Friday, May 20, 2016
IN FOR A PENNY (The Granny Series Book 1) by Nancy Naigle and Kelsey Browning
Honey, these are not your momma’s grannies…
When Lillian Summer Fairview’s husband up and dies on her, it leaves the last living member of the most prestigious family in Summer Shoals, Georgia, in a hot mess. While Lil was busy being a proper Southern lady, Harlan squandered dang near the whole family fortune on lottery tickets. To keep her financial skeletons in the closet and give him a decent burial, Lil made a deal that has now landed her in prison.
Desperate to keep her troubles a secret and the family estate from falling down while she pays her debt to society, Lil entrusts Summer Haven’s care to her best friend, Maggie, who recruits two more over-fifty ladies to live at Summer Haven and help keep it afloat.
But when Maggie discovers that Lil’s restitution is ten times the amount she “borrowed” from the federal government, she’s convinced Lil has taken the fall for someone else’s crime. And these gals will use every trick in their little-old-lady bags to prove it.
With her purse swinging from the crook of her arm, Lillian Summer Fairview pressed both wrinkled hands against the barred door of the downtown Atlanta pawnshop and pushed with her whole weight to get inside.
She glanced at the bright yellow measuring stick on the doorjamb. Frequenting this place on the seedy side of town for the past two years was bad enough, but according to that ruler she’d fallen below the five-foot mark somewhere along the way. She’d noticed it on her way out last time and convinced herself it was a mistake. Maybe a bad angle. She dang well knew she’d been five foot two once upon a time. Just one more jab on possibly the worst day of her life.
No. The worst day would arrive within the month.
Today, she wore her only pair of pricey low-heel pumps and stretched her spine like a ballerina, but she still didn’t pass four-eleven. It was a sore spot but only one of them. Having to visit J&R’s Pawn at all was worse than eating potato chips with a paper cut.
Harlan, I may never forgive you for putting me in this position.
When the preacher who’d married Harlan and her all those years ago said “for better or worse,” she’d had no idea the worse would come after the until-death-do-you-part.
“Hello, gentlemen,” she called out as she made her way past a long counter of jewelry, coins and other collectibles.
A bald, heavyset man hustled to meet her halfway. “What’cha got for us this time, gorgeous?”
Lillian didn’t have the heart to play Rick’s games today. “I know your tricks. You’re trying to soften me up so I’ll let you steal my good stuff.” She stabbed a finger in his direction. “Don’t try that with me today. I’m in no mood for it.” She’d developed a friendly relationship with these boys and they’d treated her right. So far no one back in Summer Shoals was the wiser about her predicament.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Rick leaned forward on the counter. “Let’s see what you’ve got for me today.”
Lillian leveled a stare at him, almost changing her mind, but she didn’t have a choice. She slipped a cloth place mat from her bag, positioned it on the glass counter and smoothed out the wrinkles. Then she set her bag on it and pulled out the handkerchief she’d secured with a slip of ribbon left over from the holidays.
Her hands shook as she opened the linen package. No jewels graced her fingers these days.
She couldn’t stop herself from glancing into the case under her bag. Her wedding rings, handed down in the Summer family every generation, still held a place beneath the glass. She swallowed back her longing and bitterness.
Rick pulled the bundle close to inspect the contents.
Lillian flinched at the sparkle in his eyes as he examined the five pocket watches. Two gold, three silver and not a speck of tarnish on any of them. Daddy’s favorites.
“You going to swap these and get your wedding rings back?”
“Not today,” she said, “but you can take this month’s interest payment on the things from the money for the pocket watches.”
He turned to check his computer. “Your ninety days is coming up in early July. After that…”
He didn’t have to finish the sentence. After that date, he could be generous and give her a thirty-day grace period or he could sell her family heirlooms.
“I’ll be back for them soon.” The lie sat heavy on her tongue. She beat back the tears blurring her vision and got down to the business of negotiating.
After fifteen minutes, she was far from satisfied with Rick’s offer, but she slipped the few bills into her purse. It wasn’t even close to enough.
When she walked through the door this time, Lillian refused to look at the measuring stick because there was no way she was an inch over two feet tall.
Lillian’s right hip ached from pressing the sticky gas pedal on the long drive home in Daddy’s 1948 Tucker Torpedo. Taking the massive thing to Atlanta was pure hell on her bursitis, but it was her only choice after selling her own car. A pitcher of sweet tea and the shade of Summer Haven’s veranda were calling her, but after her visit to the pawnshop and that other mandatory appointment in the city, Harlan Fairview deserved an earful.
And he was about to get it.
She slowed to take a right into Gabriel’s Acres. At least Harlan couldn’t walk away when he was six feet under.
Lillian inched up in the seat as she eased the Torpedo through the narrow cemetery entrance. Nash Talley had added fancy new gates decorated with swirly scrolls and thin bars running from top to bottom. In her mind, angels’ harps were supposed to be gold, but these were silver and looked like some artist living in a New York loft had sculpted them. It was just one of the many changes Nash had made since taking over the funeral business from his daddy, Warner.
The pathways cutting through the rolling green grounds had not one pothole. Nash had seen to that too. The whole place should’ve looked pretty, with the precisely manicured bluegrass, polished grave markers and dots of brilliantly colored spring flowers. But somehow it came off as plastic as the calla lilies Nash tried to talk everyone into placing in the sunken urns.
That silly man spent way too much time trying to make everything exactly the same. Order was one thing, but decorating everyone’s grave with the same flowers?
Phooey on that.
Her parents deserved fresh roses, phlox and baby’s breath on their memorials, just like Momma used to tuck into her hair every Sunday for church. But Lillian drove right past Momma and Daddy’s graves to the outside edge of the family plot. As far as she knew, no one had realized she’d planted Harlan’s sorry butt just beyond the perimeter. A tiny seed of guilt still tickled her insides for doing it. Yes, tradition dictated her husband should have been laid to rest in the family plot. But even dead, Daddy would have killed Harlan for his irresponsible actions, and she’d been forced to find a way to keep the ghosts calm.
Thank goodness, Nash was willing to help with the arrangements and zip his mouth.
Truth be told, Daddy was probably up in heaven right this minute smoking cigars, drinking whiskey with Jesus and telling him about his daughter Lillian and how if she’d only listened to her father, she wouldn’t be in this mess.
Sorry, Daddy. I know you never gave a plug nickel for Harlan.
If he’d lived to witness the mess Harlan had left her in, even more-honest-than-Abe-Lincoln William Summer might’ve forgiven the choices she’d made to survive it all.
She stopped the car in the middle of the lane. Nash got mighty agitated when he found tire tracks denting his grass. She’d learned that the hard way. Twice he’d moved her car while she sat out here confessing to Momma and Daddy.
She scooched out of the car, and her hip cramped like a crawdad had clamped down on the muscle. Old age wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t for the fainthearted. Strength was her only option. She hesitated, but only for a moment, then forged ahead to where she’d buried Harlan five years ago.
When Harlan died, she’d been so mad at him she could’ve outstung a hornet. Regardless, his stone had all the elegance the town expected of the Summer family. No one had to know it wasn’t high-quality granite, and no one had made mention it wasn’t bronze like the rest of the family’s. What it lacked in true quality, she’d made up for in size. That prefab crowned headstone had a finial that darn near came up to her waist. More than once she’d been tempted to stab a scratcher lottery ticket on top of that pointy thing.
But for all his faults and this helluva mess he’d landed her in, Harlan had had his good points, and deep down she still loved that old fool.
She took a tissue from her handbag and bent to wipe away a spider web stretching between the A in Harlan across the Y in Wayne to the R in Fairview.
Devoted husband, loyal friend, generous benefactor.
Umm-hmm…devoted. Devoted to stopping by the Sack ’n Snack three times a week for those scratch-off lottery tickets. What had seemed like a harmless indulgence at the time had sure turned into a disaster.
“Harlan, honey, it’s not that I think you were a bad man.” Lillian stooped to snap off a stray blade of crabgrass. Her knees popped like that breakfast cereal her best friend, Maggie, loved so much. “You were just a weak one.”
And what hurt the most was his weakness had been a sign he hadn’t loved her the way she deserved to be loved. Now, everything she cared about was at risk because she’d stood by Harlan long after she figured out he didn’t have the Summer family backbone.
Then again, how many people had that kind of spine?
“I’d like to say I’ve made my peace with all this nonsense, but it’s been a terrible day. You wouldn’t believe the places I went and things I did.”
She sighed and pushed the hanky back into her purse.
“And really, it’s unfair for me to blame you. I made those decisions after you were dead and gone, and now the piper’s come around, demanding his price.” She rubbed her arms, but even the early June sunshine couldn’t warm the fear steeping in her bones. “And the Summer family always pays its debts.”
“Miss Lillian, good to see you.”
She jerked around at the sound of her name. Nash Talley resembled a crane stretching with long awkward strides from one paver to the next, careful not to disturb the precious grass between the grave markers. The way he moved reminded her of that step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-back game they’d played on the sidewalk in front of the soda shop when she was a little girl.
Nash smiled that perfect over-whitened smile he was so well known for. Warner and Melba had invested time, love and money into him, and it showed. His blond hair waved away from his face and shone golden in the sunlight. Even though summer was fast approaching, he wore a meticulous gray pinstripe suit and muted purple tie. If she looked close enough, she’d no doubt see her reflection in his black shoes.
If the Summer Shoals Dispatch had a fashion page, Nash would come out the winner for best dressed every year. So sad that neither of his parents could see what a fine young man he’d become, what with Melba in heaven and Warner in Dogwood Ridge Assisted Living.
Nash stepped next to Lillian. “How are you this afternoon?”
“Doing just fine,” she said. Daddy would have called that out as a bald-faced lie.
“I don’t mean to horn in on your private time with Harlan, but I noticed you haven’t freshened the flowers as often lately. Everything okay? Is there something I can do to help?”
This was what she’d come to, being on the receiving end of people’s kindness. The Summer family was the foundation of this community. They gave help. They didn’t take it.
But Nash’s observation was true. After five years of fresh flowers each week, now she had to make them stretch a little longer. If things got any leaner she’d have to stoop to Nash’s plastic lilies.
But what choice had Harlan left her? What choice had she left herself?
She rubbed her chest, trying to ease the tightness that had settled there. It wasn’t likely to go away in the next thirty days. Or more accurately, twenty-nine and counting.
“As a matter of fact, yes. I could use your help. I’d like you to keep an eye on Momma’s and Daddy’s resting spots for me over the next little while.”
Tiny lines formed at the corners of his eyes. “You’re scaring me. Are you sick? Why don’t we find a bench and sit you down?”
Heartsick was more like it. With no idea how she going to take care of everything that needed to be squared away, the seconds seemed to tick off in her head like she was standing next to the mahogany grandfather clock that lorded over Summer Haven’s foyer.
Nash led her toward a wrought iron bench by the Odom family plot. He settled her on the seat but remained standing himself.
She raised her chin to look him square in the face. The sun flooding around him made him look like an angel. “About the graves, you will keep an eye on them?” She made sure to lilt her words into a question, but Lord, it almost choked her this time.
He tugged on his coat sleeve. “I’m more than happy to, but you already keep those plots spotless. Even I couldn’t improve on the beautiful flowers and polished headstones. So do you mind me asking why?”
This was exactly the type of scrutiny she’d hoped to avoid. But people tended to want explanations. And if Nash was curious about her asking for favors, Maggie was going to be like a hound dog after a pile of chicken bones. Maggie knew her best of anyone still walking this earth. And Maggie was no dummy. She would figure things out if Lillian wasn’t careful.
She pulled in a breath and tried to smile with lips that weren’t cooperating. “Nash, when you get to my age, you realize the world has a way of taking back what’s been taken from it.”
“Miss Lillian, you’re not making sense.” He reached for her elbow. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Maybe we should take you to the clinic.”
She shook off his hand. “Stop treating me like a fragile old lady. I’m just fine. Can’t I plan for the future without everyone getting all worried?” Heaven help her, she had to be strong. There was no other option. “Please do me this one more favor without worrying too much about why. Can you do that?”
But the frown marring his evenly tanned forehead said he still wasn’t convinced she was right in the head. Lillian sighed but let him lead her back to the Torpedo.
“Nash, it all boils down to what you younger people call karma.” She slipped behind the wheel and Nash bent to close her door. “But in my day, we always said what goes around comes around.”
Read the rest of IN FOR A PENNY in your favorite format - available in digital and print.
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Happy reading, y’all!
Nancy & Kelsey