We're so excited to launch our Valentine novella, A Dozen Apologies. We'll let you read the first chapter, then give you some more details at the end.
Chapter 1 - January
Mara Adkins opened the door to her parents’ house with the key she hadn’t used in over five years. Good. Some things never changed. She toted her huge suitcase containing the only possessions she had left in the world over the threshold. She rolled the luggage forward and stopped.
What had happened to the dark draperies and the heavy furniture her father swore he couldn’t live without, the ones that her parents fought over constantly? In the place of the light-stealing swags hung lightweight pale blue curtains. Sheers floated in a cool breeze sweeping through her family home. The dark plaids of the red, green, and yellow sofa and chairs and the dark oak tables were replaced with a cream colored couch and beige and soft blue striped chairs. The tables were cherry wood.
She took a deep breath. Yeah, she hadn’t called home much, but surely her mother would have mentioned the fact that she’d murdered Dad and placed him in a freezer. However, Dad—if he’d offed Mom—wouldn’t say a word. He never spoke much. Just sat and watched television. She’d never know about an untimely demise until she arrived home. Like now.
Her only hope was that whichever spouse survived, they hadn’t changed her childhood room. She lifted the heavy tote and made her way up the stairs. When she got to the door, she put her hand on the doorknob, closed her eyes, and pushed the door open. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” She peered inside and released a whoosh of breath. “Sanctuary.” She rolled the suitcase beside her French provincial dresser. Some would call her bedroom furnishings old fashioned. She preferred vintage. After all, in high school, and in college, she’d been the trendsetter. She’d carried that into her career as well, and look where it had gotten her.
Right now, Spartanburg, South Carolina, was the last place on earth to which she wanted to return, but she found great comfort in falling onto the canopied bed of her youth. Despite everything that had happened to her, Mara had a sneaking, stinking suspicion that she deserved what had happened to her. Some would call it karma; others would say she’d reaped the bad seed she’d sown. All Mara knew was that she had to find some way to deal with it. For now, though, she was just glad to be home, and whichever parent survived the War of the Adkins would surely demand a reason for her impromptu return of disgrace.
With that disturbing thought, Mara curled into a ball and forced her weary mind to rest.
Mara jerked awake. Two smiling faces looked down upon her. She shook her head. No way was she awake. Dad stood with his arm around Mom’s slender waist. He wore a smile.
She cast a glance at the watch on her arm. Never in real life would her mother and father arrive home from work at the same time. No. Mom would be home cooking dinner, and Dad would arrive long after it had cooled and hardened on the stove. The first skirmish of the evening would begin. Mara referred to it as the Adkins’ version of the Cold War. Not only would the food be cooled, but Mom’s attitude toward Dad always left a chill in the air.
“Welcome home, Sleeping Beauty.” The apparition of her father grinned even larger, and his voice didn’t hold a sarcastic what-are-you-doing-here tone.
Mom sat beside her. “Mara, we’re so glad you came for a visit. Why didn’t you tell us?”
Mom’s touch on her hand was real enough. Dad’s hand brushing her hair was surreal, but she could live with it—only if she could keep the tears from showing up. “I’m not home for a visit. I lost my job.”
“Oh, honey …”
Mara expected the tenderness from her mother, but the words came from Dad.
“What happened to the promotion, the chance to apprenticeship with the lead designer?” Mom asked.
Dad sat on the other side of her. “What happened to Jared?”
She looked into her dad’s green eyes. She’d inherited her eye color from him. The emerald hue had softened since she’d left town. She lowered her gaze to her lap. “Jared was only dating me to get close to my designs. I trusted him, and he took them to Philippe. Pushed them as his own. He got the promotion, and since I was his leading liability, Jared fired me.” Yeah, she’d sure reaped what she’d sown or karma had thrown all its power at her.
Mom gasped. “I can’t imagine anyone being that cruel.”
Mara could. She’d done the same thing—to more than one guy and not to steal from them. Unless you counted their dignity. For her and her friends, humiliating innocent men had been a sport.
The tears dropped onto her hand, and her father covered them with his. “Just a temporary setback, honey. You’re home. You can regroup. Your mother and I couldn’t be happier that you sought us as your refuge. We have a few things to share with you.”
Mom didn’t retaliate when Dad spoke for her. That would never happen outside of a dream, but delusion or not, their undeserved kindness was her undoing. She leaned against her father and cried.
