It’s been quite a summer. Thank you for all the emails and kind words, I appreciated them more than you know. I write for you.
On the home front - my teens both started school this week. I’ve had to throw lots of chocolate their way, because school’s always an adjustment after a lazy summer – for everyone! It looks to be a good year, though.
On writing - my goal is to finish Whispers in the Wood by the beginning of next year. For those who've read Poppy, Whispers in the Wood focuses on the side-character of Rowan. Find out how Rowan received her “gift” in my paranormal dark fantasy.
For now, I’ll leave you with my opening chapter. I rarely let readers take a peek at my work in progress, but I asked my characters for permission. All but one said it was okay. If I go missing, blame Firth.
…and check the trees.
“We share the upstairs bathroom. There is no en suite. This isn’t a fancy London B and B."
"No problem, Grace," Rowan said with a sigh. "I was just asking."
"That's Mrs. Lyon." The stout woman gave her a once-over before continuing up the stairs. The hem of her dress scraped against her knee socks. "Please clean the tub after you bathe. Towels are on the shelf next to the sink. Only use one, as I’m not a maid. I lock the front door at ten pm. The back door will be locked as well, so mind your time when you’re out.”
“Do I get a key?”“No.” She turned with a frown. “The doors are unlocked during the day. You’re expected in by ten pm. It’s a small cottage, and I don’t take kindly to be woken at all hours.”
Rowan shouldered her backpack wearily. “Okay.”
“That door is to remain closed at all times. The room is off-limits.” She stopped at the end of the hall and opened another door. “This is your room. It’s over the kitchen, so it should stay reasonably warm. Extra blankets are in the storage chest at the foot of the bed.”
The room had a slight musty smell to it. A single bed, topped with a well-worn, quilt took up most of the space. An old, wooden storage chest filled the rest. A small window faced rolling, green hills that ended at a thick forest.
“If you wish to hike, there’s a footpath that leads to the village. Don’t bother the sheep. And leave your hiking boots in the mudroom so as not to track.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rowan saluted her.
“Are you being cheeky?”
She opened her mouth to answer and was immediately cut off.
“I’m up at four-thirty am. Breakfast is at six am. If you want breakfast later than that, you’ll have to walk to the village.”
“Six is fine—”
“No loud music, drinking or smoking." Grace pointed an accusing finger at her. "And no guests or funny business. There’s a pub in the village for socializing. This is my home, not a party house."
"I wasn't planning any funny business—"
"You paid for three nights. I’ll expect you out by noon on Monday. If you decide to stay longer, you’ll have to pay for another three nights by three pm on Sunday. I don’t do one-night lets.”
“I’m flying back to California on Thursday—”
“And no drugs.”
“I don’t do—”
“Welcome to Sheep’s Crossing.” Without further ado, the woman turned and shut the door behind her.
“And what a warm welcome it is.” Rowan tossed her backpack on the floor.
Backpacking across England had been everything she’d hoped for, up until a couple of days ago. She’d been hiking along a deserted stretch of road when a car stopped to ask for directions. Before she knew what was happening, the two men made a grab for her backpack and there had been a struggle. She’d delivered a good kick to one of them, but the other had pulled a knife. She’d woken in the middle of nowhere with a lump on the back of her head, a deep cut across her shoulder, and the contents of her backpack strewn across the surrounding field. Out of habit, she’d kept some cash in her hiking boots, but her cell phone and the rest of her money were gone.
For two days, she’d hiked across miles of rolling lowlands, but the English weather had not been cooperating. It had rained non-stop and her backpack and clothes were completely soaked through. Even her skin felt water-logged. By the third night, Rowan was ready to give up she’d find civilization, when she'd encountered a stranger who directed her to Grace’s. The remote bed and breakfast was a godsend. And in spite of Grace's less-than-welcome attitude, she couldn’t talk herself out of spending the money. One more night sleeping in the rainy cold would have done her in.
I’ll file a police report tomorrow, Rowan mused. After that, I’ll catch a bus back to Heathrow and it’s bye-bye England. She gingerly touched the lump on the back of her head. “And I thought student life was rough.” She pulled off her wet boots and absently scratched at one of the many insect bites she'd acquired.
Rowan stood and peeked out the bedroom window. The rain had finally stopped and the sounds of sheep echoed across the hills. In the distance, a clump of thick forest was touched by the sun’s dying rays. A chilly breeze slipped through the cracks of the window-frame. She gave the window a tug and latched it.
The shared bathroom boasted a large claw foot tub with a shower attachment. A sponge and plastic bottle of what she assumed was tub cleaner had been placed next to the tub. Wooden planked floors were painted white, as were the walls. Over the sink, an accordion-style mirror was affixed, it’s metal showing traces of rust.
Peeling off her wet clothing, she tossed her underthings in the tub. Rowan eyed her muddy jeans and sweatshirt as she waited for the tub to fill. There’s no way I'll be able to wash those and have them dry by morning. And the rest of my clothes are just as disgusting.
"Maybe Grace will let me use her washing machine," she said aloud with mock-cheerfulness. "After a lovely breakfast in bed, and some warm and welcoming conversation, of course." She let out a snort.
Rowan stepped into the tub, and sank into the hot water with a sigh. Scrubbing off several days of travel, she winced as the soap stung her shoulder. Her namesake tattoo, one of a rowan tree, felt ruined. Sustaining the brunt of the knife attack, the tree's trunk was now split in half. Red berries that scattered the tree's branches like ripe fruit, now resembled dried blood drops. She rinsed the wound carefully, before settling back into the water.
Leaving school mid-quarter was probably a mistake, she reflected. She'd set the money aside for a summer backpacking trip, not for a last-minute trip in the spring. Most of that money is gone now. Crap. Lately, her grades had slipped, she’d missed several days of work, and she’d felt little joy spending time with her friends. She wasn’t running away, Rowan told herself, she just needed some time to get her life together. So much had happened in the past few months.
Finishing her bath, she stepped from the tub. Rowan wiped the mirror and met her gaze. The dark circles under her eyes stood out against her pallid complexion. No wonder Grace gave me the stink eye. I look like shit. She ruffled her short, black hair. Her dark blue eyes reflected the stress over the past few days, but at least she was clean. She wrapped herself in a fluffy towel and gathered her clothes. I’ll wipe out the tub later.
The door to the verboten room remained closed, and she could hear Grace downstairs in the kitchen. In spite of the woman’s stern warning, she was tempted to peek inside. You’re going to get yourself kicked out. And don't think Grace wouldn't do it, either. She hurried down the hallway to her room and closed the door behind her.
Twilight was descending and Rowan switched on the light next to her bed. Tossing her dirty clothes and towel on the floor, she draped her washed underthings across the storage chest. She hunted in her backpack for something semi-dry to sleep in. After several moments, she gave up.
Rowan slid naked between the clean, cotton sheets with an exhausted sigh. I’ll hike to the village tomorrow morning. I’m sure they’ll have a laundromat and a store of some kind. I can stock up on cheap food, maybe I’ll explore a little, and... She was asleep before she finished the thought.
It seemed like seconds later when she woke with a start. It took several moments to orientate herself. I'm not outside. I'm safe. She let out a breath of relief before snuggling into the covers again. Her vision focused on the curtains, waving like beckoning hands. I don’t remember opening the window, though. She quickly got up to close it.
Moonlight traced a path to the forest. Her gaze was pulled to a red-orange glow within the trees. She leaned out the window to get a better look, and a breeze hit her naked skin. Rowan shivered and pulled back. Feeling grateful she wasn’t the one camping outside in the cold, she closed the window and latched it.
Intrigued? I hope so. Look for Whispers in the Wood, coming 2017 via Faeriemoon Press
Intrigued? I hope so. Look for Whispers in the Wood, coming 2017 via Faeriemoon Press