Authors: Wendy Vella
Tags: #contemporary romance
By Wendy Vella
When Branna O'Donnell heads back to Lake Howling, Oregon, she’s not sure what to expect. It’s a place that holds plenty of memories, both good and bad, but Branna is determined to find some peace there from the demons of her past. However, she soon realizes that living in a small town again comes with complications and one of them is named Jake McBride.
Once the town golden boy, Dr. McBride has returned from Iraq angry and, like her, shouldering a few emotional scars. They strike sparks off each other from the outset and Branna knows that if she gives in to the attraction between them it’s going to result in a world of pain. The problem is she's not sure how to walk away.
A Promise Of Home is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Promise Of Home published by Wendy Vella
Copyright © 2015 Wendy Vella
ISBN KINDLE: 978-0-9922643-9-0
This one is for the girls, Shar, Cher & Trudi.
Every now and again, the stars align and you strike gold in your life,
and these three are my gold.
Friends, mentors and confidants, my life is richer for having you in it.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support xx
“Welcome to Lake Howling, Oregon.” Branna made the appropriate baying noise as she drove past the sign, in acknowledgment of the three years she'd spent here during high school. Howlers, the locals called themselves, but she'd never joined their ranks, having been born in Ireland and way outside the boundaries of the small town. Heading through the corridor of giant redwoods, she came out the other side and saw the lake to her right, glimmering in the late morning sunlight. The town was stretched along the first body of water. The Roar, a general store that from memory stocked pretty much everything from candles to bait, was positioned first, then the Howler, where you got a bed, meal, and a drink, plus some dancing, if you could work out the moves that the locals had nailed.
Branna had noticed that not much had changed when she’d attended her friend Georgie’s funeral. The main street was still welcoming. The shop fronts quaint and tidy, flower boxes bright with blooms and all the windows sparkled. The American flag still flew on top of the library, which was a small white building at the end of the street and was, from memory, the oldest in Howling and beside that sat the church. It was tourist season; the cabins would be packed with people wanting to hike in the woods, get onto the water, or pull something from it.
The office of Cooper Law, which was where she was headed, sat in the middle of town. Branna swung her van into a parking space, grabbed her purse and climbed out. The heat settled around her as she stretched her hands above her head. After driving for days with only brief breaks to eat and sleep, all she wanted was to reach her destination.
Lowering her arms, Branna searched the face of the woman now standing before her, but didn’t recognize it, not that she’d come to know many people in her three years here. She was about 5’5”, Branna’s height. She wore crisp white capris with an ironed crease down the fronts of both legs and a collared short-sleeved shirt, and she had her gray hair neatly tucked into a plain white cap.
“I’m Elizabeth Heath, dear. Georgie and I were very close. I’ll be calling on you once you’ve settled in, to make the handover and welcome you to the club.”
“Club?” Branna had no idea what the woman was talking about. “Handover?”
“Book Club. Georgie nominated you.” The woman reached out to pat her hand. “But don’t think about it now; you settle in and I’ll bring all the paperwork along in a few days.”
“Must be off, dear or I’ll be late for the hike. The woman then hurried down the street away from her. Branna wondered what the hell all that was about, shaking her head, she pushed it aside to deal with later.
The Hoot Café had a large front window, through which Branna could see several people seated at tables eating and drinking. To the left of the building, she saw another door and on that was a plaque telling her that this was the entrance to Cooper Law. Pushing it open, Branna felt the relief of stepping out of the heat into the cool interior as she made her way up the narrow flight of steps, through another door and then into the reception area.
“Good afternoon, how may I help you?”
The nameplate on the desk said Penny Bilks and she was a perky brunette with a wide smile and white teeth.
“Hi, my name is Branna O’Donnell and I would like to see Mr. Cooper if it’s convenient?”
Penny looked at her closely, blue eyes skimming over Branna in that way one woman did to another and she smiled.
“You probably don’t remember me, but I was Penny Wilkinson in high school.”
Branna looked closely and drew a blank. “Ah…well I was only here for a short time.”
“Three years, I remember,” the brunette said, jumping to her feet with what Branna thought was an excessive amount of energy. “Your daddy was my teacher for a year while you were here.”
So, her thoughts of slipping into Howling weren’t going quite as planned, Branna thought, eyeing the brunette and wondering what would come out of her fuchsia painted lips next.
“Okay, sure,” Branna said, because she had no idea what else to say. She wasn’t good with people; in fact, she kept pretty much to herself, which had been quite some feat living in Washington, but still, for the most part, she’d nailed it.
“Good to see you again, Branna,” Penny Bilks held out her hand, which was tipped with long, fuchsia-tipped nails.
“You too, Penny.” Branna shook her hand, and then released it as quickly as she could.
Breathing more easily when Penny had disappeared through a door behind her, Branna ran her hand through her hair and wondered what she looked like. Compared to the pristine Ms. Bilks, she probably came in a poor tenth. Looking down at her worn cut-offs and old gray T-shirt, she thought she should care, but really didn’t. At least her sneakers were clean with no holes.
“Mr. Cooper will see you now.”
Branna shook the hand of the big man who walked towards her as she entered his office. His smile was genuine and he wore his suit with ease, even for his size.
“Pleased to see you have arrived, Miss O’Donnell; a lot of us admired your daddy, and thought he did a lot for the school in his short time here and, of course, now that he’s famous, we love him even more. His laugh was loud and rumbled up from his stomach.
“Thank you.” Branna wasn’t getting into a conversation about her estranged father with anyone, so she said nothing further.
“As Georgie’s friend and lawyer, I knew of your relationship with her, and let me say, I know what you meant to her, just as I’m sure she was special to you.”
, Branna gritted her teeth and nodded.
“I need you to sign a few things, and then you can be on your way to Georgie’s cottage. I hope you plan to stay?” His eyes were gentle and kind, and Branna saw he was genuine in his inquiry.
“I-I hope to stay awhile, but my plans are unsure at this stage.”
“Georgie had some money invested that will come to you also; the details are in here, plus her Mustang, Geraldine, of course.”
Branna had been looking at the papers on his desk, but at hearing the word Mustang, her head shot up. “She told me she sold the Mustang!”
Mr. Cooper laughed again.
“That 1966 Mustang belonged to her beloved husband, Dan, Ms. O’Donnell. No way in hell, if you’ll excuse me for cussing, would she ever part with it. She kept it locked in that big shed behind her house.”
Branna knew where it had been kept; she’d polished it, driven it, and learned to change a tire on Geraldine, just as she’d learned a whole heap of other life lessons at the hands of Georgie May Brown.
They talked a bit more, about the will, Branna asking questions that she thought she should, when, in fact, fatigue was making her head a bit dizzy. Make that fatigue and a bit of shock over the fact that Georgie had left her the house, money, and Geraldine.
“Well, that about wraps it up, Ms. O’Donnell. You need anything, you just drop by.” Mr. Cooper stood and accompanied her back out to the reception area.
“You hand those keys over now, Penny and Ms. O’Donnell can be on her way,” he added, stopping beside the other woman’s desk. “I’ll be seeing you around.” He then shook Branna’s hand again and went back into his office.
“I’ll walk you down, Branna. I need to get Mr. Cooper a mystery muffin for his afternoon snack.” Penny handed over a bunch of keys, and then made for the door with Branna on her heels.
Branna let Penny chat as they walked back down the stairs and out onto the street, as her mind went over everything she’d just learned.
“Hey, watch out!”
Branna turned at the cry from Penny and saw a bike heading towards her. The boy tried to swerve, but it was too late, it hit her, knocking her off her feet. Her left hand hit the concrete first, and then her head. She must have blacked out, because when she opened her eyes, Penny Bilks was staring down at her.
“Stop, stay down, Branna; we need to get Doctor McBride here to look at you.” Penny tried to stop her from rising.
ignoring the vicious pain in her wrist and head, Branna regained her feet.
“It’s okay, I’m all right.”
“You’re bleeding.” Penny steadied her as she wobbled. “You need to see a doctor now.”
The boy whose bicycle had hit her didn’t seem hurt. He was picking it up and moving towards her.
“Michael Tucker, how many times have you been told not to ride your bike on the sidewalk!” Penny snapped at him.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Bilks. Is she okay?”
“I’m fine, really,” Branna added, as he looked doubtful. Branna slowly pulled out of Penny’s grip. “No need to fuss, Penny.” Backing away from them, Branna reached her van, and then with a final wave, she climbed in. Forcing a smile onto her face, she managed to back out and direct the car out of town before she let out a long, painful moan.
“Mother of God, that hurts,” Branna hissed briefly, looking at her wrist. It had started to swell, and her head was throbbing so much her vision felt blurred.
Heading through town, Branna passed the bus stop she’d spent three years of her life waiting at every morning and then the park that was used for any occasion that warranted it, then headed along the lake. She passed cabins and houses. The bulk of Howlers lived in a cluster to the right of the main street, spread backward and up into the hills. Ten minutes from town, the houses had thinned until she reached a left turn that led her down a narrow road, then with another right, she headed parallel to the lake and minutes later, she was driving slowly up the old gravel drive that led to Georgie’s house.
Not Georgie’s, yours,
The house was down a long driveway with overgrown trees on both sides and huge towering redwoods at its rear. Reaching the end, Branna rubbed at the knot of emotion in her chest as she saw the small weatherboard cottage the color of gingerbread, trimmed in white. Parking the van, Branna took a moment just to look at the place that, for so many years, had housed the one person she loved to distraction.
“Come here, Branna love, come and heal all the hurts inside you. Find peace, and happiness will follow. My soul will rest easy knowing my home is now yours, Branna and know that I will be there to share it with you.” Georgie had left these words in a letter to Branna, a letter that also told her she had inherited the house.
Georgie May Brown had been one of the two people that kept her sane when she’d lived here. At Georgie’s hand, she had learned so much more than her love of writing. Here, she had learned life skills.