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The House That Love Built
By Beth Wiseman
THOMAS NELSONCopyright © 2013 Elizabeth Wiseman Mackey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBrooke Holloway woke with a start, then felt her stomach lurch when she recalled her dream. She rolled over and threw her arm across Travis's side of the bed, wishing she could will him to be there. She lay there a few more minutes before forcing herself to get up and dressed before she went downstairs.
She pressed the button on the coffeemaker before facing off with the calendar that hung on the wall to the left of the refrigerator. She reached for the black marker dangling on a string nearby and drew a big X across today's date, as she did every morning, then scribbled "45" in the upper-right-hand corner of the square. The kids liked to keep up with the countdown to July 10.
Two cups of coffee later she still yawned as she headed back upstairs and down the hall to Meghan's room.
"Up, sleepyhead." Brooke flipped on the light and walked toward her precious six-year-old, whose blond hair crumpled in a mass on the pillow. "Time to get up." Brooke sat on the bed and kissed Meghan on the forehead, Travis still fresh on her mind. He used to wake up the kids each morning, said that seeing their faces first thing always made for a better day.
"Two more days of school after today." Meghan sat up and pulled down the pajama pants that had inched up her calves during the night.
"I know." Brooke stood and clapped her hands together. "So let's don't be late."
She headed down the hall to Spencer's room. Brooke had learned, after being reprimanded more than once, to always knock first.
Spencer was already sitting on the side of the bed when Brooke took two steps into his room. He no longer wanted her hugging and kissing him in the morning. Or any other time, for that matter. He'd grown up too much these past couple of years. Brooke wondered how much of that was her fault, if she'd handled Travis's death correctly with the kids, particularly Spencer. Either way, her ten-year-old son had made it clear she couldn't be "huggy and kissy" with him anymore.
"Glad to see you're up. I'm going to make some eggs and bacon, so I'll see you downstairs. Okay?"
Spencer nodded as he rubbed his eyes and yawned.
Thirty minutes later they were eating, and running late as usual. Brooke glanced at her watch, hoping the kids wouldn't miss the bus. Again.
"I miss Grandma," Meghan said through a mouthful.
"I know. Me too." Brooke stuffed the last bite of bacon in her mouth, chewing as she got up and tossed her paper plate in the trash can. "We'll go see her tomorrow after school. She's playing bingo this afternoon."
"She'd rather play bingo than see her grandkids?" Spencer stood up and also tossed his plate in the garbage.
Brooke looked at her watch again and grinned. "Yes. I believe she would." She snapped her fingers. "Now, chop-chop. We need to go."
Brooke had tried repeatedly to talk her mother out of moving to the assisted living complex here in Smithville, but once Patsy Miller had a notion in her head, there was no changing her mind. "They have bingo, card games, pottery, and painting classes," Mom had told her. "And Gladys told me they have dances too. You never have to cook, they give you rides to the doctor, and they have a maid service. Sounds like heaven to me, and I'm going to live there!" she'd said. That had been two months ago.
"We're going to miss the bus again." Meghan grabbed her backpack by the front door and slipped it over her shoulders.
"Not if you hurry!" Brooke kissed her on the cheek. "Love you."
Then she grabbed Spencer and planted a kiss on his forehead. "I know, I know," she said when he squirmed away. "But humor me every once in a while."
Brooke watched from the porch until the kids were safely on the bus, then started her ten-minute walk to Miller's Hardware Store.
Francis Tippens, affectionately called Big Daddy, was unlocking the door when Brooke walked up. At almost seven feet tall, the man commanded respect, and no one dared to call him by his given name. Even though he had a permanent scowl on his face, Brooke was pretty sure he would go to his grave to protect her and her children.
"Mornin', Ms. Brooke." Big Daddy held the door open for her. As she reached for the light switch, she tripped over the entryway rug. Gonna get rid of that thing one day.
Brooke stopped at the counter while Big Daddy walked toward the back of the store to begin unloading a recent order. "Have a good day, Big Daddy."
He didn't turn around, just waved. Brooke walked behind the front counter, sat on the wooden stool, and unlocked the register. She pulled yesterday's cash from her purse and was loading it in the machine when the door flew open again.
"Good morning, sunshine." Brooke put her hands on her hips when Juliet came scurrying in, shaking her head. Brooke braced herself for whatever excuse Juliet might have for being late.
"I am so sorry." Juliet brushed a strand of long blond hair away from her face, hair that didn't look like it had seen a comb this morning. She readjusted her silver purse on her shoulder and tucked her pink blouse into the short blue-jean skirt. "I couldn't find my keys this morning." She let out an exaggerated sigh. "Then I remembered it was Wednesday and I had to put the trash out."
Juliet had grown up in Smithville and had worked part-time at the store during her high school years. Now she attended Texas State in San Marcos, but Brooke hired her to help do inventory and catch up the filing in the summers.
"I'll go start the coffee." Juliet headed toward the back office. "Want some?"
