Coming March 13th, the second installment in the Lavender Vale Series set in the small Texas town of Sweet Grove. In case you've not heard about this new series yet, the books are part of Melissa Storm's First Street Church Kindle World.
Each book in the world is available for only $1.99 or you can read free with a Kindle Unlimited membership.
If you'd like to find out more about this series, check out the First Street Church Page. More information and fun stuff will be available over the next couple of weeks when Love's Harmony goes live.
But for now, enjoy this little sneak peak...
Melanie Brown slumped lower in the passenger seat of Mom’s RV, called the Flying Eagle. To her dismay, written on the side in big, bold letters was: I’m flying high above the rest of you turkeys.
Truth was, Melanie’s life had sunk to an all-time low. Her daddy, God rest his soul, would have been so ashamed. She glanced over at her mother, Lilly Brown, who’s usually grinning face remained frozen in a furious scowl that hadn’t wavered much in the past three days. Not since they’d found out just how much trouble Melanie’s little ‘incident” with a student in her music class had dropped her into.
At least she’d not done something terrible enough to land her on the six o’clock news.
“Mom, are you sure Faye doesn’t mind—?”
“She’s your only option, Sugar. You’ve surely lost your job. Which means, no more apartment. I’m sure you’ll be a big help to her and Chase. They’re hoping to get the farm ready for a fall harvest opening.”
“I know nothing about farming!”
Mom turned that frown toward her, sending shivers down Melanie’s spine in a way only her mother could do. “You’re usually a smart cookie. I’m sure you’ll learn.”
Usually? Oh, that hurt.
“Look, it was a misunderstanding.” Melanie scooted back up in the seat, trying to ignore the bumps that the over-sized house on wheels hit. With great frequency. Maybe it was time for Mom to look into getting new shocks.
Mom pushed her green tipped hair off her face. “Misunderstanding my left foot. What were you thinking telling that boy that he was as worthless as a slug?”
“Well?” The truth hurt, didn’t it? She decided not to speak that out loud. “He was rude to me, first. I… simply spoke without thinking.”
“In front of another parent! And then you let him walk out of your room without even reporting him to the office? He was only thirteen, for goodness sakes!” Her voice grew in pitch. “All kids that age are pretty much useless slugs. They’re kids, for goodness sakes.”
Melanie opened her mouth to defend herself, but Mom wasn’t done.
“And don’t you dare give me any excuses, Melanie Ann! How many times have I warned you about that mouth of yours? I’m praying hard that you don’t lose your teaching license, though if you’re going to be as mouthy to the kids as they are to you, then maybe it’s time you found a different profession. A teacher must have empathy and understanding. They need to show kindness and patience.”
None of those qualities described Melanie Ann Brown. She sank into the seat again and rested her forehead against the side window. Except for sharing her mother’s middle name, she was nothing like Lilly Ann Brown at all. Her oldest half-sister, Faye Lynn, was always quietly patient. A hard worker and determined to do something to better mankind.
Their younger brother Benjamin was more like their mother with his ability to see the humor in everything. Melanie hated seeing Mom so mad. No, not mad, really, but rather disappointed. Oh, that was worse.
If she favored anyone, then it was most likely Daddy.
James Brown always told her she was meant for greatness. He often bragged about how smart she was and that she’d be the one to make something of her life. For a moment, she was glad he wasn’t around to see the trouble she’d landed in. But the feeling was fleeting, and sadness over losing him enveloped her once again.
“You’re right.” The words scraped over Melanie’s tongue like sharp rocks. “That’s why I want a job in a private school. Maybe working with children who are better behaved than—”
“Children are children, Sweetpea. Folks are folks. It’s not status that makes people better, but where their hearts are. If you don’t have a passion and heart for serving children, then you need to find another line of work. Maybe what you need to do with this downtime is to figure out what the Lord really has for you to do. You have so many talents, Mel. You can sing like it’s nobody’s business. And I don’t know of an instrument you can’t play.”
Melanie swallowed down the lump growing in her throat. She loved hearing her mother’s compliments. Since Daddy’s passing, they’d been few and far between, and it caused her spirit to sink into a pit of remorse. Yes, she was sharp-tongued. Yes, she didn’t suffer fools very well. And yes, she did have high expectations of how people should act. But did that really make her a terrible person?
“Drums. I’ve never been good at playing the drums. And I’m only fairly decent with wind instruments. I’d never win a competition with them.”
Mom’s mouth finally widened into a grin. Reaching over she grasped Melanie’s wrist. Her four turquoise beaded bracelets clanged together, sounding like brass chimes. “You are very talented, my sweet girl. Promise you’ll use this time at Faye’s wisely. Maybe you can pick up a temporary job to help get you out of debt? They live only a couple of miles from town.”
