Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Timeless Romance anthology

A few months ago I was invited to have a story in a spring anthology of clean, short romance stories. They're each around the 13,000 word mark, which means about 40-50 pages and the collection will have six great stories by published authors whose work I LOVE! The book comes out in February, but the cover is already out, and I had to share. You can learn more about these quarterly anthologies here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Giveaway winner announced

The giveaway hop ended late last night so it's time to announce the winner. First, a big thanks to everyone who entered. It was fun to get notifications of all of the people who were interested in my book. If you haven't had a chance to read my teaser chapters, you can find them here. And now, the winner is:

Tragedy6996, aka Christina! Congrats Christina, I'll be in touch!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I am Thankful for Books!



November is well known as a month for thankfulness, so to take a break from my many, many  projects and celebrate, I'm joining my good friend, Tristi Pinkston, Inspired Kathy, and 170 others in an awesome blog hop. The hop will be open all this week and you can visit lots of sites to enter to win tons of prizes! I'll be giving away a copy of my new culinary mystery, in paperback here in the US, or in ebook format of the winner's choice if they live outside the US.




Pastry chef Tess Crawford thought moving from Chicago to quiet Silver Springs, Arizona would simplify her life. That was before she found the body of a woman with whom she had traded heated words the previous night, left her fingerprints on the murder weapon, and came under attack for trying to clear her name. When her cheating ex-fiance shows up, intent on convincing her to come back to work for him, Tess—armed with an extra batch of éclairs—decides to take control and solve the mystery herself, with the help of friends and frenemies alike.

But will that be enough to save her when she gets too close and the killer decides it’s safer to get her out of the way? 




Sounds delicious, doesn't it? And it includes several yummy recipes. 

So enter today and then go check out some of these other great prizes!

There are several ways to win: 
Leave a comment=1 entry
Follow this blrog (or be a follower already)=1 entry
Follow my Facebook fan page here =1 entry
Tweet this post or post it to Facebook =1 entry each
And don't forget to leave some way for me to reach you, either a web or email address, a Twitter handle or Facebook link so I can get you your prize!

This contest will be open until the 15th!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brownie recipe and book excerpt

Last week I promised a taste (ha,ha) of my new book so below you'll find the first two chapters of Brownies & Betrayal, as well as the recipe for Rocky Road Brownies--it's super delish. Enjoy!


Chapter 1


I pulled into a parking spot and took a deep breath. What was I doing here?

Okay, so I knew what I was doing.  I was bringing moist, delicious, award-winning brownies to the wedding rehearsal of a woman I’d known for years and always disliked, in the pathetic grand ballroom of a three-star hotel. It was a long fall from the Best-in-State hotel restaurant in Chicago where I’d created cakes and pastries for the past nine years. I tried not to let that bother me.

And the whole thing made me as nervous as a preteen at her first bakeoff with much older kids—an event I remembered clearly almost twenty years later.

My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. “Honey,” I greeted my best friend after a glance at the Caller ID. “This is a big mistake. I can’t believe I let you talk me into it.”\

“Don’t be ridiculous. This is nothing—you’ve baked cakes that cost more than my car. This is a batch of brownies. Have you left for the hotel yet?”

“I’m here. And don’t talk down about our award-winning brownie recipe.”

Honey laughed. “See, you’ll be fine.”

“If I fail at this, I may never forgive you, so you know.” I climbed from my Mitsubishi Outlander and walked around to the back to retrieve the box of brownies.

“You’ve never failed at anything, and we need a good custom bakery in town. Not to say anything against ours at the store, but our staff is hardly cut out to do fancy wedding cakes.” She spoke of Mark’s Foodtown, her in-laws’ grocery store, which her husband now managed. The suggestion that I start my own bakery here in town wasn’t a new refrain; Honey had been singing it for several years.

The quiet town of Silver Springs, Arizona, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of socialites willing to pay thousands for custom cakes, but with everything else in my life crumbling to ashes, she’d convinced me to give it a go. I hoped having the much larger city of Prescott close by would bring in extra business to keep me running since my savings account would only stretch so far. “I ought to go,” I said as I clicked the button to lock the vehicle’s doors and headed for the hotel. “Have to face Bridezilla.”

“She’s not your first.”

“And I’m sure she won’t be the last,” I agreed as I pushed through the double glass doors and headed toward the grand ballroom. It wasn’t particularly grand, but it would fit the needs of most locals. The new reception center wasn’t supposed to be up and running for a couple more months.

“Hey, at least you only had to put up with her for a week—it could have been worse.”

When I looked back at the hurried cleaning and planning to renovate my grandma’s old restaurant into a pastry shop, I had a hard time believing that I was still working in Chicago seven days earlier. I felt a tug of longing for what I had thrown away, but pushed it back as I entered the left half of the ballroom, which had been sectioned off for tonight’s meal while the wedding party held their rehearsal on the other side. Muffled voices leaked through to me as I set the pastry box on the table and checked to make sure my short, dark-brown hair was still tight in its little ponytail at the nape of my neck. Then I pulled on a pair of food-grade gloves and began to set the rocky road brownies on the provided tray. 

“Valerie, this is my wedding. Can’t you let it go for one night?” A woman’s voice drew my attention as two women walked into the room. It was the bride, Analesa.

“It’s not like I’m trying to seduce Tad. Shawn is an adult, remember?” the woman who must have been Valerie answered. She gestured expansively, and her jeweled bracelet caught my eye. The voices went low again, and I heard a few phrases like control yourself and get a grip. The conversation was punctuated with angry eyes and finger jabs to the air.

So not everything was smooth sailing with this wedding. Since I’d done cakes for hundreds of weddings, I knew that was hardly unusual. And Analesa had never been particularly easy to please. Though we never hung out on my long summer visits to Silver Springs to see my grandma, I remembered well what a control freak she was.

I glanced at the two women, the blonde bride and her brunette maid of honor—I hadn’t met many of the members of the wedding party, but I recognized Valerie’s name from when Analesa paid for the cake.
Both women were tall, tanned and had long hair flowing down their backs, but that was where the similarities ended. Analesa was the picture of conservative upper class—the poster wife for her attorney fiancé—though she’d been raised at lower-middle class at best. Valerie was dressed like a loaded call girl, from the strappy red Jimmy Choo’s, which I admit made my knees weak with envy, to the formfitting dress that showcased her ample cleavage.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t listening while I strained to catch more of the conversation. Valerie turned toward me and approached, all but stomping in her heels, if anything so graceful could be considered stomping. 

“Quit being so uptight, Ana. I’m just trying to have a little fun.”

Analesa looked like she intended to continue the conversation, but her groom-to-be, Tad, entered the room and caught her by the elbow. I thought he looked far less handsome in person than in his engagement picture, which I’d seen around town. And more geeky, with his slicked-back, tawny hair and silver-rimmed glasses. Maybe it was the stress of dealing with warring women, I mused. I added the last brownie to the trays the kitchen staff had provided me, then shifted them all around for the perfect presentation. I added another item to the growing mental list of equipment I would need for my new shop and imagined my savings account shrinking.

Valerie dragged my attention back to her. “Brownies? Aren’t you Tempest Crawford? I heard you were supposed to be some amazing pastry chef, a woman who creates fabulous desserts capable of awing the most discerning of customers. And yet we have brownies.” She stared down her nose at the delectable delights. “Are all your awards invented to make you sound impressive?” She snatched one from the tray. Her bracelet sparkled, almost blinding me at this proximity, the colored stones catching the light, the dangles jingling as she moved. A matching necklace with a large, gaudy pendant and cluster earrings glittered, completing the set.

I couldn’t help feeling defensive, but determined to stay professional, I clenched my jaw and forced a smile. “You should wait until dinner. You’re ruining the presentation. And this is what Analesa asked me to make. These brownies are award-winning.”

“I’m sure they are—in tiny burgs like this one. Even in Prescott they’re probably considered fancy fare. I doubt you’ll have any trouble fitting in here.” She took a large bite, looking smug.

I held in a growl at her disregard for etiquette as the other guests entered the room. I needed to make a good impression, as this was my first opportunity to showcase my pastry skills since my impulsive relocation. I knew any work I found here would be a far cry from my previous employment, but I was determined to make my business succeed.

Valerie tipped her head to the side, looking at the ceiling as though considering the dessert’s merits as she chewed and swallowed. “They’re fine, I suppose. But I know this chef in Mesa—Roscoe Marks. He’d bake circles around you. Sorry, sweetie.” With a gleam of meanness in her eyes, took another large bite before she turned and walked off.

I couldn’t help myself. Roscoe? She was comparing my award-winning brownie recipe to Roscoe? He was such a poser! If she’d wanted to offend me, she could not have done better—besides comparing my work to Karen’s, that is, but as my former boss wasn’t a pastry chef, such a comparison was unlikely to happen. “That idiot wouldn’t know a turkey roaster from a double boiler.” I said this low so no one else would hear, but I must have been louder than I thought.

Valerie twisted back, amusement in her eyes. “Hit a mark, didn’t I? I know why you’re here—you were let go by your former employer. Surprised I heard about that, aren’t you? Small towns have big mouths. In your late thirties and you’re already a washed-up has-been.” She turned and trotted off.

I saw red. I was only thirty-one, for heaven’s sake, and I didn’t get fired, I quit. I had them begging me to come back. Knowing that didn’t stop a shaft of hurt from accompanying the anger, though.

A tall, blond man who did serious justice to the navy designer suit he wore—Armani, if my guess was right—followed Valerie into the hall, a look of determination on his face.

Tad approached and addressed me. “Ana’s been telling me all about your fabulous desserts. The brownies look great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with the cake on such short notice.” He extended a hand. “Hi, I suppose I ought to introduce myself. I’m Tad Richardson. I’m the anxious groom.” He stepped in front of me so I couldn’t tear off after Valerie and mar her pretty little face before the wedding. I don’t know what he was worried about. It’s not like I would do anything permanent.

I sucked in a breath and admitted to myself that I wouldn’t have hurt her. We would have crossed verbal swords again, and since she had my measure, she was more likely to come out ahead. Reining in my emotions, I focused my attention on tomorrow’s groom and forced a polite smile as I took his hand, which was cool and dry. He had a nice, firm grip—something I appreciated.

“It’s good to meet you. I know Analesa is very excited about becoming Mrs. Richardson. And I promise tomorrow’s cake won’t disappoint. You’ve had the benefit of my almost undivided attention, which didn’t hurt.” I admit, my vanity was mollified by his words. Smooth talkers—I always seemed to fall for them, which was why I’ve had two failed engagements. But now was not the time for dwelling on my relationship failures.

His grin transformed his face from a serious, but pleasant-looking, geek, to someone considerably more handsome. Even his green eyes seemed to sparkle. Ah, the man in the photos did exist.

A tall, platinum blonde who ought to have had some gray in her hair, but instead looked fresh and young as a forty-year-old, came over, putting a hand on Tad’s elbow. “Sweetheart, can you find out what’s keeping the food? And track down Jeff and Valerie—he took off after her and we’re ready to sit down, don’t you think?”

“Of course, Mother.”

Mother, like they were some high-fashion set. All polite façade and no warmth, but then I changed my mind. There was warmth in both mother’s and son’s eyes when they looked at each other. Yet she wasn’t Mom, she was Mother. I let the thought go—there were too many odd characters in this group.

Tad turned to leave as a little girl ran over to him. She had dark hair and a sweet pixie face with huge green eyes and a smile that would light up a high-rise. “Tad, where you goin’?”

“To find your mom. You want to come along?” He held out his hand to her with a fond smile. She accepted both as her due and they wandered out together. That adorable little girl was Valerie’s? Really?
I offered my hand to Tad’s mother. “Hello, my name is Tempest Crawford, but you can call me Tess. I’m about to get out of your way for the evening.”

“I’m Caroline Richardson. Tad’s mother, of course. Well, your brownies look delicious. I’ve heard such great things about your desserts. I look forward to sampling one.” Her smile was genuine, but I doubted the woman had eaten a brownie in the past ten years. She looked slightly better fed than an Ethiopian during a drought.

I appreciated the kind words, however, so I thanked her and made a final adjustment to cover the hole Valerie’s theft had made. I collected my things and headed for the exit. As I reached it, I nearly bumped into the man who’d been chasing Valerie. He was coming through the doorway from the other direction. I moved to the side and ran into a table nearby, which held a huge Chinese vase of pale pink roses.

I reached out and grabbed the vase in time to stop the whole thing from toppling, though the empty pastry box I’d been carrying ended up on the floor. My heart rate kicked up for a moment when I realized how close I’d come to knocking the vase over, but my temporary lack of personal coordination wasn’t going to cost me this time.

“Sorry,” the blond said, picking up what I’d dropped. “I should watch where I’m going.”

“No problem. It was my mistake,” I answered. I took another glance at his suit, now that I was up close. Yes, definitely Armani. “I’m Tess, the pastry chef.”

“I’m Jeff, the best man.” He grinned and passed over my things. “Are your brownies a work of art too?”

“Of course. They may not look it, but wait until you’ve tasted them.”

