Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Little Girl Gone, by Margaret Fenton

Title: Little Girl Gone
Genre: Mystery
Author: Margaret Fenton
Find out more on Amazon
About the Book:
When Little Girl Gone opens, it’s September in Birmingham, Alabama, and Claire Conover is steeling herself. September—with its oppressive, unwelcome heat, back-to-school newness worn off, and skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect—is a time of year Claire has come to dread.  As the crime rate increases, so increases the work load for Claire and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. Seems this year is no exception.
When she takes into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store, Claire is swept up in a case that turns out to be far more complicated, and far more dangerous, than initially meets the eye. Struggling to piece together the young girl’s identity, Claire finds herself with few answers and no shortage of questions.  Is the young girl a runaway?  An abuse victim?  Or something else?   But things go from bad to worse when the young girl’s mother is found murdered—and then the girl disappears.  Claire soon discovers that the mother was involved in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham.  But even with this clue, the case becomes more complicated.  Could the young girl have pulled the trigger?  Is that even possible?  And where could she have run?  Did she run at all? In the midst of all the questions, only one thing is certain: Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.
A swiftly paced, suspenseful, and shocking story, Little Girl Gone earns Margaret Fenton a solid spot among today’s best mystery writers.  Masterful plotting, extraordinary character development, and a pulse racer of a plot combine to create an extraordinary mystery resplendent with twists, turns, and surprises.  An unforgettable story informed by Fenton’s near decade of experience as a social worker, Little Girl Gone also shines a light on the plight of at risk children and the dedication of those tireless and compassionate workers who serve them.  A stellar entry into what Booklisthailed “a promising new series,” Little Girl Gone is mesmerizing.
About the Author:
Margaret Fenton grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and moved to Birmingham in 1996. She received her B.A. in English from the Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her Master of Social Work from Tulane. Fenton spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist before taking a break to focus on her writing. Her work tends to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. She serves as planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Margaret lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover with her husband, a software developer.
Connect with the author on the web:
Chapter One
            I dread September every year.  The summer heat lingers, oppressive and unwelcome.  The kids in Birmingham have been back in school for two weeks, long enough for the excitement of new teachers, clothes, and school supplies to wear off.  Classes and homework have become things to be endured.  The lush green hills surrounding the city begin to fade to an unappealing dull brown, and it seems the crisp cool nights and the red and gold foliage of fall will never arrive.
Other typical late summer colors emerge, too.  Like the black and blue of bruises on a child’s legs, peeking out from under a pair of shorts at recess.  There’s the chalky complexion of the child who never gets enough to eat in the cafeteria, or the rusty skin of the one who never gets a bath.  Reports of abuse and neglect made by teachers skyrocket in September, swamping the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Division, where I work.
To no one’s surprise the murder rate also spikes. The woman found in the ravine was the area’s forty-fifth homicide of the year.  I’d like to say the news of the poor woman’s death was more than mere background noise read by the perky morning anchor while I half-dried my hair in my usual scramble to get to work.  I’d like to say I paid attention.  Paused for reflection, a moment of silence, a prayer, anything.  But I didn’t.  It was Tuesday, the first of September, and another school year was well underway.  It was the busiest time of the year for me, and I was struggling every day just to keep my head above the flood of new investigations and everything that went with them.
I parked in the lot behind our downtown office at five to seven.  Russell, my cubicle-mate, trudged in ten minutes later.  As usual, his highlighted blond hair was still wet from the shower, his newspaper was tucked under his arm, and he clutched a cup of to-go coffee.
Russell and I are not morning people.  Both of us usually start out in a bad mood, but lately his had stretched into a day-long thing.  His boyfriend of nearly a year, Heinrich, moved back to Germany recently to be with his family.  They were trying to decide whether to maintain a long-distance relationship and Russell was miserable.  I was on the verge of placing a call to Munich and begging Heinrich to get on a plane back to Alabama.
I updated my To Do list for the day as Russell settled himself at his desk.  Every day he sipped his coffee, perused the paper, and read me little bits of news before he checked his voice and e-mail messages.
“You hear about the body they found?” he asked, skimming the front page.
“There was something about it on TV.  She was found in a drainage ditch or something?”
“Uh-huh.  Behind that fancy new golf resort they’re building in Homewood.”
“Russet Ridge?  Strange place for a body.”  The half-completed complex would feature a world-class golf course, five-star restaurants, and a hotel with a shopping area and a spa.  It was going up in one of Birmingham’s more affluent suburbs where murders weren’t supposed to happen.
“Yeah, it doesn’t sound like the usual stuff.”
The “usual stuff” was drugs and domestic violence.  They were two of the most common causes of death in Jefferson County.  And two of the most prevalent reasons why caseworkers like me and Russell took children into the State’s custody.
Russell continued reading.  “It says here she was shot in the head at close range.  Found by some kids out playing over the weekend.  Poor things.  If she was in the water in this heat for more than a day, even it was shallow–”
The bagel with cream cheese I’d wolfed down for breakfast suddenly lurched in my stomach.  “Russell, please.”
“What?”
“I don’t really want to hear the details.”
“I didn’t know you were squeamish.”
“Can I at least finish my first cup of coffee before we discuss decomposing bodies?”
“Sorry.  Anyway, your boy Kirk Mahoney wrote this story.”
At the mention of Kirk’s name, an uninvited image of his spiky black hair and blue eyes flashed into my mind.  I felt a strange tightening in my chest and a tingling sensation just in front of my left ear where he’d kissed me last.  I rubbed the spot, then tucked a strand of blonde shoulder length hair behind my ear.  “He’s not my boy.”
Kirk was anything but my boy.  More like my nemesis.  One who had dogged me relentlessly after the tragic death of one of my young clients this summer.  He’d turned out to be quite an ally, though, when it came to putting the pieces of that case together.  I hadn’t seen him in over a month.  “Besides, I have a boy, remember?  Grant.”
“Oh, right.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.”
Grant was my boyfriend.  As much as he could be.  We hadn’t seen much of each other lately due to my thirteen hour days and his computer firm being awarded a contract to outfit an entire new medical clinic.  Grant owned a company called High Tech, and they were installing all of the facility’s new PCs and other equipment.  We’d squeezed in a handful of dates in August before the days got so crowded.  Our relationship now consisted of a lot of sleepy late-night phone conversations.
I focused again on the list of tasks in front of me.  I prioritized it into things I had to get done today, things for tomorrow, and stuff I’d get to when I could.  Russell logged on to his computer, and I picked up the phone to arrange some IM’s with clients.  IM’s were intervention meetings, during which the caseworker and the clients worked toward addressing the problems that had led to the department’s involvement.  Strict guidelines dictated when they had to be done, and I was falling behind in scheduling them.
I was on my third phone call when Jessica, our unit secretary, appeared in the doorway of the cubicle.  In her hand was a thin brown folder.
“Claire.”
“Oh, no.  Come on.  You’re kidding, right?”
“Sorry.  You’re next on the assignment rotation.”  She said it with a smarmy smile.  Jessica was the type of person who enjoyed giving people bad news.  “Mac says tag, you’re it.”
Mac McAlister was my boss, the Unit Supervisor.  He and I have kind of a love-hate relationship.  Okay, maybe not that strong.  More of a like-dislike relationship.  His somewhat tepid support of me after my client’s death in June still rankled.  I had no doubt that if that case had gotten any uglier, he would have thrown me under the bus.
“Damn,” I muttered, and held out my hand for the file.
“He’ll be by in a minute to give you the rundown.”
“Thanks so much.”
“No problem,” she called as she walked back to her desk.
I could feel stress tightening my shoulders.  Mac entered the cubicle and leaned his own beefy shoulder on the filing cabinet.  His ring of white hair needed a trim, and his out-of-style tie hung inches too short.  He fingered the cigar in his pocket, no doubt longing for the good old days when he could light up at his desk.  I picked up the folder Jessica had brought me and read the highlights while he talked.
“One of the Homewood police officers found her sleeping under a cardboard box behind the Piggly Wiggly on Highway 31.  They thought for a second they had another body on their hands. The reporting officer, Mary Nobles, thinks she’s about thirteen.  The girl won’t give her name or address.”
“Runaway?”
“That’d be my guess.  Or a throwaway.  That’s all I know for now.  Go over to Homewood and pick her up, get her something to eat and see what you can do with her.”
“Wonderful.  I suppose HPD can’t be bothered to bring her here?”
“I didn’t feel like arguing about it.  They said they were busy.”
“Like I’m not?”
“Touch base with me after you get her some breakfast.”
“Okay.”
I kissed my plans for the day goodbye and gathered my purse and briefcase.  I drove my aging white Honda Civic to Third Avenue North and made my way to the Red Mountain Expressway.  The morning commute traffic was at its peak, but I was headed south out of the city so it didn’t slow me down.  I took the expressway and within ten minutes pulled up to the square, beige-bricked police department headquarters.
I checked in with the officer at the desk, and as I was signing in I heard a familiar voice.
“Well, hey there, Miss Conover.”
I looked up from the sheet to see an officer enter from the back of the station.  He was in uniform, his gun dangling from his right hip.
“Oh, hi, Officer Ford.”
“Chip, please.”
“Chip,” I repeated with a nod.  Chip and I had worked together on a couple of pickup orders, taking kids into custody.  He loved his job as a cop, worshiped his badge, and probably slept with a loaded gun under his pillow.  He was a big ball of us-against-the-scum-the-earth, Dirty-Harry-movie fueled testosterone.  I couldn’t stand him.
Chip ran a hand over his dark blond high-and-tight.  “You here for the girl?”
“Yeah.”
“She’s in the break room.  I’ll take you back.”
I clipped a temporary pass to the pink and white lanyard around my neck that held my DHS ID and entered the back of the station with Chip leading the way.  “She’s not real talkative,” he said.
“So I hear.”
“Mary’s one of our best officers and she hasn’t been able to get jack out of her.  I told the girl that if somebody had messed with her, all she had to do was tell me and I’d take care of him. Put him under the goddamn jail, you know what I mean?”
I winced in frustration.  Chip had just made my job a hell of a lot harder.  If this girl was a victim of sexual abuse, the last thing in the world I wanted him to talk about was what could happen to the perpetrator.  First, prosecution in most cases was unlikely, and second, most kids didn’t want the abuser to go jail, especially if it was a loved one.  For many kids the thought of putting daddy or uncle in prison was too much to bear, no matter what he’d done.  I needed to figure out what had happened first, make sure she was safe, and let justice sort itself out later.
A small room off the narrow hallway held two tables and a couple of vending machines. An old color TV was perched on top of a humming refrigerator.  A fluffy morning talk show played with the volume muted.
A uniformed black policewoman sat in silence at one of the tables, writing on a thick clipboard, next to a teenaged girl.  The girl had an open can of Diet Coke in front of her.  Standing in the doorway of the break room, I got my first look at my new charge.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Post from the authors of Child Decoded

