I am so happy to present the second book in my Home series, Home By Nightfall. This time period of transition, 1918 and beyond, is such a rich source of historical events, I’d been thinking about it years before the first book, Home By Morning, was published. So many things occurred: war; the influenza pandemic; Prohibition; the 19th Amendment, which gave women the vote, etc. Innovation and technology jumped forward, changing the lives of many and yet for the most part, the US remained largely agrarian. Since small-town America is really my favorite setting, I can combine progress and tradition in my stories. For example, there might be a few automobiles in Powell Springs, the primary location of the Home series, but as in bigger cities, horses and wagons also share the streets.
Home By Nightfall opens two years after the end of World War I. Susannah Braddock, who was told that her husband had been killed in France, now receives another letter telling her that he’s been found by the Red Cross and is returning home. That should be wonderful news except for two major problems: his memory has been wiped clean by shell shock, and Susannah has remarried.
Tanner Grenfell is her husband of just two months, and he sees his new life suddenly crumbling around him and his nephews, boys who have come to think of Susannah as their mother.
For Riley Braddock, the people at the Braddock horse farm—the place where he grew up—are all strangers to him. He is not only burdened with trying to adjust to this alien place, he is also plagued with lingering and unpredictable flashbacks that return him to the battlefield.
How will all of these lives be healed again? Can they be healed? Susannah can have only one husband. Who will stay and who will not?
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It wasn’t that Susannah hadn’t grieved over Riley. Oh, she had. She’d begun grieving the day he left for training. She’d paced the floor for eighteen months of darkness, worrying, unable to sleep a whole night through. If a shell, or a bullet, or poison gas hadn’t felled him, he might have been struck down by an invisible enemy—the Spanish influenza that was on the march around the globe. It had smothered Powell Springs with a ruthless grip, taking friends and neighbors. Some who had lived were even now invalids, frail representations of the people they’d once been.
Ultimately, word came of his death in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Her worst fear had come to pass. Susannah had been worn out from the grieving—
Just then the boys tumbled into the kitchen, all coltish exuberance and hay-flecked energy, and headed straight for the dining room table. Tanner followed them.
“Hey, hey, hey! Hold up there, you two. Wash first.” He was firm with them, but never unfair, and Susannah knew they adored him. She also noticed that he’d made them take off their boots and leave them outside.
“Yessir,” Josh said, resigned.
“Aw…” Wade moaned. But they both went back out to the porch and crowded around the basin.
“There are chicken sandwiches and potato salad in there,” she told them, nodding toward the dining room. She stayed at the stove.
“Aren’t you comin’, Aunt Susannah?” Josh asked when he reappeared, his hands and face scrubbed pink from the flour-sack towel.
Her eyes darted to Tanner’s, then returned to the pot. “No, I’ve got a lot of work to do here in the kitchen. I’ll eat after you all go back out.” Her voice sounded falsely bright to her own ears, and she felt Tanner’s gaze on her. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him again. He might be a quiet man, but she’d come to realize that he didn’t miss much.
He passed behind her, letting his hand brush her elbow like the soft puff of a dandelion, then went to the dining room with the boys in tow.
Susannah sighed and wadded up the hem of her apron to carry the fruit-filled pot to the kitchen table. Just as she grasped its edges, a movement beyond the open side window caught her eye. She dropped her hands, leaving the pot on the burner, and stared.
Tanner walked back into the kitchen. “Hey, Susannah, have you got any mustard in the iceb—”
Her fingers tingled and she stood, transfixed, watching the approaching horse and rider.
He came closer. “What?” Then he followed her gaze. “Isn’t that Roy Ellison?”
Yes, it was. Rural free delivery was still not available in this part of the county, and the only time the post office brought mail to the farm was if the letter had been sent special delivery. In Susannah’s experience, special delivery was dreary kin of the telegram—no good news ever arrived with either of them. The last time Roy brought such a letter, it had announced the news of her mother’s death in Corbett. That had been during the influenza epidemic, and now she worried about what trouble might be coming to the Braddocks again in Ellison’s leather pouch.
Without replying, she pushed open the screen door and stepped out to the back porch to meet the gray-haired postman.
He waved at her and dismounted. “Howdy do, ma’am. I’ve got something here for you.” After tying the horse to the weathered gatepost, he rummaged around in his saddle bag and withdrew an envelope. “It just come in and I could see right off it was important, so I thought I’d better bring it.”
Susannah sensed Tanner standing at the door behind her. Roy Ellison held out the envelope to her, and after a moment of hesitation, she crossed the narrow porch and extended her hand to take it.
The postman lingered. “We don’t see much mail from the War Department now that things have settled down in Europe.” Plainly, he was hoping she’d open it while he was still there. But she only stared at the typewritten name—Mrs. Susannah Braddock.
Finally, she tucked the letter in her apron pocket. “Thank you, Mr. Ellison. It was kind of you to make the trip out here.” He dallied a few more moments, but when he realized he wasn’t going to learn anything, he went back to his horse.
Turning, she saw Tanner in the doorway, but sat down on the bench beside the wash basin instead of going inside. She waited until Mr. Ellison was back in the saddle and headed down the dusty road before she reached into her pocket for the envelope.
Susannah had been expecting this letter for a while. When Riley had been killed, she learned that his grave was a temporary one, and that large, formal cemeteries were being constructed in Europe for the war dead. She was to receive notice of his final resting place, and now here it was. Here was the news that would close, once and for all, a chapter of her life that she’d never expected to end so soon. Glancing across the pastures that surrounded the farm, she looked at the blades of grass flash silvery-green as they bowed in the warm September breeze. He would lie half a world away, so far from this place where he’d grown up, perhaps in a spot that resembled John McCrae’s poetic description.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
She tore open the flap with hands that trembled slightly, and unfolded a single sheet of paper.
Dear Mrs. Braddock…
Susannah felt her eyes grow wider with every word she read. She sat bolt upright and clapped a hand over her mouth. An inarticulate wail pushed its way up her chest and escaped from between her fingers. It was the only sound her pounding heart would let her voice. The blood pulsing in her head dimmed her hearing. She felt but didn’t hear the pounding of boots across the floor in the house and the slamming open of the screen door. She looked up to find herself surrounded by family, Tanner, Cole, Shaw, the boys. She could only stare at them.
“What the hell is all the caterwauling about?”
“What’s in that letter?”
“Why is she acting that way?”
She gazed at each face crowded in front of her. Her mouth moved and at first no words came out. At last she whispered the unthinkable. “It’s about Riley. Oh, dear heaven, it’s about Riley. He’s not dead. He’s coming home.”
About the Author:
Alexis’s successful career includes writing thirteen novels over twenty years, most traditionally published. Eager to see her work widely available electronically, she began requesting publication rights back. She had no idea she was redefining her career. She republished all ten of her popular, northwest-set historical novels as e-books. Soon, she found she was not only reaching readers who hadn’t previously read her work, but also profiting from her backlist titles more than ever before. Not intimidated by being at the forefront of a sea change in publishing, she decided to self-publish her next original novel. That book, Home By Morning, came out in 2010. Within months she was tapped by Montlake Romance for publication rights to it as well as to her then work-in-progress, HOME BY NIGHTFALL.
Reader response has been gratifying and Alexis has embraced e-publishing, especially the freedom to write in time periods and in the genre she prefers, regardless of trends. “Not having specific earnings expectations, high overhead or other constraints large publishers face, I can profit from my writing past and present as I work toward my creative goals. Interestingly, I did better in 2011 than I had in ten busy years of print publishing.”
Her new book, HOME BY NIGHTFALL, shares the fictional setting, Powell Springs, Oregon, and several of the characters introduced in Home By Morning. Each book touches upon the Great War, now more commonly known as World War I. The first is set in 1918, just before the end of the war and at the start of the world wide influenza pandemic. HOME BY NIGHTFALL occurs just two years after peace has been declared. However, the war continues to take its toll in ways small and large, as the impact of those who will never return—as well as those who have—changes the world they left behind. Coincidentally, the on sale date of HOME BY NIGHTFALL fell just four days after the anniversary of the Treaty of Versaille, which officially ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers on June 29, 1919.
Alexis began writing in 1980 and has been entertaining readers since her first novel, Homeward Hearts, was published in 1994. Her love of the genre comes naturally. “I like the escapism of historicals, both in books and film” she says. “I miss LaVryle Spencer’s novels. She was my inspiration to start writing.” She adds, “Diana Gabaldon probably has one of the best historical voices and I love her work as well.”
Alexis has spun tales of characters and situations that include mail order brides, the Yukon Gold Rush, seafaring, ranching, and protagonists heading west. Most of her historical romance novels are set in her home state, Oregon, though she has ventured to other parts of the northwest and has followed characters as they emigrated to America from places such as Cork County, Ireland. It’s unlikely she’ll suddenly make a drastic change in venues for her stories as she truly enjoys writing about the place she knows best, her home near the Columbia River. “I still live within ten miles of my old high school,” she says.
Alexis says she maintains her career as a working novelist by following her muse and her instincts regarding her own and readers’ interests. She has had thirteen books published and notes that “among all the books I’ve written I’ve had just one foreign sale, and that was The Irish Bride, which was translated for Norway, where I understand it was a big hit.”
An animal lover, Alexis lives with a cat, a finch, two dogs (Great Pyrenees!), and three chickens—all of which like to gather in her small home office. Only the chickens are not allowed. She keeps crazy hours. “I’m just not a morning person. I like to be up late while the rest of the world is sleeping and quiet. No phones, faxes or other distractions. Just ‘the kids’ and me, candles burning and elevator music coming out of my CD player.” She makes jewelry and, thanks to the tutelage of her grandmother, is a fine needlepoint artist specializing in embroidery, thread crochet and sewing. She enjoys cooking—another gift from her grandmother—reading, entertaining friends, and decorating, and is a lover of all things Victorian. Animal welfare is very important to her and she belongs to the Oregon Humane Society and the ASPCA.
Alexis is currently at work on her next novel, also set in the Pacific Northwest .