We’re just over a week away from PUBLICATION DAY! I’m nervous but excited! This book has been a looonnng time in the making, and as hard as it is to walk away from, I’m about to do just that. Okay, maybe not this very second…but soon!
Enjoy this small glimpse of Olivia Chandler and Bruce Bellamy navigating their way to friendship…and more.
Add In The Best Interest of the Child to your Goodreads TBR!
*Unedited and subject to revisions.
Having arrived fifteen minutes early, Olivia took a few minutes to visit the ladies’ room to check her hair and makeup, and wash her hands. She was glad no one else was around because every time she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Get a hold of yourself, Olivia Louise! It’s just lunch with a man. You’ve done this more times than you can count.” Exhaling slowly, Olivia hung her head. Yes, lunch with a man who seems to like me. Lunch with a man that I actually like even though I just met him. Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit that was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his family, and he was very much involved in Rena’s life. The silly grin returned to her face. Honestly, she didn’t want him to disappear. They may never do more than have lunch, but Olivia wanted it badly. She wanted to be normal and have a life without her past hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles. Steadying herself with a couple of deep breaths, Olivia decided to stop hiding in the ladies’ room and talking to herself like a crazy person. She grabbed her handbag and went in search of her lunch date.
Approaching the hostess stand, Olivia gave her Bruce’s name.
“Yes, Ma’am. He’s already here.” Laughing, Olivia shook her head slowly.
“That man. Of course he is.” The hostess smiled but looked confused, not understanding the joke. Olivia waved her hand. “It’s nothing. Lead the way.”
Olivia tried to spot Bruce as they approached the main dining room, but was caught off guard when the young hostess turned right and proceeded down a short hallway. No stranger to the Black Dragon, Olivia knew there were formal banquet rooms in the opposite direction, but she’d never been down this hallway. The hostess stopped in front of a small elevator. “I never realized the restaurant had an elevator. I thought it was a single story building.” Connie nodded.
“You’re right, it is.”
“Then where does this lead? You have a basement?” Covering her mouth to hide her giggles, Connie nodded.
“We do, but trust me, you do not want to go down there. This elevator goes up to the mezzanine.” The elevator doors opened as she finished speaking, and both women stepped inside.
“Well, I didn’t know you had one of those either!”
“Not many people do. The owners don’t advertise it much. It’s usually for special guests or customers who request a more…intimate setting.” Olivia’s eyes quickly widened. Connie gave her a knowing grin.
Intimate setting? She had no more time to process the moment. The doors opened. Connie took a step outside the elevator and motioned to the left.
“Your date is right over there.”
“Date? But this isn’t a da-…” Connie quickly stepped back into the elevator, leaving Olivia with a wink as the doors closed.
“What am I going to do with this man?” Olivia again thought chuckling to herself. She only had to take three steps before she spotted Bruce. Olivia froze as her eyes widened and mouth gaped open.
Rising from the table, Bruce walked towards her. Olivia still had not moved, too shocked at his appearance. Gone were the weather-beaten jeans and worn Henley shirt. The thick heavy work boots? Gone too. The Bruce Bellamy standing before her was elegantly attired in a charcoal grey, two-piece Brooks Brothers suit and grey Sardegna Loafers. And he’d had his hair cut. He leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“Good to see you again, Olivia.” He glanced at his watch. “And right on time. Why am I not surprised?” Olivia still stared at him, wide-eyed. Bruce frowned. “Olivia? Is something wrong?” Taking a deep breath, she finally found her voice.
“Who are you? And what’s all”, she motioned up and down his body, “…this?” His big boyish grin returned as he took her hand and led her to their table.
“I’m a successful businessman having lunch with a gorgeous, successful attorney in one of the city’s finer restaurants. I couldn’t very well show up in jeans and boots, could I?”
“And besides, I had to show you I could dress myself and behave appropriately in public.” Olivia threw her hands up, laughing.
“There you are, Bruce! How nice to see you again!” Filling their wine glasses, Bruce stopped mid-pour to keep from spilling it the laughter hit him so hard. Laughing along with him, Olivia visibly relaxed and placed her hand on his arm.
“And just so we’re clear, Mr. Bellamy, I like you in jeans and work boots too.” The smile he gave Olivia nearly took her breath away. Suddenly self-conscious, Olivia placed her hands in her lap. Bruce didn’t miss the gesture, but continued pouring the wine while changing the subject.
“Would you like to look at the menu, or do you already know what you want?
“No menu needed! I definitely know what I’m having!” He chuckled as he handed her a glass of wine, then signaled for the waiter.
“I had a feeling.” Olivia smirked.
“Think you have me figured out already, Bellamy?”
“Not even close, beautiful one. But I do look forward to the adventure.” She grinned at the compliment and the comment.
“Oooo! I’m an adventure!” Bruce couldn’t help but stare at her face. The way her eyes sparkled, the genuineness of her smile. She was the same woman he met in his cousin’s driveway, but there was no sign of the sadness he saw in her eyes that day. Bruce had long ago made peace with his own issues of abandonment, but Olivia was the first woman to actually make him want to risk his heart again. Bruce was getting lost in Olivia Chandler, and he had no problem with that.
Get ready to 1-click on September 17th!!
*Unedited and subject to revisions
When Olivia exited the elevator heading for her fifth floor office, she didn’t realize she was smiling. Karen from word processing was the first to notice.
“Wow, someone’s in a good mood!” Puzzled, Olivia shook her head and continued on. Peter, who specialized in adoptions, was standing in the door of his office.
“Hey now! Did you get laid last night?”
“Sheffield! Do you mind? Have you had lunch? Was it in a shot glass?” He laughed maniacally as she rounded the corner and nearly collided with Randie, her paralegal. Olivia quickly reached out to catch the files slipping from Randie’s arms.
