Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Reads: Blank Slate Chapters 13-15

Every week I'm going to post a segment from one of my books here on my blog. You can read the first three chapters to this storyhere. Chapters 4-6 are here, chapters 7-9 are here, and Chapters 10-12 are here.


Chapter Thirteen

d

A few hours passed and as six o’clock approached, Adrianna began to worry about the bread. It was fully defrosted, but it hadn’t raised much. She read the directions again and decided to nudge the yeast along a bit by putting it in a warm oven. She slid it into the oven and as she turned it on, she made a mental note to turn the heat off again in a moment when it had warmed slightly. Then she pulled out the hamburger to brown and started a sauce pan for the marinara.

While she browned the hamburger, she began to heat the tomato sauce and added spices. She found out flavoring sauce was kind of fun as she threw in a little of this and a little of that. She minced up a few garlic cloves, cutting herself once in the process. When Aiden started crying, she rushed over and took care of him, then returned to find the hamburger burning.

She removed it from the heat and tried to remove just the top layer that wasn’t burnt yet and put it in a new pan to cook. Thankfully there had been more than enough originally. She told herself she would be more careful this time, turning the heat down so it wouldn’t burn again, and started a pot of water to boil for the spaghetti.

By the time she returned to the sauce, it had scorched slightly, but she poured what was still useable into a bowl. It was appreciably less than she had expected. Tears pricked at her eyes but she squeezed them back and added another can of tomato sauce to the mix. Setting that aside, she checked on the French bread, which smelled divine.

The bread hadn’t risen as much as she would have liked, but it still looked pretty good. With a sigh, she realized she had forgotten to turn off the heat after the oven warmed a little. It was too late to fix the problem now, so she reset the oven temperature and crossed her fingers. It might raise a bit more before the crust hardened.

She pulled a couple cans of green beans from the cupboard and plopped the contents into a bowl, then set it by the microwave to nuke when everyone arrived.

After chasing a diaper-less, poopy bummed Aiden around the living room, and getting him cleaned up, she remembered her spaghetti and pulled it from the heat. A glance at the clock told her the pasta had boiled about five minutes too long, but it still looked okay—she hoped it wouldn’t be too mushy. What difference would a few minutes make, anyway?

She set it aside, looking for the colander. The phone rang, distracting her from her search. When she finished speaking with a violinist whose name she recognized from her journal, Adrianna set the table—it was nearly seven already. Happy with the way the table looked with a small bouquet of flowers in the middle, she realized the spaghetti was still in the pot of water and she started looking through the cupboards again.

Finally she found the colander and placed it in the sink to drain the water off of the spaghetti. It didn’t look all that great now, though. The long pieces had broken up and they weren’t holding their shape as well as she had expected. She tried not to let herself get discouraged, but everything was piling up, looking worse and worse, and time drew closer for everyone to arrive.

The doorbell rang and she rushed to answer it, finding Gavin on the other side. “Hey, you’re early. Come in.”

Gavin flashed her an easy smile and shoved one hand in the front pocket of his jeans. The other hand held a manila file folder “I remember your cooking. I’ve been looking forward to eating dinner all afternoon.” He snatched up Aiden and tucked the toddler under his arm, making Aiden giggle. “I just spoke with Jake. Predictably, he’s going to be late. He’s doing a walk-through in Olathe and will be half an hour or so.”

The mention of her legendary cooking skills brought a sinking feeling to Adrianna’s stomach. Things were not going nearly as smoothly as she had expected. Wasn’t spaghetti supposed to be easy? “Well, don’t set your expectations too high,” she muttered. Tears threatened again and she blinked, taking a deep breath as she returned to the kitchen to check on the baking bread.

She opened the oven, bit her bottom lip, and smiled in relief. The loaf was nice and shiny, beautifully browned, if a bit smaller than she planned on. She slid her hand into an oven mitt and took out the tray, wondering why it was so shiny. Was that normal? Most of the bread she saw in stores wasn’t like that. Maybe it lost the shine as it cooled?

“Wow! That looks gorgeous, did you make that from scratch?” Gavin leaned closer for a better look.

“Wish I could say I did, but no, it was frozen dough. Easy enough for a child to make.” She flashed a grin at him and their eyes caught for just a moment before she hurriedly looked away.

She had set out a cooling rack for the bread but as she tipped the cookie sheet to the side to slide it off, it only moved about half an inch before it stopped. A terrible realization hit her and with a bang, she put the cookie sheet on the cooling rack she had set out. “I can’t believe it. Of course it’s shiny!” She wanted to growl and say nasty things at her ineptitude. She gritted her teeth and kept all of the comments to herself, though.

