Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Release: ONE TOUCH BEYOND


First except from the anthology: ONE TOUCH BEYOND

An Excerpt From: BELIEVING IN DREAMS

Copyright © CHRIS GROVER, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Since Mom's death, I've felt a desperate urge to know more about her and the people who gave her life. This year will be my first Christmas without her and I've been holding on to the thought that by spending the holiday here in St-Stephan, the loss won't seem quite so bad.

Whether it will or not remains to be seen. The real reason I'm here is because I want to find my roots. On my birth certificate, there's a line drawn through the box where the father's name should be and it's always made me feel like I appeared out of nowhere, like my mother bought me in a store. I never told Mom how I felt because after the one time I asked who my father was, just the way her expression changed from happy to sad told me the circumstances of my birth was a subject she didn't want to discuss.

I have no idea why. Maybe it had something to do with breaking with her family; maybe it was because she never got over being taken in by a handsome face. And just maybe she didn't handle the unwanted pregnancy the way society expected back then. I've read the books and seen the movies, so I know that even as recently as thirty years ago, life for a pregnant, unmarried teenager was far from easy, especially in smaller communities. Girls were sent away on some pretext or other before their condition became obvious. This way, by the time they returned home, their bodies were back to normal and their babies given away to new families.

I've often wondered if something like that happened to my mother. If her parents sent her away to one of those unwed mothers' homes that were all the rage back then but instead of going along with the program, she decided to keep me. Or maybe she ran away with my biological father and things didn't work out. Either way, there would have been no going back home to her family. And no better way for her to cut herself free from her old life than by changing her name, pretending her parents were dead and saying she had no other relatives.

I'll never know now what really happened, so I go back to the dream and try to think if the elderly woman could have a reason other then family or friends for bringing me here. If I knew who she was, then perhaps it would offer me a clue or-

"Can I help you?"

The question, posed in English in a husky, masculine voice, catches me by surprise. I turn around fast, my heart thumping so hard against my ribs, I feel like I've been caught doing something wrong.

The owner of the voice starts down the path toward me, then stops. "I realize the place doesn't look like much but it is private property."

I hadn't heard the arrival of the expensive-looking black car parked at the curb and I hadn't heard the sound of the man's fancy Italian leather boots on the frozen ground. But there he is, standing less than six feet away, dressed in slim-fitting dark blue jeans and a sheepskin-lined coat. A tall, tanned, very handsome stranger whose dark brown hair is attractively mussed in the new spiky style and whose eyes are so exactly the same blue as his jeans, I immediately wonder if he's wearing colored contacts.

"I'm...I'm just looking."

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 4 other stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Haunted Hearts by Kim Cox


Sixth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - Valentine's Day - HAUNTED HEARTS by Kim Cox

Chapter One

"How do you like it?" Lucy Ann Malloy, standing at the top of the stairs, turned to the right, then to the left as she modeled the blue and green pastel dress. "I found it in the attic with some of my old things." She lingered in the doorway on the main floor. "Well?"

Lana Malloy glanced up from editing the ad for her new PI business. "Nice," she said and returned to her work.

Lucy moved to Lana's side and gazed over her shoulder. "What are you working on?"

"The ad for the newspaper and magazines. I've got to figure out how to attract some business, or I'll never make it through the first month."

A chill filled the air surrounding Lana and she shivered, pulling her sweater tightly around her.

"I have an idea and it's actually a pretty good one. I know who your first client can be."

Without even glancing away from her paper, Lana asked, "And who would that be?"

"Me."

"You?" Lana looked up, her interest piqued. "What are you talking about?"

Lucy's white hair shone with blue highlights as if she'd just had it rinsed. She was very well preserved for someone who'd been dead twenty years. "Find my murderer so I can rest in peace. How about it?" Lana's great-aunt had been with her since she moved into the old beach house in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago.

"And who would be paying for my services?" Lana smiled, pulling her reading glasses off and laying them on her desk. She loved her great-aunt, but she could be a card. Lucy had always been a rebel, always tried to be different from everyone else. "Besides, you died over twenty years ago. That's a cold trail for sure."

