Tag Archives: Indie Publishing

Even the Acknowledgments Made Me Laugh

by Peggy Browning

by Peggy Browning

I’m a follower of Peggy Browning’s Fifty Odd blog, so buying the book was an easy decision. I knew I’d laugh. I knew Browning would make me think and make me thankful for what I have. I had no idea I’d experience the full spectrum of emotions as I read. I took my time with the book, savoring each chapter like a weekly treat. It’s a collection of columns much like Sharon Randall writes, so Fifty Odd lends itself to leisurely reading; however, the deeper I got into the book, the more I found myself wanting to know more. Those weekly treats weren’t enough. I ended up reading the last half of the book in two days. Browning shares so many truths in this story. From love to loss to body image to motherhood to grandmotherhood to bucket lists, Browning delivers vignettes that touch the heart. It’s definitely a collection I’ll return to again and again. When you get to the end of the book, don’t forget to read the acknowledgments. Don’t read them first! Get through the book so you understand. When you close the book you’ll smile to yourself and you’ll cheer for Browning who chose the road less traveled.

I highly recommend this book, especially for women. In fact, I think I’ll buy another few copies for gifts.

Fifty Odd: Viewing Life After 50 Through Rose-Colored Bifocals by Peggy Browning available on Amazon.

Emmie: Rescue Dog, Life Lessons

DD rescued Emmie. We think she was used as a puppy mill dog. She’s still scared if we make loud noises. She finally started barking this week. She’s a sweet dog, and we love her. She’s teaching me A LOT!

Potty training a dog takes consistency and patience. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve shared space with a dog. I’m a cat person. I didn’t exactly plan this interlude in potty training. But it’s here, so I’m going with it. I’ve researched and we’re working, and it’s two steps forward, one back, which is WAY better than two back, one forward. We finally got to the flip side of that equation.

Emmie’s teaching me about the power of consistency. Every day we work, she gets better about going outside. Last night she even stared at me until I figured out that was her sign. She needed to go out. YAY!!!! There’s a sign. It’s a miracle!

I’m doing revisions on the second Sharlene Gallagher Guardian book right now. I figure the revisions will be significantly easier if I’m consistent about working on them! Same thing goes for working out and weight loss. Consistency and patience. The keys to potty training a dog AND life.  (p.s. Praying for those affected by the OK fires.) ###

Writing YA as Elizabeth Lee and Christian Fiction as Mary Beth Lee. Find out more about my books on my Amazon Author Page. Currently working on revisions for Sharlene Gallagher Book 2. Book 1 Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee available in kindle and print.

 

A Home for Every Heart

My parents are ministers. My grandparents were ministers. I was raised in the church. And still, in my early 20s I wasn’t sure I believed in God. I’d definitely turned my back on organized religion.

I went to church with my parents sometimes, and I took my daughter to church sometimes, but I could have argued with the best of them about how the church was created for two reasons: money and the subjugation of women.
The lifestyle I lived could be classified as humanistic, I suppose. I was a “good” person. Enough said.
When an elderly customer invited my boyfriend to church one Sunday, I’m not sure why we went. Probably because they were expecting a new minister and the church was by the mall.
Whatever the reason, we went. And from the moment we walked through the doors, the church motto, “A Home for Every Heart” rang true. We weren’t judged. We were accepted. Everything changed.
My church made a point to minister to people with a world of hurt in their eyes. I think Letting Go started way back then. An idea I had to grow into.
So many people hurt today. And so often we forget the role of the church as my minister today says is to Love God, Love People. We get so caught up in life or work or what we need, we forget about others. I’m certainly guilty of that. Or we get so holy and full of our “rules” we think we’re better than others. I’ve been there, too.
Thankfully, God doesn’t expect perfection, but he did give us direction.
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Today, I believe. I don’t clobber people upside the head with that belief. I don’t preach hellfire and brimstone. I don’t talk about the rules. I simply say God sent His son to die for our sins and He loves us unconditionally. He’s ALWAYS there, even when we don’t believe. ###

Find out more about my books on my Amazon author’s page. Letting Go by Mary Beth Lee available in kindle format and print.

