I’m hard at work, finishing some books, and playing around with making hand-poured candles this week.
It’s our “break” between basketball ending and softball starting, so I’m trying to get a few things done. Kiddo’s got a test for her purple belt in tae Kwan do this Saturday, too.
She’s exhausting, lol. And very nervous about testing for her belt in front of the rest of her class.
I did get the preorder uploaded for book 2 in the There is a Season... series this week. It’s now available as a preorder. (I’m working on Google now!) The excerpt below is from Forever Holding Phil!
Phil Tyler, the dad from the first four Masterson novellas, is being tormented by the woman he hired to be his housekeeper! That’s a bit ironic, that’s for sure. It releases on May 17th. If you haven’t grabbed your copy of the preorder of book 1 (Just Loving Gerald) featuring Rhea Masterson, the mom from the first four Masterson novellas, you can grab it here now, as well!
There came a time when you had to make a choice.
This was one of them.
“I’m going to have to do something.”
Glenna Carnes stared at the four women surrounding her as the words seared themselves into her soul. She couldn’t keep doing this to her daughters.
All Glenna wanted was for her daughters to feel safe. This was just proof that she was failing miserably at that task.
Emmaline was still crying. Emmy—her tough one. Her middle child who had never been afraid of anything before. Today she had been terrified by a delivery man.
Glenna scooped her up and rocked her, meeting the eyes of her two closest friends, and the two other women at W4HAV, the women’s charity where she worked as a trauma counselor. They all knew this couldn’t keep going on. This fear was destroying her baby girls. “I…this is getting out of hand. I can’t seem to avoid them anywhere. I have to do something.”
The delivery man hadn’t been one of her former brothers-in-law, but Emmy hadn’t known that. All her just almost five-year-old daughter remembered about the uncle who had shown up in the front yard four months ago screaming that Glenna owed them something was that he had been dressed in a private-delivery-company uniform. That had been enough to have her little girl screaming today. Between that and the way her seven-year-old Evangeline flinched each time the telephone rang and her two-and-a-half-year-old baby Eleanor cried and resisted whenever Glenna tried to leave her in the co-op nursery room now…
The girls weren’t getting over their fears—they were just getting worse.
She had to do something.
Glenna looked at Robin and Rory, her two closest friends on the planet. Her sisters of the heart. Rory had scooped Elly into her own arms and was rocking her, too.
Her most empathetic baby always cried when one of her sisters was upset.
Evey watched from the doorway to the children’s playroom at W4HAV, a leery look on her beautiful face. One filled with suspicion. Fear. Worry that no child her age should have.
It was the last straw.
Her ex’s family wasn’t anywhere near them now—not that she knew, anyway, but she wouldn’t put it past them—but their constant harassment of her was destroying her daughters’ sense of safety and peace.
She wouldn’t have it. Not any longer.
She’d do anything for her daughters.
She looked at the women surrounding her. She knew how the charity operated—knew what it was capable of. And Lacy, the blond woman next to her, had been trying to talk her into asking for help for weeks. “I need to find a place to get away for a while. Build a new life for the four of us. Where they don’t have to be afraid of their father’s family any longer.”
It wasn’t running, exactly. It was relocating. Doing what was best for her daughters.
Even though it meant leaving everything, everyone, she knew behind.
“I have to do this. Before I change my mind.”
“Where are you going to go?” Robin asked, tears filling her big blue eyes. Tears—and understanding. Robin and Rory knew her struggles, knew exactly what battle she had been fighting for just too long…
Robin’s own two-year-old daughter was in the playroom with Robin’s nine-year-old twin boys. Innocent children, too.
Children who had experienced far too much pain already.
All Glenna wanted was for them to grow up in a world without this kind of fear and hurt and loss. If she could keep that from touching her girls, she would do whatever it took.
“I…I don’t know. I just know I have to get them away from here for a while. So that they can learn not to be afraid.” Her heart broke for her daughters. She’d tried everything from confronting her ex’s family to speaking with an attorney about restraining orders against all of them.
She’d filed a report with Detective Acardi, a friend of Rory’s, after the latest incident.
He had told her the Texas State Police could make a case for attempted kidnapping, but her ex-mother-in-law would probably plead it down to maintaining a common nuisance or something trivial like that.
Never mind that Elly had had dreams of the scary lady trying to take her away every night since. Nothing Glenna did could fix that.
“I have a brother, but…he lives on a military base. I don’t want to impose on him.” Her half brother would let them stay with him for a while, but it would be awkward for them all. They weren’t exactly close.
“Let W4HAV find you a place,” Lacy said for about the fifteenth time in a week. “It’s what we do.”
“I know.” She didn’t want to need that kind of help. There were women out there who needed the escape the women’s charity provided far more than Glenna did. Abused women who needed to get away however they could. Abused men, too, who came to W4HAV for help, though far fewer men would admit they needed the help than women.
Glenna was a respected mental health counselor; she led four different counseling groups for the charity at two o’clock, four days each week. She worked the intake desk four nights a week from three thirty p.m. until nine, when she took the girls home and put them to bed. She had a small home she had purchased on Boethe Street after she’d paid off half of her student debt, and then she’d paid that house and her remaining debt off with the life insurance policy she’d still had on her ex at the time of his death over two years ago.
She had a good job, her bills were paid, there was a roof over their heads, and her children were safe. They should have been just fine.
But they weren’t.
Her ex’s family could get to them at any time.
His mother walking into the church multipurpose room where the homeschool co-op met each week and nearly walking out with Elly had just proven that.
There had been a homeschool dad Glenna had known well in the parking lot who had seen what was happening—and stopped it. Just in time. She had been lucky he had recognized Elly that day and stepped in to make a difference. Had questioned.
Glenna hadn’t slept well since.
Her arms tightened around Emmy. Her bright, fiery, passionate, brave little girl who would challenge the world just because she could.
Crying because of a package left on the desk at W4HAV.
Glenna understood how trauma worked, though she didn’t work with children in her groups. She wasn’t going to see the trauma of their father’s death get compounded with her own children because of his family.
That was one thing he had been adamant about when she’d filed for divorce—he hadn’t wanted his mother or three brothers anywhere near the girls. No matter what. That had been something he and Glenna had actually agreed on.
Lincoln’s mother didn’t believe that. And she was determined to get to the girls, no matter what.
“I need someplace to go. Even if it means I’m washing dishes for a living for a while. I need to get out of Finley Creek. Before they destroy my daughters even more.”
Lacy asked for her to give her a day or two to work things out. To find some options that would suit Glenna and the girls.
Glenna knew how it worked. There was a fund that no one talked about.
The escape fund.
It was designed to help those victims of violence who had no real recourse but to run.
Glenna wasn’t like that.
The same procedures in place for that, would help her now.
She looked at her children one more time. Yes. She would do whatever she had to for her girls. Anything.
Even if it meant leaving everything behind.
He wasn’t dead yet. At fifty, Philip Tyler knew he still had a lot of kick left in him. Even if it didn’t feel like it, all the time. He was too damned tired for this constant traveling between Masterson, Wyoming and Finley Creek, Texas. That was becoming clearer every time.
It was time he figured something else out.
He had a plan—go home, let his nephew Fletcher buy in to his partnership with Travis Worthington-Deane in Texas, and hire himself a housekeeper.
So he could spend more time with the four daughters and three sons he had in Masterson. His seven grandkids and any others that came along. And his oldest son, whenever that boy bothered to come back in from L.A. where he was making his own way in the world.
Phil wanted time with his family.
Phil wasn’t going to retire exactly. He was going to slow things down some. He’d accomplished what he’d set out to do with this partnership. His ranch was secure, for whichever of his kids took it over eventually. He had paid down most of his debts, and had put a little back in case some of the younger kids needed help with college.
He had finished what he’d set out to do. That didn’t mean he was dead yet, though.
Now it was time to sit back and enjoy it. Enjoy the remainder of his younger kids’ childhoods while he still had that opportunity. And get to know the boy who was almost a man before it was too late.
Phil had taken Lacy and Travis up on their offer to spend another night with them after he’d not been able to get a flight in time the night before. He enjoyed himself. They were good kids. Good friends. He considered them family, too.
He was fond of them both, even if little Lacy, a blond dynamo a few years older than Phil’s eldest girl, was nervous with any man not her husband or his brothers when they got too close into her space. She was getting better with him, poor kid. After nearly dying in much the same way as Phil’s third daughter, Perci.
Lacy reminded him of Perci.
Both girls had that same fighting spirit.
It had given him time to talk with them about his plans for the next few months.
Or rather, his lack of plans. Phil was looking forward to it. Thanks to money he and Travis had earned through their risks, he had some extra cash. Cash he intended to use to fix up the house and barns a bit. He wanted to tackle the basement, finally. He and his late wife, Becky, had planned for years to finish it out and make a genuine family space down there for the kids.
He just had the three at home now. He suspected Pete would stick around once he turned eighteen in six months, though. Phil was hoping. His second son was a rancher born and bred. He didn’t see Pete going anywhere too far away. If that was what his son wanted, then so be it. Phil would support him.
