Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Release Day! 'Blackness Within (The Blackness Series #5)' by Norma Jeanne Karlsson


Fighting to find his worthy place in life…

This is the story of a woman that has worked tirelessly to build her own life from nothing. While the task has been exhaustive, it’s been worth every drop of sweat to earn her own slice of normal. Natasha Reynolds has built a life beyond an absent mother and a drug addict brother to become a home-owning, dog-loving nurse. But no matter how much distance she puts between the present and her past, she always finds herself dealing with the messes of those she loves. Once again, a hasty decision to save her beloved brother’s life has put Natasha in peril. With nowhere to turn, she goes to the only place she has left.

Brian O’Sullivan.

He’s an attorney, a ladies’ man and nothing but trouble. Natasha has spent two and a half years avoiding Brian’s smoldering grin and his smooth pickup lines. While he spends his days in courtrooms and suits, Brian would much rather be bloodying his knuckles and relishing in the crushing of bones. In order to help Natasha, he will have to be both the professional and the fighter. As Brian demolishes opponents, Natasha will struggle to hang onto her life. They will be ripped apart by the evil underbelly of the crime world and wage a war to escape the blackness within it that threatens to swallow them whole.

Buy links

About the author:

Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Norma Jeanne recently found herself relocating to the United Kingdom. Now living in Belfast, she took hold of the opportunity to kick the 9-5 job for a chance to become an author. The best part: working from her home office, she gets to spend more time with her cast of crazy characters (written and real).

​In her free time Norma Jeanne is a voracious reader and consumes books as readily as meals. She is a people watcher by nature and uses her experiences in life, observed or otherwise, to build the worlds and characters that thrive in her books. A believer in the strength of the human spirit, Norma Jeanne writes the stories of people that persevere when all appears to be lost.


Website: https://www.normajeannekarlsson.com

'Charlesgate' by Dina Keratsis

by Dina Keratsis



Ever since Zylla Berry first saw the dilapidated mansion in Boston’s Back Bay, she’d become enchanted. When she walks by one day to find that someone is renovating the old beauty, she walks through its open door and meets Jabe Thayer.

Determined to restore The Charlesgate to its former splendor, Jabe is thrilled to meet Zylla, who shares his passion for the building and knows its history. As they get to know each other, they find that their love for The Charlesgate is not a coincidence and as supernatural forces intensify, they begin to uncover a sinister secret that will threaten their future.

From the piratical seas of the seventeenth century, to Boston’s Gilded Age to the present, The Charlesgate is a haunting novel of ancestry, fate, and the unfailing power of love.

Read an excerpt:
Zylla couldn’t think and she had to think. She stumbled past the recessed Charlesgate East entrance, past the windows of the new restaurant, past the iron-gated door to the Barnes addition, and then stopped.

Something about the door caught her attention, sent tingles down her spine. Retracing her steps, she wiped her blurry eyes, found the knob, and easily opened the door that should have been locked. All those times she’d tried the doors of the abandoned mansion, hoping one would open for her, and now it did, as she’d known it would.

The Charlesgate was hers now, just as she belonged to it, and the building offered her solace.

Buy links:
Amazon \ Page Foundry \ Scribd \ Kobo \ iTunes

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Dina Keratsis is an award-winning author of romance fiction in which all roads lead to illumination and magic is found in the mundane. A New England girl, she has a penchant for punk rock, Scottish tea rooms and a mad crush on Sirius Black. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children.

Dina will be awarding a $25 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Follow the tour for more chances to win!

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'Highballs in the Hamptons (Girlfriends of Gotham #2)' by Delancey Stewart

Highballs in the Hamptons (Girlfriends of Gotham #2)
Release Date: 09/30/14
Swoon Romance

Summary from Goodreads:
Natalie Pepper thinks she can just be friends with CJ, the man of her dreams. But after seeing him every day at work – and after he lays it all on the line – it becomes pretty clear that something’s gotta give. She’d admit to herself, and to him, that all she really wants is him…if she wasn’t so afraid of losing the best job she’s ever had (and the life it has made possible).

At least she’s got her friends to distract her. Lulu Rossi is an unorthodox and unpredictable spitfire of a girl who has a habit of saying whatever’s on her mind. And while that attribute entertains friends and intrigues her new boyfriend, Andrew, it might be the one thing that stops their relationship from moving forward. Lulu has unintentionally entered the world of Upper East Side royalty, as her ER doctor boyfriend turns out to be the pedigreed heir to an old money fortune – one that is watched over by his manipulative and exceedingly judgmental mother, Elizabeth “Tippy” Barton.

Natalie’s insane supervisor worsens the situation at work when her own man troubles result in a new “no fraternization” policy, and CJ finally gives up and begins to look for other opportunities. Natalie is forced to decide what is important to her for once and for all. Will it be CJ or her job?

Lulu must prove her worth to Andrew’s family – or make him see that the only person whose opinion really matters is his.

Read an excerpt:


“Lu,” Maggie said, “what on Earth happened?”
The large, ugly air cast did not fit into any of my heels, so I was wearing my running shoes again, the right one unlaced and bulging.
“I got hurt.” I sat next to Candace and gave her a hard look. She often seemed smug when things did not go my way, and I didn’t feel like putting up with it today. “Did you order my mimosa yet?”
“It’s only eleven forty-five,” Natalie said. “They brought us orange juice. You have fifteen minutes to regale us with the tale of the injury.”
I felt disappointed. My injured ankle meant that I had spent the weekend in my apartment and not out running around, as I would have liked. I hadn’t answered the phone, mostly because I was feeling down and didn’t like people to know me that way. I watched television and felt sorry for myself. Today was my introduction to the world again, and I wanted champagne. I waved at a passing waiter. The rule that restaurants couldn’t serve alcohol before noon on Sunday seemed prehistoric to me.
“It is only ten minutes until noon,” I said. “I’ve injured my foot. The doctor suggested that mimosas would help.” I gave him my best sad eyes.
“Did he now?” The waiter was young, cute. He smiled at me and then gazed around at the other girls. Candace was grinning, her short bob shining as always, and Natalie and Maggie were also putting on their best friendly flirting faces. “I’ll see what I can do.” He walked away.
“I fell down,” I told the table.
“That’s not very entertaining,” Candace said. “Even Natalie’s waxing incident was more interesting than that.”
“We agreed never to speak of that again,” Natalie said in a hushed voice.
“No,” Candace said. “You agreed.”
“How did you fall?” Maggie asked, her dark eyes shining. “What were you doing?”
“I went for a run,” I said.
Candace laughed.
“That is funny because … ?”
“Sorry, I can’t picture you doing anything athletic.” Candace often said “sorry,” but rarely looked sorry.
“Well, I was. I run most days while you are at work. I just don’t feel like I need to tell everyone about it.”
Candace’s eyes narrowed for a minute. She had a habit of telling us about her accomplishments, so I guessed that she would know this was aimed at her.
“Okay, so you were running, and what happened?” Natalie smiled as the waiter returned with mimosas for the table.
“Thank you,” I said to him, raising my glass in a toast. “Now I can properly tell the story.” I took a long sip and then smiled at the girls. “I met a nice man. A doctor.”
“You hurt yourself on purpose to get his attention?” Maggie said.
“No. Don’t be silly. He ran into me. It was just a coincidence. But he knocked me down, and I twisted my ankle when I fell. And he took me to the hospital where he works, and then called me later that night to make a date.”
“So you’re dating a doctor!” Natalie declared.
“Yes, I’m dating a doctor. Dr. Andrew Barton.” I had been looking forward to telling them about him but I was embarrassed about the accident. “We are going out next weekend.”
“Wow,” Maggie said, smiling.
Candace raised an eyebrow and appeared to be thinking about something.
I ignored her and put his card on the table for them to inspect. “He gave me his card. Plus, he treated me at the hospital, so I know he is who he says he is.”
“Andrew Barton,” Candace said. She said his name slowly, as if she were thinking about it. “May I see the card?” She held her hand across to Natalie, who handed the card to her. “Andrew Elliott Bancroft Barton.” Her green eyes narrowed again. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
I reached for the card. “I have no idea.”
“Dating a doctor is a whole new ball game,” Candace said, her voice like a warning. “And one with four names sounds fairly pretentious.”
“He was not pretentious at all.” I felt defensive suddenly and didn’t want to discuss the doctor any more. I pulled my menu in front of my face, trying to discourage Candace from pursuing this conversation.
“It’s not like he’s French, after all,” Natalie said.
I lowered my menu to smile at her. She was trying to lighten the conversation, since Candace had recently fallen in love with a Frenchman named Gregoire. Of course, he wasn’t pretentious at all.
“Gregoire isn’t pretentious!” Candace’s voice rose.
“I’m kidding,” Natalie said, her voice soothing.
“Let poor Lu enjoy a first date at least,” Maggie said.
“Yes please,” I sniffed, folding my menu.
The conversation moved to other topics, and I nursed my mimosa and my foot, trying not to spend too much time thinking about the way Andrew Barton’s eyes sparkled when he smiled at me, and trying even harder not to think about Candace’s warning. Why would dating a doctor be any different than dating any other kind of man? I didn’t know, and I was sure Candace was wrong.

Men and Martinis (Girlfriends of Gotham #1)
Release Date: 12/03/13

Summary from Goodreads:
Candace Kanie wins at every game she plays. From the boardroom to the bar, she’s confident, clever, perhaps just a tad overbearing. It’s not easy for a girl like Candace to admit that love may be the one game she can’t win…at least not until she’s willing to change her strategy. In Men and Martinis, Candace Kanie will learn that sometimes to be at the top of your game, you have to hit rock bottom.

Men and Martinis is the first release in Delancey Stewart’s series “Girlfriends of Gotham” – a voyeuristic voyage through the lives of a group of twenty-something girls who dance, date, and drink their way through Manhattan during the days of the dot com boom. During an era when the up-and-comers in New York were partying like Studio 54 had never died, this group of friends discovers that the city is theirs for the taking; and they find their often-hilarious way through the forces that work to redefine the way they know themselves and each other.

Buy Links for Men and Martinis:
AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo Books

About the Author

I'm not big on labels, but there are a few that fit me (not necessarily in this order. Or maybe in this order):
- wine drinker (and wine geek)
- mother of small boys
- military spouse
- writer
- chocolate eater

I've written the Wine Country Romance Series, which ties my love of wine to my love of falling in love... and the Girlfriends of Gotham series, which begins publishing with Swoon Romance in December 2013.

I also love short stories, and my themed collection (all set in the same NYC brownstone across the span of a century) published in 2012. 

Author Links:
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Book Blitz Organized by:

'Hometown Heroes: Hotter Ever After' - Benefit Pets for Vets with purchase!

Hometown Heroes - Hotter Ever After
Contemporary Romance
Date Published: 9/30/14

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Available for a limited time at a discount of $1.99. All proceeds from this bundle benefit the Pets for Vets charity. The Pets for Vets program is dedicated to providing a second chance for shelter pets by rescuing, training and pairing them with America’s veterans who can benefit from a companion animal.

They’re all hometown heroes, guys from small towns who’ve made a name for themselves, big or small, who’ve withstood the odds and risen to the challenge, who are heroes in their own right.

Presenting a contemporary romance bundle of 16 novels with happily ever after endings, including previously published readers' favorites and brand-new material by USA Today Bestselling Authors: Melissa Schroeder, Lucy Monroe, and Nancy Warren
NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Sabrina York. Along with bestselling and award-winning authors Allie K. Adams, Destiny Blaine, Cathryn Cade, Jami Davenport, Kate Davies, Taryn Elliott &Cari Quinn, Rachel Grant, Sandy James, Adrianne Lee, Hildie McQueen, Katy Regnery, Sandy Sullivan.

