Spring has almost finished Springing

Down here on the other side of the planet from most of my fellow Main St authors, the daffodils are over, the tulips are almost finished, and the cherry and plum trees are covered in tiny fruit that will, given sun, rain, and not too much wind, be ready for eating around Christmas.

I have to go on a mission to the far side of our two acres to see if I can find the codlin moth trap that blew out of the apple tree to which it was wired. We have strong winds in my neck of the woods. It’s a clever device, with a rubber nodule imbued in female pheremones. Lustful male codlin moths are lured in by the device, and become stuck to the floor of the trap, thus saving my apples from an entire generation of apple-boring caterpillars. Were it not for the wind.

Sadly, between the day job, three anthologies all coming up to release date, the current novel I’m working on, and the novella that possessed me last weekend, I haven’t quite got around to rescuing next autumn’s apples. And I’ve just noticed a bit of curly leaf on the peach trees, so there’s another job to feel guilty about while I’m not doing them.

On the other hand, I’ve written a wonderful homily for my hellfire and brimstone preacher in the current work-in-progress—he does not at all like women, and illustrates his view of them with examples from the Bible. I’ve also found and purchased a book about French prisoners of war in Scotland’s prisoner of war camps in the early nineteenth century, which is going to be a real help with the novel. And I’ve taken an afternoon off with the love of my life, my Personal Romantic Hero, to watch Wonder Woman. PRH and I both really enjoyed it.

Christmas Babies on Main Street is out tomorrow. Can you believe it? I’m so excited. Here’s a sneak peak at A Family Christmas, my novella in the box set. It’s the first contemporary I’ve written in years, since my last story for New Zealand’s National Radio, and I hope you love reading it as much as I d writing it.

Her hostess picked up one case and led the way through a cluttered washroom—laundry appliances on one side, coats and boots on the other—and into one end of a large country kitchen. Following with the second case, Lee barely had time to take in the gleaming appliances, the large old-fashioned kitchen table, the hint of a dining zone in the shadows at the far end of the room, before being ushered down a narrow hall, and into a small bedroom, plain and neat, with a white coverlet on the single bed, a tall chest of drawers, and a lamp on the splay-legged wooden table beside the bed.

Cheryl seemed too large for the room, a Xena Warrior Princess in scruffy jeans and a tee that proclaimed “I Was Normal A Bunch Of Sheep Ago.” No makeup or jewelry. Long dark hair caught at the nape of her neck in a stretchy band. Bare feet.

“This’ll be yours. The bathroom is next door, toilet one door further along. Try not to make too much noise; my grandfather is asleep. I’ll go make the tea.” She stopped in the doorway and half turned her head. “Or do you prefer coffee?” Coffee, the tone said, was the sort of barbaric drink American criminals on the run would drink in the middle of the night, and Lee agreed that tea would be fine.

Lee took off her jacket and unzipped the cases, which were filled with clothing. Not the sort she usually wore. No designer slacks or pencil-thin skirts. No soft silk shirts or pull-on tops. No expertly tailored jackets or killer heels. Not even any name-brand casuals. Practical jeans, cotton tees, and loose sweaters, all sized to fit her.

A toiletries bag held more brands she had not seen before, and a pencil case with a glittered Hello Kitty picture proved to contain some cheap pieces of costume jewelry.

Some of the garments were new. Most showed signs of wear. Whoever had put her luggage together had taken pains to make it look as if she’d bought her clothes over time, like a real person. Apart from her Givenchy handbag and the clothes on her back, everything she had came from someone else’s life.

The tea was waiting when she emerged back into the kitchen, the pot covered with a knitted cover in the shape of a large pink pig. Cheryl waved her to a seat, and held up a jug. “Milk?” No smile, no warmth, hostile eyes. No. Wary eyes.

“Please, and sugar.” What did this sister know? What could Lee tell her?

Cheryl pushed over a mug and then a china tub of sugar. “I can make a sandwich if you’re hungry.”

Lee shook her head. “They gave me a meat pie. Somewhere. Ms. Karaka, what have they told you about me?”

Cheryl sat with both strong hands on her mug, her head tipped slightly to one side as she considered the question.

“Don’t ask. Don’t tell. My brother married you this morning. That’s all I know. I don’t know who you are or what trouble you are in—or what trouble you are to Trevor. Did he marry you because he loved you or as part of his investigation?”

Lee’s throat went suddenly dry, remembering the roaring confrontation between Jason and Bernard. “To save my life. I– I don’t think I’m meant to say more.”

Cheryl leaned towards her across the table. “Is he okay? They never tell us anything. A note now and again to say he is alive and the investigation is ongoing.”

“He was when I saw him this morning,” Cheryl assured her. “He… I think I’m to give you this.” Lee handed over the envelope, and read the card upside down when Cheryl opened it. The front said “Happy birthday. Here’s to another year of you successfully evading my assassins.” Cheryl near impaled Lee with her gaze when she reached those words. “Assassins? Flippin’ Heck!”

Inside, Jason had written, ‘I’ve asked some friends to drop off a lame duck they rescued for me. Look after her, Lily. I’ll drop by and get her when I can. “It wasn’t signed. He’d just drawn a leaf, a few deft strokes of his pen.

“Daft idiot,” Cheryl opined with a small smile, closing the card and putting it back into the envelope. “Okay, Lee. My brother wants you here, that’s good enough. But we don’t carry deadweight. You’ll do your share of the work in return for your board and keep.”

“I’m willing, but I’ve never done farm work.”

“Never chipped a nail, looks like.”

“I’ll learn,” Lee vowed.

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Lasagna and a Story Excerpt

Baby Blue Christmas

Here’s an excerpt from my novella that will be featured in this year’s Authors of Main Street Christmas box set. (It involves lasagna….and hot chocolate. Two of my favorites.)

While Jamison napped, Sophie went to the attic and found her grandmother’s Christmas ornaments and decorations. Her heart twisted and she had to blink back tears as she carried the boxes to the living room. Her grandmother had been gone for nearly a decade, but this would be the first year without her sister. In her entire life, she’d never once imagined a world without her sister—until she had to. She had thought about calling her dad and offering to fly up with Jamison, and maybe she would still do that, but…

The truth was she didn’t feel comfortable around her stepmother, and she knew the feeling was mutual. And her dad didn’t do a thing to ease the tension. So, would she rather spend Christmas alone—or would she rather be uncomfortable with her dad and stepmother?

The teapot let out a high squeal, letting Sophie know that the cocoa was ready. She chose the reindeer mugs her grandmother had always used and filled four of them with the steaming cocoa. She topped each with a dollop of whipped cream and added chocolate sprinkles.

Luke’s SUV swung down the driveway. Maybe, she thought as she watched him climb from the car, there’s another option. The door slammed after Mia and Paige got out. Paige, dressed in a long black coat, dark jeans and knee-high leather boots, frowned at the house and wrinkled her nose as if she didn’t like what she smelled.

Sophie hurried back into the kitchen to check on her lasagna. It was her grandmother Morelli’s recipe and she’d made everything—even the noodles—from scratch, just as her nonna had.

She loaded up the tray with the cocoa mugs, carried it into the living room, and set it down on the coffee table before opening the door.

Luke came in and gave her a swift hug before turning to Mia and Paige. “I hope you don’t mind, but they insisted on bringing a salad.”

“Only it’s not made yet,” Mia said, nodding at the grocery bag in her arms.

“That’s great,” Sophie said. “Come on into the kitchen. If you can’t find anything, Luke can show you around while I set the table.” She motioned to the mugs on the coffee table. “I made some cocoa.”

Paige slipped off her coat and laid it over the back of the sofa. “Do you have any sugar-free?”

“Huh, no. Sorry.”

Paige sniffed. “How about tea?”

“Sure.”

Paige wrinkled her nose, screwed up her face, and sneezed so loudly Sophie worried she’d wake Jamison.

“Is there a…dog…in…this…place?” Paige asked right before she sneezed again.

Sophie pointed her mug at Javert sleeping on his quilt in front of the fire.

Mia dropped to her knees beside the puppy. “Oh, he’s the cutest thing! What is he?”

“I have no idea,” Sophie told her.

“He has to go!” Paige said. “Either that, or I do!”

That seemed like an easy to decision to Sophie, but after a quick look at Luke’s face, she gathered the puppy into her arms. “Come on, Javert,” she muttered into his fur. “We know when we’re not wanted.” Inside the mudroom, she put a towel on the floor and placed him on it. He blinked at her with sad, tired eyes. “You’ll be fine in here for a few hours,” she said while petting him.

Back in the living room, she found Paige rummaging through her purse while Luke and Mia sipped their cocoa.

“What sort of name is Javert ?” Paige asked as she pulled a small pill bottle from her purse.

“You know, like Inspector Javert from Les Miserables.”

Les Miserables? You mean that movie with Hugh Jackman? I don’t remember any dogs in that film.” Paige sneezed again. “Do you mind if we open the windows and doors?” she asked moments before she did so. A cold breeze blew into the room.

“Mia, why don’t you help me set the table,” Luke said.

Paige followed Sophie into the kitchen. “I’m allergic to dogs.”

“I sort of got that,” Sophie said.

Paige sniffed and popped open her pill bottle. “Where’s the tea?”

Sophie opened the cupboard where Chloe had left a large collection of teas. Paige sniffed again, selected a bag, and made a small sound that might have been a thank you when Sophie handed her a teacup.

Sophie pulled the lasagna from the oven. The cheese on top had turned a crispy, golden brown, just the way she liked it. The French bread would soon be done as well.

Paige removed a head of Romaine lettuce, a box of croutons, and a bottle of dried Parmesan cheese from the grocery bag and put it all down on the table.

“Do you have a bowl?” Paige asked.

“Um, sure.” Sophie retrieved the bowl, a cutting board and knife, and a colander.

Paige eyed the colander. “What’s that for?”

“I thought you’d want to wash the lettuce.”

“No. I bought this at Whole Foods.”

“Still—”

“Everything there is organic.”

Sophie bit her lower lip and took another peek at her French bread.

“I know what you’re doing,” Paige said as she whacked the lettuce into bite-size pieces.

“You do?” Sophie tried to guess what Paige could be talking about. “That’s great, because sometimes I feel like I don’t.”

“You’re pretending to play house with Luke.”

Sophie laughed, because, yes, that was exactly how she felt.

“Well, it won’t work. He can’t be domesticated.” She waved her hand at the mudroom door. “He’s not like a puppy you can housebreak.”

Sophie raised her eyebrows when Luke came in.

“Are you talking about me?” Luke asked.

Paige froze like a statue.

Sophie fought for something to say to break the tension. “You know, maybe we should go and pick out a tree before it gets dark.”

“But your ankle,” Luke said.

“It’s feeling better. A walk could do me good.”

“Why walk?” Mia chipped in. “Why not take the ATVs?”

