Robin's Reward (Bonita Creek Trilogy Book 1)

Bonita Creek’s librarian Robin Bennett is heartbroken after being abandoned by her husband, Thomas. The mysterious and handsome Jeff Clarke arrives unexpectedly and touches Robin’s life with his wit and warmth. Then, without warning, Jeff’s harsh words and abrasive actions scare her off, and Robin’s hope of finding true love withers again.

Just when it seems Robin and Jeff might have a future, Susan Stinson, whose cruel taunting has plagued Robin since they met as young teens, decides Jeff should be hers,
not
Robin’s. Susan’s anger and jealousy escalate dangerously. Her vindictiveness threatens the foundation of Jeff and Robin’s young relationship.

Robin’s journey through the peaks and valleys of her life meanders along the twists and turns of new challenges. Is a relationship which began with both parties harboring secrets destined to survive? Can they move past their troubles and the obstacles in their path to find love and happiness together? When their pasts rear their ugly heads, Jeff and Robin must use their faith to remain strong and true. But will it be enough for them to embrace a life of love, trials, and blessings . . . together?

 

 

Copyright 2015 June McCrary Jacobs

 

Front Cover Design: Sherry Gammon copyright 2015

Interior Design: Cindy C Bennett

Images copyright via DepositPhotos.com

Elet_1 (Anna Bogush)

Pakhnyushchyy (Vitalik Pakhnyushchyy)

daseaford
(David Seaford)

 

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Exceptions are reviewers who may quote short excerpts for review. Please write to
[email protected]
for permission.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously.

All Rights Reserved USA

 

~
DEDICATIO
N
~

Robin’s Reward
is dedicated to my dear friend, Nancy.

Thank you for your kindness, guidance, encouragement, and support over the past three decades.

Your friendship has been a blessing in my life.

 

Chapter One

 

I’m as hot and sticky as the center of a freshly-roasted campfire marshmallow
, Miss Praise.” Perspiration trickled past Robin’s sunburned neck, under her collar, and down her back. Her blouse was plastered to her skin.

“I’m not feeling very feminine
or
lady-like in this condition, if you catch my drift. This brings us to my next question. What was I thinking starting up with this garden renovation project on the hottest March afternoon ever recorded in Bonita Creek? Am I nuts? Wait—don’t answer that.”

Some sympathy from Miss Praise, like purring or even winding herself around Robin’s legs, would’ve been comforting. Instead, the elderly tabby was dozing comfortably in her cozy quilt-lined basket on the shaded porch. Robin was drained from tangling with her vintage hydrangea bush for the past four hours.

She’d read gardening was great exercise, but it gave Robin’s thoughts too many chances to wander. She dreaded those dark, dreary spaces in her mind permanently occupied by unhappy memories and heart-wrenching regrets. Since she wasn’t accomplishing much anyway, she released her shovel to take a break with a refreshing glass or two of her favorite iced tea. She straightened up and stretched her aching arms over her head.

“I’m parched, how about you? Want something cold to drink?” She spoke in the direction of the faded gray cat. Apparently, Miss Praise had heard enough of Robin’s whining. The cat yawned, stretched, flicked her tail, and hopped daintily out of her basket. She lumbered down the brick path to seek refuge in the peaceful back garden. Naturally, Robin hadn’t expected Miss Praise to respond, but talking to the cat helped her feel connected to her Grandma Estelle. The older woman had passed on a few years ago and Robin still ached for her grandmother’s presence. She kneaded her fatigued lower back with her knuckles and sighed deeply.

As she untied the ribbon of her straw hat and shook out her damp curly hair, Robin sensed someone’s gaze. A prickly feeling caused her to rotate her body where she came face-to-face with an unfamiliar—but attractive—man. A hint of amusement lit up his clean-shaven face as he stood on the walkway in front of her garden gate. When the stranger chuckled, Robin’s damp cheeks flamed scarlet. She wondered how long he’d been standing there listening to her grunt and groan and, well, whine.

Since he couldn’t possibly have seen Miss Praise, he probably assumed Robin had been talking to herself.
Swell.
Just another example of the truckload of awkward moments in life when Robin wished she could vanish on demand. Speaking through clenched teeth, she attempted to use humor to cover up her self-consciousness.

