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Sample Chapter from MARIETTA


Chapter One
Home from College


        The sun peeked out from behind a fluffy white cloud as Nicole pulled her car into the concrete driveway. It was mid May and the foliage and flowers were already in full bloom. She was grateful for the break in the weather and saw through her rear-view mirror that the U-Haul truck was just pulling in behind her compact blue Subaru wagon.

        It had been a long drive since they had started out that morning from Corvallis, Oregon. Nicole had enjoyed the drive north along the coast into the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. She stepped out of her car and walked toward the truck, where Brad Shaw had set the brake and was climbing out of the driver’s seat. He met her smile with a grin, then stood next to her as they both gazed around.

        “I don’t think anyone’s home,” commented Nicole, noting the absence of vehicles. As she started walking toward the breezeway that connected the large three-car garage to the house, she heard a dog barking from inside. “At least Fluffy’s here to greet me,” she said as she made her way to the steps.

        Brad had already gone to the back of the U-Haul and was preparing to open up the back. Nicole made her way to the side door inside the breezeway and used her key to unlock the door. As soon as she got it open, a small white cockerpoo leaped into the air, barking with excitement at the sight of her. His small stub of a tail almost vibrated and his pink tongue quivered in his attempt to jump up on her.

        “Fluffy! Down, boy!” Nicole laughed and squatted to try and control the animal. “Yes … I’ve missed you too.” She petted the animal briefly and then somehow managed to stumble her way into the dark room ahead of her, where the drapes had been drawn in front of a huge picture window that faced their road. She went right over and opened them. The family room was the largest room in the old house.

        Trees and bushes hid a lot of the neighborhood, but it was quiet and peaceful, and Nicole was glad she was home -- at least for the moment. The inside wall of the room had all wooden cupboards for storage, and an old piano stood on the other side of the door. Nicole immediately welcomed the musty, rainy smell of the room as something familiar, but at the same time a bit unpleasant.

        Nicole put down her purse on the large coffee table that was surrounded by a cozy loveseat and two armchairs. She turned at the sound of a commotion at the door and saw Brad struggling with her suitcases. She hurried over to help him. The excited little cockerpoo wanted to jump up on the man.

        “Fluffy!” Nicole ran over and grabbed the dog by the collar. Then she ushered him out the patio door next to the kitchen, where there was a fenced backyard. After he ran off, she returned with a sigh.

        “What? Nobody’s home?” asked Brad, then gave her a mischievous wink as he rushed back out to unload more of her stuff from the moving truck.

        After he had brought in most of the boxes, which he stacked beside the old piano, Nicole said, “Don’t strain yourself, Brad. Why don’t you come inside and relax for a few minutes?”

        Brad was tall with broad shoulders and short blond hair. He had a pudgy face to match his large build. He had been a star football player in high school. They had dated during their last two years, making Nicole the envy of many girls at Forks High School. She followed him outside to see what was left in the truck.

        “Watch out,” Brad called to her as he hoisted another huge box from the back of the van.

Nicole was able to handle some of the smaller boxes and carried them inside. She wondered where her dad and stepmom were, then remembered that it was a weekday, so they were probably still at work.

        “Where do you want these?” Brad asked her as he came inside with another load.

        “Well, probably up in my room,” Nicole told him, “but if you’re in a hurry … and I can see that you are …”

        “I’ve got two more loads to bring in,” said Brad, “and then I’ll help you get the stuff upstairs.”

        “Well … okay.” Nicole was a bit curious as to his sudden need to get the task done. After that long drive up along the coast, surely he must be hungry or thirsty. She wandered into the kitchen to see if there was anything cold to drink in the refrigerator.

        “Nicole!” Brad called from the porch. “Can you hold the door?”

        She rushed back to help him as he struggled with her largest box. “Set it down here by the sofa. I’ll unpack it before taking the stuff upstairs.”

        Without a word, Brad set down the box and ran out the door for another load. Nicole sighed, then decided to climb the stairs to her bedroom. The house had two bedrooms upstairs while the master suite was on the first floor. She walked past her stepsister’s room on the left and saw that it was as messy as ever. There were crazy posters on the walls, junk on the floor and the furniture, and an unmade double bed.

        Then she came to her old room farther down the hall to the right, across from the bathroom. The door was closed, so she opened it and stepped inside. Thankfully, the room had been cleared except for a stack of crates and more junk piled up against the far wall. Her single bed was against the inner wall, but was unmade. On the bare mattress pad was a pile of sheets and blankets with two uncovered pillows. With a sigh, Nicole walked out of the room, knowing that she would have to put everything in order herself.

        Brad finally finished bringing in her stuff. He was starting to sweat.

        “I’ll fix us something to eat,” she offered, heading for the kitchen.

        “Nah … that’s okay,” said Brad, wiping his forehead with his white handkerchief. “I’ve got to get home.”

        “Are you sure?” Nicole tilted her head, studying him. “You must be hungry.”

        “I’m okay.” He flashed a quick smile, then quickly headed for the door.

        “Well, let me give you some money to fill the truck up with gas before you turn it in.” Nicole found her purse on the sofa and started to open her wallet.

        “Forget it,” said Brad. “I’ll take care of it.” Then he quickly left.

        She stood at the big picture window and watched Brad climb into the U-Haul truck and back it down the driveway. She continued to stare as the truck turned and sped down the road. Then she heard a “yip” and turned to go and let Fluffy back into the house. The dog greeted her all over again, so this time she bent down and rubbed his curly white fur until he stopped and shook himself, then headed for his water bowl in the kitchen. Nicole stood up and looked around. She sighed, wondering why Brad had been in such a hurry to get away from her.

Then, shaking her head, Nicole decided to take as much stuff as she could upstairs before John and Maggie got home.


IT WAS A BIT AFTER six o’clock that evening when Nicole’s stepmother arrived. Maggie Singleton was a slender, rather frail woman with light brown curly hair that was starting to turn gray. She wore large round-lensed glasses on a narrow pointy nose. Nicole heard her come home and walked downstairs to greet her. “Hi, Maggie,” she called.

        “Oh hello, Nicole,” Maggie said with barely a glimpse at her stepdaughter. The woman was fingering through some mail she had brought in from their box on the road. Maggie had always been a woman with few words, at least as far as Nicole was concerned. With everyone else, Maggie always had a lot to say … to the point of even bragging. But Nicole was used to her stepmother’s guarded attitude toward her. The resentment was actually on both sides.

        Finally, Nicole took a deep breath and asked, “When does my dad get home?”

        Maggie quickly looked up at her, then back at her mail as she said, “In about half an hour or so.”

        Nicole knew that her father commuted to his job in Port Angeles. He was a county official and highly respected throughout the community. John Singleton had divorced Nicole’s mother fifteen years ago, and within three months’ time he had married Maggie, who had a daughter just five years younger than Nicole.

        As Nicole turned to go back upstairs and unpack some more of her things, the telephone rang. Her stepmother hurried into the kitchen to answer it. Nicole slowly made her way back upstairs, but overheard Maggie on the phone, sighing and getting worked up. “Young lady, I expect you home by six-thirty. No, you cannot spend the night at Tracy’s … Wait! … Reneé … I’m not finished! …” Then she hung up the phone.

        Nicole wandered down the hall and into her bedroom, sighing as she gazed once again at the unmade bed and the stack of stuff against the wall that wasn’t hers. Even though she was tired, she made up the bed, and then managed to unpack a few of her boxes. She hung up most of her clothes in the closet.

        She was not very happy about being home in Forks. In fact, she wished she could have stayed back in Corvallis. She had been content there, while getting her degree in secondary education. Even though she had missed Brad, they had kept in touch by phone and texting.

        She had not dated any other guys at college. Of course, there had been a few that had interested her. She would chum around with someone once in a while, but as soon as they started showing a more intimate interest in her, Nicole had to explain that she planned on marrying her high school sweetheart after graduation.

        Of course, that had been just a line. Brad had told her that one day he wanted to marry her, but they had decided to wait until she finished school. She had noticed that in the last six months he had not stayed in touch with her as often as before.

        She sat on her bed and looked at her cell phone. Brad had not called. She lay back against her pillows and sighed. He had told her, before she went off to college, that he would wait for her. But she knew he had really wanted her to remain with him in Forks. He had decided not to further his education, but instead had gotten hired in his father’s building supply business.

        When she would come home on holiday breaks, she and Brad would go out. He always tried to persuade her to quit school and move back to Forks. He told her he couldn’t wait to marry her and start a family. He wanted a lot of kids. Nicole, however, wasn’t sure about that. Her childhood had been pretty much a disaster.

Just then she heard the phone ringing downstairs, and a moment later her stepmother called up to her. “Nicole, Brad’s on the phone.”

        Sitting up, Nicole wondered why he hadn’t called her on his cell. She hurried downstairs to the land line in the kitchen. Maggie was busy preparing a salad for supper.

        “Hello, Brad,” she said into the phone. “Why didn’t you call me on your cell?”

        Brad let out a heavy sigh. “I left the frickin’ thing somewhere. I don’t know where.”

        Nicole chuckled. “You lost your phone?”

        Brad seemed to be in a hurry. “Hey, wanna get together tonight?”

        Oh Brad, I am way too tired,” she told him, aware that her stepmother could hear every word she was saying. “I’ve got to put my things away.”

        She heard him release a heavy sigh on the other end. Then he said, “Okay.” After a short silence, he added, “I’ll talk to ya tomorrow.”

        After she hung up, Nicole turned to her stepmother. “Maggie, is there anything I can help you with?” She thought the least she could do, now that she was home, was offer to help with meals and do some chores.

        Maggie didn’t even turn around. “Nope,” she said shortly, and Nicole knew she’d been dismissed.


Order your copy of MARIETTA
Romantic Suspense Thriller by Ann Ulrich Miller
ISBN 978-0944851-65-4    Paperback $17.00  or ebook $6.99
For more information, email Earth Star

Fall Pix005-TN.jpg

Autumn woods near Marietta, Ohio
photo by AUMiller


I have many fond memories of the time I lived in

New Matamoras, Ohio (in the years 2006-2007)

with my late husband, Ethan Miller.

Our country home in the woods was gorgeous,

no matter what time of the year it was.

I am so glad that we were able to live there

during Ethan's final years. I know that being amongst

all that beauty extended his life a while longer.

I also have fond memories of the time

I lived in Forks, Washington, several years later,

with my current partner Doug.

The Pacific Northwest was beautiful in a different way,

and both locales inspired me in writing this novel,

which brought back so many beautiful memories.

Thank you for reading!

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