The Christmas Stocking

The Christmas Stocking (Book Two of Christmas at Apple Lake series) is included in Authors of Main Street’s – Christmas Babies on Main Street – this year.

The story is close to my heart, as it centers around two children who have lost their mom, and Ellie Newsome who has lost her two unborn babies. Can families come together to ease each other’s pain of loss, if they search their hearts?

I’ve included Chapter 1 below. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1
Three weeks before Thanksgiving

Ellie hadn’t slept all night. She finally gave up and slipped out of bed at three, careful not to wake Sophie, her toy poodle.

Who gets up this time of morning? As a rule, she certainly didn’t.

She stumbled around the roomy country kitchen and set a pot of strong coffee to brew. Because Sophie was a light sleeper and had trailed behind her into the kitchen, she filled both Sophie’s food and water bowls. Sophie continued to bounce back and forth from the door to dancing around Ellie’s feet, while yelping her little head off.

Ellie slipped the leash onto Sophie’s collar and let her wander around the back yard until she’d finished her business. Even though Ryan had balked about fencing in the back yard, she’d finally gotten him to when she’d suggested it would be safer for children. Ellie wouldn’t leave Sophie outside alone, since sightings of Coyote had increased the past few months. Several of the neighbors had lost cats and small dogs of late, and she wasn’t about to take a chance on Sophie being hurt, or worse. The Christmas Stocking Final (small)

While she waited on the coffee to finish, she attempted to reach some sense of Ryan’s recent action. What had led Ryan to forsake their marriage? She’d prided herself on being a good wife, always loving, kind, honest, and she didn’t push him in ways she’d seen other wives behave toward their husbands. Oh sure, they’d had problems as other couples did, but who didn’t? They’d never even argued over anything serious.

That should have been her first clue. You have to care enough, most of the time anyway, to argue. Now she let that thought sink in, maybe he just hadn’t cared enough. One more thing she’d pushed to the back of her mind.

It appeared her friends had better judgement than she. They’d made an earnest effort to discourage their hasty marriage. But love had won out, along with Ryan’s persistence to marry as soon as possible.

He’d been so different, so loving, when they’d first met. He’d blindsided her into believing he couldn’t live without her and had insisted on setting a wedding date three weeks after they’d met. Theirs was a love at first sight, he’d told her. And so…two months after they’d met, they became man and wife.

Ryan had been ecstatic and wanted to start a family right away. He’d found the newly renovated old farmhouse located on seven acres outside the town of Apple Lake. He’d purchased and completely furnished the home during the three weeks before they’d married. For their children, he’d said. She would liked to have shared the decision in where and the type home they’d settle down in, but he’d assured her he’d made the perfect choice. She would love the house he’d chosen.

That should have been another clue. But Ellie had loved him so much she only wanted to be wherever he was, and if that house made him happy…so be it. She’d live anywhere as long as he was by her side.

Nothing made sense anymore, but then their marriage had begun to crumble within the first year of marriage…after she’d lost the first baby. She’d pushed aside Ryan’s thoughtlessness of the last year to some degree, which was awkward, because they’d barely carried on a decent conversation.

He’d been passionate about the upcoming birth of their first baby. After the loss, he’d blamed her, and when she’d made an effort to explain why the baby hadn’t survived, he’d also blamed her for his frustration and actions.

Ryan always required a scapegoat, and Ellie was always available. She’d struggled to change that weakness in him, and herself for allowing it to happen, but to no avail. She’d detested that he’d become so controlling.

Then out of nowhere Ryan had changed and become the man she’d first met: loving, attentive and caring. What reason could he possibly come up with for his behavior? Of course, he’d wanted to try again for another baby. He’d begged her forgiveness and insisted she become pregnant again as soon as possible…and she had. Once again, she’d forgiven him and had gone along with his wishes.

Ellie had made an honest attempt at coming to terms with Ryan’s arrogant transformation and other deceitful and guarded decisions that had occurred between them in the last year of their marriage.

So…here she was. Alone, when the man who’d vowed to love her forever had brushed aside his vows. Without a child, slowly losing both her parents, with nothing to look forward to, even Christmas, which was six weeks away, brought no joy to her heart.

The coffee’s aroma filled the room a few minutes before the pot beeped. Ellie poured a cup of steaming brew, then dribbled in some half-and-half. She massaged her lower-back muscles, which had begun to ache from sitting in the straight-back chair for so long. She grabbed a pillow from the den to soften the seating and settled down in the kitchen once again, Sophie at her feet.

She’d lost the second baby only a week ago. Unable to prevent the ache in her heart, bitterness threatened to invade, and appeared to be winning. Time to heal physically and mentally was what she needed.

After her first miscarriage, due to Chromosomal Abnormalities, Ryan had almost become a stranger. He’d blamed her. Ellie had protested another pregnancy so soon, but he’d insisted since the doctor informed them sometimes the second pregnancy could be completely normal, they might try again in a few months if they so desired.

Ryan wanted a son. Determined the second pregnancy would give him a healthy son…a son to carry on his name and law practice, he’d pressured her until she had consented to the second pregnancy.

At week eleven, in her first trimester, Ellie had miscarried for the second time in two years. Results were again determined to be Chromosomal Abnormalities.

Ryan, assumed no responsibility for their mismatched chromosomes, and fully blamed her, again, for being unable to carry his child. He’d become unapproachable and their marriage had gone sour. More than sour…damaged beyond repair. Ryan had become resentful, and to her disappointment, had tensed when she’d attempted even a simple hug of reconciliation.

She’d never wanted to settle for less…but she had. Had she known Ryan had only married her to give him babies, she’d not have said yes. But she had.

Now, her hopes and dreams were gone, gone as simply and quickly as her husband who had chosen the coward’s way out. Without warning or explanation, simply a cold, hard backward glance, a week after the second miscarriage and two weeks before Thanksgiving, he’d packed his bags and walked out the door.

Never would she have believed she’d be alone again after two years of marriage.
How had she been so oblivious to the gradual challenges that had ripped them apart? Deep down she’d known they were in trouble, but refused to acknowledge how serious things had become. Sometimes I simply refuse to see what’s right in front of me.

Minutes had ticked away as daybreak broke and streaks of glorious, golden rays scattered across the North Georgia Mountains like a massive umbrella that enveloped the area. The dazzling light found its way into the room where Ellie had lingered at the kitchen table longer than she’d realized. The coffee cup, which was still full, had grown cold, the cream had settled in a light brown circle around the inside rim. She stared down at the bowl of soggy cereal floating in warmed milk, then pushed it aside. She had no appetite. Ellie pulled the warmth of the mint green robe back around her shoulders where it had fallen to her waist, Lord only knew when.

She rubbed at her chilled arms, then gingerly pushed up from the chair and pressed a hand to the middle of her stiffened lower back muscles. Although the house was warm and toasty, she wasn’t. With a sting and a sense of dread in her heart, she feared she’d never be warm again. She couldn’t seem to pull herself together and wasn’t sure if she even wanted to.

She’d lost two babies in as many years, and her dad lived at home with twenty-four hour care because of Parkinson’s. Her mom was ill with Alzheimer’s and was at a nearby memory care facility. With so much loss, what was left for her? What did she have to look forward to?

Ellie had fought against committing her mom to the memory care facility last month, but in the end, she’d had no other choice but to entrust her mom into the hands of strangers. Placing her mom there was the one issue where she and Ryan had vehemently disagreed. Ryan had insisted her care was too much for Ellie, but she had found the time spent caring for her mom gratifying. And who knew how much more time they’d have together before her mom would no longer remember her?

Her dad followed close behind in her mom’s footsteps, except her dad’s illness was due to Parkinson’s. Having both her parents in failing health had broken her heart all over again. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.

She wasn’t over Ryan, even though he’d left her high-and-dry. Not long after they’d married she’d examined her affections for him, and found them lacking, but in her heart she hoped he’d change. Now, after two years in a childless and loveless marriage, she questioned what in the world she’d ever seen in him.

While Ryan had destroyed the love she’d once given so freely, there was still that connection between them. Deep down, she recognized her need for closure. She had to stop making excuses and see him for what he was, a cold hearted man who cared nothing about her.

Ellie scowled. The choice was hers, hers, alone. Ryan may be a rogue, but giving him permission to control her forever was not going to happen.

She wasn’t going to sit back and let Ryan’s lack of consideration bring her down. There was only one thing left to do. She’d wallowed in self-pity and Ryan’s rejection long enough. She wasn’t going to play by his rules any longer.

She’d apply for a job to keep herself busy and not waste away at home day after day. Maybe her friend, Gage Landon, could be of help, since she had a solid network with many of the people in the town of Apple Lake.

Ready or not, she’d made a decision. It was time to brush the bad taste of two years spent with a man who hadn’t loved her, aside. Her troubles were in the past. It was time to move forward.

Please check out these links to my books, available at Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. http://caroldevaney.weebly.com/my-books.html

I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love…

 

Small Town Christmas Baby – An Excerpt

Small Town Christmas Baby Cover Twins Bow-2I’m very excited for the upcoming Authors of Main Street Christmas box set! It’s scheduled to be released in October and we’ll keep you posted. We’ll have over ten novellas about the warmth of Christmas, romance and BABIES!

My story in the anthology is set in the small (quasi) fictional town of Hamlin, New Hampshire. This is the fourth book in my Small Town Romance series.

To give you a taste of what’s to come, here’s an excerpt from Small Town Christmas Baby:

Chapter 1

Lumberjacks adore New Hampshire. Trees grow faster here than Usain Bolt runs the 40-meter sprint. Julie, not being a lumberjack, had little appreciation for the giant trees with their enormous branches overhanging the Stillwater Inn. They’d need to call the tree chopper guy in again and it would cost thousands. Again.

She turned away from the window and vowed there was no way she would ask her husband for the money this time. She’d find it in the Inn’s budget if she had to make beds herself to save money.

Running her hand over her disappointingly small rounded belly, she turned her attention back to the cupcake frosting. One way to get a bunch of cash quick would be to win the Bake-off in Boston next month. She shoved aside the thought of rumblings from Jack about her needing to take care of herself and concentrate on the arrival of their first baby in a few months. Surely she could do two—maybe three or four—things at once. Lots of women did.

But as of today, Julie officially hated cupcakes. It was a shame because she was starving and she was staring at racks filled with all kinds of gems. But even the smell of her fresh-baked specials didn’t tempt her any more. These days she craved chocolate covered potato chips and hot dogs.

As she squeezed the bursts of frosting on the hundred and twelfth cupcake, the back door slammed and she looked up. It had to be Tammy. Only her oldest and best friend slammed the door open like that. It had always been Tam’s way to announce her arrival.

“You’re in time to help me.”

“You must be desperate. You know how I am with cake and icing—“

Julie waved her tube of icing.