“Instead of breaking your neck staring at me, how about making yourself useful by helping me dig up this stubborn hydrangea?” Her embarrassment grew when the stranger’s sole response was a chorus of boisterous laughter.
Lord, please get me out of here—now!
Robin’s humiliation took over her common sense, and her sole goal was to flee. Grabbing her garden hat, she slammed it onto the gate post as she wrenched off her work gloves and tossed them on the ground near her birdbath. The sound of the man’s hearty laughter echoing in her ears brought her lifelong dislike of being the object of teasing and taunting racing to the surface.

Like most school children, she’d suffered through her share of teasing and even some bullying. Truth be told, she was still occasionally bullied by a former classmate, Susan Stinson, almost ten years after they’d graduated. Robin had expected—and hoped—in her current stage of life, halfway between twenty-five and thirty, she would’ve overcome this affliction. The scorching feeling in her cheeks told her otherwise.
I
so
do not want to deal with this guy.

Attempting to give the illusion of self-confidence, Robin lengthened her spine and held her chin high as she stalked toward her cottage. In the safety of her cottage’s interior she’d find the solace and peace she was seeking. Far too often in the past she’d allowed her pride and confidence to be battered by a male. Okay, one male in particular. She vowed to handle her reaction in the current situation differently. She was determined to spare herself one more millisecond of humiliation.
Today I’m going to stand up to my tormentors. All right, so maybe this stranger isn’t exactly
tormenting
me. Still, everyone knows laughing at a lady isn’t polite.

Robin wasn’t going to stand there and let some stranger, however handsome he might be—and this guy was definitely above-average in the looks department—laugh at her in her own garden. Hot, briny tears stung her eyes. Time seemed to slow down, and she couldn’t make it to the front door fast enough. Embarrassing incidents from her not so distant past charged to the forefront of her mind as she made her way up the front porch steps.

 

~*~

 

At the front gate, Jeff froze. He’d offended her. His body felt as if he’d just finished running five miles at a training pace, as it had been since he’d first happened upon the woman. His heart thundered in his ears when he’d first seen her, his vision honed in on a lovely brunette. She was hard at work in her garden on such an oppressive afternoon. He’d never seen anyone so focused on one task. She appeared to be in a frenzy, trying to free the roots of a bush from the sun-dried, hardened soil.

He had to admit, she looked as if she were accustomed to hard work. Strong, fit arms and legs peeked out from her short-sleeved blouse and khaki shorts. She sported a wide-brimmed hat and appeared unafraid of hard work if the sweaty sheen covering her neck and face were any kind of evidence. Smudges of dirt adorned her elbows, knees, and—he couldn’t help but notice—shapely calves.

He’d been walking through the streets surrounding his rental home. Historical architecture was one of his hobbies, and he was checking out the architectural styles located on the streets in this older section of Bonita Creek, California. He’d already identified Craftsman, Victorian, Italianate, Tudor, cottage, ranch, and bungalow style homes. His mind, locked on his thoughts, was jarred when he heard a frustrated voice asking why she was trying to renovate her garden on this hot afternoon. The voice held such conviction he stopped to see if the speaker was seeking his personal opinion. When he realized the sun-kissed gardener was alone in the garden, he became enthralled by her movements and the timbre of her voice.

Unsure of how long he’d been staring, Jeff was jerked out of his trance when the woman turned around and challenged him to come into the garden to help her dig up the bush. Embarrassed he’d been caught staring, his natural reaction was to laugh. Now the woman rushed away from him toward the door of the cottage dominating the center of the property.

This scenario was not unfolding as he wanted. He blamed his complete lack of understanding of women and their mysterious ways for this latest gaffe.
Now you’ve done it.
You are clueless, Clarke.
He needed to come up with something witty and wise to redeem himself. Otherwise, he’d lose a chance to meet this fascinating gardener who had his curiosity.

 

~*~

 

“Please, wait!” the stranger called in Robin’s direction. “I’m sorry,” he added when she slowed. “Can we start over?”

