Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A is for Apple Blossom

When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, Connecticut and Utah, spring was a big deal. That first tiny crocus poking up out of the mulched garden bed, the little green bud on an otherwise dormant tree—these were signs that better times—barefoot times, swimsuit times, and T-shirts and shorts times—were on their way.
For the last 25 years, I’ve lived in Southern California where the apple trees get confused and bloom in January and just about any day can be a barefoot day. The seasons spill together, and without a calendar it’s hard to distinguish one month from another. And I never have to scrap ice and snow off of my windshield, and I can barbecue any day of the year, and flowers grow year round. And mostly, I love it.
But when I think of the snow, I don’t remember the slippery ice, or the gray sludge, I remember the quiet. Why is the world so quiet when it snows? In Washington, the schools and stores would close. We called it a “snow day”, but it should have been called a holiday, because that’s what it seemed to be.
We don’t have snow days here. And the world is rarely quiet. Even though I know that I’m probably just like the confused apple tree, and that if I had to live in snow, ice and sludge I’d miss the California sunny days, but sometimes I still miss the quiet of snow.

Because nothing is better than a cuddling up with a good book and a cup of cocoa in front of roaring fireplace, here’s the first chapter of my novella Love at the Apple Blossom Inn. I hope you enjoy it, even if you’re like me, and living in perpetual sunshine.

Love at the Apple Blossom Inn
By Kristy Tate
A small town girl.
A rock star living a lie.
Their paths cross and lead them down a road neither of them expected to find: love at the Apple Blossom Inn.
Janey knows that life doesn’t come with a happy-ending guarantee. She needs to keep her feet securely on the ground working two jobs, going to school, and caring for her little brother. She has no time or room for romance.
After an accident leaves his charmed life in ruins, Derrick abandons his Hollywood lifestyle and checks into rehab. The world believes that Derrick Cordell the rock star is dead. And despite his beating heart and breathing lungs, that’s exactly how he feels until, disguised and living incognito in the tiny town of Rose Arbor, Washington, he meets Janey, who loves him as plain old Eric Roudell, the wanna-be music teacher.
But secrets have a way of unraveling. When Janey discovers the truth about Eric/Derric, how can she love someone she doesn’t even know? Especially since love is not on her to-do list?
Copyright 2015, Kristine Tate


5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Romantic January 19, 2015
I just ordered for Love at the Apple Blossom Inn for my kindle and read it in one sitting. It was so refreshingly fun and romantic. The imagery was vivid, you could almost feel the cold water splash as Janey falls into Big Lake. You could almost taste the tantalizing strawberry filled croissant rolls as Janey appeases her emotions with one bite. And most of all you can experience the ups and downs of true love. Great book!

5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific page turner romance set in the Pacific Northwest January 9, 2015
Started the book in the middle of the night, intending to only read a bit before turning in, and instead inhaled half the book. I adored the setting and was glad to see several others set in the small Washington town Rose Arbor. Great side characters. Was really rooting for Eric and Janey. Had a satisfying ending. Would recommend for anyone who loves short romances set in the Pacific Northwest.

Derrick’s gaze wandered around the room, taking in the hot-tarts as phony as their perky breasts, the guys, a few almost as plastered as himself, and the rare breed that defied gender generalization. He wanted to stand up and walk away from the girl leaning on his chest. She smelled of wine, and her product-stiff hair tickled his chin. But when a waiter placed another drink in front of him, he picked up the glass. Even as his head told him he had had enough, his throat burned in anticipation. The cold glass felt good in his hand.
Techno music blasted through the smoky air. He hated techno music, thought it sounded like a rumbly stomach felt. But it didn’t give him a stomach ache. It made his head hurt. And his heart. It also made him sad, because it was like music from a machine—not a person. Someone once told him that he would like it if he were drunk, but that person didn’t know shiest, because he was almost always drunk and he still hated techno music.
He glanced at the girl smiling up at him. Her features swam, and he couldn’t focus. Straight teeth? Brown eyes? Did he know her? She looked like Jen Lopez, and he’d always been a blonde hound. Goose-bumps pimpled her arms. Weird. He was hot, and she was cold.
He pushed away from her and swayed on his feet.
“Where you going, baby?” the Jen-girl slurred.
Derrick held up his finger, shushing her, and made his way through the crowded bar to the DJ behind the glass. He knocked until the moron wearing the headphones looked at him. Derrick slid his finger across his throat.
The DJ narrowed his eyes at him before catching a glance at the manager, dressed in black and hiding near the bar. The manager gave a small nod.
The squeaky, thumping sounds stopped. No one other than Derrick seemed to notice, but he sighed in relief and let the tension between his shoulders ease. Unsure of what to do next, he stumbled onto the small stage, sat at the piano, and played.
A hush fell over the room as he sang an old Irish ballad.
“The soft winds sing across the sea,
While here I sit all alone and cold.
Rapt in the rays of memory,
That flash from Golden days of old,
For oh, the oceans murmuring tune,
Speaks to my bosom of a time,
When life was as a harvest moon.”*
The piano could never replace a fiddle, but since it was better than the techno-shiest, he continued until the Jen-girl put her hand on his shoulder.
“Baby, that song’s depressing,” she whined.
But Derrick ignored her and continued the song he remembered his grandfather singing.
“Whose eyes like Saint's from sculptured niche,
Look into mine for evermore
Full voices 'mid the garden flowers,
To soothe and sanctify the day,
These once were mine but frozen hours,
Have stolen them all to depths away”
“Let’s go, baby,” the Jen-girl said, pressing against him. “There’s a party at Mac’s in Brentwood.”
He lifted his fingers and a few of the half-sober people in the room booed, begging him to stay and play. Standing, he gave the crowd a smile and a small bow.
Brentwood. He lived in Brentwood. Maybe someone could drop him off, because even though he didn’t know the girl on his arm, or where he was, or what day it was, he did know he didn’t belong behind a wheelbarrow, let alone a steering wheel. He had drowned out the driver in him drinks ago. Killed him with a shot glass, which, as it turns out, can be as lethal as a shotgun. The Jen Lopez girl took his hand and led him out the door.
A car with leather seats that smelled of cigarettes and fried food careened down a canyon road. Derrick let the car’s swaying control his movements. It occurred to him that they weren’t heading for Brentwood, after all. Somehow they had left the city. Derrick didn’t recognize the guy in the driver’s seat, but he did know that whoever he was, he probably wasn’t any more sober than himself.
Rocking with each hairpin turn, Derrick thought about death without fear or sadness. The alcohol and drugs had muted any panic, and he found he could consider his life from a spectator’s perspective. Curious. At that moment, he didn’t care whether he lived or died. He didn’t even have the emotional energy to muster a slow down or a hey, let’s call a taxi. It was almost as if he was already dead.
In the upper room of the Rhyme’s Library, the children sat transfixed as Janey read from The Velveteen Rabbit. The light from the window shone upon their rapt and upturned faces. Most sat cross legged on the rag rug, some leaned against their mothers, a couple fidgeted, unable to sit still, but there was a hush in the room as Janey read.
“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
“’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’”
Janey came to the end of Margery Williams’ story and slowly closed the book. The children began to reluctantly stir.
“Miss Janey,” Henry chirped, his blue eyes gazing at her from under a lock of shockingly white hair, “do you think toys can really die?”
“Not really, do you?” Janey stretched out her legs and wiggled her toes. She loved story-hour, and she was okay sitting on the floor with the kids, but when she read, she would forget to move and her legs or feet would fall asleep. She thought it an okay occupational hazard to have.
Henry’s forehead crinkled as he thought.
“Maybe when toys die, they become zombies,” Brock said, as he pushed his glasses further up onto his nose.
Janey smiled. “I don’t think toys die, and I’m pretty sure they don’t become zombies.”
“But how can you know?”
Brock stood up and straightened his shoulders, reminding Janey that Brock’s dad was an attorney. She wondered if a love for an argument could be genetically passed on, like a hook nose or a propensity for moles.
“I’ve never seen a toy zombie, have you?” Janey stood and held the book to her chest. She loved lots of stories, but the Velveteen Rabbit was her favorite.
“Have you ever seen Jesus?” Brock asked.
“Hmm, no,” Janey said.
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
Janey put her hand to her forehead. “What does Jesus have to do with toy zombies?” she asked, but she could guess where this line of questioning was headed.
“Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean that it’s not real,” Brock told her.
“Right.” Janey looked around at the children staring at her with big, questioning eyes and worried about what they would say when they got home. Someone would tattle, and Janey knew the Friends of the Library would be talking about the Jesus and toy zombie debate if she didn’t change the subject soon.
Downstairs someone screamed.
Now what? she wondered. As far as Janey knew, no one had screamed in the Rhyme’s Library since Charlotte Rhyme had been found dead in the basement last year.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs.
Emma, a volunteer, looking wild-eyed and grief stricken, motioned for her little sister, Gabby. “Let’s go.”
“Emma,” Janey said, using her hushed librarian tone, “what’s going on? Who’s screaming?”
“Jessie and Amber.” Emma twisted a lock of her dark curls around her finger, something she often did when stressed about the misfiling of books, or a computer breakdown. “They just heard about Derrick Cordell.” Emma’s voice cracked and her eyes welled with unshed tears.
“The singer?” Janey didn’t follow Derrick Cordell’s career, but she would have to be living in a cave in the hindermost part of the world—which, of course, some people argued was exactly where Rose Arbor was— to not to have heard of the heart-throb.
Emma nodded and choked back a sob. Tears spilled down her face. “He’s dead.”
Henry turned to Janey. “Will he be a zombie, too?”
Janey put her hand on top of Henry’s brown curls. “I hope not,” she said.
3 Months Later

