In her sequel to Doesn't She Look Natural, Hunt's story moves into heavier themes as Jennifer Graham attempts to rebuild her life after her divorce. Jennifer, just shy of 40 and at the end of her first semester of mortuary school, is happy that her two boys are settling into the small Florida town of Mount Dora. Business is brisk at the family's inherited Victorian house, which doubles as Fairlawn Funeral Home, under the watchful eye of the elderly live-in embalmer Gerald Huffman. However, things unravel quickly; 13-year-old Clay has fallen in with a trio of shoplifting, rabble-rousing ruffians, and tragedy seems inevitable. When Jennifer unexpectedly discovers she has an illegitimate half-sister with a fundamentalist bigot stepfather, Jennifer's belief in God's love and mercy is strained-and more tests of faith loom. Hunt is a prolific, competent author who easily handles the mechanics of her novel. The present-tense narration gives the story an unusual urgency. This novel is more issue-driven than the first, and while the prolife and racial equality themes are weighty, the message of unconditional love helps leaven any preachiness. Readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will find this one more somber, but still engrossing. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
She Always Wore Redby Angela Elwell Hunt
Jennifer Graham—mother, student, and embalmer's apprentice—could use a friend. She finds one in McLane Larson, a newcomer to Mt. Dora, and is delighted to learn that the young woman is expecting a baby. While McLane's soldier-husband serves overseas, Jen promises to support McLane and then learns that her tie to this woman goes far deeper than friendship. When a difference of opinion threatens their relationship, Jennifer discovers weaknesses in her own character . . . and a faith far stronger than she had imagined. Tyndale House Publishers
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She Always Wore Red
By Angela Hunt TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2008
Angela Elwell Hunt
All right reserved.
Chapter One The nameless cadaver on the cover of my anatomy textbook-a middle-aged man who is no longer black, white, or brown-would be counted among the orange in a census of the embalmed.
Someone should have adjusted the tint before they juiced him.
I flip the book open and study the color photographs of the cadaver's aortic arch and brachiocephalic veins, then close my eyes and try to commit the multisyllable words to memory. Here I am, near the end of my first semester of mortuary school, and I'm still having trouble keeping my veins and arteries straight.
Behind me, an irate mother in the carpool line is honking, though we have a good three minutes before kindergarten dismissal. She probably has to pick up her child and get back to work before the end of her lunch hour. While I sympathize with her impatience, I wish she'd lay off the horn so I can concentrate.
I open one eye and examine the book propped on my steering wheel. The right internal jugular branches off the right and left brachiocephalic veins, which lie outside the brachiocephalic trunk. Brachiocephalic sounds like some kind of dinosaur. Bugs would like that word.
I turn the book sideways, but the photograph on the page looks nothing like a prehistoric animal. In fact, I find it hard to believe that anything like this jumble of tunnels and tubes exists in my body, but skin covers myriad mysteries.
I snap the book shut as the bell at Round Lake Elementary trills through the warm afternoon. The kindergarten classes troop out into the sunshine, their hands filled with lunch boxes and construction paper cutouts. The tired teachers stride to the curb and peer into various vehicles, then motion the appropriate children forward.
My spirits lift when my red-haired cherub catches my eye and waves. Bradley "Bugs" Graham waits until his teacher calls his name and skips toward me.
"Hey, Mom." He climbs into the backseat of the van as his teacher holds the door.
"Hey yourself, kiddo." I check to make sure he's snapped his seat belt before smiling my thanks at his teacher. "Did you have a good morning?"
"Yep." He leans forward to peek into the front seat. "Do we hafta go home, or can we stop to get a snack?"
My thoughts veer toward the to-do list riding shotgun in the front passenger seat. I still have to run to the grocery store, swing by the dry cleaner's to pick up Gerald's funeral suit, and stop to see if the bookstore has found a used copy of Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Second Edition. Textbooks are usually pricey, but medical textbooks ought to come with fixed-rate mortgages. Still, I need to find that book if I'm going to complete my online course by the end of the semester.
"I'll pull into a drive-through," I tell Bugs, knowing he won't mind. "You want McDonald's?"
He nods, so I point the van toward Highway 441.
"Mr. Gerald make any pickups today?" Bugs asks.
I ease onto the highway, amazed at how easily my children have accepted the ongoing work of the funeral home. "None today."
I glance in the rearview mirror and see Bugs waving his construction paper creation. "Yes."
"It's a stegosaurus. Can I give it to Gerald?"
