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Redeem (Never Waste a Second Chance Book 3), страница 1

 

Redeem (Never Waste a Second Chance Book 3)
 

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Redeem (Never Waste a Second Chance Book 3)


  Table of Contents

  REDEEM

  ONE

  TWO

  THREE

  FOUR

  FIVE

  SIX

  SEVEN

  EIGHT

  NINE

  TEN

  ELEVEN

  TWELVE

  THIRTEEN

  FOURTEEN

  FIFTEEN

  SIXTEEN

  SEVENTEEN

  EIGHTEEN

  NINETEEN

  TWENTY

  TWENTY-ONE

  TWENTY-TWO

  TWENTY-THREE

  EPILOGUE

  Copyright © 2017 by Janice M. Whiteaker

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof

  may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever

  without the express written permission of the publisher

  except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Printed in the United States of America

  www.janicemwhiteaker.com

  First Printing, 2017

  REDEEM

  Janice M. Whiteaker

  ONE

  Beth stared out her front window at the fresh blanket of pristine snow glittering across the front yard of the farmhouse she and her girls now called home. At least three inches of heavy white flakes fell during the night, piling on top of the three that were already there, muffling out the hard lines of everything in its path. At least on her yard anyway.

  The driveway and sidewalk were another story.

  The perfectly scraped lines in the long concrete driveway should be a relief, saving her the time and inconvenience of shoveling. Instead they made the less perfect lines between her eyebrows dig their heels in a little deeper.

  Thomas had done so much for her already, in spite of the fact her dead husband tried to kill him. The idea of her brother-in-law out in the freezing cold, shoveling her driveway, his still tender leg injury (said dead husband caused) irritated by the chill, drew Beth’s brow impossibly lower.

  “Mommy!”

  Beth jumped a little at Liza’s voice from the top of the stairs. She dropped the lace curtains that perfectly suited the white clapboard house back in place as a guilty bit of frustration over her youngest daughter’s early rising pinched at her stomach. Just a few minutes of peace with a hot cup of coffee was all she was hoping for this morning. Now it was one more thing to add to the list of things she would not be getting today. Like the opportunity to poop or shower alone.

  The lofty goals of a single mother.

  Beth turned and smiled at the matted head of dark hair and bright eyes already standing at the bottom of the stairs. Liza skipped across the wood floor in socked feet to bounce off Beth’s hip as her chubby little hand yanked the curtain back open.

  “It snowed!” The glee in her little voice was unmistakable. It was also an unmistakable contrast to the feelings the fresh pile of snow brought about for Beth.

  Today was supposed to be the first day back to normalcy after over two weeks of holiday insanity. Two weeks of the chaos brought about by Christmas dinners and presents and travel. Two weeks of all kids, all the time, all by herself.

  To say she was exhausted from what was mislabeled a vacation would be an understatement. Wrangling two little, excitable, rowdy girls at get-togethers and parties by herself put the stress of running a classroom to shame.

  Maybe that’s why she was a better teacher than she was a mother.

  Better was the wrong word. Better organized was more accurate. Or maybe it was that all the Snow White her personality contained was expended on other people’s children.

  Liza was already cramming her left foot into a boot she fished from the pile of shoes collecting by the front door. “I’m gonna go make snow angels.”

  “You need to have your breakfast first.” Beth looked down at Liza’s knobby bare knees sticking out from beneath the hem of her butterfly patterned flannel nightgown. “And you need to put more clothes on.”

  Liza huffed and fell backwards as if Beth’s denial was a shot to the heart, striking her dead on the spot. As always, the five-year-old’s disappointment was as short-lived as her attention span. Almost as soon as Liza was splayed on the floor, her arms and legs began swiping back and forth.

  “I’ll practice till I eat.” The movement of her arms across the ground made it painfully obvious Beth hadn’t mopped the floors in more than a couple weeks. Lots more than a couple weeks. Each swish of Liza’s cotton covered arm wiped at the dust that was easy to ignore.