Eric Roudell sat on the edge of his bed gazing out at the Caribbean Sea. The sun glistened on the white sand. The trade winds blew through the window, ruffling the white curtains. Someone somewhere played reggae on a xylophone.
He had grown to hate the tediously, gloriously sunny weather. It was like that Clap Along Get Happy Song forever sounding over the airwaves. He wanted dark, brooding music. He longed for a riotous thunderstorm. He wanted what he knew he could never have again.
He wanted to go home.
Standing, he faced north. Even if he stayed dry for decades, he couldn’t go back to Rosslare Harbour. According to his therapist, if he wanted to maintain his fragile sobriety, he needed to avoid alcohol. Forever. And trying to avoid whiskey in Ireland was like trying to avoid a Kardashian on TMZ.
He longed for the sharp, bone-chilling damp, the crash of waves, and the craggy shore. The calm, unruffled Caribbean endless blue was like an ocean on Prozac. Sure, the ocean was the ocean, but the Caribbean Sea was as unlike the wild Atlantic as a toy poodle was to a Doberman.
Rap, rap, rap.
“Come in,” Eric said, his gaze not leaving the window.
“Good day,” Lee said, as he pushed into the room with a tray full of food. “I see you’re wearing pants. Got something special planned?”
Eric grunted and eyed the food. Sometimes he felt so much like a caged animal, like a parrot in a beautiful aviary, that he resorted to guttural noises. Sitting at the table, he considered the grapefruit halves, the oatmeal topped with berries, and the turkey sausage links. Even this healthy breakfast should have made him put on weight, but Eric, already emaciated by his substance abuse, didn’t gain a pound. He had always seemed to float above the common problems plaguing everyone else. His life, overall, had been as sunny and easy as the Caribbean Sea.
So why had he destroyed it?
Why couldn’t he be as happy as Lee? Lee wore the same thing every day: a pair of cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops, a red string tying back his dreadlocks, and a smile.
It had taken Eric months to get used to eating three meals a day. Breakfast had always, until recently, made his stomach roll. When he had first arrived, he had flushed most of his breakfast down the toilet as soon as Lee left the room, rationalizing that that was the food’s ultimate destination anyway. He was merely expediting the process. But Lee must have become suspicious, because he had since found a reason to stay until Eric finished his meals.
After setting the tray down, Lee settled into the chair in the corner, and propped his feet up on the ottoman. He generally liked to talk about his girlfriend, Marla, and today he announced, “Marla and I are done.”
So, maybe Lee wasn’t as happy as Eric had thought. “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
Lee used a few colorful words to describe Marla.
“Then I guess you could come with me.”
 “Where you going?” Lee asked, faking an interest.
Eric knew Lee would never leave Marla. He might curse her, but he would never leave her.
“I’m not sure yet,” Eric said before he spooned oatmeal into his mouth.
“Then why would I join you?”
Eric swallowed a slug of orange juice before he said, “I’m giving you an out.”
Lee chuckled. “Your last way out landed you here. So, no thank you, sir. I be guessing I a’staying here. You should, too. This is a nice place.”
With a very nice price tag. But Eric knew that Lee didn’t expect him to stay on the island forever. “When you going to get me a guitar?”
Lee shrugged, reminding Eric that even though no one considered him a suicide risk, the center had strict “health and safety” policies. “If I wanted to off myself, don’t you think I would have been successful before now? Besides—who wants to die by way of a guitar string? If I wanted to, I’d drown myself. There’s plenty of water.”
Lee raised a bushy eyebrow. “But you already tried that. That’s why you’re here.”
“Different type of water,” Eric mumbled.
“Anything is deadly if you take it the wrong way,” Lee said.
Eric wiped his mouth and set down his napkin. “I’m serious, Lee. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Nah. You got to go and make yourself a new life.”
“I’ve got nothing.”
How many people had to scrap their old life and make a new one at only thirty? At his tri-life crisis, he had nothing to show for all his living.
“Now, Mr. Roudell, how you be saying that? You know that’s not true.”
A voice in his head reminded him of the millions in the Caribbean banks, his sixteen thousand square foot Brentwood mansion (what had he been thinking? He must have been drunk when he bought that mausoleum) and his Tesla. Where had he left the car? Was it still in the garage? Shiest, good thing he didn’t own a cat.
“I don’t have a Marla.”
Lee burst out laughing. “You don’t want my Marla. She’s too fat for you.”
Eric bent over his breakfast. “If that’s what you think, she’s not good enough for you, and I’m going to tell her to whip your skinny—”
Outside, footsteps pounded along the boardwalk, and, moments later, Leslie burst through the door. Her dark hair looked like she’d been electrocuted, while and her olive skin was pink and flushed. She paused to catch her breath before she said, “Mr. Cordell, you got to go!”
Lee bounced to his feet. “Who knows?”
Leslie pushed her hair off her face. “Everyone knows.”
“How?” Lee and Eric demanded at the same time.
“It doesn’t matter.” Eric threw down his napkin and climbed to his feet. “I knew I couldn’t hide out here forever. We all knew this day would come.”
“No,” Lee said, his voice turning steely. “You are not going back to your old life.”
“Then where do you suggest I go? I can’t go back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back to L.A.”
“Right now, you can hide out at Marla’s.” Lee stood and took hold of Eric’s arm. “Three months ago, you were as good as dead. That ain’t happening again. Not while I’m breathing.”
“It’s like Elvis sightings,” Janey told Emma as they worked together shelving books. “Everyone thinks they’ve spotted him. Next thing we know, they’ll be finding Eric Cordell’s face on potatoes.”
“It’s not like Elvis at all. They’ve proven the…” Emma choked up, and then cleared her throat, "the body they thought was his, isn’t.”
“Because of the teeth?” Janey asked.
“That, and other things,” Emma said, her face stony.
Janey touched Emma’s arm. “I hope he is alive, but if he is—where is he?”
Emma sniffed and looked up at the ceiling. “I think if he was dead, I would know it.”
“Really?” Janey studied Emma. They were only five years apart, but sometimes she felt like Emma’s grandmother. Janey bit back a sigh. In some ways, living with an alcoholic mother had made her grow up too fast. But in other ways, it was like she was trapped in her childhood home, because she had to look out for her baby brother. When she had graduated from high school, she’d been offered a scholarship to Western Washington University, but the thought of leaving Noah alone with her mom kept her in Rose Arbor.
 “We share a spiritual connection,” Emma said.
Janey loved Emma. No matter how dark her thoughts, Emma always managed to make her smile. “Does Matt know?”
Emma tossed her dark curls over her shoulder. “Why would Matt care?”
Janey stopped fighting her smile. “I think he would like to know.”
“I don’t care what Matt thinks.” Emma deliberately shifted her attention to the books on the cart.
“What I think about what?” Matt stepped out from behind a shelf, and tucked his earbuds in his pocket.
