Love in a Thousand Pictures (Preview)

Chapter One

Martha looked around the studio room, making sure everything was in its place, just like she did every afternoon before going home. She grabbed her camera and tucked it into her bag. She was exhausted. There had been four photoshoots today, and she had taken pictures for all of them. 

“Martha, there you are. I was looking for you.” Ian, her boss, was standing in the doorway. His eyes moved to her bag and coat. “You’re leaving already?”

“It’s thirty minutes past five. I need to get home.” Martha’s official time to go home was five p.m. Somehow, she managed to be kept at work every day past five and sometimes later. 

“I booked another shoot for today. It was a last-minute thing. They’re going to be here in five minutes, and I need you to take the pictures.” 

“I have to get home. I promised my mom.” Martha narrowed her eyes. She could already see Ian thinking about the money he was going to make from the extra shoot. If only she had the money to open her own place. She tried hard not to be jealous, but sometimes it was hard.

“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep. Being an assistant comes with responsibilities that aren’t always going to fit into your ideal schedule.” 

“Ian …” She had to protest. She couldn’t let him keep treating her this way. 

“Your job or the shoot, Martha. You know I could get someone to replace you in an instant if I wanted to.” Ian crossed his arms in front of him and raised an eyebrow. He knew that his threats would work because they had worked on her every single time he had used them. 

“Fine, but this is the last time. The deal is I go home at five.” Martha pulled out her camera and gear with a heavy sigh. She couldn’t stand this job. She should walk out the door right this minute. Maybe Ian would take her more seriously and beg her to come back if he saw how much she did for the studio. It was a sweet dream, but it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. She just had to stick with Ian and her position as a photographer’s assistant for a little longer. Just until she had the funds and reputation to build up her own studio. Chicago was a big place. She could make it there if she tried. There would surely be a job that paid better than this one. 

Two hours and too many photos to count later, Martha sat on the bus, headed home. If she had been exhausted before, she was ready to drop now. Ian was the very description of a terrible boss. The nerve of him to treat her this way made her fuming mad. The bus doors opened at the lonely stop just a block away from the house she shared with her parents and sister. Martha gripped her bag and stepped out into the shadows of the night. 

The dark scared her. It was like an endless expanse of unknowns. She hurried down the street, keeping an eye on anything that so much as moved. She didn’t want to get caught off guard out here alone. 

Bright lights streaming out of her parents’ windows put her at ease. She hurried up the front steps and pushed through the huge wooden door with a sigh of relief. The smell of pumpkin and cinnamon hit as soon as she took a breath. 

“Mom?” Martha hurried through the house into the kitchen. Her mother could always be found in the kitchen. Cooking for her family was more than a duty for Martha’s mother. It was also a hobby. Martha and her family didn’t mind. It always meant there were plenty of goodies to look forward to when they had a craving for something sweet.

“Hey, sweetie, I was wondering when you were going to come home. Another late night at work?” 

“Yeah, I tried to get back earlier, but you know how my boss is. He thinks I was born to hold a camera until I drop.” 

“I know, honey. Here, I made a pumpkin cake. Do you want a slice? It will make you feel better.”

“Sure, I’ll have a slice.” Martha slid into one of the high stools against the counter. Her mother took out a small plate and cut a slice of the fresh pumpkin cake. Her shoulders drooped, and sadness pulled at her features. Martha noticed how her mother always tried to keep busy, but she was never happy. 

Happiness had left her parents’ eyes the day that Anthony died. The sadness hung like a dark cloud over their heads, blotting out their joy seemingly forever. Her mother slid the plate across the counter and sat down opposite her. The counter was an island, separating the kitchen from the dining room. 

“There you are! I was wondering when you’d be home.” Natalia practically floated into the kitchen, her bright red hair pulled up into a messy bun on top of her head and wearing a dark green sweater. “We thought you were going to spend the night at your job.” 

“Don’t be ridiculous. I have never had to work all night, although I think he might make me if he thought he could.” Martha shook her head. Their mother went to dish up another piece of cake. 

