by Erica Abbott and Pol Robinson
A single-minded government employee, a former Peace Corps volunteer, far too many goats, and one stray dog…what could possibly go wrong?
Sara’s entire life has been nomadic—developing and growing sustainable sources of food in small rural communities has meant no place to call her own. Now she’s ready to come home, focus her efforts on her own country’s food deserts, and settle into life in the Pacific Northwest. But just as she plants her roots, things begin to unravel.
Margaret is a city planner. She’s tough, ambitious, and smart. She’s also determined to get what she wants for her city, the taxpayers, and her own career. The only obstacle on the path to her success? An equally determined woman named Sara.
Two women, worlds apart, clearly have no common ground between them…or do they?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Neither of us had written with a partner before, so the entire process was new. We decided we’d each take a character and write her, which was really interesting. We messaged through Facebook all the time, with ‘official’ meetings scheduled for three times a week if we both could make it. During those meetings, one of us would ask the other, ‘Would Sara do…’ or ‘What would Margaret say about…’. It was fun."
Betty H. - [Un]Common Ground by Erica Abbott and Pol Robinson is one of those charming romances that we need... It is about an unlikely couple who are attracted to each other in spite of their differences. The characters are easy to fall in love with, and the setting is absolutely gorgeous and well-described. The story itself will leave you in a happy mood. If you need a book that will brighten your day, then this is the one for you.
Pin's Reviews - Light, sweet and really funny. With two likable main characters, a solid storyline, good dialogue and a nice love story. And some interesting and quirky secondary characters including the dog.
She was coming home.
The wide-open mouth of the ferry offered a panoramic view of the slowly approaching islands, as well as the perfect scoop for the ever-present winds that rose with the evening sky. Powerful enough to knock a person down, the wind reached only so far, almost seeming to form a semi-solid, invisible wall. Standing tucked inside that wind-wall, close enough to feel it but not be suffocated by it, Sara tucked her hands in her pockets and watched the sun set behind the snowcapped mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Already the mountains and island before it were hulking black silhouettes against the painted sky. Red-gold fire limned the edges of clouds that laced the deepening-to-midnight blue of the sky beyond.
Sara took a long, deep breath in, savoring the salty tang of the Sound, colored by the faintest hint of evergreen and pine. Pitted and scraped white paint framed her view, the dings and dents of years of use added to the character of the MV Salish, the vessel churning its way across the Puget Sound. Hard concrete thrummed with the rhythm of the powerful engines, its surface stained with oil, old paint, and more scrapes that echoed those on the walls. This was always her favorite spot on the ferry, below-decks, away from the tourists counting jellyfish or snapping selfies against the backdrop of the worn and scraped ferry’s pilothouse. Tucked just inside of the ramp area, legs braced against the gentle swell of Puget Sound, with just enough wind blowing in to lift her long, brown hair from her neck.
It had been three years this time.
Of the many places her parents had ever called “home”—and there had been many in their 30-year sojourn with the Peace Corps—this one was the one that meant the most. Tucked deep into the towering pines and birches of Vashon Island, the little house her parents found when they retired nearly seven years ago, with its small rooms and creaky old floors had grabbed her from the first moment she had seen it.
Sarasvati Noelani Chandler was coming home.
And this time, she was home to stay.
* * *
“What do you mean, ‘we’re moving’?” Sara stared at her mother, dumbfounded. In fact, thinking about it, Sara realized her dad had not said much of anything about himself or her mother, instead adroitly turning the conversation back to Sara and her work with Home Grown International for the last three years and her new move to Grassroots Gardens’ local satellite agency, Community Gardens of Seattle. Not until they had rolled into the driveway had her dad even hinted at any changes. She stood in the doorway, her bag at her feet, and simply stared at her mother. The living room was a jumble of boxes and stacks of books. Pale green walls accented with photographs and drawings collected by the three of them for years still lined the walls, with a gap or two here and there. In the midst of all of this stood her mother, stacks of brown paper at her feet, a cluster of glasses and plates stacked on the small table beside her.
At barely five feet, Sandy Chandler provided a counterpoint to her husband’s six-and-a-half-foot frame. Everything about her was petite, save for her voice. She could boom out a laugh that rivaled that of her husband, Bill. Both lived life to the fullest, and Sara loved everything about them. Her dad nudged her inside and Sara stepped further into the house and hugged her mother. “Baba,” she said, falling back into her use of the Nepali term of endearment automatically, “didn’t say anything about moving when he picked me up!”