“Not with that. I wouldn’t want your drool to contaminate the cake-lets. I need help with something far more important.”

“What the heck could that possibly be?”

Shoving aside the issue of tree-chopping money—because she knew deep down Jack would talk Uncle Billy into letting him pay on the grounds that Jack was part owner of the family Inn now since he was part of the family—she lasered in on the real gut-twister.

“I need to come up with a show-stopper of a Christmas gift for Jack.” She paused a beat while Tammy predictably rolled her eyes.

“Something I can afford on my own.”

* * * *

More to come when the entire set of Christmas Babies on Main Street by the Authors of Main Street will be available in a few short weeks.

In the meantime, look for the cover reveal soon!

Once Upon a Vet School: The First of the Series…Volume SEVEN??

Ever thought you wanted to be a veterinarian?

I did, when I was seven…and I’ve been on track ever since, with a minor diversion for a year. I’ve been that equine vet since 1988, when I graduated from vet school at UC Davis.

Following an injury (yes, another one), I started writing historical fiction, and wrote the first three books of The Long Trails series, and now, I’ve written my first contemporary, a veterinary tale, which will be included in our Christmas Boxed Set!  It’s to be Volume Seven in the Once Upon a Vet School series, and…I’m starting in the middle of the series, just to confound people. 🙂

Here’s the cover :

I posted the first chapter in my last post, but here’s Chapter Two!

It will be available in OCTOBER!  Just around the corner!

 

Once Upon a Vet School

Volume 7

CHAPTER TWO

I rested, leaning against a wall in the foyer, after my struggle to get to the classroom. When I’d gotten my breath back, the mere thought of the upcoming session’s topic had me hyperventilating…and the talk hadn’t even started.

When the lecturer enter the anteroom, I closed my eyes for a moment, and my already-warm face heated some more. It wasn’t Dr. Rye today, as scheduled, but Kit.

No—it’s Dr. Allen, I reminded myself, because I needed to think of him that way again. He looked up and our eyes met.

“How’s the leg?” he said, his own cheeks flushing as he approached.

“It’s fine, thanks.” I ducked my head and tried to ignore the fist curling in my gut, then I peered up at him.

He raised an eyebrow and glanced down at the crutch lodged in my armpit.

“So you did see a doctor, after all?”

“Yes, and thanks for your help that night.” I looked at the floor. “It would have been a long walk home.”

“It could have been rough,” he agreed.

I nodded while he hovered, as my fellow students flowed past us into the lecture hall, glancing our way before they walked down the steps toward their seats.

“Well, I’d best get prepared for my lecture.” Kit hesitated, then frowned. “Are you OK? You’re awfully pale.”

“I’ve been behaving, staying inside with my leg up.” I looked away, then glanced back to see his eyes narrow further.

“You take care of yourself, eh?”

“I promise.” I risked a smile upward.

He motioned for me to precede him down the steps, then headed for the podium. His slide carousel clicked into place as I worked my way across the row of seats. I stowed my wooden crutch by my feet and sank down with a sigh of relief. It was a long hobble from the bus stop, but it beat walking or driving my beast of a pickup. It’d be awhile before I could ride my bicycle.

Jess bounced into the seat beside me, glancing down toward her feet.

“A crutch? Whose is that? Yours?”

“Nailed, first guess.” I gave her a lopsided grin.

“What have you done now?”

I hesitated. She’d scream at me, class or no class.

“Slipped on some stairs and twisted my ankle. Sprained, doctor says.”

“Seriously? Sprained on steps?”

I bit my lip.

“Welcome back to school, everyone,” Kit called out, right on time.

Jess looked at me from the corners of her eyes while she pulled her notebook out, then turned her attention to the lecturer.

It seemed everything might just be all right. Kit, no, Dr. Allen, had plenty of cute slides of healthy mares and foals cavorting in grassy fields. He even got a grin out of me. I began to breathe again and shared a smile with Jess.

“That’s when everything goes as planned,” Dr. Allen’s voice cut into my reverie, and I gulped, “but this is a surgery lecture,” he continued, “and I wouldn’t be here speaking with you if everything always went right.”

I gripped my hands together as they began to shake.

“When everything goes to plan, most mares drop their foals within twenty to sixty minutes after their water breaks.” He flicked slowly through the next few slides.

He proceeded, relentlessly—pre-and full-term mares, late ones—and finally, presentations of the fetus requiring veterinary intervention. My pen clattered on the concrete floor as my world began to fragment.

Image after image of ropes attached to tiny legs that protruded from beneath the tails of down, sweaty mares, and one with red—oh man, the red—coating the mare’s backside, the veterinarian, and the straw. I gripped my armrests and bit my lip until my own blood came, willing myself to hold on, but I finally gave up, staggered sideways along the aisle and raced for the back door. I barely made it to the women’s locker room.

I wiped my face after my time spent kissing the commode and tried to rinse the foul taste from my mouth. Hot, flushed cheeks and haunted, green eyes peeked from beneath my profusion of brown hair in the mirror. I bullied the mass into shape with my fingers and braided it down my back to my waist, then collapsed onto a bench, eyes squeezed shut against the tears threatening to escape. I couldn’t go back in there. How would I ever pass my equine reproduction service rotation? I wouldn’t graduate, much less practice, would never finish what I set out to achieve at seven years of age—and most importantly, couldn’t ever pay the horses back what I owed to them.

I wanted to melt into the shiny pink and gray tiles on the floor and not have to face my classmates, Dr. Allen, or anyone else.

***

I jumped, with a yelp, as the door slammed back against the wall. Jess strode into the locker room, lugging our backpacks and my crutch.

“Are you okay?” Her concerned frown helped.

“A little better now,” I said.

“Stomach bug?”

“Last night’s chicken must’ve been bad.”

“You missed a great lecture,” she said, as a smile stretched wide across her face. “He talked all about cesareans, midline as well as standing flank—”

“—can we talk about it some other time?” I interrupted.

“Sure, I’m sorry. Are you well enough to make our next lab?”

“I’m sure I will be. Maybe I’ll go over to The Granary and have a drink.”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Jess said. She held the door for me as I stumbled out into the hallway—and nearly crashed into my last disaster.

Gareth Barnett-Bayne dodged clear, his bedroom-brown eyes taking in my tearstained face. He looked me up and down as I stood like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen. He flicked his dark mane back, smirked, turned on his heel, and continued down the hall, whistling beneath his breath.

“Glad you’ve done with that creep,” Jess muttered, with a scowl at him. “Come on, we have better things to do than look at the likes of him.”

I inhaled slowly and followed her. Kit, Dr. Allen, I nearly screamed at myself, caught up with us as we neared the front entryway.

“I didn’t think you looked well,” he said, with a frown. “Are you sure you should be up, with that leg?”

Jess glanced at me and I looked away.

“I’ll go have a rest before my lab.” I tried to smile at him, but I think it came out more like a wince. “Thanks for asking.”

“Any time,” Kit said, with his killer smile, and a glint in his eye. He held the front door to the building open for us before he turned back toward his office.

I gathered what was left of my wits, while my gaze shifted back to the front entrance. As I did every time I entered or left the vet school building’s hallowed halls, I nodded a greeting to my old friends, the menagerie of raised-relief marble animals surrounding the doors. I’d first seen them on a 4-H visit, as an elementary school student. They always reminded me why I was here, and that whatever effort it took to get here was completely and utterly worth it. I owed animals, especially horses, so much. My heart a bit lighter, I limped on down the steps to catch Jess.

Just down the block, beside the road teeming with students on bicycle and foot, the front door of The Granary stood open, and I sighed in relief. Jess flicked a look back toward the vet school, then rounded on me.

“What does Dr. Allen know about your leg?”

“He saw me twist my ankle.” I bit my lips together and stumbled as my bad leg gave way beneath me. I lost my balance and staggered sideways into the pannier of a passing bicycle.

“Sorry,” called the bicyclist, as my world exploded.

Only years of working with green horses stopped me from shrieking as I sprawled face-first, willing the pavement to swallow me, while the blinding white pain in my leg blanked everything else out.

“Are you OK, Lena?” Jess’s voice came from far away, as I hunched into a ball over my tucked-up leg. I didn’t think it could bend that much. Go figure.

“I—I think so.”

“You aren’t OK.” She ducked down beside me.

“Yeah, well, it’s a bad sprain.” I struggled to a sitting position and blinked away the blurriness.

“Lena, you look like a ghost—tears? He didn’t hit you that hard, what’s up?”

I couldn’t tell her. She’d warned me.

“And what’s with the skirt and thigh-high boots? I’ve never seen you out of jeans.”

Silence.

“Oh,” she said, assessing. “Why aren’t you wearing jeans?”

“Can’t,” I mumbled to my pearl snaps. She’d find out soon enough anyway. I probably wouldn’t be able to walk after this—the leg felt like it had at the beginning.

“So, what’s up, chick?”

I froze as she lifted the hem of my skirt and gasped.

“Let’s go,” I muttered. “I’m glad it’s close. Don’t think I could walk much further.” Yep, it was worse now for sure. Jess pulled me to my feet and I turned toward the smell of brewing coffee from our favorite haunt. Trying to think of anything but my screaming leg, I wondered how something that smelled as good as coffee could taste so bad. I wiped the sweat from my brow as Jess and I struggled up the coffeehouse’s steps. She dragged me to a corner booth and slid me onto the smooth seat.

“Put your leg up on that,” she said. “Chocolate?”

“You’re a godsend,” I whispered, as she scurried off, then I bodily lifted my booted foot up onto the cushion.

I thought I’d need a scalpel to cut the silence after she returned. I looked up at her cute blonde curls peeking from beneath her cowboy hat and dropped my eyes again.

She sat in silence for a few minutes, then narrowed her brows and cut straight to the quick.

“It was that horse.”

“OK, I fell off,” I murmured, looking away. I scrabbled in my bag for a pen, hoping she’d believe me.

Her fingernails beat out a tattoo on the table tap and I finally glanced up to her frown.

“Let’s have a better look at that leg.” Refusal wasn’t an option, by the tone.

As my clammy fingers slowly pulled the skirt up to my groin, and Jess pushed the boot down toward my nonexistent ankle, her complexion faded to a sort of gray. Heck, the leg looked better than it had a week ago, but I wasn’t about to tell her that.

“Shit.”

Uh-oh. Jess never swears.

“What did the doctor say?” She raised a brow at me, and the steel in her baby blues warned me not to lie. “You did go, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” I’d have to remember to thank Tamarah. Without her insistence, Jess would be dragging me down the street toward student health right now.

“Why aren’t you in the hospital? By the colors in that leg,” Jess said, “it’s been two weeks. Just when did you see this doctor?”

I stared into the depths of my mug for as long as I dared.

“Three days ago,” I murmured.

“No time like the present, eh? Why’d you wait so long? Death wish?” Jess was nearly shouting. “What, did Tamarah make you go?”

