Unmask My Heart—A Halloween Romance, Chapter 2

book3-1 copyChapter Two

Gabriel Stephens stared at the open door of his father’s general store. A gust of cold air rang the bell over the threshold. Visible through the plate-glass window, Phoebe sailed down the boardwalk. He’d give his eyeteeth to know what had just happened. One minute he’d been trying to focus on reading the words on the scrap of paper in front of him while his eyeballs kept darting to the beautiful Phoebe Monpetit.

And then she was gone.

Sweat greased his palms. She really had been here. He hadn’t dreamed her up. He couldn’t let her go. Not yet. Not now. Crumpling the paper in his fist, he sprinted after her. His footfalls pounded the wooden floor. Dust stirred in his wake. Catching the jamb with his palm, he executed a neat turn and raced up the boardwalk. “Phoebe! Phoebe!”

Pausing, she glanced over her shoulder. The brisk wind shelved red kisses in her wide cheekbones. Jet black hair showcased the olive tones in her skin. Ebony eyebrows arched delicately over onyx eyes. She bit her full bottom lip and turned away.

Air left his lungs in a whoosh. She wouldn’t ignore him, would she?  Please, don’t ignore me.

Her shoulders slumped under the severe cut of her green woolen coat. Red mittened hands fluttered around her lush hips before landing on them. Very slowly, she spun and faced him. Her smile was as brittle as an icicle. “Did I forget something?”

Gabe slowed so he didn’t close the twenty yards between them too quickly. What was he supposed to say? How was he to get her to stay? How could he chase that loneliness from her eyes?

She tilted her head to the side. Her smile wavered then fell.

Guilt was a horse-hair shirt irritating his skin. He’d put those barricades in her expression. Breaking promises had consequences. He’d learned that from his parents’ contentious marriage. And he’d broken a doozy to Phoebe, all to escape the fighting in his home.

He’d abandoned her after vowing never to leave.

Just like everyone else in her life.

He stopped two paces in front of her and rubbed his arms through his jacket. “Brrr. I’d forgotten how cold life can be when the wind comes off the Great Lakes.”

“We live on an island. The wind can only come from Lake Huron.”

Wonderful! Now she would think he was stupid as well as untrustworthy. And how was he going to change that? By convincing her to spend time with him and earning back her trust. He didn’t know which would be the harder task. He swallowed the lump in his throat. He had to start somewhere. But where? Paper rasped against his sleeve. Her list of required supplies. That’s it. The store! God truly did watch over fools. “I was hoping you would do me a very big favor.”

Stepping back, she frowned. “What kind of favor?”

“I need to get the store restocked.” He inched toward her. Slowly. Heaven help him if she balked and fled. He would never get her back then. She knew every nook and cranny of the island. She could hide from him for years. He had to get her to stay. His heart hammered against his ribs. “We both know Mother won’t apologize to Mr. Lubeck for at least another month. I’m all alone.”

He clamped his lips together, knowing the thought of others being lonely was one of her weaknesses.

She shook her head. A lock of dark hair swept over her cheek before coming to a stop on her shoulder. The straight black tress ended below her waist. “I’m sure you can find someone—”

Her refusal punched him in the gut. He didn’t want anyone but her. Needed her at his side. He’d seen too much in Europe. And knew that she, and only she, could fill the pit hollowing him out.

And he could undo some of the damage his selfishness had done.

“Please.” He held out his bare hand in supplication. Prayers chased each other inside his head. He’d promise anything. Do anything to keep her.

She sighed and trudged toward him. “I can help today and tomorrow, but I do have my work at the school.”

Her lips contorted as if she’d tasted something bitter.

He had an inkling he had something to do with it, but couldn’t puzzle out the cause. He had yet to reach the age when he understood women or their tender feelings. “Since you’re helping me out in my hour of need, I will help you clean the school for the next two weeks.”

She blinked. “You’re willing to clean the school?”

“Why not?” Slipping his hand around hers, he wrapped his fingers around her palm. Her touch was just the right amount of heat. He had an inkling nearly everything about her was just the right amount. “I remember we used to stay after school many times from all the antics you had Jacob, Lenore, and I do during recess.”

Her lips thawed into a real smile.

His insides simmered. Oh, boy. He might be in a bit of trouble.

“If we stand here holding hands much longer, the townsfolk will talk.” She squeezed his hand.