“Oh, he didn’t, hmm?” Sandy Chandler gave her daughter a final squeeze and a smile as she stepped back and began to wrap another glass in brown paper. “I’m sure he was too excited about seeing you to think of it.”
“Aama,” Sara took the wrapping paper from her mother’s hand and pulled her to the old couch, pushing aside boxes to make room, “what’s going on?” Looking around, she slid her free hand through her hair in frustration. She had been so looking forward to coming home, to be again in a place where she belonged. Where she fit. And once again, she was being uprooted. “I thought you were happy here, working on the preserve.”
After more than thirty years as RPCVs, Returning Peace Corps Volunteers, Bill and Sandy Chandler had turned in their badges, their well-worn duffels, and settled on Vashon Island. That had been almost seven years ago. They’d purchased their first-ever actual house, so different from the weatherworn scraps of wood with a thatched roof that had been gifted to them by the elders of the tiny village in which she’d been born. Her parents had moved here, made friends in the community, and settled in. For good, it had seemed to Sara, and she had been glad. They weren’t getting any younger and she had been happy to think of them settled here on the island. Still doing good works, but in a more stable and safer place. Their being happy here had been a driving factor in her own recent change of plans and of jobs. Well, she admitted to herself, one of the reasons.
Sandy leaned back into the cushions, their worn fabric covered by a quilt nearly as old as the couch, and smiled up at her daughter. “You haven’t called me ‘Aama’ in a while, Sara-ji.”
“Why so formal, Aama?” Growing up in Nepal, Sara knew the ins and outs of Nepali better than she did English. Her mother’s addition of the “ji” to her name was only done in formal address, and she had rarely heard it from either of her parents. She sat up in sudden panic and gripped her mom’s fingers. “You’re not sick, are you? What about Baba?”
“No, honey. We’re fine. Relax.” Sandy pulled her daughter back until Sara was slumped against her. She tucked Sara’s hand in hers and leaned her head against her daughter’s shoulder. “It’s so good to have you home. No, Baba and I are fine. We’re just…well…” Sandy trailed off and sighed.
“Bored.” Bill’s booming voice filled the room. “By god, Sara, we’re bored out of our ever-lovin’ minds here.” He sat on the arm of the couch and took Sara’s other hand. “Your Aama’s embarrassed to admit it, but we made a mistake.”
Sara tipped her head back and studied her dad, his wide-set eyes in a face seamed with wrinkles created by a combination of a life lived outdoors and his ready smile. A square, stubborn jaw, something he had passed down to his only child, though thankfully hers had been softened by Sandy’s touch, was as ruddy as the rest of his skin and covered in a stubborn silver stubble even this early in the day. His hair, once a midnight black was now a fabulous nimbus of silver-gilt, a color echoed in the large, bushy eyebrows he now raised at her scrutiny.
“You’re not seriously thinking of going back to the Peace Corps, are you?” She looked from one parent to another, her heart thumping.
“No, we have something else in mind, sānō chōrī.”
“Baba, I have not been your ‘little daughter’ for years.” Sara narrowed her gaze. “Out with it.”
“Busted.” Bill chuckled and winked at Sandy before shrugging. “No, the Peace Corps is a game for your generation now. We’re bored, not insane. And,” he cupped her chin, “you have to be much older than twenty-eight to no longer be my sānō chōrī.” Bill shrugged and stretched. “No, we’ve got something else planned.”
Bill pulled Sara up and into his arms, his usually loud voice muffled by his bulk as she was buried against his chest, her face pressed into the nubby worn cotton of his sweatshirt. She closed her eyes and breathed in the warm, cottony scent of him overlaid with the tang of wood smoke and a hint of sawdust. “We’re not going all that far away, honey. Just over to Whidbey Island. They were looking for a new sanctuary caretaker and someone to head up the educational outreach program, so we applied.” He squeezed her again and released her with a smacking kiss on her cheek. “Can you believe it? They took us!”
“But,” Sara looked around the living room, still cozy despite the piles of already packed boxes. “This is home, you love this place.” She hesitated, then added, “You’ve only been here for seven years. And…” she paused again, her voice catching slightly. “It’s the first time we’ve had a real home in…well, forever.”
“You know that home is—
“Yes, I know.” Sara blew out a breath and repeated the words she’d heard throughout her childhood. “‘Where those we love reside.’ I get it. I do. But…” She shrugged. “I love this place. I thought that, you know, for once, we would have a real…home. Together.”
