The Love of Writing, Planting or Painting

I don’t remember how old I was when I realized flowers made you happy. But I know who helped me understand that the magic of growing flowers was right up there with cookies and milk. My grandma. A vivid memory of pulling up her driveway has stuck with me throughout the years. Her long walkway to the house was covered in thrift. Beautiful, lavender thrift. Of course, each year it multiplied and each year the thrift became more glorious than the last.

When my own grandchildren came along, I shared my love of planting a tiny seed and watching it blossom into a thing of beauty. Their awe and pleasure was more than worth digging in the dirt. By the way, I love digging in the dirt.

Planting flower or vegetable seeds, reminds me of writing. Find the proper spot, cultivate the soil, plant the seed deep enough, cover it with the right amount of soil, water it in, keep it weeded, fertilized and pull the plants that can strangle the strongest plant. One strong plant will mature, whereas several in the same area will slow its progress. Once the plant blooms, sometimes we need to cut the first bloom in order for the plant to produce stronger flowers. Plant the right story in your head, nourish it, remove unnecessary parts, then watch it grow into a thing of beauty.

Writing is similar to whittling a piece of wood down to a flawless work of art. I used to watch my grandfather whittle and wondered how in the world he had the patience to keep at it for hours at time. He had a plan and worked that plan until the wood became his vision. I certainly shave away at my manuscripts, more than I’d like. But wood shavings can be swept up and used elsewhere, as deletions in a story can be planted in another story if I want.

Writing is also akin to painting. You always start with a clean canvas. As with the stroke of a pen in writing, so it is with the stroke of the brush on paintings. The imagination is captured on paper or canvas or whatever medium you care to use.

So here’s to my grandma. For her loving words and arms and precise teachings in the method of planting, whether it’s seeds, a story, or a painting.

I’m slicing and dicing “Christmas in the Country” and hope it’s whittled down to a better piece of art than when I first began writing the story. This a favorite cover. It reminds me of a watercolor painting of a place in my childhood.

If you join family or friends this year, please be safe.

Blessings and good health on this special time of year.

Until next time…I Wish You Music, Butterflies and Most of all…I Wish You Love.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Image result for free pictures of christmas trees with lights

From our house to yours. May your Christmas and New Year be the best, healthiest and happiest ever.

I hope everyone is all set for a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas! I finally got everything completed yesterday. Whew! Didn’t think I would. But, things do get done one by one.

We won’t have snow, but I can pretend, can’t I? Love the snow.

If you join family or friends this year, please be safe.

Blessings and good health on this special time of year.

Until next time…I Wish You Music, Butterflies and Most of all…I Wish You Love.

What Would You Like to Read in 2022?

What was your favorite book of 2021? Did you discover a new-to-you author? Do you subscribe to a must-read newsletter? What makes it different from the hosts of other newsletters? How about podcasts? Are there any you religiously follow? Is there an author on social media that’s knocking it out of the park?

This year, I discovered Katherine Center. I’ve devoured several of her books and watched two of her made for Netflix movies. She became an automatic must-read author for me. I also really like her newsletter. She shares images of the settings of her books that I really enjoy.

An author who is hitting it out of the park is Brenda Novak. She’s super active on Facebook and has a ton of stuff going on. She posts research pictures, has give-aways, runs contests, hosts a monthly book club and is constantly accessible to her fans. I’m definitely a big fan of not only her books but also the way she handles her career.

How about you? What author are you fan-girling over?

I would be so honored if my books were on your reading list! If you’re wondering where to start, why not pick up one of the Authors of Main Street Christmas box sets? They’re only .99 and most have a lot of stories packed into that one small price.

Happy holidays!

My Christmas Wish for You

This holiday season, my wish for you is to be merry and bright, just like in the songs and stories. It has been a very tough two years but everyone (and I mean everyone) can find a blessing in their lives.

Did you wake up this morning? You are alive! Did you get dressed? You have clothes on your back! Did you eat something? You are fed! Did you thank God, the fates, the goddess for the day?

You are blessed!

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! May blessings rain on you this year and the coming one!!

Jill James, author of the Mistletoe Valley series of holiday books


Can you believe Thanksgiving is upon us? I, for one, cannot. This year has absolutely whizzed by.

I’m thankful for my faith, family and friends. Thankful for so, so many blessings in life. Especially these days.

I hope you have a wonderful day with whomever you decide to share the holiday. Many blessings on having loved ones around and your table filled with all the delicious dishes made by loving hands this year.

Tell someone you love them and give hugs if you feel comfortable enough to do so.

Since travel has been limited for most of us, and for so long, there’s a tug at my heart to visit the mountains. I like roaming through the woods, kicking leaves and watching squirrels skitter around trees. Love the sound of a water fall, sitting atop huge rocks dipping my toes in a cool creek, listening to birds chirping, the rustle of winds whistling through trees. A sun kissed, rippling lake with diamond sparkles dancing over its crest.

I love the silence, too. Nothing like it.

My family matters more than anything. I’m Southern born and raised, you can’t take the South out of me. Travel is a passion, meeting other kind people helps build my confidence in this world of today.

My book “A Smoky Mountain Christmas” was such a joy to write. There is love and pride among the Southern Souls who live in and around The Great Smoky Mountains, they’ve always held a special place in my heart. I thought of the country folks as I wrote the book.

