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Monday, December 11, 2017


Welcome back to the final episodes of this story. These will not be the totally final episodes, just the last few I'll be posting on my blog. The rest will be written and put out as a book, which will not be free. 
I hope you are enjoying the story. It may get changed in places when it's edited and put in book forms. Thanks for stopping by.


At ten o’clock, Laura and Ginger got in the car. Snow on bare branches glistened in the light of the moon. A few street lamps lighted the way. She drove slowly on the icy roads.
“Thank you for inviting me, Laura. I get the feeling you wanted me to meet George.”
“Are we that transparent?”
Ginger laughed. “Well, he’s single.”
“You two seemed to hit it off.”
“He’s invited me to breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“How nice.”
“It’s pretty soon for me to be thinking about another man.”
“It’s only been six months since I lost John. I don’t think I’m ready.”
“Take it slow, then. George is a wonderful man. Nothing wrong with having breakfast together.”
“That’s what I thought. But his British ways. It’s kinda strange to me.”
“You’ll get used to it. He’s simply the nicest man.”
Laura pulled into Jess’s driveway.
“Thanks again. And for the lift home,” Ginger said, exiting the vehicle.
When Laura arrived home, she found George and Craig enjoying a hot toddy by the fire. She joined them.

“Let me heat up one for you, dear,” Craig said, rising.
When he left, Laura looked straight at George.
“So, how did our little ruse work?”
“You mean Ginger?”
She nodded.
“She’s lovely. Much too soon for her, though. But a good choice.”
“Glad to hear. You’re breaking bread with her tomorrow?”
“Yes. I thought breakfast would be less intimidating than a dinner date.”
“My life isn’t conducive to marriage. I travel too much. And the time I’m here, I like to spend some with my children.”
“I understand. That might work well for Ginger. Seems she’s not ready for a heavy-duty commitment.”
“Might be perfect, then?”
Laura chuckled. “Wouldn’t that be a nice Christmas present?”
“It would indeed,” George replied, raising his glass.
Craig returned, handed her a small glass, and sat down next to her. She sipped and put the warm beverage down. Craig enveloped her small hand between his.
“Perfect for a night like tonight,” she said.
“Is it always this cold? All winter long?”
“I’m afraid so. You get used to it, after a while.”
“I doubt I ever could,” Craig replied.
“Does that mean you don’t want to come back here in the winter?”
“Maybe,” he said, hedging his bets.
George cleared his throat. “When you’re dressed properly, it’s quite invigorating.”
“Oh, shut up, George,” Craig muttered.
“Craig!” Laura’s eyes widened.
“I’m sorry. But do you have to be so damn cheerful all the time?”
“Pardon me, sir. I just thought that you might consider some compromise. Considering you’ve found the one woman who meets your qualifications and will put up with you,” George said, his eyes hot.
“The one woman who…what?” Laura straightened up in her seat. “What qualifications?”
“Thanks, George,” Craig said, fuming.
“Nothinig, nothing. Just that he wouldn’t tolerate any woman who wasn’t smart and attractive.”
“Oh. That’s not so bad.”
“And one who would give him a hard time about how babyish, selfish, and annoying he can be,” George tossed in.
“I’m babyish? Who called a woman ‘madam’ and almost started World War Three a few days ago?”
“That’s a perfectly acceptable form of address where I come from.”
“Yeah? Well, we’re not where you come from. We’re where I come from.”
“Boys, boys! Stop.”
 “Sometimes I lose my patience, Miss. Mr. Banley’s finally found the one woman he could live with and now he’s complaining that the climate she lives in is too cold. I’m going to bed. Sometimes, I just can’t take him,” George said, shaking his head. “Everything is always about you. You need to learn the definition of the word ‘compromise’, sir.” George rose from his seat and headed for the kitchen.
Laura heard the water running. Wasn’t it like George to wash out his glass before retiring, even in the midst of a disagreement.
“George loses patience with me. But you don’t,” Craig said, facing her.
“I might. I mean if you are as childish as George says, then, well, who knows?” She cocked an eyebrow at him.
“You wouldn’t leave me because I don’t like winter, would you?”
“Probably not. But you have to make an effort, Craig. Not everything is going to be to your liking all the time. You need to learn to adapt.”
“It’s funny, but in the beginning, nothing in my life was the way I wanted. When I started working with Uncle C.W. and got a little success, well, then, I vowed that everything was going to be the way I wanted. Kinda making up for lost time.”
“I get it. But you’ve been living in style for quite a while now. Time to compromise a little. Don’t you think?”
“I hope I can. I’d hate to lose you,” he said, taking her hand.
Laura picked up her glass. Did she want to spend the rest of her life with a man who expected the world to tie itself into knots to suit him all the time? Could she live with someone who would never compromise? Did she want to give up her house, never be here to feed the birds and the deer in the winter? She swallowed.
He raised her hand to his lips.
“What are you thinking?”
She shook her head.
“Come on. You’re making me nervous.”
“So maybe you have to be nervous for a few minutes. Would that kill you?” She knew she was snapping at him, but she resented being pushed. She didn’t care to share her thoughts. They disturbed her, and until she had worked them out, they would be hers alone.
“Wow. Where did that come from?” He moved back.
“Don’t push me. If I don’t want to share something, that should be okay with you.”
“It is. It is. I’m sorry.”
His face became boyish, his eyes pleading. How could she deny him anything?
“George is right, you know. I’m selfish, uncompromising, set in my ways.”
“Are you trying to tell me something? Like I shouldn’t be with you?”
“Never! Not at all. But if you want me, you have to take the frog with warts and all, before you transform me into a prince.”
“Who said anything about a prince? I only want a man, who loves me.”
“Then you’ve got him. Here I am.” He leaned over to kiss her.
Laura heard George fussing in the kitchen.
“I think we should take this discussion to the bedroom,” she said, softly.
“You read my mind,” Craig responded. He arose and offered her his hand. She took it and they headed for the stairs. Her body tingled at the thought of what lay ahead. They had had tiffs before, and always made up in the bedroom. While she’d acknowledge that Craig Banley could be an obstinate man who would stick with his opinion, she admitted fully that no one knew how to make up in the bedroom like her Craig.

* * * *
   Mumbling to himself, George ambled to the guest room on the first floor. Though there was a larger one upstairs, he preferred to be as far away from the master bedroom as possible. He’d avoid overhearing any noise coming from the room Craig and Laura shared. 
   Ever since they had gotten together, George had been examining his own life. He’d been too busy to be lonely most of the time. But when work stopped, like at the holidays, it became harder for him.
   At Thanksgiving, he’d made the rounds of his children’s homes. He’d been grateful for Craig Banley’s trips to Europe over Christmas. He’s sent gifts to his grandchildren from all over the world. And traveling on Mr. Banley’s dime helped him save money. It had been a true win/win situation. Craig’s temperament softened a bit over the holiday.
   But now, that would be over. He’d want to spend this time with Laura, which left George to be a third wheel. He hated intruding on their privacy. He’d stopped denying the pangs of jealousy he felt when he saw them together. They were so damn happy!
   He wanted to feel that way about a woman and have one return his affection. As for sleeping alone, he’d finally become accustomed to it, but that didn’t mean he liked it. Heavens, no, sleeping alone offered no comfort, even if he could have the blankets all to himself.
   Finding a woman who could live with his crazy schedule would be impossible. That was the reason he’d given himself for not even looking. But this woman, Ginger, had come along. 
   Their situations were not ideal at all –quite the opposite. How could she ever get away from the farm to come to New York? And how would he like mucking out a stall or tramping around in the snow and mud?
   He chuckled to himself. Perhaps he’d better take the advice he’d given Craig so freely. It was time to compromise, put up with, and share. The idea intrigued him. A bright man, he’d always welcomed a challenge. Forging a relationship with a woman who lived two hours away on a working farm would tax his creative thinking to it’s limit. Was she worth it? Tomorrow, he’d set about finding out.
   George changed into pajamas and slid beneath the plush comforter. As he lay in bed, his gaze roamed over the cozy quarters. He loved the room. With walls sporting a coat of warm, spring green, it had the flavor of the outdoors. The bed spread had a charming small flower print in light blue, yellow and two shades of green. The old fashioned lamp on the nightstand was a tap lamp. The small dresser was pine, with a clear finish. And the windows looked out on the back and side yards.
   George drifted off, thinking about his date with the lady with the hot temper and the auburn hair.
   In the morning, he arose before the others. Grabbing a quick shower, he dressed rapidly in the cool air, and hit the kitchen to put up coffee, and a kettle on the stove for his tea. He puttered around, setting up coffee mugs, and milk, as well as his tea cup. Humming Christmas songs to himself, he glanced out back to find the feeders empty.
Shrugging on his jacket, he headed out back with a bag of bird seed. After filling the feeders, he glimpsed something dark out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he faced a black bear about six feet from him. The bear eyed the bag of birdseed.
Panic shot through George. He tossed the bag of seed at the bear and flew back to the house. Shutting and locking the back door, he peer out through the back window. Huffing and puffing,  while the adrenaline in his veins slowed down, he witnessed the bear attack the bag, ripping it to shreds so it could chow down on the seed. Perhaps Craig wasn’t completely off about life in the country.


   George brewed another cup of tea while he watched the bear demolish the bag and gobble up the bird seed. Once his nerves were settled, he returned to his room to look in the mirror. He made a face. How could he pick the green tie with this shirt? He ripped the offending garment from his neck and pawed through the selection of neckwear in his suitcase.

   One tie after another was discarded, thrown, in disgust, on the bed. Finally, he concluded that the ties were fine, but it was the shirt that was wrong. He checked his watch. It was eight thirty and Ginger was due at nine. He had no time. Whizzing through the shirts he’d hung up upon arrival, he finally settled on the blue striped shirt because it would go well with the green tie.
   His eyes were pale green and he’d been told that green in a shirt or tie highlighted that. Pushing the tie into position, he then checked his image in the mirror. Finally he’d found the right combination.

   After his frantic wardrobe emergency, his hair needed combing. He tidied up, brushed off his shoulders, and headed for the foyer. Craig and Laura hadn’t even come downstairs yet. George chuckled to himself that they had already found a better way to wake up than a cup of coffee. His thoughts turned to the occasional morning when he and Eleanor had tasted of marital delights before breakfast. She had been a spunky woman, up for any adventure, be it visiting a new country or a new sexual position. He’d been a lucky man.

   George sighed. Long ago, he gave up the hope of finding anyone up to her standard. Perhaps, after all this time, he’d be happier lowering the bar a bit and not being alone. The honking of a horn drew his attention.

   He opened the door and greeted Ginger, who kissed his cheek, then turned to wave farewell to Jess.
George offered her his arm. “Shall we depart?”
   “Of course,” she replied.  

 George opened the car door for her and Ginger gave him directions. The diner was warm with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and cinnamon buns in the air. George’s stomach rumbled. The small place had about half a dozen booths and the same number of tables. A waitress with a name tag that read “Holly”

“Sit anywhere. I’ll be right there with menus,” she said, gesturing.
There were two empty booths by the windows.
“Where would you like to sit?” He asked Ginger.
As soon as they were seated, Holly whizzed by, dropping menus and offering coffee. George declined, but Ginger accepted.
“Tell me about your life in New York City. Where in the world have you traveled? Or should the question be, where haven’t you been? Do you like working for Craig Banley?”
“Whoa! Hold on. Wait a minute. One question at a time. Please.” He laughed.

   They ordered blueberry pancakes with bacon. George regaled Ginger with his travels with C.W. She seemed to hang on every word, asking good questions.
“Where would you go, if someone handed you a blank ticket?” He asked.
“Gosh. So many places. Guess it’s between Paris and Rome. No, wait, Paris and London. Maybe. What’s your favorite place?”
“Paris is beautiful, even if the people aren’t always so friendly.”
“Then, Paris,” she said.
George took her hand and looked into her blue eyes. “I’d love to take you there.”
“Let’s go so I can start packing,” she said.  “Have you ever been on a farm?”
He shook his head.
“My goodness! You’ve been to Africa and Europe, but never on a farm. We’ll have to fix that.”
“I’d love to visit.”
“I have a guest room with your name on it,” she replied.
“I’m honored. Tell me about a typical day at the farm.”  

   While he listened, George took note of Ginger’s best features. Surely, she had the most beautiful, clear blue eyes. Her pale skin reminded him of heavy cream as he had poured it out to create whipped cream. He noted her breasts, plump and inviting under her apricot sweater. The rest of her was hidden under the table. But he’d seen enough to know her form was enticing.

   Surprised to find his thoughts running through the same gutter at Craig’s, he almost chuckled. Instead, he cleared his throat. There was no way he could explain what he was laughing without offending. He gazed at her face, animated with the love of her animals, house and garden.
“The British are big on gardens. Are you a big gardener, George?”
“I have dabbled occasionally, though I can’t say I have a very green thumb.”
“Too bad. I could use some help in mine.”
“I’d love to see it.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until spring,” she said.
George took her hands in his. “I’d be happy to wait until spring.”
Her face flushed the most becoming shade of pink. He raised one hand to his lips.  
“You’re just a big flirt, George.”
“Ah, you’ve caught me. Yes, I am. Especially around beautiful women.”



“It’s Christmas Eve. There’s a lot going on, for a small town like ours,” Laura said, sipping coffee at the kitchen table.
“Like what?”
“A late service at the church up the hill, followed by a midnight hayride. There’s caroling outside the café at three. Kiwanis is throwing a big Christmas Eve dinner. We have plenty of people out here who can’t afford a big Christmas dinner. There’s a surprise book exchange. People gift wrap some of their gently used books and give them away. Some people have garage sales actually held in their garages!” She laughed.
“Do we have to do all those things?”
“Of course not. Which ones do you want to do?”
“Well, I’m not much on second-hand stuff. No one cooks a better meal than you. I’m probably allergic to hay…so that leaves, caroling? How long will it take?”
“I thought you came out here to absorb a country Christmas?”
“I did. A country Christmas with you. I don’t care about the other stuff. I don’t know anyone here.”
“You’ll never meet anyone hiding out in my house.”
“I’d prefer to hide out in your bed,” he snickered.
“But this is such a nice time. There are many wonderful people out here. They put a lot of time and energy into these events. Some people look forward to them all year.”
“Do you?”
“I used to. Before I started house-sitting for you and your uncle.”
“You mean you attended all these?”
She nodded. “The dinner is especially good. People make their best dishes. There are dozens of dishes to choose from. I swear I put on five pounds after the dinner, the school bake sale and the caroling at the café.”
“How does caroling put weight on you?”
“You can’t just sit at the café and not order food. Their hot chocolate is wonderful.”
“What if I don’t want to share you with the town?” Craig refilled his mug.
Laura frowned. This wasn’t going the way she expected. Perhaps thinking Craig would love everything she did, simply because he loved her, had been a mistake.
“I’m not used to doing anything for Christmas.”
“I forgot. And you liked that?”
“I got used to it. It was a day off from work and a good meal.”
“You don’t know how sad that sounds,” she replied.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I have everything I could ever want and need, except you.”
“But you do have me.”
“Do I? You love it here, don’t you?”
She smiled.
“Would  you ever sell your house and live in the City with me?”
“Sell? Oh good heavens, no. Why? Why can’t we live in both places?”
“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a country boy.”
“You haven’t given it a chance. Please come to some of these things today. Try them. You need to get the Christmas spirit.”
“I did. I gave a fat check to Santa’s Thrift Shop.”
“That was wonderful, but it shouldn’t stop there. Let the people of the town give to you.”
“What can they give me that I can’t buy for myself?”
Laura’s mouth fell open, she frowned. “None of this is about money.”
“Isn’t it? At the church service, they’ll send around an offering plate, right?”
“Yes, so?”
“And at the dinner, they’ll ask for a small donation to cover the food, right?”
“It’s voluntary. Only if you can afford it.”
 “And the bake sale is to raise money for the school, right?”
“I see what you mean.”
“I’d rather send a check to each of these places and stay by the fire, having a hot toddy with you.”
“But that’s not what Christmas is about.”
“It is for me. Or it has been for many years now. Except for the gifts you left and the decorations, I’ve never participated in any of those things.”
She took his hand in hers. “I’m so sorry, Craig. You’ve missed out on so much.”
“Have I? Here I sit. On top of the world, with plenty of money, a beautiful home, and the girl of my dreams. Am I missing much?”
“Won’t you come with me and see?”
He frowned and his brow wrinkled. “Do I have to?”
“You can stay here. But I’m going,” she said, pushing up from the table, her body rigid as she put her mug in the sink and headed for the bedroom.

* * * *
Craig halted as a gust of frigid air assailed him. George came through the door.
“Hurry up, get dressed, Craig. We have places to go. Ginger gave me the schedule. First event begins in an hour. Hurry, man!”
“You, too? Damn it. I don’t think so.” Craig huffed up the stairs and into the bedroom, slamming the door. Startled, Laura jumped and turned.
“What was that for?”
“George just came home with Ginger. Full of that Christmas spirit you’re talking about. Now he wants me to do to these things, too.”
“Good. Then you agree?”
He shook his head. “I suppose I have to.”
“No, you don’t. You can stay here.”
He shed his robe and fished through the closet to find something to wear. After making love to Laura this morning, his mood couldn’t have been better. Now, that good cheer had vanished. Grumbling to himself, he grabbed his clothes, stuffed them under his arm and trudged to the bathroom.
After showering and shaving, he dressed and returned to the bedroom. Within seconds, George was pounding on the door and yelling. Well, maybe simply speaking in a louder voice than normal.
“Hurry up, Craig. We’re waiting for you.”
He glanced out the window. There had been more snow overnight. The white powdery stuff glistened in the sunlight. Picture-book pretty, but annoying and dangerous to drive in.
He opened the dresser drawer to get his watch and spied the small, square box resting on his T-shirt. He stopped. Perhaps this was all a mistake? Could being with Laura simply end up a delightful fling that had run its course?
He shivered at the thought of losing her. Yet, here he was, being dragged to places to rub elbows with people he could care less about. He picked up the box and placed it back in his suitcase. He’d had a near miss. He let out a breath at how close he had come to disaster. As much as he cared for Laura, she wasn’t the girl for him.
She had ties to Pine Grove he couldn’t break. She’d always want to come back to this drafty house, cramped with one full bathroom. How could he be comfortable here? And hanging with people who couldn’t afford a regular Christmas meal? He’d never be comfortable with that –those were the people he didn’t have to meet or see, the ones he took care of with the swipe of his pen on a check.
Laura seemed to care about the people here. She had ties, lived a different life from his. It appeared to be one she wouldn’t be happy to part with. Did he want to spend the next forty years being miserable at Christmas? Of course, he’d been miserable at Christmas for many years already. He had thought Laura was his ticket to a perfect holiday. Just her, maybe George, and his townhouse.
He sighed. Sadness filled his heart. He truly loved her, but compromising his life to live her way seemed liked reaching for the moon. He wound a wool scarf around his neck and turned toward the door. His shoulders slumped as he made his way down the stairs.
Smiling would be an effort. He knew what he had to do. But he’d wait one more day before taking action. Give Pine Grove one more chance to prove itself worthy. He didn’t hold out hope that anything would change.
Would Laura give it up for him? Probably. She was that kind of woman and she seemed to love him, but how happy would she be? Doomed from the start. A heaviness in his heart made every step feel like he was lifting ten tons. But he got in the backseat with Laura, while George manned the wheel and Ginger rode shotgun.
He avoided Laura’s gaze, unable to let her see the unhappiness in his eyes. He stared out the window at the frozen landscape and buttoned his coat all the way to the top.
George and Ginger chattered away about each event, but it all blended together as background noise. Craig’s heart broken piece by piece as he looked for a way out, but found none. Which path he should take became clear.
Laura slid her hand over the seat and clasped his.
“Are you all right?”

He looked down at their hands and nodded. Emotion gathered in his chest and he didn’t trust his voice. 

OOPS! Sorry, but the story ends here, temporarily, until the book is completed and available for sale. Thank you so much for stopping by to read. I will post when it's completed. 

In the meantime, if you want to read the first book, "The House-Sitter's Christmas", a sweet fairy tale holiday romance, here's how to get it. It's even in large print (great gift for those with visual issues) and on audio with dual narrators!