Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Christmas Wish

Seduction

by Charlene Raddon

Utah 1889

Wellsby Boarding House and Restaurant
Rooms with meals - $3
With breakfast only - $2
Breakfast or lunch only - $.50
Supper only - $.75
No spitting or cursing allowed

Christmas Supper - $1.25


Christmas Eve and what Amanda Wellsby wanted most was to retire to her own rooms, put up her feet and sip hot chocolate while she enjoyed the flickering candles on her Christmas tree and listened to sleet pepper the window. But supper was over and the residents had gathered about the piano to sing carols while waiting for dessert to be served. Burdened with a tray of dirty dishes from the dining table, Amanda nudged open the kitchen door——and froze.

A man stood in the shadows just inside the back entrance. His wet Mackintosh and wide-brimmed Stetson dribbled mud and ice on her clean floor. The scent of night wind, snow, and danger drifted to her on a whiff of cold, swirling air. A gun belt encircled his hips.

Amanda’s breath caught. Her pulse began to thrum.

He stepped closer. Light glinted off a tin star on his vest.

Sheriff Everett Bodine.

She relaxed, but seeing his rugged, familiar face, midnight hair, thick mustache and brooding sapphire blue eyes did nothing to slow her galloping pulse. As usual, when flustered, she stiffened her spine and sought refuge in the edicts of propriety. “Boarders are expected to use the front door, Sheriff.”

His brow rose as he surveyed her. “Even if it means tracking mud on your carpet?”

Before she could answer, her gaze fell on the pale lump he held in one hand.

“Why, that looks like . . .” Whirling, she stared in dismay at an empty cake platter on the counter. “You ate my Chocolate Dream Cake? The whole thing? You know my patrons come here for Christmas Eve supper mostly for my dessert. How could you do something so thoughtless?”

Anger flashed across his handsome face as he threw the cake into the garbage pail, grabbed up a towel and wiped his hands. “I didn’t take your blasted cake, Amanda. Why is it, every time we’re alone together, you get all prickly over one thing or another?”

“Don’t curse at me,” she spat. “I would have given you a piece of cake, had you only asked. I’ve half a notion to tell the others who’s to blame for their having to go without dessert tonight. You won’t be so popular with all those silly, gushing old biddies out there then.”

Horrified by her display of petty jealousy she clamped her lips tight and began emptying the tray, clumsily chipping a saucer in the process. “Oh, now see what you’ve made me do, Sheriff?”

She flinched when he took her by the arm and spun her toward him.

“I did not take your cake,” he said. “I found that one piece on the porch and picked it up so it wouldn’t attract mice. After all the years we’ve known each other, can’t we forego formalities like Miss Amanda and Sheriff Bodine?

Her arm burned with the heat of his touch and her knees puddled. Desperately, she thrust out her chin and took on her most stringent tone. “Well, someone took it.”

Everett dropped her arm and stepped back. “Fine. Believe what you want.”

Amanda listened to his boots pound up the stairs to his room. What had she done? Everett’s honesty and kindness was what had captured her heart. Would such a man lie about a silly cake?

In two weeks she would turn twenty-five. The town spinster. She had lied to herself earlier; what she wanted most for Christmas was a man to love her, share her life, and give her a child. A little girl to dress in the frilly clothes she’d dreamed of sewing.

But that would never happen. A fall from a horse years before had rendered her incapable of bearing children. Her heart constricted at the memory.

Shaking her head she brushed moisture from her eyes. Nothing to be done about that now. She had to whip up a new dessert for her patrons, and quickly.

But if Everett didn’t take the cake, who did?

Amanda was placing a tray of shortbread cookies in the oven when Everett came back downstairs and stomped out the back door without a word. An hour later, with the guests gone home or to their rooms, the dishes washed, the house set to rights, and the few leftover cookies stored away in the pie safe, she turned down the lamp, ready to turn in.

The door opened and Everett entered the kitchen. “Am I too late?” he asked.

“Too late for what?”

“Dessert.” He held up a cardboard box from Thompson’s Bakery. “I brought something for you to serve in place of the cake.”

“Thank you, Everett.” She took the box and put it on the table. “I. . . Well, perhaps I was hasty and unfair to accuse you, and this might compound my sin, but will you help me catch the real thief. To show my gratitude——and my repentance for having misjudged you——I’ll . . .” Her mind whirred as she sought some boon that would placate him while leaving her pride intact.

“You’ll what, Miss Wellsby?” He resembled a hawk sighting prey as he stalked toward her.

“Anything,” she breathed, her pulse accelerating. “Make your favorite dessert for you and you alone. Polish your boots for a month. Apologize publicly on the courthouse steps. Just name it,. . .Everett. I am capable of forgiveness, you know. Even of. . .love.”

Her trailed away on the last word. How brazen he would think her. But instead, his eyes warmed. Her heart stuttered.

“I’ll take you up on that,” he said. “Just remember when I name my price, this was your idea. And don’t even think of reneging.”

She had to swallow before she could speak. “I won’t.”

