Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Excerpt from HOPING FOR JOY

Photo by Jill Wellington

Below is an excerpt from HOPING FOR JOY, Book 13 in the Love Is series from Prism Book Group.

Chapter One

"I thought I’d be married and packing for my honeymoon by now." Hannah grunted as she hefted a box of textbooks into the closet. Summer vacation had finally arrived at Baywater Elementary School and she had finished her first year of teaching a class of six-year-olds. Contemplating the two empty months ahead gave her a headache. "Whenever I question Logan about setting the date, he says, ‘Not yet.’"

Rose sat with a sketchbook in her lap and her feet up on the desk while her favorite tunes blasted through her earbuds. Hannah assumed her cousin didn’t hear a word she said. Most likely, Rose was working on a new tattoo design, because she spent all her time involved in drawingunless she was actually tattooing.

Rose took out one of the earbuds. "He wants to straighten out his sister’s life."

"He says that, but maybe it’s not the truth. Maybe...he got cold feet." Hannah’s eyes grew misty, but she refused to let her emotions get the best of her.

"His sister nearly died." Rose put her feet on the floor, closed the sketchbook, rolled up the wires to her earbuds, and stuffed them in her pocket.

Hannah sniffed. "Yes, she looked terrible in the hospital, but she went right back to her habit when she got out."

Rose shrugged. "From what I’ve read, taking drugs changes the chemistry of the brain, which makes it almost impossible to stop."

"Still, Logan ought to give me some attentionif he loves me." She pouted as she ripped the backing paper off the bulletin board and jammed it into the trash.

"Youre wallowing in self-pity. Again." Rose took the staple remover from the desk and pulled out the staples still stuck in the corkboard.

"But does Logan love me or not?"

Rose blew a huge pink bubble with her gum and popped it, loudly. "I told Mr. Grimm we’d be at the park before four o’clock."

Hannah sighed. "Everything must be off the floor and in the closet before I leave."

"Should I put the puzzles away next?" Rose asked.

"Yes, thank you." Hannah filled another box with textbooks and hoisted them into the closet. "What if I give Logan some space? Break the engagement, hand him the ring, and later, when his sister improves—"

"If you love somebody you don’t abandon them." Rose started stacking the puzzles in a plastic bin. "Whoa! This is a fantastic image of the cow jumping over the moon. Once a farmer wanted a cow tattoo, but I gave the job to Farrell." She chuckled, grabbed her sketchbook again and began to draw the cow. "Awesome udder thing going on..."

Rose drifted off into her own world, which happened all the time and Hannah didn’t mind it except when Rose forgot to do the dishes or take out the trash. More like sisters than cousins, they shared the small bungalow on Beach Drive where Rose had grown up. When she went to study art in college, she gave her mother, Hannah’s Aunt Deborah, plenty of gray hairs. Then her mother got cancer. Rose quit college and stayed at her mother’s side through the long ordeal.

Hannah originally thought staying with her cousin would be a temporary situation, but since Logan kept putting off the wedding date, she might be there foreveror until she had enough money to rent an apartment of her own. Of course, moving back into her parents’ place was a possibility, but she longed to be more independent.

Had she made a mistake in accepting Logan’s proposal? When they were students, they enjoyed a sweet and comfortable relationship, but everything changed once they went out into the real world. She landed the teaching job in Baywater, New Jersey. He rented an apartment an hour and a half west, close to his job and the Pennsylvania border where his retired father lived in a little town outside Philly. Logan’s father took care of his granddaughter since Logan’s sister had been declared an unfit mother.

It was a sad situation, but as Logan’s intended spouse, Hannah didn’t think it was wrong to plan ahead for their new life together, starting with a wedding.

Logan sent Hannah a text message two days ago. He said Nina was missingagain. So instead of Hannah and Logan enjoying a date this weekend, Logan would be out searching for his sister. Hannah’s hope of a beautiful wedding faded away.

Rose held up her drawing. "What do you think? It’s terrific, isn’t it?"

"Should tattooed cows smile?"

"When they’re happy cows they do," Rose pointed out. "If you were a dairy farmer wouldn’t you want your cow to appear delighted eating grass and making milk?"

"Why would someone advertise their business on their arm?"