"I think he'd like that." I force a smile as an unexpected wave of grief rises within me. Like a troublesome relative who doesn't realize she's worn out her welcome, sorrow often catches me by surprise. Gerald, the elderly embalmer at Fairlawn, has become a surrogate father for my sons. Thomas, my ex-husband and my children's father, has been gone for months, but in some ways he's never been closer. He lies in the Pine Forest Cemetery, less than two miles from our house, so we can't help but think of him every time we drive by.
I get Bugs a vanilla ice cream cone at the McDonald's drive-through, and then we run to the grocery store and the dry cleaner. I'll call the bookstore later. No sense in going there when a simple phone call will suffice.
Finally we turn into the long driveway that leads to the Fairlawn Funeral Home.
Gerald has poured a new concrete pad next to the garage, and as I park on it, Bugs notices that the call car is gone. "Uh-oh." He looks at me. "Somebody bit the dust."
I press my lips together. A couple of months ago I would have mumbled something about the old station wagon maybe needing a wash, but now I know there's no reason to shield my children from the truth-we are in the death care industry. The squeamishness I felt when we first arrived vanished the day I walked into the prep room and gloved up to help Gerald lay out my ex-husband.
"Come in the house," I tell my son. "I'll pour you a glass of milk."
Chapter Two Randolph Harris crosses his leg at the knee and runs his fingers along the trouser leg to reinforce the pleat.
The private detective across the desk swivels his chair toward the wall and brings the phone closer to his mouth, employing body language intended to remind his guest that he is not part of the telephone conversation.
Randolph folds his hands and struggles to be patient. He set this appointment for one, canceling two patients in order to drive to this shabby strip mall and meet with Dexter Duggan. He expects a modicum of professionalism in return, but no secretary greeted him at the door, nor did the sandy-haired detective invite him into the inner office until five minutes after the appointed time. When the phone rang at six after, Randolph expected Duggan to ignore the call, but instead the man picked up and launched into a whispered conversation.
Randolph heaves an indiscreet sigh and looks around the office. A laminated map of North Carolina hangs above the desk, with pushpins marking the cities of Raleigh, Charlotte, and Asheville. A bookcase against the paneled wall holds rows of phone books, city names printed on the spines above logos of walking fingers. The second shelf holds camera equipment-several old Nikons, long lenses with capped ends, a battered leather bag, a stainless steel canister with a black lid. A couple of framed photographs balance on the lowest shelf, crowded by a pair of mud-caked boots, a Durham Bulls baseball cap, and a smudged panama hat. He focuses on the photographs: a smiling boy, probably six or seven, and a bikini-clad woman standing next to a ski boat.
Oh yes, Dexter Duggan is a class act.
Randolph will stand and walk out if Mr. Duggan doesn't end his call by one fifteen. The hands on the clock behind the desk shift, trimming Randolph's wait to three minutes.
Content now that he's decided to waste no more than a quarter hour on this appointment, Randolph studies the detective. Duggan's jeans and flannel shirt would be more appropriate for a hunter than the owner of a detective agency, but perhaps the fellow has been spying on someone from a pickup. The cramped office suggests that the Duggan Detective Agency is a one-man operation, though someone must be employed to answer the phones. Then again, perhaps a detective can get by with voice mail, call forwarding, and a cell phone. After all, a private snoop doesn't have to deal with insurance companies, physician referrals, and clients who are mentally unbalanced.
Randolph smiles when the clock advances to 1:13. Duggan is nodding now, submitting to whatever is being stipulated on the phone. Is he talking to an unhappy client? No, this has to be a wife or a girlfriend. For Duggan to take the call in the middle of a meeting with a prospective client, whoever's on the line must wield considerable influence in the man's life.
The minute hand moves again. In sixty seconds Randolph will leave and find another private detective. The Charlotte yellow pages list twenty-eight independent investigators; any one of the other twenty-seven is bound to have better manners than Dexter Duggan.
Randolph lifts his chin and watches the second hand sweep around the clock's face. He'll be on his way in-
"Sorry." Duggan drops the receiver onto the phone, then leans forward and folds his arms on the desk. "I've got a woman checking out a suspected industrial theft in Gastonia, and I've been expecting her call." The way Duggan hunches in his chair like a scolded puppy contradicts his story, but calling attention to his prevarication will not strengthen the client-detective bond.
Randolph straightens in his seat. "I'm assuming my case will receive the same care and attention ... should we come to an agreement."
"Of course." Mr. Duggan flashes a boyish grin. "What brings you to my office, Mr. Harris? Asset investigation? Suspected infidelity?"
"It's Doctor Harris. I'm a psychiatrist in private practice." Randolph clears his throat. "I'm here because my daughter, McLane Harris, is missing. I'd like you to find her."
Duggan lifts a brow. "I don't search for children until the police have exhausted their resources."
