The last thing Chelly Schul wants is to go home for the holidays. She left her hometown of Legend, Tennessee on a wing and a prayer two years earlier and hasn’t returned. Her leaving humiliated her entire family, particularly her sister Suzie, since she ran off with Suzie’s (almost-ex) husband.
Legend Police Officer Matt Branson values being alone. Even during the holidays, he enjoys the solitude. Dubbed the town hermit, he tells himself he prefers his “cave” to socializing. His friends say he still pines after “the woman who got away,” although he begs to differ.
All that changes the snowy day he pulls over the older model sedan speeding into Legend. His gut slams against his backbone as a tearful Chelly rolls down the car window and looks up into his eyes, and nearly melts his heart. But he remains stoic. Coplike. And gives her a warning and sends her on her way. But it shakes him to the core.
His high-school sweetheart is back in town. Chelly. The woman who sent him into his cave in the first place.
“Shit. I’m going home.”
Chelly Schul slammed the trunk lid down on her old Dodge Stratus and grimaced as the gas cap flew off and tumbled over the asphalt. Darn thing. The little door was sprung, and the cap never worked right after her tank got siphoned. That incident happened the first night she moved into her new apartment in Dalton Springs. Which occurred three months after the bank said they were taking her house. Which took place six months after her husband Cliff was killed in a traffic accident.
Nine months. Long enough to have a baby.
No, thank you very much.
One of hers was screaming from the backseat, already.
“Be there in a minute, sweet pea.”
She glanced back at the apartment and frowned. She’d had high hopes she could make it. But no. Didn’t seem to matter how far she tried to stretch the dollars; there wasn’t enough. Her gaze lifted to the sky behind the complex. It was overcast and gray, tinged with a pink early morning sunrise. A winter sky. The weatherman promised a white Christmas and the air smelled like snow.
The mountains rose in the distance, strong, sturdy and secure.
“Legend is over there,” she whispered. “Home…is over there.”
Strong, sturdy and secure. She supposed she needed that.
Only forty-some miles separated Dalton Springs from Legend, Tennessee. However, a chasm of hurt and past indiscretions stood solidly in the way.
She swallowed hard, then swiped a tear from an eye with a gloved finger. Soon she’d have to swallow a whole lot more than spit. Pride. Yes, that was it. It had been years since she’d gone home. The last thing her sister Suzie expected to see this Christmas was her little sister Chelly on her doorstep, homeless and penniless, and dragging along two small kids—the ones she had with Suzie’s husband…er, make that ex-husband.
Yeah, she’d caused quite the small-town scandal. That disgrace even beat Polly Gruber running off with the preacher back in the forties. Didn’t seem to matter that she and Cliff were actually happy and loved each other. Oh, she knew the repercussions, running off with her sister’s husband. The whole town thought she was pond scum. Lower than pond scum, even. But Suzie had left Cliff and he was lonely.
Wasn’t entirely her fault, was it?
Cliff. He’d had to go and die and leave her in this mess, didn’t he?
No matter. Home was where she was heading—home to Legend—and for the holidays, no less. With no plans to return to Dalton Springs. Ever. Dalton Springs and Cliff were all in the past. A pleasant, distant memory.
Sniffing, she wiped another tear before it froze to her lashes.
She was about to tuck tail and head home to family. Like it or not.
Taking three brisk steps forward, she bent, snatched the gas cap off the parking lot and twisted it back into place. She rounded the car and got in, not tempted to look back.
“Come on, babies,” she said. “We’re going home.”
* * * *
A brisk gust of wind kicked up against the cruiser, rocking it.
“Damn. Must be a helluva storm coming.”
Matt Branson turned up the heater and lowered the volume on the country music station he was listening to as he sat in the newest police cruiser the city of Legend, Tennessee owned. Nice vehicle, too. He did enjoy some perks with his job—since he was the only officer on the force to have actually graduated from college—even if he was sitting in bad weather at the edge of town trying to catch speeders. The other officers were more or less home-grown and on-the-spot trained, but they were good ol’ boys and did one helluva job.
Besides, it was Legend, right? The city force was small but reliable enough to handle anything that Legend threw at them. A domestic or two, a kid gone awry, and of course, the speeders. Biggest trouble was the occasional tobacco smuggling, a few pot plants growing in the foothills, and once a homemade Meth lab run amok, but the county Sherriff’s department and the regional ATF guys took over those, mostly. Legend was little more than a 21st century Mayberry, R.F.D.
He hoped he was a lot more than a modern-day Barney Fife.
He’d left town a year or so after high school—had pretty much fled with his head hanging and his heart on his sleeve, if he remembered it accurately—and in a few years had himself a degree in law enforcement from Eastern Kentucky University.
Damn proud of that, too. So was his Mama. Because of that degree, and the fact that he brought all that new-fangled knowledge back to his hometown of Legend, he was pretty much top dog cop in these parts. Well, not counting the Chief.
So here he was. Waiting.
Of course, it wasn’t like he had a horde of family members at home. He probably wouldn’t even see his Mama until tomorrow evening at the Methodist Church candlelight service, and his sisters were all due to arrive very late Christmas Eve night with a passel of his nieces and nephews. They wanted to be home in Legend on Christmas morning, much to the chagrin of their husbands.
Other than that, there was no one.
Frowning, he shifted in his seat, pushed that thought out of his head, and glanced out the window. Lucky for him, the east end wasn’t the busy end of town. At least he wasn’t walking the downtown beat sniffing out shoplifters. Lit up like a roman candle for about three weeks, the town of Legend eagerly welcomed the shoppers and they came in droves. All that marketing about Legend had paid off the past year or so. He had to admit it brought some mighty strange folk out of the hollers.
So in a way, he was grateful not to be downtown. On the other hand, not a single car had ventured by in the last fifty-two minutes. The town council thought sitting out here was a wonderful idea. They needed revenue for the force, so they’d passed a new ordinance lowering the speed limit in both directions. The guys on the west side were pulling them over right and left. He could hear that on his radio. The action on the east, however, was, well, non-existent.
Bored, he watched as small ice crystals formed in little pellets on his windshield. He let them pile up on his wipers and then swished them away. That kept him busy for about three minutes. He breathed on the window next to him and drew funny pictures on the glass, then smeared them off with a leftover fast food napkin, leaving behind ghostly images. He upped the temperature and turned on the defroster to keep the fog down.
Should a speeder happen to venture by, it might be good if he could actually see out his window.
Finally, he reached under the seat, pulled out a piece of wood, and dug deep into his pocket for his whittling knife. Not eager to get shavings and wood chips all over his new cruiser, he laid the napkin out on the seat beside him and started to whittle.
There. Perhaps this wasn’t so bad after all. He could sit here until the snow piled up and whittle, if he had to. Putting knife to wood was the one thing that kept him company for hours on end when he was at home—in his cave, as his sisters called it. He loved that cabin he’d built up on the mountains, though. Cave or not, it was his, and he had learned to be okay with how his life was turning out up there.
So okay, his social life sucked. He refused to call himself a hermit, although when not at work, he spent most of his time at home. Living a solitary life had both its advantages and disadvantages. Carving wood helped him keep his sanity.
Just didn’t do a damn thing for keeping his bed warm at night.
His knife hand stilled on the wood and his head jerked up. A vehicle raced in from the east, popping over the hill. He reached to swipe away the fog from the driver’s side window that failed to dissipate. The dark blue sedan whizzed by, and he quickly stashed his knife and wood under the seat.
Tucked back in the lane of the old Casey place, he pulled out from his hidey hole, and turned on his lights and siren.
Home for the Holidays is available from Turquoise Morning Press and these retailers: Amazon Kindle . Barnes & Noble . All Romance Ebooks . Kobo . Smashwords and others.
Home for the Holidays is also available in a boxed set!