Authors: Aimee Thurlo
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
TO SAVE HER TOWN
Independence, New Mexico, needs a lifeline, and Myka Solis is determined to provide one. She thinks her craft business can transform the dying town into a vibrant, creative hub. And she knows exactly the person who can help: Joshua Nez, the confident, big-city architect who’s back in town to rebuild his own life.
Thanks to Josh’s expertise, Myka finds herself leading a revitalization effort that draws in the entire community. But working with Josh has to stay a business-only arrangement. Josh has dreams, too, and his involve opening an architecture firm far away from Independence. If only Myka can show him they both have a future in their hometown…together.
“Do you know what I see when I look at you?”
Myka shook her head and waited, almost holding her breath.
“I see a woman who's done her best for everyone, and who never hesitates to lend a helping hand.”
She smiled. “I appreciate you saying that, but that's not what I'm going to see until I find Bear.”
“I wouldn't expect anything less from you,” he said, then kissed her on the forehead. “My dad was very lucky to have a friend like you.”
As she looked up, the tenderness in Joshua's gaze took her breath away. Her heart ached to feel his arms around her, to feel safe and protected again.
Almost as if he'd read her mind, he pulled her to him. She didn't resist. It was too tempting, and even if it was only for a moment, she needed to feel loved for who she wasâ¦.
Many years ago, my grandmother taught me how to crochet and knit. At the time, I’m sure it was simply a way of keeping me busy while she worked on her projects, but her passion became my own. In her way, she inspired this book.
I was crocheting and watching a football game with my husband when I saw a commercial about the plight of small company towns all over the U.S. Due to the recession, many were at a crossroads—having to reinvent themselves or face extinction. That’s when the idea for
was born. It’s a story about the strength our country shows when the chips are down and a community that comes together to survive, finding blessings far beyond economic relief.
Myka Solis and Joshua Nez saw their dreams fall by the wayside, yet they work to rebuild their lives, finding strength in each other and daring to dream again. Christmas is a time filled with traditions large and small. In this season of love and renewal, come and join us in celebrating a true New Mexico style Christmas.
Aimée Thurlo is an internationally known bestselling author of mystery and romantic suspense novels. She’s the winner of a Career Achievement Award from
RT Book Reviews,
a New Mexico Book Award in contemporary fiction and a Willa Cather Award in the same category.
Aimée was born in Havana, Cuba, and lives with her husband of forty-three years in Corrales, New Mexico, in a rural neighborhood filled with horses, alpacas, camels and other assorted livestock. Her husband, David, was raised on the Navajo Indian Nation. His background and cultural knowledge inspire many of her stories.
With special thanks to Sydney Abernathy for her help. You're a terrific assistant!
To Michele Kiser, who helped me by sharing her knowledge of Churro Sheep. Also to State Senator Steve Komadina, M.D., who allowed me to get to know his camels and learn about their wool. You guys were terrific!
was buzzing with the news. The bad boy was back in town.
Joshua Nez had captured the hearts of half the girls in high school. She hadn’t been immune, even though they’d run in different circles. Myka Solis smiled, thinking of those carefree days. She’d been head cheerleader, the quarterback’s girlfriend, and a straight-A student. Joshua had been trouble with a capital
Although her parents hadn’t approved of Joshua, living next door to each other had made avoiding him almost impossible. She’d soon learned that just being around Joshua added a high voltage charge to everything. He’d followed no one’s rules except his own.
Sophie Boyer, her neighbor from across the street, called out to her as she hurried up the driveway.
“I understand he’s coming in with a rental van,” she said, catching her breath.
No need to ask who she meant.
Like Myka, Sophie was dark haired, petite and twenty-eight years old.
“Makes sense,” Myka said. “He’ll have to sort through his dad’s things and pack up everything he doesn’t want to keep. Considering Adam had a lot of stuff, that’s going to be a tough job. I thought I’d offer to help.”
“No, don’t go there, Sophie. It’s just the right thing to do. From what I’ve heard, Navajos don’t like being around the personal possessions of someone who has passed on. I figured I could help him box the stuff he doesn’t want and give it to the church.”
“Yeah, a number of people around here could use the donations,” Sophie said, nodding somberly. “You and I are the lucky ones, despite the fact that my only job is nursing Mom. At least you have your online business while you take care of your parents’ home.”
Sophie’s mother, Millie Boyer, had just turned sixty-seven. She’d broken her hip after a fall last winter and Sophie came home from Albuquerque. As her mom’s primary caregiver, Sophie was paid a small sum by the state, and between that and her mother’s social security, they got by.
Myka suspected there was a lot more to Sophie’s story, but she hadn’t pried. For now, the details of Sophie’s life in the city remained a mystery.
“Did you get a chance to talk to Joshua at Adam’s—I was going to say graveside service, but it was a burial, right?”
Myka nodded. “When his grandfather died years ago, Joshua told me burials take place as quickly as possible. It’s like the belongings of the deceased, a lot of Navajos believe it’s dangerous to be around the body, too.”
“Something about the person’s ghost, I think,” Myka said, bunching the edge of her shirt and tugging nervously at it. Seeing Sophie glance down and taking note of it, she stopped instantly.
“I’m sorry, Myka. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’m sure this brings back all kinds of memories for you. Losing your husband so young...”
“Tanner’s been gone two years.” Myka took a deep, shaky breath. “It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to, but I try to avoid things that remind me so directly...of what happened.”
“I understand,” her neighbor said softly.
Once again, there was that haunting undertone in Sophie’s voice. Myka suspected that life hadn’t been particularly kind to Sophie, either.
“Everything is so different these days,” Sophie added. “An entire generation is disappearing. Mom warned me that things were going downhill here, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until I saw the town for myself.”
Their town, Independence, was dying, and too many of their residents had left already. For the past half century, theirs had been a company town. Independence Vehicle Accessories, IVA, hadn’t been the only domestic supplier of steering wheels and other vehicle interior “hardware” in the nation—far from it—but the plant’s employees had taken special pride in their work. Then, eighteen months ago, the economy took a nose dive, and IVA shut down.
Eventually the auto industry had been bailed out, but unfortunately for the residents of Independence, IVA’s jobs had been outsourced overseas. Now the ties that had made them such a strong, vibrant community were slowly and systematically breaking down.
“By the way, whatever happened to Adam’s dog, Bear?” Sophie asked, cutting into her thoughts.
“He took off the same day Adam died, though that couldn’t have been the reason he left—Adam was in the hospital at the time. I’ve put out food and water, but it hasn’t been touched, except by the birds and stray cats,” Myka said. “I promised Adam I’d take care of Bear. He was my responsibility.”
“He’ll come back. Same way he just showed up one day,” Sophie reassured her.
Myka hoped so. “The two sure hit it off instantly. Adam said that Bear chose his owners, not the other way around.”
“Do you think Josh will adopt the dog—if he comes back?”
Myka smiled. “I don’t think he even knows about Bear, but I hope so. He’s close to two hundred pounds, though, so it’s a commitment.” The mastiff and pit bull mix was really incredibly gentle.
“If Josh doesn’t want him, what’ll happen?”
“I was hoping he’d move in with me.”
“Josh or Bear?” Sophie gave her a wicked smile.
“The dog,” Myka said, laughing.
“I’ll keep an eye out for the big guy.” Sophie took a step toward her house. “I better go check on Mom. She’s having one of her bad days. Thank heavens for her knitting.”
“The sweaters she’s been making for my shop are just gorgeous. Once I post the photo online, I usually have a buyer within a day or two.”
“Her skill and your homespun yarns make an unbeatable combination,” Sophie said. “I’m doing my part by tweeting about your site every chance I get, too.”
As Sophie left, Myka glanced down the street for maybe the tenth time that day. Bertie from the post office had said that Joshua would be back this morning, and she always knew the latest. Joshua had come home last week to bury his father, but he’d returned to San Francisco almost immediately afterward to finish moving out of his apartment. This time, supposedly, he was coming home to stay—at least for a while.
Joshua’s blue pickup was still parked over in his dad’s driveway.
She looked over at the simple, well-maintained wood-framed house next door. It would be good to see Joshua again, at the home where he’d grown up. He’d be a reminder of the old days when her biggest worries had been her grade point average and keeping Tanner from getting past first base.
That all seemed like an eternity ago, long before her perfect life had shattered into a million pieces.
Sitting on her stool beside her low wheel, she picked up where she’d left off spinning the wool into yarn, working automatically, drawing out the fleece to the desired thickness and tension.
A strong gust swept across the porch, carrying a cloud of dust and sand. The wail of the wind through the trees, like that of a crying child, added to the sense of desolation. If the downward spiral continued, in another six months Independence would be nothing more than a ghost town.
The yellow van driving slowly up the street gave her a reason to smile. Maybe that was Joshua at last.
Seconds later, the van slowed at the end of the street, turned, then came to a stop in front of her house.
Joshua climbed out. He was a handsome man, around six foot one with a broad chest and a leggy stride. Today, he was wearing a black windbreaker, a dark blue T-shirt and jeans.
Myka stood up, stepped off the porch and went down the flagstone walk to meet him, reminding herself to remain casual and not walk too fast.
He strode toward her, a ghost of a smile on his lips. “Myka, I’m glad to see you again. I didn’t get the chance to talk to you when we laid Dad to rest. You were there, then you were gone.”
His dark eyes shimmered with mystery and the scar that cut across his left eyebrow made him look even more masculine. “You had others waiting for you and I didn’t want to intrude.”
“You wouldn’t have been intruding,” he said. “So what brings you back to the old neighborhood? Did you move back in with your parents?” He glanced at the mailbox.
“For now, kind of,” she said. “After Dad retired, my parents took to the road in their RV and asked me to look after the place. I jumped at the chance. Betty, Tanner’s sister, is living at our old house in town.”
“So you came back to heal in a place that held only good memories,” he said with a nod. “Makes sense.”
“It felt strange at first, with Mom and Dad gone, but your dad was a terrific neighbor. I really miss him.”
“He never mentioned he wasn’t well. If he had, I would have come home sooner.” Joshua rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
“He didn’t think it was serious. He only went in for some tests. He expected to be back home after a few days. His death was a shock to all of us.”
Joshua glanced at his dad’s house, then at her. “I’d heard about Tanner’s accident at the plant. Getting taken by surprise with news like that...I know how it feels,” he said and gave her an impromptu hug.
The second she felt his strong arms around her, Myka’s pulse began to race. That flicker of life took her by surprise. Unsettled by her reaction, she stepped back.
She stared at the ground for a moment, breathed deeply and looked back up at him. “At least Tanner was spared having to see what has happened to the community. Independence is in trouble.”
He acknowledged the real estate signs lining the street. “I’ve seen things like this on the news, but it’s different when it hits home.”
“IVA held the town together. Luxury—American Style.” Myka took another deep breath. “Now that IVA’s gone, the only way we’re going to survive is by reinventing ourselves.”
He smiled. “So you’re still an optimist?”
She shrugged. “What else can you do?”
“You’ll be staying here, then?”
“I’ll try to stick it out,” she said, “but right now Independence feels like a home with all the children gone. I keep hoping a new industry will move in. The plant is just sitting there, the buildings empty.”
“I passed by on the way in,” he said with a nod.
Her sheep began to gather along the north end of the pasture, which stopped at the front corner of the house. Here, the semi-rural neighborhood was still zoned for certain livestock. Joshua smiled and went over to the fence. They readily let him pet them. His touch was gentle and calmed the sheep even as they clustered around.
This was a side of Joshua few ever got to see, particularly back in the day.
“I feel as if I’ve stepped back in time,” he said. “You still have your
sheep. More head than ever, too, if I remember correctly.”
“You bet. They’ve allowed me to fend off the bill collectors. I spin and dye the wool and then sell the yarn on the internet through my store, Myka’s Wooly Dreams.”
“Now that’s the Myka I remember. You always had a knack for turning a bad situation around.”
“Life doesn’t give us much of a choice sometimes,” Myka said softly. “So what are your plans?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Not yet anyway. I need time to figure out my next move. I had to close my architectural firm. My partners and I couldn’t make it work. The downturn in housing hit our company hard. We hung on as long as we could, but in the end, we all knew what had to be done.”
“Yes, I’m sorry, I had heard about that. Every time Bertie visits her daughter Andrea in San Francisco she brings back the latest news.” She felt helpless and didn’t know what else to say about his career, so she changed the topic. “I gather you and Andrea remained good friends.”
He nodded. “She and I would get together for lunch when we could and catch up. It was good to see a familiar face from time to time.”
“And now, here we are,” Myka said.
“Looks like I’ll be fixing up Dad’s house and putting it on the market.” He stared straight out at the for sale signs and didn’t so much as blink. “If you hear of anyone who might be interested, let me know.”
“It’s really a buyer’s market right now,” she warned, even though she knew she didn’t have to.
“I’ll do what I can to spruce up the place and see how it goes.”
Life’s hard knocks appeared to have toughened him and that only added to the raw masculinity that was so much a part of Joshua.
She tore her gaze from his and walked back to her porch. She climbed the three steps.
“That’s one of my nicest memories of home—you spinning yarn out on the porch,” he said, walking to the porch rail.
“This is when I’m happiest. But my days here are numbered unless something more lucrative comes along. I’m a good bookkeeper—one of the last people IVA let go. Despite that, I haven’t been able to find anything in the area, not even over in Painted Canyon, and they’ve got that big mining operation just north of the city.”
“If I was still in business, I would have offered you a job,” he said.
“Running your own company was your dream even before college. It must have been tough walking away.”
Joshua looked out across the valley. “It was, and starting over is going to be even tougher. After you’ve had your own company and called the shots, it’s harder to work for someone else.”
She stood beside him with the porch rail between them. “We each got what we wanted, but we just couldn’t hold on to it.”
“Myka, I’m sorry life’s been so rough on you,” he said, brushing his knuckles across her cheek.
His unexpected touch startled her. As she saw herself reflected in his gaze, she stepped back. She didn’t want pity.
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask,” she blurted. “Sometimes just talking to someone can make things easier.”
“Thanks,” he said. “It was good seeing you here today, Myka, but I better get busy.”
“Before you leave, I need to tell you about Bear,” she said, and explained about his father’s missing pet.
He shook his head. “This is the first time I’ve heard about Dad having a pet. I hope he’s okay, but I can’t keep a dog. I don’t know how long I’ll be staying, or even where I’ll be living six months from now.”
“Then if it’s okay with you, I’d like to keep him. Will you let me know if he comes back or if you see him? You can’t miss a dog that big. He’s really a sweetheart, so don’t let his appearance or his bark put you off.”