Flash Fiction Friday: Miscalculated Rescue

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Miscalculated Rescue

by Kelly F. Barr

Sir Tobias the Dragonheart rode through the woods upon his ebony warhorse. He followed the path to Redmont Castle. King Redmont’s soldiers had stormed the gates of Clayborne Castle a week before and had captured Princess Octavia. King Redmont now held the princess in a tower high above the Redmont castle walls, and Sir Tobias determined to rescue her.

Sir Fendril the Butcher and Sir Tancred the Hawk rode behind Sir Tobias. When Redmont Castle came into sight, Sir Tobias slowed his horse. Just inside the wooded boundary, he raised a hand, motioning the others to halt. He studied the layout of the castle, quickly spotting the tower that surely held Princess Octavia.

“I will hasten to the tower and use my grappling hook to gain access to the window. You two keep watch. Do your best to stop anyone from entering the tower room while I attempt to rescue the princess. Sir Tancred, use your hawk call to warn me of any impending danger.”

Both men nodded, and the three separated to take their places.

Sir Tobias undid the rope from his waist. He began to swing the rope in a circle over his head, letting more rope out with each rotation. When the rope appeared long enough to reach the window ledge, he gave a quick lasso-type throw, and sure enough, the hook landed, caught, and upon Sir Tobias’s tug, it held.

He paused to see if anyone had heard the clink of the hook landing and scraping into the window ledge. After a couple minutes of silence, he began his climb up the wall toward the tower. He climbed and climbed until his hands ached and his legs and arms burned. Finally, he reached the window ledge and heaved himself over its edge.

He landed on the stone floor with a clink of chain mail against stone. He heaved deep breaths in and out. The scent of lavender and roses floated on the air in the room. He looked up and noticed he was surrounded by Princess Octavia and twelve other women. How was he supposed to rescue the princess and ride off into the sunset now?

“Sir Tobias! You’ve come to save us.”

Sir Tobias rose to his feet. “Mi’lady, I have come to rescue you. I had no idea there were other women here. Who are all these ladies?”

“Apparently, King Redmont and his son have been capturing women and keeping them here for their own carnal pleasures.” Princess Octavia shivered.

Rage rose within Sir Tobias like a tornado. “They haven’t laid a hand upon you, have they?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. The prince wants to save me for himself. Claims he will make me his wife.”

She reached out and gripped Sir Tobias’s arm. “You have to get us all out of here. Some of these women have already been used and are ashamed. The rest cling to one another in fear every time we hear the key in the door lock.”

Sir Tobias began pacing back and forth. How could he rescue thirteen maidens with the help of just two knights and three horses? He moved to the window, looked down and spotted Sir Fendril with his bow, an arrow nocked and ready.

“Fendril!” Sir Tobias called down, and the knight looked up. “We need a wagon. Raid their barns and stables, and be quick about it.”

Fendril nodded and pressed his horse into a gallop around the left side of the castle.

Sir Tobias turned back to Princess Octavia. “How many come to take the ladies?”

“It is always three—one to lead the women, and two to follow.”

Tobias nodded. Those odds weren’t bad. He’d probably survive such a battle, but he still hoped to avoid a confrontation, if possible. Any battle would draw more unwanted attention.

Finally, the pounding of horses’ hooves and the rattling of wagon wheels reached Tobias’s ears. He peered out the window and took a deep breath. Fendril had succeeded in securing a wagon. Now the problem was how to get thirteen women down from the tower without getting caught.

Princess Octavia touched his shoulder and he turned toward her. “We can do it.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“We can make it down the side of the castle, if you can secure a rope around our waists to keep us from falling in case we lose our grip or footing.”

Sir Tobias frowned and his brow creased. The princess nodded at him. He looked around at the other women, who all nodded their agreement.

“Okay. Let’s give it a try. You will have to move as quickly as possible if we’re going to get all of you out of here undetected.”

The smallest woman stepped forward. “I will go first.”

Tobias quickly fastened a rope around her waist and clipped it to the grappling rope. The little woman climbed upon the window ledge, turned her back to the ground, placed her feet upon the edge of the ledge, held the rope in her hands, and began her backward descent.

When only the princess and one other woman remained, Sir Tancred released his hawk call and a chill ran through Tobias. Without wasting a minute, he tied a rope around both women’s waists and clipped them to the rope around his own waist. “The three of us must descend together.”

Tobias was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the two women adjusted to move as one with him. On the ground, he unclipped all of them and the women ran to climb into the wagon. As Tobias grasped his grappling rope to try to wrench it free, three heads appeared in the tower window. They began shouting.

Tobias released several curses under his breath as he let go his grappling rope and leaped upon his horse’s back. Fendril, his horse already hitched to the wagon, pushed the horse to gallop toward the road. Tobias and Tancred followed the wagon while watching over their shoulders for any trouble from behind.

As they raced through the gates of Clayborne Castle, Tobias shouted for the gatekeepers to shut and bar the gates quickly. The wagon and two horses came to a halt and curious Clayborne residents surrounded the wagon, staring at the women who clung to one another.

Princess Octavia stood up in the wagon and shouted, “Get back. Please. Haven’t you ever seen a group of women before?”

Sir Tobias grinned, dismounted his horse and strode to the back of the wagon. “Ladies, please follow me.” He helped the women down from the wagon, and Fendril and Tancred joined the group. Tobias led, and the rest followed him into the castle.

King Clayborne entered the large foyer and welcomed them, then sent the twelve women with several of the castle handmaids to be taken to rooms and settled for the night. Then he wrapped Princess Octavia in a warm embrace.

“Octavia, I’m so glad you are home. Are you … unscathed?”

“Yes Father.”

“Wonderful. Join me in the dining hall, won’t you?”

Octavia flashed a look toward Tobias, then turned back to her father. “Give me a few minutes?”

Her father chuckled. “Of course.”

As her father walked toward the dining hall, Octavia turned toward Tobias.

“Thank you for coming to my rescue, and for taking on the job of rescuing so many more.” She smiled up at him.

“Of course, Mi’lady. No woman should be treated as farm stock.”

Octavia grinned at the big man, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed his cheek.

Heat crept into Tobias’s face. He looked around to see if anyone was near enough to have seen the princess giving him affection.

Octavia giggled and grasped one of his large hands in her delicate one. “Come on. Escort me to the dining hall. I’m sure my father has an offer you can’t refuse.”

Tobias raised an eyebrow.

