Harlequin Trade Publishing Beach Reads 2021 Blog Tour: The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman. @viola_shipman

THE CLOVER GIRLS
Author: Viola Shipman
ISBN: 9781525896002
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House

About the Author:


Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.

About the Book:


As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman’s novels never fail to deliver a heartfelt story of friendship and familty, encapsulating summer memories in every page. Fans of Dorthea Benton Frank and Nancy Thayer will love this new story about three childhood friends approaching middle age, determined to rediscover the dreams that made them special as campers in 1985.

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where they called themselves The Clover Girls (after their cabin name). The years following that magical summer pulled them in very different directions and, now approaching middle age, the women are facing new challenges: the inevitable physical changes that come with aging, feeling invisible to society, disinterested husbands, surley teens, and losing their sense of self.

Then, Elizabeth, Veronica and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily – she has cancer and, knowing it’s terminal, reaches out to the girls who were her best friends once upon a time and implores them to reunite at Camp Birchwood to scatter her ashes. When the three meet at the property for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, another letter from Emily awaits, explaining that she has purchased the abandoned camp, and now it belongs to them – at Emily’s urging, they must spend a week together remembering the dreams they’d put aside, and find a way to become the women they always swore they’d grow up to be. Through flashbacks to their youthful summer, we see the four friends then and now, rebuilding their lives, flipping a middle finger to society’s disdain for aging women, and with a renewed purpose to find themselves again.

Contact Viola:


Author Website: https://www.violashipman.com/
TWITTER: @viola_shipman
FB: @authorviolashipman
Insta: @viola_shipman
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14056193.Viola_Shipman

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Excerpt:

