Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Roses of Prose Say Goodbye

In May of 2010, a new blog made the scene. Several romance writers came together and created The Roses of Prose. We aren’t all original roses anymore. Some of the authors left and made way for the new guys. I was one of those. But regardless of who comprised our group, the camaraderie and fun we have shared remained the same. Our goal was always to entertain the readers who tuned in.

The blogging world has changed in the last eight and half years. The number of blogs has increased while the audience decreased. For that reason, and for many personal reasons, the Roses have decided to bid adieu. Like one of my favorite minstrels and Caribbean rock-and-rollers coined, it’s been a lovely cruise.

This blog will hang around for...I really don't know how long. We aren't taking it down. It will be here if you want to revisit a post or read Christmas stories in the middle of the summer.

Thanks for being here. We enjoyed it. Comments, in no particular order, from the Roses are below along with links to where you can find us elsewhere. We all hope you’ll find us and keep in touch.

Thank you to all our loyal readers over the years, but most especially my mom, who never missed a post even though she didn't comment. You are all greatly appreciated! If you'd like to keep track of my writing journey, follow my author page on Facebook at Personal photos (you know, of my can be found on Instagram if you'd like to follow me there:

It's been great to blog with all these talented ladies for so long. I can be found at, if you'd like to stay caught up with my adventures. Keep on reading!

Thanks to everyone who has followed us on our journey through the wonderful and often wacky world of fiction writing and publishing. I hope you’ll continue to stay in touch. You can always reach me through my website at

It's been an absolute pleasure to be part of this group and a joy to read all the comments each month and learn from everyone. Thank you to those who have stayed with us, and inspired us to write and share our thoughts. If you'd like to continue to follow me, you can find me at  
My website:
Twitter:  @andidowning

I've enjoyed the time here on The Roses of Prose, especially meeting such lovely ladies. It is you, the readers, who have given me such encouragement. Thank you so much. I'll still be posting on my blog ( every weekend with the Weekend Writing Warriors. I hope you'll keep in touch via my social media links:

Goodreads: Diane Burton Author

Being a part of the Roses of Prose was a great experience for me. Sharing and learning, building friendships and connecting with readers. Thanks so much for the memories, and let's stay in touch. You can find me at my website and on Facebook at

Warm fuzzies to everyone who visited The Roses of Prose blog. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the reading/writing world. It was also wonderful to be in the presence of my fellow Roses, all who have taught me something about being an author. If you want to continue to ride my crazy train, you can find me at my website, on Facebook at my author page and at my reader group Small Town Hearts, and on Amazon.    

Dear Roses of Prose Followers,
I joined the Roses in 2013 and 33,000 blog words later, I’m proud to say ROP is my favorite place to hang out in the cyber world. I will miss the humor, the writing tips, and the window into your lives. Such a bright, generous, talented group of women! Readers, keep following us; we’ll continue to deliver wonderful stories to you. Find me in these places:

I'm Barbara Edwards and I've been a member since the beginning. this group has provided me with a fine group of friends, and I will miss the monthly posts. I wish all of you and our readers the best of luck and a wonderful future.

Participating in the Roses of Prose blog has been both an honor and a pleasure...Okay, not the deadlines so much, but the rest of it. So, a big thanks and hugs to my fellow authors for allowing me a spot amongst the Roses. Special thanks go out to everyone that read my posts. Though this forum is ending, I hope we stay in touch. My books can be purchased through most online retailers. Such as: Amazon or TheWildRosePress 
And don't forget to come see what I'm up doing or contact me through:

I face the end of this blog with mixed feelings. I love you all--fellow writers and readers. It's been a special kind of sisterhood. Please know we all write for your enjoyment as well as our personal fulfilment. 

I hope you'll check in on me from time to time at my website: . While you're there, please sign-up for my monthly newsletter so you can keep up with what I'm writing. 

Please follow me on Amazon at 

I'm on Twitter -- @VonnieWrites … I hope you'll follow me.

Stay well, dearhearts. Blessings to all of you and thankyou for enriching my life.

Endings are always a sad affair, but even the best of things must come to an end eventually. As we venture off to the next thing, I want to thank all you readers. Without your active participation and interest in our efforts, we authors would be left to weave our tales strictly for ourselves. And seriously, where would the fun be in that? And to my sister Roses – I’m humbled at and so very appreciative of being included in such an uber-talented clutch. Love you, ladies. 
I’m not saying goodbye as I expect we’ll cross paths again. I’ll say instead, see ya later. Muah!
Stay in touch with me at my social media haunts Facebook or Twitter and follow me on Amazon.

I was honored to be included in this fabulous group. I’ve so enjoyed getting to know the authors I didn’t know and staying in closer touch with those I did. It was wonderful learning about one another, reading all the posts, sharing our victories and failures, our happiness and pain, and knowing all of you were there for support. And thank you to all the readers and guest authors who’ve joined us over the years.  Best wishes!
Step into my dark world of murder and mayhem…follow my blog and like my Facebook page to keep up with all the happenings: AND
Many thanks to all who have so loyally read this blog over the years. It's been a privilege to contribute and share some of my thoughts (and angst) about reading, writing and life in general. I also thank my fellow roses, first of all, for inviting me to be part of this special group several years ago, but also for their generosity and support in so many ways. I look forward to keeping up with all their writing adventures and successes in the future. If you'd like to keep up with my fits and starts at this crazy business, you can find me at my website, or occasionally on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading!

I think I said it all above. I do hope you’ll seek me out because I’m all over the place and love to connect and hear from readers.

I've had a riot writing for this blog and reading the posts. I, too, didn't always comment. Sometimes I'd wait until Sunday afternoon to catch up on a week's worth of thoughtful posts. I'm not a romance writer, so I'm happy I was able to offer a different perspective on writing and publishing. Thanks for reading. Thanks for inviting me. Write away, write now.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Conflicted Christmas - Part Three by Margo Hoornstra

Mandy regretted sniping at Dean before she’d even finished doing it, but she simply couldn’t help herself. If she was smart—correction, if his arrival hadn’t muddled up her brain and apparently short circuited all her emotions, she would have handled this whole situation differently. She should have just slipped away and done her thing. Let Dean and the girls do theirs. Without me.
Tears stung at the very thought. Going their separate ways was the last thing she wanted. Having a complete and cohesive family again was. Not to mention, she wanted her husband back. The man she’d shared so much with over the years.
Even though she knew he’d help her, she lifted down the small wheeled cart and stacked the boxes of ornaments on top of it. She had learned to be far more self-sufficient over the past six months.
“What can I do?”
Dean appeared beside her as she tipped the cart on its wheels. When he reached for the handle, she twisted the other way then started walking toward the pavilion.
“Just for the record, that’s not how I meant my comment about the decorations back there.” Catching up with her, he reached out to place a hand on her arm. When she stiffened at the contact, he immediately let go. “I meant the sameness, the familiarity was a good thing. Comforting. Like coming home.”
Fat lot you’d know about that. You coming home? Or just anyone coming home in general? She kept more snippy remarks to herself. Why fight? Plus, this was the holiday season, after all. Peace on Earth, good will to men, and all that.
Even Dean.
“You wondered if there was something you could do.” She slowed her pace as they approached the entrance, even pausing long enough to allow Dean to open the door for her.
“Anything. Just ask.”
Several people were milling around in the huge cavernous room, setting up different booths that had been sectioned off with long, dark curtains. Luckily, she didn’t see anyone they knew. Right now, she didn’t feel much like socializing.
“One of the fathers owns a hardware store and brought in some artificial Christmas trees for us to decorate. You can help me set those up.” She stopped to study a diagram that had been taped to the wall. “We’re assigned to number sixty-five, which is…”
“…at the end of that aisle.” Taking hold of the handle on her cart when she momentarily let it go, Dean headed off in that direction, pulling their cargo along with him.
All she could do was trail behind. Watch his shoulder muscles flex, his appealing backside beneath a pair of jeans with just the right amount of tightness.
How will I ever get through this?
Purposely raising her gaze, she stared straight ahead and kept walking. Once they got to booth number sixty-five, it only took a couple of minutes for Dean to line the boxes up on the floor he then opened with his ever-present pocket knife. While she rolled the now empty cart to a back corner, he started pulling artificial tree parts out of their containers that had been dropped off earlier.
“This festival has always been a real community effort.” He set a newly assembled tree on a front table.
“It certainly has been that.” She turned away to gather some ornaments she set beside it. “Always.”
Dean gave her a brief nod of agreement as he reached for more tree parts.
As the minutes passed, they still hadn’t talked about anything more meaningful than how the younger students had made the ornaments in their art classes, and some of the older students had contributed ornaments made in shop class. With her adding that what she had brought was only a small number of them because so many other volunteers from her school were involved.
“Like I said.” Dean set another tree on another table. “Community effort.”
“Uh-huh.” Could she have made a more intelligent response?
Not today, apparently. Now that she thought about it, the innocuous conversation was probably partially her fault. More than partially even. It kept her from dealing with what they really needed to talk about.
She understood why Dean wanted a second career at forty-five, after his early retirement. And fully supported him in getting into the home security business. What she didn’t understand, and probably never would, was why he felt he had to go somewhere else so far away to do it. What was the inauguration of a new life to him felt a lot like the abandonment of their old life, to her. At the same time, she wanted him to be happy too. But uprooting the girls and giving up their once happy home was a lot to ask.
They spoke at the same time then exchanged embarrassed smiles. Followed by an awkward silence neither seemed to have the courage to break.
 “I learned a lot about the home security business while I was in Reno.” Dean somehow developed his nerve first. “Wagner said I did really well. Was a real asset to him. He even offered me a management position. As long as I stayed there in Reno.”
Her hand froze on the miniature tree she was setting up, but she didn’t so much as look at him. That wasn’t at all what she wanted to hear. What happened to his talk a moment ago about familiarity and home?
“Good for you.” After adjusting a couple of wayward branches to a better alignment, she bent down to rummage through a box of homemade ornaments.
“He said he liked my grasp of the ins and outs of the business. Said my skills could help his company realize better profits without opening a satellite office here like we’d talked about.”
“I see.” She still didn’t glance up as her rummaging continued. Purely for show now. A way she could keep her head down and her eyes averted. Prevent him from discovering the tears welling in their depths.
Still not standing, the intensity of her fabricated search increased. Dean bent down along side of her, reaching toward the box as if he too intended to start rummaging. Instead, he placed his hands firmly over hers to stop her.
“But I hated every minute away from you and the girls. I told him if he didn’t want to help me open a satellite office in Michigan like he’d promised, I wasn’t interested.”
In that split second, her rifling finally ceased. The last chunks of ice around her heart thawed and fell away. Mouth open, she turned her face toward him, her eyes searching his as if she needed to determine the extent of his honesty. “You what?”
He cupped her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “You were right all along, sweetheart. And I was wrong. Moving away from Michigan was the wrong choice. He wasn’t interested in helping me start a business of my own here. He was after someone to help him run what he already had going out there.”
The anguish in his tone tore at her heart. “Oh, Dean. I’m so sorry. I know how much you wanted this.”
That he simply shrugged surprised her. “He’s not the only owner of a company of its kind. I’ll find another willing to franchise. Or even figure out a way to set up my own. If that doesn’t work, I can do something else. I want you way more than any autonomy. And the girls. If you’ll have me back.”
She took in his earnest expression and the pleading in those intense dark eyes. Bedroom eyes she’d always told him. Eyes that never failed to quicken her pulse and make her heart swell with love.
Gazing into those enthralling eyes now, she swallowed before she spoke. “It turns out I was wrong too.  One of my major arguments, selling a house that was nearly paid for seemed out of the question. And for more than just sentimental reasons, though that was a major factor.” Before he could respond, she went on. “Then there was the road block of pulling the girls out of the public school they’d attended all their academic lives and away from the friends they’d known since before they could walk.” She took a breath. Tears welled up again, but she no longer needed to hide them. “Both girls are so pragmatic, just like you.” She laughed lightly and swiped at her eyes. “Both of them later told me they were willing to make those sacrifices to preserve our family. They were willing to sacrifice…I wasn’t. I was wrong. For that, I’m truly very sorry.”
He grasped her hand and brought her with him when he rose, then pulled her close. “It wasn’t that I didn’t care about your concerns. I just wanted to see if I could…we could…do better. Add to the police officer’s pension I had.”
“It hurt you wouldn’t believe me when I said what we were making was enough for us. That you were enough for me.” Her voice cracked, and she grew silent, pressing her lips together as more tears fell.
Soon though, the apologies, the never should have saids, came out of her in a rush. Everything she’d wanted to say to him. Things she did say to him, if only in her mind, during so many sleepless nights spent without him.
Dean stayed silent and listened. For a while. Until he gently pressed two fingers against her lips to stop the flow. “It’s okay. It wasn’t either of our faults, and it was both of our faults.”
She pulled back slightly to look into his eyes, where she caught the hint of mischief. Any tightness around her heart eased. Hope she didn’t care to restrain rose in her like a beacon slicing across a darkened landscape. Its light growing in brightness until it filled every crevice, chasing out the sadness.
“That’s one way of looking at it.” She smiled at his unique logic, which was so Dean Nichols.
Reaching out, he toyed with a small piece of her hair by her ear. His thumb stroked a slow pattern lightly along the side of her throat. She didn’t move a muscle as shivers delivered by his touch crept along her spine then burst open to re-awaken her nearly forgotten need for him.
“I was hoping we could pick up exactly where we left off.”
The love and devotion she’d at one time come to expect from him and, at another time, feared she’d never see from him again, was openly reflected in his eyes. Joy and gratitude stole her breath then stayed in place to block her throat. Unable to speak through the clog of emotion, she returned his gaze, hers brimming with all the love she held in her heart for him.
Wrapping her arms around his waist, she buried her head against his chest, finding immeasurable comfort in the familiarity she found there as her voice returned at last. “I don’t know why not. So, let’s finish up here and hurry home.”

Coming from Mandy’s lips, the single word rang with the sweetest sound Dean had heard in a very long time.
“Yeah. Let’s.”
From that point forward, he put up little trees he decorated like a madman. Anxious to, as Mandy said, finish up here and hurry home. Where, if he was extremely fortunate, he’d be able to get her alone for an hour, hopefully more.
“What do we do with the empty boxes?” He held up the last of them when they finally had all the decorations unloaded and displayed.
“Leave them here under the tables.” Mandy lifted the cloth skirt attached to one of them. “They probably won’t sell everything. Whoever oversees clean-up can use them to bring back what’s left.”
“Then we’re good to go after this.” He shoved the boxes into haphazard stacks under the table.
Mandy crossed her arms as she watched him. The smile spreading across her face erupted into a giggle as he stowed the last box, settled the skirt back in place, then stood to face her.
“Let’s go.”
Grinning like an idiot, he helped Mandy into her jacket before putting on his. Without taking the precious time necessary to zip up, he ushered her toward the door.
He kept his arm tightly around her shoulders all the way back to the car. The drive home, by the town’s holiday decorations was much more pleasant than the ride there as they plotted and planned what the next phase of their life together might look like. Even Santa seemed to be smiling larger than before when they drove by.
Dean gave him a friendly nod and wink in return. Merry Christmas, Old Man.
“The girls have a slumber party to go to tonight.” Mandy took her eyes off the road for a second to glance over at him.
All of a sudden, her reason for being so adamant before about him staying somewhere else tonight became clear. Still, he couldn’t help it when most of the blood fueling his brain headed south. “When do they leave?”
She actually blushed in the most adorable way as she briefly cast a glimpse toward him again. “Probably about the same time as we get home.”
Home. There was that sweetest word in the world again.
“Do we have to drive them? Drop them off anywhere?” If so, he’d be more than happy to do the honors.
“Not this time. Susie’s parents are picking them up. The party is at Casey’s. Only for one night.”
Was her voice tinged with disappointment? Or was his suddenly deprived brain hallucinating on him? Before he could decide, they pulled into the garage, and Mandy hit the button to close the door.
“There’s some chili I can heat up for dinner.” She peered over the top of the car at him after they both got out. “If you don’t mind leftovers.”
“Chili sounds perfect. With cheddar cheese, right?”
She glanced back at him and smiled. “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of serving you chili without cheddar cheese.”
“Can’t tell you how wonderful that is to hear.” The smile he’d been sporting for a while now was still so broad, his cheeks were beginning to ache. And he didn’t mind one darned bit. Taking off his jacket he hung on the wall hook just inside the door, he reached to help Mandy out of her coat, allowing his palms to linger on her shoulders.
She placed her hands on top. “It’s good to have you home, Dean.”
“You have no idea how good it is to be home.”
Turning her in his arms, he lowered his head, about to kiss the lips he’d been away from for far too long.
“Mom!” Deanna’s cry echoed from the living room. “I can’t find my ballet flats. Have you seen them?”
“No.” Remaining in his embrace, Mandy lifted her chin to project her voice. “Did you check the hall closet?”
“They aren’t in there either.”
“Check way in the back.”
“Okay, but I don’t think they’re there.”
Letting her go when she cast him an apologetic glance then stepped back, Dean was right behind her as she headed for the living room. As the kitchen door shut behind him, what appeared before him stole his breath. It was all there, just the way he’d left it. The fireplace along one wall, the sectional couch, the matching recliners he and Mandy bought themselves to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Both their daughters’ overnight gear was stacked by the front door.
“They ended up in my room, Deanna.” Amanda bounced down the stairs. “I put them in your bag already.”
Hitting the bottom step, she paused much as he had. Though she made no comment, a huge smile broke across her face at seeing her parents standing there together.
“Okay. Great. Thank you.” Deanna backed out of the closet and turned around, then stopped and reacted in much the same way as her sister.
“Call when you’re ready to come home tomorrow, and one of us will pick you up.” Mandy’s voice was calm and matter of fact as both girls stood side by side staring at their apparently reconciled parents.
A horn honk from the driveway broke the spell.
“There’s Susie. Come on, Deanna.”
“Right behind you.”
Collecting sleeping bags, pillows and backpacks, they helped each other struggle through the door.
“Bye, Mom and Dad. Love you.” Their voices blended to resonate back just before they closed the door with a whump.
“Love you too.” He and Mandy responded with a chorus of their own.
With his arms wrapped easily around her again, he closed his eyes in pure enjoyment as Mandy nestled her head against his shoulder. Right where she belonged.
“Looks like we won’t be needing that suite at the Hamilton Inn after all.” Her voice came out soft.
He flicked a gaze toward the pendulum clock on the mantle. “It’s after six. Too late to cancel for tonight. Your card’s already been charged.”
“It’s a shame to let such a nice, expensive hotel room go to waste.” Her voice held an intimate undertone that ignited a spark deep inside him.
And darned if almost all his blood didn’t shoot downward again.
“I agree. We should put all those amenities to good use at least once, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes. Definitely.” Turning in his arms, she gazed up at him.
Finally, after long last, he bent his head and kissed her lips for real. Gently at first, in case she wasn’t ready for the contact. Which, as it turned out, couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Her palms naturally skimmed over the familiar territory of his chest and shoulders, and she clasped her hands together around his neck. When she raised her mouth to accept the pressure of his again, he eagerly and passionately returned her kiss, filled with every ounce of love he held for her. And so much more to come.
Two weary travelers who, after wandering aimlessly for far too long, arrive home at last. To finally find their rightful place together at the inn.

This concludes the gifts of free Christmas short stories from the authors of The Roses of Prose. We hope you enjoyed your time with us. Hope your Christmas was Merry and Bright. Have a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Conflicted Christmas - Part Two by Margo Hoornstra

Dean Nichols peered through the snow spattered windshield at the emerging lights some distance ahead and hoped like hell there was room for him again in Mandy’s heart.
Of course, the girls would pick this week to ask him to come home for their holiday visit. The busiest tourist week all year in Cascade Lake. The very week of the Snowfall Festival when every single memory he held of his once happy life with Mandy and the girls was the most acute…and painful.
A new rush of snowflakes danced and whirled over the hood of his F-150 pickup as he sped along the interstate, and he flipped the wipers on high.
He’d been an idiot. A fool. Talk about your midlife crisis. He never in a million years thought one would happen to him. Reeling from too many broken promises, all he wanted was his family back. But the longer he stayed away, the harder it was to find the courage to return. Whether coming back now was too little too late, he’d find out soon enough. In the next few minutes in fact. When he arrived at their house.
Their house.
How he referred to the place where their family had lived together for so many years. Whether Mandy still did or not was another matter entirely. He had no idea what to expect from her. Among other things, like how would they greet each other? The couple who was once so inseparably close, after being apart for six months.
Sure as hell not like the long lost lovers he considered them to be. No matter how much he might want to reconcile with the woman he so cherished. From the top of her head to the soles of her feet, that never failed to keep his warm at night.
His headlights illuminated the upcoming exit sign for Cascade Lake and he pressed on the gas. It wouldn’t be long now, and all these unknowns would be answered. Visions of the love of his life filled his head. Wavy blonde hair, long lashed blue eyes, full, kissable mouth.
A body made for loving.
Blowing out a sigh, he took the approaching off ramp, then made quick work of traversing the streets of greater Cascade Lake. Down Center Boulevard by the water where most of the tourist shops were decorated to the hilt. Familiar black, vintage street lamps were decked at their necks with thick, shiny silver bows. Multi-colored lights sparkled from store windows to create kaleidoscope reflections. Dwarf Christmas trees with golden stars on top and wrapped in swirls of tinsel and lights sat in huge pots on the sidewalk. Home to colorful bursts of petunias and impatiens during the summer months.
“Much prettier along here in the wintertime. In my opinion, anyway.” He muttered to himself as he drove on passed the courthouse with its gigantic ceramic red suited Santa Claus. His bag brimmed with toys on the ground beside him, mittened hand raised in a wave and cherubic face in a constant smile of welcome.
A small salute seemed in order as he came along side. “Thanks, Buddy. I need all the welcome encouragement I can get.”
Real good, Nichols. Keep talking to yourself. Something he found himself doing on the long cross-country drive from Nevada. A half assed effort to gin himself up for the soon to occur reunion.
A left turn on Ash, then right onto Hilltop and, before he knew it, he was home. At least he’d made it as far as the driveway and stopped in front of the garage where both doors were shut down tight. Killing the engine, he had only one thing left to do. Get out and go into the house.
“But, how exactly?” The snow had finally stopped as he peered through the windshield at the two-story colonial where he lived at one time with Mandy and the girls.
Should he walk in unannounced? Stand on the porch and knock? Sit here in the damned car with the heat off and honk the horn? Under the circumstances, none of the choices seemed quite appropriate. Leaning forward, he rested his hands, sweaty palms and all, on top of the steering wheel. “Then what the hell is appropriate?”
“Daddy! Daddy!” Deanna burst out the door, making the decision for him. “You’re here!”
“Punkin.” He exited the car just in time to catch her exuberant little body in his waiting arms.
“Dad!” Slightly older Amanda bounced out next to make a beeline his way.
Reaching out, he easily caught her too. For the next few moments, time stopped as he hugged the girls he’d been away from for far too long, and had missed so much.
As hard as they were squeezing him, he squeezed them tighter.
“You’re home, Daddy. You’re home.” Deanna repeated the phrase like a sacred mantra.
“Yeah.” He kissed one on the cheek then the other. “I am.”
After they’d had their fill of hugs and separated, Amanda checked out his truck with a quick glance. “What did you bring us? Good presents, I hope.”
“Presents?” He reared back in mock mystification. “Why in the world would I bring presents?”
“Da-ad.” Amanda slapped him playfully on the arm. “You know why.”
“Yes, I brought presents.” Unable to help it, he hauled them both close to him again. “Plenty of them. For each of you, and your mother too.”
Though he’d tried his best to act totally nonchalant, for an instant, each of his daughters froze. Enough to clue him in to the fact that when it came to Mandy, some tension remained.
But why wouldn’t there be? She was certainly entitled. After all, he was the one who left her to try his hand at a new business venture. Going clear across the country to do it after she'd asked him not to..
Even if his intention was to supplement the State Police pension he’d earned after twenty years of service. Despite the heartache he’d caused though, his decision to tie into the home security and personal protection business had been a good one. Learning as he worked, he’d made the money he’d expected to. Secured the contacts he wanted to. He just hadn’t realized the result he’d banked on.
Now, he was more than ready to simply come home. If Mandy would have him.
“Hello, Dean.”
Hearing his wife’s voice after what seemed like a lifetime away, he very nearly stopped breathing. Carefully freeing himself from his kids, he stepped back. When his heart seemed to follow the lead of his lungs and cease working as well, he was sure he’d topple over from sheer lack of oxygen and restricted blood flow. All he could do was stare.
Mandy kept walking toward him. “How have you been?”
Both AWOL organs kicked in with a jolt. “Fine, Mandy. And you?”
“I’m fine, too.”
They were both lying through their teeth, though he doubted either one of them would ever admit it.
Standing before him with the curls he loved to run his fingers through framing her face, she was attractive as ever. Even with the tell-tale signs of apprehension edging her eyes and pulling down the corners of her mouth. Drawn to her beauty, he started to move forward, arms out. At the warning in her gaze, he immediately censored what could have easily become a lovers’ embrace when he dropped his left arm to his side and merely extended his right hand he gently rubbed along her shoulder. The second they connected, a bolt of awareness flashed then sizzled up his arm to settle inside him. The manifestation of all the warmth and caring between them shot through to take its rightful place around his heart.
Too soon she took a step back and his hand dropped away.
“The girls just asked about presents.” Suddenly it hurt to look at her, and he turned toward the driveway where his truck sat. “Those are in there, along with all of my suitcases.”
He hoped she noticed the plural when he referenced his luggage. This trip, he wasn’t traveling light, having packed up everything he’d taken with him when he moved out. With the full intention of moving back in again. He’d no sooner gone over to drop the tailgate, push back the tonneau cover and begin unloading when Mandy followed him and put a hand on his arm.
“I’ve made you a reservation…for a room.”
She might just as well have added a well-aimed kick to the groin to that statement. It probably wouldn’t have hurt quite so much. But still brought him to his knees.
“Oh.” As his heart sunk, taking along any optimism he might have had left, the monosyllable was all he could manage. He hadn’t deluded himself into thinking his homecoming wouldn’t be awkward. What he sure hadn’t expected was it would be so devastatingly painful. Like being gut shot in the line of duty without any sense of purpose.
“It’s in your name. I had them send the confirmation to your email.”
He couldn’t think of anything else to do but pull out his cell. May as well find out where I'm headed. Since it sure as hell wasn’t where he’d expected to stay. The screen lit after he keyed in his code.
“Here, Dad. I’ll find it for you.” Amanda reached for the phone he readily surrendered.
Apparently, he’d underestimated Mandy’s level of desperation. Big time.
“This was totally mom’s idea. Not ours.” Giving Mandy a scathing look only a disagreeing daughter can bestow on her mother, Amanda spun the screen with her thumb then started to read. “King bed with tension relieving vibration unit. Two-person hot tub with in room provided robes, complimentary fruit and cheese tray with chilled bottle of sparkling champagne on request.”
The long, explicit room description was given in what must have been her most robust public speaking voice. As if she were out to prove a point.
Peering over her sister’s shoulder, Deanna looked at his phone then up at him, a huge frown marring her face. “Gee, Dad. Mom sure went all out for you.”
“That’s certainly not what I had in mind.” Mandy hurried to clarify, her cheeks flaming. “Snowfall weekend there’s not a lot available, as you all well know.”
Any other time, he would have welcomed Mandy making a reservation like this for him. Knowing they’d be enjoying the extensive amenities together. Among other pleasures which weren’t worth thinking about just now. Why frustrate myself more than I already am?
“Maybe if the hot tub’s big enough for two, you could swim in there alone, Dad.” With another glaring look her mother’s way, Amanda handed him back the phone.
“Okay, well.” He slid the cell back in his pocket, at a total loss. Until something came to mind. “It…uh…didn’t say how long you reserved the room for.”
One night? Maybe two? Allow him to slowly ease back into the household.
“Just a week. That’s how long the girls said you’d be staying.”
Now he really didn’t have a response.
Good thing Mandy opened her mouth, hopefully prepared to speak for both of them.
“I was just going downtown to the school’s booth for the festival tomorrow. The students have made ornaments to sell. I agreed to set up. Other teachers will oversee selling and such beginning tomorrow. Some took on clean up duty.”
 “I’d like to help.” When she seemed reluctant to accept his offer, he forged ahead anyway. “In fact, I’ll drive.”
“My car’s already loaded.” Pulling the remote from her purse, she raised the garage door and headed inside.
Sending him a clear and distinct message. If he had any chance in hell of going with her, he’d better haul some serious ass. Which he did. Even skinning around ahead of her to open the driver’s side door before she got there.
“Okay. Whatever you want.” By God, he’d still do his darnedest to be agreeable. Even if he did stand there and purposely hold the door open once she skirted around him to climb inside. “The girls can at least unload the Christmas presents from my truck while we’re gone.” Slamming the door at last, he hurried around to the passenger side.
“Sure, Daddy.” His daughters spoke in unison.
“We can unload the presents you brought,” Amanda added with a monumental eye roll.
“Sounds good, Punkin’” And I’ll deal with the rest when I get back.
Beyond that, he said no more, just crawled in and fastened his seat belt as Mandy, also noticeably silent, backed out of the driveway. Shutting his mouth and keeping it shut seemed to be the way to go for now. Anything else could risk being at odds with her. Not at all how he wanted them to come together after six months apart.
In a few minutes though, he couldn’t stand not talking any longer.
“Same old downtown Cascade Lake.” He lifted an arm as he glanced out the window when Mandy drove along the bright lights of Center Boulevard.
“Sometimes change isn’t the best way to go.” She answered him without taking her eyes off the road. “Sometimes tradition is best.”
All he could do was nod his agreement. He’d only made what he thought to be an innocent comment to break the silence that was stretching between them. But why argue?
They drove by Santa next. Smiling and waving. Still jolly as ever.
Good for you. He gave Old Saint Nick a raised eyebrow in greeting.
Shortly after, Mandy pulled to a stop in the parking lot of the large pavilion where the bazaar part of the festival was being held. They got out without speaking. Suddenly overwhelmed with memories of the first time he laid eyes on Mandy Gearhart, he couldn’t help but wonder if she was remembering too.
Probably not.
Eyes forward, keeping her attention focused on the task at hand, Mandy had the back hatch of her SUV open while Dean was still working to swallow the lump that had abruptly formed at the back of his throat.

Poor Dean simply cannot catch a break, no matter how hard he tries to make things right again. Ball's in Mandy's court now. Hope she makes the right decision. Join me here tomorrow to find out for A Conflicted Christmas - Part Three.