Monday, August 17, 2015

Saturday Snippets: The Bride's Curse Chapter One Free Read!

Saturday Snippets on a Monday, you ask? Well, when life throws you a curved ball you just have to keep running until you catch up - and I certainly wanted to tell everyone about my latest book, a paranormal romance, The Bride's Curse.

Of all the weird things in my life recently, this book - and the wonderful staff at publisher Crimson Romance (a subsidiary of Adams Media and
F+W Media) - have been like a shining beacon in the fog.
Yes, folks, writing keeps me sane :-)

Here's a five-star reader review from a reader   on Amazon:

 A Great Read!

This book reminds me of a lot of the books I have read from the 40's and 50's. No gore, explicitness or over the top plots. It was what a book should be...a well-written story that compels you to engage with the characters and read on.‎ I am looking forward to the next two in the trilogy! 

And Here's the Blurb:

Kelly Andrews's store, Wedding Bliss, is the one-stop shop for all your matrimonial needs in Bar Harbor, Maine. But when three brides in a row return a gorgeous vintage wedding dress, claiming it is cursed, it's definitely bad for business.

Then Brett Atwell, the handsome nephew of the dress's original owner, gets involved, and things go from bad to worse. Luckily, Kelly has a supernatural talent for communing with ghosts, and a mischievous spirit sends the two of them on a goose chase for a groom who went missing decades ago.

Working together to get to the bottom of the mystery makes passions flare between Kelly and Brett. Will love get its due at long last?

Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors

And now, the first chapter of The Bride's Curse:

