As far as Jamie Steele can see, there’s not a cloud on the horizon. She is finally at peace with the memories of her parents. She has enough money to pay for college. Her boyfriend, Jason Collier, is attending law school at the same university. Just when life couldn’t get any better, Jason makes an announcement that will change their lives forever.
Abigail Blackwood’s entire adult life has been a masquerade. When tragedy strikes, she realizes the secret she safeguarded for the past twenty years isn’t as well kept as she thinks. She will stop at nothing to protect what she has left, even if it means destroying the life of another.
Two women who share nothing more than love for one man. When their lives are shaken and faith tested beyond what either can imagine, will they trust God? Or will foolish pride drive them to take matters into their own hands?
About the Author
Teresa Slack lives in Latham, Ohio. Her books are endorsed by well known authors such as Margaret Johnson, Linda Hall, and Lawana Blackwell.
Read an Excerpt
July, 1 74
“Jamie, can I come over tonight?”
Jamie Steele’s grip tightened around the telephone, her heart hammering in her chest. Her relationship with her boy friend, Jason Collier had progressed beyond the point of asking permission to see one another long ago. They’d been going out exclusivelyof course exclusively; he was the first and only boy she ever really datedsince last summer. They had met at Wyatt’s
Pharmacy in Jenna’s Creek where she got her first job. Jason was assigned to train her to fill the position of the drugstore’s newest stock girl. At the time she figured her new boss, Noel Wyatt, didn’t like her very much and was trying to force her to quit. Why else would he put someone as interesting as an old shoe in charge of training her? Jason thought of nothing besides work. She doubted he had a life outside the drugstore. But over the course of the summer, she realized underneath his gruff exterior beat the heart of a funny, ambitious, caring individual.
Had it not been for Jason’s support and friendship last summer, after her dad was killed in a car accident and her discovery that he had been suspected of a terrible crime twenty-five years earlier,
Jamie didn’t know how she would have survived. Especially since some people in Jenna’s Creek thought it was better to go on thinking her dad had killed his old girlfriend and disposed of her body, rather than discover the truth. But the truth had come out; partly due to Jamie’s grim determination to uncover all the facts that had been overlooked in the first investigation, and partly because the missing woman’s remains were finally discovered.
The mystery of what really happened to Sally Blake had consumed
Jamie from the moment she first heard of the young woman on the day of her father’s funeral. James, Jamie’s violent tempered father, and Sally had left a party together after a very public fight which included knocking over a refreshment table and exchanging blows. Sally was never seen or heard from again. Since finding out the whole story last summer, Jamie was determined to put the past behind her and move on with her life. That included forgiving her father for the cruel way he had treated her, her younger sister, Cassie, and most of all, their mother who died six years ago from cancer. Forgiving had been difficult. Forgetting, Jamie feared, would be impossible.
Now that classes were over and Jason was no longer living on a college campus two hours away, he came to the house nearly every evening after work to see her. Often the two of them relaxed side by side on the front porch swing, talking or simply gazing at the corn field on the other side of the blacktop road. They went for walks through the woods or played Yahtzee in the kitchen with
Cassie. Every now and then, they went into town for something to eat, and occasionally caught a movie. Working his way through college, Jason couldn’t afford to take her on actual dates every week. Jamie didn’t mind. They were content spending time together, which made his present behavior especially odd.
“Yeah, sure, Jason, you know I’ll be here,” she said aloud, while telling herself not to get worked up over nothing. The strange ring in his voice didn’t mean a thing.
“I have something I really need to talk to you about,” he said.
Her insides twisted tighter into a knot. This definitely wasn’t good. Either he was dumping her, or about to suggest they move their current relationship to the next level; neither of which she particularly wanted just now.
She managed to keep her voice steady. “Okay, great. Whatever.”
She winced and cursed her brain not coming up with a reply that consisted of more than one-word sentences. “You’re welcome to join us for supper if you’d like.” Now she sounded like she was talking to a long lost relative. She took a deep breath, told herself to calm down, and added, smiling; “You know how Grandma Cory loves feeding you.”
Jason didn’t seem to notice her discomfort. “I work ‘til eight so
I’ll get something to eat in town, but thanks anyway.” There was a moments silence on his end, and then, “And Jamie?”
“Um…well…I’ll see you after work.”
“Okay, Jason. Bye.” She held onto the receiver, giving him one last chance to say whatever was on his mind. A click on his end sounded in her ear. Whatever he meant to say would have to wait until after eight.
Jamie replaced the phone on its mount on the wall and left the kitchen. There was no need to mention Jason coming over tonight to Grandma Cory or Cassie. They knew to expect him at any time on any given night. He had become a steady fixture around the old farmhouse in the past month since Jamie graduated from high school and his classes at the university let out for the summer. During the school year while Jamie finished her senior year at South Auburn High School and Jason was earning his
Bachelors’ Degree at Ohio University in Athens, they saw very little of one another. He came home every other weekend and during his breaks between quarters, but even then he worked as much possible at Wyatt’s Drugstore.
Jamie worked at the drugstore too, on weekends and after school, and had little time left over for socializing. Now that it was summer break, Jason put in even more hours at the drugstore.
Though he was the recipient of a few small scholarships and some financial aid, the brunt of his college expenses fell directly on his young shoulders. His father was disabled and his mom had left years ago, so Jason needed to work as much as he could.
Jamie didn’t share Jason’s financial concerns about starting college.
Even before her father’s car accident last summer, Jamie and
Cassie had lived with their paternal grandparents on the family farm since their mother’s death. Grandpa Harlan was disabled and
Grandma Cory received Social Security to supplement her small income from running the farm. That meant Jamie qualified for federal grants that would pay whatever fees her various scholarships from high school didn’t cover. All she needed to concern herself with was pocket money and a new wardrobe befitting a college freshman.
She couldn’t wait to start college. While a little nervous about leaving home for the first time, her excitement over the future outweighed any anxiety over sleeping in a strange bed or sharing her life with an unknown roommate. Best of all, she would be with
Jason all the time. Now that he had earned his Bachelor’s Degree, he would be working toward his law degree while she acclimated herself to collegiate life. She could handle anything knowing Jason was on the same campus.
She headed upstairs to her bedroom. She had at least an hour to herself before evening chores or dinner preparations required her attention downstairs. She threw herself across the bed; propped herself up on her elbows and rested her chin in her hands, allowing an unobstructed view of the cloudless summer sky outside. From this position, she could see nothing more than treetops and sky.
She couldn’t see the open pasture to the west that led to their nearest neighbor as the crow flew, or the narrow blacktop road that disappeared around the bend just past their property line. As of this moment, nothing else in the world existed other than the bed beneath her, the patch of vivid blue sky outside the window, and
Jason; always Jason.
What could he want to talk to her about? She stared hard out the window and replayed the short phone conversation in her head. It wasn’t so much what he had said, but what he hadn’t said.
He sounded so serious, even more so than usual. Something was up, but what? Surely he didn’t plan to change the status of their relationship. Not steady, practical, focused Jason. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her. She knew he did, even though he hadn’t said as much. And she loved him. Neither had been in a hurry to put their feelings into words with so little time spent together over the past nine months, sometimes as much as a month going by with barely a long distance phone call from the campus in Athens to tide her over. For now, each concentrated on their individual goals. Jamie wanted a college education as badly as Jason wanted a law degree.
No, Jason wouldn’t be making any announcements tonight. He certainly wouldn’t ask her… No, of course not; with four years of law school ahead of him and her just starting college, his practical mind would balk at serious commitment.
That left only one possibility. She groaned and rolled over onto her back to stare at the mildew stained ceiling above her head.
Jason was dumping her, pure and simple. She might be a naïve farm girl, but even she could see the writing on the wall.
Jason’s compact car pulled into the driveway ten minutes after the hands on the grandfather clock by the front door read eight o’clock. Apparently, he hadn’t even gone home first to change out of his work clothes. The supper dishes had barely made it into the cabinets when fourteen-year-old Cassie spotted his car. She turned away from the kitchen window as a sly smile lit up her china doll features.
