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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Sample--Katie Lost and Found (Welcome to Walnut Lodge #1)


Chapter One

 

The day had been uneventful, the morning cool enough to work in the garden, the afternoon warm without too much wind, a rare thing in this part of the country. The kitchen and housekeeping staff arrived on time to perform their tasks efficiently and without complaint. Even the cluster of aging buildings comprising Walnut Lodge Inn and Suites held off any sort of emergency for another day.

As she stood behind the registration desk—an imposing example of fine woodworking salvaged from an older and grander hotel—scanning the evening’s reservations, Tess Weldon almost breathed a sigh of contentment—almost because too often letting down her guard provided an irresistible opportunity for the fates to throw her a curve. And the day wasn’t over yet.

“Can you handle this?” she asked the desk clerk on duty, a woman as small and dark as Tess was tall and fair. Tess and Cami Mitchell, her closest friend as well as the Lodge’s assistant manager, were opposites in temperament as well as looks. While Tess took every aspect of her job, which was her life, far too seriously, Cami approached both work and life with a unique blend of quirky humor and intense passion. Together, they were the ideal combination to meet the challenges of operating a bed and breakfast filled with character, charm and, on occasion, chaos. 

“Why? You looking for some way to get out of your date?”

“Are you kidding? You know I wouldn’t stand Chad up. I hear I’m in the lead for Soccer Aunt of the Year.” Running a fingertip down the list of dinner reservations, she faked a worried scowl. “I just don’t want to come home to find you raiding the wine cellar. Or in the pantry with Lucas.”

“You stay out of our therapy sessions. We’re making great progress.” Cami’s brown eyes twinkled and a grin spread its way across her heart-shaped face.

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Moving on to the row of guest reservation cards on the desk, Tess threw a little smirk over her shoulder. “Just do us all a favor. Try to confine those sessions to after-hours, please.”

Ten out of sixteen rooms booked, most for the weekend. Fridays, gateway to the weekend getaway, were normally busier in the fall. Cooler weather, kids in school, the promise of a romantic fire in the elegant bedrooms and wine on the torch-lit terrace lured more couples her way to fill the rooms vacated by weeknight business travelers. Tess examined each card, studying the names. “The Mulveneys. Is it that time again already?”

“Yep. She said they couldn’t wait for fall so they could come back. Cute couple.”

“In their sixties by now, aren’t they? Texas cattle ranch? Nice big Lincoln?”

“That’s them. He’s a sweetie, very romantic, I remember.”

“Right. What’s this one? The one nighter?”  She picked up the card, reading under her breath, “Direct bill to CentAir?”

“Oh, yeah. I meant to mention that to you. Ariel asked specifically for the carriage house. This guy may be staying long term and she thinks he might like something more private.”

Tess mouthed the name, a frown drawing down her finely arched brows. “Peter Kosten.”

“Ariel said he’s the architect who designed the new terminal and office complex.”

Turning the card over, she studied it more closely. “Did she say anything else about him?”

“Like what?”

“Where he’s from. If he’ll be bringing a wife with him.” She tucked the card carefully back in its place, hoping Cami hadn’t heard the catch in her voice. “If he’ll pay full rate for long term.”

“No. Just that he’d be here tonight, might want to extend a day or two and might be back in a few weeks for as long as six months. Oh, and that we’re going to love him, of course.” Cami reached to answer the switchboard, giving Tess a hard stare.

Coincidence. Cruel coincidence, but surely nothing more. Forcing down the flutter of panicked butterflies, Tess tucked her hands in the pockets of her jeans. Cami’s sharp eyes and sharper tongue wouldn’t let it pass if she noticed they were trembling.

As soon as Cami ended her call, Tess backed toward the door leading to her office. “So, I’ll hit the road if you’re sure you’ll be okay. I’ll probably have a bite to eat with the team after the game, and I may stop at the garden center in Andover. I should be back by nine.” Tess knelt to stroke the graying Pomeranian who’d been watching expectantly from his basket behind the desk. “Sorry, Cyril old man, you can’t come this time,” she said softly.

Catching her arm, Cami halted her escape. “You okay?”

“Of course I am. But I need to get going. I don’t want to disappoint Chad by showing up after he scores the first goal.”

“Right. And you don’t want me to guess what’s got you going all pale one minute and blushing like a guilty teenager the next, either.”

“You spend too much time analyzing people, you know that?” Resting her hands on Cami’s slender shoulders, she buzzed her cheek. “I’ll see you later. Don’t forget to let Cyril out. And keep your hands off my chef, okay?”

That wouldn’t be the end of it, but the last thing Tess wanted was a forced heart-to-heart with Cami while her defenses were so shaky. Who’d have thought the sight of a name could rattle her so thoroughly? Ridiculous, since it wasn’t remotely possible that CentAir hired a Dutch architect to design its corporate headquarters in Middle of Nowhere, Kansas. It wasn’t possible that he was headed for her B and B at the same moment she was jumping in her aged van and rattling down the driveway in a cloud of dust as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her tires.

“No way, no way,” she repeated like a mantra, as she slid a CD in the player and turned up the volume until Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young competed with the clamor in her head.

It might be nothing more than a bizarre coincidence, but that didn’t stop the flood of memories or the wrenching pain in her chest that always accompanied them. Pictures as clear as those tucked away in the back of a desk drawer, echoes of a long silent voice, the chill of a phantom touch; Jan Pieter Kosten, tall and golden, clutching a bunch of red tulips as he squinted into the sun.

Slapping the steering wheel with both hands, she ground out, “Stop it!” and sucked in a deep breath. “You don’t have time for sentimental foolishness, Kalliope Tess Adams.” When she tried, she could sound amazingly like her mother, and the sound of that voice never failed to stiffen her spine.

Gradually, the gentle roll of the highway across broad patchwork vistas of green and gold had its typical soothing effect. She was foolish to let something so absurd upset her. The past was long since passed. The present was more than enough to occupy her mind. All these years she’d fought to maintain a realistic focus on what she could and could not have. Walnut Lodge was so much more than she’d ever dreamed of. Now, with CentAir sending all of their visitors her way, including international buyers of their small luxury planes, the Lodge’s income was steadily rising. Add in the success of the dining room since she’d managed to hire Lucas Montrose away from a five-star hotel in Memphis, and the next year should see sufficient revenue to complete the expansions she and Jim had planned. She had friends, family, and enough responsibility to fill her days and keep her awake some nights. She loved her life. No regrets.

Tess cringed at that thought. Who didn’t wish for something they’d left behind? Who didn’t have a “what if” or a “maybe” hidden away? She was thirty-six years old, plenty of years to make a few missteps and mess up a few relationships. She took comfort believing there had been only one truly colossal screw up, and even that had turned out all right in the end. Every woman had been a naive girl at some point, thrown her heart in the wrong direction and gotten hurt. No one knew the details of that summer; she’d made sure of that. Only she understood why a rational business woman like Tess Weldon had panicked at the sight of a name. Only she could sympathize with the girl she’d once been and allow a few minutes to remember and regret.

So what if the tender heart of that girl still beat deep inside her? That was one of many things she kept hidden away. “Get it together, K.T., you’re all grown up now.”

 

The more miles he put behind him, the better Peter felt about his decision. That he’d chosen the least likely option, that he’d bailed on much of what he’d built in St. Louis over the past twelve years, should at least make sense to those who knew the truth of his situation. Why waste time trying to salvage ruins, when he could move on immediately to rebuilding well out of Kara’s reach? Even Harry hadn’t seemed surprised at his announcement last week, but of course, he knew the reasons behind the divorce. If the truth were known, Peter’s boss and father-in-law likely had some regrets, but he was too loyal to his daughter to ever voice them. The severance package had been more than generous, a sign of Harry’s respect and good wishes. Words had been unnecessary.

When the sun was high overhead, Peter stopped for gas and lowered the top on the car. With the wind in his face and the sun on his shoulders, he turned his thoughts ahead. The prospect of working in a new place—getting out of an office and a suit—fit with his desire to reinvent himself. From Walnut Springs he could explore his options, investigate the feasibility of starting his own firm. He could have taken some time off. Money wasn’t an issue and what he had now was his own. Kara had taken her share, granted the largest share of their combined assets, but she couldn’t take any more. He had everything he needed. The rest he doubted he’d miss.

On his one brief visit to Kansas, to assess the CentAir site and meet with the clients, he’d been unimpressed with the area. Early spring, he’d been told, was typically a cold, gray time. He hoped there would be enough Indian summer weather in the next few weeks to allow him to explore. He’d do some research, play tourist in his free time. Find the best places to run. Search for himself.

His brother Klaus had been appalled at his choice. Why not come home? Their parents would be thrilled. He had family in Holland, including a niece and nephews he’d never met. The kids would love to get to know their Oom Jan Pieter. How could he explain that seeing his brother’s brood would only remind him of what he’d never have? That sounded appallingly self-centered, even to Peter. But the other truth, which he tried to explain to Klaus, was there were things he wanted to do with the rest of his life, things he meant to do before he’d met Kara and been swept into her world. All those years ago, he’d planned to join forces with a girl who shared his ideals, who wanted the same simple life dedicated to making some kind of difference. He might have lost the girl forever, but there was still time enough to find the path he’d once been so certain led to fulfillment. What he hoped to do in the next few months was shrug off his failures and set his feet in that direction again, even if he had to do it alone.

Idealistic clap-trap? That’s what Kara called it when he told her his plans. She’d accused him of running away, of being afraid to face their friends without her beside him. He’d resisted the urge to tell her he never considered them his friends, only hers. He had no problem facing them, even less turning his back on them. Maybe his plans were idealistic, but hadn’t he once taken pride in his idealism? He’d been surprised and pleased to discover Kara hadn’t stripped him of that along with his sense of self and his manhood.

By the time he passed Kansas City, he’d sketched a plan in his mind. If he liked the accommodations CentAir arranged for him, he’d head back to St. Louis next week, pack up the few things he considered to be of worth and make the move permanent. Of course, if the rooms the charming Ariel promised he’d love were not suitable, he’d have to look for other lodging near the site. The little town he remembered from his visit didn’t appear to have much to offer, but he might be surprised. Still, Ariel had bet him dinner he’d love what she’d found for him. She even guaranteed he’d love the people at this Lodge, who had some kind of arrangement with CentAir and obviously made it worth Ariel’s time to promote their accommodations. If he sensed a plot, he shrugged it off. After all, his needs were simple. The less complicated this move, the more time he’d have to find that elusive something up ahead.

Squinting into the late afternoon sun, he followed the route south through open, gently rolling countryside. At the edge of town, immediately behind the slightly shabby “Welcome to Walnut Springs” sign, was another, more tasteful marker. “Walnut Lodge. Luxury Accommodations. Fine Dining.” Steering the car into the graveled drive, he felt a shiver of anticipation, something he’d missed in recent years. If this was his new beginning, he was determined to give it every chance. The alternative, that he was doomed to wallow in disillusionment from this point on, was too grim to consider.

 

“Aunt Tess!” Chad Moran, six feet of gangly adolescent masculinity beaming with triumph and dripping with sweat, came loping across the field with his arms open wide. Braced and laughing, Tess accepted the clumsy embrace, aware that such displays were reserved now for only the most deserving. As Chad thrust his hand out to his father, she caught Tommy’s jealous scowl. He’d just been telling her during the game, between bellowed outbursts of encouragement, that Chad thought he was too grown up to be seen hugging his parents in public anymore. Apparently embracing a woman his friends considered “hot” was still acceptable.

“Great game, buddy! You played like there was a scout in the stands, or maybe just a pretty girl?” She held on to him, savoring the strength of his hug until he stepped away awkwardly.

“Aw, right!” Chad ducked his head, swiping at the lock of dark blonde hair curling over his blue eyes, and Tess’s heart swelled at the grin on his handsome young face. “Just giving it up for the team. So can you go with us to Pizza Palace?”

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll meet you guys there. Now go get cleaned up! You smell like a month-old mackerel!”

As she walked with Tommy toward the parking lot, she grinned. “He’s going to tower over you, big brother. Are you ready to look up to your son for the rest of your life?”

“I’ll just be glad when his feet stop growing. He’s breaking the bank buying new shoes every two months. Ann’s working extra shifts at the hospital just to keep us ahead.”

“I could help out, you know? Let me take him shopping next time he needs some new clothes.”

“I might do that. And speaking of helping out, two things.”

“Okay.”

“First, thanks for the referral. I’ve never done the books for a funeral home before, but Mr. Waddy seems to have things in pretty good order. Every little bit extra helps.”

“You’re welcome. And the second thing?”

“I have a favor to ask.”

“Shoot.” Tess leaned against the side of the van, folding her arms and giving Tommy her full attention.

“I wanted to do something special for Ann’s birthday next week. It’s her fortieth, you know, and she’s been a little down about it. Plus, it’s the first one without Jim. It just so happens Chad has one of those teacher planning days that Monday, so I thought I could take her somewhere for a long weekend.”

“And you want me to babysit.”

“Right. Chad has a game on Friday afternoon, but if you can take him home with you, Ann and I can leave right after. I figure we can be in KC by bedtime.”

Struggling to hold back a grin at her brother’s blush, Tess pursed her lips. “I was thinking about treating myself to a little spa weekend, but. . .”

“I don’t want to put you out. . .”

She punched his arm. “I’m kidding, you big dope. Have I ever turned down the chance to spend time with Chad? Since he got out of diapers, anyway?”

“You’re the best, you know that?”

