Athena’s Daughter

“A wonderfully emotional story where the characters leap off the page right into your heart!” – InD’Tale Magazine

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Sometimes second chances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Seven years ago Athena Hill made a hasty decision that hurt the two people she loves most, only they don’t know it. Yet.

When Athena fell in love with up-and-coming rock guitarist Derek Marshall on her vacation to England, she thought the rest of her life was mapped out – marriage to Derek, a home in London, and a happily ever after. But an expired visa sends her back home to Memphis where she discovers she’s pregnant. Believing Derek betrayed her after she left, she takes her sister’s advice to keep the baby a secret from him.

Now Derek’s band is at the top of the music charts, and he thinks he has it all. Until he walks into a record store in Memphis, Tennessee and sees the woman who shattered his heart. Shock turns to white hot anger when he learns about the child he never knew he had.

Now Athena’s daughter has the father she always wanted and needed, and Derek is overjoyed to have his child in his life.  But as for Athena? Derek still treats her like someone he used to know. Can he forgive her for what she did, or has the past destroyed any chance of happiness with the man she still loves?

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Copyrighted Material Juli Page Morgan 2013 – All Rights Reserved Carey On Publishing LLC

Chapter 1

Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1975

Dithering over what to wear to work wasn’t something Athena Chandler did on a regular basis.  Despite being the manager of Stax of Wax record shop, the most dressed up she ever got was jeans and a T-shirt.  After all, no one was looking for a pencil skirt and sensible heels in a store decorated with psychedelic black light posters.  However, the following day was going to be an emotional roller coaster, and she’d feel a lot better if she looked great.  She’d settle for looking presentable and not throwing up.

As she stood in front of her closet hoping something cool and sexy would materialize from the meager selection of garments, the patter of small footsteps sounded in the hallway outside her bedroom.  She turned with a smile as her six-year-old daughter barreled through the door and threw herself on Athena’s bed with the enthusiasm of a cliff diver.

Hands on hips, Athena fixed the little girl with a stern look.  “Elizabeth, I’ve asked you not to hurl yourself on the furniture, remember?”  She didn’t know where the child had picked up the habit, but the springs in their mismatched collection of second-hand furniture wouldn’t hold out for long under that sort of treatment, and there was no way Athena’s salary would stretch to cover replacements.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”  Elizabeth rolled over and gave her mother a sad, puppy-dog look from eyes that were such an incredible shade of blue that strangers would stop on the street to comment on them.  “I forgot.”

“Well, you’re going to have to remember, okay?  It’s not good for the furniture.”  She abandoned her perusal of the closet; there wasn’t anything in there that hadn’t been worn to death already, and she was just going to have to make the best of it.  “Ready for me to braid your hair?”

“I don’t wanna braid my hair.”  Elizabeth’s mouth turned down in a pout.  “I’m tired of braids.”

Unmoved by this familiar refrain, Athena picked up the hairbrush from the dresser.  “Doesn’t matter.  If you sleep on it while it’s down, it’ll be so tangled in the morning we can’t brush it.  And you know Aunt Andi will braid it anyway when you get to her house.”

She repressed a grin at Elizabeth’s long-suffering sigh and sat down on the bed.  The little girl scooted closer and turned her back so her mother could complete their nightly ritual.

As Athena smoothed the tangles from Elizabeth’s hair, still a bit damp from her earlier bath, she marveled again at how beautiful it was.  Dark brown as a strong cup of coffee and with glints of auburn when the light stuck it, it hung in soft waves down Elizabeth’s back.  It was so different from Athena’s own sandy-blonde hair with its curls and tendency to frizz.  Her daughter had been fortunate to get her father’s hair, along with those startling eyes.

Just thinking of Elizabeth’s father made Athena’s heart jump up into her throat and her stomach roil with nerves.  She took a deep breath to settle herself as her hands moved automatically in her daughter’s hair, parting it in three strands.

It had been seven years since she’d seen him, but she was reminded of him every day when she looked at her daughter’s face.  Elizabeth was so much like him, even having that same half-smile he charmed people with.  It wasn’t just her looks, either; she resembled him in temperament more than she did her mother, a fact for which Athena was grateful.  That calm acceptance and ability to remain unruffled in the face of adversity would serve Elizabeth well. The little girl was the only one in her first-grade class who had a divorced mother, and already there had been questions about Elizabeth’s father from teachers and other parents, some of which Elizabeth overheard.

