Hi all,
I'm so excited to be sharing my work in progress! I hope that you'll read it, enjoy it, and tell me what you love, hate or found boring. All input will be much appreciated, taken to heart and stewed over.

hour 1: 1318 words

Canterbury Clockwork
My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short never to go again when the old man died

In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
Many hours he spent as a boy.
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time, and had but one desire —
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place — not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side.
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short never to go again when the old man died

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night —
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight —
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
His life's seconds numbering,
(tick, tock, tick, tock),
It stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

Gustav, stooped with age, hunkered down on his stool in front of his workbench, oblivious to the sounds of death and destruction falling around him. The comforting sounds of a hundred tick-tocking clocks provided a blanket to muffle the bomb’s whistling screams and corresponding rocketing explosions.
His gnarled fingers shook as a blast shook his shop and decimated another close by, but that was more from age than fright. He had lived a long life—much longer than he, or anyone else, had expected. He glanced out the window at the nearby flickering flames. The sudden rise in temperature caused beads of sweats to form on his brow. He removed his glasses, patted his forehead, and resumed his work.
A barking dog loped past his window. A woman clutching a basket followed. Footsteps padded down the steps that led to his shop and banging shook his door.
“Gustav!” A young man’s voice called. “Come, we must go!” The door shook as the pounding grew more and more incessant.
With a sigh, Gustav, put down his tools and unfolded his long limbs. They were stiff from sitting in a prolonged position. He didn’t answer the door to save his own life, but out of concern for his neighbor, Wilbur—a young man with a wife and children who, thank God, had already left for the safe countryside. Wilbur had a reason to live, while Gustav did not. He didn’t feel the need to explain to Wilbur that running away was a young man’s game.
“I will stay here with my clocks,” Gustav told him. “They know when my time will come. But you must go. Do not worry about me.”
Wilbur tried to argue with him, but to prove his point, Gustav firmly closed his door and turned the lock. Settling down at his workbench, he picked up the tiny gears of his current project, a clock that would be the wedding gift for his grandson. The rosewood case matched the color of his own Gretel’s hair, the ivory face the color of her porcelain skin. As he worked, he hummed the song played at his own wedding by his uncle’s fiddling band.
Each clock was a labor of love for Gustav, but this one was special, because, he suspected, it would be his last. This thought didn’t bring him fear, but rather warmed him with the knowledge that this clock would continue to tick-tock long after his own heart stopped beating. Clocks, he knew, are like love, they continue when everything else fails.

Modern Day
Los Angeles International Airport
Darby stood in the line snaking its way toward the crowded Starbuck’s counter. She shivered, but this had more to do with nerves and anticipation than the over-zealous air-conditioning, or her lack of caffeine. She glanced at the board announcing the arriving flights and then at her watch.
Benjamin’s plane had been delayed again. Which was really hard to understand. After all, it was August, not the dead of winter where one might expect turbulent weather…But of course, he was flying from London. When she had flown from London to L.A., their flight had gone over the North Pole—and rotten weather was sure to be happening there, so…she needed to be patient. But she had been patient far too long already. She hadn’t seen Benjamin in three whole months—other than on Facetime, or social media, of course.
Not that she had known for much longer.
A sudden splash of hot wetness on her silk blouse pulled Darby’s thoughts away from Benjamin and onto the demise of her outfit. “Ow!” she pulled her blouse away from her chest and stared at the brown stain spreading like a cancer.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” A man with large hands grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser on a nearby table and tried to pat her chest.
She flinched away from him and noticed for the first time his face. Aside from the embarrassed and apologetic expression on his face, he was incredibly gorgeous in a young Paul Newman way—blond, blue-eyed, and rugged and weathered as if he spent a good deal of time outside. He was almost as good looking, but in a completely different way, as Benjamin. But of course, Benjamin was a model and an actor. This man was a silk blouse staining moron.
“It’s okay,” she said, moving away from his clumsy hands and wads of napkins, even though it obviously wasn’t because her blouse was probably going to be ruined and even worse, she’d now have to welcome Benjamin to L.A. with a giant brown spot on her shirt.
“Oh no, I can tell your upset.” He shook the coffee off his own hands, making her realize that he’d burned himself as well. “Let me pay for your dry-cleaning, at least.”
“No, don’t be silly,” she said, edging away from him, which wasn’t easy to do because of the crowd around them. Most were ignoring them, but a few watched with open curiosity, waiting to see her response. Darby gulped back her frustration and refused to make a scene.
“How about I buy lunch?” he said.
Darby glanced at the board, noting that Benjamin’s flight was delayed another hour. She sighed. “Okay,” she agreed.
The man’s smile totally transformed his face. He was actually much more handsome than she’d originally thought. Maybe even a close match to Benjamin. Not that looks mattered. She didn’t love Benjamin for his looks. Looks had nothing to do with their almost instant and fatal attraction.

1 hour: 1303 words (although, 300 or so were the poem and shouldn’t count.)