As I bring Tina and Hank’s second book to life next year, “A Smoky Mountain Christmas Wedding” within their story, I want to convey the breathtaking beauty that lies in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. The air is sweet and crisp, clouds hover low, while lush green mountains rise to greet them. During winter the mountains are covered in snow, rendering the rolling hills a spectacular panorama. If you’re a traveler and have never visited the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, think on making it a place to journey to one day. Cades Cove is an area I believe you’ll not want to miss! It’s fascinating.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving? What are some of your priorities? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time…I Wish You Music, Butterflies and Most of all…I Wish You Love.

Christmas Traditions

My favorite part of the holidays are the traditions that make up a family. From the required foods for Thanksgiving to the time you open presents for Christmas. Every choice. Every memory. Tied together in your family history.

One of my favorite family traditions started when I got married. We got a First Christmas Together ornament and after that I knew I wanted one for every year. Some came with the year on them and some years I picked an ornament I liked and wrote the year on there. As one would imagine, after 32 years of marriage we have a lot of “year” ornaments. This year’s is the cute snowman with gummy numbers! I love it.

In my Christmas book this year I wanted to have Laura, who has never celebrated Christmas, discover what traditions do to connect a family at the holidays, all year long, for all time over the years.

Excerpt of Trapped in Christmas

Christmas in Mistletoe Valley had been as close as possible to perfect before when she’d been researching to write her story, looking for something fake and crooked. Looking for the hidden scam of the town. But embracing the spirit brought Laura as close to enjoyment of the holiday as she’d ever been in her life. This must be what children felt when they saw the presents under the tree and knew Santa Claus had found them yet again.

Passing the antiques store on Candy Cane Lane, she spotted a familiar doll in the window. Blonde hair and blue eyes like her own peered back at her. The dolls with the dimpled faces and their own birth certificates had been all the rage when she was little. She’d rejected Christmas, but her dad rewrapped the much-wanted doll in birthday paper that year. Sara Jane had been her prized possession until she’d tired of dolls in her teen years and let her father donate them.

She couldn’t have loved that doll more if she’d requested it from Santa and he’d made her dreams come true. The love was no less knowing her father had bought it and wrapped it for her.

Leaning against the window, Laura sighed. It took so little to make a child happy. A doll. A bike. A racetrack for mini cars. It wasn’t the shopping-mall Santa’s fault he couldn’t promise the return of missing mothers and fathers.

A bell jingled as she pushed the door open. The scent of lemon polish filled the store. And something more. Of wood cared for many years. Of cushions used and loved for generations. Tradition filled the store as if it were something you could smell and see and touch. The new furniture in her apartment lacked that heaviness of years of loving and caring.

“Good morning and welcome to Levin’s. I’m Anya Levin. Let me know if I can help with anything.”

“Thanks. I was looking at the stuff in the front window.”

A smile graced the young woman’s face. “Yes, I saw you. We get lots of window shoppers, but it is such a pleasure to welcome you inside.”

Laura returned the smile. The quaint manner of speaking brought to mind the old country. Maybe Poland or Germany. “You have a wonderful store. I was wondering about the doll in the window. I had one just like it when I was little.”

“Ah, Christmas brings out the kid in all of us, doesn’t it?” Anya walked over to the window and grabbed the doll, bringing it back to the front counter, placing her gently on the surface as if she were made of porcelain instead of vinyl and fabric and stuffing.

Laura’s fingers trembled as she stroked the blonde hair. Someone had lovingly cleaned up the doll’s shining face. The dress was different from the blue one hers had. But it looked just like Sara Jane.

“It’s one of the older ones. It’s hard to find them without damage. This one is in good condition, but some child must have loved it very much. They wrote their name on the bottom by the dollmaker’s signature.”

Anya lifted the doll and pulled its dress up. A sloppily written Laura stood out in bright, red marker ink.

“Other than that, the doll is in good condition.”

Laura pulled off the right shoe and stared at the tiny stitches in khaki thread. The only color her dad had to do simple rips in his police uniform. Those too small to worry about taking to the cleaners for repairs.

She’d been running around their apartment and snagged Sara Jane’s foot on a table corner. She’d cried like her heart was breaking until Dad got his needle and thread and did surgery to ‘save’ the doll’s foot. He’d been her hero that day. One time in a long list of many.

“I’ll take her,” Laura said without thinking twice.

Anya smiled. “I love when a beloved piece finds a new home.”

Laura’s grin grew as she paid four times what her father paid for the doll new. It didn’t matter. She could hear her Dad’s voice in her head from their talk before she’d left for this trip.

“Sometimes life puts us right where we need to be.”

I hope you will discover Mistletoe Valley and the magic it brings to the season!

Available on Amazon and kindleunlimited

Jill James, author of the Mistletoe Valley series

Gingerbread Men and a Free Book


Quite often, the characters in my books are eating the foods I wished I had in front of me. This is especially true in my Christmas books where holiday treats run rampant. What are some of your favorite holiday treats?

Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Little White Christmas Lie. Recipe follows.

Carson went to the kitchen with every intention of spilling his story to his family, but the only person he found was his grandmother. She had her gray hair tied up in a ribbon, an apron over her jeans and sweater, and a welcoming smile on her face. She held out her arms for a hug as soon as Carson walked in.

He gathered her against him, inhaling her warm scent. She always smelled of vanilla with a touch of cinnamon.

“You know Millie and I aren’t engaged, right?” Carson pulled away from her.

“Of course, darling.” She turned back to her rolling pin and dough on the counter. “I had rather hoped, of course…but it did seem too good to be true.” She flashed him a quick smile and a wink. “Did she tell you I had called her?”

After Carson nodded she said, “Why don’t you tell me what really happened?”

Carson took a seat at the kitchen table and watched his grandmother use a cookie cutter on the dough while he filled her in.

After he’d finished, she said, “And now, what are we going to tell everyone else?”

Carson blinked. “We’re going to tell them exactly what I just told you.”

His grandmother tsked her tongue. “No. That’s boring. We need a story.”

“I think Millie would prefer boring honesty,” Carson said.

Using a spatula, his grandmother carefully transported a freshly cut gingerbread man from the counter to a parchment-covered baking sheet. “I don’t believe that for one second,” she said. “Have you even read any of her books?”

“Granny, I’m not really her target audience.”

“And why not?” She pinned him with her stare.

He lifted his shoulder. “If things work out, I promise I’ll read one of her books.”

His grandmother banged her cookie cutter on the counter. “You’re doing it all backwards. You have to read the book first!” Sighing and shaking her head, she returned to her cookies. “It’s a wonder you ever made it through school.”

Gingerbread Cookies

(This recipe is courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction.)


10 Tablespoons (2/3 cup; 145g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup (150g) packed light or dark brown sugar

2/3 cup (200g) unsulphured molasses

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 and 1/2 cups (438g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon ground ginger (yes, 1 full Tablespoon!)

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

optional: easy cookie icing or royal icing


In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat on medium high speed until combined and creamy-looking. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Next, beat in egg and vanilla on high speed for 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. The butter may separate; that’s ok.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be quite thick and slightly sticky. Divide dough in half and place each onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap each up tightly and pat down to create a disc shape. Please see photo and description above in my post. Chill discs for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough. I always chill mine overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line 2-3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. (Always recommended for cookies.) Set aside.

Remove 1 disc of chilled cookie dough from the refrigerator. Generously flour a work surface, as well as your hands and the rolling pin. Roll out disc until 1/4-inch thick. Tips for rolling– the dough may crack and be crumbly as you roll. What’s helpful is picking it up and rotating it as you go. Additionally, you can use your fingers to help meld the cracking edges back together. The first few rolls are always the hardest since the dough is so stiff, but re-rolling the scraps is much easier. Cut into shapes. Place shapes 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Re-roll dough scraps until all the dough is shaped. Repeat with remaining disc of dough.

Bake cookies for about 9-10 minutes. If your cookie cutters are smaller than 4 inches, bake for about 8 minutes. If your cookie cutters are larger than 4 inches, bake for about 11 minutes. My oven has hot spots and yours may too- so be sure to rotate the pan once during bake time. Keep in mind that the longer the cookies bake, the harder and crunchier they’ll be. For soft gingerbread cookies, follow my suggested bake times.

Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. Once completely cool, decorate as desired.

Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Baked and decorated (or not decorated) cookies freeze well – up to three months. Unbaked cookie dough discs (just the dough prepared through step 2) freeze well – up to three months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator then continue with step 3.

Goodbye October

We’re about to say goodbye to October. With a blink of our eyes, this year has absolutely flown by. I have no idea where the days disappeared to, but here we are. Headed into another Winter.

I didn’t accomplish everything necessary the past few months. Something always cropped up to steal time. Still, there are basic chores and unexpected responsibilities that must be met. Today, I’m replacing two old lamps that have given up the ghost! Lol So, I’ve chased down several styles to check out and hopefully get that crossed off the list.

We have two sweet banana pepper plants that stubbornly insist on sharing their treats with us. That’s a good thing. Since it’s turning colder by the day, they won’t be productive much longer. My mums are still smiling and so am I.

I found and dusted off an old manuscript the other day, I’d completely forgotten. No time like the present to polish and publish as soon as it’s edited.

Here’s a short excerpt and Chapter One of:


The North Georgia town of Marshville, was founded in 1889, by Judd Marsh’s family.

Just out of college, and ready to take over his father’s business, Lucas Marsh overheard his father, Judd Marsh, admit to his wife that Tate Stone was actually his son.

Lucas’ father plants seeds for Tate and Ally, Lucas’s girlfriend, to form a relationship that would lead to marriage.

Judd Marsh doesn’t need or want Ally’s family’s land. What he wants is the bloodline of the two most respected families in the county united. Though no one, even Tate, knew Tate was Marsh’s son. But he’ll take over the land if he has to, to bring Ally’s mother down, and offer her daughter in marriage.

Ally’s father, died when she was three. Her mother worked the land alongside her trusted farm hands. She never remarried.

Does Tate’s dying mother admit to him that Judd Marsh was his father?

Why did Tate leave the land he loved for a number of years? Did he only return home because his mother is ill?


Love is more powerful than reason.

Tate Stone grew up chasing a dream. He was determined to rise above his family’s modest status in Marshville, Georgia.

Ally Matthews, who grew up privileged, chose to chase Tate Stone.

Since middle school, wealthy Judd Marsh chose to befriend Tate Stone, his son, Lucas Marsh’s, friend.

Both Lucas and Tate disregarded a warning that one day their friendship would come home to bite them. Both were determined to guard their friendship and their bond against Lucas’ father, Judd Marsh, against all odds.

Ally and Tate regarded speculation of their difficult involvement and kept their relationship quiet. Still, they vowed to marry one another when the timing was right.

Lucas’ father, Judd Marsh, was a man who attained whatever he went after. And…he would do whatever it took to join Ally and Tate, to bind their family’s bloodline.

Lucas hadn’t counted on falling for Ally, his best friend’s girl.

Tate hadn’t counted on Lucas as a bitter opponent for the love of his life.

Until Tate realized he and Lucas were in love with the same woman.

Tate would do anything to save his relationship with Ally. His dream. His future.

Until Judd Marsh dropped a secret in Tate’s lap.

Until Tate’s mother didn’t deny the secret.

Tate swore he’d get even with Judd Marsh, for the way he’d ignored his mother, if it was the last thing he did. Judd, with his high and mighty attitude, had glowered down that aristocratic nose at him for the last time.

A promise Tate made to himself and he always kept his promises.

Ally’s family was the second most wealthy family in Marsh County. Ally wanted Tate and a family, never mind how much her mother protested.

Lucas wanted her because his father wanted the two together. He thought.

When Tate Stone’s mother lay dying of cancer, old man Marsh sent flowers, had even visited on one occasion. Oblivious to anyone else being in the house, twenty-two year old Tate overheard a discussion that changed his life forever.

Old man Marsh was his father. Not once had he said anything to Tate about it. Heck he barely knew Tate was alive.

Tate Stone grew up chasing his dreams on the wrong side of the tracks, while privileged Ally Matthews grew up chasing Tate Stone. They had each other in times of trouble and didn’t need, nor want, Lucas Marsh poking his nose in their business.

Tate was furious that Lucas had begun to treat him differently. The hatred in Lucas’ heart came at a total surprise. “Thinks he’s so high and mighty. Just because his old man, Judd Marsh, owns half the town doesn’t give him anymore rights than anyone else, to go around thumbing his nose at us,” Tate said. “We grew up being best friends. I guess that’s over now.”

Ally considered Tate and the anger that ate at him. “I don’t think he still feels that way, Tate. He’s changed, yes. You can’t hold a grudge against him forever, because of who and what his father is.”

“Yeah? Judd Marsh never once called me son or told me he loved me. Not that I’d have wanted him to, but he treated me as if I were dirt beneath his feet. The only time I remember him speaking to me, was the night I graduated Marsh High. Came over to shake my hand. Didn’t even put his hand on my shoulder. Some father. I want what’s rightfully mine, and I’ll see to it Lucas Marsh and everyone else in this town, knows I’m a Marsh. Not that being part of his family matters, or that I want to be his son, but Judd’s rubbed my nose in dirt long enough. He had to know I was his son years ago. It’s time he paid homage to the rest of his family. I’ll get my mother’s revenge.”



Tate stepped from his car onto a cracked sidewalk in the middle of Marshville. That old familiar feeling of home rushed at him. The home that he’d left to forget.

He wondered where Ally was these days. He hadn’t heard from her since he’d packed a duffle bag in the middle of the night seven months ago, and took off for Montana. Montana, where the skies were bigger than anything he’d ever seen before. Bluer than the open skies of his beloved Georgia.

Tate stood ready to open the door to the restaurant. Herrin’s. He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent. Fresh potato yeast rolls, creamy/cheesy seafood dish surrounded by mashed potatoes and baked on a wooden slab. He’d never forgotten that food. Too good.

What wasn’t good…was…through a window, he saw Ally sitting at one of the tables.

He was hungry and his stomach growled, but he wasn’t ready for a confrontation.


Ally sat inside the restaurant and stared through the window while Tate crossed the pavement. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Tate was back in town. Oh, Lord. Now what? As much as she’d cried and tried to reach him, he’d proven he could get lost and he’d done just that. Now he was back to render her heart and soul broken again.

She took a deep breath. Okay, she could do this. If her legs would hold her up that is. What would she say to him? Would he even want to see or talk to her? She hadn’t been the one to leave, or to break a heart. Tate had refused to believe she’d rather be with him more than Lucas.

Not in a million years would Lucas stand up to or would mean more to her than Tate. She hadn’t been able to convince Tate though. The Marsh’s had finally gotten to him. He’d given up. Given up on her and the life they’d planned.

She kept both eyes on Tate as he climbed back into his truck, then pull away.

Ally had a million questions for him and hoped he’d come into the restaurant. When he didn’t, she paid her bill and slipped out the door, then headed back to her dress shop two doors down.

She called the one reliable person that kept up with everything and everyone in town. Flora, a cashier at Winston’s grocery store.

“Tate is staying in the home he purchased before leaving. Not sure how long he’ll be here though. He has to get back to Montana,” Flora revealed.


Tate had found work on a sprawling Montana ranch rounding up cattle. Not that he’d had to work, he’d saved more than enough to last until he could find something worthwhile. But it wasn’t in him to do nothing, to sit and simply fade away. For the first week, he’d done just that though. He’d fought off the bottle. Drinking his troubles away would do no good. Starting a bad habit wouldn’t change a thing.

