Archive by Author | dellanioakes

First Meeting from Something New

something new coverChuckling, Austin shuffled off. His character was called The Magician. He didn’t do magic, but his abilities seemed almost magical to the more primitive people, humans, he encountered.

“Grab your script,” the director called to him.

“Got it.” Austin tapped his temple.

The director, who was new, didn’t believe him, so he grabbed his script for a read through. The young lady opposite him was lovely. She had lush red lips, big brown eyes and walnut colored hair. She was also the one who had made the snide remark about him.

“Austin Templeton,” he said, extending his hand. “But I expect you know that.” He flashed his most charming smile.

“Liat Fogleberg,” she replied, giving him a wan smile. “But I don’t expect you’ve heard a thing about me.”

“No, but they don’t tell me anything and I don’t get introduced unless I do it myself. I did hear you’re slated for three episodes.”

“Unless you don’t like me.”

“I’m not the one who makes that decision.”

She frowned, lips pursed and brows furrowed. “You don’t? But—”

“Places!” the assistant director bellowed. “Run through for blocking.”

The next hour was spent running through the scene. They took a short break before shooting a few takes.

* * *

After the break, places were called. Austin handed Dwight the plate. Rochelle and Bunny descended like hawks, checking his hair and makeup before he went back on the set. Liat stood there, waiting for him, looking annoyed. Rochelle wiped crumbs from his lips and jacket.

“Could you possibly not eat crumbly things while we’re filming?”

“I like scones,” he pouted slightly, sounding like a spoiled child. “And they make them just for me. I’ve got half a dozen more to eat before day’s end.”

Rochelle left, laughing at him.

“Scones?” Liat’s face brightened. “Where?”

“Catering table. Get some on the next break. They’re determined to fatten me up and make me a platter every day. Help yourself.”

“Thanks. You’re sure?”

“I’ll tell them. Ready?”

“Bit nervous.”

“Why? This isn’t your first time, is it?”

Liat’s eyes narrowed and she gave him a skeptical double take. “No.”

“No nerves allowed. Look at me. Not the least bit nervous.” He did an elaborate shiver and shake, rolling his eyes before doing a jerky, robotic dance.

Liat giggled, dark eyes twinkling, as they found their marks. She took a moment to compose herself, watching Austin get into character. He underwent an amazing transition, going from a thirty-something Englishman to an ageless, alien time traveler before her eyes. She could believe he was The Magician, not Austin Templeton, actor.

“Ready? And go!” the director said.

The scene began. Austin and Liat worked well together. She picked up his energy, working with it, making it her own. By the end of the scene, they were really in sync. After a few more takes, they took another break so the technicians could reset the lights for the next scene.

“Scones!” Austin said, rubbing his hands gleefully. “Come, Morgana, the food awaits!”

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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He Thought He Saw – Part 25

He Thought He Saw redWhile at the bonfire, things take a nasty turn. The teens notice something dancing in the fire, but are unprepared for an attack by fire elementals.

Brian didn’t even think. With a surge of strength, he threw his end of the cooler at the fire. Without watching it land, he ran across the clearing to where Jordan stood, swatting at the flame creature. Her sticks were blackened and burning, no longer an effective weapon.

Avoiding the fiery grasp, Brian leaped toward the water faucet and grabbed. The rusty metal scraped and cut his fingers, but he wrestled it into the on position. Jordan grabbed the hose, aiming it at the fire creature. Brian turned the faucet full on.

“Put your finger over it,” he called to Jordan.

She did as the said, decreasing the size of the hole to increase the range and pressure. The cold water splashed into the fire creature, knocking it back a step. Its feet advanced haltingly. The ember trail behind it flickered and went out.

By this time, Chase and his father had added their cooler to the flames. The fire ducked and shivered, but still hadn’t gone out. There was a third cooler and Heath already had it halfway to the fire. Chase and his father joined him. They hauled it to the edge of the fire pit, dumping it into the center of the fire.