She looked into his brown eyes. “Don’t play innocent with me. You do want to marry me, don’t you?”

“M-m-marry!” Tobias spluttered.

“Oh come now. You’ve been vying for my attention for over a year now. You’ve already won my heart. You might as well accept the rest of me.”

This time, when she raised upon her toes, she placed her soft lips against his. His heart thumped in his chest, making it clear there was no turning back now.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Love of a Shepherd

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Photo by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

 

The Love of a Shepherd

by Kelly F. Barr

A knock at the door startled Stella. She wasn’t expecting anyone. She laid her book on the table next to her and rose from her blue wing-back chair. She stepped from the living room into the short hallway that led to her front door. She peeked through the long narrow side window.

Surprised to find a tall man with jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, and a five o’clock shadow standing on her porch, she paused. As she considered whether or not to open the door, the man turned to look toward the front pasture and ran a hand through the dark waves crowning his head, then knocked louder.

Curious, she opened the door a few inches. “May I help you?”

A look of relief washed over the man’s face, and he said, “Oh, thank goodness someone’s home. One of your sheep has it’s head stuck between a couple of the wires in your fence down by the road. It is bleating quite loudly. I wasn’t sure if sheep bite or not, so I thought I’d better let someone know.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. I’m sure if it got its head through the fence one way, it can get it back the other way.”

“No, ma’am. I don’t think so. I’m not even sure how it got its head through in the first place. The wires don’t look far enough apart for its head to fit. Won’t you please check on it? I’d hate for it to get hurt.”

Stella couldn’t help but smile. “Well, thank you for letting me know. I’ll be right out to check on the sheep. You can just climb back into your car and drive on outta here.”

The man looked at her and hesitated for a minute. Then he turned and left the porch.

Stella waited until she heard a car start, then she stepped out onto her porch and looked down her long gravel drive. There was a silver convertible Ford Mustang at the end of the lane. She started to walk down the driveway. The closer she got to the pasture, the more she slowed her pace. That Mustang wasn’t moving.

Was this man up to something or was he just really that concerned over her sheep? She decided to enter the pasture’s gate and walk through the pasture to the sheep. That way, if this guy was up to something, the fence would be separating them.

As she approached the pasture’s fence line near the road, she could hear the distressed bleat of a sheep. The other sheep seemed uneasy and walked around one another, bleating from time to time as well.

When Stella reached the fence, sure enough, there was Lulabelle, the oldest ewe of her flock with her head stuck between two wires in the fence. Stella spoke to Lulabelle before getting too close to avoid startling the old sheep even more. “Oh Lulabelle, what have you done? Calm down. Everything’s going to be all right now. I’m here. I’ll get you out of there.” She continued talking to the sheep as she placed a hand on its back and moved to the fence. Stella was able to pull the wires apart, but had to untangle a wire from Lulabelle’s wool. As soon as Stella extracted the wire from the wool, Lulabelle pulled her head free. The old ewe ran to the flock letting out a much happier bleat.

Stella noticed that the wire she had taken out of the old ewe’s wool had come loose from the fencepost. That is what had enabled Lulabelle to get her head through. However, when she had tried to pull her head back out, the end of the wire had tangled in her wool and drawn tighter, creating a trap.

Stella grabbed the loose wire, moved it to its proper place, and began winding it tightly around the fencepost to prevent this from happening again.

“That sheep seems genuinely happy to be free.”

The voice startled Stella and the wire end slipped in her hand and cut a small slice in her index finger. It began to bleed. She looked up at the man, now standing outside the fence, the car door of his convertible Mustang open behind him. “You still here? I thought I said you should go.”

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see the sheep freed. I don’t know much about sheep.” He looked at her through squinted eyes as the sun shone down on him.

Stella finished fastening the wire, then pulling a handkerchief from her pocket, wrapped her finger to stop the bleeding. She moved toward the stranger. She paused about four feet inside the fence.

“Sheep are stupid animals. That’s why, in the old days, there were shepherds who worked moving the flocks from grazing site to grazing site. The sheep came to know the shepherd’s voice and learned they could trust the shepherd. The shepherd not only herded the sheep to provide food, he protected the sheep from predators, and he loved the sheep. He made sure each and every sheep in his flock had a name, and he knew each one by name.”

“I heard you call the one that was stuck, Lulabelle. You named all your sheep too, didn’t you?”

“That’s right.”

“But how can you tell them apart? They all look the same to me.”

“When you raise sheep, you have to spend a lot of time with them. Sheep still need shepherds today, and when you spend time with them and love them, it’s easy to tell them apart. Thanks for letting me know about Lulabelle.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you for the sheep lesson.”

Stella smiled and nodded to the stranger, then walked up through the pasture toward her house, the sheep following her as she went.

Flash Fiction Friday: Puppy Love

Puppy Love

by Kelly F. Barr

Janie rode her bike home from school, but stopped outside the pet shop display window. In the window was a litter of eight puppies – some were black and white, some brown with white spots. Janie put her hand on the window and a black and white puppy waddled over and pressed his nose against the window across from the same spot. Janie squatted down, put her face near the window, and said, “Hi there. You are so cute!”

She parked her bike where it wouldn’t block sidewalk traffic and raced into the pet shop.

“Well, Janie. What brings you into my shop this sunny afternoon?”

“Hi Mr. Walters. I was looking at the puppies in the front window. Could I hold one of them?”

Mr. Walters smiled at her. “One of them caught your attention, huh?”

Janie bobbed her head up and down. “A little black and white one. It came right up to my hand at the window.”

Mr. Walters walked to the front window, Janie on his heels. He opened a panel and let Janie look in and point out the puppy that had caught her eye. Then he reached in, brought the pup out, and handed him to Janie.

The little ball of fluff nestled into her neck and put it’s head up and licked her chin. Janie giggled. “See, Mr. Walters, he likes me!”

“Yes he does. But Janie, a dog needs to be well taken care of. He needs to be fed twice a day. He’ll need to be trained to go to the bathroom outside. You’ll need to take him outside quite frequently until he gets bigger. And he’ll need to be taken for walks. He’ll need annual checkups at the veterinarian’s clinic too. It’s a big job to take care of a puppy.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. I can do it because he’s so cute, and he’ll be my best friend.” Janie paused and wrinkled her brow.

“What is it Janie?”

“Well … first I have to buy him. How much is he?”

“He’s $200.”

Janie frowned. “That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes it is, but it’s not as much as a purebred puppy would cost.”

Janie looked up at Mr. Walters. “What kind of puppy is he?”

“He’s called a Borgi. He’s a mix between a Border Collie and a Welsh Corgi.”

“Mr. Walters, could you promise not to sell him until I can talk to my parents and, maybe, bring them to see him?”

Mr. Walters looked at the puppy, now asleep in Janie’s arms. He rubbed his chin with an index finger. “Well, usually, puppies are sold on a first come, first served basis.”

Janie’s lower lip quivered, and Mr. Walters said, “I suppose … well, you are the first one to ask about him. So, I guess I can wait until … Friday?”

A wide grin spread across Janie’s lips. “Two days? Do you mean it?”

Mr. Walters nodded. “Parents take their time to make such decisions, so, yes. But you have to give me an answer after school on Friday, okay?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Walters. Thanks!” Janie handed the puppy back to the pet shop owner, rushed out to her bike, and pedaled home.

She raced into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam behind her.

“Janie! Where’s the fire?” Her mom placed two chocolate chip cookies on a plate, then poured a glass of milk.

Janie dropped her backpack on a kitchen chair and plopped down in the chair beside it. Her mom placed the plate in front of her on the table.

“I don’t know anything about a fire, but guess what I saw at Mr. Walters’ pet shop?”

Her mother smiled. “I don’t know. What did you see?”

“Puppies! Mr. Walters has eight puppies in the front window. I stopped and put my hand on the window and one of the puppies came right up to my hand. I went in and talked to Mr. Walters. He let me hold the puppy. Do you think Dad will let me get him? Mr. Walters said he’ll hold the puppy for me until Friday.”

“Oh Janie, I don’t know. Taking care of a puppy is a big responsibility, and it costs money. Not just to buy the puppy but to feed it and buy some items you’ll need to care for it. Then there’s the annual veterinarian costs.”

“Mom, I really want this puppy. I promise I’ll take good care of him.”

“We’ll see what your father says. Now eat your cookies and drink your milk, then get that backpack up to your room.”

“Yes, Mom.”

That evening, when her father came home, Janie was setting the table for dinner. She put the stack of plates on the table and ran to greet him. She threw her arms around his waist and squeezed.

“Well, what a nice greeting.” Her dad squatted down to her level and gave her a proper hug. “It’s good to be home.”

“Did you have a good day?”

“It was okay. Why do you ask?”

“I just want to know if you’re in a good mood.”

“Uh-oh. Sounds like you’re up to something. What is it?”

“We-ll.” She told her dad about the puppy. “So, can I have him?”

“Janie…”

“I know. It’s a big responsibility. But I can do it. I promise.”

“I’ll talk to your mom about it after you’re in bed, and we’ll let you know tomorrow at dinner, okay?”

Janie nodded.

“You may have to do more chores around here too, if we decide to let you have the puppy.”

“Because it’s expensive?”

“Yes, because it’s expensive.” Her dad kissed her on the forehead.

* * * * *

The next day, Janie stopped to tell Mr. Walters she’d have an answer for him the next day.

When she got home from school, she went straight to her room to do her homework.

After a while, she heard her mother call, “Janie, please come down and set the table. Your dad will be home soon.”

Janie pounded down the stairs and hurried into the kitchen. She finished setting the table just as her father stepped through the door.

“Hi Daddy.”

“Hello pumpkin.” He bent down and kissed her cheek.

He was in a good mood. She hoped that meant she could have the puppy. She wanted to ask, but knew she needed to wait. Her parents would tell her when they were ready.

Janie pushed her food around on her plate. She couldn’t get food past the butterflies in her stomach. If her parents would just tell her, maybe she could eat her dinner.

“Janie, is something wrong with your food?”

“No mom.” Janie speared a piece of chicken and forked it into her mouth.

Her father grinned and looked at her mother. “I guess we shouldn’t hold her in suspense any longer.”

Her mother smiled and nodded.

“Janie, I’ll be leaving work early tomorrow, and your mother and I will pick you up from school. Then we’ll go to Mr. Walter’s pet shop.”

Janie’s fork clattered as it dropped onto her plate. “You mean…?”

“This puppy is going to be your responsibility, along with extra chores, which we’ll talk about later. As long as you are responsible and work hard, the puppy is yours.”

Janie got out of her chair and ran around the table to give her father a big hug. “Oh, thank you!” Then she moved to hug her mother. “Thank you!”

Janie returned to her seat and finished her dinner.

* * * * *

Friday, Janie struggled to keep her mind on her classes. She kept clock watching, wishing the hours would pass faster.

When the final bell rang, she forced herself to fast walk out of the building, but she really wanted to run. Once outside, she raced down the steps and out the walkway to her dad’s Ford F-150.

Her father drove to the pet shop, and the three of them walked in together.

Mr. Walters looked up and smiled. “Well, Janie. I’m guessing, by the smile on your face, you’re here to take home a certain little puppy.”

“I sure am, Mr. Walters.”

Mr. Walters retrieved the puppy from the front window and placed it in Janie’s arms. Then he helped them pick out the items she would need to begin life with a puppy.

“So, what are you going to name him, Janie?”

Janie looked at the puppy, then looked up at Mr. Walters. “His name is Jasper.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and Chocolate Part 2

Every once in a while, one of my flash fiction stories just seems to need a little more, so I hope you will enjoy the second part of Love and Chocolate.

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Photo by Thalia Ruiz on Unsplash

Love and Chocolate Part 2

Sonnet’s cell phone rang as she slid into the driver’s seat of her car. She didn’t recognize the number and decided to let it go to voice mail. She buckled her seat belt, then started the engine just as her phone rang again – same number. She tapped to answer. “Hello?”

“Sonnet. This is Armand, from The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery.”

Oh, yes. Armand, hi.”

Hi. We are going to have live music this Friday night at the café/bakery. A female duo, one plays cello and one plays the flute and the violin. They’re mostly instrumental, but also sing a few songs. They call themselves ‘Class Act’. They’ll be performing from seven to nine. I get off at eight and thought I could join you for the last hour.”

Sonnet smiled. “That sounds great. I’ll see you Friday.”

She hung up the phone, still smiling. She pictured Armand in her mind – his chocolate brown work t-shirt revealing his firm pectoral muscles, his biceps straining the sleeve openings, wavy hair the color of caramel, and those slate-gray eyes. She sighed and shoved her phone into her purse, then pulled her car out of its space, and headed for the parking garage exit.