“You should thank me—you get to see pathology in action,” I said lightly, but neither the full-color contusion demonstration nor my attempt at veterinary humor did the trick. I gulped.

“Why is it so hard to take care of yourself?” Jess said, shaking her head.

“You know why,” I growled. “She’d have put me in the hospital. I can’t just stop—”

“—oh, hell,” she snarled, “you could have gotten a stroke and died.”

“I’m still here.” I shrugged, with a twisted grin. “Hard to kill a weed.”

She closed her eyes and leaned over the table to hug me, carefully.

“But a much loved one, you idiot. Drink up, we need to move on soon—” she broke off and frowned, but then seemed to reconsider. She drank her coffee, peering at me from the corners of her eyes occasionally, then we headed slowly back to lab at the teaching hospital barn, watching over our shoulders for more demon bicycles.

***

I’d hoped I’d effectively distracted Jess from the details of how my injury happened, but I should have known there was a reason she cooked dinner for me that night. Turned out it wasn’t just pity, after all. Fancy that. She waited in silence until I was cornered behind the little table in her student digs.

“Tell me,” she said, picking up her fork.

“About what?” I knew what was coming, and concentrated on slicing a piece of spaghetti into 0.25 cm lengths like a microtome, afraid to look up from the perfect sections.

“How you did that.” She nodded at my leg.

“I told you.” I squirmed. “I fell off.”

“No, you didn’t,” she said, barely audible, and I jumped as her fork hit the table with a clatter. “The truth,” she barked.

It never pays to mess around with a horsey girl.

Jess sat, waiting for an eternity, arms folded against her chest.

I took a deep breath.

“Mickey and I disagreed. I wanted to go on and he wasn’t so keen.”

“And?”

I took a deep breath. This wouldn’t be pretty.

“And he reared,” I said, in a rush.

“And I suppose you fell off and knocked that leg on a branch, right?” she said, from between gritted teeth, as her eyes shot daggers. “How stupid do you think I am? That blasted nag threw himself over backwards and landed on you, didn’t he?”

I couldn’t even try for a reasonable excuse. Jess had known all along—and she’d begged me not to buy him, for this express reason.

“That horse’ll be the death of you.” She sat still, head in hands, and finally looked up. “And this isn’t the first time. He’s been doing it for years at that riding school where you bought him. He knew the fastest way home from a ride on the levees was to back up to a deep, steep-sided irrigation ditch and rear.”

“Yeah,” I whispered, staring at my plate. “I saw him do it, once. That student took one look over her shoulder at the water in the bottom of the drain and she practically let him gallop home. Never rode him again.”

“So why did you think Mickey’d be any different for you?”

“We usually get along well…this was the first time he went that high with me.”

“Yeah, well,” Jess drew a big breath, “it might have been the last. Don’t you get it?”

“Yeah, but what else can I do? As fantastic as he is in the arena and on the cross country course, nobody else’ll tolerate his behavior. He’d just end up in a can.” I stirred swirls into the sauce on my plate, and the scent of garlic tickled my nose. “I can usually keep him in line—but I wasn’t on my game that day and he hadn’t had enough work lately. Mea culpa.”

She shook her head, then jerked it up and stared at me.

“So what does Dr. Allen really know about it?”

I shredded my nails beneath the table while I my brain scrambled for an answer.

“He was at Mickey’s stable when I rode in after my accident.”

“And?”

“And, it was dark. No one was around. I had no idea how I was going to get off the horse, much less drive my truck—and there he was. My knight in shining armor, just coming out of the barn. He was…a lot kinder than I expected.”

“Lucky you.” She raised a brow. “Was it nice?”

“As nice as it could be, with my leg, ribs, and scraped-up body throbbing all to hell.”

“Miranda will be so jealous.”

“Miranda?” I stared at her blankly.

“In our class. She’s been tagging along after him, but he seems to be running just a little faster than she is.”

“He’s a resident, and we’re students,” I said, flatly, then added, in my best snobby tone, “Not a gratuitous combination, by all accounts, according to the edicts handed down from the vet school hierarchy through perpetuity.”

“That’s never stopped you from looking at him before,” she said, with a sly look at me.

“Yeah, well,” I flushed so hot, my cheeks burned, “no use being a fly on the windshield…again. It’s not going to happen. I’m sure I’ll get over a little crush.”

Jess gave me a twisted grin and chuckled.

“We’ll see,” she said.

For more, keep tuned here and our boxed set of many, many novellas will be available soon!  Preorders will be available before you know it!

See you soon!

xx

Lizzi Tremayne

Christmas in July – Chapter two

Happy September!  Since I published the first chapter of CHRISTMAS IN JULY last month I thought I’d add the cover and the second chapter this month. I hope this gets you ready for my contribution to the 2017 Christmas box – all of the entries look fantastic.

Leigh

Christmas in July-1

CHAPTER TWO

“Come on, General. How about I lead today, and you walk beside me for a change?” Madelyn stopped.

General kept on walking, stretching his leash taut. It was a bungie leash and he knew exactly how far he could stretch it before it tugged him back. This had become habit too—the General leading until Madelyn wore the little guy out. “Just thought we’d try it the normal way for once, buddy. Silly me.”

“You were many things, Maddy, including silly when the occasion called for it. I doubt you’re silly now.”

Madelyn whirled around, bringing the little General with her. Her free hand moved to her chest reflexively, right over her heart. Her quick inhalation of breath drew a smile from Drew.

“Good to know I can still take your breath away, Maddy.”

“Don’t call me that,” Madelyn said more sharply than she intended. Drew had that effect on her. She saw those bright-blue eyes and her mind filled with images of skinny-dipping in Old Man Johnson’s pond. It was those memories and what came after that had gotten her trouble in the first place. Self-preservation made Madelyn drop her hand, straighten her spine, and repeat yesterday’s mantra: You are a strong independent woman. Your life is your own. You do not need a man to complete you. You are a strong independent woman …

By the third time, Madelyn almost convinced herself she believed it. She was strong. She was independent. She didn’t need a man, but sure as the sun rises in the east, she still wanted Drew. Apparently, time and distance hadn’t muted that ache. The problem was Drew wouldn’t want her when he found out the truth. Then she’d watch that kind, gentle teasing leave his eye.

Oh, why had I risked coming home?

Because Julie’s here, she scolded herself, and you crave a relationship with your adult daughter. So, suck it up, buttercup, and don’t get distracted by an older set of blue eyes with engaging crinkles at the corners. Who cares if he’s even more handsome than he’d been at eighteen?

It took Drew asking, “What would you like me to call you?” to get Madelyn to follow their first conversation in over twenty-five years. She wasn’t seventeen and so in love she couldn’t think of anything or anyone but Drew anymore. She was a grown professional woman with a grown-up professional name. “Madelyn. It’s been Madelyn for two decades now,” she said.

General chose that moment to approach Drew and lay down at his feet. Drew bent to scratch behind the Westie’s ears. As soon as Drew hit a full crouch, Madelyn’s little traitor rolled over for a belly rub. Her best friend who was generally indifferent with strangers bonded with the one man Madelyn needed to be estranged from.

She wasn’t sure why she did it. Especially seeing the joy that man and dog were sharing. But Drew wanted to pretend there was no distance between them that couldn’t be bridged with a smile and polite conversation. All she could think of was the need to get away before she said something intimate.

“Madeline Nelson was my married name,” she said,  although why she said it she didn’t know, since she’d been using Madelyn Grace professionally for years.

Drew stopped petting General. He stood slowly, no longer smiling. Madelyn could read his expression, and she sensed his anger and his sympathy. The anger she expected. The sympathy she did not. But that was Drew, honest with his emotions and not afraid to share them.

“I knew you married. Ruby told me.”

Count on Aunt Ruby to share the news. At that moment, Madelyn wanted to strangle her well-meaning aunt.

Drew took a step closer as General came back to her side, cocking his head at each one of them in turn, sensing his newfound friend’s tension, as well as hers. “I was sorry to hear of your husband’s death.”

The sincerity in Drew’s eyes made Madelyn feel small for having used her dead husband to put distance between herself and the first man who owned her heart. “Thank you,” is all she could manage to say.

“Don’t thank me, Maddy,” Drew said harshly. “And don’t expect me to call you by another man’s name. Even a dead one. You are Maddy Grace to me. Then and now. Forever.”

His words shook her to her core. Drew as a boy would never have spoken to her like that. In fact, the only time she could remember him being serious with her was the first time he told her he loved her.

Drew looked at her for seconds that lasted far longer than they should have.

Then he tipped his hat and turned to walk away.

Madelyn stopped him. “Drew, I—”

“Don’t say anything you don’t mean, Maddy.” He laughed harshly, and the sound hurt her ears. “In fact, don’t say anything at all.” He looked at her over his shoulder and said so quietly that she almost missed it, “I won’t let you disappear on me again. I’ll see you every day until you finally admit you don’t want to let me go again.”

This time when he walked away, Madelyn let him go. Drew Selleck had rendered her speechless, embarrassed by her behavior, and eager to see him again. It was the last one that frightened her most.

Drew had managed to speak with Maddy, call me Madelyn, without arresting her. A monumental feat after she threw her dead husband’s name at him. He’d call her by that name only after he was dead. Not even then, he silently amended. He planned to be holding Maddy close throughout eternity, after she took his name. Maddy Selleck. It had a nice ring to it.

The memory of her face when he told her he’d be seeing her every day brought a smile back to his face. She’d been afraid, appalled, and just for a moment after her eyes flared, excited. That flash of the old Maddy had him whistling all the way back to the office.

Christmas in Eastport – Coming Soon

Chistmas in Eastport3.inddWelcome back to Eastport!

My contribution to this year’s Authors of Main Street boxed set, Christmas Babies on Main Street, is the final installment in my Eastport series. The characters from the first three books make an appearance, but don’t worry, you don’t need to have read any of them to enjoy book four.

Here’s the blurb:

A holiday visit to her hometown of Eastport brings Carly Nolan face to face with a part of her past she’d rather forget. That face belongs to Mitch Logan, the boy who broke her heart when they were seventeen. When their reunion leads to one passionate night, Carly is convinced that Mitch has changed and dreams of a fresh start with her first love. But after rumors and revelations shatter her illusions, she resolves to leave Mitch in her past for good—a pledge that becomes impossible to keep when it turns out there are not just two hearts on the line, but three.

Jude Knight says ‘hi, and thanks for having me’

My home town’s main street. A railway line bissects the shops to the East from the shops to the West.

Hi, all. I’m thrilled to be here on Main Street with all these amazing authors. Lizzi and I are flesh and blood friends, and both live in small town New Zealand, quite a distance from our colleagues in the Big Country on the other side of the Pacific and the top side of the globe.

