Guest Author Irina Shapiro

irinashapiro_new_author_pic_05162015-300x300Today we’ve invited author Irina Shapiro to tell us about her new series. Irina was born in Moscow, Russia. In 1982 her family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York. After graduating from Bernard M. Baruch College, Irina first worked in advertising, and then in Import/Export as a Logistics Manager. She left her job in 2007 to focus on her autistic son, and began to write. Since then Irina has written more than twenty novels. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

The-Lovers-Echoes-From-The-Past-Kindle-EditionI always tend to hesitate when people ask me, “What genre do you write?” probably because what I write doesn’t fit into any specific category. My books can be described as romance, historical fiction, mystery, and even time travel. I have so many different ideas, I want to incorporate them all into my books and interweave them in a way that’s new and unique. So why limit myself?

My new series, Echoes from the Past, is marketed as archeological mysteries and time travel, but that’s oversimplifying things. There’s romance, past and present, a genealogical puzzle that concerns the murky and unexpected origins of my main character, archeologist Dr. Quinn Allenby, and there’s just a little bit of the supernatural. You see, Quinn was born with a gift, or a curse, depending on what day you ask her. She can see into the past when holding an object that once belonged to someone who’s now deceased. Of course, as an archeologist, there’s no greater gift than tothe forgotten be able to get a glimpse into the lives of those who came before us, but as a woman, reliving the passions, disappointments, and heartbreak of those unfortunates can take its toll.

When Quinn signs on to do a BBC program entitled Echoes from the Past, she must delve into the lives of people whose remains have been discovered buried in unexpected places and suggest foul play. It’s up to Quinn to reconstruct how a young 17th century couple wound up in a locked chest, and died face to face, as if sharing a final kiss, or how a 14th century mother and child came to be buried naked and face-down on the fringes of a leper cemetery, a practice meant to punish and humiliate, even in death.The Unforgiven

In the third installment of the series, Quinn travels to New Orleans in search of her biological father. There, she hopes to finally learn where her gift came from and to discover if there might be others who share her unusual ability. As Quinn delves into the life of Madeleine Besson, a Southern belle who was seemingly erased from history at the onset of the Civil War, Quinn finds the answers she is seeking at last, but unearthing long-buried secrets comes with a price. When Quinn blithely strolls into the trap of a killer, she must fight to save herself and her unborn child, or unwittingly become just another echo from the past.

The Forsaken eCover

The Unforgiven (Echoes from the Past Book 3) is now available for purchase. And look for the next installment of the series, The Forsaken, which will take you into the complicated political struggle that was the Wars of the Roses.

Advertisements

Love on the Pony Express Trail

Please welcome

Lizzi Tremayne

Hello everyone!

I love this blog because I come from a real small town…with ONLY a Main Street, a little place in the Santa Cruz Mountains called La Honda, California! I moved halfway across the world to New Zealand…and guess what?  I found another Main Street town!  I now live out of the little Main Street mining town of Waihi, New Zealand, in an even smaller road 10 km out of town…it’s not even a main one. Just a lot of cows.

file0001179129151

hills-of-gold-6x9-ebook-coversm-fileThe Main Street in my first novel, A Long Trail Rolling, and at the start of The Hills of Gold Unchanging ( just released last week!), is…well, it’s actually a trail. A wagon trail, and the Pony Express Trail, in the 1860’s in Utah.

The stories in my first fiction series, The Long Trails, are historical romantic thrillers, with plenty of horses and action! I’m a horse vet, so you guessed it, there’s plenty of that in there too!

The scene…

My heroes Aleksandra and Xavier have just met…just after Aleksandra’s life has fallen apart at the seams. She’s just taken offense at something Xavier said, and he’s headed out the door, while she stayed inside to talk with Scotty, the trading post keeper….

ltr-3rd-ed-front-ebook-cover-529-kb

Xavier was harnessing Dzień to the wagon when Aleksandra came outside.

‘I can do that,’ she snapped, rushing to the side of the pony, her blue eyes icy and cheeks flushed pink. Xavier smiled at her back as she hurried around to the pony’s other side to finish.

‘I’m sure you can, Querida, but I’m happy to help,’ he said, wrapping a breeching strap around the shaft and buckling it snugly.

‘Thanks,’ she said, tight-lipped, looking away as her hands slid down Dzień’s rump towards the crupper.

