Monday, December 11, 2017

Where Love Blooms ~ Part Two by Jannine Gallant


Zane Waters carried four bulging bags of groceries through the grocery store parking lot and loaded them into the backseat of his pickup. Snow was falling harder, decorating the entire town in a fresh coating of white. Under the glow of the street lights, Main Street look like a scene Norman Rockwell might have painted. With the Rockies towering over them, he couldn’t imagine anyplace more beautiful. Living in the small town of Nugget beat the hell out of surviving in Denver. After years serving and protecting, he was happy to turn his efforts toward helping wildlife instead of people. He didn’t take nearly as much crap from the deer.
He climbed into the truck cab and slammed the door, then started the engine and pulled out of the lot. After a month on his new job spent mostly alone out in the mountains, he was ready for some human interaction…preferably with someone soft who smelled good.
An image of the redhead from the flower shop materialized. He wasn’t sure how she smelled, since the whole shop had reminded him of his grandma’s rose garden, but she’d certainly looked soft. All that beautiful red hair had slid over her curved cheek and long neck when she flicked it back, and he’d itched to bury his fingers in the thick mass. Every now and then a flare of heat in her blue eyes made him think she might be interested, too. But hitting on one woman while he was buying a corsage for another had seemed like bad form. He just hoped Joanie’s friend was half as pretty.
Zane slowed to a stop at the only stoplight in town and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.
Despite his cousin’s assurance his date was hot, he had his doubts. The fact that she was alone on Christmas Eve and willing to go out with a perfect stranger must mean something…but then, the same was true of him. At this point, he’d be content with a woman who was good company. Funny would be an added bonus. The redhead had made him smile more than once.
When the light changed, he cruised down the street, easily navigating the slippery pavement. The conditions worsened as he left the downtown area behind and turned into the sparsely populated neighborhood where he’d rented a house. Apparently, the plows hadn’t been out this far yet. Up ahead, something pink caught in the beam of his headlights, and he took his foot off the gas.
The Flower Power van was pointed nose-first into a snowbank. The redheaded owner of the shop stood on the street with her hands on her hips. Even through the closed window of his truck, he could hear her swearing. A grin formed. Maybe she wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she looked.
He rolled to a stop some distance behind the van and turned off his engine but left his lights on. When she spun around and met his gaze through the windshield, her eyes widened.
Zane got out and slammed the door. “Need some help?” Stupid question.
Apparently, she thought so, too. She waved a hand toward the dark bulk of the mountains. “No, I thought I’d set up camp out here and wait for the moon to rise.”
He laughed out loud. “Let me rephrase that. I’m here to help. I have a shovel in the back of my truck and kitty litter. We’ll have your van free in no time.”
“God, I love a man who’s prepared. Sorry for being sarcastic, but this day couldn’t get any worse. No, I take that back. It probably will get worse, but I’d be eternally grateful if you’d help me out.”
“One good turn deserves another. That’s how karma works, and you certainly went above and beyond for me.”
“Speaking of which…shouldn’t you be at home getting ready for your date right now?”
“I’m on my way. I bought a week’s worth of groceries after I left your shop, so let’s get you unstuck before my ice cream melts.”
“At the moment, the whole world seems to be on ice.” She blew on her hands. “In fact, my guess is hell just froze over.”
“Good point.” He reached into the bed of his truck and pulled out a shovel. It looks like you skidded over a good-sized hump of snow, which is probably why you can’t get any traction to back up. I’ll shovel it out, and you can give it another try.”
“Thank you. The only good news is I don’t think I dented my van. The snowbank was pretty soft where I hit it.”
He scraped hard-packed snow away from the front tire and then rounded the back of the van to work on the second one. “It’s deeper over here. Just a heads-up, your tires don’t have much tread left.”
“I have an appointment to replace them next week. My bad for putting it off for so long.”
Bending low, he worked to dig out the icy snow. When he backed up, he bumped into her. “Oops, sorry.” He turned and slid an arm around her when she swayed. “I didn’t know you were behind me.”
She definitely smelled good, but not like flowers. Vanilla. He took an extra moment to enjoy the scent and feel of her, despite her bulky jacket, before he stepped back.
Her cheeks were pink when she met his gaze. “I was going to offer to get the kitty litter.”
“I’ll grab it. The bag is heavy.” He grunted as he lifted the sack out of his truck, then pulled a pocket knife from his jeans to slit open the bag. “I haven’t had to use any yet this winter, but with all the off-road driving I do, I’m sure this won’t be the last time.” Once he’d sprinkled litter behind both of her front tires, he returned the bag to his truck and smiled at her. “That should do the trick.”
“Thank you so much for stopping.”
He stuck his hands in the pockets of his down jacket. “Can’t leave a lady in distress by the side of the road.” What he wanted to do was reach out and touch her rosy cheek with his warm palm. “Well, I could, but I was raised better.”
“Your parents would be proud. Tell you what. Next time you need flowers for your girlfriend, they’re on the house.”
“I don’t…” He broke off. It really was cold out, and she looked like she was freezing. She didn’t need to stand around shivering while he confessed his date was actually someone his cousin’s wife had scrounged up. “Sounds good. See if you can back up now. I’ll wait to make sure you’re okay before I go.”
“Thanks again. One more delivery before I can head home.” She pulled out her phone and glanced at it. “Damn. I’m going to be so late,” she moaned. “I’m out of here.”
He waited beside his pickup while she got in her van and started the engine. The taillights flashed on, and the tires skidded a little before catching hold. She backed slowly then rolled down the window and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Have a nice time tonight,” he called.
“You, too. Just so you know. Whoever your date is, she’s a lucky girl.”
He stood on the street without moving as her van disappeared into the darkness. His date wouldn’t be lucky at all. He had a feeling he was going to spend the entire evening thinking about the blue-eyed beauty who’d just driven away.
* * * *


