I preserve legacies.
So begins the story of Jessica Weaver—wife, mother, and fire archeologist. Preserving Yosemite National Park’s natural and cultural resources is Jessica’s job. Preserving her family’s legacy is her obsession. But when she discovers her husband’s infidelity, betrayal’s flames threaten her family and all she’s fought to protect.
Haley Weaver, a sophomore in high school, is a daddy’s girl. As she enters the throes of first love, timid yet intrigued, Haley also discovers her father’s affair. Stunned and broken, Haley flees into the wilds of Yosemite National Park. If she can’t trust her father, how can she trust her boyfriend—or even love itself?
When wildfire breaks out and Haley is missing, Jessica fears the worst. In a race against time, she searches for her daughter as she deals with the magnitude of what her husband’s affair may cost her family. How can she go on if she doesn’t find Haley in time?
And what will Jessica do to preserve the legacy that matters most?
Targeted Age Group:: 15-75
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote Flames following a years worth of conversations with women who shared their stories of betrayal by their husbands. I didn’t set out to have these conversations, it was just a story that I heard over and over again. Adultery is alive and well. One evening, after hearing yet another such story, I realized that the women who shared these stories with me seemed to share two unexpected characteristics: tenderness and strength. I loved that dichotomy and wondered how one could manifest both a tender heart and a strong character, especially following the ultimate betrayal. At that point, I knew adultery would be the next issue I’d write about.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Typically, a character sort of presents him or herself to me. They take up residence in my mind and when I can no longer ignore them, I realize they are demanding a place in a book. Often, the creation of a character begins with something the character does–a role from their life–wife, mother, chef, fire archeologist… Once the role is secure in my mind, then I look to that role to fill in other details about the character. This all takes place almost on an unconscious level. It just sort of happens and I roll with it.
I PRESERVE LEGACIES.
Preserving remnants of the past because they inform the present is more than just a job to me—it’s who I am. It plays into everything I do—each role I fill. Or, I sigh, is it that I wouldn’t know who I am apart from the roles I fill? Wife, mother, archeologist. As I search for, study, protect, and preserve items from the past, I’m beginning to understand that it’s the missing pieces of myself I seek.
But does it matter who I am?
Can I unearth myself in the search?
I’ve stared, unseeing, until the sounds of my family stirring bring me back to the present, where dust motes bounce in shafts of morning light. Attuned to the moment, I shake my head as my face heats at my wandering thoughts.
Chet’s steps echo on the stone floor in the hallway, then fall in the kitchen. As he passes the island where I stand, he swats my back end. “Looking beautiful as usual, babe. I love a woman in uniform.”
I touch my hair, still damp and confined to its usual knot, and look down at my National-Park-Service, standard-issue green khaki pants and shirt, brown leather belt, and brown work boots. I smile. “I don’t deserve you.”
“Well, you’re right there. Just lucky for you that I’ve always had a thing for rangers.”
Chet, standing with coffeepot in hand, winks. “I’m also partial to fire archeologists. So what natural or cultural resource in the magnificent Yosemite National Park will you save from the flames of destruction today, Ranger Jess?”
I shake my head. “I don’t think you need caffeine this morning.” I glance at the list. “There’s lasagna, enchiladas, and a turkey-and-stuffing casserole in the freezer. I shopped yesterday afternoon, so there’s plenty of milk, cereal, fruit, and lunch items for the kids. Laundry is done, and—”
Chet holds up one hand. “Whoa, Jess. I know the routine. Been there, done that. A few thousand times, remember?”
I nod. “The list is here, and oh”—I scrawl another note—“Tyler has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning. It’s his annual physical, so if I’m not here—”
“Sure, I can tag along with him. But he’s almost nineteen, Jessica. He can handle it on his own.”
“I like one of us to be there, just in case.” How many of those annual physicals have I missed through the years? I’d rather not count.
“Lightning is forecast for this afternoon.”
Chet nods but I’m losing him—tossing too many details his way. His playful tone has turned impatient. “It most always is.”
I leave the list on the counter, cross the kitchen, and sidle up to him. Slipping my arms around his neck, I’m careful not to bump the full mug of hot coffee he holds. “We haven’t had much time together lately, but I do love you. We still have a tentative date to get away this weekend, right?” I kiss his neck, the scent of his aftershave as familiar to me as the feel of him.
I back away from Chet and turn around. “Haley, you’re fifteen. This won’t always be gross.”
“It’s just gross when it’s you and dad.”
Haley, clad in her standard-issue uniform—cotton pajama bottoms and a T-shirt—opens the refrigerator and peers inside. She closes the fridge. “What’s for breakfast?”
“I have to—”
“Go? What’s new?”
“Drop the attitude, Haley.” Chet sets his mug on the counter and grabs the griddle from the cabinet under the range. “Pancakes are for breakfast.”
Chet and I mastered the art of tag-team parenting long ago. As a business owner—Mountain Play, a sporting goods store in Oakhurst—Chet sets his own hours, leaving the store in one of his managers’ capable hands when he needs to be home with the kids. He’s usually at the store during peak retail hours, evenings and weekends, but I’m home then. Well, depending on the season. If neither of us is available, then my dad and stepmom, Cretia, pitch in. It takes a village, as they say. We make it work.
“Hey, you two, if all goes well, I’ll see you for dinner. But I’m on call, so if there’s a fire…”
Chet’s right, they know the routine. California’s wildfire season began early, thanks to another year of drought. The forests are a tinderbox—if a lightning strike or anything else starts a fire this afternoon, it could be days, or even weeks, before I’m back home. “Haley, when your brother gets up, remind him to water Grandpa and Grandma’s yard. They’re gone until—”
“I know.” Tyler mumbles as he staggers into the kitchen, his dark hair protruding in ten different directions, his eyes barely open. He feels his way toward the coffeepot.
“Here buddy, you look like you need this more than I do.” Chet hands his mug of coffee to Tyler, who takes the cup, slurps a sip, and then sighs.
Chet and I look at one another and smile.
“What are you doing up so early, Ty?” He has to have a reason to be up before noon.
“He’s going bouldering,” Haley offers.
“Be careful.” I reach for the pen to write one more thing on the list, but Chet crosses the kitchen and takes the pen from my hand. “Jess, we’ve got it.”
“I know, I know. Oh, I’m making a presentation in the valley this morning, then I’m taking Johnny out to the site of that small fire last week. If you need anything, catch me before this afternoon. There’s no cell service—”
“I know. What’s with you this morning?”
“I just… Never mind.”
I turn back and try to give Haley a hug, but she ducks. When her dark eyes meet mine, for just a moment, with her hair still mussed from sleep, I see the little girl she was rather than the hormonal young woman she’s become. “Love you, Haley-bug.”
She rolls her eyes but then cracks a smile. “Me too.”
“Love you, Tyler.”
He lifts his mug toward me as if in a toast, words too costly until the caffeine does its work.
I give Chet a hug and then make my way to the back door, but before I leave he stops me. “Hey, don’t count on this weekend. I didn’t get the store covered.”
He shrugs. “It was tentative, right? Just didn’t work out.”
“Okay.” Disappointment, like a spring, bubbles to the surface, but I say nothing more. I bend to pick up a duffel bag packed with a change of clothes for this afternoon, then reach for my hat hanging on a peg. Once in the garage, I set my Smokey-the-Bear hat, as Chet calls it, on the passenger seat of the SUV and climb into the driver’s seat.
I put the SUV into gear, do a three-point turn, and head out the gravel road to the highway, leaving my legacies to fend for themselves.
But not in the same way my mother left me.
My dad anchored my life. A wildland firefighter. Strong. Courageous. All parts of him that became a part of who I am. But my mother? What part of her genetic makeup is also mine? Native American, yes, but what else? How did her history inform who I am—physically, emotionally, spiritually? How am I supposed to navigate my future without a full road map of my past?
My mother robbed me of more than her nurture and care—she robbed me of half my heritage.
As I negotiate the highway’s curves, Chet’s question comes back to me: “What’s with you this morning?”
I sigh as I consider the timeworn answer. It’s the same thing that’s always with me. Don’t you know that by now?
It’s the phantom ache of loss.
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