Saturday Suspense: Nothing Ventured

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Nothing Ventured: By Julie Arnold

About the book

When Maizey Faye’s fiancé dumps her, leaving her with nothing but a lonely, little tree farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she sees it as the fresh start she so desperately needs. So what if she knows next to nothing about tree farming. It can’t be that hard, right? Wrong! She’s in over her head, and if she doesn’t figure it out soon, she’ll lose everything.

Maizey never imagined her salvation would come in the form of her handsome business rival, Jax Lawson. She’s not sure if she can trust him or if he’s just another traitorous man to add to her growing list. But when she starts receiving mysterious messages and dangerous threats, she has no choice but to accept Jax’s help. With her life on the line, she’ll learn real soon whether Jax is sincere about his affections or if it’s all been a lie to get his hands on her farm.

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Chapter !

Maizey’s wild mane of curls whipped in the wind as she headed up highway M-28, windows down. Lake Superior sparkled blue in the sunshine, its expanse of cold, deep water stretching out to the horizon like an ocean. Her GPS BFF, otherwise known as Blanche, started talking to her, so she turned down the radio. Blanche spoke with a bossy British accent and did not tolerate disobedience. 

“In one-half mile, turn left onto Woodland Avenue.” 

Maizey’s stomach did a little flip-flop. What in the world had she gotten herself into? How was she going to do this all alone?  

A slideshow of the last five months flickered across her mind. She was supposed to be married right now. Heading up to Au Train, Michigan, with Brent. But her ex-fiancé had decided otherwise. Tears pricked the back of her eyes, and the now-familiar lump rose in her throat, but Maizey swallowed it back down.  

She was done crying over Brent. 

She could do this thing on her own. She was strong. She was capable. She was going to—miss her turn. 

She hit the brakes and turned the wheel sharply, her tires skidding onto the gravel of the country road. Blanche announced her destination would be on the left in one-quarter mile. Maizey could just make it out in the distance, peeking through the trees. A three-bedroom bungalow standing before acres and acres—and acres—of trees. 

Her new home. 

Anticipation swirled through her stomach. Anticipation and…something else. Self-doubt. She was seriously in over her head. Brent was the one who knew about tree farming. Brent was the one who’d had the crazy idea to buy this farm in the first place. 

But Brent wasn’t here. She was.  

And she was going to run this tree farm like a pro. 

Even if she wasn’t quite a professional tree farmer. But she’d watched lots of online tutorials. And read two books. And skimmed another. And, oh, this was going to be such a disaster. 

No, it won’t. She’d hired an experienced forester as a consultant. As for the rest, well, she was a fast learner. 

She eased off the gas on her pickup truck—well, her big brother’s pickup truck, generously on loan—and turned onto the long gravel path leading up to the house. Blooming fruit trees lined the path, a well-kept little garden graced the side of the house, and a handful of outbuildings dotted the backyard.  

Maizey parked the truck, climbed out, and stretched. Seven hours straight from Sylvania, Ohio, to Au Train, Michigan, had left her muscles stiff and tight. Nothing a bike ride along the lakefront couldn’t cure. She eyed her bike strapped to the truck bed. 

But first a house inspection. Maizey glanced up at the charming little bungalow. From its cheerful blue shutters to its bright blue metal roof, it was even better than the photos online. This place had a soul, and it was welcoming her in. The knot in the pit of her stomach uncoiled ever so slightly. For the first time since she’d left home—heck, for the first time in five months—something felt right. 

She located the lockbox on the front door and entered the code the real estate agent had provided. A thrill of independence coursed through her. Her own house. As in, not her parents’, not Brent’s. Hers, and hers alone. She was a big kid now. She swallowed hard. With freedom came responsibility. What if the faucet broke or the furnace didn’t work? She couldn’t exactly call her daddy or her big brother, Wil, to drive seven hours to her rescue.  

But that’s the whole pointThis is what you wanted

All right. Deep breath. Here goes. 

Just as Maizey raised her hand to the knob, she heard a car approaching from the main road. She turned her head and saw a gray pickup truck driving past slowly with its windows down. Though he was too far away to see his face in detail, the driver looked to be in his fifties or sixties, and he was studying her.  

Probably just a neighbor curious about the new kid on the block. Out here in the country, new arrivals were a novelty, she supposed. Maizey waved, trying to be friendly. The man stared back at her, his jaw set in a decidedly unneighborly expression. Maizey looked away, uncomfortable with the man’s flinty face. 

Ah, well, I guess not all country folk are warm and fuzzy. 

She turned her attention back to the front door. Moment of truth. 

The door swung open, and a slow smile spread across Maizey’s face. She’d just stepped into a dream. To the right was a cozy wood-paneled living room with a door on the side that led to the master bedroom. To the left was a cheerful blue-and-white-tiled kitchen warmed by a snug little wood-burning stove in the corner. Up a narrow staircase off the kitchen was a loft bedroom. Maizey silently thanked her father for finding this perfect gem of a property. Dad was a business acquaintance of the previous owner’s son, and he’d found out about the sale before it was even listed.  

She did a little tour of her new nest. It was a bit Spartan, admittedly. Bouchard’s children had left only a dining room table—no chairs—and a bed frame in the master bedroom. Thus, Maizey had only a mattress and beanbag chair to her name. But when the farm started turning a profit, she would be able to afford the luxury of a couch.  

She laughed when she thought of what her parents would think, compared with their palace back in Sylvania. She was sure her mother would love to come up some weekend and play decorator. Maizey was hardly a domestic goddess herself and was perfectly content to eat takeout nestled in her beanbag.  

Maizey glanced around the empty house, waiting for the wave of loneliness to hit. None came. She stood there a moment, surprised by her own feelings. The supposed love of her life had abandoned her, just before their wedding, ending a four-year relationship. The only relationship she’d ever had, to boot. She’d not stopped crying for days. Then she was numb for weeks. Standing here now, shouldn’t she feel at least a bit sad that Brent wasn’t there with her? 

But no, that was the last five messy months. It was tough, but she’d gotten through it. Now, looking at her new home, her new life, she felt an exhilarating sense of freedom. Freedom from a relationship that had never really been right. Freedom from a man who had claimed to love her but only wanted to control her. Freedom to build the life she actually wanted. 

Now it was Maizey who called the shots. She grinned. Yes, she could get used to this. She clasped her hands and closed her eyes. She thought of the times she’d begged God to make Brent come back. But He’d had a better plan, thank goodness. 

Thank You, God, for giving me what I needed. Even if it wasn’t what I wanted at the time. Thank You for giving me this new chance at happiness. 

Peace settled in her heart, and she knew God had heard her words. With a sigh of contentment, she headed back out to the pickup to unload her things. First things first. She carefully extracted her latest art project from the front seat and carried it to the dining room table. It was a wooden cross made of polished pine and inlaid with dark maple with a carving of Jesus in the center. She studied it for a moment, imagining the detail she would add…just as soon as she got the chance. There was an outbuilding on the property that the previous owner had used as a workshop. It would be the perfect space for an art studio.  

Now for the heavy stuff. It took her the better part of an hour to wrestle her mattress out of the truck bed, through the front door, down the hall, and through the narrow doorframe to her room. Man, independent living was hard work. The next five minutes were spent unloading the rest of her worldly possessions: a couple of boxes of clothes, a laptop, and the beanbag.  

She glanced down at her watch. Two hours before the sun would set. Just enough time for a leisurely bike ride along the shore.  

Maizey stepped outside to fetch her bike when she noticed that same gray pickup truck. Only this time, it wasn’t just driving past. It was parked on the shoulder of the road, right in front of her house. She looked up just in time to lock eyes with the driver, just for a moment, before he sped off. 

A shiver coursed up Maizey’s spine. Why was this guy parked in front of her house, watching her? If he were simply curious about his new neighbor, he could have rolled down the window and introduced himself. Or at least returned her wave when she’d offered it. How odd. And creepy. 

Maizey shook off the spooky feeling before it could take hold, plucked her bike from its rack, and hopped on. She just needed a nice, long bike ride to calm her nerves and get her blood pumping. Besides, new territory was waiting to be discovered. 

Her bike tires crunched over the gravel as she rolled up to the main road. The voyeur in the gray pickup was nowhere to be seen. Maizey let out her breath. The guy was probably just looking for an address. 

But the address was marked clearly on the mailbox, and his eyes had been locked intently on her.

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About the Author

Julie Arnold is a Christian Romantic Suspense author of four books, including Garden of NymphsHiatus, and Gold in the Dust. She lives with her husband and three children in Sylvania, Ohio, though her imagination often takes her to faraway, fictional worlds. The setting for Nothing Ventured was inspired by time spent during her childhood at her grandparents’ home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Julie invites you to connect with her at Julie Arnold’s books on Facebook, @Jarnoldwriter on Twitter, and Arnold Books on Wordpress. 

Check out her latest projects and events at https://jarnold793.wixsite.com/website.  

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