Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Sweet Christmas Romance Collection #MFRWHooks

 


Merry & Bright

A Sweet Collection of Christmas Stories

by Denise Devine

On Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

It's the happiest season of all...

With snowflakes dancing in the frosty air, and the ring of carols everywhere, Christmas holds a special place in our hearts, our favorite time of the year. Set in the Midwest, this sweet collection of "Happily Ever After" Christmas stories are sure to brighten your day and lift your spirits. Enjoy them all year!

A Merry Little Christmas

Merry Connor is struggling to feed her two children, pay heat bills, and fix her secondhand car.

Though she’s barely making it financially, life is good. That is, compared to two years ago when she lost everything—thanks to her lying, deceiving ex-husband. She’s come a long way since then and doesn’t intend to look back. Even so, it’ll be a long time before she trusts anyone with her heart again.

Tony Lewis hasn’t had a merry Christmas since his wife and son perished in a car collision three years ago.

The holidays are lonely without his family, but his heart begins to mend when he meets Merry Connor and her two rambunctious kids. He can’t stop thinking about her and yearns to get closer to her. Will she turn him away once she learns of his connection to her ex-husband?

A Christmas to Remember

Katie McGowan is desperate to make it home for Christmas.

Since the death of her husband in a snowmobile accident two years ago, her family has filled the void left by Josh’s passing. Returning home from a business trip on December 23rd, Katie finds herself trapped by a blizzard in Alexandria, Minnesota. Stranded travelers have filled the hotels, leaving her no choice but to take an executive suite in the same resort where Josh died.

Ryan Scott intends to spend the weekend at Lakewood Resort, riding his new snowmobile and dodging Christmas.

His parents’ sudden divorce announcement has ruined his holiday and he’s in no mood to socialize. His plan derails, however, when he meets Katie McGowan and she steals his heart.

Overwhelmed by memories of the past, neither Katie nor Ryan believes they are open to the possibilities of a new relationship. But a little bit of Christmas magic, along with a stray dog rescued from the storm, gives them a reason to unwrap their hearts. Together, they find the courage to rediscover the joy of the holiday season.

Once Upon a Christmas

When old friends reunite, will a new enemy keep them apart?

Ashton Wyatt has spent a decade running from her past.

Hanging out with a bad crowd in high school cost Ashton her reputation, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her parents. Determined to start over, she has moved far away, but can't escape the loneliness that shrouds her heart. When she receives an offer to return to the small, tourist town of West Loon Bay to revive The Ramblin' Rose bar with her sister and her cousin, she accepts the challenge, hoping to repair the bond with her family as well. But just when her life is on the mend, she crosses paths with someone from her past and things spin out of control...

The last thing Sawyer Daniels needs is to get mixed up with the town's wild child.

Sawyer did his share of partying and keeping the cops busy in his misspent youth, but he has long since abandoned that crowd in order to make some sense of his life. He's already under contract to renovate The Ramblin' Rose when he learns Ashton Wyatt is back in town. Though the situation gets off to a rocky start, their friendship grows as they work side by side. He doesn't realize how much he's grown to care for her until a stalker puts her life in danger. Now that he's finally found his true love, is he about to lose her?

So This is Christmas

Annabelle Lee - She's looking forward to a weekend of catching up, munching cookies, and enjoying Christmas cheer with her childhood girlfriends. She hasn't had a vacation since this time last year and desperately needs the time off. Her business has taken a toll on her life, leaving her exhausted and questioning the price of success. She arrives early at Ellie Stone's family cabin to relax and decide the direction of her future, but to her dismay, she's not alone. Ellie's twin brother is also there and declares he isn't leaving until Friday.

Christopher Stone - He's the boy who mercilessly teased her when they were kids. He's grown into a handsome man with a career in professional baseball and a pop-star girlfriend. He appears to have an idyllic life, but the longer they talk, the more Annabelle suspects his love life isn't as perfect as he claims. She can't deny her attraction to him and knows he's attracted to her as well.

Best Friends Forever - Will this week proceed like old times or turn out to be a new chapter in her life?

Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Get your copy today!



Want to find more good authors who write sweet romance? Join my reader group - Happily Ever After Stories. If you like sweet romance and want to be part of a great group that has lots of fun and fantastic parties, visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/HEAstories/.


Read all of the first chapters of Denise's books by clicking on any story in the title bar at the top of this blog!




Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Invincible Secrets 99¢ #MFRWHooks




Nine Fabulous Romances for only 99¢! Get your copy today of INVINCIBLE SECRETS – A bestseller on Amazon! Free on Kindle Unlimited!

Everyone Has Secrets; Some More Devastating Than Others…

Presenting a brand-new collection of page-turning romance and suspense from NINE International USA Today Bestselling, Award-Winning Authors.

Nine stories, nine heart-wrenching soon to be revealed secrets. Can the truth really set them free?

GEORGIA MOON (new): Jen Talty, USA Today bestselling author: He wants to give her everything, but she wants the truth. And the truth could kill them both.

ALANA (new): Denise Devine Meinstad, USA Today bestselling author: Done with men…or so she thought.

THE SISTER PACT (new): Jacquie Biggar, USA Today bestselling author: Two sisters lose sight of what's most important- family bonds.

THE SET UP (new): Dani Haviland, USA Today bestselling author: Life was perfect until her mother took over.

ALL OR NOTHING: Natalie Ann, USA Today bestselling author: Can the explosive chemistry between Ben and Presley survive the secrets they both hide when the truth is finally revealed?

BIGGER THINGS: Ev Bishop, USA Today bestselling author: Lifelong friends, Jen, Chelsea and Kyra know everything about each other. Or think they do.

KIP’S RESOLUTION: Alicia Street, USA Today bestselling author: Mina has been the good girl her whole life, but her bargain with Kip uncovers secrets they both have to face.

CLOSED DOORS: Nancy Radke, USA Today bestselling author: Can she keep his secret and not destroy him and his company?

THE LIBERATION OF RAVENNA MORTON: Suzanne Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author: Ravenna's granddaughter uncovers secrets no one wants to face.

Excerpt of The Set Up by Dani Haviland

“Do you promise not to kick me out of bed – or at least your life – if I tell you a secret?”

“Cross my heart, hope to go broke…”

“You’re so silly. That’s one of the many characteristics I like about you.” She took a deep breath, shut her eyes so she wasn’t looking at him, and said, “My mother set us up. Or she kinda sorta made me at least try to seduce you. But…”

“Yeah, so,” Alex said, then put his hand on her cheek. “Look at me.”

Grimacing with embarrassment, Grace opened one eye and saw his concern, then opened her other eye.

“But,” he prompted.

“But I didn’t think I was going to like you. At least this much. You’re a blast to be around. I mean, I have – or had – a boyfriend, and I’m pals with lots of guys at school, but you’re nothing like them.”

“I hope I have a few years of maturity on them. I’m sure most of them will grow up eventually. So, does this mean you’re hanging around with me because you want to now, and not because your mother wants you to? It was kind of obvious when she dropped by that she was making sure the mouse had taken the bait.”

“You, my dear friend,” Grace said, crisscrossing the curly hairs on his chest, “are not a mouse. You are more of a man than I thought I could ever have. So, now that I’ve said that, did I just cook the goose that laid the golden egg? Are you going to take me for a quick trip in your helicopter, and then I’ll never hear from you again?”

“Nope.”

“I mean, you’ll probably have someone send me a Christmas card...”

