So excited to bring you a sneak peek of my story in The Brightest Day anthology, “A Sweet Way to Freedom” This anthology, featuring novellas centered the Juneteenth holiday, allowed for writers of African American historical romance come together to commemorate the occasion when the word of emancipation reached the last group of the formerly enslaved in Texas. My story, “A Sweet Way to Freedom” introduces readers to Winslow, Georgia, the setting of my Migrations of the Heart series. The romance is between Arlo Tucker, the town’s musician and bad boy, and the school teacher (who went to school at Milford College), Missouri Baxter. Here’s a blurb and excerpt:
When Arlo Tucker stepped foot into the holier-than-thou Georgia hamlet of Winslow, all he wanted to do was profit from those who might want to have a drink in his good-time place. He did not imagine that, in their mutual loneliness, he would get all tied up with the new schoolteacher Missouri Baxter. He had a run of bad luck with women. They had some fun, but he surely didn’t mean to get her caught up in the family way.
In 1910, schoolteacher Missouri Baxter will not go back to her home town with a big belly all by herself. Arlo needs to come with her– as her husband. With God on her side, she’s got nine months to teach a most reluctant student an important lesson about what marriage meant to their people and show him “A Sweet Way to Freedom.”
Arlo ran as fast as he could to the school house after Ruby and her sister came to his place in the woods to tell him what their mother had done. His vision of two women with big bellies fighting did not come to fruition though. He panted with relief when he reached the door of the schoolhouse and saw them in civil conversation with one another. Whew. But then Missy called him a nasty name.
Not like her at all, but not entirely unexpected. He had been down this pathway before, and always managed to negotiate his way away. Only this time, he didn’t want to be away. What could he do to help her to see that he was here now, even if he had been away for a while before?
Arlo moved to her side, to be right there for her but she backed off from him as if he were made of fire. Made sense now that he had burned her. That’s what happened to his women, no matter what his intentions. But he couldn’t stay away from her. He wouldn’t. “Missy, there’s no need for name calling. Ruby and them told me what was happening and I came to see what I could do.”
“Oh, Arlo.” The words of disappointment came from his big sister, filling the space between him and Missy.
Why were the two women he loved most in the world coming together? “Sissy. You should be at home resting. Really. Why are you here?”
“I got up from my bed of affliction to tell Miss Baxter of the board’s decision. We, we have to let her go when this school year is done.” His heart lurched in his chest at this news.
“Is there no end of foolishness in this town? You all are going to fire her for something that’s my fault?”
“I was there too, Arlo.” He loved that she gave him a slight smile. Not all her memories of him were bad. That was quite a change. For him.
“Really. This is just disgraceful. What’re you going to do about this?” Lona made it clear she didn’t care for their exchange just now. But Arlo wasn’t sure. Maybe the thing to do would be to take Missy somewhere away from this backwater gossipy town and set up his place somewhere else where folks weren’t so full of judgment.
“Do?” Missy shifted from one foot to another. “I don’t know if there is anything for him to do, Mrs. Bledsoe. You just fired me from my job.”
Ahh. He had to give Missy that. She was not only the most beautiful woman he had ever met; she could use her mind quick enough as a counterpoint. The feeling of her curves responding to him made him want to go back to those passionate times. She confirmed everything he thought about her when he first laid eyes on the schoolteacher last year. She was something amazing, like a bright star in the heavens.
“You paining me, Miss Baxter.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Tucker.”
She folded her arms, making her burden much more apparent. “For you to do.”
Yes, the women always got like that. Eyes narrowed, arms folded, mouth all twisted up in disarray. They always started one way with him, with willing smiles and stolen kisses. Only later did they have narrowed eyes when things got too rough …and complicated. “I don’t know about that, now. I may have a say or two in these things.”
“Oh, Arlo,” Lona said, a familiar refrain he had been hearing since he was knee high, “are you going to stand by this woman? Please say yes. I don’t want her to lose her only source of employment.”
“Stand by her? As I am now?”
“No, Arlo.” Lona stamped a thick ankle on the ground. She really should be at home, not here getting up into affairs that were no concern of hers. “You know what I mean. I mean marry her.”
“Marry her?” he echoed. He stood next to Missy, as his sister requested, not even realizing how tall she was next to him. Yes, something about her schoolteacher veneer made him want to take her by her thickened waist and…marry her. Right now.
Except her eyes, those dark eyes in her sweet, smooth brown skin—those eyes had already skewered him for a roast.
“I’m not looking to marry anybody.”
Wait. Had he said the words or had she said them? The words in his mind came out from between her lusciously pink, teasing lips. The lips of a Nubian goddess.
“What did you say?” His sister’s attention turned to the teacher now. Yes, Missy had spoken the words in his mind. Out loud. For his sister to hear.
What wounded more, that she knew what was in his mind already—even before he could think it—or that she didn’t want to marry him? Was it possible for one thing to wound more than another?
The Brightest Day will be available in print in late summer 2015.