Mike’s First Impressions of the Grown Up Winter

Survival Instinct — Book 2 of the Time After Time Saga, is set in the future in San Francisco.SurvivalInstinctCoverArt

Because Mike and Winter have known each other all their lives, there isn’t exactly a first meeting scene, but here is their first grown-up meeting:

Mike found her at her captain’s desk. The blue light of the flashlight reflected off the no-glare, paper-white computer monitor and showed her face, casting sharp shadows over the planes and valleys of her features. Her pin light was clenched in her teeth, and she murmured around it, likely speaking into her neural cell memo pad.

Not giving himself time to overthink, or her a chance to notice she was no longer alone, he sprung, taking her down to the floor with a forearm to the front of her neck and an arm around her tiny waist.

She had not seen him coming.

He reached inside her jacket and unclipped her weapon from its holster, pulling it out and shoving it into the waist of his jeans at the small of his back.

The pin light landed with a loud clang on the tile floor and its light popped, leaving the small office in complete darkness.

Mike had the advantage, of course, not only having surprise on his side, but his size and the fact he could see whereas Winter was blind.

Nether spoke, only fought.

Mike’s view of her glowed green with his night vision contacts. Her body moved like poetry in motion, her focus was absolute, her chin set and determined. Blind or not, she fought him like a wild cat. Her Tai-Chi was expert, she was clearly using the sound of his breathing to ‘see’ him and landed some outright painful hits and major kicks to his body with her size five combat boots before he’d had enough and slammed his full weight on her, pinning her to the floor.

“I have a name!” she shouted. “Call J. D. off from my grandmother now!”

Mike stilled.

What?

“I’ve already logged Baker’s name in my memo pad, and set up automatic email delivery of it from my Neural cell.” she tried to knee him. “My Neural stops transmitting, those emails will hit every law enforcement agency and news station on the west coast.”

Her eyes narrowed. He knew she could not see him but that didn’t stop her from glaring, then her full lips pulled into a smirk and admiration welled within him for her courage and nerve.

“You are so screwed,” she scoffed. “You guys dropped the ball bringing J.D. within your corrupt little fold. He’s weak. You know he’s your teams’ weak link, that’s probably why you put him on granny duty. It won’t take anytime at all during interrogation for the threat of penal colony 867 to get to him. I can see it now. He turns on all of you to keep himself earth bound!”

Pieces of the puzzle fell into place while she yelled. Yes, he’d seen her talking to the key suspects this past week, but from what she was saying now, thinking she was being attacked by one of the bad guys, it was glaringly clear she had known about the corrupt cops and had been chatting them up to get a handle on who all was involved, the same as he had been.

Knowing what he did of the Parkers’ little girl, she likely planned to take down the rogue cops single-handedly.

He squared his shoulders, clinched his teeth in determination. She wouldn’t have to now. No, now she had him in her corner. Although, she didn’t know it yet, they would somehow gather the evidence they needed to positively confirm the identity of the twelve preps he’d tagged, and stop them in their dirty tracks.

Relief her impromptu speech had cleared her as a suspect distracted him. Mike swallowed as she continued to thrash beneath him, his body responded accordingly even though his mind was far removed from the physical.

Winter Parker was a victim, not a villain.

Against all odds, her grandmother had somehow become another victim.

Their interest in Winter and her grandmother didn’t make any sense that he could see.

It was high time he asked her what was going on.

“Listen to me, Winter,” he hissed in her ear. “We don’t have much time before they override your block on the doors.”

She went perfectly still and quiet.

He pressed his advantage, easing his weight off her just a bit. “We need to talk, and I think it’s in both our best interests if we are not found here together until we compare notes.”

She frowned at him, her eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

Sounds of doors unlocking clicked through the building, the lights flickered then snapped on.

He blinked twice to set his contacts into normal mode and Winter, her ice blue eyes haunted and huge, stared unblinking at him.

His lips pulled into a half smile. “It’s Mike, Winter, Mike Hunter. And we’ve got to get out of here.”

First meeting — Sean and Dr. Al

   Dog inspection Doctor Al was a woman. That was the first thing that registered. She was petite, with very small but competent hands examining King’s body. “Carol has given your dog a dose of an
antihistamine to quiet what appears to be an allergic reaction.” She flicked her gaze to him.     “How long ago did this bite or sting happen?”
Her presence was calming. He shook away the tears that formed in his eyes at the thought of how close he’d come to losing his partner, his best friend. “Only a few minutes.” He cleared
his throat in an effort to dislodge the fear and grief clogging it. “Maybe ten minutes ago. I was a couple of blocks from here, and figured it was faster to run in than to risk going home for my
car.” He looked down at his running sweats, gave her what he hoped was an apologetic grin. “I know I stink and I don’t have any I.D. with me.” Embarrassed heat warmed his cheeks. “Or
money, because we were out running. But I don’t live far,” he assured her with a quick gesture of his hands. He hoped he could count on small town acceptance. “As soon as we have this situation
under control I’ll go get them.”
She nodded, continuing her examination. “Has this ever happened before?” When he shook his head she added, “Looks like there is only the one sting. What’s your dog’s name?”
He slid a glance to his dog. “King Solomon, but I just call him King.” At the sound of his name King raised his head, then got to his feet on the exam table, standing eye level with him
and a head taller than the doc. He leaned in and licked at his master’s face. Sean laughed, partly in relief, partly in the surging joy that his dog really would be okay. He put his arm around
King’s neck and the dog rested his chin on his shoulder.
Doctor Al lowered the stethoscope and looked into his eyes, and his breath locked in his lungs when he realized how beautiful she was. Auburn hair brushed her shoulders and framed
her face, and eyes the color of the bluest sky met his. His knees went weak. He swallowed.
A hint of pink touched her cheeks and she averted her gaze from him back to King. “I’d like to watch him for a couple of hours, make sure we don’t have any further reaction.” With
gentle fingers, she touched King’s face above the swollen eye. “I also want to clean this wound once the swelling has gone down, make sure we have the stinger and that we don’t risk infection.
Can you come back after lunch?”
Sean nodded. He usually didn’t have so much trouble thinking of something to say, but Doctor Al left him speechless. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have a break at work around 2:00.
Would that be okay?”
She nodded. “I’m sure that will work. Check with Carol at the front desk before you go.”
She smiled, and dimples appeared on both sides of her mouth. Kissing dimples. Where that thought came from, he had no idea, but he wanted to brush his lips against those smooth
cheeks, flick his tongue into the little crevasses and claim them, claim her, as his own. He shook his head, a wry smile touching his lips. Boy, oh boy, he had it bad.
She had been so serious before now. Then that smile, wow, it hit him in the gut with joy.
She started to turn away and he wondered how he could get her to stay just another minute. As if she heard his mind call out to hers, she turned, tilted her head a little, and put out
one hand. It shook, just a bit, and his heart sang. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the only one affected by this — whatever it was which had tossed him into a sea of want — of need.
“In our hurry to get King taken care of we didn’t introduce ourselves. I’m Allison Green.” He engulfed that dainty hand in his own. It was cool, smooth, and soft. “Sean Barnett. I’m
more glad to meet you than I can ever say.” He covered their joined hands with his other hand, hoping to warm her a little, hoping to keep her close just a moment more. “Thank you so much,
Doctor Allison Green.”
There was that smile again, those irresistible kissing dimples winking out at him. “You are very welcome, Sean Barnett.” She took the end of King’s leash, which dangled from his
collar. “See you in a few hours. King, come. Heel.” King didn’t look back, just dropped down to the floor from the exam table and meekly followed the Doc without even waiting for a release
command from Sean. She did have a way with animals.

Download Animal Instinct, the first of the Time After Time Saga, from Desert Breeze Publishing or Amazon.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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

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.

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