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A LITTLE HARMLESS SEX (Harmless, Book 1) by USA Today bestselling author Melissa Schroeder--When Anna falls for her best friend Max, it might be true love, or the biggest mistake of her life.

CHANGE THE GAME by USA Today bestselling author Lucy Monroe--Alex is looking for revenge.  Isabel is looking for a relationship without those pesky things called emotions.  Neither will get what they're looking for, but a whole lot more!

WILD RIDE (Changing Gears, Book 1) by USA Today bestselling author Nancy Warren--Trouble is piling up in the small town of Swiftcurrent, Oregon with hints of a treasure missing since WWII, a motorcycle riding bad boy history prof, a sexy librarian and a murder. It all adds up to a very Wild Ride.

HEARTBREAK ON A STICK by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Sabrina York--When the man who broke her heart ten years ago suddenly returns to town—a hot shot movie star—Gina Fox is determined to avoid him. But for some reason, Jason Sherwood is pursuing her again. It is all she can do to resist his seductive wiles. But she must. Sexy Jason always has been heartbreak on a stick.

MADRONA SUNSET (Madrona Island) by bestselling author Jami Davenport--Meet a wounded warrior suffering from paralyzing guilt and a woman pining for her dead husband--both damaged souls craving comfort for a moment or a lifetime.

BRACE FOR IMPACT by bestselling author Allie K. Adams--Bush pilot Reid Cavanaugh’s life is turned upside down when he takes a fare that ends up driving his plane into the ground and him into the danger surrounding her. When he discovers that she’s a doctor—the only profession he hates more than lawyers—he knows better than to trust anything that falls from her sexy lips.

HONORABLE SACRIFICE by bestselling author Destiny Blaine--Hired to protect an affluent family with embarrassing secrets, Audra McAllister doesn’t believe in love until she reconnects with a small-town hero willing to risk everything to win Audra’s heart.

SHE'S WORTH IT ALL (Club 3, Book 4) by bestselling author Cathryn Cade--Mase Barnett is a hometown hero with a secret. Natalie Cusco has a broken heart only a strong man can heal. Will this wounded hero risk everything to show her she's worth it all?

DECEIVING DANTE by award-winning author Kate Davies--A stolen car on her front lawn. A sexy cop - looking to arrest her favorite student. A principal ready to fire her. Could Ellie's Monday get any worse?

ROCK, RATTLE AND ROLL (Lost in Oblivion, Book 1.5) by USA Today bestselling author Cari Quinn and bestselling author Taryn Elliott--A beachfront cottage, hours of alone time, and plenty of skin-on-skin action is just what the rock star and his new wife ordered. Until the future comes much quicker than they expected, threatening to crumble not only their perfect honeymoon but also their brand new marriage.

GRAVE DANGER by Golden Heart finalist Rachel Grant--An archaeologist digs up a murder victim in a Northwest archaeological site and must help the hunky local police chief solve the crime before she becomes the next victim.

TURNING THIRTY-TWELVE by award-winning author Sandy James--Jackie Delgado didn't want a new man in her life until a dreaded blind date with police detective Mark Brennan turns out to be more exciting than she'd ever imagined.

HIS ONLY DESIRE by Adrianne Lee-- Nick Rossetti married the wrong twin sister. Will the right one ever forgive him?  Not if her stalker has his way.

EVEN HEROES CRY by Hildie McQueen--War widow Tesha Washington slowly draws Adam Ford out of the shell that used to be a man, and learns there really is such a thing as starting over.

THE VIXEN & THE VET by bestselling author Katy Regnery--In a Beauty & the Beast reboot, an ambitious reporter tracks down a wounded war vet for a scoop and ends up falling in love with him instead.

TROUBLE WITH A COWBOY by Sandy Sullivan--Can some slashed tires and an ornery bull bring two hard-headed people together for some fun in the sun...and a little more?

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Buy Links


$20 Amazon gift card, and one of Jami Davenport’s ebooks of choice

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Monday, September 29, 2014

'For Better and Worse (Trouble in Paradise Part III)' by Stephanie Nicole Norris


Coming out of hibernation, Danielle Shumaker has put behind her the pain and misery she’s caused Victoria and Joshua. Blinded by her selfishness her ultimate goal is still her main one. As far as Danielle’s concerned Joshua belongs to her, always has and always will. No amount of therapy can cure her love addiction and no matter what anyone says she will fight for him, even if she has to kill someone AGAIN.

Wedding bells are in Victoria and Joshua’s future, Victoria is excited to be Mrs. Eubanks. However, when she closes her eyes at night, Greg invades her dreams, the passion and love leaves her wanting more and waking with doubt about her upcoming marriage. How will she get over this man or does she even want to?

Read an excerpt here.

Buy links

Author links:

'I Hate You Rock Stars' by Brie Kraus


Sometimes a lie will lead you to your soul mate.

After learning that her fiancé was only marrying her because of an agreement between him and her father, Emma Corzeica flees New York and goes to London to rethink her choices in life. While there, she meets Julian “Jules” Brex, a famous musician in England, whom she immediately dislikes, thinking him nothing more than another arrogant jerk.

Then her ex-fiancé arrives to bring her home, and force her to go through with their wedding. While trying to escape his advances, Jules interrupts them, telling Emma’s ex-fiancé that they are now engaged. Forced into another “engagement” Emma finds herself having to pretend that she loves this stranger, whom she loathes, but will Jules be the one to give her the intimacy she has been searching for?


Author Bio:

Brie Kraus always dreamed of being a writer, but put that ambition on hold, while pursuing working in the fast food industry and putting herself through college. After graduating and losing her employment, Ms. Kraus turned back to her forgotten dream: writing. Don’t Ask is her first novel, closely followed by I Hate You Rock Stars.

FREE 9/29-9/30 'Dinner For Two' by Drea Stein

Dinner for Two
by Drea Stein


Sean and Darby love food - but is their relationship a recipe for disaster - Or a chance to make kitchen magic?

Find out in Dinner for Two, Book 1 in The Queensbay contemporary romance series

Sean Callahan was a hot shot big city chef whose high handed ways got him into trouble one too many times. Now he's in a small town hoping for another shot at the big leagues.

Darby Reese is a big city lawyer who can bake like an angel. Unfortunately, a life lived according to the law has left her burned out. So when the chance comes to run her family's deli in the small town of Queensbay, Darby's happy to take it.

But when Sean, the former chef du jour walks into her kitchen, she's definitely not prepared for sparks to fly. Will the two of them be able to find the recipe for happily ever after?

Book one in the Queensbay Series, a contemporary romance series.

Read an excerpt:
“Fancy meeting you here.” Sean Callahan’s voice floated up and she jumped, hitting her head on the inside of the counter.

“It is my deli,” she said when she finally came up, resisting the urge to rub the back of her head where she had hit it. The look of amusement in Sean’s eye was enough to have her folding her hands across her chest and do her best to stare him down. Two days, she reminded herself. It had been two days since he had kissed her and nearly lifted her straight out of her socks.

“I have the afternoon off tomorrow,” he said, grinning at her. “I was thinking, since you’re a hometown girl, that perhaps we could go on a drive, that maybe you could show me around a bit.”

“Haven’t you already been here a couple of months?” she said. “Because this sounds like another one of your pick-up lines. Are you planning on running out of gas on Lover’s Lane?”

“Never heard of it,” he said quickly and in a deadpan voice. It earned him a smile. "But I’ve been living in the hotel since I got here and I realized that I haven’t really left it, since I was so busy getting everything up and running with the restaurant. But finally, things are where I want them and I feel like I can, actually should, step back a little, see what the team at the restaurant can do without me. So I thought an afternoon off, with you, might be a nice way to test the theory out.”
“Are you asking me out on a date?”

He shook his head. “If that’s what you want. Or,” he amended, before she could answer, “how about we call it me-asking-a-local-to-show-me-around outing. We can sit next to each other, in the car, and talk to each other, get to know one another.”

“I already know you,” she pointed out, moving down the counter to straighten her jar of homemade granola.

He followed. “True, but I was hoping we could start over. Pretend that all the stuff in the past didn’t happen.”

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Drea Stein is the author of the Queensbay contemporary romance series. She lives in rural New Jersey – yup, there really is such a thing – with her family and writes in an old barn. Visit her at www.dreastein.com or https://www.facebook.com/DreaSteinAuthor

Drea will award a $25 Starbucks card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour and a $25 Starbucks card to a randomly drawn host. Follow the tour for more chances to win!

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

'Hello, My Love! (Between Two Worlds, Book 1)' by EJourney


EJourney "….can so aptly, perfectly and knowledgeably….capture the deep feelings an individual forms for that person who is destined for him. … Enthralled to very last page; excellent read" So says Goodbooks Today.com of this contemporary tale of love between two people who connect on both an emotional and intellectual level. This type of connection transports the lovers' subsequent coming together into a treasured experience and keeps their lives intertwined through the forces that keep them apart.

Romance novels are generally escapist fare and, it is mainly for that reason, people are attracted to them. For those few hours we spend on such novels, we are transported into an imagined world that assures us a happy ending. Hello, My Love! does just that. But it goes beyond and takes us into the inner life (thoughts, hopes, and doubts) of the main protagonists as they contend with realities that often face couples in compelling relationships—revenge of a jilted lover, past relationships, abortion, career choices, reactions of friends and relatives. The author writes about the inner life of the lovers as if she knows exactly how it feels to be in their shoes.

This tale is of this day, complete with the messiness of feelings and events that could happen to any of us. Communication in the internet age plays a part—cell phones help move the story along.


Heartache and the specter of revenge follow when sparring partners spend the night together two days before he weds someone else.

Bright, blonde, beautiful Elise Halverson, focused on a law career and inexperienced in love, distrusts playboys like Greg Thorpe. Dark, good-looking, internet-business owner in the San Francisco Bay Area, he finds Elise intriguing, so unlike his fiancée Lori, the type of dark-haired, seductive beauty he escorted around.

Elise and Greg butt heads at her parents' dinner parties. She discovers someone more than a flashy playboy, and he finds that she touches him at his core like nobody else has. A strong attraction grows between them and leads to an unexpected night together two days before his wedding.

Lori threatens revenge. Her machinations tear Greg and Elise apart, revealing doubts and insecurities they have within themselves and forcing them to make choices.

They reunite but Greg is in for a surprise and their lives are thrown again into disarray when Elise becomes the victim of a hit-and-run. The specter of Lori's revenge looms.

This modern-day pastiche of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell novels is an engaging romp into deep powerful love, with a good dose of realism and a twist of mystery.

Read an excerpt:

I. Elise
“Going to your parents’ dinner tonight?Elise could not help smiling at the text message.
She texted back: “Yes. See you.”
Greg had been sending her text messages for some time. Often, they were greetings, in the morning, at night, on school holidays; or good luck wishes on exams, debates, and mock trials. Sometimes, he asked her opinion or a question about a legal matter or some fact of interest to either of them. She answered most of those messages although he told her she did not need to, if they were the usual greetings.
Before they met, Elise had known Greg—from numerous news reports—as the young, progressive owner of a growing internet-based business, and one of the country’s 25 most eligible bachelors. The consensus in the media, especially among women reporters: tall, dark, and handsome. But Greg also had a reputation as a playboy, whose many romances were fodder for gossip columns. While Elise hesitated judging looks and personality, sight unseen, she was certain of one thing. She distrusted the likes of men such as Greg.
But that was a year ago.
Since he began consulting with her father, Dr. Halverson, an economics professor, Greg had been to many dinners at her parents' home. There, Elise got to know him better.
Now, when curious acquaintances learned she knew Greg, they invariably asked, and Elise hardly ever varied her answer: “Yes, to news reports. Greg Thorpe is tall—taller than my father who’s more than six feet. Dark—tanned from jogging, bushy hair the color of French Roast woven with golden strands. And beautiful—clean-cut, cleft chin, smiling greyish blue eyes, and, yeah, lean. But, I think, muscular. I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him without his clothes on.”
It always amused her that her incantation never failed to elicit sighs from young women.
Elise was about to slip her iPhone into her shirt pocket when it rang.
“Hello, Elise. How’s the light of my life this afternoon?Greg said, in his teasing voice.
“Hello Greg.”
“I’m so glad you picked up. I was afraid you’d turn off your phone again.”
“I can't turn it on in class, when I'm studying, or when I’m at work, and that’s almost my whole day.”
“Are you staying over at your parents after dinner?”
“I don’t plan such things. Depends. How late it is when dinner ends, whether I have some easy way to get back to my apartment, how guilty I feel about not having seen my parents for a while, etc., etc.”
“I see. It’s Friday so I thought you‘re staying the night with them. Can I give you a ride home?”
Elise protested. “But I live across the bay. That's 60 more miles of driving for you, both ways.”
“Less than an hour in my fast powerful car.”
She smiled. Only after she opened up to him a few months after they first met did she realize that Greg had a wry, often self-mocking, sense of humor.
She teased him back. “But don't you need your beauty sleep? Aren't you getting married in two days? I’m surprised you’re even coming to my parents’ dinner party. I always thought weddings were exhausting. Don’t you need to rest up for yours?”
“Think of this as my last fling.”
“Isn't that when your buddies get you all soused and cavorting with some pretty young things? You definitely need stamina for that.”
He groaned. “I’m afraid you have this unflattering image of me. But, believe it or not, that prospect doesn’t excite me. I feel too old for all that.”
“Thirty-two’s not old. To me, old is decrepit. You’re not quite there yet.”
“I'm glad you think so. Twenty-year olds think 30 is old”
“I turned 23 a few weeks ago,” she said, her smile replaced with pursed lips.
“That still makes you a young thing in my book. What if I cavort with you?”
Elise scowled. She couldn’t conjure up a quick retort that she knew Greg had come to expect from her. It was not that what he said irritated her. And, she didn’t actually dislike it. But she felt herself squirm, a vague sense of unease in her chest.
“I'm kidding. I know you're not the cavorting type. But we’re buddies, right? Well, more like sparring partners, maybe. Don’t buddies kid around?”
She picked up an edge to his voice but it grew softer when he added, “Am I wrong?”
She hesitated through the ensuing silence; for her, an uneasy silence relieved only by his audible breathing. He was going to wait until she said something.
“I guess we are…friends, or whatever you wanna call it. That makes everything all right, then; kidding included. So, yes, you can take me home tonight. What’s 60 miles between buddies? No guilt, on my part, that you're going out of your way. I gotta run.She hung up and did not wait for his reply.
Elise arrived at her parents' home when guests were taking their last bites of the appetizer. She had entered the house with her own keys and had gone straight to the dining room.
In the entryway to the room, she stopped to catch her breath. For a moment, she teetered on unaccustomed three-inch high black espadrilles, and had to lean on the wall with one hand to steady herself. Then, she straightened and stood in place for another moment, looking like a nymph with blonde hair flowing down her shoulders, its golden glints accentuated by her short-sleeved, dark purple turtleneck sweater. A long black pencil skirt slit on one side to below mid-thigh hugged her lithe figure.
She uttered a general greeting, but out of habit, her gaze sought that of Greg’s. He lifted an eyebrow as he smiled at her, his eyes glowing. She held her breath and let it out slowly, pushing down to the pit of her stomach that knot she first felt when her father introduced them to each other. She stretched her lips to mimic a smile and approached her mother from behind her chair.
“Elise, finally. We were wondering if you’d make it here tonight.Mrs. Halverson offered a cheek for her daughter’s kiss.
“We had a small crisis at the Legal Aid office,” she replied, kissing one cheek and then the other, the usual greeting among the Halversons ever since the children were young.
Her mother whispered, “Greg has asked me about you at least twice already.”
Elise stole a glance at Greg as she sat down at her usual place across from him.
In addition to Greg, two other couples—mutual friends of her parents from her father's college days—completed the eight places around the dinner table. They were regular visitors and could talk nonstop all night. Elise relaxed. The evening should be relatively calm and cozy. She was a little tired and she intended to sit among the group, as quiet as she could be.
Except, she glanced, rather too often, at Greg whose gaze seemed glued on her throughout dinner. Still, neither of them needed to say much, and for that, she was grateful.
When the party went to the living room for after-dinner coffee, Greg approached her from behind and came so close that she could feel his chest against her back.
“Good evening, beautiful. I was afraid you’d skip this dinner. Glad you lost the hair clip. Love the sexy hairstyle.His voice barely rose above a whisper.
Elise turned her head towards him and coaxed a smile from her lips. She did not answer.
In the living room, she settled into an armchair. Greg pulled a chair closer to hers and sat on it.
“You look tired,” he said, peering into her face.
“Yes. I am. It’s been a very hectic week. I’m glad it’s Friday. But I wish Mom stuck to her usual Saturday schedule. I’m not very good company this evening.”
“Your dad said they’re going to a birthday party for the dean of his college tomorrow night.”
“Let’s be quiet together. I don’t think this group needs our help.”
Elise nodded and smiled faintly. How sweet he could be sometimes.
The lively conversation of the Halversons’ friends swirled around her and Greg without much help from either of them. It centered on the best places to retire and wild ways to make retirement exciting. The older folks were having their usual fun, their laughter punctuating outrageous suggestions.
After a quarter of an hour, Elise glanced at her watch, fidgeted in her chair, and suppressed a yawn, Listless from both food and wine, she soon lost interest in the lively exchange and wished herself back in her apartment, warm and snug in bed.
The most garrulous of the group, Dr. Gronski, craned his neck, distracted by her fidgeting. He regarded her for what seemed, to Elise, too uncomfortably long. He must have sensed her discomfort. She could swear that he winked at her and smiled sympathetically before he shifted his attention to Greg.
He said, “Here's one lucky man. He doesn't have to worry about retirement homes, can retire right now, and do whatever he wants.”
Elise watched from the corner of her eyes as everyone, except for her, turned towards Greg and stared. He returned the stare for some moments and, with a thoughtful frown, answered, “True, I could go anywhere I want, but I don't know if I'll ever want to retire.”
“I should have guessed—a workaholic. But you’re a bachelor, so no commitment and no one to nag you.Dr. Gronski chuckled, winking at his wife.
“Not for very long. He's getting married on Sunday,” Dr. Halverson chimed in.
The two couples perked up.
“Oh! Who to? Why didn’t you bring her here tonight?” said Dr. Gronski’s wife, stealing a glance at Elise.
“She had prior engagement.Greg scowled as he answered.
Elise saw the muscles on his cheek twitch. He was clenching his jaw, clearly ill at ease.
She clicked her leather espadrilles once, a gesture that always brought the young character, Dorothy, to a magical place in the movie Wizard of Oz—a simple move she had borrowed a few times. She rose from her chair and, as she had intended, the conversation stopped as everyone looked up at her. She walked towards the piano, in a far corner of the room.
“How about some entertainment?She raised the front lid on the piano and smiled at her mother. “Mom, can you play us that piece you've been practicing?”
Her mother got up and approached Elise with alacrity. “Yes, I would love to. And I hope you like this Mozart fantasy as much as I do. I know my daughter does.”
She smiled at Elise, sat down, paused for a few seconds, and opened with the slow, dramatic notes of a piece that lasted more than twelve minutes. She followed it with a few more pieces until someone said, at the break between pieces, that it was getting late.
When the two couples had gone, Dr. Halverson said, “I'm sorry about my friends, Greg. For the most part, they're nice people.”
His wife added, “With an annoying love of gossip.”
“Yes, except for that. I shouldn't have mentioned your wedding.”
Elise said, casting Greg a surreptitious glance, “But it’s true, he’s getting married. They'll find out about it, anyway. Papers will splash the news all over their society pages, for sure. Dad, I’m surprised your friends haven’t seen anything about it already.”
She arched an eyebrow at Greg, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Come to think of it, I haven’t, either.”
Greg scowled at her. “Well, maybe they don’t read the social columns, or the tabloids where it’s mentioned, ad nauseum. We didn’t issue any formal announcements. She wanted to, but I refused. I want a quiet ceremony.”
Elise scowled back and, with a lopsided smile, said, “But, I agree, they had no business asking why she—what's her name? I don't remember ever hearing you mention it. Anyway, it’s none of their business why she isn't here tonight.”
“We know her name,” her mother said. “We met her at Greg's house when we were last there for a party. Perfect hostess.”
“Stunning woman,” her father added. “She reminded me of Ava Gardner.”
“Yes.Her mother smirked and Elise knew her parents did not agree on Greg’s fiancée.
“Will someone tell me what her name is?”
“Lori. Lori Williams,” Greg said. “She’s a public relations consultant at a company I do business with.”
“Lovely name. Less formidable than Ava. She's now taken form in my head.Elise glanced at her watch. “I must go, too.”
Greg rose. “I'll give you a ride home.”
“But that's out of your way,” her father said. “You can drop her off at the train station. She does it all the time.”
Mrs. Halverson placed a hand on her husband’s arm. “Let them decide what to do.”
Neither Greg nor Elise had spoken since they left her parents’ home. He seemed, to her, reluctant to disturb the silence between them. She, in contrast, felt impatient about it.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking—you know, one buddy to another—why you've never brought Lori to dinner at my parents’ house. Doesn’t she resent you, spending so many of your Fridays or Saturdays with them?”
“Remember, your dad and I have business consultations before dinner. I know Lori. She’d be bored to death. I don't want your mother to feel she has to entertain her while I'm holed up with your dad.”
“So, she’s never curious or suspicious?”
“Actually, no, except to say that it must have been boring. Can we stop talking about Lori? This is my last fling, remember? I’d like it to be nice and cozy, in the company of someone familiar.”
Elise frowned and compressed her lips. “Sorry, can't be your sister. You know my two brothers. You’ll have to agree that's enough aggravation right there.”
“Huh? Who said anything about a sister?”
“‘Familiar,’ ‘family,’ same root, right?”
“Sounds like it. Yes; and maybe that’s what I had in mind. Anyway, I meant someone I feel at ease with. Someone I can spar with but who doesn't take it personally. At the end of the day, we’re still friends.”
“I guess so. Something like that. By Monday, things have to change. When you’re married, we can't be on the same footing, anymore.”
Greg did not answer and kept his attention on his driving. Elise stared into the darkness outside her window and recognized a few buildings on the way to her apartment. They were only ten minutes away from it. She bit her lips and blinked a few times. Was this really it between them? Would he ever come to her parents’ dinners again?
“I’d like to show you where I live. May I—on my last night as a free man? You've never been to my house and I’m betting it'll change what you think of me.His voice intruded into her thoughts.
“Why should that matter?Her voice was hardly audible. She was feeling suddenly depressed.
