The Valentine Grinch

 

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The Valentine Grinch

Hearts, cupids, and diamond rings!
When Amanda Goodwin returns to Cranberry Cove for her grandma’s wedding, all she wants to do is forget about cherubs and chocolates and men who had crushed her heart.
Until, that is, she encounters long time friend, Dane Weatherby.
Amanda hasn’t seen Dane since high school, and the nerdy boy she remembers has grown into a hunk of the worst kind…the kind that makes her want more than his friendship.
So what’s a girl to do when she’s stuck in the middle of all this Valentine-induced romantic madness? Escape back to her lonely life in the city or dive headfirst into the craziness?
Fortunately she’s not in this alone. And if Dane has his way, he just might convince Amanda to say I do instead of bah humbug.
Available at: AmazonSmashwordsB&NKobo and All Romance eBooks!
Special Note: The Valentine Grinch novella was originally published in the WG2E All-For-Indies Anthologies: Viva La Valentine Edition.

Click on the individual covers below to learn more about the novellas and standalone books. Then get a sneak peak of future stories planned and visit Sheila's Amazon page.

Complete Character List:

  • Amanda Goodwin:
  • Dane Weatherby:
  • (coming soon)

Extras & Tidbits: Want to get the inside scoop on this story? Then check out the blog posts below.

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THE VALENTINE GRINCH

CHAPTER ONE

Amanda Goodwin gripped the steering wheel of her yellow Mini and resisted the urge to plow straight ahead.

Mowing down the heart shaped ornaments and chubby cupids dancing on the front lawn of the Cranberry Cove Community Hall might not be a good idea…but it sure would make her feel better.

It wasn’t that she disliked Valentine’s Day so much as she hated the pressure of living up to the romantic madness. Even now, three days before the big day, the car radio blared out the holiday’s excess.

Spend one hundred dollars and enter your name to win our Valentine’s Day thousand dollar shopping spree!

This Valentine’s Day, give the one you love the most expensive jewelry in the store!

And on and on it went. Amanda turned off the radio and inched the car over the town’s slippery streets.

Outside, fog swirled through the air and dimmed the glow of the vehicle’s headlights, while enormous white flakes drifted down from the sky and covered the ground in a fluffy blanket of snow.

The tiny west coast village of Cranberry Cove rarely had snow in mid-February, but a cold front had settled in the region, giving the Washington residents one last blast of winter.

Okay, so all she had to do was get through the next three days. Once Grandma Elvira’s Valentine’s Day wedding was over, she could return to Seattle and forget about cherubs and chocolates and men who’d crushed her heart.

Amanda steered the car up to the curb in front of her parents’ two-story house and sat there, arms braced against the steering wheel, her frown so tight she was sure a smile would crack her face.

There was only one person who really understood her aversion to the holiday and he was gone.

With a grumbly grunt, she shouldered the car door open and stepped out onto the icy street. The next thing she knew, she was flat on her back. Her head bounced once, twice, then settled.

Fat snowflakes landed on her face and melted down her cheeks. A dull pain throbbed at the back of her head and the cold from the ground seeped through her clothes. Her ears rang with—was that laughter?—and something familiar glided out of the fog and floated in the air above her.

Get up, bumpkin.

“Gramps?” As the image morphed into swirls of fog and snow, she scrambled to her feet and turned in a slow circle. “Who’s there?”

But the street was empty, she was alone, and there was only one explanation for what she’d seen.

Wishful thinking.

She’d inherited her distaste for the holiday from her Grandpa George, so it seemed appropriate she’d want to see him at this time of year. He’d hated Valentine’s Day as much as she did.

All that lovey-dovey stuff and for what? A rejection of the epic kind? Been there, done that. Humiliation warmed her cheeks.

Gramps had always told her that it was what a person did all year long to show their love. It wasn’t about showing it for that one day of the year and spending a fortune on diamonds and chocolates.

Although, truth be told, the chocolates would’ve been nice. Amanda suspected her grandpa was part unromantic and part tightwad.

Careful now, she maneuvered across the slick ice beneath her feet. She pulled her suitcase out of the trunk of the car, gingerly lowered the lid so the sound wouldn’t make her head explode, and headed toward the front door of her parents’ house. A gust of wind hit her in the face and sucked the breath from her lungs. She bent her head and shivered against the cold.

Along with the decidedly anti-cupid-like mood, now she had a headache. She stepped carefully up the cement steps so she wouldn’t fall again, set her suitcase down beside her, and rapped her knuckles against the front door. Through the etched glass window on the door, she heard the romantic croon of her parents’ favorite music from the seventies.

