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Book Excerpt: To the Breaking Pointe by Cindy McDonald

To the Breaking Pointe 2Title: To the Breaking Pointe
Author: Cindy McDonald
Publisher: Acorn Book Services
Pages: 250
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Format: Paperback/Kindle

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Pushed to the breaking pointe!

Five years ago First Force operative, Grant Ketchum, let the ballerina of his dreams dance right of his life. Silja Ramsay returned to her birthplace, Russia, to take the position of principal dancer for the Novikov Ballet Company.

The owner and director of the ballet company, Natalia Novikov, has a dark secret: her beloved ballet company is almost broke. Natalia forces her dancers to prostitute themselves to financial contributors at exclusive after-show parties. Silja has been exempt and kept in the dark about the parties—until an American financier offers to bail the failing ballet company out. His prerequisite: Silja must become his personal companion, live in his home, and fulfill his every desire. Against her will, Silja is taken to the American’s mansion, but before she goes she manages to send a text to the only man who can save her, Grant: HELP!

Now Grant is on a mission to find his lost ballerina and rescue her from this powerful man’s subjugation. He will do anything to get her out alive. If they survive, will he let her chasse out of his life again?

Book Excerpt:

“Where is Silja?” Ballard Crafton asked Natalia as he searched the reception room in the basement of the theatre. The room wasn’t particularly large, yet it was quite elegant with red velvet swags hung in the archways, gilded crown moldings, and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A bar was set up in one corner while a violinist played softly in another. The room was filled with men, a few older women, and most of the dancers from the Novikov Ballet Company. Only one dancer in particular was missing… Silja Ramsay.

Natalia picked up her glass of wine from the bar. “Silja is not ready to attend our little soiree yet. She hasn’t been informed of my… financial situation.”

Ballard pulled a bracelet from his suit jacket. “Silja doesn’t like diamonds?” Natalia huffed at the sight of the bracelet that she thought she had convinced Silja to keep. He continued, “She had this returned to me by messenger this afternoon. Doesn’t she…don’t you understand just how wealthy I am?”

Natalia took a sip of her cabernet. “She still believes in love, Ballard—“

“I am in love with her!” he bellowed.

Taken aback by the sudden outburst, the crowd hushed, looking in their direction. Natalia forced a laugh, waving her hands carelessly at the crowd. She spoke to them in Russian, “Mingle, mingle, get to know our beautiful dancers.” With hesitant glances at Ballard, the crowd returned to their conversations. The women in attendance ran their hands up and down the male dancers’ muscled arms, while the men flirted mercilessly with the ballerinas.

“You told me that she would be here tonight, Natalia.” Ballard said, more hushed.

“As always, there are plenty of lovely ballerinas here to choose from this evening, Ballard. Forget Silja for now. I will keep working to make her come around. She still… how do you say… pines for another.”

“Who?”

“I do not know this. Be patient. Pick another for this evening. Here…” Natalia gestured to the bartender. He retrieved a box from behind the bar. Natalia took the box and offered it to Ballard. Lifting a brow, she said, “You may have first pick tonight, yes?”

“No. I am tired of spending time with ballerinas that I don’t want. I only fantasize that she is Silja. I want Silja!” Ballard said.

Natalia set the box on the bar. Slowly she dragged her gaze to meet his. He was like a spoiled child who had not received the gift that he desired on Christmas morning. No, he was worse—much worse. Finally she decided to put Ballard Crafton in his place. “I am quite aware of what it is that you want, Ballard. But I must wonder…will Silja meet the same fate as your other lovers?” His eyes widened in raw indignation, except Natalia did not allow his glare to dissuade her. “The opera singer from New York who no longer sings—instead she sits in a home with head injuries so severe that she can barely speak, or the concert pianist whose fingers are now crippled from the hammer that was used on them? What could these women have done to make you so angry, Ballard? What kind of monster lies within? I am desperate to save The Novikov Ballet Company, this is true. But I won’t let you destroy a beautiful dancer in her prime. How do you Americans say…we understand each other, yes?”

Ballard’s hands curled into fists of righteous agitation. The red flush started above the Armani tie that he wore around his neck and crept to his cheeks. He spun on his heels and marched out of the gathering.

Letting out a relieved breath, Natalia looked into the box which was filled with pointe shoes. Each shoe had the signature of the dancer from the Novikov Company to whom it had belonged. Her nerves tightened the knot in her stomach and shame swelled in her chest. She took another long drink of the wine, and then she managed a faux smile for the crowd, who anxiously anticipated the beginning of the evening’s event.

Natalia called out in Russian, “Who will be first to choose a pair of shoes tonight?” She held the box up high, shaking it. “Edvar! Where is Edvar?”

From the far corner of the room the ballet company’s dance instructor and choreographer, Edvar Kozlovski, brushed his fingers through ballet dancer Dominik Potrovic’s hair. After a whispered promise of return, he raised his hand calling back in their native Russian, “Here I am! Are you ready, Natalia?”

The crowd buzzed with excitement. The dancers exchanged nervous glances. All eyes were on Natalia. She said, “Yes! Who is our highest bidder this evening? Who will get first pick of the shoes?”

Edvar fished a paper from the pocket of his jacket, and then he announced, “Ballard Crafton!”

Everyone searched the room waiting for Ballard to come forward to choose a shoe for his evening of sultry delight, with the ballerina whose name was on the shoe.

Natalia shook her head. “No. He had to leave. Who is the second?”

Edvar squinted in a big show of reading the next name on the list. He proclaimed, “Belsky!”

From the back of the crowd, a tubby man merrily trotted forward to where Natalia stood. He could barely contain his excitement. He danced in place from one foot to the other. The ballerinas were now exchanging curled lips of derision hoping that he would not pull their shoe from the box.

He wiggled his fingers in anticipation of what lovely, well-toned ballerina would be his for the night. Belsky reached into the box and snatched a pair of worn European pink pointe shoes. The crowd tensed waiting for a name to be called as he handed the shoe to Natalia.

“Anna Antkowiak!” Natalia called out. The young girl from Poland shoulders drooped. Her face dropped. She was the newest member of the company. She hadn’t signed on for this. She had heard whispers among the dancers that Natalia’s ballet company was almost broke and about the after-performance requirements: prostituting the dancers for contributions to keep the ballet company above water. Tonight was her fist time to be summoned by Natalia to the contributors’ party. She could barely breathe as she watched Belsky’s eyes scanning the crowd for her.

Locking eyes with the innocent girl, Natalia crooked her index finger at the ballerina to come forward to claim her date. Trepidation filled Anna’s face. Her stomach twisted into a tangle of knots as she looked at the other dancers, who silently urged her to do as Natalia requested. When Anna suddenly noticed the bulge in Belsky’s trousers, she kept her head bowed, as she slowly crept through the crowd. Belsky grabbed her by the hand to hurry her out the door.

Natalia clapped her hands. “Another happy contributor to the Novikov Ballet Company! I’m sure Anna will make his night!” She shook the box again. “Who will be next to choose, Edvar?”

 

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First Chapter Reveal: Meet Me in Barcelona by Mary Carter

Meet Me in Barcelona 2Title: Meet Me in Barcelona
Author: Mary Carter
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 352
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Format: Paperback/Kindle/MP3 CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audo, Unabridged

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A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.

Carrie Ann wasn’t just Grace’s foster sister. Clever, pretty, and mercurial, she was her best friend—until everything went terribly wrong. Now, as she flees an abusive marriage, Carrie Ann has turned to the one person she hopes will come through for her. Despite her initial misgivings, Grace wants to help. But then Carrie Ann and Jake both go missing. Stunned and confused, Grace begins to realize how much of herself she’s kept from Jake—and how much of Carrie Ann she never understood. Soon Grace is baited into following a trail of scant clues across Spain, determined to find the truth, even if she must revisit her troubled past to do it.

