Monday, June 8, 2015

Chapter One Unlikely Merger Denver

UPDATE: Unlikely Merger is NOW available! We will offer
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!

We're thrilled to launch our latest collaborative novella, Unlikely Merger. If you're new to our blog, here's how it works. Over the next eleven days (Monday through Saturday, then Monday through Friday), we'll post chapter per day here on the blog. On day 12 (June 20), we'll post a ballot asking readers to vote for their favorite hero - the heroes you'll meet in all the chapters. Voting will remain open through midnight on June 24. Then, on July 1, Unlikely Merger will release on Kindle with the final chapter that reveals the hero you, the readers, chose during the voting process. 

Unlikely Merger is the third book in a series, although it can stand alone. You can read the three books in any order. If you want to get caught up, book one is A Dozen Apologies, book two is The Love Boat Bachelor - both are available on Kindle. 

At the end of every chapter, we post a list of links to other blog posts. These posts are provided by the authors of Unlikely Merger, and include more information about the characters, the settings, the authors, or some other type of fun. Be sure to check them out - they may help you decide how to vote!

Here's a little introduction to Unlikely Merger:

No longer needed as her father’s nurse, Mercy Lacewell attempts to step into his shoes at his acquisitions firm. That means travel, engaging strangers, and making final decisions—nothing she feels equipped to do. If her best friend has her way, Mercy will simply marry one of the single, available men she meets, but they overwhelm her. So handsome and kind. And so many. Even if she felt obliged, how could she ever choose?

Should she shove all attraction aside and focus on her father’s business, or is God warming her heart with the possibility of forever?

Chapter One
Lacewell Limited, Denver, Colorado

Mercy Lacewell turned away from her computer’s flat-screen and faced the open doorway of her office. The squeak of her father’s wheelchair in the hallway was unmistakable. He lifted his hand as he rounded the entrance. “Darts or Tiddly-Winks?”
“Huh?” Had she heard him right?
His administrative assistant, Madeline Conroy, gave the door a shove with her foot as she followed him in. “See there, you’re confusing her.” She marched to Mercy’s desk and began setting her files and paperwork aside.
“What are you doing?” Seemed like Mercy never knew what her dad wanted from her nowadays. Taking on the position at Lacewell Limited when Daddy decided to return to work threw her into an unfamiliar environment, but at least Madeline came with the job. The petite lady practically ran the company by herself, and she’d been almost a mother to Mercy.
His blue eyes twinkled. “Thought I might do something for you.”
Oh, dear. The last time he said that, he wanted to go on a cruise to visit his friend in St. Maarten. Enjoyable as it was, she didn’t need another vacation, especially after only a week at her dad’s company. “Okay? What’s on your mind?” She stood. Her bangs flopped over her eyes, and she pushed them back, tucking the longest behind her ear.
He set a folded packet on her desk and scooted aside a penholder. Madeline unfolded the paper and spread it flat.
“A map?” Exactly what she feared. How could she leave again, now, when she was only starting to understand her new position?
“Not a simple map, sugar. All of these yellow marks”—he ran his hand over the map of the United States—”are potential additions to our company’s repertoire.”
So many places. “How do you choose where to go?”
He shrugged. “Going back to my original question. Darts or Tiddly-Winks?”
She rolled her eyes, and he chuckled.
Madeline laid a dime on Denver. “You won’t need to make any of the in-town visits. Your dad can take care of these places.”
Mercy stifled a groan. Not that she didn’t enjoy helping Dad, even during his travel. But she floundered right now, with no sense of direction for her life. And she’d finally experienced some success at this job. At least enough to wrap her mind around her new duties.
“Well?” Dad tilted his head to the side.
“Oh, you want me to choose the destination.” She picked up the dime. This wasn’t her preferred way of making a decision, but her dad had to do the actual evaluating.
“I thought you should.” He folded his hands in his lap. “Since you’re the one who’s going.”
She flinched, and the dime toppled to the smooth carpet. Mercy retrieved it but couldn’t fathom what her father was thinking. She blinked and stared at the coin.
“Sorry.” Madeline straightened the map. “I couldn’t find a Tiddly-Wink, and I didn’t think you’d want to use a dart on your new desk.
“But …” Synapses slowed. Choosing the businesses for investment or purchase was the most crucial task that Dad had done. “I thought Uncle Thomas took care of that.” He had since Dad’s stroke.
“Tom’s retired, sugar. He’s been a great help this last year, but I don’t want to burden him.”
Mercy gave her head a shake. “So you want me to visit all these places?” Put her life on hold again?
“No, no.” Her father chuckled. “Choose one. One stop at a time.”
That was so much better. She closed her eyes and bit back the retort. She’d never hurt her father that way. Wait a minute. She was a whiz at digging up data. She brightened. “I don’t actually have to go to the places. I can find all sorts of information on the Internet.”
“That’s my job.” Madeline smiled. Her silvery brown bob shimmered in the fluorescent lighting. “Once you decide where you want to visit, I’ll get you a full dossier on the company we’re considering.”
“Then what can I offer with face-to-face visits? I mean, aside from opinions on the personnel, there’s not much research to be had for the trouble and cost to fly me out there.”
“You’re not going for research.” Dad raised his eyebrows. “You’re going in my stead. You’ll be choosing which investments or purchases Lacewell Limited should make.”
Her chin dropped. Her fingers froze where they rested on the desktop, and the chill of his words climbed up her arms to her shoulders. She descended to the edge of her chair. “Me? Daddy, I can’t choose companies for you.”
“Sure you can. You were practically raised on my trips after your mom died.”
But that was in elementary school and junior high. “You’re the one who makes those decisions. You or Uncle Thomas.”
“Excessive travel isn’t an option for me now.” He smacked his armrest. His perpetual smile slipped a bit. “At least for the time being.” He sighed and his lips spread back to normal. “I believe in you, sugar. You’ll know what companies we should act on and those to ignore.”
“How?” Lacewell Limited’s success rested on her father’s choices. She could never duplicate his skill.
Her dad backed his chair away and pulled his red baseball cap from the gap between his right leg and the side of the chair. “You’ll figure it out.” He tugged it onto his head and pointed to the white Jesus Loves You applique on the crown. “I have faith.”


