Nora Roberts Land

By: Ava Miles

“No,” her mother and sister replied.

Her parents embraced her one at a time. She held on, taking in their smells with a fond smile. Mom used lemon verbena lotion. Dad’s turpentine odor from his hobby—furniture restoration—never faded.

Seeing the toll her dad’s health problems had taken on them, she was glad she’d made her decision to come home for three months. It was the first time she’d looked at her parents and thought they were getting old. The house they had rented in Sedona would provide the needed retreat, and since Sedona was only a day’s drive, they could pop back to Dare when they wanted. She’d never met anyone who loved to drive like her parents did.

Her mom hugged her again. “I’m so glad your boss agreed to let you have some time. You don’t know what it means.”

Meredith caressed her back. “It’s okay, Mom. I’m glad I can help.”

The anchor usually dragging her heart down to her stomach disappeared. Here, people loved her. Here, she could be her true self with no fear of betrayal. She could laugh and relax. Let down her hair a bit. For way too long, she’d felt like she was wrapped up tight in saran wrap.

Arthur Hale stepped forward from behind her parents. “About time you got here,” he muttered, tapping his cane near her foot. “Give your grandpa a kiss.” He bussed her cheek, his red hot candy breath making her smile. He squinted down at her, a white shock of hair falling over his brow. “Well, I see you reverted to being a red head again. Good. You never were a blond bombshell.”

She squeezed his arm lightly, his weathered skin tough like faded leather. “Thanks, Grandpa. You sure know how to turn a girl’s head.”

He poked her—a strong jab for a seventy-five year old man. “I turned plenty a girl’s head before I met your grandma. So, you’re going to be my new protégée, huh? I suppose you’ll do.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Oh, I’ll do all right.”

He nudged her with his cane again, peering at her through his glasses. “It’s what families do, helping out.”

“I know it.”

Her heart clutched when her mom wiped away a tear. Oh, God, her mother never cried. When her dad grabbed her hand, she looked frantically at Jill. Her sister was wiping a tear away too. Her insides slithered to the floor. It really was bad.

Grandpa stepped closer, candy clicking against his teeth. “I heard your jerk of an ex-husband is thinking about running for the Senate. How are you taking that?” His silent stares could be intimidating. Arthur Hale had a way of sizing people up and looking into their souls.

She dropped her gaze as a flood of rage burst through her. Digging through her purse for her car keys, she averted her eyes. “It’s his business, isn’t it?”

“Oh Grandpa, give it a rest,” Jill interrupted. “You’re spoiling her homecoming. Don’t make me take your cane, old man.”

He growled. “The girl has no respect for her elders.” But he ruffled Jill’s hair and stepped down. “Fine. I’m glad your boss didn’t give you any trouble and that your dad can take some time off. I don’t want him to have another heart attack. Hell, he’s only fifty-two. He’s got my dad’s infernal genes.”

“He’ll go a few more miles, Arthur,” Meredith’s mother said with a smile. “Yes, we’re grateful to your boss. Please tell her thanks again for me, Mere.”

She smiled. “Mom, you’ve said that about a hundred times. I’ve told her.”

“Well, it’s so generous of her.”

“I’ll be…working on a few things for her.” She didn’t dare say what. If it got out she was planning on trying to find true love Nora Roberts-style and writing about it, everyone would be talking about it in their small town. There was no way she was opening herself up to that scrutiny. Plus, she wasn’t sure how the local guys would feel about her article. If she were a guy, it would be a definite turn off.

“Easy for Karen to be generous. She’s not paying for it,” Arthur huffed. “Girl’s charging me highway robbery for her salary.”

“I’m worth it.”

“We’ll see, girlie.”

Her mom took her purse. “Honey, I made all your favorites. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn. Lemon meringue pie for dessert.”

Her dad patted his medium-sized girth. “Your mom’s giving me a free pass today from my diet. I owe you, Mere. If I have to eat any more fiber, I’ll—”

“Oh, put a sock in it, Alan,” her mom ordered. “It’s for your own good.”

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