SUMMER 2021
VERONICA
Grocery List
Milk (Oat, coconut, soy)
Fizzy water (cherry, lime, watermelon, mixed berry)
Chips (lentil, quinoa, kale, beet)
Cereal (Kashi, steel-cut oats, NO GMOs! VERY IMPORTANT!)
Whatever happened to one kind of milk from a cow, one kind of water from a faucet and one kind of chip from a potato?
My teenage children are seated on opposite ends of the massive, modern, original Milo Baughman circular sofa that David and I ordered for our new midcentury house in Los Angeles. Ashley and Tyler are juggling drinks while pecking at their cells, and it takes every fiber of my soul not to come unglued. This is the most expensive piece of furniture I have ever purchased in my life. More expensive even than my first two years of college tuition plus my first car, a red Reliant K-car that would stall at stoplights.
I still don’t know what the K stood for, I think. Krappy?
That was a time, long ago, when that type of negative thought would never have entered my mind, when the K would have stood only for Konfident, Kool or Kick-Ass. But that was a different world, another time, another life and place.
Another me.
Another V.
I steady my pen at the top of a pad of paper emblazoned with the logo of my husband’s architectural firm, David Berzini & Associates.
Los Angeles is the latest stop for us. My family has hopscotched the world more than a military brat as David’s architectural career has exploded. He is now one of the world’s preeminent architects. David studied under and worked with some of the most famous midcentury modern architects—Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler—and has now taken over their mantles, especially as the appreciation for and popularity of midcentury modern architecture has grown. Now he is working on a stunning new public library in LA that will be his legacy.
I glance up from my pad. A selection of magazines—Architectural Digest, Vogue, W—are artfully strewn across a brutalist coffee table. The beautiful models stare back at me.
That was my legacy.
“Mom, can I get something to eat?”
This is now my legacy.
I glance at my children. Everything old has come back en vogue. Ashley is wearing the same sort of high-waisted jeans that I once wore and modeled in the ’80s, and Tyler’s hair—razored high by a barber and slicked back into a big black pompadour—looks a lot like a style I sported for a Robert Palmer video when every woman wanted to look like a Nagel woman.
Yes, everything has made a comeback.
Except me.
I look at my list.
And carbs.
My kids, like my husband, have never met a Pop-Tart, a box of Cap’n Crunch, a Jeno’s Pizza Roll or a Ding Dong. My entire family resembles long-limbed ponies, ready to race. I grew up when the foundation of a food pyramid was a Twinkie.
I again put pen to paper, and in my own secret code I write the letter L above the first letter of my husband’s name. If someone happened to glance at the paper, they would simply think I had been doodling. But I know what “LD” means, and it will remind me once I get to the store.
Little Debbies.
You know, I actually hide these around our new home, which isn’t easy since the entire space is so sleek and minimal, and hiding space is at a premium. It took a lot of effort, but I, too, used to be as sleek and minimal as this house, as angular and arresting as its architecture. Anything out of place in our butterfly-roofed home located in the Bird Streets high above Sunset Strip—where the streets are named after orioles and nightingales, and Hollywood stars reside—is conspicuous.
Even now, on yet another perfect day in LA, where the sunshine makes everything look lazily beautiful and dipped in glitter, I can see a layer of dust on the terrazzo floors. Although a maid comes twice a week, the dust, smog and ash from nonstop fires in LA—carried by hot, dry Santa Ana winds—coat everything. And David notices everything.
Swiffers, I write on the pad, before outlining “LD” with my pen.
David hates that I have gained weight. He is embarrassed I have gained weight.
Or is just my imagination? Am I the one who is embarrassed by who I’ve become?
David never says anything to me, but he attends more and more galas alone, saying I need to watch the kids even though they no longer need a babysitter and that it’s better for their stability if one parent is with them. But I know the truth.
What did he expect would happen to my body after two children and endless moves? What did he expect would happen after losing my career, identity and self-esteem? It’s so ironic, because I’m not angry at him or my life. I’m just…
“Why don’t you just put all of that in the notes on your phone?”
“Or just ask the refrigerator to remember?”
“Yeah, Mom,” my kids say at the same time.
I look over at them. They have my beauty and David’s drive. Ash and Ty lift their eyes from their phones just long enough to roll their eyes at me, in that way that teens do, the way teens always have, in that there-couldn’t-be-a-more-lame-uncool-human-in-the-world-than-you-Mom way. And it’s always followed by “the sigh.”
“I like to do it this way,” I say.
“NO ONE writes anything anymore,” Ashley says.
“NO ONE, Mom!” Tyler echoes.
“Cursive is dead, Mom,” Ashley says. “Get with the times.”
I stare at my children. They are often the sweetest kids in the world, but every so often their evil twins emerge, the ones with forked tongues and acerbic words.
