USA TODAY bestseller Hurricane Season is the story of one family’s unconventional journey to healing—and the relationships that must be mended along the way.
Betsy and Ty Franklin, owners of Franklin Dairy Farm in southern Alabama, have long since buried their desire for children of their own. While Ty manages their herd of dairy cows, Betsy busies herself with the farm’s day-to-day operations and tries to forget her dream of motherhood. But when her free-spirited sister, Jenna, drops off her two young daughters for “just two weeks,” Betsy’s carefully constructed wall of self-protection begins to crumble.
As the two weeks stretch deeper into the Alabama summer, Betsy and Ty learn to navigate the new additions in their world—and revel in the laughter that now fills their home. Meanwhile, record temperatures promise to usher in the most active hurricane season in decades.
Attending an art retreat four hundred miles away, Jenna is fighting her own battles. She finally has time and energy to focus on her photography, a lifelong ambition. But she wonders how her rediscovered passion can fit in with the life she’s made back home as a single mom.
When Hurricane Ingrid aims a steady eye at the Alabama coast, Jenna must make a decision that will change her family’s future, even as Betsy and Ty try to protect their beloved farm and their hearts. From the author of the USA TODAY bestseller The Hideaway comes a new story about families and mending the past.
“A poignant and heartfelt tale of sisterhood, motherhood, and marriage, Hurricane Season deftly examines the role that coming to terms with the past plays in creating a hopeful future. Readers will devour this story of the hurricanes—both literal and figurative—that shape our lives.” —Kristy Woodson Harvey, national bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple
- A full-length Southern Women’s Fiction Novel
- Includes Discussion Questions for Book Clubs
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. Website: laurenkdenton.com Facebook: LaurenKDentonAuthor Twitter: @LaurenKDenton
Read an Excerpt
She usually stayed in bed until at least six, but this morning she was restless, like animals get when the barometric pressure drops before a storm. It wasn't the cows, or the approaching hurricane season, or even the milk prices, which had dipped lately. It was something else, something she couldn't quite name. She felt like she needed to both run a mile and go back to sleep for the next three hours. It was energy and lethargy, anticipation and dread. Anna Beth would likely diagnose it in a heartbeat, but Betsy had always been good at pretending everything was just fine.
She kicked her legs out from under the sheet, her feet searching for a cool spot in the bed Ty had just vacated. Even with the windows closed and the AC pumping, heat still seeped in, filling the cracks and crevices of her old house with thick Alabama heat. The meteorologists on the news last night had been in a frenzy as they pointed out heat waves radiating across the country. It was only mid-June, but two tropical waves had already rolled off the shores of Africa. Thankfully, they'd fizzled out before reaching land.
"We likely won't be so lucky later in the summer," the forecasters thundered, striking terror into the hearts of all those living near the coast, including those in Betsy's small town of Elinore, fifteen miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. "The most active hurricane forecast in two decades," NOAA predicted with eager excitement.
El Niño this, La Niña that, everyone had a handy explanation for the coming tide of heat and storms that promised to pummel south Alabama and surrounding coastal areas, but Betsy had her own ideas. This summer she'd turn thirty. Not as big a milestone as forty, but it was a milestone nonetheless. The idea of thirty had always felt maternal, heavy with maturity and substance. While everyone else was talking about the fanfare of an active season — every word punctuated by an exclamation point! — all she felt was a slow hiss of air. It leaked gradually, lazily, not so quickly that anyone else would notice, but she felt it. Like a slow but steady lightening.
Downstairs, the toe of Ty's boot beat out a rhythm on the kitchen floor as he waited for the coffee to finish dripping. She heard his jumbo-size metal coffee mug scrape across the shelf and thunk down on the counter. The coffee pouring into the mug, the carafe sliding back into place on the hot pad. She imagined Ty's face, prickly with the night's passage. His hands, big and warm, knuckles sticking out from his long, sturdy fingers. His brushed-silver wedding ring.
When the screen door thudded closed, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She grabbed a clip from her nightstand and twisted her long brown waves up into a bun, then pulled her light cotton robe around her shoulders and padded into the kitchen. At the window over the sink, she brushed aside the curtain to peek into the backyard. Ty made his way across the dewy grass to the barn. Only the curves of his shoulders were visible in the moonlight.
The coffee was good and hot, scorching her throat on the way down. After pulling her breakfast casserole out of the fridge and popping it in the oven, she opened the back door. Damp morning air met her face with a whisper. On the porch Etta was curled up in a tight ball in her favorite spot on the couch. Betsy couldn't stand the layer of fur Etta always left behind, but the cat was too cuddly to stay mad at for long.
She reached down and scratched Etta's chin and behind her ears. When she pushed open the screen door, Etta jumped down from the couch and slid between Betsy's feet. By the time Betsy reached the bottom of the porch steps, the cat was already halfway to the barn to check for spilled milk.
Crossing the yard, she inhaled the aroma of damp grass, earthy hay, and fresh sawdust coming from the henhouse. It was the same henhouse generations of Ty's family had used on this property. She and Ty had repaired as necessary and added extra space a few times to accommodate more hens, but the house was basically the same. Not a typical box made of wood and screen. It had a shingled roof, weathered wood siding, even a screened porch. A trumpet vine covered in long red flowers climbed one corner post, and a gravel walkway snaked around the side. Some mornings, when dewy fog hung heavy over the farm and everything was blurry and half erased, Betsy imagined the henhouse as a home for fairies or hobbits.
The hens got anxious if she robbed them of their eggs too early in the morning, so she crept in quietly, eased the door closed behind her, and locked it to keep the determined hens from making a quick escape. The interior was full of quiet clucking. The hens were mostly content, but Betsy knew from experience that exasperation at her intrusion wasn't far off.
"Good morning, little mamas," she murmured as she pulled out eight brown eggs, lightly speckled, two yellow, and one as blue as a robin's egg. "Worked hard this morning, didn't you?"
She placed the eggs in the basket hanging by the door, then scattered a few scoops of feed across the ground. The hens fluttered down from their perches to dine, all indignities forgiven.
With the henhouse door locked tight behind her, she paused before turning back to the house. It often stopped her, the beauty — almost perfection — of their little space on this earth. Franklin Dairy Farm, the land Ty had worked and shaped and brought to life. The sky was now streaked with bold purples and blues, bright pinks and yellows. Oaks and hickories — tall, thick, and majestic — dotted their five hundred acres. She could hear the steady whoosh whoosh of the milking machines even out here in the yard. Faint strains of Chris Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey" floated out of the speakers Ty and Walker had jiggered up in the nooks and crannies of the barn.
Through the steadily increasing light, she could just make out Ty's outline as he stooped over a cow hooked up to a machine. Ty was thick but not overweight. Just solid, as if he could carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and not buckle or even protest. She'd liked that about him when they first started dating, and it hadn't changed.
She thought about going out to the barn and kissing him good morning. It would surprise him, delight him. She closed her eyes and could feel his lips, warm and soft, faint prickles at the edges. He'd still smell like sleep, but also like oats, grass, and good outside air.
She opened her eyes, lips tingling, and grabbed the basket of eggs off its hook. The eggs clattered against each other but didn't break.
Instead of turning toward the barn, she retraced her steps back to the house, keeping her head down to avoid the two ant beds that always magically reappeared, always in the same place, the morning after she'd poured vinegar and boiling water over them. It was amazing — they had the most industrious animals, even insects, on their property. Ants that did nothing but work, just as they were supposed to. Cows overflowing with maternal milk. Hens that offered eggs each morning without fail, their bodies giving forth life as they should. Even Etta had once offered them a litter of kittens, much to their surprise. It seemed every body on the farm consistently obeyed God's natural order of things, producing and giving life, working and contributing as they should.
