Hello, everyone! Holly here to take over the blog again – I always make myself laugh saying that I’m here on my blog, but as my other name, very confusing.
Today, it’s Christmas Card Day, and it just so happens that I wrote a story. The Scent of Pine was meant to be a cosy little tale about a man finding peace and love in time for Christmas.
It didn’t turn out quite as cosy as I’d pictured it.
Since it’s written for Christmas Card Day, there are Christmas cards – several, creepy cards. I had this idea that the two main characters would find love because of a card delivered to the wrong address. Cute, right? And it happens. Only the one sending the cards is a stalker ex and Rafael, one of the main characters, has been hiding for two years. When Ashton, a cop on sick leave, gets several Christmas cards wrongly delivered to his address, he goes looking for the person who should’ve received them. That sense of something not being quite right is there, and since he doesn’t have anything better to do during the days, he guards over Rafael.
Even though The Scent of Pine didn’t turn out the way I’d planned, I loved writing it.
Over at my blog, you can read the first chapter of the story, so I thought I’d continue it here by sharing chapter 2.
A knock sounded on the door. Rafael was in the middle of translating a badly written blog post from English to Spanish as cold washed over him. A knock. No one knocked on his door.
His heart banged hard and his fingers hovered over the keyboard. When the knock came again, he stood. He hadn’t ordered anything. On tiptoe, he neared the door and peeked through the peephole. His lungs shrank until he couldn’t draw breath.
Outside was his neighbor—the dark-haired man who’d held onto the railing when he’d walked to the mailbox.
Rafael quickly stepped away from the door and pressed himself against the wall. When the knock came again, Rafael took another step away from the door. Then he stopped. What if something was wrong? Maybe the man needed help and had knocked on every apartment door in the building without having anyone opening for him. It was in the middle of the day; people were at work.
He took a deep breath. “Yes?” He didn’t unlock the door but spoke loud enough for it to be heard through the door—he hoped.
“I’m Ashton Cross from the… from across the street.”
Ashton Cross. It had sounded as if he’d been about to say something other than across the street, but Rafael memorized the name. He’d Google him later.
“Yes?” He didn’t know what else to say.
“Could you open the door?”
Open the door? Cold wrapped around him. “Why?”
“I… eh… the mailman mixed our addresses up, and I would like to… Are you okay?”
Rafael frowned; he should have kept looking at the man when he grabbed the mail earlier; to see his reaction when spotting a wrongly delivered letter… “Can’t you put whatever they left you in the slot?”
“I could, but… I want to see your face when you read it.”
Rafael took a step back. What the hell? That was the weirdest request he’d ever heard. “Post them, please.”
“Look, man, I’m a cop. Not on duty, I’m on sick leave, but… could you please open the door? Is there a woman living in this apartment with you?”
A cop? A woman? Rafael stared at the door. He’d had good and bad experiences with the police. When trying to get away from Blake, he’d truly believed they had wanted to help him, even when their hands were tied.
The silence lasted for several seconds.
“Are you in a long-distance relationship?”
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business.” Rafael’s heart jumped from his chest to block his throat.
“Right.” The man, Ashton Cross, sounded weary. “Still, could you unlock the door?”
Rafael wanted to say no, but he made sure the security chain was fastened on the door and turned the lock. Through the gap, he met Ashton’s gaze. “Hi.”
Ashton nodded, his eyes sweeping over his face then a quick dip to his hand before meeting his gaze again. “I might be completely wrong—” He handed over a small stack of cards. “Maybe it’s a romantic gesture from your girlfriend—”
Ashton nodded. “Thought so. I got the feeling it’s a man who’d written them. I could be wrong, though.”
Rafael glanced at the writing on the first and forgot how to breathe. He couldn’t say for sure it was Blake who’d written them, but he believed so.
“That was the first.” Ashton gestured at the card Rafael was staring at. “I was gonna ask my sister to run over with it, but I forgot. Then they kept coming, and…” Ashton ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t mean to read them, but they weren’t in envelopes.”
“You don’t find it strange?”
Rafael met his gaze again. “What?”
“Five cards. They’ve arrived every other day. It’s the same motif and the writing becomes more and more… And they’re all delivered to the wrong address.”
The wrong address was strange, but the rest made perfect sense. Blake had found him. “I’m sure it’s a bad joke.”