Church? Really? Mara couldn’t believe it, but she tagged along behind her parents. She had to know how religion had made the difference in Dane and Cara Adkins, why they now did most things together, like cooking supper, why she caught them sneaking little butterfly kisses and whispering to each other. If religion had brought the peace and the lightheartedness to her home, even if there was a chance that the walls of the church would fall in around her, Mara had to give it a try.
She accepted the bulletin handed to her by an elderly man and thanked him for it. He placed a calloused hand on hers and welcomed her to Cornerstone Church. Mara’s lips quivered with a bit of nerves as she tried to lift a smile into place. She hurried to catch up with her parents, but they hadn’t made it far. Her mother and father seemed to be pretty popular folks at Cornerstone.
“Mara! Mara! Oh, I can’t believe it. It really is you!”
Mara would know that voice anywhere, and with both Mara and Jenny Temple in the building, the old place must have some sturdy walls.
She turned to greet her old high school friend, sorority sister, and college roommate, but before Mara saw Jenny, she found herself engulfed in a huge and unexpected hug. She squeezed back, and looking beyond the body holding her so tightly, she stared up into the familiar eyes of Garrett Jacobs.
Maybe the walls weren’t going to fall in, but Mara was surely meeting her retribution. Why would Garrett be standing anywhere near Jenny unless he planned to unleash his fury on both of them at the same time?
Garrett smiled as Jenny released Mara from the death grip. “Mara, good to see you again.” He held out his hand.
Mara stared at it. Was it a trick? Did he want her to take hold so that he could pull her close enough to get his hands around her neck?
“You remember Garrett,” Jenny coaxed. “We’re married now—which you would have known if you hadn’t cut off communication to the mother ship,” Jenny teased.
The three-inch heels Mara wore hadn’t seemed so unstable seconds before, but her legs buckled, and Garrett reached to steady her. “It’s okay, Mara. The past is the past.” He continued to smile. “In the end, I got the girl.”
Mara gawked as Jenny slipped her arm through Garrett’s. “Why don’t we plan to have dinner this week?” Jenny’s invitation rang true enough.
“Sure, but the only night I’m free is Sunday … tonight or next Sunday.” The place was sure warm. Someone needed to turn on the air conditioner. Mara used the bulletin as a fan. No way would she tell them that her status had fallen so far as to have landed her a job as a cleaning woman for the law firm of Willets, Tobias, and … Jacobs. G. Jacobs, Sr., to be exact. Garrett had been a few years older than them, first year of law school, if Mara remembered correctly, when Jenny had publicly dumped him. “Are you working with your father’s firm?” she dared ask.
“Sure am.” Garrett nodded. “Next Sunday then. Is that okay, Jen?”
“Of course.” Jenny reached up and kissed her husband.
How? What? Why? When? Those four questions ran through Mara’s mind. She turned and looked into the church’s sanctuary. Her parents had moved on, but on the wall at the front of the sanctuary was a large wooden cross.
No way. No how. But just maybe the difference she saw in her parents came from the power of their religion.
Mara pulled her car into the parking lot of II Samuels, an upscale restaurant. Clearly, Jenny had not gotten far from her roots. She still liked the finer things. She’d learned that Garrett and Jenny lived close to Jenny’s childhood high-class neighborhood. In some ways, Mara could convince herself that life had not changed so much for herself, but Jenny wasn’t living with her parents, and Jenny would never get fired from a custodial job ever—and certainly not after only a week and a half.
How was she to know that attorneys were prone to placing important files on top of their office garbage cans? In the fashion world, you kept your designs well-hidden away from prying eyes—unless you trusted those gorgeous baby blues with your life, and he up and destroyed your trust and your life with one smooth move.
At least they’d given her two week’s severance pay. She’d been able to make one more car payment and keep her rainy day stash for another day. She had no idea the rainy day would come upon her so quickly. That didn’t matter, though.
She’d met Someone pretty special this week. She’d invited Him into her heart, and even a dressing down by a heavyset woman in overalls and a swift kick out the door of Willets, Tobias, and Jacobs … G. Jacobs, Sr., … check in hand, hadn’t dampened her spirits. She and her parents had prayed about the job situation. She trusted that something would come her way. Still, faith in a God who wasn’t waiting to drop fire and brimstone on her head for past wrongs was something she was beginning to learn. She’d even gone forward in church this morning and announced to others that she had accepted Christ’s forgiveness. She half-expected the preacher to name all her sins, but he’d just asked her if she realized she was a sinner. Oh, yeah, she had, and her sins had been weighing on her like a lead-filled dirigible.