2nd hour: 1228 words
“I’m waiting for my boyfriend’s delayed flight,” Darby told the handsome blouse-destroying stranger, just so he would know he didn’t stand a chance with her, that there wasn’t anything romantic in their getting to know each other, and that her heart was pledged elsewhere to another much less clumsy man. This was just lunch.
He looked at his watch, an intricate timepiece on a leather band. He had strong, thick wrists and covered with blond nearly transparent hair. Darby shivered again. She hated when men had gorilla fuzz, and she tried to recall Benjamin’s arms, but couldn’t. This bothered her.
“My sister’s flight is also late,” the man was saying as he guided her into a nearby restaurant.
“Weird, right? I mean, it’s August and sunny and warm.” Darby glanced around the posh restaurant. It was hard to believe that just a flimsy partition separated them from the noise and bustle of the airport.
“Not all delays are weather-related,” he said. “I’m Chad Gunter, by the way,” he said, sticking out his hand.
“Darby Coleman,” she replied, liking his strong grip.
A waitress name Kayla led them to a table overlooking the tarmac.
“What do you do, Darby Coleman, when you’re not waiting for boyfriends in the airport?” Chad asked as soon as they were seated.
“I’m an accountant,” she said.
He leaned back. “Really?”
“Why do you look so surprised?” Darby fussed with her napkin, slightly miffed because his response was typical. Most people had the exact same reaction when she said she was an accountant and it bothered that no one seemed to take her seriously.
“You just don’t look like an accountant.”
Darby sat a little straighter, trying to add inches to her five-foot-three frame. “And what do you think accountants should look like?”
“Well, for one thing, they don’t wear strappy red sandals and Fossil@ jeans.”
“Maybe not to work.”
“Although they might wear silk blouses. Just not with big brown stains on them.”
Darby didn’t mean to scowl, but she couldn’t help it. She picked up a menu to hide her expression. “I’m actually freaky good with numbers.”
He lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Really?”
She lowered the menu. “Yeah. Go ahead, test me.”
“Okay, what’s three-thousand and forty-nine divided by sixty-three?”@
He typed the math problem onto the calculator app on his phone. “You’re right. Amazing.”
She shrugged and went back to studying the menu. After a moment, she settled on a shrimp salad. “What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher at a small private school.”
This surprised and concerned her  because teacher’s salaries usually didn’t stretch to cover fancy airport restaurants. “That’s noble,” she said. “It must be really rewarding.” Just not financially. She quickly changed her mind about the shrimp salad and selected a cup of soup.
“Sometimes,” he said with a smirk.
Kayla the waitress returned to take their orders, and Chad surprised her by getting the steak.
“Are you sure you just want soup?” he asked.
She nodded, even though she really wasn’t quite so sure anymore. After all, the sun glinting off the airplanes told her that it had to be warm outside away from the air conditioning. The thermostat had been pushing toward eighty when she’d been in her car and that was before it was even noon.
“I love tomato soup,” she said. “I practically lived on it when I lived in London.” Where it had been cold and dreary most of the year.
“You lived in London?”
She nodded. “That’s where I met Benjamin—my boyfriend, the one I’m waiting for.” Just saying Benjamin and boyfriend in the same sentence sent a happy tingle down her spine. She recalled his face to remind herself of how much she loved him and how perfect he was for her and how romantic their first meeting had been—much more romantic than some doofus spilling his coffee on her and ruining her favorite blouse. @GO BACK AND HAVE HER GO TO THE RESTROOM TO TRY AND SALVAGE HER BLOUSE.
Not that Chad looked like a doofus. And he was a teacher—the noblest of vocations. Because the conversation lagged, Darby found herself telling Chad about how she met Benjamin. “He literally fell into my life!”
Chad leaned back as Kayla returned with their food and placed a thick slice of steak with a side of a baked potato oozing with butter and a serving of steamed vegetables in front of Chad and a cup of steaming hot soup in front of Darby.
Darby opened a bag of crackers and crumbled them into her soup. “We met the day before I left London. Sad, right?”
Chad looked as if he didn’t know how to respond. After a moment, he came up with, “What were you doing in London?”
“I’m a private banker for @, and one of our clients was having issues. I thought at first it was a huge honor for them to send me, but then I realized that no one else wanted to go.”
“How come?”
Darby frowned. She really wasn’t supposed to talk about her clients, especially if she didn’t have anything good to say. “Let’s just say that my client likes to smoke cigars.” She lifted a spoonful to soup to her lips. Yep, it was hot. After a moment, she added. “He had other vices, as well.”
“And you can’t tell me what those are?” he said with a smirk.
She shook her head. “No, I can’t. Sorry.”
Chad cut into his steak and it let out a waft of heavenly scent. “So, tell me about the boyfriend that fell on you.”
Darby set down her spoon. “He was at a party right above my hotel room and there was a fire. Of course, I didn’t know that since I was asleep in my bed. Anyway, to escape the fire, he jumped down onto my balcony saw me sleeping and woke me up.”
The memory of Benjamin’s gorgeous and concerned face waking her flashed in her mind. “He picked me up and carried me outside.” She didn’t add that they had spent the rest of the night making out on the hotel lawn and that she’d only been wearing a silk teddy. Remembering the cold wet grass pressing into her naked legs, Darby took another spoonful of soup. She sighed. “It was so romantic.”
“But then you left London?”
She nodded.
“So you really don’t know him very well.”
Darby bristled  because this was exactly what her mom, sisters, brothers, and friends had been saying. “We’ve skyped every day. In some ways, this a better way to get to know each other because you don’t get carried away with snogging. That’s the British word for—”
“I know all about snogging,” he said with a smirk.
Yes, from the looks of him, he probably did.
“I know it’s absolutely none of my business, but when you only know each other via social media, it’s really easy to just show your good bits.”
Wow. He really did sound like her mom. “You’re right.” She swallowed another spoonful of soup. “It’s none of your business.”
He grinned and took a bite of his steak. “I’m waiting for my sister,” he said after a moment to fill the awkward silence. “She’s coming into town to help celebrate my grandfather’s eightieth birthday.”
When Darby didn’t comment--because

3rd hour: 1336 I went a bit further and made my daily 4k word goal

While Chad went on and on about his family, barely even noticing her prolonged silence, Darby ate her soup as quickly as she could without slurping and occupied her thoughts with memories mingled with fantasies about Benjamin.
Where he would stay had been a trick since she couldn’t very well bring him home. Not only was she from a staunch Catholic family, she was also from a large family…who happened to live in a not so large house. At the moment, she shared that house with her parents, her older brother Tom, her older sister, Meg and her three little kids, her Grandma Betty, and the dog, Wheezer.
Benjamin, of course, had understood, and made arrangements with some friends of friends. Still, it made snogging difficult.
“Are your grandparents still alive,” Chad interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes,” she said, thinking of Grandma Betty. She did not want to talk about Grandma Betty. Darby shoveled in the last drop of soup and put down her spoon. “It’s been really nice meeting you and thanks for the lunch, but I have to go.” She gathered up her purse, said goodbye and left.
# Chad watched Darby walk away. His guilt pricked him about the blouse. He’d have to ask Celia about the cost of blouses. He finished off his meal, gave Kayla his credit card, and wandered back to the baggage claim area where he’d arranged to meet Celia. He spotted Darby across the room. She had her back to him, but he knew it was her because of her high ponytail and dark curls—another very non-account sort of trait. She sat on a chair, her legs crossed. A book dangled from her hand.
He wondered what she was reading, considered going over and asking, but quickly changed his mind when he heard, “Chadwick!”
He spun around and opened his arms to his sister. She launched herself at him and he caught her. “Hey!” he smiled down into her beaming face. “I’m so glad to see you!”
She grimaced. “The parentals giving you a hard time?”
He nodded slightly. “It’ll be good to have you here to take off some of the heat.”
A small frown touched Celia’s lips.
“Just kidding,” Chad said as instant guilt swamped him. He wanted his sister home and not for the reason he just gave. He had missed her while she’d been in Paris.
She pulled away from him, and he took in her tired green eyes and the rumpled hair. Like him, she shared their mother’s coloring and height. He also noticed her blouse. It looked a lot like the one Darby had been wearing—minus the coffee stain, of course. “Huh, Celia, strange request.”
She lifted her eyebrows, waiting.
“Can I buy that blouse off you?”
Confusion flitted across her face. “What? Seriously?”
He nodded. “I spilled coffee on this woman, and I want to make it up to her.”
Celia elbowed him. “Do you like her?”
“You know I’m with Monica.”
“Ah. Yes, Monica.” Celia blew out a sigh.
“What? You like Monica.”
“Of course I do.” She looped her arm around Chad’s. “But if we both like Monica so much, why are we giving this stranger my blouse?”
“I just…I probably not only spilled coffee on her, but I also probably offended her.”
“Oh! Tell me!”
Beside them, the luggage carousal began to whirr, announcing the arrival of bags.@
Chad repeated Darby and Benjamin’s story. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I mean, I barely know her. Why should I care if she’s being scammed by this guy?”
“What makes you think she’s being scammed? If you like her enough to give her my blouse, he probably likes her, too.”
He thought about this. She didn’t actually say that she had bought Benjamin’s ticket to L.A., so what had made him think that she had? He raked through their brief conversation in his mind trying to put his finger on what had raised his hackles…Raised his hackles—that was something Grandpa Hank would say. Still, his hackles were quivering and maybe if he gave Darby a blouse he’d feel better…and maybe he could forget her as she obviously wanted him to.
“Let’s not give her this blouse, because, you know, I’ve been wearing it for the last ten hours,” Celia said. “If you really like her, you can pick one from my suitcase.”
Chad brightened and he cast Darby another glance.
Celia followed his gaze. “Is that her?”
He nodded.
“She’s a lot smaller than me,” Celia said.
“That’s okay, right? It’s better for the shirt to be too big rather than too small.”
Celia nodded at the luggage carousal. “There’s my bag. It’s got a bandana on the handle.”
Chad hurried to the carousal to retrieve the bag. Celia followed him to an unoccupied row of chairs. Chad placed the suitcase on the chairs and Celia unlocked it.
Clothes in all shapes, sizes, and colors…he didn’t know how to do this.
Celia took pity on him. She pulled out a silky floral top with a ruffle for a sleeve. “How’s this?”
He nodded. “Good choice. How much?”
Celia’s eyes glinted as she waved the blouse in front of him like a flirty flag, . “Fifty dollars.”
Chad sighed, wondering what made Celia and his dad, for that matter, so greedy. They all had generous trust funds. Chad reached into his pocket, pulled out some bills and handed them to his sister.
Celia reached for the money, but he yanked it away. “You’ve got to give it to her.”
“What?” Celia demanded.
“You have to be the one to give her the blouse.”
“No way! You’re the one who spilled the coffee!”
“Yeah, but I don’t want her to get the wrong idea.”
Celia narrowed her eyes. “And what idea is that?”
“I’m never going to see her again, so—”
“Exactly, you’re never going to see her again.”
He blew out a breath, reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and drew out another twenty.
Celia held out her hand, wrapped her fingers around the bills, and stuffed the money in her pocket as if she was afraid Chad would change his mind.
“Excuse me.” A tall lovely blonde dressed in jeans and a tank top stood in front of Darby. “Are you Darby?”
Confused, Darby didn’t answer right away.
“I can tell you are by that large coffee stain on your blouse,” the woman continued. She dropped a floral bit of fabric onto Darby’s lap. “My brother asked me to give you this.”
Darby glanced around, searching for Chad, but she couldn’t see him.
“If you’re looking for Chad, he’s gone to get the car.” The blonde dropped into the empty seat beside Darby. “He doesn’t know I’m doing this.”
“But you just said he asked you to give me the blouse,” Darby said, recovering her voice.
“Oh, he knows about the blouse. That was his idea. It’s my idea to get your number.”
“My number?”
“I’m Celia, by the way, Chad’s sister.”
“I’m Darby.”
“I know,” Celia said, smiling. “What I don’t know is your number.”
“But why?”
Celia shrugged.
“Did Chad tell you that I’m waiting for my boyfriend? He’s coming all the way from England. I think we’re going to get married…someday.”
An unreadable expression flinted across Celia’s face. “Chad doesn’t know I’m asking for your number.”
“Oh…it’s you, then?”
Celia pressed her hand against her chest and laughed. “Huh, no. You think I’m a lesbian?” She laughed some more, then sobered. “I’m just acting on a hunch. If you want the blouse, I need your number.”
“But I don’t want your blouse.” Darby handed it back to Celia. “I mean it’s really nice of you…and Chad. But he already bought me lunch. That’s enough. You don’t have to give me your shirt.”
“Are you sure? Because what’s your boyfriend going to think when he sees you with that big ugly stain?” But Celia took the shirt, rolled it up, and tucked it into her bag after making a mental note to not ever wear it around Chad.
“I’m sure,” Darby said with a laugh. “But here, you can have my card.”
Celia gazed at it. “You’re an accountant?”
Darby shrugged off the insult. “I don’t know why people always respond so shocked.”
Celia tucked the card into her bag. “Maybe it’s because you don’t have a pocket protector.”
“I’ll have to get one of those if you think it’ll help people take me more seriously.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Darby the accountant.”
“And it was very nice to meet you, too, Celia, the sister of Chad.”