“Fine then.” Swinging a chair around, he straddled it, his arms folded along the back. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”

Amanda spent two hours that afternoon making the dish she was most famous for: a rich, moist, fudgy flourless cake made with chunks of semisweet chocolate, six eggs——half of them whipped into a meringue——butter, sugar and Creme de Cacao liqueur. Once it had cooled, she topped it with mounds of sweetened whipped cream and stored it in the ice box.

While her boarders enjoyed their supper, she slipped into the darkened hallway outside the kitchen. Feeling her way in the blackness, she barely managed to cut off a startled yelp as she collided with something big, warm, and alive.

“Everett?” she squeaked.

“You planning to meet some other man here?” Laughter rumbled in his chest as he positioned her with her back to his chest so they could both see into the kitchen through the crack in the door. The room beyond was brightly lit, the ice box containing her dessert plainly visible.

Within Everett’s embrace, she felt warm and safe. His scent——leather, soap, and cool spring air——surrounded her. She didn’t realize she was rubbing her head against him, until his lips grazed her temple. “Amanda,” he whispered and turned her toward him. Heart pounding, she lifted her face to his. Her lips parted in anticipation.

From the kitchen came the creak of the back door opening.

Everett’s head snapped up. Amanda spun back to the doorway. Through the crack they saw a small figure creep inside.

Amanda drew in her breath. “It’s a child.”

Everett shushed her.

The raggedly dressed six-year-old boy filled his mouth with raisins from a crock, loaded his pockets with biscuits left from supper, then crept to the ice box. A smile curved on his small, dirty face as he reached inside.

“Aha!” Amanda burst into the room before the urchin could touch her precious cake.
Empty-handed, the boy bolted for the door.

“Oh no, you don’t.” Everett caught him. In their tussle, the boy’s cap fell off. Hanks of long, grimy hair fell onto thin shoulders that quivered beneath a thin, tattered coat.

“It’s a girl,” Amanda cried.

“So it is.” Going down on one knee, Everett gave the child a gentle shaking. “Who are you, girl? Why have you been stealing Miss Wellsby’s food?”

Apprehensive blue eyes darted between the sheriff and Amanda. “I-I didn’t mean no harm. I was hungry is all. And she’s the best cook in town.”

“Who are your folks, dear?” Amanda asked softly.

“I ain’t got none.”

“That’ll be easy enough to prove,” Everett said, “so you may as well tell us the truth.”

She hung her head. “My name’s Nettie. I was telling the truth about not having any folks . . . sort of.”
“Sort of?” Everett prodded.

Tear-moistened eyes turned to Amanda. “Please don’t make me go back. I couldn’t stand it if you was to send me back to him.”

Amanda’s heart twisted. Gently, Everett patted the girl’s shoulder. “No one’s going to hurt you, Nettie,” he promised. “You ran away, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” A tear slid down Nettie’s dirty cheek. “But he won’t care. Not really. He only kept me around to do the chores.”

“Who, Nettie?”

“Rupert. He’s who we been living with, Ma and me. But she runned off. He was always hitting on her, so I don’t blame her none, ’cepting she left me behind.”

“Did Rupert hit you, too?” Everett asked.

Moisture glistened in the little girl’s eyes as she nodded.

“Oh, Everett,” Amanda murmured, her hand over her mouth. “What’s Rupert’s last name, Nettie?” Everett wiped a tear from the girl’s cheek. “I promise he’ll never hurt you again.”

Amanda’s throat tightened. She had never known a man so gentle, so kind.

“You gonna make me go home to him?” Nettie asked.

Everett thought for a moment. “No. He’s not blood kin, so he has no legal claim on you. Do you have any other family?”

“Just Ma. She has folks somewhere, but I never met any of ‘em”.

“Well, you can stay here with me until Sheriff Bodine finds you a permanent home,” Amanda said, her heart already yearning to make the girl her own. “You can sleep in my mother’s room. But first, you’re going to have a nice bath.”

Digging in her heels, Nettie wailed, “I don’t need no bath. Can’t I just have something to eat, lady?”

“My name is Amanda, and yes, you can eat. After you bathe.”

As Amanda towed the girl from the room, she saw Everett grin.


It took three washings to get Nettie’s hair clean, and a nail file to dig the dirt out from under her fingernails. Dressed in one of Amanda’s dead father’s old shirts, the little girl followed Amanda back into the kitchen where they found the supper dishes scraped and stacked by the wash pan. A platter of leftovers waited on the kitchen table, covered with a tea towel. From the parlor came the impatient mutters of boarders awaiting dessert.

Amanda sent Everett a grateful smile. He winked back.

“I’m sorry ‘bout stealing your cake and the cookies.” Nettie crawled onto a chair at the table. “They was awful good though.”

“Thank you, Nettie.” Amanda kissed the girl’s forehead as she made a plate of food for her.

“I watch you at lot,” the girl added shyly. “You’re the prettiest and nicest lady I ever knowed.”

Everett grinned. “You know what, Nettie, I agree.”

Nettie tilted her head and glanced hopefully at each of them. “Can I live here forever? Please?”

