Part One: Absentminded Angel Out-takes, Prologue and Chapter One

Part One: Absentminded Angel Out-takes, Prologue and Chapter One

Out-takes Part One Fashion portrait of nude elegant woman

Author’s Note: This series of blog posts includes out-takes from Absentminded Angel by Heather Rainier. I hope you enjoy them. If you haven’t read Absentminded Angel in its released form, these scenes may be confusing as they were cut from varying places in the story. I’m posting them for the enjoyment of readers who are familiar with Divine, Texas, or would like to become familiar. 😀  My recommendation would be to read Absentminded Angel prior to reading these.

What follows is the original opening of Absentminded Angel. I took readers back to the day Presley Ann gets the piece of news that changes her life forever.

 

Prologue

 

March…

“This can’t be happening,” Presley Ann Woodworth whispered, barely able to get the words out. She broke out in a cold sweat. “This can’t be happening. Are you sure?”

Dr. Emma Rivers patted her shoulder and gave her a compassionate smile. “Very sure. A lot of women don’t notice symptoms for at least a couple more weeks but the tests indicate you’re pregnant. At the next visit you’ll be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat.”

“My baby’s heart—” Her throat closed up as panic tightened its grip and cold chills of shock shimmered across her arms. Her cashmere turtleneck felt like it was choking her.

Doctor Emma laid a form on the examining table and then removed a couple of pamphlets from the drawer by the sink. “I’ll leave these with you to look over once you catch your breath. Stop into the lab next door to our office and they will draw blood for the lab work we need done.”

“Draw blood? Lab work?” She felt like an idiot parroting everything Emma said.

Emma reached for the rolling stool, sat down on it, and scooted over into Presley Ann’s field of vision where she sat in the straight back chair. “You do have options, Presley Ann. We can talk about them at the next visit. Maya specializes in prenatal and maternal care and can also answer your questions if you need to call in after you get home. For now, just take a few minutes and breathe if you need to. We’re in no rush for this room. Just get the blood work taken care of before you leave.”

“That’s probably best, since I’m likely to forget otherwise.”

Emma just smiled and nodded. Presley Ann wanted to cringe as she replayed her words in her mind. What kind of mother forgot to take care of necessary things like blood tests? No. What kind of dingbat, you mean.

Taking a deep breath, Presley Ann rose from the chair, trying to disguise her shock as she adjusted her Coach handbag on her shoulder. Her feet were like ice in her Louboutins and cold sweat trickled at her temples and between her shoulder blades as she followed Doctor Emma out of the exam room and into the hallway.

“Saltines and ginger ale may help with the nausea. Just remember several small meals throughout the day are better than three larger ones.”

Presley Ann didn’t bother asking if two teeny-tiny meals were any better. There went her weight maintenance strategy, a major daily concern up until five minutes ago.

She’d called in earlier that morning for an appointment with Doctor Emma, complaining of nausea and fatigue, thinking she might have the flu. Now here she was. Knocked up.

In a haze, she settled up at the reception counter and mutely nodded when the lady asked if she’d like to set up a time for her first pre-natal appointment. Presley Ann accepted the reminder card the woman filled out for her and then exited the office, stepping out into the atrium that was ringed by other doctor’s offices.

Frosted glass hid the occupants of the waiting room in the dermatology office across the way. Next to it was a pediatrician’s office. Through the tidy, multi-paned windows, children of various sizes could be seen playing with toys or sitting and looking at books in their parents laps in the waiting room.

One young woman sat with a tiny dark-haired infant nestled in a bundle against her chest while her toddler sat looking at a child’s book on her knee. The dark-haired child, obviously the infant’s sibling was chattering non-stop to his mother. And she was surely their mother. There was spit-up staining her shoulder and what looked like wet cracker tangled in the strands of her long curly blonde hair. She looked utterly exhausted, if one was going by the dark circles under her eyes. But then the mother smiled at something the toddler said, and Presley Ann caught a glimpse of something besides the fatigue in her eyes as she stroked the toddler’s cheek. An emotion Presley Ann couldn’t identify.

That mom looked like she didn’t get much sleep but she didn’t seem troubled by it. Presley Ann griped non-stop anytime she had to get up before nine in the morning. Her life had been only about herself up to that morning. I would make a horrible mother.

