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Is the cardinal a clue Lanie’s true happiness is hiding in plain sight?
When Cardinals Appear
The Love Birds Book 1
by Katie Eagan Schenck
Genre: Women's Romance Fiction
She has a promise to keep. But when her plans are thrown into a tailspin, will a persistent red bird show her how to let her dreams take flight?
Lanie McAllister is ready to move on. Wrestling with her mom’s death, the young woman just wants to settle the estate and soar off for good to her boyfriend in California—far away from painful memories. But she suspects the lucky cardinal she keeps seeing is trying to send a message when a flat tire puts her back in the path of the man who broke her heart.
With fate constantly throwing the man her mother always hated in her way, Lanie can’t seem to shake the wounds of the past. And when her current love makes a serious misstep and she discovers her ex harbors a secret, she starts to rethink what will make her truly happy.
Questioning her vow to her mother to never look back, is the cardinal a clue Lanie’s true happiness is hiding in plain sight?
“What changed your mind?”
His words brought me back to the present, and I worked to keep my face neutral while my shoulders sagged in relief. Curiosity danced in his eyes, along with another emotion I couldn’t place, but at least he didn’t seem angry or upset.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I laughed, shaking my head. “Let’s just say a little bird told me I should.”
He rubbed his chin, and a slow smile broke over his face, stealing my breath. But he still hadn’t said what he thought, and that worried me.
I frowned. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“I’m a little speechless,” Nate admitted. He slid his hand across the table, and I tentatively placed mine in it. “And I’m not sure what’s... safe to say.”
I cocked my head. “Safe? What do you mean?”
“Just that, well, the other day, you wouldn’t even consider applying, and now, you’ve applied and interviewed.” He pulled away and ran his hand through his hair. “I guess I’m trying to understand what changed.”
The oven timer beeped, and I jumped up to toss the rolls in the oven, grateful for the interruption. I wasn’t sure how I should answer him. To blame it on James and the apartment felt childish and reckless. Besides, I wasn’t even sure if Nate knew about James. We’d never talked about him.
And I couldn’t very well tell him that my neighbor thought my mother’s spirit was trying to communicate with me through a bird. My joke about it earlier had been more for my benefit than his.
When I returned to him, he stared at me with that same intensity again, and it was all I could do not to fidget. I decided that a half-truth was better than nothing.
“My dad is dead set on me staying in Cedar Haven,” I said, forcing a smile. “And I feel like I owe it to him, as the only parent I have left, to at least see how that would work. I’m not making any promises, but it might get him off my back for a while.”
“Did they say when they would make their decision?” Nate asked, and I breathed a little easier.
“As soon as possible.” I shrugged. “But you know the government. I’m sure there are levels of approval they’d need to go through. It went well, though.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Nate said. “If you stay, do you think you’ll still sell the house?”
“Probably. I can’t afford to buy Steven out of his share of the estate, and I don’t know that I’ll ever feel comfortable here without her.” I took another sip of wine. “I haven’t really thought about that. It was an impulse decision, and I hadn’t expected to be interviewed so soon.”
“I don’t think they’ve had a lot of applicants,” Nate said. “Not many people looking for small-town life these days. I’m glad you applied. It’s good to have options.”
I spun around at his words, and he gave me a wary look. Swallowing, I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry, it’s... I… I, er, that’s something my mom would say.”
Nate sat perfectly still, and I had the distinct impression that he was choosing his next words carefully. All the air seemed to leave the room as I waited, wondering if he was about to reveal whatever secret he’d been keeping from me.
“Perhaps I heard her say it once or twice,” Nate finally replied, his voice strained. “But it’s a common saying.”
I nodded, choosing not to force the issue. The oven timer went off behind me, and I bent to check dinner.
Nate stood and got plates and silverware while I set out the shepherd’s pie and rolls on the table. I refilled our wineglasses, though the last thing I needed right then was more alcohol, and took a seat, gesturing for him to serve himself. After spooning out a healthy portion, he passed the spoon, grazing my fingers. His eyes met mine briefly before looking away.
“This is delicious.” He scooped up a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
“Better than a TV dinner?” I teased.
“Not even in the same neighborhood.”
“You never learned to cook?”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid the most I do is grill.”
A laugh bubbled up in my throat. “Cooking is just grilling indoors.”
“I disagree,” he said as he reached for his wine. “There’s something about burning something over an open flame that brings out the caveman in all of us.”
I snorted. “‘Burning something’? So what you’re saying is, you’re not good at grilling either?”
“Hey now, I said I grill. I never said how the food turned out!”
“Did you learn your skills from Max McAllister? He never met a hamburger he couldn’t turn into a hockey puck.”
“I don’t believe I ever had the pleasure of your dad’s, er, culinary experiments.” His mouth twisted as he stumbled over the words, and I laughed again.
Katie Eagan Schenck writes sweet romance and women’s fiction that warms the heart and gives all the feels. She has an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte and her debut novel, A Home for Christmas, was released in October of 2022. When she's not writing she's either drafting regulations for the federal government, baking delicious treats, or binging Hallmark movies. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter, and their three cats.
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