For those of you joining us for the first time: Each weekday for the past two weeks, we've published one chapter of our Valentine novella, A Dozen Apologies, written together by twelve different authors. Today, we post the 13th of 14 chapters. We're leaving the decision about the final chapter to our readers. Each of our authors have written a final chapter, but only one of those chapters will be published in the final book on Kindle February 14th. Beginning at noon today, readers will have the opportunity to vote for the ONE hero they feel is Mara's best fit. Readers play matchmaker. The winning hero will be revealed in the final chapter of the book, releasing on Kindle February 14th. (It will be free Valentine weekend!)
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.
Read Chapter Ten.
Read Chapter Eleven.
Read Chapter Twelve.
Chapter Thirteen - January
Mara’s fingers gripped the steering wheel of her cousin’s four-wheel drive as it fishtailed on the snow-packed road, nearly clipping an oncoming car in the other lane in the process. The road from Nederland to Boulder was a lot more slippery than she remembered it being. “Thank You, Lord, for protecting me just now. And please bless Chelsea. If it weren’t for her and her generosity, I wouldn’t even be here in Colorado. Not only did she lend me her car today, but she used her frequent flyer miles to get me a free ticket to come out here, and she’s letting me stay at her place, too. So, please, do something special for her, Lord. Thanks. And thank You for working everything out.”
Mara followed the vehicle’s GPS directions until she ended up parked in front of the theatre.
She summoned her courage before she opened the SUV door and stepped outside. Snowflakes swirled around her as she slip-slid her way to the front door. Once inside, Mara glanced around, trying to figure out where to go.
“May I help you?” A harried woman holding a clipboard scurried toward Mara.
“Yes, I’m looking for Rémy Perone.”
“He’s in his office.” She pointed down the hallway as she breezed by.
Mara shuffled toward Rémy’s office and knocked on his door.
This was it. There was no turning back now. With sweaty palms, she opened the door and stepped inside.
Behind a beautiful wood-grained desk, Rémy sat with his head down, scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad. His shoulder-length, brown hair covered one side of his face. “In a moment, I will be w’is you.”
She’d forgotten how poetic his alluring French accent sounded. An accent that still flowed easily from his lips. Soft, full lips she remembered only too well. She’d once read how French men kiss with deep affection and passion. Rémy had proven that to be true. In fact, his kisses had always unsettled her knees until they had come close to buckling.
Why was she letting her mind travel down that road? She was here to apologize to the man, not to dwell on his kissable lips.
While Mara waited for him to finish whatever had him so engrossed, her attention shifted out the windows lining one wall of his office. Snowflakes floated like an erupted down-filled pillow, blanketing the ground with even more snow, and that concerned her. After all, the roads had been treacherous enough driving from Nederland to Boulder by way of the Boulder Canyon. She feared they would be even worse when she headed back to Chelsea’s house.
“How may I to help you, Miss?”
Mara’s breath hitched. She slowly turned, and her eyes landed on Rémy’s handsome face. His topaz eyes narrowed, his brown eyebrows veed, and his full-lipped smile turned upside down. “What are you doin’ here?”
“I—I—” The words she’d rehearsed repeatedly evaporated like steam from a cup of hot Frappuccino. His steely, cold gaze only served to remind her of just how horrible she’d treated this man. This man who had been nothing but kind to her. He deserved an apology, and she would give him a sincere, heartfelt one. Mara cleared her throat. “I came to apologize to you. To ask you to forgive me for the way I treated you in college.”
He rose from his burgundy chair, his tall frame towering over her. “You must really believe me to be stupid. Well, I am not zee same boy zat you used for a play toy. We have nothing to say to one another. Now, if you would be kind enough to remove yourself from my office, I have to do work.” He sat down, dismissing her.
She didn’t blame him, but she hadn’t flown all this way to not say what she had to say, or to make up for her cruelty. “Rémy, I don’t blame you for wanting me to leave. If I were you, I’d feel the same way.”
He leapt to his feet. With his large hands planted firmly on his desk, he leaned forward, and his narrowed eyes zoned in on hers. “How would you to know what I feel? You only think of yourself and not of others. Especially not of me. Our relationship ’twas nothing but a game to you, but not so w’is me.”