“And,” Bill added as he slid off the arm of the couch, pulling her with him to sit between Sandy and himself, “since they have a really nice caretaker’s cottage over there, we thought you might want to just live here.”
“It’s the perfect solution for everyone, Sara. You love this house, we knew that, so…now you have it all to yourself! The timing works well too! You have six weeks to get settled before you start at Community Gardens, and Baba and I have a month to get settled in the new place.” Sandy’s brown eyes were wide and entreating, clearly hoping Sara would agree with them.
Their enthusiasm was hard to resist, and Sara could see how happy and excited they were. She gave them a smile that she hoped wasn’t as weak as she feared, settling back into her dad’s embrace, as her mom began to tell her about their newest plans for adventure, her dad providing the color commentary as needed.
She had wanted to come home, not just to a place, but to them. They were her home, her place, her grounding. She had allowed herself to believe that she could come here, to them, to this place, and they would somehow make it right again. Make her right again. Nothing was right, inside. Everything felt upside-down. Had felt that way since Devery. Since walking in and having her say, in her stumbling, halting way, that she wanted Sara gone. That she wanted Sara to go. Needed Sara to go.
So she had gone. Run, even. With barely more than the clothes on her back, a few items from her room, and a worn canvas backpack. She had gone directly to the airport—or as directly as you could when you started from the ass end of nowhere. She had come here this time to stay, to spend time with them again, something she had missed since they’d retired and she had continued to travel. She needed that anchor after everything fell apart in the last few months. And with that anchor pulling up, she was adrift again.
The car stopped inches away from Margaret’s thigh, brakes squealing in protest. She waved a hand at the driver, half in apology and half in dismissal as he cursed her clearly and colorfully from within the safe confines of his sedan.
Margaret continued to jaywalk across the lanes of the downtown street with her other hand adjusting the Bluetooth device in her ear.
“I am thirty-seven years old and I do not need for my mother to get me dates!” Margaret said in exasperation.
“I know how old you are, dear. I was there when you were born.” Her mother’s serene voice irritated Margaret even more. “Now honestly, how long has it been since you had a nice dinner with some lovely woman?”
Margaret hopped over the curb, balancing perfectly on the sidewalk in her designer stilettos. She loved the sharp sounds the heels made on the concrete as she walked. The heels made her taller than most other people on the street and she liked that too.
“I had lunch last week with Bobbie,” Margaret said, trying to keep the pout out of her voice.
“Ex-girlfriends do not count.”
Her mother cleared her throat delicately. “We are looking for long-term relationship material here. Someone you want to come home to instead of working all the time.”
Margaret dodged three men with briefcases moving like a phalanx down the middle of the crowded early morning sidewalk. She threw them a withering glare and said, “You mean someone to give you grandchildren, don’t you?”
“That would be nice, too.” Her mother sounded wistful now. Not for the first time, Margaret wished she had had a sibling or two to divert her mother’s relentless attention from her own biological clock. Apparently, the kids produced by the five nanny goats her mother kept in the little upstate farm were not a sufficient outlet for her maternal instincts.
“I can find my own dates,” Margaret repeated as she turned the corner. The City Annex building was halfway up the block. Once there, she could legitimately claim the priority of work to get out of this conversation.
“I know that you can find your own dates, Dusty. I just don’t think you’re making finding someone nice a proper priority.”
“Don’t call me Dusty, Mother. Look, I don’t like blind dates. You don’t even know this woman.”
“Well no, but I’ve met her parents. Lovely people. They were very interested in my farm-made organic chèvres. Anyway, we were just chatting, and we discovered we both had single gay daughters, which just goes to show you how much the Universe conspires to…”
Flowers! She had forgotten the flowers, drat it. She needed to end this discussion and get back to her life. The life without a goat-cheese-creating-New-Age matchmaker interfering in it.
“Mom, I’ve got to go now. I’ll call you tonight and you can resume rearranging my existence.”
Margaret punched off the phone and slipped it into her Hermès bag. The flower shop was another block behind her, so she would have to hurry to get to work on time. On time, of course, meant before her assistant Jeremy arrived.
She thought about Jeremy as she marched back to the flower shop, not that she liked thinking about him. Jeremy was tall and good-looking. She could tell he was handsome because all the women in the office flipped their hair whenever he deigned to speak to them. Well, not all of them—Dee had really short hair and she ignored Jeremy whenever possible. Margaret suspected that Dee didn’t date men, but she herself would never date anyone at work, so Dee wasn’t an option.
