7/23/2019

E.E. Burke's Best of the West with Bestselling Author Becky Lower

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New York City, 1862

Beautiful Pepper Fitzpatrick Brown’s heart is broken when her husband, Michael, is killed on the bloody battlefield at Manassas. One of the first casualties of the Civil War, Michael’s death has left Pepper raising three small boys on her own—and trying to live without the man she believed she’d grow old with. Honoring Michael’s memory, she volunteers at the MacDougall Army Hospital in the Bronx, doing whatever she can to help the wounded.

The drab existence of handsome Colonel Elijah Williams, head surgeon at the Army hospital, has narrowed to nothing but the bloody war and the horrendous wounds he treats day after day. He carries a secret—a nightmare that holds him in its gory grip each time he falls asleep, reminding him of what awaits him in his waking hours. But when Pepper Brown walks into his life, everything changes—for both of them. 

Is Elijah ready to take on a ready-made family and the responsibilities that come with it? Can Pepper let go of her grief and embrace love once again? In a war-torn country that has suffered so much loss, Elijah and Pepper might stand a fighting chance at finding happiness together if they can save what’s left of their hearts.

Here's an excerpt: 


With a child holding tightly to each hand, Pepper walked slowly through the large, peaceful cemetery until she came to the gray stone marker for her husband. Both seven- year-old Matthew and five-year-old Mark carried a colorful bouquet of flowers to adorn the grave. Pepper knelt while the boys deposited their flowers, then put an arm around each silent, somber boy.
“There’s no need to be quiet. Tell your papa hello,” she encouraged them, and gave a gentle shove to each boy, propelling them toward the marker.
“Hello, Papa,” Matthew stared at the marker blankly as he spoke.
“Hello, Papa,” Mark followed his brother’s actions, although Pepper noticed he had reached for Matthew’s hand before he spoke.
“What do you want to talk to your papa about today? Do you want to tell him what you miss most about him?”
“I miss riding piggyback,” Mark whispered.
“I just miss him.” Matthew’s eyes welled up with tears.

Pepper put her arm around Matthew and brushed a kiss on his temple. Her chin trembled as she did so. “So do I. Your papa was a very good man, and I don’t want either of you to ever forget him. Your baby brother was born after your papa died, and he won’t have any memories to hold on to. So it’s up to the two of you to explain to Luke, when he’s able to understand, how wonderful your father was.”
Matthew’s tears spilled over and cascaded down his cheeks. “I don’t remember anymore what Papa looked like.”
Pepper sighed softly and brought her hand to her heart. She was having trouble remembering, too. She guessed memories faded over time in order to allow the living to move forward. But the knowledge of why they faded didn’t make it any easier.

 Meet Becky

Amazon best-selling author Becky Lower has traveled the United States in search of great settings for her novels. She loves to write about two people finding each other and falling in love amid the backdrop of a great setting, be it in America on a covered wagon headed west or in Regency England. Her Cotillion Ball Series features the nine children from an upscale New York family prior to and during the Civil War. A regular contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After section, her books have been featured in the column on ten separate occasions. Becky loves to hear from her readers atbeckylowerauthor@gmail.com. Visit her website at www.beckylowerauthor.com

Find out more about Becky Lower:
Amazon page: http://amzn.to/1FOy3Sd



FROM PEGLEG TO PROSTHETICS

There were many challenges involved when I started writing A Widow’s Salvation. I’ve never married or had children, and I had a hard time making my female character, a widow with three boys, a strong woman. (I hear many of you laughing right now.) Many conversations occurred between myself and mothers who had experienced the difficult yet rewarding job of raising children. When I realized Pepper may not have been the feisty suffragette her sisters presented to the world, it was her inner strength that I focused on. One of the ways I did that was to have Pepper try to help wounded soldiers from the Civil War, many of whom had lost limbs. She volunteered her time at the local Army hospital and saw the need for prosthetic devices for the many wounded who had lost an arm or leg and spent their days wondering how they could ever be anything more than a burden to their loved ones.

While we’ve all heard stories about Pegleg Pete and Captain Hook and their prosthetics, I had no idea such devices had been uncovered as far back at 950 BC! Obviously, these were crude devices at best. It wasn’t until the Civil War in the 1860s that advances in prosthetics began to emerge. 

