Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Kathy L Wheeler

“Darling, you made it!”
          Angelique Daugherty hugged her Aunt Tina tightly, a pang of emotion inundating her. She hadn't seen her since last year’s Valentine extravaganza at the SweetHart Lodge. She’d missed her, especially in light of Angelique’s recently changed status—single.
          “I wasn't certain you would be on hand to help out after speaking with Saffron.” Aunt Tina stood back and leveled Angelique a piercing gaze.
          Angelique snorted if only to deflect her aunt’s sharp assessment. “You know you can’t rely on anything my mother tells you, Auntie. She’s stuck in the sixties.” Hence, the ridiculous name she’d been christened. Her father’s was even worse—Ephram. Yet, the two were still as much in love as the day they’d met and changed their names at the infamous Woodstock. Angelique supposed it was lucky for her that they’d married once they’d realized they had their own little “ankle biter” on the way some twenty years later.
          “She just worries for you,” Aunt Tina assured her.
          “I know, I know. But Saffron needs to realize that you cannot force a love that isn't t-there.” Her voice broke only the slightest, but she plowed on. “Just because she and Ephram found the love of their lives, doesn't mean that everyone will.” The sting of tears behind her eyes irritated her. She blinked them away with stubborn ruthlessness and handed her aunt a brilliant smile. “So tell me, what is my mission this year, Aunt Tina?”
          Aunt Tina’s eyes narrowed on her. “Angelique—” she started.
          Thankfully, Angelique was relieved of the forthcoming relentless probe by the entrance of her Uncle Val.
He swept her up in an engulfing embrace. “About time you got here. I spread the magic dust on the Kramers in 717 all by myself. A sorry sight they were too.” He shook his head. “That young couple was on the brink of divorce after losing their only child. All is well now though.”
A shot of guilt pricked Angelique. She’d grown up in a loving home. Even with her mother’s eccentricities, Angelique had never lacked for affection even if it had felt handed out in a somewhat vague manner. It was just. . .well. . .she was so eccentric—like naming her only child after a character in one of her favorite soap operas from the late sixties. It couldn't be anything normal like “Brooke” or “Erica” from All My Children, or “Laura” from General Hospital. No. She’d gone straight for the truly unique from Dark Shadows. A serial that covered everything paranormal long before paranormal was avant-garde, from vampires to witches to werewolves, naming her after one of Barnabas Collins love interests.
How she’d adored Saffron and Ephram’s stories growing up. Until she’d turned thirteen. That was when the girls at school began to tease her. When they snickered behind her back or called her mother a witch. Taunted her with imitations of howling moons and reciting incantations of black spells. But all the fun ended abruptly when she’d opened her locker one day to find a black cauldron filled with dead spiders and crickets.
Saffron’s waist length hair, peppered with gray and hanging down her back, half the time, unkempt, never helped the image, either. Pink tinted sunglasses and flowing robes of neon colors were the staples of her mother’s unfashionable wardrobe. Angelique smoothed a hand down the sleek contour of her Lilly Pulitzer straight cut jeans in Seamist Blue. Now she was as careful in choosing her friends as she was in selecting her clothes. 
Never again had she invited anyone home. Summers and spring breaks were spent with Aunt Tina and Uncle Val, and her cousin, Lance, at the SweetHart. They were all so...normal. Angelique grimaced inwardly. Okay, so she had trust issues.
But everything changed once Angelique had met Collin, at least she'd thought so. She’d fallen fast and hard, with his stern demeanor that wouldn't scare a pussycat. Strong arms that kept her fears at bay. And it seemed he'd fallen just as hard as she had. Theirs was a continued source of amusement and sexy interludes on the play of their names. Every time she’d huffed out Collin’s name as Barnabas, he’d taken revenge by sneaking up behind pretending to sink fangs into the side of her neck only to leave her with an outrageously huge hickey. Any lingering anger she harbored, fled like fog in the heat of the sun. Her closet was stacked with turtleneck sweaters. Difficult to explain during warmer weather.
But now her heart was broken. All due to her live-in boyfriend’s—correct that!—ex-live-in boyfriend’s—blatant betrayal. Was it only three days ago Angelique had opened the door to their overdeveloped neighbor? A blond bimbo from two doors down, with large boobs and pouty lips, holding Collin’s favorite shirt—a Burberry London Pembury Diamond sport shirt. She loved that shirt. Collin called it maroon, but Angelique knew her shades. It was boysenberry, and a pattern so subtlety woven throughout, it appeared solid. And now it reeked with her perfume.
Blinking back another onslaught of threatening tears, she shoved away her cursed thoughts and thanked God for the safety of her aunt and uncle’s presence, thrilled to be back home. She hugged her uncle a little too tightly. “Oh, Uncle Val, I’m sure that couple will never forget their stay at the SweetHart.” She stood back, pushing wayward blond curls from her face. “Now about my duties?”
          Frustration filled Collin Langford. Fingers stiff from the cold, he shoved the key in the lock of his and Angelique’s small one bedroom flat. He wanted nothing more than to warm his chilled body with hers. Winter in Chicago was not his favorite time to travel. Weather, timing and Murphy’s Law had all worked hand-in-hand against him. He was tired. His only desire: to make it home from New York by Valentine’s Day and refuse Angelique any respite from a blast of unrestrained seduction—his. He'd missed her.
Overall, the trip had been a successful one, he supposed, but he should have realized the only luck to be had was bad. It started with his packing. His favorite shirt had vanished. Oh, he knew he’d just misplaced it. It certainly wasn't Angelique's fault. She was a disaster when it came to laundry. Grinning, he shook his head. It would show up eventually. Right now, all he wanted his hot, sweet, adorable girlfriend.
She was not usually one for surprises but for once he wanted to do things his way. Collin thrust the door back, dropped his carryall on the floor, and tossed his coat on the sofa. “Angel?”
          Silence. He worked his way through the small, dark space, flipping light switches. It was cold despite its cozy décor. A sense of dread raised the hair at his nape just as he stepped into the small kitchen. The shirt he’d been unable to find lay in crumpled heap on the tiny dining table; an envelope with his name scrawled across the front lay on top.
          Scowling, two hours later found Collin on a plane bound for Denver, his thoughts teetered between fury and amusement.
          Some homecoming. At least she’d left a note. A note! 
Not a love note. Disgust filled him, shifting quickly to frustration.
          A “get your stuff and get out” note!
He pushed a hand through his hair. No way in hell was he giving up Angelique. He loved her and she loved him. Collin tugged the wrinkled paper from his pocket and studied the erratic handwriting. At best, Angelique’s penmanship was difficult to decipher, but when she was upset it was a miracle he could make out his own name. What had happened? He wondered for the millionth time.
The 727 jumbo jarred as the wheels tapped the runway. He crumpled the note and shoved it back in his pocket. A sense of wry pricked him as realization dawned. The surprise turned out to be his.
          That’s all right. He knew exactly where to find his Angel. After all, it was Valentine’s weekend. With a feral smile, he stood and patted his jacket pocket, made his way off the plane, secure in the knowledge he would and could remedy the situation.
No problem at all.
          “I believe, Philomena, this is the nuttiest idea my aunt has had in a very long time,” Angelique muttered. She and Mena were walking through the lodge from the office to the ballroom.
          “Ugh, can you not call me by that reprehensible name?” she demanded.
“You know her better than I,” her friend returned blandly.
          “A 'Newlywed Game.' Seriously? Not everyone is wed.”
          “We just have to rename it, but you have to admit the idea has charm. Just look around.” Mena said this so wistfully, Angelique shifted sharply to her, but Mena inconveniently turned her head.
          Angelique glanced around then, and what she saw set her teeth on edge. Everywhere she looked a couple walked hand in hand, like Spence and Aileen Kramer, that couple from 717 Uncle Val claimed he’d reunited with the magic dust. Another huddled in some darkened corner, kissing each other with no thought to passersby. Surely, she'd just passed that same  couple who were said to have met at the bachelor’s party held in the ballroom the night before.
          The whole lodge might as well have been in Paris or. . .worse, the sixties with all their free love and flower power. Angelique had even spotted Jess Travers stealing a kiss from Megan Carter­—while Sarge just stood there and watched!
She stalked briskly to the ballroom hoping it had survived the rowdy, overgrown imbeciles with all their drinking and strippers.
“Well, I don’t know what she thought I could add to the game. You’re the events coordinator,” Angelique said, crossing through the double doors. Relief hit her seeing no remnants of confetti or overturned glasses or other unmentionables like discarded condoms. She shuddered.
          “Mena may be the events coordinator, but the event needs a representative of the SweetHart. Besides, you have an excellent speaking voice.” Aunt Tina’s confidence in her was mind-boggling.  So was the way she was able to silently sneak up behind a person, startling her.
          “Thanks,” Angelique grunted. “Were you able to snag your four unsuspecting couples yet, Aunt Tina?”
          Her nose wrinkled. “I have three. I certainly didn't anticipate how skittish people would be when it came to a little innocent fun.”