Friday, Sonnet, distracted at work, watched the clock, waiting for quitting time. At three o’clock, Marcy, her secretary, buzzed over the intercom. “Ms. Warren, Brindenburg’s mayor is on line one.”

The mayor? Sonnet lifted the receiver, held it to her ear, and hit the button for line one. “Good afternoon, Mayor. What can I do for you?”

I know this is short notice as Christmas is just over two months away, but Brindenburg’s Christmas sales were down last year. I would like you to plan a couple events that will bring in some tourists and boost our shops’ sales.”

I’m sure I can come up with some ideas. Let me brainstorm with my assistant, and I’ll get back to you Monday. Does that work for you?”

That will be fine. Thank you.”

Sonnet grabbed a pen and tablet and rushed over to Chad’s office. She told him about the phone call and they began sharing ideas, Sonnet writing down the best ones.

She didn’t notice when five o’clock arrived, but glanced at the clock at five fifteen. “Oh, I’ve gotta run. Let’s meet early Monday – seven a.m.? That will give us an hour or two to come up with more before I call the mayor.”

A short time later, Sonnet walked into The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery. She stepped to the counter.

Armand looked up and smiled. “Good evening, Sonnet. What can I get for you?”

I’d like a white hot chocolate, please.”

You got it. I’ll bring it to your table in just a couple minutes.”

Sonnet sat at a table for two along the wall where she had a good view of Class Act setting up their equipment.

Armand brought her cup of hot chocolate and a plate with a cupcake on it. He placed both in front of her.

She looked up at him. “I didn’t order a cupcake.”

I know. It’s a bittersweet chocolate cupcake with cherry fruit filling and white chocolate frosting.” He winked at her.

You are going to spoil me.”

That’s part of my plan.” He grinned. “I’ll join you soon.”

She smiled as she watched him walk back behind the counter. She savored the cupcake, one bite at a time, and sipped her white hot chocolate while enjoying Class Act’s music. Soon Armand moved the other chair beside her, giving him a better view of Class Act, as they stopped for a ten minute break.

So, how was the cupcake?”

It was delicious, and so is this white hot chocolate.”

I’m glad you liked them. How did you get the name Sonnet?”

My mother loves Shakespeare, especially his sonnets, and she and dad wanted an unusual and artsy name for me.”

I see. I like it. It’s very unique, and it fits you well.” He smiled.

Would you like to know my full name?”

He nodded.

Sonnet Monet Warren. My father is a painter, and Monet is his favorite watercolor painter.”

Wow.”

Sonnet quirked an eyebrow at him. “Wow, what?”

Wow, what a great name. Just like I said before, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady.”

Sonnet’s cheeks grew warm and she covered them with her hands, hoping Armand wouldn’t see her blush.

Class Act returned and resumed their performance, so their conversation stopped. About halfway through this set, Armand reached over and took Sonnet’s hand in his. She liked the way her hand fit in his and how he held hers in a firm but gentle grip. A couple times he caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.

When the performance ended, Armand locked eyes with Sonnet. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. How would you like to visit our arts district with me?”

I’d love to.”

He smiled, they rose, and he walked her to her car. “May I pick you up at ten in the morning?”

She turned to face him, her back to her car. “That would be fine. I’m four blocks down, left on Duncan Street, number 312. The front of the house is yellow with sky blue shutters.”

They stood looking at each other a moment, and just as the silence between them started to become uncomfortable, Armand leaned toward her and lowered his head. He pressed his lips to hers and gave her a soft, brief kiss. As he began to pull back, she leaned toward him, reached up and, with a gentle pull, brought his head down so that their lips met again. This time the kiss lingered, lips pressing more firmly before parting.

I’ll see you tomorrow,” she spoke in a near whisper.

I look forward to it.” He reached and opened the car door for her.

As she drove away, she kept her eyes on him, in her rearview mirror, until he faded into the darkness.

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and Chocolate

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Photo by Thalia Ruiz on Unsplash

Love and Chocolate
by Kelly F. Barr

After a week of unpacking and organizing, Sonnet was finally settled into her new home and ready to explore Brindenburg. She grabbed her purse and stepped out the door. Just a block from town, she decided to walk on this beautiful breezy autumn day. As she strolled down the sidewalk, she paused to look into the shop windows. She passed a bakery, a jewelry store, an antique shop, and a candy store.

When she came upon a tea shop, she stepped inside. The aromas of peppermint, cinnamon, and raspberry greeted her. Three shelves of glass jars holding a variety of loose leaf teas beckoned her to come closer.

As Sonnet stepped farther into the shop, the lady behind the counter looked up. “Hello. May I help you?”

Sonnet smiled. “I just moved to town and I’m exploring the shops today. I love tea.”

“Well, welcome to Brindenburg and my tea shop. I have green teas and black teas. I have fruity, spicy, classic, and a few exotic teas. If you can’t find something you’re looking for, just let me know. Feel free to open the small jars to sample the scent of the tea.”

Sonnet sniffed six different types of tea and decided to purchase three ounces each of four of them. The woman bagged Sonnet’s selections, placed the bags in a small, decorative shopping bag, and handed them to Sonnet.

“I hope you enjoy your selections. My name is Tara. Please come again.”

Sonnet smiled and stepped back out onto the sidewalk, where she crossed the street and started back toward her apartment, while peeking into the shop windows on the other side of the street. She passed a women’s clothing store, a Chinese restaurant, a women’s accessories store, and a pizza shop.

She paused as a couple stepped out of a shop in front of her. She caught a whiff of chocolate and looked up at the shop’s sign, “The Everything Chocolate Café and Bakery”. Her mouth began to water and her stomach rumbled. When the couple passed, she stepped into the café/bakery.

She let her eyes wander over the chocolate candies, chocolate coated items, and baked goods in the glass display case.

Just as she moved her eyes to the large black chalkboard that listed drinks, sandwiches, salads, and chili, a smooth male voice asked, “What can I get for you today?”

Still studying the board, she said, “Um…”

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

She moved her gaze from the chalkboard, and her eyes locked with slate gray ones in the most handsome face she’d ever seen. “Um, yes. I … um … I’m new in town.” She mentally kicked herself for stumbling over her words.

Well, in that case, let me introduce myself and tell you a bit about our options.” He smiled at her and her heart skipped a beat. “I’m Armand, and everything we sell is either chocolate coated or has chocolate syrup or cocoa as an ingredient. Our coated items come coated in white, milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate, and many of our baked goods come with those choices of frostings. So, what will it be?”

Um … do you have any suggestions? Something that won’t keep me from one of these delicious looking desserts?”

How about one of our sandwiches? We have ham or turkey with white American, cheddar, or swiss cheese with our hazelnut chocolate spread on our homemade chocolate bread.”

That sounds good. I’ll take the ham and American, please.”

And to drink?” He winked at her and added, “I recommend the chocolate strawberry lemonade.”

She nodded.

First name for the order?”

Sonnet.”

He looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “Sonnet? Like the poem?”

Yes.”

He stared at her a moment, then said, “You can have a seat and I’ll bring that out to you shortly.”

Just ten minutes later, Armand delivered her food and drink to her table. “May I inquire as to your favorite chocolate dessert?”

Chocolate cake.”

How would you like a piece of moist dark chocolate cake with a white chocolate cream filling and semisweet chocolate and caramel frosting?”

That sounds divine.”

Sonnet swallowed the last bite of her sandwich and sipped the last of her lemonade.

Armand returned to her table and placed a small plate and fork before her. On the plate was a rectangular piece of the cake he had suggested. 

As Armand walked away, she stabbed the fork into the cake, lifted a piece to her mouth, and released a quiet moan of pleasure as the flavors delighted her taste buds. She took her time savoring the cake, then moved to the counter to pay her bill.

Armand rang it up. “That will be $18.55 please.”

She handed him a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill. “Keep the change.” She turned to go.

Sonnet.”

She turned back to him.

Don’t forget this.” He held up a white bag.

I didn’t order anything to go.”

Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood gift.” He held the bag out to her and she took it. “I hope I’ll see you in our café/bakery frequently.”

She chuckled. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t be good for my waistline.”

Well then, maybe I could show you more of Brindenberg? I have a feeling you’d enjoy our arts district – unique things to see or shop for, as well as upscale dining.”

She smiled. “I think I’d like that. I, uh, could give you my number.”

He grabbed pen and paper and wrote as she spoke.

When she exited the café/bakery and was certain she was past its windows, she lifted the bag to peek inside. But before opening it, she saw, written on the outside of the bag: Sonnet – a beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Heat raced up her neck and into her cheeks. She opened the bag. Inside was another piece of that wonderful cake and two white chocolate covered strawberries.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Wedding Secret

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Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

The Wedding Secret
by Kelly F. Barr

Kalliope smoothed the front of her white lace wedding dress and reached for her bouquet of lavender roses and white carnations with shaking hands.

She placed a hand on her stomach and looked at Riah, her bridesmaid. “I don’t know if I can go through with this.”

Riah stepped toward her and took her free hand. “You do love him, don’t you?”

Kalliope nodded. “Of course I do, but what will happen if his family finds out? I feel like we should have told them.”

“You know what would’ve happened if they knew, right?”

“They would’ve found a way to prevent us from marrying.” Tears welled in Kalliope’s eyes.

“Don’t let those tears fall. You’ll ruin your makeup.” Riah smiled. “You’re doing the right thing. You and Jerry belong together. You can’t let someone else’s prejudices prevent that.” She squeezed Kalliope’s hand.

“But they’re his family.”

“And he made his choice and his decision. This way, if they find out, it will be too late, and the two of you will deal with it together.”

Organ music drifted into the room. Riah gathered the train of Kalliope’s dress and pointed to the door. “It’s time to go.”

Kalliope gave Riah a wobbly smile and moved to the door. Riah arranged Kalliope’s train then stepped around Kalliope with care. They watched Gretchen, Kalliope’s sister, walk down the aisle, then Riah gave Kalliope a thumbs-up before walking down the aisle.

When Riah reached the front of the church auditorium, the organist began the “Wedding March”. Kalliope took a deep breath, released it, and gained some courage as her father smiled at her and she took his arm.

As she and her father walked down the aisle, Kalliope looked around at all the faces. They were all smiling at her. She wondered how many on Jerry’s side would be smiling if they knew. Then she fixed her eyes on Jerry, who was standing at the front, his eyes glued to her, a smile on his face. She found strength in his presence and her doubts melted away at the love she saw shining through his eyes.

Her eyes locked with Jerry’s when her father placed her hand in Jerry’s. The two of them turned to face the pastor. The ceremony moved along smoothly until the pastor asked if there was anyone present who could give reason that this man and woman should not be joined together.

Kalliope’s heart thudded and every muscle in her body grew tense as she held her breath silently urging the pastor to continue. Someone cleared their throat and the lights flickered three times before blinking off completely.

It took a couple minutes for everyone’s eyes to adjust to the pale light that peeked through the draped windows. Then the organ began playing and the organist stood up and backed away from the instrument. The organist’s eyes and mouth opened wide as the organ played without anyone touching it. Several gasps came from the right side of the room, the side where Jerry’s friends and family sat.

Kalliope looked at Jerry, who quirked an eyebrow at her. She shrugged her shoulders as she tried to quell her elevated emotions. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and released the breath through slow puffs of air. The organ music stopped, and when Kalliope opened her eyes, the lights had come back on and the pastor finished the ceremonial words before anyone else could find their voice, further easing Kalliope’s emotions.

When the pastor told Jerry to kiss his bride, he took her in his arms, dipped her as if they were dancing the tango, kissed her passionately, and as he returned her to her feet, whispered in her ear, “The lights and organ … that was you, wasn’t it?”

“I still struggle to control my magic abilities when my emotions are running high.”

Jerry grinned at her. “Marriage to you will certainly not be dull.”

As Kalliope savored the wedding meal, enjoyed cutting the cake and feeding a bit to Jerry and him feeding her, she began to relax. The dancing began and she took her place in Jerry’s arms.

He looked into her eyes. “You are beautiful and I am the luckiest man alive.”

She couldn’t help but wonder if he would still feel that way when his parents discovered her secret. His family wanted nothing to do with those who practiced magic—they said they were the reason the world was filled with hate, but Kalliope didn’t know any people with magic abilities that hated those who had none. It was always those without abilities spewing hate and being cruel toward those with magic abilities.

The dancing ended and Jerry’s parents loaded the gifts into their van to take to Jerry and Kalliope’s house while the newlyweds drove to the airport to fly to Missouri where they would spend their two week honeymoon in the Ozarks.

When they were seated on the plane, Jerry took her hand in his and rubbed his thumb over the back of it. Then he leaned over and spoke to Kalliope just above a whisper. “I’m looking forward to seeing what magic might happen tonight on our wedding night.” He winked at her and chuckled.

