Pennyroyal Christmas ~ A Ruthorford Holiday Story ~
Sit back, grab your favorite drink, relax and read a sample of my Pennyroyal Christmas:
Kateri Chance comes back to Ruthorford for a fresh start and runs into the man that caused her to leave in the first place. She must resolve her past before she can move forward. However, someone doesn’t want that to happen. Join Kat as she explores Ruthorford, the small town that protects its own.
The Jeep hit another rut on the old road. Kat braced herself. She could hear Tramp scrambling in the backseat and glanced back. Bracing his four legs for another bump, he rewarded her with hot dog breath and a quick lick.
She returned her attention to the road, swiped her hand across her wet cheek, and let out a laugh. “I swear you’re more daredevil than dog.”
Tramp responded with a quick bark.
They hit another rut, sending mud spraying out from the tires. Kat kept going, afraid slowing would mean stalling and she had no intention of getting stuck before she reached her destination. She hadn’t come this far to have to cry for help now.
She turned sharply to the left to swing around a pine hanging down across the old fire trail. She glanced as she went by. Looked like a lightning strike. Thank God, it’d been one of the wettest falls northern Georgia had ever seen. In a dry fall, a strike like that could flash fast, torch dried leaves, and easily lay waste to thousands of acres before it was brought under control. She repressed a shiver, silently affirmed her choices, and looked on down the trail.
“Well, looky there, Tramp.” The trail widened and she could see the cabin for the first time. It had been years, thirteen to be exact, since she’d been here. A moment of sadness laid light fingers over her heart but she shook it off. No time for that now.
Kat didn’t slow down until she pulled in front of the porch and stopped.
Tramp barked. Kat reached over, unlocked the passenger door, and shoved it open. Tramp pushed her against the wheel as he wheedled his way between the seats before leaping out. “Jesus, dog,” she called but he was off and running. She let him run. One shrill whistle and he’d be at her side.
She arched her back as she glanced at the cabin from the Jeep. From here, it looked to be in good shape. Probably better than I am. She rolled her shoulders. The salesman had warned her that a traditional Jeep was not the most comfortable ride. However, Kat, remembering one she’d rented a couple of years earlier, had insisted this was exactly what she wanted. Now, coming straight from Virginia, with only potty and food breaks, she wished she’d listened to him.
She grabbed her keys and stepped out of the Jeep, grateful for the gravel, else she’d have sunk ankle deep in mud. Tall pines and hardwoods encircled the cabin, the dense overgrowth keeping the cabin in shadow. Hopefully, keeping it cool as well. For November, it was hotter than two blazes—one of those dreaded Indian summers.
Although it had stopped raining, she could still hear the tiny plops and pleeps of drops falling from the leaves, as though the trees whispered among themselves. The air smelled of earth, pine, and pennyroyal, the wild mint blooming late into the fall. Designing a wreath in her head, a smile crinkled her eyes and she shoved the door of the Jeep closed with a creak.
As if on cue, Tramp bounded out of the woods, the underside of his shaggy black coat dripping. Reaching back through the car window, she grabbed a towel, now dingy from wet paws and followed her companion to the porch. Kat waited a safe distance while Tramp shook off remnants of his good time and then finished drying him with the towel. She tossed the damp towel across the faded Adirondack chair and unlocked the front door.
The door swung open and they stepped into the greatroom. Various dried herbs hung upside down from the rafters, their earthy scents mingling with that of pine and lemon. The large stone fireplace along the outside wall was stacked with wood. A brass horn holder held long matches. The fireplace, designed after the colonial step-in kitchen hearth, had several iron arms attached that swung inward—out of the way, but ready on hinges to hold pots. The double grate to the side on the hearth was ready, with a few modifications, for baking or pizza making.
Kat spun around. The place was in perfect condition, given the fact that no one had been down here for years. Her attorney had mentioned that someone down here was keeping an eye on the place and she would come set up the generator and bring in some food. She strolled across the room letting her fingers run across the back of the crate-style couch with its thick cushions. She’d slept many a night on that couch as a teenager. It didn’t look the worse for wear.
The back of the cabin behind the greatroom opened into a dining area and kitchen with the dining area nearest the fireplace. Triple windows overlooked the garden, long overgrown. The kitchen was functional—nothing fancy. She opened the refrigerator. Milk, eggs, bread, bacon, deli meats, cheese and two large bottles of RC. She smiled. RC had been a staple around here back then.
She filled a bowl from the kibble bag sitting on the counter, and set it on the floor at the end of the cabinets. Another bowl, filled with water, barely touched the floor before Tramp started slurping. Good thing it was a brick floor, Kat thought and fixed herself some RC, walked back into the greatroom and sat on the couch. Tramp sniffed the food and followed her, nestling at her feet. She stared at the unlit grey fireplace. Years fell away and memories, long relegated to the past, forced their way into the present, and Kat let the tears come.
Rowe Davis pulled his truck in front of the Ruthorford Post Office and grabbed the packages off the seat next to him.
“Hey, handsome,” he heard the throaty feminine voice. He waved over his head as he closed the truck door. He’d recognize Teresa Abbott Ruthorford’s voice anywhere. He turned and there she stood on the wide porch of Abbott Bed and Breakfast across the street, waving. Even in her fifties, Teresa was a striking woman.