          Hah! Innocent fun, my foot. “Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a fourth. Brian seems to have the hots for Toddye, and as one of his closest friends, I’m sure I have enough ammunition on him to ensure his participation.” Angelique smirked. “I think all of his spare time from the slopes has expended into private lessons.”
          “How curious, and Toddye’s such an avid skier too,” Aunt Tina murmured.
Angelique smiled and said, softly, “I’ll tell you, Aunt Tina. I’m glad to see it. It’s been three years since her divorce from Darryl. She deserves some happiness. I’ll definitely talk to him about participating.”
          “I’ll leave it up to you then.”
Angelique considered the staging area that needed to sit the eight selected guinea pigs. “We’re going to have to locate a big strapping male to help with these tables. And, of course Jess is nowhere to be found.”
          “Luckily, we've plenty of others hanging about,” Mena said.
          “Yeah, if we can pry one from a dark corner out of his lover’s arms—”
          “Some of us haven’t been that fortuitous.” The depth of that resonance sent a shiver over Angelique.
          She should have known Collin would follow her. Grimacing, she spun slowly to face him. His broad shoulders blocked the doorway, arms folded over his chest, ankles crossed, leaning nonchalantly against the frame. To an innocent bystander he appeared casual. The unreadable depths of his stare made her flinch, until the image of Booby-Pouty-Lips popped in her head, holding out his shirt like some triumphant trophy. The whole scenario filled her head like a badly drawn cartoon.
          Though her fingers itched to push the disheveled hair from his brow, she squeezed her hands into fists. His hazel eyes bore down on her. This was a man who prized order: dinner on the table at six, clean towels on the rack after his shower. Granted he did the cooking and the laundry, but still. She was the wronged party. She hadn't lied about her travel plans.
          “Hello, Phil, Tina. Val said the inn was full.”
          “I hate that name.” Mena muttered under her breath, but Angelique heard her and swallowed a grin determined to hold onto her anger.
          “Collin, how lovely to see you, dear. You do realize it's Valentines?” Aunt Tina said brightly. “I’m afraid we've had to pair you with another single.”
A slight curve touched his lips as  he stared at Angelique. Her flesh pricked and flames rushed her cheeks. Great. No mystery in where her aunt and uncle most likely stashed her ex-boyfriend.
“I suppose it’s fortunate that I’m a big strapping male and not trapped in some dark corner. What is it you need arranged?”
Angelique stood gazing out the plate glass windows from the second level lobby near the elevators of the SweetHart. The picturesque view did nothing to soothe her taut nerves. All was in place for the Newlywed Game, renamed Nearlywed for their purposes, set for later that night, finding her at a sudden loss with no more tasks to complete. She had no desire to hide in her room where, Val and Tina had, indeed, deposited Collin. She should have been honest with her aunt the minute she’d walked in the door the two days ago, though she supposed it didn't matter, and let out a disgruntled sigh. None of the rooms had two beds. Everyone knew that! It was the SweetHart Lodge.
The stairwell door swung wide, startling her. “Collin.” She meant to say it sharply, but to her dismay it came out that breathless huff she abhorred.
“Angel.” His tone, of course, was cool and controlled.
          She pressed her lips together, tightly, and stepped aside.
          “I got your note.”
          “Excellent,” she said, and started to brush by but he caught her arm.
          “We need to talk.”
          “I have nothing to say.”
          “How fortunate. I, however, do.”
          “Take it up with the occupant in 3B.”
          “What the hell does she have to do with us?”
          “Are you going to deny you went to New York?” she demanded.
          He grimaced. “What are you talking about?” he grated. “I ran into her in the laundry room the other day. I never said a word about my travel plans.”
          He leaned in close enough for her to breathe in the faint scent of his soap. He didn't go in for the big name colognes; just stuff that made her feel as if he’d spent the day chopping wood. “A-and I-I suppose she just accidentally found your shirt?”
 “Angelique,” he said softly, sweetly, almost a warning.
  She steeled herself against that tone, that heat that teased the tendrils of loosed hair. The one he used to melt her into a muddled mess at his whim.
“You must know that there is no one for me but you.”
          Luckily, a thread of common sense burst through. She stiffened. “So what?” she hissed. But the doubts edged their way into her brain-turned-mush. She tried to snatch her arm from his grip, but he pulled her in close. The warm breath that touched the side of her neck threatened the stability of her knees. His teeth nipped at her shoulder, followed by his nose nuzzling the assaulted area.
          “Collin?” she whimpered.
          “Angel, when are you going to learn to trust your feelings where I’m concerned?” he growled, just before he covered her mouth with his.
