So this happened…

I came across the Greenlight Adaption Contest—a contest adapting novels to screenplays and then into movies—and thought, “Sure, why not?” I had extra in my budget. What’s the worst that could happen? A rejection? Please. I’m a writer. It’s part of the job.

I focused on the positives. With hope and excitement, I submitted Chemical Attraction, my romantic thriller. I had no idea what the judges were looking for in their screening process. When I wrote it, I envisioned the movie in my head. Isn’t that what writers and readers do?

Well, the day came to announce the quarterfinalists. I checked my cell phone for an email. Nothing. Okay, moving on. It wasn’t until later that day that I got on my computer. There it was in my spam folder.

“Congratulations on being a quarterfinalist.”

Awesome! I wanted to post on my social media sites, but I texted my husband, our children and my sister instead. To me, this was a big deal. Validation.

Can I make it over the next hurdle? The day of the semifinalist announcement, I checked the website then the results link. What did I see? The cover art of Chemical Attraction.

What! I proudly texted my husband, children, and sister: “Guess who’s a semifinalist? Me!”

Checking out the amazing stories, covers, and authors, I knew I had stiff competition. Doubt seeped in. I’m not a runner. Can I make it over the next hurdle to become a finalist? The battle in my head volleyed between of course and of course not. Again, I withheld the news. Only one other friend knew—a fellow writer, who also steps out of her comfort zone for her passions.

Then, I watched the video announcing the finalists—a tiny taste of what Oscar and Emmy nominations felt like. Announcer James Northway called out the third finalist out of the ten: “Chemical Attraction by Christina Thompson.”

I’m in? No joke? I had to watch the clip two more times to make sure I didn’t imagine it.

Holy Moly, I’m a finalist! I would receive a crystal award no matter what happened next. Still not wanting to jinx my chances, I withheld my excitement from social media. I did send the link to my publisher at 48fourteen. Juanita Samborski’s the reason I was a finalist after all. With the release of last year’s The Kindred Code, the three other books in the Chemical Attraction Series received new covers and were put in chronological order. (I had previously referred to The Kindred Code as the sequel to the prequel…too much of a mouthful. 48fourteen agreed.)

When I asked my son where I should put my award, he mockingly knocked all of his Air Force medals and memorabilia displayed on a bookshelf onto the floor. His funny gesture made my heart soar. He understood how hard I worked as a writer. He shared my excitement.

Now another ten days of waiting…

How do I not think about the possibilities? How do I productively pass the time until the announcement? My concentration level now at a new low. I needed busy work. Our house is cleaner than it’s ever been. We also have two organized junk drawers.

Finally, Greenlight made the announcement. I didn’t win.

So what happens now? Like always, I keep preparing for the next opportunity. I keep working hard. I keep taking chances. I keep pushing through my comfort zone.

 

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Thank you for sharing my excitement. I appreciate your support.

Have you read Chemical Attraction?

If so, please leave a review. If not, grab your copy now.

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“Purple Roses” from Vintage Love Stories by @BlunderWomanPro

I’m grateful to participate in Vintage Love Stories by Blunder Woman Productions. Xe Sands is amazing in her performance of my short story, PURPLE ROSES.

Contributing to the Vintage Love Stories collection is a touching tribute to my parents. My father passed away in March after fifty-three years of marriage.  The treasured knickknacks in their home also share their love story.

Listen to the sample and check out the rest of my interview
at BLUNDER WOMAN PRODUCTIONS

 

Vintage Love Stories on Amazon

Vintage Love Stories on Audible

MICHIGAN AUTHORS at the Lakeshore

I’ll be joining these amazing Michigan authors August 4th in Holland.  Although excited, I’m a bit anxious.  I seem to have a knack for awkward small talk.

You can help me by mentioning this post and asking about any of my characters.  I love talking about them.  As a THANK YOU, you’ll receive $5 off any one of my books.

Want a preview of my novels?

I hope to see you there.

His Poem isn’t Perfect; His Sentiment is.

Sorting through a stack of papers on my desk, I came across a poem I had intended to read at my father’s funeral back in March.  I didn’t. No regrets though because my niece Maggie had shared an essay she wrote about her grandpa that fit perfectly with the eulogy.

I sat at my desk and read the poem again.  I cried. I didn’t really know the man. I mean I knew the facts. He served as a Marine during the Korean War. He worked for the State of Michigan. He wasn’t a fan of fishing but loved football. What I didn’t know was how he felt about his life, his children, his parents, his past, his career… Sharing wasn’t his strong suit unless he was angry then we all knew it.

