Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday stories: The Lord Of Misrule

~Story by Karen Wasylowski~

 “I don’t see why I must wear a costume; it’s degrading. This is my house! Certainly that should make me exempt from such foolishness. And why is Fitzwilliam Lord of Misrule this year? Again! He’s always Lord of Misrule and all he does is drink too much and give the children too much candy, then he plays terrible tricks on me, sneaks upstairs and goes to sleep while I must entertain the entire countryside in some ridiculous costume. I mean I’m in a ridiculous costume, not the entire countryside. The toes on these shoes curl up, Elizabeth! Who am I supposed to be, anyway?”

Elizabeth took a deep breath to calm her annoyance. Darcy had been bickering and complaining like a child all evening, he was worse than a child. “For the third time you are Henry II and I am Eleanor of Aquitaine. If you like give me a quill and I can jot that on parchment for you.” She turned and left the room before his mind registered the insult.

“I remembered! Don’t think I did not remember, Elizabeth! I just dislike Henry II; I should prefer to be Henry V.”

“But I want to be Eleanor!” She spoke with the finality of hostess of Pemberley then closed the door on him. Of course he had to give in to her; house parties were far removed from his area of expertise. He just wanted to hunt and play football.

Just then there was a banging on their dressing room doors. “Open up for the Lord of Misrule.”

“Go away you big ox.”

“Darcy, quit pouting, it’s unmanly. You’re behaving badly because I am Lord of Misrule again and you’re not.” Fitzwilliam could not keep the taunting tone from his voice. Truth was, he did not try overly hard.

Darcy opened the door and starred at his cousin’s ridiculous outfit. He was wearing a long brown woolen sackcloth robe with green garland around his neck and a wreath of holly about his head. “Gad, you look like a fat spruce. You better be wearing something under that hideous cloak.”

“Oh be quiet. You’re still not Lord of Misrule and I am. Besides I’m older than you, it is my right.” Fitzwilliam stuck out his foot to show his raggedy stockings.

“Put that away. You have eight children and I have only three, that’s why you are chosen each year, and the only reason. You breed like a stoat and then bribe your offspring in a most disgraceful manner to vote for you. You bribe your own children, Fitzwilliam. Have you no shame?” Darcy shook his head in disgust, making a tsking sound as he did so.

“No, what’s your point?”

Darcy groaned. “Well, what have you planned for this evening?”

“Nothing too strenuous for you, brat. Love the crown by the way. Who are you supposed to be this evening, Catherine of Aragon? Honest mistake – sorry. No need to get into a snit. All right, tonight we shall eat and dance and drink and dance, the usual Saturnalia celebration. Then at midnight I will sacrifice my body and take my good wife up to bed but you must remain and entertain your neighbors and town officials until they drop over. That is my decree.”

“That cannot be all, surely. No inappropriately bawdy play this year? No feats of strength? No embarrassing solo singing?”

“Darcy, my dear friend, I find it’s not as much fun to taunt you as it was when we were younger, strange as that may sound. I have mellowed in my old age, brat. I find it amazing but the older we are becoming the more I admire you Darcy – tremendously really, and have no need any longer for childish behavior.”

They stared quietly at each other for several moments.

“Your wife has forbidden you to humiliate me this year, hasn’t she?”

“Stopped all my plans cold, let go the men I hired to dress up as women and kiss you and removed the nails I had placed on your chair.”

“I grow to love that woman more and more each year.”

“As do I.” Grabbing a handful of cookies from a tray, Fitzwilliam resettled his crown of ivy. “Feeling better, cousin?”

“Infinitely. Merry Christmas, Fitz.”

“Merry Christmas yourself, Darcy. Now I’ve stolen some pepper from cook - let’s go down and have a go at Bingley’s hot wassail.”

Karen will be a guest Over Coffee on February 4, 2011 with her debut book and excerpts.


Karen Wasylowski is a retired CPA. She and her husband spend their free time volunteering with charitable organizations that assist the poor. They also are actively involved with Project Light of Manatee, providing literacy instruction to immigrants and to members of the community. Karen and her husband live in Bradenton, Florida. Her debut, Darcy And Fitzwilliam, will be released February 1, 2011 by Sourcebooks.

You can find out more about Karen and her writing on her website.

Available 2/2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Stories: Christmas Cookies and Holiday Joy

~Story by Beth Hill~

Sarah inhaled the fragrances of cinnamon and sugar and the chocolate chips melting into gooey deliciousness in the oven. Homey smells. Christmas smells.

She wanted to sit, relax, to inhale more than smells. She wanted the peace of the season to wash over her, still her racing mind and ease her fractured soul. But if she stopped moving, sorrow would overwhelm. She knew it. Had given in last Christmas. And again on his birthday. She’d been unable to resist the lure of peace on those two days.

But peace had eluded her. And instead grief had stolen into her home, into her mind and heart. And she’d cried out her anger and sorrow and loss, collapsing on her kitchen floor in a tangle of oven mitts and tears and memories. And standing again, facing life again, had been nearly impossible.

She reached for the oven door just before the timer buzzed, and pulled out the tray of perfect cookies. His favorite. She baked them every year. He couldn’t get enough. And she’d watch as he devoured one after another, following every third bite or so with a gulp of cold milk. And he’d grin, crumbs clinging to his lips, knowing she got a kick out of his passion for home-baked cookies made just for him.

She scoured the kitchen; focusing on making perfect and whole those things she had control over. And pushed far from her mind the events she couldn’t influence or change. But she left the cookies mounded on wax paper since Mac liked them that way. Liked reaching across the counter and plucking one or two or five whenever he wanted them.

The reflection from the tree beckoned her to the living room and the large glass windows that framed it. She’d stop for only a moment, her heart promised her head. Just a brief passage of time to watch the snowfall, to admire the twinkling lights as they pushed against the darkness both inside and out. Just a moment . . .

When the clocked chimed nine, Sarah jumped. Then smiled. Silly to feel guilty over losing herself in memories of her husband. She wouldn’t break down this Christmas. She’d learned that lesson. Plus, the news had been better this year. The better news being they’d actually heard news. The first reliable report since her captain had gone missing sixteen months earlier.

Chaplain Anderson had called in October. One of the Resolute Seven—prisoners held for over four months in a no-name cave in Afghanistan—had mentioned Mac—someone who sounded like Mac, please God—in his briefing. So this year she’d added hope to her arsenal of determination and faith and prayers. This year she wouldn’t give in to despair.

She pressed her fingers against the cold glass. Closed her eyes and lowered her head.

“Keep him warm tonight. Please. Hold him in Your arms since he doesn’t have mine. Fill his heart with Your love, with my devotion. And give Him your peace.”

Sarah leaned against her hand and stared into the night. So quiet. So pure.

So lonely.

“And please hold me. Because I’m afraid I can’t hold on any longer.”

She returned to the kitchen. In the near dark she pulled milk from the fridge and poured a tall glass. She piled cookies on a plate and arranged plate and milk on the reindeer placemat at the head of the table. She fussed with a linen napkin, flattening it again and again until she realized what she was doing and yanked her hands away. Enough of that. She still had presents to wrap, gifts for her brother’s family. She turned. And blinked.

The front door was opening, three men stepping through.

Chaplain Anderson, removing his hat. Colonel Ryan, Mac’s CO, holding the arm of another man. That other man dangling a key from his fingers.

The third man lifted his head at her gasp. Then grinned. And then he was rushing to her and squeezing her and kissing her face.

“Sarah. My God, Sarah.”

And then Sarah was on her knees, holding Mac, holding a dream, and kissing him back. Touching him everywhere. Crying and laughing and shaking so much she thought she’d finally snapped and lost her mind.

But when Mac pulled back and grasped her face between his hands, when she could see his eyes and into his soul, she knew he was not imagined but real and in their home.

In her arms.

She stared in wonder for a timeless instant, then sobs burst from her chest and she burrowed into Mac, clutching him, trying to breathe, trying to think. Trying not to feel because the emotions were stretching her beyond her limits and shattering her mind.

“I smell cookies.” That was the colonel.

Mac laughed. He laughed. Sarah gripped him even tighter.

“Sir, those are my cookies. All mine. I’ve been dreaming of them for days. And I’m sorry to say, you won’t get a single taste.”

Sarah wiped her face against Mac’s coat. Trust her man to get to the heart of any matter.

“Sarah? You ready to stand now? I wanna get this coat off and hold you properly.”

“Major, I believe this is where Chaplain Anderson and I bid you goodnight. And Merry Christmas.”

Sarah scrambled to her feet, pulling at Mac, searching his face. Thin. Lined. Hers. “How? When?” She squeezed her eyes shut and drew in an uneven breath. He was still there when she opened her eyes. “Major?” She twisted to look at Colonel Ryan, but turned immediately back to Mac. “I was just asking God to hold you, since I couldn’t. And now you’re here. You’re here.”

Mac saluted the other men as they eased out the door, but didn’t turn from Sarah. “He held me, baby. Every day I felt His protection and your love entwined, binding me in strength and hope.” He stepped close to her and again wrapped her face in his palms. His hands were shaking. “Tonight we hold each other.”

She lifted her hands to his where they framed her cheeks. His gaze was locked on her face. “Why didn’t you call? Have you seen a doctor? What happened? Mac . . . What happened?”

He leaned his forehead against hers, still unwilling to relax his hold. “I needed to be with you before the news broke, baby. I need you at my side to get through the rest of this. To he—” His voice broke and he hauled her against his chest.

“I’m here always. Forever.”

“I know,” he whispered against her neck. “And that’s what saw me through.” His entire body shook, vibrating against hers. “I didn’t break, Sarah. Not once. Not until a couple of Special Forces guys hauled me out. And then I cried like a baby.”

“Mac . . . ”

“My Sarah.” His lips feathered over hers. “Merry Christmas, wife.”

She slid her arms inside his coat and dug her fingers into his back. “Merry Christmas, major. I love you.” She closed her eyes. Thank You. For holding him. For bringing him home. For returning my heart.

My pleasure, Sarah. My very great pleasure. Merry Christmas to you and peace to this home.

Beth is an editor and a fiction writer (contemporary romance and medieval adventure).  Her undergraduate degree is in psychology, her MBA in human resources.  Beth trained as a flight attendant; worked in dinner theatre; managed a dance studio, a framing store, and multitudes of volunteers as a church administrator.  These experiences, as well as many others, have given her a broad base for both her editing and her own writing.

Beth Hill writes fiction and loves words. She thinks that being a writer is the most satisfying and best job, hobby, career, and/or addiction one can pursue.

Beth loves the joys of Christmas.


You can reach Beth at her website, A Novel Edit or her blog, The Editor's Blog


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday stories: ABSENCE OF HOLLY

~Story by Simon Garte~

This is a sequel to the story Under The Holly, by Ken Coffman, which ran December 20th on Over Coffee.

Tommy twelve years later...

No tree. No presents. No bells, no holly. The house was dark when Tommy got home. It was Christmas eve, but there was no sign of that in the house. Just another stupid day, as his father always said. That’s how it had been for the past 12 years, a silent night indeed, a silent and dark night, without lights. If carolers had come by (they hadn’t for years) they would have gotten yelled at and told to scram. No one left casseroles or presents for Tommy at the door anymore.

His Dad wasn’t home. Tommy went to the refrigerator, took out a carton of milk and drank for a while. The he rummaged around, found some donuts, a hunk of cheese, a half bag of Doritos, some sliced ham, two bananas, a leftover chicken leg, and some gummy bears. Dinner.

Tommy went to his room and fired up his computer, checked out some face book pages, and then saw a chat request from Bonnie. He answered and went live with the web cam. There was Bonnie, sitting on her bed, with April next to her.

“Hi Tommy”, they said in unison.


“Is your Dad home?”

“Nah, he's working late tonight. He always takes the late shift on Christmas eve”.

April said “Your Dad is such a scrooge. Why does he hate Christmas so much?”

Bonnie gave her a dirty look, but didn’t say anything

“I don’t know. I guess its cause of my Mom.”

“Oh my God, that was so long ago”

“Yeah, well, whatever.”

Bonnie asked him “Are you all alone there, Tommy?”

“Yup. Why, you wanna come over?” He was joking but he realized they might not get that. In fact Bonnie whispered to April who giggled.

“I’m kidding” he said, and Bonnie looked down for a minute and then smiled and said, “I know, no company allowed on Christmas.”

His cell phone rang, it was his Dad. “I gotta go”, he told the girls. “Bye Tommy”, said Bonnie, “Bye Tommy” said April. He didn’t respond, because he was talking to his Dad.


“Hey kiddo, are you home?”


“Did you get something to eat?”


“What did you eat?”


“Hmm. So how was your day? Did you get to meet Patrick?”


“Good. Look, Tommy, I’m going to be pretty late tonight. I know school is closed tomorrow, so you can stay up late. But not too late, OK?”


Tommy went into the living room, switched on the TV, turned the volume down a bit, plugged in his ipod earphones, and started surfing around the internet. Everything he saw was about Christmas. He was used to that. His Dad always left plenty of non Christmassy DVDs around. War movies, TV series, gangster films, stuff like that. He was checking out some You Tube videos that he and Patrick had made a week ago when his cell buzzed again.

He looked at it. The screen said “Bonnie”. He opened it, said “hello”.

“Hi Tommy. Look, my Mom sent me out to get some stuff from the store and I’m right around the corner. How about if I stop over for a second. You know just say hello. I won’t even come in, and your Dad won’t even know.”

“I guess it’s OK. He’s working late tonight so… yeah. OK”.

The knock on the front door came within 5 minutes.

Tommy saw Bonnie standing on the stoop wearing her red coat, and saw her car parked at the curb. There was no one in it. Tommy held the door open and Bonnie walked in. She took off her coat. She sat down on the sofa. Tommy didn’t know what to say. “Where’s April?” He asked. That wasn’t the right thing to say apparently, since he saw Bonnie’s chin move in a way that seemed a tad defensive

“Why, would you rather that she came?”

“No, no, not at all. Just you know, you were with her before and I don’t know, I just wondered…” He stopped.

Bonnie patted the space next to her. “I won’t bite you, come on and sit down.” He did. Then he jumped up again. “Do you want anything?”

“No, thanks” she said in a voice that sounded odd, almost dreamy. “I’m fine.” Tommy sat back down, and then they were kissing. He didn’t know how that happened. Her lips were soft and delicate, and he reached up with his hand and touched her hair. It was smooth and silky. He didn’t know how to stop kissing her, but she did. She smiled and pulled away a little.

“Do you like me Tommy?”. He couldn’t answer her, his throat wasn’t working. So he nodded his head. She smiled at him and took something from somewhere. It was a red and green wrapped box. “I brought you a gift” . Tommy shook his head. “No gifts on Christmas, I promised my Dad.”

