The Forensics Expert

Author’s Note: And here we have the appearance of the other new character. He’s kind of essential to this mystery, but he’s also fun to write and see interacting with the others.

The Forensics Expert

She smiled, reaching up to touch his cheek. The sound of a car driving over the gravel made them turn, though she had to admit it made her uneasy. She had expected the Airstream. This was very much not an Airstream, though she could appreciate it for what it was.

After all, it wasn’t like a Pontiac Catalina was something to sniff at, not from the sound of that V8 engine. She thought it was a sixty-four, and damned if the convertible didn’t make her drool a little. Now she was jealous, but for an entirely different reason.

The car stopped short of them, and a man got out, frowning as he did. His dark jacket caught the breeze, and he looked almost like he belonged in an advertisement for a Bond movie or something, he just had that air of don’t mess with me, from the clothes to the sunglasses hiding his eyes and his glower. She didn’t recognize him, and someone with a car like that would be known to most car club members, at least around here.

“Oh, hell,” Carson said, and she frowned as she turned to him. He knew this guy? This… had nothing to do with his bad job interview, right?

“Is Mrs. Brendt here?”

Mackenna nodded. “She is. Somewhere. She wandered off to make a phone call, and I haven’t seen her for a bit. Can I help you?”

He shook his head. “Unlikely.”


“You so haven’t changed, have you?” Carson asked, and the man looked over at him. “I… Okay, maybe your glare is even more intimidating than it was in high school. You haven’t lost that, that’s for sure. Still the same you idiots are not worth my time look you used to give all us farm boys.”

“Am I supposed to know you?”

“Unless I’ve mistaken you for someone else and you’re not Sennet Landry, but you were kind of hard to forget. Maybe I am, though. Of course, you were actually in Nick’s grade, I think, but you were kind of memorable. A genius lost in a bunch of hicks… you hated it there, and we all knew it. Um… That is… Hi. I’m Carson Koslow. This is my wife, Mackenna. You’re on her family’s land.”

Carson held out his hand, but the other man made no move to shake it.

“Koslow. The one who had the cadaver dogs. Yes. That should have been more memorable.”

Mackenna blinked. Wow. This guy was something. Everything Smith had implied and a bit more. She hadn’t expected Carson to know him, but that just made it worse, didn’t it?

“Sennie, there you are!” Dorie called out as she came back into sight, rushing over with Smith having stopped as soon as she got near. “Oh, I knew today was a good day to call.”

“Not particularly.”

Dorie seemed to ignore that, though it wasn’t the only thing she was ignoring. Mackenna could tell her face was red and puffy, like she’d been crying, which would explain why the other two women had disappeared for as long as they had.

She clapped her hands together, still keeping up her excited act. “We really do need your expertise, Sennie, as usual.”

“How many times must I ask you not to call me that, Mrs. Brendt?”

“At least as many times as I have to ask you not to call me ‘Mrs. Brendt.’ I’ve told you it’s Dorie. Or Dorinda if you must be formal. And I swear, if I never hear the name Brendt again, it will be too soon. Stupid cradle robbing bastard. I… Where did I put that box now? Oh, goodness. I think I left it over in the field. Excuse me.”

“Wait, isn’t this it?” Carson asked, reaching for what Smith was holding. She pulled it back out of reach, and he frowned at her. “It is, so why is—”

“Her ex-husband’s new girlfriend is pregnant, so he’s trying to get out of paying Dorie alimony. She… didn’t take that news very well, and I wouldn’t say anything except… well, she is acting weird, so I… Some explanation was necessary.” Smith took a breath and walked over to the Catalina. “Here. This is what she thinks we need your help with, though I don’t think we actually do.”

He took it, holding it up and turning it around in his hand. “I can see why you have your doubts. This seems like an ordinary trinket box to me. I’d estimate it’s at least fifty years old, but beyond that, why is it of any interest?”

“We found it in a car no one can explain. Or, rather… Mackenna and her husband did. Dorie brought the car here to assess for restoration while I’m still trying to track down who owned it. And you know Dorie. She gets excited about any small find. It really didn’t need you.”

“Likely not,” he agreed. “Still, I can run the usual tests.”

“You’re not going to open it?” Mackenna asked, and he turned to her. She found that look unsettling, especially with the glasses. “Okay, so we were all kind of curious about it. I think it may even have been hidden in the door panel before the soft part was eaten away by mice, which does make it more interesting than you think. If we weren’t afraid we’d damage whatever was in there when we opened it, we would probably have already done it.”

“Dorie did say you might want samples from where they found it.”

He nodded. “That would be best, and any further assessment of the vehicle would contaminate any findings, so it would be better to get them now if it proves necessary. Here, Strawberry. Hold this.”

Smith flushed as red as the name he just gave her, looking like she wanted to curl up and die on the spot. He didn’t even see it as he went around to his trunk and opened it up, taking out a metal case that looked almost like a tacklebox.

He carried it over to the front of his car. “Which door?”

The History Expert

Author’s Note: This is a part of the introduction to one of the new characters. They’ve shown some interesting lights on Mackenna and Carson as well as helping with the mystery.

The History Expert

“Dorie said she’d be right over,” Mackenna reported, watching Carson as he frowned at her. She tried to force a smile. She’d been hoping for a bit more time to look at the box, but it seemed like Dorie might be here at any second.

“I guess I can get the box out. Do you have the pictures ready? Not that I want to show everyone the ones where I fall over like an idiot—don’t smirk at me, you knew exactly what would happen when you insisted on me opening the door—but they’ll want to see where it was and how it fell.”

Mackenna reached up to touch his cheek. “Don’t think I didn’t appreciate what you did in opening the door for me. And I think that if we hadn’t done it how we did, we might not have found that box until the interior was being restored, and since I don’t even know that I’m getting the job yet, not for sure, that could have been a long time from now. Or even… not at all considering that they might have chosen just to junk the car instead of looking into restoring it.”

Carson nodded. “Yes, and that would have been a true shame. It’s hard to see so much history abandoned because of a little difficulty.”

She tilted her head and studied him. “Is this really the same man who drove into my yard with a rare antique and thought it might be best as scrap metal?”

“That’s not fair. I had no idea what it was worth then, but I do now. And I have a much better appreciation for history than I did before, too,” Carson said, and she tried to hold back laughter at his pout. She knew it wasn’t fair to tease—he had no way of knowing how precious Phantom was when he first came, but now that he did, he treasured it and all he’d learned in the time he spent with her. She knew that—and she loved him for it.

“I know,” she told him, pulling him close for a kiss. A horn interrupted them, and she frowned. Could Dorie already be here? She’d said she wouldn’t be long, but that was no time at all.

“If that’s her, you’d better greet her,” Carson told her. “I’ll be along in a minute with the box.”

Mackenna nodded, heading to the door. She wasn’t happy about being interrupted or at losing her chance to look at the box again, but she’d live. She didn’t have to see the box—so long as she got a promise out of Dorie to tell her what was in it.

“Hello, again!” Dorie called, in a much better mood today than she’d been yesterday, though yesterday Mackenna had stumbled onto the mine-field of the other woman’s divorce, so it wasn’t that unexpected. “I’ve brought a bit of an expert with me today. I hope you don’t mind.”

“An expert?”

“Don’t exaggerate, Dorie. That’s not what I am,” another woman said, coming around the car. Mackenna forced herself not to react too strongly. Strangers were seldom welcome, not around her at least, not after those years with her aunt, but this one seemed harmless enough, a rather dainty girl in comparison to both her and Dorie, wearing a dress that somehow mixed business with cute. Her hair shifted from light brown to a near pink red in the sunlight.

She was pretty, delicate in ways Mackenna had never been and never would be, and there was a small, irrational part of her that tensed up over it, not sure how Carson would react to seeing this woman. Would she be more attractive to him than Mackenna was?

She hated herself for thinking it, but then she’d never really been in a position to be jealous of him, whereas he’d already fretted over losing her to his older brother or someone else. She supposed it might be her turn, and better to get it out of the way quickly rather than let it drag on and fester, right?

Carson touched her arm as he joined her outside. “I’ve got the box and—Oh. We really do have company.”

“Mackenna, Carson, this is—”

“I’d rather you didn’t give them my name, thank you.”

Mackenna blinked in surprise, aware that Carson looked equally confused at the newcomer’s abruptness. She wasn’t sure what to think of this woman at all. Mackenna might not be the best with people, but somehow got the sense this woman didn’t mean to upset them and was more awkward socially than either she or Carson was. She seemed kind, and maybe being rude was unintentional.

Blushing, she winced. “I’m sorry. It’s just… my parents gave me one of those ‘cutesy’ names, and everyone goes on and on about how it is cute and how it fits me because I’m cute—that’s my younger brother, but that’s not the point—I don’t like people using it, but Dorie goes and tells everyone what it is and I can’t get any work done because people are either snickering or asking me how I got that name and I really would rather they used my last name or none at all.”

That both explained it and didn’t at the same time. “I sometimes go by ‘Mac’ instead Mackenna, but that’s not quite the same. And Carson’s not always fond of being Carson because his brothers teased him and gave him all the die cast cars, but that’s still not on your level.”

“I know. And I know saying what I did just makes you more curious about my name, but please… just call me Smith.”

Mackenna stared. Wasn’t that supposedly the most popular last name in the country? That was what she’d rather be known as? “Really?”

Dorie smiled. “I’ve been trying to get her to use Moneypenny as a nickname, but she keeps refusing.”

She might be pouting a little. “I am a records clerk, not a secretary, and there is definitely no James Bond around here.”

“Maybe a Q.”

“Don’t even start.” Smith shuddered, which made Dorie smile and left Mackenna wondering just what that in-joke was about, though neither woman offered an explanation.

“This is an odd little box,” Dorie said, accepting it from Carson’s hand. “Smith doesn’t recognize it in the research she’s done, and I haven’t seen one like it. We might need to get some analysis done on it. Did you open it?”

“No, though it was tempting,” Mackenna said. “Carson reminded me how that could damage anything inside it, so all I did was take pictures of it—I have some when it fell out on him and where we think it must have been in the car, but we’re not sure why anyone would have hidden it in the door panel.”

Dorie turned it over in her hands and finally held it out to Smith. “Any thoughts?”

Smith shook her head. “I don’t recognize it. There’s not any mention of the car or this box in anything I’ve seen, not in photographs or the documents that exist. We also didn’t find anyone that remembers, but most of the ones who would know of that time are already dead or their fate is unknown. I’ve done as much research into the car as I can, but between his dementia and the split in the family and all that was lost because of that, it’s hard to be sure.”

“Split?” Mackenna asked, not sure what Smith was talking about, though Dorie hadn’t given her much information about the car, so she was curious.

Smith nodded. “Um… It… It’s kind of complicated.”

My Light Is You

Author’s Note: I knew this scene was what I wanted to do with the lyrics from Do You Believe? I did, but I didn’t know how to get right, and having put it down on paper, it still feels wrong. The end was hard to do, and I don’t know that this would make the final version of the book, but this does at least get my intent across.

My eyes will open to the darkness
And in the darkness will be you
And in the darkness my only light is you
And in the darkness the light is in your eyes

My Light Is You

She was trapped. Her nails scraped along the metal, fingers finding no purchase as she tried to free herself. She couldn’t get out, couldn’t make anything move. She couldn’t breathe, the air was so thin and she could practically feel it disappearing. She couldn’t get enough breath in her lungs, and panic had taken hold of her, making her want to scream and cry and pound on the walls.

Someone had to hear her. They had to let her out. She just needed some help. She could get out, she could still make it. She could live. She would get out of here. She just needed a little more time, a little more air… If someone would just hear her…

“Mackenna, wake up.”

She heard Carson’s voice and looked around in confusion. The room was too dark. They’d actually fallen asleep in bed for a change, not on the couch or one of the cars, and it was almost black in here with those curtains. She normally preferred that over shadows—she only slept in full light or full darkness—but not tonight.


He leaned over her, and she couldn’t see much, just his eyes, which should have been creepy, but it was good to know he was there.

“You had the nightmare this time,” he said, reaching over to brush back some of her hair. “I had a hard time waking you. Are you… Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed. Not particularly, but she did push him to share his—partially because his involved memories he’d needed to unlock—so she should reciprocate once and a while. “It was… dumb. I just… For some reason, I was… it was me in the trunk, like that man we found… and I was alive when I was put in there, and I couldn’t get out. It was dark. I was trapped. I panicked. It… I feel stupid.”

“Um, no, you’re very intelligent, and we don’t know who he was or how he ended up in the trunk of the car. I’m no expert, and I didn’t get a good look, but we technically only suspect it was a man because of the clothes. It could have been a woman. We’ll have to wait for someone else to tell us that part,” Carson said, being frustratingly logical about it. “And it’s only human to be curious. Your mind was working on the problem while you slept, that’s all.”

She nodded. “I know. I just… I hate feeling like that, hate being so helpless… I swore that wouldn’t be me again after those years in that tenement. I fix things. I don’t… I would never want to be trapped anywhere. I like driving in open cars and not hiding, no small enclosed spaces…”

“Small enclosed arms no good, either?”

She laughed. “Yours are just the right size, not that small, even if you’re not the size of Larry. And if you were trying to hint about holding me, just do it already. I thought I married you for a reason.”

“Hmm. I thought it was for my car.”

“And the funny socks.”

“And those,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close, spooning her against him. “Though I am glad I can be of some service like this.”

She shook her head. He wasn’t just of some service. He was the only reason she was even in here trying to sleep like a normal person. He was a lot more than socks or the antique car they’d be restoring together. No, she wouldn’t say he was everything, not that cliché, but he helped her and she helped him and it mattered.

“Would you like to do something distracting until you can fall asleep again? We can play the song game for a bit if you think it might help.”

