Here is the first chapter to my novella, the third story in the Cherry Blossom Capers collection! Take a sneak peek at the inspiration behind the book on Pinterest!
Alex, come back!” Samantha Steele’s heart jolted, and she darted after her seven-year-old son. The little renegade ignored her pleas and ran full-throttle toward the dig site behind the slave quarters at Mount Vernon Estates. She glanced at Callie, her nine-year-old, who huffed after her. Why’d her sitter get sick the first day of her archaeology internship?
Samantha pursued Alex through the upper garden toward the archaeology pit where tourists gathered. Her chest tightened. Squatting in the dirt, her boss seemed oblivious to the runaway locomotive about to cause a train wreck.
Samantha prayed that her first encounter with her boss wouldn’t be her last, but two years earlier, God didn’t intervene.
Why would He now?
“Watch out!” Her warning came late as Alex crashed into a dark-headed man in a navy uniform. God’s answer to prayer wasn’t a surprise. The God she knew remained distant, often
turning up the heat when all she wanted was to escape the fire.
Something thumped against Nick Porter’s hip. His drink blew its top, spilling Coke on his security uniform as he dropped his sack. His double cheeseburger and fries tumbled out. “Hey,
The kid who’d plowed into him jumped back.
Two weeks on the job and he’d made a mess of things.
A petite brunette in khaki shorts scurried to his mangled meal. She stuffed it back in the sack, hunching as she offered it. “So sorry.”
Nick’s stomach growled. Just what he wanted. A side of dirt with his burger.
She nudged the freckle-faced kid forward.
The boy resisted. Nick’s frown softened. So much like—
She sighed. “My son is sorry, Officer.”
“It’s Nick Porter, and I’m just security.” Security. He hated the sound of it.
“What happened to the Mount Vernon police?”
“One of many cutbacks.”
She wrote on a business card and handed it to him. Samantha Steele.
“Send me the dry-cleaning bill.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
The blond girl waved her brochure. “This says there’s no food allowed except in the designated eating areas.”
“This one yours, too?” He pointed to the cherub-faced girl. “Charming kids, Mrs. Steele.” He couldn’t hide his sarcasm, the one emotion that remained.
“It’s Ms. Steele. My husband died two years ago.”
Nick spotted Samantha’s naked ring finger. Stupid. As a cop, he never missed a detail. “Sorry.” He paused. “I lost my wife, too.” Why was he confessing to a stranger?
Her eyes sympathized as if she understood his pain.
The kid dug into his pocket. “Here.” Tiny fingers tickled Nick’s palm as the boy released the coins. “I’m really sorry, mister.” The boy’s hazel eyes pierced Nick’s soul.
Nick fought the stirring as memories surfaced. A heaviness descended as they walked away. He should’ve thanked the kid, or at least refused his money. If he could rewind the last few moments, he would. But God didn’t give second chances.
If He did, they certainly weren’t free.
Gripping Alex’s hand, Samantha plodded toward the mansion to catch the tour before her orientation. She inhaled the magnolia breeze, her nerves calming. Something about that security guard unsettled her. Sure, he had Cary Grant looks, but minus the cleft chin and charm he was nothing to swoon over. Besides, she wouldn’t play anyone’s leading lady again. Oh boy.
Classic-movie night with her town house neighbors at Cherry Blossom Estates was getting to her.
The three of them followed the tour into the large mint-green dining room. Samantha admired the intricate white agricultural moldings and crystal dinnerware as the African-
American docent dressed in period attire shared the history.
Alex looked up. “This ceiling is huge.”
“They’re double the size of ceilings at the time.” Samantha studied the detailed carving. “Washington was a great innovator.”
“They had elevators?” Alex whipped his head around. “Can I ride?”
Callie rolled her eyes. “An innovator, not elevator.”
“May I have your attention?” The guide adjusted her head scarf. “Please don’t touch anything.” Her plump figure squeezed through the crowd.
“When my younguns misbehave, I take a switch to them.” The woman’s words grew thick as biscuit gravy. “Can’t have them disrespecting the president now, could I?”
Samantha withdrew from the woman. But Alex pointed to her name tag. Althea Washington. “Are you related to George Washington?”
“She can’t be related; she’s a slave, bozo.” Callie elbowed Alex.
Samantha’s face flushed. “She’s only playing a slave.”
“Next time I sees Masta Washington, I’ll introduce you so you can ask him yourself.” Althea returned to the front. “We’ll pass through the little parlor with the harpsichord President Washington bought for his stepdaughter, Nelly Custis.” Her Southern accent morphed to normal. She glared at Alex. “Please, keep your hands to yourself.”
Something seemed off about Ms. Washington’s role playing. “Stay close and act civilized.” Wouldn’t want to upset her if she had some screws loose underneath that head scarf.
Walking through the little parlor, Samantha squeezed Alex’s hand. Once inside the central passage, her grip relaxed. Marveling at the beautiful mahogany-grained walls, she imagined Washington entertaining guests with doors open as a summer breeze cooled the house.
Callie walked into the front parlor. Samantha followed, her arms swinging, carefree and—empty. Alex?
When did she let go? She spun. Surveyed the entryway. No Alex.
“Where’s your brother?”
“Stay with the group.” Samantha hurried across the hall into the small dining room. Footsteps echoed. She peeked out, her heart beating a warning.
Just her luck Nick Porter’d be patrolling the mansion while Alex went AWOL.
Samantha waited until Nick disappeared; then she jogged up the staircase and surveyed the second floor. The sign on the first door said Closed for Renovations. She checked the
other rooms. All empty.
A door slammed. She turned. Alex scurried from the first room.
“Alex!” she whispered, following him downstairs and through the bedchamber. The study door closed. She raced in and gasped.
Perched on Washington’s chair, Alex reached toward the terrestrial globe.
“Stop!” She reached for him, holding her breath as if a tiny wind would send him falling onto the antique.
She lowered her voice. “I’m not mad.” Yet. “Climb down.”
Alex eyed the globe, then jumped off and shuffled toward her like Sylvester with a mouthful of Tweety.
Heat exploded inside her. “Do I need to buy a leash?”
For the past two years she’d dealt with Alex’s unpredictable behavior. She understood he missed his father, so she’d been patient. “Let’s find Callie.”
Swinging around for the door, she slammed into a human wall. Her purse fell. Nick Porter retrieved it as she scrambled after her lipstick.
“Ma’am, you shouldn’t be in here.” He reached to help her up. Their eyes met. “You?”
“Sorry, we’re leaving.” But before Samantha grabbed Alex’s hand, he raced toward the presidential chair.
“Don’t!” Nick ran to him.
The globe went whirling.
Samantha gasped as the globe’s stand wobbled, her world teetering on the edge of destruction. She fought to breathe as she reached for the antique. It was too late. Like dominoes the globe toppled, knocking against the table by the window, which sent the brass telescope on top catapulting to the ground.
Nick snatched the telescope pieces from Samantha’s hands. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to see the antique was beyond repair.
He set the globe upright, examining it and the table that broke the globe’s fall. No scratches or nicks. Now he got his miracle?
“Sorry, Mommy. Are they still gonna let you work here?”
Nick stared at Samantha. “What’d he say?”
“I—I’m doing an archaeology internship. This summer.”
This wasn’t the last he’d see of her and Captain Chaos? “I’ll have to report this.”
“Wait. Maybe it can be fixed.”
As the kid crawled under the desk, remnants of Nick’s paternal heart wanted to comfort the boy. “You’d better come out.” Had he remembered to soften his tone?
The kid scooted from under the desk. Samantha stroked his hair. “I’ll make everything okay.” She took the eyepiece and barrel from him, tried to fit them together.
“What am I thinking? This isn’t a flea market item I can fix with glue. It’s Washington’s original brass telescope. It survived over two hundred years and millions of tourists, but it couldn’t survive my son.” Tears welled.
Nick shifted his weight, wishing she’d dam that river. He wasn’t heartless; he just never knew how to handle women’s emotions. “I’m calling this in now.”
“Isn’t there something we can do?” Her eyes locked on his like a deer caught in his headlights. He rushed to close the doors on either end of the room. He was insane to risk his job to help this stranger, no matter how much she needed rescuing.
There was something about her. . .needing him. Voices echoed outside the door. “Stay here.”
“My daughter—I need to get her.”
“She’ll be fine.” Nick stepped out. “Room’s closed.” He shut the door.
“Did you see Callie?”
“She’s fine.” His gut knotted. “She won’t try a stunt like young Knievel here or turn George’s bed into a trampoline, right?”
Color pinched Samantha’s cheeks. “Callie would never—just because Alex is curious and clumsy doesn’t make me a terrible mom.”
“I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to.” She crossed her arms.
He shook his head. “We’ll stay put until the tour is finished. Then you’ll find Callie, and we’ll figure this out together.” Together? He definitely needed his head examined. “They have
insurance. I’m sure they’ll understand when we explain.” He took the eyepiece and barrel from her.
Samantha gripped Nick’s arm. “There has to be another way.”
An unexpected longing panged. He couldn’t abandon her now.
With a sigh, he worked the eyepiece into the barrel and sighted toward the Potomac. What? He looked again, his pulse accelerating. A hearty laugh erupted.
“My life’s falling apart, and you’re laughing?” Samantha’s nostrils flared.
“It’s not what you think.”
“Then what’s so funny?”
“The telescope is a fake.”