Sherri Lambert woke from another frightful dream about the blonde in the beaded, blue dress. She pushed the blankets back, sat up, and rubbed at her gritty eyes. The morning sun filtered through the lace curtains of her bedroom window. They moved with the soft breeze that carried the scent of honeysuckle from the nearby hedgerow.
Sherri heard a rooster crow from the place down the road and twisted her head toward the open window. She sighed and ran her fingers through her tangled red curls.
Time to get my lazy ass up, I suppose. If I don’t get those last chapters finished, my publisher is gonna be sending a hit team for me.
Sherri, who wrote romance novels using the pen-name Whiskey Treat, had a few final touches to polish her latest installment of her Western Trilogy about a schoolmarm and her romantic adventures in the Old West.
She’d written her first novel in the series four years earlier and had been lucky enough to snag an aggressive agent who signed her with a major Romance Publisher in New York.
Sherri preferred writing Historical Fiction, but the agent had talked her into tweaking her original story into a Happily-Ever-After Romance and it had won some awards. The agent had secured a lucrative contract for Sherri and chosen a juicier pen name. Sherri Lambert sounded too tame for an author of Erotic Romances, her agent had insisted.
Whiskey Treat had been born. Sherri thought it was a cheesy pen-name, but went along with her agent’s urging. She’d learned early on that arguing with agents and editors was an act of utter futility.
Whiskey Treat’s main female characters tended to be pretty, petite blondes who wore bright-blue. That was because for as long as Sherri could remember, she’d been having dreams about a pretty, blue-eyed blonde in a bright-blue beaded dress.
Sherri could close her eyes and see the girl as if she was an old friend or close relative. Sherri had no idea who the girl was and thought she might be a figment of her imagination brought about by old movies she watched with her grandmother, because the girl had a striking resemblance to the actress Carol Lombard.
She swung her long, bare legs off the bed and dropped her feet onto the stiff pile carpet of the bedroom floor. Sherri could still remember when her grandparents had the carpet installed back in the mid-seventies while Sherri was still attending Barrett Consolidated High School. The harvest-gold pile had faded to a duller shade and was pilled with years of wear and dust from their little farm.
I’m not gonna miss this carpet either. I hope the wood floors are still in good shape.
Emmett and Brenda Lambert had been killed in a car accident the year before while on a Sunday afternoon drive into town to visit the Dairy Queen. They’d topped a hill on the country blacktop and run into a combine stalled in the middle of the road.
The county coroner had told Sherri the couple in their eighties had been killed instantly and not suffered. She’d closed her eyes many times and imagined her grandfather slamming on the brakes of his old Ford sedan and her grandmother bracing her hands on the dash and screaming as they rushed toward the big green piece of farm machinery.
Sherri knew they’d suffered, if only for a few minutes of sheer, agonizing terror. They’d been found in the wreckage holding one another’s hands.
After the agonizing funeral, Sherri had flown back to Palm Springs, made arrangements with a real estate agent to sell her condo, packed up her belongings, and driven a Penske truck stuffed with her furniture and personal belongings back to take up residence in the old, single-story farmhouse where she’d spent so many happy summers as a child.
She and her parents had lived in a suburb of Chicago. Sherri had spent her school breaks with her father’s parents on the farm just outside Barrett. After her parents divorced, when Sherri was twelve, she’d moved to the little farm permanently and eventually attended high school in Barrett.
Having spent her first several years attending large suburban schools, it had been difficult for Sherri to adjust to the smaller rural schools. In Wheaton, she’d studied in an advanced placement program for gifted students. In the smaller school outside Barrett, her academic achievements earned her ridicule from the other students and she’d spent a lot of time weeping in the bathroom after being called a teacher’s pet or smart-ass Chicago girl.
Her grandparents hadn’t understood her depression or her ‘acting out’, as they’d called it, when she got into high school. She’d experimented with sex, drugs, and alcohol.
It was the seventies, for god’s sake. Everybody was doing it. It was the ’don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it’ generation.
High school had been a struggle for Sherri socially. She never felt like she fit in with any group. Sherri was a smart kid, but the smart kids weren’t cool and Sherri had wanted desperately to be one of the cool kids. She had friends in that group, but not close friends.
Sherri lived in the country and graduated from a rural elementary school. She wanted to be accepted by the townies, but never was. Most of the Snot Squad had made her life hell.
One of her first novels had been a cathartic retelling of those horrible days. She’d set the story in a small Colorado town named Hope and called the novel Lost Hope.
It had been one of those things a writer does to work through her past. Lost Hope had been a catharsis and the fumbling beginning of Sherri’s career as an author.
The book had been self-published and had sold a few copies. It wasn’t until Sherri had changed her pen name to Whiskey Treat and republished the book, using that name, that it began to sell. Bookstores added her self-published books to their shelves and sales picked up.
Stop wallowing in the past, Lambert, and get your ass up. You have work to do or there won’t be any more books on the shelves.
Sherri trudged into the kitchen and started the Mr. Coffee. She’d seen the advertisements for those nifty, one-cup machines on late-late night television, but Sherri preferred making a full pot and refilling her cup from that, rather than buying those expensive little plastic cups and using one every time she wanted another cup of coffee in the morning or while she wrote.
She stared around the dated kitchen and sighed.
This place needs a make-over worse than I do.
On the round, oak table was a stack of catalogues and home decorating magazines Sherri had leafed through and folded down the corners of pages with things that interested her for the house.
After moving into the old farmhouse, Sherri had been stuffing some things in the closet and happened to notice a loose piece of paneling. When she peeked behind it, she’d found, to her utter amazement, a rough, log wall. Curious, Sherri had rushed outside and pulled off a few pieces of the brown, shingle siding and found more stacked logs chinked with a mortar of some sort. The old farmhouse had originally been a log cabin.
Sherri had thought back, but couldn’t remember her grandparents ever telling her much about the house or even when they’d initially moved into it. She knew her father had been born in it and that was in the late thirties, but she thought they’d moved here from Oklahoma before the Great Depression and the devastation of the Dustbowl.
Her grandparents had always been very evasive about the past and after being shut down several times, Sherri had simply stopped asking about the house and family history.
Maybe we have outlaws or gangster in our past they didn’t want to admit to. Maybe there were cattle rustlers or members of The James Gang in the Lambert family. I need to do one of those Ancestry searches to find out. Who knows, there might just be a book in there somewhere.
Making a trip into Barrett to do some research on the property was on Sherri’s to-do list for the not too distant future. She’d made up her mind to gut the old house and take it back to its original log cabin.
An appointment with a company specializing in the historical renovation of cabins had been scheduled and Sherri looked forward to a visit from one of their representatives tomorrow. She had the catalogues and magazines handy to show him her ideas.
While she waited for the coffee to brew, Sherri went into the dated bathroom to relieve herself. She glanced at the pink, porcelain fixtures and the matching four-inch square tiles on the wall with the row of black accent tiles along the top and grimaced.
I’m sure as hell gonna be glad to see this shit gone. I don’t care if the I Love Lucy retro thing is all the rage today. I hate it.
Sherri turned on the shower and shrugged out of her terry robe. As steam rose to the yellowed Celetex tiles on the ceiling. Both her grandparents had been heavy smokers.
Sherri stepped into the tub. She luxuriated under the hot spray, squirted some shampoo onto her hair, and worked it into a lather. There were few simpler pleasures than a hot shower in the morning. She rinsed the shampoo from her hair and applied some coconut-scented cream rinse. After rinsing out the conditioner, Sherri attended to her body with a soapy washcloth.
As she washed her face, she felt a tender spot on her cheek and frowned, remembering her dream from the night before. Her pretty blonde had been arguing with someone. It had been the same illusive man, but Sherri never had a clear picture of his face—she never did.
She remembered his angry, dark eyes as he yelled at the blonde girl and drew back his massive fist. Sherri remembered the fist and she recalled rough fingers around her—the girl’s throat. He’d been choking her—the blonde--and he’d hit her on the same cheek that was now tender on Sherri’s face. She brought up her hand to touch the tender, lightly throbbing spot on her face and frowned. This had never happened in one of her dreams before.
Sherri turned off the water, stepped out of the tub, and reached for a towel. She patted the water from her body and then wrapped her head in the thick, soft towel. Sherri reached for her robe and slipped her arms back into it.
