Chapter 1

       Lillian Darkwood ran for cover as the rain began to come down in sheets. Her high heels splashed down the long walkway towards the old house, soaking her nylon stockings. It was the third day of rain this week, and Lillian was growing bored with it. Lightning forked across the sky, lighting it up as if someone had flicked on a bright spotlight. Thunder clapped, making her jump, as she finally arrived at the safety of the front porch. She was standing, shaking the rain from her trench coat when the door opened. A stream of welcoming light spilled out onto the porch.

          “Oh, thank goodness you made it! It’s something dreadful out there,” said Bert Manning, her father, with a concerned look on his face. “We were starting to worry. Why didn’t you call?”

       “My car broke down at the end of the driveway. That stupid car is more trouble than it’s worth sometimes,” Lillian said with a sigh.

          “Still you should have called. I would have driven down to get you,” Bert pointed out.

         “I would have if my battery didn’t die. I forgot to charge it again,” Lillian replied. She removed her coat and shook out her long, dark brown hair.

       “Well, I’m glad you’re alright. Why don't you stay overnight and I’ll attend to your car in the morning?”

           “Sure, thanks, Dad.” Lillian handed her father her wet coat and broken umbrella, which he took with a smile. She left her father in the foyer and wandered down the hallway to the kitchen at the back of the house. The aroma of homemade tomato sauce cooking on the stove welcomed her warmly as she entered the kitchen. Her mother stood over a steaming pot armed with her favorite stirring spoon, wearing a sunflower apron Lillian had given her for Christmas the year before.

             “Hi Mum,” Lillian said, kissing her mother lightly on the cheek.

          “Geez honey, you’re soaked through,” her mother, Lori exclaimed. “Go upstairs and change into something dry before dinner.”

              “Thanks, Mum, I’m on my way there. I just wanted to say hi first.”

             “Awh Lillian, you’re such a sweetie,” Lori said, smiling while she stirred the sauce. “Too bad your brother isn’t more like you.”

Lillian’s brother, Mark, lived in California. He was an excellent divorce lawyer for the richer- than-rich crowd. Lillian was very proud of her brother. He had worked very hard to get where he was. Unfortunately, Mark’s one down fall was he never found time to fly home for Saturday dinners or holidays.

                “Thanks, Mum, I do try.” Lillian headed up the long winding staircase to her bedroom to change into some warm, dry clothes.

             When Lillian returned, dinner was on the table ready to eat. The weekly Saturday dinner was fantastic as always. Lori was a wonderful cook and refused to serve anything to her family that she wouldn’t classify as five-star-restaurant quality. Dinner conversation revolved around the usual updates of the past week’s events.

               Bert excused himself after cleaning his plate, only to return with a white business envelope. “I just remembered, something came in the mail for you yesterday,” he said, sliding it across the table towards Lillian.

                “Oh really,” said Lillian, a bit surprised. She sucked up the last of the noodles, cleaning her plate of the delicious meal, before reaching for the mysterious envelope.

                 “It’s strange that you would get mail here,” Lori chimed in as they watched Lillian tear open the envelope and unfold the single piece of paper it contained.

              “So, what is it?” asked Bert impatiently.

             “It’s an invitation to Whispering Castle in England,” Lillian gushed. “Apparently, I’m one of ten winners in a raffle.”

             “Wow, that’s a great opportunity,” said Lori.

          “Yeah, but I don’t remember putting my name in any raffle,” said Lillian, setting the letter on the table, confused. She wracked her brain for some hidden memory of entering a draw of some sort, but she came up empty.

            “Honey, lately you’ve been so busy. With the release of your new book and teaching, you probably forgot you did it,” Lori suggested.

           “Yeah, maybe.” Lillian reached for the carafe of coffee from the center of the table and poured some into her cup.

          “So you’re going?” asked Bert. “Silly me, of course, you’re going,” he continued, not waiting for her reply. “Your curiosity is going to take you there.”

Lillian added cream and sugar, then took a sip before answering. “Well, I’ve some vacation time I could use. The school board is always complaining that I don’t take a vacation,” she said with a wry smile.

           “Does the letter say when you have to leave?” Bert asked. He picked up the letter and scanned it for a date.

           “It says I must leave tomorrow night. Tickets are waiting for me at the airport.”

         “Wow! So soon? That doesn't give you much time to prepare. You’ll have to call Mr. Pinical on the weekend, when he hates being bothered on the weekends, and tell him to get a substitute to cover all your classes,” Bert gasped.

Lori nodded, setting a slice of her famous hot apple pie in front of Lillian. “That’s right. Plus she has to pack.”

         “I think you're right Mum, I should go. This trip could be good for me,” Lillian agreed. “Maybe I’ll even get some new ideas for another novel.”

        “Or maybe you’ll have a good time for a change,” Lori pointed out with a smile. “Or maybe meet a new love interest, it’s been five years you know!”

       “Seriously, Mum! Are we on this again?” Lillian grimaced, rolling her eyes. She had not taken a vacation away from home for over four years. The last time had been five years ago in the Bahamas. Only three months after that vacation, Lillian’s husband, Jack Darkwood, a criminal investigator, was killed during the takedown of a local drug ring. He received special commendation for his heroics but never lived to enjoy it. Even though justice was served and the shooter was rotting behind bars on death row, that justice was of little consolation to Lillian. She still hadn’t gotten over losing her husband, and she wore her wedding ring because she couldn’t bring herself to take it off. The thought of moving on terrified Lillian because meeting another man meant giving up Jack. She wasn’t ready to do that. Not yet anyway.

        “If you want, I’ll drive you to the airport,” Bert offered, changing the conversation. He knew dating was a touchy subject. Lori, however, felt she had to broach the subject occasionally. She saw the loneliness in Lillian’s eyes and only wanted her daughter to be happy.

         “Sure Dad, thanks,” Lillian replied, kissing her father on the cheek. “Someone has to make sure I get on the plane,” she laughed.

          “Oh, I’m sure you’re going to get on because you can’t resist an adventure,” Bert laughed.

Lillian took another sip of her coffee and nodded. Her father was right, she couldn’t pass up such an adventure. She was definitely going.