“I’m so sorry, Randie! Sheffield was giving me a bad time and I…I… well, I walked right into you. Are you okay?” She shuffled the file folders together and handed them to Randie. She accepted the files while giving Olivia a scrutinizing look.
“Did you do something different with your hair? You look different today.” Olivia squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.
“Did I walk into an alternate universe? Why is everyone acting so strange and what’s so different about me?”
“It’s not a bad ‘different’, Olivia. It looks good on you.” Sighing, she let it go.
“Thank you, Randie…I think.”
Margo Schultz was simultaneously on the phone and Internet when Olivia passed her desk. She held up a finger to get Olivia’s attention and thrust a handful of files and messages in her direction. Olivia chuckled, knowing she had a full afternoon ahead of her. Entering her office, she quickened her step to her desk where she unceremoniously dumped the stack of paperwork and documents. Closing the west facing blinds to block out of the glare of the afternoon sun, Olivia turned up the air conditioning then plopped into her custom-made office chair. She loved that chair. With an extra high back, extra wide seat, cushioned armrests, and built-in massagers from the lumbar all the way to the neck, she didn’t mind the long hours she sometimes had to spend in it.
Kicking off her shoes under her desk, a glance at her desk clock startled her. 1:15? Had she really spent half the day with her newest client? Thinking back over the morning, Olivia pulled out the notes she’d made at the hospital, then grabbed a fresh legal pad and made notes in three columns – ‘Known’, ‘Unknown’, and ‘???’. Getting Rena an appointment for a psyche eval was a priority. Olivia wasn’t sure if it was consciously or subconsciously, but Rena Averest was holding in an incredible amount of emotions. Pain, loss, fear, and even anger were probably waging war inside her, and not knowing how to deal with them all at the same time, she held them all in. Olivia had seen it too many times. She had lived it too many times.
Livvie stared at the wall, willing her tears not to fall. “Oh, sweetie. Please don’t be angry. It will only make you feel worse. Everyone was only thinking of what was best for you”, the nurse cooed. She reached out to touch Livvie’s arm, but stopped short and pulled her hand back. The child met her gaze with defiant glare.
“You wait days to tell me my daddy’s dead, and now days later, you tell me they already had his funeral.”
“Honey, you were so weak, and your social worker said it was best for everyone not to tell you at the time, and just let you get better.”
“What social worker?”
“Your social worker, Mrs. Jenkins.” Livvie’s eyes widened.
“That tall woman with the ugly hair and mean face is my social worker?”
“Livvie! That’s not nice!”
“I only remember seeing her once, and she never looked at me…not one time. I don’t want her to be my social worker!” The nurse sighed heavily.
“Certain decisions have to be made for you right now, Livvie, and since you’re not an adult, the state has to step in and help out.”
“What about my mom?” The nurse looked away and smoothed the bed covers. “She’s still in a coma, isn’t she? And you were not going to tell me.”
Straightening her back and standing to her full height, the nurse’s voice took a firmer tone.
“You have no idea what your body…and your mind have been through, Livvie. As a child, you’re not able to understand how serious this all is.” Livvie pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing from the pain.
“My daddy’s dead, my mom’s in a coma and I have no one. People who don’t even know me get to tell me what to do.” She continued before the nurse could speak. “We don’t have any more family. We only had each other. So strangers buried my daddy, and no one told me. I’m ten and a half, not stupid.” She reached for the child, but Livvie pulled away, wincing again.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye. My daddy’s gone…and I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
“Livvie, I’m so sorry-…” Ignoring the pain, Livvie turned on her side with her back to the nurse, and spoke barely above a whisper.
“Go away. Just go…away.” Livvie exhaled when she heard the door open, then close. The tears she had fought so hard to hold on to, now wouldn’t come at all. She wanted to scream and cry. She wanted her daddy to run into the room and save her. Instead she felt as if the lump in her throat would choke her.
Livvie massaged her forehead slowly and closed her eyes. “Why did you leave me, daddy? I’m so scared, daddy. I need you.” Livvie felt her legs and back begin to throb and knew someone would come to give her medicine soon to stop the pain. The medicine would make her sleep and she wouldn’t have to talk. That thought made her smile slightly and remember another time when she couldn’t talk. She’d had her tonsils removed two years ago, and despite being able to eat all the ice cream she wanted, she still cried because of the pain. Her daddy sat close to her on the bed and rubbed her back.
“It’s okay to cry, Livvie-Lou, everyone cries. But I’m going to need you to work towards being strong for your dad. Too much crying is not good for your throat and I know you don’t want to go back the hospital. And you know how your mom feels about hospitals.” Livvie opened her eyes suddenly.
No. She had no idea how her mother felt about hospitals.
“So are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Olivia jumped at the sound of Margo’s voice.
“I’m used to you zoning out and getting lost in your thoughts. I learned long ago that was standard Olivia Chandler. But when you do it right after walking through the office positively glowing, I have to ask why?” Olivia pulled a face and tossed her pen onto the desk.
“What. The. Hell? Why is everyone acting so weird today? Saying I must be in a good mood, I must have gotten laid, I did something different with my hair!” She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. “You people act like I’m Oscar the Grouch.”
“Oh, you’re a sweetheart and you know it. Your usual demeanor is just a tad more…reserved.” Margo guffawed. She made herself comfortable in one of the overstuffed office chairs across from Olivia.
“You just called me boring, didn’t you?”
“Did you get laid?” Olivia rolled her eyes at her assistant.
“Really? That’s all you got from my rant?” Margo shrugged.
“It was you who taught me to prioritize the details.” They smirked at each other, then laughed. Margo stretched her arms upwards, then laced her hands behind her head. “Sooooo…the details?”
“Margo! No! Did we not talk earlier? I was with our new client. Remember her? An eleven-year-old girl?” Margo acted as though she was pondering an answer.
