His image graced the front of the tabloid she held in her hands, his name in bold letters at the top of her pad. The bell over the door rang, and she felt him standing behind her, looking over her shoulder. She jumped, turning to face him, hiding the phone and pad against her body, the tabloid drifting to the floor. “You scared the daylights out of me! Sneaking up on someone like a…” The image of the cutout in the bookstore flashed through her mind. The sinister look, the haunting eyes, came rushing back.
He sneered. “Like what… a murderer?”
Without another word, he turned and took the stairs two at a time. The slamming door echoed in the lobby. The hype surrounding his wife’s disappearance had died down over the last couple of years. He wanted it to stay that way. This was exactly why he chose an isolated, out of the way place to finish this novel. He paced back and forth in his room, his boots making loud thumping noises with each step. Finally, he sat in the high back leather chair beside the fireplace, brooding over who this woman was and why she was so interested in him. What made her want to dig up his past?
For the most part, today had been good. Until now. He had come back to the Inn hungry from hours walking around town, exploring the small parks and market places outdoors. He looked forward to the meal Ivy would have prepared, but there was no way he would sit across the table from this woman. It was bad enough to tolerate her silly games with the bathroom facilities. Her high handed attitude drove him to distraction. If he went to supper, he might truly be guilty of murder. His life should be his and his alone. The authorities had found no damning evidence, so what was it to this…this woman? He stood up, pacing again. He had to stop thinking about her meddling and get today’s thoughts and ideas written down.
He sat in front of the computer and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he started typing, surprised when his thoughts began to flow easily from his fingertips. After some time there was a soft tap on the door. He sighed and walked over to open it. Ivy smiled at him as she held out a tray of her delicious pot pie and a plate of cobbler and ice cream. He smiled back. “Ah, Ivy, you truly know the way to a man’s heart.” She dipped her head, blushing, and he started to apologize, but that would only make it worse. “Thank you a million times over.”
“Leave the dishes outside the door and I will get them later. If you need anything else, you can always give us a call at the front desk.” She gave him a shy smile and left.
Taking the tray inside, he cleared a place on the small desk Joseph had brought him the first day. He moved it closer to the fire and began eating. “Mmm!” he said out loud. Ivy should at least write her recipes in a book and sell them at the front desk. This is amazing.
When he was done, he turned to the computer, his fingers poised. But the flow had been broken. All he seemed able to think about was the woman with the ginger hair. She was as much an enigma to him as he was to her. He had no idea when their paths had crossed, but obviously, they had. Did he care to put as much effort into discovering who she was, as she obviously did in finding out about him? He wasn’t sure he did. It suited him to have a fog of uncertainty hanging over her, almost like a character in one of his books. He blew out a breath, clearing his head. It was late and he needed to prepare a small presentation for the book signing tomorrow.
The next morning dawned clear, a cold wind whipping around the house, threatening to blow away anything not secured. It didn’t last long, and soon clouds were gathering. He sat in the office of the bookstore, listening to the crowd gathering for the book signing. A forecast of heavy snowfall threatened later in the afternoon. He stared out a small window as darkening clouds gathered. Soon, the wind would be banking snow around buildings and covering streets and cars, making it dangerous to be caught in its path. He drummed his fingers on the desk, deep in thought. Such a storm would set the perfect stage for the introduction to his new book. The story would take place in an area similar to this, this same kind of weather causing the main character to have a near-death experience as she struck out on her own to find her destiny. He frowned, mumbling, “Humph, just when did this character become a woman?” That was his last thought before his host signaled to him and he stepped out to greet the group.
The gathering was mostly ladies. They were his primary market, after all. It didn’t bother him, they bought his books and that was the purpose. The mix did surprise him, though. He hadn’t expected to see so many locals. The area was diverse, of course, but mostly Mennonites. They were more open to outside ideas than the Old Order and were influenced by the English who were settling there. His work obviously touched a chord with them, and he was proud of that. The setting was familiar to them, personal, and people of all beliefs enjoyed an intriguing mystery with a hint of romance.
He introduced the book, read a short opening chapter, then held a brief question and answer time. He engaged in give-and-take conversations with them, dropping hints that some of their ideas might show up in his next book. To draw them in even deeper, he collected names to give proper credit, infusing a sense of excitement into the crowd. It didn’t hurt today’s sales either, as those present always spread the news that there might be something about locals in the next book.
The crowd thinned, leaving him sitting beside a table with a stack of books and a small brochure with his biography. He picked it up, glancing over it when he noticed a familiar fragrance in the air. He looked up, catching a glimpse of ginger-colored hair leaving the store. Strange, he hadn’t seen her in the crowd. He had a sudden urge to talk to her, to ask her opinion on his presentation. But by the time he reached the entrance, she was nowhere in sight. He looked up at the dark clouds as snow continued falling heavily, the temperature dropping quickly.
He gathered his coat and scarf, said goodbye to the hostess, and walked briskly to his car. Was the redheaded woman Joy Clayborn? He was sure it was. He started his car, sitting behind the wheel, staring down the little thoroughfare running downtown. But why had she hurried out without speaking, without interjecting her own brand of sarcasm into the discussion? Would she wander around town, going by the library, or shopping in the stationary store or go straight back to the Inn? He shook his head, scowling. Why did he care? What made him think of her anyway? These thoughts, this minor obsession with her, was maddening. He pulled out and headed toward the Inn. They very likely could be snowed in for a few days, and he sure didn’t want to be away from the Inn. He just wanted to write, not be interrupted by thoughts of an impertinent woman.
Heavy clouds caused eerie darkness to descend over them, the snow falling hard and heavy, swirling in his headlights as his wipers struggled to keep up. When he pulled the Mini Cooper into the parking lot, he immediately pulled the cover out and secured it over the car. He surveyed the area. Her car wasn’t there. His heart dropped, a strange sense of anxiety coming over him. He carefully walked up the steps to the door. Before he opened it to the welcoming warmth, he looked back. Snow was already covering the curb. He stepped inside, finding Ivy standing at a window, looking toward the fields at the falling snow.
She turned to look at him. “Oh, Mr. Binning, I’m glad you made it when you did.” She looked back. “It’s going to get bad quickly. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Ms. Clayborn?”
“Not in the last couple of hours, if it was her at all. Did she say where she was going, or what her plans were?”
Ivy shook her head.
“That figures.” He turned his back to the fire, warming himself. “I’ve got a mind to go upstairs and begin my next chapter. The presentation at the bookstore actually provided some new inspiration, and this weather is perfect for writing.” She looked at him, her brow furrowed. He looked at the hardwood floor at his feet, sighing. Joy Clayborn was totally capable of setting madness into motion. But the feeling of anxiety returned.
“Joseph is bringing the livestock into the barn. This morning he brought in provisions for the animals.”
“Can I do anything?” he asked.
“No, we spent the morning laying in wood and bringing food supplies from the cellar. We’re well prepared. The livestock was the last chore.”
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath. He and Joseph would need to venture out into the blizzard and search for their impetuous house guest.
“How do we go about finding someone lost in a storm of this sort?”
She watched the large flakes blowing about. “We will ask Joseph. He will have knowledge of this sort of thing.”
He saw Joseph trudging toward the house, leaning against the wind. Ivy went through the kitchen, opening the door to let him in. A cold blast blew through the house. A thought struck him. Maybe her phone number was listed in the reservation book. He walked quickly behind the desk, flipping through the pages to the day she checked in. He dialed her number. It went straight to voice mail. He swore under his breath and pushed re-dial.
This time she answered, her voice shaking. “This is Joy. I’m not sure who you are, or how you got this number, but I’m sure you’re an answer to my prayers. My car is stuck and it won’t start. I skidded across an intersection and it crashed into a…”
“Whoa, slow down. This is Robert. You weren’t here when I got back from town. I’ve been wondering how to find you.”
“I can’t get out of my car. The door is jammed. I’m so cold.”
Joseph and Ivy had joined him at the desk, listening intently. Joseph lifted a finger, whispering, “I’ll go bring the tractor around.”
“Just stay in the car. Joseph and I will come to get you. We’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
She sighed heavily before she hung up. He smiled. He was sure she would change her mind about him being an answer to her prayers.
Joseph waved toward the house as the tractor pulled into the Inn’s parking lot. Robert bundled up in his heavy coat, grabbed a muffler, wrapping it around his neck, pulling on a cap and ear muffs. Ivy came in from the kitchen with a thermos of coffee. “Get her warm,” she said.
He climbed up onto the tractor, propping himself against the wheel well. He hadn’t done this since he was a young boy on his Grandfather’s farm. But never in this kind of weather! He grabbed tighter as the tractor lurched forward, making its way slowly back toward town. The short trip seemed to take hours, but as they entered the town, he began searching for her car. Joseph spotted it, pointing as he drew the tractor closer. Snow and ice was banked on the passenger side, blocking her in. The car had skidded across the intersection, the driver’s side coming to rest against the side of a building. He could see why she was panicked and in spite of his bitterness, his heart softened. A little. That would frighten anyone, especially a Southern girl not familiar with this kind of weather.
Both men jumped from the tractor to inspect the car. Joseph told her to climb over the console to exit from the passenger side. While she maneuvered herself in the tight space, Robert and Joseph chipped away at the ice and snow with two small shovels Joseph brought. After a few minutes, they broke the ice from the door and pulled it open.
Joseph stood back to let Robert help her out. He reached for her gloved hand, feeling ice on the material. She shivered uncontrollably, her legs giving way. He pulled her close, wrapping his coat and scarf around her.
He yelled against the wind. “Hold her while I climb up, then help her up to me.” He climbed back to his perch, and Joseph helped her climb to him. She sat back against him, shaking uncontrollably, and he wrapped the coat around her again. She seemed so small and frail. So vulnerable. Thoughts of compassion and sympathy ran through his head, invading his heart with a tenderness he hadn’t felt in years. He steeled himself against it. He must keep his distance from this dangerous and beautiful woman. Joseph quickly climbed to his seat, and they headed back.
Arriving at the Inn, Joseph jumped off the tractor and reached up to lift Joy to the ground. Robert climbed down, then picked her up and carried her up the steps into the house. He sat her in a chair in front of the fire, and Ivy covered her with a heated blanket.
He knelt in front of her looking into her green eyes, watching for the spark he was accustomed to. It wasn’t there, nor did she speak. Her body continued to shake as she stared at him, her eyes almost lifeless. Her normally fair skin had a grayish tone and she leaned heavily against the arm of the chair. He thought she might be experiencing the onset of shock. He removed her cold, damp coat, glancing at Ivy. “Her clothes feel wet.”
Ivy nodded. “Go find her pajamas and bring them to me.”
He took the stairs two at a time and found pajamas folded neatly on her bed. He ran back down.
He lifted her and laid her on the sofa before the fire. Joseph added more wood. He put pillows under her head, and Ivy directed the men to the kitchen while she changed Joy’s clothes.
He came back in to find her wrapped in warm blankets, her damp clothing laying on the floor. Her eyes were closed, and she appeared to sleep quietly. The shaking had stopped.
Ivy sat with her while he went up to change into dry, warm clothes. He grabbed a note pad and went back downstairs, taking a chair close to her. Ivy and Joseph went into the kitchen, checking on her from time to time through the evening. He sat, watching her sleep, his mind searching for recognition. Where had he seen her, and why couldn’t he erase her from his memory? He began to write, free-hand, first words, then sentences, letting his mind freely roam all possibilities. He wrote about her hair, her eyes, the carefree way she interacted with others. An image popped into his mind, her standing in a crowd of people talking, asking questions. Her gaze was steady and confident… A smile lit up his eyes. He leaned toward her. That was it! She was a TV personality. He had seen her on an affiliate station back home. He wondered that he didn’t recognize her sooner. Her show was broadcast all along the eastern seaboard. All he knew was she dominated every situation. People flocked to her. Loved her.
How did she end up here?!
This is the second episode of Joy’s Starting Over story. I hope you enjoy it and share it with others. If you like my writing, please post a link and let your friends find it, too. You can share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Thanks a bunch!