m struggling with my current work in progress. I’m about 130 pages in and I’m worried my mystery reads too much like a romantic comedy. A few months ago when I asked my newsletter readers if they would read a mystery if I wrote one, I got an overwhelmingly positive response.

So now I’m asking, do you like mysteries with a romantic comedy feel? And can you think of an author who does this sort of thing well? I love Rhys Bowen, but her books are historical. I’m afraid I’m trying to straddle two horses who could at any moment gallop in opposite directions…

In any case, here’s the first chapter, and no, the love interest hasn’t been introduced…yet. I would love your honest opinion. (Also, this hasn’t been scrubbed clean by my awesome editor.)

Stone pillars flanked the drive. The weak morning sun sparkled through the trees’ canopy while a low hanging mist blew just over the top of the tall grass. We rounded a bend and suddenly the house, Despaign’s Folly came into view. Large, imposing, slate roof and limestone walls, its monochromatic coloring matched the gray sea stretching beyond the bluffs. I braked too harshly, and Gawain’s carrier skittered over the seat. Shooting out my hand, I saved him from a tumble.

He yowled a complaint and I agreed with him. “This was a terrible mistake. What was I thinking?”

In front of the garage carriage doors, a woman in a pink pantsuit stood beside a silver Lexus. She jingled keys in one hand and carried an attaché case in the other.

I pulled my Subaru up beside her. The impatience I noted in her expression just moments ago disappeared behind a well-rehearsed smile and she extended her hand as I climbed from the car. Now that I was closer and could see the crows-feet wrinkles around her eyes and her pinched and dry lips, I decided she had to be my age or older.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Monique Ward said, gripping my hand in her cold one.

“Vivi Hamilton.”

She swept her gaze over me, her eyes telling me she didn’t like what she saw. She would dislike me even more when I told her I couldn’t stay.

I opened my mouth to offer her excuses. This house is much too big for one person. Too remote. Too eerie. But the sound of water below called and I itched to see the view.

Monique followed my gaze. “Let me show you the property,” she said before striding across the lawn.

I followed her to the cliff overlooking the Sound. A lone boat bobbed on the horizon. The fog turned the sky and water into a sheet of gray and the boat appeared to be floating in space.

A riotous tumble of blackberries bushes marked the cliff’s edge. The berries were hard, small, and purple. They would ripen before my lease was up.

But I couldn’t stay here.

I turned and faced the house. Shadows moved in the windows. A buzzing saw ceased and the sudden silence was startling and it reminded me of how far I’d traveled. My apartment in Seattle was filled with noise—the hum of the refrigerator, the tick-tock of a clock, my neighbor’s jazz playlist, the roar of the traffic below my window, jet planes overhead.

“Tell me again about your conference?” Monique interrupted my thoughts.

“Edenbrook? A women’s artist retreat on Whidbey Island. You haven’t heard of it?”

She tinkled a laugh and admitted, “I’m not much of a reader, but I did look up your books. Culinary cozies…what is that, exactly?”

“I write murder mysteries and my characters eat…a lot.”

Monique slid me a glance and pulled her blazer tighter. “Murders, huh? Sounds grisly.”

“It’s more about the puzzle than violence.” I eyed the house. It was the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie or Daphne du Maurier novel. Even the name spoke of gothic stories, damsels in distress, and dastardly villains. But who names houses in this generation? But this house wasn’t of this generation.

“That’s good, I suppose.” Her words brought me back into the here and now. She cocked her head to study me. “But why rent Despaign’s Folly when you’re conference is on Whidbey Island?”

“The retreat is only a few days. I’m staying here through October to finish my latest book.” And to escape.

“Come on inside, you’ll love the kitchen.” She shot me a glance over her shoulder. “I assume you, as well as your characters, like to cook?”

“Yes.”

She trilled a laugh. “What’s that saying, never trust a skinny cook? If that’s true, I should be doubting you.”

I smoothed down my cotton top, not knowing how to respond. It was true, I’d lost a lot of weight since the accident.

The dew-soaked lawn seeped through my shoes. I followed Monique up a small flight of stone steps and across the patio. We passed a pair of French doors that looked in on a room lined with book-shelves and comfy sofas and chairs. She paused in front of a Dutch door and fumbled with a key.

While I waited, I glanced around at the vegetable garden gone to seed, the row of apple trees heavily burdened with fruit, and a quivering maple. Wondering why the tree shook, I glanced up and spotted a giant cat pacing on a branch high above my head.

The door swung open and Monique motioned for me to enter. I hesitated. Something told me if I went inside, I may never leave. A chill traveled through my shoes, up my legs, and settled in my belly. I froze in the kitchen, my feet rooted on the kitchen’s checkerboard tiled floor.

The buzzing saw returned.

“I wonder why the workers didn’t turn on the heat.” Monique frowned and strode from the room, but this time I didn’t follow her. I stood fixed in the center of the airy kitchen, hungrily surveying the gleaming industrious-sized appliances.

Monique reappeared and a flush of warm air blew around us. “It’s a beauty, isn’t it? This room was the first to be remodeled. I hope you won’t mind the workers, but they’re only here on the weekdays and for just a few more weeks. I’ll introduce you to them when we reach the turret.” She waved at the dimly lit hall to our right, but I made no move to leave.

“Shall we?” she pressed.

I left the kitchen with dragging feet and passed through a dining room to the two-story living room with its soaring fireplace, scattered tapestry rugs, and large inviting overstuffed furniture. The jammed-packed bookcases tempted me, but I promised myself quiet evenings curled up with a book and quilt in the chair beside the fire.

“You were lucky to snag this place at such a great price,” Monique said. “Mr. Anders knows the construction will be a pain, but they’re doing a great job, aren’t they?”

I nodded, but I barely heard her. Her words were as faint and as relevant as a buzzing gnat. A seascape hanging above the mantle captured my attention. A ship tossed in a storm. The swirl of blue and purplish clouds like Turner’s paintings hanging in London’s Tate Museum.

Monique shivered. “Do you know why they call this area Deception Pass?”

I shook my head.

“The bay was thought to be a safe harbor, but the waters here are deadly. You don’t sail, do you?”

“No.”

She tinkled her laugh again. “Then you’re probably safe.”

“Just probably?”

 “Let me show you the upstairs bedrooms. The view from the master is breathtaking, even on a cloudy day like today.”

I wanted to pause in the entry and stare up at the crystal chandelier but Monique was already climbing the stairs. At the top of the landing, hung another painting of a ship. A small gold plaque affixed to the frame read, The Amelia. “It was named after his wife.”

When I glanced at her with questioning eyes, she elaborated. “Sadly, that’s the ship he was on when it was lost at sea.”

“When was that?”

“I895.”

“Did his wife stay here without him?”

Monique’s eyes widened. “I don’t know. No one has ever asked me that before. Doris Baird at the history museum might know.”

“It’s just such a lonely and remote spot to be here all alone. Did they have children?”

She held up her hands, palm up and shook her head. Then she laughed. “But you are staying here all alone without husband and children.”

“True.”

Monique pushed open a door, revealing a room swathed in morning light streaming through the windows. The sun had finally burst through the clouds and the distant Sound sparkled. A mammoth four-poster bed dominated the room. A river rock fireplace on the wall opposite the bed, a rocking chair with a quilt draped over the back stood beside it.

A portrait of a black-haired beauty hung above the fireplace mantle.

Monique’s gaze flicked between me and the painting. “She could be your sister.”

I flushed from the compliment, because I knew it was true. Although, Amelia—if it was Amelia—was soft and curvy, while I, in the last few months, had turned lean, angular, and, as my editor Felix had pointed out, hungry-looking. “Is that Amelia?” I cleared my throat, wondering why I was whispering.

Above us, something clattered. Footsteps thundered down the stairs. A man running sped past the open doorway, his face white.

“Goodness, I wonder what that’s about,” Monique said. “I assure, typically, Ned and Harris are the ideal—”

Ted or Harris began to yell. I went to the window. The two men stood around an open pit, staring at something—or someone.

“Maybe we should go and see—” I began.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Monique dropped the keys on the dresser. “Remember, if you have any questions, I’m just a phone call away.”

I followed her down the stairs, but when she went right to the driveway, I turned left to join the workers standing in the yard beneath the shade of a cherry tree. Ripe and rotten fruit dotted the smashed grass. In the distance lay the open pit.

The two men glanced up when they heard my approach, their expressions wary and hooded.

“Vivi Hamilton,” I said, extending my hand.

The elder of the two took my hand. “Ted Penndel.” He lifted an elbow at his accomplice. “And this here is Harris.”

Ted had the weather-beaten face of a sixty-year-old who had spent a lifetime outdoors and the lean build of a marathon runner. Harris was a much younger version of Ted, making me wonder if they were a father and son team.

“So, you’re the new renter, huh?” Ted asked.

He and Harris flashed a glance at each other.

“Sure you want to stay?” Harris asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

A siren blared. I turned to watch a couple of patrol cars rattle down the long driveway. The sound grew as they approached, making further conversation impossible. The tires spewed gravel when the cars lurched to a stop. Two policemen from each car plus a giant German Shepherd emerged.

Without a word, all five of them paced to the pit.

“Who found the body?” The largest and most imposing officer asked Ted.

Harris stepped forward. “I did.”

Curiosity drew me to the site.

“Stand back!” A small man with almond-shaped eyes held up a traffic-stopping hand. The German Shepherd curled his lip and a growl rumbled in his furry and barrel-sized chest.

I froze.

Body? I mouthed the word to Ted.

He answered with a solemn nod.

I plopped down in a handily-placed red Adirondack chair to watch. The German Shepherd studied me with a steady brown-eyed gaze that said twitch and I’ll attack.

The cat I’d spotted earlier, clearly braver than me and less intimidated by the dog, also came to watch. He perched on the branch above me, flicking his tail.

“Any way to tell how old the bones are?” the small officer asked.

“I bet they’re old.” The stocky officer bent and plucked a small disk from the mud.

“Mortenson!” The large officer bellowed. “You know better than to disturb a crime scene.”

Mortenson rubbed the object between his fingers. “It’s a coin,” he said, awe touching his voice. “I bet it’s really old, too.”

“It could have been planted there to throw you off.” I couldn’t help myself. I pressed my lips together to prevent any further outbursts.

The largest officer squinted at me as if he didn’t like what he saw. “Who are you?”

“The latest tenant.”

He strode toward me. “Yeah? When did you show up?”

“Shortly before Harris made his discovery.”

“Coincidence?” he asked with a sneer.

I answered with a raised eyebrow.

“You think you know something about police work?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

He rocked back on his heels. “Yeah?”

“I’m a crime writer. I do a lot of research.” In Seattle, I had a lot of friends on the police force, but I didn’t need to share this. I didn’t have a lot of weight to throw around.

“Well, this is real life. Not fiction. You need to stay out of the way.”

“Where am I supposed to go? This is my home.” Even though it hadn’t felt like it a few minutes before, now there was no way I was going to leave.

Gawain yowled when I lugged his carrier inside. He became increasingly loud and offended as I shuffled my suitcases from the car to the house. “I’m sorry,” I told him on my third trip past his carrier. “Even after that monster and his goons leave,” I referred to the Shepherd and the police still milling about on the lawn, “you won’t be safe. This is coyote country. While we’re here, you’re an indoor cat. Get used to it.”

His noise let me know he had no intention of being at peace. He hated it when I acted like I was the boss.

It took me quite a while to schlep my things inside. Because I’d parked near the back door, I was able to bypass the police and the newly arrived medical examiner in the side yard. But their voices floated around me and I’d catch snatches of their conversation through the open windows.

Once I was sure I’d made my final trip outside, I bolted the door, released Gawain, and settled into the tedious task of unpacking. Gawain stalked around the kitchen; his tail pointed skyward.

“Your box is in the washroom,” I told him.

He headed in the opposite direction—down the hall.

“Don’t bug the construction guys!” I called after him.

I found the shelves already full, making me curious as to why the last renter would leave without taking her vitamins, breakfast cereal, or Valhalla coffee. Because the closest grocery store was eight miles away, I had stopped to stock the kitchen before arriving. Now, I loaded my things next to hers, idly wondering why I was so sure the last tenant was a female. For all I knew, the previous renters could have been a family of six, or a pack of bachelors, or a…definitely a woman, I decided when I found a container of birth control pills tucked behind a jar of cashews.

It was a strange place for contraceptives, but it made my heart go out to this unknown woman. Some people like organizing drawers and cupboards. I am not one of those people, and my predecessor was obviously the same. I headed to the bedroom, wondering if I might find another piece of her there as well.

But aside from the blue-eyed gaze of Amelia Despaign staring at me her place on the wall, the bedroom was blissfully my own.

And Gawain’s. He tramped around like a hairball on a rampage, managing to get beneath my feet multiple times while I unloaded the contents of my suitcase into the closet and dresser drawers.

I wandered past the other bedrooms, peeking inside at the quilt covered beds and shuttered windows. I would have expected the house to smell of dust and mold, but a fresh paint odor mingled with sawdust hung in the air.

Sweaty from exertion and the mugginess, I went to the laundry room in search of towels so I could take a shower. Something odd caught my eye. Squatting, I opened the dryer and riffled through the clothes. Panties, T-shirts, shorts, a sundress. Nothing super expensive, but why would it all be left behind?

I held up the J. Crew size six dress—my size—but I couldn’t keep these things. I folded them into a tidy pile and left them on top of the dryer.

When everything was unpacked and in order and I had a towel tucked beneath my arm, I headed to the bathroom, locked the door, and turned on the shower. Soon, steam filled the tiny space and fogged the mirror. I locked the door and double-checked it. I doubted Ted or Harris would try anything, especially since a herd of policemen wandered the yard, but still…I was a lone female in a remote, unfamiliar place that looked like the setting of a Hitchcock movie.

After I’d finished my shower, I settled down with my laptop, determined to accomplish what I’d come here to do.

I scanned my previous chapter. Mrs. Henley was not yet in danger, but of course, that would all change. Her life was about to go to hell in a handbasket as soon as the dreadful Mr. Abbot came on the scene.

But I couldn’t get into Mrs. Henley’s head…she was a wooden character, stiff, unnatural…boring. Even Mr. Abbot, who I loved to hate, skirted on the edges of dull and tedious.

Besides, it was hard to focus on fiction when a real-life drama was unfolding right outside my window. What if the bone body wasn’t alone? What if this house had been built on an ancient Native American burial ground?

My buzzing phone interrupted my flight of imagined terrors. My stomach tightened. I knew who it was without looking at the screen. Valerie. I imagined her sitting at her desk, strumming her fingers, a worried wrinkle on her forehead…waiting for me to answer. But even as I ached to hear her voice, I tucked my phone back into my pocket.

I wasn’t ready.

And I didn’t know if I ever would be.

Standing, I did what I always did when faced with blank pages and malaise. I headed for the kitchen.

When the construction workers trooped past, I was ready. Holding my wooden spoon mid-air, I tempted them. The marinara sauce bubbled on the stovetop; the tomatoey, garlicky odors of goodness filling the air. Zucchini and carrot noodles slathered in butter and dusted with parmesan cheese stood waiting. “Guys! Ted and Harris, right? Want to try my sauce?”

The two men exchanged why-not? glances before shuffling into the kitchen. Sawdust sprinkled their flannel shirts, jeans, eyebrows, hair, and beards.

I scooped two servings of the vegetable noodles and sauce and watched their expressions as they each took a bite. Moments later, all three of us were seated at the table, sharing a bottle of wine and our life stories.

“My parents made me finish law school but I never took the bar,” I told them. “My first book hit the New York Times bestseller list before I graduated.”

Ted and Harris both looked reasonably impressed, but that might have had something to do with the tiramisu. The creamy combination of cocoa and cream with a touch of mocha tended to have that effect.

Ted and Harris weren’t father and son, as I had thought, but uncle and nephew. Both had spent most of their lives in nearby Rose Harbor and were married with two children each.

Ted glanced out the window. “Looks like our friends are finally leaving.”

I watched the patrol cars and the medical examiner’s van rattle down the long drive.

Harris snorted. “Not my friends,” he said around the bit of garlic bread in his mouth.

“What can you tell me about the woman who was just here?” I asked.

“That wasn’t her body,” Ted said.

“I heard the examiner say the bones were old,” Harris said before he took a slug of wine.

“That’s good,” I said.

“What else did they say?” Ted asked.

“The bones are old, but they couldn’t say how old without further investigation,” Harris told us. “So they can’t belong to the last tenant who had left just a few weeks ago.”

“Wouldn’t want to stay here if she’d been murdered and buried in the side yard, would you?” Ted asked me.

“Well, even if it wasn’t her, it was somebody,” I said. “And, clearly, I’m still here.”

“But are you going to stay?” Harris asked.

“My lease is up in October.” Coinciding with my latest, and final, deadline. I twirled my fork in my noodles, trying to banish my impatient editor from my mind. “You had met the last tenant, right?”

“Simone?” Ted asked.

I nodded.

Harris chased his tiramisu around his plate without meeting my eye. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious. I found some of her things, and I’m wondering what to do with them.”

“Maybe give them to Monique Ward?” Harris suggested.

Ted elbowed him.

“Uh, maybe not,” Harris said.

“I thought maybe I’d just hold onto them and if she doesn’t come back around before I leave, I’ll donate them to charity.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Ted said.

I smile, pleased.

“What’s in this sauce?” Harris pointed his fork at the pasta.

“Vodka.” I lifted my chin at the now half-empty bottle on the counter. I hadn’t used that much, had I? My gaze skittered past the recycling bin holding an empty wine bottle. When had that happened? “It’s my secret ingredient. Do you like it?”

Both men gave me enthusiastic nods.

“It’s almost as good as this tira-thingy,” Ted said.

“Thanks,” I said, warmed by the kind words and the wine.

After the men left, I trudged upstairs. My feet felt heavy, like someone had filled my shoes with lead. But I wasn’t wearing shoes. In fact, I wasn’t wearing anything. I glanced behind me to find my clothes strewn on the stairs. Giggling, I leaned against the cold wall. The chill sobered me…some.

Gawain darted past.

“It’s just you and me,” I called after him. “Alone. In this big house. In the middle of the woods at the edge of this cliff.”

What if I died here? How long would it be until anyone found me? The thought made my tears prick. My thoughts wandered back to the pile of bones pulled out of the ground. What if this area had been a Native American burial ground? Or a centuries-old cemetery? Of what if the person had been murdered?

Now, suddenly filled with melancholy, I shuffled into the master without turning on any lights. I flopped onto the bed and Gawain joined me. After wiggling beneath the covers, I plumped the pillows and inhaled the fresh, clean-scented sheets. My thoughts flashed back to the load of laundry I’d found in the dryer and the woman who had left them there.

Who was she? Why had she left without taking her underwear? Who does that?

Outside, the moon hovered on the horizon and sent reflection’s rays across the water. The boat I’d seen earlier had disappeared. A light flickered in the woods.

A trespasser?

But I was too tired and drunk to investigate.

#

Much later when the moon had reached its zenith, I woke. Gawain stretched beside me, asleep.

I found the silence deafening. Sitting up, I glanced around, disoriented. Then it came back to me. Despaign’s Folly. Rose Harbor. Edenbrook.

Suddenly, I was looking forward to the women’s artist retreat… and to not being alone in this gloomy place with my dark thoughts.

I was just about to lie back down when a movement caught my eye. The rocking chair, rolling back and forth, back and forth.

I closed my eyes and when I opened them, the chair was still. Wilting against my pillows, I put my arm over eyes.

I’m drunk. But even as I entertain the thought, it occurred to me that maybe a shot of whiskey would help me sleep. It’s not an indulgence, I told myself as I stumbled down the stairs, it’s medicinal.

But would my sister, the doctor, agree?

No. But I poured myself a shot anyway and banished all thoughts of Valerie out of my mind. Immediately, the chill I’d felt earlier dissipated. Warmth tingled my fingers and toes. The stiffness in my spine relaxed. Clutching the malt-whiskey bottle, I made my way upstairs

Back in my room, I gave the rocking chair an evil glance. It remained motionless. A breath of cologne I hadn’t noticed before hung in the air. I tried to place it. Musky. Woodsy. Leathery.

I fell asleep surrounded by unfamiliar smells in this strange place.

The Best Boy-Advice I Ever Heard Came From Carly Simon

I wrote this blog post years ago, but I think it’s worth repeating. I love my daughters, sisters, mother, stepmothers, aunts…I don’t know everything about love, but I do know this: The Breaking Dawn Premier and What I Learned About Boys from Carly Simon
I’m sure that anyone not living beneath rock knows that last night was the midnight premiere of Breaking Dawn (part one.) My brilliant, straight A, academic pentathlon competitor daughter is (seriously) the president of Tesoro High School’s Twilight Club. Yesterday she and her band of Twi-hards wrapped themselves up in blankets and were the first in line for the show.

I’ve no doubt that when Rob Pat showed his glistening face on the big screen that she and her friends screamed. Maybe they even swooned when the werewolves took off their shirts. Today my brilliant daughter went to school proudly wearing her Twilight t-shirt. I hope she screamed, I hoped she swooned, I’m happy she has a vampire shirt, but—when it comes to real boys, real flesh and blood boys, I hope she’ll listen to the best boy advice I ever heard. It came from Carly Simon.

I personally don’t know the love life status of Ms. Simon. I hope she’s happy. I know that she divorced James Taylor years ago. It’s interesting to me that a romance writer I admire who has written more than 36 New York Times Bestsellers is in her sixties has had two very brief marriages that both ended in divorce. Writing and singing romance is very different from living romance. Here’s Ms. Simon’s advice. It’s from a song Titled Boys in the Trees
I’m home again in my old narrow bed
Where I grew tall and my feet hung over the edge
The low beam room with the window looking out
On the soft summer garden where the boys grew in the trees.
Here I grew guilty
And no one was at fault
Frightened by the power of every innocent thought
And the silent understanding passing down
From daughter to daughter
Let the boys grown in the trees.
Do you go to them or do you let them come to you
Do you stand in back afraid that you’ll intrude
Deny yourself and hope someone will see
And live like a flower
While the boys grew in the trees.

So, to my daughter and to all the daughters—it’s okay to scream and swoon at characters in books and on movie screens, but when it comes to real boys, real flesh and blood boys—let them grow in the trees while you do what you need to do to be your very best self. Take the hardest math classes. Practice your guts out and audition for the very best choirs. Swim as hard and as fast as you can so that you can wear the medal at the meets. Rehearse the monologues that will make the audience cheer. Write the essays that will bring tears to reader’s eyes. And let the boys grow in the trees.

While you are your path, going where you want to go, trying to become as brilliant and talented as you possibly can be, eventually, you will meet others on the same path who share your goals. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone to hold your hand as you walk that path.

That person won’t be hanging out in your bedroom after you’ve fallen asleep–he’ll be too busy with the very hardest math classes, swimming and singing. He won’t drive you to suicidal activities like cliff jumping into the waters of Washington’s Coast–he’ll be too sensitive to your feelings and goals to ever want to cause you that sort of pain. (Honestly, has Mrs. Meyers ever been swimming in the Pacific in the Northwest? It is darn cold.) He won’t pick you up and carry you away from danger—you have to do that by yourself and for yourself.

Oh, how I hope you will.

Foodie Fridays: An excerpt and a recipe from The Little White Christmas Lie

Gingerbread Cookies

INGREDIENTS

3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 c. packed brown sugar

2/3 c. molasses

1 large egg

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Sugar Cookie Icing, for decorating

Sprinkles, for decorating

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and molasses until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, spices, baking soda, and salt until combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until dough just comes together. (Do not overmix!)

Divide dough in half and create two discs. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place one disc of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll until 1/4″ thick. Cut out gingerbread men with a 3″ wide cutter and transfer to baking sheets.

Bake until slightly puffed and set, 9 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your cookie cutters. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

 Repeat with remaining disc of dough. Decorate with icing and sprinkles as desired.

An Excerpt from The Little White Christmas Lie

Get Your Copy Here

FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME

Carson went to the kitchen with every intention of spilling his story to his family, but the only person he found was his grandmother. She had her gray hair tied up in a ribbon, an apron over her jeans and sweater, and a welcoming smile on her face. She held out her arms for a hug as soon as Carson walked in.

He gathered her against him, inhaling her warm scent. She always smelled of vanilla with a touch of cinnamon.

“You know Millie and I aren’t engaged, right?” Carson pulled away from her.

“Of course, darling.” She turned back to her rolling pin and dough on the counter. “I had rather hoped, of course…but it did seem too good to be true.” She flashed him a quick smile and a wink. “Did she tell you I had called her?”

After Carson nodded she said, “Why don’t you tell me what really happened?”

Carson took a seat at the kitchen table and watched his grandmother use a cookie cutter on the dough while he filled her in.

After he’d finished, she said, “And now, what are we going to tell everyone else?”

Carson blinked. “We’re going to tell them exactly what I just told you.”

His grandmother tsked her tongue. “No. That’s boring. We need a story.”

“I think Millie would prefer boring honesty,” Carson said.

Using a spatula, his grandmother carefully transported a freshly cut gingerbread man from the counter to a parchment-covered baking sheet. “I don’t believe that for one second,” she said. “Have you even read any of her books?”

“Granny, I’m not really her target audience.”

“And why not?” She pinned him with her stare.

He lifted his shoulder. “If things work out, I promise I’ll read one of her books.”

His grandmother banged her cookie cutter on the counter. “You’re doing it all backwards. You have to read the book first!” Sighing and shaking her head, she returned to her cookies. “It’s a wonder you ever made it through school.”

“Romance novels weren’t required reading in the business program.”

“Pity that.” With her back stiff and straight, she moved a few more gingerbread men to the pan.

“Granny…” It occurred to him that his grandmother might be distracting him by talking about Millie so that they didn’t have to talk about the inn’s dismal finances.

She cast him a sly look. “And what do you mean ‘if things work out’? Could it be that you’ve finally met your match?”

Carson flushed, and his shirt suddenly seemed itchy and too tight. He pulled at his collar. “I just…”

“Have I ever told you about the first time I saw your grandfather? Our eyes met and the whole world seemed to freeze and fade like a black and white photograph.”

Although Carson had heard the story many times, he didn’t stop her. He loved his grandparents, and he longed for a marriage like theirs. Besides, he didn’t want to talk about Millie. He just wanted to be with her.

“He looked so handsome in his uniform,” his grandmother continued. “We were at the train station. I was heading for New York City and cooking school, and he was off for training in Fort Dix.” She sighed. “I miss him every day.”

Carson stood, wrapped his arms around his grandmother, and kissed the top of her head. “I do, too, Grandma.”

She leaned against him. “I just don’t understand why your sister has been so unlucky in love.”

“Jackson’s a good man.”

“And your father…”

“Also a good man.”

“But not a prudent one.”

“He’s gone now, Grandma.”

“Don’t I know it,” his grandmother sighed.

Carson wanted to talk about his dad less than he wanted to talk about anything. “Let’s talk about the inn. I noticed all the rooms are full.”

She perked up. “Yes, I invited everyone I know for the Twelve Nights of Christmas.”

“You invited…you mean, none of the guests are actual guests?”

“Of course they’re actual guests!” She huffed.

“Is anyone paying?”

“Paying?”

He swallowed a groan. “You invited your friends…”

“Yes,” she said, defiance ringing in her voice. “It will be a lovely holiday season.” She slid a glance at him. “I even got you to come home, didn’t I?”

He opened his mouth to deliver a lecture, but she cut him off. “There’s going to be sleigh rides, a cookie exchange, a toy drive for the homeless shelter, a singalong, a craft fair, and a reenactment of the Nativity.”

“And who’s paying for all this?”

She kept her back to him. “None of this is going to cost a dime.”

“Granny! Who’s paying for the cookies? The hot chocolate? Don’t tell me you planned on inviting the town and everyone you know without feeding them something.”

She spun around to face him, holding the rolling pin aloft. The look on her face told him that she wanted to smack him with it.

“It’s Christmas!”

“I know the date,” Carson said through clenched teeth, “but do you understand that you have to live within the budget I created for you?”

She tilted her head to the side. “There are so many lonely people out there. And the children in the shelter—don’t you think that they’d like to see Jed’s camels?”

“Camels? Jed? Who’s Jed?”

“Jed Forester. He bought the Nelsons’ farm and opened up a camel ranch. Did you know that camel’s milk is considered a power food? He ships his camel milk products all over the world! It’s really something. He uses the milk to make shampoo, face cream, lip balm—”

“What do the camels have to do with the inn?”

“Well the wise men are going to be riding them, of course.”

“Of course.” Carson took a deep breath, feeling particularly unwise.

A Little White Christmas Lie is just one of the novellas in
this Christmas Collection. You can buy all three books here.

The Parable of The Carriage House Notebook

This isn’t actually her house, but it looks like it.

21 Bishop, Greenwich, Connecticut

When we lived in Connecticut I had a good friend who bought a derelict Victorian carriage house in Greenwich. A carriage house is, or was, basically, the garage of the manor house. A carriage house is where the carriages lived. In this case, the manor house, a monstrous mansion had become a retirement home, and the surrounding acreage had been subdivided into tract housing sometime in the fifties, leaving my friend’s carriage house sharing the lawn with the retirement home.
My friend’s house was a lovely brick and Tudor building without electricity and outdated plumbing. Over the years I watched my friend turn a mess into a beautiful home. And from watching, I learned a lot, like where to buy fabric, how to refinish cabinetry, how to reupholster furniture, but I think the most important thing I learned about was the notebook.
My friend had a notebook and each room in the house had a section in the notebook where she had fabric swatches, paint samples, and most importantly, a picture of what she wanted the room to ultimately look like. I spent a lot of time at antique stores and estate sales with my friend and the most impressive thing about her was even if she found something that she loved, if it didn’t fit or go or work in a particular room or space, she passed it up…even if she loved it.
I think that this theory can be widely applied in all areas of my life. In my writing: if I have a story and I know where the story is going, even if I have a great idea, even if I have a witty, clever bit of dialogue, or even if it’s a sky-rocketing kiss—if it doesn’t belong, fit or work in my story, it has to go. I don’t have room or time for tangents. I can’t slow the story down for detours.
I struggle to apply this same principle to how I spend my days. If I know what I’m trying to achieve, if I really have a picture in my mind of what needs to be done, even if something looks enjoyable or delicious, if it distracts me from my goals then that’s exactly what it is—a distraction—and how much time I waste trying to make it fit, work or belong is ultimately up to me.

Interesting side note: my friend died a couple of years ago. Shortly after her death, I was planning a trip to New York. One Sunday morning while I was sitting in church in the nursery with the under age-three crowd and thinking of my upcoming trip, the address 21 Bishop Street popped into my mind. It was so random and unexpected that I Googled the address when I got home. Sure enough, it was my friend’s house. I hadn’t lived in Connecticut for nearly thirty years. I have a poor memory. I have to really think to drag out even my own past addresses, let alone a friend’s. And yet, here was her address in my head. I considered going there but dismissed the thought. I was traveling with my daughter and daughter-in-law and they wouldn’t be interested in a trip down memory lane. And what would be the point? My friend had died–she wouldn’t be there.

But, as luck would have it, my daughters’ flight left in the morning, and mine in the afternoon. Still, I didn’t go. As it turned out, my plane was delayed for several hours. I absolutely could have made the 30 minute trip to Greenwich. But why would I? So, I didn’t. Instead, I sat in the airport for five hours, wondering what I might have missed.

Free Today!

Free Today! Get Your Copy Here

CHAPTER ONE

To Grandmother’s house we go,

“Over the River and Through the Wood” by Lydia Maria Child, American

Millie sat at the window of her brownstone apartment watching the shoppers scurry down New York’s busy streets. Headlights, streetlights, and just-hung Christmas lights sparkled on the slowly drifting snow.

“Merrow,” Byron cried as he jumped into Millie’s lap. He settled down with a purr.

“It’s just me and you this year.” Millie ran her fingers through the cat’s thick fur. She tried telling herself she needed the solitude, she deserved a respite from her demanding career, and she didn’t have the time or the energy to devote to cultivating meaningful relationships, but the longer she sat at the window watching everyone else pursue their Christmas with such purposefulness and pleasure, the more she wondered.

Mothers with children bundled in knitted stocking caps and mittens juggled shopping bags. Businesswomen in furs swinging their briefcases strode past. Men sporting red and green ties walked while talking on their phones. Shoppers carrying colorful, overflowing bags paused at the window displays. There had to be a few Ebenezers in the festive crowd, but she couldn’t spot one. Was she the only one wishing that Christmas would pass her by? Leaning back into her wingback chair, feet propped on the ottoman, she closed her eyes. It’s just so wrong…

How could she, one of the world’s most beloved romance writers, be alone for the holidays? Again? She’d taken a cruise to the Holy Land last year, thinking what could be more spiritually uplifting than Christmas in Bethlehem? But it had been a tour full of senior citizens complaining about their food and hotel beds. At least it had been better than the Christmas the year before with Liam in Monaco.

Refusing to think about Liam, Millie stood, knocking the sleeping Byron to the floor. He complained loudly while arching his back and stalking away.

“Maybe this year we’ll just stay home,” Millie announced to no one, since Byron had twitched his tail and disappeared into the next room.

Her landline’s shrill ring broke the silence. She studied the phone. She’d been meaning to shut off the service for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. Or at least that was what she told herself. The truth was, with her mom’s voice on the answering machine, Millie couldn’t bring herself to throw it away even after all these months.

Millie listened to her mom ask the caller to leave a message. No one who really wanted to talk to Millie ever used the landline. Her friends and business associates always called her cell…well, they usually texted, or just sent her an email. No one, other than scam artists and telemarketers, called her landline. Millie stood in the center of the apartment where she’d lived as a child, waiting.

“Hello? Camille? Hello?” An elderly woman’s voice warbled through the room. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was a friend of your Grandmother LaDonna. My name is Joy Baker.”

Joy Baker. Millie didn’t recall her grandmother ever mentioning a Joy Baker, and that was the sort of name she would have remembered because she really liked baked goods, and a joyful baker seemed like a good person to know.

“Anywhoo, I was hoping you’d give me a call. I know you are a writer, and I have a little business proposition for you.”

Millie frowned at the phone, debating. Her head told her that this happy baker person was probably a crook, but her lonely heart urged her to pick up the line.

Joy heaved an audible sigh. “I know you don’t know me…but I also knew your Grandpa Horace and your Uncle George. I run a little inn out here in Chickory, New York, and, well, it could use some publicity. I just thought that maybe if you’d like to come and stay—” Click.

The answering machine only allowed a few seconds per message, which often took callers by surprise. Millie smiled, wondering if this joyful baker person was on the end of the line, still yammering, completely unaware that she’d been shut off midsentence.

Millie honestly couldn’t remember her mom, grandparents or her Uncle George ever mentioning this Joy Baker, or Chickory, but the information tickled in the back of Millie’s mind. She settled on the sofa and booted up her laptop.

Seconds later, images of an upstate village with a church on every corner popped up on the screen. A springtime shot showed the town green’s gazebo surrounded by tulips and crocuses. Another image had the gazebo decked out in autumn’s bright fallen leaves. At this time of year, Millie knew there would be a blanket of snow. And sure enough, she soon found images of Chickory, New York, in full Christmas glory. It looked like a picture-perfect place to spend the holidays…if you had someone to share them with.

Millie closed her eyes against flashing recollections of her grandparents’ home in upstate New York. Sledding with her bright-cheeked mom and dad, hanging the lights with her Uncle George, Aunt Helen, and little Midge.

Ring. Ring.

The phone again. Millie poised her fingers above her keyboard, waiting. Once again, her heart told her to pick it up, but her sensible side said stay put.

“Oh dear,” Joy Baker’s voice floated back into the room, “I must have been cut off. Now, as I was saying, I have this darling old house that belonged to my grandparents and their parents before them, and I’ve recently converted it into an inn. It’s just beautiful, if I do say so myself. My niece, Lorraine, is an artist and she’s made the whole thing just as cute as a button from the attic to the basement, but the thing is—” Click.

Millie typed in “lodging,” but the closest place to stay to Chickory was a Motor Motel fifteen miles down the parkway.

If Joy Baker didn’t even have a website, no wonder her inn was failing. A place could be cute right down to its cement foundation, but if no one knew it existed, it would always be empty.

The word “empty” made Millie cast a glance at her calendar. She had half a dozen parties penciled in, but not one of them filled her with anything other than dread. And the most dreadful one of all was happening tomorrow night. The annual Book Bash. Simone Shusterfield hosted it every year at her Southampton mansion. Simone liked to collect writers and artists the way some rich old ladies collected designer purses and pedigree poodles. Millie’s editor had insisted she attend, barring raging illness or a family calamity. But Millie didn’t have any family…or did she? Her parents, her aunt and uncle, and even little Midge had long since passed.

Could this Joy Baker count as an old family friend? And could her failing business be called a calamity?

Millie smiled. Of course, she wrote fiction for a living. She could make up anything she wanted to. She did it every day. And she got paid for it. And if she could think of a reasonable excuse to avoid Simone’s party and not have to watch Liam kiss his beautiful fiancée beneath the mistletoe, then she would go to Chickory, or just about anywhere.

Ignoring the frantic be-sensible voice in the back of her mind, Millie pulled up an online map. If she took the early morning train to White Plains she could rent a car from there and be in Chickory by noon. She didn’t even have to stay the night. She’d just stay late enough to ensure she’d miss the party.

Her sensible voice tossed out reasons to stay in the city. What if there’s a blizzard? You could be trapped there for weeks. This Joy Baker might be a serial killer. Who’s going to take care of Byron if something should happen to you?

Telling her sensible self to shut up, Millie reserved a rental car in White Plains. Picking up her phone, Millie shot her friend and neighbor, Dorrie, a quick text explaining her sudden travel plans. Dorrie’s daughter, Amber, often cat-sat Byron when Millie traveled for book signings and conferences. Then she headed for her closet, pulled out her overnight bag, and dusted it off.

She had to run to catch the nine-fifteen train. With her bag slung over her shoulder and banging against her side, she slipped into the train seconds before the doors slid shut. Taking a deep breath, she headed for the one available seat. At this time of the morning most of the commuters were students, retirees, and mothers with children.

The only vacant seat was next to a man about her age, early thirties, with wavy brown hair and a strong jaw. He had a thick dossier in one hand and a red pen in the other. Unless he abandoned his place on the aisle, she’d have to crawl over his long legs to get to the window seat.

Their eyes met, and for one small moment, the world around her froze, like a black and white photograph. The train lurched, sending Millie onto the man’s lap.

“I’m so sorry,” Millie said, scrambling over him and pulling her bag with her.

“It happens,” he said, “although not very often. Actually, almost never unless I’m wearing a Santa suit.”

But something like that had never happened to Millie before, and she wondered if he had experienced the same time-stopping moment. Pulling down her navy sweater, she adjusted her pea coat, and to hide her flushed cheeks, she tucked her bag beneath the seat in front of her, refusing to meet his eyes again, and wondering what would happen if she did.

“Do you often wear Santa suits?” she asked, finally raising her gaze to meet his. His eyes, the color of chocolate, struck her again, but this time the world continued around them. The train clacked away from the city. Lower Manhattan’s gritty landscape flashed by the windows. Mothers hushed crying babies. Conversations filled the air.

“No,” he said, his voice thick with humor, “but I will be tonight.”

“Are you going to work at a mall?” He didn’t look like the plump bearded guys who sat at Macy’s this time of year.

“No. I—never mind.” In a decided effort to change the subject, he nodded at the book in Millie’s hand. “My grandmother reads her books.”

Millie flushed with pleasure. She loved hearing from her readers. “Then she must have excellent taste.”

The man chuckled, his laugh as warm as his eyes. “No, quite the opposite, in fact. She’s a connoisseur of The Helping Hands Thrift Store. She loves the hunt and the kitschy.” He wore a luscious camelhair coat that looked so soft Millie longed to touch it. He had a Burberry scarf draped around his neck and a gold watch on his wrist. He didn’t look like the sort of man who frequented thrift shops.

“Sounds like my kind of gal,” Millie said.

His lips twitched. “That sappy writer’s books fill my grandmother’s shelves and the movie adaptions are all over the Hallmark station—my grandmother’s favorite.”

Millie bristled and tucked the book into her pocket, praying he wouldn’t see her picture on the cover-jacket and realize that she was the sappy writer his grandmother loved.

“What takes you out of the city?” Millie asked, taking her turn to change the subject.

“My grandmother. She told me she had a Santa emergency.” He sighed and shook his head. “I hope this isn’t another one of her ploys.”

“Ploys?”

He nodded. “She’s a schemer.”

“A schemer and a thrift store shopper. I like her already.”

“How about you? Why aren’t you headed to work?”

“Who says I’m not?”

He laughed, and something about the sound filled Millie in a way she couldn’t describe. It was as if she’d been hollow inside, but this man’s laugh filled a space she hadn’t even known existed.

“What do you do?” he asked.

Millie’s thoughts spun in circles. Come on, I write fiction. She thought up something else. “I’m a travel writer.”

She was a writer, and at the moment she happened to be traveling. Good one. Not really even a lie.

“Oh yeah? That’s great. I love to travel. Where have you been?”

“Hmm, lots of places, of course.”

He smiled. “Of course. But where are you traveling to now?”

“There’s a brand new inn in Chickory, New York. I’m going to check it out.”

His face paled, his lips pressed together, and a calculating look filled his eyes. “Is that so? What magazine did you say you work for?”

“I freelance.” Sometimes.

“Ah.” He cleared his throat, a low, grumbling, unhappy sound. “So, you’re coming all this way to see a new inn.”

She nodded. “The Snowfield Inn. I even love its name.”

“But will you still love it in July?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“When it’s sunny, no one wants to stay in a snowfield.”

She raised her eyebrows. “I think that depends on how sunny it is. There’ve been plenty of melting hot summer days where I longed for a good snowfield.”

“It’s a ridiculous name for an inn,” he said in a tone that made her wonder why he should care.

“Do you know it?”

“I’ll be playing Santa there tonight.”

“Really?”

“Yes, we’ll see each other again.”

“I won’t be staying that long. This is just a day trip.”

“You’re going all the way to Chickory for just the day?” He nodded at her bag. “Then what’s that for?”

“I have my computer and just a couple of things in case I decide to stay the weekend.”

“So there’s hope.”

“Not really. I’m mostly trying to avoid a party tonight.”

“Not a party person?”

“I like parties, but this one…” She took a deep breath, looked out the window, and relived the pain. “My ex is going to be there with his fiancée.”

“You’re divorced?”

“No, but Liam and I…we’d been together a long time.” She didn’t know what made her open up to this man with the chocolate-colored eyes. Maybe it was because she thought she’d never see him again, or maybe it was because she hadn’t told anyone for so long about how badly she’d been hurt, or maybe because she just liked the way his gaze touched hers, but she found herself telling him all the sordid details: the purple panties under the sofa, the anonymous posts on her writing blog asking her why, if she was such an expert on romance, was her boyfriend partying with Scarlet McFaye?

“Wait, your ex is marrying Scarlet McFaye?” His eyes widened. “Wow, just wow.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s what Liam and all the rest of mankind think, too.”

“Hey wait, don’t lump me into Liam’s camp.”

“I can’t believe I told you all of this.” Millie flushed and looked out the window. “I don’t even know your name.”

He reached out and took her hand, as if to shake it, but he didn’t. Instead, he held it in his own. “I’m Carson Trent, but tonight, if you’re still at the inn, you can call me Santa.”

When she didn’t respond, he gently squeezed her hand. “This is where you tell me your name,” he said.

“I’m Millie Cruise.” But most of the world knows me as Camille Harper, AKA the sappy writer.

They parted at the train station. Millie had a ridiculous desire to give Carson a hug, even though she had just met him. Her sensible voice told her to shoulder her bag, casually wave, turn, and get her rental car, but her feet shuffled and she stuttered over saying goodbye.

“Are you sure you want to rent a car?” Carson asked. “I’m going there anyway, and it’s a three-hour drive.”

“That’s really nice of you, but how would I get back?”

“You ride back with me on Sunday night.”

“Mmm, no.” For once, she agreed with her sensible voice.

“Do you know how to get to Chickory?” Carson asked.

“My phone does.”

“Of course.” He looked deflated. Taking her hand, he said, “If I’m lucky, I’ll see you again.”

She left her hand in his. “Do you believe in luck?”

Pain flashed in his eyes. “Not really. Do you?”

“I want to…but it often lets me down.”

“Then let me give you my card, just in case you…” His voice trailed away, but after he cleared his throat he added, “In case you need anything, or get lost.”

“Thanks.” She scanned the card. It was heavy, cream colored with bold navy print. Carson Trent, Principal, Trent and Tavenor Investors, Your Business Partners. She pocketed the card and thought about giving him hers, but quickly changed her mind.

Her sensible voice told her she couldn’t hide her identity from this man forever, but Millie was getting pretty tired of her sensible voice. Besides, she knew that the chances of her ever seeing him again after today were very small.

Why do you think that? a less sensible voice demanded to know. After all, they both lived in New York. Why not meet? Why not date?

Millie shut down all the voices in her head, because she now realized they had all stopped being sensible the moment she had first seen Carson.

“Nice meeting you,” she said, tightening her grip on her bag and turning away.

She didn’t look back.

How to Love a Florence Nightingale

We all know them, those amazing, loving, caring people who wear their damp shoulders proudly and are on the constant look out for someone who needs a good cry. These are the knights in shining armor on the white steeds, the heroes leading the charge into the fray, or Mrs. Jellyby.

You don’t know Mrs. Jellyby? She’s a character in Charles Dicken’s Bleak House who was so busy raising money for blind children in Africa that she couldn’t see or attend to her own neglected children and household.

Wait. What?

We’re supposed to be regaling the virtues of do-gooders, not applauding the sadly delusional…

So, what is a Florence Nightingale personality? They are the polar opposite of a fair-weather friend. A fair-weather friend is a sunny yellow personality who loves to have fun and doesn’t have time for anyone with a crisis, illness, or hardship. If your house is burning down, they’re only interested in joining the fire brigade if they’re going to somehow benefit. A Florence Nightingale, on the other hand, will be passing out the buckets and manning the hose.

No doubt, providing service—doing for others what they cannot do for themselves– is not only admirable but good for the soul. And “going about doing good” (Acts 10:38) is exactly the life Jesus exemplified. In fact, He told us, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me,” Matthew 25:35–45.

But even the nonreligious believe in the power of providing service and charity. It boosts self-confidence and moral. Volunteering can act as a coping skill, allowing you “escape other pressures,” reports Lea Winerman of the American Psychological Association. Poor or decreased self-esteem is often the result of abuse or feeling underappreciated. When you serve others, they, in turn, appreciate you.  

It’s good for the body. According to Stephanie Watson of Harvard Health Publications, individuals who volunteer on a regular basis are less likely to develop high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.

But what about living day in a day out with these do-gooders who are so busy nursing lame ducks they don’t have time to catch a movie, or take a walk, or just sit and chat? Those people who just really aren’t that interested in you unless you have a drowning kitten to save?

The painful fact of the matter is, you aren’t interesting. And if you’re truly successful, you’re even less interesting to not only a Florence Nightingale, but to a lot of others, as well. There’s truth in the statement “it’s lonely at the top.”

So, what’s the answer? The answer is surprisingly universal. You love the Florence Nightingale the same as you love the fair-weather friend.  You just love them. Admire them and tell them so.

Accept people as they are and hope they do the same for you.

Shel Silverstein said it best: “How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”

An Introvert’s Dirty Little Guide to Getting Along With People (when you’d rather be at home with a book.)

The world is full of people, and each person is carrying a load of memories, experiences, and concerns that make them see the world differently from you. Even when a person was raised in the same house and has the same parents and attended the same church and school, they’re going to approach the world differently from you.

In fact, even you are going to see things differently tomorrow than you will today. So, given that we can’t even count on ourselves to behave in a consistent, normal manner, how do we deal? Here are a few pointers.

  1. Give up on normal. Nobody is normal. In fact, if someone was normal—we’d find them odd. And boring. Celebrate that everyone is unique and therefore, everyone has something to teach us. Whether you’re learning that you want to be like them, or that you don’t want to make their mistakes, everyone is a teacher. And if you’re open, you can be the student.
  2. Recognize that you aren’t everyone’s favorite flavor of ice cream. Not everyone is going to appreciate your quirkiness. That’s okay. Actually, that’s good, because they are one less person you have to devote your energy to. Don’t stew over why they may or may not want to sit at your table and laugh at your jokes. Let them go and find their own crowd.
  3. Let people grow up. Just because your little sister used to gallop around, toss her hair like it was a mane, answer questions with a neigh, and act like a pony twenty years ago, that doesn’t mean she’s going to embarrass you today. (Although, she might.) But we need to allow people to grow up and out of their immaturities…or accept them even when they don’t.
  4. Be a buffalo and brave the storms. When buffalos see an approaching storm, they run into it, while cows run away. But because cows are notoriously slow, they stay in the storm longer…and they don’t live as long as the brave buffalos. This is a great analogy on how to handle conflict in an important relationship. Learn how to have those crucial conversations. Say what needs to be said. Be honest.
  5. Lean into your emotions, but don’t be dominated by them. When someone close to you hurts you (and they will) or when you hurt them (and you will), sit with the emotion, study it, and observe it before you react. Ask yourself, what can I do with this? Where do I want this relationship to go? Who do I want to be?
  6. Always be the hero of your story. Don’t play the victim. Try not to be the villain (although, sometimes that might happen, even when you don’t want it to.) Every moment of every day, you’re writing your life story. Make it a good one. Fill it with colorful characters. Be the hero who is not only saving herself but doing her best to help those around her write their own very best life stories.

And when it all get’s too exhausting, find a good book, curl up in a corner with a cup of cocoa, and take a breather until you’re ready to face the world and all its people again.

Kristy Tate is a USA Today bestselling novelist, a mom to six, a grandmother to many, she has too many nieces, nephews, in-laws, and cousins to count (mostly because she hates math, but also because she has a lot) and she tries to love them all. You can sign up for her newsletter here.

Half-Baked, A Better Late Romance

CHAPTER ONE

Halfway across the parking lot, Robbie stopped and pulled at his bowtie. “I hate these things.”

“The tie or the gala?” Maggie straightened her brother’s cheap clip-on tie and had a vivid flashback of decades past to the senior prom where she’d tried to smooth down Robbie’s cowlick. Balding had long since cured that problem.

The prom had also been held at this place, the Rancho Allegro Country Club. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and yet, here she was with her brother—again—in fancy clothes. It was as if she was on a spinning wheel revisiting the same places with the same people over and over again.

“Both,” he growled. “All these pompous posers looking down on the rest of us peons.” He shuddered.

She thought about pointing out that with his generous salary, he was probably richer than most of the people attending the party—not to mention in the world—but since she knew he hadn’t gone into medicine for the money, she pressed her lips together.

“I like your costume,” he said, his gaze flicking over her. “The blue wig should make you look like a smurf or Marge Simpson, but somehow you pull it off.”

Maggie fluttered her wings. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Tessa made it.”

Robbie’s lips tightened and a closed expression like a hood passed over his face.

“Why don’t you like her?”

“I never said I don’t like her.”

“You clam up whenever she’s around.”

He shrugged. “It’s weird you’re friends, that’s all.”

“Why?”

“You’re nothing like each other. You’re you and she’s…she drives a Mercedes.”

“So?”

He shrugged again.

“A Mercedes isn’t a sin-mobile.”

He elbowed her. “Come on, I have to show my face.” As head of the pediatric department, he was right. He looped his arm through hers and led her through the parking lot. “Thanks for being my date tonight.”

They passed the valets milling around the Teslas and Land Cruisers. Because Robbie didn’t believe in valets, they had parked in the neighborhood adjacent to the club. The lights from the party flickered in the distance and a honky-tonk jazz band began to play.

“No problem. I love free food.”

He smirked and shook his head. “I don’t get you.”

“Yes, you do.” She slid him a glance. “If not you, then who?”

“You’re right. I do get you, but I just don’t understand how you can spend all day around food and never get tired of it.”

“Do you get tired of saving people?”

“No, but it’s different.”

“No, it’s not. You save people, I feed them. We’re in the same line of work.”

They passed the valets—young, lean men in button down white shirts and tight black pants—without looking at them. Their parents had taught them that trick—never make eye contact with someone who might expect a tip. Of course, since they hadn’t actually parked in the lot, they didn’t tip the handsome young men, but Maggie felt their questioning glances on her back as she followed Robbie up the stairs.

Originally, The Lodge, as locals called it, had been constructed for hunting back when Rancho Allegro had really been a ranch and coyotes and mountain lions were nearly as plentiful as the bunnies that currently terrorized gardeners. Strange how the gentlest of the creatures were the ones who actually survived urbanization.

In the lobby, several people vied for Robbie’s attention all at once. Maggie, a baker without food, and therefore a nobody, wandered off to peruse the refreshment table, not necessarily because she was hungry, but because she liked looking at beautiful food displays.

She had to stop herself from whistling in admiration. The caterers, men and women dressed in black, moved like perfectly choreographed dancers around the room bearing trays that looked more like portable art than appetizers. Edible art, the phrase came to Maggie’s mind and rested there. Could she try and copy any of this in her bakery?

Her fingers itched for her phone, but she’d left it at home. She wished she could take pictures of this. Who were the caterers? Maybe she should skirt around outside to catch a glimpse of their van. Hopefully, it would have a logo on it.

Her nose wrinkled when she spotted asparagus spears wrapped in a flakey crust and a piece of bacon. She would never understand the compulsion to ruin perfectly good baked goods by partnering them with vegetables.

“What, no donuts?” Tessa, dressed as Florence Nightengale, appeared at her side. “They should have hired Maggie’s muffins.”

Maggie turned and gave her friend a hug. “Maybe next time.” Robbie was right, they were an unlikely pair. Tall and curvy Maggie dominated over pixie-like Tessa. Maggie was a red-headed buzzard while Tessa was as blond as Tinker-bell.

“Really?” Tessa asked.

She nodded. “Robbie said he’d recommend me.”

Tessa smiled and said, “that’s great,” but her gaze darted around the room. Was she looking for Robbie? Or someone else? “The costume looks really good on you.”

“Thanks to you.”

Tessa flushed and straightened Maggie’s wings. “I love making beautiful things even more beautiful.”

“It looks great here, doesn’t it?” Maggie said, glancing around.

“Yes,” Tessa said with a touch of pride. “My dad wondered if they were going to cancel because of yesterday’s earthquake, but the Lodge wasn’t damaged. Thankfully.”

“Any damage at your store?”

“Nothing I couldn’t take care of myself. How about the bakery?”

“A lot of rattling pots and pans, but not much else.”

Tessa bumped her with her hip. “We’re lucky.”

She wished that were true. Maggie’s parents used to say she was their lucky penny, and she’d always felt that way…until Peter got sick. Sometimes she felt like she’d been trying to win her way back into Lady Luck’s good favor ever since.

The band, playing on a soundstage across the patio, began Conga and a line formed.

Tessa took Maggie’s hand. “Want to dance?”

“Sure, but first let me check my purse.”

Tessa winced when she saw Maggie’s old beat-up leather satchel. It matched the costume like paper bag accessorized a tuxedo, but Maggie refused to be embarrassed. She loved her purse—she’d had it for nearly a decade. And yes, it looked like the poor country cousin among all the Coaches and Kate Spades on the shelf, but she didn’t care.

#

Steven strolled into the country club and sought out Tessa. Because of her diminutive size, she was often easy to miss. Most of the guests were wearing masks, but Tessa had told him she’d be wearing a Florence Nightingale costume. He spotted her dancing with a tall, blue-haired yet beautiful butterfly.

Because he was new to Rancho Allegro, he only knew a handful of the guests. His uncle, Tessa father, was the president of the St. John’s hospital chain and had insisted he attend. Even though Steven was probably now worth more than his Uncle Jack, it was still hard to deny Jack anything. The family still kowtowed to the rich uncle…even when there were, now, richer cousins.

As he crossed the patio, something crinkled beneath his shoe. Given the noise—the music, the chatter, the clattering cutlery—he almost missed it. What was it that people said about the sound of falling coins—everybody heard it because people heard what they wanted to hear? A hundred-dollar bill. Steven stooped and picked it up. Someone must have dropped it.

He glanced around at all the bejeweled people in their fancy costumes. Only one man wasn’t in a costume—although he was wearing a bowtie. Did he think that was costume enough?

In most crowds, someone would be frantically searching for the lost bill, but here, no one seemed to notice. Still, it had to have been an accident. He held it up and slowly turned, hoping someone would take note. Someone did. His cousin Mitch.

“I’ll take that.” Mitch, dressed as a pirate, moved to swipe it from his hand.

Steven tightened his grip on the bill and shoved it into his pocket, away from his cousin’s greed.

“Hey,” Mitch complained. “This is a fund raiser. I’m just trying to raise funds.”

Steven tried not to roll his eyes. “If I can’t find the owner, I’ll give this to someone who needs it.”

“The hospital needs it, you loon.” He waved his saber at the party. “That’s why we’re here.”

“This is a hundred-dollar bill. It cost, what? Three-hundred dollars to get in here? Besides, I already made a generous donation. I’m going to give this to someone else.”

Mitch scowled.

“I’m going to give it to…” Glancing around the room, he debated: a valet? One of the servers? He could wait and donate it to one of the regular charities on his list: the Red Cross, St. Judes Medical Research, or Orange Wood Foster Homes.

But then it would weigh on him and Mitch would harass him. His gaze landed on the coat check. One scruffy leather satchel stood out from the rest. He strode over to the bored-looking girl behind the counter.

“See that purse,” he pointed at the satchel.

“This one?” Surprise for a moment overrode the girl’s bored expression. She obviously didn’t think a man in a Zorro cape would be interested in a scuffed leather satchel. “It belongs to my girlfriend.”

“And now you’re a liar,” Mitch whispered in his ear.

The girl narrowed her lids and tightened her lips. “I can’t give out any of the purses unless you have a ticket.”

Steven hurried to placate her. “I just want you tuck this into it.” He pulled out the bill and showed it to the girl. “Can you do that?”

“You’re a crazy person,” Mitch said.

“Crazy like a fox,” Aunt Miriam said from behind him. Approaching eighty, she looked and acted like someone nearly half her age. Tonight, she was dressed as a flapper. She snaked her arm around his waist and looped the other through Mitch’s arm. “A silver fox! How did two of my favorite boys ever grow to be so old and yet so handsome?”

Mitch flushed. “The same could be said of you, Mom.”

“Hush!” Aunt Miriam she shook her long cigarette holder in Mitch’s face. “I don’t want anyone to know I’m old enough to belong to you.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You could pretend I’m your date.”

“I could,” Mitch said, pulling away. “But I won’t.” He gave Steven the stink eye. “Let’s ignore her.”

“You can ignore me, but you better not ignore your wife,” Aunt Miriam said, nodding at the approaching Lydia, who was wearing a Queen of Hearts costume.

Mitch audibly groaned, but also grinned.

There were lots of things Steven didn’t admire about his cousin, but he did envy him his long and happy marriage. Mitch had married ten years before him and hopefully would be married for many years after. Lydia had been good for him.

The butterfly he’d noticed earlier approached the coat check and handed the girl her ticket. He watched as the girl handed the butterfly the beat-up purse that now carried his one-hundred dollar bill.

His gaze met the girl’s.

“Your girlfriend, huh?” the girl asked.

Surely, this was a breach of some sort of hired-help etiquette.

Aunt Miriam perked up. “Your girlfriend?”

Mitch grinned. “Yeah, about that, Steven?”

Steven rubbed his chin and decided to go along with it. “There you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“For me?” The butterfly put her hand on her chest. Most of her face was covered by a jewel-studded mask, but her lips were full, red and her skin creamy and white. Definitely girlfriend material.

Steven braced his shoulder, determined to carry through with his charade. “I want to introduce you to my Aunt Miriam and cousin Mitch.”

The butterfly blinked and took Mitch’s extended hand. “I’m Grace,” she said.

“Come on, Grace,” Steven said, taking her hand and pulling her toward the dance floor and away from his aunt and laughing cousin.

Grace stumbled after him until they reached the dancing couples. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re thinking,” she began.

He silenced her by putting his finger on her lips. “Just go along with me, please. There’s a hundred-dollar bill in your purse for your trouble.”

Then he kissed her.

#

His warm lips spread a flurry of emotions through Maggie. Should she slap him? Push him away? Scream at him…but…oh…was this what kissing was all about? How long had it been since she’d been kissed like this? Maybe never.

She’d loved Peter. She had loved kissing Peter. But near the end, the kisses had been so mixed up in grief and pain, they’d just as soon make her cry as curl her toes in pleasure…like this one did.

What must this person think of her? What made him think he could just kiss her like this? Maybe he kissed everyone like this. She couldn’t be someone special in his life since he had only just met her…but he hadn’t really met her, had he? It wasn’t as if they’d been properly introduced.

And she’d given him her middle name.

But this kiss, though…

She really should end it. This was exactly the sort of privileged behavior her brother and parents were always spouting off about. Rich people who thought they could do whatever they wanted with little or no regard for who they stepped on…or kissed.

Oh, this kiss. It was like kissing Clark Gable, or Gary Grant, or…Zorro.

He pulled away. She was grateful to see he wore a dazed expression.

Maggie touched her lips. “What was that?”

“That,” he said, “was worthy of an encore.” And he kissed her again.

This time, Maggie, forgetting all about social injustice, leaned in and gave herself into pleasure. It rocked her world. Shook her to the core. Made her legs shake.

It took her a moment to realize that not only was her world rocking, but the lights stringing above her were wildly swinging. The band had stopped playing. Pillars bearing lanterns fell with a crash and glass shattered. The hospitality tent collapsed and one of the curtains fell into an open fire pit.

And still Zorro held her in his arms. In fact, he tightened the embrace, making it more protective than sensual.

The lights went out. Women screamed and men shouted. All around her, panicked people pushed and pulled. Zorro grabbed her hand and pulled her through the chaos. She staggered after him, barely seeing through the smoke and din.

The damp and cold seeped through Maggie’s flimsy shoes as she crossed the lawn. Zorro took her elbow and steered her through the parking lot, passing the valets who had gathered into a tight bunch beneath the now catawampus awning. Here, away from the party, the moonlight shone clearer.

Maggie blinked when she realized it wasn’t Zorro who had led her through the chaos, but her brother.

“Rob! What the heck?”

He stopped and stared at her. “What’s your problem?”

“I don’t have a problem,” she said.

“You sound like you do.” He stepped closer. “Who was that guy you were kissing?”

She floundered for an acceptable answer and finally came up with, “I don’t know.”

“And I have a problem with that,” Rob said.

Monday Motivation-The Why and How of Housekeeping

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR HOME

Because I’m not great at housekeeping but I love a clean house, I recently took a class on home organization class from guru, Marie Ricks. I loved it much more than I thought I would. These are my notes.

You can find her book on Amazon

Only keep what we truly need and trust that the Lord will give us what we need when we need it. Be patient with the process. If you’re right-handed, begin at the right side of a room. Start at the top and work down.

Set up a plan

                List every room. List closets, cupboards, drawers, and shelves (in each room). Pull everything out and sort items to share, discard, put elsewhere and keep.

               Create A, B, C, and D closets. As are highly visible and accessible and are for usage, not storage. Ds are for storage, usually off-site.

                And each closet has A, B, C and D areas. Don’t put anything on a shelf—use containers for the shelves. Create tabs out of duct tape and stick them on the containers so they’re easy to access.

 You only need one of everything.

Get rid of everything weak and un-useful.

Aks yourself, do I need it?

Can I get by without this?

What if I need it again?

Who can I bless by sharing? (Be overly generous)

Be objective, ruthless, courageous, and don’t look back.

Put what we use most in the most convenient places

When we have less, we can better bond.

Keep enough, give away abundance

Store useful items.

I came across this scripture, and it took on a new meaning:

And now I would that ye should be humble and submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. … And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever. Book of Mormon, Alma 7:23-26

You might also like these posts:

How to Clean a Condo

The Corn Kernel Principle

Random Advice on Marriage and Housekeeping

Ten Steps on How to Be Happy

I’m so lucky to be at Brigham Young University’s Education Week! Here are the notes from one of my favorite classes.

Happiness, Justin B Top

Science, Psychology, Saints & Scriptures

You can’t use happiness as a gauge for your righteousness

WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

Emotions fluctuate/sleep/hormones/ health

Happiness is your perspective, a way of thinking, a state of mind ELEVATED PERSPECTIVES that leads to optimism, greater confidence,

To view the world, we all have our own unique world glasses: experiences, social influences, biological factors, genetics, gut bacteria, relationships. But we are not our glasses.

Consumerism is a huge factor in unhappiness.

Community and community celebrations increase happiness.

Happiness factors

50% genetic/biological

40% what you do

10% circumstances

Can you influence your bio? Yes, with sleep, exercise, healthy nutrition.

WE AREN’T GOING TO BE HAPPY IF WE’RE JUST ALONG FOR THE RIDE. WE NEED TO CREATE OUR OWN HAPPINESS

All we have to do is take steps. Be intentional about doing things to make our lives better

TOP TEN FACTORS OF HAPPINESS

  1. Freedom

Some people look at commandments as restrictions, but addictions and sins are the true restrictions.  A BIG PART OF HAPPINESS IS UNDERSTANDING THE CORRELATION BETWEEN SELF CONTROL AND FREEDOMS. Act for themselves and not to be acted upon, 2 Nephi 2:26  Every time we make a choice, it influences the future choices available to us.

  • Choice

Happiness is a choice. Abraham Lincoln, folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. Freedom and choice relationship. When you choose to live a healthy life, you have more freedom to do things. Use choice wisely. Finances, relationships,

TAKE CONTROL AND CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our power to grow. Frankl

You do not find a happy life, you make it—Thomas S. Monson

No one sees the world exactly the same

  • You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Emotional hygiene: taking daily steps to emotional steps. Take action. Chase after being good.

Life satisfaction: Ideals vs our behavior. The goal of life’s satisfaction is to get our ideals to match our behavior. The further they are a part, the greater our internal conflict. You can raise your behavior or lower your ideals. You can leave the church, but you can’t leave it alone, Joseph Smith. Unrealistic expectations. Comparisons to others. Acknowledging progress. Are we pushing to be better? Do you recognize God’s hand in your life? Do you give room for the atonement? Direction is more important than speed. Where do we find feelings of self-worth? It has to come from inside ourselves. It can’t be dependent on others. Does being more perfect make us feel closer to God and happier? Be compassionate with yourself

  • Pursuing Meaning choose one’s own way. Find something that gives us roots rather than being a tumble weed blown around by life. Stop and find a sense of joy. Marriage is about making us more like God. It’s a process. What brings joy? And what is the purpose of pain? Embrace pain and its meaning. Don’t try and avoid pain. Stability.
  • Direction and purpose: Where do you want to go and how will you get there? Everyone’s task is unique. We need to create our own path. It’s so easy to get off track. Every step ask yourself, does this line up with my purpose and goals?
  • Spirituality: A personal light that makes everything clearer. How is religion different from spirituality? The goal of religion is to lead us to spirituality. But you can be religious without spirituality and you can be spiritual without being religious. Oddly, being religious without spirituality is mentally dangerous and will cause unhappiness.
  • Live with passion: Flow. Finding the right reason for doing the right things. What makes you feel alive? What fills you emotionally? Find things that fill you, not drain you.
  • Gratitude: Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving. Express gratitude to others. Write letters to people. We can refuse to remain in negative thought.
  • A sense of awe: Be content in whatever state we’re in. Be overwhelmed by the earth and its beauties.  Nature is the best medicine. Celebrate the sacred in your life. Remember the life moments that changed you forever. There’s beauty in everyone’s story.
  • Truth: Man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be. Einstein. Finding truth is a process, it’s getting to better know God. The nearer man approaches perfection the clear are his views and the greater his enjoyments, till he has over come the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin. Joseph Smith What truth really matters?

Truth about me

Relationship with others

My relationship with God

Truth is about peeling away all that doesn’t matter and facing who and what we really are. Identify the distortion of your lenses. 12 Steps of addiction are about identifying truth within ourselves, digging it all up and exposing all the lies.

Admit wrongs

Ready yourself for change

Seek God’s help

We create stories, we think we understand the truth of things, but often we really don’t. Like the apostles sitting around the table of the last supper, we need to ask, Lord is it I? What can I learn from this? Posture says something about our happiness. Take a receiving posture in life. Happiness is a butterfly—Hawthorne Let yourself be lived by life Lao Tzu. The more you fight against God’s plan for you, the unhappier you’ll be. Trust the journey. Go forward.