“How were things here?” Martha asked, sending a glance toward her mother, who was on the other side of the kitchen. 

“Pretty normal day, you know. Speaking of which, I won’t be home tomorrow. I have a babysitting job across town.” 

“I’m glad for you.” Martha loved children, and she thought Natalia’s job of caring for them was admirable. As far as she went, she was terrified of being in charge of other little humans who would depend on her for everything. The thought of having to deal with an injury was horrible. 

“What about you? When are you opening up your own photography studio? You’ve been working for Ian for more than two years now.” Natalia shook her head. “And by now, you know all the ins and outs of the job. Isn’t it time you went off on your own? He doesn’t deserve you anyway.” 

“No. He might not, but I don’t have much choice right now. I need to keep building my reputation with Ian, his clients, and my portfolio, as well as my wallet. Do you know how much it would be to rent a space for a studio right now?”

“Not really.” Natalia shrugged. “But Mom and Dad already said you could use the garage if you wanted to.”

“I have thought about it, but I just don’t know. It sounds so scary, going out on my own.” Martha tried to make a list in her mind of all the things she would have to do and buy to start up a proper studio. It was almost impossible at this point in her life. Her dream was to have her own place, but the best way to get that was to work with a professional, established studio like Ian’s. At least that was what everyone said. 

“You’ll figure it out; I’m sure of it.” Natalia took the slice of cake from their mother, then left the kitchen. Martha was left alone once again with her mother and deafening silence.

“Mom, how have you been? You don’t look so good.” Martha had realized a while ago that it was better to be upfront and honest rather than beating around the bush. Her mother looked worse than usual, which was bad. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and she looked like she was about to cry at any moment. 

“I’m doing fine, well, the best I can.” Her mother took a sip of coffee. “Your father and I have been talking about moving.” 

“What? Why? Where would you move to?”

“I don’t know where, but the memories in this house are … Well, sometimes it is just too much to bear. Sometimes, I think that your brother is going to come running out of his room or that I hear him at night. I’ve heard that moving to a brand-new place can help with those things sometimes.” 

“But think of all the good memories you would be giving up too. This is where you brought us home as babies. This is where we grew up, went to school, had so many fun times. Anthony would want you to be happy, Mom. Don’t you remember what he told you before he died?”

“Yeah, I remember. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. I just wish I could have changed places with him. He had such a long life in front of him. He was only twelve.” 

“I know. But Mom, we need to try and move on. It is hard for me too. If there had been anything I could do to keep him here, I would have. This was just his time. Some people just don’t stay as long as others. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good life while he was here. And he left us lots of good memories to hang onto.” 

Her mother’s hands tightened around her coffee cup, her knuckles turning white. “He would have turned thirteen next month.” 

“We should do something for his birthday.” Martha remembered how much her little brother loved his birthdays. He would always count the days until they came and make lists of things he wanted. He tried to keep his lists realistic and ask for things like someone to go biking with him, an ice cream cone, or something else equally as simple but special to him. 

“Thank you, Martha. I don’t know what I would do without you and Natalia.” Her mother reached over and patted Martha’s hand. 

Martha stood, walking around the counter. She folded her mother into her arms. “I love you, Mom. We are going to keep getting through this together.” Martha wished that she could do something to make things better for her mother, but she didn’t know what. Right now, the one thing she could do to make her mother and father’s life a little better was to do well with her business or her ventures. The only problem was that right now, Ian was standing in her way.

Chapter Two

“Martha!” Natalia’s voice called up the stairs. 

Martha sat up in bed. It was the crack of dawn on her one day off. Her boss didn’t get many bookings for Sunday, so it was the one day that she stayed home. On occasion, she was called in for a special photo shoot or some other task that Ian needed help with, but hopefully, that wouldn’t happen today. 

She looked back at her pillow longingly. She wanted to go back to sleep and stay there until that afternoon. Martha threw her feet over the side of the bed and padded over to the hallway. 

“What is it, Natalia?” she called down the stairs. 

“Someone is on the phone for you.” 

