Hello and happy June, fellow readers and book lovers! I’m shocked to say that my little normally-shady-and-cool (aka COLD) corner of the world has a heat wave warning. Will wonders never cease?! Anyway, I decided that our long, lovely summer reading days (daze!) call for something special – and here it is: The Cabin’s first Summer Reading Challenge extraordinaire.
If you haven’t joined me at The Cabin yet, you’ll want to! (Or you’ll want to if you want a chance to enter to win prizes, that is. You could also print off the challenge and just do it for fun and personal bragging rights! (If you do the latter, drop me a line in comments to let me know you’re doing it. I hope you have a blast!)
Summer Reading Challenge starts June 21 and ends September 3, 2021.
Any format of book (eBook, paper, audio), including ARCs are fine, but all books for this Summer Challenge must be read between June 21 (our start day) and September 3. (So books read before June 21 don’t count.)
Complete one or all – in any order you want! 📚💕📚
1. A book with the ocean or a beach on its cover
2. A book with a mostly blue cover
3. Something Old by Ev Bishop (If you’ve already read it, say so for one entry!)
4. River’s Sigh B & B novels (One entry per book. If you’ve already read all eight – woohoo! Enter them all separately in the thread for one entry per book!)
5. A book recommended by a friend
6. A book with a one word title
7. A non-fiction book
8. At least three poems by Mary Oliver
9. A thriller or suspense
10. A mystery
11. A romance
12. Read outside (anywhere – your deck, the lake, a chair by your door! – for at least 30 minutes).
13. Celebrate Christmas in July! Read a Christmas romance in . . . you got it. July!
14. A book with a title that starts with the first letter of your name
15. A book that takes place in a different country than where you live
16. A book you already own (in any format) but haven’t read yet
17. A book set in the summer
18. A novel about friends
19. A book featuring a mother and daughter(s)
20. A book with pets in it
The biggest reward is a summer full of reading fun, of course! 😀📚💕📚 That said, I have some other goodies in store that might make your little bookish hearts sing!
Every Friday in July and August, there will be a random draw for a $5.00 gift card (for Amazon or Barnes and Noble – winner’s choice). Anybody who has entered the challenge by the draw dates so far will be automatically entered for a chance to win. Their name will stay in for the subsequent draws.
At the end of the challenge (midnight PST September 3), you will be entered in the main draws as many times as you’ve completed a category.
For example, if Anna Reads completed three categories of the challenge, her name would be entered three times. If Paige Turner completed six categories, her name would be entered six times.
Maximum entries per person: 27 (because there are 20 categories, but #4 has eight possible entries)
5 lucky winners will receive a signed Ev Bishop paperback of their choice, a book lover’s key chain, and other fun book swag.
1 lucky winner will receive the FULL River’s Sigh B & B series (all eight books!) in paperback and signed, a book lover’s key chain, and other fun book swag.
**Grand prize winners will be announced on or before Sept. 10, 2021.
I wanted to begin this post with “Hello, happy late May – late May?! Where does time go?” but seeing as I start out almost every greeting that way, LOL, we’ll just agree that time disappears and be done with it.
For me, this month’s time-stealing activities all center around two things: garden/yard work (yay!) and the first deadline for Something New, Book 2 in my new series, The Second Chance Shop (also yay!) 😊
If you’ve been busy outdoors too, you might relate to my sore butt and stiff body. Readjusting to long physical days after sedentary winter always takes me a bit . . . but the upside is that when evening comes, I’ve really earned my book and glass (or two!) of wine. On that note, I thought I’d share a bit of exciting news – and a lead to new well-earned reads for you.
Something Old was selected as a recommended read by Books2Read in their “New Beginnings” promotion, where each included book involves a fresh start or new beginning of some kind. You’ll find Something Old in the Independent Women category (which suits it – and me – to a T! 😁). I’m beyond honored by the amazing lineup of books and authors I’m rubbing shoulders with!
Have fun checking out the various categories here and treating yourself to new books, whether you’ve “earned” them or not, LOL.
Hoping you and yours are well, and wishing you a wonderful spring and very happy reading!
It’s been a while since I shared a newsy blurt because what I’ve been working on is top secret! (Okay, that’s a lie to make myself feel interesting, LOL. 😁 My current work-in-progress is not, has never been, top secret or even bottom secret—but it has been very fun!)
I spent our record-breaking hot summer writing and editing a cozy Christmas story. (Yes, it was surreal to fantasize about things like snow-crisp nights, hot chocolate and snuggling under fuzzy blankets in front of a blazing fireplace, while I was living in my bathing suit and sarong, with sweat beading down my back like a permanent accessory, but I digress…)
The exciting news is—drum roll, please—
My novella A SHARLA BROWN CHRISTMAS will be coming out October 16, 2018 in a super fun box set collection called LOVE, CHRISTMAS II that features 26 all-new Christmas romances, written by award-winning New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling authors.
Each original novel in the set was somehow inspired by its author’s favorite Christmas movie. (I suspect you’ve figured out which oldie-but-goodie, favorite-of-favorites that A SHARLA BROWN CHRISTMAS nods to. Good grief, what a smart guesser you are!)
As for how the cartoon plays into my story or what the zany crew inspired…well, you’ll just have to read it to find out—which brings me to what might be the most exciting part for you! LOVE, CHRISTMAS II is available for pre-order for only .99 cents! Buy it now and you’ll be all set for a fall and winter full of sweet, cozy reads.
Happy Friday the 13th! Do I have a deal for you! (One that’s not scary or spooky at all, LOL.) I suspect (hope!) that most of you have read HOOKED, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. 😉
It’s a smoking deal: just .99 cents for one week only! (Would also make a fun “thinking of you” gift from Amazon for friends or family who love to read.)
What do readers think?
“Sam is a sassy, tough heroine. Charlie is a seriously hot and nice man. All the odds seemed stacked against them getting together, and yet, love will prevail! Even knowing that Sam and Charlie would probably get their HEA, I was swept up in the power of their story, swirled around in the current, even tossed and tumbled a few times under water – and I loved every minute of it!” – Angela, Amazon reviewer
“This book is well written, compelling and in many ways, thought provoking! I will be recommending it to my friends and family. I am also hoping that my book club will include both books in our list of books to chat about.” – Leanne Roberts, Amazon reviewer
“A classic romance to delight all fans of the genre, this book goes deeper in exploring the human condition. Ev Bishop does a fabulous job of raising the emotional stakes and the sexual tension without the explicit (and often clumsy) sex scenes so often found in romance today. Samantha, pregnant at 17, gave up her daughter in hopes of giving her a better life. Aisha, now also pregnant at 17 has lost her adoptive mother and wants to reconnect with her birth mother. Aisha’s adoptive father, Charles, feels Sam is trying to steal his daughter and when they meet accidentally at River’s Sigh B&B, sparks fly. Adding fuel to an already explosive situation is Aisha’s vehement opposition to any relationship between Sam and Charles and the undeniable chemistry between the two.This book will have you Hooked from the very beginning. This is definitely a must read.” – Margaret, Amazon reviewer
Hooray and happy new book birthday to me! REELING, Book 6 in my River’s Sigh B & B series actually launched yesterday, but celebratory shenanigans kept me from announcing it here. You don’t mind too much anyway, do you? Your Friday night was already full and now your Saturday can be BOOKED. (Ahahahhahaa! 😛)
If you’re new to the series, welcome—and don’t worry, while it’s always fun to read a series in order, all my River’s Sigh B & B books are great standalone stories. So what are you waiting for? Start REELING today.
If you’re a long time River’s Sigh B & B reader, what can I say except welcome back! Your cabin is ready for you, and I think you’re going to love Mia and Gray’s story very much. (Or I hope so anyway.)
Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your new romantic adventure!
Thanks for reading and being so supportive. I appreciate you very much,
REELING, River’s Sigh B & B, Book 6
Mia bears psychological scars from a stalker who terrorized her for years. Gray was forever changed by the murder of his family. As they get to know each other, conflicting emotions leave them reeling. Can love heal old wounds, or does some damage just run too deep?
I’m about to call it quits for the day after a busy morning at the Farmer’s Market and an afternoon of sunshine and assorted odd jobs and chores. I hear a book and a glass of wine calling my name. (Ahhhhhh, right?! 😍) Before I sign off though, I’m so excited that I had to share. REELING is coming out soon, soon, SOON, and I can’t wait for you all to read it . . . In fact, I’m so excited about it that I wanted to give you a sneak preview. Sooooo, on that note, without anymore blather from me, here it is. Enjoy! (I hope it leaves you reeling and wanting more!)
Reeling by Ev Bishop
~ Chapter 1 ~
The long drive into River’s Sigh B & B was beautiful. Mia understood that, even while she struggled to suppress a low buzz of terror. Despite being nestled securely in her car, her heart pounded and her breath quickened. She was fenced on all sides. Thick trees cast long-armed shadows. A jungle of dark, impenetrable brush sprawled beyond the edges of the gravel road. The autumn sunshine dappled the ground with splashes of gold, but failed to brighten the formidable forest. It was like even nature was warning: anything—anyone—could hide here.
The website hadn’t been exaggerating one bit when it called River’s Sigh B & B a “wilderness retreat.” If she wasn’t driving along an obvious road, it would be easy to believe she was in the middle of absolute nowhere. It was both horrible and perfect.
“You can do this,” she muttered. “You can and you will.” She caught a glimpse of her strained expression in the rearview mirror and crossed her eyes at herself. “Or you’ll go crazy trying, which isn’t saying much since you’re practically certifiable already.”
She wondered if everyone talked to themselves the way she did, but decided it didn’t matter. The running conversations she held aloud were the least of her problems.
Her peppy little Mini Countryman zoomed around yet another bend, and then, all at once, she was finally there. A large round parking area lay empty before her, except for one old pickup that had seen better days. Here and there, barely visible through the trees and bushes, Mia caught glimpses of colorful tin. The cabins’ roofs, she assumed. Another slippery eel of doubt swirled in her stomach. She’d known River’s Sigh B & B was remote, but she’d envisioned the cabins being closer together, not hidden from view of the main house and from each other. Maybe she should’ve brought her mom or her sister with her, after all.
“Get out of the car,” she commanded through gritted teeth. “You can’t live like a prisoner forever.”
She let out a shuddery exhale, eased her hands off her steering wheel, and tugged her plaid schoolboy cap lower around her ears—a difficult thing to do with all her hair tucked up inside it. It seemed to take her forever, but eventually she was standing outside the car, her big rolling suitcase beside her and her large rucksack over one shoulder. She clicked her key fob and heard the car’s doors lock. She clicked again to be certain. Then she walked the perimeter of the vehicle and tested each door handle just to make extra sure. Out of habit, she peered into the backseat too, knowing full well no one could be in there. She’d checked at her last gas stop and had driven nonstop since then, but what could she say? Insane as it revealed her to be, she was incapable of resisting the urge to check.
Mia had just pressed her forehead to the passenger side’s window, appreciating its cold smoothness against her anxiety flushed face, when someone called her name. She practically jumped out of her skin—and banged her head on the window’s rain guard. Rubbing her temple, she backed away from her car and spotted the source of the voice: a smiling woman in faded jeans and a comfy looking flannel shirt, knotted at one hip. She was close to Mia’s age from the looks of it, so early thirties maybe, with a riot of long curly reddish hair. An old stiff-legged wire brush of a dog accompanied her.
“Mia!” the woman said again, but then her smile faded a little and she slowed her pace. “Mia Clark?”
“Yes, sorry, sorry. That’s me, yes. I mean, hello.” Mia groaned inwardly. It was like she was an imposter of herself. Even after all these years, this babbling mess she’d become was an unfamiliar stranger. And the worse part was that she was actually better now than she had been.
“I’m Jo and this is my faithful friend, Hoover.” The dog gave a solemn nod in greeting, and Jo held her hand out.
Mia shook Jo’s hand gingerly and cringed again, knowing she was giving a wet fish of a handshake, but grateful she was able to touch Jo at all. It was another bit of progress, however pathetically small.
“It’s nice to meet you in person, Jo. I appreciate the special arrangements you’ve made for me.”
Jo shook her head. “It was nothing. The season slows down about now anyway and—” She shook her head again.
“What?” Mia asked.
“It’s just a bit surreal. You’re really you. Your voice . . . it’s Mia Clark’s.”
Mia was surprised by a tickle of true humor, not the put on, wise cracking kind she specialized in these days. “Well, I guess that makes sense. I am Mia Clark, after all.”
“Yes,” Jo agreed. “And I’m an idiot. Please ignore my blundering. I feel like star struck kid. I had all your albums when I was a teenager—and we’re around the same age.”
Bingo, Mia thought. “Albums, hey? Yep, we’re from the same era all right.”
Jo laughed, picked up Mia’s massive suitcase like it weighed nothing, and started walking. “You probably hear this all the time, but you were a huge inspiration to me when I was a kid. There you were, having this crazy successful life when you’d started out with nothing just like me. You gave me the idea that maybe if a person worked hard enough… then, fast forward twenty years, you call to book a three month stay. I actually thought you were my sister Sam prank calling me. I almost hung up.”
Mia rubbed her chin, then became aware of the pensive gesture. Aiming for casual, she stretched her arms out in front of her, like she was stiff from driving, and looked around instead. “Seems to me you have a lot. Must’ve worked hard.”
Jo’s stride didn’t slow, but she followed Mia’s gaze and sounded a little awestruck. “Yeah, I really do. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Mia remembered when she’d felt like that. Full of gratitude and mingled disbelief—that you could get paid for doing what you loved to do most in the world. It seemed like forever ago. Jo had expressed surprise that she was “really” Mia Clark, but what would shock Jo even more was the knowledge that despite Mia’s claim a moment earlier, she really wasn’t herself anymore, not in any way that counted. “You know there are wheels on that, right?”
Now Jo’s step did falter. “Sorry, what?”
“My suitcase weighs a ton—but it has wheels. I feel bad about you carrying it.”
Jo looked down, then waved her free hand dismissively. “I’m strong, and I don’t want the gravel to wreck the rolling mechanisms.”
The parking lot and the safety of Mia’s vehicle were long gone now, the greenery on either side of the trail was wilder, and they still hadn’t reached her cabin.
“So what’s it like being famous?” Jo asked.
Mia stopped so abruptly, it was like her rolling mechanism suddenly broke. Her rucksack thudded painfully against her hip bone and she wished she’d put it on properly, not just slung it over her shoulder. She couldn’t do this. If this was what staying here would be like, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
What if other people found out she was here? Jo seemed nice, but she was obviously a fan. And fans talked. It wasn’t like Mia Clark was a big name or anything anymore, not even remotely, but even one wingnut from the past could . . .
Her heart hammered so loudly she was sure Jo could hear it. She laughed—a shrill, mirthless cackle. “I’m not famous anymore, but oh yeah, it was totally awesome. I mean what’s cooler than being the object of other peoples’ fantasies, right? And if you can collect a stalker or two? Well, that is the best, the absolute best.”
Jo almost dropped Mia’s suitcase and her face turned brick red, but Mia couldn’t stop. “Seriously, there’s nothing cooler than having people obsessed with you—some so far gone that even when you’ve been a nobody again for more than a decade, they still track you down, infiltrate your inner circle, your family, then attack you and leave you for dead because of some bizarre, imaginary betrayal.”
Jo’s hand flew to her mouth. “I’m so sorry—”
“No,” Mia muttered abruptly, remembering her therapist Brenda’s advice to stop taking her pain out on everyone else in the world. “I’m sorry.” The apology came with difficulty, like it was being pulled out of wet cement—which was a pretty good analogy for how she felt mood-wise these days. “You were just making small talk. You’re curious. It’s normal. I . . . have a tendency toward sarcasm, badly timed jokes, or weird rants when I’m anxious. I’m working on it, though—hence this ridiculous, humiliating confession.”
Jo gave her a strange, contemplative look that Mia found hard to decipher, then smiled equally cryptically. “I can’t wait for you to meet my sister Sam. Her husband’s an author with a tight book deadline, so she’ll be around lots this fall. I think you’ll really click.” Her smiled faded a smidgeon—no doubt reading the extreme skepticism in Mia’s expression. “Or you totally, totally won’t.”
Mia had nothing to say to that—and her lungs were trying to squeeze themselves shut with a sudden onslaught of fresh stress, so she doubted she could get a word out even if she wanted to. She stood there utterly mute, knowing she seemed horribly rude, but unable to do much about it.
When Jo realized she wasn’t going to get a response, she, to her credit, continued on like they hadn’t just endured a big awkward pause. “Anyway, like I said earlier, I’m an idiot—and a totally unprofessional idiot, at that. I didn’t mean to hammer you with questions or bring up things that I should’ve realized would be painful.” Her amber eyes looked genuinely contrite, which made Mia feel extra bad. “I’ll stop badgering you immediately, and please don’t worry. I haven’t told a soul about you coming here and I won’t. As per your instructions, the only people I informed about you are my sister, my niece, my husband and that guy you and I talked about. That’s it—and none of them will spill a word either.”
Mia’s breathing still hadn’t returned to normal and her voice was still sharp with nerves. “Good, good. I mean I don’t want you to think I’m some weird diva or something, and I can’t imagine the press finding out about my . . . holiday, or even caring if they did, but just in case there are rumors or someone does ask about—”
“No one will say a word,” Jo repeated firmly. “You want privacy and autonomy, and that’s what you’ll have.”
They started forward again and Jo continued talking, still warmly enough, but with a less familiar, more businesslike tone. “This is Minnow cabin. If you cut through the bush, it’s not far from yours, but for now we’ll stick to the main trails, so you learn the layout of the place.”
The cabin Jo pointed to was tiny and enchanting, with cedar siding, a red tin roof and an itty-bitty sheltered porch that housed a large black rocking chair. A slab of polished wood nestled on the porch railing, forming a beautiful yet practical table. It held a clunky pottery mug, a toddler’s sippy cup and a stack of children’s picture books.
“My niece Aisha and her little daughter Mo live here. Aisha’s the onsite staff member I told you about. I know you want solitude, but this is a lot of it, especially for some people. It can be hard to understand what it’s like until you live in it. She won’t bother you one bit, but she’s nearby if you want her.”
“Thank you,” Mia said softly.
Jo nodded, and as they continued along the winding trail, she pointed out other cabins by name, some hidden through the bushes, some out in the open. Mia was particularly struck by a tall skinny one standing off by itself, surrounded by massive cedars. It had row upon row of windows and reminded Mia of a lighthouse. A funky wooden sign identified it as “Spring.”
It felt like they’d been walking forever when the branches overhead grew denser, blocking out most of the sky, the gravel path narrowed into a soft duff trail, and the forest pressed in closer on each side. A cabin so large it was more like a full-fledged house appeared.
“Coho,” Jo said, then elaborated. “It’s empty right now and will probably stay that way since it sleeps eight people, and the prime fishing and holiday season is over for the year.”
A mixture of relief and disappointment seeped through Mia. When she’d asked to be as far away from the main house as possible, she’d had no clue what that really meant.
Just beyond a copse of orange and yellow leafed birch trees, a little cedar cabin with a river stone chimney and a matching patio area popped into view. Mia’s flip-flopping emotions somersaulted away from trepidation and solidly back to optimism.
Jo finally stopped moving. “And this is Sockeye,” she said, flourishing her free hand. “Yours for as long as you want it.”
Mia shook her head. “I . . . I love it.”
Jo laughed. “You haven’t even seen it yet, but thank you—and yes, I think you will. It’s stocked with the items you requested. You should be good to go.”
“Great. Thank you.”
“That said, we serve breakfast in the dining hall every day between eight and ten. I know you want to keep to yourself and do your own thing, but don’t hesitate to join us if you’re ever in the mood. We don’t need advance notice.”
Mia nodded as Jo put her suitcase down and handed her a set of keys.
“And last but not least,” Jo continued. “The gentleman we discussed on the phone got back to me. He’s willing to give you self-defense lessons, and he’s aware of what you need to conquer first.”
Mia was suddenly freezing, and her palms itched and sweated. There was no doubt left in her; she’d tried to do too much too fast. Definitely. She assumed a flippant, joking air. “So the hermit will come down from his mountain? I’m impressed.”
Jo raised an eyebrow. “Be careful what you wish for. He’s a good guy like I said, but saying he’s not a people person is an understatement beyond compare.”
“Got it. Sounds like a gem.”
Jo shuffled her feet a bit, as if trying to hold something back. “Okay . . .” she said eventually. “I guess that’s it for me. Have a great night, enjoy your months with us, and please don’t be a stranger. If you need anything, I’m here to help.”
“I appreciate it, but I’m still hoping to make myself pretty scarce.”
Jo nodded. “Just stick to the clearly marked trails on the map I e-mailed you, and follow the advice we discussed on the phone. If you do, you should be more than fine.”
She turned to leave, but Mia stopped her. “And self-defense hermit guy, when is he coming by?”
“Tomorrow afternoon, one-ish, in the main dining hall.”
“I’ll be there.”
Jo’s chin bobbed again, then she lifted her hand in farewell and jogged off down the trail. She was completely out of sight in what felt like seconds. Mia set her rucksack down by the stone fire pit and pivoted in a slow circle, taking in her surroundings. Sockeye’s deep purple door gleamed welcomingly, showy and dramatic against the cabin’s rich cedar siding. Its jade and silver fish-shaped door knocker made her smile. The stone patio held two low-seated Adirondack chairs and a funky cast iron chiminea. She instantly pictured herself sitting out here on cool evenings, wrapped in a blanket, fire roaring away, cozily reading a book or writing in her accursed journal.
Reveling in the heady scent of pine trees, dirt and sunshine, with only the quaint cabin and ancient forest for company, Mia felt like she’d fallen back in time. She wished such a thing were actually possible. It would be lovely to rewind the clock of one’s life, making damaging events and people disappear like they’d never happened.
Around her, the trees were silent, yet seemed to breathe. Mia told herself it was a comfortable solitude and almost believed it. She’d come a long way and had a lot further to go, but she’d make it. She would reclaim her independence and never make the mistake of letting anyone get close enough to fool her or hurt her again. She would regain her confidence and spontaneity—or die trying.
Didn’t you already almost go that route? a nasty part of her brain quipped.
“Not funny,” she snapped back.
She slipped her cell phone from her pocket. No service out here, but it still told the time: barely noon. She had hours of daylight left, and it was gorgeous and sunny—delightfully and unseasonably so, in fact. She shouldn’t, and she wouldn’t, waste her first day.
She grabbed a water bottle from her pack, then unlocked the purple door—which, in her head, she was starting to refer to as the purple door of possibility—and shoved her luggage inside. She shut and relocked the door without bothering to explore the cabin’s interior. No doubt she’d have a night full of insomnia to do that.
Looking back the way she and Jo had come, Mia hesitated. She could retrace their steps and reinforce knowledge of terrain already covered, or—she glanced to her left, studying a thin trail that meandered off into the woods—she could kick-start this final step in her healing process with a bit of oomph. So really there wasn’t a question, after all. Moving at pace she told herself was for maximum cardio benefit and not out of transparent bravado, Mia headed out on the unfamiliar trail to destinations equally unknown.
~ Chapter 2 ~
Just him, Wolf and the forest. This was right. Was how it was supposed to be now. Gray took a huge rib stretching breath, and the tightness and stress that had been riding him the past week fell away. Man, the air was good. Sweet and warm and filled with the scent of sunbaked cedar and pine. It felt more like the height of August than mid-September.
His leg was having a bad day, but even that couldn’t dim his mood. He paused by a massive hemlock, braced himself with one hand on its rough bark, and bent to rub his stiff knee. It was great to be outside. No, scratch that. It was essential. True, he was not as strong as he’d once been and though it had been years since the injury, he never got used to it—or forgot his previous self. True, some days his damaged leg felt every stride like it was its first time connecting with the earth. But also true: he could still cover a fair amount of ground quickly and damaged or not, he was still stronger and fitter than a lot of guys. None of that really mattered though. The crucial factors, what made his time outdoors critically important, was that the dead spot in the core of his being was less all-consuming out here. The agony of existing without Celine and Simon, though not obliterated, was eased. Sometimes he even imagined he felt life pouring into him from the trees overhead. It showed him some experiences were worth the sacrifices they called for and that some kinds of gains transcended pain.
Gray straightened up again and took another deep pull of air. For the most part, as shocking as it was, considering everything that had happened, he was content. He could handle physical pain, and the emotional side of things? Well, out here he was so removed from constant reminders that he fared pretty well in that arena too.
A crackle in the dry brush beside the trail and the sound of twigs snapping under the weight of a heavy animal killed the birdsong overhead. Gray smiled and made a soft clicking sound. Wolf crashed through a tangle of salmonberry bushes and appeared in front of Gray, tongue lolling and full of burrs. Gray rubbed his dog’s broad head and scrubbed his ears. Wolf leaned in, his body weight solid and comforting against Gray’s thigh, then bolted out of sight again.
Yep, this was what they both needed all right. To be back where they belonged. To be alone and free from the meddling of busybodies—hell, free from people in general with their prying questions and fury evoking sad-eyed looks of concern. It was too bad he wasn’t completely self-sufficient, or he’d stop his seasonal forays into town all together. Even a few days was a few days too long.
Gray continued down the increasingly faint trail, then eased through an archway formed by two cottonwoods that had grown close together over the years. The small lake, his lake, as he liked to think of it, was a glinting sapphire in the golden sunlight. He skirted a stand of skinny jack pines, then froze. A rush of heat and blood ran to his face . . . and other parts.
There was a mermaid in his lake. And she was beautiful—even from just the glorious back view he had. A cascade of dark hair flowed down the creamy expanse of her bare shoulders and torso. A small waist flared into generous hips and a well-rounded—
Gray clapped a hand over his eyes. What was he? Some kind of pervert? It was like he’d never seen a naked woman before. Okay, it had been a long time, sure, but—he cut that thought off as well. He backtracked as quickly and quietly as he could, desperate to escape before she turned and saw him and thought he was a peeping Tom or something.
Familiar snuffling grunts—not at all humorous now—and a telltale crack of branches told Gray all hope of disappearing unnoticed was in vain. Wolf sprang from the bush and into the clearing, too far away for Gray to grab him. Then, in typical dog fashion, Wolf decided the complete stranger wading in the lake must desperately want to visit him. He charged down the rocky beach and across the narrow strip of sand at the water’s edge.
The mermaid turned as soon as she heard Wolf—and screamed. Repeatedly. Completely undaunted, Wolf splashed through the shallows toward her.
Gray stripped off his backpack, then limped-ran as fast as he could toward the shoreline. “It’s all right. He’s friendly. He won’t hurt you.”
The woman didn’t appear to hear him over her increasingly loud screams. She splashed frantically at Wolf, trying to shoo him, but the dumb mutt interpreted her actions as play.
“Wolf! Down. Come.” Wolf heard Gray’s command and froze, but Gray could tell by the prick of his ears that the dog was deliberating whether he should listen or continue doing his own thing. It was, after all, so fun to play chase. Wolf was not the loner Gray was. Not by half, more’s the pity.
“Come,” Gray growled again, then repeated the clicking sound. Wolf’s shoulders sagged and he heaved a deep, hard done by sigh. Finally, he turned and plowed through the water toward Gray. Lumbering up onto the beach, he dropped to his belly and grinned, tongue lolling.
The mermaid was not calmed. “What is wrong with you?” she shrieked. “That animal is a menace. I’m going to call animal control—”
Embarrassment burned through Gray. Wolf was usually a great dog, but he was a dog. He’d been excited, hadn’t meant any harm. And who did this woman think she was anyway? Cavorting buck naked in the middle of nowhere? She was damn fortunate Wolf was a dog, not a bear or a moose—or the worst kind of animal, some less than scrupulous person.
He turned and strode away.
The woman yelled again. “That’s it? You’re just going to leave, no apology, no . . . nothing?”
He turned back. Damn his leg hurt. That sprint across the loose rocks on the shore had been too much.
She was crouched deeper in the water now, so her lower bits were covered, and her arms were crossed protectively over her chest. But Gray had gotten a good, if unintentional, eyeful when she’d been fending off Wolf. The image of her small firm breasts was seared in his mind. He shifted uncomfortably.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re doing or why you’re naked in my lake, but this is private property.”
“What?” She sounded genuinely shocked. Stricken even. But then something in her face tightened. “Are you calling me naked? That’s impossible. The salesperson promised this bathing suit did not make me look nude!”
Gray floundered for something to say. She was acting like he’d called her fat or something . . . Ah, the joke made itself clear—but how to respond did not. What kind of a whack job joked in a situation like this? He was a total stranger. For all she knew, he might be dangerous.
“No,” he finally managed, like a dullard. “I said this is private land. My private land.”
The woman wrapped her arms around herself even tighter and huddled still lower in the water, her poor excuse for a sense of humor finally failing her. “This isn’t River’s Sigh B & B’s property?”
And now it all made sense. This was one of Jo and Callum’s city slickers. Gray sighed heavily and met the woman’s eyes—just her eyes. “Nope. Mine. And I don’t like company, mermaid or not.”
For a second something almost like a sincere smile flashed across her face. “I’m not actually a mermaid, or not a full blood one anyway.”
Gray nodded solemnly, but felt . . . what? Amused? How long had it been since he’d felt that? Maybe even longer than since the last time he’d seen someone else in less than their skivvies. “Jo and Callum’s acres do edge this lake, but on the other side. You went too far.”
She bit her lip and looked like she wished she could disappear.
“What are you doing anyway?” He waved his hand in her general direction. “If you were out and wanted an impromptu dip, couldn’t you have, uh, left your underthings on?”
Underthings? Okay, he didn’t mind being a hermit, but he didn’t want to sound like some bushed weirdo either. He suspected it was too late.
Her teeth sunk even further into her bottom lip, and her eyes—bright cornflower blue, striking against her nearly black hair, though he hated that he noticed—sparkled like she was near tears. Gray felt bad. Sure, she’d surprised him, but it wasn’t like she was committing a crime. Still, he didn’t offer any reassurances. He didn’t want to say anything that might be construed as him not minding that she was there. Because he did mind. Very much.
He turned away one last time and clicked to Wolf, who stood promptly, but threw a mournful glance over his shoulder toward the naked woman he wouldn’t get to play with.
“I feel your grief, buddy,” Gray whispered, shocking himself with the small joke and even grinning a little. The tiny moment of silliness withered instantly, however. He didn’t let himself entertain stupid fantasies—and thankfully they didn’t pop into his head often. Which was for the best. He lived with enough chronic pain as it was.
He strode off without a backward glance, hoping like hell he wouldn’t run into the skinny dipper when he was teaching self-defense lessons to the old musician Jo had begged a favor for.
The novel I was delighted to have included is ONE TO KEEP, a River’s Sigh B & B holiday novella. Want to know a little about the story? Well, how can I resist? 🙂 🙂
It’s been two years since Sophie was dumped at the altar, and she’s scarred, but wiser. She has a career she loves, good friends, and a caring family. It should be more than enough, and she wants to vanquish the part of her that still craves something more.
This year, unable to bear one more “festive” get together where everyone gives her sad eyes and asks how she’s doing, she heads to River’s Sigh B & B, a picturesque spot she discovered online. It will be a New Year’s celebration for one, a place to unwind and kick off her new resolution: to embrace single life as a permanent choice.
Jesse Ales has found the perfect way to avoid the world this holiday season. He’ll be the caretaker at River’s Sigh B & B and enjoy a break from well-meaning friends who think he should be over his ex-wife. The whole place will be deserted, except for some eccentric old woman holidaying alone in the wilderness. Even after making her breakfast every day, he’ll have plenty of time to plan his new life: committed bachelorhood.
When chance throws Sophie and Jesse together in a pub, a night of alcohol, food, and laughter-infused lunacy almost leads to a one-night stand. They’re both shaken, but doubly resolved to remain single.
And then they meet again at River’s Sigh and realize they’re about to spend a week alone together—twenty miles from their nearest neighbor. They’ll each have to face their worst fears: their own unacknowledged yearnings for a love that lasts.
Can love tempt them to commitment a second time around?
And the countdown continues! Just 5 more sleeps ’til SPOONS, River’s Sigh B & B, Book 3 hits digital shelves everywhere (paper books to follow soon after). To celebrate and introduce you to Cade and Noelle a bit ahead of time, please enjoy chapters one and two!
SPOONS by Ev Bishop
~ Chapter 1 ~
Noelle’s girdle chewed at the flesh under her ribcage and the chub at the top of her thighs. And speaking of thighs, an itchy friction rash was forming. How on earth could her legs chafe when she wasn’t even walking? Good times. Sweat trickled under the unintentional cleavage bursting forth from the cotton V-neck she’d thought would travel well—thought wrong. Over the barren miles of highway, it became a stretched out, shapeless mess, like the rest of her come to think of it.
Eva and Emily, thank God, had finally stopped their incessant bickering and the manic buzz of some cartoon was the only sound blaring from the middle seat in the minivan. Normally she, and they, insisted they sit on separate bench seats, but the van was packed so full this trip, they had to share. The horror, the outrage!
When she was a kid, she and Melissa—Oh, God, sometimes the small, silly memories hurt the most, like her heart was being peeled—and their two brothers had traveled smashed into a big station wagon, sweaty legs sticking to the vinyl seats, miscellaneous elbows jabbing tender bits, not a gaming device or portable DVD player in sight. And yes, she used to walk to school up hill both ways, too. Her inner attempt at humor didn’t make her smile.
Noelle remembered those cramped road trips as happy times—or she did now, by comparison. Full of takeout chicken, raucous sing-alongs, and the glory of arriving at their destination, welcomed by their cousins and grandparents like they were long-lost, beloved relations, instead of people who lived just hours away and visited every holiday and random weekends too. So the beloved bit was true then, wasn’t it?
The white noise of the tires and the hazy blur of passing scenery didn’t have its usual soporific effect. Everything about this trip was the opposite of her family’s holidays those long years past. It was just her, the girls, and Cade. Except when punctuated by fighting—the kids’ or her and Cade’s—it was quiet. Dull, if she was generous. Joyless, if she was blunt.
And this second leg of their twenty-hour drive wouldn’t end with family fun to look forward to. Family would be there, yes, but at best, Cade and his parents and brothers tolerated each other. At worst, well . . . they were strangers, weren’t they? Cade had left after the last big blow out and said he was never going back. So why were they going to Greenridge? She’d asked, of course, but he’d just shrugged and muttered that a thirty-fifth wedding anniversary was nothing to sneeze at.
Noelle wasn’t so sure. Once she would’ve wholeheartedly agreed, but now she didn’t know if thirty-five years of marriage should be honored if it was the loveless, soulless union her in-laws were mired in.
She sighed heavily. Man, it was hot. So hot. They should’ve stayed one more night at the hotel and got the air conditioning fixed. She glanced at Cade. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and his well-muscled arms were taut. He always reminded her of a Viking or something, bear-like in size, with tawny hair, skin that turned honey brown with even the slightest sun, and glacier blue eyes. She hated that after all they’d been through, she still thought he was the most attractive man she’d ever met. Did he even look at her anymore? Did he see her at all?
She sighed again, but Cade didn’t so much as blink to register she’d made a sound. Nothing new there, either. When had he stopped asking if she was okay? Ah, well, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she was beating down any doors to find out what latest thing was stressing him out. And in some ways she didn’t blame him for kyboshing the extra hotel night to fix the air conditioning. It wasn’t the expense, not at all. Of all the marital stresses they could lay claim to, money issues weren’t one of them. It was sharing confined space that was tough. The hotel only had one room left, and even though they’d slept in separate beds, Emily tucked in with her, Eva on the couch, the room was awkwardly intimate.
She shoved the last thought away and wondered, not for the first time, if their financial ease wasn’t almost a curse itself. She had appreciated and fueled Cade’s determination to get ahead, but what if that hadn’t been their primary focus? Scraping by financially took a toll on a relationship, yes, but maybe the reverse was true, too. Maybe too much affluence had its own price. Maybe if they hadn’t been so focused on money and accumulating things, they would’ve risen to the challenge of being each others’ source of pleasure, comfort, entertainment, etc. and avoided this complete disconnect. No, she was just making excuses. For them both. As usual.
She fidgeted. Cade still ignored her, his eyes intent on the road. How was it, she wondered, with him always focused on where they were going, that they’d gotten so far off track?
She turned her head, willing away tears. Trees, trees, and more trees whipped past. How was she going to make it through the next month? And why did Cade insist on them staying for so long? If his reasoning behind the trip was unsatisfactory, his explanation for the trip’s duration was bizarre—especially timing wise. Who announces a big family vacation right after his wife asks for a separation?
“I just don’t get it,” she’d said for the umpteenth time before they left. “Pretending for a moment I understand your burning desire to have your first visit home in years coincide with some big dramatic anniversary shindig, why on earth does it have to be for so long? It’s way too much, and the kids will miss the first weeks of school.”
His response had been weary and resigned, like he considered talking to her some almost-too-heavy cross to bear. “I just want one more vacation with the girls while they’re young. Is that so much to ask? I want them to visit their grandparents, to get to know them a bit, before everything changes.”
Noelle’s eyelids were heavy and she was finally, mercifully, about to nod off when a bouncing motion in the backseat jolted her back to consciousness.
Emily was twisting in her seatbelt, peering at something out the window, and vibrating with excitement in that way only small children can, going from dead asleep to high alert in a heartbeat. “That was the sign. That was the sign!”
Her high-pitched glee sent a fire bolt of pain into Noelle’s brain.
“We’re almost there, Mom. Right, Dad?” Emily yelled at top volume.
“Inside voice, please,” Noelle said, about to add that yes, it was exciting, but Cade interrupted.
“She’s just happy. She’s not hollering to bug you.”
“Yeah, Mom. I’m just happy,” Emily parroted, and Noelle wanted to leap out of the vehicle. Cade was still talking to the girls.
“Just wait ‘til you see this place, guys. You’ll love it.” Cade’s voice couldn’t have been warmer—and it hammered yet another nail into the coffin of their marriage. Noelle knew it made her a fundamentally bad person, or at least the kind of person she didn’t want to be, but she was jealous of her daughters. No matter how things deteriorated between her and Cade or how distant he was from her, he was always there for his kids with every fiber of his being. It was one of his good qualities too, of course, but sometime in the past year or two she’d been left out and hadn’t been able to get back into the circle.
She wouldn’t change his love and support for the girls one iota—that wasn’t really necessary to say, was it? She hoped it wasn’t. Maybe it was something she needed to repeat like a mantra. You do not begrudge your children their father’s love. You do not begrudge your children . . . and she didn’t. She really didn’t. But she also didn’t like how he so easily and so consistently undercut her authority. Sometimes they’d even look at him after she’d issued a direction, as if to confirm that yes, they had to listen to her. And all too often he did what he’d just done now: joke it away or dismiss it, like he was somehow defending them from her when whatever she was asking for was perfectly reasonable.
If you’d told her in their early years together that one day she’d curse—or envy, at least—the very thing she loved most about him, she would’ve called you an idiot or worse.
She struggled upright, grabbed a container of citrus-scented wet wipes from the floor, and waved them over the backseat.
“Wake your sister,” she said as Emily took the wipes. “And clean your face and hands and straighten your hair. We don’t want Nan and Pops to think we’re a bunch of ragamuffins.”
Was it her imagination or did Cade grip the steering wheel even tighter? What did he want from her? She was so sick and tired of always having to guess what was crawling through his head.
In the backseat, Eva scrubbed her eyes blurrily.
“Don’t!” she shrieked as Emily jabbed her in the ribs.
“Mom told me to wake you up.”
“I’m already awake, stupid.”
“Don’t call me stupid. You’re stupid.”
And with that oh-so-witty comeback, the fight was on. Doing her best to tune out the rising volume of sisterly love—they were completely impervious to her pleas for them to knock it off—Noelle flipped the van’s sun visor down and surveyed the damage in its small mirror. She attempted to smooth her heavy auburn hair and to blot away the feverish heat in her cheeks.
The girls’ bickering increased. Great, just great. Even if, by some miracle, the family didn’t think they rolled in looking like a complete mess, it would be harder to hide they were a grouchy, broken disaster.
Why did the best things in life always turn out to be fiction? True love. Happily ever after. Teleportation machines. What Noelle wouldn’t give for a Beam me up, Scottie moment. What.
~ Chapter 2 ~
The oval sign loomed huge and unavoidable to their right. “You won’t be able to miss it,” his younger brother Callum had promised and as usual he was right, Cade thought gloomily. Still, the sign was attractive. To him anyway. He wondered if it was Noelle’s taste at all and a familiar leaden weight pushed in on him, making it hard to breath. But how long had it been since he’d had any clue what his wife wanted, what she liked, what would make her happy? Years maybe. Shouldn’t he be used to it by now?
As he turned into the long driveway, he slowed the minivan and studied the sign more closely. It was made from carved cedar and featured two mountains topped with glinting tin that looked like snow-topped peaks. A yellow sun rose up behind them. Block letters announced River’s Sigh B & B along the bottom. Somehow the effect was both artsy and businesslike. Cade wondered if his mother was behind its creation.
He shot a glance at the girls in the rearview mirror. They were squabbling as usual, but had listened to their mom and straightened their clothing. Eva was pulling her ebony curls—hair that always reminded him of his brother Callum’s—into a ponytail. Emily was scrubbing at the orange Slurpee stain that ringed her mouth. When had Noelle gotten so concerned about appearances anyway? He missed the woman who used to decorate with wooden plaques that said things like, “If you’ve come to see me, welcome. If you’ve come to see my house, make an appointment!” and who let the kids dress themselves no matter how outlandishly they did it. But she was gone because of him, so what could he really say?
He knew he overcompensated with the kids, was too soft which forced Noelle to be too hard. She was always the bad cop. He wasn’t even a cop. But after the battlefield that was his childhood with his dad, all he wanted was to keep the peace. He didn’t share every negative thought he had. He didn’t get enmeshed in long, pointless conversations about their problems. But instead of harmony in their home, it seemed to create the opposite.
And now they were on “holidays” with her suggestion that they separate, made just days earlier, burning a hole in his gut. She’d called it a “trial,” but he knew full well, even if she hadn’t voiced it out loud, what she really wanted was a divorce. She was just biding her time. He wanted to punch a hole in a fucking wall thinking about it—but, of course, he didn’t. He wasn’t like his dad. Not in all ways, at least. He could control himself. And he would. Why couldn’t Noelle see that? He was always working so hard to keep things together. Always.
“Wow,” Noelle said suddenly. “It really is gorgeous here, isn’t it?” The awe in her voice was cute and made her sound, for the briefest second, like the woman who used to love him.
The whole van went silent, as they each took in the ancient forest surrounding them. Massive cedars reached for the sky, some of them so big that Cade didn’t think the four of them, holding hands, could make a loop around their trunks. Other assorted conifers also crowded in, and random names came back to him. Hemlock. Spruce. Jack Pine. Fir. He was shocked by the variety of needle shapes, colors, and textures. How had he forgotten what a forest looked like? He’d grown up in Greenridge, for crying out loud. A leafy plant with jewel red berries drew his eye to the forest floor and its velvet carpet of gleaming moss.
Cade wasn’t an outdoors guy, not really—he spent his time obsessing about room dimensions and floor space—but he found himself wanting to get out of the van and rub some of the bark or touch the moss. He didn’t though. Instead he sped up. And then they were there, pulling up in front of a cedar shake home with a huge porch and old-fashioned multi-paned windows.
“Oh, look at the door!” Emily squealed. “I love it!”
Eva agreed with her sister for once, and they chattered on, pointing out log cabins visible here and there through the trees. Cade studied the bright blue door and wondered at it. Why paint it such a glaring, impractical shade? A neutral color would be better, less out there, more appealing to the masses—and Callum was running a business, after all. Maybe it was a gender thing. Maybe the color was the mysterious new wife’s idea—this Jo woman his old man couldn’t stand. Probably.
The door opened and Callum strode out, one hand raised in greeting, the other linked with the hand of a short woman with wild curls and a welcoming smile.
Cade almost restarted the van and threw it into reverse. This wasn’t the place for them. It was too cutesy. Too overtly cozy and cheerful. It would only highlight everything he and Noelle no longer had, everything they weren’t. It wouldn’t help her see they’d once had something good, something they should try to salvage.
It was too late though. Eva had pushed the release button on the side door, and she and Emily were piling out.
What had he done?
He patted his chest pocket and felt the reassuring outline of the letter folded there. At least he had a back up plan if this one failed, right?
Noelle climbed out of the van just as slowly as he did. Her forehead creased and her wide brown eyes narrowed. The weight on his chest increased. A huge desire to be anywhere but here might be the only thing he and his wife had in common anymore.
Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks! How can summer almost be done? *Wails!* Ah, well . . . at least the sun has returned. I will just have to do my very best to suck as much fun and delight out of every warm day we have left. (The sacrifice, the sacrifice, heh, heh! :D) *Rushes off to pack for the lake*–and on that note, if you’re looking for a reading treat for the beach blanket, campsite, cozy corner of your yard or lamp-lit recliner on the couch, consider HOOKED. It’s getting great reviews (for which I’m incredibly grateful) and is a perfect end of summer read.
Here are the first two chapters. I hope you get Hooked. 😉
Sam was fresh from the shower, barefoot and dressed only in a robe. She wrapped her arms around herself and turned in a slow circle. Five stars or not, a hotel room was always just a hotel room, wasn’t it? It was beautiful with its teak four-poster bed, matching highboy and desk, and snow-white linens, but generic nonetheless.
She settled into the leather wingback chair, the room’s best feature in her opinion, and put her feet up. A niggle of surprise tickled her as she uncapped a pen and reached for her spiral bound notebook. Who’d have thought? Samantha Kendall using a diary. But she couldn’t help it. The movement of her hand across page, the scent of the paper, the process of filling the sheet with the mess in her head—slowly at first, then so fast her hand cramped—soothed her and helped her see more clearly than she had in a long time. Her life, once so beautiful and busy, felt empty. Come to think of it maybe that was the appeal of the journaling. She filled something. Created a tangible mark that she was here. That she lived.
The coffee pot on the desk across the room sighed and sputtered.
“Ah, my faithful friend,” she whispered, then got up, doctored herself a mug of the dark espresso blend, and settled down again.
She sipped her hot drink and drummed her fingers on her notebook. What to say, what to say?
She paused, drank more coffee, and ran her fingers through her damp hair. Finally she began to write.
Sheesh, three pages minimum is going to take hours today.
But it didn’t. By the time she had two cups of caffeine in her, she’d churned out her minimum, plus another three pages—yet she wasn’t calmed. She was edgier than ever. She scanned the last page, bit her lip and barely resisted the urge to tear the sheets loose and throw them away.
There’s nothing I hate more than my sister being right about anything, but I have to hand it to Jo. She is right about this, and the pros and cons I wrote yesterday confirm it.
I always figured Aisha would reenter my life at some point, if only, like seems to be the case, for medical information and “closure.” (How I hate that damn word!) I just thought I’d be at a spot in time, personally and professionally, that I could be proud of—or at least not a bloody embarrassment. But at the same time, I guess it’s not about me, is it? (Ha ha, quick, someone tell Jo I actually said that!) I would’ve done anything to have someone to talk to, when I was stuck in the same boat Aisha’s in, so how can I refuse her request to meet?
My two biggest fears: that she’ll ask about the asshole who fathered her. (What can I say about him that won’t just be a huge ugly shadow over her?), or that she’ll hate me—which is pretty hilarious because I definitely don’t want her in my life permanently.
That was the line that stopped her. She shook her head, crossed the last line out, drew an arrow, and scribbled furiously.
That she’ll hate me, which I’ll totally understand, or worse, want something I don’t have to give her. All of my love for her went out the door with her the day I gave her a chance for a better life. (Not that it seems to have panned out—but don’t even get me started!) And what if she does want a relationship? I have no frigging clue what I’ll do.
Samantha closed the book, and stashed it in her suitcase.
She paid special attention to her outfit and did her makeup and hair just so, but it wasn’t until she sprayed a light mist of perfume in front of her and walked through it that she admitted she’d made up her mind.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. She’d return to Greenridge. She’d see if she could be of any help to Aisha and answer any awkward questions her biological daughter had.
And then, so long as Jo and Callum were willing to let her monopolize one of their B & B cabins—and why wouldn’t they? Her cash was as good as anyone’s—she’d spend some concentrated time figuring out what exactly she wanted next and why her life, which she’d always enjoyed, wasn’t enough for her these days.
She cocked her head, smiled at her reflection in the mirror, and nodded approval at both the image she projected and her new thoughts. She was an excellent planner and there was no reason she couldn’t get herself back on track. And once she had a new direction, she’d leave Greenridge in the dust and never return. The place was a black hole. In lieu of a welcome sign at the beginning of town, there should be a plaque that read, “Abandon all hopes of having a life, ye who enter here.”
And if Jo wanted to visit now and again? Well, she’d have to sojourn out of her hobbit village and head for the city. Sam was done with the ghost town of bad memories. She was sick of the family-focused “great place to raise kids” motto that everyone in town seemed to spout. Not everyone had kids or even wanted them. And she was beyond weary of how the place reminded her that except for her one solitary sibling, Jo, she had no family. Everyone was dead. There’d be no TV movie worthy reunion or redemption scene. Greenridge was like one big beer commercial for all the things she didn’t have. And didn’t want, she reminded herself.
~ Chapter 2 ~
Charles tripped over the stuffed-to-bursting rucksack he’d stowed by his office door and stared at the ringing phone like it might bite. The call display showed T.C.O. Literary Management all too clearly, and unfortunately his agent Theresa, the “T” in T.C.O., knew he was home. After all, he’d just sent an e-mail seconds ago admitting it. He sighed heavily and picked up.
“Theresa, hi. Good to hear from you.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, and get real. You knew that e-mail wasn’t going to fly.”
“And no buts.” Her voice softened. “I feel for you. You know I do. And I’m on your side even if it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s time, Charlie. Past time. And if you can’t see that, maybe it’s time to rethink your career.”
Charles sank into his office chair and rolled back and forth across the room. He didn’t want to “rethink” his work. He loved what he did, what he wrote. Or he used to. And anyway, it wasn’t like he hadn’t considered doing something else. Just absolutely nothing came to him that didn’t sink him even more deeply into the mire of apathy and disillusionment he seemed unable to pull himself from. And now, with Aisha living only God knew where and insisting she was staying there to have her baby, he didn’t even have the occasional bright spot of her presence.
“You’ve used up all your reserve books, even your earliest ones that were previously unpublished for pretty good reasons. It’s just a good thing some readers don’t care what you write as long as the story says Jax Bailey on the cover.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Oh, you know what I mean. Don’t get pissy. I love your books. You’ve earned reader loyalty, but even diehard fans are starting to grumble on the Interwebs. You can only play the dead wife card for so long before people start to think you need to get over it.”
Charles managed to not throw the phone across the room, but only just.
Theresa seemed to sense she’d crossed a line. “Sorry, that was crass. Obviously, healing isn’t an easy one, two, three process. I know you’re doing the best you can, just barely hanging on, and I know it will take time—but I’d hate to see you lose everything you worked so hard to build.”
Too late. Everything he’d worked for died when Maureen did. Still, Theresa wasn’t the enemy and she was on his side. He knew this. He also knew he’d probably exhausted every possible extension. He made a decent living, and Maureen’s life insurance had paid off the mortgage and left a little besides, but not enough to see him through life—and definitely not enough to provide ongoing stability to Aisha and her little one, should she decide to keep it. And he was a young(ish) man still. Forty-four was nowhere near the time to retire even if it felt closer to eighty these days.
“They need a new book, or, and it’s pretty nice of them, almost human in fact, they’ll forgive the contract without penalty, but if you ever want to write for them again, it’ll be like starting new.”
Perish the thought—and no, that wasn’t melodrama. “How long?” he asked.
“I got you six months, but that’s it, final offer, last extension.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay?” Even though their connection was a little static-filled, the surprise in Theresa’s voice was loud and clear. “Just like that you say okay?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No, but I still thought you’d be a harder sell.”
They wrapped the conversation up quickly from there, and Charles was careful to sound more positive than he felt. Six months, if he was his old self, was more than enough time to get a solid book to his publisher. But he wasn’t his old self, and didn’t think he ever would be again. Maureen had been gone three years, yet in some ways it was like she’d passed away yesterday, the grief would hit so fresh and raw. In other ways, however, it was like she’d left a lifetime ago, which, hard as it was, was sort of the truth. Neither his nor Aisha’s lives were the same. They had new existences altogether, as if their time on earth had been divided into separate realities: Life with Mo. Life without her.
He stood up, scooted his chair under his desk and turned off his computer, then grabbed his laptop. He was sick of himself and the endless woe-to-me pool he wallowed in. Even his self-pitying thought about everything he’d worked for dying when Maureen did wasn’t fully honest. Only half of what he worked for and lived for had passed on when she did. He still had their daughter, and who knows, maybe a grandbaby too.
He hit the lights and hefted his bag. Soon, with any luck, he’d be in a better writing space and headspace. For a moment he wondered if he should’ve told Theresa his plan, then shook his head. Where he spent his time wasn’t her business and she’d just worry. Besides, though she’d be skeptical, he could write—or not write—just as easily in the boonies as he could at home.
And if Aisha was intent on setting up a temporary home in Greenridge, wherever that was, with this aunt whoever she was, in the hopes of connecting with her birth mom—who back in the day had seemed level-headed, but now he worried was a callous flake . . . well, he wasn’t going to just abandon her to the wolves and wilds. He’d take up residence in one of the cabins that were “so far beyond cool that he couldn’t possibly imagine how cool they were,” to quote Aisha, and support her in whatever ways he could. She was the only family he had left, and if anything came between them, damaged their relationship, or hurt her, it would be over his dead body.
I’m so excited to report: Bigger Things by Ev Bishop is coming July 2014. And I’m freakishly thrilled to give a sneak preview of the novel’s gorgeous cover, complete with back jacket blurb. Whaddya think?
I’ll post Bigger Thing’s actual release date when I have one. ‘Til then . . . Yay, I’m bouncing off walls! Please feel free to share my news and if you’re so kind as to read my book, I hope you enjoy it and spread a good word. 🙂