Adding a layer of coffee-ground compost around her blueberry bushes, Samantha eagerly glanced up at the putt-putt of the mail vehicle. Today, let her career start today.
She stood at the front gate, pulling off her gloves, by the time the gray-haired carrier stopped at the mailbox. In an unusual fit of domesticity this past weekend, Walker had painted the box a shiny silver, and she’d stenciled wild roses on it. A shared mailbox gave evidence they’d be married soon.
The carrier glanced at the large envelope before handing the mail to her personally. “Looks real official, Miss Moon.”
She clasped it to her chest. “Thank you!”
Offering the smile that spoke for her when she didn’t have words, she danced up the cobblestones to the bungalow she and Walker had rented these last months. Yellow roses bloomed over the porch roof, poking through the wisteria vines. In August, the purple flowers were long gone, but the roses planted by the last homeowner wrapped her in a heavenly perfume as she hurried inside.
With the paper crinkling in her hand, fear warred with her earlier excitement. Surely, if she’d been rejected, the envelope wouldn’t be so large? If she’d been rejected—there weren’t too many grants available for a beginning environmentalist living in the middle of nowhere. Icy fingers of gloom threatened to close in as she studied her fate in the form of a brown envelope.
She wanted to stay in Hillvale, needed to. This land was in her blood. In her genes. She’d only recently learned that Hillvale was who she was. Using her unique gift for growing things ought to be used for the town she meant to make her own.
But Hillvale offered few job opportunities, her trust fund was miniscule, and she refused to live off her fiancé’s generosity forever. She needed her own purpose.
Should she wait for Walker to come home before opening it? No, this was hers alone. He didn’t need to know if she’d been rejected.
Offering insane prayers to the universe, Sam carried the precious envelope to the crowded bedroom where they’d set up two small desks and bookshelves as their office. She opened the envelope glue strip with care, not wanting to tear it. Maybe she should have invited the Lucys over to light candles and waft incense for good luck. As much as she respected the unusual gifts of her friends, she didn’t think candles would help.
Removing the thick set of papers, and with her heart in her throat, she scanned all the legal verbiage. Not until she reached the line asking her to sign if she accepted did she melt into her chair and hold the contract as if she were burping a baby. Hillvale was her baby to nurture once she signed. She breathed deeply in satisfaction.
She’d done it—won the grant that would make her town a more productive place—and give her an income beyond waitressing. Her first real job outside the university!
Before she could examine the details or really let the joy sink in, the doorbell rang. Security-conscious, her city-bred police chief fiancé had installed cable, wi-fi, and a fancy camera doorbell in the aging bungalow. But this was very rural Hillvale, where one didn’t even fear ghosts. Sam was floating too high on Cloud Nine to open her computer to see who was at the door. With no cell phone reception, she never carried her old phone either. That belonged to a prior life, one before Hillvale.
Leaving the contract on her desk, she crossed the tiny living space they were gradually making into their own and opened the carved oak door. She had to look down to see their visitor. The dainty China doll on the doorstep made her feel like a giant Elsa in comparison.
Self-conscious about her Nordic paleness in comparison to Walker’s Chinese heritage, Sam hesitated in greeting this unexpected guest.
The woman had no such compunction. “I am Wan Hai. Jia Walker sends me as your wedding gift. I am expert in feng shui.” She pointed at the roses descending from the roof. “Thorns do not welcome chi.”
“Miss Wan, come in!” Shocked into action, Sam stepped aside and gestured welcome. Walker’s mother had said she was sending a feng shui expert. Sam just hadn’t expected one to appear on her doorstep.
“How did you get here?” A fair question since they lived on a lane with no driveways, barely room for a car, and there was no vehicle outside.
“You may call me Hai. I had the driver leave me in town. I walked up. Mrs. Walker tells me of the difficulties living here.” She crossed the threshold rolling a large suitcase.
Sam eyed the suitcase with trepidation. “She should have told you to call Walker and let him know so he could have brought you up here.”
“Chen Ling is old friend. We thought we would surprise him.”
Chen Ling was Walker’s given name. He preferred to be called by his father’s surname. Or did he? Should she have asked? If this woman was an old friend, did she know more than Sam did? Hai looked more Walker’s age than Sam was—another point of concern. Walker was eight years older than Sam and worried he was too jaded for her. She glanced at the landline and wondered if she ought to call him, but his work took him all over town. She’d have to track him down.
Wan Hai took a seat in a padded leather recliner that dwarfed her. She had to sit up straight for her toes to almost reach the floor.
Sam made a mental note to add a few smaller chairs. “May I bring you something to drink? I was just getting ready for work, but I’ll call Walker. He’ll be excited to see you.”
“Water is fine. You need fountain at your door to welcome chi. And these chairs must be arranged so good energy flows naturally. Mrs. Walker mentions whole town needs my help, but I have never done a town.”
Sam poured a glass of filtered water, added a few cubes of ice from their miniscule refrigerator-freezer, and handed it to their wedding present. “I’ve been studying feng shui so I understand what Jia says about chi. I want Walker’s home to be as harmonious as the one his mother made for him. The front door is carved to welcome chi, one of the reasons we love this cottage.”
Hai nodded. “It is not what I would have there, but we can add a fountain and a river of pebbles. It will be good. If you go to work, you must leave me here. I will draw up plans while you are gone. Do you have a time you return? I can have dinner waiting.”
“Oh, no, we can’t have a guest cooking!” They usually brought food home from the café since neither of them were particularly domestic. They never brought guests to this tiny bungalow—which led to another horrified thought. “We’ll be happy to take you out this evening. Let me call Walker so he can let you settle in. . . Did Jia make reservations at the lodge for you?” she asked anxiously.
Studying the small living area with a frown, Hai waved a dismissive hand. “I can sleep anywhere. This chair is good. I saw a grocery in town. If you do not have the makings of a proper meal, I will pick up some. A man needs food made with love.”
Sam’s jaw dropped. She bit her tongue closing it. All her inadequacies as a soon-to-be-wife rose to join her self-consciousness, and she simply wanted to crawl under her—very large—bed. “I’ll talk to Walker,” she managed to force from between clenched teeth. “We can’t have you sleeping in a chair.”
Or in the house or maybe even in Hillvale.