“I’d forgotten all about those,” Sophie said, only she didn’t know how she could since they took up so much room in the barn. “I’m not even sure they still run.”

“Why wouldn’t they?” Mia asked.

“They might need gas,” Sophie said.

“Are you scared of the ATVs?” Luke asked.

“No.” Sort of.

“Well, I’m not going,” Paige said.

“That’s great,” Luke said. “Then you can stay here with Jamie.”

Panic filled Paige’s face. “But what if he wakes up?”

Luke pulled his phone from his pocket. “Then you’ll call me and we’ll come right back.”

Paige shot Mia a death stare.

“If you guys want to go, I can stay here with Jamie,” Sophie said.

“What? It’s your tree!” Luke put his arm around Sophie’s waist and steered her toward the mudroom. “Let’s get your coat.”

He opened the mudroom door and Javert shot out.

Paige screamed and jumped onto the ottoman as Javert tore through the kitchen and circled the living room. Luke went after him. Mia tried to tackle the dog, but landed face-first on the carpet. Sophie sank onto the sofa, laughing. Javert jumped onto her lap.

Jamison began to cry.

Paige huffed, stalked from the room, and banged through the front door.

Sophie, still trying not to laugh, tucked Javert under her arm, and climbed the stairs to get Jamison.

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Lasagna

Directions

  • Prep

  • Cook

  • Ready In

  1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

From Allrecipes.com 

 

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It’s a Main Street Sampler Sale

Welcome to our Main Street Sampler Sale where you can find sampler stories from great new authors. In honor of Halloween, every Friday for the month of October we’ll be posting excerpts from stories with a magical bent. If you’re a writer with a story to share, contact me at kristytatebooks@gmail.com. We’ll be featuring holiday stories in November and December.

ghost againA Ghost of a Second Chance is FREE today

CHAPTER 1

The Chinook wind stirred the fallen leaves and tossed them around the deserted street. An eastern wind carries more than dust and ashes, Laine’s mother had told her; it uproots secrets. And everyone knows once one secret is told, no secret is safe.

Hers included.

Laine paused in front of the Queen Anne Hill Chapel doors. The sun, a faint pink glow over the eastern hills had yet to shine, but Laine hadn’t any doubt that it would rise to another scorching Indian summer day. She looked out over sleeping Seattle. The dark gray Puget Sound stretched away from her. On the horizon, distant ships bobbed and sent quivering beams of light over the water.

She turned her back on the ships, on any dream of sailing away, and inserted the key into the heavily carved wooden doors. They creaked open before Laine turned the key. Odd. The chapel, built in the 1930s, had a musty, empty smell. She stepped into the cool shade of the foyer and the door swung shut, closing with a click that echoed through the cavernous room. The morning sounds of birds, crickets and insects disappeared when the doors closed. Laine’s sneakers smacked across the terracotta tile, her footsteps loud.

She had thought she’d be alone, which is exactly why she’d chosen to come near dawn. Not that she’d been able to sleep. She hadn’t slept for weeks, which may explain why at first she’d thought the girl standing in the nave, facing the pulpit, her face lifted to the stained glass window, might be a ghost—or, given her surroundings, an angel.

Although Laine couldn’t see her face, the way the child’s head moved, it looked as if she was having a conversation with the Lord trapped in the glass, or one of the sheep milling about His feet, giving Laine the uncomfortable sense of interrupting. The meager morning sun lit the glass and multi-colored reflections fell on the girl, casting her in an iridescent glow. Slowly, she turned and Laine realized she wasn’t a child, but a young woman, around twenty, maybe half her own age, wearing the sort of thing her grandmother would have worn. Vintage clothing, Laine noted, incredibly well preserved.

“Good morning,” Laine said, smiling. “I’m sorry to intrude. I wasn’t expecting anyone…” She let her voice trail away. Laine had certainly never felt any peace through prayer, but that didn’t mean she wanted to interrupt anyone seeking grace. Pastor Clark had given her the key, so naturally she’d assumed the chapel would have been locked, and that she’d have this time to practice alone.

“Well, where is he, then?” the girl-woman demanded, placing her balled fists on her hips. She had yellow blonde hair, cut in a curly bob, and wore a pale blue sleeveless dress that fell straight to her knees. Laine considered the young woman. Given the scowl and hostile eyes, she didn’t look like a humble Christian follower, but she did seem oddly familiar.

“I’m sorry—who are you looking for?” Laine tucked her hands into her pockets, feeling inappropriately dressed. She’d thrown on Ian’s sweats, one of the few sets of clothes he’d left behind. Perhaps he didn’t exercise at the hotel, or, more likely, he’d just bought himself a new pair of running clothes. Now that her grandfather had died, making Ian The-Man-In-Charge, Ian could afford new running clothes, the hotel suite, and room services of all sorts. Which didn’t explain, really, why Laine wore his cast-offs. Just because he’d left them behind didn’t mean Laine should wear them. And yet, she did. Frequently.

“Sid!” the woman spat the name. Her gaze raked over Laine, making her uneasy.

Laine tugged at the drawstring holding up the sweat pants, wondering why this woman would be looking for her grandfather. “He’s still at the funeral home.” She swallowed. “They won’t bring the casket here until tomorrow morning. There’s the viewing tonight at the house…” She heard her own sadness in her voice.

“Then what are you doing here?” The woman’s eyes matched the color of her dress and as she drew closer, Laine saw she wore a necklace of the same steely blue. Laine’s hand instinctively crept to her own necklace, a gift from Sid, an emerald he’d said matched her eyes.

“I’ve come to practice the organ.” Laine shifted on her feet. A tingle of déjà vu ran up her spine. Looking at this woman was like watching a rerun of an almost forgotten and yet beloved television show. They must have met some other time at some long ago, forgotten place; Laine was sure they’d been friends. Although, at the moment, this woman was not a friendly person.

The woman looked at the massive organ and then back to Laine. “Why are you playing the organ? I’m sure Georgie could spit out the money for an organist. No need for freebie-family members to play.”

Laine opened her mouth to ask how this woman knew her father or her relationship to Sid, but then remembered her family had never lived a quiet life. Well, except for her. Her own life had been, until now, ungossip-worthy. Her breath caught in her throat and then she let it out slowly, bracing herself for the difficult weekend. She’d weather the rumors and the chit-chat. She could be strong.

Even if she’d never been before.

“I wanted to play,” Laine told the woman, lacing her voice with resolve she didn’t feel. “As a gift to my grandfather.”

Why are you here? How did you get in? How do I know you? Laine wanted to ask, but years of social training held back her questions.

The woman snorted. “Not much of a gift, that.”

“Yeah, well, it’s something I want to do.” Laine let a little of her social training slip and she brushed past the woman. She marched up the aisle toward the organ, lifted the massive cover, turned on the switch and adjusted the bench.

“A gift to your grandfather, or an excuse not to sit by your husband?” The woman appeared beside her.

Laine squared her shoulders and bit back a rude retort. She’d have to get used to the questions. Even if they weren’t asked so bluntly, they’d still be asked. Maybe not to her face, maybe behind her back, but the questions would be there, either in people’s eyes or on their lips. Laine would not provide answers.

The woman stood at her elbow. “If you’ve come to practice, where’s your music?”

Laine gave her a tight smile as she settled onto the bench. “I memorize.”

“If it’s already memorized, why are you practicing?”

For the first time Laine caught a hint of the woman’s French accent. “Who did you say you are again?”

“I didn’t say and you didn’t answer my question.”

Laine began adjusting the stops. “Every instrument is different. A pedal may be broken, the bench could wobble… I’ve learned from sad experience that it’s best to give every instrument a test run. I mean, an organ’s not like a violin. You can’t just bring your own.”

The woman cocked her head. “What would you know of sad experiences?”

Most people would say her life was charmed, but if she lived such a fairytale, why was she so sad? Because the prince she’d been kissing for most of her life had turned into a toad?

“Do I know you?” Laine asked, her fingers pausing above the keys.

The woman leaned against the organ. “I don’t know, do you?”

All of Laine’s politeness drained away. “I’m sorry. I don’t know you. And because I don’t know you, I don’t feel I need to share.” Laine hit the keys, a D minor chord, and music reverberated through the deserted chapel.

“Good for you.” The woman chuckled and hitched herself up on top of the organ. She had reed thin legs, pale as porcelain and covered with silky hose. She swung them back and forth, like a child pumping a swing, her heels rap-tapping the organ.

Laine lifted her fingers, horrified. The sudden cessation of music filled the room. “You can’t sit on this organ.” Her words echoed.

The woman cut her a sideways smile. She wore bright red shoes with ribbon ties on the ankles and the red heels continued bumping rhythmically against the organ. “No?”

No. It’s a 1930’s Wurlitzer, solid walnut. It’s extremely valuable, and you’re kicking it.”

“You’re very rich.” The woman smiled, but didn’t budge or stop swinging her legs. “You could replace it.”

Laine hated being reminded of her money. It made her feel guilty and dirty. She supposed that’s why she worked so hard at the foundation. She pounded out the first line of Pie Jesu and said, through gritted teeth, “Get off!”

And to her surprise, the woman did. Laine almost stopped playing, but after watching the woman wander down the aisle, her hands trailing along the pews, Laine turned her full attention to the music swirling through the chapel and, for a moment, she felt better than she had in weeks.

 

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The Lost Treasure of Lorne small“They’re here, aren’t they?” Michael asked. Before taking ownership of the castle, he had scoffed at the idea that all the dead Lorimers of Lorne still lived here. It was, after all, the eighteenth century; nearly the nineteenth. Superstitions such as ghosts were for the credulous, not for rational English gentlemen.

His incredulity had lasted all of three nights. The first and second night, he had been convinced he was victim of a practical joke. On the third, he had so booby-trapped his bedchamber that the least mouse could not have entered to play ghost. When they appeared anyway, he had been sure he was going insane. Only when he realised that John and Caitlin saw much the same as him did he accept that the Lorne ghosts were real.

The ghosts—most of them—were outraged to have a Normington living in the castle, and managed to make their hostility known without words. The few young women whose love for Normington men had brought them (and usually their sweethearts) to an early death were even more importunate. If only Michael could understand the message they tried so hard to convey.

“The girls were watching you bathe,” Caitlin told him, with stiff disapproval, and he felt a spurt of triumph. He was not quite idiot enough to point out she must have been watching herself to see what the ghosts were doing, but his grin must have conveyed the message because she went all Mrs Morgan on him.

“Here is a towel, Your Grace. If you will come inside, Master John, we can do better than well water for your wash, and dinner shall be in an hour. Is that saddle bag all you have?”

She bustled away, sweeping John with her as he explained he had ridden ahead but his curricle would follow within the hour, driven by the manservant who performed all the duties of groom, valet, footman and friend.

Michael followed more slowly, but he had better not delay his own change. In her current mood, Caitlin would order dinner served without him if he were not at table. He might be the duke, but everyone obeyed Caitlin, even his butler. Even the ghosts.

