Love Mercy (Berkley Prime Crime Mysteries)

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9780425233320: Love Mercy (Berkley Prime Crime Mysteries)
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National bestselling author of the Benni Harper mysteries

Widow Love Mercy Johnson still listens for her husband's comforting laugh, but with her friend's help, she's trying to move on. Then her 18-year-old estranged granddaughter shows up, forcing them both to confront old resentments. And when disaster strikes, they must discover if they can change their lives-and the lives of those they love-for the better.

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About the Author:

Earlene Fowler was raised in La Puente, California, by a Southern mother and a Western father. She lives in Southern California with her husband, Allen, a large number of quilts, and twenty pairs of cowboy boots.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

 

ONE - Rett

TWO - Love Mercy

THREE - Mel

FOUR - Rett

FIVE - Mel

SIX - Love Mercy

SEVEN - Rett

EIGHT - Mel

NINE - Love Mercy

TEN - Mel

ELEVEN - Rett

TWELVE - Love Mercy

THIRTEEN - Rett

FOURTEEN - Love Mercy

FIFTEEN - Mel

SIXTEEN - Rett

SEVENTEEN - Love Mercy

EIGHTEEN - Mel

NINETEEN - Love Mercy

TWENTY - Rett

TWENTY-ONE - Mel

TWENTY-TWO - Mel

TWENTY-THREE - Love Mercy

TWENTY-FOUR - Rett

TWENTY-FIVE - Mel

TWENTY-SIX - Mel

TWENTY-SEVEN - Love Mercy

TWENTY-EIGHT - Rett

TWENTY-NINE - Love Mercy

THIRTY - Rett

THIRTY-ONE - Love Mercy

THIRTY-TWO - Rett

THIRTY-THREE - Mel

THIRTY-FOUR - Love Mercy

Titles by Earlene Fowler

THE SADDLEMAKER’S WIFE
LOVE MERCY

 

The Benni Harper Mysteries

FOOL’S PUZZLE

IRISH CHAIN

KANSAS TROUBLES

GOOSE IS THE POND

DOVE IN THE WINDOW

MERINER’S COMPASS

SEVEN SISTERS

ARKANSAS TRAVELER

STEPS TO THE ALTAR

SUNSHINE AND SHADOW

BROKEN DISHES

DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS

TUMBLING BLOCKS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

 

Copyright © 2009 by Earlene Fowler.

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

The name BERKLEY® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

PRINTING HISTORY

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Fowler, Earlene.
Love mercy / Earlene Fowler.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01457-8

1. Widows—Fiction. 2. Grandmothers—Fiction. 3. Granddaughters—Fiction. 4. Morro
Bay (Calif.)—Fiction. I. Title.

 


PS3556.O828L68 2009
813’.54—dc22
2008049051

 


For Jo-Ann Mapson
beloved friend and sister in heart
may you never run out of words or chocolate

 

 

and

 

 

For Kathy Vieira
dearly loved friend, favorite riding partner
and chosen hermana

Acknowledgments

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

ROMANS 12:9-12

 

My gratitude to:

 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

 

Ellen Geiger—dynamite agent and wonderful friend—thank you for your support, wisdom and awesome sense of humor!

 

Kate Seaver—my enthusiastic and talented editor—I appreciate your hard work, your deft touch and your high-spirited encouragement.

 

Andy Rau—gifted musician, banjo player, songwriter and teacher—thank you for your patience in answering all my crazy questions.

 

Lela Satterfield—faithful friend, talented musician and writer, sister in Christ—your loving spirit and devotion to Jesus always inspires and amazes me (and thanks for the bridge!).

 

Tina Davis, Janice Dischner, Jo Ellen Heil, Cathy Higgins, Christine Hill, Karen Meek, Carolyn Miller, Pam Munns, Karen Olson, Laura Ross Wingfield—some gave information, some prayed, some listened to me whine and some sent chocolate. You are dearly loved and cherished friends. Thank you all.

 

Always to Allen—all my days—if I had a choice, again I would spend them with you.

Note from the Author

The Central Coast of California holds a special place in my heart, so when I started Love Mercy, I decided to set this book in some of the same places I’ve used in my Benni Harper mystery series. The town of Morro Bay resides in the fictional county of San Celina. The series characters my readers have come to love—Benni Harper, her police chief husband, Gabe, and her gramma, Dove—are minor characters in Love Mercy. The difference is that the Benni Harper series is set in the 1990s and Love Mercy is set in 2008. And, to those of you who have not read my Benni Harper books, yes, I know that San Celina is improper Spanish. If you want to know the reason why, check my website’s FAQ section.

The Love Mercy novels (and I’m hoping there will be more) are not mystery novels, so don’t expect a dead body behind every hay bale. But they will deal with another kind of mystery: that of the human heart, especially with how it pertains to family. I’ll still write the Benni Harper novels, but I hope you fall as much in love as I have with Love Mercy Johnson, her friends Melina LeBlanc and Magnolia Sanchez, and Love’s banjo-playing granddaughter, Rett.

ONE

Rett

The Magic Genie Weight and Fortune machine in the gift shop of Larry’s Speedy Time truck stop in Amarillo, Texas, gave Rett her weight but stole her fortune. She smacked the silver machine in frustration. A perfectly good quarter down the drain. Rett needed that fortune. She already knew how much she weighed. One hundred thirteen pounds. In her scuff-toed Justin boots.

“Hon, that contraption ran out of fortunes years ago,” said the gum-smacking woman behind the shop’s cash register. “It’s just a big ole piece of junk, if you ask me.”

Rett ducked her head and didn’t answer, embarrassed to be caught putting money in something so stupid. She picked up her dirty aqua backpack and black banjo case and headed for the Speedy Skillet café attached to the gift shop. Dwaine said they’d be stuck here for at least six hours.

Loretta Lynn Johnson—who would only answer to Rett despite her mom’s insistence that Loretta Lynn was a perfectly nice name—figured a person could have a real full life traveling around the country from truck stop to truck stop. You could do about anything you wanted at a Flying J truck stop or a TravelCenters of America: take a hot shower; get a haircut; buy sugar-free Red Bull, a banana MoonPie or some banjo strings; even learn Spanish from a bilingual Bible.

Rett contemplated becoming a trucker while she chewed her grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. How old did a person have to be to drive long-haul trucks? Her twenty-first birthday was still two and a half years away. Would she have to know how to parallel park? She’d never gotten the hang of that. She wasn’t too hot at backing up either. Dimpled trash cans back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, bore witness to that fact.

She nibbled at the gooey sandwich middle and considered her options. She had a for sure ride until Albuquerque with Brother Dwaine Porter Wilburn, a traveling evangelist who held nondenominational church services in the back of a white Peterbilt truck he’d christened the Holy Roller. From there, he was driving north to Denver for the national board meeting of the Jesus Loves Truckers Outreach Ministries. He was vice president this year. Rett was headed for the West Coast.

Brother Dwaine approached her yesterday while she was perusing the candy aisle at a Petro truck stop in Little Rock, Arkansas, trying to decide between a dark chocolate Milky Way and a PayDay candy bar. He said if she needed a safe ride to somewhere, he’d be glad to help her out. He had an accent like Roy, her second stepdad: pure Texas Panhandle.

When he gently repeated his offer, Rett glanced nervously over at the big-haired woman stocking the potato chips shelves. She wore a Petro name tag. The woman smiled and said, “He’s okay, girlie. You’ll be fine.” She reminded Rett of Dolly Parton, so she believed her.

“I reckon I could find you rides with decent people most the ways to where you’re going,” Dwaine said after he cajoled a little of her story out of her. “Young ladies like yourself shouldn’t be out on the road alone. Jesus says to love your fellow man, but I’m here to tell you, there’s some bedbug-crazy folks traveling the highways and byways of our fine country.”

“Yes, sir,” she’d murmured, staring out the window at the toy-sized cars darting around them. She loved the high vantage point of the semi’s orange-scented cab. It made her feel like she was in charge of the whole world. On the truck’s satellite radio, a gospel group was singing an a cappella version of “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” The alto was slightly flat.