The huge number of amputations that were being done to save lives of the soldiers forced America to focus on the betterment of prosthetic devices for their soldiers. James Hanger was one of the first amputees of this war and took it upon himself to fashion a limb from whittled barrel staves. This crude device was transformed and advancements in the way prosthetics fit and worked happened in rapid succession due to great need from the Civil War. Pepper took it upon herself to have her ideas turned into a working prosthetic leg and helped a young farmer from Kentucky learn how to walk again. He thought his life was over, and it took a mother with a steely backbone to whip him into shape and forge a future for himself. Because of the success of this man, her work was able to continue. My story is pure fiction, but it is based on facts, as the Civil War unfortunately prompted the evolution of the use of prosthetic devices.

When I see the men and women who have lost legs due to war or other tragedy using today’s high-tech computerized prosthetics to run marathons, I am in awe of how far this industry has come. And thanks to my many conversations with mothers, I now understand how strong a mother’s hand has to be. Writing this book was a revelation, both from a historical perspective and from my own perspective on how difficult and rewarding it is to raise a child.

Today Becky is giving away a copy of The Widow's Salvation and another e-Book from her Cotillion series. Just enter the Rafflecopter and leave a comment. Don't forget your email.


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7/22/2019

July 22-Stories of the Heart-C.H.Admirand


A Spring Lake Summer by C.H. Admirand



My grandparents had a summer house in Spring Lake and we’d go down for a week at a time with one exception—the summer of ‘65—when we spent the whole summer in Spring Lake! I had three favorite spots in that wonderful old three story white stucco house with the dark green shutters at 216 Monmouth Avenue. The first was the wraparound porch—with white wicker furniture and floor to ceiling French doors always open to catch the breeze from the ocean and with it a haunting scent from my childhood.





The second was the back-staircase from the second floor down to the kitchen—and the pantry where Grandma always had a bag of potato chips stashed between her teacups and saucers. My big brother and I used to sneak down the stairs (quiet as mice) and snitch some chips.







And the third was my Aunt MaryLou’s bedroom—on the third floor at the end of the hallway by the back of the house. Grandma let her paint her furniture powder blue! I thought that was the coolest thing. Mary Lou let me use her record player. Every time I hear the Beach Boys singing their version of Hushabye and the Surfaris singing Image of a Girl I’m transported back in time to that summer.

Music was a huge part of my childhood and I remember chunks of my life by the songs. That summer, my two faves on the radio were: Save Your Heart for Me by Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Mrs. Brown by the Herman’s Hermits. We’d hear them when we went to Peterson’s for homemade ice cream, The Ritz when we went to see The Sound of Music, or to the Sound End where we would swim in the huge salt water pool. Climbing the stairs to the pavilion with our parents and grandparents, we could hold their hands and stand by the railing and see for miles in any direction. My favorite was always the ocean.

In my mind there’s never been another summer vacation that topped the Summer of ’65. Time, progress and the weather changed the landscape in Spring Lake. But in my heart and mind when I’m overwhelmed and need to escape, I close my eyes and take a trip back to that slice of childhood happiness where my parents and grandparents were both still alive and the hugs were plentiful.

C.H. Admirand lives in the wilds of northern NJ surrounded by men! One darling husband of 40 years, two grown sons, two male rescue dogs—and a few days a week has the pleasure of watching their two amazing grandsons for their daughter and son-in-law.

7/18/2019

Jacqui Nelson’s North of the Border with guest Elizabeth Clements



Who’s next on my North of the Border guest blog series? Today we have Elizabeth Clements, author of Beneath A Fugitive Moon and the Prairie Moon Trilogy.

Where does Elizabeth get her inspiration? How is Canada part of her inspiration? Read on and see...
~  * ~

At 4:10 a.m. on April 29, 1903, the eastern summit of Turtle Mountain collapsed and in 90 seconds 90 million tons of limestone roared down upon Frank, Alberta, covering the coal mining town with rocks and boulders, some as huge as a two-story house. An interpretive center at nearby Blairmore in the Crowsnest Pass now pays tribute to the dozens of people who perished in Alberta’s worst coal mining disaster.


As I strolled among the exhibits, I paused in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of four immigrants. One face in particular captured my attention. I gazed into her weary, sad eyes and time and place slipped away and then there was just the two of us in silent communication.

