For anyone interested, here is the third installment of what was formerly known as The Witching Well. That's what it's called in Autumn's Kiss, an anthology of ten sweet romance stories coming out in just three days. You can preorder the anthology here.
But the short story, The Witching Well, grew into first a novel (although a rather short one) which I renamed The Highwayman Incident. Just today I finished the first draft. It has an appointment with the editor for November 1st.
I only have an outline for the sequel. And I'm debating on how to release these. A month apart? Which means I would hold Highwayman back until the Cowboy was nearly finished? Or should I put Highwayman up as soon as possible so that the anthology readers can find him?
Clearly, Celia Quinn was his thing.
But she wasn’t his.
Remembering the kiss, he decided he needed to fix that.
After a guy named Turner with a tow truck gave him a lift home, Jason sat in front of the fireplace, watching the yellow and red flames curl around the artificial logs.
“Hey, man.” Gabe startled Jason out of his funk. Jason looked up at his cousin. He wasn’t used to sharing his space, but tonight he could use some company.
“What’s with you?” Gabe stood in the center of the room, his arms folded across his chest. “You look like someone shot your dog.”
“I don’t have a dog.”
And I no longer have a tie or a handkerchief, he thought.
“Maybe you should get one so that he could take that hang-dog look off your face.”
“Hang-dog.” Jason went back to studying the fire. “I haven’t heard that since Uncle Lenny died. Do you ever think about the things our parents used to say?”
Gabe went to the fridge, helped himself to a Coke, popped the lid and settled on the sofa across from Jason. “Yeah, like how my mom used to tell me not to be a boob.” Gabe looked down at his muscular chest and grinned.
Jason leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Hey, that was way better than what my dad called me.”
“And what was that?”
“I mean, if you had to be a boob or a panty-waste, which would you choose?” Jason asked.
“It wasn’t until I was about twelve that I figured out that being told I looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus wasn’t a compliment.” Gabe took a long swallow of soda.
“Yeah, Aunt Georgia used to call me that, too.” Jason lifted an eyelid to look over his cousin and best friend. Gabe’s mother had been an Argentine beauty, and Gabe had inherited her dark hair, eyes and chiseled features. And the long hours he devoted to his construction company had helped him develop more than a healthy bank account. Jason doubted any female would call Gabe a wreck anytime soon.
“Okay, so we established that we don’t want to be boobs, panty-wastes, or shipcentwrecks, but that doesn’t explain your hang-dogging.”
“Hang-dogging’s now a verb?”
“An action verb—and you’re doing it.”
Jason sat up and placed his elbows on his knees. “Okay, something weird happened tonight.”
“I knew it.” Gabe took another long swallow of Coke before pointing the bottle at Jason. “It’s that Quinn chick, right? You saw her at the wedding.”
“We didn’t speak.” Jason got up, went to the fridge and pulled out a soda of his own. He popped the lid. “At least not there.” Sitting back down, he filled Gabe in on his parking lot adventures.
Gabe grinned, lay back against the sofa and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “You don’t know what happened?”
“No.” He didn’t like the smile on his cousin’s face. “I think someone drugged me.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Don’t you remember all those stories and rumors about the Witching Well?”
“The Witching Well?” Gabe laughed. “In high school and junior high we used to go on rampages trying to find it. Supposedly, the water from the Witching Well causes hallucinations.” Gabe took a long drink from his soda. “There’s even speculation that the Witching Well water could have played a part in the Witch Trials…which, as you know happened just down the street.”
“And to our ancestors,” Jason added, “hundreds of years ago.”
“Exactly.” Gabe pointed his soda at Jason. “So, how is it you don’t know about the Witching Well?”
“I don’t believe in Witching Wells. Maybe while you and your fellow thugs were busy raising hell in the woods, I was bagging groceries.”
Gabe shook his head. “My poor cousin’s sad, misspent youth.”
“Did you ever find it?”
“No. Later in an American history class, I learned that this fungus grows on rye, wheat and barley and can cause mental effects including mania or psychosis—hence—”
“Hence?” Jason laughed, feeling better. Maybe he wasn’t going insane. Maybe his obsession with Celia Quinn wasn’t turning him into a lunatic. “You don’t use the word hence.”
