Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Judi Moreo Author of You Are More Than Enough

Join motivational speaker Judi Moreo, author of the self-help and motivational book, You Are More Than Enough: Every Woman's Guide to Purpose, Passion, and Power, as she virtually tours the blogosphere in July on her first virtual book tour! Judi Moreo is a leading authority in the areas of communication and motivation. She has conducted consulting assignments, training workshops, seminars and keynote speeches in 26 countries on 4 continents. She has coached countless business leaders worldwide on issues of corporate change, cultural diversity and conflict management.

This is the first chapter of her book -

Realize who you are.

“No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he has arrived at his present place.” Maya Angelou Poet, Educator, Historian.

Why is it that having confidence in ourselves and our abilities is so hard? Why do many of us have the tendency to over estimate other people's abilities and power and under estimate our own? Why are we so concerned with what other people will think about us?

If we are to understand these things, we need to understand first why we think, feel and act the way we do. We need to understand why and how we have become who we are as well as why we react or respond in certain ways. When we understand ourselves, we can either accept the way we are or make changes so we will be able to accept ourselves.

What we believe and accept about ourselves determines our behavior and performance. These, in turn, create our results and our results affect our confidence levels.

We behave in accordance with our beliefs about ourselves. If we have self-limiting beliefs, we will have self-limiting behaviors. If we have self-empowering beliefs, we will have self-empowering behaviors. In other words, if you think you can, you can and if you think you can't, you can't. If you think you can, you will find a way. We perform as well as we believe we are capable of performing.

Most of our beliefs about ourselves have come from outside sources: people, education and experiences. Many of us have allowed the opinions of others to become our opinions of ourselves. We've listened to people tell us we are incompetent, inadequate, unworthy, bad or stupid. We've internalized, processed and often believed what others have told us.

There is a direct correlation between the quality of your relationships and your levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. If you're like most people, how you feel about yourself, good or bad, is largely dependant upon the degree of acceptance you have felt from the influential people in your life.

In the beginning, we learned our beliefs and values from our parents. If our parents' self-esteem levels were low or they had poor concepts, values and beliefs, then that's what we learned. If they felt inferior, inadequate or unworthy, we probably adopted those qualities. When we are children, we go through an “imprint period” where we formulate our behavior patterns based on what is impressed upon our thought patterns by the adults who are instrumental in our growth.

If we were told “you are a bad girl”, it really meant our behavior was unacceptable, but most of us didn't hear it that way. We internalized it to mean that WE were unacceptable. Most parents don't realize how important it is to separate the act from the individual. Instead of saying, “You're usually so graceful…I'm surprised you tripped and fell. Are you okay?” they will say, “You're so clumsy!” They don't understand the deep, negative impact this has on a child.

If we were compared negatively to other children, especially children outside of our immediate family, we might have come to believe those children had more abilities and were more popular than we were. That is when feelings of inferiority start to set in. If we didn't receive appreciation or recognition for our achievements, we may believe others are smarter, stronger or better than we are.

If my grandmother told me once, she told me a hundred times that my cousin, Bobbie, was smarter, cuter and more popular than I was. After the first 10 times, she really didn't have to tell me any more. I already believed it! So if Bobbie took dance classes, I didn't want to take dance classes because I knew before I started I would never be as good as she was. If Bobbie tried out for a part in the school play, I wouldn't try out because I could never be as good as Bobbie. If Bobbie ran for student council, I certainly wouldn't be able to achieve what she achieved, so why bother? I knew for sure I'd never be Homecoming Queen, because Bobbie had already worn that crown.

If we had parents who tried to realize their unfulfilled dreams through us and our accomplishments, they may have pushed us beyond our abilities or our desires in particular areas making us feel “less than” we could have been or should have been. Or maybe they even instilled such a drive in us to be what they wanted us to be, that we didn't learn how to be assertive and stand up for what WE want.

My friend, Sue, didn't want to play softball, but her father was the girl's softball coach and a jock to boot, so he insisted Sue become a pitcher and a home run hitter. He pushed and pushed until she was in tears after every game and she quit before the end of the season! When she was in Girl Scouts and they went on a hike, Sue somehow wandered away from the others and became lost. Once found, her father said to her, “Don't tell anyone you couldn't find your way out of the woods.” When they would go fishing, he would say to her before they ever got to the dock, “I know you are going to be sick, so just deal with it!” Today Sue works at a job she doesn't really enjoy because she still hopes to win her father's approval and when she faces challenges in life, she sometimes cries, has a tendency to get sick, often quits things before learning to do them well and most of all tries to “just deal with it.” In other instances, she takes on risky assignments in an attempt to get her father to see how brave and strong she has become! Occasionally, I hear her reference how well she has done for a girl who can't find her way out of the woods. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me where these coping mechanisms were learned? And isn't it sad that her father's early harsh criticism has stayed with her all of her life?

If our parents or peers are obsessed with physical appearance, they may also push us into a life that devalues us. Jeanette was a beautiful teenager. Her parents pushed her into every beauty contest they could find. They were determined because she was so beautiful; she should have only the best of everything. They moved to the most exclusive neighborhood in the city, so she could go to the right school with a “higher class” of students. They joined the country club at great expense so she could mingle with the “right” people. Then they worked around the clock to pay for it. When she had the opportunity to meet young men, her mother would say, “Stand up and meet the boy.” So Jeanette would stand up, stick out her breasts, suck in her stomach and put on her most seductive smile, so the boy could look her over and see what a good catch she would be. She married the man they chose for her who didn't appreciate her “standing up” to meet all his friends and business associates. She lived a miserable life until she got divorced. Then she found herself back in the limelight standing up for the “right” men to meet her again. Unfortunately, as she grew older, her looks faded and she was no longer the beauty she had been. Because she relied completely on her beauty, she never developed any of the other interests, virtues or qualities one might seek in a mate. She died bitter and alone -- surrounded by her beauty pageant trophies.

Children of parents who are obsessed with physical appearance usually develop a major case of low self-esteem. In addition, the media puts so much emphasis on beauty and being thin that many girls, and even supposedly intelligent grown women, develop eating disorders and poor health in an effort to keep up their appearances.

If our parents placed a very high value on possessions and having money in the bank, whether they had it or not, the emphasis on materialism we learned could lead us to a life of overachievement and striving for wealth and material goods. We may even marry someone because of the possessions, wealth or stature of that person.

Mary's occupation is marrying wealthy men. I say “men” because she has married four men of considerable means and found out after each wedding ceremony that she didn't even like the person. Eventually each “wonderful” marriage ended up in a bitter, nasty divorce. How many of these do you think she'll go through before she realizes what she is doing? My father used to say,
“If you marry someone, be sure you like the person and you can love him even if he loses everything he has, because that's the person you'll be stuck with.” Times have changed since my father's day, and in today's world where two out of three marriages end in divorce, you no longer need to stay stuck in a bad relationship.

You can get a divorce without the stigma it carried in my father's time, but why would you want to put yourself through all that turmoil and emotional drama? It's certainly hard on one's self-esteem. We shouldn't use up even one moment of our lives dealing with negative emotional feelings that we can avoid by making better choices in the first place.

"You Are More Than Enough: Every Woman's Guide to Purpose, Passion, and Power" is available in bookstores everywhere. ISBN #1-932173-72-2 or call Charlotte at (702) 896-2228.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

CJ Maxx - In The Arms of a Warrior

Excerpt from In The Arms of a Warrior by CJ Maxx

Susan Ambrose walked into the Design Engineering Department and stopped in front of the admin assistant’s desk. She stared at Mary Jane Winter’s provocative black jumpsuit and a smile slowly formed on her face. "What? You were out partying last night and didn’t have time to go home and change?"

"You don’t remember, do you?" MJ asked. "The new guy starts today."

Susan chuckled, "Oh no! How could I forget? How could I come in here dressed like a bag lady?"

MJ smiled, "Hey, this guy is single, twenty-eight years old, and from what I hear, good looking! I’m going to dazzle him when he gets here. Once the boss is done with him, he’ll be spending time with me. He’s going to think he went to heaven and I’m one of the angels."

"Angel? I don’t think so. Devil in the black jumpsuit is more descriptive."

She wrinkled her nose at Susan, "You may not care about your first impression, but I do, I’m not getting any younger."

"If you’re dressed like that, I wonder what the desperate duo are wearing? It’ll be like a fashion show around here for the next week." The two female design engineers, Cassie Hunter and Katherine Gillian, practically threw themselves at any unmarried man. Susan shook her head and said, "The poor guy doesn’t know what he’s getting into, this is like ‘Desperate Women in the Work Place’. It could be a TV show."

"You’re not getting any younger either, you know. What are you, thirty now?"

Susan faked a hurt look. "Hey, I don’t see the big 3-0 for two more years."

MJ laughed. "Anyway, one bad marriage shouldn’t turn you against men forever. It’s been three years now, you should be over that jerk."

Susan stepped over to her distribution box, took out the contents and glanced through the documents. As she turned to leave, she said, "Oh, I’m over him. I’m just waiting for Mister Right to come along."

"Those guys on the white horses are all gone; you’ve got to start sorting through those Mister Maybes looking for Mister Almost Right."

