters and their ditzy mother, Karla Rae, lived in Pensacola, Florida, with Karla’s second husband, Pete somebody-or-other, who owned two Ford dealerships. Love hung Ace’s leash back up. “Did she tell you her name?”

“Nope,” Magnolia said. “Believe me, I tried to squeeze it out of her, but she’s a persimmony little thing. All she said is that she has some business with Love Mercy Johnson, then she shut herself up, tight as a tick. What should I tell her? I said I’d call you but that I wasn’t about to just hand out your address to any ole person who asked. I told her that, for all I know, she was a serial killer.”

Love smiled to herself. “What did she say to that?”

“Not a blessed thing. Just nodded her head and held on to her banjo case like I was going to snatch it from her first chance I got.”

Banjo case? Love tried to picture one of her granddaughters fitting her tiny hands around the neck of a banjo. Then again, she hadn’t seen them for almost fourteen years. They wouldn’t be tiny anymore.

“How old does she look?” Love asked. She had three granddaughters: Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Faith Leann. Their names screamed out their mama’s unfulfilled aspirations. Pursuing her singing career was the reason Karla Rae and Tommy had moved to Nashville. Love quickly calculated her granddaughter’s ages; Patsy would be nineteen now, Loretta would be eighteen and Faith would be fourteen. Faith had been a baby when Tommy was killed. He’d been driving to the Piggly Wiggly to buy diapers for her when a truck broadsided his little Toyota.

Lord, don’t let it be Faith, Love automatically sent up a prayer before catching herself. She’d stubbornly been avoiding conversations with God since Cy had died. Still, she didn’t take back the prayer, despite a slight feeling of guilt, because the mental image of a fourteen-year-old girl bearing Tommy’s sweet, round face hitchhiking on a desolate highway made her blood freeze in her veins.

“Eighteen? Twenty?” Magnolia guessed.

“It must be Patsy or Loretta,” she said, only slightly relieved. “I’ll walk on over. Tell her any food she orders is on my tab. Maybe she doesn’t have any money and is too embarrassed to say so.”

“Okay, but my guess is she has one of those eating disorders so popular with movie stars and whatnot.”

“Let’s hope she’s just broke.” Love wouldn’t have a clue about how to deal with an eating disorder.

After she hung up, she thought of a question she should have asked Magnolia. Did the girl have red hair? If so, she would probably be Patsy. Loretta had brown hair, like Tommy. At least she did all those years ago. So many years, it felt like someone else’s life.

She walked over to the kitchen window that looked out onto her small, grass-covered backyard. Morro Bay and the Pacific Ocean looked like a huge sheet of gray steel. So flat you could fry bacon on it, she could imagine Cy’s voice saying in his calm, even baritone that always held a soupçon of laughter.

Soupçon. Now there’s a great word. Maybe she could work it into “Love’s View,” the column she wrote once a month for San Celina County Life, a local magazine delivered free to everyone in the county. Well, it wasn’t actually a column, she’d tell people, more of a columnette or a column-lite. Though she loved to read and found individual words fascinating, she didn’t actually like to write, so what she did was take a photograph of something in San Celina County and then write a short essay about it. The shorter the better. Frankly, she’d be happier if she didn’t have to write anything at all, just let the photograph speak for itself. Whenever she tried to explain what she was trying to say with a photo, it seemed to diminish the picture. It was like admitting she’d failed.

January’s photo and column were done. She’d taken a picture of an elegantly graceful spider with patterns on her back that reminded Love of a Navajo rug. She—for some reason Love thought of all spiders as female—had built an intricate web at the side of the house, and Love had been observing its progress for days. Her photograph caught it early in the morning, the sun-bright dewdrops on the filaments twinkling like diamonds. In the web, an unfortunate fly awaited its ghastly fate. Her simple caption, “Bless this food we are about to receive,” was sure to be misunderstood, causing people to write in to the magazine demanding that she explain what she meant. Some people would be certain that she was somehow being blasphemous or, even worse, political (though they wouldn’t actually be able to explain why). The boys at the Rowdy Pelican saloon would give her the thumbs-up when she delivered their weekly two dozen Mexican chocolate cupcakes, appreciating her warped sense of humor. It was her shortest “essay” yet. Clint Lawhead, the magazine’s owner and publisher, would just laugh, congratulate her for making people think and tease her that it would have saved him a bundle if he’d negotiated paying her by the word rather than the 150 dollars she received for each column.

Soupçon. It meant a very small amount. She imagined a photo of one of the café’s white soup bowls holding a teaspoon of bright red tomato soup, maybe a dented Campbell’s soup can next to it? No, too Andy Warhol. Besides, she didn’t really know what she was trying to say: that soup, which symbolized food, was too expensive? No, not a good thing to put out there when she was contemplating raising the prices at the café. Still, she liked the way the word sounded. And even better, it was a single word. It could be her shortest column ever. But the idea needed work.

She looked down at Ace, who’d followed her to the window, wagging his soupçon of a tail, still hoping for a walk. She bent down and ran her hand along the white, airplane-shaped marking on the black ruff of his neck, the reason Cy had named him Ace. She scratched the top of the dog’s nubby butt, making him grin like a wolf.

“If this girl is my granddaughter, she should have given me a soupçon of warning about her visit, don’t you think?” Ace cocked his head, his dark, shiny eyes giving her an intelligent look that always made her wonder if he’d one day answer her in a thoughtful Timothy Dalton voice.

When Cy was first diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, he bought Ace from a breeder in Paso Robles. Always a planner, he told her he didn’t want her to be alone after he was gone. Ace, true to the corgi breed, was a handful from the beginning, and he’d accomplished what Cy had desired, forcing Love to go outside for walks and games of ball even on days when she would have just as soon stayed in her pajamas with the curtains closed, brooding about the unfairness of life, mad at God, uncontrollable cancer cells, drunk drivers and every happy person in the world. Yes, her husband was wise in bringing this crazy little dog into her life.

Still and all, you old coyote, she scolded Cy in her head, I wasn’t any less sad when you left me. He isn’t you.

“Well, flyboy,” she said to the dog. “Looks like we’ll be having us some company. If she is who we think she is, anyway.”

How long would this girl want to stay? What did she want? Would she understand why Love hadn’t been in contact all these years? The sad truth was, her granddaughter had only heard her mother’s side of the story. Heaven only knew what the girl thought of her grandma Love.

Karla Rae had never liked Love or Cy much, probably because they hadn’t been very discreet about their displeasure over her and Tommy’s impulsive move to Nashville.

Tommy had met Karla Rae when she was working as a cocktail waitress at a Los Angeles hotel where he was attending a Farm Bureau convention. She’d come to California with a band, which broke up shortly after they arrived when the lead singer landed a solo gig. After knowing each other only three weeks, Tommy and Karla Rae were engaged. They married a month later under the same scarred oak tree on the Johnson ranch where Cy and Love had said their second marriage vows, shortly after his return from Vietnam. Their first legal wedding had been at the little brown church in Redwater, Kentucky, where they’d met.

In Tennessee, Tommy found work with a local cabinetmaker, and Karla Rae, with her decent if unremarkable Sunday morning soprano voice, made the rounds on Music Row and haunted open mike nights in the city’s numerous bars. They had two babies in two years and a third one four years later. Tommy called Love and Cy, thrilled each time, but with each child, Karla Rae seemed to sound perpetually more sullen. She’d not gotten any closer to her dream than singing cover songs in tourist-filled honky-tonks.

After Tommy’s funeral, there had been a small gathering at their rented house in Nashville. Her father, who lived in Ohio, had sent flowers but couldn’t take off work. Karla Rae’s mother had died years before. That made Love a little more sympathetic to her sometimes snippy daughter-in-law. What kind of parent didn’t drop everything to come support their child during a time like this? After most of the guests had left, Love went in the kitchen and started washing cups and glasses. As she worked, she wondered about asking Karla Rae if she wanted to come to Morro Bay with the girls and maybe start a new life on the Central Coast. She was picturing the girls playing in the Johnson hay barn where Tommy had played when Karla Rae burst through the swinging kitchen door. She collapsed on one of the red vinyl kitchen chairs.

Meet the Author

Earlene Fowler was raised in La Puente, California, by a Southern mother and a Western father. She lives in Southern California with her husband, Allen, a large number of quilts, and twenty pairs of cowboy boots.

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Love Mercy 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ProudGrandma More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I have enjoyed her Benni Harper books very much and these new characters are also a real treat. Hopefully we can look forward to more of both in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so very much and hope that Ms. Fowler writes more books about these wonderful characters. Recently I heard Earlene Fowler speaking at the Tucson Festival of Books -- it was great! This book deserves to be a best-seller.
Cathy Hardesty More than 1 year ago
I hope Earlene Fowler writes more stories about these characters. I loved them. I want to hear more about them.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book by Earlene Fowler so much, I ordered a hard bound copy for a Christmas gift. You should have more copies in the store. Love Mercy hasn't seen her granddaughters since her son died 14 years ago, and now that her husband has also passed away, she thinks she is alone without family. Then her 18 year old granddaughter rolls into town on a big rig, having hitch-hiked all the way across the Rockies. Her granddaughter is estranged from her mother, wants to be a country singer, and has stolen a banjo worth thousands of dollars from her ex-boyfriend because she found out he'd fathered a child with her sister. The two women begin to build a relationship of mutual love and trust that spans the generations, filling the emptiness in both of their hearts. In the meantime, Love Mercy must learn to forgive her ex-daughter-in-law for keeping her away from her grandchildren, while she also helps her beloved father and mother-in-law deal with the challenges of old age. Fans of the Benni Harper mysteries will recognize some of the auxilary characters, and will love re-visiting Morro Bay and Morro Rock and the rolling hills of the central coast of California. This is a book full of love and mercy and grace without being preachy or sugary-sweet. The characters are gritty, real and honest. I will be reading it again and again.
Doll_B More than 1 year ago
i found this book to be an interesting novel. the characters were very believable. the plot was captivating and i kept the book close by so that if i got a minute i was right back into it.
MimiTX More than 1 year ago
I have read all of her books. She carries her older characters from previous books into this book but has started a new storyline. Not much mystery but still a good read for any age.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had never read this author before, but was curious. I enjoy stories about women and how they relate to one another, whether they be family, friends or just living in a small town. The granddaughter finding her grandmother as an adult-it amde for a good story. It was a very satisfying read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Earlene Fowler introduces a delightful new set of characters in "Love Mercy," and also includes cameo appearances from her other books, fast-forwarded into the current day. It's like visiting with old friends while meeting new ones, broadening the circle. She scores a hit with this story about three generations of women, each facing her own essential questions of identity and supporting each other throughout that challenge. I also enjoy the interwoven nature of the neighborhood, how these characters are not left on their own to struggle, but supported, challenged, and celebrated in various ways by other friends and neighbors. The major characters are realistic and likable, questioning themselves about their motives, faith, trust, abilities, and relationships. By the end of the book, each has grown considerably, but there's no neat ribbon tying up all the loose ends, so one can hope for continuation of the stories!
oliviathecat More than 1 year ago
Earlene Fowler has done it again with Love Mercy. Although I favor the Benni Harper series, her books outside the series have been wonderful. I could not put it down. She is an excellent writer and this is well worth the read. Her characters are always great and you remember them with affection.
MillicentCrosby More than 1 year ago
Earlene Fowler does it again - another set of characters that you instantly relate to and wish you knew in real life. This book is her 2nd mainstream novel (outside of her award winning Benni Harper series). She takes us into the estranged Mother-in-law relationship, which brings with it grandchildren she doesn't get to see. When one of the granddaughters shows up on her Grandmother's doorstep running from an ex-boyfriend, you wonder how this new found relationship will go. Earlene has a way of making you feel like you know these characters. I'd love to eat at the Buttercream Cafe, walk away with one of the creamers, hear Rhett play the banjo, and be part of the ranching life. Run out and buy this book, along with The Saddlemaker's Wife (her 1st mainstream with characters in Bishop), as well as all 12-13 of the Benni Harper Series, and you'll have yourself a grand time reading the summer away, and making new friends. Buying new books is the best way to support your favorite authors - it's like a vote in an election, and we know the one with the most votes wins! Be sure to visit her website (www.earlenefowler.com), see her book trailer, and read her new blog.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Morro Bay, California, Love Mercy Johnson has taken in stride recently becoming a widow as she is generally contented with her life though she still ¿talks¿ with her Cy and misses his foghorn laugh. She enjoys writing a column and taking photos for a magazine, working on her in-laws' cattle ranch and co-owning the Buttercream Café except for balancing the books. Her only regret is her rift with her grandchildren; she wishes she could patch things up with them, but they have long memories.

Out of the blue, her eighteen years old granddaughter, Loretta Lynn "Rett" arrives in Morro Bay after hitching across the country to escape from a relationship that turned ugly. Whereas Rett dreams of making it as a song writer or as a truck driver, Mercy wants her granddaughter in her life. Still they struggle to make amends, but the divide remains wide until a crisis forces grandma and grandchild to decide to unite or remain apart.

This is a profound character study of two women divided by a family feud that keeps each from reaching out to the other; something both emotionally need and want. Readers will admire Mercy, whose asides to Cy enable readers to understand her. Rett brings the youthful enthusiasm that anything is possible. Rotating perspective with Benni Harper playing a minor role, Earlene Fowler proves Rett¿s theory of life and relationships as she and her grandma hold the engaging plot together.

Harriet Klausner