Martha took the stairs two at a time. If it was Ian calling for her, her sister would have said so. By the time she made it to the phone, she was dying with curiosity about who was on the line.  

“Hello?”

There was fumbling on the other end of the line. 

“Hello, is this Miss Martha Lenning?” The voice was hesitant. 

“That’s me. How can I help you?” Martha asked. 

“I–I am calling about Mrs. White. I believe that you were her student in high school?”

“Yes, that’s right. Is everything okay?” Unease twisted through Martha. She had kept up with her high school teacher for the last several years, ever since moving to Minnesota. Most of Martha’s teachers had left her life, not leaving much of an impact, but Mrs. White was like a good friend to her. Martha couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye, even when her teacher moved several states away. They had continued sending letters to each other, and she had called her on the telephone at least once a week to see how she was.

“No, actually, my mother passed away two days ago. She died in her sleep.” 

“Oh no, I’m so sorry.” Martha grasped for words. “I just spoke to her a few days ago.” 

“I know. It was so sudden, none of us expected it in the least. I know that the two of you were close. When I started going through things to prepare for the funeral, I found all the letters the two of you exchanged, and I found your phone number on the fridge. She always spoke so highly of you; I thought you would want to know.” 

“Th-thank you.” She pushed the tears back and tried to keep her voice steady. “When will the funeral be?” Martha was glad that Mrs. White had passed away in her sleep. She had probably not felt a thing and was in a better place now. But that didn’t change the burning ache in her chest. Mrs. White had been old enough to be her mother, plus a good number of years. She was probably closer to her grandmother’s age. Even though she was on the phone with Mrs. White’s daughter, she could hardly believe the news. It didn’t seem possible that she could really be gone forever. 

“It will be in seven days. That is actually why I was calling you. I figured that you would like to attend. Seeing how close you and my mother were, I think it would mean a lot for you to be here.” 

“I will. I will be there.” Martha thought of Ian and her job. Getting him to agree to her taking a good week off would not be easy, but she didn’t care. She hadn’t asked for anything since she started working for him. Surely, he could give her this one thing.

“Great, I can’t wait to see you. If you need somewhere to stay, let me know.” 

“I will. Have a great day, and once again, I’m so sorry for your loss.” As the line went dead, Martha found herself reeling. Mrs. White was really gone. The woman who had taught her so much and been there for her for so long was no longer a phone call or a letter away. The loss piled on to Martha. She thought of Anthony. Mrs. White had been one of the few people besides her family whom she had leaned on in that difficult time. It felt so cruel having to deal with another loss so soon after her little brother’s death. 

When Martha got up to her room, she sat down on the edge of her bed. Tears streamed silently down her cheeks. She pulled out a photo album she kept close to her bed. Flipping through the pages, she stopped on the one she was looking for. Mrs. White was standing beside her, holding up a first-place award from an English writing competition. Martha smiled through her tears. Mrs. White had always been there for her when she needed her. There were days when she wished she was still in high school. There were things that she didn’t miss and never would miss, but there were things that she had looked forward to in high school. She missed the simplicity of life. Back then, she didn’t have a demanding job with an unfair boss and low pay. 

She sighed. Anthony had still been there for her back then too. 

Martha closed the picture book and wrapped her arms around it. She curled her knees up to her chest, lying on her side on the bed. She let the tears stream down her face as every good time she’d had with Mrs. White came back to her, and every conversation and letter they were supposed to have reminded her of their existence. The grief for the loss of her teacher and her little brother seemed to merge and blend together until she didn’t know which one she was crying for anymore.

She drew in long shuddering breaths, willing the pain of grief to recede and leave her with the familiar dull, numb ache she had felt since her brother had died. 

—*—

By the time Martha left her room, she had a headache and had cried all the tears she had. Walking down the hall, she heard voices coming from the kitchen. 

“She was really close with Mrs. White.” Her father’s voice floated out of the kitchen. 

