Friday Funny—Things that Sound Dirty


“Whew, that’s one terrific spread!”

“Tying the legs together keeps the inside moist.”

“Talk about a huge breast!”

“It’s Cool Whip time!”

“If I don’t undo my pants, I’ll burst!”

“Are you ready for seconds yet?”

“It’s a little dry, do you still want to eat it?”

“Just wait your turn, you’ll get some!”

“Don’t play with your meat.”

“Just spread the legs open & stuff it in.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to handle all these people at once?”

“I didn’t expect everyone to come at once!”

“You still have a little bit on your chin.”

“Use a nice smooth stroke when you whip it.”

“How long will it take after you stick it in?”

“You’ll know it’s ready when it pops up.”

“Wow, I didn’t think I could handle all of that!”

“How many are coming?”

“That’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen!”

“Just lay back & take it easy… I’ll do the rest.”

“How long do I beat it before it’s ready

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New Release and a Thanksgiving gift, too

TheChristmasShipAmerican businessman Jacob Kerrigan works behind enemy lines to help feed seven million starving Belgians and bring Christmas to the children. The Commission for Relief in Belgium asks only one thing of its delegates: remain neutral in a war-torn country.

Roselle Perrine works in soup kitchens and her family farm by day, and spies for the Belgian resistance at night. She uses her position in society to convince Jacob to stay in her chateau, hoping the relief delegate’s presence will cover her nocturnal activities.

But the Kaiser’s Army is watching.

When Roselle’s spying is discovered, will Jacob remain neutral or fight for love?

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And see where it all began. Book one, Hearts in Barbed Wire, is free until November 30th

20140311-091422.jpgA solder trapped behind enemy lines

A nurse risks everything to save him

As the Kaiser’s Army steamrolls across their country, they’ll make a desperate bid for freedom. War will bring them together; duty will drive them apart. Can they escape the promises binding them to their past or will they leave their hearts tangled in barbed wire?

Love’s Great War: Belgium, 1914

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Cover Reveal—The Christmas Ship

Here’s the beautiful cover for my soon-to-be released historical romance.TheChristmasShip

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Friday Funny—Not a Word Was Spoken

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A Gift from St. Nick, Chapter 3


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Chapter Three

Hans froze on the marble floors of the Ojibwa Hotel lobby. After the cold wind blowing off the lake, the warmth inside burned his cheeks and an answering flicker sparked to life in his belly.

Peeking around a wooden box of dry goods, Lenore stood behind the reception desk. Her full lips parted before she boosted the ends into a smile.

Was it his imagination or did her skin seem paler? His imagination. She had no reason to be worried. He was thinking nonsense. His fingernails dug into the knit hat in his hands, poking through the cabling. His overnight bag strap hung heavy on his shoulder. He should have listened to his gut and spent the night on his cold ship. Unfortunately, his treacherous feet had carried him here. To her. Women couldn’t be trusted. Especially beautiful women. He repeated his mantra, but the words weren’t sticking.

His men clomped behind him, reeking of smoke, oil, and winter. Their guttural German swirled around him. His younger cousins glanced from the marble fireplace on the left, to the chandelier, to the cloisonné vases on the narrow tables under gilt mirrors before goggling at the white cloth draped over chairs.

Hans’s attention remained fixed on Lenore. There was something different about her smile…


He tore his attention from Lenore and turned it to the young woman beside her. “Mrs. Stephens.”

Black braids tumbled down the new Mrs. Stephens’s thin shoulders. Straight white teeth flashed behind her tan face and hair pins winked in the flickering light of the overhead chandelier. Her arm wrapped around Lenore’s delicate torso. “This is a lovely surprise. And please, you must call me Phoebe. Mrs. Stephens is my mother-in-law. Besides, we’re practically family after all.”

Wringing his knitted hat in his fingers, Hans blinked. “We are?”

His father didn’t acknowledge him anymore. And since his father didn’t, none of his immediate family did either, only his extended ones.

“Well, of course, we are.” Phoebe leaned against Lenore. Her face scrunched up before the two women began marching around the desk. “Your uncle, Mr. Lubeck, has worked for the Stephenses forever. He even used to teach us German during the slow winter months and tell us all about Saint Nicholas Day back in Bavaria. I used to shiver at his tales of Krampus and feared I would be carried off in his sack if I misbehaved. Isn’t that right, Lenore?”

“You should be carried off.” Lenore ground out before slapping her palm on the walnut registration desk. They both halted. “Gentleman, please warm yourself by the fire.”

Phoebe made odd clucking sounds.

Lenore raised her chin.

The hair on the back of Hans’s neck stood straight up. A strange undercurrent swirled through the room like a deadly riptide. Unless his bearings were off, these two were up to mischief.

But then they were women.

His chest tightened as something akin to disappointment constricted his torso.

