Authors: Morris Fenris
(Second Chances Trilogy, Book 2)
Changing Culture Publications
Copyright 2014 Morris Fenris, Changing Culture Publications
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Castle Peaks, Montana, December 26
“Come on Aunt Sara, we’s got to get our snow peoples built,” hollered four year-old Daniella through the house.
Sara chuckled from the bedroom and looked at her husband of almost two-days, “I think someone is excited to go play in the snow.” She chuckled again when the delightful sprite in question came tripping into the room, borrowed snow boots slapping against the floor and the oversize coat she wore hanging to her knees.
Trent Harding tried to contain his laughter, but the little girl that had arrived several days prior with her mother had stolen the heart of everyone she met. Her mother, his wife’s sister Grace, had been brought to Castle Peaks by his good friend and former FBI buddy, Samuel Drackett.
In a course of unwinding events, Sara had landed in Castle Peaks, sick, scared, and running from a man she thought had been the answer to her Christmas wish. In actuality, he had been an imposter, using the import/export company she worked for as a cover for a Colombian drug cartel’s smuggling operation.
He glanced back at his new wife, the woman who had stolen his heart in short order, and nodded towards the door and the little girl who was now stamping her foot in frustration. “You know, this might be her last time to build snow people for a while. Somehow, I just can’t see snow people made of sand going over real well.”
Sara chuckled at the horrified look upon her niece’s face, “Uncle Trent, that’s silly. You can’t build snow people out of sand. The tide would wash their feet away and then they would fall over.”
Trent and Sara both laughed at the look of outrage upon her face. Nodding his head, he solemnly agreed, “Daniella, you are right as always.”
Sara slapped him on the shoulder and loudly whispered, “Please don’t encourage her. I can’t imagine what her new preschool teacher is going to think.”
Daniella and her mother, along with Samuel, and Trent’s aunt Jane were leaving to head back to California first thing in the morning. Jane Trowler had come to live with Trent and his parents almost fifteen years ago after the tragic death of her husband while serving overseas. Kenneth had served his nation proudly in the U.S. Marine Corps, and had died after an IED struck the Humvee his was riding in while on patrol in Afghanistan.
Trent’s mother, Jane’s sister, had insisted she come live with them for the short-term and fifteen years later, she was still an integral part of the family.
Trent’s parents had left to travel the world before settling down and enjoying their retirement and Jane currently occupied the small guesthouse on Trent’s property, cooking and keeping house for him.
With the addition of his new wife, she had become obsolete, though neither Trent nor Sara had made her feel that way. Rather, Sara had convinced her that it was never too late to go after her dreams. Dreams that included warm beaches, sand and surf, and possibly a chance at love once again.
Jane was turning 38 on December 29th and was celebrating by going after one of those dreams. A beach. No snow. No blizzard conditions. No shoveling sidewalks until your fingers were numb and you could no longer feel your nose or your ears.
Just sun, miles of sand, and water as far as you could see. That was her dream; and after watching Sara overcome so many obstacles in the last week, how could she deny herself this one chance at exploring a place she had only dreamt about.
She stood in the hallway, contemplating leaving Castle Peaks with a hint of sorrow in her heart. This house had been home for almost half of her life. Stepping out into the unknown was scary and Jane worried that she wouldn’t be up to the task.
She watched as Trent and Sara exited the room, Daniella chattering away happily between them and wearing an old coat and boots, that Jane had found lying in the attic. They were both so big, she looked like a circus clown, but the little girl didn’t mind. She was focused on playing in the snow with her aunt and newly acquired uncle, and nothing and no one was going to stop her.
Jane smiled at Trent as he saw her standing in the hallway and waved him off when he offered to let her join them, “It might be the last snow you see for a while,” he reminded her.
“That is fine by me. I could live happily for the rest of my life without snow. Millions of people do it all around the world, you know.”
Samuel’s voice spoke up behind her, “Are you sure you won’t miss it? There’s no snow where I live in San Diego.”
Jane waved Trent off and then turned to look at the man who held the key to another of her dreams coming true.
Samuel Drackett, FBI field agent and profiler, had first met Trent while undergoing FBI training at Quantico in Virginia. While Trent had left the FBI soon after joining, to return home and take over the local job of sheriff for Castle Peaks, Samuel had worked his way up the ladder and now was second in command in the San Diego field office.
He had been visiting Trent in Castle Peaks for most of the last ten years, and each time he had arrived, Jane had withdrawn into herself, scared of the emotions the man evoked within her. She would keep hidden as much as possible, and when forced to converse with him, would give one word answers whenever possible. Samuel made her nervous and her feelings scared her. Knowing that he was always a plane ride away from leaving Montana had helped her shore up her defenses against his charm.
This trip however, she had taken Sara’s advice and actually talked to the man. She was amazed at how much alike they were. Samuel was slightly withdrawn and would rather be on the beach, throwing a stick for his German shepherd, Lucky, than enjoying the evening in a crowded nightclub.
“Have you seen the huge pile of snow on the side of the house?” When Samuel nodded with a grin, she placed her hands on her hips and asked, “And how do you suppose that pile got itself there? It wasn’t because the wind blew really hard all in one direction. That snow was shoveled and moved there by human hands.”
Samuel lifted an eyebrow at her statement, having seen the almost six foot high pile of snow that ran the length of the house and was many feet wide in diameter. “Human hands? Are you sure that’s the story you want me to believe?” He raised an eyebrow at her as he waited for her reply.
Finally giving in, Jane laughed, “Well, human hands were driving the small plow that pushed the snow into that pile. That counts, doesn’t it?”
“Fine. But you won’t be shoveling any snow after tomorrow. Have you finished packing, yet?”
Jane nodded; she had finished earlier in the day and was just taking a final walk through the house to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything important behind. She had accepted Grace’s offer of staying in her guest bedroom while she visited California.
She planned to stay at least a month, and was looking forward to not only seeing the beach, but visiting the theme parks, and other attractions southern California had to offer. Grace had also suggested they take a day trip into Tijuana, Mexico so Jane had made sure to put her passport into her hand bag.
Samuel had insisted that he accompany them on that particular road trip and Jane’s heart had tripped a beat as she saw real concern for her safety fill his eyes.
“I finished this morning.”
Samuel looked at Jane as he followed her into the kitchen and asked, “Will you be able to enjoy life without having Trent waiting on you to cook his next meal, or do the next load of laundry?”
Jane smiled, “You make it sound like I’m a servant around here, and that Trent is helpless. I’ll have you know the man actually can cook.”
Samuel nodded, “So can I. Which reminds me, I want you to have dinner with me tomorrow night after we arrive in Cali? I want your first view of the ocean to be with me.”
Jane swallowed and then slowly nodded, “I think I might like that.”
Samuel was suddenly tongue-tied. This woman reached him on a level that no other woman had been able to do. He knew from experience that he needed to move slowly around her, and that she didn’t trust easily.
From what information Trent had shared with him, Kenneth had not only been her high school sweetheart, but her entire life had revolved around him and his military career. She had forgone her dreams of attending the culinary academy in Denver and had followed him to his posts after he had completed basic training.
His last station had been at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the time of his death, Jane and he had occupied base housing. As was the custom of the military, widowed wives were asked to give up their living quarters so that an active military person might have them. Jane had not only been dealing with the death of her husband, but the daunting task of having to move her home.
Trent and his family had come to her rescue. They had driven from Castle Peaks to Colorado Springs, loaded all of her belonging up, and brought her home with them. While they were gone, several men in the community had done a quick remodel of the guest house, fixing the roof, new paint, and updating the bathroom.
According to Trent, Jane had cried for weeks at their generosity and had insisted on paying some sort of rent. That of course had been refused and she had slowly realized that she was as much a part of their family as Trent was.
Samuel watched her flit around the kitchen, making a fresh pot of coffee and then opening another container of decorated sugar cookies. She was more at home in a kitchen than anywhere else and Samuel had already requested information on some of the premier culinary schools in the San Diego area. He hoped that he might entice her to extend her stay; hopefully permanently.
The phone rang just as Jane finished pouring a cup of coffee and she answered it with a cheery voice, “Hello?”
Samuel watched as the happiness fled her body, her shoulders sagging, and tears pooling in her eyes. She tried to hide her emotions from him by dropping her head, and Samuel took the few steps needed to reach her side, murmuring, “Jane, do I need to get Trent?”
When she looked up at him with watery eyes, he couldn’t resist pulling her to his chest for a hug. Letting her go, he heard her murmuring to the person on the other end of the line and he quickly headed for the back door.
He spied Trent hiding behind a tree, a snowball in each hand as Sara and Daniella stalked him from around the side of the house. He hated to interrupt their fun, but he had a feeling the phone call was one everyone had been waiting in dread upon.
“Hey, Trent,” he called softly.
Trent lifted up his head, saw Samuel standing in the open doorway, and immediately knew something was terribly wrong. Coming out from behind the tree, he tossed the snowballs to the ground and hollered at Sara, “Time for a break. I’ll be right back.”
Daniella started to pout and Sara longed to go after Trent, but her niece wouldn’t be denied and soon she was actively involved in another snowball fight, this time with a four-year old who screamed like a banshee.
Trent entered the house, a question upon his face.
Samuel nodded towards the kitchen, “Phone call. Jane’s on the line right now. Man, I don’t think it is good news.”
Trent’s heart fell. He entered the kitchen, taking the receiver that Jane held out to him. She was barely holding herself together and he longed to comfort her. Glancing at Samuel, he saw there was no need. Samuel would take care of it.
Trent answered the phone call and listened as Dr. Baker told him that Miriam Mercer had passed away peacefully at 2 a.m. that morning. Bill Mercer still had his children at home with him, and had requested the funeral service be handled immediately.
Miriam Mercer had requested that her body be cremated and special permission had already been granted by the forest service to spread her ashes out over the mountains she so loved. That wouldn’t be possible for more than a week, but the memorial service and a chance to say “Goodbye” to a dear friend, beloved wife, mother, and honored woman of the community could be held any time.
Bill had promised his wife that a memorial service would be held quickly after her death so that people could say their final farewells and then move forward with their lives. Bill had objected at first, but after the last week of seeing her pain free at times and enjoying her last minutes on the earth, he knew that she was right.
“Trent, Bill asked if you would speak a few words at the service tomorrow morning.”
“I’d be honored to. What time is the service?” he asked, hoping that it would be held such that Jane could attend before boarding the plane for California.
“Pastor Jameson has the service schedule for 10 o’clock. The children have all been contacted and have agreed to perform again as well.”
Trent nodded his head, “Let me know if you need anything else before tomorrow.”
“Bill asked to see Sara before the service. I don’t know why.”
“I’ll make sure we arrive in plenty of time for that. Again, call if you need anything else. I take it the coroner already has the body?”
“Yeah. I didn’t see any reason to delay things. I’ve already signed the death certificate. I hate this.”
“I’m with you on that. She was a very special lady. The entire community will miss her.”
“More than we even know. Hey, I need to fill out a couple more forms. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
Trent hung up the phone to see Sara standing in the doorway, tears running down her face. She had convinced Daniella that mommy needed her inside and Grace had taken charge of her daughter, giving the other adults a chance to deal with their emotions.
Trent opened his arms and Sara walked into them, wrapping her arms around his waist and laying her head upon his chest. “She’s gone?”
“Yes, early this morning. The service is tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”
Sara lifted her head, “So soon?”
Trent nodded, “Miriam didn’t want anyone dragging things out and prolonging dealing with her death. She wanted everyone to move on with their lives.” Trent paused for a moment and then told her, “Bill wants to see you before the service.”
“Of course. He must be taking this so hard. I’ve never seen two people more in love after all those years of marriage.”
“They were role models for many young couples in the community, that’s for sure. Dr. Baker said that Bill has his kids with him and seems to be doing fine. I think the fact that she was able to spend her last few days relatively pain free helped tremendously. He has you to thank for that.”
Sara shook her head, “No. I didn’t do anything that any other compassionate person wouldn’t have done. If you or Dr. Baker had known how to relieve her pain, you would have in a heartbeat. I’m only glad that I was able to offer them both some comfort and relief.”
Trent kissed the top of her head and then released her, “Did Daniella put up a fight, coming indoors?”
Sara gave him a small smile, “Not really. She was getting tired and falling down more often than she was standing. If I’m not mistaken, she’s probably already taking a much needed morning nap.”
“Good. I need to go talk to Jane.”
Sara hugged him one last time, saying, “Go.”
She watched the love of her life exit the kitchen, saying a silent prayer that they would never have to go through the tragedy and heartache of losing each other.