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Return To Me: Part 4

Fear clutched at her chest and froze her muscles in place. Slowly, carefully, she rose from the mattress. She had no idea what she might find but she wasn’t about to wait for it to come find her. She padded silently on bare feet to the bedroom door, straining to hear any further movement. There was no sound, so she ventured further into the hallway, inching along with her back pressed up against the wall.

When she reached the entrance to the living room she peeked around the corner in an attempt to assess the situation from a safe distance. She could only see a sliver of the room, and she couldn’t be sure it was empty. No shuffling or other signs of movement carried to her through the quiet. Cautiously, she stepped through the doorway.

No one was there. Nothing looked disturbed. The front door was still locked as was the sliding back door. So…what had made that noise? No windows were open. It was definitely inside the house and it hadn’t been the wind blowing something over. She passed her gaze over every part of the room; over Justin’s favorite armchair, the couch Emma slept on more often than not, the end tables, the coffee table, the fireplace and the mantle.

As she turned to search the kitchen, something caught her eye. She froze.

On the hearth, shattered and broken, was the 8×10 photo of Emma and Justin’s wedding day. Their faces smiled up at her with so much hope and joy that she would have crumpled to the ground if it hadn’t been for the fact that the photo had been, just a few minutes ago, sitting peacefully on the end table.

On the opposite side of the room.

She had spun around, making sure she wasn’t imagining things. Maybe this was a different photo that had simply fallen off the mantle. Emma had been a little singularly focused recently and it wouldn’t have been out of the question for her to have moved something and forgotten. But no, there were no empty spots above the fireplace. She knew where the photo had come from. How it got here, on the other hand…

“Justin,” she’d whispered again, this time in wonder. “Justin!” She called his name louder and stood still, holding her breath. Was it possible? Was he here? Her heart raced in anticipation. Eyes wide, searching the shadows in the corners of the room, she had expected to see him standing there with his arms open, his signature bright grin splitting his face. He had stopped her. He had saved her. He was still here, watching and protecting her.

That realization had washed over Emma with a tidal wave of tears. Justin wouldn’t have wanted this for her, she knew that now. No matter how much she missed him there was no way he would have condoned taking this kind of permanent action. He had always accused Emma of being too reactionary, of jumping to a major solution for a minor problem. While the despair that had taken over her life wasn’t necessarily minor to her, she realized her resolution wasn’t going to fix anything.

She had picked up the crumpled frame carefully and carried it to the kitchen. Removing the broken glass piece by piece, her eyes stayed locked on the picture, on the face she loved more than anything. Contradictory emotions flooded through her: she felt the joy and the promise of that day shining out of their faces, the anguish of being forever separated, the rage of him being taken from her. She stood in the kitchen, memorizing every line and curve of his face, letting the tears flow. When exhaustion finally overtook her, she left the photo on the counter and made her way to bed.

Walking into the bedroom, she started undressing but stopped dead in her tracks.

Lying forgotten on the floor, dull and cold, the gun suddenly filled Emma with dread. Her hands flew to cover her mouth, her eyes wide and terrified.

What had she been about to do?

Slowly coming out of her reverie, Emma found herself still in the kitchen, holding the finished casserole. She had no idea how long she’d been standing there, lost in her thoughts, but at least she’d had the presence of mind to put on the oven mitts first. With a sigh, she reluctantly continued preparations for her dinner guests.

“Sweetheart, everything was simply delicious!” Lois smoothed her daughter’s hair back from her face and kissed her warmly on the cheek. “I know it was hard, but you did a great job. And I know the Bakers were thankful to have this chance to talk about their son with others who knew and loved him.”

Emma squeezed her mother tight. “You’re right. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’ll never be easy, but it was…oddly comforting.” The Bakers and the few neighbors who had been able to come had already left, leaving just Lois and David May with their daughter.

“Proud of you, kiddo,” David said. “You did great. Justin would have loved this.”

They were all silent for a moment, then Emma laughed. “You’re right. He loved telling his old stories and liked nothing better than to be the center of attention.” Her heart ached. “God, I miss him.”

Looking around, Lois started picking up glasses. “Let me help you clean all this up…”

Emma stopped her with a firm, “No. Mom, no. It’s okay. I like cleaning up. It lets me unwind from the stress of trying to be interesting all night. You guys go home. I’m fine.”

David raised an eyebrow at his daughter.

Kissing him on the cheek, Emma amended, “I’ll be fine.”

Once the door shut behind her parents, Emma set to the task of cleaning. She turned the radio on to fill the silence. After so much laughter and conversation, the house seemed empty all of a sudden. Singing along with the radio, Emma tried to keep her mind from wandering into the sadness that was left behind with the mess. A nice mindless activity like washing dishes coupled with the nonsense of current pop songs should do the trick.

When everything was washed and put away, she poured herself a glass of wine and leaned against the counter. Talking with everyone about Justin had brought him a little bit closer tonight. With only the light from the candles still burning on the table, Emma sat in what had been Justin’s favorite armchair.

“I miss you, baby,” she whispered. “You would have had a blast tonight. There was so much love in this room…and it was all for you.” Emma let out a deep sigh and leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees. “I can’t believe it’s been a year. It sounds like such a long time when I say it out loud, but it feels like yesterday.”

Tucking her hair behind one ear, she sipped her wine and settled back into the chair. “Our neighbor Lisa was here – without James.” She quirked an eyebrow in the dark. “So much drama, babe. I have to say, I’m glad he’s gone. It was nice to see Lisa, though.”

She shot up out of the chair and started pacing the room, suddenly agitated. “Oh, I know, I know. I need to get out more, I need to be around people again. God, you sound like my mother.” Emma stopped and stared out the window. “You were the only way I tolerated people, you know that. Nothing is any fun without you, Justin.”

Draining the last of the wine in her glass, Emma set it in the sink and blew out the candles. She stood in the middle of the dark living room and smiled sadly as she wiped a tear from her cheek. “I will never not miss you.”

Emma got ready for bed and found herself looking through Justin’s jewelry box. She hadn’t touched it since his effects were given to her after the funeral.

She picked up the watch she had given to him for their last Christmas together. He had been a watch fiend, having a different one for every day of the week. But after Emma gave him this one, it was the only one he wore. It wasn’t fancy or expensive. It wasn’t even particularly attractive, to be honest. But on the back, Emma had added an engraving: You and me, forever. Love, E.

After sifting through his old chains and the pile of business cards he had somehow accumulated in the jewelry box, her fingers brushed against his wedding band. Shiny gray tungsten, it was still perfectly round and smooth as though she had just taken it out of the box. Emma was a little sad that the tungsten didn’t show any signs of wear. Made it seem like it hadn’t been worn in love for ten years. The little infinity symbol engraved on the inside was still pristine. And was as true that day as it had been the day she exchanged rings with him. Needing to feel close to Justin, she slipped the ring on her middle finger and pressed it to her lips. She returned all the other trinkets to the box and turned out the light. The emotional night had taken its toll on her, and Emma drifted off to sleep, clutching Justin’s ring tight.

That was the first night he visited her.

Join the ‘Christmas Book Flood’ with Indie Authors

In Iceland, there is a holiday tradition called Jolabokaflod (Christmas Book Flood) in which books are given as gifts on Christmas Eve and the family spends the evening reading and drinking hot chocolate or a non-alcoholic Christmas ale.

I love this idea!

Not only does it expand the reader’s horizons and support authors, but it also gives everyone a moment to just relax. The holiday season is so fast and wild, filled with shopping and parties and traveling that you need to allow your family – and yourself – time to just slow down and enjoy the moment.

In encouraging all of you to try this tradition on for size, I’d also like to make a few suggestions on books to gift. Through the local and online writing community, I have met some talented authors from all over the world: Australia, Central Iowa, Chicago, England, California, Florida, Pennsylvania. Their genres span everything from saucy romance to horror to dystopian sci-fi to women’s fiction to inspiration and more. And I’d love to share them with you.

Here is a list of some of my favorite indie authors:

Taylor Hohulin: “Your Best Apocalypse Now”

Sarah Latchaw: “Hydraulic Level 5”

Laura A. Barnes: “Rescued By The Captain”

Michael Stoneburner: “He Was A Boy Who Smiled, Book One: Phoenix Rising”

Jeanine Lunsford: “Remembering First Love”

Kelly Fumiko Weiss: “The Cube”

Rev. Rebecca Holland: “Through My Good Eye”

Jethro Weyman: “Two Halves of the Candle: Volume One”

Ben Monroe: “Dying of the Light: A Short Story of Survival Horror”

Adam Wing: “Matriarch”

Some of these authors have series, some write poetry and novels, some write more than one genre, so be sure to check out each author to see their other work. Keep in mind that by purchasing one or more of these books, you’re giving two gifts: one to the recipient and one to the independent author through supporting their dream.

What is a favorite book you received or gave as a gift? Leave a comment below or send me an email!

Return To Me: Part 3

One year later, the pain was no less. The loneliness had only grown exponentially. And the isolation had become far more pronounced. Identifying Justin’s body had been the single worst experience Emma had ever lived through. She tried to erase that image with alcohol for the first couple of months afterwards, crying until she threw up then washing down all the pain and guilt and solitude with another bottle of wine.

There had been some even darker days that she had somehow made it through. She had a vague recollection of getting out of bed and showering every day, of leaving the house and nodding woodenly to friends and family as they offered their condolences but ultimately didn’t know what to say. Emma knew she must have eaten at some point. The only memory that stood out in stark relief was the night, six months into her life as a widow, that she had stared down the barrel of a loaded pistol.

Literally.

Emma lit the candles on the dining room table and looked over the settings once more. She had never told anyone about that night. It was the darkest moment she had ever experienced. The only thought in her mind had been that she needed to be with Justin. Without him, there was nothing in this world for her. Until the moment she realized he was really gone, Emma had considered herself an independent woman. She didn’t need a man to make her happy, to take care of her. She loved Justin and they had an amazing partnership in which they were happiest together, but she could survive alone if necessary.

At least that’s what she thought until being alone became her reality.