"I got money, smarty-a lot of money that no one has found yet." Lucy covered her mouth with both hands then removed them. "Oh, well, the cat's out of the bag now. I can't spend it anyway."

"But you died-"

"Let me finish. Shows how much you, or any of those pigs know." She glided back and forth across the room as if she were dancing at her coming-out ball.

"Well?"

"Get out your pen and pad and take notes."

145 Kim Cox

"Not until I'm sure what you're telling me is the truth." Lucy sometimes changed details to suit herself and the moment, but she'd never talked about her death before. Lana never questioned her because she thought it may be too painful for her aunt.

"Have I ever lied? Never mind, don't answer that." Lucy laughed as she stopped in midair, lowered herself down to the desk and hovered in a sitting position just above the surface. Then she crossed her legs. "It was Valentine's Day. The last thing I remember, I was helping Davide eat his dinner. He had been sick the last few days and I went over to visit. He didn't eat much of his potato soup and I love potato soup on a cold winter's night. You know, that kind your mother used to whip up?" Lucy licked her lips. "I miss that since I've been dead. There's no need to eat anymore...no appetite."

"Get on with your murder case."

"Oh, yeah. I tend to get sidetracked now and then." She giggled. "Anyway, I never left that room until I woke up in this house dead and looked down on my body lying on the living room floor, right in front of my sofa. The next morning, your mother came to see me and found me...I mean, my body. That's it."

"Right. You were poisoned, but your murderer was never caught," Lana mused.

"You call yourself a private investigator? Elementary, my dear Lana. Use some logic. How did I get from Davide's house to my house?"

Lana chewed the eraser on the end of her pencil. "So...you believe you were poisoned at Davide's, but someone brought you back here either before or after you died?"

"By golly, I believe she's got it."

"Are you sure you didn't just forget going home?"

"I didn't forget. I was only sixty and not senile. Someone must've moved me while I was unconscious. Can't you see that?"

Lana stood and paced the room. "It's a possibility, I guess. What did the police say?"

"They said, 'the old broad croaked. No suspects.' And they looked no further." Lucy moved up behind Lana. "Clue number two, I've been reading up on my ghostly position as well. Did you know there are specific reasons why ghosts haunt places?"

"No. What are they?"

"According to this, my reason is..." Lucy took out a book, opened it to the bookmark and started to read. "When someone is murdered and the murder goes unsolved, their spirit must wait around until the mystery is solved, usually around the anniversary of their death."

"Where did you get that book?"

"Here, in this house."

Lana sauntered into the library and fingered through the books on the shelves. "I didn't know we had all these books on ghosts." Lana smiled until she saw the look on

146 Haunted Hearts

Lucy's face. She was serious about this and Lana felt badly she hadn't realized it sooner. She loved the woman dearly, but often, Lucy kidded around so much it was hard to tell when her aunt was genuine.

"I found them in the attic, dusted them off and put them on the shelf last night. You believe me now?"

"I don't know. I'll read over these today and see." Lana brought a book back to her desk as Lucy followed. "What exactly did you figure out? And if you've solved it, why do you need me?"

"Not everything. Just what I need to do to get to my resting place. I was killed on Valentine's Day, 1982."

"So?"

"I need to find my murderer by Valentine's Day, or I'll be stuck here until next year, same time."

"Why?"

"Because that's when I died." Lucy placed her hands on her hips. "Haven't you been listening? Anyway, the book says it's the only time I'll have the opportunity to claim my eternity. It's on page fifty-two."

"Do you have any suspects?" Lana flipped through the pages. "This looks interesting."

"That old buzzard I was trying to help."

"Davide? Your fiancé?" Lana glanced up.

"That's the buzzard."

"You two were going to be married in a few weeks. Why would he want you dead?"

"That, I don't know. But I think he's as good a place to start our search as any. If it wasn't him, it was someone in his family. They were against us marrying. Especially his son, Anthony."

"Our search? But you can't-"

"But I can. I read about it in that book. I can leave anytime I want. I just haven't wanted to badly enough until now. Plus, I need to attach myself to something in order to leave. That something, or rather someone, is you."

