Mara apologies here, and then three more next week. On Wednesday, we'll open voting, and ask all of you readers to cast your vote for the hero you feel best fits Mara. Are you ready? Do you have a favorite already or are you withholding opinions until the very end?
Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.
Read Chapter Three.
Read Chapter Four.
Read Chapter Five.
Read Chapter Six.
Read Chapter Seven.
Read Chapter Eight.
Read Chapter Nine.
A Dozen Apologies
Chapter Ten - October
Mara paced in front of her boss’s desk waiting for him to come in and lower the boom.
A courier job, for goodness’ sake. All she had to do was drop the well-marked envelopes off at the addresses printed on them, pick up envelopes from those offices, and deliver them to where they needed to go. Lucille Ball couldn’t have messed this one up any better.
Mara had been running around all afternoon trying to clean up her mess.
How had it happened? She’d checked the addresses on the main envelopes, delivered them as noted, and walked away.
Mr. Dibble’s voice had been calm at first, but after the fifth call, his voice had risen to the shriek of an eagle cutting across the sky.
In order to deliver her items to the wrong address, the mistake had to come from …
A shuffling sound pulled Mara to the door.
Petunia. The one hired to make sure the items went into the proper envelope and into the couriers’ bags. Pet, as she was called, got the office job. Mara received the route.
Mara stepped out of the office and into the sorting room. “Why?” She stood behind the younger girl.
Pet looked up, her neck and face flushed a crimson red.
Pet backed away from the table, stopping when she found the wall.
Mara ran her hand along the table, taking time to collect her thoughts. Inboxes stretched across the table, five shelves high. Pet’s job was to separate the items in the couriers’ bags, put them in the proper main envelopes, and have them inside the couriers’ bags for the next day’s deliveries.
Pet hadn’t said a word. She just stood there as if she thought Mara might hit her.
“Pet, why? You sabotaged me today.” Mara raised her hands and dropped them. “If you wanted my job, why didn’t you say so? I’d gladly trade.”
Pet looked around and lowered her voice. “I don’t have a vehicle. My husband drops me off on his way to work. We’re about to lose our house. I messed up. Mr. Dibble explained the process to me so quick, I didn’t understand. I tried to straighten out my mess.” She shook her head and sobbed. “All the bags looked alike. I was hurrying to correct everything. Mara, I must have missed your bag.”
Well, at least Mara could rest in the fact that she hadn’t been Lucy in this situation.
The door opened, and Mara held up her hand as Mr. Dibble entered. She put a finger to her lips and then stood at attention.
Mr. Dibble glared at Mara through narrowed eyes.
Maybe she could save both of their jobs. Groveling might help. It had worked for Pet. “Mr. Dibble, I’m sorry for the mistakes I made today.”
Mr. Dibble stared for a long moment as if weighing a decision. Then he shook his head. “In this economy, small companies can’t afford to lose an account, which is what happened today. One of the packages you delivered to the wrong address was a time-sensitive court document. The judge wouldn’t grant an extension for our client.”
Mara looked to the floor. “I’m so sorry.”
He turned his back and entered his office.
“Mara, I—” Pet started, but Mara waved her away.
Dibble returned. “This is your severance pay.” He held out an envelope.
She took it from him. “Thank you, Mr. Dibble,” Mara managed. “Pet, it was so good to work with you. Please take care.”
What was one more job loss in a field with no chance of advancement? She could afford to lose the position, but Pet obviously couldn’t.
What was next? A business mascot? No way would she do that.
Mara followed the harping GPS and turned at Ghost Town, Maggie Valley, North Carolina’s once-famous tourist attraction. She turned left and began to climb Fie Top Road.
The route was familiar to her. If she kept driving, she’d end up at the Cataloochee Ski Resort where she and her sorority sisters used to spend several weekends in the winter. Caden lived near Cataloochee, and she’d made sure this was where she’d publicly dumped him, not just among her sisters but some of his local friends as well.
As she remembered, with a growing lump in her throat, she’d made her sorority proud that day. Her arrogance made her shiver.
Caden’s business address was in Asheville. C. Martin, stair architect and builder. Apparently, Caden had made a name among the wealthy who had vacation homes in and around Asheville and other small mountain towns like Maggie Valley. The designs on his website were spectacular. Who knew stairs could be so elaborate?
She slowed her car as the engine started to protest the upward climb. She’d been to his home once before. Scenic View Road was ahead on her right—if her car didn’t decide to have carburetor arrest on her.
The old family home seemed like the last place a successful stair designer would reside. Yes, it was an easy commute to Asheville, but when she’d visited, the place had been a little rundown. She turned onto the road and drove until she found the rusty mailbox with the name MARTIN.
As she pulled down the lane, she slowed. The dilapidated home she remembered had been renovated. The wood was painted a soft green. The metal roof was new. A low porch with two steps up greeted her as she hurried against a slight October chill and made her way to the wood and glass double doors. Pumpkins and hay bales with scarecrows perched on the porch and provided an authentic autumn welcome.
She knocked and a moment later, little feet on wood could be heard running through the house. “Uncle Coot!”
“Wait, Temperance.” A man rushed toward the door.
Mara smiled and wiggled her fingers at the sweet little girl who pressed her face against the glass. Mara lifted her gaze to the handsome man. She couldn’t say that Caden had ever been unattractive to her. His biggest quirk was his indecisiveness, and the fact he always seemed to be insecure about any course of action he took. And Mara had used those two qualities against him.
Caden picked up the child, held her in his arms, and opened the door. “Mara?”
She tilted her head. A question or surprise? Neither fit. Caden had asked her to meet him here.
“Hi.” Mara pressed her best smile into place.
“Uncle Coot.” The tiny child tugged on the open collar of Caden’s blue plaid flannel.
“Yes, Temperance. I forgot my manners. Ms. Adkins, I’d like you to meet my niece, Temperance Martin.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mara said. “How old are you?”
The little girl leaned her head against Caden’s shoulder and held up three fingers. “But I be four next month.”
“Come in.” Caden held the door open wider.
Mara stepped in.
“Jayce,” Caden called.
A woman came from the back of the house.
“Tempie, I want you to go with Jayce. It’s time for your nap.”
The little one didn’t need much convincing. She went into the arms of the other woman who smiled a greeting. “I set the table out back. I thought your guest might be hungry.”
“Thank you.” Caden nodded and with a hand on Mara’s back led her down the hallway to the kitchen.
Mara gasped. The kitchen of her dreams invited the outdoors in with the wall of glass and doors that opened to a deck and a view of the mountains beyond. “You’ve done a wonderful job with the place. I would never dream …”
“You’ve been here?” He blinked as he opened one of the glass doors and bid her to step onto the deck where a small table was set with sandwiches and a pitcher of tea.
Maybe she hadn’t hurt him too badly if he didn’t remember her visit that infamous day. He pulled out a chair. She sat and wrapped her coat tightly around her.
“Is it too chilly for you?” He stood beside her.
She looked up into luscious green eyes, surprised that she didn’t see worry or hesitation.
“I thought it would be a nice place to sit. Still, if you’d like, we can take our plates inside.” Not indecisiveness or insecurity. Just a desire for Mara to be comfortable.
“No. This is fine.” And it was. She couldn’t think of a nicer place to be.
He sat without questioning her further, something he would never have done before. Instead he would have badgered her about what she truly wanted. With his desire to please her, she’d hurt him terribly. Yet, he acted now like it was no big deal.
“Sweet tea,” Caden said as he poured her glass. “No unsweet in the Martin household.”
“How is your mother—”
He stopped her with a shake of his head. “Tempie and me. We’re it.”
“Oh, but …”
“I’m Tempie’s guardian. My brother and his wife died two years ago.”
“Caden, I’m so sorry.” She sat back.
He winced at her words. “Momma died soon after, and Daddy, well, he left us long before, but you probably know that.”
He knew she did. He’d told her the day she’d been here, his voice broken, and his eyes filled with pain.
And still, she’d set about to destroy him even further.
She closed her eyes. Why did these men even give her the time of day? Dominic was right to leave her on the golf course. Ted had every right to make her muck the stalls. The others … she’d hurt them so badly.
“So, Mara, tell me why you’re here today?”
“Well, first of all, thank you for allowing me to return after what I did the last time.” She stared at her untouched meal.
He leaned back. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you think you did to old Caden?”
This man had definitely grown into his own skin, and he knew how to make her uncomfortable in hers, but she’d play along.
