First Chapter Friday: Daring to Date the Boss

How do I love this story? Let me count the ways:  1) A character modeled after Tattoo. 2) Hockey, Dunkin Donuts, and New Hampshire references. 3) A hero who I loved beyond measure. 4) A single mom heroine juggling everything. Oh yeah, and it was a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

A Romantic Times Top Pick!

 Chapter 1

“Mom! Have you seen my history book?”

Liz Strauss let out a deep breath. She swore, her son’s baritone could be heard in the townhouse next door “Where did you last use it?”

“If I knew that I wouldn’t be asking.”

Sure he would. Asking was so much easier than say, actually looking for the book. “Try next to the computer!” One of the days they would have to start communicating like normal people rather than hollering back and forth through rooms.

Today would not be that day. “Found it!” he called a moment later. “It was on the kitchen counter.”

Near the food. Naturally. Crisis averted, for now, she returned to rehearsing her speech.

“Well, Mr. Bishop, as you know, my workload has increased since you arrived….”

Too whiney. She wanted to at least sound smart and sophisticated since looking that way appeared out of the question. Staring at her reflection, she smoothed some imaginary wrinkles from the front of her turtleneck. Her chin length bob clung to her head like a limp brown helmet. In trying to stave off static electricity, she’d overdosed on conditioner again. She looked like a drab, helmet-wearing dud.

Taking a deep breath, she resumed rehearsing. “Seeing as how my responsibilities have increased, I was hoping… No, I believe …” Believe was a much better world. “I believe I deserve….”

Why was this so hard? She’d been practicing since the shower, and still had no idea what she was going to say.

If Ron Bishop were still president, she’d simply say “Hey, Ron, Andrew has a chance to attend Trenton Academy, I need a raise to cover tuition.”

Unfortunately, she no longer worked for Ron, God rest his soul. No, she worked for his son, a man she’d never knew existed until three months ago. What did he care about private school tuition or opportunities of a lifetime? He was too busy decimating everything his father stood for.

On the other hand, she really did deserve a raise. Since arriving seven months ago, Bishop had run her ragged. Then there was the steady stream of complaints caused by his new policies. Not a day when by that she an angry manager stopped her to vent their frustrations. If you asked her, she deserved hazard pay for playing gatekeeper alone.

Maybe that should be her argument, she thought with a wry smile.

A small television sat on the corner of her bureau. On screen, a perky weather woman chirped about potential snowfall. Her bob, Liz noticed with annoyance, shimmered and swung under the studio lights as she waved her perfectly manicured hand in front of the map. “Depending on the storming timing, we could be looking at a very messy evening commute,” she said, sounding practically giddy.

When weren’t they looking at a messy commute these days? Liz switched off the woman and her annoyingly bouncy hair. It was getting late. Rehearsal would have to wait.

As she padded down the stairs to the main floor, Liz caught sight of the old juice stain marring the bottom step and did her best to quell her frustration. She had hoped to finally replace the old Berber carpeting this spring, but those plans would have to wait. She couldn’t afford both home improvements and private school tuition. Heck, she could barely afford private school tuition alone unless she got this raise.

In the kitchen, her son Andrew was attempting to simultaneously stuff books in his backpack and half a bagel into his mouth. His six foot three frame and flailing arms took up most of the space, and she nearly had to duck to avoid being struck by a stray limb. He got his gangly height from her. Surprising their combined twelve feet could actually fit in the small space.

“One of the mornings you’re going to choke,” she remarked, grabbing a coffee mug from the open cupboard.

“Least then I wouldn’t have to take my calculus exam,” he shot back.

“Right, because death is always preferable to taking a test.”

“This test, yes.”

Calculus had been the bane of her son’s existence all year long. “Why? You studied, didn’t you?”

Although partially hidden by floppy brown bangs, Liz caught his eye roll. “Like that matters. Mr. Rueben hates our entire class. He wants us to fail so he can have an excuse to yell at us.”

Drama. Native language of the American teenager. Liz suppressed an eye roll of her own. “I’m sure he doesn’t hate you. If you studied, you’ll do fine.”

Andrew took the coffee cup from her hand and washed down his bagel. “You always say that.”

“And you always say you’re going to fail. Score one for consistency.” She snatched her coffee back. “Do you want me to pour you your own cup?”

“Don’t have time. Vic’s picking me up early so we can cram before school.”

“Cram, huh?” A familiar lump dropped in the pit of her stomach. Victoria was a smart, sweet girl, she reminded herself. A nice girl.