A few hours later, Lana looked from her book as Lucy drifted in with a tray of food-a tuna fish sandwich with pickles and chips.

"I thought you could use something to eat. Seafood is brain food, you know."

When Lucy floated back across the room, Lana glanced toward the window and glimpsed a terrified face in the window. It was her neighbor, Roxie Thomas, with curlers in her strawberry blonde hair and cold cream still covering her horrified face. When the dress glided toward a filing cabinet, Roxie's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. The closed window muffled her screams.

147 Kim Cox

* * * * *

"Get back! Roxie saw you. I mean, she saw your dress. I'll see if I can talk to her." But as Lana reached the door, Roxie ran away, her screeches fading as she widened the space between their houses.

"Fix this situation before I bring her back." Lana slammed the door behind her.

Lana's house sat on stilts, but the one room joining the carport sufficed as her new PI office. Trotting across the yard, she caught up with Roxie on the other side of the hedge. "Roxie, wait up." Roxie dashed for her house anyway.

"Stay away from me, you...you...you witch! I'm calling the cops." She stumbled up the steps sideways and sank slowly to her knees on her front porch.

"Don't be ridiculous! It's not what you think. Please, come back and see. Besides, how will you explain to the police that you were peeping in my window? They don't like peeping Roxies around here, you know. They've already warned you about it." Lana leaned down to help her up, but Roxie snatched her hand away.

"Don't touch me!" Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I know what I saw. They'll believe me this time."

"Okay, okay, now, just calm down. I only want to help you. Where's Ralph? Can I get him for you?"

"He's right inside, he is." Her voice trembled. "He'll be out here any minute, so don't you try anything. I've always known there was something weird about you...about your whole family."

"What's going on out here, Roxie?" A big-bellied man with thinning hair stood in the doorway.

"Ralph, oh, Ralph, I'm glad you're here. She's a witch. I-I saw her."

"Mr. Thomas, I just came to explain to your wife that what she saw was a new gadget I've invented to dry clothes." Lana smiled. "Your wife thinks I twitched my nose or something to make a dress float across the room."

Ralph scratched the sprigs of hair left on his balding head. "Roxie, you been snooping again? How many times-"

"I'm sure Mrs. Thomas wasn't snooping. Were you, Roxie?"

When Lana offered her a helping hand this time, Roxie accepted it. "That's right. I wasn't snooping. I went over to borrow some coffee when I saw that...that thing flying all over her office."

"See? I knew she had a good reason for being there," Lana said.

"Yeah, but she didn't have to spy on you before knocking on the door. Get in the house, Roxie, before someone calls the cops on you again."

Roxie made her way to the door, never taking her eyes off Lana.

"Wait a minute. Don't you still need that coffee?" Lana asked, innocently.

148 Haunted Hearts

"No. I'll just get some at the store," Roxie said in a defeated tone as she reached for the screen door handle.

"But I wanted to show you the gadget. It's nothing, really. I hate to think you're frightened of me. We're neighbors and I really want to show you that what you saw wasn't what you thought." Lana walked up the steps.

Roxie opened the door and moved behind her husband. "Don't let her hurt me, Ralph."

"Stop this nonsense right now! Go with Lana, get the coffee and see the thing that's making you act like an idiot."

Lana felt sorry for Roxie, living with a man who belittled her at every chance. No wonder the woman was a basket case half the time and Lucy acting up didn't help either. Unfortunately, Lucy enjoyed scaring Roxie. Said it served the old snoop right and just might stop her busybody ways.

But Lana suspected Roxie was just lonely-stuck in the house all day with nothing to do but wait on Ralph hand and foot without him showing her any appreciation.

"Really, come on and let me show you."

"Well..."

"Please. I promise you'll be relieved."

"Go on, woman." Ralph pushed Roxie out the door and shut the screen behind her.

Roxie tried to get back inside, but Ralph held the door tight and then flipped the lock so she couldn't escape back into the house. He chuckled when she pulled desperately on the door handle.

Lana's heart went out to her. She eased her way to Roxie's side and took her by the hand. "Come on. I'll bring you right back. If I don't, Ralph will come and get you. Won't you, Ralph?"

