Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Driftwood Lane; The Sister Bride

Driftwood Lane
(A Nantucket Love Story, Thomas Nelson)

By Denise Hunter

"A heart-warming romance . . . The perfect beach read!" --Kristin Billerbeck, best-selling author of What a Girl Wants

Chapter One

Meridith Ward surveyed the mess cluttering Delmonico's kitchen and shuddered. The kitchen staff scurried in quick, jerky movements, but then, it was lunch hour, and a hundred St. Louis business people had to get fed and back to their jobs.

The owner, Angelo Bellini, burst through the swinging door, nearly slamming into Meridith's back. "Please . . . we were not expecting you," he said over the din of clattering pans and voices shouting orders.

"That's kind of the point, Mr. Bellini." Meridith opened her notebook and continued the inspection.

The owner discreetly removed raw chicken breasts from the sink, setting them in a nearby skillet. He did not wash his hands.

Meridith made another note on the list of infringements.

"Meridith . . ." His accent caressed her name. He flashed his dimple.
She shot him a look.

"Ms. Ward," he continued, "we have had an unusually difficult morning. My cook, he called in sick, my prep boy did not even show up, and I have our host cutting vegetables." He gestured wildly. "He does not even know what he is doing. Such a day!"

Meridith strolled through the kitchen, still writing. The cook staff wove around her as though their moves had been choreographed. Despite the disorder, the savory smells of garlic and roasted chicken filled the air.

"I cannot even tell you!" Mr. Bellini continued. "Please, we can do this another day. I would be happy to show you around myself tomorrow."

Meridith's phone vibrated in her pocket. "Excuse me," she shouted over the whir of a machine roaring to life.

She retreated to a quieter corner of the kitchen and opened her phone, so eager to escape Mr. Bellini, she didn't check the caller ID. "Meridith Ward."

A moment's silence made her wonder if she'd missed the reply.

"Hello? This is Meridith."

"Meridith Ward?" A male voice, unfamiliar.

"Yes, may I help you?"

"Do you know T. J. Ward? Terrance James Ward of Nantucket?"

It was a name she hadn't heard in years. A name she tried not to think about, usually with success. The name sucked the moisture from her mouth, set her heart racing, stole the reply from her tongue.


It was just a phone call. She cleared her throat. "Yes, you have the right Meridith. How may I help you?"

"My name is Edward Thomas. I need a moment of your time, but it sounds like I've caught you in the middle of something."

Her excuse to avoid this altogether. She could hang up and never accept another call from Edward Thomas. But problems didn't resolve when you ignored them, they got worse. She scanned the kitchen. Case in point.

She drew a shaky breath and pulled herself to her full five-foot-three inches. "Now is fine, Mr. Thomas. Go ahead."

"I'm an attorney on the island of Nantucket. First of all—and I'm so sorry to relay this over the phone—we've been trying to locate you for two weeks. I'm afraid that your—that T. J. Ward and his wife, Eva, were involved in a boating accident. They didn't, that is . . . I'm afraid neither survived, Meridith."

Her racing heart skipped a beat, like the wheels of a tire hitting a speed bump, then continued on its frantic way. They were gone? Both of them, just like that?
She waited for the numbness to dissipate and the wave of pain to wash over her. But it didn't come.

She should feel something. Something other than this cold void. Was there something wrong with her? Maybe she needed time to process. Two weeks ago, he'd said. The funerals were over by now. It was all over, and there was nothing for her to do.


She watched Mr. Bellini continuing his belated cleanup. She remembered her relief at the call and realized now that she'd chosen the worse of two evils.

"Thank you for notifying me, Mr. Thomas. I appreciate your taking the time to locate me, but I really must return to work."

"Wait, Meridith, I—I'm afraid there's more. I handled T. J. and Eva's legal matters."
Of course, there was the matter of his estate. This was a lot to digest.

"I'm sure you're aware that T. J. and Eva ran a bed-and-breakfast—I'm not certain how long it's been since you've seen them."

"Quite a while." Years, actually.

Mr. Bellini was yelling at the prep guy, making imaginary chops with the side of his hand.
"I surmised as much. Nonetheless, T. J. and Eva were very clear in their provisions, should the unthinkable happen. They wanted Summer Place to go to you. Furthermore, they've named you as guardian of the children."