 

Inside the Book:






The last twenty years have seen a huge increase, not only in children with learning and behavior problems, but in children with bewildering combinations of them. These combinations can defy easy categorization and resist treatment. Figuring these children out can feel like trying to decrypt an especially complex code, without a cypher. Even professionals find it challenging.

We have seen family after family exhausted, overwhelmed and confused about how to sort through all the data and figure out how to proceed. There is certainly no shortage of information out there. What seems to be missing is guidance on how to synthesize it to create a larger picture that gives parents a clearly sequenced path forward.

This book presents a new kind of resource for a new kind of need. It includes:

Extensive checklists to help you see new possibilities and find avenues of support you may not have considered
Explanation of the hidden factors that may be worsening your child’s learning or behavior problems
Discussion of the difference between digging deeper for true causes and merely assigning diagnoses to the “tip of the iceberg” symptoms you are seeing
Descriptions of the major areas of developmental, learning and behavioral challenges, as well as common misdiagnoses.
Lots of useful ‘news you can use’ about what options are available to you, which practitioners do what, and what questions to ask along the way
Descriptions of both Western medicine and alternative medicine solutions
Sequence matters: helpful information on how to prioritize treatments in a complex situation
Stories of families who have been in the same trenches you have
Tips on how to work more productively with your child’s school; develop a plan of action that makes sense for your budget, your family’s schedule and your sanity; maintain a healthy connection with your child; and more!
Written by over 20 professionals, Child Decoded is a thorough, must-have resource that any family with struggling children should consult!


BUY HERE:
AMAZON

GUEST POST:
Parenting a special needs child ain’t for the faint of heart. The overwhelm, the frustration, the exhaustion…it’s hard. I know. I’ve been there.

Since my own special needs son has just graduated from college, I’ve been thinking a lot about our journey with him. I’ve been talking to him about it, too, and some of his insights surprised me.

I can tell you every therapy we tried, every medical approach we used, every school support we fought for. Each was crucial. But, looking back from this vantage point, the little everyday things that saved our lives are less obvious. Here are three:

1.      Acceptance. It sounds obvious, but I swear, everything got so much easier when I finally accepted the whole situation. My son was going to have good days and really bad ones, and would never have a ‘normal’ path, and would often take two steps forward, three steps back.

And there was absolutely nothing I could do about that. A bad day was neither a reflection of my parenting nor proof he wasn’t trying hard enough.  It was just the way we rolled in our world. My job was to find the next steps and to love the stuffing out of him, and to let go of any attachment to who I wished he was.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy, by the way. It was just necessary. I was a much better mother when I wasn’t railing against reality. And, he now tells me, he felt much safer and more able to cope when I was calmer about it all.


2.      Find something your child loves just because he loves it. For my son, that thing was fencing. It’s an odd sport that he found when he was 10 and still excels at. After a weeklong summer camp intro, he took to it with an ease and passion that shocked us.

After a while, I could see what it was really giving him: a place to let go of all the therapies and pressure. He wasn’t “the kid being fixed” there. He was just himself, having fun. He really needed somewhere to be that.

3.      Love ‘em up. This insight came from my son, and it completely blew me away. I hugged him constantly during our toughest years. Sometimes, it was the only thing I could think of to do. I also told him what I loved about him, and showed him daily that his creativity and goofy humor delighted me.

When I asked him recently what he thought his saving grace was during those difficult years, he gave me the sweetest smile and said, “I always knew I was loved.”

I focused mostly on finding answers for my son. That was a given. But when I look back, I think the most important thing I did was actually to focus on him – who he was under the struggles, what his world felt like, what he needed in order to keep going. You wear a lot of hats, as the parent of a special needs child. “Person who loves you more than anyone else on the planet and won’t let you forget it” is one hat you never, ever take off.

Meet the Authors:



Kim Gangwish has  been  practicing  in  the  fields  of  mental  health  and  applied physiology for the last 18 years. Ms. Gangwish specializes in a form of acupressure that focuses on  neurological  integration,  called  LEAP  (Learning  Enhancement  Acupressure  Program).  She works  with  both  children  and  adults  who  have  learning  or  sensory  issues,  or  mild  traumatic head injuries. Her passion for educating caregivers has led her to present at international health conferences,  educational  programs  for  school  districts,  and  parent  and  adoption  support organizations,  where  she  emphasizes  the  importance  of  exploring underlying  causal  factors that contribute to learning and sensory issues. Being an adoptive mother herself, Ms. Gangwish is  very  active  in  the  adoption  community.  She  has  written  an ongoing  column  in  Adoption Today  magazine  and  founded  a  non-profit  organization  that  supports  adopted  children  and their families through an integrated team of therapeutic professionals. Ms. Gangwish runs her practice,  The  Life  Enrichment  Center,  in both  Louisville  and  Denver,  Colorado.  Kim  is also  the founder    and    CTO    (Chief    Technology    Officer)    of    a    biomedical    company,    Genovus Biotechnologies  Inc.,  which  is  developing  a  peripheral  neurostimulation  device  to  help  people with degenerative  neuromuscular diseases. She  lives in Louisville  with her two sons and many animals. You can read more about her and her work at www.neural-integration.com.  