"Yeah, sure, I will." He laughed again. "Stupid bitch is afraid of her own shadow, she is."

Lana wanted to yell at him, "You ignorant ingrate, you're not helping. Can't you see your wife's had a terrible fright?" But she kept her mouth shut, knowing it wouldn't help and might only worsen the situation. Roxie's body trembled, causing the curlers on her head to jiggle.

As they entered the doorway, Lana saw the dress hung on a thin clear line and thanked heaven her aunt had known what to do. Sometimes she thought the two of them occupied one mind when it came to fixing things.

Lucy made herself visible to Lana and winked at her, then stuck her tongue out at Roxie. Lana rolled her eyes upward before speaking to Roxie. "See, the dress is hung on a line."

"But...but, how did it move from there to here and over to there."

149 Kim Cox

"See here?" Lana followed Lucy to the desk on the far side of the room. "I pull the string here and move it wherever I want." She pointed above them. "And the line runs from here to the doorway over there, going right by the file cabinets."

Roxie's face turned a bright shade of red. "I'm such a numbskull, just like Ralph says."

"No, you're not. Anyone would've been scared of what you saw. But you know, you really shouldn't peep into other people's windows like that." She glanced at Lucy, who was nodding her head and laughing as she glided by them.

"I know. I don't know why I do things like that. I just wanted to make sure you were up before intruding."

"You're never an intrusion. Feel free to visit any time." Lana crossed her fingers behind her back to counter the little white lie.

"Thank you, Lana. I'm so sorry I acted like such an old fool." Roxie shivered. "It's cold in here. How can you stand having that air conditioner on in winter? It's cold outside."

"Oh, but it's not..." Lana stopped herself, realizing why the room was chilled. "I turned it on instead of the heat by mistake and the darn thing is stuck." She tightened her already crossed fingers. "I was just getting ready to fix that after I finished hanging the clothes."

"Let me send Ralph over to fix it for you. He's pretty handy at fixin' things, you know. It's the least I can do."

Lana edged Roxie to the door. "Oh, no, that's not necessary. The button just fell off and rolled under something. I can turn it off as soon as I find the knob. Or if I don't, I'll just use some pliers to turn it off. But thank you for the offer. I appreciate it."

Lucy put her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag-something she'd learned recently and overused.

Lana pursed her lips and narrowed her brows, giving Lucy a quelling look. When they got to the door, Roxie turned around. "I almost forgot. Can I get that coffee now?"

"Yes. It completely slipped my mind, too. Follow me." Lana turned toward the kitchen.

"I'll wait here," Roxie said, backing up.

* * * * *

Lucy watched as Roxie slipped over to Lana's desk and glanced over the papers stacked there.

Oh, busybody! Lucy hated nosy people more than anything.

Roxie turned the corner of a sheet up with two fingers and tilted her head to one side so she could see what was written on the paper under it.

150 Haunted Hearts

Lucy noticed one drawer wasn't completely closed on the file cabinet. She flew over and pushed it with all her might. The drawer slammed shut with a bang.

Roxie jumped, her eyes wide as she looked around the room for the source of the noise. Lucy whooshed by so fast, the breeze lifted one of the curlers from Roxie's head. Then, she hurried over, opened and slammed another drawer shut.

At this, Roxie ran for the door. "Oh, God! Let me out of here," she cried and struggled with the knob.

"What in this world? Roxie! Here's your coffee."

Without a word, Roxie reached for the cup with one hand and grasped the doorknob with the other.

Lana gave Lucy another narrow-eyed look. "Here, let me help you with that."

Lucy shrugged her shoulders. Could she help it if the woman couldn't handle loud noises? It wasn't her fault. The old biddy shouldn't have been snooping.

Roxie's teeth chattered. The cream on her face now appeared dry and cracked. "What do you have here? Ghosts? Poltergeists?"

"Well, I never. Can you believe she called me a poltergeist? The nerve of that idiot woman."

"Lucy!"

Lucy clasped her hand over her mouth when she realized Lana had said her name aloud without thinking. As Roxie struggled, Lana was able to open the door only after she pried Roxie's hands off the knob.

