Over the holidays, I watched A Castle for Christmas, and it inspired a new romance novel. The working title is Romance Collection #7. However, this story doesn’t have a castle in it. At least I don’t think it does. It takes place in New Scotland, not Scotland. Also, it won’t take place a Christmastime. Actually, there are few similarities, but that doesn’t matter.
I’m on chapter three, racing towards chapter four. I’ve already introduced the two main characters and a few supporting cast members. Here’s the first, unedited chapter.
Romance Collection #7
The large wooden sign attached to the front of the building over the front entrance desperately needed a new coat of paint. It read Walker’s Feed and Garden Store only when looking directly at it. Angled views made it appear as Wa ker’s Fee and arde tore. Grey siding did nothing to invoke charm or energy, two qualities required to enrich the garden and farm life. Remnants of the recent snowfall lingered near the doorway in dirty mounds, slowly melting in the mild temperatures of late March. An overcast sky dulled the setting further.
Introducing herself at a new feed store was the last thing Freya Dawson – No! Freya O’Clery wanted, but it was a must if she were to buy supplies for her chickens and garden locally. Driving an hour to her old shop was out of the question, nor did she want to be reminded of what had transpired there shortly before leaving the community. Releasing a defeated sigh, the gloom enveloped her thoughts. Leaving was difficult; so was arriving. The ideal time was in the transition, neither there nor here.
Yet, it had to be done. Life continued. She fingered the stone dangling from a leather strap around her neck. Two more rubs, and… She hesitated. Maybe she could become J. A. Robertson and…
The front door opened, and an elderly woman walked out followed by a younger man carrying a large sack of sunflower seeds on his shoulder. The woman looked her in the eye, smiled and waved.
Instinctively, she returned the wave.
The man following the woman nodded, then let his eyes fall to her Jeep. He gave the vehicle more consideration and without another glance at her, returned his attention to the elderly woman.
Typical. Men. Trucks. He looked too old to be the warehouse boy who loaded feed into customer vehicles and unloaded delivery trucks, but maybe he preferred menial labour work over sitting in an office in front of a computer all day.
Before he returned, she had to make a move. It was one thing to be the stranger in town, quite another to be the strangest in town. Withdrawing the keys from the ignition, she exited the truck and entered the store. A cow bell clanged against the steel frame and a fragrance she knew well greeted her. If she closed her eyes, she’d think she stood in her old feed store. The aromas of grains, mixed seeds, leather and… What was that smell?
She scanned the store. It was half the size of her former stomping ground, but something vaguely familiar tickled a memory she couldn’t place.
“Good morning.” The middle-aged woman standing behind the counter to the left smiled at her. “You’re a new pair of boots.”
“Never seen your boots set foot in this place.” She grinned. “I know every boot in Kerrowgare.”
“That’s quite a feat.”
“You’re a funny one, you are.” She laughed and adjusted the baseball cap with the store logo. Her short dark hair sprouting out the sides showed signs of grey. “How can I help you today, or are you just lookin’ for directions on how to get out of town?”
“Yes. And a bag of chick starter.” She stood in front of the counter.
“New chicks. You’re startin’ early. We’ve got both. Organic layer or regular?”
“Medicated or non-medicated starter?”
“An all natural girl.” The clerk tapped the keys of the old-style cash register. “More of you every day with the food crisis. That’s $36.55.”
She fumbled for her wallet and no sooner opened it and drew out her debit card when the cow bell jangled loudly. Turning, she saw the warehouse boy—oh, that sounded horrible given his age.
“One layer. Organic. One starter. Non-medicated,” the clerk told the warehouse boy—worker.
“Coming right up.” He walked to the back of the store where stacks of feed sat neatly in rows. On the way, he pulled a trolly from against the wall and dragged it behind him.
Freya hovered her card over the machine the clerk held out, heard the tick, then returned it to her wallet.
“Which house you move in?” asked the clerk.
“Oh, um—” Unsure she wanted strangers to know where she lived, she searched for a generic answer. “Down some dirt road. I forget the name.”
The clerk raised an eyebrow. “That’d be either the Sutherland home or Fraser’s derelict shack.” She chuckled. “I’m hoping the Sutherland home on Riverside Lane.”
“Actually.” She cringed. “I don’t think it’s Riverside.”
The clerk flinched. “Very small, one and a half story house? Cracked green trim? A rotting old Ford truck with a tree growing out of the box?”
“That’s it.” She thought quickly. “So the Frasers. Did they move?” She inwardly groaned. Of course they moved if the house was for sale.
“Last year. They found him sittin’ in his chair, getting ready to feed the chickens. Had one boot on. Rubbers. Black with brown souls.” The clerk shook her head and handed her the receipt. “If not for the Arnold the mailman noticing the mailbox fillin’ up, they might not have found him until we noticed he wasn’t comin’ in for grain. First of the month. Two bags. Layer. Regular. And one bag of cat food. They ain’t never found the cat. They said it run off. Couldn’t stand the smell of the body.”
The question on her tongue dried up the remaining saliva in her mouth. She’d leave it unsaid. That was the better choice.
“Three days. Maybe four. Dead and no one knew but the mailman. Poor soul. Widower. Family all but gone.”
The image of the kitchen filled her mind. The table set had come with the house. Four chairs. One table. She swallowed hard.
“Ready?” The man too old to load feed stood beside her, his trolly carrying two bags of feed.
“Yes,” she squeaked. “Thank you.” She nodded at the clerk, wishing the woman hadn’t been so chatty. “Thank you.” She turned before more stories were shared. “This way.” Holding open the door, the man pushed the load through. She quickly followed.
“Nice truck.” He went to the rear of the truck and pulled down the tailgate.
“How is it in the snow?” He threw a bag into the bed, then reached for the second bag.
“Great. Can’t complain.”
“Does it handle rough roads? Trails?”
“Dirt roads, yes. I’ve never had it on trails.”
After loading the second bag, he closed the tailgate, running his hand along the top. “Nice forest green. Really stands out in the city, but it would blend into the trees in the woods.” His dark eyes never left the vehicle. “I was looking at one last year. I should have bought it.”
“Well, maybe you’ll find another.”
“Would you sell this?”
“Not for sale. We’ve been through too much.”
He glanced at her, then returned his attention to the truck. “If you change your mind, I’ll be here.” He wheeled the trolly to the front door, all the while checking out the truck from different angles. She climbed inside, started the engine and put it into reverse. The man who appeared to have made a life goal of being a labourer at a feed store stared out the window at her truck. She forced herself to look away and focus on the road, yet she couldn’t help but look back when she was on her way to see if he was still there. He was.