“Um, that’s true. But, I called you ‘several’ times before you called-…”
“Stop it, Schultz!” Margo tried to suppress her grin.
“Alright. What’s up with our latest little darling?”
“It’s not good, but it could be worse. Eleven-year-old Rena Averest and her parents were involved in that horrible accident on Morrissey Highway back in June. Her mom was killed, and her dad was gravely injured. He broke just about every bone on the left side of his body, had severe internal injuries, suffered brain trauma, and was in a coma for quite some time only recently coming out of it.”
“Damn! And Rena?”
A concussion and several broken bones, including an ankle and hip. Poor thing had a total hip replacement.”
“Yeah. And you know as young as she is, there’s the chance of having to have the replacement replaced somewhere done the road. Just depends on how active her life is.”
“And emotionally? Mentally?”
“I am concerned with both. She only mentioned her mom twice and both times were about her death. There’s no “I miss my mommy”, or “Mommy always did this or that”. The only time she mentioned her dad was when we first met, and she thought I was there to tell her he had died. She’s blocking a lot or holding it in. She’s also in a considerable amount of pain, which is definitely distracting.” Margo reached and snagged the legal pad and a pen off the desk.
“Okay, boss lady – what are we doing?”
“Lawrence Metzgar for a psyche eval and Daniel Kilgore for a complete physical, ASAP.” Margo frowned.
“A physical? I can’t remember you ever having one done for an accident victim.”
“I never have. Rena is tall for her age, and appears to have lost quite a bit of weight. Not unusual for what she’s been through, but I’d feel better covering all the bases. She has physical and occupational therapy daily at St. Mary’s. I need copies of her COT and her ELOT.” She pushed several forms across her desk. Margo picked them up and flipped them all over.
“Yep. Ever see that before?”
“Nope. What gives?” Olivia folded her arms and leaned on the desk.
“It doesn’t feel right. I’ve seen Family History forms with one name, first names only, not applicable and deceased. I’ve even seen “alive but we’re not on speaking terms”, but totally blank? That’s intentional. Rena and I were having a reasonably good meeting until I asked her about extended family. She shut down on me. Her mom has a brother back east, but he’s too ill to care for Rena, and she wouldn’t likely get upset at the mention of that. Get Louis on that for us, please, along with complete background checks for Duncan and Irene Averest. I also need Rena’s old medical records from her pediatrician. Daniel is going to need something to compare his findings to. Judge Dennison will sign subpoenas for anything we need.” Olivia stood and began to pace.
“Uh oh. That’s your thinking stance.” Olivia grinned, but did not stop pacing.
“My initial meeting with the Bellamys, Rena’s caregiver family, went well. I didn’t pick up on any signs of deception, they’re genuinely concerned about her, and Rena interacts well with them. It’s obvious there was a well-established family friendship prior to the accident. The Bellamys are also Rena’s godparents, so they must have been pretty close to her parents. They have a nice, well-kept home, and both seem very genuine.” She continued to pace.
“They’re not blood relatives, and to my knowledge, there was nothing in writing prior to the accident appointing them guardians.”
“Can the father make that appointment now?” Olivia threw her arms then let them fall to her sides.
“That’s something else I don’t know. I need to meet with him and his doctor to find out his medical and mental state. If he’s not judged competent, we’ll have a fight on our hand with DCS. This could take time, and as you and I both know, DCS could swoop in at any time and take custody of Rena. Once they get her into their system, it will almost take a military coup to get her out.” A mischievous grin slowly spread across Margo’s face.
“You have a plan.”
“Of course I do, but the clock is working against us.” Margo scooted to the edge of her seat.
“What’s the play?” Olivia returned to her chair.
“I still have to complete the Bellamy formal interview, but I don’t see any immediate problems…except their familial responsibilities can, and have changed. Marissa’s mom goes to dialysis three times a week, and while an aunt heals from a small stroke, Marissa is her transportation, not to mention helping them also with their household needs. Rena feels like she’s an added burden to the family. Once I see the Averest insurance and financials, I’m going to see Judge Dennison. He gave this case to me for more than a couple reasons, not the least being he doesn’t want to see this child go into the foster care system. I plan to ask His Honor to let me hire some part time help.”
“Woman, are you nuts? They’re not blood relatives, AND they have to hire help to care for her? DCS will be out for blood!” Olivia leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs.
“How private money is spent is none of DCS’ concern. But just when did I say I was hiring someone to help with Rena? I plan to hire someone to help with her mother and aunt, and while Marissa does not seem like the type of woman to want or need a housekeeper, having someone for a few hours a week to dust, vacuum, and maybe do a load or two of laundry would take a bit of the workload off her. She has more time for Rena, Rena benefits.”
Margo leaned back in her chair. “That’s why it has to be paid for with Averest money and not the county’s. Boss Lady, I’m so glad you use your powers for good!” Olivia laughed easily, but turned serious.
“This child has been through hell. She’s had no time to properly mourn her mother or see and spend time with her father. Her body was battered and bruised and she’s far too young to know the kind of pain she deals with. The very last thing she needs is to have to adjust to a foster family who may or may not care about her and treat with her kindness or compassion. And let’s not forget about the nightmare referred to as DCS. The state made their budget cuts and is passing financial burdens on to counties. It’s only a matter of time before Hennepin County loses more employees, and social workers are always near the top of the cuts list. Keep in mind, these are my plans and this is what I think is best. But I’m not an attorney ad litum, so what I may think is best takes a back seat to what Rena wants.”
“Do you truly believe she wants to go into foster care?”
“No way. But until I’m certain where her head is emotionally and mentally, I won’t try to second guess her. She might feel it’s the thing to do to free the Bellamys from having to take care of her. I’m walking a very narrow path with this one. Did you hear back about the updated docket schedule?”
“Oh yeah. You’re off the hook until Tuesday.”
“Then let’s get to work and make some magic!” Margo stood and headed for the door. She stopped and slowly turned back to her boss.
“Don’t think for one second that we’re not having a discussion about what had you glowing earlier, got it?” Olivia smirked, but silently said a prayer for having someone like Margo in her corner.
“I hear you loud and clear, Miss Marple!”
“The only reason we’re not having that discussion now is,” she took a couple of steps closer, “because this little girl needs us to move our asses and give her our best. And… you have another call you should make first.” Olivia gave her a curious look.
“Just who am I calling?” Her assistant took a deep breath.
“Willis Benson.” Olivia’s face fell.
Why is nothing ever easy?
*Unedited and subject to revisions.
According to notes in Rena Averest’s file supplied by Judge Dennison, she had daily physical and occupational therapy in the outpatient services center of St. Mary’s Hospital and was usually finished by 10:30 AM. He had arranged for the use of a hospital conference room and Rena’s transportation back to the Bellamy’s in order to give her and Olivia more privacy and time to talk.
Olivia arrived thirty minutes early and was shown to the conference room. She repositioned chairs for a more conversational atmosphere, then set up her video recorder. No one viewed the recordings besides Olivia, except for the rare occasion when she might ask a member of her personal staff for their opinion. She only recorded the initial interview not so much to remember what was said, but how it was said. Children were usually more honest and open than adults, but sometimes fear, real or imagined, would cause them to protect the adults involved, even to their own detriment. Olivia could review an interview once or several times. It all depended on her minor client’s demeanor and the attitudes of the adults involved.
After finishing her setup, Olivia made a quick trip to the hospital’s cafeteria for drinks and snacks. Returning to the conference room, she noticed an orderly coming towards from the opposite direction pushing a young girl in a wheelchair. She appeared to be too tall for an eleven-year-old, but Olivia could recognize a child in crisis anywhere. The bowed head and constant fidgeting with fingers was a dead giveaway. As there were no photos in the file Judge Dennison had given her, Olivia didn’t know what to expect, but was surprised to see that her client was also African-American. A crème colored blanket covered her legs and lap, and a green jacket sat on her shoulders, but Olivia could tell the child was thin. The type of thin that comes with injury, loss of appetite, worry…and mourning. Rena’s hair was hidden under a green scarf, but she could see one unruly curl had escaped. It appeared to be the same shade as Olivia’s brown hair, although Rena’s complexion was a shade lighter.
“This must be Rena. Hello. I’m Olivia Chandler,” She said with a sincere smile. The child raised her head hearing her name, and Olivia nearly faulted. The deep brown eyes looking back at her were mired in so much sadness, Olivia’s chest tightened. She could feel her own heart began to race and willed herself to stay calm and in control. This is not about you, Olivia Chandler.
“You must be Mrs. Chandler. I’m Leon, one of the physical therapy assistants.” She had almost forgotten she and Rena were not alone, but focused her smile on the man. “Nice to meet you, Leon. It’s Ms. but please call me Olivia. Would you mind taking Rena on into the conference room?”
“Sure thing.” He deftly maneuvered the still silent child into the room and around the chairs Olivia had repositioned. “Is here okay?”
“It is for me, but how about you, Rena?” Not raising her head, Rena shook her head. Caught off guard, Olivia looked at Leon. “Can she walk?”
He nodded. “She can walk, but she’s had quite a work out this morning between occupational and physical therapy. She may be more comfortable resting in the chair a bit longer. Her legs and feet are supported and don’t have to rest on the floor. Is that okay?”
“It most certainly is.” Olivia knelt down in front of Rena. “This meeting is about you and for you, angel, so by all means I want you to be as comfortable as possible. Okay?” Rena responded with a slight nod of her head. Rising, Olivia reached out to shake Leon’s hand. “Thank you for helping us out today, Leon. I appreciate your time.”
Leon returned her smile, but was slow to release Olivia’s hand. “You’re welcome. Anytime. I was told you’ll also arrange for Rena’s transportation home today, correct?
“That’s correct, Leon. I have all the information right here,” she responded while patting the file folder.
“Great. Take good care of our special girl.” He bent down close to Rena’s ear. “See you tomorrow morning, Princess.” She raised her head and rewarded him with a faint smile, and a barely audible, “Okay. Bye, Leon,” and Olivia didn’t know how she was going to make it through the interview.
Removing another of the chairs from the table, Olivia sat down and pulled the cafeteria tray so that it sat between her and Rena. “I wasn’t sure what you liked Rena, but I know I get a little hungry during the late morning and thought you might be too. There’s chocolate milk, orange soda and a bottle of water. And I got chocolate chip cookies, french fries and celery and carrot sticks. It’s a weird combination, I know…but I’m a little weird like that. So what would you-…”
“Is my daddy dead?”
Olivia felt the instant sting of tears and took a couple of deep breaths. “Why would you think that, Rena?”
“Because the last time I was taken into a room to meet someone, they told me my mommy was dead. Did my daddy die too?”
Feeling as though all the air had been sucked out of the room, Olivia leaned forward and folded her arms on the table. Taking yet another deep breath, she spoke slowly, “Sweetie, I have not met your father yet. But according to my information, he’s still in the hospital and very much alive.” She watched Rena’s body visibly sag and reached out and squeezed her hand. This poor kid had been in a ball of knots thinking she was about to hear about the death of her surviving parent. “When was the last time you got to visit your dad, Rena?”
“I’ve only been once, and he was in a coma and didn’t know I was there.”
“Have you spoken to him on the phone?”
“No. They said he needed his rest.”
Olivia felt her blood pressure sky rocket. She shuffled the file documents around trying to calm down. Idiots! Everyone involved was an idiot! Every medical journal on the planet espoused the merits of involving family and loved ones in any course of wellness treatment, yet this small family devastated by loss and injury was being purposely kept apart. Things hadn’t changed much in twenty-eight years, she thought bitterly.
Olivia leaned back in her chair and noticed the sad eyes staring at her intently. “Forgive me, angel. Was just trying to get my bearings. Rena, do you know what an attorney is?”
“Yes. A lawyer.”
“Right! And do you know what lawyers do?”
“Sue people.” Olivia sputtered, then threw her head back and laughed. She could feel the tension easing in her body.
“You are correct…and just too smart for me.”
The sad eyes brightened just a bit, and the Mona Lisa smile returned. “Angel, lawyers represent you in legal situations. They go to school to study the law and learn to interpret it to help, and yes…sometimes sue people.”
The smile was growing – teeth were almost visible. “I am an attorney, Rena, and more importantly, I am YOUR attorney. The court appointed me to work for you.”
Rena frowned. You work for me? Do I need to sue someone?”
“No, angel, you don’t. But sometimes there are situations where a judge wants to know what a child thinks or what that child wants. Because you lost your mommy and your daddy is still in the hospital, this is one of those situations. I will talk to you, anyone you think I should talk to, plus your dad and the people involved in his life besides you. But even though I talk to all of these people, I am still bound by law to report first and foremost what it is you want. Please understand, the court tries to make sure the child is happy, or at least satisfied, but sometimes they will decide against the child. It doesn’t mean they do not believe or agree with you, but their decision also has to be backed up by the laws we live by. Am I making sense?”
Rena nodded. “Yes, you’re my voice.”
Shaking her head, Olivia grinned. “How about if you be the attorney, and I’ll be the kid?”
Rena responded with a nod. “Okay…but only if I can have the orange soda…and the celery and carrots sticks!”
Passing her the soda, Olivia narrowed her eyes. “I knew you were going to be trouble.” She was sure her heart skipped a beat when she heard audible laughter. “Well, fine! I guess I’ll just sacrifice my hips and eat these horrible french fries and yucky chocolate chips cookies then.”
“I want some of those too!” Rena giggled.
“I think it’s only fair to warn you, Rena Averest, that I will shamelessly fight a kid over food. I’m just sayin’.” That got her a full blown grin from her young client.
“You’re too nice to fight anyone. Now pass the fries.” They both laughed. The tension that enveloped the room not thirty minutes ago was now bearable, and Olivia knew without a doubt, she would fight someone to keep a smile on Rena’s face.
Olivia lost track of time and had no idea of how long she had cried in her hallway. It had been years since she felt this overwhelmed. Again, she thought about finding a therapist to try and work through the darkness in her mind, but once again, she quickly vetoed the idea. Olivia had attempted counseling twice while in college and both times were exercises in futility. With each visit, she felt more positive, more in control. She knew she was moving forward. But sharing the story of her violent beating and physical attack in her mid-teens seemed to undermine her sessions and distract her therapists both times. From that point on they would each focus on the sex and encourage Olivia to be more open and honest about sex. Olivia couldn’t deal with the foolishness. Her problems didn’t not start the day she was beaten and attacked. Her problems began when her father was killed in a car accident – she knew THAT much. After one or two more sessions each time, she withdrew from counseling. The second therapist had made an eerily prophetic comment at their last meeting. “I’m sorry we won’t be continuing, Olivia, but regardless, the root of your anxiety and internal pain will not go away until you force it into the light and confront it.”
Olivia didn’t believe him. At least, she didn’t want to. She focused on her studies, graduated with honors and moved on to law school without missing a beat. Olivia immersed herself in public interest law, always focusing on any class, conference and academic group dealing with child welfare. Impressed with a paper Olivia had written taking the entire foster care system to task, one of her professors passed her name and the paper on to a good friend of his, a judge. Robert Dennison couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen knowledge of the law, practicality and passion so smoothly blended. He asked the professor to arrange a meeting simply so he could meet the author of the paper, but by the end of the meeting, he had offered Olivia Chandler an intern position in his office. Judge Dennison was a high profile, influential judge and the internship was coveted by many – seniors, first year graduates and even second year associates. For it to be given to a junior – the young, soft-spoken African American woman who always knew all the answers when called on in class – immediately made Olivia’s name part of the legal world buzz, and sent her life into high gear. Everyone wanted to study with her. Her opinion was always sought on pending cases. She was asked to chair several committees.
Olivia took it all in stride, and added it to the experience column. She didn’t think she was that much smarter than anyone. She had the advantage by not having a personal life. No parties, no meeting friends for dinners, no sporting events, and very few dates. Olivia never even pledged the leading female legal-focused sorority (and they tried everything to get her), because she feared the girly get-togethers and the chatty sessions about life and families. She knew she had nothing positive to offer. She could just imagine all the sharing – “My mom took me to the mall and bought me the coolest pair of shoes”, or “My mom made lasagna while I was home…she knows it’s my favorite.” When it came her turn, she didn’t think, “I didn’t see my mom. She’s locked away in a mental institution” would add to the positive flow of the conversation.
Still, Olivia’s mood always became darkest during the times meant to be spent with family. She did have some place to go though, thanks to Willis Benson. She could go home, to the house her father intended for her to grow up in. Sometimes, the echoes of memories past would cause the stinging needle prick sensations in her hands, and breathing would become difficult. Stumbling down the hallway, Olivia would sit on the floor and lean against the door to her late father’s office. It always made the anxiety fade away, and Olivia felt…safe. No one and nothing could touch her when she was home. There, she was a ten-year-old girl again…protected by the dead.
Sighing wistfully and deciding to prepare for the next day, Olivia entered her spacious walk-in closet. Moving past all the black and grey business suits, past the pinstripes and hounds tooth ensembles, Olivia stopped in front of her more colorful apparel. By the time she met a child, they had already seen more than their share of dark business suits. Bright, vibrant colors improved their mood and attitude, and Olivia already had the obstacles of a child who had been seriously injured, lost her mother, and had no idea how her father was. Her eyes snapped to the silk Armani, and Olivia nodded to herself. The black flared skirt would allow her to move around unencumbered, and the soft pink jacket was welcoming and friendly without making her look like a piece of Tutti Frutti Bubblicious. She moved the garment to the valet near her dressing table, snagging a three-inch pair of black pumps from the shelf along the way.
As she turned away from the dressing table, Olivia froze at the sight of her reflection in the large bronze framed mirror. While very particular about her appearance, Olivia Chandler very rarely looked at herself in the mirror. She made sure every hair was in place, garment lines were straight, and everything was snapped, buttoned, zipped or tucked as it should be. But, she never looked into her own eyes. She didn’t know if it was self-doubt, self-hate, or self-pity, but the mask she successfully wore in front of others never held up to her own scrutiny. Olivia wondered exactly what others saw when they looked at her. Men always gave appreciative glances, but Olivia was pretty sure that was more because of her bra size and plump butt than anything else. Women often complimented her perfectly round honey brown eyes and dark brown hair that fell three or four inches past her shoulders when she allowed it. Olivia usually wore her hair in what Margot called her “school marm bun.” She had admired several shorter styles on other women that she thought about trying…except, she had long ago made a promise. Closing her eyes, Olivia reached back for the memory.
“A woman’s hair is her crowning glory. Never cut your hair, Livvie…ever.”
“I promise, Daddy.”
Of the few clear memories she could still recall, Olivia knew that Benjamin Chandler never wanted her to cut her hair. And except for regular trims, she hadn’t. One of the few times she had talked back to an adult was when foster mom, Myra Coffey, a truly mean and offensive woman who always made it a point to tell Olivia how much extra work she created for her, threatened to shave Olivia’s head because combing out her extremely thick hair was so time-consuming. Before the woman was even finished speaking, Olivia had jumped up from the chair she was sitting in, and turned and faced the woman, nearly growling, “No one cuts my hair, ever. If it’s too much for you, I’ll do it myself.” Olivia then stormed from the room before the stunned woman could reply. Just before she reached her back bedroom, the Coffey’s college-age daughter, Jeannie, home for the weekend – and the only family member Olivia liked, pulled Olivia into her bedroom and closed the door. After calming Olivia down, Jeannie patiently combed out the tween’s hair, then styled it into large block braids. Jeannie gave her a scarf and told her to tie her hair up “tight, tight, tight” every night, and a jar of olive oil crème she was to rub into her scalp 2-3 times a week. Jeannie said she’d be home again in three weeks, and would help Olivia wash and re-braid her hair.
Olivia never saw Jeannie again. Myra Coffey had put in a call to DCS complaining that Olivia had spoken to her in a “threatening and disrespectful” manner, and she wanted Olivia out of her house. When Olivia arrived home from school Monday afternoon, she saw the dusty Ford Taurus in the driveway and knew Rosalind Jenkins was waiting for her inside. She entered the home to the glares of the two women, and passed by them without a word to pack her few meager belongings. Returning to the living room, Olivia couldn’t resist throwing one last menacing glance in Myra’s direction. Proceeding back to the front door, Olivia took a guarded step backwards when Myra jumped up and blocked her path.
“Not so fast. I need to check those bags to make sure you’ve taken nothing that doesn’t belong to you.” Myra reached for the battered suitcase and large black trash bag, but Olivia took another step backwards and held them out of her reach.
“I am not a thief, and there is nothing in this house worth embarrassing myself over.” Stepping around Myra, Olivia said, “I’ll wait next to the car” loud enough for Rosalind Jenkins to hear. She knew the two women would talk about her badly, but she was past caring. Sitting her bags down, Olivia leaned against the car and waited for Rosalind Jenkins, wondering what she’d have to deal with at the next foster home.
Opening her eyes, Olivia stared at her reflection, disgusted by the haunted eyes staring back at her. “This is not about you, Chandler, and don’t you dare screw up! If you can’t deal with it, just bury it deep down. You’re good at that.”
Nodding at herself, Olivia decided to return to the kitchen for another look at the Averest file.
I’m getting pretty excited! About to finally hand this manuscript over to my editor – whew! This has been a long journey, but I’ve enjoyed it all!
Next up – cover reveal and pre-orders!
Today’s snippet reveals a bit more about the mindset of attorney Olivia Chandler.
*Unedited and subject to revisions.
Olivia wasn’t sure how long she had been standing in the doorway to her office, lost in memories from so long ago. Willis Benson had been true to his word and kept her father’s estate intact. Because of Willis, she had this home…the home her daddy had built for his family. Willis’ dogged efforts had also made Olivia a wealthy woman. She still had issues with spending money on herself, and usually found a way to discreetly spend it on others in need.
She turned and glanced at the closed door across the hall. She walked over and touched the cool cherry wood. Her father’s office. While Livvie had made a concerted effort to redecorate the entire house after she graduated from law school, Ben’s office remained untouched. Everything was nearly exactly the way he left it the morning before the accident.
Livvie only entered the room once or twice a year to dust or…during a thunderstorm. Terrified of storms as a child, Ben first tried to console Livvie with the explanation that thunder was just the angels bowling, but his baby girl was entirely too sharp for that. Talk soon turned to cumulonimbus clouds, gusty winds, heavy rain and sometimes hail. Whether she was calmed by science, or simply just being with him, Livvie never figured out. But now, all these years later, she could feel his presence closest when she curled up in his favorite chair and watched the rain dance across the window.
She lovingly ran her hand over the headrest of the chair. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply and was sure she could still smell hints of his aftershave, woodsy and pine with just a hint of citrus.
Livvie sat down in the chair and covered her face with her hands. Why couldn’t she just be normal? She had a life Ben would approve of. Well, she had a profession he would approve of since she followed in his footsteps. But she didn’t have a life. She didn’t have friends over for gourmet dinners and game night. She rarely visited anyone’s home when invited, always begging off because of a work overload. Once or twice a month…at Margo’s pleadings, Olivia would stop into Overruled, the local watering hole frequented by the courthouse crowd. She would have her usual one glass of Sweet Red, while fending off advances, propositions and quick feel ups by an assortment of tipsy attorneys, judges and clerks. She never took offense, nor did she take any of them seriously…which of course, Margo said was her problem.
“Olivia, if you don’t even open up your mind to the possibilities, how will you ever make a connection or find The One?”
“Oh Margo, please! We’re talking about Happy Hour with the same circle of people we work with. I fail to see how someone I want to run over with my car at 10:30 in the morning can become the one I want to spend the rest of my life with at 6:30 in the evening.”
“That’s because at 6:30 in the evening, alcohol is involved. Um…wait. With some of these guys, alcohol is involved at 10:30 in the morning too!”
Olivia allowed herself to smile remembering one of countless conversations with her dauntless assistant.
She glanced around the room and her eyes fell on the cherry oak book case next to the desk. Moving before she realized it, Olivia was out of the chair and heading for the book case. She knelt before it and open the doors below the shelves. Olivia pulled the large black photo album out and ran her fingers over it, almost reverently. Sitting down on the floor, she slowly opened the front cover. The first photo was of her parents on their wedding day. ‘Benjamin Foster Chandler and Sarina Lenora Baker, united in marriage, November 3, 1966.’ They looked so happy. Her father seemed to radiate male pride, his arm curled around the waist of his new, beautiful wife. Olivia had seen this photo hundreds of times over the years, but for the first time, she really looked at her mother. Her joy was obvious, but there was a look in Sarina’s eyes that Olivia had never noticed before. Frowning, she tried to define it and could only come up with…relief. Resting her chin on her hand, Olivia’s mind raced as she wondered why her mother would be relieved on her wedding day. Maybe nervous jitters, all the pre-wedding preparations and endless to-do lists. That had to be it.
Turning more pages in the album, Olivia saw photo after photo of her parents celebrating each wedding anniversary, always smiling…always hopeful. She knew what was coming after the ninth wedding anniversary photo. Olivia broke into a wide grin while she stared at the page. ‘Olivia Louise Chandler, born June 22, 1976, 3:14 AM, 6 pounds, 0 ounces, 22 inches long, Parents – Benjamin F. Chandler & Sarina B. Chandler.’ Even as a newborn, the features she received from each of her parents stood out. She had her mother’s light brown eyes with flecks of gold and dark brown with her dad’s thick, bushy eyebrows. Her high ‘chipmunk’ cheekbones screamed Sarina Chandler just as her thick full lips said Benjamin Chandler. Olivia wondered what they saw when they looked at her. Had they seen themselves? Had they seen the future? Were they looking forward to school dances, graduations and grandchildren? Slamming the album shut, Olivia returned it to the shelf and quickly stood. She had been cheated. Her parents had been cheated. Her daddy always told her that life was not fair…he told her a lot of things. It was as though he knew he wouldn’t be there for her.
Giving herself a mental shake, Olivia walked to the office door, but turned to glance around the office. I wish I knew what I’m supposed to do. Raising her eyes heavenward, she smiled. “Sure could use a bit of your wisdom now, daddy.”
Pulling the door closed, she padded across the hall to her office and settled in for a long evening of work.
Rosalind Jenkins never planned to be a social worker. It was extremely ironic that she ended up in the Department of Children’s Services since children were the reason her marriage ended, and the love of her life walked away. Or rather, the lack of children. What she first believed was a small case of stomach flu ended up being cervical cancer. Six days later, she had no womb and no chance to ever have children of her own. Her husband told her it didn’t matter. They would adopt, or simply spend their life together loving and cherishing each other.
Less than a year later he was gone, saying he’d fallen in love with a woman who wanted children as much as he did.
Of course, Rosalind dealt with depression. But she maintained her composure. She lived a solitary life, still teaching voice at a small, exclusive girl’s academy. However, just 10 ½ short months later, after hearing that her former husband and his new wife had just become parents, Rosalind broke. Unable to function and carry out her duties, the girl’s academy had to let her go.
Rosalind stayed locked away in her home for three months. Her sadness and depression festering…growing into anger and bitterness. Exhausting her savings, Rosalind knew she needed to find a job or sell her house. Calling an old friend from college for job leads, she was instead given the contact information for a manager with the Department of Children’s Services. Her friend assured Rosalind that with her degrees and years of experience, she would definitely be offered a position and above entry-level pay.
And she was.
Rosalind performed well at her new job, and her supervisors were pleased. Her reports were always complete and filed on time. But Rosalind was not good at her job. She lacked the empathy and compassion essential to help children who were as broken as she was, and to educate and assist parents in bettering their situations to maintain a safe loving home for their children. Instead, Rosalind loathed the parents for being able to have children so easily, then carelessly and recklessly make them a part of recurring domestic violence situations, drug addictions, and keeping them in dilapidated housing where frequently, there was no utilities.
And the children? Rosalind detested them for even being born. More often than not…right or wrong, Rosalind Jenkins removed more children from their homes than anyone else in the department. For the next twelve years, the irreparably broken and bitter case manager did nothing else but her job. Rosalind made no friends and lost touch with the few she’d had. She didn’t have a pet, or even a television. Spurred on by the always smoldering rage deep inside her, Rosalind poured over case files and department policies, seeking new ways to separate families and keep them apart.
It was this unbalanced, spiteful woman who walked into the hospital room of a barely conscious ten-year-old Livvie Chandler. Four days after losing her father, and while her mother still remained in a coma, Rosalind Jenkins would forever change the course of the little girl’s life.
Rosalind Doria (Chesney) Jenkins
DOB: December 9, 1952
Place of Birth: Lynn Woods, Massachusetts
Divorced, no children
Level 5 Social Worker/Case Manager with Minnesota DCS
As best friends to Duncan Averest and his late wife, Irene, Courtney and Marissa Bellamy knew they would stand by Duncan. Whatever it took to help him through the loss of his wife and the serious injuries sustained by him and daughter, Rena, the Bellamys would do. And, as Rena’s godparents, of course she would live with them until her father was well enough to take care of her. They took their vows as godparents very seriously. But someone is trying to stop them. Someone is trying to keep them away from Duncan and make sure Rena gets sent into the foster care system.
Court-appointed child advocate attorney Olivia Chandler is the answer to their prayers. They’re moved by her genuineness and promise to “do right by Rena.” There seems to be an immediate bond between the attorney and her young client, and Marissa cannot help but wonder if it has more to do with the flashes of sadness she sees in Olivia’s eyes than with simple job commitment.
The instant interest in Olivia by his cousin, Bruce, hasn’t been lost on Courtney. Abandoned by his ex-wife when their children were mere toddlers, Bruce hasn’t shown little more than a passing, casual interest in any woman since. Olivia will be spending quite a bit of time with the Bellamy family in the near future, and Courtney thinks it’s just enough time to do a bit of matchmaking. And, where you find Courtney…you find Marissa.
Let the games begin!
Courtney Ardan and Marissa Anne (Prescott) Bellamy
Met in Botany 101 during their freshman year of college
Married November 30, 1994
Two sons – Bishop, 18 and Brian, 16
Courtney works in IT/Computer Systems for the local school district, Marissa is head of Library Sciences for Hennepin County Public Libraries
Courtney (Caucasian) and Marissa (African-American) are an Interracial couple who haven’t suffered much of the disdain shown to interracial couples by society due to their steadfast commitment to each other and the love and total support of their families.
Both LOVE Halloween and always dress up as a couple/pair, i.e. Raggedy Ann/Raggedy Andy, Rocky/Bullwinkle, Soup/Salad (they won first place at the school district employee Halloween party), and Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum (The argument is ongoing on over who was Tweedle Dum)
Dynamic and vivacious Margot Schultz never met an obstacle she couldn’t overcome…or knock down. Executive assistant to Olivia Chandler, Margot always seems to know the right amount of charm, wit, and panache to use when dealing with anyone from grumpy judges to cagey Department of Children’s Service employees to Olivia’s peers – some of whom are less-than-ethical.
Early in her career, Margot worked for some of the less than-ethical-crowd. While they could be gods and magicians in the courtroom, pulling out wins from seemingly unwinnable cases, outside the courtroom was another matter. Margot could remember each and every personal errand she’d had to do, each gift she’d had to buy for multiple girlfriends and mistresses, and every lie she’d told to one of her bosses’ wives.
When Margot heard through the courthouse grapevine that the executive secretary of a successful young, female child advocate attorney was retiring for health reasons and had no replacement, she grabbed her resume, took an extended lunch and went in search of Olivia Chandler. Despite her unusual approach, Margot and Olivia clicked immediately.
The two women have worked side by side for ten years. Olivia admired Margot’s work ethic. She encouraged Margot to continue her education when time allowed, and even paid for it, calling it a ‘sound investment.’ Margot would eventually advance from executive legal secretary to executive assistant and office manager.
Margot knows Olivia has no family and was a foster care kid. She doesn’t know the intimate details, but she does know Olivia’s adolescence was bad enough for Olivia to keep herself closed off to most people. Her boss seems to ‘live’ when focused and working on a case for their minor clients. The rest of the time, Olivia just seems to exist.
The divorced office manager is not one of those people who believe a woman needs a man in her life to be complete, but Bruce Bellamy has suddenly appeared in Olivia’s life, and Margot will do her part to keep him there.
Things are going to get interesting.
Margot Rose (Parker) Schultz
Age: She’s not telling – but probably mid to late 40s
Born: New York, New York
Marital Status: Divorced – has adult twin sons who are both Marines
Is two classes away from a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management
Loves to dance and can be found on a dance floor most Saturday nights
Collects souvenirs from the Roaring 20s – always says she would have made a great Flapper
Plays acoustic guitar, but rarely does as it reminds her of her musician ex-husband
Is somewhat estranged from her parents and siblings since she dropped out of college nearly 30 years ago to elope with her now ex-husband
A former amateur race car driver, and current owner of a successful chain of auto repair shops, Bruce Bellamy is a cousin to Rena Averest’s current caregivers. He and Olivia meet for the first time when she gives Rena a ride home from physical therapy, and he is there trying to diagnose the problem with his cousin’s car.
Bruce is instantly smitten with the attorney. Her voluptuousness pulls him right in, but it’s the guarded sadness in her eyes that propels him to get to know her. She has a beautiful smile, and he thinks she should use it more often.
The easy going business owner has been alone for nearly two decades, when his ex-wife walked away from him and their four children in search of a more affluent lifestyle. Her callous, mercenary heart caused him to close his off, and he’s not been in a relationship since, nor had any involvement with women worth mentioning, choosing instead to concentrate on raising his children and making his business successful. So when Olivia gets his attention, the entire Bellamy clan takes notice, and proceeds to help him win her over.
Having spent her adult life avoiding romantic entanglements, Olivia knows she’s walking a tight rope by allowing Bruce to get too close. Rena’s case has brought Olivia’s childhood back to the forefront of her mind, making her believe she has nothing to offer Bruce.
He seems to think otherwise.
Bruce Ambrose Bellamy
DOB: June 28, 1972
Place of Birth: Duluth, Minnesota
Has four (adult) children
Owns a chain of successful auto repair shops
Loves ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘Married with Children’ reruns
Has a BA and MA in Business earned while attending night, and online classes
Hates golfs and considers it pointless
Loves football and is a diehard Minnesota Vikings Fan