Mary Carter’s intriguing novel delves into the complexities of childhood bonds, the corrosive weight of guilt and blame, and all the ways we try—and often fail—to truly know the ones we love.

First Chapter:

Grace Sawyer had never believed in magic, or miracles for that matter, but that didn’t mean a girl couldn’t pray for a little bit of both. She’d been praying a lot lately. She stepped into her mother’s hospice room and crinkled her nose as the scent of SpaghettiOs and Lysol washed over her. She glanced at her mom’s bedside table. Sure enough, sitting too close to the edge was a chipped brown bowl overflowing with SpaghettiOs, paired with an industrial-sized bottle of Lysol. Grace hesitated. Processed food in a can and industrial-sized cleaners were just the kind of things that could trigger an emotional avalanche inside her. This wasn’t what life should come to in the end. It wasn’t right. If replacing those bits with yellow roses and a nice roast dinner would have changed a single thing about this horrific situation, Grace would have done it lightning quick. This was her mother. The woman who had taken care of everybody else her entire life. Who had opened her heart to homeless, damaged children. She deserved more. But strangely, Lysol and SpaghettiOs were two items Jody Sawyer had insisted on lately. Grace had to fight her instincts, her primal desire to make everything nice, and instead keep each visit as pleasant as possible. She smiled even though neither of her parents had noticed her yet.

Her mother was wide-awake, eyes glued to the television in the corner where a soap opera blared. Before she had moved into this facility, Jody had never watched a soap opera in her life. She wouldn’t have been caught dead eating SpaghettiOs either. The Lysol, on the other hand, was familiar. Grace’s mother had spent her entire life within an arm’s reach of it. Most likely the product of having a revolving door of foster children. Where were they now? Not a single kid from the past had come to visit Grace’s mother. After all she’d done for them. It made Grace rage inside, but her mother hadn’t complained about it once.

Her father, Jim, sat next to the bed on his favorite recliner from home. Jim had put up quite a fuss to get them to allow it in the room, and he was extremely proud of the accomplishment. “I put up my dukes!” he’d say with a grin. Then he’d pump his fists in the air. He’d been practically living here since the doctor had given them the latest grim diagnosis. Grace couldn’t help but think it was probably a welcome relief for her father’s patients. Her father was a psychotherapist, and although he was insightful, Grace had always thought he was a tad too prying. Then again, maybe that was the whole point of going to a shrink. Baring your deepest, darkest secrets. It was Grace’s idea of a worst nightmare. “Hi, Dad,” Grace walked over and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. He looked almost as thin as her mother. He lowered his newspaper and took off his reading glasses. “Well, hello there, Graceful.”

“How is she?”

“In and out.”

Grace nodded and slowly approached her mother’s bed. “Mom?”

Her mother’s eyes didn’t leave the television set. “Oh, hello,” Jody Sawyer said. “Are you the cleaning lady?”

“Like I said,” her father said. “In and out.”

“It’s me, Mom. I’m your daughter, Grace.”

“My daughter doesn’t clean,” Jody said.

“She’s got that right, “ Jim said.

Grace burst out laughing, then quickly tried to squelch it with a cough. Jody Sawyer pointed to the television and shook her head. She wanted them to be quiet. Grace looked at her father.

“Why don’t you wait for a commercial?” he said. He patted the folding chair next to him. Grace sat. “How was your day, sweetheart?”

Grace reached into her bag and removed two McDonald’s bags. She handed one to her father. He grasped the bag in one hand and squeezed her hand with the other like she’d brought him champagne and caviar. “Actually pretty wild,” she said. “I have news.”

“Do you mind?” her father said.

“Go right ahead.”

He unwrapped his Big Mac and took a bite. “Mm-mmm,” he said. He looked blissful. Grace wanted to bury her face in her sleeve and sob. SpaghettiOs and soap operas, and Mickey D’s? Didn’t they know they deserved better? They were from such a humble generation. Not like the entitled kids of today. Her parents were simple and good people. Let them enjoy what they enjoy. No use forcing kale or tofu burgers on her father now. Grace forced another smile, then reached into the second bag and handed him a napkin.

He winked at her and dabbed his mouth. Then his eyes went to her ring finger. “Did the boy finally pop the question?”

Grace laughed and stretched out her hand in front of her as if examining it for the first time. She hardly ever wore rings or bracelets; they got in the way of playing the guitar. Maybe now she would start. She would wear silver rings with semi-precious gems, like amber, and big chunky bracelets. Maybe even grow her nails and paint them pink. Was that a good enough trade for giving up on her dream? Grace slipped her hands under her legs as if she could shut out making any decisions by sitting on them. “Not yet. But you’re never going to believe this–”

The soap opera went to commercial. A jingle for car insurance came on. “Gracie Ann!” her mother said. She smiled and opened her arms as if Grace had just walked into the room.

“Hi, Mom.” Grace got up and hugged her mother. She felt so frail and tiny in Grace’s arms. Grace could probably pick her up and carry her around the room without breaking a sweat. Not fair, God! Not fair. “You didn’t eat your lunch,” Grace said, glancing at the SpaghettiOs.

“She insisted on them,” her father said.

“I ate ten Os,” her mother said. “I couldn’t possibly eat more than ten Os. I have to watch my figure.”

“If you stuck her in the middle of a cornfield, crows would land on her,” her father said with his mouth full of burger.

“You’re not far behind, Dad,” Grace said.

“Just how we wanted to spend our golden years. Hanging out in a farmer’s field like a couple of straw men,” her father mused in between bites.

Anything would be better than this place, Grace thought. She wished she could bring her parents to a beautiful field at the height of autumn. Give them trees with leaves on fire, and hay that shone like gold underneath an afternoon sun. Give them the smell of apples and the embrace of a warm wind.

“You look beautiful, Grace,” her mother said. Jody Sawyer reached up with a trembling hand and touched the pearls around Grace’s neck. “Is it your birthday?”

“In a few weeks, Mom.”

“Happy birthday, darling.”

“Thank you.”

“How old are you now? Thirteen?”

“I’m turning thirty,” Grace said. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m all better now, Gracie. I can go home now.” Jody Sawyer looked at her husband Jim, as if expecting him to start packing up the room.

“I don’t think today, Mom,” Grace said. Or ever. As much as she tried to shut it out, Grace could hear the doctor’s voice in her head in a constant loop. Maybe a month, six months at the most, we can’t say for sure. All we can do now is make her comfortable.

Make her comfortable? Was there any comfort in knowing you had six months, maybe one?

“Gracie said she has some news,” Jim said.

Her mother clasped her hands under her chin. “I love news,” she said. “And fries,” she called to her husband.

Grace nodded at her father. He picked up the second bag, then passed it up to Jody. It was odd. If Grace gave her the fries before she asked for them, her mother wouldn’t touch them. If Grace waited until Jody voiced a desire for them, Jody ate every single one. Just one of the little mysteries of dementia. What a double whammy. The doctors weren’t sure if fighting off the cancer had brought on the problems with her memory, or if she would’ve been hit with it anyway. There were just no two ways about it; life could be extremely cruel. “Give us the news,” her father said. “Hurry before her show comes back. We’re not allowed to talk during Days of Our Lives.”

“Jake won an all-expense-paid trip to Barcelona,” Grace said.

“Well, I’ll be,” Jim said. “How’d he do that?”

“The veterinarian group had some sort of a raffle,” Grace said. “But Jake didn’t even enter.”

“He won a raffle he didn’t even enter?”

“Dan went to one of the conferences without Jake and entered for him.” Dan was Jake’s partner at the animal hospital. He and Jake were like brothers.

“That was mighty nice of him.”

“But we feel guilty. Dan could have taken the trip himself.”

“I’m sure he filled out an entry for himself as well as Jake.”

“True.”

“And Jake won. Seems fair to me.”

