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Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

      "You what?" Abby staggered backwards, reaching for the closest chair in the little snack bar at the airport. For a second, she almost dropped her cell phone.
      She had come inside to get out of the rain and indulge in a cup of coffee -- and hope this afternoon's student would call and cancel. The vision of heading home early and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book was mighty tempting.
      "I said, Lynette flew in yesterday and we got married at City Hall this morning," her cousin said.
      "Danny!" Then she laughed, finally found the chair, and sank down into it.
      Fortunately, she was alone in the shadowy little room. Mavis had stepped into the storeroom, muttering about needing to buy coffee by the ton instead of the pound, because it was all anyone ordered anymore.
      "Are you mad?"
      "Stunned. Relieved. I mean, it's about time you and Lynette made it official. Oh, heck, that didn't come out the way I meant it." Her good spirits immediately plummeted.
      "I know you're not criticizing, Abs. You mean, made it official this second time around. We're getting ready to call Kat--"
      "You haven't told your daughter yet? Danny, what am I going to do with you?"
      "I'm not your responsibility anymore. Lyn agreed to take me in hand and keep me out of trouble for the rest of my life," he said, laughing.
      In the background, Lynette laughed.
      "Where are the two of you? Please tell me you're getting a honeymoon? At least a couple days somewhere?"
      "We're taking it one step at a time. Listen, Abs, we need you to do us a favor. Lyn called Kat yesterday and left a message before she flew up, but we haven't had a chance to talk with her today. She's next, once we get that favor from you."
      "I hope you're asking me to fly her up to visit soon, so she can celebrate with you?"
      "That's it exactly. Would you?"

      "Silly boy. What's family for, except to totally rearrange my schedule for you at the drop of a hat?" She laughed in that silence that meant she had stumped Daniel and he wasn't sure right away if she was joking or scolding him. Abby got up and headed for the long line of hooks where she had hung her hooded raincoat less than twenty minutes ago.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 30: DETOURS

       When it came time for the housewarming party, they had a sheet cake that Vic had brought from Rick's Bakery, Hannah made a salad, Rene brought baked beans and Xander brought pizza. But Shane had vanished just before Bekka went into the kitchen to fetch the sparkling cider to toast the first anniversary of living in the apartment as well as the arrival of their new roommate. She wondered why he had vanished without saying anything. That wasn't like him at all.
       Laughter greeted her when she emerged from the kitchen with her tray of glasses, and she wobbled a little, relieved to see Shane come back into the apartment... carrying an enormous pumpkin.
       "It needs carving," Kat said. "But it'll go great with all my decorations."
       "There won't be any room on the table to sit and eat," Xander said, laughing.
       "Bekka should be the first one to work on the pumpkin," Shane said. He lifted one arm and let slide a pack of newspapers he had tucked under it.
       "What? Right now?" Bekka finished setting the tray down on the table.
       "Yeah," Vic said. "Kind of like christening the place."
       "I think living here for a whole year now is enough of a christening," Kat said.
       "Come on." Shane spread the newspapers out with Baxter's help, and knelt to set the pumpkin down in the center of the papers. "It'll be fun. You need a pumpkin for Halloween, right?"
       "If you love the guy, you'll play along," Vic offered.
       Something in his voice, a richness like suppressed laughter, made Bekka stare at him for a few seconds. She had spent enough time hanging around Gold Tone with Shane and getting to know him, she could sense Vic was up to something.
Or maybe Shane was up to something, and Vic was helping him?
       What would it hurt to be a good sport? She knelt and held out a hand.
       "What?" Shane said.
       "To carve a pumpkin, you need a knife."
       "I already cut the top. Just pull it off and reach in and scoop the gook out."
       "Cutting the top is the fun part. Let Kat handle the gook."
       "Oh, thanks a lot!" her roommate said, giggling. The others joined in.
       Sighing, feeling a shiver run up her spine, Bekka grasped the stem and lifted the plug out of the pumpkin. Bracing herself for slime on her fingers and wishing she had some latex gloves around -- heck, she'd settle for winter gloves right now -- she reached in.
       And found the pumpkin had been cleaned out, scraped down to the rind.
       But it wasn't empty.
       Bekka squeaked when her fingers touched a circle of something that felt like metal. She fumbled a few times, trying to get her fingers around it -- the moisture inside the pumpkin had made the metal slippery -- and she refused to actually look inside. When she had a firm grasp on it, she paused and looked around the gathering. From the expectant looks on everyone's faces, they were all in on Shane's surprise. Bekka didn't know whether to be flattered or embarrassed or angry.
       "You know," she began.
       "Bekka!" Kat squeaked. She bounced a few times on her toes.
       "A year ago tomorrow, I woke up and I prayed for a boyfriend," Bekka said, after sticking her tongue out at Kat. She turned to face Shane as she spoke.
       "You're kidding." He went down on his knees, facing her from across the pumpkin. "Me, too. I was helping Joe move Amy, and I decided I was jealous, and I asked God for the perfect girl."
       "Yeah?" Her voice caught in her throat.
       Shane grasped her wrist and pulled her hand out of the pumpkin. It was a wide silver band, inscribed with tiny letters, and a diamond just large enough to catch the light and sparkle to show it was there. Bekka's hand shook a little as she raised the ring to read it.
       "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God," Shane said, when she had to blink a few times and still couldn't focus to read the inscription. The lines from the book of Ruth filled the band, and she wondered how he had talked the jeweler into inscribing so much on it.
       "Shane--"
       "Say yes, okay?"
       "Okay." She swallowed hard and looked around at their friends, who were generally grinning, although Hannah's smile was unsteady and she wiped tears from her eyes. "So... when do you plan on getting married?"
       "How about this time next year?"
       "Well, at least we have a year to find a new roommate," Kat said in a stage whisper, leaning over to Rene.
       "Kiss her," Vic ordered.
       "Yes, boss." Shane grinned and stood up, grasping Bekka's hands and pulling her to her feet.

       She fumbled the ring once, then clenched it tight in her fist as Shane wrapped his arms around her. They kissed, muffling their laughter, while their friends cheered.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

      A postcard from Southeastern Christian College was the sole occupant of the box. Tyler laughed as he pulled it out and studied the bird's-eye-view of the main body of the campus. Up until a year ago, he had been teaching at SCC. An old friend from high school, who had hit the road as soon as he graduated, seeking fame and fortune, now held the teaching position Tyler had filled for so many years.
      What was good old Antonio doing with himself these days? He had been nicknamed "Glitz" by the crew of the summer theater program in their hometown. He was the one who always wanted to try for special effects in every production, whether the script called for -- or allowed -- special effects, or not. He was into smoke machines and glitter balls and special scrims, florescent paint and black light, and fancy lighting schemes that nearly blew the circuits in the surrounding ten blocks in the town.
      Antonio had run off seeking his fortune, trying anything and everything, until he ran headfirst into a wall -- literally. One of his backstage pals from an off-Broadway production had been driving drunk and put Antonio in the hospital for three weeks, while the driver walked away with minor bruises. The hospital stay had given Antonio time to think and assess what he was doing with his life. He had come looking for Tyler, to ask questions about the things he had mocked ten years earlier. Antonio turned his life and his dreams over to God and went back to school to get a degree, so he could do something with everything he had learned in the school of hard knocks. The timing had been perfect for both of them, by the time he graduated and started looking for a place to serve. Tyler was getting restless, sensing it was time to move on at the same time Antonio was ready to settle down. They had taught together for a year, then Tyler had accepted the job offer from Royal Community Theater and moved to Ohio.
      The next production opens November 7, the scribbled note on the postcard said. The kids miss you. Come thrill them. Stay with me. Get a gig as guest lecturer. Consider it a vacation.
      There was more, but Tyler's conscious attention stopped at a sudden mental image of returning to SCC, staying in the big old house he and Antonio had rented together, visiting his old stomping grounds -- and sharing it all with Abby.
What could be more reasonable than flying out to cheer on an old buddy and encourage his former students? This upcoming production would be running, but the cast was one-third the usual size and he was technically just functioning as advisor, so Carmen, a student director from BWU could get her feet wet away from the university environment and people she knew. If he took off for a night or two, no harm, no foul -- and it would benefit Carmen by demonstrating he trusted her to handle it without him looking over her shoulder. It was like a gift, maybe an answer to a prayer he had only half-clear in his mind.
      There would be lots of time to wander Bluebell City and goof off, relaxing with Abby. Even surrounded by students and former colleagues, they would technically be alone. SCC wasn't that big -- and not so small that strangers stuck out like they had a spotlight focused on them, either. Nobody would be paying them any attention.
      Tyler nearly stumbled as he stepped back into his office.

      Could he get away with it? 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

To her exasperation, Rose found she had gotten into the self-checkout line while her brain was tied up with Andrew. Not that she couldn't handle the chore of scanning and bagging her own groceries -- she could, and was proud of it -- but she always felt just a little uncertain when it came to punching in the numbers for the fresh produce she bagged herself, and making sure it was weighed properly. She was always a little worried she would cheat the store, or make a mistake and charge herself twice what she should. Who could actually tell the difference between regular green beans and organic, anyway?
"Rose?" The soft scent of Old Spice drifted to her nose, along with Andrew's lovely warm tenor in her ear. He stepped up next to her in front of the scanner. "My dear, how nice to see you so early in the morning."
Andrew carried a basket overflowing with bags of what looked like bagels and donuts, probably to feed the newspaper's staff. Today was a production day, with the newspaper coming out tomorrow. He always did something nice like that, a small gesture of appreciation when an especially trying day lay ahead of the staff.
"How are you, Andrew?" Her face felt even warmer than it had a moment ago. If only she could guarantee that he would show up every time she wished to see him.
He was such a refreshing change, always dressed as a successful businessman no matter the weather, sometimes topped off with a nice hat -- what Jeremy referred to as "Gangster Classic meets Brooks Brothers." Today he wore charcoal with a dark red pinstripe, and a matching handkerchief in his suit coat pocket. His silvery beard and moustache looked freshly trimmed, with a jaunty little point at his chin.
          "I do hope that lovely blush is for me." He winked, reached into her cart, and handed her the gallon jug of milk.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"Oh, that's awful." Her friend sighed, shaking her head, laughter sparkling in her eyes. "But maybe accurate? So, what are you making tonight? You know," she continued, holding the plastic bag for Rose as she filled it with peppers, "I should get you to contribute a recipe every two or three columns. You're such an incredible cook."
"Don't be silly. These are tried-and-true recipes. Why put my name on them? And isn't it a violation of copyright or something, to publish someone else's recipe without their permission?"
"Oh, you'd think of that, wouldn't you? Especially with Max fighting those idiots who made changes to her book, then posted it online and tried to claim those changes made it their property when her publisher sued them?" Barbie shook her head. "I'm not talking about recipes straight from Betty Crocker. I mean recipes with your particular touch. The Rose Weinberg... hmm... twist?" She punctuated it by spinning the bag around, holding the top so it twisted closed, then tying a knot in it and depositing in Rose's basket. "So, what's on the menu tonight?"
"Peppers, tomatoes, and onions on sausage rolls." Rose pressed her lips hard together to stifle a grin at Barbie's expected reaction.
"Ahhh, Rose ... is that ..."
"The word you're looking for is kosher." She gestured toward the bakery section. Mrs. Pluch had distracted her enough she had forgotten to get the soft egg buns she needed. "And I'll tell you two secrets you absolutely can't publish. Ever."
Barbie crossed her heart, then pretended to turn a key in her lips. Rose chuckled and lightly slapped her other hand resting on the bar of the grocery cart.
"First, I stopped cooking strictly kosher back when my husband was alive. He liked to experiment, and he reasoned that many of the dietary laws were established for health reasons. Thanks to the FDA, well, God is far more understanding than the rabbis. Second... well, it's chicken sausage, but don't you dare tell my nephews. They nearly suffocate, trying not to say anything, every time I cook it."
"You're a terrible woman, Rosie, and I'm delighted to call you my friend."
         Chuckling, the two strolled along together down three more aisles, until Rose finished her shopping list and Barbie still had half of hers to do. They separated in the soup aisle, and Rose headed to the cash registers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       Tyler jammed the brakes on as he pulled into the parking lot at the base of Whip's Ledges and saw Al Morgan's truck sitting next to Tanya's Cavalier. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and sweat beaded on his upper lip and forehead.
       "That scheming old..." He didn't know whether to laugh or slit his wrists right then and there.
       No wonder his father had insisted that they didn't have enough chicken or cole slaw or biscuits. Tyler privately thought that five two-liters of pop, two apple pies, and three fun-size bags of chocolate bars would more than fill in any lack in the menu. He had been in too good a mood to argue with his father when Thomas shoved two twenties into his hand and told him to run down the road to the Colonel.
       The aroma of Original Recipe filled Tyler's car. The thought of all that grease soaking through the bucket and bags and into the leather seat covers finally got him moving. He knew he had probably been spotted; Thomas would have posted Danny and Pam as lookouts. It was too late to turn around and make a run for it.
       Not that he really wanted to turn around, if there was the slightest chance that Abby had come with her brother and his children.
       It was just the idea of his father playing matchmaker that made Tyler's guts twist into knots -- and not the pleasurable knots he got when he daydreamed about sweeping Abby off her feet and finally finding out what her lips tasted like. He had actually hoped that for once in his life, he could be in charge of his relationship with a woman, and figure out for himself if she was "the one," instead of having help from his parents.
       "Face it like a man," Tyler muttered, and shifted his feet off the brake and clutch.
       He swore he would get his father aside at the first private opportunity and finally, somehow, get through to the dear, interfering, obstinate old block-head that Tyler didn't want help. Not that he didn't need some major help with his non-existent love life, but he didn't want the heavy-handed, well-meaning help of his father.
       To hear his father tell the story, he had taken one look at Grace, decided she was the one, and went after her with a net. He tackled her with a play that would have put a quarterback in the hospital, wrapped her up and dragged her home, and didn't let her out until she came to her senses and realized he was the only one who would ever make her happy.
The caveman technique wouldn't work with Abby.
       Tyler gulped and had second thoughts about that when he got out of the car with his arms full of KFC bags and turned around to see Abby coming to help him. She wore emerald green shorts and a matching plaid shirt that hung open over a snowy white, lacy tunic. No jewelry, only a swipe of pale blush across her cheeks, a little gloss on her lips; a wholesome, fresh picture that made him wish, just for a split second, that he was the caveman type. What he wouldn't give to throw her over his shoulder and go running up to one of the caves scattered throughout Whip's Ledges. Even if all he got was one kiss and the feel of her in his arms before she gave him a black eye...
       But reality crashed down on him in the shape of buckets of chicken and side dishes heavy and hot in his arms. Sandals and sneakers clattered and slapped on the stone steps leading from the picnic area to the parking lot. All four children dashed into view while Tyler was still pushing the car door closed with his knee.
       "Need some help?" Abby asked. She laughed as a gust of wind brushed a few strands of hair into her eyes.

       He couldn't even tell her she looked nice, as they walked up the stairs to join the others. Kissable, in fact. With the boys clamoring to know what he got and the girls walking behind them, the words jammed in his throat. What was wrong with saying she looked nice? Because, a voice that had come to life inside him a few weeks ago answered, she doesn't look nice; she looks delicious.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 24: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       "They started it," Chad said, giving his sister a look that would have turned a Greek hero into stone. Candy sniffed and continued wrapping up the cheese.
       "Who started it?" Abby asked.
       "Candy and Pam. They were getting all mushy. It was gross!"
       "Mushy?"
       "Pam wants her mom to date Dad. Make me barf!" Chad clasped both hands to his throat and was about to demonstrate but Abby stopped him with a tight grip on his shoulder.
       "What's wrong with Miss Sloane dating your dad? She's a nice lady."
       "She's married!"
       "No she isn't," Candy said, turning from putting the butter and cheese in the refrigerator. "Remember what Pam said last week? Her father tricked her mom into thinking they were married, but he was lying. Besides, Pam and her mom don't ever want to see that jerk-face ever again."
       "Jerk-face." Abby relaxed into the thin thread of amusement running through her. "That about sums him up, all right." She dipped a spoon in her chili, more for something to look at to avoid the aggrieved expression on Chad's face. "You don't like Miss Sloane?"
       "She's okay."
       "If she dates your dad, that's all it is, a date. It doesn't mean they'll get married."
       "Aunt Abby!" the boy wailed, and stepped back as if she had suddenly changed color or gave off a disgusting smell.
       "Giving them the third degree?" Al asked, stepping into the kitchen.
       "Trying to. How far did you get?" Abby wondered what her brother would say when he heard the little she found out -- or did he know it already? That measuring look he gave his children said something enormous was spinning around in his brain.
       "Kids, why don't you go watch a movie, okay?"
       "Oh... boy..." she whispered.
       Abby didn't know what stunned her more: her brother's suggestion, clearly getting the children out of the room for an "adult" conversation; their almost eager acquiescence; or that crooked grin and the nasty, mischievous sparkle that grew in her brother's eyes.
       "What'd you find out?" Al asked, settling into the chair opposite her with a sigh. He reached over and helped himself to half a cooling sandwich.
       "Well, from what was said and not said..." She took a spoonful of chili, just to make him wait and pay him back for whatever amused him. "It seems Pam and Candy are playing matchmaker."
       "That's what we thought." He nodded for her to go on.
       "And the boys weren't too happy, but instead of realizing they were on the same side, they started fighting. We, who?"
       "Me and Tanya. Abs?" Al reached across the table to brace her when Abby started choking.
       "You talked to her?"
       "Well, considering Chad's lip and Danny's black eye, it made sense."
       "What does she think about the girls trying to put you two together?"

       "Us? Me and Tanya?" For five long heartbeats, her brother stared at her, mouth hanging and eyes unblinking. Then he grinned. "Those lying little monsters." A snort of laughter escaped him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"What does she want this time?" Barbie said, glancing over her shoulder as they started down the wide aisle of the perimeter of the store. Today, her plump figure was bright with a patchwork coat in dozens of shades of purple and pink, and a floppy knit hat in pink and purple sat jauntily on her snowy, short-cropped hair.
"Information on Max and Tony's wedding. What else? Especially since everything that happens in our house intimately affects her. On purpose."
"So does everybody in town." She giggled. "I mean, everyone wants to know. Although, I'm sure that woman thinks everything everybody does is specifically designed to irritate her and destroy her life."
"Yes, well, there are quite a few people we wouldn't mind knowing what's going on. Most of them we can trust to keep their mouths shut. As for the rest ... well, at least most of them have the tact not to ask. Or phrase it as a demand, and then act like their rights are being violated because their opinions weren't requested." Rose exhaled deeply, wishing the breathing exercise really would drain away some of the stress she felt. Maybe it only worked for actors?
"What did you tell her?" Barbie said, leaning closer and lowering her voice.
"That the wedding wasn't going to be here." Again, she pointed down at the floor of the store. To her delight, her friend caught on immediately, and her wind chime giggles rang through the dairy section.
"Not that I would ever pressure you, Rose, as a dear friend--"
"Max is working on the press release to send you, if it's ever safe."
"Safe?" She widened her eyes. "Do tell. Not that I indulge in gossip, but ..."
          Barbie kept lookout, periodically checking behind them as they walked the perimeter of the store and picked up the few items they each had on their lists. They finally strolled past the cash registers and back to the produce section, as Rose related the "sabotage" Audrey had indulged in against the gossip rags intruding on Max and Tony's wedding and the lives of the Randolphs and Vincentes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       "Tyler!" Will Ayers hobbled over from his seat in the corner where he could talk with the lighting booth upstairs and the sound board at the back of the auditorium and keep everyone coordinated. "Chuck's in the downstairs bathroom again."
       Nodding, Tyler hurried around to the side of the proscenium to take up control of the big, red velvet curtain. There was no use groaning or looking for someone else to handle lowering and raising it again for the curtain call. Everyone else in the theater was busy with something else, and the entire cast was ready to come out on stage to take their bows. Tyler was literally the only one backstage with his hands free when Chuck -- who was earning the name Upchuck, because he got sick from nerves nearly every opening night -- became indisposed.
       Abby was out there somewhere. Tyler leaned forward as he tugged on the heavy pulley system that raised and lowered the massive curtains. It didn't take much effort, fortunately, but it did require some control.
Where was she? He tried to peer through the gaps in the black curtains of the wings, to see if he could spot Abby as the house lights started to come up.
       The rope prickled his palms, the rough hemp fibers scratching as three inches in diameter slid past slightly too fast.
       Got to stop it, he thought, just as he spotted a head of dark curls sitting about where he thought Abby should be. A sense of having forgotten something flickered at the back of Tyler's mind just as he grabbed at the rope with both hands to slow the descent of the curtain.
       "Knucklebuster," he whispered at the same moment that eight-inches-diameter-by-three-inches-thick of solid iron slammed down on his hands, trapping them against the baseboard of the curtain pulley system. Tyler hissed and yanked his hands free.
       Only his left hand came free. The right hand stayed jammed tight between wood and iron. Without thinking, he grabbed the other side of the rope and pulled to raise the curtain again.
       He caught half the cast several steps from their curtain call spots, but they were too excited and in too good a mood from an excellent performance to notice.
       No one noticed Tyler's agony as he raised and lowered the curtain three more times as the applause went on and on. The knucklebuster was put at that precise spot on the rope to keep the curtain from hitting the stage and bouncing -- and was aptly named. Tyler had given safety lectures for years to all the people assigned the duty of raising and lowering the curtain in several different theaters, but this was the first time he had ever been caught.
       It was his own fault. His silent mental scolding was nearly as painful as his stiff, cut, cramped hand. Nearly. Skin was torn off in places, and he couldn't seem to move two fingers and blood seeped out in several spots. He hoped those dark red patches were just bruises forming and not a sign of worse damage under the skin.
       "It was fantastic!" Abby called, appearing backstage exactly where Tyler had told her to come when the house lights went up.

       He had a sudden, inexplicable urge to ask her to kiss his hand and make it better.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

Rose thought about how Max and that nice girl, Audrey, had been giggling together last week over the ridiculous story Audrey had passed along to a suspected spy in the restaurant where she worked. Why not add to that fabrication, to protect Max and Tony, and maybe shame Mrs. Pluch if she really was a spy?
"They're just not getting married... here." She fluttered her eyelashes at the woman, gestured briefly at the floor, then angled left, taking advantage of a long table displaying cookies that came up alongside her on the left. It had the advantage of temporarily blocking Mrs. Pluch's path. Rose picked up speed and headed for the glass display cabinet full of fresh donuts directly in front of her, across the aisle, then hooked a sharp left, heading for the deli section. Her ears ached, listening for a shriek of outrage -- the signal to double her speed and vanish down the next convenient aisle.
She wasn't lying. When she said "here," and gestured at the floor under her feet, Rose reasoned that any logical person would know she meant the bakery section of Heinke's. If that irritating woman wanted to believe she meant Max and Tony weren't getting married in Tabor Heights, that was her choice.
Behind Rose, the grocery cart wheels rattled, followed by the distinctive bang of a cart against a heavy display table, then a loud harrumph of disgust. No one called after her. Rose knew she would probably pay for that "rudeness" of walking away when Mrs. Pluch wanted to keep digging for gossip, but she didn't care. There was only so much of that woman's company she could endure in a day, and it was barely eight in the morning.
Rose couldn't wait to tell her family about this latest strange, temporary trip into Mrs. Pluch's version of reality. She knew better than to get on her cell phone and call home. While she adored her brother and nephews for insisting she needed to have one, and paying for the first year of her plan for a combined Hanukah and birthday present, sometimes it was frustrating to have it. What good was a cell phone and the ability to pass on a story immediately if that woman crept up behind her and overheard her talking about what had just happened? She ran the risk of being knocked off her feet, run over, or shoved into something loud and painful. And the scene that woman could cause if she decided to raise her voice like she had just last week, when the girl who delivered newspapers on their street tried to collect for more than four months of newspaper deliveries. The gall of that woman, blaming that poor child for showing up when she didn't have exact change.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"What is it you need to ask me, Mrs. Pu -- Mrs. Pluch?" Rose let her purse slide off her shoulder and fussed with it, her head turned, so the irritating woman wouldn't see her fight that irresistible grin. Definitely, Joe and Jeremy were bad influences. She had slipped too many times in private and called the woman Mrs. Puke, and now it was coming out in public.
"That girl's wedding." Her constant scowl softened into what Rose could only describe as an expectant, greedy smirk.
Nothing followed. Rose waited, listening to the awakening bustle of the grocery store around them. The song over the store-wide address system slid into the chorus. She sighed.
"I'm sorry, what about it?"
"Tell me what's going on with the wedding. Since my property will be affected -- as always -- by what the people in that house do, I have a right to know what the arrangements are."
Nasty old gossip. Rose agreed with Joel and Emily that their neighbor was the source of some of the ridiculous stories reaching the gossip magazines. Everyone in the world seemed to want to know the wedding details of the daughter of Emily Keeler-Randolph and Carlo Vincente. And worse, they seemed to think it was their right to know. Rose just hadn't thought anyone in Tabor Heights was so rude and nosey as to actually ask her to her face and expect to learn something useful. Or, as was most likely with this particular nasty neighbor, something she could sell to the gossip rags.
"Nothing having to do with the wedding will be at the house, so you don't have to worry about traffic." She gestured across the bakery section. "I hope you'll excuse me, but I have a lot of shopping to do and not much time."
"They're not getting married, are they? I'll just bet the story's a ruse. That Maureen is just going to move across the street with that man and they're going to live in sin, right under her parents' noses." Mrs. Pluch snorted, and to Rose's dismay, turned her cart to walk alongside her.
"Oh, they definitely are getting married."
She chose not to continue the losing battle and remind the woman Max's name was Maxine, not Maureen. Rose had been in Tabor Heights long enough to know Mrs. Pluch would never let go of anything she had decided was right and proper and the way it was meant to be. Not even when the facts hit her in the face or knocked her off her feet with a full body slam.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sneak Peek: THE WRATH OF BUBBLES

Coming in November from Desert Breeze Publishing:

"That woman." Rose Weinberg sighed and took a right turn out of the produce section of Heinke's Grocery, despite still needing to pick out green peppers, onions, and jalapenos for tonight's dinner.
Vivian Pluch, the next-door neighbor of Homespun Theater, Homespun Printing, and especially of her family, the Randolphs, headed toward her through the produce section, pushing her cart like a demented snowplow, sideswiping the carts of sleepy women picking through lettuce, celery, and turnips. Rose made a mental note to come back for those turnips. She had managed to spot her unfriendly neighbor without making eye contact, so chances were good she wouldn't realize Rose deliberately left to avoid her.
Maybe she should stop doing her shopping early in the morning, and forsake the habit of decades of diligence and efficiency? Rose's mouth quirked up in the corners at the thought of such indulgence and luxury. Imagine, taking time for a leisurely breakfast and a second cup of coffee, and no longer worrying about getting the freshest items.
"Miss Randolph! Stop right there. We need to talk."
Rose sighed, her daydream shattered. In more ways than one. She was wrong. Not only seen, but recognized and targeted, and from the tone of that woman’s voice, already tried and convicted of several major sins, all before eight in the morning. Just last week, Max had remarked that she could have spent the whole day in the back of the newspaper office and never know Mrs. Pluch came into the building, but the woman would find some excuse to snipe at her for being rude and "avoiding" her when she came in to register yet another outrageous complaint about the Tabor Picayune.
"It's Mrs. Weinberg," she said, when Mrs. Pluch caught up with her.
"What are you talking about?" Her mouth gathered so many wrinkles around it, Rose was reminded of a Shar Pei puppy.
          She fought not to giggle. Her nephews were definitely a bad influence on her.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       That afternoon, Tyler waited until Danny and Pam had raced across the church parking lot to join their adventure club friends before he popped the hood of his car. He had spent some serious time under the hood this morning before Tanya or her children were stirring, trying to get an idea of what went where. The owner's manual and an e-book he found online weren't much help. Was it just his own mechanical ineptitude, the small dimensions of the e-reader screen, or were Corvettes that much more complicated than most cars?
       "Problem?" a gravelly male voice asked over Tyler's left shoulder, almost before he had managed to prop the hood up.
       He jerked and the rod slid out of the little catch slot. Fortunately, the gray-haired grandfather caught it before Tyler smashed his hand. Double-fortunately, he didn't let go of the hood as he scrambled for the rod.
       "Ah -- no -- thanks. I thought I was... low on washer fluid," Tyler managed to say, the distinctive blue liquid catching his eye. He caught the rod in the hood and leaned over to pretend to fuss with the hose and the plug on the reservoir. "Looks fine now." He extricated himself from the front of his car and shut the hood.
       When he turned around, he saw Candy and Chad hurrying up the sidewalk. They had walked over from school, which they did most of the time, but still, Tyler couldn't help the disappointed, dropping sensation in his chest as he thanked the stranger. There were many afternoons Abby picked up the children and brought them to the church, according to Pam and Danny. Tyler had hoped she did it on the chance of meeting up with him for a few moments. Was that arrogance?
       "What's up, guys?" he called as the children hurried past him. In for a pound... Who's getting you tonight?"
       "Dad," Candy called, pausing on the steps while Chad yanked the door open. "Aunt Abby has another all-day flight."
       "Well, tell them I said hi, okay?"

       He settled behind the steering wheel and sighed loudly. Tyler supposed he had only himself to blame. He was happy for her increased business, but furious about his plans to take her out for coffee -- dinner, if he could convince her -- to "thank" her for helping him with his engine problems, which he hadn't even been able to arrange. So, it was a shallow excuse, and he had planned on telling her just how shallow it was if their coffee meeting went well. That wouldn't happen now, would it?

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

      "Abby?" Tyler nearly dropped his cell phone when he recognized her voice. "Is something wrong?"
      "Well, I was returning your call from yesterday. The flight went great. Thanks for the referral."
      "Hey, my pleasure. You did me a good turn. The least I can do is return the favor." He settled into the front row of the theater and slouched down enough he could put his feet up on the front edge of the stage.
      Tyler loved weekday mornings at the theater, because most of the time he had it all to himself. He often managed to do more, working alone, than if he had five or six people coming to him for directions. Now, he had even more reason to appreciate the echoing solitude. He could talk to Abby without anyone overhearing.
      Tanya had mentioned Abby called the day before, and that she gave her his cell phone number. Tyler had been sick to his stomach hearing that -- his battery had run down and his phone had been useless. He was so used to not having a cell phone handy, he couldn't remember to keep it charged when he did have a fully functional one.
He was glad now Abby was a persistent woman.
      "Well, you returned the favor about a dozen times, it seems like. I'm going to be out of town so much in the next week, they ought to give me frequent flier miles on my own plane!" She chuckled, but Tyler thought he detected chagrin.
      It was something rather stronger than chagrin he felt now, as he realized just what Abby's remark meant. If she was out of town so much, what about them? What about his carefully laid plans for dating, and dumping the children on her brother and his sister as often as possible?
      "What did I call about yesterday?" he echoed when she asked him. "Well... opening night, for one thing. Will you be free? Next Tuesday, the twenty-first," he hurried to add, before she could ask.
      "I'll make sure I'm in town. Promise. Even if I have to hire Ethan Pluch to sabotage my plane!"

      "Don't go that far." Tyler chuckled, even as an image came to his mind of giving the young troublemaker a twenty dollar bill himself.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October 13: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

      "You don't look fine, Abs. What's up?"
      "You know how surprised we were the other morning, when we found out Tyler told some of his friends about my courier service?" She waited until her brother nodded and frowned. "Well, I guess he told a lot of them."
      "Some jerk make a pass at you?"
      "On the phone? Get real, Al!" A choked laugh slid up her throat, un-freezing some of her muscles. "I have five appointments to go meet with a bunch of big-wigs at five different companies. They all want to see about signing me into contracts, just because Tyler said I was good."
      "Uh huh. And what does Tyler expect in return?" Al said it quietly, but a dark flush rose up his neck and into his face. "I know the guy goes to our church now, and Danny says he's a good guy, but honestly, Abs--"
      "We've never had the time to even hold hands!" She felt her face heat and knew it was the exact same shade of red as her brother. They had been that way since childhood. Abby suspected Al was embarrassed at having to give her the "big brother" caution speech, while her discomfort came from a different source. She had let herself fantasize about Tyler and what it might be like to kiss him, far more often than was wise or safe. "Come on, Al, give me a break!"
      "I know, but -- well, no guy has really been that interested in you. I don't know why, because you're pretty and smart and a great cook and you take good care of the kids and--"
      "Thanks, Al, but most of the guys I run into are either married to their wives or their planes. And I'm not interested in the ones who are interested in just my body. And then there are the sexist jerks who are put off by my brains and running my own business. I'm too independent, according to that jerk who smashed his Piper Cub last year, remember him?"
      "Should have smashed himself, while he was at it," her brother growled.
      "Tyler's a nice guy and if he wanted to spend more time with me, I'd be glad. Time just seems to be the problem, you know? He works nights and I work days, and when we're free, there are the kids to take care of."
      "Yeah, I know. Sorry about that."
      "I love your kids, Al. If I had to choose between my family and -- well, a romantic fling, you know who would win."
      "You're worth more than a fling, Abby. Don't ever sell yourself short, hear me?"

      "Yeah, I hear you," she whispered, as he got up and strode out of the room.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

      "Say, Tyler, do you mind if I ask you something?"
      Here it comes. Big brother getting protective and asking what my intentions are.
      It didn't help that Tyler remembered two vivid dreams from the night before, both of which dealt with Abby and kissing. He couldn't remember much more than that, her smile, and the fact he had felt very good when he woke up.
      "What's going on with your sister? I mean, I know she's not legally married, but still, she needs that definite place she can point to and say she's free. In her head, she was married, even if he never was. And there's everything going on with the kids. My kids say her kids are still worried their dad is going to try to take them again."
      "They do?" Tyler groaned. He had hoped the children were asleep the last time he and Tanya discussed the latest progress report from her lawyer and the detective digging into all the places in his life Pete wanted to keep hidden. Obviously they hadn't been quiet enough and Pam or Danny or both had heard enough to get worried.
      "Whatever you guys need to assure the kids they're safe, just ask," Al said, stopping them both by grasping Tyler's shoulder for a moment. "What can I do to help? What does Tanya need, to finally cut the ties?"
      "Pete's death certificate would be a good start..." Tyler closed his eyes, feeling ashamed and amused at the same time. "Didn't mean to say that." When he opened his eyes, Al wore a sympathetic grin.
      "But you were feeling it. I don't blame you. Just overhearing the kids talking about it, makes me want to find the guy with some of my basketball buddies and use his head for the ball. Know what I mean?"
      "What do the kids say?" He wondered if he should talk to Tanya about taking the children for counseling. Abby was friends with Jennifer, the minister to children at the Mission. Maybe she was the best one to talk to. Didn't someone say the head custodian had a counseling degree, and he was always there for the children?
      "Actually, pretty close to what you and I have been saying -- the guy's a jerk, the kids don't want to see him again, they hate how he treated their mother. And yeah, they're a little scared that he'll convince the judge to hand them over to him." Al snorted. "I overheard my kids working on a plan to hide yours in the Metroparks. Don't worry, I talked them out of it. And not just because the rangers would find them pretty quick. If it's any comfort, I think mine have yours convinced that if they feel they aren't safe, they can come to me and Abby."
      "Thanks. That helps. Some."
      "I just hate seeing what this is doing to Tanya." He shrugged and looked away.
      Tyler froze, staring, as realization crashed down on him. This wasn't just concern for the new friends of his children. Al was interested in Tanya.
      A burst of heat rising up from his gut surprised him. A surge of purely protective anger stiffened his limbs. And it made no sense at all.

      Why was he angry at Al's interest in his sister? Al was just the kind of guy Tyler would want for Tanya. If she ever got involved with someone again. Al would never hurt her. According to what Abby had said, her brother hadn't shown any interest in women for a long time. Tanya was level-headed enough not to blame all men for what one or two jerks had done to her.

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       Saturday morning, bringing the kids up to the church for an adventure club hike in the Metroparks, Abby nearly slammed on the brakes. The Corvette sat in the parking lot, and Tyler leaned against the open door, watching the entrance drive. Watching for her? She felt her face ache from her wide grin and did her best to tone it down as she continued up to the spot right next to his. Tyler waved to the kids and seemed not at all inclined to move, waiting patiently while she hugged Candy and Chad good-bye and made sure they had their backpacks and lunches.
       "You're in big trouble, lady," Tyler said, when Abby turned to him, feeling a little flushed, her heart racing.
       "Trouble?" For a second she choked. Then she saw his big grin. "What did I do?" She tried to imitate his casual posture against the side of her Jeep, arms crossed and rear end pressed against the door.
       "You told me to give the script assignment to my sister."
       "Hated it, huh?"
       "She loves it! She's going to town, literally, every night on the crazy thing. I knew I was in trouble when she pulled out this notebook she's been keeping for the last hundred years. Or so she says. All sorts of story ideas and plays and things she wants to do but never has the time. Or the opportunity. She doesn't know who to contact or where to go to sell the crazy things once she ever writes them." Tyler shook his head. "Well, why didn't she ever think of her big brother, huh? I was wounded. Mortally wounded that she wouldn't trust me with her dreams." He slapped both hands over his heart and slumped against his car for a moment.
       Abby laughed, the sound suspiciously too much like a giggle for her comfort. She pressed one hand over her mouth and waited for him to continue. Her face actually hurt from her grin.
       "Anyway, she's always out doing research during her lunch hour, hitting the library downtown. Then she's taking over my computer every night, writing."
       "So I'm in trouble for helping her steal your computer."
       "No, you're in trouble because guess who has to keep her two monsters out of trouble when she's busy writing?"
       "Your parents?" she asked, trying to sound innocent.
       "They're in Arizona this week, picking up more junk they've had in storage," Tyler growled. "I could swear they planned it this way."
       "Not my fault."
       "Yes, it is, and you're going to help me keep those kids from tearing my house and the neighborhood apart."
       "How?"
       "You and your pests are coming with me and my pests to Swings and Things tonight after the hike." He grinned, putting aside his aggrieved expression like a paper mask. "If you're free, that is."


Monday, October 7, 2013

October 7: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

      "It's going to be so great," Kat bubbled, the afternoon after signing the lease for the apartment.
      She managed to chatter and work as she helped Daniel dig through his library to find four books he wanted for his lectures the next day.
      "Privacy. No more fighting over the washer and dryer in the basement of the dorm. No more worrying about guys walking through at the worst possible time. No more fighting ten other girls for one shower. And finding other people's junk in the bathroom and wishing the cleaning crew would get their butts in gear. No more being enslaved to the cafeteria menu. Ugh!" She giggled. "I can pack myself a lunch or come home for meals, instead of spending tons at the cafeteria."
      "So you can spend more money at Stay-A-While?" Daniel said with a grin. He was delighted when Kat wrinkled up her nose at him and pretended to swat at him with a workbook.
      "Hey, the whole coffee house experience is part of going to college. That's what Mom says, anyway." She let out a tiny cry of triumph and tugged out the long-lost book from under a stack of others tucked behind another stack. "Especially for the theater crowd. It's like a requirement or something."
      "I thought your mother got her degree in business."
      "Oh, Mom started out in theater at Northwestern."
      "She did?" Daniel shook off the chill that raced down his back, the momentary sensation of falling. His mouth worked when he hadn't meant to speak. "The one in Illinois, right? That's where I got my BA. What year?"
      "Gee, I'd have to think back. It was only two years. She had to quit when she had me." Kat's smile faded and Daniel fought an urge to wrap an arm around her and offer comfort.
      Touching wasn't allowed between advisors and students. He was careful about such things, and always kept his door open enough that someone could look inside when he had students in his office.
      "Mom met my father at Northwestern. He died before they could get married," she finally said.
      "I thought your father--"
      "Mike Tyler is not my father! He met Mom when I was eight." Fury -- and something else -- flashed in Kat's eyes and made her voice tight, and she had to visibly fight to unclench her fists before she dug her fingers through the precious, fragile, out-of-print paperback she held. "My dad is dead, and he was a theater major. Mom even says I got my writing talent from him." She forced a smile and a shrug. "So, have we got everything?"
      "One more and we're done."

      Daniel let out a long, silent sigh and concentrated on his relaxation exercises. It had been a false alarm, just a coincidence that Kat's mother had been at Northwestern. He tried to think back to any stories he had heard about any theater majors who had died before he was a student, then decided it wasn't worth pursuing. Obviously, the whole subject of her parents' romance, especially her real father's death, was painful. He wouldn't do her any favors by asking questions.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 5: ACCIDENTAL HEARTS

       Sunday, Abby didn't see Tyler, though she spotted his parents across the parking lot. Thomas saw her and came over while she waited with the children for Al to bring the car around. She debated the wisdom in asking them about Tyler. She liked his parents, honestly, but Abby had no idea if it was wise or suicidal to let them know she was interested in Tyler. Especially if they approved and got involved, and she had to admit she didn't have clue one about how to proceed in the relationship.
       "There was a little bit of an accident during the strike party last night," Thomas said, when he and Grace had driven over to where she and the children stood on the sidewalk.
       "Was he hurt?" Something clutched in her chest as she envisioned all the things that could have fallen from the grid while they disassembled the set after the play closed. All those lights could have come down, or the catwalk could have broken loose of its anchors, or the trap door could have collapsed under him when Tyler walked across the stage.
       "Just bruised, but he was at the theater until three this morning, cleaning up the mess. Seems someone spilled a couple gallons of -- what was it, Gracie?" He turned to his wife, who leaned forward to see around him.
       "Something that makes gallons of suds as soon as water touches it. Nobody bothered reading the warning on the barrel before they brought over a mop and bucket of water. And someone got the brilliant idea to dilute the sticky stuff, first."
       That got muttered comments and a glance toward the clouds from Thomas, earning giggles from the children.
       "He had a whole crew mopping it up. It got across the stage and down into the orchestra pit and the smell!" Grace waved her hand in front of her face, her nose wrinkling.
       "The worst part was how it made everything slippery. Tyler's all banged up from either falling on his own, or trying to rescue everybody else who went falling all over the place. He's worn out, stiff, achy, and wet from all the ice packs he needs." Thomas chuckled. "He didn't want to worry you, so he asked us to tell you."


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October 1: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

      Kat had problems.
      Bekka had told Daniel that her home life wasn't too comfortable, that Michael Tyler was a loudmouth, leering jerk, and Kat took summer classes so she could stay on campus year-round and not go home -- but Kat didn't confide in Daniel. He had to guess when something troubled her, and learned even before she was his student assistant that she froze up when adults, men in particular, showed too much interest in her activities, her schedule, and her feelings. By the end of September, Daniel learned to pick up a few signals to indicate when Kat was having a bad day, but he left it to Bekka to act as intermediary when he wanted to help.
      So he wasn't too surprised when Kat danced into his office that morning and announced she, Amy and Bekka were moving in together.
      "Too many wild parties in the dorm, huh? They're kicking you out?" He sat back and put both feet up on the only clear corner of his desk.
      "Hardly." Kat tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and hugged herself before coming to rest against the doorframe. "Bekka's grandparents are moving to Florida. Can you believe they actually think she'll drop classes just like that and go to Florida with them just because they say so?"
      "Yeah, unfortunately, I do." Daniel shook his head and muffled a grin.
      So that was the reason for the sour looks the Sandersons had been aiming his way over the last three Sundays. They probably thought he had encouraged Bekka to resist their most recent and extreme endeavor to control her life. Why she hadn't moved out of their house years ago, he couldn't quite understand -- except that Bekka did love her grandparents, and she knew they loved her despite their stiff-necked, narrow-minded, demanding ways. They were all the family she had in the world, and she had obviously reasoned that putting up with their disapproval wasn't too high a price to pay for keeping their family together. He understood, because even if he didn't get along so well with them, he would have felt the same way about the Tabor Heights Morgans. They were the reason he had applied to teach at Butler-Williams University in the first place.
      "Amy wants to be closer to campus now that she got the job at the library, and I have been dying to get my own place -- I mean, Granny gave me access to my trust fund when I graduated high school and I have more than enough money -- but I hate being alone." She shrugged and grinned, but couldn't hide that momentary glimmer of darkness -- and what Daniel thought might be genuine fear in her eyes. "So Bekka found a place at the Tower, across the street from the police station. It is going to be so great."
      "Congratulations. I hope I won't have to come bail you out of jail for wild parties too often."
      "Come on, Morgan!" Kat giggled and turned to leave. "Do you really think with Bekka living with us, we'd ever have wild parties? That's the great thing. Nobody would dare invade or bring drugs or anything to our parties, because of Bekka."
      "That's true," he muttered, and pulled his feet down off the desk to get to work.

      He did have a thick stack of essays on Greek drama to grade. Daniel was pleased that Kat welcomed the influence Bekka would have on their living arrangements. And even more pleased that Bekka's reputation as a straight-shooter, wholesome and clean-living, came across as a positive. He just wished he could get that point across to the Sandersons and other legalists at Tabor Christian, like Arthur Montgomery, who insisted on wholesale condemnation of anything connected with theater, film, art and fiction as unworthy of 'real' Christians to be involved in.