Stop by tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of WHERE LOVE BLOOMS. If you'd like more information about my books, visit my WEBSITE.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Where Love Blooms ~ Part One by Jannine Gallant


Pulling this off would take a Christmas miracle.
Dahlia Green surveyed the row of flower arrangements, wreaths, and poinsettias waiting to be loaded into her van for delivery, then glanced at the clock that hung above the cooler filled with cut flowers at the back of her shop. Good thing she was already closed for the day. She had exactly two hours and twenty-three minutes to drop off all her orders and dress for her date.
Her blind date. What the heck had she been thinking when she agreed to go out with a man she’d never met? Obviously, she’d lost her mind.
The guy would probably turn out to be a serial killer.
When the bells over the door jangled, she groaned. Couldn’t the new customer read simple English? She was positive she’d flipped over the sign hanging in the window after she brought the van around front to load.
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed,” she called out.
A man stepped around the pine tree she’d decorated with flower garlands and roses. Not just any man. A prime specimen of manhood…if one liked the rugged, outdoorsy type. Dahlia definitely did. He wore faded jeans, a puffy down jacket to ward off the freezing temperatures and thickening snow flurries, and a wool cap with earflaps over shaggy dark hair. Brown eyes that reminded her of rich, melted chocolate regarded her from a handsome face covered in two-day-old scruff.
“I saw your closed sign, but took a chance and tried the door since there was a light on inside.” He gave her a pleading look. “I have a date.”
“Congratulations.”
His firm lips turned upward in a quick grin. “Thanks. We’re going to a Christmas Eve party, and I just found out it’s sort of fancy. Not tuxedo fancy, thank God, but dig out the suit I bought for my cousin’s wedding three years ago fancy. If I don’t want to look like a total shmuck, I should probably bring her a corsage.”
Of course, he has a date. The guy is gorgeous. Her chances of meeting a handsome, unattached man in this town were lower than the tree branches brushing her tile floor.
“I agree about the shmuck part, but you should have ordered flowers in advance.” Dahlia made a point to glance behind her at the clock. Time was ticking.
“Couldn’t you whip something up for me.” The man gave her a hangdog look he probably practiced in the mirror and knew was irresistible to women.
Her solid resolve wavered slightly.
“Please. I’m desperate here.” He pointed at her floral-clad Christmas tree. “Maybe I could take one of those roses.”
“They wouldn’t work for a corsage.” She let out a sigh. “Fine, I’ll help you out. Do you know the color or style of your date’s dress?”
“Not a clue.”
Dahlia rolled her eyes. “Then you should give her a wrist corsage to be safe. White goes with pretty much anything.”
“Thank you.” A charming smile replaced the hang dog look. “Has anyone ever told you you’re flat out awesome?”
She refused to be charmed. “On occasion.”
He leaned against the counter while she scrambled to put together white orchids and baby’s breath with a satin ribbon. “I really appreciate this.”
“No problem.” Her fingers fumbled with the flowers under his intense scrutiny. The man was unbelievably hot…
Forget it, Dahlia, he has a woman waiting for him. You’re too smart to make the same mistake twice.
She quit fidgeting with the corsage to glance up at him. “Actually, it’s kind of a problem since I’m going out tonight, too, and I have deliveries to make first. That’s why I closed up a little early.”
He pointed toward the poinsettias and wreaths laid out on the table next to the counter. “Are you delivering all those?”
Pushing her long, red hair over her shoulder, she nodded. “I’m in a bit of a time crunch. In hindsight, offering free delivery in the spirit of the season probably wasn’t the smartest idea.”
When he smiled, her heart flip-flopped in her chest.
“Do you want me to load those into the pink van parked outside while I wait? I noticed the Flower Power logo on the side.”
“If you don’t mind, that would be extremely helpful. The van is unlocked. I’ll be finished with this corsage in about ten minutes.”
Her attention focused on his denim clad backside as he carried two potted poinsettias toward the front door. Tearing her gaze away, she cut florist tape to wrap the flower stems. When her cell rang on the counter next to her, she glanced at the display.
Joanie. Her soon to be ex-best-friend if tonight’s date turned out to be a nightmare. On the other hand, maybe she was calling to tell her the guy had bailed. Dahlia snatched up the phone. “What’s up? Did Rob’s cousin cancel?”
“Why would he do that? Rob told him you’re gorgeous. He’s excited about this date.”
“No one is excited about a blind date unless they’re a total loser. What’s wrong with the man? Is he going to bore me into a stupor or try to grope me under the table? If he turns out to be a pervert
She broke off as her last-minute customer returned for a load of wreaths. His eyes widened, probably in response to her pervert comment, but he kept quiet as he left the shop again. With an effort, Dahlia focused on what her friend was saying.
“—not a pervert, for heaven’s sake. I wouldn’t do that to you. He’s simply a nice guy who’s new in town. His work has been keeping him busy, and he hasn’t had time to meet many people yet.”
“You said your husband got him a job as a county employee…” She pictured a guy in an orange jumpsuit stabbing trash alongside the road.
“Zane is our new game warden. He’s been out busting poachers, which doesn’t leave him a lot of time to socialize.”
“Isn’t hunting season over in Colorado?”
“Yeah, but there are still idiots in the woods shooting at anything that moves. Zane has nailed a couple of the bastards already. Why these jerks think they’re above the law is beyond me.”
Not a convict on work release. A hothead with a gun…
“I guess that means he likes animals, and not because they taste good. That’s a plus.”
“You two will get along great. I have a good feeling about this.”
Dahlia fastened the flowers to the wristband while holding the cell to her ear with her shoulder. “That makes one of us. You know I’m not a big fan of surprises, but I said I’d go tonight, so I intend to make the best of it.”
When Mr. Hottie with the Date came back inside and brushed snowflakes off his jacket before picking up two cut-glass vases filled with red tulips and winter berries, she smiled at him. He smiled back, and her knees weakened as he left the shop with the final load.
“Hey, I have to go. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay. I guarantee you’ll have fun.”
“Let’s hope so. Bye, Joanie.” Dahlia set down her phone and finished constructing the corsage. Holding up the orchid, she admired the simple elegance.
Her customer returned a few moments later. “Wow, that’s really pretty.”
“I think your date will love it.”
“I hope so.” He pulled out his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
“Thirty plus tax.” She rang up the sale when he handed her two twenties, and gave him his change.
“Thanks for being so accommodating.”
“And thank you for loading my van for me. I hope you have fun tonight, despite having to dig out your only suit.”
He grinned. “A definite drawback, but I’ll probably survive wearing a tie. Have fun on your date, too. Whoever he is, he’s a lucky guy.” After flashing another heart-stopping smile, her last-minute customer walked out of the shop.
Dahlia let out a long, slow breath. “Just my luck. I meet Mr. Tall, Dark, and Sexy, and he’s already taken. Story of my life.”
* * * *


Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you enjoyed part one of WHERE LOVE BLOOMS. Stop by tomorrow for the second installment, and for more information about my books, visit my WEBSITE.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

On the Way to the Snow Ball, chapter three, by Brenda Whiteside


“What’s the second?” Nicholas asked.
“What?”
“You said number one, looking too young. What’s your number two problem, Marie?” Her hesitation was obvious. “Come on. It’s dark and no one is here but me.”
“I can’t trust anyone anymore.” Her tone was sullen. “No one tells me the truth. All the people around me are playing parts.”
Isn’t everyone? “What part are you playing?”
“I’m…not.”
“Yes, you are. Just like everyone else.” Except for him, of course, although he’d let her believe him a shrink. “I say we both come clean.”
“Okay, you first.”
He took a deep breath. Maybe those repeated requests for his honesty had sunk in, and he could be upfront with her. In the dark. “I think you’re probably nicer than you let on, and not a spoiled brat under that fa├žade.”
“Is that what you meant by coming clean?”
“Young lady –”
“I think you’re as stuffy as this elevator.”
“You are a brat.” Uncharacteristic for him to be so blunt, but enough was enough. He was as much fun as the next person who’d spent years in the cold, only being needed once a year, keeping all his real gifts bottled up without appreciation. “I’ve sky dived.”
“No. I don’t believe it.”
“Yes, I have.”
She nudged him. Her tiny shoulder was pointy against his forearm. “Tell me more.”
Her interest was a light in the dark. “A few years ago, before…never mind.” He cleared his throat. “A few years ago, I spent a week in the Rockies, with only what I could carry on my back. I nearly drowned, white water rafting.”
“Oh, my gosh. I would never have guessed.”
“I’ve done a great many daring and dangerous things.” Memories flooded in, seeming more real than the present. “Once a year…well, I try to mix it up now and then, although messing up the routine isn’t advised, I am told. I have a great many advisors. But they’re really small people and don’t know it.” He should tell them that. They’d have to listen. But then, they were always listening. His life of late was more like sitting in this elevator, immobile. No light. Only mellow elevator music.
“Nick—”
“Shh…listen. It’s the Rolling Stones. Now that is blasphemous.”
Marie giggled. “I love the Stones.”
“I got halfway backstage at their concert before security stopped me.”
“Nick!” She leaned into him.
He laughed. A real laugh. None of that ho, ho, ho they expected.
“Give me your hand,” she demanded.
“My hand?”
“Come on. You can trust me.” She leaned into him again, her hand on his arm. “Give me your hand.”
Feeling silly, he complied. Without warning she stood and pulled him with her.
“Let’s dance.”
“Oh, I don’t think—”
“Come on. No one is here to see us.” Her laughter was contagious. “We can’t even see ourselves.”
Chuckling, self-consciously, he followed her lead. They held hands. At first awkward, he relaxed and imagined they danced in perfect sync. A subtle breeze brushed his face, her twirling and laughter disturbing the stale elevator air.
“You’re a lovely girl, Marie Louise.”
“Oh, sure. In the dark, I’m a real looker.” She let go his hands. “I’m realistic. Remember?”
 “Whoa. Stop a minute.” He stilled. “Now you give me your hand.” Using her hand as a guide, he placed his fingers on her shoulder and turned her to face where the mirror would reflect them, if it weren’t so dark. “Now look closely and tell me you don’t see a beautiful young lady.”
“I don’t see a beautiful young lady. You’re only being kind and a little bit crazy.”
“I’m hardly ever kind to anyone over the age of nine.” Giving, however you could, that was the important thing. “Look at your gorgeous hair—the color of the sky when the moon is hiding on a cold snowy night. I can see it even in the dark. And your eyes are the color of tree bark against a white landscape. Your face has been kissed with tiny little freckles.” As he spoke, he imagined wrapping up his words with a big red ribbon. “How can you not see yourself? I don’t think you’re as realistic as you say you are. You are a lovely, adorable, intelligent, attractive young woman.”
“I am?” The words barely whispered, she intoned awe.
“You are from this moment forward.”
“Thank you.”
A loud ring choked off the sound of her appreciation. The phone call he hoped for—although the miracle he needed wouldn’t happen.
“Oh good grief, Nick. It’s the phone.”
In harmony, the lights chimed in on the second ring. He turned and fumbled with the half-opened door of the telephone cubby, grabbing the receiver. “Hello. Hello.”
“This is security. We’re going to get you out of there soon. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Fine.”
“Are you alone or does there happen to be a Mrs. Marie Le Mare with you?”
“Mrs. Le Mare? No. Her name is Marie, but her last name is Smith.”
She covered her mouth in a giggle and shook her head.
“Well, I might have misunderstood. Let me ask her. Is your last name Le Mare?”
Still giggling with both hands to her face she nodded.
“Apparently, her last name is Le Mare. We’ll be waiting.” He replaced the receiver and spun around. “You lied.”
With a whir, the elevator gave a jerk, knocking him off balance. He grabbed the rail.
Her giggles turned into full laughter.
“You’re a brat.”
“Now, Nick. Don’t be angry. If I’d told you my name was Marie Louise Le Mare, you would’ve treated me differently.”
“You’re right! I read a lot of newspapers in the workshop while they’re making the toys.”
“Toys? What are you—”
“You’re the young bride. Married a millionaire old enough to be your father.”
“And we wouldn’t have had near as much fun, if you’d known.” Frowning, she tilted her head to the side. “I get tired of being treated like...like…I could break or something. Besides, playing mind games with you was just too tempting.” She punched his shoulder and smiled. “And you have to admit, we had fun.”
He couldn’t admit anything else. He squinted. The overhead lights did the wave through her hair again. “Yes, Marie, we had fun.”
Seconds later, the door opened and a short, over-weight man in gray coveralls greeted them. Two men in white coats stood behind him.
“Hey! Hope you folks are okay. Sorry it took so long, Mrs. Le Mare. Your husband said he’ll be right down.”
The two white coats stepped forward, one holding a hand out to Nicholas. “Well, Harry. Looks like you had an adventure today. Are you feeling okay?”
He recognized them. Too bad they hadn’t sent one of his helpers. These two guys wouldn’t be fooled. The attendant who’d waited for him after his session had been too busy playing games on his cell. Slipping past him had posed no challenge at all.
“I’m great. But I don’t know why you insist on calling me Harry.” He ignored the hand offered and stepped between them. “I haven’t missed the Snow Ball, have I?”
“No, no.” The short one smiled. “The Snow Ball wouldn’t be the same without you.”
They were nice enough fellows, even if confused about his identity.
He turned to face Marie. Her eyes opened wide and her lips parted in a question. Before he could say goodbye, a shout rose behind them.
“Marie! Thank God you’re okay.” A salt-and-pepper-haired man in a well-cut navy suit strode over.
Ah, the rich husband.
Embracing her, he kissed both of her cheeks. “I’ll have the whole system checked out before this building closes tonight.”
The two white coats tugged on Nicholas’s arms.
Mr. Le Mare hugged his wife even tighter. “Oh, mon dieu. Trapped in the elevator with a crazy man. I’ve been worried sick.”
“Jean, please.” She glanced at him. Her face said sorry.
It didn’t matter. The only opinion that mattered came from those who knew you. You could spend years with some people, like his friends in white, and they didn’t have a clue. A half hour with another person, and you gained a true friend for life.
Her husband grabbed her arm. “They said he wasn’t dangerous, but he’s delusional.”
“Is that what they call it?” She smiled at Nicholas. “Maybe we should all be a little more delusional.”
He’d come so close to his surprise appearance at the Snow Ball, although only a miracle would’ve made his solo entrance possible. She hadn’t needed his help—not the way he first thought—but a gift had been given. And returned in kind.
Marie waved. “Merry Christmas, Nicholas.”
“Merry Christmas, Marie.”
 They’d had fun, like two normal people. This was a Christmas miracle he hadn’t counted on.

I hope you enjoyed my contribution to Christmas Miracles. If you’d like to check out my other stories and novels, please visit my web site at www.brendawhiteside.com.

Be sure to visit us tomorrow for another Christmas Miracle from Jannine Gallant.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On the Way to the Snow Ball, chapter two, by Brenda Whiteside



At her mischievous smile, Nicholas made a snap evaluation. Not particularly rational to do so, yet under the current circumstances, he’d learned a good deal in a short span of time about the needy, insecure girl.
She paced in front of the elevator door.
“Are you—?” Her scent tickled his nose again. “Are you claustro…claustrophobic?” He sneezed the last word.
“Are you allergic to elevators?”
“I think I’m allergic to you.” Allergic reactions were caused by the body trying to defend itself against a suspected harmful entity. Ridiculous. She was just a girl—of no harm to him. What had led him to those thoughts. Oh yes. “What have you got on? The scent?”
“A special holiday blend. Cinnamon and pine needles.”
No wonder. Who’d decided these things equated to the smell of Christmas? They might have asked him what the real scent of Christmas was before deciding. He removed the jacket of his red suit and loosened his tie. Neatly folding the jacket, he draped it over a section of the metal railing.
“That’s quite a suit.”
“Thank you.”
She snickered. “I’ll give it to you—takes confidence to wear something like that. Even this time of year.”
“You don’t like it?”
She ran a quick glance over him, hat to shoes. When she came back for a second look, she paused on his face. “Actually, I do. I mean the cut is good. You’re well-built so that helps to carry it off. Not sure about the Santa hat. But I guess it’s the season.”
“So, if I wore this some other time of year, you might reconsider your opinion?” He didn’t need her opinion, but something about her approval affected him like sweet caramel apples. Mmm…caramel apples. They were sure to serve those again this year at the Snow Ball.
“Do you dress like this all the time?” A sharp squeal, this time overhead, wiped the tease from her face.
Jarred back to reality, his need to escape before they found him returned. Miracle. Concentrate on a miracle.
“So.” The girl broke into his worry. “I wonder why the elevator broke.”
“I’ve been in and out of this building for years, and it’s never happened before.”
“There’s always a reason for things happening.” She gave him a half smile. “Nothing just happens.”
She was right. Quite intuitive. People who believed in chance were kidding themselves.
With narrowed eyes, she tipped her chin downward. “Maybe it’s sabotage.”
Her tone joked, but she might’ve actually hit on something. “Maybe it’s…” Couldn’t be a coincidence. “A patient. A patient who doesn’t like the way his sessions are going. And he’s a retired electrician.” The man insisted on calling him Harry when they met in group. They didn’t get along.
“Are you a shrink or something? From the clinic in the suite of offices on the twenty-fourth floor?”
He studied her studying him. “What if I am? And please don’t say shrink.” He couldn’t tolerate disrespect, not even from a girl who harbored fear. He had to stay focused on getting out of here. Yet…why was this girl thrown into his path? She had yet to ask for anything, but she must need something.
“I’ve never met a shrink.”
Clearly, she meant to push his buttons. He rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and ignored her insolence. “I’ll be missed at the Snow Ball and dinner.”
“Dinner I can miss. These thighs aren’t getting any thinner.” She patted the sides of her legs. “And all the damn fudge and cookies this time of year.”
He gazed on her orange outline remembering the words to some song he’d heard somewhere—half woman, half child, she…la, la something…wild. Didn’t sound like elevator music.
“You aren’t overweight.”
“Your opinion.” She sucked in her tummy.
“That’s not a healthy attitude.” He played with his too-short beard.
“You are a shrink, aren’t you?”
“What if I am?”
“Spare me.” She waved him off like a gnat.
He narrowed his eyes. His shoulders tensed. “What does that mean?”
“You’re uptight, kind of paranoid, for a head doctor.”
“My days are filled with paranoia.” And she’d done it again. Distracting him when she needed…something. What did she want from him? Everyone wanted something.
She hiked up her dress and sat on the carpeted floor.
He looked down and decided she was out of place in this building. Had she been visiting a parent who worked for the Foundation? “What are you doing here?”
“I…I sort of work here at the Le Mare Foundation.” Patting the carpet beside her, she motioned for him to sit. “My name is Marie Louise…Smith.”
“Work at Le Mare? You can’t be more than sixteen.” He sat across from her, stared at her freckles, and thought how all young people wanted to be older. Foolishness.
“I’m twenty-one!”
“Sorry.” He always had trouble once they were past nine.
“Anyway, I work at Le Mare as part of a…an extracurricular program for my…studies…at the U. They don’t pay much, but the perks are great. Maybe I should ask for a raise, you think?”
“Depends. Are you in the psychiatric division?” He glanced at the watch on her wrist. His whole master plan, his entrance into the ball, was going to be ruined.
“No. Probably why we haven’t met before.”
He didn’t answer, but rose and paced back and forth a few steps.
“So enough about me. What’s your name?”
“Claus.”
“Claus. Is that German?”
“Claus is my last name.” He scanned the ceiling. Maybe the trap door was disguised. “My first name is Nicholas.”
“Well, Nick, I suppose you want me to call you Dr. Claus, but I’m not going to do it. You’re stuffy enough without my adding to it. You’re just plain ol’ Nick to me. Ol’ Nick-stuck-in-the-elevator with me.”
She could call him whatever she liked. Eventually she’d get around to what she wanted, then she’d use his name properly.
“Oh, my God!” Marie jumped up. “Fall Out Boy.” She waved overhead at the speakers. “Fall Out Boy as elevator music. Fall Out Boy singing Christmas music! Is nothing sacred? Now I am manic.” Her eyes blinked madly.
He wanted to keep his mind on the miracle he needed, but her apparent agitation, and the fact he didn’t know Fall Out Boy, distracted him.
“I ask you, Nick. Where is the line drawn? When will the selling out stop? I can’t take this!” She raised her hands above her head and plunged them into her hair. Streams of shiny strands covered her fingers like black satin ribbon entwining each digit.
As he took hold of her wrists, he spoke in his calmest singsong voice. “It’s all right, Marie Louise. The song will end, and you won’t have to listen. Talk to me, and you won’t hear the music.”
She glanced wildly side-to-side, then moved her head in tiny jerks like an old silent movie; she brought her face to meet his gaze. A soft giggle escaped her mouth. “Or we could just dance. You do dance, don’t you, Nick?”
Knowing she’d duped him, he let go. “You’re obnoxious. You know that?”
“And you’re a tight-ass. Are we even?”
He thought on that for a minute. “I am not a tight-ass.”
“You are. I’m very intuitive about people.” She waved her delicate hand. “And realistic. I see others as clearly as I see myself.”
He met her defiant gaze. She had lovely eyes. “How do you see yourself?”
“Don’t start that psychology stuff on me.” She sat on the floor again, half-smile and half-smirk on her face.
This time he sat next to her. “No psychology, just interest.” And he meant it. You had to be interested to actually give people what they needed.
She tilted her head with a sideways glance. “Number one. It’s a problem looking sixteen and being twenty-one. It greatly affects my self-image.”
“Someday, for the better.”
“Oh, please.”
“Okay, how old do you think I look?” He smiled inside. Now this was fun.
“Well, you look in pretty good shape.” She elbowed him and winked.
For some reason, he puffed his chest. He walked every day and used the gym, as meager as it was. Staying fit for that one big night a year was important.
Her gaze roamed his face. “The blond beard hides a lot, but I’d say forty.”
“Wrong. And you’ve affected me more than I did you.” But not adversely. It was great fun fooling people. “I’m actually much older.”
She rolled her eyes. “Point taken.”
He grinned, pleased by her smiling, relaxed attitude. “And I’m a lot of fun. At least, I provide a great deal of fun for others, so that must mean I’m fun.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners, and her tummy jiggled with a giggle like a bowl full of—
The elevator went dark. “Oh, damn!” They spoke in unison and laughed.

