Housekeeper Under the Mistletoe

By: Cara Colter

CHAPTER ONE

 “UNDER DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES,” Angelica Witherspoon muttered to herself, as she drove down a main street where the summer sun was filtered through a thick green canopy of leaves, “this is the kind of place I would adore.”

 The city of Nelson was nestled in the Selkirk mountain range of British Columbia. It was quaint and charming.

 She angle parked her car and noted plenty of activity on the wide sidewalks in front of historical buildings. It made her feel safe enough to vacate her car and get out and stretch. Her muscles were cramped with tension. In the distance, she could catch glimpses of the sparkling waters of the west arm of Kootenay Lake.

 Angie sighed with longing. “This is a place I would love to explore.” But she reminded herself, sternly, it was her old life that would have allowed her to explore the vibrant, artsy and scenic community.

 In her new life she was extraordinarily tired and on edge. And it took money to explore. Angie had six dollars and twenty-two cents left to her name. She had allowed herself one cash machine withdrawal and was still in shock at how quickly two hundred dollars, the maximum she could take, had evaporated.

 Under a colorful awning, just in front of where she had parked her car, there was an outdoor café. The savory smells of rich coffee and of spicy Indian food enveloped her. She felt a pang of hunger. It was the first time in a week on the run that her stomach had unknotted enough for her to feel hungry.

 But, she told herself, if she bought a loaf of bread, and some sliced meat she could make her six dollars and change go a bit further than if she gave in to the temptation to sit down to a restaurant meal. She looked around for a corner store.

 Tires squealed off in the distance, a jarring sound, and Angelica felt her heart begin to hammer, and a fine bead of sweat broke out on her lip. She fought terror as she scanned the street, making sure she was not being watched.

 Inwardly, she talked herself down from the ledge.

 “Of course you are not being watched,” she chided herself. “How could anyone have followed you when you were not sure yourself where you were going?”

 But it was part of this surplus of caution that wouldn’t allow her to use the bank machine again. Winston had shown remarkable creativity in invading her life. What if he could track her transactions? No, she would find a loaf of bread. Peanut butter might be a better choice than meat, because it would be easier to keep.

 And then what? she asked herself. With her quickly dwindling resources, she was going to have to give this up and go home?

 Home. A shudder ran up and down her spine.

 He’d been in her home, she reminded herself. Winston had been in her home. In her bedroom. What had he touched?

 “Ugh,” she said as repulsion shuddered down her spine, making her uncertain that she was ever going home again. But, realistically, she had to be back at school in September—summer would not last forever. Surely this would be over by then? What if it wasn’t?

 She thought of faces of her students, the changes she saw in those faces over one school year, the sense they gave her of being needed, and she nearly wept at the thought she might not be able to return to them and to the job she loved.

 “Never mind that,” she told herself firmly. That was all in the distant future. Right now there was a more urgent and immediate question. How was she going to get by for a few weeks until the police apprehended Winston?

 “I just need a break,” she whispered, heavenward. “One small break.”

 And that was when she noticed the community bulletin board. She was drawn to it as if it were a magnet and she a dropped pin. All else faded, and she saw only one posting.

 In very masculine printing it read:

 HOUSEKEEPER NEEDED IMMEDIATELY.

 MATURE APPLICANTS ONLY.

 EMPLOYER DESIRES QUIET AND PRIVACY.

 CHATTERBOXES NEED NOT APPLY. APPLY IN PERSON AT THE STONE HOUSE, ANSLOW, BC.

 Angelica snatched the scrap of paper down off the board like a starving pauper who had been tossed a crust. She glanced around surreptitiously, holding the paper close to her chest, as if others might be waiting to pounce on her and wrestle her to the ground for that job opportunity. It occurred to her she might be drawing attention to herself.

 But Nelson seemed to be a place that embraced everything from the slightly eclectic to the downright weird, and no one was paying the slightest attention to her. She forced herself to relax and read the notice again, more slowly.

 The position was probably long gone. There was no date on it. The paper it was written on seemed frayed around the edges and slightly water damaged. On the other hand, it was downright unfriendly. Only someone desperate—that would be her—would be the slightest bit interested in such a posting.

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