Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Dozen Apologies Chapter Three

Mara's adventures in A Dozen Apologies continues. Did you create a score sheet to keep track of the heroes? The readers will pick Mara's hero for her, so you may want to keep track of them.

Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.


Chapter Three  March
Dominic Cardano


Mara rounded another barberry bush, scanning the ground for any sign of Miss Piggy, her client’s Shih Tzu. The thing had escaped early this morning when the client’s evil teenage stepchild left the back door wide open. “Spoiled brat deliberately sabotaged me.”
A snuffling noise beneath the hedge drew her attention. She fell on her knees and crawled in. “Miss Piggy?” The barberries were thicker than they looked. A thorn snagged her blouse, scraping her skin. Sweat trickled from her hairline and ran into her eye. She swiped at it with the heel of her palm, depositing cypress mulch in its place. The icky stuff clung to her hair and skin. Something sharp bit into her right knee, and she winced as her gaze fell on the source of the snuffling sound. The animal was not blond, but black, with a white––yikes! Reversed gear on one knee, protecting the injured one. Once she cleared the barberries, she popped up onto both feet and glanced around.
Hoping no one had seen, she hotfooted around the side of the house, favoring her sore knee. There, she navigated the maze of English garden back to the front yard. The high-strung canine probably hadn’t gone far. Unless … oh please, no. For the tenth time, she scanned the street in front of the sprawling estate, heart pounding in her chest. Please God, please, don’t let any harm come to that crazy little thing. Her gaze turned heavenward. “I need this job.”
“Looking for this?” The familiar voice echoed in the drive as Mara turned and focused on the figure standing on the portico. Black Jimmy Choo’s with five-inch stiletto heels, bare legs, Vanessa Bruno mini, fuzzy gold purse draped over the too-thin arms. Wait, Mara’s gaze returned to the purse. It wiggled and emitted a loud whine. Miss Piggy!
With a quick glance at the witch’s disdain-filled face she so wanted to slap, Mara sprinted across the front lawn and rescued the trembling mass of Shih Tzu. Miss Piggy immediately burrowed into her arms, hiding from the evil stepchild.
Thank you, Father. After a backward step, Mara searched the proud face of her adversary. Not too long ago, she’d have given the girl the tongue-lashing she so richly deserved. Instead, Mara swallowed her pride and met the witch’s icy stare. “Wh—where did you find her?”
“I nearly ran over her when I backed out of the garage.”
Mara’s gaze slid from the shiny dark locks of the creature before her to the cobblestone drive where a bright red BMW Z4 convertible sat, its driver’s door wide open.
Mara sucked in a jagged breath. “Thanks. I’ve been looking all over.”
Evil stepchild’s head swiveled on her skinny neck. “Right. Some nanny you are. Shannon dotes on that creature. You better not let her out of your sight again.”
As she stroked Miss Piggy’s tresses, Mara’s spine stiffened. “I don’t intend to.” She’d also keep a sharp watch on the shrew in front of her.
After the demon-child’s departure, Mara headed straight to the laundry room. Miss Piggy had to be bathed and groomed before her mistress returned. The pooch loved her bath and loved the hairdryer even more. She lolled on her back on a fluffy towel while Mara brushed out her luxurious hair and tied bows in her topknot.
She’d thought this job would be a breeze. It was another temporary one, just until the Chandler’s regular doggy-nanny returned from a vacation in Belize. Then Mara could pocket the cash and have plenty for her next apology. Dominic Cardano. But she hadn’t figured on Miss Bratz.
Upon her arrival home, Mrs. Chandler scooped Miss Piggy into her arms and kissed and hugged her as a mother would a child. When she turned her attention to Mara, there was no doubt she’d been told of the day’s misadventure. “I’ve just spoken with Misty. She has informed me that you let my precious Pigglety outside unattended this morning, endangering her life.”
Mara gave a slow nod, heat rising in her cheeks. “Yes, ma’am. Miss Piggy did escape.” No use trying to deflect the blame. It’d be her word against Misty’s. Mara had no doubt who’d win that one.
Mrs. Chandler swept past Mara, her spiked heels clicking on the marble floor of the foyer. At the door, she paused but didn’t turn. “You are relieved of your duties. Stop by the office in the morning and pick up your final check at the desk.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Would this downward spiral never end?

****

Mara drove to Sumter, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon, sipping on a Starbuck’s latte, happy to have extra time to prepare for this confrontation. She was not looking forward to it. Guilt’s familiar ache made swallowing difficult. Dominic Cardano had been such a sweet guy. He’d been a member of the USC golf team. She’d nicknamed him Dom-Dom. He’d been at least two inches shorter than Mara in flats, with dark curly hair and a bad case of acne. Well, maybe not that bad. He just always seemed to have a live zit growing somewhere on his face. And he’d been a classic geek. Coke bottle glasses magnified the size of his dark brown, puppy-dog eyes. She sighed into her latte.
He’d been easy to locate. Google found Dominic A. Cardano, at DC Architects in Sumter, his hometown. He was listed as a golf course architect. Way to turn your passion into money, Dom-Dom. Big money. He’d helped design some of South Carolina’s best courses. She hadn’t found a recent picture of Dominic––but she had a good mental photo of him––an older version of the original, complete with unibrow.