Did they get that from me? Or their father? Or is it just the way kids are today?
The sun shifts, and the reflection of water from the pool dances on the white walls, making it look as if we are living in an aquarium. I glance down the long hallway where the pool is reflecting, the place David has allowed me to have my only “clutter”: a corridor of old photos, a room of heirlooms.
My life flashes before me: our family in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York at the holidays, eating colorful French macarons at a café in Paris, lying out on Barcelona’s beaches, and fishing with my parents at their summer cottage on Lake Michigan. And then, in the ultimate juxtaposition, there is an old photo of me, teenage me, in a bikini at Lake Birchwood hanging directly next to an old Sports Illustrated cover of me. In it, I am posing by the ocean where I met David. I am crouched on the beach like a tiger ready to pounce. That was my signature pose, you know, the one I invented that all the other models stole, the Tiger Pose.
I was one of the one-name girls back then: Madonna, Iman, Cher, V. All I needed was a single letter to identify myself. Now V has Vanished. I have one name.
“Mom!”
“Lunch. Please!”
My eyes wander back to our pool. I would be mortified to wear a bikini today. I am not what most people would deem overweight. But I have a paunch, my thighs are jellied and my chin is starting to have a best friend. It was that photo in all of the gossip magazines a year or so ago that did it to me. Paparazzi shot me downing an ice cream cone while putting gas in my car. I had shuttled the kids around all day in 110-degree heat, and I was wearing a billowy caftan. I looked bigger than my SUV. And the headlines:
Voluminous!
V has Vanished Inside This Woman!
If you saw me in person, you’d likely say I’m a narcissist or being way too hard on myself, but it’s as hard to hide fifteen pounds in LA as it is to hide an extra throw pillow in this house. I get Botox and fillers and do all the things I can to maintain my looks, but I am terrified to go to the gym here. I am mortified to look for a dress in a city where a size two is considered obese. The gossip rags are just waiting for me to move.
My eyes wander back to the photos.
I no longer have an identity.
I no longer have friends.
“Earth to Mom? Can you make me some lunch?” Tyler looks at me. “Then I need to go to Justin’s.”
“And you have to drive me to Lily’s at four, remember?”
I shudder. A two-mile drive in LA takes two hours.
“Mom?”
Ashley looks at me.
There is a way that your children and husband look at you—or rather don’t look at you at a certain point in your life—not to mention kids in the street, young women shopping, men in restaurants, David’s colleagues, happy families in the grocery.
They look through you. Like you’re a window.
It’s as if women over forty were never young, smart, fashionable, cool…were never like them, never had hopes, dreams and acres of life ahead of them.
What is with American society today?
Why, when women reach a “certain age,” do we become ghosts? Strike that. That’s not an accurate analogy: that would imply that we actually invoke a mood, a scare, a feeling of some sort. That we have a personality. I could once hold up a bag of potato chips, eat one, lick my fingers and sell a million bags of junk food for a company. Now I’m not even memorable enough to be a ghost. This model has become a prop. A piece of furniture. Not like the stylish one my kids are stretched out on, but the reliable, sturdy, ever-present, department store kind, devoid of any depth or substance, one without feeling, attractiveness or sexuality. I am just here. Like the air. Necessary to survive, but something no one sees or notices.
I used to be noticed. I used to be seen. Desired. Admired. Wanted.
I was the ringleader of friends, the one who called the shots. Now, I am Uber driver, Shipt delivery, human Roomba and in-home Grubhub, products I once would have sold rather than used.
I take a deep breath and note a few more grocery items on my antiquated written list and stand to make my kids lunch.
They are teen health nuts, already obsessed with every bite they consume. Does it have GMOs? What is the protein-to-carb differential?
Did I do this to them? I don’t think so.
Even as a model, I ate pizza, but that’s back in the day when a curve was sexy and a bikini needed to be filled out. I pull out some spicy tuna sushi rolls I picked up at Gelson’s and arrange them on a platter. I wash and chop some berries and place them in a bowl. I watch my kids fill their plates. Ashley is a cheerleader and wannabe actress, and Tyler is a skateboarding, creative techy applying to UCLA to study film and directing. Ashley wants to go to Northwestern to major in drama. They will both be going to specialty camps later this summer, Ashley for cheerleading and acting, Tyler for filmmaking and to boost his SAT scores. My eyes drift back to my photo wall, and I smile. They will not, however, spend their days simply having fun, singing camp songs, engaging in color wars, shooting archery, splashing in a cold lake, roasting marshmallows and making friends. A kid’s life today, especially here in LA, is a competition, and the competition starts early.
There is a rustling noise outside, and Ashley tosses her plate onto the sofa and rushes to the door. In LA, even the postal workers are hot, literally and figuratively, and our mailman looks like Zac Efron. She returns a few seconds later, fanning herself dramatically with the mail.
