Brian Nolan gave up his high-pressure job in the big city and moved back to his childhood home in Southingly, Vermont. He enjoys his job with the town roads department, plowing in winter and landscaping in summer. It doesn’t pay much, but he’s done the “Corporate America thing” and has no interest in wealth that comes with an ulcer and a broken relationship.
The only problem is, lately Brian feels something is lacking in his life, some need is going unfulfilled. And he knows he’ll never be completely happy until he discovers what it is.
Little does Brian know he’ll find his reason for living stranded in a snowstorm…
A PORT IN THE STORM
Published by Tirgearr Publishing
Author Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Delisi
Cover Art: EJR Digital Art – http://www.ejrdigitalart.com
Editor: Christine McPherson
Proofreader: Amanda Stephanie
A Shakespir Edition
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Thank you for respecting our author’s hard work.
This story is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
To Dan, my favorite man with a snow shovel!
A PORT IN THE STORM
Snow had been falling heavily all day, and the TV newscasters were already calling it “The Blizzard of the Century”. All Brian Nolan knew was that he had miles of streets to plow and he’d be lucky to crawl into bed by dawn.
Brian was the only one in town who could keep Old Betsy—as the snowplow was lovingly called—running, so he’d inherited the job of snowplow driver. He had tried to tell the town council that Old Betsy was just particular and needed to be treated like the grand old lady she was, but they swore Brian had some kind of unearthly rapport with the infernal machine. Secretly, Brian was pleased; plenty of snow fell in Southingly, Vermont, so he’d never be out of a job.
In the summer, he overhauled Old Betsy and kept the roadways and public parks manicured. Not much mental capacity needed, and that was fine with Brian. He’d had his fill of Corporate America in his time as a high-powered stockbroker. Four years, an ulcer, and a broken relationship later, peace and quiet suited him just fine. His needs were simple now—food in his belly, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head.
Only problem was, lately he’d been getting restless. He didn’t want to go back to the city, but his life in the small town where he’d grown up seemed stale and flat. Something was missing—but what?
Brian shook himself out of his reverie. A beat-up red Ford pickup truck partially blocked the road straight ahead of him, its back wheels stuck in the ditch, spinning uselessly, churning up clouds of powdery white snow. Brian smiled. It was Jake Peterson, the town’s eldest and most colorful citizen. Everyone kept an eye out for Jake; he didn’t have any kin.
Brian stopped the snowplow and put on the flashers, grabbed a sturdy coil of rope from behind his seat, and hopped out. He strode over to Jake’s truck and tapped on the driver’s window.
Jake cranked down the window, his shaggy white hair blowing in the stiff breeze. “Officer!” he cried. “Glad you’re here. Did you see it?”
“Jake, it’s me, Brian. What did you see?”
Jake pointed a trembling finger toward the woods. “A spaceship! I saw it coming down over there in broad daylight, bold as you please, not an hour ago. Did you see it?”
Brian shook his head. Jake was always reporting he’d seen spaceships, or pirates, or talking dogs. Everyone humored him. “Nope, I didn’t see it, buddy. You sit tight while I tie this rope to your bumper and pull you out of the ditch. Okay?”
Brian tied one end of the rope to Jake’s bumper, maneuvered Old Betsy in front of the pickup, then tied the other end of the rope securely in place. In no time, Brian towed Jake’s truck back onto the road.
“Here, young fella,” Jake said, waving his hand out the window. “Something for your trouble.”
Brian solemnly accepted the proffered unwrapped, dusty cough drop. “Thank you,” he said gravely, trying not to smile. “This should come in handy.” He paused, then said, “Promise me you’ll go home now, Jake. You shouldn’t be out on a night like this.”
“But…but what about the spaceship?” Jake cried. “I can’t let it get away!”
“Don’t worry, it won’t.” Brian leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I’ll tell you a secret…spaceships can’t fly in snow.”
Jake’s bristly white eyebrows shot up. “They can’t?”
“Nope. They need heat to fly. Cold locks up their engines.” Brian winked. “So, that baby’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You go home now and make yourself some nice hot cocoa, and come back to see the spaceship when the weather warms up. Okay?”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
Brian nodded. “I’m sure. Go on home, now.”
“All right, I will.” Then, in a rare moment of clarity, Jake added, “Home is where the heart is. That’s a lesson you need to learn, young man. Where is your heart?” He rolled up the window, gunned the motor and disappeared in the direction of his home, the back end of his truck shimmying like a hula dancer’s hips.
Brian shook his head glumly. I don’t know where my heart is. That’s the problem.
