Don’t Look!

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.19.41 AMAlternate title: A Tetris Battle lesson

If you read my column “Lessons From Bubble Pop,” I know what you’re thinking: What, she’s writing about another computer game? She has a problem.

While it’s kind of cruel of you to be so judgmental, I can’t argue with you. I really am a game addict and Tetris has topped the list of my weaknesses since approximately 1988.

At various times in my life I’ve been on the wagon, the longest break being the years I no longer frequented Gus’s Arcade. Online Tetris versions were lame compared to the arcade game—or were until I joined Facebook and discovered—Oh, the joy, oh, the agony, oh, the huge time suckage but wonderful stress reliever—Tetris Battle.

(You said there was a lesson in this blather, I hear you mutter—and right you are. Patience, patience. All the little blocks will fall into place soon and you’ll soon see what I’m putting down. Heh heh. A Tetris joke. Get it?)

ANYWAY, I’ve been playing like a mad woman again because after a six-month hiatus, I logged in and discovered I’d lost my rank and had to restart from scratch. (I know. It’s an outrage.)

It’s been a rough month. February weather is hard on my spirits in general (although the respite provided by the crazy, glorious snowstorm was lovely!), plus some things in my personal life have been tough—and professionally I’ve been fraught with indecision and insecurity about the path I’ve chosen and the direction I’m going. . . . Sounds familiar, right? Yes, I think it’s called life, sometimes. . . .

But I’ve been kicking butt in Tetris at least.

The lesson I want to share comes—as so many lessons do—from a mistake I made. For an instant, while battling a User-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I broke with my proven strategy and looked to see how my opponent was doing.

Gah! I recognized my error immediately. He was doing great. Had even dropped more lines than I had. (The horror, the horror!) Flustered, I made a rookie error, landed a Z shape at an awkward angle, leaving a gap exposed—then compounded the problem by dropping a square too close, so I couldn’t snug another piece under the jutting edge.

Even worse, I darted a sideways glance again to see how badly my screw-up had hurt my game. Bleeeep—KO’D. Even as the buzzer sounded, my brain screamed, “What were you doing? Don’t look. Don’t look!”

Wham! Crossover wisdom hit me and fleshed itself out. Don’t look at your neighbor or friend or peer. Keep focused on your plan, your goal, what works for you.

To win in Tetris, you can’t let yourself get distracted by someone else’s progress, concentrate too heavily on the way they play, or compare their results to your own. Doing so will immobilize you, fill you with doubt, and crush your game.

The same is true for other parts of life. I’m usually content with my home, relationships, accomplishments, work——until I fall into the comparison trap. I sometimes need to remind myself: Don’t look! Zeroing in on how someone else is doing doesn’t change my situation, skills, talents, or assets—but it does take my focus off what it should be on: what I do have, what I can do, what I should do.

Flipping that (because there’s always flipping in Tetris), all of life is not like the game. Sometimes contemplating what other people are doing encourages, challenges and spurs you on. . . .

The trick, I guess, is to know which to do and when. Thankfully, the answer’s fairly clear. If looking at others makes you dissatisfied or diminishes your ability to maneuver the pieces of your life with joy and ease, stop looking. If studying someone else fills you with a sense of possibility or lends you a strategy you hadn’t yet considered, gawk away.

And now I’m off to level up. :)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“Don’t Look! A Tetris Battle lesson” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February 25, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Wedding Bands by Ev Bishop – in paperback!

EvBishop_WeddingsBands_800pxDear all,

A few of you kind folk following my blog asked for me to let you know when WEDDING BANDS was out in paperback. Good news! It’s out and ready for your hot little hands. Find it online at (.ca is slower, don’t know why) and Barnes & Noble (Will be at Chapters, too – but again, slower to show up there, for whatever reason), for order into your favorite bookstore and in stock at my favorite bookstore Misty River Books. (Misty River Books’ copies are signed.) If you’re in the mood for romance and/or food and entrepreneurial adventure, Wedding Bands, Book 1 in the River’s Sigh B & B series, might be just the thing!

I definitely recommend reading with chocolate and tea – or red wine – close at hand. (Then again, I always recommend that. :) )

p.s. Want a signed copy made out to you or a friend or family member specifically? I’m happy to oblige. E-mail me at ev_bishop AT SIGN yahoo DOT com or give me a shout here for more details. I can take credit card payments or you can pay via PayPal, e-mail transfer or personal cheque. **Free shipping for orders going to Canadian addresses**

Uncomplicated Kindness

Photo Credit: Jennifer/Sweet on Veg on Flickr

Photo Credit: Jennifer/Sweet on Veg on Flickr

My thoughts are all over the place today, flitting here, darting there, from dark and muddy places as dreary as my sodden yard to joy-inducing, light-filled bright spots, as beautiful as sunshine through blue and amber glass.

I wanted to write an inspiring January note for you all, some wise words on motivation, an encouragement about how to stick to a plan, or how to set and achieve goals, but instead I find myself dwelling on a little thing that, the older I get, seems not so little after all: the power of a kind word.

I learned this lesson personally when I was fifteen or sixteen or so. Picasso has his blue period; I had my black stage. For a long time I dressed in black from head to toe, and wore heavy kohl eyeliner. “Goth” wasn’t really a thing yet, in Terrace, at least, but my clothing was dramatic enough to single me out sometimes. I’m still amazed at some of the responses I got to such an innocuous thing as wearing all black—but this is not about the rotten stuff people say and do. It’s about the shiny, lovely things.

My mom and dad hated my “ghoulish” attire and makeup, thought it was at best inappropriate for a young girl (who should wear bright “happy” colors) and at worst “sluttish.”

I loved my black wardrobe for many reasons—and still gravitate to the shade—and I don’t think you have to be morbid, obsessed with death or depressed to revel in black . . . but I was depressed. Sad. Lonely. And I will admit that some days, maybe I was sort of saying, This is me. I don’t fit in. See?

(At this point, I have to stress, you cannot and should not assume anything about a person’s mood or morals or anything else by what they wear. Usually clothes are just clothes, fashion—and despite my confession above, the biggest reason behind my clothing choices was esthetic. I just loved black.)

Anyway, I’d had a bad weekend to top off a bad week that topped off a bad month that—okay, I guess I could just say I was feeling low. I was at church with my family, the service had ended, and I was being subjected to after church “fellowship” in the foyer. My mom, for reasons I now think I understand, yet still don’t make sense, decided to publicly nag me about my clothing again. Yes, it felt awesome, as humiliations and conflicts always do.

To this day, I remember my outfit with fondness. It was quintessential 80s Ev: Black spandex leggings. Black pointy-toed ankle boots. A black tank top with an off the shoulder, long black sweatshirt. A boxy black denim jacket. I’m sure my hair was a blow-dried mess, and may or may not have had some purple in it. My eyes were pointed like a cat’s.

I looked rad. But also out of place in the room of equally 80s fashionable—yet polar opposite of “alternative”—ice cream pink, mint and yellow sweaters and polo shirts.

Regardless of how much I liked what I was wearing and felt good in it, I was hurt and angered by my Mom’s vented disapproval and obvious embarrassment about me.

Suddenly, a twinkly-eyed woman with short gray curls piped up, “You don’t like Ev’s look? Really? Whenever I see her I always think, wow, she looks so flamboyant!” She proceeded to add that she’d read the newspaper and noticed I’d made the honor roll, adding a cheery, “Again. Good for you!”

Conversation rolled on and I escaped—and I’m sure she had no idea that her small comment turned on a comforting light that only grew brighter with the years: Someone will like you, whether you’re a bit different or not. You’re okay.

Twenty-five years later I still recall the power of that moment and the gratitude I felt for her kindness. She saw me, not just my exterior.

We all live with varying degrees of insecurity, doubt, worry, fear. . . . No one needs more criticism or condemnation. We all could use a quiet, I see you—the real you. I like you. I accept you.

And who knows? Maybe a casual, encouraging word we give off the cuff will end up being the light that gets someone else through some dark time.

Wishing you a year of kindness—to yourself and to others,

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Uncomplicated Kindness” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 28, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Losing Me, Finding Me

Photo credit: DualD FlipFLop, Flickr

Photo credit: DualD FlipFLop, Flickr

A few days ago a kind reader contacted me about BIGGER THINGS, saying very complimentary things about it, including that it was “insightful” and made her think. She also asked, “Whatever compelled you to write about body image?”

I get asked that fairly frequently, and my short form answer is always something like, body issues and food issues are something I’ve dealt with in many incarnations, personally, and I still see, despite all our modern so-called enlightenment and equality, etc., a disgusting amount of value put on people’s bodies and looks (by individuals against themselves and others, but also within the workplace and society) over who they really are. And I still see a lot of us doing horrifying things to our physical and emotional heath—and to our children’s—in the name of “health” that’s really just fat-hating, something that I think has very little to do with a number on a scale, and way more do with . . . well, a lot of other things. I wrote BIGGER THINGS partly to exorcise my own ghosts, partly to explore what I think about things, and largely (pun intended, lol) because the main character Jen appeared in my head one day, yammering away.

Anyway, as I was thinking about my response to the reader, I remembered a column for the Terrace Standard that I wrote a few years before I started the novel’s first draft—and I’ve dug it out for your reading pleasure (or something that’s hopefully not displeasure, anyway ☺). It was published Wednesday, January 30, 2002—and I’m happily surprised, though a little weirded out, by how it’s still a good reflection on how I feel about a lot issues surrounding weight and weight loss, with the following few caveats:

My children are young adults now and while I hope I was the good role model I wanted to be, I’m sure there were (are!) failing moments. Also, I’d be lying if I said I followed my “never diet” again vow perfectly. I still get tempted. Having a bad day or week? My first thought is usually that I should definitely start a diet. I usually manage to resist. . . . And I’ve also noticed that the language surrounding extreme calorie cutting and purging has changed. Some people still use “diet,” but a lot of us have gotten sneakier. We don’t go on abusive, calorie restricted diets of cabbage soup. Don’t ridiculous. We go on raw food or broth only cleanses. ;) Don’t get me started! Grrrr! (By the way, I’m not saying you shouldn’t give your colon a break now and again—but we need to be honest with ourselves. Is it really about our health or are we weighing ourselves every day or so to make sure the cleanse is “working?”)

And a note about the statistics I refer to below: the numbers are outdated now, obviously, but if you do some research, you’ll be shocked by how little progress we’ve made in this area. . . .

Anyway, enjoy my thoughts. I’d love to hear your reflections on the weighty topic too, so if so moved, please reply.

biggerthings_ThumbnailAnd if you’re interested in reading BIGGER THINGS, I’d be honored. It’s available in eBook form, pretty much everywhere, in paperback at Misty River Books, online (Chapters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon) or for order in at your favorite bricks and mortar bookseller.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Losing me and finding me
By Ev Bishop

How many people made some sort of resolution to lose weight this year? It seems to be the most popular New Year’s goal.

Magazine companies know it. Almost every issue has some skinny, manically cheerful model assuring us that we can get thin. Pseudo-scientific facts are printed about how some latest discovery will miraculously help shed all unwanted pounds, without any effort, in just ten days!

I’m furious with articles that equate losing weight with changing who you are. “New Year, New You.” They may as well just come out and say, “You’re just a body.” “Change your body, change who you are.” And we fall for it! We believe that somehow changing our body weight will change our lives and eliminate the stuff of life that hurts. We think that shedding pounds will help us shed the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, don’t feel comfortable with.

Consider these statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association: Almost half of American women are on a diet on any given day, as are 1 in 4 men. Half of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.

Are you thinking, so what?

Think about this then: 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and of those, 1 in 4 will progress to a partial or full syndrome eating disorder; the kind that, without intervention, can kill you.

In It’s Not About Food, Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark say that while the symptoms are different, the roots of all eating disorders are similar and that most of the mindset behind dieting has nothing to do with weight at all.

It’s something less tangible than actual weight that’s bothering the individual, usually a feeling that, as a being, they’re unacceptable or out of control.

At age eight, I had my first binge and vomit session.

The summer after grade seven, I lived on a box of chips and a two-lire of diet Coke a day. I lost forty pounds and started a decade-long war, the battle of losing me.

For eight years I abused myself, equating every problem in my life with the number on a scale and attributing every success to the same thing. Now I am fat. Don’t worry. I’m not putting myself down. I don’t see the word as an insult, more like a fact of life, like saying, “I have ‘brown eyes.”

Strangely, I’m more at peace with my body than I’ve ever been. I have been every weight, every size and I know that my life stays the same, my battles are the same and my pleasures are the same.

In some ways getting big saved me. It made me aware that the reflection in the mirror has no bearing at all on who I am as a person.

Despite the added weight, I’m probably healthier than when I was a teen. I can bump my knee without it turning purple and green all the way down my shin. I don’t get paralysing charley horses running the entire length of my leg, toe to thigh. I don’t wake up suddenly in the middle of the night in front of the fridge, scarfing down leftovers.

Still it would be healthy for me to lose some weight—yet I will never diet again. Ever. I have good reasons. I just don’t hate myself enough anymore to endure the agony of self-induced starvation.

I have two wonderful kids who need to know that their value has nothing to do with externals. Society won’t teach them that. It may give the idea lip service but everything else in the media will contradict it. They need a strong, healthy, kind-to-herself-at-any-weight role model, me.

So what can I do? I can start to listen to myself. I can quit stifling my emotions with food, thinking I have no right to them, and acknowledge when I’m pissed off, when I’m sad, when I’m afraid. I can move because it feels good to move, I can stop eating when I’m full because I know I will let myself eat again. Most of all, when the mirror says, “You’re worthless.” I can remember; the mirror lies.

Maybe by not waiting till I arrive at some magic weight to participate in life, by eating when I’m hungry, by refusing to buy into society’s beauty ideals, I will sometime arrive at what, a long time ago, was my body’s natural weight. But I might not. In either event, I am not my body.

If you are dieting, I hope you will remember that you are not a number on a scale. Your value is not in your waist size. Be kind to yourself and make sure that it’s weight that you’re trying to lose, not who you are.

Everybody’s Reading for the Weekend . . . (Insert guitar and drums!)

EvBishop_WeddingsBands_800pxWow, I can’t believe it’s Friday night already. What a week!

For many years one of my favorite get-ready-to-go-out songs was “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy. (Yeah, I bet it’s been a while since you’ve heard that band name! It was the first and last record I ever owned; cassettes came in and took the modern world by storm, lol.)

Nowadays (OK, you’re onto me . . . for many years now), I look forward to the weekend, less for partying and going out on the town and much more for guilt-free, uninterrupted reading binges.

This weekend is no exception. I have lovely dinner plans with friends later tonight, and the goal to take down all my Christmas decorations on Sunday (Yes, the 18th. What? You don’t leave your tree up ’til the end of January? Why ever not?), but other than that, my primary plans involve tea and books.

If you have similar highly addictive ambitions, I’d be honored if you chose WEDDING BANDS as your enabler. :)

Ditched by her high school sweetheart, Callum Archer, on the night they’re supposed to elope, Jo Kendall casts out on her own, brokenhearted.

Over the years, Jo reels in a life she loves, centered on the outdoors, fishing (favoring a lucky wedding band lure), and her fine dining restaurant—a life that crashes away when her husband and business partner cheats her, leaving her bankrupt and alone.

Then her uncle dies, bequeathing Jo and her sister, Samantha, his rural property. Jo returns to Greenridge, determined to build a new business and permanent home—without the help of a man. Unfortunately Samantha wants her inheritance in cold, hard cash and hires a lawyer to get it for her, a lawyer who turns out to be none other than Jo’s long-lost love, Callum.

Jo’s fledgling plans—and her heart—are at risk once more.

If Jo can fight her insecurities, she might end up with a wedding band that doesn’t come with a sharp hook. But should she risk everything she’s worked for, yet again? Before she can decide, she needs to know: can a lost love truly be reclaimed?

You can buy Wedding Bands in eBook here: ~ ~ ~

KOBO ~ For your NOOK at Barnes & Noble ~ Apple/iBooks ~ Page Foundry ~ Scribd

p.s. If you’re in Australia, I’d like to give you a big shout out. Seems like some of you have been snapping up the book.

And, as ever, if any of you read and enjoy, and would be so kind as to leave a review, I’d be super appreciative.

Have a wonderful story and adventure filled weekend!

Guitar solos and red leather pants forever, heh heh,
;) Ev

Wedding Bands by Ev Bishop

EvBishop_WeddingsBands_200px(1)Well, it’s finally here . . . the day I’ve been long promising and some of you have been waiting for: release day for Wedding Bands, Book 1 in the River’s Sigh B & B series. **Pops the champagne!**

Ditched by her high school sweetheart, Callum Archer, on the night they’re supposed to elope, Jo Kendall casts out on her own, brokenhearted.

Over the years, Jo reels in a life she loves, centered on the outdoors, fishing (favoring a lucky wedding band lure), and her fine dining restaurant—a life that crashes away when her husband and business partner cheats her, leaving her bankrupt and alone.

Then her uncle dies, bequeathing Jo and her sister, Samantha, his rural property. Jo returns to Greenridge, determined to build a new business and permanent home—without the help of a man. Unfortunately Samantha wants her inheritance in cold, hard cash and hires a lawyer to get it for her, a lawyer who turns out to be none other than Jo’s long-lost love, Callum.

Jo’s fledgling plans—and her heart—are at risk once more.

If Jo can fight her insecurities, she might end up with a wedding band that doesn’t come with a sharp hook. But should she risk everything she’s worked for, yet again? Before she can decide, she needs to know: can a lost love truly be reclaimed?

You can buy Wedding Bands in eBook here: ~ ~ ~

KOBO ~ For your NOOK at Barnes & Noble ~ Apple/iBooks ~ Page Foundry ~ Scribd

Please spread the word, and thank you so much for celebrating with me. I hope you enjoy the story immensely! If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter and visit me on Facebook and Twitter.

Don’t have an eReader and/or prefer print books? Stay tuned. Wedding Bands will be out in paperback at the end of the month, available for order at your favorite brick and mortar bookstore and for purchase at my hometown favorite, Misty River Books.

Until we chat again . . . happy reading and daydreaming!

:) Ev

p.s. If you are so kind as to buy and read Wedding Bands, please consider leaving a review online at Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere, even if it’s just a sentence or word or two. Reviews really help authors!

2 More Sleeps ’til WEDDING BANDS hits shelves!

EvBishop_WeddingsBands_800pxLaunch day for WEDDING BANDS is quickly approaching—just two more sleeps, in fact. Yay! Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite. :)



The Past

JO SAT ON THE CHILLY metal bench under the grimy shelter in front of the bus station for as long as she could, kicking up gravel with the scuffed toes of her sneakers and drawing designs on the fogged up glass. Where was he, where was he, where was he?

She doodled her and Callum’s names inside a heart-shaped flourish, then scrawled “True if erased!” beside it.

When she couldn’t hold still any longer, Jo hopped to her feet and paced, not wanting to go inside the building because what if he arrived and thought she was the one who hadn’t shown up? But it was raining harder now, and cold wind blew sheets of water into the shelter. She could care less if she was soaked to the skin usually, but the long bus ride would be uncomfortable if her jeans were soggy. Plus, she had to pee. Really bad.

She considered the cozy interior of the station—well, cozy by comparison to where she was now anyway—once more. Then looked up the street and down it. Callum’s red Honda Civic was still nowhere to be seen. And anyway, he’d said he was going to walk. It was getting darker, but there were streetlights. She could see all too well there was no one walking toward her in any direction. She cracked her knuckles. The movement sparkled under the streetlight, and she looked down at the delicate gold band on her left ring finger. A tiny diamond twinkled up at her. She rubbed it with her thumb and grinned.

“Callum,” she whispered. Then she laughed out loud. “Callum, hurry up!”
It boggled her mind that they were doing this. They were really doing this. They were running away to get married!

But at 9:30, Callum still hadn’t shown up and the bus was supposed to board at 9:48. Jo’s bottom lip had a raw groove in it from her teeth. A slow but steady trickle of people filed past her into the station to buy tickets, ship boxes, and say good-bye to departing family and friends. Jo’s bladder moved past discomfort. It was going to burst. And her heart might too.

She headed into the station and beelined to the washroom. The stall was cramped but clean. She relieved herself without finding any real relief at all. Why hadn’t he come? Where was he?

She made her way to the payphones on the back wall by the vending machines. Her sister Sam said one day people would have miniature phones they’d carry on them at all times to call people whenever they wanted. Jo always thought that was far-fetched. Who on earth had so many people to call that they couldn’t wait till they got home? But tonight, picking up the gummy receiver, she changed her mind. Personal phones weren’t a terrible idea. Maybe Sam was onto something.

Jo inserted her quarter and pressed each digit in Callum’s phone number with utmost care, like she was performing a ritual or charm that would bring them together—or not.

The phone rang once, rang twice—was answered midway through the third ring by a clipped, impatient voice. “Yes?”

Rats. Mr. Archer. Callum’s dad. He hated her.

“Um, hello, Mr. Archer?”

No acknowledgement that yes, it was him. Not even a grunt.

“Is Callum there, please?”

Mr. Archer’s voice warmed suddenly. “Is this you Tracey?”

“Um, no—”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Selene?”

“No, I’m—”

A chuckle interrupted her. “Sorry, sorry. You know how it is for an old dad, trying to keep up with a young buck’s does.”

A young buck’s does? Jo traced a crack in the tile with her toe. What a creep.

“It’s Jo,” she said, “Jo Kendall.”

“Oh, sorry, lad—thought you were a girl for a minute. Must be a poor connection.”

Jo exhaled. Her knuckles were white on the receiver. “We’ve met, Mr. Archer. I’ve been dating Callum all year.”

“Oh, oh . . . ” There was a shuffling sound, then a porcelain clank, like a plate dropped too quickly onto another. “Well, I don’t keep track. He took off with someone in a blue Volkswagen about an hour ago. I just assumed the driver was the girl in his life these days. That’s not you? Not your car?”

Jo bowed her head and mumbled into the mouthpiece, “No, not me. Thanks anyway. We’ll probably all meet up at the same place later.” She hoped she didn’t sound as miserable as she felt. Who wanted to give the horrible man the satisfaction that she’d been ditched?

She hung the phone back in place, but stayed by the booth a moment, heels of her hands pressed into her eyes. What should she do? There was another bus at 5:30 a.m. Should she try to round Callum up? But on foot in the pouring rain in the growing darkness? She had no idea where to even start to look. Green- ridge had a small population, sure, but it was scattered over a huge geographic area. At the very least, she should call Ray. Of course she should! Obviously Callum would’ve called to say he was held up. He wasn’t an asshole.

Breathing easier, she dug for another quarter. “Yeah-lo,” a raspy voice answered.

Jo smiled at the familiar, corny combination of “Yeah and hello” her uncle always used.

“Hey, Uncle Ray. It’s Jo. Has Callum called by any chance?”

“He sure did, kiddo. Sounded upset. I took a message. Let me see. . . .”

Jo waited for Ray to rummage through his head for scraps of the conversation, a familiar, confusing mixture of love and irritation swirling in her gut. She prayed he hadn’t hit the bottle too heavy already, or who knew what mixed up, incoherent babble he’d pass on.

But Ray didn’t sound overly tipsy and wasn’t slurring when he said, “Ah, here it is, princess.”

Jo rolled her eyes. Her uncle was the only person in the world who looked at her and saw a princess.

“I wrote it down.”

“Wow, will wonders never cease?” The words slipped out before she could stop them.

Uncle Ray only laughed. “Wait a minute, I thought you said you were Jo? How come you’re sounding like your big sister Sam?”

Jo shifted from one foot to the other. It was 9:39. People streamed out of the small station toward the big Greyhound rumbling outside.

“He said, um . . . ” Jo could practically see Ray squinting at his barely legible scrawl. “He’s sorry, but it’s over. It won’t work—repeated that three times, angry-like. ‘It won’t work—just won’t work.’ Does that make any sense?”

Jo closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose. It made no sense. It also made perfect sense. She could hardly speak. “Yeah, yeah, it does. Thanks.” “Call me when you get settled back at your mom’s, all right?”

Jo forced a few more words out. “Yes, yes, I will.”

“I love you, baby girl.”

The words coaxed a blurry-eyed smile. Oh, Uncle Ray. “I love you too.” And she did, but like everything in her life, it was so damned complicated. How could you love someone and not really ever be there for them? Never get your shit together? You’d think with her history, Jo would be used to it by now, but she wasn’t. Some day she was going to have a home. A real one. A non-temporary, longer than a summer or a school year place to stay. She and Callum both wanted that—or then again, maybe not. Maybe just she did. She alone. Again.

She swallowed hard and stared up at the ceiling, willing the tide of saltwater in her eyes to recede. She pressed a hand to her sickish-feeling stomach. What was she going to do?

A crackly voice came over the P.A. system and announced last call for eastbound travelers.

Her suitcase was already stowed in the belly of the bus, loaded while she’d sat around waiting. It would be hard to change her mind now, even if she wanted to—and did she want to? Did she want to wander around the small town all summer, facing memories of Callum everywhere? Did she want to have some big high-drama face off with him about the how and why of him calling everything off so randomly and so last minute? No, she just couldn’t. It was too hard. And Ray’s, much as she loved him, wasn’t the place for her anymore. Things were going from bad to worse for him—and she’d just turned eighteen, just graduated. She was too young to settle down to take care of her uncle who was drinking himself to death and refused help. Even through the pain, she knew that.

She took a deep breath, hoisted her backpack, then limped outside as if physically injured. It felt like she was. On her way toward the silver-haired bus driver who stood by the bus door collecting tickets, she passed by the shelter. The blurred words “Callum + Jo, forever. True if erased!” jumped off the glass at her. Out of habit, she lifted her hand to rub the words away, then realized how dumb she was. Her hand returned to her queasy stomach. She boarded the bus.

Chapter 1

The Present

THE EVENING AIR WAS CRISP but not yet freezing. Jo stopped in her tracks just to inhale. The comforting scent of cedar smoke from the house’s chimney, the salty-sweet smell of smoking salmon, and the earthy fragrance of the changing season thrilled through her. She wanted to pinch herself. It was all really hers—well, theirs. Her sister Samantha would see the light eventually. Imagine living here all year round. It would be like a postcard every season. All the work was worth it. How could Samantha want to get rid of this place? Was she crazy?

The first fallen leaves gleamed gold against the dark lawn and crackled under her boots as she continued toward the old house. The porch light glowed a friendly welcome, though its beam created shadows around her that she wouldn’t have noticed if there’d been no light at all.

Jo climbed the three steps to the home’s wraparound porch, and leaned her trout rod against a wall, well out of the way of the door. She was careful to make sure the pretty—and more importantly, lucky—wedding band lure, a bright beaded thing encrusted with rhinestones, was safely held in one of the rod’s eyes. She tucked her tackle box beside the rod and carried her basket of treasure into the house. Fresh caught Rainbows—even their name was gorgeous. She whispered a prayer of thanks for the beauty and bounty of the area. Her stomach rumbled.

Jo whistled for Hoover, but the dog didn’t come. He was probably still by the river, roaming about. She crossed her fingers that he hadn’t found something disgusting to roll in—his favorite trick—and whistled again. Still nothing. Used to his selective hearing and even more selective obedience, she happily transi- tioned to thoughts of side dishes. Asparagus and oven-roasted baby potatoes? Rice pilaf and broccoli rabe? Mmmm.

She kicked off her rubber boots and left them where they fell. Yes, they blocked the door, but wasn’t that one of the luxuries of living alone? The time would come soon enough when she had to worry about appearances and keeping everything just so. She imagined a houseful of paying guests and smiled.

She left her old black and red checked flannel jacket on. She’d get the fish frying before she cleaned up.

Halfway down the darkened hall toward the kitchen, Jo’s stomach tightened. There was a light on—and she knew she’d turned them all off.

“Hello?” she called, and felt stupid when she realized she’d clutched the buck knife attached to her belt. What was she going to do? Stab an intruder?

“Hello,” she said again, louder.

The voice that answered almost stopped her heart. “Jo, is that you, finally? I’ve been waiting all night. Where were you?”

Jo relaxed her grip on the knife handle reluctantly. If there was someone she actually wouldn’t mind stabbing it would be—

“Come on, don’t you have a kiss for your sis?”

—Yep, her “sis.” Samantha.

Jo flipped a switch, and another feeble bulb lit up.It didn’t do much to brighten the wood panel hall, but would keep Jo from colliding with Sam—or colliding literally, anyway. That was the first of many things Samantha complained about regarding the cabin they’d inherited from their uncle: its “archaic” lighting.

Samantha’s high heels clacked across the hardwood floor in the living room, then moved into the kitchen. Jo cringed, envisioning the dints she was probably leaving in her wake.

“Good grief, Jo. It’s a tomb in here. How do you stand it?”

Had she called it or what? “Every bulb doesn’t have to glare. I like soft—”

“What’s in the basket?”

How Jo wished she could disappear into one of the bedrooms, any one of them, no matter how cluttered or unfinished. But as she knew from a lifetime of experience, it wouldn’t help. Samantha would be there, in her face, until she tired of chewing at whatever she was after this time—and since “this time” involved money, she wouldn’t drop the bone till the cash was in hand.

“Trout,” Jo admitted miserably, all fantasies of a candlelit dinner for one dashed to hell.


Jo shrugged. If only that opinion meant Samantha was planning to eat elsewhere—but Jo knew better than that. She headed for the counter beneath the big window that had a gorgeous mountain view, and dumped her catch into one of the stainless steel sinks. “Dot’s doing Italian specials all week.”

“Pasta? Like I’d eat pasta. Goes straight to your belly.”

Jo patted her own “belly” with affection, not caring if she got fish slime on her shirt. It was due for a wash. “Well, I’m making potatoes.”

Samantha followed her, keeping a safe three-foot distance from any potential food mess. She gave Jo a quick once over and frowned.

“What are you wearing? You stink like fresh air and you look like a lumberjack. And tonight of all nights!”

“What do you mean ‘tonight’? What’s so special about tonight?”

Jo scrubbed her hands and started peeling potatoes. Samantha sighed dramatically. “I was hoping you’d look human when you met my lawyer, but thankfully I’ve already warned him about you.”

“Your what? Here, now, what?”

Samantha flourished one hand. “Callum, we’re ready for you.” A shadow moved in the dining room.


Jo was so angry she could hardly see.

And then she was so startled she almost sliced her thumb with the potato peeler. She put it down. Callum? As in Callum Archer? Her old Callum? No . . . the first name was a coincidence. Had to be. A tall man walked out of the living room and extended his hand.

“Callum Archer,” Samantha said and Jo’s brain swam. “Josephine—or Jo, as she’s sometimes called—my sister.”

Jo tried to give the hand gripping hers a firm shake, but as she met his piercing aqua blue eyes— eyes she’d never forget—she started to freak out. An irrational observation hit her: the man, Sam’s lawyer, her old Callum, had strong sexy-rough hands for a guy working a desk job. Her stomach churned. Breathe, she commanded herself. Breathe. It was absolutely no comfort at all that he looked as shocked as she felt.

“Hello Callum,” she said, hoping desperately for a dry, casual tone. “It’s been a long time.” And it had been. Fifteen years, four months. Not that she’d counted. . . .

Jo? I’ll be damned.” And Callum did look like he’d just been damned. All the blood drained from his already fair skin, making his blue eyes burn even brighter and his black hair seem all the blacker. “You look exactly the same,” he said.

“When it’s half dark, perhaps,” Jo said wryly. “But thanks.” So he was still a flatterer. That much hadn’t changed.

Samantha’s eagle sharp gaze darted to Callum, then speared Jo. “So what—you guys know each other?”

Jo raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “Uh, no. I wouldn’t say that really. Used to. A bit. Kind of.”

“Kind of,” Callum repeated with a bitter note in his voice that Jo didn’t understand—and that pissed her off. What the hell did he have to be bitter about?

There was a moment of uneasy silence, then Callum had the nerve to laugh. “Sisters. Wow.” Jo hated the sexy, low timber of his voice and his easy confidence. “Here I’d just assumed the Josephine Kendall everyone in town was talking about, and that you went on about, was some aunt or something. I didn’t link Jo to Josephine at all.”

“Well, it’s a terrible name, but it’s better than Jo,” Samantha said.

“She doesn’t really strike me as the next thing to a bag lady,” Callum said, his head tilting as he studied Jo.

The next thing to a bag lady? What on earth had Sam been telling people?

Samantha sounded as affronted as Jo felt. “Have you taken a good look at her?”

Callum was still gripping Jo’s hand and she yanked away, suddenly conscious of her muddy jeans, old man’s shirt, and leaf and branch strewn hair. Shit. She was making an excellent first impression as a business professional, able to single-handedly turn the old cabin and overgrown property into a successful bed-and-breakfast, wasn’t she? She could practically hear Samantha’s victory chant.

She tried to fight the heat rising to her cheeks but failed, imagining how the room looked from his eyes. Breakfast and lunch dishes piled messily by the sink. A mishmash of junk littering the floor by the dishwasher. . . . She’d meant to box it up for Goodwill, but the beautiful fall afternoon had called to her. And what kind of ignoramus shows up unannounced and basically breaks into someone’s house anyway?

“I’m not sure what my sister told you, or why either of you thought an impromptu, unscheduled appointment would be at all appropriate or beneficial”—she glared at Samantha for a moment—“but it’s neither of those things. It’s a Friday night, and I have plans. We can set up a time next week to meet at your office to discuss the estate and terms of my uncle’s will, or, if you’re from out of town, we can conference call.”

Oh-so-confident Callum looked startled, and Jo made a couple more observations, all equally irritating. Time had been more than kind to him. While she’d found him gorgeous, like a rock god or something, back in the day—his tall, lanky frame had filled out with age. He looked more like a professional athlete than what her mind conjured for a lawyer. His icy blue eyes were still penetrating—and stood out spectacularly against his shock of silky raven hair— but he had just the start of crinkling laugh lines that softened his intensity. And he smelled good. Like fresh baked cookies, vanilla, cinnamon—

Callum’s voice, sharp and irritated, cut through the buttery attraction melting through Jo. “You didn’t arrange this? We just surprised her?” he said to Samantha.

Samantha waved her hand dismissively, and Jo wished she could lop one of those constantly gesturing hands right off. “She would’ve stalled indefinitely. And she doesn’t really have plans. She’s having dinner by herself.”

Like it’s a capital crime or something, Jo thought.

Callum cleared his throat. “Sounds nice, actually. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding—sorry we disturbed you.”

Jo didn’t lie and say it was fine. She herded them to the door.

“I don’t know why you’re being like this. We need to talk, get this figured out, decide what works best for everyone.”

“We have talked, Samantha. We disagree on what ‘works best’ means. Your lawyer may call me next week, anytime Monday through Friday between nine and five. I’ll consult my schedule and we can set an appointment.”

“Your schedule?” Samantha mocked.

Callum placed a hand low on Samantha’s back and guided her toward the door. “She’s right, Samantha. This wasn’t the right way to proceed.”
“And just so you’re aware. If you break into my house again, I’ll call the cops and press charges.”

Callum turned back from the door. “I’m not sure it’s so simple as ‘your’ house, Jo—but again, my apologies for the intrusion. It was a misunderstanding. I’ll be in touch.”


“Let’s just go, Samantha.”

“Yes, go, Samantha. Take your slimy lawyer’s advice. That’s what you’re paying him for right?”

Jo leaned against the mudroom’s wall after they left and closed her eyes. Why had she been so rude? Yes, even after all these years, the very thought of Callum was a slicing barb—but that was no excuse. They’d been kids. She needed to let him off the hook. For her own sake, not just his.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Curious about what happens next? I hope so. :) Snap up Wedding Bands this Tuesday—and spread the news: for a limited time, it’ll be available for a low kick-off the River’s Sigh B & B series sale price!