I Love Fall. How about you?

Fall is finally here!

Except our days are still in the 90’s, but the evenings are cool and so refreshing. It is relaxing to sit on the deck and watch the squirrels scamper around and hide their food for upcoming winter.

The other day our community cat gave the squirrels a run for their money! Such is nature. Just so you know, all the squirrels were safe.

After a time, the cat stretched across the shaded grass and licked his paws. He was done. At least for the moment.

 

dreamstimefree_2300700

Fall has an energizing influence on me. I always wonder what’s around the next bend, so I’m anxious to get started. Place your coffee cup on one of the posts beside mine, button up your sweater, and jog down the lane with me. Breathe in crisp, cool air and enjoy a peaceful jog or a walk in the woods.

Perhaps we’ll run across a rock-laden stream to dip our toes into. I’m definitely reminded of The Smoky Mountains. One of my favorite places to unwind. One of my books is A Smoky Mountain Christmas, of course set in the Smokies.

 

Cornucopia

Isn’t this Cornucopia beautiful? They make such delightful decorations. Which reminds me, it’s time for a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread. Warm and spicy from the oven, and the entire house has an incredible aroma. Maybe I’ll bake one or the other today. Who knows?

Our Authors of Main Street latest anthology, tentatively entitled Christmas Cookies, is scheduled for release some time in October, 2019. We’ll post when the book releases.

My contribution for the set is CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS. – which is the fourth and last book in the APPLE LAKE series. 

I hope you enjoy Luke and Ellie’s journey!

Christmas Blessings (small)

 

 

On another note, Stone of Truth is FREE at Amazon, until
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 11:59 PM PDT.

1561056117 DIY for FB & Twitter

Stone of Truth will be FREE (at Amazon) for five (5) days. (NOTE: ONLY THREE MORE DAYS LEFT IN THE PROMOTION) Please grab a copy!
See promotion dates below.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07SSK9BL7/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_GlrIDbA40C4NP
Free Book Promotion
My gift to you for my birthday. Enjoy!
Monday, September 23, 2019, 12:00 AM PDT
Friday, September 27, 2019, 11:59 PM PDT

 

What are your favorite things to do through Fall?

I wish you Music, Butterflies and most of all Love. 

Family Traditions

I love family traditions–what ornaments go where on the Christmas tree, the inside jokes that only the family understands, summer evenings with board games, photos, trips, memories.

Did you know that scents are the strongest memory makers we have? A whiff of cocoanut and you are back on your honeymoon in Hawaii. A scent of cinnamon and you are in your grandma’s kitchen helping her to make cookies. A favorite perfume and you are there with a favorite aunt or your mother, even when they are no longer with us.

When I went to write my story for the Authors of Main Street Christmas boxed set I decided to put a twist on a family legend and cookie.

So, the legend goes that the butter cookie recipe came from Ireland with the Redmond family and has been passed down generation to generation. I can’t say whether the legend is true, but the cookies are to die for. So I took the IDEA of a family tradition of a cookie recipe, hijacked a little of my family history, and came up with Sugar Sprinkled Memories.

Maggie Mason has dreamed her entire life of owning her own bakery and making the family-famous Traveling Cinnamon Cookies. The only thing standing in her way is tall, dark, and handsome Warren Kincaid who claims he owns the building where the bakery now sits and he wants it for his new law office. Tempers rise, misunderstandings get in the way, but just maybe–a sprinkle of sugar, a touch of Christmas magic, and life-long memories will be made for Maggie and Warren.

 

 

Chapter 1

Maggie, age 8

 “Mommy, tell me the story. My story, about Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger,” Maggie Mason pleaded as she snuggled deeper under the covers.

Her mother smoothed the covers as she sat on the edge of the bed. “I’ve told you this story a thousand times. You must know it by heart now.”

She nodded. “I do. But you tell it so well.”

Dimming the bedside light, her mother leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Okay,” she whispered. “The tale of Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger.”

She began, “In the wee village of Dunby, which no longer exists, if it ever did…”

Dunby, Ireland 1919 

Maggie McGill nee O’Shay rushed up the pebbled path to her home, her shawl wrapped tightly around herself on this blustery March day. Winter didn’t want to loosen its grasp this year.

Her fingers tingled from more than just the chilling breeze. Sean at the post office said her ma had received mail special delivery this afternoon while Maggie had been at work in the button factory.

She crossed herself. It had to be good news. The factory was closing next month and that would spell the end of Dunby. Her gaze swept over the cottages nearby. Two more had boarded-up windows and a board across the doors. The Great War had started the end of her hometown with the leaving of all the eligible men and the factory closing would end for those who were left.

“If only…” She sighed. Wishes were for the wee folk, not regular people. Wishing her John had returned from the war wouldn’t make it so. Crossing herself, she wiped her shoes on the doormat. Pity served no one when her John wasn’t the only husband who hadn’t returned.

The aroma of cinnamon wafted over her as she opened the door. She hadn’t dared hope, but her mother’s smile gave her the good news anyway. If the scent of the cinnamon buttons hadn’t proclaimed it before she’d opened the door.