“Hmm. I suppose a couple come to mind at the moment.”

“Let’s see… Candle on the Water?”

“That works,” she said. “Try another.”

“Is there a theme here or should I just do another random stab in the dark? Or is that too terrible a pun at the moment?”

“It’s pretty terrible, but you know there’s a bit of comfort in terrible puns, too,” she said, and he nodded before kissing her temple. She smiled. “You do realize you now have to hum the song until I fall asleep again and that could take hours.”

He laughed. “I don’t mind. You’ve seen me through plenty of nightmares. It’s only fair I do it for you, too. Though… are you sure you want the humming? I mean, I like the idea of humming because I’m too tired to come up with anything better, but I think I’m even tone deaf when I hum, so…”

“I like anything that involves your voice,” she admitted. It was soothing, and she was already used to falling asleep to it after their nights on the phone or in person, and she liked it more and more by the day. “Whatever you say or don’t say or hum or anything at all… it’ll probably work.”

“I like your certainty.”

She shrugged. “I already feel better. This… us… the way we talk… it helped.”

He managed to snuggle them even closer, and she closed her eyes, no longer fearing the darkness.

One More Try

Author’s Note: So this part was… a bit hard to pin down because I just wanted to do the two lines and I’d already written these sections and I didn’t want to repeat them, so I ended up deciding to use this instead.

The song for this one was My Rainbow Race, originally by Pete Seeger and covered by Melanie on this album.

I took these two lines as inspiration:

And because I love you
I’ll give it one more try

And really, it doesn’t fit but this part is a start of the mystery, so… that’s something, right?

One More Try

Mackenna stepped back, studying the car again. She needed to get it off the trailer and assess the parts she couldn’t see without better access, but she at least had pictures of the entire thing. She’d have to get them off the camera and view them on the computer to see just how much damage she was looking at, and she would probably need Mac’s input on a lot of them since she had never done this much work to any one car before, not when she helped rebuild Scarlett or even now that Phantom was hers to restore completely.

She looked back at Carson, who was running a hand over the fender, not paying any attention to her. She wasn’t sure where he was, but he was almost smiling, so she didn’t try and pull him out yet. She wanted him to have good memories of restorations, too, not just the trauma that came with the car his father had brought into his life just before his death.

She would have to talk to Larry and Nick again, make sure neither of them had any regrets about letting Carson keep Phantom. He had been willed it by his grandfather, sort of, but the car wasn’t actually his grandfather’s and so he didn’t have the right to will it to Carson.

If his uncle made a fuss about it, things could get ugly, but so far he’d been quiet, probably a bit shamed by his part in the aftermath of everything, but she didn’t know. The man hadn’t had anything to say to them, and if she was honest, she was still angry about him, knowing as much as he had and never saying a damned word. That was low no matter who he’d promised to keep silent for, and since he supposedly never liked Carson, it wasn’t for his sake.
Still, that would have to wait. She wanted to be prompt but thorough with this assessment, and the light would be gone soon. “You want to brave the inside?”

Carson looked up at her. “I don’t know. Do I?”

“It will likely be a bit musty,” she said, thinking of the smells that always seemed to creep into the cars that were stored closed up, not so much either of the Maxwells. The Airstream managed to avoid it because Mac drove it often and kept the air circulating a bit instead of trapped inside constantly with the humidity around them.”

“How is it the glass isn’t in worse shape given the state of the car?” Carson asked, peering at the intact windshield. It was bent at an odd angle with the damage to the roof, but it wasn’t gone.

“Not sure, but it’ll be fun trying to figure it out, that and half a dozen other things,” she said, gesturing to the door. “Open that for me, would you?”

“I’m a bit worried now.”

She snorted. “Oh, please. It’s not like something is going to jump out and bite you. You can see in there. No live animals in sight, not even a spider web. Nothing is lurking to get you. I just figure being a man and all—”

“Now I know I don’t want to do this,” he muttered. “You’re always so determined to prove you can do anything a man can do, so this is going to be bad. Or humiliating. Or both.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, yes, I set up an elaborate prank just to show you up when we are the only ones here. Mac’s at the Legion, and your brothers are at their homes. What purpose could that serve?”

“You have a camera.”

She laughed. “Okay, I do, I admit that, but that is for work. I’m taking pictures of the car prior to doing any work. It helps me know where I started but also what needs to be done, and I can use them to show what I’m talking about when I tell them prices and so on.”

“Easy,” Carson told her. “You don’t have to justify all that to me. Not sure why you’d have to justify it to anyone.”

“There was a man who didn’t want to pay Mac what it actually cost to do the repairs on his car, not one penny over the quoted amount, and it pissed me off because things don’t always go according to plan, especially with rarer cars like this. Parts can get expensive, have to be custom made in many cases. After that, I took pictures of everything. Mac wasn’t a fan of it at first. He didn’t mind a few pictures, but I took hundreds from all angles… spent days getting them he felt were better spent getting to work.”

“As long as you’d taken the pictures of the area, I’m not sure why it would matter if he got started, so why not do it in order of what needed to be done first?”

“I hadn’t learned that lesson yet,” she admitted. “I’m still not very good at it. You’ve seen all the ones with Phantom, how disorganized they are.”

Carson shrugged. “You were pretty focused this time, all the ones from the outside first, now the ones inside. It’s fine.”

“You don’t always have to agree with me.”

“I don’t.” He gave the car another look and frowned. “Are you sure I’m not going to break anything?”

“If you do, we’ll add it to the assessment.”

“And charge them for something I broke?”

“If the door breaks when you open it, they have worse problems than they knew, and it might be something that can’t be fixed. We need to know,” she said. “If you’re really not going to open the door, then you should—”

“Fine,” he said, reaching for the handle and pulling on it. The door didn’t budge. “It’s locked, isn’t it? You let me try to open a locked door.”

Mackenna leaned over to peer in the window. “It doesn’t look locked.”

“You should so have a video camera for this.”

She laughed, “I should. Give it another try, and then if that doesn’t work, we’ll break in.”

“Didn’t that lady tell you if they had keys or tried to open it before?”

“No keys,” Mackenna said. “They can’t explain where this car came from, and they didn’t find any records of it. She didn’t mention trying to open it. I would have if I found it, but I didn’t find it. So here we are, with a door that may be stuck or may be locked, and we’ll have to prove that one way or another.”

Carson sighed. “Okay, fine. One more time, and then you call a locksmith.”

Mackenna had no intention of using one, especially not after what the local one had called her in the past, so she hoped he got it open or even loosened. She didn’t want to discuss that, though it was easier to get into older cars than it was new ones.

“One more time.”

He gave the car door a good yank this time. The metal screeched a bit as it opened, and he stumbled back with it, tripping over his own foot and landing under the door with a groan. Something fell and hit him in the stomach, and she had no choice but to snap a picture of that.

“I hate you.”

“No, you love me. You married me, remember?”