"This is not a criminal matter, nor is my daughter a kidnap victim. She's twenty-four and quite independent. She left home two and a half months ago, and I haven't heard from her. I'm beginning to worry."
Duggan's gaze darts to Randolph's bare ring finger. "Could she be living with your ex-wife?"
"My wife died several months ago."
"Oh. Sorry." The man doesn't miss a beat. "Have you spoken to the police? You know, to rule out foul play?"
Randolph folds his hands. "I see no need to involve the authorities when it's quite clear my daughter purposely left home. She packed suitcases and took most of her belongings."
Duggan takes off his reading glasses and deliberately cleans the lenses with his shirttail. "A twenty-four-year-old woman has every right to leave home. She may not want to be found. If you contact her, she may be upset."
"I'm her father," Randolph drawls, his voice heavy with irritation. "Why should she be upset?"
"I'm just saying. Not everybody wants to be found. If she's done nothing illegal and she's not in danger, she may take offense at your snooping into her business. Some people are better if you leave 'em alone awhile; they come around once they have time to think."
Randolph forces himself to take a deep breath and temper his frustration. "I didn't say she wasn't in danger, but she could be. She's being inappropriately influenced by a man who does not have her best interests at heart."
"Are we talking scam artist, pimp, or bad boyfriend?"
Randolph tamps down another spike of irritation. This man deals with human garbage every day. He can't be blamed for assuming the worst. "Listen," he says, resting his hand on his knee, "my situation is serious, but it's not what you're thinking. My daughter is involved with a man; she imagines herself in love with him. It's impossible, of course, and marriage would be unthinkable, but I'm sure they've either eloped or they're living together somewhere. The man is a marine, so he shouldn't be hard to locate."
Duggan pulls a legal pad from beneath a stack of magazines and picks up a pencil. "Does your daughter have credit cards?"
"She has two Visa accounts. I'm a cosigner on both. She took the maximum cash advance on both cards the day before she left. I don't think she'll be using them again."
"Stuck you with the bill, did she?"
"I don't care about the money. I care about my daughter, and I want her home before this man ruins her life."
Duggan makes a note, then taps his pencil on the tablet. "Does she have a cell phone?"
"She left it on the nightstand. She's no fool. She knows I know that number. I would imagine she's bought a new phone."
"Did she take her car?"
"Yes. A 2006 Altima, dark green, North Carolina plates. I can get you the tag number."
"Have you reported the car stolen?"
Randolph shakes his head. "How could she steal what's rightfully hers? I'm not reporting her to the police."
"Fine. So tell me about the boyfriend."
"She's known him only a few months. He's older than she is. They met at some club she frequented with her college friends. I never met him."
"She never brought him home?"
"I wouldn't allow him in the house."
Randolph stiffens at the question. "Is that germane?"
The detective blinks. "Beg pardon?"
"I fail to see why my reasons should apply to this conversation."
Duggan shrugs. "I'm curious, is all. Your daughter meets a young man, but you won't let her bring him home. She's twenty-four and in love, but you won't support her. Anybody would want to know what you have against this guy."
Randolph grits his teeth. "You don't understand."
"If you don't explain, I never will."
In the office next door, someone flushes a toilet. The sound of swirling water and humming pipes fills the office as Randolph leans forward. "Look here, Mr. Duggan-I raised my daughter to be a God-fearing Christian woman. Some kids come out of college with crazy ideas but not McLane. She maintained a sterling character and impeccable reputation until she met him."
Duggan leans back and sets his tablet on his knee. "So what he'd do? Besides sweeping your daughter off her feet."
"He met her in bars, for one thing, and McLane wasn't the sort to hang out in such places. One night, worried about her, I found her car and waited in the parking lot until she came out. That's where I saw him-and that's when I decided she would never bring that man to my house."
A mischievous grin tugs at the detective's mouth. "Drunk, was he?"
"I don't know, but he had his hands all over her. Completely inappropriate."
Duggan nods and makes another note on his tablet. "You know this man's name?"
"Jeff-Jeffrey, I suppose - Jeffrey Larson of the Marine Corps. Second Marine Division, my daughter says."
Duggan scribbles on the tablet. "Has this Larson gone AWOL?"
"I wouldn't know. I've made no inquiries about the man, nor do I intend to. He's not my concern."
A thoughtful look enters Duggan's eyes. "What will you do if I find them together?"
Randolph grips the armrest of his chair. "Have you a daughter, Mr. Duggan?"
The detective snorts. "I can barely hang on to a wife."
"Well, a father has certain expectations for his daughter, and Jeffrey Larson is not what I expected for McLane. She graduated from college with honors and was well on her way to becoming a doctor before she met this man. Jeff Larson, on the other hand, apparently joined the marines because he has no higher ambitions than to blow things up and kill people."
