Stuart knew he’d get burned,
but Taylor tempted him to light the match anyway.
And when he did, her life’s plan caught fire and turned to ash.
Following the rules would have been safer.
Animated book cover by morganwrightbooks.com
Stuart knew he’d get burned,
but Taylor tempted him to light the match anyway.
And when he did, her life’s plan caught fire and turned to ash.
Following the rules would have been safer.
Animated book cover by morganwrightbooks.com
Cool off with a frosty New Year’s Eve Chapter One excerpt from The Garden Collection, a story of courage, strength, and unconditional love. I’ve posted the New Year’s Eve Prologue to this sweet romance a few years ago. If you prefer to start there, here’s the LINK. Enjoy.
Friday, December 31st – Present Day
Standing behind the counter at Mason’s Diner, Brianna Carlson waited for Henry Mason to pass her orders through the grill window. The breakfast and lunch crowd had her running. Now, the late lunchers filled only three of the ten stools at the counter and two of the eight booths along the windows.
Her half-sister Chloe’s paper snowflakes covered all of the windows as if another blizzard had hit town. Multi-color Christmas lights blinked around the window frames. By the cash register next to the counter, a two-foot-high fake Christmas tree held so many of Chloe’s homemade ornaments the patrons couldn’t see the branches.
Catching her breath, Brianna stared at the poster behind the register and smiled. Lucy had suggested Bree put her own doodle sketches to good work and enter the competition to design the New Year’s Eve Gala poster. Out of one hundred applicants, she won. She had drawn dark snowy woods where the old trees have snarled branches. The trees’ arthritic fingers reach for the sparkling red box with a bright white bow that illuminates the small clearing. The caption reads What is the Ultimate Gift?
Bree was proud of herself and so were the regulars at the diner. They celebrated her excitement by encouraging her to attend the gala. As the winner, she received one hundred dollars and a ticket to the party. She had saved her money for three weeks to buy a dress with matching purse and shoes.
“Bree, your order’s up,” Henry yelled from behind the grill. She saw only his eyes and the top of his bandana-covered baldhead through the open window.
The retired men along the counter chuckled. “Are you daydreaming again, Cinderella?” Charlie asked as he took off his baseball cap that had covered his thinning gray fringe.
Blushing, she laughed. “Maybe I’ll find my Prince Charming tonight,” she replied, picking up the BLT and cheeseburger platters.
George unrolled his silverware from his napkin. “Are you ever going to tell us what’s in the red box from your poster?”
She set Charlie’s BLT in front of him and grabbed the ketchup from under the counter. “What do you think is in the box?” she asked, handing George the bottle for his burger and fries.
“Money?” George asked.
“How about keys to a yacht?” Charlie added.
“I know what’s in the box,” Chloe said from the end of the counter. Her long brown hair in a thick braid matched her big sister’s. Chloe bit into a French fry and grinned.
“Well, my sweet one, please share with us,” Bev Mason said from behind the cash register. With her wrinkled smile, she played the elder matron with ease.
Chloe looked at her. “Can I tell them?”
Bree laughed and nodded. “I always thought it was obvious,” she said, absently touching her gold locket tucked under her Mason’s Diner t-shirt.
“Tell us right now,” George demanded. He winked at Chloe as he wiped his mouth.
“It’s love, sillies. I can’t believe you never guessed it.”
“Oh, and you’re a genius?” Bev asked
“I’ve gotten all excellent marks so far in first grade,” Chloe stated.
Brianna nodded. “You have a lot of wonderful tutors,” she said, glancing at her work family.
Chloe had grown up on that stool. They had put her name on it. Bree felt blessed that Bev and Henry let her work and care for Chloe at the same time. Over the years, the regulars had taken turns keeping her occupied. She and Chloe had many aunts and uncles.
As the men teased Chloe that they had made her smart, Officer Eddie Kent stomped his feet inside the door. In his dark blue uniform and auburn crew cut, he sat at the opposite end of the counter. Having known Eddie since they were in kindergarten, Bree greeted him with his usual glass of milk.
“It’s not ready yet?” he asked.
She frowned. “I wasn’t sure you were working today. I’ll get right on it.”
Bree quickly entered the kitchen and helped Henry with the order of rare steak and scrambled eggs with a side of raw onions and garlic toast. Eddie ate it every day he worked. Superstitious about his job, he said it kept him safe. For the last year, that’s all he ate. She carefully set his plates in front of him. She had learned not to stand too close afterward.