“What’s wrong?” Gavin asked. He looked more closely at the bread and his brow furrowed. His nostrils flared slightly and she could tell he was smelling something in the air. Probably the burnt food in the pans. Or maybe the scent of melted plastic.

Hoping she was wrong, Adrianna grabbed a knife and poked at the base of the bread on the cookie sheet and the plastic wrap she had left on it to keep it from drying out puckered and pulled away just slightly. “Perfect, that’s just perfect. Right after I mention that a child could make this bread I prove that I’m not as smart as an eight-year-old. I didn’t uncover the bread before I put it in the oven.”

She glanced over in time to see Gavin push the spaghetti around in the colander with a spoon. It started to disintegrate.

This time when the tears came into her eyes, they spilled onto her cheeks and more rushed to take their places. She tossed the knife into the sink and covered her face with her hands. Did she seriously have to make such a mess of dinner in front of him? Wasn’t it bad enough she had wasted all of the food without bringing him into it? Wasn’t she good at anything anymore?

“Hey, none of that. No crying when I’m around.” Gavin’s voice came out anxious and his hand settled nervously on her shoulder. “There’s nothing here worth crying over. It’s totally fixable.”

“I had these beautiful plans.” Adrianna grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser beside her and wiped at her face. “I had this vision of a beautiful dinner with crisp French bread and a pretty Jell-O mold.” She sobbed, trying to calm down, but not making much headway. “Well, there’s still Jell-O, and the green beans just need to be nuked. That will be fabulous—green beans and Jell-O—totally gourmet, don’t you think? Why isn’t anything going right? I can’t do anything I used to. I’m surprised I can even walk without tripping over my own feet considering how pathetic I am at everything else.”

She felt his arm come around her shoulders, pulling her close with Aiden sandwiched between them. “It’s okay, you’re just a bit out of sorts right now.” His hand slid down her hair and settled at her shoulder with his thumb and forefinger still on her neck. He rubbed his thumb along the sensitive skin of her nape a couple of times before jolting, as if realizing what he’d been doing, and moving away. “Here, take the kid and I’ll see what we can do about fixing this.” He shoved Aiden into her arms, almost like a defense mechanism.

She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’ve ruined everything.”

“We’ll start over.” He dumped the noodles into the garbage and refilled the sauce pan, setting it on the stove top, and turning on the heating element below it. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” He poked through the cupboard where the pasta was and grabbed a bag of spirals. He dug into the fridge and pulled out some broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, then set Adrianna to washing and chopping them while he started a second pan heating on the stove with a steamer tray in it.

Then he melted some butter in a third sauce pan and began whisking in flour, then milk.

A delicious smell filled the air again and Adrianna threw out all of the scorched, burned, and plastic-coated food she had cooked, then scrubbed the pans while Aiden played at their feet.

“Thanks,” she said when they had settled into a comfortable rhythm. She sniffled one last time. “Where did you learn to cook?”

“My mom insisted all of her kids learn to cook—even the boys. It’s come in handy when I just couldn’t face another fast food meal.” Seemingly at random he added salt, pepper and other spices, threw in a couple handfuls of shredded cheddar and some parmesan from a can while the pasta boiled in the first pot. “Most of the time I eat out or just sit down to cereal or a sandwich, but I enjoy cooking sometimes. When I have someone to cook for, anyway.”

His smile warmed her, and she felt a small flutter in her chest. “Do you suppose cooking is like playing the piano?”

“And not automatic to remember like riding a bike, you mean?”

She chuckled, and leaned back against the counter, picking up a baby carrot and biting it in half. “Exactly. It seemed like it should be easy enough, but I kept getting distracted and had the heat up too high. It didn’t seem all that high when I started out.”

“I have a great beginner’s book that teaches the basics of how to cook and prepare food, if you’d like to borrow it—as a refresher, of course.”

“I think I’d like that.” She peeked into the fridge and gave her Jell-O a wiggle and smiled when it looked firm. “I’m embarrassed that you saw this whole mess. Your food seems to be turning out fine.”

He shrugged, looking back at the pan where he stirred the cheese sauce. “It’ll be edible, anyway.”

The garage door opened and Megan rushed in. “Sorry I’m late. There was an accident and it took me a while to get around it.” She looked around. “Gavin, what are you doing?”

“Just assisting Adrianna with dinner, Aiden ended up being a handful this afternoon. Jake should be here any time. He’s running behind.”

“As always.” Megan’s voice came out in a light grumble. “I’ll put my stuff away.”

Adrianna pulled the Jell-O from the fridge and after dipping it in an inch or so of warm water in the bottom of the sink, inverted the gelatin onto a platter. “Look at that—isn’t it pretty?” she asked Gavin, pleased something she did that night had turned out right.

“Very nice.” He smiled at her over his shoulder, then added the pasta, veggies and sauce into a single serving bowl.

“So is yours. Very pretty. It has great colors.”

Megan came back and oohed and ahhed over the pilgrim gelatin. “I haven’t done a Jell-O mold in ages. I should think about it more often.”

Adrianna picked it up and moved it to the table, noticing a small tear in the gelatin as she set it down. A moment later the small tear became a bigger one, and then it sent out a web of spider cracks across the shape, falling into pieces on the platter.

Adrianna let out a low groan. Megan rushed over and looked at it. “What happened?”

“It just fell apart. Why did it do that?” Adrianna asked, her voice almost a wail.

“Did you make it with less water, like the jiggler recipe on the box?” Megan asked.

“Was I supposed to?” Adrianna asked.

“What’s it supposed to be?’ Gavin walked over and set the bowl of pasta and veggies on the table beside them, then started to laugh.

Adrianna was tempted to hit him for just a moment, then joined him. Everything she had made that night had gone wrong, but somehow it didn’t matter so much anymore. His laughter was contagious, making the whole mess actually seem kind of funny.

Megan started to giggle too when the door opened and Jake appeared behind them. “Sorry I’m late. I tried to get here earlier.” He looked at them and his brow furrowed. “What’s going on?”

Adrianna laughed again and leaned against Gavin for just a moment. His hand touched the small of her back, and his cologne surrounded her, melding with the scents of the food he had prepared. She turned to look up into his face, then realized who it was. He must have had the same realization, because they both pulled back at the same time and she hurried to the cupboard. “I guess I ought to get out some bowls for the Jell-O. At least it should still taste good.”

She heard Gavin chuckle again and smiled to herself.


Chapter Fourteen

d

The phone rang in Adrianna’s ear and Brock’s voice mail came on again. Frustrated, she clicked the end button on her cell phone and tossed it onto the sofa. “Why is it everyone in the world seems to be able to dial my number—daily—but my fiancĂ© is apparently incapable of either answering the phone or returning a call?”

“I’m sorry he’s being such an idiot,” Megan said as she stuffed a teddy bear into the diaper bag, then stood fluidly from her crouch despite the three-inch heels she wore.

Adrianna spent most of each day taking things easy as she recovered from the accident, and now felt much stronger than she had. Her ribs still hurt when she twisted or lifted too much, but even that pain was growing less common. Aiden was alternately angel and stinker, but that instant love she’d felt for him on their first meeting had only grown. She wouldn’t call herself a natural with kids, but she was learning the toddler’s ways and enjoyed watching him. It made her want kids of her own.

Somehow she didn’t see Brock thrilling at the idea of becoming a dad anytime soon. Not that Brock’s interest in fatherhood was likely to impact things in that department in the near future. Adrianna couldn’t see the two of them working anything out at this point. Not if he thought refusing to contact her for nearly two weeks was acceptable.

She turned her attention away from her man troubles. Preparing for church was nerve-racking enough. “Are you sure I look all right?” she asked Megan as she checked the pearl earrings. “It’s not like my face is quite back to normal.” She ran her fingers over the pink scar lines. The swelling was gone and the scars weren’t quite as bright as before, so the masking makeup she had put on nearly made them invisible—from a distance, anyway. She pressed her lips together, checking her lipstick for flaws. “And there’s my hair. It’s like I lost half of myself.”

Megan brushed the ends of Adrianna’s short crop with her fingertips. “It’ll be fine. Is that really what’s bothering you?”

Adrianna sighed. “It’s one of the things, but mostly I’m worried I’ll feel strange knowing everyone expects me to play the piano when I’m not going to today.”

“Don’t worry about it. Everyone will understand, and you look beautiful. Settle down.” Since Jake had gone to church early to help set up, Megan handed Adrianna a bag with her scriptures and the diaper bag. She hefted Aiden before leading the way to the garage.

Smiles, greetings, and good wishes assaulted Adrianna at every turn after they walked in the door. Or at least it seemed that way. She was sure she was only approached by a small percentage of the congregation, but it felt like a lot. She’d expected the curiosity, the eyes that turned to her so often, the feeling of being under a microscope despite the fact that most people were really more worried about keeping their children in line than they were in keeping tabs on her.

Her singing was awful, she knew, and she wondered when the gorgeous soprano voice everyone talked about would reappear. Had the accident damaged it permanently? Her throat didn’t hurt anymore. Deciding not to worry about it for now, she focused on the music in front of her. And when she remembered the chorus of the closing hymn, she smiled to herself, knowing the answers to her questions were just around the corner.

d

It was nearly two full weeks after Brock stormed from the house before Adrianna saw him again. She opened the front door to find him standing on the porch in a crisp stone-colored suit. “Brock.” She stared at him in surprise for a moment. Her manners kicked in and she moved back, waving him into the house. “Come in.”

He studied her before moving into the room. “Hello, Adie.” That was all he said until he crossed the family room and settled into a chair. When they were seated, he looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry I haven’t returned your phone calls. I needed a little time to figure things out.”

“You certainly took it.” It was the least caustic thing she could bring herself to say. Regardless of the fact she didn’t love him, it still hurt when he refused to speak to her.

“Yes, well, I’m not proud of that, but it’s what I needed. I’m sorry.” He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. He stared at his clasped hands, not looking in her direction at all. “I think maybe I’m expecting too much, too quickly.”

“Perhaps, but you have a right to be frustrated.” She tried to remind herself of everything he had done for her since the accident, and the sweet things from their past that she had detailed in her journals.

“Don’t try to be understanding, it’s only going to make it harder.” He fidgeted for a moment, then took a long breath. “Being without you is like having part of me go missing. And frankly, being with you since the accident is about the same.” He looked her in the eye, his expression unreadable. His intonation was carefully neutral, but his words placed the blame well enough.

“I wish I had a solution. If I could simply remember everything, you know I’d jump at the chance.” She felt herself getting defensive. He wasn’t the only one hurt and confused.

“I know you would, but after being away from you for a while, I’ve realized perhaps we should cool things, at least until you get your memory back. It’s only adding stress to both of us, pretending to carry on our relationship—because pretense is all it’s been lately—when it’s obvious you don’t feel it.”

“Ah, so you flew out here to break up with me.” Adrianna nodded, fighting to keep her face impassive, though she felt the pain of rejection. “What an amazing man you are, going out of your way to break things off with the recovering amnesiac in person after ignoring her for two weeks. Thank you.” She stood and began walking toward the front door to see him out.

“Adie, come on.” His footsteps rang on the tiles as he strode after her. “It’s not like I haven’t tried to make things work with you. I have. I’ve spent tons of time and made multiple trips back here to be with you since the accident. I don’t want to completely break things off, just take a step back until you get your footing.”

“Sure you do. We step back and then in a few weeks it’ll seem perfectly normal for us to make a clean break.” She desperately didn’t want to go through this all over again in a few weeks. It had been uncomfortable enough to do once. “Why don’t you do us both a favor and make a clean break. I’ve been your sick and hanging appendage long enough.” She couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“This is not all my fault. You refuse to even kiss me!”

She froze with her hand on the door knob. It wasn’t like she could dispute his words; they were true enough. She took a deep breath and pushed down the anger clouding her judgment. Didn’t she owe him a full chance? Didn’t she owe it to herself? When she spoke again, her voice was calm. “All of this over a kiss?”

His voice was part pleading, part surrender. “No, but you’ve completely shut me out, like you won’t even try.” He placed a hand just above her elbow. “Put yourself in my position. For the past several weeks, after all I’ve done to try and rekindle our romance, you won’t even attempt to meet me halfway.”

When she looked at it from his point of view, she didn’t like herself very much. Tears rose, and she fought to keep them under control. He wasn’t asking so much, was he? She turned and faced him, looking him in the eye. “You’re right about that. Perhaps that was a mistake. Maybe if I did . . .” Adrianna didn’t finish the sentence, letting her expression do the work. When his eyes widened, she knew he understood her.

She saw him wet his lips as he studied her face again. “I should have mentioned when you let me in. You look great. In a few weeks, you’ll be good as new.” As he said this, he trailed fingers lightly over her cheeks, his touch barely more than a whisper against her skin. He unerringly found her scars.

With the way he looked at her as he leaned in, she thought her heart rate should have been soaring. She found herself impatient instead as she waited for him to kiss her. After his lips feathered against hers, she nearly pulled back, but he drew her closer for another lingering kiss. It was nice, she thought as his lips pressed to hers. His mouth was warm and soft, his technique seemed fine, but she was unmoved. She pressed into it even more, but still felt nothing her journals had described. Where was the giddy excitement she had detailed mere months before?

He moved away after a moment and frowned at her. “That wasn’t what I expected.”

Part of her cried out in pain. If only she could feel something special for this man, remember, and move back into her old life. Was that really so much to ask?

