The anxiously awaited conclusion to the Rannigan’s Redemption series, Ransoming Redemption, will be out soon. But the cover reveal will be on Saturday, March 26, right here. And along with the cover reveal for Ransoming Redemption, I have a couple of surprises in store. How about an exclusive excerpt to tide you over until then?
Tiny loose gravel crunched beneath her brown leather sandals as Maggie clipped along the pavement. She paused, scanning the great lawn looking for Bobby. Anxiously, she dialed him again. “I still don’t see you,” she said.
“I see you and you look beautiful. Stay where you are, cher. I’ll be right there.”
She dropped her phone back into her summer bag and distractedly wiped her palms on the skirt of her sapphire colored sundress. She glanced down at herself and for the hundredth time that afternoon hoped that the dress was appropriate for a July 4th family celebration. Bobby had asked her to meet him along with his parents and Savannah for a picnic supper in the park before the fireworks.
Squinting with a hand shading her eyes, she finally saw him striding towards her, lop-sided grin in place, and she let her eyes drink in the way his shoulders and chest were showcased by his fitted brown v-neck t-shirt. Khaki cargo shorts ended where his muscular calves began, and umber leather deck shoes completed the outfit.
When he reached her, she could see herself reflected in his mirrored aviators. “You look amazing,” he grinned, scooping her up and whirling her around.
“Thanks, so do you,” she said, glancing around self-consciously as he set her back down.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just want your family to like me,” she said softly. “I don’t want to offend them.”
Taking her hand in his, he kissed it gently. “They’re going to love you, just like I do.” Together they left the sidewalk and walked across the grass, dodging picnic blankets that had been placed around like staked claims until they came to a large blanket of blue paisley and edged in blue piping. Beside the blanket were five folding outdoor chairs, two of which were occupied by a middle aged man and woman. A small blonde girl sprawled on the blanket, leaving the pink child-sized chair vacant.
Please let them like me, Maggie prayed as they all looked up at her.
“Maman, Pop, this is Maggie Flynn.” Bobby turned to her. “Maggie, this is my mother and father, Jerilyn and Justin Beaulieu.”
They both stood, and Maggie reached out to shake their hands. “Mr. and Mrs. Beaulieu, I’m so happy to meet you.”
Jerilyn reached her first and, ignoring the handshake, went straight in for a huge bear hug. “Oh, ma cher, I have heard so much about you from my son. I’m glad to finally meet you. And honey, you can just call me Jerilyn. Mrs. Beaulieu was my mother-in-law.”
Bobby steadied Maggie with a gentle touch on the small of her back when his mother released her. Justin hugged Maggie gently and kissed her cheek. “I can see my boy has good taste. It’s nice to meet you, Maggie. I’m Justin.”
“And this,” continued Bobby as he leaned down to scoop up his daughter, “is Savannah. Can you say hi to Maggie?”
“Hi,” said the little girl shyly as she lay her head on Bobby’s shoulder.
Maggie smiled at her. “Hello, Savannah. I’m happy to meet you.”
“Come sit, cher,” Jerilyn said. “Tell us all about yourself.”
Maggie looked wide-eyed to Bobby who smiled happily as he sat next to Savannah on the blanket. “I, uh, well…”
The next hour was spent with Maggie answering questions, Bobby interrupting, Jerilyn telling stories from when Bobby and his sisters were growing up, the entire conversation punctuated with laughter. Maggie realized that she was feeling more and more at ease as the afternoon wore on.
Glancing at Justin, she could see where Bobby got his rugged good looks, thinking to herself that it was probably a foreshadowing of how Bobby would look later in life. They enjoyed fried chicken and potato salad, freshly made that morning by Jerilyn in Bobby’s kitchen, washing it all down with glasses of sweet tea. As the sun began to sink, homemade coconut cream pie was served.
“Daddy, I want to go see the water,” Savannah said, pointing to the lake at the bottom of the hill.
“Okay, baby, we can walk down there,” Bobby said.
The little girl shook her head and whispered in his ear. Bobby’s eyes widened and he looked to Maggie. “Ask her, then.”
Savannah shyly approached Maggie. “Will you take me to see the water?”
“Um, sure, if that’s okay with your dad,” Maggie answered, surprised.
“You two go on down there,” Bobby told Savannah. “I’ll meet you there in a while. And you mind Maggie, you hear? Be a good girl.”
As they left the picnic blanket, the little girl slipped her hand into Maggie’s and began chattering about the things she’d seen since arriving in the city. Bobby felt a lump forming in his throat as he watched the two people he loved most in the world walk hand in hand down the hill.
“She’s a nice little girl, Ro-bert,” his mother said. “I like her very much. And she loves you, you can see it in her eyes.”
“I love her, too, maman,” he said.
“She’s a real pretty little thing,” his father said. “Like your maman said, dat ‘tite fille loves you. Makes me happy to see.”
Silently, they watched as Maggie and Savannah reached the pond. Together, the two picked up pebbles along the edge and tossed them into the water.
“I’m so happy I could bust,” Bobby said, grinning.
“Go to them,” Jerilyn said. “We’ll be fine right here, won’t we, Papa?”
They watched as their son strode down the hill towards Maggie and Savannah. When he reached them, he pulled Maggie close for a tender kiss before lifting Savannah up to sit on his shoulders. The trio began making their way back to the picnic blanket but stopped at some sort of vendor’s stand. Ten minutes later they returned.
“What took so long? I saw you start coming back a long time ago,” Jerilyn commented to Savannah.
“We buyed some presents,” she answered excitedly.
“Presents?” her grandmother exclaimed. “Mercy me!”
“My girls wanted jewelry,” Bobby grinned. “How could I say no?”
Savannah scampered to Justin and Jerilyn with a small plastic bag. “This is for you, Papa,” she said, handing him a blue plastic glow necklace. “This one is for Nana,” she said, handing Jerilyn a purple one. “Daddy gets the yellow one,” she added, handing one to Bobby, “and Maggie gets the red one, ’cause her hair is red.” She removed the remaining necklace as the adults laughed. “And this one is mine, ’cause I love pink the bestest.”
“Perfect, ma ‘tite cher,” Justin said, grinning at his granddaughter. He dutifully put on the necklace, as did everyone else. The plastic rings around their necks glowed brighter in the growing dusk.
“Cool!” Savannah exclaimed as she took her seat in her pink chair.
Maggie giggled. “We’re styling and profiling.”
When the fireworks started, Savannah climbed onto Bobby’s lap. He kissed her head gently and reached for Maggie’s hand as they watched the extensive pyrotechnic display. A satisfied sigh escaped his lips. This is what contentment feels like, right here, he thought as he glanced at Maggie.
Her eyes were on the sky and the light of the fireworks reflected on her face. When she turned suddenly and caught him staring, she flashed him her brightest smile before leaning over to kiss him.
Following the fireworks show, Maggie helped gather up the chairs and picnic supplies. Savannah had passed out and Bobby held the sleeping child against his shoulder. They all began to make their way back to the street among the throngs of people leaving the park.
Once they were a block away from the celebration, Bobby turned to his parents. “Your hotel is about three blocks that way,” he pointed. “My apartment is five more blocks this way.” He nodded his head in the opposite direction, speaking softly to avoid waking Savannah.
“Oh,” said Maggie, surprised. “I thought you were staying with Bobby.”
“We’re being treated to a night in a fancy hotel,” beamed Jerilyn. “Just us grownups,” she added, winking at Justin. “We’re booked for a couples massage later tonight.”
“How nice!” Maggie grinned. “I hope you enjoy it.”
“I’m sure we will,” said Justin, smiling. “I’m so happy to finally meet you, Maggie.”
“I’m happy to meet you, too,” Maggie returned, hugging them both.
“Now, cher,” Jerilyn said seriously, “you will come down to Louisiana for Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Maggie answered. “I’m looking forward to it.” Bobby and Maggie watched as his parents walked arm in arm heading for their hotel.
“They’re so nice,” she told him as they turned and made their own way toward Bobby’s apartment building.
“They really liked you, too, cher.”
Minutes later they were stepping into the elevator for the ride to the twenty-first floor. Bobby shifted Savannah’s weight slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position. Maggie carried four chairs, their bags slung two over each shoulder, with the child-sized chair in her hands. She looked up and Bobby was grinning at her. “Stay the night, cher.”
She frowned slightly. “But what about…” she whispered, nodding at the sleeping child.
“Stay,” he grinned.
He took Savannah directly to his guest bedroom while Maggie leaned the chairs against the bench in the foyer. Sighing, she crossed to the large window that looked out over the street. She smiled as she thought back over the day. I was all worked up for nothing. They were perfectly nice.
“Somebody would like to say good night,” Bobby said from the kitchen. “How about I pour us some wine while you finish up with the ‘tucking in’ process?”
Maggie’s eyes widened. “I’ve never really done that kind of thing before.”
“It’s not hard,” he grinned, kissing her nose. “You just say good night and pull up the covers. The nightlight is already on.” She glanced up at him anxiously. “You’ve got this,” he chuckled.
He was still smiling when Maggie made her way down the hallway to Savannah’s room. “Hi there, sweetie. All ready for bed?” In the kitchen, Bobby realized the baby monitor was on and he paused to listen, wine glasses in his hand.
“I wanted you to tuck me in,” the little girl said.
Maggie pulled up the covers and tucked them around the child. “Okay, that looks pretty tucked.”
Savannah gripped her brown teddy bear and looked solemnly at Maggie. “Will you sing me a song?”
“A song?” Maggie repeated as she sat on the edge of the bed. The little girl nodded. Kid songs, kid songs… The only thing that popped into Maggie’s head was the Sheryl Crow version of Sweet Child O’Mine.
In the kitchen Bobby heard Maggie’s voice, soft and slightly raspy. “She’s got a smile that it seems to me…” The lump in his throat was back.
A few minutes later Maggie reappeared in the kitchen. “There,” she smiled. “I think she’s down for the count.”
He pulled her to him, holding her tightly. “I love you so much, cher,” he murmured against her neck.
Be sure to watch for the cover reveal event on Saturday. In the meantime, the first two installments of Rannigan’s Redemption are available here.