Instead of having a full-fledged meltdown, Elizabeth calmly asked why her mother wasn’t married, and listened with quiet attention as Athena stumbled through an abbreviated explanation about divorce that a child could understand.  After digesting the information, all Elizabeth asked for was a photo of Steve to keep in her bedroom, and Athena managed to find one.  Cameras hadn’t been numerous at the New Mexico commune where she and Steve had married, but someone produced one that day and, wonder of wonders, even had the film developed.  Otherwise, Athena wouldn’t have had any photos of her ex-husband at all.

As she worked the strands of Elizabeth’s hair into a long, tight braid, Athena shook her head at the memory of that picture.  Her pregnancy had just begun to show, but in the photo she could pass for a young woman carrying a tad too much weight.  It was a great likeness of Steve, though, with his goofy, zoned-out grin, long tangled hair and full beard.  Athena knew Elizabeth told it goodnight before she went to bed each evening, and felt a pang of, not regret, but maybe remorse.  The marriage ended up a disaster and Steve bugged out when Elizabeth was only two months old.  But when Athena saw her daughter telling a photo goodnight, she couldn’t help but think that maybe she should have tried harder to keep Steve around.

But no; he’d never been the kind of man who would be happy with a wife and child.  He was too free-spirited – Athena’s mother called it irresponsible, and she was inclined to agree with her – to remain tied down for very long.  Better that Elizabeth have no memory of him at all than to grow up with the sounds of frequent arguments punctuated with cold, angry silences.

“There you go.”  She patted Elizabeth’s head.  “All done.”

Elizabeth twisted around to look at her with hope.  “Can I watch TV?”

“What do you think?”

The little girl’s face fell flat.  “It’s bedtime,” she sighed.

“Yep.  Come on.”  Athena stood and held out her hand.  “For me, too.  I’ve got a big day tomorrow and I want to make sure I get enough rest.”

As she’d hoped, Elizabeth was distracted by the turn in the conversation and slipped her hand in Athena’s.  “What kind of big day do you have?”

“A band is coming to the store to sign copies of their records, and since they’re a popular group there’ll be lots of people there.”

“What band is it?”  Elizabeth swung their linked hands between them as they walked down the hall to her bedroom.  Because of the records Athena brought home from work and the fact that they listened to the radio both at home and in the car, Elizabeth was as well-versed as her mother on the popular music of the day.

“They’re called Wolf.”  Despite the band’s success and frequent airplay, Wolf was one band with which Elizabeth wasn’t familiar.  Athena had made sure of that by never playing their records when her daughter was around, and switching the station when one of Wolf’s songs came on the radio.  In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do, but Athena added it to her already long list of Things To Make Right Later.

Elizabeth wrinkled her brow.  “Wolf? That’s a silly name.”

“Yeah, it is.”  Athena laughed under her breath.  “But their music is good, so that’s why they’re popular.”  Thinking about the band’s arrival at the store the following day, her mind turned again to her pitiful closet, and she sighed as she turned back the quilt on Elizabeth’s bed.  “In you go.”

Elizabeth climbed in – no jumping this time Athena was glad to note – and slid under the covers.  “Story?”

“We read two stories after your bath,” Athena reminded her.  “That’s why it’s already past your bedtime.”

“Oh, yeah.”  Elizabeth turned to the photo on her bedside table.  “Goodnight, Daddy,” she murmured, patting the cheap plastic frame.  She turned to Athena and held up her arms.  “Goodnight, Mommy.”

Athena bent and hugged her tight, giving an extra squeeze to try to make up for an absent father. “Goodnight, munchkin.  I love you.”

“Love you, too,” Elizabeth replied with a big kiss on Athena’s cheek.  “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“No bugs of any kind, please.”  Athena chuckled.  “Sweet dreams.”  She clicked off the lamp.

“Sweet dreams to you too, Mommy.”

By the light spilling in from the hallway, Athena located the tattered stuffed rabbit that was Elizabeth’s favorite sleeping companion and tucked it under the covers next to her daughter.  The little girl wrapped her arms around it, snuggled into her pillow and closed her eyes.  With a last soft kiss on her daughter’s head, Athena left the room, pulling the door halfway shut behind her.

She made a circuit of the small apartment, turning off lights and making sure the doors were locked before returning to her bedroom.  Sighing, she opened the closet door once more.  The next day was going to be a big one, and she busied herself trying to find something to wear to meet it.

Copyrighted Material Juli Page Morgan 2013 – All Rights Reserved Carey On Publishing LLC

IN PAPERBACK AND EBOOK AT AMAZON (also in Kindle Unlimited)