Dr. Robin McEvoy is a developmental neuropsychologist practicing in Denver, Colorado. She evaluates and diagnoses a wide range of learning disabilities and learning needs in children, adolescents, and adults. She then works with the family to develop a treatment plan to  remediate  weaknesses  and  accentuate  strengths.  In  addition  to  her  private  practice,  Dr. McEvoy   is   an   assistant   professor   at   the   University   of   Colorado   Health   Sciences   Center. Although  evaluation  is  the  heart  of  her  work,  Dr.  McEvoy  also  loves  the  educational  process  - speaking  to  parents,  schools,  or  other  health  professionals  about  learning,  development,  and parenting  in  this  new  age  where  many  learning  and  developmental challenges  are  more frequent.  
Dr.  McEvoy  and  her  daughter,  Tessa,  have  published  a  children’s  book, Buddy: A Story for Dyslexia. This book has a lovely endorsement from Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading authority in
the  field.  Proceeds from  the  book  are  being  used  to fund  reading  remediation for  low  income children. You can find the book at www.learningmoxie.com. You can read more about Robin McEvoy at her website www.robinmcevoy.com. She blogs about  learning  and  learning  challenges  at  www.learningmoxie.com.  You  can  follow  her  on Facebook  at  www.facebook.com/DrRobinMcEvoy  or  on  Twitter at  twitter.com/RobinMcEvoy. She will try to be fascinating.  



Marijke Jones got her BA from Cornell University, and finally settled down in Colorado after living in Japan and traveling throughout Asia and other parts of the world. She has been a copy and developmental editor for over ten years and has worked on a number of manuscripts, McGraw-Hill textbooks, website content, and other miscellaneous projects during that time. She has also published essays, mostly about her experiences raising, homeschooling, and trying to figure out her twice exceptional son. Ms. Jones is passionate about helping families with struggling children find answers and peace of mind. She believes that for each thing a child can’t do, there is something amazing that he can do. A former therapist who specialized in trauma, she also believes that monitoring children’s emotional and mental health is every bit as important as remediating their learning issues. She lives with her incredibly patient husband in Louisville, Colorado, where she enjoys the beautiful Rocky Mountains and all they have to offer. Occasionally, her two adult children come home from college or Europe or wherever they have been having more adventures than she has.

——————

Tour Schedule

Monday, March 6
Book featured at Yah Gotta Read This

Tuesday, March 7
Guest blogging at Write and Take Flight

Thursday, March 9
Book featured at Books, Dreams, Life

Friday, March 10
Interviewed at Confessions of an Eccentric Bookaholic

Monday, March 13
Book featured at Nicole's Book Musings

Thursday, March 16
Guest blogging at The Book Czar

Friday, March 17
Book featured at The Hype and the Hoopla

Tuesday, March 21
Interviewed at As the Page Turns

Thursday, March 23
Book featured at Inkslinger's Opus

Friday, March 24
Book featured at My Bookish Pleasures

Tuesday, March 28
Book reviewed at I'm Shelf-ish

Wednesday, March 29
Book featured at Mello and June

Thursday, March 30
Book featured at Just Us Book Blog

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Chapter Reveal: Echoes of Terror, by Maris Soule