  Easy at least, until there was a gleamingly clean angel rubbed into the hardwood staring up at you. It looked like this snow day would be spent cleaning.

  Great.

  “Come on Li. Let’s get some breakfast made.” Beth reached out a hand. Liza grabbed it and yanked hard as she bounced up then took off for the kitchen.

  “Can we have pancakes?”

  Of course she would want pancakes. Not something easy and quick like cereal or a frozen biscuit sandwich you throw in the microwave.

  “Yup.” Beth took a deep breath and tried to realign her brain to the change in today’s plan. It wasn’t easy. Apparently she was looking forward to going back to work today more than she realized.

  Grabbing the box of powdery pancake mix from the convenience meal stocked pantry, she started to hum. Humming was supposed to help keep you relaxed, right?

  “Mommy? Why are you buzzing?” Liza was perched on the corner of the kitchen table, her tiny bottom occupying the only square foot not covered in backpacks, junk mail and half-full water bottles.

  Beth hummed louder as she turned away from the cluttered eating area, trying to ignore it along with the dusty floor. At least the counters and sink were empty and wiped clean. Probably because they were never used outside of packing simple lunches and pouring cups of coffee.

  And occasionally to bang her forehead against.

  “I know that song.” Liza scooted off the table and stood on the chair, belting out the theme to her favorite princess cartoon at the top of her lungs. The same song Beth was unknowingly humming.

  Oh God, she needed a break.

  As Beth aggressively whisked the suggested amount of water into the bowl of pancake mix, an idea bounced around her brain. An idea that made her immediately feel like a bad mother for even considering it. What mom didn’t relish each and every second she spent with the beings that grew inside her own body?

  This one, because that idea sounded better and better with each passing second as Liza started skipping in circles around the kitchen, gaining volume and speed with each pass. When the commotion roused her older sister, dragging Kate into the mix and increasing the decibels inside the room by unimaginable amounts, the decision was made.

  Bad mom it was.

  “Hey! Do you guys want to go to playtime today?” Beth scooped up a ladle full of the heavily mixed pancake batter and dumped a puddle into the middle of a non-stick pan as she smiled brightly at her daughters, praying she could convince them to go willingly.

  They stopped racing around and eyed her.

  “There’s a place where kids go to have fun and run around and play games.” Beth glanced down at the skillet. Nothing was happening. “Shit.” The burner was off.

  “You can’t say shit.” Liza shook her head. “Shit’s a bad word. I can’t say shit, you can’t say shit, Nana can’t say shit, Paul can’t say sh--”

  “Stop!” Beth twisted the knob, turning on the burner. “Please, just stop.” She grabbed the butter and syrup out of the fridge and set them on the tiny bit of exposed table before stacking the odds and ends covering
the rest into a pile and moving them to the much less important counter.

  “What do you want to drink?” She grabbed two cups from the cabinet and yanked open the fridge. An open container of yogurt toppled off the middle shelf and landed with a wet splat at and on her feet. An unreasonable amount of anger and frustration made her want to scream. Or cry. Or just run and hide in the bathroom.

  But they would find her. They always did.

  “Mommy, is our house on fire?”

  The words were barely out of Kate’s mouth when the smell of smoke curled up Beth’s flared nostrils. She took a deep breath before turning around. “No honey.” Pulling the pan of charred batter off the stove she walked to the back door. Beth yanked it open and chucked the pan as far as she could. It landed with a thunk and a sizzle of steam in the fresh white snow.

  For just a second she stood on the deck, breathing in the cold air, trying to clear out all the unwarranted aggravation of the morning. For a second she felt better. Then Beth’s eyes fell to the freshly shoveled deck under her feet.

  “Damn it Thomas.” Cleaning was not going to be happening today. Not this morning at least. She needed to go find her brother-in-law and tell him thank you for being so thoughtful now please quit.