A nice girl who had her own car and with whom her seventeen year old son was head over heels in love. Memories of back seats and misplaced teenage passion flashed before her eyes.

He’s not you, Liz. So desperate to feel wanted, he’d toss the future away at the first sweet words of affection. From the moment she delivered him, she’d made sure Andrew never went a day feeling less than one hundred perfect loved and wanted.

A car horn sounded outside.

“That’s Vic,” Andrew announced unnecessarily as he grabbed his bag. “See you after practice.”

“Tell Victoria to drive carefully. The roads could get slippery later today.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Another eye roll.   Wonder if he knew when he was doing it, or if the gesture was automatic, like breathing.

“Hey, sue me for not wanting my only child hurt in a car accident,” she told him.

“If it would get me out of this exam….”

“Don’t even joke about it, Mister.” She silenced him with a wag of her index finger. “Good luck on your test. And be –“

He was out the door before she could finish the sentence.

Mug gripped between her hands, Liz fought the urge to watch and make sure they pulled out of her driveway safely. Andrew wasn’t a little boy any more. He didn’t need his mother hovering like a helicopter watching his every move. Knowing so, however, didn’t make cutting the cord any easier.

Time moved way too fast. Seemed like only yesterday he was a seven-year-old clamoring to stay up past eight o’clock. Now here he was on the cusp of adulthood with a chance, if the Trenton hockey coach was to be believed, to earn a scholarship to a major university. Barring any stupid mistakes, her job was almost finished. She’d done good, she decided. Better than her parents. Then again, they hadn’t set the bar all that high, had they?

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught her reflection in the microwave. How was it possible that her hair got flatter from the time she left the bedroom until now? Tipping her head upside down, she tried fluffing the strands with her fingers like they did at the hair salon. All that did was make her hair look like a static-laden mushroom.

Good thing she was banking on her efficiency and not her looks to charm her boss. As if the man could be charmed by anything but a spreadsheet anyway. Most of the employees were convinced he was some kind of walking computer.

Maybe that’s what she should do. Lay out her arguments in a spreadsheet and shove the paper under his nose. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about her hair or anything else.

Chuckling to herself, Liz sipped her coffee. If she thought the idea would actually work, she would. In the meantime, she better figure out what she was going to say to convince her boss to give her a raise. He was going to Trenton Academy next year come hell or high water. He’d gone without enough in his short life. Her baby boy would have all the opportunities she never had no matter what. Even if she had to beg, borrow or steal to do so. Today she planned on begging.

Hopefully, Charles Bishop felt like giving.


Liz had planned on arriving at the office extra early to allow herself time to compose before making her request. Unfortunately, she got stuck behind the middle-school bus and had to endure stopping every five minutes through downtown Gilmore and extra early didn’t happen. In fact, plain old regular early barely happened. As she slipped out of her wood coat and fired up her computer, Liz wondered if she would even have time to catch her breath. She hoped to make her request first thing, before Bishop got engrossed in those spreadsheets he loved so much.

Maybe she’d luck out and he’d get stuck in traffic too. Although then he might be in a bad mood, and she didn’t want that either.

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

Drat. He’d arrived on time. Figures.

Flashing her best professional smile, she reached behind her and slightly retried a sheet of paper from the printer. “Good morning. I was about to put today’s itinerary on your desk.”

As usual, the new CEO of Bishop Paper looked like a million dollars. Or multi-million, if Liz wasn’t to be accurate. Cashmere overcoat, designer wool suit, custom-cut shirt. He looked as natural standing in the no-nonsense offices as a marble sculpture at a flea market. His features, chiseled by anyone’s standards, were dark and somber as he slipped the itinerary from her hand.

“Did accounting deliver the revenue projections yet?” he asked, eyes scanning the schedule.

More spread sheets. The man was definitely obsessed. “Not yet,” she replied.

He raised his eyes to focus on her. Though she hated herself for it, Liz’s breath caught. Framed by black lashes so lush it wasn’t fair, her boss’s cobalt eyes glistened like a pair of bright blue marbles. It wasn’t fair that a man so cold and irritating in every other aspect had eyes like that. Why couldn’t he have plain old boring eyes like normal people?

“Tell them I’d like the numbers emailed to me by ten o’clock,” he told her. “I want to review them before our meeting this afternoon.”