***GUEST BLOGGER alert. Janet Brown will be guest blogging here tomorrow. Her story is so inspirational. Please stop by!

Language Barriers, Life Lessons, Letting Go

Image by Shades of Blue, Roxanne Ready. Used by Creative Commons license.

Susie Dillon took a tray of cookies out of the oven and acknowledged that her husband was right. Jed was more than a little interested in Clarissa Dye.
And Paul was right about something else. The wariness in Clarissa’s eyes came about from something dark and troublesome.
“She’ s hurting, she doesn’t trust and she’s not sure about sticking around here. You can tell that,” she said.
“I imagine she’s a lot like the barn kittens. Scared to death to get close to anyone,” Paul agreed, his blue eyes sad and sure. Susie remembered those eyes back when they were bloodshot and unfocused morning after morning. When they were hiding truths. When they were bitter and angry, and she felt alone against the world with the gift of a baby boy and a ranch to take care of.
But she hadn’t been alone. God was always there.
“Don’t you think maybe God sent her to us so we can show her love?” Susie couldn’t help but wonder.
“I know God’s in our driver’s seat, Susie, but if it comes down to this girl or Jed and Mack, we can’t let her hurt them.” Letting Go by Mary Beth Lee, July 2012

God’s in our driver’s seat. Another way to say let go and let God. It’s a lesson it took me years to learn. When I stumbled upon my small group, I wasn’t letting God control much of anything. I wanted something to do and the class happened to meet across from the youth building where I’d dropped DD off. Before too long the small group was working through one bible study after another that challenged me to let go and let God. I resisted. Back then I was focused on work more than anything. I let the yearbook and newspaper run my life. My family came second, and they knew it. I fit God in–sometimes–when I could. Or when I needed Him. Lucky for me God’s there for us even when we’re not there for Him.
In 2008 I shattered my ankle in a clutzy accident. I ended up stuck in Rome a week before yearbook camp was supposed to start. I was stuck in an Italian public hospital room with five Italian women, none of whom spoke much English. My only Italian: ciao, limoncello and gelato. My prayers went something like this. “Dear God, please let me go home now. I need to get back for work. I don’t want to be stuck here. I’m scared of this hospital!”
God didn’t answer my prayers. He put two amazing people in place to help me, though. One, a grandfather of a student on the trip with me, happened to be a minister also. He stayed back with me because he said no way was I staying in Italy alone. The other, Teresa, worked for the tour company I was traveling with. She came to see me every day to translate and to talk to me. No one asked her to be there for me, but when she heard about the American teacher stuck in the hospital, she felt horrible for me and wanted me to have fond memories of her country.
Without those two, I’m not sure how I would’ve made it. Because not only did God not answer my prayers, He let me stew in that hospital bed for seven days in the midst of a horrible heat wave. The airlines wouldn’t let me travel because the break was so severe they were afraid I’d die. I didn’t care. I had a yearbook camp to get ready for, and I needed to get home. My idea of letting go and letting God was telling Him what I needed and expecting that to happen.
The Italians thought I was hilarious with my schedule book and highlighter and iPod Touch and the hours I spent on the phone coordinating camp.
Eight days and one surgery later, I made it back to the States. I said I understood let go and let God, but I was fooling myself.
Before school started my principal told me to take all the time I needed to get back into the swing of things. I had over 100 sick days. Still, though, I arranged my PT to take place before school and had DH wheel me to my room every day. I didn’t miss. I worked hard to get back to normal because I needed to be at deadlines after school. I graduated from wheel chair to walker to limping along the hallways. It didn’t take long for the job to come first again in my life.
The next year I got swine flu at the end of October and was sick until New Year’s. I missed six days of school instead of the two-three weeks I should’ve. Once again, the job controlled everything.
Somewhere in there though, something changed. I quit missing small group for work, DH and I got involved in the college ministry at church and I saw how shallow a life led by work could be. I saw the truth of how I hurt my family and myself. My small group stood by me as I lived through those changes. By the end of that school year, I was able to say the words “Let Go and Let God,” and mean them. Life’s a lot easier when you live by that principle.
I still find myself switching into the job first, family second, God third lifestyle every once in a while. I have to work to NOT go there. I’m not sure why because life is much better when I let God stay in the driver’s seat. He’s a much better driver than I am! ###
Find out more about my books on my Amazon author’s page.
Letting Go, available now for kindle and in print.

