Letting Go–Chapter One, Preview

Letting Go is my second inspirational romance. I hope the book connects with readers. It certainly did with me. I’ll post a link as soon as the full novel is ready. I’m copy editing it now. You can see more of my novels on my Amazon author page. If you like what you read, let your friends know about my books!

Letting Go by Mary Beth Lee

Chapter One

Clarissa Dye sighed as she took in the reflection staring back at her. The hard-edged face, the lines around her eyes, the grey smudges reminding her of months and months of sleepless nights.

Behind her, the alarm started its daily squawk. She should just chuck the thing. Not like she needed it. At least not until she changed time zones.

She swallowed the hard ball of pain in her throat, the one that threatened tears—once a mainstay, now a memory—and stepped into the living room, smacked the clock to shut it up, then folded the bed back into the awful green couch and told herself to be thankful. But, man, it was hard sometimes.

Plodding into the kitchen, she made herself a cup of instant coffee. The cheap stuff that tasted like railroad ties and spit but still got the job done.

She added a piece of dry toast to her breakfast and told herself to buck up. Stearns, Oklahoma was her choice. Her chance. Her minimum three-month stint to save before moving on via Greyhound to the next chance dot on a map picked at random. One month down, two to go.

Slipping into her yellow Crocs, she tied her pink apron around her too thin waist and whispered a quick thanks to whichever Fates out there had led her to Pete’s Diner with the tiny efficiency apartment located above the garage behind the restaurant, all bills paid, discount if renters actually worked for gruffy, old Pete. Without it, her stay would likely be more around six months. Six months meant attachments. Clarissa didn’t do attachments.

“Mornin’ Pete,” she called as she entering the diner through the back door, even though she knew Pete’s only answer would be his signature glower. His bushy white eyebrows and matching hair gave emphasis to the look, but his sparkly blue eyes leaned a little closer to Santa than Scrooge.

“Mornin’ sunshine,” Bev, the only friend Clarissa had allowed herself to make on this stop, called as she twisted to maneuver around Clarissa with a French toast, sausage and eggs-over-easy loaded tray and headed to table fifteen and one of the town’s claims to fame, Norene Albright nèe Chisholm, once upon a time Miss Texas runner up. Ms. Norene ate breakfast at Pete’s every morning, laughing all the while that her days of watching her figure were long past.

“Table seven’s gonna to want more coffee in a jiff,” Bev said. “Think you can handle it?”

Clarissa grabbed the freshly brewed hot pot off the warmer and started toward the table smiling hello to Lester Pyle, the one customer in town who tipped based on smiles and service. Clarissa liked Lester just fine, so her smile was real. The waitresses at Pete’s knew just where they stood with the lonely old man who worked at the towing service on the other side of the town square and had since he’d dropped out of school in the tenth grade in 1975.

Kind of like she’d dropped out of school before a judge made her go back and finish or sit in jail. Lester got a kick out of that story.

“Mornin’, Lester,” she said, and then  a whirlwind of pint-sized arms, legs and laughter barreled into her.

Luck, dexterity, and a strong hand on her shoulder kept Clarissa from dropping the pot, but even that didn’t keep a bit of the hot liquid from sloshing out onto her fingers.

“Here,” a deep voice said. “Let me help.” Liquid pain warred with awareness when the hand moved from her shoulder to the coffee pot as he set it on the table.

Stepping away, Clarissa wiped her burnt finger on her apron and told her shoulder nerves to simmer down, which would’ve been easier if Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome didn’t also have a booming voice.

“Mackenzie Renee Dillon, what have I told you about running inside?”

His deep voice was all disappointment and reprimand. The girl’s smile turned to trembling sadness. Clarissa’s heart tugged at the imp’s frown.

“I’m sorry, Miss….” The child on the floor sported off-center russet pigtails, purple and green Little Mermaid leggings and a blue shirt with a puppy appliqué stitched to the front. She looked so horribly mismatched, Clarissa couldn’t help but smile.

“Clarissa,” she said, then looked up at the father. “And really, it’s okay. Accidents and all that.”

““I’m sorry, Clarissa,” the little girl said, and her words whistled through the gap where two front teeth used to be as she spoke. Then she turned to her father. “I ‘pologized, Daddy. Will you not be mad now?”

“Go wash up so we can eat breakfast,” he said without answering the plea, and Clarissa felt sorry for Mackenzie when she turned dejectedly and trudged to the bathroom.

