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       What If, p.1

           Ann Ritchie Domela
 
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What If
WHAT IF

  (A Romantic Mystery at the Apple Farm)

  By Ann (Ritchie) Domela

  Copyright © 2010 by Ann S. (Ritchie) Domela

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be produced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

  This is a work of fiction. Names characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously with the exception of places used in the book by permission of the owner’s or their agents of those establishments. Any resemblance to any actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The book was printed in the United States of America.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1 - Haunting Memory

  Chapter 2 - The Apple Farm Inn

  Chapter 3 - Rose's, Morro Bay

  Chapter 4 - The Art Gallery

  Chapter 5 - Taco Temple

  Chapter 6 - The Gazebo at the Apple Farm

  Chapter 7 - Rock and Roll Diner

  Chapter 8 - Pasta Bell, Pismo Beach

  Chapter 9 - The Scottish Treat

  Chapter 10 - Room 300

  Chapter 11 - J. Henry Manor Tea Room

  Chapter 12 - Rosa's

  Chapter 13 - California Coast

  Chapter 14 - The Ceileh

  Chapter 15 - The Gathering

  Chapter 16 - The Games Begin

  Chapter 17 - The Drive Home

  Chapter 18 - Montana de Oro

  Chapter 19 - The Club House at This Old House

  Chapter 20 - Duncan Comes Home

  Chapter 21 - The Pyramid at McCarthy's

  Chapter 22 - Another One

  Chapter 23 - Decisions

  Chapter 24 - The Surprise

  Chapter 25 - What's Going On?

  Chapter 26 - The Truth Comes Out

  Chapter 27 - Epilogue

  Heather MacIntosh fled her beloved Scotland to get away from the disastrous memories of the loss of her fiancé, Ian Sutherland.

  Ian was “missing at sea” just before their wedding and after a bitter argument.

  But his ghostly memory follows her to the Apple Farm Inn on the central coast of California. It is there that she sees the man who haunts her dreams. Is it Ian, his ghost, or ….? She has to find out for herself.

  Follow Heather as she goes from place to place on the Central Coast. Enjoy the many restaurants that she visits with a restaurant reviewer and her friend, Linda Sue.

  Discover with Heather what happened to this “ghost”.

  This book is lovingly dedicated to my wonderful husband, Fred. He’s made my life worth the living.

  Chapter 1

  Haunting Memory

  Sleeping soundly on the exquisite, four-poster, high-canopied bed, Heather suddenly moved her foot sharply, as if to shake off something, an unknown hand touching her foot. Then there was the definite sensation of something or someone sitting on the bed next to the young woman. Would it ever stop? Was it a dream so vivid it was real? She felt as if she were losing her mind or what was left of it. “Leave me alone,” she shouted holding back the tears of frustration. “Go away. I don’t want you anywhere near me. It isn’t fair.” Sitting up in the antique styled bed, she wiped away a few of the tears beginning to course down her cheeks. “I thought you loved me, yet you continue to torture me. Please, please Ian, go away and let me go on with my life, such as it is without you. I’m so sorry. Why can’t you forgive me?”

  Sleep would not return easily. Heather knew that from the many nights she had spent like this. She rose from the bed, wearing her old comfortable blue flannel nightgown, to walk to the antique coffee table in the small sitting room. Wanting to feel the warmth and comfort, she switched on the fireplace and sat down on the ornate maroon couch, placing one of the gold satin pillows behind her back. Without hesitation, she pulled out the well-worn telegram from her new black leather purse as if to assure her distressed mind that Ian was truly deceased and only a memory that refused to stop haunting her.

  It was addressed to his fiancée, Miss Heather MacIntosh, “We regret to inform you that Ian Sutherland has been lost at sea. After extensive searching, we were unable to rescue him or his body. We can only presume that he is permanently missing and deceased. You have our deepest regrets.”

  She read the words as if she had never seen them, over and over. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t shed thousands of tears over the words, the pain, and the guilt. That was almost as bad as the loss of the man she had loved with all her heart, the terrible guilt. If she hadn’t insisted on accepting this position, if only she hadn’t told him that no matter what, she was going to this part of California to paint scenes of the coast for the famous Art Gallery of Enchantment on the central coast of California. What if she had agreed to get married when Ian wanted instead of waiting, he would not have died alone in the frigid, cruel North Sea. He would have been secure in their home in Rosehearty on the coast of Scotland with his safe position as a computer technician. Since Heather had chosen to accept this artist contract to do a series of paintings, he had retaliated by taking his vacation time to go on that fateful fishing trip before she was to leave on her own journey. She looked at the words again. “Missing at sea”. She hadn’t even been able to say goodbye. There was no physical body. With her broken heart, she couldn’t accept that he was gone without some kind of visible proof.

  Perhaps he had just fallen off the boat and managed to reach the shore of one of the many islands nearby, but the water was so frigid. He couldn’t have made it. No one could survive the freezing waters. Maybe another boat had picked him up, but then the authorities would have been notified. He couldn’t have survived, but he shouldn’t have died, not so young.

  Heather ran her fingers through her short dark brown hair. Ian had loved her hair when it was long, hanging almost to her slender waist. Since he was gone, she had chosen to have it cropped to leave it in a short tousled look. That was her defiant way of showing Ian how angry she was at him for going off to his death. That was before she started blaming herself with the dubious assistance of his ghostly presence. Thankfully, he had been single with no parents to cast blame her way. But there had been so many well-meaning friends. “What if you two had gotten married, what if you had turned down that job.” Life is full of “what if’s. How could she have known what that fateful decision would cost?

  Heather’s own mother had long ago gone to live with her sister, Heather’s Aunt Chrissie, in a nearby larger town of Fraserburgh. With Heather’s upcoming marriage, she had decided she did not want to live alone. Now she was settled in and didn’t want to return. Heather was so lonely in the house, especially since she had planned to live there after the wedding. That is, until Ian had made other plans. No one really blamed Heather; not outright, but there were the looks, the implications.

  Here she was, alone in a most exquisite hotel room on the Central Coast of California, away from all their well-meaning friends and families. After losing him, her first thought had been to reject the commission. She could blame the job for her loss. But, as time went by, she felt it would be better to just leave the town where they had spent all of their young lives. Here, she could get lost in work, her art, while supporting herself and getting away from the many harsh accusing eyes.

  Though the sun was only beginning to come up, it was nearly impossible to return to sleep, no matter how comfortable the bed. The rising sun brought out the exquisite patterns on the maroon and gold wallpaper. This room over the Mill House at the Apple Farm Inn was so lavish. She felt as if she were in an opulent castle. Linda Sue had been so thoughtful to put her in such
a luxurious hotel. It was here she was beginning to feel some semblance of self-worth. If Linda Sue felt she was worth the wonderful hotel, perhaps she was more of a success than she had thought.

  Painful memories kept invading her mind. It had only been under a year since the two had stood on the shore near their respective homes, planning the wedding that would soon take place. Ian wore the traditional seaman’s jacket with the tight jeans that showed off his muscular body; while Heather’s petite form was hidden in a heavy tan parka trimmed in warm white fur. They had sat holding hands staring out at the ocean they both loved. The bright moon played on the gentle waves. So serene. So unusual for the North Sea. It was then that she spoke the words that would alter her life forever.

  “Ian, I have decided to accept this offer to go to California to do these paintings. If all goes well, I can take many photographs of the area and continue to do the paintings here and send them back. It will mean we will have our home, the one you wanted for so long, and all the sooner.”

  The tall man with the hair and beard the color of dark mahogany looked down on her with a hint of anger in his usually low voice. How could she refuse this handsome man? Almost every marriageable girl in town had eyes for her Ian. No other man had eyes of such divine blue, the color of the sea when angry. “No, Heather, you are my cherished lassie and I will na’ have it.” his strong hands came down on her shoulders to bring her closer to his muscular body. As usual, when they were at odds, she pulled away. Her naturally soft green eyes flared in anger at his futile attempt to control her. That would never happen as he should by now, be fully aware. Unlike many of the young women in the town, she was going to be different. She did want a husband, home and children like the others, but Heather wanted more. Art was her passion and she wanted to be a success in her chosen field. It was more than just a dream. There was a compulsion in the young woman. The owner of the Art Gallery of Enchantment had seen examples of her work at a local art show when she had been touring Scotland a few months previously. At that time, the owner, Linda Sue Key, had offered Heather a chance to come to the Central Coast of California. She had been certain that Heather could paint some thrilling examples of the coast around San Luis Obispo, Shell Beach, Grover Beach, Avila Beach and even some areas around the famous Hearst Castle. It could be her one chance to prove herself, to become a success. But Ian didn’t want his wife to do anything except what his mother, grandmother and great grandmother had done. Live to please her husband, take care of the home and raise the many children he wanted to father. As an only child mainly raised by relatives, he wanted a very large family and she did understand. His father had perished in the North Sea and his mother had followed shortly thereafter. Although she did love this man with all her heart, she didn’t want to grow old wondering what else she could have done with her life.

  “Canna (can’t) you just try to understand? You have your work that you enjoy. I want to give this a fair try. It will only be for a few months while I see the scenery there, sketch, and take tons of photos. I will do all the work here at home and ship them off. Just a few brief months.”

  “Heather, it’s you that doesn’t understand me. I don’t want my wee lassie going awa’ (away) to some strange land alone. You are far too bonnie, too delicate. I love your long chocolate brown hair when it catches the sun. Your mouth,” he came down hard on her lips with a kiss that took her breath, “your mouth is kissable and your skin is so soft I feel as if I’m caressing pure silk. Every man you meet will be attracted to you and I’m not sure you can resist. You are mine, Heather, my own dear wifee to be.”

  “Why don’t you trust me? I would never betray you.”

  “I’m not saying you would, not intentionally. But suppose you meet someone else?”

  “Ian, just stop. If I were to meet another man, anywhere, even in our own small town, it doesn’t mean that I would run into his arms. I belong to you by my choice, forever. I promise you I will never, ever betray you with any other. Our love is for a lifetime. Why do you want to keep me penned up, keep me from realizing success in what I want to do? I can even stay one short month and be back in plenty of time to plan our wedding. It will give me the chance to live my dream.”

  “I thought I was your dream, that our life together would be enough for you.” Ian turned away from her petulantly like a deprived child.

  “You are my lifetime dream. I want to be your wife. All I ask is one month. Is that so much to ask? She was angry. In this day and age, no woman should have to ask permission from her mate and especially not an intended mate. They should each have equal rights, equal opportunity to follow their own dreams, but not to Ian’s old-fashioned mind.

  “Ay (yes), it is too much to ask. If you loved me, really loved me, you wouldn’t want to go off to some far off place and leave me alone.”

  “Ian, I have cut it back to just one month, one short month, thirty little days. Why does everything have to be your way and your way only? Don’t I have any rights in our relationship at all? Isn’t what I want important to you as what you do is important to me?”

  He turned, facing the sea, his broad back away from Heather. “Of course, my sweet love, I want you to be happy and become a success. Canna (can’t) you just wait until after the wedding?”

  Oh, no, he wasn’t going to win this time with his charming ways. That was always the way it went. Ian was so sure of her love for him; a little pouting usually gained him his way. When she had voiced her opinion about a small intimate wedding, he insisted on a larger one. Heather’s choice of homes was the little cottage overlooking the ocean. Deciding that they would have a large family almost immediately, his choice was the eight room Ross house high on the hill outside of town. She really didn’t mind the idea of having enough room for an office for him and a studio for her, but he wanted to fill it with children. That would be fine in the future, but not immediately. She had only just begun selling a few of her paintings and they could little afford it. That would take most of their savings with little left for anything else. No security for the unknown future. Without consulting her, he had put the down payment on the house. Loving him as he did, she had reluctantly agreed. Now with the chance to vastly improve her earnings, enough to pay for his choice of homes, he didn’t want her to leave his sight, even for one mere month.

  “Ay, Ian, it is too much to ask. I’ve given in to you in every way until now. This time it is my turn. I’m leaving in fourteen days and will return in thirty more days in plenty of time to plan the big wedding you want.

  “I want? This is for you. Everyone in town is waiting to see us wed.”

  “No, it isn’t for me. It isn’t what I want, but I am giving in to you.” She faced him directly, standing on the edge of the rocks, the wind picking up enough to make her pull the jacket closer to her chilled body.

  “Heather, love, I’m only insisting on a big wedding so you won’t regret having a small one, later on. The same with the house. You want a studio in the home so you can do your painting thing. It’s all for you, my dear wifee to be. Is it so wrong for me to love you and want nothing but the best for you? I love you so much I canna do enough for you.”

  There it was. He was doing it again. She was the one feeling guilty, ready to give in. “I do love you, Ian and I do appreciate everything you do for me, but.”

  “Then you’ll wait until after the wedding.” It wasn’t a question, but a voice of victory. He held her out looking down at her face, almost smirking. He had won _again.

  “No you don’t; not this time, she thought as she turned from him. I am going to California before the wedding, just as planned.”

  She almost gave in completely when she went to the dock to say goodbye. Heather pleaded with Ian to forgive her. “I’ll let Linda Sue know that I can only paint from her photographs of the area. We can have the wedding whenever you want. Please, please forgive me. We shouldn’t fight, not now with our wedding so close.”

  “Hush, Lassie,” Ian put his
arms around her. “You go ahead and get your lavender heather colored wedding gown fitted; go on with the ordering of what needs to be done.”

  “Ian, you know how I feel about fishing on the North Sea. I’ve lost so many relatives to the sea. It has taken so many of our villagers, including your father and mine. Then your poor mom died of a broken heart so soon after. Now you want me to remain calm while you risk your life. Do you have to go? I’ve agreed to stay home and forget about the art. What more do you want? Don’t go.” She begged as the cold wind blew her long hair around her face.

  “I canna do that, Lassie. We’ve had this planned for weeks. We’ve all chipped in for the boat. I canna let the boys down. It’s too late.” He pulled away from her.

  “Weeks? Weeks? You mean you’ve had this planned all along? Were you just waiting for one of our many arguments to use it for an excuse to go? If it weren’t the art, would you have deliberately started an argument?”

  “No, of course not. "I," she stuttered. "I had planned to just discuss it with you before I went, but then we had the argument.”

  “Ian, that’s not good enough. That is just you. You will always do what you want.”

  “And?”

  “And, nothing. I don’t want to fight with you again. Just go and have a good time. I’ll get things ready for our wedding.”

  “That’s my fair lassie.” Ian put his strong arms around her.

  “Just please be careful. You know I will worry about you every minute. I love you so much, Ian.”

  “Me too. I’ll see you when I return.” He blew her a quick kiss.

  That was the last time she would ever see him.

  The funeral was the same as afforded to any man who was “missing at sea”. The man was presumed deceased and the services were the same as if he were actually lying in his casket. A small stone marker was erected in the local graveyard in “memory of Ian Sutherland, beloved of Heather MacIntosh”. Although most of the town people treated her as if she were his widow, there were many who knew of their argument. They were the first to condemn. If she hadn’t “insisted on having her own way”, if she “hadn’t been so headstrong”, Ian would have never gone to his death.

  The only man she had ever loved would be in her waiting arms tonight instead of his ghost haunting her, trying to take what little was left of her sanity. It didn’t seem to matter where she was, she could feel his presence, especially at night when she was trying to sleep. Usually, she would feel something touching her foot or a movement on the bed as if someone were sitting down. There was never a true ghostly sight, nothing she could see, just the movements. There was no sound, no voice, but Heather knew it had to be her Ian.

  “It doesn’t matter,” she spoke to her unseen lover. “I am going on with my life, doing my painting and I will not allow your ghost to keep me from living. So just go away. Ian, go away to where ever you belong.” She picked up the soft white terry cloth robe that had been provided by the Inn from the back of the antique styled chair. She wished it were a later time in the morning so she could order her early morning coffee and newspaper.

  Although, it wasn’t cold, a chill ran down her back. She still kept feeling as if Ian was in the room. She didn’t know how to make either him or the feeling leave. The warm glow from the fireplace permeated the room, but she still had the feeling that he was close.

  “Ian, Ian, please. I love you. You will always have that special place in my heart, but I can’t go on like this. Why are you tormenting me? I could not stay in Rosehearty. The town, the people; I didn’t stand a chance. Not only am I not ready to commit to another man, but what man of our town would want me? I just want to go on and have some kind of success in the art. You said you forgave me when I came to you at the boat the day you left. I told you I would do what you wanted and give up the trip to further my own personal career. I promise you, I will love you always. I won’t forget you, ever.”

  There was no answer from anywhere in the room. She peered into the dark corners as if she were expecting a figure to emerge from the shadows.

  “Damn it, Ian, you don’t mind touching me or sitting on the bed when I am in a deep slumber, but you won’t come forth and talk to me. I swear, I almost hate you,” she cried out to the vacant room as she walked out to small porch to turn on the whirlpool spa tub where she could relax. If he wouldn’t allow her to return to her much needed sleep, she would just put on a bathing suit and let the warm waters soothe her tired body. At that hour of the morning, she probably didn’t have to wear a suit and there was the trellis fence along the railing, but she was far too modest not to wear one.

  As she leaned back in the warm water, she tried to plan her day. At nine, she was to meet with Linda Sue Key, the owner of the art shop who had brought her to the central coast of California. They were going to discuss the places that Linda Sue felt would be best areas for Heather to paint. Then, Linda Sue would provide the maps and she would make her first attempt to drive to them. She had been practicing driving on the odd side of the road on a few occasions in Linda Sue’s car. Difficult, because in Scotland, she had no trouble driving on the correct side of the road. All she would have to do is concentrate. Linda Sue had promised that if she felt uncomfortable, she would hire a driver for her. “I can do it,” Heather spoke aloud. “I will make a success out of myself, no matter what and you, Mister. Sutherland, will go away.

 
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