“Hey! I can use the word hence.”
“All right, let’s drop your vocabulary. Do you think it’s possible that somehow I came in contact with water from this Witching Well?”
Gabe shook his head. “No. I think you’re loco for Celia Quinn,” he said in a serious, somber tone.
Jason threw a pillow at Gabe’s head as he stood to leave. “You’re moving out tomorrow.”
“The project hasn’t even started,” Gabe argued.
“It’s starting right now,” Jason said over his shoulder. And he wasn’t talking about Gabe’s demolishing the Dressy Occasion shop.
“Where you going?” Gabe called after him.
“Where are you going, is a better question.” Although Jason knew he would never kick Gabe out, he thought it better to not let him know that.
Moments later, Jason sat at his computer, searching for anything he could find about the hallucinogenic water lurking in the New England soil.
Becca frowned at her cookie crumbs as if she could read them like tea leaves. “So, you’re telling me that you had a dream that Jason West, the hunky lawyer that swindled your grandmother out of her lease, was a highwayman.”
“That’s right,” Celia said, picking up her cookie. She couldn’t eat it. It seemed like she hadn’t been able to eat for weeks. “What does it mean?”
“Dreams don’t always have to mean something,” Becca told her.
“Come on, you can do better than that!” Celia shoved her cocoa mug across the table. “Why did you get a psychology degree if you’re not going to help your friends?”
“There’s no help for you. Besides, there’s no definitive explanation of dreams. There are a thousand and one theories.” Becca bit into a cookie and chewed thoughtfully. “I think the one that best applies here is the one that claims we often dream about the things that frighten us the most.”
Celia nodded. “Okay. That makes sense. Kissing Jason West would be my worst nightmare.”
“Or fantasy?” Becca grinned and waggled her eyebrows.
A fantasy would be finding a nineteenth-century emerald necklace…
Celia raked her fingers from her hair. She had taken it out of its bridesmaid up-do, but it was still sticky from hairspray. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. She looked pale in the warmth of Becca’s sunny yellow kitchen. Taking a deep breath, Celia tried to be calm. “It just seemed so real.” She touched her lips. “I can’t even tell you how real.”
Setting down her mug, Becca studied Celia. “Tell me, how does Jason make you feel?”
“In real life, you mean?”
Becca nodded. “Let’s go back to the beginning, before you knew he was Clive Carson’s attorney.”
Becca gave her an I-don’t-believe-you smile.
Celia looked away from her friend’s steady gaze. “I bet you’re a really good therapist.”
“Should I double your rent to cover the counseling costs?” Becca tapped her finger on the table.
Celia’s smile faded. “You know that once the store closes and I’m unemployed, I won’t be able to afford the rent. I’ll have to move back home with my mom and grandma. Oh—” her voice caught.
Becca frowned at her. “What did I tell you about the awfulizer?”
Celia swallowed, nodded and quoted, “Do not engage the awfulizer.”
“That’s right,” Becca said, patting her hand. “No need to awfulize just yet.”
“I don’t want to move home. It’s too…”
“Awful?” Becca supplied.
Celia looked out the window at the dark night. “It’s wrong for me to say that, isn’t it? I should want to be at home, helping my mom.”
“You are helping your mom,” Becca reminded her. “You drive her to all her chemo appointments. You take your grandmother shopping, and you take her to all her doctor appointments. Twice a week you make them dinner, and you run the shop.”
“Ran the shop.”
“Seriously, if you did any more for them you would sprout angel wings and be lifted up into heaven.”
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Celia looked up from her mutilated cookie and saw her brother standing on the other side of the Dutch door. He tapped on the window again. She could tell from his face that he considered her less angelic than her friend.
Becca bounced from her chair to let Joel inside.
He brushed past Becca, snagged a cookie off the table, and shook it in Celia’s face. “I can’t believe you ditched like that. You know you set yourself up for all the family table-talk, right? We’re going to be discussing your anti-wedding behavior for months.”
Celia ducked her head. “I was sick.”