Betsy sidestepped the ant mounds, and when she looked up, the first thing she saw was the swing, moving slowly in the breeze. The swing hung from the lowest branch of the sweeping oak tree in the backyard. The tree was like something from Grimms' fairy tales — it sat in the middle of an otherwise treeless yard, its limbs extending twenty, thirty feet from the trunk, arms of Spanish moss swaying in the breeze, fingers of ivy trailing up and across the limbs. The shade underneath was thick and dark, always at least fifteen degrees cooler than the heat-saturated yard.
It was the kind of tree Betsy and her sister, Jenna, would've loved to have had in their backyard growing up — a backdrop to their adventures, even if most of their adventures were only in their minds.
Under the swing was a dirt patch where broods of kids — including Ty — had swung, their feet trailing in the dirt and stomping out the grass. That swing was the first thing Ty had showed Betsy when he brought her to the farm their senior year of college. They'd been together for about a year, but it wasn't until she saw this place that she understood who he really was and what a life with him would look like. When he had pointed out the swing, she was confused at first.
"The swing?" she asked him. "You want to take over your grandfather's farm because of a wooden swing?"
"No, not the swing. The farm will be profitable. I can make a few changes and get this place running smoother than lake water. It's gonna be great." Then he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her so she faced the swing directly. "Tell me what you see there."
"Wood. Dirt. A tree."
"I see children," he said. "I hear laughter. I see a childhood spent outside in the heat and air and light. I see our future."
Staring at that swing now, Betsy took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes closed, then opened them again. The swing swayed back and forth on an invisible breeze. With her free hand, she brushed back a lock of hair that had escaped her clip and started for the house. On her way past the swing, she raised her leg and gave it a swift, hard kick.
The babysitter was late, Addie and Walsh were flying around the house in superhero capes yelling the Batman theme song — "Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!" — and Jenna had just poured a mug of coffee when Walsh bumped into her from behind, spilling hot liquid down the front of her black Full Cup Coffee T-shirt.
"Walsh, please!" She set the coffee mug down and pulled her damp shirt away from her skin.
"Sorry, Mommy." Walsh's brown eyes were wide. She crept backward, then turned to run but stopped to grab a dish towel off the kitchen table first. "Here." She dabbed at Jenna's shirt with the towel, itself too damp to do the job.
Jenna took the towel from Walsh and kissed her cheek. "Thank you," she whispered. Walsh grinned and took off, her cape flying behind her.
After wiping her shirt as well as she could — she'd be wearing an apron over it anyway — Jenna leaned against the counter and took a long swallow. She still didn't understand how she could make coffee all day long, then drink the stuff at home. But at least she believed in what she was selling. Full Cup did make a good cup of coffee.
She sighed. Where was Kendal? Her head hurt and she had ten minutes to get to the coffee shop, a drive that usually took twenty with traffic. She thanked her lucky stars she wasn't opening today — as manager, she had the ability to pencil someone else into those early-morning slots — but it meant getting home later.
As Addie and Walsh zoomed through the kitchen and wound around her legs like cats, part of her wanted to call in sick and stay home with the girls all day, but another part of her wanted to get in the car and drive away. Maybe not come back for a while.
She squeezed her eyes closed and raked her hands through her hair. Then the doorbell rang and there was Kendal, her stand-in babysitter for the next two weeks until summer daycare began for the girls. With red, puffy eyes and a trembling voice, Kendal explained that she and her boyfriend had broken up the night before.
"But don't worry, Miss Sawyer, I'm fine. I brought my craft box for the girls. We'll have a blast." With one more messy sniff and a swipe at her eyes, she dropped her bag in the foyer and attempted a smile.
Jenna sighed and pushed the door closed. With her long blonde hair and killer legs, Kendal was Jenna a decade ago, except Jenna never would have allowed herself to wallow in misery over a boy. If anything, it had been the boys miserable over her. Back then, she always left before they did.
But no sense thinking about those old days — Kendal was here and she was a mess. Jenna wasn't super comfortable leaving Addie and Walsh with her, but what else could she do? She'd already been late to work this week — car troubles, a lost stuffed hippo, long story — and she couldn't afford to lose this job. It paid for the girls' school, offered surprisingly good insurance, and on good days, it made her feel like she was contributing something to the world, even if it was only a perfect heart in milk foam. Not quite the artistic contribution she'd had in mind all those years ago, but it was something, and it was all she had.
