Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SOMETHING TO LOSE by Tamra Lassiter

Everyone has something to lose.

Camden Piotrowski is justifiably upset to find her boyfriend in the arms of another woman. But it’s not the end of her world and definitely not something that a bubble bath, good wine, and cookie dough won’t help. Her pity party is interrupted when handsome Seth Vendetti bursts into her bathroom. She soon discovers that her world and those in it are not as they seem. Can she trust Seth’s version of the truth and make him realize that even he has something to lose?

His hands form fists that rest on his hips. “Are you threatening an FBI agent?”

I hadn’t really thought of it like that, but I’m not backing down. I put my hands on my hips as well and stand on my tippy toes so that my face is close to his. I could use those three-inch heels right about now, but I hold my ground. His body is tight. I see his pulse beating in his neck.

“Call it what you want. Just get out of my house.”

His hands move behind my neck. He pulls me to him and before I even know what’s happening, he’s kissing me and even more surprising, I’m kissing him, too. His strong fingers move up and down my back as his lips work their magic on mine. I thought I’d been kissed before, but never have I been kissed like this. I still don’t see fireworks, instead I am the firework. Heat explodes from my lips down my throat and to the rest of my body. This isn’t the warmth of fairy tales where the prince and princess kiss their happily-ever-after. This is the battle of the dragon and I don’t know what because my brain is no longer working.

His stubble scratches my chin and the sensation kindles the fire even more. My stomach lurches and I feel weightless, light as a feather now, falling from high in the sky. His hands move to my hips and he pulls me to him tightly. He kisses my chin and then my neck and down to the opening of my robe.

It’s like I wake up from some out-of-body experience to find myself full of lust and clinging to a complete stranger. His hand slips into my robe. I startle and jump back, hugging myself with one hand, the other covering my mouth as my eyes go wide in complete disbelief.

Character Creation
One of my favorite parts of writing is the character creation. It’s like starting with a blank canvas and painting the character however I want them to be. I spend time thinking about their hair color and their eyes, etc., but what I like the most is what’s inside. Will she be afraid of spiders? Will he have scars from his not-so-great childhood? The possibilities are endless.

That said, it’s very important to give your main characters depth. Your character isn’t just a blue-eyed, arachnophobic woman. She has a past that has molded her into who she is. How does she interact with her family? What motivates her in her life? These are all things that affect the character and the decisions that she makes. When I write, I try to engulf myself in my characters. In that way I can ensure that every action my character takes jives with their personality. 

Characters have to be real. We all want our heroines to be strong women and they should be, but they can’t be superheroes. They will have to have some type of breakdown when something huge goes wrong. You don’t go from being a housewife to running for your life without shedding a few tears. That just doesn’t happen. When I read books where the heroine is too much of a super woman, then it becomes difficult to relate to her character and that affects my overall reading experience.

Supporting characters are important, as well. They help you move your story along and can provide some levity, even in a suspenseful story. The secondary characters also help reinforce the personalities of the hero and heroine. The characters can make or break a story. Make them what you want them to be, but make them real.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Tamra Lassiter lives in Northern Virginia with her supportive husband, two lovely daughters, elegant Great Dane and not-so-elegant, but very sweet, English Bulldog. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading and of course, writing.
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• One randomly chosen commenter will win a $50 Amazon/ gift card.
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Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

V is for Vivienne: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Vivienne Lang is a force to be reckoned with. She is an accomplished martial artist and street fighter but she is also a deeply flawed person--a woman whose past has left her vulnerable and both fearful and fearless. She is the central character in The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge and The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed and will be back in the forthcoming The Crazy Old Lady's Secret.

from The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge 
I met Mattie Thorndike when we were in first grade at a little private day school in Boston's Back Bay and, right from the beginning, we were best friends. Both of us had the dubious distinction of being raised by our grandparents. Mattie's parents had been killed in a car wreck a few months earlier and her grandmother, whom she called GrammyLou, brought her to Beacon Hill to live there in her townhouse. I never knew my father and had vague memories of my mother back then. My grandparents – I called them Papa and Nana – lived in Boston's Theater District on Washington Street over Papa's café. Papa came from Poland, but Nana had grown up in Boston and her cousin Stanford was married to GrammyLou's sister. I suppose it was inevitable that Mattie and I, being the same age, and virtually orphans, would become best friends.
Actually, I had a mother. Her name was Dianne and, on the rare occasions when I saw her, that was what I called her. She got pregnant with me when she was sixteen. She never said who my father was. Knowing what I know now, I wonder if she even knew. Despite all Nana's efforts, Dianne was always wild. My earliest memories are of screaming fights between Papa and Dianne while Nana cried and begged her to show him some respect. Throughout the first few years of my life it was Nana who took care of me. Nana held me and cuddled me, read to me, and tucked me in bed at night. Nana was the kindest, sweetest lady I ever knew. Papa adored her.
I have come to the conclusion that Dianne was jealous of Papa and Nana. I think that she felt shut out of their love for each other. Papa was fifteen years older than Nana and he worshiped her. Maybe he loved her so much that he didn't have any love left over for Dianne. Still, he has always been good to me. 

from The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed
          “Who's Viv?” Brother Gregory asked.
          “Joe's fiancee,” Tom said. “She's the one who needs to talk to Brother Maksim.”

          “Oh dear.” Brother Gregory frowned. “Bringing her here without warning might not have been a good idea. Brother Maksim is a difficult person under the best of circumstances but he's got a lot of problems with women.”
          “He'll have to get over that,” Tom said. “Viv's the person he'd be working with.”
          “Oh shit, is that him?” Joe turned to look for Viv and, as the three of them watched, an enormous man rose up from where he had been kneeling in one of the gardens near Viv.
          “Yes.” Brother Gregory cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “Brother Maksim!”
          The giant strode toward Viv.
          “Crap. Viv's not a good person for men with issues about women to be around.” Joe broke into a run with the other men jogging behind him.
          Brother Maksim either did not hear his name being called or chose to ignore it. He reached out as he neared Viv and grabbed her arm. In a flash, she turned, slammed her heel into the back of his knee and brought her elbow down in the middle of his back, sending him sprawling, face down in the grass.
          “What the hell..?” Tom stopped dead in his tracks as Joe grabbed Viv and pulled her into his arms.
          Brother Gregory glanced at her, a look of total bafflement on his face. He dropped to his knees next to the fallen man. “Brother Maksim? Are you all right?”
The huge body began to shudder and shake.
          “Brother Maksim?” Brother Gregory put his hands on the massive shoulders and tugged. Brother Maksim rolled effortlessly onto his back and lay in the grass laughing hysterically.
          “What just happened?” Tom asked stopping beside Joe.
          “Viv doesn't like surprises,” Joe said, grinning. He hugged her close. “That's my baby.”

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

U is for Ursula--Sister Ursula: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Sister Ursula Wolfe is a nun who drives a snowplow in the town of Marienstadt. She is the daughter of Kunigunda and the sister of Mulligan and Augie two other popular characters in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
He was in his kitchen the next morning ready to go to work and just waiting for the milk to boil so he could make hot chocolate to take with him. The day was silent but it was early. Snow had stopped falling but there was not much traffic. He stirred the chocolate into the hot milk and, as he was doing it, he looked up at the clanking of a snow-plow turning down the street. He glanced out of the window and recognized Sister Ursula's truck. She was driving slowly, neatly pushing more snow into the already well-heaped banks along the curbs. Henry turned off the burner, rummaged in the cupboard until he found a thermal travel mug with the word Sheetz printed across it, filled it with the hot chocolate, and snapped the lid on.
“Hey.” He waved as he carried the warm cup through the cold morning.
Sister Ursula rolled down her window and leaned out. “Good morning!” Her breath made clouds of frosty air that drifted around her face like the glory on an old icon.
“Been plowing all night?”
“Yes,” she said. “I'm beat but it was a great night.”

“Here.” He offered her the mug. “I brought you some hot chocolate.”
“Oh, thank you, so much! I was dying for something warm.” She lifted the mug and took a long, slow sip. “Oh, that is so good!”
“You need to go home and get some sleep.”
“I will. I'm going to give St. Walburga's one more pass and then go home. I'm going to ask Sister Adelaide if I can teach Sister John-Paul to plow so we can take turns next time.”
“That's a good idea.”
She took another swallow of the chocolate. “Chief Werner, thank you so much for what you did. We made enough money last night to fill the oil tank at the convent. All the sisters will be nice and warm this winter thanks to you.”
Henry shook his head. “I didn't do anything. It's Peeper that deserves the credit.”
She smiled. “He's a good man. All of us are praying for him. He'll find his way eventually.”
“Well,” he said, “you finish up and then get yourself home to sleep.” He chuckled. “You don't want to get careless from being over-tired. You know how happy that would make Patrolman Ginther.”
She laughed. “Okay. Thanks for the chocolate.”
“You're welcome.” He turned to go back to his house.
“Chief Werner?”
He turned.
“God bless you.”

He waved as she rolled up the window. 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

T is for Tempest, Tristan, and Toots: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Tempest, Tristan and Toots are all hopeless romantics in their own unique ways. Tempest Hobbs is the art curator and reluctant psychic in Depraved Heart: A Novel. Tristan Hancock is a lobsterman and amateur woodcarver in Sailor's Valentine in Mardi Gras Was Over: Three Love Stories. Toots, rescued by Oliver when she was a puppy, is his devoted, faithful companion in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall and The Christmas Daughter. All three of them are incredibly loving beings.

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
 “There's my girl,” he said as he turned into the drive beside the house. He'd left the light on in the living room and Toots was right there at the window waiting for him. As soon as she spotted his truck her big, bushy tail began wagging madly and, though he'd only been gone a couple hours, she bounced up and down pummeling the window with her paws as though he'd left her alone for days. He closed up the truck, retrieved his case of beer, and let himself in by the kitchen door. Even before he put down the beer he heard the clicking of Toots's nails on the wooden floor as she raced down the hall.
“How's my baby?” he asked and she was on her hind legs, her paws nearly reaching his shoulders as she nuzzled her snout into his beard. He had tried teaching her not to lick but she had a hard time remembering that when she was really happy.
“Did you miss me?” he asked ruffling up the long black fur. “I brought you
something.” But she had already scented the marvelous treats in his shirt pocket and was burrowing under his beard and into his jacket in search of the jerky.
“Here you go.” He unwrapped them as she watched his every move. When he'd first found Toots – injured, cold, and starving – in the rocks along the river, she weighed barely five pounds. Someone had tied her in a sack and apparently thrown her in the river but she'd managed to chew through the fabric and work her way to the shore. He heard whimpering and went to investigate. The puppy was tangled in shredded cloth, bleeding, and barely alive. Oliver took off his jacket, wrapped her in it and carried her to the kitchen where he could wash her, bundle her in blankets, and feed her warm milk until she finally fell asleep in his lap. It was hard to believe that pitiful little thing was the big dog gobbling up the treats he always remembered to bring her. The vet said she was a mutt, probably part shepherd, part newfie, and part chow. Now, three years later she was healthy, happy, and Oliver's constant companion.

from Depraved Heart
The painter Georges Braque once said that there is only one valuable thing in art, the thing that you cannot explain. All my life I have marveled at people who think they understand things, that they have answers. Such confidence is astonishing to me. For many years, I thought myself deficient in that I never felt I knew much of anything. It was only when I began to study art, to seriously study art, that I realized what passed for great assurance and knowledge in many people was simply their decision to terminate their thinking at the point where they became uncomfortable.
It is to me one of life’s great mysteries that there are those who can ignore or eliminate feelings that they don’t want. I never thought I had a choice. I thought that the assault of emotions that were so much an everyday part of my life as a child were as confusing to everyone as they were to me. I don’t remember when I first realized that not only did most people not feel and sense and experience what I did, they didn’t believe such experiences existed.
The study of art was my salvation. I thought I was mad - so did a good many other people. But when I began to look at art and to let it enter my spirit as erotically and powerfully as a lover would enter my body, I realized something that has haunted all of my life. I am different. I am both blessed and cursed. I was born missing a layer of protection between myself and the world that most people have and are totally unaware of having. And, worse, there is no way for me to acquire it. I am like those strange invalids whose resistance to every form of bacteria is so fragile that they can only exist inside a climate-controlled bubble. Only it is not bacteria that infects me and threatens my wellbeing, it is something far less tangible. I am profoundly sensitive to energetic forces that I cannot explain - powerful feelings, hidden longings, mysterious urges, strong thoughts - all the things that most people do their best to conceal from the world. They are as real and accessible to me as the beauty mark on a pretty girl’s cheekbone or the delight in a man’s eyes when he beholds her.
My name is Tempest Hobbs. I am descended from a long line of sensitives. One of my great grandmothers, many generations back, was Deliverance Hobbs who was tried as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. But my great (I forget how many greats) grandmother was not among those executed on Gallows Hill. Her life was spared because she confessed. She admitted she was a witch.

from Sailor's Valentine
The first thing Minerva Light noticed about Tristan Hancock was his hands. She fell in love with them and then began working her way up his arms to the rest of him. The minute he stepped into her shop she knew he wasn't there to buy anything. Though she couldn't remember seeing him around the docks or on the Neck he had the look of the local lobstermen. He was big, maybe a little over six feet but broad with wide shoulders and thickset. He wore a baseball cap and dark glasses and a t-shirt that had probably been green once but that was many months and washings ago. Like many of the fishermen he wore a mustache that drooped down the sides of his mouth and was peppered with gray.
He came into the shop on a Tuesday afternoon with a nylon backpack slung over one shoulder. He looked nervous and uncomfortable which is how most of the local guys looked when they had to come into her shop for some reason.
Can I help you?”
He turned and looked at her, took a deep breath, and then smiled as though smiling was something he had to prepare himself for.
Hi,” he said and he slung the backpack onto the counter beside the cash register. “Are you Minerva?”
Minerva Light,” she said holding out her hand and that was when he took it in his. His hand was huge, twice the size of hers, and square and hard. She stared at it and he let go quickly and she thought he might have been afraid he had hurt her. “This is my shop. But I bet you know that already.”
Yeah, my friend Geoff told me.” His voice was low and quiet. She found herself leaning forward slightly to hear. He undid the clasp on the backpack and reached inside. She watched his hands moving, big, tough hands but graceful in a fascinating way, deft, accomplished. He removed a package wrapped in brown paper and unwrapped it. “Would you give me your opinion of this?”
What he handed her was a piece of wood that had been carved with meticulous precision in the shape of a stylized lion's head, mane tossed back, teeth bared, eyes wide. It had been carved with attention to the pattern formed by the grain of the wood, sanded to a smooth finish, and oiled to a fine sheen. When she took it from him her fingertips brushed his hand and she noticed he once again withdrew his hand swiftly.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

S is for Stash, Syd, and Sybillia: Blogging the #atozchallenge

It would be hard to find three more unique characters than Stash Cizik from The Haven in My Last Romance and other Passions, Syd Jupiter from Depraved Heart: A Novel, and Sybillia Windfelder from The Confession of Genny Franck in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. All of them have been through a lot in life and have faced big, big challenges. Stash is a former seaman and tough guy who now manages a Mariner's Home. Syd is a former NFL linebacker who was just released from prison. Sybillia Windfelder was a nurse and herbalist in "the old country" but is now a mid-wife and alleged "Hexe-woman."

from The Confession of Genny Franck
Though I had taken our cow to graze in the cemetery nearly every day of my girlhood and had often picked blackberries and strawberries along the edge of the trees at Brunner's Glen I had never seen the house that seemed to appear through the trees. It was tiny, low and made of stone, with cross-paned windows, and shutters. There was a large pile of wood stacked by the front door and in the clearing on the far side of the house I could see the dim outline of cold-frames lined up along the edge of a garden and a small greenhouse that jutted out from the cottage's rear. There was an outhouse beyond the garden. Though most everyone in Marienstadt had electricity and indoor plumbing some who lived outside of town still used outhouses and kerosene lanterns. As we came around the corner to the front of the cottage I noticed a wishing well with a wooden bucket hanging in it. Fragrant smoke floated up from a tin stovepipe overhead.
“Sybillia?” Clara called tapping at the door. “It's Clara.”
I heard the rattling and rasp of metal latches and then Sybillia Windfelder's face
appeared around the door. “Come, come,” she said. “Don't dawdle.”
Though I had seen Sybillia Windfelder in town on marketing days I had never been close enough to have a good look at her. Then she was usually bundled up in a long black coat and headscarf and I thought her quite frightening. But now, standing in her living room, she seemed like any other aged woman from the Old Country. She was of medium height and rather stout but in an energetic, muscular way. Her hair was snow white and had been braided with small ivory rings woven into the braids. She wore them wrapped around and around her head. She wore mannish woolen trousers, a hand-knit pullover sweater, and heavy boiled-wool clogs on her feet. She could have been anyone's eccentric auntie visiting from home.

from The Haven
He stands in the light-filled kitchen. Everything here is simple—plain, scrubbed wood, undraped tables, walls covered with unframed charts and maps. This could as easily be a Shaker meeting room or a monastery.
            His back is to me as he bends over the table. His arms and shoulders move steadily, rhythmically, and I realize he is kneading bread dough in a glazed brown bowl sitting on a folded linen towel. Whish-thump, the bowl rocks back and forth on the table under the expert movements of his big hands. Whish-thump.
           I step quietly toward him, slide my arms around his waist, and snuggle as close as I can get, pressing my face into the rough wool of his well-felted sweater.
          "I smelled your perfume," he says and from the tone of his voice I know he is smiling.

          "I couldn’t wait to get her today," I say, kissing his back between his big shoulder blades. "I’ve wanted you all morning."
          He turns holding his sticky, dough-caked hands out and away. He sits on the edge of the table and lets me cuddle close wrapping his forearms around my shoulders. I kiss him. God, I love his face! It is hard and lined and bony with a nose and jaw that are too big and eyes that are like hematite nuggets set under bushy, untameable brows. Everything about Stash has a wildness to it, a rocky, brokenness just on the edge of ruin, and yet so delicious in its wanton imperfection.
        "You didn’t come to work then?" he teases. His eyes twinkle and I am lost.

from Depraved Heart
A few paintings, landscapes mostly, hung above the mantel. Art always soothed me; after my first few minutes at Hathor, I needed soothing. The first painting I noticed was a harbor scene with mountain-like, multicolored clouds filling a summer sky. I glanced at the signature, Henry R. Kenyon. Of course.
I have heard...” a deep, quiet voice said, “...that Kenyon sometimes painted with Paul Gauguin.”
I turned. He had entered through the door Audrey Nettleton had just exited. Even in a room of such vast proportions his size was impressive. His jet black hair showed gray at the temples and his once-famous face was still calm, reserved, and handsome. He crossed the room quickly, hand extended, and when he took mine I looked up into those eyes all the magazines once described as the color of sapphires.

Welcome to Hathor, Ms. Hobbs. I hope the ride over was pleasant.”
Yes,” I said, hoping my voice did not quiver. He was courteous, gracious, perfectly at ease. Fifteen years in prison seemed not to have touched him. He exuded power, and that great dignity that the journalists who covered his trial marveled at. The only thing I sensed as he held my hand just a moment longer than was customary was absolute, unquestionable integrity.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 18, 2014

R is for Ralph, Ruby, and Ramin: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Ralph Jonas from Arthur's Story: A Love Story is a gardener, Ruby, from My Last Romance, is a chanteuse, and Ramin, from my current work-in-progress The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, is an art dealer. All three of them are highly independent, charming, and somewhat mysterious characters. I love all three of them.

from Arthur's Story: A Love Story
One day, as Arthur knelt to examine a patch of chives that was glowing spiky and green in the April sunlight, Ralph Jonas, the gardener for the Wentworth Billingsly family stopped spading and addressed the boy. "Never seen chives before?”
The boy’s head snapped up and he grinned sheepishly. It was a very nice grin. “Yes, sir,” he said, “I just didn’t know that was their name.”
Jonas nodded slowly. “Like gardening, do you?”
The boy grinned again. “Yes, sir. Well, yes, I think I do.”
"You live around here?”
That seemed to startle the boy but he shook his head. Jonas knew about things like that. He knew about being embarrassed to say where you lived. He’d been through that himself.
"Want to give me a hand?”
Jonas thought later he’d never seen a face light up like that in all his days. “You’d a’thought I gave him a fifty dollar bill,” he told his friends at the tavern that night.
Arthur proved to be the happiest, most eager worker Ralph Jonas was ever to see. He spaded furrows and pulled up weeds and did every job Jonas gave him as though it was the most fun he’d ever had in his life. When Sophie, the kitchen maid brought them mugs of lemonade and pieces of fresh baked apple pie, the boy swallowed his in a few bites and then asked if he could go back to the work. The sun was low in the sky when Jonas told him it was time to stop.
'What’s your name, lad?” Jonas asked rummaging in the pocket of his work pants.
"Arthur, sir, Arthur Silver.”
"Well, Sir Arthur Silver, you did a fine day’s work. Here.” He held out a quarter and the boy looked up at him with enormous eyes.
"Take it,” Jonas said. He nodded toward the shed against the brick wall at the back of the garden. “You go in there and wash up now. And if you are back here tomorrow morning at sunup I’ll have another quarter for you at the end of the day.”

"Yes, sir!” Arthur thought that was the happiest evening of his life. He was going to be a gardener. Nothing seemed more wonderful.

from My Last Romance
                  I was seventeen when I met Silvio. He and his band, The Silver Saints, were playing a three week gig at The Balinese Room down on the boardwalk. My girlfriend Miranda called. "Have you seen those guys?" she cooed. "Every one of them is dark and slick and hot."
                  I’d seen them. They sure were dark and slick and hot. "Come on," Miranda said, "this could be your big break."
                Miranda was my number one fan back then. I started singing in our high school glee club but what I wanted was to be a torch singer, like Juliette Greco or Rosemary Clooney. I collected all the records—Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee. I practiced in front of my bedroom mirror for hours. It wasn’t enough to get the music right. I had to get the look and the shrug and the pout—the smoke. My Grandma never intended all those sewing lessons to result in the dancing dresses I made. She’d have tanned my hide if she saw the lipstick red, strapless gown I made for my big night. It hugged me right down to my thighs and then exploded in cascades of ruffles. In four inch heels I
practiced till I got the wiggle that could set those ruffles swaying. I borrowed some fake ruby earrings from Miranda and I looked like sin itself strutting into the Balinese Room that night.
              It worked. Silvio took one look at me and the next song the band played was "Ruby". That’s what he’s called me ever since. And the rest—as the saying goes—was history. Silvio was everything I wanted—tall, dark, handsome and ripe to fall in love—first with my body, then with my voice. Then with me.
              By the time the band pulled out of town my sewing machine, my record collection, and my wardrobe were packed along with them. That was forty-two years ago.

from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret
Cushing turned when he heard the soft whoosh of the elevator's doors sweep open. He crossed his office as a tall man stepped into the elegant quiet of the reception room.
"Mr. Aria?"
"Yes. You are Cushing Phillips?"
Cushing crossed the room and shook his hand. “Come on into my office.” Cushing stepped aside and as Ramin Aria passed in front of him Cushing caught the faint fragrance of something fresh, subtle, and very expensive.
"Please, have a seat." Cushing gestured to one of the leather wing-back chairs, then settled behind his desk. "I'd offer you coffee but I'm here alone today."
Aria unbuttoned his suit jacket—charcoal silk, Cushing noted, and most assuredly custom tailored—as he seated himself crossing his long legs.
"Thank you but I just dined." He smiled and that smile caused Cushing to catch his breath.
Ramin Aria had a smile of dazzling whiteness against skin the color of cappuccino. In
fact everything about him was dazzling in Cushing's eyes. He was a slender man but wide-shouldered with incongruously large, muscular hands, and a face of strong features—high, sharp cheekbones, a prominent nose with a fetching scar across it, and a square jaw. His thick black hair swept back from his face in subtle waves and brushed his collar. He wore his sideburns long and had just the suggestion of a beard, but his most arresting feature was his eyes. They were large and wide under heavy brows and the strangest color Cushing had ever seen—the color of honey around the irises but changing to light olive green and then to a deep olive. Cushing had no idea of Aria's age but as he sat, nearly speechless in the presence of such beauty, he grew increasingly convinced that he had seen this man somewhere before.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Q is for Quinton and W.Q.: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Quinton Nightingale is a new character who readers will meet in the sequel to The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild. W.Q. Ravenscroft, and his son Wyatt, were the men who built the fabulous estate known as Hathor in Depraved Heart. Both Quinton and W.Q. are powerful, sometimes ruthless, men but both of them love their wives madly.

from The Tuesday Night Gardening and Assassins Club
From the day we married Quint started making plans to ensure I’d always be taken care of.
“In case something happens to me, baby doll,” he’d say, taking me in his arms and nuzzling his handsome face into my throat. “I’m going to make sure you have everything you need.”
“Don’t say things like that,” I’d say. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. I won’t let it.”
It warms my heart to know how many people loved Quint. We moved to Salem shortly after we married. It’s a nice neighborhood with comfortable family homes overlooking Salem Harbor. Right from the beginning we knew we’d made the right choice. Ours is the kind of neighborhood where neighbors borrow hedge clippers from one another and stop by with a basket full of tomatoes when their gardens ripen too fast or a nice big striper when the fishing is good. Of course all the neighbors knew was that Quint worked in Boston and that sometimes his work took him away from home for a few days. When he was gone they’d invite me over for dinner.
“No sense eating alone,” Polly would say when she called. “I made plenty of lasagna and Randy likes having two pretty women at the dinner table. Now with the kids out and on their own, the dinner table is just too doggone quiet.”

So I’d go and we’d have a couple glasses of wine on the porch and talk about the weather, and what new shows were coming to Boston, and the goings on down on the Common when the local witches and warlocks were up to something. It was a nice life and when Quint came home he’d drive down to the lobster shack under the Beverly/Salem bridge and bring back lobsters and we’d invite Polly and Randy or other neighbors for an evening on us.

from Depraved Heart: A Novel
When W.Q. Ravenscroft first conceived Hathor his intention was to create a mansion as imposing and grand as those in Newport. While a guest at George Peabody Wetmore’s Chateau-sur-Mer he attended a party at the neighboring Rosecliff where he met Lisette Fournier, his future wife. That night, and in the months to come, as he wooed her from Newport to Paris and from New York to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Italianate villa in Boston, he promised her a palace and a kingdom that would be the envy of all her friends. Lisette deserved nothing less. W.Q., who had spent a fair amount of his pre-Lisette young manhood in London, was enchanted by Early Tudor architecture and sought out an architect who could concoct a fanciful interpretation of Dorney Court with as many gables and double tiers of triple, diamond-paned windows as could be squeezed into the main structure. Barges of brick and wood were floated across Salem Harbor and, as the manor house grew, the islanders watched with skeptical authority.
Such nonsense,” was the consensus.
Won’t make it through one nor’easter,” was added evening after evening in the Riptide.
But the manor house continued to expand - gables and chimneys, vaults and gingerbread, gargoyles and arches, half-timbering and inglenook fireplaces, endless paneling of fine woods. The cottage, as the residents of Newport called their mansions with coy restraint, grew in stateliness and absurdity and Lisette busied herself collecting hand-crafted furnishings from three continents. A wing composed entirely of suites, each with a sitting room, bedroom and bath, was built along the northwest side of the walled garden for the use of visiting guests.

The cottage itself was just the beginning. It was followed by stables and boathouses, temples and grottoes, vast greenhouses, and then there were Lisette’s special delights - her follies, she called them. With a childish sensibility that enchanted W.Q., she declared that Hathor was not an estate but rather a fairyland. It was her particular mission to create endless secret places that would be inviting to the mythical creatures she intended to attract. For the remainder of her life she concocted, designed, and built all manner of quaint and quixotic structures, all perfectly lovely and perfectly useless. Some contained fountains, or wishing wells, or reflecting pools. One, rumor had it, contained a carousel with hand-carved and gilded creatures, gryphons and tigers, camels and unicorns. 

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

P is for Peeper, Peter, and Pio: Blogging the #atozchallenge.

It would be hard to imagine three men who are more different than Peeper, Fr. Peter, and Pio. Peeper Baumgratz from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall is a mechanic, woodsman, hunter and trapper with a gift for screwing things up. Father Peter Black from Each Angel Burns is a devout priest facing a difficult challenge to his vows. Pio Romeo from The Old Mermaid's Tale is a handsome, ambitious young fisherman whose longing for adventure is at odds with his love for Clair.

from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall
The sun was low in the sky when Peeper Baumgratz woke up and figured it was safe to leave his hiding place. He knew the sheriff and the Staties wouldn't venture this far into Opelt's Wood once it got dark. He hadn't expected things to go the way they did. Damn that big brute Grant Caruso anyhow, what the hell right did he have to steal his truck? Peeper had every intention of notifying the police about his accident once he got back to town but it was barely five-thirty in the morning when he lost control of it and went into the slide that resulted in the unfortunate situation. Peeper didn't believe in cell phones and other stupid gadgets like that but who the hell would want to be called out at five-thirty in the morning anyway? All he intended to do was walk his trap line and then he'd go straight back to town and make his report. He'd be back before Henry Werner was out of whoever's bed he was in. Now his truck was gone and he was likely a wanted man. Just more of his never-ending bad luck.
Thank God he'd built this latest hideout. Opelt's Wood was as good a place in which to live as any, if you had to. Ever since the year 2000 arrived Peeper had been waiting for the Big Change. He knew it was coming. He knew chaos would ensue when the world fell into the hands of terrorists and zombies and Mormons. They'd take over everything and the only way a man could be free was if he took to the hills and lived on his own terms. The Apocalypse was near just like the Mayans predicted and he, at least was prepared.
Water wasn't a problem. The Seneca Highlands was home to thousands of springs and streams, some of the purest water in the world. And he could hunt or fish for whatever else he needed. He'd set up a network of hideouts throughout a fifteen mile area. Every chance he got he took a trip to the Army-Navy supply store in Shippensburg and stocked up on canteens, lanterns, sleeping bags and other supplies that he distributed throughout the woods in his secret places. Thank God he'd had the foresight. He might never see another human being again but that was all right with Peeper.
He watched the fading light barely visible through the hemlock branches that spread down over the entrance to the small cave he was in. It was really little more than a hollowed out space under a rocky outcrop. Earlier, as he made his way through the woods, he shot a nice fat rabbit and he intended to start a fire now that he was sure there wouldn't be anyone up here to see it. He hadn't planned to sleep as long as he did but what else was there to do? He'd skinned the rabbit and packed it in snow, then curled up in the stashed sleeping bag and was only waking up now. He could barely make out the hands on his watch but it had to be close to three o'clock. Grant Caruso's shift would be over and Henry Werner had no jurisdiction out here. He giggled, congratulating himself on his foresight, and climbed out of his lair.
As he straightened up he took a deep breath and then pounded his chest with the sheer joy of this life of rugged freedom he was about to embark on.
“Hello, Peeper. Have a nice nap?”
He spun around while trying to run backwards at the same time. Oliver Eberstark was hunkered down between the rocks but he lunged forward and, with one long arm, snagged the back of Peeper's jacket.
“Hold up,” he said in that deep baritone of his, “somebody wants to talk to you.”

from Each Angel Burns
When Father Pete showed up the third Thursday in August everyone was a little surprised, not that they weren’t happy to see him. But it was the fourth Thursday in a row that he’d joined them and that was unusual. He was, as always, his laid-back, good-humored self and they were glad he was there. Pete had a mystique about him that had started back in high school and only grew with the passage of time.
Peter Abélard Black was, by the agreement of nearly every female who ever met him, one of the most perfectly handsome men the good Lord had ever graced the earth with. In high school he was elected to every position of distinction—from class president, to captain of the swim team, to King of the Winter Festival—merely on the basis of his relentless good looks. By his senior year he stood just shy of six feet four inches tall and had the sort of body fashion designers, photographers, girls of all ages, and every gay man who ever glanced at him, drooled over. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, and his muscles long, perfectly delineated and elegant. His thick ravens-wing black hair had just the suggestion of a wave to it, and the flawless, dusky complexion that hinted at his Algonquin ancestors was the ideal setting for bottle green eyes that actually made women gasp the first time he looked at them. Added to that was a disarming smile, and a soft laugh that had been known to bring a blush to the cheeks of the nuns who were fortunate enough to have him in class at Christ the King High School. In fact, it was Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton who commented that Peter Black was living proof that God wasn’t above showing-off.
The real irony, of which Sister Elizabeth and her fellow nuns were unaware, was that not only was Pete an example of God’s artistry, he was also completely and utterly devoted to his Maker. He had been born with a heart that was as flawless in its devotion as his face and form were flawless in their beauty. On the night after Pete announced his intention to enter the Jesuit seminary in Cambridge immediately upon graduation, half the female student body of Christ the King cried themselves to sleep.
He’d been an outstanding football player—he and Gabe had been the two best linemen Christ the King’s Crusaders had seen in its sixty year history. With Charlie Pikawski as quarterback, they’d carried the team to its only Eastern Conference Championship, an accomplishment that had not been repeated since. The fact that after all these years Pete still liked hanging out with his old team-mates, and drove up from his teaching position at Boston College to drink with them, secretly pleased all of them. They teased him gently about his vocation but all were proud to count him among their friends.
This is actor Steve Reeves, not Pio. But in the story
Clair says that Pio's muscles and beard remind her of
Steve Reeves--can you blame her for falling for him?

from The Old Mermaid's Tale
Candles flickered in tall red glass containers on the altar by the garage. No one was in attendance now and I stopped in front of the statue of St. Peter to study him. He was a fine looking saint, big-shouldered and brawny with a curling brown beard and a receding hairline. He cradled a small wooden ship in his arms and his hand was raised over it in Benediction. I wondered who thought up these statues.
“Praying for us fishermen?”
I turned. I knew it would be Pio standing there looking perfectly edible in tight jeans and a white cotton T-shirt that showed off his muscles and his tan. His eyes were as black and alluring as I remembered them and his mouth, surrounded by that devilish beard, as tempting.
“Yes. Think St. Peter will listen to me?”
He smiled at me. Angela was right, he looked better than ever.
“How could he resist you?”
“You look great, Pio. Congratulations. You got your boat.”
He came close and took my hand. “Come here. I’ll show you something.”
He led me along the side of the house through a growth of honeysuckle and down along a brick wall covered with creeping myrtle. There was a tool shed surrounded by piles of fishing nets, chains, and other paraphernalia overgrown with vines. He ducked through the bushes to the back of the shed and held a branch aside for me to join him.
“Look.” He pointed. On the back of the shedwall was a faded painting obviously made by children long ago. He hunkered down in front of it and I knelt beside him. It showed a fishing boat at sea. Grinning fish leaped out of the waves and a smiling sun with long rays shone down on it. He pointed to three stick figures of men on the boat who bent over the side hauling up fish-laden nets by hand.
“That’s me,” he said pointing to the figure reaching down the farthest grasping the net. “This is Tony, this is my Dad. And over here.” He indicated two small boys in the stern of the ship cutting up fish. “This is Dante and Mario. And here.” He pushed back a clump of ivy to reveal a crude but recognizable drawing of St. Peter. “That’s St. Peter looking out for us.”
“Who made this?”
He sat back in the grass and rested his forearms on his knees. “Me and Tony when we were kids. Before our Dad died.” He looked at me. “There was never a time in my life when I didn’t want a life at sea.”

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

O is for Oliver: Blogging the #atozchallenge

Oliver Eberstark is a larger than life character who is a central figure in all my Marienstadt stories. He is a big, rugged former forest ranger who now owns Opelt's Wood. I love Oliver for many reasons, not the least of which is that much of his character and woodsman's knowledge comes from my brother. Oliver--and his dog, Toots--started out in The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, then The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, then The Christmas Daughter, and he will be a main character in The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk.
This is not Oliver, this is the Steeler's huge #99 Brett Keisel
but in the story one of Oliver's friends comments that his
beard makes him look like Brett Keisel. Works for me.
from The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:
The road evened out and Henry saw the hulking shape of Eberstark's Sawmill ahead. There was smoke drifting up from the chimney of the mill's workshop. He pulled up next to Oliver's Ram truck and got out of the cruiser. The rhythmic thunk-thunk-thunk of someone chopping wood echoed through the hollow. He walked across the snowy yard between the workshop and the back of the stone and timber house. The river sparkled in the sunshine and the air was fragrant with woodsmoke, pine, and the crispness of coming snow. A big, handsome black dog appeared and gave a soft woof at Henry. Oliver, dressed in jeans, a
flannel shirt and a down vest, was in mid swing bringing his axe down hard onto the trunk of a white birch tree that appeared recently felled.
He straightened up and turned. He was a big man, a couple inches taller than Henry and brawny, with wide shoulders and a barrel chest. He had dark hair and an impressive beard that gleamed red in the sunlight. His face was ruddy from the combination of cold and exertion.
“Henry,” he said. “What brings you down here?”
Henry had known Oliver since boyhood. Oliver was a few years behind him in school but Henry remembered watching Central Catholic's football games when Oliver was on the team. Everybody back then said he'd wind up in the pros. He had gone to Penn State on a football scholarship and pursued a career in forestry. After ten years working in the Susquehannock State Forest up in Potter County he moved back to the sawmill a few years back when his grandfather was dying.
“You're not going to believe it when I tell you,” Henry said. “How are you?” He stuck out his hand and watched it disappear into Oliver's huge one.
“I'm good. You?”
“Good. Did you just chop that down?”
“Yeah, it was starting to rot on the one side and it was too close to the house for comfort.” He swung the axe down and let it lodge into the wood.
“Most people would use a chainsaw.”
Oliver shrugged. “I need the exercise.”

from The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood:
The sunlight on the river glittered through the trees and, as she approached the bottom of the hill she spotted Oliver in his red and black plaid jacket, coming out of the workshop part of the sawmill carrying a bushel basket. Toots trotted along at his side.
She rolled down her window and called, “Hello.”
“Hi,” he said. The basket was filled with apples and looked heavy but he handled it with ease. “I'm just going to put these out for the deer. Wait here and I'll be back.”
She parked, got out of the car, and wandered over to the workshop where the door stood open. She had only been inside once with Dan many years ago but the fragrant scent of sawdust and wood shavings filled her head with memories. It was much as she remembered it. A pot-bellied stove showed flickering flames through the grate on its door and there were over a dozen clocks in various stages of completion along one wall. Stacks of lumber and tools were everywhere but all of them were neat and organized. One set of shelves held different types of clockworks and tiny figures suitable for cuckoo clocks. She picked up one of them, a little red bird with its beak open in a cuckoo.
“I should make you a cuckoo clock for your shop,” she heard him say.
“Are you making clocks again?” She turned and smiled. Annie was right, he was still pleasant to look at.
“I've been finishing up some that Grandpop started but he left enough stuff in here to make a whole lot more. All the ones I'm working on are already spoken for. Jim Loeffler at the antique store downtown said he was pretty sure he could sell anything I wanted to bring him.”
“That sounds like a good project for the winter.” She realized that this wasn't going to be as easy as it seemed when Annie talked about it. Oliver had a wall and it was very rare for him to let it down.

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