So our Main Street is getting longer and more diverse! My physical main street is typical New Zealand — a long string of shops on either side of the highway north out of Wellington, our capital city, and a mix of old and new housing for 2,500 people, almost evenly divided into newbies like me (I’ve only been here 15 years) and settler families, whose ancestors walked around the coast in the mid nineteenth century, or over the hills pushing all their worldly goods in a wheelbarrow. We newbies mostly came here to live in the country, but close enough to commute to the capital for work.

We have a wonderful heritage museum, the best cheese shop in the country, four second-hand bookshops (not bad for a little town), an equal number of churches, and more artists than you could shake a stick at.

As for me, I have always loved telling stories, mostly for the benefit of children in need of entertainment.

Three years ago, the first of my strong determined historical heroines, heroes who appreciate them, and villains you’ll love to loathe first made their way into the covers of Candle’s Christmas Chair. A dozen books later, the wind fills my sails and many more plots jostle for daylight.

You can find out more about what I’ve done so far on my webpage and blog. And if you enjoy historical romance, why not download my free sampler book of lunch-length reads, Hand-Turned Tales. You’ll find blurb and buy links on my book page. I’ve just published a companion volume, Lost in the Tale.

This year, I’m stretching my author wings with a post-apocalyptic novella in a holiday anthology for one group, a late-Victorian romance for another, and— for my wonderful new Main Street friends and all you fans — a contemporary.

My heroine for the Authors of Main Holiday box set is on the run, out of touch, in disguise and eating for two. The undercover cop who married her to save her life and stashed her on a hill-country farm in New Zealand hasn’t been in touch for more than eight months. Boy, is he in for a Christmas surprise!

Here’s chapter 1. What do you think? (Warning. Names and details are subject to change without notice. I’ve only just started editing.)

A Rangitikei hill country farm, similar to the one that features in my Christmas story.

A Family Christmas

Old Trev told Kirilee that choosing the Christmas tree together was a family tradition, and she was family, so she was coming to help. They’d find one close to the pickup (the Ute, he said, which was the New Zealand name for the small farm trucks), and the summer sun had already baked the hilltop tracks hard, so they’d be able to get right to the top, just above the valley with the best size of tree.

Lee didn’t want to move. The wide verandas kept the house cool; open doors and windows catching every elusive breeze. But there was no arguing with family tradition, and Old Trevor Green had changed his mind about her family status months ago. She could date his change from jailor of his grandson’s witness to protector of his grandson’s wife. It was the day she and Cheryl had arrived back from Palmy with the news that Jason had given her an unexpected passenger before packing her off to his family farm.

She curved a protective hand over her bulge.

To Old Trev, the baby made her family, and she was coming to choose the Christmas tree.

What Jason would feel about it, not even his sister Cheryl could guess. No. Not Jason. That was his undercover name. Young Trevor. Trevor Green the second, and whether that meant their marriage was legal, who knew? The name on the marriage license was Jason Winterleaf, same as the name on his passport and his driver’s license. And on an old high school Facebook page, and other electronic trails her brother Bernard had traced, taking delight in showing her some revealing photos with previous girlfriends.

All fictional, apparently, for Trevor Green had grown up on this farm up in the remote Rangitikei country, three hours over dusty tortuous roads to the nearest decent-sized town. Whoever had invented the history had done a good enough job to fool Bernard.

She lumbered out to the Ute and clambered up, shifting over to let Old Trev in beside her. He grumbled about Cheryl driving, as he always did, though the doctor had put him off the road five years ago. “I know every inch of this farm, girl, and could drive it with my eyes closed.”

“You would be, too,” Cheryl retorted. “As good as, and you’re not doing it with your great grandson in the Ute.”

Cheryl was sure the baby was a boy, but both women had agreed not to ask the technician who did the ultrasound. They’d wait to be surprised.

Trevor would be surprised when he turned up to find her big as a hippopotamus and twice as ungainly, or cuddling a baby in her arms. Or running round after a toddler, for crying out loud! On a hill farm! Kirilee Pritchard, who was born to be a city girl, and was good at it. She had grown up in Boston, never held down so much as a summer job, completed her Masters in Business Administration at Bentley and gone straight to work for the global enterprise owned by her much older brother. Personal assistant to one of the Vice Presidents running a North American subsidiary, but she’d been on a fast track from her first day, headed for the global team as soon as she’d shown herself to be more than the boss’s little sister. Never one of the gang. Always set apart. Always dressed perfectly, behaving perfectly, proving herself so she could join her brother’s global team.

No wonder Bernard hadn’t found her since Trevor’s colleagues had spirited her away. Even if he saw her with his own eyes, in her scruffy worn jeans, gumboots, and loose cotton shirt, he wouldn’t believe it.

Trevor would surely be home for Christmas, his sister Cheryl said, though with a little frown that hinted she didn’t believe it.

Lee had a false history too, or so Cheryl said. Leigh Green. Came here on a student visa ten years ago, and stayed for love of a farm boy turned cop she met at Massey University in Palmerston North, which the locals all called Palmy.

Lee hadn’t seen her online identity. She followed the rules and stayed off the Internet, not even tempted to contact anyone back home for fear that Bernard would track her down and take out his anger on her, Cheryl, Old Trev and the baby.

Any hint that she was alive, and he wouldn’t stop until he found her.

She shivered at the thought, and Cheryl asked if she was too cold, which made Lee laugh.

“With my internal radiator? Is it always this hot in New Zealand at Christmas?”

“Nope,” Old Trev told her, and he and Cheryl chorused, “sometimes it snows!”

They’d been telling her that all month, and that the hottest month was usually February. Then one or the other would glance anxiously at the steep hillsides, where the green was fading to brown as the grass dried, and say, “We need that rain they keep promising us.”

Apart from a few isolated falls in November, the clouds that showed up on the evening weather report continued to slide around this small patch of rural New Zealand, carrying their precious burden to other, more fortunate, farmers. In four weeks, the rain gauges hadn’t collected more than a trickle, and down in the tiny settlement at the mouth of the valley, talk at the general store, the club house, and the school gate was all of feed and stock levels.

“At least it’ll be fine for the Mangatehapu Christmas Fair,” Cheryl said. She had taken to heart the midwife’s command to keep Lee cheerful. It made Lee feel like an outsider. Family shared one another’s burdens.

Lee said nothing, not wanting to rock the boat. A lifetime habit that, one that brought her here, to the Rangitikei, clambering out of a Ute on a bare mountain-top, large as a beached whale.

Baby Steps and Snowflakes

I don’t want to tell you how long this title took to find. I had over half the story written and I still didn’t have a title. I even tried a title contest and got no entries. I was listening to the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s RWA National Conference (I didn’t get to go, it was on YouTube) and they were showing some of the author’s titles over the years. I don’t even remember what title caught my eye, but suddenly Baby Steps and Snowflakes hit me.

I usually start with a title before I ever have a story. The title is important to me and my writing. It adds to the theme of the story and is incorporated into the lines of dialogue and narrative. I can’t weave a tapestry of words without the main thread–the title.

I had booked my cover artist without a title to be seen. I literally had a title a day before the cover art appointment. That big sigh you hear? That was me finally breathing. LOL

Baby Steps and Snowflakes will be in this year’s boxed set with the Authors of Main Street.

Excerpt (Not Final Edit)

Chapter One

“I’m sorry, Miss Green. There are no babies for fostering right now. With the holidays in a few weeks, that’s a good thing.”

Krista bit her lip. Of course, it was a good thing there were no babies waiting for homes, but her house felt so empty without the cries and giggles of little ones, the scampering of tiny feet. Christmas was a bad enough time for her without the warmth and comfort of another to care for.

“What about an older child, Mrs. White? I know they are harder to place.”

The woman turned kind eyes her way, her glasses slipping down her nose to make her the twin sister of Mrs. Santa Claus; with her twinkling-blue eyes and snow-white hair.

“Miss Green…Krista. We need you available if any babies might come in this holiday season.”

“You mean addicted babies,” she said, a hitch in her voice at the lump in her throat.

Mrs. White reached across the desk and patted her hand. The scent of peppermint and pine trees wafted up from the older woman’s soft skin. It sent flashes of happy, childhood Christmases to her mind. Back when she’d been naïve and young and believed Santa Claus and Daddy could fix everything. Before she’d grown up and realized that miracles didn’t happen, Christmas or not.

“Krista, those babies are the hardest to place. We are so grateful for what you do for them…for us. I don’t know what we would do without you.”

She looked behind the older woman to the Happy Wall. The pictures of babies and children with their new parents in their Forever Homes. The images wavered through her unshed tears. For every success story there were hundreds, thousands of failures. Children who slipped through the cracks and disappeared into an unkind world.

Krista yanked back her hand, snatched up her purse, and stood. “Please let me know if you need me. Please.” She winced at the pleading in her voice.

“Of course, Krista. We always need you. I hope you know that.”

She nodded as best she could and walked out of the office. Not sure how she’d made it to her car, she placed her head on the roof and let the tears come. The turmoil passed and cleared her mind. A few sniffles and a swipe of her wet face helped her put things into perspective. She could do this. How many holidays had she’d spent alone? Too many to count. The thought shot through her head. She could do this.

Krista wrapped her coat around her and buttoned it up. Pulling on her gloves, she blinked as snowflakes wafted down to fall on her outstretched hand. She stared across the road to Lake Willowbee. The watery retreat would be frozen by morning. Flashes of red and green showed through the trees as kids cheered and broke the thin ice at the edge of the water with their stamping feet. If she’d been as carefree at one time, it was long forgotten.

She turned away with slumped shoulders and got into her car. Her teeth chattered as the heater fought against the frigid temperature in the vehicle. Krista hated the cold. It brought too many thoughts of kids on the streets, struggling to survive in killing cold nights.

“Don’t go there, Krista. You are warm in your car, going to your nice, warm house. Count your blessings.”

The daily mantra did its job as her shoulders untightened and a small smile curved her lips. A swipe of the windshield wipers cleared the glass and displayed a world of fluffy white. She put the car into gear. A shiver went down her spine. The weather in the Sierras could go from fluffy to whiteout within hours. She planned to be in front of a crackling fire before that happened.

* * *

A warm fire and hot tea had done the trick. Krista woke up to find herself on the couch, staring at the dying embers in the fireplace. For once, her dreams had been lovely and calm. She shook her head. Another ring of her phone told her what had dragged her from a peaceful, needed sleep.

“Hello.” Her voice crackled as she tried to swallow through her dry throat.

“Krista, it’s Mrs. White. I’m so sorry to call you so late, but we need you to come in and pick up a baby boy. He’s at Lake Willowbee General. He was in a car accident with his mother.”

There was a pause. That said it all. The mother didn’t make it and there was no other family to reach. That’s why she’d been called.