(c) 2008 Chris Grover - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in both electronic and print.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Valentine's Inn by Chris Grover


Fifth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - Valentine's Day - VALENTINE'S INN by Chris Grover

Chapter One

To Rianna Gordon's annoyance, the rain that started earlier in the morning had now turned to sleet. Pulling up the hood of her winter jacket, she shoved the copy of the developer's offer into the back pocket of her jeans and limped around the perimeter of the lakefront property, trying her desperate best to imagine what it would look like a year from now. After the inn her great-great-grandfather had built on the shores of Lake Ontario over a hundred years ago had been replaced with the condos and other facilities she'd seen on the developer's plans.

Provided, of course, she went along with those plans and agreed to sell Wilton Homes the property.

She sighed sadly, her gaze lingering on the familiar, large, gray fieldstone building with its high slanted roof of cedar shingles, the old-fashioned six-pane windows and solid wood doors. The summer she graduated from high school, she spent part of her vacation helping her Uncle Bill repaint that white trim around the windows. They also painted the solid wood doors a cheery apple red and for as far back as she could remember it had always been her job to keep a brilliant shine on the brass door fittings. This place had been her family's home for more than a century. All her childhood memories revolved around Valentine's Inn and the last thing she wanted to do was let it go. But there was no way she could keep it and that was that. The sooner she made up her mind about the offer, the less painful it would be.

The real estate salesman said Max Wilton had looked at several other properties in the area and was eager to make a decision, so he gave her exactly forty-eight hours from five o'clock yesterday evening in which to make up her mind.

Sell and the moment the sale went through and all the legalities were taken care of, Valentine's Inn would be bulldozed into extinction and she could buy that cute little cottage in the Muskokas. The one with its own private lake. The one that the owner was willing to-

"Hello? Excuse me, miss, could you please give me a hand here?"

Rianna turned, surprised to see a dark-haired man hurrying toward her from the direction of the lake. Tall, broad-shouldered and probably in his late forties, he appeared to be cradling something inside his black leather jacket.

"Help you with what?" She started edging back toward the inn. "You realize this is private property?"

"Yes, I know." He smiled, his dark blue eyes unexpectedly warm and friendly as he opened his jacket. "Actually, it's this little guy who needs your help."

221 Chris Grover

Against her better judgment, Rianna stepped forward to look and felt an almost forgotten stirring in the region of her heart. With both her life and her emotions in tatters, the last thing she needed was involvement with anyone or anything. But a small black kitten, its fur so wet and full of ice crystals it stood up in stiff points, was nestled against the man's chest.

"I found him a couple of minutes ago huddled under a bush. I think someone must have dumped him."

"Poor baby." Rianna reached for the kitten. Tucking him securely inside her own fleece-lined jacket, she headed for the inn. "We need to get you inside where it's warm and dry."

When she reached the large, old-fashioned kitchen that had once been the nerve center of the inn, she realized the man was right behind her. But it was too late for her to worry about that now. Anyway, a man who saved abandoned kittens couldn't be completely bad, could he? If the kitten had been warm and dry on a day like this, she might have reason to think he was using the animal as a ploy, but it wasn't and-

"Do you have something we can use to dry him off? Maybe an old towel?"

"Try those cupboards over there." She pulled off her stocking cap, then jerked her head in the direction of the far wall as she put the kitten down on one of the steel-topped counters and started checking him over for signs of physical injury. "As far as I know, whatever we have is in there."

The kitten gave a tiny plaintive meow and tried to clamber back inside her jacket. "And hurry up. Spiky here is freezing his tail off." The ice on the kitten's fur had started to melt. Grabbing a handful of paper towels from a roll on the counter, she tried to absorb some of the moisture as she continued checking the cat for injuries.

"All I could find are these." He dropped a couple of thin bar towels on the table. "Don't you have anything thicker?"

She pointed to an open door leading off the kitchen. "The living quarters are through there. Grab whatever you can find from the bathroom."

A moment later, he was back with two fluffy pink bath towels. "How is he?"

"Cold, wet and scared, but otherwise okay. At least as far as I can tell." Taking one of the towels, she rubbed vigorously at the kitten's fur.

"Maybe you should take him to a vet."

"Why didn't you?"

He shrugged. "I'm on foot and the nearest vet is at least five miles away. Anyway, I saw you."

"And the word ‘sucker' written on my back?" She smiled wryly.

He looked a little shamefaced. "You could've said no."

The kitten gave another small cry and made a weak attempt to struggle free. His fur was still damp, but he looked a little less bedraggled. Putting the towel she'd used aside, she quickly wrapped him in the dry one and picked him up. "There's milk in the

222 Valentine's Inn

fridge. Can you find a saucepan and warm some up? He might be hungry. And his fur is going to take ages to dry. How do you think he'd feel about my hair dryer?"

"Terrified, I would imagine."

After putting the milk on to heat, the man turned on one of the big restaurant-size ovens that lined one wall and pulled down the door. Positioning a kitchen chair in front of it, he beckoned Rianna over. "This will help to dry him off. Cats love the warmth."

As she opened the towel, the kitten immediately reacted to the heat by stretching out a paw and giving a faint but appreciative meow.

When the milk was ready, she dipped the tip of her finger in it and brought it close to his tiny pink nose. He sniffed at it a couple of times, but that was all. Curling himself into a ball, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

The man frowned. "I guess he's not interested in milk."

"I think he's more tired than hungry. I don't have a lot of groceries. But there's canned chicken and canned tuna and also some bread. I'll let him sleep for a while, then try him again with something else later."

"You're sure he's okay?"

"His fur is still damp, but he's far from starving. Plenty of meat on his little bones. He could've gone for a walk and gotten lost."

"I suppose."

The man's hair had started to dry and Rianna felt a stab of compassion as he pushed his fingers roughly through it in a vain attempt to control the mass of curls. Same problem she had when her hair got wet.

"By the way, my name's Josh. Josh Byford."

"Rianna Gordon." She hesitated. "It's none of my business, of course. And whatever the reason, I'm sure you have Spiky's undying gratitude for saving his life. But what were you doing out here? Miles from anywhere and in this awful weather."

"Walking. When I'm not working, I come this way most days. I love walking along the edge of the lake. Gives me a wonderful feeling of being halfway between heaven and earth." He smiled. "Hope that's okay with you?"

"Be my guest. You're the one who's likely to die from exposure. Not me."

He chuckled. "Don't worry, that's not going to happen. But since you brought the subject up, what's your excuse for being here? Have you bought the inn?"

"No. I inherited it from my Uncle Bill. He was my mom's brother."

A look of eager anticipation appeared on his face. "You mean Bill Valentine? That's great." He suddenly sobered. "What I mean is, I'm really sorry to hear he's gone, but glad to know the property will be staying in the family."

"You knew him?"

223 Chris Grover

"Of course. I worked for him here at the inn for several years. But after the fire, when he closed up and moved to Hamilton, I'm afraid we lost touch. So, now the place is yours. Does this mean you're going to fix the old place up and reopen?"

"Sorry, no. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of selling. A developer wants the property to build a retirement community and I'm just camping out here for a couple of days while I make up my mind."

His eager expression changed to outright horror. "Why would you sell?"

"Because..." She took a deep breath and tried to stretch her injured leg without disturbing the cat. "There are a number of reasons. None of which I really want to go into."

"Your property, so it's your call. I suppose the new owner could always convert the inn into a clubhouse or something like that."

"If I sell, I understand the inn comes down to make way for a fitness center."

"But the inn is over a hundred years old. A genuine piece of Canadian history. If you need the money that badly, surely you can find someone interested in preserving it? If not as an inn, maybe as a restaurant? Even a bed-and-breakfast."

"From what the real estate salesman said, I was lucky to get this offer."

"I don't believe that."

"I do. The fire that forced Uncle Bill to close down ten years ago did a lot of damage. A complete refit would cost a fortune. Anyway, why do you care whether I sell or not?"

"Because I'd hate to see the place disappear unnecessarily. The worst damage is in the reception and lounge areas. I realize it wouldn't be cheap to fix, but surely not that expensive."

"Upstairs suffered a lot of smoke damage, so there'd be the expense of new furniture and linens."

"But the building is structurally sound."

"So the insurance company assured Uncle Bill. But after ten years, there's a great deal that would require either repairing or replacing. Probably cost two fortunes to get it even halfway back to its former state. Then, there're startup costs for inventory and supplies and all new furniture and accessories for the bedrooms and lounge area. And you can just bet the health authorities would insist everything here in this kitchen be ripped out and more modern equipment installed. It's hard to find anyone who has that kind of money to speculate with these days. And what about staff? Who would want to work out here? And where would the customers come from?"

"I'm sure you'd have no problem arranging a loan to cover all that. And people worked here before," he said stiffly. "I'm also sure some of the old employees would want to come back. As for customers, the inn is on the main Toronto-Niagara Falls highway. The dining room never lacked for trade before the fire and it wouldn't if you reopened tomorrow."

224 Valentine's Inn

"Sorry. That's not going to happen, so I won't start cooking," Rianna shot back unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice. What did Josh, whatever his name was, think he was up to trying to bully her like this? "In any event, I can't cook."

"Can't or don't care to?"

She stared at him in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"My mom learned from her mom. She loved to cook...especially for her family. Of course, I realize women today have cutting-edge careers and don't have time for old-fashioned domestic skills."

"If it's any of your business, I don't have a family. Not anymore. But I know how to turn on the microwave, plug in the electric kettle and fry an egg. And for one person living alone, that's bordering on culinary information overload, in my opinion."

"What do you do? I mean, do you have a job?"

"Not at the moment. But I'm... I was a lawyer."

"Was?"

"Was. Not disbarred or discredited, just was."

"As in disenchanted?"

"No. As in retired."

He looked at her for a moment then laughed. A deep, booming belly laugh that set her nerves on edge. "You can't retire at your age. You have to do something. Even if it's only to relieve the boredom of turning the microwave on and off and staring at the walls."

"Not necessarily."

"Okay. So you're financially independent, you'll get a nice chunk of cash from selling the inn, then what happens next?"

"Why are you so concerned about me?"

"From the sound of it, I think someone needs to be."

She gritted her teeth and glared at him. "I intend to buy a winterized cottage on a remote lake in the Muskokas and read, watch TV and generally indulge myself. You have a problem with that?"

"Can't imagine it being much fun if you're by yourself."

Her leg was aching badly from being in one position for too long. Another legacy from the accident that the doctors said she had to learn to live with. She needed to stand up and walk around to relieve the pain. Getting to her feet, she handed him the sleeping cat. "Take care of Spiky for a minute. I have a cramp in my leg."

"I thought perhaps you'd injured it. I noticed you limping earlier."

"Actually, I broke it in a couple of places. But it's fine now, provided I don't sit in one position for too long."

On her second tour around the big kitchen with its long, central island, green-tiled floors and steel-topped counters, she noticed the sleet had changed to snow. Big fat

225 Chris Grover

flakes were whirling in the wind and covering the landscape with a mantle of white. She picked up the electric kettle she'd brought with her and filled it with water. She was being a lousy host and while Josh was hardly a guest, he had saved Spiky from certain death.

"Want a cup of tea?"

"I should be going."

"I don't think so. Have you looked outside recently?"

He went over to the window and grimaced. "When did that happen?"

"While we were talking. Where do you live?"

"A couple of miles east of here."

"Well, you can't walk that far in a blizzard. As soon as it eases up, I'll drive you."

"That won't be necessary. It's only a snow shower. We get lots of them this close to the lake. Wait an hour or so and it'll be like it never happened." He returned to the stove. "Think you can find a box or something to use for a cat bed? Put it here in the kitchen near the stove, where the little guy will be warm and comfortable."

And let him think he's found a new home?

"First, I'll make the tea, then I'll go look. I need to fix up a temporary litter pan for him as well. I noticed there's still some sand in one of the fire buckets. He'll have to make do with that until I go to the store."

(c) 2008 Chris Grover - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in both electronic and print.
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