Monday, May 21, 2018

Rita is Free Today!


Addison sat on a bench in the Maritime Park, unaware of the flotsam of people passing her by. Barking sea lions jostled and jockeyed for position on the nearby pier, much like the pedestrians around her. A young man sitting at the adjacent sidewalk café unbuckled his belt, pulled down his pants, and squeezed a hypodermic needle into his left buttock, but even this did little more than tickle her attention.
An elderly woman carrying a leather satchel with a large golden lock sat beside Addison. Kicking off her shoes, the woman let out a sigh, propped on ankle on her knee and massaged her toes.
“I can always tell when it’s about to rain,” she said. “Arthritis. I didn’t used to believe in achy joints predicting the weather, just like I used to think that people claimed to have motion sickness just so they could sit in the front seat.” The woman slid Addison a glance from under her lashes, probably to see if Addison was paying attention.
Addison thought about moving to another bench, but that would take energy and gumption—two things she currently lacked.
“You’re probably too young to have arthritis. How about motion sickness?”
Addison pulled herself out of her funk long enough to glance at the elderly woman. She wore a velvet patchwork skirt, a silk blouse, and a string of pearls around her neck. The sharp sea breeze toyed with her silver curls and had turned her pale cheeks pink. She exuded a friendly curiosity that made Addison want to crawl under the bench and roll into a ball. But because it would be rude to say nothing, she squeezed out a syllable. “No.”
“No what?”
Addison took a deep breath and blew it out through her nose. “No, I don’t get motion sickness.”
“That’s good.” The woman smiled as if Addison had just informed her the Giants had won the World Series. “Then perhaps you would like to go whale watching.” She fumbled in her satchel and pulled out two glossy blue and red tickets. “I bought them for me and my grandson, but circumstances have changed and that’s no longer possible.” She paused. “He’s a lawyer,” she added with more exasperation than pride.
Addison opened her mouth to protest, but couldn’t find the words. The mid-spring sun, so often hidden behind clouds in Northern California, warmed her skin. Not even the weather could offer an excuse. After a moment, she came up with, “Isn’t there someone else you’d like to go with?”
“No. Landon is my only family, other than my sister Erma. No one likes her. And all my friends are dead.” She said this without a trace of sadness. “It’s nature’s way of punishing me for hanging around so long—I had to watch all my friends die.”
Addison’s lips twitched. An hour ago, she hadn’t thought she’d ever smile again, and here she was, chatting with a stranger. “Sure. I’ll go whale watching with you. When is it?”
The woman let out a long sigh. “You’re a lovely girl. I used to look like you once—willowy with long red hair. Now, of course, I’m gray and more Monterey pine than willow. I hope this won’t offend you, but I no longer wish to go.”
“But you look nothing like a Monterey pine. They’re all twisted and weather beaten.”
“My point.”
“It’s silly to compare yourself to a tree. Why not a cat?”
“I’m allergic.” The woman winked at her. “Would you like to go whale watching or not?”
“Are you sure?” Addison took the proffered tickets, and saw they were for tomorrow morning. She had thought to leave before then, but she’d already paid for the vacation rental for the weekend, so she might as well stay. “Would you like me to buy them off you?”
“Not with money.”
“Oh.” Addison’s suspicion hackles rose. She didn’t like making deals with strangers.
“You can tell me a story. I collect stories, you know.”
“Really? So do I!” Addison perked up, but then remembered her sadness. “Or at least I did.”
“Once a writer, always a writer.”
“No…I am a writer, just not a very good one.”
The woman quirked an eyebrow.
“Not a successful one,” Addison amended, thinking of her collection of rejection letters from agents and editors. “And I own a bookstore, so I collect stories there, too. Or I did.”
“What happened?”
“The economy,” a sick anger burned in her belly, “and the ugly tide of self-publishing. I leased out my bookstore last week. Soon it’ll be a massage parlor.”
The woman chuckled.
“I’m glad someone can laugh about it.” Addison tucked a loose curl behind her ear.
“Well, you have to admit, a bookstore and a massage parlor are both in the same business.”
“How’s that?”
“They’re both used to manipulate moods.” The woman gaze at her with watery blue eyes.
“I suppose.”
“Is that it?” the woman asked, her gaze growing more intense.
“Is what it?” Addison squirmed beneath the woman’s scrutiny.
“Is your failing bookstore the reason you look like someone drowned your cat and poisoned your dog?”
Addison thought about confessing her mistake to this woman, but she wasn’t ready to admit it, not even to herself.
The woman patted Addison’s cheek with a hand of bones and papery thin skin. “It’s okay to be sad. Here, I have something that will cheer you.” She pushed her satchel toward Addison.
“What’s this?”
“It’s a story. I’ve been carrying it around, wondering what to do with it. I didn’t feel I could leave until I found the right person to take care of it for me, but you are that person. I want you to have it.”
Addison opened up the satchel and peeked inside at the hundreds of typewritten pages. “You don’t think your grandson will want it?”
“No, he only reads nonfiction.” She said this in the same sort of tone she would have used to say he only eats fried liver and onions.
Addison smiled. “Thank you. This is…so kind.”
The woman slipped her feet back into her shoes. “No, thank you. It’s nice to see a story you love reach a happy ending. Now how about you? You owe me a story.”
“You don’t want to hear my stories.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Well, why would you? No one else does…”
The woman contemplated her. “Perhaps you’re right. How’s this? In payment for those tickets, you need to make sure that this weekend has a happy ending.”
Addison thought about the disappointing beginning of her weekend, and bit her lower lip. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I can promise you that.”
The woman leaned forward to peer into Addison’s face. “Will you try?”
“Huh. Sure. I’ll try.”
The woman pulled herself to her feet. “Goodbye, my dear. Promise me you’ll take good care of my story and write a happy ending for this weekend.”
“I promise,” Addison said, although she had no idea how to do that, or what the woman was asking of her. As the woman tottered away, Addison glanced around and spotted a bookstore. Because she’d learned long ago that her only hope for a happy ending lay between the pages of a novel, she headed for the familiar warmth of a shop full of books. After buying a blueberry muffin and a cup of tea at the counter, Addison found a plump upholstered chair near the window, pulled out the manuscript, and began to read.

Rescuing Rita
By Geneva Leigh

Wanted: A nice, plump, healthy, good-natured looking domestic and affectionate lady to correspond with. Object: matrimony. She must be a believer in God and immortality. She must not be a gadabout or given to scandal, but willing to endeavor to create a happy home.

