Today's Reading

He lifted an outspread hand. "Now hold on, Hope. I'm not chasing after women like that. There's just," his hand dropped, "something about Erica. I'm sorry."

Hope knew exactly what the something was. Erica was the kind of beauty who didn't need an asterisk. She thought complexion didn't matter to Spencer, but now she knew better. Tears formed in her eyes. She turned away, not wanting Spencer to see that this was so completely destroying her. "Let me get back to my office."

Spencer reached out and grabbed her arm. "You have to believe me, Hope. I didn't mean for this to happen."

She recoiled as if she'd been bitten. "Don't touch me. Stay away from me."

"That's going to be hard to do since we work together. We have to find a way to be civil, don't you think?"

"Civil?" Did he really just say that to her? She rubbed her arms as she walked toward the door, suddenly feeling a chill in the air.

For the first time in the fifteen years she had been employed at Hillsboro Hotel, Hope wondered if it was time to dust off her résumé and find a new job. The year had been going so well, but it was November, and bad things always seemed to happen to her in November.

Hope rubbed her temple as she walked back to her office. It felt like an elephant was stomping on her brain. Sitting down at her desk was something she did every day, but it just didn't feel normal after what she'd just walked into.

Hope opened the bottom drawer of her desk and took out one of the adult coloring books and colored pencils that she used as a stress reliever on her lunch break or when she had downtime at home. Decisions about whether she was going to stay at Hillsboro and watch Spencer carry on with Erica or whether she would start shopping her résumé needed to be made. Right now, Hope didn't know how she felt about working with Spencer and Erica.

She was more hurt than angry about the situation. Erica had pretended to be her friend, and Spencer had pretended that she was enough for him, when she obviously wasn't.

Her cell phone rang. It was her mother. Hope contemplated not answering because she wasn't in the mood for whatever Ruby Reynolds had going on...not today. But she knew her mother. Ruby would just keep calling until Hope answered.

"Hey, Mom. I've got a lot going on. Can I call you back?" She rushed the words out, hoping that her mother would just say okay.

But Ruby was hysterical. "You really need to call me back this time because if you don't, I just might go buy a gun and end up with a cellmate that'll stab me to death or worse."

What was worse than death? "Mama, what is going on down there? Who do you want to shoot?"

"The good Lord knows that I'm a peaceful woman, but that Rick Thornton done got my back up. That man ain't right."

She massaged her temples. "Mama, can you just please spell it out for me? What happened?"

"He stole my money, and now I'm about to lose this house to the bank. That's what happened."

Hope opened her purse and took out a bottle of Advil. She popped two in her mouth and downed a half bottle of water. "Mom, is this true...or another one of your make-believe stories?"

Hope had caught her mother telling a few whoppers, so she couldn't readily take anything Ruby said at face value.

"Why do you always think the worst of me? If you aren't concerned for me, then what about the house? Do you want me to lose it?"

How was the beach house where she grew up—the beach house that her father spent years building—about to be lost to the bank when there was no mortgage on it? She posed that question to her mother.

"That's what I'm trying to tell you," Ruby said. "Slick Rick had me take out one of them...whatchamacallit?"

Hope heard her mother snapping her fingers as she tried to come up with the word she was looking for.

"Home equity loan?"

"Yeah, that's what it was." Ruby took a breath, then continued, "The bank gave me sixty thousand for the repairs I need to turn this house into a bed-and-breakfast. Slick Rick told me he needed thirty thousand up front so he could order all the supplies and whatnot. And now he's in the wind. I haven't seen hide nor hair of that man in a month."

"You just gave this man your money?" That didn't sound like the Ruby Reynolds she knew, but her mother was getting older. Was dementia setting in?

"I messed up, I know that, but now I need you and your sister to get down here and help me turn this house into a bed-and-breakfast so I can start earning money to pay back that loan or the New Year will ring in with a new owner of our beach house. The bank will take the house if I don't start making payments within the next forty-five days."

Whoa...Hope hadn't been in Hallelujah in about eighteen years. She was no longer that same small-town South Carolina girl. She was a grown woman who made her own decisions and lived by her own rules. And now her mother was asking her to come back—in November. Uh-uh, she couldn't do it.

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