Animals — what would life be without them?

This story of Paige’s kittens mirrors the time my daughter and I decided to adopt our first rescues.

Excerpt: More Than A Job

pepperShe heard them before she saw them. Tiny squeaks filling the air as she wheeled the wheelbarrow to the woodpile. She got down on her hands and knees and peered around and behind the stacked wood until she spotted the source of the noise. Four little kittens nuzzled a black cat, nesting in a pile of leaves between the woodpile and the fence.

The mama cat looked up at Paige then looked away, apparently uninterested and not particularly frightened. Paige took her firewood back to the house. She parked the load inside the screened back porch, thinking about the coming storm and the vulnerable little family. Well, she didn’t have to leave them to the elements. She rummaged through the garden shed and came up with a tarp. At least she could give them some shelter if rain did come. She fastened the covering to the fence, anchored it in the woodpile, and let it drop to the ground behind the felines to give them shelter on three sides.

Then she propped the screen door to her back porch open about six inches and put water and a few food scraps on her back step. She took an old blanket and molded it into a nest up close to the house, out of the wind she was sure was on its way.

She met her neighbor at the curb when she went out to bring her empty trash container back behind the fence.

“Hey, Linda. How’s your life today?”

Linda was about the age Paige’s mother would have been if she’d lived. Not quite fifty, she worked at an accounting firm downtown. Her husband was older, semi-retired, and ran a tax business out of their home when he wasn’t polishing his Corvette or riding his Harley. Linda knew the neighborhood. She’d know about the cat, if it belonged to someone.

Linda’s ready smile was accompanied by a shrug. “Can’t complain. It’s busy here and at work — end of the quarter, you know. But busy pays the bills.”

Paige cringed. She’d need to be busy and paying bills before too long. “Got a question for you. Have you heard the little family just on the other side of your fence, against my woodpile?”

“Family of what? Not rodents, I hope. I can’t stand mice, and rats scare me to death.”

Paige laughed. “No, no. Sorry — didn’t mean to worry you. Just the opposite, in fact. The arch enemy of all rodents.”

“Cats?” Linda faced her now, obviously interested.

“A black mama and four little ones,” Paige confirmed.

“Is she all black?”

“As far as I could see. She doesn’t seem wild. I wondered if you might know who she belongs to.” Paige glanced at the sky. No blue — just the heavy gray of clouds, probably holding a lot of moisture. “I’m a little worried about her. I think we’re going to get a storm.”

Linda’s gaze followed hers, and she nodded. “I think you’re right. I can feel the moisture in the air. With the cloud cover we may get lucky — it might stay warm enough to rain rather than snow. But it could go either way. Why don’t you show me your little family?”

Paige let Linda in through the gate and gestured behind the woodpile. One lone kitten mewed for its mother as it rooted around the otherwise empty little nest.cover for on line ad

“You must have scared the mother when you came for wood,” Linda, the all-knowing cat lover, said. “Either scared her, or she knows the storm’s coming and she’s looking for better shelter. Wait. She’s moving them.” She gestured for Paige to move back, took a few steps back herself, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “She’ll be back for this one in a minute if we don’t disturb her. Let’s see where she goes.”

They didn’t have to wait long. The black cat, a little thin but proud and beautiful, trotted back from around the corner in Paige’s yard. She took the last kitten into her mouth, holding it firmly by the scruff of its neck, and trotted out of sight. Paige and Linda peered around the corner to see where she went.

“Looks like you’ve inherited some cats,” Linda observed, waving toward the animal depositing the last of her little ones into the blanket beside Paige’s back step. Then the mama cat settled herself into the folds beside them.

“How about that? I put it out a few minutes ago, but I was worried about how to coax her to use it. I guess she found her way without any coaxing on my part.”

“I’m pretty sure mama cat belongs to Tom and Judy, across the street. We’ll have to let them know.”

Paige was thoughtful. “Do you think that maybe, when they’re weaned, they’d let me keep one? I like the little brownish colored one.”

“It’s a tortoise-shell, or a tortie. They can be a little temperamental. You want two, not just one. Two cats will entertain each other.”

“Makes sense.” How weird. Paige had put pets on her list and now here they were, on her doorstep. “Which house is Tom and Judy’s again? I’ll let them know their cat’s okay.”

Order your copy — electronic from the publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, and either paperback or Kindle through Amazon.

When the first meeting is off to a bad start — Brian and Jessie

Excerpt from Out of Agony:brew-coffee-substitute

Jessie Ingram watched the self-important guy in the grey suit. He was so obnoxious. He butted into the line, and didn’t even look at the woman with a child when he cut them off. He leaned in toward the person behind the cash register. When he slammed his drink onto the counter some sloshed over the top. As if that wasn’t satisfying enough he gave it another shove and the drink toppled over, spilling the hot coffee. The young man jumped at the jerky, angry movements of the suit. He grabbed at the cup to right it and began to mop up the spill.

“This drink is all wrong.” Voice strident, the man continued in an over-loud, angry tone. “It’s too sweet. I wanted one pump of hazelnut. There have to be at least four.” She glanced behind them. Everyone in the place listened in.

“Obviously you are an idiot who can’t count. You are incompetent. I will see you don’t work here after today. There is no excuse…”

That was enough. She could take no more. To pull his attention away from the young man, who was almost in tears, she grasped the customer’s forearm and made him face her instead. “Hey, mister, what is wrong with you? It’s a cup of coffee.”

He turned his frosty blue gaze to meet hers and said brusquely, “This is not your business.” He turned back to the barista and leaned in, opened his mouth to continue his tirade.

Not on her watch. She grabbed his arm again, gripped it hard this time, so he couldn’t ignore her. “So what has your pants in such a wad, mister?”

Surprise crossed his face for a second, before irritation won the day. He opened his mouth but she wasn’t about to let him speak. She stepped into his personal space, right up close. She kept her voice even and clear, but didn’t raise it. “There is a place and time to insist on customer service, but you crossed the line with this public dressing down. Are you just having a bad day or are you always such a jerk? Get out of here. The rest of us would like a chance to get a cup before the day is out.”

He stiffened, looked like he might say more, then closed his mouth into a tight line. Cheeks flaming, he turned without a word and pushed through the crowd to the door. The other patrons broke into scattered applause. Jessie turned to the guy who took the orders and placed her own. “Your largest Earl Grey tea, please. Three pumps vanilla, two percent milk, and extra foam.” When she tried to pay, the harried young man shook his head.

“No charge for you, ma’am. On the house.”

Now that was nice. A perfect way to start her first day at her new job as one of the associates with Barnes and Associates.

Out of Agony is available July 21 from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.com

How do Jen and Michael meet? On line romance.

Excerpt from Finding Her Voice:

After she and Ollie36451078204185961_HMZmvGgi_b returned, she dried the dog off and settled into warm flannel jammies with some peppermint tea. Ollie burrowed into the covers on her bed, but she wasn’t tired enough to sleep yet. Jen turned back to her computer screen.

She clicked on the icon where she’d saved the grief group to her browser toolbar.

Couldn’t hurt to look in on the conversations. She didn’t have to write anything.

This time the front page held a picture of a young teenager — eleven years old, the caption said. A boy whose birthday was the same day as Trudy’s. His father had posted the story of his son sometime late the night before. The eyes of young Landon pulled at her. There was so much life in those eyes. So much wonder and fun. It was so brutal to see a life cut short.

She took a deep breath. Beth had been right — they knew better than most how precious life was.

Jen clicked the Comment box at the end of the post about Landon.

Your son shares my daughter’s birthday. I can see he was a very precious boy. You are in my thoughts and prayers tonight. Jen

She was startled when, with a ding, a reply popped up.

Thanks. I saw your pictures of Trudy and thought the same thing. I’m not sure about prayer. I gave it up a while back. But I am sending good thoughts your way. Michael.

Sometimes she wasn’t sure about prayer, either. Before she realized it she had replied with those very words. She elaborated.

I don’t understand how a God who cares can take away the one we love the most. And if God doesn’t care, just lets it happen, then He isn’t the God I thought I knew, either. Jen

Had she really written those words right out there where another person could read them? She gasped, a little shocked at her own daring. She had hardly admitted to herself, much less to someone else, that she was mad at God. She slammed the lid of her laptop down before she wrote something else she’d regret.

*****

He hadn’t meant to scare her away, but it looked like he had. “Jen” was off-line.FindingHerVoiceCoverArt

Maybe she wasn’t ready to talk about God yet anyway. He wasn’t.

What faith he’d had was lost at the terrible death of his family.

Like Jen said, “How could a caring God allow it?” And if He didn’t care, what was the point?

There were lots of preachy people who came to his site. They came and went, because their too-rosy response wasn’t a good fit.

Those who continued to participate were grittier, realistic about their loss once they admitted to it.

Like Jen. He sensed a kindred spirit in the few words she’d shared.

He sighed and pushed away from the desk. He put a kettle on for a spot of tea and then added another layer of clothes for warmth. The wind whistled around the house. They were in for some weather.

Buy Finding Her Voice today at Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

When Joy met Mark

Joy Huffman doesn’t know how to get on with her life after Steve’s fatal accident. Then, several years after his death, he calls to her in a dream and urges her to go to the cabin they’d designed together, and that she has never seen. Can she embrace this home Steve built for them, and find a way to let love in once more?

Excerpt, The Return of Joy:

She stepped from the vehicle and took a deep, steadying breath to shake off the long day’s fatigue. Evelyn moved more slowly, chatting with Charity as she unbuckled the child from her safety seat.joy cover

“Now there’s the woman I like to see,” Evelyn commented.

Joy turned to smile at her. “I’m so excited to be here.”

Here, where I can be more like the woman you knew years ago. The woman Steve loved.

For a brief moment, she was no longer in mourning. She was full of joy.

A movement from beyond Evelyn caught her attention, and a man emerged from the woods, a yellow lab trotting at his side. As he moved closer, Joy stepped toward him with a smile and a greeting.

Then the greeting died on her lips, and she swallowed, hard. Something about his presence startled her. He was under six feet — only a few inches over her own five-seven. He had thick, dark, wavy hair that brushed his collar, and a red chamois shirt he’d rolled up to display his muscular arms. His face was mobile and expressive, showing determination, tension, and — something else. Joy wasn’t sure what. He moved with a graceful, confident stride. An athlete’s stride. Tight jeans hugged his hips. He stirred something within her, something she hadn’t felt for a long time.

“Hi.” She shook his extended hand, a large, strong hand that engulfed hers and made her feel dainty and petite. She gazed up into his eyes; they were of an indeterminate color — maybe blue, maybe green, maybe gray. To call the color indeterminate was unfair. They were beautiful eyes, with depths like a fine gemstone.

“You must be Joy Huffman. I’m your tenant, Mark Stone. This is my dog, Atlas.”

She had expected someone different. A pale computer nerd, maybe. After all, he ran a computer business from here. She had not expected this masculine man.

You can buy The Return of Joy at Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing.

How did Paige and Joshua meet?

cover for on line adThis excerpt from More Than A Job tells their first meeting. This week we will look at the first meeting for all the Starting Over stories. Next, the animals in their lives. Then, first kisses!

Excerpt: More Than a Job

Paige stumbled across the office complex parking lot toward her car, shaking as reality hit her. She blinked at the tears blurring her vision and attempted to straighten her spine, to keep her head up, but her body was stiff, wooden, clumsy. She clutched the box of remnants from her office, representing ten years of her professional life. Could she make it to her car before she fell apart completely? Why had she parked so far from the door?

For the exercise. She was such a fool.

A car horn blared in the silence, close by, startling her. Her heart raced as she turned toward the sound, and turned an ankle in the process. She went down on her knees and the box slid out of her arms and across the pavement, scattering her destroyed career over ten square feet of asphalt.

I am unemployed. She couldn’t catch her breath. The job she’d poured herself into for the last ten years was over. She fought back sobs by gulping air. I have to get up. Have to get out of here.

“Are you okay?” A deep baritone penetrated her foggy brain. Shiny dress cowboy boots appeared almost within reach of her left hand. Paige pushed up with both hands and leaned back on her heels. She glanced up briefly, then reached for her fallen sunglasses and shoved them back into place, hoping they would hide some of the tears running down her cheeks. Her knees and her palms stung from contact with the rough pavement.

A man towered above her, backlit so she couldn’t see his face, only his long, lean silhouette and the hand he had extended to her. “Can you stand? Let me help you.”

A witness to her embarrassing downfall. Shaking her head, unable to speak, she gathered the items she could reach. A few books. A desk clock. The picture of her parents, the last one taken before her mother died. She turned it as she pulled it closer. The glass was broken. That indignity was the final straw, and she let everything slip from her trembling hands as she sobbed in earnest.

The man dropped to one knee beside her, suit and all. He hesitated a brief moment, then brought his long, lean, tanned face close to hers, placed a hand gently against one of her cheeks and nudged her so she looked up.

This time, she could see his eyes. They were compassionate, dark with concern. He said gently, “Are you injured?”

She shook her head, but could not find her voice.

“Good.” He sounded relieved. “I was worried. Listen, just sit here a minute. Let me pick up your things. It’s the least I can do.”

She didn’t have the strength to argue and watched numbly as he righted the box and organized the items inside it. He moved around her, leaning, reaching, pulling together the scattered pieces, then set the box on the back of a red convertible angled across the drive. Its driver’s side door gaped open, left that way when he’d rushed to her aid. A gentle ding, ding, ding warned that the keys were still in the ignition. To stave off her distress, she fixated on his boots. Finely tooled leather cowboy boots. Then he was at her side again, crouching beside her.

“Ready to stand?” he asked.

Paige looked up into his warm brown eyes and lost herself in them for just an instant. She found it calming not to have to think, not to have to handle this moment alone.

“I think so.” She reached for his extended hand and let his warmth surround her as he grasped it firmly and pulled her to her feet. She wobbled just a little, found her balance again. Her ankle was only a little sore. She could bear her own weight

The stranger tucked her arm into his. “May I walk you to your car?”

She managed a smile. This would be a romantic meeting if she weren’t so sad. She stared down at her torn tights, runs feathering out in all directions from her skinned knees, and winced. She nodded her permission and gestured six spaces down. “It’s the silver two-door.”

He placed his other hand over hers where it rested on his arm. “You’re gonna be okay, you know.”

She didn’t know how. Despair washed over her again, and she stumbled against him.

He stopped, steadied her, and put his arm around her. “It’s okay.”

Somehow she found that leaning into his strength made things at least a little bit okay. She was aware, under her misery, of his height and the long, hard muscles under her hand. Had he gotten all those muscles from time spent in the gym or from working hard? Or both?

He cleared his throat. “I didn’t cause you to fall, did I?”

What did he mean? She looked up to see if his expression gave her a clue.

“If I’d hit the brakes instead of my horn, you might not have taken that spill.”

“You are not at fault, really.” She smiled a little smile. Maybe he was being so nice because he was afraid she’d sue him. “I wasn’t watching where I was going. I had too much on my mind. And my ankle twisted out from under me before I knew what happened.”

They had reached her car door. She unclipped her keys from her belt, and found the weight of them in her hand odd. Where she had carried a dozen keys — for her office, group homes, med cabinets, and fire alarm systems representing her job responsibilities — now she had only two. Her car key and her apartment key seemed very lonely on the large hook.

“You go ahead and sit, and I’ll bring your box.”

She kept her eyes on his back as he moved away and shivered in the autumn air, aware of the loss of his body heat. She popped open her trunk and waited for him, still standing, reluctant to drive away.

He placed the box into the trunk and turned, taking both her hands in his and examining her palms.

“You need a little first aid. I see you’re prepared.” His words were ironic, really. Would she have carried a first aid kit in her trunk if her job hadn’t required it? He nodded toward the mounted white box. “May I?”

“Thank you, yes.” Usually she would have said no. She didn’t like needing help and tended to push away such offers. She could take care of herself. But she didn’t want him to go just yet. His hands were warm and felt good holding hers.

He guided her to the driver’s seat where she sat sideways, feet on the pavement, while he got the first aid kit, then knelt to clean and dress the scrapes on her hands. He dabbed at her knees with the wipes, too, but appeared baffled by how to work around her torn hosiery.

“Here, let me. They’re ruined anyway.” She tore the fabric open at each knee, giving him full access to her wounds. He rested a palm on the side of one knee to steady his hand as he cleaned away the gravel. The gentleness of his fingers against her legs was very professional. So why did she sense a shiver of eroticism underneath his almost medical touch?

“You’re good at this.” she said, once the gauze pads were firmly in place, the bandages neat and tight.

He gave her a little smile. “I’ve bandaged a few scrapes in my time.” He looked up, catching her in the rich chocolate of his eyes. “Never for so beautiful a patient, though. Now, which ankle is bothering you? Let me give it a look.”

Paige extended her left foot. “This one, although it’s better. I twisted it when I went down, but it’s not too sore. I don’t think it’s sprained.”

The man felt her ankle, probing a little. “No pain? I can wrap it for you if you want.”

“No, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s nothing a little rest won’t fix. I’m okay, really.”

He nodded, snapped the first aid kit closed, and returned it to its rack, pushing down on the trunk lid to latch it, then wiping his hands with another wipe. He collected the trash, and she held out her hands for it. “There you go.”

“Thank you.” Such inadequate words. Without his gentle insistence, she might still be sobbing on the asphalt. She stuffed the trash into the bag by the seat and turned to look at him. “You’ve been so kind to me, and I don’t even know your name.” She extended a bandaged hand in greeting. “I’m Paige.”

“Joshua.” He grasped her hand gently in a handshake, then covered their joined hands with his other hand. “You gonna be all right, Paige?”

Drat it all. Sympathy undid her every time. She sucked in a quick breath, bit her lip, fought back her tears, and nodded. She sniffed, horrified her nose was running, and worse, turning red as tears gathered in her eyes. Time to get out of here. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for helping.”

“My pleasure. I hope we’ll meet again another day.”

Before she could question herself, before she could berate herself as a fool under stress, Paige gave in to an impulse. She leaned toward him where he bent over her, fished the pen from the breast pocket of his Western suit, and turned his hand palm up. She scribbled her cell phone number on the smooth brown surface, right along his long life line.

“If you mean it, call me in a week or two.” She loved the way his eyes widened, then crinkled in a smile. “Maybe I’ll be having a better day.”

“Count on it.”

Order More Than A Job from my Amazon Author Page in either paperback or Kindle version. Other electronic formats are available form my publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing.

About disability…

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Because much of my professional life is lived in the disability rights and justice community, some of the characters in my books, including main ones, have disabilities. Here are some examples.

In More Than a Job, Paige and Joshua work for a company that provides small, personalized and respectful living settings for people with cognitive disabilities, in contrast to the institution where some of her family once resided. The book addresses some of the problems with institutions and the very controversial topic of parents who have a cognitive disability.

In Out of Agony, Brian works through the depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that result from the death of his daughter. One of his clients is a man with MS who loses his job in what appears to be discrimination because of his disability, but becomes something more when his employer attempts to steal his patent for a new pain medication that will mean relief without liver damage for people with chronic pain.

In the next release, next January, the heroine is a blind single mom, loosely based on someone I know, and explores the prejudice in society against people with disabilities being parents. It is especially challenging when her ex attempts to gain full custody of their child.

You can find all my books, paperbacks and eBooks on Amazon or eBooks only on my publisher’s page, Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc..