It’s Time for a Divorce

Divorce? Yes! The time has come. The relationship has ended. There’s nothing left of what was once wonderful and beautiful. It’s over.

As an author, there comes a time when we must divorce our characters. It’s tough. We don’t want to do it. There’s all this emotional energy that has gone into them. Alas, we must leave them, fall in love with someone else, and write their story. No longer can we allow those characters to invade our sleep. They must leave. Once they are gone, we can still look back fondly on them and remember the way they were. Stolen kisses, passionate feelings, the quirky little things that they did.

Sound insane? Not at all. Authors must climb into their characters. They become them. I think within the romance genre the emotional connection is extreme. Writing can be emotionally draining. To write it we must feel it and than means feeling the pain, frustration, anger and all the negative things along with the thrill, excitement, and the love. It’s a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.

So as the edit process begins, the author has to pull away from the characters in order to look at the whole story. It’s important to become detached and remain unbiased. We must see them as our readers see them. We must see where we’ve failed to say what the character really is feeling and not let it slide with what we thought we said. Furthermore, when a manuscript comes back from an editor, we often discover that sometimes that character has totally failed to be that sexy wonderful guy and instead is a brazen, overly cocky mess that must be reined in and quickly repaired. Or his arms must have been made of very stretchy rubber for we left him in the living room yet he’s managing to open the refrigerator.

So we must divorce them by the time edits are done. Edits is discovering that the honeymoon has ended. And once a manuscript is sent for publication, we must be able to look back with only fond memories of what once was.  Most of us are monogamous. That means we need to sweep away the old so that we can embrace the new characters and fall in love again.

I’m in the process of divorcing myself from my Christmas story characters. I flipped the tables this time and created a heroine who has the power to make or break the top CEOs. But maybe the real heroine of this story is under the the age of twelve months. She doesn’t care about money and has no clue what it is. Her needs are simple and she loves everyone. Her hello-world attitude separates the wheat from the chuff as fast as a dirty diaper.

I know the day isn’t too far away that I will forever turn my back to these Christmas characters and give them away to my readers. The divorce has already begun – the separation agreement is in place. I’m looking at them from a distance. They are in edits.

When a review comes in that says the reader didn’t want it to end, I know why. The reader fell in love, too. To close a book, be it paper or electronic and end the relationship always hurts. The keeper shelf is a little like keeping that faded photo from the dance or whatever event from so many years ago. Maybe you didn’t marry him, but your heart will never forget.

It’s time for me to move on. I already know who I will become and maybe she’s a little more like me. Until then, there’s nothing like a book boyfriend. (Even if I’ve created him!)

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The City by the Bay with Friends Along the Way

Recently, my family and I did something we’d never done before. We planned an actual vacation that didn’t revolve around travel baseball or returning home to visit with family and friends.

With three votes cast, a drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway became the focus of our trip, which would start off with a visit to . . . “The City by the Bay.”

Quick, turn on your phone’s flashlight and cue Journey!
“When the lights
go down
in the city
and the sun shines on the bay…”

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And now cue the sounds of a record needle being pulled violently across an album.

Why?

Highway 1 closures.

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I read the news and stared at picture after picture of the massive mudslide that wiped out a huge section of the road. Thankfully no one was hurt. But the road closure was a sure sign our trip down Highway 1 wasn’t meant to be. However, there is always beauty to be found with a change of plans. And had heavy rains not pelted California over the winter, I most likely would not have gotten to meet an amazing author friend—Alison Henderson.

Unfortunately, because we were having such a lovely time, I didn’t stop to think about getting a picture. We’ll just have to meet up again and fix that!

And get her to sign a book for me since I love her stories. Today, I thought I’d share one of my favorites with you.

 

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Boiling Point takes place in Chicagoland.

It’s the second book in the Phoenix, Ltd. female bodyguard series. And I can tell you this story is a fast-paced, fun contemporary romance, featuring a pair of undercover bodyguards working at cross purposes, a selection of unlikely suspects, and a robotic sous-chef named GRAMPA.

Genre: Romantic Mystery & Suspense with Humor

322 pages

I truly enjoyed this story, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

 

You can find out more about Boiling Point over at Amazon

 

About Alison Henderson

I haven’t always been a writer, but I have always embraced creativity and relished new experiences. Seeking to expand my horizons beyond Kansas City, I chose a college in upstate New York. By the time I was twenty-one I had traveled the world from Tunisia to Japan. Little did I suspect I was collecting material for future characters and stories along the way.
71Gv14nI3yL._SY200_I began writing when my daughter entered preschool (she’s now a full-fledged adult) and became addicted to the challenge of translating the living, breathing images in my mind into words. I write romance because that’s what I like to read. The world provides more than enough drama and tragedy. I want to give my readers the happily-ever-after we all crave.
I’ve been married to my personal hero for more than thirty years. After decades of living in the Midwest, we’ve recently heeded the siren call of sun and sea and moved to the most breathtakingly beautiful place imaginable – the gorgeous central coast of California. I look forward to the new stories this place inspires.

You can find out more about Alison and her books by visiting her website.

~~~

I have to agree with Alison. California is gorgeous!

Family vacations are fun. I highly recommend meeting up with friends along the way!

 

 

 

Are You A History Buff?

If you’re a history buff, this would be a perfect trip to make. I’d love to add photos here, but they are licensed. So, I’m adding links to some of the sites instead.

http://www.atlantastruesouth.com/gone-with-wind/

Margaret Mitchell visited her grandparents at their Fitzgerald Plantation during summers. She’d listen to them tell stories of the War Between the States. They’d also talk about Reconstruction of the South. Needless to say, she was undoubtedly fascinated and as her imagination grew, she wrote one of the most beloved books of our time.

Margaret Mitchell pulled information from stories she’d heard and her exceptional novel “Gone With the Wind” was born. It’s no wonder the area she chose for, Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved Tara, as the setting in Clayton County, Georgia.

If you visit The Road to Tara Museum, be prepared to view some exciting items and wonderful memories to take away.

http://www.atlantastruesouth.com/gone-with-wind/road-to-tara-museum/

A short drive from Clayton County, you’ll find Marietta, Georgia.

There, and only a few steps away from the quaint Marietta square, is the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square.

http://gwtwmarietta.com/

http://gwtwmarietta.com/visitors_information.aspx

Many other areas have Gone With the Wind Museums. Check online for one near you!

There’s still time to visit before school begins! Take your kids along for a bit of Southern history.

Enjoy the rest of your Summer.

Please check out these links to my books, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, and Apple.

http://caroldevaney.weebly.com/my-books.html

I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love…

Mountain Time

Sometimes, all it takes to gain perspective is to get out of your own head. Sometimes, a trip to the Tetons and Rockies is in order.

2017-07-11 14.27.08I learned a very important lessen in perspective when my husband, son, and I went for dinner at a beautiful restaurant in the Tetons called: The Granary.

2017-07-11 20.43.23The setting was perfect – a glorious view of Grand Teton. The food – gourmet expensive and worth every penny. It was where we celebrated our 30th Anniversary.2017-07-11 19.58.57

In the lobby, on the way out, we met the manager, who looked harried and exuded tension. He was from Wisconsin, not far from our home. He was pleasant, as most people are from Wisconsin when we meet one another at a far-off locale. He said in a conspiratorial voice as he leaned in, “I’ve got a cabin in Northern Wisconsin. I can’t wait to get away from the rat-race and settle there.”

And here we were, escaping “The Rat-Race” in the mountains. Funny. Ironic. And, strangely charming.2017-07-13 13.28.44

We love our time in the Tetons, at Yellowstone, and in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is an escape. A time to view our lives through a more pure and detached lens. A time to lose the daily clutter.

Then we came home.poster_8e88831e280e48a0bd553eef4b9c6ce5_62777729_ver1.0_640_480

The National Guard was called out to our area as a result of massive flooding (Note: not our home in the photo, we suffered a minor tree fall but no water damage). My son’s car needed to be towed as a result of a fluke breakage of a strut coil spring that rendered it in dire need of mechanical assistance. And, we had to purchase two new cell phones in as many days – the second one died this afternoon. That’s why this blog is being posted in the evening rather than my usual morning post.

Perspective and distance.2017-07-11 20.46.44

I’m learning that both are necessary when racing rats.

Here’s to rolling with what happens, enjoying the mountains when we can, and not caring overly much when you lose not only the phone it took you years to figure out, but all your contacts as well.2017-07-11 15.36.35

Small things…when you observe them from a mountain perspective.

Happy July,

Leigh

The Things They Say

When my kids were born, I got baby books to store mementos and record their milestones. Later, I bought similar books to document their school years. For my oldest daughter, I recorded every lost tooth and immunization, taped in snippets of baby hair, and added pictures from holidays and special occasions. With the twins, I had the best intentions to do the same but … let’s just say there are gaps.

It gets a lot harder to stay on top of baby books when you have more than one little person to look after. I now understand why my parents took so many more pictures of my older sister as a toddler than me! But there is one thing I am good about recording – their cute quotes. Here are some that still make me chuckle.

“Banana broken!” – Mia, age 2, looking at a banana peel.

“I want my hair to go round and round.” – Sophie, age 3, asking for braids.

“I want to see the flat tiger.” – Emma, age 5, mishearing us talking about a flat tire on her sisters’ stroller.

“The wrist on my foot hurts.” – Sophie, age 5, complaining about her sore ankle.

Sophie, age 4, sees me reading my Kindle. “What are you doing?” Me: “I’m reading.” Sophie: “Why can’t I hear you?”

“Who’s that guy? He’s so handsome.” – Mia, age 4, spots a guy across the street in a black leather jacket mounting his motorcycle.

“Mom, we’re not nocturnal.” – Emma, age 7, protesting going to bed before sundown.

“I want my apple without the crust.” – Mia, age 4

“I love you so much that I have to think up another name for it.” – Sophie, age 6

Emma,  age 10, explains “sacrifice” to Sophie: “It’s when you give up your life to save someone else. Or something else like going to jail. You have to care more about other people than your own life.”

“You give presents to people you love. If you don’t love someone, you can give them a present, too. Then maybe they will love you. That’s how you make love.” – Mia, age 5

“Getting married involves kissing. On the lips. Which involves germs.” – Sophie, age 6

Mia’s fortune cookie says: “A pleasant surprise is in store for you soon.” Mia says: “I wonder what store it’s in!”

“I want to be good and listen to my parents, but I keep forgetting.” – Sophie, age 6

“Canada is not a country! Canada is any place in the world where there’s peace and joy. If you don’t live in Canada, you can’t have any friends.” – Mia, age 6

Sophie, age 6: “Sometimes when I’m at school, I imagine that you’re there with me.” Me: “How come?” Sophie: “Sometimes when I feel nervous, I pretend you’re there.” Me: “Why are you nervous?” Sophie: “Well I don’t really feel nervous. I just like being with you.”

I Need a Title!

Those words don’t usually come out of my mouth. When I settle down to write a story I almost always start with a title. The Authors of Main Street are working on Christmas stories for a new boxed set and I’m included…if I can come up with a title. LOL

It started as A Baby for Noel. But that just was not my heroine’s name. She told me so. 🙂 Now she is Krista and the story got deeper than expected. As the story changed I thought I wanted to go with Second Chance Christmas. But that just sounds overused. I’m sure without even checking Amazon that title is out there a dozen times at least.

So, I’m turning to the readers! I need a title for my Christmas novella!!

Krista Green is a godsend to Lake Willowbee’s foster child system. When an addicted baby needs a temporary home Krista is the first one called. She loves the babies in her care, but just once she would like to be chosen to become mom to one of these angels. Unable to have a child of her own, she dreams of becoming a mother to one of the babies in her charge.

Morgan Fieldcrest returns home to find he has a son he knew nothing about. With baby Max’s mother dead in a car accident, Morgan believes he is all the child has. Except, Child Protective Services has placed his addicted baby son with Krista, a woman who damaged his family and is the last woman he wants to care for his newly-found child.

Krista and Morgan will be forced to put the past behind them to care for Max and his special needs. They will need to face the lies of family and friends to give the little one a Christmas to remember and find out if they can be a family or maybe even more for each other.

Unedited excerpt:

“I’m sorry, Miss Green. There are no babies for fostering right now. With the holidays in a few weeks, that’s a good thing.”

Krista bit her lip. Of course it was a good thing there were no babies waiting for homes, but her house felt so empty without the cries and giggles of little ones, the scampering of tiny feet. Christmas was a bad enough time for her without the warmth and comfort of another to care for.

“What about an older child, Mrs. White? I know they are harder to place.”

The woman turned kind eyes her way, her glasses slipping down her nose to make her the spitting image of Mrs. Santa Claus; with her twinkling, blue eyes and snow-white hair.

“Miss Green…Krista. We need you available if any babies might come in this holiday season.”

“You mean addicted babies,” she said, a hitch in her voice at the lump in her throat.

Mrs. White reached across the desk and patted her hand. The scent of peppermint and pine trees wafted up from the older woman’s soft skin. It sent flashes of happy, childhood Christmases to her mind. Back when she’d been naïve and young and believed Santa Claus and Daddy could fix everything. Before she’d grown up and realized that miracles didn’t happen, Christmas or not.

“Krista, those babies are the hardest to place. We are so grateful for what you do for them…for us.

She looked behind the woman to the Happy Wall. The pictures of babies and children with their new parents in their Forever Homes. The images wavered through her unshed tears. For every success story there were hundreds, thousands of failures. Children who slipped through the cracks and disappeared into an unkind world.

Krista yanked back her hand, snatched up her purse, and stood. “Please let me know if you need me. Please.” She winced at the pleading in her voice.

“Of course, Krista. We need you. I hope you know that.”

She nodded as best she could and walked out of the office. Not sure how she’d made it to her car, she placed her head on the roof and let the tears come. The turmoil cleared her brain. A few sniffles and a swipe of her wet face helped her put things into perspective. She could do this. How many holidays had she’d spent alone? Too many to count. The thought shot through her head. She could do this.

Krista wrapped her coat around her and buttoned it up. Pulling on her gloves, she blinked as snowflakes wafted down to fall on her outstretched hand. She stared across the road to Lake Willowbee. The lake would be frozen by morning. Flashes of red and green showed through the trees as kids cheered and broke the thin ice at the edge of the water with their stamping feet.

She turned away with slumped shoulders and got into her car. Her teeth chattered as the heater fought against the frigid temperature in the vehicle. Krista hated the cold. It brought too many thoughts of kids on the streets, struggling to survive in killing cold nights.

“Don’t go there, Krista. You are warm in your car, going to your nice, warm house. Count your blessings.”

The daily mantra did its job as her shoulders loosened and a small smile curved her lips. A swipe of the windshield wipers cleared the glass and showcased a world of fluffy white. She put the car into gear. A shiver went down her spine. The weather in the Sierras could go from fluffy to whiteout within hours. She planned to be in front of a crackling fire before that happened.


*Readers: please help me with a title for Krista and Morgan’s story!!*


Jill James, romance author
currently working on Christmas novella and ghost paranormal romance

Welcome to Long Island!

I admit I couldn’t come up with a topic for this month’s blog post so I put it out to my Facebook friends/followers and one suggested I write about life on Long Island. See, that’s the first thing you have to know. Unlike people who live in Cincinnati or Wichita or even New York, we live on Long Island.

So, here are a few things I love about my home:

The food. You can’t get better pizza anywhere, and there is literally a pizzeria within walking distance of anywhere you live here. And I’m not talking about Domino’s or Pizza Hut or any of those other franchise chains. We’re all about the small business pizza owner here. I drive 2.5 miles to work every day, on one main road, and I pass three pizzerias on my way! I could probably give up everything else if I moved, but the pizza is a deal-breaker.

Transplanted Long Islanders tell me the must-have egg sandwiches are not available anywhere else. Luckily, I can make my own at home. Start with a seeded roll, layer on grilled ham or turkey or bacon or no meat, if that’s your preference (I usually go with the ham), two eggs prepared anyway you want (over easy, please – with the yolk still drippy), cheese if that’s your thing, and your favorite condiments (most people go with SPK: salt, pepper, ketchup. Ketchup on eggs is sacrilege, in my book.) Like pizza, you can find these delights at any bagel shop or delicatessen on your way to work. The good places will throw in a coffee and small orange juice for a great morning meal!

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And don’t get me started on bagels. (Okay, fine.) Like our pizza, our bagels are the best and readily available. You want flavors? We got ‘em: egg, onion, sesame, everything, cinnamon raisin, French toast, blueberry, strawberry, even rainbow bagels, and the St. Patrick’s Day tradition of green bagels! Grab a dozen and some hand-whipped cream cheese for a feast that can’t be beat.

Location, location, location! If I drive west, I wind up in one of the most exciting cities in the world: New York. I’m an hour’s ride by train or car from Broadway plays, museums, zoos and aquariums, world-class shopping, or sightseeing. Driving east, I hit the Hamptons and Montauk (fun fact: Montauk is the inspiration fo my fictional town of Snug Harbor in my Calendar Girls series) for five-star beaches,DuetinSeptember 500x750 (1)fishing, summer fun, vineyards, microbreweries, farm fresh fruits and veggies, and quiet but lovely off-season getaways. In my own sleepy little town, I’m a five-minute drive from stunning sunsets at our local beach.

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We’re quirky. We have buildings shaped like a giant duck, like castles, and like a pirate ship. We’re the home of the world-famous Grucci Fireworks family and the Amityville Horror House.

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Credit: Shutterstock.com

We’re historical. The first English-speaking settlement in New York was founded in Southold in the 17th century. During the Revolutionary War, our residents were spies who aided Washington’s forces in New York. America’s first poet, Walt Whitman, was a born-and-bred Long Islander. The first golf course was built here. Sorry, Texas, but we had the first cattle ranch. First lighthouse? Montauk Point. The first supermarket was our very own King Kullen. And our ancestors drove to it on the first parkway. We probably suffered through the first traffic jams, too. Charles Lindburgh’s famous transatlantic flight began here. President Theodore Roosevelt had his summer home here, as did the Vanderbilts, the Gettys, and other wealthy families of the late 19th century. In 1965, 7-11 introduced the first coffee-to-go on Long Island (you’re welcome, caffeine-aficionados!). The Apollo lunar module was built here. The science of DNA was started at Cold Spring Harbor Labs. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind had its start here (and is still located here. Go to the local mall early on any morning and you can see the trainer volunteers walking new recruits).

Long Island is not, in actuality, an island; it’s a peninsula. Shaped like a fish, it’s 23 miles from north to south at its widest point and 118 miles long. We’re the most populated island in the U.S., and if we were a state, we’d be the 13th largest in the country. It’s not cheap to live here. In fact, we have some of the highest real estate prices, property taxes, and utility bills nationwide. But it’s the place that I (along with about 8 million other people) call home.

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Here’s how one of my characters in DUET IN SEPTEMBER, Book I of the Calendar Girls Series describes her hometown:

After dropping Nia off at her store, I considered my options. Going back to bed was out of the question. But if I planned to forgo my usual Saturday morning routine in favor of an early start to the day, I would need coffee. Stat.

