Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween: Yesterday and Today

“For as long as she could remember, Jilly MacPherson had always loved October. She loved the vibrant colors, the smoky scent in the air, and the feeling of things being just on the brink of change. Jilly lived at the end of a street on the edge of town, in a big Victorian house that had more room than she would ever need, a huge garden out back and an apple orchard on the hill. She shared the house’s thirteen rooms with three cats she’d rescued from the county shelter and their nemesis, Jinx. It was a peaceful life that was just right for Jilly, in spite of what the townspeople often said about her. But after almost a year of living here alone, she was used to their talk, and she seldom felt lonely. It was infinitely better than the life she’d left behind.” 

This excerpt is from October Spell, one of the mini-romances in my latest release, Autumn’s Gold, that is available on Amazon. Like Jilly, I’ve always enjoyed the third season, and especially Halloween that caps off the glorious month of October. I love the brilliant colors and misty fields, and since we live not far from a plethora of farms, the many pumpkin stands that decorate the landscape this time of year. I always make sure I have a few pumpkins in my yard, along with my favorite scarecrows. While I’m up for a good ghost story, and I don’t mind a little creepy, spooky stuff, I’m more for the fun aspects of the holiday, and less of the scary. I do remember a couple of times that I did get some good scares, though, and they’ve always stuck in my mind.

As newlyweds, my husband and I lived in a small summer cottage for a few months. It was the first time I could anticipate handing out treats on Halloween, since I’d lived in the country all my life where houses were few and far between. I was excited and bought a ton of candy, expecting lots of trick or treaters. Then nobody came, and I was so disappointed. Finally, I heard someone at the door, and I was ready to give them all the candy. Except when I went to the door, no one was there. I was just ready to look outside when a tall witch stepped into the doorway right in front of me. I about passed out. It was only my neighbor, dressed up and going around with her boys, but man, for a second there she had me.

When my daughter was about six, I took her and two of her young cousins to a haunted house at our local mall. It was put on by the community college’s drama department, and I truly did not expect it to be that scary (think a few funny masks and maybe some jack-o-lanterns). WRONG! It was a nightmare, with some guy lying in a casket and a woman standing next to it sobbing. Then there was the guy with the chainsaw who asked if we wanted to be next to get chopped up. I was  glad to get us out of there, and I was so sorry I’d taken the kids through it. I was sure they were traumatized, but I’m guessing years later I probably remember more about it than they do. There is a very elaborate haunted house theme park about 20 miles from us that brings in tons of visitors every year, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to go to it. Guess I’m not as brave as I think I am. I would probably rather just enjoy a nice ride in the country like we did last Sunday, to see the beautiful fall colors.

After many more years of living in the country, we are now in a subdivision, and I enjoy having kids trick or treating at my door. I’m sure Zombie, our resident black cat, will be more than happy to help me greet them while his brother Sammie will probably just hide till it’s all over. I’m thinking maybe Zombie will have to wear at least a Halloween bandanna. I’m just hoping for the weather to hold out so I don’t get stuck with too many of those fun-size candy bars.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Legacy of Love, from Autumn's Gold

The first thing Lauren noticed when she opened her eyes was the pair of crystal-blue ones staring at her. They were surrounded by a furry face, and the nose that nudged her hand was cold and wet. The husky lay her muzzle on the sofa and whined softly.

“Okay, Juno, stand aside. Let’s give the lady something warm to drink.”
The man who crouched down beside Lauren was big and his face stern, but she sensed a kindness in his voice that quelled her sudden fear. He eased another pillow behind her and held a mug to her lips. Gratefully she sipped the tea. She still felt chilled, but at least her toes weren’t numb anymore.

“How do you feel?” he asked when the tea was gone.
Her hand went instinctively to her stomach. The baby was quiet. Was her daughter sleeping? Lauren gave a gentle prod and received a comforting kick in return.

“Okay, I think.” She managed a wry grin that turned into a grimace when the baby gave a luxuriant stretch.
“What is it?” Lauren’s rescuer looked alarmed. “You’re not…”

“No,” she quickly assured him. “I’ve another month to go, and first babies are usually late.”    She didn’t think he believed her. He studied her face for a moment and then went back to the cabin’s small kitchen.
“I’ve got some soup here if you feel up to it.”

“Sounds great.” Lauren had to admit now that she had warmed up she felt starved. “I can come to the table.” In a second he was back at her side. “I’m really all right,” she said, but she let him help her up.
“Hmmph,” was all he said.

The food soon had warmth and strength flowing back through her veins.

“Thank you so much.” She pushed the empty bowl away and finished another cup of tea. She stared down at her hands clasped about the mug. “I guess I’m really lucky you found me…us.”

“It’s really none of my business, but may I ask what you were doing out in such a snowstorm?”
“It wasn’t snowing when I started out,” she defended herself.

“Which means you’d been driving for a while. Excuse me for wondering, but where is your husband? Or…significant other? Why did he let you out in your…condition?”

“Simple. I haven’t one, or the other.” She tried to sound nonchalant, but the words were hard to say and fell like lead snowflakes.
Matthew didn’t say anything but went about clearing the table.