The real reason she didn’t like Jeremy is because she knew that he was after her job. She suspected that he was actively sabotaging her on occasion, but she hadn’t been able to prove it yet. And she knew she would have to have rock-solid proof before her boss, the deputy mayor, would consider firing him.
Margaret smiled a moment as she entered the florist’s shop, the little old-fashioned bell jangling above her. She liked the sound of it.
Billy looked up from the counter and grinned at her. “Thought you might have forgotten today, Ms. Winter.”
“No, just a little late. Are they ready?”
He reached into the cooler for the arrangement, yellow daisies and red-striped carnations, and laid them gently in a tissue-lined white glossy box. “Every Friday, same flowers. Must be for somebody special,” he said as he tied the box with a wide red satin ribbon, arranging the bow just-so until he was satisfied.
“It is. Just leave it on my account, Billy. Thanks again.” She had her credit card on file with them. It saved time and she liked saving time.
“Sure thing,” he called after her, but she was already through the door, the little bell’s sound almost lost in the sounds of honking outside on the street.
In a moment of triumph, she got to her office to see that she had beaten Jeremy in again. Margaret chuckled to herself as she opened the door to her office, admiring as she did every weekday the neatly printed letters on the plaque beside the door: “S. Margaret Winter. Director of Neighborhood Development.”
Not yet forty, and she had an important job in a big city. She had done a good job so far, and if the deal on her desk worked out, who knew how much further she might go?
She liked her office, tidy and yet filled with things that mattered. The most important was the big Seattle city map on the wall opposite the windows with the great view across the city. Lots of city officials wanted a bay view, but Margaret knew what mattered: buildings and the people who lived and worked in them. That was the city’s life and future. People came for the scenery and the climate, but they stayed and paid taxes and contributed to the arts scene because the city was alive with other people doing the same things. People who needed jobs and places to live and create.
Margaret set her flowers carefully in an empty vase sitting ready at the corner of her desk, turning the vase so that the blooms faced the door, ready to capture the attention of anyone who came to see her. As she did each week, she just as carefully set aside the box they’d come in, so she could safely take them home this evening. Satisfied that all was as it should be, she hung up her suit jacket and began to tackle her voice mail and emails.
By the time Jeremy arrived at nine oh seven, officially seven minutes late, Margaret had already done more than an hour’s work. Despite the early-morning phone call from her mother, the day was already going well. She was reviewing the report from the assistant who was in charge of the application process for the small business grants when a man’s voice greeted her from the doorway.
“Good morning, Ms. Winter.”
It was Jeremy, who was always annoyingly polite. She sat back from her desk and watched as he approached.
“Nice flowers,” he remarked, as he did every Friday morning. Margaret admitted to herself that part of the reason she bought the flowers on the way to work rather than after was so Jeremy would wonder where they came from.
Jeremy had a face that started well from the top: wavy blond hair carefully styled to look casually surfer-boy, followed by a pair of nice sea-blue eyes. But things went downhill after that, Margaret thought. His nose was a little too pug-like, and he had a weak chin, which he attempted to conceal with a carefully groomed goatee.
Actually, he looked a bit like one of her mother’s goats, a crafty billy named Emmett. She grinned to herself, then quickly rearranged her face into boss mode.
“All right. Let’s go over next week again.”
He sat in her office chair, tugging his jacket down so he would sit on it and not let the fabric bunch up around his shoulders. His concession to casual Friday was to wear a navy blazer over light-colored slacks rather than a suit. Margaret, of course, did not believe in casual Fridays for herself. Dress for the job you want, she reminded herself, not just the job you have.
“You have a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at seven on Monday morning. The Planning Commission study session is Monday at one o’clock,” Jeremy began, consulting his iPad. “They want an update on the C of C proposal for the University District project.”
Margaret tapped her stylus on the stack of files on her desk. “Have we heard back from the merchant’s association on The Ave?”
“Um, not the last time I looked.” Jeremy looked a little flustered. Margaret loved asking him a question he hadn’t anticipated. Point for her.
“Well, call what’s-her-name over there and tell them if they have anything to add that they had better send me an email no later than noon Monday.”
He made a note. “Beverly.”
“The head of The Ave’s merchant’s association. Beverly Morgan.”
Margaret pursed her lips. His attempt to one-up her by remembering the woman’s name didn’t count—he had his contact list in front of him, so it wasn’t that his memory was better than hers. No goal.
“And double-check the PowerPoint presentation before I get in front of the Planning Commission,” she added. “You screwed it up last week.”
He winced but made another note. “I’ll make sure IT gets it right.”
She leaned over her desk. “Check it yourself, too, Jeremy. We don’t want to look like incompetents in front of the Planning Commission, do we?”
“No, ma’am. We don’t.” His tone was deferential, but he tugged at his goatee, a habit that Margaret interpreted as showing his nerves. She had made him nervous and flustered in one conversation. Game, set, and match to her. It was a good start to the morning.
They didn’t really need to go over the calendar—Margaret was meticulous about entering all meetings and appointments into her phone. But three times in the last eight months Jeremy had “forgotten” to notify her of some change or addition and she wasn’t going to let that happen again. The meeting shifted the blame for any problems with her schedule back onto him. Where she wanted it.
Lately he had tried another tactic—the missing file. Even with the city’s goal of the paperless office, there were lots of physical documents they needed: survey plats, maps, architectural blueprints, artists’ renderings, mylars. Many were too large to fit in normal-sized file drawers, so Margaret had converted an old interior office into a file room for oversized documents—she hated clutter. But twice now she had asked for a document that couldn’t be found when she needed it. As usual, she suspected Jeremy without being able to prove anything.
They finished the schedule review for the next week, then Margaret dismissed him with a list of tasks to be completed by the end of the day. She returned to her own list, barely interrupting her work for lunch. She sent Jeremy out for sushi from Sushi Cocina. This had the added advantage of sending him almost a mile away on foot. Too bad it wasn’t raining.
Margaret saved her favorite project for a special Friday afternoon treat. She went down the hall to the interior file room and pulled her rolled-up map from the corner. Jeremy eyed her as she walked past his desk on the way back, and on impulse she made a detour.
“Did you check that PowerPoint yet?” she asked.
His eyes slid sideways. Aha, got you, she thought happily.
Behind him at a cluttered desk sat a woman Margaret didn’t quite recognize. Her hair was as black as Margaret’s own but in contrast to Margaret’s smooth chignon, this woman had a mass of unruly curls. She looked up for a moment, met Margaret’s gaze through huge tortoise-shell framed glasses, and quickly lowered her look to her messy desktop.
The glasses nudged her memory. Jeremy’s intern from City College. Linda? Laura? Something. She returned her attention to Jeremy.
“Um, no, just getting to the PowerPoint.” He tugged at his goatee.
She smiled sweetly. “Just shoot me a quick email when you finish looking it over,” she directed, her tone now verging on the saccharine. So I’ll have a nice written record that you checked it in case anything goes wrong.
“Of course, Ms. Winters.”
Margaret trotted back to her office, humming cheerfully. She carefully closed the door behind her and then slipped the bands off the map and spread it across her conference table. Grabbing the flower vase, coffee cup, and pen holder from her desktop, she anchored the corners of the map.
There it was, her ticket up the political ladder. The new site for the international headquarters of Pacific Rim Robotics, located in downtown Seattle and bringing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the local economy. Seattle was going to become more than just the home of coffeehouses and fish markets—this was the next big step to making her one of the great international cities of the world.
And Margaret was going to make it happen. She was determined to close this deal, and she got what she went after, always.
She ran a well-manicured fingertip around the block containing the three properties in question. The Sterne office property was already sewn up, in city ownership. The old Capital Hotel was under contract. It needed to be torn down anyway, so she was sure the closing wouldn’t be a problem.
Pacific Rim had agreed, in principle, to a deal to lease the real property for their new headquarters from the city. The company would build the building, the city would reap the economic benefits, and Pacific Rim would eventually be able to buy the real estate from the city at a highly favorable price. Win-win, Margaret thought. She could already imagine herself standing next to the mayor at the press conference announcing the Pacific Rim deal, basking modestly in the glory of the biggest business coup for the city in years.
Her finger moved over an inch to the single impediment standing between her and that press conference: the Stockton Industries building. The negotiations were complicated, because the property was owned by the Stockton Family Trust, and dealing with a board of trustees was almost as bad as dealing with a city council. Stockton Industries could easily move their offices across the bay, where their warehousing and manufacturing operations were, but agreeing on the price was proving difficult. Still, Margaret was determined to make the project work. There was nowhere else in the city where Pacific Rim could get enough property to build their headquarters without spending more on the land than the building would be worth.
Jobs. Economy. And a faster track up in city government.
She had to close the deal. Any way she could.
* * *