Ashton nodded. “You’d tell me if you were in danger?”
Rafael ignored the question. “Thank you for bringing them to me.” He had to leave. He couldn’t stay here. Urgency clawed at him. If Blake knew where he was…
Ashton watched him with narrowed eyes. “No problem. I’ll talk to the mailman too if I can catch him.”
Rafael nodded. “Thank you.” He closed the door despite Ashton looking like he wanted to say something more.
He had to leave.
* * * *
Ash grunted as Megan placed a box of Christmas decorations on his kitchen table.
“I can do it.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll do it.” He smiled and nodded but his mind wasn’t on Christmas decorations. The look in R. Vidal’s eyes—he hadn’t asked his name—when he’d seen the writing kept playing in his mind. And it was the first card, the non-threatening card. The others weren’t threatening either, but…
“Ash!” Megan knocked on the table. “Are you listening to me?”
“Sorry. What did you say?”
She huffed and shook her head. “Are you coming to us for Christmas?”
Ash normally worked on Christmas. He had no family of his own, nowhere he needed to be, so he worked, and those of his colleagues who had children could spend the holiday with them. He didn’t mind. Since their mother had passed away a few years back, Christmas hadn’t been the same anyway.
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
“You’re a mile away today. Did something happen?”
Ash shook his head. “Nah, I got a Christmas card—
“Oh, from who?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t for me; the mailman got the address wrong.”
Megan widened her eyes. “You’re distracted by a card that wasn’t for you?”
“There have been five cards, and… Something isn’t right.”
“No, you should call the post office or someone. I don’t want to think about how many parcels will end up in the wrong place if you’ve already had five cards delivered to the wrong address.”
Ash smiled and nodded.
“Okay, I’ll be off. Do you need me to fix something before I go?”
“No, thank you.”
Megan frowned at him. “You’re in a good mood today.”
Was he? He hadn’t reflected over it. With his mind occupied by the cards and R. Vidal’s reaction to them, he hadn’t had time to feel sorry for himself. “I was outside for a bit earlier. Still about as fast as a snail, but it was nice to move a little.” It had been. He’d been exhausted when he came home, but it was great to use his body again.
“Good.” She walked to the hallway, and Ash followed. “I’ll be by tomorrow with a Christmas tree.”
He’d told her not to get one for him twenty times if not more, but she wasn’t listening. “Ben and I will get them tonight.”
Ash nodded. “I’ll be here.”
She opened the door and stepped outside. “You should put up lights on the railing.”
Ash nodded again.
“You’re the only one who doesn’t have any decorations.” She gestured at the neighboring houses.
She huffed. “It would be pretty if you too made an effort.”
He grinned. “Me? Make an effort?” He didn’t care. It wasn’t that he was against Christmas decorations, but he didn’t give a damn what the neighbors did or thought about him.
Megan shook her head. “Hopeless.”
That made him chuckle. As Megan walked down the stairs, he looked up at R. Vidal’s apartment and noted motion behind the curtain covering the window. Was he watching?
He waved at Megan as she got into her car, then walked back inside. He walked into the kitchen, ignored the box of Christmas decorations, and headed for the coffee maker. With a freshly poured cup, he sat in the easy chair by the window facing the road and the apartment building.
The snow had been so beautifully white this morning, but now it had a gray tinge to it close to the road. With a sigh, he grabbed his tablet and geared up for some mindless YouTube watching while keeping an eye on R. Vidal’s apartment.
Ashton Cross was stupid enough to fall out a window while trying to catch a criminal. Now he’s on sick leave and has been for weeks, and has nothing to do but watch his neighbors go about their day. It’s driving him insane. When he gets a Christmas card not meant for him, he doesn’t think much of it, but then there is another and another, all with the same motif.
For two years, Rafael Vidal has been hiding from his ex. He almost believed he’d gotten away when his neighbor knocks on his door to hand over a stack of Christmas cards. One look at the writing, and Rafael suspects he has been found.
When Ashton understands the situation, he’s set on catching Rafael’s ex. He might not be ready to get back to active duty at the police station, but finally, he has something to do, and he doesn’t mind keeping Rafael close. Rafael is trying to distract himself by helping Ashton put up Christmas decorations, but will they be able to enjoy Christmas with his stalker ex lurking around the corner?
Contemporary Gay Romance: 17,557 words