It was just the three of them at dinner. That had been a fight he’d won long ago, when John was old enough to join him for meals. Caitlin would eat with them unless they had guests, and even then she would make up the numbers if they were uneven. It was not hard to make sure they were uneven.

Michael knew what the ton thought about the housekeeper who travelled from house to house with him and ate at his table as if she were family. He refused to forgo the pleasure of keeping her close, even for Caitlin’s sake; even when John came home from school with a black eye after fighting for his beloved Morgie’s honour.

She was not his mistress, as any servant in any of his houses knew. Why should they act as if they were guilty of something? Even if they once had been. Even if he would be again. In a moment, if Caitlin would allow it.

And if Caitlin wanted to stop the rumours, she could accept his proposal, damn it.

He went down to dinner in a belligerent mood, but the pleasure of sharing his evening with the only two people in the world he counted as family soon dispelled it. John seemed to have spent most of his month away following Viscount Radcliffe, his friend’s father, around the man’s experimental farm. Stories of mishaps and blunders kept Caitlin and Michael laughing right through dinner, but could not mask John’s real enthusiasm for such mysteries as crop rotation and the correct season for manuring.

In another year, he would be apprenticed to Michael’s chief steward. The man wanted to retire, and had agreed to stay on until John was ready to take over. Of course, if Michael’s hunt was successful, John would one day be the duke, and not just the duke’s steward.

The servants were withdrawing now, anxious to quit the castle before darkness fell.

John and Michael brought their port through into the drawing room, and Caitlin excused herself, to return a few minutes later with a tray of tea fixings.

“Are you still hunting for the treasure, Father?” John asked.

Caitlin shared a laughing glance with the lad. “He has been digging in the moat.”

“It seemed too good a chance to miss,” Michael explained. “No one here has ever seen it so dry.”

“It is like this all over the country, Father. It will be a poor harvest, Radcliffe says, and many will lack food and fuel for the winter. He is expecting his poorer tenants to have trouble paying the rent. It’s something we should think about, too. You, I mean, sir.”

Michael had already spoken to the steward about how they could help, but he encouraged John to share his ideas. What a duke the boy would make.

One by one, various ghosts filtered into the room. Not Fiona. He saw her rarely, and then only in his bed chamber. He had disappointed her, he was sure, in not finding the papers that would establish her son as his heir. Certainly, each time she appeared she seemed more and more distressed.

Her first appearance was the same day as his monthly proposal to Caitlin. He had woken that evening from a deep sleep to find her pacing the room, bristling with indignation to the tips of her nimbus of pale hair. That had been one indication she was a ghost, and not a dream. In life, and when he dreamt of his youthful passion, her hair was a glorious red, bright as flame rather than Caitlin’s more subdued copper.

He had assumed she was angry at his courtship, but she nodded vigorously when he pointed out she was seventeen and dead; that he had been a widower for close on twenty years and was far too old for her; that Caitlin would make a wonderful duchess. Whatever her current role in his life, whatever her origins. The surrounding country cast up the Lorimer looks in all sorts of humble families, and he suspected that Caitlin was the offspring of an illicit foray by one of the men of the castle. But bastard and peasant or not, she was every bit fit to be his duchess, and Fiona’s vigorous nods made it clear she agreed.

The ghost was upset about something else, and it was to do with his search. Nonetheless, after that he had made his monthly proposal outside of the castle.

Recently, her agitation had spread to the other ghosts. Even the men, who had been hostile since the day he took up residence, now seemed to be asking him for something. And he had no idea what.

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chances are.jpg

Jack left the office the minute Nurse McAfree called to say Paige had regained consciousness.  On his way to the hospital he had gone over what he would say to his soon to be ex-wife when he saw her, but now that he was approaching the ICU wing all thoughts had escaped him.

Was he grateful Paige hadn’t died in that crash?  Yes, of course, but that did not mean he would take her back.  And, in spite of the ordeal she’d gone through, he didn’t give a damn if that made him look like a prick.

They say a near death experience changes everyone, but he didn’t believe it for a minute.  If anything, Paige would come out of her coma feeling as if he owed her something—like it was his fault the accident had happened.  She would try to use it as leverage to stall the divorce.  He needed to be careful; sympathetic because of her accident, but firm about the divorce.

Jack leaned against the wall of the elevator and ran his hands over his tired eyes.  If he were being honest with himself right now, he would admit that he had suffered a certain measure of guilt.  After all, it was his car she was driving that night, and he was the one who had forced her out into that fog and rain.

He sighed loudly, preparing himself to face Paige, as the doors to the elevator glided open.  But his thoughts were stalled at the sight of Sheriff Hatcher standing down the hall outside Paige’s room.

The sheriff was a big man in his mid-forties, but with his leathery skin he looked ten years older.  Jack supposed that was what happened when you went through three packs of smokes a day.  You never saw the sheriff without a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  Jack figured it must be killing the man not to be able to smoke in the hospital.

Jack greeted him with a nod as he approached.  “Sheriff, are you here to see me?”

“Actually,” Hatcher said, “I’m here to talk to your wife.  I was told she woke up from her coma this morning, but I just looked in on her and she’s asleep.”  He scratched at his shaved head with nicotine stained fingers.  “I do need to speak to you as well.  Since you’re here you’ve saved me a trip.”

Lifting a shoulder, Jack asked.  “What’s up?”  He moved aside to let a nurse with a pushcart move past them.

“We finally had a chance to go over your wife’s car.”

“My car,” Jack corrected.

“Right.”  Sheriff Hatcher looped a thumb into one of his belt loops and took a deep breath, his barrel chest swelling with the move.  The gray uniform, complete with a holstered gun, seemed silly.  Ashton Falls was not known for any crimes serious enough to require a gun.  At least not in Jack’s opinion.

“You said you hadn’t had any problems with the brakes on that car, and your mechanic confirmed that.  And yet, it appears someone may have tampered with them.”

“Tampered with them how?” Jack asked, disturbed by that piece of news.  Without waiting for the sheriff to answer, he plowed on.  “I had no way of knowing Paige was going to be driving my car that night, and neither would anyone else.  Besides, who would do such a thing?  Paige doesn’t have any enemies.  None that would want to see her dead, anyway.”

“What about you?” Sheriff Hatcher asked over the noise of the loudspeaker.  A woman announced a Code Blue and all hell broke loose at the other end of the hall.

“What about me?  I was planning to divorce her, not kill her.”

The sheriff held up one hand in front of him.  He smelled like a bonfire.  “Mr. Bolinger, no one is accusing you of anything.  I’m just doing my job here.  And I wasn’t asking if you wanted your wife dead.  I was asking if you had any enemies.”

What?  No, of course not.”  Conflicting emotions ran through his exhausted brain.  The week following the accident had been taxing.  He didn’t know anyone who hated him enough to want him dead.  The sheriff had to be mistaken.  It was almost comical, and if he hadn’t been so damn tired he would have laughed.

Lowering his hand to his side the sheriff straightened to his full height—at six-four most men were forced to look up to Tim Hatcher.  “Okay, then.  Let me know when I can speak to Mrs. Bolinger.  I want to hear from her what happened that night.”

With open frankness, Jack said, “Fine, but I can assure you no one was trying to murder her.”

“Like I said, Mr. Bolinger, I’m just doing my job.  If your wife says she took your car that night without your knowledge, then we’ll rule this whole thing an accident.  If not, someone could be arrested for manslaughter.”

Manslaughter?  Jack hadn’t even considered something like that.  He watched as the big man walked down the corridor and punched the elevator button before he looked in on Paige.  Hatcher was right.  Paige was sound asleep.  And he was too on edge to sit by her side waiting for her to wake.  Turning on his heels he marched out of the room.  He’d stop by later.

#

When Jenna opened her eyes next, it was dusk.  But this time instead of the nurse and doctor in her room, a man sat in a chair in the far corner, holding a little girl with long red curls on his lap.  The child squirmed, banging her sneakered foot against the man’s shin.

“Madison, try to sit still.  Please, honey.”  The man pressed his lips to the top of the child’s head.  “I’m going to have so many bruises I may not be able to walk tomorrow.”  His tone was teasing.

“Bruises?  You mean like Mommy’s?”

“Not quite as bad as Mommy’s, but yes.”

The girl settled back against the man’s chest.  Then, as if they’d sensed Jenna watching, they both stared back at her.  The girl’s bright green eyes grew wide with alarm, and she squirmed again.  This time it was to climb off the man’s lap.

The man looked just as apprehensive.  His eyes darkened to match the black satin shade of his hair which was badly in need of a cut.  He drew his brows together in an agonized expression before spearing Jenna with a chilling look.

Jenna swallowed nervously.  Who was this man?  Why did he look so mean?  And what was he doing in her room?

Slowly, he stood, placing his hands on the child’s shoulders in a possessive, or perhaps, protective manner.  His gaze never left Jenna’s as he moved toward the hospital bed.  He was tall, lean, and dressed in expensive looking gray trousers and a white dress shirt.  The open collar revealed a smattering of dark chest hair.

“How do you feel?” he asked.  His words were as cool and clear as ice water.  The tensing of his jaw betrayed his frustration.  Jenna wondered briefly if the man were a doctor, but ruled that thought out immediately.  If he was a doctor, he wouldn’t have a child in the room with him.

“I . . . feel . . . a little weak.”  Her voice was still not her own.  It must be due to the sore throat.

“That’s to be expected.  You’ve lost some weight.”

Had she?  She’d wanted to lose ten pounds, but hated working out and refused to give up snacking.  She loved her cheese curls.

How long had she been here?  Panic started to set in, as she remembered promising Lamar she would be back to work on Monday.  I just need three days off to go to Chicago and back, she’d begged before her manager had reluctantly given in.  She also recalled his response.  If you’re not back on Monday, you’re fired.

“Daddy,” the child said, tugging on the cuff of the man’s shirt.  “She can talk now.”

“Yes, Madison.  I can see that.”

The girl moved in closer until she was standing between her father and the bed.  She lifted a sheet of paper under Jenna’s nose.  “I made you a picture.”

“Thank you.”  Jenna strained to see the crayon drawing of three stick people.  A man, a woman and a child with long red curls holding stick finger hands.  “It’s  . . . lovely.  Madison.”

“When can you come home, Mommy?” she blurted out, and before Jenna even had time to grasp the words, the man picked up the child and held her close to his chest.

“Mommy just woke up after a long nap.  She needs to stay here and rest a while longer.”  He met Jenna’s eyes and gave her a tight lipped smile.

A surge of trepidation filled Jenna’s insides.  The child and this man had called her “Mommy.”  Why would they do that?  Was she dreaming?  That had to be it, although it seemed so real.

The girl’s bottom lip puffed out and she looked on the verge of tears.  “But, Daddy, you said she was better.  You said–”

“Madison, why don’t you go wait in the hallway with Eva while I talk to Mommy alone for a few minutes.”