‘Any possibility you might tell me just why you went loco on me back there?’ Xavier watched her brows drop as she stared at a strap she’d just buckled too tightly. Her lips tightened further as she readjusted it.

‘I want nothing to do with people who insult my friends.’

Como, what?’ He shook his head and blinked at her.

‘My friends, the Shoshone. The only friends I have left alive, other than Scotty,‘ she said from between clenched teeth, and then slumped, sobbing, against Dzień.

Cautious of her all-too-effective looking sword, Xavier slowly approached her. He slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him, watchful for any fast moves on her part, not caring if her tears soaked his shirt. How long they stayed like this, he neither knew nor cared. Once her sobs quieted, he slipped his fingers under her chin, lifting her face to stare into the watery depths of her blue eyes.

‘Okay now, Querida?’

‘As okay as possible, I guess.’ She dropped her head again. ‘The Shoshone have been family to me, especially since Mama died,’ she murmured into his shirt.

‘Are you sure you won’t stay here? I’ll sleep in the stable, if it would make you happier.’

She closed her eyes and was still.

‘No, it’s okay. I’m sorry, Xavier. I’m upset, but that’s no excuse for my rudeness. Thank you for this.’ She nodded her head at his tear stained chest.

De nada. It is nothing.’ He smiled. ‘May I accompany you to your home, at least?’

‘No, really, I’m fine, thank you again. I’d better go farewell Scotty. It’s getting late.’

‘If you’re sure…’ Xavier shook his head and followed Aleksandra back inside.

hills-of-gold-6x9-ebook-coversm-fileltr-3rd-ed-front-ebook-cover-529-kb

Buy A Long Trail Rolling, and The Hills of Gold Unchanging at:

Amazon

Visit Lizzi at her website

See you there!

lt-glyph

Lizzi Tremayne

Lizzi Tremayne

Lizzi and I met several years ago online and although I’ve never met her in person, we have talked by phone. Lizzi stays busy! She is a veterinarian who specializes in horses, and she’s very active with New Zealand’s Romance Writers. She writes and she rides! So how does she do her research when she lives so far from her childhood home? Lizzi never does anything ordinary. She spent her vacation on horseback, riding the historic trails of our west! Her stories are fast paced and suitable for any horse lover in the house who loves history, a little romance, and a whole lot of intrigue, mixed with action.  There’s a reason why her books win awards.

A Tale of Love Almost as Old as Ireland

Who likes knights in shining armor?

Please welcome Anna Markland.

 

 

My Main Street is in Victoria, British Columbia.

Thank you for the opportunity to share an excerpt from The Taking of Ireland. This novel represents a departure from the medieval romances I usually write. It is set in Ireland in a time of myth, even before the arrival of the Celts. I’ll preface the excerpt with the book’s foreword to give you some background.

I categorize my novels as “steamy”, but this excerpt is pure romance.

My tale was initially inspired by the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), a collection of poems and prose narratives that purports to be a history of Ireland and the Irish people from the creation of the world to the Middle Ages. 

The earliest version was compiled in the 11th century (probably by Christian monks) and tells of Ireland being settled (or taken) six times by six groups of people.

My story centers on the last two groups, the Tuatha Dè Danann, who in the Lebor represent Ireland’s pagan gods, and the Milesians who sailed from Galicia and represent the Irish people, the Gaels.

Most scholars regard the Lebor as myth rather than history, and it was perhaps an attempt to reconcile native Irish myth with the Christian view of history.

I often base my plots on actual historical events, but this tale didn’t provide such a framework, which left my imagination free to soar into the realm of the mythical and magical. It was a scary journey into the unknown at first, but one I thoroughly enjoyed once the ideas began to flow and I got to know my characters.

Bear in mind, however, that my Tuathans and Gaelicians are figments of my imagination and are not meant to be a literal interpretation of the pseudo-historical peoples in the Lebor.

“Myth is more potent than history. 

Dreams are more powerful than facts.”

~Robert Fulghum

takingireland_cvr_lrg

Excerpt:

After spending several hours speaking with the men and impatiently supervising trivial tasks, Sibrán returned to the secluded bank, dismayed to see Aislinn shivering. She still sat atop the rock and looked in need of comfort. He handed her the broad leaf on which he’d piled a few choice pieces of roasted boar. “This will warm you,” he assured her. “Careful. It’s still hot.”

“I feel the heat through the burdock leaf,” she agreed, accepting the food with a smile.

