Welcome to Madison Creek
Where Northern Hospitality Meets
A Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Haley Madison packed her big dreams and drove to the Arctic. Well, all right, so it’s Madison Creek, Michigan. But for a Texas gal this frozen land ought to come with a sled and huskies. If it wasn’t for her family’s rundown property, she’d have stayed where the sun shone bright and warm. However, she has grand ideas for her inheritance even if the town has thrown up their objections to her plans.
Ethan Winters hated going home and admitting failure. Sure, he has a special talent with the violin, but he has bigger ambitions than playing at the local bowling alley. And then there was the idea of facing his father. No, he wasn’t ready to go home just yet. He veered off the interstate and drove to a little town named Madison Creek. Maybe his luck would change.
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This was a very clean read that brought a Christian message without the fire and brimstone and without heavy handedness.
What Readers Are Saying...
Cute story - full of charm and light-hearted humor.
I look forward to the next one in this series.
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Here's a Sneak Peak...
“Good night, you’re a mess.” Haley Madison stared in horror at the reflection in the foyer mirror. Her puffy eyes looked like she was suffering from an allergic reaction. Shouldn’t have spent half the night bawling over those old pictures, silly. She pulled a knit cap over her wild blonde hair and wrapped a scarf around her neck, hoping she could hide the fact she’d not had time to put on make-up.
“No time for shoulda’s.” She checked the wall clock. “Drat, I’ll be late!”
Haley yanked open the front door and stepped out onto the wide porch of the old Victorian home. She froze on the top step - literally - at the sight spread across the sloping front yard and beyond into the fields across the road. White, white, and more white.
White covering Memaw’s prize rosebushes growing along the wraparound porch. White piled along the railing, covering the peeling paint, which was actually a good thing. And white at least two feet high along the driveway. Uh, not such a good thing.
“Good night. How on earth am I to get my truck out in this mess?” Haley sighed a cloud of puffy white steam.
That dratted white stuff also blanketed the steps and walkway. She glanced at her red Ropers, dismayed over her choice of footwear. They were the warmest shoes she’d brought from Texas and the only ones large enough for her to double up on socks so her toes didn’t freeze off her feet.
Haley checked the time on her cell. Gawking at the calf-high mess wasn’t getting her to that appointment. She hurried down the porch steps. The moment her boot hit the paved stone walkway, a flash of red shot up into the air. Haley landed flat on her back. Air rushed from her lungs. She gasped, grateful her landing was cushioned by the dratted snow. Icy wetness seeped down the back of her jeans.
“Oh, oh, oh.” She grasped the railing and pulled herself up. Shock waves from the invading chill shot up her spine.
Taking big, carefully-placed steps, she made it to the driveway before she stopped again.
Puffs of her breath circled around her head like pipe smoke. The white blanket completely covered the drive. Even if she did manage to creep the old Chevy down the incline without slipping, she’d most surely end up in the road-side ditch.
To her surprise, the road was cleared off. Why couldn’t those darned snowplows clear people’s drives, too?
Wait. Snowplow. An idea formed.
She wasn’t ready to give up yet. This appointment had taken nearly a month to secure after much pestering and—at the end—hourly calls before the secretary, Mrs. Baulders, scheduled an early morning spot.
Mr. Dobson owned the only realtor agency in Madison Creek, so it wasn’t like Haley had much to pick from. That hateful bulldog of a secretary had made sure to give her an appointment she’d have the most trouble keeping. Mrs. Baulders probably even checked the weather report and scheduled the day with the highest chance of snow. Dratted Yankees.
“I’m selling this house,” Haley growled through her gritted teeth. “Don’t care what everyone thinks!” She sucked in a deep, calming breath. “Okay, Haley, you can do this.” Sometimes she needed to give herself these little pep-talks. She had nobody else in her life to offer encouragement and help fix her problems.
Haley tapped her gloved hand on her chin and shivered as a few bits of snow dripped down the front of her shirt. Papop had one of those snow-blowing-thingamajigs in the garage.