I had computer problems, so I stopped timing my writing. Sigh.

Benjamin swaggered through the airport. A small cluster of women followed in his wake. Even a drug sniffing beagle seemed to be caught in his thrall. A small thrill tingled through Darby when she caught sight of him. He’s mine.
He spotted her and lifted his hand in a small wave. She ran to him, but it was as if she moved in slow motion, like those frustrating dreams where you run as hard as you can but your feet never touch the ground and you hang in mid-air. He didn’t match her speed, probably because of the heavy duffle bag hanging over his shoulder, or the blonde clinging to his arm.
She launched herself into his embrace. He staggered against her weight, stumbled for a moment, then laughed. “Hey there, girl.”
The female entourage parted, making way for Darby. She decided to ignore them—they were as little consequence as the security guards, or the plastic chairs, or the trash receptacles…
“Oh Benjamin,” she gushed. “I can’t believe you’re actually here!” He was as handsome as she’d remembered, even after his long flight.
He glanced over her shoulder, looking as if he expected to see someone, before he caught her gaze and pressed his lips to hers. Memories of their one night together flooded her. This was so much better. For one thing, she wasn’t sitting on the dew soaked ground in her barely-there pajamas, and there wasn’t smoke hanging in the air, or firemen milling around@ GO BACK TO THIS STORY.
“Hey, babe,” he said again in his swoon-worthy accent.
She clung to his arm as they made their way to the spinning luggage carousal. The other women who had been traipsing after Benjamin seemed to have lost interest, although Darby noticed quite a few women—and men—watched them. She supposed she would need to get used to this. After all, he was an actor, and if he was successful, he would always be in the limelight.
“I can’t wait for you to meet my family,” Darby said, squeezing his arm.
He blanched. “Tonight?”
“Well, yeah,” Darby said.
“Babe, I told you Tommy is having a thing tonight. A lot of big names are going to be there.”
“Tonight? Aren’t you tired or something after your long flight?” She had thought they’d have time to settle in together. She’d help him unpack at his friends and then they could go to her house so she could show him off to her family.
“I’m raring to go! Been twiddling my thumbs for hours and hours waiting for this. This could be my big break. I got to take advantage of every opportunity to rub shoulders with these blokes.” He kissed her cheek. “You get it, right?”
“Oh sure. Tomorrow will be a better time for meeting everybody anyway.” Her family usually had dinner together every Sunday after church. Maybe he could go to services with her, then he’d be able to meet not only her parents and siblings, but also her aunts, uncles, cousins, Father Mulligan…He’d see the chapel where she planned on getting married. That thought sent a wave of longing rocketing through her and she squeezed his arm. “I can’t believe you’re really here.”
He gave a happy sigh. “Me neither. It’s…well, it’s the beginning of everything.” He stepped in front of her and took her face in his hands. “I owe this all to you. When I’m giving my speech at the Academy Awards, I’m going to say that everything I am is because you believed in me.”
She flushed and shrugged. “Of course I believe in you.”
“I would have gotten the money together to make it over here eventually, but it was slow going. I mean, there wasn’t any point in coming if I didn’t have the portfolio.”
“You know, the photo shoot. I told you about that right?” He slung his bag off his shoulder and placed it on a chair before them. After unzipping the bag and rummaging through it, he pulled out a folio. “These turned out great. It was brilliantly expensive but totally worth it.” He showed her picture after picture. He looked like a cover model for G.Q. in all of them, except for the ones where he looked like he belonged in a Calvin Klein underwear commercial.
“Wow.” A mental picture of him showing these to her mom or sisters flashed in her mind. She tucked the tighty-whitey photo behind the others.
“I know.” He smiled and shook his head. “Crazy, right?” He looked over his shoulder. “Ah, here’s my bags.” He bounced on his toes. “We’re almost out of here!” He hurried over to the carousal and pulled one bag, and then another, and then another, off the conveyor and deposited them at her feet.
Darby didn’t mean to, but she found herself counting the bags. Four bags. Each cost @. That was an extra @. She chided herself for being so stingy. Of course he needed four bags. He was moving here. To be with her! This wasn’t a vacation. He probably had everything he owned in these four little, well giant, bags. And in that duffle bag. And was that box his, too? And what was that? It looked like it contained some sort of instrument. Like maybe a cello. He handed her three bags—two for each hand and one to tuck under her arm.
“You brought a car, right?”
She nodded.
“Good. I’m probably going to need to borrow it for the auditions.”
“You have auditions lined up?”
He grinned at her. “Things are happening, baby. I can feel it. This is my time.”
“I guess I thought it was going to be our time,” Darby told Nora, her best friend, a week after Benjamin’s arrival.
Darby sat on Nora’s bed watching Nora rummage through her closet, tossing clothes onto the bed. Darby folded the clothes into neat little piles.
“Oh sweetie, I’m sorry things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would.”
Darby blinked back tears. “I wish you weren’t going. I think this is crazy…”
Nora poked her head out of the closet long enough to give Darby a severe glance. “Have you gotten your car back, yet?”
Darby shook her head and focused on folding up a bathing suit.
Nora planted her fists on her hips. “How have you been getting to work?”
“Riding Nick’s bike.”
“Nick’s bike?” Nora echoed.
“He doesn’t need it!” After all, Nick, her older brother, was on a service mission to Haiti for six months. Her whole family seemed to involved in meaningful, worthy causes, while Darby was doing nothing more than enabling a wanna-be actor.
“And you go to work all sweaty?”
“It’s not so bad.” She’d been tucking her clothes and makeup into her bag and essentially dressing for work in the ladies’ restroom.
“You gotta get your car back.”
“He needs it to get to auditions.”
“You need it to get to work!”
Darby nodded.
“What did your family think of him?”
“They haven’t met him, yet,” Darby said in a small voice.
“Oh, sweetie,” Nora said.
Darby’s shoulders shook when she said, “He said he doesn’t ‘do parents.’ I don’t even know what that means!”
Nora pulled herself out of the closet, waded through the mountains of clothes she’d created on the floor, pushed the open suitcases to the other side of the bed and sat down beside Darby and put an arm around her shoulder.
Darby sagged against her. “I’m so…disappointed.” She gulped back a sob. “And embarrassed. My mom keeps asking about him so I’ve been avoiding her. I can’t keep doing this—even though, you’re doing a good job of it.” She sucked in a deep breath. “Can I just say, again, that what you’re doing is craziness? Why would you even believe Crystal Menlow?”
“Why would she lie?” Nora poked her head out of her closet to meet Darby’s gaze.
Darby picked at a loose thread on the comforter. “Please don’t go. I don’t feel right about it. Crystal’s lying. She’s an ice witch. You know what Marcus says about her.”
“It’s just sad that those two don’t get along,” Nora said while she fished through her closet, carefully selecting her wardrobe. How many dresses would she really need? Cole had said there would be numerous fundraising activities, but how many were formal. “Honor your mother and your father and all that.”
“Don’t be a hypocrite,” Darby said. “You know this decision is going to be put your parents in the hospital.”
“This isn’t about them.”
“Chris’s bombshell already broke their hearts.”
Nora threw her boots onto the bed more forcefully than she needed to. “They should have told me!”
“Of course they should have, but I get why they didn’t. It’s kind of like parent trap—twins separated by birth. So, why do you think you haven’t met Irena Rowling?”
