Vera Carrington loves her newly renovated home and her cafe, The Bean, but with a balloon mortgage looming over head and a man from her past ready to bounce on her misfortune, she may have to face the agonizing decision of keeping one and selling the other.
Deputy Sheriff, Ryan Colton, is a new man in Christ. His days as a flamboyant pro-circuit skier are behind him, but to help Vera keep her home and her business, he agrees to coach her for an upcoming open ski tournament. He even agrees to hand over the purse if he should win.
Can Vera beat the odds and win the tournament? Will Ryan save the day, or will they both learn to trust God, no matter the outcome?
Vera Carrington shifted gears and ramped up her speed, grateful for the car’s get up and go. Fortunately, the roads had already been cleared from last night’s snowfall. She had assigned herself the early shift at her café, but the darkness of the January morning had done nothing to wake her.
Her regular customers at The Bean expected the doors to open at six. She had about an hour’s worth of preparations she’d have to accomplish in about fifteen minutes.
Times were tough in their resort town, now. Fewer tourists and vacationers were making the trek to the California Sierra mountain town.
The wail of a siren split the air and in her rearview mirror, the police lights flashed.
Not again. The third speeding ticket she’d have to talk her way out of in as many months? This was the last thing she needed. Especially now. She was already two months behind on her home’s mortgage payment and still had no idea what to do.
She couldn’t afford this ticket. Maybe she could talk her way out of it just one more time. After that, she’d start paying better attention to the speedometer.
She pulled over near a six foot high snow embankment and watched in the rear-view mirror as Ryan Colton climbed out of the cruiser. She sighed. Ryan was different since he’d caught religion and become a regular at Jack and Maggie’s church. Talking her way out of this one wouldn’t be easy.
“Hi there, Ryan.” Vera hit the button and let some of the cold morning air seep through the now opened window.
A pang of guilt stabbed her. The right thing to do would be to take her punishment. She could hear Maggie’s voice echoing in the recesses of her mind. “You’re my best friend, but I’m married to the sheriff now. Behave yourself.”
“Hey, Vera. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” Ryan had his flashlight out but avoided shining it in her eyes.
“I’m sorry about that. Hit the snooze too many times. I overslept.”
He took out his ticket pad, expertly balancing his flashlight. “I know what that’s like.”
“I’m not a morning person and I would assign the shift to Annie, but I can’t afford the payroll right now.” Maybe with his newfound religion, Ryan might have a little compassion for a hard working girl. “Especially with Maggie on maternity leave. You know, Jack’s wife?”
“You wouldn’t be trying to talk me out of writing this ticket, would you?” He was clean cut now, having shaved off his beard a few months ago, though it didn’t take away from his rugged good looks. He’d always been difficult to ignore and now he was so darned nice.
“Who, me?” Vera tossed her hair back and hoped she wasn’t too obvious. Ryan was not as gullible as the younger officers.
“Because I do recall the last time I let you go I reminded you it would be the last time.” He flashed that disarming and cocky grin.
Stop it; stop smiling at me like that. “I do remember that.” She tried not to melt under his penetrating stare. His expressive brown eyes had a way of untangling her frayed nerves.
“I would let it go, but Jack had a talk with us. He says you’ve got to learn your lesson.”
“I have a reputation, I see.” Vera tapped her red fingernail on the steering wheel.
“For speeding. Yes, you do.”
Vera stepped out of the car hoping she might have a better effect, get him to step back, and take a look.
He stood his ground.
She considered flirting with him. Not only would it be effective, but it might also be fun. Then she heard Maggie’s voice in her head again. Great. Might as well get this over with now. She might still make it to The Bean on time. “Just give me the ticket.” She dug in her purse and handed him her driver’s license. The wind whistled as it whipped through the trees and she shivered under her parka.
Ryan Colton stared at Vera as she stood inches from him. She’d thrown the door open and got out as if she expected him to take a step back. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Thin and leggy, Vera was tall for a woman, but still a few inches shorter than him. Her dark blue eyes and pale blonde hair drove men to distraction.
Unfortunately, he was no exception. “Now you want a ticket?” He took her license. Being this close to Vera addled his brain. He couldn’t have heard right.
“Yeah, and I’d appreciate it if it’s sometime this year.” Vera put her hands on her hips.
He could smell the mint of her toothpaste. He was about to reconsider because everyone deserved one more chance and she looked so soft and beautiful this frigid morning. Now she insisted he cite her. Well, he wasn’t about to disappoint her. He copied the information from her license, checked off her charge, put her speed in the blank provided, and signed the ticket. “Here you go.” He tore off the sheet with no small amount of pleasure and held it out with her license. “You have a nice day.”
Vera narrowed her eyes and ripped the paper out of his hand. “I’m going to try.” She got back in her car and drove away slowly.
He got back in the cruiser and drove through town as the sun rose over the horizon and more cars began to populate the streets of Harte’s Peak.
A year ago, he wouldn’t have appreciated the graveyard shift like he did today. But only a few months ago he’d started to see everything in a new way. Now he saw the sunrise with a promise he’d never imagined before. Every morning felt like a new beginning, a chance to demonstrate his new self and to show God that he appreciated His grace.
Part of that meant covering the graveyard shift so that new family man, Jack, could spend the morning with his pregnant wife, Maggie.
Ryan was happy to take the shift. Even if it meant running into Vera the Speedster. If he were a revenue hound he’d know exactly where to find his meal ticket, but instead she’d managed to talk her way out of one the last three times she’d been pulled over.
Lonnie Smith, who still stammered like a schoolboy in her presence, had let her out of two tickets.
Yet he was in no position to judge since he’d also let Vera go with a verbal warning three weeks ago when she’d gazed into his eyes. He’d briefly remembered the old Ryan, the one who’d asked her out on a regular basis even though she had repeatedly turned him down.
Of all the townspeople who had heard about his conversion and baptism Vera seemed the least convinced. It would be an uphill battle to demonstrate to the people of Harte’s Peak that he had changed. Vera, more than anyone else, reminded him of that fact.
Vera had finished up with the last of the morning rush customers when Annie McCarthy, Maggie’s replacement, arrived promptly at ten for her shift. Annie’s nose ring and jet black hair made her look like a punk rocker. She was actually an unemployed school teacher. “Brrrr. Did you have any trouble getting in the door this morning? I had trouble getting out of my house.” Annie tied on her apron.
“There were three customers waiting for me, and they helped me out.”
“All kinds of gentlemen are out this morning. The heater in my car isn’t working well, and when I thought my insides had congealed and turned into one solid block of ice, I saw Ryan Colton shoveling the entrance to Katie’s bookstore. Just looking at him warmed me up.”
“He’s been a busy boy this morning.” Vera smirked. Ryan had turned into a regular Boy Scout.
“I’m no fan of cops, but that man could change my mind,” Annie sighed.
He might even change my mind. And if he’d ever ask her out again Vera might have to reconsider. He’d stopped asking several months ago, coincidentally, about the time he’d been baptized. Maybe he thought he was too good for her now.
“Since you’re here, I’m going to the office and get some paperwork done.” Vera took off her apron.
Six months ago, she’d taken a second mortgage on her home in order to make some improvements to the café, expanding to the storefront next door when it was vacated by the fabric shop that had closed its doors after twenty-five years in business. One of the additions included a private office in which she could adequately do personnel reviews and manage payroll.
Who could have known that shortly after the improvements were completed Harte’s Peak tourism would take a swan dive?
Vera pulled out the file she had been avoiding and with shaking fingers dialed the number. She verified her information with the mortgage company’s phone tree and waited for the representative to answer.
When she had the faceless person on the other end of the line, she tried to reason with them.
“Ms. Carrington, I see you’re two months behind with your mortgage payment. I can take a payment right now over the phone for your convenience.”
Vera winced. For my convenience. If she’d had the money to make the payment would she be making this embarrassing phone call? “I can’t make a payment right now. But I have a few questions.”
Apparently, a mortgagee asking questions threw the mortgage company for a loop. Vera was transferred to at least six different departments before she finally had the proper person on the line. She explained her position and waited for a response, barely able to breathe.
“The only way you were qualified for this loan was under our special interest-only program,” this person droned on. “Of course, now that it’s been a year your loan has adjusted, but you also need to start paying toward the principal. Your broker should have explained this to you.” The representative’s low pitched voice was more than a tad condescending.
Her broker had left town months ago when his business hit bottom. Now her payment had doubled. Vera thought she’d understood the fine print and terms of her refinance, but now she wished she’d hired a lawyer to translate it into plain English for her.
As she’d been taught to do, Vera listed all her assets in a column. At the top of that list sat the café. Sure, the economy had slowed, but the café would hold its own now that she’d trimmed expenses.
But even if there were buyers lining up for her café in this economy, she wasn’t about to sell the one thing that had ever been truly hers.
No. She’d have to find another way to save her home.