Weekend Excerpt–I’ve Been Busy

Have you ever had one thing in mind and suddenly it morphs into something completely other?

I’ve been hard at work on my new book, which I’d been tentatively calling Voices, knowing that ultimately that title would change.  Well, that has turned into what is now Book 1 of a three-book series, Redheads & Ranchers.

With that first book, which I’m now calling Rescued by the Rancher, well underway at over 42k words so far, I’ve jumped headlong into the second book, Romancing the Rancher.

In Romancing the Rancher, corporate lawyer P.K. (Poppy) Chastain heads to Idaho to try to convince 5th generation rancher Hunter McFall to sell a small parcel of his land to the developers intent on building a mountain resort nearby.

This is from the (unedited) first chapter of Romancing the Rancher.

Hunter McFall squinted his hazel eyes at the dust trail on the horizon and shook his head in annoyance.  He didn’t have time for this.  He had 1,500 head of cattle that needed moving to new pasture.

Not that it made this day any different from any other day.  Cattle need to be rotated to fresh grazing land.  The herd had spent yesterday down on the flood plain beside the bend of Deer Creek.  Today he wanted them moved into the foothills.

But he had Rolly Stevens to head up moving the beeves.  Rolly had been with the McFalls since before Hunter ever sat on a horse.  And the younger hands listened to the old man, respected him.

And if Hunter was honest with himself, he didn’t mind a day off the trail too badly.  Except he wasn’t looking forward to this appointment.

The dust trail was closer now.  Hunter sighed deeply and nudged the bay beneath him, gently pulling the reins to the right.

“Let’s go, Cheyenne,” he muttered.  The horse tossed her head and turned to the right, heading back toward the house.

P.K. Chastain.  Just the name irritated him.  The notion of a grown man going by his initials struck him as pretentious as fuck.  The fact that P.K. Chastain was a lawyer representing Slade & Howell didn’t engender him to Hunter anymore than his name did.

He’d received the letters and emails from this Chastain fellow, the ones making all kinds of shiny promises on behalf of Slade & Howell.  But Hunter didn’t care.  He wasn’t interested in selling any McFall land to some developer who wanted to build a mountain resort.  Keep that shit over by Sun Valley if that’s what you had in mind.

Here in Deer Creek Valley and the Boxroot Mountains, McFalls had raised cattle for five generations, and by God, he intended to continue the family legacy until his last breath.

A vehicle came around the bend just as Hunter loosely wrapped Cheyenne’s reins around a rail in the shade of a large cottonwood.  From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, he glowered at the silver Range Rover as it pulled to a stop along the side of the gravel drive.  City people always fancied themselves rugged outdoorsmen when they came out to this neck of Idaho.  Yet another reason he wasn’t interested in having a luxury resort anywhere near McFall.

He set his mouth in a firm line and walked toward the SUV.  The driver’s door opened, and a shiny black high-heeled pump emerged, followed by a shapely calf.  Surprised, Hunter stopped, watching as a petite redhead stepped out of the car.  Her hair was done up in one of those fancy, efficient updos with a few loose wisps around her face, which was obscured by large designer sunglasses.  Hunter’s eyes zeroed in on sensuously shaped ruby-red lips.

The woman leaned back into the SUV, affording Hunter a view of a nicely rounded ass, neatly packaged in a black pencil skirt.  She emerged a moment later holding a tan leather satchel.  Closing the car door, she marched toward him.

“Mr. McFall?”  She stuck out a well-manicured hand, her nails painted the same red as her lips.  “I’m P.K. Chastain.  We’ve emailed back and forth?”

Slowly, Hunter reached out and took her tiny hand in his own, suddenly aware of how rough and calloused ranch work made them.

You’re P.K. Chastain?”

The redhead tilted her head and removed the sunglasses, revealing deep chestnut eyes in a shade he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before.  “You were expecting a man, I suppose.”  Her tone was defensive.

“I guess when I heard that a lawyer was coming out here, I just assumed.”

P.K. Chastain narrowed her eyes at him.  “Maybe the news didn’t make it this far out in the boondocks,” she said, one hand holding the satchel, the other a fist on her hip.  “But it’s the 21st century now.  Women get to vote and everything.”

Hunter suppressed a grin, his mustache shifting with the effort.  “Seems I heard tell about something like that,” he drawled for effect.  “Maybe it was the fact that you go by your initials.  What does P.K. stand for, anyway?”

He watched her cheeks color slightly as the woman squared her shoulders.  “That’s neither here nor there.  Is there someplace we can sit and discuss the generous offer being made to you by Slade & Howell?”

He pursed his lips and watched her for moment.  Then he nodded.  “We can meet in my office.”  He gestured toward the huge log home that had been in his family for generations.  When he’d been a boy, his grandfather had added an extension to the north end of the house, creating an office from which to run ranch business.

“If we’re going to have a business, my boy, we’d better treat it like one,” the elder Hunter McFall had told his young namesake.

That Hunter McFall had been the first of his family to attend college, and his son and grandson had followed in his footsteps.  They’d taken what had been a rough and tumble ranch and turned it into a successful cattle business, acquiring extra acreage along the way as some of their neighbors failed to keep up with the times.

P.K. Chastain, leather satchel in hand, clipped purposefully across the gravel drive and up the steps to the covered porch that ran the length of the front of the house and around its southern side.  Hunter followed along behind, amused by the turn of events.

At the door, she stopped, allowing him to open it and usher her inside.  Just inside the door, he paused to hang his black felt hat on a rack beside the door.  His mother had always been firm: “No hats in the house.”  He supposed that extended to the office as well.

Hunter imagined he could see the office from his guest’s point of view as he inhaled the familiar scent of leather and wood.  Behind the huge reclaimed wood desk, antique branding irons hung in a row from an old board on the wall above a barnwood credenza.  Opposite the desk were a pair of leather wingback chairs.  The chairs matched twin oxblood leather chesterfield couches that flanked an antique trunk turned coffee table in the center of the room.

On the opposite end from his desk sat a long wood conference table surrounded by leather club chairs.  Western art from his grandfather’s collection accented the walls and the entire space was crowned by an enormous iron chandelier hung from the peaked roof.

The lawyer glanced around appreciatively.  “It’s lovely,” she murmured.

Hunter nodded.  “Thank you.  The original cabin is over a hundred years old, but it’s been added to over the years.  My grandfather added this office extension when he took over the business over forty years ago.”

“Lovely,” she repeated.  She gestured with her satchel.  “Where would you like me to set up?”

Set up?

He shrugged slightly.  “Anywhere you’re most comfortable is fine.”

He watched as the woman’s gaze flitted all around the room before it settled on the conference table.

“That looks good,” she said, and moved in that direction, her high heels clipping against the wide plank floor.

She placed the satchel on the table and opened it, rooting around until she found what she was looking for.  She handed Hunter a glossy-covered booklet, a gorgeous shot of the Boxroot Mountains gracing the front with Boxroot Mountain Resort declared in bold, rustic letters.

“Please, have a seat,” she gestured to the chair at the head of the table.

Hunter suppressed a smirk at the city woman telling him where to sit in his own office.  Curious to see where this was all leading, he sank into the chair and watched as she dug into the bag once again.

“If you’d like to flip through the prospectus while I get my presentation ready,” she said.  “I won’t be long.”  She looked up at him.  “You do have wi-fi?”

He nodded.  “Yes, ma’am,” he drawled.  “All the way out here in the boondocks, we have wi-fi and the interwebs.  Why, hell, we even have the dot com.”

She paused her movements to purse her lips at him.  Then she went back to her digging, tucking a few stray red hairs behind her left ear.  From her bag, she extracted a small black cube about the size of a baseball.  This she set up on a small tripod on the table, then she went back to rooting around in the satchel.

Hunter tried unsuccessfully to look away from the way her wispy white blouse gapped in the front every time she leaned over the bag.  Ms. Chastain had stellar cleavage.  That paired with the nicely rounded ass he’d appreciated outside made her an intriguing distraction from the ordinary.

He didn’t look over the prospectus.  He didn’t need to.  He wasn’t interested in selling.  But he’d hear her out.  It beat the hell out of rounding up reluctant Herefords.

I’m hoping to release Rescued by the Rancher, Redheads & Ranchers Book 1, before Christmas.  Romancing the Rancher should be ready in early 2019.  And the third book will be well on its way by then.

In the meantime, 2018 Golden Flogger Award Winner FOR SPARROW is currently on sale for 99¢ through October 8, exclusively at Amazon.  Use this LINK to one-click your copy now.

 

Great Anthology for a Great Cause!

✲´*。.❄¨¯`*✲。NOW LIVE 。✲*`¯¨❄.。*´✲


Letting Hope Enter (A Charity Anthology)
published by 
Witching Hour Press
** All Proceeds Will Be Donated to the
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention **

I’m so excited to tell you about this great new anthology that just went live!  A talented group of authors has gotten together to support suicide awareness and prevention, and you can be a part of of it.  All proceeds from the sale of LETTING HOPE ENTER will go toward helping people who feel they’ve lost all hope.

Here’s what it’s all about…

Suicide, why is it so difficult to talk about, write about or even handle in a private forum?

Answers are still being searched for in the mental health communities of the hows and whys. Until then, we are trying to bring light to this issue. We want to assist with the truth, lies, prejudice, secrets, and misunderstanding of mental health.

Every 40 seconds someone commits suicide.

This makes it the 10th leading cause of death in America today. It is breaking news when it happens to the famous, but not enough exposure has come into the light to help everyday people. It still has a stigma and many experience shame in their issues.

Letting Hope Enter is a collection of stories about the tragedy, pain and even despair of suicide. Also, it is an attempt to bring hope and awareness to this illness without the need to hide or consider it some dirty little secret.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-825, if you or someone you know, love, care about or want to share needs this information.

Please let Hope Enter, help those suffering and start talking about these issues without prejudice, misinformation or judgment.

Check out the awesome list of authors contributing to this anthology:

Airian Eastman
Maggie Jane Schuler
J. M. Butler
Angie Gonser Brocker
Jenniefer Andersson
Renee Lee Fisher
Author Linnea Valle
Jaime Russell
Kathia Iblis
ChaSiree M.
D.j. Shaw
Lenore Cheairs
Morgan G. Farris
Liv Arnold
COVER DESIGNED BY: Skye MacKinnon


Want to do something great for yourself AND for someone else?
One-click LETTING HOPE ENTER today!  



Weekend Excerpt–Where It All Began

LUKE & BELLA, Dream Dominant Book 1, is the first book I ever published.  It’s where it all began.

The idea for the story started with this question:  What  would be your dream job?

For Luke McGillicutty and Bella Grant, it’s jetting all over the world to create a brand new television travel show.  Thrown together as co-producers, visiting exotic cities, staying in luxurious hotels, is it any wonder they fall in love?

But it all happened so fast, Luke hasn’t had the time to be completely honest with Bella.  If he tells her now, he could lose her forever.  Can he risk everything on the chance they could have it all?

Here’s a steamy little teaser from LUKE & BELLA.

Landing smoothly on Mykonos, they were treated to a radiantly sunny afternoon capped by a sparkling blue cloudless sky.  They moved effortlessly through the customs checkpoint and collected Bella’s bags at the luggage carousel.

“Ever think of simplifying, m’lady,” Luke joked, gesturing with his duffle bags.

“In your dreams, Cowboy!” she retorted.

“Oh, baby girl, my dreams are made of different stuff,” he growled suggestively.

She laughed lightly, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation.

He hailed a cab and Bella told the driver the name of their hotel.  They enjoyed a scenic late afternoon view of the island as they made their way to the Cavo Tagoo.  The pair checked in and were escorted to the Honeymoon Suite by an older bellman who pulled their bags on a brass cart.

“Congratulations!” he said to them as he opened their door with a flourish.

Bella breezed past him impatiently and Luke thanked the man, amused at his misunderstanding and at Bella’s reaction.  “Well, m’lady, once again, you have booked us into heaven.”

She was already opening the doors to the pool deck.  The view of the infinity pool hanging over the crystal waters of the Aegean was utterly breathtaking.  And Bella in her blue dress seemed to be part of the scene.  Turning to him, she said breathlessly, “Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?”

“No, I never have,” he replied, not meaning the pool or the sea.

“I’m going swimming,” she announced, and she disappeared into the bedroom, emerging ten minutes later in a sheer purple sarong.  Before Luke could say anything, she walked to the edge of the pool and, facing him, untied the sarong to reveal black bikini bottoms…and nothing else.

She dropped the sheer fabric onto a chaise lounge and executed a shallow dive, emerging at the infinity edge.  She held on to the edge with one hand and smoothed back her wet curls with the other.  She looked at him, eyes dark and intense.  “Well, Cowboy, are you joining me, or what?”

“I’ll be right back.”  He retreated into the room and returned with his personal Rebel DSLR.  Bella’s face registered alarm.  “These will be just for us.  I promise.  Do you trust me?” he asked quietly, holding the camera down.

She swallowed and nodded slowly.  “I do trust you, Cowboy.”

He took some amazing shots of Bella. She was a natural beauty and the pool only accentuated the fact.  She gave him casual poses, seemingly unable to be other than herself.

He could feel his erection growing as he focused on her half naked body.  Her nipples were sharp pebbles, just begging for his attention.  Little droplets of pool water glistened on her beautiful skin.  Her hair was slicked back framing her beautiful face.

When his arousal became consuming, he pulled off his shirt, his pants, and his boxer briefs and slowly entered the pool.  He swam to her and pinned her against the infinity edge.  Kissing her deeply, he first touched those nipples that had called to him from across the pool, taking them between his finger and thumb, causing them to stretch into hard erect nubs.  She tilted her head back and moaned softly.  Then his hand moved down to her bikini bottoms.

“You’re a little overdressed, m’lady.”  Hooking his thumbs into her bikini bottoms, he easily slid them off.  He lifted her legs, wrapping them around him, before urgently pushing his erection deep into her core.

She gasped and tightly gripped his shoulders.  “Oh, Cowboy,” she breathed against his neck.  “It’s our first time making love outside.”

“Something tells me it won’t be our last,” he said, and she kissed him passionately.  He kissed her back, matching her intensity.  Thrusting into her hard, then harder, he pulled out and forcefully spun her around so she was facing the wide expanse and he took her from behind.  Watching himself enter her, he groaned with pleasure.  He ran his hand through her hair then gripped it, pulling her head back to him and growled into her ear, “Baby girl, I’m so gonna come inside you.”

LUKE & BELLA
is available in both eBook and paperback formats
at your favorite online bookseller.
books2read.com/LukeAndBella1

Exciting News and an Incredible Deal!

🔥99¢ Pre-Order🔥
The complete 4-novel Dream Dominant Series.
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Don’t miss out!

That’s right!  The Dream Dominant Series is being re-released with HOT new covers as a boxed set exclusively at iTunes.  And you can pre-order right now for just 99¢.

The complete series includes:

  • LUKE & BELLA, Dream Dominant Book 1
  • LOST & BOUND, Dream Dominant Book 2
  • FOR SPARROW, Dream Dominant Book 3 (and 2018 Golden Flogger Award Winner)
  • WARRIOR MINE, Dream Dominant Book 4

Don’t miss this opportunity to own
all four Dream Dominants for just 99¢.
Just click HERE.

Watch This Space–Just In Time For Halloween

Author Linda Fausnet has re-released her GETTYSBURG GHOST SERIES boxed set.  Get ready for paranormal romance set in historic Gettysburg.

There’s no passion like the love of a soldier. The Gettysburg Ghost series is comprised of three individual yet interconnected stories of eternal love between ghosts of Civil War soldiers and modern-day women who live and work in the historic town of Gettysburg.

The first book concerns Confederate soldier Jesse Spenser, who died in the battle of Gettysburg more than a century ago. He’s in love with Lucy, a waitress who works in a tavern in town. He aches to approach her and tell her how he feels, but she’s terrified of ghosts.

The second book concerns Theresa, a psychology student who counsels the weary spirits of Civil War soldiers to help guide them to Heaven. She was supposed to help Sean cross over. She wasn’t supposed to fall in love.

The third book concerns Remy, a young woman who runs ghost tours but doesn’t believe in ghosts. Little does she know, she has a ghostly secret admirer. Private Avery O’Rorke frequently joins Remy on her nightly ghost tours, and has fallen in love with her.

The Gettysburg Ghost Series is a three-book paranormal romance series with adult content and is intended for mature audiences only. Download the series now and get lost in a world of romance where history and modern times collide.

If you love paranormal romance, don’t miss the GETTYSBURG GHOST SERIES!
It’s even FREE with Kindle Unlimited.

Weekend Excerpt–FOR SPARROW

Now that I have your attention…  😉

FOR SPARROW, Dream Dominant Book 3, is the 2018 Golden Flogger Award WINNER for Best BDSM Book (BDSM Light).  I love saying that, LOL!

Judd Farris, the hero of the story is a hot Dominant firefighter paramedic.  But do you wonder why I made him a first responder?

A few years ago, Mr. Spocks and I were invited to a quinceañera for the daughter of a friend.  We had a great time, and as we were leaving, we stopped just outside the event hall to chat with some friends.

While we were standing there, a little old lady missed the curb and tripped and fell on the concrete driveway.  Mere minutes later, a West Palm Beach fire rescue truck pulled up and out jumped the hottest guys you ever saw.  All I could think was, Holy cow, do they only hire male models?  

Don’t worry, the lady was okay, she was just a little banged up.  But that was when I decided that Judd was a paramedic.  And that incident became a scene in the story.

Here’s a brand-new teaser from award-winning FOR SPARROW.

Following the dinner service, the music came up and teens crowded the dancefloor.  Jessi went to the kitchen to compliment the smooth service and give everyone a short break.  The birthday girl wasn’t scheduled to cut the cake for another half hour.

Sarah was organizing the cake area, making sure that plates and flatware were ready.  Jessi gave her a nod, and headed out the front door to catch a breath of fresh air.

The night was warm but there was a gentle breeze stirring.  A few guests were chatting together on the front sidewalk, and Jessi wandered a few yards further away.  She gazed up and wondered at the mostly full moon and the handful of stars overhead.  Happy that the night was going well, she sighed contentedly.

Maybe we’ll get a couple of referrals before the night is over. 

Jessi watched as a couple returned to the party, holding the door open for a pair of older ladies who appeared to be leaving.  She had just decided it was time for her to go back inside when everything suddenly shifted into slow motion.  One of the ladies missed the step off the curb and went down hard on the asphalt, her head striking the driveway with a thud.

Without hesitating, Jessi ran toward the fallen woman, leaning over her.  “Ma’am, are you alright?”

The woman moaned weakly as her friend stood wringing her hands and whimpering softly.  Jessi turned to a man who’d just come out the door.  “Call 911!  Hurry!”  She knelt beside the woman and bent down to look at her face.  The woman had definitely hit her head, Jessi had seen it happen.  Now a large knot was forming on the woman’s forehead.

“It’s okay, ma’am, it’s going to be alright.”  The woman tried to sit up but Jessi stopped her.  “Just be still, help is on the way.  We don’t want you to hurt yourself further.”

Jessi held the older woman’s hand as the mother of the birthday girl came outside.

“What’s going on?  Tia, what happened?”

Ai, mija, your tia fell off the curb,” the other older woman said.

Jessi smiled reassuringly.  “I think she’ll be okay.  Help is on the way.  Maybe you can both go back inside and relax.  I’ll come and let you know what’s happening.”

Si, tia, you look pale.  Come and sit down.  I’ll come back out and stay with her,” the mother said.  She escorted her aunt inside, and quickly returned.  A small crowd started to gather on the front sidewalk.

“Maybe we could get a bag of ice,” Jessi suggested, and a guest raced into the building, soon returning to hand Jessi a small plastic bag of ice.  She leaned over and as she gently pressed the ice to the growing knot, the woman moaned again.  “It’s alright, hon, help is on the way.”

Even as she said the words, she saw the flashing lights of a bright red fire/rescue truck pulling into the parking lot.  “Oh, thank God,” she murmured.

The truck pulled to a stop, and Jessi heard feet scrambling on the pavement and vehicle doors being opened and shut.  She kept her eyes on the older lady who seemed to fade in and out of consciousness.  “They’re here, it’s going to be okay.”

“What happened here?”

Jessi’s head jerked up at the familiar voice.  Judd stood beside the truck dressed in his uniform navy pants and a grey fire/rescue polo that gloved his muscular shoulders.  Before she could formulate her thoughts, he spoke.

“Jessi?”

“Hi, Judd,” she said shyly.  “I saw the whole thing.  She missed the step off the curb and fell pretty hard.  I saw her head hit the pavement.  I kept her still and we’ve put ice on the lump.”

Judd nodded.  “Okay, thanks, we’ll see what we can do.  Hello, dear, I’m Judd.  It looks like you took quite a spill.  Let me just take a look at your head.”  Another man came around the truck with a box of equipment.

Jessi backed away from them as they went to work checking the woman’s vitals and speaking into their radios.  Sarah came out and stood by Jessi.  “I heard we had an accident.  How is it going?”

“I don’t know,” Jessi shrugged.  “It was pretty scary to watch, I’ll tell you.  We’ll wait and see what they say.”

“Tell you what, I’m going to get the cake going and hopefully most of these people will go back inside.  You don’t need an audience out here,” Sarah said.  She turned to the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the guest of honor will be cutting the cake in just a minute.  Come on inside so we can sing to her.”  Thankfully, most of the onlookers followed Sarah inside.

One woman, a relative of the injured woman, stayed.  “Tia, let them do their job,” she said as the older woman insisted on sitting up.

Ai, dios mio,” she exclaimed.  “I’m just a silly old woman who didn’t watch where she was going.  I’m fine.  I want to go back to the party.”

Judd, noticing the worried look on Jessi’s face, gave her a quick wink.  “I’d feel more comfortable if you’d let us take you to the hospital and have the doctors take a look at you, dear.  That was quite a fall.”

“No,” she said defiantly, “I want to go inside.”

Judd looked at his partner and shook his head.  The other paramedic spoke softly to the woman in Spanish, but she remained determined to stay at the party.

“We can’t make you go,” Judd sighed.  “If you’re staying here, someone needs to keep an eye on you.  If you have a concussion, there could be problems later on.”

Si, I’ll watch her,” said the woman who’d stayed outside with Jessi.  “Come on, tia, let’s get you back to your seat.”

Jessi watched as the younger woman helped her aunt back inside the building.  Then she turned to Judd.  “I’m so sorry you came out here for nothing.”

He smiled his patently kind Judd smile.  “It wasn’t for nothing, that lady really hurt herself.  I wish she’d let us take her in, but older folks can be stubborn sometimes.”  He looked to the other man.  “Jessi, this is my partner Alex Gomez.  Gomez, this is Jessi Crenshaw.”

Alex flashed a bright white smile.  “Nice to meet you, Jessi.”  He was dressed in the same uniform as Judd, but he was a bit shorter, with wavy black hair and sparkling brown eyes.

“It’s nice to meet you, too.  You know, since you don’t have to make the run to the hospital, do you have time to come inside?  The birthday girl should have just cut the cake.”

“How could we say no to birthday cake?” Alex laughed, slapping Judd on the back.  “You’ve been holding out on me, Farris,” he said under his breath as they followed Jessi into the party.

FB image Golden Flogger

FOR SPARROW is available at your favorite online bookseller.
books2read.com/ForSparrow

FOR SPARROW–2018 Golden Flogger Award WINNER for Best BDSM Book (BDSM Light)

I’m thrilled that the third Dream Dominant book, FOR SPARROW, was selected for this honor!  The Golden Flogger is awarded every year by the BDSM Writers Con, which is why it means so much.  They not only like the story, they approve of the way the book portrays the BDSM lifestyle.

FOR SPARROW is near and dear to my heart–it’s set here in Palm Beach County, my home for the past 25 years.  Throughout the story, I take the characters to some of my favorite places.

As a teaser, here’s the first chapter…

I buried my husband today.

The thought tumbled through Jessi’s mind over and over, like clothes in a dryer.  Voices around her sounded oddly muted, as though she were underwater.  Occasionally, someone touched her, a simple grasping of her hand, a gentle pat on her shoulder, and the sensation felt like burning embers showering down over her.

Following the graveside service, mourners had gathered at her home.  Hers and Graham’s.

Only Graham isn’t here.  We left him at the cemetery.  I buried my husband today.

Food had appeared in her kitchen.  Casseroles, desserts, salads.  There was even a brisket.  An army of women had set up a command post and were making sure guests had plenty to eat and drink.  Jessi wondered briefly if there was enough ice for the drinks.  Maybe she should ask Graham run to out and get some more.

I buried my husband today.

Since that day, her phone hadn’t stopped ringing.  Friends and neighbors hadn’t stopped calling and dropping by.  “How are you?”  “What can we do?”  “What do you need?”

Her business partner, Sarah Reid, had been her rock, taking over the events they had scheduled for the week, returning calls Jessi didn’t have the strength to deal with.

“You take all the time you need, hon,” Sarah had told her.  “We’ve got it under control.”

Since that day.

“Sparrow, I need to get the oil changed in my car.  Why don’t you drive to the mechanic’s and I’ll meet you there?  I’ll drop you at your office, and then we can do the reverse this afternoon.”

Jessi had waited at the mechanic’s shop.  After an hour had passed, she’d tried his phone.  A stranger had answered.

“This is Officer Brooks.  The owner of this phone has been in an accident.  Are you the wife of Graham Crenshaw?”

A police car had picked her up and driven her to the hospital.  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Crenshaw.  It appears your husband suffered a fatal heart attack behind the wheel of his car.  When the car hit the utility pole, he was most likely already deceased.”  The doctor had had an air of resigned sympathy.  Jessi had wondered how many people he pronounced dead on an average day.

Sarah had met her at the hospital and had driven her home.  Jessi wasn’t sure how her own car had gotten back to the house.  She’d somehow made the calls to Cara and Adam.  “Something has happened.  Your dad died.”

Cara, age twenty-three, had made her excuses at her job with the Weather Channel, and had taken the first available flight from Atlanta to West Palm Beach.  Adam, age twenty-one, had driven from Orlando where he worked as a video game animator.

Jessi and the kids had gone to the funeral home the following day to see to burial arrangements.  The funeral director had neatly folded his hands on top of his huge mahogany desk and smiled kindly.

“Mrs. Crenshaw, your husband has everything prearranged.  You don’t need to worry about a thing, it’s all taken care of.  He has requested that he be buried in a navy suit, with a white shirt and a blue and red paisley tie.  Do you know the things he means?”

Jessi had nodded dumbly.  What he’d described was her favorite suit of Graham’s.  He always looked so handsome, and he’d worn it when they’d celebrated their anniversary a few months back.

He had it all planned out.  But when?  Did he do it after the heart attack a few years ago?  Why didn’t he mention it?

“We’re just so sorry for your loss.”  The statement shook Jessi from her thoughts, returning her to the morbid gathering in her living room.  It was a neighbor couple from down the street.

“Thank you,” she murmured, not meeting their eyes.  She sipped her wine to have something to do, and wandered into the kitchen.

“Hey, hon, how are you holding up?” Sarah asked.

Jessi shrugged and gave a weak smile.  “I’m okay.”

“Can we get you something to eat?”

Jessi shook her head and headed back to the living room.

I buried my husband today.

“Jessica.  I was just chatting with your lovely daughter and son,” said Rev. Lyman.  “Graham was a good man, taken before his time.”  He looked at Jessi with slight reproof.  “I hope we’ll be seeing you and your family on Sunday.”

“Maybe, Reverend,” Jessi replied softly.  “If you’ll excuse me and my children.”

“Of course.  Family has to pull together at a time like this.”

They watched him work his way across the room.  “I’m not lovely?” quipped Adam.

Jessi smiled at her son.  “You’re lovely to me.  And you’re welcome for getting the good reverend to move along.”

“Do you love the way Rev. Lyman tried to get in a plug for going to church?” commented Cara.

“My personal relationship with God is exactly that.  Personal,” replied Jessi.  “How are you two doing?”

“It’s hard,” said Adam, his voice breaking.

“I know.  You don’t have to stay for all of this.  I have no idea when people will decide to leave.”

“I’m here until Friday,” Cara said.  “I don’t want to leave you alone to deal.”

Jessi kissed her cheek and then Adam’s.  “Thank you both.  I love you so much.  Your dad loved you, too.”  She felt tears forming again.  She felt as though she’d cried out her very soul, and yet tears were always near.

Cara’s here until Friday.  What day is it again?

Cara and Adam moved out to find their friends.  Jessi turned to look for a place to sit.  She was so weary.  She was stopped by a woman she vaguely recognized.

“Jessica, I’m Harriet.  From church?”

“Oh, yes, Harriet.  It was good of you to come.”

“Sweetie, I just want to remind you that Graham is in a better place.”  She beamed at Jessi, as though her words bestowed onto the new widow some sort of miracle.

Jessi felt a twitch begin at the outer corner of her left eye.  If I don’t get out of here right now, I’m going to scream.

“If you’ll excuse me, please,” she murmured, pushing past the woman.  She hurried through the kitchen, ignoring Sarah as she called to her, and slipped out the back door.

The lanai and pool deck were blissfully quiet in the early evening twilight.  The sun had set and the lights had come on automatically.  She crossed to the far side of the pool, and sat on the raised edge of the spa with her back to the house.  Finally alone, she leaned forward with her elbows on her thighs and let the tears flow.

She’d only been there a few minutes when she heard a sound, the soft scuff of a leather shoe against the brick pavers.  She sat up abruptly and whirled around.

“I’m so sorry.  I don’t mean to bother you.”  The man was tall and muscular, his dark hair in short waves framing a handsome face, his dark suit cut slim.  Large brown eyes were soft and sympathetic.

Jessi sniffed and stood, swiping at the tears on her cheeks.  “I just needed some air.  I buried my husband today.”  She looked up at him, shocked.  “That’s the first time I said that out loud.”

He smiled kindly.  “I’ll leave you alone.  I just wanted to say that Graham was a good man.  He was my friend and I’ll miss him.”

“Thank you.  Did you work with him?”

“No.  We were friends.  I’m Judd, by the way.”

Jessi nodded.  “Thank you for coming, Judd.  I’m sure he would have appreciated it.”  She began walking back towards the house.  Judd fell into step beside her.

“I thought maybe I would come back on Saturday, maybe help you with the lawn,” he said.

Jessi was only half-listening, wondering if Harriet had gotten the hell out of her house yet.  “Mm-hmm,” she murmured.

“Alright, Jessi,” he said.  “Take care, now.”

She nodded and went to find her children.

FOR SPARROW is available in both digital and paperback
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