“Burdock? Can we eat it?”

“The roots and stems of the plant are delicious. You can try the leaves, but I warn you they are bitter.” She looked to the forest. “I hope Lop isn’t being a nuisance.”

He sat beside her and took a chunk of meat from his own leaf, elated when she didn’t move away. “Don’t worry on his account. He’s gone off somewhere to gnaw on a juicy bone the men gave him.”

Her smile of relief pleased him. “Eat,” he cajoled.

She obeyed and nibbled at a piece of meat.

He shifted his position and sank his teeth into a piece of crispy crackling. It was one of his favorite parts of a roasted pig.

He risked an occasional glance at her face, filled with an urge to taste the grease on her lips. She seemed to have a good appetite and finished the meat quickly. He studied the wilting leaf as she licked her fingers. “You were hungry,” he said.

She turned her doe-like eyes on him. “I was.” Then she reached up and smoothed her thumb over his cheek. “You have a morsel of…”

Her touch sent him over the edge. He cast his food to the ground, took her into his arms and put his mouth on hers. He’d expected to savor the salty taste of the boar, but Aislinn’s warm sweetness and the intriguing perfume of her skin overwhelmed his senses.

Emboldened when she didn’t push him away, he coaxed with his tongue, elated when she opened her mouth and allowed him entry. He breathed his need into her, welcomed her tongue into his mouth and suckled like a starving child.

He lifted his hand to her nape and pressed his fingers into her scalp, growling when she whimpered.

It was more than a kiss. It was a magical, transforming experience, but wetness on his cheek caused him to look at her face. Perplexed to see tears, he pulled her onto his lap and crushed her to his chest. “Don’t weep, Aislinn. For a man and a woman to share such an incredible kiss is a thing of wonder. I accept the gods have led me to this troubled land in order to bring peace and prosperity as the new king. It was our destiny we meet. You were meant to be my queen.”

Sobbing, she struggled off his lap. “No, Sibrán. You have been at sea for too long. There are many beautiful maidens in Inisfail who will be happy to couple with you.”

Angered he’d misinterpreted her feelings, he got to his feet. “I am not a man to make promises without forethought. I want you, Aislinn. I thought you wanted me, but apparently…”

She held up a trembling hand. “It’s of no matter what I want. I am Moqorr’s bondservant and forbidden to lie with a man.”

His throat tightened. Hurtful words escaped his mouth before he had a chance to think better of it. “You warm his bed?”

He caught hold of her wrist before her hand struck his face. He narrowed his eyes. “In Gaelicia death would be the punishment for striking a prince.”

“Kill me then,” she breathed. “I would prefer to die than have you believe I consort with Moqorr.”

The despair in her voice betrayed her hatred of the High King. His anger fled. He gathered her into his arms again. “Then why would he object if you pledged yourself to me?”

She made no reply, but it was of some consolation that she allowed him to hold her as she wept.

The Taking of Ireland

Amazon: http://a.co/6GErhWh

Anna’s touch of steam is never too hot. But her heroes are definitely worthy of a  little heat. Do you realize the strength they must have to handle a sword? But her heroes know how to be gentle, too. So grab her book, a blanket, your favorite beverage, and settle in for a delicious read.

Small Town Romance

Guest Author – Magdalena Scott

Hello! I’m so excited to be with you here today. I’m a USA Today Bestselling Author of small town sweet romance and women’s fiction. I have two series so far–one set in Legend, Tennessee, and the other in Serendipity, Indiana.

The excerpt below is from WHERE HER HEART IS, book 3 of the McClains of Legend, Tennessee series. During the month of February, you can buy WHERE HER HEART IS for only 99 cents. And book 1, MIDNIGHT IN LEGEND, TN, is free!

whereherheartismagdalenascott-finalmedium

 

WHERE HER HEART IS

Betsy McClain left Legend, Tennessee two years ago, with a broken heart, a baby to care for, and precious little else. She’s done well in the city, and so has daughter LizBeth Ann. A heartfelt request from Dorothy McClain is the only thing that could bring them back to Legend, even temporarily.

Mike McClain wants to get to know his only child, but Betsy isn’t cutting him any slack. Good looks and the old McClain charm seem to be failing him. Betsy is not the same love-struck girl he married, nor the girl who left Legend in a flurry of anger and tears. But he’s changed too. Can’t she see that?

