Monday, August 4, 2014

Mercy Killing by Kathryn Johnson

Mercy Killing
By Kathryn Johnson

            Artist and Washington, D.C. socialite Mercy O'Brien Davis married for love and gave up a promising job as a Smithsonian curator to support her husband's diplomatic career. But while accompanying him to Mexico City, she learns  her famous photo-journalist mother has disappeared without a trace in Ukraine. Desperate to find her, Mercy runs afoul of the U. S. State Department and stumbles into a maze of lies, crime, and international intrigue. When she appeals to her husband for help in locating her mother, he is strangely reluctant. With her marriage already on shaky ground in the aftermath of her husband's infidelity, and the U.S. government ignoring her entreaties on her mother's behalf, Mercy accepts help from a mysterious American agent who enlists her to spy on sexy cattle baron Sebastian Hidalgo, suspected of heading a Mexican crime cartel. Hidalgo is determined to keep her from discovering his darkest secrets, even as he lusts for her.  Manipulated by the men in her life, and their hidden agendas, Mercy wonders if there's anyone she can trust, and what price she will have to pay for her mother's safe return.

 
 
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Mercy Killing--Excerpt #1
A yellow torch beam flashed across the front of the house. Mercy huddled in the shadow cast by the platform beneath her. The guard muttered that it was probably nothing more than a bat flying into the side of the house. The men returned to their posts. Mercy squeezed her eyes shut in relief. She breathed, letting her runaway pulse slow. The next jump she got almost right. Banging her ribs again but stifling her cry of pain. However, her final leap was worthy of Olympic gold. All right! But before she tried the door she checked for alarm wires, triggers, or infra-red beams. Seeing none, she carefully turned the knob. The door eased open. No lock. No screaming alarms. Nothing. She was in. While passing Sebastian’s office before he'd left that day, she’d glanced through the open doorway and quickly memorized the placement of furniture. She was confident she could negotiate the room without bumping into things in the dark. Standing with her back to the now-closed balcony door, Mercy let her gaze drift across the black space before her. She could see nothing other than vague shapes but recalled the layout of the room and its contents. Vertical files along the left wall. Three oil paintings hanging over them in a row. A huge ebony desk had occupied the center of the room, facing the door. Lamps, two visitors’ chairs, a tall 18th-century armoire she’d need to investigate as a possible hiding place for files and correspondence. Wet bar along the right wall. Nearest to the door would be the couch and coffee table. She took a cautious step toward the center of the room. One of the shapes moved. Startled, Mercy froze and sucked in air. Was it an illusion? Her heartbeat—bang, bang, bang in her ears—like gunshots. Her mouth, sand dry. She waited, talking to herself: You’re the only one here. Stop imagining things. She felt like a rabbit caught away from its warren, instinct messaging its bunny brain—Don’t move and the fox won’t see you! The sharp scratch of a match strike broke the silence. A whiff of sulphur, followed by a wavering yellow flame. Mercy stared at it, mesmerized, breath held. The flame moved downward, its faint glow revealing a pillar candle set on one corner of the desk. One. . .two. . .three wicks were lit, revealing the room in a dim amber glow. “You waited much longer than I'd expected.” His voice.

Mercy Killing--Excerpt #2
Reaching out she laced her fingers through his and brought his hand into her lap. Mercy smiled. “The ultimate bad boy, huh?” The simple intimacy of their holding hands set his pulse thrumming. A deep longing and intense need to draw her into his arms, to touch her, everywhere, filled him. He reminded himself that she was married. And that all of the things he was feeling for her were wrong and could go no further. “Will your husband be worried about you?” “I don’t know. Maybe.” She avoided his eyes. “Do you love him?” She seemed unsettled by the question. “I did at one time. I’m not so sure now.” She swallowed and blinked up at the brightening sky of morning. Her lower lip trembled. “I don’t think so. Not anymore.” His heart soared. “Did you love Maria’s mother?” she whispered. “Si. Very much.” “But you have had other lovers. Many, if I'm to believe the gossip. Or is that also part of your charade?” She slanted him an unexpectedly coy look from beneath long, lowered eyelashes, and he went steamy inside. Sebastian shook his head. “Never while we were together. After my wife died—it took a while. Quite a long while, actually. Then, one day, I started noticing women again. No one has held my interest for very long. I saw no reason to take a lover seriously.” Mercy nodded and bit down on her bottom lip, making it look as if she were pouting although he was sure she was just thinking very hard. He suddenly was convinced he'd never take another breath if she stood up and walked away from him. He wanted her. Now! Here! Under the stars and with a desperation he could taste.

BIO:
Kathryn Johnson (aka Mary Hart Perry), author of over 40 published novels, teaches in Washington, DC for the renowned The Writer's Center, and is a popular speaker at many conferences and venues including The Smithsonian Associates programs and the Library of Congress. CEO of Write by You, a writer's mentoring service, she's an Agatha Christy Award nominee, winner of the Heart of Excellence and Bookseller's Best Awards. Recent novels include Victorian thrillers featuring Queen Victoria's daughters. Kathryn's new contemporary Romantic-Suspense series, AFFAIRS OF STATE, launches the first two titles in 2014. She is Vice-President of the Mystery Writers of America, Mid-Atlantic chapter, a member of the Author's Guild, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Novelists Inc, and the Historical Novel Society.

 

Author Links:


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crashers by Lindy Hudis

CRASHERS
BY LINDY HUDIS
 
It may not be armed robbery, but the illegal business of fraudulent car accidents is a multi-million dollar racket, involving unscrupulous medical providers, personal injury attorneys, and the cooperating passengers involved in the accidents and who also receive a portion of the illegal proceeds.
What makes good people turn to crime—any type of crime? Newly engaged, Nathan and Shari are blissfully happy—but their joy is tempered by the dark cloud of mounting debt. They know it’s just a matter of time until an avalanche of bills buries them—and their future along with it.
A chance encounter with a stranger in whom Shari confides her troubles, proves fortuitous: he tells her of a get-rich-quick scheme that will put her and her fiancĂ© on easy street. Seduced by the chance to move from hard times to good times in no time, she takes the carrot offered her, and finds herself acting as a “stuffed passenger”—the “victim” in a staged auto accident. The act goes according to plan and Shari gets her payday. She goes back for more—again and again, eventually becoming trapped in a dark and dangerous underworld, dragging her fiancĂ© with her. Getting out and breaking free will take nothing short of a miracle.
A modern day cautionary tale, Crashers is a fascinating study in the derailing of a young couple’s moral compass.
 
 
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Chapter 1 For KXXX TV and KXXX AM Radio News, this is Katie Carlson with your mid-morning eye-in-the-sky traffic report, and it’s an easy one: It’s messed up EVERYWHERE! So far, the 405 South is backed up all the way to the 101. So, if you are going into Hollywood this morning, you are going to be late for that audition. Also, there is an injury crash on the Eastbound 10. So, if you are heading into downtown LA, you might want to bring a magazine or get some knitting done. If you are going to LAX, forget it, call mom back east and tell her you will be driving out instead. Just Kidding! Any way, this is Katie Carlson with the Los Angeles mid-morning traffic report. Enjoy your commute everybody, NOT! * * * As the blare of the clock radio on the night table jolted her awake, Shari Barnes rubbed her eyes, blew her long brown hair out of her face, and snuggled into Nathan Townsend’s chest. She curled her body around his middle and took a deep whiff of his salty, masculine neck. But she couldn’t ignore the voice on the radio. “Monday morning traffic,” she sighed. Nathan matched the sigh and put his arms around her. “At least you don’t have to drive over the hill.” “Yeah, I would just die if I had to drive into Beverly Hills every day to work in a beautiful office.” Shari giggled and disappeared under their thick blue comforter for a few more moments of sleepy-headed bliss. She felt Nathan stretch up, and a moment later the radio shut off. Then he slid down next to her in the single bed they shared in their Studio City apartment, a few blocks north of Ventura Boulevard. The constant drone and rumble of another L.A. morning came clearly through the open window: cars honking, rock music blaring, the frantic scurrying sounds of the film shoot a few blocks away. Shari ran her bare feet up the inside of Nathan’s thigh. He jumped. “Shit, your feet are cold.” He pushed her legs off of him. “What time is it?” she murmured between kisses. “Um, seven.” He nuzzled her neck and she felt him becoming erect against her. “No time for that!” She threw off the covers. “Gotta be at work on time for once; gotta get my asp out of bed.” “There’s a snake in the bed?” Nathan grabbed her with both hands and gave her belly gentle nips. “Yeah, of the one-eyed variety.” Shari leaped to the floor and padded naked into the bathroom. She turned the hot water in the shower to high and stepped in, filling the small bathroom with steam. She had just poured a green drop of shampoo into her palm and was running her hands together when the flimsy yellow and white shower curtain flew back and Nathan grinned in at her. She smiled back, surprised by neither his arrival nor the partial hard-on that preceded him. “Mind if we join you?” he asked. “There’s enough shampoo for everybody,” Shari said as she rubbed her hands across her scalp. He stepped into the stall, pulled the curtain closed and began to lather her hair for her. She put her hands on his back, feeling the taut muscles and the water streaming there, but did not reach down between them. It took him about five seconds to realize it and hold her away. “You okay?” “Fine….” “Don’t lie; I can always tell when you have something on your mind.” “You know me better than I know me,” she said. “You know it.” He pushed her wet hair over her shoulders. “Come on, give.” “I was thinking maybe I should get a second job.” “You’re worrying about money again?” “Well, I have to shoot my student thesis film this year or I won’t graduate. But where am I going to get the money I need?” “How much do you need?” “At least five figures.”


BIO:
Lindy S. Hudis is a graduate of New York University, where she studied drama at Tisch School of the Arts. She is the author of several titles, including her romance suspense novel, Weekends, her "Hollywood" story City of Toys, and her crime novel, Crashers. She is also the author of an erotic short story series, "The S&M Club" and "The Mile High Club". Her short film “The Lesson” was screened at the Seattle Underground Film Festival and Cine-Nights in 2000. She is also an actress, having appeared in the television daytime drama "Sunset Beach". She and her husband, Hollywood stuntman Stephen Hudis, have formed their own production company called Impact Motion Pictures, and have several projects and screenplays in development. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

ONLINE LINKS:

Www.CrashersBook.com



 
 

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Monday, July 28, 2014

How We Deal With Gravity By Ginger Scott

How We Deal With Gravity
by Ginger Scott
 
When her son Max was diagnosed with autism, Avery Abbot’s life changed forever. Her husband left, and her own dreams became a distant fantasy—always second to fighting never-ending battles to make sure Max was given opportunity, love and respect. Finding someone to fight along her side wasn’t even on her list, and she’d come to terms with the fact that she could never be her own priority again.

But a familiar face walking into her life in the form of 25-year-old Mason Street had Avery’s heart waging a war within. Mason was a failure. When he left his hometown five years ago, he was never coming back—it was only a matter of time before his records hit the billboard charts. Women, booze and rock-n-roll—that was it for him. But it seemed fate had a different plan in mind, and with a dropped record contract, little money and nowhere to go, Mason turned to the only family that ever made him feel home—the Abbots.

Avery loved Mason silently for years—until he broke her heart…completely. But time and life have a funny way of changing people, and sometimes second chances are there for a reason. Could this one save them both?


 
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Excerpts from ‘How We Deal With Gravity’ Mason’s first conversation with Ray about Max’s autism:
“You heading to therapy this morning?” Ray asks over his shoulder, stopping Avery just before she starts up the stairs. She just nods yes and gives her dad a wink. I wait until she’s out of earshot before I ask Ray. “What’s Avery in therapy for?” I’m so damned curious, and suddenly all I want to do is spend my day gathering facts and putting together Avery’s puzzle. “It’s not for her. It’s for Max,” he says, running a washcloth under the water and turning to wipe down the table. I grab a dry towel and follow after him. “Oh. I get it,” I swallow. I’m dying to know what’s wrong with Max, but I feel like nobody wants to come right out and tell me. Unable to stand it any longer, I finally break. “What’s wrong with him? Max? I mean…what does he go to therapy for?” My words are jumbled, and on instinct I brace myself for Ray to knock my teeth out. Last time I talked about Max I got slapped—hard! Ray pauses at my question, refolding the washcloth a few times on the table before knocking his fist on the wood lightly. When he looks up at me, his lips are tight—serious. “Max is an amazing kid,” Ray starts, his smile full of conflict—pride and sorrow. “Avery…she lives her life for that boy. He’s her center, her sun and moon all rolled into one.” “Yeah, I get that. It’s plain to see,” I say, trying to show my respect. I’ve only witnessed a little, but Avery has my vote for mother of the year the way she defends Max. My jaw hurts just from memory. Ray finishes wiping down the table, chewing at his top lip and nodding, like he’s working out what to say in his head before he fills me in. He pulls out a chair finally and leans back, folding his arms across his body, not really looking at me, but more looking beyond me, before finally coming back to meet my eyes. “Mason, Max has autism,” he says. I nod like I understand, and I try my best to match the face he’s making, but I have no idea what the fuck autism really means. I know the word, sure. And I’ve heard about it. But I don’t know if it’s something in your brain or if it’s something that happens over time. Isn’t it, like, mental retardation? “Oh, okay. I…I didn’t know. I’m sorry. How…how do you fix that?” I ask, raising a brow, wishing like hell I understood more than I do. “You don’t, Mason. You don’t,” Ray says, and I can tell by the crack in his voice that this—Avery’s life with Max, Max himself—is what real-life problems look like.
Mason plays a song for Avery:
  The whistles still get to me, and I can’t help the embarrassed smile on my face. I climb up and take the stool at the front of the stage while tonight’s crowd screams for me. It’s just the stool and a mic—that’s how I wanted it tonight. And even though it’s a crowd for Dusty’s—probably 150 people—it’s small compared to some of the places I’ve been playing. “Hey there,” I say, my voice echoing a little, and more whistles coming back up in response. I laugh lightly, my cheeks hurting from the embarrassed smile filling my face. The people here have always been so good to me. It used to be the adoration that got me off—the girls thought I was sexy, the guys thought I was man enough to not want to kick my ass in the parking lot after the show. But coming back—playing here tonight—has my eyes wide open. These people don’t love me because I’m some hotshot musician. They don’t care that I have some stupid ounce of talent that sets me apart from them. They love me because I’m theirs—because this is home, and I’m family. The feeling that sinks into my chest is strange, but it’s good. “First off. Thanks, Ray, for letting me hang out up here tonight,” I say, nodding my head to the edge of the stage where Ray’s still standing. Once Ray gets a few whistles, though, he stands up and heads back behind the bar where he feels more at home. “So, I’ve got a few favorites I’d like to play for you guys tonight. Nothing new, just some songs that have always been kind of a big deal to me, if that’s okay?” I ask, hearing a few more squeals from some of the girls in the audience. Normally, I’d scan the crowd, zeroing in on exactly where those screams are coming from to decide which girl—or two—I’d be talking into coming back to the hotel room with me. But my gaze doesn’t stray an inch tonight. I saw Avery the second I took the stage, and I can’t seem to look away. She’s floating from table to table, her hair piled on top of her head with a few lone strands kissing her neck. She’s keeping her back to me. And something tells me it’s on purpose. I was planning on starting out simple, to get my chops warm. But I’m man enough to admit that Avery’s part of the reason I’m doing this in the first place, and if she’s not willing to look at me, I’m willing to work for it. “This first one is a song I never thought I got quite right. But a good friend…well…she told me otherwise. She’s pretty stubborn,” I laugh lightly as I set the song up, my insides just begging Avery to turn around. I can see her back at the bar, and she’s alone. I know she’s just listening, waiting to see if I’m going to do what she thinks I’m going to do. “This one’s ‘Wild Horses’.” When her tray falls, my heart speeds up. I know I’m in trouble. But I’ve been in trouble before. I love trouble. So I start to play, and when I sing, I keep my eyes on her the entire time, just waiting for the moment she turns around. She never does. But she doesn’t move from her spot, either, and I think maybe she’s in trouble, too.
Avery fighting her attraction to Mason:
  He’s watching me over his phone. I can see his eyes move to me every so often, and I just smile and continue on with my work. His attention scares the hell out of me, because I know how quickly it can latch on to someone else. But for now, I give myself this little moment. Right now, slightly drunk, Mason Street finds me pretty enough to flirt with, and damn it, I am. “Do you ever just stop?” Mason asks, pushing his phone back into his pocket and dropping his feet to the ground. He leans forward on his elbows, looking at me across the table. His arms flex slightly, and I can’t help but shift my gaze to his bicep and the tattoo. “What’s with the tiger?” I ask, changing the subject entirely. “He was a makeup tattoo. Covering up something stupid I got when I was drunk once in Vegas. You didn’t answer my question.” He moves over a seat, so he’s closer to me, and I shift my tray to my other hip, just to add a barrier. He notices, and his lip curls up on the side in a devious grin. “I know. I’m avoiding it,” I say back. He’s not going to charm me—this girl can dish it, and take it. He sits back in his chair, and folds his arms now, propping a foot back up along the side of the table. He’s chewing at the inside of his cheek, and I’m just waiting for him to come back with a second round. I keep loading up my tray, and when it’s full, I turn to leave. I’m almost free when Mason catches up to me and walks me to the bar. “I probably should have asked that differently,” he says, pulling the tray from my hands and putting the dirties in the bin before handing it back to me. “I’ve never met anyone like you, Avery. Not a girl in her twenties, anyways. You just go and go and go. And I was just thinking, you never take time to just stop—and to just be.” I’m sure the face I’m making back at him isn’t flattering, but really…that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. How can I just be? “You know what kind of girl does that?” I say, moving in a little closer just so Mason knows he doesn’t intimidate me. “A vapid one, without a kid, and who is planning a beach-house getaway with her girlfriends. That girl is a fairytale, Mason. Make-believe. Us realwomen? We have responsibilities—and we put other people first. Because it’s the right thing to do. So no—no, I don’t just ever…stop. Too much depends on me going.” I can actually feel my hands shaking I’m so flustered by this conversation. All I want to do is smash my tray in his face and race off to the locker area to lie down and breathe. But I can’t. I can’t, because somewhere in the midst of my rant, Mason grabbed my hand with his, and now all I can freaking focus on is the feeling of his thumb lightly grazing my fingers and how much it makes me want to burst into tears. “One drink, right before close. That’s all I’m asking,” Mason says, his eyes boring into mine like lasers. “I’m not saying pick up and go backpacking across Europe. I’m just asking you to take a break, for once in your life. Have a beer with the guys and me while Ray closes up. We’ll shoot some pool, or throw some darts. Twenty minutes, and then you can go back to living for everyone else.” Mason’s hand is still on mine, and my brain is tangled from the many emotions being mixed like a blender inside my chest. Whatever the cause, I nod yes slowly, and slide my hand from his.

BIO:
Ginger Scott is a writer and journalist from Peoria, Arizona. Her new adult romance, "How We Deal With Gravity," centers on a young, single mother of a child with autism and her chance at love with a familiar face from her past. 'Gravity' releases July 8.

Scott is also the author of "Waiting on the Sidelines," a coming-of-age love story that explores the real heartbreak we all feel as we become adults throughout our high school years. The story follows two characters, Nolan (a Tomboy with a baseball player's name) and Reed (the quarterback she wishes would notice her) as they struggle with peer-pressure, underage drinking, bullying and finding a balance between what your heart wants and what society says you should want—even if you aren't ready. You can read it, and the sequel, "Going Long," now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other e-book outlets.She is also the author of "Blindness," and the soon-to-be-released new-adult romance "This Is Falling."
Scott has been writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and blogs for more than 15 years. She has told the stories of Olympians, politicians, actors, scientists, cowboys, criminals and towns. She throws a ball better than most boys, can put together one hell of a fantasy baseball team, and has been known to be nocturnal. When she’s not typing away on her MacBook or hiding under the covers with her iPad, she’s likely to be found near a baseball diamond watching her son field pop flies like Bryce Harper. She is married to her college sweetheart, whom she met in history class at ASU—fork’em Devils! For more on her and her work, visit her website at www.littlemisswrite.com.
 
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Friday, July 25, 2014

SIMON BY VA DOLD

Simon
By VA Dold
 
NOTE: Complete novel. No cliffhanger. Dual POV. Rated 18+ for language and strong sexual content. 

Four years of honorably serving his country has left Simon, Cade’s younger brother, damaged and trapped in wolf form. Little did he know the only person with the ability to heal him completely would be found at home. Literally. Now that he’s found her, he is desperate to claim her. 

Rose is a beautiful, voluptuous woman with limited experience with men. Although she's confident, she still has reservations. Never having a family of her own, her fear of abandonment has her fleeing romantic relationships, and doubting herself. 

Travis is insane. A deadly loose cannon that a secret organization hired to destroy the Le Beau family by denying them their mates. Permanently. 

Simon’s dream will be lost forever unless he is able to maintain human form. 
Rose needs unconditional love and a mate to create the family she’s always wanted. 
Travis’s all-consuming drive is to take Rose for himself. 
Will Simon ever be whole again, able to claim his mate, giving Rose the love and family she so desperately craves? Or will Travis destroy them both?



BUYLINKS:

AMAZON Paperback
AMAZON Kindle

Book 1 Cade Amazon

My Review:








BIO:
V.A.Dold is the bestselling author of the Le Beau Brothers series, New Orleans wolf shifter novels. A graduate of Saint Cloud University, she majored in marketing. Prior to becoming a full time writer, she was a publicist to the authors, owning Innovative Online Book Tours and ARC Author & Reader Con's (ARC NOLA) (ARC Phoenix). Still is. The companies mesh so well together, much like PB&J.
Her idea of absolute heaven is a day in the French Quarter filled with nothing but her computer, her coffee mug and the Brothers, of course.
A Minnesota native with her heart lost to Louisiana, she has a penchant for titillating tales featuring sexy men and strong women. When she's not writing, she's probably taking in a movie, reading or traveling.
Her earliest reading memories are from grade school. She had a major fixation with horses, and the Black Stallion was a favorite. Then junior high came along and teenage hormones kicked in. It became all about the Harlequin Romances. She has been hooked on romances ever since.


ONLINE LINKS:

Website: www.vadold.com

Blog: http://www.vadold.com/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/VA-Dold/1404660546458551?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VADOLD

Giveaway:


http://www.vadold.com/monthly-giveaway.html>
 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MORE THAN PANCAKES BY CHRISTINE DEPETRILLO

MORE THAN PANCAKES
BY CHRISTINE DEPETRILLO
 

Lily Hinsdale spends her California days designing extravagant hotels for Utopia Resorts. Her nights are filled with the glitz and glamour of upscale parties. Until her grandmother dies and leaves Lily property in wretched Vermont. The woods mean only one thing to Lily—nightmares. When Utopia wants the land for development, Lily is forced to travel to a place she’d rather forget.
 
Rick Stannard makes maple syrup and builds barns in the peace and quiet of picturesque Vermont. Noisy New York City nearly killed him a few years back, and now he lives a calm, simple life with his coyote, Poe, and his beloved book collection. It’s the only way he’s guaranteed to wake up each morning.
 
When Lily marches her expensive boots onto Rick’s land and proposes turning it into a mega resort, the serenity of the woods is shattered. Lily always closes a deal. Rick never intends to sell. They’ll need to compromise, or someone else will do it for them. Someone who is not afraid of the woods or the city.
 
Or spilling a little blood.
 
 
BUYLINKS:
AMAZON  


First Chapter:
 

“Leave it, Poe. Quit fooling around.”

Rick Stannard wrestled his glove away from his coyote. She was forever burying, slobbering all over, or chewing holes in his good work gloves. Ever since he’d rescued the abandoned, starving pup from the woods at the edge of his property, he’d been living with the eccentricities of having an animal meant for the wild living in his cabin. He’d trained her. Knew she wouldn’t attack him while he slept, but now and then, her feral nature would flare up. Poe considered it playing, and most of the time so did Rick, but today he had to insert the taps on his maple trees and inspect the lines. The sap was about to run and that meant the Stannard Mountain Pure Vermont Maple Syrup Company—Rick’s company—was all systems green.

“C’mon, you beast. We don’t have all morning to waste. We’ve got work to do.” Rick gave a final tug that freed his glove from Poe’s jaws. He stumbled back, landing on his backside on the hickory floor of his small kitchen. “Brat.” He swiped Poe’s muzzle with his glove.

The coyote licked his hand and happily trotted beside Rick as he went into the garage to load his sled with the necessary tools. Clothed in his snow pants, thermal shirt, fleece jacket, knit hat, boots, and snowshoes, Rick was ready for a day out on his three-hundred acre property in the woods of Danton, Vermont. He’d upgraded his equipment, all gravity-fed lines, about three years back. The only assistance he accepted was from his aunt, Joy Stannard, and his cousins, Hope and Sage, who ran the bakery and book swap storefront of the business during the late winter and early spring months. Customers needed a cozy, friendly little shop from which to purchase their maple products. Rick didn’t do cozy or friendly, but Aunt Joy and his cousins excelled in both areas.

Leaving the sled outside, he pushed open the door to the storefront and let Poe scurry in first.

“Morning, Rick! I was thinking if we arranged the tables this way, it would allow for more interaction between customers, and if the customers interact more, this place could become the social center of Danton. It would mean more sales, more book swapping, more action. Sometimes this place can be such a tomb, but with the tables like this, maybe some hot, interesting guys will come in and whisk me away to—”

Rick held up two hands to stop Hope from continuing her verbal assault. Too much. Too early.

“Sorry.” Hope pushed in a chair at one of the tables she’d moved. “I forgot you aren’t a morning person.”

“Isn’t much of an afternoon or evening person either,” Sage, Hope’s sister, called from behind the pastry case where she had been vacuuming the shelves.

Rick shot her a glare to which she responded with a snarl that ended in a grin.

“What brings you amongst the people, Grouch?” Sage gathered her long, blond hair into a ponytail then leaned against the pastry case.

Rick pointed down to his winter attire. “What does it look like I’m going to do?”

“Sumo wrestle with Bigfoot?” Hope offered, making Sage chuckle.

“If you weren’t so busy turning this place into a dating club, you’d know what’s going on.” Rick pulled his glove off to scratch Poe between the ears as the coyote pushed her muzzle into his knee.

“I’m not turning it into a dating club, Rick.” Hope gestured to the tables arranged in a tight little formation that made him a little claustrophobic. “It looks better this way, doesn’t it?”

“It looked fine the old way.” Rick shrugged.

“How is it that you’re only six years older than me but seem as if you’re eighty-six years older?” Sage asked. “Change is good, old man.”

He knew Sage was only busting his chops, but it stung a little today. He didn’t know why, which made him feel exactly like an old man.

“I don’t care what you do with the tables, Hope, as long as there are tables and they’re clean.” Rick headed for the door. “Where’s Aunt Joy?” And why do I want her around? Because Hope and Sage are picking on me? Foolish.

“She went into town to buy some fabric. Don’t freak out, Rick.” Hope grabbed his biceps and opened her brown eyes real wide as she stood on tiptoes in a useless attempt to look him in the eye. “She wants to make new curtains for these windows. Now I realize she didn’t clear it with you first, O Master of Keeping the Status Quo, but I don’t think a curtain change will destroy the world as we know it.”

Rick growled at Hope, and she laughed along with Sage. Even Poe let out a few short barks that sounded like chuckling.

“Whose side are you on, mutt?” He nudged Poe with his knee, and the coyote let out a whimper of apology.

“You headed out now?” Sage asked.

“Yep.”

“Take this.” Sage placed a thermos on top of the pastry case and slid it toward him. “Minestrone like no other, Cuz.”

For all her poking fun, Sage took care of him just as Aunt Joy and Hope did. They were his family, all he had. All he needed. 

“Thanks.” He took the thermos and held it out of Poe’s reach as the coyote tried to climb up his leg for it. “Down. No meat in this one.” He tapped her on the nose, and Poe sank to all fours. Even if the soup did have meat in it, he wasn’t sharing. Everything Sage made tasted like heaven. That was what made her a fantastic caterer when it wasn’t sugaring season. She was busy cooking all times of the year. And her cookies? Off the charts tasty.

“I’ve got some website updates I’ve been working on.” Hope gestured to her laptop on one of the tables she’d moved. She handled all their online sales, promotional materials, and website. She was awesome at it too, which was good because Rick didn’t want to handle that stuff. Lots of people didn’t want to handle that stuff, so Hope was busy with that work in the off season.

“Okay,” Rick said. “Make them happen. I’m sure it’s all good.”

Hope patted his cheek. “I love that I have you trained to believe I’m always right.”

“Except when you move my tables.”   

Hope stuck her tongue out at him then said, “Don’t get lost out there.”

“Have I ever?” Rick zipped the front of his fleece coat.

“No,” Sage said, “but we can dream.” She smiled sweetly and turned on the vacuum again.

He could still hear his cousins’ laughter as he left the store with Poe on his heels. He put on his hat and picked up the cable attached to his sled. A day out in the tranquility of the woods stretched before him, and he couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend his time. The morning sky was clear, and a fresh snow had fallen last night making his property seem like uncharted territory, free from any indications of civilization.

On a whistle, Rick and Poe headed out. His snowshoes cut a trail across the blank white page of his land, and he fell into the easy rhythm of his work. He moved at a steady pace, covering more ground than he’d expected. The terrain was a bit hilly in this section of the sugar bush, but he pushed onward. He chewed up some of his time watching a moose and her calf at the edge of the still frozen Cassie’s Pond. The cow’s ears constantly twitched as she listened for signs of danger. The baby huddled beside her, its thick brown coat lightly dusted with snow.

When a hawk cried overhead, the cow nudged her baby and the two wandered deeper into the woods. Woods that weren’t a part of Rick’s property, but were tapped by him. When he’d first started his syrup business on his land, he’d cut a deal with his neighbor to lease and tap her trees. She received a specified amount of money per tap for the intrusion, which she didn’t seem to mind, and Rick always supplied her with free syrup every year. She was a great neighbor. Not around much and as respectful of his privacy as he was of hers. A marvelous business arrangement if such a concept existed. Someday Rick hoped to own her land when she was ready to sell it and double his empire without having to go all big city and corporate.

He continued inserting spiles until the sun faded and hunger knocked on the walls of his stomach. He’d install the taps on his neighbor’s trees tomorrow and spend tonight going through three boxes of donated books back at his cabin for the book swap. The bonus was he got first dibs on anything of interest in the donations, and he’d made some good finds in the past. An early edition Kafka. A leather-bound collection of Shakespeare plays. An autographed Jane Austen. Those finds were now displayed on the floor to ceiling bookcases that lined three of Rick’s living room walls.

Anticipating the buzz he always got when surrounded by books, he pulled his sled around to head home, but as he turned he dropped the rope attached to the sled. He was on enough of a hill that the sled immediately slid away from him. Not wanting to have to chase the sled and his tools all the way to the bottom, Rick ran after it in his snowshoes.

No easy feat.

He started off all right until the tip of his left snowshoe got caught under a fallen branch hidden below the snow. His ankle made an unnatural grinding sound as his foot stayed wedged in one direction and his body fell the opposite way. He let out a howl of pain that had Poe darting over to sniff his face.

“Back, Poe.” Rick pushed the coyote out of his space, but she circled around him, sniffing and whimpering.

The hurt in his ankle was a slow burning that got hotter as he tried to release his boot from the snowshoe. Every movement sent ripples of fire up his entire left leg. After too many minutes of struggling, he finally managed to unfasten the straps. His foot spilled off the snowshoe and when it landed in the snow, he hurled a shout into the arm of his fleece jacket. The muffled agony further agitated Poe who began howling. A few dogs replied, and Rick suddenly felt very Stephen King.

Not a great feeling.

Knowing it would be dark soon, he tried to stand. That went okay until he put his weight on his left foot and crumpled right back down to the ground.

Dammit. I don’t need this now.

He grumbled under his breath as Poe ran a little ahead of their position and then galloped back to him. When she came close enough to sniff him again, he grabbed her. Pointing her toward the sled resting at the bottom of the hill, he said, “Go get it. Get it, Poe.”

Poe barked once and shot down the hill toward the sled. She dug in the snow a bit and touched her nose to the ground. When she raised her head, the rope was in her teeth. She bounded back up the hill with the sled gliding along behind her, and Rick cursed over his stupidity.

What good is having a coyote if I don’t know how to use her?

Poe continued past him with the sled until it rested on level land. The coyote stood by the sled and barked at him as if to say, “C’mon. Let’s go.”

“Would love to, Poe.” As much as he didn’t want to, Rick untied his boot and slid it off with a few grunts of pain. He removed his thermal sock and glanced at the instant swelling in his ankle. That was the last thing he saw.  

When he opened his eyes again, the snow-covered canopy of trees had been replaced by the tongue-and-groove pine ceiling of his living room. He was still in the jeans he’d worn during the day and his thermal shirt, but a flannel blanket had been thrown over him. Good thing too, because he was freezing.

And maybe a little dizzy. Definitely tired as all hell.

“You awake, sugar?” Aunt Joy came in from the kitchen.

He attempted to sit up, but found he didn’t have the strength.

“Easy, Rick. Take it slow.” Aunt Joy stood over him with a smile on her face he knew was forced.

“How’d I get back here?”

“When nine o’clock rolled around and we didn’t see this face,” she bent to pat his cheek, “we knew something not good had happened.”

Aunt Joy helped him wiggle up to a sitting position on the couch, and a plastic air cast spanning up to his calf stared back at him from the armrest on the other end. Rick let out a groan and flopped his head onto the back of the couch.

“Yeah, it’s severely sprained. Doctor Reslin made a special house call so we didn’t have to take you to the h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l.” Aunt Joy whispered the letters, and despite his situation, Rick appreciated the woman’s tenderness. She knew better than anybody how much he hated hospitals.

“The police found you in the snow, one shoe on, one shoe off, and out cold in more ways than one.” Aunt Joy sat on the edge of the old chest Rick used as a coffee table and rested her chin in her hands. “Gave an old lady a good scare, sugar. I don’t like when you do that.”

He pulled his gaze from the cast and looked at Aunt Joy’s face. Her brown eyes were watery, her nose a little red. He reached his hand over and tugged one of hers out from beneath her chin. Giving it a squeeze, he said, “I’m sorry, Aunt Joy. I tripped. It was stupid.”

“It was an accident. Could happen to anyone.” She placed her other hand atop his. “Just glad you’re okay. You’re a miserable hermit most of the time, but I kind of love you, you know?”

“I love you too.”

“Of course you do. Nobody takes better care of you than me.” Aunt Joy patted his cheek again and stood. “Okay, here’s the scoop. Cast for a few weeks. Stay off the ankle for the rest of this week and keep it elevated, then Doc left you a cane so you can hobble around.”

Rick opened his mouth to protest, but Aunt Joy waved him off. “I know. I know. ‘Aunt Joy, how am I supposed to stay off my feet when there’s so much to do?’ Listen, kid, this is the way the cards got dealt this hand. Roll with it.”

She made it sound like no big deal. No big deal that he was reduced to the functioning level of an infant during a key time for his syrup business.

“It doesn’t hurt that much,” Rick said.

“That’s because you’ve got these in you.” Aunt Joy reached to an end table by the couch and shook an orange bottle of prescription pills. “Wonder drugs. Once they wear off, you’ll be writhing in pain.” She leaned in close to his ear. “Here’s a tip, sugar. Don’t let them wear off.”

 

****

 

 


Excerpt #1:

 

As he continued stacking books, Poe padded to the door and woofed once at it.

“No customers today, Poe. Not yet.” 

She barked again at the door and as she sat by it, a soft knock echoed in the store. Rick put down the books he had in his lap and limped to the nearest window. A Jeep he didn’t recognize was in front of the store along with footprints in the remaining patch of snow. The knock came again, but he couldn’t see who was at the door. He contemplated not answering as he often did when the phone rang, but figured it wouldn’t waste much time to explain the store wasn’t open yet.

He ambled to the door, resting his hand on the tables as he passed by without the cane. As he neared the door, another knock sounded.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “I’m coming.” He cursed his slowness and hoped he’d be rid of the cast soon. Not likely, judging by the ache, but a man could hope.

He reached the door and pulled it open. What was standing on the other side of it made him forget his own name.

A woman. Not much shorter than him with reddish-blond hair that brushed her shoulders and curled about a face meant for makeup commercials. Her skin had a wonderful glow he’d never seen on any native Vermonter, and her eyes were blue-green jewels. Slim, black jeans spanned down two long, shapely legs and disappeared into brown, knee-high leather boots that belonged on a runway not on his partly muddy, partly snowy doorstep. The rust-colored dress coat that hung to her thighs also seemed out of place in this setting, but not out of place on her. The woman was perfection in that coat, and the cream-colored scarf she had looped around her neck fascinated Rick.

Poe barked and the woman jumped. “Is that a coyote?” Her voice, soft yet assertive, matched her delicate mouth and intense eyes, but she looked as if she were ready to run for her vehicle.

“Yeah, but she won’t hurt you. She’s been raised to think she’s a big hamster.” What is this woman doing here? Then the pieces fell into place in his mind. “You’re one of Hope or Sage’s friends, right?” That had to be it, but he didn’t remember ever seeing this one. He didn’t think he could forget her if he had seen her. God, she was tall.

“No,” she said. “I don’t know Hope or Sage. I’m looking for whoever signed this.” She pulled an envelope out of her shoulder bag and rifled through it. While keeping a wary eye on Poe, she handed Rick one of the documents, and he scanned it quickly.

“You’re looking for me then.” Why did that make something in his stomach tighten?

“You’re the neighbor? You knew Gail Hinsdale?” A section of snow slid off the roof and landed in a pile about a foot away from the woman. She stumbled back and threw a glance all around her, almost dropping the envelope in the process.

“Come in,” Rick said, though he hadn’t remembered consciously deciding to invite her inside.

“Thank you.” She knocked the mud and snow off her boots and squeezed past him into the store. She smelled like grapefruit and coconut and sunshine. Like something far too exotic to be here with him. “Could you…” She motioned to Poe and made a shooing gesture with her gloved hand.

“Sure. C’mon, Poe.” Rick smacked his thigh and shuffled toward the kitchen behind the pastry case. He pushed open the door and guided Poe in. She whimpered on the other side when she realized he’d locked the door.

Poor girl. Rick felt like a big, fat meany.

“I appreciate that. Wild animals unsettle me.” The woman pulled off her leather gloves to reveal long, slim fingers with nails polished a deep crimson.

“She’s not wild,” Rick said. 

“Right. Tell that to her teeth.” The woman dropped the envelope on one of the tables and unlooped the scarf to expose a slender neck. She turned in a tight circle to survey the store. What was she thinking? She obviously came from a place where the stores didn’t look like his.

“You knew Gail Hinsdale?” She leveled her gaze on Rick, then flicked a glance down to his ankle. “Do you want to sit down?”

“I think I’m supposed to ask you that.” He indicated the chair across from the one he currently had a death grip on.

She slid the chair out and sat on it, but just on the edge, not like she meant to stay for any length of time. This saddened Rick, because for the first time in his life, he didn’t have the urge to get rid of company.

He eased onto the opposite chair, and the muscles in his entire body relaxed as the pressure was taken off his ankle. The woman noticed.

“What happened there?” She peeked under the table.

“Snowshoeing incident.” He shrugged, determined not to explain any further though the woman waited a moment as if he might. “How is Gail? I haven’t seen her in a little while.”

The woman’s lips twisted down at the corners, and Rick had this ridiculous urge to scoot over to her side of the table and… and do something.

“Gail died.” Those piercing blue-green eyes grew watery. “My grandmother is gone.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rick said. “She was real generous with allowing me to tap her trees. Nearly doubled my productivity.” He had reaped nothing but benefits from his arrangement with Gail Hinsdale. One of the smartest, healthiest business moves he’d ever made. 

“She left me the property.” The woman extended her hand. “I’m Lily Hinsdale.”

Taking her hand in his and noting how cold her fingers were, he said, “Rick Stannard.” He looked at the envelope again. “Are you thinking of moving to the property?”

At this, Lily let out a loud laugh. “Moving to Vermont? Are you serious? I don’t want to be here right now, never mind live here.” She brushed her hair out of her face with a shaky finger.

“What’s wrong with Vermont?” Rick asked. It was the perfect place as far as he was concerned.

“Umm, everything.” Lily stretched her magnificent legs out to the side of the table and peered down at her boots. Cringing, she knocked her heels together letting caked mud drop to the floor. “Vermont is no California.”

 

****

 


Excerpt #2:

 

With a stop to check a few taps, he confirmed the sap wasn’t running yet, but it would be. He could feel it in the air. The woods were beginning to smell like the woods again after being asleep under the snow for months. This was truly his favorite time of the year. This in-between time, when one season surrendered to the next. When the trees shared their natural goodness with him so he could make a living on the land he loved.

When… an ugly cream-colored Jeep was parked in front of his store.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” He shuffled as fast as he could with Poe jogging along beside him.

He swung open the door and marched in to find Aunt Joy, Hope, and Sage sitting at a table. With her. Their laughter filled the empty store and burrowed right underneath his skin.

“What are you doing?” he roared.

All four women jumped in their seats, and Rick had to contain his satisfaction. He hooked the cane on the nearest chair and limped over to them. Pointing a finger at Lily, he said, “You. Get out. Now.”

“Rick,” Aunt Joy said. “Where have your manners gone?”

My manners? Are you kidding me?” He lasered a glare at Lily. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you’re not welcome here.”

“That’s it,” Sage said to Hope. “He’s finally lost all of his social skills.”

“Shut up, Sage.”

Sage shrank back in her seat, and Rick clamped his mouth shut. He didn’t usually snap at his cousins like that. This… this outsider was turning him into a monster.

“Did she tell you what she’s doing here?” He gestured to Lily. Why does she have to be wearing a low-cut, black sweater that hugs her amazing body? He shook his head and looked back to Sage.

“She’s staying at Gail’s house,” Hope said. “Gail passed away. She was Lily’s grandmother.” Hope rested a hand on Lily’s and gave her a compassionate look.

“So maybe you could try to act like a human, Rick,” Sage said, “and be nice to the girl who just lost her grandmother, huh?” She shook her feathery blond hair out of her face.

“I’m not going to be nice to her,” he said. “She’s leaving.” He slid Lily’s purse off the back of the chair and made a move to grab her by the bicep.

“Rick, you will not lay a hand on our guest.” Aunt Joy’s tone froze his hand just shy of Lily.

“It’s okay, Joy,” Lily said.

Joy? First name basis. So nice we’re all chums here.

Rick tossed Lily’s purse onto the table where it landed like a bag of rocks. It upended the saucer Lily’s teacup rested on and sent the tea into her lap. She popped up from her seat as did Aunt Joy, Hope, and Sage.

“Rick!” his aunt and cousins said together.

He tried to feel triumphant over the dark, wet stain on Lily’s light blue jeans, but he couldn’t get past the way the denim molded to her thighs and tapered down her legs. Amazingly long legs. She was so much taller than his aunt and his cousins. They were mere dolls next to her.

“Get some towels, Hope,” Aunt Joy said as she handed Lily some napkins in the meantime. “I’m sorry about my nephew.” She turned to Rick. “What’s your problem? This is Robert Hinsdale’s daughter. Robert Hinsdale, the actor. The one I adore,” she said through clenched teeth. “I know you don’t do people very well, but I’ve never seen you be this rude.”

“Tell them.” Rick stared at Lily, and she swallowed as if she had trouble doing so. He’d interrupted her game, her attempt to win over his family then dive in for the kill.

“Tell us what?” Sage asked.

“This is not Miss Hinsdale’s first trip in here, is it?” He pulled another chair over and sat. He would have loved to remain standing to appear more imposing, but his ankle was screaming from walking so fast to the store. Plus, his foot was soaked with mud.

“I stopped in yesterday.” Lily took a towel from Hope and dabbed at the stain on her jeans. “To make a deal with Mr. Stannard.”

“What kind of a deal?” Aunt Joy sounded suspicious now. Good.

“Well, I was getting around to telling you before the Abominable Snowman came in.” She shot Rick a glare. “I work for Utopia Resorts and—”

“Those fancy hotels with the themes?” Sage asked.

“So not everyone is a recluse up here, I see.” Lily nodded at Sage. “Yes, I design those resorts.”

“Oh, my God,” Hope said. “Sage and I have been saving a little money every year with the wild notion of visiting one of those resorts sometime.”

“You have?” Lily and Rick said at the same time. Lily with encouragement, Rick with disdain.

“Well, sure,” Sage said. “They’re beautiful hotels and who wouldn’t want to escape this.” She threw her hands out indicating everything around her. “I mean, I love it here and all, but it is a bit monotonous.”

“And quiet,” Hope added. “So quiet.”

“I’ve noticed the quiet.” Lily folded the towel and placed it on the table. “California is not like this at all.”

“No, it isn’t,” Rick said. “And I’m not going to let you turn Vermont into another California. One is all we need.”

“I never said I wanted to recreate California here,” Lily said, a laughing edge to her voice that irritated Rick. “If you’d let me finish my discussion yesterday, you would have seen that Utopia wants to keep this resort natural, outdoorsy.”

“And get rid of my home, my business, my woods.” Rick shook his head. “Not going to happen. I don’t want to live next door to a fancy resort either. No one around here does.”

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” Aunt Joy finally said, “but I have to agree with my nephew. This is no place for a mega-resort.”

Finally. Someone is making some sense. Rick nodded at Aunt Joy, and she patted his hand.

Lily reached into her bag and pulled out a small laptop. “Let me show you some of the designs I’ve drawn up.”

“We’re not interested, Miss Hinsdale,” Rick said. But why was he interested in the way her strawberry curls fell around her neck? In the small freckle below her right eye?

BIO:


Christine DePetrillo tried not being a writer. She attempted to ignore the voices in her head, but they would not stop. The only way she could achieve peace and quiet was to write the stories the voices demanded. Today, she writes tales meant to make you laugh, maybe make you sweat, and definitely make you believe in the power of love.
 
She lives in Rhode Island and occasionally Vermont with her husband, two cats, and a big, black German Shepherd who guards her fiercely against all evils.  
 
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TWITTER: at @cdepetrillo

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