Courage, Strength, and Unconditional Love

What is the ultimate gift?

Cool off with a frosty New Year’s Eve Chapter One excerpt from The Garden Collection, a story of courage, strength, and unconditional love.  I’ve posted the New Year’s Eve Prologue to this sweet romance a few years ago. If you prefer to start there, here’s the LINK.  Enjoy.

 

Friday, December 31st – Present Day

Standing behind the counter at Mason’s Diner, Brianna Carlson waited for Henry Mason to pass her orders through the grill window. The breakfast and lunch crowd had her running. Now, the late lunchers filled only three of the ten stools at the counter and two of the eight booths along the windows.

Her half-sister Chloe’s paper snowflakes covered all of the windows as if another blizzard had hit town. Multi-color Christmas lights blinked around the window frames. By the cash register next to the counter, a two-foot-high fake Christmas tree held so many of Chloe’s homemade ornaments the patrons couldn’t see the branches.

Catching her breath, Brianna stared at the poster behind the register and smiled. Lucy 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?

Bree was proud of herself and so were the regulars at the diner. They 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 purse and shoes.

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

The retired men along the counter chuckled. “Are you daydreaming again, Cinderella?” Charlie asked as he took off his baseball cap that had covered his thinning gray fringe.

Blushing, she laughed. “Maybe I’ll find my Prince Charming tonight,” she replied, picking up the BLT and cheeseburger platters.

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

She set Charlie’s BLT in front of him and grabbed the ketchup from under the counter. “What do you think is in the box?” she asked, handing George the bottle for his burger and fries.

“Money?” George asked.

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

“I know what’s in the box,” Chloe said from the end of the counter. Her long brown hair in a thick braid matched her big sister’s. Chloe bit into a French fry and grinned.

“Well, my sweet one, please share with us,” Bev Mason said from behind the cash register. With her wrinkled smile, she played the elder matron with ease.

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

Bree laughed and nodded. “I always thought it was obvious,” she said, absently touching her gold locket tucked under her Mason’s Diner t-shirt.

“Tell us right now,” George demanded. He winked at Chloe as he wiped his mouth.

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

“Oh, and you’re a genius?” Bev asked

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

Brianna nodded. “You have a lot of wonderful tutors,” she said, glancing at her work family.

Chloe had grown up on that stool. They had put her name on it. Bree felt blessed that Bev and Henry let her work and care for Chloe at the same time. Over the years, the regulars had taken turns keeping her occupied. She and Chloe had many aunts and uncles.

As the men teased Chloe that they had made her smart, Officer Eddie Kent stomped his feet inside the door. In his dark blue uniform and auburn crew cut, he sat at the opposite end of the counter. Having known Eddie since they were in kindergarten, Bree greeted him with his usual glass of milk.

“It’s not ready yet?” he asked.

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

Bree quickly entered the kitchen and helped Henry with the order of rare steak and scrambled eggs with a side of raw onions and garlic toast. Eddie ate it every day he worked. Superstitious about his job, he said it kept him safe. For the last year, that’s all he ate. She carefully set 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 said, reaching for the knife.

“What?”

“Kent! I will explain it,” Chief Mason said, taking up the entire doorway.

Brianna looked at Cameron Mason, the Chief of Rushing for the last ten years. With his bushy brown mustache, he reminded her of a young Sam Elliott from the Western movies. He had the deep voice like him, too. All he needed was a cowboy hat. Bev and Henry were proud of him and his profession although Bev hoped he’d marry soon. She wanted grandbabies.

Bree thought of him as an overly protective big brother. Since she didn’t have a car or a license for that matter, he’d give them a ride occasionally across town to their tiny loft apartment. He also lectured her on safety. She and Chloe paid attention to all of his rules.

Chief Mason smoothed down his thick mustache with his thumb and finger and pointed her to the end booth. His business-like manner unnerved her. With a hand over her stomach, she sat.

He stopped Chloe from jumping off her stool. “Stay put. I want to talk to Bree in private.”

“Cam, what’s wrong?” she asked as he sat across from her.

“I just found out Wayne got parole.”

She gasped. “When?”

“He’ll be released tomorrow. Because of overcrowding, he’s being let out earlier than I had expected. There was nothing I could do.”

