excerpt – SEW HAPPY TOGETHER

SEW HAPPY TOGETHER

Chapter One

The sound of squealing tires made Ariel jam on her brakes as she was backing out of her driveway. She heard a sickening loud thump as she was flung back against her seat. Her heart stopped and she swung around. Had she hit someone?

There didn’t seem to be anyone behind her.

She leaped out of her car and that’s when she saw them—a large man in a dark suit leaning over another guy lying on the road nowhere near her car. Thank God, it wasn’t her fault.

“Is he gonna be okay?” Ariel shouted.

The uninjured man jolted upright, stared at her, ran, and jumped into a massive, grey SUV then sped away, narrowly missing several parked cars.

“Hey! Stop!” She tried to read the license plate, but only caught the last three digits. Fat lot of good that’d do. Ariel ran to the man lying motionless in the middle of the street. God she hoped he was alive. The man let out a low groan.

“Don’t move and please don’t be bleeding.” She took off her cardigan to put under his head then thought better of it. “Can you hear me?”

He nodded then groaned again. She frantically searched the street to see if anyone else was about, but the usually busy neighborhood was quiet.

“Um, I’m just going to check you for broken bones or…anything. I don’t want to move you unless I know it won’t make you worse…I’m sorry. I wish I knew first aid.”

Shifting his arm from above his head to his side, she looked to see if he registered any additional pain. Instead he smiled crookedly up at her.

“I’m fine,” he said in a low voice. “A few bruises. Help me up?” He reached out to grab her arm.

“Um, you shouldn’t move until we know you’re okay,” Ariel repeated.

“Yeah, better I get hit by another car? Help me get to the curb, please?” His grip was firm as he hauled himself to his feet.

“Okay, but this isn’t what they do on TV… I should call someone…Where’d you get hit?”

“About five feet back that way.”

“No, I mean…” Her temper snapped when she realized he was making fun of her. “I’m trying to help here.”

“I’m sorry. My left side’s a little tender and my right arm’s a bit…” He showed her his bleeding wrist with an apologetic smile.

“Oh my.” Ariel felt her vision narrow and her head go fuzzy. She opened her eyes a short while later to see two deep brown eyes peering down worriedly at her. “Oh God, I’m sorry.” She rubbed her forehead. “I’m, um, a little squeamish.”

She sat up quickly then had to close her eyes to keep from fainting again. “Look, if you’re okay here, then I’ll go grab my phone and call an ambulance and, I guess, the police.”

“Oh, not the police, and I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.” He held out his good hand to help her up.

“You should get your wrist checked.” She tried not to think about the blood.

“Okay. I’ll take a cab to the hospital. They’ll put a bandage on it, give me a few pain killers, and send me on my way.”

“I can drive you. Oh, before I forget, the last three numbers on the license plate were nine-one-six. It’s not much, but maybe the cops can link it to someone on file.”

He shook his head. “The cops won’t care about something so minor.”

“But he hit you and drove away, surely…”

“They have real crimes to deal with, besides I have to catch a flight today. I can’t spend hours in the police station trying to ID a car, or whatever.”

“Well, can I drop you at the hospital?” Ariel wondered why she was pushing the issue, obviously the guy wasn’t worried. Then again, he was the first person she’d talked to since she’d moved to Richmond two days ago. Maybe she was starved for company. Wow, was she that pathetic?

“I’ve already taken up too much of your time.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s no trouble.” Tentatively picking a leaf off his sleeve, she added, “Oh, by the way, my name’s Ariel.” She mentally winced. That sounded lame, like a stupid pick-up line and considering how gorgeous he was he probably got hit on all the time.

“The Little Mermaid?” He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“No, that was much later. My mom saw The Tempest on TV.”

“I’m Arthur. An old family name,” he explained. “And if you’re sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, but do you know where the nearest hospital is? I just moved here.”

“Sure. You take a left on Blundell.”

Ariel drove him to Richmond General in relative quiet. What sort of place was the big city, where cops wouldn’t be interested enough to bother catching hit and run criminals? Back home people cared more about each other. Could it be moving here was the biggest mistake of her life?