It was well after midnight when Brian spotted the little Honda in the ditch. A couple more inches of snow and it would have been impossible to see. Sighing, he hopped out and approached the vehicle. He’d already turned in reports of several stuck, abandoned vehicles to Corky Jones, the tow truck driver, tonight. Corky wasn’t going to be happy to hear of another.
Brian tried to peer into the car, but the windows were fogged up. The headlights of the snowplow just scattered light on the intricately patterned frost, but didn’t penetrate inside. He pulled a small notebook and pencil out of his pocket, planning to write down the make, model and license number to pass on to Corky.
Then, suddenly, he thought he glimpsed something inside…a small head pressed against the back seat window. He dropped the notebook and pencil and jerked open the door. A little girl, about four years old, tumbled out into his arms. She was bundled up in a sweater and an old, patched jacket, and she appeared to be asleep. Or was she unconscious?
“Honey?” Brian patted her cheek. “Are you okay? Can you wake up and answer me?”
Her eyelids fluttered open. “Papa?” she murmured, then drifted off to sleep again. Well, she seemed to be all right, just sleepy. But what about the car’s other inhabitants?
Brian stuck his head inside and took a quick look around. A woman was curled up—asleep, he hoped—on the front bench seat. Shifting the child to one arm, he opened the front door and gently shook the woman’s shoulder. “Hello? Are you all right?”
The woman blinked up at him in confusion. Her deep blue eyes sent a bolt of lightning straight through his heart, making him want to protect her and comfort her, tell her all would be well. “Who…who are you?” she asked as she pushed herself upright, clutching together the lapels of her worn coat. Then, she saw the child in his arms. “Give her to me,” she demanded, holding out her arms.
Brian set the girl in her lap. “She’s all right, she’s just sleeping. My name is Brian Nolan, and I drive the town snowplow.” He stuck out his hand. “And you are?”
She ignored his outstretched hand. “I am in need of a ride to the next town. Do you have room for us?”
Brian stuck his hand in his pocket. “Sure. Come on.”
The woman followed him to Old Betsy, cradling the little girl in her arms. She did allow Brian to momentarily hold the child as she clambered up into the cab, then took her back and settled the girl on her lap.
Brian started the engine and cranked up the heater. “We’ll have more heat in a minute or two,” he said, briskly rubbing his hands together. “In the meantime, I’ll call for the tow truck to haul your car into town. Did it break down? Do you know what’s wrong?”
The woman shook her head. “I just got stuck in the snow. I’m not used to driving in it. But I can’t afford a tow,” she added quietly. “Can we leave it here for now?”
“No, I’m afraid we can’t,” Brian said, glancing at her. She didn’t look like she could afford a cup of coffee, much less a tow. “But it won’t cost you anything. Corky Jones, the tow truck driver, is a friend of mine, and he owes me a favor. I’ll get him to bring it in at no charge.”
“Thank you, but I don’t want to be indebted to a stranger,” the woman said stiffly. “I’ll manage somehow.”
The tremor in her voice shot straight to his gut. “Nonsense,” he said, keeping his voice light and gentle. “You won’t be indebted to me. I’ve pulled half a dozen folks out of the ditch tonight myself, and this storm’s giving Corky enough business to pay for a vacation to Hawaii. He won’t mind doing me a favor. Please, don’t give it another thought.”
The woman sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes. “Thank you,” she murmured, her shoulders sagging. “You’re a kind man. We appreciate your help.” She wearily rubbed her forehead, then opened her eyes and looked directly at him for the first time since awakening. “I’m Jenny Peterson, and this is my daughter, Honey.”
Aha! That explained why the girl thought he was her father—he had known her name. Or had appeared to, anyway. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “Is there anyone you’d like me to call for you? Your husband, maybe?”
She shook her head. “My husband is dead,” she said quietly. “Brent was killed a year ago, and we’ve been on our own ever since.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brian said with genuine sympathy. “Any family? Friends?”
Again, she shook her head. “Just take us into town, please. We’ll find a place to stay, and I’ll deal with the car in the morning.”
“Okay. Whatever you want.” Brian phoned in the tow job to Corky, then headed Old Betsy for town. “So,” he said, trying to make conversation, “where are you from?”
“Atlanta,” she said. “But there’s nothing for us there now. I thought it was time to start over—time for a new life.” She grimaced. “I’m not so sure that was the right decision. My first snowfall, and I’m already in trouble.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Brian said. “You’ll learn how to handle it in no time. Before you know it, you could be driving Old Betsy here.” He affectionately patted the steering wheel.
For the first time, Jenny smiled. His heart clenched; she looked like an angel, with her soft auburn hair framing her face and the smile lighting up her features. “Old Betsy,” she said. “I like that. Did you name her?”
“I can’t take credit for it,” he admitted. “That’s always been her name, even when she was brand new.”
“Was she named after someone’s wife?” Jenny asked.
Brian burst into laughter, then subsided when she looked at him askance. “I’m sorry,” he said, still chuckling. “Old Betsy was named after a plow horse. Snow plow…plow horse…you see the connection?” He winked at her, and was gratified to see her blush.
“Oh,” she said. Then, after a moment, “I think we might like it here after all.”
The lights of town came into view all too swiftly. Brian headed for the U-Rest Motel. To his dismay, the “No Vacancy” sign was lit. Nevertheless, he pulled up to the office and stopped in to check for himself, leaving Jenny and Honey in the warm truck.
“I’m sorry, Brian,” Alicia, the teenaged desk clerk, said and apologetically spread her hands. “We’re full up. This snowstorm has left dozens of travelers stranded. And I can save you a little time—the Bradley Street Bed and Breakfast is full up, too. We’re telling folks to check with Sheriff Ward—he might let them sleep at the jail.”
“The jail?” Jenny cried in dismay when Brian returned to Old Betsy and gave her the bad news a minute later. “Oh no, we can’t sleep there. My little girl in a jail?” She stroked Honey’s head.
Brian frowned. He couldn’t picture it, either. Jail, no matter how kindly intended or desperately needed, was no place for a child. Then, suddenly, it hit him. He had a spare bedroom. In fact, he had several of them. The event that had spurred him to quit his stockbroker job was losing his father, and coming home for the funeral to sell the house. Walking through the quiet rooms filled with familiar furniture, family photos and mementos of his childhood, he had felt a wave of peace wash over him, the first stillness of spirit he’d felt in years. Right then he’d decided to keep the house and ditch the job. He’d never looked back.
But, would Jenny agree to stay with him? He’d just met her, and she didn’t seem to be the trusting type. She looked like she’d taken a hard knock or two in her life. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Brian took a deep breath. “I have a suggestion.” He glanced at Jenny from the corner of his eye. “If you’re interested.”
“Anything is better than sleeping in the jail!”
“Good. I mean, I hoped you’d think so. Er…well…”
Jenny raised her eyebrows and waited.
“I have a spare bedroom. In fact, I have several. You and Honey are welcome to stay with me. The house is warm and cozy, not fancy, but a safe shelter from the storm. And, to be honest, it hasn’t held the sound of children’s laughter in far too long. So, what about it? Will you come?”
She looked down at her lap. “Won’t your wife object to last-minute company?”
He grinned. “I’m not married. I live alone, so there’s no problem.”
Jenny hesitated. “I appreciate the offer, Brian. Honestly, I do. But it wouldn’t be appropriate…well, what I mean to say is, you’re a single man and I’m a widow…I mean, what would people think?”
Brian shrugged. “They’d think the motels were full, and I have a spare bedroom that I was nice enough to offer to you. What else should they think?”
Jenny’s struggle between doing what was best for her child and doing what propriety demanded was written plainly across her face as she stroked her sleeping daughter’s hair. “All right,” she said, squaring her shoulders as if she were being marched to the guillotine. “Thank you. We’ll stay.”
In a rush, Brian let out the breath he’d been holding. “Good! I’ll drop you off at the house and get you all settled in. I promise, you’ll be comfortable.”
“Drop us off? What do you mean?”
He waved his hand at the snow swirling outside the windshield. “Old Betsy and I have a lot of streets to plow before dawn. We have to get the roads clear before people wake up and head to work. But I’ll join you at the house as soon as I can. All right?”
Jenny nodded. “You’re a very kind man, Brian Nolan.”
Now it was Brian’s turn to blush. “Just doing what anyone else would do,” he mumbled.
The first rosy rays of dawn were creeping over the eastern horizon when Brian wearily shuffled up the steps of his house and in through the front door. He hung up his coat and dropped his boots, then immediately headed upstairs for bed. His stomach growled, but fatigue won out over hunger. He was too tired to fix so much as a sandwich, let alone eat it.
He climbed the stairs and tiptoed past the guest bedroom door that Jenny had left ajar. He hesitated, then pushed the door open wider, careful not to make a sound.
Jenny and Honey were sound asleep in the center of the big four-poster bed. Honey’s blond curls lay across the pillow, and her sleeping face glowed with the innocence and purity of spirit only the very young possess.
