Over to Mary...
I grew up in a very small town in northwest Pennsylvania with two older brothers and a younger sister. Small town people are very interesting and looking back, I’m fascinated by the speech, the nuances, the fact that when the owner of a small shoe store died, the sign on the door said ‘Closed due to Joe’s funeral.’ No one in town needed to ask who Joe was, just like I can still call the post office there and mention our family name and that starts a domino who’s who. My mother, at eighty-three still lives in the same house where we grew up and has the same phone number; quite telling, isn’t it?
When I was a child, there were no malls, no McDonalds, and one movie theater that closed in the summer to avoid competition with the drive-in. (One man owned both.) We drove twenty miles to the eye doctor and if we were very fortunate, we got to stop at the new Wendy’s on our way back home for a single burger and fries. We were sadly lacking in funds but so was just about everyone else in our town which made us feel pretty normal.
What we did have was a wonderful library…about two miles away. I walked there at least once a week and fell in love with the characters and places I read about. It was then I began creating different endings to some of the stories I read, and if I didn’t want the story to end, I continued it on in my head—exactly the way I wanted it! Though I moved away and lived in different cities and states, family and the small town community have always stayed with me and are often central themes in my stories.
Holly Springs, New York – setting for PULLING HOME
Holly Springs, New York is a small town filled with curious people who have formed their own opinions— right or wrong—based on hearsay, past histories, and events woven together. One such tale has to do with the heroine, Audra Valentine Wheyton. The town long ago passed judgment on her and her dead mother…the pulse and sentiment of the community is felt in the words of the coffee klatch, a group of older women who gather several times a week at the home of Audra’s mother-in-law, Alice, a woman who has known her own share of grief and heartache and despite being a kind and God-fearing woman, can’t forgive Audra for stealing her son away.
I chose a small town setting for the intimacy and also to show what can happen when unfounded rumors are taken to heart. Holly Springs has long been Audra’s biggest enemy but may end up being her savior….
She’ll risk anything to save her child…even the truth
It’s taken nine years and a cross-country move, but Audra Valentine Wheyton has kept her secrets safe. She’s created the perfect life—a husband who loves her, a daughter she adores, and a position as head writer for an award-winning daytime soap. When her husband dies suddenly, Audra returns to her hometown for the funeral and faces a community that has not forgotten her meager beginnings and a man who has never forgiven her for marrying his brother.
Jack Wheyton is a successful pediatric neurosurgeon who is about to become engaged when Audra walks back into his life with her daughter. He forgave his brother long ago for taking something that had been his, something he hadn’t even realized he wanted until it was gone. But forgiving Audra is another story…and forgetting her? Near impossible.
When a shattering illness strikes Audra’s daughter, she turns to Jack to save her child and risks exposing a secret that will change their lives forever.
Jack hugged his aunt, relieved for the few extra seconds before he had to confront his brother’s wife. When the Heaven Scent threatened to send him into a sneeze attack, he eased from his aunt’s grasp and pecked her cheek. “I know, Aunt Ginny, I know.” Then he straightened and faced her.
She wasn’t nineteen anymore, that was damn sure. Her breasts filled the pink sweater and he could guess at the tell-tale signs of ample cleavage rimming her bra, despite the absence of a neckline. His eyes were trained in female body parts which had nothing to do with his medical expertise. Jack knew women’s bodies, knew how to please them, knew how to drive them wild.
He’d known how to do both to her. Seven weeks of pure lust. He’d never told a soul about it. Had she? He glanced down which proved another fatal mistake as he caught a glimpse of thigh. Were her legs still strong and toned—like they were when she used to wrap them around his back?
“Jack,” Aunt Virginia interrupted his less than brotherly thoughts, “this is Audra Valentine.” She paused. “Christian’s wife.”
There it was, thrown right back in her face. Audra Valentine, the girl from the wrong side of town. In his family’s eyes, she would always be a Valentine first, a Wheyton, second. Jack lifted his gaze and met hers. Huge mistake. Horrible. Disastrous. She still had the most entrancing eyes, like whiskey burning his throat all the way to the lining of his gut. Right now those eyes were staring at him and through him. “Audra.” Somehow he managed to slide her name through his lips without heaving. “I’m very sorry.” Sorry I had to see you again. Sorry I ever touched you in the first place. Sorry I compare every woman I’m with to you.
The huskiness of her voice sent a thousand jolts of electricity through him. Damn her. Damn him. This was his brother’s wife, for Chrissake. But she’d been Jack’s lover first. Or had she been sleeping with both of them at the same time? That was one torture that never left him. He’d find out before she flew back to California, even if he had to pull every beautiful strand of mahogany hair from her head to do it.
She brushed her gaze past him with a coolness that surprised him. The old Audra Valentine wouldn’t have been able to dismiss him so easily. But this one pushed him aside as though he were day-old coffee. Christ, it was going to be a long few days.
“Audra.” Leslie sliced through his thoughts. “Leslie Richot. We never officially met but I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”
Jack cleared his throat. And none of it good. You’re the one who stole the man she was going to marry. He knew that’s what Leslie was thinking, knew that’s what the whole room was thinking.
Audra’s lips pulled at the ends. “I’m sure you have.”
“Leslie’s Jack’s fiancé.” Aunt Virginia clutched Jack’s hand and squeezed.
“Aunt Ginny, that’s not exactly correct.” He snatched a glance at Leslie who watched him with open curiosity.
“Why not? You’ve been seeing this girl for two years, haven’t you? And you’re thirty-five, my boy. Time for wedding bells and babies. No more dilly dallying.” She plumped out her thin lips and nodded. “It’s your duty.”
Heat crept up Jack’s neck, smothered his cheeks and chin. He was thirty-five years old but right now he felt sixteen. “This really isn’t a good time, Aunt Ginny.”
“No,” she agreed, yanking out a crumpled tissue and swiping her nose. “It’s not.” She hiccoughed and the tears escaped, streaking her rouged cheeks.
“Oh, Virginia,” Leslie patted her arm. “I know.” She lowered her voice to a sympathy pitch. “I know.”
Audra glanced at him one last time before he moved toward the casket. He didn’t want to look at his brother. He’d just faced Christian’s wife and he’d certainly not wanted to do that. But this? He swallowed and cleared his throat. This was his little brother, shrouded in cream silk and roses, his lips an unnatural pink, his skin drenched in pancake makeup. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair and it didn’t matter that Jack was a doctor and knew life and death had nothing to do with right and fair.
Two days ago he’d stood beside his mother as she stroked Christian’s cold cheek and told him about the cherry pie she’d baked for him and how she’d bought his favorite horseradish cheese at the deli. Jack’s father grew pastier with each recount and by the time his wife started on about the stuffed pork chops she’d planned for Christian’s welcome home dinner, the old man let out a groan and half limped, half ran from the room.
Jack stood before the casket now but refused to look at his brother’s face. His gaze fell to the hands, clasped together, graceful fingers laced over one another, the gold wedding band glinting love and commitment. Jack squeezed his eyes shut. I’m sorry, Christian. Sorry I ever touched her. Forgive me. God, forgive me.