I have a new Book Baby! You can find Ship to Shore on Amazon, available in e-book and on Kindle Unlimited. Paperback is coming soon!
Here’s the blurb and a little excerpt.
Dodging and weaving her mother’s attempts to get her married off and producing grandbabies as soon as possible, Maggie focuses on teaching and doing fun projects with her students—like sending a box of cards to anonymous soldiers for the holidays. She’s more than a little surprised when the receiving naval officer writes a proper thank-you letter.
The magic ensues when Maggie writes back. She sees her new pen pal as an innocent diversion—until he isn’t.
Lt. Commander F. Hawkins thinks he’s writing to a sweet little old woman. Little does he know that the woman sending him baked goods is going to capture his heart.
In a culture of online dating and hook-ups, Maggie and Hawkins find themselves transported through the old-fashioned act of letter-writing. His steadfast earnestness can’t help but appeal. Her charm and vivacity can’t fail to captivate.
They never stood a chance.
“Yes, Mom, I’ll be there in time.” Maggie stepped out of her warm Toyota and into the brisk November air. She pulled her scarf tighter around her neck and opened the rear door to retrieve a box, balancing the phone between her ear and shoulder. “Yes, I will bring a pecan pie. I said I would! And a Dutch apple, of course. I’ll make the cream when I get there.” She nodded and mouthed thank you to the man who held the door open for her. “Yes, Sarah is making two pumpkin pies, from scratch. We’re going to the farmer’s market tomorrow.” After checking the label on her package, she stood at the back of the line in the thankfully warm but stuffy post office.
“Yes… Yes, I’m bringing a dress… I always look nice!” Maggie made an apologetic face to the woman in front of her. “I’m at the post office. I can’t really talk right now.” The line moved forward and she was only two people back now. “People go to the post office! It’s a perfectly normal thing to do… Yes, it is… Because I don’t have a social secretary!” She sighed and dropped her head as her mother continued talking. “No, please don’t invite Brad! We only went on three dates, there was no chemistry… It matters to me!”
“Mom, I gotta go. I’ll call you back.” Maggie quickly hung up the phone and put it in her coat pocket. It began vibrating a minute later, but she ignored it.
“I have a box for the Letters of Love campaign. It’s letters and a few dozen cookies.”
“Want to send it express? It’s eight dollars more.”
“Sure. The cookies will be better fresh.”
The man behind the counter was clearly uninterested in the contents of her box, as long as there were no flammable materials, weapons, or liquids in it. He told her it would be x-rayed before being sent, as part of procedure, and slapped an express label on it.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile. “And happy Thanksgiving!”
He nodded and called for the next customer, and Maggie left the building, happy that her obligations for the day were through. She popped into her favorite Chinese place for takeout and double checked that her sister had remembered to get wine and chocolate. She was nearly home when her phone rang again.
“Hello, Mother,” she said tiredly. “I am happy to hear from you. It’s just been a long day. No, I did not get fired! Why would you think that?” She rolled her eyes and focused on traffic as her mother continued to extol the virtues of the most recent man she’d decided would be her son-in-law. “Mom, I really appreciate that you’re looking out for me, but I am not looking for a husband or a boyfriend right now… Because I’m just not! Why do I need a reason? I’m happy with my life as it is… I’m focusing on my career.” She knew she’d made a mistake as soon as she’d said it. Now she would have to listen to her mother telling her how Sarah has a career. Something that requires a doctorate is a career. Teaching snotty children is not a career.
They’re not that snotty, she thought acerbically.
“Yes, Mother, I know. Sarah is practically perfect in every way.”
Her mother continued on, saying Sarah had just been an example, and there was no need to get nasty. Why was she being so sensitive?
“Mom, traffic’s picking up and I need to focus. I’ll be there Wednesday evening, on time, and I’ll bring the blue dress. I promise… Bye. Love you, too.”
She hung up with another sigh and drove the last five minutes in silence, taking deep breaths and telling herself it was just Thanksgiving. It was only two nights with the whole family. She could handle that.
“Hey, little sister,” Sarah called when Maggie walked into the kitchen and plopped her bag on the counter.
“Hey, big sister.” Maggie began unpacking the food and set plates and cutlery on the counter.
“I’ve got wine and chocolate in the living room, the fire is on, and the TV is ready. What do you want to watch?”
“Something with costumes, please.”
Sarah raised a brow. “Rough day?”
“Actually, no. Great day. But Mom called.”
Sarah winced. “Sorry. I guess I shouldn’t ask how that went.”
“It was exactly what you think. She wants me to come early and get my hair done by her girl. Apparently, she’s a whiz with difficult hair like mine.” She made a face and Sarah smiled sympathetically. “She’s also inviting Brad Whitaker to dinner, even though I practically begged her not to.”
“Seriously? You guys didn’t even like each other. Zero chemistry.”
“Thank you! That’s what I said! But as per usual, I was overruled.”
Sarah smiled and gave her a hug, squeezing extra tight. “Some things never change!”
“Yeah, at least we have something to rely on.”
Her sister laughed lightly and led the way into the living room where they sank into the sofa and tried to decide what to watch.
“You said your day was great before. Do anything fun?”
“Yes, actually. I got my class and a few others at school to participate in the Letters of Love campaign. The kids traced their hands on construction paper and cut them out to make turkeys, and they wrote something about a soldier on the front. A soldier is kind, a soldier is brave, things like that.”
“I’ll bet some of those were pretty funny.”
“Yeah, my favorite was ‘A soldier has superpowers.’”
Sarah chuckled. “Sounds lovely. Did you get to do the baking project?”
“Yes! I was so relieved. I thought the cafeteria manager was going to be difficult about it, but she let us take over the kitchen for an hour and the kids had a great time. A few moms came to help, and one told me afterward that it was the most fun she’s had at a school event.”
“Wow! That’s some praise.”
“Yeah,” Maggie said softly.
Sarah squeezed her arm. “You’re a great teacher, Mags, don’t let anybody tell you differently. Those little third graders are seriously lucky.”
“Now let’s watch something with top hats and corsets. I need to unwind,” she said with a mischievous smile.
So It Begins
November 30, 20__
Dear Ms. Stone,
Thank you for the kind card and the cookies. The men and I greatly enjoyed them. Please pass on our appreciation for your thoughtfulness to your class. The turkey-cards were a welcome diversion and some were quite funny. The cookies were all devoured within an hour. I did not act quickly enough to have one myself, but I have been assured they were excellent.
My men and I would like to wish you and your class a happy holiday season.
With Utmost Gratitude,
Lt. Commander F. Hawkins
Maggie looked at the letter and chewed her lip in thought. So formal… Other classes had sent cards, but to her knowledge, none had received a reply.
She looked at the envelope. There was a confusing return address, complete with number-letter combinations she couldn’t begin to understand, and the name of a ship: the USS Wentworth. So it had gone to the Navy; she felt a little silly about the ‘soldier is’ statements she’d had the children write on their turkeys. People in the Navy were called sailors, she thought. Maybe they could also be called soldiers in the general sense?
Intrigued, she immediately wrote a reply.
Dec. 10, 20__
Dear Lt. Commander Hawkins,
Thank you for your letter. None of the other classes have received one, so my students are feeling rather special right now. They seem to think it was the cookies that did the trick.
I am about to begin a period of history with my students that features the Navy heavily. I was wondering if there was a man in your squad (platoon? section? I’m afraid I don’t know what to call your men (sailors?) and Google is not being very forthcoming), or even yourself, who might be willing to be a pen-pal of sorts with the children. Someone to tell them a few amusing anecdotes and give a description of daily life aboard a ship or submarine or wherever it is you are.
I would greatly appreciate it and I know the children would love it. To help you decide, here is a collection of my favorite Christmas treats. The double chocolate fudge is my favorite. Might I suggest hiding it to ensure you get your share?
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a festive holiday season to you.
She sat back and tapped her lips with the end of her pen, an old habit from her school days. She thought she’d struck the right tone. She didn’t think she was asking too much, but he might find the request annoying and a waste of time. After all, they were in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the middle of an ocean, and she was sitting pretty in her North Carolina school.
Deciding to stop overthinking it, she addressed the envelope and sent it on its way. The result was out of her hands.
December 20, 20__
Dear Ms. Stone,
Thank you for the box of treats. I held back the fudge for myself and am happily eating it now while the men fight over the cookies. The peanut butter ones seem to be quite popular.
I have passed on your request to Lt. Jacob Davis. He is a verbose, friendly sort of fellow and I believe he would be ideal for your project with your students. He’s good with children, at least when I’ve seen him near them, and has agreed to correspond with your class.
You were correct, my men are called sailors, as is everyone in the Navy.
Thank you again for your kindness. It has been some time since I’ve had baked goods sent to me.
Happy New Year.
Lt. Commander F. Hawkins
Maggie read this letter with a wide smile. It worked! There was a second letter with the name Davis in the corner. She quickly scanned that one and couldn’t help but be amused at how the writer was talking directly to the children, not the teacher. He used words they would know, and his descriptions were vivid and lifelike. She would read it to the children tomorrow and see how they responded. She could already tell this was going to be fun.
