Astor by Emily Evans

Chapter 1: Raven

It always gets dreary this time of year and though I love being the owner of the restaurant associated with the Stony bed-and-breakfast, completing the workday is usually strenuous.

I finish assisting a customer and return to the corner where Abbey is organizing inventory. “Do we have enough for the rest of the month?” I ask, taking the empty seat next to her.

“Yes. We should.” Abbey keeps working until I sigh. “How are you coping?”

Abbey isn’t specific, but I know exactly what she’s talking about. Next week is the fifth anniversary of my daughter Lora’s death. If she hadn’t drowned that day, she would have been seven years old.

I force my lips to curve upwards, but I can’t look her in the eyes. “I’m going to be ok.” My words mustn’t be convincing because Abbey watches me with a frown and a raised eyebrow.

“You don’t have to be strong for me, Raven. I might be your employee, but I’m also your friend. If you need me, I’ll be there for you.”

Abbey reaches over and places her hands on mine. Only then do I raise my head to look into her eyes. I’m comforted by my friend, yet I feel empty inside. I cover her hand now so that my hand is sandwiched between hers.

“Really Abbey. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine.” The words come out of my mouth even as the pain in my chest becomes overbearing. Losing a child never gets easier.

Abbey doesn’t believe me. It’s obvious in her eyes, but I’m happy when she allows the conversation to end and returns her focus to the papers scattered on the table. I leave her to attend to a customer who has an issue with an order and as I walk away from the table of satisfied patrons, a familiar form enters the restaurant.

My eyes are wide, even as my eyebrows rise. “Hello, Astor.”  My ex-husband and the father of my precious Lora. Her death was a blow to us both, and in dealing with that pain, it became intolerable for us to be together. For three years I’ve had no news of Astor, so it surprises me to see him in Stony River.

“Hi, Raven. How have you been?” Astor has changed little over the years and the sensations of being physically attracted to him still linger. Although I try my hardest to ignore it when he looks at me with those gray eyes, my stomach flutters. He has dark brown hair, a chiseled jaw with a tall, muscular physique.

“You know,” I shift to one leg, and I notice Astor’s eyes trail down my body, sending an electric surge to my center. “It is what it is. I didn’t realize you were in Stony River again.”

“Oh.” Astor rubs the back of his head. “This time I’m staying for good. I just got a job as a musher. I start tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s great.” I am happy for Astor. He hasn’t been able to find steady work since leaving the army. “I guess we’ll be seeing each other more often now.” I turn away from him as intimate memories of a time when we couldn’t stand to be away from each other resurface.

“I guess we will,” he says before flashing his eyes at the door. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know.”

“Ok. See you,” I say, and as I watch Astor leave the restaurant, the urge to run into his arms becomes increasingly strong.