Travel Concerns and the Coronavirus

Anyone else considering postponing travel plans? We have flights booked to Spain and Greece in early May and we’re wondering if we’re safer staying home. In April, my daughter is graduating from Brigham Young University. Will they still hold commencement? In Washington State, where much of my family lives, gatherings of more than 50 people are discouraged, so this seems a reasonable question. My daughter is planning on a Study Abroad program in Israel April through August–will that be canceled?

I’m a planner. I don’t like having my plans rearranged once they’re on my calendar. But in this climate, it seems like the safest way to travel is arm-chair traveling. I love a good destination romance. Growing up, I loved Mary Stewart’s novels. They are a charming blend of mystery and romance and were often set in a far-away country. Today, I love books by Marc Levy and Jules Wake.

How about you? Are you an armchair traveler? Would you like a trip to Ireland?

Irish Wishes

Gillian thinks she’s happy – she has a safe, reliable job working at her local library, good friends, and a sweet gig as the choir accompanist for her church. But her orderly life is turned upside down on her 25th birthday when she inherits the contents of a safety deposit box that will send her on a trip to Ireland.
Workaholic Pete has always done his billionaire-father’s bidding, so when his dad sends him to Ireland to fetch his little stepsister, he can’t refuse.
But billionaire JW has a few tricks up his sleeve and the journey he’s planned takes Gillian and Pete on a trip they’ll never forget. Castles, boating on the River Liffey, the haunted ruins of the Hellfire Club, and the breathtaking beauty of the Irish countryside—this is one journey that has more twists and turns than either of them could ever have imagined…

Get your copy here

 

2020 Vision

At the close of each year, I like to pause and look back on my business goals and see what I’d planned to do and what I actually accomplished. Here are last year’s projections.

2019

WRITE 5+ NOVELS:

3 Destination Romances I WROTE TWO

1 Christmas novella for the annual Authors of Main Street Box set DONE

The seasons series, my collaboration with Greta Boris    DONE

Flesh out the novella The Music of You and Me turn it into a novel and publish  DONE

PLUS, I REWROTE THE MUSIC OF YOU AND ME AND PUBLISHED IT IN A BOX SET AS THE INCOGNITO BILLIONAIRE

Rework and republish early mysteries and create pen-name and promotion schedule. If this goes well, create a romance pen name separate from my YA books. I DIDN’T DO THIS, BUT IT’S STILL ON MY TO-DO LIST.

PROMOTION

Have a free day once a month and book promos. MOSTLY

Make all books into paperbacks: MOSTLY

Make all series into book bundles: STILL WORKING ON THIS

I DIDN’T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING THINGS ON A REGULAR BASIS:

3-4 BLOG POSTS FOR EACH FREEBIE BOOK–TWEET AND PIN

EXCERPT PLUS RECIPE

EXCERPT PLUS RESEARCH

EXCERPT PLUS WRITING CRAFT

EXCERPT PLUS BOOK’S ORIGIN

Take AMS course (January 7th) DONE

Experiment with Facebook ads  STILL EXPERIMENTING, BUT MY FACEBOOK FOLLOWERS HAVE GROWN SIGNIFICANTLY. I’VE FOUND THAT BOOSTING POSTS IS LESS EXPENSIVE THAN PLACING ADS, AND WHEN I BOOST A POST I’LL GET NEW FOLLOWERS. LAST MONTH, I HAD A 100 NEW FOLLOWERS.

Speak at:

Foothill Ranch Library (February 5th) DONE, PLUS, I TAUGHT A WEEKLY WORKSHOP FOR THREE MONTHS

Goleta book club (March 5th)  DONE

Get more involved in RWA I DIDN’T DO THIS, BUT SINCE RWA BECAME SUCH A HOT MESS, I’M GLAD I’M NOT INVOLVED

Go to two writers’ conferences DONE

CRAFT

Outline all books and create vision boards

REFLECTIONS:

2019 was a glorious year with lots of ups and downs. Two grandbabies were born. I helped my son’s family of five move from Boston to nearby Carlsbad, California. My daughter graduated from college, moved home and has fallen in and out of love. Larry and I travel to Egypt, Isreal, Jordan, and Moscow, and it was life-changing. My 98.5 year old father died in October. I was able to spend 10 days with him at the end. (He died the day I left.) I spoke at his funeral.

Some important things I learned:

It’s okay if someone doesn’t like me, but it’s not okay for me to intentionally give them a reason for doing so. Their behavior should never dictate my own.

I’m done with obsessing about how much I weigh or how my clothes fit. But I’m also done with  sugar-highs and lows, indigestion, and irritable bowels. I’ll do whatever it takes to maintain vibrant health.

I adore my children and grandchildren, but I need to learn how to not be emotionally involved in their decisions. This is hard.