“I know. It’s terrible to see her so upset again.” Her mother’s concern was appreciated. Sometimes, Martha wondered if her mother noticed anything anymore. Martha stepped through the kitchen doorway, clearing her throat to announce her presence. 

“Martha, there you are. Are you okay, honey?” Her mother stood and came around the corner. “Natalia told us what happened with Mrs. White.” Before Martha could respond, her mother wrapped her into a tight embrace. Martha caught her sister’s guilty look from over her mom’s shoulder. 

“I’m sorry, I might have listened in on part of your conversation. I wouldn’t have if I had known it would be about Mrs. White …” Natalia’s cheeks burned red. 

“It’s fine. I was just coming to tell you all anyway.” 

“Will there be a funeral?” her dad asked. 

“Yes. It’s in Minnesota in a week. I am going. I already promised her daughter.” 

“What are you doing about work? Your boss is never going to agree to more than a day of vacation.” Natalia stood from her chair and shoved her hands in her pockets. 

“I don’t know. I am going to go and talk to him first thing in the morning. I don’t think he’s going to like it, but this is really important to me. I can’t just miss the funeral. Mrs. White … she was so important to me. I couldn’t do that to her.”  

“Maybe you’ll even have time to visit Kimberly while you are up there,” Martha’s dad spoke up. Kimberly lived in Wisconsin with her husband. Martha had never visited before due to her heavy work schedule, but it was something she had always wanted to do. 

“You know what? Maybe I would have time for that.” Martha missed Kimberly. Before Kimberly had moved out with her new husband, they’d been pretty close. Kimberly was expecting a baby, and soon, things were going to change for her. 

“Come on, everyone; let’s make something for breakfast.” Martha’s mom started moving around the kitchen, pulling things from the fridge. 

“Mom, it’s almost eleven a.m., and Natalia, I thought you were working today?”

“None of you have eaten anything proper for breakfast, so I am making something. Don’t argue.” Martha’s mother started cracking eggs into a bowl as Martha turned to Natalia. 

“I was going to work today, but they canceled last minute. The girls I was going to babysit got the flu. Hopefully, we will be able to reschedule for next week.” 

“Oh, okay.” Martha looked around the kitchen. “I’m going to grab my camera and get some pictures outside. There’s some nice sun.” She wanted to get some pictures for Mrs. White. Every week, she would send pictures in the mail to Mrs. White. The woman loved flowers, animals, landscapes, and pretty much anything that Martha took pictures of. Martha knew that she would no longer receive the pictures like she used to, but Martha wasn’t ready to give up the tradition just yet. 

“I’ll call you when the food is ready!” Martha’s mom said as Martha hurried out of the kitchen. Once she was outside, she closed her eyes and imagined Mrs. White looking down at her from heaven. She wished things could have been different, and she had been given more time with Mrs. White, but she knew that the old lady was probably in a better place, and the people who were grieving her were the only ones suffering right now. 

One day, she would hopefully see her again. 

Chapter Three

Martha paused outside the photo studio doors. The air seemed heavy to her. There was a confrontation waiting to happen. She took a deep breath. She could face Ian. There was no reason to hesitate. She was a great assistant. She did everything he asked and more. Even though he mistreated her so often, he had to know how valuable she was to his business. 

The sound of customers greeted her in the lobby. Ian was showing them one of their photo albums. 

“I take all the good quality photos here. As you can see, they are exactly what you want to remember your family the way they are for years to come. You don’t want to miss out on having a set of these for your walls or your mantel.” Ian had a huge smile on his face, and his eyes barely left the photo album as Martha made an appearance. 

“These are really nice.” The woman by the counter leaned in for a better look at whichever photo Ian was showing them. Martha recognized the album. It was one of the ones she had created for the studio. She had taken ninety-five percent of the photographs in it. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time Ian had done a shoot on his own for clients. So now he was taking credit for her work as well. It didn’t look as if he could do anything worse. 

She set up her equipment, then started organizing a few sample photo cards on a nearby table until the potential clients left. 

“So, that sounded like it went well,” Martha ventured. Despite her anger about his latest antics, she wanted him in a good mood to ask for the time off. 

“It did. They will probably be booking a session this upcoming week, so keep that in mind.” Ian tucked the photo album under his arm and turned to leave the room. 

“Wait, Ian, I was hoping to talk to you.” Martha put the sample cards she was holding back in their spots and squared her shoulders. She had to get rid of this fear at some point. 

“And what was that?” Ian narrowed his green eyes, giving her a quick look up and down as if questioning why she was there. He seemed to be daring her to say the wrong thing to him. 

“I … I received some hard news yesterday. A close friend of mine passed away.” Martha left out that Mrs. White was her teacher at the last minute. Ian wouldn’t be convinced that she was friends with her teacher; she was almost certain. 

“Well, what about it? I’m sorry to hear it, but we have work to do.” Ian raised his eyebrows and tapped his foot. 

“I need time off to go to the funeral. She lived in Minnesota, and the funeral is in a few days. I was hoping to have a week off.” 

“You want an entire week?” Ian’s eyebrows rose higher, and he set the photo album down on the counter with a thump. He crossed his arms and laughed. Martha cringed. How could he be so crass when she had just told him what happened? “Have you forgotten that you are an assistant? You can’t just ask for a week off. Your friend is dead. She won’t miss you anyway. You can just tell her relatives you are far too busy at work to come.” 

Martha took a deep breath, pushing the true words she wanted to say back into the deep recesses of her thoughts. She wasn’t trying to make Ian angry. She just needed to convince him to give her the time she needed. Then she would be back, and everything could go back to the way it was. 

“I have worked for you for several years, Ian. I am here on time every morning, and many days I stay late. I don’t even ask you for overtime. I have taken over so much of what happens around here. I never ask for anything. I just want this one thing. I want to go to my friend’s funeral. If you need me to, I can try to work overtime or make up for the days when I get back.” 

Ian’s eyes narrowed, and he stepped toward her. “I am having a bit of a hard time believing you are actually serious. You are throwing all that in my face right now? I have given you the benefit of the doubt and given you a job as my assistant. I even pay you to practically learn a trade. You deserve nothing more than that.” 

“So, your answer is no?” Martha crossed her arms. The mind games were endless, the pressure and the manipulation. She was done with it all. The words to tell Ian so were on the tip of her tongue, begging to be unleashed, but somehow, she managed to hold them back. 

“My answer is yes. You take as many days as you need. You go to Minnesota, have a blast, maybe even take a vacation. If you do go, though, don’t bother coming back. As soon as you leave here and don’t show up on a workday, I will have someone in here replacing you within a day. Do you understand me?” Ian’s eyes widened, showing the whites around them. 

“I understand you perfectly.” Martha bit out the words. Anger couldn’t begin to describe the feelings rushing through her. She rushed past Ian into the other room and started setting up the props for their next photoshoot, which according to the clock, would start in fifteen minutes. How dare Ian? How dare he treat her this way? How dare he be so cold and uncaring? 

First, he took credit for her work, kept her late after work, didn’t pay for all the hours she worked, and then he wouldn’t even give her time off for a funeral. Her blood boiled, and her hands shook. She stared down at a photo prop, wishing she could throw it against the wall and watch it shatter into a million tiny pieces. 

She needed this job. If she walked away from it, she would be throwing years of suffering in the trash. But if she stayed, how could she stand it? She loved Mrs. White like a second mother. She needed to be there for her. Could she really just keep working and forget about the funeral in Minnesota? What would she think of herself years later when she looked back at this moment and realized she hadn’t done what was right?

—*—

“How did it go?” Natalia was waiting on Martha’s bed when she got home. 

Martha closed her bedroom door and sank down against it until she was sitting on the floor. 

“That bad?” Natalia stood from the bed and joined her on the floor. They both sat against the wall, their shoulders touching. Natalia was already in her pajamas, her feet in simple white socks. Her red hair was falling in tangled curls around her shoulders. 

