Posted by ravenstpierre
Release Date: January 6th, 2017
Interracial Romance * Standalone * Historical * Full-length
❤ The Cover ❤
❤ Blurb ❤
Jesse Peterson lives by the sweat of his brow and doesn’t hold back from defending his beliefs—even if that means getting dirty and breaking a few noses in the process. It goes without saying that his tendency to let his fists do the talking hasn’t come without a price. His family’s intolerance of his behavior, and his own distaste for the town’s corruption, have set him on a downward spiral from which he can’t seem to recover. With the growing sense of his personal convictions being too big for such a small town, he wonders if there’s still good reason to stay.
That question is answered the instant Quinn Dixon crosses his path.
As strong as she is beautiful, Quinn steals Jesse’s heart right away. But in Honeywell, Alabama, the horrors of Jim Crow are an everyday occurrence. Forced to settle for passing glances and secret rendezvous, neither has forgotten that these stolen moments could cost them everything.
Once they’ve fallen, there’s simply no such thing as a life apart. Their love is forbidden, but is the truest either has ever found. For that, they’re willing to risk it all.
His conviction gives her hope. Her strength makes him believe. Their love defies reason.
*AUTHOR NOTE: “CHASING MOONLIGHT” is the third standalone novel within the “AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME” family saga. This is a full-length, interracial romance that takes you back to 1940s Alabama. Due to the nature of the story, as well as the era and locale in which it takes place, please be advised that this work of fiction contains sparse, racially-charged language and incidents some readers may be sensitive to. However, if heartfelt love stories with happy endings are what you crave, then this is the book for you!
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❤ Prologue ❤
Towns like mine don’t breed trouble. Well, at least not the kind that couldn’t easily be swept under a rug or hidden behind a closed door. Folks here are too concerned with keeping up appearances and keeping down gossip. For that reason, they did their best not to step too far out of line, fearing that people might take notice. It suited them well enough to seem perfect, at least in their neighbors’ eyes, even if the good Lord knew better.
With little more scenery than the miles and miles of dusty road carving through the countryside, things around here seemed quiet. A little too quiet, Momma used to think. ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ was one of her favorite warnings for my sisters, my brother, and I. For this reason, she made sure to keep us busy either helping her inside or helping Daddy outside.
None of us ever hesitated to believe there was truth behind the words she spoke concerning our little sliver of Alabama known as Honeywell. If there was one thing Honeywell had a lot of, it was idle hands. From the greatest to the least, these people had skeletons in their closets… and their basements, and a few out back in their yards, too.
There was something else Momma used to say, something that stayed with me even now, years after she passed. She’d say that ‘what’s done in the dark will come to the light’.
Those words… they felt like being sentenced for committing a crime even when what you were hiding wasn’t criminal. That statement was carved into the far reaches of my mind because of a predicament I found myself in; one that started the summer of 1941.
According to Momma, my secret—albeit one worth whatever punishment might await me—would inevitably be brought to the light.
If she was right about this like she seemed to be about everything else… Lord, have mercy on my soul.
❤ Chapter One ❤
Kyle Bates stared from across the table; an unspoken dare in his eyes, a smug grin on his face. He waited, watching even the slightest of my movements, likely wondering if I’d leap on him or walk away.
The smell of stale cigarettes and cheap liquor hung heavy in the air of the windowless building, no doubt clinging to my hair and clothes, too, now that I’d been here for the better part of an hour. My fingertips pressed into my palms when I balled them into fists beneath the table.
“What you gonna do? Hit me?” he taunted with a smirk, turning around to make sure his goons were all in place. “Know what I think, fellas? I think Jesse here’s been whoopin’ on these little boys around town and they got him thinkin’ he can throw down with a real man. That’s what I think.”
Laughter filled the air and I didn’t say one word. Instead of getting caught up in the pissing match Kyle was trying to drag me into, I took note of my surroundings. One of his buddies had a knife tucked in his boot strap. Another was stretching his neck in preparation for whatever was about to go down, and the third signaled someone near the exit to close the door. I assumed that was to make sure I didn’t try to run.
Something I’d never done a day in my life.
That look on Kyle’s face was familiar. I’d seen it before. It was the look of doubt. Other guys often had the same expression when testing me, trying to see what I was made of. Despite my reputation around here, most seemed to think being the mayor’s grandson had softened me, made me a pushover. However, not a single one who took me on walked away without their minds being changed.
