I’m working on my next Better Late Romance–a holiday novella for the Authors of Main Street box set.

To get in the holiday spirit (which is tricky, because the temperature is hovering around 90 degrees here), I’ve marked down my Christmas Collection to only 0.99 cents. Hurry and get it quick before the price, like the temperature, rises.

Christmas collection
Only 0.99 for a few days. Get your copy now.

The First Chapter of:

The Billionaire Buys the Books

Lauren slipped on her shoes and slid away from the piano. Hardly anyone in the well-heeled crowd noticed the cessation of music. After silently closing the instrument’s lid, she stood, rolled her shoulders, and flexed her fingers. If she hurried, she’d be able to grab a bite to eat and peruse the book display tables.

LeAnne Gardener, the conference Grand Poohbah, bustled across the room, a tablet in her hand. The scowl hovering between her brows made Lauren worry that not everyone had noticed she’d stopped playing. Fortunately, LeAnne directed her scowl and energy at the caterers loitering near the refreshment table.

Lauren walked as fast as she could without actually breaking into a trot. Books first. Food second.

The book display had been set up in one of the hotel’s smallest conference rooms. The overstuffed chairs, end tables, tapestry rugs were striving to create a comfy-homey feel, but they were no match for the flickering overhead lighting, pale nondescript walls, and recycled air.

Lauren, like the rest of the staff, wore all black, but she because she was about thirty years older than most of the valets and caterers, she felt like an old crow in funeral garb. She would have liked to meet Sophia Lawson, her dream agent, in something not quite so severe and boring, but since the only way she’d been able to afford the conference was by agreeing to play the piano for the evening soiree reserved just for the literary professionals, she didn’t have a choice. But since she’d spent almost all of her adult life without a lot of options, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and bent over the artistically arranged piles of books, searching for The Polly the Pirate series.

She brightened when she spotted the brightly colored books stacked in a far corner. Lovingly, she picked one up and flipped it open. These books had been her refuge when she’d been a lonely-only child of a dying mother and a grieving father. And now, she had the chance to meet the author, Gloria Spicer, and, if she was very lucky, get a chance to try and sell her book to Gloria’s agent, Mimsy Wharton—the premier middle-grade literary agent at Wharton Literary Agency.

When raised voices interrupted Lauren, she glanced over her shoulder and made eye-contact with a man in an ill-fitting suit. His dark hair had a smattering of gray at the temples and lines crinkled around his eyes.

“I’m trying to find a gift for my mom,” he said. “Can you help me?”

Feeling the clock ticking down her minutes until she needed to return to her piano bench, Lauren hesitated. Social conditioning mingling with the sincere desire to engage in book talk kicked in. “Sure. What kind of books does your mom like?”

He tucked his hands into his pockets. “I have no idea. That’s why I’m asking you.”

Irritation flicked through her. “If you, her son, don’t know, why would you expect me to know?”

“Because you work here, don’t you?”

“Well, yes.” Technically, she’d been hired to play the piano, not help cranky book-buyers.

His brow furrowed and Lauren took compassion on him. “Does she like fiction or nonfiction?”

He blew out a breath.

Lauren fished around for more information. “What does she like to do?”

“She’s a real estate agent.” His expression turned hopeful. “Are there any books about houses?”

“Does she like decorating?” An idea hit Lauren and she strode toward the Greta Boris mystery series she’d spied early on a front table featuring an interior decorator amateur sleuth. She picked up The Color of Envy. Annie couldn’t get enough of these books.

The man’s eyebrows shot up. “I can’t give her a murder mystery.”

“Why not?” Maybe she was more a Hallmark sort of gal? Lauren got that. For almost a year after her ex-husband’s violent death, she could only read light and fluffy books. Even the Twilight books had been too heavy, even though they hadn’t bothered children in the least. Annie continued her obsession with Greta Boris and James had devoured a steady stream of Michael Creighton’s books at that bleak time.

“I don’t want to give her any ideas,” the man said.

“Oh, okay. How about a book of poems?” Lauren’s gaze landed on a book with a bouquet of roses on the cover. “These should be harmless enough.”

LeAnne marched into the room. The scowl between her brows deepened when she spotted Lauren. She pointed at the open door.

Sighing, Lauren glanced at her watch. She’d missed her food opportunity. “I have to get back to work.”

“But don’t you work here?” the man asked.

“I do. Just not in this room.”

He seemed genuinely perplexed.

“I should have made that clear,” Lauren said.

LeAnne cleared her throat.

“Excuse me,” Lauren said, brushing her hand on the man’s arm in an apology before heading for the door and the piano in the ballroom.

#

Ron watched the woman go. Had she been flirting with him? He was hopeless when it came to women. And men. The only people he really felt comfortable around were his co-workers—fellow engineers who got excited over numbers, charts, and graphs. He softened when he thought of Margo—she had helped him navigates his world his entire life and was especially good at handling their mother. So, why was he here and not Margo?

Ron picked up the book the woman in black had recommended and took it to the cashier. Along the way, his gaze landed on a book with the picture of a beagle on it. The Billionaire’s Beagle. If the sale of his patent went through, he’d make a billion dollars. The thought still made his breath catch. On a whim, he bought the book. His mother liked dogs and she loved money. A lot. That was part of the reason he hadn’t told her about the impending deal.

After making his purchase and waiting for the girl to gift wrap it, he headed back to the conference. Soiree, he reminded himself of his mother’s word for the event. What was Mom doing here? She was a realtor, not a bookish person. His gaze swept the room and his stomach sickened when he spotted his mom at a table with her best friend, Lois Hampton.

He trusted Lois about as far as he could throw her, and if he’d ever be given the chance, he’d chuck Lois out of his mom’s life. The woman was a sponge. Why couldn’t mom see her for who she was?

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

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

She pulled away and laced her fingers through his. “I’m so glad we could connect.”

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

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

Ron sat beside Mom and wished, for not the first time, that his mom could be more like the seventy-five years old women who stayed at home to garden, knit, or bake cookies, and less like… Lois.

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

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

Lois’s smile didn’t reach her shrewd eyes. “I’m well.” Thanks to ample amounts of yoga sessions and plastic surgery, both Lois and Mom looked closer to his age than their own. Their Botox cheeks and bee-sting fat lips made him twitchy and uncomfortable.

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

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

“I bought you something.” Ron put the gift-wrapped book on the table and slid it toward Mom.

Her eyes lit up. “Thanks, sweetie.” She turned to Lois. “He’s always so thoughtful. Never visits without bringing a gift.” She tore into the paper. The light in her eyes dimmed when she spotted the book. “A dog book?”

“You like dogs, right? This is a romantic comedy. And it takes place in Laguna Beach.” Why was he trying to sell this book?

Mom regained her composure. “Your company is a gift in and of itself,” she said in a high bright voice.

Music began to play. Most around him paid little attention to the swell of sound coming from the corner of the room, but Ron swiveled in the direction of the piano. The woman he’d met earlier in the book salon sat on the bench. Rachmaninoff, one of his favorite composers. One of his mentor professors had always listened to classical music at the lab while he worked, and Ron had carried on the tradition even after Joseph had retired.

He took in the woman at the piano. She really was lovely. Willowy, blonde, pink-cheeked. Her fingers stroked the keys with grace. Could he muster the nerve to talk to her again? No. What would be the point? His work was in Massachusetts, and she and her piano were in Orange County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me neither, Ron thought.

“They’re very prestigious,” Lois said. “a discriminating boutique firm.”

“We’re still fairly new,” Mom said, sliding a Lois a conspiratorial glance.

When the soiree finally ended and the lovely woman at the piano slid off her bench and closed the piano lid, Ron hoped to have a moment alone with Mom.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Mom said. “But the evening has just started for me. Most of the deals are made at the bar.”

“The bar?” Ron echoed.

Mom plucked the linen napkin off her lap and laid it beside her the plate of her barely touched crème brulee. “You’re welcome to join us.”