Mercy tossed the dime onto the map and gave the paper an impatient shove. “I can’t even consider this.”
Madeline picked up the coin and began folding the paper. “Oh, honey, your dad will remove all of your other duties. Other people did them before. They can take them back.”
Her tasks weren’t the problem. How could she explain? “I just started this job. After a year of an emotional roller coaster, wondering whether I’d lose Daddy.” Tears burned the back of her eyes.
“You’ve been amazing with him. And he’s come right back. Almost as strong as before the stroke. I’m proud of you.”
“I had little to do with his recuperation.”
The older woman tucked the folded map under her arm. “No, but you dropped everything and stayed with your father throughout what must have been a desperately painful experience.”
Not all of it had been awful. She’d been blessed with having her dad to herself again. And their relationship had grown exponentially.
“I must say, I was surprised when you decided to work here at LL.” She dragged a chair closer and sat. “I hated that you had to leave school. Your Aunt LuEllen and I had been so sure that nursing was in your blood.”
Sweet Aunt LuEllen. Losing her had been almost as hard as Daddy’s stroke. Between her and Madeline, Mercy had no time to miss the mother she couldn’t remember. “I thought so, too.”
“So explain to me why you don’t want to return to finish your certification.”
Again? “I haven’t decided against it. But I can’t go back at this point.” Not in November.
“No, of course not, but there’s plenty of time to register for the spring semester.” She set the folded map on the desk and leaned forward, laying her arms across it. “I bet Dr. Amastas will write a recommendation. Look at all the on-the-job training you received working with your father.”
“I know, and I haven’t ruled it out. But I truly have no desire to return. I feel like I jumped ship in the middle of the Caribbean, and I’m just treading water with no direction.”
“Ah. I’ve had that experience.”
Put-together, pro-active Madeline couldn’t possibly understand. “You’ve worked here forever.”
“Only for most of your lifetime. But that came after my husband left. I’d been working for his father and sure couldn’t stay there. And I didn’t trust men to even consider being married again. LuEllen persuaded me to work here, and I found a new type of commitment.” She patted Mercy’s hand. “Even family.” She leaned back. “But you didn’t have to start working here. Your father would have let you stay until you found your path.”
She had no doubt about that. “I had to do something. Ugh. The thought of wandering around that big house or even indulging at the ski resorts sickens me. No purpose. No benefit to anyone or anything.”
“So where is the Lord leading?”
“I don’t know.” She’d asked herself the same question since they returned from the cruise. She leaned back in her chair and flopped one leg across the other. “I haven’t the slightest desire to return to school, so I thought I’d maintain for a while until I felt a pull in some direction.”
“Hmm.” Madeline matched Mercy’s pose. “I like that plan. Better to be moving than to stop. Easier to turn or to adjust your course.”
Laws of physics. Sure.
“Have you considered a more drastic step?”
Mercy hesitated. Did she really want to know? But Madeline would explain anyway so no point in avoiding the topic. “What do you mean?”
“Your young man. The guy from the cruise.”
“Brent?” He wasn’t her anything. “What about him?”
“Did you say he’s from South Carolina? Why don’t you choose a nearby town and kill two birds with one stone?”
“Visit him?” No way. “I think you’ve got the wrong idea.”
“You liked him.”
“Yes, but—”
“He was special?”
“Yes. I mean no. Not special-special. He was nice.”
“Only nice?”
“Well, yes.” Mercy pictured Brent’s genuine smile against the light chocolate of his face. Very nice.
“And … nothing. I mean, I left. He left. No epilogue.”
“Could there be?”
Mercy considered the possibility. “I think not. I liked him, but not in a heart-stopping way.”
“I see. He helped you get your focus off of your father and see that there are other opportunities right in front of you.”
“Yeah. I guess he did do that.” With her post-grad demands and then her father’s situation, she’d barely looked at any men until Brent came along. “I will say that I’d never noticed so many handsome fellows as I did on the flight back to Denver.”
“See there? I think that cruise rendezvous was the best medicine for you.”
“Of course the fact that the Colorado Buffs basketball team was on my flight might have intensified the experience.” She laughed.
“Oh, you.” Madeline waved her hand and rose. “I hear there are several strong singles’ groups in the area.”
“Thinking of joining one?”
“I was talking about you. It might be the ideal time for you to get involved.”
This topic swayed dangerously close to the edge of overload. Mercy eyed her inbox and pulled the file from the top. “I can’t even consider doing something like that. All those people.” Her stomach tightened.
Madeline circled the desk and placed her hands on Mercy’s shoulders. “Honey, nothing’s going to change if you don’t take some sort of action.”
And therein lay the conundrum. She’d have to act or be willing to let things maintain where she was. Maintain being synonymous with stagnate. “It’s too drastic a step. Too far from my comfort zone.”
“I understand. Then why don’t you do some activities with the young adults at the church?”
Aunt LuEllen would never have pushed this hard. “The singles’ scene isn’t for me, Madeline. In church or otherwise.”
“Then how are you going to meet the eligible bachelors? Nice, handsome men from good families?”
Mercy shut her eyes. If she didn’t halt this topic, Madeline would hoist a billboard with her photo and phone number on it, advertising for nice, handsome men from good families. “I’m thinking I might try for an ugly, grungy guy who doesn’t wash his hair very often and will thoroughly humiliate Daddy and the company.” She grinned.
Madeline swatted her seat back. “Oh, you’re bad. And that’s a positively disgusting thought.” She rounded the desk and retrieved the map she’d left. “But if you think about it, the traveling your dad wants could offer the same opportunities.”
Goody. Mercy fingered the file, barely glancing at the pages.
“After all, these companies have a lot going for them. Brilliant businessmen, creative geniuses. You could practically have your pick.”
The woman was a fairy tale in a linen suit.
“I’ll think about it, okay?”
Madeline nodded and made for the door. “You know, your uncle might be able to give you more input on what all the travel entails.”
Mercy had been thinking along the same lines. She’d be fishing with him the next day and would pick his brain. “I’ll talk to him.”
“Good thinking.” She opened the door and paused. “Keep an open mind about this, honey. At some point, that comfortable little wall you’ve built is either going to expand or collapse.”
The door shut on her friend but not on the ocean of emotions the discussion had unleashed. Closing the file, she slapped it back on top of the stack.


