If you're like me, you're finally setting down after a day of preparations for Easter tomorrow. I've spent the day preparing for family who'll be coming over for dinner. Now that the house is clean and spruced up and some side dishes are done, I can finally settle down and get some work done on the final book of The Larkspur Valley Series.
In the meantime, now that you've got your coffee and are ready to kick back, how about an excerpt from Book 1, MORE THAN SPARROWS? Enjoy!
Henry Gordon was proud of his car, a bright orange-red 1960 Chevy Impala, which he’d only had for a year. The last thing he wanted was to wreck it in an accident, but he was even more afraid of his pregnant granddaughter being injured. Driving in inclement weather had always made him nervous.
So he drove slowly, both hands gripping the steering wheel, his eyes fixed to the road, while the all-news radio station droned on with details of the storm. “An historic storm,” they were calling it. Those four miles from town to his farm might as well have been a hundred and four miles, for how long it was taking him, but with the Lord’s help he’d get them home safely.
The girl hadn’t said much along the way. That was fine, since he had to concentrate on his driving. She’d been crying, too. He had to grin when he thought back to a few minutes ago, how she’d smiled and quickly dried her face, though her red eyes gave her away. The little girl was trying to be brave, and he respected that in someone so young. Henry knew his daughter; he knew what Vera must have put that poor child through before casting her out of her own home.
Gratefully, he pulled into the familiar long driveway. To cut through the silence, he announced, “Well, Penny, honey, we’re home.”
“Are we? I’m glad.” She turned to him shyly, her voice trembling in spite of her smile. “Home sweet home.”
Pleased, Henry chuckled. “Yes, that’s right. Home sweet home.”
He wanted to admit to her that it would be sweeter now that the place wouldn’t be quite so empty anymore. Naturally, it was also about to get a lot less quiet in that old house, too. As a man who was up and about at the crack of dawn, it would be an adjustment for him, having a little one crying and fussing at all hours of the night.
But that was all right by him. Henry was no stranger to babies. He’d fathered six children in all; three had been stillborn, the fourth—a boy—had died during the night at the age of two months. His beloved wife, Opal, had always been of delicate health, and she was the never the same after finding her infant son dead in his crib that terrible morning.
Time, like people said, heals all wounds. But that didn’t mean he’d forgotten all that. Tonight, for him at least, was a happy occasion. Still, emotionally speaking, he was keeping a bit of a distance. Just in case Penny, like her mother, wouldn’t want that to be her home at all.
“Easy. Careful,” he advised as he helped her out of the car. “Is that all you have, girl? Just those shoes? You don’t have any boots?”
She looked down at her feet. “That’s all I have. And an old pair of bedroom slippers. They won’t do me any good in this snow, but—”
“Some of the boys who’ve worked for me are about your age. I think I can find their old boots in the stable. They’re not pretty boots, but they’ll do better on the snow and ice.”
“That’d be good. Thank you, Grandfather…Grandpa.”
He retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, then helped her up the snowy path to the front door. “You hungry?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to be any trouble. I can wait till tomorrow to eat something.”
“Well, no, you can’t. You’re a mama now, eating for two,” he corrected her firmly. “I can make you a sandwich. Won’t take but a minute and you won’t have to go to bed hungry.”
Willingly, she accepted the offer at that point. “Okay.”
Lots of things in the house needed fixing. What house over half a century old didn’t? Still, Henry had to admit that his home looked almost picturesque on such a white, wintry night such as that one. The sideways-falling snow had blown onto the plain porch, leaving a thick layer of snowflakes on the four old rockers that were there year-round.
Once inside, he watched Penny’s reaction. Long before her mother was her age, she couldn’t wait to leave the old farmhouse. Penny, on the other hand, immediately surveyed the house with one sweeping glance. Curiosity filled her eyes as she looked around at the sparse furnishings, her gaze resting on the fireplace set in a wall of rock.
“That’s a real fireplace!” she exclaimed.
“Yep. Sure is.”
“We don’t have one. We have this little furnace-type thing in the apartment. Or we did.”