Just as he’d supported Phoenix’s move to Hollywood of all places. His oldest son had left after they’d used Phil’s ranch as a location shoot two and a half years ago. Phoenix was making his own way there.
Phil thought leaving Masterson was probably the best for Phoenix, but not having one of his children right there stung.
Phil thought about that as he and Travis headed toward the women’s charity Lacy volunteered at several nights a week.
He was hoping to meet his new housekeeper there. Lacy had talked with him quietly the evening before. Had asked him to consider a woman she’d known for years.
He was there to do a favor for Lacy. That was it.
Travis’s daughter babbled at him as they walked up the sidewalk toward the charity. Phil laughed.
The sight of little Alonna with her white-blond hair sticking up everywhere, and her little plaid shirt and denim overalls was cute. Made him miss his grandchildren. All seven of them, from five-year-old Ivy all the way down to the newest, Griffen.
Phil would admit it—he was a homebody family man. He wanted to go home, and know he didn’t have to go anywhere for a while if he didn’t want to.
He’d turned his rental car in already—Travis was going to drop him off at the airport after he dropped the baby off with Lacy.
At W4HAV. Phil had heard great things about it but had never been there himself.
His niece Maggie had stayed with Travis’s in-laws for a few months after some trouble in Masterson. She’d received counseling there at the charity that she said had helped her through a great deal.
He was going to make a small donation while he was there. It was the least he could do for the place that had helped his Maggie.
And if he could help Lacy help someone else in need, then Phil was going to damned well do it.
He saw the woman they were looking for the instant he opened the door to the charity and stepped inside.
Lacy stood near the receptionist desk speaking with a woman who looked so much like Phil’s daughters Pip and Perci that he did a double take.
And then he couldn’t believe what he was seeing at all. Who he was seeing.
Phil opened his arms, and the woman jumped straight into them. He wrapped her up tight and just held her.
As everyone around them stared. He just held her. Remembered her as a scrawny, terrified kid so long ago. Finally, she pulled back. Wiped her wet cheeks.
Phil ignored the crowd around him.
He got his first real look at his late wife’s baby sister. She had put on a bit of weight, but not much. Still was on the small side.
Her sister had been the same way. His daughters all took after that side of their family.
Robin’s hair was the same burnished red as three of Phil’s daughters, and three of his sons’. Her eyes were a lighter shade of blue. He and Becky had both been blue-eyed redheads. Their children had been bound to inherit the same.
Seeing Robin was like seeing Becky all over again. Twenty years—it had been twenty years, now. He’d heard rumors she’d returned to Masterson fifteen years ago, but it hadn’t been her. He’d looked for her. They’d missed her so damned much. Especially her sister.
But she was in front of him right now.
“I didn’t realize you were in Finley Creek.”
“I bounced around a bit…after I left…and ended up here. Built a life here. Married. I’m a widow, now. Three years ago.”
He suspected it was more complicated than she was making it out to be. Phil looked at the people surrounding them. Even little Alonna was watching them. He saw the obvious confusion. “Robin is my late wife’s younger sister. She had to leave Masterson twenty years or so ago after some trouble with the former sheriff. We haven’t seen her since. Or really even known where she was. One hell of a coincidence finding her here.”
Once again, an oversimplification of what had been an extremely tense situation, and Robin had been no more than eighteen at the time.
Phil had put her on the bus out of town himself, with four hundred borrowed dollars and a prayer. He would never forget how that moment had felt.
“You needing a job, Robbie? It’s yours. Come on home.” He had had to help her leave, because he had had no other way to protect her back then.
“I’m not the one for the job, Phil. But…my best friend, Glenna…is.” She stepped aside, and he got his first good look at the woman sitting at the table behind her.
She was around the same age as Robin, maybe a bit older. But was around three inches taller and a bit curvier. But not much. She was a pretty woman, one who would probably age very well. And there was a fear, a sadness, in her eyes that Phil didn’t like to see.
It was far too similar to what had been in his second daughter’s eyes not that long ago.
The woman stood. Stared at him out of beautiful green eyes. She held out a hand. “Hello, I’m Glenna Carnes, Robin’s best friend. I’m the one who…Lacy…told me you are looking for a housekeeper to help with your children.”
Phil wrapped his fingers around hers. She had a very soft, feminine hand. Delicate and silk beneath his work-roughened fingers. “Yes. I will be honest. It’s not a high-paying job. I simply can’t afford it now. And the work will only be part-time now. I am throwing in room and board as part of the deal.”
“I’d…need that. I want to start completely fresh somewhere away from Finley Creek. I am not a housekeeper by trade, though I worked my way through college with my own cleaning business eighteen years ago. I know what the work involves.”
