Okay guys – Here we go! You guys chose this little plot bunny to work with: A widow with two small kids moves to a small town to set up an inn with the money her husband left her. The local hotel owner isn’t sure the town is big enough for the both of them at first… But he might come around!
So I’ve got some basic plotting to do in the background, but even before I do that… let’s see where this goes!
“This place smells like fish.” A small voice pipes up from the back seat.
“Brown fish,” chimes in the other member of my most dedicated critique squad.
I take a deep breath. After fourteen hours in the car, I can’t be too hard on them. They’re just little kids. And we’ve all been through a lot. Too much, really. “It smells like the ocean because it’s on the water, guys,” I say, forcing a smile into my voice even though I’m exhausted and every part of me feels completely trampled. I glance in the rearview mirror and catch a glimpse of sky blue eyes looking back at me.
My heart twists a little, though I’ve gotten used to seeing my husband’s eyes in my daughter’s innocent face. It’s just harder now–she reminds me so much of him. “The place we bought is called the Seaside Inn. Because… it’s…” I drag the end of the sentence out, waiting for one of them to jump in.
“By the sea!” Zane yells exuberantly. Only a seven-year old boy can still summon the enthusiasm to shout when he was asleep five minutes earlier. “Smelly town by the sea! We should call it the Smelly Inn.”
“I suppose we could change the name,” I told him, though I had no intention at all of calling my new business venture the Smelly Inn. “It’s ours now.”
“So we will live at a hotel?” Hazel asks, her voice uncertain and sad. She has sounded this way more than any other way since Todd died eighteen months ago. It was my mission in life to reassure her, to reassure both of them—and to show them that while some things happen, some bad things, things you can’t plan for and surely didn’t expect—life is full of mostly good surprises. And surprises—good ones, that is—had become the lifeblood of my little family since my husband died. I spent half my time imagining ways to bring smiles to the little faces I loved so much, the little faces that were the only real reminders I had left that once I’d had a wonderful partner by my side through all this difficult adulting I had to do.
“The Inn is going to be our home, yes,” I told Hazel and Zane as I navigated through the adorable downtown of our new home. The streets were wide and clean, and the street that ran perpendicular to the boardwalk at its end was lined with quaint shops and charming little restaurants. I tried not to think about strolling down that street with Todd, though I was beginning to believe I might have underestimated how hard it would be to come back here to Appleton without him.
I rounded the end of the main street and pulled up one of the smaller side streets in front of a grand Victorian structure with scalloped butter yellow shingles covering the structure, and a huge wraparound porch. The place had recently received a fresh coat of paint, and it looked pristine despite the overgrown garden and tall grass out front. There was a spot just in front big enough to pull in the car with its trailer, and I was relieved to slide up to the curb and shut off the engines.
Zane was out of the car before I’d even been able to turn around in my seat, and Hazel waited patiently for me to come around and spring her from her five-point buckle. “Thank you,” she said softly as I lifted her from the car and set her on her feet. She moved slowly around the front of the car to the sidewalk where her brother stood looking up at the Inn.
“The Fishy Inn,” he declared.
“If we pick a name, can we call it The Unicorn Inn?” Hazel was fixated on unicorns, which wasn’t surprising considering she was a five-year old girl. Every one of her friends in preschool had also had a unicorn fixation, with the exception of her best friend Ella, who preferred Ninja Turtles.
I joined them on the sidewalk and dropped a hand on each of their little shoulders as we stood looking up at the huge old house. “Tell you what,” I said. “We will come up with another name, but it will be a secret name, only for us, okay?”
“And it will be the Stinky Fish Inn,” Zane said. “Unicorn,” his sister argued, her voice growing louder.
“The Stinky Unicorn Fish Inn,” I said. “That will be the secret name of our new home.”
“Then I guess I won’t have too much to worry about,” came a deep voice from behind me.
I spun, trying not to look surprised as I took in the brawny dark haired man who’d snuck up on us on the sidewalk. Something about his cocky look and the slight smirk on his face rubbed me the wrong way despite his in-your-face good looks. Maybe it was having been in the car for so long. I was exhausted and cranky, and it took nine times more energy to stay positive for my kids. I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to meet the locals yet.
“Hello,” I said, trying not to sound irritated.
“Hello,” the stranger returned, joining us to stare up at the Inn. “You’re going to rename the place, huh?”
“No.” Zane and Hazel both glared at me, and I gave them a half-smile. “I mean, we are… but that’s going to be a secret name. Only for owners.”
“I see,” said the stranger. He wore a button-down shirt in a green check and it was tucked into dark jeans. His shoes were fashionable and shiny, and he looked far too put together to be a random passerby out for a stroll. He gave me a long appraising look and then turned to look at the Inn again. “So you’re the new owner.” It wasn’t a question, and there was something about the way he said this that ruffled my already scruffed-up feathers.
I took a deep breath, pulling up my professional voice. “Yes, I’m Annabelle Frasier. And these are my kids, Hazel and Zane.” I stuck out a hand.
He turned to me again, meeting my eyes this time with his coffee brown gaze. “Seth Tyson.” He grasped my hand and shook, and I was surprised to find myself thinking that the warmth of his hand felt reassuring somehow after our long trip, like I’d needed someone to touch me in order to anchor me again, to connect me to this place.
Since Todd was killed, I’d had the feeling often—the sensation of living in an alternate universe, that somehow nothing was exactly real. But this man—Seth—his handshake was firm and strong, and very real. He released my hand, smiled at my kids, and reached into his pocket, removing a business card and handing it to me.
My children watched all this with interest, and Zane craned his neck to read the card as I accepted it. Seth spoke again. “I wish you luck, Annabelle. You’ll need it.”
“Thanks,” I said, my voice sounding like a question.
Seth looked at me with one long last stare, and then smiled as he turned and walked in the other direction. “See you around.”
“Seth Tyson,” Zane read aloud. “Owner. The Tangerine Inn.”
“Ooh,” Hazel said. “That’s a good name.”
I stuffed the card back into my pocket. So that, I understood, was the competition. “Come on guys,” I said, drawing on the last reserves of energy I had. “Grab your backpacks and let’s go look around our new home.”
Keep reading! Click here for Chapter Two