Reading that poem brought to mind his deep love for his wife. My dad was a romantic at heart. The poem proved it.

It came about a few years ago. He wanted to write a poem recounting their fifty years together, and he wanted me to help him. “You’re the writer after all,” he said.

I hesitated. I’ve never written poetry. How do we even start? Well, the usual couple fighting came to mind but that’s not the part he wanted her to remember. I kept putting off this assignment, but Dad’s health worsened along with his memory.

Finally, when he was in a reminiscing mood, I asked him if it was love at first sight for him and Mom.

His sarcastic reply, “Well, yeah, I met Linda in September, proposed to her in October, then married her in November of the same year.” Okay then. I agreed there was an instant chemistry.

In the nick of time, we came up with this poem for their anniversary. It’s not perfect, but his sentiment is.

 

Dad’s 50th Anniversary Poem

 

Many years have gone by since the day we met.

I may not remember them all.

Important are the ones that define our life,

Not the ones too ordinary to recall.

 

I may not remember the glasses on my head

Or the passwords to all our accounts

But I remember meeting you for the very first time

And thinking I’ve finally lucked out.

 

Our children have rolled their eyes many times

of the story of my proposal to you.

However, my life became complete when you answered so sweet

And replied to my vow with “I do”.

 

I may not remember to eat properly or to locate the remote right next to my knee

Yet I remember our first night as man and wife

The popcorn we shared a tasty delight

As the full moon through the cabin window shined bright.

 

The books I’ve misplaced and the pills I must take

You’ve helped me to sort them all out.

Not a moment I regret, our life course had been set

You’re my beam of light with no doubt.

 

Many years have gone by since the day we met.

I may not remember them all.

Important are the ones that define our life,

Not the ones too ordinary to recall.

~ Hershall Bennett

 

 

Selfish, Broken, or Cursed?

His charisma hiding his loneliness, FBI Agent Joe Roberts is a womanizer on the surface.  Deep down, he’s searching for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.

During his quest, he’s hurt many women.  They push for a commitment.  He pushes back by moving on.  Is he selfish?  Broken?  Cursed?  Unlovable?  He’s losing faith he’ll find her.  However, as soon as he stops searching, something electric happens.

Enjoy this short story about my favorite character in The Chemical Attraction Series.

“King Midas in Reverse”

Using his cell phone’s flashlight and carrying his shirt and shoes, Joe Roberts tiptoed around the coffee table and sofa. Glowing, glaring eyes held sentry on the table by his only exit. The damn cat hissed as Joe reached for the door knob. A growl from behind stopped him. He sighed. The overhead light flipped on. Busted!

“You’re seriously sneaking out without saying goodbye?” Kala Ross asked, wearing a ratty low-cut Ohio State hockey jersey. Last night’s smoky eyes had become 1:00 a.m. raccoon eyes.

Joe slipped his shirt over his head, hopped into his shoes, then lied. “I got called in,” he said, wiggling his cell in his hand. “And I didn’t want to wake you.”

“You used that excuse last time. Since when are truck drivers on-call?” she asked with a grating whine.

He ran a hand through his dark brown hair. Her sexy curves no longer held his attention. He had pursued the Starbuck’s barista for a week. On their first date, he took her to Sweet Lorraine’s sharing a bottle of wine from their long list. After dinner, she invited him back to her apartment. During last night’s rare second date, Joe couldn’t retreat fast enough when she threw out words like boyfriend and relationship. Needless to say, he won’t be going back to that Starbucks.

“You’re always on the move,” she added. Her stiff, bleach blond hair stuck out around her face like a lion’s mane.

He tried to break the tension. “Hey, you didn’t complain about my moves earlier.”

“I won’t be your whore,” she said, crossing her arms, which lifted up her breasts creating a canyon of cleavage.

Joe had been in this uncomfortable situation before. He never liked hurting these women, but he lost interest quickly. Eva said he enjoyed the chase more than the catch. He agreed with his sister’s assessment.

Instead of arguing—which never worked—he quoted a Hollies’ song that seemed to sum up his life. “I’m not the guy to run with, ‘cause I’ll pull you off the line. I’ll break you and destroy you. Give it time.”

She relaxed her angry stance, which surprised him. “I don’t think that.”

He stepped toward her and kissed her cheek. “Bye, Kala.”

The stealthy tabby had moved across the back of the couch and now sat in the chair next to Kala. If it could talk, it’d probably say, “Good Riddance.”

