After the man in her life betrays her trust, Carole Hannah Sherard decides that a life makeover is in order. Yearning for a more balanced life, she quits her job as a university vice president to move back to Walker's Corner, Pennsylvania, where she intends to cook in her family's business, the Creekside Tavern and Inn, and write a cookbook.
If there's one thing Carole Hannah knows for certain, it's that her family isn't the most normal bunch. Every member of the Sherard clan has inherited what is known as the Scottish Sight. Her grandmother is a psychic healer. Her father is a kindly bartender always able to sense what customers need to hear. Her brother is a minister who cares deeply for his parishioners, but believes the Sight is a black mark on his soul.
Carole Hannah has inherited her family's psychic gifts, but learns that the Sight doesn't provide easy answers to every choice or challenge that faces her. Her high school sweetheart wants her back, but he's engaged to another woman. A troubled minister threatens her sister and best friend. And then there is Mark Baker, a handsome widowed professor who needs her help in more ways than one. Will Carole Hannah be able to use her abilities to help the people of Walker's Corner? Can she make all her dreams come true?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)|
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By Robin Strachan
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Robin Strachan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe smell of freshly mown grass lingered sweetly in the morning air as Carole Hannah Sherard hurried from the faculty and staff parking lot across the campus quadrangle. From the bell tower, she heard the resounding tones of Morning Has Broken, signaling to students that eight o'clock classes were now underway. The heels of her pumps clicked along the concrete sidewalk, sounding like hammer taps as she approached Aldrich Hall, a 1960s building that housed the university's administrative offices.
Pulling open the glass door, she stepped onto the polished tile of the entryway, stopping to wave at the switchboard operator before skipping up the stairs two at a time. As she made her way into the carpeted reception area marked Office of the Vice President, University Foundation, she exchanged greetings and light-hearted conversation with a few staff members and work-study students.
"Good morning, Vera," she said to her administrative assistant, taking an appreciative sniff of the profusion of blue hydrangeas on Vera's desk. "Mm, smells like spring in here."
Vera, whose skin appeared unnaturally orange from an ambitious spray tanning session, handed her a folder of memos and pink phone messages.
"Don't say anything. I already know I look like an oompa loompa," she grumbled, handing Carole Hannah a mug of steaming coffee. "Before you meet with the president this morning, Ellen needs to see you. She said the student phone campaign is off schedule because the kids aren't showing up for work, and we're not going to meet goal. There could be layoffs."
"I'm sure Ellen never said there would be layoffs, Vera."
"There might be."
"There won't be layoffs. Stop thinking that." Carole Hannah stifled a laugh and flashed her assistant a teasing grin. "And, by the way, I wasn't going to say anything, except that you look positively glowing this morning."
Vera gave her a withering glance. "I'd laugh, but it's not in my job description."
With her dyed, jet-black hair teased inches high and tight white blouse, it was true that Vera bore a rather remarkable resemblance to an oompa loompa.
"Would you please buzz Ellen and ask her to stop by?"
Carole Hannah tucked her chin-length chestnut hair behind her ears and set her briefcase on the floor beside her desk. She scanned the paperwork in the folder, grimacing over a terse memo from the president about a major donor's concern that his fraternity had been placed on probation. Not surprisingly, the alumnus was more concerned about his fraternity's social status than any serious campus security or safety violations. The president, of course, was concerned about the threatened withdrawal of financial support from the wealthy alumnus.
Sighing, she turned on her laptop and watched as a flurry of e-mails appeared in the inbox. What in the world? Her eyes opened wide when she saw an e-mail alert from Kansas Trident Bank, notifying her that recent access to her checking account had been denied due to incorrect answers to security questions.
If you believe you have received this message in error, please contact system administrator, she read, mouthing the words under her breath as Ellen Hamilton, associate vice president for development, poked her head in the doorway.
"Hey, boss," Ellen said playfully, dropping her six-foot, lanky body into one of the chairs in front of Carole Hannah's desk.
In college, Ellen had been a star basketball player for a rival college in Missouri. Twenty-five years later, she still appeared out of her element in anything other than sweats and sneakers. But she was competent and reliable in her role and had become a trusted friend and ally to Carole Hannah.
"Is anything the matter?" she asked when she saw her friend's furrowed brow.
"I'm not sure," Carole Hannah answered distractedly and began scrolling down the e-mails in her inbox. "I just got a message from my bank. It says something about incorrect answers to security questions. Do you really think someone would try to hack into my account?"
"Probably nothing to worry about," Ellen said, leaning back. "But it could be someone phishing for your real information. Don't respond back to that e-mail."
"I'm sure you're right. Oh, wait! Here are two more alerts." Now Carole Hannah was alarmed. "I probably need to call the bank and get whatever this is straightened out. But first, what's the problem with the alumni calls?"
Ellen plunked down a spreadsheet. "The call center is seriously behind on alumni solicitations. Five of the student callers got back late from the long weekend, so there were only about a hundred asks made the past two nights. The good news is that they should be caught up by Thursday. The bad news is that we still need to figure out where to get another $300,000 before the fiscal year ends."
"Knowing you, it's already under control." She took a gulp of coffee, wincing when it burned her tongue and the roof of her mouth.
Ellen grinned. "Not exactly, but I do have a few ideas. We could go back to the class of 1959 and see if they want to honor someone-maybe one of their deceased members. In fact, I thought about doing that for all the reunion classes. We'll make a big deal at homecoming in the fall and dedicate something to them. We've got lots of unnamed sections of bleachers on the soccer field and a few naming opportunities in the rec center."
As Ellen outlined her proposed strategies for raising the necessary dollars, anxious butterflies swarmed in Carole Hannah's stomach. Something is horribly wrong. She took a deep breath in a futile attempt to keep the flutters at bay and tried to focus her attention.
"Go ahead with the plan for the anniversary classes. But let's also go after the MBAs who the dean took for his own solicitations. Remember, he didn't want us to ask those people for gifts in November. He wanted to handle them himself, and-"
"He didn't follow through, as usual," Ellen interrupted. "He'll be mad if you point that out."
"I have no intention of saying anything about that. I don't have to because it's obvious the gifts aren't in. He may think he knows everything else in the world, but he doesn't understand fundraising."
She took another cautious sip of her coffee. "Go ahead and solicit all the MBAs, and don't worry about the dean. I'll announce at president's staff meeting this afternoon what we're doing. Trust me, there'll be a much bigger issue than the dean's bruised ego if we don't get the alumni to give before June thirtieth and fall short on the budget. Because of his procrastination, some of those donors will have missed an entire year of giving if we don't do something fast. The president will back me up on this."
"I know he will." Ellen raised her eyebrows. "He has never figured out how you nail the exact dollar goal you project every year. As long as the money comes in, he certainly isn't about to argue with your methods."
Carole Hannah shrugged. "How are business school donations overall for the annual fund?"
"They're still behind last year's numbers. It's the economy, boys and girls," Ellen said, mimicking the dean's pompous manner. "The average gift amount is down a few dollars, but the overall number of gifts and pledges is up slightly, so we could still pull this out by the end of June."
"We'll be ahead of the game, just like last year," Carole Hannah said mildly. "I predict we'll be up by twenty-two percent."
"Sayeth the psychic fundraiser," Ellen said, shaking her head. She grinned and picked up the spreadsheet. "I'll get on these solicitations right away."
After Ellen left, Carole Hannah shut her office door and phoned her personal banker, who listened without response when she told him her concerns about the e-mail alerts.
"Don't be alarmed," he said finally, "but someone did attempt to gain access to the account. You'll need to change your password and security questions. The tech department is looking into this, but there are no withdrawals, so I don't think any harm's been done. We'll prosecute if we find out who did it."
"I can't imagine who would do such a thing," Carole Hannah said as she listened to his instructions. But a nagging feeling had taken root. After being assured again that no money had been withdrawn from the account and urged not to worry, she hung up the phone, confident that the bank had the situation well in hand.
At four thirty, as she prepared to leave for a meeting across campus, the phone on her desk rang.
"It's Kevin on line one," Vera announced over the intercom.
Carole Hannah picked up the phone and greeted her significant other of three years. "Hi, there," she said. "How's your day going?"
"Busy, as usual," he answered. "I've always got more irons in the fire than I can handle; you know that. I've been following up on some resumes I sent out last week, and all I can say is, I can be choosy." He paused. "Hey, this is kind of a weird thing to ask, but I've wracked my brain for two days trying to remember, and now it's really bugging me."
"What's that?" she asked, juggling her briefcase on her knee as she flipped the locks. She needed to get across campus to that meeting, but Kevin rarely called her at the office. He claimed Vera always gave him the third degree.
"For the life of me, I can't remember your mother's maiden name. I know that's an odd thing to wonder about, but you know how questions get stuck in your head, and you can't stop thinking about them? I also couldn't remember the name of your hometown."
Carole Hannah felt her stomach catapult into her throat as the gravity of Kevin's questions hit her. "I have to go," she said and hung up on him.
Covering her mouth with both hands, a sound of barely muted anguish took her breath away, causing her legs to sway. Within moments, Vera appeared at her side and took her arm, sitting her down in the desk chair. Carole Hannah tried to speak, but no words came out. She was unable to hear anything except the pounding rush of blood as it left her head.
Chapter TwoFor nearly two months, she cocooned in the house, leaving only to go back and forth to work and on necessary errands. She cooked and filled the upstairs and downstairs freezers with Tuscan vegetable soup, her favorite comfort food; yet she ate almost none of it herself. With her daughters, Whitney and Riley, living away from home now, she spent long evenings on the couch, watching cooking shows with her patient hound dog, Florabelle, resting across her lap.
"At least you're always loyal to me."
The old dog let out a long-suffering sigh and licked her hand.
She thought back to the day over three years ago when she had been introduced to Kevin at Mendelssohn choir. He had just auditioned for the group and been assigned to the seat directly behind her. As they sang, she was attracted first by the rich baritone voice she heard and then by his tall good looks and smooth, polished style. They often stopped for a glass of wine or a latte after practices and gradually began spending more time together. Kevin was attentive, gentlemanly, and eager to please. So what if every date involved a two-fer coupon? He was careful with money, she rationalized, always looking to better himself.
It took almost two years for her to realize that he changed jobs frequently and had way too much time on his hands. He showed up more and more at her house, usually just in time for dinner, and occasionally helped with an uncomplicated indoor or outdoor chore that required no real effort. Mostly, though, he gave unsolicited advice. As he settled into her life (making it his life, too), Carole Hannah was only vaguely aware of a subtle form of manipulation and control that had become a pattern in the relationship.
"I ordered new ceramic tile for the kitchen floor today," he announced one evening, handing her a sample square. "The price is right, and it'll add a lot of value to the house. I can supervise the installation. All you'll need to do is call them with your credit card number."
At first, she expressed annoyance that he had acted on his own without checking with her first, but when the expression on his face changed to wounded upset, she rationalized that Kevin had excellent taste and her best interests at heart. Another year went by as he talked of his plans for their future and the improvements they would make to "their" home.
During this time, there hadn't been a single moment when she questioned Kevin's devotion to her. She knew that he wasn't exactly a success in his finance and banking career and that he struggled to maintain steady employment, but that didn't mean he wasn't a hard worker or a decent guy.
"I'm too honest for my own good," he fumed when yet another job didn't work out. "I only point out what's in the company's best interests, and yet I'm the one they let go while guys with less education and skills get the promotions."
She had always taken his side, encouraging him not to shortchange his abilities or compromise his principles as one job after another ended due to whistle-blowing, unfair review policies, or outright bad management. Now that her eyes were open to Kevin's treachery, she knew that she had been entirely too trusting of him.
When she confronted him about his obvious attempts to gain access to her bank account, his reaction was unsettling.
"I'm hurt that you'd think my motives were anything but pure."
"How can trying to get into someone's bank account without their knowledge or permission be considered pure?" Carole Hannah asked him, her voice uncharacteristically sharp. "Kevin, I could press charges for what you did. The bank will prosecute if they find out." She folded her arms across her chest, blocking his attempt to embrace her.
A look that was half fear, half seething resentment flickered across his face for a split second. He recovered his composure quickly, but not before she caught the thin-lipped smile of barely concealed contempt that appeared in its place.
"I'm sorry you were worried and upset," he said in a soothing tone, brushing off her indignation. "But you know I'd never do anything without good reason. I just thought that since we're moving toward a future together, I'd use my skills to oversee your financial welfare. You know I'm more qualified to manage your money. Let's face it: you don't have that specialized knowledge."
In the center of her forehead, between her eyebrows, Carole Hannah saw a yellow caution light turn red, followed by the sound of a slamming door. She also recognized that she had experienced these types of warning signs for several months-signs she had overlooked or ignored. Now Kevin's explanation fell on deaf ears.
She snorted in derision. "Kevin, I've always been very good at managing my money. That's not your role or your right. What you did was a crime. Do you even comprehend that?"
"Your concerns have been noted," he said with the breezy, patient tone he so often used with her. This time, though, it sounded patronizing and condescending, even to her ears. "Let's just forget it ever happened." He removed a bottle of merlot from the wine rack. "Why don't we have a glass of wine on the patio and talk about something else?"
"I don't think so. I'd like you to leave now."
"You don't think so? Let's not say anything we'll regret later," he said, his jaw stiffening. "Sweetheart, you're letting your emotions get the best of you. You've made your point; let it go now. We both know that we've been together too long to let one little misunderstanding derail our relationship." His chin jutted out slightly in a sneer, the lower teeth clearly visible. In his eyes, she saw ugliness, and she knew. It won't be over until he says it's over. A shudder ran up and down her spine.
"I'm saying it now, so make sure you're hearing me: you betrayed my trust. I am done with this relationship. Don't call me again."
"I'm not going to stand here and attempt to defend myself when you're clearly not in your right mind." He looked as if he might explode. "I'll call you tomorrow, when you're in a better mood."
Time to play hard ball. Say it.
"Kevin, don't underestimate me; I am very serious. If you contact me again or if I see you anywhere near this house, I will tell the bank exactly what happened," she said and cut off all communication with him.
For the next few weeks, she struggled with overwhelming feelings of embarrassment and shame at having settled for such an underachieving, dishonest man.
"I should have listened to my intuition. Stupid, stupid," she said to herself, replaying all the times she'd had misgivings about him and overlooked them.
Excerpted from Manifesting Dreams by Robin Strachan Copyright © 2011 by Robin Strachan. 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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