I thought it’d be fun to offer a sneak peek at Chapter One of When I Come Home Again, that way you have a chance to meet Brenna Blaum and have a glance at Craig Erikson. Sooo…
Here you go!
Chapter One, in it’s entirety, of When I Come Home Again, book 1 in the new Christian Fiction Series, Big Prairie Romance.
SATURDAYS WERE FOR RELAXING.
This was a fairly new perspective in Brenna Blaum’s world. Well, new in the last seven years. Used to be Saturdays were for getting up early, going with Dad so she could watch him come alive during Coach’s Coffee Club. He loved talking about football almost as much as he loved coaching it.
Actually, no. That wasn’t true exactly. He loved talking about his boys playing football almost as much as he loved coaching them. He loved the game. He loved his boys—his team even more. They were the reason he was so passionate. They were the reason he gave up so many sleep-in-and-relax Saturdays. The reason he rode countless buses until two in the morning. Spent untold hours in front of a screen and a playbook. It wasn’t about a pigskin ball, grass turf, ten-yard lines, or uprights. Wasn’t even Friday night lights. All of it was for them.
Dad loved his boys. Every one of them. And they loved him.
Time has a habit of wearing things like that away. Those boys—they grew up. Found out life was bigger than a 100-yard field of turf and lines. Started living it.
And Dad? Dad retired. Early.
Thoughts not super relaxing on a Saturday morning. Brenna banished them, Saturdays were for relaxing now.
Still wearing her pink-pinstriped jammy pants and old Huskers T-shirt, Brenna stretched near the big window as she looked over Main Street. Her apartment was on the top floor of the old Limestone Hotel—which meant it was three stories up. That was as tall as buildings went in Big Prairie. Her dad used to chuckle when Scottie would point to the historic building and call it a skyscraper.
“Wait until we go to the state playoffs, buddy,” he’d say. “Then you’ll see some really tall buildings.”
This conversation would happen a dozen times every year, even though Scottie went to the state playoffs often. Brenna was pretty sure Dad liked the banter as much as Scottie. It never got old for them.
She wondered if Dad still thought about that.
Her phone buzzed from somewhere behind her. Usually she had it attached somewhere. Her back pocket. A hoodie pocket. Her palm. But not today. Saturday. Also, she was trying to break the attachment. Grant had said it would be healthy for her and the iPhone to gain a little separation. He was the expert, so she was working on it.
Brenna gathered her bed-head hair and flipped it into a messy bun that was probably not much better as she moved in search of the electronic addiction she apparently had. It buzzed again, drawing her attention from the coffee table in front of her yellow sofa smothered with green pillows. She noted that she had yet to straighten the mess from her late-night date with a Jane Austen story-turned-film. Grant had opted out of that, which was fine. They were not attached at the hip. Which was healthy. They both agree.
Phone. That was what Brenna was looking for.
Not on the coffee table. Nor the sofa. Did she have it this morning? See, Grant. I don’t even know where the dumb thing is. I don’t have a problem. Unless it’s misplacing things. Then yes. I definitely have a problem.
She’d text him that. He’d smile. Roll his eyes. Text her back something like, You’re cute. With the correct You’re and punctuation. Actually, no. He wouldn’t use you’re. He’d type out you are. Because Grant was not a lazy texter. He wasn’t a lazy anything.
Floor was clear. No iPhones lying about abandoned and lonely.
Hands on her hips, she paused in the big area she called her front room, which was a misnomer, because her whole apartment was three rooms. The kitchen / living room / dining room mash-up that was lovingly called “open concept” these days, the bedroom, and the bathroom. The latter two were actually walled off at the front of the apartment, close to the front door, creating a little hallway/entryway between that and the living space. So. This was not technically the front room at all, but the back.
Grant had pointed this whole misnomer thing out last year when he helped Brenna move in. She still called the open-concept living space mash-up her front room. He lifted his eyebrows a little every time he heard it. Brenna was pretty sure it annoyed him that she was not being technically accurate on purpose. It was mildly amusing.
The phone buzzed again, the vibrating leading her toward the sideboard-table under the wall-mounted TV. Found it. Right where she’d left it all the way back in the past of last night. Right next to the cover for Persuasion.
Ha, Grant Hillman. All the way back then. That had been, like, twelve hours ago.
Brenna smirked as she pushed the Home button to find out who was texting on her relaxing Saturday morning. And then laughed, because hello irony.
It was Grant.
Hello, beautiful. I am at Garrett’s. Would you like a donut? Or perhaps some coffee?
Did he have to ask? Two years. They’d been dating for two years. In those two years, had she ever turned down either a donut or coffee?
Are you awake? You had better be. I am heading your way bearing treasures.
Brenna’s smirk melted into a small smile, and she ran her tongue over her teeth. Yeah, definitely needed some attention. The phone vibrated again as she stepped into the bathroom.
Brenna? Is it really too early? It is after nine.
She leaned against the white quartz of the bathroom counter and texted him back, one hand on the phone, the other operating the toothbrush.
Come on up.
I’m brushing my teeth because I’m thoughtful like that.
Be one minute.
All three texts zipped away. He’d probably shake his head because she’d sent three texts when they were all really part of the same thought.
Yeah. They were different. They worked though. And he made her smile. Especially when he brought her carbs slathered in chocolate frosting.
Come to think of it, that didn’t happen all that often.
His knock echoed through the apartment as she worked up a good foam in her mouth. Still brushing, she wandered the short distance from the bathroom to the front door and let him in. One dark eyebrow lifted as he assessed her from the hallway.
“Do you always make such a mess of your face when you brush your teeth?”
“Huh?” Toothpaste seeped from the corner of her mouth.
“Wha?” Brenna grinned, because his face scrunched into the most adorable yuck expression that was too good not to laugh at.
“Go finish in the bathroom before you spit toothpaste all over this overly sweet sugar bomb I brought you.”
Brenna shrugged. Smiled. Left the door open so he could come in while she moved toward the bathroom. Grant followed, stopping to lean against the doorframe while she leaned to spit in the sink. Rinse, brush, spit, repeat. Then she wiped the mess off her face with a washrag and turned back to him.
He looked like he’d watched a toddler rub a sucker all over her face and then offered him a lick.
“Seriously, that is how you brush your teeth?”
“What?” She rinsed her fingers and tossed the rag toward the hamper.
“You made a bigger mess than what you started with. Can’t you keep the foam inside your mouth like a grown-up?”
Brenna snorted, pushing his shoulder as he rolled off the doorway. “You’re kind of boring with all your neat and tidy toothbrushing standards. Did you know that?”
“Yes. Clean is definitely overrated.” He nudged her with his shoulder, and a slip of a smile lifted his mouth. “You’ll forgive me, though, because I brought you a chocolate sundae donut and a large coffee.”
They made it to the tiny island that separated the great mash-up front room into kitchen/dining/living room spaces, and Brenna leaned in to peck the side of his mouth. “Yep. You’re forgiven.”
He set the bag and the paper hot cup on the counter so he could wipe the spot she’d just kissed. “Sloppy mint. My favorite kind.”
She shot him a sassy face and tore into the pastry bag. “Nothing for you?”
“I had oatmeal this morning.”
“And you didn’t bring me any?”
“How would that go over?”
Sugar melted on her tongue as she sank her teeth into a giant bite of awesomeness. “Not nearly as well as this,” she mumbled around the mouthful of donut.
“Brenna. You are a speech therapist. Surely you know not to talk with your mouth full.”
She rolled her eyes, licked her lips and then her fingers. Grant handed her a napkin.
“So.” She scooped a dollop of cream frosting off the middle of the half-eaten donut and stuck it into her mouth. Grant gave her the look. Because he knew she was doing it on purpose. She smiled. “To what do I owe this lovely surprise? Guilty conscience because you skipped out on Captain Wentworth and me?”
He handed her another napkin. “I would not want to come between you and Captain Wentworth.”
Carving out another fingerful of frosting, Brenna tipped her head and offered it to him.
He leaned back while simultaneously snagging her wrist. “You really cannot do this if we ever have kids. You know that, right?”
“Frosting is not finger food, Brenna.”
She slid off the stool and stepped toward him. He sat, knees apart, on the only other stool at the island, and as she leaned into his chest, the slightest pressure of his thighs pressed against her hips. Brenna’s grin felt sly and maybe a little sexy as his free hand settled at her waist.
“Kids, huh?” Brenna tipped closer, brushing her nose against his.
“That was not the point I was trying to make.”
“Hmm.” While he still had one wrist captive, her other hand was available. She happened to know his neck was sensitive. If she trailed her fingertips along the edge of his collared golf shirt, he’d tilt his head to stop the tickle. And that was the perfect moment, when he was distracted.
She smeared the frosting over his top lip.
“Oh! Brenna!” He wrapped her in a bear hug that was meant to contain the mischief. Brenna laughed because he scrunched his face while at the same time tried not to let the frosting inside his mouth.
“Lick it off.” She leaned in and nipped a small bit off his lip. “It’s yummy.”
“That is disgusting.”
Grant Hillman was impenetrable when it came to play. Brenna sighed, dropping back to her own stool. “What am I going to do with you?”
“My thoughts exactly.” He let her hand go to snatch another napkin, which he used to wipe away the filmy sugar. When the mess was gone to his satisfaction, his arms returned loosely around her. “We’re not very much alike.”
“Noted.” Hooking her arms around his neck, Brenna wondered if he’d ever, just once, let go. Eat some processed sugar. Not straighten every mess he ever encountered. Us a contraction.
Make out with his girlfriend on a Saturday morning, even if she did taste like donut.
His lips brushed hers, and she thought, for a moment, that yes—today he might cut loose…
Nope. He pulled away, searched her eyes with a seriousness not befitting the whole Saturday’s are for relaxing vibe, and then settled his hands on her shoulders. Responding to the bit of pressure, Brenna sat back and waited.
His hands covered hers. “Have you seen the school board’s recent list of last-minute hires?”
“The list the board released this week. It’s in the paper. Did you read it?”
His thumb traced over her knuckles, and then he moved to cover her knee with his hand. “They have hired a new district music teacher for the elementary and middle school. Recently. Like within the last week.”
“Oh.” Brenna waved him off. She should have known this was what Grant was stewing over. “Yeah. That.”
“So you know?”
“Yes. But I didn’t read it in the paper. His mom told me last week.”
“Yeah. She has guardianship of the Fulton boys? You know that—Trent is one of your kids, right?” She didn’t wait for him to respond, because technically he couldn’t say, and technically she already knew. Grant was big on technicalities, and she didn’t want to get into it. “Trent’s one of my patients, and I saw him last week. Janet told me then.”
She felt her eyebrows gather. “Yeah.”
“Not Ms. Erikson?”
A sigh sagged through her, and suddenly she wished she’d slept in. More. Technicalities were exhausting. “I’ve known her pretty much forever. We’ve been close, so…”
“But.” Grant shoved a hand through his thick hair. “But things have changed. I mean…you can’t still be close. Are you?”
“With Janet? Yes. Janet and I are still close. And you already knew that, Grant.”
His jaw worked. Eyes drifted from Brenna’s, focusing on whatever was behind her.
“What’s going on?” She came off the stool again, framed his face with clean fingers, and waited until he looked at her again.
“This is kind of a big deal. I wish you had mentioned to me that you knew he was coming back.”
“Why?” Things began to tumble inside her. Things that she’d been ignoring for the last seven days. Or years—though she wouldn’t admit to that. Having Grant react this way wasn’t helping.
“I think that we should talk about it,” he said. “You should talk about it.”
Pulling away, she let her hands slide from his freshly shaven face. “You said you wouldn’t do that to me—remember?”
“I’m not speaking as a counselor. I’m talking as your boyfriend—and as the man who cares a lot about you and your heart. Your health.”
“That sounds like counselor talk.”
She plopped back onto the stool, reclaimed the half-eaten donut that Grant didn’t appreciate in the least, and shoved a mouthful in. “I’m fine.”
Grant sighed. Irritated. Because of the mouthful-talking thing. And also.
Nope. He was wrong. She was fine.
“Craig is coming back to stay, Brenna. This is not one of his passing-through gigs. It is full time. You have got to do more than I’m fine. Because if that is all you have got, then I—”
“No, Grant. I don’t have to do more than that, because that is all I’ve got. That’s all there is, all there needs to be. It’s been seven years. I’m fine. And this shouldn’t change anything for us.”
The oversized clock on the brick wall ticked obnoxiously into the silence. Grant rubbed his neck, studying her with an intense look she’d seen him use when he was working on puzzles.
She was not a puzzle. Irritation rose up hard and fast. “Grant. Seriously.”
“Okay.” He leaned in and brushed her temple with his lips. “How about I help you straighten up, and we can go for a Saturday morning walk?”
Straightening up. That was normal Grant. But the twin lines between his eyes gave everything away.
This wasn’t fine. Not for him. Because he really didn’t think it was for her.
She was though. Fine. Seven years’ worth of fine. Craig Erikson’s homecoming wasn’t going to change all that fine.
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Rodewald. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.