Madison didn’t look happy with her father’s suggestion, but when he set the child on her feet, she shuffled away from the bed and out of the room.

Everything was odd.  Surreal.  Jenna was definitely dreaming.  Unless she had entered the Twilight Zone.  It was way too creepy to think about.  Then again . . .

She decided to play along for a minute.  “You mentioned Eva,” Jenna whispered, remembering why she had driven from Chicago to Ashton Falls, Ohio.  She’d finally located her birth mother.

“Yes, she’s waiting in the hall.”

“Eva Currie?”

“Yes.  Our housekeeper.”

Our housekeeper?”

“Save your strength, Paige.  Just let me talk.”

Paige?  Jenna was getting more confused by the minute.  Or maybe it was this man who was confused.  Or psycho rather.

“Madison doesn’t know about our impending divorce.  I didn’t tell her—couldn’t tell her.  She’s been so traumatized over your accident I didn’t have the heart to crush her with more disturbing news.”  He sighed, and then ran a hand through his hair.  “I mean maybe we should wait a while before telling her, until you’re well and on your feet.”

“Divorce?”

“Yes.  Remember?”  His eyes became stony with anger.  “As cruel as this may sound, the accident hasn’t changed the way I feel, if that’s what you were hoping.”

Jenna shook her head.  “There’s been  . . . some kind of mistake.  You’re confused, deranged.  This is all a bad dream.  Something.”  She pushed the covers away and tried to sit up.  But a harsh wave of dizziness crashed down on her, and she swayed.

The man’s hands reached out to take her by the arms and steady her.  “Whoa.  What are you doing?”  His hands were cool against her warm skin, and her body tingled from the contact.

“I have to get out of here,” she said, shrugging his hands away.  The plastic tube connected to her arm wiggled with her moves.  It was the first time she noticed the splint and bandage on the middle finger of her right hand.  Her fingers looked strange.  Thinner, perhaps?  The man said she’d lost weight.  Her head pounded as if someone had conked her with a bowling ball.

“Where do you think you’re going?  You can’t just walk out of here after being in a coma for a week.”  He blew out a frustrated breath.  “I mean, you’re in no shape to be by yourself right now.  You need help.”

Jenna gazed up at him, meeting his dark eyes.  “A week?  I’ve been asleep for a week?”

“Didn’t Dr. Harrison tell you?”

Jenna shook her head.  “No, he didn’t.”  And then the news hit her.  Lamar was going to fire her for sure.  Had anyone even called him?  He’d probably already replaced her by now.

“Holy Hanna!”  She swung her legs over the side of the bed and scooted toward the edge.  But she was restrained by the tubes dangling from her.  She wasn’t going to get very far, but she was determined to try.  “I have to go.  I have to get back to my job.”  She tried to yank a tube from her arm.

“Wait,” the man said, placing his hands on her shoulders and looking into her eyes.  “You don’t have a job.”

Jenna shook her head again, confused.  “I need to call Lamar.  I need to explain.  Maybe

once I tell him about the accident he’ll feel like a jerk and take me back.”

“Paige, you’re acting crazy.  Maybe you should lie back, and I’ll see if one of the nurses can find Dr. Harrison.”

“No!”  She bit her lip, willing herself to calm down.  “And stop calling me Paige.”  She sucked in a large breath of air.  “My name isn’t Paige.  And who are you, anyway?  You keep acting like you know me, but I have never seen you before in my life.”

The man took a step back and studied her, his vexation evident.  “Are you serious?”

“Duh!” was her answer.  “Why would I lie?”

“You don’t know me?  Don’t remember me?”

She tossed her head back and forth, and then she saw it.  A chunk of hair spread across her shoulder.  Fixated on the hair she ran her hand along the silky tresses.  It was only hair, nothing to be afraid of.

Only it wasn’t her brown, shoulder length hair.  This hair was much longer than hers.  It was red in color.  And it didn’t belong to her.

Jenna gave it a tug, just to make sure it was attached to her head, and then she screamed.

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The jeans on the blonde ahead of me in the girls’ bathroom were so long they trailed on the ground, and had become frayed and torn. Exactly how my nerves felt. Stepped on. Ragged. My momentary elation and relief at taking the photos morphed into a serious desire to curl up and nap. I didn’t want Mr. Esenberg to pick on me in Science. And I didn’t want anyone to think I could take pictures now, just because I had managed to do it once.

I also didn’t want Jordan to think his lab partner had freaked out again, so I dashed on some Nearly Nude lipstick and dragged myself to class.

“Hey, Evie.” Jordan sounded casual, but I had a sparkly feeling he’d been watching for me.

“Hey.” I collapsed into the empty seat in front of him.

“Everything okay?”

I flashed him my best post-braces smile. “Sure.”

He scrunched up his face as if unconvinced. Luckily, Mr. Esenberg arrived, halting further communication.

About ten minutes into class, while Mr. Esenberg wrote on the board, I heard Jordan slide his feet under my desk. My breath wedged in my throat as the tips of his size nine high-performance sneakers nudged the heels of my shoes. Could the girl in front of me hear my heart thudding? Should I move my feet forward?

My feet tingled and refused to move. A blush blazed across my cheeks. I struggled to pay attention to Mr. Esenberg without making eye contact. Forty minutes passed, the bell blared, and I had no idea what had transpired. Hopefully, my notes will make sense. I think I took notes.

Jordan slid his feet back and thudded his book closed. We both bent down and reached for our backpacks. His leaned against mine. Our hands brushed and our heads were so close I could smell his herbal shampoo.

Students walked past us. I’m sure some of them were talking to each other or pulling out their cell phones. But it all faded away along with the smell of chalk, highlighters, and sweat. Everything receded except the warmth of Jordan’s skin, his cinnamon gum-scented breath, and the heart-stopping rush sprinting up my arm.

“Evie?”

We jerked apart. Seeing Parvani in the doorway looking hurt and shocked snapped my senses into hyper focus. Conversations sounded extra loud. Colors seemed too bright. It felt like a movie had started, full blast, in a hushed theater.

I grabbed my backpack, stood up, and tried to look innocent. “Hey,” I said, a little too loudly.

Parvani adjusted her designer frames further up her nose. “My mom just called. She’s going to pick me up and drive me to the hospital. We have to drop off the pillows I made.”

Parvani glanced at Jordan as he rose from his chair and stood beside me. I wondered if he knew she made heart-shaped pillows for women who’d had mastectomies. The pillows kept seatbelts from rubbing against the stitches, or something. I should think about building my résumé for college. Besides, I’ve heard helping others alleviates depression.

“Could you tell your mom I don’t need a ride?” I heard a definite edge to her voice.

“Sure.”

Jordan slung his backpack over his shoulder. “How’s it going?”

Parvani acted startled, like she had just noticed him. But her voice softened. “Oh. Hello, Jordan.” To me, she said, “Thank you. Goodbye.”

Unease spider-walked down my spine. I stepped toward her, trying to close the chasm that had sprung up between us. “Talk to you later.”

Parvani didn’t reply. She just left, her long black hair swinging across her shoulders.

Jordan fell into step behind me. “Did I miss something? Is she all right?”

He sounded like the old Jordan — the sensitive, pre-Smash Heads Jordan I had grown up with. Since I couldn’t give him the obvious and correct answer, I spun through possible alternatives.

Loud static from the school’s public address system blasted my eardrums, followed by the school secretary’s voice. “Evie O’Reilly. Please come to the office. Evie O’Reilly. Please come to the office.”

I froze. My flushed cheeks grew hotter. Every kid crossing the field had heard my name. Cold fear formed bricks in my stomach. What if something had happened to Mom?

“Maybe Evan’s parents called the principal,” Jordan said.

The blood sluiced from head and pooled in my feet.

“Come on,” Jordan said. “I’ll walk with you.”

As we headed toward the office, Jordan’s cell phone vibrated. He checked the phone number displayed then tapped the screen. “Hey, Mom.” After listening a sec, he said, “I don’t know. We’re walking to the office right now.”

I chewed my thumbnail. I had already lost one parent. I couldn’t face losing another one. What if Mom had gotten into a car accident or something?

“Okay. I’ll tell Evie. See you in about five minutes.” He tapped the phone. “Mom heard the announcement while she was waiting in the car. She says she hopes everything is okay.”

“That was nice of her.” Great. Even the parents know something is wrong.

We rounded the corner. A few juniors milled about in front of the lockers across from the office. “Perfect. I have an audience.”

Jordan took my hand, sending a jolt of warmth and fresh shivers up my arm. “Come on.”

My heart swelled. I knew Jordan had to be somewhere before practice. His mom was waiting. And I was pretty sure rumors we were a couple would scream through the eleventh grade by tomorrow morning. I just hoped it didn’t reach the ninth grade and Parvani.

Jordan released my hand and opened the door for me. Relief flooded every pore when I saw Mom. She stood in front of a boy who was taping an orange poster to the wall. It screamed Halloween Dance in black letters, dripping with what was supposed to be blood.

The vein at Mom’s temple throbbed and her arms were crossed. I didn’t care. She was okay. Nothing had happened to her. Which meant something was about to happen to me.

“Good luck,” Jordan said.

I nodded and watched him leave before going to Mom and giving her a quick hug.

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watcher.jpg

WATCHER: BOOK I OF THE CHOSEN

by

Roh Morgon

 I watch my daughter, the sunlight dancing across her long dark hair, cradle her swollen belly as she kneels to place the flowers on my empty grave. Pink carnations this time . . . last year was red roses; the year before, golden mums.

Her shoulders quake with her sobs and, swallowing, I fight to stifle my own. Her lips move as she whispers to the flower-strewn ground, but I’m too far away to hear her precious words. Throat tight, I struggle to remain still, hidden by the large eucalyptus at the other end of the cemetery.

She caresses my name etched into the grey granite, tracing the letters one by one before wiping the tears from her cheeks. Her fingers touch her lips, then the top of the cold, hard stone.

My own fingers clamp against my mouth and smother the impulse to cry out to her.

She looks so much like me—the me I used to be. Tall, willowy, she’s become a woman since I disappeared five years ago and soon, to my surprise, will become a mother. The inferno of emotions ignited by her pregnancy threatens to devour me and I do not think I can remain quiet much longer. For once, I hope she will end her visit soon and leave.

She stands and turns toward her car. A breath of summer wind lifts a few dark strands of her hair and they float for a moment, waving goodbye.

Her scent reaches out to me and triggers memories of our brief life together. Seventeen years was not enough—not enough time to share with her, to hold her and teach her and tell her how much I love her. In a flash of anger, I curse the evil creature that stole me away, leaving my daughter to finish growing up alone, and leaving me . . . leaving me no longer human.

My chest heaving, I watch her drive away, then step between the markers and cross the lawn to my grave. Once again, I read the inscription on my headstone:

 

Sunshine Collins

Beloved Mother and Best Friend

October 10, 1969 –

 

Trembling, I rest my fingers where hers last touched, press them softly against my lips, and whisper, “I love you, Andrea.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

I step out of the Colorado Springs boutique feeling quite satisfied with my shopping adventure. In addition to heavy curtains, I’ve found a few interesting odds and ends to add some décor to my new house. I pause to look up at the clouds that have gathered overhead, grateful for their cover.

And then I feel it.

Something, or someone, is watching me. My gut clenches and an electric charge shoots through me, making my skin crawl as every hair on my body stands up. Alarmed, I step to the curb and study the people and cars nearby, trying to find the source of the eerie attention.

And then I see him.

He is standing directly across the street, focusing intently on me.

As I peer back at the tall figure in the long, tailored coat, at his striking looks, his stillness, his pale skin, everything in me slams to a stop.

He is like me. He is . . . just . . . like . . . me.

I freeze, unsure of what to do. Since I was reborn to this life, I have always been alone. I’ve never encountered one of my kind—except the one who brutally ripped away my humanity and left me for dead.

One of my kind. The thought chills me as I fight the rising panic. And while my mind races, he gives me a small smile, a slight nod, and is gone. Just vanishes, too fast for even my eyes.

My insides churn and I stand locked to the sidewalk, unable to move, my gaze pinned to the spot in which he’d stood. People flow around me, like water in a river, until someone bumps me. I snarl and nearly lash out, but catch myself, and with a final anxious look across the street, head to my car.

 

~ ~ ~

 

It’s finally closing time. I clean up my end of the bar, tell everyone goodnight, and head out the door. The clouds are hanging heavy in the cold Colorado air—maybe it’ll snow. I walk up the street toward the parking garage.

Then, out of nowhere—there he is. He’s standing on the sidewalk about thirty feet ahead, watching me.

Something extremely powerful radiates from him. Energy, aura, I don’t know what to call it, but I can feel it in every cell of my body, and it’s very disturbing.

I hesitate, then take a breath and keep walking. He waits, and I slow as I draw near, and finally stop.

He studies me a moment while fear races through my veins.

“Would you like to get something to drink?” he asks.

My mind shies away from what he might mean by drink and I hesitate before answering.

“A cup of hot tea would be nice.”

“Tea. That sounds perfect. There is an all-night coffee shop around the corner. Would you care to walk with me?” His voice is cultured, with a hint of European, but I can’t place the accent.

I pause, then join him as he proceeds up the street. My body and mind are both numb. I didn’t expect to see him again so soon. But apparently he expected to see me.

We arrive at the coffee shop. He holds the door open, and I walk through and wait as he comes in. Nodding to me, he heads to a booth in the back and I admire his physique as he passes. He’s about six-three, trim, but there are definitely muscles beneath his expensive, tailored suit.

I’m stirred from my trance as he graciously waves his hand to one of the seats. I make my way to the booth and he waits until I’m seated before sitting across from me.

The waitress comes to the table and offers us menus.

“We will have two cups of hot tea,” he says without looking at her. She nods, staring, then walks away.

She was staring, as I am, because he has the most beautiful and mesmerizing face I’ve ever seen. His features are noble, refined, elegant, his nose straight and his jaw strong. His age is hard to decipher. Physically, thirtyish. But bearing? Ageless. Ancient.

“So. You are new to the city. How long have you been in Colorado Springs?” His hair is raven black, and his eyes, light emerald green, flicker with intensity.

“About a week,” I reply, hoping the trembling in my body isn’t leaking into my voice.

“Tell me, then—where are you from? What brought you here?” His tone, though friendly, seems to carry an undercurrent of warning. I choose my answer carefully.

“I’m from the West Coast. I decided to try somewhere new, and this area looked like it had a lot to offer.”

He smiles and nods as the waitress sets cups and stainless steel teapots on the table. We prepare our tea in heavy silence.

Picking up a spoon, he stirs his and asks, “Are you here with anyone else?”

I hesitate, unwilling to reveal how defenseless I might be. But then the beast in me sits up and reminds me I’m not.

“No, I’m alone.”

“Hmm.” His green eyes reveal nothing.

We sip our tea.

He sets down his cup, his intense gaze fixed on me, and, leaning forward, breathes in deeply through his nose.

“You have a most unusual scent. I cannot quite place it,” he says as he sits back.

A bit shocked, I stare at him. No one has ever smelled me before, at least not like that.

Perhaps this is a custom among our kind? Unsure, I discreetly take in his scent.

It’s quite different from any I’ve ever encountered, yet there’s also something familiar about it. The blood in his veins has an exotic, rich fragrance that’s very alluring. But there’s another aroma woven in, one I finally recognize. It’s the coppery-sweet smell of human blood.

And it’s carried on his breath.

I was afraid of that.

“If you do not mind me asking, where is it that you obtain your . . . sustenance?” He takes another sip of tea. His eyes never leave mine.

“The . . . the mountains near my home.”

“The mountains? West of the city?” He looks puzzled.

“Yes. Is that someone else’s territory?”

He laughs.

“Someone else’s territory? No. My concern, though, is that the population up there is a bit sparse, and too many disappearances could draw unwanted attention.”

I swallow as scenes from horror movies, of human throats and fangs, flash through my head.

“That . . . that won’t be a problem.”

“Indeed. Then perhaps next time I may accompany you?”

“Uh, sure.” Though I doubt his diet includes anything on four legs.

His answering smile is warm and appears genuine. I can’t tell if he’s aware of the turmoil he’s sparking within me.

“Good. However, I would like to see you again before then. Do you enjoy the theater?” He watches me over the brim of his cup as he finishes his tea.

My mind spinning, I fumble for an excuse to turn him down. And fail.

“I haven’t been to the theater in a long time.”

“Then you must come with me.” His tone indicates he is not accustomed to being denied.

“I . . . I’ll think about it.”

“Nonsense. Are you available Friday night? I have season tickets.”

“I work until two-thirty that night.”

“Work?” He frowns.

“Yes, I tend bar at the club you saw me leave. I just started there tonight.”

“This is something you do often?”

“The last three years. At clubs on the coast.” I’m puzzled by his reaction.

“Hmm. I find that interesting. In fact, I find you interesting, very interesting. I look forward to getting to know you.” He smiles that genuine smile again, his eyes warm and friendly.

But I don’t trust him. Part of me is terrified of him, and yet, the other part of me—the part that is tired of being alone—is becoming captivated by him. I quell my thoughts as the waitress brings us the check.

He picks it up and, with a tip of his head to me, asks, “Shall we?”

Nodding, I stand and he follows me to the register. I can feel his energy emanating behind me, like a powerful electric force field. It’s unnerving, yet enticing.

He pays and we head out the door. He walks me to my car, which makes me even more nervous, because now he knows my license plate. However, I suspect he already knew. He certainly seemed to know where my car was parked.

“Perhaps we can meet when you are not working. Would you like me to show you around the city? We have several museums and galleries specializing in the history of the area that you may find fascinating.”

“I’d like that.” I’m fascinated already, and not in museums and galleries.

“How is Friday? We can meet at the coffee shop if you like. Say . . . noon?”

“One o’clock would be better for me.” Hopefully I’ll be awake in time.

“Then one it is. I am looking forward to it. And now, I must say goodnight.” He returns my smile and bows slightly and, with a brief ruffling of the cold air, is no longer there.

I didn’t even get his name.

 

~ ~ ~

 

április 3., kedd

Today, upon my return from Denver, I felt an uninvited and foreign presence in my city. My initial reaction was to hunt it down and destroy it for the sheer audacity of entering without permission. But my investigation revealed it to be a female, alone, and there was something quite strange, yet familiar, about her. Almost haunting, as if I have met her before. I know not yet what new threat this may be, but I will find out. She lives, for now.

*

The Elders knew nothing of her. When I returned from making my inquiries, she had disappeared from the city. I hunted for several hours, but was unable to locate her. Then, tonight after leaving Club Vér, I felt her again. I traced her to a downtown bar and waited.

She nearly ran when she saw me. She feigns innocence, but I am not sure it is an act. I have the distinct impression she has no knowledge of who I am.

Our conversation in the café gave me the opportunity to observe her a little more closely. Her scent is unknown to me, yet it carries a familiarity I cannot explain. As earlier, I almost feel as though I have seen her before, perhaps in a dream. But dreams are for those who sleep.

What caught my attention, though, was her complete lack of any human blood scent. She did not appear to be suffering from hunger, as her eyes were a pale, glacial blue—they were quite enchanting, I might add. I can only surmise that perhaps she does not feed on humans, which is highly unusual among The Chosen.

I was pleased when she agreed to meet with me again, which gives me time to verify her story.

I tracked her as she left the city and headed west into the mountains. At one point she abandoned her car and vanished into the forest on foot. I was called away shortly afterward and do not know if she returned. I have no choice now but to wait for our meeting. In the meantime, I will be watching for her.

And as I write this, it occurs to me that I do not even know her name.

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~ ~ ~

Roh Morgon writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from her home in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills. She can be found on Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter.

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Something Special About Growing up in a Small Town

There’s something special about growing up in a small town, my name for a Main Street town. Like the song says, you know everybody and everybody knows you…and their parents might as well be yours, if you stepped out of line. But they were always there for you, just like your own parents, whenever you needed them.

 

My true home town…plus there are two bars and two churches not shown…used to be a gas station, but that was even before my time. The trailer at the fire station is new, though!

I live half a world away from there now, but if I wandered back tomorrow, they’d still be there for me, as I’d be for them.

 

People are there for each other in a small town. Many I know grew up in cities and never knew their neighbours. Now they’re adults, they still don’t know the people up and down their street. I don’t get it. I couldn’t live with myself—being so close to others and never even knowing them, what’s going on in their lives, if they’re okay. They look at me blankly when I ask.

My adopted High School town–where I nearly stayed. 🙂 xxx

 

What I Learned in a Small Town

I learned gratitude in a small town, and love, respect, and caring. How looking after others was important. Sure, it got me into some binds when I left that small town for the big smoke…but I survived, because I knew there were still many, many people back there in my family, but not of my blood, who loved me. Unconditionally.

 

4-H. Without it, and its caring parent leaders, I’m sure I’d never, ever, have gotten into Veterinary School at UC Davis! I pay it back when I can. Small towns taught me this.

 

I wish more people had the opportunity to grow up in a small town, or in a “small town in a big city”. I’m sure they exist. While people, wherever they live, are getting “closer via the internet”, often it’s merely virtual—further away from real human and animal contact, the thing which makes us “human”. In a small town or rural area, people still get the contact, because their friends and families are still there for them.

 

 

Without this contact, it becomes that much easier for people to hide away and not get the care and love they crave, but fear to request. Some retreat from the world, disappear, but others become increasingly capable of “inhuman” actions.