“Grace, I’d like to spend Christmas Eve with you. I’m not a gambling man, but unless the world comes crashing down around us, I don’t see any reason why we can’t spend Christmas week in Sydney then sailing the warm waters toward Tahiti.”

“Or making snowmen in Tahoe?”

“Tahoe or Tibet or wherever you want. But I really would like to take off before it gets too late. I can’t fly at night yet. That’s another level of certification. I was going to take a few more hours of class, but I think I just found another passion. Flying will have to wait.”




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Passionate Protectors 99 Cents! #MFRWHooks




SIX FULL-LENGTH ROMANTIC SUSPENSE NOVELS FROM NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHORS

On Pre-order today for only 99 cents! Don’t wait! Get your copy today!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CD1H2FQ
When danger abounds, passionate protectors rush to the frontline to shield and defend. Homicide detectives, US marshals, and secret agents chase the guilty, thwart attacks, and endanger themselves with a zeal to protect. When love ignites and emotions run hot, these men and women put it all on the line. From New York to Chicago, Bangkok to a remote lake in Minnesota, nonstop adventure and steam sizzle when romance and suspense combust.

Patricia Rosemoor – Obsession – A driven female cop teams up with an irresistible ex-con to bring a killer to justice. Can they stop the sexual predator before he strikes again? NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

Rachelle Ayala – Triggered by Love – After her firefighter fiancé is shot, all Avery Cockburn has between her shattered heart and death is the cocky – and very determined – detective, Jason Burnett. USA Today Bestselling Author

Susanne Matthews – Sworn to Protect – A secret is locked in Nancy’s mind. Can Neil protect his estranged wife from someone determined to silence her forever? Award-winning Bestselling Author

Taylor Lee – The Bangkok Affair – Going undercover in a high-end Bangkok brothel brings a feisty redhead face to face with a villain as charming as he is evil. Fortunately, her bad-ass lover doesn’t take a back seat to anyone. Sparks fly both inside and outside of the bedroom! USA Today Bestselling Author

Stacy Eaton – Second Shield –Together they will uncover the evil from within and try to deny the passions that rage between them. USA Today Bestselling Author

Excerpt from...
Small Town Girl
The soft rap on Annika’s door surprised her. Only one person would show up this late without calling first. It was inconvenient, but she didn’t think it was a good idea to give him her cell number. Even so, her heart fluttered at the thought of seeing him again.

When she opened the door, he towered over her in snug-fitting jeans and a black T-shirt that outlined his muscular silhouette. His handsome grin and locks of thick black hair falling across his forehead enhanced his bad-boy look, making it difficult for her to stop staring at him.

“Hi,” Alex said and held up her red flashlight. “I needed to return this anyway so I thought I’d stop by and ask if you wanted to walk with me down to the lake again. We need to talk about this issue with your poems being turned into lyrics for our songs.”

Don’t fall for that line, she thought desperately. Don’t let yourself get sucked into a pattern of seeing him that you’ll truly regret later.

He probably wanted to apologize for eavesdropping on her conversation with Erik. Or maybe he planned to tell her it was too late to give her credit for the songs. Regardless of his reasons, it was a bad idea to go with him because it would only encourage him to keep coming by to see her.

Annika glanced down at her ankle-length nightgown, looking for a convenient excuse to refuse him. “I’m not dressed to go out.”

He leaned against the door frame, his confident expression signaling he was undeterred by her excuse. “No problem. I’ll wait outside while you change.”

She folded her bare arms and frowned. “I don’t think so, Alex. I’m tired—”

“Aw, c’mon.” he said in a soft, cajoling tone. “You can’t stay cooped up in this oven of an apartment every night. The fresh air will do you good.”

“Yeah…no…I don’t—”

His eyes crinkled as he tugged on her long braid draped over her shoulder. “Don’t forget to put on mosquito spray.” He placed his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be downstairs, waiting for you.”
He shut the door in her face.

“Oh!” She grumbled to herself as she stomped into her bedroom to change. “Five minutes. He’d better talk fast because that’s all he’s getting from me. And if he’s got his sights on anything else…” In a hurry, Annika jerked off her nightgown and slipped on a peach knit tee. “I’ve got plans for this summer and it doesn’t include being taken for a ride by a smooth-talkin’ rock star.” She froze. “Does that sound crazy or what?” She grabbed a pair of stretch jeans and shimmied into them. “It’s incredible how crazy can quickly become normal.”

Annika slipped on her tennis shoes, doused herself with mosquito spray and grabbed her flashlight. She opened the front door, stepping into the hot, sultry night air. She found him in his usual place, relaxing against her car. “Let’s go.”

Alex slapped his cap on his head and made a grand sweep of his hand. “Ladies first.”

She passed by him and led the way, anxious to get going. He caught up to her quickly. “Whoa, slow down,” he said gripping his wide palm on her narrow shoulder blade. “We’re taking a walk, not training for a marathon.”

Annika slowed down but was silent, fiddling with her flashlight as they walked down the alley, avoiding the narrow greenspace between the buildings where bar patrons were smoking.
Alex stilled her hand. “Is something wrong?”

She gave him a sideways glance. “Why do you say that?”

He slid his hand around her arm and stopped as he slowly turned her toward him. “You seem distant. Are you upset with me because I overheard you and Erik arguing?”

She pulled her arm away. “No, and we weren’t arguing. We were just…discussing the situation.”
“I didn’t set out to intrude on your conversation,” he said sincerely. “I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually, I think it was more like being in the wrong place at the right time. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found out that you should have been given credit for writing our songs. You should have also received fair compensation.”

She shook her head. “I’m not in it for the money.”

Alex sighed, sounding frustrated. “That’s noble, Annika, but you should have been paid. Each of your songs made millions. If the press got wind of this issue, it would be disastrous.”

“Oh, no! That can’t happen!” She stared up at him, panicking. “Look, I—I don’t want to cause any trouble for Erik. He means too much to me. I’d rather let him get all of the credit than cause a scandal. Besides, the songs were rarely recorded word for word from my poems. He changed a lot of things to adapt them and make them better. It was more like a collaboration.”

Alex moved close, resting one hand on the back of her head, the other gripping her chin as their gazes held. “You’re amazing. Erik is lucky to have you as a sister,” he said gently. “It’s a mess, to be sure. I’m not happy with your brother at the moment, but don’t worry about it, honey. If you’re willing to work with us on this, we’ll figure something out.”

The deep, throaty timbre of his voice when he called her honey caused her heart to jump. She swallowed hard as she looked away.

When they resumed walking, she knew she should pull away and head back to her apartment, but she couldn’t. Despite her best intentions, she found herself drawn to him.

They reached the shore and walked along the aluminum dock. At the end, Alex sat down, causing the dock to rock gently in the water. He looked back and patted the spot next to him. “Let’s sit here for a while.” He gazed up at the cloudy sky. “It would be fun to jump in and take a refreshing swim to cool off in this heat, but the moon isn’t shining tonight and I’m afraid it wouldn’t be wise when we can’t see each other very well in the water,” he said as he pulled his tennis shoes off and rolled up his pant legs. “This will have to do.”

Annika toed off her tennis shoes and sat down then pulled off her socks and rolled up her pant legs. She plunged her feet into the cool, refreshing water of Lake Tremolo. “Oh, that feels so good.”
He smiled but didn’t share what he was thinking.

She braced her palms on the edge of the dock and leaned forward, slowly moving her feet back and forth in the water. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“That depends,” he replied warily as he turned his head toward her.

His answer puzzled her. “On what?”

“On how deep you want to go.”

She laughed nervously, realizing he was referring to his life on the road. “Okay—it’s not that kind of personal. It’s just something I find curious.”

“All right,” he said, sounding cautious. “What do you want to know?”

Annika touched his forearm with her finger. “You don’t have any tattoos. Any. The rest of the guys have distinctive ones.”

Alex grinned broadly. “Oh, you mean like—the names of former girlfriends?” He followed up with a droll laugh. “Boy, Jonas really regrets that particular moment of weakness. She’s been gone for a long time.”

Annika groaned impatiently. “Are you stalling?”

“It’s a long story.”

She poked him in the forearm. “Then give me the short answer.”

He went silent.

“Alex, I’m waiting,” Annika said in a sing-song voice.

“You’d better never breathe a word of this to another soul. If you do, I’ll deny it.”

She leaned back on her hands and splashed water on him by vigorously kicking her feet. “I’m still waiting…”

“Hey!” He raised one hand to shield himself from the splash. “I have a problem with needles.”

“Like what kind of problem?” Surprised, she sat up. “Do you faint or get sick?”

He pressed his fingers against her lips. “I think that’s enough questions for one day.”

Laughing, Annika pulled her feet out of the water and scooted backwards to let them air dry so she could put her shoes on again, but she moved so quickly she lost her balance and fell backwards, smacking her head and shoulders on the aluminum planks. Her clumsiness made her laugh.

“Careful,” Alex warned as he slid his arms around her to pull her back to a sitting position. “Are you all right?”

Well… she thought, I was…

He was so close she could feel the rise and fall of his chest. The woody, aromatic fragrance of his bold cologne mixed with the heat of his body like a heady mist. His arms held her in a gentle, but protective manner. “I’m—I’m fine,” she murmured. Sitting with him like this was way too close for comfort. She knew she should pull away, but she couldn’t move. His nearness was intoxicating.
She looked up, and though it was too dark to look into his eyes, she knew by the tilt of his head his lips were a breath away. Slowly, as if giving her time to refuse, he moved closer and placed his lips on hers. His kiss was tender at first, but when she didn’t resist, his mouth crushed hers as his arms tightened around her. In the heat of the moment, her resistance dissipated. She slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back, melting into him as her heart pounded in sync with his.

As he ended the kiss, she leaned her forehead against his, stunned, with her hands splayed on his chest. She could barely breathe. She closed her eyes, desperate to calm her thundering heart.
“If you don’t want to continue this,” he whispered in her ear, “just say so and I’ll stop.”

Don’t…what? Her thoughts were a jumbled mess as her mind raced to make sense of what was happening. She stared up at his shadowed face. “Why did you kiss me?”

“I hadn’t planned to do that, but I couldn’t stand it any longer,” he said huskily. “I had to find out what I was missing.”

His reply sounded so much like a cliché, it jerked her back to her senses. How many other women had he used that line on? Realizing what an idiot she’d been to let herself be taken in by him, her hands gripped his shirt. “Don’t play me for a fool, Alex. I may have been born and raised in a town the size of a postage stamp, but I’m not naive. I’m the lucky girl you’ve chosen to be your entertainment while you’re in town, aren’t I?”

“That’s not true,” he replied, sounding hurt. “I’d never treat you that way.”

“Then be honest with me. Why did you kiss me? I’m not glamorous or high-maintenance like the women you usually chase. I read the tabloids. If anything, I’m the total opposite.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, sweetheart,” he said softly. “Beauty is more than fake body parts and Botox. The best makeup artist in the world can’t fix a shallow, self-absorbed personality.” He brushed her cheek with his thumb. “You have no idea how desirable you are.” He chuckled. “Especially in that long nightgown.”

She snorted. “It was pink with black cats printed all over it.”

“Really?” he replied. “I didn’t notice.”

“C’mon, Alex, a guy like you doesn’t fall for a woman like me.”

“What makes you so sure of that?”

This can’t be real, she thought. It’s too good to be true.

She closed her eyes to keep them from misting. “We don’t have anything in common. You’re rich and talented and wildly successful. I’m merely a small-town girl,” she said, her voice wavering, “with nothing to show for her life but unfulfilled dreams.”

“Annika,” he whispered breathlessly, “that’s not true. You’re so much more. I can’t explain why but ever since the day I walked into the café and saw you I haven’t been able to get you off my mind. Everything about you is so natural and genuine. You have no idea how rare that is in my world.”

“You have no idea how boring and tedious my world is,” she shot back. “Carly Strand feels the same way, but we have plans. We’re finally going to do something about it.”

He took his arms away and shifted his body, settling next to her. “Are you going into business together?”

“We’re taking a road trip at the end of July, heading out west. If we like it there, we may not come back so I’ve been desperately trying to convince my mother to turn my job over to Penny. That way my parents will still be able to operate the café and draw an income from it.” She expelled a frustrated sigh. “My mother is so stubborn. The boss always knows best and always gets the last word! She won’t listen to me.”

His silence indicated he was absorbing her words. After a few moments he said, “Take it from me, wherever you go, you won’t find the kind of happiness you’re looking for. After years of searching, I’ve come to realize that true joy in life derives from the things money can’t buy.”

Annika brushed droplets of lake water off her skin and began rolling down her pant legs. “We’ll never know until we try.”

“Maybe so,” Alex said, “but I hope you don’t find out the hard way like I did.” He placed his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her close. “Don’t go, Annika. Please, don’t leave.”

“Our plans are set. I promised Carly. I’m not letting her down.”

“Then I’ll just have to figure out a way to convince you to stay…” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her so passionately her head began to spin. She didn’t want to kiss him; didn’t want to be caught up in his irresistible charm, but she couldn’t help herself.

Car lights suddenly invaded their privacy.

Annika and Alex turned around at the same time to see who it was
.
“It’s a cop,” Alex blurted out as he scrambled to his feet and helped Annika get up.

She saw the lights and grabbed her shoes. “It’s Chris Peterson. I’ll talk to him.”

Chris’ spotlight swept across the beach and stopped at the dock, blinding them. “The beach is closed,” he yelled out the car window. “Get off the dock. Now.

“He’s an okay guy. We went to the senior prom together,” Annika said as they hurried toward the squad car. “Chris! It’s me, Annika!” His window slid down as she approached him. “Hi.”

The officer craned his neck to see who she was with. “Annika? What are you doing out here after dark? You know it’s not safe to be in the water at night.”

Annika bent at the waist to meet him at eye level. “We were sitting on the dock, trying to cool off, but we’re going now.”

Chris frowned at Alex, as though he disapproved of who Annika chose to spend her summer nights with toe-dipping in the lake. “Okay, but I don’t want to catch you out here again. Is that clear? I’ve got enough to do without playing lifeguard, too.”

“I understand,” Annika replied hurriedly as she straightened and grabbed Alex’s hand. “Goodnight!”
They sprinted across the beach and headed up Main Street. They were breathless by the time they hooked a right at Lake Street, went a half-block and cut through the alley to Annika’s place.

When they reached the stairway, she grabbed the mosquito spray off the car and halted at the bottom step. No way was she inviting him up to her apartment. Or falling into the trap of letting him kiss her again. “Alex, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us—”

“Wait.” He held up his hand as he cut her off. “Hear me out first.” He leaned against the railing to catch his breath. “Everything I told you tonight was the truth, Annika. From the bottom of my heart. I didn’t plan to purposely take you to the beach where we’d be alone so I could kiss you. It just happened, but I don’t regret it.”