“Romeo’s here. And what’s that he’s carrying, flowers?”
Jamie straightened the damp dishtowel on the rack inside the cabinet door under the sink and pushed it closed with her knee.
Hoping to hide the desperation on her face, she pushed her sister away from the window to look for herself.
“I thought college boys couldn’t afford flowers,” Cassie observed, her smile widening with every word.
“Oh, hush,” Jamie warned. Inside her heart was fluttering.
Cassie was right; Jason couldn’t afford flowers. She got to the window in time to see him slam the door shut with his free hand and turn toward the house, the modest bouquet of summer flowers swathed in green tissue paper clutched in his other hand.
She couldn’t see his expression clearly from this distance, but he seemednervous or afraid. Neither one sat well on her stomach, along with the cooked cabbage from supper.
“I wonder what he’s up to,” she said under her breath, more to herself than Cassie.
Cassie nudged Jamie in the ribs with her elbow. “Maybe I know.”
“You don’t know anything.”
At that moment Jason looked up and caught sight of the girls watching him through the kitchen window. He grinned sheepishly and threw up his free hand in greeting. He headed for the back door.
Jamie waved back and stepped away from the window. When
Jason disappeared from view around the corner of the house, she ran her hands through her shoulder length, brown hair and tucked an errant corner of her blouse back into her jeans. “I look awful, don’t I? I wish I’d done something with my hair.”
Cassie gave her a wary glance, taken aback by her sudden uncharacteristic concern over her appearance. She lived and worked on a farm. She didn’t worry when she perspired or broke her nails.
She’d been raised to ignore splinters, calluses and bad hair days.
Jason had seen her at her worstand her bestand liked her anyway.
“What are you getting so worked up about?” Cassie wanted to know. “It’s just Jason. You see him every day.”
“No, I don’t, not everyday.”
Jason tapped at the screen door. “Anybody home?” he called out as he let himself in.
“Smooth, Jason,” Cassie said, teasingly. “You saw us from the driveway. You’re as jumpy as Jamie tonight.”
Jason edged into the kitchen, smiling at Cassie’s observation, but from his expression, she must have hit the nail on the head.
“Jamie, Jason’s car’s outside,” Grandma Cory said, coming into the kitchen from the front of the house. “Oh. Hi, Jason, I see you’re already in here.”
Jason’s eyes darted from one Steele woman to another. Cassie was right again; Jamie had never seen him so jumpy either. Her heart twisted inside her. Just what did he want? And why did he have those flowers in his hand?
“Evening, Mrs. Steele,” Jason said after finding his voice. He looked down at the flowers in his hand and then helplessly at
Jamie. “IumJamie, would you like to go somewhere to talk? I mean, if I’m not too early. Are you busy?”
“Looks to me like she’s no busier than she ever is,” Grandma
Cory said gruffly. “There’s no need for you to stand there hanging onto the door handle all night, Son. Come on in and me and
Cassie will give you two some privacy.”
“We will?” Cassie asked, crestfallen.
“Yes, we will.”
“No, Mrs. Steele,” Jason objected. “You don’t have to leave.
Jamie and I can”
“Jason, will you sit down, for lands sake?” Grandma Cory instructed, sounding put out, but there was no mistaking the twinkle in her eye. “You’re making me a nervous wreck. Cassie and I’ll go watch TV with Grandpa. If you decide to go somewhere to talk, there’s no need in letting me know.” She took hold of Cassie’s hand and led her from the room.
Jamie saw her own surprise reflected in Cassie’s face. Grandma
Cory wasn’t usually so accommodating. Did she know what Jason was up to or had the flowers tipped her off to the apparent importance of the occasion, as they had Jamie? Whether she knew or just assumed, she sure seemed in a hurry to get Cassie out of the room.
“You two behave yourselves now,” Cassie called over her shoulder from the doorway. “Nice flowers, Jason.”