In his car, he thought about the other lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by The Hollies:

I’m not the man to hold your trust,

Everything I touch turns to dust.

I wish someone would find me,

And help me gain control.

Before I lose my reason,

And my soul.

I’m King Midas with a Curse.

I’m King Midas in Reverse.

Joe trudged down the dark hallway to his tiny apartment. The fact was he genuinely liked Kala. That’s why he asked her out again. Although ditzy, she had a nice personality. He wanted more than a sexy body though. Was he too picky? Should he settle with someone like Kala? Peter once told him that he’d gone through a nasty divorce because he had settled for second best.

Joe’s list of negatives outweighed the positives, the general case when he assessed women. For example, Kala thought Jethro Tull was a guy, she couldn’t name a single Beatles’ song, and she liked the Buckeyes. He thought Taylor would disown him since Stuart taught at the University of Michigan.

In the shower, Joe contemplated his love life. He had dated many women, but he’d never had a steady girlfriend. These women pushed him to commit, and he pushed back by moving on. Was he selfish? Broken? Cursed? He felt nothing for any of them. Dating wasn’t fun anymore.

The only women he seemed to care about were his sisters. He wanted that chemistry like they have with their husbands. They’ve both been happily married for nine years.

Should he try abstaining for a while? To stop dating? To just stop pursuing women? To reevaluate his personal life, he’d give himself a six-month attempt … okay, maybe a three-month shot. Although his focus has always been on his career with the FBI, he’d talk to Peter about more responsibilities. The distraction would be good for him. Too wired to sleep with the new outlook on his life, he headed for the office.

On the dark twenty-sixth floor of the Federal building, offices surrounded the perimeter with the hallways connecting as a square. In the middle were eight larger rooms for meetings, evidence, and work areas. Joe preferred the larger workroom. He didn’t want an office since he wasn’t around to use it. He preferred undercover work.

In jeans and a gray t-shirt, he walked toward the back corridor. Across from the breakroom, he used his passkey to open the door. The impersonal room was plain but functional. Shoved together, four desks with phones faced each other in the middle. Only two had flat-screen monitors and keyboards.

Sitting behind the one with a computer, he used a tiny key on the bottom drawer and pulled out three folders. He’d use the time to finish the paperwork closing these cases. At five-thirty, he sat back propping his tennis shoes on the corner of the desk. Grabbing a yellow legal notepad, he started a bullet point list of reasons for Peter to give him more responsibility and tougher assignments. He needed a bigger challenge.

Hearing the increase traffic of agents outside the workroom door, Joe ripped off the top page and stuffed it into his back pocket. He headed for the small café on the first floor for some breakfast.

Returning with a large black coffee, Joe nodded to Jane Whitmore, the doe-eyed young woman behind the reception counter. Peter’s assistant had a secret. None of the agents knew she was also Peter’s oldest daughter. Joe had seen her picture at Peter’s cabin. He appreciated her need to succeed without the agents treating her differently because of her father. The nepotism in this place was full of unprofessional agents.

“Is he in?” he asked, pausing by the counter.

“Yes, but he’s in a briefing,” she replied.

“I’ll catch him later then.”

Jane knew the truth that Joe and Peter were friends outside the office—much different from the rumors that Director Bingaman hated Joe. Thank God, Joe’s Peter’s Pet nickname didn’t follow him from Quantico. The agents here assumed the Director berated Joe when called to his office. Actually, he and Peter played chess. Joe held his own, winning some, losing some.

Whenever Peter lost, he’d jokingly reprimand Joe for any minor issue—usually his casual attire. From the open doorway, Peter had hoped to scare the other agents into working harder. Joe and Peter stayed professional in public. The rumors amused them though.

Passing the first open office door, Agent Rita McMillian winked and gave him a flirty little wave. Joe winced and kept walking. Because of her bigwig uncle, Rita had yet to take her job seriously and flirted with the agents for favors. He despised that about her. Besides, Joe had a strict No Dating policy with the women in the office. Now, he added the No Dating Any Women rider to his rulebook.

Baby-faced Agent Mike Garrett waved a folder to get Joe’s attention. With a slight curl to his brown hair, Mike usually boasted his Love ‘Um/Leave ‘Um strategy with women. Joe knew the truth, which is why he added Mike to his team two years ago.

Mike’s fiancée had died in an automobile accident a week before their wedding. Hiding his depression and pain, he became a habitual Yes Man. Hating it, Joe worked Mike hard pushing him to the edge in the hope that he’d find his passion for life again. Joe still hadn’t figured out if losing the love of your life was worse than not finding one.