“Sure thing.” She’d wait until he went into his office before delivering the bad news. Leanne, the VPs secretary was going to have a fit, and her rants could get loud. Another reason she deserved a pay raise. To compensate for the potential hearing loss.

“I’m also expecting an overnight package from Xinhua Paper,” he continued. “Bring it in as soon as it arrives.”

With his business complete, her boss moved toward his office door. Liz’s palms began to sweat. It was now or never. “I was wondering….” She began

Hand already on his office door, he paused. His eyes turned in her direction again, causing another skip in her breath. “Yes?”

“Could I have a few moments of you time? I have something I’d like to discuss with you?”

He frowned. “Something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong.” Well, but her salary. “I just wanted to ask you something. Job-related,” she felt compelled to add.

“Alright.” Liz would have felt better if his response hadn’t sounded put up. “Let’s go into my office.”

His office. Three months and it still sounded strange to hear him refer to his father’s domain that way. Yet every time Liz crossed the threshold, she got a hard reminder that Ron bishop wasn’t coming back. While alive, the former CEO filled his office shelves with photos from company events and fundraisers. Shots of him golfing in Bermuda with vendors. A picture of him grilling burgers at the company barbeque. Another of him cheering with staff members at a Boston baseball game.

There hadn’t been a single picture of his son, however.

Charles removed the photos the day he arrived. His idea of decorating consisted of bound data reports. The only vaguely personal item in the room was the super expensive coffee maker on the corner credenza. The man could leave tomorrow and you’d never know he’d been there.

She waited while he hung up his coat. “What is it you wanted to discuss?”

Liz smoothed the front of her turtleneck, pausing to lay her palm flat against her stomach. “As you know, since you took over, my workload has increased. Not that I’m complaining,” she quickly reassured him.

He’d crossed to the credenza and was measuring coffee beans into the built in grinder. “Glad to hear it.” There was a brief whirr and the coffee maker started up. Liz had to raise her voice to continue.

“I realize when a company changes management, the transition brings a lot of additional work and that having been Ron’s administrative assistant for ten years, I’m the best conduit between you and the rest of the company as far as information goes.”

Good Lord, did that even make sense?

The grinding ceased making the room quiet once more. Charles pressed brew. “And?”

Liz paused and took a deep breath. Go big or go home. Isn’t that what Andrew and his hockey buddies always said? “And, given my extra workload, I was hoping you’d consider re-examining my salary.”

“You want a raise.”

“Yes, I do.”

The room was silent except for the gurgling drip of the coffee maker. Charles walked to his desk. With methodical precision, he removed his smart phone from his breast pocket, then slipped off his suit jacket and hung it over the back of his chair. Finally, he rolled up his sleeves, smoothing each crisp fold. Liz felt like someone had started practicing slap shots in her stomach..

“You already make a pretty good salary,” he finally replied, sitting down. “More than the other administrative assistants on staff.”

“Yes, but I also do more than the other administrative assistants,” she countered. “Not to mention I put in far more hours. I work late. I bring work home. I come in weekends. In fact, in many companies my position would be considered more than a simple administrative assistant.” She was fudging that last part. But didn’t Ron always say he couldn’t run the company without her?

“No one’s questioning your dedication, Elizabeth. Or your value to the company.”

Good. Could it be she’d worried for nothing? Although the tiny voice in her head urged otherwise, a small seed of hope took root. She watched as Charles leaned back in his chair, the tips of his long fingers pressed together. “However, I’m in the process of cutting costs. There’s a freeze on all reviews and pay increases.”

“I know.” She’d typed the memo. “I was hoping you would consider making an exception, given the circumstances.”

“If I make an exception for you, I have to make an exception for everyone.”

Her hope withered and died. “I’m not looking for a huge increase. It’s just that my son –“

“Not at the present time, Elizabeth.” He cut off her argument before she got started. “You can revisit the issue at your next performance review. In the meantime, I’m sorry.”

Sorry, her foot. He wasn’t sorry about anything except her waiting his precious time. For the first time since she started as a file clerk, Liz hated where she worked.

Correction. For the first time, she hated the man she worked for.

That same man was reaching for his phone, effectively dismissing her and her request like lint from his expensive slacks. “Make sure accounting gets me those numbers by ten,” he said, without looking up.

Liz didn’t respond. Why bother? He wouldn’t listen anyway. The arrogant, numbers-obsessed, heartless, penny-pinching, arrogant….

She marched straight from the office to the ladies’ room, running out of adjectives halfway there. Furious, she kicked the door open. Pain shot from her toe to her knee.

