A first kiss for Jen and Michael

Excerpt from Finding Her Voice:FindingHerVoiceCoverArt

“Are you as giddy as I am, Jen? I feel like a young lad with his first crush.”

“Yes, I am giddy. As much as we’ve talked, and as much as I’ve enjoyed our daily conversations, this is much, much nicer.” She took his arm and pulled him a little closer to her side. He put his arm around her waist, and she copied the gesture. They paced their steps to match.

“It is nicer, but I must admit I feel close to you whether we talk or not, walk or not. Since the first day we connected online I was drawn to you, you know.”

“You, too?” She stopped walking and he turned to look at her. Her face was radiant in the fading light.

He traced her jaw with one finger, needing to continue to touch her.

“Me, too. You captured my heart before we’d shared ten words.”

Was that a blush? Hard to tell between the naturally dark skin tone and the limited light.

“Is that a little crazy?”

He shook his head and attempted to explain. “I don’t think so. I think there are kindred souls in this world. People who know and understand each other instinctively, effortlessly. I suspect we are two such people. I marvel at the connection, the way I feel so comfortable and so at ease with you, the way you seem to understand what I try to say even if I stumble over my words.”

They stood a few inches apart. She stepped forward, closed the distance between them and placed her lips to his ear.

“And when you whisper in my ear, like this,” she murmured softly, “I get goosebumps — the good kind.”

He reached out with one hand firmly on her waist so she couldn’t lean away, and with the other, stroked her cheek. She leaned into his hand and looked into his eyes again, then closed her eyelids and parted her lips ever so slightly.

It was an unmistakable invitation, and he obliged very gently, dropped his mouth to hers, and moved lightly across. She increased the pressure ever so slightly, kissed him back. He was the one who pulled away. She opened her eyes and looked into his again.

Placing a hand on each side of her face, he stroked his thumbs over her high cheekbones. “Oh, Jen, luv, touching you is sweet. So sweet.”

She smiled ever so slightly and leaned in for another kiss. “Sweet indeed, sweet Michael,” she whispered and then kissed him again.

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First Kiss: Joy and Mark

joy coverExcerpt, The Return of Joy:

“New Mexican food isn’t quite like any other Mexican food, huh?” Mark took a bite of his and closed his eyes with an enraptured look on his face.

Joy giggled. “Look at us. You’d think we were starving. This food is amazing.” She wiped her lips with a napkin. “It isn’t too hot, but I can feel the tingle of the salsa on my lips.”

She hadn’t meant her words to sound provocative, but when Mark reached out one finger to touch the corner her mouth, she realized they may have come across that way.

He traced her lip to the other corner, his touch so light and gentle she caught her breath.

“I may have to check later and see how long that tingle lasts,” he whispered. He moved his gaze from her lips to her eyes. “I want to know how you taste. I’ve been wondering.”

He pulled his hand away, and immediately she craved his touch. She reached for his hand and squeezed it.

“We may need to do some mutual exploration,” she whispered back.

The sizzle of attraction became more potent whenever she touched him, so she held his hand a little longer. Until he began stroking it with his thumb. Until a Mariachi band strolled up to their table and broke the mood.

They played a loud, bouncing polka that rocked Joy’s mood from sensuous to frivolous, and when they finished the first number, Mark jumped to his feet and clapped. Unable to stop herself, Joy did the same. Then Mark leaned over and whispered something to the band leader, who nodded and passed the name of a song she didn’t recognize to the others. The trumpet on this tune was a little slower, butdreamstimefree_191246 still fun.

Mark grabbed her hand and pulled her closer for a dance. A few other couples followed their lead and took to the dance floor with quick, lively steps. Then Mark led Joy into a slower number as the tune changed, clasping one of her hands against his heart and circling his other arm around her waist.

As the song ended, he leaned in and brushed his lips across hers, then grinned. “I couldn’t wait. Hope you don’t mind.”

Her heart pounded with excitement at the gentle touch. “No, I don’t mind.”

She leaned toward him and captured his lips with her own, adding a little pressure, thrilling as the pace of his heart grew faster under her hand.

A few whistles and a light round of applause from the band drew their attention to the audience witnessing their first kiss.

Mark leaned close and whispered, “You’re blushing,” before leading her back to their seats.

Buy The Return of Joy at Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon today.

Paige and Joshua — the Sizzle of their First Kiss

“There you are.” Paige’s lilting voice gave Josh a rush of warmth and he grinned up at her from flat on his back on the ground, bumping his head on the corner of the tool shed as he sat up.dreamstimefree_3756336

“Ouch.” He rubbed the spot and with a rueful shrug, scooted out and brushed the back of his head to shake any leaves free. “You startled me. I was just finishing up.”

“What are you doing under there, anyway?” Paige leaned down to peer into the recess under the floor of the little building. “That doesn’t even look safe. I’d be afraid of bugs and snakes and other unnamed creepy crawlies.”

“Oh, they’re all gone now.” Josh reached under the building and felt around until he grasped his treasure. “Scared them away with the rake before I retrieved this.”

He pulled one of the rocks out and held it up for Paige to see.

Her gasp of joy pleased him. She reached for the crystal in his hand.

“I don’t believe it. However did you find this? It’s gorgeous.” She held it up, letting the sun reflect through it, flashing colors.

“Rose quartz, madam, if I don’t miss my guess. And there are more.” He reached back to the neat pile he’d gathered at the edge of the foundation and pulled out another stone. “This one is granite. It will be beautiful wet.”

She caught the idea immediately. “Maybe in the bird bath.” She dropped down in the grass to sit cross-legged beside him. Then she took the fist-sized rock, spit on it, and rubbed the spot. “Or if I ever build my waterfall.”

“If you build a little pond, you can fit all these in. Come take a look.” He continued scraping the rocks from the pile forward, bringing one after another into the light. This was his first good look at them, and he gave a low whistle. “This isn’t just a pile of rocks. It was someone’s collection once upon a time. I think this is jade.”

He gathered three non-descript ones with similar surfaces and dropped them into Paige’s lap. “Here are some geodes. If you crack them open, you’ll find jagged crystals inside. Here, this one is open.”

They moved their heads closer together as they handled the hollow crystal and sorted through others. Paige looked up, and Josh found her eyes, blue and sparkling with joy, only inches from his. He could get lost in those eyes. The light in them was clear and bright and eager. He didn’t want to look away, but she broke the gaze.

A blush crept up her neck, and she shifted a little farther from him. “You seem to know a lot about rocks.”

“I was an avid collector as a kid. My mom makes jewelry and always had lots of rocks around for her work.” He picked up a purple crystal and held it out to her.

She opened her palm.

He dropped it into her hand and let his fingers trail across her wrist before he moved them away.”That one was always my favorite. It’s an amethyst. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Amethyst is my birthstone.” Hcrystal3er voice was low, almost a whisper, and filled with a kind of awe that touched him to the core.

“You have a February birthday, then.” He frowned a minute, pulling words from a deep memory. “It is a crystal known for cleansing the aura, enhancing spiritual awareness, and…”

He struggled to remember the rest. Then he remembered and swallowed. “And attracting loving energy. It suits you.” Loving energy emanated from Paige.

“It is beautiful.”

He looked at her face, the perfection of her skin, slightly pink and so touchable, and he reached out one finger and ran it down her cheek. Electricity crackled up his arm.

“Yes, it is.” He stopped at her mouth, shifted so his thumb was there instead, and hooked his finger under her chin. Then he lifted her eyes to his. “Beautiful,” he repeated.cover for on line ad

Her breathing picked up, and his own grew rapid and shallow, matching his speeding heart. He struggled to remember that he’d only seen this woman once before. He barely knew her, but somehow that didn’t compute. The only thought he could process was how her lips would feel under his. He leaned forward for a little taste and found her lips parted ever so slightly and her breath tasting of cinnamon. She shifted a little closer.

She tasted of everything good and right in the world. Cinnamon and vanilla and honey. He moved his lips slowly, carefully, taking his time, giving her time to draw back or not, to do what she wanted and needed to do.

Her hand came up to his face and she angled in, deepening their kiss and stealing his reserve. Her fingers tested the feel of his hair, the stubble on his face, and then her tongue flicked the corner of his mouth.

Had he moaned out loud? He needed to press closer. He put his arm around her shoulder and shifted so their bodies touched as he pulled her against him.

They both broke off and pulled back, she with a giggle, and he with a muffled curse, as the pointed edges of the rock collection dug into his hip.”Dratted rocks.”

The pile he’d pulled out for her viewing pleasure made a decidedly unpleasant place to lounge for a first kiss. His gaze darted up to meet hers, and he burst into laughter as she covered her mouth and smothered her own chuckles. Her eyes danced, filled with joy in the craziness of the moment.

Get your copy of More Than A Job today from my publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, or from Amazon.

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.

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.