The creature stumbled, fell and turned black. It crumbled when it hit the ground, like so much charcoal. Brian grabbed the hose from Jordan, turning it on the fire. He walked boldly toward it, as far as the hose would reach.

Chase and his father used shovels to cover the flames as Brian continued to soak them. Heath kicked dirt into the fire pit. Finally, only a thin wisp of smoke remained. They stood around the pit, gasping and shaking.

“Someone want to tell me what that was?” Mr. Finley asked. His hands shook as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

“I don’t know,” Heath replied. “But I hope to God I never see another.”

“That wasn’t my imagination, was it?” Chase asked Brian.

“Not if we all saw it,” Brian told his friend. “Jordan, you okay?”

“It tried to get me,” she gasped. “It was after me!”

Brian took a step toward her and she hurled herself into his arms.

“It wanted me! Why?”

“I don’t know. Shh. It’s okay now. It’s okay. Let’s go home.”

“We’d better go check on the others,” Mr. Finley said calmly. “Heath?”

“Yeah. You kids okay?”

They nodded, mumbling in unison. Heath joined Mr. Finley and the two men walked up to the house. The teenagers followed more slowly. Jordan clung to Brian, shivering uncontrollably.

“You’ve seen stuff before, haven’t you?” Chase asked them. “Cause you didn’t act like that was the weirdest thing you ever saw. You didn’t run away.”

“Yeah, I notice you didn’t run either,” Brian said quietly. “What have you seen, Chase?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Brian chuckled, hugging his friend with his free arm. “Chase, we just fought a fire elemental together. Do you think I’m gonna find anything else you have to say any crazier than that?”

Chase burst out laughing. “No, I guess not.” He shook his head, walking slowly by Jordan’s other side. “Living out here in the swamps, you see a lot of strange stuff. Mom says it’s swamp gas. Dad says it’s ghosts—but he’s a superstitious Cajun. Here lately, every time I go out by myself, I have this feeling like I’m being watched. And sometimes, I see things moving in the trees that can’t possibly be there, but they are. One time, it looked like the trees were walking toward me. I screamed like a little girl and ran to find my mama!” He laughed nervously. “I never had anything appear in the fire before. That was beyond freaky.”

“How long has this been going on?” Brian asked him.

“Few months, since my birthday in March. It was like, I turned fifteen and I start seeing all this weird shit that wasn’t there before.”

“Or it was there and you couldn’t see it,” Brian corrected.

Chase shuddered. “Oh, man. You had to say that. I’m half superstitious Cajun, you know. My granny has visions. She reads palms and does the tarot. She says big change is coming. But she never said a thing about flames walking out of the fire!”

They got to the house to find most of the guests gone. Heath was on the phone to Jacqueline, assuring her that they were fine. Chase’s mother was hysterical. Mr. Finley did his best to calm her, but she was wild eyed and incoherent. Jordan walked up to her and her husband, who looked near panic himself. Standing in front of the frightened woman, she planted her feet, hands on her hips. She might be smaller than Mrs. Finley, but she was still intimidating.

“Hey,” she said loudly.

Mrs. Finley stopped babbling and looked at Jordan.

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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He Thought He Saw – part 24

He Thought He Saw redJordan and Brian arrive at Chase’s house with Heath. Brian introduces Jordan and her father.

“Good to meet you, sir. My dad is right over there, trying to start the fire. Excuse me.” He ran to his father’s side, hollering instructions over the music.

Everyone gathered around as the flames took. Kindling and dried leaves crackled and the flames jumped higher. Everyone grabbed sharpened greenwood sticks and started jamming hot dogs and marshmallows into the fire. Brian got some sticks for himself and Jordan. They roasted a couple of cocoanut marshmallows for Heath, who then opted for a root beer.

Brian and Jordan sat on a log close together, trying to stay warm. Although the fire burned brightly, their faces were toasty, but their backs were cold. Brian gazed deeply into the fire, hypnotized by the movement and color. His father had often teased him about being a pyromaniac. He loved to watch flames in the grill, fireplace or candles.

“When I was little, if I got fussy, all my mom had to do was light a candle and set it where I could see it. Strange as it sounds, it calmed me down when nothing else would.”

“With me, it was water. We had this little miniature waterfall that sat on the table. When I got cranky, Mom turned it on and let it splash. I loved it. I still have it. It was the first thing I unpacked when we moved in.”

Jordan snuggled closer, her leg pressing against Brian’s. She shivered, so he put his arm around her shoulders. Her head drifted to his shoulder and her hand to his leg. They sat quietly, watching the flames.

Brian startled. He’d seen something in the fire that didn’t move like the flames. When he focused on it, all he saw was fire. When he let his gaze soften and go slightly out of focus, he saw a face in the burning wood. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, but needing Jordan to see it, he picked up his stick again and put a marshmallow on it. He poked it toward the flames, indicating the face. It leered at him. A flame shot out, igniting his marshmallow. Brian pulled it out, blowing on it.

“Do you see that?” he whispered to Jordan.

“See what?”

“The face. There’s a face in the flames.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just a fire.”

“It’s not. I promise you. Something’s in there.”

“You’re jazzed on sugar. It’s just a—” She stopped talking abruptly, her eyes wide. “Oh, my God, Brian! It’s like people in the flames!” She spoke sharply, but didn’t raise her voice.

“I told you!”

“We aren’t safe! My dad. Where’s my dad?” She stood suddenly, knocking Brian backwards off the log. “Daddy!” she screamed.

Heath dashed up, taking her arms. “We need to go, Dad. Something bad is going to happen.”

“What are you talking about? Is this another one of your fantasies? I thought we were past that, honey.”

“Water,” Jordan said. “We need water. Brian, get the ice chest.”

Scrambling to his feet, Brian ran across the clearing to the nearest ice chest. By this time, others had noticed the figures in the fire. At first, they thought it was some sort of illusion, until one of the flame creatures stepped out of the fire and started toward Jordan, leaving a trail of embers in its path.

Heath put himself between Jordan and the fire creature, but she pushed him aside, wielding her wooden sticks like daggers. It took a step toward her and she poked it back. The sticks were greenwood, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t eventually catch fire.

Brian grabbed at the cooler, tugging on it. It was full of ice and sodas, so it was really heavy. He yelled at Heath to help him. Jordan’s father crossed the clearing, grabbing the other side of the cooler.

By this time, the others were running as quickly as they could for the house. Chase and his father were the only ones who remained with Brian, Jordan and Heath. Seeing what they were doing, Chase and his father grabbed another cooler, hauling it to the fire.

“Jordan, there’s a hose to your right,” Chase called. “Turn it on, quick!”

Holding her sticks in one hand, Jordan ran to the hose. It was draped over a wooden pole

and attached to a metal pipe that stood about two feet tall. A cracked, rusty faucet topped the pipe. Jordan twisted and turned, but the faucet wouldn’t budge. The fire creature came closer, its hand reaching for her. Jordan swatted at it, but it kept advancing.

“I can’t get this,” she called. “Help!”

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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Notable Narrative from Alton and Velda

alton-croppedAlton shrugged, stepping back from the perilous edge. If Velda said she could handle it, he wouldn’t argue. If his travels had taught him nothing else, it was not to judge abilities on appearance.

Noiselessly, the slender maiden dove into the icy, turbulent river. For several heart stopping moments, Alton watched without seeing her. A flicker of movement 20 yards away, near the river’s center, alerted him to her presence. Smiling, he relaxed a little. A splash and flash of silver got his attention. Was there something else in the water? Could it be Velda was under attack?

His warrior’s senses cautioned him against diving into the turgid current, but also nudged him to protect the young woman. Common sense held him back. He was not a strong swimmer, particularly in scale armor. He’d surely founder and Velda would have to save him. That scenario held little appeal.

Minutes passed slowly. Alton stood by the water, eyes examining the surface of the rapids. He didn’t lower his guard or forget his environment, but his attention was divided or he would surely have heard the rustling in the bushes sooner. He slid into the shadows, drawing a long dagger from his boot. His dark skin lent itself to concealment. His bronze scale armor helped him blend into the underbrush. He waited, hardly breathing.

A horse in full tack, riderless, walked up to the water to drink. It was coal black with a white sock on its left foreleg. A stallion, he noticed. Kitted out for exploration with bedroll behind the saddle and small panniers on either side. It wore no colors or insignia. The saddle and bridle were unadorned. There was no visible brand on the flank.

If there was a horse, there would be a rider. Where he might be, Alton didn’t know, but intended to find out. Velda was in the water, unprotected. He was vulnerable as well. He stayed in the shadows, casting out with his energy, listening to the vibrations. At first, all was normal forest noise. There was the babble of the river, chattering of squirrels, chirping birds, the swish of a fox’s tail followed by the surprised squeak of the rabbit it caught. Leaves rustled in the gentle breeze, pine needles whispered—and someone drew breath, exhaling slowly.

Focusing on that sound, Alton heard the heartbeat tapping. It wasn’t slow, nor was it overly fast. Like his, it was strong and regular. Adjusting his reading further, Alton probed to see if he’d been spotted. The other person breathed normally. There was no scent of trepidation or fear. For the moment, he wasn’t noticed. The rider posed no immediate threat. Still, why would he stand back while his horse drank? It made very little sense to Alton.

A splash and flicker of movement told him Velda was coming back. The rider’s pulse quickened. He’d heard it too. The horse raised its head, water dripping from its mouth. Eyes as black as its hide scanned the river with almost human perception. Ears pivoted forward, listening. It moved into the underbrush. veldaThe rider followed.

Velda rose from the water, dark blue hair plastered to her slender form, falling well below her hips. Rivulets cascaded down her body which shimmered silver in the late afternoon light. She cast about her for Alton, spotting him in the woods a few feet away. His expression kept her from greeting him. Seconds later, she saw the horse. Gasping, she backed away.

The horse trotted forward, stopping a few feet from her. It bent its front legs, bowing. The rider strode forward. Dressed in black chain mail, he wore a helmet with a white horse’s tail at the crest. His cloak was black, as were his boots and leather sword belt. The scabbard was empty, but the sword wasn’t in his hands. He bowed deeply when he saw Velda.

Velda hesitated once more before stepping onto the river bank. The knight offered her his hand, but she declined. Her foot slipped on the muddy bank. Alton leaped forward, grasping her arm to prevent her fall. The knight cried out, hopping away from the pair. Tripping over a rock, he sat heavily on the ground, scrabbling at a knife hilt in his boot.

Alton whirled on the man, dagger leveled. He strode forward, glittering tip aimed for the downed man’s exposed throat. The knight raised his arms to ward off the blow.


© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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He Thought He Saw – Part 23

He Thought He Saw redBrian and his mother get picked up by Heath and arrive to a delightful meal.

Brian chuckled at himself. “All I could tell was it’s green,” he told his mother. “I had no idea it was spinach pilaf.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s delicious.”

Heath led the blessing and they ate, exclaiming over the excellent meal. Brian wasn’t sure half the time what he was eating, but it was all so good, he didn’t care. At the end of the meal, he had to control a burp. The others chuckled at him as he blushed.

“That’s the nicest compliment my food has gotten in a long time,” Jacqueline said. “I’m glad you liked it. Did you leave room for dessert?”

“Depends on dessert,” Brian responded with a wink.

“I think we can find something good,” Jacqueline replied. “Honey, do the honors?”

“Sure thing. I suppose I should mention that my wife is half Greek. She makes the most delicious baklava in the history of mankind.” He went to the kitchen and brought out a platter of the flaky, honey drenched pastry.

Brian thought he’d died and gone to heaven. He’d never had baklava before, but decided that it was now his favorite sweet.

“I could die right now and be happy,” he declared. “That was heaven, Ms. B.”

“A delicious meal, Jackie,” Maribelle added. “Thank you for having us over.”

“No need to rush off,” Heath said. “You ladies stay here and visit. I’ll take the kids at the bonfire and hang out for a little while. You ladies can get better acquainted. Sound like a plan?”

“That sounds delightful,” Maribelle said.

“Good, because I can’t stand the idea of you spending the evening alone,” Jacqueline said. “Jordan isn’t the only one who left her friends behind. It’s such a delight to find a kindred spirit, don’t you think?”

Brian thought it was a weird thing to say, but apparently his mother agreed with her new friend. Jacqueline had a strange way of expressing herself, but Maribelle liked her. He was glad to see her out with other people. She spent too much time at home alone. Her blindness had isolated a woman who was normally outgoing. This was good for her.

Jacqueline made sure the kids had hats, scarves and gloves before she allowed them to go. Armed with three different kinds of marshmallows, they hopped in the SUV.

“This is one treat Mom doesn’t mind me having, for some reason. It’s sugar and air. Go figure.” She shrugged.

“Because your mother loves marshmallows,” Heath replied. “She’s a closet sugar addict,” he told Brian. “My favorites are the cocoanut ones.”

They arrived at Chase’s house and Heath parked about half a block down the road. Chase lived in the woods a mile or so from Brian’s house. Tall trees ringed the two story home, standing guard over it. The property was on the edge of the swamp, so the pine trees mingled with swamp bay, dogwood, spruce pine, black gum and hawthorn. Holly bushes circled the base of the house and ivy climbed up the walls.

“It’s like something out of the Old South,” Jordan mused as she approached. “I expect to see Scarlet O’Hara running down the steps.” It was oddly romantic of her to say. “Of course, she’d trip on the hem of her dress and fall splat on the ground, but I can totally see her.”

Brian and her father laughed loudly. So like Jordan to find the humor in something that wasn’t really humorous.

“We just go around back,” Brian said. He’d been to Chase’s bonfires many times in the past.

Loud music played and Jordan was surprised to hear Lynyrd Skynyrd crooning Sweet Home Alabama. Most kids their age played rap and hip hop at parties. It was a relief to hear something different for a change. As they walked up, a song by blues guitarist, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, blasted from speakers.

“Your buddy has good taste in music,” Heath commented loudly.

“Yeah, he does. It’s one of the reasons we get along. That, and he actually has read a book or two.”

The fire was set well away from the house in a clearing not far from the swamp. The ground was damp, but logs had been laid out and covered with plastic tarps. When they walked up, Chase yelled loudly.

“Dad, you can light her up. Brian’s here!” He turned to greet his friend. “Hey, man. Good you came. And Jordan, right? Nice to meet you. Can I get you a drink? Totally no alcohol,” he added quickly when he saw Heath’s frown. “Chase Finley,” he introduced himself, holding out his hand.

“Heath Barrett, Jordan’s father.”

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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He Thought He Saw – Part 22

He Thought He Saw redBrian and Jordan have been invited to a bonfire at his friend, Chase’s house. Jackie says yes, provided that Heath goes along.

Brian’s mother reluctantly agreed to let him go to the bonfire. She didn’t like the idea of him being out at night. After a bit of cajoling, he got her to agree. He’d be surrounded by others, he’d have Jordan and her father with him. After all, hadn’t he fought off the whirlwind by himself? He judiciously left that incident out of his argument. He didn’t think that his mother would like it. He hoped that Jordan’s parents wouldn’t mention it to her, though he was sure that Mrs. Barrett would probably tell her husband.

At 6:50 on the nose, Mr. Barrett drove up. He helped Maribelle into the front seat while Brian hopped into the back. Jordan greeted him when he got in. They drove to Jordan’s house, chatting happily about the weather. Fortunately, Mr. Barrett said nothing about that morning’s encounter.

“Does he know?” Brian asked as he took off his coat in Jordan’s room.

“Yes, but he won’t say anything unless he thinks we’re in trouble. My folks are pretty cool. They won’t narc us, but they do like to know.”

“I will tell her,” Brian promised. “I just couldn’t tell her today. She’d never let me out of the house again.”

“Do you think it’s safe going to the bonfire?”

“I think so. We’ll be surrounded by people. Besides, Chase’s dad is a deacon. Reckon he can handle an icy whirlwind if anyone can.”

“Maybe he knows what’s going on. We should ask him.”

“Not tonight. We can go by the church sometime and see him at the office. I’m also supposed to go visit our priest. I bet he’d have some answers too.”

“You’re Catholic?” Her eyes brightened.

“Yeah. Born and raised. You?”

“Yes. Despite their oddities, Mom and Dad are very traditional in some ways. What’s the priest like?”

“He’s a nice guy, probably about my dad’s age. He married my parents, baptized me, gave me First Communion and was there for Confirmation.”

“Why do you have to go see him? Confession?”

“Nothing like that. Mom’s worried about all this—whatever it is. She thinks he can help.”

“Let’s go see him tomorrow. Maybe see Chase’s dad too. Did you ever call Andre?”

“No.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket.

Andre’s phone went right to voicemail. Brian left a message and called Sweet next, getting the same thing. Frustrated, he called Louisa. She answered absently, as if she were busy with something. When she heard Brian’s voice, she perked up.

“I’ve been checking the e-mail we set up. We got some replies already. I’m reading through them. Unbelievable! We’ll talk about it more when we see you. What’s up?”

He gave her a brief rundown on meeting Jordan and battling the whirlwind. Louisa made all the appropriate noises and promised to talk to the others and set up a meeting for the weekend.

“Thanks, Louisa. I appreciate you passing word along.”

“Not a problem, Brian. I can’t wait to meet Jordan. Bye!”

Brian hung up, feeling better about the situation. At least there were more of them involved than just him and Jordan.

“We should go downstairs and sit with our folks,” Jordan said once he was off the phone. “Mom likes me to help entertain company.”

“Thought that was what you were doing,” Brian replied. He gave Jordan a hand up.

The two of them went downstairs just as Jacqueline appeared at the bottom to call them down.

“Perfect timing, you two. Get washed up. Jordan, can you give me a hand?”

“Sure, Mom.”

“Can I help with anything?” Brian offered.

“Sure. You can carry in some of the dishes for me. We’re ready to serve.”

A few minutes of bustle and they were seated in the kitchen. Brian sat between his mother and Jordan at the large, circular table.

“Everything smells delicious,” Maribelle said, inhaling deeply. “Do I catch a hint of anise?”

“You do! I made my vegetable lasagna. It has layers of anise cookies in it. Strange as it sounds.”

“Sounds and smells divine,” Maribelle complimented.

Brian took a few minutes to serve his mother’s plate before serving his own. He told her where each food was located, but wasn’t sure what everything was. Laughing, Jacqueline explained.

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Star Crossed

star-crossed-coverThe man in the truck frowned when he Helene her approach. He shut off the engine and got out, glowering.


Helene stopped in her tracks. He was angry and surly, but one of the handsomest men she’d ever met.

“Hello, I’m Helene Marcos. I hear you’ve bought the last of the trees. I was wondering if you’d be willing to part with the blue spruce.”

He was already frowning and shaking his head. He ignored her hand and raised his chin at the young man, telling him to start loading with a jerk of his head. Tipping his head at Helene, he frowned. It wasn’t so much anger, she sensed, as a dislike of the cold wind. His eyes watered. A startling blue, they made a stark contrast with his sleek, black hair.

“The blue spruce. Could I buy it from you? I’ll be happy to pay whatever you did, plus ten percent?” Her voice rose to a childish, almost whimper. She hated when she did that. It made her sound like such a child. As if the blonde hair and big blue eyes weren’t enough of a problem.


“What? Why not?”

“I need it. I ordered, and received, fifteen very specific trees. I was lucky they weren’t taken with the rest.”

Helene could feel tears in her eyes. “Surely one….”

“Look, Miss….” he’d already forgotten her name. “I work for a party planner and we have a gig Sunday night. I contracted for fifteen trees. I’m being paid for fifteen. I can’t bring fourteen.”

“But the blue….”

“Is the center piece of the display. Look, I’m sorry. If I could….” He snorted in frustration, running his hand through his hair. “There’s another lot, about two blocks down. Maybe they have a spruce?”

Her eyes filled with tears. “Sure. I’ll go look. I kind of wanted to shop here. I mean, they got robbed. By the looks of them, they’re counting on the money. I just thought….” A shuddering breath caught in her throat. The tears tickled her eyelashes. “Never mind. It’s not your problem. Thank you.” She turned and walked back to the lot, hoping to find another tree for her mother’s Christmas.

Abraham Carson watched the petite blonde walk away and let out a low groan of frustration. Gallantry warred with every other emotion in him. He wasn’t a greedy man, but he did have a contract to fulfill. And he’d seen three blue spruce trees at the other lot on his way here. Not as nice as this one….

“Miss!” he called. “Miss—Marcos?” he bellowed, extending his arm in a gesture of frustration.

She turned, her eyes wide and liquid.

Dammit. Not tears. Dammit! No tears!

“I’ll—I’ll find another tree. And you don’t have to pay extra, just give me what I paid for it.”

An angelic smile wreathed her features. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” He wasn’t, but what else could he say to that sweet face. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Oh, thank you!” She ran over to him, placing a warm kiss on his cold cheek. “Thank you. Do you mind a check?”

“Not at all.”

“I promise it’s good. I work at Dr. Staley’s office on Tenth, though, if you have any problem with it.”

“I’m sure I won’t.”

She held her pink checkbook, full of checks scattered with hot air balloons, purple pen poised over the page. Her blue eyes widened expectantly and he realized she was waiting for his name and the amount.

“It was umm, seventy-five….” So he shaved off a few bucks. “And you can make it out to Carson’s Party Planners.”

Flashing a five star smile that struck him deeply, he waited while she wrote out the check. She handed it to him, grinning, thanking him. The check smelled like violets. Resisting the urge to sniff it, he folded it, putting it in his wallet. His boss, who was also his sister, would probably kill him. But he was a softy at heart, which was why she handled the business side and he just picked things up. He really couldn’t be trusted in a more official capacity.

“Thank you so much. My mother is really ill, and this will make her happy. I wanted the perfect tree and she always loved blue spruce.”

Could he feel any more like a complete tool? Not likely. A sick mom. The perfect tree. But the smile and those big, blue eyes, made him feel less like a heel. She kissed him again and his heart lurched.

“You’re very welcome, Miss Marcos. I hope you and your mom have a very Merry Christmas. And I’ll keep her health in my prayers.”

This smile was damn near angelic. Why had he said that? He hardly prayed anymore. His days as a choir boy were well behind him, but he hadn’t lost that grain of truth and hope that had been part of his life since he was a child.

“Hey, Chet, can you load up the lady’s tree?” he called to the young man. “The blue spruce.”

“Sure thing, Abe!” The young man hoisted the tree onto his shoulder and carried it to her car. He got it safely roped on the top and attached the red bandanna she had brought for the base of it. Whistling happily, he nodded when he accepted the tip she gave him.

Standing side by side, Abe and Chet watched Helene drive away.

“You seriously only charged her seventy-five? That was a hundred dollar tree.”

Abe watched the car turn the corner, blinking rapidly against the cold once it was gone. “Yeah, well…. I’m a sucker for big blue eyes and tears.”

“She cried? Oh, hell, I would have given it to her for free!”

Abe chuckled, knuckling the kid’s head. “I almost did, but Tina would decorate a tree with my balls if I did. Now, I have to go down the way and spend my own money on another tree.”

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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