“Bree, don’t worry. I’m here if you need anything,” Eddie said, reaching for the knife.
“Kent! I will explain it,” Chief Mason said, taking up the entire doorway.
Brianna looked at Cameron Mason, the Chief of Rushing for the last ten years. With his bushy brown mustache, he reminded her of a young Sam Elliott from the Western movies. He had the deep voice like him, too. All he needed was a cowboy hat. Bev and Henry were proud of him and his profession although Bev hoped he’d marry soon. She wanted grandbabies.
Bree thought of him as an overly protective big brother. Since she didn’t have a car or a license for that matter, he’d give them a ride occasionally across town to their tiny loft apartment. He also lectured her on safety. She and Chloe paid attention to all of his rules.
Chief Mason smoothed down his thick mustache with his thumb and finger and pointed her to the end booth. His business-like manner unnerved her. With a hand over her stomach, she sat.
He stopped Chloe from jumping off her stool. “Stay put. I want to talk to Bree in private.”
“Cam, what’s wrong?” she asked as he sat across from her.
“I just found out Wayne got parole.”
She gasped. “When?”
“He’ll be released tomorrow. Because of overcrowding, he’s being let out earlier than I had expected. There was nothing I could do.”
“Oh, God.” She placed her shaking hands on her lap. Chloe stared at her reaction. “Do you think he’ll come back here?” she whispered.
“I honestly don’t know. Follow my rules, Bree. They’ll keep you safe. If you see him anywhere in town, call my cell,” he said, pulling out his card.
She stopped him. “I still have it memorized.”
Cam nodded and left for the kitchen to talk to his father. She stared out the window at the two fresh inches of snow. What should she do? Wayne’s letters from prison promised to take Chloe away from her. She had no legal rights. Could he come back and reclaim his daughter? She would not let that happen. He would never lay a hand on Chloe. Bree had taken the brunt for years so he wouldn’t hurt her.
Chloe knew next to nothing about her father. Bree had told her that he was in jail because he had hurt them. Bree had preached taking responsibility for your actions since Chloe could talk.
Chloe thought it was like being grounded for doing something naughty. That pretty much summed it up. Although Bree didn’t think Wayne would learn anything from the experience except more contempt toward her for putting him there. He would return to make her suffer. She had to leave. She jumped as Chloe slid in next to her.
“Bree, what’s the matter?
She hugged her. “Nothing for you to worry about, my sweet Clover,” she said, nudging her out of the booth. “I have to get back to work.”
While she made plans in her head, she absently cleared the tables. While carrying the tub of dirty dishes, she banged her shin into the metal cart behind the counter. The tub crashed to the floor. Plates and mugs shattered. With tears in her eyes, she rushed to clean the mess. This usually happened when she was stressed or tired. With partial blindness in her left eye and a limp from a healed broken leg, her coordination sometimes made her clumsy.
Eddie Kent laughed as he finished his meal. “Bev, have you run out of plates yet?”
Bree looked up at her. “I’m sorry.”
Bev smiled. “Honey, it’s an hour past your shift. We know it’s not your fault. Why don’t you and Chloe take off? Tonight’s the big night.”
As she put the last broken plate in the tub, she slid it to the side and stood. Charlie grinned and asked, “You’ll save me a dance?”
“I’m first in line. She promised me yesterday,” George added.
Bree smiled as they tried to cheer her up. “Only if you can recognize me. It’s a masquerade ball after all.”
She helped Chloe with her coat, hat, and mittens. Stepping outside, she took a deep breath. They would make a run for it. They’d hide, and Wayne would eventually give up looking. With a purpose, she reached for her sister’s hand.
“Bree, do you want a ride?” Eddie asked, absently patting the gun at his side.
Resisting the urge to wrinkle her nose at his horrid breath, she shook her head. “We have errands. Thank you though.”
Bree gently tugged Chloe’s hand down the street. They had three stops before she dropped Chloe off with Lucy, who was recuperating from a sprained ankle. Luckily, the stops were in order of the direction they were going. Chloe shuffled her boots through the snow on the sidewalk and sang “Let it Snow.”
