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Authors: Lily Cahill

Tags: #Sci Fi Romance, #Romance, #Historical Romance, #Superhero Romance

Sparked

BOOK: Sparked
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SPARKED

 

Lily Cahill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, are entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 Nameless Shameless Women, LLC

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1514843552

ISBN-13: 978-1514843550

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

One: Cora

 

It seemed like no matter how hard Cora scrubbed, she couldn’t get the floors clean. The tired, stained linoleum had been laid down by her grandfather, Jude Hollis, in 1904, and that was fifty years ago now. It looked every bit of its age.

“And,” her little sister Bethany continued, scrubbing next to Cora while she talked, “Ella said the bonfire this year is supposed to be the biggest one ever.” Her bright blue eyes danced with excitement from behind her dark hair.

The 72nd annual Firelight Festival was tonight, and Bethany had been begging Cora to go all day. Cora thought back to when she was thirteen, but she was sure she’d never been as excited about anything as Bethany was right now.

“I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time,” Cora said.

She had no intention of going. The Firelight Festival was for two kinds of people: children and lovers. At nineteen, Cora felt ages past childhood. And she’d certainly never had anyone in her life who fit the description of lover.

“Please come. You’ll have such fun.” 

“I don’t see why you can’t just go on your own,” Cora said. “Ella will be there, won’t she? And Laurie?”

“But I want
you
to come,” Bethany said, having stopped scrubbing altogether now.

“There’s still so much to do.”

Lord knew she couldn’t count on her father to help out around the house. Or her older brother, Butch. They were both as big as they were useless. But she was determined not to let Bethany grow up in squalor. They may not have much, but at least they could have a clean home.

“You finished the baking, and Mrs. Felder doesn’t expect her mending back until Monday,” Bethany said.

“I was hoping to get to the upstairs floors, too. And we’re past due planting the garden. It’s full of weeds, and if we don’t get it seeded soon we’ll miss out on all the early summer rain.”

“You can’t plant a garden at night.”

“But I can get ahead on the mending so I can plant it tomorrow.”

“I’ll help you.” Bethany bent into her task again, scrubbing hard and fast. The sight of it sent a pang through Cora’s heart.

“School’s out. You should be enjoying your summer, not stuck here working.”

“I don’t mind. We’ll get it done tomorrow, I promise,” Bethany said. “Please, Cora? Just come. It’s going to be magical.”

Cora sighed. Maybe Bethany was right. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done anything but work. Perhaps a little entertainment would do her some good. She dropped her rag in the bucket and wiped her hands on her apron.

“All right,” Cora said. “But just for a little while.” 

Bethany leapt up and squealed in delight. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You won’t regret it, I promise.” She tugged Cora to her feet and toward the door.

“Slow down. It doesn’t even start until dark. Besides, I need to get ready first,” Cora said. “Look at me. I’m a mess.”

A mischievous grin rose on Bethany’s mouth. “All you need is a little shower.” Bethany snatched the bucket and crept toward Cora.

“Don’t you dare,” Cora warned.

Bethany inched closer as Cora backed away.

“I’m warning you,” Cora said. “Do you want me to change my mind about tonight?”

Bethany hesitated, and Cora used the moment to dash outside into the warm, late-May sunshine. 

The cold splash hit her shoulders just as her foot hit dirt. Cora shrieked and turned to face Bethany, laughing, as water cascaded down the front of her dress.

“You little snot,” Cora said. She chased after Bethany and caught her into a giant hug, soaking her in the process.

“My dress!” Bethany giggled. 

“That’s what you get. Now run inside and get ready,” Cora said. “If we’re going out, we’re going to look our best.”

 

Cora showered and let her dark brown hair dry into its natural, soft waves while Bethany took her turn in the bathroom. There wasn’t much to choose from in her closet, so she settled on what was the newest—a simple cotton day dress she used to wear to school. It was four years old, and the white and blue plaid brought out her deep blue eyes. The three-quarter sleeves were perhaps a bit too long for summer, but it would do.

At least it still fit her well. She had sewn the dress herself with fabric she’d found in the bargain bin at the general store. It was a particularly lucky find, and she’d worn the dress until graduation. Cora hoped that the darkness would hide the wear around the collar and the tear she had long ago mended near the hemline.

She opened the bathroom door and had to stifle a giggle. Bethany was looking in the mirror and pinching her lips with her fingers. Then her cheeks. Then her lips again.

Then Cora realized what she was doing. There wasn’t lipstick in the house or money to buy it. Cora hadn’t worried about such things before. She didn’t care about them herself, but Bethany was different. She was just at the age where makeup and dresses were starting to become very important. 

Then Cora remembered a little trick her mother had shown her many years ago. What had she been? Five? Six? It couldn’t have been long before Bethany was born, and therefore not long before their mother had died.

“Stop pinching yourself or you’ll split your lip,” Cora laughed. “I have a better idea.”

She ran down to the root cellar and brought up a beet and a knife. 

“Making a salad?” Bethany asked, eyeing her warily.

“The juice is just as red as lipstick,” Cora said. “Here, I’ll show you.”

She cut it open and rubbed the flesh with her finger, then dabbed the red juice onto her lips. Granted, it was a bit more purple than real lipstick, but the darkness would mask the tone.

“Mama taught me. Want some?” Cora asked.

Bethany nodded and Cora dabbed her lips. The two girls smiled into the mirror. Cora may have been plain, but Bethany was beautiful. She looked like a little woman. She was growing up so fast. So fast and so slow. Sometimes Cora longed for Bethany to grow older so the two of them could finally leave this little mountain town together. 

Other times, she wished for Bethany to stay a little girl forever. The longer she remained a child, the longer her happiness would last. As far as Cora was concerned, age only brought more work and a cold realization of the world’s harshness. But tonight, Bethany could still be young. She could laugh and dance and whisper with her friends. And that was exactly what she was going to do. 

Cora squeezed her sister’s shoulders and kissed her on top of the head.

“Ready to go?”

“Ready.”

 

The air on their walk to town was cool and sweet. Independence Falls was nestled in the Rocky Mountains between two peaks—Mount Desolation, which was all rock and sheer cliff faces; and Mount Jubilation, whose angles were softer and covered in green right up to the tree line. The two peaks were equally tall, but few had successfully scaled Desolation. The peak had earned its name for a reason; there were many tales of those who had tried and failed to reach its summit. Even the government couldn’t make life take root there. They’d bored a military fortress into that mountain long ago. But now Fort Austen was as empty as the Briggs Mine, abandoned before the war for a larger base.

The mountains served another purpose too—splitting the town in half. The Breakneck River cut between them, passing through Lake Perseverance before tumbling through town to mark a clear divide between rich and poor, old and new. Independence Falls often felt like two towns, not one. They stepped from the shadow of Desolation and crossed the bridge, leaving the sloppy dirt roads of their neighborhood, so-called “Mud Gulch,” behind. East of the river, where Jubilation soared, everything grew cleaner and brighter and better.

In the town square, they passed the soda fountain just as old Mrs. Gunderson trundled past them in her ancient, pre-war Ford. Victorian-era shops towered over them with three stories of tall, stone-linteled windows, each sidewalk freshly swept and each window cleaned to a shine. But no one was inside tonight. All the shops had flipped their signs to CLOSED. Everyone was heading to the festival.

They cut through the park, which marked the heart of downtown with manicured gardens and a wide stone fountain. Bethany babbled away at Cora’s side.

“Ella said that the Briggs Bank donated cookies and punch for the whole town. Can you imagine being that rich? What would you do if you were as rich as the Briggs? I’d buy a houseful of dresses.”

Maybe just leave us alone?
Cora wanted to say, but she didn’t. She knew her own family was mostly to blame for the bad blood between the Murphys and the Briggs. They were the ones who had started it with something so horrible it was hard to even think about. The hundred years since was littered with violent pranks and petty thievery from the Murphy clan, including an incident last fall where her father and brother had run a truck straight into a memorial the Briggs family had just unveiled in front of the town hall. They’d be paying restitution on that little fiasco for years to come. She wished everyone would just let the whole feud die.

But she didn’t want to poison Bethany’s mind with her own sour thoughts. Tonight was supposed to be happy, fun. Let the girl have her wonder over free punch and cookies.

“I can’t imagine a house full of dresses would do you much good,” Cora smiled. “How could you wear them all?”

“I’d have morning dresses and afternoon dresses and night dresses. And special dresses for tea parties and dancing at the supper club.”

“That sounds exhausting. Your whole day would be changing clothes.”

“Don’t be so serious. You know what I mean,” Bethany said as a hot rod full of teenagers sped by blasting “Rock Around the Clock” at full volume. “What would you buy?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it.” Someone in the Murphy family had to be practical. Cora only ever allowed herself to dream of things she knew she could reach. Anything else was just a recipe for heartbreak.

“Come on, you have to have thought of something,” Bethany said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to figure out how to earn all that money, instead of wasting so much time thinking about what you’d do if you already had it?”

“Oh, Cora. That’s not half as much fun.”

“It is to me,” Cora said, and she meant it. “Imagine how happy you’d be buying your own dress with your own money. You’d love that one dress so much more than being born with a closet full of them, don’t you think?”

“You’re a real party pooper, you know that?”

Cora laughed. “You’ll see what I mean someday,” she said as they passed the statue of Mamie Watkins—the town’s founder and a notorious madam—and joined the crowds of lovers and families crossing the final distance to the beach, the last rays of the sun dipping behind the mountains in front of them. She longed to be free of her life here, but the pink sky against those mountains always took her breath away. 

At last they arrived at Lake Perseverance—clear and wide and shining, even with the sun gone. The bonfire was already started on the beach, giving a warm glow to all that surrounded it. And everywhere she looked, people were holding candles.

“Here you go,” Bethany said, taking two candles from an old barrel and handing one to Cora. “What do you want to do first?”

There were booths scattered across the beach—a ring toss and an apple bob and a kissing booth. There was a dunk tank and a bell-ringer and a table of pies to be judged. Cora spied at least two of her own on the table, but she’d never tell which of the town ladies had paid her for them. If she were counting, she would have at least four blue ribbons from baking contests just this year. Cora couldn’t say anything, of course, and it wasn’t exactly popular to admit that you bought your pies from a Murphy. 

“Cora?” Bethany asked, tugging on her elbow. “Where should we start?”

“You pick.”

“Oh! There’s Ella and Laurie!” Bethany said. “Are you coming?”

“No. You go on ahead.”

“Okay. But you’ll try to have fun without me, won’t you?”

“I’ll try,” Cora smiled.

Bethany kissed her on the cheek then disappeared into the crowd. Cora had known it would happen the moment they arrived, which was part of the reason she’d protested coming in the first place. But no matter, it was good to see her sister happy, having fun with friends.

BOOK: Sparked
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