Celebrating book release with a chance to win!

OutOfAgonyCoverArtOut of Agony now available!

I am so excited about the release of Book Four in the Starting Over Series. I hope you are, too.

We are celebrating with some great prizes including an Amazon gift card, a Starbucks/Teavana Gift Card and a free download of one of the other books in this series.

Comment here and enter for a chance to win

About this book: Brian Van Pelt has barely survived an anguished year of loss, hiding his sorrows under the facade of a cool and uncaring attorney. Not able to deny his grief any long, heartache drives him to collapse and his life takes an unexpected turn.

When Jessie Ingram comes to work at his law firm, she is intrigued by the conflicting darkness of Brian’s behavior and the tender inconsistencies that hint at something deeper within him.

Despite her interest, she has her own pain, supporting her niece Sara, who is has a virulent cancer with aggressive treatments that take such a toll they would not be worth it — except they are Sara’s only hope of survival.

Will life’s hardships bring Brian and Jessie together? Will they be able to heal and possibly find love?

Excerpt:

Will caught Jessie’s gaze. “Sorry that meltdown came now, of all times. Looks like you may be on your own with Adams, unless something changes very soon.” He bent down and picked up the papers on the floor. When he straightened he handed them to her.

“Sir, may I ask what that was all about?”

“You may, but it isn’t my story to tell. Let’s just say Brian had more than his share of personal sadness in the last year and it’s finally caught up with him.”

“Okay, I understand. But, sir, as I tried to tell Van Pelt, I can’t find the files and depositions from his earlier work. Would it be okay if I looked around in his office? If he isn’t here…”

“You’re right, we can’t wait much longer.” With a short nod, Will headed to Brian’s office, unlocked the main door, and another one in the back of the room — a storage closet?

“Thank you, sir.” Her boss left for his office and closed the door. She looked around the room. Sterile, too neat. Maybe the files in his desk drawers would reveal more.

Brian’s desk chair sat oddly positioned. Not to one side as one would leave it naturally after rising from it, but pushed back against the desk and perfectly centered in the opening. As she had done the day before, Jessie pulled it out and perched on the edge of the too-tall chair. She opened the file drawer on the left, and found it empty. How very strange. She turned to the other side of the desk, and opened the top utility drawer. Empty, too. The bottom drawer held only one thin file, unlabeled. She pulled it out and placed it on the desk. She opened it to find what she least expected.

The picture of a little girl smiled up at her. She was probably around kindergarten age, judging by the one missing front tooth. Was Brian Van Pelt a father? She turned to the next sheet and found a crayon picture of a house, three people and a dog. The people were labeled Mommy, Daddy and Trudy in a child’s crayoned letters. The dog was Ollie. Beside the house was a big tree with a swing hanging from it.

She put the folder back into the drawer and turned to the closet. She didn’t mean to be nosy about his personal life. Will said he’d recently divorced. All the personal connections were probably damaged or at least fragile, even with his little girl. Still, it was mind boggling that he didn’t have a single work paper in his desk. He must have work files somewhere.

She opened the closet door and gasped at the sight of open file drawers, some no longer in the frame but tipped on their sides against the marred walls as if someone had thrown them there. It would take great strength to throw a full file drawer. Papers spread everywhere. She looked over her shoulder at the compulsively neat office, and back at the devastation before her. Could these contrasting areas be the workspace of the same man? It was incomprehensible. How could the cold, calculating, maybe even mean man be the man who saved the kindergarten photo and drawing in the place closest to him?

Download now and read the rest of this story.

 

First Kiss – Brian and Jessie

“How about a walk now?” Jessie smiled up at him. “It is a beautiful evening. If you let me drop the food in my car and pick up my jacket, I’d love to walk around the plaza.”

“Perfect.” He claimed her free hand in his and they walked out into the gentle spring night.

After he settled the jacket around her shoulders, he buttoned the top button for her. He reached for one of the curls around her face. It was soft and springy to his touch, just as he’d imagined.

“Naturally curly or cuOutOfAgonyCoverArtrling iron?”

“Naturally curly.” She winked at him. “When you meet the rest of the family you will see it is definitely in the genes.”

He’d like to meet her family someday.

He stroked her cheek with one knuckle. She was so beautiful. She watched his eyes as he moved his hand down to her chin. He tipped her face a little closer to his. Her rosy pink lips parted slightly. They simply begged for a kiss and he couldn’t resist. He dropped his lips to hers, continuing the soft, gentle theme of their evening. Her lips were warm and smooth under his. He brushed them lightly and pulled back a bit so he could see her response.

She reached up to cradle his face between her hands, sinking her fingers into his beard, and pulled his face closer. She kissed him back, a sweet, warm, caring kiss.

Her touch soothed the pain in him somehow. She broke the kiss and looked at him. Tears swam in her eyes. “It’s today, isn’t it?”

For a heartbeat he wasn’t sure what she was asking, but connected the tears with his own grief and nodded.

“I thought so. Thank you for sharing this day with me. How difficult that must have been.”

“Not as much as you might think. Want to take a stroll while I tell you about it?”

Buy Out of Agony from Amazon.com or Dessert Breeze Publishing. Available July 21.

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.

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.

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

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..