The Slow Burn Page 1

For Mom . . .

Granite and Steel

I miss you.


For Gram . . .

I still wonder what

the poor people are doing.

Thank you for teaching me

what it means

to be rich.

I miss you too.

I GREW UP in a house where we had government cheese.

If you don’t know what that means, it means that you’re in an income bracket where you can look to the system to give you some necessities, like food. And one of the things they gave you was this enormous block of better-living-through-chemistry cheese.

Often, at our farm, we had occasion to sit around our big, rectangular dining room table. Christmas. Birthdays (and there were a lot of birthdays with seven of us in that house). Easter. Or just to play games. Just to be with family.

We didn’t eat filet mignon at these dinners. We had chili. Stew. Pork cutlets, fried potatoes and corn (the corn was also fried, it’s an Indiana thing and we now consider it a treat). Homemade potato soup. Chicken and dumplin’s.

If I wanted to listen to the stereo, I listened to my sister’s.

If I wanted to watch TV by myself, if I could get away with it, I watched the miniscule black-and-white television in my brother’s room.

If they wanted to play a record, they did it on my turntable.

We didn’t have a lot.

So we shared.

In so many ways.

I did know we didn’t have a lot.

The other thing I knew was that we had so much more than many.

On more than one occasion, my grandmother would sit back in her chair at her place at the foot of that table, and she’d watch her family happy to be doing nothing but sitting together and being together.

And on more than one occasion, when she sat back, she did it with this contented smile curling her lips, and she’d remark, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

As a child, that always confused me.

It wasn’t until I grew older that I understood I was then, and I am now, the richest girl in the world.

See, when we’re all together, not at our farm in Indiana, but in one of our homes in Phoenix—my brother, my sister, my brother-in-law, my nieces—on occasion my brother or my sister will sit back and ask, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?”

We never forgot what our mother gave us through love and sacrifice when, out of necessity, she moved us in with my grandparents.

She gave us family.

An embarrassment of riches.

Thus, my fictional Daphne Forrester taught her daughters Eliza and Adeline what true wealth really meant.

And it was an honor being in this series to give that through them to my readers.

I hope you enjoy Toby and Addie’s story, the end of Moonlight and Motor Oil.

And I wish you wealth beyond your wildest imaginings.

The real kind.


Rock On



She Was Going to Be Just Right


Thirty Years Ago . . .

TOBY SAT ON his rump in the middle of the room and stared.

His big brother Johnny was standing by their daddy’s leg and patting it.

Daddy was sitting on their couch, bent over, head in his hands, his shoulders heaving.

He was crying.

Toby had never seen his daddy crying.

“Daddy,” his big brother said, his voice funny.

Their daddy lifted his head, his face red, and looked at Toby’s big brother.

Then he lifted one of his big hands and wrapped it around Johnny’s neck.

“It’s okay, son,” he said, his voice funny too. “It’s okay,” he repeated.

His eyes strayed to Toby.

Toby felt his lip wobble, his belly all funny when he saw his daddy’s face.

“We’ll all be okay,” his father whispered.

Toby didn’t believe him.

He didn’t believe him at all.

This was Tobias David Gamble’s first cognitive thought.

It was also his first memory.

He was three.

And when it came to his dad, Toby’s thoughts on that particular subject would turn out to be right.


Ten Years Later . . .

“She’s ruined him,” Margot snapped.

Toby was about to go in the back door.

It was after school.

His dad and brother were at the garage.

If Toby didn’t feel like working on some car, and sometimes he didn’t, he’d go to his Grams and Gramps’s after school.

That is, if he didn’t sneak out to the mill and pretend he was a fugitive from justice. Or a cop hunting a fugitive from justice. Or a scientist discovering a new kind of moss that would cure cancer. Or a sailor stranded from his ship on a desert island (that had a mill with a water wheel).

Everyone had freaked the first time he’d walked all the way out to the mill to do his own thing.

He’d been eight.

Now, if he was in the mood, he just went. And if they didn’t know where he was, they went out there to get him.

But Grams and Gramps were in Germany for a vacation, visiting Grams’s family.

Since he didn’t want to go to the garage, like always when his Grams and Gramps were busy, Toby went to Margot and David’s after school.

David was his dad’s best friend.

Margot was Dave’s wife.

She was also a pain in the butt.

This was because she was super strict. It was always, “A gentleman does this,” or, “a decent man does that,” or, “you offer a lady a cookie first, Tobias, before you eat fifteen of them.”

Her cookies were the best.

Who wouldn’t eat fifteen of them?

And if you offered them to some girl first, she might eat fifteen of them, not leaving you enough when she was done.

But okay . . .

He’d never tell anyone this, not anyone in the whole world, but he liked it when Margot got all cuddly with Dave, her eyes getting soft, like he built some big cannon and pointed it to the sky and lit that thing, filling the heavens with stars.

He wished his mom had thought that about his dad.

But he liked it that Margot gave that to Dave.

He wouldn’t tell anyone this either, but Toby liked it when she got all soft in the face sometimes, when she looked at him when he got an A on some paper or after he helped his team win a game (and she’d know, she always went to his games, Dave too) or after he made her laugh.

And he liked it a whole lot when she’d run the backs of her fingers down his jaw.

But right then, Toby didn’t turn to the screen door and push it in when he heard Margot in the kitchen talking on their phone.

He stood at the side of the door and listened.

Margot’d get ticked, she knew he was there. She was big on manners, and eavesdropping was not something she was keen on. So eventually he’d have to retrace his steps, give it time and come back.

But now he was gonna listen.

“I can’t begin to imagine what’s wrong with Rachel, except for the fact she’s not Sierra.”

Toby’s eyes closed and his shoulders slumped.

His dad was scraping off another girlfriend.

That sucked.

His dad seemed better when he had a lady around.

This time it sucked more because Toby really liked Rachel.

He’d learned not to like them. They never lasted long.

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