Excerpt for Blossom on the Road of Dreams: A Blossom Trilogy Novella by , available in its entirety at Smashwords






A BLOSSOM TRILOGY NOVELLA





Christopher Lentz


About The Blossom Trilogy

Discover how love changes everything in this rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags romance series


Set against the vistas of the Golden State, the Blossom Trilogy has everything: the juxtaposition of rich and poor; the constraints and rules of a bygone age; the timeless clash of generations and traditions; the arrogance of man and the wrath of Mother Nature.

The lessons to be learned are clear. Life is uncertain. Love can be unshakable. The future is unknowable. The unthinkable is always possible.

The story brings together the variety of people who call California home. From the gold fields of Northern California to the whorehouses of San Francisco, and from the mansions of Pasadena to the new-born movie studios of Hollywood, the series embraces three vibrant generations of Americans.

With the first book, every turn of a page is a countdown to a doomsday face-off with disaster and the explosive power of blooming love. Think Titanic on land…land that’s burning and shaking. Blossom offers a sweeping view of life at the turn of the 20th century in San Francisco and an intimate portrait of the lives of those who experienced both unimaginable endings and new beginnings.

The second and third books, plus several bridging novellas, continue the saga by capturing the highs and lows of love told through the experiences of Southern California’s hardworking folks and glittering elite.

A truly original American tale, the Blossom Trilogy takes you back to times before our time, when much was different and yet much was the same, especially what motivates people: ambition, passion and jealousy, but, most of all, love.


“It’s impossible to not be immersed in this story of passion and

tragedy!”

—Midwest Book Review of Blossom


Praise For The Blossom Trilogy
And Christopher Lentz

Top 10 ranking on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” list, Blossom, April 2015


“Earth-shattering…an admirable debut.”

Kirkus Reviews


“Lentz describes the novel as ‘Titanic on land.’ It, too, features star-crossed lovers from different social classes, as a humble fortune-cookie maker meets the heir to a silver fortune. And it also builds suspense by letting readers know of an impending disaster the characters don’t expect.”

The Orange County Register


“As chapters count down to the earthquake, events assume a vivid immediacy as secrets are revealed, family connections questioned, romance rears, and the streets of Chinatown come alive.”

—Midwest Book Review


“I enjoyed this novel very much…I rooted for Blossom throughout, even while feeling sorry for Clarissa who lived in a dream world. It all came crashing down during the earthquake and subsequent firestorm and decisions have to be made. What happens at the end will, I think, surprise you.”

—Night Owl Reviews


“A compelling story of the power of love…Lentz writes an amazing story—first rate!”

—Anne Cleeland, acclaimed author of Daughter of the God-King


“‘It’s love,’ Lentz says. ‘Love changes everything.’ He knows it’s cliché. But when you see Lentz in the Victorian mansion of his dreams, with his high school sweetheart by his side and his debut novel in his hand, you begin to believe him.”

The Tustin Times


DISNEY’S MAIN STREET SPARKS A PASSION…A DREAM BLOSSOMS.”

The Orange County Register


Reader Reactions

5-star reader reviews from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads


  • “Too good to put down.”

  • “A beautifully written romance—from another time and place.”

  • “Terrific first effort by a new author.”

  • “Buy it now for a great vacation getaway read!”

  • “A wonderful love story…”

  • “Felt like I was right there in it!”

  • “A well-rounded love story with lots of suspense!”

  • Blossom is truly a great read that immerses you into a whole new world!”

  • “Excellent story, characters with depth…”

  • “Learned a lot of interesting historical facts—just an extra bonus along the way!”

  • “As chapters count down to the earthquake, events assume a vivid immediacy as secrets are revealed, family connections questioned, romance rears, and the streets of Chinatown come alive.”

  • “Great, easy read.”

  • Blossom was a sumptuous story…easily a five-star book.”


Also By Christopher Lentz




Blossom

Book One Of The Blossom Trilogy


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.


Blossom on the Road of Dreams


Published by Christopher Lentz at Smashwords

Copyright, © 2017 by Christopher Lentz

Cover and internal design by Bambi Crowell


This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book Blossom and Blaze by Christopher Lentz. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.


All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the author’s permission is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written approval must be obtained by contacting the author at www.christopherlentz.org.


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of

the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial

purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own

copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.



Dedication

I dedicate this book to my father, Richard Samuel Lentz, for taking the wheel in life—and navigating our family in a Buick on cross-country road trips each summer in the 1960s.

His love of the open road and taking risks, like packing up the Michigan house and heading west to Southern California in 1975 for a better life, is so much a part of who I am. It’s likely without his examples of stepping out and stepping up, I’d have never even dreamed of writing a novel.

This one’s for you, Dad. Thanks for loving me in your quiet, constant and unconditional way. And thanks for watching over me from heaven now.


“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.

And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”


—From Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, 1990

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 — Departure

Chapter 2 — Heading South

Chapter 3 — Two Mares And A Spare

Chapter 4 — Breaking The Nightmare’s Grip

Chapter 5 — Stocking Up

Chapter 6 — The Mysteries Of Mrs. Winchester’s House

Chapter 7 — A Meal To Remember

Chapter 8 — King Neptune’s Casino

Chapter 9 — Ozzie’s Peep Shows

Chapter 10 — Storytelling

Chapter 11 — By The Fire’s Glow

Chapter 12 — Dining At Emily’s Emerald Café

Chapter 13 — The Queen Of California

Chapter 14 — Following The King’s Highway

Chapter 15 — A Broken Vow Of Silence

Chapter 16 — Swept Away

Chapter 17 — The Wheels Go Round And Round

Chapter 18 — Arrival

Thank You For Reading

Excerpt From Blossom And Blaze, Book Two Of The Blossom Trilogy

Reading Group Questions

A Conversation With Christopher Lentz

Acknowledgements

About Christopher Lentz


Chapter 1

Departure

“Do you think we’ll get away with it?” My voice wasn’t the least bit wobbly, though my stomach jerked with seismic shocks.

“With what?” Brock flicked the team’s reins.

“Running away.”

“Nope.”

I narrowed my eyes.

“We’re not running away,” he said. “We’re running to.”

“Whew. You had me worried there for a second.” I chose not to tell him I’d been worrying since we escaped the flaming, shaking remains of San Francisco a day ago.

He covered his mouth and cleared his throat. Road dust powdered my throat too, like the chalky flour of The Golden Palace bakery.

“Hey neighbors. Where ya heading?” Two men on horseback stepped out of a cluster of fog-veiled trees, blocking our way. They looked run-down. Seedy. Up to no good. “Running away from something…in Frisco?”

Brock nodded. “Something like that. If you’ll move aside, we’ll be on our way.”

They didn’t move. “We’re heading to Frisco ourselves and haven’t had a meal in a long time. Anything you can spare?” said the one with a tree-stump neck and a meaty face over-ripened by time.

He rode up on Brock’s side of the wagon. His arm shot out. He grabbed Brock by the neck of his shirt and jerked him to the ground.

“You. Stay put.” His words stabbed the moist air in front of me. His left shoulder rose sharply and his head cocked from what looked like an involuntary tick. “Easy pickins. That’s what we got here, my friend, easy pickins.”

The other man rode up beside me. “Good. Nothing I like better than easy and pickins.” He brayed like an excited mule. Glistening strands of spit bridged his ulcerated lips…lips that revealed a grimy grin. Through the grime, the grin looked like a too-used saw blade left out in the rain. He sucked back a load of phlegm with a wet and rumbling snort. “Been far too long between meals and women for us, right Boss?”

“Why yes it has.”

Brock’s groaning mixed with the sound of leather grinding on gravel. He must’ve been struggling to straighten up when Boss’s boot smashed Brock, slamming him against the side of the wagon. I squeezed my eyes shut just in time. Brock released a gut-deep growl that I shared with him.

I slid across the bench and reached down to help, but the other man pulled me back by the sleeve of my blouse. He climbed off his horse and onto the wagon’s bench. He wheezed and sneezed. With his snot-slick palm he forced my cheek to face him. “Where do you think you’re going?”

