Chapter 1

May 16, 2013 Cove Road, Vancouver Island, B.C.

She approached the entrance to the house with trepidation, desperate for some help, knocking three times sharply on the heavy wood door. A young boy stood silently beside her, the woman holding his hand. At length, she could hear footsteps approaching and the door opened.

"Can I help you?" the man asked, looking the two over carefully. He was older, perhaps nearly forty, not tall, nice wavy brown hair and penetrating blue eyes.

"Please. My car has broken down and ... and I don't know what to do. Can you help?"

He detected a faint accent, soon identifying it. "Well, I'm not an auto mechanic but I know a little about cars, Miss ... er ... Ma'am. What seems to be the trouble?" He took a step toward the woman and she quickly backed up, pulling the boy with her. The expression on her face was one of fear, the man realized.

The woman was attractive, despite her worried and fatigued appearance. Perhaps a five-foot-six tall, blonde hair, fair complexion, a sprinkling of freckles on her cheeks, and blue eyes full of apprehension. It was hard to judge her age, but she might have been in her late twenties.

"I ... I don't know. It just quit. I left it by the side of the road," she said, turning and pointing south along Cove Road.

"You don't suppose it's just run out of gas," he suggested.

She shook her head. "No, I had enough money to buy some gas in Duncan a few minutes ago. Then, it just quit."

The man examined her carefully once more before he spoke. "Okay, why don't you come inside and rest. You look tired from your walk."

The woman appeared very nervous and the young boy still had said nothing, looking from his mother to the man expectantly. She might have been attractive, but the man was now more focused on her wariness of him.

"We'll be alright. We just need to get the car going again," she said, still not moving to enter.

The man sighed and nodded. "Very well then. Let's go see if we can figure out what's wrong. Just let me get my jacket and keys," he said, turning to take a windbreaker off a coat tree and checking to make sure the keys were in the pocket.

He locked the door behind him and the three set off down his long driveway toward the road and her vehicle.

"What your name, Ma'am. I'm Cam Stuart."

"Uhhm ... Glynnis ... Glynnis Urquhart ... and this is my son, James ... Jamie," she said nervously.

"Huh, sounds like our family backgrounds come from the same country ... Scotland," he suggested. "I guess that accounts for your fading accent."

"Yes ... that's right. I was born in Scotland, but came to Canada when I was five."

She was beginning to loosen up a little, perhaps accepting that the man meant her no harm and might be able to help. She took a good look at him, noting his near six foot height and neatly trimmed brown hair. He was well dressed, polite, and good looking but older; perhaps late thirties or early forties. He had kindly eyes and his expression was one of concern for her and her son.

"Do you live around here?" he asked.

"No," she answered simply, adding no other information. Still, the boy remained silent.

"How old are you, James?" he persisted, keeping the boy's name formal.

"Six," he answered quickly. "I'm going to school this fall."

"Are you moving here?" he tried, once more turning to the mother.

"I don't know. I would like to. It's very pretty, and it looks to be very quiet. It depends." The woman, Glynnis, seemed to be more relaxed now, but still hesitant to add more information.

"Where are you from?"

She turned to him, a brief look of alarm appeared before she answered. "Kamloops."

"Just the two of you?"

"Yes."

He could see an older model dark red sedan up ahead, parked on the shoulder of the road. "That your car?"

"Yes," she nodded.

He approached the vehicle and noticed a pile of clothes and other boxes in the back seat. The doors were locked until the woman used her key to open the driver's side. Cam slipped into the driver's seat, moving it back to make more space for his legs. The key in the ignition, he turned it to start and got no response. He checked the dashboard and saw a couple of dim lights, but there was no sound from the starter. Shutting the ignition switch off, he looked for the hood release and finding it, pulled it.

He stepped out of the car and lifted the hood, propping it open. The dashboard lights indicated she had very little battery power, so the answer to the failure was likely that the alternator had died and took the battery with it. A quick check showed that the wiring was intact.

"Would you try and start the car, Ms. Urquhart," he requested calmly.

She responded immediately and slid into the driver's seat and turned the key. Cam could hear the weak click, click, click, indicating the starter was not responding whatever little the battery was providing.

"I'm pretty sure your battery has run down, probably because the alternator has quit," he said.