Phoebe rocked back on her heels, a soft smile played with her lips. “What brings you to the island, Skipper? My husband said we wouldn’t be seeing you until the Spring thaw. And I know your uncle has returned to Missouri and won’t be back until the December ferry.”

Hans nodded. If his Uncle Dieter had been home, he wouldn’t have sought refuge here. If another hotel had been open, he wouldn’t be here. He kept his focus on Phoebe, yet his traitorous eyes darted to Lenore every other heartbeat. “We had engine troubles out on the straight and had to be towed to the nearest port.”

Here. He would rather have returned to Duluth, but hadn’t been given a choice. His glances at Lenore lingered. He had to find a way to break this spell she’d cast over him.

Lenore swayed on her feet before propping herself against the reception desk. “You want a room?”

He took a deep breath. She didn’t want him here anymore than he wanted to be here. So why did his breath hitch? And why did he have an insane urge to say something to make her smile?

“Of course, he wants to stay. This is a hotel.” Phoebe cupped Lenore’s arm.

Lenore yelped. Jerking her arm free, she rubbed the upper part. “I know this is a hotel. I live here, remember?”

“I remember many things.” Phoebe grinned at her friend. “Do you?”

Hans caught the by-play but couldn’t interpret the hidden meaning. He pushed the thoughts aside. There, he had his proof that Lenore was just like Gerda. Now, he could stop thinking about her. “We just need rooms for the night. My uncle will bring the repair parts on his stop tomorrow, then we should be on our way.”

Or at least the boiler would work and they’d have heat on board. That is if the old skin-flint had the part. He’d said he did when Hans had telephoned him from the Western Union office near the old custom’s house. But the good captain’s words resembled fish tales, they only reflected the truth if one didn’t look too hard.

Squaring her shoulders, Lenore sidled to her position behind the desk. She shoved aside the crate of groceries and slapped a red leather book onto the top of the desk. “We have three rooms still open. Will that be enough or would you each prefer separate rooms?”

Hans mentally tabulated the cost. His savings was shrinking by the minute. He would never earn enough to purchase the ship and return to his father’s good graces. “Three will be acceptable.”

“I should return home.” Phoebe clasped her hands behind her back and sashayed toward the front doors. “It’s almost tea time.”

Lenore cleared her throat and glared at her friend. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the school’s Thanksgiving program.”

Phoebe’s dark eyes twinkled as she passed him. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

Stepping aside, Hans caught the hem of a dust cover with his boot. Fabric ripped. Rich maroon-colored upholstery appeared in the rent. Embarrassment heated his cheeks.

His men uttered a few guffaws before smothering them with coughing.

Phoebe clapped her hand over her mouth and rushed for the door.

Lenore’s ebony eyebrows arched over her brown eyes, and her raspberry lips formed an ‘o’.

“I—I’m sorry.” Hans kicked his boot free and stumbled backward. When Phoebe exited, a gust of wind whipped through the room, causing the flames in the fireplace to leap. “I can fix it.”

He raked up the coarse fabric until it bunched under his hands. Gott in Hemmil, he hadn’t felt so foolish since he walked out with Gerda. He consigned the thought to the fire.

“You don’t have to fix them, Skipper.” Lenore’s eyes crinkled in amusement, but her smile was soft with understanding. “They needed to be replaced anyway.” She swept her raven hair off her forehead before opening the book. Ducking, she removed a silver inkwell from under the counter and set it next to the register. “Why don’t you gentlemen sign in, while I inform my parents of your arrival?”

Wadding the dust cover into a ball, Hans tucked it under his arm and strode the ten feet to the desk. He reached for the pen.

Lenore held out her hands. “My mother will thank you. She’s wanted to order new covers for ages.”

With a sigh, he set the ball on the counter. “You can add it to my bill.”

He regretted the dollars, but he was responsible for the damage. He never shirked his responsibilities. No matter what anyone thought.

“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Lenore spun on her heel and faced a rack of narrow cubbyholes on the wall opposite him. Reaching inside the three along the bottom corner, she removed a key from each nook. The dark metal keys had a different shell attached to their ends.

The generosity surprised him. Should he protest?

Heels tapped on hardwood. Keys jingled. A moment later, Mrs. Kerrigan emerged from the hallway on the left. Gray striped her black hair. Her button nose, generous mouth, and pointed chin matched her daughter’s. Her pale face lit up when she surveyed his crew. “I thought I heard voices but believed it was only Phoebe and Gabe with my order. This is a pleasant surprise. I hope you’ll be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. My husband and Gabe shot the largest deer I’ve ever seen on the island. They think the seven of us can eat it all.”

“Thank you for inviting us, but we should be sailing tomorrow.” Hans set the pen nib against the line on the paper. The metal left a trail of black ink as he signed his name.

“Oh, that’s such a shame.” Mrs. Kerrigan smoothed the gray fabric of her overskirt. “Tomorrow is the dance after the school program. We could use a few more handsome gentlemen to squire us through the reels and polkas.”

His crew stirred restlessly. Most Germans enjoyed a good polka.

Most Germans didn’t stumble over their feet as soon as the accordion wheezed its first note. Hans stabbed the pen in its holder. “We have a shipment to deliver, ma’am.”

“Of course, you do.” Mrs. Kerrigan stepped to the side. “How thoughtless of me. There’s only a month or so before the Lakes become frozen over. Although with this unseasonably warm weather, it might last until January.”

Hans nodded. The forty degree afternoons and humidity caused pea soup fog. As if hearing his thoughts, the lighthouse horn blared low and long.

Gesturing to the hallway, Mrs. Kerrigan inclined her head. “I’m afraid we’re dining en famille today, gentlemen. But I can guarantee the lamb stew is hot and plentiful and the soda bread is still warm from the oven. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where to clean up.”

His men marched in pairs after the older woman. His engineer muttered under his breath and cast Hans the evil eye.

There was a lecture in his future. Plucking the keys from the desktop with one hand, Hans rubbed his forehead with the other. Maybe if the ship was fixed early enough, he would allow them to stay a few extra hours. But Hans would stay on his ship. His gaze cut to Lenore before he followed his men into the hall. He would be eating with her family. With her.

Hans had half a mind to return to his ship. His feet refused to turn.


Lenore set her hand on the bundle of clothing on the desktop. Hans had blushed, actually blushed. She set her hand over her stomach, hoping to soothe the odd flutter. Heaven knew, Dixon had never blushed. In fact, he’d become angry when his opinion had been challenged.

She’d tempered her arguments at first. Then, she’d stopped debating the point. After all, she’d been the envy of all the girls at finishing school.

Then she’d been the laughingstock.

She yanked the cover off the desk, caught the stray ends and crushed them between her hands. So Hans Lubeck had apologized? And he’d offered to pay for the damage. That didn’t make him different than her ex-fiancé. That slack jaw and wide-eyed expression when he’d seen her was shock at finding her behind the desk. She’d bet her new coat and hat, he’d have given anything to register with her father instead of her.

Stuffing the torn cover under her right arm, she shot her buttons out of their holes with her left. Cool air washed over her suit as the blue wool parted. She peered down the hallway.

Hans paused on the threshold of the kitchen and glanced back.

Lenore’s mouth dried. Would he return? Did she want him to? She slapped on her smiling mask then dropped it. Phoebe would know if Lenore didn’t honor her dare.

Hans jerked his head once, then disappeared inside. The door swung shut behind him, leaving a band of light spilling over the parquet floor.

Air left her lungs in a whoosh. She was safe. Safe? Yanking open the coat room door, she stepped inside the rectangular room. Her heart was perfectly safe. Hans Lubeck didn’t want a woman with business sense. He probably wanted one to host parties, clean house, and do all the drudge work. Just like every other man on the planet.

Well, she had the hotel and was perfectly happy to pay someone else to do the tedious things that kept a house running. Dropping the torn dust cover, she kicked it into the corner then shrugged off her coat and hung it up. It brushed the wood paneling unleashing the scent of cedar.

Boards creaked outside.

Lenore froze. Had he returned? Her body warmed with the thought. Sweet Mary. She was being silly. Ridiculous. Sucking on her bottom lip, she crept to the open door.

Using his index finger, her father pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose. Salt and pepper hair lay against his skull. Da grinned when he spied her. His blue eyes twinkled as he rubbed his ink-stained hands together. An orange wool sweater peeked behind his black vest and suit coat. “We have company tonight.”

“I know.” Closing the door, she leaned against the gleaming wood. Cold leached through her emerald wool dress. “Skipper Lubeck had to be towed into port due to an engine leak.”

Her father scratched the shadow of a beard on his chin. “Their misfortune is our luck. Now, you’ll have something to distract you.”

Distract her? Was she two year’s old? No, she was twenty-one. She didn’t need a distraction from her past. She needed people to forget it. Her fingernails dug into her palms. But they wouldn’t. Not today of all days.

Frown lines appeared in Da’s forehead. He pulled an embroidered handkerchief from his pocket and removed his glasses. “I would think you would appreciate the company. I’m sure the skipper and his crew have many stories.”

Bending his head, he focused on polishing the lenses.

The skipper. Hans. No, not Hans. Hans Lubeck. She couldn’t afford the intimacy of his Christian name in her thoughts, especially when coupled with Phoebe’s dare to let some man closer. She squeezed her eyes closed, forcing both from her thoughts and donned her familiar mask. The smile was stiff on her cheeks. “I’m certain the subject of his towing to shore would be exciting.”

Da cleared his throat. “I’m not sure he’ll want to talk about that.”

Which is why it would be a perfect topic for conversation? He wouldn’t want to linger too long at the table, and she could escape to her books. Three new novels to open, and no school work required grading. Some of the stiffness went out of her cheeks. She’d win her dare without risking anything. “I’m sure everyone will want to hear about it. And just think how many times we can retell it while the harbor is frozen.”

“Yes, well.” Da stuffed his handkerchief in his breast pocket.

Lenore widened her grin to show her eyeteeth. Just once she wished they’d ask about her ex-fiancé and the broken engagement. Instead, her parents never brought it up, they only alluded to it. Anger writhed through her like a fire-breathing dragon. Were they so ashamed that she’d cancelled the big Christmas affair that they’re pretending it never happened? “Did you open a new bottle of brandy for Mam’s fruit cake?”

And her misery celebration tipple. She’d imbibed that first night back. And the one after that, and the next one until she’d consumed the whole bottle. She repeated the celebration last year. She’d planned to skip this year, but maybe she should rethink it. Especially, since she couldn’t scream or break things. Training to be a lady had only a little to do with it. Her pride wouldn’t let her.

“Yes.” He hooked his eyeglass frame around his ears and stared over her shoulder. “Why don’t we bring the groceries into the kitchen?”

The kitchen, where the distraction was? She’d skip that excitement, thank you. “I gave them keys to three rooms, Da. One of which I’d stripped last night and need to make up before our guests retire for the evening.”

With the staff gone for the winter, she had plenty of busy work to make certain she fell into bed every night too exhausted to even dream. Dreams were useless anyway.

His shoulders bowed. “Most of the sheets are hanging in the ballroom.” He jerked his chin toward the doors opposite the fireplace. “I’ve stoked the furnace so they should be dry by now.”

Guilt pinched her insides. He looked so defeated. Placing her hand on his arm, she rose on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “I’m well, Da.”

“So you keep saying, Daughter.” He kissed her back before catching her eye. “But your smiles are as brittle as the ice in the harbor.”

And she felt as much as the ice did. Nothing. Just the way she liked it. She patted his hand. “I’ll be in to dinner just as soon as I finished making the skipper’s bed.”

That flicker of heat turned into a tiny flame. Turning on her heel, she strode toward the ballroom. Maybe if she walked fast enough, she could blow it out. She liked her life just the way it was. Just because she agreed to be wooed by Hans Lubeck, didn’t mean she’d be caught

Or that he’d want to catch her.

The brass knob was warm under her palm. Twisting it, she shoved open the door. It swung toward the wall, and she lurched forward to catch it. Any display of temper would upset her parents. After all, they sent her to that finishing school to turn her into a lady. Ladies didn’t get angry. Public humiliation had taught her that.

Steam hissed through the pipes. Da must have opened the valves for upstairs. Good, she could work in a warm room. White sheets hung in rectangles along the ropes Da had strung from the picture rails. The scent soap and bluing swirled around her as she crossed to the front of the room. Four irons heated on the radiator, and a pail of water sat on the board spanning two wooden workhorses.

She paused by a stack of pressed and folded sheets before selecting two, then added a matching towel to her pile. On her way out of the room, she tugged two pillowcases from the line. Slightly wrinkled from being put through the wringer, they would have to do. Besides, she wouldn’t want the skipper thinking she’d gone to any trouble for him.

Escaping through the side door, she turned left heading toward the main stairs.

You’re avoiding the skipper.

This way is faster. She lied. Hooking her hand on the bannister, she swung around and mounted the stairs. Her heels tapped loudly on the bare steps. At the top of the stairs, the furled runner leaned against the wall, prepared to be taken to the coat closet for storage. Electric lights blazed in the wall sconces along the walls. Despite a large area rug hanging over the double doors leading to the new guest wing, a frigid wind whistled around the woven material.

Lenore shivered. Mayhap she and Da should hang another rug on the other side to better keep out the cold. She blew warm air into her palm. The smell of stewing lamb and herbs grew stronger as she neared the end of the hall. She paused. Voices drifted up the servants’ staircase. Good, their company was still below stairs. Gliding on tiptoes, she hurried to the second door near the end.

Masculine laughter echoed in the stairwell.

Hans Lubeck wasn’t the only man at tonight’s dinner. Perhaps, she should choose a seat near his old uncle. She set her hand on the glass knob and turned it. The door eased open on silent hinges, and she stepped inside.

Hans stood across from her. A clean blue shirt and navy sweater draped the wrought-iron footboard. Water glistened like diamonds in the blond hair spanning his broad chest. His bare chest.

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A Gift From St. Nick, Chapter 2

AGiftfromStNickChapter Two

No. No? Lenore Kerrigan watched Hans Lubeck’s broad shoulders disappear into the forest of freight. How could he say no? Her students were counting on her. She squared her narrow shoulders. She would ensure her students’ Christmas gifts to the children of Belgium were loaded onto that ship currently docked in Duluth.

Her skin prickled with awareness. From the corner of her eye, Lenore spied two men in coarse clothing standing on the dock. Speculation glinted in their pale blue eyes before they turned to face each other.

Guttural German scratched her ears. Lenore had no doubt they spoke about her. Everyone did. At least, it wasn’t as bad as when she’d first returned two years ago from Miss Pinkham’s Finishing School in Boston. Then the town’s gossip had picked over her character, her eccentricities, and fancy education. Her broken engagement had kept tongues wagging the winter of 1912.

And most of 1913.

If she was ever romantically linked with a man, the gossips would resurrect the scandal.

If she’d learned anything at Miss Pinkham’s, it was to make sure no one would see the pain they caused. No one would suspect the truth. She raised her chin and smiled. The mask settled easily over her face now, although the falseness of it still itched. At least, Père Flambeaux no longer said she had to confess it. Nodding to the deckhands, she turned and re-entered the enclosed deck. She wasn’t finished with Hans Lubeck.

A gull squawked its approval. Waves lapped at the metal hull, gently rocking the boat. The brisk fall wind whistled through and open window, pushing her coat against her body. Her heels clicked on the wooden deck as she searched for him.

Captain Lubeck paused by the ladder to the engine room.

Good. She hoped the sound of her footfalls telegraphed her determination. She clenched and unclenched her gloved hands. “Cap—er, Skipper Lubeck. A word, if you please.”

Shoulders drooping, he stared at the ceiling but didn’t turn.

It was better this way. Whenever his sapphire eyes looked at her, her insides quivered like uncooked pudding. “I believe there may be some misunderstanding.”

He turned slowly and stared at her. His attention stuck on her face. Underneath his ax-blade nose, his lips thinned. He clenched his jaw and the cleft in his chin wiggled.

Not every face could wear a cleft with such panache. Then again, not all men had such a square jaw. Warmth unfurled inside her. She tried to ignore it, but heat invaded her limbs. Sweet Mary, mother of God. Perhaps, she was coming down with an illness. She pressed her glove to her cheek. The leather cooled her skin.

He quirked one brown eyebrow. “Yes, Miss Kerrigan?”

What had she been about to say? Oh, yes. She cleared her throat. “When last I spoke with your uncle, he assured me that ferrying the crate to Duluth would not be a problem. “

There. She’d said it. Unfortunately, her voice trembled a bit at the end. Hopefully, he would chalk that up to the cold weather.

Hans raked his fingers through his hair. The short chocolate curls sprang back in place as he rubbed the back of his neck. “He didn’t mention any such cargo to me.”

“But I thought…”

His second eyebrow joined the first high on his forehead. “You thought what precisely?”

When she’d spied his boat in the harbor, she’d known it was divine providence. Especially since she’d forgotten to package the toys up last Wednesday for the normal mail run. But if he hadn’t stopped for her crate, why had he docked?

A clang and bark of German echoed around the lower deck.

Oh. Oh! She set her hand against her mouth. How could she be so silly?

She waved away her thoughts. Instead of confessing her selfishness, she distracted him with the obvious. “Your ship is broken, and this is an emergency stop.”

For some reason, the knowledge stoked the fire in her belly. She refused to tease the reasoning from her thoughts.

“If the repairs work, we won’t be in port long. And, I’m afraid, I’m not sailing to Duluth, but to Hamilton, Ontario.” He removed his hand from his nape and rested it on a crate. Long, blunt fingers covered the packing label. A callus raised a bump on the middle finger of his left hand.

He had nice hands. A working man’s hands, not like Dixon’s. She yanked her ex-finance’s name from her thoughts and tossed it aside. Rising on tiptoe, she leaned to the side. His shoulders were so wide, she took a step to see around him.

Two men had removed a long black pipe and were currently screwing several smaller ones in its place. “I don’t think that will work.”

Hans sighed and glanced back at the engine room.

Her insides twinged. She knew what it was like to have things not work despite her best efforts. She placed her hand on his forearm. Hard muscle contracted under her leather gloves. “Perhaps our blacksmith could fix the pipe. Mr. Benjamin is extremely talented.”

Hans stared at her hand.

Tingles raced up her arm. Yanking it back, she clasped her hands behind her back. She must be coming down with something. She hoped it wasn’t catching.

Lines plowing his forehead, he massaged the area she’d touched. “I had thought of that, but the pipes are under pressure and not every farrier could work the metal just so.”

She knew that. Obviously, he was attempting to tell her to mind her own business. Except ladies weren’t supposed to be in business, or have a thought in their heads beyond flower arranging, dinner parties, and fashions. She’d turned herself into such a pattern card of respectability once.

She would not do so again.

“It wouldn’t hurt to try.” She clamped her mouth shut. She had been speaking to him, not to herself. If a man couldn’t accept her for who she was, then she didn’t want him.

No. She didn’t want a man.

She liked her life just as she’d arranged it. Between her days at the school and her evenings and weekends working in her parents’ hotel, she filled her time with purpose and meaningful activities.

Hans drummed his fingers on the crate. “Thank you for the idea, Miss Kerrigan, but if you have nothing else to add, I have work to do.”

Mortification settled deep in her belly. Sweet Mary, but he was attempting to get rid of her. Did he think she’d developed tender feelings toward him, like half the outsiders did? She forced her arms to her sides. “My apologies for keeping you.”

Turning on her heel, she marched down the aisle between the neatly arranged cargo. She hadn’t been on board for a social call, but business. And even if she hadn’t swore off men, Hans Lubeck would be the last man on earth she’d want to woo her. And if he ever implied otherwise, she’d put him firmly but politely in his place.

Her heart was closed to romance. Forever.


A brisk wind blew Lenore away from the harbor. Men tipped their hat to her when she passed the customs house. The boats of the United States Revenue Service lay upside down on the ramp.

Keeping her smile firmly in place, she nodded to the workers but didn’t stop to chat as she had in the past. Instead she turned onto Crescent Street, following it along the curve of the harbor.

Two and three-story wooden buildings towered over the wide dirt road. The breeze hummed along the telephone and electric lines swaying between tee-shaped wooden poles. Canvas awning lay curled against business facades, waiting for May and the tourist season. Bright-colored shutters protected the windows of the island’s closed hotels.

With the tourist season over, the city was nearly deserted. The dark windows of the curiosity shoppes, the art gallery, the opera house, and the confectionaries stared back at the empty street. The scent of pine drifted along the wooden boardwalk.

Despite the sting of cold, Lenore kept her chin up. She had no reson to be ashamed. The crate would be shipped out next week. There would be other boats to Belgium. She didn’t need Hans Lubeck.

From inside the fudge shop on her left, someone rapped on the window. Mr. Blodgett invited her inside with a wave of his butter-covered hand. Behind the gold stenciled letters, he dropped pecans into the chocolatey goo on the marble surface.

She waved back and pointed down the street, toward her parents’ hotel. She didn’t wish to speak to anyone. They would ask about the toys. She couldn’t admit to another failure.

Mr. Blodgett’s round tummy jiggled under his red-and-white striped apron. The white chef’s hat listed over his cocoa-colored hair when he leaned forward and raised a cube of fudge.

Her stomach growled. Instead of slowing, she tapped the watch pinned to  her jacket and soldiered on. She would get her candy at Christmas like the rest of the island, not before. She hadn’t earned it. Yet.

Mr. Blodgett popped the piece in his mouth and chewed. Arm muscles wiggled flab as he worked the nuts into the fudge before it hardened.

Passing the bakery, she waved to the Bakers and ignored their invitations inside as well. She wanted to be alone. As usual, her encounter with Hans Lubeck unsettled her. A good book would take her mind off him. She had two or three stacked on the nightstand in her room, and she hadn’t even cracked the spines.

The door to the Stephens and Sons Dry Good and Curiosity Emporium burst open. Her best friend, Phoebe Stephens, stumbled onto the sidewalk and grabbed her gloved hands, dragging her inside. “Caught you.”

Lenore’s mask slipped and her smile turned genuine. Forget her book. She was tired of being alone. What she needed a real friend to take her mind off things. Stepping inside, she filled her lungs with the aroma of starched fabrics, coffee beans, and tobacco.

Canned and dry goods filled the shelves along the walls, reaching all the way to the pineapples on the pressed tin ceiling. One of the three rows in the center of the store remained empty, but crates near its base indicated it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Bolts of lightweight fabrics and assorted notions occupied one end. Hair ribbons, jacks, baseballs, and unpainted toy soldiers filled baskets surrounded in evergreens.

Lenore recognized some of them as the newer version of the collection for the Belgian children. Her face muscles stiffened. She mustn’t fail them.

Phoebe tilted her head to the right. A lock of black hair escaped her coronet of braids, to dangle nearly to her waist. “What’s wrong?”

Lenore opened her mouth but no words came out. What could she say? What couldn’t she say to her best friend? But to relate her troubles would bring suffering to Phoebe’s life. Newly wed to the love of her life, Phoebe deserved her happiness. Lenore’s teeth clicked together.

Obsidian eyes flashing, Phoebe set her tan hands on her hips. “I will tease the truth from you one way or another.”

And she would, too. Lenore had never been able to keep any secret from her friend. “I—”

“Phee, my love.” Gabriel Stephens emerged from the stockroom. Golden haired and blue eyed, he kept his attention focused on his new bride.

Phoebe glowed in his presence.

Lenore’s stomach cramped. She took a calming breath. They deserved their happiness; she was wrong to be jealous. And yet…

Phoebe squeezed Lenore’s hand. “Yes, Gabe, you may now unpack the crates.”

“Truly?” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he rushed around the counter to the opening.

“Truly, but first say hello to Lenore.”

Gabe blinked then shifted his attention to her. “Hello, Len. You’re looking well.”

For all the enthusiasm in his statement, Lenore might as well have been a doormat. Why couldn’t she have found a man with eyes only for her? “Your time in Europe did wonders for your charm, Gabe.”

He rolled his eyes, before bussing her cheek in a brotherly kiss. “Considering you always take Phee away from me, you’re lucky I didn’t throw a frog at you.”

He wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and pulled her against him.

Lenore swallowed the bitterness flooding her mouth. These were her childhood friends. “Where would you find a frog in winter?”

“And how would you catch it?” Phoebe rested her cheek against his chest.

He winked down at her. “I know someone who is mighty talented at catching frogs.”

“Gabriel, I—” His mother entered the display area from the back room, holding a ledger in one hand and a pen in the other. “Oh, Lenore. I didn’t see you there.” The petite woman surveyed her from white fur cap to black buckled shoes.

Lenore braced herself for the criticism. “Mrs. Stephens, I see Gabe is teaching you how to balance the books.”

Mrs. Stephens nodded. “It is quite fun, dear. And speaking of fun, you look quite fetching in your new coat and hat. I knew you would when your mother ordered it.”

“T—thank you.” Her son’s marriage had mellowed the woman. Lenore stood a little straighter. “I wasn’t expecting such an extravagant birthday present.”

But she did love it. She smoothed the fur cuffs.

“It’s not every day a woman turns twenty-one.” Mrs. Stephens removed a piece of fuzz from the blue wool sleeve before picking up Lenore’s hand. “Are these the gloves your brother picked up for you in London?”

“Yes.” Lenore exhaled as the older woman skirted the issue of her age and moved onto the topic everyone talked about: the European War. “Mr. Hoover is allowing my brother, Jacob, to work for the Commission for Belgian Relief.”

Although, her left out more details than he mentioned. Whatever he continued to see filled the white spaces with unmentionable horror. She hoped he didn’t become sick from the strain. She hoped the packages she sent cheered him as well as the children.

Mrs. Stephens chewed on the end of her pen. “He’s still mentioned during church services, as are all the suffering people.”

Phoebe patted her husband’s chest before straightening. “Your mother’s order is ready, Len. Why don’t I help you carry it home?”

Gabe shifted, angling his body toward the wooden box on the counter. “I’ll get it.”

“Gabriel.” His mother poked him on the shoulder. “You are with Phoebe twenty-three hours a day. Let her spend time alone with her friend.”

His lips parted in shock.

Rising on tiptoe, Phoebe kissed him on the lips. “Lenore has a secret she’s trying not to tell me. I’ll be back before my grandmother arrives for tea.”

His hands curled into fists at his sides and his breathing quickened.

Lenore hugged herself. If they had been alone, that kiss would not have been so chaste. Dixon had never given her more than a peck on the cheek. At the time, she’d foolishly thought it gentlemanly of him.

Shaking out his fingers, Gabe crossed to the counter and lifted the box. “It’s heavy.”

Phoebe eased her fingers under his, bearing part of the weight. “Then I’ll carry one side and Lenore the other.”

He jerked his head once in acknowledgement.

“Come along, Gabriel.” Mrs. Stephens pointed her pen toward the storeroom. “The bell will ring if any customers arrive while you explain how the credit accounts are entered.”

Lenore relieved him of the rest of the box’s weight. “I promise I won’t keep Phoebe long.”

Gabe pulled his watch from his vest pocket and glanced at the glass face. “One hour and fourteen minutes until tea.”

“I won’t be late.” Phoebe blew him a kiss as she walked beside Lenore.

Lenore blew at the bit of fuzz hanging from her hat. With Phoebe close, the past couldn’t creep in through the silence.

The shadows stretched across the street when they reached the boardwalk. Night came early during the winter months. Already, the North Star twinkled in the dove-gray sky, ready to guide all sailors home. An image of Hans Lubeck and his cleft chin wavered in her mind’s eyes. She banished it.

Phoebe nudged the box. “I’m sorry.”

It bumped against Lenore’s hip. Her thoughts cleared. “Sorry? For what?”

“Because seeing Gabe and I together upsets you. Especially this time of year.” Phoebe raised her hand before Lenore could speak. “I know Dixon Cadbridge hurt you, Len.”

“Stockbridge. The Third.” Her fiancé had always been proud that his parents had lacked the imagination to give him a different name. Not that she cared. It had been two years to the day.

Shrugging off the correction, Phoebe stepped off the boardwalk and into the street. “But I know there’s a great love out there waiting for you. I know you can find someone who will look at you the way Gabe looks at me.”

Lenore’s nails dug into the wood box through her gloves. “I’m happy with my life just the way it is.”

“Liar. You want to be loved. Who doesn’t?”

Wanting it and receiving it were two different things. Lenore shivered. “What if the man who will love me is fighting in Europe and is killed?”

“What if he’s someone you’ve already met, and you refuse to see it?” Phoebe pinched her jacket closed with her free hand.

“That’s highly unlikely.” She’d grown up with practically everyone on the island. They were an extension of her family, not husband material. Most of the men couldn’t even talk to her without stammering. She couldn’t imagine spending the winters with a man who blushed every time he uttered a syllable.

Hans Lubeck hadn’t blushed.

Well, maybe a little. But she had been teasing him about his mopping skills. And he had formed whole sentences in her presence without tripping over his tongue. But he didn’t approve of women working in businesses, even family businesses. And he and his crew were a tight clan.

Just like Dixon’s Beacon Hill cronies in Boston.

Never again.

Adjusting her hold so she could lead, Phoebe climbed the stoop of the wraparound porch of the Ojibwa Hotel. “I dare you to be nice to the first man who isn’t from the island you meet tonight.”

Dare her? They were hardly children. “I’m not twelve anymore.”

“Then you’re yellow for turning me down.” Phoebe wrenched open the white front door.

“I’m no coward.” Single-file, Lenore followed her inside.

The marble floor was slick underfoot. White cloths draped the chairs and tables in the open lobby, but a fire crackled in the stone fireplace on the right. No one stood behind the polished walnut desk to welcome them. No decorations adorned the carved bannister leading to the upper floors. The summer staff had long since fled to their upper peninsula homes. The locals had gone home to prepare for the Thanksgiving festivities in two days.

At least, her work at the school kept the silence at bay.

“Not every man will use you the way Dixon Stinkyford did.”

“That’s because I won’t let one.” Dixon and his friends had created endless opportunities for her to embarrass herself in front of his parents and family. And she’d foolishly risen to the occasion at his urging. She hadn’t believed half of what she’d said, but he’d convinced her against her better judgment. She changed to suit him, like she’d been taught at Miss Pinkham’s school.

“I’m bringing you a chicken feather tomorrow.” With a heave, Phoebe set her end of the box on the counter. “Because that’s what you are. A chicken.”

Lenore levered her side of the grocery box into place. Anger roiled through her. She jerked off her gloves and slapped them on the counter. “What do you know about risks? You were engaged to Gabe at nine and loved him since First Grade.”

Phoebe had it easy. She didn’t know what it was like to not fit in, to try so desperately to belong, she’d practically sold her soul or had her head turned by the first boy she’d met. Tears swam in Lenore’s vision. Why couldn’t she be that lucky?

“I gave Gabe his ring back two days before we married.” Phoebe wrapped her arm around Lenore’s shoulders.

“But you loved him.” Lenore blinked. How could this have happened? Phoebe and Gabe’s fairytale ending was the one thing that gave her hope.

“I did. I do.” Phoebe’s pin plopped to the floor as her braid uncoiled from around her head, and she trembled. “But he wouldn’t let me help him. He kept trying to wrap me in cotton wool to protect me. He still does. But his mother and I are working on him.”

Lenore hugged her friend. She’d been willing to give up Gabe? How had she found the courage to risk so much? How could Lenore do any less? “I won’t change who I am for any man.”

“Nor should you, but there’s happiness in most compromises.” Releasing her, Phoebe tugged a handkerchief from her sleeve and patted her wet cheeks.

“If I do this and nothing comes of it, you won’t dare me again, will you?” Lenore dug her hands in her pockets for her handkerchief.

“Not as long as you’re happy. Besides, I don’t want Dixon Strudlebridge to think he’s so wonderful you didn’t get over him like that.” Phoebe snapped her fingers.

Lenore blew her nose. If Dixon ever learned she was still unmarried, he would think she was pining for him. The lout. She tugged on her brass coat buttons. “Dare accepted. I’ll be nice and open to being wooed by the first man to walk through the front door. Provided he isn’t an islander and is of the appropriate age.”

She still had some standards.

Phoebe thrust out her hand. “Deal.”

Lenore pumped her hand once. “Of course, you know there probably won’t be a stranger on the island until May.”

The door knob rattled.

Her heart thumped in her chest. No. It couldn’t be. It had to be the wind. It had better be the wind.

The brass knob turned. The door creaked open.

Hans Lubeck doffed his hat as he walked into the lobby.


amazon UK

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Friday Funny—Words to Remember

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