Welcome to Fiction Friday, a chance to share snippets of my books with you. While I’m starting with some of my books currently on sale, eventually some may be entirely new.
Today’s excerpt is from Wedding Ring, the first book of the Shenandoah Album series. Wedding Ring and the next two novels, Endless Chain and Lover’s Knot were reissued in the spring in trade paperback after a previous life in hardcover and mass market paperback.
Wedding Ring tells the story of three generations of women who come together to clean out the family homestead in Toms Brook, Virginia. Country grandmother Helen, the matriarch, has become a hoarder, and her socialite daughter Nancy and school teacher granddaughter Tessa, are moving in for the summer to try to put the house to rights. The women are not close, but with a long hot summer extending in front of them, anything can happen.
Nancy was one of the most engaging characters to write. Nancy is insecure, seemingly shallow and concerned about appearances, certain that nobody really loves her. As the women share their stories with each other and the reader, we learn what has made her the woman she is. I started rooting for Nancy the moment she was introduced. So today I’ll share that scene. Nancy and Tessa have come to the old farmhouse to confront Helen, and she’s refusing to let them in the house.
Enjoy this excerpt from Wedding Ring.
Nancy Whitlock’s heart always beat faster when she saw her daughter. The phenomenon had begun in the hospital delivery room at the instant of Tessa’s birth. After a torturous, prolonged delivery Nancy had been drugged to a point where her heart should have stopped completely. But she had taken one groggy look at the scrawny, vernix-slick baby she had expelled from her womb, and with her heart pounding in her ears she had realized that everything, everything that had come before had been worth it.
Through the years she had waited for the humdrum of motherhood to set in. Friends took their children in stride. They talked of other things, looked forward to nights out, made routine dates for tennis and golf. Those other pleasures had never truly captured Nancy’s speeding, rapturous heart.
Now as she walked up the path toward her daughter, she noted Tessa’s pallor, weight loss, the tension in her perfect posture. Tessa stood remarkably still, as if she had schooled every human instinct into submission. She never fidgeted. If she had ever scratched an itch, it had not been scratched in public. She was a marble Madonna, terrifyingly beautiful in her serenity. Or rather once upon a time she had been beautiful–at least in Nancy’s eyes–and serene. These days she just looked tired, older than her thirty-seven years, haunted.
Right now, she looked resigned.
“I meant to get here earlier.” Nancy started talking before she reached the porch. The words started as a trickle and ended as a cascade. “The traffic in Richmond was horrible. Then I had to stop and get gas. By that time I was starving. I’d have bought you a sandwich, just in case, if I thought you’d eat it. You don’t eat enough, and it shows. Why are you still on the porch? Did you just get here, too?”
“Gram’s not answering the door. And no, I got here on time.”
The last was not a reprimand. The words were matter of fact. Tessa had been on time. Of course she had been on time. Nancy was the one who got distracted, who tried and failed to be punctual, confident, cool. Nancy, who failed everyone she loved with every word and gesture.
Nancy responded only to the first statement. “Not answering the door? Why are her clothes out here?” She gestured to the rose bush. “And all this paper?”
“She hasn’t answered for the hour or more I’ve been here, but she’s home. I’ve heard her at the bedroom window.”
Nancy stopped before climbing the porch steps, shaded her eyes with a cupped hand and squinted at the window in question. “Heard her? The window’s shut and the curtains are drawn.”
“They’re drawn now.”
“She closed the windows and drew the curtains, knowing you were waiting down here? In this heat? She left you to bake out here?”
“It’s probably cooler outside than in.”
“Maybe she’s sick.” Nancy took the steps as fast as her legs would carry her. She threw open the screen door and tried the doorknob. When it didn’t turn she began to pound. “Mother! Mother!”
“I don’t think that will help.”
Nancy continued to pound. “Something could be wrong.”
“Unless something’s wrong with her hearing, that’s not going to get us anywhere.”
Nancy halted abruptly. “You have a better idea, Tessa? Seems to me you’ve just been sitting here not doing a blessed thing. Who knows? She could be dead in there.”
“She was alive when I drove up, alive when she tossed things out the window, still alive when she closed the window and the drapes.”
“You really think she’s stonewalling us?”
“It’s pretty clear.”
Nancy stepped back, glaring at the door. Like everything else, it needed several coats of paint. The roof needed repairing, the porch needed shoring, the windows needed cleaning, the screen door needed patching.
The main door had survived generations of Stoneburners and looked it. Years ago Nancy had left the house through this doorway and never looked back. Now she banged on the door once more for good measure.
“I think she’ll come down eventually,” Tessa said. “When she’s punished us long enough.”
“For insisting she change the way she lives to suit us.”
“I suppose you think I don’t have that right.” Nancy could feel her shoulders slump. She was sixty but looked younger, much younger, when she was rested and reasonably contented. She was neither now. She had been up every night for a week worrying about the days to come. The bags under her eyes had bags of their own, and she could feel a new chin growing and wobbling as she shook her head.
Tessa didn’t sigh. She was a still, dark lake, and whatever churned beneath was hidden, as always. “We’re here,” Tessa said. “It’s too late to reconsider. I’ve cleared my calendar for the rest of the summer, you’ve cleared yours. All we can do is move ahead.”
“And how do we do that? She’s locked herself in like a prisoner.”
“I gather you don’t have a key?”
“Why would I need a key? She never locks the door. I’ve told her and told her to lock it–”
“Well, it looks like this time she did what she was told.”