“Got time for a quick bite and some gossip?” she called out to him.
“I always have time for a glass of sweet tea,” he called back. “Let me take care of this and I’ll be right over.”
“Tell Brenda to come over later. I have those rolls she wants. Fresh out of the oven.”
“Will do,” he shouted back and headed into the small brick post office. The Victorian building, converted from an old farrier’s shop and stable, was one of the most unique post offices he’d ever seen. The original stables attached to the back were now used for storage. He opened the door and the cool air swept at him. He hurried in, shutting out the unseasonal heat.
“Brenda,” he called, seeing no one behind the ornate iron grill of the one window.
“Be right out.”
He turned toward the sound of her voice. He could just make out movement behind the wall of brass and glass boxes of various sizes. Darkened over time, the heavy little doors still gleamed. Brenda made sure of that.
“Take your time.” He walked over to the long center island topped with green marble, pulled out a label from one of the bins and began filling it out. He was just slapping it in place when he heard the squeak of the stool as Brenda hefted herself onto it.
“There,” she said and pushed aside the “BE RIGHT BACK” sign. “What can I do for you, Rowe?”
“Got a couple of packages to send off.” He placed the packages on the counter, waited for her to open the door in the grillwork and pushed them through. “Oh. Teresa says she has the rolls ready.”
“Good. Can’t go to a reunion empty handed.” She set about making short work of the business at hand. She tallied it up and Rowe handed her a ten. As she handed back the change, she looked up at the tall, black-haired man standing across from her. It felt like it’d been only yesterday when she’d found the heart-broken young Indian slumped in the stables, in the dark. He and the Chance girl had been caught kissing behind the bed and breakfast and the next day she’d been sent away. It had been his first experience with prejudice. It still hurt for her to remember that time.
“I swear you get better lookin’ every day.”
He felt the heat rise up his neck.
She let out a hoot. “Now that’s something—when an old biddy like me can make a handsome young guy like you blush.”
“Probably because I still remember the crush I had on you as a kid,” he said.
“Go on.” It was his turn to watch cheeks flame. She was in her sixties now, refused to give up the job she’d had all her life, and was still soft and pretty. She’d always had a round softness. Her red-blonde hair was mostly white now but her blue eyes sparkled with life and her skin, though wrinkled, was still peaches and cream. He was all of five the first time she’d handed him a jawbreaker and smiled at him. His first crush.
Rowe took the jawbreaker she handed him now and put it in his pocket. The jawbreakers had gotten smaller over the years, but her kindness sure hadn’t. “I’m heading over to the B & B for tea, so I’ll just save this for later.”
He turned to go when she stopped him.
“Rowe, could you do me a favor?”
He turned back. “Anything for you,” he gifted her with a big smile.
“I’ve got some mail for Kateri Chance. She’s out at their old cabin. It’s on your way.”
“Kat’s back?” he asked softly.
“Arrived yesterday, but she hasn’t been to town yet. Smitty’s finished the run or I’d have him take it out.”
“No problem. I’ll drop it off.”
He took the rubber-banded bundle of letters and headed out, half-remembering to call goodbye just before the door closed behind him.
Kat was back. Rowe tossed the packet on the passenger’s seat and slammed the door shut again. He stood there for a moment pondering what Kat being back could mean. He turned and headed toward the gorgeous old Victorian across the street. The welcoming porches and gardens reminded him of the night, long ago when he and Kat, had slipped around the back of the venerable old building to lie under the branches of the weeping willow and steal kisses. It would have been more than that had Teresa not found them and scooted them home. How she’d known they were out there after midnight would have baffled him, had he not known she had a sixth sense about her. The next day, Kat was gone. Off to boarding school or relatives in Virginia. Rumors had run rampant, as they always did in small towns. He’d kept his head high, his mouth closed, and stayed out of town.
Not that he lived in town. He didn’t. He and his people lived on the surrounding farms. They’d never lived in Ruthorford, it was an unspoken law. Even before the white settlers had come, his tribe encircled it, protecting the sacred ground. It was still sacred, as were the people the tribal council had allowed to settle in Ruthorford.
Rowe took the steps two at a time just as Teresa walked through the front door carrying a tray with a pitcher and two glasses. Without a word, he reached over, took it from her, and headed to a table and two chairs at the far end of the porch, nestled under the large blades of a slow turning fan.
“We can go inside if it’s too hot….”
“Naw,” he interrupted her, “this is better.”
They settled down and Teresa poured them both some tea. “Can you believe this blasted heat? And so late.”
“I found a patch of pennyroyal in the east pasture the other day. In this heat, it’s still spreading. Had to move the horses to another pasture until we can get rid of it.”
Teresa slowly shook her head. “Such a deceptive plant. Smells so good, too.”
“Sure don’t want to get it mixed up with regular mint.”
“That’s why I cultivate my own mint, or use Dorian’s.” She took a sip of her mint tea and smiled. “By the way, how’s John?” she asked, referring to his older brother.
“In Virginia, visiting Kayla and Meadow.”