The others at the table had taken their books and headed for where ever. Lois stood a few feet away, tapping her size-six foot.

Fighting the tension headache brewing beneath his brow, Ron scrunched his forehead. “What’s this publishing company?”

“Oh darling, it’s the most brilliant scheme,” Mom whispered.

Scheme? He didn’t like schemes. He liked numbers, graphs, formulas, mathematical equations. To him, schemes and Lois were synonymous and he wanted nothing to do with either. If only he could convince his mom to feel the same.

“I can’t wait to tell you all about it. You’ll be at the house tomorrow when I get home?”

“I’m catching a red-eye to Boston in the evening.”

Mom wilted with relief. “Oh good. We’ll have lots of time to chat. Have you seen @SISTER?”

“We’re going to brunch tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to miss that. But work is work. You know how it is.” She patted his chest before kissing his cheek. “Ta, darling. Can’t wait to have our gab-session.”

But Ron didn’t know how it was. His work he understood—although, granted, most of the world didn’t. Even though people were surrounded by micro-WHATEVERS, not very people had any interest in them. Until they got sick.

His app, if used, would help stop with the spread of disease.

Mom’s work, until a few months ago, had been selling houses. Before that, she’d been a make-up artist selling fifty-dollar tubes of lipstick. Before that, she’d been an organization guru. Mom had the ability to reinvent herself more than anyone he knew. Maybe that’s why his biologist father had fallen in love with her. She was more chameleon than human.

There were things about himself that Ron would like to change—like the ability to converse with pretty pianists—but he lacked the skill. He was more like his father than his mother in that regard.

GHOST TOWNS

Tennessee and several other states are known for Ghost Towns. I find them fascinating.

One eerie Ghost Town, particularly interesting, is located in the Great Smoky Mountains area of Elkmont, Tennessee.

Elkmont, founded in 1908 by the Little River Lumber Company was a logging community. In 1910, the logging company started selling off land to wealthy families, during the late 19th and early 20th century, who built dozens of log cabins as an enjoyable bustling resort get-a-way. Most were from around Knoxville and surrounding cities.

They also formed an Appalachian Club and constructed a 3000-foot structure as use for a clubhouse.

In 1912, The Wonderland Hotel, a 50-room rustic lodge, was constructed by several Knoxville businessmen.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Elkmont, in a particular section, became known as Daisy Town, was the foremost summer journey for Knoxville’s upper society.

In two other areas, owners built lavish log homes, one that became known as Millionaires’ Row and the other, Society Hill.

Two landowners campaigned for the creation of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains.

1925 the State of Tennessee purchased 76,000 acres from Little River Lumber Company.

Residents around Elkwood were required to remove themselves from their property.

Elkmont property owners could sell their cabins to the state for half price. They then could expect to have lifetime leases. 1952 the leases were changed to a 20-year lease and again in 1972. In 1992, the owners lost their contracts by refusal to renew, by the National Park Service.

No privately owned land would be permitted in the park.

Sadly, the landowners removed themselves from their land. All cabins, cottages and other buildings were left abandoned.

In the 80s, the park decided to demolish all structures in the Elkmont area. But in1994 the Wonderland Hotel, among other noteworthy structures, were assigned to the National Register of Historic Places. Thus, the Elkmont Historic District remains today, though without proper care the buildings resulted in shambles.

In 2005, Wonderland Hotel collapsed.

In 2009 work began to restore some of the buildings, the first being The Appalachian Clubhouse. Due to, possibly, lack of funds, only a few of the cabins have been restored.

In 2017, in what was suspected as an arson attack, burned the remains of other buildings. Many of the cabins were also burned.

The Appalachian Clubhouse was rebuilt after burning down in 1934.

The Levi Trentham Cabin, the Avent Cabin, and the Spence Cabin the along with a couple other cabins were also restored.

You may contact the National Park Service for weddings and other events.

It is my hope they can restore other parts of the historical area.

Do you have a favorite Ghost Town to share with us? I’d love reading your favorite.

Until next time…I wish you Music, Butterflies 087d7f0069385dd543178c4c2fca3430--blue-butterfly-butterfly-wings and most of all…I wish you Love.

 

Better Late Romance–Love to the Last Chapter

Do You Like Romantic Comedies? Would You Read One Featuring the Over-Fifty Set? Almost a year ago, a few members of my critique group, Orange County Fictionaires, came up with a plan to create a series of Better Late Romances featuring main characters over the age of fifty.  I’m so excited to bring my “Better Late Romance” to the world in a little less than a week!

So far, there are six books planned in the Better Late Romance world of Rancho Allegro, a Southern California fictional coastal town. All are family friendly, fast, and fun featuring the over fifty crowd. One is currently available, two are up for pre-order, and the other three are in the works.

Here’s mine.

thumbnail_half baked

Maggie Milne has everything she needs—a loving family, a delightful bakery, good books, and cat food.

But when Stephen Fox, a health food nut, opens a sporting goods store and café across the street and some of Maggie’s loyal customers begin to replace their morning donuts with gluten-free grub, Maggie’s ire, as well as her yeasty rolls, begins to rise.
Fresh off a heart attack and divorce, Stephen Fox needs to change his ways. Now it’s clean-eating and small-town-living for him. Since his relocation to Rancho Allegro, there’s only been one woman who has caught Stephen’s eye: a charming masked woman in a butterfly costume he met at a Mardi Gras party.
Imagine his horror when he learns Maggie, the obnoxious baker who has been trying to ruin his business from day one, is the masked woman he’s been searching for!
It’s double- chocolate donuts meets kefir. Can two people from separate grocery store aisles overcome their differences?

Pre-order price 0.99

But, if you don’t want to wait for a Better Late Romance, my friend Terry Black’s book is already available on Amazon.

Trash Romance (1)

Amiable librarian Kelly Sharpe is unlucky in love. After a series of near-misses, she’s surprised when romance blossoms from the unlikeliest of sources – Marty Brower, her trash man, a former stockbroker who left Wall Street for a simpler life of rustic bliss. But Marty’s got a troubling secret, which could trash their relationship – unless Kelly can help him to face his past, when disaster strikes the scenic enclave of Rancho Allegro.

Pick Up Your Trash Here!

And, if you’re really on a Better Late Romance roll, my friend Michelle Knowlden’s book, Her Last Mission, will be available on July 2nd.

Her Last Mission

In this fast-paced romantic comedy, Sandra Baak’s twin brother is missing and her handler has a secret mission for her. It involves mistaken identities, corporate spies, and a second chance with the man she’s secretly loved for decades—if she doesn’t have to unveil him as a traitor!
She might even find her brother. And that’s the tricky part, because when necessary, she’s been passing herself off as her male twin for years. Mark Orlando, the wealthy aerospace CEO she’s investigating—and trying to keep from falling for all over again—doesn’t know Sandra’s a woman.
Or does he?
There’s a touch of Mission: Impossible and even Twelfth Night in this delightful romance. You’ll love the surprise twists and turns, the memorable characters and the charm of Rancho Allegro, the small-town setting for the Better Late romances.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

The New Normal

Everyone is talking about the new normal as the various states attempt to open up from this strange lock-down that has been imposed on us. I’ll admit I’ve not exactly stayed inside twiddling my thumbs. I’ve been out daily, even if it is for a cup of coffee from the Starbucks drive-thru or tea and a sandwich from a favorite local restaurant’s curbside delivery.  I’ve tailgated with a few friends and tried to remain in-touch without touching or being too close.

Our governor has said we must wear masks in public or we can be arrested. Seriously? Apparently he can say it, but it’s not enforceable for several reasons.  Anyone who has a problem breathing wearing a mask is exempt. Here’s the catch, under the law it’s illegal to ask you if you have a medical problem. While rile people up over wearing a mask?  Why not appeal to people to do the right thing? Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. And what about that person who is struggling financially and now has the burden of buying masks or cutting up their clothes to make them?

I had to talk to a friend and basically calm her down because she was certain she was going to die because she gets claustrophobic trying to use a mask. If she is trapped at home, how can she get to her 95 YO mom who lives alone and needs her daughter?  She was certain that our governor’s proclamation was going to kill her and her mom.

Then I talked to another friend who has had a very strange year because she now has an empty nest. She’s been a single mother for years and her daughter was accepted to a special program in California. It was a fantastic opportunity for her daughter who has a disability, But Mom being a mom was also scared to see her daughter go so far away and have to live on her own. Big brother came to the rescue! He, too, was living at home and had just graduated from college and was job hunting when his sister was accepted. He told his mom he’d go with his sister. They could get an apartment together and he’d find a job out there.  But that meant Mom suddenly joined the ranks of empty nesters.

Then the covid hit and she’s been trapped in the house and eventually working from home. But for the first three weeks while her job tried to figure out how to keep everyone working from home, she swears she did nothing but sleep, watch TV, nibble a little, and sleep some more. She said she had no idea she was that tired. She doesn’t want to return to the stress that once occupied her life. She likes this new normal.

She’s not alone. Another friend has virtually said the same thing. She and her husband are now working from home. The children are with them and the dog curls at their feet while they sit at their computers.  She says they’ve reconnected as a family and jobs are still getting done even if they are in their pajamas. But they don’t have the same stress as they did being in an office. They, too, said in the beginning they spent time unwinding, napping, and just decompressing.  They don’t want to go back to what they had. They like this new normal. They didn’t realize how stressed they were.

My one daughter has said her job is getting more difficult to do from home. It requires her presence and she occasionally must go out. For a few days, working from home is okay, but then she’s needed in the field. Now that requires her to call into the home office and get permission to go out.

My other daughter, the nurse, is out there coping like other health professionals. She’s dealt with covid patients and her routine to protect herself and her family has changed. She’s been around infectious diseases for over twenty years and she’s never caught anything yet.  But she’s very careful!

Her husband is also working from home. He’s anxious to get back to his office.  But he swears the dogs are now so spoiled, they are going to be heart-broken when things return to normal.

We’re not going to go back to what once was. Too many things have changed. Once you open some boxes, you can’t stuff everything back in again. It’s not going to happen. Companies are discovering that employees can work from home and get just as much accomplished. As for the expensive office space, it won’t be needed or at least not the same square footage.

But things last year weren’t the same as they were a few years before that.  Time keeps changing things. Once upon a time, a man could work in a shoe store selling shoes and make enough money to keep his wife home with the three children, and drive a nice car. They had a house with a picket fence and a color TV in the living room where the family would gather after dinner and watch the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the American dream.  It was real.

Things have changed.  That job selling shoes isn’t going to pay enough to buy groceries and pay the electric bill. What happened? Life changes and we change. Life has changed with Covid-19. Will we ever walk into a store again without wearing a mask? It’s possible that the mask is here to stay.

To all those who have suffered from job losses, domestic violence, or lost family members to suicides or acts of violence or unrest, my heart goes out to you.  Being trapped at home can make matters worse and feel overwhelming.  I wish I could somehow prevent all the atrocities that happen every day, but I can’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t care.

I send out a very special congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2020, that will never get to walk in a cap and gown. So many of these young people would have been the very first generation to ever graduate from high school and they didn’t get a chance to get that picture with their grandparent or mom at their side with them in a cap and gown and a diploma in their hand.  Some of us take for granted that our children will do certain things and then a child comes along and beats the odds. Here’ a special cheer to those who made it.

Life is different, the world is different, and normal will never be normal. What’s normal for me is not not normal for you. But maybe we can just keep going and try to find our way. Be kind, stay safe, please wear a mask if you can because we’re all in this together, and we want to return to the new normal.

 

 

Thinking Out Loud

A short mention of a song I heard yesterday.

I heard Archie Williams sing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” yesterday. He’s a wonderful singer. He also has quite the story to tell. If you care to read it, google his name. Sad, but uplifting.

It’s been rainy here for a few days. Good for my plants. We have Tomato, Sweet Banana Pepper, Cilantro, Sweet Basil, Dill Weed, Marigolds and Shasta daisies. My neighbor gave us a beautiful red Amaryllis from her yard. I can’t wait to get it planted. I’d love to plant more vegetables,  but not this year.

Did any of you get sick in November or December 2019? Maybe January or February before news of the Covid-19 hit our country?

A couple of weeks before Christmas, 2019, my hubby came down with what we thought was the Flu, or a terrible sinus infection, since he’s prone to getting sinus problems every year. But it was much worse than any he’d ever experienced. It lasted about three weeks and the coughing and a few other issues continued another couple of weeks.

About two weeks into his issue, I came down with the same thing. I lost a good bit of sense of smell. We both had the worst cough we’d ever had, and it simply wouldn’t go away no matter what we took.

There were no Covid-19 tests and the Flu test would have most likely come back negative anyway. We chalked it up to a serious upper respiratory infection.

Then, my daughter-in-law couldn’t make our New Year’s dinner celebration, she was so sick. Then my son came down with similar symptoms. Grandson had been around us and was with the kids, but didn’t get ill.

Symptoms were hard to determine, but toward the end of February, we took into consideration we’d possibly all had the coronavirus. And…more importantly, our cases weren’t as bad as they could have been.

Though it’s a bit late, I’m going to get an anti-body test and suggest hubby and the kids involved do the same.

I hope all of you are well and haven’t contracted the dreaded Covid-19.

Be safe and take all precautions suggested we all do.

May God keep you all.

Until next time…I wish you Music, Butterflies   087d7f0069385dd543178c4c2fca3430--blue-butterfly-butterfly-wings   and most of all…I wish you Love

Procrastination

By definition, procrastinate is a verb that means: delay or postpone action; put off doing something.

The word procrastinate, is derived from two Latin words: Pro (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow).

Synonyms include: dawdle, hesitate, adjourn, cool, dally, defer, drag, goldbrick (a word I had never heard before), and several others.

I’m sure by now you can safely assume that this word describes most of my life. I constantly find myself saying, “I’ll do that later” or, “Some other time.”

But when is that elusive “tomorrow?” Is it around the corner with future holidays and celebrations? 

If we put off until tomorrow what we can do today, will it ever be tomorrow?

Sometimes a person needs a break, a step back to relax and not do anything. Other times, myself especially, one needs a good nudge to get something done.

With everything that is going on, many people are having their daily routines interrupted. With nothing to do it is easy to consider lounging and finishing that series you can’t seem to finish. Maybe you will pick up that book you’ve been promising to read.

Look around you and see what you have put on the “shelf” for later. You don’t need to tackle a huge renovation or learn a new skill. Sometimes it’s the quiet conquests that can give one satisfaction.

Just remember in this time of chaos that it’s okay to relax, after all, haven’t you been saying you’ll take a break later?

Stay safe everybody and look at that dusty “shelf” of later for something to do now.

Destination Romance–Are You Ready to Pack Your Bags?

Dr. Suess

“Books take you someplace new when you have to stay where you are.” While this quote has always been true. In today’s world of social distancing and sheltering in place, it hits home with an extra punch.

That’s why I created my destination romance box set. It’s a mixture of two of my favorite things–travel and romance. The box set is still waiting for its cover, but all the included books are free in the Kindle Unlimited program.

Here’s the beginning of Irish Wishes:

Irish Wishes

FREE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED

Gillian lacked faith in numbers. Of course, since she was a librarian and not a math teacher, this was to be expected. Words were to be trusted; numbers, especially when it came to predicting the future, were far less reliable.

Flora felt differently, and she slammed her hand on the table to emphasize her point. “It’s the power of three!” Some people called them twins from different mothers, because in looks—moderate height, fair skin and hair, green eyes—they were similar. Even their staunch Christian values were the same, but when it came to numerology, they differed dramatically.

