Welcome Home, Stranger
For Pamela Jo Wilson, returning to her sleepy Mississippi hometown means coming face--to--face with her past. At seventeen, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of a new marriage and family, she fled Mimosa. But Nick Shepard wasn't the only one Pam left behind. Now, thirteen years later, she just hopes she can make things right with her ex--husband and the child she barely knows.
Nick's first instinct is to protect his daughter, but his little girl is hell--bent on meeting the woman who left her behind. With his own feelings for Pam being as powerful and all--consuming as ever, how can Nick know what he's feeling is real? And how can he trust Pam again? First she has to convince him she's through running. That she's come home--this time for good.
As part of her long overdue efforts to become a better person, Pamela Jo Wilson tried to find something positive about every situation. Right now the closest thing to a silver lining she could muster was: The car will probably break down before I get there. She could hope, anyway.
Or maybe the balding tires would simply melt in the muggy August heat, a painfully plausible scenario.
Even with the windows rolled down, heatstroke seemed imminent. The air--conditioning in her four--door compact had died last year, mere blocks from the used--car lot. She'd known better than to try to get a refund. In that neighborhood, she'd been lucky to get title and registration. But the dilapidated automobile had proven as stubborn as its owner, persevering all the way from California to the delta.
Now, Mississippi sun beat through her windshield with enough intensity to make her feel like an ant on the frying end of a juvenile delinquent's magnifying glass. Though Pam wasn't enjoying the heat--or the periodic stench of baked marshes and paper mills--she grudgingly appreciated the simple majesty of the azure sky above the rural stretches of untamed land she'd passed.
Perfect, fluffy clouds dotted the horizon, looking more like they were from a painting than real life.
As her car chugged up the incline, a cheery wooden sign came into view. The paint job was so flawlessly fresh that she imagined some civic--minded volunteer in coveralls at the side of the road at dawn each day applying touch--ups with a can of aldermen--approved acrylic. Enjoy Your Stay in Beautiful Mimosa. Perfectly welcoming. Yet every molecule in Pam's body shrieked, "Turn the heck around!"
Giving up swearing was a result of step number four. It had been dam... Darn difficult. But she'd done it, examined her many flaws and resolved to change. With a little bit of persistence and a whole lot of divine intervention, she could do this, too. When she'd left Mimosa almost thirteen years ago, sneaking away in the night to catch a Memphis--bound bus, she'd only imagined one scenario that could bring her back. The long dead fantasy now seemed both laughable and petty.
Having been assured her entire youth that she had "the voice of an angel," she'd entertained a vindictive daydream of returning as--she tried not to wince, the memory felt so foolish--a country music superstar. She'd pictured arriving in town, a chart--topping American sweetheart, with just enough time in her packed schedule for a charitable concert and a shrug of indifference toward her mother... who would naturally beg forgiveness for all that had passed between them.
There was only one aspect of reality that even distantly matched her childish dream. Pam was indeed making this return trip to see Mae Danvers Wilson.
No matter what form of address Pam had been required to use aloud as a kid, she'd thought of the woman by her given name rather than Mom. Mae Wilson possessed all the warmth and maternal instincts of a cottonmouth. Oh, and you did any better? At thirty--one, Pam was no longer as judgmental as her teen self; she had a boatload of mistakes to keep her humble. Possibly an entire fleet's worth.
Remembering some of those mistakes, including a disastrous flirtation with motherhood, Pam blinked hard. Don't go there. She hadn't driven this far just to come unglued and wrap her car around a white oak.
Within the official limits of Mimosa, the first two buildings were a gas station across the street that looked new and, to her right, Wade's Watering Hole, a dive older than she was. At least it had been considered a disreputable dive over a decade ago. Now the siding and roof gleamed,...