"Oh, no," she groaned. "I don't think I can afford to get it fixed."

"It shouldn't be too expensive. I can probably get a rebuilt or salvaged one from the wrecker's yard and install it," he suggested.

"How much will it cost?" she asked, her face telling him this was very bad news.

"Let me phone him and find out. In the meantime, I'll get my tractor out and we'll tow the car to the house. Whatever we do, we don't want to leave it here. It'll likely get towed and the bill for that will be more than the alternator, I'm certain."

"Thank you, Mister Stuart. I really appreciate your help. We really need to get the car fixed if we can."

"Where were you going?" he asked her as they walked back to his house.

She didn't answer immediately. Finally, "I don't know. Somewhere safe," she answered absently.

"Safe? From what?" he asked, not hesitating to probe for more information.

"From Brad the Bastard," Jamie volunteered, voicing his opinion with a childish snarl.

"Jamie!" his mother reproved immediately. "You know better than that."

"Well ... that's who we're trying to get away from, isn't it?" he snapped back.

His mother sighed and shook her head.

"Husband or boyfriend?" Cam asked.

"Neither. Well ... former boyfriend" she admitted. "Stupid me, thinking he was boyfriend material."

"Did he get physical?"

"Yes ... near the end. That's when I knew we had to get away."

"Will he try and follow you?"

She shook her head. "No, I don't think so. He's too lazy. Too full of himself. He won't lower himself to chase after me. One of his favourite sayings is there were 'a lot more fish in the barrel.' Talk about a mixed metaphor ... or something."

Cam chuckled at the comment as they reached the house. "So you're safe now?"

"Yes ... safe ... and broke ... with a dead car."

He saw she was on the verge of tears.

"Don't worry about it. You have a safe haven here. I have room for you and food to spare, so you won't be sleeping in the park or under an overpass. I'll see what I can do about getting you mobile again and then you can make some decisions without being in a panic."

She was in tears now, finally allowing herself to let go of her emotions.

I'm sorry," she cried. "I'm so tired and so..." That was it. She buried her head in her hands and shook as the tears flowed.

"It's okay, Mom," Jamie said as he went to his mother and put his arms around her waist in a hug. "Mister Stuart is going to help. He told us he would. Right, Mister Stuart?" the boy said, looking at Cam hopefully.

Cam nodded with a slight smile. "That's right, Jamie. I'll make sure you and your mom are safe. In the meantime, why don't you come with me and we'll take the tractor and tow your mom's car back here. I think your mom could use a nap. The guest bedroom is just over here," he said, pointing at a closed door. "When we get back, we'll unload your things and bring them in."

Through her tears, Glynnis Urquhart nodded her unspoken thanks, unable to say just how relieved she was that they had a place to stay, even if for just the night.

"Come on, Jamie. Let's go get the car."

The boy followed Cam out through the laundry room and into the back yard. A large shed with a big garage door sat a few yards from the end of the house. Unlocking a side door and entering the big building, he switched on the overhead lights.

"Wow," Jamie said as he saw the contents. "What kind of car is that?" he said, pointing at a sleek, black sports car.

"It's a Porsche Carrera. It's an older model from 1972."

"My mom's car is old, but it doesn't look that shiny," Jamie said, looking inside the car.

"Well, I've had it restored, and I keep it polished so it doesn't get rusty or dirty. Let's get the tractor, now," he said, moving past the Porsche and a fairly new Jeep Wagoneer.

The push of a button and the big garage door tilted up in one piece, throwing light from outdoors into the building. The two walked to a well-used older John Deere tractor sitting on the far side of the building.

"I'll need to get a bar to pull your mom's car and then we can go," Cam said. "You can sit up on the seat while I do that. Be careful, don't pull any levers."

"Okay," Jamie said enthusiastically, already climbing into the seat of the big machine.

It took Cam only a couple of minutes to stack the towing bar on the power takeoff housing of the tractor before he climbed up to the driving position.

"You hang on tight to that roll bar, Jamie. If you think you're going to lose your grip, holler and I'll grab you. Got it?"

"Yeah. This is so cool. I've never been on a tractor before."

"Well, we don't have far to go, so hang on and we'll get started."

With that, Cam started the diesel and let it idle for a moment or two before releasing the brake and putting the transmission in gear. A quick glance at Jamie told him that the boy was having the time of his life as they slowly rolled down the driveway and stopped at the road, checking to make sure it was clear of traffic. Two minutes later he was backing the tractor up to the sedan and getting the bar ready to hook on.

It was front wheel drive, and it wasn't the smartest way to tow the car, but they weren't going far and it wouldn't be over rough ground, so if he took it easy, there shouldn't be a problem. He put the key in the ignition and released the car's steering and placed the transmission in neutral. Then they were slowly on their way. There was enough depth in the shed to tow the car all the way into the building. It would be a whole lot easier to work on it on a smooth, level, cement surface. He released the bar and stowed it back in its normal rack before they headed back to the house.

The two entered the way they had left, and Cam wedged the rear door open to make it easier to bring the contents of the vehicle into his home. But first he wanted to check on Glynnis. A quiet walk down to the far end of the great room and he put his ear to the door. Not a sound. He was fairly sure she was asleep, but they would make sure not to make much noise. Jamie had been enlisted to help with unloading the car and much of the clothing would remain in the laundry room. He guessed that a good deal of it would require washing.

He went to the kitchen and took two cans of soda out of the fridge, handing one to Jamie. He had already cautioned the boy to be quiet to allow his mother to sleep, and Jamie was good about making sure he was silent. It took them barely fifteen minutes to get everything that was in the back seat and the trunk of the car into the house. They stacked all the boxes and other miscellaneous items in the laundry room. Cam pulled out his phone book and called the local car wrecker yard.

"I'm looking for an alternator for an '88 Olds Cutlass V-6. You got one?"

"Yeah, that unit was on almost half the cars GM made that year. Whadda ya want, rebuilt or just recovered?"

"What the difference in cost?" Cam asked.

"Sixty for the recycle and one-forty for the rebuilt."

"Okay, I'll take the recycle. I'll pick it up in a few minutes."

"Can I go with you?" Jamie asked.

"I guess so. I think your mom's asleep, so you might as well come with me. I'll leave her a note to tell her where we are in case she wakes up before we are back."

They retraced their steps to the shed and Cam indicated they'd take the Porsche.

"Oh, Man, I've never been in a real race car before," Jamie said, virtually skipping to the sleek, black car.

It was a ten minute drive to the wrecker's yard and Cam made sure Jamie got a feel for the handling and power of the Porsche. They walked into the dingy office of the yard and within five minutes their business was concluded. The alternator looked to be in reasonable condition and the owner guaranteed it would work or he would replace it. Cam had inspected the installation in Glynnis's car and decided it wasn't too complicated.

When they arrived back the house, all was still quiet and they decided Jamie's mother was still sleeping. Cam was sure a big dose of stress had worn the woman out and it was best they let her sleep.

Jamie volunteered to help with the alternator and donning some leather gardening gloves, he was responsible for delivering the tools to Cam. It took an hour to make the replacement and both of them crossed their fingers that the motor would start when they turned the key. It didn't. Cam had forgotten that the battery had been drained when the alternator died, so he would have to jump start the motor using his tractor. That being accomplished, he now had to hope that the alternator would do its job on its own while the motor was idling. A quick test with a voltmeter indicated the battery was charging and the alternator was functioning properly. He hooked up his battery charger to the Olds and left it to do its work.

Jamie and Cam exchanged high-fives at their repair job before putting the tools away and closing up the shed. At least the Urquharts had transportation once more. Returning to the house, Cam thought about what he could make for dinner for the three. Barbequed chicken looked like the best bet and with some frozen French fries and a tossed salad, it would be simple and easy. He would wait until Glynnis woke to get started.

Jamie's mother didn't make an appearance until just before six o'clock that evening. Cam had provided Jamie with some snack crackers to ward off starvation, but had all the ingredients for the meal ready to go as soon as Glynnis was feeling up to it.

"Mom, we fixed the car. Mister Stuart let me ride on the tractor and we towed your car back here and then I went in the Porsche with him to get the thing from the junk yard. That was really cool," Jamie exclaimed, probably totally confusing his mother with a single stream of excitement.

"I'm just waking up Jamie. We'll talk about it later. How much do I owe you, Mr. Stuart?

"Nothing. We got a used part from a 'junker' and I think the guy was embarrassed to charge me for it."

"You don't expect me to believe that, do you?" she said, trying to look stern.

He shrugged. "It was so little, I couldn't be bothered to worry about it. It's not like he gave me a receipt to show you," he grinned.

She gave him a disgusted look, but chose not to argue further.

"I've got the barbeque warmed up and some chicken ready for grilling," he announced, cutting off further discussion. "Are you hungry?"

Reluctantly, she nodded in surrender, knowing she had no alternative but to concede to this man who had decided he was going to do whatever he wanted. Fortunately, it was a relief. She was exhausted, and while the two hours or so she had slept had helped restore some of her energy, she knew she would sleep soundly that night.

"We unloaded the car and everything is in the laundry room. Why don't you decide what you want washed and we can put a couple of loads through? Jamie can use the loft room tonight, and you can use the guest room."

"Thank you. You're being very kind and we really appreciate it. I promise, we'll be out of here tomorrow."

"Let's talk about that tomorrow after everyone has had a good night's sleep," Cam suggested. "In the meantime, Jamie, there's a TV in your room up those stairs. I'll help you take your things up there and show you around."

"Okay. Mom knows where my stuff is."

"Yes, I'll bring it up to you. Where's the bathroom you'd like us to use?" she asked.

"There's an ensuite in the loft bedroom that Jamie can use. The main bath is right beside your guest room, so feel free to use that. I have an ensuite in my bedroom as well. We aren't short of bathrooms."

"Thank you," she smiled. "This is a lovely home. Very nicely furnished, too. How long have you lived here?"

"I put this place together about four years ago. It took about six months. It was a kit home that I saw in a catalogue. I really liked the look and the layout."

"It's really very attractive. You did all this yourself?"

"No, I had professionals do the plumbing, heating, electrical and concrete. I don't know if I saved any money, but I got the house I wanted on the lot I wanted, and I'm happy with it."

"What do you do for a living?" she asked.

"I'm a writer. Freelance for magazine articles now and then, but I've written a couple of books that have done fairly well."

"Oh ... what type of books are they? Fiction or non-fiction?"

"Fiction, based on fact. They are period pieces based on history. I've overlaid actual events with my fictional characters and fictional events."

"Would I recognize the titles?"

"I don't know. Depends on if you like novels about early 19th century naval engagements or European 18th and 19th century history. It's full of intrigue and skullduggery," he grinned.

"I guess I wouldn't know them, then," she admitted. "Where do you do your writing?"

"Right here in this house. Some in the kitchen, some in my little library-cum-study, some here in the main room."

"You must use a laptop then."

"Yes. I like the portability and that allows me to get an idea or a scene down quickly while it's still fresh in my mind."

"Hey, Mom, come see this room," Jamie called from the loft balcony. "This is great. I even have my own bathroom and a TV. Isn't that cool?"

"Okay, I'll be up in a minute when I get your things," she said, smiling up at him.

"Can I help?" Cam asked. "Those stairs are a fair climb."

"Thank you. You can show me what you want Jamie to leave alone."

"There's not much up there that he can harm. It was going to be my office and library, but after a few weeks trial, it didn't work out. It makes a great guest bedroom, however."

"It's after eight, so I'd better get Jamie ready for bed. I'm surprised he's still awake after all that's happened today."

"Kids are pretty resilient. I suspect he'll sleep well and be ready to go again tomorrow," Cam suggested as he picked up a small suitcase and followed Glynnis up the stairs to the loft.

"This is going to spoil him," Glynnis remarked as she surveyed the loft bedroom and bath area.

"I call this 'The Crows Nest'. It was originally to be my writing and reading room, but somehow it just didn't work. I still don't know why. However, it's ideal for guests as you can see."

"Oh yes, I'm envious of Jamie," she said, turning to show a smile for the first time that he could remember. "It's a good thing it's just for tonight."

Cam was about to comment ... protest really ... but chose not to say anything. That could wait until the morning. He would have time to think of what he could do to convince Glynnis to stay a little longer. For the first time since he'd built the house, it was coming alive. It had people in it. People who made all his work seem worthwhile. He doubted he would get much sleep, his mind working on just how he would convince the woman and her son to stay a while ... at least until she could support herself and her son. Yes, sleep would not come easily that night.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic /