Welcome to Madison Creek
Northern Hospitality Meets Southern Comfort
A Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Releasing December 10th, 2015, come visit the town of Madison Creek and get blown away with Haley Madison and Ethan Winter's story in Snow Belle the first book of the series.
Haley Madison packed her big dreams and drove to the Arctic. Well, all right, so it’s Madison Creek, Michigan. But for a Texas gal this frozen land ought to come with a sled and huskies. If it wasn’t for her family’s rundown property, she’d have stayed where the sun shone bright and warm. However, she has grand ideas for her inheritance even if the town has thrown up their objections to her plans.
Ethan Winters hated going home and admitting failure. Sure, he has a special talent with the violin, but he has bigger ambitions than playing at the local bowling alley. And then there was the idea of facing his father. No, he wasn’t ready to go home just yet. He veered off the interstate and drove to a little town named Madison Creek. Maybe his luck would change.
Sample Prelude and Chapter One
Haley Madison stopped her rumbling Chevy truck in front of the Madison farm house. The old Victorian, once a deep hunter’s green, sat atop of a small rise like a queen ruling over her land, but in this case, a realm of over-grown and sorely neglected farmlands. When was the last time anyone had come to mow the grass or trim the hedges?
Wally, her black-coated Belgian Sheepdog, whined and pressed his nose to the windshield. His whole body wriggled in anticipation to run across the shabby lawn and stir up the crows flocking in the autumn sunshine.
Her own muscles ached from the long drive, too, but she made no move to get out yet. If the outside looked this bad, she wasn’t sure she could stomach what she’d find inside.
“Oh Papop, what an all-fire mess.” Haley leaned forward and rested her chin on the steering wheel with a loud sigh. Across the two-lane road sat the old red barn badly in need of paint. So many happy memories revolved in her mind from the few blissful years she’d lived with her grandparents in Madison Creek, Michigan when she was a young girl.
Haley pushed back her Stetson and glanced out the rear window at the horse trailer hooked behind Lady Blue, which is what she’d dubbed her ol’ pickup. She hoped the inside of the barn wasn’t as neglected as the outside. Molly and Cress, her horses, needed a safe place to stay through the winter. She bit her lip, wondering if she should take care of them first, or high-tail it in to see her grandfather.
His last call had frightened her enough to pack everything she owned and skedaddle up to the arctic faster than a rattler’s strike. Nothing much kept her in Texas, no how. Not anymore.
“Wally, let’s go see Papop first. Then we’ll let Molly and Cress out. Won’t hurt ’em to stay where they are a bit longer.”
Wally whined again and scratched at the window as if to say, “Well, let’s get on with it all ready.”
She opened her door, gasping at the cold wind bursting into the cab. She’d left the hot September temperatures in the high nineties for ones that would barely reach the mid-sixties on a good day. Up here, the trees were crowned in golden glory. In Texas they’d turned brown from the blazing summer heat.
After grabbing her two suitcases and duffel bag, she trudged up the steps leading to the grand wrap-around porch. Back in the day while Memaw was alive, there were potted plants everywhere during the warmer months and big cushy chairs for people to sit. She smiled to find the old swinging bench still in place. What a great spot for an afternoon nap during the few months of nice weather.
When she reached the front door, she moved to grab the handle and enter as she’d always done, but then stopped herself and fisted her hand to knock. Would he be able to get out of bed to answer? Maybe she should just enter.
The door swung open to a middle aged women dressed scrubs with smiley faces all over the shirt. Her round cheeks puffed with her broad smile. “You must be Haley Belle?”
Inwardly, Haley cringed at the name her family always called her, yet plastered on a smile and nodded.
“Mr. Madison has been asking after you.” The nurse lady stepped out and grabbed one of her cases. “Let me help you with that, pumpkin.”
“Are you his…”
“Hospice nurse. Call me Mabel.”
Hospice? That meant he didn’t have much time left. She swallowed the burning lump in her throat.
“He’s having a good day, today. Meaning he’s responsive and talking, but tires out easily.” Mabel set the suitcases at the base of the staircase.
The hot lump moved down and settled in Haley’s chest as she looked around at the poor ol’ house. Stains from leaky pipes marked the ceiling. Stacks of old newspapers and books cluttered the sitting room around the stone fireplace. The door to the kitchen was closed. She hated to think of what condition that room might be in. To the back of the house was Memaw’s favorite place, the garden room. Tears welled in her eyes over all the nearly dead plants, dust covered furniture and dirty ceiling to floor windows that once gave the room its charm. She swallowed down the urge to cry. No sense in it. Not now.
“Can … I see him?”
“Sure can. He’s taken the study as his room since he can’t make it up the stairs anymore. Why don’t you go on in? I was just preparing a bowl of broth for him. Would you like me to make you something?”
“No thank you, Mabel. Do you stay here all day?” Haley forced her feet to move across the dull wood floors.
“I’m the morning shift. There are two other nurses who come to sit with him. He didn’t wish to remain in the hospital, and I can’t say that I blame him either.” Her chocolate brown eyes sparkled as she added, “It’s such a pleasure taking care of Mr. Charles. He’s a fine gentlemen. When he’s awake, we mostly talk about the Lord.” She drew in a slow breath and her voice soothed into a gentler tone. “He’s ready to go be with his wife. An’ your mama, Isabelle.”
That did it. Haley’s mouth clamped shut to rein in the cry wanting to escape. Fiery heat filled her chest from the held in tears. Clearing her throat, she gave a quick nod, then rushed down the hall to the last room. The moment she pushed inside, the smell of staleness and sickness hit her. A still form lay on the four-poster bed. Papop had grown a beard, something he’d never done while healthy. Being a military man, he’d always kept his hair regulation short and his face clean.
Haley crept toward the bed. His eyes were closed, so she carefully lowered into the chair Mabel most likely occupied during her vigils. She didn’t want Papop to leave her, though she understood his yearning to see Memaw. And Momma.
Swallowing another stone of sorrow, she reached out and ran her fingers over his withered hand. They used to be so large and strong. Callouses roughened his fingers and palms from working out in the fields.
Papop called her his Smart girl, or his Sweet-pea. Memaw was the only person in the whole wide world to ever call her by the pet name Precious. Everyone else…? They had their own choice names for her, none that left her feeling like she was worth something.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t get here sooner, Papop. Sure was stupid of me.”
“You were going to get married, Haley Belle.” One blue eye peeped open, then the other as his beard parted in a broad grin. “There’s my smart girl. Made it all the way here from Texas after all, did you?”
“Cain’t seem to stay away. Too much time has passed since I last visited. What’s it been, two … three years?”
“Two years last July.”
“I should have been here months ago. Why didn’t you tell me you were this bad off?”
He struggled to shift his pillow, but tired from the movement. Haley rushed to his side, propping him up so he could see her better. No matter how sick he might be, his lake-blue eyes still sparkled with their usual merriment. That happiness from someone who had lived a full, satisfying life with no major regrets. Haley hoped she’d someday have that kind of sparkle.
Papop caught her hand so she had to sit on the bed next to him. “The Good Lord has seen fit to send me the help I’ve needed, Sweet-pea. Don’t you worry about your Papop. I’m on my way home and couldn’t be more pleased than a… what is that saying you have?”
Haley chuckled. He always loved what he called her Haleyisms. “Pleased as a pup at its mama’s teat.”
He laughed outright, which sent him into a coughing fit.
Grabbing a glass of water off the night stand, she forced her trembling hands to hold it steady to his lips. “Don’t sound like you’re in need of my joshing around, Papop.”
Once the spell subsided, his head fell back into the pillow, but his smile never wavered. “Ah, I intend to go out with joy in my heart and a big grin on my face, young lady. I can’t wait to see my Emma Rose again. And Isabelle Marie.” He blinked a few times as he took a better look at Haley. “Can’t believe how much you ended up looking like your mother. You have her blonde curls and deep blue eyes.” He winked. “Lucky you. She was such a beautiful girl.”
Haley didn’t know how much more of this she’d be able to take before she broke down and bawled her ever-lovin’ blue eyes out right here at his bedside.
His brow rose into his shaggy white hair. “I was sorry to hear your engagement didn’t work out. Did he break your heart, Haley? I have connections if you need someone to go beat some sense—”
He winked again and she realized he was the one joshing now. Always did love teasing and making people laugh. Maybe he knew she was on the verge of crumbling and was trying to lighten the moment. He was like that. Oh, but she loved him so much, and once again chastised herself for staying away for so long. How could she have abandoned the only real father figure she’d ever had?
Drat my confounded stubbornness!
“You know,” Haley said, forcing down the tears into a safe box and slamming the lid down tight. She’d let them out much, much later. “It’s for the best, I suspect. Robert was a real playboy now that I’ve got some distance and perspective. Soon as he learned I was hoping to get Lexie out of the foster system once we settled down, he scurried off like a lizard with a hawk on its tail. Who needs that kind of man?”
His head shook from side to side on the yellow pillowcase. “How’s your sister doing? With her father in jail and your mother gone…”
“The court said if I get my life settled and start earning an income, they’ll consider granting me custody of her. But she’s near old enough to walk out on her own in another year or so.”
Papop’s head bobbed with an understanding nod. “I can’t imagine the grief you girls have suffered. As I said last time we talked, the house and land will be all yours when I’m gone. I want you to do whatever is necessary to build a life for yourself here. That girl needs her real family.”
Haley’s heart twisted. For the past few years, she’d felt like an orphan, too.
She didn’t want to think about making a life he wasn’t a part of. So she didn’t tell him she had no plans at the moment. Now that she’d seen the condition the house was in, she wasn’t too sure what to do with any of it. But he was right about one thing, this was her chance for a do over. A chance to rebuild her life on her own terms and get back on her feet and support herself. To make a life nobody could take away from her.
Before she could respond, he hurried on, as if needing to make sure he got out all the important stuff. “I have a list of things I want dispersed to the remaining family. Your great-aunt Daisy still lives in town. Don’t be afraid to ask her for help if you need anything or have questions. If you can keep the house and farmland intact, I’d appreciate it, but will understand if you need to sell off more acreage to do whatever you need to do. What’s important, Haley Isabelle, is that you use this opportunity to make a life for yourself. Understand? This is fertile land, and lots of it. This house was one of the first to be built here in Madison Creek. The town is named after your family lineage, so don’t forget who you are.” He patted her cheek. “You’re a smart girl. I have faith you’ll make something wonderful of all this mess. I wish I could have given you more since so much has been taken from you.”
The tears came then, pouring out and uncontrollable. Haley curled up beside Papop, resting her head on his bony shoulder and let the tears pool onto his shirt. He didn’t seem to mind, but kept telling her how happy he was that she was there with him. Soon Wally found her and he hopped up on the bed and curled up on Papop’s other side.
“My two favorites,” he sighed.
* * * *
Two weeks later, Haley stood beside the open grave as people filed by, tossing bits of dirt down on the burgundy casket. Wally sat beside her, resting up against her leg. It seemed as if the whole town had come out to bid Charles Madison goodbye.
Haley knew Papop wasn’t shedding any tears, so she tried valiantly to hold her own back. No, he was probably dancing up in heaven, giving Memaw and Momma, along with the rest of the Madison clan, smooches and hugs.
She’d been blessed with three more really good days with him before his heart finally ticked its last tick. He’d left her a house in desperate need of repairs, and the grand ol’ barn which she could see through the pines surrounding the family burial ground. All the past Madisons were buried here, even Momma, despite how she was always so antsy to get somewhere warmer and bigger. Isabelle Madison was never a fan of small towns.
Haley loved them and hoped she could make a life here. The people gathered around the graveside seemed to adore Charles, and had nothing but good memories to share with her.
Oh, please, Lord, please let me find a way to fit in.
The town wasn’t in much better condition than the farm. But there was always hope, wasn’t there? And possibilities?
She stared at the barn, not able to watch the hole where Papop rested slowly fill with dark Michigan dirt.
Just as slowly, an idea began to form. A grand idea. Something great she could do that everyone would love. There was only enough money to see her through a few months. No, she’d have to see what the land was valued at. Sacrifices would need to be made. But a bud of excitement, the first she’d felt in some time, broke through the darkness and into the light.
Yes, she’d find a way to make her grand idea a reality. And soon, she’d have a way to get her sister, Lexie, out of the mess her step-father, Mad Maddix, had made of their lives.
“Good night, you’re a mess.” Haley Madison stared in horror at the reflection in the foyer mirror. Her puffy eyes looked like she was suffering from an allergic reaction. Shouldn’t have spent half the night bawling over those old pictures, silly. She pulled a knit cap over her wild blonde hair and wrapped a scarf around her neck, hoping she could hide the fact she’d not had time to put on make-up.
“No time for shoulda’s.” She checked the wall clock. “Drat, I’ll be late!”
Haley yanked open the front door and stepped out onto the wide porch of the old Victorian home. She froze on the top step - literally - at the sight spread across the sloping front yard and beyond into the fields across the road. White, white, and more white.
White covering Memaw’s prize rosebushes growing along the wraparound porch. White piled along the railing, covering the peeling paint, which was actually a good thing. And white at least two feet high along the driveway. Uh, not such a good thing.
“Good night. How on earth am I to get my truck out in this mess?” Haley sighed a cloud of puffy white steam.
That dratted white stuff also blanketed the steps and walkway. She glanced at her red Ropers, dismayed over her choice of footwear. They were the warmest shoes she’d brought from Texas and the only ones large enough for her to double up on socks so her toes didn’t freeze off her feet.
Haley checked the time on her cell. Gawking at the calf-high mess wasn’t getting her to that appointment. She hurried down the porch steps. The moment her boot hit the paved stone walkway, a flash of red shot up into the air. Haley landed flat on her back. Air rushed from her lungs. She gasped, grateful her landing was cushioned by the dratted snow. Icy wetness seeped down the back of her jeans.
“Oh, oh, oh.” She grasped the railing and pulled herself up. Shock waves from the invading chill shot up her spine.
Taking big, carefully-placed steps, she made it to the driveway before she stopped again.
Puffs of her breath circled around her head like pipe smoke. The white blanket completely covered the drive. Even if she did manage to creep the old Chevy down the incline without slipping, she’d most surely end up in the road-side ditch.
To her surprise, the road was cleared off. Why couldn’t those darned snowplows clear people’s drives, too?
Wait. Snowplow. An idea formed.
She wasn’t ready to give up yet. This appointment had taken nearly a month to secure after much pestering and—at the end—hourly calls before the secretary, Mrs. Baulders, scheduled an early morning spot.
Mr. Dobson owned the only realtor agency in Madison Creek, so it wasn’t like Haley had much to pick from. That hateful bulldog of a secretary had made sure to give her an appointment she’d have the most trouble keeping. Mrs. Baulders probably even checked the weather report and scheduled the day with the highest chance of snow. Dratted Yankees.
“I’m selling this house,” Haley growled through her gritted teeth. “Don’t care what everyone thinks!” She sucked in a deep, calming breath. “Okay, Haley, you can do this.” Sometimes she needed to give herself these little pep-talks. She had nobody else in her life to offer encouragement and help fix her problems.
Haley tapped her gloved hand on her chin and shivered as a few bits of snow dripped down the front of her shirt. Papop had one of those snow-thingamajigs in the garage.
Yes! She’d seen him use the blower to clear the drive a time or two in his better days, when she was a young girl. Looked easy enough, like mowing the lawn. With a determined nod, she marched toward the garage, her boots sinking in with each step. She checked the time again, then decided to send a quick message that she’d be there soon.
After several hard tugs, the side entrance finally wrenched open. Once inside, she hit the button to raise the doors.
Haley decided to get ol’ Lady Blue, her faded Chevy truck, started and warmed up. The battered truck wasn’t much to look at, but it did get her where she wanted to go, so long as it had plenty of time to wake up.
She patted the front fender. “I hope you’re in a good mood, Lady; I’m in a hurry this morning.” After two cranks, the engine rumbled to life.
Now to find Papop’s blower-thing.
Along the side of the huge garage, old carpentry tools and other gadgets covered the walls. Various farm machines he’d once used to keep up the fields and yard were draped with canvas tarps. She walked along, peeking beneath a few, and stirring up dust till she sneezed.
Most of the machines were used to keep up the yard and garden. Now the house and grounds looked as if it was a set for some low-budget Gothic movie.
A hot lump filled her throat as she ran her mitten over his old hammers and wrenches. Papop loved tinkering and building things. She swallowed down the burning coal in her throat. She shouldn’t have spent last night looking at the old pictures in Memaw’s chest of drawers.
Haley shook off the gloomy clouds closing in around her and focused on searching for the snow-blower. She stopped before one particular machine covered in an oily canvas sheet. Yanking it off, she gasped at the beast hidden beneath. Good night!
Her jaw dropped open. She snapped it closed before the cold froze her tongue. Bad enough the blower had to be twice the size of an average lawn mower, but she could see from the gearshift that Papop had done what he called “a bit of tweaking” on the contraption.
“Please, Lord God, let it start. And please don’t let this monster machine eat me.”
After adding a bit of gas, she grasped the handle and wrestled it out onto the drive. It took several pulls, turns, and a good kick to get the engine rumbling.
Haley studied the blower for a moment. Most likely, keeping it on low would be safest. She checked the time again. Okay, maybe the middle gear would get the job done quicker. However, she would not notch it up to the last, obviously added, gear. Wiping away some of the grime revealed hand-written words in permanent marker: Whirlwind speed.
“Ha-ha, Papop, you always were a real card. I’ve been down that trail before, buddy, and I’m not falling for your hijinks again.”
She set the gear on medium, and the machine crept forward. Haley glanced at the time. Already five after nine. Drat! At this rate, she’d be at least fifteen minutes late, if not more. She tried pushing on the blower, but it wouldn’t move any faster. When she shifted the gear up to the next notch, the speed increased to a normal walking pace. Drat and confound it all!
Well, no wonder Papop tinkered with the motor. By the time one finished blowing away the snow from the long driveway, spring could arrive.
Her phone chirped with a message from Mr. Dobson.
Have a house showing at 9:45. Can’t wait much longer.
Haley released the blower’s handle long enough to speak a response. “I’m on the way. I promise.” She checked the message, keeping one hand on the handle to make sure she didn’t end up plowing the yard instead of the drive.
“No!” She shook the phone. “Not weight and not promiscuous!” Haley hated the speech-to-text gadget. It never got anything she said right.
“Fine, fine. Let’s see what you do under Papop’s setting.” Against her better judgment, she eased the stick into the added slot. The blower lurched forward. Haley gripped the handles, knowing it was best to hang on as if her life depended on it. The machine rattled, knocking her teeth together. Her slick ropers skidded over the icy concrete. Snow flew high into the air.
Frozen sludge rained down on her head and seeped under the collar of her jacket.
“Whoa, boy! Hold up, will ya?” That generally worked with the horses.
Through the tornado of white, Haley realized the road was only feet away, and, worse, a green car barreled right in her direction. She reached for the knobby thing, but couldn’t grasp hold of it. Oh, no! They would crash if she didn’t do something. And quick!
Throwing all her 120 pounds of weight sideways, she jerked the monster machine to the left, hoping to change its course. The blower bucked like a bronco as they both whipped to the side and tumbled into the roadside ditch.
“Papop, you best not be laughing up in Heaven right now! This isn’t funny!”
* * * *
“Blackbird” played on the cell from where Ethan Winters set it in the console of his Camaro. A groan escaped as his hands slid downward over the steering wheel. When would his ex-best friend Stephen get the hint he was done with pointless justifications?
“You have nothing to say that will excuse your stabbing me in the back, bro!” Ethan yelled at the phone. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, fighting the urge to wish they were wrapped around Stephen’s pathetic neck.
The Camaro flew past snow-covered pines. His legs ached to stretch after a night of driving. He needed a bit of coffee -black- and a decent breakfast before attempting the last eight hours of his trip.
Ethan’s family wanted him home before Thanksgiving, which was still a few days away. He was in no real hurry, except for the fact he’d had enough of the world and its disappointments to last him several lifetimes. Home might be the distraction he needed, though he doubted it.
A green sign ahead indicated a town only five miles off the highway. He slowed and checked the gas gauge. He’d need to fill up again. Soon. Not only would he return home a complete failure, but with an empty wallet, too.
His rumbling stomach begged him to find somewhere decent to eat this time. And a scenic stop wouldn’t hurt. Deciding against subjecting himself to anymore fast food, Ethan turned off Interstate 31 for a smaller highway. The speed limit dropped to 55mph and he reluctantly eased his foot off the accelerator. Wouldn’t do to bring home a ticket along with his empty hands and deflated dreams.
The phone beeped as a message came, followed by two more.
Aaargh! He snatched up the phone, keeping one eye on the road as his thumb slid over the surface. He slowed a bit more to read the text.
You need to call me, Eth.
Give me a chance to expln.
Once you hear my—
The phone landed in the console with a clatter. “No thanks. There’s nothing to say.”
Nothing would change the fact Stephen ditched their final audition with no explanation, leaving him in Hollywood with the motel rent due. The only decent thing his ex-best friend did was leave half the cash from their last gig on the counter. Enough for gas and a couple of cheap hotel stays, but not nearly enough to drive all the way Marquette, Michigan. He’d had to skip the hotels for naps in his car at truck stops.
The road sign said Madison Creek was only five miles away. His gas gauge said he might make it. He should have stopped sooner to fuel, but in his frustration at his friend’s persistent calls, he’d forgotten to check. Why couldn’t Stephen take the hint and leave him alone?
A dull ache plagued his back. He shifted in the bucket seat. Maybe he’d spend the day walking around the lake, stretch his body and thoughts some before making the final trek home. He didn’t think he could handle another night sleeping in the car.
He rubbed his tired eyes. Maybe he should stop putting off the inevitable and face the music. He’d tried to make his life a beautiful sonata. Instead, it had turned into nothing more than a clanging cymbal.
The tires crunched over the snow-covered road. Not wanting to slide off into a ditch, Ethan slowed his speed. The blue sky overhead promised a fine day for some sightseeing. The town must be a tourist stop on Lake Michigan though he’d never heard of it before. Hopefully, it wasn’t some hovel with collapsing buildings and potholed roads.
The phone’s message light pulsed. Eventually, he’d have to call Stephen back.
“Blackbird” played again. Ethan checked the ID and cringed before tapping the silence button. “I’ll talk to you, sir, when I get home.”
Dad was annoyed that he’d not accepted his offer to buy a plane ticket, but Ethan could never sell his baby. He swatted away the dust particles gathering on the black leather dash. The moment he found the ’69 Camaro, with its perfectly conditioned apple green exterior, he’d fallen in love. The engine, on the other hand, had required a major overhaul, but now ran with the smoothness of a mountain lion.
The road careened through dense woods, sporadically opening onto fields of brown and white.
“Wow, look at that.” Ethan shifted in the seat. “Must have been a foot or two of snow last night, and so early in the season.” A low whistle escaped his lips. Scattered farmhouses came into view, their tall, angular roofs frosted with white. “Beautiful.” Maybe Madison Creek would be worth the extra drive.
A beep signified Dad had left a message. Don’t do it. Don’t. Let it go till you get home.
“Ahh!” Ethan checked to see if he was the only one on the road, then hit the voicemail icon, ignoring the risk. He tapped the speaker and set the phone on his leg.
Dad’s voice boomed, “Look, Ethan, I’m not going to gripe about the fact that you ignored my offer to buy you a plane ticket. I’m sure you have a lot to think about and maybe this trip will give you a chance to work out your issues.”
My issues? He gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“I think we just need to put the past behind us.”
Yeah, right. Now you’re going to quote The Lion King? Ethan rolled his eyes and considered throwing the phone out the window. He could get another one. Later. With a new number.
“And focus on the future. Which is the reason for this call.”
The snowdrifts piled higher on each side of the narrow road and Ethan slowed his speed even more. He didn’t need this side trip to cause him to be stuck in the dead of nowhere. Maybe he’d better keep the phone and just stop checking messages.
Dad continued, “I have secured a spot at my processing plant. You start Monday. My lead manager is retiring, so the timing is perfect. I’m holding the position open for you, Ethan, so don’t dilly-dally. Get on home so we can get things rolling. Get your life back on track. You’ve had your chance to chase your dreams, son. Time to man up and settle down.”
Mom’s muffled voice sounded in the background.
“Mom said to tell you she’s baking your favorite: cherry crumble pie. You will make it home for Thanksgiving, am I correct? Call me when you get this.”
Ethan banged the side of his head on the window a couple of times.
“Oh, and did I tell you Maggie is filing for divorce? She’ll be free again soon. Didn’t you two have—?”
“Oookay, enough of that.” He jabbed the off button and shut down the phone. If it was off, he’d not be tempted to respond. “Great, Dad. A job and a soon-to-be divorced potential girlfriend.” Who had two kids, according to Mom. A dull ache pounded at the nape of his neck, overriding the ache in his back.
“Good ol’ Dad has my life all figured out for me, doesn’t he?” Ethan slumped deeper into the seat. Well, he’d rather pick his own girlfriend and find his own job, thank you very much. There was still the possibility of joining that orchestra in New York. He’d sent them a video of him playing the violin, and still held out a slim hope they’d call him for an audition soon. The Chicago offer had been a bomb—wasting time and gas.
Ethan reached the place where the plow trucks had recently passed and increased his speed. Another sign read “Madison Creek Historical Tour of Homes, advance reservations available.” As if there was a long line for that attraction. He rolled his eyes with a chuckle.
A strange vision appeared on the road ahead as he rounded the bend toward a towering Victorian set up on a small hill. Despite the bright sun, the road ahead disappeared into a complete whiteout.
A scream blasted through the windows. Ethan gripped the steering wheel as everything disappeared in a curtain of snow. He slammed on the brakes, though he knew better.
The Camaro careened sideways, tires sliding over the icy surface. He jerked the steering wheel to right himself. The tail end shimmied. He let off the brake, hoping the tires would find traction. The front end dipped, sending his empty stomach up into his throat. The wall of whiteness cleared to reveal a thick spruce growing larger by the second.
Ethan yanked the car to the left. The front panel slammed against the tree. He jolted to a stop. His forehead smacked the steering wheel. Lights flashed. His eyes blurred as everything spun.
From outside, clomping footsteps neared the car. “Oh, my Lord. Please don’t be day-ed. Please don’t be—”
Since when did ‘dead’ have two syllables?
The door flew open. Cold blasted inside his comfortable cocoon of warmth, aggravating the pounding in his head.
A woman grabbed his shoulders and gave them a hard shake. “I’m so sorry. The snow-blower got out of control. You all right there, Mister?”
Fireworks exploded in Ethan’s brain.
“Good night, you’re bleeding!” She yanked the scarf off her neck.
He blinked through the red clouding his vision and was met with a pair of frightened blue eyes surrounded by a halo of snow and blonde curls. Accompanying the strange apparition was the most amazing southern accent Ethan had ever heard.
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