Friday, December 24, 2004

"Silver And Gold," By Becke Martin - Part II/IV

...well aware of the popularity of the series, although he rarely ran out of stock. That might not be true for the next book, though. A television show based on "The Adventures of Billy and Buster" was in the making, and the two-hour pilot would be aired on Sunday evening, the night before Christmas Eve.

The television network had persuaded the publisher to hold back the next installment until the day after the show premiered. That move promised one day of overflowing cash registers for book sellers and some very frustrated parents if the books should sell out. Just tonight, the local news featured an opinion piece accusing the reclusive author, who went by the name Francis A. O’Hanlon, of caring more about money than his young audience. Most people seemed to agree.

Deep in thought, Aiden folded the newspaper and laid it on the seat next to him. He picked up the dessert menu and signaled the boy’s mother, who responded with a friendly, if exhausted, smile.

“Can I get you some Dutch apple pie? It’s fresh from the oven. How about coffee?”

“Coffee, please, and I can’t resist Frida’s pie. Would you join me?”

She looked flustered. “Join you?”

He sat back and smiled, doing his best to radiate seasonal good cheer. “I’m the last customer. Put your feet up – join me for a slice of apple pie, my treat. One for your boy, too, if it’s not too close to his bedtime.”

The pretty waitress held her order pad against her chest as if it were a shield. “Oh, thank you, but I couldn’t. It’s my first day – I don’t want to get fired.”

She jerked back as the kitchen door swung open. Frida, the diner’s owner and cook, gave them both a knowing glance as she bustled over to Aiden’s booth. “You want more goulash? I’m closing up the kitchen, but I can pack some up for you to take home.”

“You spoil me, Frida. I can’t eat another bite – I’m saving room for pie.”

“That’s my boy.” Short and wide with rosy cheeks and eyebrows like furry caterpillars, Frida was one of Aiden’s favorite people in Fair Meadows. For her part, Frida had always treated him like the son she never had, even though she was no more than ten years his senior. “So, you didn’t like the goulash? Too much pepper, right? I knew it. Could have used more carrots, I think.”

“It was perfect. No one makes goulash like you do.”

“How do you like my new waitress? A real looker, isn’t she? I knew she was coming today – saw it in my horoscope. She’s a good mother.” Frida’s highest praise – the new waitress didn’t know it yet, but she’d found herself a champion.

Frida urged the waitress forward. “This is Aiden. He works too hard, forgets to eat. He’s a good man, but he always has his head in a book. It’s not healthy – he needs to get out more.”

Aiden laughed at the waitress’s obvious discomfort. “Welcome to Frida’s matchmaking service. She’s a great cook, and a closet romantic. It’s her life’s goal to match up everyone in town. No one is safe.”

Frida turned beet red. “Oh, go on with you. What are you doing, keeping me from my work? I’ve got bread to bake for tomorrow. You’re off the clock, Ginny. Keep Aiden company while he has some pie. Don’t forget to have some yourself – might as well finish it off.” She turned to the little boy who was watching her with wide eyes. “Well? What are you looking at? Don’t just sit there – go get yourself some pie!”

Muttering to herself, Frida waddled back into the kitchen.

“Please join me?” Aiden raised his hands in mock surrender. “I promise I won’t bite. Here, let me pay you so you can go off duty.” He took a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet. “There, that should cover it. Keep the change.”

She took his money as if it burned her. Aiden watched the sway of her hips as she walked to the front of the diner. She glanced back at him and smiled nervously as she handed the twenty to Eddie, the teenager who was acting as cashier during winter break. Apparently that was all Eddie had been waiting for, because he flew out the door as soon as he handed the waitress a five dollar bill and some coins.

Aiden gave her a reassuring smile as she walked back to his booth. “Relax, have a seat.”

A blush pinked her cheeks and drew Aiden’s attention to the clear blue of her eyes. His stomach tightened at the surge of protectiveness that hit him.

“I . . . I guess that would be okay.” His waitress – what was her name? – cast a furtive glance toward the kitchen, where there was a loud bang as a pan dropped, followed by a no-doubt explicit Hungarian curse. “Is she always like this?”

“Frida?” He grinned. “She has a heart of gold and a mouth like a Hungarian sailor. You’re going to love working here. She’ll make sure you and your son are well fed, too.”

“It was really nice of her to hire me. It’s not like I had references or anything.” She flashed a quick look at her son as she walked to the counter and took out three plates.

Aiden smiled as the cute waitress cut three slices of pie – the one for him more than twice the size of the others. Her son was bent over the paper, his tongue pushing out between his lips as he concentrated on forming the words of his letter.

She slid a plate in front of Aiden along with a clean fork and a couple of paper napkins. He waited until she poured coffee for them both, then dug in as soon as she sat on the opposite side of his booth.

Aiden became uncomfortably aware of her nylon-clad legs nearly touching his under the table. He was stunned to feel... Read On...

"Silver And Gold," By Becke Martin - Part III/IV

...a flutter of arousal – the subtle scent of woman mixed with cinnamon and apple suddenly seemed the most seductive perfume he’d known.

He polished off his pie before she’d taken her second bite. No wonder she was a tiny as a sparrow if this was how she ate. Or maybe he was making her nervous.

“You’re not from around here.”

She studied him cautiously as she swallowed a bite of her pie. “How’d you know that?”

He nodded toward the plate glass window. “I own the book store across the street. I eat most of my meals here. Never saw you or the boy before. And I know North Carolina when I hear it.”

“Oh.” She relaxed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump on you. I grew up in North Carolina, but Joey was born in New York. He thinks I talk funny.”
Aiden laid on the charm a bit. “So, you plan on staying? Fair Meadows is a nice place to raise a family. You and your husband looking for a house? I could show you around town, if you want.”

She dropped her fork onto the plate with a clatter. “You’re not going to try and sell me a house, are you?”

“What? Oh, for – ” Aiden could feel the flush rise from his neck to his face. It was second grade again, and snooty Wendy Wilcox had just put him in his place when he dared to sit next to her in the lunchroom. You’d think in forty-some years he would have developed some of the smooth moves the Irish were famous for.

