Authors: Sherryl Woods
“Woods is a master heartstring puller.”
Though the serious issues raised are handled with honesty and integrity, Woods's novel easily rises above hot-button topics to tell a universal tale of friendship's redemptive power.”
“Redolent with Southern small-town atmosphere, this emotionally rich story deals with some serious issues and delivers on a number of levels.”
A Slice of Heaven
“Sherryl Woods always delivers a fast, breezy, glamorous mix of romance and suspense.”
New York Times
bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz
“Woods's latest entry in her Sweet Magnolias series (after
) is sure to please fans and entice new readers withâ¦flesh-and-blood characters, terrific dialogue and substantial stakes.”
A Slice of Heaven
“Sherryl Woodsâ¦writes with a very special warmth, wit, charm and intelligence.”
New York Times
bestselling author Heather Graham
“Sherryl Woods gives her characters depth, intensity, and the right amount of humor.”
RT Book Reviews
“Sherryl Woods is a uniquely gifted writer whose deep understanding of human nature is woven into every page.”
New York Times
bestselling author Carla Neggers
WELCOME TO SERENITY
FEELS LIKE FAMILY
A SLICE OF HEAVEN
WAKING UP IN CHARLESTON
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER
THE BACKUP PLAN
ALONG CAME TROUBLE
I'm so excited that the TRINITY HARBOR series is back in print. If you didn't have a chance to read it when it first came out, I hope you'll enjoy your first visit to this charming seaside town and the chance to get to know the Spencers. Any time I get an opportunity to write about the part of Virginia where I spent so many happy childhood summers, it feels like going home to those lazy, sultry days again.
As for Daisy, Bobby, Tucker and, of course, King, there is nothing I love more as an author than writing about families and about small towns. I think in this day and age, when so many of us have scattered around the country, far from our own families, books about families and tightly knit towns remind us of the way things used to be. They give us a sense of the kind of connectedness we long for. I hope you will come to think of the Spencers and all the residents of Trinity Harbor as family and that you'll find that Anna-Louise provides a moral compass in today's increasingly complex world.
After you've read Daisy's story, I hope you'll move right on to Bobby's story in
The best part of these reissues is that all three titles are available now. And in
I guarantee that there's an incredible woman waiting in the wings to spice up Bobby's life and that there will be yet another test of wills between him and his father over just about everything. Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.
All good wishes,
For Relda and Kyle,
with thanks for all the boating background, and for the friendsâold and newâin the “real” Trinity Harbor (aka Colonial Beach, Virginia).
You all keep me inspired.
he whole town of Trinity Harborâprobably the whole state of Virginiaâwas buzzing like a swarm of bees, and whose fault was it? His daughter's. Robert King Spencer slammed down the phone for what had to be the fifteenth time that morning and rued the day he'd ever bred such an ungrateful lot of kids.
Daisy, of all people, his beautiful, headstrong, but previously sensible thirty-year-old daughter, was stirring up gossip like a rebellious teenager. It was exasperating. No, King thought, it went beyond that. It was humiliating.
He had half a mind to go charging over to her place and put a stop to things before she tarnished the Spencer name with her shenanigans, but he'd learned his lesson on that score. A father interfered in his children's lives at his own peril. Better to handle things from the sidelines, subtly.
King could all but hear the laughter of his family and friends at that. It was true, subtlety wasn't exactly his style. Never had been, but for once he could see the value in using other people to do his dirty work. His sons, for instance.
Tucker and Bobby ought to be able to straighten out this mess. Tucker was the sheriff, for goodness' sakes. Maybe
he could wave that badge of his around and get Daisy to see reason.
King sighed. Not likely. Tucker took his duties seriously. He wasn't likely to use his office to carry out his daddy's personal wishes. And Bobbyâ¦well, Bobby was an enigma to him. No telling what he would doâprobably the exact opposite of what King wanted.
That was the way it had been lately. Not one of his children paid a bit of attention to him, or to their Southern heritage. What kind of respect could a man expect in his golden years if his own children went around stirring up the kind of trouble Daisy had gotten herself into?