“But we would be leaving Dan to run the clinic all by himself, and he’d even have to watch Stella.” Stella was the best English bulldog a couple could ever ask for. If she could, Grace would take Stella to Spain. Stella was a hit wherever they went due to her prowess on a skateboard.

“Well, isn’t that special.” Jim slapped his knee. “Jody did you hear that? Gracie and Jake won a trip to Spain.”

He had entirely missed the point that they felt guilty that Dan would be getting the short end of the stick. It made her wonder how often he misunderstood his patients.

“That’s wonderful, dear,” Jody said. Her eyes traveled back to the television.

“I’m not going,” Grace said.

“What do you mean?” her father said.

“There’s a catch.” There always was.

“You have to pay for your hotel?”

“No, it’s all paid for.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The dates are set in stone. We’d have to go at the end of next week.”

“So?”

“It’s a ten-day trip. I don’t want to leave Mom for that long.”

“Nonsense,” her father said. “You have to go.”

“I’d be gone for my birthday.”

The soap opera was back. Jody snatched up the remote and aimed it at the television like she was holding it up at gunpoint.

Grace’s father patted her knee. “We’ll celebrate with you when you get back, kiddo. Take it from me, kiddo—life’s too short not to take free trips.” Jody glared at Jim and pressed on the volume until it was almost deafening. A few seconds later, there was a series of soft knocks on the wall behind her bed.

“Sorry, Mrs. Maple,” her father called out. “You have to turn it down, dear.”

“That old bitch,” her mother said. In all Grace’s years growing up, with all the strange boys tearing through the house, and fighting, and even through the whole Carrie Ann ordeal, Grace had never heard her mother curse, let alone direct it at somebody. Jody turned the volume down a smidge and pointed at the television. “He’s the one I like,” she exclaimed. There was a tall man, visible only in silhouette behind a flimsy shower curtain. “They think he’s Flo’s long-lost brother, but actually he’s just escaped from prison where he was convicted of murdering his second wife. Or is it his third? I can’t remember. Second or third wife, take your pick. It’ll come to me. Darn tootin’ he’s totally innocent, but I know that Flo. She’s going to be sniffing around his tight buns like a hound dog short of a bone. Second. Definitely second wife.”

Grace and her father looked at the television. The naked man stepped out of the shower, surrounded by steam. All you could see were his six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Grace supposed they wanted you to imagine something else bulging. This was definitely soft-core porn for women. Tan, and slick, and ripped, and glistening, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to pick up a towel. He walked up to the bathroom mirror, reached up, and wiped away the condensation. Soon, his gorgeous face came into view. Grace had to stifle a laugh as he began to touch his cheekbones like a blind man trying to see what he looked like. “Isn’t it awful?” Jody said. “Pretending to be someone else? When all he wants to do is search for his wife’s real killer.”

Grace raised an eyebrow at her father. He looked down at his stomach, and in doing so dripped a thick glob of ketchup onto his fraying cardigan. “Didn’t even look like that when we got married,” Jim said.

“I think he must have had plastic surgery after his prison break,” Jody continued. “That’s why he doesn’t recognize himself!”

Jim Sawyer watched his wife with a smile and a shake of the head. “You wouldn’t leave her for ten days,” Grace said to her father.

“They sure did a pretty good job on him though, don’t you think?” Jody said. Based on where her mother was looking you’d think he’d had plastic surgery on his crotch.

“If Jake wants some old man tripping along with him, just say the word and I’ll pack my bags,” Jim said.
Jody glanced at Jim. He winked at her. She smiled back. Then she turned a smile on Grace. It was actually the first genuine smile Grace had seen out of her mother in a week. “You have to go, Carrie Ann.”

Carrie Ann. The words felt like two gunshots to the chest. Just hearing that name come out of her mother’s mouth made Grace’s heart start tripping. She almost shot out of her chair. “I’m Grace,” she said. “Gracie Ann.” Her voice cracked. “Dad?” she said.

“She’s confused, honey. The past and the present, it’s just one big, ugly glob.” Pinpricks of shame began forming at the base of Grace’s spine.

“I’m not confused,” Jody said. “Carrie Ann came to visit me.”

“My God,” Grace said. This time she did shoot out of her chair. Carrie Ann was the only girl foster child the Sawyers had ever taken in. At first she had been like a sister to Grace.

“Who is she married to now?” Jody said. “I can’t remember.”

“Pay no attention to her, Gracie,” Jim said.

“Why can’t I remember?” Jody pressed on her temples with her index fingers, as if she could squeeze the memory out of her head.

Grace took a step toward her mother. “When did she come and visit you, Mom?”

“Grace, I told you she didn’t,” Jim said. “Don’t egg your mother on.”

“I’m not egging her on, Dad, but if Carrie Ann was here, I want to know about it.”

Her father whacked his newspaper on the side of his chair. “I told you she wasn’t! And I should know. I’ve been sitting right here!”

“She’s still such a pretty girl,” Jody said. “She asked about you, Grace. She asked me all sorts of questions about you.”

Jim got up and threw up his arms. “She’s out of her mind!” He began to pace.

“Dad,” Grace said. “Hush.” Her mother suddenly became very still, which meant she was listening. Grace took her father by his arm and led him back to his chair.

“I’m sorry. She won’t remember me saying it.”

“That’s not the point.”

“I can’t help it. Carrie Ann this; Carrie Ann that. I thought we’d put that nuisance behind us for once and for all. Is this what it comes to? Reliving your worst nightmare?”

“I’ve never heard you speak so harshly about Carrie Ann,” Grace said. Her mom was the one who used to say the worst things about Carrie Ann. She said Carrie Ann was evil. She said Carrie Ann was a curse that would follow all of them to their graves. Once she had even said there wasn’t enough Lysol in the world to get rid of that stain. And each insult had cut into Grace like her mother was saying it about her. Her sister. Of sorts. Her own Dickens-like drama. Carrie Ann was the best thing that had ever happened to Grace, and she was the worst. She’d been out of their lives for nearly fifteen years. And Grace had spent every one of them trying, and failing, to put the past behind her. She turned to her father.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That Mom’s been talking about her.”

“Because I don’t want to dredge up all that nonsense. It’s her damn medication. I keep telling the doctor it’s making her worse, and he won’t listen to me.” Her father slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “These people think just because we’re old that we’re stupid. She wouldn’t be so forgetful if she cut down on some of those pills. How do I know that? Because she’s my wife. Because I’ve been married to this woman for forty-four years. You know what he said to me?”

“Who?”

“That snot-nosed doctor, that’s who!”

“What did he say?”

“Put me in my place. In front of my wife. ‘You’re a psychotherapist, correct? Not a psychiatrist? You don’t prescribe medication?’ That’s what the snot-nosed so-called doctor actually said to me. Can you believe that? Some twenty-year-old who just started wiping his own ass. I’m telling you she’s on too many pills! Makes her soupy. He won’t listen to me!”

“It’s okay, Dad. Calm down. It’s okay.”

“I can’t bear hearing her talk about Carrie Ann. Your mother’s the one who told us never to mention Carrie Ann’s name again.”

Forbid us. Forbid us to ever mention her name again. “I know, Dad. I’ll talk to the doctor. Calm down.”

“I always wanted to go to Spain,” Jody said. She turned off the television and patted the side of the bed. So she’d heard and understood the conversation. God, the brain was a mysterious thing.
Grace went over and sat down. “You never told me that.”

“I would hardly share that with a stranger.”

I’m your daughter! She wanted to shout. But her mother couldn’t help it.

“Just keep talking,” her father said. “At least she’s not dredging up ghosts, or drooling over naked stud muffins.”

And now Grace couldn’t believe her father had just said “naked stud muffins.” Maybe getting away for a bit wasn’t such a bad idea. Grace turned back to her mother. “Why did you always want to go to Spain?”

“My mother went to Spain. All by herself. When she was in her seventies.”

“I know,” Grace said. It had been just after Grace’s grandfather had died. Her grandparents were supposed to take the trip together. Everyone thought Annette Jennings would cancel the trip.

Instead, she buried her husband and packed her bags. Little Annette who had never been outside of her home state. Grace had had many conversations with her grandmother about that trip. She was proud of her too.

“It was really something,” Jim said. “Because in those days seventy wasn’t the new fifty or whatever the kids say today. Seventy was seventy.”

“Tell me about it,” Grace said.

Jody Sawyer straightened up, and her eyes seemed to take in more light. “Well, it’s not like it is now. Women didn’t travel alone back then. Wasn’t that brave? My mother sent me a postcard from Madrid of a beautiful tango dancer in a red dress. The dress was made of actual material—beautiful red silk right on the postcard. I’ll never forget it. She’d only written one sentence on the back. ‘Robert would’ve loved the landing.’ My father was very picking with landings and always impressed when the pilot pulled off a smooth one. Anyway. As soon as I got that postcard I knew my mother was going to be all right. ‘Robert would have loved the landing.’ After she died I spent hours just touching that silky red dress with the tips of my fingers and imagining my mother dancing in the streets of Spain.”

Jody Sawyer looked up and swayed her upper body slightly as if watching her faraway self dance. Then she looked down at her hands, twisting the bed sheet. “Look how ugly and wrinkled I am now.”

“You’re not ugly and wrinkled, Mom. You’re beautiful.”

“I wish I had that postcard now.” Her mother looked up into space. “I lost it.”

Grace hesitated. Did she, or didn’t she? Grace opened the bedside drawer and took out the postcard. Her mother was right. The dress was silky. Grace handed it to her mother and watched her eyes light up. Next her mother gently outlined the edge of the dancer’s dress with the trembling tip of her right index finger. Her fingernail was misshapen, the peach paint flaking. Grace would have to see if they could bring in a manicurist.

Jody looked at Grace, her eyes clear and bright. “Gracie Ann you have to go. Film everything. I’m dying to see Barcelona through you.” Grace must have looked stricken, for her mother laughed and then put her hand over her heart. “Sorry, no pun intended.” Like antennas being manipulated for a clearer signal, sometimes her mother tuned in perfectly. Jody Sawyer laughed again, and Grace couldn’t help but laugh with her.

“Mom.”

“Make me feel like I’m there,” Jody said, closing her eyes. “Help me shut out this hospice. Let me see beautiful Barcelona.” She took Grace’s hand and held it. “Do it for me. I’ll feel like I’m with you. Bring a camera. And your guitar,” she added. “You never know.” When Grace still didn’t answer, her mother opened her eyes, and lifted Grace’s chin up with her hand like she used to do when Grace was a child. “Be brave, Gracie Ann. Just like my mother.”

“Like my mother too,” Grace whispered back.

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The Murders at Astaire Castle Book Blitz!

The Murders at Astaire Castle banner

We’re happy to be hosting Lauren Carr and her THE MURDERS AT ASTAIRE CASTLE Book Blitz today!

The Murders at Astaire Castle

Title: The Murders at Astaire Castle
Author: Lauren Carr
Publisher: Acorn Book Services
Pages: 286
Genre: Mystery
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Mac Faraday Meets the Wolf Man!

Never tell Mac Faraday not to do something.

In The Murders at Astaire Castle, Spencer’s police chief, David O’Callaghan, learns this lesson the hard way when he orders Mac Faraday to stay away from the south end of Spencer’s mountaintop—even though he owns the property. It doesn’t take long for Mac to find out what lies on the other side of the stone wall and locked gate, on which hangs a sign warning visitors to Keep Out!

Topping the list of the ten most haunted places in America, Astaire Castle is associated with two suicides, three mysterious disappearances, and four murders since it was built almost a century ago—and Mac Faraday owns it!

In spite of David’s warning, Mac can’t resist unlocking the gate to see the castle that supposedly hasn’t seen a living soul since his late mother had ordered it closed up after the double homicide and disappearance of Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels.

“Halloween has always been a fun time,” best-selling author Lauren Carr explains in a note at the beginning of her fifth Mac Faraday mystery. “It’s the time to break out and be someone else. As a child, I would pretend to be one of the Bobbsey Twins searching for clues to lead me to a secret treasure. If I was lucky, it was made up of chocolate. As a teenager, I was Nancy Drew. Always, when October rolled around, I craved mysteries with something extra added—something beyond the normal—something supernatural. As an author, I couldn’t resist taking this one Mac Faraday Mystery on a scary Halloween adventure.”

In this latest installment of Carr’s hit series, what starts out as a quick tour of a dusty old castle turns into another Mac Faraday adventure when Astaire Castle becomes the scene of even more murders. Mac is going to need to put all of his investigative talents to work to sort out this case that involves the strangest characters he has run into yet—including a wolf man. No, we’re not talking about Gnarly.

Book Excerpt:

Prologue

November 2002 – Astaire Castle, top of Spencer Mountain, Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Shivering, Rafaela turned up the fan for the heater in her old Plymouth. The weather channel was calling for snow. With an eye on the storm clouds heading straight for Spencer Mountain, she picked up the speed a notch. Her car bumped along the worn road cut through the trees and rock to take her to Astaire Castle.

The notion of being trapped at the castle by a winter storm made her curse the day she had accepted the job as housekeeper at the Astaire estate. The young illegal immigrant thought her prayers had been answered by landing the job at the luxurious estate. Not only was it prestigious to work in a castle, but lucrative since Damian Wagner was paying almost twice her normal hourly wage.

What a gem to put on my housekeeping resume! To be hire by only one of the world’s most famous authors of horror books—even more famous than Robin Spencer—to clean an honest-to-goodness castle. So what if the Astaire Castle has a reputation of being haunted? I’ll be making a bundle for cleaning five days a week in the daylight. Besides, I don’t believe in no ghosts.

Rafaela regretted her decision the first time she walked into Astaire Castle.

At first, she dismissed her cleaning supplies moving from where she had left them as forgetfulness. Then there was the time she kept hearing someone whispering her name. She had looked around, but never saw anyone. Same with doors closing or opening or footsteps coming up behind her, and the old-time music and party noises in empty rooms when no one was there—she tried to tell herself that it was all her imagination.

None of that was anything compared to the Wolf Man who she had seen in the dining room mirror while she was cleaning it.

She had heard all about the Wolf Man who lived in the woods surrounding Astaire Castle. The woman with two teenagers who lived in the apartment next to hers was quick to tell her about him. Rafaela had dismissed it all as ghost stories made up by her neighbor’s kids to scare her—until she had seen him with her own two eyes.

That day she ran out of the castle. She returned only after Genevieve, Damian Wagner’s daughter, had promised that her father finish his book and be moving out of the castle by the end of the year—at which time he would pay her a handsome bonus that would give her enough money to visit her family in Brazil for Christmas.

Rafaela caught her breath when her Plymouth entered through the gate at the end of the road to pull into the front courtyard and fountain.

The fountain was off. Damian Wagner had never bothered to turn it on. He wouldn’t notice if it was. He spent his time banging away on his computer in the study on the top floor. He wouldn’t eat if it weren’t for his daughter bringing food to him.

Then there was the editor—Mr. Jansen.

He reminded Rafaela of a bird with his bony frame, high cheekbones over a pointy chin, and thick eyeglasses with his blinking eyes magnified behind them. He sounded like a squawking bird with his high-pitched voice no matter what his mood or what he was saying. Ready to pounce in anticipation of any need from Damian Wagner, he was always lurking nearby.

Damian’s daughter, Genevieve, was as charming as beautiful. She often asked Rafaela about her family in Brazil and about her life in Deep Creek Lake. For the new immigrant to America, Rafaela felt as if she was making a friend who would give her good references for more housekeeping jobs in the resort town of Spencer—more millionaire estates to clean—estates that weren’t haunted.

