Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A Merry Little Christmas Audiobook Sale $1.99 iTunes


 Audiobook Sale!
$1.99

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?


Listen to an audio sample here:  https://books.apple.com/us/audiobook/id1534129513



Sweet Christmas Romance Books

Searching for a sweet, feel-good Holiday Romance? Look no further! These bestselling authors have teamed up to offer a delightful selection of holiday books. Get ready for Christmas cookies, mistletoe, sweet kisses, and plenty of swooning. Available for a limited time.

A Merry Little Christmas eBook by Denise Devine is only 99 cents and a 5-star favorite!

 


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~*~*~




Wednesday, October 6, 2021

"Murder Is To Die For" Cozy Mystery Set


Murder Is To Die For

Diehard Dames Amateur Detective Series

A new cozy mystery boxed set

from the Author's Billboard!


Available on Kindle and KU
On sale

Diehard Dames don’t give up!

These ladies are smart. They’re clever. And they never give up.

Whether on a quest to solve a murder or to right a wrong, they’re tough and determined, ready to step forward when needed.

Join these daring and tenacious amateur sleuths as they solve crime in this collection of ALL NEW Whodunits. Special new release price, too!

Just because they’re amateurs doesn’t mean these ladies can’t get the job done. A few foils, fumbles, and missteps taken only make their tasks more challenging and interesting. 
Enjoy a few giggles as crime-solving takes on a bright new glow in these light-hearted international mysteries byNew York Times and USA Today Bestselling Authors.

ALL NEW STORIES!

Mimi Barbour: Murder in the Mall: The proprietor of a bakery finds the owner of the shoe store murdered. All the mall owners have reasons for this horrendous deed, but who is the culprit? In this small town full of upstanding, warm-hearted people, who can possibly be the cold-blooded killer? New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author.

Denise Devine: Dark Fortune – “Your life is in danger, watch out for the stranger.” Fortune telling was just bunk, right? Stephanie hoped so. USA Today Bestselling Author

Dani Haviland: Crazy Ladies in Capes Debut - Louie witnessed a murder… Or did he? Midtown Anchorage is overrun by crime and this group of little old lady activists is ready to do something about it! USA Today Bestselling Author.

Nancy Radke: Any Lucky Dog Can Follow a Trail of Blood – When Sheriff Craig leaves the city and arrives in the rural county of West Falls, he is soon dealing with the murder of a man everyone wanted dead. So, who wanted him dead the most? He finds that when switching from pavement to mountain trails, a dog with a good nose is a necessity. So, is a pretty woman. USA Today Bestselling Author.

Snuggle up and grab the first ever Cozy Mystery Box Set from THE AUTHORS’ BILLBOARD. MURDER IS TO DIE FOR, DIEHARD DAMES, AMATEUR DETECTIVE SERIES.

~*~

Short Excerpt of

 Dark Fortune by Denise Devine

Stephanie’s Fortune

 “I implore you, beware of this warning,

a death occurred before morning.

Your life is in danger, watch out for the stranger,

dark days ahead are dawning…”

I’m done, Stephanie thought wearily as she trooped out the back door. I can’t talk about Jock’s murder anymore.

Watering her garden was a calming exercise. After a few minutes, the task always seemed to clear her mind and shift her mood into a feeling of peace, a change she desperately needed today. She exhaled a deep breath, the tension in her shoulders loosening as she turned the fan sprayer on her tall phlox, careful not to bother the bees diligently buzzing from bloom to bloom. The lavender, white and pink plants grew nearly four feet high and created a natural buffer between her yard and the house on the west side of her that belonged to Valerie Hale. Valerie’s sprawling rambler took up nearly all of her corner lot.

An odd feeling prompted her to look up. Stephanie glanced toward Valerie’s house and stared through the large windows that wrapped around the three sides of the front living room. The tall, exquisite blonde stood nose to nose with her ex-husband, Stuart, embroiled in a discussion. Stephanie knew she shouldn’t spy on them, but the curtains were open and curiosity got the best of her.

Valerie, a former model, stood nearly as tall as her ex-husband as she glared into his eyes, her face crimson with smoldering emotion. Since their divorce, she had retired from her career and instead lived off her monthly alimony check. Her ex, Stuart Hale, was a CPA who owned his own firm. He made buckets of money, but he was cheaper than Scrooge. Valerie, on the other hand, was a shopaholic. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were so worked up about.

I’m so glad I don’t have an ex to deal with anymore, Stephanie mused cynically as she redirected the fan sprayer toward a clump of white coneflowers.

Guilt and sadness suddenly overwhelmed her as she realized what had just crossed her mind. She didn’t wish for Jock to be dead. The thought broke her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to think of something else.

“You’ve gotten all you’re going to get out of me! Understand? The house, the car—it’s more than you deserve!”

The loud, acrimonious voice startled her. She moved toward the corner of the house and saw Stuart standing on Valerie’s front steps wearing a dark green shirt, the tail hanging out of his jeans. His dark hair, peppered with strands of gray, looked mussed, as though he’d just rolled out of bed. He scowled at her with narrowed eyes.

Valerie pounded her finger in the center of his chest. “I deserve better than this dump, but you don’t pay me enough to afford a decent house!”

“Any other woman could afford Buckingham Palace on what you get.” He shoved her hand away. “Learn to live on a budget like everyone else!”

He spun away and stomped down the steps.

Valerie followed him to the end of the sidewalk. “We’re not finished with this conversation, Stu. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”

He dismissed her with a wave of his hand as he stormed to his car and jumped in, slamming the door. His vehicle roared to life and sped away.

Stephanie quickly walked back to her garden and continued to water her plants, pretending she hadn’t heard a thing—and hoping Valerie was so preoccupied she didn’t notice anything else. Within a few moments, however, the familiar swish-swish of a woman’s footsteps tripping through the grass indicated Valerie was heading her way.

“He makes me so mad!” Valerie proclaimed loudly as she approached. “Did you hear what that jerk said to me?”

There goes my temporary escape from reality, Stephanie thought dismally. She slowly pivoted. Valerie wore an aqua knit top and a pair of white chinos. The tapered, ankle-length pants accentuated her tall, slender figure. The low-cut top barely covered her ample bosom. “Hi, Val.”

“He thinks I should be grateful for that paltry allowance he dols out every month,” Valerie spouted as her full lips formed a well-rehearsed pout. Her shoulder-length hair had been hastily swept to the crown of her head in a messy bun. She folded her arms into a tight bow. “When my lawyer gets him in court, he’ll wish he’d played nice with me!”

Hobbit barked and did his usual happy dance to see her. “Behave yourself,” Valerie scolded him and waved her hand to shoo him away. “You’re going to get mud on my clothes.”

Stephanie ignored Hobbit’s bad manners and went back to tending to her flowers, hoping Valerie would get a clue that she didn’t want company and go home.

“I saw the report about Jock on the news,” Valerie said, taking a softer tone. “How are you doing?”

Stephanie winced at the question but replied, “I’m okay. I just need some quiet time to deal with the shock.” Hint, hint.

“It’s too bad he wasn’t the marrying kind of guy,” Valerie stated boldly. “You’d be sitting pretty right now.”

Leave it to Valerie to think about Jock’s net worth at a time like this!

“I have everything I need,” Stephanie stated, her patience wearing thin. “Right now, I’m more concerned with why he died than who is inheriting his estate.”

“Is this new?” Valerie pointed toward a shallow bowl of pebbles hanging by three slim chains from a black metal shepherd’s hook.

“No, I’ve had it since last spring,” Stephanie replied, happy to change the subject. “Jock gave it to me for my birthday. It’s been hanging there in my flowerbed all summer.”

Valerie curiously picked one of the multi-colored pebbles out of the bowl and examined it.  “What is it for?”

“It’s a bee bowl.”

Valerie laughed. “A what?”

“It’s a bowl for bees and butterflies to drink water. It comes as a kit. Jock set it up for me.” Stephanie pointed toward the blue ceramic dish. “You cover the bottom with pebbles and fill it with an inch of fresh water. The bees and butterflies can sit on the rocks and safely get a drink without drowning.”

“How ironic,” Valerie said in a droll voice as she examined the small nugget in her palm. “The man is rolling in precious stones and he gives you this…”

Stephanie shrugged. “It’s what I wanted.” She refreshed the dish with a small amount of clean water. “I have enough diamonds.”

Valerie snorted with incredulity. “Honey, a girl never has enough diamonds.”

“Jock knew how much my garden means to me,” Stephanie said with a sniff. “He wanted to get me something special so he asked me to pick out my favorite things at the garden center. Sometimes he could be really sweet. At other times…”

Valerie frowned at the light pink pebble and tossed it back into the bowl. “Sometimes I regret introducing you to him.”

Stephanie gasped, taken aback by Valerie’s directness. “Why would you say such a thing?”

Valerie placed her hand on Stephanie’s arm, her face reflecting concern. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but Jock wasn’t right for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“He cheated on you every chance he got,” Valerie said solemnly. “It was obvious he never loved you.”