For a moment, he almost dared her to let the townspeople talk. He wanted everyone to match them. But what if she didn’t? Jacob had said his sister, Lenore, and Phoebe had busy social calendars. Perhaps, Phoebe had a beau. Gabe glanced up and down the street. If she did have a suitor, he wasn’t very attentive.

“Gabe?”

“Yes. Absolutely.” He squared his shoulders and escorted her to the store.

Although the top of her head barely reached his chin, she matched him stride for stride.

He walked a little taller. Curtains stirred in the windows of the stores that remained open for the islanders. If Phoebe did have a suitor, he would rue the day he took her for granted. Gabe would make certain of it. He paused to allow her to precede him inside then pulled the door shut.

Hot water gurgled in the radiators. The overhead electric lamps buzzed.

Gabe nearly gagged on the heavy scent of dry goods. Coffee, in particular, always recalled his mother’s bitter recriminations, his father’s ineffective apologies, and the waves of anger and helplessness.

Stopping in an open space, Phoebe spread her arms wide, turned her face up to the lights and spun slowly in a circle. “I love the smell of this store.”

He blinked. Never, ever would he have expected to hear those words from her. They’d spent most of their summers in her grandmother’s teepee on the wooded part of their farm. “But you love the Outdoors.”

Even today, she smelled of cedar and pine.

“I love the indoors, too.” Smiling, she stopped her spinning. She bit the tip of her red mitten and pulled it off, then repeated the technique with the other. Her skin was the color of strong English tea with lots of milk.

He loved that drink.

Stuffing her mittens in her pocket, she slid the hand-carved wooden buttons free. Each rosette bobbed as the coat parted, revealing her green woolen dress underneath. “And I love the smell of this shop, in particular.”

“Why?” His stomach turned at the thought of running the store.

“Because of all the items from exotic locales.” She shrugged off her coat. Victorian puffed sleeves ballooned around her narrow shoulders. A cameo of a fish carved into a pearlescent shell clung to her high collar. The generous folds of her skirt covered her scuffed boots.

His mouth dried as he surveyed her middle.

The tailored jacket emphasized her narrow waist, full bosom, and rounded hips. The pictures she’d sent in her letters to him hadn’t done her justice. Neither had his imagination or his dreams of her.

She snapped her fingers. “Gabe? Are you listening to me?”

He shook off his inappropriate thoughts. Phoebe was a lady and his friend. He would treat her as such. “Sorry, I’d slipped away for a moment.”

She quickly shucked her jacket and laid it atop her coat on an empty display area. Then she unbuttoned the tight sleeves around her forearms. Veins wrote in delicate blue script across her pale wrists. “And I won’t ask you about your thoughts.”

“I hope not!” His body temperature soared. He forced cool air in and out of his lungs. She wasn’t baring anything current fashions didn’t already show. But this was different. She was different. He glanced behind him. Through the glass windows, he scanned the boardwalk. Empty. Perhaps he should lock them safely inside so no one else could see her exposed skin.

“I stopped reading the newspapers because news of the war was so horrible. I can’t imagine what it had been like to be there.”

War. She’d been talking about the war. Relief effervesced inside him.

She neatly folded the snowy linen to her elbows.

He licked his dry lips. Her skin looked like silk. Would it feel as soft? Would it…

“How do you wish to proceed?”

He watched her full lips move, but his ears seemed to have stopped working.

“Gabe?” She tapped her toe. “How do you wish to proceed?”

He planted himself back in the business sphere. A field he’d studied at Harvard. He knew these answers. “I thought we would open the closest crates, put the contents on the shelves, then after everything is unpacked, I’ll fulfill the orders I have waiting.”

“No.”

“No?” He set his fists on his hips. He knew what he was doing. He’d gone to school just to learn how to run and expand the family business.

“No.” She combed the free lock of ebony hair from her shoulder, coiled it into a tight knot, and secured it on her coronet of braids with a pin. “You will find all the orders that need filling, then starting in the storeroom in the back, you’ll begin filling them all at once by using the empty shelves.”

Gabe eyed the narrow passage between the crates of goods waiting to be stocked. He couldn’t even see the storeroom. “It would be easier to work from the front to the back.”

“I imagine it would.” She slipped between an empty barrel for flour and one for oats, then ducked under the dusty counter. “But the older stock is in the back and should be moved first. Just like your father had you move the older cans to the front when you stocked the shelves.”

For a moment, he pictured his father standing beside the rolling ladder handing Gabe shiny cans of peas. He’d been seven and working for a brand new pocket knife. “How did you know?”

He hadn’t worked in the store for over a decade.

“You’re father told me.” She removed a dusty apron from the peg on the wall and ducked under the strap. “He always smiled when he spoke of them. I was a poor summer substitute for you. But he was proud that you had made so many friends, who invited you to spend your vacations with them.”

Gabe’s fingernails dug into his palms. His dad had been proud of him? He never knew. And he didn’t have many friends other than Jacob Kerrigan. Gabe had been desperate not to come home. Ironically, he’d seen the trip to Europe as his last enjoyment of peace before returning. He’d no sooner set foot on the continent when the ArchDuke had been assassinated. God must have a sense of humor.

Her eyes filled with concern, but she didn’t say a word. Instead, she reached under the counter and pulled out a tin of wood polish, a thick feather duster, and a cotton cloth. The tin and cloth fit into her apron pocket. The duster was secured in her tied apron strings. “I’ll start dusting the shelves and set the old cans on the counter for you to fill the orders. Work crate by crate, and bring the leftovers to me to stock.”

He nodded and shrugged out of his jacket. “My father must have taught you a lot about the business during those summers.”

“He was lonely.” Metal rattled when she dragged the rolling ladder to the shelf closest to the window.

Gabe didn’t think he was the only one. “I’m sorry.”

Turning her back to him, she climbed to the highest shelf. She hooked an elbow around the rail, then used her free hand to drop the cans to a lower shelf.

She wasn’t going to acknowledge his apology. He wasn’t going to let it go. “I promised I wouldn’t leave you alone, but I did. Worse, I convinced Jacob to enroll in the school with me.”

Depriving her of two friends. He was a cad.

She uncapped the tin and sniffed it. “Hmmm, lilacs. Did you know Mr. Lubeck gave me his recipe for furniture wax, but mine never smelled as wonderful as his.”

Smooth, experienced movements made short work of the cobwebs and dust of the top two shelves.

He crossed his arms over his chest.

Phoebe slapped at a cobweb. “We were children. I didn’t blame you.”

She should. His father had given him the opportunity to return after that first year. Two weeks had been his limit. Not even Phoebe could keep him here. The silence at school had been too seductive. Now it was a rusty blade in a new razor. The cuts it left were deep.

She relocated the cans on the next shelves to lower ones.

Gabe quickly closed the distance between them. Her skirt brushed his shoulder as he shifted the cans to the countertop. Over the scent of lilacs, he breathed in the woodsy fragrance of her.

“You are supposed to be working on those orders.” One leg stuck out behind her, providing balance as she scrubbed the far corners. “People will be stopping in to see you, and you could use the opportunity to make a few sales.”

He eyed the trim ankle, the shapely curve of her calf, all encased in a black stocking. Perhaps, he should flee temptation. “I’ll do that.”

Shoving his shaking hands in his pockets, he strode to the back room. He had to earn back her trust. Without trust, he couldn’t act on this thing between them. And, by golly, there was something between them.

Something worth fighting for.

Something he intended to win and protect. For as long as they both lived.

Only on amazon

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Friday Funny—Pregnant Lady

 ACTUAL AUSTRALIAN COURT DOCKET 12659 —

A lady about 8 months pregnant got on a bus.
She noticed the man opposite her was smiling at her.

She immediately moved to another seat.

This time the smile turned into a grin, so she moved again.

The man seemed more amused.
When on the fourth move, the man burst out laughing,
She complained to the driver and he had the man arrested.
The case came up in court.
The judge asked the man (about 20 years old) What he had to say for himself.
 The man replied, ‘Well your Honour, it was like this:
When the lady got on the bus, I couldn’t help but notice her condition. She sat down under a sign that said, ‘The Double Mint Twins are coming’ and I grinned.
Then she moved and sat under a sign that said, ‘Logan’s Liniment will reduce the swelling,’ and I had to smile.
Then she placed herself under a deodorant sign that said,
‘William’s Big Stick Did the Trick,’ and I could hardly contain myself.
 But, Your Honour, when she moved the fourth time And sat under a sign that said, ‘Goodyear Rubber could have prevented this Accident!’
… I just lost it.’
 ‘CASE DISMISSED!!’
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Guest Post: Is Amazon a Threat to our First Amendment rights? (@Suzdemello @MFRW_ORG #ellorascave #notchilled)

Amazon is known for its ruthless business practices—it doesn’t merely squeeze competition, it strangles it until it dies.

(http://www.salon.com/2014/09/27/4_ways_amazons_ruthless_practices_are_crushing_local_economies_partner/)

 

Amazon currently sells 40% of all new books sold in the USA. Their percentage of the market in ebooks is even larger—perhaps 66% according to the above-cited Salon.com article.

Amazon is not only a book seller, but a publisher, and it favors its own imprints and minimizes the ability for readers to find its competitors. The most famous case on point is that of Hachette. Check this URL for Stephen Colbert’s clips on the issue: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/search?keywords=Hachette

And the below is quoted from a letter sent by a group of authors to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and its BOD:

About six months ago…Amazon began sanctioning Hachette authors’ books. These sanctions included refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books.

These sanctions have driven down Hachette authors’ sales at Amazon.com by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent. These sales drops are occurring across the board: in hardcovers, paperbacks, and e-books. (http://www.authorsunited.net/)

Well-known is Amazon’s dislike of sexy covers, adult-oriented books and erotica; it seems to especially target purveyors of steamy books. Though Amazon touts its independent publishing program as a boon for writers, many indie published authors, especially in erotic romance, complain that Amazon’s search engine has made it difficult if not impossible for readers to find their books. The Kindle Unlimited program has cut further into their book revenues. Ellora’s Cave, one of the most prominent publishers of steamy and erotic romance on the web, has downsized radically, citing a massive drop in Amazon sales of its books as the reason.

The loyalty of many customers to Amazon is misplaced. For example, Amazon often does not feature the best online price for a book or other item. A couple of cases in point:

On 30 Sept, the price of one of my shorties, Highland Vampire, on Amazon was $2.51. The price at Harlequin’s site was $2.39.

Amazon blog HV1 Amazon blog HV2

 

 

 

 

Being the daughter of Brits, I’m a tea drinker and lately have been into using loose teas (they really do make a better cuppa). Initially I had been purchasing from Amazon—isn’t that the place we’ve all become accustomed to checking first? Then I went to the Twinings Tea site and found that I’d been grotesquely overpaying.  My fave Darjeeling at Amazon costs $8.24 and it’s an “add-on item,” which is some sort of irritating practice at Amazon—I couldn’t get the tea without buying other stuff, and I couldn’t find a work-around for that bit of Amazonian weirdness.

Amazon tea 1

The same tea is almost half the price–$4.49—at Twinings.

Amazon blog tea 2

Like many, I have come to rely on Amazon for so much! I listen to music on my Amazon music player on both laptop and cellphone, and download music from Amazon as well. I’m an Amazon affiliate. I also buy books for my Kindle Paperwhite, which I love, from Amazon.

But maybe it’s time to cut the cord. Why should I fund an entity that seeks to exploit me, maybe even put me out of business?

I’ll probably take down my Amazon affiliate ads—that won’t hurt, as they’ve never earned me a penny. I’ve changed my email signature line, which used to direct folks to my Amazon author pages, to instead include my website and blog. Other changes will be harder.

I’m an Ellora’s Cave author. I also have books placed with two other publishers that have disappointed me in myriad ways—see these links:

http://www.harlequinlawsuit.com/  and scroll down to #9 at

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=194729–scroll.

So I want to go indie. But Createspace and KDP are fabulous platforms for self-publishing. How ethical is it, given my concerns, to use those platforms?

And beyond my personal worries, there’s the greater problem. Amazon sells a huge number of books, films, music and other creative and factual works.

Should one entity control so much of what goes into our minds and thoughts?

About the Author:

suz w name venice maskBest-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written seventeen romance novels in several subgenres, including erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.


–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SuzDeMello, and visit her group page at  https://www.facebook.com/redhotauthorscafe

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/suzdemello/

–Goodreads: http://bit.ly/SuzATGoodreads

–Her current blog is http://www.TheVelvetLair.com

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New Release—Unmask my Heart, A Halloween Romance (Chapter 1)

book3-1 copyHer heart can’t give him up. Her head can’t trust him.

Everyone Phoebe Monpetit has ever loved eventually abandoned her. Even Gabriel Stephens, the man she thought she’d marry. For the last twelve years, she’s muddled through alone, cobbling a life together.

Gabriel took the first opportunity to escape his family’s constant fighting and rarely looked back. When war explodes across Europe, he learns what his cowardice has really cost him.

This Halloween, he’ll use every trick he can to win back Phoebe’s heart.

Will she keep her true feelings covered, or will she let Gabe unmask her heart?

Exclusive to amazon

Chapter One

Hope’s Point, Michigan

October 1914

Phoebe Monpetit stumbled onto the boardwalk in front of the bakery. A gust of wind tugged at her woolen coat and a puff of cold air breathed against her high collar. The sky was a robin’s egg blue. Fluffy, white clouds scampered across the horizon. Beyond the row of buildings opposite her, gulls greeted each other in Crescent Harbor. Across from the Ojibwa Hotel, a horse jingled in his harness and nodded in the air.

The wind snapped at the blue awning still running the length of Stephens and Sons Dry Goods and Curiosity Emporium. Dust gathered on the display tables in the rain-spotted windows. Phoebe frowned at the white threads dangling from the tear in the canvas and the empty shelves inside. Where the dirt street met the boardwalk, remnants of last night’s snowfall gathered like yesterday’s forgotten newspaper.

Hanging the basket of empty milk bottles on the crook of her right arm, she rested her hand on the grimy brass door handle.

The sign in the window of Stephens’s Emporium was turned to open. Lights blazed inside. But no one stirred. Was the store even open? It wouldn’t be the first time Mrs. Stephens had forgotten to close up shop since her husband’s death.

And he hadn’t returned from his grand tour of Europe.

But Gabriel Stephens was expected back any day, and tomorrow she might encounter him. She wasn’t ready. She plucked at her out-of-date clothing. Not yet. She wanted to look her best when they met, in case his time on the continent had made him rethink his promises of love. Taking a deep breath, she wrenched open the door.

Bells tinkled above her head and rattled around the interior.

A dust bunny rolled across the dull wooden planks. A cobweb glistened on a stack of straw hats. A dozen canned goods were all that remained on the wall of shelves along the right. Fingerprints marred the glass case displaying the tarnished silver hair brushes on the left. A few bars of French soap held down the baskets on the bottom of the aisle closest to her. Picked over sundries filled the other aisles. Despite the emptiness, the robust scent of coffee, tobacco, and soap perfumed the air.

Taking the scrap of paper with her needed supplies out of her jacket pocket, she slipped the wooden coat buttons out of their holes. The pile of crates and barrels grew as she approached the counter. Glass crunched underfoot and her eyes burned from the cloying fragrance of roses from a broken perfume bottle. Holding her sleeve to her nose, she filtered the air coming into her lungs.

“Mrs. Stephens?” The thick fabric muffled her words and she rolled her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she uncovered her nose and mouth and tried again. “Mrs. Stephens?”

A pot clanged overhead. Then the steps creaked. In the right corner, the curtains concealing the entrance to the private living quarters on the second story fluttered. Mrs. Stephens was coming.

Phoebe retreated from the shattered perfume bottle to stand by a broken snowshoe, under the sign proclaiming Indian Curiosities. She raised her chin. She wasn’t ashamed of her Ojibwa blood anymore than her French blood. Her family had been on this island since before the United States came into being. Before the Stephens family came to Hope’s Point. And she was here on official school board business.

Hinges creaked. A hand batted at the lemon yellow curtain. Then a head appeared. Short golden curls lay against a perfectly formed skull. Matching brows descended over gray-blue eyes. Firm lips hung under a patrician nose.

Her heart faltered and stumbled to find its usual rhythm. The list of supplies slipped from her numb fingers. The neat rows of printing winked at her as the scrap of paper drifted to the ground.

Gabriel Stephens was back.

No one had warned her. No one. On her milk and egg delivery route this morning, she had seen six people and talked to each of them. Yet they had said nothing. It was a small island! The butcher, the baker, and the blacksmith all lived within a stone’s throw of the pier. They had to have known.

“I apologize for my appearance.” Gabe tucked his arms through the sleeves of his woolen jacket. A fancy white label flashed along the sleek lining before he slipped it over his broad chest.

No homemade clothing for him. Phoebe’s mouth opened and closed. Her knees trembled. She was no longer a child. She no longer had a crush on him. Her heart didn’t seem to be listening.

“Now, what can I do—” Adjusting the lapels of his suit, Gabe looked up. He blinked once. “Phoebe?”

Her reply stuck in her dry throat so she nodded.

A dimple winked in his left cheek. The one he always said came out to play just for her. His gray-blue eyes shifted into sapphire as his gaze traveled from her black hair to her muddy boots. “You are looking more beautiful than I remember.”

Desire fanned the banked coals in her belly. Heat licked at her. This shouldn’t be happening. She couldn’t allow this to be happening. Little Bird had warned her to leave the past behind. Phoebe cleared her throat. She would put an end to this nonsense and give her good sense a severe talking to later. “I see you’ve picked up more fancy learning while you’ve been away.”

His brow furrowed and he tilted his head.

Had he become so accustomed to false words that he no longer recognized the fool’s gold in their sparkle? “I imagine the sophisticated ladies of Europe appreciate your flattery, but you should remember, we islanders are plain spoken folk.”

Red suffused his cheeks. A muscle ticked in his jaw. “I was born on the island.”

“True, but you spent half your life in Boston, vacationed at Newport, and rubbed shoulders with royalty.” Her teasing tasted bitter in her mouth. “You’ve washed the island patois from your speech.”

Phoebe’s teeth clicked together. Had she really just repeated his mother? She couldn’t believe it. It must be the shock of seeing him.

A glint flashed in his eyes as they shifted back to gray. “I’ve acquired a new patois. Part French, part German, and a smattering of…” Leaning forward, he dropped his voice. “Italian.”

“Never say so! Oh, the horror. However shall I understand a word you say?” Tears burned her eyes. That was the boy she’d fallen in love with. Never taking her seriously and teasing her out of her bad moods. But they were older now and wiser after a fashion. Their paths had diverged but they could still be friends. And she had to accept the olive branch he offered. Blinking rapidly to clear her vision, she slapped her hand over her mouth in feigned outrage.

He laughed. The deep timber of a man grown and certain of his power.

She envied him that. Among other people, she always felt like a boat at sea with a storm on the horizon and no safe harbor in sight. The cigar band he’d given her as a token of his undying love burned between her breasts and weighted the yarn string around her neck.

Gabe had once made her feel a part of something.

She’d slept the night through warmed by the thought.

Gray eyes twinkling, he stopped laughing to grin. “I’m sure you can understand the French, but how’s your German?”

“I still remember Mr. Lubeck teaching us to count to ten in German.” She couldn’t force the smile. Gabe and his best friend had been in Europe when the war broke out. If the newspaper reports were true, perhaps he was glad the old German shopkeeper had been fired. But how could any country that gave rise to the apple-cheeked, rotund man be so barbaric?

Gabe’s grin reversed into a frown. “Do you know why Mr. Lubeck left?”

She couldn’t tell him the truth. Gabe would get angry at the injustice. His mother needed his strength just now. Phoebe bit her lip and glanced down. Her list stared back at her. She stooped to retrieve it, giving her a chance to think of a reason.

Dropping to his knees beside her, he set his hand over the list. Long tapered fingers smoothed the curves of the letters. “You know something, Phoebe. Please tell me.”

“Well, um…”

He crooked a knuckle under her chin and raised her face to his. His blue eyes bore into the back of her skull. “Don’t lie to me. Not you.”

Something dark flashed in his eyes.

There and gone so fast she might have imagined it. Tingles sprayed her skin where he touched. Her lungs forgot how to work. Rocking back on her heels, she eased out of his touch. She cleared her throat and held his gaze. “We were worried about you when we got word war had broken out in Europe.”

His lips firmed and his mouth narrowed, but he said nothing.

“The newspapers reported that many Americans were stranded and were being mistreated.” And atrocities of such horror she couldn’t even look at the paper anymore. Shuddering, she wrapped her arms around her waist and rose to her feet. To think he had been there when the German steamroller had flattened one country then another.

Standing in front of her, he cupped her cheek. “The village where we stayed surrendered without a single shot being fired.”

Her face warmed when he swept his thumb over her cheekbone. She pulled away from him. Perhaps their friendship should be a distant one. It was safer that way. “I am glad. Père Flambeaux has remembered you and Jacob Kerrigan at Mass since August.”

Gabe’s lips twitched. “I bet mother loved that.”

“I’m sure it gave her some comfort. She was worried. We all were. Two of our favorite sons were in harm’s way.”

“We’re Americans.” Gabe lowered his hand to his side. Her list of supplies dangled from his other one. “President Wilson has made our neutrality abundantly clear. The only reason we stayed so long was to help Mr. Hoover in securing passage for others, whose guides had deserted them. Jacob traveled to Belgium to help with its relief, or he would have come home with me. Everyone was most cordial to us. I even met a few folks who respected our wishes to remain clear of the European War.”

“Just a few?” Phoebe ran her finger down a postcard of Father Marquette Park. Dust coated her finger. She quickly wiped it on her coat.

“They are at war and suffering. Both sides think that America will bring the thing quickly to an end.” He shrugged.

“Yes, but whose side? Walk a block on any city street and the loyalties shift. As for the papers… The famous Nellie Bly has gone to Germany to see the war for herself and raise sympathy for their cause. While another reporter has gone to Antwerp to speak for le petit Belge. ” Phoebe felt like she stood on the beach as the tide raced in, the ground eroding beneath her boots. Only the solid limestone of Hope’s Point was certain. “I don’t think our country could survive supporting one group over another. I already heard of a lynching of a German man in Chicago by Anglophiles and reports that the police won’t do anything about it.”

“It is a tragedy, Phee.” Gabe’s eyes narrowed. “But what does that have to do with why Mr. Lubeck left my mother in her hour of need?”

Phoebe closed her eyes. She had forgotten that stubborn streak of his. It had probably grown as wide as his shoulders.

He sighed. “Mr. Lubeck didn’t leave. Mother fired him.”

“He’s staying above the blacksmith’s. Mr. Benjamin found ever so many jobs for him to do while the season was with us.” Few people had paid the old man any mind. But there had been a couple fights in the salon during the August heat. “He’s willing to come back, if your mother apologizes.”

Gabe snorted. “I have barely seen my mother in the last twelve years, but the woman in my memories wouldn’t apologize if her life depended upon it.”

“She was worried about you. People say things they don’t mean when they’re worried.” Phoebe set her hand on his forearm.

Corded muscles felt like warm steel under his jacket. “We both know my mother is very conscious of her place in society. I’m certain she sees firing Mr. Lubeck as her patriotic duty.”

“America isn’t at war.” But there was a ring of truth to his words. Yet, why did Phoebe still rate so far down his mother’s list? Her father had been French. Also an injured party in the European War. One standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the English.

“Given that the majority of hoteliers are of English stock, this is her chance to stand in solidarity with them.” He slanted her a glance. “Guess you’re great friends now. What better way to scheme her way into island society than making friends with a descendant of one of the men who traveled with Father Marquette when he discovered Hope’s Point.”

If only. Phoebe’s skin was too dark for many drawing rooms. Not that it mattered. She was happy with her life. She jerked her hand off his sleeve. “I was sorry to hear about your father’s passing.”

Would Gabe have come home if his father hadn’t suffered a stroke and died? She’d bite her tongue off before asking. She had no claim on him. None. Why couldn’t her heart remember that? She should leave. Now, before she did something foolish. She backed toward the door.

He trod slowly after her, never closing the distance nor widening it either. “Thank you. I visited his grave when I arrived last night. The snow was a blanket of diamonds, glistening in the light of the quarter moon. Winter was his favorite time of year.”

Glistening diamonds. He really had changed. Phoebe’s heart tightened inside her chest. “I remember. He said he could finally catch up on his reading.”

“But he’d always made time to take us out in the sleigh.” Gabe’s eyes lost focus as he looked into the past. “The walks in the woods, those faint glimpses of deer, moose, and bush wolves. You and Lenore Kerrigan would always stay close to the sleigh, while Pa, Jacob, and I foraged for pinecones and birds’ nests.”

She’d never felt afraid when they had been together. Sometimes, she’d imagined the five of them to be her family. She set her hand over the ring under her chemise. Her mother was dead. Her father had deserted her for a new wife and family a thousand miles away, and had never told her half-brothers and sisters about her existence. And when she’d turned sixteen, her grandmother had left to summer alone with her people. A people that viewed Phoebe as too white. No point in feeling sorry for myself.

She took a steadying breath. “Yes, well, perhaps I should go.”

Gabe held up her list between his index finger and thumb and shook it. No dirt marred the neatly trimmed fingernails. A callus appeared on the middle finger of his writing hand. Unlike in his youth, the tanned knuckles remained free of cuts and bruises. “Don’t you want me to fill this?”

She nodded then shook her head. “I can pick it up tomorrow. You and your mother should celebrate your first day back.”

“Mother has gone to announce my return to all and sundry.” He flicked his wrist then focused on the paper. His lips moved as he read.

Phoebe rubbed her nose to cover her smile. That habit hadn’t changed.

“What are you cleaning to need so many supplies?” Brow furrowed in confusion, he looked up.

“I clean the school.” She straightened. And the school board’s salary would allow her to buy more chicks and piglets in the spring, maybe even another milk cow. Many of the hotels would purchase her eggs and milk. Who knows, maybe she could even buy a fancy store dress, gloves, hat, and parasol at the end of next summer.

Gabe’s eyes widened in surprise. “You clean the school?”

“Yes, and I’m well paid for it too.” Phoebe raised her chin. She was lucky to get the job. Most folks on Hope’s Point had nothing to do during the winter months after the tourists had returned home.

He blinked and shuttered his expression. “What happened to old Bessie?”

“She said she couldn’t take another island winter and moved south with her son and his family.” Phoebe’s stomach cramped. Gabe didn’t approve of her job. Not that it mattered. It was good, honest work. A strand of hair came loose from her coronet of braids and tickled her cheek. She raised her hand to tuck it behind her ear and caught sight of the chapped, reddened skin of her fingers and palms. A laborer’s hands. Her nose prickled. She wouldn’t feel ashamed. She wouldn’t.

“Will you keep me company while I fill your order?”

She trapped a yes behind her teeth. “I should be getting home. There’s so much I need to do before Gigi returns to the farm today.”

His head snapped up. “Your grandmother left you alone?”

“I’m twenty years old, not two. I can manage.” Phoebe smiled. Although that first summer, she nearly caught their log cabin on fire. “Besides I’m not alone. I have old Thom.”

Gabe flashed his dimple. “Mother let me give him to you because he was the runt of the litter. I knew you would see him through that first winter.”

She remembered, too. It had been her first gift ever. “He’s the best mouser on the farm and is always bringing me the heads of his latest kills. He’s certainly no longer a runt but the king cat of the barn.”

And her faithful companion. Her only friend after Jacob and Lenore Kerrigan left the island to continue their education. Most of the townsfolk were friendly, but it wasn’t the same. And she couldn’t risk another heartbreak after Lenore left when they were sixteen. Thankfully, she had returned two years later and their friendship had picked right up.

Gabe scratched his freshly-shaved chin. “I would like to see the old puss.”

Her mouth dried. He’d have to come out to the farm for that. After all the palaces, castles, and fine homes he’d seen, he would see the old homestead as squalor and mud. She couldn’t let him come. “I’ll bring him by sometime. Maybe tomorrow morning when I pick up the cleaning supplies.”

“But—”

“It’s good to have you back. And see you. And have you safe.” Mon Dieu!  She was rambling. She had to leave. Now. Twirling on her heel, she sped toward the door and the outside. She would be safe from him outside. At home, there’d practically be the whole of the island between them. Once at the cabin, she’d take herself firmly in hand and rid herself of her foolishness once and for all. She threw open the door and rushed outside. “Goodbye.”

Forever. Until her heart learned its place, she couldn’t risk seeing Gabriel Stephens again. Ever.

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Friday Funny—Extreme Rednecks

You’re An EXTREME Redneck When  . . . . . 
You let your 14-year-old daughter smoke at the dinner table in front of her kids. 
The Blue Book value of your truck goes up and down depending on how much gas is in it. 
You’ve been married three times and still have the same in-laws. 
You think a woman who is out of your league bowls on a different night. 
You wonder how service stations keep their rest rooms so clean.
Someone in your family died right after saying ‘Hey, guys, watch this’.
 
You think Dom Perignon is a Mafia leader. 
A ceiling fan once ruined your wife’s  hairdo. 
Your junior prom offered day care. 
You think the last words of the Star-Spangled Banner are ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’. 
You lit a match in the bathroom and your house exploded right off its wheels. 
The Halloween pumpkin on your porch has more teeth than your spouse.
You have to go outside to get something from the fridge.
One of your kids was born on a pool table. 
You need one more hole punched in your card to get a freebie at the House of Tattoos. 
You can’t get married to your sweetheart because there’s a law against it. 
You think loading the dishwasher means getting your wife drunk.
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Cover Reveal—Here is the beautiful cover of my Halloween Historical coming Monday

book3-1 copy

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26 years in the making

Here is my Christmas stocking, finally finished after 26 years. I did make my 3 children and husband cross-stitched stockings during that time. As well as a slew of other handmade gifts including large cloth bags full of clothes and purses for my daughter. But this time, this was for me.

This is where I started way back in February:

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March:

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April-June:

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And finally finished:

 

It even has my name on it:D
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