“What kind of town? I’ve never heard of Sweet Grove.” She glanced out the window at the passing farmlands. “There’s not really much out this way, is there? A few small Podunk towns here and there. The kind that if you sneeze you’ll miss them.”
Mom patted her arm and turned her attention back to the road. The windshield was covered with the remains of various kinds of insects. Which was another thing Melanie hated about country life: bugs, dirt, more bugs and worse….
“If I know Faye, she loves her metropolitan life.” Melanie was sure Faye Lynn would be close to all the modern conveniences a large town offered.
“Yes, she does, but she’s grown to love Sweet Grove and their farm. She’s another one who had one set of goals in mind and came to realize she was meant to do something else. I’m hoping your sister will be a good influence on you.”
Melanie folded her arms over her chest. “Right.”
As if. She hadn’t spoken to her half-sister since attending the funeral of Faye’s biological dad. Actually, she’d missed the funeral. Mainly because she hated them so much. But the reception afterward had been nice. Lots of people from the town who attended seemed to like Heath Andrews. Melanie barely knew him because Faye had refused to have anything to do with her bio-dad. Until two years ago.
Now Faye Lynn was stuck on that farm with no better prospects. Poor thing.
Well, not her. Melanie wasn’t cut out for flat soled work boots and jeans. No, thank you. Whether the school board lifted her suspension, or not, she’d start applying to private schools. She’d worked too hard for her teaching degree to walk away from it now.
And she’d never walk away from music. It made up her whole life. She heard tunes in the wind that blew through the trees. She could even pick up melodies in the sounds around town. The constant slap of the tires running over the blacktop road became a soothing rhythm in her ears.
A familiar song came on the radio that her sharp ears picked up, despite the low volume. Soon she was humming along.
“There’s that sweet voice,” Mom said. “Sometimes I think the angels must be envious of it.” The camper slowed. “Oh, here we are. You’ll have to go check out the town later with your sister. It’s a pretty place, but not as large as you’re used to. Still, I bet you can pick up work somewhere. You’ve always been smart about making money. Just wish you’d be as smart about how you spent it.”
Now it was Melanie’s turn to scowl. Was it her fault the things she wanted were so expensive? Bad enough she’d had to let go of her pretty apartment that overlooked the lake, but she’d also had to send back all the rental furniture. And the car. Also rented. She’d not planned to stay in that town for long. It was a transitional stop until she got the job of her dreams.
A stone house with a tin roof, half rusted, came into view. At least the inside looked better than the outside. They’d not done anything with that old, ugly barn, either. But there seemed to be more animals. Two mules grazed in a pen next to the barn, along with a herd of very small goats.
Lord, help me. I’m being dropped off in Green Acres.
Well, it was only another transitional stop until she could get what she really wanted.
Except Mom was right. She really did need to figure out what she really wanted. She loved teaching music. She did not love teaching it to a group of children who couldn’t care less about it, though. If only she could teach in a real music school. But without more experience, they wouldn’t even bother to interview her.
Mom pulled up beside the house instead of her usual parking spot in the back. “I’m not staying. Don’t see the point.” She climbed out of her seat and went to a cookie jar she kept on a shelf along with her favorite spices. Instead of cookies inside, she pulled out several dollar bills. “I have a hundred I can spare. You best make it last, Sugar. At least until you find another way to earn money.”
Melanie also climbed from her seat and stretched the kinks from her back. “Soon as I’m cleared from my suspension, I’ll start applying at better schools. Something will pop up, Momma. It always does.”
“And if you aren’t cleared? What if his parents decide to file a lawsuit against you? You know that’s still a possibility.”
A possibility Melanie did not care to think about. She’d written a lengthy letter of apology. She’d done everything the Principal told her to do in order to make amends. And she’d left her position with no fuss a month before the semester ended. Without pay, of course.
And without a contract for next semester. Or any future semesters.
“Momma, I’m…” Melanie sighed. “I’m sorry for being so much trouble.”
Her mother pulled her into a tight hug. “Oh baby, you’re not any trouble. Even if you’re in a world of it. My heart is breaking for you, that’s all. I hate seeing my babies having a rough time. You’ll understand one day when you settle down with your own darlings.”
As if that’d ever happen.
Mom tucked the wad of bills into her hand, then patted her cheek. “Let’s get your bags. Chase promised to hang around to help us bring in your stuff. Faye is getting the extra upstairs room ready for you.