With her damp hand, Sherri wiped the condensation from the mirror of the chrome medicine cabinet and peered at her reflection in the wet glass.
To her amazement, she saw a blue bruise on her cheek and she probed it gently with her fingers. As she stared at her reflection, Sherri adjusted the front of her robe and gasped at purple splotches around her throat. They looked like finger marks.
What the hell?
Sherri studied her reflection closer in the streaked mirror. She prodded the spots gingerly and gasped at how tender they were to the lightest touch.
Now how in hell did I manage that? She touched her aching cheek. Now, that, I guess I might have done sleeping with my ring pressed into my cheek, but how the hell did I manage finger prints on my throat? I’m sure I didn’t choke myself in my sleep.
Sherri stood staring into the mirror and she narrowed her eyes into a squint as her vision began to blur. Her face became distorted in the wet mirror and another face became superimposed over hers.
Bright blonde hair cut into a short, curly bob replaced her longer auburn, while large, round blue eyes stared back at Sherri rather than her green ones.
“Don’t get flustered, Doll,” the blonde said, “it’ll fade in a day or two and you can cover it easy enough with a touch of pancake if you have it.”
A sudden dizziness overcame Sherri as she whipped her wet head around to look for the person speaking. The bathroom was empty except for her and the reflection of the blonde in the mirror.
Sherri eased down onto the pink toilet before she passed out and took the chance of seriously injuring herself on the heavy ceramic fixtures in the cramped, old bathroom. Sherri’s heart pounded in her chest as she put her head between her knees and stared at the tiny hexagon-shaped pink and black tiles on the floor.
I swear it’s all this damned pink. I may throw up just from that alone. I can’t believe Granny put this shit in here or that Pawpaw let her.
Yes, she could. Her grandmother had been a woman of her times and singularly attentive to her grandfather’s wants and needs. He had never denied his devoted wife anything she’d wanted.
Sherri thought her grandparents’ relationship was one most women only dreamed of. The aged couple had been married sixty-seven years when the accident had taken them and they rested beside one another now in the local Baptist Cemetery.
Her parents’ marriage had only lasted thirteen years. Sherri had been married three times, but none had lasted and she had no children. Sherri often thought her parents’ endless screaming and fighting about her father’s many affairs had left a bad taste in her mouth for marriage and Happily-Ever-Afters.
She couldn’t, for the life of her, figure out how she could write them. There was a lot to be said for a good imagination.
Her parents did keep in touch. Her mother had remarried, moved to Georgia, and had three more children. Sherri knew them, but not well. They exchanged Christmas Cards and saw each other’s posts on Facebook. Her father had remained in the Chicago area, married, and divorced again. She’d seen him at her grandparents’ funeral and at the reading of the Will where Sherri had been bequeathed the property.
“This place should have come to me,” her father had protested. “What does she need with it? She lives in California and could care less about the dump.”
“And you live in Chicago,” Sherri had said with tears brimming in her eyes. “Paw-Paw wanted me to have it.”
Her father had turned on her with the rage in his eyes s seen as a child when he’d turned on her mother. “But you don’t need it,” he’d yelled, “and I do. I can sell the damned place to one of those stupid farmers down here for a pretty penny. I have other children to think of, you know. I’d like to have something to leave them.”
“It’s mine and I’m moving into it,” Sherri had growled, making her decision to leave Palm Springs. She hadn’t spoken to her seventy-year-old father since and probably never would again. He’d filed a law suit to contest the Will, but it had never seen a court room.
Let one of your other kids worry about burying you, Dad.
Sherri took deep breaths and squeezed her eyes shut against the sudden wave of nausea. She caught a whiff of coffee and decided that was what she needed and maybe a toasted bagel. Her supper the night before had been a cup of yogurt and a can of peaches. Maybe that’s why she’d had bad dreams and choked herself in her sleep.
I seriously need to think about a better diet.
Sherri trudged into the kitchen, took down a mug she’d stolen from a Waffle House in Texas and poured some hot, black coffee from the pot. She set the mug onto the table and popped an everything bagel into the toaster. Soon the savory onion aroma of the bagel joined that of the coffee and Sherri went to the stainless-steel side-by-side refrigerator and took out the butter dish.