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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

INTERVIEW: UTE CARBONE

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Ute Carbone whose romantic comedy The P-Town Queen is now out.

The P-Town Queen is written in alternating first-person point of view between the hero and the heroine. Ute began writing in the third-person point of view because, traditionally, that's how romances are written.

"But I found it was very hard to get a ‘handle’ on my heroine, Nikki. I love writing in the first person so on a whim I switched her section to first person and she came to life. So I switched the hero, Marco, as well," she explained. She's currently trying her hand at writing a historical romance novella, set in the eighteen fifties among clipper ships.

" I’ve never written anything historical and I’m not sure I can pull it off but I love reading historical, so that’s a start right?" she asked rhetorically. "One lovely thing about short stories and novellas is that they allow you to experiment without the huge time commitment of a full length novel. Last summer, I did a novella challenge with a few writer friends. The challenge was to write something outside your comfort zone and to include a house moved into sight unseen as part of the premise. Two of us finished. Susan Roebuck’s horror story, Hewhay House, was published in April. And mine, The Whisper of Time, is a time-travel novella coming out later this summer. It was a lot of fun doing the challenge."

Ute tends to start a new project with a vague idea—a "what if" situation-- and some roughly drawn characters, and both tend to develop as she writes them.

"I like to allow the plot to develop organically from the characters and the initial situation," she explained. "I couldn't outline if my life depended on it. My brain just doesn't work that way. And I love discovering the story—or maybe that should be uncovering the story—as I go along. The characters will often surprise me with little revelations and bits of dialogue. That sounds a little crazy, I know, but once they're created they kind of become like real people walking around my house and talking in my head. I find that, in the beginning, there are lots of options but as the characters start becoming stronger and one situation leads to another, the choices begin to narrow. Until, to my mind at least, the ending is inevitable."

In P-Town, the vague idea was what if a guy was running from something and went to a new place and gave himself an alias and a new identity? It took the characters, as well as the time and place setting, to mold the story into what it became.

She told me that a good story is like a symphony, with all the elements—plot, character, setting, voice—working together.

"When they do, you have something special, something that makes readers want to turn the page, something they’ll remember for a long time to come," she said.

When it comes to titles, Ute told me that sometimes they just appear while other times they are elusive.

"The P-Town Queen was ‘Parker Bench story’ on my computer for a while because the hero Marco calls himself Parker Bench when he runs off to P-Town. I saw a card with a boat called The P-Town Queen and used it my story. That became the title because it’s the perfect double entendre. My debut novel, Blueberry Truth was ‘Beanie and Blue’ for so long that I sometimes still call it that. It became ‘Blossom for Me’ after that and didn’t get its final title until very close to the release. Blueberry Truth, incidentally, is the name of the little girl in the book. Very early on, I had actually called it that so we kind of came full circle. The Whisper of Time, written for a writing challenge, was called the premise story. Horrible title," she admitted with a laugh. "The final choice came from a line in a song."

Ute writes nearly everything out in longhand for the first draft.

"I have a closet full of notebooks and journals filled with sloppy words, some of them crossed out, some written in the margins, with arrows and circles all around. I rewrite as I type into my laptop, so by the time I have a manuscript drafted, it’s actually the second—and in the case of some scenes—the third or fourth draft."

"How do you do the research for your books?" I asked.

"I read a lot and, when I’m writing, I’ll usually pick up a few non-fiction books around whatever subject I need to explore. For P-Town, I read several books about shark research and Anthony Burdain’s book on being a chef. The web is also great. If I’m writing along and come across something I need an answer to, I search it out online and can usually find what I’m looking for."

One thing she discovered was a tidbit that made its way into Queen of P-Town--a dead whale is blown up in the book.

"This actually happened in Oregon in the nineteen seventies. You can’t make this kind of stuff up!" she assured me.

The hardest part of writing for Ute is sitting down and doing it.

"There are so many distractions in the day. Writing, for me, takes a lot of physical and mental space—I need to be able to immerse myself in the world I’m creating and every time I’m interrupted by something, I lose my way a little," she said. "I have my own office now, so that helps."

When she's not writing, she enjoys walking. There's a wonderful park near her house where she walks nearly every day. She also loves the theater, and she and her husband save their vacation money and go to New York a few weekends a year to catch Broadway shows.

When Ute was growing up she wanted to be everything. She had a huge imagination and could imagine herself being a million different things—a zookeeper, trapeze artist, rock singer, ski racer—and later a doctor or naturalist. She even has a degree in biology. Writing novels is a terrific job for her because she gets to try out all those jobs and more.

Finally, I asked, "What's the best and worse pieces of writing advice you ever received?"

"I hate all 'you must do it this way or you’re not doing it right' sort of advice. I remember once reading 'you must write first thing in the morning.' I am not a morning person. First thing in the morning I’m lucky if I can find the coffee pot. Same goes for ‘you must outline’ or conversely ‘outlines make the writing flat’. Best advice ever is find what works best for you and stick to it. I write late mornings and again late at night when the house is quiet. I pants and I write longhand first. It works for me, but for someone else it might be the kiss of writing death."

About the Author: I'm a novelist and sometimes poet who lives in Southern New Hampshire. I’ve been married to the same great guy for a lot of years. We have two grown sons. I love hiking, skiing, and generally communing with nature. I'm a big fan of wine, chocolate, theater, and really good stories.

I write women’s literary fiction, romantic comedy, and just a bit of romance. My women’s literary novel, Blueberry Truth, was published in August of 2011. I have two romantic comedies due for release: The P-town Queen, in June 2012 and Afterglow, in January 2013. My novella, The Whisper of Time, is to be released in summer 2012. And my short story trilogy, I’ll be Seeing You, will be released in summer 2013.

You can find me at: http://UteCarbone.com; at my blog: http://ute-carbone.blogspot.com/; on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Wildwords2 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ute-Carbone/234417796596443.



Nikki Silva thinks she’s blown up her life. Divorced, funding for her shark research cut off, she’s moved back to Provincetown to live with her father. Nikki’s written a grant proposal funded by a commission run by her ex-husband Ned, who would rather not give money to his ex-wife.

Marco Tornetti wants to turn a Newark spaghetti joint into a trendy bistro. His silent partner, Fat Phil Lagosa, wants to use the place to solicit questionable business deals. When Fat Phil turns on Marco and has him marked for a hit, Marco knows he’s in too deep.

Marco escapes the hit man and takes the first bus out of the city. Marco figures that Phil would never look for him in Provincetown‘s gay community. But when he meets Nikki, he finds that pretending to be gay isn’t as easy as it would seem.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

INTERVIEW: SARA RAMSEY

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Sara Ramsey, whose newest book Scotsmen Prefer Blondes, was released in April. It's the second book in the Muses of Mayfair series, the first being Heiress Without a Cause, which was released in January of this year.

She currently finishing the next book in the Muses of Mayfair series which will be titled The Marquess Who Loved Me, which will be out late summer/early autumn. She's also playing around with some novella tie-ins for each book in the series, as well as having a super-secret idea for a YA book. She hopes to have it finished by the end of the year and is currently reading Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe as research for it.

. As you can see, the titles for the books in the Muses of Mayfair series are all twists on movie titles.

"I scour IMDB.com and the AFI lists of best films and look for titles that appeal to me, then think about which ones I might be able to tweak to give a more historical/story-appropriate feel," she said. "So far so good, but it’s hard to find movie titles that can be tweaked but still be recognizable – I couldn’t tweak Ghostbusters, for example! Once I have a list of possibilities, I discuss them with my agent, and we choose one that seems most appealing. It’s good that I have her, or else I would end up with a title like 'Fat Bottomed Earls' – my sense of humor sometimes overwhelms my common sense," she said with a smile.

Sara's been reading romance novels since she was twelve and first read Johanna Lindsey's Brave the Wild Winds and has been writing stories and letters since she can remember.

"I’m one of the only people I know who still sends copious quantities of handwritten, personalized Christmas cards, so writing must be in my blood," she told me.

In 2004, on a whim she decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)—the plot that came to mind was an arranged marriage between an English writer and a Scottish earl. She didn't finish NaNo and put the book away for several years. She got busy with her day job—moving first to India and then to Ireland.

"It was years before I finished the manuscript that eventually became Scotsmen Prefer Blondes," she said. "But that initial inspiration came from a deeply-rooted sense that I was supposed to be writing more than anything else, and I’m glad I followed through with it!"

Even though, theoretically, she can write faster on her laptop, she writes her rough drafts in longhand on paper.

"It's not faster when I stop every three minutes to check Twitter!" she explained. "If a scene is too hard to get into, I'm tempted to procrastinate. Also, if I write by hand, it seems to flow more smoothly. I type really fast, so if I type a rough draft, I always finish typing a thought before I have any idea what the next line is, and that feels really jerky to me. Writing things out, preferably with a fountain pen loaded with some pretty color of ink, makes the writing feel like it’s flowing – and I’m less likely to stop for a Twitter break if the writing is going well!"

Sara tends to come up with the general plot set-up first—as in Scotsmen Prefer Blondes. She knew immediately that the heroine was going to be a writer, and that she would forced to marry a Scottish earl. However, once she has the initial idea, the characters take over, and the rest of the development is completely character driven.

"I usually end up rewriting the first 20% of the book several times because I keep learning more about the characters as I go, and I have to rewrite the early bits to match the depth they develop later in the book," she told me.

Sara admitted that writing the first draft is the very worst part of writing for her.

"I’m too much of a perfectionist, and it’s really hard for me to shut off my internal editor and let the draft happen. Once I get through the first draft, I fall back in love with the story and have no problem finishing, but the first draft (and especially the first half of the first draft) sometimes feels like I’m repeatedly stabbing myself in the face. It’s not pretty. Luckily my family and friends know this, and they tread carefully and/or push me out of the house to do other stuff when it gets too bad."

Growing up, Sara actually wanted to be an obstetrician, but then she discovered she can't stand other people being in pain. Her next thoughts were to be a writer or an English professor.

"Once I discovered that getting an English PhD would take approximately ten years, I decided a professorship was out," she confessed. "But I am also in love with technology, and I’m surprisingly excited about the business world, so I spent a few years working for Google in a variety of sales and management roles. Google was wonderful, and I could see myself working there again (particularly if their Google Play/ebook segment ever takes off), but writing will always be my primary passion, and I’m really fortunate to be doing it full time right now."

I asked her to describe her writing space.

"My official writing space is my desk at home. It has a glass top, with a pull-out drawer underneath filled with pens, markers, sticky flags, and other little writing bits. I keep a few mementos on top of the desk – one small item from each of my grandparents, a couple of family photos, and an African violet that I’m trying desperately not to kill. Behind my desk, I have several big corkboards covered in photos/quotes/notes that inspire me. Some are related to my current projects (photos of Regency houses, dresses, etc.), and some are more inspirational (a photo of a RITA award has a prime location on my board). But when I’m having trouble getting things done, I go to a coffee shop or library – I’d guess that 60+% of my writing happens outside my house."

"How do you do research for your books?" I wondered.

"I bought a membership to Stanford Library, which has been hugely helpful. I can find any book about any subject there. When I was researching Regency British theatre for Heiress Without a Cause, I was able to find all sorts of information about what plays were being staged in 1812, who the principal actors were, and how audiences behaved. I also use historical blogs – there are a lot of very detailed, very helpful historical blogs out there, and I’ve gotten a lot of insight into costumes and lifestyles from other historical writers."

Sara will be giving away the winner's choice of a paperback, Nook, Kindle, or Kobo copy of Scotsmen Prefer Blondes. Due to shipping considerations, the paperback version is only an option for US/Canada commenters only, please.

About the Author: Sara Ramsey writes fun, feisty Regency historical romances. She grew up in a small town in Iowa, and her obsession with fashion, shoes, and all things British is clearly a rebellion against her hopelessly uncool youth. Sara graduated from Stanford University in 2003 with a degree in Symbolic Systems (also known as cognitive science) and a minor in history. After graduation, she worked at Google for seven years in a variety of sales, management, and communications roles. She left Google in 2010 to pursue her writing career full time. Her first book, Heiress Without a Cause, was released in January 2012. Her second book, Scotsmen Prefer Blondes, came out in April. Sara is currently working on the next book in the Muses of Mayfair series and living the hip Regency writer life in San Francisco, California.

Find Sara online at:

Website: www.SaraRamsey.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/sara_ramsey
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sara.ramsey



When a friend is forced to consider a marriage of convenience, Lady Amelia Staunton is determined to rescue her. But her plans trap her in an illicit seduction, and Amelia must marry him herself! Malcolm MacCabe’s all-consuming kisses and devilish humor might make up for her lost freedom – but how can she choose between the novels she’s always longed to write and the love that could destroy them both?

Monday, June 11, 2012

INTERVIEW: MARGARET BLAKE

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Margaret Blake, whose newest book is coming out this month from Whiskey Creek Press.

Her favorite is always the book she's just finished.

"It stays that way for a while, then later I just could not choose one. I love writing and get very engaged with my characters; I hate to let them go," she told me. "It’s fun, too, to fall in and out of love with all these guys, I really have a thing for my heroes and I guess if I don’t then my reader won’t either, so perhaps that is just as well."

When she was growing up, she wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Unfortunately, family circumstances made that impossible, but was able to fulfill that dream through her heroine, Kerensa, in A Fatal Flaw.

"Not being able to be a reporter is something that I very much regret," she confessed, "but, what the heck, I might not have been a novelist had I succeeded."

Margaret is originally from Manchester in England, but she's lived in many different places. She now lives on the North West coast and loves it.

"When I was a very little girl I used to come here for holidays and stay with a friend of my mother. I loved this small town – you can walk around it easily. When the opportunity came to move here John and I did not hesitate. We’ve been here twenty years, and I have made lots of lovely friends. The people in Fleetwood are the friendliest in the world. They are very accepting; I joke with some friends that now I have been here twenty years I should get my passport. I haven’t had a clarification on that yet," she said with a laugh. "I live close by the sea. There used to be a lot of fishing done, but fishing has gone through a very hard time which is heart breaking. People here were wonderful to me when I lost my husband; I could not count the hugs I received, or the gorgeous flowers. Wonderful."

Her husband, John, died two years ago, but Margaret is fortunate to have a fantastic son and daughter-in-law, as well as three loving grandchildren.

"I would be lost without them," she admitted. "They are my rock."

"Would you choose ebook or print," I asked, "and why?"

"I think both are good. Having been published in print and in ebook I can see the advantage of either. I think Kindle has made ebook publishing very acceptable and isn’t it a great idea. When I am in the States I get to read a lot of books so a Kindle is great for that. However, there is nothing like the smell and feel of a new book. It is really difficult to have a preference."

When Margaret was first published by a British hardback publisher, she used her married and maiden name—Margaret Glaiser Blake. However, often they would forget and leave off the Glaiser part.

"I really wanted my husband’s name in there as he was the wind beneath my wing. These were historical novels, and later I wrote romance for the same publisher but under a different name--Ellen Noone," she said. "Ellen Noone was the name of my father’s mother who died when he was a young child. His stepmother was wonderful to him and he loved her very much, but I did not want his mother to be forgotten and so I took her name. I wish I knew more about Ellen. I know she was Irish but she just seems to have disappeared from history. I can’t even find her grave."

In Margaret's early days, she wrote a series of novels about industrial Manchester. They began in 1819 on the eve of Peterloo.

"This was actually inspired by overhearing a couple talking about the event in a pub," she told me. "I had never heard of it but pursued the history. It told the story of the Ayesthorpe family. I would love to do it again, a whole new fresh version, but I don’t know if I will. I find that era of Manchester terribly interesting."

Margaret's all-time favorite television show is Frazier.

"Gosh that was such a funny series, beautifully acted and written," she said. "You can’t imagine anyone else playing one of those roles. I miss it so much. It was tragic that David Angell and his wife were victims of 9/11. He had given so much to the entertainment industry. It was so sad and yet so beautifully that Daphne and Niles called their baby David."

"What is your favorite meal?" I asked.

"I could say something like steak and fries, which I love, but actually-- and I really mean this--my favorite meal is the one that I sit down to with my son, his wife and the grandkids. That is such fun to me, to hear the conversation flying about, to see the life and the love between them all, to be a part of their lives. I don’t care if we eat out or in, or if it is a simple pizza sent out for, it is being there sharing food. Isn’t that what the real essence of life is, sharing and being together?"

If her publisher offered to fly her anywhere to do research on an upcoming book, Margaret would love to come to the United States' West—especially Montana.

"That would be a dream come true. I have loved the idea of Montana since seeing The Horse Whisperer; do you think I might meet a Robert Redford there? I do hope so."

About the Author:
Margaret Blake, was born in Manchester, England and published her first book in l978. This was A Sprig of Broom, and this historical novel was re-released by Whiskey Creek Press. One reviewer wrote: This book has an action-packed plot full of twists and turns. What a wonderful book! ***** (AC).


Since that memorable date, Margaret has published twenty-seven novels of historical, contemporary and suspenseful romance. This year she will be publishing two new novels. “I just want to hit the thirty mark,” says Margaret, “and then I might retire.”


Margaret’s greatest trauma was losing her husband John in January 2010; she is still raw and hurting from the loss but gets by with great support. “My family and friends pull me through. I am more than fortunate in both.” Margaret has one son, a gorgeous daughter-in-law and three fantastic grandkids; they as well as dear friends are a gift that keeps on giving.



A modern romance: For Tilly meeting up with her ex-husband is as traumatic as can be. Now her father has invited him in to their business, Tilly Teas, she is seeing far too much of him. He cheated on her and betrayed her in the worst possible way…but perhaps it was not entirely his fault. Tilly starts to see things from Marsh’s point of view and that isn’t good, for either of them, especially as it seems he is involved with someone else.

Available from www.whiskeycreekpress.com.

Monday, June 4, 2012

SHORT STORY: A CHANGE OF LUCK by Joyce H. Ackley


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A Change of Luck
by
Joyce H. Ackley


The minute Erin caught a whiff of hot apple pie wafting from Aunt Shelby’s kitchen, she resolved to forget about calories during this vacation with her aunt and her cousin, Nicki. Three years had passed since she’d eaten Aunt Shelby’s legendary Southern cooking, and she’d savor every bite. Every morsel.

“Oohhh, heavenly!” Erin said, lifting her chin to sniff the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon that pervaded the family room where the girls sat.

“One little piece, and I’d put on five pounds.” Nicki grinned. “We’re gonna party tonight! Aren’t you excited?”

“Sounds like fun. I’m looking forward to meeting your friends.”

“Just wait ‘til you see the Taylor’s home! And they’ll go all out for tonight.” Nicki cocked her head. ”You won’t find that kind of party in Muncie, I bet.”

Erin shrugged. “I’m not really a party person. But it seems a bit odd, having a big shindig on a Sunday night.”

“It’s a belated birthday celebration for their son, Rob. His thirtieth. He just got in last night, and he’s going back to Chicago Friday.” Nicki toyed with her gold signet ring. “I wouldn’t miss this party,” she said. “Rob is hot! It doesn’t hurt that his family is loaded, either. He’s a little stand-offish, though. Not like the rest of the Taylor’s.”

“Is he stuck-up?”

“Oh, no. He’s a professor. Kind of the quiet type.” She chortled. “But he better watch out!” She curved her hands into claws, long nails like red talons. Tossing her mane of freshly-highlighted blonde hair, she let out a throaty growl. “Here comes Nicki!”

Erin laughed. “He doesn’t stand a chance!” Her cousin’s carefree attitude amused her. Six years ago she’d been Nicki’s age, twenty-two. Just starting her nursing career, she had lived in a dreary little basement apartment that smelled of damp concrete. Whopping student loans dictated meals of sandwiches and ramen noodles. Lost in thought, she realized Nicki had said something she didn’t catch. She focused on her cousin.

“Don’t you? Get what you want? I do.” Nicki said. She took a sip of her diet cola.

“Not always. You win some, you lose some.” Joel’s betrayal and the painful, shattering break-up still stirred up bad memories. She longed for a relationship with a man of good old-fashioned values. Love had dealt her a cruel hand, and she hoped her luck would change.

Erin rose. “You’ve already showered. I’d better start getting ready, too.”

“Wait’ll you see my dress!” Nicki placed a hand on the top of her thigh. “It’s this short, red, and sexy. Yup, Rob better look out!”

He’s a goner, Erin thought. He won’t know what hit him.

Erin showered and towel-dried her damp hair. Auburn curls fell to her shoulders. The summer humidity required heavy-duty styling products, and she’d packed plenty.

When she tore open the dry-cleaners bag containing her turquoise silk sheath, Erin let out a yelp. An ugly, scorched area marred the front of the dress. Clearly, the damage was beyond repair. “Oh, no! No!” Her cry brought Aunt Shelby and Nicki hurrying into the room.

Erin held up the garment. “I don’t have anything else to wear. I should have checked the dress.” She slumped onto the bed. “I guess I won’t be going.”

“Oh, honey.” Her aunt placed a plump arm around Erin. “Let’s don’t give up yet. They’re expecting you. Nicki, do you have a dress Erin can wear?”

Nicki looked Erin up and down. “What size are you? Ten?”

“Size eight.”

“Sorry. I’m a two. I have a couple of size fours, but nothing that big.”

“The only store open around here is Deb Discount,” Aunt Shelby said. “I don’t know if they’d have anything suitable.” She nibbled at her lip. “Maybe a black skirt and a fancy top?”

“Who would wear something from Deb’s to a party at the Taylor’s?” Nicki blurted.

“Wait a minute!” her aunt said, eyes wide. “Cindy left some clothes here when she moved out. She’s about your size. Let’s check her closet.”

“Good luck,” Nicki muttered. “I’m gonna get dressed.”

The closet held winter coats, a suede vest, and two Christmas sweaters. Cindy had also left a long-sleeved gown in burgundy velvet, and a floor-length lavender number that screamed “bridesmaid.” One garment remained -- a long plaid jacket. Erin’s heart sank. She had almost shut the closet door when she noticed the sheen of a dark skirt falling below the jacket hem.

Her breath caught in her throat. The dress was a sleeveless, scoop neck taffeta, simple in style.

“Erin!” Aunt Shelby said. “A beautiful little black dress!”

Nicki popped in, wearing a short red halter dress and matching stilettos. “Did you find anything?”

“This.” Erin showed the dress.

Nicki wrinkled her nose. “Hmmmm. I’m almost ready to go, so Mom, she’ll need to take your car.” She swung out of the room before the women could reply.

The dress fit fabulously. The full skirt swirled elegantly around her legs. Erin’s bosom filled the bodice to perfection and revealed just the right amount of cleavage.

“It’s too plain. It needs some showy jewelry,” her aunt said. “I don’t have any, and Nicki is funny about loaning out her things.” She beamed. “You know what? I’ve still got Nana’s costume jewelry, and she had lots of big ol’ glitzy stuff. I’ll get it.”

Erin selected an oversized silver peacock brooch from Nana’s collection and pinned it at her waist. Royal blue and clear rhinestones formed the bird’s tail plumes. They found drop earrings to match. Black peep-toe pumps completed her outfit.


***


Music and mellow light spilled from the house when Aunt Shelby dropped Erin off at the Taylor’s. Erin had been reluctant to drive the unfamiliar, complicated route, and her aunt gladly obliged.

“Ride home with Nicki,” she said. “Have fun!”

Erin’s legs were stiff as wooden blocks when she rang the bell on the arched, antique door. She plucked at her borrowed dress and blew out a long breath. “What am I doing here?” she whispered.

The Taylor’s greeted her as if she were an old friend, and a group of guests stepped up to chat. The knots in Erin’s stomach relaxed a little.

“I love your jewelry,” Mrs. Taylor said. “In some cultures, the peacock means 'Good Fortune'.”

A smile lit Erin’s face. “Thank you.”

Nicki whooped with laughter. “Guess where Erin got her outfit? She did her shopping in my sister’s closet and my grandmother’s jewelry box! Seriously!” Giggling, she trotted off to join another group.

A tall, sandy-haired man stepped up to the cluster where Erin stood. “Wherever it came from, it’s very classy,” he said. “And so is the lady.” He smiled into her eyes, and Erin’s heart hammered a staccato rhythm.

“I’m Rob Taylor.” He nodded toward Nicki. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I’m Erin Mead. Lovely party, by the way.”

“Glad you’re enjoying it. Walk to the kitchen with me? I need to replenish the cheese tray.”

With the ease and camaraderie of a pair accustomed to working together, Rob and Erin assembled the platter. She arranged assorted crackers on one side; he fashioned arcs of cheese cubes on the other.

Nicki marched into the kitchen. Ignoring Erin, she sidled up to Rob. “There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. Some of us are going to the club. You’re coming too, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t thought about it.” He glanced at Erin.

Nicki set her lips in a mock pout. “Of course you are! If you want to join us, Erin,” she said, “you can follow me.”

“Aunt Shelby dropped me off. I’ll pass on the club. I’ll call a cab.”

“Are you sure?” Nicki asked.

“You’re not calling a taxi. Absolutely not.” Rob said. “I’ll drive you home. My pleasure.”

Nicki’s back stiffened. “Goodnight, then.” She flounced past them, bracelets jangling.

“Thanks, Rob. It’s a long way for a cab ride. And it’s too late to call Aunt Shelby. She’s probably ready for bed.”

“No problem. I really should stick around for a little while,” he said. He grinned. “Will you keep me company?”

“I’d love to,” Erin said.

“Good. Let give you a little advice. Your aunt knows exactly what Nicki is like. It breaks her heart. So spend your time with Shelby. She adores you. Stay away from Nicki.”

At once Erin felt light, free. She marveled. Had she really just met this man? Hadn’t she known him all her life?

At last she said goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. On the sidewalk Rob turned Erin to face him. “I’ve wanted to do this since the minute I first saw you.” He leaned down and dropped a soft kiss on her lips. His hands caressed her arms. “Do you mind?”

Erin shook her head. “No,” she whispered.

Rob squeezed her hand. “I’ll bring the car around. Be right back.”

“I’ll be waiting.” The stones of the peacock pin winked in the moonlight. Erin smiled.

About the Author: Joyce H. Ackley is a retired teacher who makes her home in Florida. Three spoiled, neurotic cats share her writing space. Joyce’s work has appeared in Long and Short Reviews, Good Old Times magazine, The Dollar Stretcher (online and in print), The Writer Within newsletter, and The Working Writer. She draws her characters and plots from everyday life. Sometimes dreams provide ideas for a story.