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COLD TEA ON A HOT DAY

COLD TEA ON A HOT DAY

by Curtiss Ann Matlock

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Overview

Marilee James has a complicated life—caring for her special-needs son, playing surrogate mother to an abandoned niece and temporarily running the local paper until the new managing editor arrives. She's so busy attending to everyone else that her own yearnings get pushed aside.

Then Tate Holloway comes speeding into town in his BMW, bringing his whiz-bang laptop, journalistic integrity and the thrill of remembering what running a small-town newspaper is all about. Tate's a firm believer in the little things that make life worthwhile: overripe peaches, a good dog, a passionate kiss. The kinds of things he thinks Marilee needs to rediscover—with him.

Problem is, she's already engaged. Not about to let a little thing like a fiancé stand in his way, Tate sets out to win Marilee's heart, little by little, starting with cold tea on a hot day.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460302811
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 09/17/2012
Series: A Valentine Novel , #3
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 848 KB

About the Author

Curtiss Ann Matlock loves to share her experience of Southern living, so she fills her stories with rich local color, basic values and Southern country wisdom. Her books have earned rave reviews, been optioned for film and received numerous awards, among them three nominations for the Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA Award and two Readers' Choice Awards, given by readers from all over the nation. She currently lives in Alabama.

http://curtissannmatlock.com/

Read an Excerpt



Another Day in Paradise

In the hazy glow of first morning light, a gleaming red Mercedes, a Roadster with its top up, sat on the side of the blacktopped county road. The engine idled gently, and headlights shone on the patchy grass and weeds.

The driver was slumped in the seat, comfortably, as if taking a nap. He was dead.

A dog lay with his head upon the man's thigh. He had lain there for some time, out of loyal respect to a friend.

In a nearby tree, a meadowlark gave out a shrill morning call.

The dog, perking his ears, sat up and then went over to poke his wet nose out the window, fully open because the man had been driving along in the cool spring night with the passenger window down so that the dog could enjoy putting his face in the wind.

Fairly certain the man would no longer notice being abandoned, the dog hopped through the window with graceful ease and landed on the dewy wet grass.

After a moment of the sniffing the damp, pungent air, the dog trotted off in the easterly direction that the car had been heading. It was pleasant in the cool first light. A little way along he came to a fresh armadillo run over in the road. He sniffed it, but he was yet far above the depths of eating roadkill. An owl perched on a fence post was kind enough to tell the dog that a town, where likely he could find breakfast, was just over the hill.

Sure enough, when he topped the hill, a town lay before him. The dog sat and looked at it. The morning sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon and cast its pink glow upon this world of humans. Where families of buffalo once wallowed and great herds of cattle once crossed on their way to the rowdy markets in Kansas, there now existed a place springing out of the prairie with tree-lined streets and brick buildings and clapboard houses.

The dog had come to the town in the same manner that he went everywhere and to each of his humans, following the direction led by his heart. The day he had come to the large concrete parking lot and to the man with the glasses, he had known that was the place for him and the human for his dog's loyal work of companionship.

Now, looking down on the town, he knew this was a new place for him and a new human awaited his ministrations.

The dog started down the hill, taking in the lay of the land and ready for any opportunity that presented itself.***The garbage trucks were starting on their first runs, and early risers all over began tuning kitchen radios to the morning weather report and going out on front porches to hang up flags in support of the campaign to keep Valentine's distinction as the Flag Town of America.

Fayrene Gardner, who had come into the Main Street Café a half an hour early because she had been unable to sleep due to the excitement of expecting a visit from her first ex-husband, came out the café door and set the United States flag in its holder.

A few yards down the sidewalk, at the doors of The Valentine Voice, Charlotte Nation was doing likewise. Charlotte, who was a little dismayed to see Fayrene had beat her to it, thought it important for the Voice to get their flag out first, as they were a leader in the community.

Setting the pole in the slot with some haste, she hurried back inside to get a cup of coffee for Leo, Sr. before he got off on his deliveries. Since their circulation manager quit three weeks earlier, Leo had been handling the job. Charlotte was thrilled, as now Leo was there early each morning, like herself. He got all the other deliverers off, and then was the last to leave on a route of his own.

"Thanks, Charlotte," Leo said, taking the cup she handed him and sipping. "Well, I gotta get goin' now."

"Yes… you do." She followed him to the doorway and stood there as he slipped into the delivery van and drove off down the alley, watching with the eyes of a woman in love with a man she could never have.

Up on Church Street, Winston Valentine was glad to be able to manage the job of getting out the front door of his house with the aid of a cane, while carrying two folded flags under his arm. One of his lady boarders, a piece of toast jammed in her mouth, came after him.

He told her with poorly tempered impatience, "I'm all right, Mildred… you cain't help me and eat toast at the same time!"

She had already dropped jelly on her ample bosom; Winston didn't want her to get jelly all over his flags. He felt guilty for having the thought that she could in that minute drop dead and he would gladly step over her. He was relieved when she got more concerned about her toast and jelly than about helping him.

He got himself down the front steps and over to the flag pole in the front yard, where he raised the Confederate flag, followed by the Stars and Bars. He could still raise his flags, and once more all by himself, thank God, and he wasn't yet pissing in his pants, so the day looked good.

Across the street, his neighbor Everett Northrupt, younger by better than ten years, was raising his flags, too, only the Stars and Bars of the U.S. of A. was on top and a lot bigger. Everett was from up North.

Both men stood at attention as music, a mingling of "Dixie" and "The Star Spangled Banner," blared out from speakers from each man's home. Winston, not wanting Everett to have anything on him, stood as straight as he could and saluted the flags and the day.

Then, as most days, he saw Parker Lindsey jogging down the street. Parker, a single fellow who no doubt had plenty of pent-up energy, would jog from his veterinary clinic at the edge of town, cut through the school yard and behind houses along a path that came out east of the Blaine's house, then go down Church Street to Porter and make several jogs to get to the highway and back east to his own place. It was a distance of five miles. Winston played a game of judging the younger man's state of sexual energy by how hard he was running when he went past.

"G'mornin', Doc," Winston called to him, remembering what it was like to be a virile man in his prime. He admired Parker Lindsey, who was going at a pretty good clip this morning.

"'Mornin'." Puffing, Parker raised a hand in a wave and kept on going.

From the opposite direction came Leo, Jr., pedaling past with his teenage legs on his Mountain Flier. "'lo, Mr. Winston!" he said and sent a rolled newspaper flying into the yard and landing two feet away.

"Bingo!" Winston called back with a wave.

He bent carefully to get the paper, considering it exercise. When he came up, he saw a woman in bright pink on a purple bicycle pumping along toward town. It was his niece, Leanne, who sometimes jogged and sometimes rode a bicycle. A professional barrel racer, Leanne worked to keep her legs strong.

"'lo, Uncle Winston!"

Winston waved back, while averting his gaze from the sight of her. Leanne wore the skimpy attire so popular with women these days, and being her uncle, Winston did not consider it polite to stare. Leanne was a fine specimen of a woman. It was a little too bad she liked to display that around a lot. Winston felt women today had forgotten mystique. He liked to watch women on exercise shows on television, though.

Walking stiffly, but grateful to be walking, he went around the side of the house, where he clipped blossoms from his dead wife's rosebushes. I'm keepin'on, Coweta. He would miss his wife until his dying day.

Further up Church Street, Vella Blaine, wearing a lilac flowered apron and a big straw hat over her greying hair, was out in her backyard, snipping fresh blooms from her own rosebushes. She held each to her nose to inhale the delicious, soothing scent. Her very favorite were the yellow Graham-Thomas blossoms. She was so proud of her roses this spring.

Hearing a car, she looked up to see her husband behind the wheel of his big black 80s Lincoln as it chugged away, carrying him onward to his twelve-hour day at his drugstore.

Perry had not bothered to tell her goodbye. Again.

Gripping the stems of the cut roses so tightly that the thorns pricked her hands, Vella walked purposefully up the back steps and went inside to prepare a fresh pot of coffee for herself and Winston, who had, with the arrival of balmy spring, begun once more to join her for an early-morning chat. She got out the blue pottery mug Winston seemed to favor. In the mirror hung on the inside of the cabinet door, she paused to put on lipstick.

Down on Porter Street, the sun had risen high enough to shine its first golden rays on the roof of a small house dating from the forties that Realtors called a bungalow.

In bed in the back bedroom, Marilee James, who was definitely not a morning person, was awakened by her eight-year-old son.

"Maa-ma…"

Marilee managed to crack an eyelid.

"Maa-ma…" He peered into her face, his blue eyes large behind his thick glasses.

Marilee tried to focus enough to see the clock. Willie Lee simply had no sense of time at all. He woke up when he woke, and slept when he slept, never minding the rest of the world… or his mother, who had not had a decent night's sleep since Miss Porter had suddenly and fantastically thrown the newspaper management into her hands and run off with a husband.

Was that red numeral a five or a six? She was going to have to get a bigger clock. The thought caused her to close her eyes.

"Ma-ma, can I have a dog?" Willie Lee spoke in a whisper and slowly, carefully pronouncing each word, as was his habit.

"Not right this minute," Marilee managed to get out with as hoarse a voice as she used to have when she smoked a pack and a half a day of Virginia Slims.

She gathered courage and stretched herself toward the clock. The red numerals came in more clearly. It was 6:10. Giving a groan, she rolled over and thought that she could not get up. That was all there was to it. She would not get up.

"I want this dog in this pic-ture." Willie Lee shoved a book in her face.

Marilee, who could not respond in any way, shape or form, stared with fuzzy vision at a picture of a spotted dog in one of her son's picture books.

Willie Lee, not at all bothered by not being answered, sat back on folded legs and said, "I will ask God for this dog."

Marilee's sleepy gaze came to rest upon her son, upon his head bent once more to study the picture book. His short white-blond hair stood on end in all directions, as was usual.

Her Willie Lee, who had put up a mighty struggle to enter the world and ended up with brain damage that cast doubt still upon his future ability to lead anything resembling a normal life without someone to watch over him.

Her heart seemed to swell and her heartbeats to grow louder…thump...thump...thump...echoing in her ears, broken only by the clink of dishes from the kitchen, where Corrine was no doubt readying the table for breakfast, as she had each morning since coming to stay with them.

With the aroma of coffee floating in to reach her, Marilee pictured the slight figure of her young niece at the counter. Likely she had to pull a chair over and stand on it in order to fill the coffeemaker.

Two of them, two little souls, depending upon only her, Marilee, a mere woman alone.

The idea so frightened her that in an instant she had flung back the covers and gotten to her feet, moving in the manner of generations of women before her who had struggled with the overwhelming urge to run screaming out of the house to throw themselves in front of the early-morning garbage truck. The saving answer to that urge was to propel herself headlong into the day of taking care of those who needed her.

"Let's get you dressed, buster," she said to her son, scooping him up, causing him to giggle.

"Time to get go-ing," he said, mimicking her usual refrain.

"Yes… time to get going."

When focusing on the needs of those around her, she did not have to face the needs clamoring inside herself.

"Here they are," Corrine said and brought Marilee the car keys she had been searching for, as the child did each morning at seven-thirty—or any other time, really.

"Thank you, hon… now, let's get goin'…."

The children trooped before her out the front door, and they all piled into the Jeep Cherokee for the five-minute drive to school, where Marilee let them out on the wide sidewalk in front of the long, low brick building.

The two, taller and very thin Corrine and shorter, slight Willie Lee, did not run off with the other screaming and laughing children but stood there side by side, forlornly watching her drive away.

Marilee, who caught sight of them in the rearview mirror, felt like a traitor abandoning her delicate charges.

Pressing firmly on the accelerator, she focused on the road and reminded herself that she was a working mother, just like a million other working mothers, trying to keep a roof over all their heads, and that her children needed to learn to deal with real life.

As she whipped the Cherokee into its accustomed place in the narrow lot behind the brick building that housed The Valentine Voice, she realized that she had been doing the same thing for most of seven years. Where did the years go? When had twenty-one turned into forty?

It was Miss Porter running off into a new life who had caused this unrest, Marilee thought with annoyance, hiking her heavy leather tote up on her shoulder. The next instant, having the disconcerting impression that she was beginning to resemble Miss Porter, she dropped the bag to her hand.

"My computer is down," Tammy Crawford said immediately when Marilee came down the large aisle of the main room.

"Call the repairman." Marilee threw her bag on her already full desk and picked up the day's edition of the Voice. She had not had time to read it at home. She had not had time for weeks.

"Mrs. Oklahoma is going to visit the high school this mornin'," Reggie said. "Principal forgot to call us… I'm goin' right over there."

"'kay." Marilee didn't think everyone really needed to report to her.

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