He shook his head. “Let’s eat first. Jayce makes a great ham and cheese.”
She liked this controlled nature, not too overpowering, but confident. The first bite of her sandwich was so good, she took another, and another. “She should open a sandwich shop. This is delicious. Is she a housekeeper?”
“Housekeeper, nanny, cook. I work in Asheville as you know. I don’t want Tempie in daycare.”
“I was surprised this was still home. I saw the pictures of your offices in Asheville, and”—she looked into the house—“this house is one story. No master stair designs here.”
“I have a more personal project here.”
When Mara took her last bite of sandwich and wiped her mouth with her napkin, Caden leaned forward. “So, tell me. What is it you did?”
Mara lowered her head but decided she needed to stare into those green eyes, the ones that filled with unshed tears so long ago. “When I came here with you that weekend, your mother was so gracious. I enjoyed my visit, but …” She swallowed.
How had she gotten so far away from common decency back then?
Caden remained silent.
“My home life was such a wreck, but you seemed to get along with your mother so well. We all cooked dinner together, remember?”
He shook his head.
Maybe this one didn’t need an apology. He didn’t recall her at all.
But that wasn’t possible.
“Caden, that was the loveliest time I ever had, in this house. Well the old home. I felt like family.”
“Yes, we were always very close.”
“When we went skiing later that day, and your friends met me on the mountain. I remember the cute blonde. She was so sweet to me. She invited me to church with you the next morning. To my shame, I don’t recall her name.”
“Reese,” he said without emotion. “Had to be Reese.”
She stared at him for a long moment. Did the man truly have a memory loss? “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I want to hear this from you.”
She nodded and the warmth of a full blush warmed her cheeks against the October breeze. “You were so wonderful … and nervous. You kept asking me if everything was okay. Was I comfortable? Did I want hot chocolate? Did I need my coat? I should have realized I was in the company of a gentleman, one who respected me and wanted me to be happy.”
Caden pushed back his chair and walked to the edge of the deck. He turned away from her, looking out over the scenic view with the leaves of red, orange, and yellow bursting out on the landscape.
Finally, they were getting somewhere. He could yell and scream or tell her to leave. “And after you were made comfortable, what did you do?”
“Not what I did. What you did.”
He turned now, one eyebrow raised in question.
She fought not to ask if he’d had a brain injury. “You proposed to me.”
He laughed. “What a dweeb, Caden. Really?”
“And since you want me to replay it all here, I told you in the ugliest of terms that I would never marry a hick from a nowhere town like Maggie Valley. What would I do for fun, milk your cows?” For the first time, she noticed that the old barn at the back of the property still needed renovating. But there was no livestock in the pasture.
“My friends laughed. Your friends wanted to kill me. Reese slipped her arm through yours and walked you away.” Mara stood and moved to Caden’s side.
He turned and stared down at her, running a hand through his luscious thick brown hair.
“Caden, you can stand here and act like I didn’t hurt you, but I know I did. I hurt myself, too. I’m asking for your forgiveness. I’m very sorry. I’m a different person.”
Caden left her without a word, stepping inside the house. When he returned he held out his hand. “Come with me. Tempie’s sleeping. Jayce is watching her.”
She hesitated. “Where?”
“Worried I might ask you to marry me? Not a chance.” He lowered his hand.
She laughed. “Don’t blame you there.”
She followed him down the deck stairs and to the rustic barn, wishing she’d given her parents the address. That way Caden wouldn’t get away with homicide—justifiable or not.
He tugged on the wooden door. It moved over a grooved-out rut.
He stood by the door and allowed her to move past him.
She stopped and covered her mouth with her hands and turned back to look at him. She lowered her hand. “It’s so beautiful and so big and … and … Caden, it’s wonderful.”
Mara moved into the barn, the straw under her feet reminding her of a carnival midway where she would find something like the fantastic piece of art before her now: a full-scale wooden replica of a carousel. “It looks so real.”
“Hop on,” he said.
Like a little girl at a county fair, she didn’t need to be coaxed. She grabbed on to a pole and hoisted herself onto the make-believe ride. The wood was smooth and each horse was painted with different colors. She ran her hand along the back of a bench and stared up at the wooden rods that resembled the mechanics on a real carousel.