          Angelique’s husky laughter filled the ballroom through the microphone clipped at the vee of her cleavage-baring bodice, sending a rush of desire exploding through Collin. He could swear he detected the shadow of one of his more ardent attempts where the base of her neck met her shoulder. Her vitality captivated him. Yet her lack of trust left his heart feeling as if it had been shredded with a board of nails.
          Collin had finally reasoned out the events that must have poisoned Angelique’s mind. The apartment’s laundry facilities were located in the basement of their building. That little witch in 3B must have taken his shirt just waiting for the opportunity to present it to Angelique when he was gone. He shuddered to think of all that heavy make-up she wore smearing it, wallowing in it.
Regardless, Angelique needed to get past this self-imposed inadequacy. Hope for a lasting relationship was lost if they were doomed to live a lifetime without trust. Trust was the foundation in which love prospered. He was at his wit’s end in how to get Angelique to see they were on the same side. That he loved her. That he would never betray her. He huffed out a stilted breath, and ran a hand through his hair. Still, he refused to let her go. He would just have to show her through example. Love, in their case, would conquer her insecurities, he vowed. Her voice, as melodic as a well-tuned instrument, interrupted his brooding thoughts.
          “Aileen, what would Spencer’s last request on earth be?” Angelique asked.
          Aileen Kramer dropped her gaze before leaning into the mic centered on the table between them and announced softly, “another child.”
          A soft quiet filled the room as everyone waited. Angelique was looking at the cards she held, blinking quickly. “For. . .uh. . .ten points, Spencer, please show us your answer.”
          Collin waited, curiosity teasing him. Spencer was a young man, still in his twenties. His thick black hair, having fallen over his brow, hid an expression that turned his wife’s, thin face, pink. He lifted the card he held, slowly. It read ‘Aileen: the love of my life.’ The audience let out a unanimous “awww.” Collin was certain he heard a sniffle or two as well. Aileen Kramer threw her arms around her husband’s neck, her cries muffled. A boisterous applause that would echo through the mountainous terrain beyond the enclosure of the lodge erupted.
Clearing her throat, Angelique bolstered on. “Now for our bonus round. This should equal the balls you are enjoying by Holly Cavanaugh of Serendipity,” she announced. Cheeks pink after that announcement, Angelique's voice retained a slightly emotional inflection that squeezed something tight in his chest. She cleared her throat. “Complete the following phrase for twenty-five points. We’ll start with the couple with the lowest points.”
Collin’s eyes went to the NHL star center, Lance Hart. His sun streaked, blond hair was perfect. Of course, he’d graced the cover of both GQ and Sports Illustrated several times over, according to the gossip running rampant through the lodge. Lance tossed a crooked grin to the audience before glancing back at his partner. His unabashed appraisal no doubt wrung the hearts of some of the unattached women. Angela was grinning like a Cheshire cat. The woman had him wrapped around her little finger, and she hadn't even heard the question yet.
“Angela, how would Lance say you would complete the following phrase? Chocolate, flowers and. . .?”
“Home,” she said.
Angelique grinned. “Lance? Your answer, please.”
With a wide smile, he lifted the card.
“House!” Angelique read. “An answer along the Venus-versus-Mars lines of communications, but excellent, nonetheless. The judges, me, say it’s a match. Congratulations. That brings your total score to thirty-five. Let’s move on to Ben and Taffy. You have fifteen points. If you answer correctly, you’ll take the lead with forty. Chocolate, flowers and. . .”
The flush that moved up Taffy Sellers neck was interesting, Collin thought. Ben, however, shot Taffy a look that told the audience regardless of her answer, the outcome would end the same—in one bed where sleep would be scarce. “Uh. . .cake?” Taffy squeaked.
The shout of laughter Ben let out engaged the ensemble. He raised his card, but it read ‘Champagne.’ Even with the loud ‘ooh’, it didn't stop Ben Reece from planting a resounding smack on her lips, before Taffy hid her face in her hands.
Collin couldn't help but admire the guy.
Angelique tsk’d and moved to the last couple, Brian and Toddye. “Okay, this is for the win, you two. The Grand Prize, as you know, is an all expense week’s stay at the SweetHart Lodge for next year’s Valentine’s bash. That’s a working vacation for you, Brian.
A rumble of laughter rippled through the spectators.
That same rumble felt like a rising storm in Collin’s blood. It took him a moment to recognize it as jealousy. Angelique’s easy rapport with Brian ate at him but he shoved it away. Her teasing manner and quick wit with others was one of the things he loved most about her. Brian’s nine-year-old son Jason sat front and center next to an older couple he'd heard referred to only as Glory and Andy.
“Let’s have it, Toddye. How would you complete the phrase ‘Chocolate, flowers and . . .’?”
Toddye’s pale complexion was not necessarily complementary to the sudden flaming of her cheeks, clashing violently with hair that was the shade of russet with streaks of fire. But Collin had to admit the brilliant blue of her eyes are what must have turned, not only Brian, but also Jason, into pools of mush at her feet.
“Well?” Angelique prompted.
Brian didn't appear so comfortable with the question either, and Collin found himself biting back a grin. The two hadn't known each other that long.
“Ahem. . .Chocolate, flowers and . . .” Toddye glanced at Angelique, then focused her attention on Jason with a slight smile. She took a deep breath. “Life, I suppose.”
The byplay Collin witnessed included Brian squeezing Toddye’s hand and Angelique blinking quickly. She swallowed before she spoke. “Uh, Brian?”
He lifted his card. It read—life.
          Letting out a held breath, Collin step forward from the corner he’d been holding up. “And you, Angelique?” The ballroom stilled, his voice carrying throughout the room even without the benefit of a microphone. “How would you complete Chocolate, flowers and . . . ?”  He skirted the round tables slowly, working his way toward her, ignored the lovers holding hands, their gaping mouths, their shocked whispers. “Love? Affection? Trust?
          Angelique’s heart pounded so hard, she was certain it rasped through the mic to echo softly, stirring the balloons and their curled ribbons. She had sorely misjudged Collin. He deserved someone much more trusting, but she was too selfish to ever let him go. She was furious at herself. Why on earth would she trust that manipulative, overdeveloped she-devil over Collin. He was the one who’d earned her loyalty and regard. And it was time to let him know.
“You.” Angelique could not get her voice above a trembling whisper, and with the mic, her answer did reverberate against the walls.
          “Yes,” he said. He pulled her into his arms, fit his mouth over hers. She sank into his hold, his kiss. But just as quickly, he pulled away, glaring intently at her. “No more notes kicking me out?”
          She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling outright, and repeated, carefully keeping a demure tone. “No more notes kicking you out.”
          “No more accusations with the bimbo in 3B’s innuendos?” he demanded.
          She had to inhale deeply before repeating that promise. But repeat it, she did. “No more accusations with the bimbo in 3B’s innuendos.”
          Her stomach dropped when he reached into his pocket. He pulled out small concealed box. “No more doubts about my love?”
          Tears clogged her throat, and she found herself unable to speak. She shook her head. Hope filled her.
          “Say it, Angelique. I need to hear it,” he begged, softly.
“No more doubts about your love.”
          “You’ll trust me with your heart?”
          “I’ll trust you with my soul,” she whispered.
Collin dropped to one knee, before God and their onlookers, the couples on the makeshift stage and the crowd. He held out his palm. With a flick of his fingers the small velvet box popped open. “I shall always shower you with chocolate, flowers, love, affection, trust.” His voice dropped lower. “But, I believe I’d like to add diamonds to the list. Angelique Daugherty, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Angelique froze, shocked and touched, at the tremor in his voice. Her knees suddenly gave way, but Collin, hero that he was, caught her fall, his eyes never wavering from hers. The words lodged in her throat, her fingers shook.
          “Angelique?” His strained voice, boomed through the mic clipped to her bodice.
          “Yes. Yes. I’ll do you the honor of becoming your wife. I’ll trust you with my heart. Just don’t make me name our children Butterfly, Freedom, or—or anything with the word ‘Rain’ in it.”
          Collin pulled her into his arms. “John or Mary it is,” he whispered. And sealed his promise with a kiss.

Come back tomorrow for a wrap up of the OKRWA's Wildokies Valentine Anthology. Happy Valentine's Day!!! And may you have all the Chocolate, flowers and . . .your heart desires.


  1. Whoop! Whoop! Brian and Toddye won:) Sweet story, Kathy. I liked how you wove so many of our coupes into your touching vignette! You even used Jason! I really, really liked your hero, Collin. And the motif of Dark Shadows/60's names tickled me, since I can remember all of that! Taught a toddler named Skye Blue to swim (Blue was NOT his last name!).

  2. Love this story! A great addition to the Valentine anthology. Good job.

  3. Sweet story, pardon the pun. Loved it!

  4. This was a fun story, Kathy, and so romantic!

  5. Great story, Kathy. I loved reading about everyone else's characters. Looking forward to tomorrow's epilogue.

  6. Great job, Kathy. Thank you for the little glimpse into our characters' futures! :)

  7. You just can't beat a story that's sealed with a kiss--great job, Kathy! ~ Jeanette

  8. Nice wrap up, Kathy. Good job bringing it all together for the finale.