Deep down, Stephanie had always known the truth, but to hear Valerie say it out loud pierced like a shard of glass through her heart. She turned away to conceal her tears and in the process her foot caught on the hose, pitching her forward. The fan sprayer flew out of her hand.

“Ah-h-h!” Valerie screamed as cold water sprayed across the front of her body, drenching her from head to toe. “Stephanie! What are you doing?” She backed up, furiously trying to shake the water from her eyes. “Oh, my gosh—I’m soaked. What if someone sees me like this!”

“I’m sorry, Val,” Stephanie called out. “It was an accident!”

Either Valerie hadn’t heard her or she’d refused to answer as she stomped back home.

Every time I get stressed out, I trip on something, Stephanie thought miserably. Deciding she’d had enough gardening for one day, her feet automatically headed for the outdoor faucet. It’s been that way all my life, she complained silently to herself. The handle squeaked as she turned off the water. How am I going to make it through Jock’s funeral in one piece?

She shuddered at the thought. The last thing she needed was to crash and burn in the funeral home and wipe out Jock’s memorial in front of God and everybody…



Murder Is To Die For - Get your copy now!

Brought to you by the Authors' Billboard

Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited - Amazon


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~*~



Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Christmas in July eBook for only 99 cents!

A Merry Little Christmas

only 99 cents on Kindle

FREE on Kindle Unlimited



Amazon

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? (4.8 Stars on Amazon)

EXCERPT

             Tony stood in the doorway of Sam’s Bar and scanned the boisterous crowd of happy-hour revelers, looking for the scrooge in the room—Neal Carter. This meeting wouldn’t resemble anything close to a social call, but he had to go through with it because he needed to set the record straight about Merry Connor and move on. Convincing Neal to do the same would be like trying to drain Lake Superior with a garden hose, but at this point, he didn’t care. He simply wanted to end this ridiculous ruse and leave.

            He spied Neal sitting in a corner booth, wearing jeans and a green and white Minnesota Wild hockey jersey, relishing a plate of beef nachos. He squared his shoulders and crossed the room, wishing he’d delivered the news over the phone as he’d originally planned to do instead of agreeing to meet for a drink. Silently, he slid into the booth, keeping his jacket on, his white-knuckled hands clenching together at his sides.

            “How’d it go?” Neal didn’t bother to look up, preferring to focus on shoving a large chip covered with melted cheddar cheese and jalapeños into his mouth.

            “She’s innocent.”

            Neal choked on his food and broke into a fit of coughing, his face turning crimson. He grabbed his water glass and chugged several deep gulps. Then he drew in a deep breath. “What did you say?”

            “Merry Connor is innocent,” Tony said with finality. “She had nothing to do with her ex-husband’s crime.”

            Neal looked up, piercing him with a stone-faced glare. “This time last week you didn’t even know her, but now you’re an expert on her character? You haven’t spent enough time with her to determine what she is capable of doing.”

            Tony ignored Neal’s comments and turned his attention to the slender blonde server in jeans and a white blouse approaching their table.

            She set a cardboard coaster in front of him and smiled. “What would you like to drink?”

            At another time, perhaps, he would have found her fuzzy red and white Santa hat and necklace of blinking Christmas lights amusing, but today he merely shook his head. “Nothing, thanks. I’m not going to be here long.”

            As soon as she left them alone, he focused on Neal again, eager to speak his piece and get out of there. “Given my experience in dealing with people, I’d say I’m an excellent judge of character.” He paused in disgust, watching Neal shove another gooey chip into his mouth. “I’ve seen her place; it’s garage sale central. She drives an old beater, still uses a flip phone and her second-hand television set is a picture tube model hooked up to rabbit ears. Merry Connor is not sitting on top of a million dollars. She’s broke.”

            “It’s a smokescreen,” Neal argued sarcastically. “She’s biding her time, playing the victim until the old man gets out of prison. Then they’ll turn into the Beverly Hillbillies.” He snorted. “California—here we come!”

            “That’s not true. Merry is a hard-working woman who’s struggling to make ends meet. She’s endured more hardship than anyone affected by this crime.”

            “Don’t try to protect her.”

            “I’m telling you what I saw! Look, Neal, we agreed—”

            “We agreed you would get the truth out of her,” Neal countered with authority, as though reprimanding one of his employees. “Now get back over there and do your job.”

            No one could aggravate him like his brother-in-law. For a moment, Tony went rigid as he envisioned smashing that plate of nachos into Neal’s face.

            Let it go. He’s not worth it...

            Tony sat back and drew in a deep breath, refusing to allow Neal’s arrogance to get to him. “I’ve done what we agreed to and given you my assessment of the situation. My decision stands. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.”