Yes! She’d even seen him use the blower to clear the drive a time or two in his better days, when she was a young girl. Looked easy enough, like mowing the lawn. With a determined nod, she marched toward the garage, her boots sinking in with each step. She checked the time again, then decided to send a quick message that she’d be there soon.
After several hard tugs, the side entrance finally wrenched open. Once inside, she hit the button to raise the doors.
Haley decided to get ol’ Lady Blue, her faded Chevy truck, started and warmed up. The battered truck wasn’t much to look at, but it did get her where she wanted to go, so long as it had plenty of time to wake up.
She patted the front fender. “I hope you’re in a good mood, Lady; I’m in a hurry this morning.” After two cranks, the engine rumbled to life.
Now to find Papop’s blower-thing.
Along the side of the huge garage, old carpentry tools and other gadgets covered the walls. Various farm machines he’d once used to keep up the fields and yard were draped with canvas tarps. She walked along, peeking beneath a few, and stirring up dust till she sneezed.
Most of the machines were used to keep up the yard and garden. Now the house and grounds looked as if it was a set for some low-budget Gothic movie.
A hot lump filled her throat as she ran her mitten over his old hammers and wrenches. Papop loved tinkering and building things. She swallowed down the burning coal in her throat. She shouldn’t have spent last night looking at the old pictures in Memaw’s chest of drawers.
Haley shook off the gloomy clouds closing in around her and focused on searching for the snow-blower. She stopped before one particular machine covered in an oily canvas sheet. Yanking it off, she gasped at the beast hidden beneath. Good night!
Her jaw dropped open. She snapped it closed before the cold froze her tongue. Bad enough the blower had to be twice the size of an average lawn mower, but she could see from the gearshift that Papop had done what he called “a bit of tweaking” on the contraption.
“Please, Lord God, let it start. And please don’t let this monster machine eat me.”
After adding a bit of gas, she grasped the handle and wrestled it out onto the drive. It took several pulls, turns, and a good kick to get the engine rumbling.
Haley studied the blower for a moment. Most likely, keeping it on low would be safest. She checked the time again. Okay, maybe the middle gear would get the job done quicker. However, she would not notch it up to the last, obviously added, gear. Wiping away some of the grime revealed hand-written words in permanent marker: Whirlwind speed.
“Ha-ha, Papop, you always were a real card. I’ve been down that trail before, buddy, and I’m not falling for your hijinks again.”
She set the gear on medium, and the machine crept forward. Haley glanced at the time. Already five after nine. Drat! At this rate, she’d be at least fifteen minutes late, if not more. She tried pushing on the blower, but it wouldn’t move any faster. When she shifted the gear up to the next notch, the speed increased to a normal walking pace. Drat and confound it all!
Well, no wonder Papop tinkered with the motor. By the time one finished blowing away the snow from the long driveway, spring could arrive.
Her phone chirped with a message from Mr. Dobson.
Have a house showing at 9:45. Can’t wait much longer.
Haley released the blower’s handle long enough to speak a response. “I’m on the way. I promise.” She checked the message, keeping one hand on the handle to make sure she didn’t end up plowing the yard instead of the drive.
“No!” She shook the phone. “Not weight and not promiscuous!” Haley hated the speech-to-text gadget. It never got anything she said right.
“Fine, fine. Let’s see what you do under Papop’s setting.” Against her better judgment, she eased the stick into the added slot. The blower lurched forward. Haley gripped the handles, knowing it was best to hang on as if her life depended on it. The machine rattled, knocking her teeth together. Her slick ropers skidded over the icy concrete. Snow flew high into the air.
Frozen sludge rained down on her head and seeped under the collar of her jacket.
“Whoa, boy! Hold up, will ya?” That generally worked with the horses.
Through the tornado of white, Haley realized the road was only feet away, and, worse, a green car barreled right in her direction. She reached for the knobby thing, but couldn’t grasp hold of it. Oh, no! They would crash if she didn’t do something. And quick!
Throwing all her 120 pounds of weight sideways, she jerked the monster machine to the left, hoping to change its course. The blower bucked like a bronco as they both whipped to the side and tumbled into the roadside ditch.
“Papop, you best not be laughing up in Heaven right now! This isn’t funny!”
* * * *
“Blackbird” played on the cell from where Ethan Winters set it in the console of his Camaro. A groan escaped as his hands slid downward over the steering wheel. When would his ex-best friend Stephen get the hint he was done with pointless justifications?
“You have nothing to say that will excuse your stabbing me in the back, bro!” Ethan yelled at the phone. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, fighting the urge to wish they were wrapped around Stephen’s pathetic neck.
The Camaro flew past snow-covered pines. His legs ached to stretch after a night of driving. He needed a bit of coffee -black- and a decent breakfast before attempting the last eight hours of his trip.
Ethan’s family wanted him home before Thanksgiving, which was still a few days away. He was in no real hurry, except for the fact he’d had enough of the world and its disappointments to last him several lifetimes. Home might be the distraction he needed, though he doubted it.
A green sign ahead indicated a town only five miles off the highway. He slowed and checked the gas gauge. He’d need to fill up again. Soon. Not only would he return home a complete failure, but with an empty wallet, too.
His rumbling stomach begged him to find somewhere decent to eat this time. And a scenic stop wouldn’t hurt. Deciding against subjecting himself to anymore fast food, Ethan turned off Interstate 31 for a smaller highway. The speed limit dropped to 55mph and he reluctantly eased his foot off the accelerator. Wouldn’t do to bring home a ticket along with his empty hands and deflated dreams.
The phone beeped as a message came, followed by two more.
Aaargh! He snatched up the phone, keeping one eye on the road as his thumb slid over the surface. He slowed a bit more to read the text.
You need to call me, E-man.
Give me a chance to expln.
Once you hear my—
The phone landed in the console with a clatter. “No thanks. There’s nothing to say.”
Nothing would change the fact Stephen ditched their final audition with no explanation, leaving him in Hollywood with the motel rent due. The only decent thing his ex-best friend did was leave half the cash from their last gig on the counter. Enough for gas and a couple of cheap hotel stays, but not nearly enough to drive all the way Marquette, Michigan. He’d had to skip the hotels for naps in his car at truck stops.
The road sign said Madison Creek was only five miles away. His gas gauge said he might make it. He should have stopped sooner to fuel, but in his frustration at his friend’s persistent calls, he’d forgotten to check. Why couldn’t Stephen take the hint and leave him alone?
A dull ache plagued his back. He shifted in the bucket seat. Maybe he’d spend the day walking around the lake, stretch his body and thoughts some before making the final trek home. He didn’t think he could handle another night sleeping in the car.
He rubbed his tired eyes. Maybe he should stop putting off the inevitable and face the music. He’d tried to make his life a beautiful sonata. Instead, it had turned into nothing more than a clanging cymbal.
The tires crunched over the snow-covered road. Not wanting to slide off into a ditch, Ethan slowed his speed. The blue sky overhead promised a fine day for some sightseeing. The town must be a tourist stop on Lake Michigan though he’d never heard of it before. Hopefully, it wasn’t some hovel with collapsing buildings and potholed roads.
The phone’s message light pulsed. Eventually, he’d have to call Stephen back.
“Blackbird” played again. Ethan checked the ID and cringed before tapping the silence button. “I’ll talk to you, sir, when I get home.”
Dad was annoyed that he’d not accepted his offer to buy a plane ticket, but Ethan could never sell his baby. He swatted away the dust particles gathering on the black leather dash. The moment he found the ’69 Camaro, with its perfectly conditioned apple green exterior, he’d fallen in love. The engine, on the other hand, had required a major overhaul, but now ran with the smoothness of a mountain lion.
The road careened through dense woods, sporadically opening onto fields of brown and white.
“Wow, look at that.” Ethan shifted in the seat. “Must have been a foot or two of snow last night, and so early in the season.” A low whistle escaped his lips. Scattered farmhouses came into view, their tall, angular roofs frosted with white. “Beautiful.” Maybe Madison Creek would be worth the extra drive.
A beep signified Dad had left a message. Don’t do it. Don’t. Let it go till you get home.
“Ahh!” Ethan checked to see if he was the only one on the road, then hit the voicemail icon, ignoring the risk. He tapped the speaker and set the phone on his leg.
Dad’s voice boomed, “Look, Ethan, I’m not going to gripe about the fact that you ignored my offer to buy you a plane ticket. I’m sure you have a lot to think about and maybe this trip will give you a chance to work out your issues.”
My issues? He gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“I think we just need to put the past behind us.”
Yeah, right. Now you’re going to quote The Lion King? Ethan rolled his eyes and considered throwing the phone out the window. He could get another one. Later. With a new number.
“And focus on the future. Which is the reason for this call.”
The snowdrifts piled higher on each side of the narrow road and Ethan slowed his speed even more. He didn’t need this side trip to cause him to be stuck in the dead of nowhere. Maybe he’d better keep the phone and just stop checking messages.
Dad continued, “I have secured a spot at my processing plant. You start Monday. My lead manager is retiring, so the timing is perfect. I’m holding the position open for you, Ethan, so don’t dilly-dally. Get on home so we can get things rolling. Get your life back on track. You’ve had your chance to chase your dreams, son. Time to man up and settle down.”
Mom’s muffled voice sounded in the background.
“Mom said to tell you she’s baking your favorite: cherry crumble pie. You will make it home for Thanksgiving, am I correct? Call me when you get this.”
Ethan banged the side of his head on the window a couple of times.
“Oh, and did I tell you Maggie is filing for divorce? She’ll be free again soon. Didn’t you two have—?”
“Oookay, enough of that.” He jabbed the off button and shut down the phone. If it was off, he’d not be tempted to respond. “Great, Dad. A job and a soon-to-be divorced potential girlfriend.” Who had two kids, according to Mom. A dull ache pounded at the nape of his neck, overriding the ache in his back.
“Good ol’ Dad has my life all figured out for me, doesn’t he?” Ethan slumped deeper into the seat. Well, he’d rather pick his own girlfriend and find his own job, thank you very much. There was still the possibility of joining that orchestra in New York. He’d sent them a video of him playing the violin, and still held out a slim hope they’d call him for an audition soon. The Chicago offer had been a bomb—wasting time and gas.
Ethan reached the place where the plow trucks had recently passed and increased his speed. Another sign read “Madison Creek Historical Tour of Homes, advance reservations available.” As if there was a long line for that attraction. He rolled his eyes with a chuckle.
A strange vision appeared on the road ahead as he rounded the bend toward a towering Victorian set up on a small hill. Despite the bright sun, the road ahead disappeared into a complete whiteout.
A scream blasted through the windows. Ethan gripped the steering wheel as everything disappeared in a curtain of snow. He slammed on the brakes, though he knew better.
The Camaro careened sideways, tires sliding over the icy surface. He jerked the steering wheel to right himself. The tail end shimmied. He let off the brake, hoping the tires would find traction. The front end dipped, sending his empty stomach up into his throat. The wall of whiteness cleared to reveal a thick spruce growing larger by the second.
Ethan yanked the car to the left. The front panel slammed against the tree. He jolted to a stop. His forehead smacked the steering wheel. Lights flashed. His eyes blurred as everything spun.
From outside, clomping footsteps neared the car. “Oh, my Lord. Please don’t be dah-ed. Please don’t be—”
Since when did ‘dead’ have two syllables?
The door flew open. Cold blasted inside his comfortable cocoon of warmth, aggravating the pounding in his head.
A woman grabbed his shoulders and gave them a hard shake. “I’m so sorry. The snow-blower got out of control. You all right there, Mister?”
Fireworks exploded in Ethan’s brain.
“Good night, you’re bleeding!” She yanked the scarf off her neck.
He blinked through the red clouding his vision and was met with a pair of frightened blue eyes surrounded by a halo of snow and blonde curls. Accompanying the strange apparition was the most amazing southern accent Ethan had ever heard.