Mara paused briefly, then opened the door, wrapping her coat around her to ward off the chilly January air, and made her way to the hostess.
“Ms. Adkins,” the hostess addressed Mara before she had a chance to speak.
“Right this way. Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs have already arrived.”
Mara followed. The brown carpet muted the clicking of her stiletto heels, and the sand-colored walls soothed her nerves.
Garrett stood as they approached. He pulled out Mara’s chair, and after giving Jenny a brief hug, Mara thanked him and sat down.
As if he’d been waiting, the maître d’ walked their way. He took their drink orders—sweet tea all around—and left them to peruse the menu. She’d need to come back and fill out an application. She’d never waitressed, but she’d give anything a try at this point.
Jenny reminded Mara of Little Mary Sunshine and Susie Homemaker all rolled into one. Gone were the days of massive amounts of hairspray and a tub of foundation followed by the finishing touches. Even Jenny’s skirt was knee-length and modest. “We’ve been looking forward to this all day,” she said.
Mara hadn’t, but she didn’t say so. She placed the white napkin in her lap and smiled.
“We held our rehearsal dinner here, and they catered our wedding, which you would know if you …”
Mara held up her hand and forced a smile. “…if I hadn’t cut off communication with the mother ship.” Oh, the mother ship. Sorority sisters who planned on keeping in contact forever. At first, Mara had been too busy climbing the ladder of designer fashions to get or receive updates. Somewhere along the line, guilt began to seep in. She’d watched people in corporate life play one another, and she had realized the “game” she’d started and the sorority played had groomed her well. But alone and isolated from the popular crowds of her youth, Mara didn’t like what she saw. The wreckage of human life reflected back to her what she’d done to others, and she purposely stayed out of touch. Too bad she couldn’t lose herself. She had been the sorority’s master at the game.
Mara raked her gaze over the menu, searching for the cheapest meal.
“Get whatever you’d like.” Garrett laid down his menu. “This is a welcome home dinner.”
“You don’t have to,” Mara said. But she sighed with relief.
When the waiter returned, she ordered the basil encrusted salmon. Garrett and Jenny both ordered the aged Angus filet mignon.
Mara took a deep breath and leaned forward. “Garrett, I know you told me not to worry about it, but I have to apologize for my behavior back then.”
Garrett waved the subject away. “Like I said, I got the girl. Maybe if you silly women hadn’t been so set on making fools of us men, I’d never have met Jenny.”
Jenny kissed his cheek. “He really is wonderful, Mara. A keeper. I should thank you for your involvement in bringing us together.”
“But you threw him back.” The words spilled out before Mara could think about what they would mean to Garrett. Too late now. She was on a roll. Might as well bare her soul to them. “We threw so many of them back.” Mara clasped and unclasped her hands.
Pink tinged Jenny’s cheeks. She ran a hand through her short blonde bob—the exact opposite of Mara’s long raven curls. Jenny’s brown eyes softened. “I wondered if God would get a hold of your heart like he did mine.”
“How did Garrett forgive you? I mean, he was the only one that you won the stupid bets with.”
Garrett laughed heartily, and Mara felt the blush flame through her face like a raging wildfire. Still, she shivered at the thought of her cold, dark heart and the horrible things she, Jenny, and their sorority sisters had done. Mara was always on the homecoming and prom courts. Her senior year in high school she had been both homecoming and prom queen. Her looks and her friendship with Jenny had gotten Mara into places she probably would have been better without. Her sorority at the University of South Carolina had been one of those places, if only for the personalities of the girls she’d met. She hadn’t understood it back then, but they had all been unsure of themselves. Hurting others gave them power—horrible, ugly power over others.
Physical beauty was something Mara had taken for granted. It had opened doors. And she had ruined lives with it. Mara knew that her beauty was deceptive. On the inside, she was a hideous mess.
“Mara, Garrett told you. It’s in the past with him.” Jenny reached across the table and held her hand.
“But what about the others?” Mara’s nose was always the first part of her body to feel the emotion. She imagined that it was as red as a beacon as she fought the tears. “We thought it was such a fun game to lead them on and so publicly dump them. We called them geeks and nerds.” She lowered her lashes. “Sorry, Garrett.”
“Well, Garrett is a bit of a geek.” Jenny giggled.
“Hey, I’m sitting right here.” Again, Garrett’s robust laugh brought attention to their table.
The delicious aroma of steak wafted through the restaurant, and Mara’s stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten since Mom’s now-traditional Sunday breakfast of french toast.
“How did you forgive her?” Mara shook the thoughts of hunger away. She was starved for something more important.
“I never had anything to forgive. She gave me a challenge. She refused me. I’m nothing if not a competitor. Yeah, okay, my competition was in moot court and debate teams, but I was determined to make Jenny Temple fall in love with me.”
“Mara,” Jenny said her name so softly that Mara almost didn’t hear her. “The one who had the most trouble offering forgiveness was me—for me. So Garrett suggested that I ask the boys—the men—to forgive me. I wrote them each a letter. Some offered ready forgiveness. Others weren’t so kind, but I knew to expect that. Others didn’t respond, but I’d done what I needed to do. And I moved on. Maybe if you wrote letters like I did,” Jenny offered.
Mara shook her head. “No. I’m the one who sunk my teeth into them. I did awful things to make sure I won the bet. I treated them all so terribly.” She’d thought of each of them, each of their names, recalled each of their faces, as if God had provided her a mind-flick of the atrocious things she’d done. “Any apologies that I offer need to be made in person. They have a right to tell me what they think of me.”
Garrett nodded. “That, Mara, will be hard to do, but if it shows me anything, it shows that you have character or that God is developing character in you.”
Jenny’s fingers caressed the hair at the nape of Garrett’s neck. “You knew some of them, didn’t you?”
Garrett leaned into his wife’s touch. “Character building or not, I want to make sure that you know what you’re getting into, Mara. To be quite honest, you were a living nightmare to some of them.”
The dam burst, and Mara’s tears flowed. She used the napkin in her lap to wipe them away. “That’s why I have to do this.”
“Well, I know a few of them, but if you give me the names, I’ll dig up the information on any I don’t know.” He offered her a sincere smile. “And Jenny and I will be praying for you.”
“Mara, those guys lived all over. Do you have more time off from your job?” Jenny asked. “Your mother was telling me about your upcoming promotion.”
So Garrett hadn’t learned of her termination of employment with his law firm, but as the waiter served their salads, Garrett looked up at her as if waiting for her answer.
If she was going to be facing a string of at least twelve different humiliations, she’d better start now. “The truth is, I didn’t get the promotion. I fell in love with a guy who only pretended to love me so that he could get his hands on my designs and steal my promotion. Then he fired me.” Wow, the telling of it was getting easier. No emotion that time. “And I’m working at whatever job I can find, saving my pennies. I hoped to move out of Mom and Dad’s place and into an apartment, but if I get a job, I’ll have to save up and take quick trips to get the apologies done.”
“Well,” Garrett smiled. “We just had an opening for a custodian. The last girl threw away some important files.” He shook his head. “Henry Tobias has never been very forgiving.”
Mara took a deep breath and let it out. “With all due respect, those files were on top of a trash can.”
Jenny’s eyes widened, and she clasped her hands over her mouth. The giggle erupted and Mara stared wide-eyed for a few moments. Then Garrett’s easy laughter rang out. “Okay. Okay.” She caught herself laughing, too. “I’m out of my element.”
“You better hold on, girl,” Jenny warned. “We hurt those guys pretty badly. If you have to personally face some of the tirades that came to me in written form, you’re really going to be out of your element.”
Mara sobered. “Mom told me that God expects us to go to those we offend. I know that I could just take His forgiveness and leave it, but now that I know how deeply betrayal cuts, I don’t think I could forgive myself without at least reaching out to them.”
Garrett reached his hands across the table. Jenny held to one and Mara the other. “Let’s pray and thank the Lord for this food and ask God to open the doors for you to face what’s ahead and to strengthen you for what’s to come.”
Come back tomorrow for Chapter Two, and get a glimpse of Hero #1.
We have several fun things lined up as the book releases, so here's a brief rundown of the schedule. We'll update you with more information as it applies.
From today until February 5, each weekday, we'll post one chapter of the book. Each of the coming chapters will introduce you to one of our 12 heroes. Then, from February 5 through February 8, we'll ask READERS to vote for their favorite hero, and the winning hero will be announced in the final chapter of the book when it releases on Kindle on February 14th.
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 their 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. 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!
Monday's Bonus Blogs:
Marji Laine at Faith~Driven Fiction: Mara’s Journal – Road Trip
Marji Interview at Kathleen Maher’s blog
Fay Lamb: Let the Fun Begin blog post: On the Ledge
Betty Noyes interview at The Most Important Thing blog
Jennifer Hallmark devotional at Jewels of Encouragement
Phee Paradise blog post about repentance on Delighted Meditations