            “You’ve got it bad for her, don’t you?” Neal scowled. “Did you sleep with her? Is that how she got to you?”

            A couple of descriptive and highly offensive four-letter words perched on the edge of Tony’s tongue, but he stopped himself before letting them fly. He would not stoop to Neal’s level, no matter how much the man baited him. “Actually, her kids got to me,” he said, purposely sidestepping the subject of his friendship with Merry. “They’ve suffered more than anyone. They lost their father, their home, and stable family life. Instead of judging Merry, it’s time someone in our family reached out to her and showed her kids some kindness. If it were my son in that position, I’d want the same for him.”

            “Well, I’ll be—are you saying you’ve finally gotten off that high horse of self-pity you’ve been straddling for the last three years? You’ve decided to think about someone else besides your pathetic self for a change?” Neal followed up with a sharp, derisive laugh. “I won’t believe that until I see it with my own eyes.” He shoved the congealing, half-eaten plate of nachos away and grabbed his beer. “In any case, I guess it’s time to hire another P. I. to finish the job since you’re not man enough to do it.”

            Tony slid out of the booth and stood, towering over Neal. “Say whatever you want about me; I could care less, but leave Merry Connor alone. She has a right to her privacy.”

            Neal raised his beer in a mock salute. “Look who’s talking! Do you really think she’ll be in a forgiving mood when she finds out you’ve violated her privacy?”

            “I fully intend to disclose my connection to you and Faith,” Tony said, “but as far as I’m concerned, I haven’t done anything wrong. I bought the contract-for-deed and met with the contract holder. There is absolutely nothing illegal or inappropriate about either action.”

            Neal glared at him. “I’ll bet she’d find it extremely inappropriate if she learned your only motive for doing those things was to get justice for your sister.”

            “I’m warning you.” Tony stabbed a finger in Neal’s direction, coming close to his brother-in-law’s face. “Stay away from Merry or else. That goes for the watchdog you’re going to hire, too. I don’t want him anywhere near her property or her kids. Cross that line and you’ll both answer to me.” He turned and walked away, resolute to make good on his threat if Neal didn’t back off.

            As he left the bar, the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” followed him onto the empty, snow-dusted patio. He hadn’t experienced a “merry little Christmas” since his wife and son died, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t bring joy to someone else’s holiday. Joy—the kind that came with four legs, a wet nose, and a wagging tail.

            The thought of Merry and the kids lifted his mood considerably. He’d given her the option to “board his dog” instead of cash for the car parts as an excuse to see her again. He wanted to see her again, very much so but knew he needed to reveal his connection to Neal and Faith to her as soon as possible. That said, he couldn’t just walk up to Merry and blurt it out. No, he’d have to find a way to talk to her without the kids around so he could break it to her gently. He needed to tell her the truth, but at the same time, he wanted to convince her that the situation between Aidan and the Carters would never affect their friendship.

            He turned up the collar of his jacket and bounded down the stairs, stepping onto the cobblestone sidewalk of St. Anthony Main. Light, feathery flakes floated through the air, clinging to his coat and hair as he passed offices and shops draped with pine garland and red velvet bows. He stopped in front of Pracna on Main, a historic restaurant that had been in operation since 1890, to browse the menu posted in a glass case.

            This would be a nice place to take Merry to dinner.

            For the first time since Cherie’s death, Tony had allowed himself to become attracted to another woman. Ever since they met, Merry Connor had been on his mind and the more he thought about her, the more the sadness of losing Cherie slowly lifted. He couldn’t stop thinking about Merry’s radiant smile, the sparkle in her eyes when she laughed, and the soft lilt in her voice whenever she spoke to him. He wanted to have dinner with her on Saturday night, just the two of them, but would she even want to be friends once she learned his sister and brother-in-law were responsible for sending her husband to jail?

            He shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and walked on. Leveling with Merry was a risk he was willing to take.

Get your copy now.

Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

~*~

A Merry Christmas is now on Audio

On sale for $1.99 starting July 9th for a limited time

Apple - iBooks


~*~

Christmas in July


Searching for a great story? Find your next favorite read at

Christmas in July Stories!

A group of USA Today, award-winning, and bestselling authors have teamed up to offer a delightful selection of Christmas books. Available for a limited time.

A Merry Little Christmas by Denise Devine is only 99 cents!

~*~





Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Encore Bride

 

The Encore Bride

a sweet romance about second chances
and it's only 99 cents on Kindle!


The Encore Bride eBook

Now available in audiobook!


What is an encore bride?

A woman who has made a previous trip down the aisle.


Excerpt #1

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!”

