Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
My newest print novel, Line of Fire, is available! Click
here to read about the book.
Tired of being surprised at unexpected content in your books?
Movie-like book ratings are finally here! Click below to find out more:
For a complete list of my books, click here.
Click here for Site Map
Copyright ©2006 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Kerrianne Price sat on her bed with a heavy sigh. Today had been the second
worst day of her life. Funny thing was, it was supposed to have been one of the
happiest. Seeing her baby brother sealed to the woman he loved and watching them
stare at each other with adoration shining in so blatantly in their eyes should
have warmed her heart. And it had.
For a time.
Except that after Tyler and Savvy had driven away in their Jeep, decorated
generously with shaving cream, streamers, and pop cans, her parents and other
siblings had gone to their vehicles with their spouses, discussing the day and
exchanging special looks that could only be shared by couples in love. Kerrianne
didn't have any special looks cast in her direction.
Normally her big, loud, loving family was the main thing between her and
despair. They were good to her, and she certainly didn't begrudge their
happiness. Yet why did it hurt so much that when all was said and done, no
matter how good they were to her, the space next to her was empty?
Kerrianne went home alone. Well, not exactly alone. Her three children were in
the vanall of them falling asleep. When they were back in Pleasant Grove,
eight-year-old Misty roused enough to stumble inside to her bed while Kerrianne
carried in the little boys, one at a time.
The house was quiettoo quietas she knew it would remain in the late evenings
for a long time to come. Tyler wouldn't be stopping by so often or staying the
night as he had in the past. He was married now, and it was right that he spent
most of his time with Savvy. But Kerrianne knew that for her it meant more hours
of silence and loneliness. Oh, he wouldn't mean to leave her alone, as her other
siblings hadn't meant to, but life took over. Despite her family's great love
for her, not one of them could really comprehend the complete loneliness she
The feeling was with her always. In church, in the grocery story, at the school
where she was active in the PTA. After Adam's death, couples she had once been
friends with slowly faded away as though they worried the same loss could touch
their own happiness. No longer was she part of a pair but a fifth wheel, not
necessarily unwanted but unneeded. But nowhere did she feel as out of place as
in her own home in the dead of night when the children were sleeping. In her own
big bed where her husband's pillow lay unused except to soak up her many tears.
She loved Adam intensely. Loved the shape of his head, the blue of his eyes, the
smile he had reserved only for her. The way she felt safe in his arms . . . and
loved. So loved.
On the worst day of her life, her perfect dream was shattered. Adam had died,
his compact car crushed like a tin can by an old truck whose youthful driver had
lost control. In a few hours it was over. Hours of suffering, of tears.
Next to the silence, Kerrianne most hated being alone. She hated not feeling
Adam's touch on her face, watching him brush his teeth in the bathroom mirror,
and listening to the love songs he sang for her on his guitar. She hated not
being able to lay her head on his chest and listen to the beating of his heart.
"Adam," she whimpered, blinking back tears. Sometimes, if everything was right,
she could feel him like a whisper against her skin. A touch of warmth on her
senses. Often in the past years, she'd had the distinct impression that he was
looking down on her and the kids. But of late these impressions were coming less
and less often. As though to make up for the loss, Kerrianne found herself
talking to him more than she probably should.
People told her she needed to go on with her life. Nearly four years. Yes, it
had been a long timeseemingly a lifetimebut Kerrianne still felt she was
living in limbo . . . waiting. For what?
But she knew.
She was waiting for Adam to come home.
Shaking her head, she impatiently wiped away her tears. Adam wouldn't like to
see her this way; she hoped he wasn't watching now and seeing how cowardly she
was behaving. She knew her lack of faith was showing, too, for she could never
deny the comfort she received from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing where
Adam was made missing him bearable.
A shadowy movement from the hall caught her attention. She heard feet brush
against the carpet. Goose bumps rippled up her spine, and her heart began
pounding furiously. Her muscles clenched, ready to defend her family. "Who's
there?" she called.