The mother looked up and their eyes met across the atrium for a split second before Presley Ann looked down at the forms and ordered her feet to put one in front of the other and get her out of there. She didn’t care where.

She wound up in the back entry and her attention was drawn to the fountain located in the midst of crape myrtles that were still dormant from the long winter. Someone had recently tidied up the landscaping and the fountain was already functioning again. Her feet took her to a bench and she plopped down hard on it and was instantly reminded of the nausea when her stomach lurched.

A baby?

She blinked and tears finally overflowed her eyes as she looked down at the forms. Lab work. She’d walked out of the building without stopping at the lab. Feeling wobbly, she put her fingertips to her forehead and they came away damp. It wasn’t hot but the sun shone down on her with intensity that was blinding. Her head began to ache. She needed to get inside in the shade, get the blood work done, and then get a bottle of water so she could take something for her headache.

What can I take for a headache? Is it even safe?

“Shoot!”

She hurried back inside but groaned when she got to Doctor Emma’s door and saw the sign on it indicating they were out for lunch.

With a shaky sigh, she turned and headed next door. The receptionist at the lab greeted her and took the forms Presley Ann handed her, nodded, and told her the phlebotomist was out to lunch but would return shortly, if she would have a seat and wait.

Presley Ann nodded and walked on wooden legs to the row of cushioned chairs facing the windows and the landscaping beyond. She blinked and her eyes stung as more tears came.

She didn’t know the first thing about being pregnant. Had never wanted to be pregnant. She didn’t even know if she could take an aspirin, for crying out loud. She looked in her handbag, realized she didn’t have any pain relievers in it, but spotted her birth control pill pack.

Zipping the bag, she laid it aside with a wry chuckle. Fat lot of good those had done her. Not that she could blame them. She forgot to take them as often as she remembered and had to double up.

Now look at the fix you’re in, dingbat. You thought you hated your life before.

She sat there for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes as reality settled heavily on her shoulders. Wracking her brain, she thought back to the last time she’d had sex and let out a long, shaky breath.

“Oh boy.”

The dark blue eyes of a raven-haired cowboy hovered in her memory. She’d met him at O’Reilley’s while waiting for tables to become available. Her dad was supposed to join her and he’d called and cancelled on her because he had to work late. Not a big surprise coming from her dad and she’d decided to stay and eat on her own anyway, since it beat cooking at home alone. Their eyes met across the lobby and the spark between them had been so powerful, so perfect. He’d greeted her and once he found out she was on her own he’d invited her to be his guest at his table for the evening. There was no way perfection like that could last, so she’d refused to give him her name and cut him off gently when he tried to introduce himself. He’d smiled and played along.

“Why did I do that? It was so stupid.” Not only because she was pregnant, either. He’d been different toward her. She had been used to men taking what they wanted, and she was mostly okay with that as long as she got what she needed first.

His hair had been cut short but would be curly if he let it grow longer. His black eyebrows had arched any time he laughed and his neatly trimmed beard had given him a rakish look that reminded her of a pirate. His chest had been broad, covered with a dusting of black hair that had peeked out over the top button of his shirt during that one evening they’d had, until he’d finally taken it off, along with everything else.

His lips were perfect, full and sensual as he’d smiled, and so warm as he’d kissed her all over. His hands had mesmerized her as he’d stroked her flesh, his fingers long and gentle, rough at the very tips.

The night hadn’t ended with dinner, or with their evening spent at the Dancing Pony, and he’d invited her back to his hotel. Perhaps knowing it would end had made the flame burn brighter and stronger, at least in her memory. He’d made love to her with skilled abandon. He’d brought her to orgasm so many times she’d lost count. And when he’d held her afterward, she hadn’t felt used or disappointed. She’d felt a connection with him.

It’d been on the tip of her tongue to tell him her name so that perhaps they might somehow meet again but by then he’d drifted off to sleep, still holding her close. She’d fallen asleep debating about telling him the next morning.

But when she woke, it was to find his note on the pillow next to her, telling her that he’d had a wonderful night and he hoped like crazy that someday his life would bring him back through Divine again. And that maybe then she’d tell him her name.

