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:

My Book Cave



For a complete list of my books, click here.
   
Follow Me on Pinterest
Click here for Site Map

The Independence Club

Sample Chapter
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.

Chapter One
Maxine

I haven’t kept a journal in more than thirty years, and I should have. I know a lot of secrets. Anyway, all the ladies of the Independence Club have agreed to keep their journals more faithfully, writing in particular our feelings and hopes and plans for the future. Then we’ll get together every Wednesday to talk about life and sort of brainstorm ideas for each other so we can be successful. A power group of sorts.

Everyone had a say in getting the club started. Tina Dayley coined the name, not surprising since her late husband was abusive; Evie McClaine asked to meet at her favorite restaurant, Mimi's Café; Rosalva Nolasco chose Wednesday because of her work schedule; and Bernice Stubbs, who’s always spouting off about something we should be doing better, had the journal idea. I, of course, am the voice of experience and reason, the glue holding everyone together. We’re a varied group of women but united in our determination to make our lives happy and complete. We all face challenges, some of us big challenges, but I won’t go into all that right now. My cosmetic orders are waiting—I didn’t get them finished because of the wedding reception.

That reminds me. Being at Kerrianne’s wedding this morning and her reception tonight made me start thinking about Charles and the almost forty years we shared. I still love that man, and I still miss him. But there are some things about marriage that I don’t miss—and those are exactly the reasons why I’m not marrying Harold Perry. For crying out loud, I’m not about to start having to take care of someone again at my age.

Not that I’m old, of course. Sixty-two is still very young, and people always say I don’t look a day over fifty—probably a big exaggeration. I mean, I certainly don’t look like Goldie Hawn or anything. No one could look like that at her age without serious medical intervention. Quite frankly, Goldie Hawn and others like her do all women a disservice. Sure, we can grow old gracefully, which is what I’m trying for and part of why I sell cosmetics, but that doesn’t mean that we must inject our faces with poison and let some bozo cut into us with a knife.

There I go, speaking my mind again. I get into more trouble that way, but I can’t help myself. I’ve been around the block a time or two, and I’m beyond talking nice just so someone will feel better about their mistakes. I call it like I see it. At least I’m only saying this now in my journal where it can’t come back and bite me—until I’m dead, and then I won’t care.

For the record, I’m not against widows remarrying, like my friend Bernice claims to be. Even Harold started to avoid her because she kept talking about his wife, who has been gone nearly two years already. “Harold, what would your wife think? You know she’d never want you kissing another woman.” It’s enough to make me want to slit her tires.

No. I’m kidding, really. When I think about it, she’s doing me a favor. After all, she’s just protecting me from Harold. I mean, if I were to ever get married again, which I’m not going to do, he’d have to be romantic enough to take my mind off all the cooking and cleaning and effort that goes along with marriage. Harold’s only kissed me once for real, and that was months ago. No, I’m not going to write how I felt because . . . well, because I’m not sure myself.


Before the bell rang, the house had been hauntingly still. Maxine Madison was almost sure Harold was at the door—not that she was expecting him or anyone else this late on a Saturday night. All her close friends, members of the Independence Club, had been at their friend’s wedding reception less than an hour ago and had no need to see each other so soon.

Harold had been there too, dashing and gentlemanly as usual.

Maxine took her baby blue sweater from the back of her chair and pulled it on. The first part of April had brought not showers but a snowstorm, and there was still a slushy layer on her lawn and driveway. That was why if Harold had any sense, he’d be home sleeping in a warm bed instead of standing in the cold on her doorstep.

The bell came again, insistently. Too insistently for an unexpected guest.

“I’m coming,” grumbled Maxine. Despite her efforts to squelch the emotion, she felt a surge of . . . something . . . in her heart region at the idea of seeing Harold. Nonsense, she thought. We’re just friends. He hasn’t asked me to marry him since January.

She pulled open the door. Standing there, blinking in the sudden light was none other than Harold. “Hi,” he said with a smile, looking as debonair and refined as always.

Maxine had to look upward at a fairly steep angle to meet his gaze. She never minded because the height was part of what made him remarkable. No matter how out of shape he might be, his frame didn’t have the tendency to gain weight. His hair was dark gray with many bits of white, and his eyes, which today had taken on the color of his blue polo shirt, were topped by thick gray eyebrows. As usual, he wore dress pants and shiny black loafers. On Sundays and at dances, he would wear the suit she’d helped him pick out to replace the old one she suspected he’d bought years before his wife’s death.

Maxine lowered her gaze. Be strong, she told herself. Aloud she said, “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to help you with the orders. I told you I would at the reception. Did you forget?” He reached for her hand, bringing it up to his mouth as if he were a character in an old movie.

The warmth from his touch spread through her in an astonishing wave, and she snatched her hand back. “Stop that! I’ve told you before, we don’t live in those days.”

“What days?” He lifted a brow.

“In the days when men kiss women on the hand.”

“I’m old fashioned.”

“Well, that’s fine and dandy, but it’s not getting my orders done.” Maxine felt flustered, but she did her best not to show it.

Harold smiled knowingly, which infuriated her all the more. “Then let me in.” He stuck his hands in the pockets of his open jacket and leaned back on his heels.

“Oh.” She stepped out of the way and pulled the door open, feeling unsettled all over again. “You know, I really don’t think I need the computer to do the order.” In fact, that was exactly why she hadn’t responded to his offer to help. She’d even hoped he’d forgotten.

“You might feel differently once you see exactly how much it can help you. At the reception Tina was telling me all about the bonus products you get when you sell a certain amount. She said on the website it’s all written out so you know exactly what’s what without having to add and re-add your products as you move them around in the different categories.”

“Well, all that adding is a pain,” she admitted, “but Tina’s my upline, so maybe we should leave it to her.”

“It’s no problem.” He flashed her another endearing smile. Maxine wondered if he’d always been so dashing, or if he’d just aged well. “Besides,” he added, “Tina has four kids to take care of. I only have you.”

Maxine bristled. “I can take care of myself, thank you very much.”

“Well, I can’t.” He passed her in the direction of the kitchen. “Now where is this computer of yours?”

“In my office. Come on, I’ll show you. And by the way, you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.”

Harold stopped and turned toward her, taking entirely too much space in the narrow hallway. His face bent down to Maxine’s and for a brief moment, she thought he was going to kiss her. “I certainly wouldn’t be walking three miles a day if I hadn’t met you,” he said instead. “I could barely go down to my basement without breathing hard, before we met, let alone walk even one mile. I know I still have a long way to go, but you’ve changed my life.”

Maxine didn’t want that kind of responsibility. If you changed a life, you became responsible for it. Somehow for women that always seemed to mean washing clothes, cleaning up, making dinner, devising gourmet desserts such as hot apple pie served with ice cream. “Oh, no, you don’t, I hate making pies.” She squeezed by him, ignoring his puzzled stare.

“There’s the computer,” she said, jabbing a finger toward the desk.

“Where are your orders?”

“Oh, I left them in the kitchen. I’ll be right back.”

When she returned, he had her computer on and was logged onto the website. “I’ll need a password.”

“It’s in my one of my e-mail folders.” Maxine was happy she could say that. Now he’d know that she at least used e-mail. Never mind that it was only once a week to children. One e-mail sent to all five. It beat letter -writing by a long shot.

“Okay, hmm.” Harold clicked his way through several pages, finally coming to an order form. Since she was still on dial-up, the pages didn’t load as quickly as they had when Tina had showed her the website at her house.

He eyed her stack of orders. “Want to read off the product numbers for me? Since you don’t have high speed Internet, this quick form looks like it’ll be easier than clicking on each product. Otherwise we’ll be here all night, and what would the neighbors say?”

“Who cares?”

Harold chuckled. “Ready when you are.” He didn’t know how to type properly, but his pecking method moved things along nicely.

“So when have you been walking three miles?” Maxine asked when all the products were in, and they had shifted to the shopping cart to see what bonus products she could qualify for.

“In the mornings. Like you.”

Maxine narrowed her eyes. “Are you following me?”

“It’s still mostly dark when you go. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”

Maxine tried to be angry, but the idea of his wanting to protect her sent an odd shivering kind of feeling up her spine. “You might just go with me, instead of spying,” she suggested.

“Okay.” The quick response told her he’d been waiting for the invitation, and that made her feel set up somehow, though she wasn’t sure why. Friends could walk together. Being friends with Harold meant no more than being friends with the women in the Independence Club.

She glanced over at him and saw that he was watching her. She knew the expression all too well. This couldn’t be happening. He was going to do it again—ask her to marry him.

“Maxine,” he began. Was she imagining the huskiness of his voice?

“What?”

“It’s up to you, but I really think you ought to switch these three items down to your ‘Host Special Products’ section, since you can get all three of them for twenty bucks.”

“Uh, um, yes. You’re right. And I want those two travel kits I qualify for as well.”

He started clicking, and Maxine’s heart rate slowed. When it all boiled down to it, she was just an old fool. She wanted to laugh, but somehow she couldn’t.

“There, all done. I’ll need your credit card.”

She handed it to him, but instead of grasping the card, his thumb pressed down on the back of her hand, the thin piece of plastic caught between their fingers. “Maxine, I know you’re happy with your life as it is, but did you ever think that together we could be even happier?”

She felt relieved it was out in the open, instead of lurking between them like some fatal disease. Now she could set him straight once and for all. She opened her mouth to speak, but he rushed on. “Now, Maxine, don’t go start talking about apple pies. Or hand kissing. I know how to kiss for real.”
She had her doubts about that. The one time he’d kissed her had been so long ago, she might have even imagined it.

Avoiding his eyes, she stared at the white eyelet curtains she’d put up four years ago when she’d changed the room from Charles’s office into her own. He’d been dead a year at the time.

“I’m a practical woman,” she told Harold. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t like you because I do, but I’m—”
Her words were drowned out by a frantic pounding came from the other room, accompanied by a voice calling something unintelligible. Harold looked at her expectantly.

Shrugging, she jumped to her feet and hurried down the short hall, with Harold on her heels, moving somewhat faster than his usual slow gait. She yanked open the front door.

“Sister Madison! I need your help!” A wet young boy stood on the porch, his eyes wild. It took Maxine a moment to realize that he was Skip Dayley, her friend Tina’s thirteen-year-old son. He wasn’t wearing a coat, though it was raining softly and the night air was cold enough to bite Maxine’s lungs as she took a breath.

“Come in, Skip. It’s freezing out there!”

He shook his head. “My mother needs help.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Maxine was instantly alarmed. Tina was her closest friend in the Independence Club.

“I don’t know. She just suddenly freaked out.” Skip’s eyes filled with tears, and his next words came in a jumbled rush. “Ashley and I were arguing in the kitchen, and I was mad at her so I pushed my book at her, but her glass was in the way and it fell off the counter. There was red juice and glass everywhere. Mom sort of froze. Then she started shaking and breathing funny. I thought she was going to yell at us, but she only stood there. The little boys came running in from their beds and started yelling, and Mom didn’t even notice. She turned and ran down the hall to her room.”

“And she won’t come out?” Maxine prompted.

“She’s not there! Ashley went to see what was wrong, but she was gone. We don’t know where she went. We’re scared because . . .” Whatever the reason, he couldn’t finish the thought. “Well, we’re just scared.”
This didn’t sound like Tina at all. “Did you hear a door shut?” Maxine asked. “Is her car gone?”

Skip’s body convulsed with a suppressed sob. “I don’t know. I didn’t look. But she wouldn’t leave us!” His eyes, so like Tina’s hazel ones, were wide with fright.

“Of course not.” Maxine touched his shoulder, which was stiff from either cold or worry—or both. “Maybe she went to buy something to clean it up.”

Skip didn’t reply, and Harold looked at her as if to say, “That’s it? That’s all you can come up with?” Maxine ignored him.

“Look, Skip,” she said,. “let’s go back to your house and take a look around. I can’t believe you came all the way over here in this rain.”

Skip gave a helpless shrug. “I ran. Ashley tried your phone number, but it was busy. Our neighbor wasn’t home, and the other ones, well, I don’t really know them. Ashley said I should get you. She’s looking around the yard.”

“Come on,” Maxine urged. “Let’s go through to the garage. I’ll get my keys.”
Harold stopped her with a touch on her arm. “I can drive you. My car’s blocking your garage anyway.”

“You don’t have to come.” Maxine felt bad as she said the words, but she didn’t want start depending on him too much.

“Tina’s my friend, too.”

Maxine couldn’t exactly argue with that. He’d gone to enough LDS singles events to become well acquainted with all her friends. “Okay, but let me do the talking.”

He grinned. “Don’t I always?”

Maxine gave him a disgusted stare, but he was already heading to the door. She grabbed a lap quilt from her sofa and wrapped it around Skip’s shoulders. “It’s going to be all right,” she told him. She hoped that was true. After spending most of his life with an abusive father, this boy had already suffered enough.

Tina lived only few blocks away, the farthest of all her friends except Rosalva, but she wasn’t in Maxine’s stake. That was how it went in Utah, where sometimes the members across the street weren’t even in the same ward.

When they arrived at the Dayleys’ Tina’s two younger boys and her teenage daughter, Ashley, were waiting in the living room. The bottom of Ashley’s pants were wet halfway to the knees, and her red hair hung in moist ropes around her face. “I didn’t find her,” she said, looking forlorn.

“Her car is out there.” Maxine removed her coat. The heat was always stifling in Tina’s house, though the children didn’t seem to mind. “I’m sure she didn’t go far. Stay here, okay? I’m going to the bedroom.” The children nodded, their faces tight with fear.

The house was small, but the master bedroom did have an adjoining bath. Maybe Tina had gone in there to recover from whatever had happened. When she didn’t find Tina in the bathroom, uneasiness filled Maxine’s heart. “Tina?” she called. “It’s Maxine. Look, you have some very worried kids out there. If you’re here, you might as well say something because I’ll find you if I look.”

Nothing.

Maxine thought about searching under the bed, but why would Tina be there? She had no reason to hide from her. More likely, she’d felt sick and gone to the neighbors and they’d taken her to the doctor.

That’s right. I’ll call the emergency room.

She was almost to the door when she heard a small sob. Whirling on her feet, she scanned the room, her eyes searching and discarding every place except under the bed and the closet.

The closet.

The double folding doors were slightly ajar, and Maxine walked toward them with determination. She pushed the doors open. On the far right side, wrapped in a blanket, sat Tina, her strawberry blonde hair looking as though the blanket had at one point been over her head. Her thin face, normally made up to perfection, was streaked with tears and mascara.

Giving a little groan, Maxine fell to her knees and put her arms around her friend. “Oh, Tina, honey. What happened?”

Tina didn’t speak, though her unfocused eyes said it all. She was afraid—no, terrified. But of what? Her husband was a year dead in a car accident and couldn’t hurt her anymore.

“It’s okay,” Maxine assured her. “Everything is okay. Skip came to get me, and that’s why I’m here. Ashley stayed with the boys. They’re all right as rain. And Harold’s here. He was trying to ask me to marry him again when Skip came. Good thing, too. Anyway, I daresay Harold’s telling your kids boring stories about when he was a dentist. That means he’ll be at least an hour, so you just take your time. You know, I think he should have been a farmer, not a dentist. He takes a long time doing anything. It’s like watching corn grow.”

Tina’s color was better now, and her eyes were more focused.

A movement in the hall called Maxine’s attention, and she spied Harold peeking around the door. She gave him a thumbs up to tell him she’d found Tina, and then she made a shooing motion so he’d know to keep all the children away. Good thing he came along after all, she thought.

Tina didn’t notice Harold, or Maxine’s signal. She lowered her head onto Maxine’s shoulder and let out a long breath. “That’s it,” Maxine said. “Breathe deeply. In and out. Everything else can wait.” She breathed with Tina, and for a moment their breathing was their entire world. In and out. Slowly, evenly.

Maxine’s knees felt stiff and her shoulder muscles ached by the time Tina finally spoke, her voice soft but steady. “I’m okay,” she said. “I just . . . I just . . .”

Maxine shifted her weight and sat beside her. “Don’t try to gloss over this, Tina. I know you like to look on the good side of things, but I want you to tell me what happened.”

Tina’s hazel eyes looked black in the darkness of the closet. She crossed her arms over her chest as though to protect herself, looking much younger than her thirty-nine years. “Ashley and Skip were fighting. The glass broke. There was blood—juice, I mean—everywhere. And suddenly I was back with him that day my arm broke. My nose bled a lot.” She gave her head an abrupt shake as though to force the memory from her head. “All I wanted was to climb under the table and hide. It’s a trigger, that’s all. I see or hear something—and I need to get away. Usually, I’m okay if I sit on my bed for a while, or if I go into the bathroom. But today the kids were so . . . challenging, and everything happened just right—or just wrong, rather.” She blinked and a mascara-laden tear slid down her right cheek. “But I didn’t go under the table. I didn’t do that in front of my kids.”

Maxine reached out for her hand. “No, you didn’t. You did fine. But I’m thinking that maybe you should see a counselor again. For a little while.”

Tina shook her head. “I’m all right, really. I know how to deal with it. I took all the classes. It was just today. The kids were—I do still take them once a month to their counselor, in case you’re wondering about that. They’re all doing really well, and so am I. Everyone has days like this, right?” She gave Maxine a tentative smile. “Tomorrow will be better.”

“I’m sure it will. Do you think you can get up? Would you like me to help you into bed?”

“I need to see my children, make sure they’re okay.” Tina arose unsteadily, but her smile was firmly in place.

Maxine wanted to shake her. Most of the time she was grateful for Tina’s normally cheery outlook on life, but sometimes she wished Tina would get angry at how her husband had treated her and the children.
Tina touched her arm. “I’m okay, Maxine. I promise. Thanks to you. I’m so lucky to have you as a friend. I have so many blessings in my life.” She hugged Maxine.

Tina had firmly retreated behind her positive mask, and Maxine knew she had no choice but to bite her tongue. Of course that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to keep a good eye on Tina these next few weeks. “Okay, then. Do you need help with your makeup?”

Tina managed a laugh. “I’m the one who got you into selling cosmetics, remember? Go on, tell the kids I’ll be right there.” She gave Maxine’s arm a gentle thrust.

When Tina emerged from her tiny bathroom ten minutes later, there was no trace of tears or upset. It was as though nothing unusual had happened.

Read the backliner and author's comments.

Where to Buy


Softcover Tradeback $14.95 suggested retail price.
Buy at Amazon
Buy for Kindle
Click here for more stores.