An Abundance Series Prequel
When a woman who’s starting over falls for a journalist trying to dig up her past, does the attraction between them stand a chance?
Cara Smith can’t wait to put the first half of 1980 behind her and build a new life in the little town of Abundance, Missouri. If she can just avoid questions from that cute guy at the newspaper, no one ever needs to find out about her past.
Will Hamlin, editor of the local paper, has some serious questions about the mayor’s new secretary. She’s clearly hiding something—something that could be the big story the newspaper desperately needs to stay afloat. But after Will’s initial queries find nothing, he grows less interested in Cara’s past and more interested in winning her heart with slices of pie and stolen kisses.
When a crime is uncovered at city hall just as Will unearths Cara’s secret, the repercussions shatter their romance. Can Cara ever escape her past? Can Will finally find a way to save the paper? And can they learn to place their trust in God and open their hearts to the love of a lifetime?
Previously published as Love, Lies, and Homemade Pie.
Read an Excerpt: Chapter One
Monday, Aug. 4, 1980
Fear can really do a person in.
Oh, a little caution—the kind that makes a driver keep both eyes on the road—is a good thing.
But too much fear can ruin a person’s life.
And starting today, at age twenty-seven, Cara Smith was building a new life, trying to put fear behind her and become the person she wanted to be.
Driving along the rural Missouri highway, she passed a sign for Abundance—the town where she’d chosen to begin that new life—and she attempted to push the pesky tickle of fear away. Then she took another look, noticing a green Lincoln Continental sprawled on the edge of the road.
A woman in a red business suit stood by the raised hood of the vehicle, waving her arms.
The smart thing to do, the cautious thing to do, since Cara was traveling alone, was to stop at the next gas station and ask the attendant to call the highway patrol.
But something about the woman radiated small-town propriety. Slightly frazzled small-town propriety, but propriety nonetheless. And she had two little kids in her backseat.
Cara eased her foot onto the brake. Being smart and cautious was one thing. Being downright unhelpful was another. Besides, wasn’t her new life all about being brave? She pulled her white Volare onto the shoulder and turned off the engine.
The woman from the Lincoln hurried to Cara’s passenger-side door. She looked about sixty, and her face shone with perspiration. Her hair, which probably began the day with a thick layer of Final Net, drooped on one side. Clearly, she’d chosen that red suit with its formidable shoulder pads because she’d believed she’d spend this sticky August day in air conditioning, not on the side of the road.
Cara reached across the passenger seat and cranked down the window.
“Thanks for stopping,” the woman said. “Could you send someone to help? Or give my granddaughters and me a ride into town?” She gestured to the back seat of her car, where two girls who appeared to be identical twins peered out.
“What do you think is wrong?”
“I have no idea. It just died.” She glared at the Lincoln, then looked back at Cara. “I’m Imogene Findley, by the way, the mayor of Abundance, that little town up ahead.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m An—uh—Cara Smith.” Cara gave a quick smile, hopefully covering her slip, then glanced once more toward the Lincoln. “I’ll gladly give you a lift, but I’d like to look at your car first. I’m pretty good with engines.”
“If you think you can fix it, please, go ahead,” Imogene said, but skepticism flickered across her eyes.
For a female mayor, Imogene didn’t seem very confident in the abilities of a woman. And she should be. It was 1980 after all.
Granted, Cara wasn’t a professional mechanic. But when a girl was raised by a father on his own, a somewhat distant father at that, then a shared understanding of engines became a way to connect. And, as she’d learned when she grew older, a knowledge of machinery was a handy thing to have.
Behind Imogene, one of the little girls waved from the back seat, her brown pigtails bouncing.
Cara waved back, waited until a pickup truck passed, and climbed out of her Volare. “If I can’t take care of it in ten minutes, I’ll drive you into town.”
“Thanks. That would be great.” Imogene gestured to her car. “I’m going to get back in to keep an eye on the girls.”
Cara nodded, dug through the emergency supplies in her trunk for a rag, then went to the front of the Lincoln and studied the engine. A lock of hair—red hair—that had escaped her ponytail fell forward, and she pushed it behind her ear. A new hair color, a new name… The changes still tripped her up. If she was going to keep her identity a secret, she needed to get used to her new self. Fast.