Crestfallen, she’d showered, dressed, and gone home. The memory of his winsome smile and sparkling eyes created a fresh rush of tears. She wasn’t always the best judge of character but she knew in her heart that he would want to know about his baby.

There had been nobody else for months before him, and nobody else since. Anytime she’d gone out, the men she’d encountered hadn’t measured up to his memory. Yes, he’d want to know. And she had no way to tell him.

An uncomfortable wave of shame wrenched her heart. She scoffed and whispered, “Two ships passing in the night. What an idiotic plan.”

 

***

Early April…

Kendry McCulloch’s conscious thoughts floated like a fishing line bobber on currents of sound and light as they neared the surface, able to process neither the sounds nor the sensation. His head…his brain…felt like it was wrapped in cotton, muffling sound and making it impossible to organize thoughts. Then his cognitive bobber popped to the surface.

Beep. Beep. 

He was chilled. His eyelids felt like they were stuck together and he felt powerless to open them.

“There he is,” an approving feminine voice said as it moved around the room. The deep reply was muffled so he couldn’t make out the words that were uttered. Distant sounds of an intercom echoed but made no sense either.

“I’ll let his doctor know.”

His hands felt stiff when he clenched them and they moved toward his torso seemingly of their own volition as he took a deep but shaky breath. A gentle hand stayed his as he clutched the soft material at his chest.

“Steady there, Mr. McCulloch. You’re in the hospital, remember?”

Hospital?

He remembered. Surgery. A heart. Finally.

He was finally able to break the seal on his eyelids and his eyes teared a little as he blinked and saw the double image of a female face and form bending over his bed, smiling at him. No angel wings on her back. No heavenly chorus or blinding lights. He had a new definition for the word awesome. “Your surgery went just fine, Mr. McCulloch. Your brother is here with you.”

“Hey,” the familiar voice of his brother came to him from the other side of the bed and he took another deep breath as he turned his head. His eyes finally focused in the dim room on Jared’s familiar face.

“Hey.” His voice sounded rusty and distorted.

Jared pulled up a chair and sat down. The beeping of monitors and the sounds of a voice on the intercom in the hallway broadcast again and Jared’s unshaven face came sharply into view as the curtains of anesthesia parted completely and reality slipped in.

“You’re gonna scare all the nurses with that wolfman look.”

Jared grinned widely. “Are you kidding? Several of them gave me their phone numbers already. One told me I’m worthy of a romance novel cover. You, on the other hand, look like hammered hell.”

He felt tired and out of it but the bone crushing weakness and unrelenting cold in his extremities caused by poor circulation from a dying heart was gone. “It worked?”

Jared’s face broke into a relieved smile and his eyes got shiny. He swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah. It worked.” His hand was practically crushed in Jared’s grip as he looked away briefly and nodded. “It worked.” Relief was in every syllable.

Kendry’s eyelids grew heavy again but he smiled and said, “I wish I could thank them…”

“Who? The doc will be here in a few minutes.”

“No, whoever it belonged to before…” Sleep enveloped him again.

Chapter One

 

November…

“Hope you weren’t expecting a baby shower, cuz. I mean, I can chip in for cheapo diapers if necessary but…” Willie said as she grabbed up an armful of blouses off of the fully loaded rolling rack and hung them en masse on the round display rack, leaving them all askew on their hangers. “Baby showers should be reserved for moms who get their wedding rings on the right side of the pregnancy test, you know? Straighten those blouses for me, will you?”

Her job had been ever so much fun since her cousin, Wilhelmina Perkins, better known as Willie had come to work at Stigall’s earlier in the summer.

Presley Ann imagined a flame thrower in her hands. Willie wore so much hair spray in her hair that it was liable to combust if someone so much as flicked a lighter at it. And she was mean. “I can buy my own diapers, thank you very much. And you made a mess of the blouses. Straighten them yourself. I didn’t need any help over here.” At least not from you, heifer.

“I was told you needed help over here. So here I am, helping you do your job. You can’t lift your arms above your shoulders so I’m doing the bulk of the work. Least you can do is go behind me and fix them.”

I’d like to go behind you and plant my foot in your hateful ass. “Who told you I can’t lift my arms?”