Why three had any more power than five or ten, Gillian didn’t know, but rather than point this out to her friend, she sipped her tea and glanced around the crowded and noisy sidewalk café, willing someone to come and rescue her. Typically, she couldn’t go anywhere without someone she knew from the school or choir stopping her for a chat, but not today.

“The whole thing…it’s suspicious, isn’t it?” Gillian picked off a morsel of her donut and put it in her mouth. She and Flora were supposed to be celebrating the end of the school year, not arguing. She almost regretted ever telling Flora about the mysterious safety deposit box. “I mean, why did the attorney send the notification to the school and not the house? If it had gotten lost in the mail, there was a real chance I wouldn’t have even seen it until after the break.”

“It came at the perfect time,” Flora said.

“Well, it came on my twenty-fifth birthday, as my mom had arranged.”

“Probably because she didn’t want your gram to get ahold of it. Which is also why the letter was sent to the school instead of the house.”

Gillian frowned at her donut. It had turned her fingers sticky, and somehow she’d managed to eat half of it without even noticing. “But my mom couldn’t know I would be working at the school.” Her voice cracked as it often did when she talked about her mom. In just ten years, she’d be the same age as her mom had been when she’d died.

“But she might have known you’d end up with your grandmother.”

Gillian held up her hand and twisted it so the emerald-cut sapphire and surrounding diamonds caught the sun and sent rays of light across the table.

“There were three things in the safety deposit box, right?” Flora asked. “The money, the ring, and the diary.”

“Yes, but I really don’t see—”

“Things come in threes! It’s a proven fact.”

“Proven by whom? As far as I know, only triplets come in threes.”

But Flora was on a roll and didn’t want to listen. “First, you got the letter about the safety deposit box, which contained three things. Second, the offer from Traverse Magazine. And third, they both arrived right as school ended for the summer.”

Gillian scowled. “The summer was going to come no matter what, Flora. It always does.”

“But don’t you see? If the offer from Traverse Magazine had come at any other time of the year, you wouldn’t be able to go. And since you discovered all that money in the safety deposit box, you can afford to go.”

“Leslie Tremaine—that’s the editor in chief—offered to pay all my expenses.” Even she heard the touch of wonder in her voice. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”

“Why? You’re a gifted photographer and writer.”

“But there are thousands, maybe even millions, of blogs. How did she find mine? I mean, very few people actually do.”

“Did you ask her?”

“No. I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“I never understood what that even means,” Flora muttered.

“It means if someone gives you a horse, don’t inspect its teeth. It’s rude. But I don’t want to get to Ireland and find the whole thing is some sort of ruse.”

Flora shook her donut in Gillian’s face. “That is exactly something your gram would say. Along with that whole gift horse saying. Did you tell her about the safety deposit box?”

Gillian fought back a wave of guilt. “No. I’m not sure I’m going to.” She’d never been very good at keeping secrets, especially from Gram. Her grandmother had an eerie sixth sense that had always terrified Gillian.

“You shouldn’t,” Flora said, her disdain for Gram dripping in her voice. “Have you had the chance to read the diary yet?”

“Of course. I stayed up all night.” She smiled at the memory. “Reading Mom’s writing was like being introduced to someone I thought I knew, but didn’t. Someone witty and charming.”

“And probably beautiful.”

“I already knew that about her.” Memories of her Taylor Swift-beautiful mom flashed in Gillian’s head.

“Did the diary mention your father at all?”

Gillian shook her head. “But it does mention some of my mom’s friends.” She took a bite of her donut, chewed, and swallowed before adding, “I’d like to meet them.”

“Another reason to go to Ireland.”

“I know, but…”

“But what?” Flora asked.

Gillian made a face. “It’s all too neat and tidy. Contrived, even.”

“You like neat and tidy! You thrive on neat and tidy! You’re a librarian, for Pete’s sake.”

A sudden vision of her stepbrother, Pete, flashed in her mind. Witty, lanky, honey blond hair falling across his forehead, baby blue eyes framed by surprisingly dark lashes. She banished his memory to the back of her mind…where he belonged.

“What is it?” Flora asked, sitting up.

“What’s what?” Gillian asked, returning to the here and now—Rose Arbor, a tiny town near the Washington coast, where she lived with her grandmother.

“That look!”

“What look?”

“You had a wistful sort of look on your face.”

Gillian schooled her expression and gave a half-hearted I don’t know what you’re talking about sort of shrug. She had to be careful with Flora. They’d been friends since their senior year of high school. Both had been new to Rose Arbor, making them outsiders in the small, tight-knit community. Gillian and her gram had frequently moved, for no reason that Gillian could point to, during the first two years after Gillian’s mother’s death, while Flora had been a runaway taken in and nurtured by the pastor’s wife. They’d bonded in choir, and after graduation, they’d both worked hard to put themselves through college.

It had surprised both of them when they’d ended up back in Rose Arbor, working at the middle school, but they were practically sisters now. Flora could read Gillian like a book from Gillian’s library.

Flora sighed. “You’re hopeless. I’m telling you, if you don’t go, I will.”

Gillian cocked her head. “Would you come with me?”

“Serious?” Flora brightened.

“Sure. If you’ll come with me, I’ll go. I’ll even pay for your flight.”

“When would we go?”

Gillian shrugged. Now that she’d made the offer, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it because there was still the matter of how in the world she’d explain it all to Gram.

As if bidden, Gillian’s phone buzzed with a text. She pulled it out of her cat-shaped backpack and frowned at the text. “It’s from Gram. She needs me to pick up her hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy.”

“Your gram texts?” Surprise flickered across Flora’s face.

“No, she gets Harold to do it.” Gillian texted a yes before dropping the phone back into her bag. She zipped it up as if that could keep the gram-time to a minimum.

“Who’s Harold?”

“The man next door. He pretty much does everything Gram tells him to do. She pays him with baked goods.”

“Interesting,” Flora murmured. “Let’s get back to planning our trip! I can’t go until after Sicily’s wedding.”

“That works.” Gillian polished off her donut, and her mood lifted. “Are we really doing this?”

“Absolutely! Why wouldn’t we?”

“What if it’s a scam?”

Flora laughed. “It’s an all-expense-paid trip to Ireland! What could go wrong?”

 

#

 

Gillian walked the few blocks from Olympic Avenue, Rose Arbor’s main street, to her gram’s house on the corner of Elm and Maple. Steam rose from the sidewalk, sending the scent of warm and wet cement into the air. It was petrichor, the smell that lingers when rain falls after a prolonged dry spell, caused by a chemical reaction.

Where had she learned that word? From Pete. He had always liked science and as a kid had tinkered with a chemistry set and experiments. What was he doing now? Why would she care? He and her stepfather had abandoned her long ago. She didn’t need to spare either of them a thought.

Mrs. Grimes, a gray-haired woman dressed in a floral housecoat and fuzzy slippers, and her yappy Pekinese, Petunia, rounded the corner.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Grimes called in her cultured British accent that always made Gillian think of a Masterpiece Theatre production.

“Good afternoon, Mrs.  Grimes.” She stooped to tickle Petunia between the ears. Petunia received the attention as if it were her due.

“Headed home, are you?”

Gillian stood and nodded.

Mrs. Grimes leaned forward to whisper, “Well, I thought I’d give you a heads up. That Tod Bingham is parked in front of your grandmother’s house.” She winked conspiratorially. “Just in case you want to take another loop around the neighborhood.”

“Oh, thank you.” Gillian bit her lip. She didn’t mind Tod. They’d been friends in high school, but his overeagerness wore on her. She knew that if she’d agree to it, he’d marry her in a second, even though they’d never even been on a date.

“If you’d like,” Mrs. Grimes said, “I could give you Petunia’s lead and you could take her to the park.”

“Oh, no. Thank you, though.” She’d rather face Tod than walk the bad-tempered dog.

Mrs. Grimes wilted with disappointment. “Well, maybe some other time.”

“Sure thing. Have a good day.”

