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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Marty's Jaunt by Brandi Medkiff


Sherri settled into the breakfast nook with a novel and a cup of coffee. A breeze stirred the curtains; wind chimes rang outside. House-sitting for Steve and Linda Miller was like a vacation. The work was minimal—watering the plants and walking Marty, the collie—and the small house was as fresh and uncluttered as a hotel suite.

She thought about her own home. It’s the middle of June, and I don’t have any spring annuals planted. The flower beds are full of Bermuda grass; it’ll take weeks to get them in shape. All the paths need to be edged, but the edger won’t start.

She sighed. The big house on three acres had been a great place to raise a family, and caring for the yard had been fun with Jim to share the work and the vision. Now the kids were grown, Jim was gone, the vision had faded, and only the work remained.

A real estate flier fell from her book. Sherri looked at the picture of the shingle-style house on Marty’s walk route. Neat and pretty, with crisp green-and-white paint and a deep front porch, it was priced to sell and only two blocks from the Millers. Sherri could see herself in a place like that, with a small yard and a couple of spare rooms for when the kids visited.

But the thought of getting her own house ready for market made her feel like hiding under the bed. She stuck the flyer back in her book and tried to get absorbed in the story.

She’d spent a lot of time reading since Jim’s death two years ago, but lately books didn’t hold her attention. She kept glancing around, distracted by birdsong or the shifting shadows of tree branches.

A brisk knock made her put down the book altogether. Robert stood at the glass door, gray-streaked hair pulled into a ponytail, worn tool belt slanted across his hips. He was building Steve and Linda’s deck. Quiet and courteous, he kept his classic rock at a moderate volume and always tidied his work area before he left.

Yesterday afternoon, Sherri had taken him a glass of tea. They’d sat together on the porch and talked, while Marty leaned his head against Robert’s knee and Steely Dan played on the radio.

She opened the door. “Good morning.”

Robert was wearing a Ted Nugent T-shirt and a pair of worn jeans whose fade pattern articulated the shape of his quads. His smile seemed a little tight at the corners today. “Morning, Sherri. Is the dog in the house with you?”

“No. I put him out after his breakfast.”

Robert groaned. “I left the gate open when I got here. Now I can’t find him.”

“Marty’s twelve years old and arthritic. He’s probably asleep behind the rhododendron.”

But he wasn’t. They searched the yard together and called him from the open gate. No Marty.

“I’ll drive around and hunt for him,” Robert said.

“I’ll go, too. I’ll call him while you drive.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Robert began. Then his expression softened. “But I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.”

Robert was waiting beside his truck when Sherri finished locking the front door. He opened the passenger door for her.

“I can’t believe I made such a stupid mistake,” he said as they pulled out. “I sure hope that dog’s okay.”

“He can’t have gone far. We’ll find him.”

But after an hour’s slow cruising and fruitless searching, Sherri’s optimism faded. They’d left the confines of Marty’s walk route far behind. She scanned every spot for the familiar long sable coat and pointed nose, but no luck.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream” came on the radio. Without thinking, Sherri cranked the volume and started singing, then stopped when she noticed Robert watching her.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to seem callous. I guess I lose my head when I hear Tom Petty.”

“So do I,” he said with a smile. “I would’ve turned it up if you hadn’t.”

But this was no time to be singing with the radio. Sherri leaned out the open window and called Marty’s name again.

She’d grown fond of the calm, friendly dog. He wagged eagerly whenever she brought out his leash, but after a walk he always took a long nap in a patch of sunlight. What had possessed him to run off? She imagined him starting cheerfully, then losing his way and growing bewildered and fatigued. Was he still trudging along, panting and footsore? Or had he collapsed somewhere?

“Marty!” she called. “Marty!”

A man looked up from pruning his shrubs. “You looking for a collie?”

Sherri’s heart leapt. “Yes! Have you seen him?”

“A while ago. Heading that way.”

He pointed towards a busy four-lane street. Sherri glanced at Robert and saw his face go grim.

They drove on in silence. They rounded a bend—and there was Marty, trotting gamely with ears perked and head high. Sherri had the door open before Robert made it to a complete tire-screeching stop.

“Marty! Marty, come!”

Marty’s head cocked, and recognition lit his face. He ran and jumped nimbly into the cab.

Sherri hugged him, and he licked her face. He was panting but cheerful, as if he’d enjoyed his jaunt and was now looking forward to a truck ride.

Robert rubbed the dog’s head and laughed aloud. It was a wonderful sound, rich and joyful.

“You fooled us, didn’t you, boy? You may have more white than copper in your muzzle, but you’ve got plenty of juice left. And when you saw your chance for an adventure, you took it.”

Robert’s face was only inches from Sherri’s. His eyes were a vivid blue-green; the creases around them spoke of patience and good humor.

“Thanks again for helping,” he said.

“It’s no trouble. I’m glad we found him.”

Suddenly he looked uncertain. “Listen, there’s a coffee shop a few blocks away. They allow dogs on the patio. Can I buy you a little midmorning caffeine?”

An unexpected thrill of pleasure shot through her. “I’d like that.”

They sipped iced cappuccino in the sunshine while Marty slurped water from a recycled plastic sandwich container. Fleetwood Mac played from a wall-mounted speaker; Sherri softly sang along.

“You like classic rock?” Robert asked.

“I do. It’s the music of my youth.”

“You ever heard of a local band called What Next? They’re playing here this Friday night.”

“The name sounds familiar. Are they any good?”

“I think so,” he said in a carefully casual tone. “They’re my band.”

She stared at him. “I didn’t know you played in a band.”

“Sure do. Every Friday and Saturday I get to live a rock ’n’ roll fantasy—minus the obscene wealth and hard living. Folks of our generation like hearing the stuff they grew up with, and to the younger generation, it’s all new—except for a few hotshot young classic rock buffs. We have a nineteen-year-old drummer who keeps us all on our toes.”

“How wonderful,” Sherri said. She meant it. She’d always thought Robert had a spark about him, and she was beginning to see why. Here he was, playing the music of his youth in a spirit of newness, getting out there and doing it instead of just remembering.

“Would you care to come hear us this Friday?” he asked.

“I’d love to hear your band play. But first, I want your professional opinion about something.”

“Okay. Yes, you have a terrific voice. And you’re definitely sitting in with us when we play ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream.’”

Sherri laughed. “That’s not the profession I meant. I want your opinion about a house. It’s on Magnolia, not far from the Millers’ place.” She took a deep breath. “I’m interested in buying it.”

“The green one with white trim? I built that house! I always liked the floor plan. And if you wanted any work done, I’d give you a heck of a deal.”

They drove straight over, with Marty again riding in the cab. Sherri felt hesitant about wandering around the lot, even though the house was vacant, but Robert said, “I know these people. They want to sell; they’re not going to complain about a potential buyer looking through the windows.”

Marty sniffed around the yard while Sherri and Robert peered and pointed and planned. “A row of hollyhocks would look great against that wall,” Sherri said.

“Yes, and a bank of geraniums in front of that. House needs a little work, but it’s all minor cosmetic stuff. Hurry up and make an offer! I can’t wait to get started.”

“Believe me, there’s plenty of work at my current house to keep you employed a long time. Isn’t this a terrific porch?”

Something in his smile made her feel lightheaded. “It’d be a great place to drink iced cappuccino and listen to Steely Dan,” he said. “With a friend.”

“Yes,” Sherri said. “It would.”

About the Author: Brandi Midkiff grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and studied English and Music at the University of North Texas. She spent years in a Celtic/folk band, playing pubs, clubs, and coffee shops. She lives on her husband’s ancestral farm, where she homeschools three teenagers and writes romantic fiction. Visit Brandi at http://mountainlaurel.wordpress.com and buy her book at Amazon.

Author Interview: Toni Noel


The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Toni Noel, whose latest book Temp to Permanent will be released on June 1 from Desert Breeze Publishing.

Toni was a newspaper columnist in her teens, and when she retired from the accounting department of a government contractor she planned to finally write fiction, her lifetime goal.

"I had no idea where to begin, so I enrolled in a creative writing class offered at a local college. Three weeks into the class on a rainy California afternoon, I was reading when ideas for a novel suddenly disrupted my reading. I hurried upstairs to get those ideas down in a computer file and went right from typing in ideas to writing the first chapter without even slowing down," she shared. "I love that story, and plan someday to revise it and send it out. I didn't know enough about writing then, but I think I do, now, and that story has merit. Some first novels do not. Mine is the story of an abused widow who avoided all men by hiding out in a mountain cabin until she's forced to pulls a near-drowned man from the creek and nurse him back to health."

The first romance Toni ever read was Morning Glory, written by LaVyrle Spencer.

"In it, a down-on-his-luck man approaches a lonely woman and offers to fix a few things around her home in exchange for food. I'm sure this premise has been used in many books, and will be used in many more, but the author had a way of showing the reader the heroine's loneliness, so that every thoughtful act of the hero softens the reader's heart toward him, just as it did the heroine's. Pretty soon the reader forgets that the heroine has taken in a stranger and starts cheering that the heroine has a new friend with whom to share her blessings," she told me. "We no longer care that he might have spent time in prison. We're delighted she's found a soul mate who appreciates her."

Other favorite authors are Elizabeth Lowell, who wrote the Only series and Pearl Cove, and Judy Duarte who writes inspirational books for Kensington.

When it comes to authors or books who have inspired her, she told me that Karen Robards jumps to the foreground.

"She's a terrific romantic suspense writer whose novel Heartbreaker gave me goose bumps," Toni explained."It was so scary I had to dissolve nitroglycerine tablets under my tongue to stop stress-related chest pains while I read, but there was no way I'd put that book down until I'd read the last heartwarming page."

Other authors who touch her heartstrings are Sharon Sala, Elizabeth Lowell, John Grisham, and Nicholas Sparks.

"Debbie Macomber's books stand out for a different reason. Reading her stories is like enjoying a comforting visit with friends," she told me. "Then there's Linda Howard, in a class of her own. That woman has a real understanding of men, and nails her male character to the page. Every so often I read Jim Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel again, and I depend on The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders for my characters' admirable traits and character flaws."

Creating flawed characters the reader wants to root for is the most important element to Toni.

"Don't give me a macho hero with attitude to read about," she said. "Give me a man who stutters when he tries to say, 'I love you,' and who can't tie his own tie, but who takes his sons camping one weekend a month so his wife can have some time for herself. Let him squeeze her hand for no reason and defend her actions to his mother, but find it impossible to ask his boss for a raise. Let her love him dearly, but want far more than he can provide, then make her become the breadwinner when he has a health scare. Make the conflict so real the reader can't see a way your hero and heroine can ever reach their goals. I remember reading a historical where the couple fell in love, only to discover she was of mixed blood at a time in history when interracial marriages were against the law where they lived. I wept for two days because there was no way that couple could live happily in the South. To my surprise and delight the plantation owner gave up everything he held dear and moved with his love to another state. Author Susan Wiggs did a fine plotting job in that book."

Toni starts off with an idea for a hero and, depending on who he is, she will choose a setting she knows—some place she's visited or lived—for him to reside. Writing the hero is easy for her, while writing the heroine is hard, but once Toni decides on the couple's conflict, the rest of the story falls into place.

"What do they want, and what's keeping them from reaching that goal? If I try to force my goals on my characters, it doesn't work," she said. "I have about a dozen stories started but never finished because I tried to force the characters to conform to my wishes. That doesn't work, my muse always abandons me."

When she's plotting the story, she uses the 50 scenes method and knows the story's resolution before she starts writing.

"My characters sometimes take charge and suggest new scenes," she admitted. "This happened during the writing of Law Breakers and Love Makers, my 2010 Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc. release. When I started writing I had no idea a dog and a verbose parrot would be left in the heroine's care or that there would be a car chase, let alone two."

"What was the hardest part of writing Temp to Permanent?" I asked.

"Keeping the hero and heroine from jumping each other's bones during office hours!" she told me. "He's a temporary secretary, she's his boss, the pull of mutual attraction strong, but both are determined to keep their distance in the office, so I created a diversion, made her suspicious, him over-protective of her, and always on guard in the office until the mystery is solved. I based the hero on the hunky temp I hired to help out in the accounting department at year-end close, a married guy so appealing the female employees, married or not, hung out of their cubicles when he walked by every afternoon on his assigned rounds. I had fun writing this book."
You can keep up with Toni on her blog, http://www.toninoelauthor.com/blog.html

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Spotlight: Kathleen Ann Gallagher

Backyard Oasis
by Kathleen Ann Gallagher



I look forward to Springtime and spending time outdoors. Our garden is one of my favorite places to relax. My husband and I enjoy our afternoon in our Adirondack chairs with a cup of coffee, as we listen to the birds chirp. We have a fountain, three birdhouses, and several beautiful plants. It is fun anticipating the transformation as the summer approaches. Around the borders are pine trees, and in the center are winding trails bordered by a lovely mix of perennials. There’s also a separate area to barbeque, and a shaded area for dining. Each year we add something new, or change around the furniture to make it new and exciting.

Even if you don’t have a lot of space you can create your own private oasis. There are small area makeovers sure to fit your budget. You can find plenty of ideas in magazines, or on the internet. A sunny weekend would be the ideal time for a yard makeover. Madeline Young from Echoes at Dawn spends time in her garden to clear her mind. She reflects on her life and the changes she faces. We all have times in our lives when things change. It’s how we deal with it that counts. Sometimes change is a good thing.

My favorite flowers are Peonies.

Peonies are also extensively grown as ornamental plants for their very large, often scented flowers. Due to their colorful and attractive flowers, Peonies have gained a huge popularity these days and are also made available in artificial form which are used as indoor decoration.[14]

Peonies are a common subject in tattoos, often used along with koi-fish. The popular use of peonies in Japanese tattoo was inspired by the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi's illustrations of the Suikoden, a serialized novel from China. His paintings of warrior-heroes covered in pictorial tattoos included lions, tigers, dragons, koi fish, and peonies, among other symbols. The peony became a masculine motif, associated with a devil-may-care attitude and disregard for consequence.

Source: Wikipedia

Happy Gardening!


Kathleen Ann Gallagher
Echoes at Dawn available at Decadent Publishing

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday Spotlight: Kathleen Ann Gallagher


Grilling Time
by Kathleen Ann Gallagher


It’s time to clean off the barbeque and gather some new grilling recipes. I recommend planting an herb garden. If you don’t have room for a spot in your yard, you can use a large pot on the porch, or deck. Fresh basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and mint will add a delicious flavor to any dish.

Madeline Young, my heroine from my release Echoes at Dawn with Decadent Publishing, is a chef, and she loves to throw together a summer salad to go with grilled chicken, salmon, or a turkey burger. You can use herbs to change a boring pasta salad into a masterpiece. It’s time to experiment with fun recipes. Madeline found one in her magazine collection that she wants to share with you. Sometimes she changes things up a bit, so have fun with it. Ladies, her new love Nat Griffin loved it!


SUMMER FARFALLE SALAD WITH SMOKED SALMON

YIELD: 6 servings (serving size: 2 cups)
Ingredients
  • 3 cups uncooked farfalle (bow tie pasta)
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 (6-ounce) bag baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 ounces (about 8 slices) smoked salmon, cut into thin strips

Preparation
Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Combine pasta, tomatoes, dill, and spinach in a large bowl, tossing gently to combine.

Combine lemon rind and next 5 ingredients (lemon rind through pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture; toss gently to coat. Top with salmon.

SOURCE: Cooking Light August 2002

Kathleen Ann Gallagher
Echoes at Dawn available at Decadent Publishing








Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday Spotlight: Kathleen Ann Gallagher

A Time For Romance
by Kathleen Ann Gallagher


Spring romances are in full bloom when the month of April comes around. Even if you’re married, you can rekindle your love affair with your husband. Make believe it’s your first encounter and try to remember all the little things you found appealing about him when you first met. A night alone could turn out to be a romantic rendezvous.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone keep the kids for the night, the two of you can retreat to the privacy of your home, light a few candles and you never know what could happen.

Madeline Young, my heroine from Echoes at Dawn, melted when Nat Griffin held her close as they danced under the stars.

Here’s the excerpt.

Nat took my hand, put out the candles, and slowly led me upstairs. He told me to close my eyes and guided me outside.

“Okay, open your eyes now.” He gently moved my shoulders and faced me in the right direction.

In front of me was picturesque scenery, with trees as far as the eye could see. It was lovely and the stars sparkled in the sky above us. "It’s amazing up here,” I said.

Vintage lampposts in the corner gave an ambiance of romance. Trees with auburn tipped leaves surrounded by tones of yellow and brown filled the area. Tiny lights sparkled in between the winding trails. The peaceful sound of a fountain trickled gracefully in the background. It was a magical garden.

“I come up here to relax and just breathe,” he said.

“Oh, Nat, this is amazing.”

He turned on the stereo upstairs. Before I could realize it, we were slow dancing. Nat gently placed his arms around me, as our bodies connected on every beat.
~~~~~


Enjoy the night and the stars!

You can find me at Kathleen at http://KathleenAnnGallagher.net
Echoes at Dawn available at Decadent Publishing

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Spotlight: Kathleen Ann Gallagher

An Ever-changing Cycle
By Kathleen Ann Gallagher


Spring is a time for exploring the wonders of nature. Life is an ever-changing cycle. Sadly, we cannot always hold onto the things we love, but they will forever remain in our hearts. Take the opportunity to move forward.

The signs of a new beginning are all around us. The tiny buds appear on the cherry trees in our backyard. A bulb appears along the walkway to the garden. The birds sing at my window each morning... These things remind me of the wonders of life. When I return from work at night, the sun is still shining, and I’m able to enjoy a time of reflection in our yard, as I sip a hot cup of herbal tea. I give thanks for my many blessings.

Anticipation sparks my memory of the sweet fragrance of the flowers and the vibrant colors that fill my garden each year.

Take the time this Spring to embark on a new adventure. Whether you’ve got an idea for a backyard oasis, or a premise for a hot summer read, let your creativity blossom. You’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish if you make the decision to try something different. Come on, step out of your comfort zone. There are endless possibilities waiting for you.

Madeline Young, the heroine of my new release Echoes at Dawn from Decadent Publishing, has the opportunity for a new beginning when has an unexpected caller. Her world is suddenly shifted in a different direction.

EXCERPT

The willowy vision swirled around and circled like a cyclone before she vanished. The hazy fog gradually thinned, and it was as if she never appeared. Mother reached inside her robe pocket, took out a five-pointed star necklace and a tiny charm that housed a photo of her twin sister Mary. She loved to keep her precious belongings close to her heart. She clutched the pendant tightly before she put it around her neck.

Mark sat next to her on the bed. He wrinkled his forehead and tightened his jaw.
The room seemed like it closed in on me, and it felt like there was a thin veil over my face. I struggled to breathe and gasped for air. It took a few minutes before I could speak.

“Are you okay? What happened?” Mark’s voice drummed in my ear.

As I shuddered, I pulled the coverlet over my shoulders. “I saw a ghostly image, and I believe she gave me a command,” I blurted. I held my hand up, and pressed my fingers against my mouth.

“What do you mean? Were you dreaming?” Mark shouted and sprung from the edge of my bed.

“No, I was awake,” I replied. I shook my head.

“Did she touch you?” he asked; his voice rose.

“She didn’t come close enough.”

“Did she come to rob us?” he screeched.

“I don’t think so.”

“The doors and windows are locked. How on earth did she get in?” he questioned.

“She appeared after a bright light,” I responded and found it all hard to believe.

“Well, you’re all right. That’s all that counts.” Mother moved over to the antique armoire which was in our family for over a century. It was the only item she kept from her own bedroom when she was a young girl. It had a mahogany finish with beautiful gold handles. Around the doors were carvings in the shape of vines. She ran her hand across the old relic and opened the bottom drawer. She adjusted the back wall to reveal an extra space. I never knew there was a hidden area in the back. To my amazement, she lifted out a box of white candles before she advanced over to the mantel. Mother lit five candles and lowered her head. She moved over to the window, mumbled in what sounded like a different language, and then returned to my bedside as calm as could be.

“She had on an old-fashioned dress with a lace, hoop skirt,” I said. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to remember more details. “It had a wide sash around the waist, and she wore high top shoes. She floated in mid-air.” I moved to hang my legs over the bed.

“You must have been terrified,” Mark said.

“Was she someone you know?” he asked. Mark glanced around the room for clues.

“She looked like Aunt Mary.” After I made an attempt to place her, I felt a chill. It became as cold as the outdoors in my room. “It was Aunt Mary!” I cupped my hand over my mouth.

Mother peeked over her shoulder and recited a strange chant.
~~~~~

Enjoy the wonders of change.

Happy Spring to all!

Kathleen Ann Gallagher
http://KathleenAnnGallagher.net
Echoes at Dawn available at Decadent Publishing

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Spotlight: Kathleen Ann Gallagher

Spring Memories
By Kathleen Ann Gallagher


When I was a young girl I looked forward to marching in the Easter parade in my hometown. My older sister would help me find the prettiest bonnet and purse to match my outfit. The dress I loved the most was a bright pink one with large multicolored polka dots. I thought I looked like a movie-star in it. My mother set my hair the night before to smooth the curls. I wore a pair of white patent leather shoes, white gloves, and frilly socks. Easter time holds some of my fondest memories.

The next best thing about Easter was when we colored the eggs. My mother lined the kitchen table with newspaper, and I would blend the colors. I used the special crayon included in the kit to personalize each one.

I couldn’t wait to open my Easter basket and find my favorite treats. I believe my appreciation for all things chocolate started as a child. Madeline Young, the heroine of my release, Echoes at Dawn happens to be a chocoholic. I think some of you may relate to her.

Here’s the blurb.

The strangely intertwined lives of a widowed woman, her dementia plagued mother, and a charismatic bachelor come together in order to show that in life, there are no coincidences… only destiny.

Waterfront restaurant chef Madeline Young adores her job. If only her love and family lives were as successful as her career. Her doubts as a parent pass through her mind when her teenage son is taken to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning. Madeline’s mother wants her to find true happiness and enlists the help of her deceased twin sister, Mary. An early dawn visit from a spirit directs her to volunteer at the local hospitals center for addiction recovery.

Nathaniel Griffin, a part-time counselor and contractor, fascinates his clients with his lectures. In keeping with his viewpoint of professionalism, Nat prefers to keep his personal life private. When he connects with Madeline, Nat must confront his marred past. Is he willing to face his demons or take the easier path and remain isolated?

Can unworldly ghosts save this couple from their own self-destructive behavior?


I am a registered nurse who works in an emergency room. On my days off, I spend most of my time writing, and reading, okay and shopping. I am married to the love of my life, Joseph, who has the patience of a saint. We live in Central New Jersey. I have two wonderful sons, and an amazing daughter, who are all grown. I am blessed with three adorable grandsons. I have been writing since I was a young girl of. My favorite weekend escape is Cape May, New Jersey. I can always dream up a magical tale, while relaxing under an umbrella, on one of their pristine beaches.


Website http://KathleenAnnGallagher.net
ECHOES AT DAWN AVAILABLE AT http://www.DecadentPublishing.com

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Visit by Abigail Sharpe


“Lila, honey, put the Seder plate on the table and unlock the front door.”

“Sure, Mom.” Lila hefted the plate laden with traditional Passover offerings and left the hot kitchen. It felt as heavy as her heart. The hard-boiled egg threatened to roll to the floor as she wound through throngs of relatives, wondering which one would be playing the prophet Elijah tonight. Her uncles had done it for years, but now her cousins took turns drinking the wine and donning the Middle Eastern headdress her father had brought back from Jerusalem years ago.

Thinking about the Middle East turned her mind to Daniel as she carefully placed the plate on the blue tablecloth next to the stack of matzo. Really, though, her thoughts were rarely elsewhere. They’d known each other their whole lives but had only been dating for a year when he got news of his deployment. She bit back a sigh and imagined him next to her. His solid presence, his warm brown eyes, his love for her. They were always held tightly in a sacred corner of her heart. She wondered where he was, what he was doing. Sleeping in a tent, dealing with a sandstorm, patrolling the land around him. “Please, God, keep him safe,” she breathed, unlocking the front door. Anyone could enter their house and join them this evening, the first night of Passover.

“It’s open?” Aunt Rochelle asked. When Lila nodded, her aunt ushered her back to the dining room, placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. “Sit. The Seder is about to begin.”

Lila took a seat next to her younger sister and picked up the Haggadah to read along, absently twisting a lock of her brown hair around a finger. Her grandfather said the Kiddush and she sipped the first glass of dark red wine. Everyone laughed and drank, mingling family talk with the ancient stories. Her family threw her covert glances, and she tried to smile so she didn’t bring anyone else down during this joyous holiday. Daniel’s parents and siblings were there, too, attending the Seder like they had over so many years. She couldn’t pay attention to the familiar words; her mind was over six thousand miles away. He had been gone for seven months, and her heart broke with loneliness and wanting. She longed to have his arms around her, to make her feel cherished and loved.

Elijah’s cup glistened on the table in front of her, untouched, alone, a small splash of wine slipping down its silver side like a tear. She felt the answering moisture in her own eyes and blinked. She did not want to share the private thoughts of her love. She forced her lips up in some semblance of a smile, hoping no one noticed it wasn’t genuine.

Her sister passed her the parsley and the salt water. Lila dipped the green herb and stuck it in her mouth, chewing slowly but tasting nothing. It went like this for half an hour with more wine and charoset, breaking the middle matzo. Her sister left the table to hide the afikoman and Lila wished it was her, just so she could have one moment alone to gather herself. Finally the ceremony concluded and everyone started eating in earnest. The thick beefy aroma of the brisket and the tang of the onions had been evident in the house since that afternoon. Usually Lila loved when her mom cooked it, but tonight she could only pick at it. It wasn’t right. She was surrounded by family, by his family. He had his brothers in arms, but it wasn’t the same. Did he even know it was Passover, or were his days filled with too many other things for him to keep track?

The front door creaked. She glanced around to see which of her relatives had snuck away to play Elijah and frowned when she didn’t find an empty seat. Her nieces and nephew squealed as the figure approached the table and grasped the glass of wine. Elijah smelled familiar, fresh and clean like he had just showered. The silver cup disappeared from her view and reappeared a moment later. Elijah’s hand stopped next to her plate, palm up, its rough contours holding a small maroon velvet box.

That wasn’t part of the tradition. A box like that usually meant… Lila followed Elijah’s arm up to his face. Even under the headdress, she knew that jaw, that nose, those eyes that burned in her memory. Her heart burst with the intensity of her love while she cried out and stood so quickly her chair crashed to the floor. “Daniel,” she gasped.

This time she didn’t bother trying to hold back the tears. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck to assure herself this wasn’t her imagination. He circled her waist and held her just as close, his shoulders trembling under her touch. He buried his nose in her neck. “I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered.

“I love you, Lila,” Daniel answered, his breath warm on his ear. They stayed as one while their combined families shouted greetings. After a bit, he reached for the box. “I’m home only for a couple of days, and I want to know one thing.” He got down on one knee and grasped her hand. She squeezed his to stop shaking. “You’re the first thing I think about when I wake up. You fill my dreams every night, and I can’t imagine a day without you. I’ve loved you for so long and I want to know that I’ll always have you in my life. Will you marry me?”

Lila knelt on the floor next to him and nodded, her throat so constricted with emotion she couldn’t say the words. He tried to put the ring on her finger but she threw herself against him, nearly knocking him backward. She didn’t care about the jewelry. She only wanted to feel him beside her, to know that he was safe, and he was hers. Forever.

About the Author: About the Author: Abigail Sharpe is a displaced Yankee living in North Central Florida. Inspiration for her writing comes from the variety of occupations she’s had over the years, including selling lingerie, taking surveys in a mall, hosting birthday parties at an arcade, and working in a computer lab. She wants to send a big shout out to our men and women in uniform and dedicates this story to the memory of those who gave their life in service to their country.

Visit Abigail at www.chicksinthekitchen.wordpress.com and www.abigailsharpe.com.

First Impressions by Mysti Holiday


Jen’s ride was thirty minutes late. As if flying despite her fear wasn’t enough, now she was stranded at the airport by the very guy she’d come to see. The guy who’d won her heart with his emails, his phone calls, his chats. A friend of a friend, he’d been everything she didn’t know she wanted. And now she was stuck in a strange town with no phone. Alone. She searched through her carry-on bag, wondering how the hell she’d managed to lose her cell phone on the flight when a truck pulled up next to the sidewalk.

“Need a lift?”

She stopped her search and stared up at the man in the truck. He took her breath away with his amazing good looks: raven hair, ice blue eyes, far better than she’d imagined, far better than his pictures had shared. With a flick of her wrists, she shut the case with a slap and zipped it shut. She hated flying with a passion, and having to stand outside for thirty minutes, waiting in vain, had really pissed her off.

“I’ll take a cab.” She walked away, rolling her bag behind her.

He paced her in the truck, talking to her through the passenger window. “Come on, Jen, don’t be stubborn. I’m sorry I’m late, but you’re obviously tired. Hop in.”

Jen looked at him again, all sexy smiles and inviting eyes. Damn it. She never could resist a hot guy in a truck. “Fine.”

He leaned across the bench seat and opened her door. “Toss your bag behind the seat, why don’t you?”

She did so, then settled into the seat with a sigh. Sliding a glance his way, she scowled again. “This isn’t a good first impression, you know.”

The grin full of promise that he flashed her set her heart to pounding. “I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

“Damn straight.” His gaze settled on her and she squirmed from its intensity until she couldn’t stand it another moment. “What?”

“I have to get this out of the way or it’s just going to eat at me.” He leaned in and slid her across the seat until they were only inches apart. “We’ve had phone sex so much, I feel like we’ve done this before. I need to touch you.” His head lowered, his lips brushed hers once, twice, never quite settling, but sending shivers of need down her spine and making her gut clench.

“Please...” she whispered, sliding a hand up his back and burrowing fingers in his hair.

Finally his lips claimed hers and she moaned, opening her mouth and taking him in. Their tongues met in a wild mating dance and her nipples hardened as she pressed against him, rubbing the sensitive nubs back and forth across his chest. He tugged her even closer, his hands traveling over her arms, her back, then sliding under the waist band of her skirt and cupping her ass. The feel of his fingers on her flesh made her pussy clench and she knew her walls were moist with desire.

He pulled away then, his breath coming in short gasps, his hands slowly slipping out of her skirt. “God. I shouldn’t have started that in the damn truck in a public place.” He caressed her back, her waist, then moved his attention to her breasts, cupping their weight and circling the hard peaks with his thumbs. “I want you, Jen.”

“Trevor.” She sighed his name and covered his hands with hers, pressing his palms against her chest, then lifting them and kissing each one before placing them on the steering wheel. “Then get us to the hotel.”

“I don’t want to wait that long.” He smiled, his eyes full of promise, and pulled the truck onto the road.

Jen scooted to the center of the bench seat, her thigh against his. She fastened the lap belt and sighed. “Me either.”

She placed her hand on his erection, rubbing it up and down, thrilling at the feel of his cock. They’d been corresponding for nearly a year now, without meeting, without touching and she’d struggled with her desperate desire for him for months. Phone sex, fingers and a vibrator just weren’t the same.

They turned onto the highway and sped toward her hotel, but she needed him now. As if reading her thoughts, he pushed up the hem of her skirt, his hand sliding up her bare thigh until her panties were exposed. Her breath caught as he pushed aside the tiny bit of cotton and touched her shaved pussy, one finger sliding between the nether lips and into the moist heat.

“God!” Her thighs fell open and she rubbed his cock harder, flicking open the top button of his jeans with nimble fingers. His middle finger dipped inside her, up to the base and pressed up while his thumb circled her clit. Overcome with sensation, her left hand stopped its ministrations on his cock and she focused on all the sensations shooting through her.

He inserted a second finger inside her, fucking her, working her and her entire body reached for the orgasm that was so close, so close. She pistoned herself against his palm, and then gave a mewling cry as she came.

She leaned her head on his shoulder, waiting for her heart to stop galloping in her chest and then smiled up at him. “Your turn.”

“Oh no ... I’m driving.”

“So?” She undid his belt, jeans button and zipper, laughing when his cock popped out into her hand. “Commando?”

He started to respond but she slid her hand up and down the hard length, and all that came out of his mouth was a moan. Feeling powerful and fully feminine, Jen leaned down and took him in her mouth. The truck slowed and wobbled on the road a moment before straightening and she took that as a challenge.

She laved the head, tongue swirling around the ridge and flicking across the vein beneath. She pumped him with her mouth, with her hand at the base, sucking and tasting loving the feel of him in her mouth, the salty flavor of the precum on the tip of his cock. Trevor shuddered and Jen felt the truck swerve again, then continue moving right. Alarmed, she lifted her head.

“Rest stop,” Trevor said, his voice hoarse.

“Ah.”

He stopped in the first space and reached under the seat, shoving it all the way back and then dug in his back pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“This.” He proffered a condom and rolled it on his cock. “And this.” He unstrapped her seat belt and lifted her until she straddled him. With one quick move he shoved her panties aside and drove into her, stretching her cream-slicked walls.

The feel of him inside her pussy combined with the look in his eye as he watched her was like nothing she’d felt before. With their gazes locked, she opened her legs wider and took him all the way in. His hands gripped her hips, lifting her up and down in a rhythm that matched the pumping of his own body. She cupped his face, kissing him, her tongue mimicking the movement of his cock inside her. Up, down, in, out, the sensations raced through her until she knew nothing but him, was aware of nothing but the feel of him inside her, the taste of him in her mouth.

His powerful thrusts grew faster and his body tensed. She leaned away, wanting to come with him. She found her clit with her fingers and pressed it, circling the hard, wet nub until her body shook. “God, Trevor, you’re... I’m...” Her head fell back and she just soaked up the sensations , her pussy full of his cock, her heart full of her love.

The hands on her hips tightened and pulled her down, hard, one last time as he gave a hoarse shout and came. Only one more rub on her clit and she joined him, gyrating her hips to suck every last bit from the orgasm, squeezing his cock with her muscles and then collapsing against him.

“Holy shit,” Trevor whispered against her throat, his arms circling her and holding her close.

She laughed. “Yeah.”

They sat quietly for a moment, together and sated. Then he took her face in his hands and held her only inches from his. “I think we answered the one last question we had about our relationship.”

A smile curved her lips. “Apparently we are sexually compatible.”

“And then some.” He brushed a kiss over her mouth. “So, now that’s out of the way...”

“Hmm?”

“Jen, I love you with my whole being. Will you marry me?” He dug into his shirt pocket and pulled out a slim, modest diamond solitaire.

“Oh my God.” Tears sprung to her eyes. “Yes! God, yes. Trevor, I love you, too.” She held out her hand and he slipped the ring on her finger. “Only ...” She swiveled her hips, loving the feel of him inside her, still slighty erect, and thrilled to think she’d have him forever.

Worry filled his expression. “What?”

She grinned and batted her eyelashes. “What will we tell our kids when they ask how you proposed?”



About the author: Mysti Holiday is the pseudonym of a very busy SAHM who dreams of warm climes and hot bodies.

She's married to a wonderful man who happily sacrifices himself for research, and she spends most of her days dreaming of interesting and unusual situations in which to place her characters. But most of all, she's a sucker for a happy ending. Find out about her erotic short stories from The Wild Rose Press at http://www.menagerieauthors.com or http://www.menagerieauthors.blogspot.com

Author Interview: Lynn Hones

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Lynn Hones, whose latest book Gore Orphanage Road was released in March by Devine Destinies.

I asked her to tell us a little about it.

Alexis Duncan and her family move into a home once owned by an evil tyrant, and are blissfully unaware of the horrors that await them. Strange apparitions, orbs floating in the woods outside their windows, and frightening specters in their bedrooms are only the beginning.

Alexis alienates her hardcore boyfriend, Joe, and his cronies, after meeting a young man named Reed who understands the manifestation of ghostly occurrences. He sets out to save her from them and also from an insanely jealous Joe. He'll kill to save her, even if it means losing Alexis in process.
Lynn has been writing for about forty years, she told me. Her first book came out in 1969 and was titled: Bubbles the Bear and Dinkles the Duck.

"It was such a hit with my brothers and sisters I wrote The Further Adventurs of Bubbles the Bear and Dinkles the Duck. I was nine years old and they were self-illustrated, self-bound, and, I guess, self-published," she remembered. "When my mom died and we were cleaning out her house, I found them in the top drawer of her dresser. I couldn't believe she kept them for over forty years. I also wrote poetry, which my brothers and sisters kindly remind me of at family gatherings. One favorite is 'Whales, whales, where are the whales, swimming in the ocean blue, Whales, whales, where are the whales, those whales I once knew…' It goes on, but you get the point."

Lynn told me that she writes on her bed. She has a big green, antique, wicker "bed table kind of thing" with her files, notebooks, pens, packs of gum, candy, and her computer.

"I just pick it up and put it on the ground at night and pick it back up in the morning. My bed is the center of my and my family’s universe. It’s huge with feather bedding and tons of old quilts. Very homey filled with my cats and dog and kids and their friends…homework…you name it. Hell, come on over," she said with a laugh.

Her characters are modeled after people she's met, however briefly, and her plots come to her mind like daydreams. The fun part, though, is dreaming up her titles. She pictures the book on a shelf and just starts putting words on it in her mind. The hardest part of writing her book?

"Having an active family. Two busy kids, a hubby, animals, friends, and commitments at the schools, phone calls, shopping and cooking and cleaning. GUILT. But, I let people know, writing is my job and I need ME time."

"What is your work schedule like when you are writing?" I asked.

"Stick an I.V. in me and put me in a room. I can write for days without being interrupted," she said. "Alas, it isn’t so, but some nights we have take out and, gasp, the kids wear their underwear two days in a row."

When she's not writing, however, she loves the beach and collecting beach glass, which she makes into jewelry. She also enjoys sewing things for her home.

Lynn's favorite book of the ones she's written is her first, Those Who Wait.

"It’s a sweet romance, kind of along the lines of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," she explained. My second, The Cult of Light and Lies is completely different, more chick-lit, but it was fun to write. My third, A Love That Wouldn’t Die, is a paranormal romance and a little racier, but not too much. I laugh too hard when writing love scenes. My fourth, Laugh in the Dark, is strictly a ghost story, but with a twist. My fifth, Gore Orphanage Road, is also a ghost story."

On a personal note, Lynn told me she has to have a dog in the house.

"My house isn't a home without one," she said. "I also have to have a cat and a hamster and fish, too."

Lynn is Scottish and Finnish on her mom's side and English and Welsh on her dad's.

"I’ve had a grandparent fight in every war the US has had or been in," she told me. "My great, great, great, great grandfather, (I don’t really know how many greats…actually) fought in the revolution."

Some other things you might not know about Lynn.

When she eats a pack of gum, she doesn't eat just one piece at a time; she chews the entire pack at one time.
A saying she uses a lot is "knock it off"—to her kids when they are bugging her
When she was in China, she ate camel
She also ate something that looked like a brain. "Only a tiny bit when I found out the cook didn't even know what it was," she added.
She's absolutely terrified of thunderstorms while loving them at the same time.
She's also afraid of the dark and sleeps with a nightlight on.
She not only can't tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke, she doesn't care. She only cares about which one is on sale.
Finally, I asked Lynn, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. Listen to anyone who can give you advice. Absorb it like a sponge. Also join a writers group. The best advice I got was from someone who told me to cut an entire chapter. It was a lovely chapter. I worked hard on it. I was insulted. I drove home crying. I then cut the chapter out. The book read much better afterwards. I thanked her the next meeting."
You can keep up with Lynn on her website, http://www.lynnhones.com

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Spotlight: Claire Ashgrove

The Magic of an Arabian


Hi everybody! If you’ve been reading this week, you’ve learned a lot about me and what has inspired the stories I’ve written. I’ve tried to give you pieces that might be interesting and tidbits that will add to the charm of some of the characters and plots. Today I want to talk about Waiting for Yes, my newest release.

The tie-in with my horses on this book is obvious with one glance at the cover – my champion stallion, WDA Orion, is the model horse. Beyond that, my bio states clearly I raise Arabian horses. My first horse was an Arabian, the breed is truly a magical breed. That’s the only way they can be described – as evidenced with the classic, Arabian Nights.

But what the outside observer doesn’t usually know is that within the world of Arabian horses, there are specialized breeding efforts devoted to perpetuating different strains, different origins, different bloodlines. One of which is the Straight Egyptian. It’s a very “elite” Arabian, and to be frank, not where I spent my breeding efforts. That’s a different discussion though.

Orion was part of a preservation movement. He and his offspring were touted within the industry as classic examples of the Straight Egyptian horse. Using him, and his heritage, as a focal point in a story and illustrating portions of the world of Show Arabians, just meshed too well to be ignored. Thus was born, Bahadur Mamoon, who is the physical twin to my stallion.

There are many other horses of note in this book, and almost all of them were pulled from horses I’ve met and put physically into the book, with names changed. Rajiv is, in essence, my deceased stallion, Pali Wind, and my junior stallion, Khemokaizee. His relationship with Mamoon is pulled straight from my backyard and the way Orion and Khemo interacted. The flashy chestnut belonging to Gabrielle’s father – my beloved Abu Zakkson. The list goes on, and for a closer look, I’ve put a few beauties into the trailer, which you can view on my website. Along with a link to the horses who are in the trailer.

The setting also comes from my heart: Ransom, Kansas is where my ancestors were born. Everybody hates “flat Kansas.” I, however, love it. And for all my friends and family who’ve read this book – yes, that’s Aunt Alice’s house I ported to the other side of town. The kitchen carpeting is still that same weird green, and her den is still as cozy as it was.

I almost bought that house, my love for Ransom is so deep. But I was logically convinced that my nearest neighbors would think I’d lost my mind if they saw me using horses to jump things as opposed to herding cattle. I fixed that. Gabrielle’s Arabians don’t jump.

I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to read Waiting for Yes, as there’s another reason this book is very special to me. While waiting for the release date on the novel, I lost Orion. A victim of the fragile disease called, “horse”, he twisted a portion of his gut and had to be euthanized in November of 2010. This book, these few pictures of him, and two foals he left behind, are all that remain in my life of the beautiful stallion who captured my heart.

Thanks for participating – it’s been great being here this week.


~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com

Gabrielle Warrenton gave up everything to pursue her dream of a first-class Egyptian Arabian breeding farm. Her future lies in her new stallion’s success. Though she possesses an exceptional eye for horseflesh, she lacks the training knowledge, and Bahadur Mamoon has a date with the nation’s most affluent show in three weeks. Nothing that would present a problem given his previous credentials. Only, the sellers disguised one critical fact—he’s crazy.

Jake Lindsey-Sullivan was once part of an exceptional Arabian training team. Under his mother’s guidance, he developed an instinctual talent, but she was the star, the cornerstone of his life. Until she met a premature death. Grief-stricken and plagued by guilt, Jake abandoned the world of horses. Now an over-the-road truck driver, he evades the memories.

When a snowstorm throws two Arabian professionals into close-quarters, they discover an engulfing passion. But will Mamoon rip open emotional scars, or forever seal them shut?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday Spotlight: Claire Ashgrove

Making Dreams Come True


For those who are tuning into the discussion late, I’m talking about the inspiration behind my novels this week. Today I’m talking about my 2010 Christmas release.

At the core of its inception, A Christmas To Believe In was crafted as a need to meet certain parameters that the cooperative series effort required. Setting, plot, theme, etc – all the base elements including some character archtypes – were necessary to make the final book in the Three Kings series tie everything to a close.

But Clint King’s struggles with his dreams, again came from the struggle with my own. Raising horses isn’t easy. At times it seems nature works against you at every turn. Breaks don’t come when they are needed, and when a break does come, it’s often overlooked because everything else seems to be going fine.

There’s a deeply personal part of this book as well – the need to gain a deceased father’s approval. My parents gave a whole heck of a lot to help me achieve dreams through all of my life. My father passed away before ever seeing the fruition of his efforts. He died two months before I sold my first book. I still struggle with the hope that I made him proud before he passed on and the knowledge that as his daughter, he was proud of me regardless. Clint also struggles with this.

Conversely, Jesse has everything she wants and needs… except love.

We didn’t specify in the series exactly where the setting was, beyond North Kansas City. What was in my head, at the time of writing, however, was Gladstone, my old stomping grounds in my late teens and early twenties. That was fun bringing back some memories.

One of the pivotal scenes takes place under the Mayor’s Christmas Tree in Crown Center. I worked in this area for two years, and the Mayor’s Christmas Tree is one of the highlights of Kansas City’s Christmas festivities. (Along with The Plaza lights.) I’ve spent time at the Ice Terrace, I’ve played on the wooden figurines beneath the tree. I’ve spent more time wandering through the window displays that Clint is looking at than I could ever count. Christmas in Kansas City isn’t Christmas without a mention of this place. It’s truly breathtaking. This year I took my oldest son to see Crown Center, and it was so nice to see that the magic I remembered and put into my book, is still evident through a child’s eyes. I hope you find it just as enchanting.

Come back tomorrow for an in-depth look at Waiting for Yes.


~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com

Struggling Thoroughbred breeder, Clint King, hasn’t been home for Christmas in five years. Like his brothers, Alex and Heath, life has kept him away. Clint’s farm is barely hanging on. His prize mare's due to foal any day, and in the wake of his father’s death, Clint can’t stand the idea of returning. The memories are too much, let alone his father’s imposing shadow. Except, Alex is getting married on Christmas Eve, and their mother’s put her foot down. She’ll have her boys at home. With his mare in tow behind him, Clint prepares to meet a sister he’s never known and Alex’s unexpected triplets. The one salvation he looks forward to is childhood companion, tomboy Jesse Saurs. Yet when he reunites with Jesse, he uncomfortably discovers she’s become all woman.

Jesse Saurs has everything she needs – financial security, a home, and a foster child who’s about to become her son. She’s spent two years breaking down Ethan’s emotional barriers, and with the final hearing scheduled just before Christmas, this year promises to make his dreams come true. When she learns Clint and his brothers are returning, she anticipates a holiday reunion that’s sure to entertain Ethan. But on the night of Clint’s return, the ‘brother’ she expected leaves her trembling after just a single hug. Even worse, Ethan makes it clear Clint's not welcome.

Will this Christmas destroy what's left of hopes and dreams, or will it give the three the gift they've all been longing for?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday Spotlight: Claire Ashgrove

A Chain of Bad Valentines


Timeless Valentine, of all the books I’ve written, comes the closest to resembling parts of my reality. Rest assured, the people I’m closest to can pick out the truth from fiction in a heartbeat. Hee!

Let’s start with the only exception – Lucas has nothing to do with my life in any way, shape, or form. He is strictly and utterly a figment of my imagination.

Which leaves Olivia who’s never experienced a Valentine’s Day as they are supposed to happen. Neither have I. So for me, the holiday has no great charm; I don’t care about it one way or the other.

Let’s make a list:
  • Discovered a significant other’s affair on Valentines? Yup.
  • Delivered flowers to my high school boyfriend’s other girlfriend? Yup.
  • Had a significant other who wanted every woman but me? Yup.
  • Had a boyfriend leave a dance with someone else? Well, not exactly, but close.
  • Had a cheating significant other thank me for showing him how to love someone else? Yup too.
I think that’s enough for now, but it should show that Olivia’s past markedly resembles mine. Convincing someone who doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day that it’s something of merit was a fun challenge. Let me restate that – having Lucas bend-over backwards to try to convince Olivia was a fun challenge. I did use Kansas City this time and one of my favorite places, The Country Club Plaza. One of the antagonists manages a retail store there and, while I didn’t manage the store, I worked at one and spent enough hours there doing management work, I feel like I did. The snake who tries to take Lucas for a ride in business is modeled after a horse-trader I knew years ago. Then there’s Olivia’s puppy. He was a direct copy/paste of the Labrador I owned. Four weeks after making my home his, he made it clear the depths he’d go to for his newfound family when an intruder entered the home in the middle of the night. I had never seen (and hope to never see) a rabid dog. Charley was so intent on protecting us that he epitomized Old Yeller that night. He brought home (literally) a girlfriend the following summer, and promptly became the father to six adorable puppies. At eleven years old, my neighbor shot him, (We’ll not discuss that – my best friend put it best, “Hillbillies with guns.”) and blew a hole out the top of his back that required 17 stitches. The tops of all his vertebrae were knocked off, and he was filled with shot. When he failed to come to breakfast, his girlfriend led me to where he was hiding in the grass, splayed open and bleeding all over the lawn, looking at me with, “Will you please help me?” He pulled through, miraculously, with no critical injuries. A year later, he was diagnosed with cancer. Of all the dogs I’ve owned, Charley is one who deserves to romp in green pastures and chase rabbits. Letting him go after nursing him through such a devastating disease was very difficult. I hung on by adding him into three books. One as the adult dog I knew. Two as the puppy I imagined he might have been. More to come tomorrow, with A Christmas To Believe In.
~Claire www.claireashgrove.com
When Lucas Benning relocated to Kansas City, his best friend’s sister became his roommate. Problem is, they’ve despised each other since he cut off her hair when she was fifteen. But with Valentines Day looming, his sentimental side can’t accept Olivia’s jaded perspective the holiday’s for fools. He vows to prove romance doesn’t go hand-in-hand with sex. Except, a game he starts to prove a point awakens a frightening passion he can’t escape. Eccentric artist, Olivia McDaniels, finds Lucas’ proposal laughable. Yet, when her brother commissions a portrait of Lucas, she sees a different side of the man--tender and selfless. To her horror, he chips away at the walls around her heart. Only, Lucas belongs to another woman, and the feelings he stirs can only lead to pain. As the holiday arrives, will Cupid's arrows forge a timeless bridge between their differences, or will they eternally miss their mark?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Spotlight: Claire Ashgrove

A Christmas Wish Come True


Hi everyone! In case you’re just joining me here, I’m blogging this week on the inspiration behind my novels. Today, I’m discussing All I Want For Christmas…Is Big Blue Eyes, my 2009 Christmas release.

This book began, frankly, because I wanted a Christmas story available, and I wanted a release close to when my first book came out. I was still working on the misconception that writing what an author knows is cheating, so I didn’t want to set the book in my hometown, Kansas City. But putting it in Missouri made the story easier to relate to. So I chose a city about an hour away, a small town called Lexington, Missouri, which has a glorious history in the Civil War and is an enchanting place to drive through.

The house that Josh watches get destroyed is a turn-of-the century mansion in Kansas City, right off The Country Club Plaza, in the Art Institute’s district. Through my early twenties, this house sat on the market, abandoned and majestic in a dilapidated kind of way. The story goes that a hotel chain offered 14 million dollars for the property and at the last minute the seller’s backed out, wanting more, as at the time it was right in the middle of budding development. Then they got stuck with it because the hotel moguls moved on. No idea if that’s exactly true, but it did sit for many years.

I developed a business plan to turn that property into a bed and breakfast. But the right investors were too difficult to find. The house has always held a place in my heart. (And I was quite devastated to learn, when stopping by to get a better description than what was in my memory, to see that it’s been modified and is now part of the Art Institute’s “stuff” down there.) So Warwick Manor came to life in my book. This house forms the basis of Josh and Amanda’s dreams.

Going home for Christmas is a pretty heartwarming theme. But I didn’t want the ‘magic’ of going home. I wanted home to be a place that didn’t hold fond memories overall. But there had to be something to enchant Josh with home, even though he despised the city itself. Enter Amanda, the woman he cannot leave behind, no matter how he tries. Which left a lot of room to create the magic.

Emma, Amanda’s daughter, was inspired by my niece, who is a particularly charming little girl who absolutely knows how to wind people around her little finger.

A quirky sister makes things even more fun, and what better way to antagonize her brother Josh than bring in a house-eating puppy? Her yellow lab, and Riley’s yellow lab in Seduction’s Stakes, came from my dear old man, Charley, who walked into my life in a bitter ice-storm, and six years later, was dying at the time I wrote Seduction’s Stakes. This is getting long, so I’ll save his story for tomorrow, and leave you with the All I Want... blurb:

Some dreams were never meant to be...

Renowned architect, Josh McDaniels, spent ten years avoiding his hometown and the unforgettable memories of his youth. But when a former classmate phones him before Christmas with a proposal he can’t refuse, he finds himself back in small-town, Lexington, Missouri, surrounded by holiday festivities and engulfed in memories of a blue-eyed girl.

Amanda Masterson knows three things about Josh. She loves him, he loves her, and he’ll walk out when those feelings terrify him, as he always does. Ten years ago, he abandoned their dreams. Eight years ago, he returned to break her heart again. Now, he’s back once more, and this time, he’s jeopardizing not only her heart but her daughter’s as well.

Can the spirit of Christmas overcome a past riddled with mistakes? Or will fears and doubts destroy the greatest gift of all?



~Claire

www.claireashgrove.com

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Spotlight: Claire Ashgrove

Seduction’s Stakes – Enter the Sport of Kings


Every one of us has a different inspiration for our stories, and a lot of people have asked me “How’d you come up with that idea?” A week of blogging provides the perfect opportunity!

Not only that, but sharing my inspiration is the only way I know how to invite you into my world. So with that in mind, I’d like to talk about Seduction’s Stakes, the first book I sold. I wrote it more or less on a dare. Until the first words touched the page, I had never planned to go anywhere near the field of contemporary romance.

The idea came from the desire to craft something related to horses, but completely unrelated to anything I worked with directly. At the time, I had this belief that a writer who only wrote about the things they knew intimately was cheating. (I’ve since modified this very wrong belief.) So I set out to write something I knew about but didn’t invest my personal time in.

I’d recently purchased a Thoroughbred stallion who I’d spent almost a full year waiting for his racing career to close so I could lug him home. I followed his career while I was waiting for him to come home. I had daily racing announcements coming into my in-box, regular conversations with his owner/trainer, updates on entries, scratches, and race results. I watched him run after-the-fact on archived video. (He was on the east coast, nowhere near my home.) All this following Hesa Angel’s life, and all those long conversations with his trainer, gave me the information needed to compose a detailed story.

As for Mister Spoilsport… he was indeed a tribute to a horse I loved beyond all reason. The horse’s name was Wilhelm Tell II, and he was a regal Hanoverian stallion. I’d lost him that summer to cancer, at the age of 28. He was the gentle old man who treated my toddler children with shocking patience. Willie impacted my life in so many ways that it became necessary to immortalize him in some fashion. So I gave him the success he had known in his youth. Riley’s love for Mister Spoilsport embodies my love for Willie.

Speaking of Riley – I’ve been asked on many occasions if he was someone I know. Sadly, no. I wish this were true! I’m not sure where, exactly, Riley Jennings came from. I know there’s a little bit of Angel’s trainer/owner in there, but strictly in the sense of Riley’s profession. The man himself… not a single clue. He hit the pages rolling and never stopped. I think I’m still secretly in love with Riley.

We’ll talk more about Riley’s Labrador Retriever tomorrow, and I’ll leave you with the short blurb for Seduction’s Stakes:

Never make a wager you can’t afford to lose...

A member of horse racing’s elite, Maddie McCleery’s got her eye on the Triple Crown and her heart set on her rival’s unraced colt. Owned by the one man she can’t conquer on the track, the same man who humiliated her in a youthful game of Truth or Dare, the colt promises sweet victory. When he refuses her purchase offer, and outruns her at the Kentucky Derby, Maddie sets out to seduce Riley into selling. In the process, she’s seduced, and agrees to a shocking bet. The odds aren’t in her favor, and she’s desperate for the win.

Riley Jennings wants Maddie almost more than the Triple Crown. In his bed, in his shower – wherever he can have her. For two years she’s eluded him and he’s refused her offer on his horse out of spite. Enraptured by her post-Derby game, he learns the lengths she’ll go to for his colt, and sees sure-fire victory. His proposed wager stacks the odds in his favor – if her horse wins the Preakness, he’ll accept her terms. If his horse comes in first, they’ll negotiate his way.

But will love claim final victory, or will unexpected tragedy stop them in the gates?

~Claire
www.claireashgrove.com

Saturday, April 16, 2011

All My Cakes by Nancy Goldberg Levine


The scent of cinnamon and unusual spices wafted up to me on the top floor of the duplex I shared with Langston Weil. I didn’t know too much about her since she’d moved in after Misty Melton got married to Jesse Cohn, the former tenant of my apartment, and they’d bought a house.

I knew she cooked and baked. Whatever she made smelled good like the scents in my grandma’s house. I wanted to taste the cakes or cookies or whatever she was cooking. The recipients of her goodies were very lucky people. I knew she worked, and that she left for the office pretty early. I wasn’t home a lot, especially in the spring and summer because when you work for the Boston Red Sox farm team, the Maine Marauders, you were on the road a lot. She wore aprons when she cooked. I knew this because sometimes I’d see her taking out the trash in her somewhat preppy attire. Her nice clothes were covered with aprons. Aprons? Who wore aprons anymore? Not even my grandma!

That afternoon, I heard a knock on my door. When I opened it,. Langston placed a fancy plate, filled with slices of hot cake, in my hands. “Here. I’m baking my way through my lay off and I need you to take this off my hands or I’ll eat it.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re…”

“I got laid off. From the IRS. I ordered some new cookbooks before that and I’m baking my way through the recipes. I usually take cake and cookies and brownies to work, but I’m not working, so I wondered…”

“How do you know I’m not diabetic?”

“I don’t,” she said. “I know you’re Brody Eisenbach, ace pitcher for the Maine Marauders, hoping to get into the big leagues. But I don’t know if you’re diabetic. I do know your stats. Five wins, two losses…”

She said my name like a big league announcer would have said it. “How do you know all this?”

“I’ve been to a few games. And I listen to the Marauders on satellite radio, especially now that I’m off. So this cake is for your team‘s winning game, too.”

“Impressive. So what is this I’m going to eat?”

“Chocolate chip banana cake.”

Chocolate chip banana cake sounded good, and smelled even better. I went to the refrigerator and took out a pitcher of homemade lemonade. I couldn’t cook, but I did do lemonade. “Try some of this,” I said, sitting on my comfortable sofa. “I made it myself, but that’s the extent of my culinary skills.”

“It’s good.”

“So is the cake. Where did you get a name like Langston?”

“My mom saw it in a baby name book. It’s also the name of a soap opera character, and she’s giving it a bad name. She’s kind of a slut.”

“You’re not.”

“How do you know?”

“You wear aprons, for crying out loud. I don’t think slutty women wear aprons.”

“Actually, that same soap opera has a character named Brody. He fought in Iraq, and now he’s a cop. You sort of look like him, but your name is very baseball-y.”

I didn’t know what this Langston character on TV looked liked, but the one sitting across from me in a wicker chair had shoulder-length black hair and eyes the color of the chocolate chips in the banana bread.

“So are you planning on helping me bake my way through layoff?” she asked, after I’d polished off a second piece of cake.

“That depends. What’s next?”

“Tunnel of Fudge Cake. Or Sock It To Me Cake, depending on how your game against Louisville goes.”

“Then I plan on helping. I know you don’t want to be laid off for long, but I’d like to try some of your baking.”

“It’s a deal.”


* * *
My pitching started to go downhill. I had a few meltdowns on the mound. I wasn’t doing anything differently, except eating some desserts that probably weren’t so good for a baseball player to consume. I hated to blame Langston for my problems throwing strikes, though.

The last road trip left me exhausted. When I came home, however, I found an old blue Fiesta Ware plate, the kind my grandma used to have, topped with a cake. Cinnamon and spices and a hot woman in an apron…oh my!

The cake tasted good, warm and soft, with lots of cinnamon. I knew this sweet stuff could not be responsible for my pitching slump, and neither could the woman who’d baked it. In fact,. I started to feel better. Rejuvenated.

I rushed downstairs to tell her thanks. She opened the door. On top of her jeans and twin set, she wore an apron decorated with blue and white stars of David and the words “Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? Don’t Ask!” printed on it.

“Thanks for the cake. But the Marauders lost their last five games on that last road trip.”

“I know. I’m still laid off, though, and I baked you a Sock It To Me cake so you could sock it to the next team you face.”

Hmmm. “So there’s a method to your mad baking?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you come to the next game so you can see if your plan worked?”

“I’d love to.”

She stood there, looking so cute in that apron, her eyes gazing into mine. I pulled her close, loving the feel of her softness against me. I had to kiss her, so like a guy stealing first base, I took a chance. She responded with kisses as sweet as her cakes. When we stopped, I said “You’re going to go back to work. The Marauders are going to start winning ballgames again. In fact, I predict they’ll be in first place in AAA ball in two weeks.”

“Are you psychic?”

“Maybe I am.”


Chocolate Chip Banana Cake
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe bananas, about 1 1/4 lbs., peeled
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine flour, sugar, soda and salt. In a second bowl mash bananas; stir in oil and eggs until just combined. Mix dry ingredients into banana mixture. Stir in chips.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. From Food.com

About the Author: Nancy Goldberg Levine is the author of more than fifty short stories, and one full-length romance novel, Tempting Jonah. She wrote this story while cooking and baking her way through cookbooks and listening to Cincinnati Reds ball games during a two-month layoff from her day job.

Author Interview: Freda Lightfoot


The Long and the Short of It is happy to welcome Freda Lightfoot, whose newest family saga, Angels at War, was released in October.

She's also writing historicals as well, which helps to keep her fresh. She currently working on the third book of a trilogy. The first, Hostage Queen, is the story of Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici.

"She was a fascinating woman and the subject of much scandal in the French court. In love with Henri de Guise she was married off to Henry of Navarre in order to bring peace to France. In fact the opposite happened as within days of the marriage Paris was awash with blood in the St Bartholomew Massacre," Freda told me. "The Reluctant Queen, the second in the series, follows the story of Gabrielle de’EstrĂ©es who was mistress to Margot’s husband when he became King Henry IV of France. Margot herself is being held captive in Usson, and refusing to give him a divorce unless she gets the financial settlement she deserves. The Queen and the Courtesan will tell the story of his last mistress, Henriette d’Entragues, and his second wife, Queen Marie de Medici, who were fierce rivals for his affection. Margot, now divorced, is still very much around and creating problems and scandal."

Characters always come first for Freda. She's discovered if she tries to plot too much in advance, she somehow loses the excitement and drive to get the story down.

"Also, my characters won’t always perform to my bidding," she said. "I can plan for her to have an affair, but if she loves her husband, that’s it, she remains loyal. Once I know a character thoroughly she or he starts to live in my mind. All I have to do is listen to their voice and write it down and the rest follows, the ideas just come. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how it is."

Freda thinks she must have been born with the desire to tell stories, because she got in enough trouble with teachers—either for daydreaming or for talking. She wasn't just talking, though; she was telling her friend a story.

Her parents also loved reading, so books always filled a large portion of her Christmas stocking. She also escaped to the local library.

"It was a place filled with mysteries and secrets I wanted to explore," she remembered, "although I had to twist the librarian’s arm to persuade her to let me borrow certain books she felt I was a bit young for. Forever Amber, for instance."

When her children were small, Freda started writing articles and children's stories and had a rush of success.

"This is easy, I thought," she told me. "Wrong! Beginner's luck perhaps. I gave up for a while as life took over, but the itch was still there and some years later I tried again, anything and everything: short stories, serials, a children’s novel, picture scripts and a couple of Mills & Boon contemporaries. The aim was to send material out faster than it came back; sadly they came bouncing back with remarkable speed and I gained more rejection slips than cheques. But at last the day came when I sold my first short story to D.C.Thompson. I think the editor must have taken pity on me, although I had learned to focus on just three or four target markets by then, rather than the scatter-gun approach. Following this breakthrough I seemed to develop the knack, or my luck changed, for I went on to sell many more short stories. With renewed confidence I tried again for Mills & Boon, this time with an historical, Madeiran Legacy, which was accepted. When I got the call I was almost too excited to speak. The editor asked me to choose a pseudonym as she didn’t like the one I’d used, and I couldn’t afterwards remember which I’d chosen until I got the contract. I wrote 5 of these historical romances, now available as ebooks on Amazon, Sony etc. But as my stories began to get more and more complicated I decided to try for mainstream, selling Luckpenny Land to Hodder & Stoughton in 1993. I’ve now written over 30 novels."

I asked Freda if she ever suffered from writer's block and she told me she wasn't prepared to admit there is such a thing.

"Otherwise I might catch it," she explained. "That’s not to say there aren’t times when the going gets tough, perhaps because I’m trying too hard, or rushing it, and need to step back and relax a little. To stop myself from panicking and thinking ‘what makes me imagine I can do this?’ I employ one or two strategies to get the creative mind working again. As I write historicals I find research can often inspire me with new ideas. Just the act of jotting down notes gets me thinking of new plot twists and scenes. Going for a long walk, taking a bath, driving (so long as someone else is at the wheel) somehow allows my mind to wander and all sorts of ideas will pop into it. Reading a good novel, watching TV or a movie can spark my creativity into action again, and no, this isn’t copying or plagiarism, just picking up on the energy of good writing which really can motivate you. Sometimes just going to sleep with the problem lodged in my brain does the trick, and I wake up with the answer next morning. But then too much thinking can give me a sleepless night. It’s no easy road being a writer."

"Who is your favourite author and why?" I asked her.

"An impossible question to answer as it changes constantly. My passion for historicals was born through reading the entire collection of Anya Seton, Norah Lofts, Jean Plaidy and Mary Stewart, which are still on my shelves along with Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. Currently I’m enjoying Susan Holloway Scott, Diane Haegar and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. But next month it could be a different selection. My all time favourite is Daphne du Maurier for the beauty of her prose."

A few years ago, Freda and her family built a house in Spain in an olive garden. She has a wonderful view of it from her office, which she loves. She doesn't face it, however, when she's writing—she faces a blank wall. She's afraid she will get too distracted.

"I am, of course, surrounded by books on all other three walls," she said."I have a large library of history reference books, plus leaflets, maps, menus, old writers’ mags, and my favourite ‘keepers’ from Poldark novels and Daphne du Maurier to Philippa Gregory and the romantic novels of my friends. Who said computers would bring about a paperless society? Moving house is always a nightmare. But my office is my womb. My favourite place."

I asked her about her work schedule and she told me, "I hesitate to call my work schedule disciplined, as writing is an addictive pursuit. I can’t wait to get to my computer each morning, and it can become quite compulsive. I have to discipline myself to take time out and relax. When I was younger, working full time and bringing up children with all that entails, the writing was squeezed into whatever corner of time I could find, often very late at night. Not easy, and I admire anyone who manages to get published as well as going through all of that stuff we women have to do. Once they’d flown the nest I ratcheted up the writing but still didn’t give up the day job for some years. It’s a very insecure profession. However, I did take the plunge to concentrate on it eventually and I’ve been earning my living as a writer for 15 years now. I am at my desk by 9 each morning and work through till 2.00. After lunch, my so-called siesta might include research or some leisure reading time. But I’ll also try to fit in a walk or a swim, or at least weed the garden. At 4.30 to 5.00 I’m back at my desk for another couple of hours. This part of the day is for revising the morning’s work, and catching up with all those social networking/promo tasks that are now an essential part of every writer’s life."

When they lived in the English Lake District, they had two dogs, as well as cats, a pony, sheep, and hens.

"I love dogs," she told me. "They are great companions and very good for bouncing your ideas off as they never argue, or tell."

She enjoyed living there and both dogs lived to a ripe old age. However, now that they live in Spain and travel a lot, it wouldn't be fair to have a dog.

"Maybe if I ever get old and decrepit I’ll have a small one again."

Freda told me that she's a working class girl who comes from a long line of weavers from both Lancashire and Yorkshire.

"Like lots of other people these days I’ve become fascinated by genealogy and would love to find royal connections. The best I can manage is to trace my father’s family on his mother’s side back to a Lord Mayor of London, Sir Richard Saltonstall. Another Saltonstall emigrated to the US in the 16th Century. I believe there are still some living in New England. I mean to travel there and find out more about my family’s history one day," she told me.

Finally, I asked Freda, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"

"Write the best book you can. Target your market, and remember the 3 Ps. Practice your craft every day, write with passion, and never give up. Persistence pays."
You can keep up with Freda on her blog, http://fredalightfoot.blogspot.com