Here's a sneak peek at Donna's Tollhouse's latest adventure.
Once Mark got the first half of the banner hooked up, Donna walked backward, stretching it across the porch. “Can’t wait to see this from the walk.”
“Me, too.” Mark carried the stepladder to where she stood to fasten the other end. The crunch of gravel signaled a car exiting the parking lot, probably one of the construction workers. How they ever expected to get done with all the coming and going they did puzzled her. Her dog walking neighbors strolled slowly past with their standard sized poodle. They stopped to peer at the banner. One even used the flat of his hand to shield his eyes.
Look all you want. Donna grinned at the men, knowing they couldn’t find fault with her latest banner.
The taller neighbor waved at her. “Hey, Donna!”
“Yes.” She puffed up a little, expecting a compliment.
“Did you change the name of the inn?”
Her expectant expression sagged with the oddness of the question. “Ummm… what do you mean?”
Her neighbor gestured to the banner. Donna cocked her head but had difficulty reading it so close. Mark had moved to the sidewalk to view the banner where Donna joined him. The large banner that she’d chosen with dice and player tokens to represent the gaming theme appeared fine to her.
One of the dog walkers moved closer and gestured toward the porch. “I’m not against changing the name. I think The Painted Laddy is more unique. Pushes the envelope some.”
Donna narrowed her eyes at the word in question. It did have two Ds! “Sugar! It’s too late to have it reprinted.”
Her neighbor shrugged and returned to his companion and dog. She could hear their combined laughter as they strolled away.
Mark wrapped an arm around her stiff shoulders. “Don’t worry about it, sweetie. People see what they want to see. It took you a while to see the mistake, and you were trying to find it. Maybe you can even make it into a game for your guests.”
Just like him to make an accident into something good. “Yeah, I guess I could. Most of the guests will look at the banner briefly. It would be a bigger deal if I were in the business district and everyone was staring at it. If nothing else, it will teach me to look before paying for it.”
Instead of answering, Mark squeezed her shoulder and turned his head to dust a kiss across her hair. He could be the sweetest man. Contentment wrapped around her, chasing away her momentary frustration. She wanted to rest forever in the moment and savor it. Before she even worked herself into the savoring part, Ten’s tall figure rounded the left corner of the inn. He waved, then joined them on the sidewalk.
Donna noted the direction her employee came from. It didn’t take her excellent sleuthing ability to know Ten had been watching the construction workers as opposed to folding the laundry as she asked. Unaware of her thoughts, Ten put both hands in his pockets and nodded.
“What are you all staring at?”
“Nothing,” Donna answered, curious if her employee could pick out the mistake that had her so flustered only minutes ago.
Ten stared in the direction of the banner. “Your early guest came complete with costume.”
Mark made a pretend groan, which earned him a poke from his wife. “Oh, boy. See what I have to look forward to?”
“Come on. These are people who play board games. How bad can they be? Was he wearing his costume?”
“Nope. He had this large unicorn mask under his arm. Imagine trying to get that through airport security.”
The question wasn’t a serious one, but Mark decided to answer anyway. “Nothing wrong with a costume unless it has a great deal of metal on it.”
Instead of joining the conversation, she held up her hand. Something was different. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Listen. Do you hear it?”
“What?” Mark dropped his arm and turned around in a slow circle. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. The jackhammer stopped.” Her eyebrows lifted. “Maybe they’re finished.”
A long scream sounded from the inside the inn. The three of them looked at each other and broke into a run.