Mike is renovating the house where Betsy and LizBeth Ann are staying. Everyone in Legend would like to see them get back together. The only thing standing in the way is Betsy’s stubbornness…or is it Mike’s?

Set-up for the excerpt:

Mike is driving Betsy and LizBeth Ann back to the house in Betsy’s car. They’ve been to see Old Doc Parker because Betsy fell at the house. She’s on crutches with a badly sprained ankle.

Excerpt:

Betsy swatted at him gently, and smiled. It could have been a moment from a few years ago, when they’d been carefree.

“I hope you didn’t have other plans for the morning that all this has ruined, Mike.”

“Nope. Not really. Hey, why not have an early lunch while we’re out? You’re not gonna be walking around in the kitchen right away.”

“Well. I’d hate to make a fool of myself with these crutches in a restaurant.”

“We could have a picnic,” said LizBeth Ann.

“Sure,” Mike said, smiling. He caught her eye in the rear view mirror. “We like picnics, don’t we, Princess?”

“We love picnics!”

He drove to The Pig—the Piggly Wiggly grocery—and took LizBeth Ann in with him to choose their lunch. Then they went to Lake Legend, where he parked the Bug under a big maple tree.

“You feel like hobbling over to the picnic table, Betsy, or you want me to drag it over to you?”

“Drag it here, slave.” She threw her head back, closed her eyes, and gestured royally for the table to come hither.

In a moment she heard the scrape of wood on pavement and opened her eyes to see the picnic table six inches from where she sat. He hadn’t dragged it, of course. She could see the grass was fine. He had picked it up and carried it to her. Big strong guy, this Mike McClain. She looked up at him, noticing his goofy grin. Handsome too, for an almost-ex-husband.

“I can get to the table okay, I think.”

“All right. You get settled on the bench, and I’ll carry it back over in the grass.”

“Yay!” LizBeth Ann clapped her hands.

“No he won’t, honey. He’s just kidding.” She looked up at Mike. “You’re kidding, right?”

“I could do it.”

Well. Maybe he could. But what was brute strength without… She forgot what it was that Mike lacked. Not consideration for others. He definitely had shown that. Not responsibility. He’d made a very noisy point of that every morning since she’d come back to town.

His faults didn’t bear thinking about, of course. It was just a matter of time before they’d get the divorce papers signed.

The sandwiches, chips, apples, and bottled drinks made for a simple picnic, but somehow the mood was festive.

“Can I go on a boat?”

“What?” Betsy came out of the blurry reverie she’d been enjoying, watching the pedal boats move around on the lake.

“Can I go on a boat, Mommy?” She looked over at Mike then and batted her eyelashes. “Daddy?”

Lord help us. Where had the child learned eyelash-batting? She wasn’t even three years old for goodness’ sake!

Amazon link: http://a.co/5paVGnq

Texas-style Romance

Please welcome a wonderful author and friend:

 Caroline Clemmons

Hello, I’m Caroline Clemmons and I write contemporary and historical romance, many of which include a little mystery and mayhem. Although I live in Hurst, a busy suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, I love small towns as a setting for romance.

The fictional town of Tarnation is set about sixty miles west of Fort Worth at the foot of the Palo Pinto Mountains. RACHEL is about a woman who was framed for embezzlement and spent from 1870-1873 in prison. Now she’s moved west to Tarnation, Texas to rebuild her life and is working as bookkeeper for Zane Evans, who owns a freight business.

Here’s the excerpt from RACHEL, Bride Brigade book 5:

ferrocarril

Her beautiful, coffee-colored eyes appeared sad. “You’re going to miss the dance.”

He longed to crush her against his chest and comfort her. “Hate that, but I’ll make it up to you.”

She colored and lowered her gaze. “N-No need, I simply meant I’m sorry you’ll miss the fun. Everyone in town is invited.”

“In the meantime, I have a surprise today.”

The door opened and Mr. Gallagher entered carrying a violin.

“Have a seat in my office, Colin, and make yourself comfortable.”

“I only have an hour today. Doctor’s waiting for me to work on his house.” The carpenter walked into the back office.

Rachel stared at him, obviously puzzled.

From the next room came the sound of a violin being tuned.

“My dear, since I have to miss the dance, I asked Colin here to play for us so I can have the privilege of dancing with you.”

Her eyes widened and he could swear there were diamonds there. “That’s incredibly thoughtful, Zane.”