As I saw it, there was only one way out of this. Blame it on my ego, call it pride or whatever else you might think of, but walking away from Kyle wasn’t an option anymore. Not after he’d talked so much trash.
All sound left the room in a vacuum. No one moved. No one breathed. The rush of anticipation nearly had me hysterical.
Hell, yeah… I lived for this.
Kyle’s gaze went to the left, following the half-full beer mug I shoved off the edge of the table. I counted on him being just simpleminded enough to fall for that. With him distracted for that fraction of a second as the glass shattered, I overturned the table into his lap, sending the deck of cards fluttering down onto the floor around him.
His goons came at me fast, but a blow to one’s gut slowed him down. The other yelled out as I took him by the back of his head and introduced his face to a barstool. Out cold, his body slumped to the floor in a heap. Everyone else, even the last of Kyle’s backup, moved out of the way, realizing this fight was mine and Kyle’s alone.
Normally, I preferred to have my brother, Eddie, or my buddies, Thomas and Henry, around when fights broke out, but life had a way of being unpredictable. If I’d known Kyle had plans to cheat me out of a pocketful of money at the poker table, I wouldn’t have come alone. Now, I’d have to wing it.
Kyle finally leapt to his feet, fists in the air to block his face. He danced around a bit, but I stood firm, waiting for him to take a swing. A low grunt moved up his throat when he went for my face and missed. The motion made him stagger a bit. When he fell forward, my elbow came down hard into the center of his back and he hit the floor with a thud. It’d been so easy to take him down I was almost disappointed.
I could’ve ended it there, but where would the fun be in that?
A mixture of fear and shock filled his expression when I helped him up off the floor. As soon as he was steady on his feet, my knuckles met his nose and blood sprayed from it like a fountain. He stumbled back, reeling from the blow, but I gave him a break, letting him get his bearings. Fists in the air again, he squared up to defend himself.
I’d been fighting all my life, literally and figuratively, to prove that being Mayor Bartell’s grandson hadn’t made me less of a man. In fact, all the adversity had probably made me a bit harder than I needed to be. But the way I saw it, I’d make the men of this town believers one at a time if necessary. I figured they’d eventually stop trying me like this.
…but I secretly hoped they wouldn’t.
Kyle fell against my shoulder when I sank a fist into his gut. An ugly groan puffed from his mouth as all the air left his lungs. I stepped aside and let his body fall to the floor. He lay there, moaning and mumbling idle threats while I patted him down for the cash he’d cheated me out of. I shoved the bills in the pockets of my jeans and stood upright, staring down on him, listening as he continued to talk trash while he bled on the floor.
I eyed his friends, flashing the two who were conscious a smile as I straightened my shirt.
“Thanks for the game, fellas. It’s been my pleasure.” Grabbing my hat from the floor, I dusted it off before placing it back on my head, giving the men a nod. “Until next time.”
I’d just turned when a response came from the crowd. “On the contrary, Mr. Peterson. There won’t be a next time.”
Hell… I knew that voice. Knew it well, actually.
The hollow steps of Sheriff Daley’s boots came my way as the crowd parted. As the last of them stepped aside, Daley stared me down. After shaking his head in disappointment, he looked down at Kyle lying on the floor.
“Is this going to be an every weekend event for you, Jesse?” he asked, sounding even more frustrated with me than last time, which I didn’t think was possible.
I chuckled a bit, which I soon realized was a bad idea, and straightened my face again.
“Outside. Now,” he demanded.
Every eye in the building was on me as I exited and made my way down the dusty steps out front.
“When are you gonna learn—”
“Sheriff, this wasn’t my fault,” I reasoned. “Kyle had it coming to him. Used to be a time that cheating a man out his money was punishable by death. As I see it, a little whoopin’ was getting off easy.” I smiled again; couldn’t help it.
Sheriff Daley wasn’t amused. “Turn around,” he said, straight-faced as a set of cuffs dangled from his fingers. The last few times we’d done this, he didn’t bother with them, but I figured this was to teach me a lesson. He knew I wasn’t dangerous, not really. Hell, we were practically family after all the years he’d served under my grandfather.
“Is that really necessary?” I protested.
His answer was nothing more than a blank stare, so I turned and put my hands behind my back. I had to listen to him lecture me the entire ride to the police station, knowing I’d only get more of the same from my grandfather when he got word of what happened.
“Get comfortable; you’re spending the night this time.”
I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Come again?”
He escorted me through the front door, bypassing Officer Jennings’ desk, which meant there wouldn’t be any paperwork, no record of this, but still.
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit unreasonable?” I countered. “Kyle is—”
“Kyle is probably still trying to find all his teeth on the floor back there,” Daley interjected.
A laugh almost slipped. “I didn’t even hit him in the mouth,” I rebutted, as if that was going to change anything.
First removing the cuffs, Sheriff Daley unlocked one of three empty holding cells for me. When I didn’t go willingly, he shoved me a bit.
“Sleep it off, and if you’re not too much trouble, I might let you go home in the morning,” were his parting words.
He rejoined Jennings in the front of the building and I stood there, resting my forehead against the cool bars. How was it that Kyle was the cheat, and yet, I was the one spending a night in jail?
“Fighting again?” Jennings asked, his voice echoing down the hallow hallway I’d just walked. I couldn’t see them, but could hear pretty clearly.
Sheriff Daley sighed. “What else? Boy can’t seem to get out of trouble without using his fists.”
That was a line I’d heard before, from my grandfather.
“You gonna call the mayor?” Jennings added.
There was a long pause. “S’pose I’m gonna have to, but I don’t know what good it’ll do. Don’t think anyone can talk sense into that boy.”
I wasn’t bothered by hearing them discuss me. I was used to it. People had their opinions, but I didn’t pay them much mind.
Daley took another deep breath and I settled on the thin mattress. “Seems like the whole town’s going insane today.”
“Got that right,” Jennings added. “First the incident in town, then Reverend Haywoods’ wife coming in here with her skirt in a bunch over nothing, now this.”
Jennings chuckled a bit. “That woman’s even got my old lady beat. Makes sense the reverend’s so religious; must take the grace of God to put up with her.”
The two shared a laugh and I settled in, listening to their conversation, my only source of entertainment for the night.
“What was she squawking about this time?” Daley asked.
A chair creaked and I assumed one of the two officers was making himself more comfortable. “Who knows? I was half-listening, to be honest with you. Something about a little colored boy ‘looking suspicious’ outside the market.”
“Did you check into it?”
“Uh huh,” Jennings replied. “Wasn’t nothin’ to it. I told the kid to run on home and he did what he was told.”
The conversation went quiet for a second and I pictured Daphne Haywood, reverend Haywood’s wife, barging into the station like the officers described. If I had to guess, she laid the dramatics on pretty heavy as usual.
“Sounds like you let him off too easy. He was probably casing the joint,” Daley stated, immediately jumping to conclusions. “If you ask me, letting them get away with that kind of behavior is a mistake. Makes ‘em uppity and nothing good’ll come of it. If I had been here when she stopped in, I would’ve gone down there to teach that boy a lesson myself.”
Jennings chuckled and I rolled my eyes at the sound of it. “Well, maybe next time we’ll both get lucky and you’ll be around if the Reverend’s wife stops in again.” He made a shuddering sound at the mention of another visit from the woman.
They moved on to talk of sports and the latest updates on the war. I stared at the ceiling from my cot, waiting for morning. At some point that lumpy, musty mattress put me to sleep and I was awakened by the gruff sound of my grandfather’s voice.
“Get the hell up, boy!”
I sat up with a start, squinting at the light filtering in from outside my cell. My eyes focused and settled on the scowl set on Grandfather’s face beneath his white beard.
“If you weren’t my kin, I’d take you round back and put this cane to your head.” As soon as the sentence concluded, he lifted said cane into the air for added effect.
Slowly, I stood from the cot, feeling the soreness in my neck and back right away. I took steps toward the bars just as Daley approached with his keys to unlock the cell. I stepped out and Grandfather had me by the collar the next second, toting me alongside him. As soon as we were outside, he snatched his hat from his head and slammed it down into the dirt as he began to pace.
I stood there and watched, waiting for the inevitable.
“What in tarnation goes on inside that head of yours? There couldn’t possibly be a brain in there, ‘cause if there was, I wouldn’t be gettin’ calls at the crack of dawn to drag your sorry rear-end out of jail!” he yelled.
I folded my arms over my chest and rested against the hood of his car, just listening.