“I told you, she’s been traveling. She’ll be back the week before school starts.” Nora gathered up a collection of scarves and dropped them in an empty suitcase.
“Seriously, I don’t know how you’re going to tell your parents,” Darby said.
“I’m not sure I will.”
“They’ll figure it out!”
Nora thought about this. “I just want to meet her.”
“So meet her! You don’t have to move up there and take a job at her school!” Darby froze. “Do you even like kids?”
“Everyone likes kids. Only monsters don’t like kids.”
“Have you ever spent any time around kids?”
“Well, no. But I’m not sure why that matters.”
Darby rolled her eyes. “You, my friend, are brilliant, but clueless. And gullible. You need to talk to your parents.”
“Not about this.”
“This is so dumb,” Darby said, flopping back against the pillows.
“It’s just for one school year.” Nora went to the bed, plopped down, tugged her PC into her lap, and pulled up The Canterbury Academy website. “The school is gorgeous. It’s surrounded by green hills dotted with these ancient oak trees. They have a Four-H program with horses, chickens…”
“Sounds smelly,” Darby said, looking over Nora shoulder. “Ooh, is that your boss?”
“That’s my brother, my twin brother.”
“If I married him, we could be sisters!” Darby sat up and hugged her knees.
“What about Benji?”
“Don’t call him that. It makes him sound like a scruffy dog.”
“Suits him, right?”
Darby bumped her shoulder. “But maybe you want Cole for yourself.”
“He’s my brother,” Nora repeated.
“Says who? Crystal?”
Nora closed the lid of her laptop with a sharp click.
“You need to talk to your parents,” Darby repeated.
“You keep saying that, but I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Well, for one thing, they’re lost in the Atlantic and for another, you know they don’t like to talk about stuff like that. They’re not warm and fuzzy like your parents. My dad doesn’t do emotions.”
“That’s why I can’t believe he had an affair!” Darby pointed her finger in the air, punctuating her words. “And your birth mom supposedly kept one twin and just handed over the other?” Darby made a face. “And your real mom took in your father’s love child?” Darby shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“I saw the photos myself. My real mom, as you call her, was not pregnant in any of those pictures.”
“Are you sure of the date?”
“It was stamped on the back of the picture.”
Darby sat up on her knees. “We need to get a copy of your birth certificate.”
Nora shook her head. “I already tried. I may not be Irena Rowling’s daughter, but I definitely don’t belong to Weatherford and Katheryn Elliot.”
Most of the time, Chad found it easy to avoid his stepmother, but that was because she typically stayed in L.A., tucked away in her Beverly Hills mansion. He found her a lot more difficult to avoid when she was standing in his bedroom.
Elaina folded her arms and studied him through squinted eyes. “How could you have let this happen?”
“What makes you think I could have prevented it?”
Elaina waved her hands in the air. “Oh come on, you can’t tell me that you had nothing to do with this!” She paused for a deep breath. “Did he just drive himself up to Medford?”
Chad nodded, reluctant to admit even to himself that this, at least, was something he and his stepmother agreed on. His grandfather shouldn’t be driving.
“He could have killed himself—or someone else!” Her voice rose to a screech.
Chad never liked his stepmother, but he especially disliked her when she was right.
“And where were you when he was hitching up the horse trailer?”
“At work,” he said through clenched teeth.
“At that school?” She made the school sound like a dung pile.
He didn’t even bother to nod, but gazed back at her with an unflinching glare.
She huffed, turned on her heel, and stormed from his room. “You need to quit that job!”
Chad sat down on his bed and pushed his fingers through his hair.
“Evil Ella’s been at it again.”
He looked up to see Celia leaning against his doorjamb. She smiled at him.
“It’s not your job to babysit Grandpa,” she said.
He lifted his shoulder in an attempted shrug. “She’s right. He could have killed someone.”
Celia sauntered into the room and sat down in his desk chair and swivled to face him. “You know that’s not what she’s mad about.”
He nodded. “She’s mad about the horse.” He pulled in a long breath. “But I can’t be mad at him—or even disagree with him. He’s a great horse. He’ll make a fine stallion.”
“If there’s a ranch left by the time he’s old enough to breed@”
Chad fell back against his pillows and stared up at the wooden beams running across the ceiling.
“Why do you stay out here?” Celia asked.
“I like it,” he said. By staying in the old bunk house, he could pretend he had his own life, his own world. Besides, it made it so that when his parents—or anyone else—visited, he didn’t have to see them.
“I didn’t mean the bunk house,” Celia said. “I get that, sort of. It gives you a buffer from the parentals. I meant, why do you stay here.”
He sat up and frowned at her.
“You can’t save the ranch. You know that, right?” She plucked up a pencil and used it to tap on his desk. “We both know that as soon as Grandpa goes Dad and Elaina are going to turn this place into a hotel.”
Chad pushed himself to his feet and began to pace.
“I heard Elaina mention something about a spa,” Celia said.
“Pardon, Mister Chad,” Maria, his grandfather’s longtime housekeeper and cook, stood in the doorway. “Mister Bernard sent me for you.”
Celia pressed her lips together and followed Chad from the room.
Chad didn’t have to ask Maria where to find his dad; he followed the sound of raised voices to his grandfather’s study.
Grandpa rounded on Chad. “Tell him!” He pointed a quivering finger at his son. “Tell your dad that this horse is going to turn things around for us!” His grandfather’s face was a frightening shade of red. His fingers and shoulders shook with pent up rage. If his grandfather had been a bottle plugged with a cork, the cork would be minutes from popping. Chad strode into the room, determined to ease the tension between his grandfather and dad. As he had always done.
“He’s a fine horse. He’ll make an incredible stallion,” Chad said in his best teacher-knows-best voice.
Bernard hurrumphed. “When?”
Chad nodded a rested his butt against the side of his grandfather’s desk. “It’ll be a few years.”
“He doesn’t have a few years,” Elaina muttered from her perch on the sofa. She swung her leg and admired her @fancy shoes sandal hanging on her foot. “This place will go to hell in a handbasket if we don’t step in a doing something in a hurry.”
“Harry Hanford said—” Grandpa began.
“Dad,” Bernard began.
“Grandpa,” Chad interrupted, “remember, Harry passed away a few months ago.”
Celia stepped forward and rubbed her grandfather’s arm. “You remember, don’t you, Grandpa? You and Chad attend his memorial?”
Grandpa sagged onto the sofa, his fight gone. He cleared his throat. “We’ll need a new accountant.”
Bernard paced across the room. “What’s wrong with Miller Cooper?”
“That’s your accountant!” Grandpa Hank snorted.
“So?” Bernard stopped pacing and faced his father.
Grandpa audibly exhaled. “He’ll have your interests at heart.”
“My interests are your interests,” Bernard said in an almost believable voice.
“I know an accountant!” Celia chirped.
“You know an accountant?” Elaina asked.
Grandpa Hank and Bernard both gave her shocked looks.
Celia bristled and stood up a little straighter. “I know people!”
“Excuse me, dear, but while you’ve been in Paris painting for the last three years, the rest of us have been trying to preserve this family,” Elaina purred.
Chad tried not to roll his eyes.
“We can at least call her… check out her…credentials…or whatever,” Celia pressed. “I have her card!” She bolted from the room.
An awkward silence fell over the room. Chad scrambled for something that would prevent his dad and grandfather from falling back into their tired arguments. “Dad, why don’t you come with me and Grandpa to see his new horse.”
While frustration flashed across Bernard’s face, Elaina rose from the sofa. “Count me out. I’m not going to muck up my shoes just to see a pony.”
Darby parked Nick’s bike in the garage and stood for a moment collecting the courage she needed to brave the rain. Again. Whoever heard of rain in Southern California in August? What happened to the drought? It seemed that rain had returned as soon as Benjamin had descended into L.A.X. And while she knew it wasn’t fair to blame him for the rain, she could blame him for her having to bike to and from work in the rain, for the splatters up her legs, and for the clump of mud she found in her hair. It wasn’t as if he made that car drive in the gutter and shower her with muck, but if she had been in her own car instead of on her brother’s bike, life would be easier.
Tugging her sweater—an article of clothing woefully unsuitable for repelling rain—a little closer around her. She darted from the garage to the porch, carefully maneuvering around puddles. Wheezer, their ancient part-poodle and part-something else greeted her at the back door. In the mudroom, she sank onto the bench to remove her muddy shoes.
Voices from the kitchen floated toward her.
“Don’t you think it’s weird we haven’t met Benjamin?” Her sister Meg asked.
Her mom murmured something inaudible in reply.
Meg snorted. “She told me that she wanted to marry this guy and have his babies. Doesn’t that sound like someone we should meet?”
Again, another muffled reply.
Blood pounded in Darby cheeks and tears welled in the back of her eyes. It had been such an awful. She didn’t need this. What she needed was a place of her own. But she couldn’t afford anything in Shell Beach. The only reason her parents were able to live here was because they had moved in with Grandma Betty as newlyweds and had never left. And it looked as if her sister Meg had the same idea.
“Did it ever occur to you nitwits that maybe your sister isn’t afraid of what you’ll think of him, but of what he’ll think of the lot of you?” Grandma Betty barked.
Stunned silence followed this.
Wheezer grunted beside Darby, and she hushed him.
“Maybe,” Grandma Betty said, “she’s smart enough to know you’ll embarrass her!”
“Now, Mom,” Darby’s mother began, for once audible.
The sound of Grandma Betty’s cane thumped across the kitchen’s wooden floor. “Don’t shush me. I’m just pointing out that maybe if I had some posh smoking hottie coming to visit me, I’d hesitate before bringing him into this chicken coop, too.”
The thumping drew dangerously close to the mudroom. Darby stood, sniffed, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She had to get out of here. For good.
Darby dashed back out to the garage. She scrounged in her bag, pulled out her phone, and called Benjamin. It went straight to voicemail. He was avoiding her calls. Maybe he was in an audition. Maybe he was avoiding her calls.
She thought for a moment, considered the bike, then called an Uber.
Darby spent a long time waiting on Tommy’s porch. So long, in fact, that the rain stopped drizzling, the sun came out, and then the moon, and sometime between the sun and the moon she fell asleep. She woke, curled on the stoop of Tommy’s apartment. She pushed the curls off her face and licked her gritty teeth. Anyone coming on her would probably think she was homeless. Rolling her shoulders and stretching her legs, she considered knocking on Tommy’s door again, but then a thought occurred to her. On a whim, she reached into her pocket, pulled out her spare set of keys, and pushed the fob. Somewhere close by, her car beeped.
The sound sent a happy thrill through her.
She didn’t owe Benjamin an explanation. In fact, if anything, he owed her. Nine hundred dollars for the flight, plus the two hundred for the extra baggage fees, and a hundred dollars for the use of her car, plus gas. Standing, she limped on her bike-weary legs to find her car and the rest of her life.
“Darby, Glen would like to see you in his office.” Donna flashed Darby an apologetic smile.
Darby pulled herself away from her computer screen. “Do you know what this is about?”
Donna shook her head. “Nope, sorry.”
Darby glanced at her phone. It lay silent, dark, and harmless on her desk. Glen Hopper had strict company policies about taking personal calls at work, but turning off her phone completely wasn’t really an option either, since she had to be available to her clients. Unfortunately, ever since she’d retrieved her car, Benny’s nonstop calls gone from friendly-quizzical to angry to pleading. The one thing they had all been was annoying. Finally, she’d turned off her phone.
Darby tried to think of a reason why her boss would want to see her—other than the phone calls. She worked hard at her job and she knew she was good at it. Her clients had always been happy with her advice. Her numbers were sound. Maybe her prudent advice bordered on boring…and Mrs. Green had been adamant about purchasing that nail salon. She’d tried to dissuade her. Was that it?
Darby double checked her appearance in the glass, straightened her skirt, and followed Donna through the maze of cubicles to Mr. Hopper’s office. He had his door open and looked up with a frown when Darby entered. He waved her in.
“Darby, how are you?” He propped his elbows on his desk and studied her over his steepled fingers. She had worked for him since grad school and admired the older man’s work ethics. He ran his accounting firm the same way he conducted his life—exacting fairness, generosity, working hard when he needed to through the tax season, kicking back in the late spring and summer.
Now, he frowned at her, as if she was a puzzle that stumped him. “Tell me, do you know Bernard Gunter?”
Why did that name sound familiar? “Hmm, no? Should I?”
Glen Hopper scratched his chin and shot a glance at his computer screen. “Mr. Gunter contacted our office today. He’s in need of an accountant and he’s requested you.”
Mr. Hopper nodded. “I, of course, suggested Devlin Flores. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but, as you know, I’m hesitant to send a young woman, unattended, to an older gentleman’s home…safety, you know.”
Darby also suspected sexism, but she didn’t say anything and studied her hands folded in her lap.
Glen Hopper cleared his throat. “But Mr. Gunter was quite insistent on you. In particular.” He cocked his head and studied her. “Are you sure you don’t know him.”
“No…I don’t.” She sorted through her family’s large network of friends and acquaintances. This could take a while because she had a large family and they had a lot of friends. But she could hardly be faulted for that.
“Mr. Gunter is an octogenarian, so I trust you’ll be capable of outrunning him, should the unlikely need arise.” He smiled as if he’d said something funny. “His previous accountant, a Mr. Miller Cooper, died a few months ago—he was nearly as old as Bernard Gunter. Anyway, Mr. Cooper’s office is sending over Mr. Gunter’s files. I’ll have Donna forward them to you.”
“No problem, sir.”
“Well, there might be a problem.”
“What’s that?”
“Mr. Gunter owns a horse ranch in @ TOWN. He would like you to visit him there. Is that a problem?”
8272 words
Darby called Nora during her lunch break. “Isn’t that school you’re going to in @TOWN?”
“Yes,” Nora said, the hesitation in her voice told Darby that she was gearing up for another argument.
“I’m going there on Monday,” Darby said.
“What?” Nora’s voice hitched with excitement.
Darby found a bench in the shade outside of her office, sat down and pulled the lid off her yogurt. “Yep.”
“How come?” Nora asked.
“Work. A Mr. Gunter, a rancher, has asked for me. Weird, right?”
“No, not weird. You’re a genius with numbers.”
“But he doesn’t even know me!”
“He must have—”
Her phone buzzed with an incoming call. Benny, again. She pressed a do not contact button.
“Darb?” Nora asked.
“Sorry. Just another call from Benji.”
“Benji?” Nora laughed. “Wasn’t there an old TV show about a scruffy dog called Benji?”
Darby took a spoonful of yogurt. “Yep. Suits him, right?”
“I don’t know…your Benji is super hot.”
She waved her spoon in the air to punctuate her words, even though she knew Nora couldn’t see her. “He might look super hot—like a prize poodle, but inside he’s just a scruffy dog. A Benji. @FUNNY LINE. I don’t want to talk about him. Let’s go to @ on Sunday.”
“Together?” Nora squealed.
“Sure, I have to be there on Monday, and you’re insisting on going—even though I think it’s craziness…we might as well go together.”
Nora squealed again. “You’ll help me move?”
Darby didn’t really want to help Nora move, because she didn’t want her friend to go. But she swallowed the remainder of her yogurt and her objections.