The music broke into a schottische. Zane grabbed her and they twirled around the office as if there were more dancers.

She laughed and her eyes sparkled with humor. “I see you’re taking care not to bump into other couples.”

“I’m a good dancer, don’t you agree?”

“Excellent, the best on the dance floor.”

They danced a quadrille next. “I’m glad everyone makes way for us.”

He smiled at her. “It’s the gruff stares I give them if they come too close.”

The next half hour, Colin played from one dance straight into another before he called, “Next one is the last one. I’ll make it a waltz.”

Zane pulled her into his arms, perhaps a little too closely, but he didn’t care. There was no one else to see. They sailed around the room as if they were one.

Rachel gazed up at him. “I love the waltz.”

“As do I,” he whispered against her ear. “Especially when I’m holding you.” He nuzzled against her hair.

She melted against him as he’d dreamed since he’d met her. The sensation was even better than he’d imagined. He wanted this time to go on and on forever.

Unfortunately, the music ceased. Colin appeared, carrying his violin. “Sorry, but I have to get back to the doc’s house. Promised him I’d only be gone an hour.”

 

RACHEL, Bride Brigade book 5, is available at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Bride-Brigade-Book-5-ebook/dp/B01LZP40HG

Love in the Colorado Territory

Cynthia Woolf lives in a small Colorado town with her wonderfully supportive husband Jim . She is an award-winning and best-selling author of twenty-five historical western romance books and two short stories with more books on the way.

Cynthia loves writing and reading romance. Her first western romance Tame A Wild Heart, was inspired by the story her mother told her of meeting Cynthia’s father on a ranch in Creede, Colorado. Although Tame A Wild Heart takes place in Creede that is the only similarity between the stories. Her father was a cowboy not a bounty hunter and her mother was a nursemaid (called a nanny now) not the ranch owner.

Colorado Bride

Matchmaker & Co.  Book 4

Emily Loring survived the last few years as a governess to a rich family’s children. But when the lord of the house can’t keep his hands to himself, she’s left with no option but to risk everything as a mail-order bride. Raised in a New York orphanage, she’s always dreamed of a husband and children of her own, but even that small dream always felt out of reach. The city is all she’s ever known, but the promise of a family, a place to call home, drives her to risk everything and head for the wilds of the Colorado Territory, and the arms of a stranger.

Ben Logan fell in love once, to a city girl who left him at the alter to run off with another man. A mail-order bride appears to be the answer to his need for a wife to warm his bed, as long as she loves the country life as he does. He doesn’t need much, but he won’t risk his heart again. When Emily arrives, her curves tempt him nearly as much as her smile. But his ex-fiancee is back, and determined to have Ben for herself, even if it means murder…

colorado_bride

While Ben unloaded the grain from the wagon, Emily walked over to one of the stalls. Inside were a beautiful golden horse and a pure white baby one.

“They’re so beautiful. The mama with her yellow coat and white hair on her neck is striking. Will the baby stay white or change color?”

“The mare is a palomino and, yes, more than likely, the colt will gain the same coloring as he gets older. But he could possibly stay white, which is what I’m hoping for.”

She turned to face him where he stood at the end of the wagon.

“Will you teach me how to ride? I don’t know anything about horses, but I believe that I should learn in case I need to go somewhere.”

He shrugged. “Sure I’ll teach you. I’m surprised you don’t know anything about ranching. I was pretty specific about it as one of my requirements.”

“You said you wanted someone with farming or ranching experience, I know how to milk cows and gather eggs which qualifies, and I’m willing to learn whatever else I need to. I’m a fast learner.”

The mare came up to the stall gate where Emily stood. She turned and reached over to pet the horse. Her nose and mouth felt like velvet.

“Oh, she’s so soft. I never imagined…”

Ben came up behind her.

“Her name is Champagne, because of her coloring. She doesn’t belong to anyone yet. Would you like her?”

“Oh, yes. Can she really be my horse?”

He must at least like me or he wouldn’t gift me with my own horse, and such a beautiful one to boot.

“Yes.”

She turned and Ben was standing right there. Emily reached up, snaked her hand behind his neck and brought his head down to hers. Remembering the kiss he’d given her at their wedding, she mimicked that kiss. She meshed her lips with his and opened just enough to put her tongue out and touch his lips. She felt him smile and open for her exploration.

