Here are snippets from PICTURE PERFECT and THE HEALER. More snippets will be added as I find the time. For now, enjoy what’s here:
Who stole spring?
When bumbling Guardian Angel Maude is sent to Earth for an April assignment, she expects green grass and flowers instead of the sea of mud that’s Minnesota in spring but with the help of a mangy, multi-colored dog she’ll do her best to get two people together who have absolutely nothing in common.
But how can she complete her assignment when she’s cold, shivering, covered in mud and telling everyone she’s an artist when she can’t paint a decent picture? Can she possibly succeed? Or will she mess things up beyond repair?
If you like small towns, guardian angels, clean romances, and happily-ever-after, then you’ll love this story of an angel trudging through mud, mistakes, and mis-steps to spread happiness and love in her own unique way.
She unfolded the chair and set up the easel and then studied the farmhouse across the field. It was appealing. White, with blue trim, just as the one in Angela’s Heavenly Art picture, but the backdrop was way more lovely, all evergreens and small, rolling hills and a winding driveway that led to the road she’d just slid off of with a neat, white sign with a jaunty red-painted sign at the junction of road and driveway that said, “Saunders Truck Farm.”
Surely the farm didn’t grow trucks, she knew that they were made in factories, and she hoped that before her assignment was finished, she’d know just what the sign referred to. In the mean-time the sign would be a piece of added interest to the picture that she’d better get started on if she wanted to show it to the art agent the next afternoon.
Soon she was humming as she laid streaks and lines and blobs onto the canvas, mixing colors on her palette with enthusiasm and spreading the result with what could almost be called abandon as Mutt investigated the surrounding field, ditch and the fence that separated Mutt and Maude from the farm itself.
She paused once when she saw someone, most likely a man but it was difficult to tell from a distance, emerge from the lovely white house and head for the rather large, bright red barn that was the exact same red as the lettering on the sign. The barn had a design on the front and a chicken weathervane on top. She thought that whomever was walking between the house and barn stopped for a second and looked her way but then he continued on so she decided she must be mistaken.
As time passed, she realized she hadn’t seen Mutt in a while. Frowning because she was sure he was an obedient dog who wouldn’t wander if she didn’t want him to, she thought back and realized she hadn’t specifically told him to stay close. She hoped her forgetfulness hadn’t caused a problem.
“Mutt,” she called but no large multi-colored dog bounded towards her. “Here, Mutt. Come here.” Still no dog. “Please, Mutt.” But Mutt wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
Where could he have gone? He knew his doggie lunch was in the car so surely he’d stick around so as not to miss a meal. But she couldn’t see him.
She carefully placed her painting things on the storage bin attached to the bottom of the easel and then put those things that wouldn’t fit in the bin on the ground nearby. Then she rose onto her tiptoes, there being no hill nearby to aid in her search, and looked around.
And saw Mutt. And groaned because he’d gone far afield, under the fence and through last year’s grass on the other side without her even noticing until he now stood beside the farmer who’d finished whatever he was doing in the barn and was once again between the barn and the house exactly as earlier and looking her way. She could only think of one reason for his interest in her. Mutt was on his property and was obviously her dog and he was trespassing.
The man was scratching Mutt’s head, though, which was a good sign. Perhaps he liked dogs and, hopefully, wouldn’t be too angry that hers was on his property. She couldn’t tell from that distance whether he was smiling or not. She hoped he was but knew that, no matter how he reacted to finding a strange dog in his yard, she’d best go over and apologize and then bring Mutt back where he belonged. It was only good manners.
So thinking she pulled on the sturdy coat that she’d shed because the sun was warm and it was easier to paint in shirt sleeves, took a deep breath while practicing the best apology she knew, and headed for the fence, debating whether to climb over or slide underneath because it meandered for a long, long way around the field and she’d have to follow it all the way to the red sign and then go down the driveway to reach the farmhouse if she didn’t go over or under the fence. A shortcut through the fence seemed a far better option, the same thing Mutt had surely done except she was a bit larger than her dog and not quite as agile.
As she examined the fence to decide how to get past it, the farmer, seeing what she was about to do, wildly waved his arms. The motion said as clearly as words that she wasn’t to come at all. Rather, he’d come to her.
Her heart sank because that might indicate that he was averse to having strangers on his property even if they were there to apologize. She mentally prepared herself for a chewing-out. But then she heard him whistle for Mutt to follow as he started her way and the whistle was cheerful enough.
She waited. Brushed the front of her coat to look as neat as possible. Finger combed her hair that did have a tendency to blow every which way if she was outside, which wasn’t a problem in Heaven but sometimes was on Earth. And stepped close to the easel in a semi-protective manner. And stumbled over the equipment she’d put on the ground.
