Yearlong Hibernation

After a yearlong hibernation, I am awake. Am I a butterfly? No, I’m more like a hungry bear. I’m hungry to share my latest news and WIP.

Tis the season for the Holiday bazaars! Stretching my leg in the Land of the Living, I participated in a local one. Using my new handy-dandy PayPal card scanner, I sold a few books which offset the homemade crafts and baked goods I had to have.

I also talked with the Otsego Library’s book club. They read The Trucker’s Cat for November so I joined them and chatted about my inspiration, my process, and all the juicy gossip about those characters. Luckily for me, they loved the story so it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.

48fourteen is producing the audiobook for Chemical Attraction with Narrator Gary Bennett. One more step toward my favorite people coming to life. I’m excited to hear them.

I have written romance, adventures, thrillers, and even patriotic espionage. I’ve also tried my hand at screenwriting turning Chemical Attraction and The Garden Collection into screenplays. By the way, taking a book with four hundred pages and formatting it into one hundred and twenty pages maximum wasn’t an easy feat especially when I still wanted an interesting story that made sense. I gave it a shot and I loved how they turned out. They’re slightly different from the books but have the same vibe. (Any producers or directors out there who want to read them? I gotta promote my work every chance I get, right?)

Now, on to my latest WIP and an emotional 2019—the reason I hid from the outside world. I’ve stepped beyond my comfort zone and into a raw place of anger, sadness, and then understanding in this historical fiction. Ok, let me explain.

It first started after my dad passed away. We were going through his things and found a stack of letters he wrote to his parents during the Korean War. Well, my dad never talked about that time in his life. I wanted to know if these letters gave any indication why he was unbending and emotionally absent.

I organized the letters chronologically with the idea of sharing these historical documents with his grandchildren. For a month, I carefully typed up the chicken scratch cursive on pages of transparent tracing paper. At first, I thought the unreadable writing was some kind of secret military code. With my mom’s help, we deciphered his words.

As I read through about one hundred letters, I found that they weren’t quite complete. As a corpsman, Dad had antidotes about life in Korea, but the letters had no context, no big picture history. I wanted to give my family an awareness of that time period so I decided to create my own fictional story around his letters using a character from my Series. If you’ve read the Chemical Attraction Series, you may be familiar with Matt Connor’s father, Orrin. He was the perfect age and had the demeanor I needed to tell the story.

After six months of researching the Korean War, I was able to match dates and battles with my dad’s letters. I had fit more pieces of the puzzle together, and I have a thick binder to prove it.

Next, I needed to tie the letters together with a beginning, middle, and end. I spent another three months outlining a complete story battling my own emotions about my dad along the way. In a sense, this was healing therapy between Dad and me. We weren’t close in life, but I feel like I know him a little better now. Through his letters, I learned how much he loved his parents. I found inspiration in the picture above. Can you see and feel the love?

I wondered if our relationship would have been different if I had known about his past while he was alive. I will never know. In the end, it is what it is. Do I have regrets? No. I may not have written this story otherwise. I’ve made my peace. I’d like to think Dad had a hand in the fictional scenes of the story. Wishful thinking? Sure, why not? I believe we have spirit guides. Maybe my personal journey was heaven sent.

Here’s my Work in Progress blurb. What do you think?

Based on her father’s letters to his parents during the Forgotten War, Author Christina Thompson writes this 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 letters.

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

Orrin Connor’s faithful letters with a touching twist shield his parents from the horrors of war. Rawley Armstrong’s poignant letters give his sister the harrowing truths. Throughout their dangerous assignments in 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 in twelve minutes. For some, it would last a lifetime.”

 

Dearest Mother and Dad –  coming soon

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Meet Joe Roberts

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]

His charisma hiding his loneliness, Joe Roberts is searching for an instant chemistry with his soulmate, the one person who will love him for his faults not in spite of them.

In Their Rigid Rules, Joe meets his future boss and then in The Kindred Code, he sets his career with the FBI in motion. In Chemical Attraction, he and Madeline fall in love during that dangerous case. In Chemical Reaction, they struggle to make it work while apart. Today, Joe answers a few questions for the fans of the series.

 

CHRISTINA: How’d you know Madeline was your one?

JOE: When I read her case file, her brilliance intrigued me. Then, I saw her jogging down the street next to her Aunt Sylvia’s B & B and knew. Our kiss on the dance floor confirmed it for me, but getting her on board took a while.

CHRISTINA: Madeline’s a genius research scientist and you need to be right. Do you find her intimidating?

JOE: I grew up where I had to take charge. I was on my own and had to be right to survive. With Madeline, I love the challenge of raising myself up intellectually. Her intelligence is sexy.

CHRISTINA: Is there any correlation between Madeline and Taylor’s favorite scent of lilacs? Did that scent attract you to Madeline?

JOE: Wait. What? I, um, uh, I never thought about that. I’m not comfortable discussing it. Next question, please.

CHRISTINA: Okay, we’ll move on. How’s your relationship with Stuart now?

JOE: We’re good. He and Matt treat me like a little brother although they don’t pick on me as much as Eva does. I let her to make her feel superior. Don’t tell her I said that.

CHRISTINA: You and Sylvia have a flirty relationship. How’d that start?

JOE: Years ago, in The Kindred Code, I met Sylvia and Herbert Folkert when Director Bingaman and I stayed at their B & B. She asked me if I was single.  Apparently, she planned to set me up with Madeline way back then. I flirted back amused by her playful banter. The next day, Herbert gave me an inspiring piece of advice that I still hold on to. I’ll share it with Madeline later.

CHRISTINA: When did you get rid of your tank of a car and buy the Ford Taurus?

JOE: My eighty-eight Lincoln Continental sat at the Director’s cabin for most of the winter and wouldn’t start, so he had to have it towed. Before I answer about my Taurus, what did the Director say about it? I, uh, didn’t actually buy it. It’s revealed in The Kindred Code though.

CHRISTINA: How would you characterize your relationship with your boss?

JOE: Director Bingaman took a chance on me in Their Rigid Rules. I’m grateful for that. At the office, we stay professional. At family gatherings, Peter is my mentor and fills the father role with Eva and Taylor, too.

CHRISTINA: Thanks for joining me today and giving the fans insight into your life. Read more about Joe’s backstory in Their Rigid Rules and The Kindred Code. Then follow up with Joe and Madeline’s romance in Chemical Attraction and Chemical Reaction.

 

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.