Weekend Excerpt–A Different Kind of Christmas

It’s Orphans & Misfits Christmas 2.0,
this time at Michael’s place.
My, how times have changed.

The RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION trilogy is the story of high-profile Manhattan attorney Michael Rannigan and his complicated relationship with Maggie Flynn, the smart redhead he hired to join his elite law firm. The three books span nearly a decade of their lives, and in this snippet from the third book, RANSOMING REDEMPTION, life has taken some big detours.

Michael glanced around his living room and sighed deeply as an unfamiliar wave of contentment washed over him.  He’d missed the Orphans and Misfits since he and Maggie had parted ways and had forgotten how much he’d enjoyed being in the midst of all the joyful chaos.

After their late-afternoon buffet-style dinner, the handful of children in attendance opened their gifts.  Then Ben headed up the annual gift exchange, handing out numbers and presiding over the picks and swaps.  Maggie and some of the others set out dessert on the dining room table and made sure that the bar was stocked with plenty of cups and ice so that everyone felt free to help themselves.

Ensconced in his spot close to the windows at the far end of the huge leather sectional, Michael realized that everywhere he looked, he saw people who were connected in some way to himself or Maggie or both.  Rance, Jason and a few more were out on the terrace taking in the view.  A handful of others watched a football game on television.  Across the room, Nate and Ben chatted with a petite blonde woman. 

That’s Casey, Maggie’s friend from law school, he reminded himself.  Casey’s husband John was on the floor in front of the Christmas tree with their little boy, putting together something with Legos.  Closer to Michael, sitting on the floor leaning against the sectional, Maggie was playing a game of peek-a-boo with a toddler who was sitting on her lap.  

That must be Casey’s daughter, he thought, judging by the little girl’s nearly white blonde hair.  In his mind’s eye, he saw Maggie playing the game with a red haired child, and he smiled contentedly.  It’s all coming together.  

Veronica slid onto the sofa beside him.  “You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself.”

Michael grinned.  “That’s because when you’re good, you’re good.  And I’m good.”  He winked at her.

“And oh, so humble,” she purred, fixing him with a mocking exasperated smirk.

Casey joined Maggie on the floor.  “How’s Princess Nastypants doing?” she asked, taking her daughter from Maggie.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is the sweetest child,” Maggie said, laughing.

“Well, she’s momentarily charmed by her Aunt Maggie, but don’t let her fool you.  We’re up to our eyeballs in the ‘terrible twos.’ ”

Afternoon blended into evening as dusk fell, and Maggie noticed that not only had no one left, they all looked as though they were settling in for a long stay, some even helping themselves to plates of leftovers. 

“How are you feeling, Michael?” she asked, squatting beside him.  “Should I start shooing people out of here?”

“Don’t be silly, Mags,” he said, flashing his best Michael Rannigan grin.  “Everybody’s enjoying themselves.  This is the nicest Christmas I’ve had in a long time.”

She looked up at him and smiled, squeezing his hand.  “I’m really glad.” 

As she made her way back to the kitchen, her phone buzzed in her pocket. Finally.  Bobby had called early in the morning and they’d chatted briefly, but they hadn’t had another chance to talk all day.

“Hey there, cher,” he greeted her.  “How’s my best girl?”

Maggie laughed into the phone.  “I’m better now.  I’ve missed you all day, but I know you were busy.  We’ve been busy here, too, come to that.”  She walked down the hallway for more privacy. 

“Would you believe that everyone is still at Michael’s?” she whispered.  “Nobody has left yet.”

 “No?”

“I asked Michael if I should start moving them along, but he seems happy to have them.”

Bobby laughed.  “It sounds like you throw a hell of a party.  Nobody wants to leave.”

“How was your day?  Did Savannah like her present?”  Maggie had sent Bobby with a portable artist’s kit to give the little girl.

“She just loved it.”  Maggie could hear the smile in his voice.  “That child had more stuff by the end of the morning than you would believe.”

Maggie laughed happily.  “Well, good.  I’m so glad.”  She sighed.  “I just wish you were here.”

“Me too, cher, believe me.”

“Do I need to let you go?” she asked.

“Yeah, I should probably get off the phone.”

 “Okay, then,” she breathed.  “I love you.”

 “I love you, too, Maggie.  I’ll see you soon.”

Maggie disconnected and made her way back down the hallway towards the living room which was as full of people as ever.  It seemed less than fair somehow that everyone had someone with them today.  Casey had John, Ben had Nate, Rance had Jason, hell, even Michael had Veronica   Whatever happened to the Orphans and Misfits?  She knew she was being petty and tried to shrug it off.

Across the room, Michael looked tired and he was using his oxygen again.  She wondered briefly whether she should just start moving people along in spite of what he’d said.  A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Hey Mags, could you get that?” Michael asked.

Sighing to herself, she crossed to the door, wondering who’d locked themselves out.  She didn’t notice that as she swung open the door the room fell silent.

“Merry Christmas, cher.”

Momentarily speechless, she froze for second before launching herself into Bobby’s arms.  He had to take a step back to keep from falling. 

“Well, I’m glad to see you, too,” he laughed.

Through tears, she sputtered, “But…I mean, what…How did you…”

“Calm down,” he laughed as he carried her into the room.  “Merry Christmas, everybody.”  Bobby gently set Maggie down, and she gripped his hand in hers, unwilling to lose contact with him.

Casey brought a plate of food from the kitchen.  “Hi, I’m Casey.  I figured you were probably hungry.”

Bobby bestowed on her his best lop-sided grin.  “Nice to meet you, Casey.  I’m Bobby.  And thanks, I am pretty hungry.”  He took a seat on the end of the sectional, nodding at Michael.  “Merry Christmas, man.”

Michael smiled, his eyes crinkling.  “Merry Christmas, Beau.  Glad you could join us.”

As Bobby ate, Maggie introduced him to those he hadn’t met.  While everyone went back to their own conversations, she peppered him with questions.  “What happened?  Did you really call me from the hall?  Why did you come back tonight?  I thought you were staying in Louisiana for a couple more days.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” he grinned.

“Well…you did.  I’m so glad.”

Taking her hand, he kissed it gently.  “Let’s go get a breath of fresh air.”  He stood and held her hand, helping her up, and they let themselves out onto the terrace.  The cool air was a nice change from the warmth of the crowded apartment.  They walked to the railing and stood side by side looking out over the city with its sparkling lights and flurrying snow.

“It’s such a beautiful night,” Bobby murmured, and Maggie nodded, tucking her arm around his and resting her head on his shoulder.  “Such a beautiful lady.”

She looked up at him, and he kissed her lightly.  “When I think back on that day that your shoe broke,” he looked down and she giggled, “that seems like the luckiest day of my life.  I think of all the things that had to happen for us to meet at that moment.”  He gazed down at her.  “It’s like it was meant to be.”

He took both Maggie’s hands in his and faced her.  “I love you with all my heart.  I don’t ever want to know a day without you in my life.”  His eyes glittered with emotion and he slowly lowered himself to one knee.  Maggie’s jaw dropped, and her eyes widened.

“So I’m asking…Maggie, will you marry me?”

Maggie felt all the breath leave her body.  In a mad rush, memories from the last few years swirled through her mind, her infatuation with Michael, her engagement to Mike, her resolve to remain alone, that day she and Bobby had met. 

She looked down into Bobby’s eyes and saw a twinge of anxiety and realized she hadn’t answered.  Unable to formulate the words, she nodded vigorously as tears filled her eyes.  Two things happened simultaneously.  Relief instantly flooded Bobby’s face, and raucous cheers went up from the crowd who’d pressed up against the living room windows to watch.

“You had me worried for a minute there, cher,” he laughed.  He reached into his pocket and removed a small midnight blue velvet box.  Opening it, he removed something and slid it onto Maggie’s left ring finger.  “You’ve made me the happiest man in the world.”  He stood and gazed down into her eyes before lifting her chin and kissing her passionately.  Again, their audience cheered loudly.

“Bobby, it’s absolutely beautiful,” Maggie said.  “I love it!”

He laughed.  “You can’t even see it.  I hadn’t counted on it being so dark out here.  Come on, let’s go on inside.”

Hand in hand, they went back inside the apartment to the hearty congratulations of their friends.  In the light of a lamp beside Michael, Maggie and Bobby looked at the ring.  The band of delicate platinum filigree held a huge emerald-cut diamond surrounded by dozens of smaller diamonds. 

“Oh, Bobby,” she gasped.  “It’s unbelievably beautiful.  So delicate and vintage-looking.”  She turned and threw her arms around his neck.  “I love it!”

“Oh, for God’s sake, can we finally open the champagne?” Ben called out.  As champagne was poured and glasses were passed around, Maggie looked down at Michael who had a Cheshire grin on his face.

“This is the gift Bobby showed you?” she said, tilting the ring his way.  Realization dawned on her.  “And it wasn’t leftover champagne?  And this is why nobody would leave?”

“Everybody except you knew this was an engagement party, Mags,” he said quietly.

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing I said yes,” she said.

“Oh, like you would have said no,” Casey quipped, and everyone laughed.

RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION by Pandora Spocks

RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION is:
RESISTING RISK
RUNNING ROGUE
RANSOMING REDEMPTION
The books are available individually or as a boxed set.
books2read.com/RannigansRedemption

ANNA’S HEART, Redheads & Ranchers Book 3

The first two books in my Redheads & Ranchers series, JENNY’S VOICE and HUNTER’S PRIDE are currently available at your favorite online bookseller. These days, I’m busy working on the third and final book of this collection of stand-alone contemporary steamy romance novels.

In ANNA’S HEART, Anna Graves works hard helping to run her family’s Wyoming dude ranch.  Still reeling from the tragic loss of her smokejumper fiancé in a horrific wildfire, she’s content to hide from the world as she teaches horseback riding lessons to tourists by day and reads smutty romance novels by night.

When world-famous Scottish actor Angus McGregor needs to brush up his cowboy skills in preparation for his starring role in a new Western, he heads to Sweetwater Ranch in the boondocks of Wyoming.  He’s immediately fascinated by Anna, who won’t give him the time of day.  Can he break down the self-protective wall she’s built?

Here’s a little teaser from ANNA’S HEART.

After lunch, Anna led her first beginners’ riding class of the new session. This time around, she had six eager young riders between the ages of five and twelve, and for two hours, she led them through their paces. By the end of the following week, each student would be able to groom and saddle his or her own horse, and they’d be competent enough to participate in the overnight trail ride and camp-out with their families.

When her riding class was over, Andy helped her untack her horses, and they worked together to feed and water the entire stable of fifteen equines.

“Guess that actor guy isn’t coming,” he commented as he and Anna left the barn and headed for the lodge.

Anna shrugged. “I guess not.”

“Simone was really looking forward to meeting him.”

“Maybe you should be relieved,” she grinned at her brother wryly. “Sounds like she might decide to just ride off with Angus McGregor.”

Andy held up his hands in mock surrender. “I just want to keep the pregnant lady happy.”

“Hang in there, not much longer now,” Anna observed. “Just a few more weeks.”

When they entered the lodge, several of Anna’s new students ran to greet her.

“Anna! Anna! This is my mom and dad!” cried the youngest of her students, a tiny towhead blonde named Ariel.

Anna grinned broadly. “Hi, Mom and Dad. It’s nice to formally meet you.”

The mother smiled. “She can’t stop talking about riding Rocket.”

“We named him Rocket kind of ironically. He’s really slow,” Anna laughed, thinking affectionately of the old bay.

“Well, Ariel had a good time. We’re excited about the camp-out at the end of next week,” the father said.

Anna nodded. “That’s usually the highlight of everybody’s stay.”

Across the room, Vanessa waved to Anna. “If you’ll excuse me,” she offered before heading off to find out what her mother wanted.

“A flyer came in the mail today. Founders’ Day is next week.”

Anna frowned slightly at the brightly colored page her mother thrust into her hands. The bulk of the page was a vintage photo of Main Street in Crystal Springs, overlayed with jaunty graphics declaring the annual Crystal Springs Founders’ Day celebration.

Back in the late 1860s, the nearby town of Crystal Springs had sprung up practically overnight as a mining boomtown. The coal vein had played out by the middle of the following century, but the small town was proud of its heritage. Each summer, they celebrated what they thought of as Founders’ Day with a parade down Main Street followed by a giant picnic, and capping off the evening with a family-friendly town dance.

There was a time when Anna looked forward to the annual event. Now, she scowled at the announcement.

“I’d like that put on the bulletin board on the front porch,” Vanessa said. “I’ll mention it at dinner, but I want to make sure all the guests know they’re invited to attend.”

Anna nodded and headed toward the front door.

“And Anna?” her mother called after her.

She stopped and turned around.

“I expect you to go this year.” Vanessa arched an eyebrow, daring her daughter to argue.

Anna stalked back to the reception desk. “I don’t want to go. Why do you insist that I go?”

“Because it’s time you started getting out, meeting people.”

Swallowing her rising irritation, Anna gritted her teeth. “I meet people.” She waved toward the guests wandering through the lodge’s lobby. “They’re all people.”

“You know what I mean.”

Huffing in frustration, Anna turned on her heel and headed back toward the door.

“You will go. I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

Wordlessly and without turning around, Anna waved the flyer in the air and marched out the door. Opening the glass front of the bulletin board, she silently fumed at her mother.

For fuck’s sake! I’m twenty-fucking-six years old! I don’t need to be told what to do and how to do it, where to go and when. I make my own decisions. Besides, there are always things that need to be done around the ranch. Everyone can’t go gallivanting into town. Somebody has to stay back and hold down the fort.

Part of her told her she was making way too much out of her mother’s request that she attend the celebration in town. But the rest of her was in no mood to be reasonable. She tacked up the flyer and closed the protective glass door, deciding she’d go remind her mother about the need for someone to stay behind during the festivities.

She turned abruptly and ran headlong into something solid. The next thing she knew, she and a tall red-haired man landed in a tangled heap on the front lawn.

“Oof,” he managed as he lay gasping for air.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you standing there.” Anna scrambled to her feet and reached down to help the man stand.

Slowly, he allowed her to pull him up. Green-tinted Rayban aviators askew and a pair of bags strewn on the grass, he coughed slightly as he straightened to his full height.

Anna figured he had to be well over six feet tall, maybe as much as six and a half feet, judging by the way he towered over her five-foot-four frame.

“Are you okay?” she asked him.

He nodded, reaching to straighten his sunglasses and run his fingers through his red hair. “Aye, had the wind knocked out of me is all. And that’s a fine welcome, I must say,” he replied in a thick Scottish brogue.

Feeling her cheeks color, Anna reached to brush the dirt off the man’s sleeve. “I’m really sorry! It was totally my fault. I should have been watching where I was going.”

“Aye, you should have,” he grinned wryly, “but then I’d have missed being tackled by a bonnie lass such as yourself. Do you play rugby, perchance?” His laugh was hearty, almost infectious.

Mortified, Anna started to gather up his belongings, but he stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. “I’ve got my bags, thanks.” He hoisted a large leather duffel bag onto his broad left shoulder and picked up a matching suitcase. “I have a reservation for McGregor. Do I check in here?”

“Um, yes,” Anna nodded. “Just this way.” Still blushing, she led the way up the front steps and into the lobby. With a pair of tortoiseshell-framed readers perched on the bridge of her nose, Vanessa Graves stood at the check-in desk efficiently tapping something on a keyboard. When she looked up and saw her daughter with their new guest, she smiled brightly.

“Mr. McGregor is checking in,” Anna said meekly, wishing she could melt through the floorboards.

“I’d be happy if you’d just call me Angus,” he said quickly.

“I’m Vanessa Graves. Welcome to Sweetwater Ranch, Mr. M–Angus,” Vanessa greeted him. “We’re happy to have you here.”

“I’m happy to be here. You have a lovely ranch, from what I’ve seen so far.” He glanced Anna’s way and she blushed furiously.

Mrs. Graves turned and retrieved a brass key from an old-fashioned wooden key rack behind the front desk. “Here you are. Cabin 6. Anna will take you there.”

She handed him the key and smiled cordially. “You’ll find a folder in your cabin with this week’s schedule. Once you settle in, I hope you take the opportunity to explore the ranch. And dinner is here in the dining room at 6:00.”

While Anna silently shot daggers at her mother, Angus’s full-wattage grin was charming. “That sounds perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Graves.”

He turned and looked at Anna expectantly.

“Oh, um, right this way.” She turned, shooting one last glare at her mother, and led their new guest back outside.

ANNA’S HEART by Pandora Spocks

You’ll have to wait to read the rest of ANNA’S HEART.
But you can download JENNY’S VOICE and HUNTER’S PRIDE now!

Weekend Excerpt–Christmas at Lake Miranda

When single mom Jackie Walker meets Scott Nielsen, she realizes she might be ready to take another chance on love. Scott, her brother’s best friend, has come to Lake Miranda with dreams of starting his own wilderness school. And he is drawn to Jackie from the start.

But he’s Dominant. Is there any way this strong, independent woman will ever agree to gift him with her submission?

Fun Fact: WARRIOR MINE is actually a spin-off from Dream Dominant Book 2, LOST & BOUND. Readers were intrigued by supporting characters Scott and Jackie, so they got their own story.

Here’s a Christmas teaser from WARRIOR MINE.

On Christmas Eve, after the kids had gone to bed, the adults gathered around the enormous festively-decorated white spruce.  Light Christmas jazz played in the background, and outside the floor to ceiling windows, snow swirled lazily in the half moonlight. 

Jackie handed Amy a mug of warm mulled cider and settled beside her on a leather sofa with a mug of her own.  On the floor, Scott and Blake sat amid the scattered pieces of a pink Barbie house ‘Santa’ had found on sale months earlier and had put away until now. 

Winking at Amy, Jackie suppressed a smile.  “Did you guys read the instructions?”

“We don’t need the damn instructions,” Blake huffed, pushing a stray lock of dark hair out of his eyes.  “We’re two intelligent, grown men.  We can figure out how to put together a dollhouse.”

The women clinked their mugs and giggled gleefully.

Amy looked from Blake and Scott to the twinkling Christmas tree, and to Jackie.  “I love this.”  Her voice was soft, and though she smiled, a tear was in her eye.  “This is the Christmas I always wanted.”

Jackie’s heart melted, and she reached for Amy’s hand.  “I’m so happy you’re here.”

Blake pushed up from the floor and pressed a tender kiss to Amy’s temple.  “This is our life, kitten.  This is our family, your family.  You belong here.” 

Jackie smiled across the room at Scott, who winked at her, and she felt a familiar tummy flutter.  She loved the man more than she’d thought humanly possible.  And when summer came, she’d marry him. 

After Blake and Amy retired to the guest room, Scott and Jackie went to bed, quietly making love, then holding each other until late into the night. 

They awoke to a bright sunny day, the sky crystal cerulean, the sun reflecting brilliantly off the sparkling snow.  Emma and Grant squealed excitedly as they saw the mountain of gifts under the tree.  Scott sat at the end of the sofa and Jackie snuggled up beside him, each of them sipping steaming mugs of coffee.  Blake and Amy sat opposite them on the sofa’s twin, smiling as they watched the children tearing into their gifts.

Once they were finished, the kids had fun delivering gifts to the adults.  Finally, all the gifts were opened.  Blake and Amy gave each other a conspiratorial look.  “We have a few more gifts,” Amy said.

“More?” Jackie echoed, thinking of the extravagant handbag for her, and the top of the line boots for Scott.  “You’ve done so much already, seriously.”

Blake reached behind the sofa and picked up four identical shirt boxes wrapped in metallic red paper.  He glanced at the tags and handed one to each of the children and to Jackie and Scott.

Amy leaned forward excitedly.  “You have to open them all together.  Ready?  One, two, three!”

With a bemused glance at Scott, Jackie carefully opened her box.  Grant and Emma ripped theirs open.  “It’s a shirt,” Emma said, holding up a pink t-shirt. 

Grant peered into the box.  “Thanks, Aunt Amy,” he said, making an effort to sound enthused about a shirt.  “It sure is…pink.”

Scott tilted his head as he looked at his, then elbowed Jackie lightly.  She looked at his, then gaped at hers.  In sparkling letters across pink cotton, she read, World’s Greatest Aunt.

Jackie gasped.  “I knew it!  I knew you were pregnant!  I’m so excited for you!” she squealed, rushing over to give Amy and Blake a big hug.

 “We didn’t want to tell anyone until we knew everything was going to be okay,” Amy explained. 

“Cool,” Grant said, pulling his new shirt over his head, “we’re going to be cousins!”

“Aunt Amy, are you having a boy baby or a girl baby?” Emma asked.

Blake grinned.  “It’s a little girl.  That’s why we gave you pink shirts.”

“Congratulations, man!”  Scott grinned as Blake stood and the two embraced.  “That’s great news.”

“I can’t believe it.”  He shook his head.  “I’m going to be a dad.”

Jackie sank onto the sofa beside Amy.  “A little girl,” she shook her head smiling.  “That’s fantastic.”

Amy nodded, eyes shining.  “Do you want to see the ultrasound pictures?”

“I’ll get them,” Blake said, heading in the direction of the guest room.

Grant and Emma returned to their new toys.  Scott perched on the arm of the sofa next to Jackie.  “I’m so happy for you two,” he told Amy.  She laughed happily. 

From the direction of the guest room, they heard a tiny yip.  Jackie frowned.  “What was that?”

Eyes wide, Amy gave an exaggerated shrug.  “I have no idea.”

“Uh oh,” Blake called from the guest room.  “I think I found another present.”

Jackie looked up to see a shaggy black puppy with a huge red bow come running into the room.  He ran straight to the kids, yipping excitedly.

“A puppy,” Emma squealed.

Grant squinted at the tag on the big red bow and gasped.  “Mom!  It’s for us, from Santa!”

Blake leaned against the doorway looking pleased with himself. 

“From Santa, huh?”

“I think Grandma and Grandpa might have mentioned it to the big guy,” Blake grinned.

Oh, for f—” Jackie glanced up at Scott.  “Did you know about this?”

He raised his hands in surrender.  “I promise, I knew nothing about a puppy.”

“They love Bear so much, they need one of their own,” Amy said, smiling.

“So, what are you going to name him?” Blake asked.

Brow furrowed, Grant watched the Newfie puppy for a moment.  “Max.  He looks like a Max to me.”

Ruffling the puppy’s ears, Emma nodded enthusiastically.  “Yeah.  Max.”

Jackie shook her head.  “He’s cute, I’ll give you that.  But I still want to see those ultrasound pictures of my niece.” 

WARRION MINE by Pandora Spocks

WARRIOR MINE is Dream Dominant Book 4.
It’s available at your favorite online bookseller.
books2read.com/WarriorMine

Weekend Excerpt–Christmas With the Orphans & Misfits

Michael Rannigan had his life arranged
exactly the way he wanted it.
Meeting Maggie Flynn changed everything
in ways he could never even imagine.

RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION is the three-novel story of high-profile Manhattan attorney Michael Rannigan and his complicated relationship with Maggie Flynn, the new lawyer he hires to join his elite firm.

She’s nothing like the women he dates. She’s way too smart, for one thing. And he prefers blondes, too, the more like Barbie, the better.

But there’s something about this spunky redhead he just can’t get out of his mind.

Maggie knows her crush on Michael is all but hopeless. For now, she’s content to work with him as they defend the rich and famous clients who rely on Michael and his team.

Here’s a holiday teaser from the first book in the trilogy, RESISTING RISK:

“Maggie, is the turkey ready?” Casey asked.

Maggie checked the clock and shook her head.  “No way, it has at least another hour, then it has to rest.  We can put in the beans and the stuffing when it comes out.  Nate, how do we reheat the red beans and rice?”

As Nate answered Maggie’s question, Ben wandered over to the window.  The buzzer rang again.  Ben glanced at Maggie in the kitchen.  “Somebody’s buzzing downstairs, Flynn.”

Casey was helping Maggie turn the turkey around in the oven.  “Well can you please buzz them in?  I’m a little busy here.”

Ben pressed the buzzer but made no move to open the apartment door.  About a minute later there was a knock.  The others were engrossed in the football game.  Ben stayed put.  “Somebody’s at the door, Flynn.”

“Oh for God’s sake, I’ll just drop everything and get it myself,” said Maggie, tossing down pot holders in exasperation.

Maggie flung open the door to find Michael standing in the hallway.  He grinned sheepishly.  “Merry Christmas, Mags.”

She blinked, confused.  “Michael, I…I mean, Merry Christmas.  But what…Shouldn’t you be in St. Bart’s?”

“I got snowed in.  My flight was cancelled.  I have a charter later on, but I thought I’d stop by here.  Do you have room for another orphan?”

A slow smile spread across her face.  “Of course, there’s always room.  Come on in.”

Maggie turned to find that everyone in the apartment was watching the two of them.  “Everyone, this is Michael.  Michael, everyone.”

“Hello, Merry Christmas,” he greeted the group.  To Maggie, “I brought wine.  I wasn’t sure…”

“Wine is perfect, thanks,” she told him.  Waving toward the kitchen she said, “Help yourself to something to drink.  We’ve been enjoying the munchies out of your gift basket.  Dinner will probably be another hour or so.”  She smiled at him.  “I’m so glad you’re here.  Shocked, but glad.”

After he dropped his coat and his suitcase in Maggie’s bedroom with the other coats, Michael got a beer for himself and settled in the living room, striking up a conversation with the guys watching football.  Casey sidled up to Maggie in the kitchen.  “You didn’t tell me Mr. Wonderful was coming.”

“I didn’t know Michael was coming.  He’s supposed to be in the Caribbean.  With someone, you understand, nobody goes to the Caribbean alone.”

“Maybe.  But he’s here now.”

Michael relaxed on the couch and looked around appreciatively at all the activity.  Maggie and Casey were       in the kitchen along with a couple he didn’t know.  There was an older woman chatting with Nate from the firm.  Several others were watching football.  Everyone seemed happy and at home. 

“This is nice,” he commented to Ben.  “It feels like a scene from Rent.”

Ben smirked.  “Viva la vie Boheme!” he raised his beer.

Michael chuckled and raised his beer as well.  “La vie Boheme.”

Dinner was served on three tables pushed together in the middle of the living room.  Plates were filled buffet-style in the kitchen.  Ben insisted that Maggie toast before they ate. 

She raised her glass of wine.  “I feel like the luckiest girl.  I’m here celebrating the holiday with my most favorite people in the entire world.  There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.  Merry Christmas!”

After everyone ate as much as they could, the guys agreed to do all the clean-up.  Maggie supervised returning the tables to their proper places then sank onto the sofa, resting her feet on the coffee table.

“What about the dessert, Flynn?” Ben asked when the leftovers were packed up.

“Let’s be informal.  Grab some if you want some.  I want to do presents,” Maggie said.  Michael brought her a fresh glass of wine.  She looked up at him, grinning in appreciation, and patted the space beside her.

“I’ll sit on the floor, I don’t mind,” he said, sliding to a spot beside her feet.

“Now the way this works is, everyone takes a number.  We go in order starting at 1.  Number 1 picks first.  Number 2 can pick a new present or steal from Number 1.  Everybody got it?” Ben asked.  Maggie watched in amusement as some played shyly while others were cut-throat. 

“What’s this?” Michael asked quietly.  She looked down to see him holding an ornament from the tree.  It was a small red glass ball held by a green paper cone.  Her name was spelled out in glitter. 

“I think I was about six when I made that,” she smiled.  “The Christmas ornaments were some of the few things I took from my dad’s house.”

He grinned.  “I like it.”

When the gifts were over, Maggie had a new hand-crocheted toilet-roll cover.  Michael had a $10 gift card to Starbucks.  “Guess somebody didn’t get the memo,” he quipped so that only Maggie heard, and she giggled softly. 

He winked and leaned close.  “Mags, I should be making my way to the airport.”

“Okay,” Maggie sighed.  “I’ll walk you out.”  She got her coat and hat while he said his goodbyes.  “I’ll be right back,” she said to Casey as they headed out of the apartment.  They walked down the stairs without chatting.

Once out on the sidewalk, Michael turned and faced her.  “I had a great time, Mags.  Thanks for inviting me.”  He glanced up.  “We have an audience, by the way.”  He waved at the crowd gathered in Maggie’s front window.

She looked up at them, scowling.  “Come on,” she said, turning right and heading down the sidewalk.  She stopped just around the corner.

Michael smiled.  “Thanks.  I just wanted to say goodbye privately.  I brought you a gift but I didn’t want to give it to you in there.”  He pulled a small flat box from his pocket.  It was light blue, tied with a white ribbon.

Maggie’s eyes widened.  “Sean Michael Rannigan, you did not!”

“How did you know the S stands for Sean?”

She shrugged.  “Everyone knows it’s Sean.  I can’t believe you went to Tiffany…”  She stopped and looked up at him, smiling sadly.  “This wasn’t for me.  This is supposed to be for someone else.”

“No, Mags, this is for you,” he said earnestly.  “I mean, to be honest, I went there yesterday looking for something for Jana.”

“What, Toys R Us and GapKids were closed?” Maggie quipped.

“Ah-hah-hah, you’re very funny.  I found a little trinket to give to Jana, but then I turned and saw this.  All I could think was that you should have it.  It’s for you, Mags.”

Curious, Maggie slowly pulled the white ribbon and lifted the lid.  In the box resting on light blue velvet was a delicate silver bracelet.  It had a vintage look to it with large rectangular milky white cabochons alternating with trios of small round diamonds surrounded by platinum filigree.  She looked back up at Michael, eyes wide.

“Those are moonstones,” he said proudly.  “This was in the vintage case.  It was made in 1915.”  He gazed at the bracelet.  “It’s graceful and classy, just like you.”

“I don’t know what to say, Michael.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.  Will you help me put it on?”

He lifted the bracelet from the box and as Maggie held out her left hand he fastened it around her wrist.  She held it out and watched it catch the natural light.  As she did, she noticed a tiny platinum tag hanging from the clasp.  Peering closer she saw that it was engraved.  To Maggie, From Michael. 

“See?  I told you it was for you.”  She looked back up at him, eyes shining, and as she did, a gust of wind caught some stray hair, blowing it across her face.  Michael gently moved the errant strands, tucking them behind her ear.  Without planning it at all, he planted a tender kiss on her lips. 

He moved back slightly as Maggie looked up at him, eyes shining with desire.  He leaned into her again, the kiss this time all heat and passion.  She brought her left hand up to cradle his right cheek, her desire matching his.  When he stopped kissing her, he pulled her close, tucking her under his chin and they stood like that for a moment. 

Finally, he gently set her back from him.  She looked up, the sad glint once again in her eyes.  After all, he was leaving her to go to someone else.  “Merry Christmas, Mags.”

“Merry Christmas, Michael.”

RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION by Pandora Spocks

RANNIGAN’S REDEMPTION
is available at your favorite online bookseller. books2read.com/RannigansRedemption

Weekend Excerpt–FOR SPARROW

2018 GOLDEN FLOGGER AWARD WINNER
Best BDSM Book, BDSM Light!

A platonic Dom/sub relationship?
It’s a damn odd arrangement.

When Jessi Crenshaw’s husband Graham dies unexpectedly, she’s devastated. He’s the only man she’s ever loved. Just eighteen when she met him, she’s been married to him for twenty-five years. Now she’s lost her friend, her lover…and her Dominant.

But as it turns out, Graham had an inkling that his health was in decline, and he tapped his friend and protégé in the Lifestyle, firefighter and paramedic Judd Farris, to be Jessi’s Dominant until she gets back on her feet.

Judd is determined to fulfill his promise to his friend. But it’s a damn odd arrangement—a platonic Dom/sub relationship. With her fiery auburn hair, sparkling green eyes, and audacious spirit, Jessi captured his attention the first time he ever saw her. At her husband’s funeral.

A man could go to hell for the things he’s been thinking. But they’ve drawn a line, and he’s going to stick to it.

Judd’s sexy good looks and his gentle confidence aren’t lost on Jessi. She’s torn between loyalty to the man she loved, and desire for the man increasingly in her fantasies. In the letter Graham left for her, he mentioned that she might find Judd attractive. But that’s simply ridiculous. He’s five years younger than she is. He couldn’t possibly be interested in her. Could he?

Judd’s a Dom without a sub, and Jessi’s a sub without a Dom. It’s perfect for the time being. Could it be that Graham had more in mind than merely a temporary solution?

And could it all end at the hands of a madman?

FOR SPARROW is a contemporary erotic romance novel with a light BDSM theme. It’s the third book in the Dream Dominant Collection.

Here’s a little peek…

Jessi’s hands shook.  With her index finger she traced the writing on the front of the envelope.  She glanced out the back door to see Judd kick off his shoes and sit on the edge of the pool, sinking his feet in the water.  Buddy flopped down beside him and rolled over, wanting his tummy scratched, and Judd obliged. 

She turned her attention back to the envelope.  Her irrational self told her that if she didn’t open it, somehow everything could go back to normal.  But curiosity won the moment, and she slid her thumb under the flap and carefully opened the letter.

            My dearest Sparrow,

I’m so sorry I’m not there with you.  I can feel my heart beginning to wear out.  Please don’t be angry with me for not telling you, I know how you worry about things.  We’ve had a good life together.  I’ve told you before and I’m telling you again, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.  The fact that you are the mother of my children amazes the hell out of me.  What did I ever do to deserve such a terrific family?

 Jessi reached up to wipe a silent tear from her cheek.  Self-consciously, she flicked her eyes out to the pool deck to find that Judd was watching her intently, and he flashed a sympathetic smile.  Sniffing, she read on.

It would be pointless, I suppose, to tell you not to mourn.  Just don’t do it too long.  And don’t you dare wear black.  God, I hate all that maudlin bullshit.  Now Sparrow, you and I know that you are a natural submissive.  I don’t want you to feel lost without a Dominant in your life.  I want you to find one, a true Gentleman who will cherish you in the way you deserve.  One who will nurture the sexy, sensual woman you truly are.  Don’t you go back to some kind of vanilla half-existence.  That would really piss me off. 

Tears still streaming, she laughed because she could almost hear Graham’s voice. 

If you have this letter, you’ve met Judd.  I’ve known him for several years now, and he’s a solid Dominant.  I’ve asked him to check in on you and to take care of some things around the house.  I’ve also asked him to help you out until you find a Dominant of your own.  Judd is willing to give you knee time, Sparrow, to help you settle your mind and find peace.  I don’t mean sex and kink.  He would be a sort of ‘emotional Dominant,’ just until you get back on your feet.

On the other hand, if you found yourself attracted to Judd, it would make me happy knowing that you’d be in good hands.  He’s a good man, Jessi, a gentle man and a Gentleman.  He would be a perfect sexual Dominant for you.  I worry thinking about the dangers out there, Sparrow.  You and Judd could make your own way. 

Mortified, Jessi glanced out the back door.  Thankfully, Judd was staring out across the pool.  “I can’t believe you’re telling me these things,” she murmured to herself.

Anyway, I trust you, Sparrow.  You’re smart and strong, and I’m so proud of you.  Never forget that you are absolutely the love of my life.  I’m forever grateful to you for taking my hard, stuffy heart and helping me to be a better man than I ever dreamed about being.  Be sure the kids know how much I love them.  I love you, my Sparrow, with all my heart.  Live happy.  Find love and cherish it.

Your loving husband and Master, G.

Jessi was completely undone.  Sobbing, she folded her arms on the counter and rested her head on them.  She cried until she felt she had no tears left.  Moments passed and she raised her head.  It hurt and her eyes felt puffy.  With a glance at Judd and Buddy still sitting by the pool, she went into the powder room and splashed water on her face. 

Taking a deep breath, she forced her feet out the back door and across the pool deck.  Judd smiled up at her kindly.  “How are you holding up?”

Jessi shrugged as she stepped out of her sandals and sat beside him, slipping her feet into the cool water.  They sat without speaking, each gently sliding feet through the water, watching the ripples cross the pool and return to them.  Judd moved his foot under her leg and raised her foot to the surface.  The fuchsia nail polish was chipped and peeling. 

“How long since you had a pedicure, Jessi?” he asked gently.

She moved her foot away and looked at him sharply.  “What exactly did your letter say, Judd?”

He exhaled forcefully.  “Like I said, he was worried about you.  He said that you’re submissive and that you might need somebody in your life until you find your way.”  He glanced at her knowingly.  “When was the last time your mind was quiet, little one?”

A tear slid down Jessi’s cheek and she swiped at it roughly.  “So, you’re my appointed Dominant, is that it?” she asked testily.

“It’s not like that.”  Judd looked at her steadily.  “Graham and I were friends.  We talked about Dominance and submission for hours over the years.  He trusted me.  Trusted me with the one thing that meant the most to him in the world.” 

He paused, gazing at her thoughtfully.  “He didn’t want you to run into the wrong kind of man while you’re looking to ease your mind, to fill that emptiness that I see in your eyes.”  Jessi stubbornly looked away and swiped at her cheek again. 

“You know, it’s entirely up to you.  I’m going to complete the list of things around your house.  I promised him I would.  But whether you accept me as a surrogate Dominant?  Only you can decide that.” 

He ran a frustrated hand through his hair.  “You miss knee time, I know you do,” he said softly.  “A chance to just let go of all the concerns that weigh you down.”  Jessi turned back to look at him, her expression softer.  “I’m not talking about kinky sex, tying you up and all that.  I’m offering you a chance to clear your mind of everything, let me carry your burdens for a while.”

“Why?  Why would you do that?”  Her voice was strained.

Judd shrugged.  “I’m Dominant.  It’s what I crave, to be needed, to take care of a submissive.”  He laughed lightly.  “I’m a Dominant without a submissive, and you’re a submissive without a Dominant.  For the time being, it works out well.”

He gazed at her steadily, kindness in his brown eyes.  “Just say the word.  Do you want knee time, little one?”

Another tear rolled down her cheek.  And she nodded.  “Yes,” she whispered.  “I want knee time.”

 He smiled patiently.  “Yes, what, little one?”

“Yes, Master.”

 Judd shook his head.  “I’m not your Master, little one.  Yes, Sir will do.”

Unconsciously, Jessi bowed her head submissively.  “Yes, Sir, may I please have knee time?”

“Yes, you may,” he responded gently.  “There is a big leather chair in your den.  Be kneeling beside the chair in two minutes.  Your eyes will be closed and you will clear your mind.  Do you understand, little one?”

“Yes, Sir.”  Jessi stood and started to walk away, but then turned and looked at him anxiously.  “My clothes, Sir?”

“Your clothes are fine the way they are,” he answered.  “Hurry.  I’ll come to you shortly.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said, and she hurried into the house.

FOR SPARROW by Pandora Spocks

2018 Golden Flogger Award Winner
FOR SPARROW
is available at your favorite online bookseller.
books2read.com/ForSparrow

Weekend Excerpt–LOST & BOUND

Spoiled Hollywood bad girl Shasta Pyke
is used to getting her own way.
She’s met her match in
Dominant mountain man Blake Walker.

LOST & BOUND, Dream Dominant Book 2, is special to me for several reasons. For one thing, Blake Walker is my first literary Daddy Dom, and I loved getting to know him. He’s strong, sexy, and oh, so protective.

Another reason this book is forever in my heart is the setting. Growing up, I spent many a happy summer vacation in the wilds of northern Ontario, Canada. Writing this book, and the spin-off WARRIOR MINE, Dream Dominant Book 4, allowed me to take a nostalgic trip back to one of my favorite places on earth.

In LOST & BOUND, actress Shasta Pyke gets into trouble with the law in Hollywood so she’s sent to cool her heels for a while in the wilderness of northern Ontario. Bush pilot and former wilderness counselor Blake Walker is none too impressed with the new high profile guest at his family’s remote lodge, but as he spends time with her, he begins to see glimpses of the frightened little girl she hides from the world. Could she be the baby girl his Daddy Dom soul craves?

Here’s a teaser from LOST & BOUND.

Blake expertly angled the small boat to rest beside the tiny dock and killed the motor, tying off his end before jumping out and tying the front end as well.  Then he again offered his hand, helping Shasta climb out of the boat and onto the dock. 

She stood taking in the view as he unloaded her things.  The lodge was visible across the water, seemingly closer than it actually was, judging by the ten-minute ride.  If she hadn’t been in such a foul mood, she would have found the place beautiful.  The only sound she could hear was the wind in the tops of the countless pine trees covering the island.  It would be a short climb up to the crest of the island where a log cabin sat.  She could see a stone-surrounded fire pit flanked by a quartet of dark green wooden Adirondack chairs and further away, stretched between two large pines, was a white canvas hammock. 

When all her things were on the dock, Blake turned to her.  “Let me take you to the cabin.  There are a few things I need to show you.”

He took off up the hill and Shasta teetered along behind him, carefully avoiding large rocks that were in the way.  “Are you making it?” he called over his shoulder.

“I’ve got this, don’t worry about me,” she muttered.

Blake turned away and grinned to himself.  He was waiting for her when she finally made it up the hill.  “I hope you brought other shoes.”

Out of breath, Shasta put her hands on her hips and nodded. 

He unlocked the door and held it open for her to enter the cabin.  She stepped into an open room featuring a seating area in front of a fireplace immediately to her right.  Further into the room, a kitchen was arranged in the back left quarter of the space with a cast iron stove on the back wall and a kitchen table pushed against the right wall down from the fireplace.  Between the fireplace and the kitchen table was a small desk that held some sort of radio equipment.  Shasta peered into an alcove to her left and saw that it was a tiny bedroom. 

“Now,” Blake was saying, “the lights run on propane.  You turn this little lever and you can light them with a lighter.  The fridge and the cooktop also run on propane.  Same thing, you turn the knob and then light it with the lighter.  I already lit the pilot on the fridge and it should be fine.”  He indicated a small metal box beneath the kitchen counter.

Wordlessly, Shasta followed him around the room, trying to take in all his instructions.  “Now if you want to bake, or if you’re just cold, you can build a fire in the stove.”  He showed her where to put the wood.  “And there’s always the fireplace.  Wood is stacked outside against the back of the cabin.  I can always bring you more, too.”

He waved at the few kitchen cabinets.  “We’ve stocked the cabinets and the refrigerator but if you need anything, just let me know.”  He headed for the door.  “Water comes from a spring near the front of the island.”

“Wait.  What?”

“Water.  You know, to drink?”

Desperately, Shasta searched the room, making a beeline to the sink.  Instead of a faucet, there was a green-painted old-fashioned hand pump.  She worked the handle a few times and a spurt of water came out.  She looked back to him, bewildered.

“Well, you can’t drink that.  Not without boiling it for about ten minutes.  It comes straight out of the lake.  Use it for dishes and things.  You can drink the spring water right out of the ground.”

“Wait a second.  Where’s the bathroom?” 

“I was just going to show you.  Follow me.”

Blake headed out the door and Shasta followed along behind him.  He turned down the right side of the cabin, following a narrow trail through the trees.  Shortly, the path opened onto a small clearing and to the right of the clearing was a tiny log structure.  “Here’s your bathroom,” he pointed.

She began to shake her head.  “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” she murmured.  “There must be some mistake.  I don’t do outhouses.  Does Eddie know about this?” she demanded.

“Who’s Eddie?” Blake returned, picturing the smarmy suit guy.

“No.  Absolutely not.  This is completely unacceptable.  Besides,” she breathed deeply, trying to regain her composure, “where is the shower?”

“Well, some guests bathe in the lake.”  He took in her incredulous expression and continued.  “On the other hand, we do have a solar shower.  I’ll show you.” 

Shasta followed him down the other side of the cabin, to the place where the tiny bedroom jutting out from the main cabin made a little sheltered corner.  A post was situated in the corner with a pulley rigged to the top. 

“This is a solar shower.”  Blake held up a large flat rectangular vinyl pouch that was clear on one side and black on the other.  The clear side had a large round valve and there was a handle on one end.  The other end had clear tubing attached and at the end of the tubing was a tiny shower head.

“You fill this up with water, seal the valve, and lay it out in the sun.  The dock is a good place.”  He watched as Shasta held her forehead with the palm of one hand, gaping at him in disbelief.  “Anyway, when you’re ready for a shower, you hang it up here,” he indicated the pulley, “and just shower away.  The spruce trees right here make for privacy, although you shouldn’t have any folks out on the lake, seeing as how you’ve rented out the whole place.”

Wordlessly, Shasta turned and hobbled back to the front of the cabin, sinking into one of the Adirondack chairs.  Blake followed, hands in his pockets, uncertain whether or not to continue the tour.  She glanced up at him, deciding to change tacks. 

“Listen,” she smoothed, “we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot.”  She pasted on her dazzling Shasta Pyke smile.  “Obviously, there’s been some kind of mistake.”  Standing, she approached him, pushing her glasses back up onto her head and fixing him with soft brown eyes. 

“Here’s the thing.”  She reached out to stroke his arm, biting her lower lip provocatively.  “I can’t stay here.  And you don’t want me here, not really.  The place is already paid for.  Just,” she stepped closer, brushing her breasts against his arm, “maybe you could drive me someplace where I can get a cab or an Uber or something, and I’ll be out of your hair.”  She wrinkled her nose and winked.  “What do you say?”

A slow smile spread across Blake’s face.  “What do I say?”  He laughed lightly, shaking head.  “I say, you’re a piece of work, lady.”  With that, he turned.  “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“Wait!” she shouted after him.  “You can’t just leave me here!”

He waved over his head and didn’t turn around.

“Come back here!  You come back here right now!”

Wordlessly, he cast off from the dock and pushed the boat away from the shallow water. 

“What about my bags?  They need to be taken to the cabin!”

“And it will be dark soon.  So you might want to get on that,” Blake chuckled.

Shasta was on the dock by now and she stomped her foot, fists balled at her sides.  “Do you know who I am?” she screamed.

“You look to me like a little brat who needs her ass tanned,” he fired back.

She shrieked unintelligibly and threw a rock at the boat.  She missed by a mile and the rock plonked harmlessly into the water.

Blake laughed again, started the engine, and headed back to the lodge.

LOST & BOUND by Pandora Spocks

LOST & BOUND is available
at your favorite online bookseller:
books2read.com/LostandBound

Weekend Excerpt–Back To The Beginning

I’ve always thought that the best job in the world would involve traveling the world, experiencing different cultures, and seeking adventures in every new city. That’s where the premise for my first-ever book LUKE & BELLA had its beginning.

It became the first book in my Dream Dominant Collection, a series of stand-alone contemporary erotic romance novels featuring sexy Alpha males and the redhaired submissives they can’t resist. There are currently four books in the collection, but at least one more is in the works.

Curious about LUKE & BELLA?

When television reporter Bella Grant is hired to create a brand-new travel show, she believes she’s landed the job of a lifetime. She’s paired up with veteran photojournalist Luke McGillicutty and they head off to their first destination.

Sure, she’s attracted to him, and she’s pretty sure the feeling is mutual, but they’re capable of keeping things professional, right? But with days of touring exciting cities and nights spent in romantic hotels, they fall hard and fast.

So fast, in fact, that Luke hasn’t taken the time to tell Bella the truth about himself. If he tells her now, he could lose her forever.

Here’s a (spoiler alert) snippet from LUKE & BELLA.

The bedside clock blinked 5:12 am.  Bella couldn’t wait any longer.  What little sleep she’d gotten had been fitful, troubled.

She looked over at Luke who was snoring softly and her heart skipped a beat.  She loved him so much.  He’d been kind the night before, not mentioning her breach of protocol, recognizing her need to be at his feet.  After her knee time, he’d taken her to bed, holding her tenderly to his chest, allowing her to let go of her concerns for a short while.  She knew he assumed she was having her period and she hadn’t bothered to correct him.  Plenty of time for that, she thought.

Quietly, she got out of bed and went into the bathroom, carefully closing the door behind her.  She switched on the light and located the brown paper bag she’d gotten from the pharmacy the day before.  Opening the box, she removed the flat plastic stick from its wrapper.  She reread the instructions, then followed them meticulously, knowing she couldn’t bear to get this wrong.  She placed the stick carefully on the counter of the vanity and set the timer on her phone.  Don’t look until the time is up, she instructed herself.  Thirty seconds in she broke her own rule and glanced at the test.  A blue plus sign in the circular window near the end of the stick appeared to her like a neon sign.

Her pulse pounded in her ears.  It does that at first, she thought desperately.  Then the plus disappears when it’s negative.

You know better than that.  She hadn’t heard her father’s condemning voice since she’d left his grave weeks before.  Now he was back, Nathan Epperson Grant, II, as the voice of Reason.

The timer chimed and with a shaky hand she picked up the stick.  The plus sign was still there, only now it was a darker blue.  That’s it, she thought.  I’m…Shit!  She stuffed the test back into the box, the box back into the paper bag, and shoved the whole thing into the drawer of the vanity.

She met her own terror-stricken gaze in the mirror.   I need air, she thought.  I can’t breathe.  Panicked, she hurriedly threw on black yoga pants, a white t-shirt, and a jacket.  Luke didn’t stir as she quietly opened the door and left the room, heading for the hotel lobby.  In the elevator, she realized she hadn’t left him a note.  I’ll be back before he even wakes up, she decided.  Then, we’ll have to talk. She felt nauseated and her eyes filled with tears.

The elevator doors opened to the lobby and she strode purposefully toward the revolving door to outside.

“Good morning!  You’re up early,” she heard a familiar voice say.  It was Ann, one of their dining companions from the previous night.  She and the other women were dressed for the gym.

Bella tried to pull herself together.  “Um, yeah, I was in the mood for a walk,” she replied, smiling brightly.

“Are you alright?” Tanya asked.

“Oh, yes, needed a little air is all,” Bella said.  “I’m just heading out…” she indicated the door.

Tanya spoke quietly to the others, “You go ahead.  I’m going to see what the matter is.”  She followed Bella out into the early morning.

“What’s wrong, Bella?” she asked sympathetically.  “Did you and Luke have a row?”

Bella turned and looked at her in surprise.  “God, no!” Bella answered quickly.  “He’s not even up yet.  It’s nothing, really, just…”

Tanya gave her a quizzical look.

“I’m pregnant,” Bella said quietly, a tear rolling down her cheek.  “I just did the test.”

“Congratulations!  That’s brilliant,” said Tanya.  She hesitated for a moment.  “Isn’t it?”

Bella sighed.  “It’s just so…unplanned.”  She wiped away a tear.  “Luke doesn’t know yet.  I don’t know…”

Tanya put her arm through Bella’s.  “Come.  Let’s go find some tea and have a chat.”

They ended up across the street from the Hotel Miramare, in a tiny cafe, one of the few open so early in the morning.  The historic district was stunning in the light of the sun rising over the water.  Bella sat at a heavy antique wooden table near the front window while Tanya ordered for them at the counter.

She returned to the table shortly with a pot of tea and two cups.  They sipped in silence for a few minutes.

“So you’re having a baby?” Tanya said, breaking into the silence.

Bella breathed deeply.  “Yeah.  I guess so.”

“Or not,” Tanya probed.

Bella looked at her.  “Unplanned as it is, I’m having this baby.  Definitely!” she said determinedly.  “As to whether or not Luke will be involved…” she trailed off.  “He made it pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in marriage.  I can’t think he’d be interested in a baby.  I owe it to him to tell him, I suppose.  But I’m afraid he’ll think I did this on purpose, to trap him or something.”  The tears were back again.

Tanya reached for her hand.  “That man loves you.  He may surprise you, you know.”

Bella was about to reply when her phone rang.  “Speak of the devil,” she said nervously.

LUKE & BELLA by Pandora Spocks

LUKE & BELLA is available
at your favorite online bookseller:
books2read.com/LukeAndBella1