The Work of Grace

The Work of Grace

By:  Kristen Lee  Completed
Language: English
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Grace Hammond lost the most important person in her life, her grandmother, Juliet. Left with little beyond a failing farm and not much clue how to run it, she's trapped-- either she gives up three generations of roots and leaves, or she finds some help and makes it work. When a mysterious letter from Juliet drops a much needed windfall in her lap, Grace knows she has one chance to save the only place she's ever called home and posts a want-ad.The knight that rides to her rescue is Robert Zhao, an Army veteran and struggling college student. A first generation Korean American, Rob is trying desperately to establish some roots, not just for himself, but for the parents he's trying to get through the immigration process, a secret he's keeping even from his best friends. Grace's posting for a local handyman, offering room and board in exchange for work he already loves doing, is exactly the situation he needs to put that process on track.Neither is prepared for the instant chemistry, the wild sweet desire that flares between them. But life in a small town isn't easy. At worst, strangers are regarded suspiciously, and at best, as profoundly flawed-- and the Hammond women have a habit of collecting obscure and ruthless enemies. Can their budding love take root in subtly hostile soil and weather the weeds seeking to choke them out?

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45 chapters
*1* Key
*Grace*It’s warm inside, between the great room’s roaring fireplace and all the people. Too warm. I can’t remember a time the farmhouse has ever been so warm. The closest was just before I turned fourteen. At Christmas. After my father married my stepmother and our blended family spent the holiday here, with my grandmother, Juliet, before we moved into our own home.Now it’s warm from the horde of visitors here for Juliet’s repast. Familiar strangers from this small town, mumbling condolences and promises to visit I know they’ll never keep. My feelings now are the same as they were that Christmas sixteen years ago—sadness, numbness.Checking to see if anyone is watching, I slip quietly out the mudroom door onto the wraparound veranda and hurry to the railing at the back corner of the de
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*2* Posting
*Rob* I ease my way through the crowded hall towards my next class with my best friend, Dan, in tow. I smile politely and nod to the few people who bother to look up from their phones as they rush by. Mostly these are girls, college co-eds attending the same community college and drawn to my boyish good looks, dimpled smile and perpetually tousled wild spikes of black hair. I know because I hear about it all the time from Dan. “How do you do that, Rob?” Here we go again. “Do what?” I turn my head slightly to focus an ear Dan’s direction, waiting for his response. “The girls, man. Every one of them that’s made eye contact with you has done a double take after they passed you. I mean you’re handsome enough—but certainly no model.” There it is, as expected. “Even at the bar, you pull some
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*3* Interview
*Grace* Ella was upset when I told her I’m having another potential handyman interview last night when we met at the bar. She’d have been even more upset if she knew I’m offering free room and board for the work. Since it saves me the trouble and I’m a grown-ass woman, I let her think I’m just taking in a renter with a particular set of skills. Which doesn’t seem particularly grown-ass, but I really wasn’t in the mood for the argument. I cast a final, nervous glance about the downstairs, sighing in disappointment at the threadbare rugs and furniture, worn finish on the stairs and floors. It’s an old farmhouse, I remind myself. You already warned him it wasn’t glamourous. I don’t have high hopes that this Rob Zhao will be willing to work in exchange for such accommodations though. It just couldn’t be enough, even by comparison to the dilapidated slums of the east side of t
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*4* Shower
*Grace* Every year fewer and fewer children come, I think, staring at the leftover Halloween treats I made—Juliet’s recipes for homemade caramel apples wrapped like Jack-o-lanterns and candy-eyed popcorn balls pressed around plastic vampire teeth to look like little toothy monsters. Barely half is gone, and I certainly don’t need it in the house. I pack everything in a bag and carry it to the foot of the stairs. “Rob?” I call and wait. When his normally quick ‘yes, ma’am’ doesn’t follow, I glance out the window to check for his car. Maybe I missed when he left for the evening. Seeing the black Mazda on the drive, my brows draw together. “Rob?” I call again, setting the bag of goodies on the first step and starting up the stairs. “Are you alright?” His bedroom door is open at the upstairs landing, and I glance in shyly. Finding the room empty, I c
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*5* Skirmish
*Rob* Extracting myself from beneath the bathroom sink, I stand, rubbing the spot where the cabinets pressed into my back as I worked changing out the faucets and supply lines. I test the connections for each handle and the hot and cold feeds for leaks as the water runs and, pleased with my work, gather my trash and tools, heading downstairs. Four down, three to go, I think, dreading the update in the tiny downstairs’ powder room more than any of the others. At the landing, my eyes are drawn through the entry windows where I can see Grace has returned from her errands. I curse, hurrying to empty my arms, as I watch her close the driver-side crew cab door on her pick-up, then collect the handles of all of her shopping bags and start towards the house, slumped under the weight of the too heavy burdens. I leap off the veranda, racing across the snowy front yard toward her. “
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*6* Mistletoe
*Grace* After I get my truck, I spend a few hours at the library.  Juliet taught me how to knit years ago, and I’m knitting a scarf, hat and gloves for Rob for Christmas. I was never particularly good at it, so it’s taken a few unravelings and restarts. I’ve improved with each try, and today I’ll finish the scarf.  I’m fairly pleased with it actually. It’s bamboo yarn, dyed a deep blue I thought might bring out the color of Rob’s eyes. If nothing else, it’s soft and strong, with good drape and an attractive luster, and will keep falling snow off the back of his neck and hands when he’s outside.  When the scarf is done, I tuck everything away in its bag, hiding it under the seat of my truck. I’ll start on the hat or gloves, either when Rob goes out or at the library tomorrow. It doesn’t take long to pick up the items I want from the grocer, even though it’s busy—well, as busy as a small-town grocery can be. It’s
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*7* Gifts
*Grace* You’d think the process of probating an estate would be as easy as it can be. After all, for the most part, you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one already and the endless complexities of funeral planning, not to mention living through the actual event. It’s not. Even with someone as organized as Juliet was, even with a will, the roughly four step process is still exhausting, nerve-wrecking work, none of which I need when I’m still hurting from her loss and not certain how to run the farm anyway. It’s also expensive. I balk at the probate lawyer’s retainer, unable to justify the cost against my budget, and put off the decision month after month. Finally, after Thanksgiving, no further along in figuring out how to get the property through probate myself and stressing the growing expen
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*8* Secret
*Grace* “Gracie!” Ella squeals, her arms open wide for a hug, a bottle of wine clutched in tight fists at each end. “It’s been months! You have to quit holing up like a hermit and get out more.” Smiling, I hug my stepsister on the veranda, then step back, gesturing her inside. “How was your vacation?” Ella rolls her eyes. “Thre
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*9* Secrets
*Grace* “Uh. Gross.” I wake slowly, a bad taste in my mouth from the alcohol the night before despite that I brushed my teeth before bed. Rolling off the side, I make my way to the bathroom, holding my bladder so I can brush again, first and foremost. Pulling on my robe, I make my way downstairs.

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*10* Missing Pieces
*Grace* The kitchen’s empty when I make my way downstairs the next morning, and a knot clenches around my heart. There’s no reason to think Rob hadn’t gone into town with his friends after he’d left here and ‘got lucky’. It wasn’t unreasonable—he’s good-looking and polite, I think. If I met him like that, I’d have given him my number at the very least.
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