Angel in Flight

On the way to Athens, Ga., that Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help question why Tabitha had to die so young. Death was no stranger to me. I’d seen it too many times before. I knew questioning God was wrong, but I was desperate for an answer. This was a passing of another loved one.

I’d spent the night before her services tossing and turning. I prayed for God to comfort Tabitha’s family, to make it through the funeral services with their sanity still intact.

Then, for some unknown reason I remembered the rainbow I’d seen two days before. I’d forgotten the rainbow. Nor did I make a connection between the two incidents until I remembered the experience the week before and my prayers.

My unanswered prayers. God had not kept all my loved ones safe.

I’d worked practically around the clock the previous eight weeks and missed being with my family. I needed a rest, but was reluctant to leave them for an entire week to attend a conference I’d planned months in advance. My husband instinctively picked up on my indecision. He insisted I go and forget everything, except to relax and enjoy the time away.

After arriving at St. Simons, and sharing the workshop experience with a treasured friend, I was glad I’d gone and delighted in new writer friendships developed throughout the week.

A fleeting late afternoon shower, sent my friend and I running for cover and certainly didn’t do anything to lift my dampened mood. After the rain, we joined the group heading for the auditorium anxious to listen to the speakers on our last afternoon at the conference.

After, my friend and I walked and talked sharing memories of the day, when suddenly I glanced upward and noticed a glorious rainbow brushed across the horizon.

IMG_3698a double rainbow

“Look at that beautiful rainbow.” I said. “Wait, there’s another one forming on the left. Have you ever seen anything like it? I wonder if a double rainbow has a special meaning?”

My friend lifted her hand to shade the sun from her eyes. “Oh It’s magnificent,” she said, then turned toward me. “You know what? I think that’s a sign something wonderful is about to happen.” She grinned as we walked toward the conference room.

I glanced down at my watch. The time was a little after five o’clock.

“I think tonight’s going to be special for us,” she said.

Indeed it was special, when that night we both won awards in the writing contests we’d entered.

We headed to grab a cup of coffee before returning to our room. “Still, as happy as I am, I can’t shake the feeling, even as supreme as rainbows are, there is something meaningful and sad about this one,” I said. “What are your thoughts?”

“You may be right,” she commented. “We can’t know the future.”

An old familiar feeling set in, and it knew it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Since my early adult years, I dreamed dreams that sometimes came true. Later in life as I grew as a Christian, the visions and discernment began. Not understanding they were from God, I frequently became upset when they infiltrated my sleep and filled my heart.

“They’re gifts and blessings from God, honey, that’s why you see them,” my mom explained. “God doesn’t allow everyone to have dreams and visions as you do. He shows you these things so you will pray about them.”

It took many years for the impact of her words to fully register with me, to pray for guidance in the situation, when I felt the pull in my heart.

An urgency swept through me when I recalled the rainbow, and again, I felt honored and a responsibility to intercede in prayer. “Father God, I don’t know what this means or what is about to happen. Please send your Angels to watch over and keep my loved ones safe. I pray, Lord, you will prepare the heart of whomever is facing a trial and wrap them in your loving arms. Amen.”

When I returned home the next day, the answering machine bleeped repeatedly. One message was from my daughter-in-law. I called her at once. The tremor in her voice alerted me that something was terribly wrong. My heart hammered and my blood ran as ice while she spoke.

“I have some bad news. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. Tabitha’s been in an accident…a horrible car accident. She was killed instantly yesterday afternoon, sometime between five and five-thirty.”

Within minutes of the time the rainbow appeared to me that previous Friday afternoon, my twenty-year-old niece’s fate was sealed.

I was in shock, heartbroken and angry that God had taken her. She’d been way too young. Unbelief pushed me to ask her to repeat what she’d just told me.

“Why, Tabitha? Oh, God why?” I questioned. I buried my face in the towel I was holding, and wept for Tabitha and the anguish I knew my younger sister was experiencing.

Tabitha had been an angel here on earth. Always a kind, considerate niece, and a sweet loving daughter to my now distraught sister and her family. I’d attended too many funerals in the past three years, and that she’d been taken so young, didn’t make any sense at all.

I left the funeral home and began the two-hour trip home. My heart was empty and I felt as though I were suffocating. I could only imagine the pain Tabitha’s parents endured. They had been so brave. Even though their hearts were crushed, they had smiled through the ordeal of thanking everyone who had attended her service.

I turned the radio up loud and tried to drown my thoughts. Deep down I knew nothing would ever be the same. I wanted to run, but there was no place to run, no place to hide. There was nothing I could do, except pray for them.

I scrambled to find the small notebook I always kept on the seat beside me and a pen. I scribbled words that flooded inside my head, which I had no control. God was giving me a poem for Tabitha. One of the lines in the poem gave me a peace that our Tabitha truly was with God.

A new Angel laughed, and beheld the King.

A still voice whispers reminding me of these words when I pray. “Not my will, Lord, but thine.” God had answered my prayers. Tabitha was safe. Safe in the arms of God. He had wrapped me in His loving arms and given me a measure of peace.

Tabitha’s early death reaffirmed we don’t have the promise of tomorrow. But God promises not to put anymore on us than we can endure, and that our children are gifts from Him entrusted to us for but a little while.

I believe God gave me the moment with the rainbow to wonder in and remember that it is only one of His promises.

Celtic Celebration & Prayer

The third week of August marks the last few weeks of summer here in Wisconsin. It’s also four of the best days of the year for me.

MIF-30_LogoNEG-Color

The World’s Largest Celtic Festival, Milwaukee Irish Fest, ran last Thursday through Sunday at Milwaukee’s Summerfest Grounds. This is not only a celebration of my family’s culture, it is time I spend every year with those I love – singing, dancing, volunteering, eating, drinking and praying. It is at its heart a celebration of life and love and everything that binds us together.

b22c9b4ac1a7d304ed136b03568f80c6

In honor of that spirit, I’ll leave you with an ancient Celtic prayer called: “The Deer’s Cry” (also known as: St. Patrick’s Breastplate”).

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven, light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

Love & light,

Leigh

 

Doing something small for love

My goodness, weren’t we young, then?

When asked her favourite story theme, a friend of mine always says that she wants to read about people who do great things for love. My answer is the opposite. I want to read about people who persistently do the little things for love.

A few days ago was the fiftieth anniversary of the date on which my personal romantic hero and I first began to talk about marriage. I remember that Christmas we joined a group to go carol-singing around for the old-folks, and we were both struck by the elderly couples who listened, holding hands. That could be us, one day.

In the intervening years, we’ve had our sorrows and our joys. We’ve been through times of colliding and others of drifting apart. Always, we’ve found our way through to a renewed commitment, a deeper love.

Looking back, I can count some real crises, when one or both of us was called upon to do something great for love–to leave a cherished job, to move the length of the country, to believe in one another and our love when everything around us tried to pull us apart.

What allowed us to keep going was a habit of looking after one other, of showing our love every day in little, even hidden, ways. Doing the little things, even when we didn’t want to.

As a writer, I am often emotionally and mentally absent even when I’m physically present. My personal romantic hero reminds me to eat, brings me coffee, reads a great review when asked, takes on most of the cooking so I have more time for writing, brings me flowers, does all the shopping (including spending the time needed to read all the labels to cope with my food allergies).

He loves me, and he shows me he loves me every day.

And I love him. I take a break to watch silly videos he has found on YouTube, laugh at his jokes (even if I’ve heard them before), make him a drink when he comes in from the garden, admire the newly mown lawns, send him text messages during the day to say I love him.

Doing the little things every day, even when you don’t feel like it, isn’t always easy. It should become a habit, and that helps. But it’s easy to forget, which is why it matters. Being loving to the one you love, every day of every week, month after month, year after year–come to think of it, that is doing something great for love.

Now, we are old. And when we walk, when we sit together in church, when we go to the movies or listen to carol singing, we hold hands.

Outlander Giveaway

outlander.jpg

Ever feel like you don’t belong? Like you just don’t fit in? Like you don’t even want to fit in? Ever been to a party where everyone else is having a great time and you’re not? And you’re not quite sure why. Is it your clothes, your hair, your face? Is it what you have to say no one wants to hear? Or that what everyone else is saying doesn’t sit quite right with you?

Is that why we love time travel? Because we’re all searching for a place where we fit. If you love time travel and Outlander in particular, you’ll love this giveaway:

Happy August from authors Russell Nohelty, Demelza Carlton, E.B. Black, Mariah Stone, Paula Wynne, Jen Katemi, Christy Nicholas, Kacey Ezell, Amy H Wolf, Tina Glasneck, Fiona Miers, Tiny Fox Press, C.F. Rabbiosi, Pikko’s House, Kyndra Hatch, Mirren Hogan, Madeleine Holly-Rosing, JJ King, Candace Osmond, Chris Patt, Charmaine Ross, and Kristy Tate.

To celebrate great summer reads, we’re giving a ton of Outlander swag to one lucky winner!

Prizes include: Outlander Symbol Earring 4 Pair Set, Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series 8 Book Set (1- 8), Dark Horse Deluxe Outlander Magnetic Bookmark Set, Semtomn Cotton Line Canvas Tote Bag Outlanderfanmerch Outlander Words in James Jamie Standing Stones Fraser Reusable Handbag Shoulder Grocery Shopping Bags, Outlander 2020 Mini Calendar, Virgins: An Outlander Novella,  Zando Womens Winter Scarf Tassel Plaid Scarf Chunky Blanket Scarves Soft Lightweight Blanket Thick Large Wrap Shawl, The Outlandish Companion (Revised and Updated): Companion to Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn, The Outlandish Companion Volume Two: The Companion to The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone, and Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, The Making of Outlander: The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons One & Two, Outlander’s Scotland, Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook, Funny Jamie Fraser Mug. Single, Taken, Mentally Dating Coffee, Tea Cup.

Covers and editions may not be the exact ones pictured depending on availability.

*Your email will be distributed to all of the creators listed above. You can unsubscribe from each individually.* To sign up, go here: Outlander Giveaway

You’ll also love the books in my Witching Well series. Check out my books here: Witching Well Books

To tempt you a bit more, here’s the first scene of The Highwayman.Highwayman

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

At any wedding, protocol demands that all attention should be focused on the bride, even if the bride happens to be your sister, and even if your sister designed a horrid dress. But Celia defied conventions and refused to look at Mia. Celia knew her funk bordered on lunacy, but she couldn’t shake it. Not even for her sister’s wedding.

The lone man sharing her table looked familiar, although she couldn’t say why. Like someone she knew from a long time ago—but a faded out version. Gray at his temples, thick head of hair, wrinkles around his eyes—handsome for his age—and yet, something tingled in the back of her mind, trying to tell her something.

Celia sat back with a humph and crossed her arms over her chest. The putrid pink dress had a bunchy bodice, giving her a va va voom that, when she first saw it, made her complain first to Mia and then to her grandmother.

“It’s her wedding,” Grandma Claudette had said. “If she wants you to dress like a cat, you better get used to whiskers.”

And in the interest of peace in the family and not wanting to upset her mom, Celia bit her lip about the dress and vowed that when it was her turn to marry, she would do it on the courthouse steps.

And Mia would have to wear a clown suit.

Complete with a red nose.

She caught the man looking at her. His glance slid away. Celia considered leaving, but where would she go? Join her friends on the dance floor? No, her shoes pinched her toes. The dessert table for more cake? No, her stomach was already churning. A drink from the bar? No, she needed to stay sober. She slumped back in her chair, wishing the stranger would leave or her friends would return.

As if he read her mind, the man pushed away from the table and left.

Perfect. Now she was alone. And this should have made her happy, because she wanted him to leave, but it didn’t. She sighed and used her fork to poke holes in the frosting roses on her slice of cake. The blush pink roses matched her dress, which matched her shoes, which matched the ribbon on the bridesmaid bouquets. Celia smashed the cake and watched the frosting ooze between the fork tines.

Beside her, someone chuckled. Looking up, she saw the man had returned. He carried a goblet and a slice of cake.

“I asked for a piece without icing,” he said as he sat in the chair beside her. He slid the cake toward her. “For you.”

She thought about refusing it, but instead said, “Thank you.”

Without saying a word, he placed the wine flute in front of her. “It’s just water,” he told her.

“Thanks. Too much—”

“Too much sugar makes your teeth hurt.” He finished her sentence with a smile that sent another warning jolt down Celia’s spine.

“How did you know I was going to say that?”

He lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Just a guess. I could tell that you don’t like frosting by the way you were mutilating that cake.” He offered his hand. “My name is Jason.”

“Celia Quinn.” She put her hand in his, and a zing started in her fingers and spread to her center. She left her hand in his longer than necessary, before pulling away. She couldn’t be attracted to this man. He was older than her dad.

“I know a Jason.” She studied him for a moment before her gaze slid to the other Jason across the room. Dark hair, tall, lean—why were the hot guys the most lethal?

“And you dislike him.”

She met the older Jason’s warm gaze and sniffed. “I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to say something for it to be true.” He settled back in his chair. “Just like you didn’t say anything, but I can tell you don’t like your dress.”

Celia blew out a sigh.

“You probably think it’s a poor advertisement for your grandmother’s shop.”

Celia gave a defeated shrug. “It doesn’t matter. The store’s dying anyway.”

“Why do you say that?”

Celia shot the Jason across the room a glance. She hoped her look told him all the things she wished she could say to his face. He lounged against the wall between the wedding arch and an enormous swan ice sculpture. The black suit accentuated his blue eyes and dark hair. Even the hideous pink tie looked good on him. He caught her gaze and lifted his glass, acknowledging her.

She wished she had something other than her bouquet and a dirty look to throw at him.

“Just because you’re losing the lease doesn’t mean you’re losing the business, you know.”

Celia swiveled her attention back to Jason her tablemate and put puzzle pieces together. “Are you related to Jason West?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“You…look like him.”

The older Jason smiled. “I’m not his dad or uncle…”

He was probably too young to be his grandfather, and he couldn’t be his brother. “What do you know about my grandmother’s shop?”

“Delia’s Dressy Occasion? It’s a great shop.”

“It was a great shop.”

“But this dress…” He nodded at the sateen fabric bunched around her like a deflated balloon. “Pepto-Bismol Pink.”

“Mia calls it pearl pink.”

“And you call it putrid.”

She stared at him.

“Maybe not out-loud, but I bet it’s what you think.”

“How would you know that?”

He propped his elbows on the table. “Tell me, what are your plans for the store?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, since you lost your lease—”

“I didn’t lose the lease.” Her attention shifted back to the younger Jason. “Someone persuaded my grandmother it was time to leave.” She slumped back in her chair. “We were doing fine.”

“Maybe now you can do better.”

Celia picked up her fork and stabbed at the cake. She thought about joining her friends on the dance floor. Becca and Lacey had both kicked off their shoes. They bounced beneath the sparkly lights. Celia wanted to be happy, too, but she felt like she carried the weight of her grandmother’s store on her shoulders.

“You’re afraid that losing the store is like losing your mom.” The older Jason leaned close. “She’ll be fine.”

“How can you know that? Do you know my mom?”

He nodded.

“You’re a friend of my mom’s?” Celia blinked back a sudden tear.

Jason touched her hand, just briefly, and the tingle returned. “The cancer won’t last. She’ll beat it. She’s strong. Like you.”

“You don’t know me,” Celia said. “You might know my mom, but you don’t know me, and there’s no way you can know my mom is going to be okay.” She stood to leave. Her toes screamed in protest, but she pushed to her feet, ignoring the pain.

Unless. She turned back. “Are you a doctor?”

Jason looked down at the goblet. He picked it up and swirled the water. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m good at that…at offending people.”

The band began a slow song and couples formed. Lacey and Becca both found partners. Mia and Brad danced in the center, directly beneath the disco ball. Lights twinkled across the room. It would have been a perfect day, except for the putrid pink dress, and Jason West.

“Do you know my sister?” Celia considered him. She was sure they hadn’t met.

He nodded. “And the groom. He’s an…old family friend.”

“Are you from Stonington?”

“Not originally, although I lived here for many years.”

She waited for him to elaborate.

“I’m from Darien.”

“Oh. Is that how you know Jason West? He’s from there, too.”

“He’s a good guy, just doing his job.”

Celia couldn’t help it. She made a face.

“I know you don’t think so now, but you should forgive him.”

Celia held up her hand. “I don’t know who you are—”

Squealing cut her off. Becca and Lacey both ran to her side.

“Come on, Cee,” Becca said, taking her hand. “Mia’s going to throw the bouquet!”

Celia let her friends pull her away from the table and lead her across the room. Mia stood on the wide steps, several feet above the clustered bridesmaids and single women in the crowd. Celia’s mom sat in a chair at a table with Claudette, Celia’s grandmother. Both looked tired but happy. Celia edged toward the back, close enough to be a part, but too far to be in danger of actually catching anything.

Mia gave her a wicked smile, turned her back, and flung the bouquet straight at Celia. Flinging up her arms, Celia protected her face from the flying flowers.

People around her cheered, and Celia opened her eyes.

Becca, aloft in Jason West’s arms, clutched the bouquet. Becca wiggled as Jason set her down and turned to face him. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Becca kissed him full on the lips. She held the bouquet in her hand, and it poked above Jason’s head, looking like a large, floral hat.

“I owe you!” Becca said, pushing away from Jason.

He didn’t respond to Becca but met Celia’s gaze.

She felt shaken by him, although she couldn’t say why. She felt as if his look was trying to tell her something. Something he didn’t know how to say.

He’s a good guy. Just doing his job, the older Jason’s words floated back to her.

Becca disentangled herself from Jason and smiled into her bouquet. “I love weddings,” she said to no one in particular. “They’re such a happy beginning.”

Celia’s gaze wandered back to her mom and grandmother. A beginning always comes after an ending, she thought. Celia gave Becca a tight-lipped smile, ignored Jason, and headed back to her table. The older Jason had disappeared, and Celia gratefully sank into her chair. Swirling the wine flute, she watched the water form into a small tidal wave before she took a drink.

And the world turned dark.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Her body hummed with energy. She found the quiet dark relaxing and rhythmic motion hypnotic and soothing. Crickets chirped and a breeze stirred the trees. Somewhere, an owl called out. The clip-clop of the horses…

Wait.

Horses?

Celia’s eyes popped open. She sat in a carriage. An obese woman draped in satin and furs sat directly in front of her, snoring, her mouth ajar.

Celia’s own mouth dropped open. She sat up and took note. Same putrid pink dress. Same pinchy shoes. But the wedding, Mia, her mom and grandmother? All gone. Replaced by a grotesque snoring thing wearing a satin tent.

She ran her hands first over the velvet seat cushion, then the burnished wood walls, and finally the black, smooth drapes. It all felt real.

But she must be drunk. Or hallucinating. Had she had too much champagne? No. That drink! That Jason person! He must have put something in her water! But it had looked and tasted like water. Celia ran her tongue over her teeth, trying to find an aftertaste, or a hint of something dangerous.

She drew back the curtain and peered into the dark. A brilliant, star-studded sky gazed down on her. No street lights. No lights at all, except for the one bobbing on the front of the carriage. Leaning forward, she craned to see the driver, but saw nothing but a horse’s butt and its swishing tail. As if the animal knew she was watching and he didn’t appreciate her stare, he lifted his tail.

Celia sat back, closed her eyes, and let the cadence sway of the carriage lull her back to sleep. When she woke, she’d be at home in her bed, and she’d never have to wear this dress again.

Crack!

Celia’s eyes flew open. She sat up straight and glanced at the woman across from her. The woman snorted and nestled her double chin into her fur collar. What was that sound? Was the carriage breaking beneath the woman’s weight?

Crack!

Was it gun fire? The carriage lurched, stopping so quickly that the portly lady slid off the seat.

“What the devil?” the woman moaned, righting herself. She gave Celia a narrow-eyed look as if Celia had knocked her off the bench.

Crack!

“Gunshots!” the woman hissed. She pursed her full lips, yanked off an enormous emerald necklace and shoved it at Celia. “Hide this.”

Celia stared stupidly at the jewels. If they were real, she could use them to buy the shop! Wishing she had a pocket, her mind sought options. In her bra? No. The stones were too big and the bodice too tight. Not knowing what else to do, she lifted her skirts and tucked the necklace into the lace garter Mia had insisted all the bridesmaids wear. She patted her skirts back into place just before the door flew open.

“Stand and deliver!” A deep and somewhat familiar voice demanded.

Deliver what? And how could she stand inside of a carriage? Celia crouched on her seat. Slowly, she lifted her head and saw nothing but the silvery end of a gun pointing at her forehead. None of this is real, Celia told herself. It’s the champagne asking her to stand and deliver something.

“Come, come, ladies.” The familiar voice sent a tingle down her back.

The man stepped out of the shadows and his gaze met hers, but not an ounce of recognition glistened in his eyes. She thought she knew him, but since a black mask hid half his face, she couldn’t be sure.

“My lady.” He swept his arms in a low bow.

Celia gave the gun another glance. It looked real enough.

He lifted one eyebrow and the corner of his lips in a slow and lazy smile, but continued to point the gun at her forehead.

She tried not to think about the emeralds pinching her leg. She couldn’t look at them. She couldn’t adjust them. She couldn’t call his attention to them in any way.

His gaze traveled over her horrid dress and stopped at her mid-thigh as if he could see through the layers of sateen and frilly slip to the garter smashing the emeralds against her.

“Are you in need of assistance?” He held out his hand—the one not holding a gun—to help her out of the carriage. Again, that trill of recognition poured over Celia. She knew him. Somehow.

She shook her head, knowing she couldn’t touch him. If she touched him and he was real, tangible, then she would…well, she didn’t know what she would do. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.

“Are you mute?” he asked, cocking his head. His grin deepened. “Or is my charm rendering you speechless?”

“Have you considered that maybe I’m put off by the gun you’re holding to my head?”

“Ah, so you can speak after all. Pity that. I do love a quiet woman.” He placed his hand on his heart. “Please, my dears, join me.”

But Celia refused to budge, and since her companion cowered behind her, they both stayed in the coach. She stared at his mouth—the only part of his face she could see—other than his eyes. She found both his eyes and lips hypnotizing. Her gaze traveled from one feature to the next, wondering which one she liked the most.

He’s a highwayman! Her inner voice of reason told her. And a figment of your imagination! Those are the best kind of men, she told her reasonable voice.

“I’m sure you understand this is not a social call.” His gaze flicked over Celia and rested on her va va voom bodice. “At least, not entirely, although I do enjoy mixing business and pleasure.”

“Where’s Eddie?” the woman barked over Celia’s shoulder. “What have you done with Eddie?”

As she leaned over Celia, Celia’s foot caught on the door’s lip. She would have tumbled and fell if the highwayman hadn’t shot out his arm to steady her. His hand tightened around her, and in one fluid movement, he lifted her out of the carriage and placed her on the ground.

She felt breathless and warm from his sudden, brief contact. Her breath came in ragged huffs. Not knowing whether she was grateful or disappointed when he stepped away, she hugged herself to keep warm.

A snapping twig drew her attention to three men in the shadows. They stood as silent and watchful as the trees. All three had weapons drawn.

“Where’s Eddie?” the woman barked out again.

“Have you hurt the driver?” Celia asked, with a hiccup catching in her throat.

The highwayman flicked his head toward a cluster of trees. “He’s unharmed, except for, perhaps, his sense of self-worth.”

“What is your name?” the woman whispered.

“My name?” Celia asked, her voice coming out in a surprised squeak.

“Not your name, you goat head! I know your name.”

Celia wondered what her name might be, or her role, or position. Was she a maid? A paid companion? A relation? She shivered, and told herself that she needed to wake. This dream had gone on way too long already. She should have come to as soon as she saw the gun. That’s what normally would have happened. Nightmares typically ended with a major scare.

She tried pinching herself. It hurt, but not enough to wake her.

The woman fixed her attention on the highwayman. “Who are you?”

“Why would he tell you that?” Celia asked, more than a little stung at being called a goat head.

The man chuckled. “You do not need my name, but I do need your valuables.”

Quiet descended, and Celia took note of the clamor of crickets, the hooting owl, and a nearby tumbling river. Country night sounds, usually masked by the roar of constant traffic on the parkway.

“Do you really need them, or do you just want them?” Celia asked.

“What difference should that make?” he asked.

“It makes a very big difference—it’s the difference between greed and—”

He waved his gun in her face, effectively silencing her. “That ring, if you please,” he said to the woman.

Celia watched, wondering what her companion would do.

Slowly, the woman climbed from the coach.

The horses stamped their feet impatiently and shook their reins. For a second, Celia thought about jumping on one and riding away. But then she remembered that she knew nothing about horses, their massive size terrified her, and getting one loose from the carriage might be tricky. Besides, even if it wasn’t real, that gun looked like an actual gun, which meant that the bullet might possibly feel real, and she didn’t like pain—real or imaginary.

The woman drew the ring off her finger. “I have a reticule in the carriage,” she told the man. “If you’d like, I’ll give it to you.”

The man barked a laugh. “Not likely.” He motioned to one of the henchmen, his gaze never leaving the two women. “Search the carriage. Tell me if you find any hidden pistols.”

Celia slid a quick glance at the woman, wondering if she was cunning or just stupid.

The second man passed by. He smelled unwashed and earthy. The woman reached out and shoved Celia into him. “Take her!”

The man stumbled under Celia’s sudden weight, but the highwayman reached out and caught her in his arms. He drew her to him and held her close. She felt safe there, although she knew that she shouldn’t.

“Hold her hostage! Kill her if you must!” The woman clambered into the coach and slammed the door.

Celia fought to breathe. She knew she had to leave, she knew that staying pressed up against the highwayman was stupid. He had his hand on her belly, his fingers splayed across her. He smelled of cloves, and when he spoke, his breath warmed her.

“That was most unkind.” He sounded surprised and disapproving.

The second man scrambled after the woman and flung open the door. Amid the screams, the carriage rocked back and forth.

“I won’t harm you,” the highwayman whispered, his lips brushing against her hair.

Celia glanced at the gun. In the moonlight, it looked very real and very lethal. Almost as devastating as the man holding her in his arms.

He shifted, bringing her in front of him. In one quick moment, he captured her lips.

Celia’s knees buckled. Her thoughts raced back to all those Regency romance novels of her grandmother’s that she had read as a girl. Georgette someone. Hideous, Horrendous, no, Heyer. Yes, that was it. Georgette Heyer. What would Georgette call this? A seduction? A ravishing? Oh my gosh! That was it! She was being ravished by a rake!

Wake up! her mind screamed. No more kissing!

Oh, but it felt so good. So very, very good.

Panic gripped her. Breaking loose, she ripped off his mask.

Jason West stood in a pool of moonlight, gun dangling at his side. Surprise filled his eyes. He touched his lips, clearly dazed. Taking two steps back, his gaze shifted to the dark, shadowy woods. “Forgive me,” he muttered. “I have erred.”

And with those parting words, he turned and disappeared into the dark.

#

Celia lifted her head off the table, dazed. She must have fallen asleep. How embarrassing. She checked the tablecloth to make sure she hadn’t been drooling. It felt dry. What if she had snored? She cast a nervous glance around.

The party continued as if she had never left/slept. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if the band was even playing the same song. That wasn’t possible. The dream seemed longer than a few seconds, more than a few minutes even. But no one was looking or staring at her.

Becca was chatting up some guy over by the bar. Lacey had her arms wrapped around someone wearing a purple bow-tie and they moved to the music. Celia twisted and caught the gaze of Jason West.

Flushing, she looked away. Touching her cheeks, she tried to quell the heat flaming her face. So grateful no one, and by no one she meant Jason West, could read her thoughts, Celia slipped off her pinchy shoes and fled.

Later, she would have to try to explain her sudden departure to her mom and sister. But there were some things she would never be able to explain. Or understand.

Like the garter pressing something sharp into her upper thigh.

 

GET A HIGHWAYMAN OF YOUR OWN HERE

 

My First

Romance novel. hahahaha.

I was about 12 or 13 when my mom bought me this romance novel. It was from Avon (the perfume company) and came with a tiny bottle of perfume to match the title. In this case, Lily of the Valley by Margaret Rome.

I loved the story. The hero was blinded in an accident and is recuperating at a hospital. He convinces his nurse that he wants to marry her—thinking she is homely and won’t mind being married to a blind man. Hey, it was the ’70s and I guess that plotline sold. LOL

It had it all. Vindictive ex-girlfriend, annoying brother who points out that the heroine is actually quite beautiful, jealous ex-girlfriend who tries to sabotage his marriage and get him back, hurt feelings, sadness, true love at the end, along with a hero who is cured and can see the woman he has grown to love. Again, it was the ’70s. Romance novels had heroes who don’t seem so heroic today, who could hurt the woman they professed to love until true love opened their eyes (literally) and made them better men for the woman they loved.

As I’ve matured, I hope my choice of romance reading has matured, as well. I like my heroes to be heroic, even if a little clueless at the beginning, thinking they don’t need love. I want to believe they will grow as characters and men and deserve the heroine, who by the end of the story shows them that love is as necessary as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the shelter we need from the storm. I want the heroine to turn a man who may be rough around the edges into a prince of a guy. I need to believe he will do that to be worthy of her. That the idea of life without her is lonely and meaningless.

So, back to that book at the beginning of my post. For the beginner teen I was when I got the book, it was my first taste of a romance novel and I loved it. Fleur and Alain fueled many dreams of romance. Thanks, Mom. Because without that book and the thousands that followed, I wouldn’t be a romance writer today.

Do you remember your first romance novel?


 

Jill James, author of Sugar Sprinkled Memories

Is marital bliss real?

Is marital bliss real?

 

Not really. But somehow some of us find a way to have strong happy marriages. That doesn’t they are perfect because whenever you live with someone, things just don’t always go perfectly. We’re all human. We all have faults and we also have bad days to go along with all the good ones.

I remember asking my husband if he could do it over again would he marry me. Bad question!

His answer was no.

“What? Don’t you love me?”

“Of course I love you. But you asked if I’d do it again knowing what I know now. That answer is no.”

Honestly, I dissolved into tears. He put his arm saround me and assured me that he was still very much in love with me.

But it did prompt a very long discussion about what goes into a marriage. From his perspective, marriage was a real sacrifice. The loss of independence, of giving up so much for me and for the children, the responsibility, and the commitment all takes it toll in so many ways.

Do I like housework?

“No!”

Do I like fixing meals and staying to a budget, walking the floors with a sick child, or vacuuming?

“No.”

So why did we do it?

We loved each other, the kind of love that would allow us to put aside our personal life for that other person or persons (children). I couldn’t imagine not fixing his dinner or packing his lunch. I couldn’t imagine not doing the things that I did for him because I did them out of love.

If the housekeeping fairies were to descend on the house and save me all those unwanted chores, I would have gladly allowed them to take over every disliked aspect of being a stay-at-home wife and mother.

Maybe taking a very honest look at our lives and what it meant to be married made us both understand and respect the other for what we did. And the day that he decided that he was going to clean the bathroom for me because I’d had surgery and couldn’t do it… I handed him all the cleaning products that he would need. I told him what to use on what and what order to do it. (Am I compulsive? Maybe.) He vanished into the bathroom. Hours later he reappeared informing me that he had completed the task. He also said, “I never realized what a horrible job that was or how long it took.”

What could I say other than thank you?

He never helped around the house. There was a line drawn in some sand that said the house was my job and his was to earn the money to keep the house. I knew when he came home totally wiped out and I did whatever I could to pamper him. Okay, quite simply I spoiled him. So for thirty-six years he had no idea what it took to clean the bathroom. But flip that and it would have been impossible for me to do his job.

I believe that marriage is like a porcupine ball. It’s not a single-sided thing. All those points mean something. To make a marriage work takes work and respect. Without communication there’s nothing. There has to be the ability to talk and see what the other thinks. It’s not just a matter of chatting about the Red Socks or even the moon phase. Sometimes it’s a matter of saying marriage sucks and it isn’t the bliss perpetuated in fairy tales. Sometimes it’s hearing bad news and trying to figure out how to overcome it. But at the bottom of our marriage was love. And I’m one of those romantics who believe that love can conquer everything.

We had highs and lows. Every couple encounters those speed bumps in life. Stuff happens! It’s not a matter of if but rather when. Living paycheck to paycheck? That’s when the contract comes to an end and there’s a layoff! NO!! I can’t pay the bills without an income. I can’t fix dinner without money for the food shopping. Yes, stuff happens but what we do and how we manage to get through those hard times keeps the marriage intact.

The other big problem seems to be fidelity. I never had to face it, but I had plenty of friends and a daughter who did. In my family we used to joke that my dad was very faithful. He kept the same mistress from the time he was nineteen until the day he died. I believe he married the wrong woman. But what he did was not right, and I saw my mom suffer from it.

It colored my attitude on marriage. It was the topic of discussion many times between my husband and me. I didn’t want to go through what my mom did. I told my husband from the start, if you find someone else, I’ll help you pack your bags because I’m not going to accept it. I had a few things that planted my feet firmly into the ground, and my husband knew it.

But I’ve also seen marriages break over what I considered stupid stuff. Talk! Communicate. Let him know what you think and get him to tell you. (Or vice versa.)

Just remember there is no perfect marriage. Cinderella might have suddenly found herself in a castle with a few pretty dresses, but her mother-in-law ruled the roost, her father-in-law called the shots, and she was expected to provide a ton of heirs. Women had no rights, and were considered worthless.

I’m content to know that I had something wonderful for a very long time. No, it wasn’t always perfect, but life isn’t perfect. What we had was love and that made everything possible.

Curling up at night into the arms of a lover is special. When that lover happens to be your best friend, it’s even better. But remembering that no matter what happens to separate the anger from the love is special. It allows us to continue.

“Do I get a kiss?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m still angry.”

“Still?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Snuggle tight. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, but I’m still upset.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know, but I’m still angry.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“I know you did.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. I’ll take that kiss, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not upset.”

“I know.”

It’s been twelve long years. I’ve never even dated. Am I looking? Not exactly. I figure that most people go their whole life without finding that love and I had it for almost thirty-seven years. I’m alone with only memories – memories of a man who gave up so many things to be a father and a husband. But he left behind a family who loved him.

But packed in probably every story I’ve written is a little piece of him. He wasn’t perfect nor was I. But he was honest, intelligent, and very much in love with his family and life. I made a country boy out of a city boy. He could spot and identify a bird in a tree. He could identify trees and dozens of other things that boys raised in the city never know.

Twelve long years, without him, yet he lives forever inside my head and in my heroes. I’m thrilled I had someone in my life who made life worth living. He taught me so much and stayed with me when things weren’t so great.

We talked. We talked about life. We talked about everything from quantum physics to breakfast. And we talked about writing. I miss him but he also gave me the strength to keep going. Had our roles been reversed, he’d be remarried. He’d need someone to clean that bathroom and pack his lunch.