Nora and Darcy studied the club chairs piled into the back of Darcy’s Land Cruiser. Darcy’s brother and dad and helped put them in the SUV, but now that they were at Canterbury Academy, they needed help getting them out.
“We can do this,” Nora said.
Darcy’s frown said she disagreed and she was just about to say so until her expression lightened as if the sun hiding behind the clouds suddenly decided to appear. Cole Rowling and his mom, Irena Rowling walking down the steps of the Humanities Hall.
Darby studied Irena, noting the planes of her face, searching for similarities to Nora. Irena had Cole’s warm eyes, thick brown hair, and generous lips. Darby was sure Crystal was wrong about Irena being Nora’s mother. Darby’s gut instinct told her that Crystal was lying. But why?
“What’s all this?” Cole asked.
Nora wiped her hands on her jeans and hurried over to shake Irena’s hand. “You must be Irena Rowling.”
Irena smiled. “And you’re the new English teacher everyone is buzzing about.”
Darby also shook hands with Cole and Irena. The mother hen in her wanted to protect Nora, but she knew almost immediately that Nora would be safe with these gentle people.
Nora flashed Cole a look and he blushed beneath her gaze. Interesting. There was definitely a spark between these two—and it wasn’t a sibling sort of spark.
“You’re putting chairs in the room?” Cole peered into the back of the SUV. It looked like a moving truck.
“I want to create a reading space,” Nora told him. “The chairs are just a start…”
“It looks like you need some help,” Cole said.
“You have no idea how much,” Darcy said.
For the first time, Cole turned his attention to Darcy
“This looks like more than a one man project,” Cole said. “Let me round up Hector.” He must have noted Nora’s blank expressions because he added, “our handy-man.”
“He’s been summoned,” Irena said as she tapped into her phone. “This looks like a man’s job,” she said to her son. “Why don’t you and Hector handle this under Darcy’s supervision while I get to know Miss Tomas?” She turned to Nora and took her hand. “Would you mind if I stole you away from your reading nook?”
“Are you kidding? I would love that,” Nora said. “But…I didn’t mean to make Cole, and Hector my moving crew.”
Darcy waved her hand. “It’s nothing,” she said, happy to have Cole to herself—at least until Hector arrived.

“But I’m supposed to make you clam chowder,” Nora said.
“And I want to go out with the heart-stopping handsome principal.” Darcy elbowed Nora. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Maybe the principal…my brother…could join us.”
Darcy squealed and clapped her hands. “That would be so great.”
“It seems like the least I could do,” Nora said, “after all of his help.”
Darcy whipped her phone out of her pocket. “Okay, I’ll call Cole.”
“You have his number?” Nora asked, feeling dazed by everything.
“Don’t you?” Darcy asked.
Nora tried to sort out her feelings to Darcy as she made the clam chowder. Because Canterbury was six miles from the closest grocery store, they had gone shopping before they’d arrived. Now, while Nora chopped celery and potatoes and browned bacon, Darcy went to work stocking Nora’s kitchen.
“It’s like everyone I ever loved has lied to me,” Nora said, whacking the celery.
“And now it’s your turn to lie?” Darcy said as she opened cupboards. “Wow, Cole was right. You really do have everything you need.”
Nora peeked in the cupboard at the plastic plates, bowls, and cups. “I should have brought my own things.”
“Why? You said you were only going to stay here for the school year.”
“I know, but…I don’t want to feel like I’m camping.”
“Girl, this is not camping.” Darby looked at the cute little cottage the school had provided Nora. Sure, it wasn’t tiny but it was the last on the road, definitely the best location with probably the nicest view. She wondered if Cole had intentionally arranged this for Nora, or if her friend had just gotten lucky.
“It is great, isn’t it?” Nora asked, her voice soft and dreamy.
“What are you going to do after your year here?” Darcy asked, wanting to remind Nora that this was just temporary and that she belonged in Shell Beach with her.
“Write another book.”
Darcy squealed and clapped her hands. “Oh, I can’t wait!” She loved Nora’s books.
“But you can’t tell my dad! He practically died of embarrassment after the last one.”
“Oh, he’s such a pooh!” Darcy waved her hand dismissing him. “Besides, once he finds out where you are, and with whom, he’s going to—for once—shut his jaw.”
“Maybe.” Clearly trying to avoid any discussion of her parents, Nora lifted the bacon out of the pan strip by strip and placed it on a bed of paper towels to drain while she stirred together cream and butter.
Darcy watched and groaned. “How is it that you have such a bird body? No one who eats that much butter deserves to be thin!”
“I love clam chowder,” Nora said. “It reminds me of my Grandma Eleonore’s house up in Port Townsend.”
“Did you stop to consider that if you aren’t your mother’s daughter, then even your grandmother lied to you?”
“She wouldn’t do that,” Nora said as she slid her chopped potatoes off the cutting board and into a pot of boiling water.
“But if Crystal was telling the truth that had to mean that your Grammy Eleonore lied.”
Nora scowled as poked at the potatoes trying to float to the surface of the boiling water.
“Wow, it smells amazing in here.” Cole stuck his head in the door.
“When will the soup be on?” Darcy asked.
“Not for a while,” Nora returned. “The potatoes need to soften up, and then everything needs to simmer. Also, I need to make the bread and then it needs to rise.” She grimaced. “We’ve at least an hour.”
“Can we skip the bread?” Cole asked.
“No,” Nora and Darcy answered at the same time.
Cole laughed at their intensity.
“You have to have the bread,” Nora told him.
“It’s that good,” Darcy assured him.
“Huh, it sounds like I should have hired you to teach home ec,” Cole said.
“Do they even have that at schools anymore?” Nora asked.
“We don’t here,” Cole said, “although I’m not sure why not.”
“Since we have some time, why don’t we go for a walk,” Darcy suggested. “I’d love to see the campus.”
“Good idea!” Nora said in a false, bright tone. “But this bread will take me a while. You two should go ahead.” The way she whacked at the celery told Darby she minded being left behind.
“Your mom must be an amazing person to have started this school,” Darcy said as they strolled across the quad.
“It’s a cool story,” Cole told her, the pride ringing in his voice. “Want to hear it?”
Darcy nodded.
“First off, she didn’t start it, not really. It was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. I grew up calling them the Fergies. They had been missionaries in Santiago, Chile—that’s where they met my mom.”
“Irena is Chilean?”
“She doesn’t look it, does she? That’s because a lot of Chilean’s look European. Her father’s family, like many Germans, migrated from Munich to Chile during the Second World War Anyway, the Fergusons taught English as a second language at the school where my mom was teaching. They became friends and so when the Fergusons returned to California, they started this school. Mrs. Ferguson’s family owned the land. At first, it was just a handful of ranch kids who didn’t want to make the six-mile drive to the closest school. After the Ferguson’s died, they left the school and all the property to my mom. We sold a hundred acres and used the capital to create what you now see.”
“It’s amazing,” Darcy said. “So, your mom never married?”
“No, she did.” Cole stuck his hands in his pockets. “Sadly, that story doesn’t have as happy of an ending.”
Darcy tucked her hand around Cole’s arm. “So how many students do you have now?”
“Our enrollment cap is five hundred. Not all of them live here, of course, but most do.”
Darcy glanced around. “Live here? So, where is everyone?”
“The school closes for maintenance every year for the last two weeks of August. Even the boarders are sent off campus so we can take care of renovations without worrying about them falling into the constructions sites or electrocuting themselves on loose wires.” He chuckled. “They’ll be back in droves starting tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I thought school didn’t start until next Tuesday?”
“That’s right, but we let them have a few days to settle in.” Cole paused.
“I’d love to see the horses,” Darcy said, thinking of the nearby horse ranch she’d be visiting the next day.
Cole obediently walked her in the direction of the stables. “These are actually the oldest buildings on campus,” he told her. “Once this all belonged to Don Carlos, a horse rancher and Mrs. Ferguson’s grandfather. That’s where my mom lives.” He nodded at a tall white wooden farmhouse surrounded by a white picket fence. Two rockers sat on the front porch. Red geraniums spilled out of the flower boxes sitting below each window.
“And where do you live?” Darcy asked.
Cole nodded at a one-story building slightly behind the stables. “It was once the bunkhouse. It needs renovation. I work on it when I can.”
“Did you always want to be a principal?”
He nodded. “I like kids. I also teach Spanish. I’d probably rather be teaching fulltime, but someone needs to run the school.”
“So, you never dreamed of leaving all this and joining the real world?” Darcy asked.
“No, why would I?” Cole asked.
Darcy was silent for a moment, doing some mental calculations. “Do you think your mom wanted a girl school to compensate for not having a daughter?”
Cole snorted a laugh. “She’s never mentioned anything like that to me.”
“Well, she wouldn’t, would she?”
“It was actually the Ferguson’s who turned Canterbury into a girls’ school. Mrs. Fergie complained that the boys were too messy, and they broke too many bones. So some time in the eighties, Canterbury became a school for girls.”
“The eighties, huh? Before your time?”
“I was born in ninety-one.”
“Me, too,” Darcy said, tightening her grip on his arm as they approached the stables.
Cole cleared his throat. “So, how long have you known Miss Tomas?”
“Long before she was a Mrs. Tomas. We met in elementary school and I copied her homework all through junior high. Sadly, by the time we got to high school, she was in all the advanced classes so I had to learn to get by on my own.”
Cole grinned. “And did you?”
Darcy returned his smile. “I do okay. I can afford my home in Orange County, and that says a lot.”
“How do you think she’ll fit in here?”
“She’s brilliant…but naive?” Darcy paused at the split rail fence surrounding the corral and gazed at the horses grazing in the field. “Wow. They’re gorgeous…and huge!”
An Arabian stallion shook his mane and nickered at them. Cole pointed at a dappled bay. “That’s my mom’s horse, Specter.” He nodded at the cluster of Mustangs enjoying the shade beneath a giant oak. “Those are a few of the ponies the students ride.”
“And that one?” Darcy asked, pointing at the stallion.
“He’s mine. Mr. Fergie bought him for me when I got my doctorate.”
“Doctorate? In what?”
“I wrote my dissertation on education in an evolving society.”
Darcy wrapped her arms around herself as if to shield her from harm. “You and Nora are a matched set,” she said in a small voice.
“How do you figure? She went to business school.”
“She’s still a brainiac. She went to business school because her parents wanted her to and her husband thought it was a good idea. What about your dad?”
But Darby stopped listening when a man emerged from the stables. Suddenly, she remembered where she’d heard the name Gunter before. He couldn’t be, could he? But Bernard Gunter, the rancher, was in his eighties. Could Chad Gunter—the man from the airport who had ruined her blouse—be his son, or maybe his grandson? Right now, he looked like someone had destroyed his shirt. He wore low slung jeans, a pair of cowboy boots and not much else.
“And is that?” Darcy asked, hoping that Cole wouldn’t guess that she found Chad much more interesting than any of the horses.
Cole cleared his throat. “Chad, come and meet Darcy.” He waved him over and introduced them to each other.
“You must be the new English teacher?” Chad said.
“Minus one for you,” Darcy said.
“She’s the English teacher’s friend,” Cole told him.
“And you must be the keeper of the horses,” Darcy said.
Chad looked sheepish. “Well, sort of. I also teach PE and math.”
“Because you’re so good with figures?” Darcy asked.
Chad blushed. “I don’t usually dress like this.”
“Please don’t apologize,” Darcy said. “I just think it’s funny that now you’re the one who’s lost his shirt.”
Cole’s gaze flitted between them. “Do you two know each other.”
“We’ve met before,” Darby said.
“Briefly,” Chad said. “Angel barfed on me,” Chad’s gaze sought out Cole’s. “I threw the shirt away.”
Cole laughed.
“That goat!” Chad spat out the word. “I swear it would eat a car if we left him alone with one.”
“You have goats?” Darcy asked.
“We have a goat,” Cole corrected. “One goat. He’s more than enough.”
“I’d like to meet him,”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Cole said.
Darcy stared at Chad’s chest a moment too long. “I think I would.”
“Come on, then,” Chad said, holding out his arm. “Let me do the honors.”
 “I think I’ll go back to the cottage and check on the soup,” Cole said.
Darby and Chad stared at each other.
“What are you doing here?” Chad asked at the same time that Darby blurted, “Are you related to Bernard Gunter?”
“Sorry, you first,” Chad said.
“No, you…”
Then they both paused. Neither one sure who should speak first.
“My friend is going to be teaching English here,” Darby said after an awkward pause.
“Bernard Gunter senior is my grandfather. Bernie Gunter junior is my dad,” Chad said.
Darby smiled. “Then I suppose I have you to thank for the recommendation.”
Chad looked baffled. “Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Then a look of understanding dawned in his eyes. “Ah.”
“Ah?” Darby asked.
“You’re my sister’s accountant,” Chad said with a grin.
“Will that be a problem?” Darby asked.
“I’m not sure,” Chad said slowly. “How does the Brit-boy feel about you taking a job so far out of L.A.?”
 “He’s irrelevant,” Darcy said.
“Huh. I thought—”
“Okay, so did I, alright? I made a mistake.”
“I’m sorry,” he lips said, but his grin said otherwise.
“Your ranch is nearby?”
Chad nodded. “You probably know that already.”
“I do.”
He drew a circle in the dirt with the toe of his boot. “You probably know more about the state of our ranch than I do.”
“How’s that?” Darby asked.
“My grandfather likes to keep a hold of the reins.”
“Then I’m flattered that he trusted me.”
“He trusted his accountant…and I supposed he must also trust Cecelia, since he listened to her recommendation.” He sounded hurt.
“Have you given him a reason not to trust you?”
“No, but I do worry about the ranch. Maybe that’s reason enough.” SHOULD I MAKE HER A LAWYER?@
“You’ll probably meet my dad and stepmother tomorrow. They’re always good for a show.”
Darby noted the bitterness in his voice. “How do they feel about the ranch?”
Chad snorted an unpleasant sound. “I think my stepmother wants to turn it into a spa while my dad just wants to sell it to developers.”
“I take it your grandfather feels differently?”
“Yeah, you could say that. Grandpa Hank refuses to change the status quo. The problem is—that’s not possible. The ranch is bleeding money. We can’t continue the way we are.”
Darby nodded.
“This why he called you,” Chad said. “I think he thinks you’re going to wave your wand and conjure up the funds we need to save the ranch. But it can’t be done.”
“It’s a large piece of property. Could you subdivide?”
“Grandpa refuses. He said that the land belonged his father and his grandfather. He wants to be buried on the land—just like they were.”
“Goodness. Is that even legal?”
Chad shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Grandpa could live for another twenty years, and I hope he does. But the sad thing is, the ranch, as it is, can’t last that long. Grandpa took out a loan with a balloon payment back