Jenny stared at her lap. “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,” Jenny replied wryly.

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 aahed 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.


Excerpt #2


Luke had just started on his salad when Heather’s sister arrived. Jenny Landon slipped quietly into her chair, ignoring the festivities as she set her purse under the table and spread her napkin on her lap. She studied the menu card with her head down, clearly trying to blend in so no one would notice her tardiness.

Curious, he pretended to be preoccupied with buttering his roll, while studying her out of the corner of his eye.

Blonde and petite, her features bore a remarkable resemblance to her sister’s, but the similarities ended there. Heather’s bone-thin frame looked great on camera, but couldn’t compare to the healthy, athletic build of her sister. Heather always appeared poised and meticulously groomed, ready to “go live” at any moment, whereas Jenny had a fresh-faced, almost careless air about her. Jenny’s golden hair hung long and straight and lightly mussed, as though the wind had whipped it about her shoulders. Instead of formal evening attire, she sat ramrod straight in black slacks and a white lace top. The rigidity of her posture suggested she didn’t want to be there. The sharp look in her deep blue eyes boldly stated she didn’t care if he knew it.

That one has quite the attitude...

Within moments, a server appeared at her side and filled her water glass. When he asked if she’d like something else to drink, she merely shook her head.

Jenny frowned at the strange-looking greens on her salad plate topped with tomato slices and drizzled with an onion-speckled dressing. “What the heck is this?”

“It’s a goat cheese and tomato salad,” he heard himself say. He didn’t know if she’d directed the question at him or simply thought aloud, but he’d answered before he could stop himself. His fork halted in mid-air as he studied her profile, taking in the delicate curve of her chin and the softness of her long, graceful neck. Through his business, he encountered pretty women every day, but for some reason, he couldn’t take his gaze off her.

She rolled her eyes. “What’s wrong with ordinary lettuce? Why does Heather always have to pick the weirdest items on the menu?”

“It’s actually very good, despite how it looks.”

She sounded upset, but he sensed her displeasure had nothing to do with the food. And though he knew better than to get involved in the personal issues of a total stranger, he couldn’t help wondering why she looked so unhappy.

Remembering his manners, he extended his hand. “I’m Luke McCarran, by the way. Brandon and I go way back, since high school.”

“I’m Jenny Landon,” she said and slipped her hand into his.

The moment they touched, he realized he’d made a mistake. The friction of her smooth skin against his rough palm took him by surprise, jolting his senses, and scrambling his thoughts. As his fingers curved around hers, he knew he should let go of her hand, but his brain wouldn’t cooperate.

She looked up, wide-eyed. “...s-sister to the bride.”

They froze, locked into each other’s eyes. His jaw dropped as he tried to speak, but he couldn’t utter a word. His mind had gone completely blank.

Then he saw the thick, purple and black stripe underlining her left eye.

Whoa...

His shock must have been obvious because she pulled her hand away and the mask of indifference returned. “It’s not what you think,” she stated in a challenging tone.

“Hey, I don’t think anything. Your life is your business.”

She glanced across the table at Heather. “I wish someone would convince my sister of that. I sure can’t.”

He almost choked on a tomato slice. “She did that to you?

“Are you kidding?” Jenny let out a wry chuckle. “Heather can’t open her own wine bottles much less take me down.”

He had no idea how to respond to her “take me down” remark so he decided to simply keep quiet and concentrate on his funny-looking lettuce.

“I got in the way of a flying bouquet,” she said matter-of-factly and reached for a dinner roll.

He snatched up the wire basket and pulled back the cloth liner for her. “Someone hit you in the eye with a bunch of flowers?”

“Not just a bunch.” She selected a parmesan-encrusted roll and began to break it apart. “A big honkin’ monster of a bouquet studded with crystal hearts the size of lug nuts. It had a rope of pearls wrapped around the stem, making it so wide the model could barely get her hands around it. I saw her toss it into the air, but I didn’t notice it coming toward me until it was too late to get out of the way.” She stuffed a piece of roll in her mouth. “The sucker felt like a bowling ball dropped on my head.”

He almost choked again, but this time it took all the strength he could muster to keep a straight face.

“I should never have allowed Heather to talk me into going to that bridal show with her at the convention center, but she’s convinced I have to be her maid of honor.”

“What’s wrong with being the maid of honor?”

She looked boldly into his eyes. “Maybe I don’t believe in happy endings.”

The sudden flush staining her cheeks gave him the sense she would rather get another shiner than participate in her sister’s wedding. Sibling rivalry or jealousy perhaps?

“It’s not the first marriage for Heather,” Jenny said as if reading his thoughts. “So, what’s the point? She paid for a Hollywood production the first time around. You’d think she would simply want to quietly get hitched and get on with her life.” She stared intently at her sister sitting at the head table. “Not Heather. She’s spending a fortune to roll out the red carpet again.”

The more she talked, the more discomfort seeped into her voice and it gave him pause. Jenny’s reasons for avoiding the bridal gig amounted to more than a little inconvenience. She held a deep emotional aversion to this wedding.

A server appeared and silently removed their salad plates. Then another server delivered the main course of filet mignon et crevette, a steak and shrimp combo.

Luke decided to let the matter drop and get busy slicing into his mouth-watering filet. He’d been salivating over this part of the meal ever since he sat down to eat, and he planned to savor every bite.

“So, what do you do for a living?” Jenny asked in between bites. “Cameraman? Soundman? Are you in the television industry, too?”

 “No, I’m not,” he replied, cutting off a piece of his luscious steak. “I own an auto repair shop and a towing business. I gather you don’t work at the station, either.”

“No way,” she said, brushing it off with a laugh. “I’m not the type to sit behind a desk. These days I’m a foster mom.”

“How many children do you foster?”

“Not children. Dogs.”

Say what?

When he didn’t respond, she turned to him. “The—the dogs help me cope.”

The softness in her voice made him wonder what she’d been through and why she’d turned to animals for comfort. He knew it was rude to ask, but he suddenly had to know. “Why is that?”

“When my husband died, I... sort of went off the deep end. I was angry, I felt like a victim and I took it out on everyone else, especially my family. I wouldn’t listen to anybody’s advice. Instead, I did just the opposite of what everyone wanted me to do.”

He stopped eating and stared at her in amazement. “That’s exactly what my son is going through. He lost his mother a year ago and he hasn’t come around yet.” Luke put down his fork. “Liam seems to be getting worse as time goes on, not better.”

Her expression softened. “I imagine it must be difficult for a little boy to lose his mom.”

“Actually, he’s fifteen,” Luke replied, “but it has been a tough transition for him. His mother was only thirty-six when she passed.”

“Does he have a dog?”

“No,” Luke said, wondering what difference that would make. “His mother had severe allergies to animal hair.”

“Dogs love you unconditionally, Luke,” she said, her eyes widening in earnest. “Your son needs one to fill the emotional gap in his heart.”

He shook his head. “I really don’t see how a dog would—”

She placed her hand on his arm. “I’m a volunteer at the Blue Sky Rescue Animal Shelter on Tuesdays and Fridays. I see firsthand the good that adopting a pet does for people. Take it from me, owning a dog will cheer up your son and help take his mind off himself.”

“Thanks for the advice,” he said, distracted by the softness of her touch. “I’ll give it some thought.”

When coffee and dessert arrived, Heather and Brandon began opening a small pile of gifts, most of which were “naughty” items. Each time Heather unwrapped another one, the room broke into laughter and hilarious “wedding night” jokes.

Bored, Luke checked the time on his phone. He’d devoured his curd-filled lemon cake and wanted to leave. He pushed back his chair, intending to quickly say his goodbyes and be on his way when Brandon’s booming voice pulled him up short.

“I’d like to make a special toast to Luke McCarran, my best man, and a good friend.” Brandon stood and walked around the table, stopping between Luke and Jenny. He held up his glass. “Here’s to you, old man.”

When the laughter died down, Heather pushed back her chair and stood holding up her stemmed water glass. “Now it’s the maid of honor’s turn!”

Jenny gasped; her face paled, her expression stricken as though Heather had just pronounced her death sentence.

Brandon held up his glass. “Let’s make a toast to Jenny Landon, Heather’s maid of honor!” His other hand landed lightly on Jenny’s shoulder.

“I can’t do this,” Jenny said, her shaking voice barely a squeak. “I simply can’t do this!” She snatched her purse and bolted from the room.

A sudden hush fell upon the group.

Luke stared in shock as he watched Jenny run away, wondering what had just happened.

~*~

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~*~

A Scene from LISA



“I promise to be home by midnight, and I’ll only have one drink. I’m not going to buss up,” Lisa said, using Shakara’s Bahamian slang for “get drunk.”

The lines in Elsie’s brow deepened with concern. “I worry about you going down to Nigel’s. That place has had too many police calls.” She shook her head. “It’s the tourists staying at the resorts causing all the trouble—getting drunk and starting fights. You be careful. Call me when you’re leaving and make sure Nigel finds someone to escort you and your friends to your cars. I don’t want you girls walking alone through the parking lot after dark.”

“I will, Auntie. Don’t worry.”

Lisa took the keys and headed out to the car. Elsie didn’t know she’d been communicating with a total stranger by email and had planned to meet him there. She thought Lisa had coordinated a “girl’s night out” with a few people to meet at Nigel’s.

I’m over thirty and I can’t tell my aunt the real story about what I’m doing.

Why couldn’t she be honest with Elsie? The truth didn’t make any sense!

“Is this absolutely the most totally brainless stunt I have ever pulled or what? I should have my head examined.” She tossed her wristlet onto the passenger seat, worrying about meeting City Boy. He could be a rapist or a serial killer for all she knew. The thought produced goosebumps on her arms. Maybe she shouldn’t go after all...

Wait a minute. This is Enchanted Island, not West Palm Beach. Stop with the scary thoughts.

First of all, she knew Nigel personally and had known him most of her life. He ran a reputable establishment and didn’t tolerate troublemakers—which were usually tourists. Second, she had no intention of leaving with “City Boy” and going somewhere alone with him. Third, if he tried anything inappropriate and she resisted, the locals would step in. The most likely scenario, however, would be that she’d meet up with a decent guy and have a nice time.

With that thought in mind, she slid in, shoved the key into the ignition, and drove out of the driveway.

Elsie had mentioned seeing a clip on the nightly news about a tropical storm brewing. If it stayed on its current path, it would hit the island by the weekend. She breathed a sigh of relief, glad she didn’t have to worry about that tonight.

At Nigel’s, Lisa stood at the door and scanned the full room, looking for a man in a red shirt. She noticed a group of islanders wearing “rasta tams” over their dreads—crocheted hats with red, green, black, and yellow stripes. They congregated around a large table in the corner, eating conch chowder and warm Johnny Cake with butter. The aroma hovered in the bar, making her hungry for the chowder, Nigel’s signature menu item.

She waved to Nigel behind the rectangular bar. His dark skin glistened under the lights, his graying hair, shorn close to his head, matched his salt and pepper beard. He patted a spot on the bar, signaling he wanted her to take the empty chair. She smiled and sat down, tucking the skirt of her long dress underneath her. She’d worn an ankle-length dress tonight in royal blue with cap sleeves and a round neckline. Shakara had crafted new pieces of jewelry for her; a heart-shaped pendant made from Larimar on a long sterling silver chain with matching teardrop earrings. The sky-blue gemstone marbled with white contrasted beautifully against the dark fabric of her dress. She’d left her long hair flowing and made a headband out of the red ribbon.

Nigel smiled, revealing a new gold tooth in the front of his mouth. “Ha it go, gyal? Whatcha drinkin’?”

“Hi, Nigel. I’ll take a Coke for now. I’m meeting someone here.”

“A Coke?” He laughed. “Muddasik dred! You can’t ha no fun tha way.” He set a wine glass in front of her and filled it with Jamaican Red Label wine. “First one is on da house.”

She thanked him and sipped it appreciatively. Perhaps she needed a little wine to settle her nerves. Uncertainty had set in again and worrisome imaginings were getting the best of her.

What if this guy is merely trolling for some hot babe to hop into bed with him?

She shuddered and stared into her wine glass, once again getting second thoughts about this “blind date.”

She glanced up and saw a handsome man with short blond hair sitting at the bar wearing a red shirt printed with gold palm fronds. Could he be the one? He looked to be the right age, but she didn’t recognize him. If he’d lived on the island for a while, she would have surely seen him somewhere.

He smiled at her. She smiled back. He picked up his drink and walked over, sliding onto the seat of the empty barstool next to her.

“Well, hello there,” he said in a deep, sexy drawl.

“Hello, City Boy,” she replied, hoping he understood. If not... “I’m Island Girl.”

“You can call me Darren.” His brows rose in amusement, his smile widening. “So, you’re Island Girl, huh? What’s your real name, or don’t you give it out when you’re working a place like this?”

What?

Okay, so maybe this guy wasn’t the right one. Maybe the red shirt was just an unfortunate coincidence…

She clutched her wine glass, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble. “Are you meeting someone here at eight o’clock?”

“Yeah,” Darren said and leaned toward her, sliding his hand across the small of her back. “I’ve been waiting all night to meet someone like you.”

Irritated by his boldness, she pulled his hand away. “Please, don’t do that.”

“Geez, you’re pretty uptight for a girl who came here looking to get picked up.”

“Look, I’m not uptight and I didn’t come here to get picked up. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

She grabbed her purse and slid off the barstool. “Thanks for the wine,” she said to Nigel. He tried to pour her another glass, but she placed her hand over the top of it and shook her head. “I’m leaving.” As soon as she got home she planned to delete every email from City Boy and block him, too!

“You’re leaving?” Darren stretched out his arm to block her way. “Why, do you want to go somewhere more romantic? All right, let’s go.” He slid off his barstool and chugged his drink.

She pushed her chair aside and sidestepped him. “Didn’t you hear me the first time? I’m leaving, but not with you. Goodbye.

“Ah, come on.” He tried to put his arm around her, but she pushed him away. “Look, we’ll go to my suite and I’ll order Champagne. Strawberries. Chocolate. Whatever it takes, okay?” Obviously, he’d done this sort of thing before. He’d deciphered her refusal as an act to get him to offer her more.

“Stop it.” She backed away, ready to shove him if he tried to touch her again. “Get away from me. I’m not going anywhere with you.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw Nigel watching, his bushy brows dipping with concern. He pulled his phone from under the bar and dialed 911.

“C’mon, babe.” Darren moved close and slid his arms around her. “I’ll show you a good time.”

She was about to give him a knee in the groin when suddenly a long, powerful arm slid past her and gripped the man by the front of his shirt, lifting him off the floor.

What the...

She turned and saw Shawn glowering at her harasser. He wore a Ralph Lauren polo shirt in solid red.

“Get your hands off her…”

Darren began to shout colorful curses and swing his fists wildly, but Shawn, having long arms and the advantage of being sober, easily blocked every blow.

Things were happening so fast, Lisa barely got out of the way.

A crowd began to form around the incident, some cheering on the altercation, others trying to break it up.

Shawn shoved Darren away. “Stay away from her or I’ll—”

“She came on to me! She’s mine!” Darren tried to level a punch to Shawn’s face, but Shawn smacked it away.

“Break it up, people. Move aside!” Duane Hall, the police officer on duty tonight—and Nigel’s cousin on his mother’s side—elbowed his way through the crowd and pulled the men apart. He glared at the drunk. “Ah-ha, so it’s you again. I warned you about fighting last night and da night before. Now I’m going to lock you up. You’re under arrest.”

Darren’s face turned red and he began to spit obscenities as Duane read him his rights.

Nigel slipped his phone into the front pocket of his orange-flowered shirt. “Duane, how did you get here so fast?”

The husky, island-born cop slapped his cuffs on the drunken man. “I was sitting in my cruiser in da parking lot, waiting for da trouble to start.” He shook his finger at Nigel. “You gotta get better customers in dis place. It’s a disgrace!”

As an age-old argument between Nigel and Duane ensued, Shawn grabbed Lisa by the hand, pulling her through the barroom and out the back door into the moonless night. Outside, the police cruiser’s red and blue lights flashed brightly, looking like a UFO in the parking lot.

“Where are we going,” she shouted, running to keep up.

He sounded angry. “Away from here!”

“Wait a minute.” She jerked on his hand to make him halt. “Are you City Boy or are your red shirt and your appearance in the bar at eight o’clock simply a coincidence?”

He spun around. “What do you think?”

She gasped and snatched her hand away. “Well, if you are, why didn’t you tell me this when we first met?”

“I didn’t know it myself until I walked into Nigel’s and saw the red ribbon in your hair. I couldn’t believe it. Then I saw you getting mauled by a drunken tourist. Whatever possessed you to talk to that jerk?”

“He had a red shirt on,” she argued in her own defense. “At first, I thought he was the person who had been emailing me.”

“He’s a weasel!” Shawn towered over her. “I doubt he’s ever read a poem in his life, much less written something that rhymes. You should have seen right through him.”

“I did! He wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“I can see why.” He grabbed her hand and started walking toward the beach. The loud, systematic roar of the waves rushing toward shore and back out to sea should have calmed her, but Shawn’s reply made her angrier than before.

“What do you mean by that?”

He stopped next to a row of tall palms, their trunks wound with strings of clear lights. “You’re beautiful and sexy in that dress. Every guy in the bar couldn’t stop looking at you.”

She rolled her eyes. “They all know me, Shawn.”

“Yeah, and they all want to know you better!”

“What. Is. Your. Problem!?”

He grabbed her by the forearms and drew her close. She tried to pull away by stepping backward but instead slammed her back against a palm tree.

“You want to know what my problem is?” He drew his face close to hers. “It’s simple. I’ve never been a jealous man, but when I saw you in the bar with that guy and he was trying to put his hands all over you, I had all I could do to keep from ripping his head off.” His eyes pierced hers with hurt and confusion. “Look, I know we haven’t known each other long, but I don’t want to be friends anymore. Do you understand? I want to be the one.”

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~*~