Kalliope’s face warmed and she knew she was blushing.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Real Love Challenge

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Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan on Unsplash

Aiden watched a beautiful brunette pick four red tomatoes and place them in her shopping cart. She walked, her shoulders pulled back, eyes straight ahead, exuding self-confidence. He followed her down the aisle. When she stopped to choose a bunch of bananas, he passed her and searched her left hand—no ring.

He moved toward the checkout, waiting for her to approach a register. As she exited the aisle and approached, he feigned interest in a magazine and rolled his cart forward so that it collided with hers.

He looked up. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Are you okay?”

She looked at him, the corners of her mouth twitching. “I’m fine. Now, if you’d be so kind as to move your cart, I’ll pay for my items and be on my way.”

“Oh yes, of course.” He pulled his cart back, allowed her to enter the checkout lane, then pushed his cart in behind hers. “My name’s Aiden Berkley. And you are?”

“Not interested.” She pinched her lips into a flat line.

“I’d really like to treat you to coffee … to make up for crashing into your cart.”

When her eyes met his, he smiled. “There’s a coffee shop right around the corner.”

“I don’t think so.” She paid for her items, grabbed her bag, and pushed her cart toward the cart return area.

Aiden tried not to drum his fingers or tap his foot while waiting for the cashier to ring up his few items. When the cashier finally bagged his last item and said, “That’ll be $12.50,” he handed her a ten and a five.

“Keep the change.” He grabbed his two bags, returned his cart, and rushed out the door, scanning the parking lot for the brunette.

He spotted her just as she was ready to climb into the passenger side of a sky blue Lexus sedan. His lower jaw dropped. Maybe she was way out of his league. He shook his head and ran toward the car.

He reached it just before she shut the door. He leaned down to look in at her. “If you’re busy today, how about lunch tomorrow?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes.

He remained standing hunched over, smiling at her.

“Look, Aiden Berkley, isn’t it?” She waited for his nod. “I’m really not interested. Now, if you’ll allow me to close my door…”

“Wait, please. Is it that you’re not interested in men, or not interested in me?”

“I’m not interested in either.”

“Well, I’m not like other men.” This earned him another eye roll.

“Of course you’re not, until I go out with you.” She grabbed her door handle and tried to pull it shut.

He moved out of the way. He wanted to take her out, but if he didn’t let her go, she’d think he was just another jerk.

He watched as she backed out of the parking space and drove down the lane.

“Man, do you know who you were just tryin’ to hit on?”

Aiden turned in the direction the voice had come from. “Kahlil! You know her?”

“Not personally, but I know who she is.”

“Well, who is she?” Aiden rubbed the back of his neck.

“That’s Samantha Rivers. She’s the editor in chief of Hot Topics Magazine.”

“Are you serious? The Hot Topics Magazine—the magazine that dishes the good and the bad on who’s who in the whole country, ‘anybody who’s somebody’?”

Kahlil nodded. “That’s the one.”

“Maybe I am outta her league, but I ain’t giving up.”

Kahlil raised an eyebrow. “You know she could have any man she wants, right?”

Aiden grinned. “Yeah, but I just gotta make her want me.”

* * * * *

The next week, Aiden went to the same grocery store at the same time, and there she was – Samantha Rivers – in the produce aisle.

This time, when she approached the checkout, Aiden moved with precision so that she saw his approach. Then he swung his arm in an arc and gave a slight bow. “After you, m’lady.”

She looked at him and laughed out loud. Then she raised her hands. “Okay … one coffee … around the corner. Half an hour, then I’m gone.”

Aiden grinned. “I’ll take it.”

They put their grocery bags in their respective cars, then walked around the corner to The Mug and Cup. She ordered a mocha latte with double chocolate. Aiden ordered a butterscotch hazelnut coffee and picked up the tab for both.

They sat at a table for two near one of the large windows.

“So, why are you so interested in me? Looking for sex or money?”

Aiden nearly spit out his sip of coffee, but swallowed quickly and began to cough.

Samantha sat smiling while he recovered.

“Well, you come right to the point, don’t you?” He sat up and leaned his forearms on the table. “What if I said I’m looking to build a relationship?”

She searched his eyes for a minute, then said, “Money it is.”

“Wait … what? Is that what you saw in my eyes? Really?”

“I couldn’t tell, but I know men.”

“Well, you don’t know me. Do you know that last week when I tried to hit on you, I didn’t even know who you were?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

Aiden shook his head and frowned.

Samantha raised an eyebrow.

“Some guy really did a number on you, huh?” Aiden paused, but she didn’t respond or meet his gaze. “Don’t let him ruin a chance at real love for you.”

It was her turn to swallow and cough, but not to the degree Aiden had. “That’s what you want to offer me? Real love?” She chuckled. “What if I said I don’t believe in real love.”

“I’ll take that as a challenge, and I’ll meet you here at this same coffee shop same time next week.”

She met and held his gaze a few moments. “You’re on.”

Flash Fiction Friday: The Secret Admirer

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Photo by Allie on Unsplash

“Junk mail, bill, junk mail, bill, bill. Wait, what’s this? A letter? Who writes letters nowadays?”

Reina grabbed her letter opener off the counter and opened the envelope. She pulled out a single sheet of high quality stationery that resembled ancient parchment paper. She unfolded it and read:

My dearest Reina,
Your beauty captivates me. Your smile bedazzles me. The thought of talking to you leaves me tongue-tied, so I decided to write instead. I get queasy in my stomach every time I see you. I want to speak to you, but I’m afraid of making a fool of myself. I long to find out what things we have in common. I hope to gather enough courage to speak to you soon.
Your Secret Admirer

Reina picked up the envelope, examined the front of it—no return address—local postmark. Who could have sent this—a coworker, regular customer? Was it some kind of joke? What if it was a stalker? Whoever it was knew her home address.

The next day Reina analyzed every interaction with the waiters and her regular male customers. Every smile and big tip had her wondering, ‘could he be the one’. When Craig, who came in twice a week, winked at her, she nearly spilled a cup of coffee.

She checked her mail right after work, sorted through it, searching for another letter, but found none.

Two days later, another letter arrived.

My dearest Reina,
Your smile lights up a room. Your laughter is like the Pied Piper’s music to my heart. You hold me spellbound.
In my next letter I will name a time and place for us to meet. Please give me a chance.
Your Secret Admirer

When the next letter arrived, Reina hesitated to open it. Was she ready to meet this guy?

My dearest Reina,
Though I remain nervous, I am determined to meet you face to face.I hope you will come to Pascal’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Tell the maitre d’ to show you to the table of the rose. I will be waiting for you.
Your Secret Admirer

Friday, Reina searched her closet and decided on a simple blue dress that complimented her figure. She wore matching blue sandals, grabbed her formal handbag and keys, and went to her car.

As she drove, her stomach filled with butterflies. At Pascal’s, a valet parked her car, and she walked into the restaurant, the butterflies performing ballet inside her.

The maitre d’ greeted her and asked about her reservation.”

“I’m meeting someone. Could you please show me to the table of the rose?”

“Ah yes, right this way.”

He led her to a table next to a large window with a fantastic view of the city lights. A gentleman rose from his seat at the table.

Reina gasped. He was incredibly handsome with brown hair and eyes the color of caramel. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t quite place him.

He held a deep red rose out to her. “For you m’lady.” He smiled and Reina’s heart melted at the sight of the dimples that indented his cheeks.

She took the rose, and he came and held her chair for her to be seated.

When they were seated, she couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. “Have we met before?”

“No. I moved into the apartment building across the street from yours three months ago. I’ve seen you coming and going. I had lunch at Mickey’s a couple times but was never lucky enough to be seated in your section. I asked my waitress your name.”

“You mailed letters to me from across the street?” She quirked an eyebrow.

He grinned. “I’m afraid I prefer old fashioned romance.”

“You still haven’t told me your name.”

“Oh, do forgive my thoughtlessness. I am Griffin Wallace.”

“Well Griffin Wallace, you certainly do know how to grab a lady’s attention.”

“I hope I will be as good at holding your attention.”

The intensity in his eyes set the butterflies dancing once again. “Your first note mentioned getting to know what we have in common, and it looks like the first thing would be an appreciation for good food. Though I have only been here once before, I do love the food here. Not to mention the fact that you obviously enjoy Mickey’s. I hope you won’t be too uncomfortable ordering for me?”

“You do know how to set a man’s nerves on edge. Having only just met, I have no idea what foods you like and dislike. At least tell me, do you have any food allergies?”

“Good question. No, I don’t, and I’m not a picky eater.” She smiled and noticed his shoulders relax.

When the waiter came to take their order, Griffin ordered duck with pears for him and beef fillet filled with kale, almonds, feta, and parmesan for her, both with a side of baked butternut squash with pomegranate seeds.

The food arrived a short while later and they began to eat. After a few bites, Griffin watched Reina.

“Do I have food on my face or something?”

He smiled. “No. I was just wondering if I had chosen well for you?”

“Very well.” She raised a forkful of beef fillet and slipped it into her mouth.

After dinner, they exited the restaurant together, and the valets brought their cars. Griffin escorted Reina to hers.

“Do you like the theater?”

“Movies or live productions?”

Griffin grinned. “Either.”

“Yes to both.”

“Would you like to accompany me to see “Hamilton” at the Dunkirk Theater next Saturday afternoon with dinner after?”

“I’d love to.” She slid into the driver’s seat of her car.

“One more thing, Reina. Do you think next Saturday we could go together in the same car?” His eyes sparkled.

“I wouldn’t want to impose on you and make you travel so far out of your way to pick me up.” She let out a little giggle.

Griffin grinned and watched her leave before climbing into his own car.

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and English Class

Wuthering Heights by [Emily Bronte]

Jenna Rogers walked down the high school hallway, head lowered, long, wavy locks of jet black hair falling forward, hiding most of her face. She stepped into the English classroom and paused. A guy she hadn’t seen around school before was in her seat.

She stood to the right of the doorway waiting to see if he’d move. Miss Conrad, the English teacher, entered the room and caught Jenna’s gaze.

“Is something wrong Jenna?”

“Someone’s in my seat.” Jenna’s gaze returned to the boy in her seat.

Miss Conrad walked to her desk and picked up a piece of paper. She read it, then turned and approached the young man.

“You must be the new student, Ted Masterson.”

The young man looked up at Miss Conrad. “Yes, I am.”

“Welcome to my English class. The seat you are in has already been assigned. You will have to move to that desk.” Miss Conrad pointed to the desk diagonally to the right and back a row.

Ted picked up his backpack and moved to the desk Miss Conrad had indicated.

As Jenna moved to her seat, her eyes met Ted’s for just a moment before she lowered them and took her seat.

A week later, Ted followed Jenna out into the hall after class.

“Hey Jenna, would you be willing to help me with this English assignment? English isn’t exactly my strongest subject, and I really don’t understand ‘Wuthering Heights’. You seem to get it. I mean, you answer a lot of the questions in class.”

Jenna looked into Ted’s chocolate brown eyes and her pulse pounded in her ears.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so. If we have a study hall together, we could meet in the school library.”

“I thought we could go to the Eighty’s Café after school, grab a bite, and study there.”

Jenna wrinkled her brow. “I don’t think a café that plays lots of music is very conducive to concentration.”

“Oh, yeah. You have a point. Do you want to come over to my house after school?”

“Why don’t we meet at Charlie’s instead? It’s quiet. We can get ice cream or pastries and coffee or tea while we study.”

“Can we do it today?”

“How about tomorrow? I need to let my mom know I won’t be home right after school.”

“Okay. I really appreciate this Jenna. As a matter of fact, consider your order at Charlie’s on me.”

He smiled and Jenna’s heart skipped a beat.

The next day Jenna didn’t volunteer to answer any questions in English class, and when Miss Conrad called on her, Jenna needed her to repeat her question.

After class Ted caught her in the hallway. “So are we on for Charlie’s after school today?”

“Yes.”

“Great! I’ll meet you in front of the school after the last bell.”

“Okay.”

Jenna continued to struggle with her concentration through her last two classes. It wasn’t like her to be so distracted. After the final bell rang, and she headed toward the front entrance, butterflies took up residence in her stomach. When Ted grinned at her as she descended the cement stairs, the butterflies fluttered to the point of causing a wave of nausea.

“So Jenna, do you normally walk home from school?”

“Yes.”

“Which direction?”

“The same way we’re going. I pass Charlie’s every day. Sometimes I stop there to study on my way home from school.”

Ted looked at her with wide eyes. “You stop to study alone?”

“Yeah. I like their chai lattes.” She smiled.

They entered Charlie’s and Jenna led the way to her favorite table. They put their backpacks down and walked to the counter to place their orders then settled in their chairs.