Writing can, and should be, fun. It’s not fun when I obsess about numbers–sales numbers, pages written, and numbers on my bathroom scale. So, I’m taking a break from writing fast and furious. I will lead and enjoy an active lifestyle–like I used to. I’m returning to the person I really am, even if I can’t recapture my size six body, I can try and recapture my energy.

2020 GOALS

Book business-wise, I have five main goals:

Write a 350+ page mystery and get feedback from past writing professors and other professionals.

Polish the women’s fiction novel I wrote with Greta Boris and find a publication path for it. Begin working on book two. (Tuesdays)

Write and publish a Better Late Romance novel in a world shared with five other authors. (May. This sounds ambitious, but it’s already half-done.)

Work with a marketing professional on a weekly basis and set up weekly promotions. (Wednesdays) Try outside the box marketing ideas. (Monthly) Publish book bundles. (Monthly.)

Create a mystery marketing cartel and set it in action when I publish my mystery series.

More projections:

We’ll travel to Spain and Greece in May, and take an extended road trip to Canada this summer. My daughter will graduate from college in April and find a fabulous job.

Florence

box setThe books I wrote and published in 2019

My word for 2020 is phenomena. This means that whenever I hear the word, I’ll mentally sing: Phenonema

Do do do do do de do do do do do do do do do
Mahna Mahna
Do doo be-do-do
Mahna Mahna
Do do-do do
Mahna Mahna
Do doo de-do-do de-do-do de-do-do de-do-do-doodle do do do-doo do!

What will you be singing in 2020?

 

An Excerpt for Christmas Coins (a novella in the latest Authors of Main Street Christmas Boxed Set

thumbnail_Christmas coinsBUY NOW

After Ethan put Misty to bed—something he hoped to only have to do once in his life—he returned home and found Zoe sitting on their front porch, clutching a Mason jar.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Zoe stood and held out the jar. “A thank-you token for being a hero.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Ethan said, but he took the jar anyway. “Are these cookies?” he asked hopefully.

“Lavender with lemon zest. I love them. I hope you will too.”

“Want to share?”

“Tonight?” Her voice squeaked with surprise.

“We could sit and watch the stars.” He dropped down on the step she’d just vacated.

“Okay,” she said in a small voice, joining him.

“I have a favor to ask,” he said, nerves hitching his voice.

“Yeah?”

“The gallery has an annual holiday party. Would you like to go with me?”

“Sure.”

“It’s stuffy and pretentious, and there’s usually cheap wine and smelly cheese.”

She leaned over and bumped him with her shoulder. “How can I resist cheap wine and smelly cheese?”

“Your being there will make it bearable for me.”

“I take it you would do things differently if you owned the gallery?”

He nodded. “Hannah thinks I should just open up my own, but it’s not that easy.” She waited for him to go on and after a moment, he did. “As it is, Oak Hollow can’t really have two galleries…well, maybe it could if the two galleries were radically different from each other. But as long as Dez has his gallery, I can’t open another.”

“You could somewhere else.”

“I want to be close to Hannah.”

“You are close to Hannah.”

“Geographically as well as emotionally.” He turned and looked into her eyes. “Does that make sense to you?”

“I’m all about emotional and geographical proximity.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He set the jar on the porch, debating.

“Because?”

“So we could do this.” And this time he kissed her, only it wasn’t brief or tentative. It was the sort of kiss that burned through him, the sort of kiss he hadn’t had since Allison’s death. He broke away, not wanting to think about his late wife while kissing Zoe. It wasn’t fair to her.

And he wasn’t sure it was fair to Allison, either.

Zoe stared at him with wide eyes. Then she startled him by climbing onto his lap, wrapping her arms around him, and kissing him so deeply, he forgot about Allison, Hannah, or the neighbors who could be watching over the hedge. The only thing he could think of was the kiss searing through him and curling his toes with pleasure.

#

“Okay, this time it is a date,” Zoe told Mildred. They both stood in front of Zoe’s open closet, but Mildred was much more interested in her bath than she was in Zoe’s wardrobe. Zoe rifled through the clothes on the hangers, considering. No, no, no, nope with an extra helping of nope sauce.

Her phone buzzed. Courtney.

“I need you,” Zoe said. “Bring cute outfits, preferably ones that will fit me.”

Moments later, Courtney and Laurel arrived, each bearing a laundry basket full of clothes. “You didn’t tell me the occasion,” Courtney said, sounding breathless.

“There’s a party at the gallery,” Zoe said, holding the door for her sister.

“Will the lush be there?” Courtney deposited the basket on the bed and motioned for Laurel to do the same.

Zoe closed the door, hoping Ethan hadn’t overheard the conversation. “Probably, but I’m not worried about her.”

“Mom, can I go and see if Hannah can play?” Laurel asked.

“Sure, sweetie,” Courtney said. She waited until Laurel had disappeared through the door before she continued. “Just because he’s not interested in her doesn’t mean she can’t cause problems.”

Zoe perched on the side of the bed and rifled through Courtney’s basket of clothes. “I’m not even sure he’s all that interested in me.”

Courtney began to pull clothes out of the basket and lay them out on the bed in ensembles. “Girl! Please! Has he kissed you?”

Zoe’s cheeks grew warm.

Courtney chortled. “Tell me! Tell me everything!”

#

Courtney had agreed to watch Hannah so Ethan and Zoe could go to the gallery gala. Before this night, every time that Ethan and Zoe had been together had felt natural—like two friends enjoying each other’s company. But tonight, as he held the door open to the gallery for Zoe to pass through, felt like a date.

Ethan hadn’t been on a first date in years. Maybe even decades.

He ran a finger around his collar, wondering what had made him include Zoe. She’d probably hate it. Even he had a hard time when artists started acting snooty—as if their art came from some woo-woo planet detached from their own imaginations. And a few of the artists who would be attending tonight were some of the worst. She’d probably be bored out of her mind. He knew if Misty started talking harmonious compositions he would be, too.

Zoe, wearing a curve-hugging black dress, stiletto heels, and long strand of pearls, looked better than the art on the walls—his included. He still tingled every time he thought of her kiss.

Oak Hollow Gallery sat on the corner of PCH and a tiny cross street that angled off toward the beach. The large plate-glass windows gaped at the busy sidewalk to the front and overlooked the seasonal creek in the back. White walls stretched up to twelve-foot ceilings. Everything looked pristine, avant-garde, and beautiful, but Ethan had misgivings. He didn’t know if Zoe was ready for the art crowd. And he wasn’t sure he was ready to show her this side of himself.

Not that he was embarrassed about being an artist. He’d fought long and hard to get to where he was…or had been. He knew better than anyone that if he didn’t start producing soon, his name and reputation would slide away into oblivion. And that would be okay, wouldn’t it? He liked teaching.

Ethan followed Zoe’s gaze as she surveyed the room.

“Your paintings,” she began.

A discussion on his work would lead to speculation on why he no  longer painted. Because he wasn’t ready for that conversation—and maybe he never would be—Ethan took Zoe’s hand and led her to the group gathered in the corner surrounding Desmond.

Tonight, Desmond looked especially debonair. De-boner, Allison used to say in a hillbilly’s voice. No one could make him feel more down-to-earth than Allison. But tonight, he didn’t want to think about Allie. He put his hand on the small of Zoe’s back and stepped close enough to smell her perfume. Typically, she smelled of the bakery—yeast, cinnamon, sugar. Tonight, she wore something else. He hadn’t decided if he liked the change, or not.

The crowd in the corner made way for him. “Desmond, Lance, and Leo, Mr. and Mrs. Greer —this is my friend, Zoe.”

They all shook Zoe’s hand. Lance and Leo—better known as the Gear Heads—eyed her. They were both stoned already. Their parents were only slightly steadier on their feet.

“Are you an artist, too?” Mrs. Greer asked.

Before Zoe could answer, Ethan cut in. “Culinary art,” he said.

“Ah,” Mr. Greer patted his stomach, “my favorite.”

“Daddy!” Mrs. Greer screeched and widened her eyes at her sons, trying to apologize for her husband without using words.

“It’s okay, mom,” Lance said. “I know our stuff takes some warming up to.”

Leo hooted as if Lance had said something hilarious. “Warming up,” he said between breaths, “because we’re machine artists.”

Zoe smiled politely and sent Ethan a questioning glance.

Lance must have noticed, because he asked, “Are you familiar with machine art?”

Zoe shook her head.

“It’s the combination of art and machines,” Lance said. Holding his hand in front of him with his fingers flexed, he mimicked a rotating device. “Cogs and wheels fused together into the fantastic that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.”

Ethan was impressed. He didn’t know the Gearhead Brothers knew such big words.

“Let me show you,” Leo said, taking possession of Zoe’s arm and leading her across the room to a canvas that had been painted red and covered with bits of broken machinery.

Ethan felt naked without Zoe at his side, he moved to follow her and Leo but just then Misty clicked into the gallery on her Kate Spade shoes. Grabbing Ethan’s arm, she pulled him into a corner. “What are we going to do if Desmond sells the gallery to the potheads?” she whispering hissed.

Ethan tried not to be annoyed that Misty hadn’t even apologized for making him take her home from the bar. But maybe she’d been so soused, she hadn’t remembered. He shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. “I’m not sure what we can do.”

“We could pool our resources and buy it ourselves,” Misty suggested.

Could he live with a daily dose of Misty? He didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure how to say this. Misty, although a talented artist, was probably the last person he’d want to go into business with. He sought out Zoe. Their gazes locked.

She was one of the few people who wasn’t interested in him because of his art. He liked that. He liked her. When was it too soon to tell her?Aof MS boxed set

BUY NOW ONLY .99 CENTS

Christmas Contest

Christmas Box set

Help me tell the world about my new release and enter to win a KINDLE FIRE!

There are a bunch of ways to win. You need to REPLY to THIS email with what you did. I’ll count all the entries and draw a winner at midnight EST November 30th!

Like me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KristyTateNovelist/ (1 point)

Follow me on BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/kristy-tate (1 point)

Buy or download in KU – The Christmas Collection: https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Collection-Th…/…/B07ZJVQDQ4 (10 points)

Leave a review on any of my books: https://www.amazon.com/Kristy-Tate/e/B005YF4ODA (10 points extra 5 points if it’s on my Christmas Collection. https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Collection-Th…/…/B07ZJVQDQ4 You don’t have to read all three books to leave a review, just mention it’s on your favorite.) Post a link to the review.

Forward this email to your holiday romance loving friends. (1 point for every friend.)

Tell me the title of your holiday movie (1 point)

Tell me your who’s your best book boyfriend! I like Atticus Finch, Gilbert Blythe, Rhett Butler, Mr. Darcy (1 point)
https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Collection-Th…/…/B07ZJVQDQ4

Miracles (Christmas and otherwise)

Do you believe in miracles? In a few weeks, the Authors of Main Street’s latest Christmas box set will hit the world. In many ways, this will be a layering of  miracles. Miracle heaped on miracle. How crazy is it that the Authors of Main Street–a gaggle of writing women from all over the world–found each other and decided to collaborate?516u+AN4U7L

Our first box set, back in those heady days when indie-publishing was new and no one had even considered lumping books together for a box set, truly was a marketing miracle that sky-rocketed all of us here on Main Street into Amazon bestseller status. But even better than numbers, we forged friendships. And to be able to call people I’ve never actually met (in person) a good friend is, I think, a miracle.

As a child dreaming of my writing career, I never could have imagined the internet–let alone the possibility of publishing and selling books on my own and sidestepping publishing house. Technology is a modern day miracle.

Everyday, we’re blessed by the miracles of others, big ones like Thomas Edison’s electric light blubs or Madam Curie’s penicillin, and small ones like a loved one sensing your need and sending you a loving text, or a child drawing a picture of you that makes you feel beautiful, not because their drawing was stupendous, but because they drew it out of love.

My latest contribution to the Authors of Main Street Christmas box set is The Christmas Coins, a miracle story built around the parable of the lost coin. I hope the story will touch your heart the way it touched mine.

CHAPTER 1

 

Zoe grabbed her purse off the shelf and slid her feet into her ugly but comfortable Sketchers. “Let’s go, Lori!”

Laurel snatched up her backpack, checked her reflection in the hall mirror, and tidied up her pristine ponytail. Laurel’s posing reminded Zoe so much of her sister Courtney that Zoe’s heart twisted just a little.

But since she didn’t have time for sentimentality, Zoe bustled her niece down the stairs. Together, they rushed out of the house, passing the door that led to Ethan and Hannah’s apartment.

Zoe wrinkled her nose at the odor of bacon and the sound of the Beatles floating through the window.

“Meat eaters,” Laurel said in the same tone she’d use to say dog poop.

Zoe didn’t comment, but placed her hand on Laurel’s small, bony shoulder and guided her to the Bonny Baker van standing in the driveway behind Ethan’s old Thunderbird convertible.

The van still carried the scents of yesterday’s deliveries—yeasty loaves of bread, cinnamon cookies, and pies. Zoe placed her purse in the center console where she always kept it, slid on her sunglasses, and snapped into her seatbelt. Once she was sure Laurel’s seatbelt was also secure, Zoe checked the rearview mirror and spotted Ethan and Hannah climbing into the T-bird.

Their open car doors blocked the driveway. Zoe blew a breath out of her nose and tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Zoe lived her life according to what she called her cookbook rules—everything at the proper moment, in the proper order, and baked at the proper temperature. Not only had Laurel interrupted her morning routine by sleeping over, but Ethan raised her temperature. He had this power over her and she didn’t like it.

Laurel lowered her window and waved. “Hi, Hannah! Hi, Ethan!”

Secretly, Zoe hated that Laurel called Ethan by his first name. She didn’t think adults and children should be on a first-name basis, but since Ethan insisted, there was little she could do. She tried not to flinch every time Hannah addressed her as Zoe.

Hannah, a smaller, female version of her dad with thick auburn hair, large eyes, and full red lips, returned Laurel’s wave and smile.

Zoe tamped down her impatience and stuck her head out the window. “Good morning! Would Hannah like to ride to school with us today?”

“You’re going to Canterbury?” A wrinkle appeared between Ethan’s brows.

“Ancestor Day,” Zoe told him.

Ethan barked out a laugh and climbed into his car. “You don’t look old enough to be a grandparent,” he said through the open window.

Zoe bristled. “I’m not, but I can talk about our ancestors.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you there.”

She was trying to be nice—and punctual. “There’s no need for us both to go.”

Ethan’s back straightened. “I work there, you know.”

“Oh! I didn’t know. When did that happen?” Not that she had time for this conversation. If he worked there, neither of them had time.

“At the beginning of the school year.”

A dangerously handsome man. He was probably driving all of the Canterbury girls—and a few of the teachers—mad and man-hungry. That could happen at an all-girls school. Zoe knew this, because she’d attended Canterbury herself.

“What are you teaching?”

“Art.”

“Oh, of course.”

Ethan’s convertible roared to life and he gave her a dismissive smile. “I’ll see you there,” he repeated.

Zoe mentally ticked off her daily agenda as she followed Ethan down the driveway. She’d been up since 4:00 a.m. making bread, cookies, and pies. Her assistant, Claire, was now manning the bakery, but Zoe needed to return in time for the lunch rush.

At the stop sign leading to Main, Ethan surprised her by turning right while she and Laurel took a left on Elm Street.

This seemed symbolic of their relationship.

#

Ethan took note of his daughter’s mismatched socks. One was a crisp white and matched the school’s navy and red tartan uniform while the other had a pink tinge to it—like it had gone through the wash with a red sweater. Which it probably had. Ethan thought about saying something, knowing the stringent adherence some of the teachers liked to pay to the school’s uniform policy.

He glanced at his daughter with her sweet rosebud lips, pink cheeks, and clear blue eyes—a surprise gift from his wife. She clutched the family Bible in her hands and stared straight ahead.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry Gram or Gramps couldn’t be here today.”

“It’s okay,” she said in a tight voice without looking at him, letting him know that it was definitely not okay. “I understand.”

Ethan blew out a breath. “It’s so far for them to come.”

Hannah nodded. “I know. And they have so many grandkids that live in Rose Arbor, they probably have to go to Ancestor Day once a week.”

A ripple of guilt traveled down Ethan’s spine. If he lived closer to his family, Hannah would be surrounded by cousins, aunts, and uncles, not to mention his parents. He could have just as easily gotten a teaching job in Washington.

His phone buzzed and he tapped the icon igniting the blue-tooth.

“Ethan!” Desmond’s voice floated into the car. The fussy gallery owner always sounded on the verge of a breakdown, but today the panic sounded real.

“Good morning, Desmond. What can I do for you?”

“Hi, Dezi!” Hannah called out.

“Ah. Pumpkin. What are you doing in the car with your father?”

“We’re going to school, Dezi,” Hannah told him.

“Oh! Are you still doing that?” His voice carried equal helpings of scorn and surprise.

Hannah giggled. “Of course.”

“I think he was talking to me, button.” Ethan cleared his throat. “I like teaching.” And he needed the money if he was ever going to get his own gallery, but he couldn’t tell that to Desmond.

“We had a break-in,” Desmond told him.

Ethan braked too hard at the stoplight, sending Hannah forward in a lurch. Instinctively, he shot out his hand to keep his daughter from bonking against the dashboard. “Was anything taken?”

“Small stuff, cash from the till.”

Ethan glanced at Hannah, bit back a curse, and pulled into the intersection. “Do you need me to come by?”

“Your paintings are all insured, of course,” Desmond said, trying to sound calm.

“I thought you said small stuff…” It took at least two burly men to carry most of his paintings. But then his heart sank. “Harold?”

“I’m sorry,” Desmond said in a strangled voice.

“Daddy?” Hannah asked.

“I’ll be there in a second,” Ethan said, searching for the next place to make a U-turn.

“But Daddy…” Hannah whined.

“I’m sorry, button. This should only take a minute,” he lied.

Hannah tightened her lips and glanced out the window at the town flashing past. A thick marine layer had settled during the night and had yet to burn away under the Southern California sun, leaving the town in a shadowy gray mist. Ethan pulled the car along the curb beside the Oak Hollow Gallery.

Desmond, one of his first fans, had started showcasing Ethan’s work even before his graduation from Pasadena’s Art Institute. Ethan’s early career had begun at Warner Brother Studios, where he’d worked in set design. That was where he’d met Allison. At first, their friendship had been about sharing paints and brushes—Ethan tended to lose pencils and Allie had always carried extra. He’d soon learned to depend on her for not only his drawing instruments but for everything. She’d been his world.

He shut down the painful memories and slammed out of the car. Hannah trotted after him.

Inside the gallery, Desmond fluttered like a small trapped bird not knowing where to land. A tiny man, he spoke with a slight French accent, despite being originally from Oxnard. He wore a meticulously trimmed goatee and a matching set of plucked, highly arched eyebrows.

A burly policeman stood between a gleaming bust of a bald head and a glass sculpture. He looked as out of place as a Michelangelo painting in the Musée d’Orsay.

While Desmond talked with the officer, Ethan patrolled the gallery, looking for missing objects. Hannah stared up at the policeman, entranced and awed by the man’s size. She clearly found him more interesting than The Darling Detective shows she liked to watch.

“Who are you?” The policeman pointed his pencil in Ethan’s direction.

Ethan stepped forward. “Ethan Lawrence.”

“He’s my dad,” Hannah piped in. “He’s an artist. A very famous one.”

Ethan rubbed the back of his neck.

“I’m Officer Mack.” The policeman gave Hannah’s uniform and Ethan’s matching tie a sharp look and shook Ethan’s hand.

Ethan wondered if Mack was the officer’s first or last name, but didn’t have time to question him. Mack, though, had questions enough for both of them.

“Looks like you two belong at that fancy school up the hill,” Officer Mack said.

“I attend Canterbury Academy,” Hannah said. “My mom used to teach domestic arts there, and now my dad teaches just plain old art.” She froze and her hand flew to her mouth as if she could recapture her words. “Sorry, Daddy! Your art isn’t plain or old…although you haven’t made anything new in a really long time.”

Ethan stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He loved his daughter, but sometimes he found her eleven-year-old honesty brutal. He wasn’t going to admit to anyone, let alone himself, that the smell of paints reminded him of a happier time and set his stomach rolling.

Officer Mack glanced at his watch. “You’re not supposed to be at school now?”

“Are you a truant officer?” Desmond asked with a sneer.

Ethan shot the gallery owner a quick glance, hoping to convince him to play nice with the police. They would need the cops’ help if they wanted to recover Harold as well as the other missing work.

“One of my statues was stolen. It’s—” His voice cracked.

“Priceless!” Desmond interjected.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ethan said, “but it was an original.”

Officer Mack scribbled something on his notepad. “We’ll need to get an appraiser out here as well as an insurance adjuster. Any idea how the perps might have gotten in?”

While Desmond led Officer Mack to the back office, Ethan motioned for Hannah to follow him to the car. Rage and frustration thrummed through him. If he owned the gallery, something he desperately wanted to do, beefing up the security system would be high on his to-do list. This never would have happened if Desmond had taken the needed precautions.

Outside, the marine layer hung in the air, and the cold and damp did nothing to lighten his mood.

“So, when is Desmond going to sell you the gallery?” Hannah asked him, echoing his thoughts.

“I don’t know, sweetie.” Ethan hoped Desmond hadn’t heard her and pulled open the convertible’s passenger door so she could climb in.

After slamming inside, he ruminated over her question.

“He should let you buy it since everything he sells in there is yours,” Hannah said after he’d settled behind the wheel.

A sad smile lifted his lips. “Not everything, button.” He turned the key and the convertible roared to life.

Hannah huffed and folded her arms across her chest. “Most everything. I mean, who else is going to buy the place? That Misty lady?”

“Maybe. She’s a good artist.” Ethan steered the car onto Oak Hollow’s main drag.

“Her name sounds like fog.”

Ethan shot his daughter a glance.

“How much is Tomato Face worth?” Hannah asked.

“A lot.”

Hannah considered this, and Ethan could practically see the thoughts churning in her head. Had she guessed the real reason Ethan had taken the teaching position at the school? He could, of course, go back to Warner Brothers, but the thought made him ill. They’d have to leave Oak Hollow. He’d need to hire a new nanny—one who could cover the long hours the studio would demand.

Or he could go back to Rose Arbor. Live in his parents’ basement. Find a job teaching at a public school. Churn out hotel room art in the evenings and on the weekends. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the wheel.

He didn’t want to leave Hannah with a babysitter for sixty hours a week, nor did he relish the thought of living in his parents’ basement in dreary Washington. “You want to stay here, right?” Ethan asked. “With Mrs. Hancock and all your friends?”

“Hmmhmm,” Hannah murmured. “That’s why I’m going to say a prayer that you’ll get enough money to buy the gallery!” Last week, she’d heard a sermon about answered prayers, and since then she’d started praying over nearly everything.

“That’s sweet, button, and noble, but not very useful.”

“What do you mean? Pastor Lynn said we should pray over everything, including our flocks and pastures. Your paintings are like flocks, but they smell better, and a gallery is like a pasture without ticks.”

Despite his worry, a small chuckle escaped.

“It’s not funny. It’s true. Pastor Lynn would want you to pray.” She jutted out her chin. “I bet God wants to find the bad guys who stole Harold. And if He wants to punish them, we should let Him.”

“Sweetie, let’s not bug God. I bet he has a lot of really important things to do.”

“What could be more important than bringing Tomato Face home?” She gasped and her eyes went wide. “I bet he’s scared!”

Ethan thought about pointing out that Harold was a one-foot-high sculpture incapable of having feelings.

Hannah folded her hands in her lap and refused to look at him. After closing her eyes, she began a simple yet sincere prayer that Desmond would sell the gallery to Ethan and that the police would find Harold and bring him safely home.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Zoe stood in front of the classroom. A dozen little girls dressed in tartan uniforms stared back at her expectantly. They looked sweet, but Zoe knew better. At this age, she had attended Canterbury herself, so she knew sweetness might only be on the surface, like ganache on an eclair. Something ugly could lurk behind the pigtails and shiny lip gloss. But still, because she loved Laurel, she held out one of her prized possessions for the girls to see.

“This small wooden box holds something very precious to me,” Zoe told the girls. She unlatched the leather strap to open the lid and extract the small gold coins. “These were collected by my ancestors. When John Lewis first came to this country from Wales in 1849, he was a poor man. He’d been a miner in Great Britain, but somehow, he’d managed to put together enough funds to travel to the United States and take the train as far west as it would take him, which in those days was to Iowa City. From there, he hitched up with a wagon train that would take him to California, where he hoped to strike it rich in the Gold Rush.”

“Are those coins from the Gold Rush?” a little girl in the front row asked.

“Sadly, no.” Zoe closed her hands around the coins for just a second. “He didn’t find gold, but I think he found something better.”

Another girl wrinkled her nose. “What was that?”

“He found my great-great-grandmother! And together they started a farm in Twain.”

“Where they found gold?” a redhead quipped.

“No. They never found gold,” Zoe told them.

“Then where did the coins come from?” another girl asked.

“When John was still a young man, he placed a gold coin in this box and he wrote a note.” She pulled out a piece of paper. Of course, the ink on John’s original note had long ago faded and the paper crumbled, but one of John’s descendants had transcribed the note. She didn’t think she needed to tell the girls this. “John wrote: To my children and my children’s children, I leave you this coin as a remembrance of me. May it bless your lives.” Zoe picked out the oldest coin and handed it to Laurel, who held it in the palm of her hand and paraded it past all the girls seated at their desks.

“The really cool thing is,” Zoe continued, “ever since John, all of my ancestors have purchased a gold coin and left it in this box for their children and their children’s children.” She poured the other gold coins into her hand for the girls to see. “These probably aren’t worth a whole lot of money, but they are definitely worth something, and when I think of my ancestors—many of them poor and facing economic hardships, especially during the Great Depression and the world wars—they didn’t spend the coins. Instead, they followed John’s example and kept them safe. They held them sacred.”

Maybe sacred was too strong a word, but it came to her lips and she went with it.

“Who will you give the coins to?” a girl asked.

Zoe opened her mouth, but for a moment, no words came. Finally, “My child, of course.”

“Does that mean you’ll have to have a boy?” a girl asked.

“No,” Zoe said. But it did mean she’d have to have a child, and that was looking as unlikely as John himself personally handing her a coin from the grave. “I’m not a boy and the coins came to me.”

“I bet it does mean you’ll need to have a boyfriend,” another girl quipped.

“Not necessarily,” Zoe hedged. She started to feel warm.

“Maybe they’ll be mine someday,” Laurel said.

“Probably,” Zoe said. “Here, do you want to show the girls the rest of the coins?”

Laurel skipped to the front to gather the other nine coins.

Mrs. Lacombe, a retired history professor, bought her clothes from a local consignment shop. Today, she wore a sailor suit—minus the hat—and she strode around the classroom like she had a deck to swab. “Let’s all give Ms. Hart a big Canterbury thank you.” She clapped her hands and all the girls joined in.

Zoe dipped her head and took her place at the back of the classroom with the other visiting ancestors, while Dr. Edwards, an elderly man wearing physicians’ scrubs and carrying a stethoscope, took center stage beside Mrs. Lacombe.

During Dr. Edwards’ talk on his family’s role in medical research, Zoe collected the coins and placed them back into the box. She carefully placed them on the table with all the other items the students had chosen to display. One girl had brought in a picture of her movie mogul grandfather posing beside his Hollywood Star, another had brought in a World War 2 bomber jacket, and someone had brought a handcrafted cuckoo clock. Her box looked humble and shabby amongst the other collectibles. Someday, they’d need a bigger box. Who would make that decision, and what would the world be like then?

She only lived a few hundred miles from where John and Emily had settled in Twain all those years ago, but her life was radically different from theirs. She didn’t depend on a garden or livestock for food. But the one thing she’d be sure to do, like John and the others, was to purchase a gold coin and add it to this collection.

It felt wrong to leave the box of coins for display, but she trusted Mrs. Lacombe and knew most of the girls were from extremely wealthy families and wouldn’t be tempted by her collection of gold coins.

#

When Ethan picked up Hannah from Mrs. Hancock’s after school, she glowed with happiness. “Daddy,” she said, rocking onto her toes to hug him. “Today God answered my prayer!”

“He did?” He gave her a tight squeeze and inhaled her fresh scent of apple essence shampoo.

“Don’t you want to know what he gave me?” Hannah asked. “Gave us!” she corrected herself. “It’s for both of us!”

His gaze met Mrs. Hancock’s over the top of Hannah’s head. Mrs. Hancock, a seventy-something little old lady who dressed in purple or pink jogging suits, liked to take strolls around the park and feed the ducks in the lake, in spite of the “no feeding the birds” signs clearly posted along the shore. She answered with a shrug.

Hannah dug into her backpack and pulled out a handful of coins. “Look!”

The gold glistened in her small palm. They couldn’t be real, could they? “Hannah, where did you find those?” Ethan asked.

She cocked her head and folded her fingers around the coins. “I told you. God answered my prayer.”

Ethan swallowed and held out his hand. “May I please see them?”

Hannah pursed her lips. “You won’t try and put them in the bank, will you?”

Hannah had been suspicious of banks ever since the one time his ATM card had failed and their evening plans to go to the movies had been thwarted. He motioned for her to hand him the coins, which she did, although with hesitation.

He fingered them and read the stamped dates. “They look like they’re real.”

Mrs. Hancock, a tiny woman with frizzy gray hair, drew closer to get a better look. “Goodness,” she breathed. “Those look like they’re worth a pretty penny.”

“Not pennies, Mrs. Hancock!” Hannah said. “They’re dollars. Made of gold.”

“Hannah, where did these come from?” Ethan asked again.

“I told you. God heard my prayer, and He gave them to me so we can buy the gallery.”

“Sweetie.” Ethan tried to temper his voice and mask his frustration. Squatting to her eye level, he met her gaze. “I told you, as much as I’d like to buy the gallery, it’s not for sale.”

“You said not yet.”

“And maybe not ever,” he said gently.

“Then you should get another one.”

If only it were that simple. Oak Hollow wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a metropolis, but it was the closest town to Canterbury Academy. Allie had taken a job at the school because she was friends with the owner. Ethan had gone along because he’d fallen in love with the area’s gently rolling foothills.

“Let’s go and look for one right now!” Hannah suggested.

Ethan nodded, knowing that a stroll down Oak Hollow’s Main Street would take less time than trying to change his daughter’s mind.

“Did you feel the earthquake today?” Hannah asked later as they strolled down Main Street.

“I did.” He cast her a glance. “I didn’t see you in the auditorium with the rest of your class.”

“I didn’t know they had gone there,” she told him. “You know we got there late. The earthquake happened right before I went to class, so when I got to homeroom, everyone had been evacuated. It was so weird to be in there all by myself. But then I saw the coins, and I knew God had put them there for me to find.”

Ethan didn’t know how to argue with this logic, so he didn’t try.

Watch Me Write a Novel in a Week

I’m setting a lofty goal. I’m attempting to write a 50k word romantic comedy in six days. I’ll post my daily output here on my blog, and social media. I’ll set daily goals and write the outline for the next day every night before I go to bed.

My goal: to write 2k words in a 60 minute sprint.

Monday, 10-5

Tuesday, 9-4

Wednesday 9-5 (unless my husband takes the day off–it’s his birthday)

Thursday 9-5 (A group of friends and I are starting a podcast practice, and we talked of practicing on this day. Not sure if that’s still happening.)

Friday 11-3

Saturday

Life will get in the way. I’m expecting it to do that, but even if it takes me two weeks, that’s still amazing. (As a matter of fact, shortly after I wrote this, I learned my 98 year old dad is in the hospital with pneumonia. He lives in Washington and I’m in California. Part of my wants to run up there. Another part argues I should stay put until he’s home. I’m currently involved in an internal debate, which is always bad for writing.)book in a week

My friend Greta Boris introduced me to what I’m calling the stone and sand method. It harkens back to an analogy on time management that I’m sure everyone is familiar with where you have a jar, large rocks, and sand. The large rocks are your priorities and the sand is the frivolous. If you put in the sand first, your rocks won’t fit in the jar, but if the rocks go in first, you can pour in the sand and because it can fill all the empty spaces, everything fits.

What does that have to do with writing a novel? You write the basic plot points first, then you go back and fill in the descriptions. That’s what you’ll be seeing. The first draft will be rough. Also, when I come to a brain-fart moment or I write a clunky sentence I don’t stop and try to fix it, I simply mark it with a @. By the end of the first draft, I typically have about 75 @s littered throughout the manuscript. I usually will need a day to clean them up before I attempt a rewrite.

I’ll also be posting visuals on Pinterest.

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