“You’re going to be a great actress,” I say with a laugh. Ashley starts to toss the mail onto the counter, but I stop her. “Leave the mail in the organizer for your dad.”
Yes, even the mail has its own home in our home.
“Hey, you got a letter,” she says.
“Who writes letters anymore?” Tyler asks.
“Old people,” Ashley says. The two laugh.
I take a seat at the original Saarinen tulip table and study the envelope. There is no return address. I feel the envelope. It’s bulky. I open it and begin to read a handwritten letter:
Dear V:
How are you? I’m sorry it’s been a while since we’ve talked. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. Remember when we were just a bunk away? We could lean our heads over the side and share our darkest secrets. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? When we were innocent. When we were as tight as the clover that grew together in the patch that wound to the lake.
How long has it been since you talked to Rach and Liz? Over 30 years? I guess that first four-leaf clover I found wasn’t so lucky after all, was it? Oh, you and Rach have had such success, but are you happy, V? Deep down? Achingly happy? I don’t believe in my heart that you are. I don’t think Rach and Liz are either. How do I know? Friend’s intuition.
I used to hate myself for telling everyone what happened our last summer together. It was like dominoes falling after that, one secret after the next revealed, the facade of our friendship ripped apart, just like tearing the fourth leaf off that clover I still have pressed in my scrapbook. But I hate secrets. They only tear us apart. Keep us from becoming who we need to become. The dark keeps things from growing. The light is what creates the clover.
Out the cabin door went all of our luck, and then—leaf by leaf—our faith in each other, followed by any hope we might have had in our friendship and, finally, any love that remained was replaced by hatred, then a dull ache, and then nothing at all. That’s the worst thing, isn’t it, V? To feel nothing at all?
Much of my life has been filled with regret, and that’s just an awful way to live. I’m trying to make amends for that before it’s too late. I’m trying to be the friend I should have been. I was once the glue that held us all together. Then I was scissors that tore us all apart. Aren’t friends supposed to be there for one another, no matter what? You weren’t just beautiful, V, you were confident, so funny and full of life. More than anything, you radiated light, like the lake at sunset. And that’s how I will always remember you.
I’ve sent similar letters to Rach and Liz. I stayed in touch with Liz…and Rach…well, you know Rach. For some reason, you all forgave me, but not each other. I guess because I was just an innocent bystander to all the hurt. My only remaining hope is that you will all forgive one another at some point, because you changed my life and you changed each other’s lives. And I know that you all need one another now more than ever. We found each other for a reason. We need to find each other again.
Let me get to the point, dear V. Just picture me leaning my head over the bunk and telling you my deepest secret.
By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead…
My hand begins to shake, which releases the contents still remaining in the envelope. A pressed four-leaf clover and a few old Polaroid pictures scatter onto the tabletop. Without warning, I groan.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Tyler asks without looking back.
“Who’s that from?” Ashley asks, still staring at her phone.
“A friend,” I manage to mumble.
“Cool,” Ashley says. “You need friends. You don’t have any except for that one girl from camp.” She stops. “Emily, right?”
The photos lying on the marble tabletop are of the four of us at camp, laughing, singing, holding hands. We are so, so young, and I wonder what happened to the girls we used to be. I stare at a photo of Em and me lying under a camp blanket in the same bunk. That’s when I realize the photo is sitting on top of something. I move the picture and smile.
A friendship pin stares at me, E-V-E-R shining in a sea of green beads.
I look up, and water is reflecting through the clerestory windows of our home, and suddenly every one of those little openings is like a scrapbook to my life, and I can see it flash—at camp and after—in front of me in bursts of light.
Why did I betray my friends?
Why did I give up my identity so easily?
Why am I richer than I ever dreamed and yet feel so empty and lost?
Oh, Em.
I blink, my eyes blur, and that’s when I realize it’s not the pool reflecting in the windows, it’s my own tears. I’m crying. And I cannot stop.
Suddenly, I stand, throw open the patio doors and jump into the pool, screaming as I sink. I look up, and my children are yelling.
“Mom! Are you okay?”
I wave at them, and their bodies relax.
“I’m fine,” I lie when I come to the surface. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
They look at each other and shrug, before heading back inside.
At least, I think, they finally see me.
I take a deep breath and go down once more. Underwater, I can hear my heart drum loudly in my ears. It’s drumming in such perfect rhythm that I know immediately the tune my soul is playing. I can hear it as if it were just yesterday.
Boom, didi, boom, boom… Booooom.

Excerpted from The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman, Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House Books.

Harlequin Trade Publishing Beach Reads 2021 Blog Tour: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. @HQNBooks @SarahMorgan_ #summer #sarahmorgan

THE SUMMER SEEKERS
Author: Sarah Morgan
ISBN: 9781335180926
Publication Date: 5/18/2021
Publisher: HQN Books

Where to Buy:


Harlequin 
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble 
Books-A-Million
Walmart
Google
iBooks
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Contact Sarah:


Twitter: @SarahMorgan_
Facebook: @AuthorSarahMorgan
Instagram: @SarahMorganWrites
Goodreads
BookBub

About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

About the Book:

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over…

Excerpt:

1
Kathleen
It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.
If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eightieth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.
As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy darkness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.
She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?
The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?
She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.
Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.
People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved crosswords floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.
She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.
Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.
Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the wayside, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.
She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.
Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were supposed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.
She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was searching the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?
Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?
In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property precisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been tempted to invite herself over. Rather that than a dull women’s group, where you were expected to bake and knit and swap recipes for banana bread.
Finn would be of no use to her in this moment of crisis. In all probability he’d either be in his studio, wearing headphones, or he’d be drunk. Either way, he wasn’t going to hear a cry for help.
Calling the police would mean walking through the kitchen and across the hall to the living room, where the phone was kept and she didn’t want to reveal her presence. Her family had bought her a mobile phone, but it was still in its box, unused. Her adventurous spirit didn’t extend to technology. She didn’t like the idea of a nameless faceless person tracking her every move.
There was another thump, louder this time, and Kathleen pressed her hand to her chest. She could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. At least it was still working. She should probably be grateful for that.
When she’d complained about wanting a little more adventure, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What could she do? She had no button to press, no phone with which to call for help, so she was going to have to handle this herself.
She could already hear Liza’s voice in her head: Mum, I warned you!
If she survived, she’d never hear the last of it.
Fear was replaced by anger. Because of this intruder she’d be branded Old and Vulnerable and forced to spend the rest of her days in a single room with minders who would cut up her food, speak in overly loud voices and help her to the bathroom. Life as she knew it would be over.
That was not going to happen.
She’d rather die at the hands of an intruder. At least her obituary would be interesting.
Better still, she would stay alive and prove herself capable of independent living.
She glanced quickly around the kitchen for a suitable weapon and spied the heavy black skillet she’d used to fry the bacon earlier.
She lifted it silently, gripping the handle tightly as she walked to the door that led from the kitchen to the hall. The tiles were cool under her feet—which, fortunately, were bare. No sound. Nothing to give her away. She had the advantage.
She could do this. Hadn’t she once fought off a mugger in the backstreets of Paris? True, she’d been a great deal younger then, but this time she had the advantage of surprise.
How many of them were there?
More than one would give her trouble.
Was it a professional job? Surely no professional would be this loud and clumsy. If it was kids hoping to steal her TV, they were in for a disappointment. Her grandchildren had been trying to persuade her to buy a “smart” TV, but why would she need such a thing? She was perfectly happy with the IQ of her current machine, thank you very much. Technology already made her feel foolish most of the time. She didn’t need it to be any smarter than it already was.
Perhaps they wouldn’t come into the kitchen. She could stay hidden away until they’d taken what they wanted and left.
They’d never know she was here.
They’d—
A floorboard squeaked close by. There wasn’t a crack or a creak in this house that she didn’t know. Someone was right outside the door.
Her knees turned liquid.
Oh Kathleen, Kathleen.
She closed both hands tightly round the handle of the skillet.
Why hadn’t she gone to self-defense classes instead of senior yoga? What use was the downward dog when what you needed was a guard dog?
A shadow moved into the room, and without allowing herself to think about what she was about to do she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, the force of the blow driven by the weight of the object as much as her own strength. There was a thud and a vibration as it connected with his head.
“I’m so sorry—I mean—” Why was she apologizing? Ridiculous!
The man threw up an arm as he fell, a reflex action, and the movement sent the skillet back into Kathleen’s own head. Pain almost blinded her and she prepared herself to end her days right here, thus giving her daughter the opportunity to be right, when there was a loud thump and the man crumpled to the floor. There was a crack as his head hit the tiles.
Kathleen froze. Was that it, or was he suddenly going to spring to his feet and murder her?
No. Against all odds, she was still standing while her prowler lay inert at her feet. The smell of alcohol rose, and Kathleen wrinkled her nose.
Drunk.
Her heart was racing so fast she was worried that any moment now it might trip over itself and give up.
She held tightly to the skillet.
Did he have an accomplice?
She held her breath, braced for someone else to come racing through the door to investigate the noise, but there was only silence.
Gingerly she stepped toward the door and poked her head into the hall. It was empty.
It seemed the man had been alone.
Finally she risked a look at him.
He was lying still at her feet, big, bulky and dressed all in black. The mud on the edges of his trousers suggested he’d come across the fields at the back of the house. She couldn’t make out his features because he’d landed face-first, but blood oozed from a wound on his head and darkened her kitchen floor.
Feeling a little dizzy, Kathleen pressed her hand to her throbbing head.
What now? Was one supposed to administer first aid when one was the cause of the injury? Was that helpful or hypocritical? Or was he past first aid and every other type of aid?
She nudged his body with her bare foot, but there was no movement.
Had she killed him?
The enormity of it shook her.
If he was dead, then she was a murderer.
When Liza had expressed a desire to see her mother safely housed somewhere she could easily visit, presumably she hadn’t been thinking of prison.
Who was he? Did he have family? What had been his intention when he’d forcibly entered her home? Kathleen put the skillet down and forced her shaky limbs to carry her to the living room. Something tickled her cheek. Blood. Hers.
She picked up the phone and for the first time in her life dialed the emergency services.
Underneath the panic and the shock there was something that felt a lot like pride. It was a relief to discover she wasn’t as weak and defenseless as everyone seemed to think.
When a woman answered, Kathleen spoke clearly and without hesitation.
“There’s a body in my kitchen,” she said. “I assume you’ll want to come and remove it.”

Excerpted from The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.