Normally a statement like his about the dangers of young girls traveling alone would cause her to roll her eyes. But she wasn’t stupid. Attitude was fine, but survival was better. Ten years of navigating the fringes of the gospel and bluegrass music business taught her that. It had been her good luck to run into Brother Dwaine. He’d called it God’s Providence.

Whatever, she thought. He was kinda preachy, but that was easy enough to tune out. She’d been doing that most of her life. Listening to him definitely beat taking a chance on another van full of college guys, which had been her transportation from Knoxville to Memphis. At the Winn-Dixie two miles from her house, while standing in the ten items or less line, Rett met a Vanderbilt student named Derek. She was buying a bottle of water and some Hershey bars for the road. She’d vaguely thought about taking the bus to California, but she didn’t want to waste what little money she had saved. Luckily, the Vanderbilt guy and his buddies were heading in her general direction and offered her a ride. They were okay, didn’t hassle her at all and she did pitch in ten bucks for gas. Things were fine until the driver pulled out a Jack Daniel’s bottle. She’d ditched them when they’d stopped for snacks at a Wal-Mart outside of Memphis. She wasn’t about to become a grease spot in the middle of Interstate 40 because of some drunk frat boy.

She had stood at the side of the road with her thumb out, trying not to think about all the Dateline NBC shows she’d seen about serial killers and missing girls. A little later, a girl not much older than Rett picked her up. Her name was Eunice Shumaker, and she drove an older white SUV with a faded pink Mary Kay cosmetics sign plastered on the driver’s door. She offered Rett a ride clear to Little Rock, where Eunice’s mother was having kidney stone surgery. Eunice dropped her off at the Petro truck stop and handed her some samples of Mary Kay sunscreen.

“Do not leave the house without wearing this,” she’d warned. “You might have brown hair, but, girl, you got the skin of a redhead.”

Brother Dwaine had approached Rett not ten minutes later, a concerned look on his grizzled face.

“More coffee?” The waitress stood in front of Rett holding a stained Bunn coffeepot. She had tired brown eyes and a cool-looking heart-shaped mole on her left cheek. Or maybe it was a tattoo.

“No, thanks,” Rett answered, looking down at her plate where a shriveled pickle was the only thing she’d left uneaten.

“Brother Dwaine says this is on his tab,” the waitress said in a gravelly, Tanya Tucker voice that Rett immediately envied. “He does that all the time. Cook just baked some peach pie. Want some?”

Rett almost refused, hating to take more of the minister’s help, but she thought about the crumpled money tucked down into her dusty red boot. Sixty-eight dollars and forty-three cents, and she still had half the country to travel. She’d started out with a hundred bucks but hadn’t paid real close attention to how much she was spending, a trait her mom often pointed out. At the Wal-Mart where she’d ditched the frat boys, she’d bought wool socks, gloves and a red knit hat. It hadn’t occurred to her to stick those things in her backpack when she left Knoxville. But it was the first week of December and cold across most of the country. It had seemed likely that she’d be spending most of her trip on the side of the highway with her thumb out.

At the same time she’d foolishly splurged on a Rhonda Vincent CD, the one the bluegrass singer recorded at the Sheldon Concert Hall in Missouri. Rett had the CD at home, but at the last minute decided to leave it since her backpack had been jammed full, and she knew every song lyric and banjo lick by heart. She sighed. If she had an iPod, that would have solved her problem. But Mom was old school, thought they were a waste of money and Rett never had the discipline to save her own money for one. So, unable to resist, Rett tossed the CD in her basket at Wal-Mart. Somehow it made her feel less scared to have it nestled in her backpack against her favorite Nashville Sounds sweatshirt.

“Sure, I’ll have some pie,” Rett said. She might as well fill up while she could. But, after this, she wouldn’t accept any more charity from the minister. If she was careful, her money would last her until she reached Morro Bay. Then, hating that it was her mom’s stupidly optimistic words that sprang to her mind first, she’d “reassess her opportunities.”

While she waited for the pie, she reached over and rubbed a nail-bitten thumb over a new scar on the black banjo case. Riding in the college student’s van had banged it up more than twenty county fair gigs.

“You can leave your banjo in the cab,” Dwaine had said when they pulled into the truck stop where he was going to have a pinging...

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