"I’m sure you’ll give me a full report on your first encounter with Mr. David Wilson," Susan said as she walked to her office.

MJ smiled, "I’ll be in your office as soon as I escort him to Human Resources."

The man approaching MJ’s desk was tall, maybe 6’1", about 200 pounds or so. His off the rack suit didn’t hide the fact that he spent time in the gym. His broad chest and slim waist made him look like an athlete.

He stopped in front of her desk and said, "I’m here to see Tony Holiday."

MJ looked into his eyes. They were jade green. "You must be David Wilson."

He nodded, "Yes, I am."

She stood and extended her hand, "Welcome, David, I’m Mary Jane Winters, the department Admin Assistant. Just call me MJ."

He shook her hand firmly before releasing it. Looking past her at the name on Tony’s door, he replied, "Nice to meet you, M.J. Is Tony in?"

He was as handsome as she’d heard from her friend at Grumman, his last place of employment.

Strong chin, gorgeous green eyes, dark brown hair and full sensual lips.

David was still looking at the door behind her, "Is he in?"

MJ put her hands on her waist and thrust out her chest, "Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, he’s expecting you. Go on in."

He didn’t respond, just walked to the door.

MJ watched him until he was in Tony’s office and out of sight.

As promised, MJ walked into Susan’s office twenty minutes after she escorted the new employee to HR.

"Damn," she said as she plopped down in Susan’s guest chair. "I don’t know about him. I spent fifteen minutes with him, just the two of us, and, I swear, he never once looked at my 38Ds. I had to hang around Purchasing after I dropped him off, just to let those guys leer. I needed a morale boost after him."

Susan sat back in her chair and laughed, "You know, he’s probably just not used to hussies coming on to him first thing at his new job."

"I’m not a hussy," MJ replied with a smile on her a face.

"No, of course not. You’re wearing this seductive cat suit, your boobs are about popping out, nipples almost showing, probably staring at his crotch the whole time. No, you’re not a hussy."

"I wasn’t staring at his crotch," MJ said, smiling, "But I did check out his ass when he went into

Tony’s office. Umm, nice, tight, I’d like to have both hands on it."

"Oh no, you’re not a hussy. I can tell by the lady-like way you talk."
MJ got up to leave. "You’re going to meet him this afternoon. I want a full report from you. Miss Iron Panties."

"Iron panties? Where did you come up with that?" Susan laughed. "I’ll give you a report. I’ll bet he’s just a guy who wants to do a good job." She was looking forward to meeting him. It was time to move on. MJ was right; she wasn’t getting any younger.

"He’s a guy. If he didn’t notice me, his interests are somewhere else and I’m not talking about work."

Susan shook her head at MJ and chuckled. "I’ll tell you what I think about him before the day’s over."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Judi Moreo and Kim Baccelia - Virtual Tour Stops

Promotional Interview with Judi Moreo

This is the first author promotional interview that I've posted on my Self Promotion blog on the Inspired Author site. This is the first interview in a series that I'm doing with Kathleen Gage. She is posting some on her blog and I'll be posting all of the interviews on my site. To read about Judi Moreo's promotion - visit http://inspiredauthor.com/v3/promotional-interview-judi-moreo-0

~ and ~

Kim Baccellia - Young Adult Author - Earrings of Ixtumea

Join Nikki Leigh and Muze as they interview young adult author Kim Baccelia about her book - Earrings of Ixtumea. This is the opening question of the interview -

Nikki & Muze – I was reading the synopsis for your book and was intrigued by the inner struggle that your character faces. It’s also interesting that she is confronted by the same cultural problems in the fantasy world. Can you give us some information about how you came up with this idea and what sort of problems she deals with in the story?

Kim –As a bilingual teacher in the later ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, I saw a lot with my second language students. I taught in a LA county school district, close to East LA. I also was researching my own family history at this time. I was bothered how each year my students would draw themselves blond, blue-eyed, and fair skinned.

Click here to learn more about Kim and Earrings of Iztumeahttp://muzesmusings.blogspot.com/

Nikki Leigh – Fiction Author – http://www.nikkileigh.com/
Book Promo 101 – www.nikkileigh.com/book_promo_101.htm
“Coastal Suspense with a Touch of Romance”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One Night in Boston

10:00 am

“We’re out of time.” Maggie Doyle stared at the clock in panic. Nausea danced in her stomach. Her head thrummed. Ten fingers buried themselves in her hair. Ten o’clock. Ten-oh-one. Friday. June thirtieth. It might as well be the end of my life, she thought. After tomorrow, everything changes. Her eyes blurred with tears, and the world slipped under water.
“What?” Neve Weatherby, office manager of Doyle Designs, stopped typing. Her fingers dropped onto the keyboard, trailing a line of A’s across a blank page. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
“They’re taking it all,” Maggie said. She could barely get the words out. Something burned inside her chest. Was that her heart, actually breaking in two? “The house. And the business.”
Neve stared up at her boss. “Who is? The bank?”
The interior designer nodded. Twenty-four hours. That’s how long until the Bay Bank of New England began the foreclosure process on her house and home business, according to the icy-voiced woman Maggie had just hung up on. Fishing a piece of paper from her back pocket, she reread the latest email from her attorney.
The bank will not enter into a payment plan unless you demonstrate assets equal to the amount owed…if you cannot complete payment of your missed mortgages, the bank will not adjust your future payment schedule…unfortunately, foreclosure is the next step…please contact me ASAP to discuss other options…
She closed her eyes, rubbing one temple. What other options? Filing for bankruptcy? She’d lose her business. Selling the house? She’d have nowhere to live. Robbing a bank? She tugged at a curl. That would be about the only option worth exploring.
Neve’s narrow brows drew together. “Wait a minute. Can’t you offer them some sort of compromise? Could we come up with a couple thousand dollars? Would that stop the foreclosure?”
Maggie yanked up a bamboo blind, so hard it snapped from its frame and fell at her feet.
“How? I owe them something like fifteen thousand dollars.” Uttering the words stung her. “We can’t come up with any more money. You’re living with your parents, for God’s sake. I haven’t paid you in over a month--“
“I told you I could wait a little, until the business got back on its feet.”
Maggie continued as if Neve hadn’t even spoken. “And I sure as hell don’t have any cash lying around. I cleaned out my savings last month when the refrigerator broke, remember?”
She kicked at the blind. “No one in this town has an extra dime. I was the one stupid enough to think I could make a living here. I was the one crazy enough to think that Hart’s Falls might actually need an interior designer.”
“They do.”
“They did.” Tension squeezed Maggie’s shoulders, turning muscle and tendon into wire cables that pinched the nerves at the back of her neck.
“What did your attorney say?” Neve tugged at the makeshift handle on the mini-fridge beside her desk. Out came a bottle of ginger ale, half-full, no bubbles.
“Same thing she always says. If I can come up with the money for the last three months, the bank will work with me. If I can’t, then...” She couldn’t finish. Then the house goes up for auction, and I lose it. For good.
It didn’t matter that her rah-rah-voiced attorney said the foreclosure process could take months. Maggie didn’t want to sleep in a house that only half-belonged to her, a house that one morning she might wake up to find inhabited by a fresh-faced family who lugged cardboard boxes into the spaces where her life had been. Once the whole ugly process began, little pieces of her sanity would slip away, like crumbling sidewalk under her feet.
“Well, what about selling the house?” Neve asked. “I mean, then you could get money to pay off the bank, and at least you wouldn‘t lose the business. You could rent a place for a while, work out of there.”
“I don’t want to.” Little-girl stubborn, Maggie dropped her head, studying the stitching on her jeans. How could she sell the white two-story with the wide front porch, after she’d poured so much time and energy into making it her own? How could she leave?
She’d loved the sleepy hamlet of Hart’s Falls, Rhode Island, since the day she drove through, nearly five years ago. She loved its historic buildings, its tree-lined central avenue. She loved its collection of residents, from the Portuguese single father across the street to the lesbian couple who’d opened a bicycle repair shop down by the Methodist Church. The ache inside her chest cracked and spread.
“I don’t want to sell the house,” she said again. “I don’t want to pay rent to anyone else. I did that for three years in Manhattan.”
Neve nodded, resting a cheek in one palm. “Have you thought about marrying a millionaire?”
Maggie almost laughed - real laughter, not the fake kind she‘d been pretending to call up from her gut for the last couple of months. “Sure, that’s the best idea I’ve heard so far. Got any suggestions? I don’t think millionaires grow on trees around here.”
“You could go up to Boston. There must be some cute, rich guys there. Or put an ad on the Internet. Join one of those singles’ dating groups.”
“Yeah, I can just picture my profile,” Maggie said. “Desperate red-head, thirty, seeks single male with unlimited funds to rescue her from bankruptcy. Can offer a two-bedroom house with interior design business included. That sure would reel ’em in.”
A memory washed over her. She’d almost had the chance to marry into money, loads and loads of it, years ago. Of course, back then, Maggie hadn’t cared at all. Her college boyfriend could have made her queen of the world, or thrown his entire legacy down the drain, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. She hadn’t wanted to be with him for his money or his name. She only loved the way he spun the earth beneath her feet, the way they fit together, the way he made her feel normal after so long.
Everyone else treated me like I would break, after the operation, she remembered. He just made me feel like a regular person. Attractive. Whole. She felt her cheeks redden and pressed the backs of her hands against them to stop the rush of blood.
We thought it would last forever. We made promises to each other, the kind you make when you’re twenty or so and think the rest of your life is easy to sketch out. We watched the moon move across the sky and talked about where we’d be in twenty or forty or sixty years. We made plans. We made love. We held on until we thought nothing but the splitting of the earth could pull us apart.
Stupid, Maggie told herself. Young and stupid, that’s all we were. Because at the last minute, she split them apart herself. She let all her old ghosts convince her that they would never work together. She gave in to the insecurity that made her feel all edges and angles inside the smooth sophistication of his world. She let the hollowness inside her swell until there was nothing to see but darkness. She told a lie and let him go, and he walked away.
Maggie traced the rim of her coffee mug, letting the broken edge dig into her fingertip until it hurt. God, how she missed him sometimes. How she missed the two of them together, that rhythm of a relationship, a simple waltz of days that took you through the light and the dark but always with someone holding fast to the small of your back. Steadying you. Spinning you. Loving you. She hadn’t met anyone like him in all the years since. Sometimes it seemed like she never would again.
If I hadn’t let him go, then maybe today I wouldn’t be indebted to the bank. She tossed her head, and flame-red curls tumbled everywhere. I wouldn’t be wondering how to pay my mother’s nursing home bills. I wouldn’t be lying awake at three in the morning, wondering why I let the best thing in my life walk away ten years ago.
But if she’d stayed with him, sooner or later he would have found out her secret. He would have discovered the lie she’d told from the very beginning. He would have peeled her open one day to find her missing pieces. I did the only thing I could. I couldn’t tell him the truth, not about that.
Neve started a fresh pot of coffee. “Did you eat anything this morning?”
“I don’t have time. Or an appetite.” Maggie sank onto the worn velour loveseat in the corner and tried to steady her soul.
You only have one choice. The voice prickled at the back of her skull, the way it had all night and all morning. Only one way to get the money. She pulled at a loose thread in her shirt and tried to ignore the voice. Bad enough she wasn’t getting any sleep. Bad enough her clothes hung on her five foot frame, making her resemble a damn middle schooler on the wrong side of puberty. Now Maggie could add growing dementia to her list of ailments, since her brain had been splitting into a variety of personalities lately and working against her in the wee hours of dawn. Maybe Alzheimer’s runs in the family, she thought.
“What about Bradley Torrance?” Neve asked.
“What about him?”
“Didn’t you two go out a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah.” Maggie thought of the corner table the brawny farm equipment wholesaler had reserved at the local Italian restaurant. She thought of the bottle of wine he’d selected from the list of four, the dollar he’d given her to feed into the jukebox, the way he’d forked pieces of chocolate cake from her plate.
“He’s a nice guy.” Neve poured a cup of coffee, left it black, and handed it over. “Not to mention good-looking. And he took over his father’s business the week after he graduated from high school. It’s grown twice as big since then.”
“Forget it. I’m not going out with Brad again just so he’ll feel sorry for me and pay off my debts.” The thought made Maggie cringe.
“You know, it takes time to get to know someone,” Neve went on, sounding more like a forty-year old woman than the girl just three years out of high school that she was. “You should give him another chance. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Maggie wanted to say. Things can happen in an instant. Life can change forever in the space it takes to draw a breath. And everything--everything--can turn upside down in just one night.
Silence settled inside the former parlor that she’d painstakingly gutted and redesigned from the bottom up. Den, half-bath, kitchen in the back: she’d decorated all the rooms on the first floor of the house, imagining four years ago that they might serve as examples of the work she could do. Meanwhile, the second floor became her sanctuary, with the business below like a humming heart, inspiring her. Driving her. Keeping her alive.
I did all right, the first year or so, she thought. But between her student loans, and her mortgage, and her little Ford Escort dying once and for all, she’d slipped behind. A replacement car, even used, brought another monthly payment. Property taxes inched their way up. Moving her mother into Elmhurst House had set the last nail into place. Even an ordinary assisted-living facility, with none of the frills of the places up in Boston, ran over a thousand dollars a month. The small pension left by Maggie’s stepfather covered barely half the cost.
The long hand on the clock slid its way toward the six, and the hairs along the back of her neck stood at attention. Twenty-four hours. That’s how long I have until I lose it all. The voice returned, a mosquito buzzing about her temples. She’d turned it over fifty different times and fifty different ways inside her head. She’d explored every other avenue she could think of, and she knew the voice was right. She didn’t see a way out that didn’t involve Dillon Murphy, the stepbrother she hadn’t seen or talked to in five years. Maybe six. She had to find him. She had to ask him for help.
The thought almost made her sick to her stomach.
The telephone began to ring, and Maggie slumped farther down in the loveseat. “Let the machine get it.”
“We opened at ten.”
“I know.” But she was afraid that if she put her lips to the receiver, her throat might just open up, and the sobs would pour out, flooding the room until she floated away on her sorrow. Wouldn’t exactly be good for business.
“Hello, and thank you for calling Doyle Designs. We’re either hard at work or out of the office right now, but leave us a message and we’ll call you right back.”
Maggie held her breath, trying to guess who it might be.
It wasn’t the bank. Or a bill collector. Or the gravelly-voiced nurse from Elmhurst House.
“Yes, hello.” A deep male voice rumbled and coughed into the machine. “This is Carl Anderson, vice-president at Bullieston Software Development up in Boston. I’m interested in speaking with you about the possible purchase of your property. Our company is planning an expansion into Hart’s Falls, and we’ve been looking at several homes in the north neighborhoods down there. I understand that you might be open to discussion. I’m going to leave my cell phone number as well as the main office number here. Please call me when you can.”
He rambled off ten numbers, paused, then another ten, and came to an abrupt halt before clearing his throat and hanging up.
“What was that?” Neve asked.
“I have no idea. Play it again.”
But the message didn’t make any more sense to Maggie the second time around. Bullieston Software Development?
Her eyes widened. Wait a minute. Had this company talked to the bank? Did they already know that she was in trouble? She sighed. Of course they did. Companies like that did research, right? They sniffed around and looked into records and found out which poor souls were in danger of losing their homes. Then they snapped them up for a fraction of their worth.
“It’s one of those big Boston corporations, you think?” Neve said after a minute. “There are so many of them trying to come into town and buy real estate. Andrew was telling me about it.”
Maggie almost smiled. How long had it been since the Weatherby wedding--six months? Seven? And still Neve blushed like a schoolgirl when she mentioned her new husband. Maggie supposed it was charming, really, even though the thought of marrying one’s high school sweetheart, at the age of twenty-one, was as foreign a concept to her as swimming the ocean from Manhattan to Madrid.
She drew a random pattern on her thigh with one forefinger. She didn’t want to sell the house, not to a software company. Not even to the guy down the street. But what choice did she have? If she didn’t come up with the money, she’d lose everything.
If she didn’t come up with the money….
Maggie pushed herself to a stand. Enough feeling sorry for yourself. Figure out a way to find it. Figure out a way to pay back the bank. No matter what. She wound her hair into a tight ponytail at the back of her neck. Well, to get the money, her best bet was still to find Dillon. And to find Dillon, she needed to start with her mother, however daunting the thought. Maggie swallowed. Facing down Alzheimer’s, that slippery monster that reared and roared when you most wanted it to shut up and go to sleep, wasn’t exactly the way she wanted to spend her morning. But again, the voice buzzed, you don’t have a choice.
“Take messages from anyone who calls,” she said. Then she turned into her workroom and locked the door behind her.
Maggie punched the Play button on her stereo and scrunched down into her favorite recliner. Jon Bon Jovi, heartthrob extraordinaire and love of her life since the eighth grade, crooned the opening bars of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” She reached for her lighter and lit a clove cigarette, letting it burn in the ashtray beside her. Though she’d given up smoking them almost a year ago, sometimes she still craved the sweet smell, the kick, of a Kretek clove cancer stick.
Picking up her cell phone, she pressed the first of the saved numbers. She leaned back and followed the cigarette smoke on its hazy journey up the wall, toward the ceiling, and out the screened windows. Maggie sighed. For an instant, she wished she could ride the smoke, just journey up to the clouds and turn to vapor. I wish I could disappear. Forever.
“Elmhurst House.” The receptionist chirped her familiar welcome, breaking into Maggie’s daydream. As always, she had the urge to reach through the phone and grab the girl around the throat, stop that cheerful voice before it uttered another inane syllable. “How may I direct your call?”
“Fourth floor, please.”
“Certainly. Just a moment.” Soft rock, some sort of obscure Barry Manilow song, faded in and out as Maggie waited for the transfer.
“Fourth floor, Nurse Keller.”
That’s more like it, Maggie thought. Celia Keller, shaped like a battleship with a voice to match, fit Maggie’s mood much better most days. The steel-haired, steel-gazed head nurse never bothered with pleasantries, never dawdled in residents’ rooms to make small talk with their visitors or lingered on the phone to discuss the weather. She got straight to the point, good or bad. Maggie liked that.
“Ms. Keller, it’s Maggie Doyle. I’d like to stop by and visit my mother this morning. In about an hour or so.” “Regular visiting hours are from ten to eight, as you know.”
Maggie stared at a bare patch on her wall. I need to repaint that, she thought. I missed it, somehow, in the sunlight. Or the shadows. Either way, I’ll--
“Ms. Doyle? Are you still there?”
“How is she today?” Maggie asked in lieu of a response. She needed to know before she got there. She needed to prepare herself.
Nurse Keller cleared her throat, sounding a little like the engine of a big-block Chevy revving up for a drag race. “She’s been sitting in the parlor for the last hour or so. Not too talkative today, but she’s awake and out of bed. I’d take that as a good sign.” Her voice remained noncommittal, not revealing much of anything. Maggie supposed when you worked in a place like Elmhurst House, you couldn’t get too attached to any one person on any given day.
“All right. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The nurse’s words sounded stiff. “We’ll see you in a little while, then.”
Yes, you will, thought Maggie, as she hung up the phone and uncurled herself from the chair.
Standing in front of the mirror, wondering if it mattered whether or not she changed her shirt or did her hair, she tried to imagine the world inside her mother’s head. She tried to picture the cast of characters from the past that had taken up residence there. Maggie pulled at the corners of her eyes, trying to make the tiny wrinkles disappear. She’d never even heard of early-onset Alzheimer’s before three years ago. She certainly hadn’t imagined the way it could twist a life into something unrecognizable.
At first, her mother had joked about losing her car keys or driving all the way to the salon and forgetting her purse. She blamed her failing eyesight for the fact that she put away all of her socks in the basement freezer. She told Maggie that the reason she called her daughter Diane sometimes was because she’d always wanted Maggie’s middle name to be that instead of May.
I wanted to believe her, Maggie thought as she took out her ponytail, parted her hair and pulled a brush through it. The snarls hurt. I wanted to accept every excuse she gave me. After John died, I thought just living by herself made her lonely. God help me, I thought she made up half her problems just to have something to talk about when she called me every night.
The telephone call after midnight in a sleety November had changed all that. Maggie had driven home, four hours without stopping, to find a woman she didn’t recognize curled up in the fetal position, whispering names that Maggie didn’t know and had never heard before.
Some of the doctors tried to find environmental reasons for it, personal triggers for her mother’s dementia. Some simply pointed to chemical changes in her mother’s brain, as if Hillary Doyle were a specimen to be analyzed, more a subject and less a person. All charged more than Maggie’s meager health insurance policy or Hillary’s pension could cover. In the end, it didn’t matter what had altered her mother. Elmhurst House, the only assisted-living facility within fifty miles of Hart’s Falls that Maggie could afford, became Hillary Doyle’s new home. They’d packed up everything one weekend, put the shabby Poughkeepsie house on the market, and driven straight to Rhode Island. Her mother hadn’t spoken one word the entire trip.
Maggie usually visited on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes Wednesday evenings. Now she had to make the twenty-two mile trek under a blazing morning sun, with fingers crossed that her mother would remember Dillon, would remember the things she’d told Maggie about him, some three or four years ago.
Dillon came to visit this weekend. He’s moving back East, he says. I’m glad. Maybe he’ll visit more often…
You know, your brother is doing well for himself. Finally got away from that partner who was stealing half the profits…
Dillon called yesterday. Wanted to treat me to a weekend up in Boston. Said his business is taking off, that he picked up a couple of rich clients who want to hire him for the whole summer…
Maggie catalogued the things she knew about her brother--her stepbrother, really, no relation except in growing up under the same sagging roof. One: after spending some time wandering around California and Oregon, doing odd jobs, he’d found his way back East. To Boston, maybe, or someplace close by. Two: he owned his own company, or had at one point. And three: this company was successful enough to attract elite city spenders. She ticked off the positives on her fingers and hoped they might outweigh the negatives circling her brain.
He doesn’t live in Boston.
His business went belly-up years ago.
He never even started one to begin with.
Maggie stared out the window, at the lilacs and hyacinths and lily of the valley blooming in her backyard. She’d planted them all, taken gardening books out of the local library and urged the flowers to take root and bloom for her. She found, after the first few visits with her mother, that she needed something else to tend to, bright faces that responded to the sun and the rain and her voice talking to them. She picked at a chip in the wooden sill, blinking back tears that had snuck up on her. Darn it. I don’t even want to say goodbye to my gardens.
She rubbed at her eyes. Well, I won’t worry until I get there, she thought, slipping her bare feet into flip flops. Until I see Ma. Until I hear what she has to say. She grabbed her purse, vintage patchwork and suede with a clasp that didn’t always work, and headed for her car. Only if she doesn’t remember me, only if she doesn’t have a clue about where I might find Dillon, will I panic.
Only then.

One Night in Boston by Allie Boniface

ISBN: 1-59998-536-5

Length: Novel

Price: $5.50

Genre: Contemporary Romance Publication

Date: July 24, 2007

Author’s Website: http://www.alieboniface.com/

My Biker Bodyguard - JM Turner

My Biker Bodyguard
By J.R. Turner

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“Okay, move over. You're gonna hit bone, you keep digging at him like that.” Jess Owen shoved the rookie aside and spun the chair around, straddling it as she sat. With gloved fingers, she lifted the tattoo gun and touched the three-needle shader to J.D.'s shoulder. “There are seven layers of skin. You don't want to go deeper than the fifth. Just a touch lighter.”
Burly with long side-burns and longer hair, J.D. relaxed in the padded chair as the Rolling Stones hammered on about having sympathy for the devil. Jess added red to the inked flames climbing his shoulder. He sighed in obvious relief. “After that butcher, this feels like heaven.”
“Sorry, man.” Trash, the rookie grinned, sounding not a bit apologetic. He sounded proud he'd made the big biker squirm. “But you volunteered.”
“Not to be tortured.” J.D. scowled. “Your hand's heavier than your foot.”
Jess tossed her dark blonde ponytail back over her shoulder and leaned further to the right to give Trash a better view. She had given her first tattoo on her sixteenth birthday. Now, six and a half years later, she had earned her rep as the best tattooist in the parlor and often had to turn away work.
”You should be grateful I bombed out,” Trash said, his gaze fixed on her progress. “Jess don't do freebies.”
“You didn't bomb out,” Jess muttered, breathing carefully and moving her entire hand, not just her wrist, as she followed what remained of the transfer. J.D. was a bleeder and there wasn't much left of the pattern. “In fact, you can finish this.”
“Really?” Trash asked, surprised.
She blotted the tattoo with a paper towel and handed the gun back to him. “Yep. You saw how deep, right?” She stood, waiting for his nod as she stripped off the gloves and threw them in the garbage. “You got a steady hand. Go for it.”
J.D. groaned.
Jess stopped at the door to the eight-stall garage, the second half of Tattoos and Tails. “I'll be back to see how it's going later. Holler if you need anything.”
“Yeah,” J.D. said. “How about a tourniquet?”
“Sorry, fresh out.” Jess chuckled. “Don't worry, if you lose too much blood, we can always squeeze some out of Trash.”
“I heard that.” Trash didn't turn. He was bent to his task, dark hair stuck to his sweaty, narrow forehead.
“Ouch, damn it, Trash.” J.D. gave Jess a pleading look. “How about some whiskey then?”
“No way. The city would pull my license if they caught you with booze. Besides, it'll only make you puke and you suck at mopping.”
Before they could trap her into another discussion on the finer points of pain management, she escaped into the shadowy garage where they rebuilt and serviced Harley-Davidson motorcycles. No rice grinders allowed, as her father, Dirty Dan Owen called the Japanese-made crotch-rockets.
One vehicle parked out there wasn't a motorcycle, and she had been dying to get to her baby all morning. The fully restored, midnight blue, balls to the wall '67 Mustang was her most prized possession. The day couldn't be more tempting. Clear sky, balmy breeze, no humidity-perfect for a drive by the lake and a quick dip before business picked up for the night.
Men's voices carried from the far end where a bay door stood open to the day. The gray in her dad's beard glinted white in the sunshine as he talked with a stranger, scrubbing a rag repeatedly over his rings. A nervous habit, something he did only when the city tried to dig up dirt on them or a routine investigation brought cops to their door.
Couldn't run a tattoo parlor and bike shop without the law thinking you were into everything from drugs to fencing stolen goods, which had been true before her father turned legit. Now, however, no thing or body could drag him back to that life.
After a closer look, she saw the stranger was far from a cop or a city inspector. Dirty Dan hit six feet and this guy had to be at least four inches taller. Large across the shoulders, narrow at the hips, he looked like one of those guys who pumped iron in the gym across from Rudy's Auto Parts. No beard, no mustache and his close-cropped hair covered a well-tanned scalp. Okay, so not a drifter-too clean-cut, too athletic.
She heard the deep vibrato of his voice, but not the words. Running a hand along the curving flank of the Mustang, she found a better angle. He must have muscles on top of muscles under that leather coat. Who was he? A knee-breaker for the mob?
Sunglasses hid his eyes, but not the strong jaw or the mouth that looked as hard as the rest of him. His nose wasn't quite as crooked as J.D.'s, but it could have been broken more than once. Maybe a bouncer for one of the downtown clubs?
He spotted her and she felt the intensity of his gaze behind those sunglasses. Startled to be caught staring, she lifted her chin and tried on a smile that felt as phony as Trash's old I.D. She joined them and gave her father a probing look. “Hey Dad, thought I'd come give you a hand.”
He looked at the array of parts on the work bench, then raised a brow at her. “With spark plugs?”
She held back a groan. Like he needed help with spark plugs. “Well, y'know, whatever.”
In the following hellish seconds of uncomfortable silence, the stranger's shadow drained her brain like oil from a severely abused Harley. The weight of his presence felt…dangerous.
“Jess,” her father said, clearing his throat. “This is Mitch, a friend from back in the day. Just passing through.”
“Really.” It came out flat, disbelieving. As far as she knew, her dad didn't have any bodybuilding, Mafia knee-breakers for friends and anyone from his past was either in prison-or should be. This guy didn't look old enough to have ridden with her dad either. He was closer to her age.
Mitch stuck out a hand. “Been a good ten years since I saw your old man. You must have been twelve or so, right?”
“Must have.” The jolt from touching his hand, completely unexpected, left her less curious about how he knew her age or who he was, and more interested in the color of his eyes.
She tried to hide her reaction, no easy task under her dad's miss-nothing scrutiny. She could feel him scolding her. A lazy smile worked across Mitch's face before he let go of a hand she no longer knew what to do with.
Oh for Pete's sake, Jess. What are you gonna do, never wash it again?
She shoved it deep in the back pocket of her jeans. For all she knew, he might be up from Chicago or over from New York, setting up a drug connection or asking her father to fence stolen jewelry. If that was the case, good looking or not, he could go back to wherever he called home. Dirty Dan Owen had retired.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“Just passin' through, like your old man said. Sold off what I owned back in L.A. and headed for greener pastures.” Mitch waved at the garage. His jacket spread, revealing the tail end of a black-work tattoo across one collarbone. “Looks like you're doin' okay for yourself.”
“Yep.” Her dad's blue eyes were sharp beneath a bandana tied pirate-style over his black and grey mane. “Can't complain.”
Something's wrong. Her father backslapped his pals, took them across the alley and into the yard behind their house. He'd give them a cold beer, maybe fire up the grill, but he hadn't even invited Mitch inside the garage.
Air brakes from a city bus hissed on the busy main street and those dark sunglasses turned to watch it rumble away. She cleared her throat, risking a foot in her mouth. “So, which way you headed?”
Okay, not too bad, casual, unless he thinks you're trying to get rid of him. She hadn't been exactly welcoming so far.
“Am I intruding?” That rich voice carried a hint of humor as it rumbled up from his chest.
“No, not at all.” Now she sounded like she wanted him to stay. She turned to her father. C'mon, Dad, don't leave me hangin' here. What do you want to do with this guy?
“Mitch's gonna stay with us a few days.” He sounded disgruntled and no smile lifted his beard as he turned to Mitch. “You can toss your stuff upstairs, clean up if you want, and join us for chow tonight.”
“Sounds good.” Mitch glanced past the fence and the “Beware of Dog” sign, to the two-story house shrouded by hundred-year-old oaks. He didn't move, and Jess didn't offer to take him. She knew better. Her dad would never allow her inside, alone, with a strange man. It was Dirty Dan's golden rule--if you want to live, don't even think of touching his daughter.
Made for a great dating life.
Then, aliens possessed him. “Give him a hand, Jess. Give 'im the drunk tank.”
Jess snapped her jaw shut on his don't-dare-argue-with-me look. She sent one back of her own. Wait until we're alone--I'll make your head spin with questions.
Mitch adjusted the pack on his shoulder. “Drunk tank?”
“You'll see.” Her father went into the garage, ending the conversation.
Jess hurried to get the chore done. At times like these, she really wished she had known her mother, learned a little about playing polite hostess, no matter what you thought of the guest. As it stood now, she didn't want to be alone with Mr. Hunk-o-rama and risk morphing into a drooling moron.
Duh . . . wanna be my boyfwend?
At the chain-linked gate, she threw the latch. Mitch followed close and she wondered if he could see the pulse throbbing on the side of her throat. She should have worn a turtleneck.
The beware sign slapped metal as the gate closed and he asked, “You have a dog?”
“No. We've got an alarm on the shop that sounds like a rabid Doberman. The sign's mostly to warn people about my dad.”
She wound among picnic tables, folding lawn chairs, and the huge hand-welded grill, then up the back deck. The quiet house made his boots sound heavy, clumping in behind her. She sensed him looking at everything--every nook and cranny, every branch off the kitchen and the living room, as if casing the place.
Thief didn't feel quite right, though. What was his game? The hairs on the nape of her neck stirred as he followed too close. By the time she reached the staircase, her heart beat a rock-n-roll drum solo.
No part of this was normal. Aside from J.D. and Trash, her dad didn't trust any guy with his daughter. This was the first time she'd taken a man to the drunk tank by herself.
Trash's brother, Kooch, had designed the room as a punishment for anyone with guts enough to pass out at an Owen cookout. She only hoped Mitch would take the decor as a hint to get lost-like he wasn't taking the hint right now.
He crowded her intentionally. No one remained so close without meaning to. His heat burned into the bare skin above the back of her tank top. And damn it all, she liked his heat, even if his kind thought they were God's gift.
She whirled at the foot of the staircase, nearly burying her nose in the white of his t-shirt. She stepped back and up a riser, then another until they were eye level. Hands on hips, she glared at her reflection in his shades.
Angry that he supposedly remembered her, angry that she still hadn't gotten a good look at him, and angry that her father had been taken over by aliens, she huffed the bangs out of her eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”
He gave another crooked, lazy smile. “Following you.”
“I know that.” If he didn't take those sunglasses off, she would yank them off herself. “But why are you here at all?”
Then he removed the sunglasses and she wished he hadn't. Chocolate brown eyes stared into her. She swore that stare found her bellybutton and zapped it with a form of sexual telepathy. Knowledge of her reaction registered in his gaze and his grin widened.
Dangerous. Was she breathing yet?
“I came to see Dan.”
That might be the truth, but it wasn't all of it. As much as she knew he had sensed her attraction, she sensed him holding back. Secretive made him dishonest by omission. Bottom line, he couldn't be trusted.
Yet her traitorous body practically glowed.
It had to be something like that sensory deprivation thing she'd seen on cable. She rarely dated and when a healthy male showed up at her door, lust erupted with volcanic force and turned her brain to idiotic lava.
Forget the meltdown.
He wasn't being honest and he made Dirty Dan nervous. That was all she needed. He could take God's gift straight back to customer service and get a refund. She wasn't buying. “You can stay for a day or two, then I want you out, understand?”
Surprise hardened his grin. “Whatever you say, princess.”
Jess wanted to kick him in the shin. “Don't call me princess.”
Now that she could see the rest of him, she was positive they had never met before. At twelve, dolls were a thing of the past and boys had become more than fellow playground monkeys. No way would she have forgotten him-especially since most of the men in her life looked like Hell's version of Grizzly Adams. Testing, she asked, “Where do I know you from again?”
“We met once, at a rally in Sturgis.”
Liar. He would have stuck out like The Flying Nun.
He ran a hand over his head. “I was hairier back then.” Faltering, she wanted to believe him, though she knew better than to ignore her gut instincts. Even if he didn't frighten her, he damned well made her suspicious.
“Is this where I'm camping, or is there a bed up there?” He jerked his chin at the second floor. “No problem either way. Whatever keeps the rain off.”
Did he really think he would convince her to step aside and let him… What? What could he possibly want here, with her father? To blackmail him? What else could it be? Her dad would never, ever have let him stay in the house otherwise.
Knots sprang in her belly and twisted tighter. Normally, she kept the door open, gave people a chance, most times two. She didn't like being forced to lay down the law and hated confrontations even more.
Nothing and no one would hurt her family though and despite the hot prickle of nerves, she found the courage to sound stern. “I don't know why you're really here, or what you have on my dad, but if you get him in trouble, you'll be sorry.”
Again, he seemed surprised, but his smile finally dissolved.
About damned time.
He stepped onto the first riser, sliding one massive hand up the banister, the other along the wall. Corralled in the span of those big arms, she stood her ground. She wouldn't give in to the invasion of her space, no matter her heart beat a thousand times too fast.
“I'll be gone in a few days. Don't worry.”
“Good.” She jerked away from the heady scent of sun-hot leather, soap, and salty warm flesh. Ignoring the blissful tingly sensation in her gut, she spun and sprinted up the rest of the stairs, feeling his eyes on her backside the whole way.
She rushed past walls painted black and filled with gel-pen graffiti from the guests who'd stayed over the years. They used to write in anything handy on the '50s sea green paint. Tired of the look, she had repainted and hung neon pens from electrician's cord at intervals. Now it looked like Vegas at midnight.
Jess flung open the door of the last bedroom and turned to watch him come down the hall. He ducked to avoid the hanging chrome light and stopped once to read an especially hearty thanks scribbled to her father.
“Cool idea,” he said, then peered inside the bedroom. He threw back his head and laughed, a wonderfully raucous sound.
Jess retreated fast before her resolve could be damaged more than it already had. Down the stairs, through the house, and into the kitchen she ran. She banged out the screen door, rushing for the bright afternoon sunshine.
He would leave in a few days, like they all did. If she ever saw him again, he'd be sporting a big-breasted biker babe on his arm. Despite knowing this, there was no way she would go for her swim now. Whatever Mitch wanted with her father, he'd have to go through her first.
* * *
Mitch stepped into the room, still chuckling. The Owens had a very different approach to home decor. A painted, black-and-white checkerboard covered the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and the sparse furniture. Each section melded together at odd points. It played havoc on his depth perception and innate balance.
He walked to the window and his stomach flipped. No wonder they called it the drunk tank. Even sober he felt like he'd had a few too many.
Outside, Jess paused at a picnic table and yanked her thick caramel-colored ponytail tighter, as if angry. Maybe she had a right to be. She knew more was going on than they had told her. It was obvious in the way she'd threatened him. Loyal and tough.
Definitely Beth's daughter.
No need to compare the slightly darker green eyes, high cheekbones, or the matching pointed chin. They shared more than physical DNA.
The way Dirty Dan had gone on about his sensitive daughter being spared the truth, Mitch had expected her to be spoiled, a bit of a prima-donna. Instead, he'd met a woman ready to commit assault and battery if he tried to harm her family.
To make it worse, Dan had sworn him to secrecy. If he said one word about why he was really in town, he could kiss this crazy room goodbye. The thought may be appealing, but he couldn't do his job from anywhere else. How much simpler this would all be if she knew the truth. Apparently, Dan had told Jess nothing about her mother's side of the family. If they were lucky, that wouldn't turn out to be a fatal mistake.
As she disappeared into the garage, he used the height afforded by the second-story window to canvas the area. All appeared normal, at least for this rough neighborhood.
She'd been raised by protective bikers, surrounded by streetwise tough guys. Basically, his kind of people. It looked like luck would have a little more help than he'd first thought. Maybe, just maybe, the built-in security of bikers in residence would be enough.
Luck was a lady he didn't normally bet on, however, and it made him grind his teeth to do so now. For a decade he'd never once failed. He'd known it was possible, but deep down, he supposed it would never happen to him. Only the careless, the reckless failed, not those who were as methodical as he.
Why is this assignment so damned different?
He gripped the windowsill, breathing in the summer-heavy scent of exhaust, hot tar and the faint yeasty odor from the brewery. Jess might be a secret back in L.A., but she'd been too easy to trace.
Returning to the bed, he pulled his cell phone from inside the leather coat he hadn't worn since things got ugly in New York. It felt strange, but damn good to wear the battered jacket instead of the suits he'd worn since settling on the West Coast.
The phone picked up in midring. “Hello?”
“It's me, Mitch,” he said as he dug the spare Glock out of his pack and flicked the safety off. “I've got her.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Carol D O'Dell - MOTHERING MOTHER: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

By Carol D. O’Dell


The first time I saw Mama, I was four years old. I stood on the sidewalk of my grandmother’s Daytona Beach boarding house and watched Mama’s long legs emerge from the shadows of a shiny black Cadillac and her blue high heels press the pavement. As she stood she kept rising and rising, her bright red hair teased and piled high on top of her head.
Mama looked at me and my sister Rosie and Grandma Stella like we needed her help and she had arrived from Atlanta just in time to rescue us from our pitiful lives. She walked right up to Grandma Stella and shook her hand hard and fast.
"It’s nice to meet you, I’m Noveline DeVault."
Grown-ups crowded around us, gawking like it was all some show. I knew this woman had come to get me. I knew this was goodbye to my sister and my Grandma. Mama leaned down and her eyes gestured to my little brown tweed suitcase that Rosie and Grandma helped me pack.
"You can leave that here. I’ll buy you all new clothes and toys." She sounded so bossy. I set it down on the pavement.
Someone must have told me Mama was coming to get me because I cut my hair the night before. Picked up my bangs in one big fistful and whacked them off, then snipped at bits of the rest. I’m not sure whether I cut my hair to make myself prettier—so they’d like me—or uglier, so they wouldn’t. I don’t recall feeling one way or the other. Just flat. Mama said I didn’t even cry.
Mama was big—five feet eleven and a half, she said, but I swear she was over six feet and just wouldn’t admit it. She scared everybody, she was so big. She had giant hands. She called them her piano hands. Mama walked through the house like somebody was chasing her, her long arms swinging, the house jolting with each step. Daddy would grab her in mid-stride and pull her down, smashing the newspaper on his lap.
"Willie, stop that." Mama put up a little fight, and then they’d both laugh and talk real low and soft to each other so I couldn’t hear. For them to be so different, they actually got along most of the time. She wasn’t the same with him as she was with me, though. She couldn’t slap him around. At night, they’d talk and talk and talk, and I’d have to holler out from my bedroom at one o’clock in the morning.
"Some of us have go to school, you know.”
Mama was as loud as Daddy was quiet. "You got to be bold for the Lord," she’d shout in her sermons. She was an ordained minister of the Assembly of God churches.
Just my luck to get adopted by a preacher woman.
Mama said God saved her at twenty-two. “God doesn’t un-call you once you’re called, so I’m going to keep on preaching ‘til I collapse or the good Lord Himself comes down and takes over.” She’d throw her hands on her hips while everyone laughed and shouted, "Hallelujah!" You’d about jump out of your seat if you weren’t expecting it, but I came to expect just about anything from her. She’d stand there, hands on her hips, watching the congregation, smiling, her cheeks like little round apples.
When I was good, Mama used to say it was because I came from good stock, that my birth mother was a college graduate. When I was bad, she’d say it was because my mother was crazy and my daddy was a drunk.
Daddy retired from General Motors when I turned six. Said he didn’t want to miss any of my childhood.
I think he forgot Mama would be there too. He said he’d go crazy if he didn’t get to doing something other than fulfilling her every wish, so he started building this garage; his second home, is what he called it. He was down there all the time and I didn’t blame him one bit.
They had this whole routine: she fixed breakfast around ten, they ate and then Daddy watched The Price is Right until eleven, hollering out the prices like he was right there in the audience. Then he headed down to the garage for some peace and quiet.
Mama thought everybody else lived their lives just waiting to do something for her. She couldn’t leave me or Daddy alone.
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop," she said.
Daddy was strong too; I didn’t care if he was old. I liked to put my finger in the crook of his arm in church so he’d tighten up his muscle. Even through his suit, I couldn’t get my finger back out.
Daddy was quiet and almost sad, but not quite. I thought of asking him what it was that haunted him, but I didn’t.
“Carol, come to the hospital.”
I knew from Mama’s voice, the exhaustion, and the flat lack of hope, that Daddy had had another heart attack. This was his fourth: the one he had when I was thirteen, and two in the three years I had been married. It happened in the middle of the night. He grabbed Mama’s hand and clutched so tight she thought her bones would break.
I raced to the hospital, hoping and praying I would make it in time. Being newly married and having two young daughters had left me with little time to sit outside on warm summer nights and talk to him the way I had as a child. I wanted to make up for that lost time. I needed a good, long conversation about the stars, sitting next to Daddy, his legs crossed in the too-small lawn chair, both of us falling quiet, thinking.
Mama and I sat with Daddy in the drab hospital room day after day, waiting for the doctors to decide what to do. We knew we didn’t have much longer.
"You’ve brought so much to your Daddy’s life. From the very moment we got you, his face lit up every time he said, ‘my little girl.’ ”
Mama looked so small. Her hair was still mostly red, but it had lost its sheen and most of its height.
“He’d brag to his buddies out at the plant, tell them all the cute things you said. They started kidding him at work, nicknamed him ‘Papa.’ ” She smiled and I let her tell me her stories.
“When we went places and people asked him if you were his granddaughter, he’d grin and say, ‘No, my daughter.’ They’d marvel and say, ‘What a man!’ ”
I settled in the chair opposite her.
Our eyes locked over Daddy, struggling to breathe. Congestive heart failure filled his lungs with fluid. He lay motionless and sedated between us, covered with a thin sheet and thermal blanket. Mama and I could barely move, each of us taking turns sitting up with him. Sleep deprivation left us washed out and limp.
Mama reminded me that tomorrow, November 4, was my adoption day. I hadn’t thought about it, but we celebrated every year like an extra birthday.
“Do you remember that day in the judge’s chambers?”
I walked back through that door to the warm wood walls and rows and rows of leather-bound books.
“I dressed you in that little red corduroy jumper you loved so much with your little black patent leather shoes and lacey socks. You could always talk like you were an adult. You walked into the judge’s office and looked around like you owned the place. You climbed right into your Daddy’s lap and asked the judge if he had any paper and pencils—so that you could draw. You were always drawing.”
I remembered. The judge had winked at me.
“‘Are you up for the task of raising a child?’ he asked Daddy. ‘Oh yes, sir,’ we told him—by then you had already been with us six months. Nothing could have separated us.”
She pulled her sweater back over her bare shoulder.
“The first time you called me Mama, I think I cried.” She folded her arms and curled her legs to one side of the chair.
“You had been with us several months and never referred to me in any way whatsoever. I was starting to get a little worried. One day, you were in the breakfast room and I was in the kitchen and I heard this tiny little voice say, ‘Mama, can I have another piece of toast?’ ” She paused. “That was the best day of my life.” I watched her turn towards me, take a deep breath and close her eyes.
I realized, perhaps for the first time in a long time, that I loved her.
I turned towards Daddy, the mound of his body under the sheet and thin blanket, and I began to doze, dreaming about the times when he would come home from work and I would hide and wait for him to find me.
“Where’s my little sweety-pie? I know she’s hiding. Could she be under the table? Behind the couch? In the closet?” He started the game even before he got his coat off.
I giggle, giving myself away, and in my dream I am four.
“Is she in the pantry? Is my little sweety-pie behind the door?”
I opened my eyes and looked at Mama. A loose strand of hair fell from her French twist, her teased front collapsing. I noticed the gray hairs in with the red ones, hanging in her eyes. She let them, too tired to care.
“I don’t know why the Lord allows us to be separated from each other in our old age. It seems cruel to spend a whole lifetime together only to be torn apart when we need each other the most. I don’t understand.” She got up and tucked the blanket under his chin, running her fingers through his hair.
“At least I have the assurance we’ll be together again.”
I drove home sometime after midnight and kissed my girls’ soft cheeks while they slept. My arms ached to scoop them up and rock them on that black, rainy night. I’d caught only snippets of them these past few weeks. I needed to do mommy things—take them to the park and feel my hand on their backs as I pushed them on the swing. I rubbed their chubby fingers until they stirred and left before I woke them.
I stripped down and crawled into bed beside Phillip. He held a pillow in his arms where I was supposed to be. I kissed his back and neck until he woke and turned over, whispering inaudible words as he drew me to him. We made love, silent, with our eyes closed. I drifted off to sleep, only to wake to the telephone.
“This is the nurse on sixth tower. Your father’s had another heart attack.”
Phillip drove me to the hospital, our girls asleep in their car seats, their heads drooped to one side. I pulled the visor down and looked at their cherub faces in the mirror.
They probably won’t even remember their Papa.
The world blurred. Every streetlamp, every lighted billboard zoomed by, and I noticed each one as if important.
I prayed for time.
Daddy sat on the side of the bed; his thin hospital gown did little good to cover this massive man. He glanced at me as I entered, then looked down to the floor. His hands, on his knees, braced his body.
The oxygen cord wrapped over Daddy’s ears and into his nostrils, irritating him. He adjusted it again and again. I couldn’t believe that after yet another massive heart attack he could still be sitting up.
Phillip stepped in front of me and held my mother in his arms. I knelt in front of Daddy, afraid to touch him and break the immense concentration he needed to control the pain.
“I want ya’ll… to promise me one thing,” he said with ragged breath. “I want you to promise… me… to be good… and… take care of… each other. Promise.”

Carol D. O'DellAuthor, Mothering Mother
Kunati Publishing
April 2007 release
ISBN-13: 978-1-60164-003-1

Murder Without Pity by Steve Haberman

--title: Murder Without Pity
--author: Steve Haberman
--website address: http://www.parismurdermysteries.com/
--line to buy book:authorhouse.com
Chapter 1

The two men jumped Stanislas outside the burned-out apartment building, and he realized he had made a mistake. He raised his cane to strike, but too late. They muscled him, shouting, up the long flight of stairs and into the drafty room, and then they got serious.

The one with the German accent, grunting exertion, bear hugged him several steps and threw him hard onto a stool, making Stanislas cry out from pain that spiked up his bad leg. Next the accomplice yanked his arms behind, and he went to work, and everything went dark.

And afterwards, when Stanislas jerked to struggle loose, the man with the accent clamped a hand on his shoulder and warned in French, "Monsieur Cassel, please don't." This menacing courtesy frightened Stanislas even more. This stranger, who had helped ambush him, knew his name.

"Monsieur Cassel," the man continued, "you're a powerful examining magistrate here in Paris. You've investigated and solved many crimes. You know the high and mighty and have even indicted some. Fearless, according to the media. But you don't sit in your Ministry of Justice Annex office. And you cannot command the police to rescue you. You're in an abandoned tenement, alone and powerless.

"Our house rules: Not a word, please. I'll talk. You'll listen. You'll answer. A simple shake of your head for a 'no.' A simple nod for a 'yes.' Short and simple . House rules, as I said, because we can't waste time. Understand?"

And Stanislas, through his shock at having walked into a trap, just nodded. House rules.

The man with the accent squeezed his shoulder hard. "Luc has roped your hands behind you. Understand?"

Stanislas nodded yes.

"He's blindfolded you. Understand?"


"He's taken away your cane. Briefly, monsieur, you're our prisoner. Do you understand how serious your situation is?"

Again, yes.

A cell phone beeped. Another man answered, Luc, no doubt, Stanislas guessed, and in French and on the second ring, as though expecting the caller. In the near silence, as Luc listened, someone somewhere outside in the fog pounded an angry beat on congas. Through the throb, Stanislas could hear behind him Luc mumble words that sounded like code. Something about bringing the car around. Something about keeping the headlights low. Do this, Luc ordered. Do that. And Stanislas thought, they're going to kill me.

Luc flipped shut his cell with a harsh click. He had finished chatting. "Three minutes," he said. "Now what, gag him?"

"At this hour, Luc? Who'd hear him? Monsieur Cassel, listen carefully. One time and one time only. You've an interrogation tomorrow afternoon at your Justice Annex office, yes?"

They knew not just his name and profession, but where his office now was, Stanislas realized. He nodded yes.

"Your witness to question, the esteemed Monsieur Louis Boucher?"

They had somehow gained access to confidential information too, he saw. Yes.

"You'll question the esteemed Monsieur Boucher about the murder of the pensioner Leon Pincus, agreed?"

Still more secret dossier material revealed. Again, yes.

"You'll go easy on our Monsieur Boucher."

Not a request, but a demand. Stanislas hesitated.

The man with the accent clapped him on the side of the head and uttered in a low voice near his ear. "I said, go easy on him, please. Don't be stubborn. Save your crime fighting heroics for someone else. What time did he leave his apartment that morning? Does he take his strolls daily? Was he terrified when that crazy Monsieur Pincus confronted him? You see? Easy questions."

Stanislas sighed and at last nodded.

"Don't work yourself up over this case," the man continued, still in a low voice. "It's not worth it. After all, this Monsieur Pincus was what? A nothing, what you call one of your Little Miseries, living out his life in squalor. Investigate other dossiers, and we"ll forget you."

Stanislas shifted his head slightly right. The man had moved behind him with ponderous steps.

"Two minutes," the man named Luc said, also sounding as if he had stepped back. "Two minutes."

"Two minutes, Luc? In that case, a moment to spare. Any questions, Monsieur Cassel? You may speak."

"Who are you?" Stanislas asked, his own voice sounding thin and weak.

"Who are we?" The man chuckled. "Luc, hear that? Why we're friends of Monsieur Boucher."

"Good," Luc replied, also laughing. "Friends of Louis Boucher, I like that. One minute," he added.

Stanislas tensed his fingers on his thighs for the blow. The conga player ripped off several beats and stopped. Stanislas heard only the dreary mutter of rain, splattering into the gutter outside a window. The quiet unnerved him, and after a moment more he blurted out, "Are you there?"

He heard the rain. He heard his heart beating out his fear. But he detected nothing else. He waited, motionless, sweating.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bite the Moon by Diane Fanning

Bite the Moon
By Diane Fanning

Chapter One

MOONLIGHTING A SECURITY GIG AT SOLMS HALLE was as good as it gets for a uniformed cop. I relished every opportunity. There were few fights—even fewer drunks who maintained belligerence once you hustled them out into the open air. It was fun any night, but tonight was plum. Trenton Wolfe was the top bill.

When the management booked Wolfe, he had just finished recording his latest CD, Wolfe Pack, and had not yet released the chart-topping single, “Bite the Moon.” Now that he had, he was riding a meteor into the stratosphere as the hottest new act in country music. The boisterous bodies packed into the old dance hall and stringing out into the street were proof that a legend was being born. The band honored the engagement in this obscure venue in gratitude for all the stage time Solms Halle gave them before anyone knew their name.

Although there was a chill in the air tonight, and all the wooden shutters were raised to let the fresh night breeze drift in through the screens, Solms Halle was hot and sweaty from the overflow crowd. The nightspot was nearly as old as Texas . Its unpainted, rough-hewn plank walls testified to its small-town dance-hall history. The narrow picnic tables—worn smooth from the sliding of cold, wet bottles of beer—and the bench seats—shined to a high gloss by the rubbing of innumerable backsides—stretched out in tight rows perpendicular to the stage. The sitting-in-an-old-barn atmosphere was guarded with zealous neglect. Any attempt to fancy-up Solms Halle was likely to cause its death as a Hill Country institution.

The driving country beat of Wolfe’s music vibrated in the walls and floorboards, slid out the open windows and down the street where it danced on the rushing waters of the Guadalupe River . For half an hour, the band played old favorites for their longtime fans. When they started into a track off the new CD, I was enjoying myself too much to call it work.

Then, I heard the first scream. It echoed with the faintness of an off-mike back-up singer. Curious but not yet concerned, I headed up a crowded side aisle, pushing through the milling, bouncing, dancing gaggle of customers that blocked the way.

I was halfway up the length of the hall when the shriek of multiple female voices rose to a crescendo that overpowered the throbbing of the speakers pouring out a tale of lost love. One by one, the musicians stopped playing. The last to remain oblivious to the nearby panic was the drummer, who pounded out a mindless, manic solo—lost in the rhythm of his own world. I got a few steps forward while everyone else sat frozen in place listening to the eerie harmony of screams blending with the relentless drums like a ghoulish punk concerto. At last the silence of the other musicians disrupted the depths of the drummer’s intense concentration. He lost his rhythm and his drumsticks clattered to the stage floor.

As if that sound were a secret signal, the stillness of the audience broke and they rose to their feet as one. My shouts for order dissolved in the cacophony the moment they passed my lips. Between the women fleeing from the restroom toward me, and the curiosity seekers pushing against my back, an impenetrable bottleneck grew.

I stepped up on a bench and from there to a tabletop. I jumped across from table to table, hoping to reach the stage, commandeer a microphone and calm the crowd. On the way, I flipped out my radio and called for assistance. I needed backup—bad.

I kicked over abandoned beer bottles, spraying foam on my pants legs and shoes, as I sprang across the room. When I reached the midpoint, I had a clear view of Trenton Wolfe. He stood on the stage and glared into the once captivated crowd that had transformed into an unruly mob.

Even in his state of apparent annoyance, the appealing good looks that had graced dozens of magazine covers were still intact. His perfectly sculpted six foot three frame had fueled my fantasies and those of most every other woman I knew. His chestnut brown hair, just long enough to brush the collar of his shirt, appeared as if it had never been fussed over and yet it was always in a perfect state of dishevelment—as if he just rose from a pleasurable encounter in bed. His face had a proportioned symmetry with a chin you could rely on. It was friendly, yet menacing. He had the bad-boy look that drove a lot of us crazy. His full, sensuous lips could part in a smile warm enough to melt a javalina’s heart but, at the moment, they were pursed in disgust.

By his side was his bass player, Stan Crockett. He was a bit taller than Wolfe and leaner than Ichabod Crane. Skin wrapped around his bones like saran wrap clinging to a turkey carcass. His deep-set eyes and sunken cheeks perched on a scrawny neck with a prominent Adam’s apple. That apparatus was balanced on a body so lanky, it appeared as if it might suddenly splinter at the waist. At the end of toothpick arms were hands with skeletal fingers that somehow created magic every time he touched a bass guitar.

Word was that despite his cadaverous appearance, Crockett was a laid-back, happy man who smiled easily and often. Unfortunately, on a face like his, a grin looked like a grimace and a full smile like the mocking of a ghoul. At the moment, he was not smiling. His compressed lips were in constant motion as he whispered to the mute star of the show.

I ran up the length of picnic tables toward the two. I jumped to the floor, battled my way through the dense crowd in the small space between the table and the stage and vaulted up onto the platform.

I grabbed the microphone and ordered the crowd back into their seats. My shouts were as effective as the whispered rebuke of a chaplain during a prison riot. By now, many of the intoxicated in the crowd were taking offense at the pushing and shoving and were throwing punches in response. Oh, man, oh man, where was my backup? I strained my ears but could not hear the sounds of approaching sirens, nor did a look through the windows reveal any flashing lights racing to the scene.

Mike Elliot, manager of Solms Halle, clambered onto the stage and shot me a glance of desperation. I didn’t think it would do much good but I shouted into the microphone again. Mike tried to hustle Trenton Wolfe and his group out of the hall. Trenton was not making his job any easier. I could not hear a word he was saying, but he was yelling at Mike and his arms flailed the air like a windmill run amok. Unlike more modern facilities, there was no backstage entrance at Solms Halle—no easy exit for performers. Mike and a few beefy volunteers formed an arrowhead that struggled to maintain its unity and pierce through the noisy crowd.

I slid off the stage and sidled along the wall to the ladies’ restroom where all the brouhaha had begun. Light slipping through the crack at the bottom of the door illuminated a mishmash of bloody footprints on the floor.

I slammed my back against the wall by the doorframe and drew my gun. The churning chaos around me parted like the Red Sea . I took a deep breath and kicked open the door. I moved into the doorway with my gun extended in a shooter’s stance. “New Braunfels Police Department. Throw down your weapons.” I scanned the barrel of my revolver from one corner of the small bathroom to another.

Nothing moved. But there were four stalls. Any one of them could conceal a perpetrator. If someone in one of those stalls shot at me right now, I doubt the plywood doors would even slow down the bullet. I exhaled a guttural shout and kicked open the first stall door and drew a bead on the vacant toilet. I moved to the next one. I could taste the fear in my mouth. It coated my tongue with a green slime that made my stomach lurch. I kicked open the next door and the sick sensation grew.What was behind the next door? The lady? Or the tiger? Again, I kicked. No victim. No bad guy. Nothing but porcelain.

Now all that was left was the last stall, I could smell my sweat and feel it form a clammy pool on the nape of my neck. I kicked that last door open. Nothing.I breathed again. But it was ragged. What had started as a small spot of tightness in my chest had expanded to embrace my whole upper body in its painful grip. I turned back to the doorway to the hall where the tops of a few foolish heads leaned in to see what was up. When they saw my gaze turn on them, the heads pulled back like turtles retreating into their shells.

With flashlight in hand, I shone the light in the narrow hallway outside the restroom door. I followed the trail of blood to where it led in the other direction. It ended at another door. Through the crack at the bottom, blood still seeped—as thick as glue, as dark as dirty oil—but still it moved.

I grabbed a paper towel from the bathroom dispenser and crossed the hall. In my right hand, my gun was at the ready. With my left hand, I laid the towel on the knob. I tried to turn it. It was locked. From the hinges, I saw that the door opened out. A kick would not do the trick. I needed the key. I reached on top of the doorsill. No luck. I shone the flashlight around looking for a nail that held a key. Nothing there. I needed Mike. Whoever was bleeding in there might still be alive. From the consistency of the blood, I doubted it, but it was possible. I was torn. Guard the door? Go find a key?

Before I could decide my problem was solved—Mike Elliot was by my side, a chunky key ring in his hand. He slid the key in the knob and backed away from the door. I stepped up, turned the key and released the lock. I pulled the door open a crack then slid to the side where I would be shielded as I eased the door open with my foot.

I led with the barrel of the gun, then jerked into position—knees bent, gun pointed straight ahead. One glance and I returned the gun to my holster and traded it for my flashlight—whoever had transformed this ordinary utility closet into an abattoir was no longer there. Sticky blood pooled like a major coke-syrup spill on the floor. Up the wall and across the cleansers lined up on the shelves, runny dime-sized droplets of blood formed a distinctive pattern—a line of streaky spatter rose up in a peak, descended and rose to a second peak—the classic formation of arterial gush, just like the pictures I saw at the seminar. It looked like the chart for an electrocardiogram—very bad news for the body sprawled at my feet in a lake of blood.

A small cardboard box nestled in the small of the victim’s back, arching his body upward. Tossed across the upper half of his torso was an orange plastic rain poncho—the disposable kind Wal-Mart sells for a couple of bucks. It seemed odd that there were smears of blood all over the side of the poncho facing toward me, but I didn’t have time to ponder that puzzle now.

I pushed the poncho aside with the butt of my flashlight to check for a pulse. His neck was sliced through to the spine, throwing his head back into a bucket where his hair floated on the blood that accumulated in the bottom.

I crouched down to check for vital signs. The spot where I should press to check for a pulse was no longer there. I knew it was futile, but still I lifted his limp wrist and held my breath as my fingertips sought any glimmer of life. No throb. No beat. No life.

Embedded in the shredded tissue of his throat, I saw a metallic glint. I focused the beam of the flashlight and discovered the source to be a guitar string. I followed its length and noticed the ends pulled through a block of wood and twisted tight. Death by guitar string—that had to be a first. And Solms Halle was the perfect setting for it. My moment of levity gave way to a sudden and severe bout of nausea—the bile rising at the back of my throat, its acid searing my tongue. I threw a hand to my mouth and squeezed my eyes tight, willing the upsurge to back down. If I lost it here, I would contaminate the crime scene and never hear the end of it.

As soon as I had my internal distress under control, I inched my way up to a standing position. I thought the movement was making my head ring but then realized the sound I heard was the distant, shrill wail of a siren. The posse was coming. In seconds, the spinning, flashing lights outside the windows lit up Solms like Las Vegas . I stood my ground by the door, shooing away a morbid looky-loo or two as I waited for my partners-in-arms.

My website is: http://www.dianefanning.com/

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