Brooke nodded. "Yes, please. Thanks."
She closed the cash register and stared out the plate-glass windows that ran the length of the store. Across Main Street she could see Travis's old business, the windows boarded up. Right out of high school, he'd used inheritance money from his grandparents to open the Treasure Chest, a store he'd filled with old books, photographs, antique toys, and other vintage items. Brooke would joke that most of the inventory consisted of stuff Travis had collected since he was a kid. She was pretty sure he'd overpriced everything in the store because he really didn't want to sell any of it. Luckily, they hadn't depended solely on Travis's income.
Brooke wished someone would lease the space and open something new. Maybe a candy store. Then she'd just eat herself happy.
* * *
Owen Saunders walked across the concrete floor and up to the counter of Miller's Hardware Store. He was surprised to see how far back the full shelves ran in the shop. He'd been traveling to Austin for supplies, assuming Miller's wouldn't stock what he needed. Maybe he'd been wrong. But this excursion wasn't so much about buying something as it was about looking for advice.
A woman wearing a navy baseball cap looked up as he walked in. His gaze drifted, and he wondered if she knew she had a big black smudge on her white T-shirt.
"Oops," she said as she pulled the shirt away from herself and examined the dark spot. "And I haven't even been here fifteen minutes." She paused, smiling. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so." Owen rubbed his chin, knowing he was three days without a shave and not looking his best. His blue jeans and brown T-shirt were splattered with white paint, and he probably didn't smell too good. "I'm restoring a house I just bought here, and"
"Oh. Which one?" She thumbed through a pile of papers on the counter, not looking at him.
"Uh, the old white one on Olive Street, about three houses from the corner."
She stopped what she was doing and lifted her head. "You bought the Hadley mansion?"
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a mansion."
"Around here, that's a mansion." The woman cocked her head to one side. "You must have a big family. That place is huge. Six bedrooms and, if I remember right, two and a half bathsquite unusual for the time." She tapped a finger to her lips. "Plus a big parlor entry, nice-sized kitchen. I think there's even a basementalso uncommon around here." Pushing back the rim of her cap, she looked at him. "No one has lived there for at least ten years."
"No family. Just me."
That was the thing about small townseveryone knew everyone's business. He'd told Virginia that, but she hadn't cared. His former wife had always wanted a big house in Smithville, the small town where the movie Hope Floats was filmed. After their divorce, he'd bought the place to spite her.
"I'm Brooke." She extended her hand. "Welcome to Smithville. I haven't been in the Hadley place since I was a kid, but I imagine you'll become a pretty good customer." Grinning, she lifted one eyebrow.
She was attractive, in a tomboyish sort of way. Full lips covered straight white teeth, and she had gorgeous big brown eyes. Her long, sandy-blond ponytail protruded through the opening at the back of her cap. He thought about Virginia. His ex-wife wouldn't be caught dead in a baseball cap.
"I'm Owen Saunders," he finally said, noticing her hands weren't smooth like Virginia's, nor was she wearing a ridiculously large rock on her left hand like his former wife. No ring at all. Stop comparing everyone to Virginia.
"So what brings you here today?" She placed her palms flat on the counter and sat a little taller.
"I painted the entryway yesterday, and the paint is already flaking off." Owen shifted his weight and sighed. "I'm not sure what to do next, whether to paint another coat, maybe thicker this time."
"Did you sand it really good before you started? Those old houses usually have oil-based paint, and you've got to get most of it off before you apply the primer."
Owen swallowed. He didn't know one single thing about renovating an old house. Virginia had hired out even the simplest repairs at their house in Austin. Always the perfectionist, she'd never wanted Owen to attempt home improvements. Thinking about her brittle ways made him wonder why he'd ever married her.
"I must not have sanded it well enough." Owen wasn't about to tell her he hadn't used primer. "What should I do now? Maybe you can ask your boss or something?"
The corner of her mouth curled up on one side. "I am the boss, and all you can do now is sand it off and start over."
"You're kidding." Owen sighed again, shaking his head. He'd wanted this project to keep him busy, and apparently it was going to. "Then I guess I need some sandpaper."
She got up and walked around the counter, motioning for him to follow her. She was about average height for a woman, but there was something not so average about the way she walked, and after a few moments admiring how well her jeans fit her, Owen reminded himself that it didn't matter if she was attractive, married, single, or from Mars.
Not going down that road again.
"Here's what you need." She pointed to a box on her right, tapping it a few times with her finger. "This is the biggest, baddest sander we have for the price. It will still take you a long time, but I guarantee this will get the job done."
Owen looked at the price. Three hundred dollars. He decided not to think of this as an expensive mistake. He needed an electric sander for the rest of the house anyway. It didn't really matter if it took him years to finish. He didn't have anything else to do. He pulled the box from the shelf. "Then I guess I better get this one."
She smiled, and he assumed she was happy she'd just made a three-hundred-dollar sale. Owen couldn't help but smile along with her. They were walking back to the counter when he heard footsteps behind them. He turned around to see a young woman with long blond hair and a short blue-jean skirt gaining on them, heels clicking. A skinny little thing.
Owen stopped when Brooke did. "What is it?"
The young woman was breathless. "I have to talk to you right away." She turned to Owen. "Please excuse us for one moment." She held up a finger as she pulled Brooke around the corner. Owen waited, eyeing some of the larger sanders, wondering if he should step it up. But the women's voices caught his attention.
"I saw that man out the window of my office when he passed by on the sidewalk, and that has to be the new guy people are talking about. He is hot, and he looks about your age."
"Lower your voice. And ..."
Owen couldn't make out anything else they said. He grinned, appreciating the compliment. But what neither of these gals knew was that he was done with women. Forever. He was still in love with a woman he couldn't stand.
And for that ... he didn't like himself very much either. Brooke finally got Juliet to hush before she made her way back to the new guy, a bounce in her step. Finally, something to get mildly excited about, and it wasn't Owen Saunders or the prospect of a new love interest.
"Sorry about that," she said as she met up with him again. "So ... are you doing mostly cosmetic work on the house? Or are you restructuring, like knocking out walls?" She punched keys to ring up the sander. "Cash or credit?"
"Just trying to get it livable." He handed her a card. "I guess you could say it's mostly cosmetic. But there's a lot to do."
"I imagine." Brooke bit her bottom lip as she swiped the card. "Have you found anything ... unusual?" She held her breath as she recalled all the stories she'd heard about the Hadley place.
"Does a raccoon in the attic count?" He smiled as he put his hands in his pockets.
In another life, she might have found him attractive, even with his scraggly chin and paint-splattered clothes. But Travis had been her one true love, and she was sure no one could replace him.
Owen Saunders did have something she was interested in, though, and she got giddy just thinking about it. If she played her cards right, this might be a chance to finally get in and look around his house.
To see if what she'd heard was true.
Chapter TwoEvery time Brooke walked into her mother's small apartment at the Oaks Retirement Villa she questioned Mom's decision to move here. Mom had sold her house and moved in with Brooke and the kids after Travis died, and Brooke had thought the arrangement worked well. Her four-bedroom home had plenty of room, and she and the kids had enjoyed having her mother around. Mom had liked being with them too. Or so Brooke had thought.
The simply furnished apartment featured a compact living room, plus a tiny bedroom, a bathroom, and a half kitchen with a microwave, a small sink, and a few cabinets. Lunch and supper were provided in the main dining room, and Brooke kept her mother stocked with fruit and cereals for breakfast.
"Grandma, you look pretty," Meghan said when they walked in. Brooke froze in the doorway, momentarily caught off guard. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen her mother so done up. Mom's graying brown hair looked freshly cut and set and ... was that blue eye shadow? She wore a navy pantsuit Brooke didn't remember ever seeing.
"Where are you off to?" Brooke set her purse on the couch as Spencer gave his grandmother a hug that warmed Brooke's heart. Mom hadn't driven for the past three years, since her glaucoma had gotten so bad that she could no longer pass the eye exam.
"Just to supper," Mom answered with a shrug, then she held up a finger, smiling. "But they have a band tonight." She walked over to the couch and sat down. "Gladys, Audra, and I thought it would be fun to get a little dressed up. We don't do that very often."
"Well, Meghan's right. You do look very pretty." Brooke sat down beside her mother. Meghan snuggled up close on the other side, and Spencer planted himself in the nearby rocking chair. "Do you need anything? More cereal? Anything else?"
"Hmm." Mom adjusted her thick gold-rimmed glasses and then drummed her fingers against her blue slacks. "Can you pick me up some perfume? Do you remember the kind I like?"
"Chantilly, right?" How could Brooke forget? Her mother had always favored the same flowery scent, never opting to try something new. "But you haven't worn any perfume in a long time."
"I know, dear. But the girls always smell so good, and I smell like Ivory soap." Mom frowned as she cupped the back of her hair and gave it a little lift. It was the same haircut she'd always hadshort, with a little poof on top.
"I'll pick you up some perfume." Brooke touched her mom on the leg. "Anything else?"
Mom shook her head. "No, I don't think so."
For the next fifteen minutes, her mother quizzed the children about school and their plans for the summer, but Brooke noticed that she repeatedly looked at her watch. Then, as if she'd dutifully fulfilled her grandmother role, Mom stood up and hugged each of them.
"Thank you for coming by. I don't want to be late for supper tonight." She walked to the door, obviously expecting them to follow.
Brooke glanced at the clock on the wall as she stood. "Supper's not for another thirty minutes, Mom."
"Yes, but I want to get us a good seat." Her mom kissed the children on the cheek, leaving lipstick on each of them. "You know, because of the band. It will be extra crowded in the main dining room."
Excerpted from The House That Love Built by Beth Wiseman Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Wiseman Mackey. 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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