She cursed silently. Karma was a bitch. She’d asked for a baby to care for and now this little boy had lost his mother. Someday she’d learn to keep her thoughts hidden from the fates. She would have thought she’d learned that lesson years ago.

“Can you come in the side entrance, dear? The reporters and cops are in the front. It is quite the mob scene.”

She gasped. “What happened?”

“The woman was on drugs. She crashed into a police car. The officer is here at the hospital too. They aren’t sure he will make it.”

Her heart broke. So much death and destruction lay in the wake of people who didn’t know not to drink and drive, or do drugs and drive. She sighed. The mother was beyond it all now. Her focus had to be on the baby boy.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Thank you, dear. You are an angel. See you soon.”

As she pushed the keypad to end the call her thoughts were far from angelic. Some people had it all and just tossed it away. What she wouldn’t give. . . Her mind tried to travel down a twisted road she didn’t have time for. That way was filled with regrets and what might have been. She shook her head and returned to the present.

Thankfully, she was still dressed and just needed to pour water on the fireplace ashes and grab her coat and purse as she remembered to turn the heat up for her return with a small baby. In minutes, she was on the road, concentrating on the slick, icy conditions down to the town of Lake Willowbee and the hospital.

She slowed as the parking lot came into view. The front was lit up like a midnight special sale with television vans and reporters on camera. The police vehicles filled the space in front of the building. Every officer in town must be at the hospital to support their brother in blue.

Once she parked, Krista snuck in the side door and found the nurse’s station for NICU. Agnes Smith and Mary Lewis were manning the desk tonight. Over the past few years, she’d gotten to know all the nurses in Neonatal.

Mrs. White came up and gave her a hug. Krista found herself surrounded with the scent of Christmas. “The little one is being evaluated by Dr. Peters. He seems to have survived the crash with no injuries, but he definitely has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.”

Her heart sunk. FASD was a vicious disorder. Life was hard enough as it was without all the difficulties that came with that diagnosis. A nurse came down the corridor with a blue-blanketed bundle. One look at his sweet face and Krista was lost. The markers were slight, but they were there. He gazed at her with deep, dark eyes and a smile flashed across his smooth face

Mrs. White came to her side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “This is Max Evans.”

“Hi, Max,” Krista whispered as the nurse handed her the slight bundle. “Such a serious name for such a little boy.”

A small hand reached for her and wrapped small fingers around her finger and her heart.

Nurse Smith reached out a hand, smoothing fluffy brown hair on a head too small for his body.

Her heart ached as the little one closed his eyes with a smile on his face. “What about the father?”

“We’re trying to find him now, but the records show ‘father unknown’ and no one seems to know who it could be. Lake Willowbee isn’t so big that we won’t find him. Teri Evans has lived here her whole life,” the nurse said.

“The investigators are looking into it now. We’re hoping to find him before Christmas. If not, we’ll miss days to the holiday break,” Mrs. White added.

She cupped Max’s face. “Where’s your daddy, little one?”


Check out our boxed set this year for Baby Steps and Snowflakes and the rest of the stories from the Authors of Main Street.


Jill James, author of the Lake Willowbee Series

Reclaiming the Joy of Writing: an Update

 

JOY

My personal blog is on hiatus, but on June first,  I posted about the realization that I had lost sight of the joy of writing.

I made some promises that day, to myself and to readers:

  • To set aside the things that kept me from doing my best work; and
  • To complete the remaining novellas for this year’s group projects, while savoring the experience.

Guess what.

No, really, come on. Guess.

Okaaaay, I’ll tell you: It worked!

Not perfectly of course, since I’m far from perfect.

How did I accomplish this overhaul?

I made lots of changes.

Not all of them were big, but they all mattered.

I backed off a bit from staring at my laptop’s screen while scrolling through Facebook and never thinking of anything interesting to say.

I uninstalled Instagram from my phone.

I took Twitter off my phone too (and put it back on and took it off again…on, off, on…and right now it’s off).

Actually, this dumbing-down of my smartphone has been one of the most useful tactics for increasing focus on the task at hand.

Not surprising, is it?

I also continued the daily (and sometimes twice-daily) meditation practice I began in January. It has helped every facet of my life. (I made some other tweaks, too. I am as much a work in progress as my manuscripts!)

Once I made space in my mind and life for the joy of writing, I finished and published ONCE UPON A TIME. I also wrote A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS, which is in the SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 4 boxed set and currently available for pre-order.

Can you tell that these two novellas are about twin sisters?

Taylor-Hannah

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, the first McClains book in a couple of years (Yeehaw!) is my contribution to this year’s Authors of Main Street boxed set. (My first time to participate in this annual holiday tradition. I’m jazzed!)

Revisiting the imaginary town of Legend, Tennessee to write this story was a special treat. Maureen McClain and Damien Phillips, who met by the punch bowl in BUILDING A DREAM, are finally getting their love story. And–surprise–there’s a baby! I’ll be doing a HOME FOR CHRISTMAS cover reveal in my next newsletter.

After sending HOME FOR CHRISTMAS to my editor, I moved on to a long-anticipated project. It’s a bigger book, which is scary but also super exciting.

This summer, I have again loved writing. It’s especially awesome to make a big check mark on the Projects-Goals-Deadlines Whiteboard when I’m happy with the story that check mark represents.

I’ve spent quality time with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.

When I send a manuscript to my editor, I watch ROMANCING THE STONE. I don’t usually see it so often in such a short space of time, but I certainly haven’t tired of it. Every time Joan Wilder faces her fears and steps out to do what she thinks is impossible, I cheer her on. And in turn she cheers me on, by helping me celebrate these milestones.

This summer’s novellas were created with love–for the characters, their triumphs, and the story-building process.

As my tagline says,

Try a romance novel on…for sighs!

It’s a privilege to provide happy sighs for my readers. Very cool when the author gets those happy sighs, too!

Magdalena

A Sister’s Christmas Gift

Since we’re giving everyone a sneak peek at our upcoming Christmas boxed set for 99c, I figured I’d add my teaser to the pile.  But before I do, I’d like to introduce you to Jude Knight. She lives in New Zealand and she’s joining us.  I’ll let her introduce herself to you on Wednesday. We are all excited about having her here on Main Street. Besides no where else can a group of international authors sit down for a virtual cuppa except at our little café here on Main Street. 🙂

***

I told you about these characters around the end of July while I was busy divorcing them. It’s almost time to give them to you. And as always, I’m sad to see my heroes go, but maybe I’m just as sad to see these females leave, especially the littlest one.  I’ll let you decide.

Here’s my first chapter of  my Christmas offering. Enjoy!

A Sister’s Christmas Gift

The brick building was supposed to look modern, but it didn’t. It resembled a fortress or maybe a jail. Brandy Devin didn’t really care.

Once inside, she stood and read the directory encased in a glass box on the wall. Social Services, third floor. She walked to the elevator and pressed the call button. The doors slid open with a slight metal-on-metal scraping sound. Stepping inside, she pushed the lighted numeral three with a fingertip. Then she took a quick glance at her nail to be certain it had remained perfectly manicured. Two other people got in, and one was stopping on the second floor. Her gut clenched as the elevator rose with a groan. When the light above the door flashed two and the elevator bounced to a stop, so did Brandy’s stomach. Maybe if she hadn’t eaten, she would have done better, but her coffee and croissant sloshed. She swallowed hard only to repeat the sensation as the elevator came to a moaning stop on the third floor. She shuddered as she stepped off, and then pressed her hand against her abdomen as if she could somehow settle the contents of her shaken stomach. Ms. Allison Jackson. The name resonated in her mind with each step she took down the long hallway.

Yanking the heavy door open, Brandy discovered a no-frills office environment. The waiting area looked slightly dirty, toys were scattered around, and a half-dozen magazines with movie stars on the covers decorated the tables. A large TV was displaying a show about thrift shop finds. A shiver ran down Brandy’s back.

On the other side of a set of sliding windows, there was a reception desk. She walked to them, and a young woman opened the glass. Brandy put on a smile. “I’m here to see Ms. Allison Jackson.”

“And your name? Do you have an appointment?” The pink-haired gal behind the desk had a tattoo on her arm of either a phoenix rising from a fire or a lotus blossom with a butterfly. Lousy artwork.

“Brandy Devin. Yes, I do, at nine fifteen.”

“Have you been here before?” The woman snapped her gum, and the stud that protruded from under her lower lip moved as though it might fall out.

“No.” She tried to remember to smile, but she could no longer force it.

“Fill this out.” The gal handed over a clipboard with a form for food assistance.

“What for?”

“If you want help, we have to have your application. Now if you need help reading it, I will assist you.”

“I’m not here for any sort of assistance. I have no idea why I’ve been called to this office in this town.”

“Well, you don’t have to get snippy with me. Have a seat.”

Brandy turned and looked at the cloth-covered chairs that needed a good cleaning. Preferring her white Versace suit to remain white, she decided she’d stand. A police officer came in, flashed her badge at the pink-haired woman, opened a door, and vanished into the bowels of the office. Another woman came in with three children who appeared to be under the age of five. The children headed for the toys.

Brandy watched at the little ones who were shoving a plastic car back and forth a little too close to her feet. The problem was that there was no place to retreat. The room was cramped. The youngest child decided he wanted the plastic car and began to wail. The mother ignored all of it. Get me out of this place and as far away from children as possible. If I wanted kids, I would have had them. Another shiver ran down her spine.

“Ms. Devin?”

Brandy raised her gaze from the offending plastic toy and held her chin high. “Yes.”

“This way. I’m Allison Jackson.”

Brandy decided Allison probably wasn’t any more than a couple of years older than herself. Tiny and petite, she had on a pair of khaki slacks and navy-striped blouse that looked as though it had seen better days. Guess they don’t pay social workers very much.

“Right in here.” Allison motioned to her office. “I’d like you to meet Detective Krocken. She’s with the Brighton Police. Have a seat.”

Brandy quickly examined the chair before sitting in it. “What does all of this have to do with me?”

Allison Jackson sat behind her desk and opened a folder. “You are a twin, and your twin’s name is…”

“Breanna. What has she done?” She looked at the young detective. “She has a rather lackadaisical attitude about social conventions. But she’s never been in trouble. If she needs a lawyer…”

Detective Krocken leaned forward in her seat. “I get the impression that you were not close to your sister?”

“Were is past tense.” She glared at the officer. “I’ve not laid eyes on my sister for probably eight years. She calls me occasionally – usually when she needs money.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your sister won’t be calling you any more. She died five weeks ago,” the detective said softly. “My sincerest sympathies.”

“Dead?” The word reverberated through her. “Breanna is dead? Are you sure?”

The officer nodded. “She was crossing the street when she was hit by a car. She was taken to Mercy Hospital in Gatestown. She died two days later.”

“July twelfth?”

“Yes, that was the date of the accident. Did someone from the hospital contact you?” the officer asked.

“No, actually I was in L.A. that day, and I remember feeling as though I’d been punched, as though I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Every part of me seemed to ache, and the feeling lasted for several hours. I had to cancel some appointments and return to my hotel suite. I wasn’t certain if I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me, or if I was coming down with the flu. Two days later, I was home. I can’t explain it, but I felt horribly depressed as if part of me had been torn away. The feeling lasted for a few days and then lifted.” She looked in her purse for a tissue. When she found one, she wiped at her eyes. “I’m no longer feeling depressed. I did talk to my doctor about it. She said it was perfectly normal for women to have hormonal swings, which may cause a temporary feeling of depression.” Brandy inhaled, and her skin prickled. “I must have somehow sensed what happened to my sister.”

“I’ve heard that twins often share such things.” Allison Jackson nodded, and then asked, “Was there a falling out between you?”

“No. We were always different. I was studious, and she was the class clown. I was neat, and she was a slob.” Tears were trying to form. “But we’ve always been there for each other. It’s not easy to explain other than to say we were sisters – twins.” She dabbed the area under her eyes with the tissue.

Allison Jackson placed a box of tissues where Brandy could easily reach them.

Brandy inhaled a deep breath. “I went to college, and she got a two-bit job. The last time I saw her was at Mom’s funeral.” She wiped the moisture away again. “I was still in college and coming home every weekend to be with Mom. She’d take care of Mom on the weekdays.” She tried to compose herself and force a smile. “That was a long time ago.”

“Did you know your sister had a child?” Allison asked.

Child? “No. I didn’t know she was married.”

“She wasn’t. We looked for the baby’s biological father, but the child’s birth certificate doesn’t list one.” Det. Krocken flipped though some papers that were contained in a file. “At the time, we didn’t know of any family for Breanna. We did some research and found you.”

Allison Jackson jumped into the conversation. “Being you are the only living relative, we’d like to place the child with you.”

“Me? Child? My sister’s child? How old is this child?” Visions of a snotty nose ran through her head.

“Not quite a year old.” Allison looked through some paperwork. “Eight months the end of this month. She’s been placed in a temporary foster home until we could contact you and have you approved to take over the child’s care.”

“A little girl, Breanna had a little girl?”

“Yes, and as soon as we can get you approved–“

“What do you mean approved? If I am her aunt, she obviously belongs with me. I’m family! This is my twin sister’s baby. I am her family. There is no question as to where this baby goes.”

“Yes, agreed,” Allison said. “But we have to verify that you are capable of taking care of a child. We don’t want to jeopardize the child’s welfare.”

“Well, of course I’m capable of taking care of a child. How soon may I have her, and what is the child’s name?”

“Geraldine Devin. And it shouldn’t take very long to process you.” Allison stared at Brandy as though assessing a horse before placing bets.

Det. Krocken passed Brandy several papers. “We need to perform some official background checks, and we need your signature for us to do that.”

Allison passed several more papers to Brandy. “These are the other papers that we need to keep on file for you to become Geraldine’s legal guardian. There is a process that we must follow. Is there any reason that you know of that would possibly prevent you from guardianship?”

“Absolutely none!”

Brandy filled out so many forms that she lost track of how many she had completed. They gave her copies of each one. But inside she could feel herself crumbling. Losing Breanna seemed unreal. How could her sister be dead? Now she had no one. No family…none. At twenty-nine, she was an orphan. She was an orphan about to gain custody of an orphan. A child. A drooling baby that pees in a diaper. Oh ick! Breanna, what have you done to me? I hate you for doing this. What gave you the right to die and leave a child in my care? You are probably sitting on some cloud, laughing at this whole situation.

“It’s best if you don’t leave town until we can verify that you are who you say you are,” Det. Krocken said. “It will only take us forty-eight to maybe as much as seventy-two hours. Everyone is anxious to close this case.” The woman opened a tiny kit. “I will need your fingerprints. Let’s do this carefully. I’m sure you don’t want to ruin your suit.”

Brandy drove back to the small hotel where she was staying. Once in her room, she sat on the bed and looked around. The bedspread was done in shades of mauve, blue, and gold. The striped curtains matched the bedspread. It was about as generic as possible for a hotel. At least, the place was clean. She tried to imagine herself holding a baby. Instead she cried.

When she awoke, the room was dark. It took a second to remember where she was, and why she was in a hotel room. Realizing she was hungry sent her looking for nearby restaurants on her phone’s app. She found one that appeared as though it might have good food based on its website. Without wasting time, she changed clothes and left to find a respectable meal in a hick town.

The restaurant was decent, actually better than decent. The food was good. She finished eating and returned to her hotel room. Having several weeks of vacation coming to her, she made the decision to take them. Since she was going to have custody of a child, she needed to make a few arrangements. There had been several conversations with her boss about telecommuting. Now I will have to insist upon it.

She looked at a few of the papers Allison had handed her. Whatever Breanna had possessed was now held in storage. There were bills, and her sister’s body was in the morgue at the local funeral home, awaiting someone to claim it. The police report of the accident gave the gruesome details. I need to hire a lawyer. None of it would be pleasant.

I need another apartment, maybe a condo, because I’ll need a home office. Make a note to check the lease. She punched a few notes into her phone. I think I have six months to vacate if there is a child. Certainly, I can find something that isn’t going to require a pirate’s ransom every month. I hope. She pressed her fingertips to her forehead. Breanna, what have you gotten me into, and how am I going to survive it?

***

Ed Dautree was ready for a change. For the last five years, he had dated Brandy Devin. There was always chemistry between them. That constant sparkle had kept them together, but over the years, things changed. Brandy made it clear that she wasn’t interested in being married to him. That’s not what he wanted. She claimed she was married to her career. And she was constantly chasing that new big account. She had succeeded. She was good. She’s the best.

He had tried to get her to live with him in his penthouse condo. He even offered for her to take the bedroom with the view, but she had insisted that it would ruin their relationship. What relationship? I take you to dinner or a show, and you’d take me whenever you needed a date. Aside from that one time, that night that they had started kissing… Oh, yeah! Scared of the fire, Brandy? Is that why you’ve never allowed me to do more than kiss you, and you’ve never allowed me to kiss you like that again?

He walked out of his office for the last time and to his car in the parking garage. The feeling was bittersweet. His entire adult life had been spent with the company, and as a young boy, he could remember visiting his father’s office. It was the same one that he eventually occupied when his dad stepped back and gave him the company reins. He wasn’t certain he knew how not to work.

He needed to get away, a nice country estate someplace that he could call home. At forty-nine, he was retiring. He could do anything he wanted with his time.

After a short-lived, failed marriage, he had stayed out of the pool of money-hungry females and casually dated when he needed to have someone at his side for some function. Then he met Brandy. Tall, with what he considered smoky-blonde hair, even though she called it light brown, it fell just barely past her shoulders. She turned heads. Her curves were in the right places, but she could be as brutal as any man during negotiations. Her take-no-prisoners attitude was known in the corporate world. But unlike her male counterparts, Brandy always remained polished and feminine. Her smile could be deadly.

He admired her. She had drive and wasn’t fazed by his money. Sometimes she acted as though she couldn’t care less. A few casual dates turned into a monogamous arrangement. But Brandy wouldn’t cross the barrier, wouldn’t give in to him.

The concept of a house in the country and the genteel lifestyle that went with it appealed to him. He imagined Brandy at his side, dinner parties and barbecues with all the right people, and morning coffees as they sat on their porch. Gracious living in a beautiful setting made even better with Brandy in a silk negligee. Oh, yes. We’ll make a great team, Brandy. You can retire with me. My beautiful young wife…

No longer did he need to stay in the traffic and noise of the city. He’d keep his condo and return for all the cultural things that he enjoyed. But city life no longer appealed to him. Once on the expressway, he kept driving until he picked up the interstate, and when the interstate sign said the exit for Buxton Brighton was up next, he figured he’d take it and look around.

A few miles off the interstate, he concluded Buxton was a bedroom community for those who didn’t mind a long commute to another city about an hour away. Most of what had survived from the original town looked to be in bad shape. The Haves and the Have-nots. The area was covered in housing developments, each hawking the concept that it was gracious living. McMansions. Double incomes to pay for a little piece of land and a poorly designed house. And it seemed that at every turn, there was a cluster of stores and grocers of all varieties.

Eventually the suburban landscape yielded to farmland. Horses dotted fields enclosed with white fences and cows lazily stood in grassy pastures. He could feel himself relaxing. Over the rise, a small town was tucked in a valley.

The town of Brighton wasn’t very big and appeared as though it had been built in the late 1800’s or maybe early 1900’s. He could picture a sepia-colored photograph with Model T’s traveling through the streets. Slowing to the posted 25 MPH speed, Ed found himself almost laughing at the quaint little place. How does a florist even stay in business in such a small town? A realtor sign hung over a doorway. He stopped.

***

Craig Jenski was finally coming home. He’d been counting down the days. After enduring seven surgeries and months of rehab, he now was capable of walking without limping. He had three weeks to decide if he wanted to stay in the Navy and be permanently transferred to the desk job, or if he wanted to get out. He had no desire to return to farming and couldn’t imagine living as a civilian, but he had leave time coming to him, and he was taking it.

Growing up in Brighton had been boring. He was thrilled to be accepted at the Naval Academy and get as far away as possible. Shortly after graduation, he was assigned to the Navy SEALs. As a young officer, he couldn’t think of a better place to be. The physical training was tough even for the farm boy that he was. The adrenalin rush of an assignment was astounding, but it was cool-headed thinking and coordinated effort that got them through everything. Until he returned to the base… Who would have thought? Stuff happens.

He drove past The Village Apartments on the far side of town. I wonder if Breanna is still here? Oh, what a total free spirit. He could remember her laughing and saying that she didn’t do letters. No ties. Just live life. Enjoy the moment. Life is too short, and she wanted to relish it.

Thinking about her made him smile. She put the fun in coming home. Sometimes, he wanted someone like her. She had a lot of good qualities, but she never wanted to reach beyond Brighton or do anything important in life. She swore that life was just fine where she was. He wanted more.

The thought of children ran through his head. He had always imagined a houseful, a pack of boys to play football. He smiled and turned down the road that would take him to his parents’ house. I’m getting too old to think about a big family when I don’t even have a wife.

***

Brandy awakened to a gray rainy day. It fit her mood. She had a long list of things to handle concerning her sister, starting with her sister’s body, and then she’d tackle whatever possessions had been placed in storage. At the funeral home, she managed to get through the paperwork without falling apart. The local bank had escrowed whatever funds Breanna had. It wasn’t much. The post office had weeks of mail. The rain slowed to a drizzle. Brandy should have stopped for lunch, but she wasn’t exactly hungry, and she wanted all the loose ends behind her. The next stop was The Village Apartments and their storage area where all of Breanna’s worldly possessions had been placed. I can’t imagine her having anything I want or need.

At the far end of the apartments was a cinder block storage building. She followed an older man to one of the smaller storage units.

“We tossed all of the food items, anything considered perishable or open, including any cleaning products,” the man said, as he opened the compartment door.

“What am I supposed to do about the things I don’t want?”

“Just leave it. You’ll be asked to sign a paper allowing us to dispose of it.”

“Sounds good.” She stepped into the narrow room that was half the size of her walk-in closet. Furniture was stacked to the point that she feared it might fall on her. She saw a crib and realized she would need one, but what her sister had… No thanks. A few things were left from her mom’s home. But there was nothing that she wanted. She had taken a few mementos when their mom died. She remembered telling her sister to take the rest, even though her sister protested that wasn’t splitting possessions evenly. Whatever Breanna didn’t want and sold, she was to keep the money.

One carton contained a china box and in it were a few trinkets that Breanna had saved from childhood. Brandy kept that box for Geraldine. Another box contained some baby clothes, but nothing was worth keeping. After going through all the boxes, Brandy had saved only a few things for her niece. Brandy knew she wasn’t sentimental, but Breanna was. The family photo album that now contained a few pictures of Breanna with the baby, Brandy knew she had to keep the album for Geraldine. When all the boxes had been checked, there was only a tiny pile of things, and they wouldn’t require a very large box.

There was also a plastic bin filled with important papers, bills, and receipts. Surprisingly, Breanna was diligent about some things and obviously paying bills was something she took seriously, even though she never seemed to have enough money. Also in the bin were several important papers. Her mom’s death certificate, wedding certificate, divorce papers, and even her mom’s birth certificate were in a file. Brandy found her own birth certificate along with her sister’s. Mom must have had them. Brandy didn’t bother to do anything more than casually peruse the contents and knew the entire container needed to be kept. She could sort it later. Satisfied that she had everything she needed or wanted, she signed the paperwork allowing the contents of the storage area to be disposed.

The rain had ended before she left the apartments’ storage area. Now it was hot and muggy. Perspiration had soaked everything she was wearing. She went back to the hotel room, took a quick shower, and dressed for the evening in a casual pair of wolf gray slacks. Then she returned to the same restaurant where she had eaten the previous night. Sitting and shopping online with her phone, she found an adorable crib for Geraldine and several other things for the child at a store online. She ordered them and had them shipped to her apartment. Also, she found an ebook on babies, bought it, and began to read it while she ate. Immunizations, fevers, diaper rashes, teething, introducing foods. How am I going to manage to raise a baby? Oh, Breanna, why did you do this to me?

Back in the hotel, she flipped through the papers that Social Services had given her until she found the list of things she would need when the baby was delivered to her. She put the list in her phone and knew she needed to shop for everything else in the morning. Satisfied that she had done all she could for one day, she tried to settle down and sleep. But the loss of her sister washed over her, sending her into another round of tears.

When morning broke, she found a place that served breakfast and she asked the waitress where she might find some necessary baby items. Near Buxton there was a super-sized mart that was supposed to carry everything.

The mart was bigger than any store she’d ever visited. Acres of things under one roof, each proclaiming the lowest price anywhere. There was an adorable little stroller, but picking the right car seat was a bit complicated. Within a short time, she had managed to obtain everything she needed, except for the diaper bag. She hated each one she saw in the infant department. But in women’s accessories, she found a colorful beach tote with all sorts of pockets and bought that instead. In the grocery section, she looked at baby foods and formula. Teething? How am I supposed to know when a baby teethes? Breanna, if you were here right now, I’d kill you.

AoMS Christmas Boxed Set Coming Up Soon! Sneak preview!

  1. Hi All!

Sending out my best to all those affected by the Texas hurricane, and other disasters. We’re thinking about you all over the world.

I thought I’d share the first draft of Chaper 1 of the novella I’ll be including in our Christmas anthology, (You’ll have to read the boxed set for the final version, all 12 stories will only be 99c on Amazon!)

Once Upon a Vet School #7

Lena takes a Foal.  

It’s actually part of a series…and it’s in the middle. The others will be written out from there!

In case you don’t know, I’m an equine vet and have until now written awarded historical fiction and technical veterinary non-fiction. My writing buddies have been after me for ages to write these stories, so thank you to Authors of Main Street for offering me the opportunity to stretch my literary wings!

I hope you enjoy my first dip into contemporary fiction–my stab at becoming the next, albeit female, James Herriot!

Enjoy!

Let me know what you think!

xx

Lizzi

CHAPTER ONE

1986 Northern California

Mickey’s roan ears, silhouetted against the pale green light filtering into the tiny glade, rose higher and higher before me and my heart froze—he’d never reared this high before. The light disappeared as the horse’s massive body blocked out the sun. A blinding flash of pain, and then only blessed darkness.

***

Someone was there in the darkness before us. Biting my lip, I reined Mickey to a halt at the sight of a strange white pickup glowing in the light of the dim bulb above the stable yard. The barn door creaked as it swung open, then closed behind the tall figure of a man in the distance. No men boarded horses here.

Who was it?

I swallowed hard, glancing from side to side to see if anyone else was around, my fingers tightening on the reins. Mickey backed up a step, his bit clanking as he threw his head, and the figure turned to face us.

“Hello, who’s there?” he called out.

Kit Allen, a resident from the veterinary school. I let out my breath and shivered as the butterflies dancing in my stomach overtook even the throbbing in my leg.

“It’s me, Lena Scott,” I said.

He walked toward me and I squeezed my legs to move my horse forward before I thought. I yelped, but bit it off.

“What the heck are you doing out riding at this hour?” His brows narrowed as I rode up to him. “And what have you done to your face?”

“Ahhh…we had a…disagreement about going home.”

“Looks like the roan won. Bit late for a ride, isn’t it?” He set down a bucket of bandaging materials and held one of Mickey’s reins.

“I left mid-afternoon.” I said, wincing. “I only got as far as the glade, a few miles across the fields.”

“Are you OK?” He frowned as his eyes scanned the perfectly cool horse, then his gaze snapped to mine.

“I’ve hurt my leg.” My attempt at nonchalance came out as a whine. My left foot hung free of the stirrup—the leg hurt too much to do anything else.

“What have you done with Lena?” Kit muttered to the horse, as he moved to his near side and froze. He stared at the swelling bulging above the top of my boot, all the way to mid-thigh, then at my eyes, as comprehension dawned. “Is this horse called Mickey? What happened?”

I took a deep breath. I didn’t want anyone to know, especially someone from the vet school.

“Yes, it’s Mickey. He fell on me.”

“He fell? It’s flat out there.” His voice was terse and the furrows on his brow deepened further.

“He went over backwards,” I whispered, my heart in my throat.

“That riding school he came from should—” He stopped and gritted his teeth. “Anyway, you’re hurt.” His voice softened. “Can you get down?”

I shook my head.

“I was wondering how I’d get off,” I said, surveying the rickety old corral fences.

“Let me help.” He was tall enough to hold me around the waist and pull me carefully from the saddle. I whimpered at the pain when I bumped the leg and clamped my jaws together, then told the butterflies to go to play somewhere else while he lowered me to the ground.

I gasped when my bad limb hit the dirt.

“I’ll put him away and give you a ride.” Kit released me as soon as I was bearing weight on it.

“I can drive mys—”

“—good thing you were wearing that thing. There’s a great dent in it.” He raised a brow at me, eyeing the back of my helmet. “You were knocked out, weren’t you?”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t know.”

“Right. I don’t know what you’d planned, but you won’t manage the heavy clutch in your old truck with that leg, will you? I’ll take you to the hospital.”

“I hadn’t actually thought past getting back to the barn in one piece,” I mumbled, mostly to myself, as he led the horse away. I wrung my hands. “His feed’s made up,” I called after him.

“I’ll find it.” Kit slipped the girth as he walked and pulled the saddle off.

I limped to get my backpack, then closed my eyes, wishing my hot cheeks would cool down as I leaned against Kit’s truck—I recognized it now, it was a vet school ambulatory vehicle. Its metal panel cooled the burning abrasions on the backs of my arms. Maybe I should press my face against it, and the rest of my aching body.

I started when Kit spoke.

“Hop in,” he said, and led the roan into his stall. He growled something low at the horse, then exited the barn with my saddle over his arm.

“Can’t you get in?” he said, as he walked up.

I shook my head and glanced down at my swollen leg.

His eyes following mine, he grimaced, then picked me up with care and set me on the passenger seat.

“We need to get that boot off and get you to the hospital.”

“I’ll be fine at home, thanks.”

“You need the hospital.” His brows narrowed until they nearly touched.

“No. Thank you.”

He gritted his teeth in silence for a moment.

“How about student health?”

“I’ll be fine. They’ll tell me to elevate it, take anti-inflammatories, and rest.”

“Correct, but you should get checked out.”

“Can you please just check me?”

He sighed and pulled a penlight from his pocket, flicked it at my eyes, first one, then the other, then back and forth between them.

“Your light reflexes are normal, but that leg…”

“It’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.”

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

“Home it is, then, but get it checked out as soon as possible, OK?”

Every tiny bump in the road on the way home jarred my leg. By the time we got near home, I was nearly vomiting from the pain, but riding beside Dr. Kit Allen made up for a lot. For the past few years, he’d had my utter admiration—bordering on hero worship, though he didn’t know me from a bar of soap. Dr. Allen was a magician with horses. He really seemed to care about them—not just their diagnosis and treatment—but them. I glanced across the cab to his profile outlined by a streetlamp. Pretty drop-dead gorgeous, too, if you happen to like your classical tall, dark and handsome. And his way with horses—that really got to me.

I shook my head.

Just remember how tall, dark, and handsome turned out last time.

“Is there someone at your place that can help you with your boot? Getting it on—off, I mean?” He flushed in the glow from the dashboard lights and clamped his lips together.

I clamped my own to keep from grinning at his blush. Made me feel better about mine, but it wasn’t helping me keep my mind where it belonged, really. Residents weren’t meant to consort with students. I’d never spent time with him, other than reporting on his cases in ICU, and perving when he wasn’t looking. Though he had a sharp wit, he didn’t say much. He’d seemed stuck up and hailed from the snobbiest horsey town in our home county, so I’d kept my distance, despite his regular appearances in my dreams for the past several months. He’d been pretty nice tonight—maybe he was just shy. The butterflies started kicking again, and I told them to quit.

“My housemate Tamarah might be home.”

He let out a long breath and a hint of a smile touched his lips.

“You might get that field boot off before some idiot wants to cut it off…the only reason not go to the hospital, I guess,” he said, with the hint of a grin.

“Call me vain, but I’d almost rather cut off my leg than this Dehner boot—I’ve waited two decades to own a pair,” I said, and reached down to loosen its lace. “You’d understand about good boots.”

“How’s that?”

“Some comment I overheard in ICU, sorry,” my cheeks heated further, “about you showing hunter-jumpers—to the degree of resetting shoes between judges to change your horses’ movement.”

“We were kinda serious.” He grinned. “Good thing I worked my way through college as a farrier. Kept the bills down.”

No lights showed as we stopped before my house. This time he didn’t even ask if I could manage. He came around to my side, picked me up and carried me to the door as if weighed nothing. Desired or not, his face that up-close and personal was disconcerting, so I turned my heated cheeks away and fumbled with the house keys as we stood exposed in the light of the bare porch bulb.

Ten minutes later, after displaying more swearing and tears than I’d have preferred, we got the boot off, intact.

“There’s a bandage in the bathroom, top drawer, and naproxen in the cabinet,” I said, surveying the leg, already blue from my toes to the top of my thigh. The pain was pretty unbearable by now.

“Are these yours?” He shot me a look and held up my running shorts. My face smoked now. They’d been on the bathroom floor beneath some lacy panties.

I nodded, and he tossed the shorts to me and disappeared.

“Put them on, please,” he called from the bathroom. “I’d like to check that leg.”

Sounded like he was talking about a horse. I grinned, despite myself, and managed to peel my breeches down and off, then tugged the nylon shorts up as he returned with a compression bandage, pills and a glass of water.

Dr. Allen blinked at the leg, then checked the femur, tibia and fibula for stability. Taking the heel in one hand, he flexed, extended, and rotated the joints in all directions, but nothing crunched, while I bit my cheek. It’d be the hospital for sure, if I let myself scream.

“No crepitus, and the joints work fine. I’ll bandage it up, but you must get it looked at.”

I compressed my lips together. I had two weeks to recover before school and work started again.

Piece of cake.

***

For all my bravado, Tamarah, my fourth-year vet student housemate, still had to go with a friend to the barn the next day to pick up my truck and feed the horse—I wasn’t going anywhere.

“How did you get back?” Tamarah said, after she returned. “It’s a long way to the barn from where he dumped you.”

“Rode back,” I mumbled through a full mouth.

“Didn’t Mickey leave?”

“I had his reins in a death-grip when I woke up in the dark,” I said. “I learned young to keep hold of my reins when I fell off—riding boots aren’t exactly made for hiking home in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“How’d you get back on him? That’s your mounting leg.” She frowned at my swollen appendage.

“Hopped to a fallen log, clinging to his mane, then clambered onto his back all anyhow, swearing and sweating like a demented thing. I still ache all over.”

“And you haven’t seen a doctor?” Tamarah said, glancing up from her granola.

“It’s OK, Dr. Allen checked it out.”

She blinked.

“Dr. Allen? The resident? Where did you see him?”

“He was at the barn when I rode in on Mickey.”

“That’s all very well,” she set down her spoon down carefully, “but he’s a vet. You need a human doctor.”

“Are you serious, Tam?” I stared at her. “They’ll put me in the hospital.”

“Where you belong,” she stated flatly.

“I can’t make my rent if I don’t finish typing Sarah’s doctoral dissertation before school starts again.”

“You can do that in hospital.”

“Yeah, I can’t even lift the electric typewriter, I’m sure that’s going to work. No, I’ll just have to take care of it at home. I can keep it elevated and massage the heck out of it.”

She shook her head as she rinsed her bowl in the sink.

“Besides, if I’m in hospital and miss classes, I’ll never catch up.”

“Of course you will.” Her brows narrowed at me. “Why didn’t Dr. Allen take you to the hospital?”

“He tried,” I said, wincing.

“Sometimes you have rocks in your head, girl.” Tamarah shook her head as she slapped my bowl down on the counter and stalked off.

Some people just seem to be born brilliant. Like Tamarah. Somehow I’d ended up with 150 of them in my vet school class. The rest of us work our buns off just to survive.

I’m not bitter, it’s just the way it is.

***

The jingle of the ice cream truck pulled me out of whatever internal medicine doctorate-dissertation trance I was in, typing myself stupid. I’d been stuck in bed with Sarah’s Previously Unknown E. coli in a Dog for nearly a week and I had a desperate urge to catch that truck—and snag me a chocolate gelato.

Never mind I could barely make it to the toilet.

With a frown at Tamarah’s makeshift desk sitting over my lap, topped by 35 pounds of IBM Selectric correcting electric typewriter, I bit my lip, held my breath and heaved. The typewriter budged…but not enough. I tried again and managed to get it off my legs, then I swung my legs over and dived for the door…but my leg was trapped in the sheet, wasn’t it?

I hit the floor with a grunt and a scream, then dragged myself to the doorframe and climbed up its slippery surface.

That ice cream had better be good.

I staggered down the hallway, leaning against the wall as I went. If I’d gone to the doctor, I’d no doubt have a crutch, but I had to decline, didn’t I? I nearly fell over Tamarah’s golden Labrador, who ran up to me with her leash in her mouth and a hopeful look in her big brown eyes.

“Watch out, Susie, not now,” I mumbled, then stumbled down the porch steps. I was limping across the lawn at a great rate of knots, when the brightly painted van, playing its merry tune, drove away in a cloud of diesel smoke.

I growled beneath my breath at the universe for denying me the chance to add inches to my waistline, then took a deep breath and looked up to see the mailbox. I might as well check it, now I was out here.

“Susie, what have you got?” I called out to the dog, as I reached into the mailbox. She looked at me, all big, innocent Labrador eyes, with a half-grown bunny draped through her mouth.

“Gently, gently,” I whispered, as I followed her into the bushes, dragging my screaming leg and picked up the leash she’d dropped. Any domestic type rabbit, like this Belgian Lop, running around in the middle of town must be someone’s pet. It was currently still alive, hyperventilating, its little chest heaving in triple time, but that could change in a heartbeat.

“Come on, Susie, give it here,” I cajoled, and waved her leash at her.

With a joyous look, she spat the rabbit at me and lunged for the leash. I dove for the bunny like a wide receiver making the final play in the end zone, quite forgetting for one brief moment that I only had one functional leg.

This time, I’m sure the whole neighborhood heard me swear.

I figured it must be time to exercise my leg, so Susie got her walk, after all. We returned to the house and I put the bunny in a box with some water and lettuce to calm down while I fashioned a rough—operative word, rough—crutch.  After loading the bunny into a backpack, while trying to prevent Labrador from helping, it snuggled down quiet, then we set off to tour the neighborhood. Susie’s enthusiasm helped me—I think—to hobble from house to house, while muttering imprecations under my breath, for the next hour until we found the little old lady whose granddaughter had brought it over to show it off last week—and forgot about it while it was grazing on granny’s back lawn.

They’d thought they’d never see it again.

Made my day.

***

A few days later, despite the hydrotherapy, massage, and loving care by Tamarah, the leg actually looked worse. Not content to stay a nice blue color, it had morphed to a camouflage pattern of purple, black and yellow. Understanding the medical significance of the color changes was all very nice, but it didn’t make the bruises resolve any faster.

“Do you want to see that blasted horse of yours?” Tamarah said,

“Really, you’ll take me?”

She scowled at my enthusiasm.

“I go there every day to take care of him, anyway,” she grumbled. “You might as well come along…on one condition.”

“What is it?” I was rather ungracious, under the circumstances. She’d been caring for Mickey and me since my fall. I peered sideways at her.

“We go by student health on the way back. I don’t want to come home from walking the dog to find you seizuring from a blood clot in your brain.”

Susie jumped to her feet at the W-word and spat her slimy tennis ball at me. I sidestepped and gave her a twisted grin, thankful, after the bunny incident, that the dog was good at hurling things with her mouth.

“My father would shoot me,” Tamarah continued smoothly, “if he knew I’d let you stay away from the doctor.”

That got me.

Tamarah’s daddy, a lovely man, was also a professor…at our veterinary school. I bit my cheek. He wouldn’t be impressed by my irresponsible behavior. Now was not the time to annoy his daughter. It’d also occurred to me that a more comfortable crutch could be useful when school started—in too few days.

“Thanks,” I managed, past gritted teeth. “I’d like that…the first part, but…I’ll go to the doctor.”

“Get a sock on that foot and we’ll go,” she said.

I hopped away as fast as I could, before she changed her mind.

While Tamarah cleaned his stall, I mooned over the fence at Mickey. The creature at least had the decency to look guilty when I limped toward him with his feed.

“Don’t even think about taking him for a walk, much less riding.” Tamarah stood between me and the tack room, with a look on her face that made me cringe.

I quashed the desire to ask for his halter and kissed his soft nose, instead.

***

“I’ll wait out here,” Tamarah said fifteen minutes later, with a triumphant smile, as she opened the car door for me outside student health.

“You should have come in right away,” the doctor said, with a frown. “You could have had a blood clot! How long has it been?”

“A week and a half,” I mumbled into my shirt.

“I see you rushed right in.” She scowled and shook her head. “What have you been doing for it?”

Her demeanor softened a little when I told her.

“I guess you’re out of the danger zone, anyway. I’d have hospitalized you.”

I nodded.

“So you start school next week? What are you studying?”

“Vet med.”

“Vet?” She blinked. “You should know bett—oh well,” she sighed, and scribbled in her notes. “Never mind. Small animals, I hope? Try to stay off it. Sit down while you’re treating your patients.”

I mumbled something incoherent, lacking have the heart to tell her I was Equine Track and worked as a Large Animal ICU Technician—galloping on foot between three barns, running IV fluids to twelve horses at a time, and tubing colicky horses all night. She’d have the vapors.

Oblivious to her patient’s dastardly plans, the doctor smiled and left me with a packet of anti-inflammatories and admonitions to rest, elevate it, and keep up the massage.

At least I could hold my head up in front of Tamarah again, but I was still rather glad school was about to start. While I appreciated her loving, if tight-lipped, care, I really didn’t need the pillow under my leg fluffed every fifteen minutes and if I kept drinking so many hot chocolates, I’d never fit my jeans again when the swelling in my leg eventually went down. I still hopped, but getting to class on time could be tricky—not travelling at my regular speed.

***

My friend Jess returned from a trip away with her family the night before classes were to resume.

“Did you see what our first lecture is tomorrow?” Her voice over the phone line leapt with expectancy.

I pulled the schedule from my bag, where it had lain, forgotten, since the final day of last quarter. One glance, and my grin at her excitement vanished. Spots swam before my eyes as I read the title on the first lecture:

Dystocia: Difficult Birth in the Mare and Determining the Need for Surgical Intervention

I nearly dropped the phone.

Not dystocia. Not foaling difficulties.

Anything but that.


 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter One of Once Upon a Vet School, volume 7! To read the final version and the rest of my story, and eleven more, you’ll have to see our Christmas Boxed Set, out SOON!!!!!

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xx

Lizzi