Please return tomorrow for the conclusion of On the Way to the Snow Ball.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On the Way to the Snow Ball, chapter one by Brenda Whiteside


Chapter One
Pulling this off would take a Christmas miracle.
With an excited tremor, Nicholas punched the lobby button on the elevator keyboard. Twenty-four floors, then through the glass doors, and into a cab to arrive at the Snow Ball. As the doors glided toward each other, making his grand entrance into the ball flitted away when a small, manicured hand thrust through the sliver of an opening and bounced the doors apart.
He retreated to the back of the cube as the teenaged girl hopped onto the elevator. Ignore her. She wouldn’t know him or where he was going and couldn’t hinder his mission.
Rocking a moment on the balls of her feet clad in shiny, black heels, she smiled—one of those brief, close-mouthed polite smiles as the hallway disappeared and she shifted, turning away from him. A subtle hum indicated they were moving. 
Twenty-four, Twenty-three.
A distant screech of scraping metal nearly drowned out the whisper of the ebony-haired girl. “What was that?” 
He gripped the railing on the back wall with one hand while adjusting his white fur trimmed, red hat with his other. The old elevator always groaned. Glints of light from the track around the top edges of the elevator played across the back of her hair, a reflection moving like the wave a crowd does at a football game. Hmm, how long had it been since he’d been to a ball game?
Another creak, and she jumped. “Why have we stopped?” She darted a glance in his direction. “Hey, what happened to the lights?”
The darkness was blacker than a moonless night at the North Pole.
His heart thumped against his ribs. Small spaces didn’t bother him. He lived in a small space with small people. But an elevator malfunction would disrupt his plan. Patience.
She shuffled her feet. “It’s so quiet.”
“Don’t worry.” The young one needed reassuring. “Someone will fix it.” He leaned his hips against the railing that ran along the walls, the cold metal chilling his bottom through his red dress slacks. The dark was so thick, so silent, if he’d not seen the girl before the lights went out, he’d think he was alone. Except for her annoying, spicy scent. The smell made his nose itch.
A distant growl of metal echoed from far below them. A gasp from his unseen companion bounced around the blackness.
“Don’t panic. How are we doing?”
“Fine, if getting stuck in a dark elevator with a stranger is your idea of fun.” Her caustic tone could indicate fear.
“The darkness doesn’t change anything, so there’s no need for alarm.” He knew how to handle unforeseen situations. “No reason to get excited.”
“This is hardly exciting, and I’m not afraid of the dark.”
“Of course you aren’t, child.”
“Child? Listen, mister…”
“Just stay calm!” So much needing his reassurance. Teenagers could be so difficult.
“All right, all right.” The blackness didn’t mute her huff.
He imagined her arms crossed, and her eyes glaring. Typical teen. He ran a finger between his neck and the collar of his shirt. The dark grew stuffy. He should’ve been on his way, out the building. He needed a Christmas miracle, and what he got instead was an obstacle.
“But what do you think is going on?” Her voice, now quietly needy, slithered between his thoughts.
“It’s probably a power problem.”
“Oh, really?”
Her sarcasm wasn’t quiet. He could ignore it.
 “We should call for help,” she suggested. “I left my cell in my purse in the office. Do you have yours?”
“No.” Cell phones, email, and electronic voices. He shuddered. Why would he want to be reached wherever he went? All messages are delivered to the workshop. That was their job. He only checked them – twice.
“Hey, wait!” Her sudden outburst made him straighten up from his resting-place on the railing. “The telephone! All elevators have telephones. It must be on this side by the buttons.” Her scuffling noises shattered the dark.
“Stop. You might touch something you shouldn’t.” He took a few steps in the direction of the sounds of her movements and was startled when he bumped into her. “Excuse me, but please don’t touch anything.”
“I’m looking for the phone.”
“Tell me what you find before you actually do anything.” Only inches from her, the pitch-black took on her irritating scent. His nose twitched, and he took a breath through his mouth. The darkness grew warmer. He loosened his tie.
“I feel a metal door. This has to be it. Too bad I don’t read Braille.”