“Where were you?” Nora demanded when Darcy finally showed up.
Darcy blushed. “Didn’t you have a nice dinner with Cole?”
“No! It was tragic!” Nora plunged her hands back into the soapy water, found her sponge and scrubbed the soup pot.
“Tragic?” Darcy went to the fridge in search of soup.
“Well, maybe that’s too harsh a word, but still it was awkward.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “The neighbor showed up. He’s the science teacher and all he could talk about was spiders and erectile dysfunction.”
Darcy pulled out the container of soup, found a bowl, and poured herself a generous serving before putting it in the microwave. “What? How do those two topics even go together?”
Nora shook her head. “I didn’t even get a chance to really talk to Cole.”
Darcy patted shoulder as she brushed past on her way to the bread box. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll have lots of one on one time with Cole.”
“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” Nora said.
“Me too,” Darcy said with a secret smile as she cut herself a thick slice of bread.
“Really?” Nora brightened.
“Absolutely, this place is heaven.” The microwave dinged and Darcy extracted her steaming bowl of soup. “I could stay here while you cooked for me…it would be great.”
“You’re kidding, right? Because if you aren’t, I’d say let’s go right now to get your things so you can move in.”
“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”
Nora dried her hands on a dish towel. “What if you were right? I know nothing about teaching…nothing about girls that age.”
“You were a girl that age!”
Nora sat down at the table across of Darcy. “But was I really? You know what they say about only children. I was an adult by the time I was seven. I was taller than most of my teachers by the time I was in sixth grade.”
“Height has nothing to do with maturity…” Darcy whistled. “That’s pretty deep coming from me.” She smiled before she took another spoonful of soup. “What filled you with self-doubt?”
“Barry Sprog.”
Darcy spit out her soup with a snort. “What’s a Barry Sprog?”
“It’s not an it…I mean he’s not an it, he’s a who. He’s the science teacher.”
“Oh yeah, the one with erectile dysfunction.”
Nora laughed and cast a guilty look at the window, as if afraid that her new neighbor would hear them and be offended. “We don’t know that.”
“Yeah, we do.”
“I guess you’re right. Why else would anyone spend their vacation in Brazil searching for poisonous spiders? Maybe this Mr. Gunter will want to hire you full time? Or, you can work remotely, right? You want to move out of your parent’s house, right?”
Sweetie,” Darcy squeezed her hand. “I love that you want me to join you here, but it’s never going to happen. Stick to the plan. You’ll work at Canterbury for the next school year, teaching by day and writing your next book by night. At the end of nine months, you’ll have finished your book, you’ll sell it to Hollywood, and we’ll throw a lavish debut@ party. If I stay here, I’ll only get in the way.”
“Tomorrow is the first staff meeting.”
“And you’ll be great.”
“The next day the students start returning.”
“And they’ll love you.”
“I’m not as worried about the girls as I should be. I’m more worried about Irena and Cole.”
“They’ll love you, too.”
Nora breathed out a sigh. “I hope so.”


END DAY 3 3721


  1. My mother sang "Grandfather's Clock" around the house all the time, but I never knew ALL the words!

  2. BTW - GREAT writing - intrigued with the story