As for Lt. Commander Hawkins, she was filled with curiosity. Why had it been so long since anyone had sent him baked goods? Did he not have any family? No wife or girlfriend? Was she just a terrible baker? Did his family send other things? One of the fifth-grade teachers’ husbands was deployed, and she was constantly sending him things. She remembered a girl from college who had a boyfriend in the Marines, and she’d sent him a care package every month.
As she sat looking at Hawkins’s letter, she decided to begin her own correspondence with Lt. Commander F. Hawkins. What was the worst that could happen? He wouldn’t want to write to her and she would have the same relationship with him then as she had now.
January 3, 20__
Dear Lt. Commander Hawkins,
Thank you so much for passing on Lt. Davis. His letter arrived just before Christmas break and the children were thrilled with his enthusiastic description of a carrier. Who knew the beds were so small?
They were so excited that I decided to forgo our Christmas craft in favor of writing a group letter back to Lt. Davis. The boys turned our reading corner into a set of ‘racks’ and every time someone needed to go to the bathroom, they asked if they could use the ‘head’! I was thoroughly amused and cannot thank you enough for your choice of correspondent.
I do wonder if you have any correspondents yourself and if you would mind another one? I would be happy to have someone to write to—it’s all very intriguing and mysterious, you know—and forgive me if I am overstepping here, but I imagine a sailor on a ship far away (and you never did tell me where you are) might like to hear about things back home once in a while.
If you’d rather not, I understand.
Thank you again and God Bless.
Hawkins looked at the letter on his desk and smiled slightly to himself. He liked this Ms. Stone. She was probably pushing sixty and lonely, sitting in a house full of cats that she threw birthday parties for, but he found her sense of humor amusing and her letters were a welcome relief from his more serious duties. And the good thing was, he did not know her. She was miles away from anyone who knew him and besides, it was all very innocent and friendly. Why not?
January 13, 20__
Dear Ms. Stone,
I am pleased that Davis is proving as entertaining to the children as he is to the men here. He is well liked and seems to get along with everyone, which is why I chose him for your project.
I would be happy to correspond with you. You are right—it’s nice to hear about home, even if our homes are very different places. I would be happy to read anything you care to write me. If you wish to send more of the delicious fudge, that would be welcome as well.
Lt. Commander F. Hawkins
P.S. At this moment, I am in the Pacific Ocean.
Maggie smiled to herself as she read the latest letter. Subtle, wasn’t he? She decided to run to the store for the ingredients for fudge before writing back.
January 22, 20__
The Lt. Commander bit is entirely too long to write all the time. Doesn’t your hand get tired? I’ll have to call you Hawkins, unless you’d rather I call you F? What does the F stand for, anyway? And you can call me Maggie. Only my students call me Ms. Stone and since I’m guessing you are well past the third grade, I give you permission to use my first name.
I asked my friend Nancy (she teaches fifth grade here and has a husband deployed in the Army right now) what sort of things she writes about in her letters. She told me she chronicles the everyday things and tries to find humor in the mundane and pass it along. Since I do that anyway, I should easily be able to write it down for you.
The children have been back in school for 2 weeks now. The weather has been awful and they are restless. It has rained or sleeted every day and they haven’t been able to go outside. Obviously, their little legs are jumpy and they can hardly sit in their seats. So today, in a moment of sheer desperation, I pushed all the desks against the wall and handed out copies of a small play about a family of goats in the Alps. We spent the afternoon acting it out on the carpet and afterward, I thought it was one of the best ideas I’d ever had. Why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? Probably because I haven’t been teaching for very long and am still developing my bag of tricks.
I have to visit my parents next weekend. I just saw them at Christmas, but my mother insists that I drive back up to help her organize a yard sale—that she’s planning for March! She has decided to clean out her old crafting room (that I don’t think she’s ever made anything in) and turn it into a playroom.
For her grandchildren.
This would be fine and even nice if she HAD grandchildren! But alas, she does not. But that’s my mother. Always looking ahead.
Anyway, she wants to make sure she doesn’t throw anything out that we might want later. I have a feeling I will be leaving with a trunk full of childhood memories that she “couldn’t possibly store anymore” because there simply “isn’t any room” in their 5,000 sq. ft. house. And that doesn’t even include the basement or the enormous attic. I plan to start cleaning out my closets tonight to make room.
I hope I haven’t bored you too terribly. Enjoy your fudge. I made extra in case you feel like sharing.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! Check out the full novel, plus the bonus short story Swap Meet, on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Paperback coming soon!