Cover art by Mary Beth Lee.

 

 

Cookie image link http://www.flickr.com/photos/shardsofblue/5875237526/in/photostream/

Soul Food

In my new christian romance Letting Go, the Dillons go out of their way to make people feel at home by cooking for them. Here are a few of the recipes from the book.
Susie Dillon’s biscuits (these are really my sister-in-law Alecia Hagberg’s biscuits, and they are beyond belief yummy and EASY to make!)
Biscuits
Preheat oven to 425.

3 cups self rising flour
1/4 – 1/3 c vegetable shortening
1 T sugar (just estimate)
1 t baking soda (just estimate)
1 1/2 C milk + 2 T vinegar or 1 1/2 c buttermilk

Mix flour, sugar, and baking soda. Cut in shortening until the mixture looks crumbly. Stir in milk. Flour a sheet of wax paper. Turn dough onto flour. Sprinkle the top with flour and kneed the dough, pulling the top to the bottom and pushing up until the top looks smooth.
Roll out or flatten out by hand. cut out with a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Place on buttered cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until tops are browned.

***
Susie Dillon’s Mashed Potatoes
Peel and dice potatoes. (I usually use 6 large)
Boil potatoes in chicken stock until they’re soft. Drain.
Pour back into empty pan used to boil and add 1 package cream cheese, 1 stick butter, 1/2 C sour cream, 1/2 C Parmesan cheese, 1/2 C heavy whipping cream garlic to taste, salt to taste (often not needed because of chicken stock), pepper to taste. Whip them up. Pour into slow cooker and leave on low. Add more heavy whip if needed.
Extras you might want to add:
Bacon, shredded cheddar, sweet corn
****

In Letting Go, the Dillons help Clarissa learn about the healing power of forgiveness. When she tells them she’s got a criminal past, they help her see God doesn’t hold her past against her. The Dillons aren’t preachy or judgmental. They simply accept Clarissa as a person who needs help and they step up. They let their lives be the witness. I hope you enjoy the book.

Book Info: Letting Go, a christian romance by Mary Beth Lee:  e-edition (kindle only for 3 months) & available in Print

Find out more about my books by visiting my author page!

The Power of Positive

You’ve gotta wake up every morning and ask yourself, ‘How bad do you want it?’ How much work are you willing to put forth for the things and people you want and need in your life? Nothing great comes without effort. But I promise you that if it’s something of great meaning in your heart and something you need in your life…EVERY risk, EVERY step and EVERY drop of sweat will be worth it. ~Markesa Yeager (I LOVE THIS QUOTE SO MUCH!!!!!!!)
I’ve tried something different this summer. If you follow me on facebook, you might have noticed. This is the summer of positive affirmation. I’m certainly not the originator of positive affirmations. One of my earliest memories is a summer spent watching Y&R. The character Tracy wanted to lose weight and she wrote affirmations every day. That was my introduction to the term. Several years later my friend Karen Kelley told me about The Secret and surrounding yourself with positive energy and how important it was to success. I love Karen, but I thought she was kind of crazy until I read The Secret. It’s definitely a little woo-woo, but it makes some great points. The Success Principles is another great book about surrounding yourself with positive energy and the secret to making dreams come true. I love both books. This summer I’m putting their principles into practice.
My writing world is the no negativity zone. The negative words, no anger, no hurt. I joined Candy Havens’ Fast Draft and wrote a draft in a week. I’m working on revisions now. I’ve got a new book–Letting Go–slated for publication this week (kindle or print only for 90 days). I’m a writer, so I write. No excuses. I’m getting healthy, so I work out every day in some way, no excuses. When school starts, I’ll add work to this, too. I can’t wait to see the difference the power of positive makes. ###

Letting Go by Mary Beth Lee, coming soon.