****

Two hours later, Ariel was still obsessing about the accident. She should’ve called the police despite Arthur’s misgivings. What puzzled her most was the driver that hit him fleeing. Why didn’t he call an ambulance? Oh well, Arthur seemed much better by the time she’d left him at the emergency room, so she should forget the whole thing.

“Breathe in, relax. Breathe out, smile.” She repeated her new mantra a few times to herself as she entered the drugstore. She had enough to worry about, there was no point taking on other people’s problems.

“Excuse me.” Ariel waved down the pharmacist. “I need some help with the Glucosamine.”

“It’s over there.” The woman pointed to the left without looking up.

“I know, but I need the chewable tablets. It’s for my dog.”

The woman joined her at the wall and handed her a bottle. “Here. Try this. You don’t need chewables. Just cover it with something gooey they like. My dog will eat anything smothered in peanut butter.”

“Really? I use cream cheese. I wondered if peanut butter was bad for dogs, like chocolate. Actually she’s eaten a lot of chocolate, but I don’t give it to her. She steals it.”

“Mine, too.” The pharmacist laughed. “She ate a whole box of Purdy’s chocolates, no problem, and mints. Courtney’s a retriever. What’s yours?”

“Um, big? Lola’s part Lab, part Border Collie and, I think, part Newfoundland.” Wow this

was great. Her first non-accidental real conversation in Richmond. Could she ask this woman to be her new best friend? “Hi, I’m Ariel.”

“Holly. Oops, I gotta go take care of that line up. Have a nice day.” Holly gave her an apologetic smile and hurried behind the counter.

“Thanks.” Ariel picked up a couple of lipsticks and made her way to the checkout stand. Oh God, what if Mom was right? Maybe she wouldn’t be able make friends in a big city.

Driving home, she debated in her head.

Do I have to join a bunch of clubs to meet people? Definitely not line dancing though, no matter how desperate I get. Maybe I should’ve kidnapped Arthur and kept him hostage for company? He had a fantastic smile even when he was in pain. Oh man, here I am fantasizing about injured men lying about on the street. Why don’t I just go pick up a few homeless people for buddies?

She almost missed the turnoff for Frobisher Street and set off a series of frustrated honks from the car behind.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mea culpa. Pardonnez-moi. Scusi,” she muttered as she pulled back into her driveway. She wandered around the back door and fumbled with an assortment of keys. Lola whined and scratched helpfully on the other side of the door. “Okay, sweetie, just a minute. Please don’t eat the door.” Lola almost knocked her over bounding out into the backyard searching for the perfect place to water the lawn.

“What? I don’t even get a hello?” Ariel complained. “And you haven’t done any of the unpacking while I was out. I’m going to have to replace you with someone more useful.

A few hours and a couple of glasses of wine later, she looked with satisfaction at her work room. The sewing machine and surge machine were set up and plugged in, bolts of materials neatly arranged, and bins of threads, buttons, piping, elastic, and notions all labeled and accessible. Now it was beginning to look like home. And for once in her life, no one could complain about her sewing taking up too much room.

****

“What I need is a to-do list,” Ariel told herself, chugging down the last of her morning

coffee. She deftly braided her blonde hair then ran around the small basement apartment with her hair in hand searching for a scrunchy. “I need to find an electrician, put in new shelving, paint, review the inventory—God, I hope some of the clothes are better than I remember them—set up my accounting system…”

She applied some Dare lipstick and Luscious mascara and grumbled, “My makeup is way more exciting than I’ll ever be.” Standing back from the mirror she surveyed herself. At five-six and one-twenty-five, she looked fit and healthy in her blue jeans and light blue blouse. Large, grey eyes, a small straight nose…she’d always wanted a slightly turned up nose like Nicole Kidman, but so far, the nose fairy hadn’t obliged. Her smile was nice, but not sexy and her hair was okay, but not exactly cut or styled to impress.

“I look like a boring secretary,” she complained to Lola. “At thirty, I should still at least look like I occasionally have sex.”

She tried a few seductive poses then gave up with a sigh. “Okay. Bagel with jam and I’m outta here.”

Lola glanced up hopefully at the word bagel.

“No, you’re on a diet. The vet said you have to lose some weight or you’ll get hip dysplasia. You wouldn’t like that. Don’t turn those big, sad eyes on me. It won’t work.”

Ten minutes later, Ariel left while Lola happily devoured half a bagel. She started backing out her driveway then slammed on the brakes to avoid running over a man walking on the sidewalk. She was shocked to see it was the same man she’d picked up off the road the day before.

“Are you trying to collect insurance from being run over, or do you have a frequent visitor’s card at the hospital?”

“No. Actually I’ve found it’s a great way to meet gorgeous women.” Arthur smiled. “I wanted to thank you again for your help yesterday. You were amazing.”

“Oh, it was nothing.” Ariel’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

She hadn’t realized how handsome he was when she’d been worried about his health. He was way out of her league. She’d noticed his beautiful eyes and smile, but the rest of him was

perfect too, dark curly hair, amazing cheekbones and he was fit without looking overbuilt. His right wrist was heavily bandaged, but other than that he could’ve walked off a movie set. She guessed he was about her age.

He continued, “I wanted to take you to dinner to say thanks, but I didn’t know which house was yours. I was a little out of it yesterday.”

“That’s, um, really not necessary,” she stammered. Her mother would kill her if she ever heard she turned down a dinner date with a handsome stranger. Then again, this wasn’t Campbell River. What if this was some sort of weird scam?

“Please? It would make me feel better. Or how about a coffee? If you drive, I promise I won’t bleed in your car.”

His smile was so guileless, she found herself agreeing. Besides, a car accident would be hard to stage and what if she hadn’t been backing out of her driveway at that point? No one else reacted to the sound of him being hit.

“Okay, a quick coffee, but I have to get out to my store today. I have a lot of work to do.”

“I thought you just moved here, or did you mean to this neighborhood?” Arthur slid into the passenger seat of her old Dodge Omni.

She glanced at him in surprise trying to remember what else she’d said. “Um, I moved here two days ago. I bought a clothing store out in Steveston. Where’s good for coffee?”

“The bakery in Steveston is nice, and I have some business out there today, so that’d be handy for both of us. Oh, take a right here, unless you need to stop somewhere first.”

“No. Thanks. I’ve a terrible sense of direction. Usually I bury my head in a map as soon as I jump in the car.”

Aside from being too shy to actually look at him, the drive to Steveston was pleasant. Arthur asked about her new business and even sounded interested in her answers. He was easy to talk with. Of course, maybe he’s being nice to pay me back for helping him, she thought warily to herself. A guy that cute and nice couldn’t be attracted to a small town hick like her.

He pointed ahead to the right. “There’s the bakery. I hope you’re hungry because they have the best pastry. And their coffee’s good, too.”

“You don’t exactly look like a puff pastry kind of guy.” She pulled into a parking spot right in front.

“You kidding? I live for the stuff. I’m very picky though. I won’t eat desserts unless they’re top quality. There’s no point wasting space on inferior sugars.” He paused to lock the car door. “Same with alcohol. If you’re going to drink, only put the good stuff down the hatch.”

“Where I’m from, the good alcohol was the wine that didn’t come in a box.” Ariel laughed as she followed him into the bakery. “And if it wasn’t for masses of chocolate, both good and mediocre, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed all last year. But I’ve kicked the Oreo cookies and milk for the breakfast routine. Mmm, these do look good. What’re you having?”

“Pain au chocolat with a latte. You?”

“Sounds good.”

After they got their food, he directed her to a table by the window. “So what happened last year to drive you to chocolate, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Oh you know, same old story. Husband had an affair and wife had a nervous breakdown. Well, not exactly a nervous breakdown, I just lost all motivation for a while. But this is a depressing topic. What about you? Do you live on Frobisher Street, too, or were you casing the street for a burglary?”

“What?” He laughed. “No, I’m a financial planner. I’d been to see an investor in the neighborhood. One of the things I like to do after I see a new client is walk around the block and get a sense of the area. It’s not part of my business, I’m just nosy.”

“Hmm, I guess I’ve never met a financial planner before. So do you tell people to put money away for retirement, or is it more finding loopholes so rich people don’t have to pay taxes?”

“A bit of everything. My company researches which investment options are performing well, and I match up people who want to invest with the portfolio that fits their goals. I enjoy helping people achieve their financial dreams.”

“Well don’t look at me,” she warned him. “I’ve nothing left over to invest. My half of the house paid for the store and my move down here. Hey, I thought you were catching a plane yesterday. Did you miss your flight?”

“No, it was a day trip up to Campbell River for business. I was in and out.”

“You’re kidding! That’s where I’m from. Wow. So who’d you meet up there? Which block did you walk around?”

“There’s something called client confidentiality, I’m afraid. It’s a lovely little town though.”

“Oh, of course, I’m sorry. Did you drive down Dogwood Street? My friend has a great bookstore there called The Book Nook. It’s right by the drugstore?”

“Sounds familiar, but I didn’t spend much time in Campbell River. I had a rocky start to the day.” He drank the last of his coffee. “Say, can I see your new store?”

“You want to?” She shrugged. It wasn’t like she didn’t want his company. “Um, okay. It’s just over on Moncton Street. I’m a little nervous about seeing it again myself. I bought the business almost on a whim last month and now I get to see it all again as a done deal. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

****

The store looked in pretty good shape as they approached. “It’ll need a new paint job to draw the eye,” Ariel commented. “And an awning over the doorway to make it more inviting.”

“Is it still going to be a dress shop?” Arthur asked.

“Yes, but hopefully more upscale. Eventually, I’d like to hire several seamstresses and mostly do the designs.”

“That’s gutsy.”

Ariel checked to see if he was being sarcastic. All she could detect was admiration in his eyes, but maybe he was a good actor. “It’s just retail. I’m not saving lives, or anything.”

“I know, but you’ve risked your money, plus you’ve moved away from your home. It takes more chutzpah than working for someone else and letting them take all the risks.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right. Maybe I’m a little defensive. I’ve always loved sewing and creating clothes, but in the grand scheme of things, we don’t need more fashionable clothes. We need to feed the hungry and house the homeless. Unfortunately that’s not where my skills or desires lie.”

“We do need clothes too, although…” Arthur’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he ran his

eyes down the length of her body.

Ariel turned her attention to unlocking the door, trying to conceal her furious blushing. Just a flirtatious look and he’d set her whole body on fire. She ignored the tingling in her belly as she discreetly punched the code to disarm the alarm. The warning beeps ceased and she motioned him inside with her best Vanna White impersonation. “So what do you think? This part will be the display area with my designs that people can just buy, or request slightly different versions of. Then I’ll have my sewing station over there for alterations. The fabric goes along this wall. And a cutting station in the back with filing cabinets for patterns and designs.”

“What’re you going to do with all this merchandise?”

“Well, I’ll see if I can remake some of it into sellable pieces.” She picked up the sleeve of a polyester-blend shirt between her thumb and forefinger. “But most of it I’ll donate to the shelters. First thing I need to do is to get the place rewired and probably re-floored.” Ariel eyed the heavily marked, tile flooring. “I don’t remember the floor being this disgusting.”

“What do you want the store to feel like?”

“That’s a great question.” She glanced at him in surprise. “I’d like it to have a warm, old fashioned feeling, like a small country store. But first I need to fix the critical problems before I can work on the aesthetics. God, I sound like I have millions to plow into this place. You wouldn’t happen to know a good, inexpensive electrician, would you?”

“My buddy, Frank, is good. Should I call and see if he’s available?”

“That’d be great.”

Arthur pulled out his cell phone and dialed. After a brief conversation, he asked if tomorrow at ten would be good. He gave Frank the address and hung up. “Anything else you need?”

“Oh no. I’ve taken up far too much of your time already. Do you want me to drop you anywhere to meet your client, or whatever?”

“It’s close enough to walk. Thanks for coming out for coffee. I’ll see you around.”

Arthur casually brushed a stray curl that had escaped her braid back from her face. The seemingly, innocuous action made Ariel’s breath catch in her throat. He smiled, briefly rested his palm on her shoulder then left the store.

As soon as the door closed, Ariel let out a big breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

That man was bad news. No one should be that handsome and self-assured. It just wasn’t right. Oh well, he was gone so she didn’t have to worry about making a fool out of herself. Still when he’d reached out to touch her hair, she’d hoped he was going to kiss her. God it’d been so long since she felt attracted to any man. And why, if she was going to be reawakened, did it have to be by someone so obviously unattainable?