Summer Place . . . the children?An inappropriate bubble of laughter caught in her throat.
"I know this must come as a shock. I'm not unaware that—"

"There must be some mistake." Her hand worked its way to her throat. The children? Three of them. How old were they now?

What did it matter? This was a mistake. A clerical error.

"I spoke with T. J. and Eva myself. The will was drawn up several years ago, but I've spoken with them regularly since then. We were friends as well."

Then they should've left the children to you! Meridith pressed her fingertips to her forehead. Impossible. What did she know about children? Especially these children?

"I don't know what to say, Mr. Thomas." A gross understatement.

"This is a lot to take in all at once, I understand. But we're in a bit of a pickle here. An elderly neighbor has been staying at Summer Place, caring for the children. As I said, it's taken two weeks to locate your number. Mrs. Hubbard is in poor health, and there's no one else. Your presence is needed rather immediately."

"My job . . ."

"Might I suggest a short leave of absence?"

There had to be somebody. Somebody else. Eva had a brother, didn't she?

As if reading her mind, Mr. Thomas continued. "We've been unable to reach Eva's brother. He's traveling and, last the children heard, he was in Georgia, but that's all we know. You should know that he was named as a possible guardian in the event that you declined the task. But again, the need for help is immediate."

She played with her engagement ring. She couldn't leave Stephen, couldn't leave her job, could she? The thought of leaving St. Louis, leaving all that was familiar, even for a short time, brought a tidal wave of anxiety she hadn't felt since college. She drew a deep breath, then another.

"The fact is, the children are in dire need of your assistance, Meridith. Since Mrs. Hubbard fell ill, members of the church have been taking shifts. Very kind of them, of course, but it can't go on. If you don't come quickly, I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to alert Child Protective Services. I'd hate to see the children go to foster care, even temporarily. And there's no assurance they'd be placed together."

Foster care! Meridith imagined suited men coming into their home, carrying them off. She imagined the littlest, a boy, screaming for his mommy.

From somewhere deep inside compassion swelled, followed quickly by a surge of protectiveness she didn't know she was capable of. She had no doubt there were decent foster homes. But the thought of the children being separated seemed cruel when they'd just lost their parents.
She had to do something. It was her responsibility, even if she'd never met them, because T. J. and Eva had named her the children's guardian. And because, like it or not, she was their sister.

Do not reproduce without permission

* * *

The Sister Wife, book one: Brides of Gabriel

by Diane Noble

"Diane Noble not only explores the early days of the Mormon church; she also probes deeply into the human heart... the pages turn faster and faster…right up to the breathless conclusion and the promise of more drama to come." (Liz Curtis Higgs, best-selling author of Thorn in My Heart )

"Diane Noble is at her best in The Sister Wife. I found myself transported by the richness of her

words, the authenticity of her research and the depth of her spirit. Well done!" (Jane

Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of An Absence So Great )

Mary Rose loved her husband, but could she do what the Prophet asked?

Set in the earliest days of a new nineteenth-century sect known as the Saints, The Sister Wife is a riveting account of two women drawn into religious practices they don't understand, bound by devotion to Prophet Joseph Smith. When Mary Rose marries Gabriel, neither of them could foresee how quickly the community would turn to the practice of plural marriage. Devastated when Gabe is faced with an order from the Prophet to marry her best friend, Bronwyn, Mary Rose searches her heart for the faith she learned as a child, a different faith -- and God -- than the one being proclaimed by the Prophet. Even as her journey takes her into a dark and heartbreaking place, a still small voice beckons her toward the Truth she thought she'd lost forever. Will she find the One who can give her the strength to see her through? Can she forgive the ultimate betrayal by her husband and best friend? Will she find the courage to do what is required of her?

Enter the riveting world of the Brides of Gabriel.

Mary Rose is a young Mormon convert of aristocratic English blood.

Bronwyn is a beautiful young widow with a baby.

And Enid, Gabe's first love,
holds a secret she's never revealed ...

June 28, 1842

Mary Rose refused to let the sting at the back of her throat turn to tears. Instead, she drew in a deep breath and reached over her swollen stomach to pluck weeds from between the rows of cabbage seedlings.

Distant wedding bells tolled, calling the Saints to the meetinghouse for the ceremony sealing seven brides to less than half as many grooms.

As her knees sank into the loamy soil she gave little thought to the peau de soie gown she

wore, one of the few stylish frocks that had survived the voyage and wagon journey to Nauvoo, and the only one with an Empire waist that could accommodate the child growing beneath her heart.