“I know.” She clutched her hands in front of her, and her gaze fell to her dressy winter boots and the small puddle of melted snow they were leaving on his carpet. Why hadn’t she thought to wipe her feet before she came in? More guilt piled in on top of her. Would she ever be free from it?
“Rémy, I know I was a very selfish, cold-hearted person back then, but I’ve changed.” Their gazes met. “It took coming to the Lord to show me just how wretched and ugly I’d been.”
“What are you saying? Zat you are now a Christian?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “I’ve given my life to Christ. And while I know that I cannot change the past, I want to at least try to make amends for the terrible way I treated you. I’m so sorry, Rémy. Truly, I am. I’m hoping you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Confusion, doubt, and indecision bounced across his well-chiseled face. “I, too, am a Christian, and I know we are commanded to forgive in God’s Word.”
At his words, hope leapt in Mara’s heart.
“But, what you did, very much it hurt me. I am not sure zat I can forgive you.”
Her momentary joy dissipated. She lowered her eyes again. “I understand, Rémy. I hope and pray that someday you can.”
“Why, Mara? For your conscience to be at ease? If zat is your reason, then yes, I forgive you. Now, go and leave me to be. I have a play to finish writing.” Leather squeaked as he lowered his muscular frame onto his chair. He picked up his pen and started writing on that same yellow legal pad.
Indecision tumbled inside Mara. Should she go, or should she stay and say more?
“Mr. Perone, come quick!” A petite young woman dressed in a renaissance costume burst into his office, nearly knocking Mara over. “There’s been an accident.” Huffing and puffing, the redhead waved her hand frantically, motioning for Rémy to follow her.
Rémy leapt up, crashing his chair against the wall, and dashed out of his office.
Concerned and curious, Mara bolted after them and ended up in the theatre. She scampered down the inclined aisle, past the rows of black padded chairs situated in a circular pattern, and stopped within yards of the stage.
Up on the platform filled with props, a small group of people in various Renaissance costumes huddled around a person lying on the floor.
“Somebody ring for an ambulance!” Rémy’s French accent echoed throughout the massive room.
Cell phones popped up in the hands of people all over the place.
“I got it,” the same woman who had burst into Rémy’s office yelled. Everyone else put their phones away.
Mara didn’t know whether she should offer to help or sit back and wait. Since there were already far too many people on the stage, she decided she would only be in the way. Yet she wanted to do something, so she closed her eyes and prayed.
Long, grueling minutes later, the ambulance arrived. They prepped the dark-haired woman and took her away. Rémy offered to go with her to the hospital, but she assured Rémy he didn’t need to because her husband would be meeting the ambulance there.
When all the commotion died down, Rémy’s eyes snagged onto Mara’s. “Why are you here still?”
“I couldn’t leave until I was certain you knew just how truly sorry I am.”
His broad chest expanded, and when he shook his head, his brown hair fell across his eye. He raked his fingers through it, replacing the lock back into place. “I am not looking to get involved.”
“What?” She tilted her head. Suddenly it dawned on her what he meant. “No, no, I’m not either. I’m just trying to right the wrongs I’ve done in the past. Trying to make amends for my hideous behavior.”
He narrowed his eyes as if he didn’t believe her. In French he mumbled something, but Mara couldn’t hear him well enough to translate what he’d said. “Yes, yes. If I correctly remember, you are quite the actress.”
Ouch, that hurt.
“Yes, yes, I believe you to do quite nicely.” He spoke as if she wasn’t standing directly in front of him. Time slipped into eternity as his gaze took on a faraway look. Nodding, he rubbed the dark stubbles on his chin and mumbled even more. “You … Hmmm… Yes, a horse’s behind.”
Those last words she’d heard perfectly clear. “Listen, Rémy.” Mara wanted to let him know just how much she resented him calling her that, but that would only prove his point, so she controlled her tongue. “There’s no need for name calling here. I know I was a real horse’s behind in the past, but I’ve changed. God has forgiven me, and He’s changed me. I am no longer the dreadful person I was before.”
He blinked and looked at her as if he were seeing her for the first time that day. “No, no, Mara. You misunderstood to me. I did not to call you …” He shook his head, his hair slipped across his forehead and eye again. The urge to brush it away as she had so many times in the past tempted her, but there was no way she would do that. The gesture was too intimate, too personal. “I am not correctly saying this.”
What? And was she supposed to share some responsibility in that? Not happening.
“I ’twas out loud thinking.”
Well next time you think out loud, bubba, tell yourself not to and that it’s rude to call people names.
“What I try to say is, I would like for to hire you.”
Mara struggled to keep up with him. Had he just offered her a job after calling her a horse’s behind?
“W’is Lana hurt, she will not be here for this production. What do you say? You think you can do it?”
Huh? Do what?
“I know being the backside of a horse is not zee most glamorous job, but I will generously pay you for your time. Zat is, unless you have to be back somewhere to work.”
Mara suddenly understood, and everything he said finally made sense. Boy did it ever.
She fought not to let the horror and disgust find her face as she sighed heavily.
So, it had come to this.
First she was a turkey mascot and now she was going to be a horse’s rear end. She placed her back to Rémy, and her eyes darted toward heaven. When I prayed for a job, Lord, I had something else in mind. But if this is what it takes to make up for what I did to Rémy, then I’ll do it. But I want you to know I’m doing it grudgingly. She faced Rémy again. “No, I don’t have to go back right away. I can be a,” she swallowed down her embarrassment at having to even say the words, “horse’s pa-toot.”
“Pa-toot? What is pa-toot?”
“Never mind.” She waved away his question. “I can help you out.”
“Très bon, très bon.”
Mara scanned her brain to translate his words: very good.
Very good for him perhaps. As for her, she was going to be putting her face where no one’s face should ever be.
“Can you start today?”
“Let me make a quick call, and I’ll let you know.”
Mara stepped outside his office and called Chelsea who assured her the vehicle was at her disposal for as long as she needed it.
Mara stepped back inside Rémy’s office. “Today is fine.”
“No, no. That ’twould be excellent.” He scanned her from head to toe. “You cannot possibly to work in zat dress and those boots.” Again he mumbled in French. Only this time, Mara didn’t even try to keep up with him or to translate. She was afraid to.
“I think something can be found to fit you. Follow me.” With those words he turned, and she followed him to the place where she would be doing the most humiliating job she’d ever done.
Rémy sent the redheaded woman from earlier—whose name Mara learned was Tierney—to get a change of clothes for Mara.
Tierney handed her a pair of shiny-gold M.C. Hammer pants, purple suspenders, and red high top tennis shoes. Mara tried not to gawk but didn’t succeed.
“Sorry,” was all Tierney said, but her face looked truly apologetic. “You can change in there.” She pointed to Dressing Room 3.
Mara stepped inside and quickly changed. One glance in the mirror and she gasped and her eyes bulged. Horrified, her gaze shot to the ceiling. This isn’t funny, Lord. It’s bad enough that I’m going to be the rear end of a horse, but do I have to do it wearing clothes and shoes that are not only two sizes too big for me, but the center of the pants hang down to my knees? And the colors, Lord. No one in their right mind would ever wear these colors together.
She rubbed her eyes to blot out the image, but when she opened them, it remained, gawking back at her in the full-length mirror, mocking her. She looked like some comic strip super-heroine who forgot to take her steroids.
Mara raised her chin. You can do this. With more bravery than she felt, she headed toward the stage.
Everyone’s eyes widened when she arrived. She didn’t blame them.
Rémy slipped in from behind the curtain holding the front end of the horse costume. When he looked at her, his lips slightly curled. Mara wanted to slink away, but she reminded herself why she was doing this, to prove to him just how much she had changed.
Her focus shifted to the horse head in his hands. “What are you doing?”
“Playing a role.”
A role? Huh? “What do you mean?”
“Just what I say, playing a role. Like you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. I thought you owned this place.”
“I do. But I am an actor as well.”
“Wait. Are you going to be the front of the horse?” Please say no.
“I am too tall.”
Thank you, Lord.