I wanted to shut my eyes again and block it all out. But I didn’t. I’d been through too much, seen too much, lost too much in the past week. Give in to panic? No. Puke? That was a real possibility.

As I fought the gnawing ache to shut my eyes, quick flashes of hair…too much hair…filled my eyes. Pouring out of the nostrils of his vulture-beak shaped nose. Hair climbing out of his ears.

His hot oniony breath seeped into my pores. I wanted to wash it off. No, scrub it off. He leered at me and breathed on me for ten thousand years. At least it seemed that way.

Boss dismounted and dragged Brock away from the wagon. He tied a rope around Brock’s chest, still heaving as he caught his breath. “Shirt’s already bloody. Hmmmm, red, my favorite color.”

He kicked Brock again. This time, he leaned against the wagon and got back on his feet while Boss climbed back on his horse, wrapped the rope around the horn of his saddle and dug in his spurs. “Let’s go!” He belched a laugh.

Before I could yell something, my captor yanked at me. I kept my eyes on Brock as he was hauled away, stumbling to keep up.

“Next time you see him…if there’s a next time…he’ll be just pieces and puddles.” My captor’s spit- saturated words were hurled at me. With each “p” came slime.

A blast of wind whipped up dirt clouds. A tidal wave of fog rushed in and they disappeared in the distance. The mist swallowed them.

I lunged forward, only to be snapped back to the bench seat.

“You just hold still. Boss will make you squirm enough in a few minutes. Then I’ll get my turn. I’ve got a lot to offer a woman, so I’ve been told.”

I could hardly breathe. My heart pounded in my temples. My captor came in close to sniff my neck.

“Ah, the scent of a woman.” He inhaled again and held the air. His soiled air streamed around me as he added, “What’s your name, darlin’? They call me Smiley.”

I couldn’t help but see why. I turned away to escape his bloodshot eyes and heavy cloud of oniony sweat smell only to have him pull my arm and turn me back around.

“Maybe I’ll take you first. I got a fire burning between my legs.”

I pursed my lips so tightly they trembled. The tendons in my neck stiffened and pressed against my blouse’s collar.

“Now, now. Don’t pucker up like a cat’s ass.” He took off his stained glove and grabbed the front of my blouse. The dry-skin burrs on his hand chewed at the silky fabric. He squeezed my breast like it was a lemon and he was desperate for lemonade. My thoughts ricocheted in search of an escape.

“I know my hand’s as rough as a dry corn cob in a shit shack. But I don’t rightly care. The rest of me’s smooth as butter on a steaming flapjack.”

He raised his other hand and aimed for my breast, but shot up at the last second. His fingertips scraped across my cheek.

“Hmmm, I may just have to take that cameo off your hands, I mean neck. Might be able to barter for something with it in Frisco.” He came closer to inspect the cameo—my closest connection to my mother.

That was it. I couldn’t take anymore. I shrieked four words, “Giddy up! Giddy up!” The horses bolted, pulling me, my captor and the wagon down the rutted road and into the fog. The horses took charge.

I hurled more words at him. “Get your hands off me. And my mother’s brooch! Until pigs—and monkeys—sprout wings and fly, no one…steals…this…brooch. Not you. Not anyone!”

“You’re going to make this difficult, aren’t you?” Smiley grunted and growled at me. He reached for the reins, but I kicked his hand. The reins slipped away like snakes out of the wagon and down by the flying hooves.

“I’ll get ’em, and then I’ll get you.” He leaned forward. The horses’ hooves pounded the earth.

The road headed into a woods. Through the fog I could see sharp rock outcroppings on both sides.

He stretched to reach the writhing black straps of leather.

I kicked with both feet, and all the strength I had. His boots went up and then disappeared. There was a terrible bump as the wagon ran him over. I couldn’t look back. But I could breathe again.

“Damn you! Grab my breast. Try to steal my brooch.” The words flew out of me like frantic bats from a cave.

The horses slowed. I talked to them the way Brock did with soothing sounds and lots of “whoas.”

Either they got tired of me or the racket I was making, because they stopped to chew on some green weeds along the roadside.

I looked to the sky and spoke to the ancestors. “Please be near me. Guide me. Make me strong. I’ll never let my memories die. Never.”

I had to double back to get Brock. He was all I had left in the world and some thug dragged him away. I climbed down, got the reins and did my best to turn the horses and wagon around.

The vision of a squashed man in the road flashed in my head. I knew I’d have to look at what was left of Smiley before I dealt with Boss.

The horses jerked their heads up. Their ears stood at attention. A second later the ground roared. Birds scattered from the trees and the horses acted like their hooves were on hot coals. Another aftershock.

“Now?” I yelled at sky and the trees and the ground.

I looked down the road and watched a rockslide. A dust cloud billowed up as the shaking slowed and stopped.

I guided the horses to find Brock. The breast-grabber’s body faced away from the road. He didn’t move as I passed. The boulder on his back likely had something to do with that.


***


With the little training I had handling horses, I retraced our route to where this whole new nightmare began. Trees blurred by. The horses’ manes and tails slashed the air. My heart pounded in rhythm with the horses’ hooves. My mind raced even faster.

There he was. Boss, not Brock, coming out of the fog. He was heading straight for me. But nothing and no one was going to stop me from getting to Brock. Boss and his horse could’ve run right into me. I wasn’t about to stop.

“Not so fast! We have unfinished business.” Boss yelled as he used his bandana to wipe away bloody, dirty sweat.

“Not. Slowing. Down. Your buddy—he’s back there. With a boulder on his back!” I was unhinged, on fire with rage.

At the last possible second, Boss veered off into the weeds and I passed, trailing a boiling cloud of dust and dirt.

My horses stopped and reared up. They stomped the ground as if they were trying to murder a swarm of killer ants. Another aftershock. Had to be. I looked back as Boss’s horse threw him off like a rag doll and galloped away to blaze its own trail.

I was afraid of what I’d find. If that was the way Boss looked at the end of their fight, what kind of shape would Brock be in? Boss didn’t appear to be someone who ended a fight without the satisfaction of a win.

When I found Brock all I could see was the bottom of his boots sticking out of some bushes. Frayed rope trailed to the roadside. I took a deep breath, climbed out of the wagon and parted the bushes. He was on his back. I put my hand on his neck to feel for a pulse. Raindrops of my tears fell on him.

“Please, please be alive!”

“Do you think I’m dead? ’Cause I’m not.” Brock’s words sounded forced from deep in his chest. Forced up and out.

I jerked back. My raindrop tears became a shower.

“He kicked my ass.”

“I can see that.”

“But I kicked his too.” His words became slurred and mushy. His split lip must have been part of that. His cheeks and eyelids were swollen and puffy pink.

“I got a few good punches in. Even bashed in his nose. Made a bloody mess.” Brock let the remaining air in his lungs ease out.

“You don’t need to say anything more. Not now.”

He wheezed air back in and continued. “But you should know. He kicked me. Harder than I’ve ever been kicked…and my little brother could kick. The air exploded out of me. I could see it in the dust. Then he punched me in the throat.”

“Really, stop…stop for now.” I didn’t want to hear any more.

He went on. “I played possum. Just laid there. Stayed silent. He untied the ropes, I guess hoping for me to fight some more. That’s when I swung around to grab his ankles and pulled him down. I smashed his face in the ground. Made him eat dirt. Breathe dirt.”

“Would you stop? I don’t—”

“He got loose and got up. He did this hop-skip thing with his feet. Landed a kick to my gut that was stronger than before.”

“Oh, Brock.”

“That was it. He took off. I was just starting to feel more like myself when you got here.”

I kissed him, slow and tender. When our lips parted, I could taste the metallic tinge of his blood. Nothing tastes like blood. Nothing.

“I didn’t come this far to lose you now. Let me help you up into the back of the wagon. What hurts?”

“What doesn’t hurt?”

“Brock, I’m serious. We’ve got to get you into the wagon and get moving. I’m pretty sure I killed a man and Boss will be back for revenge.”

“Killed?”

“I’ll tell you all about it later. Be quiet. Put your arm around my neck and see if you can stand.” I wiped away my remaining teardrops and then heave-hoed Brock to his feet. His body stiffened. “You alright? Did I hurt you?”

“I’ve let you down. This is all my fault. I took you away from everything—”

“No. You haven’t let me down. This isn’t your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.” I paused. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So, I didn’t.

What kind of person had I become? Goodbye bakery girl. Hello murderer. It was all happening too fast. There was no reason to share those thoughts with Brock…at least not then. We were both alive. We’d survived. Again.

Bloodied but not completely broken, Brock climbed into the back of the wagon, one hand to his temple where Boss kicked him.

I was taking charge. I had to if we were going to tell our grandchildren about the day we fought off highway bandits like the ones in a storybook.

“You rest back here. How hard can that be?” I didn’t wait for him to respond. The third horse strapped to the back of the wagon snorted.

“Got that right,” Brock wheezed.

I climbed up onto the bench and got the team moving again.

“Did I ever tell you I can’t swim?”

“Blossom, really? Now’s the time…the time you pick to tell me that?” He labored to ask the question.

“Yep, I thought it would be a good distraction. I’m not totally afraid of the water. But I respect it. I really respect it. It all started when…”


***


It didn’t take long for Brock to insist on sitting next to me on the bench. A carriage going north—heading toward the nightmare we left behind—approached. We waved, nodded and smiled to its passengers in a good- day kind of way.

“Won’t be long before a steady stream of charity workers and rescuers fill every road heading to San Francisco. And we’re going the other way. I wonder what they think about us. Do they see us as cowards?”

“They’re doing what they need to do. So are we,” Brock said. “I don’t think anyone’s judging anyone else on this road.” He sucked in a breath and adjusted his shoulders. “Actually, we’re refugees. I read somewhere that refugees must become who they weren’t in their past. We’ll figure out what that means for us.”

“Alright, then. I have a favor to ask.” I handed him the reins and reached around to the back of the wagon to fish out my sketchbook and the pencil wedged in it. I’d planned ahead and put them just under the backside of the wagon’s seat.

I didn’t know why, but I felt the need to scan the contents of our wagon. We had a barrel of drinking water, blankets, lanterns and an open crate of food. A loaf of bread was peeking out, along with bags of beans and rice. A bump in the road gave voice to a mismatched family of colorful graniteware enameled metal pots and bowls. The large burlap sack marked “Oats” and several feedbags made it clear there was enough to keep us alive, including the horses, but not alive for long and not very well. There were even two spare wagon wheels.

“This may not be Cinderella’s coach, or even a carriage for that matter.” I made a sweeping hand gesture that showcased our dark green wagon with red wheels. A tan canvas hugged a row of horseshoe-shaped ribs that topped the wagon. “But it’s sturdy and simple, and we have everything we need. Lock. Stock and—” I pointed to the water container. “Barrel!”

The raucous caw-caw-cawing of crows distracted me. Some were swirling above. Others had just landed. The non-stop flapping of their ebony wings stirred up everything that wasn’t rooted in the ground. Others were picking at a scarecrow from a past growing season. The poor dilapidated creature was defenseless against their violent attacks.

“Rats with wings. Thieving rats with wings,” Brock said. “But, they’re smart devils. I’ve seen crows snatch and haul away a—”

“Okay, I don’t think I need to know anymore.” I added, “But did you know a flock of crows is called a murder?”

“Yes, I think I’ve heard that before.”

It was the last field before we entered a rocky, forested area.

I swiveled to the side so I could watch Brock. This was the first time I’d drawn him, but it was so bumpy I hesitated to even place the tip of my pencil on the paper. I didn’t want to squander this opportunity to truly study him. I started with his hands. So much bigger than mine. Plump veins stood proudly between his knuckles and wrists. His rolled-up shirt sleeves revealed forearms roped with muscle and bronzed by the sun. They also revealed fresh wounds. Torn flesh. Scrapes. Bruises were sure to follow.

I sensed he was looking at me. Sure enough, he was.

“Face forward. Please,” I said to keep control of the situation.

“Yes, ma’am.” He grinned and winced. Brock inhaled and looked beyond the horses’ heads. “Is this the favor you asked about?”

“Oh, yes, it is.” I’d almost forgotten I asked him about it.

I slipped off my shoes and pulled up my legs. I studied his damaged features to identify the two or three most powerful lines to follow. That would capture what made him special. His blood-stained shirt stole my attention. I just had to ignore it. If he caught me staring at it he’d surely tell me about the man he’d tried to save after the earthquake…the one whose blood lingered like an unwelcomed shadow. Then there were his own bloody additions to the stain’s blotchy pattern.

Just as I began to get lost in my work, a bell rang a bit louder with each bump in the road. It nagged and begged for attention. It won the battle just as it always had. It was the doorbell we salvaged from my family’s bakery just before the fire destroyed everything. It must have wiggled itself loose after I lifted the sketchbook. I reached back to find the bell. It wasn’t hard to miss. A silky-smooth crimson banner was wrapped around it.

“What was it that Grand Ma Maw’s banner said?” Brock kept looking forward.

I unfurled it and ran my fingers down its golden-embroidered Chinese characters. The familiar scent of cooking grease escaped the fabric banner and shot me back to The Golden Palace. “The banner reminded everyone to be hopeful. It says, ‘May good fortune follow you on your path through life.’”

We hit a deep rut in the road and the bell rang. Our eyes met. I blinked and turned away. Just days earlier, the sound of that bell ringing signaled a customer entering the bakery. Once I’d met Brock, every time the bell rang I wished it announced his return. Now, the bell reminded me of the life I’d never lead again, and I didn’t need to listen for a bell to know Brock was coming back to me. He was mine. I was his. We were sharing a common path through life, as the banner prophesied.

I began to sketch, but stopped and looked away from Brock again.

“I’ve been waiting for the right moment. This is it.” I laced my fingers. “I have something to confess.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I need to tell you the truth…about everything…about my father and mother, and who I really am.”

“You’re Blossom Sun. I love you. That’s all I need to know.”

“But there’s more. A lot more.”

Chapter 2

Heading South

There was no turning back. I’d begun to tell Brock about my past. All of my past.

“You used the word ‘confess.’ Are you Catholic and need to make a confession? I’m no priest, so—”

I broke in. “I know that. But what you need to know is I’m not Chinese.”

“You’re not what?”

“Well, I am Chinese. Only half Chinese.” I paused to get the right words all in a row.

“And—”

“And, I’m half Irish. There, I’ve said it.”

“Whoa. I didn’t see that coming.” The horses stopped abruptly. “Not you,” he directed to the manes and pointy ears in front of him. “That whoa was for Blossom.”

Brock flicked the reins and winced. He rolled his left shoulder in a full circle to, I suspected, grind out some tightness. The team heeded the reins and moved forward again.

“When we first met, I couldn’t stop staring at you. I still can’t. You must’ve thought I was rude.”

“Not at all. People have been staring at me and giving me curious second glances all my life. Anyway, Grand Ma Maw told me the other night, and I haven’t been able to tell you. The timing never seemed right.”

“I can understand.”

“Here goes. Her name was—is—Iris Lancaster. Not only do I have a mother, she’s alive.”

“There has to be more to this story.”

“Oh, there is. No one knows where she is now. She and my father fell in love in the gold-mining camps up north, along the American River. Grand Ma Maw was cooking and doing laundry for the miners. My mother was an artist at the time, and a ‘good-time girl.’ That’s how Grand Ma Maw described her. My father and mother were lovers, but a Chinese man and an Irish prostitute—who was pregnant with me—would never be accepted, even out in the wilderness. Wait a second.”

I shifted my weight on the wagon’s bench seat, attempting to be more comfortable. It was a failed attempt. “Oh, this bench. Anyway, Grand Ma Maw and my father moved to Chinatown and started the restaurant and bakery. That’s all I know, other than she visited once. But it didn’t go well.”


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