Susan and I have perhaps been a bit quiet lately, but I’ve still been driving her hard, and we have been writing, writing, writing, like busy little bees. We’re announcing today that Susan’s next book will release on Saturday, 30 January 2016. It’s a return to Quiet Cove, Rhode Island and the Pagano Family. Prayer is John’s story.
Since it’s been a while since the last Pagano book, here’s a little reminder about John:
John is the ‘good son’ of the family, the one who does what is expected, who meets his obligations and doesn’t make a fuss. In the way of most of the Pagano Family books, though there is intersection with cousin Nick and his business (and Nick and Bev are key secondary characters here), John’s story is not especially violent. He’s a good guy, and you don’t have to dig deep past darkness to see that.
He’s struggling a bit as he gets older–about ten years have passed since the beginning of Footsteps, the first book in the series, and John is now pushing 40–and has not yet found what he most wants in life: someone to love forever.
This being a romance and all, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that he’ll find that love with Katrynn Page, whom you met at the end of Deep. She works with Bev at the bookshop. By now, she’s known the Paganos for years, but she’s never been more than friends with any of them.
Until she and John make a big mistake, and then John makes a much bigger one. Then, for a while, they’re not friends at all.
Prayer opens with that much bigger mistake. Rather than share that opening with you as a teaser, I’m going to share Chapter 3, in which John is grappling with the fallout and, unfortunately, continuing to make things worse.
As usual, I’ll reveal the cover and official description when I set up the preorder, in mid-January.
Happy holidays to you!
~ 3 ~
John answered the door. “Hey, Theo.”
“Hey. You ready?”
“Yep.” He locked up and stuck the key in its hidey-hole under the porch. “Let’s hit it.”
A couple of years ago, not long after Carmen and Theo had moved back to the Cove and Carmen had sold John this little beach house he’d been renting from her, John and Theo had started running together several times a week. They’d both been runners for years; John had gone to the cross country state championships three years in a row in high school. They’d met each other on the high school track one morning and then started a regular thing. Theo would run the couple of miles from his place to John’s, they’d run together to the high school and do laps on the track, then work out at the stations on the sidelines. Then they’d run back to Theo’s, and John would run home. Depending on their schedules, the weather, and their mutual dedication, they’d do anywhere from five to eight miles, altogether, about four days a week. Theo was in his late fifties, but he was every bit as fit as John, who was no slouch.
John tried to get a couple of days a week in at the gym, too. He wasn’t worried about those few Italian vacation pounds.
He’d been a little surprised that morning, when Theo had called to check if they were still on for their run. His night at Carmen and Theo’s party hadn’t ended on the best note. With Nick leaning on him, and everybody else looking at him like he was some kind of rapist or something—or at least a really bad party guest—and with fucking Atticus (make that Arthur) Calhoun all over Katrynn and smirking at him every chance he’d had, John had said his goodbyes to the people who mattered and then bailed. Nobody had been sorry to see him go.
It seemed like feeling guilty about bailing on Katrynn had gotten her wedged into his head, now that he was back in town. Before, he’d liked her and been interested in her, but it hadn’t been anything more than vaguely, and occasionally, disappointing not to have a chance to ask her out. Since seeing her last night, though, he’d been, well, obsessing over her a little. He really didn’t like that she was apparently with Calhoun.
She’d had several boyfriends since he’d known her, and he’d met a few, without any feeling stronger than that vague and occasional disappointment. Calhoun was different. It felt like Calhoun was between them.
Which was just stupid. There wasn’t any ‘them’ to be between. He sure as fuck had no right to get territorial. They’d only been casual friends before New Year’s Eve, and a drunk fuck he had zero recollection of was hardly a claim.
They weren’t even casual friends anymore, he guessed. She wouldn’t talk to him now.
That was a lot more than vaguely disappointing.
And fuck, he wanted to turn Calhoun’s smug smirk into ground meat.
So, yeah. He’d been a little obsessed this past half-day or so.
Usually, he and Theo chatted while they ran, but not today. As they headed side-by-side down the road that dead-ended at the high school, finally John had to say something.
“I’m really sorry about last night.”
Theo nodded but didn’t speak for several strides. Then he said, “I’m having trouble imagining you hurting a woman.”
“I’m glad. I wouldn’t.” Except he had, right? Clearly, he had hurt her. He was starting to worry that he’d done more than simply bail, that he’d been shitty to her the night before as well. But there was still nothing in his memory about that night. He must have been well into his drunk when he’d first seen her.
Theo gave him a sidelong glance. “Okay.”
He didn’t say more, didn’t ask for more, and for that John was grateful. What would he have said? He would really have liked the whole sordid thing to fade into the past and be forgotten. After he apologized properly to Katrynn. If he even knew all that there was to be sorry for.
As they arrived at the track, Theo said, “Atticus is leaving on Sunday.”
John was surprised that Theo had turned the focus on Calhoun, since the scene last night had been between John and Katrynn. He took from it that Katrynn and Calhoun were definitely together. Which made his attendance at the party coming up that night problematic for more than one reason.
“Okay. Should I call Bev and cancel for tonight?” It was a book release party. What did they need with him strumming old-style folk tunes, anyway?
“If you want. I’d say that’s between you and Bev. My take is that you’re all grownups, and you made commitments.”
Despite Theo’s assertion that he was a grownup, that made the second time in the past day that John had been—probably rightly so—made to feel like a badly-behaved teenager. The confrontation with Nick last night had been the first. Nick was his cousin, not his father. He was older, in his early fifties, but he was still just a cousin.
Except he was also the don of the Pagano Brothers, and while family went far, it only went so far. Getting on Nick’s wrong side was never a good idea, blood ties or not.
John figured he’d better get his shit together and start acting like the grownup he was.
Cover to Cover Books was located on Gannet Street, in the original part of Quiet Cove. The buildings there were a couple hundred years old or, in the case of those buildings which had simply failed over time, replaced to look a couple hundred years old. The town historical society spent a lot of time ensuring that Quiet Cove kept its old-world charm. At Pagano & Sons, John and Luca, and their father before them, spent just as much time jumping through hoops, on restoration or new build jobs in town. They much preferred jobs outside the town limits, where the restrictions were fewer.
John, a finish carpenter by training, liked the restoration jobs, though, and he’d taken point on the job, a few years back, to renovate Cover to Cover, in an original building. These old buildings were chock full of beautiful wood, and wood was his thing. His particular interest was parquetry, designing and laying custom flooring with intricate patterns, but he enjoyed researching period patterns and influences for just about anything. The Cover to Cover job—they’d called it the ‘C2C’ job—was his signature work, with a flooring design modeled after a William Morris wallpaper pattern, and a perfect restoration where possible, and reproduction where not, of the original, eighteenth-century cabinetry and trimwork.
Since Carlo Sr. had retired, putting Luca in charge of the business and making John Chief Supervisor, John didn’t get many opportunities to do the work he liked—to be on job sites with tools and materials in his hands. Now it was all paperwork and meetings and traveling from job site to job site to check on other people’s work.
He hated it. But it was the family business, so he did it.
When he’d claimed point on C2C, that had been the last time he’d enjoyed his work.
The bookshop was gorgeous. When Bev had inherited it from a friend, it had been charming in the way of old bookshops: cramped, dim and dusty, with a cat reigning over the place. Now, it was still charming, and it was beautiful, too. The same cat was still there, an old broad with long white fur, who stalked around and occasionally deigned to allow a human to touch her, and the layout wasn’t dramatically different. But the space was fresh and warm and appealing. It still smelled like rotting paper, which was a good thing, according to Bev and Katrynn. They’d actually fretted that the construction smells, of sawdust and wood stain, would overwhelm the old books scent.
They needn’t have worried. That smell was both strong and impenetrable.
On the night of Calhoun’s release party, John arrived at the shop at seven-forty. He was the last of the Paganos to arrive, and the non-family guests were starting to file in. He went around back and knocked on the private door.
Looking beautiful, but stressed and tired, Bev opened the door after a minute or two. “You’re here. Good.” She hugged him and then leaned back. “I wasn’t sure you would be.”
“I gave my word, Bev.”
She smiled, and in that curl of her mouth, John knew that Katrynn had told her about New Year’s. He was relieved and hoped it meant she wouldn’t direct questions his way. “Thank you. Atticus isn’t here yet, and neither is Katrynn, but we still have a few minutes. I’ve got him set up to read at the entrance to Chris’s room. I was thinking you could sit behind him to play?”
‘Chris’s room’ was the Chris Mills Reading Room, which they’d set up in honor of Bev’s friend, the former owner of the shop. He’d died in a car wreck and had left the shop—and everything else he’d had—to her. It was a nice room, the centerpiece of the shop, in John’s opinion.
It had a double-door entrance, and as he followed Bev out of the private staff rooms and into the main shop, he saw that there was already an elegant podium set up in the doorway, with rows of folding banquet chairs before it. Off to one side, in the poetry nook, was a table covered in deep-green fabric and a couple of silver vases full of pens. Near the front desk was another green-covered table, this one longer, that held a pretty array of refreshments.
The place was crowded, and more people were coming in. Few of the guests were locals, though. Almost everyone looked New York to John.
