Saturday, December 24, 2011
HOME BY MORNING
From HOME BY MORNING by Alexis Harrington
Cole found the coffee, ground the beans, and soon the room was filled with its rich redolence as it perked. Without help, he also located the cups, cream, and spoons. He searched for something to go with the coffee—Granny Mae was right, they had to eat. The best he found was a loaf of bread and a square of butter on a saucer. Jessica hadn’t been wrong about her lack of food.
But then as Amy had often reminded him, Jess had never had much talent in the kitchen.
He’d never cared.
Although the bread looked more like scraps by the time he’d butchered it, he was glad for the distraction. But he could feel Jessica’s eyes on his back as he puttered.
“Eat your sandwich,” he said over his shoulder. “The coffee’s about ready.”
Satisfied to see her nibbling on the chicken, he balanced the cups, coffee pot and other stuff to carry to the table. He’d never had much talent in the kitchen, either.
“Sorry about the bread,” he muttered, putting it down.
Jessica looked at the uneven hunks he’d sawed off the loaf and smiled. “It would probably look the same if I’d done it. She ate mechanically, simply because she knew she had to.
He poured coffee for both of them. Then he sat down in the chair across from her and splashed a drip of cream into his coffee.
“How long before you know . . . how will we . . . ”
“How will we know if Amy is going to live?” Jessica’s interpretation of his stumbling question sounded blunt and clinical, even to her own ears.
He sighed. “Yeah.”
“I wish I knew. Some people who ought to die seem to hang on through sheer will or what I can only call luck. Others I expect to improve don’t survive. Some people who’ve been exposed again and again seem to have immunity, but I’ve had cases from outlying farms that have had no visitors.” She put down the sandwich and rubbed her temples. “Talk about feeling useless—that doesn’t begin to describe how I feel.”
Cole nudged her foot under the table with his boot. “I’ve never seen a useless person work as hard as you.”
“It’s not difficult to look busy when you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
“So you’re not really busy?”
“Of course, I am. But I’m scared too.”
“You? Jess, I don’t think you’ve ever really been afraid of anything in your life.” He said it not as a compliment, but as a statement of fact.
“What on earth makes you say that?”
“You’ve tackled jobs that would have knocked some men flat on their backs. And you’ve succeeded.”
“Obviously, you haven’t listened to some of the things I’ve told you.”
He stared into his cup. “Trust me, I heard all of it.”
Suddenly a pocket of pitch exploded in the wood stove, sounding as loud as a gunshot in the quiet room. Jessica flinched.
Cole laughed, startling her even more. “Hey, remember that Halloween night we snuck up to the Leonards’s house? You weren’t scared that night.”
She grinned then, the cloud of doom hanging over her suddenly lightened. “I haven’t thought about that in years! You had those firecrackers left over from the Fourth of July. And I was so scared!”
His own grin showed off the dimples that she’d always found endlessly fascinating and attractive. “Amy heard us plotting and made us take her along or she was going to squeal to your dad. We made her the lookout, but she was so nervous and jumpy, I thought she’d get us caught before we even started.”
Jess stirred her coffee. “Yes, she never had the heart for adventure, and I think she was all of ten or eleven at the time. When you climbed the trellis and got to the top of the Leonards’s roof, even I was sweating. I could see the whole family through the window, holding some kind of prayer meeting in the parlor. Then you dropped those firecrackers down their chimney—”
By this time, they were both laughing, the kind of desperate, happy, hysterical laughter that sometimes overtakes people in their darkest moments. Tears streamed down Jessica’s face.
“Blam, blam, bang-bang-bang—”
“Oh, I wish you could have seen them. You missed it all, up there on the roof. They jumped in every direction, knocking over chairs, prayer books flying. Old man Leonard grabbed his shotgun and actually pointed it at the fireplace! Poor Dolly dove under their dining room table with the kids.”
They laughed until they exhausted their wind, then drew breath and began whooping again. Cole slapped the tabletop a few times, howling until he’d emptied his lungs. By this time, she had a cramp in her side. Someone watching would think they’d taken leave of their senses.
His face red with the exertion, Cole said, “He was probably expecting the devil to leap out of the flames into their parlor, armed with a pitchfork. But then I got hung up in that rotting rose trellis of theirs while I was trying to climb down. The whole thing gave way. That was when he came outside. He practically yanked the front door off the hinges.”