Duggan makes a strangled sound deep in his throat, then looks up. "Well. Uncle Sam likes to know where his soldiers are, so it shouldn't be hard to find this guy. Let's hope your daughter is with him."
"You're missing the point-I'd like her to be as far away from him as possible." Randolph retrieves his wallet from an inner suit pocket and slides a picture from the plastic sleeve. "This is McLane." His throat tightens as he studies the girl smiling up at him. "The photo is fairly recent; I snapped it on her birthday in March. Two days before her mother passed away."
The detective hesitates. "Had your wife been sick? Perhaps your daughter took off because she was tired or depressed-"
"Shana's death was an accident. She was driving home after dark, misjudged a turn, lost control, and hit a pylon." Randolph's throat clogs with emotion.
But Duggan seems not to notice as he reaches for the photo. "Could your daughter's disappearance have anything to do with your wife's death?"
"What do you mean?"
Duggan studies the picture. "Sometimes people like to mourn in private, sorta process the change in their lives. Maybe she couldn't do that with you around."
"McLane was upset about her mother's accident; we all were. But she accepted it. No, her disappearance has more to do with Jeff Larson than with her mother's passing."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Because the weekend before, she asked if Jeff could come to the house for dinner. I refused."
"How'd she react?"
Randolph smiles. "Did she storm around and throw things? McLane and I do not have altercations. She was more sad than angry, I think-and I believe that's when she decided to leave."
Duggan squints at the map on the wall behind him. "Do you think they went to the marine base at Jacksonville?"
"I have no idea."
"Does your daughter have friends near Camp Lejeune? Someone who might let her sleep on the couch for a few days?"
Excerpted from She Always Wore Red by Angela Hunt Copyright © 2008 by Angela Elwell Hunt. 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.
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In this second installment of the Fairlawn series, Jennifer Graham meets her half sister and discovers truths about herself and her family. Her son, Clay, is more prominent in this story. I look forward to the third book in this series.
Thought provoking writing of relationship, faith, trust, & race.
A former Chief of Staff to a US Senator, almost forty Jennifer Graham left DC for Mount Dora, Florida following an ugly divorce, accompanied by her two sons. She is attending mortuary school and has converted her family Victorian mansion into a place for her and the boys to live and as the Fairlawn Funeral Home. Since she is in training, elderly embalmer Gerald Huffman lives with them while overseeing the body dressing.---------------- However, the change does not work out as smooth as Jennifer hoped for. Her son thirteen year old Clay has joined a team of shoplifting troublemakers and has been nasty at home to her and his brother. He is driving her to the end of her rope although she loves him and will keep on feeling that way regardless of what trouble he is in. However Jennifer also discovers she has a half-sister dominated by a fundamentalist stepfather whose beliefs make Jennifer wonder about her own as her faith in God is tested.------------------- The sequel to DOESN¿T SHE LOOK NATURAL is a deeper tale than the fine first Graham entry as issues of faith, race, divorce aftermath and teen peer presure are handled deftly while interwoven into a strong character driven story. Jennifer is a wonderful lead protagonist who left DC for smalltown Florida for her sake and that of her sons in order for them to start fresh however the best laid plans of mice, women and Jennifer often go astray. Angela Hunt provides a poignant contemporary novel that in spite of the profound issues, frustrations and differences true maternal love is always there.--------------- Harriet Klausner
When reading an Angela Hunt book, one must be prepared for two things. The first is that the reader will be entertained with quirky characters, intriguing plot lines and snappy dialogue. The second is that the reader will come away completely blown away by what they have just finished reading. Their thought process will have changed by the story and one starts seeing things in a whole different light. It's interesting to note that the publishers decided to change the covers of the series from a light, whimsical feel to a more serious, somber emotion. That's exactly how this second story comes off as compared to the first book in the series. There are so many topics dealt in this book that are still uncomfortable to discuss among Christians these days. Many of these topics we would rather not bring up, yet the author shows how they must be discussed and not hidden away. The scene that stuck out most to me in this story was during the meal where Jennifer and her mom realize that being 'colorblind' is not necessarily the best way to be. This scene really made me think about that statement and what it truly means in today's world. However, while the overall tone of the book is serious, there are still rays of humor sprinkled throughout the book. The double funeral scene is a favorite. One is also allowed to still feel squeamish especially when Jennifer performs her embalming duties. It's a wonderfully written book that's just blends all of these elements together perfectly. This book is a keeper one that you can't put down. And so I declare this to be the best Angela Hunt book I have EVER read (and I've read them all!) I have high hopes for the third book in the series. VERY highly recommended.