She plunged her hands into the wet soil and breathed in its soft fragrance, thinking of fertility, life, and growth. She would miss her garden; it had been a source of wonder since Bronwyn had helped her turn the first spade of soil. Throughout the winter and early spring they had talked about their plantings: radishes, beans, winter squash, corn, and herbs for cooking; and then they had convinced Gabe and Griffin of their need for an arbor, and amid laughter and loving conversation, all had worked together to build it. Neighbors had supplied them with healthy cuttings of grapevines and berries. With a sense of wonder, she had watched her early garden thrive and felt an almost motherly pride at the tender new growth.

Little more than a year earlier, back in England, the thought had never entered her pampered head that she might take such pleasure in the sun's warmth on her shoulders, or the burial of a seemingly dry and dead seed that days later pushed its tiny sprout-self through the soil, reaching for the same sunlight that gladdened her heart.

From the henhouse, several yards beyond the garden, the low clucks of hens and higher pitched peeps of the fresh-hatched chicks brought another wave of sorrow. How could she leave this place she'd grown to love in such a short time? How could she leave the man she loved with every ounce of her being? Especially now that she carried his child?

The gentle breeze cooled her warm cheeks, and she drew in a deep breath, concentrating on the rhythmic music of the farm: the breeze rattling the oak leaves by the creek out back, the low murmurs of hens and chicks, the nickering of a newborn colt, and the answering neigh of his mother in the pasture.

Her eyes filled, and her heart ached with longing as if she'd already hitched the carriage and driven off.

She tried not to think about Gabe's decision as betrayal, but it crept into her mind anyway. Along with words from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem . . . It was thy love proved false and frail. She pictured her love's face, imagined him with Bronwyn, and for all her strength and determination to hold back her tears, this time she could not. She whispered the words to the last stanza of the poem. The words, as if driven deep with an ice pick, stabbed too close to the marrow of her bones.

Ah, Sweet, be free to praise and go!

For if my face is turned too pale,

It was thine oath that first did fail,

It was thy love proved false and frail,

And why, since these be changed enow,

Should I change less than thou.

She drew in a shuddering breath to regain control. She needed every ounce of strength to get through this day. She plunged her hands into the earth, drawing comfort from the cool soil and willing away the pain in her heart.

Gabe had taken his time, first with his toiletries, then with the new trousers and gleaming white shirt Mary Rose had laundered just the day before. As he prepared himself to look his Sunday best, she'd fled to the comfort of her garden. Now she heard his footsteps and pulled the brim of her fancy bonnet lower to shade her face from the unblinking sun. And to avoid her husband's eyes.

"Why are you out here? It's almost time to go," he said.

She kept her back to him. "You shaved twice."

He laughed. "I often do that. Why should this be any different?"

"You know why."

"I thought you'd decided to come with me," he said. "I know it's difficult for you, but you gave me your word." If he'd yelled or cursed, it would have hurt less. But as always, he was too much of a gentleman, a loving, kind man, to resort to such behavior.

"I changed my mind," she said as he helped her stand. She gave him a small half-smile.

"A woman is entitled." In truth, she had dressed for the occasion, planning to make an appearance so none would be the wiser when she hitched the horse to the family buggy and rode off in the night. But when he preened in the mirror and then pulled out his straight razor a second time, she knew that no matter what she and Bronwyn discussed, Gabe had plans of his own.

He drew her into his arms. "Mary Rose," he whispered, his breath tickling her ear. "It isn't right or proper that you stay away, today of all days. It is your duty to welcome Bronwyn into our family, standing by my side. I would not have done this without your consent."

She slipped out of his embrace and, pushing back her bonnet, looked up at him in rage. But when he swept his hair back in that way he had, raking it with his fingers, her heart overflowed with the same love she'd had for him since they'd said their own vows.

"My consent?" She almost laughed. "As if, after Brigham told me my options, I had any say in it. You do not have my consent, regardless of what the elders—and you—might tell others."

Do Not Reproduce without permission.
For more information about Diane and her writings visit www.dianenoble.com, connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dianenoblebooks, or send her a tweet at http://twitter.com/dianenoble. Purchase The Sister Wife at http://www.amazon.com/Sister-Wife-Brides-Gabriel-Book/dp/0061962228/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270919022&sr=1-1

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