He let her take what she needed, let her control the kiss and she was pleased. When she finally pulled back she was breathless and her body hummed with awareness of him.

He held her with his arms wrapped loosely around her waist.

“Well, that was some kiss, wife.”

“Just following your lead…husband.”

She liked the sound of that. Husband. She’d begun to believe that she’d never marry and certainly never to anyone like Ben. His arms were strong with muscle, she felt them through his shirt. His stomach was flat and hard. She felt that, too. And she could tell his manhood was primed for her as well and knew she blushed.

“Now, look at what you’ve done to me. I can’t go to the house like this. You better stop kissing me.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Nope. You can ask a lot of things of me, but that isn’t one of them. I’ll always kiss you. Even when we fight, I’ll kiss you because no fight is worth my marriage. And kissing reminds us that we are married.”

“All right, I agree. Besides, I like kissing you.”

She raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. “You should. I only know what you taught me.”

He tightened his hold on her. “And that pleases me.”

“Why? You’ve kissed other girls and that doesn’t bother me. Why should it bother you if I’d kissed another man?”

“Because I want to know that I’m the only man in your life, at least until we have sons.”

The thought of having babies and how babies are begot made her blush. At this rate she’d be colored pink all the time.

A Note from E. Ayers:

Cynthia Woolf is not just a fellow western author, she’s also a super dear friend. It’s easy to see why her stories have won so many awards and why her books are best sellers. Her stories are always sweet with just enough warmth to make them realistic without being too hot. She’s as comfortable in a saddle as she is at the keyboard of her computer. And there’s not much she doesn’t know about ranch life or being madly in love. I got my copy of her brand new book, Colorado Bride, and loaded it to my phone so I can read it anywhere.

Romance from New Zealand

square-aspect-largeHello – I’m Kris Pearson, a New Zealander who writes mostly quite sexy novels. However, when I was invited to join the Authors of Main Street in February, I thought that an excerpt from my new Christmas novella would be a good choice because it’s perfectly sweet and clean – even though my two lead characters are forced to share a mattress on the floor!

This comes about because Jeff’s wife moves all his money to a secret bank account when she suspects him of infidelity, and then she manages to get him arrested for the night and banned from their home until things get sorted. What’s a man to do under those circumstances? (I confess I stole this set-up from a couple of silly family members. It’s totally fiction after that though, and becomes almost an extra epilogue for my novel THE WRONG SISTER.)

The amazing eagle from Weta Workshop who greets passengers at Wellington Airport

The amazing eagle from Weta Workshop who greets passengers at Wellington’s airport

SANTA CLAWS is set in Wellington, New Zealand and our ‘Main Street’ is called Lambton Quay. From that you might expect ships, but it’s a long time since any ships tied up here. Because my city is backed with steep hills there’s been a lot of land reclaimed from our harbor. Lambton Quay is now two or three city blocks inland. You can see photos on my website – http://www.krispearson.com

SANTA CLAWS – a Christmas novella

ASIN: B01N6N1BSH

 

EXCERPT

 Two days ago

“One night in the guest room, bro – it’s all I can do,” Christian Hartley said the next day. “Fiona and I have the olds – plus Becky’s tribe – staying for Christmas, and every bed will be bursting.”

“Better than nothing,” Jeff said, thanking God for the small respite his wealthy brother had given him. The panic receded slightly, and he was about to conclude the call when Christian added, “How bad are things, really?”

“Totally down the drain. Mon’s stitched me up. Got a restraining order against me for a while and hidden all the money.”

“Jeez… Look, I know you’re too damn proud to accept charity, but say the word if you want a loan. In fact let me transfer some money now. What’s your account number?”

Jeff breathed out quietly. “Thanks, but no thanks. Not yet anyway. I’ll get by.”

There was a short silence. “You’ve got time off over Christmas?”

“Yeah – a fortnight.”

“Well, this is a crappy offer, but it’d be a roof over your head. Our rental in Kilbirnie got trashed. I ordered a dumpster for today, and was going to get cleaners onto it sometime in the New Year.”

“Happy to help.”

“You might not be when you see it, but if you don’t mind taking on the job, and doing a bit of repainting, I’ll swap your labour for a few weeks’ rent to preserve your pride. It’ll cost me plenty to get anyone else in, and leave me free to spend more time with Fiona and Nicky over the holiday. I was hoping for a few days out at the river.”

