January 31, 2011

January Thirty-first

Today may seem like any other last-day-of-the-month, but it was a very special last-day-of-the-month for me. January is finally over, which is a very good thing health-wise in any given year, because it means the warm weather is coming to ease my arthritis. Also, this year did not have an auspicious start, and nearly everyone in my family is grateful that the year is now 1/12 finished; although I keep reminding myself of the wise words a friend gave me...if the year starts out lousy, it means there's nowhere to go but up!

The other thing that set today apart is the manuscripts for Deadly Gamble were due back from the beta-readers today. I sent out thirteen manuscripts. One was sent as an experiment in working with OpenOffice; and I really didn't expect it would be sent back with the others, since the person who is helping me with that experiment is a Mom with two children and two jobs...who is also going to school.

Of the twelve I actually expected back by the deadline, four of the readers are professional colleagues of Anne's, and eight are letterboxing friends of Marie's. One email address was miscommunicated, and that recipient didn't get their copy. (Sorry about that!)

(Are you doing the math? You realize I'm down to eleven people, right?)

From eleven "viable" copies, six were edited and sent back on time. a seventh was sent back without editing, as there were technical difficulties. (Her computer had problems with track changes.) Four have not yet come back. I've read the comments that have come in the emails, and the book seems to have gone over fairly well, especially considering that it is still very much a work in progress. Two of the readers suggested the same change, which will have to be very carefully examined. I haven't yet looked at any of the changes or comments that were actually made inside the manuscript, but I look forward to sitting down with Anne and digging into the meat of the matter in the next few days.

I do have to free her from the influence of the characters from another book who are currently chasing around in her brain, though, before we can really get down to work on Deadly Gamble...but we will be doing that very soon, because we hope to have it ready for publication by late April / early May...if the editing goes well and my finals don't get in the way of eBook formatting.


January 28, 2011

Hello There!

I really hope you enjoyed reading Inherit my Heart. There will be a short delay before the next serial begins, for a whole host of reasons:

I need some breathing space for my personal life to calm down. January has been a chaotic month for both Anne and myself. Anne's husband spent three weeks in the hospital dealing with "minor" issues like nearly bleeding to death, out of control blood sugar, a pulmonary embolism, lung surgery on the left lung, pneumonia in the right lung, a totally filled and completely shut-down right lung, nearly having to have a tracheotomy, surgery to implant a blood-clot filter, transfer to a long term care facility, and finally home again...all in the space of three weeks.

School started for me and my daughter on the 18th, and there have been difficulties with the school's computer system, and dealing with the problem of an instructor who thinks it's necessary to view "R" rated movies as a part of...composition class. I don't watch "R" rated movies.

Then there's been the matter of my own health. My daughter and I have both already missed some classes because of illness. We've been coughing, sneezing, aching, and feeling too dead to move. The nurse practioner  at the clinic says it's just the flu and nobody can do anything to help us. We just have to get well on our own. One of my daughter's teachers dropped her for missing two classes (allowable, but not very understanding).

Finally, I'm not quite sure which story to post next. I need some time to take a look and figure out what I'm going to post, and make sure it's formatted right. Before I can even work on that, I need to catch up on my homework. Last semester I got a 4.0 GPA, and hope to continue that until graduation. I just got put on the President's Honors List for the 2010 Fall Semester...and it's thrilling. I've never been on any honor roll before, in my whole life...entirely through lack of effort on my part, but the fact remains that this is the first time I have put in the efforts, and reaped the rewards.

So it will be a little while before the next serial begins, but I do promise in the mean time to post here at least once a week. The post might be about something interesting I'm learning in school, but it's more likely to be about progress on the next book, Deadly Gamble.

We sent the manuscript out to a dozen people. They have until the 31st to get the corrected copies back to us. I already have three copies back, and they all said they liked the book. I haven't looked at individual comments and changes yet, and won't until I get them all back. I am looking forward to seeing the comments and changes proposed by the readers.


January 25, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-six

Katrina turned and began pushing through the throng of people in the courtroom. She felt Jerilynn tug at her sleeve, and pulled away with a muttered ‘let’s hurry’ to her friend, wanting to get away from the courthouse before Gavin could accost her. She’d felt his eyes on her throughout the proceedings, and thought he’d come, not necessarily to see the brothers sentenced, but to speak with her.

Amid the showers of questions the reporters were throwing at her, she had gained the main front hall of the court building before Gavin was able to get close enough to talk to her.


She took three more steps.

“Katrina, wait!”

“You’d better stop,” Jerilynn hissed beside her. “You don’t want these reporters to hear what he has to say, do you?”

“You’ve got a point,” she said, looking at how many reporters were still hovering nearby.

Warily, she stopped, knowing he would be persistent enough to follow her on her cruise, if necessary, until he had his say. She didn’t want any of it public.

“What?” She turned and faced Gavin squarely.

His eyes scanned the crowded corridor, filled with reporters still throwing unanswered questions at her.

“We need to talk,” he said. “Could I take you to lunch?”

Katrina shook her head. “Sorry, I have a lunch date, then I’m leaving on vacation. You’ll have to make an appointment.”

She turned away from him, continuing on her way to Jerilynn’s car, pleased he didn’t want their conversation overheard either.

“Katrina!” he called out, exasperated, following close on her heels. “Please. Just lunch; someplace we can talk without,” he glanced around pointedly, “our every word ending up in the society pages tomorrow morning.”

“I’m not going anywhere private with you, Gavin Browning, or anywhere which will give you the opportunity to—” Katrina bit her words off; she absolutely did not want the reporters to hear her say ‘seduce me’.

Gavin stared pointedly at her face, his eyes then flicked over her body, returning to meet her gaze, his unspoken words completing her sentence for her.

Katrina blushed. Drat the man, why did he still have such an effect on her? She spun on her heel and stalked away, Gavin and Jerilynn closest to her, but some of the reporters, apparently smelling a story, trailed along in their wake. When she reached the car, she walked around to the passenger side, then turned to see where Jerilynn was.

Jerilynn was yards behind her, walking alongside Gavin, laughing at some shared joke and obviously agreeing with whatever he was saying.

They arrived at the car. “It’s all settled, then,” Jerilynn said, turning to Katrina. “Gavin needs a little of your time, and I’ve made you a lunch appointment with him.” Her eyes twinkled at Katrina as she gestured toward her car. “He’s promised to get you to the airport on time to check in. I’ll take charge of your luggage, and meet you there.”

“Who died and put you in charge of scheduling my time?” Katrina asked, stung.

“You hired me, didn’t you? Or were you just kidding around with me?” A scared look came into her now flushing face.

“No, I meant it, but…”

“Good!” Jerilynn’s smile slid back into view.

Katrina stood stock-still, in absolute shock, as Jerilynn breezily unlocked the driver’s door, climbed in, and drove off without her.

Gavin gently took her arm and steered her toward his Jaguar. He had her bundled into his car and had driven off with her before she got control of herself again.

She couldn’t believe Jerilynn had betrayed her, making her endure this impossible pain by forcing her into Gavin’s company.

“Where would you like to eat?” he asked quietly.

“I’m not hungry,” she snapped at him.

“Fine, then, I’ll choose.”

“You do that.”

She turned her face away from him, staring unseeingly out of the window. She was going to fire Jerilynn. The last thing she wanted to do with Gavin was sit down and have a civil little chat. Well, she would call on all of her abilities to be civil through this little lunch, then she could get on the boat and sail off into the sunset, away from him.

Despite the interest he had seemed to show in her, and in spite of his wonderful kisses, he couldn’t possibly have actually loved her or he wouldn’t have left her alone, without his strength to depend on.

Gavin drove in silence, then parked the car, coming around the car to open her door and assist her to alight.

She accepted his hand, then allowed him to guide her into the restaurant, not realizing where they were until the Maitre d’ was bowing before her and thanking her for giving his establishment a second chance.

Before she could frame a protest, they’d been shown to a table and mineral water brought immediately, along with a pair of menus. Her appetite had diminished in the face of her anger, and she ordered a small salad, hoping she wouldn’t get so worked up that this meal would end up like the last one she’d eaten here.

Once the waiter had departed with their orders, Gavin looked at her across the table.

“Katrina, I—”

“The only thing you could possibly say to me that I would have the slightest interest in hearing, is where you’ve been these last three months when I really needed you,” Katrina hissed at him, the intensity of her anger surprising herself.

"How dare you just waltz into my life, turn it upside down, let me almost get killed, then abandon me to that flock of vultures who call themselves lawyers? I had to relive the agony of my marriage to Charleston, over and over—for the prosecutors, for the defenders, at the arraignment, and again at the very well-publicized trial. There isn’t anyone in Spencer who doesn’t know what an idiot I was to have married Charleston in the first place. I’m going to have to move again, just to save face!”

Fuming, she’d run out of words, so she stopped, her chest heaving with suppressed sobs. She absolutely refused to cry again in this restaurant. She gulped in air to keep the tears at bay.

Gavin’s face had grown continually paler during her diatribe, and he’d actually shown a hint of sorrow for his actions.

“Well?” she pressed, “Where have you been?”

Gavin slowly reached out and picked up his water goblet, taking a long, slow drink, as if to steady himself, then took a deep breath.

“Kitten, I—“

“Don’t you dare call me Kitten. What would your Granny say about people who would be so cruel as to abandon a kitten?” Katrina’s voice was cold in her fury, but it held steady.

Gavin actually flinched when she mentioned his Granny.

“Katrina, I’m sorry you had to endure that by yourself. The only excuse I can give is that I was trying to do what was right. I’m too old for you. Besides, I met you on business, and gentlemen don’t mix business and pleasure.”

Katrina felt her face flushing and her heart became lighter as he implied that he thought of her as pleasure. She hurriedly squashed the feeling.

“So you’re saying that some misplaced intention of chivalry forced you to ignore how you feel, and to do something you didn’t want to do?” Katrina asked, her voice still as cold as she could make it.

Gavin’s cheeks and forehead turned bright pink. “Yes…no…you don’t understand.”

Katrina gazed at him, amazed. She’d never seen him flustered like this, and watched his fingers nervously fiddle with his cutlery, the silence lengthening.

“Well, I especially can’t understand if you don’t tell me.” She wasn’t about to let him get off easy…her three months hadn’t been easy, and he’d have to pay for that before she could forgive him.

The waiter arrived with their food, deftly setting it on the table before fading invisibly into the background.

Katrina picked at her salad, mixing the dressing into the lettuce leaves. The silence between them stretching further still.

“Well?” she asked.

Gavin sighed. “I originally came out here half suspecting you of murdering Andrew. Before I discovered your innocence, I was more than half in love with you. I…left you, like I said, because I’m too old for you, and…because you shouldn’t marry your lawyer.” Gavin cut the corner off his lasagna and bit into it.

Katrina ducked her head to hide her smile. He wanted to marry her. Her heart took wing, and she made no effort to rein it in.

“You’re not my lawyer,” she said quietly, “and I don’t care how old you are.”

Gavin choked on his lasagna.

She stabbed up a bunch of her salad and put it in her mouth.

“You…you’d be willing to marry me?” Disbelief painted his face.

Katrina slowly chewed and swallowed her salad, watching the anxiety build in his eyes.

“That’s a pretty lame proposal,” she remarked blandly, “and you still haven’t said exactly why you came back.”

She would give almost anything to marry him, but there was one doubt he had to clear up first. Charleston had said…and though she didn’t credit that Charleston actually knew what he was talking about, a doubt had been raised. It must be laid to rest before she could do what she really wanted to do, which was to fling herself into Gavin’s arms.

Gavin smiled. “That’s the easy explanation. For the last three months, I haven’t been able to eat, sleep, or concentrate on my work. My brain has been totally occupied with thoughts of Katrina Lee McSwayne. In my dreams, she dances before me, luring me to her side. You have such a hold on my heart, my dear, that I can’t carry on any sort of a sane and productive life without you in it. Does that answer your question?”

Katrina smiled at him, sweetly, then made certain to keep her voice entirely casual as she said, “So you decided you couldn’t live without my money?”

Gavin spluttered incoherently for a few moments. “I don’t want your money. How many times do I have to tell you that? I happen to make quite enough as a lawyer to raise a large family of children and support my wife in comfort. I even have a small pile of what people call ‘family money’; my part of my grandfather’s inheritance. Hire any lawyer…or pack of lawyers you want. I’ll sign any pre-nuptial papers you want me to and make it absolutely impossible for me to even come close to touching Andrew’s money. I don’t care about it. I don’t need that money. I don’t want that money. I never wanted that money. ”

“Oh, I see. You’re willing to give up Andrew’s money…” she emphasized his name, “but you’re willing to take the rest of it?” Her voice was honey-sweet.

“What rest of it?”

His face was utterly perplexed. There was the proof she needed. He didn’t even know about the rest of the money, therefore he couldn’t possibly have come back to marry her just to get his hands on it. Katrina sighed with relief. She allowed her smile to surface.

“The six billion or so I inherited from the McSwayne Diamond Mines,” she said casually.

Gavin turned stark white. “Then…you really are…” he couldn’t finish his sentence.

Katrina nodded. “With the publicity from the trial, their lawyers contacted me. We compared notes and discovered my grandfather McSwayne, who I remember as working for the railroads, really was the younger son. He ran away from the family money to make his own way in the world. Apparently he’s the only one of the family who had children. We even had DNA testing done, to prove my relationship.

“They promised not to make the announcement right away, so I could finish up this trial and go on my cruise before getting tangled up in that bunch of publicity.”

Gavin swallowed hard. “Then of course, you’ll want to include that money in the papers. I want to support my family, I’m too stinking proud to live off my wife’s money.”

Katrina smiled. “I know,” she said softly. “So that only leaves the matter of the extremely lame proposal.”

Gavin smiled back. “Well, I’m new at proposing. That was my first one. Do you want me to try again, and see if I can do better?”

Katrina nodded.

Gavin stood, cleared his throat loudly several times, and then knelt on the floor at Katrina’s feet, taking her hand in one of his. Every eye in the restaurant turned to watch him. Katrina knew, somehow, that he was about to cause another…his very own…kerfluffle. She felt her face beginning to grow warm.

“My dearest Kitten,” he began, rather more loudly than she thought was necessary, “I beg you to grant me a boon and hear my request.” His free hand gesticulated wildly in the air.

Katrina, her face now burning with embarrassment, nodded. She’d asked for it. He was not bashful about answering it, it seemed, and continued.

“I come before you this afternoon to grovel at your feet, to declare my love for you before all these witnesses,” he gestured now with his free hand at the other patrons of the restaurant, “and beg you to allow me to become the most joyful man who ever stood upon the face of the earth, by consenting to become my wife, the mother of my children, and my lifelong companion, cherished above all others.”

“Get up,” Katrina hissed, her face not just hot, but on fire.

“Not until you answer me,” Gavin said in a low voice.

People began to call out encouragement for her to accept his proposal. Her face went scarlet, the sweat beginning to form and slide down her temples. She tried to pull her hand from his, but he held it tighter, still. The cat calls were becoming louder, some included whistling and clapping. Gavin’s eyes were beseeching her.

Katrina’s heart finished its melt-down. She knew she’d have to finish this before he would get up. Gathering all her courage, she took a deep breath.

“Yes, I will give you my hand in marriage,” she said in the loudest voice she could manage at the moment. “In fact, I’ll give you more than just my hand, I’ll give you the rest of me as well…and all my earthly possessions come with me with unwritten consent, it’s a packaged deal.”

Gavin’s face paled as he knew exactly what that meant, but amid the cheers on every side, he rose from the floor and tucked her tenderly in his arms, kissing her gently on the lips before wrapping her in a tight hug. The entire restaurant exploded into a mixture of applause, whistles, and loud congratulations.

“I’ll start planning the wedding as soon as Jerilynn and I get back from our cruise,” Katrina said, her voice muffled against his chest.

Gavin pulled back just enough to look at her, incredulity in every pore on his face.

“You’re leaving me to go on the cruise?” he asked, stunned.

Katrina nodded, grinning widely.

“The tickets are non-refundable and I don’t want to waste my money. Jerilynn’s afraid I’ll run out. She doesn’t know about the McSwayne money yet, you see.”

Gavin laughed. “You are precious, Katrina Lee McSwayne,” he said as he took possession of her lips once again.

January 21, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-five

They had no more time to talk as Jerilyn pulled into the parking garage at the courthouse complex. The girls got out of the car and reporters swirled around them, three bodies deep, yelling questions at Katrina.

“Ms. McSwayne, what penalty would you like to see handed down by Judge Boren?”

“Are you here for the sentencing because you feel sorry for your husband?”

“Will you ask the Judge to go lightly, or do you want the death penalty?”

Katrina ignored the reporters and walked resolutely into the building as she had done on each of her previous visits. Jerilyn looked thrilled and a little frightened to be caught up in the maelstrom of media people. She stayed close to Katrina’s side.

Once inside, Katrina proceeded down the now-familiar halls and into the courtroom. She found them seats directly behind the team of prosecuting attorneys, and they waited patiently for Jason and Charleston to be brought in and for the judge to arrive.

Katrina felt eyes on her and tried to dismiss it as another one of the reporters, but this felt more intense. She stretched, twisting slightly in her chair, and saw Gavin sitting on the far side of the room. She firmly squashed her heart back down into her chest cavity, then took a deep breath to calm herself.

So what if he was here? She was determined not to forgive him for the way he’d abandoned her. Just when she had thought she could rely on him, he had gone home to Massachusetts, leaving her to face the trauma of the trial and all the reliving of past events without his support and strength. Turning back to the front of the room, she studiously ignored the itchy feeling which told her he was still watching her.

Finally, Judge Boren smacked her gavel to open the final part of the brothers’ trial, and everyone listened as the defense lawyers explained what a hard childhood Jason and Charleston had had, and why they should be given the lightest possible sentence.

Halfway through the prosecutor’s explanation of what horrible crimes they’d committed, and why they deserve to die, Jerilynn dug her elbow into Katrina’s ribs.

“What?” Katrina muttered in the almost silent murmur she’d perfected in her months of being in various courtrooms.

“Look.” Jerilynn pointed, keeping her hand down low in her lap so no one else could see what she was doing. “Over there. It’s your lawyer, Mr. Nobody-in-Particular.”

“Yes, I know.” Katrina kept her face to the front and concentrated on what Judge Boren was saying.

When she finally announced that, after due consideration, she felt the world would be a better place without Jason and Charleston in it, Katrina was nearly overcome with her relief. She’d known the death penalty was a remote possibility; the best she’d allowed herself to hope for was life in prison.

Charleston leaped to his feet, screaming numerous foul names, and promising both Katrina and Judge Boren a whole host of painful and humiliating punishments he intended to heap upon them before he killed them. He was still screaming his threats as the guards hastily removed him from the courtroom.

Jason, Katrina noticed, sat silently, as if calmly accepting his fate…behavior much more frightening to her than Charleston’s outburst. Jason was probably laying plans very similar to Charleston’s shouted intents…but Jason, the more calculating of the two, had a far more likely chance of bringing his plans to fruition.

He calmly rose with the rest of the court and turned, seeking her face with his eyes.

Katrina shivered at the final look he shot her before guards moved in to take him away.

January 19, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-four

Katrina folded the last blouse and slid it into her suitcase, zipping it securely closed. The last three months had been very hectic and she was looking forward to the cruise. She carried her suitcase out into the living room of her apartment, setting it down next to the two smaller, matching cases containing her toiletries and lingerie.

She glanced at the clock, then quickly walked through her apartment, checking that everything was turned off, empty, and otherwise ready for her to be gone for an extended length of time.

The doorbell rang, and Katrina hurried to answer it, checking carefully through the peep hole that it wasn’t a reporter. Jerilynn’s cheery face was centered in her field of vision, and Katrina slid back the deadbolt and opened the door for her friend.

“Are you ready?” Jerilynn asked, a little breathless from the climb to Katrina’s apartment.

“Yes, but we’ve got a few minutes before we have to leave. Do…would you like to see my new place?”

Jerilynn rolled her eyes. “Duh! Why do you think I made sure to come early? Actually, though, I haven’t had a chance to really talk to you since you drove off with ‘Mr. Nobody-in-Particular.’ So tell me all about that first, then you can show me your new apartment!”

Jerilynn plopped herself onto the middle of the couch and crossed her arms, giving the impression she was not about to go anywhere until she had heard every last detail.

Katrina laughed. “I know. Between court appearances here, there, and everywhere, plus moving, and meetings with every kind of lawyers you can think of, I’ve hardly had time to breathe, myself.”

She glanced at the clock again. “We don’t have time for the full story before we have to leave, though. I can give you the bare bones of it on the way to the court house, then we’ll have all the time in the world for the nit-picky details while we’re on the cruise.”

Jerilynn heaved herself out of Katrina’s soft, comfortable couch. The girls quickly went through the apartment, Jerilynn making all the proper ohhing and ahhing noises in the right places before they came back into the living room.

Katrina picked up the two smaller cases and placed them close to the front door. Jerilynn picked up Katrina’s bigger suitcase and began wrestling it out the door and onto the porch.

Katrina laughed. “Jerilynn?”

Jerilynn looked up from her tussel with the case. “Yeah?”

“It has wheels.” Katrina pointed to the wheels, and then to the small zipper which enclosed the folded-away handle.

Jerilynn smacked her hand on her forehead, opened the handle and pulled the case out the door before resuming her wrestling match as she took the case down the stairs.

Katrina laughed delightedly. She knew the case wasn’t nearly as heavy as Jerilynn was making it out to be, so she decided to enjoy the show her friend was putting on in an attempt to make sure she had at least one bright moment in her day.

Katrina slung her purse over her shoulder, turned off the light, and moved the smaller cases out the door, setting them down while she securely locked her front door.

She gathered up her luggage—Luggage!—and a matched set, no less—it had been one of her first purchases—and followed Jerilynn to her car.

Once Katrina’s cases had been stowed in the trunk alongside Jerilynn’s, the girls climbed into the car and Jerilynn threw it in motion. As soon as the car was into traffic, Jerilynn glanced over at Katrina and their eyes met for a moment. Katrina tried to smile, but couldn’t quite do it, the seriousness of the coming events of the day had resumed their position in center stage.

“Do you feel up to talking, Katrina?” Jerilynn’s voice held concern with her curiosity.

Katrina looked out the window at the passing houses and trees, children playing on large green lawns as the car swept passed them. She bit her lip to still its trembling, then took a deep, slow breath. Turning toward Jerilynn, she swallowed hard, realizing she was tense. She squared her shoulders and took another calming breath before she asked,

“What do you want to know?”

“Okay, well, first, the newspapers said you helped catch a pair of killers who were on a multi-state crime spree. You? The original timid mouse? I don’t believe it. So what’s true about that and what isn’t?”

Katrina frowned as the memories came crashing back. “Actually, it’s all true,” she said. “Jason and Charleston murdered their uncle for his money—”

“Fifty million dollars, I heard,” Jerilynn put in as she glanced to the left before turning right onto a larger, busier street.

“Forty-three,” Katrina corrected. “They didn’t know Uncle Andrew had changed his will at the last minute.”

“Who’s Uncle Andrew?”

“Charleston’s uncle, actually. I’d met him on my honeymoon—”

“Honeymoon?” Jerilynn gasped.

Katrina nodded. “I met Charleston when I was seventeen. He was all charm and sunshine and swept me off my feet. I never saw his dark side until it was too late. Anyway, Uncle Andrew liked me because I had been nice to him. He changed his will to leave his fortune to me…but only if it could be proven I wasn’t in on his murder.”

“So Mr. Nobody-in-Particular came looking for you to see if you’d been involved?”

“Right,” Katrina agreed. “Of course, I hadn’t been, because I’d left Charleston six years earlier; Jason and Charleston followed Gavin to me. Jason’s plan was for them to kill me. He knew if I died without a will, then Charleston would still inherit Andrew’s money. I had been too frightened of Charleston when I left him to actually get a divorce, so legally, Charleston and I were still married.”

“Oh, my.” Jerilynn’s face was pale with concern for her friend.

Katrina laughed. “‘Oh, my’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. If you’ve read all about how they tried to kill me at the zoo, the papers reported the details right about that, too.”

“I have all the clippings,” Jerilynn said, “in my ‘Katrina-just-got-famous’ scrapbook, but that doesn’t tell me how you caught the guys.”

Katrina stared open-mouthed for several long seconds. “You’re kidding me, aren’t you? Please say you’re kidding me,” Katrina said.

“What are you talking about? Kidding you about what?” Jerilyn asked.

“Do you really have a ‘Katrina-just-got-famous’ scrapbook?”

Jerilynn laughed. “I do. I wanted to have everything, so I could tell my grandchildren I knew you when…. It’s great! You can see it sometime if you want, but give me the dirty details, Katrina! I’m dying here! How did you catch the jerks?”

Katrina shook her head at her friend, then took pity on her anxious expression and continued the account.

“Well, I’d gone home to get my bank book,” she said, “and Charleston showed up at my place. He had a gun and he kept pointing it at Gavin and me. He actually gloated over telling us about Andrew and how they’d killed him, because he knew Gavin couldn’t repeat it in court because it was all hearsay evidence.”

Jerilynn nodded, “Right; everybody who watches Law and Order knows all about the hearsay rules.”

“Yes, well, what he didn’t know,” Katrina continued, “was that a confession made to your legal spouse doesn’t fall under hearsay. Nobody can make the spouse testify, but if she does, it isn’t hearsay. Gavin knew that, which is why he goaded Charleston into the full confession before Jason showed up.”

“Ooohhh…and…you’re still married to him.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Well, I was then,” Katrina said. “Getting the divorce was one of the things I’ve been doing lately.”

“Good! You deserve someone much better than that scumbag! So. What did you do when Jason showed up?” Jerilynn demanded. “The paper said you helped catch them, not just testified against them.”

“They couldn’t take me to get the money until morning when the bank opened, so they were going to sit and wait, holding us hostage all the time. In the meantime, they got hungry,” Katrina giggled, “and robbed Gavin to send out for pizza. What I didn’t know until later is that Gavin had an agreement to check in with the security guard he’d hired. He was supposed to call her every hour. When he didn’t, she knew something was wrong, so she called the police. They couldn’t get an actual bug on my phone that quick, but they could watch and see if calls were made from my phone, and who was being called.

“When Jason called out for the pizza, the police went to the restaurant and intercepted the pizza. Nobody wanted the regular delivery guy going into that kind of situation, plus, it gave the police a good ‘in’. So the security guard, Sally, comes to the door with the pizza….” Katrina rubbed her newly mended arm, not long freed from its cast.

“And?” Jerilynn demanded, sounding exasperated. “Come on, Katrina! You sure know how to string a story out for the best effect!”

“Okay, okay,” she wrinkled her nose and swallowed. “After Gavin took the pizza boxes, Sally kicked Jason in the stomach and then knocked him out. In a sort of muffled voice, Gavin called into the living room; he was trying to sucker Charleston to come into the hall so they could hit him, too, but as soon as his back was turned, I grabbed up that heavy crystal lamp Great-Aunt Monalee gave me for Christmas last year, and beaned him with it. Then the police came in and arrested them both, and that was about it.”

“So you’ve been busy since then collecting your inheritance, divorcing your husband, and putting him away for life, right?”

“That’s about it,” Katrina said. “At least I hope the judge will put them away for life. We’ll find out today. In the meanwhile, it’s been a busy time…which is why I am sooo looking forward to this cruise. I’m really glad Mr. Leonard gave you the two weeks off so you could go with me.”

“Me, too! Like I told you; I’ve never been on a cruise before. It’s going to be great! I hope there are lots of eligible bachelors along for the boat ride, too! I love great ‘scenery’!” She giggled, then shifted a glance at Katrina. “So when was the last time you saw ‘Mr. Nobody-in-Particular’…Gavin did you say his name was?”

“I haven’t seen him since he signed Uncle Andrew’s estate over to me,” Katrina said flatly. A grey blanket of frozen lead wrapped around her heart at the very thought of how he’d seen to her safety, then vanished from her life. She dashed a solitary tear from her lashes, despite her resolution to shed no more of them on his account.

“Well, I can see you’ve been spending a lot of your money,” Jerilynn said. “There’s the new clothes, new luggage, new apartment—”

“I couldn’t stand staying in the house after everything that happened there,” Katrina said.

“I can see that,” Jerilynn agreed, “but then there’s the jungle gym that suddenly appeared at the orphanage where you volunteer, and now you’re taking me on a two-week cruise in the Caribbean…you’re going to spend all your money and be broke again, if you’re not careful. Are you sure I don’t have to pay you back? It would take a couple of years, but I could, you know.”

Katrina laughed in delight that her friend was concerned about her finances. “I won’t run out of money, Jerilyn.”

Jerilyn snorted. “Fifty million—all right, forty-three million—is a lot of money, but it won’t last forever if you keep spending it like this.”

Katrina smiled. “Like I said, don’t worry about it, I’m not going to run out of money. What I should do, is hire you to be my personal secretary, and then we can take off and explore the whole world together.”

“Katrina!” Jerilyn seemed shocked at the idea, then brightened, giggling. “Hey! If you’re serious, I’ll take the job!”

Katrina didn’t say what she was thinking; that the only way for her to forget Gavin would be to put as much time and distance between them as possible, and maybe then she’d be too busy to think of him and she could forget him. ‘Hah!’ scoffed the little voice in her head.

“Great, you’re hired,” Katrina responded to Jerilynn, “because I am very serious.”

January 17, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-three

“Where were you?” Charleston asked. “I tried to call the room, but you never answered.”

“I was on my way here,” Jason replied tersely. “You were taking too long. I figured you needed some help.”

Charleston slumped in his chair. “I didn’t need no help. I caught her all by myself. It’ll be easier to get the money outta her account if she’s with us, won’t it?”

Jason smirked. “It sure will.”

“But I told you, Charleston, I don’t have anything in my bank account to give you.” Katrina said.

Jason snorted. “And you lied to him, like you always have. I know you got the money, and I don’t want to hear any different,” he said, waving the gun threateningly in her direction.

“So what happens now?” Gavin asked, speaking for the first time since Jason’s sudden appearance.

Jason chuckled. The sound make Katrina shiver. If she had thought Charleston was filled with evil, Jason made Charleston look like a fluffy little bunny rabbit.

“We all sit here,” Jason said, “until morning when I will take Katrina to the bank. She will empty her bank account and sign over her car and home to me. We can use the notary at the bank. Charleston will wait here with the gun pointed at you, mister lawyer-man.”

He turned his head to look at her. “If I call him, Katrina, and tell him you haven’t cooperated with me in every small particular detail, he will shoot your pretty little lover right between his pretty brown eyes.”

“He’s not my lover,” Katrina said, “and I don’t own this house. I rent. I can sign over my rattletrap of a car and close my bank account, but there’s only a couple of thousand dollars in it.”

Jason got up and walked across the room, touching the muzzle of the gun to the tip of her nose. Katrina sat absolutely still, closing her eyes. If the end was coming, she didn’t want to see it on its way.

“I thought I told you, little slut, that I didn’t want to hear any more lies about not having Andrew’s money. Didn’t you hear me tell you that?”

Katrina swallowed, though it was hard to find any spit in her mouth. She tried to say ‘yes’ but a hoarse whisper was all that emerged from between her parched lips.

“Then I advise you that if you can’t be honest, you’d better shut up…that is, if you want to live long enough to go to the bank with me. Do you?” Jason moved the gun from her nose and slid the barrel along her jaw, almost in a caressing manner.

Katrina whispered ‘yes’ again, misery filling every pore of her body,

Jason suddenly whirled toward Gavin. “Give me your wallet,” he demanded, “I’m hungry, and you’re going to pay for dinner.”

Gavin looked at Jason just a moment, then shifted his weight, fishing his wallet from his back pocket and silently handing it over.

Jason opened it, flicking through the contents. “No cash?” He shrugged. “Oh, well, plastic will work.” He turned to Katrina. “Is there an all-night pizza joint in this town?”

She looked at him, helpless, then shrugged. “I don’t know, I’ve never ordered pizza in.”

Jason turned to Charleston. “What kind of a brainless idiot did you marry?. She doesn’t even know how to order in pizza.” He turned back to Katrina. “We’ll find out about the pizza. Where’s your computer? The internet’s the best way to order pizza.”

Katrina dropped her eyes to the floor. “I…I don’t have a computer.”

“What? What kind of an illiterate lump has no computer? How can you possibly survive without the Internet?”

Charleston got up and moved toward the phone nook. “I thought I saw a phone book in here. We can look it up the old-fashioned way.” He picked up the book and brought it over toward his chair.

“Find an all-night pizza place,” Jason ordered as Charleston turned the pages. He bent over Charleston’s shoulder, his lips moving slightly as he read the entries.

“I’m surprised they can read well enough to work the phone book,” Gavin muttered. Katrina suppressed a sudden, nervous giggle, but was glad neither brother heard him.

Finally the brothers agreed on a place, and made the phone call, ordering two large pizzas with everything on them, giving Gavin’s name and credit card number. Jason hung up the phone and threw himself back into his chair, then looked around the living room.

“You keep the TV in your bedroom, slut? We could watch a little TV while we wait for the pizza.”

“I…don’t have a television, either.” Katrina’s voice was low and she blushed, embarrassed at her lack of technological possessions. “There’s the radio…”

“Screw the radio,” Jason growled.

Charleston chuckled. “I’d like to see you try.”

Ignoring his brother, Jason looked at Gavin. “When the pizza gets here, you answer the door. I’ll go with you. Sign the paper to pay for it. If you say a word, even one word, to the delivery boy, Charleston shoots Katrina. Understand?”

Gavin looked at Jason a lengthy moment before he nodded slowly.

It was a long wait for the pizza, the four people in the room sitting, staring at each other, not moving.

After nearly an hour, a car pulled into the driveway and the door slammed. Jason motioned to Gavin, and he rose from the couch.

‘Noooo!’, Katrina thought. ‘Don’t leave me alone in here with Charleston!’

Jason handed Charleston the gun. Charleston stood and walked over to where Katrina sat, holding the gun so it pointed directly at her heart.

Gavin walked slowly toward the door, Jason so close behind him Katrina was amazed he didn’t step on Gavin’s heels.

Katrina heard the door open, then a long silent pause. Suddenly there was a grunt and then silence.

“Jason?” Charleston asked, his voice a little quavery.

“Come help me with this lump,” a hoarse whisper came from the doorway.

Charleston turned cautiously toward the doorway, his gun outstretched before him.

Katrina, translating thought into action, grabbed the lamp on the end table next to her with her good hand, and, as Charleston took a step toward the door, hit him in the head with the base of the lamp. It connected with a solid thump and Charleston collapsed in a heap, blood pouring from the back of his head.

January 14, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-two

Sally stared at the clock. Five minutes after. Why hadn’t Gavin called? Every hour he’d been exactly on time, to the minute, as they had agreed when he’d gone to Katrina’s house.

The early morning had been chaotic with the search for Katrina and her assumed kidnappers, Charleston and Jason. The police had set up a cordon around the motel for about an hour while the immediate neighborhood was searched for evidence, to no avail. The police had then gone about their regular business; only Beals and Carew remained at the motel.

Mr. Browning had given Sally a list of places to look and people to talk to, in hopes of finding a clue, just on the off-chance that Katrina had left under her own power. He said he considered Katrina a high flight-risk, as she’d done so in similar circumstances in the past.

Gavin had gone to her home after telling Sally he had a bone-deep hunch that alone, or with the brothers, Katrina would end up there. Katrina would need her bank book to leave town, and of course, Jason and Charleston were purportedly after money they thought Katrina had inherited and believed she had already received.

Mr. Browning had promised to check in with Sally every hour, exactly on the hour, and so far, he’d been on the other end of her phone precisely on time. Until now.

Gavin Browning was a fine specimen of a man. She sighed. If not for his obvious interest in Katrina, Sally might have made a play for him, once this assignment was complete. Such was her luck, she thought sourly.

She looked at the clock again. Fifteen after. She picked up the phone herself and dialed. The man on the other end picked up after only one ring.

“I’m glad you’re there, Lt. Carew,” Sally said, keeping her voice calm and even, though her heart was pounding with concern for her employer. “Mr. Browning is fifteen minutes late checking in. I can only assume something’s happened to prevent it. We need to go to Plan B.”

She listened to his assurances that Plan B would be implemented immediately and received the exact instructions on where to meet him before hanging up the phone. She was grateful that, even though she wasn’t a police officer, they’d allowed her to be an observer in this operation.

Sally hurried outside to her car and left to meet the police at the appointed rendezvous.

January 12, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty-one

Shock and disbelief chased each other through her brain. Forty-three…what? Katrina opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of a thing to say; no sound came out.

"Come off it, Katrina! Don't act the innocent with me. Your lawyer here has had plenty of time to sign the money over to you." Charleston gestured toward Gavin with the gun.

Katrina looked over at Gavin. He was sitting on the couch, his eyes on Charleston. No emotion showed on his face, and she couldn’t judge if Charleston was lying or not.

“Gavin hasn’t said anything to me about any money; certainly not millions of dollars. Why on earth would Uncle Andrew leave it to me? I’m not even related to him.” She was confused.

Charleston made a guttural sound, as though he were choking. He gulped in some air. When he spoke, his voice had not only risen in volume, but the tone was higher and a bit breathless. It sounded as though he had just run hard…as though he were losing control of himself, becoming nearly hysterical.

"I don't know! He shouldn't have! We'd checked with your fancy-pants lawyer there,” again he gestured toward Gavin with the barrel of the gun, “just weeks before the penny-pinching miser died, and we were in his will. All that money is supposed to be ours!"

Charleston's rage was a palpable thing; Katrina could feel it emanating across the small space separating them. She clamped her teeth together to keep from physically shuddering.

“Hey, Lawyer,” he said, stepping close to Gavin and shoving his gun in his face, “why did you give my money to this whore? She’s not good enough in bed to earn a five-dollar bill, but you slept with my wife and then gave her my money to pay her for it!”

Gavin’s cheeks colored slightly. Katrina wondered if it was from anger or embarrassment.

“In point of fact,” Gavin replied evenly, “I haven’t given Katrina any money, Charleston. Neither have I slept with her. I don’t make a practice of sleeping with other men’s wives.” His voice was dry and even, spoken as though he were testifying in court…as if he hadn’t even noticed the gun being waved an inch below his nose.

“Where’s the money then?” Charleston demanded. He seemed to be more back in control of himself. If that was because Gavin had stayed so calm, Katrina was thankful he appeared to be a spineless lump at the moment.

“Some is still in the bank, and the rest is tied up in Andrew’s other investments, where he left it.” Gavin replied.

Katrina could not believe what was going on around her. Forty-three million dollars; Charleston saying it was hers; and she didn't even own a suitcase! She wondered about Uncle Andrew.

"When did he die, Charleston?"

"About six weeks ago. It took Mr. Fancy-britches Browning, here, a while to find you," he snickered.

”And you followed him here?”

"Of course! He wants the money, too. Why else would he pay attention to an ugly slut like you?" Charleston sneered. He turned to Gavin again. “So how come you didn’t give it to her? Isn’t that your job, to hand over the money to the new owner and try to get them to hire you as their lawyer?”

“It is my job, as executor, to hand over the money according to the instructions in Andrew’s will,” Gavin agreed, still in a pleasant tone of voice.

“So why didn’t you give it to us? You told us we were in the will. Then, when we came to collect, you said Katrina got it all, and you haven’t given it to her, either.” A crafty look came into his eyes. “I know; you’re planning on keeping it all for yourself. Your own personal retirement plan.”

“Actually, I was investigating Katrina.” Gavin said calmly.

Icy fingers clutched at Katrina’s heart. Investigating her? For what? She hadn’t done anything, unless you counted running away from Charleston.

Charleston sneered. “What did she do that you’d be interested in? Is it something I should know about, as her husband? What, has she been sleeping with somebody else?” He laughed. “If she can find anybody who wants her, he can have her. She’s a useless bit of trash, no good in bed, no good at cooking, no good for anything; so what’s to investigate?”

Gavin smiled as if in agreement. “I was investigating her, because Andrew wanted to know if she’d had anything to do with his death. He wanted to know if she’d helped in the planning stages.”

Charleston laughed. “Katrina? Help plan the old coot’s death? Little goody-two-shoes-go-to-church-on-Sunday Katrina? You must be joking. She’d never even think of doing such a thing.” He was laughing so hard that he had to wipe the tears from his eyes. “She’s not smart enough to pull it off, either, even if we’d told her what to do.” His barking, cruel laughter echoed around the room, raising shivers in Katrina’s spine.

“You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna tell you how smart we were, and how we did it all, because I know there’s nothin’ you can do about it. You can’t go to the cops, because you didn’t see us do nothin’. You can’t go to the judge and whine, because it’s all hearsay if you tell him. And I ain’t never gonna tell anybody else, and Jason’s not, neither, and you’ll have to live out the rest of your life knowing we done it, and not being able t’ do nothing about it. Because there’s no evidence; not a single drop that’ll prove he didn’t die of natural causes.”

Gavin smiled and settled more comfortably back against the couch. “You’re absolutely right, I can’t testify to anything you tell me, under the hearsay laws. So while you wait for Jason to get back to whatever motel room you two are living in, tell me what geniuses you are, the pair of you. I can’t believe you pulled it off with no one the wiser.”

Katrina looked at him in amazement. He didn’t look at her; didn’t acknowledge her at all.

“Please, Charleston.” His hand made a small motion as though turning over a meeting to him, then rested both hands casually on his thighs. He was giving Charleston his utmost attention.

Gavin’s voice had sounded almost admiring of their murdering the old man. Katrina wondered if he had a tape player running, because a recording made in Charleston’s own voice should work against him, shouldn’t it? But when would he have had a chance to set it up, or start it recording? She frowned. It wasn’t like Gavin to not have a plan; she would just have to bide her time and find out what it was.

Charleston threw himself into one of the chairs across from them and laid the gun on his knee, though he kept it in his hand, and kept it pointing in their direction.

“He should've left the money to me and Jason. We were the ones with him, taking care of him at the last when he kicked over! About five years after Katrina left, we got down on our luck, and had to go live with him. He treated us like servants; made us fix his food, and we had to make sure his blankets were 'just right'. I spent hours listening to him ramblin' on about the his early years and how hard he had to work for his money and all of that crap!"

Charleston began imitating the voice of an old person.

'This soup's too cold…the coffee needs more cream…I need another blanket…where's my newspaper…the juice is too warm; I like it chilled, Charleston! Can't you remember anything? You always were a slowtop! Now, where's my bifocals?" Charleston made gestures with his hands as he continued his mimicry.

His eyes, open wide, were almost glassy as he continued to talk. The look on his face was so eerie, Katrina shivered just looking at him. Pain from the sudden movement of her arm made her wince, but she daren't make a sound. She got the feeling Charleston was back with Uncle Andrew, and if she made him aware of her presence, he'd lash out at her, and she'd be dead before he even realized who she was.

Charleston heaved himself from the chair and began to pace as he continued. "Read me the Bible, Charleston, maybe something will sink into your feeble brain besides your greed!"

Katrina watched and listened in fascinated horror to Charleston. She could almost see Uncle Andrew, and hear his pain and suffering as Charleston revealed how he and Jason manipulated his regular medications for his heart trouble, sometimes skipping a dose, sometimes giving extra doses too close together. Compassion filled her heart for Uncle Andrew and what he had put up with before he died. Charleston droned on, not really himself any longer. It was as if he had become his uncle.

"Gads, will it never end? Don't drag it out so, boys; it's too painful. Just give me the final dosage and be done with it. Just remember, things aren't always as you plan 'em, boys. I'll give you both a little surprise, even if I have to come back from the grave to make sure you get my full bombshell! You’ve checked with Gavin…he's told you I've left the bundle for you. What more do you want? Bat's teeth! Put a period to it or leave me be! Just get it done! I'm old, and I'm tired, but I can still laugh. Yessiree Bob, I can still laugh!"

The sound of Charleston's voice made goose bumps on her arms and once more Katrina shivered, catching her bottom lip between her teeth to keep herself from making a sound.

Once more Charleston's breath was coming in gulps, his chest heaving in the anger which consumed him. Katrina's couldn’t take her eyes from her husband…stared at him with the shock of what he’d just confessed to doing. She tried to swallow, but couldn’t, her throat too dry.

A small sound must have escaped her throat, however, because Charleston whirled to face her, pure rage distorting his features.

"You stupid, whoring SLUT!" he screamed at her. "You and that lying son of a lawyer-man! You KNEW he left my money to you! Give it to me! It's mine! He can't laugh at me if I've got the money! Give it to me!" He stomped over to the couch and raised his empty fist to slug her. Katrina cringed, knowing he had finally lost control, and wondering how quickly it would be over for her. She hoped it could be soon. She was already in so much pain….


The front door slammed open, and Charleston whirled, pointing his gun at the body that had entered. He squeezed off a shot, and the sound from the gun echoed horribly through the living room. Katrina’s ears rang; the gun had been so close to her face when it had gone off that she could smell the burned powder.

The door slammed shut as Jason loomed in the living room doorway. “Sorry, Bro, you missed me. You’ll have to try again another time.”

His eyes flitted around, taking in the situation. He strode across the room and took the gun from Charleston’s hand, then shoved his brother toward one of the chairs, telling him to sit. He then settled himself into the other chair, holding the gun rather negligently in his lap, a malicious smile distorting his hostile face.

January 10, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Forty

Charleston reached behind him, his hand emerging holding a gun. Katrina sucked her breath back in again.

“I’d advise you not to move, Mr. Fancy-pants Lawyer, unless I tell you to.”

“No worry there, Charleston,” Gavin replied evenly. “I’m not armed, and I’m no threat to you.” He spread his hands out, displaying his lack of weapon.

Charleston stood a long time thinking, then, eyes still on Gavin, repeated his question to Katrina. “Where’s the phone?”

"In…in the living room." Nervously Katrina licked her too-dry lips.

"Show me. I'm not lettin' you outta my sight, you stinkin' slut! You, too, lawyer-man." He gestured them forward with the gun.

With painful movements, Katrina turned, leading the way into the living room. She walked through the dark room to the couch, turning on the lamp which stood on the end table. She had to let go of her arm long enough to turn the lights on, wincing in anguish with the support to her arm momentarily gone.

Gavin had followed close behind her, almost as if shielding her body with his own. He turned on the matching lamp on the other end table, leaving Katrina’s desk lamp the only unlit light in the room. The pair of lamps gave a soft, cozy glow, but it had always frustrated Katrina there was no overhead light in the room. She needed extra light now, to watch Charleston…to gauge his mood—his anger.

Charleston pointed at the couch. "Sit down there where I can watch you, slut. I'm not takin' chances. Not after all the work I’ve gone to, tracking you down. We been too long findin' you. I want one of you at each end of the couch, and no talking to each other."

Wearily, Katrina moved to the couch and sank into its depths, while Gavin sat easily at the other end. Why was he being so cooperative? Why wasn’t he doing something to get them out of this mess? Since when had her Prince Valiant become Casper Milquetoast?

Charleston stepped halfway into the phone nook and brought the phone out into the living room, stretching it to the end of its long cord. He set it on the table, lifted the receiver and tucked it between his ear and shoulder, keeping one eye and his gun on them while he dialed a number with his free hand.

Katrina stared at her toes, trying to figure out what to do. It was clear Charleston wasn’t going to leave without the money he seemed to think she had. She didn't think the modest amount in her savings account would placate him…doubted the couple of thousand dollars warranted the snide title of 'incredibly rich' wife Charleston had accused her of being.

When he’d called Saturday morning—it seemed so long ago, so much had happened since then—hadn’t he said something about Uncle Andrew leaving money to her? Gavin had said—several times—that Uncle Andrew had been rich. But if Andrew had left her the money, why hadn’t Gavin given it to her? Wasn’t he Uncle Andrew’s lawyer? She wished she knew what was happening…and why.

Charleston cursed in a sudden lout outburst, and threw the phone’s handset back into the cradle.

Katrina jumped at the sound of the curse and the smack of the plastic receiver being slammed home in frustrated anger. The quick movement sent a jolt of pain through her arm. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. She must focus on not making any sound. She had to concentrate.

Charleston paced back and forth across the room, calling Katrina every unmentionable name in the book, and a few she was certain he’d made up on the spot. Finally he stopped in front of her. Grasping her chin in his rough hands, he jerked her head upwards, causing her to bite her tongue in the process. Tears came unbidden to her eyes. He cursed at her, removing his hand from her face, adding the words with venom. "What an ugly hag you are! I don't know why I ever married you in the first place!" He continued pacing.

"Did you, Charleston?" Katrina's condition was beginning to tell on her, or she'd never have posed the question. Wondering if it would bring more disapproval and pain upon her, or if, perhaps, it would serve to get his mind on other matters for a time, she looked at him warily.

Stopped in his tracks by her question, he turned to face her.

"What do you mean? You were at the wedding, Stupid! Of course we got married. Have you been gone so long that you forgot?" He raked his eyes down her body. “You’re still too thin and bony to satisfy a real man, but I could take you now, if I wanted to. You’re still my wife. Remember that.” His tone was sneeringly smirking, his eyes harsh.

"I mean, was it a real ceremony? Was the preacher a real preacher?" Katrina's eyes didn't leave his face…she had to know this. It was so very important to her.

"Of course he was real! What's got into you?" His eyes narrowed, raking over her with hateful derision.

"I wasn't sure. One time you told me it was just a friend of yours, acting, and we weren't really married." She sighed, glad to know the truth at last. She hadn’t been living in sin, therefore, she blushed at the thought, it was really a very good thing she and Gavin had been interrupted. Her wedding vows were still intact, though she knew Charleston had broken his, on numerous occasions. Now that he’d found her, she could get a divorce. Surely his infidelity was grounds, and with her broken arm, she once again had proof of his abuse.

Charleston's laughter crackled over her.

"You are the most gullible idiot I ever met! You are so stupid, it's funny! Of course it was a legal ceremony…Jason had proof you were the heir to the McSwayne Diamond Mines. The plan was very simple. I marry you, then Jason helps you collect your money, which Jason and I were going to split. We were all set for you to collect billions of dollars, far too much for you to spend in a single lifetime. But little brainless you wouldn’t cooperate. You kept denying the story. The dudes we talked to at the diamond mine office also denied you were the heir, and we weren’t able to collect after all. So I get stuck with you, and no money."

He kicked at her feet as he paced past her, and saw her involuntary wince of pain. She sensed, more than felt, Gavin’s small movement beside her. She shook her head, and Gavin stilled; remaining silent. Charleston hadn’t seemed to notice this silent exchange.

Again his cruel laughter rang out, but there was an underlying sound to it that made the hair on the back of her neck quiver with foreboding.

Katrina reflected it had been a good thing she’d been honest enough to deny their story. She wouldn’t have lived long, once the prize had been claimed by the brothers, she realized now. She’d never been more than a bank account to Charleston. No wonder he’d been so angry and cruel to her after their honeymoon…he blamed her because he didn’t get any money.

Charleston stomped over to the phone again, shaking his head at her stupidity. After dialing a number, he waited, listening. He stood watching both of them, casually waving the gun to remind them of its presence. It seemed a long time to Katrina before he again slammed the receiver into place.

"Damn! Why doesn't he answer?" He shoved the phone a few inches further onto the table and came to stand over Katrina. She felt the evil oozing from him, filling her living room with his hatred.

"Well?" His curt word put her off-balance, jarring her already mangled nerves.

"Well, what, Charleston?" She knew he was capable of anything…anything at all. She had forgotten how very frightening he was.

"Well what have you got to say for yourself? Where's the money? What have you done with it?" He looked around him briefly, a sneer marking his lips. “It's obvious you haven't spent any on this dump; but that's good, because then we get all the more!"

"Charleston, I really don't know what money you're talking about."

Crack! Katrina's head jerked sideways from the force of the slap on her face. She hadn't seen it coming. The room darkened and swirled, but slowly came back into focus. A calmness born of the desperation of her situation unfolded around Katrina, cushioning her from her fear.

"Charleston, I'm really not feeling well at the moment. If you want answers to your questions, please don't hit me anymore. I'll faint, and then you'll have nothing but silence. If you will please explain what money you mean, I'll tell you all I know." She felt Gavin stir again.

"Tell me where the money is, Mrs. Beardsley, and maybe I won't slap you…for a while." Sarcasm dripped from his voice, his lip curled in an ugly sneer.

Katrina sighed. "What money are you talking about, Charleston? I don't make a whole lot of it at work."

"I'm talking about the forty-three million dollars Uncle Andrew left you in his will!"

January 07, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-nine

"Well, well, well," Charleston's smiled widened, his cruel eyes fairly crackled with evil delight. "Look who's finally home. My long-absent, incredibly rich wife. Hello, Sweetheart." The sarcasm dripped off his tongue, whipping Katrina's senses. Then one thought flashed across her mind, startled her, and stilled her tongue. ‘If Charleston's out here, then who’s in the house?’ Wordlessly, she looked up at him, trying to right her mind's equilibrium.

Charleston's fingers bit cruelly into her upper arms, the pain sharpening her wits and clearing her senses. Katrina knew her survival lay in playing for time until Gavin could help her. How he would find her, how he could help her, she had no idea. For all the times she questioned whether Gavin was working with her husband or not, standing next to him now, feeling the evil emanating from him, she knew deep inside that Gavin would never align himself with Charleston. Not even questioning how she knew this, the knowledge gave her courage now.

She also realized one other fact. She must not anger Charleston to the point of his losing his volatile temper. And that, she knew, would be quite a trick.

Well, Sweetheart, cat got your tongue?" Charleston's words cut across her thoughts, and the vicious shake he gave her almost dislodged her feet from solid ground.

"Ch-Charleston." The pain in her arms from his iron grip crept into her voice, giving it a small waver. Mentally she cursed herself for it, but Charleston's evil laugh rang out, and his next words gave birth to a plan.

"That's better," he laughed. "That's the cowardly little slut we both know, Katrina!" He laughed again, and for a moment, all the nightmares of the past six years crowded in on her, nearly robbing her of consciousness. Her knees wobbled slightly, and he felt the tremor of her body. Charleston began walking forward, toward the back of Katrina's house, making her walk backwards. Once more, she nearly lost her balance, and he laughed at her clumsiness, calling her several of the names she had forgotten he used for her. Anger rose in her.

When they reached the back steps, Charleston looked up, and saw the back door leaning wide. Anger crossed his features, distorting his face as he looked down at her. He was horribly ugly, almost grotesque in his hatred and anger.

He nearly leapt up the stairs, dragging Katrina with him. She stumbled and fell as he pushed her backwards up the stairs.

Charleston shifted his grip to her hair and pulled her the rest of the way into the kitchen, where he threw her contemptuously onto the floor.

"You've been inside the house already, haven't you?" he spat at her, turning on the kitchen light from the switch just inside the door.

Keeping her eyes wide, Katrina bit her lip and nodded. Her anger at him must not show, she told herself. The independence she had gained by making it on her own these past six years had to remain hidden. She must appear to be the spineless blob he had been used to…no strength, no courage, and no anger, just fear.

"Why?" he bit out, kicking her, the toe of his boot sinking deep into the soft flesh on her buttock.

"I…I…came to…get some…clothes." Katrina prayed desperately he would believe her. If he found out she came after the bank book, she was sunk. He'd beat her until he got it from her, and once he got it, he'd kill her.

"Then why did you run away?" He kicked her again.

“Please Charleston, don’t hurt me any more.” A few teardrops spilled out of the corners of her eyes, the kitchen light catching on them as they chased each other down her cheeks, splattering on the kitchen floor.

"Well, slut, answer me, then. If you were in the house, why did you run out?"

"I thought…I heard y—…a noise," she hastily amended her answer, keeping her eyes lowered so he couldn’t see the lie in them.

"So?" he bellowed.

"So…I thought y—…thought someone…was here…so I ran." Her voice was weak and quavery, fear making her breath come in little gasps.

Realization dawned in Charleston's eyes. "Came back for your clothes be damned! You came back for your money!" He reached down and grabbed her arm hard, pulling her to her feet. Katrina knew there would be bruises on her arms, but she also knew if she didn't play this just right, the bruises wouldn't matter. She'd be too dead to care.

"Please, Charleston, you're hurting me."

"You want me to stop hurting you?" His voice growled at her, grating against her ears, lacerating her already frayed nerves. Not trusting herself to speak, Katrina nodded her head, heedless of the tears which continued to course down her cheeks.

"Then stop your blubbering, you dirty slut, and give me my money!"

"What money, Charleston? I don't have any money."

"MY MONEY!" he roared, gripping her even tighter before he threw her across the kitchen. She collided with the refrigerator and heard a sharp crack echo through the room as she slid to the floor. Pain blazed through Katrina’s arm, and she realized the crack she’d heard was the sound of her arm breaking. A string of curses rained over her head.

"Get up!" he snarled, kicking at her leg with his foot.

Katrina made herself rise, and grasp the edge of the table to keep her steady and upright. She heard the back door crash shut behind her. With an involuntary jerk, she put both hands up to protect herself, and immediately wished she hadn't. Pain burned through her arm, causing a momentary haze to her brain and a swirling sensation to the kitchen.

With a deep breath, Katrina steadied herself somewhat while she used her good arm to carefully hold, then cradle her broken arm to her body. She saw the bone hadn't come through the skin, at least not yet. And, depending how carefully she managed things, perhaps it wouldn't.

She looked at Charleston, and saw that he had aged greatly in this last six years. The signs of his drinking and debauchery had marred his once-appealing face. Puffiness around the eyes, lines in his cheeks, and jowls coming on the brink of flabbiness attested to the lack of care he had given himself. Looking at him, Katrina was amazed she had ever thought him good-looking.

He hadn't shaved in several days, and some of the stubble festooned his face with gray and white streaks, adding years and a certain harsh coldness to his generally shabby countenance. Despite this seedy look, however, Katrina had felt the strength in his grip and knew he was just as deadly a threat to her as an angry lion on a rampage. She shuddered at his nearness.

Her reflections had taken but a moment, and he came towards her, anger blazing in his eyes. "Where's your phone, you ugly hag!" He snarled the demand as he leaned towards her, giving her the impression he was poised to strike her.

“What’s going on here?” Gavin’s mild question came from the door.

Charleston whirled to face Gavin, a vicious expression on his face.

Katrina slowly released her breath in an inaudible sigh of relief. Gavin was here. He would save her. Her ordeal was at an end.

January 05, 2011

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-eight

With a final lurch, Katrina freed herself from the bushes. Straightening, she stood quietly in the deep shadows, listening. Her hands went automatically to her hair where the bushes had snagged and pulled. She smoothed it the best she could, all the while watching the yard and house for any movement. She checked that her wallet was still in her pocket, and pulled her shirt down over it again.

She waited fully five minutes before moving. Nothing changed. She saw no one, heard nothing. She hesitated. Something just didn't feel right.

Finally she moved along, staying in the shadows, until she reached the edge of the house. Stopping, she listened again. Still she heard nothing.

Katrina hesitated once more. Something was off a half beat. From the time she'd stepped into her yard, a feeling of unease had settled on her. She felt it even stronger now as she gained the steps to the back porch. She had heard nothing, seen nothing, but that persistent prickle of fear was there, raising goose bumps on her flesh.

Katrina stepped into the flower bed next to the stairs and knelt in the dirt, sliding her hand into the dryer vent. Her questing fingers closed on the back door key, and she stood, pausing to listen intently again before brushing briefly at her dirty knees and climbing the steps.

Her porch light was off, and she felt for the lock with her left hand. A fingertip found the key slot, held its place. She guided the key down that finger. When the key tip reached the door, Katrina held her breath. The shaft found the slot, and slid home with hardly a sound. Softly expelling the pent-up air in her lungs, Katrina slowly turned the key, sending grateful prayers skyward that this was not the front door she was trying to open.

As the tumbler fell into place, the click sounded so loudly in her ears she was sure the entire neighborhood heard it. She listened again, unable to shake the feeling of impending trouble.

Silence reigned. At last Katrina grasped the door knob, turning it slowly. Softly, easing the door inward, she stepped through the frame and entered the kitchen; leaving the door ajar, the key still in the lock. The house was dark, but some light filtered in through the windows from the street light in front of the house. She could just see the outline of the doorway leading into the living room.

Her tennis shoes made almost no sound as Katrina softly edged her way to that doorway. Peering in, she tried to see into every corner of the room. It was empty. Then why did she have this creepy feeling?

She shook her head to rid herself of the rising terror within her. The feeling wasn't as strong now as it had been just outside the back door, but Katrina chalked this up to the comfort and safety she had always felt in this home, even though she was just renting it. She sorely wished she could turn on a light, but that would alert anyone who happened to be watching the house.

Katrina moved quietly around the couch to the table she used as a desk. She ran her hand along the books stacked at the back, feeling for the biggest two—a collegiate dictionary and its mate, a thesaurus. Sliding her fingertips between her books, she expected to touch her bank passbook. It wasn't there. She frowned. It should have been there. Her fingertip traced the outside edge of the dictionary. Nothing. Who could have taken it? Who even knew it was there? The answer left her badly frightened.

Panic filled her body, the bile rose in her throat and threatened to choke her. 'Settle down,' she harshly thought to herself, disinclined even to whisper in her own living room. Taking a breath, she held it in, willing her fingers to obey her commands. Praying for all she was worth, Katrina gingerly slipped the tips of her fingers between the thesaurus and the desk diary next to it, further back than she’d just touched. If it wasn't here….

Her fingertip touched the smallish plastic packet for which she was searching. Her breath escaped her aching lungs in a whoosh, glad for the release. She tipped the packet towards her and grasped it in her hand.

Katrina pulled her wallet from her back pocket and unzipped it. She pulled the bank book from the plastic sleeve and stuffed it into the wallet’s currency section, then closed the wallet and slid it back into her pocket, once again hiding it beneath her shirt. It only took a matter of moments to slide the empty plastic packet between the dictionary and thesaurus, in its accustomed place. As she drew another breath, the uneasy feeling descended upon her once more, stronger than before.

Katrina pulled the wallet from her pocket and gazed at it in the soft moonlight. With a sudden, desperate desire to safeguard her ID and bank book, she tucked the wallet down the front of her jeans, allowing her underclothing to hold it securely in place. It would make her look a little weightier, but not much, she thought, and few people would think to look there if they were searching her.

Quietly, Katrina moved from in front of the window, returning to the back door. Some small sound alerted Katrina that she was not alone in the house.

Dear Lord, Charleston was in here, she just knew it! The feeling was prickling the back of her neck, making the hair feel as if it were standing straight out from the nape. Another muffled sound came to her ears. He was in her bedroom. If she could just get to the back door again, she'd be free!

Quickly, she rounded the couch, but in her haste, her toe caught the edge of it, causing her to stumble. Her curse came out in a hoarse whisper as she caught her balance on one knee and a hand. A surprised oath issued from the direction of her bedroom. The sound added wings to her feet and Katrina righted herself and ran towards the back door, regardless of the noise…it was no longer important to be quiet. Speed was uppermost in her mind.

As Katrina reached the back door, she heard her name called from the kitchen doorway. The sound, far from stopping her, gave her an added burst of speed.

Even as she cleared the porch and steps, her mind rejected the thought of finding the spot in the bushes where she'd entered her yard. Her main thought was to put distance between herself and the man in the house.

She rounded the corner, heading for the front of the house and ran smack into a man. Startled, she looked up as his arms closed around her. Even the pale light from the moon could not hide the evil smile on Charleston's face.

Inherit My Heart Chapter Thirty-seven

Hours later, the party moved indoors as evening dimmed the sky. Katrina sat near the window, watching the house. They’d left all the outdoor lights on, and the small dog barked furiously when it found itself alone in the yard. Katrina listened to the dog while she watched the sky continue to darken.

How was she going to get past the dog? She hadn’t noticed it in the yard the night before. Was it a dog they kept inside at night? She whispered a prayer the dog would be taken inside.

Not many minutes later, the door opened and the dog was called by a female voice. A prayerfully whispered thanks left her lips.

She could now hear the distant sounds of voices from the front yard, and car doors slamming. Apparently the party was breaking up at last.

A few minutes later, the back yard came to life again. The entire family shared the clean-up detail, with the twins loudly discussing how fun the party had been, and how sad they were their cousins and their cousins’ new dog had gone home so soon. The family soon had the yard straightened up and retreated indoors, dousing the floodlights.

Katrina waited until they had turned off most of the lights in the house before she dared stir from the tree. She made one last use of the chamber pot…she would gladly have emptied it herself, but had no way to rinse it out, and Denny had promised they’d take care of it for her.

She slipped out of the back yard, and noted the address as she passed the mailbox. Maybe someday she could come back to say thanks. If she lived long enough.

Two hours later, Katrina was still walking. She was so tired, she knew she wasn't making good time, but at least she was still moving. She had traveled nearly an hour before she had known where she was, exactly. Ruefully, she'd acknowledged to herself that she was clear across town from where she lived.

She was walking slower and slower, and Katrina realized it was taking almost all her concentration just to put one foot in front of the other. Her head was throbbing, nearly blinding her with pain.

Looking up, Katrina saw a well-lighted area just ahead. Hoping it was a small shopping center with a coffee shop or restaurant, she urged her tired body forward, drawing a little energy from the promise of a short rest the coffee shop would afford, and some food for energy.

Reaching the lighted area, she found it to be a large used car lot with an adjoining repair shop. It was closed. Disappointment, with its accompanying fatigue washed over her. Tears came to her eyes, blurring her vision. Katrina stumbled on a small, cracked corner of sidewalk. She was just able to catch her balance, wrenching her ankle in the process. Stopping for a moment to dash the tears from her eyes, she looked down at the piece of concrete. With supreme effort, she suppressed the urge to kick the offending chunk of cement. That would only hurt her toe, also, and she didn't need any more pain.

Gingerly, she put her weight slowly onto her foot and ankle. The sharp pain of the initial wrench was gone, leaving a dull ache in its stead. At least she was able to walk, though she realized she wouldn’t be able to walk all the way home in one night. Katrina looked around her once more. She spied a telephone booth at the corner of the repair garage. Hobbling over to it, Katrina held her breath, hoping it was in working order. She fumbled in her wallet for some change, and, a smidgen of luck still with her, she found the correct coins and dropped them into the slot.

The phone book had long since disappeared, so she dialed directory assistance. When they finally answered, Katrina asked for the number of a taxi cab company. Receiving the number, she repeated to herself in a sing-song chant as she hung up, waited for the coins to drop through, and re-deposited them. After hearing the dial tone, she punched the buttons for the number in the little chant, and listened to the receiving phone ring and ring. It continued ringing for several long moments, and Katrina began to doubt she had dialed correctly.

'One more ring,' she thought, 'and I'll hang up and try another company.' A long sigh accompanied her discouragement.

Halfway through the ring, the sound stopped and a bored-sounding voice answered, giving the name of the taxi company. Katrina gave her location to the man, and he said he'd start a cab her way, then hung up in the middle of her question of how long it was going to take it to get to her. She gasped at his rudeness, then slammed the phone receiver home, wishing his ear could hear its crash. Katrina moved out to the street corner to wait for the cab, checking her watch every few moments. The hands moved so slowly, for a time she wondered if her watch was still working.

An interminable amount of time had passed, according to her lacerated nerves, when a car full of boys in their late teens or early twenties roared by, the windows open and the radio blaring its garish music. Several arms and heads were hanging out of the openings, gyrating to the music's beat. They whistled and shouted, inviting Katrina to join them. Frightened by her situation, she turned and limped away from the roadway. The car continued to rocket down the street. A squealing of tires made her look up. She watched as the car careened around the corner.

"Be back for ya, Babee-e-e-e!" floated to her as the vehicle streaked out of sight. Katrina's stomach lurched as she realized they meant to come back for her. In a panic, she looked around her. There was no place to hide…nowhere to turn…no place to run; not if she wanted her cab-ride to safety. If they came back for her…she closed her eyes. The thought was terrible.

"Dear God," she prayed fervently, "please let the taxi beat those boys to me; please, oh, please!"

Opening her eyes, Katrina looked up and down the street. It was empty.

"Please," she whispered under her breath, still pleading with the powers that be. She looked at her watch. A whole two minutes had crawled by since she had last checked it. Time was moving as if through cold syrup.

She looked up the street again, and was rewarded by the sight of a cab just pulling around the corner, heading for her. An explosion of air whooshed from her lungs as she expelled the breath she had been holding, and she quickly closed the remaining distance between the curb and herself, despite the pain in her ankle. Her prayer was answered, the cab had arrived first.

She was almost to the door of the taxi when the boys' car turned the corner, taking it on two wheels. Their car almost hit the taxi as it came down on four wheels and swerved until the boy driving could bring it back under his tenuous control.

Katrina had stopped dead as she watched the car careening down the street. The boy driving had slammed on his brakes and, as his car slowed, Katrina moved. Fast. She dove the rest of the way into the cab and yelled at the driver to move so the boys could not get her. She slammed the door tight.

The taxi's engine roared, the car coming to life, and the cab made a quick U-turn and sped away, Katrina watching the boys' car from the rear window. She watched them sit there a moment, and then saw the car lunge forward, smoke burning from both back tires. The screaming noise from their wheels reached her ears as the cab driver made a quick right turn and shot down the street to put the area behind them.

Giving a sigh of relief, Katrina turned from the back window and faced forward. Smoothing her hair with her hands, she strove for a semblance of calm.

"Thank you, Sir," she said to the driver. "You came in the nick of time!"

"Always try to help a pretty lady in distress," the softly spoken words drawled from the front seat.

Katrina blushed at his words, keeping her eyes lowered. She knew even without looking that she didn't appear the least bit pretty right now. Not after climbing walls and trees, being nearly overrun with little carts and being shot at while hiding beneath scruffy bushes! She put it down to straight flummery and words to induce a large tip; she also thought he was just trying to put her at ease. Still, the words were welcome.

"Ah, well, I don't know about that, but I'm very glad you were there." She gave the driver an address in the block behind her own and several doors down.

Some twenty-five minutes later, the taxi pulled into the street next to the one on which she lived. Pulling up to the curb where she directed him, she was told the amount due. It was lucky she had enough to pay him, Katrina thought as she counted out the bills, making sure to add a good amount for his tip. She normally didn't carry but a couple of dollars with her. This week, though, she hadn't gone shopping for her groceries yet, and still had the currency in her wallet.

Just as well, she thought wryly. She wouldn't be able to use the food that she'd have bought because she was going to have to leave in a hurry. A very big hurry.

She scrambled from the car and watched the taxi drive away. Looking around her, she tried to see if things looked normal for the street. Katrina almost laughed out loud. Normal. Would her life ever be 'normal' again? She doubted it, somehow.

Satisfying herself there was no one about; Katrina turned and limped to the house directly behind her own. She moved quietly along the outer edge of the dark driveway. There were, Katrina noted gladly, no lights on in the house. She realized it was now very late.

Passing swiftly through to the back yard and then across the grass, she paused at the bushes between the houses, listening.

Two summers ago, the family living in this house had included a three-year-old who loved nothing more than to slide under the hedge into Katrina’s back yard and eat her carrots straight from the garden, dirt and all.

Hearing nothing, she stooped low, trying to see exactly where the child had scooted through into her yard.

Many scratches and several aborted attempts later, Katrina finally found the place. Because of the growth over the past years, she ended up on her stomach, wriggling like a snake. Some of the branches tore at her hair, pulling it cruelly. Katrina fleetingly wondered how the new scratches to her face and arms were going to adorn her already ratty appearance.

Then her indomitable spirit came to her rescue. 'If I simply get out of this alive,' she reflected dryly, 'I won't mind the scratches! It's just staying alive for the next twenty-four hours that counts!'

I'm So Very Sorry

I neglected my readers, which should be a capital crime among authors. I do have what seems to me to be a very valid reason, however.

Sunday at church, my dad passed out. He was taken to the hospital, and all day Monday was filled with those things that accompany a hospital excursion: I had to call his siblings and my siblings with updates. There were phone calls to several of the people from church who were concerned because they'd been privy to his having been hauled away in an ambulance. Then I had to call his two doctors to let them know he was at the hospital. For some reason, even though they have his doctor list, the hospital calls in their own people and won't even notify his own doctors he's there. Then I had to call both the dialysis center and the transportation company and tell them he would not be going to dialysis on Tuesday. Then I got an update from my Mom at the hospital, and the calls started over again, updating everyone. Maybe I should start a blog on his health, and only update it when "things happen", but one call to the family will tell them to start checking it, or something.

At any rate, it completely escaped my notice that it was Monday, and I neglected to take two minutes to post a chapter for you. I know at least two readers missed the chapter, because they asked me where it was. I thank them first of all for liking the writing well enough to want more, and also for their concern for my well-being.

They're still not quite sure what is going on with my dad. he passed out from low blood pressure. (He's on four different blood pressure medications, normally, and it's still too high.) The hospital has discovered the source of the low blood pressure...he's bleeding somewhere. They're transfusing him, and looking for where the leak is. At one point a clot was discovered in his abdomen, in a place where it wouldn't be travelling anywhere, and we were hopeful it was going to repair itself, but then it was discovered that the clot was not attached to the wound, wherever it was. At one point they thought it might be his left kidney. I'm not sure how a kidney can be bleeding when there's no kidney pain and very little blood in the urine (he has a chronic UTI, so some blood there is "normal" for him). In about half an hour they're sticking something down his throat to examine everything from the mouth to the upper GI. Apparently this thing can take pictures, and even make small repairs, if small things are found. Dad's been moved to ICU, and the waiting continues. Since there's nothing new to report, though, the phone calls have slowed down.

I'll be posting chapters momentarily...and hopefully the news from the hospital will remain good, and I won't get behind again. This is one Resolution down the drain, I had intended not to be late posting this year. While I believe the adage "He who is good at excuses is seldom good at anything else", and I rarely offer excuses, I also cherish the difference between excuses and reasons...and accept that sometimes, plans have to be changed due to things that are truly beyond our control.