“Therefore, you will to be the front, and I will to be the back.”
What? She didn’t think anything could possibly get more humiliating than they already were. Well, she was wrong. If she would have known Rémy was going to be part of the horse, she would have never agreed to do this. But she’d given her word and had told him she’d changed. Now she needed to prove it. With a hidden sigh, she said, “Show me what you want me to do.”
They donned their costumes, and the rehearsing began.
Thank goodness, Rémy had only played the horse’s backside three of the fourteen plays she’d performed in.
Mara wondered why he hadn’t played the lead the first three nights, but she didn’t ask because she was so relieved when he’d switched roles.
Having the incredibly handsome Frenchman leaning over her with his rock-solid arms around her waist had made concentrating on her part extremely difficult and had wreaked havoc on her senses. She thanked the Lord Rémy had been more than civil to her during that time and had even warmed up somewhat.
As she stood in the dressing room, she sighed, knowing that her job here was finished. Tonight had been her last performance, and she couldn’t be happier about that fact. Two weeks of practicing relentlessly and performing every night in a hot stuffy costume wasn’t something she wanted to do the rest of her life.
She flopped down in one of the empty theatre chairs and pulled out Chelsea’s phone. Just as she was getting ready to place her call, Rémy strode in and sat down beside her, but he didn’t speak right away. When he did, he did not look at her, only at his hands. “Mara, I have something to you to confess.”
“Oh? What’s that?” she asked even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it.
“I had Tierney to give you those ridiculous clothes.” Guilt trounced across his face. “And I had no need to hire you. While I knew it to be wrong, I did those things to test you. To see if you had changed as you said you had.”
So … all this had been a test. She wasn’t angry about it. In fact, she wondered if she had passed.
“Zee Mara I knew ’twould never have been the back end of a horse. It ’twould have been beneath her to do so.”
Rémy was right. She wouldn’t have.
He turned and lightly grasped her fingertips and kissed the top of her hand. “I forgive you.” His eyes met hers. “This time, from my heart.”
Her lips returned his smile, a smile that made it all the way into her heart. Rémy had forgiven her. Her list was now completed.
Exhausted from her weeks in Colorado and her long trip back to Spartanburg, Mara fell onto her childhood bed and pulled a coverlet over her. All she wanted to do was take a nice long nap, but as soon as she closed her eyes, a knock sounded on her door. “Come in.”
“Sorry to bother you. I know you’re tired, but this just came for you.” Mara’s mother stepped inside her room and handed Mara a long-stemmed red rose along with an envelope.
“Thank you, Mom.” Mara took the rose, placed it under her nose and inhaled deeply. She loved the rich, warm scent this particular red rose gave.
The breath of a butterfly wing danced across her heart as she wondered if this rose was from him—the one who’d taken over her dreams each night. Well, there was only one way to find out.
Not wanting anyone to know who it was from, she turned her attention back onto her mother. “Mom, may I have a few minutes, please?”
“Sure, honey, but you know I’m curious.”
Mara smiled. “Probably as much as I am.”
Her mother nodded, then with a pivot of her heels, she left the room.
Mara slid her finger under the envelope seal and pulled out the note. It was an embossed invitation.
You are herewith cordially invited to a new beginning.
Where: A candlelit corner table at II Samuels Restaurant
in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
When: Valentine’s Day, February 14th.
Time: 7:00 PM
Joy burst through Mara. Could it be? Did the man who had taken possession of her heart without him even knowing it, love her as much as she loved him? She hoped and prayed he did and that this wasn’t some kind of cruel joke to get even with her. Either way, on Valentine’s Day—in just a few days—she was going to the II Samuels restaurant to find out. And she could hardly wait.
And now, dear readers, it's YOUR turn. We need you to vote for the one hero you think is the best fit for Mara! Voting opens at Noon, Eastern time. Cast your vote on this page that will go live at Noon. Voting will be open through February 8. One vote per person, please. But you can recruit your friends, so be sure to tell everyone about Mara's heroes!
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!
Wednesday's Bonus Blogs:
Tuesday's Bonus Blogs:
Monday's Bonus Blogs
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: