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One – Wendy
“Christmas is ruined!” my sister declares over the phone the moment I pick up.
“Hold on a second,” I say, moving away from the stage so as not to disturb the rehearsal. From Amy’s dramatic opening, I’ve got a feeling this conversation is going to take a while.
The notes of the main theme song fill the theater before I can get to the dressing rooms area, and my sister asks, “Are you at work?”
“Yes, Amy, it’s what people do on a Wednesday morning.”
“Not you, you usually live like a vampire: write at night and avoid the light of day at all costs.”
I meander down a narrow corridor, zigzagging among dancers stretching against the walls. “That’s when I’m writing, but today’s the last rehearsal before opening night on Friday. I sent you the tickets, didn’t I?”
“Yes, yes! Sorry, I’m sleep deprived and scatterbrained. But Friday night is the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank goodness! Trevor booked the babysitter like a month ago and he also has a replacement lined up in case Jodie bails on us at the last minute. We need a night away from the twins. And nothing beats having tickets to ‘the most anticipated, sold-out-for-months, Broadway musical of the season,’” Amy says, quoting an article that came out in the New York Times last weekend.
I smile as I finally reach my tiny office on the theater’s lower level. I shut myself in and sit behind the ancient wooden desk. Forgotten Dreams is the first musical I’ve written that has been produced. It’s going to make or break my career. The marketing team has done a stellar job building the hype, but until I read an actual good review, I’ll be a bundle of nerves.
“You’re welcome,” I say.
“Are you free to talk?” Amy asks, her voice turning anxious again.
“Yes,” I say. “They’re still rehearsing the choreographies. I’m not needed. Why is Christmas ruined?”
“Oh, Wendy, Mom has lost it. She’s saying she doesn’t want to host Christmas this year.”
“Has she given you a reason?”
“Yeah, she claims she’s too old to cook for ten people—”
I do a mental indexing of our family. There’s me and my boyfriend, Brandon, and that makes two. Joshua, our younger brother, three. Mom, four. Amy and her husband, five and six. Their two older kids bring us up to eight. But ten? “Is Mom counting the twins as eating guests?” I ask aloud. “Did you tell her making a bottle of milk doesn’t count as cooking?”
“Yes, I did. She’s using it as an excuse. The situation is serious. She’s even refusing to put decorations around the house.”
“Because then they’d just have to go back in a box after a month and what a waste of her time that would be.”
“Okay, I get it.”
“No, Wendy, she said she doesn’t want a Christmas tree.”
“The decorations, the tree… all things Dad used to do,” I say, thinking Mom loves Christmas, and we’ve spent the day at her house for as long as I can remember. December 25th has always been her favorite day of the year, at least while Dad was with us. “Could that be why she’s rejecting all those traditions?” I ask.
“Of course. What else could it be? Mom lost the love of her life and she’s heartbroken, but it’s no reason to cancel Christmas. I’m sad, too, Dad is gone, but this is also the twins’ first Christmas and I was looking forward to it.”
I grab a pencil and doodle candy canes on the front page of the Forgotten Dreams script. “What if we cooked everything, brought the food to her house, and cleaned up afterward?”
“Wendy, you can’t boil an egg.”
“Well, okay. But I could be your scullery maid and clean all the pots and pans after you’ve cooked and tackle some basic tasks like peeling potatoes. And Joshua could take care of the tree and the decorations. He should get off school in time to set up the house.”
“I offered to cook, but she said she doesn’t want to spend Christmas in, I quote, that house.”
“Okay, that makes sense. I’m not saying I’m happy about not spending Christmas at home, but I can see her point. The house is still full of Dad. They spent a lifetime there together. The memories might be too hard to endure at the holidays.” I add a broken heart to my drawing. “What if we did it at your house? I’d offer my apartment, but my dinner table wouldn’t fit half of us.”
“Mom says she doesn’t want to be in New York at all.”
“But what’s the alternative?”
“She says she wants to take a family vacation.”
“To go where?”
“She tried to suggest we go on a cruise to the Caribbean, but that’s where I dug my feet in. If we have to spend the holidays in some random place, I want to go somewhere wintery, with snow.”
“That isn’t such a bad idea. I haven’t gone skiing in forever. We could make it a family vacation, like old times when we all still lived at home.”
“Except we never went at Christmas.”
“What did Joshua say?”
“I haven’t called him yet,” Amy says. “I wanted to talk to you first.”
I draw snowy mountain peaks. “I bet he’d be on board with a ski trip.”
“Yeah, pity we’re never going to find a decent place with only three weeks to go before the holidays.”
“Let’s have a look first, and despair later. Mindy might be able to help,” I say, referring to my best friend and also the best travel agent in the city. “If someone can make the impossible happen, it’s her.”
I hang up with my sister and speed-dial Mindy.
She picks up on the third ring. “Wendy?”
“Hello, how is my favorite person and best travel agent in the world?”
“Why do I have a feeling you’re about to unload one of your ‘when hell freezes over’ requests on me?” she accuses.
“Can’t I just call my best friend to say hi with no hidden agenda?”
“Not when it’s opening week for the most important play you’ve ever worked on and you must be neck-deep into the last rehearsal.”
“Okay,” I confess. “I need a favor.”
“From your tone, you sound more like you need a miracle. Shoot.”
“Kinda,” I say, and relate the mom drama. “In short, we need a cabin or a chalet somewhere nice and Christmassy with snow and a decent ski resort nearby that can accommodate Brandon and me, my mom, Joshua, Amy and her husband, and their four kids.”
Mindy low-whistles. “Would you also like the moon?”
I bite on a fingernail. “That hard, uh? I promise the twins don’t take up much space, they can sleep in the same room with Amy and Trevor.”
“Still close to impossible, at least if the ‘somewhere nice’ and ‘decent ski resort’ parts are essential. Budget?”
“We’re all pitching in, you should have some wiggle room.”
“Okay, let me see what I can do, but I’m not making any promises. All right?”
“I’m sure you’ll find us the perfect solution.” Just then, an announcement for all the actors to convene to the main stage comes over the theater speaker system. “Listen, I have to go now.”
“Yeah, I heard. Talk soon.”
We hang up, and I hop up the stairs two at a time, filled with optimism. After the grim Christmas we spent at the hospital last year, days away from Dad’s passing, a family vacation is exactly what we need to find our holiday cheer again.
Before opening the door to the stage, I stop. I should probably inform my boyfriend I’m planning a vacation for us. Brandon hates it when I call him in the middle of the workday, so I shoot him a text instead.
Hey, what would you say about a ski trip over Christmas?
Like a weekend thing?
More a week
My whole family is going
A week? I might as well tell my boss I don’t care about making partner.
Sorry, babe, no can do
My heart sinks, even if his reply didn’t come as a total surprise. In the almost two years we’ve been dating, Brandon’s job has always taken precedence over our relationship. When I met him in a bar in downtown Manhattan, his commitment to his career was one of his selling points. He looked dashing in a dark suit with his tie half undone and his shirt sleeves rolled up. And I was more than ready to move past the artist types I’d serial dated for years. Mostly broke dudes who spent their days being “creative.” Which meant they either slept or drank or got high. The type of guy who thought money was a dirty word. Guess falling for an investment banker turned the tables on that attitude.
I shrug as I put my phone away before re-entering the theater. Brandon or not, it’s still going to be the best family holiday ever.
Two – Riven
Preacher grabbed the guide rope, the straw coarse in his hands, and went groping down the passage on all fours. Doubts coiled around his soul just as the rope did around his wrist. What would await them out of the tunnel? Would it be any better than the mercenaries they were trying to escape? If they made it out at all.
Wyatt moaned behind him, the sound bouncing off the tight walls in a sinister echo. Preacher looked back. The faint halo of his flashlight cast a shadow on his partner’s figure slouched on the floor. Wyatt had lost too much blood. If they wanted to make it out of the caves alive, forward was the only way.
Bzzzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzzz.
I tear my eyes away from the computer screen and curse at the phone. I forgot to turn it off and left it on the kitchen counter. Rookie mistake. I ignore the buzzing noise and go back to my manuscript.
Forward was the only way… and…
Nothing. The flow of words is lost. Whatever brilliant segue I was about to write has escaped my brain.
I bang a frustrated fist on the dining table and stand up. I might as well check who the bugger is.
Tess, my sister.
I know what the call is about, and I have zero patience for the guilt-tripping right now.
With the phone in my hand, I lean against the kitchen counter and stare out the giant French window in the living room. The sun is shining on the tall mountain peaks covered in snow. The slopes will open soon, and I would like nothing better than to take my snowboard and join the tourists on a black run. But today I won’t allow myself to go outside until I’ve met my word count. No matter that by lunchtime, the terrain on the slopes will be either mushy, hard packed, or scattered around in impromptu moguls. I sigh as I imagine the pristine white blanket it must be now and close my eyes regretfully. Not today.
The phone stops vibrating. Will Tess give up after one call?
Bzzzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzzz. The buzzing resumes at once.
If I ignore her, she’ll just keep pestering me. And even if I turned off the phone, the shadow of the difficult conversation would loom over my head as my Sword of Damocles.
Resigned, I pick up. “Hell—”
“Dad says you’re not coming home for Christmas,” Tess interrupts me.
“Well, no one could accuse you of not being direct.”
“Is it true?”
“Why? Life has given you lemons this past year, agreed, but it’s no excuse to skip Christmas.”
“Tess, I have a deadline and I’m already behind. The last thing I need is to waste time booking flights, checking in and out of airports to fly home for just a day.”
“Then stay longer. You’ve been holed up in that cabin for months. I haven’t seen you since, mmm—”
The words she’s looking for are: since you announced your wife was leaving you for a C-list soap opera celebrity mere days after you’d started a complete remodeling of your house, which is now a construction site you cannot either sell or live in.
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s been a minute.”
“Come on, Riv, we never skipped Christmas. If I came back from my gap year in Sri Lanka, you can take a 90-minute flight home.”
“Tess, I need to finish this book. I’m stuck.”
“You’ve been up there forever. If you’re still blocked after all this time, maybe a change of scenery will be good. Come on, it’s Christmas.”
“Riven Clark, I know you. You’re using your unfinished novel as an alibi to play the hermit and avoid seeing everyone you know. Cassie pulled a number on you. She should be the one ashamed to show her face in public, not you.”
I grab the counter with my free hand, knuckles going white. “Tess—”
“Dad is too decent to say anything, but I’m not. I’ll never forgive you if you don’t come home and use a stupid book as an excuse.”
“It’s not an excuse, I’m months behind.”
“Riven Clark, I know you. You’re using your unfinished novel as an alibi to play the hermit and avoid seeing everyone you know. Cassie pulled a number on you. She should be the one ashamed to show her face in public, not you.”
I let go of the counter to massage my temple. The call is going worse than I expected.
“Please,” Tess insists. “Please, please, pretty please, say you’ll come home.”
“Okay, I give up, you win!” Fighting her is going to cause me more stress than simply giving in.
“Yay, you’ll have a blast at home, I promise. Oh, and Dad said you can stay with him, of course. I have to call him with the good news. Talk-later-love-ya-bye.”
Tess hangs up before I can add anything, just as the doorbell rings. That’s odd. It’s early for the mailman.
I go to the door and find the town marshal standing on the porch.
“Morning, Marshal,” I greet him. “What’s going on?” I’m not used to receiving house visits from local law enforcement.
“Good day to you, too.” He tips his hat at me. “Nasty business, I’m afraid. We have a rogue wolf on our hands. It sneaked up on old Ford last night while he was taking logs into the house and almost bit his leg off.”
“Oh, gosh, wow.” I rake a hand through my hair. “How is he?”
“They brought him down to Salt Lake Regional Medical Center; they say they should be able to save the leg.”
“Is it normal for wolves to attack humans?”
“No, but we believe this is an old beast, shunned by his pack. It can’t hunt in the wild alone, and it’s getting desperate.” The marshal pulls on his short beard. “I’m making rounds to the most isolated houses, asking residents to be extra careful, especially when they go out at night. Don’t leave food waste around. And if you have to step out in the dead of night for whatever reason, at least carry a rifle.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
“Ah, I forgot they don’t teach you fancy folks how to shoot in California. Well, if you ain’t going to bring a gun, take an ax with you.” He mimics the movement of swinging the weapon with his wrist. “Those are pretty intuitive.”
An idea strikes me. What if Preacher encountered a wild beast in one of the caves? He wouldn’t have an ax to defend himself, but he could use a knife. My mind swirls with the possibilities, the scene taking form in my head.
“Thank you,” I say, eager to go back to my laptop. “I’ll be extra careful and let you know if I hear any suspicious howling.”
I say goodbye to the marshal and rush back to the computer, my fingers flying on the keyboard.
…Two blazing points of yellow-green flame shone with the reflected light of Preacher’s flashlight bouncing off the stone walls. Preacher considered turning the light off, but that would only give the big cat the advantage of total darkness—of which he was the seeing master. No, Preacher secured the flashlight to the straps of his backpack and unsheathed the knife at his belt, ready to fight for his life…
Bzzzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzzz.
“Aaaargh,” I scream in frustration.
With the marshal ringing at the door right after I hung up with my sister, I forgot to turn off the phone—again!
I get up ready to smash the damn thing and go incommunicado until Christmas, but then I see it’s an unknown number calling—someone with a local area code. What now? A grizzly bear woke up early from hibernation and is targeting authors with writer’s block?
I pick up. “Riven Clark.”
“Hello, Mr. Clark, this is Kelly Anne from the Richter Real Estate Group,” my real estate agent says in her adorable southern lilt.
“Hi, Kelly Anne,” I say, surprised. I should have her number in my contacts. I stare at the screen to double-check. “Did you change your number?”
“No, sorry, I’m calling from my personal phone. Work one died.”
“Oh, okay. What’s up? Is there a problem with the rent? I’d planned to come into town later today to deposit my check.”
“No, no, Mr. Clark, nothing like that. Stop by whenever it’s most convenient for you. Today, tomorrow, there’s no hurry. I was calling you for an entirely different reason. Am I catching you at a good time?”
No point in telling her she, my sister, and the town marshal are doing their best to disrupt my writing. “Sure,” I say, and drop the phone on the counter, putting her on speaker. I need more coffee.
“Oh, great. You’re booked at the cabin until April, of course, but I was wondering if you were going home for the holidays by any chance.”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve just been strong-armed into making that decision by my sister,” I reply. “Why?”
“How sweet, your family must really miss you.” Kelly Anne chuckles. “And since you’ll be gone, would you be interested in subletting the cabin for Christmas week? Park City is sold out this year. I can’t believe the number of people we’ve had to turn down for the holidays.” She chuckles again. “It’s called peak season for a reason. Anyway, if you sublet the cabin, you could make all of April’s rent back in a single week. Is that something you’d consider?”
I pour water into the coffee machine’s tank and ponder for a second. I’m not strapped for money by any standard, but saving a month’s rent wouldn’t be the worst thing, especially considering how much the renovations on the house are going to cost. Besides, Cassie will probably ask her lawyers to strip me of every last penny she can grab. “I could,” I say, and add coffee to the filter. “But what about my stuff? I wouldn’t want to leave my clothes around the cabin and have strangers poke through it.”
“That wouldn’t be a problem, Mr. Clark. One of my teams could pack everything for you and store it for the week, and of course, unpack before you come back. What dates were you planning to leave?”
“I haven’t booked my flight out of Salt Lake City, yet.” I pull up the calendar on my phone, looking at the dates. I could stretch my stay to a week and make everyone at home happy. Then they might back off a little and let me write in peace until Easter. “What if I left on the twenty-first and came back on the twenty-ninth? That would leave you a full week in the middle.”
“That’d be perfect, Mr. Clark. I’ll free those dates up on our calendar and I’ll leave some papers for you to sign at the agency. You can formalize the agreement when you drop off your rent check.”
“Okay, I’ll come down as soon as I’m finished writing for the day.”
“Take all the time you need, as I said, no hurry. Thanks so much and I’m looking forward to seeing you later.”
We end the call, and I turn on the coffee maker.
As I watch the dark liquid drop into the pot, I try to mentally return to a dingy cave alongside Preacher, the treasure hunter hero of all my adventure novels. In my mind, the trickle of the coffee transforms into dirty water seeping from the cave’s ceiling and dropping, cold and chafing, down Preacher’s collar as he and the beast circle each other in a dance of death.
Dance of death, that’s good.
I have to type it before I forget. But this time, before I get back to my laptop, I turn off the phone.
Three – Wendy
The music stops as the two lead actors are about to kiss at the end of the first act, turning the theater so quiet you could hear a pin drop at the back of the room. So, when my phone starts vibrating on the staff table just off the stage, it sounds as loud as a bomb going off.
I look at the name on the screen: Mindy.
I grab the phone and excuse myself, whispering, “Sorry, family emergency. Carry on without me.”
The director frowns at me, then, turning toward the actors, he swirls a finger in the air, shouting, “Scene, back from the start.”
I rush out of the theater and pick up as soon as the main door closes behind me.
“I’m here,” I say, out of breath.
“Woah,” Mindy greets me. “What’s with the panting? Have you opted for a career change and joined the backup dancers, or were you having a torrid affair with the sound manager and I interrupted?”
“No to the dancing, and no to the torrid affair. I had to run out before the director killed me for interrupting the scene rehearsal. And you know I’d never cheat on Brandon, or anyone else. Why the sound manager, anyway?”
“I don’t know. It seemed like someone cool to have an affair with. Don’t they get their own booth where you two could have crazy sex on the control board and then you’d accidentally turn on the microphone switch with your bum and suddenly the entire cast would hear you make guttural sounds?”
I blink. “You watch too much TV. And the sound director is fifty.”
“Ah, bet he might teach you a trick or two.”
I shake my head. “You’re impossible.” I walk a few paces away from the doors to make sure no one hears my “family emergency” and ask, “Please tell me you have good news for me?”
“I searched for a vacancy on ski resorts all over the country, and they’re all booked solid for Christmas—”
“But,” I interrupt. “There must be a ‘but’ at the end of that phrase.”
“Buuut… just as I was checking my favorite agency in Park City, a spot magically opened. Christmas week went from red to green under my eyes. But it won’t stay green for long, so I’m going to give you all the facts pronto. The house is a refurbished cabin in the woods about fifteen minutes from the town’s center with very cozy, mountain-chic decor. The downside: it only has four bedrooms. Amy and Trevor could sleep in the master with the twins. Then there are two singles, one for your mom, and the other has a full bed that might fit you and Brandon if you want to hug tight at night—”
“Brandon can’t come, so that isn’t an issue.”
“Let me guess, work?” Mindy asks.
I roll my eyes and bite my tongue. I’m not in the mood for one of her your-boyfriend-doesn’t-value-you-enough pep talks. “What about the fourth room?”
“It has a bunk bed that would be perfect for the older kids.”
“That’s the thing, he’d have to sleep on the sofa bed in the living room.”
“Mmm. Where is Park City, anyway?”
“Utah? That’s like super far.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Mindy sing-songs. “I’m telling you, this is your only option, and if you don’t book it fast, it’ll be gone before lunchtime.”
“The town is nice?”
“Very quaint, with old storefronts and cozy restaurants, but also some gourmet options if you decide to go foodie. And the location is perfect, right in the middle of a few of the best ski resorts in the country: Park City, Alta, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain… you can try a different one each day if you want.”
“Okay, I’m sold, book it. Could you also sort the plane tickets? Five adults, two kids, and the twins, but they don’t pay yet, right?”
“Sure, I’m going to need a copy of everyone’s IDs. And I guess you’ll also want a couple of rental cars to move around once you get to Utah.”
“Yes, yes, those too.”
“Or would you prefer a minivan that can fit the whole gang?”
I consider for a second. “No, better do the two cars so we can split if people want to do different activities.”
“Perfect.” I can practically see Mindy seated at her minimalistic desk, taking notes as we speak. “To recap, one cabin, nine plane tickets, two cars, and four car seats? Or are Vicky and Owen old enough to go without one?”
“No, yeah, Amy still uses car seats for them.”
“Four car seats it is, then. Your family vacation is so Home Alone I want to gag.”
“Nah, come on, in Home Alone they had at least ten kids, we only have four.”
And if Brandon keeps being so career centered, I’m afraid we won’t be adding to that tally anytime soon.
“All right,” Mindy says. “The house is booked.”
Four – Riven
Three solid hours of writing later, I crack my neck as I look away from the computer screen for the first time. Outside, the sun is already descending over the mountains while still shining brightly. I check my watch: two-thirty. My stomach growls in response.
I pat my belly. “Yep, it’s past our lunchtime, buddy.”
I could grab a burger at the local pub before I drop by the rental agency and catch two birds with one stone.
I snatch the car keys from a bowl on the kitchen island and, as an afterthought, pick up my phone as well. As I turn it on, it buzzes with a million notifications, mostly from my sister.
I have half a mind to ignore her and not call her back until later tonight. I already agreed to go home. What else could she want? But then I find a missed call also from my dad. He never calls unless something is up—he, contrary to everybody else in my family, understands why I had to get away from LA and how important my writing time is.
I call Dad back first, but he doesn’t pick up. With a sigh, I tap Tess’s contact next.
She answers on the first ring. “Where were you? Why was your phone off? I’ve been trying to call you for hours.”
I was WRITING!!! I want to scream. They all assume that since I can work from home at any hour of the day, my job doesn’t warrant the same respect or boundaries of a nine-to-five desk gig. I bite down my retort and ask instead, “Has something happened? Is Dad okay?”
“Yeah, he is. But his house isn’t.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Busted pipe. I just came back from Dad’s and it’s a disaster. The lower floor is flooded. The contractor said he has to replace all the pipes, break the floors, the walls—it’s going to take weeks.”
“Where’s Dad staying?”
“With us. The kids will bunk together for a few weeks but we can’t have Christmas dinner at our place. Our house isn’t big enough. Did you already book your flight to come home?”
“No,” I say. “Are you telling me not to? I thought the Clarks couldn’t skip Christmas.”
“And we can’t, but what if we came to you? The cabin is huge, right? It’d fit us.”
I make a quick count of the bedrooms. If I leave the master for Tess and her husband, Dad and I can each sleep in one of the singles, and Tess’s kids can sleep in the bunk beds. But what about Skeeter, our younger brother?
I move to the couch and tentatively lift the seating. It gives. It’s a sofa bed. Skeeter can sleep here. College kids aren’t too fussy about sleeping arrangements.
Yeah, I could host the Clark clan, but… “Shoot, Tess, I told the real estate agent she could sublet the cabin while I was gone.”
“Don’t despair yet, I only agreed to the deal a few hours ago. I doubt she’s already rented the place. Listen, I’m going into town anyway to pay my rent, I’ll check with the agency right away and let you know, okay?”
After we hang up, I put on my coat and boots and hurry out of the house. I lock the door behind me and feel silly as I pause on the patio, checking the edge of the woods surrounding the cabin.
Come on, Riven, the big, bad wolf isn’t coming to get you. Not today.
Still, I cross the yard at a faster pace than usual and am relieved when I make it safely to my Grand Cherokee. The old Jeep is so battered, it’s the only thing Cassie won’t fight to keep in the divorce—she’s already taken the Mercedes.
I grab the wheel, not caring how cold it feels under my palms. This car and I, we’ve been on many adventures together. This ancient Jeep is the only memento of my life as it was before my soon-to-be-ex-wife hauled me into an upscale neighborhood with posher houses, posher friends, and a posher lifestyle that I hated and that never seemed to be enough for her. More, more, more. She wanted more clothes, more jewelry, more restaurants, more expensive trips…
And, thanks to California’s fifty-fifty divorce laws, I guess I’ll be the sucker who keeps financing her swanky lifestyle even after our marriage is over. At least until she marries another sucker.
Unexpectedly, the thought of Cassie re-marrying hits me in the guts with brutal force. I push her, the divorce, and her future imaginary husband out of my head. She’s wasted enough of my life for me to keep pining after her.
As I reverse the car and turn into the snow-covered driveway, the reflection is blinding in the mid-afternoon sun. I should tell the agency to send the plowing service more often. Until November it was manageable. But now, it snows every other day, and even when it doesn’t, the wind pushes the old snow around forming snowdrifts down the road.
At least the Jeep doesn’t have a problem overcoming the rough terrain. I’d like to see Cassie drive her precious Spider up here. She’d get stuck in the first mile. But I’m not thinking about my ex-wife, right?
The real estate agency is located in my favorite part of town, the Park City’s Historic District. I love its quaint buildings and unique restaurants. And now, with fairy lights crisscrossing over the street and sparkling from every shop window, Main Street is even prettier.
I find a parking spot right in front of my favorite pub, and my stomach begs me to go in, but I prefer to sort the subletting business first. With great effort, I ignore the smell of grilled meat coming out of the pub and cross the street toward the Richter Real Estate Group’s offices. I push the glass door open, prompting the wooden reindeer above the entrance to fill the room with the tingly notes of Jingle Bells.
Charlotte, a young administrative clerk, looks up from behind her computer screen and smiles. “Riven.” She blushes. “I mean, Mr. Clark.”
I approach her station. “Hey, Charlotte. No worries, I told you Riven is fine. How are things going?”
She pouts her lips and puffs out air. “This holiday season is pure madness. Every single house we manage is rented back-to-back throughout January. The number of check-ins and check-outs we have to deal with is insane.” She gestures at the empty office around her. “As you can see, it’s all hands on deck. I have to hold the fort alone. Have you come in to drop off your monthly check?”
“Yes, that…” I hand her the check and scratch the back of my head with my other hand. “And also, Kelly Anne called me this morning…” I explain the whole sublease business and why I have to cancel.
“Oh, I’m so sorry for your father,” Charlotte says when I’m finished. “What a horrible time of the year to have a burst pipe. At least in LA, all that water won’t freeze overnight. Up here, it’d be a complete disaster.”
“That’s California for you,” I say as my stomach growls.
Did she hear that?
“Hungry?” Charlotte asks.
Yep, she did.
“Yeah, sorry. I skipped lunch.”
Her lips part in a bright, wholesome smile. “Let’s sort your house situation, then, and you can be on your way to the pub. I won’t even bother you to ask for an update on the new book.”
Charlotte, I discovered, is a fan and has read all my novels. Whenever I come in, she begs me for spoilers on the story I’m working on, and I promptly refuse to give up anything. “Thank you, Charlotte, and you know you never bother me.”
“Ah, you’re too kind. I bet you get sick of all your fans pestering you.”
“Actually, it never gets old. I love my readers.”
Charlotte blushes again, and I’d better stop talking if I want her to be able to work.
“Let me just pull up the calendar.” Her eyes shift from me to the computer. She clicks on the mouse a few times and frowns. “I don’t see any openings in your rental. Kelly Anne must not have had time to free up the slot yet.” She turns the screen toward me, showing a monthly view of December where all the days are colored in red. “I’ll just add a note saying you no longer wish to sublet, and you should be fine.”
She types a quick memo and looks up at me. “You’re all set. Have a great lunch…” She scrunches her face in an eager but embarrassed expression. “And please finish the book soon, I can’t wait to read Preacher’s next adventure.”
Nothing strokes a writer’s feathers better than an avid reader. I smile at Charlotte and give her a mock military salute. “Will do, ma’am.”
If I keep writing like today, my manuscript will be completed in no time.
Coming Soon… An Enemies to Lovers, Stuck Together RomCom
Would you share a bed with your enemy to save Christmas?
Down with a bad case of writer’s block, Riven has escaped to a mountain cabin for a prolonged writing retreat. The last thing he needs this Christmas is for his family to invade his sanctuary away from LA. What he needs even less is for a family of strangers as large and boisterous as his own to also be stuck in the same house after a double-booking disaster.
Especially when he ends up having to share a bunk bed with Wendy—a gorgeous, feisty New Yorker who quickly learns how to get under his skin.
Sharing a room with her is sweet torture and Riven isn’t even sure what he dreads more: that every passing day brings them closer to saying goodbye or that they have yet another night to spend together…
AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER IN EBOOK:
Books in the Series
All books in the series are complete standalones that only share the same warm-fuzzy holidays spirit…