Animal Instinct – Animal Helpers

     Each of the Heartmark women has an animal helper, and so does the man meant for them. Dr. Al’s animal helper is modeled after my own sweet calico cat. Meet ChaCha.IMG_0606

Excerpt:

     ChaCha made an entrance, sauntering toward Allison, winding between her feet, pressing against her, then turning haughtily to stare at Meredith.
“You just can’t trust a man, any man. They are…” Mer’s ramble stumbled to a halt. She pointed at the Calico, now seated by Allison’s foot, still staring. She came to her feet, sputtering.
“Send that cat outside. You know she gives me the creeps.”
The rude tone jangled and raised the hair on the back of Allison’s neck. She shivered. When Allison didn’t respond, Meredith began to talk again. As always.
“She is evil, I tell you.” Meredith stepped toward ChaCha, hands extended as if she was going to pick up the cat.
The cat came up on all fours, arched her back, fur standing up along her spine. She looked about three times her size, and didn’t break eye contact with her arch enemy.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Allison kept her voice even but inside she was seething. ChaCha was the sweetest, most mellow cat she had ever known. The cat evil? What about the woman stalking her? “This is her house, Mer. Let her be.”
She stepped in front of the cat, a mug of tea in each hand, and nodded toward the table.
“Sit. We have time for a couple of biscotti each before I have to get ready for work.”

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Pioneer Instinct: Eliza and Frank

 PioneerInstinctCoverArtEliza O’Malley made her way through the crowds and wondered if her father and brothers had prepared the pens that would be needed to care for so many animals. Well, she would know soon. Her boot heels clicked on the boardwalk as she passed others by, intent on doing the necessary business so they could leave as soon as Papa showed up. After she passed a few shops she saw, just ahead, a building with a large sign that read BANK.

The crowd on the walk had stopped moving – they appeared to gather around something she couldn’t see, all gawking at whatever was at the center of the walk. Eliza gritted her teeth in irritation. She did not have time for this. She stepped off the wooden sidewalk and into the street to bypass them.

Eliza bit back a scream when the sudden sound of hoof beats and the thudding vibration on the hard packed earth beneath her feet alerted her she had made what could be a deadly misstep. So lost in her thoughts, she’d walked right into the path of a galloping horse.

Instinct took over and Eliza stretched out her hand and grasped the bridle, not even realizing there was a man on the horse’s back.

Her heart beat so hard she thought it may beat itself out of her chest. Eliza looked up to the rider. He was a mountain of a man. She couldn’t see his face clearly due to his wide rimmed hat, but his height and breadth blocked the sun and caused her heart to stutter and her breath to catch in her throat.

With a grace that belied his girth, the man leaped from the horse and yanked the bridle from her hand.

“And what do you think you are doing, grabbing my horse? Are ye daft, woman? I came close enough to running you down when I was in control of my horse.”

The adrenalin rush brought on by fear immediately turned to anger. Was this man implying that she was feeble minded?

She jerked her gaze up to meet his eyes. “I’ll have you know I had perfect control, sir.”

“A woman in control would not step in the path of a moving horse,” he scoffed. His voice was deep and rumbled out of his strong, broad chest, and despite her anger with him, his voice did strange things to her tummy, turning it all warm and jumpy.

She grit her teeth again, embarrassment now mixed with irritation, but she wasn’t backing down.

“The sun was in my eyes, sir. I didn’t see you at first.”

He glared down at her, looking for all the world like he might wrap those large hands around her neck, and her breath caught in her throat. Oh, my. She was being taken to task by the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His eyes were a deep, dark blue, almost midnight blue with flecks of green scattered in the depths. The sandy lashes that framed them were longer than any man had a right to sport. His hair, a dark copper color, curly and unruly, brushed his collar and framed a strong, square face. His lips, currently pressed together in annoyance, were full, and his complexion was deeply tanned with a slight ruddy cast.

Eliza stepped back from the sheer impact of his physical beauty and caught her heel on the raised sidewalk. With a quickness which belied his mass, he reached out and caught her by the arm before she fell backward.

He shook his head, the look he gave her one she was sure was reserved for those not quite in their right mind. “Lass!”