“Mama, mama,” tiny voices cried as Virginia and Robert flung themselves at her legs, wrapping her in a warm muddle of boy and girl.

She hugged them back and then pushed them gently away. “Go clean up, I’m sure Granny will have dinner for us shortly.”

Her mother turned from pulling cookies from the oven. Tears flowed down Maggie the elder’s cheeks, threatening to ruin the precious cookies.

She looked away before she had tears to join her mother’s. Cinnamon was a luxury they hadn’t seen during the war and only had some since they’d had it before the war, hidden away in the back of the cupboard. Saved for only one thing. The traveling button cookies.

Setting down the cookies, her mother opened her arms and swept Maggie into a hug. Her body shook and tears dampened her hair. She clung to her mother. The familiar scents of flour, butter, and sugar painting a picture of her ma she would remember to her dying day.

Maggie stepped back, wiping the tears from her mother’s face. “I haven’t even opened the letter yet. How do you know it is good news?”

Her mother smiled, touching the side of her head. A dusting of flour added to the white strands in her dark hair. “I know you’ll be needing the cookies. You’ll be traveling far over the sea to America.”

Maggie’s fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope. She’d read the few pages in a moment. All she could do was stare at the three tickets for a ship to Baltimore, Maryland. One for her and each of her children. Unconsciously, her hand settled on her stomach.

Her mother placed a hand over her own. “This little one will be born where no one knows he doesn’t have the same father as the other little ones.”

She jumped, her face heating. “I didn’t know you knew,” she whispered, whipping her head around to see if the children were back.

Maggie the elder smiled, touching her head again. “I knew. I will always know how you are. Are you safe? Are you happy? Even when I’m an ocean away.”

She couldn’t stop the tears, even when Virginia came back into the room and wrapped her long arms around her mother and grandmother.

“Did someone die?” the eight-year-old whispered, her face blanching white with her freckles sticking out like the pox.

Maggie wrapped her arms around her. It had only been a year since the men had come and told them of John’s death in a nameless field in France. Her little boy had only been three and would never remember the devastating news or the father who would remain just a few pictures and stories and memories from his mother.

“Ginny, we’re going to America. Uncle Thomas has sent for us.”

The little girl’s face lit up, her green eyes sparkling with the idea of a grand adventure. Her red hair bouncing on her shoulders as she grabbed up Robert and danced around the room.

“Robby, we’re going to America,” she crowed as they spun across the wooden floor.

She started to speak up, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Let them have their fun. Time enough to hear the story of the traveling buttons before we get you packed and sent on your way.”

A week later and Maggie the younger stood among the bags and trunks of all her worldly goods. Her vision blurred but she refused to let tears fall down her face. Her last moments with her mother would find her with a smile on her face as she waved good-bye to the only family and home she’d ever known.

Virginia held the tin of cinnamon button cookies as her granny did up her coat.

“Ginny, this is why they are traveling cookies,” she explained as her fingers pushed the buttons into their buttonholes on the coat. “They are only to be made when someone is going away from home forever.”

The young girl sniffled as she put on a brave face. “But, we will have a new home? Mama and Robby will be there?”

“Of course,” Maggie the elder said, straightening Ginny’s collar made of a fox’s tail. “But the baker makes them to send a piece of themselves with the travelers and the travelers eat them, one each day, to remember the baker.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around her granny, cookie tin and all. “I’ll write to you all the time, Granny. And Robby too, as soon as I teach him how.”

Her comment set them all to laughing and put smiles on their faces as a truck horn beeped outside.

Maggie the elder scooted them around and had Maggie the younger, and the children, and all their belongings soon settled in the truck. She marched up to the driver and leaned in the window.

“Padraig, you take care of my babies. Don’t you leave until they are safely on their ship.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, doffing his hat and pulling it back on as the truck slowly moved down the road.

Maggie the elder stood there until the truck turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Only then did she allow tears to flow into the cinnamon-scented hands covering her face.

*****

Since we only make our family’s butter cookies at Christmas I loved the idea of a cookie that was only for a certain occasion, in this case when a loved one is moving far away and never returning home. Now, in our connected global world today, that is usually not true anymore, but I liked the idea that you can return home but it isn’t the same when you make a new home and are just a visitor to your childhood home and memories.

Hope everyone will check out our new boxed set when it is released….Jill

Family Ties

With the passing of my grandma-by-marriage this week, I’ve given lots of thought to family. My own and my fictional ones in the books I write.

At the age of 98, 99 if she had made it to September, Grandma Jane lead a filled, full life. She left her earthly bonds surrounded by her family. Her son and daughter. Two grandchildren with their spouses. A great-grandson. We sat with her as she struggled for each breath, her lungs full of pneumonia, her age against any chance of fighting it.

My husband and I are now three hours away from our family. My husband’s sister called us a few days ago and said Grandma was in the hospital. She was sent back to the nursing home. Two days later, she was back in the hospital fighting for her life with aspiration pneumonia. Sister called us at 9 pm. to say they were in the ER and they would keep us updated. At midnight, she called to say Grandma was not expected to survive the night.

We threw off our pjs and whipped into our clothes. We grabbed a duffel bag and threw enough in to it to go for a couple of days. (God forbid you are ever in this situation, have a go-bag) We reached the hospital at 3 am.

Grandma left this world at 11 am that morning.

Nurses are angels on this Earth and don’t let anyone tell you differently. They had to know it was hopeless, but they came in time and time again when we asked them to take blood pressure readings. They asked if we were okay numerous times. They brought us coffee, tea, and cookies as the sun rose and the darkness fled from the windows. They went above and beyond to give us comfort in a time that no comfort could help. They did all they could to make an impossible time bearable.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

I have a bad habit of erasing my characters’ families. It is easier to write if they are only children with deceased parents or only one or a grandmother raising them. I didn’t start out giving this much thought when building my stories, but…how our characters interact with their families says so much about them. The inside jokes. The teasing. The memories. The stories.

I didn’t plan on so much family when I started writing my story for the next Authors of Main Street anthology until I realized I could use my family history to give Maggie a family history and the legend of the traveling cinnamon cookies.

From me to you–hug your family, keep them close, hold them in your hearts forever.


Jill James, romance writer

Hiatus or Not!!

First, I love writing. Years ago when I started, I would write all-year long. Summer, holidays, vacations, didn’t matter. I wrote. Words, glorious words.

I have a writer friend who doesn’t write in the summer, she is an outdoor gal. Running, biking, hiking, camping. So not me. I’m an indoors, binge-watch a series kind of girl. My friend doesn’t write during the holidays. She has a large family and she is now the matriarch in charge of the occasion.

Before, I’ve always written during the Christmas holidays and grumbled because I didn’t write every day and I didn’t get how much done I wanted to do. I would be a group and think “I should be writing.”

So, Christmas 2018 I decided to take a hiatus for the first time. Not worry about writing. Not think about writing. Enjoy the holidays. I would get back to it after New Year’s.

Bad idea. Really bad idea!!

January came and went. No writing. It was okay. I could start again in a couple of weeks.

February came and went. No writing. I thought that’s okay, it’s a short month.

March came and went. Now I’m panicking. Don’t know where to start. I should have at least one story done by now.

April came. Okay, this is getting stupid. Just put some words on the screen!!! Finally, the end of April I forced myself to sit at the computer and work on my book for the Authors of Main Street. Come on, Jill!! You don’t have a title or characters or plot, but just write. Funny, not funny. The words are in my head but they aren’t coming out like before. Each sentence is a struggle. I’m deleting as much as I’m writing.

I’m not where I wanted to be when I pictured this year at the end of last year, but I’m writing again. (fingers crossed, knocking on wood)

Hiatus? Never again!!!


Jill James, romance author (which means I must write)

Author Life: It’s Not Always Roses, but I Wouldn’t Change It!

Author life… well hmmm…

Just so you know, writers don’t always laze around all day, curled up with their keyboard in a pristine, cozy house…

I think for most of us it’s a juggle between our “other lives” and stolen time to write.

Some of us live on farms and work as well, and have children or grandchildren and older parents, too…  as well as partners!

A case in point is yesterday…

I live on what’s called a “lifestyle block” in New Zealand.  That means I have a TINY farm of 6 acres which costs me a lot of money, but I love it. There are now only about ten percent of the animals that were here when my boys were small, evidenced by the plethora of beloved animals I found when I had to go looking in old photos yesterday to try to find where the water lines ran… those which might have been exposed before we poured the concrete… but I digress…

I awoke early to get my entry for Once Upon a Vet School #10: Greener Pastures Calling in to the Romance Writers of New Zealand Koru Award for Writing Excellence (the NZ/Aus equivalent of the RWA RITA Award). I actually won the Koru Best First Novel and third best long novel with my first story, A Long Trail Rolling (which is actually free right now if you’re on Booksweeps’ mailing list! See details below!) I hope you love the new cover as much as I do!

I spent the rest of the morning preparing my other entry, Once Upon a Vet School #6: Fifty Miles at a Breath, then raced outside…

It was a scorcher. (that means it’s hot, about 30 degrees C here today) Now to disconnect the house/farm water pump that I’d been fighting with for days (it runs for 15 seconds, stops for 38, then repeats.  No wonder our power bill gave me a heart attack last month)  I managed to get the alkathene fittings off, lugged the beast to the Landcruiser and off to town we went to drop it off for instant check-over in Paeroa, picked up half of a beast (White-Face was her name and she was 16 years old) along with my son, mail a packet of books to a library wholesaler (while worrying about the frozen meat… I don’t have air con in the cruiser. (She’s an old—600,000 km—farm model with no electric anything outside the engine and lights, so getting that meat home was kinda imperative), pick up my grandbaby from daycare, pick up the pump (which WAS working, YEAH!), and get home to put the now-asleep baby to bed.

It was probably because I had all the frozen meat to unpack and repack into the freezers that little Odin woke up as soon as I unclicked his carseat buckle…

Thoughts of the defrosting hundred kilos of meat in the car dancing in my head, I fed and changed the wee mite, giving thanks he was now 17 mos old and despite having to watch he didn’t wander the ¼ mile to the road or go play with the horse or cow, it was easier to unload all those big bags of meat with him happy and mobile.

When you look at it in the photo it doesn’t look like much… but it took this author and vet about 5 hours to get it right… did I mention the broken T-junction? or the end I broke off in the valve?  Some people just shouldn’t be allowed a pipe wrench, much less two…

So, Odin helped me (I’m using that term loosely—I had to keep retrieving my big spanners and pipe wrenches) put the system back together. The question now became (as the pump wasn’t the problem), WHERE on the farm the leak could possibly be…

We don’t have a hard pan on this place. It’s a riverbottom. Near the bush.  Which means we have lovely free draining soil that doesn’t hold water. Great in a place that rains over 140 inches a year. Not so great when you’re trying to find a leak. And tomos. Ever heard of a tomo? They’re underground waterways that pop up where they feel like in places like this… anything from an underground tiny stream to river.  Big enough to lose big animals and tractors into. Certainly big enough to let water from a leak flow away to parts unknown… without leaving a trace above.  Not ideal.

Working on pipes to make farm systems work is not much fun, but it’s like maths… you know when you got it right, anyway… for the time being.

So, back to it. The pump works. Tick.

Back to the drawing board for me…

Three lines (maybe more??? Oh no!) heading out for the farm and house.

I stared, twisting my lips, at the three inline valves I bought months ago but couldn’t bring myself to try to put them into the alkathene (a sort of a black hard rubber-plastic hosing) lines a foot and a half down in a ditch between the brick of the house and the BIG rocks I cemented into place to make the garden next to the footpath of exposed aggregate concrete. Not ideal when my two bad lumber discs go bad when I’m bending forward… which unfortunately was essential to the task… :/

Before that came “THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY”…  (obviously, but still significant) when I spent the whole day digging trenches AROUND the water pump to try just where those pipes went… culminated in having to find the old pictures from long ago to see if any of them gave a hint as to where those  pipes actually WENT.

It was fun going over the pics from 2000/2001/2002/2003. (Well damn. I just finally figured out how to get photos from iCloud onto FB, anyway!) Some very cute kids… and lots of animals who were such an important part of our lives… Strawberry, Montoya, Bailey, Maya (still here, 17 now), Tango, Fred as a kitten (who’s also still here, but very old), Charlotte, and some people who are no longer on this earth, plus many who are.

Unfortunately, the culmination of this exercise was to discover the pipes ran straight down beneath the middle of the lovely exposed aggregate concrete my boys and I poured ten years ago… not ideal.

SO, about putting in those valves… I had never broken an alkathene fitting before… but then I didn’t have (or couldn’t find) a pipe wrench.  Did you know they’re breakable? Yep. Two. I backed off after that. By then Odin was hungry and tired. He no longer wanted to run around and it was getting dark. So we went inside and fed him. No bath, lucky little man, as no water, but after no nap, it didn’t take too very long to get him to go to sleep.

Now to finish my pipes!

IT ALL WORKED!  The leak is still OUT THERE, but I now know it’s not 1-coming from the house (which had been a concern) and 2-not around the part of the farm where there was a lot of old blackberry to get through and find my old veggie garden). That leaves the main lines… I think I have an idea it’s where we recently buried a line… but it will take the ex-hubby’s tractor or a digger to get there.  SO, can’t do anything about it today. A good thing. Then I can get more editing done.

YEAH!

Oh yes.  And then I have a mobile equine veterinary practice too. Thank god there were no emergencies.

Hope you enjoyed a bit of my day! Back to writing… after get the little man up!

scene breakA Long Trail Rolling has a new cover!

I loved my old covers (they were my babies, after all, my photos and I did the covers) but they didn’t say Historical Fiction at ALL!  So I worked with the lovely Jessica Cale to create the new works of art!  She’s working on the others, too!

I hope you love this one!

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

scene break

Booksweeps Author Highlight!

If you’re a Booksweeps.com reader member and you’ve missed the Author Email Spotlight email on the 27th or if you haven’t joined Booksweeps yet,  just join Booksweeps.com and find it on this page! 

Just remember, for all Indie Authors, reviews are ALWAYS welcome, especially on Bookbub (The Best!), Amazon, and Goodreads!}

scene break

I’d best stop and go search for water leaks and finish edits on the next one!

Have a wonderful day!

Stay out of the trenches!

Xx

Lizzi

Let Your Characters Write Their Story

You’ve heard authors say, “My characters were resisting me” or “My characters ran away with the story.” Some writers complain about that. I call it magic when the characters talk to me and tell me their love story.

When I set out to write In My Dreams, all I had was that snippet from the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas–if only in my dreams. It is my favorite Christmas song and brings me to tears every time. In my mind, that song says all there is to say about wartime and a soldier’s yearning to be home with his family and his friends. I can not imagine anything sadder than being away from home for the holidays, doing the same old, same old, as every other day in the service or on the battlefield, wishing you could be home for the holidays.

So, when I sat down to start the story, Juan Montoya was a soldier, halfway around the world in a jungle, fighting warlords and guerrillas, dreaming of Christmas and song, and home. And since this was a friends-to-lovers story, I had Jessie Ortega back home in Lake Willowbee, being a nurse at the local hospital. And…no matter how many times I tried to start with Chapter 1, it just wasn’t happening. Until…Jessie announced she was a soldier, fighting in Africa and Juan was a physical therapist back home, working with wounded vets.

Like finding the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the story came together. Juan and Jessie told me of their childhood friendship, how they had been there for each other through everything, until their friendship broke, and they hadn’t spoken to each other in years. Even with the years between them, at her lowest moment, Jessie’s first thoughts are of Juan.

In My Dreams is a story of the power of wishes and being careful what you use them on. It will be in the Christmas Wishes on Main Street boxed set with the other Authors of Main Street.

Do you believe wishes can come true?


Jill James, romance writer

A Highwayman by Kristy Tate is Free Today Only – Pick Your Highwayman Up Now

I got the idea for this book one night while watching a documentary on the Salem Witch trials. There was speculation that the hysteria the Puritan girls experienced was caused by poisoned well water, which made me wonder what other mischief could come from tainted water. The Highwayman Incident wasn’t the only book inspired by a documentary. I also included Gregory Rasputin in my novel Beyond the Pale because of a documentary. I love history. Of course, it’s hard to know the truth of any situation–even when you’re in the thick of it–because it’s so hard to grasp all the perspectives. That’s why it’s so much more fun to write fiction. And the Highwayman Incident was a hoot to write.

Celia Quinn’s business lies in ruins at the hands of Jason West, the latest in a long line of scoundrels. As she seeks to restore her family’s livelihood, Celia stumbles upon lore about the local Witching Well, whose water is said to cause hysteria and psychosis. When a mysterious stranger slips Celia water from the well into her drink, she’s transported to Regency England. Her timeless adventure spans miles and centuries from modern-day New England to Merlin’s Cave in Cornwall, England. Only Jason West can save her.
But Celia and Jason must tread carefully, as what happens in the past can reverberate through the ages. Their lives, hearts and futures are caught in time’s slippery hands.

GET YOUR COPY HERE

Here’s an EXCERPT:

CHAPTER ONE

At any wedding, protocol demands that all attention should be focused on the bride, even if the bride happens to be your sister, and even if your sister designed a horrid dress. But Celia defied conventions and refused to look at Mia. Celia knew her funk bordered on lunacy, but she couldn’t shake it. Not even for her sister’s wedding.
The lone man sharing her table looked familiar, although she couldn’t say why. Like someone she knew from a long time ago—but a faded out version. Gray at his temples, thick head of hair, wrinkles around his eyes—handsome for his age—and yet, something tingled in the back of her mind, trying to tell her something.
Celia sat back with a humph and crossed her arms over her chest. The putrid pink dress had a bunchy bodice, giving her a va va voom that, when she first saw it, made her complain first to Mia and then to her grandmother.
“It’s her wedding,” Grandma Claudette had said. “If she wants you to dress like a cat, you better get used to whiskers.”
And in the interest of peace in the family and not wanting to upset her mom, Celia bit her lip about the dress and vowed that when it was her turn to marry, she would do it on the courthouse steps.
And Mia would have to wear a clown suit.
Complete with a red nose.
She caught the man looking at her. His glance slid away. Celia considered leaving, but where would she go? Join her friends on the dance floor? No, her shoes pinched her toes. The dessert table for more cake? No, her stomach was already churning. A drink from the bar? No, she needed to stay sober. She slumped back in her chair, wishing the stranger would leave or her friends would return.
As if he read her mind, the man pushed away from the table and left.
Perfect. Now she was alone. And this should have made her happy, because she wanted him to leave, but it didn’t. She sighed and used her fork to poke holes in the frosting roses on her slice of cake. The blush pink roses matched her dress, which matched her shoes, which matched the ribbon on the bridesmaid bouquets. Celia smashed the cake and watched the frosting ooze between the fork tines.
Beside her, someone chuckled. Looking up, she saw the man had returned. He carried a goblet and a slice of cake.
“I asked for a piece without icing,” he said as he sat in the chair beside her. He slid the cake toward her. “For you.”
She thought about refusing it, but instead said, “Thank you.”
Without saying a word, he placed the wine flute in front of her. “It’s just water,” he told her.
“Thanks. Too much—”
“Too much sugar makes your teeth hurt.” He finished her sentence with a smile that sent another warning jolt down Celia’s spine.
“How did you know I was going to say that?”
He lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Just a guess. I could tell that you don’t like frosting by the way you were mutilating that cake.” He offered his hand. “My name is Jason.”
“Celia Quinn.” She put her hand in his, and a zing started in her fingers and spread to her center. She left her hand in his longer than necessary, before pulling away. She couldn’t be attracted to this man. He was older than her dad.
“I know a Jason.” She studied him for a moment before her gaze slid to the other Jason across the room. Dark hair, tall, lean—why were the hot guys the most lethal?
“And you dislike him.”
She met the older Jason’s warm gaze and sniffed. “I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t have to say something for it to be true.” He settled back in his chair. “Just like you didn’t say anything, but I can tell you don’t like your dress.”
Celia blew out a sigh.
“You probably think it’s a poor advertisement for your grandmother’s shop.”
Celia gave a defeated shrug. “It doesn’t matter. The store’s dying anyway.”
“Why do you say that?”
Celia shot the Jason across the room a glance. She hoped her look told him all the things she wished she could say to his face. He lounged against the wall between the wedding arch and an enormous swan ice sculpture. The black suit accentuated his blue eyes and dark hair. Even the hideous pink tie looked good on him. He caught her gaze and lifted his glass, acknowledging her.
She wished she had something other than her bouquet and a dirty look to throw at him.
“Just because you’re losing the lease doesn’t mean you’re losing the business, you know.”
Celia swiveled her attention back to Jason her tablemate and put puzzle pieces together. “Are you related to Jason West?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“You…look like him.”
The older Jason smiled. “I’m not his dad or uncle…”
He was probably too young to be his grandfather, and he couldn’t be his brother. “What do you know about my grandmother’s shop?”
“Delia’s Dressy Occasion? It’s a great shop.”
“It was a great shop.”
“But this dress…” He nodded at the sateen fabric bunched around her like a deflated balloon. “Pepto-Bismol Pink.”
“Mia calls it pearl pink.”
“And you call it putrid.”
She stared at him.
“Maybe not out-loud, but I bet it’s what you think.”
“How would you know that?”
He propped his elbows on the table. “Tell me, what are your plans for the store?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, since you lost your lease—”
“I didn’t lose the lease.” Her attention shifted back to the younger Jason. “Someone persuaded my grandmother it was time to leave.” She slumped back in her chair. “We were doing fine.”
“Maybe now you can do better.”
Celia picked up her fork and stabbed at the cake. She thought about joining her friends on the dance floor. Becca and Lacey had both kicked off their shoes. They bounced beneath the sparkly lights. Celia wanted to be happy, too, but she felt like she carried the weight of her grandmother’s store on her shoulders.
“You’re afraid that losing the store is like losing your mom.” The older Jason leaned close. “She’ll be fine.”
“How can you know that? Do you know my mom?”
He nodded.
“You’re a friend of my mom’s?” Celia blinked back a sudden tear.
Jason touched her hand, just briefly, and the tingle returned. “The cancer won’t last. She’ll beat it. She’s strong. Like you.”
“You don’t know me,” Celia said. “You might know my mom, but you don’t know me, and there’s no way you can know my mom is going to be okay.” She stood to leave. Her toes screamed in protest, but she pushed to her feet, ignoring the pain.
Unless. She turned back. “Are you a doctor?”
Jason looked down at the goblet. He picked it up and swirled the water. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m good at that…at offending people.”
The band began a slow song and couples formed. Lacey and Becca both found partners. Mia and Brad danced in the center, directly beneath the disco ball. Lights twinkled across the room. It would have been a perfect day, except for the putrid pink dress, and Jason West.
“Do you know my sister?” Celia considered him. She was sure they hadn’t met.
He nodded. “And the groom. He’s an…old family friend.”
“Are you from Stonington?”
“Not originally, although I lived here for many years.”
She waited for him to elaborate.
“I’m from Darien.”
“Oh. Is that how you know Jason West? He’s from there, too.”
“He’s a good guy, just doing his job.”
Celia couldn’t help it. She made a face.
“I know you don’t think so now, but you should forgive him.”
Celia held up her hand. “I don’t know who you are—”
Squealing cut her off. Becca and Lacey both ran to her side.
“Come on, Cee,” Becca said, taking her hand. “Mia’s going to throw the bouquet!”
Celia let her friends pull her away from the table and lead her across the room. Mia stood on the wide steps, several feet above the clustered bridesmaids and single women in the crowd. Celia’s mom sat in a chair at a table with Claudette, Celia’s grandmother. Both looked tired but happy. Celia edged toward the back, close enough to be a part, but too far to be in danger of actually catching anything.
Mia gave her a wicked smile, turned her back, and flung the bouquet straight at Celia. Flinging up her arms, Celia protected her face from the flying flowers.
People around her cheered, and Celia opened her eyes.
Becca, aloft in Jason West’s arms, clutched the bouquet. Becca wiggled as Jason set her down and turned to face him. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Becca kissed him full on the lips. She held the bouquet in her hand, and it poked above Jason’s head, looking like a large, floral hat.
“I owe you!” Becca said, pushing away from Jason.
He didn’t respond to Becca but met Celia’s gaze.
She felt shaken by him, although she couldn’t say why. She felt as if his look was trying to tell her something. Something he didn’t know how to say.
He’s a good guy. Just doing his job, the older Jason’s words floated back to her.
Becca disentangled herself from Jason and smiled into her bouquet. “I love weddings,” she said to no one in particular. “They’re such a happy beginning.”
Celia’s gaze wandered back to her mom and grandmother. A beginning always comes after an ending, she thought. Celia gave Becca a tight-lipped smile, ignored Jason, and headed back to her table. The older Jason had disappeared, and Celia gratefully sank into her chair. Swirling the wine flute, she watched the water form into a small tidal wave before she took a drink.
And the world turned dark.

CHAPTER TWO

Her body hummed with energy. She found the quiet dark relaxing and rhythmic motion hypnotic and soothing. Crickets chirped and a breeze stirred the trees. Somewhere, an owl called out. The clip-clop of the horses…
Wait.
Horses?
Celia’s eyes popped open. She sat in a carriage. An obese woman draped in satin and furs sat directly in front of her, snoring, her mouth ajar.
Celia’s own mouth dropped open. She sat up and took note. Same putrid pink dress. Same pinchy shoes. But the wedding, Mia, her mom and grandmother? All gone. Replaced by a grotesque snoring thing wearing a satin tent.
She ran her hands first over the velvet seat cushion, then the burnished wood walls, and finally the black, smooth drapes. It all felt real.
But she must be drunk. Or hallucinating. Had she had too much champagne? No. That drink! That Jason person! He must have put something in her water! But it had looked and tasted like water. Celia ran her tongue over her teeth, trying to find an aftertaste, or a hint of something dangerous.
She drew back the curtain and peered into the dark. A brilliant, star-studded sky gazed down on her. No street lights. No lights at all, except for the one bobbing on the front of the carriage. Leaning forward, she craned to see the driver, but saw nothing but a horse’s butt and its swishing tail. As if the animal knew she was watching and he didn’t appreciate her stare, he lifted his tail.
Celia sat back, closed her eyes, and let the cadence sway of the carriage lull her back to sleep. When she woke, she’d be at home in her bed, and she’d never have to wear this dress again.
Crack!
Celia’s eyes flew open. She sat up straight and glanced at the woman across from her. The woman snorted and nestled her double chin into her fur collar. What was that sound? Was the carriage breaking beneath the woman’s weight?
Crack!
Was it gun fire? The carriage lurched, stopping so quickly that the portly lady slid off the seat.
“What the devil?” the woman moaned, righting herself. She gave Celia a narrow-eyed look as if Celia had knocked her off the bench.
Crack!
“Gunshots!” the woman hissed. She pursed her full lips, yanked off an enormous emerald necklace and shoved it at Celia. “Hide this.”
Celia stared stupidly at the jewels. If they were real, she could use them to buy the shop! Wishing she had a pocket, her mind sought options. In her bra? No. The stones were too big and the bodice too tight. Not knowing what else to do, she lifted her skirts and tucked the necklace into the lace garter Mia had insisted all the bridesmaids wear. She patted her skirts back into place just before the door flew open.
“Stand and deliver!” A deep and somewhat familiar voice demanded.
Deliver what? And how could she stand inside of a carriage? Celia crouched on her seat. Slowly, she lifted her head and saw nothing but the silvery end of a gun pointing at her forehead. None of this is real, Celia told herself. It’s the champagne asking her to stand and deliver something.
“Come, come, ladies.” The familiar voice sent a tingle down her back.
The man stepped out of the shadows and his gaze met hers, but not an ounce of recognition glistened in his eyes. She thought she knew him, but since a black mask hid half his face, she couldn’t be sure.
“My lady.” He swept his arms in a low bow.
Celia gave the gun another glance. It looked real enough.
He lifted one eyebrow and the corner of his lips in a slow and lazy smile, but continued to point the gun at her forehead.
She tried not to think about the emeralds pinching her leg. She couldn’t look at them. She couldn’t adjust them. She couldn’t call his attention to them in any way.
His gaze traveled over her horrid dress and stopped at her mid-thigh as if he could see through the layers of sateen and frilly slip to the garter smashing the emeralds against her.
“Are you in need of assistance?” He held out his hand—the one not holding a gun—to help her out of the carriage. Again, that trill of recognition poured over Celia. She knew him. Somehow.
She shook her head, knowing she couldn’t touch him. If she touched him and he was real, tangible, then she would…well, she didn’t know what she would do. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
“Are you mute?” he asked, cocking his head. His grin deepened. “Or is my charm rendering you speechless?”
“Have you considered that maybe I’m put off by the gun you’re holding to my head?”
“Ah, so you can speak after all. Pity that. I do love a quiet woman.” He placed his hand on his heart. “Please, my dears, join me.”
But Celia refused to budge, and since her companion cowered behind her, they both stayed in the coach. She stared at his mouth—the only part of his face she could see—other than his eyes. She found both his eyes and lips hypnotizing. Her gaze traveled from one feature to the next, wondering which one she liked the most.
He’s a highwayman! Her inner voice of reason told her. And a figment of your imagination! Those are the best kind of men, she told her reasonable voice.
“I’m sure you understand this is not a social call.” His gaze flicked over Celia and rested on her va va voom bodice. “At least, not entirely, although I do enjoy mixing business and pleasure.”
“Where’s Eddie?” the woman barked over Celia’s shoulder. “What have you done with Eddie?”
As she leaned over Celia, Celia’s foot caught on the door’s lip. She would have tumbled and fell if the highwayman hadn’t shot out his arm to steady her. His hand tightened around her, and in one fluid movement, he lifted her out of the carriage and placed her on the ground.
She felt breathless and warm from his sudden, brief contact. Her breath came in ragged huffs. Not knowing whether she was grateful or disappointed when he stepped away, she hugged herself to keep warm.
A snapping twig drew her attention to three men in the shadows. They stood as silent and watchful as the trees. All three had weapons drawn.
“Where’s Eddie?” the woman barked out again.
“Have you hurt the driver?” Celia asked, with a hiccup catching in her throat.
The highwayman flicked his head toward a cluster of trees. “He’s unharmed, except for, perhaps, his sense of self-worth.”
“What is your name?” the woman whispered.
“My name?” Celia asked, her voice coming out in a surprised squeak.
“Not your name, you goat head! I know your name.”
Celia wondered what her name might be, or her role, or position. Was she a maid? A paid companion? A relation? She shivered, and told herself that she needed to wake. This dream had gone on way too long already. She should have come to as soon as she saw the gun. That’s what normally would have happened. Nightmares typically ended with a major scare.
She tried pinching herself. It hurt, but not enough to wake her.
The woman fixed her attention on the highwayman. “Who are you?”
“Why would he tell you that?” Celia asked, more than a little stung at being called a goat head.
The man chuckled. “You do not need my name, but I do need your valuables.”
Quiet descended, and Celia took note of the clamor of crickets, the hooting owl, and a nearby tumbling river. Country night sounds, usually masked by the roar of constant traffic on the parkway.
“Do you really need them, or do you just want them?” Celia asked.
“What difference should that make?” he asked.
“It makes a very big difference—it’s the difference between greed and—”
He waved his gun in her face, effectively silencing her. “That ring, if you please,” he said to the woman.
Celia watched, wondering what her companion would do.
Slowly, the woman climbed from the coach.
The horses stamped their feet impatiently and shook their reins. For a second, Celia thought about jumping on one and riding away. But then she remembered that she knew nothing about horses, their massive size terrified her, and getting one loose from the carriage might be tricky. Besides, even if it wasn’t real, that gun looked like an actual gun, which meant that the bullet might possibly feel real, and she didn’t like pain—real or imaginary.
The woman drew the ring off her finger. “I have a reticule in the carriage,” she told the man. “If you’d like, I’ll give it to you.”
The man barked a laugh. “Not likely.” He motioned to one of the henchmen, his gaze never leaving the two women. “Search the carriage. Tell me if you find any hidden pistols.”
Celia slid a quick glance at the woman, wondering if she was cunning or just stupid.
The second man passed by. He smelled unwashed and earthy. The woman reached out and shoved Celia into him. “Take her!”
The man stumbled under Celia’s sudden weight, but the highwayman reached out and caught her in his arms. He drew her to him and held her close. She felt safe there, although she knew that she shouldn’t.
“Hold her hostage! Kill her if you must!” The woman clambered into the coach and slammed the door.
Celia fought to breathe. She knew she had to leave, she knew that staying pressed up against the highwayman was stupid. He had his hand on her belly, his fingers splayed across her. He smelled of cloves, and when he spoke, his breath warmed her.
“That was most unkind.” He sounded surprised and disapproving.
The second man scrambled after the woman and flung open the door. Amid the screams, the carriage rocked back and forth.
“I won’t harm you,” the highwayman whispered, his lips brushing against her hair.
Celia glanced at the gun. In the moonlight, it looked very real and very lethal. Almost as devastating as the man holding her in his arms.
He shifted, bringing her in front of him. In one quick moment, he captured her lips.
Celia’s knees buckled. Her thoughts raced back to all those Regency romance novels of her grandmother’s that she had read as a girl. Georgette someone. Hideous, Horrendous, no, Heyer. Yes, that was it. Georgette Heyer. What would Georgette call this? A seduction? A ravishing? Oh my gosh! That was it! She was being ravished by a rake!
Wake up! her mind screamed. No more kissing!
Oh, but it felt so good. So very, very good.
Panic gripped her. Breaking loose, she ripped off his mask.
Jason West stood in a pool of moonlight, gun dangling at his side. Surprise filled his eyes. He touched his lips, clearly dazed. Taking two steps back, his gaze shifted to the dark, shadowy woods. “Forgive me,” he muttered. “I have erred.”
And with those parting words, he turned and disappeared into the dark.
#
Celia lifted her head off the table, dazed. She must have fallen asleep. How embarrassing. She checked the tablecloth to make sure she hadn’t been drooling. It felt dry. What if she had snored? She cast a nervous glance around.
The party continued as if she had never left/slept. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if the band was even playing the same song. That wasn’t possible. The dream seemed longer than a few seconds, more than a few minutes even. But no one was looking or staring at her.
Becca was chatting up some guy over by the bar. Lacey had her arms wrapped around someone wearing a purple bow-tie and they moved to the music. Celia twisted and caught the gaze of Jason West.
Flushing, she looked away. Touching her cheeks, she tried to quell the heat flaming her face. So grateful no one, and by no one she meant Jason West, could read her thoughts, Celia slipped off her pinchy shoes and fled.
Later, she would have to try to explain her sudden departure to her mom and sister. But there were some things she would never be able to explain. Or understand.
Like the garter pressing something sharp into her upper thigh.