And now I'm happy to announce that Kathleen Byslma is the grand prize winner of the "Librarians in Love" prize box! Kathleen, I hope you enjoy all these goodies. Thanks to all my readers and fans. I couldn't do this without you!
Thank you to everyone who stopped by in the month of June to leave a comment during my blog contest. I really appreciate having you here! I'll be part of a big giveaway in August, to celebrate Entangled's release of my Pine Point series, so stay tuned for the prizes you can win and the ways you can enter.
And now I'm happy to announce that Kathleen Byslma is the grand prize winner of the "Librarians in Love" prize box! Kathleen, I hope you enjoy all these goodies. Thanks to all my readers and fans. I couldn't do this without you!
Update: Congrats to Colleen C, the winner of this week's Amazon gift card! And thanks to everyone who shared their favorite "first kiss" spot!
Last week for this awesome contest, and I can't wait to give away both another Amazon gift card AND the grand prize Librarians in Love gift box at the end of it! So I've been talking about my latest WIP all month long, a novella called Faces of Love, which will be Book #6 in the Hometown Heroes series, and it's set in France in the summer (sigh...). Last question of the month!
Comment: Where do you think Chloe and Bodhi should have their first kiss? On the balcony of their apartment house, over wine? At the base of the Eiffel Tower? In a field of flowers outside the village? In a coffee shop? Somewhere else? Give me your dreamiest first-kiss setting!
Welcome back for Week Three! This week you get the first peek at the hero of my book, Bodhi Lawson. Make sure to look for the question at the end and leave your comment to be entered into the drawing for this week's Amazon gift card AND the grand prize Ever After "Librarians in Love" gift box!
Bodhi Lawson kept his eyes averted as he strode through the Marseilles Airport. May in the French Riviera had turned beastly hot in a matter of days. This time last month, he’d still been wearing a wool cap and gloves on his walk to work. But this morning he’d closed the blinds tightly against the sun and left the fan in his small apartment screaming with the effort of circulating the air. Sleeping had become difficult, as had cooking. Today the air seemed to warp with the heat, and the pavement had shimmered under the tires of his Renault as he drove from Touciennes to the airport.
He scowled. The girl could’ve taken the train. He should’ve just told her he’d pick her up in Touciennes. Why he’d volunteered to drive all the way to Marseilles, especially on a sticky day like today, escaped him.
He checked his phone, then the arrival time of Flight 303 from New York City. Due in at nine, they’d hit some storms and been delayed almost two hours back in the States. Now her ETA read eleven-ten.
“Excuse me,” a young woman said behind him. She sounded American. Bodhi glanced over his shoulder, surprised to hear non-accented English, surprised enough that he forgot to raise his hand to shield his face the way he always did around strangers. Habit, by now. Part of his every waking hour. And yet somehow he’d forgotten.
The look on her face reminded him in a heartbeat. She dropped her eyes, then raised them again, as if to indicate she hadn’t seen his right cheek or been shocked by its appearance. “Thank you,” she added as she moved an inch or two away. She hadn’t asked him a question. He hadn’t answered one, or done her a favor, or given her a hand with anything. There wasn’t any reason for her to thank him, but she was being nice, the way people did when they tried to prove too hard they weren’t either horrified or macabrely fascinated by the way Bodhi looked.
He ducked his chin and checked his phone again. Ten-fifty. That gave him about a half-hour before the girl arrived. He ran one hand over his shaggy dark hair and ordered a double espresso from the closest coffee shop. Why did I agree to this?
He paced the concourse and sipped his espresso too fast. That answer was easy. Because Dad asked me to. The Lawsons were indebted to Heath Garrick, always had been, since the guy headed off a mortar attack thirty years ago somewhere in God’s forgotten, forsaken desert of war and saved Jackson’s life.
I’m alive today because of Heath, plain and simple. If his father had said it once, he’d said it a thousand times. Bodhi heard it in his dreams sometimes, and he wondered what it felt like to owe your life to someone else’s actions. To feel simultaneously that connected and that indebted to another person.
He stopped at a magazine kiosk and finished his espresso as he scanned the headlines. Would his kids, and Heath’s grandkids, be connected in the same way? Did karma go on eternally? Or was there some point where the score evened out?
He checked the time again. Babysitting a college student wasn’t really his idea of how to spend the summer. Okay, maybe he wasn’t babysitting, exactly, more like finding her an apartment and showing her around, but still. I don’t have a lot of free time, he’d said the first time his father emailed with the request.
Can’t imagine it’ll take a lot of time. You told me the other apartment was vacant.
Yes, he had. And besides, it always came back to the debt.
Heath could have asked Bodhi’s father for the moon, and they would have figured out a way to get it for him. He had to admit, helping the girl find a cheap place to live was a simple enough request. Fine. I’ll give her a ride back to town, show her the apartment building, make sure she has a train schedule, and that’ll be the end of it. Well, it might not be the literal end, because they’d be living within a few feet of each other for six long months, but with any luck, they’d be on different schedules and rarely cross paths.
He headed for the gate and nearly collided with a little boy darting through the airport. The boy slid to a stop just in front of Bodhi’s legs, wheeled his arms for balance, and was about to fall when Bodhi reached down and steadied him.
“There you go.” Then he added in French, just in case, “Voila.”
The boy stared at him with wide black eyes. A moment later, a woman with the same wide eyes hurried up to them, scolding the boy in French, but when she looked at Bodhi, the words died in her throat. His hand went to his cheek, but then her eyes lit on the back of his arm, and the same scarred, twisted flesh that covered his wrist all the way to his elbow. He usually wore long sleeves in public, but with this damn heat--
“Merci,” she whispered, then took the boy by one hand and led him away.
“You’re welcome,” Bodhi said, but they’d already disappeared around a corner. He pressed his arm into his side. Were the scars really so bad? After almost fifteen years, they’d faded considerably. He thought they had, anyway. But maybe that was just in his own mind.
He stuffed both hands into his pockets and waited for the terminal door to open. He wondered what she looked like. Her name is Chloe, his father had emailed last week. Long blonde hair and thin, I think. Not like either of them had ever seen the girl in person, though Bodhi seemed to recall Christmas cards sent the last couple of years, now that Heath had settled down with a woman in a small Connecticut town. He’d also seen a few pictures of his father with Heath back when they were both deployed, so he supposed he’d just look for a female version of Heath at twenty-one. Dark blue eyes and a square jaw. Possibly tall, unless Chloe had inherited her height from her mother.
Then she appeared almost directly in front of him, and every thought went straight out of Bodhi’s head.
Dark blue eyes, yes. Almost navy blue, if he was looking at them right. And long enough. And now it was too long, and still he couldn’t tear his eyes from hers, and she was smiling up at him from a face that was breathtakingly gorgeous and curious and young.
“Are you Bodhi Lawson?”
Comment: What’s your initial reaction to Bodhi? Are you interested, intrigued, turned off, want to know more? What could make him more compelling to you?
Update: Congratulations to Sherry Butcher, this week's winner of a $5 Amazon gift certificate! Thanks to all who stopped by...look for Week Three to enter for another giveaway!
Okay readers, get ready for Week Two of the contest! Remember each comment gets you an entry into this week's Amazon gift card giveaway AND the end-of-the-month Ever After good box giveaway. So here we go...
My upcoming novella Faces of Love is partly inspired by“Beauty and the Beast.” Did you see the movie, either the original animated one from 1991 or the one with Emma Watson earlier this year? (I'll admit to having a soft spot for the animated one.)
Either way, enjoy this video montage, read the original story if you’d like, and then tell me your favorite parts of the story/the films! Read the original story here.
Comment: What elements from the original "Beauty and the Beast" story do you think should be in Faces of Love? Which parts really make you swoon?
Congrats to Mary Preston, this week's winner of a $5 Amazon gift card! I award gift cards each week through the end of June, and then one lucky winner gets the Ever After box full of goodies at the end of the month!
Hello readers! I promised you free reads at the beginning of 2017, and I haven't forgotten that promise. Sometimes life and writing and other things get in the way. But never fear - I'm holding a month-long contest right here, with free reads, chances to comment, and (of course) prizes along the way. So I hope you'll sit back, enjoy, and jump right in with your thoughts. It's time for the Summer Lovin' Contest, Allie Boniface style!
How To Enter: Each Monday in the month of June, I'll put up a new blog post. Leave a comment, and you're entered to win. It's as simple as that! You'll have a chance to win weekly as well as at the end of the month!
What You Can Win: Each week, I'll choose one winner of a $5 Amazon gift card randomly from everyone who comments on that week's post. Then, at the end of the month, I'll choose one winner randomly from all comments on all posts in the month to win an Ever After "Librarians in Love" Gift Box. Look what's inside:
The Undateable (print)
The Librarian and the Spy (print)
Labyrinth of Love (e-book download)
Book Card Socks ( so cute!!!)
I Heart the Library Coloring Book
So are you ready? The Summer Lovin' Contest is all about my next novella, Faces of Love, which will be Book #6 in the Hometown Heroes series. I'm still working on it, and I'd like you guys to help me with the story. Sound like fun? Here's chapter 1. Make sure to check out the question at the end so you can enter this week's giveaway!
Chapter 1 (Unedited)
I got it!!!
Chloe couldn’t stop smiling as she typed the words. She leaned against the solid oak tree in the middle of campus and ran one thumb over the screen of her phone. Of all the people in all the colleges all across the country that had applied for the prestigious Justine DuBois Award, little ol’ Chloe Garrick, from one of the smallest towns on the whole East coast, had won. Talk about frickin’ amazing.
You did? Congrats!!! Can’t wait to see you. Have some news here too.
She was about to send a bunch of question marks -- because let’s be honest, her stepmom led the quietest life on the planet, so if Franny had news, the sky must be falling, but then Chloe’s best friend came racing across the lawn.
“OhmygodChloeisittrue?” Misty Everly’s question came out as one giant word, and everyone in a quarter-mile radius looked up. She dropped to the ground and shook Chloe by the shoulders. “Tell me. Right now.”
“Ow.” Chloe’s teeth shook in her head. “Could you maybe stop assaulting me?”
“Assaulting -- ” Misty let go and leaned back with a look. “Please. You have ten seconds to tell me if the news is true.”
“Seriously, girl, I’m about ready to burst. Kendra told me that Professor Hunt announced it at the end of class, but you know Kendra. Half the time she gets the story completely wrong, so --”
Misty squealed again. Grabbed Chloe’s shoulders again.
“Ow,” Chloe said again.
“Sorry. I’m just -- this is so super cool. No one from Blakely College has ever won that award.”
Chloe knew. She’d known it when she applied six months ago, knew the odds were far against her, but she’d figured what the heck? Why not try? She had straight A’s in all her classes and a recommendation from one of the most renowned artists on the East Coast. Two phone interviews, an in-person interview, and a thorough critique of her portfolio later, she’d gotten the phone call that was going to change her life.
It had to, right? Being chosen from six hundred other applicants, having the chance to study abroad for her final semester of college, had to mean something life-changing was about to happen.
“Did you tell your father yet?”
“No. I just found out this morning. I texted Franny, though.”
“Will he flip?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Do you think he’ll let you go?”
“Of course.” But Chloe hadn’t thought of that. What if he didn’t? She still lived at home, which meant she was sort of under his rules, but she was also one semester away from finishing college. Twenty-two years old. And this was the Justine Dubois Award. He had to let her go.
“When do you leave?”
“A month. The beginning of June.”
Misty lay back on the grass with a dramatic sigh. “I can’t believe you’re going to France.” She slipped her sunglasses over her eyes. “That’s like the most romantic place in the whole world.”
Comment: What adventures would you love to see Chloe have while she’s in France? What’s the most romantic thing you could imagine for her?
It's time for the March free read! I'm excited to share with you a brand new, never-before-seen prequel to Summer's Song. Summer's Song is Book #1 in my Pine Point series -- and it WAS going to have a brand new release this spring except the waters have gotten a little muddied by Samhain Publishing closing their doors and my opportunity to have the whole series picked up by another publisher.
Never fear! I'll share details as soon as I have them. In the meantime, enjoy this sneak peek into Summer's life, long before her story ever really began in my books...
Everything was new.
Summer spread her arms wide and spun in circles. Favorite red dress. Favorite yellow shoes. She didn’t care if Gabe Roberts had made fun of them on the playground. Rachael said that meant he liked her, but ew. Boys were annoying, obnoxious, and smelled bad. They liked snakes and cars and didn’t care if they got dirty. She’d never have a boyfriend. Not ever. Ew.
“Come on!” Rachael waved from the end of the dock. “You can see the fish today. There are hundreds of them.” She bent over the water, hands on her knobby knees, as her white-blonde hair caught the afternoon sun. “Hurry!”
So Summer did. She ran down the lawn and across the gravel road that wound all the way from Pine Point over the mountain to Silver Valley. She’d never been to Silver Valley, but some of her friends had. Tina Driver, for one, and Missy Olson. But Tina and Missy were rich and had two parents and two cars and went out to dinner at restaurants that had cloth napkins and tablecloths.
Summer Thompson wasn’t rich. She got most of her clothes from the Pretty Penny Secondhand Shop downtown, and sometimes Dad made the same thing for dinner a lot of nights in a row. But she didn’t care. Rachael Hunter was her best friend in the whole world, and if you had one of those, Summer figured, you couldn’t ever be really poor or really sad.
Plus, Rachael lived on Pine Point Lake as of a few months ago, and that was better than any fancy restaurant or brand new dress. She skipped onto the dock beside Rachael. The water stretched out in front of them, deep and blue and forever wide. Summer couldn’t even see the houses on the other side. Her father had told her he grew up there, but when he talked about growing up, his eyes turned sad and squinty. Sometimes he stopped talking altogether. Those were the times Summer let her little brother Donny follow her over to Rachael’s, even though Donny was five years old and probably didn’t even know why Dad stopped talking in the first place.
The fish scattered as a stick hit the water, followed by a dog, followed by Rachael’s little brother Nate, who landed in the water fully clothed. Rachael shrieked. Summer jumped.
“Aha! Gotcha!” Nate laughed. He splashed water at them as the dog grabbed the stick in its teeth and headed for shore.
“I hate you.” Rachael stuck out her tongue and propped her hands on her hips. “You are the worst brother ever.” She looped her arm through Summer’s and turned her back on her brother. “Come on, Summer. Let’s go back to my room where boys are not allowed.”
Summer stole a look over her shoulder as they retreated down the dock. Nate’s white-blond hair, the perfect match to his sister’s, gleamed wet in the sun. He had a funny gap between his front teeth, and he teased Rachael a lot, but Summer didn’t think Nate was all that bad when it came to little brothers.
“Come on.” Rachael tugged her arm again, and they were across the road and up the steep lawn and inside the red farmhouse that always smelled like fresh bread or soup or cookies. It was one of the best places in the world, and in that moment, with her best friend by her side, Mrs. Hunter taking warm snickerdoodles out of the oven, and the whole afternoon ahead of them, Summer knew that nothing in her life could ever go wrong.
Everything was wrong.
Summer slammed her bedroom door and threw herself onto her unmade bed. She hated Missy Olson. She hated Gabe Roberts for liking Missy Olson. But most of all, she hated herself for liking Gabe in the first place, and for thinking that he’d chosen Summer for his lab partner for any other reason except she was smart.
“Summer?” Donny knocked on her door.
“Then eat something.”
“There’s nothing to eat.”
Summer balled her fists under her eyes. “Of course there is. Stop being stupid.”
For a minute, Donny was silent. Then he knocked again. “Can I come in?”
“No.” God, why couldn’t she be an only child? Why did she have to have a little brother who followed her everywhere?
“Dad said he wouldn’t be home until late tonight.”
Like that was a big surprise. “I have homework,” she called through the closed door. “I’ll make something for dinner later.”
But a moment later, the knob turned, and Donny poked his thin, serious face around the corner of the door. “Please? Can’t I come in just for a minute?”
She turned her back on him and rubbed away tears. “Fine. But don’t talk to me.”
He climbed onto the bed. “Why are you sad?”
“What part of don’t talk to me didn’t you understand?”
The mattress dipped a little as he rearranged himself beside her. When he didn’t speak again, she glanced over her shoulder. Eyes the same deep brown as their father’s. Hair dark and wavy like her own. At nine years old, he was still shorter and scrawnier than most of his friends. Her anger eased. It wasn’t Donny’s fault her life was a total mess. She flopped onto her back and stared at the ceiling.
“Did you finish your homework?”
He nodded. “Did you?”
She smiled. “Yes, pipsqueak, I did. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Do you think Dad’ll let me play Little League this year?”
“I don’t know.” Little League meant money for uniforms and figuring out a way to get back and forth to practice. Summer couldn’t drive him. She supposed their friends’ parents could drive him if they asked, but they already asked for so much from other people. “I’ll talk to him, okay?”
“Okay.” Donny nodded, and his hair fell into his eyes.
“You need a haircut.” Summer pushed it off his forehead.
“No, I don’t.” Donny swatted her hand away. “I’m never gonna cut it again.”
“Then I’ll cut it in your sleep.”
His little-boy eyes grew wide. “No.”
“I’m just kidding.” She sat up and checked her cell phone. It was secondhand, and she couldn’t do anything on it except call or text. She ran her thumb over the screen. They didn’t have Wifi in the house either, or cable, or anything that pretty much every other eighth-grader had.
My life sucks.
No one had texted her since school, not even Rachael, probably because every other eighth grader she knew was either at field hockey or football or soccer practice, or doing homework in the library. Or making out in the hallway. Or holding hands while they took selfies and posted them online so everyone who had a real cell phone could comment on the pictures and talk about them tomorrow. She tried not to think about the pictures she’d seen today of Gabe and Missy doing just that.
“Summer?” Donny patted her leg.
“It won’t always be like this.”
She looked over at him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, things will change. That’s what Mrs. Targarean told me today. That even if you’re sad or scared about something, it won’t stay that way forever.”
“Oh, buddy.” Summer pulled him into a tight embrace. “Are you sad or scared about something?” Add that to her list of failures of late: being a lousy older sister. Even if her life sucked, Donny’s shouldn’t have to.
“Not really. But sometimes it seems like you are.” He sighed and rested his head on her shoulder.
For a few moments, she listened to him breathe, to the quiet rhythm of his chest rising and falling close to hers. “You’re right,” she said after a while. “Things will change.” They always did.
Everything was amazing.
Summer sat on the hood of Gabe’s convertible and watched him balance three ice cream cones in his hands. A warm summer night, graduation three days behind them, and a whole, long, beautiful July and August ahead of them. Life couldn’t get any better.
“Did you get mint chocolate chip again?” Donny asked from the back seat.
“Of course.” She never got anything else. “But get out of the car to eat. Gabe’ll kill you if you spill ice cream on the leather.”
Donny laughed but obliged, crawling over the seats. “No, he won’t. Gabe likes me.”
“Whatever.” Summer rolled her eyes and took the cone her boyfriend of four amazing months handed her. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Gabe leaned over and kissed her, taking his time, letting his tongue linger on hers, even though the parking lot was full and probably everyone was watching.
Let them watch. I have the best boyfriend in the world. In the universe.
“Gross,” Donny said. “Be careful. You might suck her face off.”
“Shut up,” Summer said, her face hot. Gabe just smiled and handed Donny his chocolate and orange twist with rainbow sprinkles.
“That’s gross, by the way,” Summer said. “How can you eat that?”
Donny took an enormous bite of ice cream rather than answer. Gabe slid onto the hood beside Summer. His leg pressed against hers, warm and strong, and she went tingly all over, the ways she always did around him. “You can stay over tonight?” he whispered as Donny trotted over to talk to some other middle schoolers.
“Yeah. I told my dad I was staying at Rachael’s, so he won’t expect me ‘til tomorrow sometime.”
“Donny won’t say anything?”
“Nah.” Her little brother could be stupid sometimes, but he looked up to Gabe and pretty much worshipped the ground the guy walked on. Donny would take a secret to the grave if Gabe asked him to.
“Good.” Gabe licked his cone and gave her a long look. “Because I can’t wait to be alone with you.”
Tingles again. Everywhere. She’d never imagined it could feel this amazing to have a boyfriend. She thought about Gabe all the time, from the moment she woke up until she went to sleep at night. She loved the silly texts he sent her, the way his hand felt holding hers, the way he looked at her right before he kissed her. And even though he was going away to college at the end of August, they had two long months until that happened. They didn’t have to think about saying goodbye. They didn’t have to think about anything except stretching out every day as long as they could, starting with tonight.
I want to be with him.
She wasn’t on the Pill like a lot of her friends were, but Rachael had gotten her some condoms from the nurse’s office before school got out, and now Summer carried them in the bottom of her purse in case she and Gabe decided to use them.
His parents were away for the weekend, which meant their lake house was empty. Gabe touched her thigh, and she glanced at him sideways. She wasn’t sure she loved him -- she wasn’t sure what love was supposed to feel like -- but this seemed pretty close. Trusting him. Wanting him. Thinking about how all the strands of her life wove around him, and it was a hundred times better than it had ever been before. She laced her fingers through his and counted the hours before they could be alone.
I want everything to stay just like this forever.
Ten Years Later...
Readers, it's time for the February free read! This one takes place 50 years before the start of my story Beacon of Love. I've had a few readers ask for the story of Petey and Miranda, and while this isn't (obviously) a full-blown novel, it is a little peek into the teenage world of the 2 star-crossed lovers who end up as famous ghosts decades later. I'd never written anything set in the 1960s before, but this was fun! I hope you enjoy it too :)
Petey Smith turned from the road onto the sand of Lindsey Point Beach. The tires of his ‘55 Chevy sank into it at once, but he eased her through the soft spots, and after a few minutes of careful maneuvering, he came to a stop a few feet from the water. Now this was heaven. From here he could see clear across the bay, down most of Main Street, and to the point of land that jutted out into the blue waves. He settled his head onto the seat and dug a Marlboro from his front pocket. This was the best place for bringing a girl, watching the sunset, or, as Petey was about to do, taking in a smoke before heading to his after-school job.
He rolled down all the windows and let the good ol’ June sunshine flood the car with warmth. Over by the lighthouse, he could see a few kids from school, but he didn’t bother to honk the horn or join them. The one person he wanted to see wasn’t there, anyway. She hadn’t been at school all week, and even though her friends kept telling Petey she was just under the weather, he had a horrible feeling that Miranda Johnson might be dying. Why else wouldn’t he have seen her in almost six days?
He took a long drag, and his heart did that fluttering thing inside his chest it always did when he thought about her. They’d grown up together, and he’d never so much as looked at her as anything special until two years ago, when she showed up on the front steps of the high school wearing a pink skirt and a white shirt with the top button open and a band in her hair that matched the blue of her eyes.
From that moment forward, Petey was totally and completely in love.
He took another drag on his cigarette. Sometimes at night he wondered if he’d ever get up the courage to ask Miranda on a date. Take her to dinner, bring her to the beach afterwards, watch the stars light up her eyes and kiss her until more than one button opened on her shirt and she slipped her hand inside his --
“Hey, stranger, can I have one?”
Petey sat up so fast his knee slammed against the steering wheel. “Shit.” He clapped one hand over his mouth. “I mean, shoot. Hey, what are you doing here?”
Miranda had already climbed inside the passenger seat of the Chevy and reached for his crumpled pack of Marlboros on the dashboard. “Playing hooky.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing all week?”
She shrugged and held out a cigarette for him to light. “Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I’ve been sick, the way everyone says.” She gave him a sidelong glance that seared him right in the gut. Today she wore jeans with the cuffs rolled up and a shirt without sleeves that showed the pale skin of her arms, covered with tiny freckles.
Petey wanted to taste them.
“Actually, I was feeling sick for a couple days, so Mum let me stay home.” She blew a long stream of smoke out the window. “Then I decided I liked staying home, and I started thinking maybe I wouldn’t go to school at all anymore. Maybe I’d do something else instead, like move to Boston or take a cruise to the West Indies or something.”
“Why would you do that?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. It seems more exciting than being in school. Seeing the same faces every day is kind of...I don’t know. Boring. Monotonous. Don’t you think?”
Petey kind of liked knowing what every day would bring. “I like school,” he finally said. “Feels like the rest of the world, work and all that, is gonna be here before we know it.”
“You’re probably right.” Miranda turned to face him. “What do you think you’ll do when you graduate next year?”
“Go to college, I guess.”
“But for what? What do you want to study?”
“I don’t know. Probably business. That’s what my dad says I should take.”
She reached over with the hand that wasn’t holding the cigarette and tapped his knee. One finger, the slightest touch, and his head spun. “Your dad’s not the one going to college. What do you want to take?”
Petey looked across the sand, at the view he’d seen almost every day of his life. Even if someone blindfolded him, he could recreate it inside his mind’s eye, the placement of every tree and rock and bend in the path that led from the lighthouse to the point. His heart did that funny thing inside his chest again. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Miranda inched across the bucket seat until she was only inches away. “Ooh, yes please. I love secrets.” She swiped an X across her chest. “And I won’t tell a soul until the day I die. I promise.”
“I wouldn’t mind just staying here in Lindsey Point after I graduate and being the keeper of the lighthouse.” He pointed at a little stone house a few yards away. Martin Olson, the current occupant, was almost eighty, and Petey had heard that he was looking to retire. “I’d like to live there and make sure everything’s in working order. Keep the beach and the bay safe.”
She didn’t answer right away, and Petey wondered if he’d said something dumb. He’d seen her going around with Wilson Nickerson sometimes. The Nickersons owned a drugstore and laundromat in town, and Wilson didn’t hide the fact that he’d be heir to both of those someday. A future as a business owner was probably a lot more glamorous to someone like Miranda than a solitary life as a lighthouse keeper.
He stabbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and cursed his stupidity.
Then she turned those liquid blue eyes on him, and everything in the whole world went away except for the small, living, breathing space inside the Chevy. “I think that sounds amazing,” she said. “Original and daring.” She bit her bottom lip as her cheeks turned the tiniest bit of pink. “And I think that’s what you should do. Forget college. Be a lighthouse keeper, Petey Smith.” She caught his hand in hers. “And I’ll be your second in command, how does that sound?”
“I thought you were gonna move to Boston or go to the West Indies,” he said, his voice gruff. Her hand was warm inside his, the perfect fit.
She shook her head. “I’ve decided I’d rather help keep the bay of Lindsey Point safe. If you’ll let me, that is. It won’t be boring or monotonous with you, I know that much.” Without warning, she leaned in and kissed him, right on the mouth. “Will you let me help?”
“I’ll let you do anything you want,” he said before he could help himself, and Miranda laughed, but the sound filled him up like a helium balloon, and he took her face in both his hands and kissed her again, until she stopped laughing and went breathless against him.
When they finally broke apart, her eyes shined, and her lips looked like bruised berries. “You know what I think, Petey Smith?”
She rested her head on his shoulder. “I think you and I are going to have a marvelous adventure together.”
That night, long after Petey had finished mowing Miss Fortunado’s lawn, trimmed her juniper bushes, and carried her garbage to the curb for next morning’s pick-up, he sat on his bed at home with a notepad and pencil. He hadn’t told Miranda all his secrets, one of which was that he also hoped to write songs one day. He had a guitar handed down from one of his older cousins, and sometimes he messed around with it. He loved listening to the new artists on the radio, like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. He knew he’d never be as good as them, but he bet he could learn to play a pretty decent song, especially if Miranda Johnson filled his dreams the way she had been lately.
Song lyrics were harder for him than chords, but some nights they came easier than others. This was one of those nights. He thought about Miranda’s hand in his, about the freckles on her arms and the way she’d kissed him without abandon, then laid her head on his shoulder and fallen asleep in the afternoon sun. He’d never seen it coming. Now he knew he could never live without it.
There’s something else I want to tell you, he’d thought as he’d watched her sleep. Someday I’ll be richer than Wilson Nickerson. I’ll own something that’s bigger and better than any drugstore or laundromat you could imagine. But it won’t be brick and mortar. It won’t be something you can touch, at least not like that. It will be something infinitely better.
And he would share it all with her. A marvelous adventure together? He only hoped Miranda was right. Petey put the pencil to his notepad and began to write.
Caught between the stars and the sand,
Between a view of the sky and the sea,
I reach for the moon,
I cast its light in your eyes
So that forever after you will remember
How it was the first moment I loved you…
Haven’t yet read the story that takes place over 50 years later? The mysteries in Beacon of Love trace their roots from this moment with Petey and Miranda. And the book is on sale this month just for you, readers. Enjoy!
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/BeaconofLoveNook
Welcome, readers! It's been a little while since I've posted here, I know, but I have exciting news: each month I'll be posting a special Free Read, both here and in my newsletter, that's a companion piece to one of my current books. Why? Well, it gives me a chance to write a prequel, or an epilogue, or a character sketch, or just delve a little deeper into one aspect of the story that I didn't before.
Even better, along with every month's Free Read, the companion book will be on sale! (Okay, except for this month, because it's a Samhain title and Samhain still holds the right to this one). BUT I hope you'll enjoy this short story, which takes place about 6 years before the start of Winter's Wonder.
Enjoy "It's In The Cards"!
It's In The Cards
“Want another?” Bud Howe held out a beer, dripping with ice cold water from the cooler at his feet.
Zane Andrews shrugged. “Sure.” He finished the one he’d been holding, tossed the empty in a nearby barrel, and popped open the new one. He kicked back in the ratty recliner and took a long look around the Howe garage. Mounted deer heads hung next to Chevy signs and old, peeling pin-up calendars. The entire place smelled of diesel exhaust and sweat.
Headlights skated across the ceiling, and Bud jumped. “Shit. My old man’s home.”
Zane swallowed most of his beer and helped his friend hide the evidence before they beat it out the back door. Pauly Howe was about as mean as they came, and if he was home before five, that meant he’d been laid off. Again.
“Where we goin?” Zane asked as they climbed into Bud’s beat-up Camaro, hidden around back of the garage. From here, a dirt road led straight through the woods behind the Howe’s mobile home. If Bud kept the lights off and stayed below twenty miles an hour, they could make it to the street without getting caught.
“I don’t know. What’s going on tonight?”
“In Pine Point? Nothin, same as any other night.” Man, if Zane had a steady job, he’d save up some money and get the hell out of here. But dropping out of high school last year had left him with little more than his hands and his winning smile to find him a job.
That meant he had to take part-time gigs doing construction work, hauling Christmas trees, or raking leaves and plowing driveways when and where he could.
They broke from the woods onto the south end of Main Street, where Bud gave the Camaro full throttle. Nothing but a few streetlights until they got closer to the high school, and then it looked like a goddamn party. The whole building was lit up, cars filled the parking lot, and people milled around the bleachers and the ball fields.
“What’s going on there?” Zane rolled down the window in time to hear rock music and laughter.
“Probably after-graduation all-nighter.”
“Oh.” He stared at the circular drive outside Pine Point High, filled with guys and girls in town who’d actually made it through school. Zane hadn’t had the patience to sit through class after class of monotone teachers. He cracked his knuckles. He kind of wished now that he had.
Bud grinned. “Wanna crash it?” He cut the wheel so hard Zane’s teeth ground together.
“Sure,” he said as soon as he’d peeled his cheek off the window. Then he reconsidered. He hadn’t exactly left high school on the best terms. And it wasn’t like he was rocking a full-time, six-figure job now. A second of doubt skated through him. He didn’t make a habit of going backwards in life. Walking through those halls would probably just remind him of the ways he’d screwed up.
Bud careened into a parking spot before Zane could say he’d changed his mind. “Look at that.” Bud gestured at a group of cheerleaders holding red plastic cups and giggling. “I forgot how good-lookin’ hometown girls can be.” He ran one hand over his hair, perpetually sticking up in the back, and grabbed a wrinkled pack of gum from the console. “Want a piece? In case, ya know...” He grinned again at the giggling girls.
“Nah. I’m thinkin’ I’ll be doing good tonight if I don’t get slapped.” He’d left more than a few broken hearts behind him. If he ran into Candy Adams or her best friend Chelsea, it might be drama central.
Bud chuckled as they climbed from the car. “What you need to do is find someone who doesn’t know you yet. Grab her, kiss her, and win her over with those baby blues, the way you used to.”
Zane shook his head. “Sure. Like that’ll happen.”
Becca Ericksen looked over her shoulder at the teachers clustered near the gymnasium door. “What if I get caught here? I’m not a senior.”
“Who cares?” Her sister Ella fussed with her blonde extensions as she surveyed the gym, hung with disco lights and streamers. “What’ll they do, send you home? School’s over. It’s not like they can suspend you or take points off your perfect GPA.” She tugged the vee in her T-shirt a little lower, until the edge of a black lace bra peeked out. “Ooh, there’s Jason Kinderhall. That’s who I’m going home with tonight.” She propped her hands on her hips. “How do I look?”
Becca resisted the urge to say Like a centerfold, because Ella would probably take it as a total compliment. “Like someone Jason Kinderhall would want to go home with.”
Ella tossed her extensions and smiled. “Good. Now, please go have some fun of your own. Isn’t that why you came?”
“I guess.” Becca frowned. And to prove to her stupid, cheating ex-boyfriend that she didn’t care at all that he’d left her for slutty Samantha Paulsen. She lifted her chin. Maybe she ought to find a Jason Kinderhall-type of her own.
She pulled out her phone and walked into the school’s main lobby. The All-Night Party following graduation was a tradition almost as old as Pine Point High itself. Ella was right; juniors and even sophomores crashed it all the time, both to prove they could, and because there weren’t a lot of other ways to spend a Saturday night in this town.
She leaned against the wall between a fortune teller and a tarot card reader. You coming tonight? she texted Mel and Katrina, her two best friends.
Can’t. Babysitting, Mel sent back at once.
I’ll try, Katrina replied a few seconds later. No car right now.
“Would you like a reading?” the woman at the tarot card table asked. She had a multi-colored turban wrapped around her hair and earrings that dangled to her shoulders.
“I don’t..." Becca began. Then she reconsidered. “You know what, sure. What the heck.”
The woman picked up the deck and began to shuffle the cards. “Think about a question you’d like answered,” she said in a soft, musical voice.
Becca glanced around.
“Any question you’d like,” the woman went on as she placed the cards on the table. “It’s important to focus while you cut the cards.”
Becca waited a moment, reached down, and split the deck in two. Will I ever meet a guy who takes my breath away?
Okay, maybe that was a silly question. But tarot cards at a high school party were kind of silly too, right? And why not ask? Did it exist, a guy who could actually bring a girl to her knees with blind desire? She kind of doubted it. The few guys she’d dated so far were nice enough, but their kisses sure didn’t make her lose her mind.
The woman lifted five cards from the deck and laid them on the table in a cross figure. She tapped one finger to her chin and then smiled as she pointed to the card in the center, a lonely-looking man holding a lantern. “This is the present. The Hermit card. It is where you are right now in relation to your question.”
Hermit? That didn’t sound very promising. Becca shifted from foot to foot.
“It suggests that you are doing some soul-searching on your own, and that you don’t mind being alone as you focus on the journey ahead.”
That wasn’t actually too far off. Becca stuck her hands in her pockets and waited.
“These are your past influences.” The woman pointed to the card on the left. “The Tower card, but reversed. This suggests that in the past, you’ve avoided risks or taking chances, making major changes, anything that might cause harm or failure.” She gave Becca a long look, as if waiting for an affirmation.
Becca’s toes squirmed in her flip-flops. “Um, maybe that’s a little like me.” Or a lot. What was wrong with avoiding risky situations? Nothing at all, in her book. Except maybe that’s why her sister was the one with all the crazy stories-of-a-lifetime, while Becca was the one who listened to them.
“This is your future,” the woman continued, pointing to the card on the right. “The Sun card. The Sun suggests warmth, success, good things in your future.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Becca leaned in.
“This bottom card, the fourth card, is the reason behind your question. It is the Empress, but reversed.” The woman gave a slight frown. “This means that you often rely on someone else for your guidance. You need to trust your own inner voice. You asked the question because you doubt the answer.”
Well, that might be a little bit true. “But what is the answer?” Becca asked, growing impatient. Would she meet someone who took her breath away, or not?
The woman looked at the card on the very top, two naked figures standing under an angel, and smiled broadly. “Ah. The Lovers. This is your potential. This card means that you have someone very special waiting for you. A unique, powerful connection that will surprise you.” She folded her fingers. “I hope you are ready for it.”
Becca studied the card. A unique, powerful connection? Sure. Like that would ever happen. These cards were probably fixed to tell every hopeful teenage girl the same thing.
“Thanks,” she said, and found a dollar in her pocket to drop in the woman’s tip jar. She shook her head and walked outside. Like a deck of cards could predict the future.
“Whoa!” A pair of strong hands grabbed her just before she collided with someone.
A very tall someone.
A very good-looking someone.
Her heart stuttered as she looked up into eyes so blue, she could drown in them.
“Hey there, beautiful.” Zane Andrews said with a wink. Becca’s knees went weak. Oh good Lord above. They’d never spoken before. He probably didn’t even know who she was. He was two years older than her, maybe three, and rumor had it he’d dropped out last spring, a month before graduation. Now here stood Mr. Bad Boy himself, with his cleft chin and muscles upon muscles, his mile-long reputation of breaking half the female hearts in Pine Point High, a drop-dead gorgeous devil who’d once been suspended for his artistic talent of drawing dicks of all shapes and sizes on every locker room wall.
In both the boys’ and the girls’ locker rooms.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asked. He hadn’t yet let go of her shoulders. Without warning, he bent down and kissed her. Sure, strong, full lips claimed hers. A delicious slip of tongue moved over and inside her mouth, teasing her, tasting her, as a faint scent of his cologne wafted between them.
Becca closed her eyes and was pretty sure that the entire world shifted under her feet in one single heartbeat.
“Guess it’s just me that’s got your tongue, huh?” he said when he finally broke away. He winked again. “Not that I mind.”
Breathless, boneless, unable to speak, all she could do was stand there on the back steps and watch as he walked inside. Her mouth tingled. The space between her legs tingled.
...you have someone very special waiting for you. I hope you are ready for it...
Becca ran her fingers over her lips. Five seconds had just rocked her sixteen-year-old world. Maybe she needed to give those tarot cards a little more credit.
Zane turned around and caught her staring. He pointed to himself, then to her, and even through the glass door, she could read his lips.
One day, sweetheart. You and me. One day…
I hope you enjoyed this read! Happy Holidays to my wonderful, faithful readers. I hope you have a warm, safe, happy December with all the people who matter most to you :) And if you never got a chance to read Winter's Wonder, maybe it's the perfect gift for yourself this year :)
Last post of the week, readers, but don't forget to visit the Orphaned Wildlife Center, my inspiration for writing about animals and sharing excerpts with you all. The OWC does amazing work, and I hope you're following them on Facebook so you can see the antics of all their furry residents. It's a daily pick-me-up, for sure!
Today's animal excerpt comes from Miracle of Love, the holiday novella in my Hometown Heroes series. All the Hometown Heroes books stand alone, so you don't need to read them in order. Miracle of Love takes places during a blizzard on Christmas Eve, in a favorite local bar where some hometown heroes, and some strangers passing through town, have gathered for the night. And it just so happens that some unexpected animals show up to join them; namely, two donkeys who've lost their way in the storm:
“No,” Finn said as he opened the door. “You are not bringing Doc Eller’s donkeys into my bar.”
“One of ‘em’s got a lame foot,” Lucas said. Snow swirled in eddies around their feet, and Annie shivered. “And they’re not blanketed.”
Julia looked from the guys to Annie and back again. “Donkeys?”
“You might think this is unusual,” Annie said, “but you’d be wrong.” She shook her head. “Finn, you have to put them somewhere,” she called across the room. She turned back to Julia. “They get out every so often. Jerry Eller has a farm up past Franny’s bed and breakfast.”
“And he has donkeys?” Brady asked.
“They’re guard donkeys.” Annie’s cheeks flushed.
Finn stormed back to the bar, jaw twitching. “Try not to let them mess up my place too badly, will ya?”
Mick held open the door while Lucas led the animals inside. Annie grabbed a handful of towels from behind the bar and went over to help. The poor creatures, only about as tall as her shoulder, looked up at her from baleful eyes. She handed Mick a towel and together they began to rub the snow from their soft brown coats. He bumped her arm a couple of times, and sparks went all the way north to her shoulder and south to her girl parts.
“Unbelievable,” Finn said from behind the bar. “Welcome to Crazytown, everyone. We are officially off our rockers here.”
Julia smiled. “I don’t know about that. Looks to me like you’re kind-hearted people who take in any strangers from a storm, man or beast. Like I said, Lindsey Point’s a place I’d like to live someday.”
Finn shook his head, but he pulled two pots from a cabinet and filled them with water. “They okay?” he asked.
Annie finished drying one donkey and looked at its hooves. “I think so. Any of you have Doc Eller’s cell number? So we can tell him they’re here again?”
“They break through their fence every so often and take a walk down Main Street,” Lucas explained. He took the pots of water from Finn without a word and set them on the floor near the door. “Doc bought them a couple years ago to guard his cattle herd.”
“Now that I’ve never heard of,” Gabe said. “Guard dogs, yes, guards with rifles, yes, but guard donkeys? That’s a new one.”
“They’re pretty effective,” Lucas said. “Doc said he’s thinking about getting two more next year.”
“Then he better build a stronger fence,” Finn grumbled.
Annie stroked one donkey’s side, feeling its solid warmth. It snuffled her hand as if seeking food. “Sorry, buddy,” she said in a quiet voice. “I think you’re stuck with water for now. If we ask Finn for anything else tonight, he might go ballistic.”
Mick smiled and ran his hand over the other donkey’s head. “Guess this is one of the stranger things that’s happened in the Great White recently.”
“It’ll make a good story to tell your little one,” Annie said. She leaned down and spoke to Julia’s belly. “A few days before you were born, your mommy ended up in a small town bar where the power went out and the locals danced to the Beach Boys and rescued two wandering donkeys.”
Super-cool announcement!! Miracle of Love is on a limited-time $0.99 sale, so you can read this story in its entirety for less than you'd probably spend on a cup of coffee. Find out more at any of these retailers:
Barnes & Noble
Ah, Winter's Wonder: this whole book is about animals! Becca is the manager of a local animal shelter who has little time for anything but rescuing strays and finding them homes. Zane would love to tear her away from her work for a night or two (and tear off her clothes while he's at it), but it seems like some furry calamity always gets in the way. To his surprise, though, a stray dog (see a theme here in my books?) ends up saving both Zane and Becca on what becomes one of the coldest and most treacherous nights of the year:
She pressed back the flaps of the box as far as she could and took another look inside. Bony. Matted. And they smelled of their own urine and feces. But beneath all that, she could see beautiful calico markings. They weren’t big, though she couldn’t tell if their size came from malnutrition or youth.
“Okay, babies,” she murmured, “we’re going to give this a try.” She waited a moment. They didn’t hiss up at her or lay their ears flat, all signs of feral cats. They didn’t do anything at all. She touched one of them. It flinched, its coat rippling with the effort of trying to move away from her. She touched the other. No movement at all. Slowly, she ran her fingers down its spine. Then again. It blinked at her and opened its mouth without making a sound.
Becca slipped both hands under the cat and lifted it out of the carrier. It didn’t wriggle or fight or do anything at all. She sat on the edge of her desk chair and continued to pet it, ignoring the greasy mats in its coat and the horrible stench it gave off. After a moment, the other cat poked its head out of the carrier to see what had happened to its companion.
“Curious, baby?” she said. “You’re safe now. Nothing’s going to hurt you here.” She kept her voice low. She continued to pet the cat in her lap. A minute passed. Jultio returned with the heating pad and lamp. “Can you set up one of the cages in the back room with those inside? There are some clean towels and blankets in the hall closet too.”
He nodded. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know. They’re malnourished, for sure, and probably have worms and mites, but they’re not as bad as I thought they would be.” Janet would be here soon, she hoped, and she could turn over the medical stuff, the serious stuff, to her. “They’re just so cold, both of them.” The one in her lap had started to shake, though whether from nerves or a low body temperature, she couldn’t tell.
Julito left, and Becca reached toward the cat in the carrier. Its head ducked down again, but she reached for the soft spot behind its ears. “I ended a date early for you two,” she said aloud. “An honest-to-goodness date, with a guy that’s hotter than anyone I’ve ever gone out with, and who was about this close—” she stopped petting the cat long enough to make an inch sign with her thumb and forefinger, and the animal looked reproachfully up from the box, “—to taking off my clothes.” She bent close to the cat in her lap. “Am I crazy?” Yes, she answered herself. I am most definitely crazy. Ella would never let her hear the end of it.
Then, at exactly the same time, both animals started purring. Rusty, broken, as if they hadn’t made the sound in a long time—maybe ever—the rumble broke from both their throats. Becca started to cry.
If you'd like to read more, Winter's Wonder is available on all major retailers. I hope you enjoy! It's the perfect beginning to the upcoming holiday season....
Barnes & Noble