Mercy had jostled with Madeline’s opinion all the way out to Uncle Thomas’s place, deep in the foothills and surrounded by pines. Thankfully, the elevation was low enough to escape the snow that covered the mountains.
What sort of wall had Madeline been talking about? She asked her uncle about it as she settled into a seat on the covered dock of his private lake. “Why would she say that?” She baited her hook and let it drop through a hole that Uncle Thomas had smashed through the thin ice.
“Perhaps she meant room, not wall.” Uncle Thomas was a stouter rendition of her father. His wide face held the same light to his blue eyes as Daddy.
“I’m pretty sure she said exactly what she meant. You know Madeline.” She pulled her hood over her head. “I’m friendly. I’m approachable.”
“You have a kind word for anyone who speaks to you.” He cranked up the miniature wrecking ball and dropped it onto another area of the frozen cover. “But how often are you the first to speak?”
She mulled that over as she looked at the icy lake. Grocery cashiers, waiters, they all spoke to her first. She didn’t even post on Facebook, only commented on things. And she avoided initiating conversations at the office. “Is that what she meant?”
“I can’t rightly say.” He reached through a small trap door and turned on the silent agitator. It sent enough gentle ripples across the water’s surface to delay the inevitable refreezing. “But you do tend to hole-up in that office of yours, just like you did at home with Henry.”
Mercy couldn’t argue, so she switched the subject. “Speaking of Dad’s recuperation, I appreciate the way you stepped back over to take care of things.”
“Aw, Mercy, you were the one with the hard work. All I had to do was pick up where I left off a few years ago.”
“Didn’t it bother you to come out of retirement?” She pulled up her line to check her bait.
“Not a bit.” He chuckled when she raised her eyebrows. “No, really. I spent half of my life waiting on the next big thing. Maybe that’s why Lacewell Limited started with such a bang. I don’t know. But I do know that’s empty living.”
Rabbit trails were the norm for Uncle Thomas. Mercy waited for him to recover his train of thought.
“So the last two decades or so, I made an agreement with God to be okay with whatever circumstances He gave me.”
“Like coming out of retirement.”
“That, yes. And how He made it possible for your Aunt LuEllen and me to buy this piece of heaven. Had a lot of years of joy here before she went home to Him.”
Mercy’s eyes misted.
“Then He took the place away for a while.”
“The fire.” What a nightmare that had been.
“Awful thing. Lost just about everything, but that gave me the chance to build an even better house—what I wanted—from scratch. Even planted me an orchard.”
She blinked away threatening tears. “You can’t tell me you were happy about the fire. I remember your pain.”
“I didn’t say happy. More content. ’Course I hated losing photographs and memories, but staying in that place wouldn’t help me. Not anymore than your restless heart is helping you.”
“Me? Restless? How do you figure that?”
“You have no joy. No peace. Not for a while now.”
He was right. “It’s just that I’ve never been in such limbo. I’ve always had a clear path. Always been able to find a reason for what I’m doing.”
“So that’s it. You’re searching for some purpose.” He dropped his lure in the lake and toyed with the line a little.
He had a point. She usually had a goal, a benefit to the family. Or like nursing with more altruistic intents. She reeled in her line and set the rod in a mounted stand. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“Seems to me you should start where you are. What options are open to you now?” He unwrapped the foil from around a stack of breakfast burritos and offered her one.
“Okay, where am I, besides shivering on your dock.” She took a burrito and moved closer to the space heater that had finally cranked into high gear.
“As I see it, you could chuck the whole thing—job, helping out Henry, all of it—and spend the rest of the winter on the slopes.”
“I wouldn’t do that. And besides, how would that choice bring purpose?”
“I didn’t say it was a good idea. But it is a possibility. Self-gratifying one.” He filled his mouth with burrito. “O y’coo do noos ool.”
“Say what?” She bit into the warm flour tortilla and let the spicy eggs, sausage, and cheese tickle her tongue.
Uncle Thomas took a swig from a covered mug with a tiny tendril of steam escaping. “Nursing school. That’s got purpose written all over it.”
Mercy’s delicious bit soured. “No desire for that. At all.” She drank from her matching mug and let the coffee spread its heat through her throat and chest.
“I’m a firm believer that God gives desire to those who are trying to follow His path.” He finished off the burrito in silence.
Mercy nibbled at hers, eating about half before the icy temperature made what remained unpalatable. She discarded the rest in the trash and retrieved her rod.
“That leaves you two options: either take the trips for your daddy or stay working at the offices.”
“Then I want to stay in Denver.” That ended up easier than she’d expected. She took another swig of her coffee and returned to her chair.
“To what purpose?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you want to be a benefit. So what will you offer by staying here?” He started to uncover another burrito but tightened the foil instead and dropped the pack into an insulated box.
Her mouth flattened. What value did she present? Nothing. “I don’t know.”
“Now don’t get me wrong. You’ve only just started, and you’re doing a fine job, kid. But other people can still do all of your tasks. In fact, they were.”
“I thought Daddy needed me.” She flicked her reel with her thumb and let her lure plummet to the dark depths.
“He does. He needs you, now that you understand how the business works, to take his place on the trips. He trusts that you’ll have the right focus. An eye to both assist the companies you choose and profit Lacewell Limited in the long run.”
She shook her head, releasing a section of bangs from under her wide headband. “I can’t do it. Can’t even consider it.”
“Why not? Is it the traveling? You used to love it when Henry took you on trips with him.”
“No, no. I just returned from a cruise, for pity’s sake.”
“Your father’s doing fine if that’s what’s got you so upset.”
How could she explain her reticence? She didn’t even understand it. “I’m amazed at his progress. I’m not worried about him.”
“So what is it then? Are you scared?”
A jolt erupted down her spine to her toes.
“Mercy. Sakes-alive, what have you got to be scared of? You know, I think Madeline’s right about that comfort zone of yours. What? You think the monsters in the big ole world will eat you up?”
She watched a buzzard rise up and circle against the dirty cotton clouds. “Of course not.”
“Your face has fear painted all over it.”
“I’m not afraid of what I’ll find on the trips. I’m nervous about what I’ll bring back.”
He scrunched his graying eyebrows and cocked his face. “Come again?”
“I don’t even know where to start with deciding which businesses to buy. I don’t even like making decisions about my coffee.”
“Ah. You’re worried about failure. You don’t want to be responsible.”
She clenched both hands around the rod. “I’m not shirking responsibility. I took care of Daddy.”
“And you were brilliant with him. Seems like there was a lot more at stake there.”
“But I knew what I was doing.” She reeled in her lure and set the rod aside again. The normally relaxing pastime irritated her and heightened her anxiety.
“You know more than you think.”
“What if I make a mistake? What if I make a poor choice and cost LL millions of dollars?” The foothill in front of her might well have been the wall that Madeline spoke of. It taunted, daring her to leave her home.
Her uncle leaned over and nudged her shoulders. “Such a huge burden. You don’t have to tote that, you know. I can’t answer for how Henry did the job, but for me, I put in a lot of prayer. I studied the places and asked for leading then made the best decision I could. For good or bad.” He shook his head slightly and clamped down with a pair of brown ear cuffs. “And there were a couple of bad ones. It happens.”
He pulled out his line and messed with it a moment. “You do your part to the best you can and let God be in charge of the things you can’t control. That’s His part, and He does it well.”
She was unconvinced and remained silent as he worked.
“Now let’s see if we can relieve this bit of water of a few fat fish.” He laughed. The echo of it almost covered the sound of his hook plopping back into the lake.
Mercy stared across the landscape. White and gray with greens so dark they could have been black. Monochromatic. Dull. Like her life threatened to become.
Maybe she did need to take these trips for Daddy. For him, for Lacewell Limited, and to gain a new perspective.
If only they didn’t require decisions to be made.

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