As I cruised down Main Street, I sought out a quick spot for a caffeine infusion. My mistake. This was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, one of the peak times for tourists in Snug Harbor. I passed the block where Mama’s Hen House served breakfast and confirmed my worst fears. Crowds of tourists loitered outside the restaurant on the three park benches, window shopping at the realtor’s next door, or chatting with the others waiting for one of the two dozen tables inside. Their children zipped up and down the sidewalk or slouched beside their parents. Strollers, which were not allowed inside due to the cramped interior, sat parked in rows near the entrance. Strike one.

Two blocks later, the line at the local bakery snaked the length of a football field. Really? These people were willing to wait over an hour for a few Danish? Sorry, I didn’t have the kind of patience needed to infiltrate that mob scene. Strike two.

One last place to check. And I couldn’t even squeeze into the parking lot at our local convenience store, thanks to the multitude of beachgoers buying ice for their coolers, twelve packs of canned soda, a quick breakfast, or all of the above. So much for my getting coffee to go. I’d have to wait until I got home for my morning jolt. Which, when I took my sweatpants and giant t-shirt into account, was probably a very good idea.

I made a beeline for home and soon enough, sat at my kitchen table with a toasted English muffin and my longed-for coffee. Once I finished breakfast and washed my few dishes, I stared at the clock above my sink. Now what? It wasn’t ten o’clock yet, and I had an entire day stretched out in front of me with nothing to do. I couldn’t hit the beach for the same reason I had to come home for breakfast: the plethora of tourists. Ditto for the shops, which would be jam-packed with those seeking that last-minute souvenir of the summer they’d spent in Snug Harbor. I should probably throw some laundry into the washer, but I cringed at the idea of spending my day off doing housework. Besides, it was far too beautiful a day to stay cooped up indoors.

A bike ride might be nice. And…I sneaked a peek at my thighs in my shortie pajama bottoms…beneficial. Yes. A little fresh air and some cardiovascular exercise. This excursion would also serve as my “something different” today. Win/win/win.

I quickly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, before my lazy side could convince me if God wanted us to exercise, He wouldn’t have invented the Lifetime Channel. In the garage, I found my bike penned in by my artificial Christmas tree, the snow blower, and my ski equipment. Okay, so it’d been a while since I’d opted for two-wheel transport rather than four. When I first came home from Albany, Daddy’s deteriorating health had kept Nia and me running back and forth to the hospital. After his death and the funeral, I’d invested all my time into becoming the new Wainwright at the helm of Wainwright Financial. Such a dismal time…

Enough. I shook off the memories and wrestled the poor bike free. Once I rolled it out, I checked the tires and noticed the front one was flat. I ventured back into the garage for my manual pump and filled the tire with air. Fifteen minutes later, I sailed down my driveway, aimed for the circular road that ran around the marina. A salty breeze kissed my cheeks as I rode leisurely through my neighborhood.

I waved to Mrs. Seifert as I pedaled by where she knelt, weeding the garden of red and white impatiens around her mailbox. “Good morning.”

“Morning, Paige,” she called after me. “Enjoy your ride.”

I would.

Snug Harbor earned its name because the town bordered large water on two sides. On the southern coast, the Atlantic Ocean offered miles of pristine beach with soft white sand, ideal for the tourist trade. The rocky northern coast sat at the edge of the Long Island Sound, creating a perfect waterway for fishermen. Whereas the south end of town prospered due to multi-million dollar properties, five star restaurants, and upscale boutiques, this side—the north crescent—catered to a very different clientele. No-frills motels, bars, delicatessens that opened at four in the morning to serve breakfast for early rising mariners, bait shops, and takeout restaurants ruled here.

The north side also had a wilder beauty than the south, thanks to less development and a more rural flavor. At least, that was my opinion. Buildings were erected farther apart, with lots of open space between. Bulrushes caught the breeze and rustled. Seagulls hovered, squawking as they sought leftover food to scavenge. Across the rocky inlet, the Coast Guard station stood sentry with its lighthouse and flapping flags.

The one exception to this pristine homage to Mother Nature was Coffield’s Wharf, a miniature version of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Our replica boasted a popular clam bar where tourists and locals could grab fresh-caught seafood and pitchers of frosty beer while dining outdoors at picnic tables. For higher end clientele, there was also one five-star restaurant with spectacular water views. The various outbuildings housed a few souvenir shops, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, an expensive toy store, and of course, a Coffield’s Bluff wine store that offered free tastings on weekends. When Nia and I were kids, our parents often took us to the wharf in the evenings for ice cream or fried clams, or just to walk over to the docks next door to see the party boats sailing back with the day’s catch. At ten on a Saturday morning, I figured most of the crowds would be elsewhere: the beach, breakfast (obviously), aboard party boats, or wherever else tourists went on beautiful sunny days.

The simple joys of childhood echoed around me as I cycled toward the wharf. I passed the old elementary school Nia and I had attended. Behind the school sat the playground where I’d had my first kiss from a boy. Darren Simmons had been eight and I was seven. His family moved to Texas a few weeks later and for a while, I thought my scandalous behavior was the cause of their abrupt departure from Snug Harbor. When I’d finally confessed my deep dark sin to my mother, she’d laughed and explained Darren’s father had been offered a transfer from his company. The peck on the lips I’d shared with Darren was probably his way of saying goodbye. Of course, only a year later, my mother became the poster child for “scandalous behavior,” but at the time, her comments made perfect sense.

On the next block, I rode past the public library, a frequent hangout in my school years—before the existence of the Internet.

Everywhere I looked along my route sparked a memory to make me smile.

Why hadn’t I done this before now? My legs pumped for an uphill climb, then relaxed my feet on the pedals as I coasted down the other side. I felt exhilarated, powerful, and a little bit sexy. No wonder people raved about the endorphin rush that came from exercising. This was amazing!

A higher hill came into view, and I shifted gears to prepare. I had to pedal a bit harder than I’d anticipated, but I pushed myself, knowing I could coast down the other side. Once I reached the other side. Funny how I never noticed how steep this road was when I drove it every day in my SUV. My thigh muscles ached, and I actually rose off the seat to get more power into my pedaling. Sweat broke out on my forehead. Still, the bike and I climbed. My pace slowed with my exertion, making every motion harder to complete. At last, I crested the hill, but only found a plateau. No downhill break to catch my breath. I had to push on.

A few yards ahead of me, a man walked a large, lean dog near the curb that ran along the shoreline. The man had a great build with broad shoulders packed into a tight t-shirt and long, muscular legs in khaki shorts. Nice buns, I contemplated as I drew closer. A good handful, but no excess.

Beeeeeeep! A car horn blared from behind me, and I swerved to keep the front tire straight. The bike veered onto the road’s shoulder and slid on a patch of sand, nearly upending me.

The expensive convertible roared past me at a speed I surmised was double the town’s limit. The blond driver, her long hair whipping with the wind, flipped me the bird as she sped on down the road.

“Nice,” I shouted after her. “I hope you get arrested!” Where was a cop when I needed one?

“Paige, is that you?”

Oh, good God. Mr. Yummybuns looked at me over his tasty shoulder, and I groaned. Why had I wished for a cop right now?

“Hey, Sam.” I tried to play nonchalant as I braked my bike next to him. “Did you see that moron?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m off-duty right now. If it makes you feel any better, though, Tonya’s at the top of the next ridge with a radar gun.”

Imagining the blonde’s upcoming surprise, I laughed. “No lie?”

“Nope.” Sam’s grin sparked fireworks in my belly.

In the dim hallway last night, I’d found his smile dazzling, but in the light of day, I could easily understand Nia’s attraction to the rest of him. He looked like a sun-bronzed god, all sinew and golden skin with eyes the color of honey and the lushest lashes I’d ever seen on a man.

If only he were mute…

As if to introduce itself, the fawn-colored dog suddenly lurched forward to sniff at my sneakers.

“Daisy, get down.” Sam yanked on the leash.

“Hi there, sweetheart. Aren’t you a love?” I bent to rub the pooch between its folded ears, then looked up at Sam again. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”

“Daisy won’t hurt you. She’s big but loveable.”

“Daisy?” I quirked my eyebrows. “You named this huge beast Daisy?”

“Not my choice. She’s a rescue from the Greyhound Liberation. Her full name is Daisy Chain of Love.”

“Wow.” I slipped my hand under Daisy’s angular jaw, and she snuffled. “I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be,” he replied. “All the racers get goofy names.”

Actually, I was referring to the fact that he had a softness for any living thing. But I wisely bit back the insult. “How long have you had her?” I asked instead.

“Two years.” Daisy licked his hand, and he patted her fondly. “If you’re thinking about a pet, I could probably hook you up with the rescue group. They’re always looking to place retired greyhounds.”

Me with a dog? I shook my head. I couldn’t even keep a houseplant thriving. “I don’t think I’d have the energy for a former racing star.”

“The keyword there is ‘former.’ They’re retired so they actually don’t do much running. And you’ve got a decent-sized yard for a dog to get out his ya-yas. Besides, you look like you could handle anything.” He glanced at my bike, then the road ahead, as if he didn’t want me to see the smirk on his face from his attempt to compliment me.

Yeah, sure. Suddenly he’s worried about hurting my feelings. Get a grip, Paige.

“Where you headed?” he asked, gaze still fixed on the horizon.

“The wharf, then home again.”

He whistled through his teeth. “Oh, right. But you don’t have the energy to keep up with a greyhound. That’s like…what? Eight miles round trip?”

Eight miles?! I swallowed a gasp and forced a casual smile. No way did I want him to know I had no idea how long a trek I’d planned for myself. “Yeah, something like that.”

“You training for some kind of marathon?”

“Sort of,” I lied. “The 10K Twin Fork Ride is next month. I figured I might as well start getting ready.” Wow. Could I get any more ridiculous? No way I had the slightest intention of participating in that torturefest.

“Where’s your water?” He gestured to my bike frame, then looked up at the sun and shielded his eyes with the flat of his hand.

Water? My gaze followed his to the empty wire rack where a water bottle should rest beneath my seat. Oops. I forgot about bringing something to drink on my morning trek. I wasn’t about to let him get the better of me, though.  “I’ll pick up a bottle when I get to the wharf,” I replied with a dismissive air.

His brows rose in twin arcs. “The wharf is still two miles from here. You’ll dehydrate long before you get there.” He jerked his head in the direction of the side street. “Come back to the house with Daisy and me, and I’ll grab you a coupla cold ones to go.”

If this were a movie, the creepy music would start building right now. What should the naïve heroine do? Go home with the monster so as not to hurt his feelings?

Lucky for me, this wasn’t a movie. I had no qualms about turning him down. “No, that’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

“Do I scare you, Paige?”

I snorted to hide my surprise. “Puh-leez.” He thought I was afraid of him? Or was he actually daring me to come to his house?

“Good. Then you’ve got no good reason to decline. And the break will give you time to reapply your sunscreen, too, since it looks like your face is starting to burn.”

“My…” Sunscreen. Of course. Something else I forgot. Jeez, I was a moron. But I’d committed to this stupidity and wouldn’t give Sam Dillon the satisfaction of catching me in my lies.

“Forgot that as well, huh?”

“I didn’t forget,” I retorted. “I just ran out and decided to pick up more when I got my water.”

“Uh-huh.” His knowing grin raised hackles on my nape. Note to self: don’t try to lie to a cop. “Come on. Let’s get you properly outfitted for your ‘training.’”

“It’s really not necessary,” I said lamely.

“Yeah, it is. Your sister would never forgive me if you wound up in the hospital and I could have prevented it.”

Nia. Again. I sighed my defeat and pushed my bike forward. “Then I guess I’ll take you up on your hospitality. Thanks, Sam.”

As I followed him and his dog, I had the uneasy feeling I’d just agreed to visit the devil in his private circle of hell.