Emma flushed an interesting shade of pink. Janey envied Emma’s coloring—it was so dramatic and changed so rapidly. Janey, on the other hand, was blonde, pale, and about as interesting as vanilla.
“About Derrick Cordell,” Janey said.
“That pretty boy?” Matt scoffed and straightened his spine so he stood taller.
“You got something against pretty?” Emma asked.
“I like pretty women, not boys,” Matt said.
“Good to know,” Janey muttered.
Matt ignored her. “You need a ride home?” he asked Emma. “I brought my dad’s bike.” He showed her the helmet he had tucked behind his back. “And this for you.”
Emma’s cheeks flushed again.
Janey wanted to ask if Mr. Harnett knew Matt had his bike, but she bit her lip and went back to shelving books. She might feel like a grandma, but she didn’t need to act like one. “We’re almost done here,” she told Emma. “You should go.”
“Are you sure?” Emma asked, glancing around at the empty but practically immaculate library.
“Absolutely,” Janey said. “I can finish here on my own.”
After locking up the library, Janey climbed in her truck and offered a silent prayer that it could take her home. The Toyota coughed a few times before roaring to life, and Janey sighed in relief as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed west.
Minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot of the Apple Blossom Inn. She loved the inn, always had, even when it had been an old and abandoned ramshackle. Janey had loved coming here as a little girl. Even now after all these months, it was hard to believe that she got to live in it. So what if she got the attic room without air-conditioning or central air? She used a fan in the summer, and a space heater in the winter, and every day she got to walk through the cranberry red front doors like she owned the place.
Janey let herself in, and the bell chimed a welcome.
Victoria hustled through the spacious hall, wiping her hands on her apron. Most of her dark, curly hair had escaped its hair pins and it looked almost as frantic as Victoria’s expression. “Oh, heavens, Janey, I’m so glad you’re home!” She dropped her voice to a whisper and motioned for Janey to follow her into the kitchen. “We’ve got cranksters staying! They were supposed to be in the Golden Delicious, but I had to move them out to the Granny Smith cottage because they didn’t like the birds in the trees outside their windows.”
Janey passed through the large kitchen and headed for the mud room where she hung up her coat on a hook beside a collection of aprons and traded her shoes for a pair of slippers she kept underneath a bench. “And there aren’t birds in the trees next to the cottage?”
“Well, of course there are! But I didn’t know what else to do!” Victoria rolled her eyes and went back to the spacious butcher block counter. “They seem happy…well, at least not as cranky…there.” She covered her hands in butter and shaped the dough into a large circle.
Janey collected a paring knife, a cutting board, and sat down at the table in front of a big bowl of apples. “Don’t we have someone renting the cottage?”
Victoria sighed and sprinkled brown sugar, allspice, and cinnamon over the dough. “He’ll get here tomorrow.”
Janey peeled, cored, and chopped apples. “And when do the cranksters leave?”
“Not soon enough.”
Janey nodded, understanding. “You want me to make up the Gala?”
“Or the Pink Lady? No, wait—it’s just a man staying alone.”
“Definitely not the Pink Lady, then.” Janey took her apple bits and dumped them on top of Victoria’s dough.
Using her rolling pin, Victoria formed an apple-cinnamon roll that, come morning, would warm the hearts of even the crankiest crankster. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” Victoria said.
“You would hire someone else.” Janey leaned over and kissed the older woman’s cheek. “But I don’t know where I would be without you.”
With his hair dyed black and a UW baseball cap on his head, Eric pulled into the stadium’s crowded parking lot. He adjusted his glasses and gave himself another critical glance in the rearview mirror before climbing out of his Land Rover. All around him, other peoples’ families and friends milled. A few had portable barbecues set up, and the smell of roasting meat mingled with the sharp tangy odor of beer. He braced himself.
He could do this.
He had chosen Seattle for a number of reasons—the music, the vibe, the gloomy weather that matched his mood—but mostly because it reminded him of Ireland. Finding Rose Arbor on a map had been just a fluke, but he hoped a providential one, since he intended to make it his home. He knew that Rose Arbor could never replace his village, Rosslare Harbour, but since he couldn’t go home, he hoped to find the next best thing.
Eric tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans and made his way to the entrance. No one noticed him. The crowd in the stadium surged around him, reminding him that it really was much easier to get lost and feel lonely in a crowd than on an almost deserted island.
Janey pulled her battered Toyota pickup truck into the Husky Stadium parking lot. Beside her, Noah bounced in his seat, his excitement rolling off of him, making Janey smile.
“We’re going to get Husky-dogs, right? Uncle Ted promised me Husky-dogs.” Noah thought for a moment. “But did he give you money for lunch? Because if he didn’t, that’s okay.”
Janey checked her wallet for the tickets and cash. “No…he gave me money.” Which wasn’t true, but she knew from her own experience that Uncle Ted regularly made promises he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep. Noah would learn that disappointing lesson soon enough. He didn’t need to learn it on his birthday. At least Ted had given her the tickets.
As Noah hustled out the door, Janey disconnected her phone from the power cord. Before leaving home, Janey had downloaded her homework. She didn’t want to study per se during the game, but maybe when Noah wasn’t looking she could catch up on her reading for her accounting class. She tucked her phone into her bag and followed Noah to the entrance.
Noah held onto her hand, and jumped more than walked up the concrete concourse. Janey glanced at the tickets—the seats on the fiftieth yard line made her happy and mad. Happy, because she knew that Noah would be thrilled, but mad, because she knew that the seats were outrageously expensive and Noah could have used the money for much more important things…like milk, socks, or underwear.
But knowing that Noah would gladly trade-in or abandon altogether his underwear for a chance to see the Huskies up-close and personal, Janey steered Noah to their seats.
“Can we get the Husky-dogs now?” Noah asked.
“Now? You can’t be hungry. I just watched you eat five bowls of Captain Crunch!” Janey doubled checked the row numbers as they descended closer to the field where the cheerleaders shook their sparkly pompoms. “We’ll get the dogs at halftime.”
“Before halftime!” Noah shouted to be heard over the band. “If we wait until halftime, then there will be a long line and they might run out.”
Janey put her hand on Noah’s shoulder to keep him from bumping into a man carrying a baby dressed in a dog suit. “I don’t think they’ll run out.”
“But there’s so many people here, they might, right? So, we need to get them before halftime.”