“Here, let me see.” He reached out, amazed when his hand found the small oblong metal door as she opened it.
“I can do it!” An elbow knocked his hand away. “I’m perfectly capable of speaking on a telephone.”
“Of course, you’re capable.” How could he deal with such childishness? Yet, his lot in life was exactly that. But the younger ones were so much easier to contain, to appease, to please before they grew into double-digit ages.
“Hello, hello. There’s no sound. No dial tone or anything. Hello!” This time she screamed.
He wiped the dampness from his forehead. Excitement, overzealous joy he could handle, not panic. “Now, will you let me have it?”
A hard thump hit his chest as she relinquished the phone. In his ear, there was silence, dead silence. With his other hand, he ran fingers around the perimeter of the box and along the back. Cold metal. His nails snagged on six screws. Nothing else. He’d never used an elevator phone. Never given any thought as to how they operated. Maybe it was there for looks only, giving a false sense of security to the occupants, like the pretend cameras or plastic phones he delivered. Or maybe an alarm to catch you for touching something you shouldn’t. His hand jerked back. He fumbled, setting the receiver back on its cradle.
“It might set off an alarm when you pick it up. Just wait.” Nothing. How long should he wait? There was a crackle overhead. The Carpenters harmonized, Away in a Manger. At least something was fixed.
“This is progress, right?” Her voice sounded hopeful.
Setting his finger aside of his nose, he raised his gaze upward, but only black met him. He wondered if a panel in the ceiling could be slid away.
“Right?”
“Hmm…yes, progress.” He’d nearly forgotten about her with his musings.
Overhead the lights flickered, went out, then shined and held. Although dim, his relief flashed bright.
Her dark brown eyes widened as she scanned their surroundings as if searching for what? More people? She bit her dark red lower lip, which clashed with her neon orange dress. He didn’t like orange, a poor imitation of red.
“Well!” She tilted her chin in his direction. “Music. Lights. Now where’s the camera? Since when doesn’t an elevator have a security camera?”
He surveyed every corner. She was right. After two years, or was it four years, going in and out of this building, he had never noticed there weren’t cameras in the elevators. They must be hidden. No good watching people if they knew you were watching.
She walked around the compartment, corner to corner. “It may be my imagination, but I think this contraption is broken.” Sarcasm again.
“Well, it certainly isn’t moving.” He tried to match her wit.
“Do you think it could fall?”
“It isn’t even moving.”
“But, do you think, if I were to move around too much, it would fall?”
His abilities might be taxed in dealing with her. His skills had been limited to reaffirming belief—fireside chats with children—not survival techniques with teenagers. Where was his Christmas miracle? “No, of course not.”
“How do you know?”
He gave her his most authoritative expression. He hoped. Jolly wouldn’t work in this instance. “It’s easy to get upset in such situations.”
The girl cocked her head to one side. “Do I look like I’m upset?”
He stroked his close-cropped beard, still unhappy about having to cut it. He stared at a sassy smile on a pale face dusted with freckles. He opened his mouth to answer when the elevator gave a jolt. Knocked off balance, he stumbled and caught himself on the metal railing.
The girl gasped, but kept her balance, throwing her hands to her chest. He saw the time on her watch. Damn. They’d miss him at the Snow Ball, and they’d come looking. The elevator creaked, the lights flickered and the dark enveloped them again.
“They must be trying to fix it.” She sounded hopeful.
He stood perfectly still, listening for noise beyond their breathing, but the only sound was Barry Manilow crooning overhead.
“Kill. The. Elevator. Music.” Each word rose in pitch until she was screeching. “Why play music if the stupid thing isn’t moving?”
He understood her irritation. Jingle Bells should not be crooned.
Again, the lights blinked and this time stayed on, dimmer than before. His eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness. Agitation wrinkled her forehead.
Despite their situation, joy should fill their lives, not needless negative moodiness. His plans could fall through, but he should be jolly. He swallowed, ill-equipped to deal with her age group, but he’d give it a shot. “Does the music upset you?”
“It makes me manic!” She threw her hands in the air.