The shadow stepped forward, becoming Benjamin, her six-year-old son. "Mommy, can
I sleep with you?" His big eyes were large in his small face, now threatening
tears. In the dim light coming from the window, his hair looked blonder than
usual, his skin more translucent.
"Did you have a bad dream?"
He shook his head. "I just want you."
Kerrianne wasn't surprised. Since starting first grade, Benjamin had been more
clingy and anxious to have her close. During the first few months of school, she
had gone every morning before lunch to help in the classroom just so he could
see her and feel comforted. Now she only went once or twice a week. "Come on,
then." She patted the bed. "You can stay here until you fall asleep. There's
plenty of room."
He smiled and climbed up next to her, holding out his arms for a big hug. "I
love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too."
Kerrianne was tucking the covers around him when he spoke again. "Mommy, if you
found a daddy, then you wouldn't have any room for me here, would you?"
Kerrianne forced a strangled laugh. "Where did that come from?"
"I heard two ladies talking. They said Savvy's dress was too fancy and that you
should get married."
"Who were they?"
She felt him shrug. "Don't know."
Kerrianne felt a wave of bitterness, remembering how one woman at Adam's funeral
had told her she should get remarried soon, as though a husband were
replaceable, like a car part or a pair of jeans. Aloud, she said,
"Well, they shouldn't have said anything. It isn't any of their businit's
really not up to them."
"But I wouldn't mind. I could always bring my blanket and sleep on the floor."
That was Benjamin, accommodating to a fault.
"Don't worry, honey. You won't have to sleep on the floor."
He lay on her left arm and snuggled into her side. After a few minutes she could
tell he was asleep, but she didn't move, savoring the momentary peace. Kerrianne
was so grateful for Benjamin, for all her children. Being their mother was
enough . . . wasn't it?
Her right hand stole out to touch Adam's pillow. The fabric was cold. Fighting
tears, Kerrianne took her arm out from under Benjamin and hugged the pillow to
her chest. It no longer smelled like himthe pillowcase had been washed many
times since his smell had first fadedbut it comforted her nonetheless.
After an hour of restless tossing, Kerrianne got up and went outside to her
garage where she kept her stash of semisweet baking chocolate in her chest
freezer. In the dim light from the single overhead bulb, she inched down the
cold cement steps, jabbing her toes against Misty's bike tire. Stepping over the
bike, she opened the lid. With dismay, she saw that she was down to one smallish
bar the size of her hand. That meant another trip to the store when she thought
she'd bought enough to last two weeks. She couldn't risk being without a stash.
Grabbing the chocolate, she let the freezer lid fall and went inside the family
room, ripping off the plastic as she went.
She stopped at the CD player to slip in one of the new CDs her brother Tyler had
made of Adam's taped songs. He'd done a great job, undistinguishable from the
original, and she was grateful that with the extra copies and the hard drive
backup, she would never have to worry about losing at least this part of her
husband. His guitar music had been important to him, and so it was important to
She sat on the couch, bringing a foot under her and the chocolate to her mouth.
The first bite was difficult to work off with her teeth, but the shards of cold
chocolate melted quickly in her mouth. By the time she was finished with the
chocolate bar, she was feeling significantly better. As long as there is
chocolate, she thought, women will somehow manage to survive.
* * *When the morning light angled through Kerrianne's blinds to wake her at nearly
eight-thirty, she was tempted to stay in bed, to put Adam's pillow over her head
and block out the light. After all, everyone deserved to sleep late on Saturday.
But if she did that, she wouldn't be able to get the mail. She was one of the
first houses on the postal route, and she hated the idea of letting the mail sit
in her box unattended. Not that it was in much danger of being stolen. There had
been a rash of mail thefts years ago that had started her morning habit, but
there hadn't been trouble lately.
There could be again. She pushed herself from bed, knowing it was little more
than an excuse. The mail gave her purpose, forcing her out of bed on those days
that she wanted only to stay in bed forever and drown in her own tears. Days
when even the bars of semisweet chocolate in her freezer failed to make her feel
Reaching out, she softly stroked Benjamin's blond hair. She had forgotten to
take him to his bed last night, but it really didn't matter. There was plenty of
room here. Of all the children, Benjamin took after Adam the most. Sometimes
looking at him brought a swell of prideas it did right nowbut at others it
brought a bitter
"I'm being brave, Adam," she whispered, though she couldn't feel him near. "I
Resolutely, she pulled on a pair of old sweats. It wouldn't do to get the mail
in her robe if the mailman was still nearby. Passing the family room, she heard
the TV on. Apparently Misty and Caleb were already up watching their allotted
hour of Saturday cartoons.
Four-year-old Caleb spied her as she peeked in the room. "Mommy!" Immediately,
he left the TV and launched himself across the room and into her arms.
"Good morning, sweetie." She kissed him, enjoying the feel of his plump arms
around her neck. His thick hair had darkened to a light brown over the years and
was sticking out in all directions as it usually was, unlike Misty, whose hair
curled in many ringlets like a porcelain doll, looking beautiful even without a
brushing. Or Benjamin's, whose finer strands knew how to lay obediently flat.
"Getting the mail?" he asked.
"I'm coming, but first . . ." He wriggled from her grasp and disappeared up the
stairs toward the room he shared with Benjamin.
Smiling, Kerrianne went out onto her porch. The November frost was already
melting on the lawn from the rays of the sun. She could see the mail truck down
the road and watched the mailman reach from the cab to put letters in the boxes.
The truck pulled up at her house, and the mailman hesitated when he glanced up
and saw her waiting. Kerrianne smiled, unsure if he could see her response. She
was surprised when he climbed from his vehicle and started up the walk. He had
letters in his hand, but not a package, nothing that should evoke such a
He was wearing the blue uniform coat, the blue trousers with the dark stripe
down the side, and the heavy boots he always wore in the winter. In the summer
it was a blue shirt and long shorts that showed remarkably fit and tan legs.
Kerrianne blushed at the thought. Not that I ever look at his legs, she told
herself. Suddenly, she became aware of her stringy hair, unwashed face, and
Why would she think about that now?
She shifted her bare feet uncomfortably on the cold welcome mat. The door banged
behind her, and Caleb appeared with a large blue ball. He giggled before he
threw it at the mailman, who was now only a couple of yards away. Surprised, the
man gamely stuck out a hand for the ball, barely missing the catch.
Her son giggled. "You missed!" he sang, dancing from foot to foot on the cold
"Caleb!" Kerrianne scolded, though she couldn't force too much objection behind
the words. He was simply too cute.
The mailman grinned. "That's okay."
"I always throw him the ball," Caleb protested.
Kerrianne blinked. She knew her son often watched for the mail truck on the
mornings she was getting the other children ready for the school bus but had
never dreamed he'd been throwing balls at the mailman.
"It's really okay." The man bent over for the ball. "I'm just slow this morning.
It's a little cold."
"I'll say." Kerrianne shivered.
"Here's your mail. Thought I'd save you the trip to the box." His eyes went to
her bare feet, which were becoming quite frozen. He couldn't have possibly seen
from the curb that she was barefoot. How did he know? Did people always dash out
to the mailbox without their shoeseven in the winter?
"Thank you." Kerrianne accepted the letters, meeting his eyes briefly. They were
a dark, intense gray, unreadable in his handsome face. His hair, black and
curling slightly, was longer in the back than she generally liked to see in a
man, but it suited him well. He wore an extremely short beard, as though he'd
let the hair grow for only a few weeks, something she hadn't noticed in all the
years he'd been on her route, but it suited him, too.
She felt a strange disappointment when his eyes left hers and went to Caleb. He
balanced the ball on the tips of his fingers. "Catch!" he called.
Caleb held out his hands, and the mailman tossed it to him in a way that told
Kerrianne he had practice with small children. She smiled at the delighted grin
on Caleb's face when he managed to hang onto the ball.
"Again, again!" Caleb chanted.
"Honey, he has to go."
"That's all right. One more time, okay, buddy?" The gray eyes glinted as he said
Caleb tossed the ball and then caught it again. With a smile and a wave the
mailman strode toward his Jeep.
"Thank you," Kerrianne called.
He turned without slowing his gait. "I've got a boy his age. I know how they
are. Have a good day."
Kerrianne wished he wouldn't go. She wished she could talk to him . . . about
the weather, the mail route, politicsanything. She groaned. What am I thinking?
With a sigh, she opened the door and went inside. Next thing she knew, she'd
take up going to fast food restaurants just to for some conversation. Or make an
extra trip to Macey's to talk to that friendly checker who liked to chat with
How desperate am I? Kerrianne wondered.
"Mommy, are you okay?" Caleb asked, following her inside.
She crouched down next to him. "I'm fine, honey. I'm just missing Uncle Tyler."
"But you saw him yesterday."
"I know, honey. But he's married now, and we won't see him quite as much."
|Caleb frowned. "Oh." Then he brightened. "Then we'll go see him whenever we
"That's right. We'll go see him. Come on, now. Let's make breakfast."
Kerrianne thought longingly of chocolate, but she'd eaten it all. Besides, it
wasn't healthy living on chocolate alone, and she also didn't want to fight
another acne battle. She didn't care what skin experts said about chocolate not
causing blemishes. The only time she ever broke out was after raiding her stash.
* * *
Ryan Oakman whistled as he made his way back to his mail truck. He normally
hated working Saturdays, as he liked to spend the day with his children, but
they were shorthanded today, so he'd come in, even though he'd already put in
his five days that week. He was glad it was a slow mail day; he'd be home by
four, maybe earlier if he hurried. That would give him plenty of time to be with
the kids before the play that evening, and he could use the overtime with
Christmas coming up. Tiger wanted a bicycle and Ria was angling for a video game
and a new baseball mitt. Not any baseball mitt, mind you, but the best money
could buy. She was serious about her baseball. She was serious about every sport
Ryan frowned as he thought about his daughter. She was a girl, but she didn't
seem to realize it. She dressed like a boy and even cut her hair short. Not like
the blonde girl who lived at this house, the one who looked like a dainty
porcelain doll. Still, even the blonde girl enjoyed tossing the ball about with
her little brothers. He'd usually see her outside several times a weekexcept
this past week when it had become so cold.
Thinking of the boy made him smile. He and Tiger were two of a kind; it was too
bad they didn't live near each other so they could play.
Glancing up at the house, he saw Mrs. Price turn to go inside. She was an
interesting sort. In all the years he'd been on the route they'd rarely
exchanged more than two words. Yet every morning she was there. In warm weather
she often sat on the porch waiting, or she would come out as he drove away from
her house. He'd occasionally look back and see her sitting on her porch, holding
the mail and lifting her face to the sun.
She was an enigma to him. There was something tragic about her face, something
intense, but he had no idea what it meant. All he knew was that she waited each
morning for the mail, almost as though her life depended on it. At first he had
wondered if she was waiting for a certain letter, but over the years her habits
had not changed.
He'd been glad to deliver her mail. He made sure to be on time. None of the
others people who lived on this route seemed to care about the time he came, but
she did, and that was enough. Even when his own life was in turmoil and he
wondered if he could go on another day, he had forced himself to go to work
because he knew she'd be waiting. It had been a reason for him to get out of
bed, when there had been so many other reasons to give up.
Laurie, he thought. Two years had passed since his wife's death. The thought of
her no longer brought the searing pain, but only the terrible ache of loss. He'd
gone on with his life for the sake of the children, as Laurie had urged him to
do in the weeks before her death. He'd even started dating this past year, and
while it felt strange at first, he'd become accustomed to the company of other
women. But lately he'd begun doubting that another woman he could connect with
on the same level even existed. Perhaps Laurie had been his one and only chance
for love. At least he had the promise of eternity with her.
That morning Mrs. Price wasn't the only one waiting for him on his route. Down
two houses, Maxine Madison, a sixty-something widow, was out on her porch and
came trotting up to his truck before he even came to a full stop.
Maxine was definitely a striking, noticeable woman. She had a ready smile,
piercing eyes that seemed to see everything, and a little bit of attitude. Once
she'd told him that she was going to the grave kicking and screaming, and that
was why she dyed her hair, exercised every day, and kept her wardrobe updated.
"I may be getting up there," she'd said, "but I'm far from dead yet."
Pushing away the memory, he smiled. "Up early, I see."
She snorted. "Early? Are you kidding? It's almost nine. I've been up for hours.
I've already walked three miles, done all my laundry, answered five e-mails, and
read five chapters in my new book. Early, schmurly."
"Wow, I wish you could have done my route for me. That way I could be home
sleeping." He covered a yawn with his hand.
"I bet you stayed up late last night because of the play, didn't you?" She
paused, but when he didn't reply, she rolled her eyes. "That's a hint in case
you didn't recognize it. Goodness, you have to spell out everything for the
younger generation these days."
Ryan stifled a smile. Younger generation. He hadn't thought of himself that way
for many years. To tell the truth, thirty-four didn't feel all that young. "What
are you talking about?"
Maxine's pale brown eyes narrowed. "Did you forget my tickets?"
"Tickets?" he asked innocently.
"Humph!" She folded her arms and glared at him.
He titled his head back and laughed. "Don't worry, Maxine, I got 'em. I know
you've been waiting." He pulled the pair from his coat pocket and handed them to
Maxine's face relaxed, and a grin appeared. "You'd better have remembered. I'm
taking a friend to your play tonight."
"Oh, is it that gentleman I saw you with last month?"
Maxine gave a little gasp and glanced heavenward. "Then I wouldn't have needed
the tickets; he'd have been buying. Our generation isn't like yours at all. The
gentleman always pays. No. I'm taking a woman friend with me tonight."
Ryan imagined two little old ladies watching the play together. He grinned.
"I'll be sure and put on a good show."
"You always do, dear." She patted his hand that was braced on the side of the
truck. "Now where's my mail? Come on, I don't have all day. There's stuff to do,
people to see, so let's get a move on. I'm not getting any younger,
Ryan handed her a small bundle, his mouth twitching. "I bet that widower has a
hard time keeping up with you."
"Him? Darn right. He's lucky to make it to the end of the walk. But he'll get in
shape, you'll see."
"Oh, does that mean I hear wedding bells in the future?"
Maxine looked aghast. "Are you kidding? And have to wash his clothes and make
dinner each night? No way. I've paid my dues. If I was younger, maybe I'd feel
differently, but I'm enjoying running my own life. No, getting him in shape is
purely for my own good. I don't enjoy sitting on the porch sipping juice all
day. Now if they let us have coffee, it might be worth it . . ." She looked at
him expectantly, but he didn't react. "I'm kidding, for crying out loud. Vile
stuff, coffee, but there's no reason we can't make a joke now and again. You
have to tell that wife of yours to get you out a bit more. It's plain as the
nose on your face that you're working too hard."
Ryan's face froze, though he tried not to let Maxine see. She didn't know him,
not really. For all the years she'd chatted with him at the curb, they hadn't
gotten that far into his personal life. The only reason she knew of his
involvement at the community theater was that she'd spotted him there a few
months earlier. She certainly didn't know about Laurie. She didn't know that
this job, the theater, and his kids were the entire extent of his life.
"You okay, Ryan?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he managed. "Just fine. And you're right. I'm working too hard. But
I won't be tonight. You'll enjoy the play. My little girl's in it, too. Plays a
boy, though. She's the skinny one with the cap that follows Robin Hood around.
She's hilarious. If you have time, come on back and meet her." His breath was
coming easier now, and he was relieved to see the concern leave her face.
"Will do. Bye, now. Thanks for the tickets." With a little wave, Maxine headed
up the walkway.
Ryan pushed on the gas, determined not to stop again. Any more delays like that
and he might not make it through this day.
Read the backliner and author's comments.
Where to Buy
Softcover Tradeback $14.95 suggested retail price. Buy at Amazon
Buy for Kindle
for more stores.