Janey pointed at their seats in front of a couple of gray-haired men, and a woman with knitting needles and a ball of yarn. A family with several children who looked younger than Noah sat in front of them, and a group of students were beside them. The students wore purple Husky shirts and hats and seemed to shuffle seats a lot. Janey hoped they would be louder and noisier than Noah, because she worried about him bothering the senior citizens and the lady-knitter.
Noah wiggled in his seat, making it bounce up and down, but once the players ranontothe field, he focused. “See there, number 32. That’s Nolan Keener. He’s the first-string quarter back.”
“Huh, huh.” Janey’s gaze followed Noah’s finger.
“And that guy, number 25, he’s the running back.”
Janey smiled as if she cared.
Beside her, one of the students chuckled.
A whistle blew, a horn blasted, and a Husky kicked the ball.
“Ugh!” Noah groaned with the crowd when the ball landed near the 30 yard line.
Janey nodded, tried to look somber, and tucked her hands in her pockets. Her fingers closed around her phone. Her thumb sought out the on button. While the teams faced off, Janey took a quick glance at her taxation preparation homework.
“First down!” Noah groaned.
Janey looked up, sent Noah a conciliatory smile, and went back to her phone.
The student beside her chuckled again.
Janey shot him a quick glance that turned into a stare. He looked slightly older than the other students, and oddly familiar. His blue eyes gazed back at her through dark-rimmed glasses. His jet black hair didn’t match his skin, and while it wasn’t so unusual for a guy to dye his hair, it seemed off with this guy. He wore a purple University of Washington sweatshirt that looked way too big for him, no-name jeans, and a pair of Ranger boots. Guys that dyed their hair black typically dressed Goth, or Emo. This guy didn’t fit a stereotype. In fact, taking note of the wrinkles around his tired eyes, she wasn’t even sure he was a student.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. You just…” Janey stuttered, “look weirdly familiar.”
The guy’s face turned white and his hand trembled. “We haven’t met,” he said in an accent Janey couldn’t place. “I would have remembered.”
Janey nodded, smiling. “You probably just look like someone on TV.”
“Hey,” one of the students leaned over, “what about me? Do you think I look like someone on TV?” He batted his long eyelashes at Janey, grinning and reminding her of a large teddy bear. But she couldn’t tell him that.
“Sure,” Noah said, “you look just like a wesen from Grimm.”
“What?” the student sputtered. “Well, you look like—”
The insult was lost in the crowd’s roar.
“Interception!” Noah yelled. He climbed onto his seat so he could see over the people standing in front of him.
While everyone else watched the Huskies lineman carry the ball to the ten yard line, Janey checked her phone.
The guy in the black rimmed glasses chuckled again.
Janey frowned at him.
He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “You don’t really give a rip about the Huskies, do you?”
Janey gave Noah a quick glance before telling the non-student to hush.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”
Noah perched on the edge of his seat. “We’ll get a touchdown here, or at least a field goal.”
“So, who do you think I look like?” the non-student asked, leaning in so that his shoulder nearly touched hers.
“I’m sorry?” Janey sat back to see his face more clearly. She realized that if he didn’t look so tired, he would be incredibly handsome.
“You said I reminded you of someone. I want to know who.”
“Really? You might not like my answer.”
“What if I told you I think you look like a younger, prettier Nicole Kidman?”
“Do you want me to reciprocate and tell you that I think you look like a young George Clooney? Or be honest and tell you that you look like Curious George?”
The non-student seemed satisfied with this, and leaned back in his chair just as everyone around them bounced to their feet. “I don’t look like Curious George.”
“Maybe not, but you’re kind of acting like him.”
“Ouch,” he said with a grin that let her know she hadn’t hurt his feelings.
“Touchdown!” Noah screamed. “I knew it! I knew Nolan could do it!”
Janey clapped along with everyone else while Noah bellowed out the Husky fight song. He knew all the words, while Janey had to read the jumbotron to keep up.
The non-student kept his lips pressed together.
“You’re not a Husky die-hard?” Janey asked when the song ended and they settled back into their seats.
He shook his head. “I’m more a Rugby guy.”
“Yeah? Then why are you here?”
“It’s really hard to find rugby in the States.”
“Where you from?”
He bit his lip and took a long time to answer. “The Caribbean.”
“Oh yeah.” She leaned away from him. “That’s it. You look like Johnny Depp! Captain Jack Sparrow!”
He seemed pleased. “Really?”
“Sort of.” Janey shrugged. “Except your clothes aren’t so raggedy.”
“I’ll take Depp over Monkey George any day.”
Noah tugged on her hand. “Janey, do you think it’s time to get the dogs?”
“Um, sure. Do you want to come with me, or stay here?”
“Stay here!”
“Okay, but if I leave you, you have to promise me you won’t move.”
Noah froze in place and Janey laughed.
She turned to the guy next her. “Can you keep your eye on him?” she whispered.
He nodded. “Maybe you can read while you stand in line.”
“See, aren’t you glad you didn’t wait?” Noah asked thirty minutes later when the halftime buzzer blew and thousands of people headed for the restrooms and concession stands.
 “You were right. Again.” Janey nodded and bit into her hotdog.
“Besides, you want to be here for the camera contests,” Noah told her.
“Camera contests?”
“Heck yeah!” He pointed at the jumbotron. “See, they’re doing the Rock It Out contest now.”
The camera flashed to a girl in the audience who pretended to beat a set of drums with imaginary sticks. Her hair whipped around her head, moving faster than her hands.
Noah climbed on his seat and rocked out. Janey watched, silently praying he wouldn’t fall onto the senior citizens or puncture himself with the knitting needles.
“Yeah, dude,” the teddy bear student said. “They’ve moved onto the kiss-cam.”
Noah’s hand froze mid-air. “Ah, gross.” He climbed off his chair and settled back into his seat. “I hate this part.”
When the camera focused on a couple, the guy grabbed the girl and bent her over backwards in a Fred Astaire sweeping kiss. The second couple had more reservations, and did little more than peck at each other. The crowd booed.
Janey snuck her phone out of her pocket. She was reading about tax exemptions when Noah nudged her. “You’re on the camera!”
Janey dropped her phone back into her pocket, just as the teddy bear student grabbed her and planted his beer-stained lips on hers. He grinned as he pulled away.
Janey smiled politely and looked over his shoulder to watch the man in the black rimmed glasses walk away with shaking hands.
Eric found a bench to sit on outside of the stadium. Sitting, he took off his worthless glasses and put his head in his hands.
“Hey, man, they’re only down by fourteen,” someone said as they passed him by. “No need to cry.”
Eric slipped the glasses back on, took off the hat, and ran his fingers through his hair. Maybe coming here hadn’t been such a good idea. But he was just so bored and lonely.
He promised himself things would be better when he got to Rose Arbor. He would create a new life there. Start some sort of business or charity. Do something that mattered.
Standing, he shoved his hands in his pockets, and walked away. Behind him, the crowd cheered and roared, as the announcer cried, “Touchdown!”

He remembered when the crowd used to cheer and roar for him.

Monday, March 30, 2015

April's A-Z Blog Challenge

I'm going to be blogging A-Z through the month of April. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Doves in my Garden

Doves in my garden. (They're a little hard to see.)

This afternoon, my husband spotted these guys hanging out in my garden. He nearly stepped on them, but neither of them so much as fluttered. Maybe they thought they were camouflaged, pretending to be dirt clods or rocks. My husband called me outside and told me leave the dog in the house. The doves allowed me to take their picture, but as I pointed and shot my camera, it became obvious that one of them was more nervous and eager to leave than the other.
Why hang in the garden where a Schnauzer likes to dig? If I were a bird, I would pick a safer place. But what if one bird was hurt, tired, or just not feeling capable of spreading his/her wings?
I’m working on a young adult novel about a girl who suspects she’s a witch. Her grandmother is a witch, but her mother, who is definitely anti-witch, is not. And because this is a story about teenagers, there are love interests, best friends, and some angst. And I love my characters. I especially love my hero, who doesn’t even know he’s a hero, yet. Because I intend to make this into a long series of books, my witch and hero have years and books to go before they really truly fall in love.
The birds in the garden reminded me of what real love is. It’s about two people becoming one, just like the scripture says. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”  Genesis 2:24
Real love is sitting down when you’d rather fly. It’s going into scary and threatening situations because that’s where your loved one has to go. And sometimes it’s, as Death Cab for Cutie tells us, love is watching someone die.

It’s an hour later, and the doves have left my garden. I don’t know if they’ll return. I hope they don’t. I hope they go on to build a nest and raise a family high in a tree somewhere. But I’m also glad they dropped by.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Marketing Plan--What I Wish I'd Known Sooner

This is an excerpt of a letter to my brother, written after he requested marketing advice. A professional fly-fishing guide, he has published a collection of humorous stories of his experiences on the river. Think All Creatures Great and Small for fly-fishing guys. You can find it here. Fly Fishing Tales 

I'm not a marketing master by any means, but I've read a lot of books, and I'm constantly experimenting. After I wrote this to Dennis, I thought it might help others as well, so I'm sharing it here.

Here is a marketing plan for your book. 

Things you can do now. 
1.       Make a new cover for you book. Even though the one you have now is much better than the one you had previously, it still doesn’t suggest your humor. Also, all of your books need to have the same look. I have an idea for this and will come up with it over the weekend and show it to you. 
2.       Weekly, post a story on your blog along with a buy link for your book. Promote this online on all your social media sites and places where fishermen like to virtually hang out. (Do not post fliers onto trees in the woods.)
3.       Get a newsletter account at Mailchimp (it’s free.) Tell people that they’ll be the first to know of new releases and stories if they sign up for your newsletter. 
4.     Aim for your books to be no less than 150 pages so you can get the discriminating advertisers and no more than 200.   

When you publish a second book. 
1.       Send it out to readers in exchange for an honest Amazon review. 
2.       Make a newsletter and send it to your crowd (you know, the people that have been following your blog and reading the stories you've been posting weekly.) 
3.       Drop the price of your first book to .99 cents and promote it everywhere that’s free. Here’s a  list. http://kristystories.blogspot.com/2013/05/an-amazing-list-of-helpful-sites-for.html 
4.       When your book has generated enough sales to cover the cost, promote the .99 cent e-book on paid sites. Here’s a list of the advertisers I use: Choosy Book Worm, Kindle, Books and Tips, the Fussy Librarian, Fiverr bknights. I try to have something to promote each month, and I spend about $40. 

When you publish a third book.  
1.       Repeat steps 1-4 
2.       Drop price of book one to free and promote it everywhere. Consider advertising at the more expensive sites such as Bookbub, Midlist, Booksends, ENT, OHFB    

 I really wish I had known/done all of this earlier. I have yet to try advertising at the more expensive sites. I've had free runs before but never in conjunction with paid advertising. (Silly, I know.) Next month, I plan on running an advertising blitz and seeing where it takes me. I'm excited, and a little scared. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Cowboy Release!

Special discounts and deals to those who sign up for my newsletter.

Only $0.99 for one week only

By Kristy Tate
By these waters we do sleep
Clothed in night so dark and deep
Lady Moon who doth guide our dreams,
Shroud us in your silvery beams.
Take us to a distant time
When love and hearts doth combine.
When Becca Martin stumbles into the Witching Well, she finds that all of her medical training can’t protect her from the dangers of 1870 Colorado and the charms of Clint Warwick. Convinced that her excursion into a distant past and place is nothing more than a delusion, she indulges in a fantastical romance, but when hostilities take a deadly turn, Becca fears she’ll lose not only her heart, but perhaps a future she could never have imagined.

From a modern day New York City mental hospital to the Rocky Mountains of the Wild West, The Cowboy Encounter is a romantic romp that proves once again that love is timeless. Book two, The Witching Well. 

The Cowboy Encounter

Becca knew the dangers associated with bottling emotions. But she also knew that the Bible was right when it said to everything there is a season— a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. She recited the words whenever she thought that she might break down and cry.
Sure, some people might cry at weddings, but it was supposed to be a happy time, and Mia was not only her best friend’s sister, but also the sister of the man Becca intended to marry.
Becca’s gaze slid to Joel. Standing beneath the rose arbor, his shoulder touching Mia’s, he looked heart-stoppingly handsome in his tux as he posed for the photographer. The black accentuated his dark hair and eyes. Even the pink bowtie looked good on him. He caught her gaze and held it for a moment. His expression softened. She imagined standing next him—her pale hair and skin in sharp contrast with his Mediterranean handsomeness.
Becca blinked back a tear, and looked down at her hands while all around her cameras flashed and clicked. For not the first time, and probably not the last, she imagined her own wedding.
It wouldn’t be as lavish as Mia’s and Brad’s, of course. Brad, a real estate developer, had fists full of money, which was good wedding-wise, because Mia’s family was on the brink of financial disaster. And although Joel as a high school science teacher had nothing to do with the failing family business, he still shouldered some of the concern over his mom’s mounting medical bills.
But at least Delia was still alive.
That was more than could be said of her dad.
Even as she mentally shook herself away from those bleak thoughts, her hand went to her bodice. She pressed the letter against her breast.
“I wish they’d start the music,” Lacey said, stabbing her cake with a fork. “I need to burn off all these calories.”
“There’s music.” Becca’s gaze slid over Lacey. Her friend wore the same putrid pink bridesmaid dress as Becca, but with her tiny, toned body and long curly blonde hair, she made even the puffy dress look good. Becca tugged at her own bodice, wishing that she was as petite as Lacey.
“But no one’s dancing,” Lacey complained, her gaze darting around the room. She leaned closer and whispered, “There’s Jason West. I can’t believe he actually came.”
“Why wouldn’t he come? He’s not only good friends with Brad, but I heard that Celia’s grandmother personally invited him.”
Lacey shot Celia a furtive glance. “You can almost feel Celia’s loathing radiating across the room. All that negative energy is so unhealthy.”
Becca smiled, and used her fork to toy with her cake. Lacey, a yoga instructor, often talked about a person’s energy as if it generated from more than just chemicals and calories. She loved Lacey, even if she sometimes reminded Becca of a piece of fluff, drifting on the air and through life with nothing more to worry about than her next organic apple and a well-fitting leotard.
“I’m going to ask him to dance,” Lacey announced.
“Who? West?”
“Were you even listening to me?” Lacey put down her fork. “Aren’t you supposed to be a good listener? Isn’t that, like, your job?”
“Sorry, Lace…” Becca let her voice trail away. “I got some bad news today. I’m trying not to dwell on it.”
“What happened?” Lacey took her eyes off Jason West, and focused on Becca.
Becca knew that Lacey might be fluff, but she was also warmhearted, compassionate, and kind.
“My dad died.”
Lacey’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
Becca tried to shrug like it was no big deal. “It’s okay. You know we weren’t close.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Lacey murmured and wrapped her arm around Becca’s shoulders.
“I’m not going to be sad until later ,” Becca said. “I’m going to enjoy this fairytale wedding. Everything is so gorgeous.”
Lacey nodded, even though Becca knew Lacey would never choose such opulence. “When’s the funeral?”
“Next Saturday.”
“Are you going to be able to get off?”
“If I can’t, I’ll quit.”
Becca drew in a sharp breath. “I hate it there.”
Lacey patted her hand. “It’s the primo mental hospital in the country. No one likes it there.”
Thoughts of her student loans flashed through her mind. With her father’s inheritance, maybe she could now pay off her debts. Becca pulled Lacey’s cake in front of her and plucked the fork out of Lacey’s hand. “It’s time to be happy! I’m not going to think about my dad, or the crazies at my work. Right now—I’m happy.” She dug into the cake and took a big bite.
“You go, girl!” Lacey beamed at her. “I’m going to go and ask Jason West to dance!”
Yes. Becca was going to Trouthaven, stinking Colorado, and join the crazies. Although, not necessarily in that order.
She lifted a forkful of cake to her mouth, but her hand froze midair when she caught sight of a man standing beside the swan ice sculpture. He wore brown baggy pants secured with a leather belt, and tucked into scuffed boots. A white, button-down shirt sharply contrasted with his tan skin and blue eyes. He carried a large black cowboy hat in his hand. He looked like he’d be more at home at a rodeo, or on an episode of Bonanza, than at a country club wedding.
His gaze darted around the room. After a moment, his blue eyes met hers, and relief flooded his expression. He strode toward her.
Panic fluttered in Becca’s chest as he approached. She couldn’t say how or why she knew that this man meant her harm, but the sound of his approaching boots ramped up her already tingling nerves.
She put down her fork, stood, turned, and ran.
Hours later, after a shower had rinsed away all the makeup, hairspray, and irrational fears, Becca sat at her own kitchen table and listened to Celia. Her friend’s passionate hatred of Jason West nearly matched her own crazy reaction to the cowboy at the wedding. Becca frowned at her cookie crumbs as if she could read them like tea leaves. She tried to forget the cowboy and focus on what Celia was telling her, but it was hard. The man had looked so out of place, so foreign, so…wrong. And yet, would he have been out of place in Trouthaven, Colorado? Maybe. Although, probably not a hundred years ago.
That was it. He didn’t look like he’d put on some cowboy costume. His clothes looked authentic…Not that she really knew what an authentic cowboy looked like. She’d never even been to a rodeo, let alone a cattle drive, or even further west than Chicago.
Focus, Becca. She corralled her thoughts back to the conversation.
But it was a really odd conversation. No wonder her mind had wandered. She tried to focus on Celia’s words. “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 picked up a cookie and scowled at it. “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.” Becca laughed to softened her words. She loved Celia, she truly did, but sometimes she found her irrational and annoying. “Besides, there’s no definitive explanation of dreams. There are a thousand and one theories.” Becca bit into a cookie and chewed, her thoughts creeping back to the man with the cowboy hat.
Telling herself that she couldn’t think about him, she banished him to the far corner of her mind.
“I think the one that best applies here,” Becca said, “is the one that claims we often dream about the things that frighten us the most.”
So, why had she been so frightened of the man with the hat? What had made her run? Why had she been so relieved to climb into her Honda and drive away, leaving the cowboy in her rearview mirror looking stunned and confused in the country club parking lot? Why had he chased her in the first place?
Celia nodded. “Okay. That makes sense. Kissing Jason West would definitely be my worst nightmare.”
“Or fantasy?” Becca stretched her lips into a grin and waggled her eyebrows.
Celia looked pale in the warmth of Becca’s cheerful, yellow kitchen. “It just seemed so real.” She touched her lips.
Setting down her mug, Becca studied Celia. She thought about telling Celia that she had problems of her own. Her dad had just died. She needed to settle his estate—whatever that meant. She’d probably have to take off more than a weekend from work, which meant that she’d have to actually talk to Dr. Hyman, a man she did her best to avoid because she suspected that he was just as mentally unstable as his patients. But concern for Celia, and probably a healthy dose of avoidance, made Becca ask, “Tell me, what is your gut reaction to Jason West? When I say his name, what does your body tell you?”
“In real life, you mean?”
Becca nodded. She swept all of her own issues under an invisible rug. “Let’s go back to the beginning, before you knew he was Clive Carson’s attorney.”
“I…don’t remember.”
Becca gave Celia her best I-don’t-believe-you smile. It almost always worked. Nothing was nearly as effective as a smirk to wring out a confession.
Celia looked away. “I bet you’re a really good therapist.”
Becca thought about correcting Celia. She was a psychiatrist, not a therapist. She had weathered four brutal years of medical school, the lunacy residency, and had the student loans to prove it.
“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!
Becca’s breath caught in her throat when she saw Joel standing on the other side of the Dutch door. He tapped on the window again. Still in his tux, he looked Cary Grant handsome. She bounced from her chair to let him in.
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. Becca wanted to scream, look at me! Pay attention to me. But Joel didn’t see her. He never did. She’d been in love with him since the first time they met. She’d been twelve with a mouthful of braces and spots on her nose. He’d been captain of the basketball team with cheerleaders hanging off his arm.
“What’s wrong with you?” Joel asked. “Besides the obvious, I mean.”
“Nothing like a brother to keep my ego nice, small and manageable,” Celia said. She bit into her cookie and glared at Joel.
“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,” Celia said, “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.
“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.
Becca could practically see anger, pure and white zipping through Celia.
“Screw you, Joel,” Celia said.
He held up his hand to ward her off and crumbs dribbled onto 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, she kept her back to the warring siblings. She wanted to tell them that they didn’t know how lucky they were to have each other. As an only child of divorced parents, Becca had often felt alone. And now she was. Again. When she was young, her dad went west to play cowboy, and her mom, a passionate feminist, threw herself into her law career, leaving Becca under the watchful care of Melvin, the bulldog. Becca sighed, sad that she missed Melvin way more than she missed either of her parents.
Becca dropped the pan and several cookies fell to the floor.
“Oops.” She sounded as lame and awkward as she felt. Why did being around Joel make her feel like she was still twelve? She had a doctorate! Every day she braved the torrid waters of Bellflower Hospital.
“You’re destroying cookies, too?” Joel asked. “I expected more from 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 of the floor-contaminated cookies in front of him.
Becca set the pan in front of Celia. “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 Mrs. Fleur’s attic.”
Becca put her mitt-covered hand over Celia’s. “We’ll all be there to help,” she said, even though she knew that because of her father’s funeral she probably wouldn’t be. She took a deep breath and promised herself that she’d think about Colorado and her dad eventually, but not right now. She needed to confide her own problems to Celia, but this was not the time.
“You need a break,” she told Celia. “You’ve been pushing yourself too hard.”
“You’re right.” Celia bounced from her chair. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”
Joel stared at Celia’s retreating back. He shook his head as Celia pounded up the stairs. “Sisters,” he murmured.
“You’re lucky to have each other,” Becca said.
Joel acknowledged this with a twist in his lips, and stood to leave.
She couldn’t let him go. Not yet. She rarely got him all to herself. Standing, she began to put Celia’s cookies back on the pan. “Do you want to take some of these home?”
“Ah, no.” Joel patted his flat, almost perfect belly.
For a moment, she envisioned him in his swim trunks, and her knees went weak.
“I’m so full of cake,” Joel said.
“But Celia and I will never eat all this.” She moved to the cupboard to get a paper plate. “Let me wrap some of these up for you. You could take them to work—give them to your students or take them to the teachers’ lounge.” Using a spatula, she loaded up a plate.
“I could feed them to Zoe and Zana.”
“Who?” Her hand froze.
“The lab rats.”
“Oh…I guess you could do that.” She piled the cookies up, as if they were going to impress someone other than rodents. Smiling, she handed him the goods. “Joel—if I were to go to Colorado, do you think that…maybe…” She swallowed. She knew the answer to the question she wanted to ask, so she had to find a better question. “Have you ever been to Colorado?”
“Sure. Great skiing.”
Becca nodded. She’d never been skiing. “And fishing, too, right?”
Joel shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose so. Why?”
“My dad has—I mean had—a ranch in a place called Trouthaven. Doesn’t that sound like a good fishing spot?”
Joel raised his eyebrow. “I’m not much of a fisherman.”
“I know. Me neither.”
Joel kept his eyebrow aloft.
“It’s just…my dad died.”
Sympathy flooded Joel’s expression. “Oh Becca, I’m so sorry.” He took her in his arms, which would have been great, but Becca wasn’t quite sure what to do with the plate of cookies in her hand. She wrapped one arm around his waist, and left the other extended, holding the cookies mid-air. She wanted to lean into him, enjoy the comfort of his warmth and nearness, instead, she felt stroppy and stiff.
Too soon, before she could relax, he stepped away from her.
“I have to go to Trouthaven, Colorado.” Becca shivered.
“Can that be any worse than Bellflower?” His smile looked kind, and concerned, …as if he really cared.
“I might have to stay awhile. And if I lose my job…”
She searched his face, and finding nothing but sympathy, she dropped into a chair and put a cookie in her mouth.
“What can I do to help?” He stood behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. The warmth of his touch tingled through her.
Say, don’t go, or, I’ll miss you, or anything other than—
“Do you need a ride to the airport?” Joel asked.
Becca spent the next day at the same place she spent every Sunday—and almost every day, for that matter, at the hospital. Her shift ended at three, and she came home bone weary. Although, she wanted to do nothing more than curl up on the sofa with a book and a cup of cocoa, she still needed to make her travel plans. She knew her Aunt Sally and Uncle Will needed her to make some decisions concerning the ranch, but how could she when she’d never even seen it?
Talking with her relatives was a lot like talking to her patients. She wanted to spend time with sane people, but she was finding that increasingly difficult. Taking her laptop to the living room, she decided she’d make her travel plans while she watched old Twilight Zone episodes. But first, popcorn.
She collided with Celia in the kitchen. Not liking the crazy look in Celia’s eyes or her strange dress, Becca asked, “Where are you going?”
“I can’t tell you.” Celia tried to step around her, but Becca blocked her path.
“Why not?” Becca asked, running her gaze over Celia, taking in the strange pink gown that looked like it belonged at a Renaissance Faire and not in Becca’s kitchen. And it wasn’t just the dress. Celia had her hair piled on top of her head in an elaborate up-do—which was weird. Especially since her hair was all dolled up, but her face was void of any makeup. Not even a touch of mascara or a hint of lip gloss.
Celia put her hands on Becca’s shoulders and moved her out of the way. “Because you wouldn’t believe me,” Celia said over her shoulder as she headed for the door.
Suspicious, and looking for another excuse to postpone making her travel plans, Becca grabbed her purse and sweater off the counter. “Take me with you.”
Celia banged out the door, but Becca followed.
“I don’t even know if I can get back,” Celia said as she climbed into her car.
Becca got into the passenger side. “Get back where? And why are you dressed like that?”
Celia put the car in gear and backed down the driveway.
“Where are we going?” Becca asked.
“First—the Witching Well.”
“The Witching Well? You don’t really believe in that do you?” Becca remembered that the legend could be grounded in truth. A 1980’s study linked the hysterical young women that had spurred the Salem witch trials to the consumption ergot-tainted rye—the same alkaloids used in LSD. Somewhere nearby there was supposedly a spring of the tainted and hallucinogenic water. And Celia wanted to go there.
Celia took a deep breath and launched into insanity.
“I know you won’t believe me, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me, either. Remember how I told you that I went to Cornwall, England and Jason was there?”
“You didn’t mention Cornwall.”
“At the time, I didn’t know I went to Cornwall. I thought the whole thing was a crazy dream. But since then, I’ve been to Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel Castle—”
“You think you’ve actually been there?”
Celia nodded.
“Why? What changed your mind?”
At a red light, Celia pulled a strand of emeralds out of her dress and showed them to Becca. They glistened in the moonlight. “I have to give them back or else they’ll hurt Jason.” Her voice quivered. “They may even kill him.”
“Where did you get these?”
“I told you,” Celia’s words came out in a long rush of breath. “I was riding in a carriage with some lady when a highwayman that had a spooky resemblance to Jason pulled us over. Before he could do his stand and deliver thing, the woman in the carriage gave me these. I tucked them into my garter and brought them home.”
Becca didn’t say anything for a long moment as she tried to process Celia’s story. Reaching out, she touched the emeralds. They felt solid, real.
“Where do you think Jason is now?”
“I told you, he’s in Cornwall.”
“Near Merlin’s Cave?” Becca finished for her.
“Yes!” When the light turned green, Celia gunned the engine. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
Becca opened her mouth, but no words came out. Her mind raced over all her training and what to do when someone suffers a breakdown. “I believe that you believe your story.”
“Just what does that mean?”
“It means that you’ve been working really hard for a really long time—”
“Oh my gosh! You think I’ve lost it!”
“I didn’t say that. I just think—”
“Okay! Come with me, then.”
“What? Drink the water from the Witching Well?” Becca tried to laugh, but it sounded off. “No. I have a better idea. Let’s go to Jason’s apartment. We’ll probably find him asleep in his bed.”
Celia shook her head and pressed the gas pedal to the floor. “I don’t have time for that. I have to get back before they hurt him…again. This is all my fault.”
Becca placed one hand on the dashboard and grabbed the car door handle with the other. “How is this—whatever this is—your fault?”
“I shouldn’t have ever taken the emeralds. They weren’t mine. I can’t believe that I actually thought I could use them to buy the shop.”
Becca nodded. “I think we’re coming to a breakthrough here.”
“A breakthrough?”
“Tell me, sweetie, where did the emeralds really come from?” They looked real, but given their ginormous size, they couldn’t be.
“I told you where I got them!” Celia looked as if she was about to explode.
“And you’re willing to give them away to save Jason?”
“Of course.”
“Do you remember that just yesterday you were cursing Jason West?”
“Is that all it’s been, a day? What day is it?”
But Becca wasn’t interested in answering Celia’s questions. “An hour ago, you hated Jason West. I think if someone told you of an opportunity to leave him for dead in Elizabethan—”
“Regency,” Celia corrected her.
“Regency England, you would have jumped at it. And now—you’re risking both of our lives to save him. What does this mean to you?”
Celia bit her lip. “It means I’m a better person now than I was an hour ago.”
Becca shook her head. “I think you’ve been that better person all along.” She held her breath while Celia passed a slow moving truck. “I also think that you’ve been watching too many action films with car chase scenes.”
“Do you have your phone?” Celia asked.
Becca nodded. “Why?”
“I want you to look up something for me. Jason thinks we met our ancestors. I want to know if I’m in anyway related to Percy and Honoria West.”
“What? Seriously? How am I supposed to do that?”
“Go to family search, or my family tree…I don’t know, but I bet there’s a thousand genealogy sites!” Celia’s voice carried panic and bordered hysteria.
“Okay, calm down…and maybe slow down.”
Celia shook her head. “I have to hurry. They might kill him.”
“Sweetie.” Becca put her hand on Celia’s arm.
Celia shook her off. “I know you think I’m crazy! But will you just do it?”
“I will, if you’ll slow down. Take a deep breath.”
Becca pulled her phone from her purse and found a bunch of family tree sort of sites. “This is kind of overwhelming,” she muttered.
Celia threw her a frustrated glance. “Go to Family Search and use my mom’s account. I’ll give you the password.” She spelled it out.
“Oh, look!” Becca said after a moment. “According to this, you really are related to Honoria and Percy West! You and Jason must be long lost cousins or something.”
“It shouldn’t matter, right?” Celia asked. “It was so long ago.”
Becca tried not to look shocked. One of the first things they learned in school was to never look appalled or horrified at what comes out of a patient’s mouth, but this was too much. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of having Jason West’s babies!”
Celia flushed. “Just tell me about Percy and Honoria.”
Becca went back to her phone, keeping her face averted, and trying to hide her worry. “Well, they lived to be very old.”
“That’s good! Did they have any children?”
“Just one.”
“All they need is one.”
“But look! That one, Zacharias West, had ten children.” Becca wiggled her eyebrows. “It looks like the West men are very virile.” Becca’s tone turned serious. “I don’t know how you knew about Percy and Henrietta.”
“Honoria,” Celia corrected her.
“But…none of that matters. You don’t need to risk our lives by speeding. You don’t need to drink unfiltered water. You don’t—”
“Come with me,” Celia interrupted her.
“What? Drink the drugged water?” Becca asked. “No, thank you.”
“How about this? Call Jason, and if he doesn’t answer, you’ll come with me.”
Becca frowned out the window.
“Okay, call Gabe, and if he doesn’t know where Jason is, then will you come?”
Becca looked down at her clothes and came up with an excuse. She knew from her schooling that she needed to humor Celia, let her know that Becca loved and respected her. “How can I go to England wearing this?”
“There’s a bunch of dresses right there.” Celia threw a glance over her shoulder. “Go ahead, put one on.”
“This is crazy talk.” Becca’s training went out the window. It was a whole lot easier to be objective and detached when the person having a breakdown wasn’t your best friend. Maybe going to Colorado right now wasn’t the best idea. She should probably stay here and keep her eye on Celia.
“I could use your help.”
“That is the first sane thing you’ve said today.”
“So, put on a dress.”
Becca looked at the collection of dresses in the back seat. She always loved all the dresses from Celia’s grandmother’s shop, and here was her chance to put one on. Which was crazy, right? This whole thing was delusional. Maybe she could run up Celia’s blood work, see if her hormones were out of whack. After another look at Celia’s hands white-knuckling the steering wheel, Becca chose a baby blue prom dress that was two sizes too big. After risking her life by unpopping the seatbelt, she slipped the dress on over her head without taking off her clothes. She patted the dress into place and buckled her seat belt.
Tires squealed in protest as Celia swerved without slowing, throwing Becca against the car door. Her head banged against the window. Sitting upright, Becca glanced in the side-view mirror at the man with the black cowboy hat standing in the center of the road, watching her.
“What a lunatic!” Celia said.
“Yes…” Becca thought Celia was calling the kettle…or hat…black.
Celia turned the car down a dirt driveway. Immediately, Becca knew they were at Judson’s family farm, the home of Celia’s old boyfriend. Interesting.
Celia threw the car into park between a shiny black Porsche and a U-Haul truck. Light shone through the barn’s windows and out the wide open door. Voices came from inside.
“Come on.” Celia took Becca’s hand. “We have to hurry.”
Becca opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again and hurried after Celia, knowing that she couldn’t let Celia loose in the woods in her delusional state.
Should she call for help?
Early evening—they had to be out of there before dark. She ran after Celia, barely able to keep up. Her thoughts flitted back to how she’d intended to spend her night with Rod Sterling and the Twilight Zone. Becca stumbled as she ran, her breath caught in her chest. She pushed herself faster and harder until she caught up with Celia at the top of a hill.
“There it is.” Celia breathed the words.
“There what is?” Becca asked as she gulped for air.
“The Witching Well.” Celia lurched toward it.
“Wait.” Becca grabbed Celia’s hand, but Celia shook her off. “Celia! Stop!”
Celia dropped to her knees at the well’s edge, scooped up a handful of water and drank.
One moment Celia knelt at the edge of a bubbling spring, and the next moment she was gone.
Becca blinked, praying that when she opened her eyes, Celia would reappear.
No Celia.
Becca registered a number of things all at once. Birds singing, a cold breeze blowing, the sun fading, shadows growing. Still no Celia. Becca pitched to the edge of the spring, tripping on the hem of her too long, two sizes too large dress. Peering into the black water, she saw nothing but her own wide-eyed, pale reflection in the black water.
“Celia?” Becca called, her voice plaintiff. “Celia!” she called again, this time angrily.
“So not funny,” Becca muttered, wondering if Celia had somehow staged an elaborate gag. But why would she? And pulling pranks wasn’t something Celia would do. Celia, like Becca, took life seriously. A disappearing act was completely out of Celia’s repertoire.
Concern quickly superseded anger and surprise. Becca dropped to her knees at the side of the spring, leaning forward, she peered into the water again. Thinking she saw something rippling just below the surface, she reached in.
Cold fingers tugged on her hand.
Shocked, Becca called out, “Someone help!” She didn’t know if she screamed because Celia was the one pulling her hand and Becca needed help to pull Celia out, or if something, rather than someone, had a hold of her hand and was pulling her into the well.
Mid-scream, Becca fell with a splash. Paralyzing cold and fear enveloped her. Water filled her nose, mouth, and ears. Looking up through the water to the shimmery surface, Becca tried to swallow her panic, but instead, ended up with a mouthful of water from the Witching Well.