Frostbite by Deborah Bladon




Chapter 1





Raelyn





I steal a glance out of the window of the craft store. I can barely make out the cars and trucks crawling along the street, maneuvering their way through the snow falling over Manhattan.

As I approach the checkout counter, I carefully place the green plastic shopping basket down.

“Miss Raelyn Walsh, you’re back!” The gray-haired woman behind the counter exclaims with a clap of her hands.

The bounce of her feet triggers a ring from the small silver bells pinned to the shoulder of her colorful sweater.

I take in the picture knitted on the front. I can make out a cherub cheeked Santa with a pink nose and a reindeer behind him. A small Christmas tree dotted with colorful red, blue, and yellow yarn sits just above her waist.

I don’t have to ask if she’s the craftsperson behind that wearable masterpiece. Knitting needles are always in her hands when she’s not helping a customer.

“I need more balls,” I say, adding a wink to the words.

She smiles. “If you keep talking like that, Santa will put you on his naughty list.”

That’s debatable, but I do know that I must top the list of worst customers ever since this is the third time I’ve visited this store in a week, and I can’t remember this woman’s name.

She knows mine because I paid with my credit card the first time I came in. I don’t have a reasonable excuse for forgetting hers.

“Myrtle!”

I don’t turn at the sound of the man’s voice calling out, but the woman standing behind the counter does. “I’ll be right with you, Toby. I’m just helping Raelyn.”

Myrtle.

I need to add that to my memory bank or the notes app on my phone. I know I’ll be back here in a day or two, and I want to be better prepared.

Less than fifteen minutes ago, I raced out of the brownstone my sister and brother-in-law own so I could make it here before Myrtle closes the shop for the day.

“Eleven and twelve.” Myrtle counts out the clear glass Christmas ornaments I’m buying. “Is that all, dear? Do you need more paint? A new brush or two?”

I shake my head as I reach in the front pocket of my jeans for the money I shoved in there. “This is it for now. I can’t promise that I won’t be back tomorrow for more supplies.”

She takes the bills I offer before she hands me back a ten. “You gave me too much. You get a discount for being a valued customer.”

Myrtle is too sweet for her own good.

I take the ten and slide it into the left pocket of my black wool pea coat. “I’ll use it to buy you a coffee tomorrow. How do you take it?”

“With a grateful heart and a smile.” She beams. “One cream and one sugar. That’s it.”

I type those details and her name into my phone as she wraps the ornaments in gold tissue paper before carefully placing them in a paper shopping bag.

“I’m sorry I ran out of boxes.” She gazes around the cluttered shop. “I have another shipment arriving the day after tomorrow. You can manage this, can’t you? Your walk isn’t far?”

“Two blocks.” I smile, reaching for the twine handles of the bag. “I’ll hold this close to keep my balls safe.”

She laughs as expected. “For such a sweet-looking young woman, you’re moving higher up that naughty list.”

I tuck a strand of my long blonde hair behind my ear. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Myrtle.”

“Have fun tonight.” She raises a hand to wave. “Don’t slip on the snow on your way home.”

I grin at the sound of the bells ringing on her shoulder. “I’ll be extra careful.”



***



Large snowflakes hit my face the moment I step out of the shop. I glance to the right to see a woman dressed in a thin trench coat. Her umbrella is engaged in a futile battle with the wind. It’s pulled inside out by a sudden strong gust.

She curses loud enough for half of Manhattan to hear before she shoves the now-ruined umbrella in a waste can next to a snow-covered bench. The curved handle sticks out, precariously teetering as she wanders off, trying to shield her face from the snow.

I set off behind her with the bag close to my chest. I can’t risk someone dashing past in a rush and accidentally knocking me over. I need these ornaments to fulfill at least a few of my promised orders.

Once I’ve had dinner with my sister, Dexie, and my brother-in-law, Rocco, I plan on settling into their guestroom for a long night of hand painting ornaments so I can get the bulk of them mailed out tomorrow.