“Hey there now, don’t go letting that little show of hers fool you,” he said, then held out his hand in introduction. “Jed Dillon.”

Clarissa had seen Jed Dillon and his daughter more than once since moving to Stearns. Every time they made their way to Pete’s, quiet whispers of sadness and pride moved from one patron to another. She didn’t know his whole story, didn’t really want to.

Any more than she wanted to shake his outstretched hand. But while she might wear the term loner with pride, rude was not her strong suit.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “Clarissa Dye.”

He towered over her small frame. His palms were calloused, tanned. A working man’s hands. His cowboy hat spoke volumes. His was the real deal, like most around these parts. Straw for the late August heat. His long sleeved shirt opened to show a sun reddened neck. Crinkles along his icy blue eyes spoke of a time when laughter was his norm.

“I’m sorry about that,” he started to make amends again, but she waved his words away.

“No need for apologies,” she said.

Before she had to say more, Mackenzie was back, “I’m ready to eat now, Daddy.”

Jed looked from his daughter to her and back again, then his solemn lips tilted in a small smile and he said, “Maybe we’ll get a chance to talk again sometime,” before making his way to booth seventeen, Bev’s section.

As Clarissa watched them walk away, an ache for something she didn’t understand pulled at her heart, but like the remembered tears from earlier, she pushed it away.

Jed ordered Mackenzie’s French toast and milk, answered in the appropriate places to her knock knock jokes and tried not to think about the new waitress in town. Clarissa Dye. She wore a world of angst on that uptight face of hers.

“Daddy, Clarissa’s pretty, huh?”

Oh boy. “She’s something.”

“Yeah, but that something’s pretty. Can I put a quarter in the box an’ play Momma’s song?”

Jed congratulated himself when the question barely squeezed his heart. He reached into his pocket, grabbed some change and handed it over, then watched as Mack crossed the diner, carefully this time, to pick out four songs. One of them would be Trisha Yearwood’s American Girl. Was every time.

On the way back to her seat, his little girl stopped and charmed the customers she knew. Most were like extended members of their family. That’s the way Stearns worked, and he thanked God for that on a daily basis. He’d made it through the toughest time in his life because of friends and family and God’s blessings.

“You really have to stop letting her out dressed like that, Jed,” Bev said, delivering Mack’s milk and his coffee.

Like he had any choice in that matter. “She picks her own clothes. That’s one battle we’re not fighting.”

“She’s picked that outfit every Saturday this month.”

“Probably will next month, too.”

Bev laughed and grabbed creamer from an empty table nearby, dropped it on the corner of his booth. “Looks like you finally met Clarissa. What’d you think?”

Mackenzie climbed back into the booth and gave Bev a big hug, saving Jed from answering and giving him a chance to watch the object of conversation as she moved from one table to another, behind the counter, back to the diner’s floor. She moved with the lithe grace of one of his Quarter Horses, but her face was set in the intensity of an untamed Mustang. Her hair was tucked up in a clip, keeping it away from her face, hiding its true look, but a few wisps of blonde straggled free. Her hands were tiny like the rest of her. She looked like one of their hard Oklahoma winds would blow her clear to the Gulf coast, and like she’d fight that wind every step of the way. His momma’d call that look grit.

Truth be told, he didn’t know what he thought about Clarissa, other than what Mackenzie had already stated in her five-year-old simplicity.

Clarissa Dye’s life might be full of hurt, but she sure was pretty.

“You find someone to watch Mackenzie next week after school yet?”

Jed tore his attention from the new girl in town and turned to Bev. Usually he could set his schedule up in such a way that transporting Mackenzie from town back to the Triple Eight was no big deal. If he couldn’t pick her up, his momma could. But Momma and Daddy were celebrating fifty years of wedded bliss in Branson, and he had several contractors picking up trees all next week. Mackenzie’s hyper nature made after-care at school difficult, but he might not have a choice.

“Not yet. You got any ideas?”

Bev shrugged then looked pointedly across the room. “Clarissa’s off afternoons next week. She’s pulling a couple breakfast, close doubles, but she’s free the times you’re needing. You might see if she’d be willing…”

Jed pushed away her suggestion. One, he didn’t really know Clarissa Dye. Two, hyperactive kids needed a special kind of structured care. “I think I’ll pass on that for now, but I appreciate the suggestion.”

“Daddy, come down here. I wanna tell you a secret.”