She didn’t stumble badly enough to fall but she did put out a hand to the easel to steady herself and as a result, the easel tipped a bit and the paints in the bin at the bottom flew every which way and green paint flew through the air and made a large, bright streak across what had up till then been a rather nice landscape.
Green. She’d done the same thing in the Heavenly Art class. Gotten paint across her pictures. Wryly she wondered if she should be glad that green was at least a different color splashed all across what she’d intended to show the art agent.
No time to paint another picture before tomorrow’s appointment, though it probably didn’t matter because the farmer who got closer with each passing moment, might not let her finish painting his farm. He might not like artists any more than stray dogs.
As she braced herself for the coming confrontation, she also wondered what to do about tomorrow’s visit. How could she have something ready for the art agent? She didn’t know, but hoped she’d think of something, anything, as her heart sank to her toes and she wondered if she’d fail in this assignment that had been given to her in good faith. Oh dear.
When the man and dog were close enough to make out the man’s expression, hope rose because he didn’t look angry though that didn’t necessarily mean anything. But once or twice during their trip through the field, he’d reached down to pat Mutt on the head and anyone who loved dogs surely was a decent person. Hopefully.
The man and Mutt reached the fence and as easily as if it didn’t exist they crossed to where Maude waited, Mutt strolling under it and the man sliding between the strands of wire. He came next to her, not yet middle-aged but with wrinkles around his eyes from being outside and lips that turned up in a smile that didn’t resemble that of an axe murderer.
“Your dog came to see me.” She didn’t know how to respond so she said nothing, as he continued. “Which was nice of him. I thought he was just visiting until I looked to see where he came from and saw your car in the ditch and realized that he’d come for help.”
Maude’s gaze moved to the little yellow car, now a bit deeper in the mud than before as it settled in for what she thought could be a long wait for rescue. “It looks like you need help getting out of the ditch but I thought I’d make sure you do before getting out the tractor.”
Tractor? As in a large piece of farm machinery built to pull heavy equipment through muddy fields? It wouldn’t even notice one small car. “You’ll pull my car out of the ditch?”
He nodded and then grinned and his smile rivaled the sun. “This can be a bad stretch of road during the spring thaw. Muddy, slippery and difficult to navigate for drivers who aren’t used to it.” He sighed. “I’ve pulled any number of cars out of this very ditch but you’re the first this year.”
Then he looked over the painting and the art supplies. “You’re painting a picture of the farm.” He sounded pleased.
She indicated the picture with a wave of her hand. “I went in the ditch because your farm is so lovely that I forgot to watch the road and as long as I don’t need to be anywhere soon, I decided to paint it.” Another wave of her hand highlighted the green swath across the picture. “As you can see, I had a bit of an accident.”
He considered the picture, complete with a green blotch in the center that spread out in every direction. “So I see.” His expression turned thoughtful. “Looks like one of those new-wave art things. The kind that aren’t supposed to look like anything you can recognize.” He looked at it from several angles. “Lots of color. Especially green.”
“I need a picture by tomorrow and it’s too late to start over so I guess this one will have to do.” She brightened because he wasn’t angry as she’d expected. In fact, he was a very nice, young man. “I might as well finish it and hope the green isn’t too noticeable.” She could try to make it look like trees though she doubted a professional agent would be fooled. “I hope you’re okay with me painting your farm.”
“If you want to,” as if wondering what about his farm was worth painting but the smile grew as he scanned the sky in a way that said he did so on a regular basis and she guessed it was his way of telling time.
“I’d like to come back and do a second picture eventually. One without green paint all over it.”
The man didn’t answer. Instead he considered the picture, the field, and the car that was now a bit deeper in the ditch. “You might as well keep on painting while I go back and get the tractor started and then get your car back on the road.” He sighed. “It’ll probably take a while so you’ll have plenty of time.”
He raked his hair. “You see, my tractor is old. Really old. Don’t be surprised if I’m gone a rather long time because sometimes it takes a lot to coax it into starting and I’m not a very good mechanic.” He turned to gaze back towards the farm. “I hope this isn’t the day it dies for good because there’s no way you can drive out of that ditch and is it okay if your dog comes with me? He’s a nice mutt.”
Mutt begged with his eyes for her to let him go. Maybe he’d been a farm dog before he found her? She nodded that he could go and the duo set off back the way they’d come, under and through the fence and across the field while Maude returned to her picture to figure how to incorporate a large, green splotch into the landscape.
