Saturday, February 27, 2016

Savvy Saturday Love-Style: Never Saw it Coming by Colleen S. Myers

Christine stared down at her boobs. She swore one hung lower than the other. She turned sideways. Yep, the left one definitely drooped a wee bit. Dang it. When did she get old? Not that forty-five was old mind you, but still, she had a pretty good body for someone her age. It was all that tennis. She smoothed down some fly away blonde hair and straightened the cuffs of her cream Donna Karan shirt dress. No matter. What she was up to today did not require perky breasts. It required balls.

If Delilah Watters thought she could go after her daughter, her little Victoria and get away with it, she had another thing coming. There was no proof yet of her involvement in the attacks against Vicki, but there would be soon. She would make sure of that. The Watters’ would never see her coming.

Christine picked up the cell, ten digits later the phone rang.

An impatient male voice answered straight away. “Hello.”

Perfect. “Detective Berkley?”

“This is Detective Bentley, yes. Who is this?”

Didn’t her mother tell her the detective’s name was Berkley? Whatever. “This is Christine Masterson. I was hoping to talk to you about my daughter’s case.”

A crash filtered through the line. The detective’s voice deepened. “Oh, Ms. Masterson, um, yes, wait one second.” Another crash and a curse word echoed back at her.

Uh. “Are you okay?”

“Sorry, I spilled coffee on my pants.”

Well that fit with her visual of the man. The few times she’d met him had been brief but memorable. He kind of reminded her of a teddy bear, all gruff whiskers mixed with a cuddly demeanor, and he’d had a funny tie on, red with a couple of cows on it. The farm animals impressed her. It took a big man to pull off such a novelty item. And now she was getting distracted. Focus.

“Are you okay?” she asked politely.

“Yes, I’m fine. What did you want to know about the case? We don’t have any leads at the current time.”

“But my daughter did talk to you about who she suspects is behind this, correct?” Victoria told her she had.

“Yes, but you see, there is this pesky thing called evidence.”

As if she didn’t know that. Christine huffed. “Who do you think you are talking to?”

“Why, Christine Masterson of the Pittsburgh Masterson’s, of course.” His tone was faintly mocking setting her teeth on edge.

“That’s right. I know about evidence and—"

“Was there something specific you needed?”

Did he just cut her off? She sputtered a second. “I wanted to know what you—“

Another crash sounded in the background. “Damn it, I’ve got to go.”

Christine stared at the phone dumbfounded. The detective had hung up on her. Who did he think he was? She had half a mind to go down there and tell him off. In fact, that is exactly what she was going to do. She’d had enough of high-handed male behavior in her life.

She gathered up her Kors purse, threw on her Burberry jacket and Hermes scarf, and sailed out the door. The drive to the station took under ten minutes, not that she was speeding. Okay, she cruised above the speed limit part of the way. After she parked, she walked toward the door with a quick pace. Why were police stations always in the seedier parts of town?

As she neared the building, she heard shouts. A second later, a body flew out the door past her nose.

She blinked. A thirty-something punk with a facial tattoo of tusks coming from the corners of his mouth started running down the street, a lone steel handcuff dangling from his right wrist. Bentley, at least she thought it looked like Bentley, came roaring out behind him with two other cops hot on his heels. The punk ducked behind a nearby car and crouched, but the police had already sighted him. Bentley went to the left while his partners went right.

Tusk Dude sensed them closing in and tried to take off again. He darted to the left from behind the Mazda he’d hidden, right into Bentley’s path.

Bentley tackled him and rolled him onto his chest, pulling his arms behind his back. He recited the Miranda warning, while securing the suspect with the cuffs still hanging off the punk’s wrist. It was quite the impressive display.

Christine found herself focused on Bentley’s ass as he brought the punk down. She’d remembered him as a teddy bear, stout and scruffy. This sleek cop was no teddy bear. How did she miss this before? Maybe it was the cheap clothes he’d tended to wear. Today, he wore a well-fitted navy suit, showing off a much leaner form than she anticipated, and the scruff was gone. He was actually quite attractive, and how he moved getting the kid down, ass rippling underneath said pants, woo, and then the cuffs. It awakened role-playing fetishes she’d never realized she’d had. She fanned herself a second.

Come on Christine, get a hold of yourself.

He was just a cop, an annoying one who hung up on people. Yet, it had been a long time since she did a double take when looking at a man, or when his sheer movement drew her eyes. Ever since Jonathan and his secretary—how freaking cliché was that? The divorce had been over four years ago. She’d dated, of course, proper men, intelligent schooled men, and not one of them had ever made her want to tie them to a bed and read them their rights. She’d been spending too much time with her mother, the born-again sex fiend—that had to be it.

She straightened and waited for Bentley on the steps as he tugged the tusked gentleman back toward the station.


Bentley dusted off his pants and staggered to his feet after taking the shit-head to the ground. His knee cracked as he straightened. He was getting too damn old for this shit. The guy only faced a possession charge. With a good lawyer, he would have been given a slap on the wrist. Now, after rabbiting, he added evading arrest and threatening a police officer to his tally. This guy wasn’t facing community service anymore; this was a lot more serious. He didn’t understand what went through felon's heads sometimes. It would have been better to stay put and take the rap, but no, he had to run. Screw being tough, sensible was where it was at.

He turned, towing the perp back inside. That was when he saw her. He almost dropped the cuffs in his daze. Christine Masterson. Since the first time he’d met her, she had starred in all his late-night fantasies. She was just so incredibly hot in this pinned up proper and snotty way that made him want to mess up her hair and get down and dirty. And that was totally unlike him. He was slow and steady Bentley, rugged, reliable, like a used truck. At least that is what his ex-wife always used to say with a sneer.

Anyway, there was no way a stone-cold fox like Christine would be interested in a guy like him. So time to pull his head out of his ass and figure out what she was doing here. As if he didn’t already know. This day kept getting better and better.

“Detective Bentley,” she said as he passed. “I would like to talk to you.”

Of course, she did. “One second. I need to book this guy and then I can talk. Why don’t you go to my office, and I will meet you there in say, fifteen minutes.” That would give him a fair bit of time to get his hard-on under control.

Christine nodded and tucked a strand of her hair back into its fancy up do. Her fingers then ran down her sides and waist to lace in front of her as she turned and preceded him into the station.

And that was not helping. Now he had an up close and more personal view of the woman’s butt. He’d dreamed about that butt a lot lately. And he needed to focus.

The perp continued to pull at the restraints, but at least his ranting, “I’m innocent, dude. The marijuana you found up my bung hole wasn’t mine. Someone must have planted it,” had tapered off.

“Come on Beavis,” Bentley muttered.

It took the full fifteen minutes he promised her, plus some, to roll through the paperwork and join her in the office.

When he entered, the room appeared the same as it always did, with its single desk opposite the door, in front of the lone window, a filing cabinet on one side, bookcase on the other, and two generic chairs. But seeing her there made the space that much more intimate. Christine dusted the shelves of his bookcase with some Kleenex. That was odd. He’d had this one fantasy of her in a French maid outfit kind of similar to this just last night leading up to other, more rigorous, activities. And all that time relaxing went down the shitter. Damn it.

He shifted his pants and knocked on the door to get her attention, taking it as a personal smack to get his head in the right place, both of them.

She twirled and blushed. “Sorry. I can’t stand clutter and all your figurines were dusty and unorganized. I just…” She cleared her throat awkwardly and sat, smoothing her skirt over her crossed legs, which drew his attention further south. He’d always been an ass man but given more proximity, he’d be willing to bet Christine could change that. This would grow to be embarrassing if he didn’t get his dick under control.

Bentley grinned. “I have no problem with you cleaning my office. Anything vital is locked up so, help yourself.” He waved around the room and proceeded to his desk.

She twisted her fingers in her lap.

The nervous action intrigued him. So far, Ms. Christine was the picture of lady-like composure and the thought of getting under her skin delighted and appalled him at the same time. “So what brings you to the station in person?”

“I wanted to know what you are going to do about the Watters’.”

Bah, he figured that was why she was here. “So far we don’t have any new information. We haven’t found anything linking either David or Christine to the bombings or the attacks. From what your daughter says though, David definitely knows something. We are waiting for him to come out of surgery so we can interrogate him.”

“That is unacceptable. They hurt my daughter!”

“I know and we are doing everything we can to correct that. Right now, Vicki is safe and in protective custody with Mr. Lawrence and she will stay that way.”

Christine shifted forward apparently unaware of how that made her dress gape, but Bentley noticed. Oh yeah. “Is there anything I can do? I have connections you know. I could get more information—”

He could think of plenty of things for her to do. Wait. Oh no. “No Ms. Masterson, the police are fully capable of handling this situation. For right now, your best bet is to be patient.”

She straightened. “I am going to go have it out with that old witch.”

Bentley’s jaw hit the floor. How did asking her to wait turn into a confrontation? And he did not just hear that, the proper Christine threatening bodily harm to someone? It was every bad girl daydream come to life. “Uh.”

“Uh? That’s all you have to say? I am going to do it.” She smirked and stood up to leave the room.

Her expression annoyed him. He wanted to take that smirk and turn it into a much different expression. He was thinking the 'oh' face. Probably too soon but a guy could dream. Again, his mind shot straight into the gutter.

Ever since Debbie left him five years ago, he’d gone through a dry spell. It was part of the job. Being a cop was rough on the family, especially his. He tended to obsess about his cases and get lost in them. It took a strong woman to accept that. He’d thought Debbie was that woman until he learned of the other men. Yeah. Not happening. The divorce was quick and brutal due to overwhelming evidence of infidelity, and when it came right down to it, Debbie made more. They both got back what they brought into the relationship and that was fine and dandy with him.

“Sit down, Ms. Masterson,” he said with a grimace, making sure to adjust his jacket before he stepped in front of her. “There is no going to confront anyone today.”

She crossed her arms. “Says who?”

His eyebrows winged up. “Says me.”

“What are you going to do to stop me?”

Huh. He could think of a plethora of ways to keep her occupied. None of which were appropriate for a police station. His shoulders fell. “Listen, it would not be smart to get into a fight with the main suspect right now.”

“Are you calling me stupid?” Her voice went up a decibel and this cute pink flush started on the apples of her cheeks.

Bentley backtracked. “Of course not, I am saying you need to calm down, woman.”

“Did you just call me a woman?”

There was no good answer to that question so he remained silent. His hands went to his hips. “Now listen—”

“I am out of here.” Christine pushed past him and marched to the door behind them.

Bentley put his hand on her arm. “Please don’t do this.”


Christine shook his restraining hand off and stalked out the door. Really? He was trying to tell her what she could or could not do? Who did he think he was, she was not some random girl, she was an independently wealthy woman who ran her own business, and…wait which way was it to the front again? A nice young officer had escorted her to Bentley’s dusty old office and she hadn’t paid attention to the turns.

She whirled back. “Which way is out?”

Bentley folded his arms, causing his jacket to strain across his what she now realized was a well-muscled chest. “I am not telling.”

“What are you, a three year-old?”

“You started this. I am not helping you do something idiotic.”

Urgh, wasn’t that just like a man. Christine hung a left into a room swimming with computer desks and testosterone. All commotion ceased as soon as she entered. She grabbed the closest uniform’s arm. “Which way is out?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Bentley shaking his head no at the officer. Christine pointed her finger at him. “You, stay out of this busy-bee.”

His jaw clenched when the room ignited in snickers. “My name is Bentley.”

She returned her attention to the uniform. “Which way?”

He indicated a hallway to the right. She went in that general direction with Bentley shadowing her every step and croaking at her. The young man’s directions appeared incorrect though as they led to another room full of office equipment, chattering men, and the overwhelming smell of coffee. “Rrr.”

“I must say, I do like when you growl,” Bentley murmured lightly.

Huh? She rounded on him. “What did you just say?” And was he staring at her bottom?

“You would pay attention to that wouldn’t you?” Bentley stepped back and lifted up his hands which, for some reason, reminded her of her restraint daydream from earlier. “I said nothing.”

Her eyes were drawn to today’s tie as well. Lime green with dancing pink elephants edged in navy. Who picked this man’s clothes? And well, back to the conversation, er, where were they? “That’s right. You don’t get to say anything. I am a full-grown woman and I am allowed to make my own choices. I am getting out of here and confronting that old biddy.”

He leaned closer and put his hand on her forearm, touch light. “It is not that. I don’t care if you confront her. I just don’t want you getting into trouble while doing so. The woman could be dangerous. Do not risk it.”

Well. The concern in his voice set her back. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t like seeing people hurt, period, and I find myself even less inclined to see you hurt.”

His words and earnest expression tugged at her heart strings. She’d never had anyone look at her quite that way before like they would sacrifice themselves to protect her. It was…nice. She put her hand over his. “I won’t get hurt.”

“You can’t guarantee that. There is no reason for you to do this.”

“Again, you can’t stop me.”

“Yes I can.” His fingers curved into her arm.

“No you can’t.”

“I could arrest you.”

“For what?”

“Being aggravating comes to mind,” he grumbled.

Ha. “Well, you can’t arrest someone for that.”

“I wish.” They shared a grin. “Please don’t do this.”

“I, well, I want to do something. I want to talk to her, just talk, how about that?”

“No goddamn it.” Both of his hands came down on her arms and he shook her.

“Stop it.” She retaliated by stomping on his toes.

He hopped back a step or two and then reached out and grabbed her arms. “Ouch, damn it, fine, that’s it. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you are unable to afford one, one will be assigned to you. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?” As he spoke, he took out his cuffs and placed then around her wrists.

He couldn’t be serious could he? “What are you arresting me for?”

“Assaulting an officer of the law.”

Oh no he didn’t. Christine tugged discretely at her wrists and then gave Bentley the stink eye.

Wrists secured, he tugged her down the hallway. Police dodged out of the way, a few giving him a curious glance as they did so. Two lefts and one level downstairs and they arrived in a small holding area. No one was around, and Bentley took her to the nearest steel cage, opened it, and pushed her inside.

“I can’t believe you are arresting me.” Christine flopped down on the sole cot in the room, turning her back on the Neanderthal.

“I wouldn’t have had to arrest you if you would have cooperated.” Bentley pulled up a chair and sat down in front of her cell.

“I am cooperating, you jerk.” She whirled to glare at him.

“Calling me names is not cooperation.”

“I came down to get information.”

“And I told you on the phone we don’t have any information.” He tugged off his tie and threw it to the ground. “What is up with you Masterson women anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

He leaned his elbows on his sturdy thighs. “I mean you! You’re so, urgh.” He motioned down her body.

“I am so urgh?” What pray tell did he mean by that? Her stomach tightened.

“You’re so tidy, and perfect, and snobby.”

“I am not snobby. I will concede to the perfect part.” She tucked a curl behind her ear. She wasn’t a snob dang it. She grew up poor. The fact that she had money now was gravy. She would never take what she had for granted. She’d worked too hard to get it and keep it.

“You are the definition of the word, lady.”

“You’re wrong.” Christine turned her head fighting back tears. This was too much.

He touched the bars near her hand on the cot. “Don’t tell me you are crying?”

“No,” She wiped away a tear and ignored him.

“You are crying.” He tugged the chair closer with a squeal. “Listen I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I meant—”

“How can I not take it in a bad way, it is a negative expression.”

“I meant that you are always so well put together and groomed. Look at me. Coffee stain. Wrinkled shirt. I am a slob. In comparison, you glow.”

Christine blinked and narrowed her eyes. Glow? That didn’t sound too bad, and he didn’t want her hurt. Did the detective perhaps like her? A grin formed on her lips.

Bentley shifted his chair outside the bars. “Listen. We don’t need to charge you. Next time, don’t get in my way okay.” He went to open the doors.

Nuh uh. “Oh no, you don’t, I want my day in court!”

“Court? Who said anything about court? In about fifteen minutes, they are going to give you your phone call. Knowing your mother, Mrs. Betty June is going to have you out in another fifteen and the charges will be dismissed, not that any formal charges have been filed in any case.”

“What do you mean there haven’t been charges? Why am I in here then?”

“To get you to listen! You can’t go charging off to Delilah’s house, it isn’t safe, and I won’t have you risking yourself. Do you understand? You are going to let the police do their job. You are going to let me do my job,” he reiterated.

“Why do you care? That biddy went after my daughter.”

“And we need proof.”

“Give me five minutes with her. I will get you your proof.” Christine cracked her knuckles then stared at her hands appalled.

A laugh escaped Bentley. “What, you going to beat it out of her?”

“I will have you know I am an expert pugilist.”

“The fact that you know the word pugilist argues against that being a possibility.”

Christine rattled the cage. “You make me so mad. Just because I am a lady doesn’t mean I can’t be tough. You try growing up with my mother!”

Bentley tilted his head and snorted. “I can imagine.”

“No, you can’t. My mother loved me, that I never doubted, but she forgot I existed ninety percent of the time after my dad died. I used to have to steal to get food.” Err. Maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned that last bit to a cop. Even if he was hot, and concerned.

“You?” he scoffed, “Doubtful. I can’t see you getting your hands dirty.”

“Now who’s being snotty? Huh?”

Bentley blinked and leaned against the bars, he appeared to be considering his words. “I guess I am being snotty.”

Well hallelujah, a man that admitted he was wrong. “Yes, you were. My life hasn’t been all roses you know. I worked hard to get where I am so that there was never a possibility that I would end up back there in that row house begging for food or contemplating worse.”

“That would have never happened,” he said sounding certain.

“How do you know?”

“You are much too spunky to be defeated.”

She felt herself flushing. Spunky was a much better adjective than snobby. “That’s right, I won’t be defeated.” He should know that already.

“If you promise not to go charging off to Delilah Watter’s house the minute I open this tank, I will let you out of here.”

“I want to talk to her.”

“That won’t help this situation at all. Do you want to make things worse for your daughter?”

“Of course not.”

“Then listen to me. Your mother called in the Feds and they are all over the Watters’ financials. Vicki and John are safe. The guy that attacked your daughter is in custody, and it won’t take us long to get him to talk. We have got this taken care of. What I want you to do is settle down.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”

Bentley’s hands curled around the bars like he was envisioning strangling her. “I tried. You wouldn’t let me!”

She leaned her head against the bars, her forehead brushing his hands. “Okay fine. I won’t go after her. It just…I need to be there for my daughter.”


“I did exactly what my own mother did to me with Vicki. I ignored her and worked. I let nannies raise her, and I pushed her into marrying that prick. She wanted to break up with him when she was younger and we argued with her against that. I feel somewhat responsible for this whole mess now.”

“Oh please. Did you know that the family was nuts?”

“Well no.”

“Then you can’t hold yourself responsible for this situation.”

“You don’t understand. Vicki and I, we have never been close, but when this happened, she came to me. She asked me for help with David and Delilah. I need to be able to look at my daughter and help her.” Her eyes clouded with tears again. Damn allergies.

Bentley unlocked the doors and tugged her into a hug.

“Come here,” he said gruffly.

Christine resisted at first then melted into his embrace, her cheek to his chest. “Why are you being nice to me?”

“Because despite myself, I like you, Ms. Masterson.”

Wait what? “Like me how?” She had never been one to beat around the bush. And what did he mean, despite himself?

His hand, which had been brushing the back of her head, stopped its motion. “I really don’t think there are two interpretations of the expression.”

“There is. There is like, as in aww, isn’t that cute as a button. Or there is like, as in I want to nail you against the wall.”

He sputtered out a laugh.

Her head rose. Their noses were an inch apart, if that. She smelled the coffee on his breath and the faint hint of musk. This close, she could see his eyes clearly. Light blue and intent with laugh lines at the corners and his soft, sensuous mouth. Oh my.

His cheeks turned ruddy. “Well, I would have to go with the later, Ms. Masterson.”

Oh. “You can call me Christine.”

His hands slid to her waist. “All right, Christine. This is completely inappropriate you know.”

“Why, I’m not a suspect.”

“True, but you are under arrest,” he said.

“I thought you said I hadn’t been charged?”

“True,” he murmured, moving closer. His lips brushed hers tentatively as if he were asking permission.

She stood stunned a second, not responding, her eyes widened.

His expression dimmed and he started to back up. “I am sorry. I—”

Her hand slipped behind his neck tugging him close, her mouth pressed to his, her tongue swept his bottom lip demanding entrance. In a blink, her back was to the bars, and he was kissing her back. He’d tilted his head to get a better angle, his thigh slipped between hers.

God, it was everything she’d ever wanted, hot, wet, and above all passionate. Everything that being with Jonathan had not been. His hands went straight to her ass. He tugged her onto her toes and pressed her back further into the steel cage behind her.

One of his hands rose and went to her chignon. It took him all of a second to get the pin out and her hair fell around her face in a thick blond wave.

He combed his fingers through her hair and smiled. “That’s better.”

His lips met hers again, deeper and wetter than before.

A loud wolf whistle penetrated her fog. She peered up to see one of the officers from the hall holding his fingers to his mouth and clapping.

“Umm.” She buried her face in his chest, cheeks flaming.

“Good Lord.” He made a shooing motion at the guy and then tipped her head up. “Sorry about that.”

Oh. Some of her euphoria seeped away. “The kiss?”

“Oh no, definitely not that. I meant the audience.”

“Oh, well, good.” She remained cradled against his body and then realized something. “What is your first name?”

He blinked and laughed. “It’s Charlie, er, Charles Bentley.”

“Well Charles, would you like to go out sometime?” Look at her making the first move, kind of. Her mom would be so proud.

“You’re kidding, right? I would be honored to go out with you.”

Good. That was good. They shared a smile.

He leaned closer right when his phone began to ring. “Damn it, sorry,” He picked up the receiver. “Bentley.”

“This is Sergeant Larsen. You need to get down to the hospital as soon as you can.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Menagerie à Trois by R. J. Hore Review from Goodreads

L.T. Getty rated a book it was amazing
about 11 hours ago
27416974. uy75
This is probably my favorite of the series thus far.

Even though I enjoy the journeys to far away and distant lands, in this novella, Randy stays close to home as he has three seemingly unrelated cases - and because we're in a grimy fantasy noir, it's up to our hero to piece them together and figure out what his clients aren't telling him before greater powers get involved.

The characters are a mixed bag, because we see some recurring (Mae, Bertha) and plenty new ugly mugs as we once again have an unexpected antagonist of a demi-god - but he's not the real bad guy. Randy isn't super brilliant, putting complicated patterns together, instead we see him hitting the street and interviewing people (always with his puns and quips) and despite that he's a mongrel - he's a scrapper willing to get things done and help out the least fortunate of his clients, and not be at the beck and call of the one who paid him the most.

Speaking of Rich Jerks - one of Randy's clients is a haughty high elf, who while not the most complicated character, but if you've ever had a moderately difficult boss from a higher social class you'll recognize him. Other than that, we get our standard fare - that the world could be scrubbed and still come across as grimy, with every sort of imaginable species rubbing elbows, though Randy is usually among the lower class schlubbs. The writing is standard Randy narration, but the way that the plots interweave and generally seeing Bertha shine is what probably bumps this to the top of my favorites in this series.

Anyway - you don't have to read the series in order, but if you're interested in a quick, pun-filled romp mystery through a grungy steampunk world, I say give it a shot. If you're looking for the pure elements of a murder mystery and things like gnome bodyguards or zeppelins would irk you, it's probably not your cup of tea.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Savvy Saturday Love-Style: First Kiss by Keith Willis

“’Rissa!” Gwyndolyn hissed. “Are you coming, or not?”

“Oh, all right,” replied Marissa with a barely concealed sigh of exasperation. “I suppose someone has to keep you from getting into trouble. Although heaven only knows,” she muttered under her breath, “why it always has to be me.”

She slipped out of the narrow bed, shucked out of her nightdress and began to pull on clothes: chemise, blue walking dress, soft slippers. Gwyn helped her with the last of the dress’s hooks. Catching up a dark cloak from its peg on the wall near the foot of the bed, Marissa eyed her friend suspiciously.

“Are you wearing your best gown?” she demanded. “Gwyn…” Marissa stopped, speechless.

“Of course,” Gwyn replied loftily. “You couldn’t expect me to meet a boy dressed in rags, could you?”

“Meet a boy! Gwyn, you’re sneaking out to meet a boy?”

“Yes,” crowed Gwyn. “And guess what? He’s even bringing a friend for you.”

This news didn’t meet with the warm reception Gwyn might have expected. Marissa gaped at her friend. Her voice, when she could finally speak, came out strangled. “You’re mad, that’s all. It’s the only explanation.”

“Oh, don’t be such an old worry-puss. I haven’t been caught yet.”

“What about last week?” inquired Marissa in frosty tones. “If Sister Agatha hadn’t thought it funny…”

Gwyn waved away this triviality. “But she didn’t report me to Mother-Abbess,” she said reasonably. “So it doesn’t count.”

“And the week before that? Mother-Abbess had you in her office then, didn’t she?”

“Well, yes,” said Gwyn impatiently. “But only for being out of bed after curfew.”

Marissa sniffed. “If she’d found out you had the key to the sacramental wine cabinet tucked down your bodice…” She let this statement hang ominously in the air.

Gwyn grinned impishly, her red hair swirling about her face as she shook her head. “But she didn’t. And it was a marvelous party, you must admit. You drank your fair share, I dare say.”

Unable to contradict this damning indictment, Marissa maintained a studied silence. Perhaps it was the red hair, she thought. It seemed Gwyndolyn, whose upbringing had reportedly been as demure as her own, had developed a most inexplicable wild streak which could only be explained by the fiery red tresses. They must do something to the brain.

Gwyn reveled in breaking any rule she could find. And in most of her escapades she dragged Marissa along with her as a matter of course. ‘You need a bit of livening up,’ Gwyn had urged on numerous instances. Like tonight.

“Well, I’m going,” Gwyn declared. “And with any luck, I’ll get him to kiss me.”

This was, Marissa knew, Gwyn’s avowed mission in life—to achieve her first kiss. She had come to the Abbey of St. Marguerite from Invern where, so she reported, all the boys were repulsive, buck-toothed and smelling of pigs. If any had their doubts on this score—other girls from Invern had failed to confirm this low opinion of their men folk—they wisely maintained their own counsel.

At any rate, Gwyn was determined to find romance here in Kilbourne. Even in the chaste environs of the Abbey of St. Marguerite.

She must have arranged an assignation with one of the boys from St. Collin’s. Operated by an order of monastic warrior-monks, St. Collin’s lay only a few miles from the abbey. The monks trained an elite group of young men to be the rising military leaders of Kilbourne. On very rare—and very well-monitored—occasions, the boys of St. Collin’s and the young ladies of St. Marguerite’s were allowed meet for a cotillion. As St. Collin’s was the only available source of boys, so it must be the answer.

And he was bringing a friend for her. Great heavens! Marissa rolled her eyes.

“Where?” she finally asked, curiosity getting the better of her misgivings.

“On the lips, silly,” replied Gwyn triumphantly.

“No, goose. Where are you meeting this mysterious boy?”

“The note smuggled in to me,” Gwyn shivered deliciously at this bit of romantic intrigue, “said there’s a stand of elms about a mile east of the abbey, not far from the road. They’re going to wait for us there.”

“I still think you’re mad,” Marissa reported. “And I must be doubly so, to come with you.” She shrugged into her cloak and pulled the hood up so her face was almost completely obscured. “All right, let’s go before I come to my senses.”

Gwyn reached out and gave her best friend a hug. “You’re a brick, ‘Rissa,” she said. Then taking Marissa’s hand, she led the way out of the security of St. Marguerite’s and into the night.

At least they didn’t slide down bedsheets from a third-story window. Or shinny down a rickety trellis. Small mercies, Marissa supposed, should be counted when they could be. She eyed the stables warily. She wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Gwyn had decided to take a pair of horses from the small stable the Abbey maintained for riding lessons for the young ladies.

Eschewing equine transport in favor of feet, Gwyn led them stealthily through the shadow of the hedgerow lining the drive leading from the Abbey to the post road. Marissa breathed a sigh of relief as they reached the road. Being caught sneaking out would be bad enough. Being caught stealing horses as well would have spelled complete disgrace and disaster.

No shouts of discovery or pursuit rang out. In fact, the evening was still and peaceful. The silence was broken only by a particularly vocal set of frogs who croaked out greetings as the girls passed by, and by the sound of an owl off somewhere to their left. His muffled hoots brought a quick smile to Marissa’s lips. For some unknown reason she had decided she liked owls, although she had never met one face to face. Which was probably for the best, she opined. Then her foot connected with a rock on the path, and she staggered, muttering imprecations under her breath.

“You should have worn boots,” said Gwyn, indicating her own supple and fashionable kid boots. “Much more sensible than slippers.”

“I didn’t know,” Marissa pointed out through clenched teeth as she rubbed at her aching toes, “I was going for a stroll through the woods. In the dark. With no light!”

“Well, never mind. Look, the moon will be up soon. Oooh, and it’s going to be full. How romantic!” Gwyn gave a happy little sigh.

“Very nice,” said Marissa with considerably less enthusiasm.

“Oh, relax, ‘Rissa,” urged Gwyn. “It’ll be fun. Maybe the boy James is bringing for you will be cute too.”

“James?” inquired Marissa.

“James Randall duMont,” Gwyn reported. “His father is the Earl of Cormaine. Which means one day…”

“His oldest brother will be the Earl of Cormaine,” offered Marissa, taking just a tiny bit of malicious delight in the news. “I’ve heard of the family. He’s the youngest son, with three older brothers ahead of him in the line of succession.”

“Yes, but he’s still soooo handsome in his uniform…”

Marissa thought back to the last cotillion, some three months gone. She hadn’t noticed Gwyn with any one boy in particular. There had been a crowd of them around her, as usual; Sister Bernina had appeared ready to drive them off with a flaming sword. Of course they just seemed to naturally gravitate towards Gwyn. The red hair again, Marissa thought with just a touch of resentment. Boys didn’t notice girls with dark curls, no matter how soft and wavy those curls might be. They flocked to the cool blondes, or the exotic redheads. Brunettes were just—ordinary.

But that was getting away from the subject at hand, which seemed to be the charms of James Randall duMont. “I don’t remember him,” she admitted.

“Tall, broad shoulders, blond, with the biggest blue eyes that crinkle when he smiles. He smiled at me,” Gwyn said dreamily. “And I felt something go crashing…”

“I think that was me, running in to you,” Marissa told her repressively. “I remember—you stopped suddenly, and I couldn’t help but almost knock you over.”

“Our eyes met across the room,” Gwyn went on. “And…ack!” An enormous dark shape swooped past them, hooting lustily. Leaping back, Gwyn caromed into Marissa, whose attention had been focused on a particularly stubborn pebble which had managed to lodge itself in the toe of her slipper.

Marissa kept her balance, but it was a near thing. She decided perhaps she didn’t care for owls quite so much after all. And she wasn’t sure how she felt about Gwyn at the moment either. Dragging her out in the dead of night like this, with mad owls running about loose. All for some silly boy.

And for that elusive first real kiss. Cousins didn’t count, Gwyn had decreed. Marissa had tried to point out many a match had been made between cousins over the years, but Gwyn was having none of it. Cousins were just family; Gwyn wanted romance. She was certain when she got her first real kiss the stars would be jolted from their courses and angels would sing a chorus on a fluffy cloud overhead.

Marissa hadn’t had the heart to point out that if the stars were jolted from their courses, one would likely not be able to see those fluffy clouds, nor the angels perched upon them. She was just much too practical about these things. It was a curse sometimes.

Well, Marissa wished her joy of it. She had no such romantic illusions for herself. She didn’t often join in when the other girls began talking about boys. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested—she was. Most definitely. It was just… well, just talking about it wasn’t going to do anything but leave a sense of longing impossible to fulfill. Her practical streak again. Living in a world of romantic daydreams in which a bold knight rescued one from an ogre or a dragon was just silly. It wasn’t going to happen. Not to her, at any rate.

And sequestered as they were in the Abbey, under the baleful eyes of the Sisters, the girls had little enough opportunity for contact with any boys. Much less for romance. How Gwyn had managed to arrange this assignation in the first place staggered the imagination.

“Hsst!” said Gwyn, coming to another abrupt halt. Fortunately Marissa had been more watchful this time, and managed to avoid another collision.

“Hsst?” Marissa stifled a giggle. “What does that mean?”

“I think,” Gwyn said doubtfully, “it’s rather like ‘hark’. Anyway, what I was trying to convey was that I think we’ve arrived. Over there—isn’t that a stand of elms?”

Marissa was about to protest it was too dratted dark to tell an elm from an alder, and even in the daylight she might have found it deuced difficult, and this wasn’t the time for natural history anyhow. Then the moon broke out from behind a concealing cloud. As promised, it was full, and it bathed the landscape in a pale golden glow. It was rather romantic, Marissa admitted to herself.

And those were elms. Weren’t they? She squinted, trying to get a better look. Yes, definitely elms. Nature walks with Sister Ophelia had not gone to waste after all.

A pair of horses placidly cropped grass at the edge of the copse. Under the elms two figures waited. James Randall duMont and outrider, as promised. Marissa wondered with a suppressed giggle if the friend had been dragged along as unwillingly as she. Poor boy, forced to serve as companion to some unknown girl. He probably imagined stooped shoulders, bad teeth and a squint in the offing. But there was no time for any further supposition, for Gwyn had broken into a near-trot now, and Marissa was hard-pressed to keep up.

Gwyn came to a halt before her victim with a swish of gown which displayed a tantalizing glimpse of perfectly-turned calf. “Hello, James,” she cooed, her voice low and husky. Marissa made a mental note to inquire later how long she had practiced her “Hello, James” until she had gotten it down just right.

