Hey, everyone out there in InspyRomance land!! I hope y’all have had a good week!! I released a new book this week! YAY! That’s always fun!
But any author can tell you, some books are different, and this is one of them. Grace to Save was written about four years ago, though it’s been updated and revised some since then. I don’t know that I’d go quite so far as to say it’s the story of my heart (author’s talk a lot about those, too), but it’s close. So here’s the opening scene – the full first chapter is on my website, because it’s really too long for one blog post – and you can meet the heroine there!
Several years ago, more than four, my “other mama” and I did Fast Fiction Fridays where we’d write for five minutes from a prompt then post them. One of those Fridays was September 11, probably the 10th anniversary actually.
And that’s where this story was born…
Grace to Save
September 11, 2001
A ringing jolted Travis Harders from a deep sleep. He cursed as the phone knocked to the floor with a clatter. “This better be good,” he snapped when he got the handset in place.
A glance at the clock nearly made him groan.
“You’ll be hearing from the police soon.”
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with the heel of one hand and tried to process the statement. The words didn’t really register as the guy, whoever he was, kept talking until Travis interrupted. “What? Who is this?”
“Mark’s dad.” Right. Travis’s best friend. “You remember us? The ones who treated you like family? Let you live with us?”
Travis’s stomach sank. Mark’s family had practically adopted him when he moved from southwest Missouri to the Big Apple. They had filled the gap in his life left by parents who disapproved of Travis’s choice to move to New York. Mark’s parents let him spend holidays and birthdays with them, with Travis making only the obligatory phone calls back home.
But none of that explained why Mark’s dad would be calling the police.
“Who is it?” a sleepy Jennifer asked.
Travis covered the mouthpiece and whispered to his girlfriend, “No one.” His feet hit the cool floor, and he headed for the other room. At least he had a place to escape to. Being an out-of-work-actor-turned-barista didn’t pay much, but he’d lucked into a fabulous apartment. Closing the French door behind him, he tried to focus on the voice yelling from the other end of the line.
But he only caught “my daughter” and “spring break” and “drugged.”
If possible, Travis’s stomach clenched further as that night flooded back to him. Memories of bringing her back to this very apartment when she was in no condition to go home without risking the wrath of her parents. But after what happened between them…it was only right for him to be on the receiving end of her dad’s anger. “I don’t know what she told you sir, but…”
“I know all I need to know,” he bellowed.
Even though he was in the other room, Travis lowered the volume on the handset. “I take full responsibility for…”
“You’re right, you do!” He let loose a string of obscenities. “You’ll spend years in prison! Drugging a girl! Sleeping with her!”
“What?” His whole world spun. Travis regretted every minute of that night after they got back to the apartment, but he hadn’t drugged her. He didn’t even know where to get those kinds of drugs. They weren’t in love, never had been, but to place the blame solely on him? The next morning, they’d talked about it enough to know she hadn’t blamed him.
What changed? Feeling sucker punched, Travis hung up on the man. What he said didn’t matter. Travis would find out when he was on trial for something he didn’t do. On autopilot, he dressed for his five a.m. shift. Coffees of the World wasn’t the best job, but it had flexible hours and had led to finding this sublet. There was no shortage of interesting characters to populate his imagination. Like the skinny brunette with the shoulder length bob who worked for Morgan Stanley and always ordered a short nonfat mocha, decaf, no foam, no sugar, no whip. She could be the heroine in one of his screenplays even if he never knew her name.
He kissed Jennifer’s hair and told her he’d call after work. Five flights of stairs later, the sounds of the city waking up greeted him as he walked toward the train that would take him to the Trade Center. Standing at the top of the subway steps, he changed his mind. Travis headed for his car parked a couple streets over and called in.
Two hours later, he stopped in McLean for gas about seven thirty, filling up the tank of his Toyota Corolla hatchback. Three hours after that, he could still drive for a while longer before he’d need to stop again. He contemplated leaving the state, but decided not to, instead turning northward before leaving Allegany County.
He’d gone through more emotions than he knew he had, none of them good. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Blame. Worry. Intimidation. In western New York, things were more peaceful than they ever were in downtown Manhattan, but his insides were in utter turmoil at the thought of an arrest and trial.
His favorite heavy metal CD blared from the speakers. During the lull between songs, Travis could hear his cell phone vibrating on the passenger seat where he’d tossed it. After an hour and a half of the stupid thing ringing nearly nonstop, he finally snatched it up.
“What?” Travis growled.
“Are you okay?” Though he only talked to her twice a year, there was no mistaking his mother’s voice.
Or the panic in it.
The tremor set him on edge. “Yeah. Why?”
“Thank you, Jesus,” she whispered, though Travis couldn’t figure out what she was thanking Him for. “Where are you? You got out okay? Were you working? There was no answer at your apartment.”
Why was Mom calling just to ask if he was okay? Why was she frantic?
“I’m in western New York State. Out for a drive. Get out of where?” Could Mark’s dad have called already?
“You don’t know?” Frenzy changed to disbelief.
“Know what?” Travis held the phone against his shoulder as he downshifted into a turn.
He could hear the tears over the static-filled line. “Two planes, Trav. They hit the Towers. Both of the buildings are on fire.”
His heart thudded to a stop. “What?” Hadn’t a bomber hit the Empire State Building in WWII? But two planes? On a brilliantly clear day? No weather in sight. “How bad is it?” he croaked.
“They’re saying it’s a terror attack. The Pentagon is on fire. There’s another plane out there somewhere. Big jets, Travis. I saw the second one hit. The explosion. Papers flying everywhere. The people…” Her voice broke. “You really weren’t there?” she confirmed.
“No, Mom. I’m not anywhere near there.” But he needed to find a place to stop. A television. He had to see for himself. Tens of thousands of people would be dead and dying. Did he know any of them?
“There are people jumping, falling, out of the upper stories. I can’t imagine.” He could almost see her pacing around the kitchen alternately running her hands through her hair and wringing them together. “They’re jumping from a hundred stories up. What could be so bad to make that the better option?” Her voice caught. “I don’t know how I can watch this, Trav, but I can’t turn away. All I can do is pray.”
Pray. Right. A face flashed before Travis. The uptight former-football-player-turned-businessman from the 102nd floor of the North Tower with his caramel macchiato and corny joke of the day. Was he one of those jumping?
She gasped then whispered. “Dear God, no. No!” Her scream made him move the phone even as his stomach sank.
He pulled into a café parking lot near Danville. “What?”
“The tower. It’s gone. Just gone. The south one, I think.” Her voice trailed off in prayer.
The shock he’d felt after the phone call from Mark’s dad paled compared to what he felt now. “Mom, I gotta go.” Jen. His friends. His coworkers. He needed to make calls of his own. Find out if they were okay. And Mark. His best friend had been a firefighter for a year. He’d be down there. Inside one of the Towers. Travis hadn’t talked to him since that night, the March before, but part of him, the part that still believed there was a God in heaven, whispered a prayer that Mark was somewhere safe as faces of customers and friends flashed through Travis’s mind.
The blonde. The cute, petite one who ordered a crunchy, cinnamon pastry and half caf, double tall, easy hazelnut, non-fat, no foam with whip extra hot latte on Tuesdays. She flirted shamelessly, though he knew she was recently and happily engaged to some guy in Tower Seven. Her family lived near his in Serenity Landing, Missouri, and she worked at the Marriot World Trade Center in the shadow of the Towers. Could it have survived the collapse? Was Joanna now buried underneath the rubble?
“Be safe, Travis. Do you have somewhere you can go? They’re evacuating Manhattan.”
“I’ll be okay.” He hesitated. “I love you, Mom. You, Dad, Jay. I love all of you. I’ll call when I can, but I have to try to find out about my friends, about my girlfriend. I’ll talk to you soon.”
His mom’s “I love you,” came through the line as he clicked his phone off.
He started his first call as he walked into the café. Call after call failed as he stood with others, watching the screen in horror as the second tower crashed down. His problems. Mark’s dad. Mark’s sister. All of it fled as the enormity of what was happening sunk in.
The whole world had changed.
Grace to Save is available now and only .99 through September 11.
What do you remember most about September 11? Tell me in the comments and one winner will be drawn from the comments by 9/10 and announced on 9/11.
Travis Harders has been a single dad since the day he learned he had a daughter with his only one-night stand. Fifteen years later, he and Cassie are getting along just fine and he’s even fallen in love. The last thing he expects to find on his doorstep one Tuesday morning is Cassie’s mom – the one person he thought he’d never see again – and she’s asking the impossible.
Circumstances, including her firefighter brother’s death on 9/11, forced Abi Connealy into a decision she’s spent years regretting and her daughter grew up without her. But now, a family crisis compels her to do the one thing she swore she never would: find the daughter she’d abandoned just a few days after birth.
Shocked when Travis doesn’t send her packing, Abi prays to a God she doesn’t believe in that her relationship with her daughter will be restored. Travis plans to propose to his girlfriend, but their relationship hits the rocks as he and Abi both struggle with the long-dormant feelings that never had the chance to develop.
When Cassie demonstrates incredible grace toward the grandfather who refuses to acknowledge her existence, Abi begins to learn the love of a Savior – a Savior who has more than enough Grace to Save.