A holiday novella by the author of Crown Jewel continues the story of matriarch Loretta Cisco and her three newlywed grandchildren, who in the aftermath of a freak tornado experience a range of marital problems, including an unwanted pregnancy and fears of infidelity. 200,000 first printing.
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Fern Michaels is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of Hey, Good Looking, Pretty Woman, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Nosy Neighbor, Family Blessings, Crown Jewel, The Real Deal, Late Bloomer, Trading Places, No Place Like Home, Plain Jane, and dozens of other novels. There are more than seventy million copies of her books in print. She lives in South Carolina. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
One Month Later
"It's hard to believe Halloween has come and gone already." Loretta Cisco, founder and recently retired CEO of Cisco Candies who was known as Cisco to her family, opened the screen door to let the dogs out. Freddie, a golden retriever, barked to let his partner, Hugo, know it was time to get a move on. It was the same thing as saying the breakfast bacon will still be there when we get back. Hugo, a black Lab, bolted through the door.
Ezra Danford, a tall, robust man, and Cisco's live-in companion, as well as partner, turned from the stove where he was making blueberry pancakes, Cisco's favorite breakfast. "I know what you mean, Loretta." He insisted on calling her by her given name, saying the pet name Cisco was just for her son and her grandchildren, the triplets, to use. "In a few weeks we'll be out there raking the last of the leaves and bringing in firewood. Then before you know it, the holidays will be here."
Cisco tugged at the apron she was wearing. "Time moves too fast when you're old, and we're old, Ezra. I dearly love the holidays, as you well know, but in another way they're sad because it means another year is coming to a close. You and I, my dear, also have an anniversary coming up. If the Trips," she said, referring to her triplet grandchildren, "hadn't brought you here that special Christmas almost three years ago, I might never have gotten to know you. For that, I will be eternally grateful."
Ezra expertly flipped a pancake, then turned the strips of bacon to the other side. "We should get married, Loretta." He winked at her, hoping she would get flustered and say yes.
Cisco adjusted the glasses perched on the end of her nose before she gave her colorful apron another hitch. "No, Ezra, we shouldn't get married. You had a wife, and I had a husband. When we depart this world, you're going with your wife, and I'm going with my husband. That's the way it has to be. Otherwise, your children and grandchildren will have a problem, as will mine. They won't know where to put us.
"We've talked about this a hundred times, Ezra. Why are you bringing it up again today? The relationship we have right now is working just fine for both of us. You know what happens when you tamper with something that doesn't need tampering with."
Cisco took her place at the table, the dogs' plates in her hands. Her gaze was drawn to the kitchen window. "Is it my imagination, Ezra, or does it look yellow outside?"
A puzzled look on his face, the man, who was as big as a bear, walked to the old screen door and opened it. It did look yellow outside. His eyes narrowed slightly. "Loretta, turn on the television or radio and let's hear the weather report. There might be a fire somewhere. I don't hear the birds either. It's much too quiet," he said, peering into the distance. "I know it's autumn, but it's strange. The winter birds love to nest in your old sycamore and sing to us every morning when we have breakfast. Some bad weather might be on the way." He called both dogs to come indoors.
"Are they saying anything on the TV?" Ezra walked out onto the back porch and looked around. The air was yellow as far as he could see. He stepped back in and looked at Cisco questioningly as the dogs whined at her feet.
Cisco poured syrup on her pancakes. "They haven't said a thing. We'll keep it on while we eat in case a bulletin comes in. We can't have bad weather today. The family is coming, and we're picnicking under the sycamore. A nice, long, lazy Sunday to enjoy having everyone here with us. It will probably be our last outdoor get-together before the cold weather sets in. There simply cannot be any bad weather today. I won't allow it," she said lightly.
Ezra ate quickly, something he never did. He loved food and always took his time when eating, enjoying every mouthful. When he finished, he picked up the dogs' plates and his own and stacked them in the dishwasher before he walked back to the door to stare at the yellow world outside the house.
He moved then, quicker than lightning. "Hurry, Loretta. I want you and the dogs to go down to the root cellar. I can't be certain about this, but the only time in my life that I saw a world of yellow was when I lived in Arkansas, and a tornado whipped through. Hurry now."
Cisco needed no second urging. She dumped her dishes in the dishwasher and herded the dogs down the cellar steps. "What are you going to do, Ezra?"
"Lock up, crack some of the windows. I'll be down in a minute. Take care of the dogs. Go to the southwest corner of the root cellar. Maybe I'm wrong, Loretta. It's better to be safe than sorry."
Cisco was at the bottom of the steps when she heard the sound. She knew instantly what it was. "Never mind the doors, Ezra, get down here. Now!"
Ezra was at the bottom of the steps the minute she finished speaking. The dogs whined and whimpered as Cisco led them down three more steps to the root cellar, where she kept her winter vegetables. The door was stout, with iron bars crisscrossing it from top to bottom.
The sound overhead increased in volume until it sounded like a hundred jet airplanes breaking the sound barrier. Ezra and Cisco clung together, their old bodies trembling as they tried to comfort one another and the dogs at the same time.
And then it was deathly quiet. The dogs yipped once, then were quiet.
Ezra struggled with the iron bars holding the door in place. When he finally got the door open, he was looking at the cellar staircase and nothing else. He could see the sky, the backyard, and the old sycamore. He tested the steps to make sure they were sturdy before he allowed Cisco and the dogs to climb them. He went first, ascending the steps carefully.
He looked around in stunned amazement. It was all gone, every last wall and window. What looked like half of the roof was on top of the barn, which itself was leaning drunkenly to the side. There was no sign of Cisco's car or his pickup truck.
Ezra's voice sounded choked. "This house was in the direct path, Loretta. It's all gone. Look up the hill; my house is still standing."
"It can't be gone, Ezra, it just can't," Cisco insisted as she looked around. She started to cry. Freddie hugged her leg, not understanding what was going on. Hugo pawed Ezra's leg for the big man to comfort him. "My whole life was here in this little house, Ezra. All the Trips' belongings were here as well as my son's from the day they were born. How can I ever replace them? Oh, Ezra, this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. It's worse than when my son stuck me in that assisted-living facility. At least I could close my eyes and picture this beloved little house of mine. How can it all be gone, Ezra? How?"
All Ezra could do was put his arm around her shoulder, and murmur, "I don't know, Loretta. I just don't know. Careful, watch your step now. Let's take a walk around. Maybe we can salvage something."
"I'm too old to start over, Ezra. Do you see my kitchen table anywhere? I started Cisco Candies in my kitchen on that old table. I kept the Trips' bassinet in the kitchen because it was the warmest room in the house during the winter. I diapered Jonathan there, too. Oh, God, how did this happen?" She looked around wildly as she staggered from one place to another, hoping to find something that belonged to her.
Ezra's voice was gentle, soothing, when he said, "You can rebuild the house and barn, Loretta. A good contractor can have it built for you by Christmas if the weather holds. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole town turns out to rebuild for you because you moved Cisco Candies here from New York City and provide employment for so many of the people in town. We can stay at my house while the building is going on. I know that's not what you want to hear, but it's the only consolation I can give you right now."
Cisco gave no indication she could hear what he was saying. Instead, her gaze raked the yard, hoping to see something from the house. She hated the way she was feeling, hated the tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks. Her voice was a whisper when she said, "Where do I go to get my memories back? I need to touch my things. I need to see them." She picked up the hem of her apron and wiped at her eyes. "Why, Ezra, why?"
Ezra wrapped his arms around her, his eyes full of sadness. "No one c...
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