Jason watched until Grandma Cory and Cassie were safely out of sight and then stepped to Jamie’s side. He kissed her cheek and held out the flowers, his smile tight and quavering. Jamie took the mixed bouquet offered her and lowered her nose dutifully into the tissue paper. The flowers didn’t smell like much of anything except wet and foliage and the inside of Jason’s car, but she smiled anyway, intensely aware of the spot where Jason’s lips had grazed her cheek. She had only received flowers one other time and those were a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day. This was the first of
July, nowhere near Valentine’s Day, or her birthday, for that matter.
This bouquet meant somethingsomething big. She gulped.
Good news or bad? She didn’t know which she was more prepared to hear.
Was it customary to bring flowers when you broke up with someone? If so, it seemed like an incredible waste of money and effort. Since Jason was her first boyfriend and she’d never actually been dumped, she wasn’t sure of the protocol.
“They’re beautiful,” she said and lowered herself into a kitchen chair.
He sat down in the chair opposite her and reached across the table to take her hand. “So are you.”
Jamie kept her eyes on the flowers, too anxious to risk looking into his eyes. He couldn’t be dumping her, unless he planned to make this the gentlest breakup in the history of doomed relationships.
“I guess you’re wondering what this is all about,” he said.
She nodded and willed herself to look at him. “Well,” she croaked, “as a matter of fact…”
“Let’s take a walk,” he said rising to his feet, the chair scraping noisily across the linoleum.
Jamie jumped up after him. “Um, okay. Let me put these flowers in some water first.” She went to the sink and rummaged underneath for a vase or a mason jar. None were to be found. A water glass would have to do for now. She’d look later after he went home and she could breathe again.
Outside in the still evening air, Jason took her hand and started across the yard in apparently no direction at all. When they were a good distance from the house, the lengthening shadows of a summer’s evening closing in around them, he stopped walking and turned to face her. Jamie watched his long, slim fingers encase hers. She always liked watching his hands while he worked; efficient, capable, as if working with no conscious thought on his part. In all the time they worked together in the stockroom at the drugstore where he trained her, she never saw him start something he couldn’t finish. She’d never seen him make a mistake. He was a man possessed when a job needed to be done. Nothing else mattered until he saw the task completed. Nothing or no onenot even shecould distract him from the job at hand.
“Jamie,” he said his voice firm yet tender; just like his hands.
“I have something really big to talk to you about, something that’s going to affect both of us forever.”
Jamie’s heart skipped a beat as she brought her eyes up to meet his. She couldn’t miss the excitement in his voice. Knowing him, he’d held it in all week, stewing over it, meditating, debating on the best way to put his announcement into words.
“What is it?” she murmured, gazing up into his smoky, blue gray eyes, all the while terrified of what he might say.
Without another word he took off walking again, momentarily pulling her off balance. The sliding barn door stood open. Even though the chores were done for the night, Grandma Cory would come out to check on everything one last time before going to bed.
She had gone through the same routine every night for the past forty years.
Jason led Jamie into the barn and pulled her down beside him on a large flat-topped tack box. The Steeles hadn’t owned a horse since they had finally been able to afford a tractor. Horses were
“expensive and impractical these days” Grandma Cory insisted every time the girls voiced their dream of owning one after seeing a beautiful specimen in someone else’s field. No amount of reasoning or vain promises could dissuade her. Nothing ever changed Cory
Steele’s mind once she settled on something. Nowadays she stored tools and an assortment of farm implements inside the padlocked box once intended for brushes, bits, bridles, and whatever else a horse owner needed.
Jason took her hand in his and brushed a strand of hair away from her face with the other. “Jamie, I don’t know how to say this.”
His silence lengthened. Jamie, who always considered herself a patient, somewhat passive personality, couldn’t take it anymore.
“Just say it, Jason,” she burst out. “You’ve been avoiding it for the past twenty minutes.” No matter how badly she wanted to hear what he came to say, she found herself holding her breath and dreading his words.
He looked surprised at first and then relieved that she’d forced him into action. “I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel for you.” He tightened his grip on her hand and she squirmed within his grasp to arrange her fingers into a less painful position. “I haven’t really had a family or anything like most people,” he went on, unaware of her discomfort. “After Mom took off when I was a kid, Dad totally shut down. Mom was the one that held us all together, and without her, we just sort of drifted along like we would get back to living as soon as she came back. Well, that never happened.
I don’t even know for sure where she’s at. Dad doesn’t talk about her and I learned a long time ago not to ask questions. He’s been sick for as long as I can remember. He’s getting worse all the time. Or maybe he just wants it to look that way; like it’s his way of holding me here. We’ve never been close like some fathers and sons. I can’t open up and talk to him. You know what I’m saying?”
For the life of her, she wished she did, but he lost her somewhere around the not asking questions part. She nodded anyway, afraid he’d feel the need to expound if she didn’t. All she really wanted was for him to get on with it. She would decipher his ramblings later.
“You’re the first person who’s been really important to me.” He scooted a little closer on the tack box and gazed into her eyes. “I love you, Jamie.”
Jamie’s heart caught in her throat. He loved her; he’d finally said it. She knew it was true but why did he tell her tonight? What else did he have in mind? Please, don’t say another word, she silently begged. I don’t want anything to change. I’d like things to stay just the way they areforever.
He pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her. “I don’t know how I’d get along without you. You mean so much to me.”
“I got a letter last week,” he said, shifting gears so quickly she forgot her apprehension. For a second she thought he was still talking about his mother. Then he added, “I’ve been accepted to law school.”
“What? I…I thought you were already registered for law school…in Athens.”
His eyes clouded over, and she felt her pulse race. “Well, I was.
I mean I am registered there, and I was planning on going.”
Jamie didn’t like the conversation’s sudden shift in direction.
Jason continued, unaffected by her lack of enthusiasm. “I applied to a few other schools too. I’m sure I told you about it. And, well, I’ve been accepted. I think Noel may have had something to do with it.” Noel Wyatt, the owner of the drugstore where Jamie and Jason worked, had recognized Jason’s potential when he hired him a few years ago and had taken him under his wing. He became the father figure Jason lacked at home and had done everything he could to encourage the young man to follow his dreams of becoming an attorney. How much encouragement, Jamie was about to find out.
“He sent out I don’t know how many recommendations for me,” Jason was saying. “They’re offering me a full scholarship and everything. I can’t believe its happening. I don’t know how Noel even talked me into applying. I figured I’d just embarrass myself. I never dreamed in a million years they’d want me, especially enough to offer me a full ride.”
“Jason, wait a minute.” Jamie leaned away from him so she could get a better look at his face in the deepening gloom of the barn’s interior. With his sandy blond hair slicked back away from his face with whatever it was guys used on their hair, his blue gray eyes seemed larger and more expressive than usual. Or maybe his hair had nothing to do with the glint in his eyes. “What are you saying? Who wants you?”
Her brow furrowed as her confusion mounted. “Stanford,
“No, not Stamford, Stanford Universityin San Francisco,
Stanford Law School,” he added proudly, his chest puffing out just a little.
She was beginning to understand. “Stanford,” she echoed her voice barely a whisper, “In California?”
His smile widened. “I’m pretty sure that’s the only one.”
“So you’re…the flowers…all this is for…”
“Jamie, this doesn’t change anything,” he said quickly. “I meant it when I said I love you. That’ll never change.”
So this was his big announcement; the reason behind the flowers.
He hadn’t come to dump her. He hadn’t come to propose. He came to make a fool of her. “You’re wrong, Jason. This changes everything. You’re leaving to go to California.” Her voice rose in pitch. “What about me? What about Ohio University? They have an excellent law program. You said so yourself a hundred times.”
“They didn’t offer the package Stanford did. Don’t you see?
They’re offering to pay for everything. I’ll really have to keep my grades up, of course, and I’ll be on a work study program while
I’m there, but no more student loans. No more grant applications.
They’re even including room and board. Oh, Jamie, you don’t know what a load off my mind this is. I haven’t had any help getting through school besides a few small alumni scholarships. You know how tough it’s been on me. But now…and it’s Stanford.” His eyes lit up. “I can’t pass this up.”
Jamie wouldn’t cry; she refused to give in to the tears pushing their way out of her chest into her voice, her eyes. “So Athens isn’t good enough for you anymore. I’m not good enough. You want to go to California and become some big city attorney. Just turn your back on everything and everybody you know.”
“No, that’s not what I want. I never said anything about staying in California, just studying. It’s a full scholarship. You’re supposed to be happy for me. Can’t you see? This is good news.” He reached for her hands again, but she jerked them away, out of reach. “You’ve got to understand,” he implored. “With a degree from Stanford,
I’ll be able to get a job with any firm I want. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“What about your dad? Have you told him you’re going to run off across the country and leave him here to fend for himself?”
“Yes, I have, and he’s thrilled. I think he’s just glad he won’t have to worry about feeding me for the next four years.”
She stood up and turned away from him. “Well, I’m glad everything’s working out so well for you.” She was about two seconds away from giving into some kind of feminine hysteria, and she couldn’t care less. “I don’t even know why you bothered to come out here and discuss it with me. You could have just waited until you were some hotshot attorney at some hotshot law firm in San
Francisco, and then sent me a postcard.”
“Jamie, aren’t you listening?” He stood up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Just because I go to school out there doesn’t mean I won’t come back after graduation. Ohio is my home. This is where my life is.”
She spun around to face him, her fists clenched at her sides.
“Give me a break, would you? You won’t come back to this,” she threw her arms into the air, indicating the barn around them, “after spending four years in San Francisco. Why would you?”
Her lack of understanding confounded him. “Why are you acting this way? I thought you of all people would understand the practicality of all this. I’ll get an excellent education most people only dream oftotally paid forand then I’ll be able to do what
I want for the rest of my life.”
“I’m sick of being practical,” she shrieked, any semblance of grace and decorum abandoned into the barn’s rafters. “I’m sick of being understanding. I thought we were going to school together.
Now I find out, you only planned on going with me because you had no other options. Now that’s Stanford’s waving this bone in front of your face, you’ve forgotten all our plans. Isn’t that right?”
Jason’s shoulders sagged in defeat. “This is what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid,” he said softly. “Yes, I’m excited about this bone they’re waving in my face. I saw it as an answer to prayer, something like divine intervention making it possible for me to get a great educationfor free. I kind of thought you’d see it that way too. Now you’re accusing me of using it to get away from you.
This has nothing to do with you, Jamie.” When he saw the hurt those words brought to her face, he hurried on. “I love you.” He reached for her hand again. “But it would be stupid to pass up this opportunity.”
Jamie jerked away from him. “Well, we can’t have anybody accusing you of doing something stupid now, can we? Being accepted to Stanford means you must be brilliant. Staying in Ohio with the woman you love would be stupid.”
She watched as his jaw clenched and unclenched. Maybe she was being too hard on him. Maybe she should calm down, take a deep breath, and try to see things from his point of view.
Jason dug his toe into the soft earth of the barn floor. “I guess I’d better go.”
She pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. No, she didn’t want to try to understand why he couldn’t wait to get away from her. She was right, and he was wrong. If he cared anything about her, he wouldn’t even consider Stanford’s offer. He had some nerve insinuating God was somehow involved in sending him clear across the country to pursue this selfish dream and that if she was a good Christian, she’d see it too. Apparently he didn’t see their future the same way she did.
“Yeah, maybe you’d better,” she said stiffly.
She followed him out of the barn to the back porch, rigidly silent, hating him and hating Stanford. He looked back one last time before heading to his car, but she turned away and went into the house through the squeaky back screen door, letting it slam behind her. She heard his car start up and the crunch of gravel as he backed out of the driveway onto Betterman Road.
She caught sight of the colorful bouquet of flowers in the water glass on the counter. She closed her fist around the stems, crushing them in her grasp, and gave them a toss out the back door. His attempt at a peace offeringhe wouldn’t have brought them if he thought for one minute she would support this selfish, cold-hearted decision.
“Was that Jason leaving already?” Cassie asked from the doorway.
When she saw the look on Jamie’s face and the trail of water droplets leading from the empty glass to the back door, she turned and headed back into the living room. For the first time in her life, she did the wise thing and didn’t ask questions.
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