Please come back tomorrow for chapter two!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas with a Stranger-part three by Rolynn Anderson

Sable glared at a row of barrel cacti, feeling prickly, herself. She’d taken a seat on the patio, giving her sister and parents time to hash out their angst, or whatever you did when a changeling showed up for Christmas. So far, she’d stopped more conversations than she’d started. She read shock in her mother and Cindy’s expressions; her father listened, looking bemused and puzzled.  Since he was a research-nut, Sable was sure her dad had Googled amygdala problems to death.  How did it feel to witness a living, breathing example of fearlessness in your own daughter? 
As of an hour ago, her parents and sister were aware of her after-poisoning activities, nine months of prime pulp fiction material: two affairs, one with a married man from her office. A DUI and a brawl in a bar when she’d broken a guy’s nose. Less incendiary were her adventures at bungee-jumping, parasailing, wave-boarding, and snow skiing. Parachuting was on her bucket list. The medal she received for bravery following an arrest of drug-smugglers last month, was also a point of discussion, as was the fact no one in her L.A. office wanted to work with her thereafter. Talking about Dr. Sharon Dixon, Sable’s psychiatrist, claimed almost an hour of detailing. The shrink had gifted Sable with strategies to move forward, and a signed clean bill of health to resume duties as an agent.
Sable went on to explain all her trips to the hospital from the beginning of her posting at Sequoia. Three times. Warned more might be more coming.
Funny. Every person she knew complained about fear being a weakening factor, a source of shame, even.  Shouldn’t her family be pleased and proud Sable was intrepid?
Another point she made to her family: “Carter Glass is the only person who knows my story. He’s a big-picture numbers man for the NP system, and since I’m helping him build an anti-poaching strategy for the parks, I thought he should understand my background. He’s promised to keep the details to himself.”
Cindy asked, “He’s in Sequoia?”
“He’s cat-sitting at his parent’s in Mesa.” 
More questions and answers, soon exhausting all of them.  When her phone chimed, she’d taken it from her pocket and looked at the screen. “I’ve got a few calls to make.  I’ll head outside and take care of some business while you hash over what you’ve heard so far.”
Done with her phone conversations, Sable had wriggled on the lawn chair, read the time passing on her watch, listened to muffled conversation inside, and closed her eyes. Was it time to grab her unpacked bag and return to Sequoia?  Better check the weather report to see how much snow had settled on Highway 198.
“Sable?”
Her eyes opened at Carter’s voice. “What in the world?  How did you get here?” As he walked toward her, she focused on his face, his dark brown beard, mustache and hair, framing kind eyes and a smile. No eyebrow up in dismay, no head shaking in judgment. For the first time he looked happy to see her.
He said, “I’ll never be able to scare you, but I can surprise you.”
She rose slowly and walked toward him, still thinking he was an apparition.  “But. How. Why?” She pointed to the animal cage he placed on the pavers. “Who?”
“Complete sentences, please.” he said, eyes dancing.
She grabbed onto his belt loop and yanked.
Pulling in air at her gesture, he said “Jeff…your dad called me. He invited my parents and me to join you for dinner tonight. My folks aren’t in town, so you got me.”
“He called you?”
“Glass isn’t a common name in Mesa.” He looked down at his short-sleeved blue shirt belted into khaki shorts. Leather sandals. “He said dress informally for a barbeque.”
“I haven’t seen you or heard from you for a month.”
“About that. Turns out I needed a little time to think. But I’m here, now. I interpret for food.” He jerked a thumb toward the cage. “That’s the family cat, Poe, who also enjoys free meals.”
Sable’s parents and Cindy came to the patio before she could respond, placing a pitcher of margaritas, glasses and the appetizer board on the table. Their smiles were almost smug. Cindy poured the margaritas, their father passed drinks around, and they all clinked glasses.
“Welcome to our home.” Jeff held up his glass to his guest.
Carter grinned. “Thanks for inviting me, but I should say, if your phone call hadn’t come I would have crashed this little party.”
“Seriously? And what do you mean, ‘interpret for food?’ ” Sable put down her glass, feeling left out.
“You see, I had an epiphany about what an ideal colleague should be.” Carter set his glass next to hers. “I’ve been reading your e-mails for a month.  You’ve been sharing your ideas with all the parks.”
He held up a hand to stop her from responding. “You’ve given me ideas I can use, and you pushed me to do valuable on-site research. But I haven’t added much to our partnership.”
Carter’s hand stayed up so Sable remained quiet.
“Most important, I remember my own challenges in adjusting to your fearlessness. Since you are a stranger to your family, I’m here as your interpreter, explaining who you are today, at Sequoia, where we admire you, not just for your bravery, but for your compassion and leadership.”
A lump the size of Alaska formed in her throat when she saw her family’s broad smiles and felt her father’s hand squeeze her elbow.
Carter took a swallow of his margarita, snaked his arm around Sable’s waist and raised his glass high to her family. “I’m a numbers man, you know, bent on understanding anomalies. Well, this Christmas I’ve come to help the Chisholm family learn about Sable, my most fascinating outlier, yet.”
And with that, Sable’s first Christmas AP, after poisoning, took on the glow of a miracle.



Dear Reader.  You have just met Sable Chisholm and Carter Glass, characters in my newest novel FIRE IS NICE, set in Sequoia/Kings National Park, where fire nurtures trees and relationships J.  Watch for it early in 2018.  While you wait to hear Carter and Sable’s story, I have eight other suspense novels for you to read.  Check out my website for more information: http://www.rolynnanderson.com