Chapter One

The silver bells above the door of Wedding Bliss jangled furiously, and Kelly Andrews looked up as a red-eyed and tearful young woman strode into the store. “I want you to take this dress back! The wedding’s off!” Susie Lamont declared, thrusting a bulging cardboard dress box at the store owner.
Kelly managed to catch the box before its contents spilled out. Her heart thumped. Good heavens, this can’t be happening again! Susie would be the third bride in as many months to return this dress, and Wedding Bliss had become a hot topic of conversation in the very worst way. A quiet life as a wedding planner in a small town should have been just what she needed to recover from her stint in the military. Now it looked like the drama was following her even here.
She pointed to the group of elegant Victorian dining chairs that stood near the center of the store. “Goodness, Susie, please sit down and tell us what’s got you so upset.” Kelly darted a pleading look at her assistant, Noelia Russo, as Susie perched on the edge of a chair. Matronly and calm, Noelia was much better at dealing with customer histrionics than Kelly, who tended to give out impatient “get over it” vibes that didn’t play well with distressed customers.
Noelia suppressed a smile and stepped into the breach. “Yes, dear,” she said. “I’m sure that whatever the problem, we can help fix it. Your big day is only weeks away now! Kelly will go and get us some coffee or a nice herbal tea, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Kelly took the hint and dutifully escaped into the small office-cum-kitchen space at the rear of the store to put the kettle on for chamomile tea. She had heard that was the most soothing brew, and Susie looked like she needed something to calm her down. Kelly knew firsthand what it was like to be abandoned almost at the altar; her heart went out to the young woman as she listened to Susie’s complaints from behind the door. She gathered three dainty china cups together and added tea bags. Then she almost dropped the old-fashioned tea kettle when she heard Susie proclaim, “It’s that dress; it’s bad luck! Mark’s having second thoughts about getting married. Everything was just fine until he saw me—he came in when I was trying on the wedding dress.”
“Everyone knows it’s bad luck for the groom to see—” Noelia started.
“Oh, pish. It wasn’t our wedding day and anyway, it was an accident. I wasn’t expecting him to come over that evening at all. The dress is so lovely, I just had to try it on with Grandmother’s pearls …” Susie hiccupped back a sob. “Besides, that’s an old wives’ tale; no one really believes it. So anyway, he was quiet the rest of the evening, and I thought it was just nerves with the wedding being in a couple of weeks. The next day, he phoned—can you believe that? The rat phoned to tell me he wanted to postpone the ceremony.” Susie’s voice went shrill with hurt. “He didn’t even have the guts to tell me to my face.”
Kelly felt sick. She knew better than most people that inexplicable things happened, that sometimes dark forces shadowed the world as we knew it. But surely it was insane to believe that an inanimate object, a lovely silk and lace gown, could have an evil curse attached to it? This whole issue was getting out of hand.
Listening as Susie broke out in a fresh bout of sobbing, Kelly sighed. She had never figured Susie’s fiancé, Mark Turner, for a jerk—yet who but a jerk would break off a wedding just two weeks in advance? At least Mark had telephoned and told Susie the bad news himself; her own fiancé, Wayne, had called off their wedding with a brief note …  Kelly heard Noelia muttering sympathetic words and uttered a little prayer of thanks that her assistant was so good at consoling brides in crisis.
“Well, honey, I think you were right the first time—it’s probably just pre-wedding nerves. Men do get a bit like that before their weddings. You know … all the pomp and everything, the fancy dresses and having to wear a suit and tie.” Noelia’s soft voice oozed reassurance. “I’ll bet you anything he’ll be coming around any day now to beg you to forgive him and go ahead with the wedding as planned.”
“No, no, he won’t. He’s gone and signed up for a three-month contract as an engineer on a Mediterranean cruise ship. He’s on a plane to Spain right now. Apparently he wants to see the world rather than be tied down to marrying me.”
Kelly’s heart ached for the sad young woman. What a terrible way for a romantic dream to end. The kettle was whistling loudly, so she couldn’t hide in the small back room any longer. She made the tea and took a steaming cup through for Susie. “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what made Mark behave like that. I’ve always thought he was one of the good guys.” It must have been the wrong thing to say because Susie started sobbing again. Noelia rolled her eyes at her boss while patting the young woman’s shoulder.
Susie finally calmed down. Still sniffling, she pulled her pink fleece hoodie around her and took a few sips of tea. “That’s the point, really. Mark is a good guy. None of this is his fault.”
Kelly’s tension went up a notch as she watched her client take a few more sips of tea.
“It’s that darn dress. There’s something wrong with it! Everyone in town is talking about it. Everyone knows that two other brides had planned to wear that dress, and that both couples’ wedding plans have fallen through. People said that dress was unlucky. You know what they’re saying now? That wedding dress is cursed!” Susie, red-faced, began to weep again.
“Now wait just a minute … ” Kelly burst out, but she was silenced by a signal from Noelia. She knew the older woman was right. Where was the point in chewing the tail off some dumb blonde who’d rather blame an inanimate dress for her failed wedding than take some responsibility herself?  No doubt that would be all over town, too, and Wedding Bliss, the most popular one-stop store for wedding paraphernalia in the area, would soon lose enough customers to make the business go broke. Already this crazy sequence of coincidences was hurting her bottom line.
Kelly took a deep, calming breath, trying to ignore the little demon on her shoulder who muttered, “Three failed weddings where the bride wanted to wear that dress? Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire.” Another meaningful glance from Noelia and Kelly clenched her teeth shut. She walked over to the elegant antique cupboard where the cash register stood and took out the store’s checkbook from a small drawer.
“Susie, we are so sorry you are unhappy with your dress, even though we don’t believe this lovely silk and lace garment is cursed. It’s just a dress after all. Anyway, I am so sorry things aren’t working out for you and Mark, and of course you can return it,” she said in as gentle a voice as she could muster. “I have here a list of receipts from your account. You didn’t have us as planners, did you?”
“No, my mom and Gran were doing all the arrangements,” Susie said. “My gran is heartbroken because she wanted to see me get married and she says she’s not getting any younger. I did bring everything back—you’ll find it all in the box.”
“So, let me just take a quick look to make sure everything is okay, and then I’ll make out a check for a full refund of everything you spent here. And please, feel free to come back and see us if things change and you and Mark decide to go ahead once he’s done his traveling.”
Noelia had already opened the box and pulled out the luxurious, oyster-silk dress, elbow-length white organza gloves, a bridal garter, and a pretty little purse dotted with hand-sewn seed pearls. She handed the dress over to Kelly, who smoothed the gorgeous soft fabric over her arm and checked for any stains or tears. Satisfied, she hung up the gown and finished filling out the check.
“Why don’t you choose a pretty cami, just a little something to make you feel good? Relationship troubles can make a woman feel so bad about herself.” Noelia held out a wispy silken camisole in palest pink. “Just a little gift from us in appreciation of you using Wedding Bliss.” She aimed a not-so-gentle warning kick at Kelly’s ankle before she could explode with protest.
“That’s so nice of you, Mrs. Russo, thank you,” Susie said, slanting a sly, knowing smile at Kelly. “I’d advise you to get rid of that dress, though. Send it to a thrift store in some other town if you don’t want to destroy it. No one around here would wear it now.”
And she was gone, leaving Kelly grinding her teeth. “You rewarded that bimbo with a consolation prize for blaming Wedding Bliss for her screwed-up relationships while ruining our bottom line and reputation by returning that dress? We really needed that sale.” She pushed her long, red hair out of her eyes as she glared at her assistant.
“Sweetie, this is a small town and a business has to be known to be good for its customers or it won’t survive. We treated that bimbo, as you call her, with kindness, and that’ll get around town, too,” Noelia replied serenely, sorting out the items Susie had returned and putting them on shelves.
“Yeah, it’ll probably bring in every scam artist from miles around, looking for free silk underwear.”
Kelly was still fuming silently when she glanced at her watch and gasped. She’d been so busy smoothing the frills and lace highlights of the lovely vintage gown, using a steam iron to gently set everything back in place, that she had almost made herself late for a meeting with one of their wedding planning clients.
“Noelia, can you hold down the fort while I dash over to St. Christopher’s church? I have an appointment to talk to the church secretary and get some ideas for decorating for the Montoya wedding. Then I’m meeting Jane Parker, you know, last-minute stuff for her wedding next month. We still haven’t fixed on flowers or guest favors yet. I’ll stop in at the Marina Grove Telegraph office afterward and sort out advertising for our new services, see if we can get them to do an affordable ‘wedding bells’ trade feature.”
Noelia raised her eyebrows. “You’ve got a lot on your plate there, dear. And good luck with the Telegraph. Ken Bertram is a lazy old goat, and he’ll probably have you running around doing his job for him, trying to get other businesses to take part in a trade supplement.” Noelia grinned.
“Well, it might be worth it. We need to be pretty aggressive with our advertising—and slender with our budget—if this nonsense about the cursed dress keeps going.”
Noelia turned to greet a young woman who was just coming in the door. She offered a lovely warm, motherly smile that usually wowed their customers and asked, “Can I help you, dear?”
“I’m off,” Kelly said. “Just lock up if I’m not back. See you tomorrow.” With a pleasant smile to the newcomer, she dashed out the door.
The early autumn day was unusually warm and the air carried with it a tang of salt spray from the Atlantic Ocean as it waved softly toward Marina Grove Bay. The small town on the Maine coastline was slowly settling toward winter as the tourist season ended, and Kelly was able to slip into a parking spot right in front of the Telegraph offices. They were situated right on the main street and faced the ocean across from the wharf where fishing boats were unloading the catch of the day.
She massaged the long scar above her hairline, a parting gift from a Taliban bomb. It ached when she was tired or stressed, and heaven knows, she was both right now. She took a few moments to try and gather her thoughts. This business with the so-called Cursed Bridal Gown was going to drive her crazy and possibly put her out of business. The worst thing was, she couldn’t shake the thought that perhaps the gown really was cursed. It certainly wasn’t improving her manner, which Noelia frequently told her tended to be a bit abrasive.
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” her assistant often said. Seemed vinegar was the only thing Kelly traded in at the moment.
Already she had offended the church secretary at St. Christopher’s. The slight, gray-haired woman, Debra Moran, had jokingly said that she’d heard Kelly might need an exorcism for a wedding gown that was the talk of the town. Piqued, Kelly had quite nastily wondered aloud if it was blasphemous to joke about such matters in church, and the secretary had gone about giving her the information she needed regarding the church’s rules on wedding decorations in a tight-lipped, wounded manner.
Her day continued its downhill slide. It seemed everyone she met had an opinion or a smart comment about the cursed dress. Some were serious, most were witty, but none made Kelly feel any better about the weirdness of it all. News travels fast in a small town. Especially weird news.
Then she had stopped in at the home of Jane Parker and her mother for a consultation on flowers and table favors. The bride-to-be licked her lips nervously as the mother suggested they should get a discount for using Kelly’s services, given all the gossip going around.
“But you don’t really believe in such stupid nonsense, do you?” Kelly had blurted incredulously, causing the bride’s mother to spend the rest of their visit sulkily objecting to every suggestion Kelly made.
Finally, Jane put her foot down and insisted they choose from the flowers Kelly had suggested.
Her mother, a keen gardener, then went on to cast a malicious eye over the list of flowers and deliberately picked the most difficult blooms to find at that that time of the year.
The meeting took so long that Jane, noting Kelly casting sly glances at the clock, apologized and asked her to leave the catalogs. “We’ll get everything we want firmed up and I’ll be in touch by the end of the week,” she promised.
Kelly waited until she was back in her car and out on the road again before she let loose a curse of her own on the heads of everyone who thought the Cursed Bridal Gown was theirs to comment upon.
The Telegraph was her last stop of the day and she reluctantly left the calm of her parked car and sought out the advertising manager, Ken Bertram. Her chat with him turned out to be the best thirty minutes of her day so far. He agreed to give Wedding Bliss prominence in a Winter/Spring Weddings trade feature he was planning; the price he named was reasonable and within budget. He even offered a two column ad in that week’s paper at a bargain price.
“Once you get the copy in here for the feature next month, I can get the graphics and layout guys to put the page together,” Ken promised.
“I have some great photographs of brides and bridesmaids, as well as of wedding cakes and other stuff that you could probably use, too.” Kelly pulled out a file stuffed with photographs from various wedding paraphernalia companies from her shoulder bag. “I have permission to use these for advertising purposes.”
“That’s great—less work for us.” Ken rubbed his hands together gleefully. Kelly, remembering Noelia’s comments about the guy being lazy, suppressed a grin.
Then he asked if she’d mind waiting a moment.
Kelly held her breath, expecting some smart-ass jokes about the dress, but he merely walked into the outer office and spoke to the newspaper’s secretary and general gofer, Allie McInnis. Moments later, he came back with a smile, shook her hand, and asked if she would call in to the editorial department before she left the building.
Kelly assumed he wanted to have a journalist do a story piece to go with her advertising, which was a welcome surprise. She walked up the steep stairs into the dark, crowded office space where the editorial staff lurked. A small newspaper, the Telegraph had a skeleton staff and used a lot of freelance correspondents to fill its pages.
The last straw in her day came when a junior reporter dressed in baggy jeans and a Grateful Dead t-shirt bounced over to Kelly with an earnest puppy expression on his face, notebook clutched in his hand.
“Ms. Andrews? Mr. Bertram said you wanted us to do a story about that cursed wedding dress,” the young man, Ronnie Catelli, said as he introduced himself.
Is that what everyone’s calling it now? The Cursed Wedding Dress? Kelly was so angry she was sure steam would start hissing from her ears. “What do you mean?”
Ronnie reached for the pen that was lodged behind his ear, seeming irritatingly unaware of the death glare Kelly aimed at him. “I hear that the gown has ruined the dreams of several young couples.”
She dragged in a deep breath, counting to ten for patience. Not wanting to sully the innocence of one so young, she limited herself to a snarled “No” and left the building as quickly as she could before she really lost her temper and aimed some well-seasoned military phrases at him.
Kelly parked her car and opened the newly painted blue front door of her home, breathing in the soothing atmosphere. Even before renovations, the little fisherman’s cottage had held a welcoming feel that called to her. The cottage was only within her price range because it had needed lots of work, but to Kelly it was well worth the hours she had spent scraping and sanding and painting.
She bent to rub the soft gray fur of Sullivan, the house feline, then paused to enjoy the graceful lines of the shallow staircase and breathe deeply of the salt-tanged breeze that filtered in through the slightly open windows. She loved to sit out on the large back verandah and watch the ever-changing moods of the sea. On hot nights, she would sleep with the windows open and a cool sea breeze playing over her as the sea’s song lulled her to sleep.
Kelly had come to Marina Grove lured by happy memories of a long ago childhood family holiday in the small seaside town, still a busy fishing port and tourist destination. Here, where no one knew her or her history, she sought healing from two terrible blows. She still had nightmares about the IED bomb blast that had ended her military career and taken the lives of several of her friends in her unit. The ambush had left her physically and mentally scarred, fighting for her life in a military hospital. Her fiancé’s desertion had hardly caused a ripple in her emotions after that experience, but it still hurt.
Marina Grove hadn’t let her down. As she had regained her physical and emotional health, she followed her dream to open Wedding Bliss, a one-stop wedding planning store to channel all the romantic yearnings of her heart into planning beautiful weddings. For other brides, that is. She doubted she would ever trust her heart to a man again.
 Sullivan—a rescued tom cat with a checkered history written large in the scars he carried over his face and body—twined around her legs, alternately purring and reminding her with a soft meow that it was dinner time. She rubbed him behind his ears, producing a long, drawn-out purr of pleasure, then loaded his dish with cat chow and refilled his water bowl.
“It’s nice to meet someone who doesn’t want to lecture me or make jokes at my expense about a silly bridal gown,” she murmured to the cat. Sullivan flicked his tail, dismissing her while he wolfed the food.
Kelly made her favorite late supper—a glass of wine, a cup of milky coffee, and a peanut butter and banana sandwich—and settled down on the verandah to watch the twilight glowing over the ocean and ponder exactly what she was going to do about that dress. The lovely vintage gown that had become the Cursed Bridal Gown.
It was too beautiful to be destroyed or given away. Besides, she’d paid far too much for it at an estate auction in Derry. The jokes and comments were becoming irritating and she just wished people would forget the whole thing. What really irked her was the negative effect it was having on her business’s reputation.
Still, she could understand people having some reservations about a gown that had been returned by three separate brides. With her degree in psychology, she knew people tried to explain things going wrong by finding scapegoats to blame, especially when those failures were very hurtful and seemingly without cause. The idea was that if you could blame something on someone’s behavior or possessions, then if you didn’t behave that way yourself or have the same possessions, you were safe from whatever bad thing had happened to the other person.
But three different couples splitting up after they’d gotten as far as buying a wedding dress? Surely, that must be unusual, especially in a small town like Marina Grove. Given the fact all three brides had purchased that one gown, she could see where the gossip arose.
Kelly had never been superstitious herself and found it hard to believe a gown, especially a truly expensive and beautiful one, could possibly be cursed.
But then, she hadn’t believed restless spirits existed, either, until she saw them for herself. Waking up in a hospital bed, disorientated and confused, she’d been reassured to see several men of her unit standing around her bed. She had heard snatches of questions the men were asking and been overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness before drug-induced sleep had once more claimed her.
It was only later, as she healed, that she realized these men had died in the same ambush that had left her wounded. The doctors were quick to tell her a brain injury had left her with hallucinations that would pass.
Kelly wasn’t at all sure she believed them. But she hoped with all her heart that they were right.
And if she could see the dead, why couldn’t a wedding gown be cursed?

The Bride's Curse is the first of a planned series of three romantic  stories set around the Wedding Bliss store. It's available now as an ebook and will be out in print in early November! You can see more at Crimson Romance.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Day I Faced Larry the Lump....

I've met a couple of the Larry the Lump nasties before, but somehow always managed to escape unscathed. I’m not a very confrontational person. In fact, I’ll do anything rather than make a scene or get into an argument. I will, when pushed, stand up for my rights, but I’d rather walk away than stand my ground if it means stirring things up….

But today I had to face down Larry the Lump. He’d been bothering me for a while, with sharp little barbs and promoting a general feeling of discomfort.

So I finally bit the bullet and visited my medical team. “Uhmmm, I think I can feel the edge of something here,” the nurse practitioner said, palpating my tender left breast. “I think we’d better do a mammogram.”

”But I had one less than a year ago, “ I argued, happy to miss another round of crushed and flattened boobs..

“Well, even so, I think it won’t do any harm to have another look.”

So I had another mammogram. Followed by an ultra sound.

And because everything seemed fine, we went out for lunch at a new Chinese restaurant to relax.

Then a call back from the hospital early the next morning – could I come in  for another ultrasound? The radiologist wanted to take another look.

Uhm. So another ultrasound, with me lying on the examining table furtively watching that little screen without understanding a single pixel of what I was seeing. And that little prickle of unease starting to niubbble….

"That’s good. If the doctor wants to do a biopsy we'll call you this afternoon."

The afternoon sped by, and at four o'clock I hadn`t heard anything. "I think I ducked that bullet," I said to my Better Half as we drove home.

And right that moment the phone rang.

"Doctor thinks we should do a biopsy. Would you be free to come in?"

Swallow. Deep Breathe. "Sure, sometime in the next couple of days?"

Silence on the other end of the line. Then, "Actually, we`d like you to come in first thing in the morning."

And that`s when I knew I’d have to face the reality of Larry the Lump. And he wasn`t going to be very co-operative. There's a form of pain management that encourages you to name your pain, which as far as I can tell allows you to befriend it because you recognise that pain is your body`s way of letting you know there`s a problem,. By befriending, naming, talking to your pain, you can learn what your body needs to heal.

Except that Larry's thick skin interfered with the anaesthetic and that needle hurt. Round one to Larry.

Fortunately it was all over quickly and the radiologist was kind and gentle.

Now it`s a matter of waiting, something I don’t do well. Five to seven business days to get the results. Within the next few days I`ll know just how much of a disruptive influence Larry is going to be in my life – or whether this is just a fleeting acquaintanceship…..

Note: Three business days after the biopsy, after I had written this blog, as we headed out for lunch with our daughter who was on vacation, the cell phone rang. I knew even before I answered that it was bad news. That nasty little lump was cancerous.
I'm getting by with help from my wonderful family, some good friends, and Facebook friends, many of whom have defeated their own Larry the Lumps.

So now I can't ignore him but Larry, if you're listening, you're going down. There's a nice lady surgeon just waiting to meet you....

I'll post again to let you know progress!