Roses Where Thorns Grow
Megan Viets, a mystery writer and an instructor at a small community college in the Los Angeles area, lost her young husband two years ago when he crashed his small plane in a severe sandstorm in North-Africa. Since then, she has not been seeing anyone, but then she meets Chris, a handsome contractor who lives in a popular resort town in the San Bernardino Mountains, where Megan has a cabin. She’s immediately attracted to him, but Chris has a secret past, which Megan uncovers bit by bit. Tensions build as the two explore each other’s world to find common ground.
Filled with suspense, passion, and deceit, this contemporary love story takes the reader on a fast-paced journey through many twists and turns toward a dramatic ending.
“It’s a real page turner that will keep you engaged,” says Matthew Nadelson, MFA, author of American Spirit and Counting Wayward Sheep.
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Pink Satin Romance
The cabin sits on a bluff, a mile above a popular resort town in the San Bernardino Mountains. It is surrounded by tall sugar pines, majestic black oaks, a lone dogwood tree, and lots of red cedars. The steep slope in front is covered by purple-flowered Vinca, while the rest of the grounds are kept au naturel with tufts of grass, little cedar saplings, and weeds of various kinds. The only sounds come from the pecking of woodpeckers, the squawking of blue jays, and an occasional distant din from cars driving into the resort.
The deck on the second level of the small cabin overlooks the driveway below and the sparkling blue lake in the distance. I spend most of my time on this level because that’s where the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, and bathroom are. Upstairs, there are more bedrooms and another bathroom, and downstairs there is a mud room and what the local realtors call a great room with a billiard table and a second television set.
I had come up to the mountains to do some troublesome writing. I needed the fresh mountain air to clear my mind and finish my latest novel, so as soon as the finals were over, the grades turned in, and the requisite reports written, I drove up from my home in the Los Angeles area. It was the end of May, and because I hadn’t been up here much after my husband Robert died, spider webs were everywhere. I immediately called Rose and her crew to come and give the place a thorough cleaning, and after I had swept the leaves and other debris from the driveway, I decided to walk down to see my artist friend Cindy and her husband Chad to thank them for keeping an eye on my property while I was away.
It was only a five-minute walk downhill along a narrow, winding road. The only cars I saw were a couple of construction trucks that passed me and turned left where the road forks. I took the other path. The few cabins on both sides of me stood there silently shuttered up and expressionless, waiting for vacationers. Cindy’s house sat on a large corner lot, tastefully landscaped with Japanese maples, rhododendrons, and even roses like an oasis among the many native pines all around. Her little red sports car was parked outside.
Cindy was home and came to the door. Her black hair hung like a curtain down both sides of her freckled face. She smiled and smoothed down a kind of purple smock that she was wearing before giving me a hug and motioning me to come inside to look at her latest paintings. Frameless canvases of landscapes in subdued colors were propped up against the big stone fireplace and on easels around the living room that served as her studio.
“They’re good,” I said. “You’re truly talented.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I hope to have a small exhibition at the resort later this summer. And I want you to come.”
“I’d love to come,” I replied.
She looked at me. “How long is it since Robert passed away now?” she asked me after a while.
“About two years. Why?”
“Are you seeing anyone yet?”
“No, not really.”
“Are you interested?”
“Maybe one of these days. Do you have someone in mind for me?”
“I may have. He’s quite a catch really, although there are issues.”
I walked back to my place at a happy clip. The crisp spring air made my face tingle, and I didn’t give Cindy’s comments another thought.
On Sunday morning I finally sat down at the computer to write. I was working on my fifth mystery novel and was writing profiles of the cadre of suspects I had rounded up. The murder scene was complete. My sleuth Jule McCormick had found the victim, a Chinese-American pianist and voice coach by the name of Larry Wong, in a pool of blood on the floor of his condo in the Bunker Hill Towers in downtown LA. She had returned there the morning after a party that Larry had hosted for his students and friends to retrieve her cell phone and had immediately called the police and offered her assistance. It was not the first time she had helped the LAPD solve a case. The guests at the party were the primary suspects, but I had trouble making them come to life.
Around noon I made myself a cup of coffee and walked out on the deck. As I looked over the railing, I saw a man in a tight, white tee-shirt, khaki pants, and high-top hiking boots bending over one of the sprinklers. I set my coffee down on the patio table and called down to him, “Hi! Can I help you?”
He stood up and called back, “A couple of your sprinkler heads are leaking. We have a serious drought up here, and if the water police see it, they’ll fine you big time.” He paused before he continued, “I can fix it for you. I’m a licensed contractor, and that’s my truck down there.”
A white truck with a logo that said Construction Company and a name I couldn’t read was parked at the bottom of the driveway. I noticed fleetingly that he was a handsome man about my age, built like a contractor, muscular and tanned with dark brown hair combed back but with unruly strands falling down over his temples on both sides in the style of an English school boy. “How much do you charge?” I asked.
“Ten dollars and a cup of coffee,” he called back.
“That sounds like a good deal,” I said. “Go ahead.”
“Okay, I’ll get a screwdriver and a pair of pliers from my truck and have it fixed in five minutes.”
He started walking down toward his truck. I came down to meet him, and I read Cronin Construction Company in big letters on the truck door.
“I’m Chris,” he said as he came back up the driveway with his tools in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
“Megan,” I said and held out my hand.
He put the newspaper on the retaining wall in front of the cabin. “Nice to meet you. Megan Viets, right? I have seen you on your power-walks around the area, and your friend Cindy down the road told me that you live alone up here. Aren’t you afraid living here by yourself?”
Oh, so this was the guy Cindy had in mind for me. Interesting!
“No, should I be?” I said.
“Well, we sure have our share of crime around here. If you read the local paper, it sounds like we’re the crime capital of the world, but as long as you keep your doors locked, you should be all right.”
He went about working on the sprinklers, and I went upstairs to the kitchen to make coffee.
“Do you like your coffee with milk and sugar,” I called down from the deck while the single-cup coffee maker did its work.
“No, just black, thank you.”
I made two cups and took them down with my ten-dollar bill.
The sprinklers were soon fixed, and we sat down on the retaining wall with our coffee, and I gave him the ten dollars.
“Good coffee,” he said.
“Thank you. It’s Starbucks.”
“Cindy told me you’re a writer,” he continued. “And you actually publish what you write. Several novels, right?”
“Yes, have you read any of them? I write mystery novels, and I’ve come up here to finish my fifth one.”
“I’m sorry. I haven’t read any of them yet, but I will.” He paused. “I understand you’re giving a workshop at the high school for our so-called Mountain Writers on Thursday.”
“You’re well informed,” I said
“It’s a small town. Everyone knows everything about everybody’s business around here. And it’s also been in the newspaper.”
“Yeah, the Mountain Gazette ran an article about it this week. I brought you a copy. It has your picture in it too.” He pointed to the newspaper.
“Thank you. That’s very sweet of you,” I said.
“I’m planning to be there by the way.”
“Oh, a contractor who’s also a writer, I see.”
He smiled showing a straight row of white teeth like a string of pearls. “Not exactly. I’ve been deputized to be a security guard for the event.”
“Really? Or are you pulling my leg?”
“Well, not exactly. My brother is the sheriff, and there’s a lot of drug dealing going on around the schools. I know this place looks like an idyllic little paradise, but that’s just a cover. Underneath there’s a lot of dry rot. More than a dozen students at the high school overdosed on heroin and died last year alone. We have a heroin epidemic on our hands.”
“More than twelve teenage school children overdosed on heroin? That’s incredible.”
“We nab one dealer, and another one steps right up to take his place. That’s why all events at the high school have security on hand. And that’s why I’m telling you to lock your doors. I’ll give you my cell phone number in case you see something or have trouble.” He set down his cup and took out a card. “And here’s the sheriff’s private cell phone number in case you can’t reach me or get through to 9-1-1.” He took a pen from his pocket and wrote down an additional number on his card.
“I’d never call the sheriff’s private number.”
“It’s okay in an emergency.”
His penetrating gaze unnerved me a little, and I turned away. As he finished his coffee, he turned around and looked at my miserable shed.
“I see you need a new shed door,” he said. “I’ll take a look at it if you want.”
We both walked over to the shed that also needed some new paint. “How much will a new door cost me?” I asked.
“A couple of hundred bucks. And it should open from the other side, right?”
“Yes, that would be easier.”
“And we could build a couple of steps in front to make it easier to go in and out.”
“That would be nice too.”
“I’ll send a couple of guys over tomorrow to look at it.”
We walked around the cabin together. The ground was soft, the stately oaks sported fresh green leaves, and my dogwood tree showed off a profusion of frothy white blossoms.
“The roof looks good,” he said. “It’s a good, solid little cabin.”
“That’s good to hear.” It wasn’t a bad idea to make friends with a handyman. Robert had been handy, and although he had been enthusiastic about the cabin the first year after we bought it, he had been so occupied with his work that he hadn’t wanted to come up all that often in the end.
“You’re still wearing a wedding band, I see. But you’re not married, are you?”
“No, my husband died almost two years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“He died in a plane crash in North Africa. He was one of those crazy bush pilots, flying people and cargo and who knows what all over the place. We were married for eight years.”
“No.” I stopped and remained silent for a while. I wasn’t ready to share my whole life story with this guy yet. “What about you?”
“I live alone with my dog and a housekeeper who comes in a few hours every day.”
His tone was full of melancholy, and already I wondered how such a good-looking man could go uncalled for, although Cindy had hinted he had issues. I guessed he might be just a little older than I was.
“When’s your birthday?” he asked suddenly.
“17th of September.”
He didn’t say anything but slowly took out his wallet and showed me his California driver’s license. Height: 6’-01” and Weight: 180 lbs. Date of Birth: September 17, but a year before me. We both laughed at the strange coincidence.
“I should probably get back to my dog. I need to check on a couple of work sites too, to make sure everything is ready for the guys to start early tomorrow morning. Thank you again for the coffee.”
“Don’t you need a down payment or something before you start your work?”
“It’s okay. I’ll take a chance on you.”
“I’ll check the timer for the sprinklers before I leave. I see that it’s right by the front door.” He took the stairs up to the door in two leaps and quickly adjusted the dials. Then he waved goodbye, and I just stood there looking after him as he walked down the driveway and drove away in his truck. I picked up the paper and checked that everything about the workshop was correct. The picture was an old one from the publisher. I was pleased to see my new book mentioned. Maybe it would mean more sales.