Brian turned to Jenny. She was curled up on her side, one arm stretched out to her daughter, even in sleep. The cares of the day had slipped away, leaving her face smooth, relaxed, trusting. A slight smile curved the corners of her mouth. His stomach lurched. God, she looked like an angel. Suddenly, he knew he’d do anything to make her and Honey happy, keep them safe, never let that innocence and trust slip away again.
Brian’s heart expanded with a sudden aching overflow of love. Funny, but he’d never known what he was missing until he found it, and now he wondered how he’d ever existed without it. He didn’t need a career, or money, or possessions, or even peace and simplicity. He needed a family…he needed love.
He looked down again at Jenny to find her watching him. “Hello,” she murmured sleepily, her smile filling him with a warm glow. “Welcome home.”
ABOUT ELIZABETH DELISI
Elizabeth Delisi wanted to be a writer since she was in first grade, and probably would have written in the womb if she could have convinced her mother to swallow a pencil.
Elizabeth is a multi-published, award-winning author of romance, mystery and suspense. She is also an instructor for Writer’s Digest University, has taught Creative Writing at the community college level, has worked as a copyeditor for several small publishers, and edits for individuals. She holds a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing major from St. Leo University.
Elizabeth is currently at work on Deadly Destiny and Perilous Prediction, the sequels to Fatal Fortune.
Elizabeth lives in New Hampshire with her husband and feisty parakeet. She enjoys hearing from her readers.
• • •
Get in touch with Elizabeth
Elizabeth Delisi http://www.elizabethdelisi.com
Twitter – http://twitter.com/delisi
Blog – http://www.elizabethdelisi.blogspot.com
Tirgearr Publishing – http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Delisi_Elizabeth
BOOKS BY ELIZABETH
LOTTIE BALDWIN MYSTERIES
FATAL FORTUNE, #1
Released: June 2012
No one in Cheyenne, ND believes in Lottie Baldwin’s psychic abilities; especially not Harlan Erikson, Lottie’s boyfriend, and Chief Deputy in the Sheriff’s Office. When a friend’s husband disappears, Lottie can’t leave it to Harlan. Armed with her courage and her tarot cards, she tries to solve the mystery herself, regardless of who attempts to stop her: Harlan, her friend—or the criminal.
OBSERVANT ORACLE, #2
Released: September 2015
Who murdered the Cheyenne State University student? Can deputy sheriff Harlan Erikson solve the case quickly enough to keep his fiancée, impulsive psychic Lottie Baldwin, from snooping on her own?
MISTLETOE MEDIUM, #3
Released: November 2015
No sooner does psychic Lottie Baldwin pull up stakes and move to Cheyenne, North Dakota, than she finds herself up to her neck in a series of mysterious robberies. Can Lottie and the handsome new man in her life, deputy sheriff Harlan Erikson, solve the crime spree before Lottie becomes the next victim?
OTHER BOOKS BY ELIZABETH
THE MIDNIGHT ZONE
Released: April 2013
When Cassie buys an antique compact, little does she know it can foretell the future—her future. Marjorie, a Florida girl unwillingly transplanted to Vermont, learns there’s more to fear from the alien snowfall than just the cold. Neil Dallas’s jagged descent from rock and roll singer to drug-addicted has-been is unstoppable . . . or is it?
Travel deep into unknown territory, where life and death are not as they seem; where you have to be careful what you ask for, because you might get it. These stories will take you beyond the realm of the solid and real, into the deepest, darkest corner of your imagination. Don’t forget to bring your flashlight . . .
Released: April 2016
Julie Preston worked hard raising her younger sister, Emily, after their parents died, and creating a career. She gave up simple pleasures like love and relationships. So when a friend drags her to a singles bar, Julie’s ready for anything. She meets a gorgeous guy and they spend several passionate hours together. There’s real chemistry there, but Julie regretfully sticks to her promise: a one-night stand, no strings.
When Julie hires a tutor to help Emily pass English, she’s shocked to find Douglas Dean is the man from the bar. Seeing him in her house makes it hard to keep her hands off him, but he isn’t looking for a long-term relationship since he’s a singles bar patron. Right?
How many miles can Julie jog before she gives in and jumps him?
Brian Nolan gave up his high-pressure job in the big city and moved back to his childhood home in Southingly, Vermont. He enjoys his job with the town roads department, plowing in winter and landscaping in summer. It doesn’t pay much, but he’s done the “Corporate America thing” and has no interest in wealth that comes with an ulcer and a broken relationship. The only problem is, lately Brian feels something is lacking in his life, some need is going unfulfilled. And he knows he’ll never be completely happy until he discovers what it is. Little does Brian know he’ll find his reason for living stranded in a snowstorm...