Rafaela pulled her car around the circular drive and parked at the bottom of the steep steps that led to the front door. When she got out of her car, the wind howled and whipped her long dark hair around her head. The wind actually seemed to want to rip her thin coat off her body. Grabbing her box of cleaning supplies, she squared her shoulders, and sucked up her nerve to go inside.

Need to make this quick. They don’t have enough money to make me stay here during that storm.

The wind yanked the heavy wooden door from her grasp to slam it against the side of the house.

“Stupid door!” Rafaela set the box inside the foyer and went outside to grab the door and pull it shut. “Mr. Wagner! Mr. Jansen! Genevieve! It’s me, Rafaela! Hope I’m not disturbing you.” She picked up the box and made her way through the foyer.

“Raf-aela …”

She stopped. With wide eyes, she peered up the staircase to the second floor balcony. “Is that you, Mr. Wagner?” She paused to listen. “Genevieve?”

“Get out. Now.”

Has to be my imagination. She reassured herself. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she muttered over and over to herself while hurrying to the back of the castle.

“I don’t suppose you had any trick-or-treaters last night, did you?” she called out to ease her nerves with the sound of her own voice. “Not up here I suppose.”

She waited for an answer. She heard footsteps on the floor up above.

The smell of burnt meat came to her nose. It smelled like steak that had been left on the grill for too long.

They must have grilled steaks last night.

“Lots of little children stopped by my apartment.” Feeling braver as she rattled on, Rafaela set the box of cleaning supplies on the kitchen table and gathered together her duster and furniture polish.

Best to start in the living room. The antiques, wood, and silver takes the longest.

Admiring the decades-old priceless china encased in the china closet, she went through the dining room. With her cleaning lady’s eye, she gauged what needed to be addressed on this visit that she may have missed before. She stopped when the blotch of red on the doorframe through the kitchen caught her eye.

What’s that? Catsup?

It wasn’t until she spotted a spot on the floor that she first considered that it wasn’t a condiment, but something much more sinister. She spotted another. Bigger this time … and another.

There was a red pool in front of the kitchen door that opened out onto the back patio and deck that projected out over the rocks to provide a massive view of the valley down below. All of the drops and splatters and pools led to the common source—the fire pit outside.

She saw the flames and smoke wafting in the wind whipping around her where she stood in the open doorway. She stared at the blackened objects in the pit. What at first appeared to be a burnt log projecting out of the flames took shape.

The hand and fingers reached out to her.

The index finger was pointing at her.

Through the rapid beating of her heart, Rafaela could hear the footsteps behind her coming closer.

“Get out!”

His image was reflected in the glass pane of the door. The wild hair. The crazed eyes.

It’s the Wolf Man!

Watch the Trailer!

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/X9UtpnJc4bw?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0

Giveaway!

Lauren is giving away one paperback copy, two ebook copies and three audiobooks of THE MURDERS AT ASTAIRE CASTLE!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • Six winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter.
  • This giveaway begins October 6 and ends October 31.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on Monday, November 3.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

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Married One Night Book Blitz & Win $25 Amazon Gift Card

Married One Night Book Blitz Banner

We’re happy to be hosting Amber Leigh Williams and her MARRIED ONE NIGHT Book Blitz today! Be sure to enter the $25 Amazon Gift Card giveaway below. Giveaway ends 12 a.m. October 2!

Married One Night 2

Title: Married One Night
Author: Amber Leigh Williams
Publisher: Harlequin Superromance
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

What happened in Vegas…followed her home!

Olivia Lewis is not the marrying type. So when a wild weekend in Vegas leaves her with a surprise husband, she’s happy to sign anything to erase her mistake—even if that mistake is handsome, charming and comes with an English accent. Fortunately, her groom has other plans.

Bestselling author Gerald Leighton knows he can make his new bride fall in love with him—he just needs time. In exchange for a quickie divorce, Olivia grudgingly gives him a few weeks to attempt to woo her. And whether Olivia likes it or not, Gerald plans on using every second to win her heart!

Book Excerpt:

Before Olivia could shoulder her way through the door, it opened quickly. She felt herself pitch over, tripping over the edge of the bedsheet. Cursing, she fell against the lean, chiseled chest of the man on the other side of the bathroom doorjamb.

She heard his surprised whoosh just before his arms snagged her under the shoulders and curled around her to keep her from falling at his feet. Her cheek pressed tight against his sternum. He was so warm. The deep timbre of a chuckle trebled beneath the ear pressed to his chest and words, rough around the edges, came floating from his mouth. “Ah, she wakes.”

When she tried to pull herself back, he held her fast to him for a moment longer to make sure she had her footing. With a murmured, “Easy there, love,” he released her and she stepped away, seeking his face.

He was smiling. The soft expression was tense around the edges, probably from what she could guess was a good deal of pounding happening on the inside of his head, too. She drew in a breath. His eyes were a brilliant shade of green. Dimples, or laugh lines, dug in around his mouth and the corners of his eyes. A man who smiled often and laughed well, Olivia surmised. His hair was blond and wet from a shower she assumed, judging by the steam behind him. He’d combed the hair back from his forehead, leaving his high brow bare.

A towel hung loosely around his waist. She blinked. She was staring. But the longer she stared, the more she could remember from last night, and the giddy spontaneity and blistering heat of all that had transpired made her forget for a moment how miserable she felt.

And, bless him, he didn’t seem to mind the staring. He was doing a good bit of his own. The smile on his lips deepened into a full-fledged grin, eyes softening further as he took her in. “Well. Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

She found a smile curving at the corner of her mouth. He was British. His words were enunciated with the high-class sounds of English breeding and good humor. His voice was like fine-aged wine. Or whiskey.

Whiskey, she decided. It had a good, old-fashioned burn to it.

Lifting her hands to the sheet knotted just under her collarbone, she made sure it was in place before dragging a hand back through her long, curly, bedraggled tresses. “Erm…good morning?” Olivia said, unsure of herself. Usually, she knew how to navigate the awkward, morning-after interlude. But this stranger’s clean-cut, unexpected appeal threw her for a loop.

He beamed and held out a hand, skimming far and above the awkwardness of the situation with good-natured ease. “Gerald Leighton. It’s lovely to meet you…again.”

About the Author:

Amber Leigh Williams

Amber Leigh Williams lives on the Gulf Coast. A southern girl at heart, she loves beach days, the smell of real books, relaxing at her family’s lakehouse, and spending time with her husband, Jacob, and their sweet, blue-eyed boy. When she’s not running after her young son and three, large dogs, she can usually be found reading a good romance or cooking up a new dish in her kitchen. She is represented by Joyce Holland of the D4EO Literary Agency.

Her latest book is the contemporary romance, Married One Night.

For More Information

Giveaway!

Amber is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter.
  • This giveaway begins 12 a.m. October 1 and ends 12 a.m. October 2.
  • Winner will be contacted via email on Friday, October 3.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

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First Chapter Reveal: Palmetto Moon by Kim Boykin

Palmetto Moon 2Title: Palmetto Moon
Author: Kim Boykin
Publisher: Berkely Trade
Pages: 320
Genre: Southern Women’s Fiction
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

June, 1947. Charleston is poised to celebrate the biggest wedding in high-society history, the joining of two of the oldest families in the city. Except the bride is nowhere to be found…Unlike the rest of the debs she grew up with, Vada Hadley doesn’t see marrying Justin McLeod as a blessing—she sees it as a life sentence. So when she finds herself one day away from a wedding she doesn’t want, she’s left with no choice but to run away from the future her parents have so carefully planned for her.

In Round O, South Carolina, Vada finds independence in the unexpected friendships she forms at the boarding house where she stays, and a quiet yet fulfilling courtship with the local diner owner, Frank Darling. For the first time in her life, she finally feels like she’s where she’s meant to be. But when her dear friend Darby hunts her down, needing help, Vada will have to confront the life she gave up—and decide where her heart truly belongs.

First Chapter:

“Murrah?” Rosa Lee’s eyes go wide and she shakes her head at me like I’ve forgotten the rules, but I haven’t. Since before I was born, my parents forbade the servants to speak their native tongue in our house. Offenders were given one warning; a second offense brought immediate dismissal. I say the Gullah word again, drawing it out softly. “Why are you crying?” The hands that helped bring me into the world motion for me to lower my voice.

Rosa Lee’s husband, Desmond, told me my first word was murrah. It was what I called Rosa Lee, until Mother made me call her by name. “My own murrah.” The forbidden words bring more tears. I press my face into the soft curve of her neck and breathe in the Ivory soap Mother insists all the servants use, mingled with Rosa Lee’s own scent—vanilla and lemongrass.

She holds me at arm’s length, trembling, and I know I’ve done it again.

“You got to tell them,” she pleads. “Make them see you can’t go through with this.”

I point to the door that leads to the elegant dining room where my parents are eating their breakfast. “I have told them. Mother refuses to listen, and I’ve begged Father. He says I have to do this.” She looks away. Her body rocks, sobbing violently on the inside. “Rosa Lee, please don’t cry. I can’t bear it.” She shakes her head and swipes at the tears that stain the sleeve of her freshly pressed uniform. “I won’t do it again. I promise.”

“When you’re asleep, your heart takes over. You got no control, and it’s gonna kill you.”

She’s right. Since I graduated and moved home from college two weeks ago, I’ve been sleepwalking like I did when I was a child, but these outings don’t land me snuggled up in the servant’s quarters, between Desmond and Rosa Lee. Most of the time, I wake up and return to bed without incident, but last week Desmond found me trying to leave the house. He said I was babbling about sleeping in the bay, which might not have been so disturbing if I hadn’t been wearing five layers of heavy clothing. I knew what he thought I was trying to do to myself and told him not to worry.

Since then, Rosa Lee has insisted on sleeping on the stiff brocade chaise in my bedroom. Of course, my parents don’t know she’s there or that she’s so afraid I’ll walk to the bay or step off the balcony in my sleep, she’s tethered my ankle to the bedpost with three yards of satin rope she begged from Mrs. O’Doul.

“Maybe it will be different after the wedding.” I love her enough to lie to her. “Father says I’m a Hadley and once it’s over with, I’ll fall in line the way I was born to.”

“But what if Desmond hadn’t caught you?” She threads her fingers in mine and kisses the back of my hand. A part of me wishes her intuition hadn’t sent Desmond to check on me, that he hadn’t found me. “And what are you gonna do when we’re not there?”

“Don’t say that.” My knees buckle, and I melt into a puddle at her feet. Justin has made it clear he’s happy with his staff and has no plans to add “two ancient servants.” But living under his roof and not having Rosa Lee and Desmond with me is unthinkable, another high price of being the last Hadley descendant.

“You think it’s not going to get worse after you’re married? Who do you think’s gonna be there to save you? Mr. Justin?” She hisses the last word. “You think long and hard before the sun comes up tomorrow, because I’m afraid down to my bones that you won’t be alive to see it.”

She collects herself and heads into the dining room to check on my parents. They won’t look into her beautiful brown face and see she’s been crying any more than they see this wedding is killing me, or at least the idea of being yoked to Justin McLeod is. Not because he’s eight years older than me and, other than our station in life, we have nothing in common, and not because of his good qualities, although no one can find more than two: He is a heart-stoppingly beautiful man and the sole heir of the largest fortune in Charleston.

For over a hundred years, Justin’s family and mine have built ships. And while two world wars made us rich, a prolonged peace threatens to weaken our family fortunes considerably. Somewhere in all that, my father convinced Justin a Hadley-McLeod union would position them to take over the world, at least the shipping world. And Father is certain nothing short of a blood union will keep Justin in the partnership.

Rosa Lee pushes through the swinging door and pours the coffee down the drain, her signal that breakfast is over and my parents are no longer close by. I smile, trying to reassure her I’m okay, that I’m going to be okay. She shakes her head and starts to wash one of the breakfast plates in slow motion, barely breathing. I hate those things, and after tomorrow, I’ll own twenty-four place settings of them, part of my dowry. I don’t give a damn about thousand-dollar plates, but I do care for Rosa Lee.

“I can do this.” I say from behind her. My voice sounds sure, steady. “I will do this.”

“You and I both know you can’t walk down that aisle. Dear God in heaven, Vada, tell them.” Her head is down, and she says the last two words like a prayer. “Make them see so they’ll put a stop to this foolishness.”

There’s no point. I’ve begged my parents, told them I can’t marry Justin, because I don’t love him. I’ve told them I feel nothing for him, not love, not even hate. Even after I told my father about the other women, he shrugged and said I was being ridiculous. “There are no fairy-tale marriages, Vada. Know your place, your purpose. Marry. Procreate. Continue the lineage. That’s your job.”

This archaic arrangement is not the job I want or the one I applied for. My heart races at the thought of how furious my parents would be if they knew my favorite professor recommended me for a teaching position, not in a posh boarding school but a two-room schoolhouse near a tiny crossroads community. Mother would fume silently while Father would remind me that no Hadley woman has ever worked.

But it’s 1947 for goodness’ sake. What did they expect when they sent me away to college, that I would learn everything except how to think for myself? The swell of defiance is snuffed out by Justin’s testy voice in the foyer. “Well, I am here now, madam. What do you want?”

I can’t make out what my mother is saying and slip behind the dining-room door. From the way I peer at them through the crack between the jamb, she looks tiny compared to him, but she emanates such presence. Justin has the posture of a rebellious teenager.

“It’s about Vada, and I am not talking about this here.” She points toward the study. He eyes her for a moment, knowing full well the drawing room is a woman’s place, the study a man’s domain for brandy and smelly cigars.

I can hardly breathe as she leads Justin into the study. Maybe she did listen. Maybe she’s finally going to tell Justin the wedding is off.The door to the study is slightly ajar. I slip off my shoes and tiptoe across the foyer to hear her say the words I’ve longed for since I was fourteen and learned about this horrible arrangement.

“You have me up before noon for this?” Justin is glaring at her, but she’s so strong, so beautiful. She’s not intimidated in the least.

“You must understand that Vada is a young girl, barely twenty. I heard the things she told her father. Your carousing.”

“My carousing?” he laughs and runs his hands through his short dark hair.

“Yes. The parties. The women. After the engagement, I thought you would change, settle down. Surely you don’t expect to carry on as usual after the wedding.”

Justin is no longer amused. His face is red, the veins in his forehead pronounced. “Let me remind you, madam, after tomorrow, I may be your daughter’s husband, but I’ll carry on at my own discretion, not yours, not your husband’s, and certainly not your Vada’s.”

Their standoff is palpable. Mother throws her hands up in disgust. “I shouldn’t even have to have this conversation with you, Justin, but Vada is extremely unhappy, and the very least you could do is try to be more accommodating.”

“More accommodating?”

“Just tell me, what is it going to take?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your price. To be a proper husband. Doting. Monogamous.” She draws the last word out.

“Trust me, madam, you don’t have enough money.” He stands and straightens the sleeves of his suit. “We’re done here.”

“Justin.” My mother grabs his arm. He towers over her. “Don’t hurt her.”

Her steely look is returned with amusement. “My dear Mrs. Hadley, for Vada or me to get hurt, one of us would actually have to care about this union. Tomorrow we marry together two fortunes for the greater good. Nothing more.”

“But you expect her to be a proper wife?”

“Of course. Why shouldn’t she?”

“Your level of arrogance is remarkable, Justin, even for you. Get out of my house.”

He makes an exaggerated bow. “Good day, Mrs. Hadley.”

The door opens, and Justin stands there for a moment, looking at my tearstained face. He sighs and pushes past me. “Really, Vada, after tomorrow, I’ll expect you to be more presentable in the mornings.”

I’ve honored Mrs. O’Doul’s refusal to talk about Darby for three years now, but with the wedding looming, the loss feels fresh, and I can’t help myself. “I miss her.”

Mrs. O’Doul gives me a hard look to remind me of our silent agreement not to talk about her daughter, my best friend. She nods curtly as she scrutinizes my dress, which she’s had to take in, again, for the rehearsal party. “You’ll be a good wife. You’ll make your ma and da proud.”

I shake my head at my reflection and the exquisite design that looks funny with my bare feet. “Maybe it’s best Darby’s not here. She’d be so ashamed of me.”

“Who knows where that girl is now? And, to be sure, she’d be ashamed if she showed her face around here, but not because you’re marrying Justin McLeod, I can tell you that.”

“She’s your daughter. You can’t still be mad at her.”

Another stern look reminds me Mrs. O’Doul lost more than a daughter when Darby was run out of town for her tryst with Mr. McCrady. But Mrs. McCrady didn’t stop there. She made sure Mrs. O’Doul’s wealthy clients boycotted her dressmaking business. Darby’s mother lost everything: her daughter, her shop, her apartment. My parents fussed when I insisted on Mrs. O’Doul altering my trousseau, but Mrs. O’Doul said it brought some of her customers back, the only good thing that has come from this wedding plan.

She smooths her hands down the seams of the ivory bodice and inspects a tiny pucker. “Damn beads.” She works the seam with her fingers until it lies flat, then steps back and inspects the dress. Her smile is thin, almost sad. “I remember every dress I ever made for you. And now look at you, wearing couture since you were sixteen. Getting married tomorrow in the finest dress I’ve ever seen.”

She’s right. I’ve always had a shameless love for beautiful clothes, even more so for shoes. But when Mrs. O’Doul made something for me, it meant going to Habberman’s on King Street. She always said Darby and me went together like grits and gravy, she couldn’t very well take one of us shopping without taking the other. While she selected the perfect material for my dress, we played hide-and-seek among the tall bolts leaned against the walls. Sometimes we sorted through bins of loose buttons or rhinestones and talked about what our lives would be like when we grew up.

As I got older, I worried that Darby would be jealous of the dresses her mother made for me. I know I would have been. But Darby said she didn’t care—they were just dresses, and we were best friends, the grits-and-gravy kind.

The other girls Darby grew up with wanted nothing to do with her after I went away to college. She gave up a lot to be my friend, and how did I repay her? I didn’t make time to phone her or return her letters. I was so wrapped up in things that didn’t matter, I forgot about the one person who mattered most to me. And by the time I heard Darby had been banished from Charleston, I was too ashamed of what I’d done, of the way I treated her, to try to find her, to tell her how very sorry I was.

“You’re a stunning young woman, Vada Hadley, and that dress—”

“The clothes you made, they were just as beautiful, and they meant something to me.”

She scoffs and puts her tools away, satisfied that my dress looks the way Jacques Fath intended when he designed it. “You’ll not find the likes of this fabric on King Street, I can promise you that. And if you did, I wouldn’t know where to begin to make something this . . . perfect. And your wedding dress? Even grander, Vada. Really.” She pushes a strand of hair behind my ear. “You’re going to be a beautiful bride.”

All through the rehearsal and this ridiculous party, everyone has said those words to me, like somehow the way I look will determine the outcome of this union. But nothing changes the fact that this is a mistake.

The canvas of the massive white tent billows a little, and the night air is damp and thick. Well-wishing men dab at their foreheads with handkerchiefs, and little beads of sweat line the lips of pretty women who are sweltering in the late-June heat. But even their intrusions can’t hold my attention from the Ashley as it flows past Middleton Place. I can’t stop looking at the river, thinking about it. Where does it go? To Edisto? To Savannah? Does it matter? It’s free, unencumbered by family and duty.

“Tears of joy?” Justin’s famous second cousin, Josephine, dabs at my face. I shake my head and turn my attention back to the river. “Middleton Place is stunning. And while I do have El Dorado, in my bones I know this plantation shouldn’t have ended up with the McLeods, least of all Justin. But the gods split the lot the way they saw fit. Perhaps they intended for it to be your consolation prize.”

“Does it console you, Miss Pinckney?” I ask.

“Words console me.”

“Of course they do, your books. The movie.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Yes, the movie. Well, I don’t think Three O’Clock Dinner will ever make its way to the theater, my dear. I hear Lana Turner’s off again, to Mexico this time, vacationing with Tyrone Power, and who knows who it will be next? Those Hollywood folks don’t know what they want, not really. Besides, I don’t need a consolation prize. But you? I’m not so sure.”

Most of the women here would kill for Josephine Pinckney’s lineage alone, much less her present status as the darling of the literary world. They comfort themselves with catty remarks and whisper that she’s plain and was never beautiful. But even in the moonlight, there’s something about her knowing look and those piercing eyes that make her stunning and powerful.

“Walk with me?” she says.

I nod and step toward the grassy steps that lead to the river and away from the party. Breaking a heel is the least of my worries, but instinctively I tiptoe across the boards that stretch out across the water, and Miss Pinckney does the same. The river makes a swishing sound and cuts hard around the posts that anchor the dock into the muddy bottom, and the waxing crescent of the Palmetto moon dips low across the marsh grass. A fish skips like a stone over the top of the silvery black water, and for the first time tonight, I feel like I can breathe.

“Run out—run out from the insane gold world, softly clanging the gate lest any follow.” I’m not sure if she’s quoting her books or one of her poems, but even in my hopelessness, I feel her silent prodding.

“I don’t want this.”

She’s quiet for a beat. “What do you want, Vada?”

“What I can’t have.”

“Something you can’t have. Really? The only child of Matthew and Katherine Hadley? I speak from experience as an only child born into the pinnacle of this caste system we live in, there’s nothing you can’t have.”

“You’re—wrong.” The sob building inside threatens to turn me inside out, so everyone can see the truth that doesn’t seem to matter to anybody. Not my parents, not Justin, and least of all the party lemmings.

“Then what is it?”

I’m shivering in this heat, teeth chattering, unable to answer. All I can do is point to the river as it flows away from this horrible mess and escapes toward the ocean.

“You are wrong, Vada Hadley.” She wraps her silk stole around me and kisses my tearstained cheek. “You can have anything you want.”

 

 

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My Life Since Becoming an Author by Karen-Anne Stewart#amwriting #guestblogger

Karen-Anne StewartMy Life Since Becoming an Author

By Karen-Anne Stewart

Everything and hardly nothing has changed….let me explain this seemingly stupid comment I just made. My life is still very much the same as it was before I decided to follow my dream of becoming an author and wrote the first words to Saving Rain, my debut novel, in September 2012. Inside, I feel the same, yet wonderfully changed.

What’s still the same: No one who knows me looks at me differently, and they shouldn’t; I’m just me. I love living life as uncomplicated as possible. My daughter still thinks I’m the same ole mom who takes her to school, out for milkshakes, to play dates, and who finds it necessary for her to complete her homework when she’d rather not. I still get up Monday – Friday and go to my day job, hang out with my family and friends, and live a normal day-to-day life; it’s just much busier than before.

Ash to Steele 8The results of change: In person, I’m quite shy. My shyness evaporates when I write, which has made me grow as a person. My personal boundaries have expounded, my amount of sleep has drastically reduced, and I’m loving the wild ride of achieving, failing, learning, enjoying happy dances, and rolling with the punches. Lunch breaks…and every possible moment I can squeeze in between, is filled with writing or other novel related tasks. The most significant difference is the amazing people I’ve been blessed to meet, including authors, bloggers, and readers.

I used to be the queen of organization. Seriously, I had my closet color-coordinated, papers in appropriate notebooks, and my lists were well known in my family. Now, that’s been blown all to hell…but I’m okay with that. Yes, my closet is still clean, but I’m doing good to keep my clothes separated from my husband’s, much less by color. Time management has become a necessity. While I’m taking care of all the responsibilities I had before, as well as, all the new ones being an author provides, my husband has taken on the task of making sure I’m taking care of, too. He’s my balance…my gravity.

One thing I haven’t gotten used to and don’t think I ever will, is how unbelievably awesome and humbling it feels when a reader comes up to me and tells me how one of my novels touched them in some way. When a reader told me that reading Saving Rain helped her get through some tough times she was trying to overcome, it brought tears to my eyes. Moments like that make all of the amazing times, the agonizing times, and the fun and heartbreaking times, completely worthwhile.

The only change we’ve made with our home, in regards to my writing, is turning the spare room into my office. When I say office, I don’t mean the typical desk piled high with files kind of work space. Although I do much of my writing sitting on my living room couch while my daughter is doing her homework and my husband is watching TV, I do love having a relaxed space I can retreat to when I need to fully concentrate or get through some emotional scenes, like the attack scene with Emma, in Ash to Steele. We turned my office into a writing/reading haven, complete with a couch, a swinging chair, and colorful pictures to create my idea of the perfect writing environment. I’ve included a couple of pics below .

Thank you so much for having me, and a huge thanks to the readers for taking the time to stop by! I love connecting with readers, so feel free to connect with me at any (or all) of the sites below:

Website: www.karen-annestewart.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6920317.Karen_Anne_Stewart

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SKarenAnne

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/SKarenAnne

Instagram: http://instagram.com/skarenanne

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/SKarenAnne/

Karen-Anne Stewart has always adored reading and has now fallen in love with writing. Her written works are The Rain Trilogy: Saving Rain, Healing Rain, and After the Rain, and the newly released stand alone novel, Ash to Steele. Her debut novel, Saving Rain: The First Novel in The Rain Trilogy, was a nominee for the Book Junkie’s Choice Awards, and Saving Rain and After the Rain were nominees for the 2014 RONE Awards. 

When Karen-Anne isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, hiking, and visiting new places. She fuels her addiction of creating new stories by her only other addiction, caffeine, and listening to a myriad of musical genres. Tucked away near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Karen-Anne lives with her husband, daughter, two dogs, and their cat. She plans on writing new adult romance as long as her fingers maintain dexterity.

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Unlocking Your Spiritual Greatness by Jim Greene – Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card

Title of Book # 1: Unlocking Your Spiritual Greatness
ISBN:  978-1-105-46980-0
Genre: Spiritual Maturity, Christianity, Discipleship Training
Publisher: LuLu Enterprises, Inc.
Publication Date: 2005, 2011
Just like there are specific physical exercises that are good for physical conditioning, there are specific spiritual exercises that are good, in fact, essential for our spiritual conditioning and growth. If you want to grow spiritually, you have to do spiritual exercises. (1Timothy 4:8)
This book looks to Jesus for “duplicate-able” activities for the model for our growth. For years Christian writers have identified specific activities regularly evidenced in his earthly life and called them Spiritual or Christian Disciplines. I believe that if it was useful for Jesus to be disciplined in his worship and praise to God, then it is useful for us as well. Further, I believe that the inclusion of Christian Disciplines in our lives, or what I call the Disciplined Training Approach places us in obedient submission to God and that is where we are supposed to be. 
Book excerpt:
God has outlined a plan for living that when followed will bring us into a closer fellowship with Him. All the treasure in the world will not purchase it, but God will provide it for free to whosoever really wants it. No matter how worthless you may think you are, you can become one of the greatest treasures in the world.  You can become the person God wants you to be, equipped with all the supernatural power for the Kingdom work He wants you to do!  
Simply put, if you hear what God tells you, trust that He will not lead you astray and do what you’re told to do, you will experience the peace God planned for you. More than that, the consequences of ignoring God can be anxiety, frustration, depression and even eternal separation from Him.
People, however, are not simple.  In fact, we go to great lengths to take something simple and complicate it.  Our relationship with God should be personal, based on the time we spend with Him.  We can’t manufacture a relationship with Him, but we can come to know him based on our personal experiences.
If you want to be blessed, comforted or reassured in a small way, then exercise a small amount of faith.  If however, you need your life changed… it may take more. It starts with regular prayer, regular meditation and regular listening. It continues when we do things outside our comfort zone and that’s exactly where faith begins.
Your life will change when you realize God’s ability
zone is greater than your comfort zone.
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Title of Book #2   God’s Answer, Praying the Scriptures Back to God
God gave us the Bible as a constant reminder of His love and plan for us. More than a historical document, it is truly alive. As we read His Word and become heart-linked with Him, a supernatural transformation begins to take place in us.  God’s Word is alive and we can’t comprehend it all at once. That explains why you can read a passage several times over weeks or months and receive a different message from the same verses.
God gave us prayer as an avenue or vehicle that He designed for us so we could be in constant communication with Him. God’s Answer seeks to bring you to His Throne of Grace, where prayers are answered, (Hebrews 4:16) so that you can claim the promises God makes about today’s problems. That’s a tall order, so let’s look at what He said about prayer in His Living Word, the Bible.
Several times He promises us that He will hear and in fact, answer our prayers. It would be great to think that we always get what we want or that we could just name it and claim it, but that simply is not the case. What we can claim is the promises God makes and we will be exploring those. Let’s examine a few passages and see what they reveal beyond God hearing us and answering our prayers.
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Title of Book #3        A Place of Faith, When There is No Place Else to Go
What or where is the place of faith?  Is it a physical location? No, it is where we are when we step out into the unknown in a blind, yet obedient faith because that is all we have left.  Our Christian vocabulary is filled with ideas, quotes and even promises from God that are meant for comfort and reassurance. As real as God’s Word is, what happens when all has been recalled and rehearsed and we still find ourselves alone at the place of faith. A Place of Faith defines faith from a real and practical viewpoint, then develops it’s progression from a measure of faith, to a step and then a leap of faith.  Most importantly, time is spent on the Enemy of Faith and the Trial of Faith and finally, The Results of Faith. Each chapter concludes with a hymn that reinforces the points made in the chapter and a few reflection questions.
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Title of Book #4  Living on the Dark Side of Faith
While faith has two sides, they are both sides of the same thing. The word faith cannot be substituted for the word belief or theology. It is more than a collection of thoughts about religion. It is more than simply believing in the existence of God, the demons in Hell do that. The faith we speak of is in God and how, though we may not see how, He will provide for His beloved. The faith we have is certain; it is the evidence of things to come. It begins with a measure and increases with experience and that often means a trial or test of our faith.
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About the author:

 

Jim Greene makes his home in Knoxville, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. An avid backpacker, his countless hours in the outdoors have often blessed him with many topics to write about.
As a layman Sunday School teacher, he challenges himself and his class to strive for and enjoy a closer relationship with God. Each of his books look to God as the ultimate authority in our lives. He is the author of Unlocking Your Spiritual Greatness, God’s Answer, A Place of Faith, When There is Nowhere Else to Go, and Living on the Dark Side of Faith. His next book is entitled, When Waiting isn’t Working.
Jim feels God speaks to him personally through journaling and his books primarily came to answer a question in his life. They may just help you too.
Pump Up Your Book and Jim are teaming up to give away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!
Terms & Conditions:
§  By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
§  One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive the prize.
§  This giveaway begins September 2 and ends on September 26, 2014.
§  Winner will be contacted via email on October 1, 2014.
§  Winner has 72 hours to reply.
§  VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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