Hello and happy March, everybody! I feel like I’m bursting with news this new year (although it makes me laugh that it’s March, yet I’m still in “it’s a new year!” mode). Anyway, without further ado, I’m ecstatic to announce the recent launch of my brand new book:SOMETHING OLD.
If you enjoy emotionally compelling stories about family relationships, women’s friendships, romance for women over forty, and the pets who bring us so much joy (and I know you do!😁 ), you’re going to love Madeline’s story about surviving heartbreak, starting over later in life, and finding home again.
After crushing loss, could you find the strength to start again?
Madeline’s world caves in when her husband, daughter, and sister are ripped away in one fell swoop.
After three years of heartbroken limbo and loneliness, she realizes that to survive, she needs to fight her way back to some kind of life. If not for herself, then to honor her lost loved ones.
She throws her belongings into storage, sells her house, and heads to a new-to-her small town. There she invests every dime she has to open what had been her and her daughter’s shared dream: an upscale second hand, consignment, and upcycling store. It has to work, or else—No. She can’t think about that. It has to work.
The birth of Madeline’s heart-healing Second Chance Shop is not without pain, which she expected. And despite the ticking clock on whether the shop can support her, she is floored to find things she’d lost hope of ever experiencing again: laughter, dear friends—including a fat, slightly cantankerous cat and a distinguished old yellow lab—and surprising moments of joy.
She might even have a second chance for something as old as humanity itself: romantic love.
If she’s brave enough, that is—and if she can let go of talking with her deceased family and fully embrace living.
I’m super excited this week because after a long year of much work, planning, dreaming, and, of course, writing (not to mention editing and editing and proofing and proofing), launch day for CHRISTMAS DREAMS is just one month out! To celebrate the start of the 30 day countdown to its book birthday, I thought I’d share a sneak preview.
I hope you have a great time meeting Stevie and enjoy these first chapters, immensely,
Stevie glared at the most recent text message then jabbed her phone with angry thumbs. She was aware even as she responded that the fury flooding through her was merely a cover for the wave of deep, desperate sadness threatening to drown her. “Are you sure?” she typed.
A response came immediately. Three frowning faces and one word. “Absolutely.”
Then. “I’m sorry.”
Stevie’s stomach churned. Her sister Jo was the most level-headed, loyal, dependable person Stevie had ever known except for their adoptive mom, Maddie. She would never in a million years lie or stretch the truth or tease about something like . . . this. “Have to go,” she finally typed. “Will msg soon.”
No reply, but Stevie hadn’t expected one. She set her phone down on her RV’s little dinette table, and for the first time ever, its vintage laminate surface—cream with gold stars—failed to cheer her.
She pressed her clenched fists into her tightly closed eyes, hard. “Do not cry,” she muttered. “Do. Not.”
She forced some deep breaths—hard work over the choking lump in her throat—then slowly, resolutely got back to her feet.
People always asked what her glitch was. Why she was so jaded. Well, this was why. This was what hoping got you. This was what trusting did.
Jed was supposed to be one of the good guys. He’d gotten past her defenses. Gotten past all their defenses.
She pivoted and took one step to reach the custom-built chest freezer with its lid that did double duty as counter space when she needed to roll out dough. Opening the freezer, which held very little except for one precious thing taking up almost all the room, Stevie’s eyes swam despite her iron resolve.
Looking down, it was like the fondant creation of doves and ribbons mocked her. She lifted the cake out and moved to the RV’s door. It was slightly ajar because she’d been airing the RV after simmering three different sauces all morning. Kicking the door open with one foot, she lifted the cake high above her head, then heaved it forward.
It dropped heavily and smashed open on the frozen snow-packed earth. Destroyed layers of decadent chocolate and soft vanilla cream revealed a sweet, delicate fruit and custard center. A murder of crows—what an appropriate name, Stevie thought, darkly amused—scattered in shock from their perch in the barren arms of a nearby tree, then settled on the ground close by and hopped over to feast.
Nowhere near finished, Stevie went back to her tiny design marvel of a kitchen and opened a cupboard to pull out the “surprise.” Easing the box top off, she stared down at Jed and, more importantly, Alissa—in perfect miniature detail. Taking in her little sister’s beaming heart-shaped face, with her wide brown eyes and pretty bobbed hair—so open, so trusting, so deserving of so much better than . . . Jed, Stevie’s breathing was once more threatened by burning outrage and tears she wouldn’t let escape.
A tiny bride and groom smiled up, hands clasped, and arms lifted in joy and victory. They were an exact replica of Alissa and Jed, created by a genius cake topper designer from photos Stevie had taken when they’d announced their engagement.
Stevie reached forward, about to grab Jed by the neck—but suddenly couldn’t follow through. What if she accidentally damaged mini Alissa somehow? Even if Alissa didn’t know this item existed, Stevie couldn’t bear hurting her even by accident, effigy or not. She resealed the box, slid it back into the cupboard, then did the next best thing.
She rummaged for the generic cake topper—Plan B, purchased in case the special order didn’t turn out or arrive in time. Grabbing her sharpest paring knife and a cutting board, she plunged the blade through Jed’s plastic core. How apt. He’d fooled everyone into thinking his heart—and affections—were real.
She snapped pictures of the impaled groom, withdrew her knife, and strode to the doorway. Throwing Jed onto the wrecked cake, she took a few more photos. The majority of the crows flapped off in a tizzy of black wings, cawing and shrieking in annoyance. Two crows weren’t scared off by the falling groom, however, and continued to greedily devour the cake around him. They were a particularly good, if macabre, addition to the photos.
She would never show these pics to poor Alissa, of course. But Jed? She’d send them to him, all right—with the wish she could land a hard punch to somewhere tender at the same time.
“How could you?” she typed. “Alissa is worth a billion of you. You . . .” Stevie had no more words, but that didn’t matter. Actions spoke more honestly and clearly than any of the most eloquent speeches. Jed would get her point. She hit send. Then went to each picture and hit send and send again.
Finally, still buzzing with stress, she replied to Jo again, as promised. First, with the pictures.
To which she received a flurry of texts, including one that said, “Do not, under any circumstances, send those to Alissa, or Hailey, or Mom.”
“Of course not. Unlike Jed, I’m not a callous idiot or worse.”
Before Jo could agree or disagree with that statement, Stevie got to the real guts of the matter. “What are we going to do? What does Alissa need?”
Waiting for Jo to reply with a concrete plan, Stevie spent some time beating herself up and second-guessing her recent choices. If only she was parked and living in their hometown Granite Ridge right now, the way she so often was. Instead, she was just returning from an extended season cooking at a fishing lodge in British Columbia. When the wedding was on, meeting up with everyone at the venue instead of going to Granite Ridge first made sense and saved her some travel hours. Now she wished she’d done everything differently. If she was in town, she would’ve shown up at her mom’s house to help out.
She could, of course, call her mom or Hailey to get instructions about what to do next herself, instead of depending on Jo for guidance, but she didn’t want to distract them from helping Alissa in whatever ways they could.
Pacing her RV’s narrow space, Stevie perused the photos she’d taken of the demolished wedding cake. Her response to the news that Jed had broken up with Alissa and called off their Christmas Eve wedding was justified. Yet reviewing the destruction of that iconic symbol of love and hope for the future didn’t give her any satisfaction. If anything, it made her feel worse. She prayed awful Jed wouldn’t message Alissa about the cake and his murdered mini-him. It would only make kind, tender-hearted Alissa even sadder.
Dang it! Why hadn’t Jo messaged back already? What was keeping her? Not being able to do something, anything, was maddening. Unconsciously, Stevie glanced toward Ed’s bed, which she hadn’t been able to bring herself to part with yet. If he was still around, at least she’d have him to talk to or take for a walk or something to get her mind off . . . everything.
With that thought, the tears Stevie had been fighting since Jo’s first text earlier that afternoon won. She cried silently, her body rigid and still. It was something she’d learned how to do too many years ago to count: let her emotions escape without a telltale sound or movement. No one who happened to walk past her home on wheels and glance in the window would know she was sobbing.
Some of her tears were for herself. She had to be honest and admit that even if it showed what a selfish jerk she was. She couldn’t help it. Alissa and Jed had been a couple who’d given her hope that good guys existed, and love could be real. Proof that no matter how crappy your background was, you could rise above it.
Most of her tears were genuinely for Alissa though, triggered by deep sorrow for what her sister must be feeling, frustration at being powerless to fix anything for her, and worry. Stevie knew Alissa had all the grit she needed and then some to get through this. She just hoped Alissa could see past her pain and know it as well.
It wasn’t fair. Little Alissa had already gone through enough loss for a lifetime. Little Alissa. Stevie almost smiled, seeing the eye roll Alissa would give if she’d heard that thought. But she couldn’t help thinking of her that way. Even though her sister was twenty-five-years-old now and a certified teacher to boot, she was somehow still the innocent, no-idea-how-great-she-was kid Stevie had first met all those years ago, when Alissa was ten and Stevie, thirteen. Just like how Hailey was perpetually eight in Stevie’s mind, and Jo would always be a super cool fifteen to her awkward, lame thirteen. It was weird with siblings how that happened, you all grew up—or mostly did, Stevie thought, making a face at herself. Yet, you all stayed kids around each other too in that way siblings do, for better or worse.
Alissa struggled with abandonment and self-worth issues like they all did in various ways. No matter how much you grow as a person or strive to work through them, some things are so deeply formative that even when you no longer let them define you, they’re forever a shadow side of you, shaping your view of the world and your place in it. With her deep fear of loss, letting herself love Jed had been a big deal. That he knew Alissa lost her parents and bounced around from home to home before she arrived at Maddie’s, yet still took all her trust and selfless, generous care, and promised her forever, only to reject her and throw it back in Alissa’s face? Well, as the cake and plastic groom incident might’ve hinted, it made Stevie want to—
Her phone buzzed, and she snatched it up with relief. Too much time in her head was never good. She read Jo’s text and replied. “You got it. I’ll be there.”
Another message popped back almost immediately. “I’m so sad about the change in circumstances surrounding our visit, but at least our whole family’s going to be together again. I can’t wait to see you!”
Stevie didn’t waste time wondering if going up to Cedar Mountain Lodge as originally planned was a good idea or a terrible one. If that’s what Alissa wanted and needed, to make what was supposed to be a celebratory getaway into a journey of mourning and saying goodbye—and hopefully a cathartic, healing time with her sisters—she and the rest of her sisters, her family, would make it so.
She closed her eyes briefly. Even though this Christmas marked the fifteenth anniversary of Maddie bringing them together, the miracle of it never lost its shine. No matter what else happened in her life, no matter how she’d probably never scrounge up the courage to take a romantic risk herself—regardless of how she sometimes dreamed of a husband and children to love and take care of—she had this. Had them: Jo, Hailey, Alissa, Maddie, and Maddie’s mom, Nan Claire. It was the kind of thing Stevie always imagined as a lonely kid, nose constantly in a library book, waiting on her mom who so seldom—then never—came home. Imagined, but never dreamed actually possible. She was blessed in so many ways, and she knew all too well that the nuclear family she sometimes fantasized about and yearned for was often just that: a fantasy. That the reality of family was, if you could forgive the pun, all too often nuclear. What you loved could blow up and be lost forever, damaging you irreparably. It was exactly why she didn’t want to take chances or rock the boat she’d found herself in.
She shook her arms, then stretched, eyes wide open again. All this lollygagging wouldn’t do. There was a plan now! She had to get her butt in gear. Lists of all that needed to be done before she hit the road in the morning filled her head, but most importantly—
“Exactly how I feel, Jo!” she typed and sent.
Then, wracking her brain for something, anything, she could say to Alissa that might be of comfort or cheer—and feeling extra terrible when she came up empty because Alissa, like Hailey, was a words girl—she settled with sending a string of heart emoticons, the promise she’d see her the next day as originally scheduled, and the suggestion, “We can spend the week planning his slow and painful death.” She nodded with satisfaction once the last bit was sent. Maddie would be level-headed and eternally supportive. Jo would be logical and comforting. Alissa would be all heart. Stevie would rein in her rage the best she could, but someone, she thought, should let Alissa know revenge was an option. She was only half-joking.
But now, Stevie had food to make. She’d lived through puberty, first crushes, date disasters, and tons of other silly, serious, and sublime moments with Alissa. “Crazy comforting cheesy mac”—so named by Alissa when she was sixteen or so and doing remedial work one summer so she wouldn’t be held back in school—was definitely on the menu.
# # #
The mountains and trees hugging the highway were blanketed in white, and while the roads were in decent shape, fresh snow was falling. Stevie hoped it would let up before Maddie and Nan started their drive up.
Turning into Cedar Mountain Lodge’s huge parking area and following the signs toward a designated area for overnight parking, Stevie couldn’t help gawking. Even though the next weeks would no doubt be excruciating in a lot of ways, the surrounding scenery was magical. So pretty it almost hurt. Towering cedars draped in white robes stretched into a gorgeous purple-blue sky. The ancient mountain ranges formed a protective bowl around the magnificent lodge and surrounding ski village, which were lit up with a dazzling array of Christmas lights and twinkled like Santa’s workshop. And the snow! The snow! It sparkled in the bright winter sun like a blanket of diamonds as far as the eye could see, a white so clean and pristine it was almost startling.
Stevie pulled to a stop at a gate and lowered her window to show the attendant her ID and the reservation number on her phone.
The guy, big and bearded, looked about her age and had a friendly smile. “I haven’t seen your rig before. Work or play?”
Stevie grinned. She’d expected some variation of a similar question. No doubt, many of the folks camped up here were seasonal workers who moved around the country, working at this lodge or another, as she often did.
“No, it’s my little sister’s wedding—” The words died on her tongue. What an idiot she was! What if she made an insensitive slip like that in front of Alissa? “I’m here to, I mean as, a guest,” she finished haltingly after an awkward beat.
The man looked curious at her weird delivery but shrugged. “Well . . . enjoy yourself, all right?”
Stevie nodded, then eased toward the spot where she’d been directed. The sites had full service. Bonus. Her vintage motorhome—1986 Toyota Sunraders for the win, baby!—was set up for off-grid living and had a generator. Considering the nightmare the next twelve days were likely to be, it was a relief that she could just plug in and be set.
Before she got out of her vehicle, she leaned forward and rested her forehead on the steering wheel. Seeing Alissa heartbroken and not being able to do a darn thing about it was going to do her in. She wasn’t like her sisters. She had none of Jo’s deep, calming competence. None of Alissa’s sweetness or gentle, naturally soothing demeanor. Not a drop of Hailey’s uncanny ability to read people in a glance and know intuitively exactly what they needed.
As always, no matter how she tried to fight it, when thinking about all her inadequacies, especially in light of her talented, brilliant, warm, and sensitive sisters, icy fingers of fear and self-loathing poked tender inner bruises. One day they’d realize that all the strengths they insisted she had were merely projections from their overly kind hearts—qualities they wished for her, not any that she actually possessed. And then they wouldn’t love her anymore. Maddie still would—because she was a softie for a lost cause, obviously.
For a moment, the temptation to restart the motorhome’s engine and retreat the way she’d come almost overpowered her.
The worst part of her desire to bail was that her stupid, lovable sisters would be so understanding if she did. Alissa would muster a smile, despite her grief, and say she totally “got it.” Jo would sigh resignedly—but with sympathy—and say Stevie should do whatever she needed for her own mental health. And it wouldn’t just be passive-aggressive bullshit. She’d actually mean it. Hailey, ever the peacemaker, would nod at whatever Jo and Alissa said, then step up her game and help Alissa in every possible way, always trying to make up for other people’s failings.
Maddie would encourage her to reconsider—but would ultimately affirm Stevie’s choice and tell her she’d love and support her no matter what.
Stevie banged her forehead lightly against the steering wheel. Running the minute something was hard—or heck, just not fun—was something her mother would do. She was not her mother’s daughter! Or she was, but she was also Maddie’s. She was Maddie’s daughter too. She was.
And if Maddie had taught Stevie anything, it was that the only real way forward in hard times was to help others and focus on trying to be the good in the world. It was hard to imagine someone as inconsequential as herself having any real power, but still . . . she would persevere, do what she could, and hope it was enough.
Not necessarily feeling better, but definitely feeling resolved again, Stevie climbed out of her home, plugged it in, and turned the stove, heater, and pump on inside. Then filling a bag to bursting with goodies for Alissa—but keeping the Christmas presents she had for everyone else stashed where they were, so they’d be secrets until the big day, or quiet day, maybe—she set off to find her sisters. They should all be there by now.
Even though it was a relief for Stevie to be with her sisters again, to see that they were fine and that no one had disappeared or become unalterably changed in her absence, dinner was a sad affair. So sad, in fact, that she felt bad for the wait staff.
The handsome guy serving them had, understandably, thought four young women dining at a place like Cedar Mountain Lodge would mean a festive mood, friendly flirting, quite-possibly tipsy laughter from their end. He realized his mistake with shame-faced speed and quickly matched their somber tone. While his service remained impeccable, he assumed an almost embarrassed air around them.
If only Maddie was there. Her soothing presence would’ve made things much better straightaway. As it was, the way everyone picked at their meals, herself being the only exception—she practically inhaled the seafood pie she’d ordered—they probably should’ve stayed in Alissa’s suite and just shared the cheesy mac Stevie had brought for her. However, none of them had wanted to gobble up Alissa’s “treat.” Although Alissa had been her gracious self when she accepted the abundance of comfort food Stevie had made for her (the pasta being only the start) and put it into her room’s mini-fridge, Stevie was kicking herself. She’d brought a ton of food. Food! Yes, it was a great solace in hard times and maybe the best way of bringing people together in good times . . . but in light of what Alissa was suffering, it was meaningless. She wished she could do . . . more. Just always. More.
It was still early when they finished eating, and Hailey asked if anyone was interested in going for drinks at Granite Bar. Jo and Alissa begged off, but Stevie, who would’ve been happiest if they all gathered in her RV or in someone’s room to chat into the wee hours, quickly agreed. She’d take sister time, whatever it looked like.
As she and Hailey got their coats on, Jo apologized one more time for being too tired to visit longer. Stevie just laughed. “We’re getting old, hey?”
“Oh, yeah, ancient.”
“Wait, one more thing,” Stevie said before Jo made her getaway.
Jo smiled and raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”
“Still work for me to use your bathroom every so often?” Stevie had asked to take advantage of Jo’s full-size shower and tub at the lodge before—but prior to the whole Jed dumping Alissa debacle. It would be totally understandable if it was the last thing on Jo’s mind, but Stevie hoped it would still be a go. It was the only part of RV living that occasionally got old. Her shower “stall” was incredibly narrow even for a dwarf like her, and the “tub” it sprayed into was really a small basin, only suitable for standing in.
“Absolutely. Any time.”
Stevie watched her stylish older sister depart, looking every inch the sophisticated lawyer she was, even in her casual outfit of well-cut jeans, a fitted sweater, and gorgeous boots. She glanced down at her own “signature” winter outfit—a gray hoodie and yoga pants. The only way it varied from her spring, summer, and fall look is that she sometimes sported a long-sleeve T-shirt instead of a tank top or wore jeans if she was feeling really dressy. What could she say? She liked to be comfortable and favored clothes you could work in for hours. Plus, there was the added bonus that clothes like this made you virtually invisible. With her hair scraped back in a messy topknot or tight ponytail and in her always clean but nondescript garb, no one gave her a second glance. Precisely what she preferred.
Granite Bar was crowded and loud, with a great band and delicious scents wafting from the kitchen. She was tempted to check out their menu, despite having just eaten. It was the kind of place Stevie would’ve usually enjoyed to the hilt. Now, however, though she’d been ecstatic that Hailey wanted to hang out, she realized she wasn’t in the mood for a party atmosphere. They chatted over a drink and caught up, both more than a little blue about Alissa’s situation.
A guy from the band named Nick, who Stevie knew from high school, wandered over to say hi. He expressed obvious interest in Hailey, who equally obviously returned it. Stevie had to smile at Hailey’s slightly starstruck expression—even while she felt more than a little shocked. How could Hailey think of romance when how badly relationships always went was so crystal clear at the moment?
Increasingly twitchy and desperately in need of a walk to burn off energy, after Hailey and Nick had danced a few times, Stevie asked if Hailey was ready to head out.
Hailey darted a glance toward Nick, and Stevie caught the look.
Normally, Stevie would never leave one of her sisters alone at a bar. Still, Nick was a known quantity—and a genuinely good guy—so when Hailey insisted Stevie go ahead without her, she did.
The rush of cold air, silence, and bright stars overhead that greeted Stevie as she emerged from the bar were a relief, but she knew without a sprinkle of doubt that sleep was hours and hours away. Usually, that wouldn’t bother her in the slightest, but these days all the solitude she enjoyed wasn’t as satisfying somehow. She shook her head. No doubt, the annoying itch of weird longing for something she couldn’t quite articulate (or didn’t want to, more like it!) was just a side effect of her sadness over losing Ed. Without him to curl up beside and read with, the call of her snug little home on wheels was less appealing than usual. She nodded to herself. Yes, that was it—and that was all it was.
She’d hoped that being clear of the bar’s hyper energy would mellow her out, but nope. She was still antsy and decided that the walk she’d mentioned to Hailey was still on the menu. Definitely. She’d explore the lodge grounds and surrounding ski village and hopefully burn off some of her anxious energy.
As she started out, she was shocked by the temperature difference from when she’d arrived that afternoon and now. The sun hadn’t felt warm, but now that it was dark, it was obvious it had been giving off some heat, after all. She loosened her hair and let it fall around her shoulders to keep the back of her neck warmer. Then she buttoned up the wool pea coat she’d thrown on over her sweatshirt before leaving the RV for dinner. The pretty moss green jacket was too light a weight for this weather—or so she now knew, anyway—but it had been a gift from Maddie. She wanted her family to see her wearing it, so they’d know she appreciated it.
Kitty-corner from the lodge’s main entrance, soft music tinkled from a bar with an old-fashioned sign that announced, “Jackson’s Public House.” Warm yellow light shone onto the snow from its slightly steamy mullioned windows. Drawn by the cozy image, Stevie crossed the street and meandered toward it, sticking to the well-shoveled sidewalk that fronted a little row of specialty shops. Each was closed up and dark inside, but their exteriors were aglow with Christmas bulbs. Her breath formed huge feathery plumes of white in the night air, and—whew, it was brisk.
She decided that despite how pretty the night was, she wouldn’t venture about for much longer—would only go as far as Jackson’s front entrance to see if there was a menu posted by the door. She was curious about whether the quaint looking establishment actually offered good old school pub fare. She’d barely reached the rear corner of the building, however, when a sudden commotion stopped her in her tracks.
A big metal door—invisible until it slammed open and bright white kitchen light spilled across the dark courtyard—crashed against the pub’s brick exterior. A woman blasted out. Throwing off an apron and swearing a blue streak, she stormed past Stevie like she wasn’t even there.
An equally irate man in a black chef’s coat appeared in the doorway. Backlit by the fluorescent light pouring from behind him, his features were invisible in the darkness. He was like a furious shadow as he yelled, “Don’t bother to come back when you’re ‘sorry.’ You’re done!”
He took a few angry strides after the woman as if despite his big words, he already regretted her departure. The woman was long gone, though—and since she hadn’t been wearing a coat, Stevie understood her speed.
The man, evidently as oblivious to Stevie’s presence as the woman had been, raged into the night, “Are you freaking kidding me?”
Stevie smiled to herself. It was hard not to sympathize with a guy who, at the height of anger, used “freaking” as his curse word of choice.
The man locked his hands against the back of his head and stared out into the empty night, his bent elbows like rigid wings on either side of his face. Weirdly, there was something familiar about this position and his body language in general.
After a long minute, he dropped his clenched hands abruptly, and his shoulders sagged. “What am I going to do now?” he muttered.
Come to think about it, even the guy’s voice rang a bell.
“What?” he snapped, turning toward her like she’d said something—which she hadn’t. So maybe he’d seen her all along, had just been too preoccupied to acknowledge her. “Unless you’re trained kitchen help, bugger off.”
Knowing from personal experience that most cooks are at least partially mad, Stevie wasn’t put off by the rudeness. Had she worked with him somewhere before? If yes, it had to have been a good while back.
“That’s exactly what I am, actually.” She stepped out of the shadows and stuck her hand out, about to introduce herself—because, hey, connections in the culinary world were always good—just as he moved back into the full light streaming from the kitchen. And then they both went rigid with surprise.
What the— Now she wanted to be the one who swore! Was this some terrible cosmic joke?
He looked as face-punched as she felt—which made no sense. She, after all, was the injured party all those years ago.
“Stevie . . . Fox?” The voice that had seemed so familiar was now a dry, shocked croak.
She didn’t see how she could believably deny it. “Jackson Basset,” she replied. “What are the chances?”
Want (need?! LOL) to know what happens next? Not long to wait now. Pre-order Christmas Dreams today!
Want to learn more about SOUL SISTERS AT CEDAR MOUNTAIN LODGE, the series Christmas Dreams belongs to? Excellent decision because I think you’ll find it’s like a box of your favorite chocolates. Why enjoy just one when you could devour the whole bunch?? 🙂 Check it out here.
Exciting news alert! After a long year of happy work and much back and forth, I’m ecstatic to announce the launch of a very exciting project I’m honored to be a part of: a 5-author Christmas holiday romance series with Tammy L. Grace, Violet Howe, Judith Keim, and Tess Thompson.
While the stories are complete fiction, the premise that kicks off the series—how four unconnected girls and an amazing woman and her mom find each other and become family—is very near and dear to my heart and to my personal experience.
Let me present to you (with much happy noise and fanfare!), SOUL SISTERS AT CEDAR MOUNTAIN LODGE.
I’m also thrilled to let you know you can read Book 1, Christmas Sisters, FREE. It’s available wherever eBooks are sold. Please spread the word!
Books 2 – 6 will be release a week apart in October, 2020, starting October 1 with Christmas Kisses. If you, like me, are bad at waiting, LOL, you can preorder them all now!
Random circumstances brought them together. Love made them family.
When a terrible accident takes Madeline Kirby’s husband and only child, the school guidance counselor is sure she can’t go on. Left behind with nothing but her work and an empty heart, she vows to survive Christmas by reaching out to comfort someone else who knows similar pain.
Fostering four motherless children for the holidays is supposed to be temporary, but as Maddie tends to defensive Stevie, distrustful Jo, delicate Alissa, and frightened little Hailey, the ache in her own heart slowly becomes bearable. And before the season of giving comes to an end, it becomes clear that life intended for them to find each other.
Enjoy these soul sisters’ first Christmas together in Christmas Sisters, a free prologue novella – then catch up with each of them individually, fifteen years later.
Early reviews for this series are making me happy dance and I do hope you’ll join in on the fun. It’s been a hard and surreal year in a lot of ways, for a lot of people, and a regular theme in readers’ comments is what a welcome respite and much needed happy break these heartwarming stories are—a comment that touches me immensely, no matter how often I hear it.
In other Soul Sisters at Cedar Mountain Lodge related news, I’m thrilled to invite you to Soul Sisters Book Chat, a cozy little spot to meet with kindred spirits and talk *everything books* (my favorite thing, as you all know 😊) and other cheering stuff. If you’re looking for a safe, fun place to relax and decompress (and find new books to read and potential friends), Soul Sisters Book Chat is for you. I hope you’ll join! 💕
Last but not least . . . what would an exciting new series release be without a big party to celebrate?! Join me, Tammy, Violet, Judy and Tess for a fun chat and prizes to kick off Soul Sisters at Cedar Mountain Lodge! The event is an online event in our private Facebook group and will start at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern. Please join the group and then check out the event page.
Like a lot of you, my husband and I are self-isolating these days and feeling pretty housebound. It’s harder on him than on me because he’s more social than I am, plus he’s not a reader. (I know. The HORROR. I feel so badly for him. Not joking!)
I’ve always read a lot (at least two novels a week, usually more), so reading a lot these days is . . . not a change. The consistency of my “schedule” is very comforting, not to mention entertaining, happy sigh giving, educational, etc., etc. etc. I may not be leaving my house much, but I’m traveling all over the place via books and enjoying every type of getaway and fun (or thrilling!) escape you can imagine. 🥰
One thing that is new to me (or that I am new to) is that I decided to try out Kindle Unlimited — as a reader and author.
Amazon is offering great deals on Kindle Unlimited subscriptions right now (1 or 2 months free, depending on your region) and the monthly price is a fantastic deal (just 9.99 a month, or less, depending on where you live). I’m sure I’ll continue to purchase other books because I’m an addict and I want what I want when I want it, LOL — but like I said above, I read voraciously, so I thought it was worth checking out. So far I am wowed by the selection available (especially in the genres I love most: romance, women’s fiction and thrillers).
And then I thought, since I’m enjoying KU so much right now, why not share that book binging joy with my readers—and I arranged to have my whole River’s Sigh & B series put up in Kindle Unlimited. They’ve never been in KU before. April 1st was their exciting debut—no fooling! 😉
If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber (or you decide to sign up to see if you like it), I hope you “book” a getaway to River’s Sigh B & B, “an incredible place where heartbreak can heal and love can blossom,” according to Amazon reader, LCR. (No suitcase packing or crowded airports necessary.)
Wishing you and yours peace of mind and good health. 💕
P.S. I wanted to blog about digging in the dirt and my excitement about this year’s gardening season, but, siiiiiigh, it is still sooo cold here that all I’ve gotten done so far is a whole lot of dreaming. Still hard frost every night. That said . . . at least the snow is mostly gone, LOL. I should be able to plant some early chill-hardy things soon! In the meantime, thank goodness for books, right?! 😃
It’s gorgeous in my little super green niche of the world these days, and I’m busy planting flower boxes, cleaning perennial beds, and getting my garden ready to plant. (The weeding is . . . unending!)
No doubt much-needed rains will come soon (though it’s strange to say “much-needed” living where I live, where normally so much wet stuff falls), and I will post something more thoughtful or newsy then. (For now I just needed something NOT CHRISTMASSY to appear as the top post on my blog, LOL.)
In the mean time, I hope this note finds you well and that you, like me, are enjoying maximum outdoor time.
And, of course, if you fancy a little break or crave some R & R, I’d be honoured if you escape into a River’s Sigh B & B novel.
In case you missed my last happy blurt, I want to blurt again! I have super fun news. My new Christmas novella, A SHARLA BROWN CHRISTMAS, is debuting in Love, Christmas 2along with 26 other brand-new holiday romances!
It’s up for pre-order now for just .99 cents. Talk about crazily merry, hey?! 😍 😍 The contributing authors and I are celebrating our festive set in a variety of ways and hope you’ll get in on the fun. Festivity 1: A super fun (and easy) Rafflecopter contest with tons of prizes, including a $50.00 Amazon gift card. Play today!
A bit about the set . . . Each title is exclusive to this set and was inspired by a favorite holiday movie, then spun into a fantastic love story by award-winning bestselling authors. The result? A must-have romance collection full of good cheer for the upcoming holiday season.
Here’s the tiniest peek into what each story you’re going to devour is about!
Christmas shouldn’t be the loneliest time of the year…
Finding herself in a run-down apartment in a seedy section of a new-to-her town, single mom Sharla Brown is down in the dumps and thoroughly discouraged. Hoping to cheer herself and others, she decides to throw a community Christmas Eve party—and receives a heartbreakingly negative initial response.
Mimi Barbour – A Wonderful Life – Though Rylee works with troubled teens, can she and an angel help a man living a nightmare?
Leanne Banks – A Royal White Christmas – Can a secret prince be a Christmas wish-come-true for a small-town girl?
Joan Reeves – Brianna’s Season For Miracles – Her seductive persona hides what she’s ashamed of… What will happen if the man she’s fallen for discovers her secret?
Mona Risk – Jingle With My Princess – The doc and the princess… He saves lives, but she may save his heart.
Rebecca York – Can She Get Home for Christmas? – Will a killer stop her from getting home for Christmas?
Jacquie Biggar – Mistletoe Inn – A grieving man finds the greatest gift is love.
Alicia Street – Miracle on Christmas Tree Street – A single mom discovers her business partner is more than he seems.
Nancy Radke – The Holiday (Christmas) – Jodi’s house-swap to Maui came with a small dog and a shipwrecked sailor.
Katy Walters –Letters from the Snowman – The snow revealed a precious love.
Stephanie Queen – Holiday Affair – Melissa goes from riches to rags but will she find gold in a holiday affair?
Aileen Fish – Christmas in Connecticut – Can a wounded warrior learn to trust her celebrity chef crush after discovering his secret?
Rachelle Ayala – A Christmas Creek Carol – A reclusive writer is given a one-star review on her life by characters from her past, present, and future.
Dani Haviland – The Polar Xpress – She prefers dogs to men…until she rescues the doctor.
Traci Hall – Love, Actually (By the Sea) – Two strangers. One intimate night. Reunited a year later, can it actually be love?
Taylor Lee – The Ref-er-ee – With a family this discombobulated, it will take a referee to save their Christmas.
Donna Fasano – Her Mr. Miracle – It’s Christmas Eve and Veronica is stuck in a nearly deserted seaside town… She needs a miracle.
Cynthia Cooke – A Christmas to Remember – A Christmas storm. Wedding plans in peril. Has a lost love been found?
Susan Jean Ricci – A Joyous Holiday Inn – Can Twigg restore the joy of Christmas to Chloe’s indifferent heart?
Tamara Ferguson – Two Hearts Home for Christmas – Can a long ago promise of love bring two lonely wounded warriors home for Christmas?
Suzanne Jenkins – Christmas with the Clouds – Tracy isn’t interested in love until an unexpected Christmas visitor changes her heart.
Natalie Ann – How Gavin Stole Christmas – Can Jolene help Gavin find the Christmas spirit when he’s the epitome of Mr. Bah Humbug?
Alyssa Bailey – In the Spirit of Christmas – Chase can protect Tara from danger, but can he protect his heart?
Stacy Eaton – Finding Love on Christmas Vacation – Christmas isn’t the same for Lucy without her father…until she meets his friend Maverick.
Jen Talty – The Christmas Getaway – A mix-up in reservations leaves a mother and her son to share a cabin with a broken-hearted stranger.
Melinda De Ross – Boyfriend Wanted for Christmas – A thirty-something singleton’s desperate yet humorous quest to find a boyfriend in the seven days before Christmas.
Festivity 2!Want to sneak some sweet first chapters to further entice and delight you?! Your wish is granted. Grab Love, Christmas 2 Book Bites FREE and enjoy the first chapters of each 26 stories. (Yes, you will be left wanting more, LOL. Enjoy!)
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
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.
I just wanted to share a happy blurt! SILVER BELLS (River’s Sigh B & B, Book 5), which debuted in the contemporary Christmas Romance Anthology MISTLETOE KISSES is now available as a single title for your reading pleasure. I know you, like me, are thinking HOORAY and FINALLY, LOL. 🙂 🙂
One lonely highway and a brutal snowstorm. Two broken hearts and an accident. Can Bryn and Sean find lasting love in such random, fleeting circumstances?
I hope you enjoy this latest sweet, cozy visit to River’s Sigh B & B immensely! After all, we’re definitely having curl-up-with-a-good-book weather. 😉
Also, just a reminder . . . reviews are incredibly helpful to authors. If you would take a minute or two to add even just one line with a star review, wherever you buy your books, I would be over the moon.
Lovely reviews are pouring in and I’m over the moon with all the kind comments and all the Christmas romance love! And I have to confess that with another holiday-themed romance box set coming out on Friday (A CHRISTMAS SHE’LL REMEMBER, which contains my River’s Sigh B & B novella ONE TO KEEP), I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. In fact, I’ve enjoyed getting into the Christmas spirit early so much that I think I might start my Christmas reading in October every year from now on. The nights are so long and dark, the weather so wet and dreary . . . it’s super fun to read things that are sweet, steamy and cheery. 🙂
Anyway, I hope you’ll get your copy MISTLETOE KISSES—especially while it’s just .99 cents! And if you’d consider leaving a review . . . Well, it would be a lovely early Christmas present for me. Thank you!