“Oh.” Amanda’s heart squeezed and she looked at Everett, not knowing what to say.

“I don’t know,” he said, scratching thoughtfully at his beard. “Miss Wellsby’s single, Nettie. Don’t you think you need a father, too?”

Bouncing in her chair, the girl gave a resounding, “Yes.

Everett turned to Amanda. “Amanda, I believe you owe me a boon. What do you say, will you marry me and let me help you raise Nettie?”

“Yes, Everett, I will.”

For the first time in her life, Amanda’s Christmas wish had come true.


Charlene Raddon began her fiction career in the third grade when she got up and told her class that a little sister she didn't have died of a black widow bite. Charlene's latest story is Tender Touch.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Our Rosie

Rosie’s Christmas

By Catherine Astolfo


It’s Rosie’s party and she is elegant and gracious. She no longer remembers names, but her eyes are alight with recognition as she greets each face.

Sometimes her son (my husband) and I wonder what happens inside Our Rosie’s head. She once told us, “It sounds a lot better before I say it.” We surmise that the dementia disconnect is in the communication, not the thought.

Rosie conducts as her sons serenade her with traditional songs, both Christmas and Italian. Years ago, she would have been conducting in a different way. She would have buzzed around, cooking up the entire meal; homemade pasta, salad, and cannoli for dessert. Her personality was forceful. She admitted to being bossy and nosy. She loved good gossip, good wine, and good cards. Right now Rosie would be standing in the kitchen in her apron (by choice), instead of sitting in the wheelchair in her Sunday best.

She hasn’t lost her love for her sons and their spouses and children. She doesn’t recognize the great-greats, but she knows they’re connected. She reaches out to hug and kiss them.

My grandchildren’s eyes are large and shy as they kiss Our Rosie’s cheek, prompted by their parents, and let her squeeze them. She is small and shrunken and silver haired. I wonder if she is scary to them, but they are polite and would never say so. Too bad they didn’t see her when she could whip up a pie or plant vegetables in a huge garden. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could flash back to the child Rosie or the newly married Rosie and see that face instead?

Her smile makes her beautiful, though, I think. Perhaps that’s the reason Sydney and Evan want to hang around and help deliver leftovers to the staff on the second floor with Gramma Cathy (me). Our Rosie has gone upstairs a little while ago, exhausted from hours of adulation and attention. We gather up plates of sandwiches and veggies and cookies. I lead the parade into the elevator.

I am a bit nervous about what Sydney and Evan will see. Men and women, heads down, tongues hanging, line up in a sleeping row along the wall. One lady twists in her bed, accompanied by a repetitive stream of indecipherable wails. One woman in the hall flaps her hands, drools a smile, la-la-la excitement propelling her tongue when she sees a visitor. They’re so young. Will they be afraid? Repulsed?

When we get to the nurses’ station, we put forward our offering with thanks for their help in making Rosie’s day special. They are as thrilled with Sydney and Evan as they are with the goodies. Since I think my grandkids are the cutest kids in the world, I’m not surprised of course.

Inside Rosie’s room, we discover an empty bed. Her walker and wheelchair deserted. “Where is she?” I wonder aloud and the kids follow me back into the hall. I have a quick rush of panic.

Seconds later, I see my mother-in-law trying to hunch herself onto a small sofa. Her head is at an uncomfortable angle, her legs dangle over the side. She moans, too tired to get up again.

I hurry over to her, four little feet at my heels, and put my arms around her. Once she is upright, I say to Sydney, “Honey, can you get Nona Rose’s walker?”

Sydney doesn’t hesitate. She races back and reappears, her eyes large and determined, not one bit afraid. With the kids’ help, I half-shuffle, half-carry Rose until she is seated backwards on the walker. We return her to her room, where I lower the bed and, with Sydney and Evan’s help again, soon have her lying flat. She is so tired she can barely keep her eyes open. She makes soft noises and mumbles words we can’t understand.

My sister-in-law, Rita, arrives and goes to get a PSW. In the meantime, Sydney and Evan and I gather around Nona’s bed. Her flailing hands grasp the air. My granddaughter reaches for the right, while Evan reaches for the left, and soon Rosie is quiet, breathing smoothly, holding those little hands on both sides.

The PSW appears in the doorway and lowers one side of the bed, in preparation for getting Rosie cleaned up and more comfortable.

Just before we leave, Sydney and Evan lean over and kiss her cheek. No parents watching, no obligation or expectation. No fear or revulsion. Simple, pure kindness and love.

Rosie smiles.

(This is the real Our Rosie, not the one I’ll feature in a book I hope to publish in 2014.)




Catherine Astolfo is a past President of Crime Writers of Canada and a Derrick Murdoch Award winner (2012). She was a Zonta Club 2012 Nominee for Women of Achievement.

Writing is Catherine’s passion. She can recall inventing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of literary Canadian presses. In 2005, she won a Brampton Arts Award. Her short stories won the Bloody Words Short Story Award (second and first) in 2009 and 2010. She won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Best Short Crime Story Award in 2012.

Catherine’s novel series, The Emily Taylor Mysteries, are published by Imajin Books and are optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc.

Visit Catherine at www.catherineastolfo.com.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Rosemary McCracken and Safe Harbor

It was a Christmas like many others for Jude Seaton and her seven-year-old son Tommy. Presents under the Christmas tree. Skating in the afternoon. And a roast turkey dinner shared with a few friends that evening. The following days were filled with more skating, movies and a sleepover at the home of a school friend for Tommy.

But as the new year approached, the season turned into a...

Not so Merry Christmas

From Safe Harbor by Rosemary McCracken

"We are missing one of our, how you say…assets. You help us get back?"

Jude clutched the phone and went to the living room window. Across the street, she saw a black SUV parked at the curb. Its chrome fenders glinted in the sunlight.

She turned back to the room. Her son Tommy lay on the sofa, his knees propped up. He was playing a video game on the hand-held gaming device Santa had given him for Christmas.

She fixed her eyes on the boy. "Look, I don't know where―"  
"Then you find out," the voice on the other end of the line demanded. "If you know what is good for you―and your boy."

Jude turned her back on Tommy. "You leave him alone. He's just a child."

"Then do what I say. Get us the Somali."

"Wait!"

The only response was the droning dial tone.

She placed the receiver in its cradle and looked out the window again. The SUV hadn't moved. She needed to stay calm and get Tommy out of the house.

She brushed her hands on her jeans, walked over to the sofa and crouched down beside her son. "Come here, sweetie." She struggled to keep her voice steady as she pulled him into a hug.

He squirmed. "Not now, Mommy. I'm not finished."

"Tommy, you have to put that away." She moved to ease the device from his grasp.

"No! The game's not over."

Jude stood up, her face tight with fear. "Yes, it is. Give that to me." She held out a shaking hand.

Tommy scowled.

"I said now."

He pushed a few buttons, then handed his mother the device. "What did I do?"

She crouched down, held his shoulders and looked into his brown eyes. "It's not you, Tommy. Mommy needs help."

Tommy frowned. Then his face lit up. "I know who can help us."

She looked at him quizzically. He pointed to his T-shirt.

Her heart sank and she feigned a smile. "Spiderman can't swing to our rescue. But I have an idea. Tommy, how would you like to go to a hotel?"

Tommy's eyes widened. "Cool." He paused. "Are we going to live at the hotel?"

Jude tousled his dark-brown hair. "No, it's just for a day or two." Then where? Mom's? Arlene's? No, those would be the first places he'd check.

Tommy stared at her, his eyes squinting with suspicion.

"Let's pretend we're spies, Tommy. We'll sneak out the back door and run down the alley. Then we'll look for a taxi on the Danforth. Okay?"

"Yes, Mommy."

She took his hand and led him towards the stairs. "We may be away longer than just tonight. We'll pack a few things to take with us."

"But, Mommy, can't we―?"

"Tommy, we don't have time for questions. You have to do as I say. Got it?"

"Got it," he muttered. "Ten-four."

She stopped on the landing. "Now scoot to your room and get out your backpack. I'll be there in a sec."

"I wish Daddy was here. Not in heaven."

She drew a deep breath. "Me too, honey."

In her bedroom, Jude sank onto the bed. Her heart hammered in her chest as her glance fell on the pewter-framed photo on the dresser. She picked it up and stared at the photograph of a man in a dark suit and tie. He was handing a silver trophy to a teenage boy in hockey gear. The photo had run in the Toronto World, and the newspaper had sold her a print.

She focused on the man in the photograph. "What should I do?"

Then it came to her.

"Tommy, your father may be able to help us after all."


Safe Harbor by Rosemary McCracken is available as an ebook and a paperback on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca.

Watch Safe Harbor’s trailer here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

12 Days of Christmas

Last year I presented this as a series of blogs. Here's the whole thing in a nutshell.


On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.


You might think I made a great shot, but I was aiming for my ex.







On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.


First off, I can see where this is going and if he keeps going I'm going to have an orchard on my hands. On the other hand, dove = pigeon = squab = dinner tonight.

I suppose I should mention that “My True Love” is how my sometimes boyfriend/mostly ex describes himself. My description of him varies.


On the third day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.


Anticipating the chickens, I adapted a Turducken recipe for partridge, hen and doves. If successful, I have a contract poised to sign with a local restauranteur. In the meantime, the flies are gathering and the neighbours are giving me funny looks.


On the fourth day of Christmas “My True Love” gave to me
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree


Having no idea what a “calling bird” was, my ex - oh yes he is definitely my ex now - sent me four CAWING birds. These being crows and my neighbours being superstitious, an argument ensued. Mrs Poppalov insisted that four crows meant I was going to give birth to a son. Mr Poppalov insisted that I was about to die. I'm not sure who made the most noise, the crows or the Poppalovs. In any case, one of my other neighbours called animal control.

“My True Love” is toast.

On the fifth day of Christmas, My True Love gave to me
Five golden rings.