Robin hesitated to accept this man’s apology because she’d been humiliated by his laughter, and let’s face it, her appearance after a long afternoon of working in the toasty garden wasn’t exactly the height of glamour. Plus, there was the river of salty tears that had, at that exact moment, chosen to stain her overheated cheeks. She didn’t want to turn around to face him until she’d composed herself a bit.

She was exasperated by his behavior, but loneliness tugged at her heart. Robin was exhausted from trying to be a modern, independent woman. She wanted desperately to connect with another human being. She felt naïve in the ways of the world when it came to the social nuances of the day. And her finely-tuned ‘creep radar’ hadn’t gone off yet. “Maybe he’s not so bad after all,” she muttered under her breath.

How should I handle this?
Doubt flooded her thoughts for a moment. Then, powered more by her need to escape the visitor’s intense scrutiny than a desire to spend more time with him, she summoned her courage. 

“Would you like a glass of iced tea?”

“Sure, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble. I was going to take a break before you came by. I’ll be right out with a tray.”

Once inside the shadowy entryway of her cottage, she took a deep breath and counted to twenty to calm her jittery nerves. She exhaled slowly and repeated the exercise to relieve some more stress. “
Hello?
What exactly were you thinking when you invited this stranger to share some tea?”

Robin’s dealings with men on a personal level had been few and far between the past few years. What interactions she did have with men were usually uncomfortable because of what—
No
use exhuming that memory out of the padlocked waterproof and fireproof box it’s buried in
. She was taking a genuine leap of faith by inviting this newcomer to share tea with her. Not impulsive by nature, Robin was unable to figure why she’d invited this stranger.
Maybe we won’t even like each other and that’ll be the end of it.

 

~*~

 

Jeff was grateful she was giving him a second chance. Her feistiness amused him. No woman had captured his interest so keenly and quickly before. Jeff had an unexplainable desire to get to know her much better. Although the understanding of women eluded him, he knew enough to realize he needed to figure out how to get back into her good graces—and fast.

It was achingly apparent from her body language when he laughed earlier he’d offended her.
I will never understand women.
As he looked at the bush she’d been trying to extract, he decided this might be the way to make up for it. He wasn’t a gardener, but he wasn’t afraid of hard work. Jeff picked up the shovel and attempted to loosen the packed-down soil around the bush.

By the time she returned to the porch with a loaded tray, he’d marked off a circle twice the diameter of the bush’s root ball with the shovel. He was attempting to force the shovel into the rock-hard ground.

It didn’t take long before he began to huff and grunt and scold himself. “You had to be the big hero, didn’t you?” As Jeff cursed himself for working in the scorching sun without wearing a hat or gloves, he felt a sting of pain as a splinter punctured the center of his palm. He shouted, “Ouch!” Fortunately, he caught himself before he blurted out a more colorful phrase.

Jeff slammed down the shovel and began hopping around in agony. He heard himself whining as he pivoted from foot to foot. It occurred to him turnabout was fair play. Now it was
his
turn to be embarrassed under her attentive gaze. Maybe she’d feel less inclined to be angry with him if she could have a laugh at his expense.

 

~*~

 

As Robin stepped outside the cottage door with the tray, she enjoyed her view of the handsome stranger. She set the heavy tray on one of the porch chairs as grumbling came from the hydrangea’s direction. Obviously, the man was experiencing much the same frustration she’d felt while dealing with the bush.

She heard the man questioning how any sane woman could work in the garden on a hot afternoon such as today—a little too personal for someone she’d yet to meet. She guessed this stranger was not a gardener. Maybe he’d never mown a lawn or transplanted a flower. Many Bonita Creek citizens loved to work with the abundantly rich soil found in this coastal mountain town just as their ancestors had before them. He likely couldn’t begin to comprehend the need to finish this garden renovation before the true heat of summer settled over the small town.

Robin rushed back inside and grabbed a vintage linen hand-embroidered tablecloth. Hoping this addition to the table would help to diffuse the tension she felt right now, she shook out the tablecloth and covered the porch table. She began unloading the tray’s contents. Cloth napkins, china plates, silver utensils and a pair of tall ice-filled glasses surrounded a dewy glass pitcher filled with freshly brewed herbal tea. She added a basket overflowing with blueberry muffins she’d baked earlier and a bowl of dewy, dark red strawberries freshly-harvested from her backyard garden.

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