Hometown Star - By Joleen James

Chapter One


Seward, Alaska

Starlene White stared at the rundown double–wide trailer. Wide stripes of rust ran down the cheap aluminum siding. Dandelions and chickweed grew to the tops of the skirting—well, what was left of the skirting.

She drew in a shaky breath as she mounted the rickety porch steps, the rotting wood giving way beneath her brand new designer sandals. The front window near the door was broken, the remaining glass so smeared with dust she couldn’t see inside.

With a steady hand, Star inserted her key into the lock, but she didn’t need it. A mere touch pushed the door open. An unlocked door didn’t surprise her. Patsy had never locked the door. Why would she? Who in their right mind would want to go inside? It was Star’s “city” mind–set that told her to use the key.

Star stepped into the mobile home. The stench of mold and stale cigarettes wrinkled her nose. An instant, vivid image of Patsy, sitting at the kitchen table, a cigarette dangling from her fingers, a can of Bud Light in front of her, flashed through Star’s mind. Star closed her eyes, absorbing the memories of a woman more precious to her than her own mother.

“Patsy, you deserved so much better than this place,” she said to the room, hoping her aunt could hear her. “I miss you. What am I going to do without you?”

Sadness squeezed Star’s heart. She forced the pain away and walked across the avocado shag carpet to the kitchen and hit the light switch. Nothing. No power. Disappointed, she checked her BlackBerry. No Svc flashed on the screen. No power. No phone or Internet reception. She couldn’t wait to get out of Alaska and get back home to Seattle, to civilization.

For a minute she considered taking her sister, Brandi, up on her offer to stay at her place in town, but just as quickly Star pushed the idea away. If she stayed on site she could wade through Patsy’s things in the evening after she finished working for the day. Her on–location job as a production manager for the cable television show Update This! came first, settling Patsy’s estate, second.

In the kitchen, Star set the bag of groceries she carried onto the counter, along with her purse. She went to the window and turned the hand–crank, hoping for a cross–breeze. A clatter down the hall brought her around and sent her pulse racing. An animal? Probably. Star fished around in her purse for her pepper spray. In the back of her mind she wondered if Patsy’s gun was still in the old hatbox in her bedroom closet.

“Is anyone here?” she asked. “Anyone? I have pepper spray and I know how to use it.”

An empty silence greeted her. Most likely it was a little mouse, more afraid of her than she was of it.

Feeling slightly ridiculous, Star moved cautiously down the narrow hall, her heels tapping on the yellowed linoleum. At the bathroom, she paused, peering inside at the avocado green sink, toilet, and tub. All clear. That left the two bedrooms.

“Hello?” She paused at the door to Aunt Patsy’s room. The bed had been stripped bare. A lump formed in Star’s throat. How many times had she crept into this room to cuddle up with her aunt, needing the kind of grownup mothering her own mother hadn’t been able to provide?

A ruckus pulled Star around. Before she could react a small boy ran smack into her.

“Hey,” she cried, dropping the pepper spray. Her hands shot out to steady him.

“Let me go.” He jerked away, running for the door.

Star considered giving chase but quickly discarded the idea. She didn’t need to know why the kid was here. She didn’t care. Kids were nothing but trouble with a capital T. Raising her three sisters had cured Star of ever wanting children of her own. She never dated men with children. She didn’t care how hot the guy was. Kids were a deal–breaker. Period.

A howl sounded out front. Noisy crying followed.

Star sighed. So much for letting the kid go.

She made her way to the open door. The boy lay face down in the dirt, his sobs muffled by the earth. One of his shoes sat a few feet away. Had he tripped on his untied shoelaces?

Star walked gingerly down the steps and dropped to her knees beside him. “Where’re you hurt?”

She judged his age at seven or eight years old. Shaggy black hair hid his face from her. He pushed to his knees, then sat