 

I know, this is more morose than my usual post, but there has to be an answer. We’ve lived in one of the most peaceful times in history, in the States, Canada and New Zealand. I think it blinds us a bit to what much of the rest of the world experiences daily.

 

Can we help create small towns wherever we are?

Can we begin to show those around us, city or town, some interest, care, compassion? Whoever they are? Maybe that neighbour who doesn’t talk with anyone is afraid to try? Maybe they just truly want to be left alone, but what if they didn’t? And you made the difference to their life? Go outside and do some fun things together with others…

 

Starting small, one candle at a time, we can create a small town anywhere…

One candle at a time, we can light up the world.

If we’re willing to take that step outside ourselves.

You never know the difference it might make,

To someone.

I think that’s why I was so pleased to be offered a place with Authors of Main Street. It felt a little like coming home. A group of people who support each other, cheer with each other, and sometimes, cry with each other. Now we’re putting out another “sweet” romance boxed set for Christmas. There’s a lot of care going out in one big package.

 

I hope it gives you some positivity and warm feelings as the weather turns colder for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.

 

Take the chance to share a little of your light.

Xx

Lizzi

 

 

Seeing as this is my last blog post before the 12 October release of our new Christmas Boxed set, I thought I’d post Chapter Three of Once Upon a Vet School for you. It’s one of the nine complete stories in our set. No teasers in our sets! The previous two chapters are in my last two posts, in case you missed them!

14 OVS 7 Lena EBOOKcoverLG FILE

Once Upon a Vet School #7 is now available for preorder as part of our new boxed set at

004 website

Amazon!

It’ll be delivered to your Kindle on 12 October! Only a few days away!!!

I hope you enjoy reading all the stories. I sure have loved the ones I got to beta!

All your favorite Main Street authors have stories tucked inside. Remember, we are an international group so everyone’s Main Street is a little different. But don’t you think that’s what makes it fun?

These are clean stories you don’t have to hide from the children, and of course the same wonderful quality that you’ve come to expect from us. They’d make a great Christmas gift for just about anyone on your list.

And if you have any horse lovers in the family, expect your Kindle to vanish while they read  my novella!

All though September and October, you’ve been reading snippets of these stories, which are all complete and brand new stories!

So grab your 99c copy today! It will be delivered to your Kindle on October 12, USA time. There’s not a sinker in the bunch, so read them all!

What’s Christmas without a little romance?

 

xx

Lizzi

 

And here’s your excerpt!

 

Once Upon a Vet School  #7   Lena Takes a Foal

CHAPTER  THREE

 

Dr. Rye was our lecturer for Wednesday’s Equine Surgery lecture, so I didn’t have to see Ki—Dr. Allen, and my focus in class was impeccable.

It seems all I had to do was think of Kit for my face to heat up, and it was starting to look like I had it bad. Maybe that’s why I nearly dropped a container of colostrum when his voice came from over my shoulder as I struggled to get into a comfortable position, half-kneeling, halfway underneath a mare in the Large Animal ICU stall.

“What the heck are you doing under there?” he growled.

“What does it look like? Milking a mare,” I said, my voice shaky. It had taken the better part of a half hour to milk this much out of her, never mind having to do it in strange contortions around my non-bending limb.

“Does your supervisor know what your leg looks like?” He frowned.

That got my attention. I whipped my head around to see if my boss had heard him and nearly tipped over, then clambered the rest of the way to my feet.

“Please Ki—Dr. Allen, please don’t say anything to Frank. I need the hours—I can’t feed that horse or me without it.” I was pleading, now.

“You’re a pain in the rear, you know?” Kit shook his head. “But you’re a trier, I’ll give you that. Hasn’t anyone shown you how to milk a mare with a syringe?”

“A syringe? I think she might object.” I had to grin at that. “She’s really been good—hasn’t moved a muscle for me all this time,” I said, wrapping my arms around the mare’s neck and burying my steaming face in her mane. She whuffled softly as she nosed my bottom, then returned to her hay.

He stroked the mare, while he looked over her back at the premature foal sleeping in the straw.

“Is he nursing yet?”

“His suck reflex is improving a little, but we’re still tubing him with colostrum every few hours,” I said.

“Want to learn to milk a mare…a little faster?”

“You bet.” He had my full attention, now.

“Sit down and put that leg up while I do this.”

I sat, thankful to get my weight off it for a moment, while he searched the cabinet drawers for a big syringe and pulled the plunger out.

“You cut off the business end of the clear part, here,” he began sawing at it with a pocket knife, “then turn the plunger around.” When he was finished, he handed the contraption to me.

I stared at it, with no idea how to begin.

“You place the smooth end around the mare’s teat,” he grinned, “and slowly draw down on the plunger.”

“Seriously?” I jumped to my feet with a wince and tried it. With only gentle pressure on the plunger, the golden, syrupy colostrum just flowed into the syringe. I shook my head and swore softly.

“Works, doesn’t it?” He grinned.

“I can’t believe it,” I breathed. “Thank you so much.” If he wasn’t my hero before, he surely was now.

“That should speed it up a little.”

I filled the rest of my container in three minutes flat.

“I’ve spent…you don’t want to know how long…getting that same volume…” My voice dwindled off and I gazed at him. If student ICU techs hugged residents, I would have.

He took one look at me, then backed away, the beginnings of a smile running screaming from his face.

“Good, well—” he muttered, and spun toward the patient bulletin board, his knuckles so white on the pen in his hand, I thought I’d be cleaning up plastic fragments.

I shook my head and filled another container with the precious golden liquid while he stared fixedly at the pink treatment sheets. His fingers had relaxed, and now he merely played with his pager buttons.

“How is that mare, Charlotte, over in C-Barn?” he called across the room.

“I’m on my way over there now, thanks to your milking gadget. Without it, I’d have been ages longer.”

His narrowed brows softened and the corners of his mouth even lifted a little.

“No worries,” he said.

I stifled a chuckle. Sounded like he’s been hanging out with the new Kiwi Equine Repro resident. New Zealand idioms were popping up all over the vet school. I covered the beakers of colostrum, put one into the fridge, and left the other out for the little guy’s next feed.

“So why,” he remarked, under his breath, “the heck are you working? You should have that leg up somewhere, not running around barns making it worse.”

“I already told you why,” I hissed, glancing around. “It’s been up long enough. Time for exercise, Doc. Soon I’ll be a hundred percent again.”

He shook his head.

“You said you were a farrier before you became a vet,” I said, changing the subject.

“Yes, I was. Why?” He looked sideways at me.

“I spend as much time in the farrier shop here as Sean will have me, but they’re all client horses, so I can’t trim them. I’d like to learn.”

He flicked a glance my way.

“Why do you want to trim feet? You’re training to be a vet, not a shoer.”

“Horses depend on their feet for their living. It’s important they’re right.”

“It’s a lot like hard work.” His brow wrinkled, and he looked away for a moment.

“Way I figure it,” I said, “horse vets need to know about feet—and the fastest way to lose an owner’s confidence is to mangle a shoe removal or basic trim. I don’t want to be a farrier, but I’d sure like to be able to pull a shoe and decently trim and balance a hoof.”

His eyes lit up and his lips slowly formed a twisted grin.

I couldn’t help beaming back. Encouraged, I rattled on.

“I’ve spent a lot of time reading about feet, but I haven’t had the opportunity to actually trim them.” I fell silent for a moment, waiting, but Kit didn’t offer.

He turned away and began looking at records.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then turned back toward the fridge and stared at it, unseeing.

“Guess I’ll have to take a farrier course when I’m done with vet school. Doesn’t look like I’ll learn much about trimming here,” I mumbled, half to myself, half to the fridge.

Behind me, Kit sighed.

“I could teach you,” he said.

I spun to stare at him, just as he blinked, as if he didn’t quite believe he’d just said that.

“Would you? Would you really?” I was stunned. After his last words, I truly hadn’t expected him to say that.

He swallowed hard, then nodded.

“Yep,” he said. “There are plenty of horses in the research herds that could use a bit of attention.”

“When can we start?” I was so excited, I nearly forgot to breathe.

His jaw tensed as he held his own breath in silence for long moments.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he finally said.

I narrowed my brows at him. This couldn’t be good.

“You do only what you absolutely must on that leg for two more weeks, and then if it’s significantly better, I’ll take you out and teach you to trim feet. Mind you, they’re pretty unkempt, and they’ll be a bit rough to handle—”

“—oh please?” I interrupted. Oh cripes, I was begging to do feet…but I meant it.

“Yes,” he sighed, “but remember the conditions, eh?”

“Got it loud and clear, Doc,” I said, and hobbled on before him, eager to show him the progress Charlotte had made since he’d changed the heel elevation of the shoe on her injured leg.

***

“Hey, want to go for some pizza?” one of the girls in my class asked the students standing around me.

“Yeah, let’s go. I’ve got room for one more in my car, Miranda,” one of the guys said, and walked past me to steer her in the right direction, without a glance at me.

I took a deep breath and shook my head, riffling through my pack for my schedule to see what else I needed to do before heading home.

Maybe I was just born different.

But horses liked me…and men, until they got to know me—usually too well, too soon. And then they’d disappear. I couldn’t seem to get that one figured out. My female friends usually kicked me from here to Christmas when I did it…again. I only gave the guys what they asked for…and then they despised me for—

—with a shudder, I saw it—in black and white on the page and my heart hits my boots.

Oh hell. My cousin’s wedding is tomorrow.

More people. I closed my eyes and sank down onto the nearest planter box.

“You okay?” Jess walked up and dropped her pack next to me. “How’s the leg?”

I sighed and let my bag slide to the ground, too.

“Okay, but I’ve a wedding tomorrow.”

“Why so glum? I love weddings. I’ll go.”

“Fine, you go in my place,” I said, and gritted my teeth.

“What’s not to like about a wedding?” She scrunched her face up.

“Too many people, all in one place. When your parents and grandparents all have retail stores, it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert—you still need to serve the customers and act extroverted, regardless.”

“Probably the best thing they ever did for you—probably helped you get into vet school.”

“Yeah, maybe, but it makes my heart hurt.”

“You’re pretty extroverted now,” she said.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I tell myself it doesn’t matter what people think of me…but it’s not true,” I whispered. “Nobody, even you, gets that I’m terrified—of what they might say, what they might do. At least horses and dogs love you when they love you, even if it’s just cupboard love—and they don’t bother to lie or make promises they won’t keep.”

Jess blinked and stared at me.

“The thought of going to a wedding brought out all that?”

“Well, yes. I mean, the ceremonies are all right. I usually even cry. And the dancing’s good, if there’s someone there who can swing dance…but the rest isn’t so hot…drunk people who want to get close,” I shuddered, “and think it’s okay because it’s a wedding.”

“True. You don’t do drunks, period. I’ve seen that.” Jess put an arm over my shoulders and gave me a hug.

“I can usually escape into a kitchen,” I said, with a hint of a grin. “I hate weddings with caterers, though. No escape hatch.”

“Didn’t you used to work for a catering company when you were an undergraduate? How’d you deal with that?”

“They didn’t maul the kitchen minions. Hey,” I grinned, “that’s an idea. I can take along a black skirt and white blouse…and just disappear into the woodwork.”

“So where is it?” Jess said, shaking her head and chuckling.

“At my Aunt’s ranch.”

“What’s wrong with that? She’s the one with all the horses, right? If the kitchen trick doesn’t work, you could always head for the stables.”

“That’s why I love you so much, Jess. You get it.”

“Yep,” she said. “Are you done feeling sorry for yourself? Because I’m hungry.”

“Aren’t you always?”

She beamed back at me. She’s a tall, gorgeous beanpole and eats whatever she wants. I am eternally jealous.

***

“Oh, Lena, how’s Sunshine been?” The new resident, Dr. Masters, nodded at a post-op colic horse standing with one hind leg cocked, his tail lazily twitching at a fly in the ICU stall beside her.

“He’s looking good,” I said, with a smile, and reached for a second fluid bottle. “He grazes well, ate his feed tonight, and started my shift with a full flake of hay. It’s half gone now.”

“Good, so he’s eating again…” Dr. Masters looked down at the horse’s record in her hand and cocked her head, brows coming together a little. “Have you been writing up the records?”

“If I can squeeze in the time, I do.” My face heated, and I bit my lip.

Did she mind?

“As busy as it is today? You don’t have to do that,” she said. “It’s my job to write them from your treatment sheets entries. You have enough to do.”

I blinked.

“Seriously? You residents never even get time to sleep. If you’d rather write them up, that’s fine, but if not, I’m happy to help.”

“Thanks Lena,” she said, with a sigh. “It’s appreciated. Make you a deal. If you think it’ll be good for your training, go ahead and do them if you want. I’ll critique and sign them off.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Happy to.”

“I’m after all the practice I can get,” I said, as Dr. Masters picked up a stack of records and ferried them toward the office. I jumped when I saw Kit already there, head down over his papers, scribbling for all he was worth. I hadn’t seen him come in. Butterflies bashing to escape my stomach walls, I shivered and turned on my bad leg with two, five-liter glass fluid bottles in my arms. I only just managed to keep my feet, and keep the profanity under my breath on my way to the barns. I really must learn to pay attention, even if the illustrious Dr. Allen was present.

Our residents, all of them, made me smile. For people, they’re pretty awesome, especially after my exposure to the wedding crowd last week. I’d survived, but only just. Ended up grooming horses in my silk dress. By the end of it, I could have come out of the pages of a Thelwell book—the sequence of drawings where a tidy rider begins all dressed for a show with the shaggy, muddy beast she’d evidently just pulled from the paddock…and their magical transformation to a gleaming, braided pony beside an exhausted and filthy ragamuffin with a trashed riding habit.

In C-Barn, I pulled the rope to raise the caged fluid bottle high above Cotillion. The palomino swung her head around and whickered at someone’s approach.

Kit. My heart jerked and I swallowed hard.

He reached out to the mare and she lipped at his fingers as our eyes met and held.

“How’s she going?”

“Her IV drip had stopped, but I’ve fixed it,” I said. “She’s looking a lot brighter than yesterday.”

“You know, you don’t have to write up records.” Kit looked at me sideways.

“I don’t have long until I get to be a real vet…and I need all the help I can get.”

“You’re doing pretty damn well already,” Kit said, his brows lowering. “Most third year students haven’t even tried procedures you do every shift as an ICU tech.”

“Yeah, well, that’s why I wanted to work here,” I said. “Even with this hospital’s big equine case load, the time in clinics is too short for me. I seem a bit slow to learn things.”

He rolled his eyes at that.

“You’re doing just what you need to be doing, and makin’ a good job of it.”

“It’d be nice if other people thought so,” I said, biting my lip. The black plastic cap from the new fluid bottle clicked into place as I shoved it onto the empty one.

“Who doesn’t think so?”

“Nobody,” I said, to my feet.

“Who?”

“I’m a pain in the neck, apparently, to my class.”

“I’d bet no resident or prof would say that,” Kit said, but he squirmed a little.

I swallowed hard. Guess he thought so, too. Must be my questions in class. I truly didn’t do it to show off. I just wanted to understand. If I learned it wrong the first time…

“Maybe if you kept your head down a little in cla—” Kit started.

“Seriously, you too?” I shook my head. And I’d thought…but that wasn’t worth thinking about, clearly. “Is there anything else you’d like to know about this horse, Dr. Allen?” In my iciest tone.

“Now don’t go gettin’ all huffy, I’m only trying to help.”

“Thank you for your concern.” I don’t imagine it sounded overly grateful, coming from between gritted teeth.

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

“Okay, if you want to be that way about it,” he said. “Thanks, anyway, for taking such good care of the horses.”

“Any time,” I spat out, tucked my bottles beneath my arms, and bolted for B-Barn, the hemostats and stethoscope clipped to my scrubs swinging with every hop.

***

My alarm shocked me out of whatever pleasant dream had cocooned me. I smacked it on its head, then lay blinking at the sunshine streaming through the jasmine vines that waved in the open window. Their sweet, heady scent heavy in the early morning air. I rolled over, then sat bolt upright.

Today was the day.

My two weeks of penance were up. I had an appointment to make with a certain resident to trim feet. I stilled, though, thinking about our last meeting. I’d certainly have to apologize. I should’ve done it last week, but what can I say? I was gutless. After a deep breath to settle my butterflies into place, I shot out of bed and leapt into my clothes.

“What’s the hurry, girl? It’s early yet,” Tamarah said, dodging the gooey tennis ball the Lab spat at her from two feet away.

“Susie’s aim is improving.” I laughed. “Soon she won’t miss. I’m off.”

“You really are better,” she said, looking down at my leg.

“Amazing what a little water, sitting in the sun massaging, and jumping rope has done.” Most of the odd colors were gone and it was down to nearly normal size.

“So can you ride your bike yet?”

“Did it yesterday,” I nodded, pouring uncooked oats into a bowl. “Felt fine.”

“One lucky girl,” she said, and disappeared into her room, followed by the bouncing dog.

I wolfed my breakfast and shot across town. The only fly in the ointment was my treatment of Kit the other day. I chewed my lip over it while I waited outside K—I shook my head at myself—Dr. Allen’s office door. He arrived after only a few minutes, so I didn’t have long to stew.

“You all right?” He gave me a quizzical look.

“If I were any better, I’d be twins.” Cocky cover-up, with the butterflies bashing away inside me and my face doubtless bright red. “Um…Dr. Allen,” I groped for words, while I fisted the sides of my shirt, “I’m sorry about my attitude last week.” I dropped my eyes to the linoleum. “I had no call to jump down your throat like that—I’m…just a bit sensitive about the topic.”

“It’s okay, I understand.” Kit tried for a smile and shook his head, then he glanced down at my leg, below my running shorts. And froze in his fumbling with his door key. “What have you done with it?”

“Worked on it? It’s much better…” My heart sank. I thought it looked better…but maybe I was getting ahead of myself.

“It’s amazing.” He blinked, and stared again. “I’ve never seen bruises change that fast. How’d you do it?”

“I had motivation,” I said, resuming breathing again, and told him how, then continued. “I…I wanted to see if we could please make a time to go out and do feet.”

“You sure you’re ready for that?” He winced, glancing at the offending leg.

“I can jump rope, I rode my bicycle over here, and I’ve been working.”

“There’s still swelling on the front of the shin.”

“It seems to be a split muscle—it now sits over the top, see?” I propped my foot up on a handy chair and showed him.

“You’re right,” he said, his face coloring. “Well, I guess we’ve got a date.”

I gulped, at the same time he shuddered and stepped backward.

“Ah…” I said, backpaddling.

“Let me check my calendar,” he said in a rush, then tried a few more times to get the key into the lock.

If we weren’t both so uncomfortable, it would have been comic. As for me, tempting as he might be, it was time to take care of myself—and that didn’t include getting my heart burned again.

For quite some time in the foreseeable future.

 

ENJOY!

Again, if you wish to preorder Christmas Babies on Main Street, by Authors of Main Street, click here!  It’s only 99c$  What a deal!

Merry Christmas, early!

xx

Lizzi

 

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Where Did Summer Go?

Summer slipped by me this year and I don’t know why. In fact I don’t remember seeing my Tiger Lilies bloom. I remember when the daffodils were blooming. And I saw my Vitex go into bloom along with the Crepe Myrtles, but I don’t remember too many other plants. But already there’s a nip in the air and I noticed while driving yesterday that many of the trees have begun fading from their green color into what will eventually become golds, oranges, and reds. So just how did I miss summer?

Usually I’m writing and I have done plenty of that, but I’ve also done quite a bit of reading. Especially while my editors were busy with my tales. It was fun to read! Especially when I was reading various stories for our Christmas boxed set. But I’ve also read some other stories. Seems I never get the luxury of just finding a book and reading it. I’ve been proofreading or doing content edits for friends – that sort of thing, but I discovered something as I read. It’s the heroes.

Yes, for me, it’s about the men. If I fall in love with the hero and there’s a happy ending, I’m happy.  Yet so many authors and readers say it’s about strong women. Hmm.

A Novella Within our AoMS Boxed Set Christmas Babies on Main Street

The right man can make a woman strong and confident. Not that women don’t come that way, nor does that mean women need a man to make them strong.  In my Christmas novella, A Sister’s Christmas Gift, the heroine was strong, very strong and she didn’t need a man to complete her life. She had a perfectly good life. Put her in a domestic setting and she had no clue which end was up. She’s also going to butt heads with anyone who cops the attitude that he’s the man of the house.

I believe women have a natural inner strength, even that wallflower. I knew a woman whose husband had treated her so poorly over such a long period of time that she’d lost her inner strength. Her grown son and daughter moved her out of the house and put her someplace safe. It was a disastrous for her as she adjusted and the following year got better. Five years later, it was hard to believe that she was the same woman whose children had to rescue her from a verbally abusive marriage. She reached down, found her boot straps, and pulled herself up.

Such men would be villains in our stories because they are real life villains and poison to the women in their lives. In A Sister’s Christmas Gift, there are two men. They are not villains. They are both really great guys. One has lost his way. He’s always worked, so when he finds himself retired before he’s fifty, he doesn’t know how to fill the hours in a day. He’s no longer in the city where all the cultural things kept him occupied. Now, he’s a fish out of water. The other man is a total opposite. He’s got that confidence  and he knows exactly what to do with his spare time.  But he also is the type of man to give a woman freedom.

Maybe that’s what I like in man. The one who is not afraid to let a woman have freedom. But he’s also there to protect her, help her, support her, and share his life with her.  And if he knows how to fix plumbing or a gazillion other things around the house or car, I like that even more.

