- Cleaning House
Centenary Rhodes is an old soul with a well-traveled name, but she doesn't know this yet.
Growing up in southern Appalachia wasn’t easy, so Cent left home as soon as she could, but the post-collegiate happiness she’d expected has never occurred. She can’t find a decent date, much less find that special someone and, after losing her job in a corporate downsize, she’s struggling to meet her most basic needs. Her car has been repossessed, her bills are piling up, and her questionable North Chicago neighborhood is dangerous to navigate.
Returning home to Hare Creek, Tennessee, never crosses Cent’s mind until her Great Aunt Tess contacts her with an offer she can’t refuse. The family’s southern Appalachian homestead must be sold, and Aunt Tess needs someone to clean it up. Cent will have access to Aunt Tess’ garden and truck and can live on the homestead rent-free for as long as it takes. A part-time job is waiting for her as well.
It’s a chance to solve some of Cent’s financial woes, but will her return be enough when evil sets its sights on Embreeville Mountain and the homestead?
Cleaning House is a carefully woven Appalachian tapestry of granny magic, haints, elementals, and the fantastic diversity of the human condition – served with a delicious side of fries and a generous quart of peach moonshine.
- 1 To Be Read list
Pairings: Includes NB, 4+ or Other
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 2
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Genderqueer, Non Binary, Pansexual
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Tropes: Coming Home, Fated Mates / Soul Mates
Word Count: 112,000
Setting: Tri-Cities, Washington County, TN, Appalachia
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Everything You Thought You Knew
July 17, 2017
“Fourteen. Fifteen.” Centenary Rhodes counted the bills in her hand a second time and shoved them back into the front pocket of her cargo pants. She had fifteen dollars left after she paid her rent. Fifteen dollars for food and the bus. She sighed and turned away from the hamburger joint whose door she’d darkened. “Beans and rice it is… again.”
She skipped the bus— too much money— and walked the two miles back to her shabby one-room North Chicago apartment, opting for the alley that shortened the last six blocks to four, ignoring the catcalls from the construction site at the far end.READ MORE
Short, dirty-blond hair styled into an undercut, black, heavy-framed glasses that hid soft blue eyes, and baggy pants that masked what little curve her large-boned frame had managed to achieve. She wore a loose t-shirt over her top-half and a ball cap with a brim bent much like her current attitude. Cent was skinny but strong nonetheless, a tough-as-nails Appalachian woman, a concept no one in North Chicago seemed able to grasp. Those idiots will whistle at anything on two legs.
She turned on her size twelve sneakers to jog across the street, down the block, picking up her pace the last two blocks to her apartment when it began raining, closing the progression of bolts and chains on her front door before she leaned against it to stare wearily at her dingy apartment. The marble flooring and Art Deco lighting in the corridor were still pretty, but they didn’t match the cracked plaster walls. The old bank had once been grand, but now…
“What a dump.” Still, it was all she could afford on two part-time jobs. Cent threw her coat over the single dinette chair and flung herself, face-down, over the sheet-draped, worn plaid couch that served as both her living space and bed. Not even a fold-out. She’d finagle one eventually, but until then she’d sleep solo. Always solo. “Who’d want to come back here, anyway?” Her romantic and job prospects had been abysmal since she’d lost her full-time accountant job in a corporate down-size. For the past year, she’d divided her time between a local bodega and a small computer repair shop. Both bosses were pricks, and the bodega owner’s wife kept telling her that she’d find herself a good man if she’d try.
“You’re a smart girl, too smart to attract a man, so dumb it down and pretty yourself up. Put on some makeup. Grow your hair. You can’t find gold without putting a bit of polish on yourself.”
Forget that. Take me as I am or not at all. Cent kicked off her shoes and rolled so she faced the cracked, plaster ceiling. She’d graduated top of her class at the University of Chicago and knew account management inside and out. Cent could do absolute magic with numbers and tell you exactly where things were going right or wrong in your financial life. But, even so, the ability to manage her own numbers now evaded her. She was in over her head and nearly bankrupt. Her monetary life was in shambles, and she knew you had to have good credit yourself to manage other people’s money. “If I can’t be myself then—” She startled when something struck the door four times. “What the—” Cent rolled off the couch and plodded to the door in sock-feet. “Who is it?” She peered through the peephole.
“Delivery for Centenary Rhodes.” The messenger held up the envelope that’d been tucked under their arm. Ruddy-brown, almost earth-toned skin, hair that went everywhere but was short enough to go nowhere— this messenger was, well, different on so many levels. And, their, yes, their. She’d learned long ago not to make assumptions about anyone, especially those she found herself attracted to.
Interesting. “Lemme see your ID.”
“Sure.” The messenger held up the card tethered to their waist. “I need your signature.”
“Gimme a moment.” Cent opened the locks and chains slower than she’d closed them. Another summons. It has to be. She’d been sued three times in the last two months for debts she accrued during her good job. A ten-thousand-dollar judgment for the car. Another thousand for breaking her lease before she was evicted. She’d been forced to adopt the blood-from-a-turnip method of dealing with her debt spiral. You can’t get what I don’t have to begin with.
“Sign here.” The messenger held out an old-fashioned, lined-paper signature board. “Nice neighborhood.” Their voice held a muddled accent. Maybe European, but Cent couldn’t be certain. “I would not want to be here after dark.”
“You and me both.” Cent took the envelope when the messenger held it out. “Thanks.” Her heart fluttered when she peered up into their face to see piercing dark brown eyes that were inquisitive, seeking but easily humored by the way one brow over those eyes cocked.
“Make certain you lock up tight.” The messenger lingered at the door to stare back at her. “Can I do anything else for you?”
Are they flirting with me? Cent looked down then back up, startling when she saw the messenger’s eyes were still on her. Taller than she was, which was unusual, a bit thick at the waist, but it was clearly muscle. A puzzle, and an attractive one at that. There was something calming about this person’s eyes. Something familiar Cent couldn’t quite place. They’re damn-near twice my size. The realization that such strength stood so close made her skin prickle in a way she’d come to miss. No wonder they’re on this route. “No, um, thanks.”
“Have a good day.” The messenger turned down the hall, leaving Cent to watch their floor-gliding strides until they reached the stairs.
“Cute accent, by the way.” The messenger stopped at the stairhead to smile at her then descended without saying more.
“I thought you were into men.” Mrs. Donright, 3J, stared at Cent from between the chains securing her door. “That was a woman, right?”
“Mind your own business.” Cent slammed her door closed and turned to press her back against it. Was that a man or a woman or…? Hell, she didn’t care. They were hot, and they’d flirted with her. That was enough. She looked out her peephole and sighed, securing every lock and chain before she turned to stare at the envelope. The messenger had left soft-dirt fingerprints along its edge. They must work in a plant nursery or something, too.
Maybe I should take up gardening.
Being close and sweaty, their hands touching as they worked side-by-side. Cent shivered as she scrutinized the envelope. “It’s too thin to be a summons.” She went to the kitchen for the scissors but couldn’t find them, so she opted for a paring knife, sliding it beneath the taped flap to open the envelope, pulling out a single, handwritten page.
I need you to come home to help me clean up the homestead for sale. I’ll keep you fed, and you can stay there or at my house until it’s sold.
Mr. Jones at Dryler’s said he could use you ten hours a week, so that’ll give you some money too.
And some collections service man came by the other day to serve you papers. I gave him a fake address in Carter County so he’d go away.
Never mind him or what your mama said last time you spoke to her.
Just get yourself home.
I need your help.
P.S. Quit changing your phone number.
Cent read the letter twice more, smirking when she realized she’d read it in Aunt Tess’ thick, Southern Appalachian accent.
“I’m not going back to Hare Creek, Aunt Tess, but I’ll give you a call just the same.” Cent pulled her phone from her pocket and clicked the contact list, praying her mother or another family member didn’t reach the phone before Tess did.COLLAPSE