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Clare writes inspirational romance, usually of a suspenseful nature. Her books are available through her publisher Pelican Book Group and Amazon. She is married with three kids and lives in the UK. She loves watching sci-fi, crime drama, cross stitching, reading and baking.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Eve Devotion - Pastor Michael Duncan

’Tis the Season

As I look out the window I am surrounded by a forest of icicles. Clear crystal spires hang like ornaments from the eaves and endear the house with a magical aura. Even the grey clouds and quiet hour bring a sublime tranquility to this beautiful season. But soon the calm serenity will be overcome by a wealth of laughter and sounds of joy as families and friends join together to celebrate the birth of the King.

There is nothing like Christmas. Lights and tinsel, songs and parties, friendships abound and good will is offered to all who know the delights of the season. Despite the sense of busyness, there is a wonderful peace that fills the atmosphere. Yet, in this season, with all the trappings and festivities that fill our time, the actual meaning of Christmas might get lost. So, in these brief moments, I hope to take you back to Bethlehem and invite you to join with shepherds and wise men and seek the One who was born to be the Savior.

The clear night air shimmered with stars as shepherds maintained vigilance over the flocks in their care. A crisp breeze gently wafted across the hills surrounding the village of Bethlehem and no one imagined what was coming next…

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
~ Luke 2:9-14 (ESV)

This message came not by some secretive, covert messenger. This was no subtle whisper on a darkened night. No, with the glory of heaven as their background, the entirety of the heavenly host burst upon the scene and pronounced with boldness the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ!

So what are the shepherds to do? What would you do? With resolute purpose the shepherds set out for the city of Bethlehem and found it to be exactly as spoken by the angel. This longing from the shepherds is echoed in the heart of all who have believed the message concerning Jesus. The passion and desire to be in the presence of the One about whom angels testify is felt no greater than at this time of year when we celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Perhaps your sense of God’s presence is dimmed. Perhaps the true nature of why we celebrate this festival has waned in the onslaught of the commercial rush. There is no better time than now and there is no better way to renew your faith than to be as the shepherds and determine with unwavering passion to seek for the One who was born to be King.

What an honor and privilege to know the true meaning of Christmas. What grace! What love! He who is holy sent His only begotten Son into this fallen, sinful world to be the hope for all mankind. The great gift of Christmas is Jesus; and the greatest gift you can give to anyone is the love that has been given to you—the love of God in Christ.

Let us take time to remember the Lord Jesus Christ for whose sake we truly celebrate. As the wise men from the east, let us worship HIM who is born King. Like the shepherds of Israel, let us proclaim HIM to everyone. May the lights of the season remind you of the Light of the world; may the presents under the tree remind you of the Person given for you; and may the festivities of the day remind you of the festival that awaits all who are found in Christ. I pray that this season of Christmas bring you peace through our Lord Jesus.

Faithfully Yours,
Michael Duncan

Friday, 23 December 2016

Miracle on Maple Street - Linda Rondeau

“Christmas is a time for miracles,” Ryan McDougal tells his mother, when he is told that a long lost cousin, Millie, has resurfaced after nearly forty years, the cousin whose picture his mother clasped the day his father abandoned him. Though they occurred decades apart, he always believed the two disappearances were connected like opposite links of a chain. With Millie’s arrival, perhaps he might finally receive the answers he so desperately sought. However, Ryan has a third thorn in his side, more devastating than any mystery. His wife, the love of his life, has left his arms and his bed. How long before she moves out of the house and takes his beloved son with her? He prays for his own Christmas miracle. Millie’s anticipated visit prompts Ryan’s mother to reveal secrets that bring all to light. However, when past and present collide, the truth is more than Ryan can bear.


Ryan McDougal
Christmas Eve

Why now? How did I come to this point on this night? Willing to throw everything away, like my father did more than twenty years before? Willing to do the very thing for which I’d hated him?
With doomsday predicted by many in the scientific community, the Y2K bug loomed on everyone’s mind. What did I care if planes fell from the sky because computers would not accept the year 2000? My world had already collapsed. What more could global chaos do to me?
I’d tried for a year to save my marriage. Didn’t tonight prove it was beyond help? Why stay any longer?
Earlier, I finally learned the truth behind the secrets shrouding my life, the trident that pierced my soul. Yet, revelation didn’t bring peace. I pulled my jacket collar over my ears as I wandered down Maple Street, my mind jumbled by a lifetime of lies.
Christmas, one more charade to add to the heap. To me, the holiday had become a one-act play where I pretended delight with feigned enthusiasm. For me, the holiday lost its magic many years ago when my father deserted us while I dreamed of transformers under the tree. An eight-year-old doesn’t expect to begin his favorite holiday in an upside down world. I woke eager to tear open packages. Instead, I found no presents under the tree, no blueberry muffins, and no turkey in the oven.
My mother sat on a chair. She stared blankly out the kitchen window, a gold-framed photograph on her lap. had always enshrined the picture of the pretty but sullen teenager. For reasons never shared with me, the unnamed girl ran away on her sixteenth birthday. I wondered why, from my earliest memory, her picture held a place of honor on the fireplace mantel.
I shook my mother’s shoulder. No response.
Where was my father? He could explain what was wrong—why Christmas dreams turned into yuletide nightmares. I searched for him, first his bedroom then the entire house.
“Mom, where’s Pop?”
She clutched the picture to her chest. “He’s gone, Ryan.”
“Where did he go? It’s Christmas. He promised to be here when I woke up.”
Pop was a telephone lineman. Whenever he went off for a job, he’d put on his yellow hard hat, rub my head, and say, “Take care of your mother until I get back.” If I’d already gone to bed, he’d wake me to give me the order. I always promised I would.
I rushed to the window. There’d been a fresh snowfall overnight. Maybe Pop had been called out. If he hadn’t come to wake me, he must have left in an awful hurry. He went someplace to save Christmas for other people. To me, my pop was a superhero in a yellow hard hat.
My gaze wandered to the kitchen table adorned only with my father’s yellow hard hat. Superman wouldn’t forget his cape. Why did my father leave his hat? My child’s heart sensed then I’d never see him again. From that point on, Christmas became another day on the calendar where I nursed a zombie-like woman who preferred her sorrow over her son—a woman who hopelessly waited for her man to come back.
Her energy, what little she possessed, would have been better spent in a job search. Our neighbor helped us get welfare so we wouldn’t starve to death. Every Christmas, she brought over a small decorated tree, a ham dinner, and presents. I think there’s a special place in heaven for people like Gina Forbes, one of the few true Christians I’d ever known.
Here I was years later, now dealing with the third fork in the trident that pierced my soul. As midnight zeroed in, I took another glance down Maple Street, the place my younger self couldn’t wait to leave. I’d lived with Stone Woman long enough. So two days after high school graduation, I left to begin my Army career. As I walked out the door, my mother lifted her head. Her eyes misted a goodbye. Were the tears for me or my long-lost father? Gina Forbes wrote occasional letters to let me know how Mom fared. I spent my leaves anywhere but home.
After basic training, I served as an MP. Somehow, I missed deployment overseas. A year before my hitch ended, I met Penny, a girl with a voice to match her beauty. We married a week later. When you know you’ve found the one, there’s no need to wait. Nine months later, our boy Ryan Junior came along. To avoid confusion, most everyone called him R.J. I went to his room every night to watch him sleep, and I made the same promise. “I’ll never leave you, my sweet sonny boy.”
Yet, here I stood. Ready to break the most solemn of promises.
When my Army hitch ended, I wasn’t sure what I’d do next. Sometimes life makes those decisions for you. For me, clarity came with a package from Gina Forbes containing a card, a blue quilt for my son, and a handwritten note: Sorry to tell you that your mother’s health has deteriorated. She was in the hospital for a few days last month. The doctor wanted to put her on antidepressants, but she refused to take them. She shouldn’t be alone. I’ve let the doctor know how bad she is. She refuses to go back to the hospital. Yesterday, out of the blue, she asked if I knew where you were. She’d forgotten you’d joined the Army. If you can find it in your heart to forgive your mother for her failures, perhaps you could at least brighten her day with a visit.
My protests proved moot against Penny’s insistence we move into the house on Maple Street to take care of my mother. “Ryan, no matter what your mother did or did not do, she is still the woman who gave you birth.”
How was it possible on this night, I stood ready to leave the most wonderful woman in the world?
A grandchild, as well as a daughter-in-law’s unconditional love, built the ladder Mom needed to climb out of despair, to the point she went to church with Gina Forbes. Life fell into predictable rhythms of acceptability for all of us on Maple Street. Until last year—when my wife left my bed and moved into the den. For the past year, with each sunrise, I asked myself the same question—why doesn’t my wife love me anymore?
Nor did the specter of unexplained disappearances ever leave our house. We relegated the unknowns to a corner, like a sulking child. Now my wife’s emotional abandonment completed the triangle of mysteries, a geometric spear of perplexity. Even so, we muddled through our existence, actors who performed their monologs on a shared stage.
Funny how life deludes us. One day, reality crashes upon a crafted, albeit imperfect world, which is why I now strolled up and down Maple Street and considered a different existence. Why not join the ranks of those who had disappeared?
For the second time today, I turned to a God I had yet to call my own.

Author Bio

Award winning author, LINDA WOOD RONDEAU, believes God is able to turn our worst past into our best future, the purpose for her many contemporary novels. Walk with her unforgettable characters as they journey paths much like our own. After a long career in human services, Linda moved from her home near the Adirondack Mountains to Jacksonville, Florida, and now anticipates a move to Maryland. When not writing, she enjoys playing golf with her husband and best friend in life, Steve. Find Linda on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google Plus or visit her website at www.lindarondeau.com where you’ll find links to social media, information about her books, and enjoy her blog, Snark and Sensibility.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Ginger and Brad's House - Marion Ueckermann

While Ginger Murphy completes her music studies, childhood sweetheart and neighbor, Brad O’Sullivan betrays her with the new girl next door. Heartbroken, Ginger escapes as far away as she can go—to Australia—for five long years. During this time, Brad’s shotgun marriage fails. Besides his little boy, Jamie, one other thing in his life has turned out sweet and successful—his pastry business.

When her mother’s diagnosed with heart failure, Ginger has no choice but to return to the green grass of Ireland. As a sought-after wedding flautist, she quickly establishes herself on home soil. Although she loves her profession, she fears she’ll never be more than the entertainment at these joyous occasions. And that she’s doomed to bump into the wedding cake chef she tries to avoid. Brad broke her heart once. She won’t give him a chance to do it again.

A gingerbread house contest at church to raise funds for the homeless has Ginger competing with Brad. Both are determined to win—Ginger the contest, Brad her heart. But when a dear old saint challenges that the Good Book says the first shall be last, and the last first, Ginger has to decide whether to back down from contending with Brad and embrace the true meaning of Christmas—peace on earth, good will to all men. Even the Irishman she’d love to hate.


GINGER MURPHY had vowed never to return to Ireland. News of a sick mother will overturn the impulsive declarations of a broken heart.
She moved her hand and let the lace curtain fall back. How many hours of her life had she wasted gazing from her bedroom window at the house across the street? Far, far too many. She wouldn’t let old habits creep back in. Not now. It had taken five long years to heal her heart.
Being back home was wonderful. And hard. So many memories lived on that lane and in the fields nearby and beside the Liffey. The walks along that meandering river with its tea-colored waters were the best. Brad close to her, holding her hand. And those picnics beside its buttercup-lined banks… She trailed a finger over her bottom lip. After all this time, she could still feel, still remember, his kisses.
How had it all gone so wrong?
Her fingers curled around the thin lace again as she pulled back the fabric for one last look, one last reminder, lest she be tempted to forget. Her gaze shot to the house next door to the O’Sullivans. The day she’d moved in had been the day the foundations of her world began to crumble.
Remember that. Always.
The curtain swayed back into place as Ginger released it. She checked her makeup in the mirror, and then fluffed the fiery curls that tumbled over her shoulders. Brad had always loved the color of her hair…until he discovered he preferred brunettes to redheads. Not collectively—just a particular one.
Stop it. No thinking about Brad. But how could she not? It was impossible not to wonder whether he still lived on the other side of the tarred strip separating their houses. Mam and Dad didn’t say, and she hadn’t asked. The subject of Brad O’Sullivan had long not been permitted as a topic of conversation—with her parents, or her friends. Enduring six months of snippets about Brad was enough. She’d no longer wished to hear about his happy little life, with his perky little wife. More like pesky. Like a troublesome bug, Claire Madden—her nemesis—had infected Brad.
If Brad still lived in that white semi-detached house that had been a part of her life since she could remember, she’d find out soon enough. In the week she’d been home, the place had remained in darkness. But last night, two cars had parked in the driveway. The red van, branded ‘All Things Nice’, had been missing since early this morning. Brad’s van, or some stranger’s? Sugar and spice, and all things nice… Had Brad followed his dream and opened his own pastry business, or did the vehicle belong to someone running some kind of shady operation?
Maybe she should’ve allowed her family and friends to continue keeping her in the loop.
The chocolate brown chiffon of her layered dress swirled as she turned. She loved the color. Probably because she loved chocolate. Ginger grabbed her clutch purse, flute bag, and music stand, and placed them into a canvas carry bag, Australia printed repetitively across the fabric. She slid the bag’s strap onto her shoulder, and then hooked the ankle straps of her high-heels around the fingers of her free hand. She’d put those on downstairs. The block heels clunked together as she headed for the staircase. If she didn’t get going now, she’d be late. And she was the distraction to keep anxious guests entertained until the bride stepped onto the aisle, and the wedding march began to play.
“You look beautiful,” Dad said as he lowered his newspaper. “You sure you’re not the bride?”
Ginger sat down opposite him at the kitchen table. “Last time I looked, Daddy, brides wore white.” And they had a man in their lives—one who wanted to marry them and be with them forever.
She leaned forward to put on her shoes. “But, thanks.” She glanced up, her father filling half her view, the table the rest. “I made a mac and cheese this morning for you and Mammy for dinner. Pop it in the oven at a moderate heat for thirty minutes when you’re ready to eat. I’ll try to get home as soon as I can, but I’m booked to play until after the main course. Then the DJ takes over.”
“Thanks, Ginger. ’Tis so good to have you back home. I’ve missed my freckle-faced girl.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
He smiled. “Thank you for giving up your new life in Australia to come home and help me with your mother.”
“Five years isn’t exactly a new life.”
“Aye, that’s why I know the decision wasn’t an easy one.”
It sure wasn’t, despite how difficult it had been to adapt to a new culture, even though she’d stayed with her aunt and uncle. Ireland would always be in her blood.
Would Brad O’Sullivan?
She hoped not. He was married, with a child…who’d be turning five in a few months.
Ginger rose, standing three inches taller in her heels than her usual five feet. She stepped to her father and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Bye.”
He grasped her hand and squeezed. “Have some fun, love.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Unfortunately, I’m there to work, not to play.”
“I thought you were there to play…” A laugh bubbled from Dad’s throat.
Ginger laughed, too, before she pulled back her hand and turned to go. “Well, I’ll be away then.” At the threshold, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. “It’s good to be home. Really.”
Ninety minutes later, the haunting melody of Ginger’s flute floated across the Orangery at Killruddery House. Sunlight filtered through the high glazed dome above. The late September weather had cooperated with the bride’s plans. What an amazing venue—the first of many she’d lined up. With her reputation in Australia as a wedding and corporate flautist, it hadn’t been difficult to be booked up almost every weekend until Christmas before she’d even stepped on the plane to Dublin—a few introductory emails to Irish wedding planners was all it took.
Soon as the ceremony started, Ginger gathered up her flute and her folded music stand. She tip-toed out of the Victorian conservatory to set up in the courtyard outside the 18th century barn conversion where the reception was to take place.
She gazed toward the large trees in the distance, beginning to morph into their autumn colors. Then she headed down the path beside the terraced lawn toward the sunken lavender and rose garden bordered by green hedging. She strolled along the gravel pathway. The spindly purple blooms and full peachy-pink English roses begged to be sniffed. Ginger paused to savor their fragrance. As she walked by the large pond in the center of the symmetrical garden, she dipped her fingers in. Ripples spread out as the cool water refreshed her fingertips. How peaceful.
If she could only stay there longer.
Taking the path to her right around the pond, she headed for the charming octagonal Victorian structure. The tea room. She stepped inside to enquire if she was headed in the right direction. She could not afford to get lost on this large estate and tarnish her reputation at the first wedding by arriving after the guests she was hired to entertain. The smell of coffee and zesty citrus cakes beckoned her to stay, and she made a mental note to return on a free weekend. Perhaps she’d bring her best friend, Tara.
After an affirmation by the young lady working the till, as well as an explanation of the rest of the way, Ginger arrived at the reception venue moments later. She stepped inside to have a look at the d├ęcor before setting up. And the cake.
Much as she’d tried not to over the years, she’d found herself on numerous occasions wondering what Brad would’ve done with the wedding cake had he been the pastry chef. He’d always been good in the kitchen, especially with sweet things. A miracle she’d managed to keep her petite figure through her teens.
She stared at the towering masterpiece—four tiers of decadent chocolate. Perfect. Must’ve set the father of the bride back many euros, although nothing about this wedding was cheap. Including her.
Ginger ran her tongue between her lips as she gazed at the smooth dark brown shine of the ganache. A tall, elegant bride and groom made of porcelain topped the cake while deep red roses edged each tier. She leaned forward and inhaled, expecting a repeat of the rose garden’s aroma.
She took a closer look. Icing? How was that possible? The blooms were so lifelike.
“’Tis not time to cut the cake, yet.” A cuckle followed the deep brogue of the familiar voice.
Her knees weakened. No. It couldn’t be. But there was no mistaking the sound. She’d heard that voice whisper sweet nothings in her ear since she was a teenager.
There was nowhere to run.

Pulse pounding, Ginger sucked in a breath and spun around. Deep-set blue eyes and a dimpled smile greeted her. “Brad O’Sullivan.”

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Luke's Crazy California Christmas - Cindy K Green

 High school senior, Luke Ryan, may have gone all-star in baseball the previous year, but nothing about his current life resembles that famed reputation. With Christmas break on the horizon, he resents the compulsory trip to visit his estranged father in California. Not only is he forced to abandon his mother over the holiday, but his pianist girlfriend, Andrea, also--who seems too preoccupied by her Christmas Eve charity concert to care that they’ll be apart. On the way to California, he meets free-spirit Charli who spins his world in a completely different direction. Once in his old stomping grounds, he’s forced to face the reality of his sister’s death and his parents’ divorce. Decisions assail him over his future, his girlfriend, and his home. Is he destined to move back to California to secure a baseball scholarship or does God have another plan for his life?

“Here.” Mom handed me a wrapped package as we pulled up in front of the airline drop-off at the Raleigh-Durham airport. 
“What’s this? I thought we said we’d celebrate Christmas when I got back.”
“It’s not from me. Andrea dropped it off when you were gone last night.” She leaned in as if to give me a kiss on the cheek or forehead like when I was little. Instead, she smoothed a piece of my dark hair into place. “I feel like I should tell you something important—advice or something, but you’re pretty much all grown up. Three more months and my baby will be eighteen.” Her expression turned playful as she gave me a light pat on the cheek. 
“I better get going before you’re towed by airline security.” I slid closer to the door and grabbed the handle. Before opening it, I turned back to her. “I hate leaving you at Christmas.” 
“I know you do, but I’ll be fine with Aunt Renee and Ray and the girls. I won’t be alone. Don’t worry about me.” 
“Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too. Have a good Christmas.” 
I hopped out and grabbed my bags from the trunk. 
I waved goodbye and headed inside to check my luggage. A biting wind shot through the entryway to the terminal just as I started to enter the automatic doors. 
I did hate leaving Mom for Christmas. I knew she’d be OK with my aunt and uncle and cousins, but it wouldn’t be the same. This was supposed to be our first North Carolina Christmas. Instead, it had turned out to be her first Christmas alone. The first Christmas since my older sister, Monica, passed away after being in a coma from a car accident. The first Christmas since she and Dad divorced. I couldn’t believe what a jerk Dad was being, forcing me to come back to California and leave Mom. No, that wasn’t true. Dad was being true to form. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Christmas Extravaganza - Nicola Martinez

Christmas is a magical time of year. As Christians, we know that Christ is the reason Christmas is special. There is a joy in the anticipation because in our spirits we’re looking forwards to the Saviour’s birth and the wonders His arrival means for the world. The Incarnation is the real reason people are happier at Christmas. (It isn’t the department store sales—although, they don’t hurt. :) ) The Incarnation is also why people are profoundly more depressed if life’s circumstances are not ideal during this season—not because the coming of Christ is depressing, but because deep down, we sense the reality that this time should be a joyous one; so when joy isn’t apparent for us, we feel the lack more acutely. For Pelican Book Group, this is where our Christmas Extravaganza enters.
If you notice, Christmas is a time of light-hearted, joy-filled entertainment. Christmas-themed music fills the air, Christmas-themed movies dominate television, happily-ever-after entertainment is in abundant supply. “Abundance” was what came to mind when I first developed the idea for the Christmas Extravaganza. I thought to overload people (in a good way!) with…well, goodness. Overwhelming joy. A plethora of smiles. Unending possibilities for happiness.  Undeniable romance…Christmas is the time for all these things. It isn’t really surprising, though, is it? Christ’s life is the greatest romance ever told, right? A God that “becomes lower than the angels” in order that He might experience humanity and overcome suffering, sin and death solely for love of us—and in the process offer us life more “abundantly”.

Each Christmas Extravaganza title had to leave readers with a feel-good experience. This was especially important for the reader who might be experiencing that lack which I mentioned earlier. Each story had to be relatively short—because people are busy during the holidays—but also long enough to leave readers satisfied with a tale that packed an emotional punch.  And, of course (and most importantly) like all Pelican Book Group titles, each story had to contain a Christian message.
When we put out the initial call for submissions, I was overwhelmed at the response. We received so many wonderful stories. It was difficult to narrow down the ones we would publish. That’s an awesome problem to have! And then, when the first Christmas Extravaganza set released, reader response was phenomenal! I’m not exaggerating, either. :)

Each year we continue the tradition. On average, the Christmas Extravaganza includes a dozen stories. During the entire month of December, all are available for just 99¢ each. I know money doesn’t stretch quite as far during the holidays, so I want to make the Extravaganza “abundantly” affordable.

Now, several years removed from that initial launch, we have over seventy Christmas Extravaganza titles in e-print, and I expect that will continue to grow annually for as long as we receive appropriate submissions and readers keep responding positively. (That’s the way abundance works!) The Christmas Extravaganza is one of my favourite sets, and it is my ongoing prayer that each story continues to bring a warmth to the reader, a respite from the bustle of life, and a deeper appreciation for the real reason for the season: Christ Jesus, who came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Merry Christmas!

Link to Christmas Extravaganza on Amazon:  
Link to Christmas Extravaganza on PBG

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Hector Clause - Clare Revell

The last thing Brie Dalgleish expected her boss to do was ask her to play an elf in the toy store grotto. She's even less enthusiastic when she discovers Santa is the same bloke who drove his car through a puddle the previous evening, completely soaking her.

Hector Clause is playing Santa in the family owned toy store under sufferance as a favor to his grandfather. He'd rather be in a nice safe office, using his law degree, than playing Santa in a shop full of squealing kids. Even if the chief elf is on the cute side.

With the store's centenary fast approaching, the anniversary party is abruptly cancelled. Hector resolves to celebrate anyway, but isn't prepared for the curveball he finds headed his way.


The pub was a five minute walk away. The air inside the building was thick and heavy after the chill, damp December evening. More rowdy than usual, the pub had a darts tournament going on at one end of the room, with the Reading v Portsmouth match on the large screen TV at the other. Loud music from the jukebox competed with the two sports.
This was a mistake. She shouldn’t have come out. Head ringing, Brie turned to leave. She collided with a tall, firm, warm body.
He spun around, his beer spilling from the glass onto her coat.
“Sorry…” They both apologized at the same time.
Brie took a step back, shaking her coat. Great, now I have to put this into the cleaners. Serves me right for buying a ‘dry clean only’ winter coat. She glanced up.
Blue eyes twinkled beneath the shock of untidy light brown hair. Long fingers with short bitten nails curved around the now half full glass of warm beer. “You okay?”
She inclined her head, trying her level best to be polite and not allow her temper to bite his head off for not being careful. “I’m fine. Can I get you a new drink?”
“No. Thanks for the offer though.”
Brie headed out into the fresh air. As she crossed the car park, she was aware of someone following her. She moved to one side and pulled out her phone. Rather than call the cops and make a fool of herself if it turned out to be nothing, she did the next best thing. This was a failsafe back up she and Lizzie had anytime either of them went out alone. They had a code word to use if either of them got into trouble for any reason. The other then knew instantly to dial 9-9-9 and get back up.
She dialed quickly. “Hey, Lizzie.” The bloke from the pub raised a hand in greeting as he passed her. Brie watched him climb into his car and drive off. “No, I’m fine. I just wanted to say hope it goes okay with Mr. J tomorrow. If you need me, you know where I am.”
“Thanks. Have fun in the grotto.”
“I’ll try. G’night.” Brie hung up and walked briskly along the wet pavement to the chip shop on the corner of the road. She pushed open the door to be greeted by the tantalizing aroma of fried potatoes and vinegar. She breathed deep. The scent always reminded her of her childhood, living next door to her grandparents chip shop.
The bloke in front turned around. Of course it was the man from the pub. Who else would it be? “Are you following me?” he asked with a smile.
“Perish the thought. I really don’t want vinegar or ketchup over my coat as well,” she replied, keeping her tone light. It really was quite funny if you thought about it.
He held out a hand. “Hector.”
She shook his hand briefly, admiring the firm grip. “Brie.”
“Brie as in cheese?” His eyes widened and he sounded more than a little surprised.
She stifled a chuckle. “No, although being named after a cheese would have been preferable and more than a little more delicious. It’s short for Briseis and way easier to pronounce. Mum had a thing for the story of Troy. It could be worse. I could have been called Andromache or Helen.”
“What’s wrong with Helen?”
“I’m not pretty enough to launch a thousand ships, much less fight a war over.”
Hector tilted his head. “Hmm, the jury’s out on that one.” He moved forward with the queue. “But at least you weren’t named after a cardboard cutout TV dog. Or have an older brother called Nicholas.” He turned to the counter and placed his order.
“I can see why a cardboard TV dog is a problem, but Nicholas?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “It is when your surname is Clause. Nick never lived it down.” He handed over a ten pound note and slid his wallet back into his pocket. He picked up his packet of food. “This may be a little forward, but do you want to share a table and eat in?”

Buy Links - Amazon UK  Amazon US

Monday, 19 December 2016

Dear Me - Mary Alford

Tara Blevins is in desperate need of a second chance after her son’s death. But will she find it in the old lodge left to her by her cousin, or the man who broke her heart by promising her he’d love her forever.

Nothing about Tara and their troubled past adds up in Devon McAllister’s mind. Tara acts like he’s the one who broke off their relationship, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Devon tells her that after she left Second Chance, he wrote her several letters and gave them to her cousin to mail. When she didn’t respond to them, he believed he had his answer.

Was it all just a horrible misunderstanding? Why would Lisbeth want to keep them apart? And what might have happened if they’d each had a chance to read those letters.

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Chapter One

Tara Blevins topped the final mountain before Second Chance, Montana and the little town spread out in the valley below her. She hadn’t been back here since that last summer. The hurt she thought she’d dealt with long ago resurfaced.
I’ll wait for you forever…Her high school sweetheart, Devon McAllister, had promised right before Tara’s father took her away the summer before her senior year.
But Devon hadn’t waited for her even a year. When she’d returned home to her great-cousin’s lodge the following summer, Tara had learned the ugly truth. The boy who had promised her forever, the one she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with, was seeing someone else. Devon had broken her heart.   
Tara drew in a breath and shoved aside that painful memory. What happened between her and Devon was so long ago and she wasn’t an impetuous teenager anymore. She was a grown woman and she’d come back home to heal.  
Learning that she’d inherited the old Second Chance Lodge from her great cousin Lisbeth wasn’t a surprise. After all, there was no one else to leave it to.
After thirteen years of being away, coming home seemed like a sign. Maybe she had one more second chance in her after all.
She drove through town and up Second Chance Mountain to the lodge. After rounding the last snake like curve on the treacherous mountain road and the lodge materialized through the foggy afternoon. The massive three story Ponderosa Pine full log house was breathtaking against the snowy backdrop of the mountain.
Two weeks had passed since she’d learned of the inheritance. Her cousin’s attorney had tracked her down, told her she was the last remaining relative of her great cousin Lisbeth Daniels, and sent her the keys to the lodge.
Regret hung in Tara’s heart. She hadn’t visited her cousin since that fateful summer ended and that was something she’d always been sorry for. Lisbeth had no family of her own. She adorned Tara and her father and yet visiting Second Chance after what happened with Devon was just too difficult.
Tara couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken to Lisbeth. She had no idea her great-cousin was even ill. The attorney’s note had been brief and dry. Lisbeth had closed the lodge a little over ten years earlier when she was no longer able to run the place by herself. Lisbeth had chosen to live lout the remainder of her life up here all alone.
When Tara had called the attorney to let him know she received the letter and to ask questions, she’d found out he knew very little about his client only that she’d died from complications due to heart problems. He’d warned her about the place needing some repairs and told her she might want to wait to move into it until they were completed.
Tara hadn’t listened. She was in desperate need of a new beginning. With Christmas quickly approaching, marking the two year anniversary of her son’s death, she couldn’t bear to stay in Texas and face it by herself. So she’d packed up what meager possessions she owned and headed north, ignoring the attorney’s warning that it might be best to wait until the spring thaw before venturing this far north on her own.
The journey through most of the northern states had been nerve-wracking to say the least, but the last hundred miles had kept her eyes glued to the road ahead and her hands white knuckled on the steering wheel. Tara couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made the worst mistake of her life by traveling to Montana in the dead of winter.
Now, looking at the lodge in the light of a dreadfully gloomy afternoon, she still wasn’t so sure she’d made the right decision.
Tara slowly pulled into the drive and parked the truck close to the porch. The lodge stood like a majestic lady from by gone days, stoically weathering the cold December day. She was what the attorney was talking about. The place was showing multiple signs of neglect and her worries increased.
“I’m sorry, Lisbeth. I should have kept in touch,” Tara whispered into the cold winter day, her breath chilling the windshield in front of her. Nothing about the empty lodge reminded her of the summers she’d spent here as a child. The joy she had those final three years as a teenager when she’d come to live at the lodge full time while her father worked a logging job two states over.
“It’ll be okay,” she tried to reassure herself. This was her chance for a fresh start. It had to be okay. As brave as those words sounded, nothing could be further from the truth. She was terrified of ending up alone like her great-cousin.
Tara grabbed the small amount of groceries she’d purchased earlier in the day and hurried up the front steps. The snow that had followed her most of the way through Montana continued to come down harder. 
Her hands shook as she stuck the key in the lock, opened the door, and saw the place for the first time.
There were dust cloths covering most of the furniture. Lisbeth’s attorney had told her he’d have someone give the place a good cleaning. He’d been true to his word. The pine wood floors shined. The aspen ceiling soared fifteen feet in the air. An enormous antler chandelier hung majestically from it. She remembered how impressed she’d been the first time she’d seen the chandelier and the lodge. She felt the same way now. Even with its obvious signs of neglect, the place was stunning and for the first time since Max’s death she felt like she was going to be okay.          
Tara dropped her groceries on the kitchen island and walked through each room of the downstairs while something she hadn’t considered before occurred to her. This was the first time she’d ever truly lived alone. Throughout her college years she’d had roommates, and then she and Mark had married. Even though they’d pretty much been living separate lives these past two years, he’d still been in the same house. Now it was just her up here on the mountain top all alone. 
She shoved the uneasiness aside and returned to the kitchen where she went about doing the menial task of putting away the small amount of groceries. She’d do a more thorough shopping once she knew what was needed at the lodge.
With the groceries put away, she went back outside to carry in the rest of her belongings.
Tara remembered that the lodge had ten guest rooms on the second and third floors. At one time, the place was always filled to its capacity. During those final years that she’d lived at the lodge full time, Tara had loved helping her cousin out with the cleaning and the cooking. She got to meet people from all over the world.
And she and Devon had fallen in love. 
Don’t go there, she warned herself as she dropped her bags in the master bedroom on the first floor. Crying over what might have been thirteen years earlier was foolish. She’d lived her life. Fallen in love with Mark. They’d made a beautiful baby boy together. After what had happened to Max, mourning the loss of her first love seemed downright self-centered.
Tara closed the bedroom door and went back to the great room. The thought of unpacking was about as appealing as heading back down the mountain. Still, it was barely dark out and she had too much time on her hands. She decided to explore the rest of the lodge.
Besides the kitchen, master suite, and formal dining area, there was a room off the great room that Tara had always loved. The library.
She opened the door and felt the chill of room embrace her. Off to the right, a wall of windows faced out to where the slopes of the ski resort had once been. Tara glanced out at the sagging ski lifts. At one time, the Second Chance ski resort had been rated one of the best in the country. Some of the wealthiest people in the world came to the lodge to ski each year.
Tara let the velvet curtains fall away and turned her attention to the rest of the room she had once loved. Bookshelves covered two of the walls. On the opposite side from the windows was the enormous woodstove was the center point of the room. She remembered the winters spent in front of the stove watching the fire burning brightly through the glass window.
Like the rest of the first floor, the library had been cleaned until it shined. Drop cloths covered the leather sofa and chairs. She took them off. The last time she’d seen her cousin had been that summer before she and her father left for their new home in Blair, Washington. Lisbeth had been sitting on that very sofa. She’d tried to hide her sadness, but Tara was certain there were tears in her eyes. Lisbeth had told her so many times that she considered Tara the daughter she never had.
Tears filled Tara’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Lisbeth. I was a coward. I should have insisted that I come back to the lodge even though dad was against it, and I was afraid of running into Devon. You deserved better from the both of us.”
With the bitter memories of her own failures too heavy to bear, she left the room and headed up the grand staircase made from native Aspen trees. There were five bedrooms and two baths on the next two floors. She opened each door and peeked inside at the familiar rooms.
The third floor was where her room had been. She went inside and glanced around. Everything was the same as it had been when she’d stayed there. It was as if Lisbeth hadn’t changed a thing. Tara went over to the bed and felt under the mattress. Her old diary was right where she’d left it as well. She opened it to the last pages and read what her younger self had written there. She’d poured her heart out in that diary. Described in her best sixteen year old words what it felt like to lose the boy of her dreams.
Dear Me, it hurts so bad…
Tara remembered her cousin telling her once that she’d wrote in a diary as a child. She’d told her it was like writing a friendly letter to oneself. Lisbeth told her she always addressed her entries to Dear Me. That was the reason why Tara had started writing as a child. She’d wanted to be just like Lisbeth.
I can’t believe he’s seeing someone else.
Foolish. How young and foolish she’d been back then.
Tara closed the book and took it with her as she left the room.
At the end of the hall, an additional set of stairs led up to the attic. A window at the end of the hall gave a different view of the mountain behind the house. Outside, the sun was low on the horizon. An alpine glow set the mountain ablaze with color. She’d forgotten how spectacular it could be. Half way up the mountain, there had once been a small chalet that served as a place for skiers to warm themselves in front of a fire and order warm drinks. She could just make it out. It looked as if it had seen its better days. 
Her cousin’s attorney had told her with the closing of the Second Chance ski resort, there wasn’t anywhere close for people to come and ski. Most of the tourist had stopped coming to the area. It had a direct effect on the economy. 
Would she ever be able to do what her cousin had done on her own? The thought of running the lodge seemed overwhelming and ridiculous. She was a doctor, not an inn keeper. Besides, she wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to deal with those type of problems. She was still healing.
Tara glanced up at the stairs leading to the attic. She loved exploring the room as a child. She’d gotten into so many adventures back then, not to mention trouble. Her cousin had finally taken to locking the door after a while to keep Tara from snooping. 
She hesitated a second longer then hurried up the stairs without considering the fact that Lisbeth might still have left the room locked. She stood in front of the door and turned the doorknob. It opened in her hand and she stepped inside and flipped on the lights.  
The room was freezing and she could see her breath. This was the one room that the cleaners hadn’t visited. The room that ran the length of the lodge and was covered in several inches of dust.
Old furniture and knickknacks was stuffed in every nook and cranny. There were dozens of old boxes marked Christmas decorations. Tara remembered how amazing the lodge was at Christmastime. Her cousin used to go all out.
A challenging idea took life inside of her. It was almost Christmas now. What if she did the place up like it was in its glory days? It would certainly make the holiday less dreary. The idea took life and for the first time in a long time, she was excited about something. She was taking a step forward. Tomorrow, she’d go out into the woods behind the house and find the perfect Christmas tree.
Tara opened the first box marked Christmas and it was filled with dozens of tree ornaments from years past. The next one held Christmas lights tied neatly in a circle. In all, there were more than ten boxes and enough decorations to make the lodge look festive again.
She took the boxes down to the first floor great room. Once she had finished carrying down the last of the boxes, Tara went back to the attic to turn off the lights. She glanced around one more time. An old trunk in the corner captured her attention. She remembered it from the past. She’d always loved how beautiful it was.
When she went over she noticed something that was never the case in the past. The trunk was unlocked. As a child, she’d tried to get her cousin to show her what was inside, but it was the one thing that Lisbeth kept from her. 
Now, Tara almost felt guilty about opening it. Her cousin had obviously wanted to keep whatever was inside to herself. Still, Lisbeth was gone and Tara desperately wanted to know more about the woman who had been like a mom to her for so long.
She slowly opened the trunk’s lid. The box was filled with old clothes stuffed inside. She frowned as she took out each piece. There was nothing special about them. So what was so secret that Lisbeth hadn’t wanted her to know about them? Beneath the stack of clothes, a beautiful wedding dress was neatly folded in a clear plastic box. Tara stared at it in awe. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. Her own wedding dress was lovely, but this one was like something out of a magazine.
Was it Lisbeth’s? In all the years she’d known Lisbeth, she’d never once heard her cousin talk about getting married. Had she planned to marry at one time? If so, what happened to change her plans?
Tara took the dress out of the box and held it up to the lights. The strapless sweetheart gown had a silk organza bodice was covered with delicate bead work and layers and layers of tulle made for a voluptuous ballroom skirt and train. Although the dress had yellowed slightly through the years, it was still stunning. Now, she was even more curious about Lisbeth’s past.
Beneath the tulle veil, she noticed something else. What appeared to be a stack of books tied neatly together with a white ribbon?
Tara took the books out and realized they were diaries dating back to when Lisbeth was a small child. In one of the books there was an aged black and white photo of a dark haired man standing next to a young Lisbeth. They were smiling together in front of the lodge.
On the back was written,
     Lisbeth and Edward, summer of 1962.
Lisbeth couldn’t have been more than seventeen when the photo was taken. Who was this young Edward to her cousin?
Tara put the dress back in the trunk and took the diaries and the photo downstairs.
In the great room, she uncovered the furniture and pleasantly surprised that most of the pieces were still in good condition. Tara was much too wired to think about sleeping although she was exhausted down to her core from the long drive.
Instead, she made cocoa and built a fire in the massive stacked stone fireplace.
Curled up with a warm cup of chocolate and the photo sitting next to her on the sofa, Tara opened the last diary. It was dated five years before the photo was taken.
Dear Me, I can’t believe it… Tara read the familiar greeting and smiled.
Father hired the most handsome boy I’ve ever seen to help out around the lodge. His name is Edward Parker and he has such pretty eyes. He’s tall and fit and the kindest young man I’ve ever met. I hope he stays. I really like him.
Tears welled in Tara’s eyes at the sweet admission from her cousin. She’d seen photos of Lisbeth when she was younger. She was a beautiful young woman. Petite, with honey blond and eyes as blue as the Montana skies. Something that Tara and her father shared with her. No doubt a family trait.  
She read the next passage dated two weeks later.
Dear Me, I’m sorry it’s been so long since we talked, but these have been the most magical days of my life. Edward and I have gotten to spend a lot of time together. He takes me on long walks through the woods and father loves him as well. He says Edward is a hard worker. I don’t think father knows how I feel about Edward, though. I’m sure he wouldn’t approve.
She read through several more entries until she reached the one that made her smile.
Dear Me, I think I love him and I believe he loves me too. I’m so happy, but we can’t tell father just yet. He thinks we’re too young for such feelings.
Hearing the youthful Lisbeth talk about her love for Edward made the bitter ending of Tara’s own romance that much harder to accept. She and Mark had been that madly in love once.
They’d met when she was in med school and he was clerking for a judge. They’d snatched moments of time together whenever they had a break, and she’d known she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. When Max was born, her life finally felt complete. She’d taken a leave of absence for a while until Max for five. If only she’d known that would be the last year of his life. She would have done so many things differently.
Tara got to her feet, scooped up the diaries, and shoved them in a drawer. She couldn’t think about Max and not want to scream at how unfair it was that she was still alive and her precious baby boy had died.