It couldn’t be helped, though. She felt nothing significant, and that didn’t look like it was about to change. “No. It looks like you were right to step back after all.”

He let out a low breath and closed his eyes for a long moment. “I want to stay in touch, but I have other responsibilities and can’t be here as much as I have since the accident.”

“And I’ve become a burden. I’m sorry.” The seconds ticked past as she reined in the emotions that threatened to pour out of her before she turned the door knob. She still felt so lost and wished she could slip back into the life everyone else remembered she’d had. She saw the pain in his face and wished once again that things could have worked between them. “I’ll let you know when I have any breakthroughs.”

He touched her arm. “I hope you’ll come see our Christmas concert next month. It’s always been one of your favorites.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Adrianna opened the door wide, then looked Brock in the face. “I do appreciate you taking the time to talk to me in person.”

Brock kept his eyes on hers as he buttoned his coat. “I do love you, Adie, more than you could know.”

“Yeah.” She remembered the ring on her left hand and slid it off, handing it out to Brock. Men wildly in love are always dumping a fiancĂ©e because she can’t remember their relationship. “Stay in touch.”

He hesitated for several seconds, then slowly reached out and took the ring from her. He looked at it for a long moment, then at her before turning and walking back to his car. He didn’t turn away quite soon enough to keep her from seeing the tear drip onto his cheek.

She watched him stride down the sidewalk toward his luxury rental car, and knew it was the last she would see of him for a long, long time. Possibly forever. Her own tears escaping, she swallowed back a lump of what might have been and shut the door.

Adrianna turned to see Megan standing in the hall. She froze for a moment, then decided there was no point in pretense. “Heard that, did you?”

“Just the last words. He didn’t stay long.” She lifted a brow in punctuation.

“I don’t expect we’ll see much of him from now on.”

“I’m sorry, Adie.”

A moment later, Adrianna found herself wrapped in her sister-in-law’s arms. She didn’t know what she would have done without this sweet woman to offer comfort and support, but she was glad she wouldn’t have to find out.

d

The next evening Adrianna decided to try cooking again since Megan was staying late at school to work on a project. As she and Jake sat down to scalded tomato soup and charred grilled cheese sandwiches, she held back a grimace. She really was helpless in the kitchen.

“How was work today?” she asked.

“It’s just one thing after another piling up. I don’t know if we’re ever going to dig out without a receptionist. I should go back to the office tonight to see what I can sort out, but I’m just too tired.” A yawn punctuated his words.

“Have you thought about hiring a temp?” she asked.

“We probably ought to, but I don’t want to spend time training someone who isn’t going to be around for more than a few days.”

Adrianna nodded in understanding.

A long moment of silence stretched between them before Jake broke it. “Megan told me about your . . . discussion with Bock yesterday. I’m sorry things didn’t work out between you.”

“Are you? You made it clear you didn’t think he was good enough.” Adrianna kept her voice as light as possible, not wanting to sound bitter.

“He isn’t. But, you love him, and he’s always treated you well and made you happy. I’m sorry he hurt you.” He shot a look at her. “You’ve always been there for me. I want to see you with someone who can be everything you deserve, but I don’t like to see you upset.”

Adrianna smiled faintly. “Surprisingly, the breakup wasn’t as bad as I expected.” She covered his hand with hers and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”


Chapter Fifteen

d

By Monday afternoon, Adrianna was officially going stir crazy. She imagined she had friends she normally called to meet with, and the hours of piano practice Jake had alluded to must have taken up a good chunk of her time—it was taking up a whole lot of time anyway, just not very productively. Even though she spent hours at the piano each week, she made very little progress. Considering the whirlwind of destruction Aiden could be, it wasn’t surprising it took most of her effort to keep the house in reasonably decent shape. After her disastrous dinner, she hadn’t attempted anything too challenging, but if the dish required more than a few minutes in the microwave, she’d managed to ruin it anyway.

With final papers and projects piling up, Megan was gone or closed up in the other room studying more and more, leaving Adrianna to find something to distract herself and Aiden.

When it came time for Aiden’s afternoon nap, Adrianna made a decision. She couldn’t be any less effective in the office than she’d been at home that morning and the guys could obviously use a hand. If Aiden decided to sleep nicely, she could at least answer phones for Jake and Gavin while she watched him.

When she arrived, the front office was a wreck. There was a stack of mail that hadn’t been sorted since its delivery that morning, the phone rang, clients waited in the front room, and paperwork sat piled at least six inches high on the desk.

Adrianna grabbed the cordless handset and answered the phone while she muscled the playpen from the closet. She took a note for the guys—Gavin was nowhere to be seen, and Jake was on the other line—and then turned toward the couple sitting in the reception area.

