Sweetgrass Springs Stories
Texas Heroes, Book 18
From New York Times and USAToday bestselling Texas romance author Jean Brashear, another story set in beloved Sweetgrass Springs…
All the girl known as Brenda Jones has ever wanted is a home and family, but she’s on the run from her past. She works hard and stays to herself, save only for her budding friendship with the equally shy Henry Jansen. Henry wants more than a simple friendship, but he’s convinced she’s too young, too innocent, too sweet. Brenda has a crush on Henry, as well, but she’s underage and terrified of being put back in foster care, where she’s spent most of her life since her mother abandoned her at age eight. She’s been flying under the radar, hiding behind a made-up name while finding a different sort of family and home in the year since she arrived in Sweetgrass Springs—but that’s about to change.
When a stranger who holds the keys to her identity arrives in town and takes a job at Ruby’s Diner, will the girl everyone knows as Brenda come to terms with her past or run again, away from the people and the life she’s grown to love?
Billionaire Harold Hopewell traveled the world, encountering people and letting their stories touch him. In death, he is giving back, leaving an unusual will filled with life-altering bequests to the people he met along the way. Read The Inheritance series, and let their stories touch you.
Excerpt: Texas Sweet
The young waitress known as Brenda Jones stood in the bell tower of the former courthouse in Sweetgrass Springs, right where her employer Ruby Gallagher Howard had stood every night for years and years, wishing for her lost daughter.
Her daughter had never returned, but one day the granddaughter Ruby had never known about had shown up, and both Ruby’s and Scarlett’s lives had forever changed.
Only weeks ago, Brenda had turned eighteen. Today was the first anniversary of her new life, for she was Brenda now, and everyone important to her called her by that name. Once she was called Dilly, but Dilly had died the day her mother abandoned her to follow yet another worthless man. Dilly had tried to stop caring about her mother, but doing so had turned out not to be easy.
Tonight, as every night for the last ten years, she wished for her mother, the only family she’d ever had.
That wasn’t exactly true, though. She could remember when others had loved her. Had cared for her when her mother wasn’t able.
She’d been a smart little girl. She’d once wanted to go everywhere, most of all Venus, and her mother had told her many things were possible if only you believed. Cat Fontaine, the woman she was raised to call Mère, had respected few limits, yet she’d kept their little universe humming along quite well for a time. What child wouldn’t like beignets for breakfast, so fresh they were still warm, served by a woman in a ballgown and tiara left from her high school prom when she was sparkly and beautiful as a queen?
Not that Mère wasn’t always beautiful, so curvy and tall, her long blonde curls something out of a dream. Even when she hadn’t washed her hair in days and couldn’t leave the sofa, she was still lovely. Those were the times when Dilly would buckle on her rain boots and don the pink fluffy coat that made her look like her mother’s princess and walk the three blocks to the bakery to get the beignets herself.
Raymond the baker would shake his head but never dislodge the growing ash of his cigarette as he muttered while he fished four hissing-hot treats straight from the grease and sprinkled the powdered sugar all over them. “Not right, little doll. You too young to be walkin’ all this way.”
“I’m five now, Mr. Raymond,” Dilly had reproved him in her best grownup voice. “I can walk just fine, thank you. I bet I could walk all the way to California.” There was a song her Mère played sometimes, a man singing about California, and the dreamy look on her face made Dilly believe that was the best journey possible, one they might take together someday, she and her mother.
Then she would accept the paper bag from Mr. Raymond and thank him very prettily. Never once did she think that she should have given him money because the very first time Mère’s hair had been a scary bird’s nest and she had wanted to cheer her up, he had simply given them to her with his forehead all wrinkled up. Then he’d walked her to the door and stood on the sidewalk, watching her all the way back. “You go on inside now, you hear, and don’t you leave again until Miz Mabel comes to see you,” he hollered when she got to the second block.
It was years later before she recognized that there was a conspiracy among the neighbors to keep her safe during Mère’s rocky times. Miz Mabel was a black lady who lived down the block. She seemed ancient to a little girl, and she always dressed so crisp and nice, even wore a hat more often than not. Her dresses were mostly shirtwaists, belted and ironed to a fare-thee-well, some of them with breast pockets complete with a lacy handkerchief.
She usually wore pearls, big fat ones that might not have been real, but Dilly secretly thought them exquisite, glowing as they did against the mahogany of her skin. On her feet were high heeled pumps, black or white patent, and during the hours she would sit on their porch steps waiting for Mère to return with her latest man, she would extract a tissue from where it was tucked in her cuff, and she would spit into it very delicately, then remove the tiniest scuff marring the gloss.
She would never come inside, Miz Mabel. Dilly was not her kind, she explained to the girl, and if anything happened (Dilly never could get her to explain what if anything happened meant, but it was clear it was something bad) she would be the one blamed.
Dilly did not always understand the reasoning of adults; what child does? Miz Mabel was very stern and would order her back to bed. She seemed to have eyes in the back of her head for seeing that Dilly wasn’t where she’d been ordered. All Dilly wanted was to be closer to the steadiness of Miz Mabel, the weight and consequence Mère had never possessed. She was pretty sure Miz Mabel could fight off tigers and demons, that a snake would freeze in its slithery tracks. If she said Get thee gone, thou fork-tongued evil (which Dilly really heard her say once; she was a big one for praying) then that snake would disappear, lickety-split.
Many nights, Dilly would hold her breath and creep very slowly toward the front door, but Miz Mabel would catch her halfway down the hall, though Dilly did not to this day know how. Finally they settled on her scooting as close to the window screen as possible and listening to Miz Mabel recite Scripture until she fell asleep. Once or twice she would doze and then awaken to hear Miz Mabel speaking low to someone else. Her husband, Mr. Mose, Dilly thought. “That woman got no right having such a sweet child when other women caint.” And she would hear Mr. Mose respond something about the Lord’s mysterious ways and keep talking right past a sob or a moist sniff.
Some instinct kept Dilly from telling Mère about Miz Mabel, and when she was just past six, she and Mère moved. She never saw Miz Mabel again, but to this day, when she felt anxious, reading Scripture calmed her down.
And she bought a set of paper dolls in an antique shop once, just for the shirtwaist dress and pearls and patent pumps inside.