This Beautiful World by Elisabeth Jackson
After tragedy struck, she came home to be confronted again by the chilling mystery that had haunted her since childhood and rediscovered the one romance she always regretted not having…As children, RaeAnne and her sidekick King were held captive after they discovered the body of a boy their age in a crate of apples in their small town’s peculiar orchard. Now RaeAnne is grown and the mother of a troubled young daughter. After her mother is killed in an accident, she travels home to her father with her daughter. But RaeAnne finds that she is not welcomed by everyone, and frightening incidents start to happen involving her and her family. As RaeAnne unravels the mysteries of her childhood, including what happened to her older brother, who vanished on the same night RaeAnne and King found terror in the orchard, she reunites with King. The boy she knew has grown up to be very handsome and guarded. But can the two ever be more than old friends who share a terrifying secret?
“She your little girl?” Belinda asked me, waving to Maddie.
“Yes. Maddie’s eight.”
Belinda smacked her hands against her dark jeans. “She sure is pretty. Doesn’t look like you one bit. She must take after your husband. Eight! I can’t believe it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other.” She winked at Maddie. “We’ve never met, but can I have a hug?”
I nodded for Maddie to accept the hug. She stood in place as Belinda put both arms around her and squeezed. I’d never seen Maddie more terrified.
Belinda sighed and stood up, straightening her peach-‐‑ colored blouse, and smoothing her bright, curly hair that swept across her shoulders. “I’ve got to say, I was kind of hurt when you left for college and never called.”
“You didn’t either,” I reminded her.
“True. I’m married now — live next door to my mom and dad, in case you didn’t know. I don’t know how much you heard through the years.” I knew I should ask her who she ended up marrying, then realized I didn’t care. “I married Kyle,” Belinda said. “Back in school, you thought he was so cute. Isn’t that sweet?”
“Good for you,” I said, recalling Kyle as a large, affable football player. All the guys from our high school had started to blur together over the years, all of them except for King. Nobody was moodier than him, or more handsome.
“How’s your life been? Still married to that rich guy?” Belinda said, looking around for Jeff. She eyed Maddie and lowered her voice. “That going okay?”
Mama, God bless her, liked to chat here and there in town about how far I’d come. I’d met Jeff early on in undergrad. He was older, already getting his MBA, and came from a wealthy family, the kind of money that enabled him to go straight from college to graduate school without having to work or take out loans for tuition. I was eighteen when I married him during my first year of college and had Maddie. It wasn’t easy going to school and being a mom, and Jeff didn’t help out as much as I would have liked. In truth, both of us were young, and it had been a little difficult for both of us to manage everything.
Here was Belinda wanting to know about my marriage. While she was once someone to me, she wasn’t anymore. Why should I tell her any more than she needed to know?
“He and I are doing great. I couldn’t be happier,” I said. Telling the lie felt like holding something on fire in my hand, and instead of dropping the burning thing to the ground, I continued to grasp it. I had been carrying it with me for the past year. I couldn’t even be honest with Daddy.
Belinda stood up straighter, smoothed out her blouse, and met my eye. “You always did think you were too good for here.”
I remembered the long talks Belinda and I had shared in her boyfriend’s pickup on our way home from school, how more than once I told her I’d get out of Cider Town someday and would never return. “I’ll believe that when pigs fly,” Belinda would say. And now I was back. Her anger didn’t surprise me, but that didn’t mean it didn’t sting me.
She crossed her arms and waited for me to finish.
I lowered my gaze to the shiny floor. “Never mind,” I said, looking up.
“I heard about your mama. Who doesn’t know, right? Story’s been all over town. I’m real sorry and all that. You take care, RaeAnne. Don’t be a stranger while you’re here,” Belinda said, then headed for the exit, where the sheriff waited for her.
“Belinda,” I said.
She began to turn back, then continued out of the store behind her father. The cashier watched me with a smile on her face but impatience in her eyes, and I knew I better hurry up. She gestured to the long line forming behind my cart, and a few of the people waiting in line glared at me. “Sorry,” I told them as I turned back to the checkout station.
“‘Cuse me,” a man said, brushing my shoulder. A tall man my age with wavy, brown hair sticking out of a beat-‐‑up baseball cap headed through the automatic exit doors. His low, soft voice had a rising and falling quality to it, and I thought of King.
About the Author
Elisabeth Jackson loves the outdoors and dogs, rescued dogs in particular. This Beautiful World is her debut novel and blends haunting childhood secrets, romantic themes, second chances, and a mystery in a small town setting. When she is not writing small town Romances and Mysteries, she works as a freelance business writer. Her characters are inspired by the rural towns she has visited and lived in.