Jeff could have sworn his panicked heart-rate was slowing. “You’re a life-saver, Chris. Thanks.”

Christian made a noise that was half laugh, half sigh. “You might not think so once you’ve seen it. It stinks to high heaven, and there are mice and God knows what else.”

“If it’s somewhere to hole up for a while, it’ll do me fine.”

“It comes complete with a spade, a lot of Mr Muscle, air freshener, and a big pack of garbage bags I left in the kitchen. There’s a key under the brick beside the shed.”

Jeff heard a childish squeal in the background, and Chris muttered, “Okay Nic, coming now.” Then he added, “Knock yourself out, bro, and I’ll see you here for the Christmas barbecue.”

“A spade?” Jeff asked as the word finally registered in his over-stressed brain.

“You’ll need it, buddy. I’m not joking about it being bad.”

*

On the last day of the working year, Evie wore her blonde hair low to hide her face, and had a lot of peachy makeup smeared around one eye. Jeff couldn’t help but notice. They sometimes sat together in the staffroom, and today was one of those days.

“He’s hit you again?” he asked in a low voice.

She frowned and shook her head. Her hair fell even further forward and she fiddled with her ever-present silver charm bracelet. “Only a bit.”

“Why don’t you get out?” He slid his gaze sideways to her, trying not to draw any attention in their direction.

“Nowhere to go. No money to go with. I gave him my Christmas bonus to stop him bashing me more.”

Jeff closed his eyes and clenched his fists. How he’d enjoy giving the bastard some of his own medicine. “There’s another thirty minutes of lunch break,” he muttered. “If I took you home now, could you grab your clothes and bedding? Store everything in the car for the rest of the day. It’s a long story, but I’ve left Monica.”

He heard her indrawn breath. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” she said loudly to no-one in particular. Jeff drained the last of his coffee and followed her a minute later.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” he said as he drove. “The house is bad. It’s been trashed. I spent last evening throwing stuff in a dumpster, and then slept at my brother’s. There’s a long way to go yet.”

“I’d be an extra pair of hands.” She glanced across at him, jaw tight.

“There are no beds.”

“I’ve slept on the floor before.”

“Yeah, me too, but it was a long time ago, and it’s no fun.” Then he told her about Monica, and the money, and the mess that was now his life.

“So you’re not planning a family Christmas?” she asked with a lift of her eyebrows and a sudden flinch.

His heart lurched. “With my brother’s family, but not with her. That eye’s bad, isn’t it. Do you need a doctor?”

Evie shook her head. “It’s not cut.”

Jeff pressed his lips together. “How have you stood it so long? For the last year at least, from what I can see.”

“He wasn’t so bad to start with.” She hitched a shoulder up and avoided his gaze.

“I can give you one good thing to look forward to, anyway. The barbecue at my brother’s house on Christmas Day. It’ll give us a rest after all the cleaning up. And a decent feed.”

She pushed her hair back over her shoulders and looked at him doubtfully. “I’d be intruding.”

“No you won’t. There’ll be quite a crowd, and you’re very welcome. He’s younger than me. Dad married twice. I’m the older black sheep son.”

Evie snorted at that. “Like I’m the older black sheep daughter. The one who lived a gypsy life and never married or had kids.”

Jeff laughed without humour. He slowed, parking two houses down from where she lived – his usual practice on the times he’d dropped her home.

“I don’t know if this will work,” she said, peering ahead. “If anyone’s there I’ll just say I need my migraine pills and then I’ll get out in a hurry. If you see me put a bag outside the door, come and grab it, and I’ll go in again for more.”

One suitcase, one sports bag, and a big armload of bedding later, Evie squealed at him to hurry as a glowering, leather-clad man with a bull terrier on a leash ambled round the corner. The man froze for a moment as he assessed the situation, then broke into a sprint and sent them a far from friendly signal with his free hand as they roared away.

“He was out walking Devil,” she said, with a giggle that did Jeff’s spirits good. Then she floored him by adding, “We could see if the church shop has a bed?”

One bed, he noticed. For her, or for them both? He didn’t dare hope, although a prickle of anticipation threaded itself the length of his body. He shook his head, still wired from the speedy escape. Maybe the adrenaline rush was making him think crazy thoughts? “Even if they do, they won’t be able to deliver so close to Christmas.”

She sent him a small grin. “I know some of those ladies quite well.”

Kris Pearson's backyard

Kris Pearson’s backyard