Thursday, December 24, 2020

Our Pandemic Christmas


We’re having kielbasi and kapusta for our Christmas dinner. Usually I make a big ham with all the fixings along with Cape Cod Cranberry Pie for dessert. Usually, my daughters and their spouses sit around the table and enjoy the feast. Not this year. Hubby and I are dining alone, so hubby gets one of his favorite meals, which should last for a few days. 

We delivered gifts to two of our daughters and hubby’s mom. We mailed a package to our Brooklyn daughter. She hasn’t gotten the package yet. She mailed packages to us and we received them. According to the post office’s tracking system, her gifts are languishing in Jersey City. 😢 

This has been a very strange year. I’m hoping the coronavirus will soon be controlled and we can go back to enjoying the company of our family and friends. 

Of course, Christmas isn’t about family feasts. It’s about God’s gift to us. Even through we’re going through this pandemic, God is still with us. His love remains with us and in us. His love is a gift that  will not wear out.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Get Ready for Winter With Books—Many Only #99cents!

Every year Pelican Book Group celebrates the season with their CHRISTMAS EXTRAVAGANZA! There are scads of Christmas themed stories at rock bottom prices—either free with Kindle Unlimited or just #99cents. Last year, I read a whole bunch of them and enjoyed every single one. I’ve written two novellas for this yearly celebration, CLEAR AS ICE and THE COWBOY’S MIRACLE. But with all the authors at PBG, you can find a wide variety to chose from. 

Clare Revell, Carol James, and Stacey Weeks have all posted excerpts here at my blog of their Christmas Extravaganza stories. Last year, Lilian Duncan was a guest at this blog with her book All I Want for Christmas is Johnny Rocker Dead, and. Lisa Lickel with her Crazy Creek Christmas. I posted reviews of Susan Baganz’s Sugar Cookies and Streetlamps and Clare Revell’s Waltzing Matilda. I’ve been stocking up on the newest novellas for this year. When it’s cold and snowy, it’s nice to sit inside, snuggle up with an afghan, a book, and a hot cup of cocoa. 

The best place to keep up with the latest in Pelican Group Book’s offerings is at their Facebook page: So, hurry up and download a bunch of these sweet novellas before another storm comes along.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Guest Post: Christmas Novellas by Clare Revell

My guest today is Clare Revell, a British author who lives in a small town in England with her husband and her three children. She enjoys writing an eclectic mix of romance, crime fiction and children's stories. When she's not writing, she can be found reading, crocheting or doing the many piles of laundry the occupants of her house manage to make.

Her books are based in the UK, with a couple of exceptions, thus, although the spelling may be American, the books contain British language and terminology. The first draft of every novel is hand written. She has been a Christian for more than half her life. She goes to Carey Baptist where she is one of four registrars.

Clare has written three brand new Christmas Extravaganza stories for Pelican Book Group. You'll want to download them all! 


It Started With A Typo…

While working from home, accountant Carlyle Stevenson is told by his boss to contact a client ASAP by video call, and berate her for not filing her accounts for the last several months—long before social distancing began. Since the request is urgent, Carlyle fires off the email, and sits and waits for her to answer. Only thing is he’s sent the invite to the wrong person.

    Being stuck at home is nothing new for candle maker Kristen Lawson, as she usually works out of her garage or kitchen. She’s in the middle of making a new batch of candles for her online business, when she receives the email marked urgent. Even though it’s not her accountancy firms she clicks the link and begins the call.

    What begins as an honest mistake blossoms into something more, but can a socially distanced relationship ever really get off the ground?

Here's an excerpt from the book!

A second or two later, the call connected. An empty room greeted her. The red office chair stood in front of a tall bookcase. What she could see of the brown desk was cluttered with files and a steaming cup. So much for this being urgent. “Hello?”

No reply seemed forthcoming, so she turned away from the laptop and gave attention to her melting pot of wax. It smelled divine. She double checked she’d written things down correctly. There’d be no point in crafting this new scent, or putting it on the website, if she couldn’t recreate it.

“Hello. Sorry about that. The dog wanted to go out.”

She smiled at the pot of wax and answered the man’s voice coming from behind her. “I know how that goes. Give me a couple of minutes. I’m in the middle of something.”

“I don’t have time.”

Biting back a rude response about how he’d been the one not there when she’d called, Kristen held up a hand. “I need to pour this into the moulds. Can we talk at the same time? Your email did say urgent. I’m assuming you need to talk to me about my accounts?”

“That would be why I set up the meeting, but I’m afraid I’ll need your full attention. I’m Carlyle Stevenson.”

Kristen turned around. The bloke on the screen in front of her was…fit. Short, spiky dark hair, five o’clock shadow, baby blue eyes, and obviously dressing down as he was in a shirt and jumper, rather than a suit. “Kristen Lawson. I’m assuming Viceroys’ passed on my details to you. I’ve been with them up until now, but Mr. Viceroy is retiring and as he handles everything himself, the firm is closing. But then of course you know that, else you wouldn’t be calling me.”

“Ummm… No, there is nothing anywhere here from Viceroys’.” The man frowned and checked the folder in front of him. “I’m after a Kirsten Lawson. Overdue accounts for the last five months.”

Kristen shook her head. “Not me. I’m Kristen Lawson.”

The cheeks of the handsome hunk on the other side of the screen turned a delicious shade of pink, and tapping echoed from the speakers. “Can I ask your email?”

“How about you tell me which email you thought you’d sent the invite to?” Kristen hadn’t come down in the last shower. She wasn’t about to give her email out to any Tom, Dick, or Carlyle who asked. Even if he was the most exciting thing to have happened to her all week.

“It’s not protocol. I can’t give out confidential client information like that.”

“Surely you have the email in front of you or a copy of it in your sent folder, but OK, fine. Kristen Lawson at…” She broke off as he held up a finely manicured hand. Wow. That she wasn’t expecting. And he wasn’t married, either. Unless he was one of these modern males who didn’t do wedding rings. 

“Can you spell that?”

“T-h-a-t,” she shot back. Then quirking a brow, she continued. “Kristen, spelled K-r-i-s-t-e-n.”

His cheeks turned even rosier. “Then I apologise, Miss Lawson. I typed the name wrong and put K-r-i rather than K-i-r. It wasn’t you I needed to get ahold of at all. If you wish to make a complaint you can email the firm directly or call them. All the details will be on the email I sent you as I used my work account. Once again, my apologies for disturbing you. Have a good day.”

The call ended abruptly. 

Kristen didn’t know whether to laugh or let the irritation build within her. A twenty-first century wrong number. But who would have imagined two similar names at the same email server?

Buy link:



You’d better watch out. You’d better not cry. Santa Claus is going to die.

DCI Boaz Matthias isn’t a Christmas person. He never has been. Not since he discovered the truth when he was seven. Christmas is a lie and a con and nothing is ever going to change his mind. Being given a temporary six week assignment isn’t helping his mood either—as it means Christmas with the family. Only good thing is the accidental meeting of someone he thinks he could grow very fond of.

On the other hand, DC Isabel York on the other hand loves Christmas. So much so that she decorates her desk with lights, tinsel, and a novelty advent calendar. When her boss is called away, his replacement is the last person she’s expecting to see—her fledgling boyfriend.

In the middle of a nasty case, Isabel is nevertheless determined to show Boaz the real meaning of Christmas. Problem is work and pleasure just doesn’t mix—at least not according to him.

Here's the excerpt for this one!

What was the matter with him? Had Isabel broken through his defences already? He’d known her less than a week, been speaking to her less than a day, and all he really knew about her was her name.

Once they were seated, steaming plates in front of them, she took a deep breath and bowed her head. Guessing she was saying grace, he reached over and took her hand. Warmth shot through him and it was all he could do not to gasp out loud. Somehow he managed to get his voice to work. “May I say grace for us?”

Her bright smile reached her eyes. “Of course.”

He prayed and then reluctantly released her hand. This so wasn’t him. He was normally in control, did everything methodically, carefully, and deliberately. Yet, his heart was pounding, his stomach spinning, and his emotions running away with themselves.

“Are you OK?”

Her voice brought him back down to Earth. “Yeah, I was just thinking.” He picked up his knife and fork.

Isabel tucked into her meal. “Tell me about your family. You said your brother and family are with your parents.”

“Older brother, Asher, and his wife, Sylvie. They have three children.  Jacob and Clara are six, and Tim is five. I’m the youngest of three…” He paused. “My sister died when she was seventeen.”

“How old were you?”

“Seven. They don’t think I remember, but I do.” He swallowed hard, eyes burning. “I’m sorry. Getting all emotional over here.” 

Her hand touched his, the same electrical charge as before racing through him. 

“Don’t apologise for being human. Even Jesus wept when his friend died.” Her fingers moved slowly. “I’m an orphan. I grew up in a series of foster homes. My adopted gran was killed a few months ago. So this is my first Christmas alone for a long time. Well, I say alone. There’s Zander and Gramps—that’s Zander’s grandfather. We both call him Gramps as it’s easier.”

Boaz managed a smile. “Her name was Marlah. She went out to a party about two weeks before Christmas with her boyfriend. He was several years older than her. Dad didn’t approve, but hoped she’d come to her senses. They were both killed in a car crash. That same year I discovered Father Christmas didn’t actually exist. I found Dad sneaking around filling the stockings. Of course he insisted he was helping out, trying to take my mind off things…” He shrugged. “So there you have it. Christmas, at least the popular version, is a lie and a con.”

“But fun,” she said. “There are the parties and dinners, games evenings with friends, carol singing, skating in the park.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Skating in the park? You’ll be quoting chestnuts roasting on an open fire next.”

She stifled a giggle. “Well, actually, we have skating, chestnuts, and a fun fair. You should check it out before you go home. It opened last weekend.” 

“Maybe we could check it out together.”

The rest of the evening passed in a blur of laughter and conversation. If he could capture a moment in a bottle it would be this. The way the lights on the wall behind her glowed and bounced off her hair, the lights to the side sparkled in her eyes. If he knew her a little better, if this wasn’t the first date he’d take a photo. Just to etch the memory further.

She laughed. “You can if you want.”

His cheeks scorched. “Did I say that out loud?”

She inclined her head. “You did. But that’s fine. By all means, take a photo. But I’d better be your lock screen.”

Buy links



Needing a change of pace, elementary school teacher Kelly Seda accepts the school exchange position and flies from Ottawa to London. Exchanging jobs and houses for a year, he and six-year-old daughter Wendy have a less than a day to adjust before starting work. 

Single mum Staci Kirk has carved out a life for herself and her young son Tommy. Fiercely independent and self-reliant, she’s found a good place where she can settle in but she’s all too aware that happily ever after applies only to other people—or in the romance books she writes. 

The arrival of Tommy’s new teacher, also her next door neighbour, threatens to upset her carefully balanced apple cart but Staci knows it’s only a matter of time before Kelly packs his bags and flies back to Canada. No sense in starting anything she can’t finish.

 However, life is never that simple. When the worst happens, there is only one person she can rely on to help.

Read the excerpt for this one!

Staci sat on the couch beside Kelly as Tommy and Wendy coloured happily at the table. The picnic lunch she’d prepared after the service had gone down a treat—despite the rain which had poured down in torrents since they’d left the church. She’d turned the table into a palace with a couple of blankets, made crowns out of sheets of cardboard, and the four of them had eaten inside it, with the kids pretending to be a prince and princess.

Kelly sipped his coffee. “That indoor picnic was a stroke of genius.”

She smiled. “We do that a lot in the winter. As long as Tommy eats, I don’t care where. Within reason, that is. The bedroom is a no no. It’s not easy being both parents.” She paused. “I’m a single parent.”

“I’m with you on that score. Hair, for example. I can’t braid to save my life and as for getting her part straight—forget it. Hence her really short hair.”

Staci laughed. “Whereas Tommy wants his hair cut like my dad’s. Nothing on the top and very little around the sides.”

Kelly roared with laughter. “Did you tell him that happens naturally when he gets older?”

“I tried, but he doesn’t want to wait. I placated him by promising a multi-coloured Mohican during the Christmas holidays.”

“How are you planning to do that? Just in case Wendy wants one at some point.”

“He did it for world book day back in March. He went in full Native American dress. He wanted to go as Pocahontas.”

Kelly tried to hide a grin but failed. “Isn’t Pocahontas a girl?”

“Uh-huh. Tommy’s argument was if the pantomime dame is a bloke why can’t he go as Pocahontas? But in the end I convinced him to go as Hiawatha instead. Funny enough, he preferred being the leader of a nation to a princess living in a foreign land.”

Kelly sipped his coffee. “I can totally understand that one. I think I would as well. Thanks again for bailing me out this morning with the dress.”

“It’s the least I can do. If I can get it off of her I’ll sew it tonight and let you have it back tomorrow. Will you hire a car whilst you’re here?”

He pursed his lips. “I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead. Both work and the school are within walking distance. The subway will get me most places—once I find the nearest station.”

“Half a mile up the road, but you need the mainline train to get to the nearest underground station. We’re too far out of the city for our own station. Buses work as well. Which school is Wendy going to?”

“Cannon Street Primary.”

“The same one as Tommy. It has a really good reputation and the scores are good. December is a bit of a late start for the year though.”

“Couldn’t be helped. Work transferred me here later than anticipated.”

“They’ll be gearing up for Christmas with nativities and parties and carol concerts. Bit like all the houses. The American way of decorating seems to be creeping over more and more each year. Tommy wants the tree and outside lights up now. I told him he has to wait another week or so.”

“Going back a bit.” Kelly finished his coffee and set the cup on a coaster. “What’s a pantomime?”

Staci paused. How on earth did she explain something so quintessentially British in a way he’d understand? “It’s a theatre play only put on at Christmas—with lots of songs and slapstick humour. Where the hero is played by a girl, and the dame is played by a bloke. There is usually a cow involved somewhere no matter what the story. It’s normally a fairy tale. So, Dick Whittington or Cinderella or Peter Pan. This year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk. I took Tommy last year, and he loved it. Are you here for Christmas?”

He nodded. “I’m not planning on going home until July. I’m hoping my parents will come over at some point, but Mom hates to travel. Despite having a passport, she’s never been outside Canada.”

Staci failed to contain her surprise. “Not even to step over the border at Niagara Falls? I did that one year, just so I could say I’d been to Canada.”

“Not even that.” Kelly shook his head. “The farthest she’s ever been is Toronto to visit my brother. Maybe a car would be a good idea. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the country while I’m over here.” He glanced at the rain pounding on the windows. “Assuming it stops raining. Does it ever stop raining here?”

Buy links:

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Guest Post: MISTLETOE MOVIE STAR by Stacey Weeks

My guest this week is Stacey Weeks, a ministry wife, mother of two teens and one tween.  She is an inveterate sipper of hot tea with honey who loves to open the Word of God and share the hope of Christ with women. A multi-award-winning author and the primary home-educator of her children, she is also a frequent conference speaker. Her messages have been described as rich in the truths of Scripture, gospel-infused, and life-changing. Stacey is currently working on a graduate certificate in women’s ministry with Heritage College and Seminary. 

     Stacey's newest release is Mistletoe Moviestar, which is built around the magic of Christmas. As jingling sleighs cart rosy-cheeked lovers around the Mistletoe Mile, Charlene’s holiday dream is more complicated than photoshopped perfection. She proposes a compassion ministry initiative called the Gingerbread House but struggles to convince the town that their need for a homeless shelter is real.

     Famous for his made for television holiday movies, Jonas longs for a happily-ever-after that isn’t as neat and tidy as his unrealistic films. Partnering with Char to champion her ministry invigorates him with a new purpose and provides an excuse to spend time with the girl he never forgot. But when they embrace three young sisters fighting to stay together while living on the streets, their project becomes deeply personal.

     Together, they prove to a town reluctant to see anything other than holiday perfection that the greatest gift of the season isn’t found under a tree.

Read the fantastic excerpt below for a taste of this wonderful story:

“Where is home for you, Nat? I know most of Janie’s friends. You’ve only lived here for a few months now, right?”

Nat blinked several times, and then her gaze darted away. 

Char extended the puppy out toward Natalie to force an interaction. “Would you mind holding Cinnamon? She’s chilled, and if you hold her against your skin, it will warm her up.”

Natalie’s chest rose as she puffed out her cheeks and slowly exhaled. After a few beats, she unfolded herself and took the puppy. 

“Open your jacket and tuck her against your body,” Char explained. “Your body heat will help her warm up.” 

Nat complied, but she still didn’t say anything. 

Char kept her hands busy checking the other pups in the whelping box. She purposefully avoided making eye-contact with Natalie. Hours volunteering in the community had taught her that working alongside someone rather than interacting face-to-face often encouraged them to open up. 

“I know what it’s like to move around. My dad was in the military, and I associated the word home with boarding school.” 

Nat tipped her face in Char’s direction. 

“Even Jonas knows what it is like to be the new kid. His parents were missionaries, and they moved all over the world. When you’re born into one culture but raised among others, it’s hard to know who you are.” Char made notes in the book Jonas had started, her belly fluttering with nerves. To help Natalie, she first needed to reach her. She held her breath. 

“We’ve moved a lot,” Nat offered. 

Thank you, Lord. “I can’t count the number of times my parents had told me that my new room would be nicer than my old one, and that I’d make new friends. But all I wanted was the room and friends I already had.” 

Natalie blinked away tears. She opened her mouth as if she wanted to speak, but she closed it again. She swallowed. 

“Tell me about the places you’ve lived.” Char opened her medical bag and rooted around inside of it. 

Nat straightened. “We used to live in a house, but then we moved to an apartment. After that, we stayed with friends.”

Char tipped her head to the side. “What has been the hardest thing to leave behind?”

Nat’s eyes widened. 

Char doubted anyone had ever asked her that before. Most people asked where you were from or stuff like that. Stuff you couldn’t answer when you were forced to cycle through grief again and again with every move. 

Something in Nat’s demeanor broke. “I miss my mom,” she whispered. “I miss my friends.” She pulled up her knees and pressed her face against them while cradling the puppy. 

The barn’s floorboards creaked as Char shifted to sit beside Natalie on the floor. Her gut clenched. Their mom wasn’t with them? “Where is your dad?”

“He died a long time ago.” 

A chill swept down Char’s spine. Nat was in Mistletoe Meadows with neither parent? Who was caring for her? Suzy couldn’t be more than sixteen. 

“Where are you living, Nat?” Her scalp prickled. She feared she already knew. It would explain the guilt flooding Nat’s face. 


What people are saying about Mistletoe Movie Star:


Everyone wants a place to call home. We have physical homes and spiritual homes but sometimes ‘home’ is wrapped up in the ones we love. No matter what we do or where we go, we all long for a home.” Julia Wilson Christian Bookaholic


I’ve enjoyed all three of Stacey Weeks’ Mistletoe Christmas novellas, but this was by far my favorite.” Carol James


An impactful Christmas story. Cute ending, too!” Katy Eeten



Find links to Stacey’s books here:


Sign up to Stacey’s newsfeed and receive the free short story 12 Days Under the Mistletoe: James has 12 days to win Wendy’s heart.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgivings Past

That's me on Thanksgiving 2010 with the two turkeys I roasted in the oven for the usual crowd. The oven died afterwards. It roasted those two turkeys with its last gasp.

When I was growing up in Cliffwood Beach, my mother went all out for Thanksgiving. She missed her family out in western Pennsylvania on holidays. There was one Thanksgiving when Dad drove us all out in a snowstorm to see my grandparents in Canonsburg, PA. On our arrival, my grandfather told us we were crazy. 😉

Most of the time, Mom cooked the special feast just for six--my father, my sisters, my brother, me and herself. However, there was one memorable Thanksgiving when my brother invited four of his classmates from college to join us. They came from India. One of them was a Muslim, so turkey was fine with him. However, three of them were Hindus and vegetarian. They wound up eating a lot of biscuits.

My mother's preparations for Thanksgiving started off a day ahead when she made three kinds of pies. She made only one mince meat pie for my father, which no one else would eat because nobody else liked mince pie. She also made apple pies and pumpkin pies--all from scratch with her own pie dough. (Rolled pie crusts had not been invented yet.)

My brother, my sisters and I were all Mom's apprentices. Each of us had specific jobs to do. I usually got the job of making the cream sauce for the cauliflower. My brother usually chopped up celery and onions for the stuffing.

Our feast consisted of mashed rutabaga, cauliflower with cream sauce, and onions with cream sauce, too. Having grown up in a house with five brothers, Mom always cooked enough for an army. There was not just the stuffing that went into the turkey, but another pan of stuffing as well. We had corn, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes. And biscuits, of course.

It was a lot of work.

Due to COVID-19, this year is very different. We have been trying to stay safe for eight months so hubby and I will be dining alone. We'll be sharing a three pound turkey breast, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a frozen vegetable mix. (I haven't decided which one yet.) I made cookies for dessert. Hubby isn't fond of pumpkin pie, so I figured I wouldn't bother to make one for just me. Not cooking for a crowd is a lot less work. 

After we eat, we'll get on Zoom with our gang and chat about what they had to eat. Video chats are not the same as real hugs, but for now that's what we need to do. 

Stay safe. 😷


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Guest Post: REDEEMING CHRISTMAS by Carol James

My guest today is Carol James, an author of inspirational fiction who enjoys creating Redemptive Romance. She lives in a small town outside of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, Jim, and a perky Jack Russell "Terrorist," Zoe. Having always loved intriguing stories with happy endings, she was moved to begin writing to encourage others as she'd been encouraged by the works of other authors of inspirational fiction. Her debut novel, Rescuing Faith, has been an Amazon number one best-seller. Carol enjoys spending time with her husband, children, and grandchildren, traveling with friends, and serving in the production department at her church. And most days, in the late hours of the night or the wee hours of the morning, she can be found bringing her newest novel to life.  

REDEEMING CHRISTMAS is Carol's latest release! Here's the blurb:

     Novelist Olivia St. Madeleine is intrigued by a handsome and mysterious stranger she sees when she's Christmas shopping. Who exactly is he, and what is his story?

     Gabriel Winter definitely has a story. One he's been running from for years. He's renovating a house next door to a friendly and persuasive grandmother, who is, unbeknownst to him, Olivia's Nana.

    Through Nana's insistence, Liv helps Gabe wallpaper and paint, and in return Gabe fulfills one of Liv's secret childhood dreams. But past hurts and secrets threaten to drive them apart rather than draw them together.

     Will they find the courage to share their secrets with each other and with God, and allow Him to redeem Christmas?


Now for a special treat! A nice long excerpt from the book. Get yourself a cup of hot chocolate and settle down with a cozy blanket. Stay warm and enjoy. ☺



            Liv picked up the Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum Peppermint lotion from the seasonal display. Turning the bottle over, she pretended to read the back label, but she focused her attention on the male customer in the center of the store. 

            The salesgirl stuck to him like a piece of chewing gum on the sole of a shoe in summer. Gooey and annoying. 

            Liv couldnt blame her, though. He was tall with dark brown hair, meticulously combed back from his forehead. His olive skin enhanced his cleft chin. He wore a charcoal gray wool suit with a white shirt, a red and navy striped tie, and black wingtip shoes. Maybe he was an attorney. 

            Common sense told Liv to make her purchase and leave. Intrigue argued she should browse and gather more information. As “Jingle Bells” played over the speaker system, she ignored common sense and crept closer to observe. 

            His brown eyes studied every move the clerk made, as if he were considering her as possible dating material. But that made no sense. Esscential Scents was a womens store. Why would he be sizing up one woman while he was shopping for another? 

            Because he wasnt shopping. A policeman. Maybe he was an undercover cop posing as an attorney, trying to sneak some information out of the salesgirl. No, that couldnt be right, either. So far, the sales clerk had done all the talking. But then again, the best investigators were good listeners. 

            Miss Bubblegum rested a hand on his forearm while she gestured toward the mountainous display of home and body products in the center of the store. “And this is our most popular fragrance, Scent-uous. A wonderful choice to pamper that special lady in your life.” 

            The man slowly stepped away and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, I—” 

            The salesgirl turned and gestured toward the right-hand wall. “Or what about these? Air and Sun. Part of our new Earth Esscentials, all-natural collection. Very popular among the professional crowd.” 

            His gaze focused on the clerk. In silence, he nodded. 

            Liv recognized the look of panic in the girls eyes. When she was in college, shed worked on commission in a clothing store. The clerk knew she was losing the sale. But what she didnt know was that she wasnt losing anything. Because it wasnt a real sale. 

            The girl turned toward the other side of the store. “Or how about…” 

            Or a secret agent. Maybe he was a secret agent whod ducked into the store to avoid the men who were following him, and he had no intention of buying anything. He was simply hiding. Liv glanced back over her shoulder. No fishy characters lurked outside the store entrance. But of course, professional spies looked just like a next-door neighbor. Nothing suspicious about them.

            James Bond spoke, minus the British accent, “Hey, thanks for your help, but I think Id just like to browse a little…if thats OK.” 

            “Oh, sure. Of course. Enjoy looking around. Im Candy, if you need anything.” 

            And who would she be if he didnt need anything? 

            “Thanks, Candy. I appreciate your time.” 

            As the chime signaled the arrival of a new customer, a new male customer, Candy dropped 007 like a sun-scorched rock and scooted across the store toward the entry. 

            The spy wandered through the tables toward the display framed by evergreen garland and white twinkling lights on the left wall. His jacket was cut full enough to hide his shoulder holster. He slid his hands into his pants pockets as he pretended to study the lotions and perfumes stacked to the ceiling. 

            This was her chance. Liv strolled up beside him. “Overwhelming, isnt it?” 

            He turned toward her. His brow wrinkled in surprise, and then a smile lit his face. "Sure is. Must be over a hundred different choices.” 

            Curiosity fluttered her stomach. Shed get to the bottom of this. “So, are you shopping for anyone in particular?” 

            “A friend.” 

            “I see. A good friend?” 

            He pursed his lips and looked far away as he constructed his cover story. He leaned his head to the side. “Not yet. But Im working on it.” 

            A vague response. 

            She nodded. “Age?” 

            “Mine?” He raised his eyebrows and grinned. 

            Trying to distract her with humor. A good ploy. “No, your lady friend.” 

            “Whoa, there. Ive learned never to try and guess a ladys age.” 

            Slick. “I can suggest some general scents that would be popular with most women, but if you could give me a ballpark age, I can point you toward some that might be more appropriate.” She picked up a bottle of shower gel from the display in front of them. “For instance, this Cotton Candy scent would not go over well with a mature woman.” 

            As he removed his hands from his pockets, his brown eyes sparkled. “Youre right. OK. Seventy. Ish.” 

            “Seventy? Ish? Really?” 

            He nodded. 

            “Then this”—she returned the Cotton Candy gel to the display—“would be completely wrong. What you want is a classic scent.” She led him across the showroom to the back corner. Liv gestured toward the left side of the display like a gameshow hostess. “Lavender. In fact, thats why I came into the store. To buy some as a Christmas gift for my grandmother.” She grasped the tester and spritzed some of the perfume onto a card. Then she waved it through the air for him to smell. “My nana loves it.” 

            He smiled. “Soft and old-fashioned. Classic.” 

            “This next one, Texas Rose, is my nanas second favorite.” 

            He followed her farther back, “Do you work here?” 

            “Me? No. Im just a customer.” 

            “Well, maybe you should,” he muttered. 

            Whether he intended her to hear it or not, she caught his barely audible response. Shed pretend she hadnt heard him to give him a chance to elaborate. “Pardon?” 

            “Sorry. Just thinking out loud. Thanks so much. Youve been very helpful, and I dont want to keep you from your shopping.” 

            She was dismissed. Shed failed in her mission. “Youre welcome. Enjoy.” She grasped a floral travel bag filled with an array of Luscious Lavender products and headed toward the register. Once she paid, her Christmas shopping would be completed. 


            Liv perched on the wrought-iron cafe chair outside the mall coffee shop and sipped her peppermint mocha. Her journal lay open on the table before her. This had been the last available spot, but she couldnt have chosen a better one. Its placement was perfect for people-watching. A sea of mankind surged up and down the mall corridors. She loved shopping this time of year. Trips to the mall offered plenty of material for work. 

            A young father, most likely, with two preschool children nibbling on cookies sat a few tables over. Hed probably picked them up from daycare and brought them here to shop for a surprise Christmas gift for their mother. The cookies were bribery to ensure their silence. 

            Or perhaps he was a widower. This was the first Christmas after his wife had died. He was fighting to overcome past memories and make this season joyous for his children. But it was hard. Painful. How could he hold everything together? Livs eyes burned as tears threatened. The little girl had her mothers blonde hair and blue— 

            “Hello, again.” 

            Liv jumped at the greeting. Shed been so lost in thought that she hadnt noticed the attorney-cop-spy now standing beside her table. He held a paper cup from the coffee shop in one hand and a large shopping bag from Esscential Scents in the other. 

            “Hi. Well, looks like you found something.” 

            “I did. Thanks to you and your guidance.” He scanned the seating area. 

            She looked again too. Still no empty tables. A captive audience could produce an abundance of information. "Please, wont you have a seat?” 


            As he sat and placed his package on the concrete floor beside his chair, his suit coat fluttered open. No shoulder holster after all. His gun must be jammed in his waistband behind his back or in an ankle holster. 

            "Im Gabe.” 

            She grasped his offered hand—his smooth, well-manicured offered hand. Secret agenting must pay well. ”Liv. Nice to meet you.” She nodded toward his shopping bag. “So what did you decide on?” 

            “I went with the lavender.” 

            “Good choice.” 

            His gaze rested on her open journal. “Looks like you might be in the middle of something.” 

            “People-watching. The journals in case I observe something I need to record.” 

            As he sipped his coffee, his chocolate eyes sparkled. “Private detective?” He grinned. 

            She returned his smile. “Writer.” 

            “Really? Have anything published?” 

            “A few novels.” 

            “Anything I might have heard of?” 

            “I doubt it. No offense, but youre not exactly my target audience. I write romance.” 

            “Oh, so I get it. Men arent romantic.”                       

            “My heroes are very romantic.” 

            “But not real men.” 

            “Lets just say romance is not the genre of choice for most real’ men. Action, sci-fi, mystery. Stuff like that. But a smart man could learn an awful lot about women by reading a romance novel or two.” 

            “Ill keep that in mind.” He nodded. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and glanced at the display. “Duty calls.” 

            Definitely an undercover cop. 

            He inserted his hand into his inner jacket pocket and extracted a business card. He held it out to her. “In case you ever want to change careers and go into sales, my companys always looking for good people. From what I saw earlier, youd be quite a success.” 

            She studied his card. Gabriel Winter, CEO, Sales Solutions, Placing people in perfect places. “Your busy season, huh?” 

            “Not really. The last thing my customers want to see this time of year is some sales rep coming in to take them away from their buying customers.” 

            She winked. “I meant your name.” 

            “Oh. That.” Smile lines radiated from his eyes. “Most people dont even catch it, but of course you would. Your lifes all about words.” He stood. “Would you happen to have one of your cards on you?” 

            She reached into the side pocket of her purse, withdrew a business card, and offered it to him. 

            He studied the rose and gray rectangle. “Olivia St. Madeleine, Novelist, Creating Beauty from Ashes.” As he raised his eyebrows, his gaze met hers. “You were destined to be a romance writer from birth. Your parents chose the perfect name.” 

            “Actually, my agent did. My real names Olivia Slootsky. Dont get me wrong. Its a fine name, but I ask you, whos going to believe a person with that last name writes romances?” 

            He chuckled. “Well, Olivia St. Madeleine Slootsky, thanks again. Running into you has been the best part of my day. Have a happy holiday.” 

            As he turned and walked toward the exit door, she reached for her journal and her pen. His mahogany eyes blazed with merriment. The warmth of his smile sent delicious shivers down her spine

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