Melanie nodded, realizing her debt was growing deeper and deeper by the second. Surely Faye wouldn’t allow her to mooch off them for long. Hearing or not, the job search would be on top of her list. There had to be some school somewhere in Texas that needed a music instructor. She’d just have to learn how to keep her thoughts inside her head. Maybe if she kept her lips pressed tighter together, they’d not have a chance to slip out as easily.
Unfortunately, duct tape was out of the question.
* * * *
“Does that say what I think it says?” Billy Higgins asked his friend, Chase Michaels. The big man was the strong, quiet type, but he’d often been able to draw Chase out of his quiet shyness. Few people could withstand ol’ Wild Bill’s charms, Billy mused with a satisfied grin.
Chase straightened from the row of corn they’d been planting and pulled the brim of his hat lower over his eyes. “Yep, it says exactly what you think it says. And it means I need to head back to the house. I promised Loony Lilly that I’d help them unload the camper.”
Billy elbowed Chase in the arm. “Bet you don’t call her that to her face.”
Chase shoved the head of the shovel into the ground. “Bet you I do.” He chuckled. “She loves it. Lilly has a big heart that hardly ever takes offense. So long as you’re not putting down one of her own, she’ll laugh heartily along with you.”
“Oh, I know. I’ve seen her down at the Rusty Nail a few times, cranking out awful songs with the other karaokers.” Most folks in town enjoyed when Lovely Lilly visited. For a while, she was getting Mr. Heath out of the house and into town before he got too weak to handle their late-night parties.
Billy decided not to bring up those memories. Chase still got a little misty-eyed over the loss of his foster dad, even if his friend was happier than he’d ever seen him. Married life had done a world of good for Chase. Faye brought out all his best qualities and was even able to get him to socialize with people now and then.
“I’ll come help. Did you say Faye’s sister was coming to stay a while?” If she was anything like Sweet Faye, he wanted to meet her. Chase was one lucky dude.
His eyes narrowed as he folded his arms. “Thought you’d come to help with planting? Should have known there were ulterior motives.” Chase gave him a gentle shove. “But I’ll warn you, Mel is a real spitfire with a tongue that smarts like a cracked whip. And she’ll have zero tolerance for a red neck like yourself.”
“Hey now. I can clean up nicely.” Billy rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the slight burn from being out in the sun all morning. But Chase had offered fifty bucks for a couple of hours’ worth of planting and Billy snapped it up like a bass after a fat worm.
Most of his pay came from side jobs while he worked his way to becoming a paid firefighter. The classes he was taking to qualify for a paid position at the fire department cost more than he made on the rodeo circuits. Picking up small jobs around town had become his means of feeding himself and keeping a roof over his head.
“As if you ever take time to clean up.” Chase sauntered off toward the house. “You coming or not? I’m going to enjoy watching Meticulous Melanie put you in your place when you try to make your moves on her.” He glanced over his shoulder, a grin puffing out his beard. “But as a consolation prize, you can stay for lunch.”
“Lunch? Okay.” Faye was a great cook. He jogged to catch up with his friend. Sure enough, written under the large eagle painted on the side of the green camper was, I’m flying high above the rest of you turkeys. Yes indeed, Mrs. Lilly did soar above the rest of the world.
“There’s my sweet lump of sugar,” Lilly called out as the side door swung open. “And just in time. Come give your Mama-in-love some hugs.” She hopped down, arms extended to accept Chase into her warm embrace. She kissed his cheek, then rubbed away the lipstick left behind.
As usual, Lilly Brown was dressed to impress… or perhaps shock. Billy was never sure which she was going for. Today she wore a bright pink silk jacket over her long cotton shirt and flowered pants. Her silver hair was always streaked in a bright color. For spring, she’d gone with a dark green.
Billy could only laugh and shake his head until she noticed him standing there. “Why, is that Wild Bill in the flesh? What are you doing here, Sugar?” She breezed over to him and pulled him into a hug, as well. “I’m glad to see you in one piece. You still working the rodeos, you crazy fool?”
“Yes, Ma’am. When I can, that is. Between trying to get on at the fire department and helping ol’ Chase here with his lawn service, my time’s been kind of tight. But I’ll get out there if there’s a decent prize to be won.”
Lilly patted his shoulder with a shake of her head. “I swear you have a death wish. Crazy boy. You must keep your guardian angels very busy.”
Billy laughed along with her. “I try. Life’s meant to be lived. I’d think you of all people would understand that.” He tipped his sweat-drenched hat when Fair Faye joined them.
“Sure, I do.” Lilly headed for one of the back compartments and unlocked it, revealing several boxes tucked inside. “I just like to keep all my bones intact, that’s all.” After directing them to take all the boxes up to the spare bedroom, Lilly greeted her daughter before both women disappeared back inside the camper.
Billy helped Chase cart the boxes, several heavy ones, upstairs to the spare room. “Why are you guys staying up here? Isn’t there a big bedroom downstairs you can take? These up here are kind of small.”
Chase ducked his head as he set the boxes inside the closet. “That was Heath’s room. Every thing’s been moved out, but neither of us has the heart to do anything with it, yet. But you’re right about it being the best room. It even has a private bath. I’m hoping Mel isn’t a bathroom hog like girls can be. You know?”
“Oh, I have two sisters. Yes, indeedy I do know.”
They clomped back down the narrow stairs, ready to get the next load. Billy wondered what in the world that girl had packed into all those boxes. They were heavy enough to hold plenty of bricks to build a dog house.
When they reached the front porch, the three women were making their way toward them. Faye was pointing toward the barn and fields where they’d planted a quarter acre of lavender to attract tourists. “The berry bushes are coming in nicely. I’m hoping that eventually we’ll be able to offer berry picking days, but that’s a way off.”
Following at the rear of the group was a stunning beauty with golden hair that hung around her shoulders. Her trim figure moved gracefully as she picked her way along the stone path in the most awful boots for getting around a farm. The spiked heels keep sinking into the mud between the stones and causing her to wobble with each step.
“Whoa,” Billy exclaimed in a low gasp.
“Easy,” Chase whispered a warning. “Don’t forget that looks can be deceiving. Remember what I told you?”
Siblings were always biased. Why he hardly ever had a kind word for his two bratty sisters, but both had found themselves gullible husbands, regardless. The angel making her way toward him couldn’t be as bad as Chase was letting on.
Everything about her spoke perfection. From her carefully lined red lips to the upturned edges of her brilliant blue eyes. Even her clothes fit her trim form perfectly. Lilly and Faye passed by, lost in their conversation. When the angel woman stepped onto the first stair, her spiked heel sank in between the planks.
Chase let out a laugh. “You might need to put those away while you’re here, Mel.”
How could he just stand there laughing? What a cad. “Allow me, ma’am.” Billy swooped in and wrapped his hands around her delicate leg.
She brought down her bag right on top of his head, knocking his hat off. “Excuse me?” She barked indignantly. “Get your paws off me.”
He straightened. “My apologies. I only wished to help a damsel in distress.” He offered his arm for her to steady herself with.
“I am no damsel, you moron!” She shoved him backward before bending to yank the zipper down. “Is he related to you, Chase? Both you farm boys with your sweaty hats and ratty beards. You never heard of a razor blade in these parts?” Pulling her foot free, she gave the boot a few good tugs until it finally came loose, causing her to tumble backward off the steps.
Chase’s only response was to laugh into his hand.
Billy tried to reach out to catch her but stopped himself. That bag hurt! He rubbed the back of his noggin, wondering if there’d be a lump.
Luckily, she was able to stop herself from landing on her backside.
“Melanie Ann Brown,” Lilly rushed out the door and stopped, hands on hips. “What was I just saying about that mouth of yours? You apologize to Wild Bill. He’s only trying to help.”
Melanie Ann? What a lovely name.
Melanie Ann turned a furious glare toward him that nearly stopped his heart from beating. Good Lord, where’d the angel go? This was a demented princess staring him down, now. “Wild Bill? Go figure. Is your brother named, Joe Bob?”
My, she was a feisty one. Billy tipped his hat before plopping it back on his head. “No, ma’am. But I have two sisters. Their names are Joline and Desi.”
Melanie Ann shoved her foot back into the boot and drew up the zipper. “Fascinating. If you’ll excuse me.” She hopped up the steps and raced inside.
Lilly watched her with a shake of her head. “Lord help you and Faye. I’m glad you’re a tolerant man, Chase. You’re going to need every ounce of patience you have on this one. I’m afraid she’s never going to learn to hold that tongue of hers.”
“Oh, I’m sure the Lord has his plans for her.” Chase scratched at his ratty beard. “If he can turn a foul-mouthed fisherman into a rock that the Church was built upon, I’m sure he can handle our Melanie.”
“Hope so. But if she gets to be too much, don’t you hesitate to send her on her way. Sometimes a person just needs to be knocked out of the frying pan and into the fire before they’ll learn.” Lilly followed the girls inside, saying, “Let’s get you settled, then I need to be off. I aim to reach Corpus before the sun sets.”
Chase was still chuckling as he said, “Warned you, didn’t I?”
Billy tucked his thumbs into his hip pockets with a nod. “You sure did, but I’ve faced more ornery critters than your sister-in-law. She doesn’t scare me none.”
Even if she did have sharp horns growing from that angelic head of hers.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.