Winter Blogfest: D. V. Stone

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a gift package containing a 2022 wall calendar, D. V. Stone limited edition t-shirt, bookmarks, and memo binder. Sorry only shipped to US addresses only. If out of the US, I will award an e-copy of Rock House Grill via Amazon. .

My Thoughts about Christmas

Many anxious shoppers are worried about giving gifts this year with so much product stuck on a boat somewhere. But there are so many more important things than physical giftsmemories

Every year my husband, who was born on St. Nicholas day, creates memories for our neighbors, friends, and family. He assembles a massive Christmas display inside and out. Year after year people come to see it and bring their children and grandchildren. It’s a tradition in our neighborhood.

I remember one of my sons friends many years ago was asked by the local newspaper what he remembered about his favorite Christmas. Guess what? It wasnt wrapped under the tree. His best memory was walking in the snow with his family. This was a twelve-year-old boy.

Several years ago, DH and I began a new tradition with our son, his wife, and our grands. Instead of toys that break or clothes they grow out of, we decided to give memories. Each year they receive a family gift of a camping gift card. So far, theyve been to Gettysburg, Texas, and Tennessee. They dont have a camper yet, so stay in the camp cabins.

For birthdays they get complimentary gifts like a fishing pole or sleeping bag. As a family, they now have the camping bug and will be buying a camper in the near future.

Let me tell you, the joy we get from the pictures they send or the phone calls about what fun they are having is priceless and could never come from a box. Memories are things that can never be taken away.

We celebrate Christmas in our house. Many of our friends have different beliefs and celebrations. I think we all agree on one thing. The joy of love, family, friends, and the memories we make together, those remembrances that burrow deep inside each of us, can never be bought, wrapped, or destroyed.

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Stuff gets old and broken. Clothes get torn and grown out of. But memories? They last forever. Rock House Grill has a celebration scene. They all gather together, and looking around the table, the main characters conclude that they have much to be thankful for.

How about you? Do you have a memory that is greater than any present from under the tree?

Aden House, successful but driven chef and TV personality, refuses to slow down. His life implodes one night, damaging him both physically and emotionally. He’s rescued by a woman he thinks of as his angel.

Shay McDowell has rebuilt her life after her divorce. She juggles volunteer EMT duties and her job, while dreaming of becoming a chef. She finds her way to Rock House Grill and back into the life of the man she helped save.

Can love be the ingredient needed to survive the many obstacles they face?

Recently retired from full-time employment in a medical office, she’s wife to an amazing husband, mother to one son, and not your average grandma to three beautiful grands. A woman of faith, D. V., believes and trusts in God. When not behind the wheel of 2Hoots—a 41 foot long 13.2 feet high 5th Wheel camper she rambles around town in Northern New Jersey in a white Camaro.

“My greatest pleasures are spending time outside with friends and family, cooking over the open fire, sipping a glass of wine, and reading.”

Hali, her rescue dog, always reminds her to let readers know, “Woof, woof.” Which is loosely translated as support your local animal rescue.

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LASR Anniversary Scavenger Hunt: Sweet Dreams at The Palace Hotel by Stella Jayne Phillips

Thanks for joining us on our 14th anniversary scavenger hunt! There are two ways to enter to win and it’s easy to play– first read the blurb below, then answer the question on the first Rafflecopter. You might win a $100 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC (along with other prizes). Follow and visit authors’ social media pages on the second Rafflecopter and you’re entered to win another $100 Amazon/BN GC (along with other prizes)!

Nikki Benton crossed the threshold of the historic Palace Hotel, leaving her shattered dreams behind. Determined to follow in the footsteps of the hotel’s original owner, she put her heart into creating an intimate lodging experience while becoming an integral part of the community. So what if she takes lessons on embracing life? And, does it truly matter that her teacher, Mrs. Victoria Wyatt, is the hotel’s live-in ghost?

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LASR Anniversary Scavenger Hunt: Gelato Surprise by Sadira Stone

Thanks for joining us on our 14th anniversary scavenger hunt! There are two ways to enter to win and it’s easy to play– first read the blurb below, then answer the question on the first Rafflecopter. You might win a $100 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC (along with other prizes). Follow and visit authors’ social media pages on the second Rafflecopter and you’re entered to win another $100 Amazon/BN GC (along with other prizes)!

She came to the beach to find herself—and found him.

Forty-two-year-old divorcée Danielle Peters ends up alone on her family’s annual beach vacation. Maybe time to herself is exactly what she needs. That and gelato from her favorite ice cream shop. But when the owner’s intoxicating young nephew offers more than sweet treats, she’s tempted to indulge in a hot summer fling before returning home.

Thirty-one-year-old Matteo Verducci craved a fresh start to mend his broken heart, and he’s found almost perfection in Ocean View, where he scoops gelato by day and crafts furniture by night. But when a sexy older woman stops to sample his wares—Mamma mia! He only has two weeks to convince her their passion is more than a delicious surprise.


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Winter Blogfest: Avery Easton

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of Love Me A Little in a format of your choosing: Kindle, paperback, or audiobook.

Getting In The Holiday Spirit with Musicals

When Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Tootie in Meet Me In St. Louis, I have a hard time keeping it together. There’s a reason I write romances centered around Broadway–music has a way of making a story soar. 

Just one song can bring a tear to my eye. When the Whos down in Whoville start singing “Welcome Christmas”? You’ll find me needing a tissue. And if a little kid is singing (lookin’ at you, Love Actually), forget it. It doesn’t even have to be an emotional song. But if there’s a melody, and bonus, a key change, I’m going to get goosebumps and probably cry. 

I’ve always been this way, and that’s why musical theatre means so much to me. Music can bring us together in a way that not much else can. When we all come together to sing and our voices blend… it doesn’t matter if you’re a trained vocalist or can’t carry a note. That’s true magic any time of the year. But especially around the holidays. 

Every year around this time, I throw a huge holiday party and we all gather around my piano and sing every carol and festive song in the songbooks. This year, I will miss gathering my friends close, arms around each other, and singing our hearts out. 

This year, I will have to keep myself company with all the music from movies and musicals on my Christmas playlist, which is almost all I will listen to until December 26th. And of course, I’ll watch the classics: Meet Me In St. Louis, White Christmas. I’ll throw Mame in for good measure (we do need a little Christmas, right this very minute!). 

The cast recordings of She Loves Me, Elf, and A Christmas Story will feature heavily, and of course the Muppet Christmas Carol. It doesn’t get better than “It Feels Like Christmas”. There are also the Broadway Carols for the Cure compilations. The cast of Hamilton singing “Joy to the World”? Yes very much, thank you. 

And for me and every other theatre kid that came of age in the late nineties, Rent is a necessity. It starts and ends on Christmas Eve and is therefore a Christmas musical. 

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So Judy’s song hits different this year. But I will still get in the spirit, grateful for the health of my family and friends and the technology that keeps us together. I will keep the faith that better days are ahead. 

Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then… we’ll have to muddle through somehow. 

Happy holidays, to one and all.

Heartbroken, Evie O’Hara is trying to move on after her world was changed by a tragic accident. She seeks comfort in her favorite showtunes, sung by her one-time Broadway crush. Although fiercely protective of his privacy, stage and screen star Ethan Carter is lonely. Happy enough with his career and his dog, he still feels an emptiness in his life.

When her best friend gifts her with a weekend trip to New York to see Ethan perform, Evie is thrilled when he singles her out of the crowd. For the first time in over a year, she feels almost…happy. And while inviting a fan backstage, even a pretty one, isn’t what Ethan would normally do, something tells him that Evie is different.

They spend an idyllic, passionate weekend together, forging a deep connection. Neither is ready to say goodbye forever. The odds seem against them as they battle Ethan’s enthusiastic, often intrusive, fans, the hundreds of miles between them, and Evie’s fear of risking her heart again. But if the magic of that first wonderful weekend can endure, theirs could be a love that hits the right note–a love that lasts forever.

With over ten years of wedding planning experience and a lifetime onstage, Avery Easton knows romance. She began writing stories in a pink Snoopy notebook when she was seven years old, and hasn’t stopped since. If she’s not reading, writing, or planning weddings, you can find her cross stitching or belting out showtunes. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two adorable cats.


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Free Short Story: What I Meant to Say by Marianne Arkins

The bell rang over the door, only five minutes until closing. Before the sound had faded a man’s voice cried, “I have an emergency!”

Di stopped putting the cut flowers into the cooler and looked at him, puzzled. “You do realize this is a flower shop, right? Not the hospital.”

He dragged a hand through his already messy brown hair and then waved it about impatiently. “Of course. But it’s my mother’s birthday tomorrow. She lives in Nevada. What do I do?”

Di couldn’t help but smile at him. He was tall, lanky and completely disheveled. “You tell me what kind of message you want to send her.”

“Message? I don’t want to send a message, I want to send flowers, you know, lilies or roses or something. She likes yellow ones.” He looked around the shop, a wild look in his eyes. One finger jabbed at some flowers. “And those.”

Di only shook her head. She laid a hand on his shoulder and directed him to the front counter. “Yellow roses are for friendship, and that lily you just pointed at? Means ‘I burn for you’, which is probably not a message you’d send to your mother.”

He frowned and shook his head. “She won’t know that, so what does it matter? It’s pretty.”

“She won’t, but I will. And so will you once I’m done.” She pulled out a notebook and opened it in front of him. “Now, tell me how you feel about your mother.”

And when his face softened and his lips turned up into a slight smile, Di’s heart gave a squeeze. Nothing was sweeter in this world than a man who loved his mama.


She thought about him often over the next seven days, Mr. Seth Armstrong who loved his mother. She wondered how his mother liked her specially chosen bouquet, hoped the florist in Nevada had included the sheets she’d emailed to include with the gift.

She thought about the stories Seth told her about his mom, the things she’d done for him and his brothers, the cookies, the discipline, the love. She sounded like an amazing woman, and seemed to have raised a pretty incredible man.

She was just finishing a bouquet for an engagement dinner, and slipped in a sprig with lemon blossoms, ‘faithful love’, to set off the rest of the flowers. A moment later the bell rang and she pasted on a smile then turned to face her latest customer.

“Seth.” She blurted out his name without thinking and wondered if her thoughts of him showed on her face. “Another emergency?”

He grinned. “Sister. She’s pregnant with twins and worried. Her husband is deployed overseas. I just want to let her know I’m thinking of her, but couldn’t bring myself to send flowers like usual since I might end up saying something like, ‘I wish you were dead’ or ‘you’re one hot mama’. You’ve ruined my ability to order flowers online.”

“Best news I’ve had all day.” She laughed and pulled out her notepad again. “Tell me about your sister.”

He did. He talked about how he made her the scapegoat of all their adventures as children, how he scared off most of her boyfriends until the man she married wouldn’t be intimidated. He mentioned how frustrated he was that they lived so far apart and how much he missed her.

Seth Armstrong truly wore his heart on his sleeve.

“I know just the bouquet.” She scribbled a few more notes and then looked up at the man leaning on her counter. He wasn’t handsome, not really, but certainly not repulsive either. The kind of guy you really didn’t notice until something he said or did lit him up. His smile was magnetic, his warm brown eyes glowed whenever he talked about his family and he was funny and clever.

Di was well and truly enamored of the man. Too bad he didn’t seem to see her as anything but the flower lady. Her own fault, really. She was no good with conversations unless they were about vegetation and flowers, had never learned to flirt, didn’t bother with make-up and couldn’t see the point in a hair-stylist when all she did was French braid her hair every morning to keep it out the way when she worked.

She imagined that she was much like Seth: unremarkable unless she became passionate about something.

He came in a few more times during the month. Flowers for his assistant, or an elderly neighbor whose 16-year-old poodle had passed, or his niece’s first ballet recital. He shared small details about each person, things most folks likely wouldn’t have noticed: the way they smiled or the perfume they wore or their favorite color. He was incredibly sweet and remarkably observant, except when it came to noticing the crush she was fast developing on him.

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How could she possibly resist?

“Thank you!” He dashed inside and grinned. “As always, I’m in desperate need of your help.”

“Who’s it for this time?” Di asked, moving to her counter and picking up the notepad to write down details of this latest lucky lady.

Seth’s cheeks colored a bit and he ducked his head. “Well, there’s this woman I’ve been thinking about for awhile now, and I figured I just needed to bite the bullet and ask her out. You’re so good with flowers, I knew you’d be able to find the perfect assortment to tell her I’d like to get to know her better.”

Di’s heart dropped. The pen in her hand trembled a bit, but she forced a smile on her face and asked, “What’s she like?”

His eyes lost focus and his lips turned up into a hesitant smile. “She’s amazing. Quiet but sweet and friendly and caring. Smart but not conceited or snarky. Kind to everyone including goofy forgetful men like me. Both unremarkable as well as unbelievably amazing. I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Di murmured ideas, writing them down on the pad in front of her. Once she’d brainstormed a bit, she’d see what she had on hand, and which of her ideas would mesh the best together.

“Maybe blue salvia for ‘thinking of you’, a single red rose for the romance, a few daffodils for ‘new beginnings’, jasmine for its amazing smell and for ‘sweet love’ which is a great first date sentiment…” she wandered away into the cooler still muttering to herself. A moment later, she poked out her head. “I’ll just be a minute. This is going to be gorgeous!”

Seth gave her a thumbs up and rested a hip against the counter.

Fighting back a growing bit of jealousy and sadness, Di determined to make the most stunning bouquet she’d ever done. Once done, she stepped back to look at it, pleased with the result. She scooped it up and headed back out to the front sales area.

She handed him the flowers with a wobbly smile. “Here you go…any girl should be thrilled to get this. I’ll just ring it up.” She took his credit card and processed the payment quickly, ready to be done with this awful moment. She handed him his receipt. “Thanks, as always. You’re becoming my best customer.”

“Glad to hear it. I’m also glad you let me barge in after closing time. I mean, it’s Friday after all. You probably have a hot date.”

She scrunched her nose. “Possible girl’s night out is all.” She rounded the counter to let him out. “I hope she appreciates the thought you put into those.”

“I hope so, too.” He smiled a little, took a step toward the door and then pivoted to face her. There was the slightest pause before he stuck his hand out toward her. The one holding the flowers. “Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Appreciate them?”

Di stared mutely at the flowers and then up at him and back to the flowers. “For me?”

He grinned. “For you. It’s you who’s kind and smart and funny. It’s you I can’t stop thinking about. It’s you who I keep making excuses to come see. You who I want to spend this Friday with. And next Friday. And the next.”

The smile on my face stretched so wide my cheeks ached. I reached for the bouquet, my hand resting on his. I squeezed and said, “Yes, I appreciate them.”

Marianne is originally from California but currently living in much colder New Hampshire with her husband, daughter, dogs and cat as well as a few hundred wild birds, chipmunks and a backyard bear that keeps trying to grab the feeders.

She can’t imagine a world without romance or not having stories rattling around in her brain. There are nights when she dreams a complete story, and watches it acted out in her head. Those are the times she wakes up and grabs for a notepad to jot down the important parts – without turning on the light – and hopes it’s coherent in the morning.

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Free Short Story: The Date by Wendi Zwaduk

“Love can come from a first date.” Nixie folded her hands on the table and waited for the guy to appear. She’d talked to her date three times online, and felt so close to him even after such a short time. That had to be a farce, right? She wanted to flip through his description on her phone, but opted to keep the device in her purse. If she checked on him, she’d jinx the date…she just knew it.

Her mind wandered to his profile. Adam Maddow. Gamer, comic nerd, movie buff and tech wizard. She hadn’t believed he was all those things and opted to background check him. The man did exist and worked as the IT person for a local law office. Would he be as handsome in person as he was in the photos? Or was she about to meet Mr. Wrong?

He reminded her of the guy she’d flirted with at Christmas. The man had been sweet. They’d danced and laughed together without him making a move on her. He’d been a gentleman. After her last relationship, she needed someone who could go slower and be strong for her. She wished she’d have written his phone number on something besides a soggy napkin. By the time she returned home, the ink had blurred and the napkin tore. She’d chalked her luck up to having none and wished she’d asked him for a date.

“Nixie?” A man who looked like Adam from the dating website and her Christmas party strode up to the table. “You’re early.”

“I like to know what’s going on.” Just like she’d admitted on her own dating profile. She hated being late and being surprised. She stood. “Adam?”

“The very one.” He smiled. The dimple in his cheek became more pronounced. Pale blue eyes, thick lashes and a perfect haircut, he reminded her of one of her comic book heroes, but more human. He hugged her, then sat opposite her at the table. “I wanted to treat you.”

“You still can do that.” She settled on her chair. “I’ve ordered water for drinks.” Her hands shook. Drat. She hated to look nervous. “Was the drive nice?” She gritted her teeth. So much for not appearing scared.

“Vermillion isn’t that busy,” Adam said. He sipped his water. “No traffic.”

“Ah.” Words teetered on the tip of her tongue, but she stayed quiet. Not talking wasn’t her usual behavior.

“Nixie, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She forced a smile. What was she doing? She wasn’t a meek person. She ran her own business and refused to let anyone push her around. “I’m a little scared.” She met his gaze. “Most people think I’m too forward and I’m trying to be softer, but it’s not working. I liked talking to you in the chats. Are you working on another comic book?” There. She’d stuck to her personality and her fear subsided.

“You remembered the books.” He toyed with his water glass and grinned. “I am. I turned book five into the publisher and I’m waiting on their response. The first four books are getting great feedback.” He paused. “I like the forthright approach. It’s you.”

“Most guys find it a turn-off.”

“I’m not like most guys.” He ran his finger through the condensation on his glass. “You don’t remember me beyond the chats, do you?”

She frowned. Remember him? If she’d have known a guy like Adam in any other part of her life, he’d have stuck in her memory. He kept playing with his glass and teasing her—she wanted to be touched and caressed like that. To be wanted. “No?”

“We’ve met.” Adam sipped the water, then moved the glass out of the way. “I met you at Dodds during your company Christmas party. We danced and talked out on the balcony.”

She pressed her lips together. She could still remember the taste of his kiss, but Adam couldn’t be that guy. He looked more refined and older tonight.

“You don’t remember, do you?” He laughed. “Well, that proves my charm is on the fritz.” He sat back in his seat. “I wondered why you never called. I wrote my name and number on that napkin.”

“If you’re that guy, then what was I wearing?” The man from the party had complimented her on the strand of pearls she’d worn and the pin on her dress.

“A red dress with thin straps. One of the straps broke and you’d pinned it together.” He tipped his head to the side. “And a strand of pearls you’d inherited from your grandmother. The necklace shimmered against your skin.”

She didn’t answer. Anyone could’ve seen the strap or the pearls.

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“I might have said those things.” She’d uttered ever one of them.

“I’ll never forget the way you felt in my arms when we danced. I’ll never hear soft rock and not think about you. Your hair tickled my ear and you whimpered when you danced. I figured it was from those high heeled shoes,” Adam said.

She’d put him through enough hassle. “I remember.” How could she forget now that he’d pushed? “The napkin fell apart before I could add your number to my phone. I felt so silly, but I wasn’t sure how to contact you.”

“I understand.” He reached across the table. “I’m glad we found each other.”

“Me, too.” She grasped his fingers. The sizzle shot from her hand to her heart, then her brain. He made her weak in the knees. “Did you know when you stumbled on my profile that I was the same woman?”

He nodded. “How could I not?” Adam asked. “Your friend, Darcy, told me you couldn’t stop talking about me.”

Darcy… the woman had a big mouth. Nixie tensed. But why argue? Darcy was right. “You know her?”

“She’s my sister’s best friend,” Adam said. “I’d already been on the dating site for six months, but she and Darcy helped me find you. I wanted a second date.”

“We never had the first one,” she blurted.

“Then let’s make this our first date.” Adam nodded to the dance floor. “You love jazz music, slow dancing, quiet evenings and blush wine, but only one glass.”

When he stood, she accepted the invitation. “You like comic books, action movies and loud music. Are you sure we’ll work?”

“I’m positive.” He tucked his arm around her and led her to the gathering of couples on the checkerboard dance floor. As the music played, he held her close. “Opposites attract and we’ve got chemistry.”

“We’ve also got biology and physics,” she blurted, then wished she could take the words back.

“We do.” His voice rumbled down her spine as he spoke in her ear.

When he gazed into her eyes, her mouth watered. She longed for his kiss. “Adam?”

“Um-hmm?” He brushed a lock of her hair from her face. The band played Moonlight Serenade, setting the mood for the evening. He brushed his nose along hers. “Yes, ma’am?”

He smelled like heaven and felt like sin in male form. She loved the way he held her and the hunger in his eyes. Passion sparked between them and she wanted more. “I want another date.”

“Whatever you want, I’ll do it.”

Nixie rested her head on his shoulder. She should’ve pressed that first night and ensured she had his number, but good things did come to those who waited. She had Adam and a second chance at love. Best date ever.

About the Author: Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and white hot themes. Find more about Wendi at: website ~ Blog ~ Fan Page ~ Amazon Author Page ~ BookBub ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads ~ Twitter

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Short Story: The Road Home

The Road Home
by Judy Thomas
The old house wore a deserted look. Wind whistled through the ancient oaks, the Spanish moss waving like a ghostly presence. I walked toward the foreboding house and muttered, “If not for my promise to Mama, I wouldn’t come within a hundred yards of this place.” Being a psychologist, I should be able to deal with this, but it wasn’t easy. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Grandfather was a sick old man. From what Mama had said, if I wanted to make peace with him, I better do it now.

I put one foot on the rickety step. Before I could move, a banging from around the corner of the house startled me. I veered right and, skirting the edge of the walk, walked to the doorway of the barn. My eyes adjusted to the darkness within and I made out the figure of a man bending over the rusty old jalopy, a large flashlight shining on his work area. I opened my mouth to ask him who he was, but I could say the words, my shoulder hit a pitchfork leaning against the door, sending it clattering to the wooden floor.

He whirled around, took a deep breath and said, “You scared the stew out of me! What are you doing sneaking around here? ”

“I wasn’t sneaking,” I retorted, standing my ground although I was truly nervous when he stalked toward me. “I came to visit my grandfather.”

Wiping his hands on a grease-stained towel, he came further into the light. His dark brown hair tumbling onto his forehead, deep blue eyes and the mischievous grin that lit up his face brought back sudden memories. “Nell?”


“The one and only, Mistress Eleanor,” he said, with a deep bow.

My lips twitched at his foolishness, but I would not be swept into flirting with him. Those days were long past. I tightened my mouth.

“Why are you here, in Grandfather’s barn? The last I remember, he’d ordered you off his property with a shotgun.”

“Well, Nellie,” he drawled, using the nickname that I always hated. “That was ten years ago. Things have changed. What are you doing here? You haven’t been back to see your granddaddy in a long time.”

I felt my face harden into a frown that was all too common these days. “Not since I graduated high school.”

I looked away from the eyes that searched my face, unwilling to acknowledge the affection I saw reflected there. Too much time had passed and I was not the impressionable teenager I had been.

Without a word, almost as if we could read each other’s minds, we left the darkness of the barn and headed toward the house. “Your granddaddy isn’t in the best of health,” he explained. “I’ve been helping out a little when I can.”

“I can’t imagine him letting you, as angry as he was with you that night.”

“Ah, yes, that magical night,” he said, turning toward me at the foot of the steps. “Do you ever think of that night, Nellie?”

I tore my gaze away from his and lied. “No. It was a long time ago. And don’t call me Nellie.”

“I came back for you, you know.” He put his hand on my cheek and leaned toward me.

His touch brought back memories I thought buried forever, buried where they couldn’t hurt any more but the pain that tore through me proved me wrong. I stepped back and his hand dropped to his side.

He took a deep breath, then continued. “Your grandfather told me you had left right after the graduation ceremony,” he said.

“Three months… I left three months after the last time I saw you.” I turned away and swiped away the tears that slipped down my cheek. I didn’t want him to see he still had the power to hurt me after all this time.

“Nell.” He grasped my arms, turning me toward him. “I called and wrote every day, but your grandfather told me you didn’t want to see me. And, when you didn’t answer my letters, I began to believe him. Then, I came back for your graduation, but by the time I got here… you were gone.”

I looked up at him, remembering the countless days and hours I had spent in my room, watching the winding road out the window, willing him to come and whisk me away. I shook my head, not because I doubted what he said, but because it didn’t change anything.

“I never forgave him for what he did that night,” I admitted after a long silence. “I was angry at you for not coming, but I was angrier at him. Mama helped me realize, though, that he thought he was protecting me. And, I wanted to come and tell him I forgive him, before it’s too late.”

One side of Stephen’s mouth lifted, in a wry smile. “I realized it as well. He didn’t want a loser for his talented granddaughter. If I had a daughter, I would probably have responded the same way. I was hardly a prize back then.”

My voice caught in my throat as I said, “So, what made him allow you back on the property?”

We settled ourselves gingerly on the loose bottom step, then Stephen picked up a rock. He tossed it from hand to hand, his gaze focused on it. “After you left, I was mad, hurt, confused. Not so much at your grandfather for running me off. I would probably have done the same thing, but at you, for not wanting to see me. I figured you must not have meant what you said. That it was just an idle dalliance for you.”

At my quick intake of breath, he looked at me. I grasped his arm, willing him to believe me.

“Stephen, I never knew about any of the calls or any of the letters. All I knew is you were gone. For three months, I never heard a word. So, after graduation, Mama and I left and went to Atlanta. I couldn’t stand to be around here any more.”

“I finally figured it might have been something like that,” Stephen said, his voice low, “but by then it was too late. Your grandfather had his stroke just before I came back to town and couldn’t tell me where you were. So, I’ve just been coming and helping out here, hoping one day you would come home.”

We sat silently for several long minutes. I looked into those blue eyes, thought of a younger pair just like them waiting back at the hotel with her grandmother, and knew I had indeed come home.

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