Out of breath, Mike stopped in front of him. “Agent Roberts, we may have a new case. Agent Orr said that you have a personal connection to the town Allenton.”

Surprised at a case in Eva and Matt’s hometown, Joe took the folder holding a single page. “I do, so let me read this over first. Orr took the call?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mike replied, before heading to the computer lab.

In the empty workroom, Joe read over the half sheet of paper that was the short transcript of the call, which didn’t give him much information: a woman scientist working at BennTech’s Medical Research Facility in Allenton uncovered possible illegal financial and chemical component errors there. That was all they had to go on? He suddenly felt a compulsion to find out why she would call the FBI and not the locals like Chief Connor. Joe would keep this assignment hush hush from his family until he knew more.

Joe dialed Eva to make arrangements. She’s been bugging him about attending a fundraiser for the twenty-three people who had died from the flu last year. Sylvia’s husband and Matt’s parents were among the victims.

With his left hand holding the phone to his ear, his right hand turned on the computer screen. “Hey, I got some time off in a couple of weeks. Do you still have a ticket to that shindig?” Wincing, he pulled the phone away from his ear. Did Eva just squeal?

“I do!” She sounded too giddy for his question. “Joey, you can stay in our guest room.”

“Actually, I thought I’d stay at Sylvia’s,” he said, logging into the FBI’s computer system. He could come and go as he pleased at Sylvia’s B & B whereas Eva would track his every move.

“Even better,” she exclaimed. “Do you want me to reserve you a room with her?”

“No. I’ll do it. I want to pay in advance for the two weeks.”

“You’re going to have so much fun,” she said.

“What’s the matter with you? You sound too cheery about my visit. You’re freaking me out. Are you high?” Joe asked.

“How dare you! I’m a mother,” she replied, sliding back into her usual domineering attitude. “Bring your suit. This is a formal affair. Love you. Bye.”

Before he could mockingly complain, she hung up on him. He’d confirm his ticket for the fundraiser with her again next week.

Agent Tim Orr entered their workroom. The weightlifting hulk with massive arms sat across from him. “What did you think about that anonymous call from Allenton?” Tim asked.

“Since my sister’s married to the police chief, I think I’ll go alone and talk to the woman. I’ll call if I need help,” Joe replied, uncomfortable mentioning anything about his personal life.

“Not really your sister,” Tim corrected.

Joe glared making Tim flinch. “Close enough to one.” It shouldn’t surprise him that his team checked into his background. After all, he knew all of theirs.

Tim nodded. “When are you going?”

“In two weeks, the town is sponsoring a fundraiser. Since she wants this to be a clandestine meeting, she can meet me there. Call her back.” Joe paused. “Let’s go with the lyrics from “King Midas in Reverse” by the Hollies.”

Tim took the sheet of paper with the number. At least she was smart enough to use a burner phone, not her work phone or, worse, her home phone. Joe wondered what spooked her to be so secretive.

While Tim made the call, Joe struggled to keep a straight face. Tim had to explain three times that the anonymous agent wanted her to use a code word from the song to identify herself at the fundraiser.

Frowning, Tim hung up. “She’ll do it, but she wasn’t happy.”

“She should have given her name then,” Joe said, using a hardened tone that the agents knew intimately.

Joe handed Tim the three finished case files to submit to Director Bingaman’s office. Tim left and Joe made another call to his other sister Taylor, who was nine months pregnant with her second child. Joe hated not knowing the gender.

“Hey, did you have that kid yet?” He knew she hadn’t; Stuart had promised to call.

“Any day now,” she replied. “What’s new? How was your second date with Kala?”

“There won’t be a third,” Joe replied.

“So Eva told me you’re going to the fundraiser in a couple weeks,” she said.

“You already heard? Damn, Eva’s got a big mouth,” he replied. “Yeah, I have a few weeks off.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re going to show support to Matt and David. I think I’ll be a bit busy to attend.”

“Can Stuart handle this delivery without me?” he asked with a laugh.

“Good Lord! I better have this kid by then! I can’t take much more of this.” She paused. “Joey, promise me you’ll have fun while you’re there.”

“I’m taking my fishing pole,” he replied. “Keep me posted.”

“I will. Love you.”

“You, too,” he replied. He swore off other fun for six—for three months.

Joe typed BennTech Medical Research & Development into the FBI’s data base search engine. Their website popped up. Under the Distinguished Scientists page, he scanned the list of names and easily identified the anonymous caller as Dr. Madeline Pierce, the only high-ranking female scientist working at their Allenton facility.

Propping his feet on the corner of the desk again, Joe clicked on her name bringing up her bio and picture. In the professional headshot, the gorgeous woman with her hair in a tight bun smiled back at him.

In that instant, a sharp electrical charge surged through the computer mouse jolting his body. Twitching, he howled in pain. From the abrupt shift, his chair tipped over knocking him on his butt. His arm buzzed with numbness.

He blinked. “What the hell just happened?”

XXX

The Synchronicity of the Universe is at work.  Can Joe decipher the subtle signs pointing him toward destiny’s grand plan with Madeline?  Many could die if he doesn’t.

Joe and Madeline’s romantic adventure begins in Chemical Attraction, the third book (and stand-alone novel) in The Chemical Attraction Series.

 

A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime.

A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime.  Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas.  Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself.  Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration.  He found it in the letters she wrote.

Now struggling to care for Chloe, her six-year-old half-sister, Brianna Carlson receives news that her abusive stepfather will be released from prison.  Still limping from a once broken leg, she’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time.  She decides to leave town.

After traveling for his family’s jewelry business, Robert Donovan returns home and discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent.  She never received any of his.  Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe.  As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again.

Grab your ebook copy now on SALE for only $0.99 on AMAZON

Add The Garden Collection to your GOODREADS list

To celebrate my dear friend Kass Hillard’s birthday today, I’m donating all the royalties (electronic & print) of THE GARDEN COLLECTION on June 5th & 6th to the charity of her choice—SYLVIA’S PLACE, a domestic violence safe house in Allegan, MI.

 

In Honor of My Dad

“Some men think there’s a choice between right and wrong.  Great men know there is none.”

My father inspired this phrase, the theme from my patriotic romance, The Trucker’s Cat.  Dad passed away last week so he and that quote have been in the forefront of my mind.  I’d like to share the story again on the idea behind my novel that’s dedicated to Dad and the rest of my family who have served in the military.

Years ago as part of the Honor Our Veterans program at school, my daughter asked her grandfather to speak to her fourth grade class about his experiences during the Korean War.  He agreed.  With his folder of transparency pictures for his presentation, he and I arrived at Steeby Elementary.  My dad rarely spoke about that time in his life, so I was eager to hear what he had to say.

In the First Marine Division of George Company, he had served as a hospital corpsman and medic in a M.A.S.H. unit.  He had assisted the doctors and nurses in prepping wounded soldiers for surgery.  As he talked about his duties, he showed various pictures of him and his buddies in front of their Army tents.  I visualized Klinger, Rizzo, and Radar.

A boy asked if he had killed anyone.  He hadn’t.  The closest he had gotten to battle was when he had volunteered to go to the front lines to bring back injured soldiers.

“Weren’t you scared?” one of the girls asked.

“No,” he replied, “even though I volunteered, I felt I didn’t have a choice.  Those injured men needed my help.”  He shared a picture of him receiving a commendation medal.

I never saw that picture.  I never knew about the medal.  I never even heard the story.  My siblings and our mother hadn’t either.  When I asked him why he never shared it, he shrugged and said someone stole the medal the next day.

We made some calls to get him a replacement.  A year later, a package arrived with his commendation medal and four others he had been awarded.

That phrase stayed in my head.  He did have a choice; he chose not to have one.  It’s a quality my protagonists have in many of my stories—to put someone else’s life ahead of their own.

IN HONOR OF MY FATHER, I will be donating now through Memorial Day ALL the print and eBook royalties from THE TRUCKER’S CAT to the Otsego VFW Post #3030 where he was a member.  Here’s your chance to read a patriotic romance and say “Thank You” to a Korean War veteran.

The Trucker’s Cat on Amazon

 

The Trucker’s Cat on Goodreads

About The Trucker’s Cat

At the Russian Embassy where she lives with her mother and stepfather, Samantha Randall uncovers a plot to assassinate the U.S. President. Her father’s famous speech urges her to act, so she treks cross-country to warn the driver that his cargo has the proof. She soon finds herself stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Driving a truck on a covert assignment, Major Logan McCormick had sworn off women after his bitter divorce. Against protocol, he rescues Samantha and gives the wildcat a ride. Although drawn to Samantha’s uplifting spirit, he uses his sullen nature as a shield against her. Will she see through his rigid manner?

With Russian special forces searching for Logan’s cargo and another team chasing Samantha, they quickly realize they must work together to prevent the unthinkable. Will their sacrifices be enough to stop the assault?

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. 

 

“New Year’s Home”

What is the ultimate gift?

This short story is based on The Garden Collection, one of my favorite novels to reflect on during the holidays … “The heartwarming story of struggle, determination, heartache, and true love …”

 

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31ST

In Mason’s Diner in rural West Michigan, six-year-old Chloe Miller’s paper snowflakes cover all of the windows as if another blizzard hit town. Multicolor Christmas lights blink around the window frames. By the cash register, a two-foot-high fake Christmas tree holds so many of Chloe’s homemade ornaments the patrons can’t see the branches.

Standing behind the counter, Brianna Carlson waits for Henry Mason to pass her orders through the grill window. She stares at the poster behind the register.

Her best friend, Lucy Donovan, had suggested Bree put her own doodle sketches to good work and enter the competition to design the New Year’s Eve Gala poster. Out of one hundred applicants, she won.

She had drawn dark snowy woods where the old trees have snarled branches. The trees’ arthritic fingers reach for the sparkling red box with a bright white bow that illuminates the small clearing. The caption reads WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT?

The regulars at the diner celebrated her excitement by encouraging her to attend the gala. As the winner, she received one hundred dollars and a ticket to the party. She had saved her money for three weeks to buy a dress with matching shoes.

“Bree, your order’s up,” Henry yells from behind the grill. She sees only his eyes and the top of his bandana-covered baldhead through the open window.

The retired men on the stools at the counter chuckle. “Are you daydreaming again, Cinderella?” Charlie asks.

She blushes. “Maybe I’ll find my Prince Charming tonight,” she replies, picking up the cheeseburger platters.

George unrolls his silverware from his napkin. “Are you ever going to tell us what’s in the red box from your poster?”

She grabs the ketchup from under the counter. “What do you think is in the box?”

George takes the bottle. “Money?”

“How about keys to a yacht?” Charlie adds.

“I know what’s in the box,” Chloe says from the end of the counter. Her long brown hair in a thick braid matches her big sister’s. Chloe bites into a French fry and grins.

“Well, my sweet one, please share with us,” Bev Mason says from behind the cash register.

Chloe looks at her. “Can I tell them?”

Bree nods. “I always thought it was obvious.” She caresses the etched ivy on her gold heart-shaped locket, an emerald in its center.

“Tell us right now,” George demands. He winks at Chloe as he wipes his mouth.

“It’s LOVE, sillies. I can’t believe you never guessed it.”

“Oh, I forgot you’re a genius,” Bev jokes.

“I’ve gotten all excellent marks so far in first grade.”

Brianna nods. “You have a lot of wonderful tutors,” she says, glancing at her work family. Chloe grew up on that stool. They even put her name on it.

As the men tease Chloe that they made her smart, Officer Eddie Kent stomps his feet inside the door. In his dark blue uniform and auburn crew cut, he sits at the opposite end of the counter. Bree greets him with his usual glass of milk.

“It’s not ready yet?” he asks.

“I wasn’t sure you were working today. I’ll get right on it.”

Bree quickly enters the kitchen and helps Henry with the order of rare steak and scrambled eggs with a side of raw onions and garlic toast. Eddie eats it every day he works.

She carefully sets his plates in front of him. She had learned not to stand too close afterward.

“Bree, don’t worry. I’m here if you need anything,” Eddie says, reaching for the knife.

“What?”

“Kent! I will explain it,” Chief Cameron Mason says, taking up the entire doorway. He smooths down his thick mustache with his thumb and finger then points her to the end booth. With a hand over her stomach, she sits. He stops Chloe from jumping off her stool. “Stay put. I want to talk to Bree in private.”

“Cam, what’s wrong?” she asks as he slides in across from her.

“Wayne is being paroled due to overcrowding.”

She gasps. “When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh, God.” She places her shaking hands on her lap. Chloe stares at her reaction. “Do you think he’ll come back here?” she whispers.

“I honestly don’t know. If you see him anywhere in town, call my cell,” he says, pulling out his card.

She stops him. “I still have it memorized.”

Cam leaves for the kitchen to talk to his father. She stares out the window at the two fresh inches of snow. What should she do?

Wayne Miller’s letters from prison promised to take Chloe away from her. Bree has no legal rights to Chloe. Could he reclaim his daughter?

Bree had taken the brunt for years so he wouldn’t hurt her half-sister. She would not let Wayne hurt her now.

She jumps as Chloe slides in next to her. “Bree, what’s the matter?

She hugs her. “Nothing for you to worry about, my sweet Clover.” She nudges her out of the booth. “I have to get back to work.”

While carrying the tub of dirty dishes, she bangs her shin into the metal cart behind the counter. The tub crashes to the floor. Plates and mugs shatter. With tears in her eyes, she rushes to clean the mess. Partial blindness in her left eye and a limp from a healed broken leg makes her clumsy, especially when stressed or tired.

Eddie Kent laughs as he finishes his meal. “Bev, have you run out of plates yet?”

Bree looks up at her. “I’m sorry.”

“Honey, we know it’s not your fault. Why don’t you and Chloe take off? Tonight’s the big night. Happy early birthday.”

As she puts the last broken plate in the tub, she slides it to the side and stands. Charlie asks, “You’ll save me a dance?”

“I’m first in line. She promised me yesterday,” George adds.

“Only if you recognize me. It’s a masquerade ball after all.”

Thankful for their understanding, Brianna helps Chloe with her coat, hat, and mittens. Stepping outside, she takes a deep breath. They would make a run for it. They’d hide, and Wayne would eventually give up looking. With a purpose, she reaches for her sister’s hand.

“Bree, do you want a ride?” Eddie asks, absently patting the gun at his side.

Resisting the urge to wrinkle her nose at his horrid breath, she shakes her head. “We have errands. Thank you though.”

Chloe shuffles her boots through the snow on the sidewalk and sings “Let it Snow.”

After closing out her savings account with one hundred and twenty-six dollars, she pulls open the door to the pawnshop. The stifling heat hits them in the face as they wipe their boots on the rug just inside the door. In a Santa hat, Gus Fuller strokes his long white beard and waves.

Bree sighs. “I need to talk to Gus for a moment. Do you want to wander around?” Chloe nods and heads for the stack of board games while Bree meets him at the counter. “I’d, uh, like to see what I can get for this,” she says, slipping her precious locket over her head. A treasured gift from Lucy’s brother, Robert.

Gus turns it in his hand. “This is a high-end piece. I’d say it’s worth a grand. I can only give you five hundred, but Donovan’s Jewelry may give you more.”

She groans. Robert had spent too much money on her. She quickly wipes her eyes. This is about responsibility and survival not a sentimental trinket.

Bree takes the locket back from him and stares at it. She wears it all the time and touches it often. Finally nodding, she sets it back on the counter. As she tucks the money into her wallet, Chloe joins her with a magic kit.

“Do we have extra for this? It’s three dollars,” Chloe says.

“It’s yours for a hug,” Gus replies.

Chloe runs around the counter. After paying with a hug, she kisses his cheek and tugs his beard. “Thanks, Gus.”

With slouched shoulders, Bree moves toward the door.

“Take care,” Gus says quietly.

She wants to grab her locket and run. Instead, she limps out the door. No turning back. At the bus station, she opts for the trip tomorrow morning so she can attend the gala. Her one last hurrah.

“What are you going to wish for?” Chloe asks as they walk down the snowy sidewalk.

“Hmm, my birthday wish,” she says, swinging Chloe’s hand. “What would your wish be?”

“It’s a secret.”

“You’re keeping secrets from me?” Bree asks.

“Only my wish.”

“Are you wishing to hold hands with your boyfriend, Patrick Dugan, during recess?”

Chloe yanks her hand away. “I don’t like Patrick.”

“If you say so.”

“Well, I don’t,” Chloe replies.

Bree laughs. “So what’s your wish or should I keep guessing?”

Chloe takes a deep breath. “I wish I had a mom.”

Bree winces. Her eyes blur again. “I’m sorry things are different for us. I try to take care of you the best I can.”

Now, Bree would be making their lives even more difficult. The stress and worry sends an ache to her leg as they walk up the hill.

“Bree, I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay, Clover. I sometimes wish for that, too.” Bree points to the golf course country club where the gala would be held. Delivery trucks drop off flowers and balloons. The band unloads their equipment. “Should I bring you home one of those huge balloons? Silver or gold?”

“Both,” Chloe replies, taking her hand again.

Bree slows her pace and huffs as they approach Paul and Marta Donovan’s house. She and Chloe live in the studio loft above their two-stall garage.

After retrieving Chloe’s backpack for her overnight stay, they enter the main house through the huge kitchen. Passing two freshly pressed tuxedos still in their plastic wrap, Chloe races up the steps. Bree limps behind her.

In Lucy’s room, a cluttered oak desk overlooks the snow-covered in-ground pool and golf course. Working from home, Lucy has a knack for marketing while Robert, always away, travels the world and designs amazing necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for the family business — Donovan’s Jewelry.

On the plum couch, Chloe scoots closer to Lucy so they can look at her new magic kit.

Lucy grins as if she knows a secret. “Turning twenty-one will be your best birthday ever. I can feel it. The stars have finally aligned.”

Lucy believes in Happily Ever After scenarios. She had said having a sprained ankle would allow her to watch Chloe while Bree went to the gala this year.

“A new year always brings hope and excitement,” she replies, letting Lucy’s positive energy wash over her. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Chloe and I are going to have a girls’ spa night with facials and manicures,” Lucy says.

“Oh boy,” Chloe says. “Bree, you can go now.”

Bree kisses Lucy’s cheek and whispers a “thank you” in her ear. “Behave, my sweet Clover. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“Why so early?” Lucy asks. “We’re staying up until midnight.”

“I want to start celebrating my birthday. Chloe promised to be extra nice. I want to take advantage of it.”

“You’re not going to be mean, are you?” Chloe asks.

“I’m going to be so horrible, and you’ll still have to be nice,” Bree replies, kissing her head. Chloe laughs at her jest and pushes her away.

After leaving the main house, Bree hurries up the steps to the loft. Inside, she kicks off her boots and tosses her coat on the double bed that she and Chloe share. She loves this small space but her home no longer.

XXX

 

Read more about Brianna and her struggle in the novel, The Garden Collection

 

The Garden Collection: Blurb

A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime. Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas. Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration. He found it in the letters she wrote.

Now struggling to care for her six-year-old half-sister, Chloe, after their mother abandoned them, Brianna Carlson receives news that her abusive stepfather will be released from prison. Still limping from a once broken leg, she’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time. She decides to leave town.

While traveling for his family’s jewelry business, Robert Donovan designed The Garden Collection, his newest line of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Returning home, he discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent. She never received any of his. Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe. As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again.

Meet David Connor from The Chemical Attraction Series

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the people in The Chemical Attraction Series. Eva O’Sullivan, Taylor Valentine, and Joe Roberts are siblings by choice. They’ve told me their story, and I wrote about their amazing journey. These interviews take place just after their adventure in Chemical Reaction. [trivial spoilers/no plot spoilers]

David Connor, a high school senior and son of Matt Connor, has an integral part in the series. David brings Eva and his dad together in Their Rigid Rules and The Kindred Code, finds a body in the cornfield in Chemical Attraction, and then saves a young woman’s life in Chemical Reaction. Today, he answers a few questions for the fans of the Series.

CHRISTINA: What was it like growing up with a dad who’s the Chief of Police?

DAVID: Eva and my dad know everyone in our rural town. I still can’t get away with anything without them hearing about it. You wouldn’t believe how many adults are tattlers here. It’s also scary. I was eight the first time Dad was shot on duty and I had nightmares. To help me work through it, he let me stay with him in the hospital.

CHRISTINA: Let’s talk about Eva for a moment. You met her before your dad did. What drew you to her?

DAVID: Well, I met Aunt Taylor first. She introduced me to Eva who helped me with my homework during Dad’s stint in rehab. At the time, I thought third grade math was stupid. Anyway, I adored her from the beginning. She would play with the hair by my ear. It was comforting. I remember Dad and I were supposed to go to a movie after he and Eva first met. Dad quizzed me about her until we visited her again later that night. She once told me about The Kindred Code: Blood means nothing; Love is everything. My mom, Aunt Taylor, and Uncle Joe have a tight bond; I’m glad Dad and I are part of it.

CHRISTINA: Let’s discuss your Uncle Joe. You really didn’t know he worked for the FBI?

DAVID: I had no idea. I remember seeing Peter’s gun in the hospital cafeteria. That’s how I met Taylor. I didn’t put it together that Peter was in law enforcement. I thought Uncle Joe and Peter worked in a boring office…selling insurance or something equally dull. At family gatherings, they never talked about their jobs. Wow, what a bad assumption.

CHRISTINA: What do you want to do after you graduate from high school?

DAVID: Right now, I want to get through this last year. I’m hoping to graduate early then start college next spring. Growing up, I thought I’d go into law enforcement and be a cop like my dad, but now I’m interested in the FBI like my uncle.

CHRISTINA: Thanks for sharing your story, David. Stay safe and good luck in your senior year. To read more about David and his adventures, check out The Chemical Attraction Series.