“You’d better rest some more,” he finally advised.
Lauren crept back to the sofa and watched the man who had pulled her from the snowy ditch. Now that she had a moment to study him, he looked vaguely familiar, though she certainly didn’t know why. It appeared he lived alone, except for the dog.

When he finished the dishes, he came back to stand beside the sofa. “Is there someone you want to call, let them know you’re all right?”
Lauren concentrated on petting the husky. “No, there’s no one.” The truth was still painful, but Lauren knew she must come to grips with it, and she must be strong, for the baby’s sake. Her grandfather would have expected it of her.

“You’re sure?” Matthew narrowed his gaze on her. “There’s obviously been a man in your life and if it’s a lover’s spat that drove you out into the storm it wasn’t very smart.”
The eyes she turned up to him were the soft color of moss, warm but secretive and hiding a terrible hurt. “I’m sure,” she whispered.

The words struck some deep part of Matthew, the part that could still feel sympathy for another’s pain. He believed her, and her very aloneness made him remember what it was like to have no one on your side.

Coming soon on Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bus Ride to Love, from Autumn's Gold

When the bus stopped to change drivers again, it was late afternoon. Ellen’s headache had subsided to a dull echo. Too bad the music hadn’t.

She roused herself just enough to peer out the bus window. The snow was now falling faster, flakes the size of silver-dollar pancakes. Having grown up here in the northern Midwest, Ellen remembered how quickly this kind of snow could accumulate.

She stretched her cramped legs and debated making a trek into the bus station. They were scheduled to stop for supper, but right now she could sure use something hot to drink. She had very nearly decided to escape inside, if just to get away from the loud music for a few moments, when he stepped inside the bus. Ellen’s first thought was that Paul Bunyan had tromped down out of the north woods to look for Babe the Blue Ox. Then she noticed the gray jacket with the bus-line emblem on the shoulder and realized this was their new driver.

He stood at the front of the bus, surveying them all with a gaze of pure steel. Burly wasn’t the word to describe him. More like massive. His chest was wide and the sleeves of the jacket strained over bulging biceps. Musclemen didn’t usually do much for Ellen, but she had the feeling this fellow came by his brawn quite honestly. He’d probably never seen the inside of a workout gym or health club in his life.

With cool gray eyes, he swept over the rows of passengers and settled at last on the three orange-haired rockers. Ellen saw his jaw clamp down hard.

“My name is Douglas Maddock,” he finally spoke, his voice a deceptively soft sound that could be heard even above the music. “I’ll be your driver for the next eight hours, possibly longer if this weather keeps up. I’m telling you right now, I don’t believe in pushing it in a storm. I’ll go as fast as I think it’s safe to go and not a bit faster. If you’re late to your destination, at least I’ll have done my best to get you there alive.”

His gaze traveled again, and for a few seconds it rested on Ellen where she had scrunched down in her seat. A tentative smile threatened the corners of his stern mouth, especially when he noticed her proximity to Derry’s Deviates.

 Bracing his big hands on his hips, he glared at them.

“Now,” he gave them his full attention. “I don’t know what in the hell has been going on in this bus since it left Chicago, but you better know that I won’t put up with it. This means if you must play music, it will be played at a tolerable level. And I’m talking about tolerable to the rest of us. The first person who violates this will be put out of the bus, and I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the North Dakota prairie.”

Stop by for tomorrow's excerpt from Legacy of Love.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

October Spell: from Autumn's Gold

October Spell


For as long as she could remember, Jilly MacPherson had always loved October. She loved the vibrant colors, the smoky scent in the air, and the feeling of things being just on the brink of change. Jilly lived at the end of a street on the edge of town, in a big Victorian house that had more room than she would ever need, a huge garden out back, and an apple orchard on the hill. She shared the house’s thirteen rooms with three cats she’d rescued from the county shelter and their nemesis, Jinx. It was a peaceful life that was just right for Jilly, in spite of what the townspeople often said about her. But after almost a year of living here alone, she was used to their talk, and she seldom felt lonely. It was infinitely better than the life she’d left behind. 

She added a final pumpkin to the shop’s window display and stood back to view her work. Tomorrow, she would begin to paint the smaller pumpkins with faces. Those always went over well at the farmer’s market. Right now, she needed to clean the walkway that was suddenly covered with maple leaves.

 She had just finished raking them into a neat, multi-colored mountain when a football came sailing out of nowhere and landed in the middle of it, missing her head by inches. She heard children’s voices.

“Now you’re gonna get it. I’m tellin’ Dad.”

“But I didn’t kick it! Kevin did.”

Jilly turned around just in time to see one of the neighborhood boys pedaling his bike as fast as he could in the opposite direction. It didn’t surprise her. She’d had run-ins with Kevin before, like last week when she’d caught him smashing pumpkins in her garden.

A moment later a small boy of about six or seven stood next to her. He looked terrified.

“I-I’m s-sorry,” he managed to say.

“No problem.” Jilly leaned down to pluck the football from the nest of leaves. She bounced it up and down in her hand before handing it back to him. “Is it yours?”

The boy nodded.

“How come Kevin had it?”

“Because he’s a bully,” the other child piped up. “Dad said we shouldn’t even play with him, and now Robbie’s in trouble.”

“It’s not my fault,” Robbie wailed again. “And if you tell Dad, I’ll pull your hair!”

“Oh yeah? Well, let’s see you try it.” The kid whipped off a baseball cap and swung her dark braids temptingly close to the boy. When he reached for one, Jilly figured this had gone far enough.

“Hold it now, folks,” she said and stepped between the two who were obviously brother and sister. “I’m sure we can settle this peacefully. First off, my name’s Jilly MacPherson, and since I’ve lived on this street for a while I know just about everybody in the neighborhood. But I don’t think we’ve met before.”

She waited. The boy scuffed one worn sneaker over the other and mumbled, “Robbie Spencer. She’s Cathy.”

“We’re not supposed to give our names to strangers. Especially not her.” The girl reached out and gave his arm a yank. “Come on, there’s Dad. We better get home.”

She hauled her brother down the street to where a late model SUV had pulled to the curb. Jilly recognized the driver when he stepped out—a tall, athletic man with a thatch of curly black hair. He’d moved into the neighborhood this past summer, and Jilly had heard he was the new biology teacher and football coach at the high school.

The girl clutched her brother’s sweatshirt sleeve and chattered to the man. When he looked Jilly’s way, she quickly snatched up her rake and went to work on the leaves again. No need for him to see her staring like some nosy busybody. Heaven knew this town had enough of them.
Excerpt from October Spell from Autumn's Gold.
Stop by tomorrow for an excerpt from Bus Ride to Love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Autumn's Gold: an excerpt from Patchwork Autumn

     This is an excerpt from my fourth e-book collection of short stories that will soon be available on Kindle. In Patchwork Autumn, Marty Cutter is raising her young niece on Shadow Mountain, Montana. When Jenny becomes sick, Marty rushes her to the clinic in town...where she meets Dr. Patrick Brady, a man with sparkling Irish blue eyes and a knack for doling out a healthy dose of encouragement to a doubtful Marty. But when he asks her to make a special quilt for him, she has to wonder, who will he give it to?

"To Marty’s relief, the snow went north the way it sometimes did in early autumn. But after another sleepless night waiting for Jenny’s fever to break, she felt ready to drop. When the fever finally did leave, the child fell into a deep sleep. Wrapped in a quilt, Marty curled into her cricket rocker and dozed off. In the late afternoon someone knocked at the door. To her surprise, Dr. Brady waited on the cabin’s front porch, the collar of his flannel-lined denim jacket turned up against the wind that whistled through the lodge pole pines.

Marty quickly pulled open the door and let him in.

“Dr. Brady, are you lost?”

He shook off the cold and set down his black medical bag.

“Isn’t this Shadow Mountain?”

“Yes, of course, but why are you here?” Was Jenny’s illness more serious than he’d let on?

 He saw her frown. “Not to worry. Just making some home visits. It’s something I worked out with the county when I started at the clinic. I know there are other folks up here that might have a problem getting into town.”

He glanced around the cabin, his perusal taking in the simple but cozy surroundings. His gaze rested on the piles of colorful quilt squares piled next to Marty’s sewing machine, then drifted to the sofa where Jenny slept snugly wrapped in the pink and turquoise quilt Marty had made when she’d first brought her niece home with her.

“How is she doing today? Did the fever break this morning?”

Marty set aside the quilt from around her shoulders and went to Jenny’s side. The doctor followed.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“It’s just the way this particular bug has been working on kids.” He felt the child’s forehead, then took out his stethoscope, warming the diaphragm before listening to her breathing through it. Jenny never stirred, and it was a relief to see her resting so much easier than the past few days.

“Lungs sound clear. She’s sleeping well. I’d say Jenny is on the mend. She’ll probably wake up famished. You’re an excellent guardian, Ms. Cutter.”

He turned and gave her that charming smile. The effect sent a zing shooting along Marty’s backbone and her knees went weak. For a moment she wavered, and then the doctor took her by the arm and led her to the rocker, pushing her gently to sit.

“Okay, open up.” He flicked on his flashlight and peered down her throat, touched a light hand to her forehead. “Are you feeling ill? No nonsense now.”

“It’s only that I haven’t slept well since Jenny’s been sick. Seriously, I’m all right, just tired.”

“Then it’s time you had a break. Doctor’s orders. Just tell me where you keep your coffee. I could use a good strong cup myself.” He shrugged off his jacket and hung it by the door.

“Sorry.” Marty said. “I don’t drink it. All I have is hot chocolate and herbal tea.”

He took the news with admirable stoicism. “Well, guess that will just have to do. I’ll make the best of it.”
He put up the tea kettle. Marty admitted to herself that it felt good to sit here and let someone else make the tea. She watched Dr. Brady move about the alcove of a kitchen. He was tall and lean, with a rangy look to him. Crinkle lines etched the corners of his eyes. Definitely a man who spent a good deal of time outdoors."

From Autumn's Gold: A Patchwork Autumn

Tomorrow, look for an excerpt from October Spell.