Clarissa Dye doesn’t put down roots. Stearns, Oklahoma, is a stopping point on her path to self-reliance. And God? Don’t even get her started. Enter Mackenzie Dillon and her cowboy dad, Jed. From the moment Mackenzie runs into Clarissa, the little girl worms her way into Clarissa’s heart. The fact that her strong father happens to work his way in there, too, only scares Clarissa more. Letting Go: a story of forgiveness, second chances and finding a love that lasts forever.

Red Pen Intervention: Self-Pub Editing

You know those posts that go around showing how researchers can give you parts of words and your brain can figure out what’s there? For some reason I didn’t realize that translated to my writing.

My day job consists of constantly editing and proofing. For some reason I thought that meant I could self-proof with no worries. WRONG. Even reading out loud I’ve missed a ton of stuff. Lesson learned. I MUST have a proof reader for my self-pub work. Now I have to upload corrected novels to Amazon. Proof I need to SLOW DOWN! Another example of just because I can doesn’t mean I should–and that’s a real issue with self-publishing for me. It’s so easy to submit the work without taking the time to let the work rest then return to it to make it the best it can be. I’m learning, though.

On the bright side, I’ve got the cover for my July inspirational romance, Letting Go. 

 

Coming to Amazon July 2012. An inspirational romance by Mary Beth Lee. Letting Go: A story of forgiveness, second chances and finding love that lasts forever. Triple Eight Ranch Book 1.

I’ve started working on the next Sharlene Gallagher book (YA by Elizabeth Lee). That Sharlene is a real character.

Vampires Aren’t Real…

One of my favorite writing stories comes from a Charlaine Harris interview. A reporter asked her how she responded to critics who said she got the vampire mythology wrong. Harris leaned forward, looked at the reporter and gravely said  that vampires aren’t real, so she could do what she wanted with them.

Last night while explaining my new young adult book Dead Girl Walking,I told Mom (#1 fan) that my guardian angel protagonist is a murder victim who has to figure out  the identity of her murderer before the killer strikes again. She said that’s not how it really works with angels. I felt like I’d arrived. 🙂

Off to the revision cave on A Different Kind of Hero. Conflict is calling my name. As in I forgot about including it on the page. Don’t forget to leave reviews for books you read by indie authors. Word of mouth is our best promotion.

It Started With a Flashlight

It started with a flashlight.

Once upon a time publishing meant query–wait 3-6 months–partial–wait 3-6 months–full–wait 3-6 months (if you were lucky) and repeat.

Last year I published Honor and Lies. At the time, I thought that would be my only indie book. My writing goal for years had been 1-sighted. Harlequin. I love category romance. I’ve loved it as long as I’ve been reading romance when my cousin and I read a Greek shipping tycoon, virginal English secretary who won the lottery story around the time I was in 6th grade. We read by flashlight and hoped our parents wouldn’t catch us. They didn’t.

A few years later my mom subscribed to the Silhouette book club. Again, she finished a book, I started a book. My school librarian subscribed to Harlequin and kept the books on the shelves for us. I read them all.

When Harlequin was my one and only goal, I wrote, submitted, got great requests and then devastating rejections.

Self publishing last year changed that. Honor & Lies wasn’t a manuscript targeted to Harlequin. Neither was Grace is Enough (originally published as Prodigal). Both books got great feedback from readers, neither found a home with a publisher. Hello Amazon and Smashwords.

This month I launched Dead Girl Walking, book 1 of The Guardian series–my first contemporary young adult novel. I wrote it with indie publishing in mind. I just “finished” Letting Go, an inspirational romance, and I have A Different Kind of Hero, a contemporary romance ready to go.

Now I’m sitting here reading through A Different Kind of Hero one last time and praying about which direction to go. It takes so long to go through the query process, and these days time means everything. I’ve got a decision to make. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.
“High school’s never been easy. Now it just might be murder.” Dead Girl Walking, The Guardian Book 1. Available here.

Sharlene Gallagher, teen scream movie queen, was the biggest thing to happen to Primrose, Texas. Until she died.
Now Sharlene’s back as a guardian angel life coach. Only her real objective is a bit more intense. Her charge: figure out the identity of her murderer before high school junior Addison Karchusky falls prey to the killer. Enlisting Addison’s help without letting her know her life’s in danger? No problem…she hopes.
High school used to be easy. Now it just might be murder.

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?”