Willie rolled her eyes and scoffed at Presley Ann. “Dummy, you can’t lift your arms over shoulder height because it might wrap the cord around the baby’s neck.” A customer in the nearby juniors department looked Willie’s way and rolled her eyes.

Presley Ann burst into laughter and her baby boy wiggled in interest at the sound as she caressed her burgeoning abdomen. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, Willie. You should lower your voice and stop repeating old wives’ tales as though they were medical fact or people will think you’re a hick.”

Willie curled her lip. “I’m not the one who’s knocked up and two steps away from trailer trash. Like I said, I hope you don’t think you’re getting a baby shower out of this out-of-wedlock pregnancy.”

Feeling her heart racing, Presley Ann knew when she was being baited. Willie was not worth the escalation in her blood pressure. “Your concern is heart-warming, cousin, but I’m perfectly capable of doing my job, including lifting my arms over my head. And I don’t need a baby shower. I’ll be ready with all the necessities when this baby is born later this month.” She was proud that she’d managed to get together most of the basics for her baby, plus build up an emergency fund in the last eight months. Things weren’t perfect but she was hopeful. Evelyn and Leah had offered to throw her a shower but she’d turned them down. She didn’t feel like sharing that information with Willie. Willie would just turn it around and tell her how ungrateful she was.

Willie scoffed. “That Prada diaper bag is gonna set you back a pretty penny. You sure about that, cousin?”

Willie’s comment didn’t even deserve a response. Presley Ann was getting good at overlooking or ignoring hateful remarks like that. Because there was a time when she might’ve thought she deserved baby showers and things like designer diaper bags, she also felt that in some small way she deserved the catty remark. She could probably cover four or five months’ rent with what it would cost to buy a Prada diaper bag and cringed again at the kind of money she’d spent blindly over the years.

“I’ll bet you’re going to have to buy a whole new wardrobe once you have that baby,” Willie said as she dug a fingernail into her ear and looked Presley Ann up and down.

Presley Ann lifted a handful of the blouses from the trolley and began arranging them on the rack and straightening the ones Willie had mussed. “Why do you say that?” She knew exactly why Willie said that and wished Willie would go back to wherever she’d come from and leave her alone.

“There’s no way that fancy designer wardrobe will ever fit you again, you’ve put on so much baby weight. You’d have to work out nonstop and there won’t be any time for that once that baby comes. Since you got pregnant you’ve ballooned. Those fancy designers don’t make clothes in plus sizes, you know.”

Presley Ann breathed slowly, trying to find her Zen happy place by imagining her baby boy’s face. Willie didn’t need to know that Presley Ann had already sold every stitch of designer clothing and all of her designer purses, shoes, and accessories to a designer resale boutique in San Antonio months ago. She was being careful moneywise since she’d need to shop for clothing once the baby arrived and she knew what size she’d be. In truth, she was surprised she wasn’t completely freaked out by the thought of moving up a few sizes but Doctor Emma said she was doing fine and her baby was healthy. She had more important issues to deal with than whether or not her thigh gap was really gone for good.

“I’ll worry about that when the time comes, Willie.”

“Yeah, that’s what they all say. Next thing you know, you’ve been carrying the baby weight for ten years. Mark my words, the best thing you could do is give it up for adoption. I even know a couple who might be willing to take it off your hands—”

Presley Ann froze and met Willie’s hateful brown gaze from across the rack. “My baby is not an “it”. I think it’s time for you to go back to whatever department you came from.”

An elderly customer meandered into the Misses department and Presley Ann drew in a deep breath and smiled as she recognized the lady.

Willie brushed past her, barely missing jabbing her abdomen with an elbow as she called out, “Oh hello, Mrs. Porter! How can I help you today? We have a sale on those blouses you liked so much last week—”

“Thank you, Wilhelmina. I wanted to visit with Presley Ann. Would you mind letting Evelyn know that I’m here to take her to lunch?” Charlene Porter said with dismissal clear in her eyes and tone.

Willie’s jaws flapped for a second and she frowned. Her dark bushy eyebrows drew together in the fuzzy caterpillar look that was so common among the Woodworth men, as well as Wilhelmina’s mother, Presley Ann’s aunt. Willie nodded and reluctantly left to do the venerable Mrs. Porter’s bidding. Her husband was the local Justice of the Peace and highly thought of in the community. Willie wouldn’t dare do other than what she bid her to do, not if she wanted future business from Mrs. Porter.

Presley Ann threaded her way carefully through the rows of racks, which were full with merchandise for the approaching Christmas season. “Hello, Mrs. Porter. How are you and Mr. Porter doing?”

“We’re doing beautifully, dear. How many times do I have to remind you to call me Charlene?”

Presley Ann laughed and said, “I’m sorry…Charlene.”

“How’s our little man these days?” Charlene asked as she gathered Presley Ann to her for a hug.

“He’s been very wiggly today. Dr. Rivers said he could come anytime.”

Mrs. Porter’s eyebrows shot up. “Should you be on your feet so much?”

Presley Ann rubbed her lower back when it gave a slight twinge and said, “I prefer staying busy and keeping my energy level up with activity, you know? I think if I was at home I’d just sit and stew.” And I need the income.

“Oh, that wouldn’t be good either. When do you take your lunch?”

“In a few minutes.”

A big smile spread on Mrs. Porter’s face. “Well then, that’s just perfect. Allow Evelyn and me to take you out to lunch. I’m in love with the new chicken salad plate at Rosalie’s Café.”

A blush spread heat across her cheeks as she replied, “Oh, Mrs. Porter—I mean Charlene, I couldn’t intrude.”

“It would be no intrusion at all, dear,” Evelyn said as she made her way through the racks. “We would love to take you to lunch. You can finish the rest of that trolley when we get back.”

“Well…if it’s no imposition, I’d love to.” No adult in her life, besides her dad, had ever invited her out to lunch before. “Let me just push it off to the side so it’s not in the way.”

“I’ll help, dear,” Evelyn said as she took hold of the back while Presley Ann guided the front of the trolley around to an open spot against a wall near the dressing rooms. “It should be fine here. One thing, Presley Ann. You might be careful how much information you share with Wilhelmina.”

Mrs. Porter harrumphed as she drew close and said, “That young woman is every bit as bad as her mother. Interfering harridan.”

Presley Ann groaned, recalling Wilhelmina’s domineering mother’s attempts at helping her husband hunt under the guise of finding her temp jobs. Even though Lydia Carlisle had forgiven her, it still shamed her that she’d gone along with that attempt to snare one of the Carlisle brothers. She certainly hadn’t been showing her best side or good character. The memory made her heart heavy. “You can’t choose your family, right?”

“Too true,” Evelyn said with a wry smile. “She’s a talker, that one. I’m glad Leah sees through her obsequious attitude.”

“What do you mean?” Presley Ann asked softly as the ladies came close.

Evelyn shushed her as Willie walked past, eyeing them suspiciously, and then said, “Go get your purse and we’ll tell all.”

Presley Ann grinned and nodded. As she waddled slowly down the main aisle to the back of the store she smiled to herself. Her friendship with Evelyn had blossomed in the last eight months to what it should’ve been all her life because that was how long she’d known Evelyn.

She’d never had any good friends, much less close ones. She’d always thought friendships were just too much work. Too much mindreading necessary. Too much cattiness and too many head games. That’s why she’d never been friends with Willie. She’d given up early on and learned to make her own self happy.

After grabbing her purse, she was walking back up the aisle when she encountered James and Vincent Elder, her still somewhat new brothers-in-law. They were both dressed for work in their police officer uniforms.

“Hey, sweetie!” James said with a big smile as he opened his arms and she went right to him. “You doing okay today? How are you feeling?”

Happiness fizzed in her chest as she hugged him back and then returned Vincent’s gentle hug as well. “I’m just fine. Hey, I was wondering if I could get some help from you gentlemen.”

“Whatever you need, just ask.” Vincent said easily.

“I found a good used crib at a baby resale store in Morehead. I looked at the picture of it online and I think it might work, once it’s cleaned up. More importantly, the price is right.”

James and Vincent shared a brief look and a smile and then said. “Let us know when you want to get it and we’ll take the truck and help you with it. Is it already put together?”

Presley Ann bit her lip and said, “That’s part of what I wanted to ask you about. The lady said it’s in several pieces, and it comes ‘as is’. She can’t vouch for whether all the hardware is with it or not.”

James nodded and said, “Just tell us when. I’m sure we can improvise if there’s hardware missing.”

“Thank you. Are you here to see Leah?”

“Yeah, we’re taking her on a picnic at the park,” Vincent replied with a grin.

What was it like to be with two such thoughtful men? She was happy for her sister. She’d waited a long time to find her happiness and it still saddened Presley Ann that their threesome might’ve been a foursome if fate hadn’t intervened when James and Vincent’s brother, Patterson, had been fatally injured in a motorcycle accident the previous spring.

Life was hard sometimes. She wondered yet again how it would be for her son growing up with his father missing from his life. Often she wondered what had become of that sweet cowboy and if they might ever meet again.

“Well, you go have fun. I’d like to try and get the crib in the next couple of days if I can. I’ll call you?”

“Sounds good,” James said with a nod and then grinned big. “Hey, you might be happy to know that Kendry and Jared McCulloch made it official.”

Her heart skipped a beat at the mention of their names. “Made what official?”

“They’re moving to Divine. All the visiting they’ve been doing has them convinced that this is where they belong.”

Kendry and his brother Jared had come to Divine during the summer to meet James and Vincent. Kendry’s life had been saved earlier that year when his number had come up on the heart transplant list and the heart he’d received had been their brother Patterson’s. In Presley Ann’s eyes, Patterson took the term “hero” to a whole new level because his decision to donate his organs if he died had led to numerous lives being saved or made better.

Heat blossomed in Presley Ann’s core as she thought of the handsome McCulloch brothers. Her heart palpitated every time she remembered the kind way they’d treated her when they were around her, like she was made of glass. Always making sure to speak to her when they were around her. They obviously felt sorry for her. It was dangerous to think about them but she couldn’t help it.

They made her feel twittery which made her feel embarrassed, which made her blush, which made her feel even more embarrassed. The part that surprised her though was that she’d never acted that way around any other man before, even the father of her baby. He’d brought the boldness out in her while Kendry and Jared made her want to hide. When they looked at her, she wondered if they could tell what she was thinking. She had no business thinking those thoughts, however. She had to stay focused on learning to be a good mom and not get sidetracked by romantic fantasies.

“I’m glad to hear they’re making the move. Abilene is losing two good firefighters, I’m sure. When are they moving?”

“Soon. They’re here today looking for a place to live. They’ve already hired on at the fire station in town. I think that was in the works last time they visited.”

Oh boy.

That information made her quiver a little. The central fire station in Divine was located directly across the street from Batson’s Grocers, Divine Auto Repair, and Marvin’s Computer Service…and her little apartment located above Marvin’s.

“That’s great news. I imagine you two must be hungry. The last time I saw Leah, she was in the stockroom, working with the receiving manager, trying to get the most recent delivery in the back door.”

Vincent’s eyes widened. “She’s moving boxes?”

Presley Ann chuckled and said, “No, she was giving orders.”

Both men laughed and reminded her to call them when she was ready to get the crib. The crib might possibly fit in her car in its disassembled state but she knew there was no way she could unload it and get it up the steep stairs to her apartment. It wasn’t worth the risk. And with her luck, she’d probably wind up shredding the cloth upholstery of her older Toyota Camry.

After her dad had insisted on fixing the air conditioner and the fuel pump in her Mercedes coupe, he’d assisted her in finding a buyer for it and then put out feelers for a good used four door car. She’d drawn the line at him contributing toward the cost of it. In the end, they’d found a reliable car that would get good gas mileage. She’d made an offer, which the seller had accepted. She’d had sufficient money from the sale of her Mercedes to cover the cost plus enough to buy new tires for it.

Her dad had wanted to give her one of several cars he owned but she’d refused him outright, saying he couldn’t keep swooping in saving her. It was enough that he would keep her on his insurance and that he was covering her medical expenses, and even those, she paid for herself whenever she could, without telling him.

After saying good-bye to the men, she went on her way to the front, rubbing her lower back which ached and felt stiff all the time now. She drew a deep breath, trying to feel grateful that her pregnancy had been uncomplicated, according to Emma, and her baby was right on schedule developmentally.

At Rosalie’s, the ladies clucked over her like mother hens as she eased into the seat, her enlarged tummy keeping her from getting very close to the table.

After they’d looked over the menu, Presley Ann said, “Okay, now tell me what you were being so hush-hush about. You said Leah sees through Willie’s obsequious attitude.”

Evelyn cleared her throat and frowned. “When she came to the office to let me know Charlene was here, I heard her tell Leah that every time she turns around you’re loafing around or talking, in other words not doing your job.”

Charlene sipped her sweet tea and then said, “I can’t say I’m surprised. I think that in her mind, because she is family, she’s jockeying for a position of authority.”

Evelyn scoffed. “I’ve seen that, too.”

Charlene replied, “That one is trouble. She’s the type that likes to keep the ugly gossip going. She is what my mother would’ve called a little pot-stirrer. She likes to stir trouble up just so she can watch the resulting fireworks. She was baiting Presley Ann when I walked into the store earlier.”

A blush heated Presley Ann’s cheeks. “You heard her?”

Charlene patted Presley Ann’s hand and said, “Her voice carries so I heard the last part of what she said. I couldn’t hear your reply but I saw the look on your face. You mustn’t let her destroy your happiness, sweetheart. Lord knows it’s hard enough to find in this world. She’s only happy when others are miserable. Now, I’m curious, Evelyn. What did Leah say when she told her that Miss Presley Ann here was sluffing off?”

Evelyn snorted with laughter. “Leah cut her off and told her that even nine months pregnant you could work circles around your cousin.”

Presley Ann almost dropped her fork and her jaw practically hit the table. “She did not.”

Evelyn grinned at her and said, “She did. Leah knows how hard you work. Wilhelmina has always been trouble, even as a child. And I doubt Doug would’ve pushed Leah to hire Wilhelmina if his sister Dorothy hadn’t called in a favor. He’d do anything for family.”

Presley Ann nodded, a bittersweet ache in her heart, thinking of her dad telling her that he thought her situation was partly his fault. Like he’d somehow been responsible for her poor decision making abilities. But he was a sweetheart and an old softy.

Their food arrived and as they ate and shared the latest news, Evelyn said, “I’ve heard that the McCulloch brothers are moving to Divine.”

Presley Ann nodded. “James and Vincent mentioned that just a few minutes ago. I knew they’d talked about it the last time they were here. That’s good news, I suppose.”

“Very good news, I think. I have a good feeling about those two,” Evelyn said and then filled in Charlene on their unusual relationship with the Elder brothers. “I rather like the thought of Patterson’s heart still being around, causing mischief.”

Presley Ann smiled, also happy that Leah had been able to move on with James and Vincent after the heartbreak she’d suffered over losing Patterson. Presley Ann couldn’t imagine what it was like, being bonded to two men, being loved by two men.

Well, yeah, actually you can, but it’s just a fantasy.

Evelyn pulled out her smartphone and said, “Time for a selfie, girls. Here, Presley Ann, you do the honors. My arms are too short.”

Presley Ann giggled and took the picture with the ladies and then handed it to Evelyn. After a few seconds of fiddling with the phone, Evelyn let out an uncharacteristic growl.

“What’s the matter?” Presley Ann asked as she leaned closer. “Having trouble uploading it?”

“No,” Evelyn said, “I posted it on Facebook. It’s your cousin that has me perturbed.”

Now curious, Presley Ann took out her own phone and checked her newsfeed.

“It’s not worth looking at, dear. That cousin of yours is the queen of passive-aggressive posting.”

Presley Ann chuckled and said, “Now I have to see what she said.” Her heart pounded as Willie’s post popped up and she read it out loud. “She just posted this a couple of minutes ago. It says, “Pet Peeve #28: The way some people take advantage of me. They get help and are they grateful? No. They act like they are entitled to everything when all they actually are is spoiled and relying on their daddy’s wealth. I’m not knocked up trailer trash. And some other people need to mind their own—” Presley Ann paused and coughed and then amending the message for Evelyn and Charlene’s sake. “Eff-ing business and keep their hurtful opinions to themselves before they wind up on their asses when I get sick and tired of being told what to do.”

Charlene growled a little, too, and said, “Evelyn, isn’t she still on the clock?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Evelyn said as she put her coffee cup to her lips as she tapped at her phone screen. “I just passed her helpful hint on to Leah.”

Comments began to pop up to Willie’s post. Dorothy Perkins, Willie’s mother, commented about how some people needed to be taken down a notch. Several other people commented who obviously had no idea who Willie was actually talking about. Presley Ann felt lucky she didn’t have anything in her mouth or she would’ve choked when Leah’s comment popped up.

“Pet Peeve #29: People who have a problem with me but are too chickenshit to say it to my face. You’re still on the clock. Get off your phone and come to my office if you have something you need to say to me. Otherwise get back to work.”

Evelyn chuckled when the comment evidently popped up on her screen and she said, “I wonder how long it will take Willie to delete Leah’s comment? Oh…not long at all.”

Charlene snorted and shook her head. “That young woman is a chip off her mother’s old block. All one has to do is look in her eyes and see what a miserable person she is.”

Presley Ann shrugged. “She was partially right. My dad is taking care of most of my medical expenses.”

Evelyn put a warm hand on her forearm. “When George and I were first married, we lived with my parents while we saved up for a down payment on a house. Then I got pregnant and what had been a temporary situation turned into eight long years when he was drafted. My parents were happy to have us there, sharing the burden, and my father said he worried less about me, because I was with them, when George was overseas. What you think of as being a burden may actually be doing your father some good. You just take care of you and that little baby and don’t worry about the opinions of dried up old biddies and their boorish daughters.”

She gasped when Evelyn slid a small envelope across the table with her wizened little hand. “This is from Charlene, Woody, George, and me. Now, no fussing, Presley Ann. You refused when we tried to put together a baby shower for you last month, so we just pooled our resources and got this for you.”

Biting her lip, Presley Ann lifted the flap on the envelope and saw a gift card from a large discount warehouse store located out on the Interstate. “You shouldn’t have.”

Charlene giggled and said, “Oh yes we should have. We all know what it’s like to be on a tight budget with a baby on the way. It’s not as much as we’d like it to be but it should buy you some diapers or other things you might need.”

Blinking back tears, Presley Ann reached out and covered their hands where they rested on the table with her own and whispered, “Thank you.”

She’d argued with her dad over providing the baby diapers on several occasions, telling him that she could provide for her baby. He’d insisted, saying her mother would be so upset with him if he didn’t help her in some way, as if he wasn’t already doing enough. Since she’d refused the car he offered, she had to allow him to pay for her diapers. In the end, she’d won the argument when she’d told him to invest the money in Whit’s college fund so he could have his pick of universities when he was ready. Her father, ever a practical man, had finally thrown in the towel. Her son would have an education and she would keep his little bum covered. Everyone was happy.

“Now, what are your plans for day care, sweetheart?” Charlene asked, blinking back a few tears herself.

“I looked at several daycare centers in the area but I didn’t have any luck finding something I could reasonably afford. I was nearing the panic stage when Leah told me that she’d heard Margie’s daughter has a small baby, too, and needed a job that would allow her to stay home to help Margie out. She and her mother live near Dad so I’ll be taking the baby out to her place every day that I work in the store.”

Margie was a former Stigall’s employee who had struggled in recent years after her husband, a disgruntled ex-employee of Stigall’s had been arrested and sent to prison for coming into the store with a loaded weapon and shooting the place up. Margie and her kids had always been sweet, and with her husband behind bars and likely to stay there for many years, Presley Ann felt like the choice was a good one.

“Well, that’s perfect!” Charlene said as she clapped her hands.

Perfect? Not hardly. “I still wish I didn’t have to leave him with anyone at all.”

Presley Ann couldn’t shake the feeling that at least in part she deserved Willie’s criticism, however harsh and uncalled for in a public forum it might be. She was knocked up and she was receiving help from her father. She just didn’t know what else to do, besides work every chance she got.

~~~

Be watching for the next out take post tomorrow morning at 7 AM Central

Absentminded Angel Copyright©2014 All rights reserved, Heather Rainier

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About Heather Rainier

Heather Rainier is an erotic romance author specializing in contemporary, western ménage romance. She has written exclusively for Siren Publishing since 2010, when the first book in her Divine Creek Ranch Collection was submitted for publication.

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