She wasn’t sure much could be changed so, though she tried very hard, adding colors here and there hopefully, when she was done the green blotch still stretched across the picture from one side of the canvas to the other.
Hopefully the art agent wasn’t the critical type because if she was and the success of this assignment depended on this particular picture, then she was in trouble. She heaved a great sigh and decided that all she could do was put the finished picture in the back seat of the small, yellow car and hope for the best. Which she did and then she looked around for the nice farmer and his tractor.
What she saw was that same farmer walking behind a team of very large horses that were harnessed together. All were heading her way. Instead of crossing the field, though, they came down the driveway and then, as she watched, turned towards her and continued along the ditch with Mutt running alongside.
The quartet of man, horses and dog stopped and the farmer stepped around the large animals that were blowing and stomping in enjoyment at being outside, which was evidently what they wanted. She could see it in their eyes and the way they tossed their heads every which way, checking out the mud-filled ditch and the bright day as if it all was beautiful. Which, in a way, it was. Warm and sunny and filled with the joy that was Earth in the spring.
“Tractor wouldn’t start,” the nice farmer said glumly while pretending not to care. “So I brought Pete and Petra.” He patted the horses’ noses and, impulsively, so did Maude, enjoying the heat of their bodies and the warm breath they blew on her hand.
She thought about the absent tractor and the farmer’s glum expression. Was a tractor essential to his farm operation? She knew nothing about machinery so couldn’t help. She debated sending an SOS Heavenward to acquire the needed expertise but decided against it because this wasn’t an emergency and all Guardian Angels knew not to call for serious help unless it was truly necessary.
“Good thing your car is small. Pete and Petra can pull it easily enough.” The farmer then proceeded to hitch the horses to the bumper of the car and in what seemed like mere moments, the little yellow car, with a line of mud all around the bottom where it had sat in the ditch, was on the road. The farmer patted his horses and then unhooked them from the car and prepared to return to the lovely farm she’d just captured on canvas, albeit with a bit of extra green. A lot of extra green.
Maude put out a hand. “Don’t go yet.” He stopped. Waited. “I want to thank you – uh –“ She realized she didn’t know who he was. Not a clue. Where were her manners? “I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name.”
“George Saunders.” A nice name for a nice man who’d gone out of his way to help.
She put out her hand in the way she’d been taught in the class in Heavenly Manners. “I’m Maude.” He nodded. “I’m an artist and I want to do something to thank you. You’ve been a big help.”
“No problem.” He looked her up and down. “You from around here?”
“I’m renting a cottage a few miles from here. Near town.”
His lips pursed. “The little, white cottage on the edge of town? I heard it was for rent.” He rolled that information around. “You staying long?”
“I don’t know. I came to paint landscapes and your farm is the first.”
She did want to thank him. “What can I do to thank you?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. Helping is the neighborly thing to do.”
An idea came to her. “And so is inviting a neighbor to dinner.” She examined the sky. “So can you come? I promise a decent dinner to thank you for getting my car back on the road.”
He considered that same sky. “It’s getting late today and I have supper in the oven.”
But that was today. “What about tomorrow? Are you free tomorrow evening?” Which would give her lots of time to prepare something special.
He started to shake his head but then he stopped. Thought. Shrugged again. “I plan on going to town tomorrow afternoon. I guess I could swing by for dinner if you promise not to go to any trouble.”
“None.” A lie but little white lies were sometimes okay. She hoped. She smiled. “See you tomorrow?”
He said he’d be there and then Maude and Mutt clambered into the car and she very carefully put it in gear and set off back to the cottage where there’d be something in the refrigerator that would be perfect for dinner the next evening.
Can the wilderness heal?
Does the cathedral-like forest bring peace to wounded souls?
Rae Brown felt that peace growing up. Now, as a laid-off teacher from the city, she returns to her forest home because she has nowhere else to go but she unknowingly brings a troubled eleven-year-old stowaway with her. Rae gives in to the girl’s pleas and lets her stay, hoping the troubled child will heal. But will she?
And what about their hunky neighbor who stops by at all hours of the day and night instead of focusing on his struggling construction business?
Three people. Three personalities. Three problems.
What will happen when they try to work together in the wilderness?
If you like small-town romances, the amazing intricacy of relationships, the peace of primitive forests, and happily-ever-after, you’ll love The Healer.
Available soon on Amazon.
The forest was still there. Hadn’t gone anywhere while I was in Minneapolis. Was waiting for my return with the evergreens still so thick that no sun reached the ground and the earth smelled of dampness and green, growing things. And, of course, the stout log house where I’d been born and lived until leaving for college was still there, though showing subtle signs of neglect.