Good. Gave her an excuse for being teary-eyed should anyone ask. Because she absolutely refused to give her boss the satisfaction of seeing her upset. No, she would be strong and stoic and all those other great New England traits. Too bad stoic didn’t couldn’t erase feeling like she’d been punched.

No one’s questioning your dedication or your workload. The comment mockingly repeated itself in her head. That was her mistake, she realized, dabbing at her mascara. Getting her hopes up when she heard the compliment. When was she going to learn? Compliments, sweet-talk, promises – none of them meant a damn thing.

Now what was she going to do? Tell Andrew he wouldn’t be attending Trenton Academy after all? He’d been so excited about the opportunity. Their players get recruited by Division I schools, Mom. Wouldn’t that be cool if I could play for BU or Harvard? Attending a school like Trenton could open so many doors for Andrew. Doors she never had the chance to even look at. She’d be damned if her son didn’t get every opportunity.

Of course thanks to her boss, she would have to find another way to open those doors. Maybe Bill…. Right. She nixed that idea out of the box. Andrew’s father hadn’t come through in seventeen years. Why on earth would he come through now.

Like always, she was on her own.

Damn, Charles Bishop and his belt tightening. She hoped he choked.


“First thing tomorrow morning, James. I’m not paying your firm a retainer to procrastinate.” Hanging up, Charles swiveled around in his chair to face the window. Outside, a few stray flakes had begun to fall, their crystal shapes disappearing admit the blank of white covering the ground. Off in the distance, the White Mountains disappeared into the gray mist. Gray-white peaks crisscrossed with rock and ski trails.

He couldn’t believe he was back in New Hampshire. After all these years, he’d thought the Granite State was forever in his past. A distant, unwelcome memory. Yet here he was, back in Gilmore, saddled with his father’s beloved paper company. The lawyers suggested the inheritance was a final conciliatory gesture, a chance to fix in death what he left broken in life. “Consider it Ron’s way of making amends,” he’d said.

Charles could care less what the reason. His father hadn’t wanted him; he didn’t want his father’s blasted company. Clearly, the old man chose the wrong legacy to hang his hat on. Far as he was concerned Bishop Paper was nothing more than another acquisition in a long line of acquisitions. Companies to be turned over as quickly and profitably as possible.

A soft knock sounded on his door. Turning, he saw Elizabeth in his door way, looking like a beige turtleneck wearing will o `wisp. She cleared her throat, the sound immediately calling attention to red rimmed eyes, evidence of a ladies’ room meltdown. No doubt she despised him. Or despised him more, as the case may be, since he was pretty sure he’d been abhorred by everyone since day one. Ice King. Wasn’t that what they referred to him as behind his back? Fairly apropos, if you asked him. Certainly his insides felt numb enough.

To his assistant’s credit, her reddened eyes were the only evidence of distress. She maintained a steely expression as she approached, her low-heeled pumps crossing neatly one ankle in front of the other.

“Your package from Xianhua,” she clipped. A flash of veiled contempt passed across her features as she handed him the thick envelope. Definitely despised him. “Will there be anything else?” she asked.

“Not at the moment,” he replied.

Turning on her heel, she strode from the room. Briefly, Charles watched her depart noting how her newly acquired stiffness gave her backside an attractive sway. She’d probably loathe him even more if she knew that’s what he was thinking, he thought, corner of his mouth ticking upward.

Once the door clicked shut, he turned his attention to the package in his hands. Huang Bin was nothing, if not prompt in his reply.

He’d known from day one, the key to unloading his albatross of an inheritance would lay in Asia. The heydays days of New England paper manufacturing were over. Of the companies that hadn’t gone out of business, many had moved south to take advantage of warmer climates and less expensive labor. For a medium-sized manufacturer like Bishop to survive, it needed either an owner dedicated long-term to its success or a parent company large enough it didn’t care about the location.   And since Charles had zero interest in whether Bishop lived or died….

Fortunately for him, Xianhua Paper was interested establishing a toehold in America. Soon as legally possible, he planned on selling. Closing the book on Bishop Paper once and for all.


By lunchtime, Liz felt moderately better. All, she conceded, was not lost. There were plenty of ways she could swing tuition. She could get a second job, look into a longer term loan. Or beg Trenton’s financial aid office for more money. Their ears couldn’t be any more deaf than the man she worked for.