“Hello, I’m Adrianna, is there something I can do for you, or is Jake taking care of things?” She pushed the short hair back from her face and hoped it would stay tucked behind her ear for at least five seconds. Of course it didn’t.

“We’ve been here for ten minutes and no one has come out of the office yet,” the swarthy man said. “We’re about to leave. We heard this company was one of the best, but honestly, is this how things normally work?”

“I do apologize. Things have been a bit crazy lately. The usual receptionist quit and they’ve been hard pressed to find another. Would you like something to drink? A snack? I’m sure I can find sodas or water.” Didn’t Gavin say they had drinks around here? “Let me see what we’ve got and I’ll make sure Jake knows you’re here. What are your names?”

“Hostetler. John and Mardee Hostetler. We’ve been in touch with Gavin. Why isn’t he here?” The man’s voice was disgruntled, but he settled back into his seat, tugging his dark gray suit jacket down over his ample stomach.

Improvising as she went, Adrianna began to placate. “We believe in a hands-on approach to building. That means Jake and Gavin closely supervise each stage in the construction. Because of this, it is common to find one or both men on site during the day. I’ll contact Gavin to find out where he is and when he plans to be back. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can do about getting you something to drink.” She glanced over at Aiden, and said a prayer of gratitude that the toddler played contentedly with his truck.

When Adrianna went into Jake’s office, she felt his eyes follow her across the room. She made a beeline for his mini-fridge and smiled when she found the jackpot inside. There was a wide variety of drinks from water and soda to juice. She pulled half a dozen out and stuck them on a plastic disposable plate. She grabbed a couple paper cups and made a mental note to talk to Jake about buying nicer plastic ones for clients, then returned to the front room.

John Hostetler took a cola while Mardee preferred ginger ale. Adrianna set their drinks nearby and returned the others to the fridge. She had planned to wait for Jake to finish his call, but the phone began to ring again, and she returned to the front desk to answer it.

When Jake emerged a few minutes later, she’d taken three messages, notified Gavin his clients had arrived, and begun sorting through the mail.

“What’s going on?” Jake asked when he stepped out of his office.

“This is John and Mardee Hostetler. They were hoping to speak with Gavin, but he’s been delayed.” She omitted to mention they hadn’t made an appointment. “Perhaps you could answer a question or two for them while they wait for Gavin to return.”

“Sure,” Jake gave her a funny look, then faced the couple. He walked over and introduced himself, shaking their hands. “I’m pleased to meet you. Gavin and I were discussing your project just yesterday. Come into my office and we can talk.” He ushered them through the door, but gave his sister another odd look before disappearing inside. He didn’t close the door behind him.

Aiden began to fuss, and Adrianna handed him a few animal crackers, then returned to sorting and filing.

When Gavin came in a few minutes later, he stopped and gave her a broad smile which made her heart speed up—just a little. “What’s going on here? I didn’t know we’d hired ourselves some help.”

She felt the corners of her mouth inch up. “I’m just filling in. The Hostetlers are speaking with Jake in his office.” She tried to act reasonably unaffected by his smile and returned her attention to the incoming e-mail she was sorting through.

“Yeah. I guess we’ll talk later.” He entered the room and she heard him greet the clients.

An hour passed before anyone emerged from the office. By then Aiden was fast asleep and Adrianna had taken a page of phone messages, cleared the obvious junk e-mails away, and nearly unearthed the desktop.

Gavin walked the couple out to their car and Jake came up behind Adrianna. “I’ve never seen this side of you before. You’re an amazing musician, an excellent cook, and great with Aiden, but you’ve never seemed too interested in office work.”

Adrianna handed him the stack of mail with his name on it. “My cooking is appalling, my piano playing is not up to snuff at the moment, and you needed me here. I figured if I did nothing more than answer phones and file papers it might allow you to get home at a semi-reasonable hour each day. Your wife and son are starting to wonder what you look like.”

He pursed his lips, tucking his stack of mail under one arm. “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much since you’ve gotten home. It’s not usually like this, just with no receptionist, and then all the time I was gone last month . . . .”

It was clear he didn’t want to make a big deal about all the work he missed while she was in the hospital, but she knew it must have been a great sacrifice of his time and sleep. “I know you’re under a lot of pressure right now. I want to help, not make you feel guilty.”

“I appreciate your willingness to step in for a while.”

Gavin walked in. “Whew, I was starting to think they’d never be satisfied. Thanks for taking care of them and letting me know they were here,” he said to Adrianna and then let his eyes slide over the tidy desk. “It looks like you’ve been busy.”

“Yes, but I’ll need some direction on what to do with the rest of this stuff, and the office could use a little vacuuming. There are cleaning supplies around here, aren’t there?”

“You’re a saint.” Gavin came over and settled onto the corner of the desk. “If you weren’t already taken, I’d propose on the spot.”

Adrianna laughed and avoided the allusion to her relationship with Brock. She really didn’t want to get into that right now. “You’re welcome. I split the mail into piles with your name on them, ones with his name on them,” she indicated her brother, “and ones addressed to the business. I wasn’t sure who handles that stack and which were junk mail. If one of you wants to show me what to do with the rest of these papers, I’ll see what I can do this afternoon.”

“I vote we keep her for as long as we can bribe her to stay,” Gavin said. “What do you need: nights of theater, accolades, a fabulous dinner out—we’d be happy to oblige?”

She laughed again. “A soda would go down nice right now, if you could grab me one.”

“Done.”

When she settled back at the desk after Gavin delivered the soda and finished explaining their filing system to her, Adrianna grinned to herself. It was nice to feel like she was doing something right, something good and worthwhile. Not that taking care of Aiden wasn’t sweet in many ways, but she felt like she was used to doing things, accomplishing things, and after all the weeks of lying around, she was ready to be active again.

The rest of the afternoon passed as Adrianna sorted and filed, answered phones and cleaned up the front office. By the end of the work day she was exhausted, but felt good about what she’d accomplished.

Aiden had been unusually calm and well-behaved in his playpen, making things all that much easier. He slept most of the afternoon, then played independently—for the most part. The office was supposed to close at five, but it was closer to six when Jake came out and leaned against the door jam. Aiden was getting fussy and Adrianna didn’t want to feed him any more animal crackers. What he needed was real food.

“Ready for that dinner we promised you? Megan said she’d meet us wherever,” Jake said.

“Actually, I think it was Gavin who promised me dinner, but I accept.” She flashed him a cheeky grin, then stood from the chair and snagged her purse. “I don’t imagine I’ve saved you all that much time in the long run, not as much as I’ve interrupted your work to get directions.”

“You accomplished more than you think. The office looks great. Thanks for cleaning up. We were about ready to call a service to shovel the place out.” Jake leaned down and pulled his son from the playpen. Aiden was all smiles as he clasped his arms around his father’s neck. “Come on. There’s a nice little Mexican place around the corner. Gavin will be right behind us.”

“Wow, if I get dinner for what I accomplished today, what are you going to offer me tomorrow?” Adrianna asked.

Gavin emerged from his office. “You’re coming in tomorrow, too? Thank you. You’re the answer to my prayers.”

Adrianna simply smiled and allowed Jake to usher her out the door.

d

Gavin watched Adrianna from across the table. She seemed to shine in the low lamplight. She’d always been beautiful, but he’d never seen her like this—her smiles and laughter brightening the dim interior of the restaurant. He reminded himself she was taken, and he didn’t need a rebound relationship after his last one went sour. Still, he couldn’t help but appreciate her healthy appetite for the spicy food on her plate. If he’d ventured a guess before, he would have figured her for a mild food girl. Though her tastes may have run to exotic dishes like caviar, these spicy dishes didn’t fit his preconceptions.

The fact that they didn’t was just one more mystery that drew his curiosity.

“I remember how scared you were the first time you helped accompany The Messiah back home. I don’t think you were more than twelve.” Jake gestured to his sister with his fork. “The conductor was totally against bringing a youngster in to play as a soloist.” He cut into his enchilada. “You were determined, though, and then when the night came for the performance, I found you doubled over the toilet.”

“You never mentioned that to me.” It surprised Gavin, and he turned to Adrianna, who was looking a bit chagrined. She always seemed like such a rock when she played—like nothing bothered her.

“She threatened me within an inch of my life if I mentioned it to anyone, even as I handed her a glass of water to rinse out her mouth.” He sent a teasing look at his sister.

“At least I had the spunk to stand up for myself. The two of you probably would have harassed me mercilessly otherwise.” She shot them each an accusing glare.

“I still did,” Jake gloated. “Though I suppose I ought to be afraid for my life now, as I just told both Megan and Gavin your deep, dark secret. Knowing you, there aren’t all that many deep, dark secrets to begin with.”

She elbowed her brother, and Megan chuckled when he grunted. “Someday, someway, when you least expect it, brother. You’ll pay.” Still, though her words were menacing, her tone was joking. She turned toward Gavin and their eyes caught and held, lingered in the soft light for a long moment.

He felt a pull towards her—strong enough to have him thinking about spending time alone with her. Then he put the brakes on and reminded himself she was engaged. He was not going there. Castigating himself, he returned his gaze to his plate.


You can read the story in its entirety in ebook format for $1.99 on Kindle, Nook, and most other ebook formats throughSmashwords.com. It is also available in paper from mywebsite (autographed to you!) or on Amazon.com

Friday, June 24, 2011

Orange-Cardamom Cupcakes

If you know me at all, you know how much I love to bake, and cake and cupcakes in particular, so when I found this gourmet cupcake flavor as I looked through offerings as cupcake shops, I thought it was perfect for my book, and even more perfect to develop a version of my own--and let me tell you, these babies are terrific! First I list the quick version--using a box mix, then I'll give you the ingredients for my homemade mix (which I prefer when I do cakes of any kind and I make in bulk for quick use). This cupcake as a light citrus taste with just a touch of cardamom--a perfect combination for my classy concert pianist character Adrianna from Blank Slate.

Adrianna's favorite orange-cardamom cupcakes

1 box of white or yellow cake mix

3/4 C Milk

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp orange extract

1 Tbsp orange zest

2 tsp cardamom

Orange food coloring

Mix all ingredients and separate into prepared cupcake pans. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden. Makes about 20 regular-sized cupcakes.

From scratch cupcake mix (to use instead of the box mix), and add the rest of the above ingredients.

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cups butter, margarine, or shortening

When I make this in bulk, I mix all of the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening with a pastry blender, but you can soften your butter or margarine and cream it with the butter, add the eggs and milk from the above recipe and then add the other ingredients one at a time, saving the flour for last, adding at half-cup increments. Bake according to directions above.

Frost with your favorite frosting. Adrianna prefers cream cheese, but vanilla is almost as good!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book news, summer projects, and future fun

Wow, I can't believe it's Thursday already. I had a great plan for my Medial Monday post, and intended to add a few more chapters of Blank Slate for your reading pleasure yesterday, but life got away from me. (I hate it when that happens.)

Instead of blogging, I slept ALL DAY on Monday (the hazzards of working graveyard shift and hardly sleeping on Sunday, I guess), I edited for most of the night (I'm so in love with this story--now if I can just figure out how the last two scenes are supposed go). And I spent very nearly every waking hour on Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for my book launch party, which we held last night. (Anyone need some leftover cookies?) It was a blast and my very awesome crit group members: Nichole Giles, Tristi Pinkston, and Keith Fisher, drove down from Utah County to be there for me--they're the best. Seriously.

The good news is the miniature golf course we inherited when we purchased a building for our business is now up and running (though it still needs a little paint and a few tweaks), I've done enough weeding in the garden that I might actually get those tomato plants in the ground before the first snow, and I have a few hours this afternoon to do laundry and clean the house before EMT training tonight. (Trauma training is always fun and idiot motocross participants aside, we've had very little of it lately. It's been quiet, quiet, quiet--though I probably just jinxed things by mentioning it.)

On a completely different subject: What do you think of Utah's change in fireworks legislation? This year is the first year regular people will be able to walk into the store (in state) and buy fireworks that fly into the air. I only know this because we run a fireworks stand (which opens on Monday--so I probably need to get next week's posts written and scheduled now because there will be no rest for the next couple of weeks). These new fireworks shoot 150 feet into the air--which sounds awesome. I can't wait to see one set off.

Other exciting stuff. I have a new batch of baby chicks arriving right after we close the fireworks stand, in which I have some of these sweethearts ordered.
This is a golden-laced Polish hen, and I just love the big fluff balls on their heads. I've got five of the chicks ordered, so hopefully I'll get a mix of boys and girls. I'm also getting some good laying pullets, since most of my hens got eaten by dogs this winter, and half of the ones that are left are getting old and are unreliable layers. I probably won't get my first egg from this generation until Thanksgiving--and winter isn't really prime egg laying time, but next year I'll be replete with big, yummy eggs.

Also, I have a fun and exciting multi-author book signing set up on August 13th from noon to 4 at Pioneer Book in Orem with Tristi Pinkston, Nichole Giles, Keith Fisher (Dutch oven expert extraordinaire), Jeffery (aka J Scott) Savage, and Cindy Hogan to celebrate Tristi's next book coming out. It's going to be a carnival atmosphere and a ton of fun with treats, face painting, balloons, and other awesome stuff. So mark your calendars.

Oh, and tomorrow look for the recipe I developed to go with my latest book, Blank Slate--Adrianna's favorite orange cardamom cupcakes. They're seriously yummy and got two thumbs up from my hubby, who isn't generally a big fan of cake (something I will never understand).