Joel slipped into the chair beside her, bit into the cookie, and studied her like she was one of his lab rats. “What’s wrong with you? Besides the obvious, I mean.”
Nothing like a brother to keep my ego nice, small and manageable, Celia thought. She bit into her cookie and glared at Joel. She had to admit he looked good in his suit, despite the putrid pink bow-tie.
Probably because they had different fathers, they didn’t look like siblings. Celia looked like her dad, green-eyed, fair-skinned, and with red hair that clashed with putrid pink, while Joel took after his dad, a dark-haired and swarthy pirate-looking Italian. According to their mom, Joel’s dad looked much better than he behaved. Mia was the only sibling that had inherited their mother’s blonde hair, blue eyes and lily-white skin. The only family trait they all shared was a red-hot temper that matched Celia’s hair.
“You’re not still obsessing over Judson, are you?” Joel asked.
“Of course not!” Celia said too quickly. “I don’t have time for guys.”
Becca caught her eye, and Celia looked away.
“I know that your kind like to think that my kind spend our days pining for the perfect lover-boy, but really…we girls have much more important things going on in our heads.”
“Who made you the spokesperson for the entire female gender?” Joel chuckled and looked around the tiny kitchen. “Was there an election I missed?” He pulled the plate of cookies in front of him.
Celia reached over and slammed her fist down on his cookies, smashing them to crumbs.
“Hey!” Joel and Becca complained at the same time.
Celia brushed the crumbs off her hand and onto the table. “I am so stressed about the shop, I can’t think about anything else.”
“That’s no reason to destroy perfectly innocent cookies,” Joel said.
“Until I see the business booming, I’m done.”
“Done with what?” Joel asked.
“Define booming,” Becca said.
Celia gave Becca a “whose-side-are-you-on” look, but knew it was wasted. Becca had been clearly on Joel’s side since the first day they met. But seeing how Becca had been twelve and Joel seventeen, Joel had never seen her the same way. And even now, thirteen years later, Joel still wasn’t seeing it. Celia thought that for a scientist, Joel wasn’t very observant.
“Look, closing the shop will probably be the best thing that could ever happen to you.” Joel picked up cookie crumbs and dribbled them into his mouth.
Anger pure and white zipped through Celia. “Screw you, Joel.”
He held up his hand to ward her off and crumbs fell to the table. “I’m just saying—”
“—That you’re a moron.” Celia finished his sentence. “You better leave before I smash your other cookies.”
Becca stood, put on a pair of oven mitts, and pulled a fresh pan out of the oven. Warm cinnamon-scented air filled the kitchen. Kicking the door closed, Becca kept her back to the warring siblings.
Joel shook his head, like Celia was one of his failing students. “You’ll be so much more profitable with an online business.”
Celia wondered what the emeralds were worth. Her heart sped. The emeralds could be a game-changer. If she sold them, maybe she could buy the shop.
No. The emeralds couldn’t be real. None of that episode was real. She took a steadying breath and tried to back away from crazy town.
“Granny doesn’t do “online” and you know it.”
“Then you’ll have to introduce her to the brave new world.”
“If I have to teach Mom and Granny technology, we’re screwed.”
“Maybe you should rethink Judson,” Joel said.
Becca had dropped the pan and several cookies now lay on the floor.
“Oops,” Becca said. The giant mitts on her hands gave her a Minnie Mouse look.
“You’re destroying cookies, too?” Joel asked. “I expected better of you.”
“Listen, I know this is none of my business.” Becca picked up the cookies that had bounced off the pan and put them on the table.
Joel, obviously unconcerned about the three second rule, slid all three cookies in front of him.
Becca set the pan in front of Celia. “I think you should take a few days off. Give your head a vacation from the shop.”
“I can’t do that!” Frustration filled Celia’s voice. “You know how much work there is, right? I don’t know how we’re going to fit everything into Granny’s attic.”
Becca put her mitt covered hand over Celia’s. The mitt felt warm and squishy. “We’ll all be there to help. But soon, you need a break. You push yourself too hard.”
“You’re right.” Celia bounced from her chair. “I’m going to bed. Good night.”
But she didn’t go to bed. She flipped on her computer and googled emeralds and local pawn shops.