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By Annie McClain
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Annie McClain
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe car twisted and turned, barely keeping its wheels on the roadway, the driver tired, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. Kevin hated this stretch of road but was thankful that he would soon be home and in Keri's arms. He was glad the job in New York City was over, although it deeply concerned him that he was terminated so quickly. As a CPA, Kevin knew he'd have to work for some companies with questionable reputations and Tony Collione's empire certainly fit into that category. But, Kevin realized, a job was a job and with his upcoming marriage to Keri, he wanted to make as much money as possible, because his secret plan was to take her to Europe for their honeymoon.
Kevin and Keri had met in college—he had been in accounting and Keri in business management. They weren't in any classes together, but Kevin would see her walking to her classes and he knew someday he'd have to meet her. She was the type of girl who drew attention seemingly without being aware of her beauty. Keri hadn't attended the many parties at school like the other girls, so Kevin had thought she may have been shy, but he was determined to one day talk to her. The day he finally did talk to her, she wore a yellow dress that flowed around her tiny body but, unbeknownst to her, betrayed her slender shape and ample breasts. Later, Kevin told her that he could not resist following her and knew she must have thought he was some kind of stalker. But Keri told him she was very much aware that he liked her, and she was just waiting for him to approach her. Unlike a lot of the college students, Kevin was always neatly dressed in slacks and jerseys, or turtlenecks in colder weather, and was sought after by many girls at the college. When he finally called her name that sunny afternoon, she turned and smiled at him. Soon they began dating. It was apparent to both of them that they would someday marry. For now, though, with college loans hanging over their heads, they decided to wait until those were paid off.
As Kevin continued to think back to his college days, he sped along the narrow, country road through the black night. From out of nowhere, headlights glared in his rearview mirror. Kevin swore and grasped the wheel tighter, slowing down to allow this maniac to pass. The other car whipped into the passing lane and without warning, rammed into the side of Kevin's car, forcing it off the roadway, where it tore through the guardrail and tumbled down a steep embankment. His car rolled over and over until it finally slammed into a tree at the bottom of the hill, bursting into flames that lit up the night. The other car had stopped a short distance up the road, and now the driver was backing up until he reached the twisted, broken guardrail. He emerged from the vehicle and walked over to inspect the burning wreckage below. After looking up and down the roadway and seeing no one in sight, the man casually got into his car and drove off.
Chapter TwoIt was autumn and the trees were ablaze with color in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. A soft breeze swept through her golden hair and her skirt fluttered around her shapely legs as she walked the lone path leading to the cool, clear, sparkling water in the pond she knew and loved so well. This was Keri's favorite place to go when she needed time to think. It had been a long time since she had been here. Wonderful memories of Kevin swept through her mind as she wove her way through the high grass until she came to the clearing that overlooked the pond. It was here, lying in the deepmossygrass,theyfirstmadeloveandlaterplannedtheirfuturetogether. God, how she missed him. All their dreams had been shattered when Kevin was killed by a hit-and-run driver. By the tire marks, it looked like the other car was passing Kevin and, for some reason, swerved into the side of his car. It had careened off the road and down an embankment—then burst into flames. The police said he was probably killed instantly. Tire imprints along the roadway could not be traced, and the police hadn't gotten anywhere with their investigation. Tears streamed down Keri's face; she felt her life was over. What was there to live for with Kevin gone?
A pheasant fluttered its wings close by, and she jumped in fright. Breathing heavily and holding her chest, she laughed at herself. Wild animals were always scampering around this area and she should have been prepared, but her mind was on other things. As she walked on, she tried to make some sense of what had happened to Kevin. Why did he have to be taken from her? She heard the ripple of the stream and quickened her step. The recent rains had filled the tiny stream to capacity and the pond formed by the surging water was deeper than usual. To her great delight, a whitetail deer was drinking along the bank, its beautiful long, delicate legs outstretched, its hooves sunk into the mud. Detecting her scent, his head jerked up and he darted off in a flurry of water and mud, his tail waving high in the air as he hurdled over the blackberry bushes nearby. Keri smiled and crept closer, hoping to see some of the large rainbow trout that sometimes lay in the depths of the pond before making their way down the mountain. She saw one gliding along the bottom, then another and another—how beautiful they were. How beautiful this place was. She loved it here. But thoughts of Kevin eventually brought on the tears, and once again she asked God why he had taken him when he was so young and had so much to live for.
After about an hour of lying on the soft, green mossy grass and absorbing the hot rays of the afternoon sun, Keri decided it was time to go back down the mountain. This was a place to think, to dream, and to face reality. She knew she had to get on with her life. Kevin had been dead six months now, and it was time to move on. She was so grateful for the many wonderful friends who supported her through her pain, but Keri had to deal with this herself. She had to start over. Carrying her shoes, she strolled around the clearing, the moss squeezing between her toes like cotton. The bushes were loaded with blackberries, soon to be picked. It was getting late in the afternoon as she started down the path to her parents' house.
Her mother was in the yard hanging clothes on the line. Keri heard her humming and smiled. As she walked over to join her mother, she waved to her dad who was working in the garden.
"What a lovely day, isn't it honey," Mrs. Delane said to Keri. "Did you have a nice walk?"
"Yes, I did Mom," Keri said as she left out a quivering sigh. "You know, mother, I am having a hard time. I can't stop thinking of what might have been. NO, what should have been!" Keri broke down into a gentle, weeping as her mother wrapped her arms around her.
"I know, honey. When the time is right, you'll start to let go of him. We all loved Kevin and miss him."
She and her mother walked arm in arm into the comfortable little cottage. Keri walked over to the fire place and gazed at the picture on the mantle. It was the picture of her and Kevin after the graduation ceremony. He was beaming, with him arm around her waist and his diploma in his hand as though he had just conquered the world. With his reddish brown hair, slightly windblown, those perfectly straight teeth gleaming and those dark eyes sparkling, he looked invincible. She lifted the Phi Beta Kappa key that he had given her that dangled from the corner of the picture frame. She closed it gently in the palm of her hand and held it to her heart. She thought back to her first year at college and remembered how they met.
Keri Dulane graduated from McKinley High School with the class of 1979. She had a lot of friends in high school, but most of them had moved away, either to college or to jobs in other towns. Freemont was a small town and there weren't many opportunities. She earned her college degree in business management. Her first year there, she had met Kevin Wagner. He was sitting under one of the great oak trees on campus, studying, when Keri walked by. Kevin couldn't take his eyes off of her. In a daze, he got up, gathered his books, and followed her like a puppy dog. Keri laughed to herself when she saw him, because he hadn't spoken a word, just walked behind her with this strange, fixed stare in his eyes. She wasn't frightened because she had heard from some of the girls that he was harmless—and he was so very handsome. He played football and ran track in high school and although he hadn't had time for athletics in college, he visited the gym every chance he got. His slightly long, reddish brown hair was held back at the nape of his neck with a rubber band and a few loose tendrils fell onto his forehead and rested on the frame of his dark glasses. Finally catching up with her, Kevin had started a conversation about school and asked her what she was studying. This began the beautiful relationship that was supposed to end in marriage, children, and a life of "happily ever after."
After graduating from college, Keri was not lacking in job opportunities. Her father was deeply disappointed when she refused to work for his small construction company, but he understood when she told him she needed to start a new life. She accepted a position in the small town of Clayborne with the law firm of Robbins, Shaw, Meredith, and Smith, replacing the office manager who was going to retire. Keri was hired the same day she was interviewed. She had some experience in a law office because she worked part-time in various law firms during summer breaks when the regular secretaries were on vacation. The work was enjoyable but Keri never considered entering that field. She enjoyed what she was doing and spent as much time as possible in the office and away from her lonely apartment.
Chapter ThreeIt was Monday morning and the music blared loudly, waking Keri from a sound sleep. She rolled over and hit the snooze button. The drive back to Clayborne the evening before was uneventful, and it only took an hour to reach her apartment. The building was nicely maintained and she enjoyed living there. Her neighbors were elderly, and everyone kept to themselves. Once in a while she would see her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Simmons, on the adjoining veranda caring for her herbs. She loved to raise all kinds of herbs and would share them with Keri, telling her how to use each one.
While leisurely combing her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, Keri suddenly remembered that Mr. Robbins, the senior member of the firm, had told her Friday afternoon before he left for the day that he wanted to talk to her Monday morning about her job. It troubled her all weekend. The coffee was ready in her small kitchen and she slowly made her way to the cupboard to retrieve her cup.
Keri's apartment was small but comfortable. Plants were everywhere, thriving beautifully in every room. Off her living room was a small veranda with just enough room for her lounge chair and the flowers she so lovingly grew and nurtured. Since she was up a little early this morning, she took her cup outside, sat on the lounge chair, and propped her feet up. She listened intently for the weather forecast on the radio. Thankfully it was going to be a nice day.
Usually Keri wore suits to the office. She never knew when she'd have to meet with one of the attorneys, and she wanted to always look professional. At least that's what she was taught in college. With her blonde hair tied back and a dab of makeup, she was ready to go. Often she thought she should wear more makeup, but then she'd tell herself that she wasn't there to impress anyone so why bother. She didn't realize that she didn't need makeup or anything else to turn the head of every guy who came in the office.
Every day Keri walked through a park to get to her office, and during lunch she would often go back there to feed the squirrels. They would scamper up the trees and run rapidly to safety when they sensed danger, which was usually a dog or some child wanting to play with them. Most times, however, Keri would sit and watch them gather up the tidbits she scattered for them in their little front paws. They would munch away, sometimes filling their mouths to capacity, and then dart up to their nests high in the trees.
Today, however, she didn't take time to notice the squirrels or other people in the park. She was getting more concerned about meeting with Mr. Robbins. Pat, the receptionist, greeted her with a pleasant "good morning" as she gathered the mail from her. Keri worked her way down the hallway to her office in the far corner of the first floor. Since it was also near the kitchen area, everyone in the firm spoke to her at some time during the day as they passed in and out getting snacks or refilling coffee cups. Keri's office was comfortable, and when the door was closed, she had the privacy necessary to do the confidential tasks assigned to her.
After putting her lunch in the refrigerator in the kitchen, Keri sat at her desk and started going over the mail. Just then her intercom sounded and Mr. Robbins summoned her to his office. She didn't know why she suddenly broke out into a cold sweat.
She gathered her notepad and walked, she hoped confidently, toward Mr. Robbins's office, which was on the opposite end of the first floor. All the happenings in the office over the past few weeks ran through her mind as she tried to pinpoint something that would warrant such a special meeting. As senior partner, he had the nicest office. All the furniture, which included the huge desk, a credenza that covered the entire length of the wall behind his desk, and the bookcase that covered another wall, were handcrafted out of wild cherry taken from his farm in Maine. He was a very imposing figure sitting behind the desk, and everyone, including the lawyers, was intimidated by him. Active files were piled high on the desk, although the stack wasn't near as large as it used to be since Herb decided he'd back off litigation work and let the younger attorneys go into Court. He maintained only those cases he had originally been involved in hoping to retire before he got much older. A rolodex near his phone contained all the numbers he needed and if the numbers weren't there, Aggie was always able to locate them quickly for him. Keri visited with Mr. Robbins quite often since he basically ran the office through her. She enjoyed his confidence in her ability and she strived to please him. For some reason, however, she had a feeling something was different this morning.
Aggie, Mr. Robbins's secretary, was busy at her desk, but when Keri approached, she smiled and informed Mr. Robbins on the intercom that she was waiting.
"Go ahead in, Keri. He's expecting you."
Keri returned the smile and proceeded into the office. There she took a seat in the chair directly in front of the massive desk and opened her notebook, ready to take whatever notes were given to her.
"Good morning, Keri. How are you today?"
"I'm quite well, thank you, Mr. Robbins. What can I do for you?"
Herb Robbins stood up and motioned behind her.
"Keri, I'd like you to meet my nephew, Shay Robbins."
Startled that someone else was in the room, Keri quickly turned to gaze into the eyes of the most devastatingly handsome man she had ever seen. Shay rose from his chair and walked toward Keri to shake her hand.
"Hello, Keri. My uncle has told me a lot about you. It's nice to finally meet you."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Robbins."
"Oh, please, Keri, call me Shay."
"Shay will be visiting with us for a while," Herb Robbins announced. "I want you to show him the basics of how we run our office. He'll be spending most of his time with me and the other partners, but I want you to set aside an hour or so a day for him."
"Mr. Robbins, I'll be happy to do whatever you wish, but the things I could show Mr. Robbins is hardly going to take an hour every day." Keri froze. What was the matter with her? She realized what she had said and stared into the stern, cold eyes of her boss.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Robbins. Of course, I'll show Mr. Robbins ... Shay ... everything I can."
"Good. You can start right after lunch tomorrow. I'll be showing Shay around this morning, and we'll drop by for a few minutes later on. Thank you, Keri."
Dismissed, Keri rose from her seat. She smiled at Mr. Robbins and told Shay it was nice to meet him, and said she'd see them later. Closing the door behind her, she headed back to her office on wobbly legs.
"Did you meet him? Isn't he the most handsome hunk you've ever laid eyes on? God!" Pat always did have a way with words. With a quick glance at Pat, Keri confirmed that she had met Shay Robbins and kept moving toward her office.
Excerpted from Pond Memories by Annie McClain Copyright © 2011 by Annie McClain. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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