a novel by Mardi
from Whiskey Creek Press
an excerpt. Enjoy!
Late May in Sausalito. Samantha Parker took a deep breath and smiled
at the universe. Life didn’t get much better. Today she was moving into the
perfect cottage for a rent she could almost afford. All she had to do was
sign on the dotted line, transport the stuff she’d loaded into a U-Haul back
home in Stockton, and accept delivery of her new bed. Practically bouncing
on air, she flew into the property manager’s office one minute early to sign
the lease and get the keys from kindly Mrs. Harrigan, the owner.
Samantha’s descent from the clouds didn’t begin until she saw Mrs. Harrigan
weeping into a lace-trimmed hanky. Mr. Owens, the property manager, twirled
his mustache while a GQ model type Samantha didn’t recognize signed a lot
of papers. When Mrs. Harrigan spotted Samantha, she wept harder and honked
into her hanky.
“Miss Parker,” she said between sobs, “why are you here? Didn’t my son Edgar
Samantha frowned. “No one called me. I’m here to sign the lease for the
cottage. You know,” she elaborated carefully in case anyone had forgotten,
“for the perfect cottage where I can live and set up my photographic studio?
The one you’re so happy to rent to me because you wanted to be a photographer
before you married Mr. Harrigan?”
Mrs. Harrigan appeared far too overcome to respond. Mr. Owens cleared his
throat. “Mr. Ryan here is renting the property,” he said. “We thought you’d
been informed not to come.”
Samantha sat down hard in the faux leather chair opposite the desk where
Mr. Ryan had evidently just signed his name to the last of the papers. Samantha
toyed with the idea of snatching the papers and ripping them to shreds. Instead,
she sighed deeply. “I’ve just loaded all my belongings into a U-Haul and driven
here. I’m here to sign the lease and get the keys so I can move into the
cottage. Today. They’re delivering my new bed there in two hours.” She turned
to Mrs. Harrigan, who kept her face averted.
Mr. Owens cleared his throat again. “Mr. Ryan has already signed the lease.”
He handed the younger man a set of keys and bared his teeth at Samantha. “The
cottage is his.”
Samantha felt as if someone had just punched all the air out of her. “That
can’t be. I’m the one who’s supposed to lease the cottage. Everything is set.”
Mr. Owens shrugged. “You didn’t have anything in writing. These things happen.
I do have other rental properties to show you.” He thought for a moment. “Well,
one or two in your price range. Not in Sausalito.”
Samantha ignored Mr. Owens and directed her words to Mrs. Harrigan, planning
to throw herself on Mrs. Harrigan’s mercy. Anything to end this nightmare.
“What happened, Mrs. Harrigan? I thought we had a deal. I agreed to pay the
rent you advertised. I don’t smoke and I don’t have pets. I promised to take
photos of your grandchildren. I trusted you.” Her voice rose in an unintended
Mrs. Harrigan wrung her hands. “I wanted you,” she moaned, “but my son Edgar
overruled me. Mr. Ryan outbid you on the rent. As I’m going to be living with
Samantha glared at Mr. Ryan, who was now grinning up at her. He rose and
held out his hand, which she refused to shake. “Nick Ryan.” When she continued
glaring at him, he shrugged and sat down. “Hey, all’s fair in love, war, and
the Bay Area housing market.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Harrigan sobbed.
“You do understand, Miss Parker.” Mr. Owen looked as if he were about to
call security. He chuckled dryly. “These things happen all the time.”
Samantha glared at him. Rising to her full height of five-eight in her bare
feet, she willed herself to look commanding. “Two things I understand,” she
intoned, looking at Mrs. Harrigan. “One. It’s not your fault, Mrs. Harrigan.
I know you’d never be swayed by demon money.” Then she looked at Nick Ryan,
ignoring his eye candy appeal to focus on his evil act. “Two. Mr. Ryan, you’ve
gotten your new home by unfair and unscrupulous means. By offering to pay
more than the asked for rent, you have struck a blow against tenants who follow
Nick Ryan rolled his eyes. “Lady, I need a place to live. I found one, not
easy in the Bay Area, and I did what I had to to secure it. This is nothing
personal against you.”
“I’m so tired of people doing crummy things and then excusing themselves
by saying ‘It’s the lousy housing market, nothing personal.’ Until you came
along, the cottage was mine.” She tried to gather her scattered thoughts to
find the perfect last word but couldn’t. Instead, she said the first thing
that came into her head. “According to ancient tradition, because of your
subterfuge, there will be a curse on you as long as you occupy the cottage.
Nothing in your life will go right till you restore the balance of justice,
and the rightful renter lives there.” With that, she swirled around and majestically
swept from the office. Walking tall with great pride, she held her mighty
pose—until she got to her U-Haul and collapsed in a heap. With the last dregs
of her strength, she pulled out her cell phone, called her best friend Tiffany
Swanson and wailed, “Help!”
2007 Mardi Ballou