Carson grunted, rolling over and forcing himself up to his hands and knees, well aware that she’d taken several pictures while he recovered from having the wind knocked out of him. Whatever it was that fell out of the car hit hard, and he was not sure he wanted to know what it was. He did know he had to destroy that camera. He could not let her show that to his brothers. They’d use that story against him for years, just like all the others, and they needed no help from her.

He looked down at the object now in between his hands and frowned. Yes, he knew nothing about cars, but he didn’t think that was any part of the car, not in its original state. He picked it up and turned it over, trying to make out what the hell this metal box was.

“What is that?”

“You’re the car expert. The history expert. You tell me,” he said, rocking back and holding it out to her. She took it, and he forced himself up to his feet. He started to lean against the car and stopped, thinking better of it.

“I have no idea,” she said, lifting it up above her head. “I don’t… It seems too small for a jewelry box… for much of any kind of box, but it has hinges here and might even open.”

“You probably shouldn’t,” Carson told her, and she frowned at him. “It might need special treatment to be opened… some kind of historical artifact that will be ruined if it isn’t opened in the right conditions.”

She sighed. “I’m curious now. I want to know what’s in it.”

“Me, too, but if it is significant, we don’t want it ruined, either.”

Mackenna nodded, pushing around him to look at the door. “Where was it? Right by the door?”

Carson stood next to her, eying the space between the remains of the seat and the frame. “I don’t think so. It would have fallen out before I fell, landing on my feet, not my stomach.”

She twisted her lip as she looked around, lifting up the camera and starting on her pictures of the inside. She grimaced when the small box got in the way, passing it back to him. He took it, trying not to think too much about what might be inside and instead focus on her and what she was doing.

“Huh,” he said, looking at the side of the door. She turned back from the camera. He pointed to the door. “Could it have been behind that panel there?”

She took a picture of the space, still frowning. “Maybe, but why would anyone put it there?”

Carson shook his head. “No clue. It just… It might make sense that it fell from there after I got the door open. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought to open that panel, but I think some mice did.”

“Yes, someone’s been at the interior,” Mackenna agreed. “And I kind of agree about the panel. It seems like it must have been there even if it makes no sense that it was. Unless… the driver or owner of the car wanted it hidden. Damn, that just makes me more curious about what’s inside.”

“Call the lady who wanted the estimate and ask her what to do about the stuff we find.”

“I will.”

“You might have to wait until after we go get the Woodsman.”

Mackenna swore. “Why didn’t you remind me? We have to get it going before Mac gets back. He’ll be pissed if we don’t. Come on.”

The Light Under the Door

Author’s Note: I was having trouble with this one as I didn’t like Summer Weaving‘s chorus, but I found other sections of the song that I did like and fit what I’ve been developing (Mac’s subplot) so I went ahead and wrote this.

I focused mainly on these lyrics:

To walk a night into a day that has no reason
Walking past the house of someone else’s season
Gazing at the light on the rim of a tightly closed door
Weave me inside before the winter and I wouldn’t ask for more

The Light Under the Door

Mackenna hesitated in the hallway, looking at the light under the door. By this time at night, Mac was almost always already asleep, so it was strange to see his light still on, strange enough that if it wasn’t this particular time of year, she’d be opening up the door to make sure he hadn’t had a heart attack or something first.

Well, no, she’d be forcing Carson to open it for her, most likely, because she still had issues with men’s bedrooms thanks to her uncle’s suicide, even if it was better now. Carson had helped her over it, to a part, but she still regressed at times, and the idea of finding her grandfather dead—she couldn’t do it. She knew Carson didn’t deserve that image, either, and it would possibly trigger him as much as it did her, but she wasn’t sure she was strong enough to face that twice. Mac wouldn’t be the same, but her uncle’s death wrecked her and her life, and Mac was too important to her now. She could lose it all again. She didn’t know that she could live through that again, for all she could drink the boys under the table and had people wondering about her because she knew her way around cars and other less feminine things.

Someone touched her arm, and she almost jumped out of her skin.

Carson winced. “Sorry. I was just wondering what kept you.”

She gestured to the light under the door. He frowned when he saw it, looking back at her.

“We’re not really keeping him up, are we? I didn’t think we were that noisy, and since I haven’t gone to bed yet, no nightmares. Not from me—or you, for that matter.”

She nodded, taking his hand and leading him away from Mac’s door, back out to the living room. She kept his hand all the way to the couch, where he sat down beside her, letting her use him as a pillow as usual.

“Sorry. I didn’t want him hearing us again.”

“Well, he might have already, but you seem pretty upset, so I’m not so sure I’m worried about what Mac thinks right now.”

She shook her head. “I was fighting my own issues. That’s it. I just… I was concerned by the light, and if it is something else, I’ll hate myself in the morning, but between that horrible day with my uncle and my near certainty that he’s just in there looking at the old photo albums and mourning, I don’t want to disturb him right now.”

Carson nodded. “Right. You said he goes through their entire life together leading up to when she died. That’s… a lot. I—I could go take the heat for you and ask him if he needs anything. Better he’s mad at me for intruding than you.”

“Don’t do that. You don’t have to go making yourself an enemy, not that you are. Mac likes you fine. He just doesn’t show his feelings to many people. That’s why Grandma was special, why it’s so hard for him right now. I feel… guilty, actually. It’s so much easier for me. I loved her, she was my grandma, but I barely knew her in comparison, since my aunt forgot to mention they were still alive and screwed me over like she did. I had a few years with both of them, not nearly as many as I’ve had without her. So I don’t… it’s not as hard for me. And worse… I’m with you. And we’re happy. We’re both giant messes and damaged, but we are good for each other. We have support and love and… he’s so alone. He’s trapped in winter and freezing, but you and me… we’re melting in summer warmth and happiness.”

Carson nodded. “It has been very muggy lately.”

“I didn’t mean it literally.”

He smiled, reaching over to cup her cheek. “I’m teasing. You know I can at least try that sometimes even if I’m not very good at it. I just… You have nothing to feel guilty about. Your grief is not the same as his and never could be. And it’s not wrong to be happy in our marriage even if he’s been widowed. We’ve had enough bad already, we can use some good, and if he were more of the type that talked about stuff like this… he might just tell you that he had plenty of good with her and it’s your turn. I don’t know. I don’t know Mac well enough and he’d hate me putting words in his mouth.”

She curled up closer to Carson. “I think you might be right about it. Though he’d have a different way of saying it.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Carson said. “Still, you might listen to him. He’s a smart man. A good one.”

“So are you.”

He kissed her forehead, and she closed her eyes, knowing they’d probably fall asleep right here like this again and she didn’t mind it one bit. She just wished she knew some way of helping her grandfather, even if he didn’t want it.

Sentiments On and Off the Road

Author’s Note: The last scene I did for these two sort of almost led into this and ties in a bit I wrote ahead of things. I’ve decided to include that, at the last second, though it doesn’t fit the part I wrote prompted by the second song on the album, Between the Road Signs.

In between the road signs and the white lines
And all of the comforts of home
In between the road signs and the sad rhymes
And all of the comforts of home

They’re not on a car run this time (that would have fit well, I suppose) but out in the Maxwell to see Mac, and this happened and it fit. Mostly.

Sentiments On and Off the Road

“You’re singing again.”

“If you had a problem with my singing, you probably should have told me a long time ago,” Mackenna said, shrugging. She didn’t really think it would bother him, since it never had before, though others would argue they hadn’t had that much time to know each other before they hit the point where they were now.

“I didn’t say I minded,” Carson told her, shaking his head and almost losing his hat. He grimaced. “Remind me next time not to let you talk me into this even if I am riding in the Maxwell with you.”

She grinned at him. “Remind me, and we’ll put a strap on it like Mac has for his bowler, okay? I really enjoy the look of you in hats.”

“I think you have warped taste, but fine, I’ll try and remember to remind you,” Carson said. He took the hat off and set it in his lap. “Not going to let the natural air conditioning take the hat, since you’re so very fond of it.”

She laughed. “It’s not the hat. It’s the man wearing the hat. The one with his car and damaged memories and wonderful taste in socks and music as well as women.”

He snorted. “Oh, I see. Flattering yourself, are you?”

“Someone has to. I don’t get nearly enough of that.”

“Oh, please. If we played a drinking game with the guys at the Legion including where we had to drink for every time one of them praised you, even the battle-hardened marines would be down under the table,” Carson said. “They adore you, and you know it.”

“I do,” Mackenna said. They were sweet old men, and she had given some thought to maybe staying with one of them if anything ever happened to her own grandfather, but now she had Carson to think about, and he already had issues staying in her grandfather’s house despite the fact that his apartment was impractical for them.

She had to have a garage no matter where they lived, and she liked being where Mac and the Maxwells were.

“I just was wondering if you always have to sing in the car,” Carson said, and she looked at him. “I mean, I know you don’t do it as much around Mac, but it seems like if we’re alone, you always have a song, even if we don’t have a radio, like now.”

She grimaced. Mac enjoyed the silence a lot more than she did. She couldn’t. It took her back to the way everything had gone still after that shot but before she opened the door, and she hated it. She could cope with the quiet, but she preferred background noise, especially music.

“I suppose I can admit that’s one of my many issues. I don’t like white noise or silence very much. Mac is firmly of the school of discipline where music is a distraction, especially if you’re messing with the radio constantly, but I need it, so… I sing. And music with lyrics is almost always better when you sing along. Unless there’s something wrong in the lyrics, but that’s an entirely different matter.”

He nodded. “It is. That song was nice, though I’m not very familiar with it.”

“I have got such an eclectic collection thanks to all the random people I’ve met over the years,” Mackenna said. Between her older friends at the Legion, her grandparents, and everyone on the car runs, her music was a very interesting mix. She didn’t mind. She liked variety. “Should I pick one you know this time?”

“I don’t know about that. You know I don’t have as good a singing voice and… well, it’ll be all weird and like some bad movie montage, us driving along singing to that Willie Nelson song or something.”

She laughed. “It’s fun for road trips even if it’s about singing tours and not road trips themselves, but that’s not what I had in mind.”


She was about to tell him when she saw the Airstream and grimaced. She started slowing down, needing to make the turn up ahead.

“What’s wrong? Why are we going to the cemetery?”

“Because I’m an idiot,” Mackenna said, now aware that she’d been overcompensating for her own feelings all morning without admitting anything to Carson despite last night. She stopped Shadow on the lane, keeping them back and out of view of the man at the grave.

More songs came to her mind, but she didn’t sing them, the reminders already too painful.

“I should have known he was out here,” Mackenna said, grimacing. Carson frowned, and she knew if they were closer, he would have understood completely. For some people, going to this place would be a daily or weekly routine, but some people weren’t Mac Gilreath. Her grandfather was a strong, proud man, and he wouldn’t speak of things that bothered him, even when they still hurt.

“I didn’t—your grandmother, right? I guess I didn’t figured Mac for the type that went talking to headstones.”

“He isn’t, not usually,” Mackenna agreed. “Just sometimes… Well, the not-so-funny and not-so-romantic story about how they met is that it was actually here. Generations of my grandma’s family were buried here long before she married my grandfather. She was here with her parents putting flowers on her grandmother’s grave and he was dragged over to do that to his grandfather’s. She got spooked, ran away from her parents, and bumped right into him. First time they ever met. They didn’t start dating for years afterward, but on their anniversary… he starts way back at their beginning and retraces their years.”

“That is… adorable and surprisingly sentimental for your grandfather,” Carson said, and Mackenna looked at him. He shrugged. “The man rarely does more than grunt in my presence. Sometimes he could pass for a mute. I never once got the impression he liked the idea of me marrying you or moving in here with both of you.”

“If Mac was really unhappy about it, you would know,” Mackenna assured him. She shrugged. “He was different with her. It was like… Well, in cliché terms, she was the light of his life.”

“He change that much when she was gone?”

Mackenna shook her head. “No. He was still taciturn and stoic, all those things that belong to men of his generation. He just… relaxed a bit around her. She got him laughing and smiling and making jokes. You just haven’t seen much of that side of him.”

“He really doesn’t like me, does he?”

She laughed. “That’s not true. He likes you fine. I think the more he sees how much we make sense and how good you are for me, then he’ll start warming up again.”

“I think he’d warm up a lot faster if I had a job and wasn’t—”

“Carson, stop it. Please. You quit that job for a good reason—it was forcing you to ruin lives. You were taking farms away, farms just like ours. No. I can’t support you having stayed there or trying to get that job back. I think you did the right thing, and I don’t care if you don’t make any money at all. I think he respects why you left, even if—and I stress the if—he has an issue with you being unemployed,” Mackenna insisted. He gave her a look, clearly not pacified, but she wasn’t going to argue more here.

She took his hand. “We should go. Mac likes to be alone when he does this. He would never want anyone to know he cried.”

Nighttime Comfort

Author’s Note: I was not happy with what I did for the first part of my new album challenge. It’s an important part of the one story, but it wasn’t as fitting with the prompt as I usually do and it was not… my best effort at all. I didn’t even do something new, just found an old piece. So… I have fixed that.

This time we’re back to Carson and Mackenna and the not finished sequel.

This fits with Together Alone and the lyrics I used before even better, I think.

We’ll grow old, we’ll take care of each other
I’ll be your sister, your mother, your lover


We’re believers, we’ve been hurt by believing
Needing people, we know looking’s not seeing

There’s even more to it than this, and it fits the other lyrics of learning balance and rhythmn, too.

Nighttime Comfort

“Carson?” Mackenna asked, reaching over to touch him, trying to be as gentle as she could. She knew he didn’t want to admit it, but in addition to his frustration with the job hunting, the nightmares from when his father died were worse these days. Knowing what had really happened then was only part of the problem.

The way his family had lied about what happened would probably always haunt him, even if he had the truth. What they’d done hadn’t helped him, hadn’t done him any favors, and she still got mad thinking about how they could have told him, ended his torment, instead of sending him to a therapist, getting him drugged up, and letting him think he was crazy.

If things had been worse, if he’d really started to believe the worst of himself, he could have ended up like her uncle, and she still couldn’t get that image out of her head. She understood the man was in pain, but she wished he’d asked for help.

Or at least waited until she wouldn’t be the only one there to find him.

She felt Carson trembling and sighed, wrapping her arms around him and holding on, as much for her own sake as his. She wanted to stop the nightmares for him, take them all way, but life didn’t work that way. This was their attempt at happily ever after, but they both weren’t kidding themselves. They knew it wasn’t that easy.

“Admittedly, this might be easier if we’d fallen asleep in the actual bed,” Mackenna muttered, but he didn’t answer, not that she would have wanted him to, not unless he was awake. She rested her head against his chest. “Should I say something profound and meaningful now? You’re too asleep to hear me. Um… I could do the standard lines of ‘it’s over. You’re fine. You’re safe. I’m here. I’ll protect you from any of that.’ How terrible is it I feel like I’m talking to a child?”

“Arguably… my emotional growth was badly stunted as one, so…”

“That woke you?”

“I don’t know what woke me,” Carson said, pulling her closer, “but if it was you, thank you. I… I had the worst one again. No, not the worst one. I can’t decide which is worse, to be honest, the one where it turned out it was me… or the one where he didn’t just… fake that part.”

Mackenna winced. She sat up and reached to run her fingers through his hair. “I was just getting mad at your family for covering it up, and now I’m kind of pissed.”

“Do not go picking fights with him again. Please. It was… he was honoring my grandfather’s wishes, even if they were all misguided and I don’t think it did my mom any favors, either.”

“No, she still believed in your father, and it ate her up inside. It was no better than trying to convince you forgetting it was best and none of it ever happened,” Mackenna said, shaking her head. “It’s frustrating, even if there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

He shrugged. “You’re here, aren’t you? You don’t have to be, but you signed up for it as a friend and then a psuedo-sister and now… a lot more than that.”

“Oh, is that all?” Mackenna teased, very aware of the ring on her finger. He laughed and kissed her forehead. “Face it. You’re stuck with me for life, not that we didn’t agree to that almost from the beginning.”

He nodded. “I know, but back then all you wanted was my car.”

She laughed. “Well, you know me, I’m a sucker for antiques.”

“Which doesn’t explain us.”

She smiled. “I have a weakness for fixer-uppers, too. I like me a good project.”

“Nice. I feel very insulted.”

“No, you don’t. You feel loved.”

“And very unworthy of it, but yes,” he said before kissing her temple. “I think we’d better try again to sleep. You’ve got a lot to do on the new car, and I need to job hunt again.”

“Nope, you’re my slave for the day, remember? It’s Sunday, no job hunting for you. Just a lazy morning for us and the car.”

“And Mac?”

She winced. “He won’t want us to, but we should probably check on him, too.”

The Wrong Time to Visit the Supermarket

Author’s Note: So I did do this a while back, as part of a long story that is… oh, it’s a mess. I wish it wasn’t, but it has three arcs, I couldn’t pick one, kept thinking no one would want to read various parts of them, and so it’s all jumbled now and I even let myself skip around a bit while writing it, which is worse in some ways. I just… I have shared some with these characters before, but I was reviving the Kabobbles Sing Along Album Challenge again, and I randomly grabbed an album to pull out Melanie’s Stoneground Words. First song up was Together Alone, and I was going to do something with Dillon for this, but it fit to do Quinn, too, maybe even more than Dillon, and I wasn’t willing to start any new stories (tempted, but no) and so I picked out this section as it fit with the lines of

We’ll grow old, we’ll take care of each other
I’ll be your sister, your mother, your lover

and also, much more importantly, this part, as it is the betrayal Quinn’s forced to disclose here that did so much damage to him and his faith in everyone.

We’re believers, we’ve been hurt by believing
Needing people, we know looking’s not seeing

The Wrong Time to Visit the Supermarket

“And eggs. We’re going to need eggs.”

Quinn rolled his eyes, and Candelaria tried to ignore him. He hadn’t wanted to take her to the store, and he was making things as difficult as he could. She could hate him so easily, and most of the time she did, but with the Howells out of town for the weekend, he was the only one in the house with a driver’s license. She knew they probably would have been fine without the things they were low or out of, but she didn’t know that she could keep Quinn in line for a whole weekend. This wasn’t like the hours she had watched all of them in the past, not even the overnight trips. This was different, and she was nervous. Quinn made these times out like a joke, and so far he hadn’t done anything to defy her, hadn’t run off, but if he was going to do it, this would be the time.

“You know they’ll be back in a day, right? Why bother with all this food?”

“Because I know how much Beacan can eat these days, and I know you still like having your food in its own package, so we need stuff. At least this time I won’t have to ask for help with everything on the top shelf. You can get it for me.”

“You can’t reach?”

She gave him a dirty look. He was such a jerk. She always said that, but she kept being reminded of how true it was. “How many times have you made comments about how short I am compared to you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’ve grown a bit. Oh, look, you come up to my knee now. You’re so big these days. I don’t know what we’ll do with you.”

She smacked him, and he just shrugged. “Eggs last. If there’s something else you need, tell me so that we can get it and go.”

“If you go get a bag of flour and bring it back, I’ll take care of the fresh vegetables without you, since I know you hate that.”

“Fine,” he muttered, taking off in the opposite direction. She pushed the cart down the aisle, grabbing a couple of cans of soup before she left.

Turning the corner, she almost smacked into one of the employees, and she winced. That guy was always getting her the stuff off the top shelf, and she felt bad for bumping into him. She whispered an apology and tried to back away, but he saw her. “Miss Howell? I thought I recognized those ribbons. Where’s your mother today?”

She had never bothered to explain that Mrs. Howell wasn’t really her mother, and she didn’t intend to do that now. “Oh, she was busy today. It’s all right, though. I’ve got my—someone—with me to help me get anything I can’t reach or carry.”

“Someone? This wouldn’t be a boyfriend, would it? You’re not sneaking around behind your mother’s back, are you?”

Candelaria winced. She should have said her brother, though she didn’t call Quinn that, and he didn’t let her call him that, either. She sighed. “My foster brother. I’m sorry I bumped into you. Excuse me. I have to get the vegetables.”

“You haven’t gotten them yet? Why does it take so long to do one thing?”

“You had the one thing, Quinn, not me. We need plenty of vegetables and—”

“Quinn. Long time no see.”

Quinn swallowed, dropping the flour in the cart. The bag tore, and she frowned. She swore she’d never seen Quinn this scared before, not in all the years she’d known him. She looked back at the man, biting her lip.

“Not long enough,” Quinn managed, his voice cold. He took her arm, tugging on it. “Come on, Laria. If you need to cook something with vegetables, you can do it with something canned.”

“I didn’t think you were the type that ran. You that afraid to face me after what you did?”

Quinn whirled back, looking like he’d attack the man in a second, and she thought it would be worse than when he fought the jocks. “What I did? You son of a—”

“Watch it. You were the one who attacked me, remember? You were the one who tried to cover up a bad drug habit with an even worse lie.”

“I didn’t lie. You did.”

Candelaria took a breath. “Quinn, why don’t you bring the car up closer so we can load it fast and go? We need to pick up Beacan and Leah in a few minutes.”

“I can’t believe they let you have a license,” Kevin said, and Quinn glared back at him. She looked at the cart and shook her head.

“We don’t need this. We’ll just go. Mrs. Howell can come back for it later.” She wrapped her arm around his, pushing him toward the door.

Quinn pulled away from her just outside the store, going to the trash and throwing up. Candelaria watched him with a frown, not sure how to react to any of this. He’d been ready to panic back there, and she didn’t like what that man had said, either.

He reached into his pocket and dug out the keys, holding them out to her. She frowned, not taking them. He dropped them, heaving again, and she watched, worried. She didn’t know what to think of what Quinn had done back there or what that man had said. If Quinn was sick—

“Go get the car. You’re driving us home.”

“I don’t have a license,” she hissed. “Just a permit. I can’t do that.”

“You have to. I don’t think I can get my stomach calm, and I can’t drive like this. It’s coming back. Not again. Not now…”

She reached down and grabbed the keys, ducking under his arm and letting herself support him like she had after one of his fights. He leaned on her, and she tried not to think about how he’d just puked. “Let’s get you to the car before you collapse.”

“The colors are all funny and everything’s spinning—no, this isn’t funny—not the monster, not again…”

Candelaria cursed, realizing what he’d meant by it coming back. He must have been in one of his acid flashbacks, and if he was, he wouldn’t be driving anywhere. That just wasn’t happening. She knew that. She didn’t want to do it without a license, but she had to get him home. “Kevin was the one that gave you the drugs, wasn’t he?”

Quinn shuddered. “Don’t… Can’t talk to you like this.”

“Yes, you can. You know I wasn’t a part of any of that. Use my voice. Stay here with me and forget the acid. Forget the colors and the monster. All that’s here is your watchdog. I’m here. You’re not alone.”

She stopped them against the car, going to open the door before she pulled him over to the passenger seat. “Think you can manage to put your seat belt on?”

He looked up at her. “You are way too small to take on the monster. When I was that small, I couldn’t stop it. It got what it wanted. Always. I tried to fight it, but it was stronger, and it would use those claws on me. Claws and teeth…”

“The monster won’t get close to you again,” Candelaria assured him, shutting the door and running around to the other side. She hoped that she could do this without wrecking the car or getting caught.

“Did you really attack him?” She asked as she pulled out of the spot, somehow managing to dodge the cars around them.

“I just wanted him to admit what he’d done to me. He… He wouldn’t even acknowledge that he’d given me the drugs, kept saying he didn’t know what I was talking about, and I thought I could get him to tell me the truth if I scared it out of him, beat it out of him… You heard him. He still says the whole thing was me.”

“You don’t know what he did to you?”

“No. I told you… I don’t remember what really happened. I remember before the acid kicks in—Kevin was the only one there besides me, and he was the one that gave me the food—and then it’s this monster and it’s trying to kill me… I could take it if he had knocked me around. He could have put me right back in the hospital. I don’t care about that. That’s upfront. I understand that part. I can handle it if I understand it. I don’t know why he had to mess with my head, make it so I’m stuck always wondering what happened. I thought I was going crazy the first few times it happened. I didn’t think I was high—I thought I was losing my mind. I just don’t get it. Why do you do that to someone?”

“Power? Control? He’s some kind of sadist? He liked watching you suffer when you were confused and having you doubt your own mind was… a bonus?”

“I hate him so much. I wish I’d killed him. I still wouldn’t have my answers, but I’d feel a lot better knowing he was gone.”

“You don’t want to be a killer.”

“Yes, I do. Him I want dead. I came close. If I hadn’t hesitated…”

Candelaria swerved, jerking the car back on the road with people honking around them. She didn’t believe what she was hearing. “Quinn…”

“Thanks to him I have probation ’til I’m eighteen. And they think I’m deranged. I hate him. I wasn’t good, I wasn’t perfect, but drugs were one of the lines I didn’t cross. I didn’t do that, and I didn’t… I didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

“No matter what anyone says about me—I never turned tricks. Ever. Not even when I was desperate for something to eat. I stole, and I’ve vandalized places, but I didn’t do that.”

“I never thought you did.”

“You’re going to have to watch me close, watchdog. Now that I know where he is again… I don’t trust myself.”

Because I Already Wrote That

Author’s Note: So I was doing my window flipping thing, and I looked at prompts on the dashboard and one popped up that had me going, “but I already wrote that.”

I didn’t finish the idea, but I wrote it. At least a year ago. I’d have to dig into emails and stuff to figure out just how long ago it was.

The prompt said this: They found out a good way to make soldiers was to remove the memory function entirely.

This was my start of that kind of concept.

A Hint of Something More

No one remembered what was before. That was gone forever, and no part of it would ever return. That was what everyone knew, what everyone had been told. The before was gone. Only the now existed. Only the war and their training. Nothing else.

Yet alone, unbidden and unexpected, something like a memory stirred in her, a moment so clear it burned almost enough to cause physical pain where here neuroimplant was. She wasn’t supposed to feel pain there, not supposed to know where it was, but then she wasn’t supposed to remember anything, either.

She did. She swore she did.

They would tell her she misunderstood it, that it was something from training, but how could it be? She could not forget the sense of the forbidden, the thrill as well as the guilt, the quickening of her pulse and her breath.

He touched her. Gentle, soft as it was, it felt like fire, burning where his hand had been, and though she knew it would never happen again—it should never have happened at all—she would feel it always. He broke the rules. He touched her, taking her elbow to aid her, but he didn’t—shouldn’t—and yet for that action they could both be punished.

She forced her eyes away from where his hand had been, needing to see his face.

She never did. That part of the memory was gone. Still, with as many times as she’d been grabbed, hit, and manhandled in training—both live and simulated—she could not believe the memory was anything to do with that. She would not have thought it forbidden. Touch was expected in a time of war, and the rules here were simple: follow orders and defeat the enemy. The enemy was merciless, relentless, and seemingly endless, outnumbering them and outclassing them, and so fighting could easily be vicious and painful, even if only with other soldiers. No touch was too far against the enemy, and lethal was only held back in training, since allies were few but opposition numerous.

That moment was not from training. It must have been from before.

Lying in her bunk, she stared up at the bed above her, listening to other soldiers sleep and wondering who she had been. She was not supposed to care, but the memory made her question so much—where had she been that someone touching her could be a crime? Was it a fault in her or in him that made it wrong? Who was he? Had she known him well or was he a stranger? Why could she never remember his face? She wanted to know so much, to understand it, and she would not, not without more memories.

Or him.

If he was a soldier, then he was dead. She knew most of her contemporaries were already gone, the same ones implanted and washed when she was were almost all dead. They had the same training as she did. She just lasted longer, not by any special means of her own, but by what they would say was accident, not even stubbornness or favorable fortune.

She closed her eyes, concentrating on the memory again. So far, none of her attempts to bring back more of it had worked, but she didn’t want to stop trying. She replayed the image in her head, focusing on the hand, memorizing every line and wrinkle, every possible scar and identifying mark.

If she ever saw that hand again, she’d know it.

She also knew she was a fool—nothing from the before existed, and she needed to fight in the now. This was a war. She was a soldier.

She had nothing else.

Just the illusion of a memory.

A Possible Opening Scene

Author’s Note: This scene has been reworked a couple times, changing it from what it was. I originally had a discovery about the car made a lot sooner, and so this is the second version where I backed it off a little in the hopes of developing the plot more naturally. I thought I’d try sharing some actual writing, even if this is something I wrote a while back just haven’t really been able to continue.

I did share some of this story before, just not this part of it, which I should have as it’s the first scene.

A Possible Job

“And so when I saw that picture in the paper, I figured that you were the best person to bring this to,” the woman said, and Mackenna tried not to grimace as she spoke. She did not want to think about what picture had been in what paper, since all the stories had exaggerated the situation and made her into something that she wasn’t. She didn’t want to have to explain the truth right now, either.

She should just be glad that it meant more business for her, but she wasn’t sure that she wanted it, not like this. She used to think any publicity was good publicity, a way to create a foothold in a profession dominated by men, but what happened a few months ago had changed her opinion on all of that. She ran her hands over her arms, hoping she still had a few more weeks before fall settled in. She would need them if she was going to do this. “I’m not a miracle worker, Mrs. Brendt. I may not be able to do much with this, even if it looks to be more or less intact. You can see that there was damage done to the frame here and here, and beyond that, there’s a good deal of rust. I believe this car sat outside for a very long time, though some of it could have been from a leak if that roof was in poor shape. I’m really not in a state to make any promises here.”

“It’s Dorie. Or Dorinda. Leave off the Brendt as much as possible. One of these days, I’ll get it all switched back to my maiden name, but I haven’t quite managed that yet.”

“Oh.” Mackenna hadn’t realized that the other woman was divorced, and she was almost tempted to hide the ring on her own finger after that statement. Not that she’d had anything to do with Dorie’s marital troubles, but she didn’t need to be flaunting the fact that she was a happy newlywed, either.

“Sorry. You wouldn’t know. It’s… It’s still a bit of a sore spot for me, him leaving me for a girl that’s barely out of high school, and there’s an unkind part of me that figures that he doesn’t want them any older than that, since that’s how old I was when I fell for his crap, but I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I’m afraid my mouth runs off when it gets started.”

Mackenna smiled, tempted to laugh. She was reminded of someone, and at the same time, she had to wonder if she brought this kind of reaction out in people, since Carson had been a lot like this when he pulled into the farm with his car. “It’s fine, trust me. I just want you to understand what we’re looking at here.”

“You mean besides a wreck?” Dorie laughed, pulling back the loose parts of her hair. “I can see that much for myself, but since I’m on the preservation committee and getting this car appraised is not only a part of my job but might mean something we can use either as an investment—the car would be worth a lot more repaired if the repairs are feasible within our budget—or as a part of the exhibit they’d like to create from the site where it was taken. I’m not sure we can accomplish either of those things, but it’s a shame to see an old classic like this just shoved away in the nearest junkyard.”

Mackenna nodded. “I hate seeing any cars going to the junkyard.”

“That’s not true. You let my car go there without any tears. You couldn’t wait to see that thing go,” Carson said, coming up behind her, and she turned back to him with a smile. She tried not to let it turn into a frown. From the expression on his face, the job hunting was still going badly, and he looked like he’d just as soon crawl into bed than spend any time with her or Mac tonight, but she’d see if she could cheer him up after Dorie was gone.

“That thing was a menace. It wasn’t even worth what you paid for it the first time,” Mackenna said, wrapping her arms around his waist. Maybe it was a good thing it was almost fall. He might be all sweaty if it wasn’t. “I didn’t hear you pull up.”

“The Woodsman died three miles back. I walked the rest of the way.”

“Oh.” She didn’t need Dorie hearing that. What kind of mechanic couldn’t keep her own truck running? Mackenna forced herself not to think about that and kissed his cheek. “Why don’t you go get cleaned up and rest your feet for a bit? Dorie and I have a few more things to discuss about her car here, and then I can heat up dinner.”

“If it just needs to be heated, I can handle that. You’re the one with the job,” Carson said, shaking his head. She knew they’d have to have another conversation about that later. She didn’t subscribe to the idea that the man had to be the breadwinner, and she didn’t think he did, either, but he was getting paranoid about not pulling his own weight. “You go ahead and take as long as you need.”

She put her hands on his face. She didn’t like that tone at all. “Don’t tell me more of them were idiots about this thing with your dad. Come on, that’s ridiculous. You know that you’re not responsible for anything he might have—”

“That’s not what they care about. Still, it’s not like the rest of my family were exactly… honest in that matter, either, so that doesn’t help. On the bright side, you can have me as your shade and water boy and all that while you get to work on this one.”

She shook her head. “As much as I love having your company while I’m fixing the cars, it’s not right that they won’t hire you. You’d be great at it. You’re over-qualified for most of these positions anyway.”

“It’s a recession. They want the excuse to not to hire me because they would have to pay me more. Or something. I’m going to head in and shower.” He kissed her cheek, and she sighed as she watched him walk away. She didn’t understand this world sometimes. Carson was a good man, and he’d be a good worker, but someone always found an excuse not to hire him. She’d do it, if she could afford to pay anyone else, and if he knew anything about cars. Without that, it was kind of pointless. She would keep teaching him in the meantime, both her and Mac would, but she didn’t know how much of a difference that would make.

She turned back to Dorie. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even introduce you.”

“I figured that was your husband. I saw the papers. That must have been a beautiful wedding.”

“I should have decked that reporter,” Mackenna muttered, shaking her head. She hadn’t thought their wedding would end up near the front page or that it would get into the associated press because of the rest of the stories about her and him and his father’s murder. Some of the stories were all about the way they’d dressed, and others exaggerated her role as the heroine again. She’d ripped up most of the ones she found, but she knew her sister-in-law was keeping a scrapbook of all that nonsense. “I’m going to get the forms real quick. Just sign them, and you’ll be good to go. You can leave the car with me for evaluation, and I’ll give you an estimate. I do charge for the evaluation, though.”

“Naturally. That’s not a problem. I’ll sign whatever needs to get signed. I still think you are the right person for this job.”

Mackenna forced a smile and hurried off to get the forms.