“It was bad. As you can see, he clearly thinks he won the argument and made me stay late at work.” Martha listened to the quiet in the room. Thunder rumbled low outside her bedroom window, making the wall vibrate at the end. It had looked like rain since the moment she left the photo studio. The sky repeatedly flashed in the distance threatening an oncoming electrical storm.

“What did he say?” Natalia leaned her head against the wall. 

“He said that if I missed a day of work, not to bother coming back because he would replace me in an instant. I mean, who does something like that? I have been a great worker for him. Why would he treat me like this?” 

“I think he’s jealous. I’ve seen the pictures at the place where you work. I can always tell which pictures you took and which your boss took. Yours are ten times better. He knows that if you went out and tried to start your own place, you would do it twenty times better than him, and he resents your talent.” 

“Maybe.” Martha frowned. “I don’t know. I’m not as great as all that.” She still had so much to learn in photography. She spoke with every photographer she knew, read and studied every magazine and book on the topic, and never passed up a learning opportunity. Even so, the information she did know seemed overwhelming, and what she didn’t know seemed even more so. She struggled with applying the things she discovered and making her work better with each photograph she took. 

“Listen, Martha, Mrs. White believed in you. Anthony believed in you, and the rest of us still believe in you. You’ve just forgotten what it means to take a leap of faith.” 

“A leap of faith … I like the sound of that. You’re right.” Martha shook her head. “This whole afternoon, I was trying to come up with an answer. I guess I just had to talk to you to find the right answer.” 

“You’re going to start your own place?” Natalia pulled back from the wall, her eyes full of excitement. 

“No. I mean, not yet. I am going to that funeral, though. I think in all the time I let Ian boss me around, I forgot that I have a say in what I do and when I do it. Going to the funeral is very important to me. I am going to do it even if I lose my job. I can be an assistant somewhere else, or who knows? Maybe I will start a place in the garage.” Martha could see her makeshift studio now. She already knew what sorts of props she would need. She already owned her camera, and her dad worked on cars. Getting some lights set up couldn’t be that hard, right? She had been overthinking this whole thing for way too long. 

“That’s the spirit! You need to do what is right for once. Ian is going to learn that treating people like that is not okay.” Natalia pushed up from the floor. “I have to get to bed. It’s getting late. Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Martha forced herself up as well. When she and Natalia were little, they sometimes sneaked into each other’s bedrooms and kept each other company when the thunderstorms got bad. Tonight, the sound of the rain on the roof sounded soothing rather than scary. “Get some rest, Natalia. Thank you for waiting up for me.” 

Natalia gave her a quick hug. “Of course. Don’t worry about it at all. I love you, little sis. No matter what, don’t forget that.” 

“I won’t.” 

Martha’s smile didn’t leave her face even after her sister left. She loved her family and her sister. No matter what losses she had to deal with, she could get through them as long as she had God and her family on her side. That didn’t make the losses go away for sure, but it did make her feel a little better. 


“Love in a Thousand Pictures” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

With a dreadful job, a grief-stricken family, and unattainable dreams, Martha’s life is falling into pieces. Overwhelmed by this suffocating situation, she takes matters into her own hands and escapes to Wisconsin, where her sister lives. Little does she know, though, that this decision is about to turn her future upside down… Soon, she finds herself enamored with her new way of living and intrigued by a handsome farmer. Will Martha dare to open her heart to someone new? Will she be able to lay aside her past traumas for another chance at love?

Reed has suffered for love in the past and he can’t bear opening his heart again. When he visits the town festival he encounters Martha who immediately captures his attention. His life, though, takes a strange turn when his family’s precious farm is in great danger. To his surprise, Martha is the only person who can help him. Will Reed be able to balance saving his farm with his newfound attraction for Martha? Will he trust himself to fall in love again, even at the risk of another heartbreak?

As Martha’s plans are taking a surprising twist, Reed is determined to save the family business at any cost. Could this kind stranger secure the safety of his farm and teach him how to love again? Or will they sacrifice their happiness to follow broken dreams?

“Love in a Thousand Pictures” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “Love in a Thousand Pictures (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *