It’s a year into the way our lives have changed. How have you managed? I hope Covid hasn’t touched any of you.
For me the time has flown. I can’t believe how fast time is going by and here we are pretty much the same as a year ago. Usually reflection is around New Years, but this time is different. I find I’m doing it around St Patricks Day! LOL
Last year I struggled with my own PTSD and continue to do so. I was finally able to write near the end of the year and wrote a really big book. A book that is different than what I’ve written before. A single title that will be released in 2022.
Also, last year, grandma duties had me busy which I adored. She was with me last weekend and LOVED the belly dance scarf. She marched around the house shaking her hips and making the coins jingle. It was adorable. I got it an an Ellora’s Cave conference many moons ago. Speaking of which, for those of you that remember EC…. how about a pic of Cavemen?
Below is an excerpt from HOT FUSION. If you want to find out more about the story, and receive a free book, all you have to do is signup for my newsletter at this LINK
She was coming home. Back where she belonged and spent so many years with Gram in the bakery. Kara dreaded seeing what kind of shape the shop and apartment were in now, not having been lived in for so long. Guilt soured in her stomach. No matter how hard she tried to justify staying away, it hadn’t been the right decision. She should have come back sooner, and whispered a silent apology to Gram.
On the heels of Gram’s memory came one of a dark-haired, dreamy-faced boy from long ago, which made her sit upright in her rental car. Even though it had been years since she’d seen him, he haunted her thoughts. She sighed. It only made sense he would cross her mind now, coming home with reminders everywhere.
Her breasts tingled. Even after all these years, her body reacted viscerally to his memory. His first tentative touch had rocked her world when they were virgin teenagers. She’d lost herself in his chocolaty-brown eyes and under his touch when they gave their virginity to each other. A summer love from so long ago still left a powerful impression all these years later.
“Max.” His name rolled around her tongue and she gripped the steering wheel tighter when her belly did a little flip-flop. She wondered if he’d stayed on his family’s orchard. Max’s dream had been to turn it into a profitable wine-making operation and it had been in the fledgling stages of transitioning into a vineyard when she left. Kara hadn’t kept track of Maxwell Grimes Stone II for two reasons. One being her focus on her own culinary career, and the other had been something she still refused to think about and a big reason why she had stayed away so long. She was sure Max had no idea what had really transpired to make her decide to leave. But coming home made her wonder.
She knew she had broken his heart when she ran off to Europe fifteen years ago to learn her craft, leaving a very confused and angry Max behind. Gram told her he pined for her, and encouraged her to contact him, but she couldn’t bring herself to. He never tried to get in touch with her either, and that’s how it was left. When the news of his marriage reached her she had cried for days, and once the wailing was done Kara firmly put Maxwell Stone on the shelf. She had to in order to keep her focus. Kara managed pretty well most of the time, but Max never failed to show up in her dreams on lonely nights when she missed home. He was safe there in her dreams, a lovely fantasy she welcomed with open arms.
Time slipped by quickly and when Gram died suddenly last year, it all seemed to catch up with Kara. Coming home for Gram’s funeral and to sort out her affairs took a big toll on her. It was then she stopped her waffling thoughts about coming home and plotted her return from Europe.
Now here she was, about to drive the familiar roads of Niagara-on-the-Lake to her childhood home. The flight from Heathrow to Toronto had been uneventful, yet she’d been wound up most of the time she was in the air, unable to put a finger on the reason for her unease. Her heart fluttered. Why? Because I might see him, or because I might not?
Kara forced her thoughts away from Max as she exited the Queen Elizabeth Way. Time enough to think about him later. She had a goal and her timeline was tight. No distractions allowed. Coming home to reopen the bakery excited her and was foremost in her mind. After closing the shop up last year, she expected to be in for a good cleanup. Even though she’d had it checked on regularly, Kara was sure it needed some tender loving care and she was here to do just that.
As she drove deeper into the region, she couldn’t believe how many vineyards had sprung up. She drove past the familiar Hillebrand and Jackson Triggs wineries, as well as a new sprawling one that didn’t even resemble a winery—it rose out of the earth like a monolith, all chrome and glass, except for the telltale rows of vines fanning out on each side. She could barely take it all in. Sure, she was on the same old Niagara Stone Road, but oh man, had it changed.
Inniskillen, which basically started the Niagara wine industry back in 1975, was on the western edge of the region, close to the Niagara River. Where we’d found a private little hidey-hole to explore each other. Stop it, Kara! Quit with the thoughts already.
This wasn’t a good sign. Max crossing her mind was never a good thing—it roused images of him and set her long-neglected libido aflutter. She needed a man. Wanted one. But purely for sex. The complications of a relationship she could do without. But sex? Yup, scratch that overdue itch and be on her way. Maybe a nice Canadian boy will walk into my shop and tempt me. She laughed out loud and promised herself she wouldn’t let her hopes get too high.
With her destination just around the corner, Kara realized she was holding her breath and let it out slowly through pursed lips. Rather than take side roads, she turned onto Queen Street and drove right into Old Town. She sighed again, but this time from the sight before her. She was truly home now. Gracious old trees shaded the road and flowers of every kind bloomed in brilliant color.
Typical for a weekday in early July, the street was jam-packed with people, and of course there was no parking. Tourists flowed along the sidewalks, horses and carriages clip-clopped down the street, sightseers gazed into shop windows or sat at one of the many outdoor cafés, sipping wine from area vineyards and noshing on locally grown foods. Niagara-on-the-Lake was the place to indulge one’s culinary senses and what originally inspired Kara to become a chef.
She loved it here. Why oh why had she waited so long before coming back? But of course she knew the answer to that. It was the combination of avoiding Max and getting her own career on track. She realized now though, it had been wrong and she should have settled here long ago like she promised Gram, but instead let herself get wrapped up in the glitzy world of Paris and London. Now with Gram gone, working side by side with her would never be.
She shook her head, not wanting the sad thoughts to take hold, and drove slowly, watching for the storefront. There! On the left, set back from the road. She almost missed the red-and-cream brick of the old building. A quick glimpse imprinted in her mind the patio overgrown with vines and jolts of color from the perennials Gram had planted so many years ago. Being set back from the road was a treasure, and it created a nice little spot for café tables. But it looked tired now. The sign above the rolled-up awning peeled just enough to read the original lettering underneath. Fingertips.
Kara’s heart constricted in despair and she whispered, “Oh Gram. I’m so sorry.”
Kara craned her neck to watch the store disappear in her side-view mirror. She swung her gaze back to the road just in time and stood on the brakes to avoid running up the back end of a stopped car. Sheesh, pay attention.
“Move it, buddy.” Kara punched the horn. It was totally typical for cars to double- park and bung up traffic while the passengers climbed out. Now that she was here, Kara was in no mood to be tolerant.
Summer in Old Town was nuts, and this was just the beginning. Kara was glad she arrived after the Canada Day weekend. It would have been a zoo. People from around the world flocked to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, causing chaos all around. But it was a short season and she recognized the pros and cons. Kara took a deep breath and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the car ahead to move. Intolerant drivers from behind began a chorus of honking and finally the car pulled away. Kara followed a little too closely, anxious to get to the shop. Parking was on a laneway behind the buildings and she was happy to see the upcoming stoplight turn green. She flicked on her left indicator signal and took a risky turn before a van, which flashed its high beams at her.
She waved an apology and watched for the laneway that led to the parking area. Excitement mixed with anxiety set her heart pounding harder. She pulled up to the back of the bakery and sat in the car for a minute, gazing at the familiar old building. It hadn’t changed all that much from the outside. The bushes and neighboring trees were just bigger, a little wilder, and shielded the second-floor deck better from below.
Kara finally climbed out of the car and stood at the back door, jangling the keys in her hand. What was she waiting for? Why the hesitation? She’d come all this way to start a new life and now here it was, imminent across the threshold. She glanced at the antique black iron urn, which weighed a ton, beside the door. It looked lonely all by itself, flowerless, on the little stone patio. She reached into the soil and pulled out the old, dried-up leaves. Soon it would be full of blooms. The keys weighed heavy in her hand and she picked through them to find the right one. It slipped into the lock and turned without protest. Kara paused a moment, took a deep breath and pushed the door.
She was greeted by a hushed silence. Once inside the kitchen, Kara’s eyes adjusted to the dim light and she looked around, taking it all in. Sunlight filtered through the shutters, casting an eerie light, and dust motes shimmered on the rays. White sheets covered everything. Nothing had been touched since her last visit when she closed the place down. Kara stood in the center of the room and slowly turned around, giving herself a panning view of Gram’s bakery, which was now hers.
She reached out and her fingertips played with the corner of a drop sheet. Kara took a deep breath and pulled the fabric. Inch by inch the island workstation was revealed, its surface a combination of marble and recently installed stainless. She yanked off the second sheet covering the far end. An ethereal image of her as a child, standing on an old chair pushing a rolling pin over pastry with Gram standing close by, ghosted before her on the dusty air. Then it floated away. Kara couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. She cried, clutching the white sheet to her, and great sobbing gulps filled with pain racked her chest.
She cried for the parents she never knew, for Gram’s love and patience, for lost love and loneliness. Kara let despair wash over her and feed the tears. Finally she could let it all out, but oh how she longed for someone to hold her in their arms so she could cry on a comforting shoulder. After a few minutes the tears subsided. She wiped her hand across her cheeks and blew her nose into a corner of the sheet. Get it together, Kara. She wasn’t a crier, but this spell was long overdue and she felt a little better.
Kara tossed the balled-up sheet aside and turned around to flip the lights on. A shadowy figure filled the doorway and her heart tripped over itself.
“Who are you?”
A deep, familiar voice tickled her senses, sending a delicious shiver along the back of her arms. “I heard you were back in town.”
Max! Kara stood frozen, totally confused by his presence. Had she conjured him, thinking about him on the drive here? Her breath stopped and no words formed. A crazy thought of how horrible she must look was all that filled her stupefied mind.
He stepped into the beams of dancing light. His smile, wide and welcoming, and his eyes—the color of warm chocolate syrup—weakened Kara’s knees.