Bloodfrost by Deidre Dalton is Book #1 in the Bloodline Trilogy.


Noel Gatsby's dreams take her away from the misery of her pain-wracked, disease-riddled body. The dreams become real when she awakens one morning to find herself completely cured. However, she soon learns her miraculous recovery comes at a price.

From Chapter Eight


TRUE TO HER WORD, Madge arrived at the Wren Street apartment building behind the wheel of her midnight-blue Taurus on Christmas Eve afternoon. Pim helped June downstairs, folding her wheelchair into the trunk after she got into the car. They had already decided to open gifts at Madge's house after dinner, so Pim also stored a large cardboard box full of presents in the trunk, which fit nicely atop the wheelchair.

Noel thought her mother looked especially pretty for the outing. June wore pleated gray slacks with a pink-and-gray-striped blouse, a tiny silver rosary hanging from her neck. Alvin Carter had taken pains with his appearance as well, wearing black trousers and a dark-maroon pullover sweater.

Madge nudged Noel before they got into the car. "Your mother and Mr. Carter look cute together, don't they? Just like an old married couple."

"My thoughts exactly," Noel replied with a smile. "They are just about the same age, so hopefully they'll have a lot to talk about."

Noel was enchanted by the sight of Madge's house on Dane Street. Madge made the effort ("I hired someone to do it," she told Noel later) to arrange a string of cheerful Christmas lights on the eaves of her house with a large green wreath hanging on the front door. Dither greeted them as they trooped inside, curious about the new visitors. He took an instant shine to June, jumping onto her lap as she sat in her wheelchair.

"Dither!" Madge said sternly.

June laughed. "No, it's okay. I love cats, and I don't mind Dither making himself at home on my lap. He's nice and warm, and quite comforting." She stroked the feline gently, which prompted him to gaze up at her adoringly, his loud purrs sounding in the entryway.

Noel wheeled her mother into the living room, which was also decorated for the season. Garlands were draped over the white fireplace mantle with red candles, and a large poinsettia rested on the coffee table. A Christmas tree with lights blinked in one corner. The room, while not overly large, was comfortable and inviting. Two brown leather couches faced each other over the rounded coffee table, all set upon a hardwood floor. The walls were covered with cream-colored and ivy-green wallpaper, offset by dark brown draperies and a window seat with throw cushions overlooking the front yard.

"You went to a lot of trouble to decorate your house," June noted. "It's lovely."

Madge waved her hand. "Not a bit of it. The tree is fake, one of those fancy synthetic jobs I bought many years ago. All I had to do was drag it from the attic, give it a good dusting, and voila! It does the trick, though, because everyone thinks it's real." She gave a quick smile. "I hardly ever use this room, which is why it's so neat and tidy."

Pim began placing gifts under the tree from the cardboard box, while Alvin settled on one of the couches.

"Would anyone like a drink?" Madge asked. "Wine, perhaps?"

Noel's gaze went to Pim as he stood by the Christmas tree. He met her eyes and grinned. "I think Pim would like a quick gin and tonic first," she told Madge.

"Coming right up. Can you give me a hand, Noel?"

Noel followed her boss to the kitchen, which she found to be more than impressive. "Wow," she said aloud. "Your kitchen is beautiful, Madge. It's bigger than our flat back on Wren Street."

Madge chuckled as she opened one side of the stainless steel refrigerator. "The house is one of the gifts from my divorce settlement years ago. I had the kitchen re-done last summer, although I hardly ever use it. Today is a special occasion, but it's still quite a novel experience for me to do any cooking. Let's just say I have very little in the way of natural culinary instinct."

"What can I help you with?"

"Let's pour drinks and then get the ham started."

After Noel served wine to Alvin and June, and a tall gin and tonic to a grateful Pim, she returned to the kitchen to help Madge. "Dither is still making himself at home on my mother's lap," Noel laughed. "Funny, I've never thought of Mom as a cat lover but she seems to be enchanted by him."

"Dither can be cranky when the mood suits him," Madge said as she handed Noel a glass of red wine. "He can be sweet and loving one minute, and in the next he'll dash off in a fit of pique."

The two women began studding a large ham with cloves, and then pinned pineapple rings to the skin with toothpicks. Madge placed the baking dish in the oven, setting the timer for two hours. "I'll give everyone a few minutes to down their drinks, and then we can throw some hors d'oeuvres at them. I bought a platter of shrimp with cocktail sauce we can serve. Do you think that will tide them over until dinner?"

"I'm sure it will."

Madge leaned her hip against the counter, wine glass in hand. "Your Pim is quite the looker," she observed. "Tall, handsome, polite, single . . . almost perfect."

Noel blushed. "I think so, but then I'm hardly objective."

"And he has that bloody fantastic English accent to boot. Very alluring. Tell me, are there wedding bells in your future?"

"We haven't really talked about it yet," Noel replied, taking a quick sip of her wine. She wasn't ready to tell anyone they were making plans. Not yet.

"You two look good together, just like your mother and Mr. Carter. You and Pim are still young enough to have kids, too."

Noel nearly choked on her next sip of wine. "Good God!" she exclaimed. "Having a child is the farthest thing from my mind, Madge. I can't see bringing a child into the world and then taking it home to Wren Street."

"You're working and Pim's working," Madge reasoned. "Both of you are getting back on your feet quite admirably. What's to stop you from buying a house someday soon?"

"Nothing, I suppose."

"Well, there you are."

Noel was thoughtful. Although getting married was a new discussion between her and Pim, unbeknownst to Madge, the idea of having children had never occurred to her. With all the deep thinking she'd done in the last several weeks, having a baby - even if it was with Pim - was not at the top of her priority list. Madge's comments gave Noel pause. Was it too late? Would she be pushing her new yet extraordinary luck too far by wanting to have it all?

"Time to baste the ham," Madge announced, turning her back on Noel to open the oven door. "Then we can join the others with our shrimp platter and fresh drinks."

When they entered the living room a few minutes later, Noel sought Pim with her eyes. He was still sitting next to Alvin on the couch, an empty glass in his hand. He stared at her, a slight smile on his face. "Your mind is full," he thought-spoke to her. "Children? Why are you thinking about children?"

"Madge says we make a cute couple," Noel thought as she set the tray of shrimp and cocktail sauce on the coffee table. "She asked if we were planning to get married someday, and then mentioned we were both still young enough to have children. Crazy, huh?"

"Not so crazy. We aren't doing anything to stop it, are we?" He grinned, thrusting his empty glass to her. "Besides, I think we make a cute couple, too. Just imagine the little rug-rats we could produce. Practice, practice, practice . . ."

Noel laughed out loud before she could stop herself. Madge glanced at her quizzically. "Did I miss something?" she asked.

Noel recovered nicely. "No, it's just Pim. He shoved his empty glass at me, and it struck me funny. He knows very well I'm not the type to be at his beck and call, or worship at his feet for that matter."

Madge snorted, a smile on her face. "It's better if he learns that now, rather than later."

"Point taken," Pim said teasingly, his warm eyes still on Noel.

Dinner was a festive affair. Madge's dining room, adjacent to the kitchen, was small but traditional in design. Dark red walls met white wainscoting and baseboards, with yellow and pink gingham curtains open to the only window in the room. A modest chandelier shed light on the six-seat oak dining table, with a darker wood sideboard off to the side. Pim helped by carrying in the large platter of ham, already sliced, while Madge and Noel followed with a bowl of steamed green beans and a casserole dish full of scalloped potatoes.

Noel noticed her mother and Alvin chatting animatedly, almost oblivious to everyone else around them. Dither was still perched on June's lap, now sitting up and watching the food on the table with great interest.

"Tell me if Dither becomes a bother," Madge said as she observed her cat staring intently at the platter of ham. "He'll make a nuisance out of himself if you let him."

"Oh no," June protested. "It's Christmas for Dither, too. I'm enjoying his company."

Near the end of the meal, Pim sliced apple pie for everyone while Noel dropped scoops of vanilla ice cream on arranged dessert plates.

"I have a confession to make," Madge said from her place at the head of the table. "Noel and I prepared the ham, but the rest of the food came from Boston Market just this morning. Naughty of me, huh?"

Alvin laughed. "The meal was delicious nonetheless. Thank you for a wonderful dinner, Madge and Noel, and thank you for inviting me."

"It was my pleasure," Madge beamed.

Later, they returned to the living room to exchange gifts. Dither remained on June's lap, washing his face with contentment after receiving his fair share of ham.

Noel volunteered to distribute the gifts, beginning with Madge. "You go first since you're the hostess," Noel told her with a smile. She piled four gaily-wrapped gifts at Madge's feet as she sat on the couch nearest the fireplace, a fresh glass of wine in her hand.

When Madge revealed the gift basket, her face lit with pleasure. "Thank you, Noel. It's lovely." She was equally moved by presents from Pim (a box of Sea Salt Turtle chocolates), a gift certificate to Café Porto Bello from June, and a tin of Yorkshire Gold teabags from Alvin.

June was delighted with a golden-colored shawl from Pim, and a boxed video set of As Time Goes By from Noel. "I'll buy a VCR when I get my next paycheck," Noel promised her mother.

Pim gave Noel a small, decorative wall clock, which contained a backdrop of sepia-colored magnolias with butterflies. "Nothing bright and sunny for my girl," he joked. Her gift to him was a silver filigree waistcoat with a black Bastian shirt. "You can wear it to work and look elegant but not overdressed," she told him. He kissed her on the lips in thanks, not caring that the others were watching them.

Madge excused herself for a moment. She returned to the living room carrying a large tray containing four miniature bonsai trees as gifts. "Each one has instructions for care," she told them. "I tried keeping a bonsai once, but ended up killing it. I wasn't sure if it was from my lack of care, or from Dither taking vicious swipes at the poor thing. Hopefully, the four of you will have better luck."

Alvin had brought his present from Noel to the dinner party, so now he opened it with great care. His eyes grew wide when he saw the mantle figurine with bells. He was speechless for several seconds while Noel held her breath. Would he be offended? Would the gift remind him of their first uncomfortable conversation, just a few weeks ago?

She heard Pim's thoughts. "Oh dear, Noel. I'm not sure if he likes it . . ."

Suddenly, Alvin grinned. "I love it. And I know the perfect place for it in my apartment."

"Where?" June asked, curious.

"I'll put it right on top of my television in the living room. It's perfect for the holidays." He glanced at Noel. "Thank you."

Noel exhaled quietly, relieved the moment had passed. "You're very welcome." She smiled when she heard Pim's next thought: "As I live and breathe . . ."

Noel was highly moved by the gift-giving. It wasn't the gifts themselves, but rather the individual thought behind them and the realization that this time last year such an event would not have been even remotely possible. All of them had much to be grateful for.

They finished early enough for Madge to drive them home, although she invited them to spend the night.

"I have to get home," June said firmly. "I need to take my medication, unfortunately." She patted Dither on the head gently. The feline awoke, looking up at his new friend with sleepy eyes.

"You'll have to come again soon," Madge insisted with a hint of humor. "Otherwise, there will be no living with Dither."



BLOODFROST ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.

"Bloodfrost" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Bloodfrost" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.