It’s moments like this, when one’s imagination takes flight, that are inexplainable magic for a writer. I went home but couldn’t get her sad face out of my mind. I wrote a book, inspired by that disaster, then put it aside as the reality of job and family demanded attention.


Yet at times that story came to mind, so when Prairie Rose Publications asked for submissions for the Hot Western Nights anthology, that little lady stole into my dreams and whispered in my ear, “What about Diamond Jack?”

It’s not easy to condense a 400-page book into a 70-page novella and change the setting from the Crowsnest Pass to Colorado, but it was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed. There’s some truth in the statement: better the second time around. I hope you will agree. I love being included in this anthology with five wonderful authors. Here’s a short excerpt from Diamond Jack’s Angel.

EXCERPT - Diamond Jack's Angel


Angela Summers has cared for her grandfather in the mining camp for many years. But when danger strikes, saloon owner Jack Williams must try to protect the woman he loves in DIAMOND JACK’S ANGEL.

Brookstown, Colorado, 1888

“I tell ya, Boss, that crazy old coot’s trouble. Every time it thunders, he says the mountain’s talkin’ to him. And it’s gittin’ worse.”

Sam Brooks sighed and set down his whiskey before looking up at his burly foreman. “All right, Bart, what’s he saying now?”

“He says there’s a fault in the mountain and it’s gonna come down. I tell ya, Boss, that kinda talk’s gonna spook the miners. They’re grumblin’ and talkin’ about goin’ on strike.”

Sam gritted his teeth, fed up with this constant trouble at the mine. Staring into his glass, he sighed like a tired old man and tossed back the rest of the whiskey. “Then take care of it. Make it look like an accident. There’s a bonus in it when the job’s done.”

Bart nodded. “You betcha, Boss. You can count on me.”

“I sure hope so,” Sam muttered, nodding dismissively toward the door.

~ * ~  

All my other books are set in Canada and places I’ve been able to physically visit. When I wrote my first book, I was advised to change the setting to the United States. I didn’t agree because I felt Canada has beautiful scenery and fascinating history to offer to readers. The response I’ve received from readers since the publication of Beneath A Horse Thief Moon last year supports my belief. Beneath A Fugitive Moon was published in June and Beneath A Desperado Moon will conclude the series next year.

I’ve written blogs about the Cypress Hills and its history, which has readers wanting to visit there. My prairie moon trilogy was inspired by a Garth Brooks song. The words and melody captured my imagination. What if he comes back? Another song written and sung by Ian Tyson about a full moon inspired part of the title. Thus, all three books of this trilogy are set in the beautiful Cypress Hills bordering southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

My son accompanied me to the Cypress Hills because I wanted pictures for my website Nick is an excellent photographer with a great eye for detail, which you’ll see when you visit my website. He built that for me because I’m technically-challenged when it comes to computers. All the photographs here, including my bio photo, have been taken by my son.

I’m grateful and honored to have been invited by Jacqui Nelson to guest on North of the Border and share my love of Canada and writing romances. I hope my words will encourage you to take a trip north of the border or read a bit about Canada vicariously through my books.

Thank you so much and please comment below to enter the draw for an e-book of your choice.



~ * ~ 

Elizabeth Clements resides deep in cowboy country in western Canada with her husband who is her real-life hero. She admits she’s an incurable romantic and thus her sensual stories always focus on romance, whether her heroine drives a buggy or a convertible. She has set all twelve of her books in Canadian provinces because she believes Canada has beautiful scenery and fascinating history for her readers to enjoy. Elizabeth is often inspired by her surroundings, a photograph, or a song and the thought—what if… begins a delicious new journey into romance. Visit the author at her website:  www.elizabethclements.com to learn a bit more about her and see pictures of the setting for her western historical romance trilogy set in the beautiful Cypress Hills of southern Alberta and  Saskatchewan.

Stories of Romance and Love in Canada's Wild West



~ All pictures (except for the 1st) are supplied by today’s guest with their assurance of usage rights. 

7/15/2019

July 15th C.H. Admirand Hosts NYT Bestselling Author Mariah Stewart


Featured Series: The Hudson Sisters




“Loaded with appealing down-home characters and tantalizing hints of mystery that will hook readers immediately… Stewart expertly combines the inevitable angst of a trio of sisters, a family secret, and a search for an heirloom necklace; it’s an irresistible mix that will delight readers. Masterful characterizations and well-timed plot are sure to pull in fans of romantic small-town stories.” — Publishers Weekly








Meet Mariah:

Mariah Stewart is the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Todaybestselling author of forty-one novels,  three novellas, and several short stories,  and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal. She has been a RITA finalist in romantic suspense and the recipient of the Award of Excellence for contemporary romance, a RIO Award for excellence in women's fiction, and has received a Reviewers Choice Award from Romantic Times Magazine. A three-time winner of the Golden Leaf Award presented by the New Jersey Romance Writers, Stewart was recently awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award and is in their Hall of Fame. She is the author of several bestselling contemporary romance series, including the Chesapeake Diaries; the Hudson Sisters, a women's fiction trilogy, and several series of suspense novels (the Dead series, the Mercy Street series, among others), and has been published by Random House and Simon and Schuster. She is currently working on a new novel of women's fiction. 
A native of Hightstown, NJ, Mariah lives in Chester County, PA, with her husband of forty years and two rowdy rescue dogs. The mother of two adult daughters, she's the happy grandmother of five.

Q&A

C.H.: What is the title of the first book you published?

Mariah: Moments in Time. I entered it in New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf contest that year, in the first book catagory. Imagine my total DUH moment when I got a call that the book had won - not Best First Book but Best Contemporary Romance! Wheeeee!!!!!!!!! 




C.H.: Do you remember where you were when you got the call?



Mariah: Yes! I was at work! It wasn't your typical call, though. You see, at the end of the book, I'd killed off not only my hero, but the heroine as well. Yes, I did that. My agent had sent out the book but several editors went thumbs down because of the ending. So when that one editor told my agent she'd buy the book - and my next one! - if I let them live. That was Friday afternoon. By Tuesday morning, I had the revised ending on not only my agent's desk, but the editor's as well. I got a call from my agent on Tuesday afternoon that the book was sold to Pocket Books.

  

C.H.:  Do you have a favorite series that you have written?



Mariah: I've written so many series since my first books were published in 1995, it's hard to pick one. I loved my DEAD books - my first suspense series - and I love the Chesapeake Diaries and the Mercy Street series and would love to write another one or two of those. And of course, my most recent series, the Hudson Sisters - it's loosely based on something that happened to my mother (she was in her fifties when she learned her father had had another family in another state!!! Well, who wouldn't want to write about THAT?!). Right now, I'm focused on the proposal for a brand new series that I'm loving.




C.H.: Any favorite character or characters that still wake you up at night?



Mariah: This is a tough question - I've published over 40 books! I guess Grace Sinclair and Ruby Carter in the Chesapeake books, Zoey Enright in the Devlin's Light series, are some of my favorites. Mallory Russo and Trula Comfort and Father Kevin Burch in the Mercy Street books because they insist they aren't finished with me yet and that there's another story or three to tell. I keep wanting to do another book in that series with Mallory and her guy, Charlie Wanamaker, as leads, but I haven't had time.


C.H.:  Do you prefer to plot out your stories, or do you just wing it?

Mariah: I would dearly love to be able to plot out my books! It would save me so much aggravation when I realized I'd written myself into a corner! But alas, I always seem to fly by the seat of my pants.








Where to find Mariah Stewart :


Instagram: @mariah_stewart_books





The Hudson Sisters series follows a trio of reluctant sisters as they set out to fulfill their father’s dying wish. In the process, they find not only themselves, but the father they only thought they knew.

When celebrated and respected agent Fritz Hudson passes away, he leaves a trail of Hollywood glory in his wake—and two separate families who never knew the other existed. Allie and Des Hudson are products of Fritz’s first marriage to Honora, a beautiful but troubled starlet whose life ended in a tragic overdose. Meanwhile, Fritz was falling in love on the Delaware Bay with New Age hippie Susa Pratt—they had a daughter together, Cara, and while Fritz loved Susa with everything he had, he never quite managed to tell her or Cara about his West Coast family.




Now Fritz is gone, and the three sisters are brought together under strange circumstances:  there’s a large inheritance to be had that could save Allie from her ever-deepening debt following a disastrous divorce, allow Des to continue to support her rescue shelter for abused and wounded animals, and give Cara a fresh start after her husband left her for one of her best friends—but only if the sisters upend their lives and work together to restore an old, decrepit theater that was Fritz’s obsession growing up in his small hometown in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Guided by Fritz’s closest friend and longtime attorney, Pete Wheeler, the sisters come together—whether they like it or not—to turn their father’s dream into a reality, and might just come away with far more than they bargained for.