She placed her foot on the next step, ready to sprint up the stairs. “I like you, Alex, but we’re worlds apart. Even if I wasn’t leaving town, it won’t be long before you’ll be ready to move on yourself so let’s leave things as they were before tonight. Let’s remain friends. Nothing more.”

He nodded; his disappointment showing. “What happens at the beach, stays at the beach.”

“Right.” She turned to go upstairs, but looked back. “That includes what I told you about Carly and me, too. I don’t want that getting back to my mother before I’ve had a chance to break it to her myself. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Goodnight then.” She ran up the stairs filled with bittersweet emotions. She’d never forget what it was like to be kissed by Zander Lang, frontman of the band “Wolfmoon,” but like Alex’s stage name, it wasn’t real. It was only part of his act.

~*~

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Sweet & Sassy Summertime - 99¢ - #MFRWHooks



SEVEN SWEET AND SASSY STORIES of SUMMER - Volume 2 - from International USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Authors.


On pre-order now for only 99 cents on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited! Get your copy today!

Days filled with lemon yellow sunshine, nights of velvety warmth… summertime is the season of love. Romantic tales filled with memorable characters, these nine binge-worthy books will sweep you away like a summer breeze.

Alyssa Bailey, USA Today Bestselling Author: When city ideals meet country tradition, the summer heat is the least of their worries.

Susanne Matthews, International Bestselling Author: The wedding may be canceled, but the honeymoon's on!

Josie Riviera, USA Today Bestselling Author: He’s all business. She loves to laugh. When business conflicts with pleasure, what could possibly go wrong?

Denise Devine, USA Today Bestselling Author: When Lisa’s life crashes, she returns to Enchanted Island. Is true love waiting in this idyllic place from her childhood?

Aileen Fish, USA Today Bestselling Author: Will Always Hopeful find her Sir Galahad?

Taylor Lee, USA Today Bestselling Author: An arrogant, go-it-alone homicide detective and a quirky intelligence analyst team up to solve a murder during the Summer Solstice Celebration.

Katy Walters, USA Today Bestselling Author: Could he protect her, would she continue refusing him? Little does he realize the height of passion, or the depth of terror that lay before them.


~*~

Excerpt from LISA by Denise Devine


“Do you have time to take a short walk after lunch?” he asked changing the subject again. “I’d like to view the site and discuss the architectural plans with you.”

Their lunch arrived while he was still speaking. The server set a long white platter in front of her containing a small, crab-stuffed lobster tail, two jumbo Cruzan garlic shrimp and grilled vegetables.

She laughed. “I’ll definitely need to get some exercise after eating this much food!”

After that, their discussion veered toward lighter subjects while they enjoyed their meal. Lisa passed on dessert, ordering a rich cup of freshly ground coffee instead.

The Regis property line ran parallel to the Amaryllis Hotel’s boundary. Lisa and Shawn left the restaurant and walked through the hotel lobby to the front plaza then crossed the gravel service road that separated the Amaryllis from the vacant property.

“Gosh, it looks so different now,” Lisa said, feeling sad as she scanned the empty acreage. “This entire area used to be dense forest. It’s a shame to destroy such natural beauty for a strip mall.” She pointed toward a narrow dirt trail that led to a rocky slope. “My cousins and I used to take this path down to the sea. We weren’t supposed to be on this side of the island, much less near the water without adult supervision, but that never stopped us.” She grinned mischievously. “We were looking for pirate treasure.”

Shawn grinned back. “Did you find any?”

“Ha-ha! We’d all be rich now if we had!”

They walked the length of the property, discussing the layout of the mall. Shawn showed her the plans for an L-shaped design housing eight units. He also pointed out the area where a stairway would lead to a long dock and a new stop for the water taxi.

“You do know what’s on the other side of this land, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “A privately-owned forest, I guess.”

“It’s ten square miles of forest, beaches and natural caves that, until recently, was owned by Anna LaBore,” Lisa said as they walked along. “She died about a year ago—at ninety-seven—and left her entire estate in a trust to the Island Preservation Commission. The land had been handed down from generation to generation in her family since the 1860s.”

Shawn stared at her in surprise. “What is the commission planning to do with it?”

“Oh, Anna left specific instructions on what she wanted the commission to do with her plantation,” she said as she stepped over a couple of flat rocks, “and she also left them her fortune to carry it out. Her home is currently undergoing restoration as a museum. It still has much of the original furnishings.”

“Really?” He stopped and gazed across the Regis land to the dense tropical forest on the LaBore property. “I’d like to see that.”

“Are you interested in history?” At his nod, she added, “The interior is in good shape, but the restoration team is still in the process of painting, upgrading the utilities and cataloging everything. It won’t be open for a couple of months.”

The excitement in his eyes dimmed. “I’ll probably be back in the states by then.”

They turned and began walking back to the hotel. “I’ve got an idea,” Lisa said, hoping her offer didn’t come across as a hair-brained scheme. “The house is fenced off to discourage gawkers from driving onto the property, and it sits on top of a hill so it’s visible for miles, but I know where there is a secret entrance. If you want to see the restoration in progress, I can get you in after hours and show you around.”

“Aren’t you worried about getting caught?” He frowned. “What if we trip an alarm? I’d hate to get arrested for trespassing.”

“This is Enchanted Island,” she replied with a wry chuckle. “There aren’t any alarms and we won’t get arrested. But we do have to be discreet and that’s why I suggested we use a specific entrance. Aunt Elsie is on the commission and she’d be upset if word got around that someone saw me snooping about the place without permission.”

Her sandal suddenly slipped on loose sand covering a flat rock. She screamed, dreading the embarrassment of falling flat on her butt like a klutz. Before she hit the ground, however, Shawn’s strong arms caught her and held her tight. In her panic, she threw her arms around his neck. Her soft cheek brushed the rough edge of his jaw, the bold scent of his cologne filled her nostrils.

He went still, holding her close.

“Thank you...for...catching me,” she said as she gazed into his eyes, barely aware that she’d spoken. She pulled her arms away and placed her palms against his broad, muscular chest.

“I didn’t want you to get hurt.” His throaty voice trailed off on a flat note, making him sound distracted.

She couldn’t look away, mesmerized by the tiny dimple in his chin, the softness in his hazel eyes. “We—we’d better get going. I need to be home by check-in time.”

He gently let go of her and glanced at his sport watch. “It’s almost three now.” He grabbed her hand and began to walk her back to the hotel. “I’ll give you a ride.”

She didn’t object. Eating a large lunch had made her tired and the thought of riding in a nice comfortable car rather than a windy, bumpy, taxi ride sounded heavenly.

Shawn didn’t say much on the short ride to the B&B and she wondered if he had second thoughts about going to the LaBore plantation or asking her to lunch today. She never meant to end up in his arms and hoped he didn’t think she’d deliberately slipped to force their close encounter. Some women did such things to attract men, but not her.

He pulled off the narrow road into the driveway of her house. Shifting the car into Park, he stared straight ahead as though deep in thought.

“Thank you for the ride. I appreciate it.” She grabbed her purse and placed her hand on the door latch, anxious to jump out and disappear into the house.

“So, did you mean that about getting inside the LaBore plantation? Do you really know of a secret entrance, or is it just a hole in the fence?”

“Yeah, I meant every word I said,” she countered, letting the snappy tone of her voice inform him that she hadn’t told him about it to brag or lie. “The secret entrance isn’t anywhere near a fence. It’s the opening of a cave.”

He turned toward her, his eyes widening with amazement. “Really? That sounds exactly like my kind of fun.” Flashing a wide grin, he leaned over and held up his palm for a high-five. “Lisa, you’re on. What time do you want me to pick you up?”

His sudden reaction wasn’t at all what she had expected, but it didn’t disappoint. She smacked palms with him and opened the door then slid out of the car. “Be back here at noon tomorrow,” she said, leaning inside to give him brief instructions. “We’ll have the plantation to ourselves because the restoration crew doesn’t work on Saturday. Since it gets dark early now, we’re going to need time to view the house and make it back through the woods before the sun goes down. Bring a good flashlight and make sure your phone is fully charged.”

She started to shut the door, thought better of it and leaned in again. “Oh, and wear jeans and heavy-duty tennis shoes, preferably dark-colored.”

“It’s starting to sound more like a secret mission than a field trip.”

She raised one brow. “You’ll see.”

She shut the door for good this time and walked slowly into the house, watching him back out and drive away.

It’s only a trip to explore the LaBore plantation—not a date, she thought to herself. I want to see what progress they’ve made anyway and it’ll be fun showing it to Shawn.

Still, she couldn’t deny how her heart fluttered at the thought of climbing through a dark cave with Shawn Wells.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08B45JD74

Want to read the entire first chapter of this story? Just scroll up to the title bar and you'll see a page for LISA. All of the above pages contain the first chapters of my books!






Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Bootlegger's Wife in KU #MFRWHooks




The Bootlegger's Wife
A Reader's Choice Favorite!

Available in Kindle and Kindle Unlimited


It’s 1925 in St. Paul, Minnesota, a haven for hardened criminals—and the women who find themselves trapped in a dangerous game…

Charlotte LeDoux’s nine-year marriage to bootlegging kingpin, Gus “Lucky” LeDoux, is falling apart. The same day Char learns she’s pregnant, she catches Gus in the act of adultery and it’s clear he has no intention of ending the affair. Soon after, their night club is raided by Federal agents. As she flees from the chaos, Char becomes separated from Gus and she’s faced with a choice: search out her fugitive husband or change her identity and disappear. With her life in shambles and her future in doubt, she knows what she must do to protect her child.

Char alters her appearance and takes a job in domestic service for a private investigator. At first, living in Will Van Elsberg’s home is quiet, comfortable and safe, but everything changes the day Gus seeks out Will to find his missing wife. As Will’s investigation closes in on her, Char must once again make a decision. Should she run away again or face her violent husband and fight for her freedom? With her back to the wall, Char discovers she has more strength and determination than she ever thought possible.

Download your copy at:
Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited
Book One of the Moonshine Madness series.

EXCERPT:

As I hurried through the inky darkness in sloshy T-strap shoes and a wet dress, I gradually felt no discomfort, only a strange sense of calm. Pulling my shawl tighter around my shoulders, I thought about what I’d do next. I had no idea where my husband was—in jail perhaps or...dead. Knowing Gus, he was still alive. He hadn’t earned the nickname “Lucky LeDoux” for nothing. To my astonishment, however, I didn’t care one way or the other. I only knew that I couldn’t live this life anymore—as a bootlegger’s wife.

The thought of leaving Gus terrified me, but at the same time it gave me a sense of hope for my baby’s future. Sadly, I knew better than to believe things could go back to the way they were before Prohibition when Gus worked in his father’s brewery. Once the Volstead Act passed—the eighteenth amendment—the LeDoux Brewery had been forced to shutter its doors, destroying the family income and causing his father, Rene Sr. to suffer a fatal heart attack. Gus’ deep-seated anger at the government for devastating his family and the folks who’d depended upon the brewery for their livelihood had fueled his decision to forge ahead despite the risks. Enlisting many of his former employees, he’d formed a new operation bootlegging Minnesota whiskey and operating La Coquette.

Now, he was a criminal, wanted by the Feds…

Before Prohibition, Gus and I had lived a simple life as an ordinary couple and we were happy together. Nowadays he preferred collecting barrels of money and spending it on women and other sinful pleasures more than he loved me. Even so, he’d never let me go if he discovered I planned to leave him—especially in my present condition. This I knew without a doubt.

Albert’s lifeless form flashed through my mind and I shuddered, wondering if I would ever feel safe again. My eyes smarted with tears. I couldn’t bear the thought of subjecting my child to the perilous life my husband had chosen.

I had two choices—locate Gus and live in constant danger or start a new life for myself and my unborn child. Casting apprehension and excuses aside, I told myself I needed to follow my instincts and do what would be best for my baby. It didn’t take long to choose my path.

Charlotte LeDoux had ceased to exist.






Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Sweet & Sassy Cinderella - 99¢ #MFRWHooks



SWEET AND SASSY CINDERELLA
9 Fabulous Romances for 99¢!
Available FREE to Kindle Unlimited members

US Kindle: https://amzn.to/2U3P2hb
UK Kindle:
https://amzn.to/2JJ1WNB
CA Kindle:
https://amzn.to/2HIAn53
AU Kindle:
https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07PX9R4KK

The most celebrated of classics, Cinderella has enchanted readers for hundreds of years. Now nine New York Times and USA Today Bestselling authors will keep you up past the stroke of midnight with their captivating contemporary stories as headstrong heroines and princely heroes dig through the cinders to find their own unique happily-ever-after.

Law of April by Suzanne Jenkins, USA Today Bestselling Author - April Beaulieu’s goal was to go to law school, and nothing, not even a gorgeous boss and his promises could sway her to give it up. Ryan Lawson did everything in his power to influence her, including falling in love at first sight. Would it be enough to capture her heart?

A Horse for Cinderella by Nancy Radke, USA Today Bestselling Author - She is not a thief! He has two horses — why does he think he also needs hers? After her stepmother throws her out, Elle needs her horse to survive. Who is this handsome man who took her horse, and is now calling her a thief because she took it back?

The Encore Bride by Denise Devine, USA Today Bestselling Author - Jenny Landon’s heart was broken when her husband tragically died. Can she put the past behind her and learn to love again? The tragic death of her husband has convinced Jenny Landon that her dreams don’t last and she never wants to risk losing her happiness—or her heart ever again. Can she bury the past and learn to love once more?

Jason by Donna Fasano, USA Today Bestselling Author - Runaway heiress Katie Smyth is a pampered debutante about to take on her greatest challenge—her first job…as a nanny. Raising his baby girl is usually a piece of cake for widowed police officer Jason Devlin; but when his housekeeper quits, he’s desperate enough to hire the first qualified person who rings his doorbell. Just wait until he discovers who this nick-of-time nanny really is!

Prince Philip’s Cinderella by Mona Risk, New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author - The charming jogger who saves her from a dangerous situation is an honest-to-goodness prince who just might change her whole life--if she can resist her urge to run! The lovely young woman Philip Devereux admires while stretching after a jog suddenly stands and runs, her arms wrapped around a bundle hidden under her cape. Philip notices the thug following her and helps her escape. The two are drawn to each other, but troubles mount. Shielding her from them becomes his mission. 

Karma by the Sea by Traci Hall, USA Today Bestselling Author - When Joe fishes beautiful Karma from the waves, he knows he's caught trouble. Nearly drowned, Hawaiian-born Karma Aneko is pulled from the ocean by Officer Joe Porter, an undercover agent on his third transfer since a drug bust nearly killed him. A hero even when off-duty, Joe knows he’s caught trouble as soon as the soaking-wet but still gorgeous divorce attorney spews salt water all over him. He’s saved her life — now he wants her heart.’