When Gillian caught sight of the patrol car parked in front of her gram’s bungalow, her steps faltered. What was Tod doing here? With her lips pressed into a straight line, and feeling like she was walking before a firing squad, she passed through the front gate and climbed the steps up the porch. She listened to the murmured conversation inside for a moment, catching the words break-in and trespassers, before she pushed open the door.

The conversation halted as soon as she entered.

Her gram sat on the sofa, holding a pair of knitting needles in her hands and a ball of yarn in her lap. Gram ordered her clothes from a catalog company that sold cardigans, floral blouses, and coordinating polyester pants in bright colors. Her sunny clothing usually sharply contrasted with her mood and facial expressions that ranged from distaste to dissatisfaction.

Tod stood in the center of the room, looking, as he always did, like a St. Bernard. He not only had the same build and fuzzy hair—albeit close-clipped—but he also always had a Dudley Do-Right, hopeful expression that Gillian found sweet but also annoying.

Chester, the cat, jumped off the sofa and came to rub himself against Gillian’s ankles.

“What’s going on?” Gillian asked, scooping up Chester and hugging him to her chest.

But then she spotted her mom’s diary on the coffee table and a terrible dread swept through her. She moved to snatch it up, but Gram dropped the needles, grabbed the book, and shook it in Gillian’s face.

“Do you want to tell me about this?” Gram’s face flushed an angry red and the whites of her eyes took on a yellow hue.

“It’s my mother’s diary,” Gillian said in a strangled voice.

Gram’s tight gray curls shook with fury. “How did it get in the house?”

“I brought it here.” Gillian skated Tod a curious glance. “Why did you call the police?”

“When I found it in your room,” Gram straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, “I thought for sure someone had broken in.”

Gillian edged closer, hoping to get her fingers on the diary. If she needed to, she could take on her gram. “What were you doing in my room?”

“Just tidying up.”

Tidying up? Her room was as clean and sterile as the library. “You don’t need to tidy up my room.”

“It’s my house, isn’t it? I can go in any room I like.”

Gillian blinked as a sudden thought rocked through her. With the money from the safety deposit box, she could afford to move out.

As if she could read Gillian’s thoughts, Gram snorted, horse-like. “This is a lie! I knew your mother much better than you ever will, and this did not belong to her. Where did it come from?”

“An attorney notified me of a safety deposit box.”

“An attorney?” Gram’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What attorney? Where’s his office?”

Doubts tickled in the back of Gillian’s mind. Of course, if her mom had taken out a safety deposit box, it would have been in a bank in New York—not Seattle. But that diary…it had to belong to her mother, she was sure of it. “Give it back!”

Gram stood and moved to the fireplace, where flames blazed.

Horror swept through Gillian. “Don’t you dare!” She darted in front of her Gram. “Tod! Do something!”

“Now, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod lumbered toward the crackling fire, “don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“I can’t have this trash in my home!” Gram announced.

Gillian darted forward and plucked the book from her grandmother’s fingers.

Gram froze. “Where’d you get that ring?”

Gillian held out her hand, admiring once again the sparkling stone and intricate gold setting. “In the safety deposit box.”

Gram clutched her heart, staggered back to the sofa, and fell onto it. A puff of dust settled around her.

“Gram? Are you okay?” Gillian asked, worry replacing anger.

“Mrs. O’Hare? Would you like me to call an ambulance?” Tod asked.

Gram pinned Gillian with a steely gaze. “Get that book out of this house!”

“Gram,” Gillian began.

“Get out! Get out!” Gram shrieked. “This is my house and I can say who and what belongs here and what doesn’t.” She pointed a wavering finger at Gillian. “GET OUT!”

Gillian stared at her grandmother with an open mouth.

Tod took Gillian’s elbow and steered her from the room and out onto the porch.

“She doesn’t mean it,” Gillian said in a shocked whisper. “She can’t really mean it.”

Tod gave her a sympathetic glance and rubbed her back. She eased away from his touch.

“Do you have somewhere to go?” he asked.

She nodded. “Flora, Jessie, or Mindy.” She had lots of friends who would probably be happy to let her sleep on their sofa for a few nights.

Tod shuffled his feet. “I was going to say you’re always welcome to stay with me. It’s not much, and I’d have to clean up…bachelor, you know?”

“That’s sweet, Tod, but not necessary.”

Gram appeared in the doorway with a shotgun in her hand. She cocked it. “Are you still here? I want you off my property immediately!”

“Gram!” Gillian gasped. “She’s lost it!” she said to Tod.

“Give me the gun, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod said, looking officious for once. He tossed the words, “Get out of here, Gillian,” over his shoulder. “Go somewhere safe!”

#

 

Gillian sat on the edge of Flora’s bed with her hands between her knees. Flora sat beside her with a comforting arm around Gillian’s shoulder.

“You have to go,” Flora said.

“No, I can’t go,” Gillian insisted.

“It’s another sign.”

“This—according to your scorekeeping—makes four signs, and there’s nothing magical about four.”

Flora shook her head. “You were right before. Summer comes no matter what, so that wasn’t a sign. But this is.”

“I can’t leave her!”

“You don’t have a choice,” Flora insisted.

“She needs help!”

“Of course she does. But you don’t have to be the one who provides it. Have you called her sisters?”

“Yes, but you know they’re all as crazy as she is.” Gillian sucked in a deep breath. Just thinking of her great aunts gave her a panic attack. The last time the three sisters had been together, they’d watched Fox News and gotten in a shouting matching over political issues that they all agreed with. It was craziness that they could scream at each other even when they all shared the same opinions. She found it strange that the sisters who were constantly bickering had all migrated from Ireland together and couldn’t seem to live without each other. “Auntie Verna and Auntie Sarah said they would be here tomorrow.”

“Just another reason for you to leave.”

True.

“I don’t have a suitcase. I don’t have any clothes.” Gillian bit her lip, immediately recognizing her mistake and wishing she could take back her words.

Flora grinned and bounced off the bed. “You, my sister, have come to the right place!” She disappeared out the door. “Come and see what I just found!” Flora called from the next room.

“I can’t pillage your stash!” Gillian said, not moving.

Flora returned with her arms full of clothes. “You can and you will!”

Flora ran an online clothing business where she found pieces at local thrift stores and garage sales, dolled them up, and resold them at outrageous prices. Even though she’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, she’d chosen to get a degree in math because she considered it practical and she liked a teacher’s lifestyle and benefits. But her online business was quickly outperforming her teacher’s salary.

Gillian wasn’t about to take her inventory. “I can buy my own clothes,” she said.

Flora, ever the savvy businesswoman, rubbed her hands together in glee. “Did someone just say shopping?”

#

Pete sat at an isolated table overlooking the Long Island Sound on the terrace of the Montage Hotel. A cool breeze carried the clatter of cutlery and the hum of conversations over the lawn, but his father must have chosen this particular table to be set up in this remote spot so their conversation wouldn’t be overheard.

But why? Pete picked up his drink, swirled it, and watched the bubbles chase around the inside of the glass. On occasions like this with his father, he felt like the fizz in his water—running in circles, but never arriving.

Pete sensed, rather than heard or saw, his father’s arrival. The waiters snapped to attention and the heads of the few other restaurant patrons turned while his father, JW Oaks, strode across the lawn. He wore fawn-colored pants, and a blue-and-white button-down shirt that accentuated his tanned skin and baby blue eyes. Pete stood.

JW clasped Pete’s hand hard and gave him a friendly slap on the arm before settling down at the wrought-iron bistro-style table. Pete followed suit, taking note of the tired wrinkles around his father’s eyes.

“How are you?” JW boomed.

“I’m good, Dad,” Pete said. “Although you know that. We just saw each other an hour ago in the boardroom.”

“I know.” JW unrolled the linen napkin and placed it on his lap. “But that’s no place for a father-and-son chat. Too many suits and ties listening in and waiting for an opportunity to ambush.” He delivered this jokingly, but Pete heard the hurt behind the words. JW ran his business much like a loving patriarch, and it always pained and surprised him when one of his employees acted out of greed.

JW cleared his throat. “You’re probably wondering why I asked you to meet me for lunch. The truth is, I need a favor.” JW leaned forward and braced his forearms on the table.

Pete set down his water glass, studying his father, a self-made billionaire and hotel mogul with landholdings across the globe. He could—and did—hire almost anyone to do anything he wanted, so this request came as a surprise. It had to involve something personal and confidential. “Anything, Dad. You know that.” And he meant it.

Relief washed over JW’s face, but he laughed softly. “You might not think so when I tell you what I need you to do.” He took a sip of water, set down the goblet, and leaned back in his chair. “I want you to find your sister and bring her home,” JW said.

Surprise rocked Pete. “Gillian?” He hadn’t seen her since her mom’s funeral, and that had to be ten years ago. She’d been a scrawny fifteen-year-old with a mouth full of metal and a collection of freckles mixed with pimples on her nose.

JW nodded, plucked a dinner roll from the basket on their table, and tore into it. A warm, fragrant puff floated into the air, making Pete hungry.

He ignored his rumbling belly. “Why me?”

JW slathered butter on his roll without meeting Pete’s gaze. “I would go myself, but I don’t think she’ll listen to me. Her grandmother has poisoned her opinion of me.”

A latent rage he had nearly forgotten about burned inside Pete. “I don’t know why you didn’t fight for custody. You would have won.” His dad had an army of attorneys at his bidding.

JW glanced up, his expression stony. “Don’t you think I know that?”

“So, why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t know anything about raising a daughter, and Naomi’s mom was… I loved your stepmother, but her family was—is—a bunch of lunatics.”

“So, why did you let them keep Gillian?”

“They may be lunatics, but they’re harmless. And Marna—that’s Naomi’s mother—loved Gillian and was thrilled when Naomi had finally brought her round.” He shrugged. “It was easier.” Then he pointed his half-eaten roll at Pete. “Hey, don’t judge me. You don’t know what it’s like to lose a spouse. I was sick with sorrow for a really long time.”

Pete had been away at college when Naomi had died, but he still remembered his dad’s mind-numbing grief and his own searing loss.

“Where’s Gillian now?”

“Ireland.” He ground out the word.

“And this is bad because…?”

“I’m afraid she’s gone looking for her dad—her biological dad.”

“And this is bad because…?” he repeated.

JW fell silent as the waiter returned with a tray carrying their meals.

“I just want her to come home to New York,” he said as soon as the waiter was out of earshot. “I want her to attend my seventieth birthday.”

That was a month away. JW wasn’t asking Pete to go to Ireland for a month, was he?

“But what about the Lakewood acquisition?” Pete asked.

“Morris will take it over. That’s pretty much a done deal, anyway.” JW tucked into his food.

Pete used his fork to stir the peppercorns in the cream sauce around his plate. There was something his dad wasn’t telling him. There was a hidden agenda here.

“That thing with you and Stacy Hoffman?” JW asked without meeting his gaze.

“I haven’t seen her in weeks.” Pete sliced into his steak.

JW nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said, but his tone said not sorry. “What did she do again?”

“She manages a venture capital fund.” Pete took a bite of his steak, chewed, and swallowed before adding, “You play golf with her dad, Mark Hoffman.”

“Right. The Goldman Sachs guy.” JW chewed his food thoughtfully. “I don’t know what you ever saw in her.”

“Me neither,” Pete said.

JW put down his fork, laughing.

Pete wanted to do the same, but an uneasy feeling lingered between him and his dad like a shadow.

“Don’t be in Ireland too long,” JW said.

“How long is too long?”

JW shrugged. “Just bring her back as soon as you can. Tell her about the party. But act like your running into her is accidental.”

Pete thought back to when Naomi had first introduced him to Gillian. She’d been six years old, a spitfire who had kicked him in the shins when he’d dared to touch her paper dolls. He smiled at the memory. “What if she refuses?”

JW picked up his goblet and held it up. “She won’t. You won’t let her. Look, it’ll be easier to persuade her once she’s away from Marna.”

His first summer home from college, one of his girlfriends, Millie something, had invited Gillian to join them on a date to the New Jersey shore. Gillian, then thirteen, had spent the entire trip working on rewriting an Agatha Christie poem about the ten little Indians and their grisly deaths. She’d inserted the names of people she knew into the poem, and Millie had worried that Gillian was a baby psychopath. He’d laughed at the time, but who was to say how Gillian had turned out? He hadn’t seen her in years.

Knowing his dad had a lot more confidence in him than he deserved, Pete felt worry settle between his shoulder blades like an itch he couldn’t quite reach. But he didn’t try to argue with his dad. This was something he would never do.

 

#

 

Gillian picked her way across the rocky path in her shoes that, while cute, were hardly suitable for the boggy yet rugged soil. In fact, Gillian was rethinking her entire wardrobe selection. Her white linen pants were now mud stained. Her windbreaker was more of a breeze enabler. She’d only brought one sweater…

The internet had promised balmy days and “a sure a long stretch of the evenings” because the sun didn’t set until close to eleven at this time of the year—her birthday month.

She grew homesick thinking of her friends. They’d thrown her a birthday party before she’d left. They had showered her with gifts for the trip—a suitcase, travel toiletries, clothes—most of them wildly impractical, but fun.

And now, here she was on her dream vacation, alone outside a secluded graveyard on Boa Island in Northern Ireland. Loneliness settled in the pit of her belly. Sure, it was cool to see all of these ancient places, but she longed to share it with someone. Flora was coming, but she couldn’t come until after her sister’s wedding.

Gillian pushed open the creaky metal gate that led to the ancient cemetery. Her mind flitted between legends and history. The two were so melded together, it was hard to know which was which. Leprechauns, vampires, banshees, wee folk. Maybe she would unknowingly meet one. The rocky path gave her an unsettled feeling—made her unsure where to place her feet. She disliked the thought of walking on top of ancient graves. She read the headstones as she passed by, wondering if any could belong to her ancestors—maybe her father’s unknown side of the family. Maybe she would knowingly meet one of them, too.

A breeze picked up as a cloud shrouded the sun. She shivered and pulled her windbreaker tighter. The skin-pricking sensation of being watched told her she wasn’t alone.

Glancing around the cemetery, with its weathered tombstones and markers and lush foliage, she spotted a fat tabby sitting high on the limb of a birch tree. It studied her while flicking its orangish-red tail. The tension in her neck eased.

“Hello,” Gillian called to the cat. “Are you alone?”

The cat responded by jumping to the ground and disappearing into a break in the thicket. Gillian thought about following, only out of curiosity, because it seemed odd for the cat to be so far away from any houses—or humans—but she turned back to the path, in search of the pre-Christian era statues. She spotted the largest one first and pulled out her camera to take a few pictures.

The shutter froze. Gillian jiggled the camera while frustration rippled through her. She needed the pictures for her article and blog!

With a discouraged sigh, she slipped her camera back into its bag and pulled out her phone. The phone’s images wouldn’t have the same quality, but they’d have to do. Maybe she could get her camera fixed in town.

When she finished, she jotted in her notebook:

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.

She thought his big eyes, straight nose, and half-open mouth with protruding tongue above the pointed chin both ugly and intriguing.

Seamus Heanley’s poem “January God” floated in her memory:

Then I found a two-faced stone

On burial ground,

God-eyed, sex-mouthed, its brain

A watery wound.

In the wet gap of the year,

Daubed with fresh lake mud,

I faltered near his power —

January God.

Collin had been a poet, too. Thinking of her lost love sent a hungry longing sweeping through her. Maybe she would look him up. She hadn’t yet decided. She had come in search of her father and, of course, to write the magazine article—not to rekindle some college romance that she should have set on the shelf long ago.

The clouds shifted, and a shaft of sunlight struck something shiny. Gillian stepped closer and found a small collection of coins lying in an indentation in the stone carving. She didn’t touch them but silently counted the British pounds sterling and euros. The finding could easily pay for her camera repair…or maybe just a warm meal.

Cold seeped through the soles of Gillian’s sadly inadequate shoes. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head as the drizzle turned to rain. She fumbled in her pocket, pulled out a few coins, and left them as an offering. With one last look at the statue, she headed back for the B&B and shelter from the weather.

But the being-watched sensation followed her. She stopped at a fairy tree. A lone hawthorn—she reminded herself that it was disrespectful to mention the fairies, or wee folk, by name. It was also bad luck to cut down a hawthorn or even hang things on it, except at Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival celebrated on May first. In ancient Greece, the hawthorn was associated with love and marriage, and hawthorn branches were used as torches in a wedding ceremony—thus giving birth to the phrase carry a torch for.

I still carry a torch for Collin, Gillian thought, drawing in a deep breath. With rain coursing over her hood, she went to the sweet-smelling hawthorn tree. “Help me find real, long-lasting love,” she whispered into its branches.

Feeling silly and yet better, she headed down the path. Despite the rain pelting the hood of her windbreaker, Gillian hesitated when she reached the road. There, near her feet, was a pile of coins, at least equal to what had been left in the crevice of the statue. If it hadn’t been raining, she would have jogged back to the cemetery to increase her offering, but, as it was, this almost seemed like a gift—like something she was supposed to take. Laughing, she shook away the suspicion. Someone must have spilled their purse or emptied their pockets. And now she could leave them for someone else—someone who needed them more than she did—or pick them up herself.

The rain had turned them shiny and they glistened, tempting her like a leprechaun’s pot of gold. She picked them up, slipped them into her pocket, and promised herself she would give them away.

She walked the two miles into the village, passing pastures filled with sheep and lazy cows. On the corner of Main Street and Elm, a busker sat beneath an awning, sawing on a fiddle. Gillian dropped the coins into his hat.

The watched feeling returned, but she shook it off and headed for the bed and breakfast where she was staying.

Back at Colleen’s Cottages, Gillian shook out of her windbreaker and let the warmth and sweet odors floating from the kitchen welcome her. She’d only been here a few days, and it already felt like home. Colleen, the caretaker, had offered to let her help in the kitchen and with housekeep in exchange for free lodging and meals. As her gram liked to say, no place can truly be yours until you care for it.

Thinking of her gram deepened her maudlin mood. Gram hadn’t answered or returned any of Gillian’s calls, and now her aunts had also gone dark. Gillian knew they had to be talking about her and deigning her unworthy of their attention. She’d seen them do this same thing to many others, but she’d never been on the receiving end of their silent treatment before.

The cottages, with their ironstone pottery and matching blue-and-white decor and windows overlooking Lough Erne, were soothing and lovely, and Gillian enjoyed helping the plump, gregarious hostess.

“A man came looking for you today.” Colleen bustled into the room with a feather duster in her hand.

Life Can Change in a Flash

I’m back home, but that doesn’t mean much. I went to San Antonio, Texas, for a conference and when I got there, the Covid 19 also arrived. A good portion of the IMG_20200304_160715presenters didn’t show or simply cancelled. I never bothered to attend the conference. What workshops were left weren’t ones that applied to me. Bummer!

But I had a wonderful time visiting with my fellow author and friend, Cynthia Woolf. Also Marjorie Jones was there and I haven’t seen her in years. So when the IMG_20200304_160922conference was over, Cynthia flew home, and I went with Marjorie to her home. We grabbed her mom who has been my best friend for a very long time. And we all went to the “hill country” of Texas. Everyone was talking about social distancing and hand washing. We had a wonderful time and did all those things. By the time we left to go back to their home, the tourist crowd had vanished. The little towns began to resemble ghost towns.

 

Fortunately the little town they call home is super small and they live in a historic gated community. Everyone is very spread out. The only thing around for miles and miles are major ranches.

Every area has its special beauty and this area was no different. But it rained most of the time, making it no fun to wander around and explore. Besides were being warned to stay home. So we did.

We had wonderful afternoons in her big porch. Yes, in. It’s a detached building with screened sides, and it’s huge. There’s even a refrigerator in there, a big screen TV, and two of the most comfortable, overgrown, wooden rockers, plus a lovely glass-topped table with matching chairs and other IMG_20200309_153040porch furniture. It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon.

When it wasn’t raining, we got birdhouses up and several hanging plants scattered among the Texas live oaks and other trees that create a natural setting on a corner of her property and put in a few plants in the ground to add some color. Much of her garden is made up of colorful Mexican pottery filled with plants. I loved the look.

It was quiet. Often the only sounds were those of nature. White-tailed deer, axis deer, turkeys, raccoons, and dozens of birds I’d never seen before roaming around. Those deer weren’t the least bit concerned about humans sharing their space.  They weren’t tIMG_20200310_164527ame, but our presence doesn’t upset them. They merely look at you and go back to munching.  People often feed them deer corn and have large containers of water for them.

But the whole time I kept watching the reports of the Covid 19 pandemic. I almost hated the thought of taking my flight home, I was packed and ready to leave in the morning. It was so peaceful and serene there. My daughter called me and said you can’t fly. You are at risk. My other daughter said she wouldn’t pick me from the airport because of the Covid 19 risk. I’d be contaminated with it. What??

Then my daughter, the nurse, said I needed to drive home. Now!

I was not about to drive from the far end of Texas to Tidewater, Virginia. No way! Besides I was very safe there. We didn’t have to go to the store for a thing. Her son owns an Italian restaurant/pizza place so food and supplies are trucked directly to him. He was disinfecting everything and leaving it on our doorstep. (Talk about service.) He had just installed a drive-thru prior to all of this and it was working perfectly for him especially when they closed all the restaurants except for takeout. He’s a retired Marine and a super-compulsive germ freak. I was definitely safe there. He also used to be my neighbor and my one granddaughter and their two children used to play together. My husband worked with his wife’s sister. To say the two families are tangled is no joke.

I talked to the family and they said they wanted me to stay put where they could keep me safe through this. If I got sick they would take care of me, and if they got sick, I’d do the same for them. Our families are close. I say we get to pick our friends but not our family. They are the friends that I call family. But in the meantime, the pandemic was getting worse. My daughter was scared for me to be that far away.

Renting a car was super expensive. It would have cost me about $1500 for a one-way rental. No way was I going to put much money into a rental. My own car is older and I knew it needed to be replaced, but maybe not this year, maybe next. The thought of spending that much on a car that was not mine…I started looking online, besides all the car companies have these special deals right now.

I wound up chatting to David Garza at Hyundai of Del Rio, and lots of text messages and phone calls later; he found just what I wanted, a Kona that is adorable. (Hyundai calls it lime twist. I call it Shrek-green.) That was the best experience! No bait and switch, they were totally upfront and honest. Since when is a dealership honest? Well, they are! A few dealerships are honest, and this place was a real gem. I was shocked and ever so pleased. Maybe I’ll have to return to Texas to buy another car when I need one.

Being in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic, that dealership was wiping and spraying everything. They were setting up appointments so that they didn’t have people just wandering around. They were doing an amazing job of keeping everyone safe. I came home with a car and I know I’ve made a few friends there. Seems they never met an author.

Then it was a matter of setting up a map of my trip home and Marjorie and I worked it out. Actually, it was Marjorie who worked it out. She’s brilliant and tech savvy. I stayed in towns that were showing they were Covid free. We checked every hotel because we did discover that certain hotels were being closed to the public and being held in case that area needed to house Covid patients. So finding a place to stay was different under the circumstances. I didn’t dare drive until had confirmed that I had a reservation at a hotel.

With the trip planned, I left Texas. To say I was nervous is a huge understatement. I was panicking. I’ve never driven that far all alone. And I’d be in a new car and what if… My heart was racing as I readied for the trip, but once I was on the road, I was fine. Face your fears or whatever. The fancy little computer that comes in all the new cars was programmed to get me from one place to the next.