Jed’s heart constricted. Funny how Mackenzie mimicked her mother’s actions even though she couldn’t possibly remember her. He bent down and laughed when she grabbed his face in her hands and Eskimo Nosed him. “I love you, Daddy.”

“Love you, too, munchkin,” he said. And he hoped that was the only kind of secret Mackenzie ever had where he was concerned. It wouldn’t be long and the secrets from their past would be all too real to his precious daughter. He prayed he could somehow soothe the hurt the truth would bring.

“Ya know, I remember one time I asked Jed out and instead of telling me no outright, he said maybe one day when I was a little older.”

Clarissa rolled her eyes and kept filling the salt shakers. “What were you, five?”

“Shoot no, girl. I was twelve years old and a right proud owner of a brand new training bra. I pretty much figured Jed would be my husband and we’d have ourselves a passel of kids. I was going to give them all names that started with J. I think I still have a spiral notebook somewhere with Beverly Dillon written in pretty curlicues followed by every J name I could think of.”

Clarissa didn’t want to be curious about the man and his daughter. His life. But she couldn’t help herself. Besides, she needed to keep her mind busy. Because right this minute she was feeling awfully sorry for her sad self.

“You’re not going to quit talking about him until I agree that he’s some kind of heart throb, are you?”

“Nope.” Bev affirmed with a laugh.

“Fine. You’re right. He’s cute if you like the Heathcliff type.”

“I never really thought of Jed as brooding or angry or anything like that,” Bev said.

“Are you kidding me? He’s totally gloomy. All serious, quiet intensity. Blah.” She shivered and then sat in one of the empty booths and put her feet up for a minute. They had thirty until the diner re-opened. “So, what’s his real story anyway?”

“He’s a good dad, a good man, and he’s got money. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Bev said, focusing in on the one thing she said was a must for any man in her life.

“Money’s always good,” Clarissa said, although she’d met her fair share of rich jerks.

A knock on the glass drew their attention and they both started in surprise then laughed.

Mackenzie Dillon stood on the other side of the glass doors. Her hair and clothes the same mess as before.

Bev flipped the sign to open and let the little girl in, and once again Clarissa was reminded of a whirlwind.

“Daddy said I can spend my tooth fairy money on a rootbeer float if you’ll make it for me, Bev. Will you, please?”

“Sure thing, Mack,” Bev said, taking the two dollars the girl held out and putting it in the register then getting busy on the float.

Clarissa almost felt bad about staying at the booth, but she wasn’t too certain about leaving Mackenzie by herself. Her dad really needed to do a better job keeping an eye on her.

“I like your pink nail polish, Clarissa. Daddy won’t let me paint my nails ‘til I’m older he said. Are you feeling bad ‘cause you don’t look so good right now. You look like you might be gettin’ the flu or something.”

Terrific. She started to say no, she felt just fine, but the little girl barreled right on. “I had the flu once and I threw up all over Miss Topkins. She’s my Sunday School teacher, an’ she’s old like you but she’s still a Miss, not MZZZZZZZ. That’s what she says. You wanna come to Sunday School with me tomorrow so I can get some points?”

And breath blessed breath.

Good grief. Clarissa tried to come up with an answer that would let the little girl down easy. Somehow she didn’t think the whole church isn’t my thing excuse would work with Mackenzie Dillon.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to come to church. Mr. Pyle won’t come to church with me either. He says he don’t much like the sonofagun preacher….”

The bell over the diner’s doors rang, and Mackenzie’s easy expression turned stormy when her father’s voice sounded.

“Mackenzie Dillon, did I tell you to come over to Pete’s or did I tell you to wait a minute?”

Stormy faced, the little girl crossed her arms over her chest. “I wanted my rootbeer float, Daddy. You said…”

“I said hold on a minute.”

Clarissa fought the tumult of emotions. On the one hand, she understood Jed Dillon’s anger. But the feed store was next door. And he, or the Tooth Fairy, had obviously given his daughter the money to buy the float. What did he expect anyway? Perfection? Mackenzie was a kid. Barely more than a baby.

Before she could even think the decision through, Clarissa turned to face the angry father and broke her first rule of how to get by without making connections.

“She was just asking me to church tomorrow. She said there were some points involved?”

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2 responses to “Letting Go–Chapter One, Preview

  1. Oh, I love it! Mackenzie is precious and I can’t wait to see what develops between Clarissa and Dillon. Favorite phrase…..Breath, blessed breath.

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