Respect was important to a man. King had always liked being a mover and shaker in Trinity Harbor. He figured he deserved it, since his very own ancestors had wandered over from Jamestown to start the town. That pretty much gave him the right to have his say about everything that went on, from raising Black Angus cattle or growing soybeans to politics. Most people actually listened. Being a Spencer in this town still meant something. Or it had until a few hours ago.
Nope, it was clear that Daisy didn't give two hoots for tradition or bloodlines or any of the other things that made the South great. She was just hell-bent on getting her own way, no matter what it did to her daddy, her brothers or the family reputation.
It was her mother's fault, of course. Mary Margaretâ God rest her soulâwas the one with the modern ideas. Let her shoulder the blame for Daisy's behavior, even if she had been dead for twenty years. She should have done somethingâthough he couldn't say whatâbefore she went and abandoned them all.
Since Mary Margaret wasn't around to fix things, though, it was up to King to save Daisy from herself. He prided himself on being clever when clever was called for, and today certainly seemed to be one of those days. He had the headache to prove it.
aisy Spencer had always wanted children. She just hadn't expected to wind up stealing one.
Okay, that was a slight exaggeration. She hadn't exactly stolen Tommy Flanagan. The way she saw it, nobody wanted the boy. His father was long gone and his pitiful, frail mother had had the misfortune to die in the recent flu epidemic. The story was the talk of Trinity Harbor and had been for weeks now.
While they searched for relatives, Social Services had placed Tommy with three different foster families in as many weeks, but Tommy wouldn't stay put. He was scared and angry and about as receptive to love as that vicious old rooster Daisy's father insisted on keeping over at Cedar Hill.
Despite all that, Daisy's heart just about broke when she thought of all the pain that ten-year-old had gone through. She figured she had more than enough love to spare for the little boy who'd been one of her brightest Sunday school students, a boy who was suddenly all alone in the world, a boy who'd lost his faith in God on the day his mother died.
Daisy's own faith had been tested half a dozen years ago
when she'd been told she would never have children of her own. The news had almost destroyed her. It
destroyed her relationship with Billy Inscoe, the only man she'd ever loved.
All Daisy had cared about was having children she could shower with love. Adoption would have suited her just fine.
But Billy hadn't been able to see beyond the fact that his fiancÃ©e was barren. Billy had wanted sons and daughters of his own. He'd wanted his blood running through their veins, proof of his manhood running through the streets. He'd wanted to start a dynasty as proud as the Spencers'. When Daisy couldn't give him that, he'd taken back his ring and gone looking for someone who could.
With the exception of Daisy's minister, nobody knew the truth about what had happened between her and Billy. Daisy kept quiet because she'd been so humiliated by the discovery that she wasn't woman enough to give Billy what he thought he needed from a wife. Billy had been discreet for his own reasons.
Her own father thought the broken engagement was the result of some whim on her part, as if she'd turned her back on marriage because she thought someone better might be waiting around the next corner. He couldn't conceive of the possibility that his handpicked choice for her had been the one to walk out, and Daisy had let him have his illusions.
And so, until this morning Daisy had pretty much considered her dream of a family dead and buried, right along with every bit of respect and love she'd ever felt for Billy Inscoe.
The last few years she'd thrown herself into her job
teaching history at the local high school. She was advisor for the yearbook, the drama club and the 4-H. She taught Sunday school classes. She took her friends' children fishing on the banks of the Potomac River and on outings to Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, or Wake-field, the birthplace of George Washington, both of which were nearby. She gardened, nurturing flowers and vegetables the way she'd always wanted to nurture her own babies.
Heaven help her, she'd even brought home a cat for company, though the independent Molly spent precious little time with her mistress unless she was hungry. And as if to mock Daisy, she'd just had her second litter of kittens.
In another era, Daisy would have been labeled a boring spinster, even though she'd barely turned thirty. Frankly, there were times when that was exactly what she felt like: a dull, dried-up old lady. The role she'd always envisioned herself playingâwife and motherâseemed totally beyond her grasp. She was on the verge of resigning herself to living on the fringes of other people's lives, to being Aunt Daisy once her brothers married and had families of their own.
Today, though, everything had changed. Early this morning she'd gone to the garage and found Tommy, cold and shivering in the spring chill. He'd been wearing a pair of filthy jeans, a sweater that had been claimed from the church thrift shop even though it was two sizes too big and a pair of sneakers that were clearly too small for his growing feet. His blond hair was matted beneath a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap, and his freckles seemed to stand out even more than usual against his pale complexion.
Despite the sorry state he was in, the boy had been scared and defiant and distrustful. But eventually she'd been able to talk him into coming inside, where she'd fixed him a breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, grits and toast. He'd devoured it all as if he were half-starved, all the while watching her warily. Only in the last few minutes had Tommy slowed down. He was pushing the last of his eggs around on his plate as if fearful of what might happen once he was done.
Studying him, for the first time in years Daisy felt a stirring of excitement. Her prayers had been answered. She felt alive, as if she finally had a mission. Mothering this boy was something she'd been meant to do. And she intended to cling to that sensation with everything in her. Even Molly seemed to agree. She'd been purring and rubbing against Tommy since he'd arrived.
“I ain't going to another foster home,” Tommy declared, allowing his fork to clatter against his plate in emphasis.
He regarded her suspiciously. “You ain't gonna make me?”
“Because I intend to let you stay right here, at least until things settle down.” Even as she said the words, she realized she'd made the decision the minute she'd seen him.
His gaze narrowed. “Settle down how?”
Daisy wasn't sure of that herself. Her heart had opened up the instant she discovered Tommy in her garage, but she was smart enough to know that she couldn't just
decide to keep him. Frances Jackson over at Social Services was looking for relatives, and there were probably a thousand other legalities to consider. All Daisy knew was that if she had anything at all to say about it, this boy had run away for the last time. Maybe for once, being a Spencer would be a blessing. People might like to gossip about the family, but they tended to bow to their wishes.
“You'll just have to trust me,” she said eventually.
He scowled at that. “Don't know why I should.”
She hid a grin, wondering what made her think this smart-mouthed kid was a gift from above.
She gave him a stern look. “Because I have been your Sunday school teacher since you were a toddler, Tommy Flanagan, and I don't lie.”
“Never said you did,” he mumbled. “Just don't know why I should think you're any different than all those other people who promised I'd get to stay, then kicked me out.”
“Nobody kicked you out. You keep running away,” she reminded him. “Isn't that right?”
He shrugged off the distinction. “I suppose.”
“Why did you do that?”
“They just took me in because they had to. I know when I'm not wanted. I just made it easy for 'em.”
“Okay, then, for however long it takes to find your familyâor forever, if it comes to thatâyou are going to have a home right here with me. And I'm going to see to it that you don't have any reason to want to run away. Don't take that to mean I'm going to be a pushover, though.”
She said it emphatically and without the slightest
hesitation. Her gaze locked with his. “Do we have an understanding?”
“I guess,” he said, apparently satisfied for the moment that she meant what she said.
Relief washed through her. This was going to work out. She could feel it. Daisy didn't even consider the fact that she'd caught him trying to hot-wire her car as a bad omen. Hopefully Tommy wouldn't mention that little detail to anyone. She certainly didn't intend to.
She did worry ever so slightly about the repercussions once word got back to her father, but she was convinced she could handle that, too. She just hoped it would take the grapevine a little longer than usual to reach Cedar Hill. King wasn't as easily won over as a scared kid.
In the meantime, she knew she did have to call Frances Jackson. Frances took her job at Social Services very seriously. Tommy's disappearances were wearing on her nerves. Daisy reached for the portable phone.
“Who're you calling?” Tommy demanded, scowling.
“Mrs. Jackson. She needs to know that you're with me and that you're okay.”
“Don't see why.” He gave her a pleading look. “Couldn't we just keep this between us? You tell her, and the next thing we know she'll have the sheriff over here hauling my butt away.”
“The sheriff won't lay a hand on you,” Daisy reassured him fiercely, but she put the phone back on the table.
“Because the sheriff is my brother and he'll do what I tell him to do.” At least she hoped he would.
Tommy still looked skeptical. “Have you got something on him?”
Daisy chuckled. “Not the way you mean. Just leave handling Tucker to me. It won't be a problem. Besides, when you go back to school on Monday, people are going to want to know where you're staying. We might as well be up-front about it.”
“I thought maybe I wouldn't go back,” he said, looking hopeful. “It's almost summer, anyway.”
“Not a chance,” Daisy said firmly. “Education is too importantâyou can't take it lightly. And there are weeks to go before summer, not days. You will go to school and that's that. Now go on upstairs, Tommy, take a bath and then get a little rest. I'm sure you didn't sleep much last night. There are clean towels in the closet, and you can have the guest room at the end of the hall. If you need anything, just ask. We'll talk some more later.”
Tommy nodded and started out of the kitchen, then paused. “How come you're being so nice to me?”
For an instant he allowed her to see the vulnerable, lost little boy behind the defiant facade. “Because you're worth being nice to, Tommy Flanagan,” she told him.
He seemed a bit startled by that, but he gave a little bob of his head and took off, thundering up the stairs, Molly trailing after him.
“And because I need you as much as you need me,” she whispered when he was out of earshot.
Once again she reached for the phone and made the call to Frances.
“Oh, Daisy,” the social worker murmured when she'd heard what Daisy had to say. “Are you sure you want to do this? Tommy's a real troublemaker. Not that it's not understandable, given what he's been through, but he needs a firm hand.”
“He needs love,” Daisy retorted. “And I intend to see that he gets it.”
“Is there some reason I'm not a fit foster mother for him?” Daisy demanded.
“Of course not,” Frances said, as if the very idea that someone would consider a Spencer unfit was ludicrous.
“Then that's that. Tommy stays here.”
“Until I find a relative,” the social worker reminded her.
“Or not,” Daisy said. “You'll take care of the paperwork, then?”
Frances sighed. “I will. I'll drop it by later for you to sign, though I can't imagine what King is going to say when he hears about this.”
“Then you be real sure not to tell him,” Daisy retorted. “Or I'll make him think this was all your idea.”
Frances was still sputtering over the threat when Daisy hung up. A little grin of satisfaction spread across her face. It was about time she gave the residents of Trinity Harbor something to talk about besides her long-ago broken engagement and her pecan pie.
“Sis, you are out of your ever-loving mind,” her brother Tucker, the local sheriff, told Daisy when he arrived within an hour of her conversation with Frances.
Obviously the instant he'd heard what she was up toâprobably straight from the social workerâTucker had hightailed it over to lecture her as if she were sixteen instead of thirty. Hands on hips, he was scowling at her as if she'd committed some sort of crime, instead of simply seizing the opportunity that had been presented to her.
“That boy's going to land in juvenile detention,” he declared in his best doom-and-gloom tone. “You mark my words. Doc's caught him stealing comic books. He broke Mrs. Thomas's window. And he rode his bike through Mr. Lindsey's bean patch and mowed down most of his plants. Something tells me that's just the things we know about. There could be more. He's headed for trouble, Daisy.”
Daisy stared right straight back into Tucker's eyes, ignored his stony expression, and countered, “Well, of course he isâ¦unless someone steps in and does something.”
“And that has to be you?”
“Do you see anybody else who's willing?” she demanded. “He's already run through half the foster families in the area. As for those pranks of his, you and Bobby did worse and nobody did more than call Daddy to complain.”
“That was different.”
Tucker squirmed uneasily. “It just was, that's all.” He tried another tack. “When Dad hears about this, he is going to go ballistic.”
She shrugged off her brother's assessment as if it was of no consequence. “Dad is always going ballistic about one thing or another. Usually it's you or Bobby who gets him all worked up. It's about time I took a turn. Being King Spencer's dutiful daughter is starting to wear thin.”
“You'll get your heart broken,” Tucker predicted, his expression worried. “You can't just take in some stray kid and decide to keep him. That's no way to get what you want, Sis.”
Her big brother knew better than anyone how desper
ately she wanted a family. He had been the one to console her when Billy had walked out, leaving her convinced she would never marry. Even without knowing anything more than the fact that Billy was the one to break the engagement, Tucker had wanted to throttle the man. Daisy had persuaded him not to, assuring him that Billy Inscoe wasn't worth another second of their time, much less the risk of an assault charge that could ruin Tucker's career in law enforcement.