Faith for the Lonely and Heartbroken

As part of my short story anthology, Searching for Her, I wrote “Purple Roses” for those missing loved ones during the Holidays.  It’s also for the lonely ones searching for love.

Joe Roberts and Sylvia Folkert are two of my favorite characters in The Chemical Attraction Series.  I wanted to give them a poignant scene through the remembrance of a lifetime of love and the hint of a new passion with all its possibilities.

“Purple Roses”

In her black winter boots and wool coat, Sylvia Folkert slipped on the top step of her big farmhouse-style bed and breakfast. The softball of used tissues flew out of her purse and dispersed across the wraparound porch. Her gloved hands broke her fall forward. She twisted her knee, but she thought she could walk off the ache. In her early sixties, she couldn’t afford a broken hip in this day and age.

“Thank you,” she whispered with a grateful glance toward the overcast sky.

Setting her purse inside the door, she grabbed the jug of winter salt and sprinkled it across the porch and steps, a basic melt of the snow and ice since the B & B would be empty until next week. Her hired man had done the intense shoveling of her small parking lot and sidewalks yesterday. The forecast projected only light snow tonight.

After hunting down all the tissues, she dropped the wet wad into the trash just inside the door, slipped off her outerwear, and then smoothed down the static cling of her favorite navy blue dress. This morning’s church service wasn’t as joyous as usual. The young children’s choir usually made her smile. Today, she cried. Christmas wasn’t the same without her sweet husband, Herbert, who rose to heaven three months ago.

She and Herbert had talked about funeral provisions. However, he died so quickly she never had a chance to say goodbye. Her grief had been unbearable. She and her niece, Madeline, leaned heavily on each other. While Madeline lost herself in her work, Sylvia started talking to Herbert as if he could hear her.

“Are you with me today, my Love?” she asked. “I desperately need a sign that you are.”

She paused and listened. The blue and white Christmas lights were silently coiled around the cedar and spruce boughs throughout the parlor and living room. The wood and ceramic nativities soundlessly surrounded Baby Jesus on the two corner tables. The abundance of red and white poinsettias remained quiet, too.

“Madeline and I should have gotten a tree. I’m sorry, Darling,” she said, looking at the empty space in front of the bay window. Herbert had brought home a live tree every Christmas since they bought the B & B over thirty-five years ago, replanting them throughout town in the spring.

A few blocks from Allenton’s downtown shops, the historical farmhouse had two other bedrooms and a small bathroom on the main floor next to her large country-style kitchen. Four bedrooms, her living quarters, and another communal bathroom were on the spacious second floor.

In the kitchen, she opened the cupboard under the sink for the dust rag. She needed to keep busy, and this would help work out the stiffness in her knee. She preferred to stay home today even though she and Madeline were invited to Eva and Matt Connor’s for dinner. She’d encourage her niece to go.

“You know, Herbert, my favorite chore has always been dusting,” she said to the cold emptiness.

After adjusting the thermostat, she started in the parlor by the front door. With a sad smile, she reminisced about each of her knickknacks, which held wonderful memories. She carefully dusted her homemade gold and burgundy stained glass lamp with golden tassels, the stand made from the thick banister of Herbert’s childhood home back in Alaska, Michigan, a golf course now. Herbert had made the Tiffany-style lamp the first year they were married.

“After forty-four years, it still works,” Sylvia said not at all surprised by her husband’s craftsmanship.

She moved on to her large cherry curio cabinet with a few antique vases. Herbert loved buying her flowers for milestone events in their life, some good, some bad. Every moment reminded her that they had weathered them together.

Eyes glistening, she held a tall, pale pink, crystal vase. Long ago, it was full of tulips and daffodils. The morning after the doctor told them they couldn’t have children, she found the spring flowers on the kitchen table. God’s plan was greater than theirs Herbert had said. Grateful for all they did have, they had kept their faith alive, together.

“You were a wonderful uncle,” she said, sniffling her nose. The various trinkets in her China cabinet shared more of her and Herbert’s life story.

Sylvia slowly shuffled into the living room and swiped the top of her baby grand piano, a gift from him on their tenth wedding anniversary. He had said we needed more music in our lives. In the large room, they often pushed the furniture against the wall making a small dance floor on the hardwood. For their guests, Sylvia would play and Herbert offered to teach the waltz.

Madeline had become an accomplished piano player and social dancer. They adored their niece as if their own daughter.

Sylvia chuckled. “Do you remember what you said to me the night it was delivered?” she asked the empty room. “You said that I could teach Madeline to play during the summers she stayed with us, so we could dance. You were always a schemer.”

Glancing across the room, she smiled at the nineteen collectable wall plates on the special shelves Herbert had made to hold them in place. Madeline’s mother, Allison, had sent one to her after each of her worldly adventures as an environmentalist. The collectables were nature paintings of wild animals near prairies, forests, lakes, and oceans. Allie gave her a doe and fawn at the edge of a meadow as her way of telling them she was pregnant with Madeline.

“Herbert, will you hug my baby sister?” Sylvia asked, sitting on the piano bench. She looked around hoping for a sign. Her faith wavered. Hearing the kitchen’s back door open, she wiped her eyes and checked the wall clock behind her. Eleven-thirty.

“You’re later than usual,” Sylvia said to her sweaty niece in her winter running gear.

“I know,” Madeline said, unscrewing her water bottle in the kitchen doorway. “I told myself rain or shine, but it was really hard getting out of my warm bed this morning.”

Sylvia tossed the rag back under the sink and started a pot of coffee. After Herbert died, Madeline had started running as some sort of punishment for not finding a cure for the flu. It’s not like it was her fault or her area of expertise, but she took it personally nonetheless. Lashing out, she had blamed BennTech and the CDC for not having the right strain to prevent their tragedy.

After her morning treks around the outskirts of town, Madeline would stop by each time before she headed to work. Sylvia stocked the fridge with water for her, but she couldn’t get her to stay very long.

“Are you going to Eva Connor’s for dinner?” Sylvia asked, knowing Eva’s brother, Joe Roberts, would be there.

“No, I have some paperwork to catch up on. I thought I’d come back later,” Madeline replied, leaning back on the kitchen counter. “I guess dancing’s out, but we could take turns playing the piano.”

“I’m not ready for that yet,” Sylvia said. “I’d prefer you mingle with people your own age, like Eva and her family.”

“I’d be a miserable guest.” Madeline wiped sweat and tears from her face. “My heart has shattered into a million pieces. I don’t have the energy to pick them up and happily socialize,” she said, turning away to dismiss the topic.

“That’s not a healthy attitude,” Sylvia replied, not letting her change the subject. “Your uncle wouldn’t want you to hide in your research.”

Madeline tossed her empty water bottle in the recycling bin. “So many people died and left behind family. I want to do my part. My ultimate goal is to save everyone with a neurological disease.” She kissed her aunt’s cheek. “I’ll stay over tonight, and we’ll play a board game or cards or something.”

Madeline left and Sylvia sighed. “So close to meeting Eva’s brother and yet so far away.”

She and Eva had conspired for a few years to put Joe and Madeline in the same room at the same time to no avail. Sylvia had thought for sure it was a match. Herbert had thought so, too. Actually, he was the one to suggest it. For an hour, Sylvia hobbled around the farmhouse looking for some kind of sign from Herbert. Not a one.

As she put creamer in her mug, someone knocked on the front door. Curious, she walked toward it. “Now, who could that be? Mary and Joseph looking for an inn? That was last night,” she said, amused with herself.

Opening the door, she grinned at her guest. Part of that couple stood on her porch, figuratively and literally. Joe Roberts held a canvas grocery bag and a bouquet of purple roses.

“Joseph, come in. Welcome,” she said, stepping back. He would always be Joseph to her now.

Inside, he stomped his boots on the door mat. “Merry Christmas.” He handed her the bag. “The care packages are from Eva, and these are from me,” he said. His hand held the square box that stabilized and protected the short, fat vase. The florist had created a tightly packed dome of a dozen, vibrant, purple roses.

“Oh my! They’re absolutely majestic.” Their lovely fragrance floated toward her. “Can you stay for coffee?”

“Sure. A break from the chaos at Eva’s would be nice,” he said, slipping off his boots.

“Wonderful.” Carrying the canvas bag, she motioned him toward the kitchen.

Joseph set the flowers on the table and slipped his coat over the back of a chair before sitting down. “I thought these were pretty, too. For some reason, they called out to me and made me think of you.”

“This is considerate of you and your sister,” she said, unloading the bag.

Sylvia put the food containers of ham, scalloped potatoes, yams, and slices of pumpkin pie in the fridge. Eva must have known Madeline wouldn’t stop by there, so she sent Joseph here. They had horrible timing.

“I wanted to check in with you since I didn’t have a chance to attend Herbert’s funeral,” he said as she poured them each a cup of coffee. He leaned over to smell the flowers then took the mug she offered. “How have you been doing?”

Sitting diagonally to him, she sipped her coffee. “Some days are better than others.”

“Yeah, the holidays can be rough,” he said. “After our best friend Taylor’s parents died, that first Christmas was brutal. All the traditions we grew up with seemed to have died, too.” With a matter-of-fact attitude, he empathized with her grief. She found it comforting.

“I miss him every day. I still expect him to walk through the front door,” she replied.

Leaning back, Joseph retrieved the box of tissues on the counter by her stack of cookbooks and set it between them. “Is all that pain worth it?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Tennyson’s quote: Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” He shifted in his chair. “Is it better?” he asked.

Pushing the tissue box aside, she reached for his hand not sure if he’d pull away. He gently lay his other over hers, warming them. His eyes seemed to search her face for the answers.

“I have a lifetime of loving memories with Herbert that I’d never give up. Your time will come,” she replied.

He sat back in his chair, letting go of her hand, shielding his vulnerability. Her niece did that often. Sylvia had tried to get her to share her feelings, too, but Madeline had only touched the surface, pushing her pain deep down inside her core.

Contemplating her answer, Joseph stared into his empty mug. “I want my life to be better, but I’m tired of searching.”

“Trust in God’s plan,” she said. She supposed she should do that, too. It was easier giving good advice than believing in it. Today, it proved extremely difficult.

He looked up and smiled. “Eva has said that to me on many occasions. Are you two hanging out together?”

She chuckled. “Maybe,” she replied.

“Well, I better get back,” he said, sliding his chair away from the table. “Thank you for the, uh, coffee.”

Glad he trusted her enough to open up albeit briefly, she joined him at the front door. After shoving his feet back into his boots, he gave her a brief hug and a peck on the cheek.

“Thank you for the roses, Joseph. Take care.”

“You, too,” he replied, before leaving.

Sylvia inhaled the scent of the roses and snatched the tiny envelope sticking out of the top. Joseph had drawn two linking hearts on the otherwise blank card. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. Taking the bouquet out of the protective box, she saw another printed card from the floral shop stuck to the side:

Purple Roses symbolize transcendental enchantment.

The giver of the purple roses seeks to express a deep magnetism and charm

enticing the recipient to fall in love at the very first meeting.

Sylvia wondered if Joseph saw this and knew about the meaning. Touching a velvety petal, she sighed. She suspected loneliness had invaded Joseph’s life as it had Madeline’s.

“Why can’t we get them together? Herbert, are you seeing this disconnection? I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.” A dash of anger added to her mixture of sadness and heartache.

Carrying a backpack, Madeline stomped the snow off her boots as she entered through the kitchen’s back door. Spotting the purple roses, she tossed her winter coat toward the hook, missing it. She absently kicked off her boots.

“What did I miss?” Madeline asked. “Who brought you flowers?”

“A friend. Aren’t they beautiful?” Sylvia replied.

Madeline deeply inhaled their scent. “Oh my gosh, these are intoxicating.” She grabbed the card with Joe’s interlinking hearts, flipping it over. “Do I know your admirer? I’m a little jealous,” she said with a grin.

“No, you don’t know him,” she replied. She wanted to add yet, but she held her tongue.

“I think I’d like to,” Madeline whispered almost to herself as she caressed the petals.

Surprised by her comment, Sylvia watched her niece sit down and pull the roses closer. She hadn’t seen Madeline smile in a long time. Was she enchanted with Joe’s purple roses? Her niece’s mood lightened as she put her face near them to breathe in the fragrance.

Tilting her head, Madeline looked closer at the vase. “Didn’t Uncle Herbert give you a vase like this one, years ago?”

“What?” Sylvia said, seeing the cobalt blue rose bowl for the first time.

“I think this is identical to the one on the dresser in your bedroom,” Madeline said with a smile.

Gaping in disbelief, Sylvia flashed back to the night she fell in love. At the local American Legion’s Annual Spring Fling, the young man in the black suit and crooked tie had smiled at her. She had blushed bright pink when he took her hand for the first time. She and Herbert had danced the night away as if they were the only ones at the party. The next day, he had sent her the exact same vase filled with pink roses.

Reaching for a tissue, Sylvia sobbed. Her body trembled. This was the message she desperately needed. Herbert was nearby, and he would have a hand in Joe and Madeline’s eventual romance.

Thank you, my Angel. Her shaken faith now fortified.

xxx

What happens next?  Will Joe and Madeline meet?  Sylvia and Eva plot to make it so.  And, yes, sparks most certainly fly.

Continue Joe and Madeline’s romance in Chemical Attraction.

 

 

This Writer’s Way to Learn Spanish

When my daughter’s friend from Barcelona, Spain visited this past spring, I decided it was time to check off an item on my bucket list. Learning Spanish topped the list. As a translator, this young man knows four languages: English, Dutch, Spanish, and Catalan. I find that absolutely amazing.

For his next visit to the U.S., I wanted to learn a few words and phrases hoping to make him feel welcome. Well, he offered to help. He rewrote an excerpt of Chemical Attraction from English to Spanish and then he recorded it. Wow!

Since I know my story and characters better than anyone, I found the translation and exciting tutorial incredibly helpful. Hearing Joe, Madeline, and Sylvia come to life in Spanish was a bit surreal, too. I made this video. Follow along and enjoy.

Gracias, Kevin Nasarre Krols!

 

 

 

 

Do you believe in the Chemistry of Love at First Touch?

From THEIR RIGID RULES:

Frowning, Stuart stared at Taylor as she walked away. “She’s the one?” he mumbled, picking up her stool.

He knew he shouldn’t have cut the class short, but he didn’t want to miss kickoff. He needed some kind of normalcy to his disrupted routine. It had taken an extra fifteen minutes to talk Reese into letting him watch the game in peace. When he had entered the bar, he couldn’t believe his luck. She was sitting alone by the small TV.

He enjoyed talking football with this sexy, young woman who was into it as much as he was. Her tenderness and compassion intrigued him. Could she really feel someone’s pain? He wondered if she could feel his, because his mood lightened just being around her. The pressure against his chest lessened, allowing him to take deeper breaths.

Putting his self-control to the test, he had resisted the urge to touch her until she slipped off her stool. Without thinking, he wrapped his arms around her. His body jolted with an electric shock. His parents believed in the chemistry of love at first sight. This wasn’t it, was it?

He slowly turned toward the bar to sip his beer. What the hell was the matter with him? He shook his head. He was mistaken. This was lust. It had been awhile. He pushed his beer away and rubbed his hand through his hair. This was not the best time for anything, and she was his student for God’s sake. He felt drawn to her nonetheless.

 

Their Rigid Rules on Amazon

Is This Karma’s Revenge?

For Joe Roberts, this scene is a culmination of his life choices.  Is he unworthy of love?  With raw despair, he wonders if karma has finally caught up to him, demanding retribution.  Is this karma’s revenge?  Joe thinks so.

An excerpt from Chemical Reaction:

***

Joe loved his home. His sisters had helped decorate it. He and his brother-in-law Stuart hung out and played video games. But tonight, his apartment was an empty shell. He understood why Madeline hadn’t stayed. To have her find a woman in his bed was not how he wanted to start their new life together. Would they have a life together?

In the bathroom, he scrubbed Madeline’s ring and necklace with a spare toothbrush until every bit of soot had been removed. After a shower, he slipped the ring onto the necklace and then put it around his neck hoping to feel her energy. He felt despair. His or hers?

Opening the bedroom door, he saw the unmade bed and a red stiletto on the floor by his blinking answering machine. With a groaning shout, he ripped the comforter, sheets, and mattress pad off the bed and threw them into a pile. Not caring which telemarketer or utility company left messages, he flung the machine across the room. It hit the wall and shattered. Sitting on the naked mattress, he bent over and rubbed his eyes in frustration.

Was this payback for his past transgressions? Over the years, he had hurt many women. Now, all of their pain, hate, and sorrow hit him in the chest with such a profound force he had to gasp for a breath. Bitter anguish gnawed at his heart as he thought about ruining the only relationship he wanted, needed, craved, and may never have. Without her in his life, he didn’t think he could recover. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Joe slid to the floor and cried.

***

How did Joe get to this point in his life?

Check out The Chemical Attraction Series and find out. 

 

Horrible First Impressions

I have yet to make a good first impression; I’m too guarded. The affliction, I believe, is called Resting Bitch Face.

In this excerpt from THE KINDRED CODE, Eva meets Matt’s mother and makes a horrible first impression. . . .

*****

. . . Turning into the long unplowed driveway to the Ready’s farmhouse, Matt gunned it. Nothing was going to stop his time alone with Eva.

As Matt walked with David to the door, he lectured one last time. “No feigning sick and no causing trouble. Eva and I will pick you up Sunday morning.”

“Fine, but I get to hog her all day Sunday,” David said, knocking on the door.

“Deal.”

In a red cardigan sweater and skinny jeans, Kathy Ready opened the door. David quickly slipped through the crack. Kathy’s long, red manicured nails rested on the door and showed no signs of working on a farm. She usually glammed up in the winter off-season.

“Don’t worry about David. We have a few fun distractions for the boys this weekend. Enjoy your peace and quiet,” she said with a wink.

“Thank you. He has his cell just in case,” he replied, before turning from the door. Does everyone in town know about my romantic weekend? He’d ring Bobby’s neck. The gossip that passed his partner’s lips rivaled that of Matt’s mother, Gail Connor.

After sliding out of the driveway, he headed home. Having someone waiting for him gave him a thrill he had never felt before. As he turned onto Pine Street, he saw his mother enter his house. Crap! He hadn’t told her about his weekend plans, but he wondered if David had.

He hit the garage door opener and parked in the empty space. The other spot housed his push lawnmower and the snowblower. As he entered the house through the mudroom next to the kitchen, he heard his mom yelling.

“What in God’s name!”

“Damn, damn, damn,” he muttered, tossing his uniform coat over the wooden chair next to his kitchen table. Seeing his mother in the hallway, he quickly set his gun and belt on top of the refrigerator. Wondering where Eva was, he met his mother next to his bedroom doorway. With a tight curly poodle perm and newly-colored chestnut brown hair, Gail frowned at him.

“Matthew,” she demanded, “who’s that naked woman in your bed? She wears too much makeup.”

He leaned past his mother and saw Eva burying her face in his navy blue comforter, her embarrassment hidden behind her long red spiral curls. Damn, he liked seeing her in his bed.

“Can you be more specific?” he asked. He grinned when Eva stiffened and glared at him.

“Matthew, David could have seen this harlot,” Gail said.

Matt’s amusement at seeing Eva suddenly shifted to annoyance at his interfering mother. He clenched his jaw. “Don’t ever call her that again. Eva’s studying to be a doctor. I invited her here, and I expect David told you that. I just dropped him off at Jimmy’s for the weekend, of which you are also aware. I warned you about dropping by unannounced. Give me your key.”

He would not allow his mother to undermine this relationship. She opened her mouth but thought better of it. Dropping the key in his hand, she stormed out the front door. Dismissing his mother’s antics, he turned back to Eva.

“Hello,” he said, leaning on the door jam.

“You have a parade of women coming through here that you need more information?” Eva demanded. She reached over to retrieve her clothes on the nearby chair.

“It’s sarcasm. I never wanted to take the time to date until you,” he replied. “You definitely made a lasting first impression with my mother.”

She groaned and continued to put on her black leggings and pink bra under the covers. “God, I just wanted to surprise you,” she said.

“Oh boy, did you. Why are you getting dressed?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Seriously?” She slipped a bulky forest green sweater over her head then struggled to put her ankle cast back on.

“Did she kill the mood?” he asked.

Eva left off her wrist brace and threw back his comforter. Matt joined her as she stood beside the bed. She sighed into his uniform shirt. He lifted her chin and smiled. Her makeup was tastefully done in shades of brown against her heart-shaped face. He liked her classy look.

“How about dinner?” he asked, kissing her forehead.

She smiled. “Allenton has a night life?”

“Until eight o’clock,” he replied, hugging her. Would she get bored with this kind of life? He didn’t have much to offer her. “I was hoping to show off my sexy girlfriend.” He touched her soft cheek with his thumb.

“After meeting your mother, are you sure you want me to meet your town?”

“Oh yeah, I can’t wait,” he whispered, before kissing her lips. . . .

*****

THE KINDRED CODE is available in eBook and print formats: https://www.amazon.com/Kindred-Code-Chemical-Attraction-Book-ebook/dp/B073ZM4M7Z/

Already read The Kindred Code?

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Chemical Attraction: New Cover & New Content

Here’s a sneak peek into some of the new content:

With his FBI badge hanging off a chain around his neck, Joe Roberts, in jeans and a t-shirt, set a file and large coffee on the counter in the FBI reception area in the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. He patiently waited for Jane Whitmore, the young doe-eyed woman behind the counter, to hang up her phone.

On the early Saturday morning, he glanced around the empty area. Offices surrounded the perimeter of the floor with the hallways connecting as a square. Eight large rooms in the middle were used for meetings, evidence, and work areas.

Joe liked the shared space in the larger work room with his team although they probably didn’t. Known as a hardass, he had vowed that no one would ever get hurt on his watch. His solemn promise rivaled the FBI’s motto of Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.

When Jane hung up her phone, Joe handed her the coffee. “Thanks for coming in on your day off. Is he here yet?” The whole office had the day off. Except for a rare three-day weekend, he hadn’t taken a real vacation in years.

“No, but you can wait in his office,” she replied, smelling the coffee’s cinnamon aroma, her favorite.

Joe shifted his legs as he leaned on the counter. “I dropped my work phone in the … well … let’s just say it got wet. Can you acquisition me another?”

She smiled. “Sure. I’ll have one for you Tuesday.”

“No hurry. I’ll be gone for a week or so. I have my private cell until then.” Joe took her picture with his cell then added her number to his contact list.

“At the Director’s request, I had the black suit you leave here for court pressed. It should arrive after your meeting,” Jane said.

“Moneypenny, you deserve another raise,” he replied.

“Sweet talker.”

“Hey, hey, you know the rules. If your father caught me flirting with you, he’d assign me to an Alaskan outpost,” Joe said.

Jane laughed. “And here I thought you liked living on the edge. I wouldn’t tell.”

“Seriously? He’d ship you to a convent.”

“Good point. By the way, be thankful you’re leaving. I heard Rita has her sights set on you this week,” Jane said.

Joe cringed. “I’m glad you have my back.” After checking the empty area again, Joe leaned over the counter and gave her a peck on the cheek.

Inside Division Director Peter Bingaman’s large office, with a sofa, coffee table, and private bathroom, Joe sat in one of the three chairs across from the enormous desk. Propping his feet on the corner of it, he leaned back and stared at the woman’s headshot clipped to the front of the file. With her golden brown hair in a bun, she smiled back at him. He wondered how long her hair was. When the Director walked in, Joe snapped back to his new assignment.

Peter shoved Joe’s tennis shoes off the edge of his desk before sitting behind it. “Jane’s out there grinning like the cat that ate the canary. What did you do?” Peter demanded.

“What do you mean? She’s waiting for my suit to arrive,” he replied, sitting up in his chair.

“You called her Moneypenny again, didn’t you? Never mind. Just give me the specifics on this new case.”

Joe passed him the thin file. “Well, I ID’d the anonymous caller as Dr. Madeline Pierce. She’s a scientist working with nanotechnology at BennTech’s Research Facility in Allenton. Her call didn’t give us much information though.”

“It warrants attention. You may have to deal with Matt Connor,” Peter said, glancing at Madeline’s picture on the file.

“I’m a professional, Pete. I would never let my personal life interfere with my career.”

“How many times have we been over this, Agent Roberts? I’m Director Bingaman in this building.”

Joe snorted. “Yes, Sir. Eva and my brother-in-law won’t be an issue.” When Joe’s cell vibrated, he checked it. A sexy brunette’s photo identified her as the caller. Cringing, Joe let it go to voicemail then snapped a picture of Peter to add to his contacts. “I gotta use my private cell until Jane orders me another work one.”

“Don’t get distracted with your Fun Phone. That’s what Eva calls it, right?”

Joe scowled. “Yeah, that’s what she calls it. She’s been bugging me to go to the memorial fundraiser there … so two birds.”

Peter chuckled at Madeline’s picture then set aside the file. “A word of warning: Your sister has an agenda. She called me to make sure you had a few days off to attend that party,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

“Great. Another setup,” Joe replied, rubbing the back of his head.

“Have fun with that. I only want work-related updates, especially since this scientist researches and develops drugs.”

With a nod, Joe stood. Out of respect for his mentor, he used his t-shirt to wipe off his shoe smudge from the desk before leaving.

Grab your copy of Chemical Attraction on July 19th

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Siblings by Choice

Mark your calendars for the release of The Kindred Code on Wednesday, July 19th. In the meantime, enjoy the excerpt between Joe and Eva, who are siblings by choice. They tease, harass, deflect, and know each other so well…

Excerpt from The Kindred Code

“Joey, focus! You missed the street,” Eva said.

Joe backtracked and finally found Matt’s house, a plain, well-kept country blue ranch with a two-car attached garage and a chain link fence in back half buried in the snow. In the neatly shoveled driveway, Matt’s old Bronco had also been cleared. Joe stopped beside it then blew out a breath in relief, glad to be done with the long drive on the slippery back roads.

“Crap,” Eva said, searching through her brown leather purse. “He gave me a key and I forgot it.”

“Damn it, Eva. I’m not going back,” he replied, flexing his fingers to ease the ache from his tight grip of the steering wheel. “Maybe he has one hidden somewhere.”

She laughed. “Here,” she said, holding it out for him. “You’re the one who needs to lighten up.”

He ripped it from her hand. She continued to laugh as he walked around the car to help her out. She handed him her purse and mittens then struggled to stand on her own, despite the walking boot cast on her right foot. Stubborn as always. With a sigh, he filled his arms with her crutches and suitcase from the back seat.

Taking the crutches, she started hopping toward the front door. Matt had shoveled the walkway bare, too, and rock salt covered every cement surface. Matt was definitely a responsible guy. Joe chuckled as he followed her.

Eva held out her hand for the key. “Just drop my purse and suitcase inside then you can leave,” she said, unlocking the door.

“No way. What kind of brother would I be if I didn’t look around and make sure he’s not some psycho?” he asked.

Inside, Eva turned and glared at him. “He’s a cop and a wonderful father who owns his own home.”

“You do need to lighten up. I was kidding, except for the snooping part.”

In the living room, Joe set her suitcase, purse, and mangled mittens beside the worn yet comfortable looking sofa. Under one end table, he spotted a wicker basket with yarn and a partially crocheted blanket.

“How domestic do you want to be with this guy? Crocheting? Really?” Joe said with a chuckle.

“Aren’t you going to be late?” Eva replied.

“Nope. I’ve got time.” He walked toward the kitchen on the right.

The plain white kitchen had enough room for a square wooden table and four chairs. David’s school paintings on the refrigerator added the only color to the room. To annoy Eva, Joe opened a cupboard above the bare countertop.

“Joe, stop,” she said, leaning on the back of one of the chairs.

“Do you really want to get tied down with a kid?”

Opening the fridge, he found it overflowing with Tupperware containers. He pulled out the closest, lifting the lid to see what was inside. His mouth watered at the macaroni salad. He quickly found a spoon in the drawer. After taking a huge bite, he moaned and held out a spoonful for Eva.

“This is so good,” he mumbled with another mouthful.

“I think his mom made it. His parents live across the street.” She hopped to the lid on the counter and held it out for him to cover the bowl. Instead, he walked around the table, making her hop after him.

“Sounds like Everybody Loves Raymond,” he said, before taking another bite.

“Have you talked to Taylor today?”

“No,” he replied, taking the lid she thrust in his face. “She’s not my problem anymore.” He shoved the container with its lid back into the refrigerator.

“Not your problem? She’s your family.”

“You know what I mean. She’s with Stuart now.” Leaving the kitchen, he headed down the hallway and glanced in David’s dinosaur-themed bedroom. In the guest room next to David’s, six boxes of toys and books rested on the bed beside two police uniforms lying across an ironing board.

“Do you want to talk about her?” she asked at his heels to keep him from snooping too thoroughly.

“This place is void of a female touch. Are you gonna decorate right away or wait until you’re living here?”

“Peter’s going to make you wear a suit everyday with the FBI.”

“Not if I can help it,” he replied.

Before Joe could add another retort, he and Eva heard a bang then a rattling from the basement. Joe whispered for Eva to go into the bathroom and lock the door. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head while Joe opened the basement door. The rattling vibrated the steps as Joe carefully descended. Eva hopped down behind him.

Beside neatly packed boxes on metal shelves that lined the perimeter of the small clean basement, an old furnace shook. At closer inspection, Joe found a large wrench sitting on the water heater and a slight dent in the furnace beside it. He banged the wrench into the dent and the rattling stopped. The heat popped on.

Joe grinned. “Owning a home is easy. I’m a pro already.”

Eva snorted and hopped back up the stairs huffing as she went. When his cell rang, Joe checked the caller ID. He let Taylor’s call go to his voicemail. Eva watched him.

“You need to work through your feelings for her,” Eva said.

“And, on that note, I’m out of here.” She was right, but he wouldn’t openly admit it.

Using her crutch, Eva poked him in the back, stopping him. “I love you, Joey.”

“Stay out of trouble,” he replied, giving her a hug, “although nothing ever happens in these farming towns.”

 

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THE GARDEN COLLECTION: Prologue

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Tuesday, December 31st

When the side door to the singlewide trailer slammed shut, Brianna Carlson sighed with relief. In her cramped bedroom, she bounced her eleven-month-old half-sister, Chloe, on her hip to keep her quiet. Her mom and Wayne had argued all afternoon. The fight had escalated, and they blamed her.

While she waited for the door to jar the trailer again, she gazed into the mirror propped on top of her worn dresser. Between caring for Chloe and getting ready, it had taken two hours to style her hair into a loose bun with long brown ringlets. Now, strands of it fell around her heart-shaped face.

She picked up the paper cup next to her brush. She had wanted to put the tiny silk rosebuds throughout. Not now, and it would take forever to comb out the hairspray.

Sidestepping the crib wedged between the wall and her bed, she listened at the door. She slowly cracked it open. The dark wood paneling and water-stained ceiling tiles trapped the tension along with the lingering scent of cigarette smoke. The drawn shades with frayed edges mimicked her hidden life.

Bree didn’t hear her stepfather; she saw her torn pale pink princess dress draped over his greasy plaid recliner. Well, that just confirmed it. She wasn’t leaving tonight. After shifting Chloe to her other hip, she checked the dress. Maybe she could repair it.

When she heard the refrigerator door open and the clink of beer bottles, she winced and hugged her sister closer to her chest. Chloe seemed to sense her anxiety and whimpered as they faced Wayne Miller. His sweat-stained t-shirt uncovered his hairy gut as he chugged his beer from the kitchen doorway.

He rubbed his stubble and belched. “Jesus, Bree. You just couldn’t watch the baby for one night? You pushed her over the edge. She ain’t coming back this time.”

“I watch the baby every night. I wanted to go to the New Year’s Eve Ball with Lucy.”

“Now, nobody’s going,” he said.

“It’s not my fault. I asked months ago.”

His hand clenched into a fist. She braced herself and turned the baby away. The full force of his fist smashed into her cheek. The sharp pain shot through her head and down her neck as he wrenched it to the side. A flash of light behind her eyes blinded her. She would have fallen to the floor, but the back of the shabby sofa kept her upright. Afraid of dropping Chloe, she gripped her tighter. Her sister wailed, and Bree’s eye swelled.

“It is your fault,” he growled, before depositing his empty bottle on the counter with the others.

With blurred vision, she staggered back to her bedroom. When the side door slammed shut, she blew out a breath. That was her fault. She should have waited a while longer. Gently bouncing her sister, Bree hummed to keep herself from sobbing.

With her stepdad gone for the night and her mom gone for good, the thick tension dissipated within their dumpy trailer at Hilton’s Trailer Park in Rushing, Michigan. Chloe immediately stopped crying and wrapped her tiny arms around Bree’s neck.

In the kitchen, Brianna reached for a bag of peas from the freezer. “Don’t worry, my sweet Clover. I’ll never leave you.”

Slightly dizzy, Bree sat at the kitchen table and turned the baby around. Chloe grabbed the spoon from the edge of the round table while Bree held the peas against her cheek. She cringed from the cold pain. The side of her face throbbed. Closing her eyes, she frowned at the disappearing possibilities.

“No use waiting any longer,” she said, taking the end of the spoon out of Chloe’s mouth.

She set the baby in her playpen and handed her the bag of peas. Chloe stuck a corner into her mouth and smiled as it numbed her sore gums. Brianna dialed her best friend, Lucy Donovan, who lived in the big house on the hill next to the golf course.

“Bree, are you ready? How do the roses look in your hair? Robert will pick you up at seven-thirty. He has your ticket.”

“Well, he can let someone else have it. I can’t go,” she replied, forcing herself not to cry.

“No! Bree! You got permission months ago. What happened?”

“Apparently they forgot. You go and have fun. I want to hear all about it tomorrow.”

“I think it sucks, especially on your birthday.”

“My birthday isn’t until tomorrow so it doesn’t count.” She grimaced as she touched her puffy cheek.

“We were pretending that it was your Sweet Sixteen Coming Out party,” Lucy pouted.

“It’s not a big deal. There’s always next year.”

“All right, well, we’re having a family dinner for Robert tomorrow before he leaves. You can come and bring Chloe, too.”

“Sure, Lucy. Call me tomorrow.”

Bree wouldn’t go. She’d get too many sympathetic looks from Lucy’s family. Paul and Marta Donovan welcomed her into their home, but she caught the glimpses. She was the scruffy kitten they fed on their back doorstep.

Lucy had been her best friend since kindergarten. She didn’t care that Bree wore clothes from Goodwill. They bonded over each other’s hair. Bree was fascinated with Lucy’s short blond curls, and Lucy liked to brush Bree’s thick brown mane like her dolls. Bree didn’t mind. It was soothing and quite funny that someone envied her.

Through the years, Lucy tried every type of expensive shampoo to make her blond hair stronger and longer. She jokingly begged her for the secret. Bree’s secret was a ninety-nine cent bottle of Suave shampoo and her dad’s genetics. He had a thick head of hair. That’s what she was told anyway. He left when she was four. A distant memory now. She wallowed in self-pity for a few more minutes and then saw Chloe covered in mashed peas.

“Oh, Clover. What have you done?” Chloe smiled and held out a pea for her. Bree laughed and lifted her out of the playpen. “You made a mess. I hope they were good.”

Chloe shoved one into Bree’s mouth and giggled. Her mood lightened as her sister fed her the mashed peas off her shirt, her arms, her hair. While she took her time cleaning Chloe and the peas, she thought about the party.

For the last month, she imagined that it was in honor of her sixteenth birthday. She had saved her money from her part-time job at Mason’s Diner and had found the dress at a second-hand store. She loved the frilly pink ruffles. Now, her ripped dress lay across the recliner.

While Chloe played in her clean playpen, Bree hung her pink pretty in the closet. After one last look, she sighed. She had hoped to dance with Lucy’s brother, Robert. Five years younger, she’d had a crush on him since she was in the fifth grade.

Years ago, Robert had picked her and Lucy up after school. He had just gotten his driver’s license and wanted to show off his new car. As she and Lucy walked toward him, one of the boys in her class made fun of her watercolor artwork and tore it in half. After yelling at the boy, Robert said he liked the picture. He had asked for it and had carefully put the ripped pieces next to his seat as if a priceless possession. She had never felt so proud to have someone like her art. She would always remember that feeling and has secretly loved him ever since.

She smiled. Her imagination usually exceeded her reality. She figured it’s supposed to work that way. With her friend’s play by play, she could still enjoy the party. Lucy’s bubbly personality and dramatic views amused her. Lucy lived in a happy mystical world.

With another sigh, she returned to the living room and picked up the baby. “Okay, my sweet Clover, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow is a new year full of hope and adventure.”

As the ache permeated through the rest of her body, she slowly sat in the rocker and hummed to her fussy sister. She loved the quiet trailer. For an hour, she held Chloe while she slept in her arms. Chloe needed her, and Bree promised to be there for her, always. Her little sister would never feel her pain.

Hearing a tap on the side door, she looked up. Robert peeked through the glass. She wiggled her finger for him to come in. He carefully opened the door so as not to wake the baby.

He had just graduated college with degrees in both business and art and would be leaving for Italy tomorrow. He wanted to travel to find authentic art designs for Donovan’s Jewelry, his family’s business.

In a black tuxedo with pale pink shirt and bow tie, he had slicked back his light brown hair into a short ponytail. His green eyes narrowed. His jaw clenched.

She flinched. “Robert, I’m sorry. Lucy was supposed to tell you I couldn’t go,” she quickly whispered.

“What the hell happened to your eye?”

She shushed him as Chloe stirred. She had forgotten about it until now. It ached, but she was used to her stepfather’s fist and her mother’s hand. He folded his arms and waited. She stood stiffly. Not seeing clearly, she banged her shin into the coffee table. Biting her lip to keep from gasping aloud, she put the baby in the crib. She cracked the door and turned to face him.

“I’m sorry you made the trip here for nothing,” she whispered.

“Did Wayne do that?”

She nodded. He lightly lifted her chin for a better look at her eye. Her pain lessened. His concern touched her. She didn’t dare say anything for fear of crying. He growled and tugged her hand toward the kitchen. After sitting her in the chair, he retrieved the half bag of mashed peas that had refrozen into a hard block.

“What happened?” he asked in a slightly calmer tone.

She pressed the bag against her cheek and shook her head.

“I’m going to give him his own black eye,” he said.

“Please, don’t. It’ll only make things worse,” she replied.

“I’ll call Chief Mason,” he said, pulling his cell from his pocket. “Wayne can rot in jail.”

She sighed. “For a couple of days? Then what? I’ll be fine.”

She hoped she’d be fine. She wasn’t sure what would happen now with her mom gone. She’d have to rely on Wayne until she graduated high school. Maybe she could pick up more hours at the diner. And what about Chloe? Who would watch her while she went to school and work?

Sitting across from her, he stared. She broke the long silence. “You’re going to miss the party,” she said.

“You think I care about the damn party now? Can you even see out of your eye?”

“I have the other one.” She smiled. The fact that he was mad made her feel better.

“It’s not funny, Anna.”

“Don’t call me that.” She tossed the clump of re-thawed peas in the trash. After pushing the empty bottles and a full ashtray back from the edge of the countertop, she leaned against it.

“Why? It’s your name. Bree is too flaky and whimsical. Anna is grown up and fits your personality better.”

“Like an elderly aunt?”

He laughed. “Like a sixteen year old who’s taking good care of her sister.”

She wanted to tell him about her situation but held back. Why bring him down? What good would it do? He was leaving for an adventure tomorrow. Hiding her frown, she retrieved a small tatty ring box from her purse. She handed it to him.

He grinned. “Are you proposing?”

“Certainly not, I’m a mess. It’s a going-away present. Just promise to save it for the plane.”

“You’re not coming to dinner tomorrow?” he asked as he slipped it into his tuxedo pocket. When she shook her head, he held out a slightly larger sparkling red box. “Then Happy Birthday.”

She gaped as he set it in her cupped hands. The lovely box had a bright white bow on the top. The tag read To Anna from Robert.

He laughed. “Anna, it’s not a snake. It won’t bite.”

“Thank you,” she whispered as she carefully lifted the top. She caught her breath. “Oh my, it’s stunning but way too expensive. I can’t accept this.” She held out the box for him.

“Of course, you can,” he replied, taking the gold heart locket out of the box. Swirls of etched ivy covered the front and back. A heart-shaped emerald gleamed in the center. He placed the chain over her head and stood back to admire it. “It’ll match your one green eye,” he said with a grin.

Her hand trembled as she touched it. “It’s the nicest gift I’ve ever gotten.” It was actually the only gift. Born to alcoholic parents on January first had its drawbacks. They slept off the hangovers for the full day. “But it’s too much, Robert.”

“If you want to make it even, you can write to me at the villa.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ll expect a letter every few weeks that’s at least two pages long. You can fill me in on Lucy’s antics,” he said, reaching for her hand. “This is my big chance to prove myself. You understand, right?”

She nodded and held her other hand over her locket. “Thank you,” she whispered again.

Taking a step closer, he leaned down and kissed her. Her mind went numb, but her toes tingled. She didn’t want him to stop. He gently pulled her against him. She parted her lips letting him taste her. His tongue sent a wave of warmth throughout her body. She didn’t realize kissing was a pain reliever. Her cold body wanted to hide in the safety of his embrace.

“Robert. Please. Don’t leave me, too,” she silently begged.

He let her go and played with a long ringlet by her ear. “Oh, Anna, even with one eye, you’re still the prettiest girl I know. I’ll miss you,” he said, before leaving.

Standing alone in the middle of the room, she closed her eyes. A profound sadness settled over her heart. She wept.

 

To read more about Robert and Brianna’s romance, click on this LINK to get your copy of The Garden Collection.