Another shiver went through her and she reached into her coat pocket for her keys.

“Pssst.”

Amanda jumped back from the door and squinted through the fog toward the front flowerbed. “Who’s there?”

The top of a camouflage colored toque popped out. A snort came from deep within the greenery, and then the rest of the toque appeared, followed by a familiar grizzled and worn face. “It’s been so long since you visited me, bumpkin, it’s no wonder you don’t recognize your own grandpa.”

Amanda stumbled backward on the porch landing and nearly slipped on the ice coated surface, stopping only when her back end hit the wrought iron rails and she could escape no further. “Gramps? What the heck?”

Dizziness swirled in her head. She closed her eyes, forced herself to breathe deep, stay calm.

This wasn’t possible.

She opened one eye, opened the other, then gaped as the apparition floated out of the shrubs and hovered in the air like part of the fog.

Amanda pressed back against the railing. “No, no, no. You’re dead. I was at your funeral.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know.” He cupped his hands around his eyes, pressed his nose to the window and peered inside.

“Seriously dead. Dead as a doornail dead. Dead, dead, dead.”

“I agree, I’m dead. Can we get past this, bumpkin?” With a sigh, he dropped his hands to his sides and turned toward her, the ghostly vision slowly settling into something more solid. Tall. Shoulders slightly stooped. Gray eyes twinkling. Definitely her grandfather. “I need your help.”

Amanda covered her eyes, then peeked through the space between her fingers and saw him still there, floaty and real and impossible to believe. “It’s the holiday stress. All of the cupids and cherubs and Grandma’s wedding—”

“That’s why I’m here.” Grandpa stretched to his full five-foot-ten height, and shuffled out of the bushes and onto the sidewalk without leaving a mark in the snow. “To stop the wedding.”

Her legs trembled beneath her and she put out a shaky hand to ward him off. “Go away. You’re just in my imagination.”

“Here, I’ll pinch you.”

Before she could blink, he was on the landing before her, reaching one bony hand toward her, thumb and index finger in the pinch position. Amanda yelped and pressed against the front door.

Gramps let his arm drop and his bushy eyebrows lowered into a frown. “Are you afraid of me?”

“Uh, yeah.” Amanda let out a nervous laugh. With her gaze fixed on the vision before her, she backtracked through the last few hours of her road trip, almost positive that nothing had gone wrong. Until she’d slipped on the ice. A bubble of laughter caught in her throat. “Am I dead, too?”

“No, bumpkin. Now about your grandma—”

“Am I in the hospital? Unconscious?” She leaned forward and swiped one hand through the foggy image. A cold shiver raced up her arm, forcing her back against the door. “Maybe I’m fast asleep and when I wake up, you’ll be—”

He reached out and pinched her cheek. “Real enough for you?”

“Ouch.” She rubbed the side of her face and gave him her best glare. “That hurt, Gramps.” With one hand, she rubbed at her forehead. “I need some time to think. This is so…unexpected. And you’re so…not supposed to be here.” She looked around the snow covered front yard, the flakes still drifting down from the sky, her Mini parked on the front street.

Okay, what she really needed to do was go inside, have her mom check her head, then take an aspirin and go to bed. In the morning, she’d wake, realize it was all a dream and forget all about it.

She turned and through the glass window, saw her mom glide toward the front door, flick on the deadbolt, then head back to the kitchen.

Amanda pounded on the door and her mom turned back, a frown on her forehead. The porch light flickered on, then off again, and out the corner of her eye, she saw Grandpa disappear in a swirl of fog, jumping off the steps like he was forty years younger, slipping through the azalea bush and cedar trees, reminding Amanda of those spy penguins in the Madagascar movie. Except they were only animated and her grandpa was…most definitely dead.

The front door squeaked open and through the screen door, Amanda saw her mom frown up at the outside lamp before she returned her attention to her youngest daughter.

Dora Goodwin unlatched the screen door, pushed it open, and gestured Amanda inside. “Honey, what are you doing here? We thought you were coming tomorrow. Where’s your key? Is the front light burned out again? Come in, come in, before you freeze to death.”

Amanda glanced back at the flowerbed.

The fog had lifted and she could see quite clearly now. There was nothing there but the bushes covered by the new snow. Not a single footprint on the sidewalk, except for her own. Not a whisper of her grandpa’s voice in her ear, only the wind.

With goose bumps spreading across her body, she grabbed her suitcase by the handle and stepped into the warmth of the house.

“Tom, Amanda’s here. And the outside light is burned out again,” Dora called as she closed the front door, then eyed her youngest daughter. “Oh, honey, you have snow all over your back. What happened?”

Amanda plunked her suitcase on the rug. “I slipped on the ice.”

Dora took Amanda’s coat and shook the snow onto the front rug. “Did you hurt yourself?”

“I’m okay, Mom.” She could live with the throbbing head. It was the vision of her grandpa that had her worried. As she heard the soft soled sound of her dad’s slippers approach from the kitchen, she pushed away the thought.

“Babycakes,” he called out. “I found the whipping cream.”

“Oh dear.” Her mom nudged her out of the way, hung up the still snowy coat, and with more emphasis this time, called out again. “Tom, Amanda’s here.”

“I’m ready to lick this—” He came around the corner, a bright yellow can in his hand, a naughty gleam in his eyes, and froze.

Her mom poked her in the back. “Your father’s hearing is getting worse.”

Amanda chose to ignore the can and shucked her boots. “Hi Dad.”

Despite the ruddy flush working its way into his cheeks, he thrust the bright yellow can into his sweater pocket and approached her. “Welcome home, kiddo. You’re early. How are the roads?”

Amanda stepped into his arms and hugged him back. “A little icy, but I have winter tires on.”

“Good girl.” As he pulled back, the can fell out of his pocket. He picked it up and handed it to her mom. “We’ll, ah, finish decorating that dessert later, right, Dora?”

Wink, wink.

Too much information. Amanda turned her back on her parents and peered into the living room, doing a quick search for strange wisps of fog that looked like Gramps.

Nothing, nada, zilch.

She rubbed the lump on the back of her head and turned to face her parents. “This may sound weird, but have you seen Gramps lately?”

Her dad shook his head and picked up the suitcase. “That’s my girl. Always the joker. Just don’t be joking around your grandma like that.”

“Seriously, you haven’t seen Gramps hanging around? Has Grandma mentioned him lately?”

Her mom exchanged a concerned look with her dad. “Only about a hundred times a day. I’m surprised Morty still wants to marry her. She’s taken to lugging your grandpa’s urn around. We’ve tried to talk to her, but she refuses to listen. It can’t be healthy. Maybe you could talk to her, honey.”

“Where is Grandma?”

“Already asleep.” Her mom slipped one arm around her waist and urged her toward the hallway. “Tom, get Amanda’s suitcase, will you?”

He held it up and wiggled it. “I’m way ahead of you, babe.”

Amanda took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. “Is Steph here yet?”

“Your sister’s not coming till the day of the wedding. Apparently work is keeping her busy.”

Behind them, her dad grumbled. “You’d think with her being a wedding planner and us paying for her education that she could take a little time off to help with Grandma’s wedding.”

“Now, Tom, you know I enjoy planning parties.” Dora Goodwin had a reputation for getting the job done, which was why she was in charge of pretty much everything, including Grandma’s wedding.

“Well, I don’t,” he grumbled back.

Amanda felt her mom’s hand against the back of her head and tried to wiggle away, but her mom had a firm grip on her.

“That’s quite the lump you’ve got. Tom, come feel this.”

He did as he was requested, his warm fingers tunneling through her hair. “Maybe we should call the Doc.”

“I’m fine, really. Tired from the drive. I’ll just get washed up, climb into bed and catch up on some sleep.”

“Are you hungry, honey?”

Her stomach rolled at the mention of food. “No.”

“Come on, kiddo. We’ve got your room ready.” Her dad lead the way up the stairs to the second floor. “You should move back to Cranberry Cove. The city is no place for a girl like you.”

“I like the city, Dad.”

Amanda followed him up the stairs with her mom bringing up the rear. The walls were lined with family photos of her parents’ wedding day, school pictures of her and Steph, and other favorites taken over the years.

At the top of the steps, her dad turned right, opened the door to her room and flipped on the light switch. “Sorry about the mess.”

Along with a ratty old armchair that her mom had wanted to toss and her dad had wanted to keep were Valentine decorations.

Lots of Valentine decorations.

There were red cardboard cutouts of Valentine hearts and grotesque cupids with bows. Enough for a massive wedding or a massive headache.

Her head throbbed again, reminding her that she already had a headache. As she turned to face her parents, she rolled her neck a couple of times with hopes of releasing the tension.

Dora moved to the bed, gathered an armful of the decorations and handed them to Tom. “You should have let us know you were coming a day early. We would have cleaned this up for you.”

Amanda watched her dad set the decorations down in the corner of the room. “Are these all for Grandma’s wedding?”

“Uh huh.” Her mom gathered up the rest of the decorations and pulled down the covers on the bed. “We thought you might bring a date for the wedding.”

“No date, Mom.”

“Not even a boy that’s a friend?” her mom continued as she smoothed her hand over the sheets, then one handed, fluffed the pillows. “Your father and I aren’t getting any younger, you know, and it would be nice if we had grandchildren before we died.”

Amanda groaned. “Bug Steph. She’s the one infatuated with weddings.”

Her mom straightened and faced Amanda, her shoulders squared, her arms wrapped around the decorations, looking as though she wasn’t about to back down from her favorite topic. “Did your father mention that Dane Weatherby is back in town? And that he’s taking over the newspaper office so his grandpa can retire? He’s single, you know.”

“No, I didn’t know.” Dane, her best friend till college, when they’d gone their separate ways and lost touch. An image of her childhood friend floated up from the nether regions of her mind. Black rimmed glasses with thick lenses. Tall and lanky. Yeah, they’d been quite the pair of geeky misfits. She pushed the memory away. “I’m so tired I could fall asleep standing up.”

As her mom headed for the door, she said, “I have a list of chores for you tomorrow, so don’t be sleeping all day.”

Her dad had a look of resignation on his face. “I’ll try to keep her away as long as possible. Goodnight, kiddo. It’s good to have you home.”

He closed the door, leaving her alone.

The nervousness from earlier returned. With the off chance that her grandpa was lurking somewhere in a corner, she climbed between the sheets fully clothed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and turned off the light.

Darkness enveloped the room. She shivered beneath the heavy down quilt and waited for her grandpa to appear.

Nothing, only the sound of her mom’s giggle and her dad’s seductive baritone.

Amanda lay down on her back, pulled the pillow around her ears and stared into the darkness. But with every breath she took, her anticipation grew until she could stand it no longer. “Gramps, are you there?”

A flash of white lit up the center of the room and she bolted up in bed, the covers clutched to her chin, her heart thundering in her chest.

The ghost of her Grandpa George floated across the room, headed straight for her.

Certain that she was awake and not hallucinating, Amanda yanked herself out of her stunned state and back to—she glanced around her, then back at him—reality? She leaned forward, gazed into his familiar gray eyes and spoke slowly. “Gramps, what do you want with me?”

“Elvira is still my wife and I need to protect her from that con-artist, Morty Weatherby.”

“Mr. Weatherby is a con-artist?”

“That’s right. He wants her money.” Grandpa got this calculating look in his eyes. “If you help me out, I’ll make sure she leaves you a little in her will.”

“Hard to do when you’re dead. Besides, I don’t want Grandma’s money. I just want her to be happy.” He looked exactly like her grandfather. If it wasn’t for the fog swirling through his body, she could almost believe he was really here. “I know for a fact that Mr. Weatherby was born in Cranberry Cove, eighty-five years ago, just like you.”

Grandpa stopped pacing, bent at the waist to lean toward her, and seemed to grow six inches. “I’ve known that weasel since we were in the crib and I tell you, he can’t be trusted.”

Amanda shifted away from him, nervous. “The wedding is in three days, Gramps. Even if I was inclined to help you out, heck, even if I believed you were really here, there’s not enough time. Besides, I don’t want to break Grandma’s heart.”

He shrank down to his regular size, his shoulders slumped, and the tightness in her stomach eased.

“What if I could prove to you that Morty’s not really in love with her? That the flipping weasel is just trifling with her heart? And after he has his way with her, he’ll discard her, like he’s discarded his past three wives? Bumpkin, you have to stop the wedding.”

She stared back at him, not knowing what to say.

Looking calmer now, he dragged the old armchair over to her bed, sat down and pulled his toque off his head. “Close your mouth, bumpkin, and let me tell you the story of how Elvira and I met. Back in 1933, I was just a wee boy of six…”

Having heard this story at least a dozen times before, Amanda tuned out.

Valentine’s Day brought out the worst in her grandpa, but maybe he had a point. It seemed like Grandma Elvira had rushed into the wedding.

If Morty Weatherby was the con-artist Gramps claimed, then Amanda had to stop the wedding before her grandma got hurt.

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