Reading gave me a chance to see other men portrayed and their women. Naturally I looked at the story lines and analyzed each one. But it’s the characters that I enjoy. Maybe I’ll never go back to just being a reader. Maybe it has something to do with being a writer that will prevent the brain from journeying backwards to just being a reader. But as I read, I discovered that I enjoyed the women who were average women. That meant they had their strong areas and that weaker side.

But those men – it’s the quiet heroes. The ones that don’t need to show off muscles to prove their strength. But can disarm another man with lightning speed. They can whip up breakfast or at least a basic meal, and carry on a real conversation. They, too, have that tender side and will stop to rescue a kitten from the busy intersection. Their skills vary but they can flash that smile and make our hearts flutter. I’ll even forgive him if he has to call the plumber. But he’s not going to say I told you so. And he isn’t going to say no, unless he can convince the heroine that whatever she’s about to do is just too risky, dangerous, or totally wrong.

What do you love about what you read? The types of stories or heroes, the heroines? Is there a particular trait that you like in the characters? And what is your favorite story line? We’d really love to know. As as the seasons change, grab your cuppa, pull up a chair, and tell us what you love.

 

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Christmas! It’s Available for Pre-Order

Our 2017 edition of Christmas stories is now on Amazon on preorder,  Christmas Babies on Main Street. Release date Oct. 12, 2017. All your favorite Main Street authors have stories tucked inside. Remember, we are an international group so everyone’s Main Street is a little different. But don’t you think that’s what makes it fun?

These are clean stories you don’t have to hide from the children, and of course the same wonderful quality that you’ve come to expect from us.

And if you have a horse lover in the family, expect your Kindle to vanish while she reads the novella from Lizzi Tremayne!

All though Sept. you’ve been reading snippets of these stories. All of our stories are complete, not teasers! And they are all brand new stories!

So grab your 99c copy today! It will be delivered to your Kindle Oct 12. And as one reader commented on our boxed sets, there’s not a sinker in the bunch so read them all! And what is Christmas without a little romance?

http://amzn.to/2xQ5Lsj

 

 

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The Christmas Stocking

The Christmas Stocking (Book Two of Christmas at Apple Lake series) is included in Authors of Main Street’s – Christmas Babies on Main Street – this year.

The story is close to my heart, as it centers around two children who have lost their mom, and Ellie Newsome who has lost her two unborn babies. Can families come together to ease each other’s pain of loss, if they search their hearts?

I’ve included Chapter 1 below. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1
Three weeks before Thanksgiving

Ellie hadn’t slept all night. She finally gave up and slipped out of bed at three, careful not to wake Sophie, her toy poodle.

Who gets up this time of morning? As a rule, she certainly didn’t.

She stumbled around the roomy country kitchen and set a pot of strong coffee to brew. Because Sophie was a light sleeper and had trailed behind her into the kitchen, she filled both Sophie’s food and water bowls. Sophie continued to bounce back and forth from the door to dancing around Ellie’s feet, while yelping her little head off.

Ellie slipped the leash onto Sophie’s collar and let her wander around the back yard until she’d finished her business. Even though Ryan had balked about fencing in the back yard, she’d finally gotten him to when she’d suggested it would be safer for children. Ellie wouldn’t leave Sophie outside alone, since sightings of Coyote had increased the past few months. Several of the neighbors had lost cats and small dogs of late, and she wasn’t about to take a chance on Sophie being hurt, or worse. The Christmas Stocking Final (small)

While she waited on the coffee to finish, she attempted to reach some sense of Ryan’s recent action. What had led Ryan to forsake their marriage? She’d prided herself on being a good wife, always loving, kind, honest, and she didn’t push him in ways she’d seen other wives behave toward their husbands. Oh sure, they’d had problems as other couples did, but who didn’t? They’d never even argued over anything serious.

That should have been her first clue. You have to care enough, most of the time anyway, to argue. Now she let that thought sink in, maybe he just hadn’t cared enough. One more thing she’d pushed to the back of her mind.

It appeared her friends had better judgement than she. They’d made an earnest effort to discourage their hasty marriage. But love had won out, along with Ryan’s persistence to marry as soon as possible.

He’d been so different, so loving, when they’d first met. He’d blindsided her into believing he couldn’t live without her and had insisted on setting a wedding date three weeks after they’d met. Theirs was a love at first sight, he’d told her. And so…two months after they’d met, they became man and wife.

Ryan had been ecstatic and wanted to start a family right away. He’d found the newly renovated old farmhouse located on seven acres outside the town of Apple Lake. He’d purchased and completely furnished the home during the three weeks before they’d married. For their children, he’d said. She would liked to have shared the decision in where and the type home they’d settle down in, but he’d assured her he’d made the perfect choice. She would love the house he’d chosen.

That should have been another clue. But Ellie had loved him so much she only wanted to be wherever he was, and if that house made him happy…so be it. She’d live anywhere as long as he was by her side.

Nothing made sense anymore, but then their marriage had begun to crumble within the first year of marriage…after she’d lost the first baby. She’d pushed aside Ryan’s thoughtlessness of the last year to some degree, which was awkward, because they’d barely carried on a decent conversation.

He’d been passionate about the upcoming birth of their first baby. After the loss, he’d blamed her, and when she’d made an effort to explain why the baby hadn’t survived, he’d also blamed her for his frustration and actions.

Ryan always required a scapegoat, and Ellie was always available. She’d struggled to change that weakness in him, and herself for allowing it to happen, but to no avail. She’d detested that he’d become so controlling.

Then out of nowhere Ryan had changed and become the man she’d first met: loving, attentive and caring. What reason could he possibly come up with for his behavior? Of course, he’d wanted to try again for another baby. He’d begged her forgiveness and insisted she become pregnant again as soon as possible…and she had. Once again, she’d forgiven him and had gone along with his wishes.

Ellie had made an honest attempt at coming to terms with Ryan’s arrogant transformation and other deceitful and guarded decisions that had occurred between them in the last year of their marriage.

So…here she was. Alone, when the man who’d vowed to love her forever had brushed aside his vows. Without a child, slowly losing both her parents, with nothing to look forward to, even Christmas, which was six weeks away, brought no joy to her heart.

The coffee’s aroma filled the room a few minutes before the pot beeped. Ellie poured a cup of steaming brew, then dribbled in some half-and-half. She massaged her lower-back muscles, which had begun to ache from sitting in the straight-back chair for so long. She grabbed a pillow from the den to soften the seating and settled down in the kitchen once again, Sophie at her feet.

She’d lost the second baby only a week ago. Unable to prevent the ache in her heart, bitterness threatened to invade, and appeared to be winning. Time to heal physically and mentally was what she needed.

After her first miscarriage, due to Chromosomal Abnormalities, Ryan had almost become a stranger. He’d blamed her. Ellie had protested another pregnancy so soon, but he’d insisted since the doctor informed them sometimes the second pregnancy could be completely normal, they might try again in a few months if they so desired.

Ryan wanted a son. Determined the second pregnancy would give him a healthy son…a son to carry on his name and law practice, he’d pressured her until she had consented to the second pregnancy.

At week eleven, in her first trimester, Ellie had miscarried for the second time in two years. Results were again determined to be Chromosomal Abnormalities.

Ryan, assumed no responsibility for their mismatched chromosomes, and fully blamed her, again, for being unable to carry his child. He’d become unapproachable and their marriage had gone sour. More than sour…damaged beyond repair. Ryan had become resentful, and to her disappointment, had tensed when she’d attempted even a simple hug of reconciliation.

She’d never wanted to settle for less…but she had. Had she known Ryan had only married her to give him babies, she’d not have said yes. But she had.

Now, her hopes and dreams were gone, gone as simply and quickly as her husband who had chosen the coward’s way out. Without warning or explanation, simply a cold, hard backward glance, a week after the second miscarriage and two weeks before Thanksgiving, he’d packed his bags and walked out the door.

Never would she have believed she’d be alone again after two years of marriage.
How had she been so oblivious to the gradual challenges that had ripped them apart? Deep down she’d known they were in trouble, but refused to acknowledge how serious things had become. Sometimes I simply refuse to see what’s right in front of me.

Minutes had ticked away as daybreak broke and streaks of glorious, golden rays scattered across the North Georgia Mountains like a massive umbrella that enveloped the area. The dazzling light found its way into the room where Ellie had lingered at the kitchen table longer than she’d realized. The coffee cup, which was still full, had grown cold, the cream had settled in a light brown circle around the inside rim. She stared down at the bowl of soggy cereal floating in warmed milk, then pushed it aside. She had no appetite. Ellie pulled the warmth of the mint green robe back around her shoulders where it had fallen to her waist, Lord only knew when.

She rubbed at her chilled arms, then gingerly pushed up from the chair and pressed a hand to the middle of her stiffened lower back muscles. Although the house was warm and toasty, she wasn’t. With a sting and a sense of dread in her heart, she feared she’d never be warm again. She couldn’t seem to pull herself together and wasn’t sure if she even wanted to.

She’d lost two babies in as many years, and her dad lived at home with twenty-four hour care because of Parkinson’s. Her mom was ill with Alzheimer’s and was at a nearby memory care facility. With so much loss, what was left for her? What did she have to look forward to?

Ellie had fought against committing her mom to the memory care facility last month, but in the end, she’d had no other choice but to entrust her mom into the hands of strangers. Placing her mom there was the one issue where she and Ryan had vehemently disagreed. Ryan had insisted her care was too much for Ellie, but she had found the time spent caring for her mom gratifying. And who knew how much more time they’d have together before her mom would no longer remember her?

Her dad followed close behind in her mom’s footsteps, except her dad’s illness was due to Parkinson’s. Having both her parents in failing health had broken her heart all over again. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.

She wasn’t over Ryan, even though he’d left her high-and-dry. Not long after they’d married she’d examined her affections for him, and found them lacking, but in her heart she hoped he’d change. Now, after two years in a childless and loveless marriage, she questioned what in the world she’d ever seen in him.

While Ryan had destroyed the love she’d once given so freely, there was still that connection between them. Deep down, she recognized her need for closure. She had to stop making excuses and see him for what he was, a cold hearted man who cared nothing about her.

Ellie scowled. The choice was hers, hers, alone. Ryan may be a rogue, but giving him permission to control her forever was not going to happen.

She wasn’t going to sit back and let Ryan’s lack of consideration bring her down. There was only one thing left to do. She’d wallowed in self-pity and Ryan’s rejection long enough. She wasn’t going to play by his rules any longer.

She’d apply for a job to keep herself busy and not waste away at home day after day. Maybe her friend, Gage Landon, could be of help, since she had a solid network with many of the people in the town of Apple Lake.

Ready or not, she’d made a decision. It was time to brush the bad taste of two years spent with a man who hadn’t loved her, aside. Her troubles were in the past. It was time to move forward.

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I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love…

 

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