But it had the desired effect. Breeding told: the youngest son of the Earl of Cormaine presented a sweeping bow, ending with a nice flourish. “Fair Gwyndolyn,” he said to her feet, “I have counted the hours until our meeting. And it was worth the wait.” He rose and eyed her appreciatively.

Marissa saw her friend shiver with delight. James took Gwyn’s arm and led her away. Her eyes were shining up at him. Marissa turned to face the other boy.

“Hello,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster, considering they were meeting illicitly in a stand of trees in the moonlight. “I’m ‘Rissa.”

He stood in the shadow, his face nearly masked in darkness. But as he regarded her, Marissa caught a glimpse of hazel eyes gleaming with interest.

“I must apologize for James,” the boy said. “I’m afraid he’s gone and neglected the introductions. His mind was otherwise occupied, I suppose. They generally call me Rob, but…” Whatever he had been about to say was cut short by a girlish squeal which came from the direction taken by Gwyn and James. James, thought Marissa, doesn’t stand a chance.

“Do you attend St. Collin’s too?” she inquired. “I don’t recall seeing you at the cotillion.”

“I do, but I missed the cotillion,” he said. “But now I’ve met you, I’ll be sure to come to the next one.” He grinned engagingly, teeth dazzlingly white in the moonlight. His face seemed very dark, as if he were deeply tanned or in perpetual shadow. But on seeing his smile Marissa felt something give a little lurch inside her. It suggested there was a particularly good secret only the two of them shared. It was such an intimate feeling that she was taken off guard. She shivered, even with the warmth of her cloak.

“Are you cold? I could lend you my cloak if you’d like…”

Marissa shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. She’d come on this little outing purely with the intent of keeping Gwyn from compromising herself. From the sounds emanating from the trees behind which Gwyn and James stood, she was failing miserably in her mission. And here was this boy, smiling at her and paying her compliments and offering up his cloak to keep her warm. Impossible! This wasn’t really happening, was it?

“No, I’m fine,” she lied, even as her brain screamed “Yes, yes, put your cloak and your arms around me!” She vigorously squelched those thoughts and made an effort to change conversational tracks. “How did you end up getting dragged out here on this adventure?”

Rob shrugged. “James put it ‘round he was sliding out to meet this marvelous girl, and he needed someone to come to keep her cute friend company. None of the fellows wanted to chance it—not the sneaking out, that’s all right. The ‘cute friend’ bit was the dicey part. They never are, are they? Except in this case, those other fellows lost out.” He grinned again, and Marissa felt her insides dissolve into a delicious gooey mass, all wonderfully sweet and sticky, like the jam and cream on a scone.

Rob went on. “The fellows all say I live on my instincts. Anyway, something told me I should come with James tonight. As always, they steered me right.”

Marissa told herself she should put a firm stop to this flow of complements. She was no siren like Gwyn. Oh, she reckoned she was attractive enough, but she lacked Gwyn’s glamour and exotic looks. She was just plain ordinary Marissa duBerry from Bremaine, only daughter of a minor baronet, with dark complexion and curls, gold-flecked brown eyes and a nose just a little bit tilted at the tip. But she somehow couldn’t find the words, or the will-power, to stop him.

“And how did you end up out here in the moonlight?” Rob asked.

Marissa grimaced. “I seem to be the one who gets elected to go along with Gwyn on her escapades and keep her out of trouble. Although,” she said, “I don’t seem to be making such a good job of it tonight.” Another delighted squeal issued from the direction of the trees and Marissa’s brow furrowed with sisterly concern.

“Don’t worry,” Rob assured her. “James is a good sort—he won’t do anything improper.”

Marissa rolled her eyes. “Trust me, James isn’t the one I’m worried about,” she confided. “Gwyn’s determined to get her first real kiss tonight, and…”

She broke off in mid-sentence. Her companion was choking. At first she thought he had succumbed to some kind of fit. Then she realized it was strangled laughter. And it was quite infectious. She began to giggle, which set him off even more. In short order they were both chortling hysterically. Marissa struggled to control herself, gave a final unladylike snort, and wiped her streaming eyes with a bit of excessively flowing sleeve.

Rob, she could see, was making a manful effort to keep from succumbing to laughter again. He glanced over at her, sputtered, and clutched his stomach. Finally they both subsided into mere snorts and giggles.

“Sorry, ‘Rissa,” Rob said apologetically. “I don’t know why, it just really struck me as funny. Especially because you’re so beastly frank about the whole thing.”

“One of my many faults,” Marissa informed him. “Too practical and too ready to speak out about things that really ought to be kept quiet.”

Rob gazed into her eyes. His eyes, she noted, glittered like a cat’s in the moonlight. “And are you too practical to allow me to kiss you?” he asked. “Because my instincts are telling me I should kiss you now, while I have the chance.” He smiled.

“Are they?” The words had been intended to come out as languid, sultry, seductive. Instead, they had been breathless, and just a bit hopeful. It was his dratted smile—how could she be expected to respond in a properly worldly manner when her insides were doing back flips like an acrobat at the Midsummer festival. And the nearness of him, as well. He… he smelled good, all leather and soap and sandalwood. It was just too much for a girl to have to cope with.

Regaining some semblance of control over her emotions, she tilted her face up towards his, lowering her lashes in the approved manner. And then one of his hands was on the small of her back, pulling her close, and the other was traveling through the silky darkness of her hair, and his lips were on hers and time stopped and mountains fell and waves crashed and angels sang.

Eventually a sound like thunder seeped through her deliciously oblivious brain. Marissa wondered wildly if it was her heart, for she was certain it was beating loudly enough to make such a racket. Then the warm pressure of Rob’s lips was gone from her own, and suddenly and as if by magic they were standing a yard apart. Marissa realized the sound she had heard was hoof beats on the dry ground. An urgent voice called “Rob! James!” and then another boy came into view, he and his horse both sweating from a hard ride.

“Garvan,” Rob said dryly, “you have the timing of the devil himself.”

“Bed check!” announced the newcomer. “If you don’t get back now, they’ll mark you as missing, and all hell will bust loose. I took an awful chance slipping out to warn you.”

James appeared from behind the trees, Gwyn at his side. She was trying rather unsuccessfully to straighten her bodice and fix her hair. Her lips were almost as red as her hair, and they were curved into a smile that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a cat left with an unguarded cream pitcher. Her tongue flicked out to run sensuously over them, and her eyes glinted wildly in the moonlight.

Rob turned back to Marissa. “I’m truly sorry to leave just as we were getting acquainted,” he said, “but I’m afraid we must.”

“I’m sorry too,” she breathed. Her voice seemed unnaturally husky, and her lips felt swollen from his kiss, and her heart was still pounding like the hooves of Garvan’s horse. “Will I see you again?”

She realized even as she uttered the words that she shouldn’t have. She had no claim on him. This was just a casual moonlight tryst, with no promises attached. Unplanned, unexpected, it was so surreal that Marissa was half-certain she was going to wake up in her bed and find she had dreamed the whole episode.

Rob was swinging up onto his horse. He looked down at her and his teeth flashed white against his dark skin as he beamed another grin her way. Marissa had been hoping against hope he’d give her one more smile before he rode off, to remember him by. And there it was, melting her like warm sunshine on an early snowfall. Those smiles, she decided, could become quite habit-forming.

“I’d like to see you again,” he said. He reached down to take her hand in his. “Perhaps the next time, we won’t be interrupted by some fool barging in.” He grinned again “I’ll look forward to that.”

Raising her hand, he brushed a kiss her palm and then released it. Marissa vowed not to wash that hand for at least the next five years. Rob wheeled his mount, gave a jaunty wave, and rode off into the night, following James. Garvan looked at the two girls--a bit enviously, Marissa thought. He shook his head and took off after the other boys.

Marissa watched them until Rob was out of view. She looked up to find Gwyn standing next to her, a knowing smile on her face. “Well?” she demanded.

“Very well,” Marissa answered, as an answering smile threatened to explode from her. “Very well indeed.” And with that, they began the walk back to the Abbey under the watchful gaze of the moon.

Keith W. Willis graduated (long ago) from Berry College with a degree in English Lit. He now lives in the scenic Hudson Valley/Adirondack region of NY with his wife Patty. They have one grown son, Matt, who actually thinks it’s pretty cool that Dad wrote a book.

Keith’s interests include camping, canoeing, and Scrabble. Keith began writing seriously in 2008, when the voices in his head got too annoying to ignore. When he’s not making up stories he manages a group of database content editors at a global information technology firm. Traitor Knight is his first published novel.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tattle and Wrye - Special Edition - Remembrance Tribute to Michael W. Davis - February 2016



We are going to step out of our Tattle and Wrye personas to pay tribute to one of Champagne Books Group’s fallen heroes, Michael W. Davis.  This dear, kind and generous soul, exemplified what it meant to an honorable man above men.  His remarkable writing talent with its clean, concise and engaging prose attracted many fans, including us.  We knew if we sat down to read a Michael W. Davis book, we’d be there for the duration.

It isn’t often you come across someone who is so consistent in his devotion to his fellow authors or his home publisher.  CBG is like a home, and everyone a family, looking out for each other.  Mike, affectionately known as Big Mike, was our big brother, even if we were older than him.  He would shepherd almost every newbie in the family, and he was never too busy to offer advice, help with publicity, contribute a blog or article, review a book, or be the Papa Bear on all literary statistics.
Whenever we needed help, he was our go-to person.  January 9, 2016, we lost Mike to that Big Literary Publisher in Heaven, and mourn that loss deeply.  We offer our condolences to his family, friends, and all the lives he had touched with his contagious joy, quiet humor, unconditional help, and consistent care. 
To quote Mitch Cuento, “Sometimes to someone you love you want to say goodbye, but you can't get the words out. Because in your heart saying goodbye would just be a lie.”  We never got that chance to say goodbye, and are glad for that would indeed be a falsehood.  Mike resides in every word he had ever written, and we will get to see him again and again when we re-read his blogs, articles and stories.  For you, BM, there will never be goodbye, but one day, we hope to laugh and write with you again, in that other place where people never have to be apart.  In the meantime, we will miss you. 

The following are taken from previous Tattle and Wrye columns highlighting Michael W. Davis’ books.
“Nooo!” Tattle screams as horrific images enfold her, empathy pulling concern.
Without thought to peril, he grabs her, yanking her free of her predicament.
She prissily pats her brow with a monogrammed handkerchief that Wrye had provided. “Jump calculations were off. Gracious.” Tattle places a hand to her throat. “Poor Sara... I have just glimpsed a traumatic nightmare that she has consistently.”
“Sara?” He takes back the linen hanky, notices the eye make-up and glares.

“Mark’s wife, his life, his heart. They are the protagonists of the award winning FORGOTTEN CHILDREN by Michael W. Davis, Champagne’s Author of the Year.”
Wrye re-slips the linen to Tattle, looks about the rural seemingly serene town of Lawton, Virginia. “How could such a tranquil environment induce chronic nightmares?”
"A maze of intrigue." Tattle links her arm in the crook of his as they walk along, captivated by the vista. “Lethal danger. A series of deaths. One a former professor.”
"Death?" They pause as Wrye views the street with suspicion. “Ah, isn’t this also the place where all too many children are being born with a rare genetic disease?”
“Why Wrye, you have been reading ahead?” Scolding with a swat of the hanky.
His chin bobbed a notch. “Of course, my snoopy-snoop comrade in prattle.”
They offer a moment of respectful silence to the tragedy solidly buried within the gripping, suspenseful mystery, and then Penza Tattle whispers, “Here's the boggle. All this is happening while Mark and Sara are trying to conceive. Don't you say it.”
“No!” He understood, she understood, he was about not to abstinent the ribald.
“Yes,” Tattle’s head bobs empathically. “And unbeknownst to all, Sara holds the skeleton key to the truth of political and corporate transgressions, shame-shame, which at tome's end has the randy couple battling for their lives and sheet-time.”
Wrye scampers ahead, trying to hurdle clauses through to the last few pages.
Grasping his suspenders, “Oh no, you don’t,” Penza says, “You have to read it a page at a time like the rest of us.” She releases the braces and he stumbles.
"But I have to know if Mark's a papa." As a graduated Evelyn Wood's speed reader he starts eating pages.
"Ok, naughty rascal, you just want to read about the horizontal tango."
"Of course, Michael is the Author of the Year."
"So you think you can dance? We've much to do. Let's Rumba out of here."

“I like the rain,” Tattle says, and swipes the wetness from her eyes much like Megan, a character who appears in the contemporary novel SHADOW OF GUILT by Michael Davis.
“I like umbrellas,” returns Wrye and opens a striped green and white golf umbrella to cover them both. “I also like weaving our way through Davis’ story. There’s Sean Paterson,” Wyre points out the hero as the duo suddenly find themselves in a café, “a man harboring hate, a need for vengeance, and across from him is Detective Christine Sheppy who’s coping with guilt, a guilt born from the simple need to survive.”
Tattle seeps further into the story. “Their lonely conscious ridden lives become entwined as they try to help an estranged teen and her child, who are lost and targeted.”
Wrye becomes lost in prose, his green carnation wilts as if agreeing with the sadness in Wrye’s tone. “The ache for something strong and loving between them becomes fragile and strained as the haunts of their past refuse to let go. Christine trusted with her heart once and ended up hurt. Dare she trust again? He believed in the magic of forever. Will he find his way back to that belief again?”
Sorrow furrows Tattle’s brow. “Sean knows he wants that sweetness of being with someone for a lifetime, but his hate, his need for vengeance and past shadows make him rash, ready to destroy possibilities.”
“Can either of them escape the endless grief? Can they win out over the depraved acts of malevolent men who prey on the helpless? Will their emerging love be enough to conquer all?”
“Read and find out!”

The duet du gossip appears in the small town of Tanglewood Falls with its magnificent view. “Mystery, suspense, romance, it must be BLIND CONSENT BY MICHAEL W. DAVIS, CHAMPAGNE BOOKS AUTHOR OF THE YEAR,” offers Wrye. "But where there's heavenly beauty, one might discover 'ell. Doc Tat, grow us our next plot tree."

“Sapling planted. After the loss of his wife, Ryan returns to search for truth in this poor, forgotten community where trust and blind consent had been unwittingly exploited. Fertilizer applied.”

“I deduce…” Wrye pauses and admits, “from reading it that Ryan has been haunted by dreams and puzzling images for twenty years. Enter ghostly sounds stage left. Exit reality stage right. He is desperately trying to untangle the reality of what happened to him and to his town. Weed Whacker Alert!”

“All true… everything is hidden… so many secrets… even the folklore of the simple people, who believe their Annie is blessed.” She re-laces her high top high heel and checks wobble.

“Annie… the woman he meets during his quest is a lovely lass with her own secrets, her own passion for Ryan and the belief that he is her destiny.” Spinning his double-billed cap, now appearing much like a hang glider on his head, he says, "Remember the adventure of The Red-headed League? Like that, this is providing much boggle for the man. But... it's all 'ell men tree, m'Dear Tattleson, love... love... love!"

"In this outwardly beautiful, peaceful town, where sinister forces anchor its foundation, Ryan and Annie become lost to each other, lost to the mystery, and maybe lost to love. He needs to find himself, but in the end…”

“Shhh,” he says, "Give away no more. Off to 221B Baker Street.”

“Are the real Sherlock and Watson expecting us?”

“Sorry, got caught up in the fiction.”

Read these and his other books so you can always stay connected to a great man and very talented author.
Dona Penza Rutabaga Tattle, Esq. and Associate Wrye Balderdash
of Blather City, Wannachat

Created and written by:  Angelica Hart and Zi

Books by: Angelica Hart and Zi
Books by: Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Savvy Saturday Love-Style: The Best Valentine by Holly Hunt

Liz smothered a smile, looking at the man in front of her. He was looking through his pockets for a pen, even though his phone was hanging half-out of his jacket pocket. She rested her head on her hand, her elbow on the bar, and watched him.

She'd seen the man around town before, but she'd not spoken to him. He'd spent all night watching her as she danced with Lisa. She'd sent him a couple of smiles, encouraging him over, and he'd finally joined them around two-thirty in the morning. It was now a quarter to four, and she was looking to head home.

"Gotcha!" he called, pulling out a pen and holding it out to her.

Liz smiled and reached over to rescue his phone from his pocket. "I'm not that old-school, sweetie."

Phil flushed, putting the pen back in his jacket. She held the phone out for him to unlock, then filled in her name and number.

"Well, then, I will see you later," Liz said, and reached out to kiss the man on the cheek.

She smiled as she caught a look of happiness on the man's face, and turned to leave the bar. A young man, a few years older than her twenty-one years, reached out to grab her ass as she walked past. She reacted lightning-quick, grabbing his thumb and twisting it over his head. She glanced over to see Phil taking a step forward, but turned her attention back to the man moaning in pain in front of her.

"You're lucky I left my badge at home tonight," she told him, twisting a little further. "Or I'd arrest you for sexual harassment. Keep it in your pants, asshole."

She let him go and gave Phil a little wave, trying not to giggle at the dumbstruck look on his face. She left the bar and headed home, humming under her breath.

Today was a good day. She couldn't help but wonder what shit the next day was going to bring.


Liz rolled out of bed and yawned, her neck and one of her wrists cracking. She rubbed at her face and looked at her hands, then winced. She'd forgotten to remove her makeup before she went to bed, and now it was smeared on her hands and face.

Groaning, Liz hauled herself out of bed and tottered to the bathroom, taking note of the time and groaning again. She was on shift again in an hour, and would have to wake up fast.

Having relieved herself, Liz turned the shower on and climbed in, turning the cool water on faster as she stepped under it. The cold water woke her up, and she set about washing her hair and teeth, then scrubbing at her face with a flannel to remove the smudged makeup.

As Liz stepped from her shower, her cell rang. She looked at it, curious, for a second, then scrambled around the bed to get to it before it could stop.

"Special Detective Rhodes."

"Hi, um, is this Liz?"

Liz broke into a smile, glancing at the clock. She had a few minutes she could spend on a call. "I dunno. Describe her for me."

"Tall, leggy blonde, about twenty-two, hot as an angel and wicked as a devil."

Liz laughed. "Yeah, that sounds like me."

"Oh, good." Phil sighed on the other end of the phone. "I thought you might have given me a dud number."

"Nah, I don't do that. I'm a copif I don't like the attention, I just pull out my gun."

"Wait, you had a gun on you last night?" Phil sounded unnerved.

"I've always got a gun on me," she said, putting the phone on speaker and laying it on the bedside table. "I just try to find ways not to use it."

"Oh. Well, um, I enjoyed last night," he said, flustered, and Liz smiled as she dried her hair.

"So did I. It was fun."

"So, um, did you want to go out and get coffee with me?"

Liz shook her head out, letting her hair fly around the place. "Sure, when?"

"Um, tonight?"

Liz winced. "I'm on shift tonight," she said, then hunted through her drawers for panties. "Why don't we go for dinner tomorrow night instead?"

"Yeah, no, that's—well, that sounds good to me."

"Then it's settled. You find us a restaurant and send me the details. I finish my shift at nine tomorrow morning, so any time after four would be great." Liz pulled on her blouse, did up her pants and pulled her hair up. "I have to go, but you have a good night."

"Yeah. Yeah, you too."

Liz picked up her phone and disconnected the call. She smiled to herself as she tucked it into her back pocket, pulling her boots on and heading through the house to the front door.


The night was quiet, and for that, Liz was grateful. It was a day or so before Valentine's Day, and she was worried there would be an influx of men being assaulted or killed by irate girlfriends for suggesting they just ignore it that year. Liz sat behind her desk, filling out paperwork for the robbery she'd covered the day before, trying to remember everything relevant to add into the report.

"Detective Rhodes."

Liz looked up at the sergeant, then stood up. "Yessir?"

The man smiled. "So you're the one my son has taken a fancy to?"

Liz frowned. "Your son, sir?"


Liz's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "He's your son, sir?"

Bill sat down in the chair next to her desk, gesturing for her to sit down as well. "He is. I just wanted to get that out of the way before you two go too far. He's spent his entire life around police, and, well, I'm not honestly surprised that he'd be attracted to one. Especially one so beautiful."

Liz felt a blush creep up her neck, and she looked the man in the eye. "Yessir. Thank you, sir."

Bill smiled and stood up. "Look sharp, Detective. It's almost quitting time."

Liz glanced at the clock and smothered a smile as her phone went off. "So it is. Thank you, Sergeant."


Phil's instructions had her wandering down the main street a few hours later, dressed to the nines and feeling a little uncomfortable in the cold late-winter air. She looked at the restaurant behind her and then again at the traffic coming up the road.

Phil jogged up to her, panting a little, and gave her a flippant bow. "Liz! Imagine seeing you here!"

Liz couldn't help but smile at the man. "Phil. What a surprise."

Phil straightened up and held out his elbow. "Sorry I was late, my dad held me up. Wanted to talk about something."

"Yeah, I didn't know Sergeant Donhowi was your dad," Liz said as he opened the door for her.

Phil winced. "Yeah, he told me about your conversation. I'm sorry, I didn't think he would seek you out."

Liz patted his hand reassuringly. "Seek me out? Sweetie, he's my boss."

Phil turned red, and he seemed to be holding in laughter.

"What?" Liz asked, turning a little red.

"How many women work under him?" Phil asked, then turned to the maître d. "Donhowi, table for two."

"Just me, why?"

Phil looked like he was trying to decide if it was wise to answer her. She jabbed him in the side.

"Ow! Okay. I'm laughing because dad used to call you 'that beautiful bitch' when you corrected him, and he came home ranting."

Liz didn’t know whether to be happy that he thought she was beautiful, or furious that he called her a bitch.

"He hasn't done that in months, though. Oh, no!" Phil said, catching the look on her face as she sat down. "He never said it in a bad way, it was usually in wonder and frustration, not anything bad."

Liz let it go. Phil said that Bill hadn't said it in months, so she was happy to move on. "So, you already know I'm in the police force. What do you do?"

Phil smiled, taking the menu from the waiter and waiting for the man to leave. "I'm in college, doing some criminology courses."

Liz grinned as she looked down the menu, and glanced at Phil. "Law enforcement runs in both our families, then."

Phil frowned in confusion. "What makes you say that? Is your dad a cop too?"

Liz shook her head. "No. Mom's the police commissioner."

Phil stared at her long enough for the waiter to come back. He had to do a quick scan of the menu and ordered something quickly while Liz pretended not to notice.

Liz's phone, sitting in the middle of the table, vibrated. Sighing, she looked at the screen. "I'm so sorry," she said, standing up and taking the phone. "I have to take this."

Phil nodded, waving her off. "Please, do."

Liz squeezed his shoulder and headed for the bathroom. Once inside, she tapped the green button and lifted the phone to her ear. "Special Detective Rhodes."

"I hope your date was going awful, because you're about to run out," Lisa said, a horn honking in the background.

"What makes you say that?" Liz said, her heart sinking.

"Some asshole took a kid last night, and he's been found."

Liz frowned. "Why is that our problem? If he's been found, you don't need—"

"When I say found, I mean half of him," Lisa said, and Liz heard the indicator of her car ticking in the background. "I'll send you the address and let Denise know I've given you the heads up so dispatch won't call."

Liz sighed. "Okay. I'll be there soon."

"Lisa out."

Liz sighed, looking at the screen of her phone. She left the bathroom to the raucous of the dining room, and made a beeline to where Phil sat.

"I'm sorry," she said, picking up her handbag. "That was my partner. A kid was kidnapped last night, and they just found him."

"That doesn't sound like a job for the homicide department… Oh no." Phil's mouth opened in horror. "No, go, Liz, I completely understand. We'll reschedule."

Liz sighed in relief and pecked him on the cheek. "Thank you! I'll be in touch."

She almost bolted out the door and to the cruiser. Lucky she kept a spare set of clothes in the car, just in case.


Liz spent the next few days pouring over photographs and reports of the crime scene, searching out clues to help her solve the case of the dead child. All other work in the homicide departmentwhat little there was that wasn't siphoned off from other departmentswas halted, the department working to solve the murder.

"I don't think I've ever seen this place so quiet," a voice said from above her table, startling her out of her dark thoughts. "It must be bad."

Liz leaned back, closing the folder in front of her so Phil wouldn't have to see the close-up photograph of the boy's face, liver removed from his mouth. "Hey, what're you doing here?"

"Brought you lunch," he said, smiling and handing her a paper bag. "I thought you'd like something to eat. Dad said no one's really stopped since you got that phone call."

Liz, feeling a bit guilty, reached into the bag and pulled out a sandwich, soda and apple. "I'm sorry I haven't called, but—"

"No, it's alright, I understand," Phil said, smiling and sitting down on the chair beside her desk. "Like I said, dad told me you'd all been nose to the grindstone since then."

Liz smiled at him, cracking the soda and chugging half of it before starting on the sandwich.

"This is touching," Bill said, putting a hand on Phil's shoulder. "Did you bring me lunch too?"

"Not even close," Phil said, smiling at Liz.

"Damn." Bill looked at Liz, who pulled the food closer to herself and making it clear she thought it would be stolen at the first chance. "We have a meeting in ten minutes. McCarthy found something, and we need to formulate a plan."

Liz nodded, washing down the last of the sandwich and starting on the apple.

"Well, that's my cue," Phil said, standing up. "Hey, message me when you're free, and we'll go from there."

"Thanks, Phil." She stood up and pecked him on the lips. "You're wonderful."

Phil smiled after her as she headed for the meeting room, smiling at him as she shut the door after her.


"Well, you see here," McCarty said, looking around the group. He was clearly nervous, and Liz found it surprising. Normally, Bill would have presented the information, but as this was such a huge case, McCarthy was forced to share his findings. "I followed this set of boot prints in the mud. The ground was dry enough not to make bootprints by the time we got there, so we have an approximate time for the body being dumped."

"Or someone could have walked through the lot before the body was dumped?" one of the other detectives said.

"Well, I thought that too. But it's been raining for a week, and only dried out about four hours ago. The body's temp said that the victim had been dead about four hours – so that tells you how long he'd been hanging there."

"Which means what?" Liz asked, sitting at the back of the room.

"Which means that we have to go ask this man—" Bill flicked a switch, and the slide against the wall changed, "—what he was doing at exactly that time."

The picture was that of a wallet lying open on the ground, with a man's licence showing. The wallet was dry, but the leather had sunk a little bit into what was now dry mud. It had been left there around the same time as the bootprint.

Liz smiled internally. This would make the hunt so much easier. She might just get a proper date within the next week or so!

"We're dispatching uniforms to arrest him and bring him in," Bill said. "Congratulations, guys. Once we get his confession, and his fingerprints, I'm sure this will be an easy solve for such a gruesome murder."

Muttering broke out as the homicide department left the small room. Liz went back to her desk, smiling, and put the murder file away. She may just send Phil a message now.


Liz hadn't been assigned to observe the interview with Charles Housen, the suspect in the murder, so she and Phil arranged for a date a few days later. They would go and see an action film, have dinner and see where the night went.

They had a delightful dinner, and things progressed. Liz invited him to her home, and he agreed. They had a few drinks in her living room, and the next thing Liz knew, she was waking up to her phone buzzing, Phil sprawled across her naked body on her living room floor. The bubble of contentment was burst, and she swore repeatedly under her breath, attempting to ignore the phone and go back to sleep.

"Shit," she muttered, ruffling through the clothes on the floor until she found her pants, and the pocket with her phone. "Rhodes. This better be good."

"I hope you and Phil weren’t getting too hot-n-heavy," Denise of dispatch said, sounding a bit flustered. "You're being called in. Bill wants you in Carriage Way in ten minutes. A kid's gone missing."

"Then talk to vice," Liz said, dropping her head back on the floor and looking at Phil. "Kidnapping has nothing to do with me."

"It does now," Denise said in a no-nonsense way. "There's every sign it's just like the last one. You have a serial killer on the loose."

Liz sat bolt-upright, then shook her head when Phil rolled over away from her, clearly still asleep. "Tell him I'll be there in a half-hour. I have a man to wake up first."


The Best Valentine is a prequel to Holly Hunt's novel The Holiday Killer. Want to find out what happens next? Click here

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Savvy Saturday Love Style: Unscheduled by J.S. Marlo

For the month of February the Champagne Book Group Blog will be doing something a little different. Four of your favorite authors have volunteered to share very special, exclusive, unpublished short stories. So enjoy the love and happy Valentine's Day from CBG.


The blindfold, snug around her head, soaked up Riley's tears. As if he sensed her disappointment, Blythe took her hand into his and gently stroked her fingers.

"It'll be all right, Shamrock. We'll spend a memorable Valentine's Day and we'll see the kids soon. I promise."

An avalanche had closed the Trans-Canada Highway near Revelstoke, trapping Hunter on the wrong side of the snow dump, and an ice storm on the east coast had cancelled Rowan's connecting flight to Calgary. What should have been their first winter break as a family on their new ranch had turned into heartbreak.

"If I agree with you, can we go back home and cuddle in front of the fireplace?"

Deep laughter reverberated inside the SUV. "It's tempting, but no."

To cheer her up, Blythe had insisted on a road trip to a secret destination. After what felt like hours, he stopped and turned the engine off. A tender kiss brushed her lips then the blindfold loosened and fell onto her lap.

A snowy mountain covered with evergreen climbed into the clouds. In its fold rested a wooden building from where vapor mounted into the air.

"It's beautiful, Blythe. Where are we?"

"Banff." He reached on the backseat for their gym bags. "Come."

Her hand tucked into Blythe's glove and her bag slung over her shoulder, she strolled by his side. Teased by the wind, the snowflakes swirled in the cold air and prickled her cheeks. As they drew closer, voices and laughter leaped from the vapor, and a strong, acerbic odor tickled Riley's nose.

"Is that...sulfur?" As she identified the chemical compound, understanding dawned on her. "Hot Springs?"


In the changing room, Riley searched her bag. Blythe had replaced her top, shorts, and runners with a towel and the teal bikini she'd bought on their Icelandic honeymoon in November. The purchase had been for her husband's eyes only, not to parade in public.

Around her, female tourists donned old-fashioned bathing suits while chatting in foreign languages Riley didn't understand. To her relief, no one seemed to pay attention to her or her sexy attire.

A steamy tunnel sloping downward led to the thermal pool. As she advanced, the hot mineral water rose, encircling her ankles. Sporting blue and gray trunks, Blythe waited a few feet away.

He sought her hand, then her waist, pulling her into a loving embrace. "You're stunning."

The door opened, and the cold, Canadian winter assailed her bare skin.

"This is amazing, Blythe."


Riley sank to her neck into the water, and the blissful sigh escaping her lips warmed Blythe's heart. Valentine's Day was all about love and romance. Tears of sorrow didn't belong in her lovely green eyes.

He wrapped her in his arms and sat with her on his lap. A shield of vapor arched over their heads, transforming the falling snow into a warm mist. The tension of the day ebbed away as his wife relaxed against his chest. Leaning forward, he nibbled on her ear. Her wiggly response fueled his passion. "I love you, Shamrock."

At the mercy of strong wind gusts, fog patches drifted across the water, enveloping the bathers. Taking advantage of the low visibility, Blythe ventured covert caresses over her bikini.

"You're not behaving." She whispered against his neck, her fingers laced with his.

His skin tingled under her touch and he basked in the sensations she awoke. "You're impossible to resist."

Silent laughter rippled through her body. "Will we spend the night in Banff?"

Had his efforts to give her a special Valentine's gift failed, he would have entertained the option. "I wish, but we have a plane to catch."

"We're flying?" A hint of panic had crept into her voice. "Where?"

He bestowed a feathery kiss in the crook of her neck. "If I tell you, it won't be a surprise."


As Riley entered the Calgary airport, hope there might have been a last minute seat available for Rowan or Hunter surged, only to crash when Blythe presented her with a boarding pass.

"We're flying to Winnipeg tonight?"

"When Beth learned the kids couldn't come home until later this week, she invited us."

Blythe shared a close relationship with his sister Beth and her twin boys. That he'd want to spend a few days with them shouldn't have come as a shock.

"That's very sweet of her."

During the flight, Blythe regaled her with childhood stories, and as Riley joined in with tales of her own, the memories of the past alleviated the ache in her heart. She might not be with her children, but her children were still the best part of her. By the time the plane landed, she was eager to experience the magic of winter break through the eyes of two rambunctious eight-year-olds.


The smell of chocolate and cookie dough wafted into the vestibule, teasing Blythe's nose and empty stomach.

"I'm so glad you're here." Beth smothered him and Riley with a long hug. "Noah and Adam are in the kitchen making cookies with their two little cousins."

Eager to meet the visitors and taste their creation, Blythe pressed a hand to the small of his wife's back and directed her toward the clatters and laughter.

Riley's gorgeous eyes shone a darker shade of green. "With four cookie monsters in your kitchen, Beth, are you sure it's safe to enter?"

His sister looked at him with a knowing smile. Blythe owed her big for the many trips she made to the airport today.

"I promise I'll protect you from sticky fingers." As he teased his wife, Blythe nudged her along. "This way."

Riley stilled in the kitchen doorway.

A spatula clunked onto the floor, dropping chunks of cookie dough in its wake. His nephews squealed while Rowan and Hunter enveloped their mother in a bear hug.

Tears streamed down Riley's cheeks as she gazed lovingly at him over their children's shoulders. "I love you."

"Love you, too, Shamrock. Happy Valentine's Day."