First Love by Natalie Ann, USA Today Bestselling Author - Sparks fly when a woman from the wrong side of the tracks catches the eye of the heir apparent to the family empire. Lauren Towne has struggled to keep the wolf from the door her whole life. That vicious cycle of poverty...she is getting out of it with hard work and determination. Jace Stratton is out to prove he is nothing like his father. So why does he find himself falling for an employee when he should be focusing on the business?

She’s Me by Mimi Barbour, NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author - Going back in time 40 years, a model takes over the body of a chubby librarian and the sparks fly! Two women living in one body is hilarious, heart-warming and totally up-lifting. Both have romances, both learn lessons from the other, and both grow much stronger because of their unique relationship.

This is an excerpt from The Encore Bride...

What is an encore bride?
Any woman who has been previously married.

Chapter One

Six weeks before the Heather Braxton and Brandon Moore wedding

Jenny Landon hurried through Blue Sky Rescue, searching for the kennel of an ailing Yorkshire terrier. An associate had called her from the private Minneapolis animal shelter where she served as a volunteer, voicing concerns that the dog appeared to be depressed and succumbing to “Broken Heart Syndrome.” The female terrier had shut down, refusing to eat or drink as it huddled in its pen, crying for its owner.
She jogged along the row of kennels, tuning out the thunderous clamor of yapping canines ricocheting off the cinderblock walls like the roar of an excited mob. In the center of the row she found the right kennel and peered through the chain link door. The toy-sized terrier lay curled up on the cold cement floor next to a worn blanket with its head down and its eyes closed. Her heart skipped a beat. Had the dog gone to sleep...or worse?
She unlocked the door and entered the kennel, hoping the little dog known only as “Shrimp” would respond to her.
What kind of special idiot would name his dog Shrimp? she thought angrily as she set down her purse and dog sling then lowered herself next to the still body of the steel blue and tan terrier. The same kind who would abandon the poor animal and leave it here to die.
“Hello there,” she said in a soft, gentle voice. “Don’t be frightened. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The little dog didn’t respond.
Jenny drew in a deep breath as her heart caught in her throat. Am I too late?
“C’mon, sweet doggie, open your eyes for me,” she said then paused, waiting for the dog to react. “I know you’re upset because you don’t understand why you’ve been left here and you want to go home. I would, too, if I were you. This place must be scary for a little girl like you.” The dog still didn’t respond. “Do you want to come home with me, Shrimp?”
At the mention of its name, the dog began to cry. The animal’s pitiful howl wrenched Jenny’s heart, bringing tears to her eyes, but gave her the confirmation she so desperately needed.
Slowly, she moved her hand along the floor. “What’s the matter, baby? Are you upset because you miss your owner?” She stopped, her fingers resting close to Shrimp’s black nose. Shrimp opened her dark-rimmed eyes and gave Jenny a wary stare, but didn’t move. Jenny took a chance, hoping the dog wouldn’t snap or bite, and raised her hand, slowly stroking the long, thick hair between the terrier’s ears with her fingertips. Instead of enjoying the interaction, Shrimp began to shiver.
“You’re okay,” Jenny continued in a soft, soothing voice. She’d worked with her share of homesick pets, but had never encountered a case as bad as this. “You’re safe with me.”
She spent the next ten minutes calming the dog by speaking in a non-threatening manner and stroking the dog’s thick, glossy fur.
“Is she coming around?”
The concern in the girl’s voice prompted Jenny to look up. Patti Reeves, a friend and fellow volunteer, stood on the other side of the kennel looking in. The teen wore black jeans and a light blue polo shirt bearing the shelter’s emblem of a full sun with the words Blue Sky embroidered in red. Her short brown hair curled softly around her oval face.
“She’s a little better,” Jenny replied. “At least she’s not shaking now.”
Patti opened the door and stepped inside. “Are you going to take her home?”
Jenny nodded and pulled a package of doggie treats from her pocket. She wanted to take Shrimp straight to her place to introduce the terrier to her other animals and help the dog adjust to yet another new environment, but she’d agreed to meet her sister for lunch—and she was running late—so she and Shrimp would have to take an unwanted detour first.
She sighed, regretting she’d let Heather talk her into attending that bridal show and fashion luncheon. She had nothing in common with brides or weddings. Been there, done that, then her marriage had ended in tragedy. So much for happily ever after...
Patti smiled with relief. “I figured you would take Shrimp so I grabbed the paperwork for you.” She held up the pages. The paperwork amounted to a short contract and a personality profile for the dog that needed filling out within the next five days based on her observation. The shelter staff would summarize the profile and upload it to their website along with Shrimp’s photo to attract potential adopters.
Jenny looked up again. “Where did this one come from?”
“We got a batch on death row from one of the kill shelters in Texas.”
A “batch” for this shelter typically meant up to twelve dogs. Shrimp had escaped death and ended up at this shelter after Blue Sky Rescue sent a specially equipped van to transport her and her companions from a non-profit organization that rescued and distributed large shipments of animals from kill shelters in other states. No wonder Shrimp had emotional issues! Jenny could only imagine what the poor dog had endured.
Jenny’s phone blared as she grabbed a dog treat from the bag and placed it under Shrimp’s nose. The dog sniffed it, but didn’t touch it. “Come on, sweetie, give it a try.”
Patti pointed toward the noise coming from Jenny’s purse. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
“No,” Jenny said, intent on convincing Shrimp to eat. “I’ll call the person back.”
All Heather wants is to lecture me anyway...
“My shift ends in five minutes.” Patti offered the papers to her. “I need you to sign the contract so I can hand it over to Emily on my way out.” Emily, the adoption coordinator, had set up a file on Shrimp and would facilitate the adoption process when the time came.
Jenny shoved the personality profile into her black leather purse then grabbed a pen and scribbled her signature on the contract. “Here,” she said and shoved the document toward Patti, then thought better of it and snatched it back. “Wait, I need to fix something.” She crossed out Shrimp in the ‘name’ field and wrote “Princess.”
Patti took the contract and scanned the change. “Princess, huh? If anyone can convince her to live up to her new name, you certainly can. You have an amazing ability to communicate with animals.”
Jenny shrugged. “I guess it’s because I know what it’s like to hurt so badly that you don’t want to go on.”
She’d been fostering animals with emotional issues for Blue Sky Rescue for the past two years, ever since her husband’s sudden death had left her bereft and alone. Reaching out to pets in need had given her great comfort. Their unconditional love filled the gaping hole in her soul that Adam’s passing had created.
“Thanks! Good luck with Princess!” Clutching the contract in her hand, Patti waved goodbye with it and left the kennel.
Jenny turned her attention back to Princess and smiled with relief as the dog tentatively licked the bite-sized treat. Princess, wholly unaware of her new name, suddenly swallowed it whole and looked up, her dark liquid eyes watching Jenny with a sorrowful look.
“Come on, baby, we’re going for a ride.” Jenny opened the sling, sliding it next to the dog. “Now, don’t be afraid,” she said soothingly as she picked up the terrier and deposited it inside the thick fabric. Princess began to yelp, prompting her to quickly tuck the dog inside and stand up, lifting the sling at the same time. “See, that didn’t hurt, did it?” She slipped the strap over her head to position the dog against her chest, snatched her purse and left the kennel.
Her phone began to ring again.
“I’m on my way, Heather,” she said as she answered the call and pressed the phone against her ear. “I’ll be downtown in a few minutes.” Well, maybe a few minutes plus twenty...
“You were supposed to be here an hour ago! We planned to look at dresses,” Heather snapped. “Now I’ll have to do it by myself. Really, Jenny, you’ve known about this event for weeks. Couldn’t you have made the effort to be on time?”
Jenny pushed open the shelter’s main doors and squinted as she burst into the bright April sun. “I said I’m coming! I had a slight emergency, but I will be there in time for the luncheon and the fashion show. I promise!”
Heather made a frustrated humph followed by a loud sigh. “You’d better, Jenny. I’m counting on you.”
“Okay, okay, see you soon...”
She tossed her phone back into her purse and slipped on a pair of designer sunglasses as her ankle boots crunched on the gravel parking lot. The warm breeze lifted her long, thick hair off her shoulders and swirled it around her face. The beautiful spring day should have elevated her spirits, but the thought of revisiting old wounds dampened her soul like a heavy cloud.
I’d rather go home and clean Jackie Boy’s litter box than attend Heather’s boring, over-priced dog and pony show.
But she’d promised her sister she’d go so she couldn’t back out. Heather had spent seventy-five dollars on her fashion show/luncheon ticket and it would be downright mean to be a no-show. Still, the thought of walking through the massive convention center with wall-to-wall wedding planners, dress designers, reception and honeymoon vendors made her stomach lurch.
Every woman believes a fairytale wedding is the perfect beginning to a lifetime of happiness and treasured memories with the man of her dreams.
She reached her blue Chevy and pulled out her keys, pressing the remote to open the doors.
But dreams don’t last...
Jenny jerked open the door and slid into the driver’s seat, making room for the sling containing her precious cargo. She tossed her purse onto the passenger seat and shoved the key into the ignition.
One day when you least expect it, everything you take for granted can be taken away from you…
Suddenly, that horrible day flashed through her mind, stealing her breath and stinging her eyes with a rush of tears. The day that Adam left this world he took her happiness—and her heart with him.
***
Jenny stood next to a glass counter of a cake vendor at the “The Ultimate Wedding” show in the Minneapolis Convention Center and stared at her floor map while Princess slept in the fold of her sling, safely tucked out of sight. Frustrated, Jenny turned the letter-sized page this way and that, trying to find her location as she tuned out the noise around her. The polished, baritone voice of Frank Sinatra echoed through the cavernous exhibit hall, crooning a romantic song about dancing “cheek to cheek.” Women of all ages, sizes and shapes filled the venue like a swarm of bees, laughing and chattering as they browsed dozens of galleries, shopping for everything from wedding invitations to honeymoon packages.
“I can’t even find my current location, much less the fashion show,” she grumbled as she leaned against the counter, taking care not to disturb the multi-tiered trays of pastel-frosted cupcakes displayed for complimentary tasting. The sugary-sweet aroma filled her nostrils, tempting her to sample one, but she didn’t have time. The luncheon started at noon, giving her exactly fifteen minutes to find the venue and join her sister.
She looked up, scanning the area for signage, but couldn’t see through the dense crowd. Luckily, a young woman passed wearing a banquet server’s uniform of black slacks, white shirt and a long black apron.
“Excuse me,” Jenny said, walking swiftly toward the woman before she got away. “I’m trying to find the Queen’s Court Fashion Show. Can you point it out on this map?”
“I can do better than that. I’ll show you,” the young woman said in a friendly tone. “Just follow the carpet past the gown gallery.” She pointed toward a wide, ruby-colored runner. “Keep going until you see the Venus de Milo fountain. The entrance to the show is just past that point. You can’t miss it. Got that?”
“Um...sure.” Not really, but I’ll give it a try... “Thanks.”
Jenny headed toward the red runner, repeating the directions under her breath as she came upon the gown gallery, a stunning collection of designer bridal gowns arranged on shapely mannequins in a large circle. The carpet curved to the left and she nervously continued on, making her way past make-up artists giving demonstrations, a winery offering sparkling wine samples, a jewelry counter displaying diamond tiaras and many more. Eventually, she came upon the fountain and looked for the entrance to the fashion show. Just beyond the statue, she saw a sign for the event with a large arrow pointing toward a large tent. Walking swiftly, she made her way toward a wide, arched opening draped with white tulle, miniature yellow roses and clear mini-lights.
“Excuse me!” A female voice trilled as she sped past the host stand. “Excuse me!”
Breathless, Jenny stopped and turned around.
A short, dark-haired woman wearing over-sized tortoiseshell glasses pinned her with a disapproving stare. “May I help you?”
Jenny backtracked to the host stand. “I’m here for the luncheon.”
“May I see your ticket, please?”
No can do, lady. Heather has the tickets.
“The reservation is for two under Braxton, Heather Braxton,” Jenny replied sweetly. She hoped the mere mention of her sister, a popular local celebrity, would convince the woman to let her pass, but instead the woman pursed her lips, clearly not impressed.
“This event is sold out. I must see your ticket to allow you inside.”
 “I merely went to the ladies’ room,” Jenny said, feigning innocence. “I need to get back to my table. The luncheon is about to start and—”
“Your ticket, PLEASE!”
Exasperated, Jenny exhaled a tense breath and moved closer, standing nose-to-nose with the ticket “queen.” She had to get into that luncheon and find Heather’s table now. It was time to resort to Plan B.
If all else fails, act like a diva.
“I paid a lot of money to attend this event. If my soup gets cold because you’ve detained me, I’m going to complain!”
Startled by the shrill tones, Princess poked her head out of the sling and looked around. The dog’s puppet-like appearance startled the woman, causing her to pull back with a gasp. “Animals are not allowed in the dining room,” she said with finality as she quickly regained her composure.
“Yeah, well this is a special needs dog,” Jenny shot back, ready to do some serious sparring. Nobody picked on her pooch and got away with it.
But the woman abruptly changed her tune. “Oh. That’s no problem then. We can accommodate your disability or whatever special need you have.”
“I’m not the one with a special need.” Jenny pointed to the shivering canine. “It’s my dog.”
The woman stared, her mouth gaping as though she couldn’t quite grasp the situation.
A small group of women suddenly appeared and ambushed the host stand, talking at once as they fired questions about their gluten-free meal choices.
“Have a nice day!” Jenny tossed over her shoulder and sprinted away while the newcomers kept the woman distracted. She passed under the tulle arch and entered a walled tent in solid white. She hesitated at first, taken in by the sheer opulence of the setting.
The room resembled a small, but elegant, wedding reception. In the back of the room were long banquet tables covered in white Damask tablecloths and low-hanging chandeliers separated by tall vases filled with white roses, peonies and Phalaenopsis orchids. As she walked into the room, she noted all the tables were set with silver-rimmed china, ornate flatware and delicate crystal stemware. Between the place settings were more flowers in small vases.
To her left were round tables and to her right were smaller, square tables, all decorated in the same lovely “tablescape.” The scene brought back a poignant reminder of the day she and Adam had taken their vows. Their wedding reception had been about the same size.
Bits and pieces flashed through her mind: how happy he looked in his gray tuxedo as he held up a Champagne flute to toast their marriage. How his green eyes had danced with merriment every time his gaze met hers. How his thick locks of curly auburn hair looked like they could use a good combing, but his tousled bad boy exterior was one of the things about him she loved the most...
Pushing the image out of her thoughts, Jenny squared her shoulders and swallowed hard to keep from bursting into tears. This is exactly why I didn’t want to come here today and why I won’t be in Heather’s wedding. It will bring back too many memories.
She quickly scanned the room to take her mind off her troubling thoughts. Off to one side, she saw group of well-dressed ladies admiring the four-tier wedding cake and an ice sculpture of a swan, but her sister wasn’t among them.
Where was Heather?
Another group of women clustered around a small table situated near the stage suddenly broke out in laughter. Jenny heard her sister’s voice and realized Heather had been in plain sight all along. Heather’s career as a local news anchor had turned her into a hometown celebrity, making her the center of attention everywhere she went. Sitting at the table surrounded by ardent followers, she smiled and graciously entertained them in her aqua designer suit and white silk blouse.
When they were younger, people often mistook them for twins. She and Heather both were short, petite, blonde and blue-eyed, but Heather’s blonde hair held a reddish tinge while hers had golden tones.
“Thank you all for stopping by. It’s been wonderful talking with you. Enjoy the fashion show!” Heather said to her admirers, politely and smoothly dismissing them once she saw Jenny walking toward the table. The women, not affronted in the least, said goodbye and returned to their seats.
How does she do that?
“Well, it’s about time,” Heather snapped, dropping the celebrity façade as she approached.
“I promised I wouldn’t be late for the luncheon.” Jenny put her hands on her hips. “Hey, I’m five minutes early.”
“And what are you wearing?” Heather made a point of inspecting Jenny’s red ankle-length chinos, suede ankle boots and tailored white blouse.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
Heather smacked her lips. “This is a fashion show, not a garage sale.”
Jenny resisted the urge to laugh, a typical response to her sister’s criticism. When they were kids, she loved to snicker at Heather and make her mad. Nowadays, she kept it to herself.
A tall waiter, looking like a classy penguin in a black and white uniform rushed over to pull out her chair. Once Jenny was seated, he took the folded napkin on her plate and shook it, laying it flat across her lap. “Would you care for a glass of wine, perhaps?”
Jenny smiled but shook her head. “Iced tea will be fine, thank you.”
The waiter left and Heather resumed scrutinizing her outfit. “Where did you get that ugly purse? It’s horrible!”
“It’s not a purse, it’s a dog carrier.”
Heather’s face blanched. Quickly composing herself, she glanced around, presumably to make sure no one had overheard. “A what...”
Jenny pulled back the brown fabric and Princess sat up, sniffing the edge of the table.
“I can’t believe this. You’re embarrassing me!” Heather reached over and tried to shoo the dog back into her carrier, but Princess stayed put, her ears perked. “You and your pound puppies. When will you grow up, Jennifer? You’re thirty-three going on thirteen. You know very well you’re not supposed to bring that…that hairy thing in here.”
“Well, I just did.”
The waiter delivered their first course, a cup of shrimp bisque and tactfully ignored the uninvited guest at their table.
Jenny sipped the tangy soup and changed the subject. “I can’t believe you’ve set your wedding date for the first week of June. That’s only six weeks from now. Do you realize how much planning you have to do?”
Heather nodded and took a sip of her cucumber water, letting her soup get cold. “I’ve got two full-time wedding planners working on it.”
“What’s the hurry?”
Heather gave her a dreamy smile. “We’re in love.”
Heather and her fiancé, Brandon Moore, performed the ten o’clock news together on a local television station. The entire Minnesota viewing area knew of their off-camera romance and the gossip columns had been speculating on the wedding date for months. Now that Heather and Brandon had finally announced it, their ratings had blasted through the station’s roof.
“My wedding planners had to pull a lot of strings to arrange our engagement dinner at the restaurant we wanted on such short notice.” She sighed. “I’m glad we were able to book it, but I have so much to do before tomorrow night.” Heather’s four-carat, heart-shaped diamond sparkled under the glow of the chandelier as she picked up her water glass. “I expect you to be there on time.”
Just say it...
“Heather, about the wedding...I really think you should find another bridesmaid.”
“Jenny, don’t start that again.” Heather put down her spoon and pushed her shrimp bisque aside. “You’re my only sister and now that Mom and Dad are both gone, all we have is each other,” she said softly. “Of course, you’re going to be in my wedding. I can’t imagine it any other way. And you’re not my bridesmaid. You’re my maid of honor.”
“I just don’t think I’m ready yet. I’ve been having—”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Heather argued. “Yes, you are. You’ve been through a difficult period, but you’re strong.” She placed her hand over Jenny’s. “You’re doing great, Sis. Stay positive.” Heather cringed. “And get that dog’s tongue out of your soup! That’s gross!”
But Jenny merely gave Princess an affectionate pat on the head as she moved the dish away. “No, that’s good. Getting her appetite back means she’s starting to come out of her depression.” Jenny pulled a ribbon from the flower arrangement on the table and used it to gather the long fur on the dog’s head into a loose top knot. Then she fed Princess a nugget from her bag of treats.
After that, the conversation steered toward less controversial topics: Heather’s latest shopping trip, Heather’s house-hunting expeditions, Heather’s wedding preparations and Heather’s quest for the perfect honeymoon. Jenny pretended to listen, but kept an eye on the clock on her phone, desperately waiting for the event to end. Thinking of Adam and their wedding had dampened her mood. Though she did her best not to show it, all she wanted was to go home, away from having to smile and act as though her life had not fallen off a cliff.
The fashion show commenced after their waiter served them coffee and dessert. Jenny and Heather oohed and ahhed as pencil-thin models strutted around the room, giving everyone a close-up look at the latest trends in designer bridal dresses.
The last model approached their table wearing a strapless gown in ivory silk with a sheer cape and elbow-length gloves. She carried a huge bouquet of blush roses and ivory peonies with a rope of faux pearls wrapped around the stem.
“That bouquet looks heavy,” Jenny remarked as the model walked away.
“Heavenly, yes...” Heather replied as she made notes on her program. She looked up. “I almost forgot to tell you, Brandon’s best friend, Luke McCarran is going to be the best man. We’re seating you next to him at the engagement dinner and I expect you to be on your best behavior.”
Oh-oh. He must be a doozy if Heather has to lecture me about him beforehand.
Jenny stared warily at her sister. “Why are you hassling me about being nice to this guy? What’s the problem? Is he a dog hater or something?”
Heather gave her a stern look. “He’s a widower, like you, and he’s also going through a tough time right now.”
What was this? Heather and Brandon’s idea of Widow-Match.com?
“You and Brandon did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Jenny grabbed her phone and threw it into her purse. “It’s your sneaky way of trying to pair me up with Brandon’s best man, isn’t it? Well, I’m not falling for it!”
Heather kept her expression neutral. Heaven forbid that any of her adoring viewers would see her create a scene in public, but even so, her soft voice bordered on murderous. “You’re being ridiculous, Jenny! It’s a coincidence, that’s all. We simply thought you and Luke should get to know one another, since you both have key positions in the wedding.”
“You mean, you thought if you got us together, we’d be so preoccupied with commiserating over our dead spouses that I’d be too distracted to have second thoughts about being in your wedding!”
“That’s not true! The two of you have a lot in common. What would be so bad about making friends with Luke?”
Jenny wanted to compare funerals with Luke McCarran about as much as she wanted a colonoscopy. “I know you mean well, Heather, but stop trying to set me up,” Jenny said. “I’m not interested in finding another husband. I am never getting married again.” Sipping her purse over her shoulder, she pushed back her chair and stood. She needed to calm down before she embarrassed her sister more than she already had. “Excuse me. I’m going to the ladies’ room.”
The model turned her back to the crowd and tossed the bouquet. It flew high into the air.
“Look out!” A chorus of horrified gasps prompted her to look up. She saw it coming down, shooting through the air like a missile, but she didn’t have time to move out of the way.
Thunk.
The bouquet hit her in the face then dropped into her outstretched hands.
 ~     ~     ~