Her arm, where his hand steadied her, burned and tingled at the same time. She did not hear the lecture that spurted from his mouth. No, instead she busily cataloged every detail of this irate but handsome man. His tapered waist and strong, very long legs were impressive, as long, wide and sturdy as tree branches, and she gulped back a sigh. He released her arm and put one hand on his hip, while the other held the reins and bridle to his horse. A black and white sheep dog sat at his side and watched her intently. The dog stood and ambled closer, sniffed at her hand, then leaned in, pressing its body close to her. She gave it a pat and scratched behind its ears before she looked back at its stern owner. When she returned her gaze to his face, his lips were turned down in a stern frown. He raised an imploring hand.

“I could have killed you, lass. It is a rough and tumble town, Cheyenne. You’ll need to be more careful.”

“Yes, sir, I will.” She swallowed, more confused by her awareness of this man than the fact she had indeed almost been killed. “Thank you.” She began to step back onto the boardwalk, but once again he took her arm and held her in place.

“You’re new here.” It wasn’t a question.

She leaned her head to one side so she could look up at him again.

He blew out a resigned sigh. “Let me escort you. What is your destination?”

Eliza’s mouth went dry at the unexpected offer and she had trouble forming the words. She nodded the direction she’d been going. “The bank,” she finally squeaked out, “but you don’t have to.”

He gave his head another shake, his lips curled into a small half smile as he studied her. “Yes, Miss, I think I do.

The mountain of a man nodded and flipped the reins of his horse over a hitching rail before he assisted her with the step, then offered his arm and walked her into the bank.

Download now from Amazon or Desert Breeze Publishing  to read the rest of the story.

Time Traveling Enemy in 15th Century England

ProtectiveInstinctCoverArtTime After Time Saga Book Four releases August 11

Sabrina Bridges clings to her birthright as a Heartmark woman, convinced she will overcome the time-traveling enemy that plagues the women of her family. She is certain she will obtain true love with the man she gives her heart to. But how will her trusting heart survive when she learns that very man has deceived her since the moment they met?

Nicolas Mitchell’s loyalty to family and country are tested by the woman who may lead him to one who threatens all he holds dear. Nick must steel his heart against her, and deny his protective instinct for the woman who speaks of an ancient family legend and her belief that together he and she will forge a love that will last forever. Will Nick be able to complete his last mission as a spy for the Crown or will he betray his country for the sake of love?

Order from Desert Breeze Publishing.

 

 

Animals help make the story – but Therapy Cats?

Excerpt from Out of Agony:IMG_0606

The World’s Best Cats and Kittens boasted long, screened enclosures with cats and kittens everywhere. An older woman greeted them at the office door. She was thin and spry with grey hair pulled back, and dangling earrings providing a splash of color. She tucked a yellow tabby under one arm and reached out to shake Jessie’s hand with a firm grip. A grey cat draped over her shoulders and peeked around at Jessie in curiosity.

“Lots of people bring us their kittens, and we work hard to place them all. Neutering and nursing the animals, and finding homes, is full-time work. I’m so glad you came here. I know we can find what you want.”

“We need a therapy cat,” Sara spoke up. “I have cancer and the nurses say a cat will help me get better.”

The woman reached out a hand to clasp Sara’s. “They will help, I promise. I am a cancer survivor myself, and I credit the cats with getting me well. Come on, let’s go see which ones you like.”

Ones? Oh-oh. If she thought they would take more than one cat…

“I have an idea. Let’s see what you think.” She led them, not to the enclosures, but into the house. “There is a little runt here. Some of the other cats picked on him, especially while he was recovering after his operation, and one of the mama cats adopted him. I keep them in here so she doesn’t have to defend him quite so fiercely.”

Curled up together on the top of a short platform lay a calico cat and a black kitten with white paws. When Sara approached, the kitten looked up at her, stood, stretched, and reached for her with one paw as if to say “pick me.” When she stroked his head, he leaned into her, pressing close and purring loud enough Jessie could hear him a few steps away.

“Oh, look Aunt Jessie, he loves me.” The calico cat looked on and nudged Sara’s other hand.

“Oh, and she loves me, too.” She had a cat under each hand and pure joy radiated across her face.

“Do you think he would adjust to a leash?”

“I’m sure of it. Watch.” The woman picked up two small harnesses. She stretched the first over the calico’s head, and the second over the black kitten’s. She buckled them both in place.