For now, she should focus on this engine. Was it the radiator? Using the rag to protect her hand from the heat, she checked. No. Were the spark plug cables connected? She jiggled them. They felt fine. Wait a minute…
“You’ve got a broken battery cable,” she called out.
Humph. She could replace the cable, but she didn’t have one handy. She walked back to Imogene’s window, mentally running through the contents of her Volare. Which would be…well, everything she owned. But what did she have that was useful and easily accessible?
“I’m kind of ashamed to admit this,” Imogene said, “but I don’t know how serious a problem that is. Before my husband died three years ago, I didn’t even know how to put gas in the car.”
Cara kept her expression neutral. That explained the woman’s skepticism about Cara’s car-repair skills. “A broken battery cable isn’t too serious.” She hesitated. “You know how to fill your tank now, right?”
“I sure do,” Imogene said. “I’ve learned a lot since Harold died. And I got elected.”
“Then I’d say you’ve been very resilient.”
“Thank you.” The older woman sat up taller. “It took me a while.”
“That’s understandable after such a loss,” Cara said. Emotional trauma was hard to get past. She should know. But she had a plan for her own resilience, a plan that included moving to Abundance, a town she’d never heard of before last week and picked solely because of its name. Surely things would have to be better in a place called Abundance. With a new town, a new look, and a new name, she could start over and find what she so desperately wanted—a community, possibly even one day a family, to make her feel valued and loved.
But first, this repair job. “Is that your briefcase?” She pointed to the seat beside Imogene.
“Ye-es,” Imogene said, sounding as if she now had more doubts about Cara’s roadside assistance.
“Sorry, dumb question.” What else could the big black case be? “What I mean is, do you have any binder clips in there?”
A grin spread across Imogene’s face. “What size do you need?”
Two minutes later, Cara yelled out from under the hood. “Try it now.”
Imogene cranked the engine, and it roared to life.
Cara hooked her thumbs in her shorts pockets and gave the engine a nod of approval. She’d done it! Who said a woman couldn’t have a little mechanical know-how? She used the rag to protect her fingers as she lowered the sunbaked hood, then went to talk to Imogene.
“I can’t believe you fixed it,” Imogene said with a note of respect. “With office supplies.”
“It might hold quite a while, but you should get a new cable as soon as you can. How about I follow you into town just in case? I’m headed there anyway to pick up the key to my apartment.”
Imogene’s head angled to one side. “Are you new to Abundance?”
“I am. I’m moving in today, and tomorrow I begin looking for a job.”
“What do you do? Maybe I can help.”
“Usually accounting, but I’d take any office position. I’m a decent typist.” She was also skilled at dodging reporters, but there was no need to mention that. “And I’m rather good at dealing with copiers that act up.”
“I bet you are.” Imogene looked Cara up and down. “I’ve been having a terrible time hiring a new secretary. Why don’t you come in tomorrow for an interview?”
The air whooshed out of Cara’s lungs. A possible job, just because she’d stopped to help? “Really? That would be great.”
“Nine o’clock.” Imogene reached out the window and gave Cara a firm handshake. “This may work out well. You’re clearly bright, and if you can do battle with that copier the way you dealt with this car, all of city hall will thank me. Let me give you directions to my office.”
Will Hamlin glanced from the highway to the notebook on the passenger seat of his Toyota pickup. He’d had an excellent interview with Alice Butler, a retired school-bus driver. That interview would make a solid feature story, the type of feature that he, as the new editor, wanted more of in The Abundance News.
Of course, Alice hadn’t thought Abundance needed to know how she quietly helped the homebound elderly, but Will did. Once he mentioned that a story about her kindness might inspire someone else to think of others, she’d agreed to the interview.
Each week, Alice stopped by the homes of thirteen people, each too old or frail to drive, each of whom lived alone. She visited, she said, to make sure their glasses were clean. “Folks who are far-sighted can’t see very well when they take their glasses off to wash them, but I can see every one of those spots.”
But Alice did more than merely polish the glasses of the people she visited. She asked about their health, made sure their prescriptions were filled, and checked that food was in the fridge. Most importantly, for many of the people she visited, Alice was the only person they saw each week.
It wasn’t a job. She wasn’t paid by the county or the state or the federal government. She did it because she hoped someone would do the same for her when she was older. “And,” she said, “because it’s the Christian thing to do.”
The humility of the woman, the basic goodness—that was what Will wanted to capture in his article.
Once he got back to the paper, he’d do his best. Then he would go home, take off his tie, and change out of his dress shirt and pants and into some gym shorts. He would have a nice, quiet evening with no meeting to cover. He might even take his TV dinner out on his back deck. He was actually supposed to have Mondays off since he worked every Saturday getting out both the Saturday and Sunday editions. Being promoted from reporter to editor hadn’t meant much of a shift in his job duties, just the addition of more.
But what was going on up ahead?
Two cars sat at the side of the road, a green Lincoln Continental with an Abundance Lions Club bumper sticker and a white Volare. The Volare was unfamiliar and probably belonged to that redheaded woman. But the Lincoln? That belonged to Imogene Findley, the mayor who was furious with him.
Had they been in a wreck? He couldn’t tell from here. Whatever was going on, it appeared Imogene was in trouble. Will pulled up behind her car and climbed out. He might be able to help her and by doing so get back in her good graces. She was an important news source. He needed her to take his calls. And besides, most of the time they got along well. After all, they both loved Abundance.
He looked more closely at the redhead. Mid-twenties. Wearing tan shorts and a pale blue T-shirt. Evidently, she was someone passing through. Any girl that cute in his hometown, he would have noticed.
He walked over to where she stood by Imogene’s window.
Imogene’s granddaughters waved frantically from the backseat as if they were afraid he might not notice them.
He bent down and peeked in. “Hey, girls. Nice blue hair ribbons, Joanna. And Jennifer, I like your purple ones.”
Jennifer patted her pigtails, and Joanna’s eyes sparkled.
He stood back up and looked at Imogene and the redhead. “Hi, Imogene. And—”
“If it isn’t Will Hamlin, my least favorite person.” Imogene held out a hand toward the redhead. “Will, meet Cara Smith. She’s just moving to Abundance.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said. He shot a look at Imogene. Not the most gracious introduction he’d ever had.
“Pleased to meet you too.” Cara reached to shake his hand but stopped. She wiped her fingers on a rag she held, then waved and tucked her hands behind her.
Up close, she looked even prettier. Her eyes were a pale greenish-blue, the sort of eyes a man might drown in, like the sea by some Mediterranean island.
And she was moving to Abundance? Wow. Lately, it seemed women his age only wanted to leave.
“Will’s the editor of the local paper, The Abundance News,” Imogene said to Cara. “A publication that doesn’t always quote people correctly. Something to remember if you work with him professionally.”
Cara’s shoulders stiffened, and she took a half step back.
Heat flared in Will’s chest. “Imogene, you know that misquote was in an article written by your niece, the same niece you asked me to hire as an intern this summer.”
“Who I expect you to be training up better than that. I’ve been working for months to bring that manufacturer to Abundance. Cyndi’s article may have blown our chance. The community needs those jobs.”
“I’m having her personally mail them a copy of the retraction,” Will said. “There’s not much more I can do.”
Imogene’s mouth pinched up.
He shrugged. He was trying his best as editor, although some days he wondered if, at thirty, he was ready for the challenge. Obviously, Cyndi hadn’t been ready for hers. He’d given her a chance with that big story, but she’d gotten the main quote of the piece all wrong. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing until after the story ran, when the source called to complain. For now, she was back to writing the police reports, community calendar, and obits. “Anyway, I saw you two on the side of the road here. Do you need help?”
“Can you fix a broken battery cable?” Imogene’s voice had a condescending note.
“Well, no.” To be honest, he didn’t know how to fix anything. Except a run-on sentence. “But I can offer you a ride to town.”
“Not necessary,” Imogene said. “Cara fixed it. No need to assume we’re helpless just because we’re female.”
Will tugged at his collar. He hadn’t made any such assumption. “I was simply trying to help.”
The two women looked at him with the same expression, like royalty dismissing riffraff.
He turned and walked back to his truck. If he’d had any sense, he’d have driven by and stayed in the air conditioning.
Stopping had been a waste of time, time he should have spent on his feature.
And clearly, he’d never have a shot with that cute redhead. The mayor had already convinced her that he was an irresponsible journalist and sexist to boot.
Thanks a lot, Imogene.