Love in the Afternoon

Dove Pond NC Series, Prequel

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A modern-day fairytale of a reclusive man who has hidden himself behind a wall of thorns and the woman who, armed with a heart of gold and a large pair of garden shears, is determined to tear it down.

Young widow Sofia Rodriquez has just accepted the position of greenhouse manager for Ava Dove’s booming herbal tea business. Sofia's delighted to have found a job that will make use of her uncanny ability to grow things and allow her to spend time with her son, Noah, who's been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Adding to the joy is the charming small farm house she's renting on the edge of Dove Pond, NC. The only cloud on Sofia's horizon is her next door neighbor, Jake, whose entire yard resembles a thorn jungle worthy of Sleeping Beauty. To her chagrin, she finds Jake himself just as thorny and unpleasant as his yard.

After his fiancée left him, work-from-home IT whiz and game developer Jake Kaine has gone from Prince Charming to Full Hermit. But Jake isn’t really alone, he’s living with a ghost: a (formerly) hairy man named Doyle who’s a fan of bad puns, and who refuses to leave Jake's tub. Living with a ghost is nothing new for Jake as he's been talking to them since he was a kid. To be honest, he finds real people harder to deal with, and right now the persistent, real life kid from next door is driving him nuts, begging Jake to show him the game he's developing.

Sofia and Jake know all too well that life isn’t a game. They’ve both lost the person they loved most. But under the watchful eye of the ghostly Doyle and Sofia's new friend Ava, who has abilities of her own, Jake and Sofia decide to take a chance to let in an outsider. Soon they discover that, with a little magic, even the thorniest walls are no match for the innocent trust of a lonely child and the fierce determination of a woman wielding a razor-sharp pruner and a heart big enough to make even the most stubborn flower bloom.

Welcome to Dove Pond, NC . . .

Three weeks after seventy-one-year old Doyle Cloyd’s mysterious death, his daughter held a garage sale to beat all garage sales. Doyle’s friends and neighbors turned out in full force, anxious to glean any new information about the strange details of his passing that they might have missed during their incessant whispering during both the funeral and wake.

People came, they shopped for wonderful bargains, and they whispered even more. But Doyle’s daughter offered no new information. All she’d say was that she’d miss her gruff dad and his wonderful sense of humor just as much as she missed her beloved and kind mother, who’d passed away from cancer six months earlier.

And so the people of Dove Pond returned home, their arms full of Doyle’s things, their curiosity unquenched.

After the sale, no person in Dove Pond over the age of 20 could meet another without pointing out their garage sale bargains. Thus it was that almost five years after Doyle’s death, the citizens of Dove Pond went about their days sitting in chairs that used to grace his porch, using tools scratched with his initials, and serving jam from his mother’s vintage milk glassware.

This, of course, kept Doyle and his mysterious death at the forefront of the minds and hearts of the residents. Even after Ava Dove, the sixth of seven daughters of the Dove family, bought Doyle’s house and land and built greenhouses to produce her specialty herbal teas and potpourris, people still whispered about the odd circumstances surrounding Doyle’s demise, about how he’d been found in his bathtub wearing nothing but a long blond wig, electrocuted by a hot curling iron that had fallen into his bath water. As Doyle had looked enough like John Wayne to be the actor’s younger brother, and had the same manly cowboy air, no one could really picture Doyle wearing anything over his flat-top buzz cut, much less a long, curly blond wig.

Only one person wasn’t surprised about the state of Doyle’s dress on the day he died; his next-door neighbor, Jake Kaine. And Jake wasn’t about to tell anyone a darned thing, even after Doyle’s annoying ghost started hanging out in Jake’s tub . . .


Chapter 1


During the entire course of his forty-one-year life, Jake Kaine told only one person that he could talk to ghosts.

It didn’t go well.

When he was seven, he’d told his mother as she was tucking him into bed. She’d paused, her expression serious. He was a precocious child, socially awkward and far smarter than the other children in his class, which worried her. His mother used to say he was a ‘too’ child – “too smart for his own good and too much of an introvert to care what that meant.” Even at that young age, he was already a serious loner and the object of some brutal teasing, which pained far her more than him.

So when Jake had told his mother about the ghosts, her mouth had tightened and she’d said in a firm, don’t-argue-with-me tone, “Don’t call your invisible friends ‘ghosts.’ The other kids will laugh at you.”

When he’d started to argue that he didn’t care about the other kids, she’d added sharply, “If you call them ‘ghosts,’ they won’t come back.”

He liked his “invisible friends” and refused to do anything that might chase them off. Being smart, he’d also learned his lesson, and he’d never told anyone else about his visitors.

Later on, long after he was old enough to realize that his mother hadn’t believed a word he’d said but had attributed his comment to a “stifled imagination,” he’d discovered the horror genre. He was instantly enraged at the way ghosts were portrayed. In his by-then vast experience, they were rarely angry, they weren’t mean, and they certainly weren’t scary. Instead, for the most part, they were occasional, drop-in-when-they-felt-like-it, non-judgmental friends. They couldn’t care less about the current political state of affairs, were only mildly curious about what he thought or did, and rarely stayed longer than a few days.

As friends go, he thought they were rather perfect.

Over time, the visits got to be such a part of Jake’s life that he didn’t think about them. They were as normal to him as having the occasional case of hiccups. Or rather, he didn’t think about them until Doyle Cloyd showed up in Jake’s tub still wearing the now-infamous blond wig, a small washcloth floating in the ghostly water over his nether regions. For some reason Jake couldn’t fathom, Doyle’s visit was unlike any of the others.

For one, Doyle didn’t just linger a few days. He stayed for what seemed like many years but was actually only several weeks. He wasn’t present every day, but often enough that he was a total and complete bother.

For another, unlike the other, quieter ghosts who’d visited Jake over the years, death seemed to have loosened Doyle’s tongue. He now had an opinion about everything and he wasn’t shy about sharing it.

When Doyle was alive, Jake had thought the old man was the perfect next-door neighbor. He never had parties, rarely needed anything, and only spoke when he had a reason. Whenever he and Jake saw one another, they’d nod. And since Doyle liked to sit on his front porch after his wife Barbara passed away from cancer, he and Jake had nodded at one another often.

People from town may have been shocked that Doyle had died wearing the long, golden-blond wig, but Jake hadn’t been the least surprised. In the months before the old man’s death, Jake had frequently caught sight of his neighbor through his den window, sitting in his big, green recliner in front of his TV, wearing that very wig. Jake had no idea exactly when or why Doyle had picked up that particular habit and couldn’t have cared less. After all, a man’s home was his castle and whatever he chose to do within his own four walls was his business and no one else’s. And so Jake, respecting Doyle’s privacy, hadn’t mentioned a word about the guy’s odd TV viewing garb.

So it was a bit of a surprise when, five years after his death, Doyle’s ghost showed up in Jake’s tub, which left Jake in a dour, waspish mood. To be fair, his normal mood was remarkably close to “dour” and “waspish,” anyway. He’d grown from a precocious child into a taciturn, curmudgeonly man, so “good-natured” wasn’t a term that applied to him on a day-to-day basis. But Jake happened to be particularly cranky of late because his fiancé and self-proclaimed soul mate Heather had left him only a few months before . . . .