Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 145 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $9.99
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 145 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $9.99
Helen DeGroot is a widow, a mother, and grandmother. Her quiet life in Zutphen includes her children, grandchildren, and church committee work. She can’t shake the feeling that life has something else in store for her. But finances are tight, and her grown sons always seem to need her help.
Mike Sikkema has a high-powered job at a travel magazine. He’s never had time for settling down with a family. But when his brother tells him about their mother’s health problems, he drops everything and heads to Zutphen, Michigan to help out. Apartments are scarce in the small town, so he rents a room from an attractive widow in his brother’s congregation.
The road to self-discovery and happiness can be long and painful. Can these two help each other navigate the journey?
Helen DeGroot stretched her arm up as far as it would go, but her fingertips just wouldn’t reach the last can of almond paste way in the back of the high shelf. She needed that can to make her special banket for tomorrow’s knitting club meeting. Normally she’d find a tall, young stocker and ask for help, but none were in sight. She sighed. One more reason to miss her tall, handsome husband. Joe had been gone almost five years, and the crushing pain of loss still hit occasionally, taking her by surprise with its intensity and suddenness, although the episodes happened less often. Right at that moment, though, she wanted to scream and shake him for leaving her alone at a time like this.
“Joe, where are you when I need you?”
“I’m not sure where Joe is, but I’d be happy to reach for what you want. Are you trying to get this last can of almond paste?”
The deep voice coming from behind startled her so much she nearly stumbled. Spinning around, she came eye-to-eye with a deep onyx tie pin set on a burgundy silk tie. Backing up, the tie became the focal point on a crisp white linen shirt under a nice navy jacket. By the time she felt the shelf behind her, the picture included a nice physique and a tasteful and expensive sense of style.
“Um, did you decide not to get the almond paste?” The velvety bass tones would sound so wonderful in the church choir.
Almond paste. Right. She raised her gaze up a few more inches to take in the face attached to the stylishly dressed body. It was a very pleasant face, surrounded by an appropriately stylish cut. “Oh — thank you so much. Yes, I’d like that jar of almond paste, please. Can’t make banket without it.”
The brilliant blue eyes crinkled at the corners as the full lips curved upward. “Ahh, banket. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of that particular Dutch treat. I guess I really am back in West Michigan.” He reached over, easily getting the desired jar and handed it to her with a flourish. “There you are. I hope your family appreciates your efforts.” He gave a short bow and walked away.
Helen had heard of women drooling at the sight of a man, but she’d never experienced it — until now. She swallowed, glancing around before wiping the excess off her lips. My, my. How long had it been since she’d had such a reaction?
No. Stay focused. Nothing would be gained by such immature notions! Checking her cart to ensure she had all the ingredients she needed, she headed toward the checkout lane. At sixty years of age, she didn’t need to be drooling over a handsome man. Fantasies like that wouldn’t help her finish all the work waiting for her at home. Besides making the banket, she had to get started on a script for the annual Christmas pageant for Zutphen Community Church. It was already late September and rehearsals would begin next week. She’d procrastinated long enough.
Mike Sikkema searched the snack aisle until he found what he needed. Ever since he’d quit smoking ten years ago, he hadn’t been able to survive a day without popcorn. It was replacing one vice with another, he supposed, but at least his lungs wouldn’t be filled with that awful black stuff. At home in his apartment, he stocked up on the microwave kind, but since he wasn’t sure whether the bed-and-breakfast had a microwave, he decided to pick up a couple of bags of the pre-popped kind.
From the outside, Zylstra’s Grocery Store looked like any other country grocery, but once he got inside, he realized it was a lot larger and more modern than he’d expected. A coffee kiosk nestled in the corner, where a busy barista made fancy coffee drinks. A deli counter offered imported cheeses, specialty meats, hot sandwiches, and an assortment of fried foods that customers could eat at the small tables nearby. All in all, it was a very nice store.
The people inside were nice too. Especially that little lady reaching up to the top shelf, calling out to Joe. Whoever Joe was and wherever he’d been, he wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of her wrath. Much better to be eating her banket. It was something that reminded him of his paternal grandparents, who’d arrived in America from the Netherlands. Grandmother Sikkema, Oma, had often made traditional goodies, such as boterkoek and oliebollen. But her banket had been famous.
Just before Mike got to the checkout lanes, he spotted a display of flowers. He chose a fresh bouquet for his sister-in-law then made his way to a self-checkout machine.
Since he’d already checked into the bed-and-breakfast, he drove to his brother’s home. Matt and Kathy and their children lived in the parsonage of the Zutphen Community Church. Loretta Sikkema, Matt and Mike’s mother, lived in her own attached apartment. Until recently, Loretta had been an integral part of the family, but now she tended to keep to herself. Apparently this was something that bothered Matt enough to call. Knowing that his calm, easy-going brother wouldn’t have reached out if he hadn’t been truly alarmed, Mike had met with the directors at the Chicago-based travel magazine where he worked as a managing editor and made the trek to Michigan. Thank goodness most of his job could be done online. There was no telling how long he’d be gone.
Looking for the spires of the Zutphen church steeple, he had a moment of panic when he thought he’d gotten lost, but then he remembered the church had burned to the ground last Christmas. Matt had said something about rambunctious boys. Sounded like a couple of hoodlums. But Matt had always been a softie for wayward kids. Knowing him, the boys had probably gotten off with a slap on the wrist and an invitation to attend the church youth group.
The parsonage was right next to the church. Or rather right next to where the church used to be. Mike sighed with relief at seeing the white ranch-style home still standing. When he’d heard about the fire, his main concern had been the family’s safety. Once he’d heard his brother’s voice telling him everyone was okay, he’d pretty much forgotten the incident. Maybe he needed to pay more attention to the news from Michigan. These people were the only family he had.
He pulled into the driveway and parked behind Matt’s minivan. His younger brother had it made. Pretty wife, three bright kids, a job he loved, and a nice home in a great community.
Just like the life they’d had growing up.
Regrets didn’t come often, but every now and then he’d wonder what life would be like had he not gone off to Chicago in search of fame and fortune. Maybe then he’d be settled in a nice respectable job, living in a house with an attached garage, with a wife and two kids.
Like his dependable younger brother.
He’d made amends with his parents before his father had died, but he’d never forget the words hurled at him time and time again, “Why can’t you be more like Matt?” He understood now that his parents hadn’t meant to be critical — they’d simply wanted him to stay closer to home. But his heart was in the big city. His career meant everything to him. Next year he would celebrate his fiftieth birthday, and the chances of him settling down with a family would diminish even more. What woman would want to start a family with a man his age?
The front door swung open just before he reached it, and his younger brother enveloped him in a bear hug. Matt was a few inches shorter but had a beefier build. “I’m so glad you made it.” He looked around Mike. “Where are your bags?”
“They’re at the bed and breakfast. I stopped and checked in so I could wash up before coming over.”
“You’re staying at the Rose Garden?” Matt asked. Mike nodded, and Matt shook his head. “I should have talked to you about this earlier. Lilah Gentry likes to charge an arm and a leg for her rooms.”
“I didn’t think it was any more than a room at a Chicago hotel.”
“Downtown Chicago, maybe. In southwest Michigan you could stay several days for those prices. If you’re here for any length of time, we’ll have to set you up in a more affordable place nearby. I just wish we had room here for you.”
“Not a problem. I’m not about to run my nieces and nephew — or my mother — out of their rooms. Besides, I’ve got work I need to do, and it’ll be much easier if I have my own place for the quiet I’ll need.”
“That’s true. It can get pretty noisy around here. Until the church building is done, the consistory and several committees meet here, so this is not a great place for quiet work. Sometimes I go to the library to write my sermons.”
“That’s got to be hard. You have to come up with something each week.”
“Yeah, and it’s got to make sense too, or else they’ll call me on it.”
They both laughed, remembering the time when Matt had managed to worm his way through a high school speech by reciting a bunch of gibberish. All the words made sense, but none of his sentences did.
“Is that my eldest son I hear?” a voice cut through their laughter. Loretta Sikkema, Mike and Matt’s mother, stood in the doorway connecting her apartment to the rest of the house. At seventy-five, she looked at least ten years younger. She’d been the ultra-capable pastor’s wife at a village church nearby. But heart problems had forced the elder Sikkema to retire. Matt and Kathy had built the addition behind their garage, with the church’s help, and his parents had moved in. Loretta, of course, remained there after her husband died. She’d been active in the church until recently, when she’d suddenly lost interest in everything.
“Yes, it’s me, Mom,” Mike replied, moving toward her for a hug. Wrapping his arms around his tiny mother, he got really scared when he felt how small and frail she’d become since the last time he’d seen her. He’d missed last Christmas because he was out of the country on assignment, so it had been — how long? More than a year, he supposed.
Too long. And from the look on his mother’s face, he would pay.
“So, what brings you to the back of beyond?” she demanded.
“I’m here because I’m between assignments, and it’s been way too long since I’ve seen my family.”
“I’ll say. Where is that high-falutin’ girlfriend of yours?”
“I have no idea. She said something about a business trip.”
He knew exactly where Lisette was, but knowing his mother’s opinion of her, he let it go at that. He and Lisette had discovered they had too little in common to continue their relationship.
“Have you eaten, Mike? I can warm up a plate for you,” Kathy offered.
“That would be super. I picked up a few things at Zylstra’s for breakfast, but didn’t eat anything before coming here. By the way, these are for you.” He handed her the bouquet.
“Why thank you, Mike. I’ll put these in water and get you some ham and potatoes.” She flounced out.
“So sit down and tell me how business is going in the Windy City,” his mother ordered him.
Mike sat and began to tell her about his new position and the focus of the magazine. He was about to ask if she had any recommendations for places to feature when she paled, stood, and raced out of the room. Surprisingly, no one followed her.
“Uh, what was that all about? Is she all right?”
Matt shook her head. “We don’t know. We’ve tried to get her to explain what’s going on, why she pales and races out, but she won’t tell us. I’ve tried following her, but she locks her door and won’t come out. She yells at us through the door that she’s just fine and needs to be alone but won’t give any other details. We’re at our wits’ end. And that’s why we called you.”
In a previous life, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary school students by day and changed diapers at night. Now she teaches college students part time and changes diapers only when she’s taking care of grandkids. She loves to do anything that doesn’t involve exercise. Right now her favorite activities, in addition to writing, include scrapbooking, sewing, and making music. She and her husband live in southwest Michigan, near their five children and nine grandchildren.