Shannon here: Debut author, Lynne Gentry shares an excerpt from Reinventing Leona. Comment on any post dated August 15 – 19 for a chance to win an e-book download. Deadline: August 20, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Lynne:
Excerpt from Reinventing Leona, Lynne Gentry (Tyndale, 2011)
Maddie picked up a dessert, then scanned the crowded fellowship hall. She’d had enough of the icy tension between Grandmother and Momma at the head table. She spotted Cotton across the room and threaded her way through well-wishers to reach the empty seat beside him.
“Did you get some of Bette Bob’s pudding?” Cotton dragged a plastic spoon around his empty bowl.
“I don’t eat sweets.”
One bushy brow raised, he asked, “Does banana cream pie count as a fruit at Vanderbilt?” Cotton’s ribbing covered Maddie like hot fudge melting cold ice cream, a comforting combination sure to sweeten the bitterest of situations.
She slid the plate onto the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down. “Okay, I don’t eat as many as I used to. Gotta watch my figure, you know.”
“Your figure seems fine to me.” The rich baritone voice came from behind.
Maddie twisted in the gray metal folding chair to see Parker Kemp grinning at her, his puppy-dog eyes twinkling. He was handsomely dressed in a dark suit, tasteful tie, and holding a bowl of pudding.
“This seat taken?” Parker pointed to the chair beside Maddie.
“Do you see anyone sitting there?” Cotton licked the back of his empty spoon. “Have a seat, boy.”
Parker looked at Maddie. “May I?”
Maddie shrugged, then scooted her chair closer to Cotton’s. She didn’t remember Parker’s shoulders being so broad, or the confident air he seemed to possess, like he was comfortable in his tanned skin. Even when she protested his offer of chocolate cake to Tator after he and Momma got all but a few crumbs off the kitchen floor, his smile and the way he ignored her threats said Parker Kemp was no longer the youth group nerd. What had happened? Had some secret chemical agent changed his entire body chemistry? Maddie shifted in her seat so she could get a better view, purely for scientific investigation, she assured herself.
Parker placed his dessert on the table and sat down. “I thought the service for your father was real nice.”
Unnerved by his directness, Maddie swallowed. “Daddy would have preferred to do it himself.”
Parker nodded. “And, no doubt, he would have done a better job.”
Across the room a group of men laughed. Maddie swiveled in her chair to locate her father’s booming bass in the mix. Her daddy loved a joke more than anyone she knew. But he was nowhere to be found. Was that the joke? David, Maddie, and Momma trapped together without Pastor Harper’s humor to lighten the tension. It wasn’t funny.
Something was off-kilter in this place where she’d eaten more than her share of potluck fare. She’d had this same dizzy sensation while seated in the Harper pew listening to Howard Davis speak from her father’s pulpit.
Either Mr. Davis was in the wrong place or she was. This day was a bad dream. Any minute she would wake up in her loft apartment, yell at Katie Beth for letting her oversleep, throw on some clothes, and rush out the door. She’d phone her dad on the way to the hospital, and the ripple of his laughter would make everything that had been wrong about this nightmare right for his Princess.
“So, are you about finished with med school?” Parker touched Maddie’s arm and she jumped.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”
Parker chewed the large bite he’d popped in his mouth, then swallowed. “When do you finish school?”
“In the spring. Then I’ll start my residency.”
“You coming back to this part of the country to do that?” Parker asked.
“I hadn’t planned to, but now that Momma is . . .” Maddie felt flush under Parker’s gaze. She diverted her eyes and noticed the Story sisters aiming their pointed noses in their direction. Their creaky bodies would not be far behind. Maddie hurried to change the subject. “So, what about you? I bet the stimulating work of an extension agent is never done.”
He smiled. “On call round the clock.”
Nola Gay tapped Parker’s shoulder. “What are you going to do about our wilt?”
“See what I mean?” Parker winked at Maddie.
“Stem rot.” Etta May steadied herself by placing a shaky hand on Maddie’s shoulder. “Just about did in our cucumber crop last year.”
“It’s those blasted striped beetles. They chew into the leaves and the next thing you know, the wilt has spread up and down the runner.” Nola Gay pursed her lips and shook her head.
The unruffled extension agent put down his spoon and rubbed his chin. “I’ve been studying your problem, ladies.” The way he focused his attention reminded Maddie of a doctor contemplating the best way to break the news of a fatal diagnosis. “Why don’t you have a seat, and we’ll see if we can’t come up with a plan to shut down those hard-shelled hooligans before they taste another bite of Mt. Hope’s best cucumbers? Would you mind making room, Maddie?”
Where did this guy get off thinking she’d want dibs on his attention? “Of course not.” Tamping her irritation, Maddie nudged Cotton and they slid over a couple of chairs. “It’s not every day a person gets to see a real live extension agent in action.”
Parker seemed to ignore the sarcastic edge in her voice. “Prepare to be amazed.” He jumped up, repositioned the abandoned seats in a semi-circle around him, then situated his troubled clients on either side. “If we happen to get a big snow cover, and end up with a warm spring, we’ll have to take aggressive action.”
Nola Gay and Etta May leaned in close, their serious faces awaiting the plan.
“So, I figure we’ll put cheesecloth tents over the new shoots, then plant several rows of corn on the windward side of your patch.”
The Sisters frowned, obviously skeptical of the elaborate plan.
Undeterred by their expression of doubt, Parker continued, “I promise, those thieving scoundrels will be so distracted they’ll forget all about your cucumbers.”
Nola Gay thought a minute, and then her eyes began to gleam as one plotting evil. “Out-smart the little buggers.”
“Beat them at their own game.” Etta May glowed, rubbing her hands together.
Maddie watched Parker pick up his spoon and polish off his pudding under the admiring gaze of the Storys. The guy must be secretly nipping on the fertilizer because somewhere along the line, Mt. Hope’s extension agent’s unflappable way with the ladies had blossomed ten-fold, no question about it.
About the book: The pastor’s wife knows that residing in the parsonage is not for sissies, but the thought of living anywhere else scares Leona Harper spitless. When her husband drops dead in the pulpit, Leona loses more than her spouse. She loses her best friend, her home, and her entire identity. How does a woman cast adrift find the courage to reinvent her life?
About Lynne: Lynne Gentry knew marrying a preacher might change her plans. She didn’t know how much ministry would change her life. This author of numerous short stories and dramatic works travels the country as a professional acting coach, inspirational speaker, and dramatist. Lynne lives in Dallas with her husband Lonnie and counts spending time with her two grown children and their families her greatest joy.
Come back August 22 for Young Adult author, K Dawn Byrd.