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Excerpt for Return To Tradd Street

CHAPTER 1

    My eyes flickered open in my Tradd Street bedroom where splinters of light fed slowly into the room through the plantation shutters.  The gossamer curtains that my mother had thought would add a touch of femininity to the otherwise masculine space moved softly from cool air being blown from the vent hidden in the wide baseboard.  A wet nose and furry ear pressed against my cheek as General Lee’s tail fanned my chest.  Yet none of these creature comforts eased the tightening in my chest that had seized me upon waking as the reality of my life once again came crashing down on my head like an avalanche with no impediments.  Despite a lifetime of being in control of my destiny and what I thought was a fulfilling life of purpose as a successful Realtor, I found myself in the most incomprehensible and extraordinary predicament:  I was forty years old, single, and—most baffling of all—pregnant.

    I glanced over at my bedside table to the small domed anniversary clock that had belonged to the home’s previous owner, Nevin Vanderhorst.  Like most everything else in the bedroom and the rest of the house, I’d kept it although I wasn’t altogether sure why.  I liked to tell myself it was because it would make the house easier to sell if I didn’t put too much of a personal stamp on it.  But sometimes, like now, I imagined I could hear Mr. Vanderhorst’s voice telling me about the love he had for his family’s ancestral home.  

It’s a piece of history you can hold in your hands.  

I hadn’t really understood what he’d meant at first but now, I was afraid, I was beginning to.  

I was wary of understanding that connection between history and family.  Despite being a native Charlestonian with my own baggage of family trees and old houses, I’d done very well without it for nearly thirty-three years, after all.  At least until my mother, who had abandoned me when I was six years old, decided it was time we reconcile.

    I squinted at the round face of the clock, silently cursing my decision not to replace my electric clock with a similar one—except with even larger, brighter neon numbers I could read without my glasses.  I fumbled in the bedside drawer before finding my glasses and sticking them on my nose.  Seven thirty.  I jerked up, mortified that I had once again slept in.  Not that anyone ever got to Henderson House Realty before nine, but since I’d begun my employment there I’d been like Old Faithful, always at my desk by eight o’clock.  It’s what had put my name on the sales leader board in Mr. Henderson’s office every single quarter since my first year.  A record I’d kept until recently.

    I began to swing my legs to the side of the bed when the room tilted and the contents in my stomach left over from the night before began to jostle for attention.  Groaning, I lay back down on the pillow, feeling no better despite a wet swipe from General Lee’s tongue.  A brief tapping on the door was followed by the appearance of Mrs. Houlihan, my housekeeper, entering the room carrying a plate of Saltines.

    “Seems I got here just in time.  Your mama told me to have these on your bedside table each morning. You’re supposed to eat a couple before you even raise your head off the pillow.”

    I’d inherited Mrs. Houlihan along with the dog and the house.  Although still having doubts about the benefits of the latter two, Mrs. Houlihan was worth her weight in gold.  And, after studying her broad chest and ample hips, I realized that would be a considerable amount, indeed.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Houlihan,” I said as I took a proffered cracker and stuck it on my dry tongue.  I left it there to dissolve, afraid that if I moved my mouth too much my stomach would protest.  I closed my eyes to keep the room from spinning and heard the sound again.  It was what had awakened me, forgotten as soon as consciousness had claimed me.

    “Did you hear that?” I asked, lying very still so I could both hear better and wouldn’t throw up from any sudden movement.

    “Hear what?”  Her eyes met mine.

    The sound was so small it would have been easy to ignore.  Except that it was accompanied by a rush of frigid air, like the door to a tomb had just been opened.

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