Sara kept petting them.

“I’ve already trained them to accept the harness. It’s the biggest step. Cats are so flexible, they can get away from any collar if they really want to, even if it means breaking the break-away latch.”

She eyed Sara for a second. “Why don’t you sit down and let’s see what they do.” Sara obeyed, perching on the edge of a chair. Immediately both cats hopped down from the platform and approached her. The little one meowed loudly and hopped up beside her. The older one, though quieter, acted just as determined to stay right beside Sara. How would she choose between the two?

“Good, they both are very interested in staying with you.” The woman clipped a short leash to each collar and let it dangle. So far so good. She handed the leash ends to Sara.

“Don’t get in a hurry, but when you are ready, hold one leash in each hand and stand up. If they stay calm, walk toward me and we’ll see what happens.”

Sara talked to the cats for another few moments, then stood. Both cats jumped down, one on each side of her. They didn’t seem bothered by the leashes at all. She looked up at the woman standing across the room. When she nodded, Sara began to walk slowly toward her.

The two cats fell in step beside her.

“Amazing!” Awe filled Jessie. She’d expected a real fight with the cats.

“Well, you can reinforce their good behavior.” The woman handed some treats to Sara, who in turn fed one to each cat.

“It also helps if they get to go somewhere interesting when they are on leash. I am sure their new home will be interesting to them.” She smiled benevolently at her little charges, like a proud grandma. “I thought these two would be naturals. Ready to write up the paperwork and adopt them?”

Them? She was trying to get them to take both cats. Jessie didn’t have the heart to make Sara choose. They were both so cute and so loving to Sara. Clearly the cats loved each other. It wouldn’t be fair to separate them.

“Sara?”

Her niece nodded happily, dropped into a seat, and gathered the two cats into her arms.

“Did you hear? Blackie, you and your mama get to come home with me. Mama, you can take care of your baby in your new home. And take care of me, too.”

John and Phyllis would probably kill her. Not one cat, but two, added to their already hectic household.

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

Ollie, my own sweet dog, is a character in Voice

When it began to get dark Jen looked for a campsite. She didn’t want to hook things up in the dark if she found a site with electricity. If she didn’t, her generator would take care of them.

The campground wasn’t as empty as she’d thought it would be. More people must travel in the fall than she’d realized. Big RVs and Airstream trailers of all sizes shared the spaces with vans like hers. She signed in at the office, paid for her night in advance, then pulled into her spot.

Once she’d parked, she sat there a long time. She was really doing this. Was she a little nuts? A woman and a little dog, traveling alone. A shiver ran down her spine, and she shook off the fear. Ollie, anxious to get out and explore — or more likely relieve himself — gave a little whine and pawed at her arm.

“Okay, Ollie, okay.” She went into the back of the van and got IMG_0402a towel and her little caddy of shampoo, conditioner, and soap.

“Let’s get a walk, then get a shower tonight, while it’s still light, and then we can lock things down tight for the night.”

She clipped his leash onto the harness, and they hopped out of the van. She locked the doors behind her and they set off to explore the campsite.

“Hey, neighbor, cute dog. What kind is he?” The voice came from the site two down from hers. An older woman, with grey curly hair, stepped out from behind a camp stove. The delicious smell indicated she was grilling burgers for dinner.

“I don’t know what breed his is, but people always ask. He’s cute, huh? He was a rescue, and his name is Ollie.”

If there were lots of women in these campsites, it might not be so bad.

“Hello, Ollie.” The woman leaned down to pat him, and Ollie pulled forward to meet her friendly touch. Well, he seemed to think she was safe enough.

She looked up at Jen and smiled. “I’m Lucille,” she offered. “My sister and I are headed to Northern California. Where are you headed?”

“I’m Jen. Not sure where Ollie and I will end up. We aren’t expected in Illinois for a few weeks, so I think we’ll see how many national parks and monuments we can find between here and there.”

“Sounds like fun, Jen. Just the two of you then?”

Jen nodded.

“Well, be sure to let me know if you need anything — forgot the butter, can’t get the electricity set up, or some creep bugs you — just call out, and we’ll come running.”

Lucille went back to her stove with a wave. Good. No long, nosy conversations, just enough chatting to be friendly.

And to know each other’s names if some kind of trouble came up for either of them. Smart.

“You know, Ollie, this might not be so bad.” The dog looked up at his name, but they kept walking. He trotted with his proud little strut, head up, tail curled, walking in his funny, not quite straight gait. Almost like he used to walk his happy little stride before. She wanted to get at least a mile in so that they both had a good stretch. It had been a long day buckled into the van.

“We don’t have to explain anything. We have neighbors willing to help, and we have the solitude of our cozy little home on wheels.” Best of all possible worlds — or as good as a world could be without Trudy.

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

Atlas, Mark’s dog, plays a key role in The Return of Joy

Excerpts from The Return of Joy:atlas cropped 2

Mark turned to Charity. “And who is this young lady?”

“This is my granddaughter, Charity.” Evelyn grinned, then busied herself with placing Charity on the ground. She was sucking on her fingers and eyeing the dog. She pointed to him, not frightened exactly but cautious. “Does he bite?”

“Hi, Charity.” Mark put out a hand to solemnly shake her pointing finger. “No, he doesn’t bite. And he loves pats and hugs and kisses. Would you like to pet him?”

Charity nodded, and Mark guided her hand to the animal’s head. Charity giggled and patted the dog with both hands.

“Can I lick him?” she asked soberly, no doubt thinking of doggy kisses.

All three adults chuckled at that.

“No, Charity, just regular people kisses, okay?” Mark crouched beside her and looked up at Evelyn. “She’s a wonder, Evelyn. You must love having a granddaughter.”

*****

When Charity dropped to the floor next to Atlas and showed him one of the books, Mark laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?”

“She’s reading to the dog,” he pointed out.

“She’s been doing that for a couple of weeks, Mark.” So proud of both the girl and the dog she could hardly stand it, Joy grinned. “Josie has a therapy dog who listens to kids read at a local library. She helped us make sure Atlas could do the same.” Joy pulled a paper out of the pile of presents on the table. “Atlas passed his test. All we need is your permission to send everything in, and he can be an official therapy dog, too.”

Looking confused, Mark scratched his head. “A therapy dog? He’s just… you know, a family dog.”

Joy smiled and stepped closer to Mark. She patted his chest.

“I know he is your dog. That’s why we won’t pursue this if you don’t want to.” She turned and slid an arm around his waist. “But look at them. They’re so happy reading together.”

Mark looked, shaking his head. “He’s just lying there. He isn’t even looking at the pictures.”

“That’s what Charity said the first tim603986_377554449000333_815996728_ne. Then Josie explained he likes to listen to her tell the story. Charity can’t actually read yet, of course, but she’s learning to share, to decipher from the pictures, and turn the pages. You should see Josie’s dog, Zoey, at the library, surrounded by children from toddlers through about second grade. They all crowd around and pet her, and take turns reading to her.”

“So if you send in Atlas’ paperwork and he becomes a therapy dog, what does that mean, exactly?”

“It means I can volunteer with him at a local school or library, where kids will do just what Charity’s doing now. Read out loud to the dog.”

“And they don’t realize he doesn’t understand?”

“Nope.” Joy chuckled. “You should have seen Atlas at his reading test. One little boy read a book about Little Pig Piglet, who couldn’t sleep. At the end of the story when he read that Little Pig Piglet finally fell asleep, Atlas flopped over on his side on top of the book as if he was falling asleep, too. So of course he must understand. He doesn’t really, of course, but the children are so excited about being the ones to read out loud, and the dogs are so non-judgmental, that they get better and better at reading when they read to a dog. And the dogs never correct them, I might add.”

Mark seemed skeptical.

“I guess you have to see it to understand.” She looked up into his eyes. “Josie had one boy who came in with his grandpa who told us he couldn’t read but would it be okay if he petted the dog? Josie said sure, of course, and he knelt down beside Zoey and began to talk to her, saying ‘Good dog. You’re a good dog.’ When we looked up at Grandpa he had tears in his eyes. I asked him if he was okay and he nodded and told us it was the first time his grandson had spoken in months – that he has autism and has difficulty talking to people. But not to the dog!”

Buy The Return of Joy from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

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.

Psychologist in desperate need of a guardian angel this Christmas

AngelToTheRescueCoverArt72dpiAngel to the Rescue Blurb:

Child psychologist Rachel Kelly isn’t quite sure how to handle the situation with her newest client — a six-year-old boy who says he can talk to angels and one is coming to help Rachel. She already has her hands full of trouble this Christmas season, and things quickly take a turn for the worse when a stalker crashes Rachel’s Christmas party and takes her young clients hostage.

Police negotiator, Lt. Jake Dillon, walked away from his fiancée Rachel when she suddenly balked at having kids. His kids. Yet when the hostage crisis erupts, Rachel calls Jake first. Now he has a choice to make — stand back and wait for the cavalry to save Rachel or step in and try to save her himself. Time is running out, and Jake may be their only chance for rescue.

Unless Rachel’s little angel-spying client is telling the truth…

Angel to the Rescue Excerpt:  Jay meets Sassy

The second Jay shut the outer office door, Sassy let loose a loud squawk and snagged the boy’s attention. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, and he craned his neck to see into Rachel’s office.

Olivia smiled, seeing that she’d guessed right. “We have a surprise for you today, Jay,” she said, as Rachel stepped out of her office. “A very special guest. I hope you like birds.”

“I do,” he said, almost quivering with excitement. “Where is it?”

“Her name’s Sassy, and she’s in here,” Rachel answered. “She’s my pet conure. I’m getting her toenails and wings clipped after work, so I brought her in today. Want to meet her?”

“Sure,” he said and quickly closed the distance to her office.

His eyes sparkled. This was the most emotion she’d seen in Jay since he first walked through her door. Striding past her, he made a beeline for the cage. Sassy blurted one quick squawk and scurried to the end of the perch closest to the boy.

“Love you. Love you,” the bird muttered.

His mouth dropped open. “She talks!”

Huddled together just inside the door, Rachel and Olivia both started laughing.

“Does she ever,” Rachel said, “and pretty soon you’ll wish she would shut up.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head, “not me.”

“Gimme a kiss,” the bird chirped, plain as day.

Jay’s eyes almost popped right out of his head. “Can I hold her?”

Rachel stepped swiftly to his side and put out a hand. “Wait just a second. We have to make sure she won’t nip you. Birds choose their friends, not the other way around. Birds like some people instantly, and some people they need a lot of time to get used to, and some people they just never get used to.”

“I can guess which one I am,” Olivia muttered.

“We’ll pop the top door rather than the side,” Rachel said, releasing the catch. The double doors covering the crest of the cage folded back, and Sassy leaped out of the opening to scramble for a perch on the top bars.

 “Don’t try to pick her up yet,” Rachel cautioned. “Inch a little closer and stay just out of reach. Let’s see what she does first.”

He followed directions, and the small green parrot scooted over close to him, muttering, “Love you,” as she went. All her feathers lay smooth against her body with nary a one plumped up. Clinging to the edge of the cage, Sassy telescoped her neck as far as she could in an attempt to reach Jay, which brought a spontaneous laugh from him. Undaunted, she continued straining to reach him and almost fell off the side of the cage.

“I think she may like you,” Rachel said quietly. “Lift your finger up near her, but be ready to move. If she leans toward you slowly with her beak open, she’s reaching for your finger to pull it in close enough for her to step up. If she lunges for you with her beak open, she’s going to bite.”

Taking a deep breath, Jay eased his right index finger up, higher and higher. His eyes danced with excitement.

The bird muttered one last “love you,” gently clamped onto Jay’s finger to pull it toward her, and stepped aboard. Little melodious notes suddenly filled the air as the bird made it clear she was delighted with her new ride. Moving his finger up near his shoulder, he allowed Sassy to disembark on firmer ground, much to Rachel’s delight.

McCarty_Petie_WebsiteImage“What do you know,” she said. “My bird likes you.”

“Can I hold her for a while?” he asked expectantly.

“Of course you can, but every fifteen minutes or so put her back on her cage for a few minutes. I’d hate to have her leave an accident on your shoulder. They’re gross.”

He laughed outright, his first full-hearted laugh since their sessions began.

She was ecstatic. “Why don’t you have a seat on the couch, and we’ll get started. Do you want a drink or anything?”

“No ma’am,” he said, a wide grin firmly implanted on his face.

As Olivia ducked out, Rachel closed the door and took a seat next to him, a little closer than normal in the off chance she needed to snatch Sassy at a moment’s notice.

“Does she say a lot of things?” he asked.

“About eight or nine phrases are all conures can manage. She has lots of noises though. Every time I reach for a tissue, when she’s on my shoulder, she makes tiny coughing sounds. Started doing that last month when I had a bad cold and coughed a lot.”

Jay shifted on the couch, and Sassy grabbed his shirt with her beak to hang on.

 “Remember, she’s not on her best behavior or her most talkative right now. She’s too excited about you holding her.”

Sassy the StarThe bird hadn’t stopped making little noises since Jay picked her up, little happy sounds that passed for imitations of them talking. “You’ve spent a lot of time with her, haven’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, we’ve gotten very close in the last few months. Sometimes Sassy makes me crazy, but I love her a lot. She’s my baby.”

He stared at Rachel for such a long time that she wondered if he would clam up again. Then out of nowhere, a deep slow smile slid across his face — a smile of pure contentment.

“Maybe you could ask your mom to get you a bird of your own.”

His body tensed, and his smile promptly faded.

Rachel waited patiently for him to respond.

As Jay was about to speak, Sassy chattered “love you” three times in a row and promptly skittered around onto the front pocket of his shirt, using her beak and claws to hold on.

Startled, he said, “What’s she doing?”

“She wants you to hug her.”

His eyes got as big as saucers.

“Put your right hand flat on your chest, fingers together and thumb straight up, and watch what happens.”

He did as instructed, and the little bird adeptly lowered one foot to his index finger while her beak clutched his shirt. With a stable foothold, she lowered the other foot to rest alongside. As soon as she was comfortable, she leaned back to look at Jay.

His grin returned, wider than before, and he tried to focus on the bird so close to his face. “Hi there,” he said softly.

“Use your other hand to pet her. Start at her head and go to her tail.” Rachel said softly. “It’s how I love on her when I hold her. She doesn’t let just anybody do this. You should feel honored.”

He followed her instructions, and the little bird made soft cooing noises as he stroked her. Captivated, he focused all his attention on the conure.

Rachel let out a sigh of relief. Thank you, Sassy.

A minute or so passed with Jay continually stroking the contented bird. Out of nowhere, he said, “My mom would have to ask my dad for permission to buy a bird, and she wouldn’t ask for something like that.”

A little surprised by his comment, Rachel said, “I know you said your father calls the shots at home, but why wouldn’t your mom ask for a bird for you?”

His grin disappeared. “She only asks for certain things. They have to be real special.”

Rachel knew not to mention Christmas presents since Jay had already said his family didn’t do much for the holiday. She chose her next words carefully. “But a bird for you would be very special. I still don’t see why she wouldn’t ask.” She waited so long for his answer, she wondered if it would ever come.

Finally, he turned to stare at Rachel. “She’s afraid of him.”

She felt a sick thud in the pit of her stomach. The boy watched her. Only his hand moved, stroking the contented bird. His eyes never blinked.

She chose her next words carefully. “It would help me to understand better if I know why your mother is afraid.”

He pondered her request, then turned away. He gazed out the window, still mechanically stroking the small green bird. Only Sassy’s periodic chirps broke the silence.

She took a deep breath and went back to her earlier question. “Why would your mother be afraid to ask him for a bird?”

Still no response. The hand stroking the bird picked up its pace.

She waited another few minutes, then prodded again. “Jay, why would your mother not ask for a bird?”

The stroking pace increased until Sassy’s head bobbed like a cork. No response.

One more try. “Jay, I…”

“Because he’d hit her!” he shrieked.

Squawk!

Startled by his outburst, poor Sassy snatched his index finger as it came over the top of her head.

“Ow!” he yelped and jerked his finger away.

Rachel cringed, fearful the boy might lash out at the parrot, but he kept still. The bird remained perched on his finger. Sassy settled down and waited for her stroking to resume. The boy sat still as stone.

Second-guessing the use of her own pet in this experiment, Rachel debated whether to move over and take the bird or leave her be. She waited a few moments to allow Jay to calm down. Tears trickled down both cheeks and onto his shirt.

She was treading delicate ground.

Help me, God — please.

A second later, Sassy muttered, “Love you.”

Jay’s left hand slowly moved back to the top of her head, a bit tentative as he attempted to stroke her. The tears continued to fall. His head stayed down.

Choking back her own tears, Rachel said softly, “I’m so sorry, Jay.”

His hand continued the repetitive stroking, Sassy again comfortable with her handling.

Rachel took a deep breath and calculated her options. She couldn’t afford to let this opportunity pass. If the wall built around his heart went back up, it may never come down again. She tuned into the boy’s movements and waited for the right moment.

“Does he hit you, too?”

The boy went completely still. The hand-stroking ceased. A slight shudder shook the boy’s frame and from beneath his bowed head, came a choked response. “Yes.”

She had to work fast. “Just a spanking or worse?” She kept her voice soft.

“Worse.”

“Does he beat you and your mother?”

A short sob racked his frame. “Yes,” he whispered.

“Jay, I can help you. Let me contact the authorities and have them put a stop to this.”

He turned a wild-eyed stare at her. “No!”

Sassy squawked at his shriek, but didn’t bite this time.

“If you tell, I’ll never talk to you again!” he cried.

She felt like a giant hand squeezed her heart. “Jay, please,” she pleaded.

“No! You can’t!” He glowered at her. “It’ll be worse. I have to protect Will.”

She fought hard for composure. Not getting personally involved was the hardest part about being a psychologist. She had to fight the natural impulse in order to help the patient, and this boy desperately needed her.

She steeled herself. “Jay, listen to me. Your father is wrong. He’s wrong to beat your mother, and he’s horribly wrong to beat you. You and your mother did nothing to deserve that. Do you hear me? Nothing! Something is wrong with your father to make him do that, but it’s not you!”

A minute passed. His hand moved toward the cage and set Sassy down.

Squawk!

The conure voiced her displeasure.

“Jay? Did you hear–“

The boy lurched sideways and threw himself into her arms, his body battered by gut-wrenching sobs.

Download and read the book today, Desert Breeze Publishing or Petie’s author page on Amazon where you can get her other great books as well.

Sassy Bird Steals the Show

Sassy the StarI love animals, so I was very excited with Author Petie McCarty sent her bird Sassy to the interview on her latest book. 

So Sassy, tell us about the book that released this week — a great Christmas read.

Hi! My name is Sassy, and I’m a Nanday conure — think of me as a height-challenged parrot. I live with my people, Petie and Patrick McCarty, and also a misbegotten English Springer spaniel that my people call Lily, who never stops sniffing around my cages. I’m not afraid of Lily, but Petie keeps telling me I should be. When I’m out and I sit on top of my cage, Petie mutters something that sounds like, “Don’t forget, she’s a bird dog.” Lily doesn’t want me though, she wants the seeds that fall out of my cage. But, I digress from my purpose here.

My special person, Petie, is a writer, and we spend hours together in our special room at the back of the house. There Petie sits at her desk and writes with her hand or types on a keyboard while I have fun on the play table Patrick made for me, which sits next to her desk. Petie says she’s working on her books, and she explains things to me when she stops for while because she’s “stuck” — whatever that means.

Well, one day several months ago, as I pushed my plastic ball around on my play table, Petie stopped typing and stared at me for a long time, longer than normal. So I said, “What’s wrong?” [But it came out “Hello, Baby” — which is one of the nine things she taught me to say that she really can understand, so I use them a lot.]

AngelToTheRescueCoverArt72dpiStill she stared at me, so I tried again. “What’s wrong?” [This time it came out “Love you” — another of my nine favorites]

She frowned at me and said, “I have to help the boy.”

I said, “What boy? We have a boy?” [This came out like my most-excited words, “Kiss, Baby!” because I could tell Petie was upset.]

When I said that, Petie grinned at me and then got real excited, too. She cried, “That’s it! Psychologists could use an animal to break through to a child, and I’ll use you!”

Me? Now I don’t know what a psychologist is, but I liked the sound of Petie using me for anything.

Well, Petie kissed me on top of my head — she does that a lot — and said, “Sassy, you’re going to be in my book!”

“In your book?” I cried. “But I like my cage and my play table!” [That was “Hello, Baby!” six times in row — I was worried.]

Petie didn’t hear me though. She turned back to her keyboard, and her fingers were flying. I watched for a while until I got bored — I get bored easy — and then I climbed the ladder up to my food pot on the play table to have a snack.

In case you’re interested, the book was released December 10, and it’s called Angel to the Rescue. Petie says it’s one of her Rescue Angel Romances where she hides an angel in her book. I think I’d like to meet one of Petie’s angels.

Anyway… check tomorrow and you’ll see what Petie calls a “blurb.” She says it will tell you a little about the story, and she put in an excerpt, but it’s really my scene in the book. In the scene, I meet Jay, one of the kids Dr. Rachel Kelly is counseling.

I really like the story, and Petie said she made me a star, which is okay with me as long as I don’t ever have to leave Petie.

So, readers, more tomorrow from Petie’s book, Angel to the Rescue — and if you can’t wait download it now from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

From Ireland to the New World — Pioneer Instinct

PioneerInstinctCoverArtEliza O’Malley and brother Allen travel from Ireland to join their father and brothers on an 1890s Wyoming homestead. Allen is almost destroyed during the voyage, but Eliza’s benefactors rescue them both from their father’s foolish carelessness and mounting debt.

When she has worked off her passage and built her own wealth, Eliza completes the journey, knowing that she has been called to fulfill her destiny as a Heartmark woman. She is immediately swept off her feet by the neighboring rancher Frank McGee. His sister Jude, her friend and business partner, harbors a secret that will nearly destroy the love between Eliza and Frank.

Clues from an ancient diary, the fierce intervention of animal helpers, and ancient artifacts play a part in the life of all Heartmark women, including Eliza. Will they be enough to overcome the horrible rumors spread by Jude and restore Frank’s love for her?

Excerpt

Could this man be the answer to her prayers? “Oh, sir, I am looking for someone to help me find my brother.” She turned to the door of the men’s quarters the man had just come out of, then turned back to him. “I haven’t seen him since we left port and I’m worried sick.”

The man blanched and alarm flashed across his face, then he gave her a gentle smile and she wondered if she’d imagined that first reaction.

He cast a quick look to the door of the men’s quarters, then cleared his throat and gave her his complete attention. “Well, tell me more about this brother of yours and we will see what we can do.”

Relief and hope eased the knot in Eliza’s stomach for the first time since her father had taken charge of Allen. “Oh, yes, thank you. His name is Allen O’Malley and he’s ten years old. He has dark hair and green eyes and is about this tall.” She put her hand at about her shoulder level. “He is thin and when I saw him last he was crying his heart out at having to leave home.”

A thin man, pale and looking worse for wear, pushed open the doors from the men’s quarters, heading to the rail of the ship. Eliza peered into the darkness below before the door slammed shut again. If only she could see him…

Her companion’s eyes followed hers.

“Tell you what, Lassie. You stand right here at the opening and call out his name. Tell him I’ll bring him to you. Maybe that will help me find him.”

Hope bloomed in her breast and she nodded eagerly. Mindful of his steps on the thin rope ladder, the stranger backed down into the darkness.

Mustering as much confidence as she could, she called out to her little brother. “Allen, I’m here. Come up on deck please. This nice man will bring you to me. Allen O’Malley, I’m waiting to see you, but I’m getting impatient. Do you want me to come down there after you?”

“Eliza?”

The call was so timid she almost missed it completely. Eliza fisted her hands to her chest to keep her heart from pounding its way outside her body. “Yes, Allen, it’s me. Let this nice man bring you up on deck with me and I’ll make sure you don’t have to go down there again.”

*****

Pale circles of light from the few lanterns which were hooked to the rafters were all James McWhorter had to guide him around the mass of humanity suffering from sea sickness below decks. He found the boy huddled in a corner. There was no lantern in this area, and it was too dark to be sure what he saw, but the smell was even worse in this corner. He put a handkerchief to his nose and tried to take shallow breaths. Feces, urine and – could it be blood? – crowded his nostrils and gagged him.

When James knelt beside the balled up little boy, his pant leg became wet with who knew what. “Son, are you all right?”

There was a sniff, followed by a long silence. “They– they hurt me. I’m scared.” The whispered, broken words tore at James’ heart.

Download now from Desert Breeze Publishing, where you can check out Books 1 and 2, Animal Instinct set in Missouri in the 1970s and Survival Instinct set in 2020 in San Francisco.timeaftertimeseries