The Arizona Sentinel, 1875

Poke was playing her song! White-hot anger, as mind altering as any potion or aphrodisiac, flashed through Rita. Clarisse, a virginal vision clothed in white lace, opened her mouth to sing, and Rita grabbed the closest weapon she could find, an occupied wig stand, and headed for the stage.
Clarisse’s high C turned to a squeak and her blond curls bobbed when she saw Rita flying up the stairs wielding the wooden head.
“That’s my song, you little strumpet!” Rita took center stage and swung at Clarisse.
The wig hit Clarisse in the face, but she brushed it away as if it were a large, hairy fly. Clarisse straightened her dress and picked up her tune, leaving Poke, the pianist, a few stunned beats behind.
With the wig stand braced in front of her like a battering ram, Rita charged. Clarisse jumped away, and Rita landed in the curtains. Clarisse climbed onto the piano bench, jostling Poke, who lifted his hands from the keyboard and flashed Rita a startled although amused look. Clarisse, balancing beside the pianist, nudged him with her tiny shoe. “Please continue, sir. This audition is not over.”
“Oh yes it is!” Rita dropped the wig stand, which bounced around her feet as she lunged for Clarisse.
“Now, Miss Clarisse, you know I can’t let you climb on the piano.” Poke, struggling not to laugh, reached for but missed Clarisse.
Clarisse inched across the lid of the upright piano as Rita scrambled onto the bench and, using Poke’s shoulder as a toehold, tried to join the music-thieving Clarisse on the top. Poke grabbed Rita and hauled her to center stage. She kicked Poke’s legs and tried to pry his grip from her waist.
“Can’t you see she’s a complete nutter, Ivan?” Clarisse said from her perch on top of the piano. “We simply cannot have her in the troupe.”
Rita wriggled for a better look at Poke’s good-natured face. “I wrote that song. It’s mine. She stole it!”
“I didn’t steal it. Besides, how can one steal a song?” Clarisse asked. “I simply heard it, learned it—”
“Through the paper-thin walls while I wrote it. Do you want to know what I heard through the walls?” Rita smacked her lips, making kissing noises. “If you get a spot in the troupe, we will all know why!”
Clarisse gasped in outrage, and Ivan, the director, laughed from his place in the dark auditorium.
“I got my position in the troupe because of my gifts and talent!” Clarisse said.
So Clarisse already had a role. Little wonder. “And your willingness to share and talents.” Rita wiggled, but Poke wouldn’t let her go.
“Would you like to sing, Miss Ryan?” Ivan’s disembodied voice spoke from the theater seats. Because of the dark house and the flickering gas lights lining the stage, Rita couldn’t see Ivan and wished she could. She longed to read his expression.
Poke didn’t seem in the least perturbed about holding her. Of course, he was built like an ox. He was not solely the troupe’s accompanist but also the “man at large” responsible for assembling and disassembling the heavy settings.
“Set her down,” Ivan said. “Let’s hear her.”
Clarisse put her balled fists on her hips. “I think we have heard quite enough from her!”
Poke chuckled and set Rita down. Rita flashed Clarisse a warning glance. Rita worried that Clarisse might stomp the piano keys or kick at Poke, who was settling onto his bench, acting as if having a blond tart atop his piano was de rigueur.
“You wrote this song?” Ivan said. “Then let’s hear it.”
“Ivan,” Clarisse’s tone turned silky soft, reminding Rita of Clarisse’s many “private auditions,” when Ivan had undoubtedly seen and heard more than a song…or two.
“I’ve heard you, Clarisse. I know what you can do,” Ivan said, confirming Rita’s suspicions that Clarisse had only gone through the formality of the audition for the prime purpose of discouraging Rita from joining the traveling troupe and escaping dreary Seattle.
Poke played the opening bars while Rita stared into the lights. Blood pounded in her head and zinged through her veins. Every nerve tingled, and goosebumps rose on her arms. The Rose Arbor Traveling Troupe was her ticket back to New York City, and she wasn’t about to let a trollop like Clarisse steal it from her.
Rita came in right on cue, her voice steelier than her spine and almost as strong as her resolve.

Where I Got My New Story Idea

So, I'm going to use this scripture passage for the basis of my new novel series. Anyone have a guess to what my series will be about?

The Book of the ProphetEzekielChapter 47

Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.

Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side.

And when the man that had the line in his hand went forth eastward, he measured a thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles.

Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins.

Afterward he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.

¶ And he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen this?Then he brought me, and caused me to return to the brink of the river.

Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.

Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed.

And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.

Friday, May 18, 2018

I Asked My Friends to Help Me Spread the Word

Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent is FREE for a limited time. I have a Bookbub promotion coming up in a few days and besides lining up some of my favorite advertising blasts, I recruited a few of my friends to help me share the love.

Looking at these makes me really happy. These women have been my friends for many, many years and I love them. (The dogs not as long, though.) These pictures were taken at Claudine's house, which--interesting side note--used to be my house. We moved when my twins were 4 days old, but many of the trees in her yard were planted by me.

Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent is one of my favorites and it's free. Here's a teaser:

Chapter One

The Royal Oaks Renaissance Faire is the brain baby of Mrs. Brighton, part-time English teacher and full-time witch. Glass blowers, potters, and herbalists mingle with students, teachers, and parents on sawdust strewn paths lined with wooden stalls. Axe throwing is not only allowed but encouraged. Games include Drench-a-Wench (Mrs. Brighton) and Soak-a-Bloke (Principal Olsen). Wizards, elves, beer and barely covered booties are all welcome as long as they help raise thousands of dollars for the high school drama department.
Petra’s notes

Petra stared at the fortuneteller’s tent -- silky curtains, beaded strings, the faint aroma of vanilla, a gaudy riot of color. She’d been waiting forever, but now that she was here, she took a breath and then another.
Robyn squeezed her hand. “It’s so romantic,” she whispered. “This is the perfect place for him to ask you.”
“It’s so him, right?” Petra returned Robyn’s squeeze, but her gaze never left the tent. She thought it ugly, garish in a more-is-less way. She sighed and wished that Kyle had asked without hoopla. Maybe she should have asked him. Maybe they shouldn’t go. Prom was so yesterday, dated like a debutante ball… Or a jousting competition, she thought, her gaze going to the nearby stadium.
The frustration of denial settled between her shoulder blades like an unreachable itch. Why did she even care about prom? She’d been with Kyle for months; a silly dance didn’t define their relationship.
Or did it? Some of her friends already had their dresses. Petra hadn’t bought one, that would have been presumptuous but she knew which one she wanted. She’d found the perfect shoes. She hoped Kyle would be okay with the coral-colored vest she’d picked out for him.
“It’s so who?” Zoe demanded.
Petra put her hand on top of Zoe’s orange curls. Zoe was the pooper at the party, the stepsister that never should have come to the fair.
Petra could understand why her stepmother, Laurel, didn’t want to take Zoe to a hospital to visit her Aunt Ida. No one sane would ever want to take Zoe anywhere, especially a place where people needed quiet and rest.
Robyn rolled her eyes at Petra. Robyn and Petra called themselves tele-friends, because they could read each other like open books. Now Robyn nodded at the tent, just go.
“Do you think he’s in there?” Petra whispered.
Robyn widened her eyes. “He said he would be, didn’t he?”
“Who’s he?” Zoe demanded. “Are you talking about Kyle?”
Petra swallowed and tried to forget Zoe’s existence. “He didn’t say anything, but his note said to meet at the fortuneteller’s tent. What if he didn’t send the note? What if this is a joke?”
“Then it’s not a funny one.” Robyn shook her head and her curls bounced around her shoulders. “It was Kyle.” She sounded way more confident than Petra felt. Robyn cut her a sideways glance, and another flicker of doubt tickled Petra’s thoughts. Why did she suspect the fortuneteller’s tent was more Robyn’s idea than Kyle’s? Petra squelched the thought. Kyle was her fortune. Nothing else mattered.
“Kyle has hotitude that sadly so often accompanies physical beauty,” Zoe sighed, parroting her mom.
Petra groaned. Did her parents dislike Kyle because he was rock-star gorgeous? She shook away the other more legitimate reasons why her parents might not like Kyle.
“Ignore her,” Robyn mouthed over Zoe’s head. “And just go already.” She gave Petra a push toward the tent.
Petra dug in her silky flats. “Wait. How do I look?”
“As always, you’re beautiful.” Robyn straightened Petra’s tiara, gave her a small hug, and then turned Petra tent-ward.
“Pretty as a Petra poopy picture,” Zoe muttered.
Petra frowned at Zoe and then glanced at her dress, last year’s prom gown. She and Robyn were the only two at the fair dressed as princesses. All around her she saw women in laced-up bodices, men in tights and knee-high boots, horses draped in flashy bright cloths, and even a snowy white owl on a perch. Zoe in her pink flip-flops, cut-up pillowcase and drapery tassel looked more in place than Petra and Robyn. Petra sniffed. She loved the silky fabric, the seed pearls, and poufy skirt and didn’t care that she was overdressed. She put a finger on the tiara; maybe the faux diamonds were too much. Too late now.
Straightening her shoulders, clutching her beaded purse, she headed to the tent. Her steps faltered, and she turned back. “Come with me,” she said to Robyn, taking and tugging her friend’s hand.
Zoe’s mouth dropped open. “You can’t leave me alone!”
Robyn motioned to the fair-goers: teachers, fellow students, neighbors. “Alone?”
Zoe’s eyes, for a moment, looked almost as crazy as her hair. “There are witches, people with swords, wild animals!”
Petra saw several people she knew, but Zoe had only just moved to Royal Oaks. Petra knelt so she could look in Zoe’s  crazy eyes. “And not one of them will hurt you, I promise. It’s a petting zoo—no wild animals! But if anyone bugs you, which they won’t, call a yellow jacket,” Petra said, referring to the Royal Oaks security guards who patrolled the school grounds and used blow horns to keep peace. “Please, just sit.”
Petra stood and pointed at a convenient stump, wishing for the zillionth time that Zoe would take lessons from their dog, Frosty, who greeted all instructions with lolling tongue and wagging tail. Zoe didn’t receive instructions; she counterattacked them. Poodles and stepsisters had very little in common, except for in Zoe’s case, the hair-do.
“If you leave me here—” Zoe began.
Petra silenced her by holding up a finger. “If you can be quiet, sit and not say a word, I’ll buy you a funnel cake.” She raised her eyebrows to see if Zoe would take the bribe, or if she needed to toss in a caramel apple. Health-foodie Laurel wouldn’t pony up for brand-name peanut butter, let alone treats fried in oil and covered with sugary powder.
Zoe harrumphed, then sat and picked at the hem of her pillowcase tunic. Petra followed her gaze to the corral across the path. Zoe’s expression lit up. “I want a funnel cake and to ride that horse.”
Petra and Robyn both turned to watch a guy lead a stallion through a wooden gate.
“Giddy-up,” Robyn said, staring.
The guy had brown, shoulder length hair tied back with a leather thong and wore soft, fawn-colored breeches and matching knee-high boots. His white shirt billowed around a wide leather belt that hung about his hips. Three simultaneous thoughts struck Petra. First: Everyone else, including herself, wore costumes, but this guy looked at ease in his breeches and boots, as if they were his everyday clothes. Second: His eyes and the small smile curving his lips sent a jolt of recognition up her spine although she knew they’d never met. She would have remembered. Third: This guy would never wear a coral colored vest.
“Isn’t he awesome?” Zoe breathed, her eyes large and round. “He’s so huge.”
Robyn gave Zoe a look, and Petra laughed. “You can’t ride him,” she said, watching the Arabian toss his mane and pull at the reins held by the guy. The stallion fought the bit, rose up on his hind legs and scissored the air with his hooves. “He’s not one of the ponies they lead through the rink.”
Zoe frowned, sending her freckles south. “I’m sure he’d rather be with me on the trail than in that horrible jousting place.” Earlier, they had tried watching the knights’ competitions. Zoe, unconcerned for the men being thwacked about by lances, had wailed for the sweat-dripping horses.
“I’m sure you’re right, Zoe, but I’m pretty sure I’m right too,” Petra said. “They’d never let you take him out of their sight. Besides, he looks fast and barely tamed.”
“I like them fast and barely tamed,” Robyn said under her breath, smoothing her pink chiffon skirt.
From the jousting arena came cheering and huzzahs. Petra heard the horses’ hooves thundering and the clanging of lances hitting shields and armor. She smelled roasted turkey legs, the fires from the pottery kilns and dung. Her senses careened on overload, and when the guy with the horse caught her eye and winked, dizziness and a skin-pricking sensation of déjà vu washed over her.
Zoe looked up at Petra, smiled and said in a voice as sweet as funnel cake, “If you let me ride that horse I won’t tell about you face-sucking Kyle.”
“There’s been no face-sucking!” At least not in front of Zoe.
Zoe put her fists on her hips and jutted out her chin. “Who says?”
Petra blew at a loose strand of hair in front of her eyes. “You can’t ride that horse!”
Zoe’s gaze cut to the corral and lingered on the stallion. “But you can ask if I can.”
Robyn nodded, a flirty smile on her lips. “We can ask.”
Petra shot her a look that said, Traitor.
“Hot Horse Guy,” Robyn murmured, flipping her brown curls over her shoulder.
“And offer him money,” Zoe put in.
“How much money?” Petra nearly growled. Since her dad’s marriage she’d been given an allowance ‘to help you find your own financial feet in the real world,’ Laurel’s words. Petra’s feet wanted a pair of coral-colored heels for prom.
“I saw him wink at you.” Zoe’s tone turned calculating. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to pay him.”
Petra frowned at Zoe; eight years old seemed too young to know the art of female bartering.
“We’ll ask him right after we visit the fortuneteller,” Robyn promised Zoe, sending a let’s-get-together-soon smile at Horse Guy.
He smiled back and ducked his head.
Zoe scowled, folded her arms and watched the horses parading in the corral.
Petra turned to the fortuneteller’s tent and forced herself to not look at hot Horse Guy, although she imagined she felt his gaze on her back. She towed Robyn by one wrist.
Held up by large wooden poles, the tent had brightly woven damask walls. A barrel-chested man wearing nothing but gold chains, large rings, and red bloomerish pants guarded a money jar. A hand-printed sign propped by the jar read Fester Foretells your Fate.
“Fester?” Petra stopped short of the tent. “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”
“You’re stalling,” Robyn pulled on Petra’s hand.
“What if he’s not in there?” Petra flashed the guy in bloomers a nervous glance but he remained motionless and expressionless, as if she and Robyn didn’t even exist. What would happen if she poked him? Would he do more than flinch? Would he do even that?
“Then we’ll have our fortunes read.” Robyn gave the bloomer guy a sideways look, but he stared straight ahead not even looking at Robyn, which Petra found impressive. Most guys couldn’t resist looking at Robyn.
“I’m telling Daddy that you ditched me,” Zoe kicked her flip-flops heels against the stump.
Petra scowled at Zoe. Her parents had only been married a few months, and it stung to hear Zoe call her dad ‘Daddy.’ “We’re not ditching you. It’s more like we’re parking you in a five-minute loading zone.” Petra made a lever pulling motion. “There, I put on the emergency brake. You’re stuck.”
Petra turned her back on Zoe and faced Robyn. “What if Kyle doesn’t think to come inside? He could stand out here forever while some hag predicts that I don’t get into a good school and will end up selling shoes for the rest of my life.”
“You love shoes,” Robyn said. “Besides, I’m sure he’s already inside.”
“And, just like me, listening to every word you say!” Zoe added.
Petra gave Zoe another be-quiet-or-be-dead look but then realized Zoe could be right. What if Kyle was on the other side of the curtain, waiting and listening? Fighting the flush creeping up her neck, Petra dropped money into Fester’s jar and pushed back the curtain of crystal beads.
When the curtain fell back into place behind them, it carried the sound of breaking glass. Heavy incense hung in the air. Petra blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. She scanned the tiny space, searching for Kyle. A crystal ball on a table draped in silks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the corners of the tent. Large pillows dotted tapestry rugs covering the ground.
Petra wondered if she should sit and wait. Could Kyle be hiding behind a curtain? No. He probably wasn’t here yet, meaning that he hadn’t heard her and Zoe. That was good. Wasn’t it?
“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi-darkness cackled.
Behind Petra, Robyn jumped. It took Petra a moment to find the owner of the voice, a hunched man on a pillow in a dark corner. Before him lay a pair of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky and a magician holding a wand, scattering glitter.
“I’m afraid you must come alone,” Fester said, leaving his gaze on Petra’s face as his twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.
Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed Robyn’s hand.
“I’ll wait with your sister,” Robyn said.
Still expecting Kyle to show, Petra didn’t watch her friend leave, but she knew when Robyn had gone by the flash of daylight that came and then left with the rise and fall of the curtain and the tinkle of the beads.
“There are journeys some must undertake on their own,” Fester the fortuneteller said, staring up at Petra.

Chapter Two

“No prosecution should thereafter be made on a charge of witchcraft and that all persons professing to occult skill or undertaking to tell fortunes might be sentenced to imprisonment for one year, made to stand pillory, and pledge future good behavior.” George II
"Every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise to deceive, and impose on any of His Majesty's Subjects will be deemed a vagabond and rogue and be punished accordingly.” George IV
So, why did they have a fortuneteller at the Royal Oaks Renaissance Faire and not a pillory?
—Petra’s notes

Fester had riotous curls the same color as his silver hooped earrings. Lined and crisscrossed, his skin looked like aged leather. Struck by his dark eyes, Petra stepped closer. The iris, so dark, swallowed the pupil and appeared bottomless. Endless.
Petra shook herself. Eyes weren’t endless. She’d learned about eyes in biology, had even studied a cow’s eye trapped in a jar of formaldehyde. Large, yellowish and with a brown iris, the cow’s eyeball had given her a sick feeling. Her lab partner, Lloyd of the big glasses, had laughed and refused to take it from her so she’d quickly passed it to the girl behind her. Petra felt that same queasiness now, staring into the fortuneteller’s eyes, but she found herself unable to look away. She cleared her throat. “I’m expecting someone. He asked me to meet him here.”
Fester laughed, and the sound surprised Petra. Not an old person hoot or an evil cackle, but a laugh that sounded like church bells, the type that ring at funerals. A Dickinson poem sprang to Petra’s memory: oppresses like the heft of Cathedral tunes. Shivers shot up her arms and she took a step back, nearly tripping on a pillow. “If Kyle isn’t here, I’ll just go…”
The laughter stopped. “You paid the price, did you not?”
“Well, yes, but so did Robyn.” Petra reached behind her for the curtain. Her hand bumped against the beads which rattled but suddenly hushed as the man spoke.
“Then you must listen.” Fester drew the fool card from the deck with a knobby finger, laid it on the rug and tapped it with a pointy fingernail. “Carrying all his possessions wrapped in a scarf, the Fool travels to destinations unknown. So filled with visions and daydreams he cannot see the dangers lying in wait. In his path, a small dog harries him, sending a warning.”  
Fester lifted his finger at Petra. The nail seemed almost as long as the finger, curling under as if it bent beneath its own weight. The finger and nail were both gray, the color of dead flesh. “You, my dear, are the fool. I am your warning.”
Kyle’s the fool, Petra thought, fighting a hot flash of anger, if he thought I’d find this freak show even remotely entertaining. She bit back a rude remark and instead asked, “Of what?”
Fester, who had been sitting in the corner, somehow suddenly flashed to Petra’s side. She flinched from the strong, garlicky smell and the warmth of his body. Petra held her breath and took a step closer to the curtains that led outside.
He followed. “If you think your life is here and now, you are mistaken. Indeed, there is no time or space.”
“My only mistake was putting twenty dollars in your jar.” Petra’s voice sounded screechy in her ears.
“Harbingers of ill will do not always mean you harm.” Fester laid his fingers on Petra’s arm and sent a jolt of electricity that lifted her off her feet.
Petra watched the crystal ball sail through the air and the strings of hanging beads swayed, sounding like a rush of wind chimes. Potion jars spun in the air, tarot cards floated around her like large, one-dimensional snowflakes. The ball connected with a flying jar and shattered into thousands of pieces, crystal and potion glinting midair as the poles supporting the draped damask groaned and teetered.
Earthquake, the rational part of Petra’s mind told her, but Petra was listening to another voice, one that said, run. Amidst the fluttering curtains Petra flew, whirling her arms and feet, a mid-air mime pantomiming running.
When the earth settled, Petra found herself buried beneath a pile of fabric and pillows. She sat up, dazed. Other than the drapes of cloth and the swaying crystal beads, the tent looked about the same, give or take the tarot cards scattered about. She pushed them away so she wouldn’t step on them.
Looking around, she didn’t see the fortuneteller. She wondered where he was and if he was hurt. Dazed, she tried looking for him, but the incense stung the back of her throat and filled her head. Needing air, she pushed through the curtains, brushed off her dress and straightened her tiara. Taking a few faltering steps, she stopped.
The only other earthquake Petra remembered had been on Easter Sunday, less than a month earlier. She had been with her family at the dining room table and had watched the chandelier swing above the ham and creamed potatoes. That quake had rolled rather than shook and had lasted less than a minute but Zoe had wailed in terror. Zoe had to be frightened now.
Where was Zoe?
Too bad this town square didn’t have stocks and pillory. They would have come in handy about five minutes ago. Then she would have known exactly where to find Zoe.
A three-legged, dog of indeterminate breed charged and took Petra off her feet. She landed hard on her butt in the dirt, legs splayed in front, dress around her thighs. She stared after the animal and watched the crowd filling the dusty street to see how they’d react to a dog breaking leash laws. No one seemed to notice.
Petra wanted to ask someone about the earthquake, but she didn’t see anyone she knew. Where were the yellow jackets? Principal Soak-a-Bloke? Mrs. Brighton in her witch’s hat? Petra stood, dusted off her dress and sat down on Zoe’s abandoned stump.
Petra remembered the advice she’d been given on a Girl’s Scout hike, when lost stay where you are. She didn’t know if Zoe had ever received similar advice, but it made sense that Zoe would eventually return, if only for the funnel cake. Petra closed her eyes, trying not to picture the trouble she’d be in when Zoe blabbed. Maybe Robyn was with Zoe. The thought made her feel a little better, but when she opened her eyes, the fair looked as strange as it had before.
Petra drew in the dirt with the toe of her slipper. The blue shoes had a smattering of faux diamonds across the top. She’d been annoyed about not being able to wear heels to the prom until her dad pointed out to her that last year’s date, Micky Lund, had yet to hit a growth spurt. Slippers were a kinder choice. Petra hadn’t cared that much about the shoes or Micky, but she was glad now to be in slippers.
Except none of that mattered anymore because she was ready to go home. Not spotting Zoe’s familiar tangerine hair, Petra climbed onto the stump for a better view. Standing with her hands on her hips, she glanced back at the fortuneteller’s tent and then twisted around completely. Somehow the tent had been replaced with a blacksmith’s shop. A giant fire blazed in a forge, and a thick armed man wearing a leather apron and wielding a hammer stood where only moments ago she’d visited Fester. Right? Petra climbed off the stump with weak knees.
The blacksmith swung his hammer onto a flaming red piece of metal and sparks flew. Again and again, the hammer struck; the pounding rang in Petra’s ears.
Where is Zoe? Petra’s anger melted into confusion. She must have hit her head during the earthquake. That’s why she thought she was flying mid-air. She must have had a concussion. Knowing that a head injury would soften her parents, Petra sat, waiting. Zoe and Robyn would turn up any minute…and maybe even Kyle.
But waiting didn’t calm Petra. It reminded her of the very first time her mother hadn’t met her after school. She’d stood at the corner near the crossing guard, surrounded by other second graders waiting for their moms, just as her mother had instructed. Eventually, all the other kids disappeared into cars and she’d been left alone with the guard, who’d marched her to the office, where she had to sit on a hard plastic chair, while the gum chewing secretary called her mom.
And then her dad.
During the second phone call, the secretary’s voice had changed from cranky to hushed, and her gaze slid to Petra with a look of pity that Petra would later know too well. When her dad showed up, he seemed worried, harassed, and withdrawn. No one, not her mother or her father, had apologized for making Petra wait.
A donkey-pulled wagon rumbled by and brought Petra out of the memory. A trio of dirty-faced kids in brown cloth tunics gazed at her with wide eyes from their perch in the wagon. Their rags made Zoe’s pillowcase look good.
Petra tried again to orient herself. She saw the jousting arena but not the funnel cake booth. She rubbed her head and decided that she must have left the tent from a different side. From this new angle the fortuneteller’s tent looked different.
Perception can alter reality. In AP psychology they’d learned about mental maps and paradigm shifts. Thinking about Doctor Burns and the class bolstered Petra. She wasn’t stupid, ditzy, or dizzy. Blonde jokes, in her case, didn’t apply. Still, as she stood on the stump, she felt increasingly lost. Silly even.
She tried to recall Doctor Burn’s words. If you had an incorrect map of a city and were looking for a specific location, you would be both lost and frustrated. Experience determines perception.
Right now she needed a map not of her psyche but of the fair. She’d gotten lost. The three-legged dog, the blacksmith shop spouting flames and sparks (something she couldn’t believe the fire marshal would allow), the three story-buildings and thatched roofed cottages, well, those were all things she hadn’t noticed before when she’d been preoccupied with Kyle and his supposed prom invite.
She was on the wrong tree stump! Abandoning the stump, she wandered around looking for the fortuneteller’s tent, but she couldn’t find any bright colored fabrics or strings of crystal beads. Refusing to believe that she would have noticed a blacksmith shop spouting sparks, she squared her shoulders and set out to find the information booth where Mrs. Jordan handed out maps.
Ten minutes later when she couldn’t find the booth or Mrs. Jordan, she turned toward what she hoped was the direction of the stables. She hoped to find Zoe with hot Horse Guy and thought about what she’d say to Zoe. The angry, why did you leave the stump? And, why didn’t you stay where I put you? Quickly turned to, I’m sorry I lost you.
“Zoe!” Petra called out, her voice mingling with the calls of the vendors. “Robyn?” No one was paying any attention to her. “Zoe? Robyn? Anyone?”

You can get your free copy of Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent here

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Writerly News

Here's a brief update on what's new and shaking in my writing world. A special thank you to everyone who read and reviewed my new release, The Tick-tock Between You and Me! (If you're interested in reading and reviewing, let me know. The offer is still good.) I'll be releasing Dreaming of You and Me in June.

That Song in Patagonia will be featured in The Authors of Main Street upcoming (summer!) box set.  

At the beginning of the year, I made a goal to attend an in-person writing event a month. Why would an introvert make such a goal? This is a really good question, but the answer began when a friend shared a memory about his college roommate who was an avid reader. The roommate read an eight-hundred-page book, slogged all the way to the end, and declared he hated the book. Sometime later, he and the roommate heard the author speak, so the roommate decided to reread the book. After his rereading, he decided that this book that he previously had hated was his new favorite. My friend asked, "What changed?" "I know the author now," the roommate responded.

What do you think of his answer? Are you drawn to or repelled by certain authors because of who we think they are? Are you more likely to buy a book if you feel like you click with an author?

This past weekend, I spoke on a panel at the Wine, Women, and Words event at a winery in nearby Santiago Canyon. The venue was gorgeous, and it was fun to meet other writers and readers and chat about books.


Next month, I'll be speaking at the 1888 Center (more info here) And I have an all-day school event at Renton Middle School.

I had liked this coat until I saw this picture. Now I'm thinking it makes me look like an emergency cone that you'd find on the side of a highway.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I'm reading the Bad Red Head Media 30 Day Book Marketing Challenge. Want to follow along?

I'm reading the Bad Red Head Media 30 Day Book Marketing Challenge. Want to follow along as I follow her 30 days of marketing tips?

Day one: Twitter
Here's my experience with Twitter. It's great for getting people to read my blog posts. I don't think it sells books. So, here's my suggestion. If you have blog posts that can help people solve problems, share it on twitter. Find and use the best hashtags.
What did Rachel (the Bad Red Head Media Marketing excerpt) suggest that was new to me? Add links to my websites in my bio. So, I changed my bio from:

When she's not reading, writing, or traveling, she can be found playing games with her family, hiking with her dogs, or watching movies while eating brownies.

Wife, mom, brownie baker, USA Today Bestselling author. Follow @

It's more vanilla, but more informative.

Tonight I'll be back with my stats.
I sent out about 5 tweets. (Lackluster, I know.)
My blog pages views were about 20% higher than the day before.

Day 2: Pin a tweet
I already have a pinned tweet that tells people to sign up for my newsletter to get a free book. I like it, but I changed the verbiage slightly.
She suggested "verbing" my bio. So, instead of introducing myself, tell people what I do for them.

Writing her own happily ever after one day (and tweet) at a time. Follow @ (This tells people that if they read my books, they're sure to get a happy ending.)

What do you think?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Read My New Releases In Exchange for Honest Reviews!

I had the idea of writing the love stories of two best friends that take place at the time. I had never seen it done before and thought I'd give it a go. It turned out to be more complex than I had imagined, but after months of fine-tuning The Tick-tock Between You and Me and Dreaming of You and Me, I'm almost ready to share them. The final step is this one: offering them to a lucky few in exchange for honest reviews. If you'd like to review either Tick-tock or Dreaming, just hit reply and let me know. Tick-tock is scheduled for release on May 12th. At that time, I'll put Dreaming up for pre-order. (It's still being edited.) Thanks!
Darby thought she had love all figured out until she heard the tick-tock of a clock.
Cole is literally the man of Nora’s nightly dreams, but can she make her dreams a reality?
November, 1941
Gustav, stooped with age, hunkered down on his stool in front of his workbench, oblivious to the screeching and screaming of death and destruction falling around him. The comforting sounds of a hundred tick-tocking clocks provided a blanket to muffle the bomb’s whistling and rocketing explosions.
His gnarled fingers quivered as a blast shook his shop and decimated another, but that was more from age than fright. He had lived a long life—much longer than he, or anyone else, had expected. He glanced out the window at the nearby flickering flames. The sudden rise in temperature caused beads of sweats to form on his brow. He removed his glasses, patted his forehead, and resumed his work.
A barking dog loped past his window. A woman clutching a basket followed. Footsteps padded down the steps that led to his shop and banging rattled his door.
“Gustav!” A young man’s voice called. “Come, we must go!” The door reverberated as the pounding grew more and more incessant.
Gustav, put down his tools and unfolded his long limbs, stiff from sitting in a prolonged position. He didn’t answer the door to save his own life, but out of concern for his neighbor, Wilbur—a young man with a wife and children who, thank God, had already left for the safe countryside. Wilbur had a reason to live, while Gustav did not. He didn’t feel the need to explain to Wilbur that running away was a young man’s game.
“I will stay here with my clocks,” Gustav told him. “They know when my time will come. But you must go. Do not worry about me.”
Wilbur tried to argue with him, but to prove his point, Gustav firmly closed his door and flipped the lock. Settling down at his workbench, he picked up the tiny gears of his current project, a clock that would be the wedding gift for his grandson. The rosewood case matched the color of his own Gretel’s hair, the ivory face the color of her porcelain skin. As he worked, he hummed the song played at his own wedding by his uncle’s fiddling band.
Each clock was a labor of love for Gustav, but this one was special, because, he suspected, it would be his last. This thought didn’t bring him fear, but rather warmed him with the knowledge that this clock would continue to tick-tock long after his own heart stopped beating. Clocks, he knew, are like love, they continue when everything else fails.

 My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.


Modern Day
Los Angeles International Airport
Darby stood in the line snaking its way toward the crowded Starbuck’s counter. She shivered, but this had more to do with nerves and anticipation than the over-zealous air-conditioning or her lack of caffeine. She glanced at the board announcing the arriving flights and consulted her watch.
Benjamin’s plane had been delayed. Again. She tried to wrap her head around this. After all, it was August, not the dead of winter when one might expect turbulent weather. Of course, he was flying from London—and when she had flown from London to L.A., her flight path had gone over the North Pole, where rotten weather was sure to happen. She needed to be patient, but she was tired of being patient. Other than on FaceTime or social media, she hadn’t seen Benjamin in three whole months.
Not that she had known him for much longer.
A sudden splash of burning hot wetness pulled Darby’s thoughts away from Benjamin. “Ow!” she pulled her blouse away from her chest and stared at the brown stain spreading like a fungus.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” A man with large hands grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser on a nearby table and tried to pat her chest.
She flinched away from him and noticed his face for the first time. Aside from his embarrassed and apologetic expression, he was incredibly gorgeous, like a young Paul Newman—blond, blue-eyed, rugged and weathered as if he spent a good deal of time outside. He was almost as good looking as Benjamin, but in a completely different way. But of course, Benjamin was a model and an actor who made a living with his beauty. This man was a silky-blouse-staining moron.
“It’s okay,” Darby said, even though it obviously wasn’t because the coffee was burning hot, her blouse was probably going to be ruined, and, worst of all, she’d now have to welcome Benjamin to L.A. with a giant brown spot on her shirt. She moved away from his clumsiness and wads of napkins.
“Oh no, I can tell you’re upset.” He shook the coffee off his own hands, making her realize he’d burned himself as well. “Let me pay for your dry -cleaning, at least.”
“No, don’t be silly,” she said, edging away from him, which wasn’t easy to do because of the crowd. Most people were ignoring them, but a few watched with open curiosity, waiting to see her response. Darby gulped back her frustration, mostly because she didn’t want to make a scene, but also because the man was cute and remorseful—a little like a puppy who knows his paws are too big.
“How about I buy you lunch?” he said.
Darby glanced at the board, noting that Benjamin’s flight had been delayed another hour. “Okay,” she agreed, tempted by a free lunch…and the handsome man.
His smile transformed him. He was actually much better looking than she’d originally thought. Maybe even a close match to Benjamin. Not that looks mattered. She didn’t love Benjamin for his (stunning) appearance. Looks had nothing to do with their almost instant and incurable attraction.
“I’m waiting for my boyfriend’s delayed flight,” Darby told the blouse-destroying stranger, just so he would know he didn’t stand a chance with her because her heart was pledged elsewhere to another, much less, clumsy man. This was just a free lunch.
He looked at his watch, an intricate timepiece on a leather band. He had strong, thick wrists covered with blond nearly transparent blond hair. Darby shivered again. She hated when men had dark gorilla fuzz, and she tried to recall Benjamin’s arms, but couldn’t. This bothered her.
“My sister’s flight is also late,” the man said as he guided her into a nearby restaurant, separated from the airport’s concourse by a fountain running down a glass wall and spilling into a black marble ledge. The water garbled happily, it’s sound masking the airport’s bustle. The scent of barbequing steak wafted through the air.
“Weird, right? I mean, it’s August and sunny and warm.” Darby glanced around at the linen-clad tables and glass and chrome decor. It was hard to believe that just a watery partition separated the restaurant from the noise and chaos of the rest of the airport.
“Not all delays are weather-related. I’m Chad George, by the way,” he said, sticking out his hand.
“Darby Elliot,” she replied, liking his strong grip.
A waitress name Kayla led them to a table overlooking the tarmac. They passed a window to the open kitchen where men and women in white coats and tall ballooned hats grilled a variety of meat over open flames. The smell made Darby’s mouth water. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was.
“What do you do, Darby Elliot, when you’re not waiting for boyfriends in the airport?” Chad asked once they were seated.
“I’m an accountant,” she said, unfolding the linen napkin and placing it on her lap.
He leaned back. “Really?”
“Why do you look so surprised?” Darby fussed with her napkin, slightly miffed because his response was typical. Most people had the same reaction when she said she was an accountant, and it bothered her that no one seemed to take her seriously. Being the youngest in a family of seven kids didn’t help. But she was used to her family’s dismissal and had grown to expect it. She didn’t like it from strangers.
“You just don’t look like an accountant.”
Darby sat a little straighter, trying to add inches to her five-foot-three frame. “And what do you think accountants should look like?”
“Well, for one thing, they don’t wear strappy red sandals and New Occult jeans.”
“Maybe not to work.”
“Although they might wear silk blouses. Just not with big brown stains on them.”
Darby didn’t mean to scowl, but she couldn’t help it. She picked up a menu to hide her expression. “I’m actually freaky good with numbers.”
He lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Really?”
She lowered the menu. “Yeah. Go ahead, test me.”
“Okay, what’s three-thousand and forty-nine divided by sixty-three?”
“Forty-eight, about.”
He typed the math problem onto the calculator app on his phone. “You’re right. Amazing.”
She shrugged and went back to studying the menu. After a moment, she settled on a shrimp salad. “What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher at a small private school.”
This surprised and concerned her because teacher’s salaries usually didn’t stretch to cover fancy airport restaurants. “That’s noble,” she said. “It must be really rewarding.” Just not financially. She quickly changed her mind about the shrimp salad and selected a cup of soup.
“Sometimes,” he said with a smirk.
Kayla the waitress came to take their orders, and Chad surprised Darby by asking for the steak. Her gaze wandered to the chefs in the kitchen and she wondered if the steak would taste as good as it smelled.
“Are you sure you just want soup?” he asked.
She nodded, even though she wasn’t quite so sure anymore. After all, the sun glinting off the airplanes told her that it had to be warm outside away from the air conditioning. The thermometer had been pushing toward eighty when she’d been in her car and that was before it was even noon.
“I love tomato soup,” she said. “I practically lived on it when I was in London.” Where it was cold and dreary most of the year.
“You lived in London?”
She nodded. “That’s where I met Benjamin—my boyfriend, the one I’m waiting for.” Just saying Benjamin and boyfriend in the same sentence sent a happy tingle down her spine. She recalled his face to remind herself of how much she loved him and how perfect he was for her and how romantic their first meeting had been—much more romantic than some doofus spilling his coffee on her and ruining her favorite blouse. “You know, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can salvage my shirt.”
“Sure,” he said, looking disappointed, but not surprised.
She found the restroom near the bar and once inside, she peeled off her shirt, doused with water and squeezed some hand soap onto it. While she scrubbed, her thoughts bounced between Chad and Benjamin. She found herself comparing them, and even though this made her uncomfortable, she couldn’t stop herself. Chad, a teacher, according to her parents, had the noblest of vocations. Benjamin, an actor and model, again, according to her parents, probably had the least admirable vocation. It also bothered her that she continually measured things and people with her parents’ yardstick, but that was normal, wasn’t it? She hadn’t intentionally patterned herself after her parents, but even at twenty-nine, she still sought their approval.
Except when it came to Benjamin. She loved him in spite of her family’s warnings.
After a final rinse and a couple of blasts from the hand-dryer, Darby put her shirt back on. The damp fabric clung to her skin and bra and she wondered if she’d just made the situation worse. She left the restroom with her feelings toward Chad almost as chilly as the wet blouse. It didn’t help that he smirked when he took one look at her blouse.
She sat across from him and launched into her How-Darby-and-Benjamin-Met story. “Benjamin literally fell into my life!”
Chad leaned back as Kayla returned with their food, placed a thick slice of steak with a side of a baked potato oozing with butter and a serving of steamed vegetables in front of Chad and a cup of steaming hot tomato and basil soup in front of Darby.
Darby opened a bag of crackers and crumbled them into her soup. “We met the day before I left London. Sad, right?”
Chad looked as if he didn’t know how to respond. After a moment, he came up with, “What were you doing in London?”
“I’m a CPA for Hopper and Rhode Accounting, and one of our clients was having issues. I thought at first it was a huge honor for them to send me, but then I realized no one else wanted to go.”
“How come?”
Darby frowned. She really wasn’t supposed to talk about her clients, especially if she didn’t have anything good to say. “Let’s just say that my client likes to smoke cigars.” She lifted a spoonful of soup to her lips. Yep, it was hot. After a moment, she added, “She had other vices, as well of course.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “She?”
“Yep.” She paused her spoon. “Are you telling me you’re one of those sexist people who think women can’t enjoy cigars?”
“Can anyone really enjoy cigars?”
After another sip of soup, she put down her spoon and smiled. “Nope. I don’t know why anyone smokes them, unless, of course, they’re just intentionally trying to be annoying. Although, in general, it’s really a bad idea to try and annoy your accountant. After all, a good accountant is trying to save you money and often—as in this woman’s case—her business.”
“What was her business?” he asked with a smile he probably considered charming.
“I can’t talk about my clients. Sorry.”
Chad pulled out his phone and tapped out something. Darby tried not to be curious. After a second, he leaned back in his chair, gave her a pleased grin and showed her his phone’s screen. “Your client, Amanda Ward, an American living in London, president of Finders, Sneakers, a U.S. based company—”
“I know who she is,” Darby said. “How did you do that?”
“It was pretty easy, really.” He pocketed his phone. “I knew she had to be the head of a U.S. company—otherwise, why hire a U.S. accountant? But she was living in London…although, I think the cigar smoking pretty much nailed her.”
“It probably will nail her—into her coffin.” Darby’s hand flew to her mouth. “I should not have said that. You won’t tell my boss, will you?”
Chad smiled and cut into his steak. It let out a waft of heavenly scent. “So, since you can’t talk about your mysterious cigar smoking-client, tell me about the boyfriend that fell on you.”
Darby set down her spoon. “He was at a party right above my hotel room and there was a fire. Of course, I didn’t know that since I was asleep in my bed. Anyway, to escape, he jumped down onto my balcony saw me sleeping in my bed and woke me.”
“No fire alarm?”
“Huh, I guess not.” The memory of the first time she’d seen Benjamin’s gorgeous and concerned face flashed in her mind. “He picked me up and carried me outside.” She didn’t add that they had spent the rest of the night making out on the hotel lawn and that she’d only been wearing a silk teddy. Remembering the cold wet grass pressing against her naked legs, Darby took another spoonful of soup. “It was very romantic.”
“But then you left London?”
She nodded.
“So, you really don’t know him all that well.”
Darby bristled because this was exactly what her mom, sisters, brothers, and friends had been saying. “We’ve Skyped every day. In some ways, this is a better way to get to know each other because we couldn’t get carried away with snogging. That’s the British word for—”
“I know all about snogging,” he said with a smile.
Yes, from the looks of him, he probably did.
“I know it’s absolutely none of my business.” Chad buttered his potato. “But when you only know each other via social media, it’s really easy to just show your good bits.”
Wow. He really did sound like her mom. “You’re right.” She swallowed another spoonful of soup. “It’s none of your business. But sometimes, when you meet the right person, you know.”
“You just know, huh?”
She nodded. “That’s how it was for me and Benjamin. He fell into my life at the right time. It was meant to be.”
“Hmm…I wonder if the hotel owners felt the same way.”
“What? Why would they care?”
“It was their hotel on fire, right? I just wonder if they had such a fatalistic attitude.” He grinned and took a bite of his steak.
“Do you believe in fate or Kismet?”
“There are people who believe there’s no such thing as coincidences. I’m not sure if I’m one of those people.”
“What sort of people are you?” Darby asked.
“I believe that relationships take work and commitment. Just because someone fell into your life doesn’t mean they’re bound to stay there. They have to want to stay there, and you need to make it an enjoyable place to be.”
Darby thought about her parents and their noisy and chaotic home. “In my house, sometimes it seems as if love is more about taking out the trash, mucking out the garbage disposal, or being the one to change the poopy diaper. But I don’t think it has to be that way. There should be room for romance, too.”
“Are you from a large family?”
“I’m the youngest of seven.”
Chad whistled. “But if you’re the youngest, your parents can’t still be changing diapers. At least, I hope not. Sorry if that’s too personal a question.”
“I’m not wearing Depends, if that’s what you’re asking. My sister and her three children live with us.”
“You live at home?”
Darby nodded.
“Your parents must have a full house.”
“You have no idea.” She didn’t feel the need to tell him she shared the house with her parents, her brother Tom, her sister, Meg, her two nephews Tristan and Luke and niece Jolene, her other sister, Henley, her Grandma Betty, and the dog, Wheezer.
“So, there’s not a lot of romance…”
“There’s a lot of love, but sometimes…” Darby grappled for the right words. How could she explain her family to this stranger? “It can be chaotic, too. Not a lot of bathrooms and too many people—and creatures—in too tight a space. Romance gets lost in the piles of laundry or the overflowing toilet.”
“I’d like to meet your family.”
Darby put down her spoon. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“I’d pick love over romance any day.”
“I don’t think it has to be an either-or choice.”
“And you think Brit-boy can deliver both?”
Darby nodded. “I know he can.”
“I hope you’re right, for your sake. But I’m pretty sure real-life steps in eventually on everyone’s romance.”
“That’s very jaded.”
“Not at all. Being in love isn’t something that just happens to us, it’s a way of being. It’s a choice, or rather a series of choices. It’s choosing to put someone else’s needs over own over and over again.”
“Which brings us back to the clogged garbage disposal and the poopy diapers.”
Chad pointed his fork at her and smiled. “Exactly.”
“Life doesn’t have to be so real,” Darby argued. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting more romance, flowers, wine, and less chaos and noise.”
“No, but I bet the chaos and noise keep things interesting.”
“Interesting is a good word for my family.”
“I’d like to meet your family,” he said again.
“You don’t know what you’re saying.” Darby didn’t want to be annoyed by this handsome stranger, but it rankled that his words echoed pretty much everything her family had been saying about Benjamin, romance, and real life.
“I’m waiting for my sister,” Chad said after a moment to fill the awkward silence. “She’s coming into town to help celebrate my grandfather’s eightieth birthday.”
While Chad went on and on about his family, barely noticing her prolonged silence, Darby ate her soup as quickly as she could without slurping and occupied her thoughts with memories and fantasies about Benjamin.
Where he would stay had been a trick since she couldn’t very well bring him home. Not only was she from a long line of staunch Catholics, she was also from a large family…who happened to live in a not so large house.
Benjamin, of course, had understood and made arrangements with some friends who lived in L.A. Still, it made snogging difficult.
“Are your grandparents still alive?” Chad interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes,” she said, though she did not want to talk about Grandma Betty. Darby shoveled in the last drop of soup and put down her spoon. “It’s been really nice meeting you and thanks for the lunch, but I have to go.” She gathered up her purse, said goodbye, and left.