"Addie? Walsh?" she called. "I'm heading out."
Small feet pounded on the hardwood floors, then two tornados of early-morning energy slammed into Jenna's legs, their arms squeezing her tight.
She knelt in front of them. Addie's blonde curls were a tangled mess, but her blue eyes were bright and her mouth curved into a smile. Walsh's still-pudgy wrists were covered in every plastic bracelet in their dress-up box and a few of Jenna's. Walsh reached up for a hug, her breath soft and sweet in Jenna's ear. "Bye, Mommy," she whispered.
Jenna smiled. Thoughts of running evaporated like steam over a cup of French roast. She pulled the girls close and kissed their foreheads. "Listen to Kendal, okay? I think she brought some fun things for you to do today. I'll be home after work, and we'll have something yummy for dinner."
"Breakfast! Can it be breakfast for dinner?"
As both girls chanted, "Pan-cakes! Pan-cakes!" Jenna kissed their cheeks one more time and slid out the door.
In her car she exhaled a rush of air. Through the front window of her tiny two-bedroom East Nashville house — once crisp white but now faded to a light gray begging for a new coat of paint — she could see the girls still bouncing, the sparkles from their princess pajamas visible from the driveway.
Kendal pushed her hair back from her face, offered a bright smile, and led the girls into the den, out of Jenna's sight. Only then did Jenna remember her almost-full coffee mug sitting on the kitchen counter.
* * *
Traffic was lighter than usual and she skidded into the small side parking lot with a minute to spare. Just enough time to shove her purse into a locker in the back, grab her apron, and put on her best smile.
She checked the time. Eight fifteen. She switched her phone to silent and slid it in her apron pocket. She was setting out a stack of CDs a local songwriter had dropped off when a customer burst through the door. Jenna looked up to see Lisa Rich, CEO of Trust Partners, a well-known accounting firm with an office down the block. Purse dangling from her elbow, Bluetooth in place on her ear. Obnoxiously complicated drink order. Notoriously bad tipper.
Jenna slipped behind the counter and tapped the barista on the shoulder — the new girl, Melissa, already bracing herself for Lisa's deluge. "I got this," Jenna whispered.
"Thanks," Melissa whispered back before cowering behind Jenna.
"Hi, Miss Rich," Jenna said, despite the obvious fact that Lisa was talking to someone on her Bluetooth.
"It's Mrs. and I'm in a hurry."
"I'm so sorry," Jenna said, discreetly pulling a Post-it off the underside of the counter by the register. "We'll have your order out to you in a moment."
Lisa reached up and pushed a button on the contraption stuck to her ear. "Wait — I haven't given you my order."
"Would you like your regular?" Jenna's voice was innocent.
The woman's right eyebrow rose just a millimeter. Probably all the Botox would allow. "Yes. My regular."
"We'll have that right out." Jenna turned and handed the slip of paper to Melissa.
Melissa eyed it with suspicion, then looked back up at Jenna. "You're a genius."
Melissa grinned and reached for the fat-free milk. "Does this even taste good?" she whispered.
"I have no idea and no desire to find out."
As Melissa worked on the grande double shot, four pumps sugar-free peppermint, nonfat, extra-hot, no foam, light whip, stirred white mocha, Jenna walked the counter and checked the three other baristas working hard to fill drink orders. She was able to get a pack of napkins for Mario and open a sleeve of cardboard cup sleeves for Jensen before Melissa had the drink ready.
"I'll let you do the honors." Melissa handed the drink to Jenna like it was gold plated. "Think it'll do the trick?"
"Nah," Jenna muttered. "Probably nothing will. Mrs. Rich?"
Mrs. Rich pressed the button again on her Bluetooth and clicked her heels across the tile floor. She stared at Jenna before taking the cup. "The peppermint's sugar-free?"
Excerpted from "Hurricane Season"
Copyright © 2018 Lauren K. Denton.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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