Excerpt  from THE LAST CHANCE MATINEE:

“Your father left a large estate. The sum you’re each going to inherit will be significant. Assuming that you meet the rest of the conditions.”
          “What conditions?” Cara asked warily.
          Now came the hard part. Pete cleared his throat again, and launched into the part of the disclosure that he’d rehearsed over and over.
          “Your father loved all of you very much. I know he didn’t always go out of his way to show it.” He directed these remarks to Allie and Des.
          “That’s an understatement,” grumbled Allie. “If you call an occasional phone call proof of how much he loved us.” She tossed a dagger at Cara. “Of course, now we know why he was so preoccupied.”
          Cara started to protest, but Pete raised a hand. “Trust me, there will be plenty of time to snipe at each other later.”
          “That sounds ominous,” Des said.
          Pete continued with his speech. “As I said, your father loved you all. He wanted more than anything for you to know and love each other.”
          “Which is why he kept her a secret.” Allie pointed in Cara’s direction.
          “He didn’t tell me about you, either,” Cara countered.
          “Ladies. Please.” Pete placed a hand on the top of his head, a habit once intended to smooth back his hair, which was now pretty much gone.
          “If it was so important to him that we know each other, why didn’t he tell us himself?” Cara asked.
          “Because at his core, he was a coward.” There. He’d said it. “He just couldn’t face you. I think he believed it didn’t matter so much because Nora was gone. Cara, after Susa died, he couldn’t face you with the truth. So he let it go and was convinced that the right time would present itself. As you know, it never did.”
          “So what comes next?” Des asked softly.
          “Your father wanted you all to share in not only his wealth, but in his life.”
          “A little late on that score,” Allie scoffed.
          “Something he came to very much regret at the end, believe me. He became obsessed with wanting you to know each other. Which is why he left a challenge for the three of you. If you’re successful, you inherit his entire estate. If you fail, you get nothing.”
          The pronouncement was met with silence and blank stares.
          Finally, Allie said, “Please tell us you’re kidding.”
          “I assure you, I’m not. Nor was this my idea, by the way,” Pete told them. “Believe me. I did everything I could to talk him out of this. But he’d gotten it into his head that this was the way to...”
          “What kind of challenge?” Cara blurted.
          “Something along the lines of the twelve labors of Hercules would be my guess.” Allie folded her arms over her chest.
          “Close, Allie. He wants the three of you to restore an old theater in his hometown. Together.”    
“Wait, what?”
          “Say that again?”
          “Restore a theater? Had he lost his mind?”
          Pete let the three of them vent for several minutes.
          “If you’ve finished with your rantings, I’d like to continue.” He glanced from Allie to Des to Cara and back again. When it appeared they’d settled down, he continued. “The theater was built by your great-grandfather, Reynolds Hudson. It’s an Art Deco treasure and belongs on the National Register of Historic Places.”
          “What if the owner doesn’t want it restored?” Cara asked.
          “Fritz owned it. It’s now part of the estate you stand to inherit. As I said, his grandfather built it, and the family still owned it up until about twenty years ago. The new owner had plans to completely renovate it, but grossly underestimated the cost and he ran out of money before he could finish,” Pete explained. “When it was slated for demolition about a year ago, Fritz bought it back. The fact that the building itself has fallen into its present state bothered him right to the end because it’s part of his family legacy.”
          “Why did he sell it in the first place, then, if it’s so important?” Des asked. “All I ever heard was that when he was young, he worked in a theater and he met Mom there.”
          “I never heard about it at all,” Cara added. “And he never mentioned his family to me.”
          “Me either, come to think of it,” Des said. “Allie?”
          “Nothing.”
          “Understand where your father was coming from. He really did have all intentions of restoring the theater himself, went so far as to begin to solicit a few estimates for the work that would need to be done. I don’t know how far he actually got with that because it soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to live to see the project through.” Pete hesitated, remembering the last days with his friend. He waited for the lump in his throat to ease a bit before continuing. “So perhaps you’ll understand why he made it a condition of your inheritance that the building be restored and returned to use as a theater again.”
          “It must’ve been the meds he was on. They made him delusional,” Allie said. “He obviously wasn’t thinking straight.”
          “Oh, believe me, he knew exactly what he was doing. We talked it through, every which way,” Pete assured her.
          “Then why didn’t you talk him out of it?” Allie demanded.
          “What can I say? You know your father, he was never going to be talked out of this. He thought this was the way to kill two birds with one stone. You get to know each other and the Sugarhouse gets restored. It was win-win.”
          “Ignoring the obvious problems with that, how did he expect us to accomplish this?” Allie asked. “Surely he didn’t expect...where is this place again?” 
          “Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania,” Pete replied. “You know your dad and I grew up together in Pennsylvania, right?
          “I knew he was from somewhere in Pennsylvania, but Dad never wanted to talk about his childhood. Is Hidden Falls anywhere near Philadelphia? Or Pittsburgh?” Des inquired.
          “Or any civilized city?” Allie held up crossed fingers.
          “It’s in the Poconos. Population...” Pete paused.  “Actually, I have no idea what the population is these days but it probably isn’t much.”
          “The Poconos? Aren’t they mountains?” Allie wrinkled her nose in obvious distaste. “Wait. Not the place with all those tacky heart-shaped bathtubs?”
          “That’s right.” Pete smiled. “The honeymoon capital of the world.”
          “Well, I have no intention of playing this silly game,” Allie turned to the other two women. “Either or both of you can play along, but I for one...”
          “...will inherit nothing.” Pete cut in. “As a matter of fact, none of you will inherit anything. The money will then go to charities of my choosing.”
          Allie wheeled around, ready to explode. Before she could speak, Pete said, “If any one of you refuses, or leaves before the theater is restored, none of you will inherit a dime.”
          “All for one and one for all,” Des muttered.
          “You said ‘leaves’,” Cara said cautiously. “Leaves where?”
          “While you’re working on this project, you’ll live together in your father’s family home, the house your great-grandfather built?”
          “No way.”
          “Not gonna’ happen.”
          “You cannot be serious.”
          “Couldn’t be more serious,” Pete told them.
          “Live with her? You can’t mean it.” A clearly horrified Allie glared at Cara.
          “Which means I would have to live with the two of you,” Cara replied. “Frankly, I think I’m getting the worst of the deal.”
          “Okay, let’s say we agreed to do this.” Des pondered aloud. “How are we supposed to pay for this renovation? I’m assuming, if the building had been on someone’s demo list, it must need a lot of work. Where’s the money coming from?”
          “From the estate. Your dad put money aside for the project in a special account. Might be a good idea to choose one of you to be in charge of the checkbook, because if you go over what he projected, it’ll be up to you to come up with the rest of the funds.” He pointed his pen in Des’s direction. “Des, that might be a good job for you. Your dad told me many times how well you’ve handled the money you made from your TV series. How wisely you invested.”
          Cara frowned. “What TV series?”
          “Long story,” Des told her. “Apparently we’ll have lots of time to catch up.”  
“So Dad just expected us to waltz out of our lives to do a job he should’ve done.” Allie voiced what the other two clearly were thinking. “We have lives, you know. What about my daughter? This is outrageously inconvenient and thoughtless of him.”
“Your daughter is living with her father and can continue to do so until school is out.” Pete’s patience was nearing its end. “As for you, you’re unemployed with no immediate prospects and on the verge of losing your house. So if you ask me, it’s a plenty convenient time for you.” Allie started to object, but Pete cut her off.
“Des, you’re living off your investments and don’t have to work, and you won’t be leaving much behind this time of the year except the Montana winter.”
He turned to Cara. “You own your business and have a remarkably qualified assistant who’s been begging to buy in for the past year. Now’s a good time to see how she’d do as a potential partner.” He looked around at the three of them. “There’s no real hardship involved for any of you, when you get right down to it. This is your father’s last wish. Complying is all that stands between you and your inheritance.”
          “I still don’t understand why he did this,” Cara said.
          “Well, I’ve tried to explain it all as best I could.” Pete opened a desk drawer and took out a small device. “Now it’s time you hear directly from your dad.”
          “What?” Cara asked.
          “Your father left an audio letter for you. He wanted me to play it after I’d gone over the terms of his will.” He clicked a switch and sat back. A moment later, the women heard their father’s voice.
          “Is this thing on? Pete, is it on?”
          “It’s on, Fritz. Go ahead.”
          “Okay. Well, girls, if you’re listening to this – and if old Pete here has done his duty to me – I’m ashes in a jar and the three of you have just been hit with a bombshell. I owe each of you an apology, for things I did and didn’t do. There isn’t time enough for me to go into every way I’ve failed you, but please know that I am sorry to my soul for not being the father you all deserve. Know that I love the three of you more than anything in this world...this world, the next world. Whichever world I land in.” He chuckled at his attempt to make a joke, then coughed.
A moment passed before he resumed. “I want you to understand that I loved your mothers, both of them, in my own way, and in their own time. Don’t think for a minute that any of my actions were the result of anything you did. Allie, I’m talking to you especially here. You just remember that last conversation we had and remember what I told you.” He paused and coughed again. When he resumed speaking, his voice was a bit weaker. “Des, I’m sorry for not standing up to your mother when you needed me to. I shouldn’t have let her bully you into doing things you didn’t want to do.” More coughing. “Cara Mia, I’m sorry for the lies. Sorry that I let you and Susa live a lie for all these years. Sorry that I...” Cough cough. “That I left all this in Pete’s lap.” The voice grew faint, as if Fritz had turned from the recorder. “Pete, you’re the best friend a guy ever had. I love you like a brother...” Again a cough, longer, harsher this time.
          Then, Pete’s voice. “Fritz, that’s enough.”
          “No. I need to tell them about the theater. Why it matters.”
          “I’ll tell them.”
          “But...”
          “I promise. I’ll tell them.” A heavy sigh from Pete. “Say goodbye, Fritz.”
          An even heavier sigh from Fritz. “Goodbye, girls. Be good to each other. Trust each other and yourselves. Do what I’ve ask you to do, and all will be well in the end. I promise. Love you. Always.”
          Pete wiped his eyes and turned off the recorder. The only sound in the room was the sniffling of the three women as tears ran down their faces. He handed Cara a box of tissues. She took several and passed the box on to Des, who shared it with Allie.
When they finally all composed themselves, Cara pointed to the now-silent recorder. “When did he make that?”
          “The afternoon before he died,” Pete replied.
“When did he tell you that he was sick?” Des asked.
“The same day he found out,” Pete admitted. “He had very little time to put his house in order.”
          “What happened to his ashes?” Cara asked.
          Pete pointed to a large, shiny silver urn on the top shelf of the bookcase across the room.
          “You mean, he’s here?” Allie’s eyes widened. “He’s been here this entire time?”
          “In a sense, yes.” Pete watched in amusement as all three women turned and stared at the urn. “I know this has all come as a huge shock to you, and I know that what your dad asked of you is...well, unusual, to say the least. But once the theater is up and running again, you’ll bury his cremains in his family’s cemetery next to his parents. Then you’ll all be free to go about your lives and you never have to see each other again.”
          He waited for someone to comment. When no one did, he continued.
“Okay. Also inside your envelopes, you’ll find directions to the house in Hidden Falls. Your father gave you each one month from today to arrive at that address. I remind you that all three of you must arrive on that date, or none of you will get a dime. If any one of you leaves before the theater is finished, the money goes to charity. I hope I made that clear.” He stood, feeling satisfied. He’d kept his final promises to his old friend. “Any last questions?”
          No one spoke.
          “Good. Well, don’t hesitate to call if you think of anything. Otherwise, I expect you’ll all comply with your dad’s wishes.”
          Again, silence.
          “All righty, then.” Pete walked to the door and opened it. “Keep in touch, girls. Let me know how it goes.”
          Pete hugged each of the three women and planted a kiss on their foreheads as they wordlessly filed out of the office. Pete walked them to the elevator, pushed the button for down, and stood aside as the three silently entered the car together. When the door slid closed, he walked back to his office, relieved that his part in Fritz’s mess was, for the time being, over.
          “How’d it go?” Marjorie asked as he passed her desk.
          Pete rolled his eyes.
          “As we suspected,” she replied. “Well, it’s certainly going to be interesting to watch this play out.”
          “Oh, yeah.”
          “You think they’ll be able to do it?”
          “Once they come around to the idea, sure. Whether or not they can without killing each other...” Pete shrugged.
          “Did you tell them about Barney?”
          “Nope. Left that part out.” Pete entered his office, adding over his shoulder, “There should be something for them to discover on their own.” 

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