Hearts Afire
Book Three of Grisholm County Chronicles
The New Series by Eileen Register
Hearts Afire
Grisholm County
All written content herein is the exclusive property of
Eileen M. Register unless otherwise stated.
All Rights Reserved. Do not copy without written permission.
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Bartonville - Hearts Afire
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Recent "5 Star" Review on Amazon.com:
"Really enjoyed reading...a hard book to put down as you are always trying to figure out 'who done it'."
Chapter 1

“I just love weddings!  Don’t you, Katelin?”  Kendra asked.
“Yes, Kendra, I sure do, especially when the bride is so radiantly happy and just happens to be my mother!”
“Now if you’ll only make ME a happy bride, Katelin, then all will be right in the world,” Rochelle added, smiling but very serious about being too long a fiancée and not yet a bride.
“Oh, I know, love.  I want us to get married as soon as we can, but right now, can’t we just enjoy Mom’s happy day?  She spent so many years alone…too many…and now that she’s finally found her knight in not so shining armor, I just want to make her special day as wonderful as she deserves it to be,” replied Katelin.
“And you wanna know what really ticks me off, y’all?” Rochelle said.  Kendra and Katelin waited, and Katelin was really a bit worried at what might come out of her lover’s mouth next.
“What really pisses me off…” Rochelle paused for dramatic effect.
“What really, really royally pisses me off…”
“Nah, I won’t say it…don’t wanna spoil the day.”  Rochelle waited, knowing full well that her fiancée wouldn’t let her get away with this.
“Crap! Now you have to tell us, Rochelle, or it will drive me crazy all afternoon and spoil the whole wedding for me.  Now SPEAK, WOMAN!” ordered Katelin in her best Army Colonel voice, but a tiny grin played along her mouth because she was pretty sure Rochelle was pranking them.
“Oh, okay,” Rochelle replied, a sparkle in her eye that hinted at a bit of mischief.  “What really pisses me off is women who have babies and then a few months later look like THAT!” and she pointed at Kendra.
“Oh YOU!” Katelin laughed.
“Well, if you must know, Miss Rochelle, I don’t look like THIS!  You wouldn’t believe what wonders a good old fashioned corset can do!  But there’ll be no cake for me.”  Kendra pouted.  “What we women won’t do for the sake of fashion.”
Kendra moved across the room to a window that looked out on the lovely garden of her new home.  She and Daniel had argued for a total of three minutes before deciding to build it after discovering they’d be blessed with another little Crawford.  Although a year later the house still needed a few little things finished, it was a beautiful testament to the love Daniel and Kendra had for each other and their children. Little April Lynn had joined the family right on schedule, on April Fool’s Day, which DJ, their oldest child, thought was perfectly appropriate...  They had pushed the landscaping people to get the garden by the lake finished in time for their friends, Katie and Monty, to be wed exactly one year after they’d discovered their love for one another.
At first Monty didn’t want to wait all those months to marry Katie, afraid that something or someone would come along and ruin things before they could tie that knot.  Finally, after listening to him and Katie arguing about it for a few months, Katelin had, as usual, stepped in and set things straight – her way.  She let Monty have it with both barrels! 
Katelin walked into the living room to see if Monty and Katie wanted a beer or some iced tea, and once again, the two love birds were at odds.
“What are you two arguing about now?” she asked.
“What do ya think, daughter? Same as last time.  Seems the only thing we can’t seem to agree on is when to get married.  I want a lovely wedding that will take a little time to plan, but Mr. Sawyer here wants to toss me over his shoulder and drag me down to the courthouse today, or tomorrow at latest!  What am I gonna do with this hardheaded man of mine?”  Katie was trying to keep it light but Katelin could see the frustration on her mother’s face.
“Okay, time for you to learn a few facts of life, Monty, if you’re gonna keep my mama happy.  She is almost never stubborn and usually bends over TOO FAR backwards to make other people happy.  She worked her ass off to give me everything a kid could want, and sometimes she did without things she needed to see that her only child was spoiled rotten.  Now the time has finally come when my mama should be able to have HER way for a change, and I intend to see that she does.  YOU, Mr. Sawyer, will agree to whatever Mama wants, including the wedding she never got when she was younger.  Do you understand me?”
And today Katelin’s mother was finally going to have the wedding she’d dreamed of for so many years, thanks in part to the benevolence of Monty’s buddy, Daniel Crawford and his wife, but mostly due to the stubbornness of her daughter who adored her.
“Okay, ladies, let’s go make sure our bride is ready…she’s made Monty wait a whole year so she shouldn’t make him wait any longer,” Katelin said.
The bridesmaid and two maids of honor hurried out of the guest bedroom and over to the master suite.  Daniel and Kendra had insisted on paying for the flowers and the reception as a thank you gift for all that Monty had done for them in years past, but Monty was wealthy in his own right, so Katie had no worries about money when choosing the wedding gown, although it took Monty a while to convince her that he really could afford that custom-made dress she’d seen in a bride magazine and clipped out and saved so many years before, hoping her daughter would wear one like it since it was doubtful that Katie herself ever would.
Rochelle had done the research and located the designer of the gown.  Although retired, the man was willing to assist in the making of a replica of the dress in the picture, which had originally been designed for a royal wedding in his native country.  So Katelin and Rochelle had pulled together a team to create Katie’s dream dress, and it had turned out perfectly.
Standing by the bed on which her dress was laid out, Katie felt like a princess and knew she would look like one in the layers of expensive French lace that cascaded from the waistline of the dress.  The bodice had been redesigned to show off her ample bosom while still maintaining some modesty for the sake of the minister who would be performing the ceremony.  Tiny crystals sparkled from everywhere and had taken many, many hours to apply but were well worth the effort as they would shine like diamonds in the afternoon sun.  The dress was everything she’d dreamed of and she didn’t care who thought she was being foolish at her age to wear such a traditional gown and veil.  No one was going to spoil this special day for her.
Katie was clothed in just her underwear after struggling to put on the garter belt and silk stockings her beloved Monty had purchased on the sly from a Victoria’s Secret catalog and insisted she wear for their wedding.  She sat at the huge bay window that was the focal point of the Crawford mansion’s master suite, staring out at the beautiful garden and all the lovely floral displays that had been placed around the rose-covered gazebo in which she and Monty would say their wedding vows. 
There were several rows of white folding chairs with floral stands at the ends of each row from which flowers and greenery spilled, cascading in riotous celebration of the event for which they were designed.  A red carpet traversed the distance from the rear entrance of the Crawford mansion to the gazebo.  A gentle breeze stirred the surface of Lake Grisholm, creating a lovely, vibrant backdrop for this day’s nuptials.
The garden stretching out from the patio of the mansion to the shores of the lake was idyllic, a perfect rendition of the wedding place Katie had carried in her mind for so many years but had never thought would be hers.  Katie’s thoughts wandered back to an earlier time when she, as a young woman, had planned a wedding…
At just seventeen years old, Katerina had a mind of her own and felt totally trapped by the circumstances of her birth.  Being the only daughter of King Gustav of the Romani tribe that wintered in the wild wooded areas surrounding the Bartonville Phosphate mines was burdensome to her but prestigious in the eyes of everyone around her.  To the citizens of Grisholm County, Katerina’s family was seen as a crime wave waiting to happen, but within her own culture, they saw themselves as persecuted people just doing whatever it took to survive and take care of their own.
Several of the women worked fairs and other events around Florida as fortune tellers, although for the most part, it was a sham…a con that brought in many thousands of dollars every winter.  Most of the women were taught as children to perform the crystal ball and Tarot Card routine but it was rare for any of them to possess the “Gift” in any true and meaningful way.
The men worked primarily in construction, which was why the tribe moved south during the colder months of the year.  To avoid sending their younger children to the public schools that would teach them things their parents didn’t think they needed to know, they had set up a home school scenario that was sufficient to meet Florida’s educational requirements.  Some of their teenagers, though, chose to attend local high school and were reluctantly allowed to do so by their parents and their family head, King Gustav, which was how Katerina’s life began to change.
Gustav’s wife, Georgianna, was one of the few true psychics in the family, and she saw things in her daughter’s future that scared her but also made her happy.  She could not share any of it with anyone, not even her daughter, as it would put both of them in severe jeopardy.  Knowing what was to be her daughter’s destiny, however, was the reason she fought with Gustav to allow Katerina to go to Bartonville High School.
Georgianna feared for her daughter but knew she could not change the destiny she saw for the girl.  She had seen with her inner eye the beautiful daughter who would be born to Katerina…something most grandmothers would cherish but she would never be allowed to enjoy.  Her only hope was that she could surreptitiously provide her child with the tools she would need to survive out in the world away from her family and culture because she knew …she knew.
Ninth and tenth grade had been challenging for Katerina because of the limited amount of real education she’d received in the home school.  In spite of that, she was an excellent reader – in English as well as the language of Romania – from which King Gustav’s grandfather had taken his family and immigrated to the United States after generations of abuse and prejudicial treatment.  She was pretty good at math, too.  History, geography, and social studies had been all but ignored by her home school “teachers”, the older men and women of the family who could no longer go out into the world and bring in money to support them.  The children were taught the history of their ancestors, and geography was limited to what they needed to know in order to understand what their family’s origins were 
Katerina spoke and wrote in Romanian, had a good understanding and ability to read and write in English and spoke it without the accent her parents and other older family members had, and she also spoke Romani, the common language of the Rom people around the globe.  She had been taught the cultural world view according to the experiences of her ancestors, who had been hated and reviled for centuries.  In many aspects this teaching had been skewed by the isolationism her family and most other Romani families practiced as well as the negative view the world still seemed to have regarding her people, known worldwide as Gypsies.
When discussions about various things regarding American culture came up, Katerina couldn’t contribute anything in class.  Had she not been warned, even threatened not to talk about her own family and the culture of her people, she’d have had volumes to share and would have amazed her teachers as well as her peers.  Fear of her father’s anger kept her quiet.  It also made her standoffish in the view of her fellow students.  Why make friends when one could never dare to invite them over for a sleepover or a homework session?
That is, until Marco…
Katerina could tell right away that Marco was different.  His suave good looks made him stand out among the Sophmore boys in Katerina’s Algebra class.  She had noticed him around school her freshman year but hadn't had the nerve to speak to him.  He was taller than almost everyone around him, including the teacher, and his eyes were black as coal, so unlike most of the other students who were blue- or brown-eyed with light brown or blonde hair – except for that one red-haired boy with lots of freckles and green eyes.
Marco’s eyes stood out in his lean, tanned but not really dark complexioned face, his cheekbones and strong square chin making him appear a few years older than his sixteen years. His thick, black hair, which he wore long and pulled back into a single braid that hung half-way down his back, spoke of the Indian heritage he’d received from his father.  The only noticeable trait he’d gotten from his Caucasian mother was his skin, which would have been much darker but for the fact that he was a half-breed.
And there was a certain faction of the student body of Bartonville High School that never let him forget it.
Standing on the sidelines watching the rest of the student world glide by was something Katerina learned to do early on in her time at BHS, and she noticed that Marco, too, was good at it.  Too shy to speak to him, she just watched as he moved through the crowded halls, half-a –head taller than the rest and with a grace and self-assurance that baffled her.  Frequently someone would throw a wisecrack or racial slur his way, but Marco never seemed to notice.
Katerina had first noticed Marco from across the cafeteria her very first week at BHS.  She didn’t realize, toward the end of her second year there, which would be cut short when her family moved back north for the warmer months, that he had noticed her, too. 
That changed one day when she was sitting on a bench under the shade of a big oak tree out in front of the school waiting for her mother to pick her up.  She could have chosen to ride a school bus most of the way to the encampment out by the old phosphate mines but had been advised by her mother that bringing “strangers” that close to her family’s home would be unwise.  Her father had just barely agreed to let her attend school; she sure didn’t want to make him angry!
Anyhow, she was sitting on the bench, Algebra book on her lap, trying to make sense of the homework her teacher had assigned.  Looking up, she saw Marco.  He was standing at the bottom of the steps that led into the main entrance of the school, an old building that had stood there for at least four decades with its grand stairway framed by hand railings of wrought iron and its huge wooden doors.  Above the doors was a sign that had made Katerina smile: “The Doorway to Greater Knowledge”.  How typically pompous, she thought as her eyes shifted from the school to the handsome boy who was definitely looking back at her.
“Mom?  Are you okay, Mom?”  Katelin asked, bringing Katie’s mind back from the cherished memories of her past.
“Oh, Yes, darling, I am fine,” she replied.
“It’s almost time for your grand entry, and you haven’t even finished putting on your makeup.  Here, let us do it for you,” Katelin said, taking her mother’s hand and practically dragging her to the dressing table in the huge bathroom of the master suite.  “Now be still and let Rochelle do ya up, Mom,” Katelin ordered.
“Well okay,  but don’t you two make me up like some Cupie doll or streetwalker!  Monty won’t even recognize me if you put on anything more than lipstick and mascara!”
"Oh hush, Mama K…it’s your day to shine as the beautiful princess in your very own fairy tale, and I’m not gonna spoil your day, I promise,” Rochelle said as she reached for an eyeliner.
A few moments later, Katie looked at herself in the mirror, expecting to be totally pissed off, but staring back at her was the prettiest bride she’d ever seen.  Was that really her?  The makeup, though more than she usually wore, was subtle and refined, bringing out her best features – her dark, flashing eyes and her sumptuous lips – and smoothing away a lot of the wrinkles that life had wrought in her fifty-eight years.
Rising from the vanity stool she whirled and rushed back into the bedroom, her crinoline swishing around her and her barely constrained breasts doing a jig. 
“Help me into this thing, y’all,” she begged.
And it took all three sets of hands – Kendra’s, Katelin’s, and Rochelle’s – to get her into the lovely confection that was her one-of-a-kind wedding gown.  The bodice fit like a glove, and the delicate see-through lace and copiously applied crystals that covered her ample cleavage added elegance and modesty to an otherwise very risqué décolletage.
Yards and yards of lace formed layers and flounces from waist to floor, and the touches that made the dress magical, like that of a princess, were the thousands of crystals, some tiny and a few at various places that were larger and acted like prisms, creating cascades of rainbows as she moved.  In the bright Florida sunshine of this glorious August afternoon she would look like an angel floating on clouds and rainbows…except for that slightly risqué décolletage, which would whisper of the down- to- earth nature if not the abandoned culture of this beautiful Gypsy woman.