“Well, if we're going to be strangers again like a year ago, I'd like you to remember me. As I am, in my true element.”
“And that's your house?”
“Why not? Don’t we all create our surroundings to suit who we are? I'm sure Lori will want another house. Or, she’ll renovate what I have now. So, if you ever visit us there, it won't show you the real me anymore.Greg turned briefly towards her, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
Elise forced a smile, but it faded before she turned her face away. She said, “Are you playing with me?”
“No, I am perfectly serious. And if you're still not sure, can I tempt you with champagne? I’ve got some good stuff at home. I’ll offer you the best I have.”
She did not answer. She was irritated and she did not know why.
“Okay, that’s not working. Can I ask, as your buddy? I’m honestly nervous about getting married and I’d like to have a comfortable, relaxing evening. I can only do that around a true and familiar friend. Like you. I have other friends, but someone like you, whose chatter I can stand and I actually think means something—rare.”
She laughed softly, and regarded him a couple of minutes. “You mean that?”
“Yes, a true friend I can really talk to.”
She turned the idea over in her head. A true friend? For his last free evening. He was losing his freedom, and she was losing a friend.
“Why not?”
He grinned, slowed down, and turned the car around.
Greg's house was on top of a hill, overlooking the bay and a cluster of cities, their lights like strings of fluttering jewels in the late spring night. San Francisco lay in the distance towards the ocean. The neighborhood, as Elise expected, had large security-controlled homes, many of them Mediterranean-style mansion wannabes of stucco and red tile roofs. As Greg drove through a long driveway to his house, she gritted her teeth. Why did she let him persuade her to come to this place? She had no desire to go into one of those homes, much less spend an evening in one of them.
But, she did want to spend some time with him, the way it had been between them lately.
Elise surveyed the house in the dark when Greg stopped to wait for the garage door to open. She relaxed a little. The house was different from those around it, its size modest, in comparison; its lines uncomplicated. She stuck her head out the car window and looked closer. Not stucco, but wood panels and something grey and smooth. Metal, she guessed.
“I hope you don't mind that I'm taking you into the house through the garage. We'll have to go through the kitchen,” he said, as they got out of the car.
“Like at my parents' house.”
But the interior was not like her parents' house, where the hub was a large country kitchen of sunny yellow, accented with green, red, and blue, that spilled into a sitting area dominated by a much-used butcher block often used as a breakfast table. Her parents’ house was all about nurturing and casual comfort.
In Greg’s house, the spare exterior lines continued inside. Its kitchen—small, compared to her mother’s—was equipped with sleek stainless steel appliances and glass cabinets with steel framing. As they passed through the kitchen, Elise rubbed the surface of a countertop with her fingers.
“This is concrete.”
“Yes, and so is the floor except it’s been stained black.”
“Really? Looked like slate to me.” Her gaze swept across the kitchen. “Glass, steel, and concrete. Hard and solid.”
The kitchen opened into one enormous room divided into two areas by a wide space between them. A long heavy wooden dining table for twelve defined one area, supported by a mix of wooden dining chairs and a massive wooden cupboard that stood against a wall. All had the patina of at least a century of use.
Elise walked to the opposite side of the room and sat on a long light taupe-colored boxy sofa. She had expected it to be firm because its curves were limited to a gentle hump, but its extra thick seat and back cushions softly cradled her body. She would be comfortable sleeping on it.
She leaned back, crossed her legs, and scanned the room from where she sat. Several ample armchairs faced the sofa and they all surrounded one low massive coffee-colored coffee table. The beige-toned seating appeared to float a little above the dark floor. Except for two wall-size abstract paintings, walls were bare.
Everything seemed, to Elise, fashionable but understated; tasteful and clean. A little too clean.
Greg sat on a chair across from her.
“Where’s the main entry to your house?”
“On the other side of that wall, just behind you.”
She turned her head to look. The inside wall behind the sofa was made of large, smooth white panels that stopped a couple of feet below the high ceiling.
“Slick. Very modern,” she said, but she frowned and thought everything in the living area had to be merely some kind of façade for Greg. Underneath his cool, smooth demeanor, she had sensed someone more complicated and not always so sure of himself.
He smiled at her remark, his eyes enigmatic and vague. “May I show you the rest of the house before we have that champagne?”
“Might as well.They rose at the same time.
He led her up a wide staircase, through a hallway and into a study that seemed to her had more room than the apartment she shared with her friend and roommate, Leah. Classical music greeted them as Greg opened the door. Elise recognized it as the slow movement from a Brahms piano sonata that she had heard her mother play many times. She wondered whether he turned the music on by remote or it was on all the time.
The study had book cases—more stainless steel and wood—along two parallel walls, a big desk and office chair in front of another, and a well-worn cozy sofa and a coffee table in the middle. Surfaces in the room were cluttered with books, folders, magazines, and folded newspapers. At one corner, a guitar leaned on the wall, next to its case. Elise knew, without asking, that this was where Greg spent most of his time. She relaxed a little.
“I could show you my bedroom, if you like. But there's not much in it. The bed and a couple of tables, an armchair. It's less than half the size of this room. The other two rooms up here are the bathroom and a kind of dresser, walk-in closet.”
“It's your house. Your call,” Elise said, as she walked to the corner against which the guitar rested. She passed her fingers lightly along its strings. “This looks like an expensive classical guitar. Do you play?”
“I do. Not as much as I used to. But I have strummed those strings when I’m all stressed out or I can’t sleep at night. It helps me unwind. I took lessons in my teens.”
She regarded him curiously, her brow knitted over her eyes. “You didn’t seem to me the type who would play a musical instrument.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. I think that implies someone sensitive, artistic; feminine, maybe? I could definitely imagine you whacking racquet balls, but”—she paused and looked him straight in the eye—”playing a musical instrument, listening to classical music? I’d have said, no way.”
“Does it change your opinion of me?Greg’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “Do you like me any less?”
Elise grinned. “I like you more, actually.”
“Do you play? A musical instrument, I mean.”
“I studied piano until I was 15. I play okay. Not like my mother, though. She could have been a concert pianist.”
“So, why didn’t she become one?”
“Love, marriage, children. I guess that sometimes she wishes she had followed her dreams. I wish she did, too. I would have been so proud of her.”
“Maybe, she believed career and family don’t mix.”
“Maybe. In her time, many women could have believed that.”
Elise looked away, her face flushed. Greg had been staring at her in that intent way of his since she walked around his living room. She spun halfway around and gave the bookshelves her full attention, her back to him. She started inspecting books, many of them on technology and programming, and a couple she knew her mother also owned—books by Peter Mayle on living in Provence.
She went around the room once more. “Your house is awesome but I didn’t expect you to choose a modern, almost minimalist house. Downstairs, anyway.She chuckled, as her gaze flew across the mess in the study.
“Oh? And what did you expect?”
“I’m not sure; at first, maybe I expected ostentatious. Like most mansions around here, with pricey period furniture, one of which could have paid for my entire college education. But where are all the other rooms?”
“That's it, I'm afraid. A bachelor's one bedroom pad.”
“It's hardly just a pad. Mine is.”
“Shall we go back down and have that glass of champagne?Greg pointed towards the door with his hand.
“Can we have it here? It’s impressive down there but kinda too hard and too cold for me. I’m more comfortable here, with these books and the lived-in clutter.”
“We can do that.He grinned, his first warm, heartfelt smile since that uncomfortable conversation with her parents’ friends.
He went to his desk, pushed a button and talked into an intercom.
“Wow, all the modern conveniences!Elise said as she settled on the sofa.
She peeked into a couple of folders on the coffee table. Greg joined her, holding what looked, to her, like a photo album. He piled magazines and newspapers on top of each other and cleared a space on the coffee table, where he put the album down.
“I don't see any computers or televisions anywhere in this room.”
“I have a laptop. It’s stashed away in my desk. Downstairs, there’s a projector and a screen hidden in wall cabinets. Oh, I do have a television. It’s inside another compartment in my desk.”
“Which you can pull up with the push of a button. I should have guessed.”
Greg laughed. “And I guessed right. You would rather have your champagne up here.”
“I like the clean look in your living area. The large solid pieces—both old and new—seem so like you. But, I don't think I'd want to spend too much time there. I can’t walk around in my bare feet.”
“Believe it or not, you’ll want to do that in the summer. The concrete floor stays cool. But I, myself, don't use that room much, as you can see. That's my public face. It's for guests. Very few friends have been invited in here.”
“Like Lori,” Elise could not help saying.
“Well…Greg paused. “She was in here once but she’s uncomfortable in this room. Too many things in it. My living room doesn’t suit her, either. Too little in it.He laughed again, this time, with his self-conscious, self-mocking tone.
Elise suppressed her impulse to say, “The bedroom, then.But all she did was bite her lower lip. The fact went without saying: Lori had access to the bedroom, which he politely denied her.
A soft knock on the half-opened door made them both turn their heads toward it. A middle-aged swarthy man walked in, carrying a tray with champagne in a bucket of ice and one glass, which Greg took from him. He seemed surprised to find someone else there.
“I'm sorry, Greg. I thought you were alone.”
“It's okay, Bob. I forgot to mention I had company. Bring one more glass up, will you, please?Greg placed the bucket and the glass on the coffee table.
“You must have an extra room somewhere for Bob,” Elise said, after he left the room.
“There’s a house in the back. That’s where he lives with his wife and two kids. Bob has been with me since I took over my father’s business. He married Alicia just before I had this house built. They take very good care of me. I'd trust Bob with my life.”
When Bob returned with the second glass, Greg introduced him to Elise. She rose from the couch, extended her hand to Bob and flashed him a warm smile.
“A loyal friend from what I've heard.”
Bob hesitated, then shook her hand and gave her a sheepish grin. “I'm sorry, Miss Halverson, I'm not used to Greg's women friends shaking my hand.”
“Well, those are his girlfriends. I'm just a friend. Like you are, so call me Elise.”
Bob chuckled and glanced at Greg with amused eyes.
“Greg says you're like family to him.”
“Ah, yes. Mr. Thorpe, Greg's father, hired me as a chauffeur, months before he died. Greg kept me on, at first, to drive him around. But he likes to drive himself, so I took on other duties.”
“So, you’ve been with Greg ten years. That sounds to me like real loyalty. It's unusual nowadays.”
“Yes, I married and had a family in those years.”
“Do you have children?”
“Two very healthy boys, 5 and 8 years old.”
“They must keep you on your toes.”
Before Bob could answer, Greg said, with a smile, “Now he treats me like I'm his oldest son.He turned to Bob. “Padre, mi Madre esta esperando.”
Bob chuckled again. “Elise, I’d like to talk some more but my wife’s waiting.”
He regarded Greg thoughtfully for a moment or two, smiled at Elise, and bade them goodnight.
Elise said, grinning, “I do understand some Spanish, you know. I figured I’d better learn it at school if I want to be a lawyer in this state.”
“You should get along well with Bob and Alicia, then. I’ll have to tell him.”
“I wanted to learn Polish, too, but the university doesn’t offer it.”


Author Bio

I'm a realist in my writing, as well as my art. I don't have as much imagination as many other writers--a handicap (or strength) that comes partly from my training (Ph.D.) and experience as a mental health program researcher/evaluator. I'm also a flâneuse, a female observer-wanderer. So, I watch, and observe. And listen. That's where the meat of my writing comes from.

As an author of love stories, I tend not to rely on broad shoulders and heaving bosoms. Instead, I go into protagonists' thoughts and emotions, and how those show their growth. My novels deal with insecurities and disappointments, love/hate relationships with parents, characters who seem to behave out-of-character, and even life events not typically included in romantic fiction.

My stories do have happy epilogues, and I've tried to work in intriguing plotlines into them.

My author website is www.evyjourney.com

My book website is: www.margaretofthenorth.wordpress.com for articles on books and writing.

I have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Romance-Novels-for-Feminists/382436745126631

Or, check out my blurbs on art, travel (mostly Paris where I have stayed for months), eating, and state of being on: Journey on a Limb.