Tag: fiction (page 2 of 9)

Thanksgiving Gratitude

thanksgivingSometimes we forget to appreciate our blessings—big or little. At least until November rolls around. Then it’s not just about that Thursday at the end of the month, but rather every day is spent in gratitude for something.

thanksgivingThanksgiving used to be a one-day commemoration of Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing the fruits of the harvest season. Now, though, for many of us, it’s grown into a month-long celebration of the things we’re grateful for.

I count my blessings every day, but I don’t often share them aloud. Particularly with respect to my vocation. So right now, I’m going to tell you some of the things I’m most grateful for professionally.

  • Mystery Heir AudibleOne of my publishers surprised me. They took my novel and had it converted to an audio book. Mystery Heir is now available on Audible.com, and I’m full of gratitude that they had such faith in the story to convert it.
  • CrimsonDirt-FinalA talented group of authors invited me to join them in writing anthologies. Crimson Dirt was a collection of chilling shorts that released in time for the Halloween season. It included my prequel to the Whispers series, “Malevolent Whispers,” and it made the top-sellers list on Amazon. This group has asked me back to participate in a Christmas anthology (details of which are forthcoming). I’m so appreciative of all of them, and so glad to be a part of their group.
  • Another of my publishers is set to release the second installment of the Cathedral Lake series. Out and About is Jensen’s story, and it will be available soon. I’m grateful to Oghma Creative Media’s CEO and staff for making this possible.

So yes, things are going well for me. And I’m truly grateful. Most especially, though, I’m grateful to my fans who have supported me and encouraged me, who have reviewed my work and requested more. For you, I’m eternally thankful.

IMG_2244All that said, it is time for another installment of fiction. (All installments can be found on the Freebies page.) This First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF) is all about Thanksgiving, and I could think of no better way to pay homage to the holiday than by writing something in the spirit of the iconic “Over the River” by Lydia Maria Child. So, without further ado, my tribute, with a Western Pennsylvanian flair…

Over the Bridge and Through the ‘Burgh

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
To our parents’ house we go
A breathtaking view for a moment or two
Of the city sprawled out below

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
For turkey and pumpkin pie
There’s way too much food even for this large brood
Even after the cousins drop by

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
The football games have begun
Dessert by the TV, many cups of coffee
We’re all laughing and having fun

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
Now it’s our time to play
The food’s set aside, we all go outside
For the family football game

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
The weather’s growing cold
Our cheeks are flushed, the adults’ team got crushed
We go inside feeling sore and old

Over the bridge and through the ’Burgh
It’s no longer time to play
By the fire we rest, this was by far the best
Celebration of Thanksgiving Day


So, this November, keep in mind the things you’re grateful for, and remember to share your appreciation—not just this month, but all year long.

Do you have someone you’d like to single out? Tell us who and why you appreciate them.

The Big Dog and the Little Cat

Every so often in our lives, we meet people who really have an impact in our lives. With technology the way it is today, our world is “smaller” than ever, and we “meet” people we never actually meet. That’s the case with my guest today.

I “met” Dave Kwiecinski in an online writing group. And he touched my heart and soul from the very first day. Not only is he supportive and funny and wise, he’s one creative guy.

Case in point, today he’s going to share with us what life is like in his world—from his cat’s perspective. Dave is the Big Dog in our writing group, but it sounds like his little cat has him wrapped around her finger… I mean, claw.

Without further ado, I give you Dave. Well; Dave’s cat, anyway.


catHi. My name is Lady. Well, it’s actually Foxy Lady.

Well, wait… that’s what it used to be.

Daddy has a strange habit of giving me new names all the time. Right now he calls me Jay.

It’s a long story.

That’s okay. I have lots of stories.

We are always getting into a lot of trouble. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe Daddy forgets our names. And he has to keep thinking up new ones.

He really doesn’t have to keep thinking up new names. All he needs to do is feed me. But I guess if he keeps feeding me, I don’t care what he calls me.

Daddy asked me to tell you about myself. When I was a little kitten, I was wandering all alone outside. I was scared. I don’t remember if I was born outside or if somebody decided they didn’t want me. I was too little to remember.

I do remember that I was hungry. It was hard to find food. I saw other cats chase birds and squirrels, but I didn’t know how to catch them.

One day when I was exploring the Big Forest, I smelled food. The smell was coming from way up high, on top of a high wooden mountain. The mountain was hard to climb. It was a long way up. And it was scary. Daddy calls the side of the mountain “stairs.” The mountain seemed like a safe place. I could look down and watch the birds and the squirrels play in the Big Forest below.

The food at the top of the mountain was good. I was so hungry. The only scary thing about being on the mountain was the Big Cats that came out of the Giant Cage to put food and water in the bowls.

Daddy calls the Giant Cage “the house.”

One day, I climbed up the mountain to get something to eat. But this time, the bowl was underneath a big cave. Now that I’m an older cat, I know that the cave is called a box (we love to sleep in those). The cave was upside down and hanging in the air.

Well, when I started eating the food under the upside down box, the box fell on me. I was trapped inside and I was really scared! One of the little Big Cats (his name is Stephen) started yelling, “Mom! Mom! My invention worked!”

The little Big Cat named Stephen was yelling and yelling and it was so dark inside. I was so scared, I wanted to run away! All of a sudden, the top of the cave opened up and this big lady cat reached inside with her long paws and she picked me up. I was so scared, I bit her. She yelled “ouch!” and dropped me. I was still stuck in the cave, but I could see the outside at the top and I was trying to climb out. The big lady cat reached in again and picked me up. I was scared, but she wouldn’t let me bite her again. Then the little Big Cat named Stephen came out of the Giant Cage (that house place) and they took me inside and locked me in!

Daddy says that was 17 years ago. Is that a long time?

I found out that the big lady cat is called Mom. We call her The Lady Who Lives With Daddy.

I didn’t like being in the Giant Cage. The outside with the Big Forest and the tall wooden mountain was scary, but I could run in all different directions and chase birds and animals and I could find a lot of places to hide and be by myself.

I still try to escape the Giant Cage, I mean, the house. It’s still scary outside and I still find places to hide. It’s still hard to find food out there in the Big Forest and there are a lot of other Big Cats like Daddy that live in Daddy’s house, I mean Giant Cage. Oh… whatever you call it!

But I can’t help myself. I like being outside the Giant Cage.

Anyway, I found out that there was another little cat locked in the Giant Cage, too. His name was Kit Kat. He told me that he was in a different cage and then Daddy and The Lady Who Lives With Daddy and the other Big Cats moved from that cage to this new “House.”

“I’ve been here for about two years,” Kit Kat said. “It’s not too bad. It’s warm when that cold, white stuff covers the Big Forest. They have comfy places to sleep and there are some cool places to hide over there in the jungle.” He showed me some places inside the big cage that looked just like the forest outside. We could hide there. The Lady Who Lives With Daddy didn’t like when we played in the dirt, though.

Back then, only Kit Kat and I lived in the Giant Cage with all the Big Cats. There were five of them, including Daddy. But only us two little cats.

Kit Kat doesn’t live inside anymore. He got sick about six years ago. Now he lives outside all the time. But we don’t see him. Nobody does. But he still talks to me even though I can’t see him. I’ll tell you that story some day.

Since that time, there have been a lot of other cats inside the Giant Cage. Some of them still live here with me.

I have lots of stories. I will tell you about Sandy and Fluffy. There’s Smokey, who still lives here, but she doesn’t like to be around any of us little cats.

Little Kitten lived outside for a very long time on the big wooden mountain. But then she decided she liked to live inside the Giant Cage more than she liked being outside. I think she’s crazy. But she keeps coming back inside.

And Bun Bun, her kitten, is almost as crabby as Smokey. She always growls at her kittens. She likes to be outside so much, she always escapes the Giant Cage. And Daddy lets her! But she always comes back. Sometimes with presents for Daddy and The Lady Who Lives With Daddy.

Bun Bun’s kittens are almost as giant as the Big Cats! Well… not really, but close! Especially Kaner. He looks a lot like Kit Kat, but he is so much bigger!

Maybe he swallowed Kit Kat…

Kaner’s sister, Bee Bee, and his brother, Zinger Dinger, always try to eat my food. Daddy yells at them to leave me alone. He loves me.

Daddy didn’t always call Bee Bee and Zinger Dinger those names. Daddy is weird. It’s hard to remember all his names…

It’s hard enough keeping track of all the cats inside the Giant Cage.

Daddy says that he wants me to help him tell stories about living in the Giant Cage. There are happy stories and sad stories. Some of them are scary. I hope all of the stories will be interesting and exciting for you.

Daddy wants me to tell stories for you and your children and your grandchildren. What stories do you want to hear?


Thank you, Dave and Foxy, err…Lady, I mean, Jay, for that peek inside your world.

About Dave: daveDave Kwiecinski knew he was going to be a writer at age 12.

Angela Graham, his high school English teacher, predicted Dave would be a great writer. So he ventured off to a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois.

And studied accounting.

It only took him 44 years to publish his first work, Four Simple Steps to Healthy, Happy Holidays, but he’s been happily writing away lo these many moons, with an unquenchable thirst to teach, motivate, inspire, rattle cages, and push buttons with his conversational writing style.

Now a recovering CPA, Dave helps fix people “who hate to exercise but love to eat” as a personal trainer. And he writes. About life (The Philosophy of Dave), healthy lifestyle (Dave K Fitness), and now dutifully transcribing the stories of his cats for a children’s book series. An emotional book about his dad’s fight for life is another work in progress.

Dave and his wife, Kathy, share their humble abode in far northeastern Illinois with way too many cats. They have five adult kids and seven grandchildren.

To learn more about Dave, visit him online:
Website | Blog | Twitter | YouTube | Google+ |
Facebook | Facebook Author Page | Facebook Business Page

Setting the Stage

Native LandsSometimes I feel like I talk too much about the projects I’m working on. I mean, I’m passionate about them and want to share them with the world, but I’m not the only author with something to say. So I’ve reached out to some of my author friends and asked them to share their thoughts, their work, their passions with us.

Today, I’m happy to host friend and fellow author P.C. Zick, who is going to talk with us about setting. Take it away, P.C.

Setting the Stage with Setting in Fiction

“The uncertain air that magnified some things and blotted out others hung over the whole Gulf so that all sights were unreal and vision could not be trusted; so that sea and land had the sharp clarities and the vagueness of a dream.” The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Of all the authors who have inspired me in my career, John Steinbeck stands at the forefront. Why do I admire him so much? It’s because of his ability to use setting as a part of the plot.

I’m an avid fan of using the reality of setting—landscape, weather, era, climate—as a strong backdrop to a story. As a reader, descriptions of setting transport me to other places and eras. As a writer, the setting of my fiction gives me one more tool for fine-tuning my plot engine. On a more basic level, I simply love reading descriptions of setting that establish mood and tone. And I adore writing scenes with lush scenery and powerful seasons to project the atmosphere in my plots.

zick trails jpgIn my novel, Trails in the Sand, I used the setting of a lazy river on a warm day in the first chapter to contrast with the tension about to invade the lives of the main characters as disaster lurks in the Gulf of Mexico on an as-yet unknown oil rig named Deepwater Horizon.

“Our paddles caressed the water without creating a ripple as we floated by turtles sunning on tree trunks fallen into the river. A great blue heron spread its wings on the banks and lifted its large body into the air, breaking the silence of a warm spring day in north Florida. The heron led us down the river of our youth stopping to rest when we fell too far behind. The white spider lilies of spring covered the green banks of the Santa Fe River.” Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick

Some of the authors I admire most, such as Steinbeck, use setting as a literary technique. A storm becomes a metaphor for tension between characters. The seasons serve as symbols within the theme. Temperatures create mood from humid heat to frigid cold. Place—from sea to river to urban environs—expresses as much about mood as does a character’s words and actions. Setting a story in Tel Aviv establishes a certain mood very different from placing a story in Memphis. Europe in 1942 resounds with air raids and fear. In New York City in 1942, life continues on with only minor inconveniences, such as rationing of nylons and butter.

I set my first novel in Michigan where I grew up, but I wrote it after moving to north Florida. I wanted to use the dramatic seasons of my birth home as a dramatic plot technique. The four distinct seasons of the north helped to create tension and to move the plot toward its dramatic conclusion.

By the time I wrote my third novel, I’d changed settings to Florida. I found myself seeking out ways to describe the varied landscapes so others could see what I discovered when I moved to a very different climate and landscape than where I’d previously lived. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings of The Yearling and Cross Creek fame, drew such vivid portraits in her novels of north Florida. After reading several of her books, I yearned to write in a similar vein and to show the landscapes and environment surrounding me.

“Somewhere beyond the sink-hole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever.” The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

I didn’t adapt to my new setting easily. When I threatened to take my baby and leave my first husband after watching a lizard cross my path, a neighbor intervened.

“Read Cross Creek,” he said as he presented me with a copy of Rawlings’ famous book, not yet made into a movie. I read avidly, soaking up her descriptions. I slowly learned to appreciate my surroundings with new eyes. Her descriptions of the Florida landscape helped me fall in love with all parts of my adopted home because her experience had been similar to my own. She moved from New York to the wilderness of Florida and had to adapt. Writing helped her make that transition.

I grew to love the snakes and skinks, heat and hurricanes, sand spurs and slash pines. I began to understand how our environment shapes us. Out of Florida’s beaches, marshes, and swamps rose runaway renegades, hardy natives, and tough cowboys. Setting created them as much as genetics.

When I took a leap of faith and left my teaching career to venture into writing full-time, many wondered if I’d lost my mind. A month after I quit, I won an essay contest. It’s no coincidence that the contest honored the woman who allowed me to fall in love with my environment and to fall in love with writing about natural landscapes. The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings essay contest win gave me the confidence to continue on my journey.

Native LandsAnd I continue writing novels where setting surrounds the plot. In another of my Florida novels, Native Lands, the Everglades play an important role in the lives of the characters. The swamp, the isolation, the threat of hurricanes, and the wildlife create the backdrop for intrigue, mystery, and even love.

I’ll leave you with the final lines in Native Lands, where I made an attempt to express my profound love of a descriptive setting to show mood within my fiction.

“The stars twinkled in the dark sky as night settled over the Glades. The crickets croaked and the sulfur from the swamp assaulted their noses as they rolled out their mats to sleep near the fire as Mali and Locka once did on their travels south. The wildlife settled in the mud holes and rivers surrounding them. Slumber descended, as peaceful dreams floated in their heads.” Native Lands by P.C. Zick


Thank you for sharing, P.C. The quotes you chose are powerful reminders of how important setting can be in a work of fiction.

If you’d like to learn more about P.C. and her work, check out the links below.

Website | Blog | Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Google + | Video Trailers

Pat ZickP.C. Zick began her writing career in 1998 as a journalist. Her first novel was published in 2000. She’s won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. She describes herself as a “storyteller” no matter the genre. She lived in Florida for thirty years, and she finds the stories of Florida and its people and environment a rich base for her contemporary fiction. Florida’s quirky and abundant wildlife—both human and animal—supply her fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable. Her romance trilogy, Behind the Love, is also set in Florida.

She writes two blogs, P.C. Zick and Living Lightly. She has published three nonfiction books and nine novels.

Zick Promos (5)Her writing contains the elements most dear to her heart, ranging from love to the environment.

She believes in living lightly upon this earth with love, laughter, and passion.

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Controlactually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.


Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

villa lanteFranki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.

But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.

The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.

It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.

Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.

And caused her to shiver all over again.

“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”

She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”

“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”

She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”

nighttime gardensHe nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”

He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”

“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”

He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”

Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”

His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”

She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”

Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.

She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”

“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”

“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”

“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”

He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.

*    *    *

They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.

fried doughPlatters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.

After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.

She sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”

He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“But you want more?” he said.

“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”

“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.

“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”

“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”

“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”

“It’s cute.”

“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.

“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”

Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”

“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”

She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.

“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”

Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”

Italy_fireworksShe heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.

Fireworks.

Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”

She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.

Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”

“Well, I am a joint citizen…”

She kissed him.

“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”

She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.

She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”

He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”

Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”

He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”

They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.

Valentine’s Day Dinner

FFFFLast year’s free fiction selections consisted of a 12-part serial piece. I had great fun with that, and I hope you enjoyed it. Those pieces, and all my First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF on Twitter and Facebook), can be found under the Freebies tab, a sub menu of the My Work tab. This year, I’m going to try something a little different. If it works, great; if not, we’ll try something else.

How else can you learn and grow except by trying new things? (Like this? Tweet it.)

So I’m taking a writing prompt and writing a story. Or a scene. I guess we’ll see what happens.

The work itself will be free-standing, no annotations. Afterward, however, in the “For Writers” section, we’ll dissect the piece for different fiction elements. And of course, we’ll end with comments (from anyone, not just writers).

And I will take suggestions for new prompts.

Today, however, the prompt has already been determined. So, without further ado… the writing prompt. It’s Valentine’s Day, and…

Here’s what I wrote:

Valentine’s Dinner

dinerSo, it’s obvious Satan works for the greeting card industry.

I hate this day. The rest of the year, I’m relatively well adjusted. But for some reason, February 14—every year—I’m a red hot mess.

My married friends are at home, having intimate dinners with their spouses. They’ll get long-stemmed red roses and tiny boxes of jewelry.

My friends with long-term boyfriends are at romantic restaurants as we speak. One—or more—will probably come home with a ring on her finger and a request for me to be yet another bridesmaid. Never a bride, oh no, not me. Just the perennial attendant. I can picture the hideous gown now, red satin and puffy sleeves. Why?

And my friends who are casually dating? They’re also out, probably at jazz bars where the lighting is low, the music is sultry, and the drinks flow freely. Expensively, but freely. They’ll dance with their men, a sensual hint of what’s to come tonight.

My dinner tonight is also intimate. It’s just me. And the restaurant has atmosphere, all right. It’s my favorite diner. It smells like strong coffee, fresh baked pie, and hot grill grease. The fluorescent lights really do wonders for my coloring—they make pale look ghastly.

And I’m also at a bar. Or should I say counter? I’m perched on the cracked red Naugahyde stool, listening to 50s music from the old jukebox in the corner. It’s just me, an old couple in the corner, Pearl, and Sid. Pearl flirts with Sid through the peek-a-boo window that affords a glimpse of the kitchen. He works at the grill and makes lewd comments about the heat.

Even my freaking waitress and the fry cook are an item. Between them and the Cleavers in the corner, I’m about to go ballistic.

“Here, hon.” Pearl hands me a few napkins and refills my water. When I raise my eyebrow, she points to the corner of her mouth.

I reach up, touch my lips, and pull my fingers away, sticky with cherry syrup from the pie I simply had to have. And the gloppy mess promptly falls on my white t-shirt. Pearl just smiles a sad, half smile… the smile that says, ‘Poor Katie. All alone on Valentine’s Day and a slob to boot. No wonder…’ And she slides a glass of water my way before turning back to the window to talk with Sid.

Scrubbing at my shirt proves fruitless. I’ve taken a small dark red spot and created a larger, wetter, lighter red spot.

So much for my plan to head to the movies. I’d probably just run into a plethora of couples lined up to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I want to see American Sniper—I’m feeling militant and violent at the moment and crave someone’s blood—but no way will I risk it wearing my dinner on my clothes.

I should have stayed home.

In Fifty Shades, the heroine gets the man of her dreams. Who happens to be a rich hottie. Who needs that kind of pressure on Valentine’s Day?

Of course, he also has a red “playroom” full of… devices. So no man is perfect.

The bell jingles as the door opens. I stop scrubbing at my shirt and look up.

So, maybe one man is perfect.

He walks in, shaking the snowflakes from his thick wavy hair. Stripping off his coat, he places it on the stool two down from me, then gestures to the empty one beside me. “Is this seat taken?”

Does it look taken? I guess I could have a companion in the restroom… I glance down at my yoga pants and stained shirt, lift my hand to my messy ponytail. Who am I kidding? He knows I have no one.

I lean forward, trying to hide the stain behind the counter and my coffee mug. “All yours.”

red chairsI picture it… He’ll make small talk, I’ll laugh. Then he’ll say that cheesy line, ‘I can’t believe a beautiful woman like you is all alone. And on Valentine’s Day!’ And I’ll demure, but he won’t have it. He’ll put a quarter in the jukebox and play something romantic, like ‘I Only Have Eyes for You,’ then we’ll dance between the rickety tables on the scuffed linoleum floors. He’ll invite me back to his place, and I’ll leave my car, riding with him because I feel so safe. Hell, if he has a playroom, I’ll happily enter.

I turn toward him, ready to make my fantasy come true, when the bell over the door rings again.

He turns toward the sound before I make my move, leaving me to stare at his back. His broad-shouldered back, with the wet curls of his hair tickling the collar of the red shirt he wore under an expensive, tailored suit jacket.

Then I hear her voice.

“Darling.” She walks over to him, and he embraces her.

I sit, glaring at my pie, while they discuss the lateness of the tow truck and whether they’ll make it to the opera before curtain.

Yellow flashing lights signal the tow truck driver’s arrival. Mr. Right throws money on the counter, despite not having ordered anything, and leaves with the woman. Whom I hate, just on principle.

Pearl picks up the cash and looks at me. “Your dinner’s covered, honey.”

I put on my jacket and slink out to my car. I’m headed to the comfort of my home. And my cat. And my bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

You’ll never convince me Satan’s not behind this whole godforsaken holiday.

# # #

For Writers:
So, a little over 900 words. Okay for a writing exercise. Not flash fiction, but not a substantial story, either. Was it enough, or is it merely a scene? Let’s look.

Character: —The beginning establishes character right away—a (temporarily?) bitter woman, alone on Valentine’s Day. Is she always bitter, or just that one day a year like she says? We don’t know, because we don’t have anyone else’s opinions of her, and we don’t see her on any other day. She could be telling the truth, but she could also be an unreliable narrator.

Plot: —Plots require conflict and follow a pattern, escalating to a climax and then tapering off in the denouement. We typically look for five points:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Resolution

Exposition is the beginning. Did we establish the character and the problem? In this case, yes. Katie is alone on Valentine’s Day. Everything reminds her of that. She’s upset at her situation.

Rising Action is the main problem coming to light and the complications that arise in the character’s attempts to overcome her situation. Did we meet this criterion? In this case, more or less. This is more of a psychological/emotional story, so the plot won’t be action-packed and fast moving. But we do see Katie making plans to go out anyway, and then changing her plans when something (she perceives as) better comes along. So she does encounter a change in her situation and attempts to do something about it.

Climax is the high point of the story, although not necessarily the most positive place the character can be. This is the dark moment, the time when it all hits the fan. Did we have a climax? Yes. Katie’s visions of a happily-ever-after ending is shattered when Mr. Right’s Woman walks in the door.

Falling Action is the result of what happened in the climax. Did this exercise have falling action? Yes. The couple leaves, discussing their perfect life—the life Katie envisioned. Katie is again alone, and now hurt even more than in the beginning.

Resolution: This is the end, where the fate of the character is resolved. It can be a happy or sad ending, but the character must have changed and loose ends must be tied up. Did this passage have a resolution? Yes. Katie goes home, alone, to drink her sorrows away.

So is this a complete story? I’d have to say yes, it is. That doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into a longer piece, even a novel-length work. This could be the opening to a romance novel or a pivotal moment in a dramatic piece. We’d have to do much more character and scene development, but this could definitely be expanded.

It can also stand on its own.

Other points to note:

The Prompt: The prompt does not have to be the opening sentence of the written work. It doesn’t need to be included in the story at all. But it does have to inspire the story.

POV and Tense: I am most comfortable writing in third person, past tense. But this is a writing exercise; I can explore new things, practice different options. I wrote this in first person, present tense. Not my most comfortable writing style, but it was fun to play with. We get deep in Katie’s POV and the action happens real-time, right along with her. I think, for an exercise, it works.

Setting is explored sparingly. We learn of the jukebox, the red stools, the counter and the pass-through to the kitchen. We hear the 50s music and smell the food. I didn’t devote long passages of description to this (and in fact, I shouldn’t have), but rather reveal these details in snippets as Katie experiences them. Could I have done more? Sure. But I don’t think I need to. If I turned this into a longer piece, I would.

Theme is pretty obvious. The lonely need love to thrive. Did you notice anything else in the story? Anything subliminal, maybe, that you picked up on? What about the color red? Red represents everything making her miserable in the story. She’s a “red hot mess.” Valentines, roses, bridesmaids’ dresses, the stool, the cherry glop, his shirt (because she can’t have him), the wine she’ll drink at home… Even Satan is often drawn red. Red becomes a metaphor for all the evil in her life, all that’s making her sad.

So, all told, despite the short length, this passage does meet the criteria for a complete story, even though it could become a scene in a longer work.

For Everyone:
So, what do you think? Is it a story or just a scene? Did it work for you? Did it remind you of any of your Valentine’s Days or of anyone you know? Let’s talk about it.

Laci and Del: Giving Thanks Was Never So Difficult

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 11 of 12.

Laci and Del: Giving Thanks Was Never So Difficult

pilgrims and pumpkinsLaci loved autumn—crisp air, cozy clothes, football and hockey season, hearty and spicy foods—and Thanksgiving was one of her favorite holidays. She pulled her sweet potato casserole out of the oven and breathed in deeply. Ah, nothing could smell better. Except her mother’s turkey and stuffing. She pulled on her favorite sweater, loaded her casserole and pumpkin cheesecake into the car, and left for her parents’ house.

Yes, this was one of her favorite times of the year. But this year she couldn’t enjoy it.

Try as she might, she couldn’t get past her breakup with Del. The past few weeks had been torturous. She vacillated between knowing it was for the best, to staring at her phone praying he’d call, to almost dialing his number.

In the end, though, none of those were true. She didn’t think it was in either of their best interests to separate, but she couldn’t follow him, he shouldn’t stay, and he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to try to repair their relationship. He hadn’t contacted her once. Not one call. Not a text. Not a single email.

She sighed and bore left, her car automatically heading toward his apartment instead of her parents’ house. If she could maybe just get a glimpse of him before being inundated with family for the day, she might feel a bit better.

Or it might just make things worse.

She stopped at the corner of his street and stared, dumbfounded, at the sight in front of his building. A cab sat near the curb, trunk open, and the driver had exited and was helping Del load luggage into the back.

Definitely made things worse. She suffered the worst case of déjà vu ever. She struggled to breathe while the tears streamed silently down her cheeks. Of course he hadn’t tried to contact her. She’d told him to move on, and he was. Literally.

It was too awful to watch the cab driver pull away, taking her love and her future with him. Instead, she made an illegal U-turn and drove back the way she came. She didn’t get two blocks before the flashing lights in her rearview mirror indicated a problem. No one else was on the street. It had to be her. When the siren blared, she signaled and pulled to the curb. The police officer followed and, after parking behind her, approached her window.

“Miss, do you know why I pulled you over?”

Tears continued to fall, but now accompanied by wracking sobs. She nodded her head.

The officer sighed. “License, registration, and insurance, please.”

She fumbled in the glove compartment and produced the papers he needed. Then she got her license from her purse. Her sobs came like hiccups as she handed the information out the window.

“Miss, are you all right?”

She just shook her head. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it to her. “I’ll be right back.” He went back to his patrol car and did whatever took cops so long to do back there.

Laci tried to settle herself before he came back, mopping at her face and taking deep breaths. All she managed to do was smear her makeup.

He came back to her car and handed her information back to her. “You have a clean record, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up on Thanksgiving. Let’s consider this a warning. But be careful. And no driving until you’ve calmed down. Okay?”

“Okay.” It sounded more like “ah… ka,” but it was all she could manage to utter.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nodded and offered a watery smile.

“Drive safely, Miss Marks.”

She offered him his hanky back, but he smiled and waved her off, then returned to his vehicle.

To Laci’s dismay, he didn’t pull out. She figured he was waiting for her, so she composed herself as best she could and left for her mother’s. He followed her to the bridge, then turned away.

The rest of her ride was uneventful. Because of her side trip and the subsequent stop, she arrived at her parents’ home late—right when the food was being placed on the table. No picking at turkey and stuffing right out of the oven this year. No matter, she wasn’t hungry anyway.

The house bustled with activity. The littlest children colored hand-outline turkeys while the older ones sang “Over the River” and danced around. The men walked sideways into the dining room, trying not to miss the last football play they’d get to see before dinner was over. Her mother and aunt hovered over the table, fussing over details while her cousin Clara snoodled up to her boyfriend Kyle on the couch. Everyone else must be in the kitchen, but she couldn’t see past the commotion in the dining room. Soon people filed to their seats from all corners of the house.

Far too many people, far too little room. Packed elbow-to-elbow and hip-to-hip, everyone—almost everyone—she loved clustered around the table. It was the kind of family event she adored.

And she didn’t know how she’d get through it.

Her dad looked at her and frowned, but he didn’t say anything. He just enveloped her in a hug and took the casserole dish out of her hand. Her mother reached for the cheesecake but stopped in her tracks. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Lying was just easier. “I got stopped by a cop on my way here, and I had to cry to get out of the ticket. Thank God it’s Thanksgiving. He was in a holiday mood and took pity on me. I got off with a warning.”

Thanksgiving mealHer mother frowned and took the dessert from her, weaving her way between the kid table and the adult table to put it in the refrigerator. Her Aunt Rose smiled and kissed her cheek. “Well, we’re just glad you’re here now. And what about your young fella? Where’s he?”

Her mother, reentering the dining room, cleared her throat and glared at her sister. “Help me pour, Rose.” She thrust a bottle into Rose’s hand, saving Laci from answering.

Laci swallowed her tears past the lump in her throat and wondered if she’d be able to eat anything. She knew it all smelled wonderful, but she was sick to her stomach and the aroma of the food just made it worse. Taking her seat, she grabbed her goblet of water and downed it in two gulps.

Her aunt got the children ginger ale while her mother walked around pouring Taittinger for everyone. Her father, at the head of the table, stood and tapped his fork against his champagne flute. Everyone grew quiet while he said the blessing, then he raised his glass.

“Another year, another wonderful spread. Another houseful of loved ones.” He turned toward Laci, but she couldn’t meet his gaze. She reached for her champagne flute and stared at the table. “I’m so grateful for all our blessings, and for each one of you. If you’d all raise your glasses…” When everyone had complied, he said, “For the bounty of Thanksgivings past, the blessings of Thanksgiving present, and the promises of Thanksgiving futures. Sláinte!

Laci mouthed the words as he spoke them. He ended every Thanksgiving toast the same way. This year, though, when everyone else drank, she put her glass down. She didn’t feel like celebrating. She didn’t feel blessed this year. And she certainly didn’t think her future was very promising.

Clara and her boyfriend managed to get to their feet without knocking over any chairs or crushing any toes. Clara clinked her fork against her glass, the crystal sounding shrill to Laci’s ears. When everyone looked at the couple, Clara said, “We have an announcement.”

Laci sighed. Clara always had something to share. Why it needed to be an announcement, she had no idea, but she refrained from rolling her eyes and waited.

Clara and Kyle wrapped their arms around each other, then Clara thrust her left hand into the air. “We’re getting married!”

The reaction was thunderous and immediate. Everyone did their best to extricate themselves from their seats and rush over to the young couple to offer congratulations. Everyone, that is, but Laci and her parents. Laci headed for the door, and they followed.

“Laci,” her mother said.

“I can’t, Mom. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” She rooted through the pile of coats strewn on the stairs and found hers, second from the top. “Make my apologies, say whatever you have to. But I have to get out of here.”

“But it’s Thanksgiving,” her dad said.

She pecked him on the cheek and hugged her mom. “I know.” And she walked out the door.

Laci was really starting to get the hang of driving through a flood of tears. It had become the norm. She’d also grown accustomed to letting the car decide where to go, as she didn’t have the will or desire to direct it. For some reason, she was driving through the city again instead of heading home. The parade was long over, but in her mind she heard the echo of the marching bands, saw the horses and the floats, listened to the delighted squeals of the children as Santa made his way down the street. She liked to attend the parade every year, but this year she hadn’t been up to it. Now, the streets still littered with candy wrappers, soda cans, and confetti, it seemed so profound to her. Life was just like that parade. It was beautiful and exciting. And fleeting. And once the magic was over, all that was left was the tattered remnants. Until someone cleaned them up and disposed of them.

When she got to the bridge, she saw a street cleaning crew heading the way she had come. Too bad she couldn’t hire them to clean up her mess.

Point Park FountainShe drove across the bridge, not bothering to look at the fountain at The Point, the paddle boats on the river, the incline on the hill. Those were things she never missed; the city was gorgeous and the sights always lifted her spirits. But that day, she didn’t care. She just went where her car took her.

And cried when she ended up on the Coal Mountain overlook. The place Del had taken her on Valentine’s Day.

She put the car in drive and headed home, her heart broken and her mind reeling. Would she ever be thankful for anything again?

Kiss My Lips!

No, that’s not an offer. Sorry.

I’m hosting a cover reveal for fellow author Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku. Many of you know my next novel is about a dysfunctional family. Wait until you read Stella’s teaser… she’s no stranger to drama, either.

double box intro

cover

Title: Kiss My Lips

(Holiday Series #2) Will one kiss seal their love?

Author: Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku

Series: Holiday Series

Genre: Romance/Contemporary/Multicultural/Interracial

ISBN: 978-1502776549 (Paperback)

Release Date: Wednesday 29th October 2014

Cover Artist: Love Bites And Silk

Add to Goodreads

You Can Pre-order Kiss My Lips

Amazon.com Pre-Order Link

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Blurb

front coverAccepting Logan’s marriage proposal was the most exciting event of Lorna’s life. But deciding in what country to marry her fiancé proved to be more than a tearful ordeal. When Lorna’s dad announced unexpected news, the wedding wheels spun in a different direction.

With other family members stirring conflict, would there be a wedding? Or would their shared kiss deepen their desire?

Teaser

An hour after the doctor assured them Lorna would be fine, Logan and aunt Nneka remained by her bedside.

“My brother is the biggest fool I have ever known,” Lorna’s aunt complained, regret etched in her eyes, as her arms rubbed her temple. “I can’t believe he had no tact or kindness in his bone. How can he break such news, one after another without warning?” she lamented on a huge sigh.

She paused but Logan kept mute. If he was as reckless as his future father-in-law, he would have knocked off the man’s two front teeth.

“He wasn’t always this clueless, Logan,” auntie was saying, shaking her gently graying head. “Oh no, I think Marie has changed him. I hope to God, he knows what he’s getting himself into.”

Logan bit back the retort on the tip of his tongue.

“You haven’t said anything, Logan,” the older woman noted, watching his shoulder muscle flex and tighten.

“I’m beyond enraged, aunt Nneka. It is best I keep sealed lips before I regret my words. The only request I want to make is to plead with you to tell her dad to stay out of Lorna’s way for now.” His tone was soft but his eyes narrowed and his jaw compressed.

He saw the older woman’s mouth tighten at the sides but she nodded.

“I know he’s her father and nothing can change that,” he said stiffly, as if accepting the truth Kanu was a permanent feature in his fiancé’s life was painful. “But causing her so much pain to the point she collapses is reprehensible. I have tried to restrain my tongue, but right now, I want to punch his head.”

Lorna’s aunt approached him and touched his arm. He stiffened and she looked up at him. “Look at me, Logan,” she said in a placating tone.

Turning round, he looked at her. His rage wasn’t directed at her but he was in no mood for mind games.

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Giveaway – How to enter

wedding coverLeave a comment. Every reader who leaves a comment on the blog gets one free eBook of Stolen Valentine Kiss (Holiday Series # 1).

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 Our promise…is to deliver an intensely emotional experience you’ll never forget.

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The 238th Great Anniversary Festival

2nd US President

Official Presidential Portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792)  via wiki commons http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

Here in the United States of America, many of us are coming back to work after a three day weekend. We just celebrated our country’s 238th birthday. The day before the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress, John Adams wrote his wife a letter in which he said about that day, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

It is of little matter today that Adams was referring to July 2, the day the declaration was signed, and we celebrate on July 4, the day the declaration was made public to the masses. What is important is that 238 years later, we do celebrate as he envisioned: with parades and picnics, games and fireworks. Continue reading

Laci and Del: Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 5 of 12.

Laci and Del: Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best

potted tulips“I don’t know, Del.” Laci clutched the pot of tulips against her chest as they walked toward the door of his parents sprawling log ranch. “I mean, she’s your mother. And she never really liked me. Maybe the first time we do a family event together as a couple shouldn’t be Mother’s Day.”

When they reached the porch, he kissed the top of her head. “She never had a problem with you,” he whispered. “I need to see my mom today, and I want to spend time with you. I can’t do both unless you’re here with me.”

“I saw my mother this morning without you.”

“That was your decision, not mine.” He opened the door, took her hand, and dragged her inside. “Mom? We’re here!” He dropped his keys on the table and pulled her forward. Continue reading

Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 3 of 12: Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking.

Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking

wee bit o' irishIt was an irritant somewhere in her brain, picking away at her comfort zone.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

If Laci had felt nervous before Valentine’s Day, she was positively panicked afterward. The first month and a half of the year had gone more smoothly than she could have hoped after their years apart, then Del had to go and up the stakes with the perfect Valentine’s date: just the right mix of recreation and romance.

Since then she’d been a wreck.

He had dialed everything back to casual, but she knew it was a fake casual. They were past that. He’d taken them past that.

She kept going to movies with him, sharing meals, discussing their days, meeting for coffee, but she knew, she knew, those things weren’t innocuous. It was more than merely food, entertainment, and mindless chatter. They mattered to him. And if she was honest with herself, they all mattered to her, too.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

It was a month after their perfect date, and he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t put any pressure on her—none at all, in fact—but she felt it. Because over the last week, he’d spent less and less time with her. Time was running out. She had to choose.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

Commit or move on.

Pick.

Whatever was fiddling around in her head believed in divide and conquer, because some of it had gone to work in her stomach. She thought about making a bowl of soup, but took some antacid instead.

Pick.

St. Patrick’s Day was Monday. Because of his heritage, it used to be one of Del’s favorite days of the year. He had proven to her that he still knew her well. Maybe it was time to see how well she still knew him. She sat down with a notebook and pen and got to work.

On Monday evening, Laci’s doorbell rang at 5:30, right when she expected it. She straightened her green silk dress under her apron and answered the door.

He must have had a hard day, because he’d already taken off his jacket, untucked his shirt, loosened his collar, and undone his tie. His hair was mussed, like he’d been running his hand through it in frustration, and he was looking at his phone with a frown on his face. But when she greeted him, he pocketed his phone and the stress lines smoothed into a lazy grin. “You look gorgeous. What’s the occasion?”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him into her apartment. She looked gorgeous? One of her favorite looks on Del was his done-with-the-business-day look. His five o’clock shadow was coming in and his clothes were starting to come off… he had that perfect blend of elegant and casual that really got to her. “Are you kidding me? Delany Keegan doesn’t know what today is?”

He thought for a second and shook his head. “Sorry, babe. The last week’s been pretty rough. Today was a real killer. Let me think… It’s not a birthday. Not an anniversary. What am I missing?”

She reached behind her and slowly untied her apron, watching his every reaction.

His gaze followed her hands. He swallowed and smiled, clearly expecting a lot more to come.

Instead of removing her apron, she lifted it to him and said, “Read it.”

“What?” He chuckled, clearly not expecting that turn of events.

“What’s it say?”

He looked at her for a moment, then he looked down at the apron and read it. “Kiss Me. I May Have a Wee Bit O’ Irish in Me.” He smiled. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day.”

She spoke with her best brogue, which wasn’t that good, but was serviceable. “It is indeed, Delany Keegan. And you should be ashamed for neglecting your heritage like that. Forgetting our day. And not even wearing o’ the green! You know what that means!” She reached out and pinched him.

He tossed his jacket on the sofa and spoke in a brogue far better than Laci’s. “You get one free one, Laci Marks. Try it again, and I pinch back.”

She giggled and said, “You better not if you want to put a wee bit o’ Irish in me later!” and ran into the kitchen. He was close on her heels. She turned to ward off his advance, but he had stopped short. “Del? What’s wrong?”

He was staring at her table. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice low, soft.

The nerves were back again, working overtime. Pick. Pick. Pick. “I made dinner. We’ve been eating together almost every night, anyway. I just decided to cook tonight instead of us going out.”

She needed something to do with her hands, so she took her apron off. For the second time that night, she waited while he looked her over, head to toe. At the door, he just appraised her beauty, and she appreciated it. But in the kitchen, he assessed the intent behind her efforts, and it made her squirm. Then he turned toward the table, where she had already placed homemade soda bread, Colcannon potatoes, corned beef, and a steaming pot of Irish stew. Tall glasses of Guinness were at each place setting. He didn’t even know that coffee was already brewed for after dinner, Irish if he wanted it that way, to accompany an Irish cream chocolate cheesecake that she’d baked the day before. She bit her lip while she waited for his analysis to end.

“You did all this?”

She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.” Fidgeting under his stare, she continued. “We have to eat, right?”

He crossed to her and took her by the shoulders, forcing her to face him, but she stared at the floor. “Laci, look at me.”

She couldn’t quite manage it.

“Laci,” he whispered.

She looked up into his eyes and saw that he was searching for answers. Answers she was frightened to give.

“Did you do all this for me?”

She nodded. “I know your mother makes this meal every year. I wanted to make sure you got to eat your family feast, even if you were with me instead of them.”

He smiled, and his eyes stopped questioning her. Instead, they held answers. Those were the eyes that she’d once fallen in love with. Eyes that once held the promise of a future, of children, of growing old together. Of a lifetime. She saw those things again.

It was frightening.

And exhilarating.

“Your apron said I’m supposed to kiss you.” He pulled her into his embrace.

Everything had changed.

She had picked.

What if she’d made a mistake?

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