As soon as they pulled their books and notebooks from their backpacks Ted said, “So what exactly is ‘Wuthering Heights’ about? It seems like all the characters hate each other. I find it depressing.”

“Yes, it is a rather tumultuous story, especially for the time period it was written in. Did you know that Emily and her sister, Anne, paid 50 pounds to publish ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Agnes Gray’ together in a single volume because they couldn’t find a publisher who would publish it? Also, they used male pen names because back then women were not accepted as authors.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And, though ‘Wuthering Heights has been hailed as one of the greatest love stories of all time, it’s really more of a Gothic novel. After all, only the first half is about Heathcliff and Catherine. The second half is about things that happen after Cathy’s death. The story is full of physical and emotional abuse. Heathcliff was quite abusive, and he was completely obsessed with Cathy.”

“You’re really into this stuff, aren’t you?”

“English and literature are my favorite subjects. I read a lot of books.”

“Have you written any stories?”

Jenna met Ted’s gaze. “Uh, yeah. I’ve written a couple short stories.”

“I’d like to read them sometime.”

“I thought you don’t like to read.”

“I never said that. I just don’t like to read stuff that I don’t understand.”

Jenna grinned.

“You know, you have a pretty smile.” Ted reached over and pushed the strands along either side of Jenna’s face back. “And you should keep your hair behind your ears or tie it back so people can see your eyes. They’re beautiful—the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Sometimes the way the light hits them, they almost look purple.”

Jenna’s face grew warm and she knew she was blushing. She leaned away from Ted’s touch. “Well, we should get back to ‘Wuthering Heights’.”

Three days later, Jenna found a small teddy bear in her locker with a note that read: When I was younger, my mom called me “Teddy” and gave me a special teddy bear. I hope this bear will make you think of me every time you look at it, and I hope we can be more than friends someday.”

Flash Fiction Friday: The Woman in the Strappy, Green Heels

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Miles Bradford, oldest son of the Duke of Chellingham, straightened his tie and put on his suit coat. Satisfied with his appearance, he stepped into the hallway and moved to the top of the stairs. He paused and pulled the slip of paper from his pocket once more. He read the intriguing message again, Avoid the woman in the strappy, green heels at all costs. There was no signature on the note and he didn’t recognize the handwriting.

His curiosity piqued, he determined to find the woman with the strappy, green heels. At the bottom of the stairs, he strode down the polished floor to the large double doors that now stood open. He stepped through the doorway into a large room filled with aristocrats dressed in their finest for tonight’s festivities – a coming out party for his sister and his cousin. There were to be some other very eligible young ladies present as well, and he would be looking for one he found pleasant company.

His mother had just quieted the room and all eyes were on her as she announced, “Welcome to our home for tonight’s ball. Please do enjoy yourselves. Let the first dance begin.”

The music began and gentlemen chose partners and moved to the center of the floor. Not knowing exactly what strappy, green heels were, Miles anticipated a challenge. However, with most of the ladies wearing long gowns, it could prove to be a bit complicated. He noted he’d caught the attention of several young ladies, and he moved to seek one as a dance partner.

As he danced with one woman after another, he looked down at their feet each time they took a step, in hopes of glimpsing their footwear.

“Is something wrong Miles?” Madeline Webster, daughter of a count, asked.

“No. Why do you ask?”

“You have yet to look upon my face. I had heard you were an accomplished dancer, yet you keep watching your feet.”

“I beg your forgiveness, Madeline. I’m just a bit distracted this evening.”

“Are you looking for someone in particular?”

“No. No. I am sorry. You shall have my full attention for the duration of this dance. By the way, did I tell you that you look lovely this evening?”

Madeline smiled. “I really didn’t think I was your type Miles.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, do you tell every lady you dance with that she looks lovely? My mother always says that’s a flirtatious line and I should expect to be called upon by a man who utters such a line.”

Heat crept into Miles’s face. “Well, I … I certainly didn’t mean to sound flirtatious. Again I must beg your forgiveness.” This dance seemed much longer than the previous ones.

Madeline chuckled. “I do believe I’ve unnerved you. Does that mean that I was right? I am not your type and you will not come to call?”

The music ended.

“I beg your pardon Madeline, but I’m afraid this conversation has me a bit befuddled. I was simply trying to make polite conversation. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Of course Miles. Think nothing of it. I won’t be offended when you don’t come to call. I simply enjoyed making you squirm a little.”

Miles strode toward the exterior doors to the ballroom, needing some fresh air. He stepped onto the veranda and inhaled deeply. He moved to the short wall of the porch and looked out on the garden.

He heard the sound of someone clearing their throat to his right. He turned his head and found a delicate-looking woman perched upon the veranda wall.

He looked toward her feet, and because of her position on the wall, he noticed a green shoe upon her delicate foot, held on by tiny straps, and the portion of the shoe beneath the heel of her foot was quite a bit longer than the rest of the sole of the shoe. Those must be strappy, green heels.

When Miles looked at the woman’s face, she was smiling at him.

“Clarice?”

“Hello Miles. Avoid the woman in the strappy, green heels at all costs.”

“But how did you…? Why did…?”

Clarice laughed out loud. “Why Miles, I’ve never seen you at a loss for words before.”

“My sister has something to do with this, doesn’t she?”

“When we talked about what we would wear tonight, it was her idea to write those words. I wrote the note, and Victoria made sure you’d find it.”

“But, why?”

Clarice quirked an eyebrow at him. She rose and moved closer to him. “Isn’t obvious? I’ve been trying to get your attention for years, but all you ever saw me as was your little sister’s best friend. You never took me seriously, and Victoria and I both knew if you were told to avoid someone, that would be whom you would seek.”

“What exactly are you saying?” Miles tugged at the tie around his neck.

“I’m saying that I want you to come to call on me. You could do much worse than the daughter of an earl. Have you ever taken notice of me?” She was standing right in front of him now.

Miles looked at her, and for the first time saw a grown woman instead of his little sister’s playmate. Clarice had emerald green eyes, greener than her shoes. The green of her gown made her eyes sparkle, and a green silk ribbon was woven in her long, wavy blonde hair, holding it up off her shoulders. He’d never noticed how beautiful she was until this moment.

“Miles?”

“No, I mean yes. Okay, no, I never noticed you as anything but my little sister’s playmate until this minute.”

“And now?”

“Your beauty is exquisite. I shall come to call. As you say, I could do much worse than the daughter of an earl.” He grinned and Clarice grinned back.