With mock seriousness, Jess said, “I was sure my heart stopped then. At least there was no moon that night, or he would have spotted you, lying there in the flower bed. And Amy, she was hiding in their privet hedge, wringing her hands and crying.” She dissolved into high-pitched giggles again.
“Jesus, he would have shot the first thing that twitched. All I could do was stay there and not move a muscle until he went around the house in the other direction.”
“Then we ran. I didn’t know I could move that fast. I had to grab Amy and drag her along or she probably would have hidden in those bushes all night.”
“I was scratched up from those roses. They had thorns like arrowheads.” He looked at his bare arms, revealed by his rolled-up plaid shirt sleeves. The scars were no longer visible, only the muscle and sinew of a man who’d worked hard for years.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”
“We were all lucky we didn’t get caught. I thought Amy would spill the beans for sure.”
“Actually, I thought she would too. She’s such a poor liar. But no one ever found us out.”
“I was scared to death they would.”
She raised a brow. “You told me you weren’t afraid that night.”
He waved off the comment. “Yeah, well, I couldn’t let you know. I had my sixteen-year-old ego to defend. But old man Leonard would have staked me out in his backyard and let the dogs eat me. He’s such a sour crank.”
Their laughter finally faded, like a rocking chair that had coasted to a gentle stop, leaving a palpable silence.
“We had some fun back then, didn’t we,” Cole said, a bittersweet catch in his voice.
They’d had more than that. They had a history together, one that began in childhood. “We sure did. Before everything got . . . complicated.” She bit on the sandwich crusts,
but they’d dried out so she pushed them aside.
“Jess, I wish you had come home to stay when your father died, instead of going right back to New York .”
“Sometimes I wish I had too. I learned a lot in New York, but I’m not certain I’m the better for it. It cost me my peace of mind. I still have nightmares about the things I saw.”
His eyes locked with hers, his gaze pinning her to her chair. “No, I mean I wish you had come home—to me.”
Jessica’s heart squeezed in her chest like a fist. Her throat turned dry and felt as if she’d swallowed a burr. “How can you bring that up now?”
To her utter surprise, he slid off his chair and dropped to one knee beside her. His eyes never leaving hers, he reached up with one work-roughened hand and pushed loose strands of hair away from her face. The backs of his fingers grazed her cheek and goose bumps bloomed on her entire body, giving her a delicious shiver. Then his hand snaked around the back of her neck and pulled her face down to his. She felt his warm breath, smelled the scent of him, and she was powerless to stop him.
She didn’t want to stop him.
His lips touched hers, tentatively, seeking. For that instant, all the years and hurts and betrayals fell away. This was Cole Braddock, the man she’d always loved. She remembered his kiss well, yet it felt brand-new at the same time.
She pulled back, her breath coming fast. “We can’t do this,” she protested.
“I know.” Then he kissed her again.
VETERAN HISTORICAL ROMANCE NOVELIST ALEXIS HARRINGTON’S FIRST SELF-PUBLISHED NOVEL, HOME BY MORNING, TO BE REPUBLISHED ELECTRONICALLY AND IN PAPERBACK AS AN AMAZON MONTLAKE ROMANCE ON DECEMBER 24TH
Harrington Sets Her Story in 1918 Oregon Where the Strength of an Estranged Couple’s Love is Tested as the Great War Grinds On and the Deadly Influenza Pandemic Engulfs the World
"Alexis Harrington is an extraordinary talent."
—New York Times bestselling author, Catherine Anderson
“Emotionally moving and very tender, MONTANA BORN AND BRED tugs on your heartstrings in magical ways. Alexis Harrington delivers a story with relevance to us today as well as a wonderfully drawn portrait of the era.”
—RT Book Review
“The balance between the romance and history is perfect. …Thank you, Ms. Harrington.”
—All About Romance on Home by Morning
“Brave. Heartfelt. Incredible . . . an emotional story filled with honest, raw characters, biting treachery and abiding love. I couldn’t put it down.”
—New York Times bestselling author, Lisa Jackson on Home by Morning
When Alexis Harrington’s first book, Homeward Hearts, was published twenty years ago, e-books and e-readers were mere glimmers in tech-savvy eyes. The author of ten traditionally published print books, Alexis published her recent historical romance novel, HOME BY MORNING, as an e-book original. The book caught the attention of editors’ at Amazon’s new Montlake Romance imprint, which then acquired print and electronic rights to it as well as Alexis’s upcoming novel, HOME BY NIGHTFALL. Set in the first part of the 20th century, both books take place in the small town of Powell Springs, Oregon and share several characters. HOME BY MORNING will be republished by Montlake for sale on December 24th and HOME BY NIGHTFALL follows in July 2012. Both will be available in e-book and paperback editions.
HOME BY MORNING begins in October, 1918 as Dr. Jessica Layton returns to her hometown of Powell Springs for the first time since leaving for medical school in the east. The Great War is in its fifth year, shortages abound, the home front mourns the massive loss of life, and women physicians remain an anomaly. Her efforts to treat New York City’s desperately poor left her drained and exhausted, in need of time to recuperate physically and emotionally. Having done so, she has now given up on a traditional medical practice and is headed to a research position in Seattle.
The stop in Powell Springs will be difficult. The town holds bitter memories and reminders of failure. Jess couldn’t save the family home, she broke her promise to continue her father’s medical practice and it’s the first time she’ll face Cole Braddock, the man who broke her heart and who her sister Amy is planning to marry.
Convinced to stand in for the absent town doctor for a few weeks before continuing north, Jess treats her first patient that very day, a soldier about to leave for Europe. Crossing paths with Cole, she hardens her heart, but can’t help but see he is still the same man with whom she fell in love, and still the only one who stirs her passion.
Cole is fighting his own demons. After his brother Riley enlisted, he was left to run the family business supplying desperately needed horses to the Army. Cole feels guilt about not fighting—a frustration exacerbated by his alcoholic father who belittles him at every turn. He worries, too, about Susannah, Riley’s wife, who is exhausted by work and worry. Drifting toward marriage with Amy, Cole has yet to put aside his anger over Jess. Seeing her stirs up memories of all they shared and the pain that has never healed.
The young soldier dies, the first person in Powell Springs to succumb to the influenza pandemic gripping the world. As more and more townspeople take ill, it is clear that a new war has come to the home front. Now, Jess and Cole work side-by-side as they struggle to save lives, an intimacy that makes it impossible to ignore their feelings for each other. Amid the turmoil, as Jess desperately treats the sick, she incurs the wrath of a minister bent on revenge and becomes the target of a slanderous campaign to keep her from her patients.
Jess has to decide. She can choose to fight on all fronts, or leave, turning her back on her hometown, its people and Cole forever.
ABOUT ALEXIS HARRINGTON
Historical novelist Alexis Harrington has entertained readers since her first book was published in 1994. She has been spinning tales of characters and situations that include mail order brides, the Yukon Gold Rush, seafaring, ranching, and protagonists heading west ever since. Her latest, HOME BY MORNING, is the first of her books published as an e-book original. Initially available in 2010, it will be re-released on December 24th electronically and, for the first time, in paperback by Amazon’s new Montlake Romance imprint.
Since that first novel, Homeward Hearts, was published Alexis has written and published ten more books, all historical romances. They include Homeward Hearts, A Light For My Love, A Taste of Heaven, Desperate Hearts, and Harper’s Bride, originally published by New American Library (NAL). Her novels Allie’s Moon, Montana Born and Bred, The Bridal Veil and The Irish Bride were published by St. Martin’s Press. Though Alexis originally published HOME BY MORNING independently, it has since been acquired by Amazon’s Montlake Romance imprint.
Alexis lives in the Pacific Northwest near the Columbia River within ten miles of her old high school. She has numerous pets, including three chickens. In addition to being a writer for the past twenty years, she makes jewelry, is a fine needlework artist specializing in embroidery, thread crochet and sewing. She enjoys cooking, reading, entertaining, and decorating, and is a lover of all things Victorian.
She is currently hard at work on HOME BY NIGHTFALL, which Montlake will publish in July 2012.
HOME BY MORNING
Montlake Romance/ Fiction/Simultaneous e-book and Paperback/Republication
On sale 12-24-11/$2.99 e-book ● $14.95 Paperback
ISBN-10: 1612182054 ● ISBN-13: 978-1612182056