He shrugged and shifted awkwardly. “Let me start over. My name’s Aiden, as Frida said -- Aiden Flynn. I own Chapters, a new-and-used bookstore, and I’ve never sold real estate in my life.” Shaking hands seemed too formal, so he simply nodded and smiled.

Her quick grin pierced his armor and made his skin tighten. His friends had set him up with dates who looked like cover models and still left him cold. This woman, with her beautiful but careworn face, was bringing him almost painfully back to life.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Flynn.”

“Aiden, please. And what’s your name again? I didn’t quite catch it. Your uniform says Rosie, but I knew Rosie – she ran off with a Scottish tourist. It was the talk of the town.”

“Virginia.” She blinked. “Ginny, that is. Most people call me Ginny.”

The pencil scratching in the next booth came to an abrupt stop, and a minute later Ginny’s son approached Aiden, his back stiff and military-straight.

“I’m Joey.” The young boy stuck out his hand, man to man, a look of warning in his eyes. Good lad, keeping an eye on his mom. “My dad was a policeman. Bigger than you. He had a holster and a gun and a badge.”

Was? Aiden’s eyes flashed to her ring finger, still adorned by a plain gold band. A widow, at her age? God, that was rough. No wonder there were dark circles under her eyes.

“Aiden Flynn. Nice to meet you, Joey. Sounds like you’re proud of your dad. Bet he’s proud of you, too.”

“A bad guy shot him,” he mumbled. “He got killed.”

Virginia-Ginny didn’t speak, just pulled the boy into her lap and stroked his hair.

Aiden nodded. “A hero. Bet your dad’s proud of you for taking care of your mom.”

The small thumb moving toward Joey’s mouth suddenly halted. “Do you think so?”

Joey peeked at his mother, then climbed off her lap. “I’m writing a letter to Santa.” His chest puffed out with pride. “All by myself. I think I spelled the words right, mostly, but I’m not done yet.”

“Okay if I talk to your mom while you’re working on that letter?”

Joey’s eyes widened. “Um, sure.” There was a spring in his step as he walked back to his booth.

“You were good with him.” Ginny’s voice was soft and silvery, like church bells pealing on a cold, clear night.

“I had a son once. Will died of leukemia when he was about Joey’s age.” Damn. He’d known the woman two minutes and he was dumping his troubles on her. “Sorry – now you’ll be worrying about your son. Don’t know what made me bring that up.”

She reached across the table and laid her small hand across his. “I’m so sorry. Losing my husband was bad, but if anything happened to Joey . . . I don’t think I’d survive.”

“Annie – my wife – didn’t. She killed herself two years after Will died. She’d been hoarding the sleeping pills the doctor had given her and took them all at once. By the time I realized what she’d done, it was too late.”

Aiden choked back half of the coffee in one gulp, just to shut himself up. He never talked about his wife, never talked about his son. Ever. It was the reason he avoided his parents, who couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. Something about Ginny was calm, peaceful. He felt as if he could talk to her all night, which was hardly fair – she looked worn out. When was the last time someone had taken care of her?

“When did your husband die?”

Now it was her turn to hide behind coffee. Before Ginny responded to his question, she brought the pot to the table and poured another cup for herself. He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she drank it, hot and black. “It’s been nearly three years. Joey talks about Joe a lot, but he doesn’t really remember him. How could he? He was practically a baby when Joe was killed.”

Aiden waited in silence as she took another deep gulp of the coffee. He sensed there was more to her story.

“We’ve been living with Joe’s mom, Carol. I don’t have any relatives of my own, and she missed Joe as much as we did. It helped her to have Joey around. And it helped financially, too.”

Aiden’s hackles rose. “Your husband was killed in the line of duty, and you’re hurting for money?”

Ginny played with her paper napkin, tearing it into shreds. “It wasn’t exactly in the line of duty.” Her voice dropped and she flashed a furtive glance at her son, who was entirely focused on the last few bites of his pie. “Joe was...Read On...

"Silver And Gold," By Becke Martin - IV/IV the local bar with some of the guys. He should never have had his gun with him, but he’d just gone off duty. He got in an argument when the bartender tried to cut him off. One thing led to another . . . I’ll tell Joey the truth when he’s old enough to understand. Anyway, what there was of Joe’s insurance went to a college fund for Joey. I’m not touching it.”

“What brought you to Fair Meadows?” Aiden reached out to grasp her hand in an instinctive urge to comfort her. He stopped himself abruptly when he realized how inappropriate that would be. He realized how much he missed the comfort of the casual human contact he’d enjoyed during his marriage.

“Carol died just before Thanksgiving. Children aren’t allowed in her building, but the landlord turned a blind eye while Carol was alive. After she died, there were complaints. We had to leave.”

“You’ve had it rough.” How could anyone put out a young mother and child? What was wrong with people? It was the holiday season, for God’s sake.

Ginny sat up straighter. “It’s not like we’re destitute. Carol left her condo to me, but her estate has to go through probate before I can put it on the market. The lawyer wouldn’t even let me take our things until they can sort out what belongs to who. I still had Joe’s old Ford, and I remembered Carol talking about Fair Meadows. She had visited here as a kid and liked it a lot. I filled the tank and here I am, talking a blue streak.”

Aiden played with his coffee cup, avoiding her eyes. “Where are you two staying?” He had a bad feeling they were living in her husband’s old Ford, a feeling confirmed by her silence.

“I’m not broke,” she said after a minute. “I’ve got today’s tips, and I’ll have a paycheck on Tuesday. We’ll be fine in a day or two.”

“Stay with me.” The words were out before he could come up with all the reasons why it was a bad idea. Only one thing mattered: they needed a place to stay. “You can’t really see it from here, but I live behind the bookstore. There’s plenty of room – three bedrooms, two baths. Sorry, I’m talking like a realtor again. Joey isn’t afraid of dogs, is he? I have an elderly retriever – Buster loves kids, wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Ginny laughed. “You named your dog after the puppy in the books. My son loves those stories.” Her lips thinned. “Why do people have to be so greedy? The new 'Billy and Buster' book is all Joey wants for Christmas – he knows I can’t afford much. But even if I have the money, the books will all be gone by the time I finish my shift.”

Aiden felt his pulse throb at his temple as a headache threatened. “Sometimes it’s not up to the author. When a writer sells the rights to a book, it doesn’t belong to him anymore. Could be the author regrets selling the rights to that TV network.”

“Hmmph.” Ginny shrugged. “It’s still not right. Lots of kids are going to be sad when those books sell out.”

“C’mon, Joey’s falling asleep over there. Get your things together and come on over to my place.” Aiden stopped abruptly, unsure if he was being too forward. Wondering if he’d completely lost his mind – inviting a virtual stranger to stay at his house, where, if Ginny accepted his invitation, her son would sleep in Will’s old bed.

“I’m just offering you a place to stay, Ginny. No ulterior motive. You heard Frida; she’ll be expecting a report. If I don’t behave, she won’t feed me.” Aiden didn’t know why he had the urge to reassure her when he had doubts himself. Although he dated occasionally, he’d never brought a woman back to his home. It had never felt right before.

Ginny twisted her wedding ring as if she was having similar reservations. “You seem like a nice man, and if it was just me . . . but, there’s Joey, you see. I have to make sure he’s safe.”

Aiden respected her for taking her responsibility for her son so seriously. “You’re right to be cautious.” Oddly, the more Ginny hesitated, the more certain he became that this was the right thing to do. “You can check with the sheriff, if it makes you feel more comfortable.”

“I don’t know.” Ginny swayed. She rubbed her eyes as if she could barely keep them open. When Joey shifted as if he were uncomfortable on the seat where he’d fallen asleep, his mother seemed to make a decision. “Joey needs to sleep in a real bed. If you’re sure it’s okay, I’ll let Frida know I’m leaving.”

While Ginny disappeared into the kitchen, Aiden whipped out his cell and punched speed dial. “Stephen. Any news?” He paused to listen. “Hell, yes, it’s a deal breaker. Fix this now, or I find a new agent. They might not have technically crossed the line, but they’ve certainly gone against the spirit of the deal, and time is running out. Contracts were made to be broken, Stephen, and that includes yours. Yeah, you do that.”

And if he couldn’t get the TV station to release the publisher from the ridiculous clause so they could sell the damn books, well, by God, he’d start a new series – another boy, another dog. Suddenly, he was bursting with ideas.

Frida bustled out of the kitchen with Ginny right behind her. “You’re taking them home? Good. Come by before opening tomorrow, if you’re awake – I’ll whip up some breakfast for the three of you. You two can’t work on an empty stomach, and that boy needs some meat on his bones. You’ll be safe with Aiden, Ginny. He’s one of the good guys. But you let me know if he tries to get fresh – if he wants to eat at my diner, he’ll behave himself or else.”

To hide his embarrassment, Aiden slipped out of his booth and bent over Joey’s sleeping form. He smelled of heat and little-boy-sweat, reminding him so much of Will he nearly doubled over in pain. But Joey was alive and well and in need of a warm bed. Luckily, Aiden had more than he could use. He lifted Joey over his shoulder, barely feeling the slight weight.

Aiden bid Frida goodnight and led Ginny across the street, their footsteps echoing in the silent night. The crystalline snow that had begun to fall made his house look like a Christmas card. It had been a happy house when Will was first born. It could be happy again.

Tonight, as the brightest star shone down on the three of them, he felt as if Will and Annie were watching. Buster would be joining them soon; some days the old guy could barely drag himself up from his favorite rug. Will had been four when they got the puppy for him, not long before he became ill. The loyal Golden Retriever had kept Aiden company through all the long, lonely years. Buster’s joints were stiff and painful, and his whiskers were turning white. It was going to break his heart when his dog died.

As he opened the front door, he could imagine Annie’s voice as clearly as if she were in the other room. “What have you two been up to now?” He and Will would exchange a secret grin, then Will would say, “Nuttin’, Mom. What’s for dinner? We’re staaaarving.”

What would his wife and son think about Ginny and Joey sleeping in their house, in their beds? He liked to think they’d be happy about it. For the first time in years, Aiden felt the tingle of hope. He felt as if Ginny and Joey had been led to him for a reason. Maybe they needed him as much as he needed them.

He’d written the first Billy and Buster after his son’s illness was diagnosed, and wrote the second book at Will’s request after a difficult round of chemo. After Will died, Aiden just kept writing, long after he’d lost the spark, because kids enjoyed the stories. He’d kept his anonymity because he missed Will too much to talk about the books and what they meant to him; they hit too close to home, Buster and not-Will.

Every boy should have a dog. Aiden wondered how Ginny would feel if he offered to get Joey a puppy for Christmas. He was making assumptions he had no right to make. He barely knew Ginny or her son. But he believed in a future with her the way he believed in Santa Claus. Aiden remembered the words of the famous editorial responding to another Virginia as if they were etched into his heart. He quoted softly to himself, “‘The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see’.”

As he laid the sleeping boy on his son’s old bed, Aiden felt a sense of rightness. When Ginny met his eyes with a shy smile, he reached for her hand and squeezed it lightly. Linking her fingers with his, he switched on the night light. Buster pushed past them and walked over to the bed, sniffing at Joey’s slight form. Aiden felt something uncoil in his chest when Buster curled up next to the bed, just like in the old days.

Ginny broke the silence. “Thank you. Those aren’t big enough words, but I don’t know what else to say. I hardly know you, but I feel as if Joey and I have come home.”

Aiden drew Ginny into his arms and held her. Just held her. It wasn’t a thunderbolt, wasn’t fireworks, but it was magic, all right. And he believed. Hell yes, he believed.

For the first time in years, he could hardly wait for Christmas.


This story is dedicated to two wonderful children who died too soon:
Chance Carr and Emily Paeltz

Copyright 2009 by Rebecca Martin Davis

Wednesday, December 22, 2004



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Saturday, December 18, 2004

"Silver And Gold," By Becke Martin (Cont'd)

...stopped as her hand met the lacy headband that was part of her uniform. Her fingers flailed for a second as if at a lost where to go next, then she reached into her apron pocket and tore a page from her order book. “Here, you can write the letter on this.”

“But Mom . . .”

“Hush, Joey – Santa won’t care that your letter’s not on fancy paper. And I happen to know he’s a speed reader.”

The boy, who looked to be six or seven, had big blue eyes like his mom’s and hair several shades lighter – baby-fine, flaxen and softly curling around his nape. He’d bet the boy was teased about it unmercifully at school.

Aiden pointedly opened the local paper and flipped to the sports section before returning to his dinner. The high school scores weren’t nearly as interesting as his waitress, though, and the realization came as a shock. It had been years since he’d noticed a woman – really noticed her, down to his gut. Why now, and why this woman?

Well, there was the kid. He was a sucker for kids. These days, if a man admitted that out loud people thought “pedophile,” but Aiden had always been fascinated with the intelligence and curiosity of children. He missed kids. He missed being a dad most of all.

Tears swam in front of his eyes, blurring the headlines he pretended to read. It was just Christmas, damn it. He wasn’t normally this maudlin. He’d had ten years to get over his son’s death, eight to adjust to the loneliness, abandonment and guilt after his wife killed herself. There was nothing wrong with him that getting past Christmas wouldn’t cure.

He heard the rustle of paper as the boy slid into the booth in front of his, sniffling quietly and muttering to himself. “I’ll never get the book now.”

At the word “book,” Aiden’s attention was caught again. It could be any book, but he was willing to bet Joey was going to ask Santa for the next installment of "The Adventures of Billy and Buster," an incredibly popular series about a smart six-year-old and his Golden Retriever. Buster was really an alien from the Dog Star who helped Billy solve mysteries and save their town from an evil villain in every volume. The series had a special place in Aiden’s heart.

Every book ended with the boy and dog strolling through the front door of their small suburban home, where smells of a hot dinner wafted out to greet them. Billy’s mother’s question – “What have you two been up to now?” – was such a popular catchphrase, it had been co-opted on every show from "SNL" to "The Family Guy," as was Billy’s response: “Nuttin’, Mom. What’s for dinner? We’re staaaarving.”

As the owner of Chapters, the only book store town, Aiden was... Read On...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Exclusive Excerpt: "It Happened One Night," By Lisa Dale

Check out this Exclusive Excerpt from Lisa Dale's extraordinary novel, "It Happened One Night," just right for the holidays...

When at last Eli’s voice came over the line she knew he’d been sleeping.

“I woke you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“Is everything ok?”

“I just haven’t talked to you in a couple days. I wanted to say hi.”

“Hold on?”

Lana waited. There was some shuffling, the sound of Eli muttering to himself. She guessed he was fumbling for his glasses. Maybe he’d fallen asleep leaning over his books or watching a documentary. She could picture him, the way he looked when he woke up, his adorable grogginess, his rich brown hair spiked on one side, flat on the other. He had the most charming freckle just under the lower lip of his left eye, which he rubbed when he was tired.

At last he came back on the line. “So what’s going on?”

“What’s going on with you?”

His voice was low and raspy with sleep. “I dreamed that I was giving a lecture about the constellations, except I’d forgotten their names.”

“Stargazing even in your dreams.”

“Always.” He paused. She felt the luxurious comfort of silence between them, thick as the hiss of static over the phone. “You can’t sleep?”

“I went to bed too early.”

“A nightmare?”


“Is it…did something happen with Ron?”

Lana took a deep breath of the cool, crisp air and lifted her face to the sky. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Eli was quiet for a long, long time. She spun slowly in place in the cold grass, and the sky pivoted in a circle, twirling on the point of a single star.

When he spoke again his words were flat. “Are you in love with him?”

She thought about the question, but not for too long. Passion was like a flower that bloomed for one night a year—exquisite, poignant, and tragically brief. She gave herself completely to passion when she was lucky enough to find it. But she didn’t delude herself into thinking it would last.

No,” she said. “I don’t love him.” She wasn’t sure, but she thought she sensed relief on the other end of the phone. “Does that surprise you?”

“No. But I won’t say I’m not glad.”

Lana stopped spinning, trying not to read too much into his words. The last thing she needed was to invent subtext where there was none. This was Eli she was talking to. What-you-see-is-what-you-get Eli. What she loved about his friendship was that it was predictable—even routine. She always knew where she stood with him.

She heard a noise in the background on his end of the phone.

“Just a minute,” he said.

But he wasn’t talking to her.

Suddenly Lana realized the truth. Eli wasn’t alone. He was with a woman. He was sleeping with her. A knot of irrational fear gripped her stomach. She couldn’t have predicted this. Things had moved along more quickly than she would have thought, much more quickly than with any of the others. What if this time, he’d found the One? And Lana couldn’t even remember her name.

“Sorry about that,” he said, talking to her once again.

“I should let you go,” she said. She wanted him to contradict her, but he did not.

All at once, she was tired. Tired down her bones. She could sleep right here, standing on her feet in the front yard, the sound of Eli’s voice weaving and looping through her consciousness like ribbons drawn through water. With a shock, she remembered the feel of his mouth on her neck, the insistence of his tongue, the tough heat of his hands—

Kelly. The woman’s name was Kelly.

“Goodnight,” she said, and she hung up the phone. She carried it upstairs, put it on her nightstand, and willed herself to find safer, gentler dreams.

Copyright Lisa Dale, 2009.

Click here to check out Becke Davis' RBTB feature review of
Lisa Dale's "It Happened One Night!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"Next Comes Love," By Helen Brenna (Excerpt, Continued)

...balance, threw a buzz saw at his plans. There was only one solution. “I want you off my island.”

A look of surprise and something else flashed in her eyes. She backed up and hit the brick behind her. “You want me off your island?”

“Tomorrow isn’t soon enough.”

“Your island?” The angry bite edging into her voice said more than anything that she’d recovered from her initial shock. Now on the offensive, she stepped toward him. “That’s funny ‘cause I heard you haven’t even been here a year. This isn’t your island any more than it’s mine.”

“I’ve got a badge that says it’s mine.” He closed the short distance between them, trying like hell to intimidate. Maybe if he upset her enough, she’d spill something, anything, giving him reason to put her on the next ferry off Mirabelle.

When she thrust her chin out something told him it wasn’t going to happen. “You think I’m not good enough for Mirabelle, don’t you?” she whispered.

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t trust you.”

“You know what? You’re right. I’m not good enough. Even I know it. This place is all lollypops, tiaras and fairytales. Me?” She shook her head and chuckled. “I sure as hell am not a princess.” Her smile disappeared. “You and me, Garrett, we’re two peas in a pod. I may not be a princess, but you’re not even close to being a knight in shining armor—”


“Garrett Taylor, a cop from the wrong side of the tracks.”

“Don’t do this—”

“One foot in the gutter—”

“Stop it!” He grabbed her wrists and pressed her back against the brick wall.

“You think if you stay here long enough,” she whispered, “this place, these people will clean you off. Don’t you? All I do is remind you that it’s not going to be that easy.”

She was right. She’d hit the nail on the head. Hard. She stirred something low and deep inside him, something he’d long ago tried to put away. She brought out the worst in him, lit his fuse and make him feel like a bomb hot to explode.

“Every time you look in my eyes,” she said, as if she could read his mind, “you see yourself.”

Somehow, someway, as if she’d cast a spell on him, he forgot about Hannah, forgot about the kind of woman he was trying to convince himself he needed and moved toward her. He pressed against her, from her knees to her breasts, pulsed his hips against her and instantly went rigid with need.

He wanted inside her. Here. Now. “Who are you?” he growled.

“What you see is what you get,” she whispered.

He wanted to see all right and feel every part of her. He lifted her shirt and splayed his hand over her stomach, lost himself in the feel of her, all soft and firm at the same time, under his hands. Her lips parted and her warm breath mingled with his in the cold night air. His mouth hovered a hairsbreadth from hers. One of them moved and their lips touched, softly, then harder and harder still. Their teeth clicked and their tongues clashed.

Then he scraped his knee against the rough brick, piercing his awareness. In a back alley, he was pressing a woman up against a wall like no more than a rutting deer. She had his number all right.

He jumped away and threw his hands up in the air. She fell back, looking as dazed as he felt. He would’ve expected her to smile, to leer at him, triumphant in her victory. Instead, she wouldn’t meet his gaze.

He took a deep breath of cold night air, clearing what felt like a fog from his brain. “I’m sorry—”

“Don’t!” She turned away and, before slamming the back door to Duffy’s in his face, whispered, “You’re like every cop I’ve ever known. Taking what you want without giving a shit who gets hurt.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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Exclusive Excerpt: "Make Her Pay," By Roxanne St. Claire

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He pulled the throttle back, looking side to side now that they’d traveled about ten more miles. Nothing.

“One more question, Con,” Lizzie said.

He braced for it, and prepared to lie. How bad could a question be, anyway?

“How’d you learn to steal things like you do?”

Pretty bad. For a moment, he considered telling her the truth. That’d burst her hero worshipping bubble in a hurry. That’d cool the look of lust in her eyes and shut that sweet little mouth she threatened to kiss him with every time she got closer.

“It’s just a talent I have,” he finally said.

“Lots of my talents have come in handy this week.” He tightened his thighs around her hips to punctuate that. “And if you don’t back off and stop looking at me like that, you’re about to find out about a few more.”

He was already going to be number one on her shit list when she figured out that he not only wasn’t her super agent here to save the day, he was working for her sworn enemy. Could he make her hate him even more by taking what she was not so subtly offering right now?

Probably. If he let his body do the thinking.
“You’re playing with fire, Lizzie.”

“Is that why I’m feeling so hot right now?”

She didn’t want to be warned. Didn’t want to be told no. Didn’t want to know the truth.

“You could get burned.”

“So could you. Singed.” She hissed the last word and added the tiniest rock of her hips toward his.

He was already hard, already pulsing. “I’m asbestos, sweetheart. And you…” He snaked his hand through the blanket to her body, fingering the zipper of the hooded jacket closed at her throat. He dragged it slowly south, his knuckles grazing the rise of her chest on the way down. “Are not.”

“I can handle the heat,” she said, arching her back enough to let the blanket fall to the deck with a soft whoosh. “Like I can handle the cold.”

He clicked the zipper at the bottom, then flattened his hand on her stomach, sliding it up, over a button-down shirt. Her gaze widened as he spread his palm over her breast.

“Let’s just be clear, Lizzie Dare.” He popped the first button with ease. “I’m not what or who you think I am.”

She just lifted one brow in an almost imperceptible nod of permission. “You don’t scare me, Con Xenakis.”

“I’m not trying to scare you.” Next button, open. “I’m undressing you.”

She smiled. “You think you’re some badass boy who’s going to break my heart or my spirit.”

“Never your spirit.” Third button, done. Too easy for a thief like Con. “It’s unbreakable.”

She liked that, leaning closer, offering access to that last little button. “You forget I already pegged you as one of the good guys.”

He barely blew out a breath, his gaze leveled on the sweet rise of her breasts, the pale flesh pressing against a silky, lacy bra. His throat dry, his fingers itched for the touch he knew he was going to take. All he was about to take.

“Honey, you pegged me wrong.” His voice was gruff, raspy, honest.

He pulled her closer, smashing her body into his and standing slowly, their gazes locked on each other’s mouth.

“I don’t think so.” Her eyes were dark with arousal, hooded with surrender. “You don’t fool me.”

Then she was the fool.

He pushed her back on the motor boat’s console, as he spread the blouse open completely.

He lowered his face to her breasts, opening his mouth over one and closing his hand over the other. Under him, her body pulsed in an instinctive rhythm, soft sounds cooing from her lips each time her hips hit his, the sound drawing him to her mouth and throat and lower to close his lips over her breasts.

“Just know you were warned,” he said, pulling her to her feet and twisting the key to turn the engines off. “Go below. I’m going to anchor the boat here.”

She searched his face, unsure. “You’re not going to change your mind, are you?”

Change his mind? He could. He should. This was his chance. A chance to be the man she thought he was. A chance to demonstrate that code of honor that turned her on so much. A chance to do the right goddamned thing instead of the easy, irresponsible, wrong goddamned thing.

This was his chance. Would he take it?

“Not a chance.”

From "Make Her Pay." Copyright Roxanne St Claire, 2009.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Brief Biography for Gwendolyn D. Pough

Gwendolyn D. Pough is an Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University. She is the author of Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere as well as numerous essays and articles on black feminism, hip-hop, critical pedagogy and black public culture.

She has co-edited a special issue of the journal FEMSPEC: an interdisciplinary feminist journal dedicated to critical and creative works in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, surrealism, myth, folklore, and other supernatural genres and she has co-edited the critically acclaimed Home Girls Make Some Noise: A Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology.

Pough was awarded an American Association of University Women Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2003-2004 to complete research on her next book length project about contemporary African American women's book clubs and reading groups. She is Associate Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She writes romance fiction under the pen name Gwyneth Bolton. She has eight novels and a novella published to date. She has won several awards for her novels.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Exclusive: "Blue Eyed Devil" Opening Hook Up From Hardy Cates' POV

In “Sugar Daddy” we met Hardy Cates, the ambitious and sexy scoundrel who made enemies of everyone in the super-rich Travis family. Now, in Hardy’s own words, you can experience his first encounter with the woman who is about to turn his life upside-down . . . a woman he fiercely desires but can never have.

Chapter One

This was exactly where I wanted to be. Anywhere I wasn’t welcome. Any place I didn’t belong.

It had been a last-minute impulse to crash Liberty Jones’s wedding reception. I wanted to say goodbye to her, and if I managed to annoy the Travis family in the process, so much the better.

Liberty and I had both grown up in a trailer park in a small town east of Houston. Now she had married into one of the richest families in Texas. And I didn’t doubt that her new husband, Gage Travis, was in love with her.

It was easy to love Liberty.

I’d had my chance with her years ago, and I’d chosen to leave her. I would have done anything to succeed. I had made some tough choices and thrown away a lot of things, including love, to get ahead. But I had no regrets. Mainly because you could only have regrets if you took the time to think about the past, and that was something I tried like hell not to do.

I knew I didn’t fit in with these people, the party guests dressed in designer clothes, wearing Rolex watches and diamonds the size of cocktail olives. I hadn’t yet figured out their code words, or all the intricate histories of who had screwed whom, in business and in bed. But in time I would learn what I needed to. So far I had three things going for me: I’d started a small but successful oil recovery operation, I was a fast learner, and I owned my own damned tux.

My limited exposures to Houston society had already taught me quite a lot. I knew not to talk about business with a man when his woman was nearby. I knew never to discuss politics as seriously as football. I learned to shell out for a good haircut and expensive shoes. I figured out real quick that Italian designer suits weren’t tailored for guys with my build. Before I’d started my company, I’d worked on a drilling rig, and apparently the roughneck streak in me wasn’t going to be easy to get rid of.

At least a thousand guests had come to the reception. The accumulated body heat made the warm spring night feel like summer. The mixture of perfumes, aftershaves, liquor, champagne and food thickened the air considerably. Every breath seemed to stick in my throat. I tugged at my tie, feeling suffocated. Bitter. Hungry. This was the feeling I’d had all my life, this sense of wanting, needing, something just out of my reach.

A waiter came by, doing a balancing act with a huge tray loaded with champagne. I couldn’t stand champagne, but since everyone else was taking the crystal flutes, I did too.

Just as I lifted the glass to take a swallow, I saw her.

She was standing just a few yards away, wearing a strapless mint-green bridesmaid dress. She was a small woman, slight of build. Unlike the spray-tanned, highlighted women around her, she was pale and dark-haired. Her posture was relaxed and comfortable, but those white shoulders were hunched inward as if she was trying to protect herself from something. She was pretty rather than beautiful, with big brown eyes and a soft-looking mouth. There was something vibrant but fragile about her. I couldn’t stop staring.

I wanted to touch her. I wanted to run my hand along the delicate ladder of her spine and follow it beneath her dress. I couldn’t ever remember feeling such an instant attraction to someone before, a heat that mainlined into every vein.

“Who’s that?” I asked the waiter.

He followed the direction of my gaze. “That’s Haven Travis,” he said, maneuvering the tray deftly. “The groom’s sister.”

Fucking figures, I thought, smiling ruefully. If there was anything that guaranteed me dead-in-the-water status, it was the Travis name. A few months earlier I had deliberately ruined a biofuel deal that Gage, Liberty’s husband, had been putting together.

Not one of my finer moments. But I had a lot to gain by doing it, and at that point I couldn’t afford to pass up the opportunity. I figured Gage, with all his millions, would rebound fast from the blow, and he had. And he’d ended up with Liberty. So the guy was not exactly suffering. But all that hadn’t endeared me to the Travis family.

Haven. I couldn’t help glancing at her again. I wondered what she smelled like. Tasted like.
Somehow she sensed my interest. She turned a little and sent me a cautious sideways glance. The dark eyes widened, and it seemed she was trying to figure out if I was someone she ought to know. I thought of about ten things I’d like to do with her right then. A faint blush rose up her neck and face, as if she could read my mind.

Blinking, she turned away from me and sidled close to the guy she was with. He didn’t appear to be much older than her. I could tell at a glance that he was a college guy, clean-cut and shiny-faced and handsome.

Lucky son of a bitch.

Leaving the tent, I went into the air-conditioned mansion. I was hot inside and out, the sullen, suffocated feeling coming back in full force. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that there were a lot of available women at the reception. The way the liquor was flowing, it wouldn’t take much to talk one of them into coming home with me. But there didn’t seem to be any point to it. There was only one woman I wanted.

For the next few minutes I wandered from room to room, music and laughter and conversation filling the air with a muted roar. The house was decorated European-style, with paintings and furniture that looked stylishly worn and aged. I thought of Liberty stepping into this life, this privileged world, and I briefly remembered how she had been as a shy little girl, with glasses and long tangly hair and skinned knees. She must have changed a lot to be able to handle this.
I figured she would be coming into the house soon to change into her going-away clothes. If possible, I would steal a minute with her. In the meantime I was going to find a quiet place to wait.

Off the dining room, I saw an arched stone doorway with a partially open iron gate. Liberty had told me once about the Travises’ dine-in wine cellar and renowned wine collection. It looked dark and cool and still in there. Wondering what a world-class wine collection looked like, I went past the iron gate and into the wine room, which was lined with oak barrel stays that gave the air a sweet, earthy smell. There was a marble-topped table in the center of the space, and floor-to-ceiling slotted oak racks loaded with dust-frosted wine bottles.

Before I got a closer look, however, the lights went off.

I was startled by the sudden darkness, and even more by an unexpected movement behind me. “Hey—” I began, turning around.

“Just me.” A woman’s hands slid up my chest and shoulders. Her voice was soft and husky.

“Mmmn. You feel nice in a tux.” A slim, silk-covered body molded against me. “I missed you,” she whispered. “You didn’t dance with me.”

I should have told her right then that she had the wrong guy, I wasn’t who she thought I was. But the feel of her was electrifying; the light press of her breasts, the small, cool fingers slipping around the back of my neck. I drew in a breath, and the smell of her, fresh and exquisite, made my head swim.

She tugged my head downward. The tender brush of her lips was all it took to send my pulse into overdrive. Giving in to instinct, I settled my mouth on hers. I tasted sweetness. Warmth. A surprising hint of innocence. She relaxed and yielded, going boneless against me, and the pleasure of it slammed through me fast and hard. My hands shook with the urge to grip her hard against me. But I stayed gentle, searching until I found the shy tip of her tongue. The heat rose, blazed higher, and I drew my hands down to the small of her back. The willing arch of her body encouraged me to go farther. I brought her hips against mine, letting her feel how much I wanted to get inside her, and she made a needy sound against my mouth and tried to curve all around me.

The sensation of her was too much, sending the desire into a full-on rampage. I couldn’t breathe deeply enough or pull her close enough. I had never wanted anyone or anything this much. Nothing mattered, not even the knowledge that someone could walk in and find us at any moment. All I cared about was luscious mouth beneath mine, and the sound of her unsteady breath in the darkness. I caught her hips, lifted her onto the table and stood between her legs. As I kissed her deeper, she sucked on my tongue with a little wet tug.

In a life of raw deals, bruises, sweat and constant hunger, this was the best moment, the best feeling, I’d ever had. I wanted to kiss her everywhere. I wanted to keep her in bed for a week, and I knew even then I wouldn’t be satisfied, I would want more.

I dragged my mouth slowly along her throat, searching for her pulse. She clung to me, her hands going up to my head, fingers tangling in my hair.

And then she froze. A thrill of panic made her shiver in my arms. “Oh God,” she breathed. “Nick?”

Her shaking fingertips went to my face, exploring my cheek and jaw. I would have done anything to reassure her, to keep her from being afraid of me. I took her hand and pressed a kiss into the warm cup of her palm.

“Who’s Nick?” I asked.

She stuttered and trembled and apologized, telling me she had thought I was her boyfriend. I tried to soothe her, stroking her back, thinking she was the most adorable woman who had ever lived. I told her there was no harm done. Everything was okay.

But she shook her head and ran her hand over my shoulder and said breathlessly, “Oh. You’re the guy in the tent, aren’t you? The one with the blue eyes.”

Instantly I knew who she was. “You’re the bridesmaid in the green dress.” I couldn’t believe it. The situation was so ironic that I couldn’t stifle a sudden laugh. “Shit. You’re a Travis, aren’t you?”

Haven Travis. A woman I had no business being with. I knew I should leave her immediately.

But I didn’t let go of her. And she didn’t ask me to.

Big trouble ahead, I told myself.

Trouble that might actually be worth it.

Copyright 2008, Lisa Kleypas. Exclusive content written for and originally published @ RBTB @

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Excerpt: "Dark Legacy," By Anna DeStefano

..."You didn't just see what happened when Sarah began to lose herself," Jarred pressed. He couldn't believe he was entertaining such an outlandish explanation. But somehow he knew he was right. "You...felt what happened to your twin, didn't you? Like you felt that patient's injuries this morning."

Maddie's fingers slid from his arms. Her body fell slack as she withdrew into that mind he wanted—needed—to understand.

"Somehow," he added, "you survived what happened to your family. You thrived. Excelled, after a trauma that should have devastated you. But something happened along the way. At some point over the last year, you stopped being able to deal with people and their feelings. With the patients and doctors constantly streaming in and out of the ER. And..." It was difficult to believe. "...No matter how much you've resisted my help or Yates', I think you've known what's been happening since it started. felt the same thing happen before—to Sarah."

He let Maddie slide from beneath him.

"I c-c-can't do this." She trembled as she stood. Instead of bolting for the door again she slowly headed for the kitchen, her expression a devastating blank. "I tried. I thought I could take the control back. Focus. Get better so I could get back to work... But I can't. I...need... I need to..."
Jarred could hear her teeth chattering. But nothing showed on her face when she turned toward him. That degree of internalization could rip a mind apart.

"Stop trying to handle this on your own." He reached his feet, too, but he didn't shadow her this time. He'd already pushed too hard. Too much. Be her doctor, man. Keep her safe. Nothing else matters right now. "Whatever condition you and your twin share, it's better to face it than keep hiding. Once we're sure what we're dealing with, we can figure out a solution."


"Together," he promised.

Jarred had no business promising her anything—not when it was clear that his involvement was part of what was terrifying Maddie. He should leave and transfer her case to another doctor who would monitor and manage it more professionally. He'd almost convinced himself to do just that, screw his selfish compulsion to keep this woman close, when Maddie drew a revolver from the drawer of the cabinet she'd stopped beside.


"Temple..." He breathed her name calmly, while he mentally kicked his own ass for not hospitalizing her when he'd had the chance. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I don't want to..." She stared at the gun, gone from him.
He felt it, as if she were someone else, somewhere else, and the nightmarish image before him was just a dream. She didn't see him slide closer as she lifted the deadly monster. Turned it. Pointed it at her head.

"I can't m-make it s-s-stop," she said. "I-I have to—"

He grabbed her hand and pulled the gun away from her head.

"No!" She fought him.

"Drop it!" He yanked her arm down. Pried her fingers back until he could rip the weapon away.

"You're smarter than this, Maddie. You're a fighter. You battled for that father's life today. What the hell are you doing trying to throw yours away!"

"Like you care." Her voice was deeper. Not her own. "Like any of you fuckers care. Just let me die, before—-"

He shoved her away and opened the revolver's chamber. The God damned thing was full. The safety was off. He dumped the bullets into his palm and flung the gun across the room.

"Oh, I care," he snapped, terrified for her. "For some reason, I've gotten myself attached to a woman with a death wish who keeps a loaded gun in her house. Which makes me more of a head case than you are, I suppose. Because here I am. Still. Convinced I can help you."

"I..." Clarity returned to Maddie's expression. Tears surged. She was back, the Maddie he knew, staring at the gun that had landed near the window sheers. "I've never seen that before in my life..."

Her gaze begged Jarred to believe her.

And for some inexplicable reason, he did. Just like he'd accepted every other crazy thing that had happened that day. The question was, what did he do next? Call an ambulance? Commit her to an indefinite psych hold, the way he would anyone else? But he couldn't abandon her that way. Not Maddie.

He was certifiable.

"How did the gun get into your kitchen?" he asked.

"I...I have no idea..." She scraped her nails up and down her arms.

He drew her hands to her side.

"Just let you die," he repeated, "before what?"

Maddie putting a gun to her head hadn't been a cry for help. There'd been determination in her eyes. Conviction. And he was certain she hadn't been aware of what she was doing.

"I...I don't...remember," she answered.

"You don't remember what?"

She jerked and focused on him as if she'd just realized who she was talking to.

"Let me help you." He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, trying to soothe his own panic and fear as much as hers. "Technically, I have an obligation to admit you for observation. You just tried to kill yourself. But returning to the hospital's not the answer for you, is it? Not tonight. Not any night until we can find a way to keep what other people are feeling from hurting you." He might as well put it all on the line. The impossible, implausible thoughts that had been rambling around his mind since Maddie left the hospital. "That's what happened in the ER, wasn't it? When you got sick after diagnosing your patient and dealing with Britton's outburst. All of it...gets inside you somehow."

A small nod was her only response.

"But... Being around me doesn't hurt as much, right?" He relaxed a bit after her next reluctant nod. "Then let me help take care of you until we know more. Or are you trying to wind up in a padded cell next to your sister's across town?"

From "Dark Legacy." Copyright Anna DeStefano, 2009.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

"When Alex Was Bad" Excerpt

WARNING: This excerpt contains sexually explicit content from Jo Davis' August 09 erotic romantic suspense that may not appeal to all viewers. Enjoy!

After fifteen years together, Alexander and Olivia Quinn have become strangers, both in and out of the bedroom. When Alex is tempted to stray, Olivia steps in with a bold plan to save their marriage: she’ll allow him seven nights of decadent pleasure with anyone he chooses…if he confesses to each liaison—in explicit detail. And if he agrees to accept his wife’s wicked punishments.

Alex follows Jenna home and gives in to her relentless seduction for the first time…

He almost told her about his arrangement with Liv, but this was simpler, cleaner, and no less the truth. “I’ve wanted to do your luscious body from the second I hired you, and I can’t resist anymore.”

God help me.

Something dark and dangerous flashed in her topaz eyes, there and gone so fast he must’ve imagined it. “And why should you? Poor neglected baby, let me make you feel good.”

Taking him by the hand, she led him into the living room to stand in front of the sofa. Grasping the waist of his pants, she tugged them down, boxers and all. His shaft sprang free, ready and eager for whatever games she had in mind. Indeed, she seemed to be taking the dominant role, a role normally his, and the idea shot a thrill down his spine.

If Jenna wanted to control him tonight, he’d let her. Now that his fate was decided, he’d do whatever she wanted. Let his lover devour him whole.

Kneeling on the carpet, she ran her palms up his thighs. “So big everywhere. Muscular and fit. I insist on a man who takes care of his body.”

“Baby, you’re the gorgeous one.”

Apparently pleased by his compliment, Jenna grasped his c*** around the base. The initial contact electrified every nerve ending. Paralyzed Alex in a fog of need, leaving him at her mercy. Her pretty mouth surrounded him, suckled as though craving nourishment only he could provide. Inch by agonizing inch, she swallowed the length of him. Gasping, he watched his iron-hard shaft disappear between her lips. The most erotic sight he’d ever beheld.

With a low, husky laugh, she released him and straddled his lap.

“You need this, big boy?”

“Oh yeah.”

Grabbing a handful of blond hair, she yanked back his head. “Beg.”

“Jenna, f*** me. Please, baby, f*** me. . . . “

She sank onto him the same way she’d sucked him, slow and deliberate. He spanned his hands at her trim waist. Reveled in the slide of her fiery sheath gripping him. Down, down until she took all of him. Skin to skin, locked together.

So goddamned good. So f***ing nasty.

Dark, forbidden delight.

“This is what you’ve craved, dear Alex. What you need that no one else can give you, even your lovely wife.” Her voice was triumphant, her eyes glittering black pools.

But Liv made this possible, he wanted to cry in denial.

“Yes,” he whispered instead. Easier to agree.

“F***!” she cried. “That’s it, take what you deserve.”

He did. His hips pistoned, flesh slapping in delicious, noisy rhythm. A familiar quickening seized him, gathered in the base of his spine.

“Ahhh, God!”

He exploded with shattering force, pumping into her on and on, filling her with his release. She joined him in climax and they shuddered together for a full minute before Alex finally collapsed into the cushions, sated and spent. For now.

Grinning, she flicked the end of his nose with one bloodred nail. “The Boardman files?”

“Ugh. Must we?”

“Mmm. If you’re very efficient, we might dispatch with business and have time to play before you have to go home.” She cocked her head. “Unless you’d like to stay?”

“I can’t. You know I love Olivia.” He took a deep breath. “In fact, she—”

“I’ve heard that song before.” She chuckled knowingly.

A chill gripped his heart. “Jenna, after tonight, this can’t happen again.”

Cool topaz eyes bored into his, unconcerned. As though she knew something he didn’t.
“We’ll see, loverboy. Don’t bet the farm.”

From “When Alex Was Bad.” Copyright Jo Davis, 2009.