“Who died?” asked Leanne Kenny. The accounting secretary walked into the break room. Bustled was a more apt word. Her square stocky build made any other adjective inadequate.

“My credit score,” Liz replied. “Think charging an entire year of school tuition would be problem?”

“Still trying to get your son into Trenton, huh? Reaching into the empty fridge, the older woman pulled out a set of plastic storage containers filled with salad fixings. “You know, going to public school is hardly the end of the world.”

“I know.” Liz also knew Leanne thought her a snob for wanting otherwise. Like most of the rank and file at the company, her colleague sent her children to Gilmore High and couldn’t understand why Liz felt so strongly about this. She didn’t understand that for Liz, sending Andrew to Trenton wasn’t about the quality of education. Of course he would do just fine at the town high school.

Of course, explaining her reasons would mean going into the sordid details of her misspent youth, something she wasn’t about to do. Bad enough simple math told part of the story for her.

She changed the subject instead. “Thanks for getting those reports out this morning. Mr. Bishop was eager to get them.”

“He’s always eager,” Leanne grumbled. She poured a container of creamy dressing over her bowl of lettuce. “Man’s definitely not his father. Ron believed in giving people notice.”

True, Liz thought to herself. She tore off a bite of peanut butter sandwich. Interesting how they all referred to Ron by his first name while his son received the more formal address. Then, they’d known Ron. Most of them had worked for the man for years. Unlike Charles who they didn’t know at all. Their new boss went out of his way to keep his distance.

Like a king in his tower, she thought, this morning’s bitterness returning.

“What is his fascination with spreadsheets anyway,” Leanne was asking. “I swear he demands a different report every day.”

He requests a new one every day.”

“The man does like his numbers.” Probably looking for more costs to cut.

Leanne leaned forward, her eyes shining like a little girl with a secret. “Paul in human resources told me he’s cutting the company barbeque. Said that if we wanted to ‘play family’” she framed the words with air quotes, “we could do so on our own time. Talk about harsh.”

Harsh indeed. Obviously Charles Bishop was determined to eke out every penny of profit he could out of the company, employees’ welfare be damned. How could a man be so different from his father? In this case, the apple hadn’t just fallen far from the tree; it had rolled into the next state.

A noise in the doorway caused them both to jump. Since Charles took over, the entire company was on edge, with everyone waiting for the next big bombshell. As if Ron’s death hadn’t been big enough. To both their relief, Van Hancock and Doug Metcalf, two of the company’s sales managers, walked in. Their down coats glistened with droplets of melting snow. “

You talking about the new boss?” Van asked, brushing dampness from his grey crew cut.

“Shhh,” Leanne said. “Not so loud.“

“Sorry.” He dropped his voice a notch. “So what did the Ice King do now?”

“Cut the employee barbeque.”

“Not surprising,” Van replied. “He’s cut everything else.”

“Wonder how long before he sells this place?” Doug wondered aloud. “I mean, isn’t that what he does?”

“According to the articles online,” said Leanne. “No reason to think this company will be any different. Thinking of the overnight package from China, Liz stayed silent. Annoyed as she was with her boss, she had no intention of giving away proprietary information. Off gossip wasn’t her style. Never had been. Though she might have indulged in a little Internet surfing when Charles came on board. That was for research purposes however. One should know who she worked for, and seeing as how no one had ever heard Ron talk about his son before….

“Makes you wonder what Ron was thinking when he wrote up his will,” the accounting secretary continued, stuffing a piece of lettuce in her mouth.

“Maybe he thought this time would be different,” Doug offered. “Because it’s a family business and all.”

“Yeah right,” she scoffed. “Did any of you even know Ron had a son?”

“I heard him mention something once,” Van said in between bites of his cheeseburger.

Hearing the remark, Liz looked up. Like most of them, she’d had no clue Ron Bishop and Charles Bishop, corporate raider, were related until Charles arrived on their doorstep. “What did he say?”

“Not much,” the salesman replied with a shrug. “It was my eldest was looking at colleges a couple years ago. Said something about his son having gone to some technical school. I was surprised because I’d forgotten he’d been married.   Had to have been twenty five years or so since his divorce.”

“I didn’t even know that much,” Doug replied.

Neither had Liz. She and Ron had worked side by side for a decade and he’d never mentioned anything. That stung. She’d thought they’d been close, especially since his heart attack. But then, wouldn’t be the first time she’d misjudged a relationship, would it? “Maybe the subject was too painful,” she murmured, grasping for a reason.