He’d been determined to get his head on straight and keep it straight. Had to wrap his head around the fact that Ally and Lucas might eventually get together. He wasn’t going to stick around to watch that. Heck no. Not when she’d been the love of his life for better than seven years. Why would he go back? He had no reason to be back in Marshville, except to visit his mother’s gravesite. His plan was to contract a renovation on the home he’d purchased before life had taken a cruel turn and he’d abruptly left Marshville. When the job was completed, then he’d head back to Montana.

The new life he’d made for himself.

A life without Ally.

It hadn’t taken long for him to realize it would take a long time for the new life in Montana to feel like home. He had no friends and that, he supposed, would remain the same until he decided he could handle opening up to another set of friends. The other ranch hands had tried their best to befriend him. They’d shared their lives and asked questions of him. Questions for which he had no answer. He was a loner, and that’s the way he wanted to remain. He wasn’t ready. He pushed himself to the limit and worked long, hard hours everyday. The ranch hands finally let him be.

He hadn’t been honest with Flora when she’d asked where he was staying. There was no reason she needed to know where he was. He pushed aside the curtain and stared out the wide window of the motel at the vast land surrounding the nearby small town of Deer Creek. Since the renovation would take a good while to complete, he’d need to look for a more permanent place. One that would at least be better than the four walls he stared at everyday. The walls had begun to close in, even after a week. He was used to wide open spaces, thank goodness the motel was temporary. Maybe he’d move into the farm house while it was being renovated.

It wasn’t home now though. Montana was now home. Marshville and the Georgia farm had been his life, though aspirations of a better life still persisted.

Best if he’d finish the renovations, close out the house and get back to the life he now knew.

Until next time…I Wish You Music, Butterflies and Most of all…I Wish You Love.

Is It Too Soon To Talk About Christmas?

It’s not even Halloween, yet. Personally, I have six family birthdays, Halloween, and Thanksgiving to celebrate before I can don the holly and deck my halls. But when it comes to reading holiday romances? It’s never too soon. The Authors of Main Street is a great place to find a sweet romance filled with cocoa-sipping people in sweaters snuggling beneath blankets before roaring fires.

So, even though my house is decorated with faux-spiderwebs, pumpkins, and flashing orange and purple lights, and I’m sipping pumpkin-spice cocoa, I’m still lighting a fire, snuggling beneath quilts, and settling in for a sweet holiday romance.

How about you? What are you reading? Here’s the one I wrote for the Authors of Main Street Christmas box set last here.

Free in Kindle Unlimited


Mustering courage and outrage, Lauren pulled her Honda up to Triple Arch Bay’s wrought-iron gates. A pair of lions on stone pillars frowned at her. She would not be intimidated. The scam had to stop. Determined to prevent others from falling for the lies and false promises that had robbed her of not only her money but also her dreams, Lauren squared her shoulders and lowered her window to speak to the guard.

A handsome young man about thirty years her junior with the name Sean embroidered above his shirt pocket greeted her. Lauren flashed her most winning smile, the one she trotted out when facing apathetic students or their difficult parents. “I’m here to see Donna Johansson at Iris Lane.”

Sean checked his tablet. “I’m sorry, she didn’t phone you in. Would you like me to call her?”

“No. That’s not necessary. I’m just popping by. I’ll be in and out in a heartbeat.”

“I’m sorry. Without an appointment, I can’t let you pass,” he said.

Lauren changed tactics. “Of course, she’s not going to give me an appointment, Sean.” It had been hard enough to get the woman’s address. “She’s a scam artist.”

The young man quirked an eyebrow and looked mildly interested, but then came back with, “I get it, but even more reason to not let you in, right? I bet this woman really doesn’t want to talk to you. If I let you pass, I’d lose my job.”

Sean was like the troll guarding the bridge. Lauren blinked back tears, and the young man must have noticed.

Leaning forward, he braced his hand on the roof of Lauren’s Honda. “Listen,” he said in a conspiratorial low tone, “the beaches are public, right? If you can find a meter on PCH, you can take the beach until you find the stairs accessing the neighborhood.” He winked at her as if he’d done her a favor.

Lauren had spent the last twenty years living in nearby and not quite as posh Rancho Allegro, a coastal community south of Laguna, and knew there was no such thing as a private beach in California. She also knew outcroppings of rocks protected Triple Arch Bay. To access the bay, she’d either have to swim or pick her way across the shoals. The last thing she wanted to do was arrive at Donna Johansson’s house looking like something that had washed up on the shore.

A horn behind her beeped.

Sean, the troll, slapped the roof of the Honda as if he were patting the head of a well-behaved dog, gave her a toothy smile, and motioned for her to drive away.

Lauren, with a thumping heart, knew what she had to do. She pulled to the side to allow the Tesla behind her to pass, then, putting her foot on the gas, she roared through the gates.

Sean shouted, “Hey!” but no sirens blared. Helicopters didn’t fall out of the sky. Armed security guards didn’t race after her. Gripping the wheel, Lauren barreled down the tiny street, passing the McMansions lining the cliffs overlooking the blue sparkling ocean.

She tightened her grip on the wheel, thinking, Cerulean Skye, you are going to pay.

The GPS guided Lauren to a two-story Cape Cod wannabe surrounded by a white picket fence and a hedge of rosebushes in need of pruning. Closer inspection told her the cherry-red front door and window shutters needed a fresh coat of paint, and the shingle roof also needed updating. Cerulean Skye was having financial troubles.

As well it should.

And, thanks to Lauren, the problems were about to escalate. She thumped her car into park and bolstered her resolve before climbing out and slamming the door behind her.

Cerulean Skye was going to fall. She would make it happen.


Princess yapped. Ron shot a glance at the door. A shadow moved on the porch, eliciting another woof and growl from Princess.

His mom’s high heels clacked across the tile and into the entry. She opened the door and waved in her best friend, Lois. Whispers floated Ron’s way, but with his earbuds blasting white noise, he couldn’t make out their conversation. Which was fine; he was even less interested in Lois than he was in Princess.

Mom strode across the room and placed her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, darling, but I have to go.”

The last word registered. “Go?” Ron removed his earbuds to stare at Mom. She wore a pink pantsuit and carried a white leather bag. She’d parked a pair of suitcases in the entry. “This is sudden.” She hadn’t mentioned travel plans since his arrival last week.

“Yes,” she said. “You don’t mind taking care of Princess, do you?”

Ron and Princess exchanged glances. The standard poodle curled her lip. Ron stared at the dog with distaste. “What? You mean feed her?” Princess lived on a diet of smelly canned food. Just looking at it made his stomach churn. Listening to the dog wolf down her food was the worst thing about staying at his mom’s house.

Mom ruffled Princess’s ears. “And walk her and make sure you’re here when the groomer comes.”

He’d have to pick up her poop? Not going to happen. “How long are you going to be gone?” If it was more than a day or two, Princess was definitely going to a pet hotel.

Mom shot Lois a glance. “I can’t say.”

“Where are you going?” Ron asked.


“Belize? This time of year?” It would be sweltering in mid-August, and Mom hated breaking a sweat. That was why she played golf and not tennis.

“London,” Lois chirped.

Thanks to an ample number of yoga sessions and plastic surgeries, both Lois and Mom looked closer to his age than their own. Their Botox cheeks and fat bee-stung lips made him twitchy and uncomfortable.

“Which is it? Belize or London?” Ron pulled away from his computer to study the trio before him. Two of them were lying. “Why can’t you take Princess with you?”

Lois tapped her size-six shoe on the floor and glared at Ron.

Mom dropped a kiss on his cheek and patted his shoulder. “You two will be just fine.” She breezed for the door and picked up her bags, leaving a waft of nose-tickling perfume in her wake. “Don’t try to call, I may be out of service for a while.”

The front door opened and slammed. Moments later, someone started a car engine.

“That was unusual,” Ron told Princess.

The poodle stalked across the room and flopped onto her bed without looking at him. If he were to get a dog of his own, he’d choose an easygoing Golden Retriever or a well-trained Labrador. Poodles, especially ones trimmed in what Mom called the Lion Cut, were too fussy. Mom spent much more on grooming Princess than Ron did on himself. Which wasn’t too surprising. In Boston, Ron had been going to Marv at the barbershop specializing in military cuts for years. With a pang, he realized that since he was relocating to Southern California, he’d have to find another barber.

He hated change.

Drumming his fingers, he tried to refocus on his research, but the riddle of Mom’s strange behavior puzzled him like a buzzing gnat. He hit a contact on his phone. Moments later, Margo answered.

“Where’s Mom going?” Ron asked.

“I don’t know,” Margo returned. “The spa? The store?”

“No, she had bags. Told me to take care of her dog.”

“Didn’t you ask her?”

“She told me Belize, but Lois said London.”

“That’s weird. She didn’t mention any travel plans yesterday. In fact,” Margo paused as if checking a calendar, “we have a tee time tomorrow at noon.”

Ron grunted. He despised golf. Mostly because golfers paraded around in such ridiculous clothes—his sister being the exception. Ron yearned, for not the first time, for Mom to be more like the seventy-five-year-old women who stayed at home to garden, knit, or bake cookies, and less like Lois.

“Try phoning her,” Ron said. “Maybe she’ll be more forthcoming with you.” He ended the call without a goodbye.

Princess stirred on her bed. She lifted her pointy snout and sniffed the air as if something foul had blown in. Princess disliked most things and people, including Ron. Shaking her head and making the bell around her neck jingle, she scrambled to her paws before trotting from the room. A low growl gurgled in her throat. Princess yipped.

Ron ignored the dog and went back to his current project. Since the success of his last patent, he no longer needed an income, but he did need the mental challenge only research provided.

Yipping turned to barking. Princess dashed into the room. Standing a foot away from Ron with her lion’s mane quivering and her paws spread, she woofed a panicked warning.

“Relax,” Ron growled, adjusting his earbuds and upping the volume of the white noise.

Princess sprinted back to the front entry. Her barking escalated to frenzy mode. Ron waited for the bell to ring, announcing the arrival of a package. Mom seemed to average about three deliveries a week.

Only half paying attention, Ron listened to Princess scrambling down the hall, through the kitchen, into the laundry room, and banging out her doggy door. When he heard a woman squeal, he reluctantly took out his earbuds.

Ron peeked out the window and saw a woman scrambling toward his brother-in-law’s vintage T-Bird. Snarling and snapping, Princess circled the car. The woman jumped onto the back bumper and leaped onto the car’s rooftop. Her red skirt pushed up her thighs. One foot wore a wedge-heel shoe, and the other was bare.

Princess bounded about, yipping and growling. The woman’s white button-down blouse had come undone, affording him a tantalizing glance of her lacy white bra. Ron, feeling unsure and a little like a voyeur, forced himself to stop watching the woman and her popping buttons and search for the missing shoe. Ah, there it was, beside the left tire.

Clearly, he had to do something. If nothing else, retrieve Princess. Could the woman press charges? Technically, she was trespassing – and interrupting his work. Once again, he, who had earned two PhDs from ivy-league schools, had been bested by the dog. After stomping to the laundry room, Ron grabbed Princess’s faux-diamond-studded pink leash off the hook by the door and headed out.

He froze in the driveway. Why did this woman, despite the look of terror on her face, the mussed hair, and the frantically waving limbs, seem familiar? They had met, he was sure of it.

Their eyes locked. Ron tried to shake himself free from her gaze, but her seething anger paralyzed him.

“Is this your dog?” she called over Princess’s incessant noise.

“No.” Technically, it wasn’t a lie, although he was responsible for her until Mom’s return. “But I know where she lives.”

“Where’s her owner?”

“Obviously, not here.” Ron strode across the lawn. The dangling leash bounced against his thigh with every step. “Princess! Hush!”

The dog pranced away from him.

Mrs. Hickson, Mom’s octogenarian neighbor, wearing a pink fluffy housecoat and a pair of knitted socks, emerged from her house and frowned when Princess sprang over the picket fence and landed in a flowerbed. “Ron!” Mrs. Hickson barked.

Princess galloped around Mrs. Hickson’s yard, kicking up dirt and turf and knocking over garden gnomes.

The woman slid off the car, buttoned her blouse to conceal her bra, and smoothed down her skirt. She narrowed her eyes at Ron, studying him. Did she recognize him, too?

“Your shoe is under that tire.” Ron pointed to the wedged-heel lying on its side and looking, somehow, forlorn.

“Thank you,” she spat out.

Ron froze, mesmerized, when she squatted to retrieve her lost heel.

Princess, though, clearly made up for Ron’s immobility with her own exuberance.

“Control this animal!” Mrs. Hickson screamed. “Or I’ll call the shelter.”

Ron wished she would, although he couldn’t admit this to anyone. “Princess!” He slapped his thigh to get the dog’s attention.

Princess took one long, taunting look at him before vaulting over the picket fence and tearing down the street. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the perspective, the tree-lined streets in the quiet neighborhood had little traffic this time of day, other than the surfboard-toting teenagers and wetsuit-clad retired businessmen.

“She is your dog!” The woman had readjusted all her clothes but still wore the livid expression. Her hair had been swept up in a bun at the back of her neck the last time he’d seen her. Now, it framed her face in a messy cloud of curls. Her cheeks were vivid pink. Last time, she’d had on dark red lipstick. He liked women in lipstick, but they terrified him when they frowned.

Or smiled, for that matter.

“No, she’s not.” Ron stepped closer to inspect Chuck’s car. The T-Bird was his gear-headed brother-in-law’s latest acquisition. Ron had no idea why Chuck had parked it in Mom’s driveway, but he had a pretty good idea how Chuck would react if he knew a strange woman had been rolling around on top of it. He’d blow a gasket.

Somehow, Ron needed to corner and fetch Princess, but despite the anger rolling off this woman, he couldn’t pull himself away. What was the draw? Her beauty? Could he be that shallow? Her puzzling familiarity? The last had to be it. Where and how had they met? After all, Ron had just moved to Laguna two weeks earlier. He hadn’t even closed on his condo yet. That was why he’d taken residence at Mom’s and co-existed with Princess.

Which explained what he was doing here, but not why the woman had taken a perch on his brother-in-law’s car. “What are you doing here?” Ron asked.

“I’m looking for Donna Johansson.” Her words came out in angry little huffs. It would be cute if she wasn’t so frightening.

“Donna is away for a…while.” He made a calculated guess given the number of bags Mom had taken.

The woman’s eyes narrowed to slits. “You know her?”

“It’s a tight-knit community,” he hedged. “Donna has lived here for more than thirty years.” Mom had won the house in the divorce, despite the fact that it had been in Dad’s family for generations.

“I need to talk to her,” the woman ground out. “Immediately.”

“If you give me your number, I can have her call you.”

“Why don’t you just give me her number?”

Knowing Mom would be furious if he did, Ron balked. “It’ll be better if I pass your number on to her.”

The woman sucked in a deep breath before saying, “She won’t return my call.”

Probably not, Ron silently acknowledged, but he, at least, would have done his part. “It’s the best I can do.”

The woman strode over, fussed through her purse, then slapped a business card into his hand.

Lauren Hallstrom, author with Cerulean Skye Publishing

Ron felt slightly sick. Cerulean Skye Publishing—Mom’s latest venture. Until a few years ago, Mom had been a real estate agent. Before that, a make-up artist selling fifty-dollar tubes of lipstick. And before that, she’d been an organization guru. Mom had the ability to reinvent herself more than anyone he knew. Maybe that was why his biologist father had fallen in love with her. She was more chameleon than human.

There were things about himself that Ron would change if he could—like the ability to converse with lovely women parked on cars—but he lacked the skill. He was more like his father than his mother in that regard.

With another angry huff, the woman turned on her pretty wedged heels and limped away from him without another backward glance. He watched as she tossed her lone shoe into the Honda, climbed in after it, started the engine, and rumbled away.

He stared after her as memory returned. He’d first seen her at a literary event two years ago. He’d gone to try and meet up with Mom. Back then, he’d been a professor at MIT, and a conference had brought him to California. He’d taken the opportunity to meet up with Mom, but the only time she’d been able to see him was during what she called a literature soiree. Lauren had been playing the piano. Rachmaninoff, one of his favorite composers. Joseph, his mentor, had always listened to classical music at the lab while he worked, and Ron had carried on the tradition even after Joseph had retired.

Ron stood rooted in the driveway, caught in the flash of memory…

Mom spotted him and lifted a bony arm to wave him over. With heavy feet, he navigated the room, skirting past the tables where people in fancy clothes sat sipping wine and nibbling on pretentious pieces of food posing as art.

“Darling!” Mom stood to embrace him in a scrawny hug. Had she always been so brittle? He chided himself for not visiting more often.

She pulled away and laced her fingers through his. “I’m so glad we could connect.” Releasing his hand, she ushered him toward her table.

Ron pushed his fingers through his hair. “I wish I could stay longer.”

She reclaimed her chair and motioned for Ron to take the seat beside her. “And I wish I hadn’t already committed to this soiree.” She lowered her voice. “Thanks to Lois, we were able to smuggle you in.”

Ron sat beside Mom.

“You remember Lois, darling?” Mom laid her hand on her friend’s arm.

“Of course,” Ron said. “How are you, Lois?”

Lois studied him with shrewd eyes and stretched her plump lips into a smile that was as fake as her boobs. “I’m well.”

Ron considered the plate before him. It held what looked like a scallop, topped with a cherry tomato and some sort of green and orange shoots. A puce-colored sauce had been drizzled across the plate. His stomach, in want of a chicken breast, growled.

Ron glanced around at their tablemates—two women who each had two stacks of books at their elbows as if their towers were competing for height, a man lost in thought scribbling on a notepad, another man in Coke-bottle-lens glasses with his nose buried in a spy novel. These were true bookworms. Mom and Lois didn’t fit at this table.

Music began to play. Most around him paid little attention to the swell of sound coming from the corner of the room, but Ron swiveled to take in the woman at the piano. She really was lovely. Willowy, blonde, pink-cheeked. Her fingers stroked the keys with grace. Could he muster the nerve to talk to her? No. What would be the point? His work was in Massachusetts, and she and her piano were in Orange County.

A middle-aged woman in a red dress stopped beside Lois. “I’m so excited about this,” she gushed. “I emailed you my manuscript immediately after our conversation. Did you get it?”

Lois plastered on a polite smile and winked at Mom. “Let me see.” Lois pulled her phone out of her Kate Spade bag and tapped on it. “Why, yes. Here it is. Hadley Brighton, right?”

The woman’s expression fell. “No, Mary Hadley. I sent you The Tales from the Edge.”

“That’s right.” Lois regained her composure. “Riveting.” Lois laid her hand on Mom’s arm. “Do you remember my telling you about it?” She turned back to Mary. “This is Donna Johansson. She’s the mastermind behind Cerulean Skye Publishing.”

“You’re a publisher?” Mary placed her hand on her heart as if to slow its beating.

Wait. What? Ron forgot all about Rachmaninoff and the lovely woman at the piano, and he turned his attention to Mom. The realtor. Not publisher.

“She’s definitely someone to know,” Lois said.

Everyone else at the table lasered their attention on Mom. She flushed beneath their collective gazes.

“I’ve never heard of Cerulean Skye Publishing,” the woman with the tallest stack of books said.

Me neither, Ron thought.

That was the first he’d ever heard of Cerulean Skye Publishing. Now, as he watched the retreating Honda, he wished it had been the last. Just like he wished this wouldn’t be the last he’d see of the lovely Lauren Hallstrom.

“Dude!” Jazz, his barefoot surfer neighbor dressed in a wetsuit approached and shook Ron out of the memory. Jazz had tied his surfboard’s cord around Princess’s collar. “You gotta keep this dog locked up. She was scaring all the kids at the park. She snarfed some old lady’s sandwich.”

Princess, with her tongue lolling, gave Ron a haughty look. Ron clipped on the dog’s leash and untied the surfboard cord. “Thanks, Jazz” he said, “It won’t happen again.” Although, he didn’t know if that was a promise he could keep, but he would try. Just like he would try to see Lauren Hallstrom again.

PrepTober and Nanowrimo

PrepTober – When you take the month of October to prep for November and Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month – Endeavour to write for 30 days and 50,000 words in November.

I’ve done Nano (for short) at least 7 times over the years. I’ve won a few years, got close a few years, and fell off the wagon way short of the end line a few times. If nothing else, I have more words at the end of November than I had at the beginning.

Do you set goals for yourself? Do you meet them? Do you try?

Jill James, NaNoWriMo participant