“Glenna is a licensed mental health counselor here,” Lacy, his business partner’s wife, said quietly. “She’s intending to transfer her license to wherever she settles eventually. That will take time. She’ll need a job in the meantime. I thought the two of you could help each other.”
Phil nodded. He hadn’t had any intention of interviewing a housekeeper tonight. He’d wanted to wait a few weeks after he got home. Talk to the boys—he still had three at home, ranging from almost eighteen down to his youngest at ten—see what kind of a woman they wanted living in their house.
When Lacy had come to him, telling him of a woman who needed a bit of help for a while, Phil had had to say yes. He was the kind of man who did what he could to help those who needed it.
Finding Robin again was just a miracle that he had never expected to have again.
“What kind of job do you have in Masterson?” Robin asked quietly.
Glenna stepped forward, shooting him a shy look that had him feeling a bit protective. She did have that air about her just like his daughter Pip had once had. “I should tell you before this goes any further. If you offered me the job, I wouldn’t come alone. I have three children. Girls. Ages seven, almost five, and two-and-a-half..”
That was something he hadn’t counted on. He also saw the fear in her eyes.
She wanted out of Finley Creek. And Robin and Lacy were trying to help her.
“I need someone to help me with the ranch now. The house, I mean. And the boys. It’s not fair to keep putting it on the girls when they are trying to build their own lives, their own families. I need someone I can trust, but I can’t afford much more than room and board. I can feed extra mouths, Mrs. Carnes. Food’s not the problem. And I have extra bedrooms. I was planning on hiring someone when I got home. Pip and Phoebe usually help with the boys, but they have four kids between them now. I can’t keep asking this of my girls. I’m a fair employer, and the ranch is a safe place for kids. I’ve made sure of that years ago. There will be room for them to play and grow. They’ll be treated as honorary Tylers. And it’ll get you far away from Texas, if that’s what you’re wanting. For as long as you are needing it to.”
* * *
Glenna didn’t see where she had much choice. Not if she wanted to take the girls someplace safe. Lacy had called her late the night before and told her she had a job in mind for her. That Lacy was one hundred percent certain the job would be perfect for her—and would provide exactly the safety she was looking for her girls.
Glenna wanted that so much. They couldn’t even play in the yard without fear that Lincoln’s crazy family would drive by and harass them again. They lived three blocks away. His family walked by her house every single day.
After they tried to take Elly, Glenna hadn’t been able to sleep at night, afraid they’d break in and take one—or all—of the girls. She and the girls could just leave—just pack up the rest of their things, load a rental truck and just…go.
Leaving Rory and Robin. To even think of that was like the idea of tearing off a limb.
They were her family, too.
“It is beautiful there,” Robin said. She had spoken of home so many times, but the reason why she had left had always been a secret. “Go there, Glenna. It’s a wonderful place.”
“Room for you and yours, too, Robin. There always will be. And don’t you ever forget it. We can do some shifting around, and if the kids wouldn’t mind doubling up, there are plenty of bedrooms. The house may be small, but it was built for a family.”
Glenna looked over at her children, at her three little girls playing together, with Robin’s daughter’s bright strawberry-red head in the middle of them. The boys, older, strong and sturdy, played a board game. They were laughing, having fun. Being children.
She lived in a tiny house on Boethe Street. Robin was just three doors down. They were still trying to fight with insurance companies more than a year after the tornado, just to make the rest of the repairs. Half of Robin’s windows were still covered with plywood. Their yards were tiny, not much room for children to run and play. Boethe Street wasn’t the kind of place you let your children play unattended either.
Not like the place this man had described.
His name was Philip Tyler. He’d been married to Robin’s sister Rebecca. Robin’s children: Philip, Wesley Tyler, and Rebecca.
Her best friend had missed her family so much she’d named her children after them.
She looked at him, wondering what she should say next. Lacy Deane’s baby reached for him, and he took her. Naturally. Like he’d held her a hundred times before.
She just wanted someplace where she and her girls could relax. Not worry about someone gossiping about something they’d done to Lincoln’s mother or brothers.
The petty harassment his family repeatedly dished out to her and her daughters was sickening. They walked by her house all the time. Calling to her, calling to the girls. Nothing she’d done had been able to stop them.
Rory had even asked a few friends from the TSP to talk to them. It hadn’t helped.
If a six-foot-four, angry detective from Major Crimes couldn’t stop them from harassing her, nothing could.
She just wanted to get away from it. Here was a man that her best friend was telling her she could trust offering her exactly that.
She just had to make a deal with a total stranger to make it happen…