“Will that work?” Bev pointed to one of the folding chairs, set up in Chris’s room, just out of sight of the entrance—so the music he played would be heard, but he would not be seen.
That hurt his feelings. He was probably wrong, it probably had nothing whatsoever to do with last night, it was probably solely because the important thing was Calhoun’s reading and not the guitarist playing background music, but John felt like he was being punished.
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Okay. Good. Well, now we just have to wait for the guest of honor, I guess.” As she said it, she turned and stared at the door as if willing Calhoun to show. And Katrynn was missing, too. That was strange.
“Is Katrynn with Calhoun?”
Over her shoulder, Bev shot a look at him. “Is that your business?”
It wasn’t. He didn’t answer, though a sigh forced its way out of his chest. Of course she was with the guy.
“Do you need to warm up or something like that?”
“No. I’m all set.” He’d spent the afternoon playing, getting loose and figuring out what he’d play. John hadn’t read the book, but from the way Bev described it, he thought it was some kind of ‘cowboy has existential crisis’ story. His job was to accompany the reading with angsty music with a western flair.
Since he’d completely forgotten about the gig, since he almost never played for pay, and since he was in the family doghouse, he was nervous. It didn’t help that he was playing for a guy he couldn’t stand, or that he’d been shunted off to a corner to do it.
But he’d take his lumps and be a grownup.
Calhoun was almost thirty minutes late, and so was Katrynn. As expected, they arrived together. By then, the guests were restless, Bev was pale with anxiety, and Nick was calmly furious. John spent the time with his brothers, griping about Calhoun, while the family women fussed over Bev. Nick leaned against the wall near the stairs and glared at the door.
When they finally arrived, Katrynn looked stressed and worried. Calhoun just smiled and began to schmooze.
Eventually, Calhoun came to the podium, gave John a terse nod, said, “Make sure you don’t play over me,” and opened a copy of his book.
He read for twenty minutes. Focused on playing, John didn’t listen to much of what was being read aloud. He played a medley of cowboy tunes he’d researched online. It wasn’t his preferred genre, but honestly, it wasn’t that far off, and it was fun to play. He liked folk music and singer-songwriter stuff. He’d never found the pyrotechnics of rock all that much fun to play, and he preferred the sound of his Alvarez acoustic to an electric any day. When he was in high school, he’d taught himself a bunch of Sixties protest folk—Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul & Mary; Phil Ochs, stuff like that. His older siblings thought he was nuts. He’d shared a bedroom with Joey, who was five years younger than he. Joey hadn’t been thrilled, either.
When the reading was over, Calhoun schmoozed again with his adoring audience. Hidden back in the reading room, John took his time packing his gear up. He’d briefly considered playing background while Calhoun signed his masterpiece and people stuffed canapés into their mouths, but Bev hadn’t asked him to, and he didn’t want to lock himself into staying very long. He’d done what had been asked of him. He wanted out as soon as was seemly.
“You sounded great.”
At Katrynn’s voice, John, who’d been squatting at his hard case, taking a lot longer to pack up his Alvarez than was necessary, turned and stood up.
She wore another turtleneck dress, with another pair of tall, low-heeled boots, these in tan. The dress was maroon and hugged her body everywhere. She had a nice body: smallish tits, but high and round, and a sleek sweep of hips and ass. The clingy fabric did good things. The neck was very high, all the way to her jaw. He thought he saw some discoloration there, but it was probably a trick of the light and shadow with the color of her dress.
With a sharp little nod and a tight smile, she made to turn and leave.
“Katrynn, wait. Please.”
She stopped. After a moment’s hesitation, she faced him again. “John, just don’t.”
“I feel terrible. I won’t bug you. I just want to apologize.”
As she had last night, she reacted to that statement by going cold. “You did that last night.”
“And you didn’t accept it.” She was talking to him, so he took the risk and closed part of the distance between them.
“Is that what you want? Fine. I accept your apology.”
“I don’t care about the words. I’d like to know that you believe that I would never mean to hurt you. I was still half-drunk and not thinking clearly.”
She scoffed bitterly.
Again, John wondered if he’d done something even worse. He had her here, and she hadn’t turned on her heel again yet, so he asked. He couldn’t think what he had to lose. “Bailing on you like that was wicked shitty, I know. But did I do anything else? Worse?”
Some kind of understanding dawned on her face, and it was not pleasant to watch. He had done something worse. Jesus. What?
“You don’t remember the night.”
He tried out a sheepish grin and took another step toward her. “No. I’m sorry. I drowned my sorrows really well.”
“Oh my God. Oh, my God.”
Her eyes filled with tears. Jesus GOD, what had he done? He took another step, until he was nearly toe-to-toe with her. “Fuck, Katrynn. What did I do to you?”
As he asked, he reached out, without a clear intention to do so, but feeling a need to offer her comfort. She jerked her head away before he could touch her.
The movement separated the top of her turtleneck from the line of her jaw, and John saw that her neck was badly bruised. All of the skin she’d exposed was an angry, dark puce.
He knew that Calhoun had done that. He just knew it. It looked like the bastard had choked her.
He reached again, and as he formed the words to ask what had happened, Katrynn skittered backward, and then Calhoun was there. He put his arm around her waist and gave John that smug glare, like he was affecting anger but not really feeling it.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?” Calhoun asked, his tone heavy with challenge.
John punched him in the face.
Calhoun stumbled back, then pushed Katrynn aside and jumped at John.
They were in the Reading Room, which wasn’t exactly spacious, so it took a while for anybody to get to them and pull them apart. By the time Luca had John, and Theo had Calhoun, they had torn the hell out of the room and each other.
Not to mention the party.
John was quite a bit taller, but he was lean. Calhoun was broader—and he wore rings; John didn’t. John definitely got the worst of the fight. But as Luca shoved him to the wall, he was pleased to see that Calhoun’s nose was gushing blood and his eye was already swelling shut.
“Jesus fuck, John-O,” Luca snarled at him. “You cool now?”
He took a breath and was about to say yes when Calhoun broke Theo’s hold and stormed over. “I will end you, motherfucker!”
The sound of the threat was impaired by his broken nose, but Luca let go of John and turned on Calhoun. He pushed the writer away. “Back off, buddy, or I will get in the middle of this shit, and you will not like that at all.”
Not knowing Luca well enough, Calhoun was undeterred and made another advance. But then Sam, Nick’s driver and bodyguard, was there, with his enormous hand clamped on Calhoun’s neck.
“Enough.” Nick’s voice was deadly quiet.
John looked over and saw his cousin, standing in the rubble they’d made. They’d knocked stacks over, broken a couple of tables, shattered a lamp John knew was an antique, and broken an arm off the armchair that he knew had been Bev’s friend’s favorite. Bev’s dead friend, who’d left her this shop.
Without another word, without looking at anything but the mess they’d made in his wife’s business, Nick turned. He went to Katrynn, who was still standing in the entrance, her face full of shock. He took her by the elbow and led her out of the room, through the throng of his wife’s scandalized guests.
Luca watched them go, too, and turned back to John. “You are in serious shit, John. Whatever has you so twisted up these days, you better find the end of it.”
John agreed. First he had to figure out what it was.
At Mass the next morning, John withstood his stepmother’s hand-wringing fuss about the state of his face, and his father’s censorious comments about how he would have expected such from Luca, or even Junior, but not from him. Pop always managed to scattershot his criticisms and hit multiple brothers at once.
He hadn’t seen Carlo Sr. or Adele, his father’s wife, since before he’d left for Italy. Pop was retired and had had four heart attacks. He and Adele pretty much stayed at their house these days, rarely going farther than next door, to the family house on Caravel Road, which he still owned, and where Carlo Jr. lived with Sabina and their kids. So they hadn’t been present at either of the most recent events of John’s downward spiral.
But they’d gotten the full report. News traveled fast in the Pagano family. Especially juicy news.
Nick, Bev, their daughters, and Nick’s mother, Aunt Betty, sat in the pew across from John and his family. As it had always been, the Paganos took over those two pews and, now, on Carlo Sr.’s side, a bit of a third. Everyone came to Mass at Christ the King every Sunday, except Manny, Luca’s wife, who was quickly bored and bad about hiding it, and Theo, who had some strong opinions about Catholicism.
After Mass, everyone stood outside and waited to talk to Father Mike. The temperature neared sixty degrees on this Sunday in February, and John lifted his head into the breeze and let it soothe his sore face. His eye was swollen shut, too, and his jaw was a mess. Not broken, but Luca had had to shove it back into joint. And he’d still ended up in the ER for stitches. Fucking Calhoun and his fucking rings.
He was off by himself, his eyes closed, feeling the nice weather, when he felt that he wasn’t alone. He opened his working eye and saw Nick.
“I want you at the office tomorrow morning at eight.”
Nick didn’t wait for an answer, just turned and went back to Bev and his kids.
Bev was now another woman he needed to apologize to. But he wasn’t going to get the chance today.
His bigger concern was that he’d just been summoned to Pagano Brothers Shipping. To Nick’s office. That meant that Nick had decided to deal with the damage John had caused in Cover to Cover not as his cousin but as Don Pagano.
And that meant that John was, as Luca had said, in serious shit.
©2015 Susan Fanetti