The house belonged to big-city me now and I came back whenever guilt got so bad I couldn’t stay away. But it degraded a bit more every year because, during each and every visit, I’d spent less time fixing and more time meandering through the forest of my childhood to regain the peace that I remembered from those long-ago days. The peace that had been instilled so completely during childhood jaunts that it was now a part of me, an essential piece of my being, the center around which my personality was built.
I knew my late mother would have approved of my choosing trees over repairing leaky faucets. After all, she was the one who’d taught me to turn to the forest whenever my life took a bad turn.
Which it decidedly had done lately.
But that didn’t help now. The house sat before me with the subtle look of a neglected queen. I sighed. One thing was sure. I’d have a lot of time to deal with those issues whether or not I wanted it because I was here to stay.
Unemployment had that effect. The house in the forest came with free rent and I now had time to fix all those things, though goodness knew I didn’t have much money. But I knew how to do many things on the cheap because my mother had been a firm believer in chores even though she could have afforded better, being one of the two doctors in Johns Falls.
So now I looked around. Soon, though, my sigh turned into a frown because, now that I actually paid attention to my surroundings instead of swimming in memories, there was a difference. A change. Something new. Unsettling.
I stared. Then my mouth dropped open in surprise as I realized that the thick forest across the road was now a clearing carved out of the evergreens and it held a smallish house. How had I driven past it without noticing? Was I that shook up by losing a job? Teaching jobs were easy to come by. I’d find another. After all it was lower enrollment not poor skills that led to my being let go. Last hired, first let go. I’d find another job. Eventually.
About the same size as my house, the log cabin across the road was so new it was shiny with freshness as was the somewhat larger barn-like outbuilding that must have been built at the same time. Piles of lumber lay scattered about the recently cleared area in the forest in what could have been a deliberate pattern though what someone would do with all those boards and logs I couldn’t imagine.
Who lived there and what did that person do? Nothing about the new neighbor’s place said anything about the occupant beyond neatness and efficiency and lots and lots of wood. Wood house, wood outbuilding, wood piles and smaller pieces stacked neatly close to the house for use in a wood stove during the coming winter. Similar to my own house but new.
I had a neighbor. Oh my goodness. The forest was getting crowded. Or not because the two houses were still the only ones in more miles than I’d ever bothered counting. Since the widow Leann had moved to town several years ago and her cabin burned a year later there were even more miles of wilderness.
Not that Leann was close, exactly, being ten miles away and on the highway while I lived on a narrow road that was hardly more than a dirt path. I’d met her in the drugstore a couple years ago and we’d talked. The widow wondered what I planned to do now that my mother was gone and my closest neighbor had moved away. Maybe sell the place to hunters?
Never. Too many memories and a nice place for vacations if my life ever settled down. Besides, there was all that forest beyond my kitchen.
But there were two houses, now, along that rutted road that would have destroyed my tiny city car if I hadn’t traded it for a sturdy truck, old and shabby that the dealer said was dependable. My next-door neighbor, a mechanic, agreed after looking at the engine and taking it for a spin. He said the dents were irrelevant, the engine and tires were all that mattered. So I bought it.
Now I sat in that truck and stared at my future but time was wasting. I’d best stop mooning over a new neighbor even if the new house was a shock that would take a lot of getting used to.
I moved. The trip had taken hours and it was already noon and I had a ton of stuff to unload and haul into the house that was about to become my home. Again.
I sighed, took a whiff of the evergreens that people paid a lot of money for around Christmas but that I had all year around for free, opened the door wide, and climbed down.
I went around the truck and headed for the back to begin unloading. No reason to unlock the house door first because it was never locked. No reason to lock it, not even when I was gone for months at a time.
Who’d find this place so many miles from anywhere and not even an idiot would bother to rob it if they did happen to come down the rutted road. Too small, too old, too puny. Not worth the effort.
I reached the back of the truck, pulled down the tailgate and grabbed the nearest box. And stopped in stunned surprise.
A girl of about eleven or twelve, I thought eleven because most of my students had been that age and Sheila had been one of them. Skinny and with brown hair, blue eyes, sneakers and a backpack, the girl shinnied towards the tailgate from where she’d been hiding among the boxes. “Hi.” She waved with an admirable display of bravado, puffed out her chest to hide a thumping heart, and jumped down.
“What are you doing here?” More to the point, how’d she end up riding a couple hundred miles in the back of the truck without me noticing? I was too stunned to ask.
We stared at each other.
Sheila folded her arms and spread her legs in a truculent stance. “I’m not going back.”