“I bet,” Leanne said as she stabbed another piece of lettuce. “Poor Ron. I miss him.” The two men nodded in agreement. “This place will never be the same.”

“No, it won’t,” a frosty baritone replied.”

All four of them froze. You could hear a pin drop in the silence.

You could hear a pin drop in the silence.

Liz looked up first, her eyes connecting with Charles’. He stood leaning against the door frame, shoulder propped, hands in pockets. He would have presented quite the nonchalant picture were it not the sharp glint behind his blue stare. No idea how much Charles heard, but he’d clearly heard enough.

Guilty warmth crept into Liz’s cheeks.

He didn’t move a muscle. Not even a tick. “I’m sure the West coast customers are open by now,” he said to Van and Doug.

Bravado gone, both men, along with Leanne, quickly gathered their belongings. Liz moved to follow suit. She was halfway to the trash receptacle when his low voice halted her progress.

“A moment, Elizabeth.”

Drat. Three sets of feet could be heard hustling away like rats deserting a ship. Leaving her and Charles alone.

Squaring her shoulders, she deliberately finished disposing her leftovers before turning around, feeling Charles’ gaze every inch of the way. “Yes?” she asked when she finished.

He pushed himself away from wall. “I realize whenever there’s a change in leadership, a company goes through growing pains amount of gossip is to be expected.” His voice was soft, measured. “Particularly when the change is sudden and unexpected.

However.” He paused, leveling his blue gaze straight at her. Liz instinctively swallowed hard. “However,” he repeated, “I expect a certain level of discretion – and loyalty – from my personal assistant. In the future, I’d appreciate if you refrain from water cooler gossip.”

Liz’s spine stiffed. In her palm, she held an apple, leftover from her lunch, and she squeezed the future tightly, her fingers crushing the pulp. Humiliation flushed through her, but she choked the feeling back. Tilting her chin, she met his stare head on, for the first time, grateful for her height as if forced her to look down her nose. “Is there anything else, Mr. Bishop?” she asked matching his measured tone.

An unidentifiable expression ghosted across his features. “No, that’ll be all. For now.”

“Then I’ll get back to my desk.” Palming her apple, she walked past, keeping her head high the entire time.

And pretending she couldn’t feel his eyes watching her every step.


True to meteorologists’ word, the storm peaked during the evening commute. What had been steady but light snow all day had become a blanket of white, obliterating all but a few feet of visibility.

Downshifting for the God knows what time, Charles leaned back against the headrest and groaned. By this point in the winter, shouldn’t people know how to drive in show? Weren’t New Englanders supposed to be of sturdier stock? Steely backbone and all that?

More like his secretary, he thought mood lifting slightly. Elizabeth had surprised him today – twice actually – with her shows of resolve. Looked like there was a little mettle in that extra long spine of hers. Funny how he’d never noticed before.

The discovery was the sole bright spot in what was otherwise a very long day. His morning accounting meeting turned into a daylong argument, filled with defensive positive and excuses. Each angry glare conveyed the same silent message. You are not your father.

Damn straight, he’d wanted to say. Better get used to it.

Ahead, the road dipped and followed the trees lining the Androscoggin River. The car in front of him stopped suddenly, forcing him to step on the brakes. There was a sliding sensation as Charles’ car fishtailed toward a row of pines, and he quickly steered it back under control. His two-seat Italian sports car wasn’t suited for winter driving. He should garage the thing in favor of a sturdier vehicle with four wheel drive, but a stubborn part of him refused. Doing so would be like giving in to his exile. Acknowledging he was settling in New Hampshire for a long stay and that was decidedly not the case. Hell, he was already getting restless. Unusually so. He’d felt unsettled, antsy, on edge since getting the news about his father. Maybe it was being back in New Hampshire.

Or maybe it was simply all the cold and snow, he thought watching the blades trek back and forth across his windshield. Hard to believe once upon a time, he saw the stuff as something almost magical.

Look Daddy! I built a snowman!

Not now, Charles. I’m busy.

Charles closed off the memory. His snowman making days were long gone. Now all he wanted was to get back to his condo, fix himself a martini and catch the evening stock report. Given the day, maybe even two martinis –

Son-of-a-bitch! Brown flashed in front of his windshield. Charles slammed on the brakes, yanking his steering wheel harder to the right to avoid collision. His car began to spin. There was another flash of brown. A flailing of hooves against metal and glass followed by a jolt and a loud bang.

Then, nothing.

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