"It’s cheaper than buying an ad in the newspaper." Rose went back to putting the puzzles in the bin. "Aren’t you almost done? Mr. Grimm saved the best summer job for you. It should take your mind off things."

Hannah studied her list and checked off all the tasks she had completed in the room. "I worked in the amusement park when I was in high school. Don’t you think I’m a little old for it now?"

"Age means nothing when it comes to having fun. One seventy-five-year-old senior citizen works the train ride. He laughs more than the kids."

"I should spend my vacation doing something important, like taking a classoror traveling." If she and Logan had gotten married, she would be lying on a beach in Aruba as they had originally planned.

"Your old car is going to breathe its last one of these days," Rose reminded her. "If you work for a couple months, you might have enough for a down payment on a newer one."

Hannah glanced at the classroom. One entire year of teaching had flown by. It had been a challenge, but one she enjoyed. She already missed the students, but she shouldn’t mope around all summer. Working at the amusement park would give her something better to do than lament her lack of a groom and a wedding.

Rose shoved the puzzles into the closet. "We’re done. Let’s hurry up before someone else gets the water balloon booth."

"That’s the best job?"

"It’s the best spot in the entire park." Rose laughed. "You’ll get drenched every night."

Hannah sighed. "I guess I better keep my hair in a ponytail."

"Cut it short like mine." Rose rumpled her blue spiked coiffure.

Hannah smiled but shook her head. Logan once admired her long, auburn hair and made her promise never to shorten it. While he adored her silky mane, he didn’t seem to miss her much.

Her dreamy plans floated off like high cirrus clouds, thin and wispy and far, far away. "Do you think I’ll wind up an old maid?"

"Our Grandaunt Rose, my namesake, never married." Rose shrugged. "Did she mope around?"

"No." Hannah managed a weak smile. "She was still riding the roller coaster when she was eighty."

"She dated plenty of men, but she never wanted to marry any of them." Rose chuckled. "She said they were too much of a bother."

Hannah sighed. Logan wasn’t a nuisance. He was absent. She closed the classroom door and signed out in the office. Rose hopped on her motorcycle, tossed a helmet to Hannah, and revved the engine. Hannah hung on as Rose drove her to the amusement park.

As the streets of Baywater whizzed by, Hannah closed her eyes. Logan ignored her. Did he love her? Did she love him? Had he forgotten his promise?

Should she dump him?

* * *


Hannah stood in the water balloon booth with Mr. Grimm as he explained what she was supposed to do.

"You gotta get the attention of the people who pass by." He held one of the prizes in his hand and shook it above his head. "Say things like ‘I bet you got good aim,’ or ‘You only need two to play,’ or ‘See what you can win. Don’t you wanna give your girlfriend something special to remember the day?’"

"That stuffed monkey is very small." Hannah thought it was uglyeven grotesque.

"If they win three games, they get the better prize, which is this incredible stuffed panda." Mr. Grimm pulled the toy down from the shelf. "Bet you never laid eyes on anything like it."

"You’re right," Hannah admitted. The panda was large. However, instead of being black and white, it was a rather garish purple and the white fur had metallic silver streaks in it.

"Don’t sit down when you’re working," Mr. Grimm warned. "Make sure you wear your uniform every night, too."

"This t-shirt?" Hannah held it up. Emblazoned on the purple cotton were the words, "Baywater Amusements, Fun Times for the Whole Family."

"I only give those out to the employees. Don’t hand it out to anyone. I don’t want somebody impersonating an employee."

"Has that happened?"

"Yes, before I bought
the shirts. Some kid opened up the frog pond game one night and ran off with all the money," Mr. Grimm growled. "It ain’t gonna happen again, though."

"But—but you know everyone in the county. Don’t you?"

"Yeah, but the kid picked the day I had to go to my sister-in-law’s wedding."

"Did the police catch him?"

"No. I figure somebody told him I wouldn’t be around." Mr. Grimm frowned at her. "Weren’t you getting married? There’s a diamond ring on your finger."

"Yes, I’m engaged, only...we haven’t set a date...yet." Hannah bit her lip.

"What’s taking so long? My wife and I dated each other for two weeks, I asked her to marry me, and two months later we tied the knot."