After closing out her savings account with one hundred and twenty-six dollars, she pulled open the door to the pawnshop. The stifling heat hit them in the face as they wiped their boots on the rug just inside the door. She spotted Gus Fuller wearing a Santa hat. He had played Santa at the diner’s Christmas party. With a long white beard, he fit the part perfectly.
Bree sighed. “I need to talk to Gus for a moment. Do you want to wander around?” Chloe nodded and headed for the stack of board games while Bree met him at the counter. “I’d, uh, like to see what I can get for this,” she said, slipping her precious locket over her head.
Gus turned it in his hand. “This is a high-end piece. I’d say it’s worth about two grand. I can only give you five hundred, but Donovan’s Jewelry may give you more.”
She groaned. Robert had spent too much money on her. Her eyes started to water. She quickly wiped her face. This is about responsibility and survival not sentimental trinkets. She took the locket back from him and stared at it. She wore it all the time and touched it often. She was surprised the etched ivy hadn’t worn off. Finally nodding, she set it back on the counter. She had to protect Chloe. As she tucked the money into her wallet, Chloe joined her with a magic kit.
“Bree, do we have extra for this? It’s three dollars,” Chloe said.
Gus smiled. “It’s yours for a hug.”
Chloe laughed and ran around the counter. After paying with a hug, she kissed his cheek and tugged his beard. “Thanks, Gus.”
With slouched shoulders, Brianna moved toward the door.
“Bree, take care of yourself,” Gus said quietly.
She wanted to grab her locket and run. Instead, she limped out the door. There would be no turning back.
The bus station had one last departure at five tonight for Chicago. She didn’t think they’d have time to pack so she opted for the ten o’clock trip tomorrow morning. She wanted to be selfish and go to the gala. Her one last hurrah.
Continue reading The Garden Collection on AMAZON
… Joe spun Madeline around and the song ended. As he dipped her low, her long brown hair brushed the floor. With his face a few inches from hers, she was panting. Lost in his vibrant green eyes, she lifted her head and kissed him. She barely touched his lips, but the nerve endings in hers sent an electrical shock throughout her body. A wave of heat followed. Her body lit up with awareness as if a bolt of lightning shot out from her toes … ~ Chemical Attraction
“…the Perfect Mix of Mystery, Suspense & Romance…”
All of 48fourteen eBooks are on sale on Amazon for $0.99, until life returns to some kind of normal. Until then, get your read on! –> https://amzn.to/2yJqgcS
You’ll find thrillers, romance, YA, science fiction, and horror–something for everyone.
All are free with Kindle Unlimited.
… The desire in Stuart’s eyes made her swoon. She forgot her name; she forgot to breathe. With a tender kiss, he wrapped her up in his arms. Her hands craved the heat through his shirt … from Their Rigid Rules
To celebrate my December 31st birthday, my New Year’s Eve romance, The Garden Collection, is on SALE for $0.99 until 12/31/19. In this story, Robert Donovan learns that home is where his heart is.
I took a single defining moment from my childhood to create a story with the theme about the energy of words and how they affect us. You can read that embarrassing story here.
A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime.
Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas. Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration. He found it in the letters she wrote.
BRIANNA CARLSON, an optimistic realist, appreciates the little things in life. Working at the local diner in their wintry rural town in West Michigan, she pushes the stress of caring for her half-sister, CHLOE, aside focusing instead on the unconditional love she gives and receives.
Her best friend’s brother, ROBERT DONOVAN, regally proper and polished, balances his business acumen with his artwork for his family’s jewelry store.
In THE GARDEN COLLECTION, a Cinderella-esque romance, Brianna receives news that her abusive step-father will be released from prison. She’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time. She decides to leave town.
After traveling the world, Robert returns home and discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent. She never received any of his. Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe. As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again.
Grab a copy of The Garden Collection, write a review, and/or share this post. I appreciate your support. Thank you. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
My publisher at 48fourteen is running a Giveaway TODAY ONLY (6/7/19)
TODAY’s the ONLY Day!
1) Grab your FREE copy of CHEMICAL ATTRACTION!
2) Read. Enjoy. Write a Review.
“…the Perfect Mix of Mystery, Suspense & Romance…”
In this gripping stand-alone novel, Dr. Madeline Pierce, a dedicated scientist working in nanotechnology, has pain in her heart from an abusive relationship. She hides in her research. His charisma masking his loneliness, FBI Agent Joe Roberts searches for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.
When Madeline discovers discrepancies at her medical research facility, the FBI sends Joe as a courtesy. Joe and Madeline soon realize they have bigger issues to deal with other than their Chemical Attraction.
In the nearby farming town, animals violently attack the residents. Someone is experimenting outside the laboratory. Are human test subjects next? With the help of Joe’s sister Eva, a physician assistant at the local hospital, and her husband Chief Matt Connor, Joe and Madeline hunt for this new bio-weapon before the death toll rises.
I recently did a podcast with C.K. Brooke, a fellow 48fourteen author and gracious hostess. In my usual awkwardness with social media, I had a pit in my gut for a week leading up to this interview. This fun chat between authors made me want to barf. (FYI: I suck at small talk.) However, my New Year’s resolution was to do new things.
I’ve never used Skype so my tech savvy son and daughter gave me a tutorial—basically Look there, Click here. Great! Got it!
Luckily, my son, an avid gamer, set me up using his equipment. I wasn’t totally clueless—listen through the headphones and talk into the microphone. I’ve seen his charismatic stream on Twitch many times so I would try to channel my inner Son.
To practice, I Skyped with my daughter. Surprisingly, I had fun with her—talking like Johnny Fever spinning records in his booth. (Yeah, I know. I dated myself.)
The morning before the call, I paced. I already had a list of possible topics to keep from freezing up. My big concern now was choking, figuratively and literally, but my son pointed to the mute button for those emergencies. With two thumbs up, I took a deep breath, flashed back to Mr. Martin’s high school speech class, and then cringed.
C.K. Brooke was an absolute delight. With my background in holistic health, I talked about my experience with Past Life Regression and how it related to my writing. She had written a series on the topic, The Past-Life Chronicles Vol. 1 and The Past-Life Chronicles Vol. 2. (I already downloaded my copies. The idea of past lives has always fascinated me.)
C.K. has a natural gift as an interviewer and she understands the nuances of promoting on social media. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from her. She. Is. Awesome.
After the interview, I wondered why I was so nervous. Would I do this again? Sure. Would I still be nervous? Of course.
So how did I do? You be the judge.
You can also subscribe to C.K. Brooke’s YouTube Channel and listen to her interviews with other authors.
My background in biology gave me a love of science and an insight into the physical realm of the body. My holistic understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine taught me that LOVE affects the body in powerful ways.
As a retired acupuncturist, I now enjoy writing about the physical science, the emotional workings of our mind and heart, and the spiritual energy that taps into our passions. I think Chemistry can be considered Holistic Science. What do you think?
Enjoy this excerpt from Chemical Attraction
Joe would investigate her suspicions into the company, which would pair them together for the next few days. How exciting! Who would have guessed Aunt Sylvia’s mystery man was Eva’s brother and the FBI agent sent to help her?
In a formal dance position, Madeline shivered slightly at Joe’s warm hand on her waist. His other holding hers set a wave of heat to her face. She craved more of his touch. She gently squeezed his bicep and shoulder. Even through his suit jacket, she felt his taut muscles.
She inhaled his cologne mixed with his sweat from drumming earlier. He oozed a chemical attraction. As a neuroscientist, she had read about the effects of pheromones. Fascinated, she wanted to lean in closer to taste his neck. She blinked and stiffened slightly. Calm down! Joe was here officially as an agent of the FBI. And she would not become one of those women in his phone.
But, it had been a year since she danced in a man’s arms, her uncle’s arms. Most men couldn’t dance, not that she bothered to find out for sure. It didn’t surprise her that Joe knew how. She supposed it was another way of impressing women. And, damn, if it wasn’t working.
Joe moved her around the dance floor with ease as if they were the only ones there. His body heat lulled her into a fantasy world … the envy of all the young women who had flirted with him earlier. Yes, she had kept track.
When the next song’s tempo increased, he moved her so quickly that her bun began to unravel. She laughed. Was this what fun was like?
As part of my short story anthology, Searching for Her, I wrote “Purple Roses” for those missing loved ones during the Holidays. It’s also for the lonely ones searching for love.
Joe Roberts and Sylvia Folkert are two of my favorite characters in The Chemical Attraction Series. I wanted to give them a poignant scene through the remembrance of a lifetime of love and the hint of a new passion with all its possibilities.
In her black winter boots and wool coat, Sylvia Folkert slipped on the top step of her big farmhouse-style bed and breakfast. The softball of used tissues flew out of her purse and dispersed across the wraparound porch. Her gloved hands broke her fall forward. She twisted her knee, but she thought she could walk off the ache. In her early sixties, she couldn’t afford a broken hip in this day and age.
“Thank you,” she whispered with a grateful glance toward the overcast sky.
Setting her purse inside the door, she grabbed the jug of winter salt and sprinkled it across the porch and steps, a basic melt of the snow and ice since the B & B would be empty until next week. Her hired man had done the intense shoveling of her small parking lot and sidewalks yesterday. The forecast projected only light snow tonight.
After hunting down all the tissues, she dropped the wet wad into the trash just inside the door, slipped off her outerwear, and then smoothed down the static cling of her favorite navy blue dress. This morning’s church service wasn’t as joyous as usual. The young children’s choir usually made her smile. Today, she cried. Christmas wasn’t the same without her sweet husband, Herbert, who rose to heaven three months ago.
She and Herbert had talked about funeral provisions. However, he died so quickly she never had a chance to say goodbye. Her grief had been unbearable. She and her niece, Madeline, leaned heavily on each other. While Madeline lost herself in her work, Sylvia started talking to Herbert as if he could hear her.
“Are you with me today, my Love?” she asked. “I desperately need a sign that you are.”
She paused and listened. The blue and white Christmas lights were silently coiled around the cedar and spruce boughs throughout the parlor and living room. The wood and ceramic nativities soundlessly surrounded Baby Jesus on the two corner tables. The abundance of red and white poinsettias remained quiet, too.
“Madeline and I should have gotten a tree. I’m sorry, Darling,” she said, looking at the empty space in front of the bay window. Herbert had brought home a live tree every Christmas since they bought the B & B over thirty-five years ago, replanting them throughout town in the spring.
A few blocks from Allenton’s downtown shops, the historical farmhouse had two other bedrooms and a small bathroom on the main floor next to her large country-style kitchen. Four bedrooms, her living quarters, and another communal bathroom were on the spacious second floor.
In the kitchen, she opened the cupboard under the sink for the dust rag. She needed to keep busy, and this would help work out the stiffness in her knee. She preferred to stay home today even though she and Madeline were invited to Eva and Matt Connor’s for dinner. She’d encourage her niece to go.
“You know, Herbert, my favorite chore has always been dusting,” she said to the cold emptiness.
After adjusting the thermostat, she started in the parlor by the front door. With a sad smile, she reminisced about each of her knickknacks, which held wonderful memories. She carefully dusted her homemade gold and burgundy stained glass lamp with golden tassels, the stand made from the thick banister of Herbert’s childhood home back in Alaska, Michigan, a golf course now. Herbert had made the Tiffany-style lamp the first year they were married.
“After forty-four years, it still works,” Sylvia said not at all surprised by her husband’s craftsmanship.
She moved on to her large cherry curio cabinet with a few antique vases. Herbert loved buying her flowers for milestone events in their life, some good, some bad. Every moment reminded her that they had weathered them together.
Eyes glistening, she held a tall, pale pink, crystal vase. Long ago, it was full of tulips and daffodils. The morning after the doctor told them they couldn’t have children, she found the spring flowers on the kitchen table. God’s plan was greater than theirs Herbert had said. Grateful for all they did have, they had kept their faith alive, together.
“You were a wonderful uncle,” she said, sniffling her nose. The various trinkets in her China cabinet shared more of her and Herbert’s life story.
Sylvia slowly shuffled into the living room and swiped the top of her baby grand piano, a gift from him on their tenth wedding anniversary. He had said we needed more music in our lives. In the large room, they often pushed the furniture against the wall making a small dance floor on the hardwood. For their guests, Sylvia would play and Herbert offered to teach the waltz.
Madeline had become an accomplished piano player and social dancer. They adored their niece as if their own daughter.
Sylvia chuckled. “Do you remember what you said to me the night it was delivered?” she asked the empty room. “You said that I could teach Madeline to play during the summers she stayed with us, so we could dance. You were always a schemer.”
Glancing across the room, she smiled at the nineteen collectable wall plates on the special shelves Herbert had made to hold them in place. Madeline’s mother, Allison, had sent one to her after each of her worldly adventures as an environmentalist. The collectables were nature paintings of wild animals near prairies, forests, lakes, and oceans. Allie gave her a doe and fawn at the edge of a meadow as her way of telling them she was pregnant with Madeline.
“Herbert, will you hug my baby sister?” Sylvia asked, sitting on the piano bench. She looked around hoping for a sign. Her faith wavered. Hearing the kitchen’s back door open, she wiped her eyes and checked the wall clock behind her. Eleven-thirty.
“You’re later than usual,” Sylvia said to her sweaty niece in her winter running gear.
“I know,” Madeline said, unscrewing her water bottle in the kitchen doorway. “I told myself rain or shine, but it was really hard getting out of my warm bed this morning.”
Sylvia tossed the rag back under the sink and started a pot of coffee. After Herbert died, Madeline had started running as some sort of punishment for not finding a cure for the flu. It’s not like it was her fault or her area of expertise, but she took it personally nonetheless. Lashing out, she had blamed BennTech and the CDC for not having the right strain to prevent their tragedy.
After her morning treks around the outskirts of town, Madeline would stop by each time before she headed to work. Sylvia stocked the fridge with water for her, but she couldn’t get her to stay very long.
“Are you going to Eva Connor’s for dinner?” Sylvia asked, knowing Eva’s brother, Joe Roberts, would be there.
“No, I have some paperwork to catch up on. I thought I’d come back later,” Madeline replied, leaning back on the kitchen counter. “I guess dancing’s out, but we could take turns playing the piano.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” Sylvia said. “I’d prefer you mingle with people your own age, like Eva and her family.”
“I’d be a miserable guest.” Madeline wiped sweat and tears from her face. “My heart has shattered into a million pieces. I don’t have the energy to pick them up and happily socialize,” she said, turning away to dismiss the topic.
“That’s not a healthy attitude,” Sylvia replied, not letting her change the subject. “Your uncle wouldn’t want you to hide in your research.”
Madeline tossed her empty water bottle in the recycling bin. “So many people died and left behind family. I want to do my part. My ultimate goal is to save everyone with a neurological disease.” She kissed her aunt’s cheek. “I’ll stay over tonight, and we’ll play a board game or cards or something.”
Madeline left and Sylvia sighed. “So close to meeting Eva’s brother and yet so far away.”
She and Eva had conspired for a few years to put Joe and Madeline in the same room at the same time to no avail. Sylvia had thought for sure it was a match. Herbert had thought so, too. Actually, he was the one to suggest it. For an hour, Sylvia hobbled around the farmhouse looking for some kind of sign from Herbert. Not a one.
As she put creamer in her mug, someone knocked on the front door. Curious, she walked toward it. “Now, who could that be? Mary and Joseph looking for an inn? That was last night,” she said, amused with herself.
Opening the door, she grinned at her guest. Part of that couple stood on her porch, figuratively and literally. Joe Roberts held a canvas grocery bag and a bouquet of purple roses.
“Joseph, come in. Welcome,” she said, stepping back. He would always be Joseph to her now.
Inside, he stomped his boots on the door mat. “Merry Christmas.” He handed her the bag. “The care packages are from Eva, and these are from me,” he said. His hand held the square box that stabilized and protected the short, fat vase. The florist had created a tightly packed dome of a dozen, vibrant, purple roses.
“Oh my! They’re absolutely majestic.” Their lovely fragrance floated toward her. “Can you stay for coffee?”
“Sure. A break from the chaos at Eva’s would be nice,” he said, slipping off his boots.
“Wonderful.” Carrying the canvas bag, she motioned him toward the kitchen.
Joseph set the flowers on the table and slipped his coat over the back of a chair before sitting down. “I thought these were pretty, too. For some reason, they called out to me and made me think of you.”
“This is considerate of you and your sister,” she said, unloading the bag.
Sylvia put the food containers of ham, scalloped potatoes, yams, and slices of pumpkin pie in the fridge. Eva must have known Madeline wouldn’t stop by there, so she sent Joseph here. They had horrible timing.
“I wanted to check in with you since I didn’t have a chance to attend Herbert’s funeral,” he said as she poured them each a cup of coffee. He leaned over to smell the flowers then took the mug she offered. “How have you been doing?”
Sitting diagonally to him, she sipped her coffee. “Some days are better than others.”
“Yeah, the holidays can be rough,” he said. “After our best friend Taylor’s parents died, that first Christmas was brutal. All the traditions we grew up with seemed to have died, too.” With a matter-of-fact attitude, he empathized with her grief. She found it comforting.
“I miss him every day. I still expect him to walk through the front door,” she replied.
Leaning back, Joseph retrieved the box of tissues on the counter by her stack of cookbooks and set it between them. “Is all that pain worth it?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Tennyson’s quote: Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” He shifted in his chair. “Is it better?” he asked.
Pushing the tissue box aside, she reached for his hand not sure if he’d pull away. He gently lay his other over hers, warming them. His eyes seemed to search her face for the answers.
“I have a lifetime of loving memories with Herbert that I’d never give up. Your time will come,” she replied.
He sat back in his chair, letting go of her hand, shielding his vulnerability. Her niece did that often. Sylvia had tried to get her to share her feelings, too, but Madeline had only touched the surface, pushing her pain deep down inside her core.
Contemplating her answer, Joseph stared into his empty mug. “I want my life to be better, but I’m tired of searching.”
“Trust in God’s plan,” she said. She supposed she should do that, too. It was easier giving good advice than believing in it. Today, it proved extremely difficult.
He looked up and smiled. “Eva has said that to me on many occasions. Are you two hanging out together?”
She chuckled. “Maybe,” she replied.
“Well, I better get back,” he said, sliding his chair away from the table. “Thank you for the, uh, coffee.”
Glad he trusted her enough to open up albeit briefly, she joined him at the front door. After shoving his feet back into his boots, he gave her a brief hug and a peck on the cheek.
“Thank you for the roses, Joseph. Take care.”
“You, too,” he replied, before leaving.
Sylvia inhaled the scent of the roses and snatched the tiny envelope sticking out of the top. Joseph had drawn two linking hearts on the otherwise blank card. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. Taking the bouquet out of the protective box, she saw another printed card from the floral shop stuck to the side:
Purple Roses symbolize transcendental enchantment.
The giver of the purple roses seeks to express a deep magnetism and charm
enticing the recipient to fall in love at the very first meeting.
Sylvia wondered if Joseph saw this and knew about the meaning. Touching a velvety petal, she sighed. She suspected loneliness had invaded Joseph’s life as it had Madeline’s.
“Why can’t we get them together? Herbert, are you seeing this disconnection? I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.” A dash of anger added to her mixture of sadness and heartache.
Carrying a backpack, Madeline stomped the snow off her boots as she entered through the kitchen’s back door. Spotting the purple roses, she tossed her winter coat toward the hook, missing it. She absently kicked off her boots.
“What did I miss?” Madeline asked. “Who brought you flowers?”
“A friend. Aren’t they beautiful?” Sylvia replied.
Madeline deeply inhaled their scent. “Oh my gosh, these are intoxicating.” She grabbed the card with Joe’s interlinking hearts, flipping it over. “Do I know your admirer? I’m a little jealous,” she said with a grin.
“No, you don’t know him,” she replied. She wanted to add yet, but she held her tongue.
“I think I’d like to,” Madeline whispered almost to herself as she caressed the petals.
Surprised by her comment, Sylvia watched her niece sit down and pull the roses closer. She hadn’t seen Madeline smile in a long time. Was she enchanted with Joe’s purple roses? Her niece’s mood lightened as she put her face near them to breathe in the fragrance.
Tilting her head, Madeline looked closer at the vase. “Didn’t Uncle Herbert give you a vase like this one, years ago?”
“What?” Sylvia said, seeing the cobalt blue rose bowl for the first time.
“I think this is identical to the one on the dresser in your bedroom,” Madeline said with a smile.
Gaping in disbelief, Sylvia flashed back to the night she fell in love. At the local American Legion’s Annual Spring Fling, the young man in the black suit and crooked tie had smiled at her. She had blushed bright pink when he took her hand for the first time. She and Herbert had danced the night away as if they were the only ones at the party. The next day, he had sent her the exact same vase filled with pink roses.
Reaching for a tissue, Sylvia sobbed. Her body trembled. This was the message she desperately needed. Herbert was nearby, and he would have a hand in Joe and Madeline’s eventual romance.
Thank you, my Angel. Her shaken faith now fortified.
What happens next? Will Joe and Madeline meet? Sylvia and Eva plot to make it so. And, yes, sparks most certainly fly.