“This might not mean anything to you, Jesse Ray Peterson, but I’m a hardworking man.”
I knew he was really pissed when he used my full name.
“It takes a lot of effort to gain and keep the respect of the town’s people,” he went on. “And every time you decide to go out and act like the hooligan you are, it means I have to work that much harder to prove to folks ‘round here that I’m capable of doing my job! Do you have any idea how much trouble you cause? Or do you not care?” he spat.
My hand went to the back of my neck and I rubbed it, trying to keep calm. He was mad, yes, but so was I. Far too often, he seemed to forget that I was a grown-damn-man myself and he’d talk down to me like some kid. His only concern was always for himself and how other folks saw him. It never came down to us being family, but I’d come to expect that.
“No disrespect, Grandpa, but… I never asked you to come to my rescue—not today, not ever. Now, if you were really all that concerned with ‘your town’,” I said snidely, “…then maybe you should go round up that no-good cheat, Kyle Bates, and throw him in a cell.”
His face turned red as a beet, standing out even more against his pristine, white suit and dress shirt. He never liked being talked back to, meaning he and I had quite a rocky relationship because I’d never been one to keep my mouth shut.
Not for him.
Not for anybody.
Just when he was getting ready to respond, a car pulled into the lot, the sound of tires on gravel causing his expression to straighten. I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t argue in front of anyone. It’d sully his image.
“Get in the car,” he said through gritted teeth.
I pushed off the hood of his car. “Don’t need a ride.”
Without looking back, I walked in the direction of the store. Eddie and I had plans to make a drop of fresh eggs first thing this morning, so I knew he’d be here. I might be waiting an hour, but that was a better option than sitting in the car and being forced to listen to my grandfather’s rant all the way to my house.
From the sidewalk where I sat, I watched the old man pull off twice as fast as he should’ve been driving. I’d gotten under his skin like always. It burned him up that I was so much like my dad. He never liked him either, never thought he was good enough for my mother; his only daughter.
The sun was already high in the sky, beating down on top of my head while I sat there waiting, watching down the road for the faded red truck my brother would be driving. There was no telling how long he’d be. Cicadas buzzed high in the trees that’d been carved away for our small stretch of specialty shops and the diner. I looked left when the faint sound of a metal bell chimed over the door of the tailor’s shop. Mr. O’Malley tipped his hat my way and then went on to his car. I stared at the building he’d just come out of, or rather at the sign mounted in the window: ‘Whites Only’.
I looked away, choosing to stare down the road again instead. The familiar rumble of our truck could be heard long before it was seen. I was on my feet in an instant, brushing the dirt from my jeans at the realization that my ride was almost here.
Eddie was shocked to see me when he pulled up. He turned off the engine and stepped out, coming toward me.
“Rough night I heard,” he said with a bit of a grin.
I ran a hand through my hair. “Yeah… you could say that.”
It didn’t surprise me that he already knew what’d gone on. If word hadn’t come down from my grandfather, someone who’d been there last night must’ve been running their mouth.
I caught the door when Eddie opened it and followed him inside when he went to talk to the store owner, Mr. Jessup. I waited off to the side while they did their business. With a blood stain on my shoulder and still reeking of booze, I figured that’d be best. When Eddie was done, he brought the crate inside and then we were headed back home.
There was a lot on my mind, so I didn’t do much talking. He noticed and started asking questions.
“From the looks of things, I take it you won.” He chuckled.
“I guess if you consider spending a night in jail winning, then yeah,” I replied. “I guess I did.”
Eddie glanced over at me and then looked back at the road. “Grandpa come down hard on you?”
I exhaled sharply. “The usual,” was all I said.
I’d been getting into trouble since I could walk, according to my mother, so my grandfather and I had this routine down to a science. At this point, I was kinda numb to it all.
I rested my forehead against the window and stared out of it while my brother drove. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Honeywell. I loved the town itself, but could’ve done without most of the people. Kyle’s cheating ways and my grandfather’s self-centeredness were a small sample of what this place had to offer, but the two represented the population with surprising accuracy. It was enough to push thoughts into my head that I don’t have often.
It was enough to make me wonder what is it, exactly, that holds me here.
