Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The following is the first chapter of my novella in Room At the Inn. This is a Christmas-themed 2-in-1 from Barbour, and my coauthor is Pamela Griffin. It's available in Christian bookstores and on christianbook.com and amazon.com. I came up with the idea for the book after staying at a defunct B&B. I'll post that story on my blog under the title of B&B Caper 1 & 2. Look for it under November Archives or Previous Posts. It's a hoot. Think Edgar Allen Poe meets Lucille Ball.

Another inspiration for this story was when we visited Manatee Park Historical Village in Bradenton, Florida, and toured the "cracker gothic cottage," what many Florida pioneers would build and live in as they were taming what was then a vast wildnerness. The "cracker gothic cottage" was a dog-trot house (as opposed to a shotgun house, another form of early architecture), and was built with the rooms opening off of a wide central hall. I'm a native Floridian, and my great-grandparents built and lived in a home like this in Nassau County.

My novella in Room At the Inn is set in a "cracker gothic cottage." I loved writing it (as I do all my stories). And I've received lots of reader mail about it. Here's one letter from New York State:

Dear Kristy,
If I were an author, I would want to know if something I did touched someone's life. So, I wanted to tell you that your novella in Room At the Inn touched my life.

I just broke off a relationship with a man I liked a great deal. I have had a rough week and felt like your lead character, Lois. I'm 27 and single, but living in a small town, well, that makes me a minority. Coupling that with the fact that I am a teacher and go to a small church, the prospects of meeting someone who is a Christian and shares my values and is fun and interesting seems pretty bleak at times. I read your story, and it spoke straight to my heart. Lois's constant faith and yet frank acknowledgement of her fears and frustrations echoed my own heart. I immediately copied Psalm 37:4-6 and posted it on my computer. I don't generally identify so strongly with stories, nor do they usually cause me to change the way I do things or think. Yours did. Your writing, and in turn, you, are a blessing to me, and I wanted you to know that your work did some good.

Thank you for making a difficult time easier for me. May God bless you, your family, and your work. Thanks for brightening up a single, saved, and searching woman's day!

"Orange Blossom Christmas" in Room At the Inn
Kristy Dykes

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." Psalm 37: 4-6:


The phone rang just as Landon Michael popped a cold capsule in his mouth and washed it down with a glass of orange juice squeezed from oranges picked from his own grove. He decided to let the answering service catch the phone call. He felt too wretched to talk to anybody. All he felt like doing was getting back to his recliner and spraying down with Chloraseptic Throat Spray.


"Achoo!" He reached for a tissue. What if it was someone from the high school? Principals couldn't get sick. At least that's what his staff told him yesterday when he left, coughing up a storm. They said they couldn't do without him, especially with Christmas vacation coming up next week. There was simply too much work to be done, they told him. Was this his secretary calling? Did she need something important?


He smiled. Was it somebody offering to bring him some homemade chicken soup? But if it was Miss Available-With-A-Capital-A-Home-Ec-Teacher Pamela Perkins, well, he'd pass, thank you very much...

Ring-g-g-g-g, ring-g-g-g-g...

His sense of duty got the best of him, and he grabbed the phone, determined to squeak out a greeting, raspy though it would be. "Hello?"

"Howdy, there. My name's Pas - tor Rodney Ellerson callin' from north Georgey. Is this the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn?"
Landon coughed.
"I must've dialed the wrong number—"
More coughing.
"Could you tell me if I reached Lake Wallace, Floridy?"
"Yes. Sorry. I've...got a...terrible head cold."
"What a bad time of year—winter—to get yerself a cold. A cold in cold weather. Why, that's the pits."
Landon looked out the kitchen window and saw the bright-as-summer sun shining down on the clear-as-day lake. He knew the thermometer read 88 and smiled. "Anytime of year is bad to get a cold. Achoo."
"Yer right about that, pardner. So, this is the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn?"
"Yes." What did this caller with the Georgia twang want? Landon glanced out the bank of windows in the great room. Nestled among gigantic orange trees, he saw the little brown wooden house across the road, the Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn. Nobody had stayed in it since his wife died a year ago. The B&B had been her brainchild. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't a B&B any longer. It was back to its original status--a cracker gothic cottage from Old Florida—what some historians called the early days of Florida. Eons ago, his forbears had built it and lived in it. These days, it was as vacant as a classroom in summer.
"Well," drawled the preacher from north Georgia, "the reason I'm calling is my wife saw an article about the Orange Blossom B&B in Southern Comfort magazine, and she got this idear to book a room for our church secretary as a gift from us and the church. I think it's a right good idear myself...I'd even venture to say it's inspired by God, you know, providential, because, you see, our church secretary is the most deservin' person in the whole wide world of a little R&R..."
Wonder if he's long-winded in the pulpit too?
"...why, our church secretary—Lois is her name—just like Lois in the Bible—why, she directs our children's church program, and last Sunday night, she put on the kids' Christmas play with 23 wriggly, writhing kids. Ever since she's been our secretary—six months now—our church has grown by leaps and bounds...why, she's got as many idears as Carter's got liver pills...and besides that, she's the mostest dedicated secretary in church history, I do believe..."
Bingo. A long-winded talker is a long-winded preacher. Landon smiled, remembering what his minister-father liked to jokingly say about long-winded visiting preachers. If they don't strike oil after 20 minutes, they ought to quit boring.
"And so, we're a-wantin' to book a room. Please say there's room at the inn." He let out a belly laugh. "Get it? Room at the inn? Like in Bethlehem two thousand years ago when Joseph and Mary came a-knockin' on the door of an inn. Please say ya got an empty room at yer B&B. My wife's got her heart set on yer place for Lois...it's a little piece of heaven smack dab in the middle of a Florida orange grove, is what she said. Please don't say you're full."
No, we're not full, that's for certain. Landon smiled again.
"My wife saw them pictures of the Orange Blossom B&B in Southern Comfort magazine—that funny-lookin' house a-settin' near a little lake in central Florida, and that was that. There's no other B&B to be had for Lois's R&R, as far as my wife's concerned."
Landon was surprised. The preacher's wife had just seen that article? Why, the Orange Blossom B&B had been featured in Southern Comfort over two years ago.
"My wife buys all her magazines at the library for a quarter. Course they're a little out of date when she gets them, and sometimes the coupons are ripped out, but that don't bother her none a-tall. We'd like to book a full ten days for Lois—" he paused, and a fumbling noise could be heard heard across the phone lines "—no, make that eleven days—I just checked my calendar. She'll get there December 15, and she'll leave December 26, the day after Christmas. She'll be arriving next Friday. You take Visa?"
Landon had a coughing fit.
"I knew I hadn't lost ya. I heard ya breathin' the whole time I been a-rattlin' on. Try using Neosynephrine nasal spray. Then you won't have to breathe through yer mouth. When ya have to breathe through yer mouth, yer throat gets dried out, ya know? And besides, it sounds turrible. Yep. I knew I hadn't lost ya."
"It...hurts...to talk."
"I can empy-thize. I had a cold last month. Like I said, I'm real sorry yer sick."
"My grandpappy always said, 'Take cold medicine, and in seven days you'll be well. Don't take cold medicine, and in seven days you'll be well.' In other words, you'll be as good as new in a week, medicine or not."
"I hope so."
"My Visa number is..." The preacher rattled off some numbers.
Landon jotted them down hurriedly.
"Can you send me a brochure?" The preacher rattled off an address. "My name's Pas - tor Rodney Ellerson. Did I say that already? E – L – L – I – S – O – N," he spelled. "Ellerson."
A few minutes later, as Landon plopped in his leather recliner in the great room, he realized with a full-blown case of worry that he now had a guest coming to the long-closed Orange Blossom Bed & Breakfast Inn.
In one week's time!
He glanced out the windows. The cottage across the road needed a thorough cleaning. It was probably covered in dust bunnies and cobwebs. And he was as sick as a dog.
"Achoo." Why had he taken this booking? Maybe it had something to do with the reverend. He liked his down-home flavor. This preacher reminded him of his own father—a minister, too. This preach had the same quaint Southern drawl and the same penny-pinching-by-necessity ways. His father would be amused when Landon told him about this preacher from north Georgia wanting a room for his secretary.
Maybe it had something to do with what the preacher said. My wife's got her heart set on yer place...she saw them pictures of your funny-lookin' house a-settin' near a little lake in central Florida.
Landon sprayed his throat with the vile-tasting green stuff, reflecting on the way the preacher's wife described the Orange Blossom Inn.
A little piece of heaven in a Florida orange grove?
Dear me, I may just donate the church secretary's stay. I may not charge the preacher a penny.
The booking, though, and why he'd done it...maybe it had something to do with that poor church secretary. Into his mind popped a picture of his father's church secretary at the church he presently served in North Carolina...
...spinsterish...or was it widowish?...
...overworked for sure...
...and definitely underpaid.
This Lois lady with the children's program on her shoulders, as well as a host of other things at her church, will probably enjoy the solitude of the Orange Blossom, he decided. She's sure to be refreshed during her stay. It's quiet around here, that's for certain.
He unwrapped a Hall's honey-and-lemon throat lozenge, popped it in his mouth, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
Somehow, I'll manage to get the place cleaned up before she arrives.
Through a deluge of rain, Lois Delaney drove down the dark, lonely road in the middle of Florida orange groves, hunting the sign the proprietor said to look for.
For long minutes now, she had slowed at every sign, then accelerated past them. Where was that sign? He said to go six miles past the main highway. Hadn't she gone six miles by now? Rats. She should've noted the mileage when she turned off the highway.
Now, she looked carefully at the mileage marker on the odometer and decided to go exactly two more miles, then turn back and begin hunting again.
What a time to be arriving at a B&B--and one set in such a remote place. She checked her watch by the light of the dashboard. Eleven o'five p.m. But she couldn't help the lateness of the hour. First, she'd gotten a late start. Too many duties in the church office before Christmas. Then, of all things her windshield wiper motor had broken in south Georgia, and she spent hours in the Toyota dealership while they fixed it. Whoever heard of a windshield wiper motor breaking? And on a new car, at that? If it'd been her old car, she could've understood. She'd driven that thing for nearly seven years, and its windshield wiper motor had never given her a problem.
What more could go wrong? Nothing, she assured herself. All would be well shortly. She would soon arrive at the Orange Blossom B&B, fall into a freshly-made bed, perhaps a canopied four-poster. And then she would sleep late the next morning, at least past her usual 6:30 a.m. And then she would head for the wide front porch for a leisurely and delicious breakfast that included, according to the brochure, freshly-squeezed orange juice and orange blossom honey.
At the Orange Blossom B&B, she would meet interesting people from all walks of life. The magazine article in Southern Comfort showed several guests eating breakfast together on the plankboard porch. Perhaps she would form lasting friendships with some of the guests. Outgoing and gregarious, she was always making new friends.
During the week, she planned to take walks in the orange grove and around the lake for quiet reflection, something she rarely had time for.
"Lord knows," she said aloud as she continued driving at a snail's pace so she could look for the sign through the rain, "I need some quiet reflection. And rejuvenation too."
She thought about her recent break-up with Phil. My, how that had hurt. She was ecstatic when they started a relationship four months ago. After all, the playing field was narrow for a 32-year-old single Christian woman.
Evangelist Phil A. Pullman had held a revival at their church, and from the first, she'd been impressed with—and attracted to--this dashing, debonair minister, charisma dripping off him like the rain now falling from the sky.
But that wasn't why she came to care for him during their four months of emails, phone calls, and occasional visits. It was because he truly seemed to care for her. And he was so dedicated to the ministry. And he made her laugh--he was as zany as she was. She recalled the times they belted out hymns together, him singing in his beautiful baritone, her as off-key as the day was long, both of them ending the songs laughing like hyenas.
She remembered the funny name he called himself, a play on words, his eyebrows going up and down every time he said it, her laughing in her usual way, loud and boisterous.
I'm Evangelist Phil A. Pulpit. Get it? Fill a pulpit. That's what I do.
Two weeks ago, he wrote her a succinct email that hadn't made her laugh. In fact, it made her cry.
Lois blinked back a tear, recalling the hurtful email. Just what did her future hold in the man department? "God, are You ever going to send me a man, the right man? If so, when?" Her voice was whiny, but she couldn't help it.
From the time she was a little girl, she wanted to be a wife and mother, the best in the world, just like her own mother had been and still was. But so far, life hadn't led her that way. Instead, she became a publicist who was now working as a church secretary for a temporary time.
"Lord, are You listening?" She wasn't embarrassed about talking to the Lord like this. She and the Lord were on a first-name basis. She had loved the Lord with all her heart, as the Scriptures instructed, for her entire life. She and the Lord'd had many conversations.
Now, though, she was doing all the talking. The Lord was mute.
She smiled, remembering a poem she'd recently come across, and she said it now.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
Lord, give me a man for keeps!
If there's a man beneath my bed,
I hope he heard each word I said!
She laughed uproariously. "Lord, please give me a man, a good Christian man. Think how much we can accomplish for Your Kingdom as a team." She paused, contrite. "Okay, Lord. I admit it. That's just a side benefit. The real reason I want a man is because I want someone to care for me, someone I can share my life with, and vice versa."
She slowed for yet another road sign, then proceeded on. "Okay, Lord, I'll be quiet so You can speak."
For a couple of minutes, nothing.
"All right, Lord, I've been in this journey of faith long enough to know that when You don't speak, I'm supposed to rely on the last word You gave me. And that's this. I'm to continue to draw close to You and believe that You are working things out for my good."
She drove on, the odometer clocking off yet another mile. "There it is," she exclaimed as she made a sharp left turn off the paved road and onto a dirt one. "Orange Blossom B&B, here I come. R&R at the rescue for this heart-weary woman."
She made her way slowly down the dirt road—a quagmire in the rain—as she searched for the B&B.
Look for a stone-and-stucco home on the left—that's where I live, the proprietor had said. Then pull into the driveway directly across from it. That's the B&B.
She spotted the stone-and-stucco home—just barely--in the darkness. Her enthusiasm dampened. No lights on the road? The porch? From inside the proprietor's house? The B&B?
She wheeled into the driveway of the B&B, just as the proprietor had instructed.
Her headlights flashed on a small wooden structure, the charming wooden cottage pictured in the brochure, and she felt heartened somewhat.
"Orange Blossom B&B," she called out in her cheery way. "I'm here at last."
She turned off the ignition. Momentarily her automatic headlights went off. What now? It was still drizzling, and besides, no one was about. No people. No cars. No proprietor.
Should she get out and knock on the door? She knew it was 11:30 at night, but she also knew that the proprietor was expecting her. The last time they talked on her cell phone—three hours ago—she told him about her windshield wiper motor mishap. She also told him she would be late. So where was he?
She tooted her horn.
A dog barked at her car window, and she nearly had a heart attack. She looked sideways and saw the biggest dog she'd ever laid eyes on—or so it seemed given the circumstances. He was standing—standing?—at her window, his paws on her car door.
"Down, Marmaduke," came a man's gruff voice in the darkness. Then a flashlight came on.
She cranked up, threw the car in reverse.
"Miss Delaney?" The man thumped on her window.
Through the tinted glass, she made out a man standing there holding an umbrella although she couldn't make out his features.
"I thought you weren't coming." He thrust his hand backward, toward the cottage. "This is the Orange Blossom B&B. If you'll get out, I'll show you to your room. And I promise to corral Marmaduke. Don't be afraid of him. He's a great big baby."
Marmaduke let out a howl.
"Hush, Marmaduke." The man petted the dog. "I promise you, his bark is bigger than his bite."
She didn't care to test the man's last statement as the dog let out another ferocious bark. What should she do now? She felt like driving away.
"Miss Delaney?"
She looked straight ahead where her headlights shone, to the little cracker gothic cottage in front of her, saw the wide front porch, noted its charm, thought about its unique history.
"Your pastor, Reverend Rodney Ellison, booked this room for you. I talked with him last week."
Ever the frugal one, she remembered her pastor's hard-earned money that he'd invested in her Christmas vacation.
"It's not the Sheraton by any means, but I think you'll find it pleasant."
She turned off the ignition. She would at least look things over. "We'll see," she said under her breath.


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