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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Copper Dagger

Encounter on Winter Solstice 1879

Joy breathed in the cold December air. The trek up the hill to the ancient standing stones had taken the better part of an hour, but the blessed silence of that house soaked into her very soul. London was all so congested with soot and grime. Not to mention the bigoted aristocrats her adoptive parents spent the majority of their time socializing with.

Breathing rapidly she hitched her satchel of painting and sketching supplies further onto her shoulder as she reached the top. The view before her took what breath she had left. The moss and snow covered stones tilted up into the air like giant stone sentinels.

Quickly needing to sketch what she saw she dropped the satchel to the ground to pull her sketchbook out. She sat down spreading her wool skirts and cloak out around her protecting her rear from the snow still on the ground. Crickets sung in the moonlit meadow. Joy looked up trying to gauge the height of the top mantel piece. She gasped. Expecting to see the ancient stones she was startled to find a man stood before her, his back to her blocking her view.

"Excuse me."

The man turned slightly.

"You're in my view."

"My apologies." He stepped three feet to the side.

Joy sighed. The peacefulness of the solitude was gone. She tried to turn back to her artwork, but the need was gone. Groaning she threw the book and pencil back into her bag and stood up.

"I disturbed you."

Joy rolled her eyes turning to him. "You think?"

"There's no need to be sour about it."

She gave an exaggerated sigh grabbing up her bag before stomping off towards the stones. As nice as his voice was, she didn't want to be around anyone. Especially tonight.

"Wait! Miss!"

Swallowing and sending a quick glance over her shoulder her stomach dropped. They were alone in the middle of no where and no one knew she was there. Now a strange man showed up trying to get her attention? She tried to ignore his calls as she rounded the stones of the outer circle. The energy in the area hummed as if she was in the middle of a Tesla experiment. She puffed warm air over her clasped hands only now feeling the dropping temperature. She wouldn't be able to be out much longer.


She groaned. All she wanted was to be left alone. Was that too much to ask? She ducked into the center of the ruin and crouched down behind the center bluestone altar. She held her breath as footsteps crunched in the snow.

"Ah, come on. Miss! Miss, you dropped something."

Joy hunched debating with herself for a minute. He'd come upon her and could have hurt her then, but hadn't. Why would he do something now? Unless he was one of those sick people who enjoyed their victim knowing who their attacker was. She peeked over the top of the altar. He looked frustrated and irritated, but as she watched him she really couldn't see him as someone who would hurt anyone. Not willingly. He had the carriage of a soldier. Finally figuring it would be easier to retrieve whatever she'd dropped than listen to him yell for her all night, she popped up.

He turned towards her as if he'd heard her. She shifted and snow crunched under her feet. Of course, he'd heard. He really was a handsome fellow. If one tended to look for that sort of thing. Past experiences had taught her that she wasn't the type for a happily ever after. The closest thing she could ever get was the quiet evening of the Winter Solstice in the middle of nowhere. For a quick second she thought of the driver she'd paid to deliver her to the peaceful wilderness. Would he still be waiting for her in the two hours she'd requested?

"There you are. You dropped this." He moved towards her.

Joy tried to move forward, but found her courage had frozen just like the ground under her feet. She held her trembling gloved hand out over the stone.

"Thank you."

"Are you here alone?" He sent a quick glance all around them holding his closed fist above her open palm.

"My driver is waiting for me."

"No husband?"

Joy scowled. "Of course not."

She slammed her open hand into the air. The jerk of her arm bumped the edge of her hood, a swift breeze rushed through the stones bringing a light snow flurry with it. The cold moisture felt refreshing against her heated cheeks as her hood flew away from her face. The world around them froze, the only sound his inhaled breath.

***   ***

She was gorgeous. Like an ancient warrior Goddess. The snowy breeze only seemed to heighten the color of her rose cheeks. Cade blinked coming back to what they had been discussing before Mother Nature had decided to interrupt them. She seemed offended that he'd asked about a husband. Surely whoever looked out for her would never let her wander around in the wilderness alone. If she'd been his he would be assured she was at home cuddled in front of a fire content to stay inside. The snowy countryside was no place for a woman to be alone. Especially at night.

"My possession?"

He shook his head. Of course. Her beauty had momentarily distracted him. He tried to smile but the muscles had been stiff and silent for too long and only twitched now. He lowered his closed fist to lay against her kid leather. He took a step closer bumping against the bluestone mantel between them.
Kid leather was expensive, her wool cloak of good material. She wasn't poor which meant she didn't live in the area. Only farmers lived near Stonehenge. And only a select few would ever dare to visit on such a wintry evening. She sighed again rolling her eyes. He opened his hand not sure why he was finding it difficult to let go of the slim copper and bone dagger.
She pulled her hand back frowning.

"That isn't mine."

"It was by your feet."

"I guarantee it's not mine. I wouldn't have anything to do with a dagger."

"Not even to sharpen your-"

"Not even then." She shoved it back to him.

Bang! Ping!

Instinct took over. He grabbed the shoulder of her cloak and yanked her towards him. She jerked across the stone with a scream. Ping!

Someone was shooting at them. Breathing heavily Cade couldn't believe one of the farmers would so willingly endanger anyone on sacred land.

"Get off me!"

"Hush." Cade clamped a hand over her luscious mouth searching over the stone for the shooter.

Whoever had fired had been aiming from the woods to the right. And downhill. She bit down on the fleshy part of his palm. He growled pulling his hand away. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. His stomach dropped. She'd been hit. He slipped his hand under her cloak breathing in relief when he didn't feel any wet liquid which would mean she had been shot. He scowled when instead his fingers discovered his swift action had caused a stay in her corset to snap and press into her ribs. If he didn't remove it soon she would suffocate.

"Leave me alone!"

He shook his head at her whispered vehemence. Her body started to sway against the stone.

"Your driver?"

"Down the path."

He looked back down the path he'd come up. There hadn't been anyone at the end of the path much less a carriage. He turned back to her kneeling over her to gently lay her on her wool cloak so that the corset laid flat. Her eyes fluttered shut.

"Forgive me, but-"

"Just do it. Quickly."

He nodded though she couldn't see in the failing light. He pulled the copper dagger from her gloved hand and tilted her slightly away from him. He sliced through her woolen bodice to the ribbons tying the corset sides together. With a slight puff of air the two sides popped open. She gulped in a full breath, groaned then went silent. She stared at something above his right shoulder. He tightened his grip on the bone handle.


Cade glanced up over his shoulder. The light had nearly vanished leaving everything in a hazy shadow world. A world he knew so well it felt like his home. A glint of moonlight bounced off the barrel of a pistol. Older model. More likely to misfire at close range.

"Move away." The assailant waved the gun at him.

Cade sent a quick glance down at the frozen woman. Her lips were starting to turn blue from the cold wind sweeping towards them. Even the thug above them shivered and hunched further into his woolen jacket. Cade raised his hands in the air trying to present a harmless target as he slid away.

"I'm awful sorry, miss, but we can't let you take control." His voice was soft in the snowy darkness.

Cade silently slipped behind the man as he stepped towards the woman pointing the pistol at her forehead. Her sigh was soft in the air but went straight to his heart like a bolt of lightening. She closed her eyes as if she was waiting for someone to end her suffering. He wouldn't allow that. The pistol hammer clicked into place.

The world slowed.

Cade slipped his arm around the man's neck and twisted.

The neck snapped.

The pistol exploded.

She screamed.

The wind rushed in blowing heavy snow with it. Cade dropped to his knees just as another shot rang out.

Then another.

And another.

In rapid succession which could only mean a Gatlan gun. Someone really intended for her to perish. He dropped his body over her.


"Who are your friends?"

She shook her head vehemently her body trembling against him.


"We have to get out of here."


Cade searched around them. They were sitting ducks. He needed to get them to cover. Unfortunately, the only cover was the woods the shooters were using.

"Can you move?"

"I...I... think so."

"Good. We're going to make a dash-"

"Where? There's no where to go."

He cupped her cheeks trying to get her gaze to focus on him. After a few seconds her gaze collided with him.

"There we go. I need you to concentrate on me."

"I don't know you."

He felt the little twitch of a smile again. "I know, but it looks like we don't have a choice."

"Do you know..." her gaze slid to the man whose neck he'd snapped then shot back to him. She swallowed. "How do I know you're not one of them?"

"I had plenty of chances to hurt you. I didn't. I saved you from being shot. At least three times."

I hope you enjoyed this short. The next installment will be posted on January 3, 2014.

Copyrighted 2013 Mae Pen

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hometown Holiday by Paty Jager

Olivia Randle rushed into her favorite coffee shop, slipping into line beside her best friend.

“You’re late.” Amber stated the obvious. There was only one person ahead of them and not the usual six or eight when Olivia took cuts with Amber.

“I overslept. The Taylor party went on till midnight and then I had to finish washing the dishes before I could go to bed.” Olivia hated being late for anything, but she especially hated being late to the coffee shop. Over the last two weeks, there had been a newcomer who winked at her after he picked up his coffee and turned to leave. He had curly blond hair, long lashes, and deep blue eyes. Just the sight of him set her heart racing in her chest, but when he winked, her whole body shivered with delight.

Being late today meant she’d missed one of her cheerful moments in an otherwise dismal life.

“Cheer up. I heard the new pet store is looking for clerks for the holidays. You’re good with animals, go put in an application. It has to be better than washing dishes at your dad’s diner.” Amber stepped up to the counter. “Two hot chocolates with peppermint, please.”

Olivia, dug in her coat pocket for the three dollars for her cup.

“Put it away, this is on me.” Amber picked up the two cups and led Olivia to their favorite spot. The long, narrow counter looking out onto the main street of their hometown, Promise. 

“Here take my money. You can’t keep picking up the tab for me.” Olivia shoved the money in her best friend’s pocket. They became besties in first grade and even through family dysfunction, boyfriend jealousies, and scholarship competitions, they remained friends.

“I should have went to nursing school with you. Then I’d have a real job instead of filling in at Dad’s diner and taking odd jobs.” Olivia sipped her chocolate and watched old man Wheeler, the town grouch, wave the broom he swept leaves off the sidewalk with at the Mason boys.

“You would have been miserable in nursing school and you’d still be miserable.” Amber peered at Olivia over her cup as she blew on the steam. “But you really should have picked an occupation that you could use in Promise. You knew you would move back here after school.”

This wasn’t the first time she’d heard this. Her parents, uncles, aunts, and even the mailman repeated the same words to her every chance they had.

“But advertising is what I was, and still am, most interested in.” Olivia, pointed to the banner across the arts and crafts store across the street. “If Mable would listen to me, I know how to make that sign pop and get more attention. But she just shoos me away and says it’s worked for fifteen years.”

“I know. You tell me that every day.” Amber smiled and took a sip.

“It gets old doesn’t it? Just like everyone telling me I wasted my money on college.”  The problem? Olivia was starting to think the same thing. If I hadn’t received so many scholarships to help pay for school, I’d really be in a world of hurt.

“Go check out the pet store. Maybe they need help with advertising along with clerking?” Amber stood and swung her purse over her shoulder. “See you tonight at Big Al’s.”

Olivia watched her friend head off to a career she loved.

“Yeah, Big Al’s, where every drunk in the place will hit on me.” Olivia finished her hot chocolate wishing she had a decent job to head off to like Amber. She sauntered out of the coffee shop. The good thing about not having a regular job, she had free time to wander the streets of her hometown and conjure up childhood memories.

She turned right on Main Street. Might as well fill out an application at the pet store. Chances are they are new to the area and I could help them cozy up to the locals.
Zach Crenshaw heard the buzzer on his door echo through the building. Probably just one more local coming to tell me a high-falutin’ pet store won’t work in this town. He took his time flattening the cardboard box before he made his way to the front of the store. His steps faltered when a red, orange, and lime-green scarf came into view. He only knew one person who wore a scarf like that. The pretty brunette he winked at every day in the coffee shop.

What is she doing here?

She must have heard his approach because she spun around. Her eyes widened and her lips slipped into an inviting smiled.

“Hello! I’m Olivia Randle. My friend said you might be hiring for the holidays?”

At a loss for words, Zach stared at her twinkling eyes and warm smile.

She glanced down at her outstretched hand.

He gathered his senses.

“I’m Zach Crenshaw.” He held out his hand, but wasn’t prepared for the heat that sizzled up his arm at the feel of their clasped fingers.

“Zach.” She cleared her throat and drew her hand back slowly. “Are you hiring?”

“What are your credentials?” He leaned a hip against the front counter and studied her face. This close, he noticed a spattering of faint freckles across the bridge of her cute up-turned nose.

“I’m a local girl…”

“That’s a bonus,” he said, interrupting her.

Olivia smiled. “I went to college and majored in advertising…”

“Did you expect to come back here and get a job in that?” Even being new to the town, he didn’t see any business that could use her talents, except his.

She blushed. “Yeah, not a smooth move on my part. But I learned while in college I’m a country girl at heart. I can’t find a job in my occupation, so I’m looking for anything besides washing dishes at my dad’s diner…”

“Marv’s Place?”

“Yeah, that business has put my siblings and I through college. The only other opening is a cocktail waitress at Big Al’s.” She scrunched her cute nose. “Drunks and I don’t get along well.”

“You’re over qualified, but I really need a local presence in the store. There’s been two old ladies come in here every day and tell me I’ll never make it here.”

Olivia laughed. “That would be Thelma and Therese. Around here we call them 'the twins' even though they are closing in on ninety. They’re probably afraid you’re going to sell cats. They are the local breeders of barn cats.”

Zach stared at her to see if she was telling the truth or trying to pull one over on him. “Breeders of barn cats?”

She burst out laughing. “They are two crazy ladies who feed dozens of cats and when the cats get to be a nuisance, Sheriff Timble, puts out a notice and the locals go to the twins’ house and buy cats to put in their barns, sheds, garages, wherever there’s been a sighting of a mouse. The local veterinarian neuters and spays them for free. Eventually, some of the cats and new ones end up back at the twins’, and we buy them all over again.”

Zach scratched his head. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Welcome to a small community.” Olivia’s smile threw a blanket of warmth over him.

“When can you start?” Not only was he anxious to get to know Olivia better but the sooner he integrated into the community, the sooner his business would take off.

“I can start right now, if you don’t mind casual attire. I thought I’d be heading back to the diner to wash more dishes.” Olivia unbuckled her coat.

He didn’t see anything wrong with the tight-fitting T-shirt and jeans.

“We’ll be dealing with animals, so you don’t want to wear good clothes, just start the day in clean clothes.” 
He halted his gaze from roaming over her like a man who’d been in prison. His social life was put on hold the day his grandfather gave him the contents of this pet store and said, “If you can make this work in a small town, I’ll leave my money to you and your mom.” Zach didn’t need the money for himself, but he couldn’t live and help pay his mother’s medical expenses. She had medical issues that insurance wasn’t covering and she couldn’t work.

“I’ll call my dad and tell him I won’t be in.” She pulled out a cell phone and tapped the screen twice.

Zach walked down an aisle, pretending to move merchandise to give her space, but he couldn’t help but hear her side of the conversation.

“Hey Dad, I won’t be in to work anymore.” Her nose scrunched. “No, I didn’t take the job at Big Al’s. I got a job at the new pet store.” She rolled her eyes. “Yes, pet store.”

She laughed and Zach’s lips tipped into a smile. Her laughter made him want to laugh right along with her.

“I don’t know if the owner would want any scraps. I’m pretty sure Charlie would be put out to know you offered his pig scraps to the pet store.”

Zach couldn’t stop the guffaw that burst from his belly.

Olivia’s eyes crinkled with merriment. “Dad, I have to go. First day on the job and all. Right. Yes, I’ll be by the diner for supper. Bye.”

Olivia slipped her phone in her back pocket. How it fit in pants that appeared painted on her long, lean legs was a mystery to Zach.

She scanned the interior of the store. Where do I put my things and what do you want me to do?”

“Put your coat in the back room, there’s hooks just inside the door. I’ll show you the departments and then you can help me finish stocking the shelves.” Zach followed her to the back of the store.

“Am I the only employee?” Olivia asked, hanging her coat on one of four hooks.

“So far.” Zach didn’t have the guts to tell her she’d be the only one, since he was going to have to skim into his savings to pay her until the store took off.

He gave her a quick tour of the fifteen-hundred-square-foot building.

“I don’t remember this building being this big when Mrs. Archer had a clothing store in here,” Olivia said, opening a box of dog chew toys and hanging them on pegs.

“That would explain the pins, buttons, and lace I found in here while cleaning it up.” Zach smiled. Yes, having Olivia in the store would definitely help business and make his days not nearly so dreary.
Olivia couldn’t wait to tell Amber she not only landed the job but her boss was the good-looking guy who winked at her in the coffee shop every morning. Olivia usually didn’t dress to entice the drunks at Big Al’s. She wasn’t interested in the locals and drunks who frequented the bar, but tonight she felt like celebrating and that meant pulling on her sassy, high-heeled boots over her russet-colored skinny jeans and topping that off with a swingy, sunset-colored top that was beaded around the low neckline.

Sure enough, as soon as she took off her coat, Amber’s brows raised and her boyfriend, Stan whistled.

“Look at you.” Stan said, loud enough that half-a-dozen heads turned and that many sets of eyes widened.

“What are you all dolled up for?” Amber’s eyes narrowed as she studied Olivia. “Oh! You got the job!” Amber jumped off her stool and hugged Olivia.

“Wow, I didn’t know me getting a job would make you this happy.” Olivia waved at Cheryl, the waitress.

Olivia stared at her friend. She’d witnessed that expression on her friend’s face before. “You didn’t hear the pet store was hiring—you found out Zach owned the store!”
Amber’s cheeks darkened in color. “Yes, I did a little digging and discovered the guy winking at you every day owned the pet store.”

“I don’t know whether to hug you or slug you. No wonder he looked dumbfounded when I walked in saying I heard he was hiring.” Olivia groaned. “I must have looked desperate. Or completely stupid.” Knowing this took some steam out of her excitement. Did he feel pity and that’s why he hired me?

“But he hired you. You have a job, and you have eye candy to look at every day.” Amber winked.

“Hey! I think I need to check this guy out.” Stan said, picking up his beer and taking a swig.

Cheryl arrived with Olivia’s standard diet drink.

“Thanks.” Olivia took a sip.

The waitress pointed to a booth. “That guy over there said he’s paying for your drink.”

Olivia groaned. She didn’t want to deal with telling some drunk she didn’t want his generosity. She turned to see who she had to deal with.

Her heart sped up and she smiled. Zach sat in a booth, a basket with a burger in front of him.

“Go talk to him,” Amber said.

“Thanks, Cheryl.” Olivia slid off the chair and sauntered over to the booth. “Is this bench taken?”

Zach had watched her walk over to the booth. The interest in his eyes had her heart fluttering like the courthouse flag on a windy day.

“I reserved it for you the minute you walked in the door.” His deep rich voice was easy on her ears.

“You saw me walk in? Were you watching the door for a reason?” She couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to watch who entered the dark, stinky establishment.

He nodded toward Amber and Stan. “Your friend said you’d be coming.” He took a sip of iced tea. “She the one that told you I was hiring?”

Olivia leaned across the table. “Yes! She just told me she made it up.”

Zach laughed. His rich baritone filled the booth and seeped into her.

“She stopped me this morning at the coffee shop and asked me what I was doing in town.” He winked.  “I think we’ve been set up.”

An inkling of fear stuttered through her heart. “Are you upset?”

His blue eyes gazed deep into hers. “No, I think I found exactly what I need.”


Copyright © 2013 Paty Jager