EchoesOfTerrorFrontTitle
: Echoes of Terror
Author: Maris Soule
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Five Star
Find out more on Amazon
The latest release by award-winning novelist Maris Soule, Echoes of Terror is a taut, tense tale about secrets, deadly intentions, and what happens when murder hits way too close to home.   Set against the backdrop of Skagway, Alaska,Echoes of Terror introduces protagonist Katherine Ward, a Skagway police officer who finds herself thrust in extraordinary—and extraordinarily frightening–circumstances when her past, present and future threaten to collide in a most dangerous way.
About Echoes of Terror:  Rural Skagway, Alaska’s small police force is accustomed to an occasional crime–a stolen bike here, a DUI there.  But when a teenager goes missing, the Skagway Police force is hardly prepared, especially with its Police Chief  in the hospital and an officer missing. Officer Katherine Ward is assigned the case, never expecting it to parallel her own kidnapping experience seventeen years earlier.  Soon, Katherine realizes what originally appeared to be the case of a rebellious teen runaway is anything but.  There’s something—or someone—sinister at work in this usually quiet town and a teenager’s life is in danger.
But missing teen Misty Morgan isn’t your average teenage girl:  she’s the daughter of a billionaire.  Misty thought running off with a college boy would get her father’s attention, but now she and another kidnapped teen are praying for their lives at the hands of a ruthless kidnapper. Stuck in China on a business trip, Misty’s father suspected his daughter was up to something and asked his longtime friend, Marine veteran Vince Nanini, to fly to Alaska and stop Misty. Problem is, Vince arrives too late to stop the kidnapping, and the police aren’t eager to let him help find the missing teen.
When Katherine realizes the same man who kidnapped and raped her years ago is the one holding Misty and the other teenager, the terror of those months in captivity resurfaces.  Together, Katherine and Vince must figure out where the kidnapper has taken two teenagers, and fast.  But nothing is at it seems in this race to stop a madman before he kills again. The clock is ticking—and this time, the past is close behind. Dangerously close behind…
Brimming with tension, filled with twists and turns, and resplendent with pulse-quickening suspense that reaches a dramatic and shocking crescendo, Echoes of Terror is a bone-chilling tale that grabs readers and doesn’t let go. Award-winning novelist Maris Soule delivers a briskly paced, masterfully plotted, spine-tinglingly realistic thriller that will leave readers gasping for breath.
According to bestselling novelist Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman mystery series, “The pace and writing will keep you turning pages. And the twist at the end?  I didn’t see if coming. Do yourself a favor and read this thriller now.”
CHAPTER ONE
7:25 a.m. Thursday
“That guy is a frickin’ idiot.”
“Who’s an idiot?”
Brian Bane glanced at the girl sitting next to him before again splitting his attention between the twisting road in front of his Chevy Blazer and the tailgating Ford Explorer. On their right the roadway dropped over a thousand feet. As much as he liked excitement, this Internet-born adventure was not starting out as he’d imagined.
“The guy behind us,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the steering wheel. “He came up out of nowhere. Now he’s all over my ass. Like there’s any way for me to go faster up this grade.”
Misty—or Miss T as she was known on ChatPlace—twisted in her seat to look behind them. Her wild, blonde curls brushed her shoulders, and her mini-skirt showed a teasing view of her inner thigh. “Shit,” she hissed through her teeth.
“What?” Brian said.
“He sent Vince.”
“Who sent Vince?”
“My dad.”
“Your dad?” Brain didn’t like the sound of that. “So who’s Vince?”
“He’s a guy Dad knew in the Marines. He’s supposed to do computer security for my dad’s business, but he keeps acting like he’s my bodyguard. I can’t do a frickin’ thing without him showing up.”
She flopped back against the seat, and crossed her arms over her chest. The fact that her old man had sent someone after her, and the way she was pouting, didn’t bode well. For the first time since he’d picked Misty up in Skagway, Brian wasn’t so certain she was the eighteen years she’d advertised.
“How old are you, Misty? Your real age, I mean.”
She glared at him, and then looked away. “Age is meaningless.”
Meaningless, my ass, he thought. Damn, I’m so screwed. He was about to take an under-aged girl into Canada. No wonder some steroid filled ex-Marine with an over attachment to the boss’s daughter was after him. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t arrested as an International felon.
“Do you think—?”
A thump to the back corner bumper sent the Blazer into a fishtail, and Brian gasped, clinging to the steering wheel as he fought to bring the car back under control. “Jeez, Misty, your dad’s buddy just rammed us.”
“Then step on the gas,” Misty ordered, giving a quick glance behind them. “Outrun him.”
“In this thing?” The old Blazer was tired iron. The first part of the Klondike Highway, from Skagway to White Pass and the Canadian line, was a twisting, turning two-laner that rose from sea level to over three thousand feet. The steep incline was already taxing the engine. They’d be lucky to outrun a snowplow through this stretch.
Again the Explorer rammed into them, this time lurching them straight toward the guardrail as the road turned. Misty yelped and grabbed at the door. Brian swung the wheel. The sensation of the front right fender grating on metal vibrated through the steering column. When they came out of the turn, the Explorer was nearly side by side.
“Your dad’s buddy is nuts! He’s going to kill us.”
“Just go faster!”
“I’m going as fast as I can.”
The powerful Explorer began squeezing them closer to the guardrail. Jaw clenched and muscles taut, Brian struggled to keep his SUV on the pavement. Adrenalin pumped through his body, a bitter taste rising to his throat.
And then his heart nearly stopped.
Just a few hundred feet ahead, the guardrail turned into a twisted, jagged strip of metal that hung limply to the ground. Open air replaced protection. One bump from the Explorer as they passed that broken section of guardrail, and they’d definitely be going over the edge, tumbling down the mountainside.
“That’s it, Babe.”
Brian pulled his foot from the gas and began to brake.
“What are you doing? Don’t slow down!”
“Forget it,” he said in disgust. Man, his friends had been right about this whole hooking up online thing. They’d tried to talk him out of it, but all Brian had been seeing was a summer traveling through Canada with a hot chick. Instead of lots of sex and partying, after this ex-Marine got through with him, he’d be lucky if all of his body parts were intact.
Brian brought the Blazer to a complete stop, his entire body shaking. The Explorer angled in front of him, preventing a forward escape. With a sigh, Brian shifted into park, and then turned toward Misty—the beautiful, sexy Miss T.
The beautiful, sexy, under-aged, Miss T, he mentally corrected. “Wouldn’t you know I’d hook up with jailbait.”
She glared at him. “So it didn’t work out. Stop whining. Vince isn’t going to do anything to you.”
“Oh yeah?” Brian sure hoped that was true. “So, what was this, just a little joy ride for you?”
“What it was is none of your business.” Once again she looked away, out the side window.
Brian stared at her for a second, kicking himself for being such an idiot, then he stepped out of the car. As he looked toward the Explorer, he wondered if he should act angry—after all, Misty had duped him. Or guilty—because he should have known she was under-age.
The other car door began to open, and Brian called out, “Listen, man, I had no idea she was—” He broke off as the man straightened and faced him. He almost laughed when he saw the bear mask . . .
Then he saw the gun.
////////////////////////////////
MarisSoule2015
Acclaimed novelist Maris Soule is a two time RITA finalist who has won numerous awards for her novels over the last three decades. Born and raised in California, Maris majored in art at U.C. Davis and taught art for 8 years before retiring to raise a family. Maris and her husband divide their time between Michigan and Florida. Echoes of Terror is her 30th book.  Visit Maris Soule online at: www.marissoule.com

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All That Glitters, by Liza Treviño


Title: All That Glitters – A
Tale of Sex, Drugs and Hollywood Dreams
Author: Liza Treviño
Genre: Women’s Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Koehler Books
Published Date: March 1, 2017
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1633933083
ISBN-13: 978-1633933088
Book Links:
Synopsis:
Alexandria Moreno—clever, sexy, ambitious and, at times, self-destructive. She blazes a path from Texas to Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1980s to make her dreams of becoming an A-list Hollywood film director come true. She and her best friend arrive in Los Angeles with little more than hope and the determination to make it big. Alex, a beauty as dark and mysterious as her scarred heart, stands at the bottom of the Hollywood mountain looking up, fighting for her chance to climb to the top. Will her quest to live fast and take no prisoners on her way to success destroy her in the end?
All That Glitters is a women’s fiction Jackie Collins-type saga that introduces a strong, driven Latina heroine at the center of a rags-to-riches story spanning a decade of action. Along the way, Alexandria walks the fine line separating ambition and self-destruction, and discovers that some sacrifices will cost her everything.
What early readers are saying:
“Treviño tells her story with wit, intelligence, and an undercurrent of sadness at the plight women face to make a name for themselves as human beings instead of strictly as women. Treviño may have cloaked her ideas in entertaining vignettes and snappy dialogue, but underneath is a bite that stays with you.”
— Jonathan Marcantoni, author and publisher of La Casita Grande Press.
“Liza has a way of taking you with her as she tells this very compelling story. She draws readers in with her as she describes scenes and characters with colorful detail and vivid imagination. This story is a testament to it’s title: it really glitters!”
—Reesha Goral, author, The Servant Boy
“With distant echoes of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls in the background, Alexandria Moreno, the protagonist of All that Glitters, chases after the allure of Hollywood, all the time substituting pills, booze and sex for genuine happiness. It is only after she reaches success that she has an awakening leading her to realize the emptiness of her aspiration, and finally accepting true love. Kudos to Liza Treviño for giving us this unique image of the New Latina! I urge reading All that Glitters. You won’t regret it.”
—Graciela Limón, author
Read an Excerpt:

Los Angeles
Oscar Night, 1990
When did things start going wrong?
Alexandria Moreno gulped another swig of champagne from the bottle. She picked at its broken gold foil. It was the same stuff she used to buy back in the days when spending more than ten dollars on bubbly was an extravagance. Now she sat in the best limo money could buy, inching along the craggy hillside road waiting for her turn to put in an appearance at the first of many scheduled post-Oscar parties. She was obligated to dole out heartfelt hugs and kisses to any of the beautiful people who might want one. Tonight, everyone was going to want a piece of her. She was the girl of the hour.
Until recently, Moreno had been an unknown writer-producer. She rocked Hollywood, winning Academy Awards for Best Director and Original Screenplay for the lushly violent, low-budget film, Win or Lose. Moreno, widely considered a dark horse contestant in the Oscar race, was the first Hispanic woman to be nominated, and win.
Two golden statues for writing and directing lay on the limo’s floor and the vehicle glided to the top of Hollywood’s heights. Beyond the winding canyon road, the Los Angeles electrified grid shimmered like Moreno’s own personal cauldron of gold. She understood that more than just a movie had won tonight.
She had won.
So why doesn’t it feel better?
Why don’t I feel better?
Despite everything she’d done to reach this moment of glory, Alex understood that none of it mattered. Not one bit. No matter what happened to her, she was still alone and drinking the same convenience-store champagne.
“Want some of this blow, babe?” Nick sniffed and dropped his head back with a slight shake, giving the chemicals a little jumpstart in the brain he liked to say.
“No thanks,” she said, “I don’t want to mix tonight.” Alex turned her attention from the scrubby hillside to handsome Nick Sirianni sitting across from her, casually relaxed in his Armani tuxedo. Though he favored stiff Wall Street suits, Nick was always casually relaxed due to the fact that he was worth millions from a Hollywood Midas touch.
Alex heard Leonard Cohen’s gravel-rubbed, breathless voice floating faintly through the air, crooning his patented melancholy love proclamations, and she couldn’t help but let her eyes wander along Nick’s impeccably tailored suit. Her hands absently grazed the familiar bluish-purple marks on her wrists currently hidden under make-up.
Nick’s thin lips curled into a slow, understanding grin. “Fine, but I have some X for later, and I don’t care what you’ve taken already,” he said in a tone Alex had learned not to question. “I’ve got plans for you, babe.”
“I guess it’s gonna be a long night.”
“The longest ever.”
Alex could tell he had taken off. She absently twirled a lock of her black, shoulder-length hair.
“Hey,” Nick nudged her leg with his polished leather dress shoe, “let me see.”
“Not right now.”
“I’m not asking, Alley Cat. Let me see. And do it right.”
Alex locked eyes with him, but she relented.
She found the fold of her straight wraparound skirt of crepe and beading that draped to the floor. She peeled it back and uncrossed her legs beneath the gown, giving Nick a peek-a-boo of her
narrow ankle and high-heeled foot. She loosened her knees, proving to Nick she’d followed his instructions.
Nick looked her over and loosened his collar.
“Good girl,” Nick said and shifted toward her, the leather seat creaking beneath him. He knelt between her legs and softly traced the length of her pale grey stocking from her shoe, along her leg, up to the matching garter, and over her supple brown thigh exposed between the garter and its straps. Nick kissed her just above where the stockings ended. He breathed in deeply and peered up to her.
“I gotta have a taste, baby,” he said and dipped his handsome face between her thighs.
Alex sighed and sank back into her seat.
How did things get so out of control? Isn’t tonight supposed to be everything I’ve worked for? Everything I’ve sacrificed for? Or, what I’ve sacrificed everyone for?
Alex knew she had purposely cut off anyone who had the misfortune of ever giving a damn about her. And there were such people.
It certainly wasn’t Nick. She’d made her deal with this particular devil nearly a year ago. Things between them were comfortably tawdry. Nick owned her. She knew it. He knew it. They had an understanding.
A flicker nudged her: so many things that could have been. She took another swig of champagne, letting the alcohol’s fizz and burn push everything back into the darkness.
Alex registered Nick’s velvet tongue expertly stroking her crevices, and she couldn’t help but give him all the access he wanted. She felt him smile when she dropped her head back and settled deeper into the limo’s bench. The car halted forward and the lazy, swaying sax turned up the tension in Cohen’s sonic plea for love.
Alex peered beyond the cracked sunroof, searching the starless LA sky for some answers. A corner of the tinted sunroof caught her faint reflection and she saw a vacant-eyed, thirty two-year-old wasted stranger. She’d never known herself less than at this moment. Her passion for work was burned out and, even tonight, she couldn’t muster excitement. Now, everything was just a game requiring too much effort.
She shut her eyes tight and sucked in air sharply, breathing in the car’s mixture of broken-in leather and artificial lemon scents. She clasped at Nick’s broad shoulder, wringing the expensive jacket sleeve as if it were nothing more than a cheap cocktail napkin. After a moment, she relaxed.
Nick brushed a sweet kiss on her inner thigh before he returned the thin black crepe material of her skirt to its full length. He slid back to his seat across from her and smoothed his hair back.
“Damn, you taste good, honey.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“We’re next in line, ma’am,” the chauffeur’s voice crackled through the intercom. The limo moved into place with a definite stop.
Nick grinned. “It’s show time, Alley Cat.”
The cool night air took Alex by surprise as she waded into the sea of people and flashing cameras. She staggered, unsure she could move.
“One foot in front of the other,” Nick said in his soft voice through her hair. “I’ll get you a drink once we get inside.”
Alex smiled serenely and nodded. She focused on the live band somewhere in the distance belting out a Sinatra standard. Her eyes found the majestic Griffith Observatory looming in the distance, hovering above the white party tents.
Inside, the camera flashes kept coming.
“And here we are,” Nick offered as he swiped a couple of champagne flutes from a roving waiter’s tray. “This should get ya right, babe.”
Alex took the glass automatically. Another bulb flashed near her and she saw blue sprinkles. She regained focus quickly, but then her stomach dropped. Across the room was the last person she wanted to see.
◊◊◊
Jamie Douglas stood out in any crowd. Angular looks punctuated by oceanic blue eyes, a naturally lean athleticism, and down-to-earth boyishness had made him a reigning movie star around the world for almost twenty years. And right now, Alex saw Jamie’s eyes find hers through the crowd. When they caught each other, a flash sparked between them like one of those popping camera bulbs. Jamie’s surprised look gave way to a lopsided grin; it was a look so familiar to her.
Alex registered Nick snake his arm around her thin waist and she broke her gaze from Jamie.
“Okay, Alley Cat, time for our victory lap.”
“Perfect timing,” she said.
Timing—everything always came down to timing. It seemed to her that her timing had always been off. Not crazy off, just that extra millisecond that pushed everything either too early or too late. And now, she understood that it was too late.
Suddenly, she couldn’t bear to go through with the whole charade of tonight. Maybe, she couldn’t even bear to go through with the whole charade of her life any longer. Just leave, a soft voice whispered inside her head. There’s nothing written you have to stick around. It’s practically programmed into your DNA that you’ll be checking out of this world early.
All at once, Alex understood that simple fact. She, Alex Moreno, would leave Los Angeles tonight as anonymously as she had arrived nearly a decade earlier. She knew that wasn’t an entirely accurate account of how she’d started.
Now I’m alone, and that’s just how I knew things would always turn out.
Author Bio:
Liza Treviño hails from Texas, spending many of her formative years on the I-35 corridor of San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.  In pursuit of adventure and a Ph.D., Liza moved to Los Angeles where she compiled a collection of short-term, low-level Hollywood jobs like script girl, producer assistant and production assistant.  Her time as a Hollywood Jane-of-all-trades gave her an insider’s view to a world most only see from the outside, providing the inspiration for creating a new breed of Latina heroine.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chapter reveal: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER, by Harley Mazuk


WhiteFish_RedMurder Final.jpgTitle
: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER
Genre: Mystery
Author: Harley Mazuk
Publisher: Driven Press
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book:
P.I. Frank Swiver accepts an invitation from a wealthy connoisseur to attend a wine tasting on a private rail car. The host, General Lloyd Thursby, entices Frank with an offer of much-needed work, and the other guests with the promise of a pour of a rare California wine, Ravensridge Blackbird Noir.  On board, Frank, accompanied by his secretary and lover Vera Peregrino, finds an old flame, the recently widowed Cicilia O’Callaghan, among the guests.  It turns out that Thursby wants Frank to investigate the murder of his good friend, Rusty O’Callaghan, Cicilia’s late husband.  But all does not go as planned:  General Thursby is murdered before the wine tasting has even begun. Locked into the private carriage and steaming north from San Francisco, the guests proceed to pull some corks and theorize who among them could be the killer. The cops arrest Vera for Thursby’s murder and while she languishes in her cell, Frank’s renewed affair with Cici heats up.  But another murder follows and Frank realizes that his romance with Cici is poisonous.  He’ll have to change his perceptions and find the real killer—or lose both Cici and Vera…and maybe even his life.

EXCERPT:
A few lights were on in the lounge; I could see burgundy wallpaper with dark wood trim. To my right were two dining tables, each with four seats, and on the left an upright piano with a light oak finish. Beyond that, a group of folks sat in the far end of the car. I led Vera partway down, until the man facing us spoke.
“Ah, you must be Frank Swiver,” he said.
“I am, and this is Vera Peregrino.” There were nods and greetings, and the man who had spoken rose. I strode across to shake his hand.
“Lloyd Thursby,” he said. He was an older gent with gray hair and clear, alert blue eyes. He wore a camel hair topcoat draped on his shoulders like a cape, over a dark brown, well-cut suit. He stood a couple of inches taller than me, maybe six foot two, and he carried himself ramrod straight, so he appeared even taller. I had the idea he was fit and powerful for his age. “This is my majordomo,” he gestured at a man standing near the rear corridor of the train car, “Fenwick.” He was younger and three or four inches shorter than Thursby.
Fenwick stepped forward. “I’ll take your bags, sir.”
I gave him my duffel and Vera’s suitcase, and when he reached out his arms to take them, his sleeves slid up, revealing thick, dark hair on the backs of his wrists and hands. He carried the luggage into the corridor, and his wrists stayed down out of his sleeves making his arms appear long and apelike.
General Thursby held out his left hand toward a dame in a chair on my right. “This is Sally DeBains.” She was well dressed and well coiffed, fiftyish, and blond—though I suspected the hair color came out of a bottle.
“How do you do?” she said. She had plenty of ice on her fingers, and I clasped the hand she extended and gave it a light kiss. I thought about biting one of the rings, but she didn’t strike me as a big Three Stooges fan.
“I’m well, thanks,” I replied. “How do you do?” More jewelry drooped around her neck, and she obviously had gained a couple of pounds as she aged. She may have been shaking her maracas a bit lower than she used to, but she had probably been a hot number twenty years ago. For my money, she was still hot enough.
Thursby stepped back toward his chair and extended his right hand. “Over here, allow me to present Marcus Aurelius Wolff, our philosopher, and a fellow collector.”
Wolff was a huge, fat man, whose bulk blocked much of the light from the window behind him. His three-piece charcoal  pinstriped suit oozed polish and quality, and he held a pearl-gray hat in his lap. Although it was cool, and I still had my trench coat on, the fat man was perspiring. He beamed and drew a silk hanky out of his breast pocket, then wiped his bald head.
“An honor, sir, an honor to meet you,” said Wolff.
I assured him the honor was all mine. “A collector of what?” I asked.
“Why wine, Swiver, wine, of course.” Thursby laughed. “That’s what brings our little group together, you know. We taste wine, we savor it, we debate about it.”
“And what do you do, sir?” Wolff asked me.
“I drink it.” I gave him a grin.
Thursby stepped in. “Frank is a writer working on my biography.” Writer was as good as anything. General Thursby had enclosed a hand-written note with his invitation:

Swiver,

I hear you know a little about wine, but that’s not the only reason I’m inviting you to my tasting. I’d like to hire you. I’ll brief you about the job on the train. You can bring another operative if you like. Make it look as if you’re along for the party—I don’t want to tip my hand. Whether you take the case or not, I’ll pay you for your time and you’ll get to taste some good wines.

Thursby

That was all I knew; it wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me there. I hadn’t had a case for weeks, other than the contract work at the hotel, and I needed the money. He didn’t want to tip his hand. I would play along.
“Miss Peregrino is my research assistant,” I said. Vera smiled.
And so we circulated around the room and met the guests, and Vera and I shook hands like a couple of politicians at the Orange County Fair.
And then as the introductions were coming to an end, I saw her, to my left, by the piano. A short black dress, low cut, raven-dark hair, emerald eyes that almost glowed, over robust cheekbones—it was Cicilia Ricci, girl of my dreams.
“And last, this is Cicilia O’Callaghan,” the general went on. “Cicilia—”
“We’ve met.” A chill ran up my spine.
“Hello, Frank. It’s been a while.”
“Fourteen years. You look good, Cicilia.” The widow O’Callaghan, formerly Cicilia Ricci. Her hair was cut a little shorter than when I knew her—wavy on top, parted in the middle, and falling down to her shoulder blades in curls. Her dark eyebrows curved high over her big eyes in graceful roman arches. She’d been seventeen when I met her; she’d be thirty-two now. No longer a budding teenager but a woman in her prime, and more ravishing than ever, if that was possible.
“You look well too, Frank.” Her voice was deep, smoky, seductive. It was Cici’s normal voice.
I shook another Pall Mall out of the pack and fumbled with a box of wooden matches like a nine-year-old trying to light up in the schoolyard. “Having a little trouble, Frank?” Vera noticed. She tilted her head down and to her right, and angled an eye up at me, amused. She relieved me of the matches, struck one and held it out, steadying my hand as I lit up.
C’mon, Swiver, get a grip on yourself. You’re on a case. I clenched and unclenched my fists, and turned away from Cicilia to face the general.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Chapter reveal: Changing Faces, by Barb Caffrey


portrait in gardenTitle
: CHANGING FACES
Genre: transgender fantasy-romance (contemporary)
Author: Barb Caffrey
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.
When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.
He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.
Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.
Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.
////////////////////////////
Chapter 1
Picture this:
It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.
You see, this wasn’t just a wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understands. He’s coming with—and he’ll be playing his clarinet, too. (He’s going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identifies as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.
Yes, I know I need to tell him…everything. But must it be today?
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.
Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.
“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.
Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…
“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”
“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.
“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.
Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.
* * *
I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)
Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I was wearing should be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.
The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.
We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.
When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.
“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.
I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”
“Ah, but does he know that?”
After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”
“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”
Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore…”
“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”
Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”
“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”
Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.
The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.
Life was good.
By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.
Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”
“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.
“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.
Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”
“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.
Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.
I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.
I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.
* * *
I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.
Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.
And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.
Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”
I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”
“Then why the flower in your hair?”
Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised…
I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”
“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”
“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”
“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”
“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.
“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”
“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”
“Show me the outfit,” I told her.
Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”
“Put it on, and let’s see.”
After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.
“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”
“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”
As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.
“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.
“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.
Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.
Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.
I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.
We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.
After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.
Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.
And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.
* * *
Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.
“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.
“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.
For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.
As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.
I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”
Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.
So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”
At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”
“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”
Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”
As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.
* * *
I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.
If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.