Check In (Short Story Romance)

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Hey, Peaches. How are you this evening?”

“Fine, Mr. Cavendish. I have your favorite room ready. I even went to set the thermostat just the way you prefer.” After a quick swish of his pen on the bottom of the print out I handed over the key to room 211. It faced away from the parking lot and with a storage room on the other side of one wall, it provided Mr. James Cavendish with the kind of quiet he preferred while on the road.

“You did get the information that I am here for two days this time?”

“Yes, Sir, I did.”

James leaned across the counter. No small feat as it was four and half feet tall. “Are you working tomorrow, Peaches?” He told me he called me Peaches every time he checked in because he said I was a refreshing treat after a hard day of business meetings. I think it’s because of my strawberry-blonde hair. The name on my tag is Karen though.

“I work the usual, three to eleven.”

“Any chance I can get you to go to lunch with me tomorrow?”

I gulped. Not that I didn’t find James attractive. I did. Way too fine a man to be paying the likes of me any attention. He’s tall and with a deep tan and dark hair. Clean-shaven, he always wore sharp, but simple business suits with a fun tie. His smile could light up the town if the power ever went out. Empty dreams awaited down that road. Plus, last night the guy I had been dating, decided to check into the hotel. On my shift. With a top heavy gal wearing fewer clothes than most Sports Illustrated swimsuit models do. Well. I’m exaggerating a little. About as little as her dress was anyway. Obviously I wasn’t putting out since the only way he was getting that kind of treatment from me would cost him a ring and a wedding. Obviously I was out of his price range. Dirtbag. So I go from him to this fine specimen? The contrast startled me.

“I’m flattered, Mr. Cavendish, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“James.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name is James, Peaches, and please use it.”

“Okay, James. If you insist.”

His smile was broad enough to reveal a dimple. Won’t that be something to dream about tonight?

“I do, insist. Now, why would it be a bad idea for me to buy you lunch?”

“I don’t know you that well?” Why would I say this as a question? Of course I am dying to spend time with this man, I just figure . . . “Listen, James, if we date it will make working here when you check in, more difficult for me. Especially if things didn’t work out. I’m not a ‘girl-in-every-town’ kind of woman.”

He frowned but nodded. “Beautiful and wise. How is business tonight?”

“Good. We’re fairly full and you are the last of my reservations to check in. It will probably be a quiet evening.”

“What do you do when it’s quiet?”

“When I was in college, I would study or work on papers. Now that’s I’ve graduated I sit back and read.

“Do you mind a visitor tonight?”

“No. Occasionally I’ve had men, like you, come to visit. One used to play the banjo to keep himself from wanting to go out to drink. He used to come down to sing for me. It was sweet. Other times traveling men, even truckers, have stopped by to shoot the breeze. It has to be hard to travel and the only contact you have with a human is for business. I don’t mind.”

“Other men have been before me?” Wrinkles appeared on his forehead and he sighed. “So am I just going to be another notch on your desk?”

“No. For you, James, I’ll carve your initials. Will that make you feel better?” I grinned and his shoulders relaxed. He nodded.

“I’ll be back after I settle in.”

Week after week it was the same. James would come down to visit across the counter. If it got later and things were slow, I would sit out in the lobby with him. As long as I could get to the phone quickly, it was okay with my boss. I looked forward to his visits.

A few months passed. James had been on vacation for two weeks, and I didn’t get to see him until after that. When he strode in the door, he wore blue jeans and a t-shirt that fit oh-so-well across his chest. I almost didn’t recognize him.

“Good evening, Peaches! I’ve got some great news!” His pen made a quick flourish on the paper as I slid the key to him.

“What’s up, James?”

“This will be my last night staying here.”

My heart sunk to my toes. I think somewhere deep inside of me I even tripped over it as I filed his paper.

“Last night?”

“Yup. And you know what that means?”

“That I’ll miss seeing you.”

“Nah. Good guess but wrong. It means I can finally take you to lunch.”

I’m sure my confusion was written all over my face.

“I bought a condo in town. I’ve decided that my main base of operations is going to be here and I would hire others to run around for me.”

“Wait. You own the company?”

He dropped his eyes as he nodded.

“And you never told me? No. I’m sorry. I won’t be going to lunch with you. I thank you for the offer.”

Another customer walked in and I was busy for the next several hours. James never came down to visit.

I went home that night and licked my wounds in private. More like licked my spoon of very drop of Ben and Jerry’s I had in my freezer and suffered from brain freeze that did nothing to relieve the ache in my heart.

I had already turned in my resignation at the hotel and had planned to share the news with James, that I had finally nailed a job in my field. I would be doing marketing for a local company. This last night had been my final evening at the hotel.

It’s sad but James and I had shared all kinds of things. Dreams, favorite colors, foods and pets. We had talked about our families and childhoods. The highs and lows in our lives. The bad dates and the almost-the-right-one dates. We even shared a similar faith. I had never once asked him about his work. I figured he was trying to relax from it. I didn’t even know the name of the company he owned. Still, I thought he should have told me. I would never have even entertained foolish thoughts of a future between us. And I did. I was glad I had a week off between starting a new job to devour some more ice cream and then torture myself at the gym. All in an effort to forget this enigmatic man. My only consolation was that while it was possible for us to bump into each other in this town. It wasn’t likely.

The Monday after a week of orientation, I was surprised to receive a delivery of a dozen long-stemmed red roses. At work. The note attached said, “Congratulations, James”

I got a lot of ribbing from my co-workers and I kept the flowers there until that Friday night. After that week, I took the wilting flowers home. As I placed the vase on my kitchen table, I couldn’t help but think of James’ startling grey eyes and the way one little curl appeared if his hair grew too long. The rest was straight. Black as midnight. I wondered if I had missed my one chance of love with one of the really good guys out there.

My roommate, Stacy, whipped past and plopped a stack of messages in front of me. “Call the guy. He’s driving me nuts. I’m out of here for a date. See ya in the morning.” The door slammed shut.

I leafed through the pieces of paper. James. James. James’ secretary, Carol. James, James. The same number left on every page. By the time I finished the stack, I had the number memorized.

I dialed.

“You have reached the phone number of James Cavendish, President and CEO of Smash Industries. Please leave a number at the beep and he will return your call as soon as he is able.”

Beep.

“Hi, James. It’s me, Peaches. Thanks for the flowers. That was really sweet of you.”

I hung up and it rang.

“Hello?”

“Karen?”

“Yes.”

“It’s James.”

“I kind of figured. I saw the number on the caller ID.”

He laughed. “Why don’t you have a cell phone like everyone else?”

“No one has ever needed to reach me that badly to make it worth the expense.”

“I hope to be the one to make you change your mind on that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Listen. I’m sorry I never told you about my business. You never asked and specifically said you wanted my time with you to be relaxing and I was happy to forget about it when we visited. You became my lifeline every week to the real world outside of business. You don’t know how desperately I needed that.”

“I’m glad I could help, James.”

“I miss you.”

I smiled as a tear rolled down, tickling my cheek. “I miss you too.”

“Would you reconsider my offer of a date?”

Would I? Yes! In a much more subdued manner that nowhere near indicated the way my heart was waltzing in my chest, I responded. “I would.”

“Tonight?”

“If you give me time to change?”

“Is an hour sufficient?”

“More than.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“Wait. Don’t you need my address?”

“Already have it. I’ll see you in one hour.”

I rushed to change and threw about five outfits on the bed. I finally decided on a nice pair of slacks, comfortable shoes and a simple sweater. I wasn’t going to be any more than I ever was. If James didn’t like that, then too bad. I would rather know that now.

An hour later, to the minute, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find him there in casual slacks and a button down shirt open at the collar and blazer. I swallowed. It had only been a few weeks since we had last seen each other. So why did he look better than I ever remembered?

“You are gorgeous out of your uniform, Peaches.”

I shook my head, grabbed a wrap and my purse and let him lead me to his car.

He drove me to a park and then helped me out. “Is it okay if we take a short walk first? We have time before our reservation.”

I nodded and let him lead me through a path edged with flowers. The birds sang and swooped around us as we strolled under the trees. The sun hadn’t set yet and the sky had a strange light. Soft and beautiful. We came to a bench and he motioned for me to sit. I did and he sat next to me.

“Karen. We’ve known each other for a few years now, but even more so in the past few months, I think we’ve become friends.”

I nodded. Friends. Wasn’t that the death knell to any relationship?

“I didn’t just choose to move here because it was convenient. I moved my main office here for one reason alone.”

I turned to him and tilted my head. “One reason?”

He nodded as he leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands in front of him. “Do you want to know what it was?” He didn’t look at me, but stared across the path at a bunny rabbit chewing on a flower.

“Sure. If you care to tell me. I always thought you didn’t want to talk about business.”

“I don’t. But I do want to talk about you. You and me.”

“What does that have to do . . .?”

He twisted to the side and took my face in his hands. “You. Everything has to do with you, Peaches. I love you. I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t hardly work not knowing if you could possibly want me too.”

His thumb caressed my bottom lip and I let it fall open. I swallowed hard and put my own hand up to his stubbled chin. I had only ever known him as close shaven. I liked this version of the man. “Why would someone as wonderful as you, settle for someone like me?”

“You really don’t know how beautiful and delightful you are?”

I shook my head.

“Then let me show you.” His lips met mine and every bone in my body turned to melted wax. I was as light as air, carried away on a dream and a prayer. When he pulled back, all I could do was stare.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Well, not so soon anyway.” That dimple appeared. I remained silent. I had no words. My brain was mush.

“Karen. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. If it is too soon for that kind of sentiment, I understand, but I had to put it on the table. I want to stake a claim on your heart. Would you at least think about the possibility of marrying me?”

Puppy dog eyes couldn’t have begged sweeter than he did. I would have given him he moon if it had been in my power.

I nodded.

“Yes to considering or. . . “

“Yes, James. I would be delighted to be your wife. You already own my heart. I’ve been miserable without you.”

A smile spread over his face. “Really?”

“I love you, James. Now kiss me and take me to dinner.”

“First . . .” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a stunning ring and placed it on my finger.

“It’s beaut—”

My words were cut off by his kiss. I think he got the point.

Beautiful Bandit (Book Review)

BeautifulBanditCoverCompLoree Lough has written over 100 books . . . so I went to the library to see which ones they had on the shelves. She must be popular because of the many they carried I could only find one, Beautiful Bandit (Lone Star Legends V1), and was instantly hooked. I loved her ebook Jake Walker’s Wife which was also had a western feel. Loree didn’t disappoint me with this story either.

Joshua Neville is a pretty calm rancher, part of a big family but carrying deep loss inside him. When he travels to San Antonio to broker a deal for sale of some land, he witnesses the aftermath of a bank robbery that left three men dead. The strangest thing about it though was that from where he stood, the leader of the criminals was a . . . woman?

Kate Wellington had been gullible and duped by Frank who kidnapped her and holding her at gunpoint threatened to kill friends and neighbors as he robbed the bank. She was horrified at the events and held captive and abused by the brutal and narcissistic criminal. She managed to escape and stumbled into Josh’s camp as he is heading home. She changed her name to ‘Dinah’ and feared the Texas Rangers would be after her if Frank doesn’t get to her first. She talks Josh into escorting her across the Mexico border but when she hurts her ankle, he takes her to his ranch to heal instead.

Dinah struggles with her attraction to Josh but knows she has to leave or Frank will kill this family of faith she has come to love. She believes that if Josh finds out the truth about Frank, the robbery and the torture she endured, he would never want her anyway. But when the truth comes out, will Josh put his life at risk to keep her by his side?

This was a sweet romance and well written. Josh was a complex man filled with grief and conflicting emotions as he tried to respect Dinah/Kate’s wishes to leave him even as his heart dreamed of making her his wife. I’m not sure what number in her list of books this one falls, but I was glad to have stumbled up on it and enjoyed my time in its pages.

Not Good Enough

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m not good enough. Is that a common fear or something only I struggle with? I had a negative interaction and at first was thinking, “why can’t this person just get along with me?” I felt disrespected.

Then it hit me. Maybe the issue isn’t him. Maybe it’s me. In spite of thinking I’m respectful, competent and have a right to be heard on an issue, what if instead I’m coming across as arrogant and I’ve frustrated and hurt this person instead?

Ouch.

How does one not take failure personally?

Respect is a huge issue for me. 

Once I confronted someone for the lack of respect they were showing me. They had been saying negative things about me behind my back and I caught wind of it. It had happened before so I addressed the issue. Her response? She laughed at me.

Ouch.

Another time I told a person how I had felt I had been disrespected by her. Specific instances that were clear. She looked at me and nodded and said, “Yes, I did all those things. But it’s your fault.”

Ouch.

Let’s get this clear. Both of these instances were verbally/emotionally abusive. The responses these women gave were intended to demean me and strip me of any belief that I deserved respect.

And to be honest, I’ve had way too much of that in my life. And it hurts. And even though I forgive, the pain lingers.

unsafe

In my mind people like this have a stamp on their forehead that says: “Unsafe.” Yeah, really. I can almost see it.

I have had many more conversations though that didn’t end so badly. I disagreed with a leader and I told him why and how I felt about his decision and he listened and apologized for not taking into consideration my feelings. I let it go. He had my full support through however his decision ended up. I have great respect for him years later and in relationship to him, I’m good enough.

Another person I sat down face to face with and said, “You apologized and I forgive you but I want you to understand how your actions affected me.” When I’m working with him I know, that even though I make mistakes, I’m good enough.

So why am I on this today? I think the enemy likes to dredge up those hurts, some that continue daily in my life, and tell me that they are the truth.

I’m fighting to believe it’s a lie. Scripture says I’m good enough to do the work God has called me to do. Will I do it perfectly? No. I’m okay with being human (most of the time). I’m okay with apologizing when I screw up.

I struggle with depression. I’m also an author and sometimes the pain of my characters is my own and writing about that scrapes wounds raw as I explore them more deeply. To not be good enough to be wanted or loved. Isn’t that a deep fear for everyone?

Thankfully God doesn’t look at me like that. I’m good enough because of Jesus. And I’m becoming better as I lean on Him and let Him continue to lead and guide me, even when the outcomes hurt. The pain of art. The pain of life.

I’m good enough and I am blessed that for every “unsafe” person there are many more who are-especially Jesus.

Hush In The Storm (Book Review)

hushI was given an opportunity to read Hush In the Storm by Julie Cosgrove, because someone knew that the subject of Human Sex Trafficking was something I was concerned about.

Jen is wallowing in grief long after her husband’s death. She had loved him and regretted some of the choices she had made in a relationship with him. Why had God done this to her? Late one night her life took a dramatic turn. If she thought things couldn’t get worse she didn’t have an imagination big enough. A dinner date with a coworker in the midst of a storm. She finds herself kidnapped and on a dangerous adventure into the ugly underbelly of human sex trafficking.

Can she trust that Tom is who he says he is, and that he is only fulfilling a promise to her deceased husband, and trying to protect her? Has she only imagined hearing her husband’s voice? Meeting young women who were trafficked jolts her world, especially when one is pregnant.

I don’t want to give any spoilers away in this complex and suspenseful story of betrayal, fear, romance, injustice and intrigue. Can Jen trust Tom and the growing feelings she has for this man? Can love bloom in the midst of such deceit as she tries to unravel the truth of her husband’s life and deal with the reality of what she lost, which was far greater than her marriage? This book is hard to put down but will open your eyes to the dangers and struggle for freedom so many are facing in our country today.

I look forward to the sequel, Legitimate Lies, due out in January 2015.

Writer Wednesday: Anita Klumpers

SONY DSCAnita Klumpers is the author of Winter Watch, a fast paced romantic suspense set in Northern Wisconsin. She lives in the Madison area and was willing to give me a few minutes to share a glimpse into her writing journey.

When did you decide that you would be an author? Was it something you fell into, felt called to . . .?

I’ve always enjoyed beginning a story. When I was little I’d start long rambling tales. Sort of the print version of The Song That Never Ends. In college I even looked forward to writing term papers! Until the time came to finish them. That was always my problem. Pulling it all together.

My mom wanted me to write children’s books but that was a skill I just don’t possess. I wanted to write a novel just to see if I could develop a plot all the way. This tiny core of common sense said it couldn’t happen because I’d need to actually complete something. So I got stubborn, rebelled against my common sense, and did it.

What’s your pet peeve? 

Inanimate objects. They stub my toes, drop on my head, need to be turned when I want to push, burn out, break, freeze up, topple, and are oblivious to my scoldings.

WinterWatch_Ebook (2)What was your most embarrassing moment as a writer?

When the barista at the coffee shop said she liked my book but saw a couple of typos. And I had to admit that for the most part, they were my fault.

What has been your most difficult challenge as an author? 

Writing. Promoting. Quadruple each of those and you have my most difficult challenges. I love to write but seem to think I require long, uninterrupted, isolated days. But that isn’t the real world. Neither is expecting the book to sell itself. I practically apologize when I ask if someone would like to read it.

How do you process rejections and/or negative reviews?

Pretty well, actually. I don’t think I have a particularly fragile ego, and know that I have a long way to go as a writer.

SONY DSCWhat do you feel is the best success so far in your writing career? 

I’m at the infant stage of my writing career. So I guess just being born. In other words, I got published!

Anita can be found on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anitaklumpers

Her blog:  http://www.thetuesdayprude.com

The Difference between Being a Writer and a Schizophrenic

Non-writers probably cannot relate to the obsession to write that overtakes an author. Some writers plot and plan everything. For me an idea, a character, or a first scene starts me off. Slowly the characters share with me their back story and as the story progresses I have no idea what will happen next.

Image courtesy of anat_tikker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anat_tikker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a wild roller-coaster ride, but I hold on tight. I can’t avoid it as the characters will taunt me until I set my fingers to the keyboard and write.

My characters pretty much hijack my life. They hold me hostage at gunpoint with an urgency to get their story on paper (or computer). There’s a desperation that underlies the tale.

So I write. Frantically. I leave gaps and highlight spots to go back to. I think about my characters first thing in the morning and I dream about them at night.

When life calls me to leave the house to do other things–serve at church, grocery shop, mow the lawn, editing work on other author’s stories–my characters are always there.

How is being a writer different from schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where the sufferer often hears voices that are not there. They might see things that are not there. Feeling and smelling things is rarer. Sometimes those voices are mean and insulting. Sometimes they deceive and taunt the sufferer. The difference between a writer though and someone with this type of mental illness is multiple:

  • I can shut up my characters by writing what they tell me. When I get a story down on paper and it’s done, they leave me alone. I’m free to move on with my life. Voices for those struggling with mental illness are constant and rarely change. They don’t even have a story to tell. They are just there and serve no helpful purpose.
  • My character’s voices are generally nice. Since I write happily ever after stories, while they might suffer and struggle to get there, I love my characters and enjoy the time I spend with them. The become dear friends, but my time in their company is short. Schizophrenics can sense friendliness at times from their imaginary friends, but most often they are not. And they never really go away.
  • People generally want to know about my characters. They want to hear about the stories and hopefully will read them. Most people with schizophrenia are afraid to share their voices, and because the voices don’t tell a nice story, there’s nothing fun to share with others that anyone would really want to hear.
  • My characters never force me to do anything worse than write their stories. Sometimes people with mental illness are led to actions that are harmful to themselves or others. Usually those are isolated incidents and minimized with the help of medication. The terror that many live with though never really goes away. It’s only managed. Medication doesn’t help a writer but might actually make the voices louder. Probably why many great writers throughout history had substance abuse issues. They found those things helped them access the creativity and write in a more uninhibited way. (I am not advocating that!)
  • The one similarity though may be a tendency to be more moody. I deeply experience whatever my characters are going through. Depression is not uncommon among writers. Schizophrenics as well can become quite depressed as they experience emotions related to unreal events.

It is sometimes said that writing is the only acceptable form of schizophrenia. That’s really not true. For one, they are not the same and secondly, schizophrenics are acceptable human beings too. They just suffer from a terrible illness that can make relationships difficult to maintain. Trust is a challenge and reality is scary.

Hopefully my books do the opposite for those that read them, in spite of the wild ride I take to get that rough draft written.

 

Shattered (Book Review)

shatteredI needed an actual paperback to read while sitting at the pool and picked up Shattered by Dani Pettrey at the library. Yay for libraries! Shattered is book 2 in Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage Series.

Piper McKenna is the heroine of this tale. When her youngest brother, Reef,  is arrested for murder, she is determined to find out the truth, which means finding the killer.

Heroes don’t come better than Deputy Landon Grainger. He has been an unofficially adopted member of the Grainger family and has known Piper for a long time. He knows that sometimes someone who professes innocence can really be guilty and he’s afraid Piper’s devotion to her brother will be her undoing.

When Piper is almost killed, however, he begins to realize two things. One: He loves Piper as more than an annoying little sister. Two: Someone else has committed the murder Reef is in jail for.

To solve a crime and protect Piper become his primary goals and when feelings begin to surface, life gets even more complicated. Will Piper and Landon get past this danger to confess their love? Can they prove Reef’s innocence? And will Landon resolve his mixed feelings towards God?

This was a wonderful story that was hard to put down. Romantic suspense at it’s best and banter between Piper and Landon as they struggled with their deeper feelings for each other was fun to read. Even with a series and a cast of characters that considerable, Pettrey makes it easy to determine who is who and I think this book stands alone well enough. I am enjoying getting to know the McKenna family and those they have enfolded into their loving arms.