Dashing through the snow...
I know many of you live in the Northern Hemisphere and would instead look for woolen jumpers than t-shirts and sandals. I hope you have a wonderful fall/winter with vibrantly colored leaves, the first snowfalls, hot chocolates in front of a fireplace, and a good book to read.
While that all sounds very tempting at any time of the year, I'll take the spring spirit and do some cleaning and cleaning out. My next project is getting the garden in shape for the summer. I wish my vegges and strawberries would grow as well as the weeds do.
I promised a sneak peek of the next book in the Settler's Ridge Series. So here is the first chapter of THE HURTING HEART. Its release day is 3 December 2021, but people can already order it now.
Preview of Chapter One - Stephanie
Scorpio, your past tensions will fade away as an exciting new phase begins in your life. It’ll require a shift in attitude. But if you keep true to yourself, it will bring a bounty of possibilities into your personal and professional life with far-reaching changes. However, you could do with more activity on the fitness front.
Do you believe in horoscopes? I don’t. There, I said it—even if the wrath of the Gods of astrologists, clairvoyants, and psychics strike me down now. As entertainment, maybe. As a life guide? I don’t think so. I don’t mind my friends calling me a hypocrite because hardly a day goes by without me checking the paper for my daily dose of astrological wisdom.
If horoscopes were accurate, I would have met a bunch of excellent marriage-material guys by now. Not to mention the financial opportunities and other pleasant surprises that would have lightened my load. None of that happened. Take today’s horoscope, for example, delivered this morning. That’s short for Michael Saunders threw the newspaper onto my front lawn as he rode past on his push-bike. That boy has nerve. One day, I’ll have had enough of running outside in my PJs and confront him.
Reading today’s forecast, I almost choke on my freshly brewed tea. A bounty of possibilities? Yeah. Right. At least the fitness bit is spot-on. I should exercise more to stay in shape, so say my aching back and the thirty pounds of surplus weight I carry. Too many of Emily’s delicious Danishes, standing on my feet for hours, and bending over to attend to patients are not helping either. I know. Thank you, horoscope lady, for pointing out the obvious.
Today is my day off, and an exciting promise of something great is hanging in the crisp air… if the horoscope is correct. So far, the only thing hanging in the air is my laundry on the clothesline. I wash down the rest of my Marmite toast with my now cold tea and grab my cardigan.
The rays of the midday sun are glistening on the garden pavers, still wet from this morning’s downpour, causing hazy steam to rise lazily from the ground. The chill in the air gives me goose bumps, and I stretch my arms against the warm sun. I rarely sleep till midday, but work was brutal the last few days. A new day—and even better—no work for the next two days.
After taking a deep breath and exhaling, I shake off the tightness in my neck from the last five days at the hospital. Fall always comes with an influx of patients with respiratory problems, and this year is no different. Silly fall never remembers to bring along more nursing staff to cope with the onslaught.
Closing my cardigan with a shiver, I walk to my car. I like to get the must-do things out of the way to leave the rest of the day free. My list is short: gas, groceries, bakery. I push my car and trusted friend into first gear and leave. It’s not far to Settler’s Ridge. My cottage sits on a small hill, about fifty meters back from the road, at the outskirts of Settler’s.
When I say outskirts, people might think there’s more to come that forms the inner skirts. I hate to disappoint, but the early settlers ran out of skirts after building the first few houses. They sprinkled most of them around Main Street or stretching out toward the river. Calling it Main Street is a testimony of the early settlers’ sense of humor. It’s less than two hundred yards long and has only eight shops. A bakery, a pharmacy-slash-post office, a grocery shop, a gas station, a butcher, an emporium, a pub, and our very own local radio station. Plenty enough, though, to satisfy the needs of the four hundred souls living here happily ever after, if I may say so. Yes, we’re a content little bunch.
And then there’s our hospital. It sits on a wee hill as if it reigns over the village. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anybody sets the agenda for our village, it’s Rosie, owner of the Riverside Tavern and protector of orphans, strays, and similarly needy souls.
I’m in no hurry. You can’t be if your car is a classic Citroen 2CV. The Germans call it the Ugly Duckling. I call her Mimi. We suit each other. What we lack in beauty, we make up with originality.
Just as I turn onto the main road at the end of my driveway, I have to slam on the brakes. A red Corvette shoots past, barely misses me, and veers off onto the side strip, stopping just before it hits the poles of my Bed & Breakfast – Stephanie Warner sign. Yes, it’s my side business. The income it brings is hardly worth mentioning, but I need every penny to fulfill my dream.
The driver, a young man, clad in black leather pants, steps out of the car and inspects my sign while talking on his cellphone. Red Corvette and black leather pants in Settler’s Ridge? I already hear our local gossip line working overtime. An elegant woman peels herself out of the passenger seat and gestures to the driver. I have to see that. And no, I’m not nosy. I’m a nurse who’s almost involved in an almost accident. It’s my professional duty. I
drive over and flip-up my side window. “Do you need help?”
The man, not as young as I initially thought, turns and walks toward me. He looks like Rob Lowe, with shortish black hair peppered with a bit of gray, steel-blue eyes, and a body that shouts I’m the product of hours of daily workouts. Not that I’m an expert, but he’s mighty easy on the eyes. My heart takes a few rapid beats. It feels like my tongue is stuck somewhere between my teeth, and the place where my brain used to be is going off-line this very second.
He reaches my car and leans his hands on the roof. “Thanks for stopping and asking. I’m good. It looks like there’s no help needed. I must have caught a slippery spot on the road. I should get out of the ditch without a problem. Otherwise, I’d let you rescue me.” He winks at me as if we’re… I don’t know what it means.
In my mind’s eye, I see my little car pulling the fancy corvette out of the ditch and have to grin. Not likely. “That might ask a bit much of Mimi, but I could ask Ben from the garage to pull you out.” I’m surprised my voice sounds normal, and I hope he doesn’t notice that I’m blushing.
“Thanks. I’ll manage.” As he speaks, his companion walks toward us. One foot right in front of the other, like on a catwalk. I’ve seen that on TV. That’s how you make your hips sway like a drunken sailor, which is supposed to be super sexy. With bangles and gold chains dangling off her body, it reminds me of riding on a camel years ago during a stopover in Doha. Who on earth walks like that in real life? I’m surprised she can keep her balance.
“Come, darling, let’s get going. I want to be at the Chateau by ten. She doesn’t have what you need.”
Her innuendo is not lost on me. As if, girly. You can keep your fancy man plus car all to yourself. “If you’re on the way to the Chateau, you took a wrong turn further up the road. You better turn back.”
She grabs Rob Lowe’s arm, but he shakes her hand off. “Why do you have to be so condescending?” He hisses his comment, but I can still hear what he’s saying. So, money hasn’t totally corrupted lover-boy. Good on ya.
“Didn’t you see how the fatty made eyes at you? She even blushed. I’ll never understand how a woman can let herself go so far. Typical country folk, living on nothing but steak and chips.”
Even though they turn toward their car, I bet my Christmas bonus she purposefully talks loud enough so I can hear her. And it works. A wave of… I haven’t felt that humiliated since Joshua. I swallow. I should never have stopped.
“Don’t be silly….” I drive on before I hear the rest of his sentence.
What a nasty woman! So insecure, she must squirt her venom at anyone she considers competition. Not that I ever strive to be. I know I’m not beauty pageant material. Never aimed for it. I look okay, and that is good enough for me. I have no interest in tarting myself up. Whatever for? When I’m on my feet for twelve hours assisting in the surgery and looking after patients, there’s no time for powdering my nose.
By the time I reach Ben’s Garage, I’m fuming. That horrible woman got to me, after all. I’m not as immune as I thought. It’s not that I’m envious of what they have. She and her leather-clad beau stand for everything I despise and believe is wrong with this world. The emphasis on looks, money, appearance, luxurious lifestyle, fast cars, and all things shiny is the bane of our time. Imagine the good rich people could do with their money for the 15,000 children that die every day in the world. I take a deep breath.
“Are you okay?” Ben pulls the nozzle out of my gas tank and screws the lid back on.
“Yes, just an unpleasant encounter earlier. Nothing important. How is your mother doing? I haven’t seen her for a while.” I hand him a twenty-dollar bill.
“Her wrist is as good as before. She’s happy she can go back to her veggie garden.”
“That’s good to hear. She has to be careful, though. Her wrist will take a while until it’s as strong as it was before her fall.”
I drive off, quickly get my groceries at Albright’s, and rush into the bakery.
“Come in. You have to try my new delicacy. Almond crescents. They are divine and my new favorite to go with morning or afternoon tea.” Emily stands in the middle of the bakery, balancing a plate with pastries in one hand and a tray with coffee mugs in the other. “I’m setting the table for us in the bay window.”
She’s looking like the picture of health, glowing with happiness. Her middle is just filling out and showing the first visible signs of pregnancy. She puts the plates with her newest creations and the coffee on the table.
“They smell delicious.” I mean, when has a bakery not smelled like heaven? It’s the nature of the beast. But the smell of Emily’s bakery beats the rest.
“They taste it too. There’s nothing in it but marzipan, almond flour, and powdered sugar. What’s not to like when you have a sweet tooth?” She rests her hands on her belly. Aw, I’m melting inside. She’s already protecting her unborn baby. Motherly instinct.
With a lump in my throat and throbbing pain in my heart, I take a seat and look out the window to push back the tears that are welling up. The last thing I want is someone feeling pity for me. I chose having a family of my own is not for me. But the older I get, the harder it is to give up the chance to be a mother.
I take a sip of coffee and let it run down my throat. “You’re still making the best coffee in town.”
“Thanks. You always say that, but honestly, I’m sure it’s the machine. The secret is in having quality equipment.” She takes a bite of her almond crescent and peeks at me. “What’s the matter with you? You look flustered.”
“I do?” She nods and raises her eyebrows. “I guess I am. I shouldn’t be. I should be above something a stranger says to me.”
Emily munches on her crescent and waits for me to continue.
“A guy drove his fancy car into the ditch near my house, and his female passenger went off on me when I offered my help. Stupid woman.” I lean toward Emily. “Tell me honestly, am I disgustingly fat and frumpy?”
“Is that what she said? A complete stranger? How rude.”
“Not in so many words, but it stuck. It was so embarrassing. Even the guy appeared uncomfortable… he was quite… well, he looked like Rob Lowe, you know? Quite a stunner. For a second, he made my knees go wobbly.” There, I admitted I liked him.
“You? Wow? I haven’t heard you admit anything like that before.” Emily looks at me as if she’s seeing me for the first time.
“No, you haven’t. You were studying in Auckland when Joshua Carlson left me standing at the altar like a piece of luggage forgotten at a train station.” But I didn’t tell her I was eight weeks pregnant and lost the baby afterward. Not that I can pin it on Joshua, but… well, I was in terrible shape later. So, yes, I blame him. Not that anybody knows of the pregnancy. It was my secret, and it’ll stay that way.
I take a bite of the pastry. “Oh, this is delicious. Hm, I’m in heaven. I’m sure they’ll be a winner. You should always have plenty of these crescents in store.”
Emily gives a little laugh. “For you? Thanks for the compliment. But don’t deflect. I want to know the complete story. Joshua Carlson? Should I know him?”
I shove the rest of the pastry in my mouth and finish my coffee. “Not today. Sorry. I have a lot of studying to do. My final assignment is due this coming weekend.” She doesn’t look as if she’ll let me go without some explanation. “It was just a shocking reminder. I haven’t thought about that jerk for years.”
“Is he the reason you’re still single?”
“Perhaps. I just haven’t met anyone who has interested me since. And that suits me fine. I’m content being on my own.”
“Don’t be. It was a long time ago. I was very young and naïve. It’s better this way.” I get up, hug her, and flee out of the bakery.