“Yes. I do. And don’t you forget it.” As she turned to open the van door, Tommy caught her arm.

“I mean it, Tess. We know how much we owe you.” His brown eyes spoke directly to her heart and for an instant, her throat tightened.

“Buy me a pizza, Tommy. That should make us even.”

 

Cami looked up from her crossword puzzle, her eyes dim with fatigue. Tess knew she’d been going since dawn, watching her niece while her sister Connie attended classes at the community college an hour’s drive away. Any sign that Cami might be overextending herself triggered Tess’s habitually cautious nature. Cami had been healthy for years, but knowing she’d been treated for leukemia as an adolescent, and that both the cancer and the effects of the treatment remained a threat, made everyone around her, particularly Tess, watchful. Also knowing Cami was in chronic denial, insisting she was more or less indestructible and taking offense at any suggestion to the contrary, Tess kept her worries to herself.

“So, did we win?” Cami hid a yawn behind her hand.

“We did. And of course Chad scored the winning goal. You look beat, kiddo. Go home. Cyril and I can take it from here.” Kneeling by the little basket in the corner, she stroked the dog’s soft coat. In response, Cyril licked her hand before curling into a tighter ball and resuming his nap.

“Jeff called a minute ago. He’ll be a little late. He has to put Miss Mary to bed.”

“That sitter didn’t show up again?” Jeff Anders had returned to Walnut Springs to care for his aging parent, leaving behind a successful career as a journalist in Chicago. The night clerk’s position paid a fraction of his former salary, but allowed him to spend his days keeping an eye on his mother, and continue to freelance during the quiet hours at the Lodge. Tess and Cami had volunteered to help screen sitters to stay with Miss Mary at night, learning the hard way that good help can be nearly impossible to find.

“He said she has a cold and doesn’t want to expose Miss Mary.”

“Benefit of the doubt? I think we need to find someone more reliable.” With a respectful nod to the fact that life, at least for everyone who worked at the Lodge, seemed to pose one challenge after another, Tess turned her focus to the room roster. “The parking lot sure looks good.”

“Yeah. The Mulveney’s have a brand new Lincoln this year. And the Caddy belongs to two-ten. Nice couple celebrating their anniversary.”

“And the vintage Mercedes rag top?”

“That belongs to our architect who, by the way, will be staying all weekend. One taste of Lucas’s fine cuisine and he stopped by the desk to extend.”

Taking a slow, calming breath, Tess murmured, “That’s nice.”

He’s nice. I wouldn’t mind having him around for a few months, if you know what I mean.” Not too tired to haul up her best Mae West impression, Cami winked broadly and rocked her hips.

Tess snorted a laugh. “What would Lucas think if he heard you say that?”

“I wouldn’t say it to Lucas. Seriously, honey, wait until you see this man. Wavy blond hair, tall as in well over six feet, and very nicely put together. He says he’s into running. Throw in a classy continental accent—I thought German, but it turns out he’s Dutch—anyway, add that sweet little car—which by the way matches his eyes—and some lucky lady would be getting a nice deal.”

“How do you know some lucky lady hasn’t already got him?”

“No wedding ring. And I asked if he’d be alone. He’s single, Tess. Good looking, professional, very friendly. Right age. You could do a lot worse.”

Despite the trouble she was having just breathing, Tess managed to fake a scandalized gasp. “Cami! You know the rules about fraternizing with guests.”

“You might want to make an exception with this one. I mean it, Tess. You can’t go on posing as a nun forever.”

“I’m pretty sure I can. Now will you go home? I have some book work to do and as soon as Jeff gets here, I’m turning in. The van is full of bedding plants which I intend to put in the ground tomorrow morning. Now scoot!”

She stood at the desk for a good ten minutes, staring at the registration card but unwilling to pick it up. Now, added to the name and profession, she had Cami’s description to think about. There had to be plenty of men with all those characteristics. Surely, tall, blue-eyed joggers who happened to have been born in the Netherlands couldn’t be that uncommon in this part of the country. And vintage Mercedes convertibles were a dime a dozen, weren’t they? Cautiously she took the card from its slot and turned it over in her hands. The neat script didn’t look familiar. The St. Louis P.O. box was no help.
       Returning the card to its space, she took a deep breath. Tomorrow morning she’d wake up to find that the guest in her carriage house was just another random stranger. She’d feel foolish and relieved, and ashamed that memories had overtaken reason, even for a few agonizing hours. But tonight, she knew without a doubt, she would lie awake reliving every one of those memories, just in case.  


Katie Lost and Found (Welcome to Walnut Lodge Book 1) exclusively on Amazon.com for Kindle.

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