Caden’s whistle caught her attention. He held up a wooden token. “Find your favorite horse, Mara Adkins.”
She gawked. There was no way this beautiful piece of art had workable parts, but she did as he asked, sitting on a white mare with a brown mane. Caden dropped the coin into a box. Music began to play, and the ride jerked to a start, sending Mara around.
Nothing could best this moment. “Why didn’t you ever share your talent with me when we were in college?”
No answer. As the ride took her around, Caden was gone, but around the backside of the ride, on the central part separated from the turning carousel a plaque caught her eyes. “In Loving Memory of …”
Mara gasped and held her breath until the ride took her around again. “…of Caden and Reese Martin and for their daughter, Temperance Martin.”
She slid from the horse even as the ride continued.
If Caden had died, who was this man who looked so much like him? She backed away but met a warm embrace.
“Caden was my brother, Mara. My twin brother. I realized when you called the office that I use only my initial for business purposes. You mistook me for Cay. My name is Connor.
“He—he married Reese, the girl that walked away with him?” She turned and almost stumbled. He helped her to stay on her feet.
“My fiancée. Things changed for us that day. Reese broke her engagement, said she’d always loved Cay. She’d settled for me because Caden was in love with someone else. She never told me who she thought he loved.”
“Caden never mentioned he had a twin brother. You weren’t here.”
“Caden was a little quirky. You didn’t miss that, right?”
Despite her sorrow, Mara giggled. “Yeah, just a bit.”
“When something bothered him, he refused to talk about it. Caden was a little angry that I left him and Mom and went to school out west. Might be why I never heard of you, and you never heard of me. Reese would never betray his trust. When you called, I was curious.”
“They died together. An accident?”
“Car. Date night. I came to watch Tempie for them. Haven’t left her since.”
“I’m so sorry for your losses, and Connor, I’m so sorry I cost you your happiness.”
The carousel slowed, and Mara stepped off. She had to get away from this monument, from this man who apparently still grieved, from the little girl who only had her uncle, and from the place she should have appreciated more.
Connor stopped her with a touch. “You have nothing to apologize to me for, Mara. Caden was happy with Reese. God meant for her to have that short bit of happiness with the man she loved. If it took your cruelty to give them that, who am I to judge?”
Mara swiped the tears from her face. She could only nod.
“Caden forgave me for leaving. He would have forgiven you.”
“Thank you for telling me that,” she said.
“You’re such a good, good man.” She moved to him and kissed his cheek. “I hope you and Temperance find all the love in the world.”
“You, too, Mara. And if you ever want to visit and ride the carousel, Tempie would love to share it with you.”
Mara smiled through her tears. “I’d like that, too.” She started away.
Connor tilted his head, and a smile tipped the corner of his lips. “Her Uncle Coot wouldn’t mind sharing it with you either.”
VOTE FEBRUARY 5 THROUGH FEBRUARY 8 FOR YOUR FAVORITE HERO!
Voting opens at Noon (EST) on Feb 5.
Because we want YOU to choose the best hero for Mara, we're going to try to keep the author/creator of each chapter a secret until after the voting is over. If you know one of the authors, and pick out her chapter, please help us keep the secret. We want the hero chosen based on his personality and his chemistry with Mara, and not make it a contest between authors.
We're depending on you to help us spread the word!
Our authors are also offering some inside glimpses into the writing process, some interviews with authors, heroes, and even the publisher. And that Marji - she somehow got hold of Mara's journal, so you'll be able to read some of her thoughts as she goes through this experience. Fay snagged interviews with all the heroes too. Check out all the links below to stay on top of the latest.
Thanks for joining us in Mara's adventure - we hope you have a great time!
Friday's Bonus Blogs
Betty Owens–Fall is in the Air in Western North Carolina
Theresa Anderson interviews on Heart of the Matter Radio with Cynthia Simmons
Part 2 of Fay Lamb's fun interview with the Scriblerians
High Five Friday!
Theresa Anderson interviews on Heart of the Matter Radio with Cynthia Simmons
Part 2 of Fay Lamb's fun interview with the Scriblerians
High Five Friday!
Thursday's Bonus Blogs:
Wednesday's Bonus Blogs:
Tuesday's Bonus Blogs:
Monday's Bonus Blogs: