About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A Semi-Sweet Summer by Jan Elder

Today sees the release of A Semi-Sweet Summer by Jan Elder. Jan very kindly not only sent me an author interview, but also a character interview. So please read on to the end of the page :)



Excerpt:
With weighted steps, Cassidy headed toward the car and crumpled into the passenger seat. “Where’d you get all that energy, Gabby? Don’t country people meander?”

She vaguely remembered when her life felt more like a brisk walk than the frantic gallop of her life in the big city. Vaguely.

“Us country-people tend to stroll through life and enjoy the journey—unless there’s fried chicken involved. Then it’s every man, woman, or child for themselves. Ready?” Gabby shifted into gear and prepared for take-off.

Out of the corner of Cassidy’s eye, something huge and decidedly bovine moved over by her property line. “Hold up.”

Gabby pulled up short and Cassidy stiff-legged it out of the car. She strode across the lawn, her heels sinking into clover with every step. When she was ten feet away from a mangled fence, she spied a man headed in her direction, picking his way across the field next door. His periwinkle-blue cotton shirt stretched across broad, muscular shoulders, his thick, dark-brown hair was ruffled by the light breeze.

OK, he had nice, wide shoulders, but she had a damaged fence. She stepped closer. The oxford button-down fit him as if it was made for his fine physique. Her ex-boyfriend’s London tailor couldn’t have done any better.

Cassidy moved another step closer. The man’s chestnut-brown eyes, with a hint of copper, zeroed in on hers as he swiped an errant lock of hair off his forehead.

Hunter Gray?

The blast from her past nearly slapped her to the ground. In high school, she’d pined for this man from afar. In her adolescent journal, she’d waxed lyrical about his many fine attributes. She’d lain awake countless nights dreaming of the dimples in his face, his broad chest…and his lips.

And then, at the end of her sophomore year, he’d ruined it all. Her passion swung the other direction—hatred for his despicable self.

Hunter whistled through his teeth, a slow smile gracing his lips. “Well, hello, neighbor.”

“Is that your animal on my lawn?” She knew a bovine when she saw one, and this one was impressive. Long, long legs, massive hooves, and…who knew cows could be so whopping enormous?

The cow turned dark, liquid eyes on Cassidy and she could swear the creature smirked. Wickedly. As if it were claiming the lawn as its own.

“Oh, you mean Marigold?”

He named his cows after flowers? “Yes. Why is Marigold on my lawn?”

“What can I say? She’s the adventurous type.” He pushed a hand through hair the color of brisk iced tea—that wavy, tousled hair. “Don’t worry. I’ll fix your fence.”
She screwed up her face until she found the semblance of a smile. “Fine. And I’d appreciate it if you’d get your cow off my turf. Now.”

Why wasn’t she over this stomach-clenching angst? She’d forgiven him years ago, so why did the rusty barb of humiliation pin her like a bug to a board?

She smothered a sigh just as the recalcitrant cow lifted her tail and plopped a cow-pie on spring-green grass.

My Review:
This one held my attention from first page to last word, making putting it down virtually impossible. Cassidy and Hunter's story pulls you in, tugs on every heart string you have, and a couple you didn't know existed. From chuckles to sobs, this story has it all and shouldn't be missed.

buy here:



How did you come up with your premise? Is there a story behind your book? How did the story evolve?

A Semi-Sweet Summer is a “new adult” novella, part of Pelican Book Group’s Pure Amore line. A large part of this book harkens back to my teenage years, my thoughts swinging to a boy I had the biggest crush on in school. He was three and a half years older (I even still remember his birthday) and he was definitely in the “elite” segment of our church youth group—the cool kids I so longed to be a part of. Sorry to say, I followed him around like a puppy, learned all of his favorite foods, his chosen hobbies, etc. I try not to think I actually stalked him, but I was very aware of his presence, and searched for ways to be near him.

In A Semi-Sweet Summer, I tried to transfer some of that raging angst into fodder for Cassidy’s discomfort in finding her unrequited love living right next door. Like most of us, Cassidy never really fit in—hardly that enviable cheerleader, not a person that anyone would notice. Rather, she sees herself as sort of an ugly duckling. Can anybody out there relate?

For those who are not familiar with this story, would you please give us the blurb?


Hunter Gray is very intrigued by his new neighbor. His escape artist cow, Marigold, engineers an introduction…but it's not quite the first impression he was hoping for. Baffled by the nagging suspicion he’s seen this woman before, he plots to win Cassidy’s heart at every opportunity.

With the object of her unrequited love living within shouting distance, Cassidy prays for strength to forgive and forget. And Hunter? He just wants to get back to his own dream to grow his farm and get to know the pretty girl next door. If she'll let him.

Are there any fun titbits about this story you can share with us?

In order to research the story, I “had” to visit a local upscale chocolate truffle shop, The Perfect Truffle in Frederick, MD. Randy, the owner of the shop, spent a whopping three hours with me, telling me all about the ins and outs of making the finest chocolate. And THEN, he let me choose twelve truffles to take home. I shared the chocolate with my writers group, and luckily, that day, there were six of us. Two for each! Seriously delicious!

Here's the website in case you just want to drool at the photos:


How did you decide on the setting?

I was walking by a chocolate truffle shop one day, stopped in to “take a look” at the “display” and, well, there ya go…

When will it be released?

August 18, 2017 – TODAY! Yippee!

 Where were you born?

Washington D.C. Keep moving north and west and currently live 75 away, near the skinny part of Maryland.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?      

Idaho. My sister lives there and I miss her. Plus, it’s slower paced than where I live and the people are nice. And, from visiting my sister many times, I have learned there are chocolate truffles there too. Having chocolate nearby is a must for me now, apparently.

What’s your favourite colour?  

I have three just because … I can. Twilight blue (see previous novel Love, Lies, and Fireflies for a description), lilac, and dusty rose. They also happen to look good together.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Your first draft is going to be awful. Get used to it. Just keep writing and fix it later—one of the most useful things I’ve ever read about writing. I think it was in Writers Digest magazine. Kinda takes the pressure off.

Are you working on anything at the present you’d like to share with us?

Part three of the Moose Creek series. Part one, Moostletoe, part two, Moosed Opportunities, and now… part three Almoosed Heaven. Lots of fun, lots of romance, lots of moose to love. Should be coming out the November.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Too easy. An author.


Do you really, really want a dog?

No. Have two cats. Love them both. Don’t have to take them outside. And they’re self-cleaning. And to all of you dog people out there, I do love dogs also. I have been owned by four at various times growing up. If there were no cats in the world, a sheltie would be my fall-back animal.

Do you hate how you look in pictures?

Good gravy, doesn’t most everybody? I’ll get back to you when I lose 20 pounds and let you know if that helps.

What were you doing at midnight last night?

Writing. My best time to think, create, and write. If I’m not doing that at midnight, I’m reading a good fiction book. Or petting a cat. Or watching my neighbor have to walk his dog out in the elements.

What is your favourite animal?

I believe we’ve covered this but just in case … cat, cat, cat, and uh, cat. I wanted four, my husband wanted zero, so we have two. Love my husband. Lots.

Have you ever cried during a movie?

If the movie is a good one, I cry. All the time. I cry at Hallmark card commercials. Just do.

What is your favourite pizza?
Anything that doesn’t have anchovies in it on it or near it.


Are you a morning person or a night person?

Extreme night owl. The rest of the world needs to start everything later. Like four hours.



Hero 
Tell us your name and a little bit about yourself?


Hello. I’m Hunter Gray. Thanks for having me here today. The most notable thing about me, I guess, is that I’m a dairy farmer. My favorite cow is named Marigold. (Hunter laughs). I’m not sure how my new neighbour Cassidy feels about her though. The cow has a habit of showing up on Cassidy’s property. Without an invitation.


Tell us about where you live and why you choose to live there?


I live in a sleepy little town called Crystal Falls. A slice of heaven, really, in the rolling hills of western Maryland.



What is a quirk of your personality that most people wouldn't know?

I’ve always been a sucker for red-heads. With blue eyes. And a taste for chocolate.

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to reach your Happily-ever-after?

I grew up on the farm and sort of took it over when Dad retired. I wanted to make it my own though and do it right. Got my agriculture and husbandry degree from The University of Maryland and I’ve worked hard to make it profitable. It’s hard though. My sister is tied to a wheelchair and she needs … extra consideration. Takes a lot of time, but I’m working on a solution to that problem.


Tell us about your special lady. What makes her special?

What I really love about her is that she was willing to give me a second chance. Not everyone would do that, especially these days. She has so much love to give, but I gotta tell you it was hard to soften up that hard shell. In the end, it was oh so worth it.



The first time you saw her, what did you think? Did you like her immediately, or did she have to grow on you?


You know that’s a great question. I was sure I’d seen that woman before, but I couldn’t place her. I kept asking her questions, tried to get her to talk, but to say she was “evasive” would be putting it mildly. The lady was downright secretive. But did she have to grow on me? No. I liked that feisty woman from the moment I saw her stamp her cute little foot at my cow.


And now some silly questions.

Pepsi or coke

Pepsi – it’s a tad sweeter and I have a real sweet tooth.


tea or coffee

Coffee, with plenty of cream. I am a dairy farmer, you know.

elephant or tiger –

Tiger. I even have an orange cat.


roast dinner or burger and chips (fries for our US readers)

Burger and fries. I’m a simple kind of guy.

classical music or pop

Anything with a beat, so I guess classical is out.


sunrise or sunset

Sunrise. I have to get up to milk the cows so I’ve seen quite a few.

walk or run


I’m a country-boy. I don’t walk. I mosey.


chocolate or crisps (chips for our US readers)

Oh, I’d better say chocolate here. My gorgeous new neighbor owns a chocolate truffle shop!

CONNECT WITH JAN ELDER

Contact Information: www.janelderauthor.com/contact



Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A courtship for Clover - Marion Ueckermann

Picnics and Promises

Blurb:
Clover Blume’s chance of becoming better acquainted with Jonathan Spalding away from the mayhem of her busy restaurant is threatened when the groomsman escorting her to her sister’s wedding is delayed.
Jonathan lives the good life. One thing his money hasn’t managed to buy and that’s a woman to love—one worthy of his mother’s approval. Is the auburn-haired beauty partnering with him at his best friend’s wedding finding a way into his heart?
But what will it cost for Jonathan to realize that it profits him nothing to gain the world, yet lose his soul?

And the girl.

Excerpt:
TAKING CARE TO MIND HER manners, Clover Blume conversed with those seated around the Levens Hall dinner table. She laughed softly at the appropriate time and spoke only when spoken to, as her sister, Maggie, had instructed, all the while doing her best to ignore the empty seat beside her.
Was he late? No longer coming?
Disappointment anchored itself in the depths of her stomach. Surely not the latter? Jonathan Spalding, her future brother-in-law’s best friend, was to be her bridal party partner for Maggie and Davis’s wedding tomorrow. If he ever showed. He’d already missed the rehearsal that afternoon, but had promised Davis he’d be there tonight.
So where was the man?
With over four hours of travel between London and the bottom corner of the Lake District, one would think Davis should know whether Jonathan would make it tonight or not. But Maggie had whispered to her earlier that Davis had been unable to contact Jonathan since speaking to him around three o’clock when the MIA groomsman had promised Davis he was about to leave London. Five hours ago.
He should’ve been there by now.
Davis tapped his crystal wineglass with the side of his fork, drawing everyone’s attention with the ping. He rose to his feet. “I guess my best friend is planning to arrive at this dinner fashionably late, although knowing him, he’s still stuck in London working on the new merger deal that delayed him this morning, and making more money than he’ll know how to spend. No wonder the guy is still single; he’s married to his job.” Davis smiled as his gaze roamed the table.
Clover watched him keenly. Were his jokes a mask to hide his concern over his friend?
She shifted her gaze to stare at the flames licking the brick walls of the flue in the fireplace behind Davis. The anchor in her belly dragged with a rising wave of nausea. What if Jonathan had been involved in an accident on his way? The roads were icy outside; the weather frightful. And who knew how fast he’d be driving to get to Levens Hall, especially behind the wheel of that fancy black sports car she’d often seen him pull away in from her restaurant. Along with yet another leggy beauty in a long line of women that had been his dinner dates at The Silver Spoon. Goodness, the man had a lot of female friends.
She looked forward to being the one on his arm tomorrow night, even if it were only in a bridal procession capacity…the few short seconds’ walk up the aisle on entering the drawing room with its walnut paneled walls and vivid red silk damask curtains where the ceremony was set to take place. And the same walk back out again. Of course, they were seated at the same table for the reception, next to each other. Hopefully he wouldn’t miss that dinner, too.
Ever since that first time she’d met him in her restaurant nearly a year ago, Clover had yearned for an opportunity to get to know him better. Nothing had turned up. Until now. But with the number of gentry and socialites attending this momentous affair, it likely wouldn’t take Mr. Spalding long to have his arms hooked around not one, or two, but a bevy of beautiful women. She paled in comparison to the females who seemed to be his taste.
“The purpose of this dinner tonight wasn’t only because we’re happy to feed all our guests here in my family home, but also for Maggie’s sisters to get to know the groomsmen escorting them at the wedding.”
Davis’s voice pulled Clover from her musing.
“You ladies were all strangers to my cousins and friends,” he continued, “with the exception, of course, of Heather and my little brother, Paxton, plus Rose and Joseph, my friend and designer. I trust that’s changed for the rest of you over the past few hours. But please, no more romances blossoming, all right? With three more weddings on the horizon…Rose, Heather,” he focused on Holly, “sorry Christopher was unable to make it… I think my future father-in-law needs a break.”
Dad raised his glass. “Hear, hear.”
Mom nodded, as did Davis’s parents, Earl and Countess Rathbone. After all, they, too, faced another wedding in the summer with Heather and Paxton.
Laughter swirled around the table, rising up toward the ornate pressed ceiling, the coats of arms of England, Scotland, France, and Wales, receiving the mirth.
Davis rested his hands on the table and leaned closer to Clover. “I’m sorry you haven’t been afforded the same opportunity to get to know Jonathan, but I’ve no doubt he’ll make it up to you when he arrives.”
If he arrives.
Maggie reached for Davis and touched his arm. “Try him again, before you say a blessing over the meal.”
Davis nodded. He pulled his cell phone from his shirt pocket. “Excuse me for a moment.” He took two steps away from the table. Device to his ear, his face brightened when, clearly, Jonathan answered on the other side.

After speaking to his friend for a few moments, Davis returned to the table. “Good news, Jonathan is safe and sound. Bad news is he’s still stuck in London, unfortunately waylaid with this merger. He’ll be driving up tomorrow.”

My review:
You know how good a story is when all you want to do is slap the main character to make him see sense. This is one of those stories. But then, what do you expect in the next of the thrilling seven sisters books? From cover to cover, Clover and Jonathan’s story is one to be enjoyed over and over again.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Imperfectly Proverbs 31 - Autumn Macarthur

Picnics and Promises -
Blurb
The last thing geeky Samantha Rose planned was her homemaking blog going viral. Only her sister was ever supposed to see it. After a disastrous picnic, Daniel Novak, the cynical political reporter dispatched to interview her, insists he must reveal the truth. That could ruin everything. Including their budding love.

Extract:

Daniel Novak stared at his boss. She’d called him to her office for this? “I think I misheard you. You want me to do what?”
Meg shook her head, her stiff salt-and-pepper hair barely moving. “You didn’t mishear, Novak. I’m sending you to Idaho to interview Samantha Rose, the homemaking blogger a mention in our magazine section made an overnight hit.”
Her brisk businesslike voice didn’t shift gear as she repeated her outrageous statement.
“Send one of the junior reporters. This is a piece for the lifestyle pages.” He turned to leave. “Excuse me, I have some real news to chase.”
“It isn’t a suggestion for your next assignment. It’s an order.”
The hint of steel in her tone stopped him at the door. He glanced back at her, eyebrows raised.
Was the editor reputed to be the toughest and smartest in New York losing it? No one knew Meg’s real age, but she’d have to be hitting her seventies. Not that old.
Her fist thudded on the desk. Controlled, but unmistakably a thump. “I still run this paper. I know everyone’s contracts inside out. You’re going, or you’re fired.”
They faced off. The words, Go ahead, hovered unsaid on his lips.
She’d mentored him from his first day as a cocky intern here, made him who he was. Besides, Meg had way too much business savvy to fire one of her best investigative reporters on a whim.
Her lips curved in the merest hint of a smile. “Don’t try calling my bluff, Novak. You know I never make threats I won’t follow through on.”
That much she was right about. In his fifteen years at the paper, he’d never heard her order anything she didn’t make happen. But this was ridiculous.
A homemaking blogger, for crying out loud, when his job was uncovering the city’s hidden crime and deception! Still, he could knock over a simple interview like this in a day. A day’s travel either side, three days tops. If he couldn’t talk Meg out of sending him, he’d have to humor her and go along with it.
But not without putting up a fight first.
“I want a follow-up on Samantha Rose. And I want you to do it.” A perfectly manicured bony finger poked a folder across her wide desk. “Here’s the plane reservation, the rental car, and your booking at a bed and breakfast. The details have been emailed to you.”
He stepped closer to pick up the folder and leafed through the printed pages as she continued speaking.
“Take whatever angle you want. You can add some critical analysis. The power of the press. Why a modern woman wants to devote so much time to homemaking. The impossible images of perfection most lifestyle media portray.” Irony warped those steel tones. “Including our own lifestyle pages, by the way, so don’t be too critical.”
“Forget the story for a minute. There’s something wrong here.” Pausing, he checked the dates again on the bookings. “Your assistant made a mistake. I’m booked into this place for four weeks. Even four days is more than it needs. There’s no reason I can think of not to simply call the woman and do a phone interview.”
“It’s not a mistake.” She eyed him steadily. “That’s what I told her to book. And there’s every reason not to do a phone interview. I want you to go in person.”
“You’re demanding I fly right across the country and lose an entire month doing what’s little more than a filler piece, no matter how you try to dress it up?” Lowering the folder, he stared at her, head shaking, forehead creased.
“When did you last use your vacation time?” The shrewd glance over the top of her glasses said she already knew.
Jaw tight, he placed both hands on her wide desk, leaning over it. “You know I haven’t taken any time off for years. And I don’t need to start.”
“Don’t you? We have a difference of opinion on that.” Meg wasn’t backing down. Not one inch.
Time for a different approach.
Stepping back, dropping his tense shoulders, he forced his body language to become as conciliatory as he could manage. “With the paper facing tough times financially, why spend so much on one story to fill space in the lifestyle section? And why me?”
“Consider it a thirty-fifth birthday gift. I’m paying.” Her harsh features softened, and for a moment, she looked more human than he’d seen her. “I taught you to ask all those whys. Here’s why — you’re burning out, Daniel. I know the signs better than anyone. You need some time off.”
He dragged in a deep, careful breath to relax his tensed muscles. Conciliatory, remember? “No. No way am I burning out. My last few stories were better than ever.”
The corners of her mouth turned down. “Were they? They were scoops, sure. I know beyond doubt everything you write is one-hundred-percent accurate and factual. But there’s something missing. It’s always been missing from your stories. The human element. Any sense of caring for something greater than the facts.”
“There is nothing greater than the facts. Getting to the truth and seeing justice done is all that matters.” Outrage rocked him, echoing in his voice. How could Meg, of all people, say differently? “That’s what good investigative journalism is all about. You taught me that, too. About the same time you taught me who, why, where, what, how.”
“Did I?” Regret further drooped her lips as she shook her head. “In that case, I owe you an apology. I don’t like what I’m seeing in you. You’re so tuned into dishonesty and deceit, it’s all you can see in people.”
Before he could reply, she held up a hand. “I know about your father and the effect that had on you. But not everyone is crooked.”
The old pain of discovering Dad’s hypocrisy clenched his gut. He stiffened. “Aren’t they? In my experience, once you scratch beneath their nice shiny surfaces, most people are.”
Meg huffed. “You don’t think the fact that you’ve spent all your adult life investigating crime and fraud has anything to do with that? And this is exactly why I’m giving you a month off. You need to reset your internal lie detector by spending time with normal, honest people. Tell me, who do you trust? Anyone?” Her quirked eyebrow told him she didn’t expect the list would be long.
It wasn’t. Despite the way it played right into her argument, he couldn’t and wouldn’t lie.
“You. That’s it.” He shrugged, focused on her desk. “After the way you mentored me, I can’t imagine you’d stab me in the back. Though this” — he waved the papers — “sure looks like it.”
Meg rolled her eyes. “Come on, Novak. You know me better than that. If I ever decide to stab you in the back, you’ll know. There won’t be any ‘looks like’ about it. Besides, the city’s fraudsters and conmen aren’t going to disappear if you take four weeks off.” She dismissed his concerns with an airy wave of the hand. Easy to say when it wasn’t her career on the line. “And yes, I did mentor you. You’re the closest thing to a son I have.”
Slowly, he nodded. She had him now. He’d never known his mother, and though no one could call Meg motherly, he did respect and admire her.
Smiling wryly, he spread his hands. “I know. If anyone else but you had suggested this, I’d already have challenged them to go ahead and fire me, and be back at my desk. It’s the craziest suggestion I’ve ever heard, but I’m still here listening.”
“So keep listening, kid.” Genuine affection warmed her face. “I’m not sure I want to see you turn out like me. Hard-boiled and cynical. Living for nothing but the next scoop, on an endless search for truth and justice.”
“Dedication to the truth made you the best there is.” He’d never heard her speak such heresy, contradicting the journalistic code she taught.
“The best in a very dirty game. Are you sure that’s what you want?” She gazed at the copy of today’s newspaper on her desk, brow furrowed, lips pensive. “A long time ago, I hit a fork in the road. I had to choose — marriage or my job. I’ve loved this newspaper, and I’m not saying I made the wrong choice. For the last forty years, I’ve been convinced I made the right one. But lately, I’ve been wondering. What if I’d chosen marriage instead…?” The choices she hadn’t made clouded her gray eyes.
He regarded her steadily. She was losing it. “What ifs are for fiction writers, not journalists. This is the life I want. I’m not pining for anything different.”
Meg lifted one hand to the chest of her man-styled gray suit. “That’s what worries me. You’ve made the decision without ever considering an alternative. I’m giving you the chance at a fork in the road now. You have a week to tidy up loose ends here. Then I want you on your flight to Spokane. Take time out. Start the book you want to write. Think about what you really need from your life. And email me the story on Samantha Rose. Make it a good one.”
In other words, discussion over. And he’d been well and truly steamrollered. Arms flexing, he stalked from her office. A boss who’d lost her edge. She’d be ordering him to write about unicorns and fairy dust, next.
And a month in a hick lakeside town with nothing to do but write a fluff piece on some homemaking blogger.
Probably his worst nightmare.

My review:
Wow. Kind of sums it up in one word. I read this without being able to put it down. Loved it. The interaction between the heroine and the children is amazing. Also the hero and the children. Must also try the pie, but probably with apples.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sweet Delights - Cecelia Dowdy


Picnics and Promises -

Blurb:
Patty-Lynn is stunned when she runs into her wealthy ex-boyfriend, Sam. She’s still haunted by their painful breakup seven years ago. Recently widowed, Sam now wants to fix their broken relationship. Seeing Patty-Lynn, happy in her bakery, gives him hope. Can her prize-winning pie recipe sweeten his new business venture and heal their broken hearts?

Excerpt:
“PATTY-LYNN?” THE FAMILIAR VOICE made her pause.
She quickly turned and slammed right into Sam Richardson. Her lips brushed against his shirt right before she took a few steps back. Goodness, she didn’t realize he’d been standing right behind her. “Sam? What you doing here?” She’d just finished setting up the wedding cake. The guests weren’t due at the reception for another hour.
“My friend Mark just married my sister-in-law Lisa. He sent me to the reception early to make sure everything was set up.”
Lisa. Sam’s wife’s sister. So she assumed Sam’s wife, Lorena, would come strolling in at any time. She imagined the woman was part of the bridal party. Well when Lorena turned up, Patty-Lynn would be sure that she was long gone. No way did she want to see the woman who’d stolen Sam’s heart away from her seven years ago.
He leaned toward her, as if he were going to give her a hug.
No way did she want to hug him. She quickly turned around, ran smack into the table, hard. The table tilted on an incline as pain shot through her knee. The wedding cake slid down the small table, right toward the floor. She reached out toward the cake and screamed. Quick as a cannon, Sam raced to the end of the table and caught the cake in his arms.
Workers in black and white suits appeared from the back, scurried and assisted Sam with the cake, set it back upright onto another nearby table. The manager yelled at his workers in Spanish, pointing at the legs of the faulty table. Apparently one of the legs had not been properly locked into place when they’d set it up. The manager bobbed his head toward her. “So, so sorry ma’am.”
Not half as sorry as she was. After the workers had confirmed that the legs were properly locked into place, she shooed them away. Before she could examine her cake to be sure no damage had been done, she focused on Sam. He patiently stood beside her. His intoxicating cologne wreaked havoc with her frazzled nerves.
She gulped. It’d probably be a good idea to thank him. After all, if it wasn’t for his fast save, her cake would have been splattered onto the floor and then she’d have to explain the terrible fiasco to the bride and groom.
She forced herself to look into his eyes. Dang, he had the most hypnotic eyes she’d ever seen. She used to swoon just staring into the chocolate brown depths. Looked like he still had some effect on her, and that was not good, not at all. She finally forced herself to speak. “Sam, awful kind of you to rescue my cake like that. I appreciate it.” He’d also helped to save her business. If word had gotten out that she’d ruined a wedding cake, her business would have been affected – she was sure of that.
“You’re welcome.” He gestured toward the table that had caused them so much grief. “Did you need some help?”
She was about to say no, but stopped herself. She could use some help. The white table cloth had spilled onto the floor and she needed another. “Could you ask the manager for a new table cloth? I don’t want to use that one since it was lying on the floor.”
Sam scurried away. While he was gone, she took a few minutes to compose herself and examine her cake.
Surprisingly, the three-tier cake swirled with rosettes and curlicues looked perfect. She saw where Sam’s finger had touched the bottom layer, messing up a small sliver of the fluted icing. She quickly opened her bag of supplies and repaired the damage. There, nobody would be able to tell that this cake had been saved from certain death.
Sam had been quick, that was for sure. She remembered how he’d been a fast runner on his college track team. He could sprint with his long brown legs. She also recalled he ran every day—either early morning or late at night. Good thing he’d come to her rescue this afternoon.
“Here’s the tablecloth.” He rushed from the back of the kitchen and working together, they quickly smoothed the cloth over the table. She was about to get the cake but he stopped her. “Hold on.”
He slammed his hand on top of the table, then forced himself to bump right into it. What in the world was he doing?
“I just want to make sure it won’t topple over if somebody crashes into it again.”
Ahh. Now that was smart. Well, she needed to be smart, too. What if they tried to move this heavy cake and slipped or something? She took the cake boxes and dismantled the cake, carefully setting each tier back into the box. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t trust myself to move this whole cake back to that table. It’s heavy. I know you did a fast save earlier, but I just want to be sure.” After she’d dismantled the cake, she carefully carried each layer back to the table, set one layer on top of the other. Now, all she needed to do was put the figurine of the bride and groom on the cake. She removed the cake topper from the packet and pressed it into the white icing. The sweet delicious scent of vanilla wafted around her.
“You do some nice work, Patty-Lynn.”
“Thanks, Sam.” She needed to be cordial to him. She eyed the dark suit and blue shirt that hugged his trim frame. Oh, how she’d used to love it when he’d held her in his long, lanky muscular arms.
She nodded toward him. Eyed the cake again. She’d finished her duties here. Time to get back to work. “Well, Sam, nice seeing you again. Thanks again for helping me. I’m much obliged to you for doing that.” She gathered her bag of supplies, slipped it over her shoulder. “Have a nice day.” She strolled toward the exit.
“Patty-Lynn, wait.” His deep, sexy voice resonated in the room, making her heart pound. Oh, how she remembered how excited she’d become when her name rolled from his beautiful lips.
“No, Sam. I’ve got to get to work.” She had a special order to fill that day. Fifty banana cream pies for a huge corporate event. She’d been selling a lot of her blue-ribbon banana cream pies lately. Since she’d recently won The French International Pie Competition, her sales had doubled.
“I’ve opened a new office for Richardson Enterprises in Crystal Spring.” Sam moved a step closer.
Lord help her, she couldn’t believe Sam had actually moved to her small town. She recalled he lived near his family, about two hours away, up in Northern Virginia. The thought of Sam being in such close proximity rattled her. “Why don’t we get together for a picnic?”
Oh, no, he had to go and mention a picnic. When they’d dated, her favorite activity was having a picnic in the park. They’d shared thick sandwiches and huge cups of cold iced tea. He’d teased her, telling her how much he enjoyed hearing the southern twang in her voice. He’d loved her southern accent, said that she sounded cute when she spoke. He’d leaned in for warm romantic kisses while they’d enjoyed their treats. Afterwards, they’d eat big, sweet slices of pie.
Those passionate kisses, those picnic dates. That’s what had gotten them into trouble. As soon as his sister, Kelly, had spotted them, ratted them out, things had spiraled out of control. Kelly knew that his parents wouldn’t approve of their relationship. Well, she’d learned to let bygones be bygones, at least she thought she had. But if she’d really let bygones be bygones then why did hearing Sam’s voice make her feel weird, light-headed, almost hypnotized. The memories swirled through her, making her wish her day had gotten off to a better start.
Besides he was married to Lorena, so why would he want to go on a picnic date? She didn’t want to have anything to do with a married man. Kind of sad that Sam had such loose morals.
She needed to focus on leaving. “Sam, it’s been real nice seeing you again.” She swallowed and forced herself to give him her megawatt smile. Not a good idea to let him know how seeing him again affected her. She offered her hand and he eyed her palm, accepting it. Her white skin clashed with his dark chocolate complexion. She gave him a firm handshake before offering another smile. Standing tall, she rushed toward the door and pushed it open. She welcomed the heat from the sunshine as she scurried to her delivery van.

My review: 
A delightfully sweet romance to curl up with on a lazy afternoon. A second chance story with a huge helping of banana cream pie which I want to attempt to make at some point. 


Saturday, 12 August 2017

A pocketful of wishes - Mary Manners

Picnics and Promises -

Blurb:

As childhood neighbors, Jenna Palmer and Carter Stevens discover first love. When a cross-country job transfer separates them, they promise to one day find each other. Years go by and they lose touch until an accident causes their paths to once again cross. Can their promise stand the test of time, or will time crush their promise…and their love?

Excerpt:
SUNLIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE WILLOWY branches of elm trees that lined the road, warming Jenna as Carter loaded her suitcase into the trunk of the car. The street was quiet, almost as if it had gone down for a nap, with the exception of Old Man Corker’s Bassett Hound who yowled in protest of his confinement to the yard three houses down.
Jenna felt like yowling, too. Maybe she’d trod over to Old Man Corker’s yard, throw herself into the grass beside Buster, and sob until no more tears came.
Sadness gripped her heart. She could barely breathe.
Life as she knew it was going to end right here in the driveway of the modest ranch home she’d lived in since the day she was born. Literally, her mom had given birth to her right there in the living room, when Jenna decided to come into the world too quickly for her mom and dad to make it to the hospital. She’d heard the story so many times she knew it by heart, and her parents joked that she still had only one speed—fast.
Everything she’d ever known in her whole life was in this house, yet her parents were still bent on taking her from it. The moving truck that had left before the sun peeked over the horizon was proof. And the jam-packed car didn’t help matters, either. There was hardly room in the backseat for her to squeeze in when the time came.
Which would be soon…way too soon. She winced at the pinch of disappointment.
Maybe she could stay behind. She was thirteen now—almost fourteen—and old enough to take care of herself, right? She’d stay in the house, make her own meals and get herself to school when summer came to an end. Maybe she couldn’t drive herself yet, but she had her bike and the bus also stopped by every morning, in case of rain. She could make it work, couldn’t she?
Except for the fact that the house had already sold. She and her parents had to be out today, because the closing was over and the new people planned to move in that evening. By nightfall Jenna would no longer be in Tennessee. Worse, she wouldn’t live right next door to Carter anymore.
Did that mean they couldn’t still be best friends?
Her breath hitched once more. Jenna couldn’t imagine ever laughing again as she romped along the water’s edge to find the best swimming hole in Maple Ridge or raced through a field of tall grass with the wind at her back and a kiss of sunlight tickling her cheeks. Not without Carter at her side to share in her adventures. Not while he remained here in Maple Ridge while her family relocated clear across the country to Leavenworth, Washington—exactly two thousand, four hundred and eighty-one miles away. She’d studied the map Dad had given her, and had memorized every nuance of the route. So she knew. And it was awful.
Leavenworth.
It sounded like one of the bad words Mom and Dad forbade her to use. How ironic that this new town her parents were determined to drag her to shared the same name as a prison. Because Jenna might as well be going to prison. Her parents were ruining her life.
Especially her dad, with his new job. That’s all he’d talked about for weeks now. He didn’t even have time to talk about school anymore, or come to her softball games.
When she was still playing softball. Which she couldn’t do anymore, because they were moving to Leavenworth.
Just for spite she rolled the word around on her tongue and muttered.
Leavenworth…Leavenworth…
Tears welled in her eyes as she lifted her gaze to find Carter. Dark, shaggy hair spilled over his forehead, highlighting the dusky pallor of his cheeks. In another month his skin would glow bronze from hours spent in the sun while he helped his dad with their lawn care business. He’d worked beside his father since the summer he’d turned nine. He was fourteen now—nearly four months older than Jenna.
Carter swiped the tumble of hair away, revealing eyes the color of rain-slicked river rock—gray with specks of russet along the edges. She’d always loved his eyes. They were one-of-a-kind.
Carter closed the trunk and turned to face her.
“Don’t cry, Jen.” He grinned ruefully as he jammed his hands into the pockets of his favorite pair of faded jeans. She knew they were his favorite because he’d told her last week while they were eating sundaes together down at Miller’s Ice Cream Parlor following an afternoon of swimming at the community pool. Carter had said the pants probably wouldn’t fit much longer, since he’d launched into another growth spurt, but he’d make them last as long as he could. His folks would be tight on money until the mowing season cranked up to its full stride in a couple of weeks, maybe a month. “Everything’s going to be OK.”
“How can this ever be OK?” Jenna’s lower lip trembled and she caught it between her teeth. “I might as well be moving to Mars.”
“It’s not that bad. You’ll see.” He shrugged, trying his best to lighten the moment. But his tone told her he was just as miserable. “You can write to me and fill me in on all the fun places on your side of the country.”
That sounded forever apart.
“I don’t think there are any fun places in Leavenworth.” How could there be, with a name like that? Suddenly her belly roiled like it had last weekend, when Carter jumped from the pool’s high dive and then dared her to do the same. She’d climbed the ladder and inched out to the end of the board. Then a glimpse down into the water had stars dancing in her line of vision as she suddenly felt like she’d pass out. But Carter had gently coaxed her from the pool’s edge, his voice low and raspy, making her believe she could do it. So she did believe, and she squeezed her eyes shut tight and jumped. For a beat of time the breath lodged in her throat, then her squeal could probably be heard into the next county. The adrenaline rush was so cool that, following a congratulatory fist bump from Carter, she went back five more times.
But this whole idea of moving cross-country didn’t feel cool. It just felt…awful. She didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay right here, with Carter.
“Of course there are fun places.” Carter’s eyes betrayed his words. Jenna had known him since they were both in diapers, and right now his forehead was knitted into a frown, his eyes stormy-dark. “You’ll find them. Then you’ll write and tell me all about them.”
“Like pen pals?” She placed a hand on his forearm. His skin warmed her chilled fingers. “Sort of like passing notes in class except we have to send them through the mail instead?”
They’d done a lot of note passing over the years without getting caught. They were both good at it. Really good.
“Yes, like that, only better because we’re already…” He glanced down at her hand resting easily on his arm and offered a sort of lopsided grin. “Best friends…and even maybe more.”
“More?” Jenna’s pulse did the same weird sort of leapfrog against her throat as it had when Carter asked her to dance the last slow song at their end-of-school dance. “Do you really think so?”
“Um…yeah, I do.”
“Me, too.” Jenna’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Will you write back?”
“You know I will, Jen.”
Carter drew his hands from his pockets and fidgeted for a moment, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. A mockingbird ran through its litany of calls as he took a step closer to her and skimmed his thumb ever-so-gently over her cheek.
Jenna closed her eyes and sighed. This was one of his gestures she loved. Her insides dipped and scrambled as if she’d just plunged over the first huge crest of the Screaming Banshee coaster that she and Carter had ridden together at last year’s Labor Day fair.
“I don’t want to go,” she murmured on a sob as she opened her eyes again to focus on him. “I really don’t.”
“I know.” His lips trembled. “I don’t want you to, either. I’m going to miss you so much, Jen.”
“This can’t be happening.” Jenna gulped back the lump in her throat as tears spilled over to trail down her cheeks. “Tell me it’s just a bad dream, Carter.”
“I can’t.” The words were anguished now. His voice cracked, as Jenna knew it tended to when he got upset. “I can’t because it’s more real than a heart attack.”
As if to prove the truth in that, Jenna’s parents shuffled from the house. Mom had a tote bag, stuffed full of magazines and knitting supplies, slung over one shoulder. Dad carried a pair of overnight bags. Unlike Jenna, they were both prepared for the journey ahead. It would take six days by car to travel from Maple Ridge to Leavenworth, considering the list of sightseeing detours Dad had tacked onto the trip.
Six days…a lifetime.
Her parents came down the short flight of steps and, instead of heading straight for the car, went to the side of the house. They disappeared around the corner to check on something. Their voices drifted on the breeze.
Jenna swiped at her tears. She had only a few minutes more with Carter. She could hardly bear the thought. Time sped up just as she wished it would come to a screeching halt. She was in a race car with no steering wheel, no emergency brake. The end of the track rushed up to greet her.
Why had her dad agreed to take the Chief of Police position in Leavenworth? Wasn’t the sergeant’s position in Maple Ridge good enough for him? She’d heard her parents whispering heatedly to each other behind the closed door of his office and knew there had to be some explanation, but as usual she stood firmly in the dark. Was it too late for Dad to change his mind and let them remain here, where everything was perfect, happy…familiar?
With Carter.
Jenna had begged and pleaded with her parents, but to no avail. The decision was final.
They were leaving.
Today. In a few minutes.
“Don’t forget me.” Jenna lifted her gaze to capture Carter’s and held tight as his face swam before her. “It’s going to be hard enough not seeing you every day. I couldn’t bear not talking to you, too.”
“I won’t ever forget you, Jenna. We’ll see each other again. I promise.” His eyes filled too, and his chest heaved as he struggled with his emotions. “I’ll wait for you.”
“Write to me.” She swiped tears from her cheeks. “Every day.”
“And twice on Sunday.” He cupped her elbows and leaned in close. Sunlight cocooned them as a gentle breeze ruffled Jenna’s hair. His T-shirt held the scent of summer mingled with citrus from the dryer sheets his mom used. “Every Sunday.”
Carter dipped his head, his gaze suddenly softening. His fingers trembled along the nape of her neck as his breath skimmed her cheek.
Jenna’s pulse galloped as the universe shifted. Carter was going to kiss her.
They’d never kissed, never even really held hands except for the slow dance a few weeks ago. Or when he helped her navigate slick rocks to cross a shallow section of the river.
And there was the time they rode the Screaming Banshee together. Then he’d laced his fingers with hers and held tight. In that moment Jenna felt as if she could conquer the world.
She wanted to kiss Carter…had wanted to for the longest time.
She sensed he wanted to kiss her as much. He shifted slightly and his lips settled ever-so-lightly along her cheek, grazing the spot where his thumb had wandered only moments ago. His touch was so gentle and tender, that no words were needed to communicate all he felt…mirroring all she wished for.
A moment or two passed as Jenna held her breath. She tilted her chin and his lips skimmed lower to find hers. As his mouth melded to hers, the softest gasp billowed up from deep inside her. Her heart paused and then quickly recalibrated, turning everything bright and new as the sun burst into a million points of light. As he held her close she inhaled the blend of summer sunshine and fresh-mown grass on Carter’s skin. She bottled the scents that would forever brand him into her memory.
Carter.
She would experience only a single first kiss in her lifetime, and now that kiss belonged to Carter. No length of time or distance could ever take it away.
Forever sealed. Forever ours…together.
Her parents’ voices, drawing closer now, carried on the breeze to shatter the tender moment. She turned and spied them heading back around the corner. Reluctantly, she pressed a hand to Carter’s chest. As he stepped back, putting distance between them, an arctic blast sliced through Jenna.
“Jenna, it’s time to go,” her mother called. “Say your final goodbyes.”
Jenna shivered as another chill swept in.
Final…this is final.
“No, it’s not.” Carter had developed a knack over the years for sensing what she was thinking. Being next-door neighbors since birth did have its advantages. “This isn’t final. I’ll find you, Jenna, no matter how far away your parents take you. I promise.”
“I’ll find you, too.” She nodded stiffly. “I will.”
“That should be easy, since I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ll be right here.” Carter delved a hand into his pocket to retrieve something. He pressed the small, cool object into the palm of her hand. “Take this. Keep it close and I’ll always be with you. Always, Jenna.”
Jenna closed her fingers over his gift as a wave of sadness chased away all of the light. She couldn’t bear to look at what he’d given her. She turned away, sobs suddenly taking over as Carter held open the car door for her and she slipped into the backseat. A moment later the door closed and the engine roared to life.
As Dad steered the car away from the curb Jenna turned and knelt in the seat. Through the rear window, she kept her gaze glued to Carter. She’d never forget the vision of him standing alone at the edge of the sidewalk haloed by sunlight. He’d jammed his hands into his pockets and tried his best to smile, but looked as miserable and lost as she felt.
Jenna folded her arms and rested her chin on them as her chest heaved. She struggled to breathe through her tears while her mind screamed what she’d failed to form into words.
Goodbye, Carter. I’ll love you forever.

My review:
Second chance stories are always wonderful reads. This one is no exception. Jenna and Carter's past though was growing up next door to each other as teens. When they meet again as adults, the spark is still there, but Carter's career choice conflicts with what Jenna expected. Once again Mary Manners has penned a story that not only tugs at the heart strings, but leaves the reader wanting more.