The roads were empty except for tractor-trailers. The rest stops along the way were also IMG_20200409_125622rather empty. It was strange traveling on empty roads but it was also easy. Big overhead signs flashed warning like GO HOME STAY HOME or ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY. I think if a cop and pulled me over I would have cried. Was I essential travel? Probably not. Maybe? I had animals that needed me. Aren’t they important, too?

I stayed away from the infected areas and drove straight through several large cities. I hit Atlanta during rush hour. Well I think there were eight lanes going in my direction but very few vehicles. My GPS told me which lanes to be in and I followed along. Never once did I make an error, except for one small town.

Somehow the hotel wasn’t programmed into it only the town and I wound up in the middle of the town and it’s telling me I’ve arrived. I called the hotel and the young woman at the desk stayed on the phone with me until I found my destination.

I missed a tornado! I came home and one ripped through the town where I had been less than 48 hours earlier. Thank goodness. If I had encountered that, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to keep driving.IMG_20200412_124329

I got awesome gas mileage in my new car. I averaged 45 MPG the whole way. I’m sure that was because it was rather flat and I could set cruise control and never touch a peddle for hours.

I got out of Texas, and two days later, they had a vicious hailstorm. In fact, according to David, it ruined every car on Hyundai of Del Rio’s car lot.

So now I’m home and life is boring. There’s no one to talk to except for my animals that were so happy to see me. I’ve tailgated a few times with my friend. We’ve stopped at a local restaurant picked up our curbside meal and sat in the parking lot with lawn chairs and hatchbacks open to hold our food. At least we get to chat and eat our meals together, keeping that safe distance.

Life is just weird, and it’s been super filled for me. But I’m home and I think I’m safe. Are we ever safe? I’ve had one tele-med meeting with a doctor and I’ve got another coming this week. That phone conference was interesting and meeting that doctor online was easy. I asked her if I could do it next year and she said it has to do with insurance. That particular visit was simple. But my upcoming visit with my GP isn’t. She’s very hands-on and I’m at a distance. She’s here in town but nothing is pressing. It’s all routine.

Nothing is as it should be. I’m okay with that. Life is changing. I’m healthy. That’s more than many people can say. This strange time has made me face a few fears. And I know that deep inside, I’m tough even if I don’t feel that way. But I am. Life will go on and I must go with it.

 

 

Just Venting

So, I went to the grocery store yesterday at 11:30.

I should have gone much earlier, but I didn’t. Hindsight is 20-20.

The store buzzed with people, many with no masks, no gloves. Not all of them, but at least 1/2 of them walked around as though normal times were already here.

I realize there is controversy over wearing gloves, so I won’t even go there.

People who brought children with them.

People without masks, including the folks with children by their side who were touching anything and everything they wanted to explore. People who ignored their children and their antics. Maybe they were babysitting, but I wouldn’t want someone babysitting my child and putting them in harms way.

People who ignored social distancing. One lady reached across to grab an item right across my face.

What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with doing what we must to remain healthy? I’m reminded of when there is a surgery, and the doctor’s instructions aren’t followed, then the patient’s recovery time is lengthened or they don’t recover 100%. Often they won’t recover at all because they didn’t follow instructions, which was for their recovery, not the doctors.

I will order groceries for pick-up or delivered for quite sometime from now on, and clean everything that comes through the door. Okay, that may not be the safest to do either, but we have few options…for now anyway.

This pandemic won’t last forever, so I’m trying to do my part and follow guidelines.

My heart and thoughts are with you and I share your concerns. I pray this reading finds you and yours well.

By working together, and with God’s grace, we will rise above this pandemic.

Wash your hands. Stay safe and stay healthy.

May God keep you all.

Until next time…I wish you Music, Butterflies   087d7f0069385dd543178c4c2fca3430--blue-butterfly-butterfly-wings   and most of all…I wish you Love

Stories Change

Sometimes an idea comes upon me and I run with it. Which, not surprisingly, doesn’t always work out. When I was asked if I wanted to submit a story to possibly be accepted into the 2019 Christmas box set I was thrilled. I was given four stipulations; Christmas, Main Street, Clean, and Cookies.

My first draft I wrote featured two childhood friends, Melody Byrd and Tye Rivers. Melody worked as a baker/server at a small town cafe on Main Street. The cookies were going to be themed around the popular song, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

I got about two chapters in before my quick inspired muse dried out and gave me nothing. I sat at my computer/phone and couldn’t coerce my thoughts into words.

After several weeks I considered backing out. After all, it is hard to think of Christmas when it’s April. Then I started thinking about how maybe I wasn’t cut out for writing a book after all.

Then inspiration struck when I came across an old story idea I had about a hairdresser who receives a call from the police station about her grandmother being picked up again. The grandmother was supposed to be a cantankerous old woman who was convinced she wasn’t that old and kept getting into tough situations.

I decided to give my character a profession switch and made her a baker. The cantankerous grandma become a matchmaker, and Sweeter Than Honey began.

I’m glad I made the change and finished the book for everyone to read. I enjoyed telling Brigitte’s story and learning more about honey in the process.

In case you were curious about Melody, I am sharing a small piece of the beginning. Maybe Melody and Tye will come back in a different story that will better share them as characters the way Brigitte and her grandmother did.

Please enjoy.

Ladybyrd

The warm smell of coffee and cookies filled the small cafe as Melody made quick work of taking orders. The Twelve Days of Cookies had just started and the usual crowd had almost doubled as a result.

Pride filled Melody as she scanned the full tables. The event had been her idea. For the twelve days leading up to Christmas, the cafe would have a cookie inspired by the popular holiday song.

Today’s was a sugar cookie with a frosted bird and little pear shaped candies on a green background. A partridge in a pear tree, she thought with amusement as she set a plate of them down in front of a group of seniors who were regulars on Sunday mornings.

“I must say Miss Melody, these here cookies should be on a magazine they look so good.”

Melody smiled as she straightened her apron. “Thank you George, made them myself this morning. Y’all enjoy.” 

The sharp chime of a bell had Melody glancing up to greet the incoming customers but her words stuck in her throat as she found herself staring at Tye Rivers. 

His short dirty blond hair was more disheveled than styled and he was sporting a mint green polo and khaki shorts. Looking at him you would think it was July rather than mid December. 

Clearing her throat, Melody quickly called out a loose hello before busying herself to avoid looking at the man who had been her childhood friend and secret crush. 

When she had gathered her thoughts, Melody approached the small table he had chosen. Just keep it professional and polite. Treat him like any other customer. “Mornin’ can I interest you in our cookie of the day?” 

Tye’s brows furrowed as he gave a loose frown that brought her attention to his lips. “Now, is that any way to speak to a friend Ladybyrd? I just got back and you’re acting like we are strangers.” 

Melody flushed and adjusted her apron. “It’s been four years Tye, I didn’t want to presume….” She let out a sigh. “Hey Tye.” 

“Well hey to you too, what’s the cookie of the day?” His words were accompanied by his usual smile that brought back memories of mischievous adventures. Tye had always been able to charm those around him, even as a small boy.

“For day one we have a traditional sugar cookie with frosting. It is decorated after the first day in the Song, The Twelve Days if Christmas.

Tye leaned to examine the baker case. “Did you make them? Your cookies are the best if I remember right.”

Melody felt a fluttering in her stomach at his casual praise. “Yes, I made the cookies and came up with the idea.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll take three to go and the Breakfast special.”

“Alrighty, so three eggs over easy with bacon hash and rye toast. Or has your egg and bread preference changed?”

Tye grinned as he returned the menu to the center of the table. “You remember, and yes. Why change a good order?”

Melody smiled as she wrote his order down. “Could always decide to try something new.”

Her words had been a gentle tease but his smile dimmed and then seemed to become forced as he gave a non-committal sound.

Not wanting to upset him further, Melody excused herself before heading to the kitchen.