“I look forward to it.” He backed out of the way and let me pass.

 

Rocky Road Brownies


2 cups sugar
4 eggs 
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups melted unsweetened chocolate chips
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp cocoa
Mix, then add: 2 ½ cup flour
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 Cup pecan bits
1 Cup semi-sweet chips
4 Cups miniature marshmallows

Mix the sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla and cocoa until smooth. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring every twenty seconds until smooth Cool and mix in rest of it.
Add the baking soda and salt, then the flour, mixing between cup fulls. Add the nuts and chocolate chips into the batter, mixing well, and pour into greased and floured 9x13 pan. I usually use a spray oil like Pam or Vegalene, then flour the pan to keep it from sticking. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, adding mini-marshmallows to the top of the pan for the final five minutes or until the marshallows on the edge just start to turn golden. The marshmallows will cut better if you let the brownies cool most of the way first.


Chapter 2


The cake was a masterpiece. I carried the final layers into the room where the meal would be held in two hours. Though many pastry chefs liked to assemble the cake at the bakery and have someone else deliver it completed to the site, I’d always preferred to do deliveries and assemble final details on site myself—especially since you never knew what could happen in transit.

I can’t count the number of disasters I’d had to fix over the years. If a piece could crush, fall off, slump, or wilt, it had happened, and being on hand to fix and assemble was the best option in my mind. As I set the last pastry box on the table, I realized I was spoiled doing cakes at the hotel in Chicago, since I baked, assembled and displayed most of them at the same location. I would have to consider the issue before I finalized my policies for the pastry shop.

Wait staff scurried around me as I checked each bakery box and was relieved when I saw there had been no disasters en route to the hotel. I put in my ear buds and turned on my tunes. After flipping to my collection of songs from the nineties, I mouthed some of the words with Paula Abdul, though I was too conscious of everyone around me to sing any of it out loud—I saved that for the quiet of my kitchen at home.

Straightening the tablecloth on the table I’d used the night before, I set the cake base in the middle, checked my box of supplies to be certain everything was there, and began with the lower layers.

The mother of the groom entered and said something to me. I turned off my iPod, pretending like she wasn’t interrupting, and that I wouldn’t have minded if she had. It was a carefully honed talent of mine. “Sorry, what was that?”

She repeated the question. “Have you seen Valerie? She should have been up in the bride’s suite hours ago for her hair and makeup. Could the woman be any more irresponsible?”

I blinked and watched her glance around the room as if she expected to find the missing maid of honor there with me. “No, I haven’t seen her. If I do, I’ll send her along.”

Diamonds glittered at Caroline’s ears, sequins adorned her long, cream-colored sheath and her hair was perfectly coifed. I thought she’d make a lovely bride herself. She pursed her lips. “I’d appreciate it. I told Analesa not to choose that woman for maid of honor. Millie would have been a much better choice. Valerie’s daughter’s running wild here with no one to watch her, and it’s distracting having her in the dressing room. Why isn’t Valerie keeping her under control?”

“The little girl I saw last night, with the big eyes and dark hair? Why would Valerie leave her running wild?” It seemed odd that the woman hadn’t arranged for someone to watch the girl.

Caroline seemed to realize she had overstepped the bounds of propriety into the murky fields of gossip. “Valerie took her to a neighbor’s house last night. The neighbor brought her back here this morning for the wedding, though why Tad insisted that she be here, I certainly don’t know.” She checked the slim gold watch on her wrist. “I guess Millie will have to fill in as maid of honor.”

The woman swept out of the room again.

After I switched my tunes back on, I focused again on my task. Playing with butter cream and gumpaste, tinting and tweaking and manipulating it had always soothed and excited me, since the very first cake I had decorated when I was eight. That was long before I had a clue what I was doing or how to use the very few tools my mom had in the kitchen. I’d never been great at drawing, though I could do a decent sketch in most cases—enough to please the clients—but with sugar, I could be an artist.

I stacked the bottom two layers, added plates and columns and arranged the gumpaste flowers I’d made earlier in the week.  Next came the leaves I’d made and dusted with sparkling powders to make them realistic. Making a little sugar look like the real thing was my specialty, I thought smugly as I placed another rose and continued around the table. It was a labor of love.

“How are things in here?” The male voice made me jump, as it came from right over my shoulder—the only way I would have heard it while wearing my earbuds.

I yanked one out and looked back at Tad, willing my heart rate to return to normal. “Just fine, thanks. Don’t worry—it’ll be perfect, and I’ll get out of the way long before the ceremony ends.”

“Thank you, I appreciate everything you’ve done. Your brownies last night were amazing.”

“Most of you thought so,” I muttered, but not low enough.

“What do you mean?”

“Valerie seemed to have definite opinions on their quality.” I tried to pretend I wasn’t still offended. Roscoe, of all people!

“Funny, I swear she had two at dinner. Well, I better get moving. Guests will start arriving any moment.” He nodded and smiled, then took off.

So Valerie had eaten not one, but three of my brownies over the course of the evening? I held the thought close, reassured. Like so many before her, she enjoyed causing a fuss. I’d had experience with her type.

When I got around to the back of the cake, I heard organ music start. Early arrivals, I thought. I checked my watch and realized I was taking longer than usual. This would be my first opportunity to wow the locals, and I wanted to do it right. One more step and I saw a smear of chocolate frosting from the previous night’s brownies on the floor at the edge of the tablecloth. Hadn’t the hotel cleaned up everything after everyone ate?

I grabbed a paper towel and leaned over to wipe up the frosting, and saw the smear continue under the table. I lifted the pale pink tablecloth—did Analesa’s obsession with pink have no end?—and saw the brownie lying on the floor, a bite taken out of it. What a waste, I thought as I reached for it, then noticed the red toe of a woman’s shoe. I pulled the tablecloth up even farther and saw a bent leg, the tiny red dress and sprawled body of Valerie among shards of a china vase. In my earbuds, Jon Bon Jovi started screaming about going down in a blaze of glory, and I knew I’d never hear the song again without seeing her pale face.

Blood pooled on the floor beneath her head, and streaks led to the edge of the tablecloth. More blood soaked her dress and ran down from her chest, where a shard of china vase still stuck out from her heart. Her eyes were closed, her face gray, the earring twinkling in the reflected light. My breath caught and I dropped the tablecloth, taking several steps back. Was she dead? I wasn’t sure, but my first thought was that she had to be. I held my breath for a moment, then started breathing again, faster than ever.

I dipped my hand in my pocket for my cell phone, dialed 911 and approached the body again. Body—was she dead? I asked myself again. Though there were still over twenty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, I heard the murmur of voices coming from the next room. My hand shook as the operator answered, “9-1-1, what’s the address of the emergency?”

I gave her the name of the hotel and what I remembered of the address. I spoke haltingly, still not sure I believed what I’d seen. “There’s a body, I’m not sure if she’s dead, but this woman, at the hotel, she’s been hurt. Blood. Lots of blood.” Why was I freaking out? Most of the time, I was so level-headed. I’d encountered many an emergency during weddings over the years, and they hadn’t thrown me. But I’d never seen so much blood before.

As she relayed the information to emergency personnel, I lifted the table cloth and looked into Valerie’s gray face again. Her eyes were closed, for which I was grateful, as I didn’t think I could stand looking into her dark, almond-shaped eyes if they had been vacant. I smelled the tang of blood in the air, and wondered, vaguely, why I hadn’t noticed it before.

One pink rosebud lay across her pale chest, as if put there as adornment while the rest of the bouquet lay scattered around her. Her legs were scrunched up in front of her, so she was in the fetal position—the only way she would have fit under the table.

A teenage girl approached me in her wait-staff uniform. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

I pointed to the body. The girl’s eyes widened, and turning hysterical, she screamed. That made me feel almost competent—after all, I hadn’t screamed, right? I almost wet myself with surprise, but I managed not to scream.

I heard a faint beeping in the hallway, the whisper of a voice over the radio—the same voice I heard in my ear, though slightly off-sync, and a tall, muscular man with serious, pale-blue eyes and strawberry blond hair entered the room, scanned it, zeroed in on me and strode over in long, ground-eating steps. “Where’s the patient?” I wondered if he intended to kneel in the blood while wearing his gray pinstripe suit—which was definitely off the rack, not a product of Armani or any other designer of note. Strange, the details you notice when you’re in shock.

I pointed to the table, and he flipped up the cloth edge, brushing my cake with it. I decided I didn’t much care if he damaged the decorations as I collapsed into a nearby chair. He felt for Valerie’s pulse, lifted an arm and pulled out his cell phone. A moment later, I heard him say, “This is Jack King with the Agave County paramedics. You can 1022 the ambulance—the patient is status echo. Trauma to the head and chest, rigor mortis has already begun.”

I didn’t get most of what he said—it was all gibberish. I did get the words “rigor mortis,” however. That was hard to miss. I felt all the blood rush out of my head and I swayed.

Jack looked up at me, stood and hurried over, closing his phone and sliding it back into his pocket. “Hey, are you okay?” He touched my shoulder and forced me to bend at the waist so I folded in half. “Head between your legs. Feeling a bit woozy?”

“It’s my first dead body,” I told him. “Last night I saw her wearing that dress. She looked a little healthier then.”

“Yeah, I bet she did.” He touched my wrist for a moment—feeling for a pulse, I wondered? “Stay there, don’t move.” He stood and headed back to the door, where, when I turned my head to follow him, I saw people starting to crowd in. “Everyone out. The police will be here any minute. Go on, get out.”

A distinguished man in a gray tux and wearing a pink rose boutonnière stood firm and argued with him, but Jack urged him out, promising someone would be by to explain in a minute. He requested that Mr. Richardson—which would make him father of the groom—wait for the police at the front door and show them in. I saw Tad standing beyond the door, looking in, shock on his unnaturally pale face. I thought it would be good if he put his head between his knees as well.

A minute later Jack crouched beside me. “Feeling better yet?”

“Yeah. Why did everyone come?” I asked.

“The screaming. Was it you?”

“No. Some young wait staff. Blonde.” My words were still halting, but I thought I might sit up without passing out now. When I straightened in the chair, I saw the body again, Valerie. One long, slim arm extended behind her. “How long has she been dead?”

“I don’t know—the officers will have an idea. Feeling better?”

I nodded, relieved it didn’t make my head spin.

He looked me over. “What are you doing here? Do you work in the kitchen?”

“No, I’m the pastry chef. Analesa asked me to make the cake.”

He put two fingers on my wrist’s pulse point again. “You sound like you’re from the east.”

“Chicago. I’ve only been back for a few days. Should’ve known leaving the city would put me in the middle of something. Bronson warned me.” I was babbling at this point, not sure why, except that I needed to fill the silence with words.

“Bronson?”

“Bronson Daniel DeMille the third. My fiancé, or rather, my ex-fiancé.” Lousy cheat. But I didn’t need to spread my dirty laundry, and it appeared I did still have a tiny bit of self-control left.

“He warned you not to come to Silver Springs?” Jack stood again.

“Rednecks, he said. Hole in the ground. Waste of my potential.” These were all things he’d said in a conversation we’d had on the phone the previous evening as he tried to convince me I should return to Chicago and work for him again, instead of staying in this backwater hole—as he called it. I was rather attached to this backwater hole. He also seemed to think he could sweet-talk his way back into our relationship. Stupid jerk. As if I would ever forget the sight of him kissing Karen, of the smirk on her face when she’d seen my hurt and surprise.

A sneer came over Jack’s face. “I’ve heard that before. I didn’t agree then, either.” He moved away as the sound of sirens penetrated the room. “You seem fine to me. I suppose I should go where I’m useful.”

I wasn’t sure what I’d said to cause the attitude turnaround. Maybe he was just like that. Was he with the police? He seemed to know what was going on. I wished I did, but I didn’t seem to have regained full control of my senses.

The sirens stopped, and a couple of minutes later, the doors opened and three blue-uniformed officers entered along with a man in a suit. Two went straight to the body, the other stayed to talk to Jack and the man in the suit, a tow-head in his early forties, came to my side. “Jack said he didn’t get your name. I’m Detective Tingey. Can you tell me what you know?”

“I’m Tess, Tempest Crawford, and I made the cake.” I told him everything I remembered from the moment I arrived, though I’m afraid it came out a bit jumbled and full of nonsense. I ran through the events, then he had me write them down. By that time, I felt more in control, and I hoped my written account made sense.

As he took the papers from me, he asked, “Is there anything you noticed that was out of place? You said she wore that dress last night. Is she missing jewelry, a purse, anything else you remember?”

I touched my ears, then my chest as I tried to remember. How had I missed it at first? “Her jewelry. She had a real flashy bracelet, necklace and earrings. I know she’s still wearing the earrings but I don’t think she has the necklace on anymore. I’m not sure about the bracelet.” I took back the pages I’d written on and turned the last one over, doing a rough sketch of the set for him. “It was an expensive set, probably worth several thousand dollars. Do you think it might be a robbery gone wrong?”

“It’s too early to tell. Thanks for the sketch—it helps.” He took the pages back and moved away.

Everything seemed to happen in a blur—the people, the officers, the noise and confusion—but above the din, I heard Analesa’s clear, distinctive voice wailing. At first I thought it was over the death of her friend, then I realized that was only one component. “Val, Val is dead, how can I get married without Val? My wedding is ruined. This was supposed to be the most perfect day of my life. But Val. Val! And her poor little girl. Parentless.” It sounded as though she wasn’t sure whether she should be more upset over her friend’s unfortunate demise, or the postponing of the ceremony. Tad patted her hand, a grim look on his face. It was his wedding too—I supposed he was more than allowed to be upset.

A moment later Valerie’s little girl ran into the room, tears flowing down her cheeks. Tad took three long strides and snatched the girl up before one of the officers could stop her. She sobbed and hit and kicked Tad, calling out to her mommy. He cradled her to his chest, murmuring softly into her hair and walked back toward the exit. The girl grew limp despite her sobs, and her little hands wrapped behind his neck before they moved out of sight.

My heart wrenched for her pain as I remembered vividly the way I’d felt when I learned my parents had been killed in a train accident. Was it better or worse that I’d been old enough to really understand what dead meant? I rubbed the chill from my arms and forced the thoughts away.

Everyone milled around, shocked and muttering. Soon Honey approached, her long black hair hanging in cornrows and her dark eyes filled with concern. “Are you okay? Someone said you found Valerie.” She leaned over and gave me a big hug.

I squeezed her back, grateful for her calming influence. I’d needed a friend. “I did. It’s horrible. I can’t even explain how awful.” Honey and I had been best friends since we were little, despite the distance between our homes.

She let me talk about what had happened until one of the officers asked her to rejoin the others. Honey squeezed my hand, promising to stop by and see me later, but left without complaint, promising me to keep her ears open. I knew how she loved gossip; it was part of what made her the savvy, people-oriented person she was.

Eventually Caroline stopped by. “We’re going to have the buffet set up in the next room though the ceremony isn’t taking place today. The police say we’ll be able to hold the wedding tomorrow, even if we have to set up on the grounds. Can you take the cake back with you, and bring it again tomorrow. It’ll keep in the fridge, won’t it?”

“It’ll keep.” I didn’t mention it was covered in fondant, so the refrigerator wasn’t an option, not unless she wanted it to sweat and get water spots on it. She wouldn’t care about the details, anyway, and I could handle it.  The pantry downstairs in the shop was cool, since I hadn’t turned on the heat there yet, and it was still March. The problem was that my cake sat on top of the table above the body, and the police hadn’t appeared too interested in letting anyone near it. Deciding it couldn’t be helped, I went in search of Detective Tingey. I hoped he could work something out for me.

Ten minutes later, under my direction, an officer disassembled the tiers, as much as I dared let him, and brought it over to me. I lifted the plate off the second tier and drove several sharpened dowels through the two tiers. That would keep everything together until I brought the cake back the next day. I’d deal with any issues later. I loaded everything back into my SUV and headed home.

You can buy this book on Kindle or Nook now. The paper version hasn't trickled onto Amazon yet, but should sometime next week, or they can be ordered from me if you want them signed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My new book cover!

So, I've been working on my first culinary mystery for nearly two years now, and after several rounds of critiques from friends, it's finally about to come out! But first, isn't my cover cute!

Yeah, my husband still has to build the page on my website for the series, but next week I'll post a couple of teaser chapters. 

Here's the blurb, what do you think?




Pastry chef Tess Crawford thought moving from Chicago to quiet Silver Springs, Arizona would simplify her life. That was before she found the body of a woman with whom she had traded heated words the previous night, left her fingerprints on the murder weapon, and came under attack for trying to clear her name. When her cheating ex-fiance shows up, intent on convincing her to come back to work for him, Tess—armed with an extra batch of éclairs—decides to take control and solve the mystery herself, with the help of friends and frenemies alike.

But will that be enough to save her when she gets too close and the killer decides it’s safer to get her out of the way?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Get lots of free gifts when you buy Merrill Osmond's new book today

Book bomb today! Purchase FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY  from Amazon.com for only $3.99 and you’ll get an amazing selection of over 10 free gifts from Merrill Osmond and others! http://rachellewrites.blogspot.com/

Celebrate the release of FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY by Merrill Osmond and Shirley Bahlmann with a special price today and get a free video of the NEW original song by acclaimed singer/songwriter, Merrill Osmond!

I have a special offer for you—it’s only good for today—Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Purchase FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY  from Amazon.com. Then email Rachellethewriter@gmail.com with your order confirmation/receipt. Once Rachelle receives your order details, she will email you an amazing selection of over 10 free gifts from Merrill Osmond, Shirley Bahlmann, and several others!

 Here’s what’s in store when you purchase FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY  today only:
(All items will be emailed to you from Rachelle after she receives your order confirmation.) You can purchase the Kindle Edition HERE for $3.99 today! Paperback also available for $15.99.
 
Over 10 free gifts to enjoy!


To celebrate the launch of his new novel, Merrill Osmond, singer/songwriter, producer, and author is offering a free video of his new song titled after the novel, Faith, Hope, and Gravity.

 Shirley Bahlmann, co-author of Faith, Hope, and Gravity, is offering
EBOOK-DETOURS-WHEN LIFE THROWS YOU A CURVE JUST FOLLOW THE ROAD begins with 5 friends facing a journey to an incredibly lovely estate glimpsed in the distance. Their kindly host tells them to follow the signs as they travel. But did he really mean for them to obey the "Detour" sign that takes them off the paved road onto a rough track? Or is it a clever prank? Find out where they end up, then ask yourself: Where are your choices leading you?

EBOOK by Shirley Bahlmann - ANEDRA AND THE FISH PRINCE proves that a beautiful yet selfish young lady really does have a heart when she volunteers to help her mother. But all the good seems to go down the drain when she disobeys her father and eats a bite of forbidden fish. Her disobedience sends her on a remarkable journey. She swims under the sea, flies into the air, and finds herself smack in the middle of an angry giantess's castle with only a grumpy dog as her companion.
Shirley Bahlmann has had over 20 books published in 10 years, with several more manuscripts eagerly awaiting publication. Go ahead and visit her blog at:  http://shirleybahlmann.blogspot.com/

THE PRIZEWINNING SCANDINAVIAN FESTIVAL BREAD RECIPE. This grand prize winning recipe won Rebecca McGarry a brand-spanking new Bosch mixer, still in the box, against the entries of 39 other hopeful bread makers. As the mother of 10 children, Rebecca makes good use of her mixer. Go ahead and make yourself a batch of warm award-winning bread, and feel right at home.

Connie Sokol, author, speaker and life coach is offering a free podcast: Life Vision
Create a Life Vision!
Get back to center with this 30-minute CoachCast to help you find your focus, set successful and enjoyable goals, embrace the unexpected, feel the power of simple rewards, and create your own Life Board. Learn why a Life Vision is key to becoming your ideal self-start today!
Visit www.8basics.com for video segments, blog posts, products, and more.

Heather Johnson from Family Volley.blogspot.com, shares with you 5 powerful tips for keeping your marriage strong. Including the "anatomy of a successful date night" and tips for better daily communication. Free download of PDF file.

Free Children’s song from the American Tall Tales Collection of Story Time Felts & More written and performed by Rachelle Christensen & Craig Hancock. The Johnny Appleseed song tells the story of the beloved folk tale hero who walked the frontier planting apple trees for the future.
Story Time Felts & More is the leader in interactive felt products creating imaginative play for children for over 25 years.

EBOOK by Tristi Pinkston - Secret Sisters is an LDS cozy mystery novel about an elderly Relief Society presidency who turns to espionage to get their visiting teaching done, and accidentally bring down a drug ring.
Tristi Pinkston is the author of fifteen books and works full-time as a freelance editor. She is a popular presenter at writers conferences all over the Intermountain West. You can learn more about her at www.tristipinkston.com

Free song from Craig Hancock, acclaimed pianist and producer, owner of Sage Mountain Studios. From Sounds of the Seasons, you’ll receive the original song, “Snowflakes.”

 
Shear Luck free ebook by Heather Justesena romance novella-- When salon manager Chelsea Robison walks into the restaurant next door, she's surprised to run into her teenage crush Vaughn Krenshaw. Though he is still mourning his wife's death, he can't help but take a chance and ask her out. As things start getting serious, family pressure about dating again, and rumors from his past surface, making the chance for happily ever after look farther than ever.

The PDF of “Solving the Mystery of Writing—5 Steps to Successful Writing” from award-winning author, Rachelle J. Christensen.

Why a book bomb? A book bomb is when a large group of people purchase a certain book on a specific day on Amazon. This pushes the book's popularity up the Amazon ranks, which in turn gives the book more visibility to Amazon shoppers. That’s the goal today for FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY. 

So feel free to pass this on to your friends and shout it out on FB, Twitter, etc. We’d like as many people as possible to benefit from these bonus gifts.

 Remember this offer is only good for purchases made on Wednesday, August 29, 2012! You must Email Rachellethewriter@gmail.com with your order confirmation/receipt when you purchase FAITH, HOPE, AND GRAVITY from Amazon.com.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book review: Turning Pages by Tristi Pinkston

Tristi Pinkston is one of the most versatile writers I know. She writes historicals, cozy mysteries, narrative non-fiction, cook books and now a light-hearted romance.

Here's the blurb:

With his pride and her prejudice, what could possibly go wrong?

When the arrogant Blake Hansen steals Addie Preston's promotion at the library, he pretty much rubs her nose in it. But Addie, who dreams of being a full-fledged librarian, decides to stick it out. She loves surrounding herself with books and keeping her father's memory alive in the building where they spent so much time together.

Soon, Addie learns that her beloved library will be torn down to make room for a larger facility, and she has to make a choice. Fight, or let go?

To complicate things, she finds herself attracted to Blake, who is engaged to someone else. Will Blake and Addie ever resolve their differences?


 Addie is a quirky character who's easy to relate to with believable conflicts and problems. The plot is engrossing with nice twists and turns and characters you want to root for. If you're looking for a light read for teens or anyone who is young at heart, I totally recommend this book!

You can buy Turning Pages in local bookstores, or online on Amazon. Learn more about the author at TristiPinkston.com.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Multi-author signing tonight and updates

First, tonight I'll be signing with a dozen other authors at the Pleasant Grove Library. There will be a silent auction for the library, and some of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the library. There will be plenty of cookies and great books to add to your shelves, so come join us at the library. Other author signing with me include:

Julie Ford
Tristi Pinkston (she's launching her new book tonight!)
Rachelle Christensen
Angie Lofthouse
Loralee Evans
Andrea Pearson
Nichole Giles
Julie Bellon
Monique Bucheger
Heather Moore
and myself

The fun starts at 7 pm and goes to 9 at 30 E Center St in Pleasant

As for the update, my husband and I have a business in our hometown and last year we bought a building on Main Street with a long-time renter upstairs and moved our business into the basement. The end of April the renter closed down their pizza place forever. We took a long, hard look at the space and came to the conclusion that the floor had to go. I have it on good authority (Mike the garbage man, who used to clean the carpets) that the carpeting upstairs hasn't been changed since before the pizza place moved in there twenty years ago, and that it had been around for quite a while before that. The linoleum below that is easily twenty years older, yet, so it was was past time for the flooring to be replace.

So, we ripped it all out and I've spent the past two months installing tile, which means I've gotten almost nothing else done (or at least it feels that way!). But I finished grouting Phase 1 last night and I look forward to taking the next week or so off to work on the plans for the LDStorymakers writer's conference next May, and working on my books.

I've been jonesing for writing time for several weeks now, just managing to meet my deadlines, but not to work on bigger chunks, especially since I have a number of projects underway. To satisfy those who are always asking if I'm working on anything new: Here's a rundown of my current projects:

Homecoming: Second Chances has been posting as a serial for the past six months on BigWorldNetwork.com and was completed last week. You can read or listen for free on their website but it will be coming out in a Kindle book at some point in the next few months.

Danica's story (as yet untitled) has been through a first round of critiques and I need to edit it and send it out for critiques.

Shelly's story (needs a new title) part of the Ball's in Her Court series, needs some rewrites and a line edit and then it'll be ready for publication.

My DiCarlo Sisters series, all as yet untitled:

Camellia has been through two rounds of critiques and just needs final edits and line edits.

Sage has been through a first round of critiques and needs editing and then another round of edits

Lantana is nearly finished and is in bi-monthly ciritques now. It should be finished in October and ready for edits.

Rosemary and Delphinium's stories are both partly written and nagging at me to add some scenes.

My culinary mystery series

Brownies and Betrayal is getting a final line edits as we speak and will hopefully be available for purchase in October. I have a bunch of awesome ladies who live all over the west in my test group checking all of my recipes now.

The second, untitled book is through the first round of critiques and needs an edit before I send it out for a second round. It could be out by Christmas if I buckle down and get the edits done.

I was hoping to release at least one of these stories this month, but Phase 2 of my flooring project will have to start in a couple of weeks, and conference decisions need to be kicked into high-gear (we've already got some great guests lined up!) so I'll just cram in what I can do for now and hope it satisfies my writing drive for a while so I can finish the renovations.

And now I'm off to get my things together for the book signing tonight!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Going vertical--trellising vegetables

I know it's been a long time since I wrote about my garden, but I'm turning over a new leaf. Well, okay, I'm working on it. For the past five years I've been planning to trellis some vines on the front of the house. Originally I thought maybe morning glory (the good kind, not field bindweed) or maybe clematis. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure what the best trellis material would be for my nearly non-existent budget. This winter, however, I had a new idea. Cattle panels.

Cattle panels come about four foot tall and sixteen foot long, they are a heavy-gauge wire that doesn't bend easily so they stay stiff and the price is reasonable. I think I paid about $22 each for mine. You can buy them at feed stores like IFA or Cal Ranch. I took along a pair of bolt cutters and a measuring tape when I bought my panels and the nice guys at Cal Ranch cut the panels where I asked them to. I did this not only because they fit better on the back of my truck, but because I was going to cut them to put them against the house anyway, eight foot is plenty long enough to cover the stone on the south side.

Once I finally had them up, I made a trip to my local nursery and picked up some squash plants. I got a watermelon plant, some winter squash (blue and orange) and...some other vining squash (I can't remember off-hand. because I'm a slacker and didn't write it all down.). I also have a big, healthy grape plant I picked up locally that I planted on the panels. I interspersed the grapes and squash with vining green beans for their nitrogen-fixing abilities (only a few of which survived the heat and insects) and put a soaker hose along the edge to water everything. I still need to go in and attach the panels to my house before winter, right now they're just leaning against it. Though there's enough of an angle that they aren't likely to be blown over, I don't want to take the chance of killing my grape vine.

If I'd seeded these in late March like I had planned, they would be much bigger than this by now, but they've only been in the ground for a few weeks, and the hot, hot temperatures (and nasty dry wind we were dealing with up until the week of the Fourth) made it difficult for the plants to acclimate. They are definitely putting on lots of growth now though, and I'm hoping for a nice crop. You may think watermelon and winter squash sound like bad, bad ideas for trellising, but with a little support when they start to get big, they'll do just fine, and they'll help keep my house cooler in the summer sun. Next year I'll add more perennial vines.

I know March is early to start planting, but protected on the south side of the house, I figure the plants will come up when they're ready and it gives the root system a much better chance of survival if they get in the ground earlier.

Next week my local permaculture guild is coming over to build a huglekulture bed in my back yard. I promise to take lots of pictures!

Monday, June 25, 2012

LDStorymakers Midwest Writers Conference

I'm going to be presenting at a new writer's conference being held in Kansas City in September. It's an off-shoot of the LDStorymakers writer's conference that is held in Utah every year and we have a great lineup planned!

There's an early-bird registration and share the love contest going on now for those who help spread the word, including book packages and seats with the keynote speaker (award-winning YA author Lisa Mangum) and some of the other presenters. The conference is being held only one day, September 15th and includes two meals, because it's going to be a full day of classes and motivation, and at under a hundred dollars, the price is terrific!

Check out the schedule here, and register here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Buy Caribbean Crossroads today and get lots of free stuff!

If you enjoy good, clean romances in exotic settings, this is your lucky day. My friend Connie Sokol is holding a book bomb for her book, Caribbean Crossroads which is the bargain price of $1.99 on Kindle. Read below for the list of free things you'll get when you buy her book today, including a copy of my novella, Shear Luck.

Celebrate the release of CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS by Connie Sokol with a special price today!


 I have a special offer for you—it’s only good for today—Thursday, June 14, 2012. Purchase CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS  from Amazon.com for only $1.99. Then email RachelletheWriter@gmail.com with your order confirmation/receipt. Once Rachelle receives your order details, she will email you an amazing selection of over 10 free gifts from Connie Sokol and several others!

 Here’s what’s in store when you purchase CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS  today:
(All items will be emailed to you from Rachelle after she receives your order confirmation.) You can purchase the Kindle Edition HERE for $1.99 today! Paperback also available.
To celebrate the launch of her new romance novel, Connie Sokol- author, speaker, and life coach is offering two incredible free gifts when you purchase CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS TODAY. 

  • ·         You’ll receive a free Ebook of Life is Too Short for One Hair Color-- A humorous collection of anecdotes and helpful tips to survive being a woman, wife, and mother. Laugh a little, lighten up a lot, and take something from each story to practically and positively help you change your life and perspective–one tip at a time.

  • ·         Mp3 file of Get Organized -- Need extra hours in the day? You can find them today! Learn how to realistically streamline repetitive tasks such as bill paying, laundry, meal planning and cooking to create FREE hours for what you need most. Discover a fabulous organization formula to use in ANY area of your life for more effective time management. Get organized and stay organized to enjoy a more fulfilling life!

  • ·         Shear Luck free ebook by Heather Justesen—a romance novella-- When salon manager Chelsea Robison walks into the restaurant next door, she's surprised to run into her teenage crush Vaughn Krenshaw. Though he is still mourning his wife's death, he can't help but take a chance and ask her out. As things start getting serious, family pressure about dating again, and rumors from his past surface, making the chance for happily ever after look farther than ever.

  • ·         Vertex42.com offers the ultimate money management spreadsheet! Create and monitor your budget. A free alternative to Quicken.

  • ·         TheSeedtouch--An Epic Fantasy Romance by Rebecca Lyn Shelley
 When Keil's father succumbs to dementia, she disguises herself as a man to save her family. But her quest is threatened when she accidentally bonds with a man who has traded all his wealth and land for the addictive drug, tam. Furious, she rejects her new bondmate and takes control of the landholding that she believes will keep her family safe.  But the tam is spreading and will soon destroy not only her land but also all life if she cannot find a way to stop it. Like it or not, she's forced to team up with her bondmate to save their world. 
·          

  • ·         Angela Morrison is the author of Sing me to Sleep, 2010 Goodreads Choice Nominee and USA Best Books 2011 winner for Young Adult Fiction, and the critically acclaimed Taken by Storm saga. Her free gift: All-new Taken by Storm ebook. 

Mormon girl, Leesie, has life figured out until devastated Michael lands on her doorstep. Originally published by Penguin, this intimate novel is a rare journey into a Mormon teen's inner life. Ebook includes a never before published scene and free chapter from Unbroken Connection (Book #2). Follow Angela's new "liv2writ" blog at http://angelamorrison.blogspot.com.

  • ·         Enjoy the incredible YA Paranormal Bestseller--Bound   by Christine Bryant.
     When a photo shoot ends in tragedy, Kira discovers her best friend, Lydia, has been keeping a secret. Knowing the truth, and accepting it, will change Kira’s life forever and thrust her into a world of ancient curses, magical objects, and savage enemies. What happens next will challenge everything Kira knows about her world, herself and the shape-shifting warrior she’s falling in love with.


  • Three free ebooks from award-winning author Karen HooverThe Sapphire Flute ( Book 1 of The Wolfchild Saga) Seven Keys and seven guardians born to save a dying world.  AND
  The Armor of Light (Book 2 of the Wolfchild Saga), TheMisadventures of a Teenage Wizard, Book 1: Two Souls are Better Than One
Chased by dragons. Saved by a Pegasus. Sharing his mouth with a wizardly spirit.

  • ·         Amy Chandler’s free gift offering--Where are your photos? Sign up today for a FREE account and get those photos out of a box, off your computer and into 100% customizable beautiful books your whole family will cherish!




Why a book bomb? A book bomb is when a large group of people purchase a certain book on a specific day on Amazon. This pushes the book's popularity up the Amazon ranks, which in turn gives the book more visibility to Amazon shoppers. That’s the goal today for CARIBBEANCROSSROADS. Grab your copy and help us celebrate! Just remember to email Rachelle with your order receipt!

Monday, May 21, 2012

My KDP Experiment

A big thank to everyone who downloaded copies of my book The Switch on Friday and Saturday last week. Does that sound backwards, thanking people to getting my book for free? Well, it's too early to see what it'll do for my sales, though I've had a little bump over the past couple of days, only time will tell if it lasts long enough to make a real difference. On the other hand, my book did go out to thousands of new readers, which could translate into sales of my other books, and I did zoom up the ranks on Amazon. Check this out.

Yes, that is accurate: My book made it into the top 50 best-selling books on Amazon for most of Saturday. Okay, so they were free to readers, but that's still a lot of exposure, which has already netted me more sales of the companion book Blank Slate than I'd seen all month.

So, I'll be watching my sales obsessively for the next week or two to see what it does, but either way, it was pretty exciting to see what can happen when so many of my friends help me spread the word.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Get "The Switch" Free Today and Tomorrow


I'm so excited my book, The Switch is available for FREE on Kindle through tomorrow night. This story has been a fun project, especially since I got to use a lot of my EMT knowledge for the emergencies Danny, the paramedic firefighter from Blank Slate goes on. There is an excerpt below, and at the bottom of the post is a link to download your own free copy!



They could hear the fire truck returning from more than a block away. The siren blared and Tia wondered if her daughter had managed to sweet talk her way out of her seatbelt to run it, or if her baby blues had mesmerized the handsome driver into ruining his own ear drums. It wouldn’t surprise her if they were all deaf when they returned.

After coming to a stop, Danny hopped from the truck and headed around to the other side to help Samantha out. After noticing her daughter removing her seat belt—which meant Samantha’s eye-fluttering powers were still in good working order—Tia thought again about the firefighter. His suave self-confidence bothered her and his flirting unnerved her. She wondered if it ever got him into trouble on the job.

Samantha ran back over and wrapped her arms around her mom’s legs. “I pushed the siren, and Danny ran it for me a lot.”

“I heard, sweetheart. I think the whole state heard, actually.” She tapped a finger on her daughter’s nose

“He said if I’m good I can try on his fire hat.”

“Did he?” Tia didn’t have a chance to decide how she felt about it before he was in front of them.

Danny grinned and crouched so his face was even with Samantha’s. “I’m glad you helped me tonight. Maybe you could bring your mom and sister and help again sometime. I can show you the cool stuff we have inside the ambulance.” He glanced back into Tia’s face and she felt her cheeks flame. “Not while strapped into the gurney this time.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Nichole said, extending a hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Nichole Baugh, Tia’s friend, and you are?”

“Danny Tullis.” He angled a glance at Tia’s face. “And very glad you all came tonight.” He turned and beckoned to someone behind them, then returned his gaze to the ladies. “I did promise Samantha a chance to try on my helmet tonight. Do you have a few minutes?”

Tia’s chest constricted and she became self-conscious about what she said around him. Why was he paying so much attention to her? She’d been out on a date or two since Lee died, but none of the men really flirted with her. She got the feeling, however, that flirting was second nature to Danny, so she tried not to make anything of it. “That will be fine.”

Since Nichole agreed, and the girls bubbled over with excitement, they all headed for the building. Danny stopped to talk to another firefighter, a woman with pale golden hair falling halfway down her back, and ask her to drive the truck full of kids until James returned. Then he led them through the building.

“My locker’s back here.” He stopped at one and twisted the combination lock until it popped open. First, he pulled out his firefighter’s helmet and set it on Samantha’s head.

“It smells like smoke,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

Danny laughed. “Fires do tend to smell like smoke.” He pulled out a heavy yellow set of protective clothing like Tia had seen on television and movies. “These are my turnouts, they protect me when I’m doing my job. I have different sets depending on the type of call I go on. This is for fires.” He briefly described how they protected him from getting burned and gave each of the girls a chance to wear the jacket so they could feel how heavy it was.

He returned it and the fire helmet, which Samantha seemed done with for the moment, to his locker and removed a lighter black outfit. “These are extrication turnouts. I wear them when I’m not worried about fires, but if we’re opening up a car so people who are trapped inside can get out. It protects me from glass and other sharp objects. I wear this when I go to accidents on the ambulance, too.” He let them all finger the heavy material and briefly talked about the equipment they used.

“How cool.” Samantha said. “I want to help people when I grow up!”

Tia could see how Samantha’s charm and hero worship were wrapping Danny around her little finger. When he reached out and touched the girl’s shoulder, Tia thought of Lee, and of the way her husband had loved their daughter. She missed the way he’d come in from work and scoop Samantha into his arms, listening to her chatter and grinning at her boundless enthusiasm.

Samantha had cried often, missing her daddy when he shipped out to Afghanistan. It got worse after the funeral when Tia had to tell her Todd wasn’t ever coming home. Two years later Samantha didn’t cry much anymore, but she was starved for male attention, despite Garrett’s best efforts to be there for his dead brother’s family. Tia’s throat felt tight and she had to take a measured breath to hold back emotions that always hit her at the worst moments.

When Danny met her gaze, she saw something flicker there. “I better get back to my post,” he said after a moment. “But you’re welcome to stop in some day for the ambulance tour. Call ahead to see if I’m here and I’ll squeeze in time for you.” Though his words had included everyone, his eyes ended on Tia. “It was a pleasure meeting you all.”

He left them at the table where they were doing rub-on tattoos, and Tia watched him return to duty at the line of kids.

Download it from Amazon now, and please spread the word to your friends!