“I won’t tell him if you don’t.” she laughed with that silver laugh she had. Tommy took the present and started carefully unwrapping the paper.

Bonnie laughed again. “No silly, just rip it off”. Tommy gulped, thinking about something else, but then did as she suggested. He opened the white box. Inside was a red and blue scarf. Tommy stared at it. He looked up at Bonnie, and saw tears in her eyes. “Merry Christmas Tommy”, she said. He couldn’t speak.

And then he heard the steps on the door and his Dad’s throat being cleared.

“Oh no”, he whispered urgently to Bonnie, “you better hide, I’ll…” but she smiled and put her finger to his lips. “Its OK Tommy, your Dad knows I’m here.”

What?? He was confused and then his Dad was standing in the living room. Smiling.

“Hi Tommy, hi Bonnie”.

“Hi”, said Bonnie, “Merry Christmas”. Tom flinched a bit and muttered something, but then he smiled again. “What you got there son?”

Tommy held out the scarf without a word. He was trying to figure out how to explain it without admitting it was a gift.

His Dad came over and took it from him. “Very nice,” he said, his voice a bit choked. “Nice job Bonnie.” Tommy was even more confused, especially since now Bonnie had tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Do you remember, Tommy?” his Dad asked him.

He nodded. The last Christmas present he ever got was also a scarf. A lot smaller, but the same colors, red and blue. He had been a little kid, and he had thought it had come from his Mom. And then there were no more Christmasses.

Tommy looked at Bonnie and then at his Dad, and he asked

“Dad, did you know Bonnie was here?. Did you tell her about the scarf?”

Tom cleared his throat again, and started talking

“I don’t care for Christmas very much. All that fake joy and commercialism. And to celebrate what? A myth, a legend. And all those pagan rituals like the tree. Everyone pretends that everything is just fine. It’s a requirement to be happy, even if you don’t feel like it. No I really do not like Christmas at all.”

He seemed tired and he sank into a chair.

“But I do remember what your mother told me once, about Christmas, Tommy. I didn’t care for it much when she was alive either. And she told me that Christmas is not about religion or shopping or shiny lights. Its about love.” He stopped and put his hand over his face for a moment.

“Yeah, I told Bonnie she could come over tonight, and I mentioned the scarf to her. I love you kid. Merry Christmas”.

Simon Garte is a New Yorker currently living DC with a two feisty females, one of which is a cat with an attitude. He has numerous non-fiction publication credits and also writes fiction. He is a marvelous storyteller. This is the second year he has graciously offered a holiday short story for Over Coffee. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Stories: The Second Noël

~Story By Sharon Lathan~
This snippet is from In The Arms of Mr. Darcy, my fourth novel in the Darcy Saga continuing series telling the life of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy. Taken from the chapter titled “The Second Noël,” this excerpt covering a portion of the activity on their second Christmas together has been edited slightly from what is in the novel.

Traditions prevailed in both breakfast foods as well as Christmas activities, meaning that in many ways this Christmas was indistinguishable from last year and all the ones that would follow. Mrs. Langton and her staff had prepared a stupendous breakfast heartily enjoyed by everyone in the elaborately bedecked dining room. Everyone wore his or her finest garments, Mr. Bennet dashing in the new suit purchased for his trip to visit Lizzy in London the previous spring. Marguerite and Samuel’s consulting was now an expected arrangement, Lizzy and Darcy therefore dressing in nearly identical shades of blue with silver threads and trim.

Reverend Bertram preached a flawlessly constructed if unsurprising sermon on the birth of Christ. This year the youngsters gathered in the chancel dressed in choir robes, accompanied by the organist as they lifted their childish voices in a number of seasonal hymns. The finale was the older children singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while the tiniest held up corresponding signs with painted pictures of the vocalized gifts. Naturally there were mishaps, especially as the singers inevitably sped up the rhythm as the lengthy song progressed, but the resulting mistakes added to the fun.

Opening of the presents would take the greater bulk of the afternoon to complete due to the massive quantity of gifts and frequent interruptions. The cacophony of voices and laughter was overwhelming at times. Any attempt at order was ludicrous. Lord Matlock trapped Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Dr. Darcy, the older gentlemen retreating to a far corner for relatively sedate conversation. Mr. Hurst made a beeline to the liquor cabinet and rarely wandered more than a few feet from it throughout the entire afternoon. Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst sat apart, gazing down their noses at the rowdy Bennets and Gardiners, feeling superior and unaware that Lady Annabella Montgomery was wrinkling her nose at them.

Lizzy handed the baby to Darcy when Mr. Taylor announced the arrival of the Bingleys, Darcy then happily encumbered in a chair away from the fray. Alexander was awake in Darcy’s lap, his chubby body erupting with newborn wiggles at the silly faces created by his father and the tickles delivered.

“My goodness he has grown!”

“Welcome to Pemberley, Charles,” Darcy spoke with a laugh. “I would rise and bow properly, but I am otherwise engaged. Pull up a chair and say hello to my son.”

This he did, Colonel Fitzwilliam standing beside Darcy with a broad grin. Alexander’s gaze moved from face to face, intently studying. “He looks so like you, Darcy. It is uncanny! Rather disconcerting actually, to have an infant piercing me with your blue eyes.”

Darcy smiled with pride. “I will consider that a compliment, Bingley. He is intelligent and it shows. Is that not the way of it my precious, wise little boy?” The picture of infantile acumen abruptly lost as Darcy attacked his son’s soft neck with nibbling kisses, fistfuls of his hair seized painfully.

“Ouch! Help please!” Darcy pleaded from the depths of Alexander’s neck. Richard laughingly untangled the amazingly tough fingers from Darcy’s locks.

“You need a haircut, Cousin.”

“So I have been informed.” He nestled Alexander against his chest, soft head tucked under his chin, and rocked gently. “How was Christmas at Hasberry, Bingley?”

“Delightful. Jane decorated so beautifully and our cook prepared an amazing breakfast feast. We attended church in Buxton and we, that is Jane and I, thought it perfect.”

Richard hid his smile, Darcy glancing toward Bingley’s sisters who sat rigid on the sofa. Caroline looked up, briefly meeting Darcy’s eyes and raking over the tiny body secured by his broad hands before glancing away with disinterest. “I gather Miss Bingley and the Hursts were not as enthused?”

“Well, you know how it is. Nothing compares to London or, surprisingly, Essex.”

“Essex?” Richard asked in surprise. “What does Essex have to offer?”

“Hanged if I know.”

“Who can understand a woman, eh, Darcy?” Richard said with a nudge to his cousin’s booted foot. “Unfathomable creatures all, but we love them nonetheless. Here’s to the fairer sex!” He lifted his glass toward Bingley and Darcy.

“Pathetic. I do pity the woman who ensnares you, dear cousin. Now, if you both will excuse me a moment, I think my son needs to be put to bed.”

The present revealing commenced. Every attempt was made to open neatly, one at a time, but enthusiasm occasionally overcame caution with ribbons and paper flying. Darcy rejoined a group in a state of moderate, lively chaos. Laughter was rampant with frequent jumping up to hug someone across the room, gifts being passed about for inspection, and exclamations of appreciation.

Darcy stood beside his wife, hand warm on her shoulder. She glanced upward, eyes sparkling as she clasped his fingers, lifting for a kiss to his knuckles. He smiled, brushing across her cheek before turning to Richard. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, the gold wrapped box to your right is addressed to Mrs. Darcy. Yes, that one. Bring it here please.”

“For you, my lady,” Richard bowed gallantly, placing the flat box onto her lap.

“Thank you, Richard. William, I thought we were done. You already gifted me three new gowns, the sardonyx cameo brooch of a mother and child that I absolutely adore, the leather bound edition of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, two new pairs of gloves, handkerchiefs, and what else… oh yes, the wooden table with drawers to sit beside my chair!”

“Trifles, my dear. The latter essentially because I was weary of seeing your sewing scattered all over the ground.” He grinned and squeezed her shoulder. “This, in addition to the larger box in yonder corner”—he pointed to a now visible package previously buried under the mound of presents—“is your main gift from me.”

“William, really…”

“You may as well just open it, Lizzy,” Jane interjected, smiling at her brother-in-law. “It is purchased and wrapped. I doubt if there is any chance it will be returned.”

“Absolutely none. Thank you, Mrs. Bingley, for your support. My wife has yet to comprehend the realities of being spoiled by her husband. I pray you do not torment Bingley with useless arguments and quibbling.”

“I fear she does,” Charles said with a laugh. “However, I do believe we should be thankful, Darcy. After all it was the modesty, virtue, and economy of spirit which partially drew us to the Bennet sisters, along with other stellar attributes I hasten to add.”

“Lord have mercy! We will be here until next Christmas at this rate! Open it, Elizabeth, before these two begin reciting poetry and destroy all our appetites!” George declared, Mr. Bennet laughing and nodding in agreement.

The box contained a book bound with fine calf leather dyed a deep blue with gold leaf etching along the spine. The pages inside were blank, the intent of which was unmistakably indicated by the gold emblazoned Alexander William George Bennet Darcy scrolled across the front cover.

Before Lizzy could find her voice, Darcy was kneeling with hands caressing over the exquisite binding. “It is a memory book. I saw something similar in Derby. I had this made by a bookbinding establishment in London that has restored numerous antique volumes I have purchased over the years. You can write your thoughts, facts as he grows, ink prints of his feet, memories of first words, when he walks, and anything else that comes to mind. Is it not a fabulous idea?”

“Darcy, this is marvelous!” It was Charles, face suffused with enthusiasm. “Where did you get it?” The new father and father-to-be launched into a discussion, Jane and Lizzy exchanging amused glances.

“William, thank you so much! It is a marvelous concept, keeping an itemized log, so to speak, of his transitions and growth.”

“The other gift accompanies and is the last, I promise.”

It was a trunk of cedar, approximately three feet cubed with short legs, sturdily if plainly constructed with no embellishment other than “Alexander” carved in rough block letters across the lid. The sweet aroma of cedar pervaded the air, every eye lifting from individual unwrapping to observe the scene.

“Mother kept particular artifacts in a series of boxes, some that I discovered damaged. I did not want that to happen to Alexander’s favorite toy, first shoes, blanket, or anything else we deem worthy of keeping. So I built this…”

“You built it?” Caroline interrupted in astonishment, Darcy glancing to her face with a smile.

“I am quite skillful with my hands, Miss Bingley. Unfortunately, I do not have the talent for whittling or engraving as did my grandfather, so it is unadorned, but it will withstand the test of time and any pounding by a rowdy son! I thought it would fit nicely below the window in the nursery.”

“Absolutely! It is fantastic.” Lizzy raised one hand to lightly brush his cheek. “Thank you, William, again.”


Isn’t Mr. Darcy the best? To read more of Caroline Bingley’s opinion on the gift and see what special surprise Lizzy had in store for her husband, come to my website for the next segment of the excerpt!

Sharon Lathan lives in southern California with her own Mr. Darcy (of 24 years) and is a Registered Nurse specializing in Neonatal Intensive Care. When not at the hospital or attending to the ofttimes dreary tasks of homemaking, Sharon is generally found reposing in her comfy recliner with her faithful laptop adhered to her thighs. In truth, she somehow manages to find the time to read books written by other authors, see the occasional movie, keep up on her favorite TV shows, teach preschoolers at her church, and enjoy the life gifted her. 

Sharon has a lovely website with all sorts of extra goodies aside from all her books and excerpts. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday stories: Forgiveness

~Story by, Diane Wolfe~

Sarah’s husband Matt, and his older brother Mark, have just opened gifts from their mother. Each son received a personalized book, highlighting his accomplishments through school, college, and work.

Their mother left their father when they were teens and vanished from their lives for many years. She has worked hard over the past year to rebuild their relationship. The brothers have reacted differently to the situation…

Matt flipped through the remainder of Mark’s book, smiling proudly at his brother’s accomplishments. He handed it to his father and retrieved his own book. Sarah anxiously went through Matt’s book again, taking delight in the pictures of him from childhood. Grinning at her obvious enthusiasm, Matt arose to get a drink.

He strolled into the kitchen, debating on whether he wanted to make hot chocolate or just have juice. Matt glanced through the French doors and noticed his brother outside on the deck. Mark was leaning against the railing and staring off into space. Puzzled, Matt decided to investigate.

Mark glanced warily at his brother as he joined him on the massive back deck. The air was quite chilly and grey clouds covered the sky. The wood beneath his feet felt cold even through his socks, and Matt was thankful he had on a sweatshirt. Stuffing his hands in his jean pockets, he slowly approached his brother. Mark stared at the grass beneath the deck and the distraught look on his face surprised Matt. Mark had always been more emotionally stable, his attitude occasionally bordering on detachment. At the moment, however, he did not appear so sure of himself.

Pausing a couple feet from his brother, Matt stood by the railing and waited for Mark to speak first. They stared at the landscaped backyard, both deep in thought. After a few minutes, Mark kicked at the railing with his feet.

“Why the hell did she do that?” he asked, staring at the ground. “Why’d she save all that stuff?”

“Because she loves us,” offered Matt, aware it was not the answer his brother wanted.

“Then why did she leave?” he asked angrily.

“It had nothing to do with us,” replied Matt. “But you need to hear it from her, not me.”

Mark gave him a sharp look. “She told you?”

Matt nodded solemnly. He knew his brother spoke infrequently with their mother and had never given her the chance to explain her actions. It had not been pleasant, but Matt was thankful he endured the ordeal. It had erased the last of his pain and bitterness.

“You forgave her, didn’t you?” Mark asked in an accusing tone.

“Yes, I did,” said Matt firmly.

Mark shook his head in disgust. Matt’s brother had always been able to intimidate him into changing his opinion, but not this time. Considering the efforts of his mother to heal their relationship, Matt would not permit his brother’s negative attitude to undo all she had accomplished. After so many years of turmoil and uncertainty, Matt had peace at last. He fervently wished his brother would make the effort to let go of his anger as well.

“Like I said, you were always her favorite,” Mark growled, his voice heavy.

“And you were her first!” Matt shot back, tired of the same old excuse. Mark regarded him with surprise and Matt simply shook his head.

“How you feel about her is your business,” he began, determined not to let his brother take him down the same bitter path. “But she’s still our mother and has gone out of her way to make amends. I know she loves us very much. And if that scrapbook doesn’t convince you, then nothing I say is gonna make a difference anyway.”

Matt turned to go inside, determined to enjoy Christmas Day with his family. He hesitated, his eyes on his brother.

“In fact, I’m going to call her when it’s not so darn early on the west coast and thank her for my book. If you want to talk to her, that’s great. If not,” Matt said with a shrug, “then I hope it’s something you can live with, Mark, because I sure couldn’t.”

Diane Wolfe originally hales from Oregon and presently resides in North Carolina with her husband and two cats. Diane Wolfe conducts seminars on promoting, leadership and goal setting. A member of the National Speakers Association, the author offers her seminars through community colleges, organizations and clubs.

The author’s main work is a young adult series entitled The Circle of Friends. It follows a group of sports-minded couples through relationships, college and into their early careers. Meant to inspire as well as entertain, these books have been described as “encouragement personified”.

AKA Spunk On A Stick, her mantra is, “With a positive attitude, any goal can be achieved!”

For more info about Diane or more about Circle of Friends-Book II Sarah, visit her website.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday stories: THE GIFT

~Story by, Rand Phares~ 


Abbot Timothy and Brother Samuel stood just inside the main doors of the monastery, swirling snow filling the dark night around them.

Samuel adjusted his hood and leaned closer to the abbot. "Are you sure you don't want me to wait for you?"

The abbot shook his head. "No, Samuel. I have one last chore before I can leave. I'll be along shortly, before the town road becomes impassable. You go on ahead before they've run out of room at the inn."

Samuel frowned and peered across the courtyard at the monastery's church, its windows lit with a wavering glow. "A pity it's come to this, after all our years of service."

The abbot laid a hand on Samuel's chest. "Though the abbeys are being dissolved and we're being evicted, you can always hold to your faith and continue that service here, in your heart." He turned to the doors, slid aside a wooden bar, and—with Samuel's help—tugged the doors open.

Samuel adjusted his robe. "You're sure you won't come with me?”

The abbot nodded. "Go."

Samuel went through the doorway, hesitated for a moment, then continued on, his dark form melting into the storm. A moment later, drifting snow covered his footprints and it was as if he'd never been there.

The abbot shook his head. The king's decree had arrived a week ago: The Order was dissolved, its members to renounce their ways and leave the monastery no later than Christmas Eve. Tonight. The monastery, its grounds, and its treasures would revert to the people. Even now, two of the king's men were in the counting room, reviewing the monastery's records.

One by one, the monasteries of the land were being dissolved, taken over by local governments, monies and lands distributed to those in power. Monks had been expelled, left to fend for themselves, which meant hardship and death more often than not. Friendship toward fellow man seemed to have dissolved in the face of hard times and the king's decree.

As abbot, he would be the last to leave. How had the others fared? Emanuel, the infirmarian? Ethan, the sacrist? What of the troubled brothers, especially James, gifted with a lyre, but unable to form a single sentence?

Where would he himself go? He had no family, no friends outside the monastery. Would he simply starve, sharing the same fate as the others? After all this time surrounded by these walls, he did not look forward to leaving. The king's decree guaranteed a lonely, destitute, and painful end beyond the monastery.

He shut and barred the doors, then turned and looked at the church, at the rise of its steeple. Was its symbolic gesture toward heaven still meaningful in these times? Across the length of the roof sat the silent bell tower, oddly enough even taller than the steeple. He knew it spoke of a long-ago time when the monastery—sitting atop a two-hundred foot cliff overlooking a great road—had served as a lookout against enemy hordes sweeping in from the north.

He stared at the bell tower until his eyes stung.

So lonely . . .

So high . . .

So . . .

Painful? Perhaps not.

The tower stared down at him.

Will you follow the path the king has set down for you? Or is there another?

He blinked, rubbed his eyes with icy fingers, and looked back at the barred doors.

The king's path lay beyond.

He stared at the doors for a long moment. Then, his mind made up, he crossed himself, turned away, and trudged off through the snow toward the church.

Snow had piled against the great door leading into the church, and the door complained as the abbot struggled to open it. He stepped into the front nave, escaping the storm, but not the bone-wearying cold.

With the door shut behind him, he made his way toward the choir at the back of the church, eyes adjusting to the thin light of candles burning in side chapels. A statue of the Saviour seemed to shift slightly in the flickering light as he neared. He crossed himself and started off toward the dark door near the east transept; the door that led to the bell tower.

He reached for the door's latch, but a coughing sound stopped him. He turned and found a robed figure sitting in the choir pews. Why had he not noticed? Wasn't everyone supposed to be gone by now? This was certainly not one of the king's tallymen, with their fine purple tunics.

"Can I help you?" the abbot asked.

The figure stood and tossed back his hood. A thin young man, dark hair, bearded, but not someone the abbot recognized.

"Are you Abbot Timothy?" the man asked.

"Yes. And you are . . . ?"

"Forgive me, abbot. I'm Sebastian. Innkeeper Thomas sent me with a sack of food for your journey." He held up a dark bag. "Some mutton, cheese, a small flask of wine."

The abbot looked at the bag. "That's quite kind of Thomas. And kind of you, of course, for bringing it here in this storm. Tell me, how did you get in? We keep the main gate locked."

"I slipped in when one of the brothers was leaving."

"I see." The abbot gestured toward the bag. "Well, thank Thomas for me."

He put a hand on the latch beside him. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to extinguish the chapel candles before I leave. You'd better let yourself out and return to the inn before you become stranded."

"The snow is blowing very hard. You've no fear of being stranded yourself?"

The abbot glanced at the latch in his hand, then back at Sebastion. "I won't be long. You'd best not wait."

"That door leads to the bell tower?"


"Are there many candles in the tower?"

The abbot frowned. He opened his mouth to reply, but Sebastian waved a hand. "Forgive my impertinence, abbot."

He looked around at the statuary and tapestries. "It's a pity the church is being stripped of its treasures. But isn't it a greater travesty that the countryside is being stripped of its faith?"

The abbot sighed. Would this young man not leave? "Yes, it's true, what you say about the country. But when I step outside these walls, the king says I'm no longer a man of God. So my days of worrying about the country's faith are over."

"That may be, but what about your vow of service to Our Lord? True faith is difficult to drive from a man's heart, even in the face of kingly decrees."

Sebastian nodded at the tower door. "Are you like the countryside, abbot? Have you been stripped of your faith?"

The abbot blinked. Had he?

Sebastian laid a hand above his heart. "In spite of what the king says, you can always hold to your faith and continue that service in your heart."

The abbot stared at Sebastian. How did he . . . ?

Sebastian set the bag on a pew and looked up at the window. "It seems the snow has finally stopped. That should make your journey easier."

He looked back at the abbot. "One last word of advice, though." He smiled and nodded at the tower door. "Be careful putting the candles out up in the belfry. It's sure to be slippery up there, and I hear it's a long drop to the road below."

With that, Sebastian turned and walked up the nave, pausing only to cross himself at the statue of the Saviour. A moment later the shadows of the front nave swallowed him. In the snow-encased quiet of the church, the great door was particularly loud when it closed.

The abbot's gaze returned to the statue.

A thin bearded face, arms outstretched, a crown of thorns. From this angle, the candlelight made it look as if the statue stared back at him.


Abbot Timothy pushed open the great church door and took in the courtyard and the far shadow of the main gate. The young man had left the church after the storm died, but a silent mantle of white lay unbroken in all directions. And the air was still; wind no longer blowing snow across any newly laid footprints.

What was the hour? Was it Christmas yet?

He lifted the bag. Mutton, cheese, wine. A Christmas gift, perhaps?

He stared out at the night, and thought of the young man's words.

All of them.

And decided those had been the real gift this night.

Then, with a last glance back across the nave at the distant bell tower door, he shouldered the bag and walked out of the church. Heading toward the gate, the abbot was secure in the feeling that wherever the young man had gone, he was following.

Rand Phares's first foray into writing was at an early age, on a neighborhood "newspaper" he published with his brother. After a successful career in software engineering, he now focuses on psychological thrillers, and is within nanoseconds of completing his first novel, The Feast. Rand lives in NC with his family.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Story: The Blue Dress

~Story by Adina Pelle~


They say there are three-dimensional components to human consciousness. We are born and grow old with them. I am old as I weave my past but young as it all comes back to life.

I do not know about others, but when I think of my childhood I immediately feel the need to hold my head in my hands, maybe suspending this way the heavy weight of so many memories. Not only old people think the past is everything and not only young people believe in the future and nobody can live like a stubborn wild horse only in the present.

When my parents first moved in the yard we lived for ten years, they knew nobody. They had just come out of a Russian-Jewish refugee camp and were happy to be alive, ready to make friends and enjoy life after the war. We lived in two rooms: my room and the kitchen/living room, which was also my parent’s room. Many memories come back to my mind now as the warmth of our simple and frugal life finds its way back in my thoughts toying with my olfactory trance. The kitchen/bedroom smelled of plum pudding and other simple delights my mother was able to put together out of our food ration as all the war refugees had to share. Our little house with the flower garden in front seemed a corner of paradise and I always found my mother bent on something, washing or ironing or baking some little delight. I was convinced she could breathe life into things. All my childhood I drank my milk from a nice cup of porcelain with red and blue flowers. Mother's hands as she pushed the cup forward moved so slow and gracious suggesting the feeling this cup was not a simple object but an enchanted one.

It did not take too long for my mother to become friendly with the other renters. Vasea and Little Marie were the most colorful couple living right behind our two rooms. They lived in a one-bedroom space and their mere existence fueled my curiosity many times throughout my childhood, mainly because of everything that happened in their house. The liquor they shared on pay nights had fabulous powers not only on their whacky reality but also over my own everyday life keeping away the deed of being a strange child and delivering my entertainment for numerous nights.

Little Marie was not little despite her name, but a tough woman who knew how to hold her liquor though powerless under Vasea’s quick fist. The following day, she would show up in the yard with a black and purple eye and insist on telling the same story every time:

“The door hit me.”

One Christmas eve, Little Marie surprised my mom when she pulled out of a box a little white and blue dress and gave it to me. It was the most beautiful dress I had seen, with white and blue bows attached to its hem and a marine motif on the upper part. The minute it took me to dress up was extended into eternities of blissful happiness, twirling in front of the mirror and running up and down our stone paved yard. My mother was touched by Little Marie’s gift and invited her and Vasea the day after Christmas to a neighborhood bodega hoping to return her friendly gesture.

What my mother did not know was the effect liquor had on Little Marie. After a couple of beers, to my mother’s shock and my tearful disappointment, Little Marie asked for the dress back. No explanations. I was devastated especially because I did not understand the mechanics of what seemed to be a very cruel game the grownups played.

Since I was well behaved as a child, when I did any foolish deeds I was able to be silent, say nothing, and get away with anything. After my first disappearance that Christmas eve, following the blue dress fiasco, my father found me hours later, freezing cold and talking with two skeletal, wet dogs, cuddled at my feet. He took me home where without a word fixed two hot chocolates expecting, certainly, an explanation, an answer, for me to say anything.

"Why, why did you want to run away? How could you think that this is the way?”

"Do not know," I answered, sad and without my usual smile.

After half an hour, with no words about my wandering, he told me of a friend from work who had a cat and was just looking for a little girl to take care of its kittens.

Taking care of the two little black and white kittens kept me entertained that winter, away from the monotony of my life as a small and peculiar little girl.


Adina Pelle was born in Constanta, the same town the roman poet Ovid lived his last years and died. Ovid’s Metamorphosis ignited her love for the written word from a very early age.

As a lonely and rather peculiar child, she was engulfed in books most of her free time. From Russian, British, French literature, love, pain, and social justice became reflected through an astonishing amount of reading.

She is the author of GHOST WORDS AND OTHER ECHOES and lives in Connecticut with her husband Stan.

You can find more stories on her website

Friday, THE GIFT—a poignant tale of an Abbot in the time of King John. Rand Phares

Saturday, THE SECOND NOLLE—a heartwarming take of the Darcy’s and child during the holidays. Sharon Lathan 

Sunday, A BOOK OF LOVE—a moving story about the power of love and reconciliation. Diane Wolfe

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Story: Welcome To The Family

~Story by Olivia Cunning~

Christmas Eve two years before the book Backstage Pass

The tour bus pulled to a stop outside the storage area. This was where Sinners stored their stage equipment when they were off tour and kept their private vehicles while they were on the road. Jace Seymour slung his duffle bag over one shoulder and lifted the case of his bass guitar with his free hand.

Home again.

Though Sinners had been on the road for most of the past six months, Jace would prefer they never took a break from touring. The tour bus was more his home than any brick and mortar structure.

“Do you have big plans for the holidays, little man?” Eric asked and poked Jace in the rib with the drumstick he’d been twirling.

No, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Eric. “Yeah. Lots.”

Jace massaged the small hoop in his earlobe and pretended to find the floor interesting.

When Jace didn’t elaborate on his lots of plans, Eric’s ADHD-self turned his attention elsewhere. “Sed? What time does the party start on New Year’s Eve?” he called to the lead singer, who was standing at the front of the bus, waiting for lead guitarist Brian to collect all his stuff and get out of the way.

Sed glanced over his shoulder and grinned crookedly so that one of his dimples showed. “I don’t recall inviting you, Sticks.”

“Will your sisters be there?” Eric asked, hopefully. He leaned in closer to Jace and whispered, “Hot, young thangs. Both of them. Certified Grade A--”

“If you touch my sisters, you die,” Sed warned in a baritone growl.

Jace smiled at the floor. He loved being caught in the dynamic of these guys, but as he’d been a part of this band for less than six months, he always felt like he was intruding on some sacred bond between them. Sinners had been together for almost ten years. It only made sense that they were a close-knit group. Jace didn’t mind looking in from the outside. It was enough.

“No worries,” Trey, their rhythm guitarist, said. He brushed his long bangs from his forehead, green eyes twinkling with their usually orneriness. “I’ll just consult my little black book and invite enough babes for everyone.”

“More like an encyclopedic black book,” Eric whispered to Jace.

Jace chuckled. Trey got around. A lot.

“You’re coming, right?” Eric asked Jace.

Jace shrugged. Sed hadn’t invited him. Actually, Sed hadn’t invited anyone. It was a tradition to party at Sed’s place on New Year’s Eve, but as this was Jace’s first year with the band, he wasn’t a part of any of those traditions. The guys in the band spent Christmas with their families and New Year’s Eve together. Jace was already dreading Christmas. He really struggled with holidays.

The band members shuffled off the bus, carrying luggage and gear. As Jace’s feet touched the asphalt, he crinkled his nose at the warmth and palm trees outside. Even though he’d lived in southern California for over a decade, he’d never get used to Christmas in a warm climate. Jace’s family had moved to Los Angeles from Montana right before his mother had died. The holidays just weren’t the same without snow on the ground. He still remembered playing Christmas jingles on the piano with his mother. Yeah, Christmas was supposed to mean family. Jace didn’t have one of those anymore, which all things considered, was for the best.

Laughing and joking all the way to their car, Trey and Brian left the parking lot together. The two guitarists were roommates and had been best friends since elementary school. Late for dinner at his parents’ house, Sed sped off in his Mercedes. Eric tried to coax his vintage, piece-of-crap Corvette into starting. Jace headed out of the parking lot on foot. It was only a couple of miles to his apartment and he liked to walk. Plus, he didn’t own a vehicle. He could afford one now. He just hadn’t gotten around to buying one.

After proceeding less than a block, a loud, knocking sound drew his attention to the road beside him.

Eric, his wild hair stirring in the breeze, grinned at him from behind the wheel of his emerald green convertible. “Need a lift?” he asked.

“No thanks, I prefer to walk.”

Eric shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He gunned the engine, probably trying to speed off with spectacular flare, and the car died. “Crap!” The engine whined as he tried to start it again.

“Maybe you should walk, too,” Jace suggested.

“Shut up, little man. She’s just temperamental.”

If that’s what he wanted to call it. “Later.”

He left Eric swearing at his temperamental piece-of-crap and continued towards home. While standing on a street corner waiting for a green crossing light, something brushed up against Jace’s calf. He looked down and a pair of inquisitive amber eyes gazed up at him.

“Brrroowww owww owwwn?” the black tuxedo cat meow-purred up at him.

The scraggly thing looked like it had just crawled out of the sewer. Jace nudged it aside with is foot--he didn’t like cats--and strode across the street. He chanced a glance behind him to find the creature on his heels. The cat trotted with purpose, its white paws rhythmically striking the pavement, its tail high in the air, its eyes never leaving its target. Jace walked a bit faster, hoping to deter the little pest. As he passed an alley, a set of tires screeched. Jace’s heart skipped a beat.

He turned to find the black scruff-ball cowering under the front axle of a huge SUV in the alley’s entrance. Jace set his bass case down and held up a hand to alert the driver to stay put. When he was sure he wasn’t about to be run over, he bent under the vehicle and reached for the cat. As he scooped the trembling mass of dingy fur into his arms, he couldn’t believe how light the animal was. The cat must have only weighed a couple pounds, tops. It crawled up his chest and planted the top of its head under his jaw, purring in earnest.

“Easy there,” he murmured and ran a hand down the cat’s narrow back. His palm bumped over its bony spine and he cringed. He lifted the cat around the middle and held it in front of him so he could look it in the eye. “You’re just looking for a meal, aren’t you?”

“Brrooowww owwwn,” it meowed within its motorboat purr.

“Alright, I’ll get you something to eat, but then I’m dropping you off at the pound. I don’t like cats.”

The cat grabbed Jace’s hoop earring with one claw, tugged him closer, and stared directly into Jace’s lacerated soul. He had to look away. The cat rubbed its face over the beard stubble along Jace’s jaw and rattled an even louder purr.

Jace cuddled the cat against his shoulder, holding it securely with one hand, and lifted his guitar case in his free hand.

“Do you have a name?” he asked the cat, feeling rather ridiculous talking to an animal.

“Brrrooooww owwwn.”

“So you’ve said. Are you a girl or a boy cat?”

He looked down at the cat when the purring stopped. The well-duh look she gave him made that perfectly clear. Definitely female.

“Alright, Brownie, what do cats eat? Mice, right?” He knew he didn’t have anything to feed Brownie at home. His apartment was small and sparse, but not mouse-infested. He’d have to stop at the store. There was a quirky shop near the end of his block that sold everything from snacks to sunglasses to action figures. He hoped they sold cat food, too. He tucked Brownie inside his jacket and she curled around his waist, purring so loudly they’d think he had a Harley hidden in his coat.


She went quiet, as if she actually understood him. Strange creature. And a bit tickly as she stirred against his belly.

Jace hefted his duffle bag and bass guitar into a cart, thinking he probably should have dropped his baggage off at home first, and then perused the aisles. He found the cat-needs aisle and tossed every type of canned cat food available and a few small bags of dried food into his cart. He didn’t know what Brownie liked. He’d just take the extra food to the pound when he dropped her off later. He also decided to spring for the litter pan and some cat litter, just in case she had to go during her short visit. And she’d need a bowl to put her food in. And another one for fresh water. Maybe a toy or two. Some treats. He was eyeing the belled collars when he decided she didn’t need a collar. It wasn’t as if he planned to keep her or anything. As he headed up the next aisle to the checkout counter, a set of claws dug into his side. Jace stopped. One paw protruded from above his jacket zipper as if pointing at something.

“What?” he whispered, moving in the direction the paw indicated.

The paw extended farther out his neck hole and batted a small red Christmas bulb on a decorated tree.

“Do you like that?” he asked. Why was he talking to a cat?

She let out a meow and reached for the bulb with both paws, squirming about in his jacket as she tried to reach the ornament.

“You’re making a scene,” he said, shoving her back into his coat and tugging the zipper higher.

Into his cart the little, gaudy decorated tree went. Brownie purred her approval.

By the time he’d lugged his duffle bag, guitar case, several bags of cat supplies, and a hideous Christmas tree upstairs, he was exhausted. Dropping everything in the corridor, he opened his apartment door, plagued by the emptiness that always filled him whenever he came home to nothing.

“Honey, I’m home.” His voice echoed in the barren living room.

Inside his jacket, Brownie meowed. He unzipped his coat and she sprang out, trotting into his apartment as if she owned the place. He let her roam while he dragged everything inside. While he was unpacking the impressive collection of canned cat food, Brownie jumped onto the kitchen counter and watched him. She placed a definitive paw on one can of food and meowed.

“Is that the one you want?”

The well-duh look she gave him made him chuckle. He rinsed her new bowl and emptied the can of fishy-smelling grossness into the bowl. She gobbled it up, purring between gulps. Jace extended a hand in her direction, knowing he shouldn’t pet her, knowing he couldn’t get attached. He was dropping her off at the animal shelter as soon as she finished eating. Her face still in the bowl, she twisted her body sideways until it collided with his hand. Her tail curled around his forearm. He didn’t have a choice but to pet her then. Stroking her soft fur was somehow soothing. Her purr settled the turbulence with him even further. He hadn’t expected that.

“Why were you out on your own?” he asked. “Someone abandon you?”

Licking her lips, Brownie lifted her head and looked up at him, those soulful amber eyes meeting his. He turned away and found the gaudy Christmas tree on the floor. He picked it up, set it in the living room in front of the window, and plugged it in. It was only knee high and the most pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree Jace had ever encountered, but it brought a smile to his face. Ten minutes later, the tree was bare except for its flashing colored lights. Red bulbs and garland lay in disarray across the floor. A very pleased cat lay amid the destruction.

Jace shook his head at her. “You don’t really think I’m going to keep you, do you?”

The well-duh look she gave him left no doubt in his mind. Brownie rolled onto her back, paws batting the air and tugging on heartstrings.

Jace hated to admit it, but this Christmas he had a family again.


Combining her love for romantic fiction and rock ‘n roll, Olivia Cunning writes erotic romance centered around rock musicians. Her very popular series revolves around a fictional rock band called Sinners, Backstage Pass was released in October and Rock Hard will be released in April.

You can visit her website for more pictures and info on upcoming releases in the series.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas story: UNDER THE HOLLY

~Story by Ken Coffman~

Tom carefully parked the old Toyota on the crest of a hill. The starter did not work, so he needed the incline to compression-start the car. The sky was obscured by woolen blanket of clouds that seemed to suck color from the world. He rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment and gathered the willpower to move. Tommy was with the next door neighbor, Claire Jensen, who watched daytime dramas with the TV volume turned up so high that Tom could hear the tinny chatter in his car as the cooling engine ticked. With the steering wheel imprinted on his forehead, he slowly raised his hand and wiggled his fingers. He was not paralyzed, but it was as if the world pressed on him with cruel force. Cold wind slipped through loose window seals. Snow looked imminent. He needed to go.

Standing on Claire's sagging porch, he lifted the knocker and let it fall. It snapped like a toy pistol. Tommy's feet clomped on the floorboards; miniature thunder as he ran to the door.

"Daddy," he shouted. "Where have you been? I've been waiting. It's Christmas."

Tom was proud of Tommy's vocabulary. He was not quite four, so his enunciation was sloppy, but his thinking was clear. Tom gathered him in his arms squeezed.

"No, Christmas is tomorrow."

"No, Christmas is today, right now, they said so on TV," Tommy explained patiently as if that settled the matter.

"Okay, maybe I'm wrong," Tom said.

Dressed in several layers of bathrobes, Claire muted the TV and poked her head around the corner.

"Merry Christmas, Tom," she said.

"Back at you, Mrs. Jensen. I hope Tommy was no trouble."

"Never. I wish my kid was as good as him Tommy's an angel. We were watching the Christmas special As the World Turns. It's a rerun of old highlights, but it's still pretty good. Eddie didn't find out Deena was his mother until after Margo killed her."

"That's nice, Mrs. Jensen."

"A man in a uniform walked around your house. I think they turned the power back on."

"Why would they do that?"

"I don't know, but look."

Tom peered through lace curtains at his little house. It was true, some of the lights glowed.

"I didn't pay the bill," he mused.

"If it's still cold over there, come back. At five o'clock I'm going to have a nip of Smirnoff from the freezer. You can share a toot."

Tom knew that a nip meant a fifth, but he did not begrudge her habit; she was always sober during the day. He knew she didn't want to share her bottle but he appreciated her asking.

"We have something to do, but we might stop by later."

"You do that, Tom."

She waggled her fingers at Tommy and he returned the gesture. Outside, Tom strapped Tommy in the car and settled himself in the driver's seat.

"Are you ready?"

Tommy nodded solemnly and took a deep breath. He was convinced the car would only start if he held his breath. Tom released the parking brake and popped the clutch as the car picked up speed. It rumbled to life with a puff of blue smoke.

"See, Daddy, it works," Tommy said.

"It always does," Tom replied.

They turned at the corner.

"Where are we going? It's Christmas, you know."

"So I've heard. We'll go see Mommy."

"Oh." Tommy watched the scenery flowing outside his window for a minute. "What's a pregnancy test? I asked Mrs. Jensen, but she said I should ask you."

"Is that something you heard on the TV?"

Tommy nodded vigorously. "Yes," he said.

"We'll talk about that later, okay?"

"Does later mean never, Daddy?"

"You're a funny little guy. I don't know what I'd do without you."

The cemetery was on a hillside. Cedarville, in all of its small-town patchwork glory, spread out on the valley floor. The river weaved through trees and glistened in the flat winter light. Tommy fumbled with his seatbelt and door and then ran to his mother's grave site. Towels, decorated with sprigs of holly and evergreen fronds, were spread on the damp grass.

"Mama didn't forget Christmas," he shouted. "Hurry up."

Tom handed him a pair of woolen socks.

"Put these on, it's cold."

"Wally has mittens, they're really cool. I mean they're warm, but they're cool."

"We don't have any mittens, so you have to wear socks. They're warm, put them on."

"No one else wears socks on their hands," Tommy complained, but he pulled them on.

Tom stood for a minute reading the inscription. Rebecca Thomas, Beloved Wife and Mother, Taken Too Soon. 1982-2007. RIP

He wanted to scream and tear out his hair and rip the stone from the ground and throw it down the hill. Instead, he pulled a Thermos from a paper bag.

"Give your mom a kiss and have some chocolate," he said.

Tommy kissed the cold granite and settled on his haunches on the picnic towels. He sipped the hot chocolate and studied his father.

"Are you alright, Daddy?"

With his thumb, Tom worked on a smudge of chocolate on Tommy's cheek.

"Sometimes," he replied.

A man, dressed in a long gray overcoat, picked his way from the parking lot. It was George Wilson, Rebecca's boss.

"I took a chance on finding you here. Hello Tommy."

"Hello, Mr. Wilson," Tommy replied.

"We took a collection around the office and got your power turned back on."

With creaking knees, Tom stood, and then took George's arm and led him a few steps away.

"We don't need charity," he said.

"You can call them and tell them to turn it off again."

Tom took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, I know you mean well..."

"Rebecca wouldn't want you two to freeze to death on Christmas. Let us do this small thing. Also, the man from the insurance company came by again."

"I told you, I don't want their money. It has Rebecca's blood on it."

"You're so melodramatic. He gave me papers. The money will go into a trust for Tommy so he can go to college when he's 18. Rebecca would not want you to be stupid."

"I'll get a job after the first of the year."

"Don't be a fool. You don't want the insurance money, that's fine, but sign the damn papers for Tommy, okay? The man from the insurance company is driving me crazy."

"Okay. I don't have a pen."

George proffered a silver pen and Tom scribbled on the paperwork at all the places marked with red X's.

"Another thing is, you need to turn on your cell phone. That agent lady from New York has been trying to get in touch with you. I don't understand all this stuff, but she says there are two bidders and you need to decide if you'll sign a two-book deal. That's good, right? She says it's a fair amount of money."

"I can't think of that stuff right now. My wife is dead."

"I know all about the horrible accident, Tom," George said gently. "I also know she supported you for three years so you could write that book. I told the agent I'd let you know. Now you know and I'm done. You take care, okay, Tom?"

"Yeah," Tom said.

He watched George navigate his way back to the parking lot for a moment before turning back to Tommy.

The picnic bag held a partial package of Oreos. He held out a handful for Tommy who took them in his ensocked hands.

"I haven't had dinner yet," Tommy said.

"On Christmas, you can have cookies for dinner."

"I like Christmas," Tommy mumbled through a mouthful. "There's no money for presents, is there? We're flat."

"That's right, Tommy, we're flat busted." A sprinkle of snowflakes drifted from the woolen sky. "But, maybe your mama sent you something..."

"What?" Tommy jumped up and ran around the tombstone. "I don't see anything."

"Maybe she left it under the holly."

The holly flew as Tommy tossed off the sprigs. He raised a package wrapped in red and green paper.

"Look, you're right. Mama didn't forget about me."

"No Tommy, your mom will never forget about you."

Tommy jumped on his dad's lap clutching his present tightly in his chubby arms.

"Go ahead and open it."

"Can I wait a while, Daddy? I don't care what it is."

"Wait as long as you like," Tom said.

The snow, drifting from the sky like apple blossoms, slowly turned the ground white. They stayed as long as they could stand the cold and then headed for home.


Ken Coffman is the author of Steel Waters, Hartz String Theory and other mad novels available from and other online bookstores. He wrote a popular technical book called Real World FPGA Design with Verilog published by Pearson-Prentice Hall.

Ken lives in the Northwest with his wife Judy who is a well known artist. He is a Field Applications Engineer and Member of the Technical Staff at Fairchild Semiconductor.