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

“I honestly don’t know. Follow my rules, Bree. They’ll keep you safe. If you see him anywhere in town, call my cell,” he said, pulling out his card.

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

Cam nodded and left for the kitchen to talk to his father. She stared out the window at the two fresh inches of snow. What should she do? Wayne’s letters from prison promised to take Chloe away from her. She had no legal rights. Could he come back and reclaim his daughter? She would not let that happen. He would never lay a hand on Chloe. Bree had taken the brunt for years so he wouldn’t hurt her.

Chloe knew next to nothing about her father. Bree had told her that he was in jail because he had hurt them. Bree had preached taking responsibility for your actions since Chloe could talk.

Chloe thought it was like being grounded for doing something naughty. That pretty much summed it up. Although Bree didn’t think Wayne would learn anything from the experience except more contempt toward her for putting him there. He would return to make her suffer. She had to leave. She jumped as Chloe slid in next to her.

“Bree, what’s the matter?

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

While she made plans in her head, she absently cleared the tables. While carrying the tub of dirty dishes, she banged her shin into the metal cart behind the counter. The tub crashed to the floor. Plates and mugs shattered. With tears in her eyes, she rushed to clean the mess. This usually happened when she was stressed or tired. With partial blindness in her left eye and a limp from a healed broken leg, her coordination sometimes made her clumsy.

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

Bree looked up at her. “I’m sorry.”

Bev smiled. “Honey, it’s an hour past your shift. We know it’s not your fault. Why don’t you and Chloe take off? Tonight’s the big night.”

As she put the last broken plate in the tub, she slid it to the side and stood. Charlie grinned and asked, “You’ll save me a dance?”

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

Bree smiled as they tried to cheer her up. “Only if you can recognize me. It’s a masquerade ball after all.”

She helped Chloe with her coat, hat, and mittens. Stepping outside, she took a deep breath. They would make a run for it. They’d hide, and Wayne would eventually give up looking. With a purpose, she reached for her sister’s hand.

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

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

Bree gently tugged Chloe’s hand down the street. They had three stops before she dropped Chloe off with Lucy, who was recuperating from a sprained ankle. Luckily, the stops were in order of the direction they were going. Chloe shuffled her boots through the snow on the sidewalk and sang “Let it Snow.”

After closing out her savings account with one hundred and twenty-six dollars, she pulled open the door to the pawnshop. The stifling heat hit them in the face as they wiped their boots on the rug just inside the door. She spotted Gus Fuller wearing a Santa hat. He had played Santa at the diner’s Christmas party. With a long white beard, he fit the part perfectly.

Bree sighed. “I need to talk to Gus for a moment. Do you want to wander around?” Chloe nodded and headed for the stack of board games while Bree met him at the counter. “I’d, uh, like to see what I can get for this,” she said, slipping her precious locket over her head.

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

She groaned. Robert had spent too much money on her. Her eyes started to water. She quickly wiped her face. This is about responsibility and survival not sentimental trinkets. She took the locket back from him and stared at it. She wore it all the time and touched it often. She was surprised the etched ivy hadn’t worn off. Finally nodding, she set it back on the counter. She had to protect Chloe. As she tucked the money into her wallet, Chloe joined her with a magic kit.

“Bree, do we have extra for this? It’s three dollars,” Chloe said.

Gus smiled. “It’s yours for a hug.”

Chloe laughed and ran around the counter. After paying with a hug, she kissed his cheek and tugged his beard. “Thanks, Gus.”

With slouched shoulders, Brianna moved toward the door.

“Bree, take care of yourself,” Gus said quietly.

She wanted to grab her locket and run. Instead, she limped out the door. There would be no turning back.

The bus station had one last departure at five tonight for Chicago. She didn’t think they’d have time to pack so she opted for the ten o’clock trip tomorrow morning. She wanted to be selfish and go to the gala. Her one last hurrah.

Continue reading The Garden Collection on AMAZON

Dearest Mother and Dad: Reviews

Thank You for the Awesome Reviews! I’m so proud of this book.

“Thompson has composed a magnificent story that brings the Korean War to life with unforgettable characters that you truly care about and who stay with you long after the pages run out. I absolutely loved this book and will recommend it highly!”

“Set during a time of war, this is a beautiful love story between a son and his parents, especially his mother, and the unbreakable bond between friends. Especially poignant knowing the story is based on actual letters.”

“Feel the true emotions of war. A wonderful story of the Korean War with unforgettable characters.”

Dearest Mother and Dad on AMAZON

Dearest Mother and Dad on BARNES & NOBLE

Synchronicity? Coincidence? Hooey? Hokum?

Although Chemical Attraction is the third book in the Series, it can also stand on its own as Joe’s life finally heats up. Destiny’s grand plan brings him and Madeline together when they need each other the most, saving lives throughout their journey.

“Explore sinister scientific research and the intense chemistry of love and lust.”

Dr. MADELINE PIERCE, a dedicated scientist, has pain in her heart from an abusive relationship.  With her Ice Queen persona set, she hides within the realm of her research.

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.

When Madeline discovers discrepancies at her medical research facility, the FBI sends Joe as a courtesy.  They soon realize they have bigger issues to deal with other than their Chemical Attraction.

***

I firmly believe in the Synchronicity of the Universe. All of my life’s choices, good and bad, steered me toward writing this story. What do you think about Synchronicity? Is it Destiny? Coincidence? Hooey? Hokum?

Thanks for stopping by.

THE AUDIOBOOK OF CHEMICAL ATTRACTION

Sneak Peek Part 2 of Dearest Mother and Dad

Orrin doesn’t want his parents to worry while he’s serving as a corpsman during the Korean War, so he puts a twist on his letters to protect them.  His best friend, Rawley Armstrong, shares everything with his twin sister, so she’ll understand what he’s going through.  Here’s the second excerpt from Dearest Mother and Dad. What type of letter would you write? If you haven’t already, check out the Prologue here.

 

CHAPTER ONE

23 November 1952

Dearest Mother and Dad,

I know you’re disappointed in me for drinking. However, I am not becoming a drunkard and I did not chase after the dance hall girls. In my defense, I just finished eighteen weeks of basic field medical training at Portsmouth, VA and then specialized combat medical training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. That’s a lot of studying and it was only a couple of beers.

Mother, you shouldn’t worry. I’m with a great bunch of guys. We always go out as a group, but I will watch out for shady characters wanting to take my money. You should know the Navy doesn’t let us carry a lot of money so even if someone stole my wallet they wouldn’t get much.

Today is our last day of our fifteen-day infantry training with the Marines at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Sergeant Dixon Mayo, a real nice fellow, said we’ll have an easy peasy day. Then, as a Navy Corpsman, I’ll be part of the Fleet Marine Force.

Enclosed is a picture of me and my buddy Rawley Armstrong. Doesn’t he look like that actor John Wayne from Rio Grande? Rawley acts tough and has a cocky swagger like John Wayne, but he’s a good egg. He did his last run through the obstacle course yesterday. He actually finished before some of the Marines. Anyway, I’ll write more tonight. I don’t want to be late for my turn on the course.

All the love a son can give,

Orrin

Rawley

From the doorway of the barracks overlooking the obstacle course, I crossed my arms and shook my head. Easy peasy, Orrin had said. Rawley, it can’t be that bad, he’d told me.

Well, after my turn yesterday, I tried to warn him. Now, the pounding rain blinded eighteen-year-old Orrin Connor as he crawled through the mud. His herringbone twill uniform, also called dungarees, went from olive drab to wet dirty brown. Two feet above the ground, a canopy of razor wire covered the quarter mile area.

For once, Orrin should be glad for his thin frame. He wiped his face, leaving a stream of dirt dripping down his chin. The firing of Marines’ M1 carbines and Chinese burp guns over his head thundered with the downpour. I, for one, would forever remember those sounds.

Orrin’s weapon dipped in and out of the mud while his medical pouch and three bandoliers periodically caught on the barbed wire. With a dozen Marines around him, he crept across the flooding obstacle course. The squad out-crawled him. Lagging behind, he winced when Sergeant Mayo stomped along the outside edge parallel to him.

I cringed as Mayo took a deep breath. “Connor, move your ass! By God, you’re going to do this and you’re going to like it!”

Short and stocky, the solid mass of a sergeant had a chip on his shoulder. His voice boomed louder than the gunfire. Even with all that yelling, he hadn’t once started the day hoarse.

When a piece of razor wire snagged Orrin’s bag again, he dropped his gun in the muddy water. With a groan, he yanked the medic bag, tearing the strap.

Someone howled, “Corpsman!”

From the barracks, I held my breath and watched Orrin raise his head then push the front of his crooked helmet above his brow. Standing at the end of the course, the Marines pointed to a downed man twenty feet in front of him. Leaving his gun, Orrin kept his medic bag above the mud and moved double-time. Cradling the bag, he knelt beside Alexander Marshall, clutching his shoulder. Orrin and I were slightly annoyed by the chiseled private who was a notorious ladies’ man. The women didn’t seem to mind. They still fawned over him and ignored the rest of us.

The thunder of gunfire abruptly stopped. The heavy showers, however, did not. The saturated Marines waited at the edge to the razor wire course. Using his body, Orrin shielded the wound from the rain. Leaning on the doorway of the barracks glad to be dry, I watched the drama unfold. Metal barbs bit into the back of Orrin’s neck as he worked to access Marshall’s shoulder. I’ve been bitten by those barbs once or twice so I knew it hurt.

“Corpsman! Get him out of there!” Mayo yelled, beet red and pacing into a bigger huff.

Orrin ignored him. Our training had taught us what to do and what not to do for each kind of wound.

Instead of acknowledging the sergeant, Orrin spoke calmly to the wounded man. “I can’t move you yet. First, I need to see what the issue is.”

“Connor! Pull him out! Now!” Mayo roared.

Marshall moved his hand. No wound existed. “Mayo’s test to see how you respond.”

With a nod, Orrin crossed the Marine’s arms on his chest, laying Marshall’s gun at an angle atop him, too. Unable to stand up due to the razor wire, he tugged the collar, moving him an inch in the rising water of the lowland course. The sharp barbs snagged his clothes and his straps, yanking him backward multiple times. He had to fix his crooked helmet often. After twenty minutes, he had only pulled him two feet. I thought Orrin could float him the twenty yards in the pond of mud. Apparently not.

Finally, Sergeant Mayo threw up his hands. “Marshall, out!”

The Marine flipped onto his abdomen, splashing the water, and quickly crawled out. Drenched, Orrin sighed and followed. The sergeant looked as though he was gearing up for a dressing down. We both disliked being yelled at, but then who did?

Exiting the course on his knees, Orrin started to stand, but the razor wire caught his pant leg. I cringed as he lost his balance and fell face first into the mud puddle. That had to be a mouth full of grit.

As soon as he stood up, Sergeant Mayo lit into him. The others waited as if Orrin’s reprimand might make up for their soaked bodies in the downpour that had yet to lessen. I had heard that California’s weather would be all sunshine. What a disappointment! Michigan’s weather was better. At least it had four seasons.

“You’re a Grade-A klutz! How the hell do you expect to save my Marines’ lives, you scrawny squid?” Mayo demanded.

“Adapting,” Orrin replied at attention.

I smiled at his answer. Ignoring the rain, Sergeant Mayo did not smile. He stared at him, dumbfounded by the answer, an answer that he had lectured about from the start of our two-week crash course.

Mayo clenched his jaw. “I hope to God you figure it out before your first patrol.”

“I won’t let them down.”

Mayo walked away, leaving a dozen men standing in the rain, probably wondering if they could finally dry off. As the Marines rushed in my direction, I retreated to the back corner of the rows of bunks, two beds high, and jumped onto the top one. I picked up where I left off in my letter beside a snapshot of my twin. At twenty, my sister had blue eyes like me. I’d have wavy brown hair like hers too, if it wasn’t for my buzz cut.

I spoke my mind here, which got me into trouble. My arms were pretty strong now with all the pushups they made me do. I wouldn’t tolerate stupidity, especially if I was drunk and in a bar with men bigger, dumber, and more muscular than I was. Although he was naïve, Orrin had my back and could be scrappy in a fight like a cornered wolverine. I was a bad influence on him. I thought he liked it, though. Just because we came from different backgrounds didn’t mean we can’t be friends…

 

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Release Date: May 21, 2020

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“One hundred and twenty Marines wounded. Eighteen dead. All for one lousy hill.”

 

Corpsman Orrin Connor’s faithful letters with a touching twist shield his parents from the horrors of war. His buddy Rawley Armstrong’s poignant letters give his sister the harrowing truths. Throughout their dangerous assignments during the Korean War, they debate the consequences of their choices. Orrin gains comfort in downplaying his experiences while Rawley feels a healing purge. As they get to know the Marines in their charge, the corpsmen gather a variety of opinions. Although Orrin and Rawley disagree, their friendship remains true until the bitter end.

 

“It all happened within minutes. For some, it would last a lifetime.”

 

Based on her father’s letters to his parents throughout the Forgotten War, author Christina Thompson has produced this work of historical fiction to pay tribute to Navy corpsmen by remembering their service to their brothers and their country. Imagining her father had guarded his parents from the carnage of war, Christina elaborates on what could have happened while staying true to the dates and experiences her father shared in his actual letters.

New Year’s Eve Romance

To celebrate my December 31st birthday, my New Year’s Eve romance, The Garden Collection, is on SALE for $0.99 until 12/31/19.  In this story, Robert Donovan learns that home is where his heart is.

THE GARDEN COLLECTION on AMAZON

I took a single defining moment from my childhood to create a story with the theme about the energy of words and how they affect us. You can read that embarrassing story here.

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.

BRIANNA CARLSON, an optimistic realist, appreciates the little things in life.  Working at the local diner in their wintry rural town in West Michigan, she pushes the stress of caring for her half-sister, CHLOE, aside focusing instead on the unconditional love she gives and receives.

Her best friend’s brother, ROBERT DONOVAN, regally proper and polished, balances his business acumen with his artwork for his family’s jewelry store.

In THE GARDEN COLLECTION, a Cinderella-esque romance, Brianna receives news that her abusive step-father will be released from prison.  She’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time.  She decides to leave town.

After traveling the world, Robert 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 a copy of The Garden Collection, write a review, and/or share this post.  I appreciate your support. Thank you. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

New Year’s Home

Born on December 31st, I was considered “Daddy’s Little Deduction”.  (I’m glad as a baby I could help the family out. Ha.)  To celebrate my birthday this year, my New Year’s Eve romance, The Garden Collection, is on SALE for $0.99 until 1/3/19.  In this story, Robert Donovan learns that home is where his heart is.

Please grab your copy, write a review, and/or share this post.  I appreciate your help getting the word out. Thank you.

THE GARDEN COLLECTION on AMAZON

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.

BRIANNA CARLSON, an optimistic realist, appreciates the little things in life.  Working at the local diner in their wintry rural town in West Michigan, she pushes the stress of caring for her half-sister, CHLOE, aside focusing instead on the unconditional love she gives and receives.

Her best friend’s brother, ROBERT DONOVAN, regally proper and polished, balances his business acumen with his artwork for his family’s jewelry store.

In THE GARDEN COLLECTION, a Cinderella-esque romance, Brianna receives news that her abusive step-father will be released from prison.  She’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time.  She decides to leave town.

After traveling the world, Robert 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.

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.

 

 

Meet Madeline’s Aunt Sylvia

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the people in The Chemical Attraction Series. Joe Roberts, Eva O’Sullivan, and Taylor Valentine 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]

Madeline’s Aunt Sylvia lost her husband, Herbert, a year ago. In Chemical Attraction, she had a hand in getting Joe and Madeline together. Then, in Chemical Reaction, her support for Joe helped him focus on finding Madeline. Today, Sylvia answers a few questions for the fans of the Series.

CHRISTINA: Whose idea was it to setup Madeline with Joe?

SYLVIA: Herbert and I had the idea years ago, but it wasn’t until recently we got them into the same room. At the local women’s group, Eva and I thought Joseph and Madeline would have chemistry. I think Joseph saw right through our plan. He was already smitten though. I’m happy everything worked out. I trust in the Lord’s plan for us. My sister, Allison, would have approved the match. My heart breaks that she’s not here to see how happy her daughter is. Family meant everything to Allison, too.

CHRISTINA: You met Joe before the start of Chemical Attraction. How’d you first meet?

SYLVIA: In The Kindred Code, I met Joseph about the time Eva and Matthew started dating. Herbert thought pairing Joseph with Madeline would be beneficial for both of them. He never said why; he’d just chuckle. Eva and I felt we carried out his wishes.

CHRISTINA: Is Joe as good of a dancer as he thinks he is?

SYLVIA: Yes, he is. I danced with him before Madeline did. I knew then that our plan would work.

CHRISTINA: Did Earl VanKampen have any chance of courting you?

SYLVIA: Good God, no! Herbert was my one and only. My focus is on my new family. Suddenly, I have sons, daughters, and grandchildren. I’m truly blessed. They keep my heart young.

CHRISTINA: Tell us about your husband, Herbert.

SYLVIA: Joseph reminds me of Herbert ─ charming with a sense of humor and a kind heart. Herbert retired after working thirty-five years at Haworth Manufacturing then he helped me at the B & B until he passed. We met at the local American Legion’s annual veteran’s dance. He was my Navy man. Herbert swept me off my feet. I miss dancing with him.

CHRISTINA: Everyone loves your chocolate chip cookies. Care to share the recipe?

SYLVIA: It’s Herbert’s mother’s recipe. Imogene would say, “Love makes them good, but lard makes them great.” That’s our secret, right? The women in my sewing circle have been after my recipe for years.

CHRISTINA: It’s our secret. Thanks for joining me today and giving the fans insight into your life. Learn more about Sylvia’s life in the standalone romantic thriller Chemical Attraction and its sequel, Chemical Reaction.

Meet Madeline, the Love of Joe’s Life

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the people in The Chemical Attraction Series. Joe Roberts, Eva O’Sullivan, and Taylor Valentine 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]

Dr. Madeline Pierce, a dedicated scientist, has pain in her heart from an abusive relationship. With her Ice Queen persona set, she hides within the realm of her research.

In Chemical Attraction, Madeline works with FBI Agent Joe Roberts uncovering a sinister scientific plot. She fights her attraction toward him. Then, in Chemical Reaction, they struggle to make their whirlwind relationship work while apart. Madeline sits down with me to answer a few questions for the fans of the Series.

CHRISTINA: We don’t know much about your family. Are you close to your parents?

MADELINE: No, my mom died when I was young and I don’t talk to my father. I haven’t missed having parents with Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Herbert around. For years, Uncle Herbert and I would debate philosophy. I learned so much from him. Aunt Sylvia is so much like my mom—beautiful with a teasing sense of humor. She’s kept me laughing while Uncle Herbert kept me dancing.

CHRISTINA: You knew Joe was a player before you knew he was the FBI agent assigned to your case. What first attracted you to him?

MADELINE: His butt, his biceps, his abs, his sexy green eyes. Oh my, is it getting warm in here? I thought he was handsome in a suit. Then I saw him in jeans and a t-shirt … even sexier. Deep down, Joe’s a romantic guy and cares about people. I love him for the little things he does. For example, he walked my aunt home on a dark evening and cheered up his sister with karaoke. During the case, Joe joked with me on several occasions to calm my nerves.

CHRISTINA: Joe says he’s not intimidated by your genius. He finds it sexy. I’m curious who would win in a chess match?

MADELINE: Well, first of all, I think he can hold his own when it comes to intelligence. Second, I would never play him in a match. Can you imagine how big his head would get if he won? Seriously though, I don’t like to compete with him. We work well together. It’s what I love about us.

CHRISTINA: Do you think you’ll ever be a fan of boating?

MADELINE: I haven’t gone near the water since I was eight. It brings back bad memories for me. And the last few weeks haven’t changed my mind about it either. I prefer to enjoy the water from solid ground.

CHRISTINA: What’s your next adventure with Joe?

MADELINE: We’re going up to Tim Orr’s secluded cabin in Canada. I’m ready to relax and recharge. I can’t think of anything that could possibly disturb us there.

CHRISTINA: Thanks for joining me today and giving the fans insight into your life. Read more about Joe and Madeline’s romance in Chemical Attraction and its sequel, Chemical Reaction.

 

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.