Thinking back as she checked the oven, she was surprised at how easy it had been to make that deadly decision. There was no weighing the pros and cons, no contemplating the ramifications to those she’d leave behind. It had been as simple as thinking there was nothing left in this world for her and she didn’t want to stay in it anymore.

She had been at lunch with her mom when it presented itself as the only solution for her, but she said nothing. Her mother had been relaying how Emma’s friends were always inquiring about her, sending their well-wishes and love. She had tried not to roll her eyes at that. Her closest friends had come to the funeral to show their support. They made donations to the local homeless shelter in Justin’s name. They brought beautiful cards with flowery poetry scripted on the inside. Some brought her casseroles – really, what was a now-single woman going to do with six pans of lasagna? – while others sent flowers or cookie bouquets. Her best friends even made a few tentative phone calls with half-assed invitations to get together when Emma knew that was the last thing they actually wanted.

Sadness and loneliness that couldn’t be alleviated hung like a lead weight around Emma’s neck every day, every night, every waking moment. Her mother encouraged her to get out, to do something, even if it was just taking a walk. Lois meant well, but Emma had been sunk so far in her grief there was nothing her mom could say or do to pull her out. Emma had let her mind wander over the last few months. The awkward lunch dates with her mother, her father’s clumsy hugs and stilted conversation because he simply didn’t know what to say. The long days and even longer nights that left her wishing for a gas leak or some other disaster to kill her in her sleep.

In that moment, at that thought, it all became so clear. Emma’s eyes were wide and clear for the first time in a long time. She felt a little guilty when her mom perked up, too, thinking her daughter was taking her well-meant advice to heart. In reality, Lois was witnessing the beginning of a plan that would ultimately end her daughter’s life. It was simple, really. Her parents were going out of town for the next week, a trip that had been planned even before Justin’s accident. If she used her time wisely, Emma could start the wheels in motion and be free of this nightmare before they returned.

Sure, her parents would be devastated for a while. She felt some remorse for that. But they would be so much better off without worrying about Emma every day. She would be at peace and that would bring them peace.

After a three-day waiting period, Emma picked up the small 9mm pistol she had selected. It wasn’t fancy. It was used and cheap, but she was assured by the salesman that it was reliable and easy to handle. She had lied to him, saying that she had just moved to town and, living alone, she wanted something to keep in the house, just in case. She had turned it over and over in her hands, admiring the compact size of the solution to her misery.

A concise note explaining her actions had been left propped up on the kitchen counter. She owed her parents that, at the very least. The house was clean and neat. The food from the refrigerator had been thrown out two days before. Emma wasn’t eating much these days anyway. All of her bills were paid, all of her services had been canceled.

She was ready.

Sitting on the edge of the bed she had once shared with Justin, Emma took a deep breath. This was the moment. Six months of missing the piece that had made her whole, made her who she was and gave her the strength to face anything, was long enough. Soon she’d be reunited with Justin and they would be together forever.

With a sense of calm she hadn’t known in what felt like eons, Emma contemplated the weapon, deciding what would be the most efficient way to take her life. She’d heard about some who shot themselves in the chest, right into the heart, but she wasn’t confident that would do the trick. Head, it was. Should she press the muzzle against her temple or place it firmly between her teeth? She frowned. There were stories of both methods going horribly wrong and only maiming the shooter. While she had never contemplated suicide before and certainly wasn’t an expert, she knew that if you were going to do the deed you’d better make sure it took.

She held the gun up and pointed it squarely between her eyes. The muzzle stared back at her, the black void promising her peace at last. This was it. She pressed the gun against her forehead, positioning it so there was no way to miss, and closed her eyes.

“Justin…” His name came out in a reverent whisper and she pictured him in her mind’s eye.

Soon.

Suddenly a crash sounded from the living room making Emma jump. She hadn’t put her finger on the trigger yet and the gun fell from her hands, clattering to the hardwood floor. Emma sprang up from her bed, her heart pounding loud and frantic in her chest.

Someone was in the house.

Return To Me: Part 2

“Uh, can I get you something to drink?” Emma was aware that she was stalling but she smiled at the officers and pointed toward the kitchen. “I can get some coffee going pretty quickly or I have iced tea or some different sodas…”

The officers glanced at each other and the male cleared his throat. “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary. Please, have a seat.”

Her head felt unexpectedly light, and Emma perched awkwardly on the edge of the armchair, facing the officers who were sitting side-by-side on the couch. A muffled voice could be heard somewhere close by and Emma cast her eyes around the room, trying to find the source. She was surprised to see a cell phone in her hand and stared at it for a moment, unsure what to do with it.

Stalling.

Stalling.

She lifted the phone to her ear and croaked out, “Mom? Mom, I have, ah, company. Can I call you right back?” She nodded at whatever her mother had said and disconnected the call without another word, finally turning her attention to the figures before her.

“Mrs. Baker, we have some very bad news to tell you,” the female officer started, and Emma began shaking her head involuntarily. She didn’t need to hear what the woman was about to say. She already knew. Somehow, she already knew it deep in her soul.

Emma wanted to run, to make them leave. Her stomach clenched, on the verge of expelling its contents and she needed to leave. But her body was frozen in place, unable to escape the nightmare that was about to begin.

The officers exchanged another glance and the female officer continued. “Your husband, Justin Baker, was in a car accident this afternoon and was killed.”

Emma blinked.

“I am very sorry this happened.” The male officer had kind eyes, Emma thought randomly as she stared at him, waiting for him to deliver the punchline she knew had to be coming. “Is there anyone I can call for you?”

Her head still wagging back and forth in denial, she locked eyes with the man then the woman, back and forth, trying to understand the words she had just heard.

“I’m sorry – what? What are you telling me? No one died. You’re wrong. My husband is on his way home from work and we’re going to a costume party. You have the wrong house, the wrong Bakers. Justin is about to walk through the door any second…” Emma floundered with her phone, trying to check the time.

He should have been home more than an hour ago.

She felt like all the blood was evacuating her body, starting at her scalp and moving through her face, her chest, her stomach, to her toes. Her feet were suddenly freezing cold and stars began to form in the edge of her vision.

Her phone resumed its insistent vibrating, message after message filling her screen but Emma barely noticed. Her mind was simultaneously racing and immobile. She couldn’t move past the loop that was playing over and over in her head. Justin is dead. He isn’t coming home. You’ll never see him again, never kiss him again. Justin is dead. Dead.

 Justin. Is. Dead.

Lifting her head slowly, Emma realized the officers were still sitting on her couch. The woman was talking. She saw her lips moving, but Emma couldn’t hear anything over the buzzing in her ears. It was the strangest sensation. Her head was filled with static, her fingers and toes felt like they were encased in ice, her cheeks and lips were tingling with pins and needles.

“Ma’am?” The male officer’s voice cut through the other noise. “Mrs. Baker, are you okay? Do we need to call anyone for you?”

Emma shook her head. “I…What – what do I do now?” All the fight had drained out of her and her words came out in a whisper. “What am I supposed to do now?”

Return To Me: Part 1

What was supposed to be a warm and fuzzy Christmas tale last year somehow morphed into a darker Halloween-time ghost story. This is the first installment (it’s a long short story…) and I’ll spread the rest out over the next week or so. I haven’t looked at it in over a year so please forgive any rough edges and I hope you enjoy it!


RETURN TO ME

“Fly me to the moon…”

Her wedding song sung in the sultry voice of Frank Sinatra filled the room as Emma Baker set the dining room table. She tucked a strand of pale blond hair behind her ear, ignoring the tear that made its way down her cheek. Folding the red cloth napkin for the tenth time, she finally laid it on the table, smoothing it into a flawless rectangle before arranging the silverware neatly on top.

Emma turned the salad plate into a different position, trying to find the perfect angle. She turned it. Then turned it again, and again, faster each time, her frustration mounting with every movement. In a sudden swift motion, she snatched the plate off the table and hurled it against the wall. It shattered with a loud and satisfying CRASH and Emma crumbled to the floor, sobbing.

Everything was wrong. She was preparing for a dinner she didn’t want to have with well-meaning people she didn’t feel prepared to deal with. Her husband, Justin, was the one who was good at entertaining. He had a crazy charm about him that instantly put people at ease. Without him here, Emma didn’t think she could face this group. But on the anniversary of his death, Emma was expected to gather his family and friends together to remember him. Her mother and his sister Julie insisted it would be good for her.

But they couldn’t see the gaping, aching chasm in Emma’s chest that had consumed her the moment she learned he was gone.

Emma sniffled and drew in a shuddering breath. When were these crying jags going to stop? It had been a year and she still couldn’t get through a day without crying at least once. Staring at the mess on the floor across the room, Emma sighed. Slowly, she pulled herself up and retrieved the broom and dustpan. She couldn’t leave that mess there. Company would be arriving any minute. Justin would have shaken his head and teased her good-naturedly about her temper.

“Jesus, Emma, what did that plate ever do to you?”

She could hear his deep-throated laugh inside her head and it brought a slight smile to her face. That was one of the things she missed the most. Her husband had an uncanny way of sensing when she was upset or sad and never failed to make her laugh. Sometimes it was through belting out a song in a ridiculous exaggerated voice, pretending to be a horrible opera singer. Other times he would listen to her complaint and then come up with fantastical solutions to her problem that were impossible or impractical – or illegal – but it had always made her feel better.

Emma didn’t think ‘better’ was ever going to be reality for her.

One year before, she had been getting ready for a costume party being held at their neighbor’s house. Justin was on his way home and Emma had laid out his costume before starting on hers. The trickiest part for her was making sure the Bride of Frankenstein wig would stay put. It was so much taller and heavier than she had expected. With a grin, she picked up the giant brick-like shoes Justin would be wearing with his Frankenstein’s Monster costume. She definitely had the better part of this deal.

Using the bright light of the bathroom, Emma started to apply her face makeup. Justin was late getting home, but he didn’t have as much to do to get ready. She started spreading the white base over her face, applying it first to her forehead then spreading down her nose, out to her cheeks and down to her chin. Staring at her reflection, contemplating whether she needed to spread it all the way down her neck, she was startled by a quick succession of text messages on her cell phone. Scrolling through, she saw that they were from several of her neighbors.

Emma, is everything okay?

Is Justin there?

What kind of car does Justin drive?

Emma was about to start replying to the random questions and asking a barrage of her own when her mother’s face popped up on the screen, calling her.

“Hey mom, what’s up?” Emma leaned closer to the mirror to examine her handiwork, trying not to get makeup on the phone.

“Oh, not much,” she replied. “Are you busy? Can you do me a favor really quick?”

Emma smiled. “Sure mom. What do you need?”

“Oh sweetheart, thank you. I am looking for a copy of my dip recipe. Your father and I are going to a Halloween potluck down the street. Can you imagine? We haven’t been out to a costume party in ages.”

Laughing, Emma made her way to the kitchen. “I’ll see if I can find it. What exactly am I looking for?”

“It should be titled ‘Lois May’s Famous Texas Caviar’ or something equally as ridiculous.”

“Good grief,” Emma laughed into the phone. “When have you ever been famous? Especially for some kind of dip?”

“Oh well, you know,” Lois started. “I’m not one to brag, but did I ever tell you about the time…”

Emma sifted through the recipes she kept in a binder while her mom launched into an involved tale of raucous parties and neighborhood housewife rivalries. All the while her phone kept vibrating with incoming text messages. She frowned. Where was that damn recipe? Her mom droned on in her ear, the continual buzzing of the phone started grating on Emma’s nerves, and just as she found the recipe she was searching for, her doorbell rang.

“Now what?” Emma grumbled. “Jesus. Mom? Mom!”

Lois was so caught up in her story she couldn’t hear her daughter trying to get her attention. Everything seemed to be happening at once and Emma was immobilized by indecision for a moment. Shaking her head to clear it, she tucked the recipe under her arm, holding the phone away from her ear, and paced to the front door.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she muttered. It had to be one of her neighbors, overzealous and overexcited about the costume party. Probably Lisa, from next door. She hadn’t gotten a reply to her text yet, so she probably just marched right over. Emma rolled her eyes.

When she reached the door, she threw it wide open. “Lisa, good lord! Can you just give me five – “

The admonition died in her throat as she took in the sight of two uniformed officers standing on her porch. They held their hats in their hands and had considerable trouble maintaining eye contact.

“Mrs. Emma Baker?”

Her mouth was surprisingly dry, so she nodded.

“May we come in?”

The voice in her head screamed NO! but she stepped back and held the door a little wider for them to enter. They stood awkwardly in the entryway until Emma invited them to the living room. Her entire body was suddenly tingling, her nerves alive and ready for a fight. She wasn’t sure why the police were here, but she knew they were about to tell her.

And she knew she absolutely didn’t want to hear it.

Have You Met…Jo McMillen

In a previous post, I asked for advice on deciding which project to focus on for NaNoWriMo and I’m thrilled with my decision. Finishing my work on Bradford Mansion has been a lot of fun so I’d like to introduce you to my heroine!

Have you met…Jo McMillen?

Hilarie Burton is exactly how I picture Jo!

Growing up, Jo found her calling in woodworking and home renovation, but struggled to fit in. None of her girlfriends were interested in getting dirty in wood shop and none of the boys knew how to talk to her, much less date her. Now thirty years old and independent, she’s grown to be a level-headed and stubborn woman who’s fought her way to the top of her industry. So when she comes across a dream opportunity to purchase and restore a local mansion, she doesn’t think twice.

It doesn’t take long for her to realize her rash decision may have been a huge mistake.

Strange things happen on her first night in Bradford Mansion, but she refuses to be scared away. In fact, the bizarre occurrences only make her more determined to stay put. She is forced to confront the mischievous ghost of the estate’s long-dead heir, Nathan Bradford, and the two immediately clash. He can’t reconcile his old-fashioned ideas in her, and she’s done trying to fit anyone’s mold. Both want solitude, both claim ownership of the mansion, but neither will give an inch. Instead, they fall into a rocky friendship that gives them strength to face challenges that could destroy them.

I adore writing this character and putting her in some pretty strange situations. While it sounds insane, I’m always surprised to find out how Jo reacts to the things I throw at her!

Bradford Mansion has been so entertaining to write. I can’t wait to finish this novel so I can share Jo, Nathan, and all the other players with you!

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this story, feel free to comment below or send me an email.

Book Review: Witches’ Quarters

Stephen King has said it time and time again: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Finally, I took some time to read for fun! I started with a book I purchased six months ago at the DSM Book Festival in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. One of the books I purchased was Witches’ Quarters, the debut novel from Des Moines-based author Laura Snider.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me and I hope Laura can turn this into a series, somehow. She made it easy to become invested in the lives and troubles of the characters and I would love to see what happens next!

Siblings Charlotte, Ava, Nolan, and June exist under consistently unpredictable circumstances. They have a violent father who takes his anger out on their detached mother; June, the youngest, lives with epilepsy; and the relationships among the four are tenuous at best, resulting in frequent clashes and arguments.

Their mother’s sister, Aunt Stacie, had given the oldest sibling, Charlotte, a bizarre gift for her 16th birthday: a bag of state quarters and a coin bank in the shape of a creepy, bare tree. In an attempt to distract themselves from the sounds of yet another beating that they are powerless to stop, they decide to examine the bank and slip a quarter from the bag into the slot.

That’s when things get wild.

The siblings are transported to another world that looks much like their own, but things are slightly off. For instance, in Nova animals can talk – and they aren’t happy to see the four children. Before long, they find themselves caught up in a war they know nothing about, June’s seizures are starting up again without her medication, and despite fighting and being separated, they have only each other to rely on.

Laura Snider does an excellent job of establishing the unique personalities of the children and demonstrating how much they change and grow throughout their events of the story. With every chapter, new strengths are revealed for each of the siblings, and they are all forced to make choices and take action in a way none of them thought they ever could.

Witches’ Quarters is full of excitement and danger, laughter and tears. While it could be considered a Young Adult novel, I think it has enough thrills to entertain readers of all ages.

If you’d like to check out this novel for yourself, visit Laura Snider’s website and order your copy today!

Decisions, Decisions

Hello again, friends and followers! I know it’s been a while but I’m hoping to jump back in with a variety of posts coming to you weekly. If you have questions or blog post suggestions, I would love to hear them! Leave a comment or send me an email at [email protected]

My birthday is this month which is pretty anticlimactic anymore – except I get cake! I am not even remotely joking when I tell you I have to do minor math to figure out my age at any time. This year, the day itself is full of activities with my writing group, After Prom planning, and SPOKE business. And that’s okay. As long as I get some kind of cake and I don’t have to make dinner, it’s all good.

But the best thing about October is that it’s almost NaNoWriMo time!

Working under a deadline seems to be a great motivator for me. Knowing I have a goal to reach in a specified period of time lights a fire under me. Turns out I’m a little competitive. The trouble arises this year in the form of an inability to choose a project for the 50,000-word challenge. I’m leaning one way, but haven’t committed to anything. Yet.

My choices are as follows:

  • Finish What I’ve Started: My NaNo project from last year is very close to finished but is, in fact, NOT. It’s a light fantasy novel and a huge departure from what I normally write so my confidence in it is a bit low. I also have a ghost love story that I worked on over the summer that has a lot yet to say. There’s subterfuge, romance, and impossible odds. I’m fairly certain I could surpass 50,000 words between these two projects.
  • Oooh-Shiny! During the Drake Relays, Andrew and I worked out a story line based off a creeper in a pickup truck ogling co-ed runners, even slowing down as each one passed. From that sprang the idea for a crime novel with a middle-aged, worn down female detective who stumbles upon a serial killer. A brand-new novel is almost guaranteed to get me over that finish line.

While it’s very tempting to start an exciting new story, I haven’t done any planning so far this Preptober which is not good. Sitting down to write without a clear idea of where the story should go fills me with anxiety. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though. Pushing at boundaries, stepping outside the box, stretching my skills, and expanding my comfort zone could be beneficial.

If I survive.

 

What should I focus on for NaNoWriMo: Finishing older works or starting something new? Please comment below or email me – I’d love to hear from you!

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 35

Showing up at Jamie’s apartment unannounced was maybe not the best plan, but I didn’t want to give him a chance to wiggle out of the plans I had made for us. To my delight, when he opened the door he was wearing his customary Saturday morning attire of a pair of pajamas pants. Only pajama pants.

“Alexis!” His eyes were wide and I don’t think he realized his mouth was hanging open. “Uh, it’s nine o’clock in the morning. Is everything okay?”

I tipped his jaw closed and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Everything is great. Are you in the middle of something?”

He stepped back and waved me into his place. “Nope. Just catching up on the news and downing my third mug of coffee.” Shutting the door, he trailed after me into his kitchen. He kept taking a breath and opening his mouth but shutting it again without saying anything. I figured I’d better put him out of his misery.

“So, I know things have been weird between us since, you know…” I waved a hand in the air. “…everything.”

“It’s not weird, things are fine –“ he tried to interrupt me, but I raised an eyebrow at him and his mouth snapped shut.

“I don’t want things to be weird. I want us to move forward with our life together and to get back to being comfortable and happy and in love.” This was the part that made me a little nervous. I cleared my throat and stared at the counter. “I would like to try to make things good again and I need you to trust me and just come with me, no questions asked. Deal?”

Tilting his head and narrowing his eyes, he crossed his arms. “No questions? Not even one?”

I let out a breath and grinned. “Fine. But just one.”

With a smirk, he asked, “Can I get dressed first?”

#####

I was having a hard time keeping it together as I drove us to our first destination. Jamie kept glancing at me from the corner of his eye, his brow furrowed. I opted to keep my mouth shut on the way because I didn’t want to let anything slip. My plan for the day would, hopefully, melt the ice that remained between us and get us back on track as Jamie and Lex, two people in love.

“Seriously. Where are we going?” Jamie’s curiosity got the better of him as he peered out the window, watching the buildings give way to green fields as I drove us out of the city. “Are you taking me out in the middle of nowhere to bump me off?”

I snorted. I couldn’t help it. “Bump you off? Who are you, Al Capone?”

For the first time in a long time, he leaned back, relaxed, and gave me a true smile. A Jamie smile. And even after all this time it still stirred butterflies in my stomach.

As we pulled into the lot of the vineyard, his eyes lit up. “A wine tasting?”

“Not exactly,” I replied. Once we were standing in the entryway of the villa, I turned to him and took his hands in mine. “I’ve been terrible to you. I pushed you aside and behaved selfishly, I treated you like a second thought, and, worst of all, I made you doubt my love for you.”

I could feel some of the tension drain out of him and he took a step closer to me. That was a good sign.

“To prove to you not only that I love you beyond measure but that I’m ready to start forever with you, I thought we could spend the day looking at possible venues for our wedding.” I hesitated then added, “I mean, if you still want to marry me.”

Jamie stared at me without speaking for so long that my heart sank. I really had ruined everything. My indecisiveness had pushed him away. Jamie was not only questioning my love for him but his for me. There would be no coming back from this. I was too late. With a deep breath, I nodded and turned away to hide the tears that had started to fill my eyes.

In one fluid movement Jamie spun me back around, crushed me to him and pressed his lips to mine. He lifted me off the ground still kissing me and spun me around.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted from the moment I met you! There’s nothing you could do, Alexis Marie Murray, to make me not want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He rained kisses over my face and hair.

When I caught my breath I gasped, “I love you Jamie Graham, and I never stopped loving you, I hope you know that. I’m so sorry for everything I put you through. Let’s get married. I’m not scared anymore. I want you, for however long you’ll have me.”

We were laughing and kissing and were so lost in our own little world that the events manager of the vineyard had to clear his throat to get our attention. Knowing that he’d been standing there for who knew how long only made us laugh harder and the poor man had to wait for us to compose ourselves. Hand in hand we followed him through the villa and over the grounds to see all the options the vineyard held for us as a wedding venue.

From there, we drove back into the city and visited a gorgeous church with elaborately carved wooden pews and stained-glass windows; an events hall with high ceilings and ornate crystal chandeliers; a country club on the edge of town with a vaulted foyer in a stately manor for the ceremony and a classy banquet hall for the reception. It wasn’t until the final location that I saw Jamie’s eyes light up.

We were standing on the roof of the Envoy Hotel in the center of the city. The sun was setting by the time we got there, and the lights were coming on all around us. We had a breath-taking 360° view all the way to the waving green hills beyond the city limits one way and the towering mountains the other. I strolled up next to him and slid my hand into his.

“So?”

He let out a low whistle and grinned at me. “It’s outstanding, Lex.”

“I can see an evening wedding right here, with the sunset behind us,” I said. “We’ll have the city lights around us and the stars twinkling above us. I can’t imagine a more magical moment.”

Looking at our joined hands, Jamie was quiet. Then a slow grin spread over his features and he pulled me close to press a kiss to my forehead.

“Here’s the thing, Alexis,” he murmured. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this wedding, about marrying you. So many different ideas have run through my head and I’ve envisioned the moment we become husband and wife at each of the venues we’ve seen today. And you know what?”

I wrapped my arms around his waist and tipped my head back to look in his eyes. “Tell me.”

A light breeze blew over us and Jamie smoothed my wayward curls behind my ear. “It doesn’t matter if we get married on this rooftop, or in a cathedral, or on the side of a dirt road. The wedding ceremony is one day in what I know is going to be a long and deliriously happy life. Together. The moment you say ‘I do’ is going to hold all the magic I need to know that wishes really do come true.”

If it was physically possible for my body to melt into the cobblestones of that roof his words in that moment would have sealed my fate. And I would have been fine with it.

“Do you have a dirt road in mind or will any one do?”

I could feel the chuckle in his chest before I heard it. “Smart ass. What I’m saying is why do we need a big, fancy, expensive wedding?”

Pushing off his chest I raised my eyebrows. “Uh, have you met our mothers? They would simultaneously collapse and die if we decided not to go through with a big fancy ceremony. Their very existence hinges on this wedding.”

“I know,” he sighed. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he shrugged and scuffed his shoe on the floor. “It’s just…all I care about is marrying you.” Then his head whipped up and our eyes locked. I could see the wheels turning behind that gaze and a tickle of excitement built in my stomach.

“There’s some trouble brewing in that head of yours and I have never been more turned on,” I told him.

He winked then leaned close until his lips were touching my ear and whispered, “Alexis Murray, run away with me. Tonight.”

“To…?”

His hands spread out in front of him, he smirked. “Vegas? Let’s elope.”

My jaw dropped. “What? We just agreed not having a wedding would literally kill our mothers!”

Jamie waved a hand in the air to dismiss my comment. “They’ll still get their big affair. But we’ll have that moment to ourselves, the moment we truly belong to each other. We won’t have to worry about making every second perfect and can just have fun. What do you think?”

It didn’t take long for me to make a decision. Jamie was my world. Without him, nothing was worth anything. My happily ever after was standing right in front of me and I couldn’t wait to start the rest of my life with him. The corners of my mouth began to curl and we both pulled out our phones as we dashed for the elevator.

“You pick the hotel, I’ll buy our flights,” I said, trying to catch my breath. As the doors closed behind us I grinned up at Jamie. “By this time tomorrow, Elvis will be pronouncing us husband and wife and then you’re stuck with me.”

His face softened and he pressed a sweet, lingering kiss to my lips. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 34

I had no idea how much I’d disrupted my life until the pieces started to fall  back into place.

Putting it all together again wasn’t easy. It wasn’t as though I walked away from my dinner with Chris and back into the life I lived before I crawled out that boutique window. I had a lot of bridges to rebuild with Jamie and his family, not to mention with my own.

His brother was just relieved that Kelly and I had reconnected and that Jamie wasn’t moping around anymore. But our mothers were another story. Mine had a few choice words for me and lots of finger-wagging.

“Finally!” She threw her hands in the air. “You’re damn lucky Jamie waited for you to get over yourself and come to your senses. Most men would have washed their hands of that ridiculousness.”

We were making dinner at my parents’ house again and, unfortunately, the air wasn’t any less charged than it had been the last time I’d been there.

“You’re right. Jamie is extraordinary and I’m very lucky to have him,” I said, popping a slice of green pepper into my mouth. “I am a horrible human and barely deserve to breathe the same air he does.”

Rolling her eyes, my mom turned to me with her hand on her hip. “Very funny, Miss Smartypants.” My sisters and I smirked at each other over her head.

“Seriously, mom, he loves her. He wouldn’t just walk away at the first little hiccup, would he?” Maggie walked by and squeezed my shoulder. “What kind of marriage would that be if he wasn’t able to handle just one of the Murray sisters?”

Lisa and I snorted but my mom yelled to the living room, “Jim! Will you come in here and control your daughters?”

Her request was met with a loud guffaw over the sound of the television. “Judy, Judy, Judy. I know a fool’s errand when I hear one.”

Lisa put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. “How are you holding up, Lex? I know this has been hard on you, too,” she whispered. Mom had moved out of the kitchen to berate dad for a little bit, but Lisa sure didn’t want to get that wrath directed toward her.

“I’m okay,” I sighed. “It’s all been a series of awkward moments between us for the last couple weeks. Nothing has gone right. There have been far too many times that I tried to hug him or he tried to kiss me and the other person wasn’t ready or expecting it and things have just been…bad.”

Bad was an understatement.

I had talked to Chris and things between us were good. I wasn’t feeling the pull toward him like I had before. Temporary insanity and all that. Jamie and I had made plans to spend a romantic night together. I was looking forward to it, actually feeling nervous and excited, and I was up as soon as the sun peeked through the curtains.

Spending a little extra time to wash and shave and moisturize and whatnot, I imagined how perfect things were going to be now. In my mind, Jamie would come pick me up in a limousine, carrying a dozen red roses, and he’d whisk me away for a romantic rooftop dinner with a string quartet to serenade us all night. We would dance and drink champagne and whisper sweet nothings to each other before spending a wild. passionate night together and all would be right with the world again.

Instead, I shaved off the front of my shin, stabbed myself in the eye with my mascara wand, Jamie was late picking me up and had to move work papers from the front seat to the back to make room for me. We drove through nightmare traffic to a popular restaurant on the other side of town where our reservation had been lost and we sat for over an hour while they found a spot for us. I burned my mouth on the hot lasagna, Jamie dribbled soup down the front of himself, there was a screaming baby at the table next to us, and conversation was stilted and awkward. I nearly ran for the exit when dinner was over.

Trying to find a calm little bar where we could sit and unwind proved to be a bit more difficult than either of us had imagined. Everywhere we tried was standing room only, it was trivia night, the music was too loud, or it was wall-to-wall people and neither of us was up for the crowds. He finally drove me home and walked me up to my door.  The butterflies started in my stomach in anticipation of him coming in and kissing me until I was dizzy. But under the lights of the front door that were swarming with moths and other insects, he kissed my cheek and told me he’d call me then he drove away.

Maggie had joined me and Lisa, huddled around the kitchen island, and she grimaced. “Yikes.”

“Yikes is right,” I said. “That was two nights ago and we’ve barely spoken. He’s sending single-word replies to my texts and he doesn’t laugh at my jokes and I have to pull conversation out of him. Things are so weird right now. I think I screwed up everything.”

“You probably did,” Judy snapped, walking around us with her nose in the air. “After the way you treated him, he’s probably rethinking his proposal.”

Maggie and Lisa gasped.

“Jesus, Mom,” Lisa chided. “Harsh, much?”

I must have looked pretty damn forlorn because my mom took one glance at me and her whole demeanor changed. She walked over and wrapped her arms around me, patting my back.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. That was uncalled for.” She gave me a quick squeeze and a peck on the cheek. “What are you going to do to fix things?”

Dropping my elbows to the counter and burying my face in my hands, I groaned. “I have no idea.”

“You need some kind of big, romantic gesture to show that you are still completely in for this wedding.” Maggie began to pace the kitchen, tapping a finger against her chin. “What can you do to prove that your feelings haven’t changed? A barbershop quartet? Sky writing? A tattoo?”

We all glared at Maggie like she had suggested wearing carp on our heads, but she was oblivious that her suggestions were a tad extreme. But watching her brainstorm, a slow smile spread across my face.

It was in that moment that I knew exactly how I was going to win back my fiancé.

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