  Beth went back inside. “Looks like we’re grabbing pancakes on the way to play time ladies.” She clapped her hands, following the girls as they ran for the stairs. “Let’s get some warm clothes on and get this show on the road.”

  Thirty minutes later they were bundled up and almost into town. A quick stop at the drive-thru and two excited girls had breakfast and one tired mother had her second coffee of the day in hand. By the time Beth’s van pulled into the parking lot of the rec center, both girls had full bellies and hair stuck to their cheeks.

  Beth fished around in her purse hunting for wipes and coming up empty. “Did you drink the syrup?”

  Kate pointed to the bucket seat across from her. “Liza did.”

  Liza nodded licking at the corner of her mouth. “It’s my favorite.”

  Beth gave up the hunt for wipes and pulled out the only option she had, a slightly used tissue. It was almost to her lips, ready to wet the flimsy Kleenex the only way she could, when a familiar voice rang out behind her.

  “You too?”

  She spun around to find Autumn smiling from ear to ear. In the past year, Beth learned a lot about herself and her life, including who her real friends were and Autumn was one of the best one’s she had. Ever.

  “Did you drop the boys off?” Beth looked around, but her friend’s three rowdy sons were nowhere in sight.

  “Heck yeah I did.” Autumn’s smile widened. “Why do you think I’m smiling?”

  She’d assumed Autumn was smiling because she was always smiling. The woman was like the anti-Beth. Happy, bubby, upbeat and organized.

  Organized.

  “You don’t have any wipes on you do you?” Beth said a silent prayer she wouldn’t be sending her girls into their first playtime at the rec with fly-paper faces. That would look great. Teacher drops filthy daughters off to go live it up while they are left sitting in a strange place trying to pick the lint off their cheeks.

  Autumn pulled a nearly full pack of towelettes from her purse. “I have these. The boys give me crap if I try to wipe their faces with baby wipes.” She peeled back the plastic sticky strip covering the opening of the package and tugged a couple loose then handed them to Beth. “They say it makes their faces smell like butts.”

  Beth scrubbed at Kate’s sugary cheeks, grateful God didn’t gift her with boys. She unfastened Kate and moved on to Liza. Liza’s lower lip was jutted out in a pout.

  “I wanted to be first.”

  Beth added the second wipe to the one in her hand. Her younger daughter’s face was putting up more of a fight and one wipe wasn’t going to cut it. “You know you can’t be first.” She leaned back, checking Liza’s little face for any remaining stickiness. “And you know why.”

  Liza huffed, crossing her arms over her puffy pink winter coat. “Cause I run away.” She turned her gaze to Beth, her eyes serious. “I’m bigger now though.”

  Beth unsnapped the seatbelt across Liza’s chest and hauled her from the van. “You mean since last week?”

  It took all of four seconds for Liza to take off across a crowded grocery store parking lot the day before New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, the terror of watching her daughter face down a semi whose driver was thankfully paying close attention, took at least that many years off Beth’s life.

  “Are your kids here too?” Liza rubbed her gloved fingers over her clean cheeks as she stared up at Autumn.

  “They are. I needed a break and they needed to run around like crazy people.” Autumn held out her hand to Liza. “Come on. Let’s go find them.” The twosome marched across the lot toward the large, glass entry to the local YMCA.

  Beth tucked Kate’s hand into hers. “Are you excited to play?”

  Kate bounced a little, her snow boots crunching against the beads of salt sprinkled generously across the pavement. “Yes. I wanted to go to school today.”

  Beth smiled down at Kate’s light brown head. Kate had almost as much fire as Liza, but in a different, more easily managed way. While her younger sister wanted to roam and explore, Kate wanted to learn. “I don’t think we’re supposed to get any more snow so you should be in good shape for tomorrow.”

  God willing. Kate wasn’t the only one ready to go back to school.

  “I miss my friends.”

  Beth opened the door to the Y and the noise of kids running and screaming filled the entry. “Maybe some of your friends are here to play too.”

  “Kate!” A voice squalled from near the sign-in desk and a little blonde came running. “I missed you.”

  Liza was already halfway across the gym headed for the rumpus room and Kate was wrapped up in a deep conversation about the sparkles on her boots. Beth signed them in, the guilt about dumping them off lifting a tiny bit.

  Autumn leaned up against the counter as Beth finished filling in her phone number and paying the girl behind the desk. “Wanna go get some coffee?” Autumn wiggled her eyebrows. “Alone?”

  Beth took one last look. Liza was rolling across the green mats covering the floor of the jungle themed room and Kate was parked at a table with three classmates organizing the markers into color-coordinated groups.

  Maybe she shouldn’t do this. Maybe they should all go back home and ignore the messy house and snuggle up under a blanket and watch another princess movie. “Am I a bad mom for dumping them here?”

  Autumn snorted beside her. “When I woke up this morning and found out school was cancelled I cried.”

  Beth turned to her friend, shocked.

  Autumn nodded. “Yeah. Cried.” She shrugged her shoulders. “And I don’t even feel a little bad bringing them here.” She grimaced as her three boys flew past, sneakers squeaking as they ran in circles, screaming their heads off. “At this point it was for my sanity.” She gave Beth a wink as she put her sunglasses on. “And their safety.”

  “Needing a break does not mean you love them less.” Looping her arm through Beth’s she tugged her toward the door. “C’mon. Let’s go get sugared up since it’s too early to get liquored up.”

  By the time Beth finished a whipped cream topped, espresso filled, five-dollar coffee in the calm quiet of a bakery in town, swallowing every drop while it was still steaming hot, the guilt of taking time for herself was merely a tiny nagging in the back of her mind. “I needed this.”

  Autumn raised an eyebrow at her. “You think?” She tossed back the last of her own coffee and set the empty mug on the tiny circle shaped café table between them. “You have to take time for yourself or you’ll lose it.”

  “I know it’s just so hard.” Beth started off well. After Rich died she had to do something, take time to really get a grasp on everything that happened and how in the hell it went on right under her nose. It took time alone to
work through all the varied levels of grief that came with discovering her husband spent all the money they had plus money they didn’t.

  And then there was him trying to kill Thomas. And Mina.

  But there just weren’t enough hours in the day and once she started to feel a little more normal, something had to give. Her alone time was the first thing to go. “Maybe I can figure out a way to get back to yoga.”

  “I would. I don’t know how you do it.” Autumn shook her head. “I can’t imagine how hard it is doing it alone.”

  Beth shrugged. “It is what it is. You do what you have to.” Those were words she lived by now. She got through because she had to. For her girls. For herself. Beth pulled her wallet from her purse as she stood up. “I’m going to grab some cupcakes to take to Thomas and then head out.”

  Autumn stood beside her and gave Beth a quick hug. “I’m going to the grocery all by myself.” She slung her purse over one shoulder. “Try not to be jealous.”

  ****

  A half-hour later Beth’s finger hovered over the doorbell on Mina and Thomas’ house, ready to push, until the sound of tires crunching in the unshoveled driveway froze it in the air. Mina’s van pulled to a stop in front of the two car garage of the mid-century tri-level, but it wasn’t Mina who got out.

  “Hey Beth.” Thomas gave her a grin and a wave as he stepped out of the driver’s seat, his wavy blonde hair covered by a brightly colored crochet hat.

  “Maddie make you a new beanie?” She walked across the small porch in his direction.

  Thomas’ hand patted his head. “That she did.”

  Mina’s teenage daughter, now Thomas’ daughter too, was turning into quite the crafter. “I like it.”

  “That’s good cause she’s makin’ them for everyone.” Thomas jutted his thumb in the direction of the passenger side of the car just in time for her to watch it open. The two seconds it took to register it was Don Jenkins getting out was more than enough to time for her heart to skip a beat and her stomach turn a flip.

  The custom made, bright blue hat he wore should have looked ridiculous.

  It didn’t.

 
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