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  Outlaw Hearts 

  A Long Walk Home

  Winner Takes All

 

 

Mixed Blessings

Getting Personal

    

Excerpt from "Outlaw Hearts"

Her words comforted him. "You might as well come clean with  me. You  want my metal, and I'm not about to let you have it unless you tell me the truth.

"You won't tell anyone?"

"I'm a dead man, Bekah."

She flinched at his harsh words. "Years ago I found this hidden in my doll back home in England ." She reached for the chain around her neck and pulled out a charm similar to his. "My parents were missionaries in America some twenty years ago. I think they found something of value, possibly buried it, and hid the directions on the halves of our medallions in hopes of returning later for the treasure. How long have you had your half?"  

He scratched his chin. "I've had it for a spell." 

Her eyes widened. "I don't understand why my parents would cut the medallion in two and not keep both pieces."

"Maybe they lost the other half."

"That's possible." She exhaled a short breath. "Now will you sell me your half of the medallion?"

He cupped her chin, ran his thumb over her smooth skin, and enjoyed seeing her pupils widen. "If you do me one small favor, I'll give you my half."

"Name it, Mr. Thompson," she replied, her voice ringing with excitement. 

"Help me to break out of jail, and it's yours."   

 

   

Excerpt from "A Long Walk Home"

Below us in the marina, cruisers and sailboats in their slips swayed as gentle waves washed ashore. The smell of salt, seaweed, and fish permeated the air. In the distance seagulls cawed and a bell buoy clanged.

A light breeze ruffled my hair as I leaned back and thought with satisfaction about my promotion. I'd worked hard and deserved this. But a person didn't always get what he/she deserved. I'd lucked out. My life was on a steep uphill path, and I'd equipped myself for the climb. Even my relationship with Tony was about to take a major turn. We loved each other. I was happy. Only now, I'd have to tell my mother-in-law, Violet, about him.

"Hey, why the long face?" Mallory asked.

"I was thinking about how everything is clicking into place, except… " I sucked in my lower lip, a bad habit I'd tried unsuccessfully to stop. "I'm meeting Violet tomorrow to break the news that Tony is moving in."

"You're an adult, and you don't owe your mother-in-law an explanation," Mallory pointed out.

"Yes I do. She's been like a mother to me since my mom moved away. She's the only family I've got. And I don't want to hurt her, but I can't put off telling her about Tony any longer. She'll never approve of my seeing another man. And to her we'll be living in sin."

Mallory rolled her eyes. "No one thinks like that any more."

"You haven't met Violet. She's a staunch Catholic and very old fashioned."

Carrie looked thoughtful. "Too bad you didn't tell her about Tony months ago."

"I tried, but each time I'd start to tell her, she'd interrupt and say something about Paul. She worships her son's memory, and to hear her talk you'd think he died yesterday. She isn't ready to hear I'm with another man."

Mallory straightened. "Tell her what a jerk her precious son was."

"I couldn't do that to her."

Carrie ran a finger over the condensation on the side of her glass. "This might be the wakeup call she needs to accept Paul's death and go on with her life."

"Maybe," I said, doubting that would happen.

Violet would never give her blessing to Tony and me living together. Not that I needed her approval, but even before Paul's death we'd formed a strong bond and a friendship that until now, I'd thought indestructible.

 

   

Excerpt from "Winner Takes All"

"Who gets the master bedroom?" a reporter asked.

"Since I drew the first winning ticket, it's only fair I get the bed," Thomas said with what he hoped was a cocky smile. "That is unless Ms. Brown has other ideas."

Karen's cheeks glowed a delicate pink.

He was sure of himself. Any minute, she'd turn tail and run. The motor home would be all his. Looking flustered, she stole a glance at him.

He threw her a lecherous grin. "Of course, I'm more than willing to share."

He congratulated himself for rendering her speechless. Glancing at his watch, he calculated she wouldn't last another ten minutes.

The female reporter who had questioned him earlier approached Karen. "Do you have a battle plan for surviving the weeks ahead with this chauvinistic Neanderthal?"

Exchanging sympathetic looks with the woman, Karen replied, "I've brought my troops along to help me win the fight."

It took less than a fraction of a second for her words to sink into Thomas' skull. "Your troops? These are your kids?"

"No."

Relieved, he released a slow breath.

 

   

Excerpt from "Mixed Blessings" (now titled Getting in Deep)

Chapter One

“Freedom!” I swung my arms triumphantly and smiled at my best friend, Jeannine Lessard.

Jeannine adjusted the wreath of carnations on my head. “I bet you’ll miss your mother.”

“Never, nada, no way, not on your life.”

“Three months is a long time.”

“Not long enough.” I stole a peek at myself in the mirror. My lacquered curls were subdued with enough hairspray to withstand gale force winds. Strands of fuchsia beads hung around my neck over a lacy white peasant blouse. My pink toenails peeked from open-toed leather sandals, beneath the hem of a crimson, floral sarong.

The door to my bedroom burst open, and in rushed my mother in a matching lime-green outfit. “I wasn’t this nervous when I married your father.” She paced the length of the room, nodded at Jeannine, and regarded me. “Monique, you’re beautiful. That color does wonders for your pale complexion. While I’m in Europe, I’ll keep my eyes opened for clothing that’ll add pizzazz to your wardrobe.”

“Thanks.” I somehow refrained from rolling my eyes.

She wrenched her hands. “I’m a wreck. I should have eloped.”

“It’s a little late to think of that now. Our relatives and friends are waiting at the church.” I was pleased with my reply. No one would say Monique St. Cyr, maid of honor and devoted daughter, had ruined her mother’s wedding.

When I glanced at my reflection in the mirror, my resolve weakened. I was ready to rip the idiotic-looking flowers from my hair.

My years of parochial schooling surfaced. Angelic nudge on my right shoulder. It won’t kill you to go along with your mother’s wishes.

The familiar stronger tap on my left shoulder. But enough’s enough.

“The wreath has to go,” I said, loosening a hairpin.

My mother issued a long-suffering sigh. “If you feel you must, then go ahead and take it off, but it’ll ruin the effect.”

Guilt-ridden, I dropped my hands to my side and nodded in agreement.

She tucked a stray curl behind my ear. “Close your eyes, dear, you could use a little more hair spray.”

A thick scented cloud formed over my head.

“I’ll worry about you while I’m gone,” she said with a sniff.

Through a perfumed haze, I squinted at my mother. “Have a good time. I’ll be fine.” I frowned so she wouldn’t guess how happy I was she was going. I loved her dearly, but some distance would do wonders for our relationship.

No more listening to her advice for my own good.

No more tips on makeup and clothing.

Ninety glorious days!

“I’ll miss you, Mom, but I want you to have the time of your life.” I certainly will.

She fidgeted with a folded piece of paper. “This is our itinerary in case you need to reach me. Also, I’ve written a few important things I’d like you to do for me while I’m gone.” She slipped the paper under the jewelry box on my bureau.

“I won’t need to reach you, and I’ll take care of every detail on your list.”

“I feel better, dear,” she said with a wobbly smile.

“Do you want me to read what you’ve written in case I have any questions?”

“We don’t have time now, dear. The limousine will be here any minute.”

I hugged my mother in a heartfelt embrace.

“E-mail, I’m taking along my laptop. Of course, I’ll be busy with Frank so don’t expect me to reply right away. A bride has to take care of her new husband.”

“Mother!”
* * * * *
As we stood in the church vestibule, Matthew and Mark, my five and six year old nephews, tugged at my skirt.

Mark stretched the elastic band of his bow tie and let it snap against the collar of his white dress shirt. “You know what, Auntie Monique, we’re wearing monkey suits.” My brother, Thomas, chuckled under his breath.

I shot Thomas a you-should-be-ashamed look and patted Mark’s head. “Your father might look like a baboon, but you’re handsome in that tuxedo.”

“Me, too.” Matthew pulled the bow tie like a slingshot.

“Yes,” I said, kissing his cheek. “You’re a good looking dude.”

My mother peeked outside. Cold January air filtered into the room. “Your grandfather and your Aunt Lilly should have been here hours ago.”

“I was surprised they decided to drive all the way from Texas instead of flying,” I said, shutting the door so we wouldn’t freeze.

“They wanted a chance to see the sights, and your aunt wanted to practice her driving.”

“Did Aunt Lilly finally get her license?”

“No, the examiner walked behind the car and instructed her to switch on the lights. While squeezing her rabbit’s foot, she twisted the key and tried to put the car in drive. She mistook the gas pedal for the brake and slammed her foot down. Your grandfather’s ‘55 Oldsmobile bolted in reverse. Thankfully, the examiner dove onto the trunk or who knows what might have happened.” My mother sighed. “Poor Lilly might never get her license.”

“It’s probably for the best.”

“Your aunt says just sitting behind the wheel of any car gives her a bad case of the vapors.”

I shook my head. “Vapors?”

“Dizzy, fainthearted.”

“No one talks that way.”

“Your aunt does,” my mother pointed out. “Anyway, she’s a lot less self-reliant than us. Though Lilly is younger than I am, she’s always acted older, maybe because she spent so much time taking care of our mother. I don’t want you to give her a hard time while she’s here. And remember, Lilly has very tender feelings.”

“Sheesh, I’m not a kid. I know how to act.” Dealing with my aunt would require all the patience I could muster.

Perpetual blush on her pale cheeks, Aunt Lilly didn’t laugh, but instead uttered a high-pitched tee-hee-hee that grated on my nerves. She fluttered gloved hands nervously about her face whenever men were present. An odd duck, I thought, but I kept my opinion to myself.

“Between you and me, I’ve never met anyone as superstitious. It’s hard to believe the two of you are sisters.”

“Your aunt has a few idiosyncrasies.”

Clearly, an understatement.

“We should have brought along the hair spray.” My mother toyed with a curl along the side of my face. “Lilly’s a dear, and there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. I only wish you two had an opportunity to get to know each other better.”

“That is too bad,” I said, frowning convincingly.

“You mean it?” my mother asked.

“Of course.”

Angelic tap on my right shoulder. Sin alert—telling lies in church!

Tiny white lies, I countered to myself and expected a bolt of lightning to pierce my heart as I continued, “Anyway, I’ll make the most of our short time together, but it’s too bad Aunt Lilly and Gramps live so far away.” I said a fervent prayer of thanks for small favors.

My mother smiled with satisfaction. “This marriage is truly a mixed blessing.” She ticked off on her fingers. “A husband for me, a stepfather for you, and as a bonus, you get to visit with your aunt and your grandfather.”

Spending time with my aunt was small peanuts compared to being with my grandfather. Partially deaf, with an eye for the ladies, Gramps whispered inappropriate comments in loud tones while my aunt tried to quiet him, tee-hee-heed, and fluttered her hands. The two together for prolonged periods would send me to the loony farm. But I could put up with my relatives for a short while.

“Thomas, maybe you should call the state police and ask whether there are reports of an accident on the turnpike,” my mother said, nodding toward my brother.

Matthew dipped his fingers in the holy water font and sent a spray of water over his brother. Thomas settled a firm hand on his youngest son’s shoulder and dabbed Mark’s face with a white handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. “I already checked. There’ve been no accidents.”

“Gramps is a careful driver,” I reminded my mother so she’d stop worrying. Truth was, Gramps was a threat to everyone on the road. When conditions were optimum, he revved up the Olds to a whopping thirty-five mph. I pictured a line of traffic from Kittery to Portland as he straddled both lanes and crawled along, oblivious to the blaring horns and arm gestures behind him. And God help us all if Aunt Lilly was behind the wheel.

The organ resonated with the first chords of Here Comes the Bride.

My mother yanked the door open for one last look. “I’ll just feel better when they arrive.”

“Stop worrying,” I said.

She dashed a tear from the corner of her eye. “I’ll miss you while I’m gone.”

“Same here,” I said.

Mark and Matthew started down the aisle, holding satin pillows with fake rings attached to crimson and green bows. I came next on wobbly legs, my fingers wrapped around a bouquet of pink carnations.

When I reached the front of the church, I turned. Though my brother would never hear it from me, he looked gorgeous in his black tuxedo as he escorted my mother down the aisle.
Truly a radiant bride, my mother walked toward her future husband. The instant their eyes met, their faces glowed with love. My mother brushed past me and reached for Frank’s extended hand.

Some time later everyone hushed as the bride and groom exchanged vows. Even my nephews were silent. My emotions churned as I watched the happy couple. I could be next. A ripple of anxiety shot through me.

Jake Dube, the love of my life, had proposed. And I’d said yes. I still wanted to get married, but not within a year as I’d promised. I needed more time to build my career as an investigative reporter. Somehow, I had to make Jake understand.

I also had mixed feelings about my mother getting married. She could be a real pain in the neck, but she was my pain in the neck. We’d grown close over the years, and until now, I hadn’t had to share her with anyone. Our relationship would drastically change. She’d always be my mother, but a big part of her would now belong to Frank.

I dabbed a tear from the corner of my eye.

Our pastor, Father Willingham, smiled down at my mother and Frank. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.

” The door to the vestibule opened and shut. “Hot damn, Lilly, did you take a gander at that little filly!”

“Shussssh, tee hee hee.”

My mother looked visibly relieved.

You can do this, you can do this, you can do this, I chanted to myself. I was a grown woman. I could deal with Gramps and Aunt Lilly for a few days.

A week at the most!

 

   

Excerpt from "Getting Personal"

My mother wrote erotic fiction under the penname, Busty Galore, a misnomer because unlike me her shoulder blades protruded more than her breasts. I loved her dearly, but she had a way of butting into my life. Plus, her 20/20 eyesight and keen ears were capable of seeing and hearing only what she wanted.

As she clicked onto the personals, apprehension sliced through me.

"Look at it this way, by helping me, you'll help yourself too." She checked the box in front of men looking for women, then continued down the column, ages 28-40, built athletic, average, or slightly overweight.

I swallowed past the lump in my throat. "The last time I got involved in one of your schemes I ended up knee deep in mudflats with bullets whizzing over my head."

"That clam digger sure got edgy when he thought you were staking claim to his territory." My mother laughed. "Anyway, everything turned out fine once I explained I was gathering information for a book I was writing. Besides, that was so long ago, I'm surprised you still remember."

"How can I forget! My boots were suctioned in muck. I ran barefoot, pursued by a wild-eyed man toting a sharp clam fork and shouting obscenities. I'm lucky I wasn't killed."

"You exaggerate," she said sweetly. "Besides, I thought he was kind of cute. And thanks to you, I got enough material to write my book, which I've already sold for a considerable sum, I might add. If you hadn't been so crabby, I bet he'd have asked you out."

"The man was a lunatic!"

"Once he calmed down, he seemed nice enough."

"I refuse to discuss this again." I smacked my lips shut.

My mother turned back to the computer.

I was twelve years old when my father died. My mother worked two jobs, often doing without so my brother, Thomas, and I could wear the right clothes and fit in with the other children at Saint Joseph's Parochial School. We owed her big time. Unlike me, my brother made himself scarce, which didn't matter because it was a Catholic daughter's duty to assist her "poor decrepit mother"—her words, not mine.

Ten years ago my mother sold her first book, and much to the family's surprise became an overnight success. Unfortunately, each time she coaxed me into helping her, something backfired.

I rolled my eyes. "I absolutely refuse to root around in dirt, scale buildings, or anything else that might do bodily harm."

"There'll be no bullets this time. No mud either. This is very safe, and you'll enjoy yourself." She eyed me warily. "You really need to go out more."

"Humph," I muttered, knowing I'd already lost this battle.

"Look, mom, I know you mean well, but I'm happy, really."

"Keep your phony baloney for someone else. I know you're lonely, and I've found the perfect solution."

I groaned. If she heard, she didn't let on.

My mother clicked several categories. Checkmarks filled small boxes. A list of screen names appeared. "Here we are, dear, males for the picking, just like ripe fruit off a tree."

A wormy apple sprang to mind. I shook my head in disbelief.

"The internet is a viable way to meet the opposite sex."

It finally sunk in. "You expect me to talk to men online?"

"Yes, and once you get to know them, you'll tell me all about your conversations. Of course, you'll go on dates with a few of our favorites and then report your results."

She beamed an innocent smile. "Who knows, you might even find the man of your dreams."

I glanced at the screen names on the monitor: Studman, MusclesManiac, I'veGotIt, Babemagnet, and Willin&Able. I turned to my mother. "You can't be serious?"

"I'd like to submit an ad with your profile and a recent picture. That'll allow me to learn what type of man prowls the Internet for love."

"There's no way in hell…"

 

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