The fact that her voice had trailed off forlornly didn’t escape him. Henry studied his granddaughter, who at seventeen was at that crossroads in her life, not a little girl anymore but just embarking on young womanhood. Some would consider her plain, but he thought she had an honest kind of beauty. He suspected her light auburn hair, tamed back in a single long braid, could be a mess of tight, unruly curls. A heavy dusting of freckles dotted the fair complexion of her face. Penny’s eyes were a dark, almost murky green, beneath long eyelashes the same color as her hair.
There was an unmistakable innocence about her. An innocent child who’d gotten herself into trouble with a boy who was now nowhere to be found. How could Vera have done that? Thrown this little girl away like that?
He tamped down on the anger that was at a slow boil inside him, not wanting her to think it was directed at her.
“Let me show you to your room.” He led the way up the staircase with her walking behind him, wearily. “Then I’ll make you something to eat. I’m not going to make a fire tonight, Penny. The house is drafty, I know, but I think we’ve got enough blankets.”
“I think it’s a wonderful house, Grandpa. Tonight, it feels more like a storybook castle.”
“I’m sure that won’t last long!” he exclaimed, laughing heartily, though his heart went out to her.
Surely, to someone with no place to go, no roof over her head, that old farmhouse built at the turn of the century had to feel like a grandiose castle. He was touched, too, but he refused to take it too seriously. She was young and she’d lived in the city. It wouldn’t be long before country life bored her out of her wits.
“Grandpa, I want you to know that I’m a quick study. I’ve never worked on a farm before, but I learn fast.”
Henry had just set her suitcase down on the bed for her. He considered it an insult to his granddaughter, after what she’d been through, to place her in her mother’s room. Instead, her room was the one that had belonged to her Uncle Timothy. That one boasted a rocker by the window, covered by an afghan older than Penny herself. He recalled wistfully that her grandmother had knitted that afghan shortly before her death.
“Work? No, Penny. No, no.” Adamantly, he shook his head. “Ladies in your condition don’t do farm work.”
“But there has to be something I can do, Grandpa.” The girl dipped her head down, as if afraid to meet his gaze. “I want to be useful to you. I don’t want to be a burden.”
“You won’t be, Penny. But a woman having a baby shouldn’t work.” Seeing her bottom lip quiver, he conceded reluctantly, “Guess you could feed the chickens or something—”
“I could do that. Yes.”
“But only that. You get settled. Come down to the kitchen when you’re ready. I’ll go fix your sandwich.”
On his way back down the stairs, Henry shook his head. The girl wanted to do farm work. Of all the crazy things he’d ever heard!
She’s only a little girl herself, he reminded himself.
This was her first baby. From the little Vera had told him over the phone, Penny had done everything she could to conceal her pregnancy for the first four months. When she’d begun to show, she wore clothing that was looser around her waist.
She’s a deceitful little witch.
His jaw tightened at the memory of the vicious tone in his daughter’s voice when she’d said those words. At the kitchen counter he put a generous helping of ham and cheese between two slices of bread, spreading a thin layer of mayonnaise to the sandwich.
Vera hadn’t bothered to explain anything to her daughter, “the deceitful witch.” She hadn’t told her about taking proper care of herself because she had a little one to consider. That she needed to eat well and stay off her feet, because it was too easy for a delicate young girl to lose the baby inside her.
Vera hadn’t cared about her daughter or her grandchild. She’d only wanted Penny and her baby out of her life and her new husband’s.
“Apple juice or milk?” he asked as Penny entered and seated herself at the table. “I suggest the milk.”
“I like both, so I’ll take the milk. It’s better for the baby.”
That was the first real smile he’d seen on her face since he’d met her that evening, prompting a chuckle from him.
“Good girl!” he exclaimed, pouring them each a glass. “That’s from right here, too, from our cows.”
Penny sampled a big, refreshing gulp. “Delicious. The sandwich looks good, too, Grandpa. And that room…that was Uncle Timothy’s, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but he won’t be needing it anymore.”
“Will I maybe get to meet him sometime?”
“Maybe.” It wasn’t a lie; just an evasive answer to a painful question. He sat himself across from her. “I need to go into town for some supplies tomorrow morning. You’re welcome to come with me.”
“Go into town? Okay.”
“’Course, that all depends on how the roads are tomorrow. If this storm ever ends.” He watched her pick up the sandwich and gently informed her, “We say grace in this house, honey.”
“What? Oh—sure, Grandpa.” Penny set down the sandwich and folded her hands in front of her. “Sorry. We don’t do that in Mama’s house.”
I’m sure. He kept that comment to himself and said a little prayer of thanks, then waved his hand at the sandwich. “Dig in.”
He wanted to ask about the father. All Vera would say was, “He’s nowhere to be found.” She’d also gone on to say something to the effect of boys being boys. Penny, who she claimed was now no longer her daughter, was the loose girl with no morals for having enticed him. Henry had held himself, wanting so badly to defend his granddaughter. He’d only held his tongue for the sake of not angering Vera, who was capable of not sending Penny to him in retaliation.
And he held his tongue now concerning the boy who’d impregnated her. When she was ready, she’d talk about him. It wasn’t important right now, anyway. The only thing of significance was making her feel at peace in her new home. That subject, Henry would approach.
“I know this goes without saying, but this is your home now,” he said. “I want to feel comfortable here, like you belong, because you do.”
She swallowed a bite of her sandwich. Her eyes again moistened. “I can’t tell you what that means to me, Grandpa.”
“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here. Look around, Penny. I don’t have a lot, but what I have is yours and the baby’s.”
“By the way, have you given any thought to a name?”
Her surprise at the question turned to delight. “I have. What do you think about the name Benjamin?”
“That’s a good name. It’s from the Bible, too.”
“Yes, the Old Testament. One of Joseph’s brothers. The twelve tribes of Israel. That’s a fine choice. And what about if the baby is a girl?”
“Oh, this is a boy.” Penny giggled and gave her stomach an affectionate rub.
“You know that for sure?”
“Yep. It’s a boy. This is Benjamin. I call him Ben sometimes. And he must hear us talking about him right now.”
“Oh? Is he kicking right now?”
“Yes. Look, Grandpa. See if you can feel him.”
It had been a long time since he’d gotten that invitation. He’d always believed it would come from his only daughter first, not his granddaughter. Yet he willingly, if shyly, obliged by letting her guide the palm of his hand to her abdomen. It was solid, like a mother-to-be’s belly typically was. Within moments he could feel soft, wonderful movement against his hand.
“Well, if that don’t beat all. Hello, my great-grandson!” He laughed heartily.
“He likes you. He didn’t kick you. Sometimes he just touches you.” Penny paused to sip her milk. “You can feel when he touches you instead, like he’s pressing his little hand up against yours. I can’t wait to meet him, Grandpa.”
“I can’t, either.”
Barely trusting himself to say anything else, he was quiet for a few moments. By nature, he was a reserved man, never given to histrionics. Yet he couldn’t help but feel more emotional than usual.
As he waited for her to finish her sandwich and milk, he thought about bringing up another subject, then ruled it out. She really did need female guidance in this whole baby business. As a man and her grandfather, there was just so much advice he could give her. Had Opal been alive, she would have lovingly taken their granddaughter under her wing. Henry had wanted to ask her if she would mind him asking around—discreetly, of course. There was one person he had in mind, a decent, kind woman from church. She wouldn’t look down on Penny like some other women would. Henry trusted her. He would approach her on Penny’s behalf.
In any case, tonight wasn’t the night to discuss those things. There would be time later.
“The bathroom is upstairs and down the hallway,” he told her as they rose from the table. He placed her dish in the sink. “I’m a light sleeper, so if you need anything, wake me up.”
“I’ll be fine, Grandpa. But that’s good to know.” She turned to face him. “Thank you for coming tonight.”
“Well, I gave you my word I’d come.”
“I know. But you didn’t have to keep your word. Just like you didn’t have to give me someplace to go. I won’t forget you saying that to me on the phone, Grandpa. When you said, ‘You can come here. Come home as soon as you can.’”
Her voice cracked softly. He wasn’t expecting that hug that felt like it was coming from a scared little girl…which, in spite of the fact that she was carrying a child of her own, was exactly what she was. Henry had never been particularly good at physical displays of affection, but he managed. Clumsily, he managed, hugging her back.
“Good night, honey,” he mumbled. “Sweet dreams, you and your little man.”