❤ Chapter Two ❤
Cooking, mopping floors, washing clothes, and mending dresses made for a mundane routine. By the time the sun rose, my shadow had already darkened the Haywood’s doorstep. My feet were still tired from the previous day’s work, but I was here, ready to serve the Reverend, his wife, and their two daughters, Macy and Lydia, all the same.
My bike was barely stable against the wood siding of the porch when Miss Daphne flung the front door wide open and started in on me.
“Well, good morning, young lady. Look alive! No one wants to watch you mope while breakfast is being served.” Miss Daphne’s soft, wispy voice gave the illusion of being in the presence of a gentle, kindhearted, southern belle. However, only Momma and I knew that to be a lie. There was nothing gentle and kindhearted about this woman and now I knew that firsthand.
All the years my mother had worked doing this very same job for the Haywoods, I found that my complaints about the Reverend and his family only mirrored hers. They were an insufferable bunch—spoiled and ungrateful. However, letting them know what I thought of them wouldn’t exactly make my job here any easier. So, with that, I secured a loose bobby-pin in the side of my bun and did what momma had done all those years… smiled big and reminded myself not to speak unless spoken to.
“The Reverend would like eggs and toast this morning with a side of bacon. He’ll take his breakfast in his study because he’s working on a sermon for Sunday,” Miss Daphne rattled off. “So make sure to keep quiet while getting your chores done, you hear?”
“Oh! And only two sugar cubes in his coffee this time. I’m not sure how you could’ve forgotten that, knowing us as long as you have,” she continued to ramble. “But the Reverend says you must’ve added a third yesterday and that simply won’t do, Quinn darling. He’s very particular about how he takes his coffee.”
Glancing back over her shoulder as we walked the narrow corridor to the kitchen, Miss Daphne cast a smile my way. I managed to return it, but was still pondering her false accusation; the one about me adding an extra cube of sugar to her husband’s coffee. However, defending myself would’ve been a waste of breath.
Just smile and keep that mouth of yours shut, Quinn Dixon. The sound of my mother’s voice filled my thoughts and I gritted my teeth together.
“Will you and the girls be eating anything, Miss Daphne?” I asked, swallowing my pride.
She smoothed her hands down her white apron, one she wore despite the fact that any work to be done around her home would be done by my hands.
“Yes, but I’m not in the mood for eggs.” She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit up. “Why don’t you whip us up a batch of those blueberry muffins you make?”
Whip up… she said that as if no real effort went into preparing special order meals for her and her family.
Another smile. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll get right on that.”
I kept my eyes trained on the yellow flowers that dotted the white linoleum covering the kitchen floor, wanting to keep my conversation with the lady of the house as short as possible. However, just as I thought I might get away, my name was called.
I blew out a breath before turning with a smile on my face. “Ma’am?”
Low-heeled shoes clicked and clacked against the floor when Miss Daphne closed the small distance between us. Her perfect, blonde curls bobbed gently on her shoulders when she did. There was a coldness that existed behind her gaze whenever we made eye contact, so it didn’t surprise me to see it there now.
“When you finish up in the kitchen, be a dear and press Macy’s yellow dress, would you? You know the one I mean—buttons down the front? Has that cute, little flower embroidered near the shoulder?” A smile spread across her face, parting her pale lips. “She’s got special plans this evening and I want to make sure she looks her best. You don’t mind doing that for me, do you, honey?”
I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or insulted that she always worded these special requests as if I had a choice.
“No, ma’am. Of course not. I’ll do that as soon as breakfast is on the table.”
She looked me over with the slightest hint of distaste behind the gaze, assessing my uniform to make sure nothing was out of place, I guessed—opaque stockings, knee-length, gray dress starched, white apron tied around my waist. Realizing that nothing concerning my attire was out of place, her eyes found mine again.
“And one more thing; I know you like to get home before dark, but… tonight’s real special for Macy,” she reiterated. “You do such lovely things with her hair; I was hoping you could stay a little later and make sure she looks her best?”
Words didn’t come immediately, mostly because I was taken aback by the fact that me riding home in the dark, alone on my bicycle, was of no concern to Miss Daphne as long as her little princess’s hair and dress were perfect.
“N-no, ma’am. That won’t be any trouble,” I stuttered, realizing I’d taken too long to answer.
Her head cocked to the side. “Now that’s what I like to hear. Macy will be real happy when I tell her you’re staying to help her get ready. She’s got a date tonight with Edward and Hazel Peterson’s boy? Jesse?”
When I didn’t answer, Miss Daphne giggled. “Quinn… for Pete’s sake, he’s Mayor Bartell’s grandson!”
Bartell was, of course, a name I was familiar with, but I hadn’t bothered to learn the names of our mayor’s extended family. I nodded once and smiled, being as polite as I could while secretly wishing she’d just leave me to my work.
“Well, at any rate, he’s escorting her out on the town this evening and she’s just tickled pink about it.”
My cheeks hurt form all these pretend smiles.
“But I’m boring you and holding you up from feeding that husband of mine, and we both know how cranky he can get when he’s kept waiting too long.”
With that, Miss Daphne turned to head toward the steps. My eyes were set on the spot where she stood long after she’d gone, wondering how my mother had done this day in and day out since as far back as I could remember. I’d only been here for a little over a year myself, but at twenty-one years old, I imagined I still had many more with the Haywoods ahead of me.
When Momma passed, the Reverend and Miss Daphne insisted that I come work for them just like my mother had. With no other job prospects in the foreseeable future, I accepted the offer. There was, of course, the money I brought in the few nights a week I served at Dixon’s—the barrelhouse my sisters, my brother, and I ran on our family’s property—but that was hardly enough. The wages the Haywoods offered were decent and I already knew this house like the back of my hand, so it only made sense.
Their oldest daughter, Macy, and I were practically the same age, give or take a couple years. We’d somewhat grown up together, although our distinct differences were never far out of sight. Miss Daphne made sure that line was never blurred, made sure I never forgot my place even as a child. To her, and to Macy, I was nothing more than the daughter of ‘the help’.
Two slices of bread popped up from the toaster, lightly browned just like the Reverend liked it. I spread a pallet of butter on each before reaching for the jam. Strawberry—one I made and jarred myself about a month ago. It was his favorite and I hated that I even knew that, hated that I had this family’s likes and dislikes memorized. It was one thing to do for folks out of love, but another to do for them out of obligation. The deep-seated resentment growing in my belly seemed to spread with each passing day.
With a heavy sigh, I dropped not three, but two lumps of sugar into Reverend Haywood’s coffee and situated the tray against my hip so I wouldn’t have trouble opening the door to the study. I knocked first and then waited for his reply.
“Come in,” he answered, and I took another breath before entering. “You’re timing is impeccable. I was just growing impatient smelling your cooking and not having a plate in front of me.” He smiled, but I was fresh out of false niceties and the day had just begun.
Without a word, I hastily made my way back toward the door. If asked why I was rushing off, I could blame it on Miss Daphne requesting that I be mindful not to disturb him. However, I knew there were other reasons I wanted out of this man’s study as quickly as possible.
“You didn’t even give me a chance to thank you,” Reverend Haywood crooned, unfolding his napkin to find the fork there. “Everything looks delicious,” he went on, eyeing his plate as I stood on the opposite side of his desk with my hands clasped before me.
“Thank you,” was all I said in return, waiting to be dismissed.
Reverend Haywood added a dash of pepper to his eggs like always, and then placed the crystal shaker back down on his tray.
Why does he still have me standing here? I had muffins to check on, a pot of tea on the stove, and…
“Your hair looks lovely,” he said, cutting into my thoughts as he bit off the end of a bacon strip. His eyes dragged over me from head to toe, finally coming back to my hair pulled away from my face into a bun.
“Thank you,” I repeated dryly, fidgeting a bit.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear it loose,” he added casually, tasting his eggs now.
I did my best not to check over my shoulder for Miss Daphne, but I knew she’d be down at any moment to make sure I was keeping busy.
“Do you wear it like that at home? Loose, I mean?” the Reverend added.
Why is he asking me all these questions?
“Uh… sometimes, Sir. All depends.”
He nodded and bit a slice of his toast, moaning with delight when the jam finally reached his taste buds. A look of sheer pleasure filled his expression. “This is exquisite. I’m positive it’s your best batch thus far.” He chewed and continued to enjoy his food. “I’d ask you your secret, but I’m sure you’d never tell me,” he added with a laugh.
The sound of floorboards creaking from above made us both aware of someone making their way toward the stairs. Reverend Haywood’s eyes fell on me after leaving the place on the ceiling where either his wife or one of his daughters had just crossed on the second floor. A smile was set on his lips, one that conveyed much more than the usual pleasantries, one that made me want to hurry out of the confines of the office I’d already spent far too much time in. He seemed to sense my uneasiness, but continued to hold my gaze.
“I’m taking up too much of your time,” he commented, perhaps suddenly becoming aware of something I’d realized long before. “Don’t let me keep you from your chores.”
I nodded once and immediately turned to leave without a word, feeling his eyes on me as I walked away with hasty steps. I’d barely made it back to the kitchen when Macy stepped in from the corridor, rubbing her fists against her eyes as she yawned. A mess of blonde hair, the same shade as her mother’s, flew in every direction; a sure sign that she just climbed out of bed before making her way downstairs.
“Something smells delicious,” she sighed, bending to peek through the small window on the oven door. I grabbed a teacup down from the cupboard just in time to see the dissatisfied look on Macy’s face.
“Muffins again?” she frowned. “Ugh… didn’t we just have those on Monday?”
“Yes, but your mother asked me to make them again,” I replied.
Macy shuffled away from the oven and plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table, apparently overcoming the need to complain about the breakfast menu. From the corner of my eye I watched her pick at the ends of her hair aimlessly while she thought.
“Did Mother mention that I need my yellow dress ironed?” she blurted when the question entered her mind.
I nodded and bobbed a teabag in the steaming-hot water. “Yes, ma’am, she did.”
“Good, ‘cause everything has to be perfect for tonight. Everything.”
I stared out the kitchen window at the empty clothesline as the first light of morning cast the yard in a pale, orange glow. “I understand.”
“I was thinking you could do my hair like you did it for the spring festival, you know? Nice, but not too over-the-top?”
I walked the ceramic cup over to her and placed a spoon down beside it. “I can do that.”
My answer seemed to satisfy Macy and she paused just long enough to sip her tea. “Mother told you I had plans, but did she tell you with whom?” Her face lit up again.
“She did. Mayor Bartell’s grandson, I believe. His name escapes me at the moment, though.”
The size of Macy’s smile doubled, letting me know she didn’t mind refreshing my memory. “Jesse Peterson. And yes, his mother is Mayor Bartell’s daughter. His daddy owns the big farm just south of the bridge.”
I didn’t respond because I wasn’t sure what farm she was speaking of.
“Oh, come on, Quinn. You don’t live under a rock. You must’ve seen it. You pass it on your way here every day. And you’re always on that god-awful bike, going slow as molasses in January, so it’s not like you could miss it.”
She took my silence as confirmation that I still couldn’t picture it. She waved a hand dismissively in my direction. “Well, anyway, he’s taking me to that dance at McKinley’s in town.”
I couldn’t have cared less what her plans were with this man, but I listened all the same. Didn’t have much choice.
“His mother had him bring by a few items to my mother the other night and, apparently, he was ‘smitten by me’. Mother’s words, not mine,” Macy added, unable to contain her smile. “She ran into Hazel, that’s Jesse’s mother, and they set the whole thing up.” Macy beamed from across the table as she rattled off the details. “What if we really hit it off, Quinn? What if he’s the one?”
Sweet Lord, please shut this girl up.
We weren’t friends, never had been, which meant she was only bragging, not bouncing her thoughts off me. With any luck, she and this Jesse would fall in love and get married so I’d have one less person to straighten up after.
“Macy Jean Haywood,” Miss Daphne called loudly, breaking her own rule of not disturbing her husband while he prepared his sermon. “What on earth did you do with your white high-heels, child? I can’t find them anywhere!” There was a pause before she added. “Am I the only one who cares how you look when that boy shows up tonight?”
Macy rolled her eyes as I set the pan of muffins on the stovetop to cool. “They’re at the back of the closet, Mother,” she yelled back, rising from her seat to aid in the search. “I swear this woman aims to drive me insane, yelling like that this early in the morning. It’s no wonder Daddy’s hiding out in his study.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when Macy walked away. There was no time to sit here and listen to her pine over this Jesse Peterson, or whoever he was, all day. There was plenty of work to be done around here.
To find out what happens when Quinn and Jesse meet, make sure I have you on my email list before the rest of chapter two and chapter three are released next Friday (Dec. 16th)
❤ Thanks for reading and don’t forget to grab a copy of CHASING MOONLIGHT when it releases January 6th. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! ❤