Hannah blinked. "You planned a big wedding in two months?"

"No, we celebrated in her parents’ backyard. I came with a keg of beer. We put it in the garage in case it rained, but it didn’t. The guests brought casseroles. My wife laughs and says she had a potluck wedding, but everyone had a good time." He sat on the stool in the corner of the booth, crossed his arms, and smiled. "We skipped out after a few hours and went on our honeymoon. I got us a little cabin up at Stokes. Saw bears, went fishing, and rowed around the lake. We had a great time. Ain’t been on as nice a vacation since. Where you gonna go on your honeymoon?"

"Aruba." She sighed. She would be spending her free time this summer on Baywater’s own small crescent of sand.

"There’s your problem. How much is Aruba gonna cost? Why can’t you do something simple like I did? You’d save yourself a ton of money and you could get married right away."

"I suppose. But how did you decide after only two weeks that your wife was the right one?"

He winked. "She was a great cook. She was cute, and she was as sweet as pie. How could I go wrong?"

"That simple?"

"Yep."


Mr. Grimm showed her where to stash the cash and explained a number of other details about the job. When he finished he told her to grab something to eat, and put on the shirt before he opened the gates.

She hurried across the street to the tattoo parlor where Rose worked. Rose was showing a customer some of her designs, but she looked up when Hannah came in the door.

"Is purple a good color for me?" Hannah asked as she held up the t-shirt.

"Absolutely. It shows off the highlights in your hair," Rose said. "You’ll probably receive several more proposals tonight. Remember not to take them seriously."

"I won’t." Hannah’s hopes were already dashed. Was it wrong to end what had once seemed right? Was she unreasonable to expect Logan to give her some attention despite the difficulties he had with his sister?

Aunt Deborah firmly believed in prayer. The foundation of hope is faith, she often said.

Hannah wondered if her lack of hope meant her conviction needed an extra boost. She prayed as she walked back to the amusement park. After eating a hotdog, she hurried to the water balloon booth. People started streaming through the gates for a night of family fun. At least, she wouldn’t be alone and brooding about Logan tonight.

She did her best to attract attention to her booth and by eight o’clock she was so busy she didn’t have time to think. At one point, every water gun was occupied and people were waiting in line to play. 

She gave away twenty-six of the ugly stuffed monkeys but only three of the purple pandas to the winners.

Mr. Grimm gave her a thumbs-up when he checked on her. "Keep up the good work."

Her feet ached by the end of the night and her stomach rumbled. She regretted not buying fries with her hotdog.

At closing time, she picked up her inventory list along with the cash bag. Part of her proceeds had been collected earlier, but during the last hour she had more business than the rest of the night combined. As she pulled down the gate to close up the booth, a dark shadow startled her. When she turned around, someone grabbed her t-shirt and held a knife in front of her face.

Hannah choked back a cry as panic swept through her. She didn’t move a muscle.

"Nina," Hannah whispered. Logan’s sister was dirty, disheveled, and emaciated, but she had the same impossibly curly brown hair as her brother along with pale blue eyes. Her wild, wide-eyed gaze chilled Hannah to the core.

"Give me the bag!" Nina didn’t let go of her weapon, which gleamed in the beams of the security lights. "Otherwise, I’ll slide this right across your throat." The blade shook in her hand. Her black pupils were small pinpoints.

Hannah stared at the point of the knife. The handle appeared worn, but she didn’t want to find out how sharp the tip of it was. She handed the bag of money to her attacker.

Nina released her grip on Hannah’s shirt, but she did not release her knife, which was still pointed toward Hannah who was cornered between the end of the booth and the fence. Nina hugged the canvas bag close to her chest. In doing so, she pulled her ragged shirt down over her

shoulder, revealing a black tattoo above her breast. It was a large image of a bat wearing a crown with the name Paul inscribed inside. She coughed and wheezed. "I’ll be free."

Hannah didn’t dare move, but she asked cautiously, "Who is Paul?"

Nina spat on the ground. "I hate him." She suddenly threw the knife away, turned, and fled.

Hannah clutched the edge of the counter. She didn’t think her legs would hold her up.

She took a deep breath and screamed for help. 

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