****

Sunday’s weather was mild and sunny. Mara donned her favorite little black dress, with a turquoise scarf expertly twisted at her neck. After partaking of the free continental breakfast at the hotel, she drove to a church she’d passed on the way into town. She needed a good worship service to lift her spirits. The crowded parking lot gave testimony to the church’s popularity. She entered the sanctuary, found an empty seat about halfway to the front, and sat down. As the music started, people gathered into their seats.
It wasn’t long until Mara lost herself in the spirited praise. She felt better already. Until a young man lifted his hands a couple rows in front of her. Mara’s gaze latched onto him, taking in broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist. Wavy, dark brown hair. Strong, sun-bronzed hands. Unadorned hands. Single? With great effort, she willed her attention back to the praise team. But not for long. Her rebellious eyes slid back to the cobalt-blue shirted man, waiting for a glimpse of his face. When the music ended, he turned to greet a neighbor and flashed a bright smile that sent an arrow straight in to Mara’s unsuspecting heart.
“You may feel as though you’re standing over a precipice, about to fall in, but don’t give up. Let God heal the broken places of your heart. Through brokenness, comes healing.” The pastor’s words sank deep into Mara’s thirsty spirit as the service came to a close. She searched for the young man in the blue shirt, but he’d gone. Distracted, she nearly collided with a redheaded woman blocking her path. The woman thrust out a well-manicured hand.
“Hello there. I’m Patsy Stiles, the pastor’s wife. Welcome to Grace Fellowship. New to town or just passing through?”
Mara returned her kind greeting. “Just passing through…um…business trip.” Not really a lie. It was business, of a sort.
When she made to leave, Patsy continued to block her way, eyes narrowed beneath arched brows. “You look familiar. Have we met before?”
Mara gave the woman her full attention. “No, I don’t think so.”
Recognition lit Patsy’s eyes. “Did you attend USC?”
Mara returned a reluctant nod. Had she known this woman? She cleared her throat. “Yes …”
“I thought so. I remember seeing you there.”
Her pleasant smile reassured Mara. Perhaps she hadn’t known Mara’s young self well enough to be aware of her reputation. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember you.”
Patsy shook her head. “You wouldn’t. We didn’t run in the same circles. But I know someone––in fact––I believe he was here today.” She scanned the sanctuary then shot a glance at Mara. “Dominic Cardano. I don’t see him.”
Had she noticed Mara’s cringe? Apparently not.
Patsy touched her arm. “Do you remember Dominic? He’s an architect now. His latest client is just getting ready to open their course. Perhaps you passed it on the way in?”
Before Mara could answer, Patsy jerked her hand into the air and beckoned to someone. “Oh, there he is.”
Mara wanted to sink beneath the nearest pew. Not here. Not now. She glanced around. No way out. And then she saw him––the man she’d been watching all morning––advancing on them, a wide smile aimed at Patsy. Dominic’s smile. Then he caught sight of Mara and paused. The smile fell away, leaving a stony expression. Her stomach twisted and turned as he hesitated.
“Come over here,” Patsy said. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Without a word, Dominic did an about-face and disappeared into the crowd.
Patsy gazed after him, a puzzled look on her face. “Umm…” She sent an apologetic glance toward Mara. “I’m so sorry. He must have somewhere else to be. He’s not usually like that.”
Mara offered her a small smile. “Don’t worry about it. I have somewhere I need to be also. It was nice meeting you.” Though she didn’t turn to look, she knew Patsy’s curious gaze followed her.
Free of the lingering crowd, Mara dashed across the parking lot searching for Dominic. He wasn’t there. In the car, she struggled to settle her nerves. Though she hadn’t recognized him, he’d known her.
He’d been such a little guy in college and such a dork. Who knew he’d look like that? The guy had morphed into an Adonis. She studied her reflection in the rearview mirror. The day had finally come. Instead of attracting men, she was now repulsing them.
“OK, Lord, I just heard how You can heal the brokenness in our lives. I’m feeling pretty broken right now.” She smoothed her hair, started the car, and headed back to her hotel.
How had she ended up in the very church he attended? This threw her whole timeline off. She’d intended to visit his business on Monday. So what should her next move be? She had his home address, but she hesitated to go there. A public place would be safer. She didn’t want anyone accusing her of stalking. With her past, it just might stick.
The answer came later, while she reclined on her bed watching TV. The new golf course, Sumter’s Landing, designed by Dominic’s firm, would open on Wednesday. They’d planned a big shindig with professional golfers playing in a tournament. Surely Dominic would attend.
Finding little to do in Sumter, Mara took a walk at Swan Lake, which only made her wish this visit had been planned a few weeks later in the year. Everyone told her how beautiful it was in April and May. Hurry up, Wednesday.

****

Wednesday morning was overcast, but after a brief rain shower, the clouds burned off, and the temperature rose to a comfortable sixty-three degrees. Mara wore white slacks and her favorite powder-blue cashmere sweater set, a combination that never failed to win appreciative glances wherever she went. She finished her outfit with a pair of sensible flats of alligator leather dyed royal blue.
Sumter’s Landing was packed. Mara parked in one of the last open spots. The tournament had already begun. Her plan was to hang back and observe. Surely, Dominic could be found in or around the clubhouse. As she drew near the beautiful antebellum-style building, she caught sight of the posted list of players. His name was on it.
“May I help you?”
Mara turned to find a green-shirted attendant. “No, thank you. I’m just looking for a friend.”
“If he’s one of the players, you can walk on out to his position. Just stay behind the yellow tape. Here’s a program.”
Mara accepted the program and thanked the attendant. Now to find Dominic. This was not going to be easy. From the program, she learned there were ten foursomes in play. Dominic was in the fourth. She glanced toward the course. Good thing she’d worn comfortable shoes.
Skirting the outer groups of fans, she made her way to the fifth hole where she could see Dominic preparing to climb into his cart. Her mind engaged in watching his progress, she miss-stepped and landed ankle-deep in a mud puddle. She caught herself before she let a curse word exit her mouth and then stood looking down at her feet. She’d paid almost three hundred dollars for those shoes. A lifetime ago.
Applause sounded all around her. The men had finished this hole and were leaving. She’d missed him again. Some of the bystanders moved on while Mara emptied her shoes and tried to dry her feet on a nearby patch of grass. While thus occupied, she came up with a better idea. She could walk back to the clubhouse and wait near the tenth tee, where they would start their second round. She also remembered a pair of running shoes in the trunk of her car, so she stopped by and changed.
Several folks were milling about near the tenth tee, waiting for the golfers to arrive. Mara’s feet turned cold and not because they’d gotten wet. Anxiety inched its way through her veins. She began to walk toward the eleventh tee, hoping for a moment of peace.
Halfway across, she glimpsed a perfect spot near the green. If she hurried, she could get there before anyone else. Without a second thought, she slipped beneath the yellow tape, jogged across the fairway and up the incline, intent on the spot she’d seen. And fell into a sand trap. She popped back up and out of the trap so quickly, she was certain no one had observed until she noticed a disgruntled groundskeeper approach. After sending her a disapproving stare, he raked the sand trap into its former pristine state.
Mara was coated head-to-toe with sand. Once she reached the coveted spot, she did her best to shake it off. By the time Dominic drew up in a golf cart, she was itching all over from the sand bath.
The timing seemed perfect. His team had to wait until Team Three finished. When he stepped to the rear of the cart to check his clubs, she moved out of the shadows.
“Dominic,” she whispered.
He spun around, a scowl marring his handsome face. “What are you doing here?”
“I have to talk to you.”
He glanced around. “Not great timing, Mara.” At least he remembered her name. He turned his back and moved away. She started to follow, stepped on a slick spot, sending her feet into the air. She landed on her backside in the middle of a mud slick. To her dismay, the fans standing nearby applauded her performance.
Tears stung her eyes. For a long moment, she thought Dominic would ignore her. With a resigned sigh, he turned back and offered his hand to help her. She took full advantage of the moment. “Just five minutes, Dominic. Please.”
He let go of her hand and reached for a towel. While wiping the mud from his fingers, he spoke in a firm voice. “I’m not sure I have five minutes for you.”
“I don’t blame you, Dominic. I treated you shamefully.”
He scoffed. “Shamefully? I couldn’t go to the library for weeks after what you did.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I behaved badly.” She lowered her head but sneaked a peek at his face.
He ran nervous fingers through his hair and cast a glance over his shoulder. “I was just a kid, Mara. A na├»ve kid. Do you have any idea how much you hurt me? After I found out you’d planted that mic so everyone could hear our conversation, I ran all the way to the dorm with my shirt pulled over my head. Guys taunted me for weeks.”
She passed her palm over her forehead, realizing too late her hand was muddy. Now her face was, too. Please, Father, help me get through this. “You may not believe it, but I really hate what I did. I’m sorry for it, and I need to ask your forgiveness.”
He drew back, his eyes reflecting disbelief.
She rushed on before he could turn from her again. “If you can’t forgive me, I completely understand.”
He turned his full gaze on her, as if searching the depths of her soul.
Why did he have to be so great looking? She fingered the soiled hem of her cashmere sweater and waited. “Things have changed. My life … has changed.” Focus, Mara; concentrate. “I’m a Christian now and … I need to make things right. I mean, I need to at least ask …” She was making a mess of it.
His lips parted, but no words came. He shook his head and blew out a sharp breath. “I really don’t have time for this.”
One of his teammates jogged over. “Cardano––we’re up.”
Without another word, he turned to his golf bag and pulled out a club then strode to the tee.
Mara stayed long enough to see him knock the stuffing out of a golf ball. She was pretty sure he’d been thinking of her when he struck it.


UPDATE:
VOTE FEBRUARY 5 THROUGH FEBRUARY 8 FOR YOUR FAVORITE HERO!
Voting opens at Noon (EST) on Feb 5.

From January 20th 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!

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1 comment:

June Foster said...

I can't help but feel sorry for Mara today.