Down here on the other side of the planet from most of my fellow Main St authors, the daffodils are over, the tulips are almost finished, and the cherry and plum trees are covered in tiny fruit that will, given sun, rain, and not too much wind, be ready for eating around Christmas.
I have to go on a mission to the far side of our two acres to see if I can find the codlin moth trap that blew out of the apple tree to which it was wired. We have strong winds in my neck of the woods. It’s a clever device, with a rubber nodule imbued in female pheremones. Lustful male codlin moths are lured in by the device, and become stuck to the floor of the trap, thus saving my apples from an entire generation of apple-boring caterpillars. Were it not for the wind.
Sadly, between the day job, three anthologies all coming up to release date, the current novel I’m working on, and the novella that possessed me last weekend, I haven’t quite got around to rescuing next autumn’s apples. And I’ve just noticed a bit of curly leaf on the peach trees, so there’s another job to feel guilty about while I’m not doing them.
On the other hand, I’ve written a wonderful homily for my hellfire and brimstone preacher in the current work-in-progress—he does not at all like women, and illustrates his view of them with examples from the Bible. I’ve also found and purchased a book about French prisoners of war in Scotland’s prisoner of war camps in the early nineteenth century, which is going to be a real help with the novel. And I’ve taken an afternoon off with the love of my life, my Personal Romantic Hero, to watch Wonder Woman. PRH and I both really enjoyed it.
Christmas Babies on Main Street is out tomorrow. Can you believe it? I’m so excited. Here’s a sneak peak at A Family Christmas, my novella in the box set. It’s the first contemporary I’ve written in years, since my last story for New Zealand’s National Radio, and I hope you love reading it as much as I d writing it.
Her hostess picked up one case and led the way through a cluttered washroom—laundry appliances on one side, coats and boots on the other—and into one end of a large country kitchen. Following with the second case, Lee barely had time to take in the gleaming appliances, the large old-fashioned kitchen table, the hint of a dining zone in the shadows at the far end of the room, before being ushered down a narrow hall, and into a small bedroom, plain and neat, with a white coverlet on the single bed, a tall chest of drawers, and a lamp on the splay-legged wooden table beside the bed.
Cheryl seemed too large for the room, a Xena Warrior Princess in scruffy jeans and a tee that proclaimed “I Was Normal A Bunch Of Sheep Ago.” No makeup or jewelry. Long dark hair caught at the nape of her neck in a stretchy band. Bare feet.
“This’ll be yours. The bathroom is next door, toilet one door further along. Try not to make too much noise; my grandfather is asleep. I’ll go make the tea.” She stopped in the doorway and half turned her head. “Or do you prefer coffee?” Coffee, the tone said, was the sort of barbaric drink American criminals on the run would drink in the middle of the night, and Lee agreed that tea would be fine.
Lee took off her jacket and unzipped the cases, which were filled with clothing. Not the sort she usually wore. No designer slacks or pencil-thin skirts. No soft silk shirts or pull-on tops. No expertly tailored jackets or killer heels. Not even any name-brand casuals. Practical jeans, cotton tees, and loose sweaters, all sized to fit her.
A toiletries bag held more brands she had not seen before, and a pencil case with a glittered Hello Kitty picture proved to contain some cheap pieces of costume jewelry.
Some of the garments were new. Most showed signs of wear. Whoever had put her luggage together had taken pains to make it look as if she’d bought her clothes over time, like a real person. Apart from her Givenchy handbag and the clothes on her back, everything she had came from someone else’s life.
The tea was waiting when she emerged back into the kitchen, the pot covered with a knitted cover in the shape of a large pink pig. Cheryl waved her to a seat, and held up a jug. “Milk?” No smile, no warmth, hostile eyes. No. Wary eyes.
“Please, and sugar.” What did this sister know? What could Lee tell her?
Cheryl pushed over a mug and then a china tub of sugar. “I can make a sandwich if you’re hungry.”
Lee shook her head. “They gave me a meat pie. Somewhere. Ms. Karaka, what have they told you about me?”
Cheryl sat with both strong hands on her mug, her head tipped slightly to one side as she considered the question.
“Don’t ask. Don’t tell. My brother married you this morning. That’s all I know. I don’t know who you are or what trouble you are in—or what trouble you are to Trevor. Did he marry you because he loved you or as part of his investigation?”
Lee’s throat went suddenly dry, remembering the roaring confrontation between Jason and Bernard. “To save my life. I– I don’t think I’m meant to say more.”
Cheryl leaned towards her across the table. “Is he okay? They never tell us anything. A note now and again to say he is alive and the investigation is ongoing.”
“He was when I saw him this morning,” Cheryl assured her. “He… I think I’m to give you this.” Lee handed over the envelope, and read the card upside down when Cheryl opened it. The front said “Happy birthday. Here’s to another year of you successfully evading my assassins.” Cheryl near impaled Lee with her gaze when she reached those words. “Assassins? Flippin’ Heck!”
Inside, Jason had written, ‘I’ve asked some friends to drop off a lame duck they rescued for me. Look after her, Lily. I’ll drop by and get her when I can. “It wasn’t signed. He’d just drawn a leaf, a few deft strokes of his pen.
“Daft idiot,” Cheryl opined with a small smile, closing the card and putting it back into the envelope. “Okay, Lee. My brother wants you here, that’s good enough. But we don’t carry deadweight. You’ll do your share of the work in return for your board and keep.”
“I’m willing, but I’ve never done farm work.”
“Never chipped a nail, looks like.”
“I’ll learn,” Lee vowed.