What will it take to bring people together?
Hurricane Fanny left no one in Blessings, Georgia unscathed—including Rowan Harper, the only surviving member of her family. Rebuilding her life now seems almost impossible.
Bowie James comes back to help repair his grandmother’s house, but he doesn’t intend to stay long. He and his mother were forced out of Blessings a decade ago, and he’s neither forgiven nor forgotten those responsible.
But Rowan is kindhearted, beautiful, and lost, and Bowie discovers that he can entrust her with his deepest secrets. If only their love could bring hope and healing to everyone around them, maybe they’d be willing to give it a chance…
The skin crawled on the back of Bowie James’s neck as he pulled into Blessings. He’d sworn never to come back here, and yet here he was, and all because of Hurricane Fanny, and his love and loyalty to the last two people on earth who gave a damn about him.
He’d already called about hookups at the RV/trailer park and drove straight down Main Street, well aware of the stares his fifty-foot red-and-black motor home and the red Jeep Cherokee he was towing were getting.
But he was doing some staring of his own, surveying the damage the hurricane and subsequent flooding had done here Watermarks were visible on the outside of buildings. A few were still boarded up and in different stages of repair. The police station was open for business, as was the drugstore. A beauty shop called the Curl Up and Dye was one addition to Main Street he didn’t remember, but the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and Granny’s Country Kitchen were very familiar. At least he knew where he was going to eat tonight.
By the time he got to the park, he was more than ready to get out and stretch his legs, but he still had to check in at the manager’s office, then hook up to the facilities. He’d done this countless times in hundreds of places over the past few years, and after the business of checking in had been taken care of, he drove to the campsite, unhooked his SUV, and finished the setup.
A couple in a small fifth wheel were sitting outside their little camper grilling supper. They waved at Bowie when he got out, and he waved back. He was well-accustomed to the RV life, and how friendly the people were who’d chosen that lifestyle, but he hadn’t come here to make friends. He’d come to put Gran and Aunt Ella’s world back together.
The recent hurricane that hit here had, according to the letter he’d received from Aunt Ella, flooded their house clear up to the windowsills. With nowhere else to go, they were residing in the local nursing home.
The timing of Aunt Ella’s letter and the end of his last project couldn’t have been better. His company built expensive homes in out-of-the-way locations all over the States, and he was just getting ready to move out when her letter came. He expected one of her usual newsy letters, but when he began to read, he was stunned by the message and horrified at what they must have lived through.
Bowie, Mama and I hate to ask, but we are desperate. Hurricane Fanny put four feet of water in the house. In its present state, it is uninhabitable, and we are both in the nursing home here in Blessings. I wouldn’t ask, but we know it’s in your line of work, and Mama cries every night, afraid she’s going to die in “this place” as she calls it.
There is a charity house here in town called Hope House that we might be able to use for a bit, but Mama says she’s never taken charity in her life, and she won’t start now. You know how she is.
We know you’re on the go all the time, so I hope this letter reaches you, and that you are in good health.
We need you.
Love, Aunt Ella
But for them, he would never have set foot back in this town, and he knew, as well as he knew his own name, that because of his presence, an old feud was likely to rear its ugly head once more. However, he was here, and whatever happened, so be it.
As soon as he was satisfied that all was in order at the campsite, he locked up, then got in the Cherokee and headed for town. He hadn’t had anything to eat but snacks since breakfast, and if Granny’s food was as good as it used to be, he was going to bed a well-fed man.
The couple with the fifth wheel waved at him again as he drove out. He waved back, and took a left at the entrance and kept driving.
It was just after 7:00 p.m. when he pulled into the diner’s parking lot and got out. He stretched, weary of so much sitting, then fingercombed the too-long black hair hanging halfway down the back of his neck, a side effect of big projects in out-of-the-way places and little sleep. Maybe he’d find the time to get a haircut here, he thought, and headed for the entrance.
He met a couple coming out and held the door for them, nodded when they told him thank you, and then noticed their double take.
It was hard to deny your heritage when the family looks ran deep through the blood.
A strikingly beautiful woman smiled as he entered. “Welcome to Granny’s. A seat for one?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am.” He noticed the little badge on her blouse said her name was Mercy, but out of curiosity, he asked. “Does Lovey still run Granny’s?”
“Yes, sir, she does. But she was injured during the hurricane and is recovering at a friend’s house while her home is being repaired. My name is Mercy Pittman. I’m just filling in.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bowie said.
Mercy nodded. “We all are. This way, please,” she said, and led him through the dining room to a smaller booth. “Your waitress will be here shortly. Enjoy your meal.”
Bowie glanced once around the room as he sat down. Grateful he didn’t see any familiar faces, he picked up the menu just as his waitress appeared.
“Evening, sir. My name is Wendy, and I’ll be your server tonight. What can I get you to drink?”
“The biggest glass of sweet tea you have on the menu,” he said.
Wendy giggled. “It only comes in one size, but I think it’ll hold you for a bit.”
She left as abruptly as she’d arrived. Bowie was still reading the menu when she came back with a small basket of biscuits and his tea.
“You’ll want to dig into these while they’re still hot,” she said. “Do you know what you want to order, or do you need a few minutes?”
“I haven’t had good barbecue in a while. How about the ribs?”
Wendy rolled her eyes and giggled again. “Everything is good at Granny’s. You want the four-rib or the six-rib dinner?”
“I think four, with fries and coleslaw,” Bowie said.
“Coming up,” Wendy said, and pointed again at the biscuits. “Those things are amazing. I recommend one with butter and honey first.”
Bowie eyed the biscuits, wondering what all the fuss was about. Granted they were the perfect golden brown on top, and he couldn’t remember when he’d seen biscuits rise like that, but it was all about taste. He took one from the basket, put it on his bread plate and split it open, buttering both sides. He took a bite while he was digging through the little containers of jams and jellies, and then paused midchew.
Whoa, Nellie! That might be the best biscuit I ever ate.
He chewed, swallowed, then put the last half of the biscuit in his mouth while he was buttering the second. He ate one half with honey, and the other half with strawberry preserves.
Wendy came flying past his table on the way to deliver another order and grinned at him.“Told you they were good, didn’t I?”
He grinned. “My compliments to the chef.”
Wendy pointed back at Mercy Pittman. “We’ve all had to switch jobs up a bit after the hurricane, but that lady up front is the one with the now-famous recipe. She trained a couple of subs to help us out, but she is pure magic in the kitchen,” Wendy said.
“A woman that beautiful, and she can cook? I have to ask, is she married?” Bowie asked.
Wendy laughed out loud. “Yes, sir, to the police chief.”
“Then my compliments to the chief as well,” Bowie said.
He made himself stop at two biscuits, but if he’d known how good they were, he could have skipped the ribs and just ordered a bowl of gravy to go with them. Now he was going to have to come back for that in the morning.
He was answering a text from one of his crew chiefs when his food arrived. He finished sending the orders, then put down the phone to eat his meal. For just a few minutes, he’d forgotten where he was and was simply enjoying the food, when two men walked into the dining room and stopped to look around.
Bowie just happened to look up as they began scanning the room, and silently cursed. He might not have recognized anyone in here, but he’d lay odds someone had recognized him and felt obliged to share the news.
He put down his fork, wiped his hands, and stood up. The moment he did, they locked gazes. He saw the shock come and go on their faces, and had a few moments of satisfaction. He wasn’t the skinny fifteen-year-old he’d been when they last saw him. He was bigger and taller than either one of them and, from the sizes of their bellies, in much better shape.
He took a step forward, and when he did, they turned around and bolted out of Granny’s.
All Wendy saw was the man at her table standing up, and she hurried over to refill his tea.
“I’m sorry. I should have been here sooner. We’re extra busy tonight.”
She topped off his tea as he sat back down.
“You’re fine,” Bowie said. “But I have a little business to attend to. Do I pay you or—”
“No, sir. You pay at the register as you go out.” She pulled his tab from her order pad. “Would you like for me to box up your leftovers?”
“Not this time, but I’ll probably be back for biscuits and gravy in the morning,” he said.
“Then, thank you, and enjoy the rest of your evening,” she said, her eyes widening as he tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the table for her tip and headed for the exit.
Bowie was right in guessing that he’d been recognized, but the people who’d seen him come in, and then subversively watched him throughout his meal, hadn’t meant to stare. They just thought they were looking at a ghost.
Bowie didn’t look anything like the kid he’d been when he and his mother left Blessings in the middle of the night. The fact that he’d grown into the spitting image of his grandfather, Judson Boone, must have been as startling to his sons as it was to Bowie every time he looked in a mirror.
Once outside the restaurant, Bowie stopped and scanned the parking lot, waiting. He knew they were there and called out.“What are you waiting for?”
They come out of the shadows, one from his right, the other from his left.
Emmitt Boone had a baseball bat.
Melvin Boone was brandishing his brass knuckles, gleaming beneath the lights on his short, fat fingers.
Melvin was a couple of steps closer and ran at Bowie with a fistful of brass.
Bowie waited until Melvin was about to swing a fist, then stepped aside and gave Melvin a quick karate chop to the throat.
Melvin squawked, grabbed his throat, and fell flat on his face.
Bowie heard Emmitt coming up behind him and spun, took out the bat in Emmitt’s hand with one kick, and followed up with a fist to his nose.
Emmitt yelped as blood spurted and dropped flat on his back.
Bowie stood over both of them, staring.“Where’s Randall? Is he hiding out there in the dark, or are you two all there is?” he asked.
Emmitt moaned. “Randall is dead.”
“That’s fair enough,” Bowie muttered.
“You broke my nose,” Emmitt cried.
“No, you ran into my fist,” Bowie said. “I did not start this. I came here to fix my gran’s house, and then I’ll be leaving, so you’ve been warned. While I’m here, stay away from me. Because if you don’t, I will take all of you through court and bare every shameful secret you’ve been hiding in the process. Now you crawl back to your daddy and remind the old bastard that the sooner I’m gone, the sooner my obvious resemblance to him will be forgotten.”
Melvin had rolled over onto his back, still gasping for air, still unable to do more than squawk.
Emmitt had a handkerchief jammed up both nostrils, but the blood was still running between his fingers.
“Daddy’s not gonna like this,” Emmitt whined. “He told you and your mama he would see you both dead if you came back.”
Bowie bent over them, his voice barely above a whisper.“My mother killed herself the day after my eighteenth birthday. In my eyes, you’re all responsible. So. Don’t. Piss. Me. Off. Understand?”
The shock of what he’d done to them—and without breaking a sweat—was beginning to set in. And the threat in his voice was too real to ignore. They nodded.
Bowie left them sitting in the dirt as he drove away, but the rage inside him was so strong that instead of driving straight back, he swung by his old high school, only to find out there was a football game in progress.
Curiosity won out as he parked, got out, and walked across the parking lot to pay at the gate, then went all the way up to the bleachers before he stopped. The crowd was loud. Someone had just completed a pass that took the home team all the way to the five-yard line.
A man in the stands glanced his way, then stared. Bowie shifted his position and moved beneath the bleachers until he could see the field from between the seats.
Once this had been his biggest dream, to be good enough to make the Blessings High School football team. Only back then he wasn’t very tall, and he’d been skinny—not exactly football material.
He watched the quarterback receive another snap, then pull a quarterback sneak and dash across the goal line before the opposing team saw what was happening.
The crowd erupted into screams and cheers of delight. Bowie thought about sitting on the bleachers to watch, but he’d already pushed his luck for the night. If it hadn’t been for that damn hurricane, he wouldn’t even be here, and it was time to get some rest.
He drove back to the trailer park without incident, set the alarm on the car as he got out, and then went inside. He turned on all the motion-detector lights affixed to the front and back, then set the security alarm inside the motor home as well. Without hesitation, he walked straight back to his bedroom, opened the safe, and removed both a Taser and his loaded handgun. He put the gun beside his bed and took the Taser to the living room with him.
He was tired. He’d planned on going to bed early, but now he was too wound up. Instead, he closed all the shades, turning off the lights as he went and turning on the TV as he passed it on his way to the wet bar. He poured himself two fingers of bourbon, neat, then returned to his easy chair and scanned the stations with the sound on Mute.
Finally, he settled on a show on HGTV and began watching a team renovating a home in Maine that had been built in the early eighteen hundreds. He slowly sipped on the bourbon, while working on his laptop, until he began to relax.
He thought about Gran and Aunt Ella. They didn’t even know he was coming, but they were going to get a surprise tomorrow morning. Not only had he come back to Blessings to fix their house, but he was rescuing them from the nursing home and bringing them back here to stay during the renovation. They could have his bedroom and private bath, and he’d bunk out here for the duration. There were two pieces of furniture in the living area that turned into beds, as well as another, smaller bath, and the motor home was huge by motor home standards.
The kitchen was state of the art, so Aunt Ella would have no trouble making their meals while he was at work during the day. Whatever discomfort he experienced by giving up his space was worth it to know they were happy and safe.
After a couple of hours, he shut down his laptop, turned off the television, and went to take a shower. He emerged a short while later wearing an old pair of gym shorts that he slept in, then put his cell phone on the charger and the Taser next to the handgun before crawling into bed. He thought about setting the alarm clock, and then fell asleep before he did it.
But as it turned out, a different alarm, the car alarm, went off just before daylight. Bowie swung his long legs out of bed, grabbing the Taser as he raced to the front door. The moment he opened it, the security alarm inside his home began going off, too, but he didn’t stop to disarm it.
Motion-detector lights were already on as he ran out, highlighting the fact that his Cherokee had just been keyed, and then he caught sight of a teenage boy running away.
“Stop!” he yelled, but the kid didn’t slow down.
Bowie had the advantage with longer legs, and as soon as he got close enough, he fired the Taser. The prongs hit the middle of the boy’s back, and seconds later, he was on the ground, writhing in pain.
The couple in the fifth wheel came out, looking wild-eyed and scared.
“Everything’s okay!” Bowie said. “But I need you to call the police. I just caught someone vandalizing my car.”
The older man waved to indicate he’d heard and darted back inside their trailer, while the woman just stood there, staring.
It occurred to Bowie, a little too late, that the old gym shorts he slept in were seriously small, and he was close enough to naked that the possibility of being arrested for indecent exposure might exist. Nothing like bringing down the house his first morning here.
He knelt down beside the kid and pulled the barbs out of his back, then grabbed him by the arm and yanked him upright.
“What name do you go by besides Dumbass?” Bowie asked.
The kid just shook his head. Either he was still reeling from the shocks, or he wasn’t willing to talk.
“Fine. Dumbass works for me,” Bowie said, and dragged him back to the car, shut off the alarm, and then opened the hatch. He pulled out a roll of duct tape and taped the kid’s wrists together behind his back, then sat him down and taped his legs together at the ankles.
“That hurts,” the kid muttered.
Bowie looked up. “No, it doesn’t, and we both know it.”
The kid started to respond, and then the look on Bowie’s face changed his mind.
By now, lights were coming on all over the trailer park and men were coming out carrying everything from hunting rifles to baseball bats. Bowie watched one big redheaded man stomping toward them, waving a bat and yelling.
“What the hell’s going on?”
Bowie pointed at his prisoner. “Damned kid keyed my car and set off the security alarm. Don’t let him move. I need to shut off the alarm inside.”
The man glared down at the kid, who persisted in staring at his own feet.
Bowie bolted through the doorway, turned off the alarm, then ran toward his bedroom, grabbed the jeans he’d taken off last night, put them on, and was back outside within less than a minute.
“Thanks,” Bowie said. “I’m Bowie James. I appreciate the help.”
“I’m Yancy Scott, but most everybody calls me Red. That’s some rig you have there. You must have come in last night.”
Bowie nodded. He could hear sirens. “Sorry about all the noise. It wouldn’t have happened except for the dumbass who refuses to identify himself.”
Red grinned. “I don’t know his name, but I do know he’s Emmitt Boone’s boy.”
Bowie turned around and stared. “Is that so?” he said. “Did your daddy send you, or was this all your bright idea?”
The kid looked up, and the hate on his face was easy for Bowie to read.“You broke my daddy’s nose last night,” he said.
“Why, yes I did. I don’t suppose he mentioned that he and your uncle, Melvin, ganged up on me in the parking lot at Granny’s. Mel had brass knuckles, and your daddy had a baseball bat. If they had minded their own damn business, none of this would have happened. And now you have done the very thing I warned them not to do.”
The boy looked stunned by the news and then frowned. “What did you warn them not to do?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough,” Bowie said, and looked up just as the first of two police cruisers came flying into the trailer park, lights flashing and sirens screaming.
Chief Lon Pittman was the first out of the vehicle, and his deputy, Ralph Herman, pulled up behind him and got out on the run.
Lon quickly scanned the scene and saw only one person he didn’t know.
“I’m Chief Pittman. What’s going on here?” he asked.
“My name’s Bowie James. I arrived here last night and was still asleep this morning when my car alarm began going off. I ran outside with my Taser, saw the key marks on my vehicle and this dumbass running away. I chased him, tasered him, and dragged him back here so I could shut off the alarms.”
“Woke us all up,” Red said.
The neighbors from the fifth wheel had joined the crowd.
“He’s telling the truth,” the man said. “Me and Jewel saw the boy running away and this fella chasing him down.”
“I assume you want to press charges,” the chief said.
Bowie nodded. “Yes. The damage to my Cherokee is going to cost enough to make this a felony, too.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “I’m a juvenile. I’m only fifteen.”
“Being stupid and underage still gets you arrested,” Bowie said.
The kid was bordering on tears. “But Chief, he broke my daddy’s nose last night.”
“Tell him the rest of the story,” Bowie said.
“But I didn’t know that at the time,” the boy muttered.
Bowie shrugged. “You can ask Emmitt and Melvin what happened last night in Granny’s parking lot and see if they want me to file charges against them, too…for assault.”
Lon frowned. “Obviously there’s something going on here I don’t understand.”
“Nothing but an old feud,” Bowie said.
Lon’s frown deepened. “Between who?”
Bowie shrugged. “You’re new to Blessings since I lived here. It was common knowledge then. My mother was raped by Randall Boone. She reported it. He denied it, and that was the end. Then she found out she was pregnant, and I am the result. They don’t like me being here. I am proof of everything they denied. Pearl James is my grandmother. Gran and Ella James are all of the family I have left. They wrote asking me to help repair what the hurricane did to their home, which is what I came to do, and then I’m leaving.”
“I’m missing something here,” Lon said. “What’s the grudge, if no one was arrested?”
Bowie pointed at the boy. “By the time I was his age, I was beginning to look so much like them that their denials that a rape never happened no longer held water. So they nearly beat me to death and told me to get out of Blessings. Afraid they would follow through on their promise, Mama packed up our stuff, and we ran in the middle of that same night. I haven’t been back since, until now.”
Lon frowned, thinking of all the complications that could still arise.
“Did your mother come with you?”
Bowie’s expression went flat. “She committed suicide the day after my eighteenth birthday.”
Lon didn’t like hearing this. It sounded like a mess that wasn’t likely to go away anytime soon. But, first things first. He looked down at the boy.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Emmitt Lee, named after my daddy,” he mumbled.
Lon reached down and pulled him to his feet, eyed the duct tape, and then glanced up at Bowie. “Car alarms, duct tape, Tasers… What else don’t I know about you?”
“I have a Luger, a hunting rifle, and a license to carry. My motor home also has a security system and motion-detection lights. Life has taught me to be wary, if you know what I mean. I’ll get dressed and go to the police station to sign the complaint.”
Lon nodded, then motioned to his deputy. “Hey, Ralph, come help me get him in the cruiser.”
A few minutes later, both police cruisers were exiting the trailer park, leaving Bowie to meet his neighbors. He turned around and managed a brief smile.
“This is a poor way to meet, and I’m sorry for all the noise. My name is Bowie James. Ella James is my aunt, and her mother, Pearl, is my grandmother. They’ll be staying with me during the renovation, so I hope you don’t hold any hard feelings toward them that you might have for me.”
Red grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “No hard feelings at all, dude. The Boones are a little wild and hard-nosed for my liking. I’m pleased to meet you.”
And just like that, the crowd around him began to echo similar feelings, vowing to make sure no one bothered the ladies while they were in his care.
“Much appreciated, and thank you,” Bowie said. “But I need to get dressed.”
The people began drifting away, talking among themselves about the incident and feeling bad for the ladies and their flooded house. More than one woman commented about what a good-looking man that Bowie James was, but it was Jewel, the lady from the fifth wheel, who brought the conversation to a halt.
“He’s even more good-looking without them jeans he’s wearing,” she said, and grinned.
The women giggled.
“And how do you know?” one asked.
“Me and Frank saw him just as he came running out of his rig. I reckon he don’t sleep in much.”
Giggles erupted again.
“I might set off that car alarm again just to see that,” the woman said.
“I wouldn’t,” Jewel added. “The Taser he used on that Boone boy looked like it caused a world of hurt.”