No birds, fair or fowl, my ex showed up in cuffs and leg shackles. How he managed to escape custody is anyone's guess. The police were hot on his heels. It turned out he was stealing the livestock from a local farmer - the same one who bought my “presents” when the neighbours complained about the smell. (They don't call them fowl for nothing.)

Obsessed as he was, my ex wanted to deliver the five golden rings before skipping town. He also wanted to borrow my hacksaw. Unfortunately for him, I was giving my statement to a rather handsome police detective when he arrived.

Oops. :)


On the sixth day of Christmas My True Love gave to me,
Six geese a laying...


Not the geese. Just the eggs. All over my front porch. My new detective friend said they couldn't do DNA testing, but I bet six geese a laying were involved.
I'm a little worried about tomorrow.

One week to Christmas! Ex or no ex, I had to go shopping. While I was out I heard the following report on the radio: “On the lighter side, dancers from local production of Swan Lake were invited to assist in a Twelve Days of Christmas montage. When it was revealed that they were to pose outside in icy water, they respectfully declined.”

I rushed home.


On the seventh day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Seven swans a swimming


Whew! My ornamental pond was full of half-submerged ballerina figurines and littered with feathers. I suspect he tried live swans first.


On the eighth day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Eight maids a milking...



This morning I received a note from my ex. He had the nerve to be calling me up for bail money. He was caught attempting to cattle rustle dairy cows. He had rounded up seven Holsteins and a Jersey from Mennonite farms in the next county. His reasoning was that Mennonites would turn the other cheek.
Right. They're peaceful, not stupid. They notified the police and had him arrested blitzschnell.

I tried not to laugh until after I got off the phone. Naturally, I didn't go bail him out. I don't know who did, but he managed to dump a half ton of cow manure on my lawn while I was out mailing cards. Fortunately, my neighbour (not the one who complained about the birds) is a member of the local garden club.

Next year they want him to dump horse shit. Nothing better for roses.

On the ninth day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Nine ladies waiting...


It was time to get proactive. When my ex showed up, trying to wheedle me into dropping charges and testifying on his behalf as a character witness (I'd already agreed to do that for the Crown Prosecutor) he was greeted by eight women from my gym. Just so we couldn't be accused of trying to threaten him, we were doing synchronized barbell reps in my back yard. (The front lawn was still a bit wiffy from the manure dump.)

He didn't stay long.


That evening I received a package from England, scheduled to be delivered December 20. It contain nine Royal Doulton figures form the “Pretty Lady” collection. He must have thought this one out months ago. They made nice gifts for my Ladies in Weighting.

I almost put a restraining order on my ex. My new detective friend suggested it. Curiosity overcame good sense. Besides, would it have really worked?

On the tenth day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Ten lords a leaping...


He outdid himself on this one. Every year, since I was a child, my mother takes me to see the Nutcracker. She loves ballet. I love the men in tights.

My ex arranged a little entre-action with the male chorus leaping about the stage before opening a banner saying “Marry me.”

Next, a couple of toy soldiers escort my ex to our box and the spotlights turn on my delighted mother and a mortified me as an oversized ring box is presented to me. This would have been very romantic if my ex weren't a Grade A fruitcake.

“Give the guy a break,” one of the soldiers whispered.

“You do realize that this is the guy who tried to make seven dancers in the swan chorus swim in an icy pond.”

The painted spots of colour on the soldiers' cheeks faded into their angry flushes. My ex discovered what I knew since childhood. Dancers are solid muscle. Soon my ex was leaping to make his getaway.


On the eleventh day of Christmas My True Love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping...


There is nothing like the sound of bagpipes in the morning.

It took me a while to figure out what they were playing. It’s not often you hear “You’re a Mean One Mr Grinch” with drones. I guess my ex wasn’t pleased with my Christmas spirit.

On the whole, I thought I got off easy. This was less embarrassing than the ten lords a leaping; less work than the nine ladies weighting; less mess than the eight maids a milking, or the byproduct thereof; less intrusive than the seven swans; not as good as the five golden rings; only slightly noisier than the four calling birds; not as smelly as the three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in pear tree. Mind you, I still had a Part-dov-en with brandied pear sauce waiting for Christmas dinner, so the fowl was fine with me.

I stood on my porch with my morning coffee, listening to the music, when CRACK! Something hit me. The last thing I thinking before passing out was, damn, there goes my favourite coffee mug.

I came to, strapped into the front seat of my ex’s SUV. I felt awful but my ex looked worse. He was a mass of bruises and abrasions. He looked so beaten up, before I demanded to know what he thought he was doing, I asked if the dancers had done all that damage.

“Not all of it,” he said, giving me a sidelong scowl before turning his attention back to the road.

We were headed north. I was pretty sure I recognized the highway and guessed we were headed for his grandparent’s cottage.

Going for the “put him at ease” ploy, I prompted him to tell me about his injuries. Most of the abrasions were from the wild and domestic fowl wrangling. He had a couple of broken toes from trying to steal milch cows. The dancers got in a few kicks, but he had to fight off all the pipers when they realized he was kidnapping me. He only escaped because their bags got in the way.

I only hoped that one of the pipers got my ex’s license plate because I was starting to get more scared than annoyed. Anyone who’d confront and escape eleven men in kilts was a psychopath capable of anything.
Since my ex was beyond reason, I gave up conversation and stared out the window. A small aircraft dipped low. My ex swerved, trying to get a better look.

“Relax,” I told him. “It’s not a police copter. It’s a single prop plane.”

“Since when do you know so much?”

I didn’t dignify the question with an answer. Any moron would know the difference between a helicopter and a bright yellow Piper Cub... just like the one my detective friend promised to take me up in when the weather warmed up.


On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My True Love gave to me,
Twelve drummers drumming...

Actually, what he gave me was a splitting headache listening to the soundtrack of Taiko Drumming.

It was almost midnight. I had tried getting him to stop for a pee break, a dinner break and for coffee to keep him awake. The drum music was his solution to staying alert; he packed sandwiches for dinner; and I won’t share what I had to do about relieving my bladder.

I saw a sign telling us that Tim Hortons was 13 km down the road.

“If you don’t stop and get me a coffee,” I said, slamming the off button on the stereo, “I’ll kick the door open and jump out. I want to wash up. I want coffee. And if you put that CD back on again, I’ll ram it down your throat.”

He grunted a suggestion that was anatomically impossible, but he turned off for the Tim Hortons. Of course, that might have had more to do with the R.I.D.E. checkpoint. (‘Tis the season to reduce impaired driving.) If he went into Tim’s, then out the far exit, he could avoid being pulled over.

“We’re not going in if there’re cops around,” he informed me. “I’m not stupid.”

I bit my tongue.

The huge windows made it easy to check out the interior. No uniforms in evidence. Not many patrons inside. Most people were using the drive-through.

He let me out and took my wrist in a lock grip. In his other hand he had the hunting knife. He let me see before letting his sleeve mask it. “Play nice or I’ll stick you.”

“Okay,” I said. “Buy me a coffee and I’ll be good. Can I go to the washroom while you order?”

He rolled his eyes. I guessed that meant no.

We walked to the counter, to all appearances hand in hand. Before he had a chance to speak, I started ordering.

“I’ll have a chili combo with a large coffee - in a mug - and an old-fashioned glazed donut. No make that a sour cream glaze. I’ll have a biscuit with that, not the bun. Black coffee.” I turned to my ex. “Do you have enough cash? Or should I go get me purse.”

Automatically, he let go of my wrist to get his wallet. I stepped back. A few seconds later, my ex noticed that the lady behind the counter was levelling a pistol at him. His wallet and knife dropped from limp hands and a wet patch spread across the front of his jeans.

Then he backed up into a plainclothes officer bearing handcuffs.

Many hours and coffees later, I was checked into a motel, being too tired to contemplate driving home. Thanks to my self-appointed True Love, I now had one day left to do all my preparations for Christmas. On the upside, I had a handsome and heroic New Love, with whose help me and my Christmas were rescued.

On the morning of Christmas, My New Love gave to me,
A commemorative charm bracelet with:
  • 12 drummers drumming
  • 11 pipers piping
  • 10 lords a leaping
  • 9 ladies waiting
  • 8 maids a milking
  • 7 swans a swimming
  • 6 geese a laying
  • 5 golden rings
  • 4 calling birds
  • 3 French hens
  • 2 turtle doves
  • And a partridge in a *&%!!! pear tree.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Decking the Halls

Yule Be Home for Christmas

By Alison Bruce

When I decided to set Deadly Legacy with Christmas looming, I asked myself: "How can I make the holiday season as challenging as possible for Kate?"

I made her father was a lapsed Catholic cop turned private investigator. Her mother converted to Judaism when she remarried. Her godfather follows the old Norse religion. As a result, Kate grew up celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, and Yule... except she doesn't feel much like celebrating anything with her father's death so fresh.
Festival lights twinkled throughout downtown. Less than a week ago, when the world was still a whole place, Kate met her father downtown for the annual lighting ceremony. It marked the official beginning of the winter holiday season. Shops and office windows competed for best dressed displays. The downtown board supplied unlimited quantities of hot chocolate and the food bank collected food and money from conscience-stricken consumers.
Kate had been going as long as she could remember, first with her parents, then her father. Christmas was their holiday together, just as the secular holidays of Thanksgiving and Victoria Day weekends belonged to her mother.

 When I was writing these words, my own mother had just died in early November. The feeling of loss, that first Christmas without her, was fresh in my mind. I remembered how familiar traditions didn't seem the same without my mother being at the centre of them.

Deadly Season, the next Carmedy and Garrett mystery, takes up almost exactly where Deadly Legacy ends. Kate Garrett and Jake Carmedy are getting paperwork out of the way. Kate is trying to hold things together by continuing the holiday traditions she shared with her father. Jake just wants to wrap things up so he can go home to his family. Also grieving the loss of Joe Garrett, it's his turn to lack holiday spirit.
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly . . .”
“I thought we agreed, no holiday songs in the office.”
“We agreed no holiday music in the office,” Kate said, hanging fresh holly over the last window. “I didn’t think that included me singing.”
“Well it does,” said Carmedy, scowling.
She gave him her best look of wounded sorrow.
He sighed.
She upped the ante with a lip quiver and sad smile.
“Oh give it up,” he said, laughing. “The pouty-face was one thing, but I don’t believe that quiver for an instant.”
But I got you to laugh, she thought. These days, that’s victory enough.
With family and romantic tension; grief and healing; humour and getting the job done... It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


December 22-23, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Melodie Campbell's Gift

Blue Satin and Love

By Melodie Campbell


“This is beautiful, Mom – where did you ever get it?”

I looked down at the Barbie doll evening gown Natalie held in her hand. Blue satin shimmered under our kitchen lights, and the tiny rosettes were individual works of art that had been hidden away for decades in a basement storage box.

“My grandmother from Sicily made it for me for Christmas one year.”

I remembered those hours Grandma had spent in front of the black Singer sewing machine, arthritic hands working hard to create things of warmth and beauty. Like many immigrant women, she made most of our clothes, which – at the time - was a mark of shame to me. How to explain the embarrassment of wearing homemade clothes to a daughter of today?

“It doesn’t even look worn,” Natalie said, in awe.

“That’s because I never played with it.” Yes, the blue satin was pretty, but in my young mind, it didn’t compare to the black nylon Barbie doll gown you could purchase at Simpson’s. My doll clothes were made from scraps of fabric left over from larger projects. The other girls at school received store-bought Christmas gifts; how I had envied them.

“She must have loved you a whole lot.” Natalie’s voice was soft. She handed it to me.

I fingered the hand-hemmed skirt, the tiny perfect stitches, and as I opened the snaps on the back, something happened to my heart. It flooded with the love that had been there all this time, stuck in a box, waiting to be discovered.



Melodie experienced a personal best this year when Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.
Melodie got her start writing comedy. She has over 200 publications and has won 6 awards for short fiction.  Melodie was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer Award and Arthur Ellis Award, and is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

www.melodiecampbell.com
funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.ca
@MelodieCampbell

ROWENA THROUGH THE WALL by Melodie Campbell

FREE DECEMBER 20-21, 2012

Available at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and other Amazon sites. 

 

UNDER A TEXAS STAR also free today! (Check right for links)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Shorts - Paty Jager Flashes

From photo of Silver City church by Paty Jager

Christmas Eve Promise

By Paty Jager

Jubal Denton rode down the deserted street on his tired gelding. He and Red had been pushing both their limits to get to Willow Bend by Christmas Eve. The wind they’d been battling the whole way rolled tumbleweeds the size of a cow down the street towards him. Where was everyone? The streets were empty and the shutters closed on every building along Main Street. The place looked like a ghost town.

His stomach grumbled as he headed toward old man Mitchell’s livery. The doors on the building were closed to the bitter wind rolling through the streets. Jubal’s muscles ached from the cold and long hours in the saddle. All the way here all he could think about was Suzie’s cooking. He’d been living on dried meat and biscuits for weeks as he chased the Eagers gang.

He opened the livery door and led Red into an empty stall. Red snorted and sidestepped as Jubal loosened the cinch. “What’s the matter boy?” He reassured the gelding with a pat on the neck, gave him a portion of the oats from a barrel at the end of the stalls, and slung his saddle bag over his shoulder.

Back out in the wind, Jubal strode down the street heading for Suzie’s restaurant. The scent of gingerbread made his mouth water and his gut growl. Sniffing the air, he followed the spicy aroma to Suzie’s place. But the windows were dark and the door locked.

Jubal stepped off the walkway and stood in the middle of the street. Where was everyone?

A choir of angels, or so it seemed, sung Silent Night.

He knew where the town folk were.

His heart picked up the pace of his feet, as he trotted toward the church on the hill. The voices grew in strength as he neared the small white church. He stepped across the threshold and Suzie moved out of her place in the choir and ran down the aisle into his arms.

“I knew you’d make it by Christmas Eve if nothing happened to you,” she said, burying her head between his shoulder and neck.

“I promised you a Christmas wedding.” Jubal tipped her chin up and kissed her in front of the whole congregation.



Wife, mother, grandmother, and the one who cleans pens and delivers the hay; award winning author Paty Jager and her husband currently ranch 350 acres when not dashing around visiting their children and grandchildren. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

Blog: www.patyjager.blogspot.com
Website: www.patyjager.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/#!/paty.jager 
Twitter: @patyjag
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005334.Paty_Jager .

Historical Western Romance
Logger in Petticoats
Hank Halsey believes he’s found the perfect logging crew—complete with cooks—until he discovers Kelda Nielson would rather swing an axe than flip eggs. As he sets out to prove women belong in the kitchen, he’s the one in danger of getting burned.
Available at Kindle, Smashwords, and  Nook 

Contemporary Action Adventure Romance
Secrets of a Mayan Moon
Child prodigy and now Doctor of Anthropology, Isabella Mumphrey, is about to lose her job at the university. In the world of publish or perish, her mentor’s request for her assistance on a dig is just the opportunity she’s been seeking. If she can decipher an ancient stone table—and she can—she’ll keep her department. She heads to Guatemala, but drug trafficking bad guys, artifact thieves, and her infatuation for her handsome guide wreak havoc on her scholarly intentions.
Available at Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Shorts - A Western Ghost Story

Ghost Town Holiday

By Alison Bruce


Tumbleweed was a ghost town. It had been a boom town, named for the tumbleweed that led Tex Raddon to the natural well that made the location a perfect stop for the stage. With canny business sense and a talent for playing cards, Tex built a hotel to serve travelers passing through, encouraging the stage company to make Tumbleweed a layover station.

Tex bought a bullet from some slicker who Tex had out-hustled, but it was the railway that killed Tumbleweed. The townsfolk moved on, leaving behind false-fronted stores and Tex’s gingerbread festooned hotel.

I’d been told the place was haunted - which is why I detoured to visit it on my way home for Christmas. Fortune hunters, convinced that Tex had left a fortune in gold and silver hidden in the hotel, had well nigh run screaming from Tumbleweed. On horseback, buggy, jalopy or pickup truck, they came, they saw, they fled. I stumbled in with a courier bag and empty water bottle. I didn’t care about the ghosts. I just hoped the stories of the well were true. Embarrassing as it is to admit, my car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. No bars on the cell phone, of course. I had to walk the rest of the way, Tumbleweed being my best bet for water and shelter.

It was the best water I ever tasted. It felt glorious to wash the dust off my face and hands too. The stage office offered shelter. It was sturdily built and had a pot-bellied stove as well as a bare cot I could sleep on. Judging by the abandoned backpack, 50's style coffee pot and other odds and ends I found, it looked like the place had been used by other travelers over the years.

I woke around midnight, having underestimated the efficiency of the stove. The room was hot and stuffy. Add in hunger and a hard bed, I had the mother of all headaches. I opened the door to get fresh air, ready to slam it shut again if I spotted a coyote or or other varmint. What I saw instead almost had me locking the door and hiding under the covers, except I had no covers to hide under. The hotel was lit up with a golden light.

Call me crazy, but I just had to check it out.

When I’d looked around the hotel earlier, I was impressed by the touches of faded splendour that had survived over a hundred years. Ghost stories had evidently been good at keeping the looters away. In the moonlight, it seemed like time had rolled back and the hotel was in its former glory.

I was about to chicken out. Who know who or what I’d find inside? Better to go back to the stage office and lock the doors again. The smell of food changed my mind. I pushed through the door and froze. The kerosine lamps sparkled. The ornate cast iron stove glowed. Strings of popped corn and red berries decorated the bar, which was polished til it shone. A ruggedly handsome man in a black frock coat, fancy vest and string tie, stepped forward and offered his hand.

The courtesy reflex had me taking his hand without thinking. Suddenly I was in a green satin dress with ivory lace and red ribbon trim. The room was full of people nodding and smiling at me, all in their Sunday best or better. My host led me to a table heaped with smoked ham, what looked like a haunch of venison, sweet potato pie, roast vegetables, and biscuits. Everything looked and smelled wonderful but strangely, when I started to eat, it all tasted like Spam and baked beans. Mind you, it was the best Spam and beans I’d ever eaten–I was that hungry.

After supper, I danced to music I knew was there but couldn’t hear. When I could barely keep my eyes open any longer, my host led me upstairs. He took me into a room decorated in red velvet and gilt. For a moment I was wondering if a ghostly seduction was about to take place, but he just turned down my bed and gave me a low bow before leaving.

In the morning, I found myself on a rickety cot, covered with a faded green sleeping bag. Downstairs, the saloon was dusty and strewn with cobwebs except for one table. That table top was clean of dust but was littered with two empty cans and a bent spoon. Spooky.

A car horn blared. I headed for the door, yelling, “Hello!”

The moment I was on the street, the State Trooper stopped honking his horn and called out “Thank heavens! You okay?”

“Yes. My car broke down.”

“I saw it and figured you came here.”

“You were looking for me?”

“Nope. I came out to check on the fire. Rancher down the way heard the explosion last night.”

Looking around I finally clued in that the stage office was no longer standing. It was a burnt out shell. How could I have missed an explosion?

“I was camping there,” I said dully. “My bag was in there.”

“You’re just lucky you got out in one piece ma’am. Looks like it was a near thing.”

I followed his gaze and took in my disheveled and sooty clothes. I put a hand to my forehead and found a lump.

“Did you light the stove ma’am? Cause those old chimneys are dangerous. Creosote builds up in them. Animals nest in them. Deadly combination. I’m thinking we should get you to the clinic and have doc check you out.

I nodded.

With my last look back, I saw the man in the black frock coat. I mouthed thank you. He tipped his hat to me.

Was he the ghost of Tex Raddon or a Christmas Angel? Either way, he was my hero.

Alison Bruce is the author of UNDER A TEXAS STAR and DEADLY LEGACY. She's also the blog host.

Check the list for more shorts.