“Have you heard that Kat’s come back?”
“Brenda just told me. I’m taking some mail out there on my way home.”
Teresa toyed with the rim of her glass, not looking up. “She’s had a rough time of it.”
He waited. She didn’t elaborate. “Teresa, it was a long time ago.” He looked out over Main Street, his mind rushing back those many years. “She probably doesn’t even remember me.”
“There you’d be wrong,” Teresa said quietly.
It made him turn and look at her. She had that look in her eye, the one that told him she knew more than she was willing to share. He took a long drink of the tea, set the glass down, and studied her. “Guess I better be getting on before it gets late.”
She stood when he did, touched his arm. “She’s fragile. Be careful with her.”
He frowned but said nothing. As he walked down the steps he heard her call out, “You give John my love when you talk to him…and Kayla and Meadow.”
He lifted his hand in acknowledgment and walked on to the truck.
Kat swung the basket, filled with the fresh herbs and berries she’d gathered along her walk. She’d been out for hours enjoying the richness of the woods—a richness she’d missed. Tramp had romped, chased squirrels and gotten thoroughly drenched in the stream that ran though the property. Now she was a tad warm and tired. Some mint tea sounded real good. She used the narrow limb she’d picked up as a walking stick and trudged her way up the small embankment behind the cabin.
Tramp’s bark was not the fun I’m-gonna-get-me-a-critter bark. This bark was different. Someone was there. Tramp raced ahead.
She walked faster but as she rounded the side of the cabin, her step faltered and she stopped.
Rowe Davis knelt on the ground, wrestling with Tramp, who was having the time of his life, tossing his head, jumping back and barking, only to rush back in for more. Rowe’s laugh was rich and deep, much more so than the sixteen-year-old she remembered. As if sensing her, he stopped and looked up.
Kat’s breath hitched. The gorgeous male in front of her had long replaced the young boy. His body had the lean muscular grace of a cougar. His gold skin almost shimmered in the late rays of the sun. As he stood, he took off the hat and turned his attention to her. He stood well over six feet. Strong features filled out his face. Piercing brown eyes met hers. A smile played across his lips, lips she suddenly remembered on hers.
“Kat,” he said and nodded.
“Rowe.” She stepped forward, her heart pounding.
“Brenda asked me to bring out your mail.” He reached behind him and picked up the packet of letters that was lying on the hood of his truck. Tramp, thinking it was a game, leapt up.
“Down, Tramp,” Kat commended. “Come.”
The dog stopped and ran to her side.
“Sorry about that,” she said and headed for the porch. Thirteen years was a long time. She’d dreamed of running into him. However, this wasn’t some fantasy. This was real. And so was he. She suddenly realized she was standing in front of him, not moving.
“Want to come in?” She turned, walked to the porch and set the walking stick by the door.
“Maybe for a minute. I don’t want to interrupt.” His voice faltered.
She turned and looked at him as she opened the door. A smile formed on her lips and worked its way up to her eyes. “Not like I’m on much of a schedule out here.” Walking ahead, she put the basket on the table. “Want something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I just had tea with Teresa.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I do. I’m parched.” She didn’t wait for an answer as she took a pitcher out of the small refrigerator and poured some tea in a glass, dropping in a few ice cubes.
She took a sip and rolled the cold glass across her forehead. “It’s been awhile since I traipsed through the woods.” Without letting a silence lapse, she asked, “How’s Teresa?” She still remembered the sound of Teresa’s voice when she’d shooed them from under the weeping willow. Her throaty voice held mirth, not anger.
“Feisty as ever,” he said. The silence lapsed anyway.
“Well, I better get on home.” He walked back to toward the door, stopped and looked at the fireplace. He looked as though he was going to say something, didn’t, and turned back toward the door.
Kat followed a few steps behind him. “Thanks for the mail.”
“Sure.” He opened the door and stopped when he stepped out onto the porch. He looked at her a long time. “If you need anything…”
“Yeah…thanks.” She closed the door, leaned back against it and slid down to the floor. Tramp whimpered and stuck his black face next to hers, offering the comfort only a dog could do. She wrapped her shaking hands around her knees and refused to cry.
The years fell away. She stood in this very room, cowering before her father’s anger.
“I told you to stay away from him. He’s not for you.” Her father raised his hand and let it come down across her face. The pain wasn’t as bad as the fact that her father had slapped her. He’d never raised his hand against her before.
The look in his eyes stopped her. She had never seen such hatred. “Get out of my sight,” he snarled.
She fled to her room. The next morning Kat had found herself on a plane to Virginia—to her aunt’s. It had taken weeks before she could sneak a call to Rowe. His father answered the phone. She still remembered the sadness in his father’s voice as he told her it was her family’s wishes that she and Rowe not communicate.
That was so long ago and so much more had happened in her life. She hoped Rowe was well and happily married with children waiting at home. She hadn’t even asked. The sight of him had coursed through her like a surge of electricity, tingling nerve endings and making her raw with need.
She’d come to terms with her life years ago and, by God, she was going to live it her way—and be happy. With the reserve of strength she knew she possessed, she stood. “Come on, Tramp, let’s eat dinner.”