Monday, August 31, 2009

Excerpt - Love Thy Neighbor by Patricia Bates

Excerpt from Love Thy Neighbor: “The wayward son has returned to the backwater, undignified town. Something I can do for you, Duncan?” The low, angry tone echoed in the sickeningly familiar cocking of a firearm. He glanced at the porch of the house to see a slim, boyish looking woman holding a carbine aimed at his chest.

Tom studied the perpetual burr under his saddle - Rylee Parys, short cropped black locks curled around her sunburned face in the humid air. A line of dust ran along the tip of her small nose, and her chapped and cracked lips were pressed together in a tight line. Despite her boyish looks, there was something about her that, even without a gun to his chest, made his pulse pound. The familiarity of that sensation unsettled him, and he shifted in the saddle. This wasn’t a game, and they weren’t children.

“You wanna put that down before you hurt yourself?” Tom asked as he eased his hand up his thigh, to the Colt he wore tied down. The last thing he wanted was gun play, but he wasn’t about to let the fool woman shoot him. In his jacket pocket the letter the other ranchers and farmers had written crinkled and rustled with the sway of his body in the saddle. The words cramped together were filled with disgust and hatred for the foolishness of the young woman who refused to listen to their counsel.

“What do you want? Ain’t anything here to stare at?”

“Came to talk about those mongrels of yours out in the field. They managed to knock down half a mile of fencing last night and two of my best mares are gone.” Tom waved a hand at the pasture. “Taken by that stallion you’re protecting. Ain’t nothing but a walking disease upon the land.” He noted the flash of fire in her eyes and sighed. Getting her riled up was not his intent, and with her armed, it would prove hazardous to his health. Heaving a tired, put upon sigh, he pushed thoughts of his horses aside and turned to the matter he’d come for. “Now there was a town meeting the other night and the neighbors are getting mighty tired of this situation, and have asked me to come by and talk to you. I figure you’re a reasonable woman. We should be able to, uh, fix the problems.”

“Well, Mr. Duncan,” the girl spat venomously, “I suggest you trot yourself right out after those mares. I ain’t about to round up those nags you call horses. My stud has more sense than to go looking for mares in your stable. Ain’t one tough enough to cross a creek much less survive a season with the herd. And as for what your drinkin’ buddies think of the stock, you tell ‘em that if I see any of them on my land I’m gonna shoot first and ask questions later. Do you understand, Mr. Duncan? Now then, you’re trespassing on my land.” She stepped closer to the edge of the porch. Her eyes narrowed into furious slits of cobalt blue. “You come back and I’ll put enough holes in you to drive a wagon through.”

“Now, Rylee Parys, you wait a minute,” Tom snapped. Anger prickled hot and sharp along his nerves and he shifted in the saddle. His gaze steady, he eyed the unyielding woman before him. “I mean to get my mares back, missy, and there ain’t a thing you can do. Either you return ‘em or I’ll fetch Marshal Jackson up here and have him deal with it. The choice is yours.”

“Ain’t nothing to say. As long as those animals are on my property they’re protected. They’re all good solid stock, and they’re tougher than anything in your fine stables. I’m don’t aim to let anyone shoot ‘em just because they don’t fit into your breeding program. Now I don’t reckon you’re accusing me of stealing your horses, so I think you’d best ride on.”

He clenched his fists around the saddle horn to stop the itch he had to reach out and brush a stray lock off her forehead. “You payin’ for the damage? Those mares are worth a lot of money and I ain’t standing by and let that mangy stallion have ‘em. Not to mention the fence, the time it’s gonna take my hands to fix it and the loss of grass from them grazing on my land. The price of repairs will bankrupt you before the fall harvest. You can’t afford to have nothing this winter.”

“You deaf or something?” She hissed and stepped down off the porch. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Duncan. I ain’t about to let anyone take anything off my land, that herd included. They belong to me, were born and bred on this land, and wear my brand and by God--”

“Miss Parys, I assure you, I am not interested in discussing this with you. I want both of my mares back, my fence fixed, and that herd gone. You either do it or I will. We haven’t even got around to discussing the water yet.”

Excerpt - Hitting the High Notes by Nan Arnold

Hello, everyone. I’d like to share a blurb and excerpt from my February 2010 release HITTING THE HIGH NOTES available from Champagne Books. Check out my website for sequel and other works in progress. (Also: Contest underway at website for heart-shaped pin that closes August 20th).

Blurb: Widow Maggie Duncan relearns life is a song when she meets by chance an AWOL opera star and a certain color-blind cop. Who will teach her to hit the high notes?


Maggie Duncan’s fourth decade on earth sped along at warp speed as she clung to its coattails, widowed, childless, and unattached.
Currently seated in the eat-in kitchen of an attractive townhouse, she considered the wine glass her host, a man called Stavros, set before her. The balloon shaped bowl on a long fragile stem looked half as wide and approximately as deep as that big zero in Florida’s abdomen known as Lake Okeechobee.
“So, your name is Stavros.” Maggie’s blunt tipped finger rimmed the glass. She’d met him by chance at a convenience store only an hour before. “Just Stavros?”
He nodded.
“Mysterious.” She took a tentative sip. The wine coated her tongue and slid down her throat. The merlot’s warmth wrapped second thoughts about why she’d accepted his invitation into a snug blanket and Maggie gazed into mesmerizing eyes as dark and shiny as moonlit water. What color were they? Dark … brown. No, actually, they were green and as dark as malachite.
He chuckled. “Call me Stav, if you prefer.” The man of Mediterranean heritage filled his own glass but offered no last name or details. Maggie wondered if the name he’d given her was real, or created just for her. She didn’t normally engage in pick ups, in fact never before, but wandering the dateless desert for some time prompted Maggie to know if she could attract a man as comely as the man sitting across from her.
“Excellent wine, no?” Stav’s voice settled on her eardrums like a zephyr. The resonant timbre, such that any pied piper would envy, seduced her into tagging along with Stav after she’d purchased bottled water following a long bike ride.
“Very good.” Maggie replied. Even she tasted the difference of this wine compared to the swill in her pantry, boxed in four-packs, used primarily for cooking. She pulled away a strand of graying ash brown hair that strayed to her blue dress and clandestinely studied Stavros. Maggie noticed gray in his hair, too, and age creases on his forehead.
Wait. Wasn’t wine supposed to dull reality? She took another sip, then another, and finally one bold gulp for good measure.
Stav reached for her hand and held it. Maggie didn’t object. He’d already charmed her out of her commons sense. So, she wondered, what could he charm her into? Taking into account the lap-pool capacity of the glass, the amount of wine she’d imbibed, and how warm her hand felt in his, and her current emotional vulnerability, probably a lot.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ciara Gold Book Trailer - Celestial Dragon

Joys And Tribulations Of Owning An e-Reader

Joys And Tribulations Of Owning An e-Reader
by Allison Knight

The world of publishing is changing. However, there are still people who can’t or won’t accept that fact. I’m reminded of the beginnings of the automobile industry. Over a hundred years ago, the horse and buggy ruled. When the horrible, smelly and noisy automobile began to occupy a place on the roads, everyone said it would never take off. No one wanted, or claimed they needed an automobile. The machines broke down, they were uncomfortable to ride in, they sent sprays of dirt and dust over the passengers. No, they were not dependable, they upset the horses and were ugly – to boot.

Buggy makers smiled and nodded in agreement, and buggy whip makers proclaimed the advantage of a horse. After all, they got you from place to place with ease, they didn’t make much noise and their manure was essential for the farmers.

What has this is do with e-readers. Well, people who read books claim e-readers are inconvenient. They don’t feel right, they lose their charge, and you can’t take them to the pool or beach, because if they get wet, they’re useless. Print publishers smile and bookstores are quick to point out e-readers will never replace books.

Sound familiar?

I see a correlation here. Of course we still do have horses and some people still use buggies, and need whips, but they have almost faded from existence. No, I don’t think books will follow the same fate. We will always have books, but I do believe e-readers will replace most books in the future. Here are some of my reasons.

I have an e-reader, a Sony. I sang it praises so much my husband wanted one too. But he wanted a backlit one. The Sony is not so I got him an e-Bookwise reader for Christmas. And, he loves it. Okay, I’ll be honest, there are some disadvantages, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. No, they don’t feel or look like a book. They are expensive, very! And they don’t smell like a book, either. Yes, I did have an acquaintance tell me she couldn’t read from an e-reader because it didn’t have the ‘smell’ of a book. (No kidding!)

What do I like about my reader and what does my husband like about his?

First we belong to the over fifty club – way over! I was told long ago that once you reach thirty-five your body begins to decline. Your eyesight begins to go, your hearing isn’t as good, you develop aches and pains you can’t or don’t want to identify. (Sorry you younguns’ but it’s true.) With an e-reader you can change the font and make it much easier to read. That has to be the first great thing to mention. You don’t have to worry if your favorite author has a book in large print because you can enlarge the print yourself. I love the ease with which I can turn pages, look up words I think have been misused with the reader (It does have its own dictionary) and I also like the way I can bookmark a page and return to it without losing my place. I was always losing bookmarks with a print book.

The next advantage for us is a personal one. My husband’s favorite authors write a new book about every 18 months, but the wait for the book to be released in paperback can be more than three years. However, in most cases, the books are available for purchase as e-books shortly after the hardback has been released. There are great advantages to downloading your favorites. Expense has to play a big role. Those hardbacks are expensive and e-books are much cheaper. Of course, it’s faster and available at any time. A trip to the bookstore might be inconvenient: the new book is out of stock, they haven’t come in yet or you have to drive miles to get to the bookstore, etc. etc. etc.

Of course, in our case there’s another reason I love e-books and readers. There is only so much room in our house for bookcases, and believe me when I say they are brimming over now. My husband likes to keep his books. I write fiction and have a small library of my own, so the fewer books I have to find a place to store the happier I am. Hardbacks or even paperbacks take up space and as I said he likes to keep his books.

Another great advantage is the number of books a reader will hold. If you read fast, travel and want to carry your books, you might need a small suitcase to hold your selection. But with a reader you can download dozens of books, available at the push of a button. If you’re like me and read three or four novels at a time, a reader is wonderful because you can pop from one
book to another with the push of another button.

I don’t have a Kindle, nor have I handled one, but I understand they are nice as well. I can only comment on the Sony and the e-Bookwise readers and I’ll be honest there are some disadvantages other than expense with them. You have to have a computer and an internet connection to buy a book. You also need to have a fairly fast internet connection. I’m not certain dial-up connections would handle a download well. Once you buy the book, you download the book to your computer and then upload it to your reader. You have to have a debit card or a major charge card to be able to buy the download in the first place.

You also have to keep the reader charged up. They do run out of ‘juice’ and if you are traveling and forget the charger, too bad! You can’t do any reading. My e-reader can’t be read in the dark, however my husband can and does read his in the dark. That’s why he wanted one with a back light. I understand the new Sony supplies you with a light that attaches to the reader. Of course, I already mentioned you can’t take them to the beach or the pool. Water and e-readers don’t go together. And, until recently, they were available only in black and white, or a kind of gray! I understand a reader that will read color is soon to be on the market but the price tag is high.

Of course, you don’t need a reader! You can use an iphone, a palm, a blackberry, a computer or a notebook, but for us the reader is more enjoyable. And yes, we do enjoy reading from them. I believe their popularity will increase. The younger generation is already communicating electronically, so a reader will be a easy step for them. However, I would like to debunk a widely held belief. The older generation, the over 50 group, even those over 70, use computers – a lot.

All of my friends, and some of them are a lot older than 70, e-mail all the time. It keeps them young. Have they started reading from readers? Unfortunately, as I said readers are expensive, so many can’t afford them. Some also don’t have credit cards. I did say they were older than 70. But yes, a couple of them have begun the switch and I truly believe more will do so. I think the latest statistics bear me out. That’s why I’m proud to say, yes, I’m e-published.

Allison Knight
May, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Excerpt - Once Jilted by Ciara Gold


How many times will an orphan be cast aside before someone offers love?

Shauna Joyce has three weeks to find a husband or face watching a special little girl fall into the hands of loveless parents. An orphan herself, she knows the heartache of growing up without love. Armed with a need greater than her own, she finds a likely candidate in bridge-builder, Kane McKenna.

Kane McKenna has one goal; to finish the bridge he’s erecting so he can earn the capital needed to start a business of his own. A wife and child would drain his finances, so when Shauna Joyce proposes marriage, he balks at the idea. Will her determination be enough to build the bridge of trust needed to make him trade one dream for another?


“You plan to have the babe out of wedlock?” Kane scratched his head.

She looked skyward and gritted her teeth. Was the man dense? “Can you stop walking? It’s hard to talk to you at this pace.”

He slowed but continued to walk. “Daylight’s a wasting and I’ve got a deadline.”

“Will you at least let me explain so you can stop the rumors?”

Her foot caught a gopher hole, and she tripped, falling headlong onto the hard ground. She cried out when her elbow kissed the ground.

“Goodness, you’re a walking calamity. First pickles and now, a sprawl in the grass. You wouldn’t perchance be related to me Aunt Nell?”

She groaned and rolled to her knees. Every joint ached. Twigs and grass stuck to her dress, and she brushed them away with sore hands. She moaned at the pain and glared at her scraped skin.

“Are you hurt?”

Now he asked. She shook her head. “I’m not sure.”

He grabbed her elbow none too gently and helped her stand. She tested her foot and found herself uninjured. Praise be. An injury would have complicated matters more. “Thank you, Mr. McKenna.”

“You’re welcome. Now, if you doon’t mind, I’d like to be gettin’ back to me work.”

“But . . .”

“Miss Joyce, do you see that armature?” He pointed a finger at the structure. “That’s a mighty important bridge to folks around here. Can you tell me in all honesty that your quest for a hoosband be as important as the building of that bridge?”

She swallowed hard and frowned, thinking of Sarabeth. “For one person, it’s even more important.”

He frowned. “To be sure, and I can sympathize with your plight. Unwed and pregnant must weigh heavy on your mind, but alas, I can noot help you, nor can any of me men. Good day, Miss Joyce.”

She stomped her sore foot and grimaced. “For the last time, I am not expecting!”

Her shout brought the attentions of his workers. Seventeen sets of eyes peered down at her, and the heat rose to her cheeks.

“Now see what you’ve done. You’ve distracted them froom their work again. At this rate, it’ll take me five years to have this bridge completed.”

Excerpt two:

Where would she go? She’d have left this house years ago if not for her fear of the unknown. Need for security had kept her a prisoner. Coward, coward, coward. Only a coward stayed in a home devoid of love. Where was the security in such a house? A person needed more than food and a place to lay their head. A body needed the emotional nurturing from another warm soul. By God, she refused to let Sarabeth live in a loveless prison.

She snatched up what few items she dared take. After stuffing a comb, toothbrush and a change of clothing into a small knapsack, she pulled the bottom drawer completely out of the dresser and reached underneath for a packet that contained fifteen years worth of savings. While renting the wagon and buying ingredients for pies had put a dent in the amount, she still had plenty to live comfortably for about two weeks. She stuffed the money into her pocket, hefted the knapsack over her shoulder and stormed from the room.

The three adults remained near the door. She brushed past them without a word. To think she’d entertained the notion that Kane McKenna would make a fine husband. She’d learned a valuable lesson, though. First impressions could not be trusted. She’d fallen for Darrell’s charm and look how that had turned out. No, first impressions were not always what they seemed.

The moment she left the house, a sense of freedom flooded her body. No matter how frightening the future seemed, she was now free of the Clevingers' influence, free to live her own life. Perhaps she owed Mr. McKenna her gratitude for setting in motion the catalyst for change.

The door clicked shut, and she took a deep breath. Even the air smelled different, cleaner. She smiled, and her feet itched to dance. First things first, though. With only a sliver of moon to light the path, she ventured toward town to find accommodations for the night.

A brisk pace propelled her forward. Eager to be settled for the evening, she almost skipped along the road.

“Noot so fast, lassie.” A huge hand clamped down on her shoulder. “You still owe me a wee bit of coin.”

She stifled a scream and whirled toward Mr. McKenna. “I’ll thank you to remove your hand from my person.”

“And to think, this very afternoon, you wanted me hands all over your person.”

She dropped her jaw and stared, clutching her meager possessions to her breast. “I wanted no such thing.”

“Is that noot what a hoosband would do if he were to marry you? And did you noot proposition me along with four other men?”

She scoffed. “Believe what you want, but I had a good reason for doing what I did.” Amazing the chain of events set forth by one, not-so-brilliant idea. Henceforth, she would think twice before listening to Lora Lee’s advice.

She continued to walk, but he stopped her again. “Give me a wee moment to fetch me horse, and I’ll offer you a ride into town.”

“No, thank you. I won’t be beholden to you.”

He narrowed his eyes and punched a finger in her direction. “I’ll noot let you walk the distance by yourself withoot an escort. The streets are noot safe at night.”

She skirted away from the accusing finger. “Well, I don’t need your chivalry. I’d sooner have Jack-the-Ripper walk me to town.”

“Aye, my point exactly. You are a blood-thirsty witch.” He chuckled.

She shot him a glance. “I’m sorry your men fell ill, but it wasn’t the pie.”

“Perhaps noot, boot you have to agree that the evidence against you is overwhelming.”

“Is it?” She sighed. “Could it have been something they ate at lunch prior to sampling my baking?”

He scratched his chin. “I ate alongside them, and I’m noot sick.”

“Will they be all right?”

“Aye. They took to their pallets aboot a half hour after you left. I went for the doctor, and he and I tended them until the worst passed. They’re resting noo.”

She frowned. Would bad food have caused such a reaction so soon after partaking of the meal? She thought not. More likely, it was something they ate at noon or even breakfast. Either way, he’d accused her unjustly.

“Best fetch your horse before you go too much farther or you’ll just have to double back.” And before she began dreaming again. Already, the nearness of Kane did strange things to her insides, but with his inability to look past circumstantial evidence, he was not the man for her. She wanted him gone, so she could contemplate all that had happened this evening.

“I still doon’t like the idea of a woman walking alone at night.”

“Nyesville is a small, quiet town. Trust me. My only real worry is you.”

Excerpt - Outlaw Trail by Stacey Coverstone

Josie let her weary eyes skim over the parchment once more. The trail will be long, her pa had said. Will I have the courage and strength to follow it?
Will I be able to fulfill his last wish and make my own dreams come true? For the first time in her life, she felt hopeful about the future as she clutched the map tightly in her fist.
Though excited, she was dog-tired, both mentally and physically. Her eyes started to drift shut.

She had barely nodded off when the sound of snapping branches roused her. Her head jerked and her eyes flew open.
Josie’s spine went rigid when a low voice addressed her. “I’ll take that map now.”

Josie fished around in her pants pocket for the Derringer. Her hand touched the cold metal, and she squeezed her finger around the trigger of the gun and stumbled to her feet.

“Stay right where you are, and take your hand out of your pockets,” the voice ordered. “You won’t get hurt if you do as you’re told. Do it!”

She squinted at the tall figure standing in the shadows at the mouth of the cave and heard the click of a revolver. Ragged breaths escaped her throat. “Are you going to kill me?”
she asked in a throaty whisper, as she showed him one empty hand.

“That depends on how much trouble you decide to cause. Just hand over that map and I’ll be on my way.”

Inhaling deeply, her eyes roamed over the parchment still clutched in her fist. The trail will be long. Don’t give up. Her pa’s words rang in her ears. Nothing was going to stop her
from going after whatever lay at the end of that trail. Her pa had died so she could have a better life. No one was going to take that from her.
“If you want it, you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers,” she replied with bravado.

The man said nothing.

“Show yourself,” she challenged. Josie’s fingers twitched as she let her hand creep back into her pocket. She gripped the pearl handle of her Derringer again.
“How do you know about this map? Who are you?”

The man took one step forward, but she still couldn’t see his face. When he spoke again, she sensed he was someone of little patience.
“I don’t have to explain anything to a girl,” he snapped. “Walk around that fire and lay the paper on this rock over here.” His gloved hand pointed to a stone ledge, which jutted out from the cave wall.

“I’m not a girl,” she snapped back. “I’m nineteen and this map belongs to me. I’m not about to give it to some coward who won’t even show his face.”
Apparently striking a nerve, the man swiftly strode forward out of the darkness, with his gun raised and leveled at her. The fire danced upon his features. She gasped.
It was the stranger who rode the white stallion—the one all in black who’d been watching her in Dry Gulch. Her heart lurched. He tilted his dusty hat up with a finger to show her
eyes the color of dark molasses. She could feel the heat radiating from those fiery pupils as they bore into her.

“Is that better?” he asked.

“It’s you! Why are you following me?”

“I think I already explained. I’ve come for the map. Now, hand it over.”

She gripped the parchment even tighter. She needed to distract him while she took a minute to think this through, so she abruptly changed the subject. “Did you set that trap back there?”

He blinked. Seemingly caught off guard, he answered, “Yeah. I did that.”

“Well, it was clever. Was the marshal and his gang your target, or was I the one you were trying to ambush?” She didn’t give him time to respond. “I bet you didn’t count on the fact
that mules can jump over six feet at a standstill, did you?”

The man’s brow creased. “Quit your jabbering, girl, and pass that paper to me. I’m not in the mood to play games.” He advanced, stopping in front of her. His tall, muscular frame towered over her petite body.
Quick as a snake striking, she jammed the map in her back pocket and thrust the double-barreled Derringer into his rib. Just as speedy, he shoved his revolver against her temple.

“You’re fast, but not fast enough,” he drawled. “Put down the gun.”

“You put yours down first,” she countered.

Neither one moved. Josie’s chest rose and fell in erratic rhythm. The pistol felt cold as it pushed against her skin.

“Are we going to have a Mexican standoff?” he wondered aloud.

She felt his warm breath on her face. He stood so close, his musky smell, mixed with sweat and the faint scent of lavender made her woozy. “I know how to use this gun,” she managed.
“I’ll shoot you. Don’t think I won’t.” She cocked the Derringer to show him she meant what she promised.

The tall, dark stranger looked down into her eyes. A muscle ticked along his jaw. After several long moments, she felt the release of pressure from her temple.

“Toss the gun down on the ground,” she commanded, as she kept her gun pointed at his ribcage.

“I’ll toss mine when you toss yours.”

Josie searched his face. “Are you crazy, or just stupid? You stalk me, want to rob me of my personal possession, and you think I’m just going to throw down my gun? Why should I trust you?”

“Because I’ve never killed a woman before,” he said without skipping a beat. “And I don’t intend to start now.”

His response surprised her. After considering his words carefully, she removed the gun from his rib. “On the count of three, we’ll both throw our guns onto the ground.
Do I have your word as a gentleman?” she asked.

The man in black threw his head back and laughed. “Whatever gave you the idea I’m a gentleman?”

She rammed the Derringer into his gut again and narrowed her eyes. The gun pressed into taut, rigid muscle. She realized he could probably break her in half with one hand tied behind his back,
but she was not going to be intimidated. She had too much to lose to let him scare her out of what was rightfully hers.

“I’ll kill you right now, mister. And it won’t bother me none. Believe me. I’ll take my map and high-tail it outta here, leaving you dead as a stone.”

The man grinned, baring a perfect row of sparkling teeth. “You’re a tough little half-breed, aren’t you?”

“Half-breed!” she shrieked, lunging at him. She pounded on his chest with her fists and clawed at his shirt. He grabbed her wrists and both the pistol and Derringer flew out of their hands and
clattered to the hard ground. The stranger pulled her close. Josie struggled under his grasp. “Let me go, you ignorant jackass!” She kicked at his shins with her boots, but he lifted her off the
ground before she could do any real damage. His hands circled her waist in a tight hold.

“Calm down, missy,” he hollered. He kept a strong grip on her as he danced the two of them about, trying to avoid her bruising kicks. “I’m not ignorant. It was just a stupid joke.
That’s what Leroy always called you. His little half-breed.”

Josie abruptly stopped fighting and glowered up at him. His arms were still wrapped tight around her, causing her shoulders to squeeze together. “What did you say?”
He lowered her to the ground and repeated himself. “I said that’s how Leroy referred to you. But I think he was teasing.”

Shrugging out of his hold, she continued to stare. The racing of her pulse began to slow. Pushing a strand of flyaway hair from her face she stammered, “You…you knew my pa?”
For the first time, she took a real hard look at the cowboy. His mouth drew into a tight line, but he was awful good-looking, for an outlaw. His sun-soaked face was unshaven, his jaw was square,
and his brown eyes were…well, they were so beautiful and mesmerizing, she felt like climbing right into them.

She changed her mind about the mesmerizing eyes when he spit out his hateful answer. “I knew your pa, all right. He was a no-good, low-down, common thief who got what he deserved when they hung him.”

Shocked by the cruelty of the stranger’s words, she opened her mouth to retort, but for once, nothing came out. After staring into his flashing eyes for several moments, she lowered her head,
realizing she couldn’t argue with him on that count. “What did he do to you?” she asked, softly. Her lungs suddenly felt deflated.

“He stole my life,” he barked. “All my plans were ruined on account of that sonofabitch. He took what was rightfully mine, and I fully intend to get it back. Right here, right now.”

Stacey Coverstone
Western Romance Author
Delaney's Crossing, Available Now
High Lonesome, Available Now
Outlaw Trail, December 1
Lucky in Love, June 2010

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jim Woods interviews RM Parrish

Jim: Hi, R.M. Parrish, and welcome to the Champagne blog site and author interview forum. Authors all have good reasons for their pseudonyms, and I respect your choice, but can you share with Champagne authors and friends the name behind the initials?

R.M: Hello, Jim, thanks to you and the Champagne blog for inviting me here today. I work as an actress under the name Robyne Parrish, so I chose R.M. to differentiate myself from… well… myself, as it were.

Jim: I do want to ask about the acting side of your life, but first, let’s talk books. Tell us about your writing and particularly your upcoming Champagne Books title.

R.M: I generally write romance for Young Adults. My new title with Champagne, Love, Savannah is my first go at novel for adults. It is a historical romance that’s mostly in keeping with my YA stuff, but I do have one YA book that is contemporary romance. My debut novel Robbie Lee and the Wilds of Houston Valley was released 2007, and has received some very good reviews. It is a historical fiction novel based on the life of my grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression. The story has been compared to Little House On the Prairie, by Laura Wilder, if you like that sort of story telling. I grew up on it and love it.

Jim: Everyone was something else before becoming a writer and author. Now’s the time to tell us about your day job.

R.M: Well, as I admitted earlier, I am an actress. I have been in the theatre since I was five years old, so, for over thirty years! Jim, did you trick me into revealing my age? Just kidding – actually, I have never been afraid to admit my age. I think women get better with age, like good wine. People in general do, really.

Anyway, theatre is the thing I have always wanted to excel at. Writing, on the other hand, has always just been a part of who I am. I kept a diary since I could write, and have been writing stories and poetry since I was a child – like most writers it was my way of expressing myself and maybe getting rid of some extra stress and energy! I am also a teacher, currently enrolled in a Masters program for theatre and pedagogy, which means teaching at the college level. This fall will be my second year teaching freshman at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Jim: If we may return to books, I find that most writers are avid readers. If that applies to you, what do you read when you find time in your apparently very busy schedule?

R.M: I try to read the type of book I want to tackle next as a writer. Lately that is medieval romance! I also try to read books by my peers, other authors from my publishing house. I want to support other writers when I can. I read a lot for school as well… a lot of plays especially. I have very little time to read outside of this. Additionally I’m finishing a Masters program in Psychology fall, on line, so you can imagine my reading list is rather long!

I can tell you some of my favorite books as a girl (I love YA books and books for children): At the Back of the North Wind – by George McDonald (my absolute number one favorite book), The Wizard of Oz series, (all of them of course), ANYTHING Sherlock Holmes by Sir Author Conan Doyle, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. I am a big fan of Anne of Green Gables books as well and of course, Little House.

Jim: We know that Little House made it as a big success on the little screen, but what big screen movies do you count among your favorites? Did they evolve from any of your favorite books?

R.M: The Wizard of Oz is far and away my favorite movie on the big screen. So yes, this did evolve from my love for Frank L Baum or maybe it was the other way around. In fact, I think I saw the film before I read the book.

Jim: Champagne authors are placed all over the world; where do we put the R.M. Parrish map pin? If you were to relocate that pin, where would you punch it in?

R.M: I grew up in the South, in the Carolinas, both North and South, but I live between New York City and Pittsburgh right now. My husband lives in New York in our apartment there. I wanted to live in NYC my entire life, for as long as I could remember and of course, that is where you go to act!

Jim: Is there any place else in the world you’d like to travel, or even possibly live?

R.M.: I spent a summer in London, studying at the Royal National Theatre. I would not mind living there for a time, but not forever. I would like to retire in the South eventually, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Jim: As a writer, what sort of support do you have from family? Tell us about your family—husband, children, dogs and cats—not necessarily in that order.

R.M: My husband is extremely supportive. He designs games for the IPHONE, or apps as they are called. He’s the visionary. He has his own company He started out as a visual artist and he is very talented. No kids yet, but five birds!! I know – it is a lot! Three parakeets and two finches. Their names are Monkey, Banana, Jack, Dash and Snow.

Jim: Okay, enough about books and stages and films and birds. Tell us something about R.M. that we really don’t need to know. Who is R.M. Parrish when not behind the keyboard or not in front of the camera?

R.M: I am a crazy workaholic; a total addict. I cannot stop working and always have tons of stuff going on. I am very driven, but I am a late bloomer. I have learned to be patient with myself over the years. Things don’t come easily to me. I have to work for them. I am an entrepreneur much like my father and grandfather.

Jim: Anything else?

R.M: Hmmmm, I guess a good secret is I am an introvert although I appear to be an extravert. And I LOVE Michael Jackson.

Jim: Thank you so much, R.M., for revealing yourself to us here briefly. Our members and readers just may wish to contact you personally, or professionally; can they get in touch with you privately?

R.M: and Feel free to leave messages there or Look to my site for excerpts, blurbs, and reviews for my upcoming and latest releases. I am also on Facebook and MySpace!

Jim, thanks so much for this opportunity to let Champagne authors and friends know who I am. I look forward to knowing them all as well.

~ * ~

Interview contributed by Jim Woods, author of Champagne Books Assassination Safari, Parting Shot and Gunshot Echoes.

Website: Email:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jim Woods Excerpt

Excerpt, PARTING SHOT, by Jim Woods

It was time to get to buffalo country. We flew from a small airport near Lundi Camp to Chete, in a charter plane that barely offered room for the three of us--me, my wife, and our pilot. We landed on a runway that seemed, from the air, to be little more than a slash in the bush and a scratch in the dirt. Before landing we announced our arrival by buzzing the camp, which was high above a scenic lakeside cliff. Once we had taxied to a stop, we were met by our professional hunter, Nigel Thiesen, who explained all the ground rules as we made our short ride to the almost luxurious but rustic camp.

We would be hunting on National Parks property. A parks-staff game scout armed with an FN-FAL battle rifle would accompany us anytime we were in the bush. His primary job was to protect us against the many black rhino that inhabited the areas we would be hunting, and to protect the rhino from us. Of course, he would do all he could to avoid actually shooting a rhino; the animals are totally protected. He would try his very best to turn a charging rhino with shots fired into the ground.

Some other rules that governed our hunt. Shooting from the vehicle was not allowed; the vehicle could not be used as a support, as I had with my kudu, even if the shooter had both feet solidly on the ground. The hunter had to be completely free of the vehicle, even though it often was the only structure around that was sturdy enough to serve as a rifle rest. Hunting was not permitted within one kilometer of the camp, and one could not hunt on the day he flew into camp. That restriction was intended to prevent scouting buffalo from the air, and then walking into their location.

The established hunt method was to drive the few narrow roads through the bush and watch for sign indicating that buffalo had crossed. Then the hunting party parked and followed the spoor afoot.

Once, after a careful stalk, we came on a herd that later was determined to number more than two hundred animals. We were close enough to them to hear as they grazed on the move. The dense bush shook under their collective movement, and the dust they threw filtered above the high bush cover. Nigel climbed a tall tree in order to see the closest ones. We were less than thirty yards from them, but we couldn’t see a single animal from our position on the ground. We remained stationary and silent for more than an hour as the entire herd passed. After we were satisfied that they were gone, we circled the herd’s position on the run and concealed ourselves in the rocks near the lake where Nigel expected the herd to appear. Shortly, the bush erupted with buffalo and the beach was blackened with them as they all headed for the water.

We didn’t disturb their drink for a good three-quarters of an hour, but took advantage of the opportunity to look them over thoroughly. Then in near darkness, we stood and walked out, having determined that the herd contained no trophy bulls. At the sight of us, the herd parted and some animals scattered toward the bush, but not in a wholesale stampede. In the poor light, they were not entirely sure of what we were, seven of us strung out single file. As we looked back, the herd was milling back to the water.

Early on the third day, we cut tracks of a herd of eight bulls. We tracked them all morning, during which time we saw them, and they saw us, twice. After the animals spooked the second time, we decided to back off our pursuit to let the bulls calm down. We would pause during the heat of the day for lunch and a rest stop back at camp, then return to where we had given up the trail. In an hour’s walking, we found where the bulls had rested for their own midday nap, and we continued tracking them.

Our lead tracker, Unetsi, slowed our pace drastically when he felt or smelled the bulls’ presence. From this point, Nigel ordered the balance of our party--my wife, another guest hunter from camp, the second tracker, and the game scout--to hold back about sixty yards. Unetsi, Nigel and I proceeded alone in single file in order to hold noise and movement to a minimum.

Again we worked our way into a herd that we couldn’t see, and as before, we could hear them very clearly, even to the rumblings in their stomachs. Not knowing if they could see us, we scarcely dared even to brush the troublesome flies from our faces for fear that the motion might give away our presence. From their sounds, though, we could pinpoint the locations of all eight bulls.

When one bull passed through an opening in the bush, Nigel silently mouthed, “No! Too small.” Another bull walked through the same gap, and Nigel’s reaction told me it was the one we would go for. We remained frozen as a third bull came by, then we carefully squirmed into position for a shot. We covered no more than sixty feet in the next hour, and our intended bull was moving only slightly ahead of us. I was third in line, and the last to see him.

Unetsi eased ever so slowly into a standing position concealed behind a tree too thin to offer any real cover. Once he became completely erect, Nigel and I masked our own movement as we stood, using the stationary Unetsi as our concealment. The bull was sixty yards away, farther than I wanted, and he was facing in our direction. He was disturbed by our presence but couldn’t quite make us out. After staring our way for several long minutes, he wheeled and ran a couple of steps, then instantly returned to where he had stood before, as if trying to trick us into a movement he could identify.

My time on this segment of the hunt was running out, and the sun was setting on this hunting day. The situation was not entirely to my liking. I had to decide whether to pass up the bull and take a chance on a better opportunity another day, or salvage what I could of this day’s work. Nigel whispered that I had better shoot if I was going to shoot at all since the alerted buff was about to run. I decided to take the bull, and looked around for a rifle rest. There was none so Nigel offered his shoulder. I settled the gold bead into the middle notch of the express sight, and found the buff’s left shoulder. It wasn’t much of a target with the nearly frontal position the bull presented. When I fired, my view of the buffalo was lost in the recoil of the rifle, but I could hear the hit of the bullet.

The buff collapsed in his tracks and was scrambling to regain his feet, but it looked as though he was down for good. We all thought so, and we started our approach to the animal to put in the finishing shot that Nigel said was necessary even if the bull was dead. That’s the way he and most other professional hunters feel about buffalo. As we moved in, I extracted the empty brass. I did not replace the round I had expended, but closed the bolt and chambered the next round from the magazine.

When we were about twenty paces away from the buffalo, he scrambled to his feet, thrashed about, plowed the ground with his enormous hooves, and swung his great head in an attempt to locate the reason for his hurt. It was a mesmerizing dance display he was putting on. He presented his left quarter to me again, and although he was in motion, I snapped off my second round. The 300-grain solid connected, but at that instant, the buff’s head swung to inspect that shoulder that I had hit with my first shot, and my second shot smacked his nose bridge halfway between the nose tip and the eyes. We found afterwards that the bullet exited the skull behind the right eye, perhaps blinding him on that side. It missed anything that was immediately vital, but the infuriated bull did go down in a heap.

He was up again instantly and I recovered quickly this time, no longer content just to watch the bull’s actions as I had been following the first shot. I fired another round, the third of the four in my rifle, this time to his right shoulder as he twisted in struggling to regain his feet. At that hit, the bull took off, running very well indeed for having taken solid hits on or around both shoulders. He angled to my right and closed to within twenty yards of me, and I gave him my fourth and last round, once more into his right shoulder area.

The bull was battered by now, but he turned sharply and charged to my left. Apparently he still had not found me but was going to pass very close to me, and he seemed finally to be narrowing down the path to the source of his trouble.

My rifle was empty. As I was retrieving a round from the cartridge carrier on my belt, Nigel yelled from somewhere over my left shoulder, “Jim! Do you want me to shoot?” I yelled back, “No! I’ll handle it!” It seems strange, in retrospect, that we could be carrying on such a seemingly coherent conversation, but I remember it vividly.

I closed the bolt on the singly loaded round as the bull quartered past me no more than fifteen feet away, and I let him have another hit on his left shoulder. He spun around at the hit, now having pinpointed my position, and came directly for me. I was snatching another cartridge from my belt as he closed on me, and with both arms raised to give some clearance from him, I jumped back and managed to avoid the hook of his horn. Inexplicably, he reacted to my backward movement by turning from me; possibly he was confused because of the injury to the right side of his head and the impairment of his vision on that side. We tried to analyze it afterwards, because he sure could have had me, right at the belt buckle, at that moment.

Almost immediately, though, he whirled about and came at me head-on. Nigel shouted a warning, but I was fully aware of my predicament. I had dipped the muzzle of my rifle and dropped another round directly into the chamber, and had barely slammed the bolt on it as the bull reached me. Somehow, in the excitement, my rifle had changed hands. I was holding it with my right and had no chance to juggle it to the more familiar left. Holding the husky .375 rifle as an unwieldy pistol, I jammed it forward, one-handed, and felt the muzzle contact the bull’s flank. I jumped backward and pulled the rifle to me slightly, corrected its position, and fired. The bullet went into the bull’s left shoulder, and he collapsed at my feet.

After a brief scuffle on the ground, and several short grunts, the big animal was stilled. Nigel verified that he was dead by touching his rifle barrel to the bull’s eyeball. I was relieved that it was over, as was Nigel, and also the rest of our party who were finding their way out of the bush to the site of the drama. They had heard the commotion but couldn’t see the action.

When I thanked Nigel for not shooting, he explained that it appeared I had things under control--this at a time when my rifle was empty and I was getting a mighty close look at one very angry buffalo!

I’m glad that Nigel respected my need to take the bull on my own terms, although it was comforting to know that he was backing me up. Perhaps, because I wasn’t totally green in dealing with African game–and perhaps as a result of the frank talks Nigel and I had held over Lion Lager sundowners on the two evenings prior to the buffalo, about how I wanted the hunt to go--he held back and wouldn’t intrude on my situation unless I invited him to do so. I know that some PHs would have gotten actively involved rather earlier, and I appreciated Nigel’s restraint.

As I look at the trophy mount on my wall, I remember all that it took to put the buffalo there. It crossed my mind during the melee that the last thing on this earth that I might witness was that dirty, dripping nose and those awesome dark and vengeful eyes when that ton of murderous intent was launched my way, the bull with his broken body and me with an empty rifle.

It is, then, with some satisfaction, that I look upon the buffalo on my trophy wall among the rest of the animals from Zimbabwe. I now count myself among the brotherhood of Frederick Courteney Selous and the others whose words sent me to Africa so that I might write my own.

The end

Excerpt - Delaney's Crossing by Stacey Coverstone

Delaney started walking again and Gabriel fell back in step
beside her, both of them quiet. They hadn’t gotten twenty
feet down the walk when she stopped again. Her ears
perked. A throaty whistle sang above them. She looked up
and saw three soiled doves hanging over the rail on the
balcony above the saloon. The whistler leaned way over and
displayed her goods, which were tumbling out of her tight
black corset. The young woman’s hair was the color of a
flaming southwestern sunset—a red mass of long unruly
curls highlighted with shades of blonde. Underneath the thick
coat of paint was a young face. Delaney figured she couldn’t
be over twenty, if that.
“Now, that’s what I call good advertising,” she
whispered to Gabriel.
The girl called out to the doctor. He waved and called
back, “Hello, ladies. It’s a lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” They all
“It’d be even lovelier if you came up for a visit, Doc,”
the red-haired goddess purred, as she batted her long
A grin split Gabriel’s mouth and the girls all giggled
“Friends of yours, Doctor?” Delaney asked with a sly
smile as they walked on.
“No. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know much about any
of them, except they’re career ladies,” he countered with a
hint of the devil. “Much like yourself.”
Before she could fire back a response, she spied a tall,
stocky man at the hitching post outside the gambling parlor
next door. In plain view, he was flogging his horse, and no
one was coming to the animal’s rescue. He smacked the
stallion with a bullwhip as the horse bucked and reared and
tried to escape its ties.
Delaney dropped her bags, hiked up her skirt and shot
off like a rocket. She flung herself onto his back, and the
force of impact against his hard body was like a car colliding
with a brick wall. “Stop beating that horse!” she screamed as
she began pummeling the man’s shoulders.
He spun and flung her away with his beefy arm, then
raised the whip in the air and scowled at her. “What the hell
do you think you’re doin’, woman?” He spat tobacco juice
onto the ground.
She glared into his steel-gray eyes and ran at him
again, attempting to pry the braided leather instrument from
his hand. “I’m stopping you from abusing that innocent
animal, you jackass!”
There wasn’t much of a struggle. The man took hold of
her narrow shoulders with his two powerful hands, gave her
a shove, and slung her like a rag doll, into the dirt. Moaning,
she frowned up at him and rubbed her hip.
“That’s enough, Hooper!” Gabriel raced to Delaney’s
side. He helped her up from the ground for the second time
that day, and then gruffly ordered, “Don’t move.” The firm
grip he placed on her arm and the fierce look in his eye let
her know he was not talking just to hear his own voice. He
meant for her to stay put.
After taking huge strides toward the man, Gabriel
retracted his fist and punched the horse beater in his already
bent nose. Blood spurted.
Rooted right where Gabriel had left her, Delaney
stared in wide-eyed shock. Then, a smile parted her lips as
she watched him take a defensive stance and raise his balled
fists, prepared to do further battle.
“Get him, Doc!” some boys on the street yelled. Other
people began to gather and cheer him on.
Momentarily stunned by the blood gushing from his
nose, the man called Hooper reacted slowly at first. Then, his
eyes boiled with fiery rage.
Gabriel stalked his opponent like a cougar, bouncing
on the balls of his feet. His voice was calm when he said, “I
don’t want to fight you, Warren, but you had no right to hurt
the lady—or that horse. Now, you apologize to Miss
The man was bleeding profusely now. He raked
a rough hand across his lips, staining his knuckles with blood.
He set a menacing look upon Gabriel and murmured, “I’ll
beat the woman, too, if she don’t get outta my sight and
mind her own damn business.” As he raised the whip in the
air again, he spit a thick stream of yellow tobacco juice onto
the street, missing Delaney’s boots by mere inches.
“You’ll find yourself on the reckoning end of that
bullwhip if you dare to lay a hand on her, now or ever,”
Gabriel warned.
Quicker than a cat on a parakeet, Gabriel lunged and
wrenched the whip out of Warren’s fist. With a flick of his
wrist, the whip unrolled and splintered the ground like a
lightning strike. The loud crack caused Delaney to flinch. The
horse nickered, too, and backed up, pulling against the lead
“Sorry, boy,” Gabriel apologized to the horse.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Hooper
thundered. Before he could say more, Gabriel aimed the
whip at his legs and let it fly. The braided leather snapped
and coiled around the man’s calves like a cobra, slicing open
the fabric of his pants and biting the skin. Hooper screeched
and crashed onto his side, like a tree falling.
With many bystanders watching—Delaney included—
Gabriel stood over him, casting a long shadow on the
ground, and jerked the whip. As it unwound it dug into the
meat of Hooper’s leg, peeling off a thin layer of skin, causing
him to yelp like a dog.
Gabriel snapped the whip again. “Are you ready to
apologize?” He spoke slowly, with a dead calm, and showed
no signs of fear.
Resentment clouded Warren’s face, but he nodded
once and got to his knees. He stumbled to his feet and
brushed the dirt off his pants. The torn material of his pant
leg flapped like a tiny flag, and blood dripped from the open
calf wound. Staggering over to Delaney, he mumbled, “Sorry
ma'am,” but the apology was far from genuine.
A cheer filtered through the crowd.
She returned a small nod and forced herself to meet the man’s
stone cold eyes. Anger flashed behind them. Under her frontier skirt
and blouse, her body trembled and sweat dripped down her spine.
Hooper stared her down, his mouth open and his
yellowed teeth grinding together. Limping back to Gabriel, he
said, “Satisfied? Now give me my whip.”
Gabriel shook his head. “You’re not getting this back.”
Warren’s lip curled into a snarl before turning toward
his mount. After he untied the lead rope, he stuck his foot in
the stirrup and slung his damaged leg over the saddle.
Gabriel inched near. In a barely audible voice, he said, “If I
ever hear of you beating this horse again, I’ll personally
track you down and show you what this bullwhip can really
do.” With that, he gently patted the horse’s hind end before
Warren reined and trotted the animal down the street.
Delaney walked straight up to Gabriel and couldn’t
hold back her enthusiasm. Adrenaline pumped through her
veins, and she was out of breath with the thrill of it all.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Upcoming Contest:Patricia Bates

Wow! With two full length novels due out in Sept. and October I'm holding a massive contest. Starting August 25th I'm going to be posting clues and excerpts on my blogs and website. Collect all the clues/hints for a chance to win an entire backlibrary of all my books in e-book format. This includes, Christmas For the Cowboy, Master's Mistress, and my upcoming releases. That's FOUR books in all plus a special 'freebie'. On October 5th I'll be doing the draw.

The prize break down will be as follows: 1st. Place the entire back library - including the 'freebie'.
2. Place one full length e-book of the winner's chosing from the library and special freebie
3. Copy of my novella on CD as a PDF Christmas for the Cowboy as well as a mystery gift.

The rules are simple: Leave a comment answering the days trivia with the correct clue.
Feel free to back link your sites/blogs with mine (I'm shamelessly trying to drive people to mine)
Have fun! And yes that's a rule. hehe.

Patricia Bates

Book Trailer - Investment of the Heart by Linda Laroque

Thursday, August 20, 2009

First Chapter - Flaherty's Crossing by Kaylin McFarren

Chapter One

The last grain of sand was about to drop in her father’s invisible hourglass, and there was nothing Kate Flaherty could do to stop it. The realization launched a shudder up her spine.
She’d known this day was inevitable. Yet it still came as a shock when she’d learned only hours ago that his final days had arrived. She should have come back sooner.
No—it was his fault, not hers. She’d had every right to stay away after discovering the truth. So why did she feel remorse encroaching on her anger, his gurgling breaths draining strength from her limbs?
In his curtain-drawn bedroom, she perched on the edge of the mattress, a few inches away from what had become a mere sketch of a man. The lamp’s amber glow cast shadows across his features, accentuating how much he’d deteriorated in just under a month.
Surgery, chemo, radiation therapy. For two years, she’d watched his heavyset frame shrink with every trip to the hospital, his sixty-three-year-old body blast through a time warp. But never ravaged to this extent. She barely recognized the sheeted man beside her. Mussed strands of thin, ghost-white hair, matching jagged mustache, and stubbly chin were all that remained of the father she knew. He was more of a stranger than ever before.
Slowly, he lifted his eyelids and turned his face. When their gazes met, a spark of recognition flickered. “You’re here,” he rasped as he reached for her hand.
She accepted reluctantly. His palm was cold and clammy, his skin sallow and tissue-thin. She swallowed hard, wanting to pull away, but the child in her resisted, the part of her who had never stopped longing for his affection.
“Where’ve you been?” He inhaled a labored breath. “I was waiting for ya.”
“I …” A lump of guilt formed in her throat, blocking any answer.
“Is the baby ready?”
She reviewed his words. “What, Dad?”
“We gotta go. Don’t wanna hit traffic, Iris.”
Kate’s heart plummeted before she could remind herself of what he’d done. She slipped her hand away and clenched her fists, her nails biting into her palms. She tried to reignite the rage she was entitled to, but he appeared so defenseless, she summoned only the foreboding of imminent loss.
She leaned toward him, his gaze fixed on the ceiling. All she had to do was say good-bye, just as she’d done countless times throughout her youth. It would be a relief—a relief for both of them.
“Dad, it’s me, Katie.”
“Mmm. Smells so good.”
She sniffed automatically, half-expecting the aroma of her father’s favorite rosemary-garlic potatoes roasting in the kitchen down the hall. Instead, she inhaled only the nauseating odor of disinfectant, bodily fluids, and medication. Her stomach reeled.
“Dad, can you hear me?”
“How long till supper, darlin’?”
The question caught her off guard. “Are you ... hungry?”
“He can’t eat anymore, dear,” a woman reported from behind her. Kate turned toward the doorway where Doris Shaffer stood. The portly hospice nurse, her knotted hair as white as her smock, looked on with kind eyes.
When Doris’s comment sunk in, a wave of horror rolled over Kate. “What about his protein drinks?”
“He isn’t able to keep any food down, I’m afraid.”
As though cancer wasn’t bad enough. Now he was starving.
“You’re welcome to give him some ice chips. I’m sure he’d like that.” Doris pointed at the nightstand next to Kate. There, on the corner of the table, his thick-rimmed glasses rested beside the remote control for the small television he’d watched during her last series of visits—visits in which The Price is Right appeared more interesting than any conversation she had to offer. But then, after all these years why had she expected anything different?
In the center of an aged doily sat a metal soup bowl dotted with condensation and filled with a mound of ice slivers. She glanced at the raw corners of her father’s mouth. Compassion guided her hand to retrieve the spoon poking out from the bowl.
“Lamb, corn, potatoes ...” As he rambled off the menu, Kate pictured her apron-clad mother peeking into the window of the heated oven. But just as her mom had vanished from their lives, so did the image. “Think I’ll need a bigger belt,” he said and chuckled, a sound Kate hadn’t heard in years.
She placed a spoonful of melting ice on his tongue, and without taking her gaze off his face, she asked Doris in an even tone, “Isn’t there anything else you can do for him?”
“At this stage, we’re just trying to keep him comfortable.”
At this stage. Such finality in those words. Kate fought the tremble in her hand as she transported a second scoop toward his mouth, but a good portion landed on the crumpled sheet. Immediately, she set down the spoon and brushed the ice off the bed in frantic sweeps.
She had to get this over with. “Dad, can you hear me?”
“The showerhead needs changing.” He’d begun to slur.
“Closet door needs oiling ...” He trailed off in a gurgle.
“It’s the morphine,” Doris explained. “Sends him off on tangents that don’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Not always the case. Sometimes those tangents made all too much sense.
A cavernous moan caused Kate to jump. It took her a second to realize the sound had actually come from her father. This wasn’t fair. How could she maintain resentment for someone enduring such suffering?
Just then, fluctuating numbers on a green screen captured her gaze. Resembling a large calculator, the morphine pump parked between them blinked to attention. A timed dose of truth serum flowed through the tube that disappeared into the sleeve of his undershirt.
“He’ll sleep for a while now,” Doris said. “I’ve put some tea on. You’re more than welcome to join me.”
“Thank you.” Kate shot to her feet and led the way. She needed to breathe, to escape the stifling weight of the room.
The walls lining the narrow hall spoke through symbols: empty nail holes her father had never filled and rectangles defined by contrasting shades on the faded floral wallpaper. All evidence of where framed photographs had hung when she was a kid. Memories her father had done his best to erase.
Upon reaching the family room, Kate edged around a low coffee table and slid into the cushy sofa chair, her favorite seat in the house. She recalled her mother saying she’d purchased the avocado-green furnishing to match Kate’s hazel eyes. Together they’d spent countless evenings in that very chair until Kate had insisted she was too old to sit on her mom’s lap for bedtime stories.
If Kate had known what was to come, she would have cherished those sweetly spoken tales, those moments nestled in the safety of her mother’s arms.
“Lemon or milk, dear?” Doris asked.
“Excuse me?”
“For your tea.”
A standard question, yet it suddenly held no significance. “Either is fine.”
Doris smiled as she strolled into the adjacent kitchen. Kate watched as the woman lifted the whistling kettle from the stove and reached in the cupboard.
Kate cringed at the sight of another female roaming the house with such familiarity. To dilute her discomfort, she focused on her surroundings. Decades-old books, collectable antique glassware, and stacks of magazines littered shelves like a garage sale display after the Friday morning rush. Lint appeared woven into the brown shag carpeting. Alcoves bore patches of spider webs, and pine needles on the skylight strained gray rays from the early evening sky.
Her mother’s only sibling, Aunt Sophie, would have had a conniption if she’d seen the house in such a state. Even after Sophie had moved out following Kate’s graduation, the place never looked so neglected. Kate had offered to hire a housekeeper months ago, but her father wouldn’t have it. He said he didn’t need a stranger meddling with his “Lil’ bit o’ heaven,” or so the place was called according to the engraved sign above the front door.
She shook her head at the irony. Her father’s handmade cabin, hidden in the serene woods of Washington’s Olympic peninsula, featured traits no more heavenly than a Gaudi mosaic—a vision of beauty from afar, but in reality, a composition made of broken pieces that had once been part of something whole. A deceptive masterpiece.
“Mr. Flaherty told me about all the collectors you have,” Doris called from the kitchen. “You must be a very successful artist.”
Kate glanced down at her tattered jeans and oversized umber sweatshirt, both splattered with an array of paint colors from the new commission she’d been working on when Doris phoned. Not until she had hit Highway 101 did she realize she’d left without scrubbing the acrylic residue from her nails. Certainly not the ideal picture of success. “I’m doing all right, I suppose.”
“So what type of art do you do?”
Experience had taught Kate that the average person wasn’t genuinely interested in hearing a detailed definition of multimedia abstract naturalist paintings. “Modern.”
“How fascinating. You know, I once took a tole painting class at a friend’s house, but all my hummingbirds ended up looking like roosters.”
Kate’s lips flirted with a smile, before a dull moan from the bedroom reminded her of the purpose of her visit. “Is my father ever lucid?”
Doris reentered the room balancing a pair of teacups on saucers, each piece bearing blue and white colonial scenes. “He has his moments, though they’ve gotten less frequent since we had to increase his dosage.” She handed over a teacup set, then sank into the lumpy russet davenport across from Kate. The scent of peppermint sweetened the room’s burly smell of pine.
“I hope he hasn’t been too much of a challenge for you. Accepting help has never been one of his strong points.”
The corners of Doris’s mouth curved up. “Well, as they say, ‘Pride’s been known to bring down empires.’” She winked and sipped her tea that surely contained a spoonful of sugar. All she needed was a twittering bird on her shoulder and she could play Mary Poppins on the forty-year reunion special.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you in person,” Doris continued. “Mr. Flaherty has raved on and on about you and your husband.”
Kate passed over her words, confident the woman was embellishing to be polite. “How often have you been taking care of my father during his ...”
Kate lowered her gaze to the tawny liquid before her.
“I’ve been relieving Sarah three or four days a week.”
Sarah. The Energizer Bunny with the hypnotic unibrow.
“Has anyone come to visit?” Kate asked.
“I don’t believe so. Not while I’ve been here anyway, but I could ask Sarah for you.”
“That’s all right. It’s not necessary.”
“On second thought, a nice fellow did drop by last weekend. A tall gentleman. Silver beard. I don’t recall his name, but I think your father knew him from years ago.”
An old trucker buddy, no doubt. Kate raised her cup to hide her frown and blew on the steaming tea. She tested the temperature with a cautious sip. The balanced flavors of citrus and mint skimmed her tongue and warmed her throat. When she took a second sip, her necklace clinked against the saucer.
“My, that’s a lovely locket,” Doris remarked.
Kate glanced down at the violet jeweled keepsake. Inside, cut into a heart shape, was the only photograph of her mother she had managed to salvage. “Thank you. It was my mom’s.”
“She passed on, I take it?”
Passed on. Kate hated when people used that phrase, as if they were referring to a passenger on a bus who’d decided not to get off at their usual stop.
“She was killed by a drunk driver,” Kate said as coolly as the reporter had on the six o’clock news. That was all Doris needed to know.
“I’m sorry.”
“It happened a long time ago.”
Silence settled densely around them like fog blanketing a cemetery. Kate snuck a subtle glimpse at her watch, wondering how soon her father would be awake. She drank from her teacup. “I imagine your job is tough, being surrounded by death all the time.”
“Well, I must say, it’s never easy letting patients go. But I take pride in easing their passage. Often when I tend to their needs, I end up feeling much like a member of the family.”
Kate felt the unspoken accusation hanging in the air. She shifted in her seat.
“I suppose it’s always been my calling,” Doris continued, “to offer support for souls crossing over. And for the troubled ones left behind. Losing a loved one can be a traumatic and confusing time for even the strongest people. Thankfully, God never gives us more than we can bear.”
Her spiel sounded suspiciously like something memorized from a hospice employee manual. The evangelical bonus chapter.
Doris tilted her head, her brow furrowed. “Was it something I said?”
Kate’s face must have betrayed her distaste for religious adages. “I think we have very different beliefs, that’s all.” She hoped that would end the topic.
“You don’t believe in God, dear?”
Spectacular. “It’s not that I don’t believe in Him, I just don’t ...” Surely, Doris wasn’t someone who would agree with the rationale behind agnosticism. “Forget it.”
“No, go on.” Doris set her cup and saucer on the round oak table beside her. Clasping her hands on her lap, she looked at Kate with interest. “I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
Religion and politics. Two subjects destined for disaster.
Kate shrugged. “Let’s just say I’ve never been a big believer in angels floating around with feathery wings and harps. Or in a guy named Peter who stands at a gate in the clouds, checking off names like a restaurant host. To me, it’s all a bit ... far-fetched.”
Surprisingly Doris giggled. “I admit, when you put it that way, it does seem a bit silly. But I suppose that’s where faith comes in.”
“Yeah, well, faith tends to run in short supply in my family.” In fact, with every man in her life.
“I’m sorry to hear that," Doris sighed. "Life can be a challenging journey without faith to guide you. My husband and I would’ve been two lost souls for certain.” She patted the silver cross that hung on a short chain encircling her neck.
Kate rolled a handful of darts around in her head, debating which Christian belief she should target next: the claim that Noah was able to not only gather but squeeze a pair of every animal species on earth into his handmade boat, or the alleged miracle Jesus performed because a wedding couple couldn’t afford cases of cabernet at their reception. They all made for great childhood stories—water to wine, staff to a reptile—but so did Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Part of growing up meant separating fact from fiction, no matter how much someone wished for proof to the contrary.
“More tea?” Doris asked with a smile.
“No, thank you.” Kate tucked her darts back into her skepticism box. Clearly, Doris’s stance wasn’t going to change any time soon, and taking potshots at the kind woman’s gullibility was hardly necessary.
“How about a snack?” Before Kate could refuse, Doris rose and toddled toward the kitchen.
As Kate waited, she caught sight of a hardcover book next to the caregiver’s abandoned teacup: Heaven’s Light. Had her father sought a soul-redeeming insurance policy by joining Doris’s book club? Was he seeking forgiveness for his sin?
Kate quelled the notion as she shoved her fingers through her hair. The feel of small dried clumps prompted her to pull a lock into view. Snowy streaks of paint had artificially aged her long auburn strands. She was thirty-four, not sixty-four. Unfortunately, it would take more than a good shampooing to remove the fine lines permanently framing her eyes.
“Here we are.” Doris sauntered back in the room. She placed a platter of sandwiches and a bowl of green grapes on the marred table dividing them, then resumed her position on the couch.
“Iris,” her father’s gravelly voice called.
Kate stiffened. It was time to do what she had come for. Whether he recognized her or not.
“Yes, dear!” Doris replied.
“I love you.”
“I know, dear.”
Kate stared at the stranger in disbelief.
“It keeps him calm. Usually puts him right back to sleep.” Doris gestured to the sandwiches. “You should eat something, honey. It won’t do you any good to get sick.”
Kate studied the dainty triangles of crustless bread, her stomach too knotted to eat.
“If nothing else, I do have broad shoulders.” Doris smoothed her hand over the top of her dove white hair. “So if there’s anything you’d like to discuss, I’m more than willing to listen.”
Thanks, but I’m fine. Kate’s standard response sat on the edge of her tongue. Brief and versatile, it had proven effective in countless situations with her husband, Drew, when she wanted to be left alone. Instead, she pressed her lips together.
Here was an opportunity to finally receive affirmation that her feelings were justified. That even as Collin Flaherty’s death coach neared, his only child’s absence was perfectly understandable.
She couldn’t resist.