4

It’s a boy!

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Baby Boy Shoes On A Black BackgroundI’m absolutely thrilled to be able to tell you all that my third grandbaby arrived last week. Etienne John, 9lb 5ozs, is a brother for Cora and Veda.

He was two weeks overdue and even then had to be given a hefty prod but he arrived wearing a smile!

Etienne

 

 

Needless to say very little writing has been done in the last day or so and I’m off for cuddle at the weekend.

Here he is!

12

Você fala uma língua estrangeira? by Samantha Hunter

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Do you speak a foreign language? That’s what my title asks (I hope) in European Portuguese, which I just started learning last week. So far, I can ask for help, tell someone I’m hurt, call a taxi, buy a loaf of bread, and — most important of all — ask where is a bakery? ;) (Onde fica a padaria?) :)

lisbonPart of this was motivated by a decision to visit Lisbon in the spring, and a desire to speak some of the language when we go. Though I’ve had a bit of a fixation on Portuguese and Portugal for a long time, though I can’t say exactly why. My husband bought me a Portuguese learning CD back in the 90s, but I never ended up using it much, and I think it was also Brazilian Portuguese, and the two are different.

I love language – the English language, of course, but I pick up language fairly easily, and enjoy it. I also studied several in high school and college, but lost them through lack of use. When we went to London this past September, I loved hearing all of the different languages being spoken on the train and at the restaurants, and wish I understood more. So, learning new languages is going to be one of the staples of my life as I get older.

One of the most popular reasons people don’t learn a second (or third) language is age – adults think they can’t learn well if they are not a child. Most research refutes that now, and shows that not only can older people (say, forties on up to whenever) learn second languages, but they actually have a lot of advantages in doing so. Consider this, from Pimsleur Approach:

Learners of every age set out to gain knowledge of a second language for various reasons; it’s common to discover benefits of becoming bilingual that you hadn’t even considered along the way. Take Samuel Beckett who, at the age of 40, began writing his first drafts in French instead of English. One unexpected result of this was inspiration for many of his best-known works including Waiting for Godot. An extreme case study this may seem, but it goes to show that language learning at any age can unlock new doors.

There is also evidence that learning a second language is healthy for your brain and can help slow down or affect the onset of mental decline in elder years.

“Learning a language later on in life might be more beneficial than learning it earlier, because it takes more effort,” Bak continues. “It has parallels with physical exercise – a stroll is good for your health, but not as beneficial as a run.”

But all of those things aside, it’s fun! It gives you new things to do and discuss with your spouse or family, it can help with your community and your travel, and it helps us all be citizens of the world.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right resources, but they are out there, from You Tube Videos to resources on Amazon, to formal language services like the one I am using, called Transparent.   I highly recommend it so far. (They have a free trial version, if you want to try it out, too).

I hope to be well-versed enough to use a decent bit of Portuguese when we go to Lisbon, but I know it takes years to be really fluent in a language — and I hope I will be in this one, and perhaps able to “get by” in several others. Do you speak a second or third language? Are you fluent, or are you considering learning one now? If you could pick one language you wish you could speak, what would it be? I say, go for it!

 

31

What’s the earliest book you remember? by Kate Hardy

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Kate HardyI was chatting to one of our lovely Choc Box readers last week (waves to Elaine) and she kindly shared some memories of books from her childhood – and that got me to thinking, what a fantastic topic for a blog.

I’ve always, always been a bookworm – to the point where our village library used to let me borrow books on both my parents’ library cards as well as my own.

The earliest book I can remember is Wind in the Willows. witwI remember sitting on my mum’s lap, wrapped in a blanket, listening to her read about Mole and Ratty, Badger and Toad. I loved every second. And I bought an illustrated edition for my children – though it turned out that the book didn’t really translate to the twenty-first century. (They much preferred the Mick Inkpen stories about Kipper the Dog, and. Lynley Dodd poems about Hairy McLairy and Slinky Malinki.)

I also remember my dad teaching me ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. (Lovely Julie Cohen sent me a card when he died – and it had The Owl and the Pussycat on the front.)

I devoured the Famous Five and Secret Seven books, Ruby Ferguson’s series about Jill and her pony, Elyne Mitchell’s ’Silver Brumby’ series, and cried my eyes out over Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka. (I discovered the Brontes at an early age, too – and I loved Watership Down so much that I read it ten times in a row!)

I can also remember as a teen reading my first Harlequins – Sara Craven, Charlotte Lamb and Anne Weale – and borrowing my mum’s ‘The Whiteoaks of Jalna’ series (in secret, read by torchlight, but I bet she knew!). I still sigh when I think of Renny Whiteoak – I imagined him to look like a cross between Clark Gable and Robert Mitchum.

Which books do you remember most from your childhood and teens?

it started with no strings 500Kate’s latest release is her sixtieth for Harlequin Mills and Boon, It Started With No Strings. You can find out more about the book, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/) – or find her on Facebook

 

 

10

10 Tips for NaNoWriMo

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If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month and planning on writing 50,000 words before the end of November, here’s a few tips and encouragement that I’ve learned from doing this kind of insanity on a regular basis. It’s going to be the topic of conversation in the coming month at JumpStartWritingInstitute, as I try to finish up one book and get a good ways into the next one myself. So if you’re over there, look for tips and motivation to carry you through the month! In the meantime, here’s my top tips:

1. HAVE A BASIC PLOT IN MIND BEFORE YOU START: It’s worth spending a few hours sketching out a plot. One of the best things you can do to keep yourself on track is to boil your plot down to one or two lines—this gives you an anchor to return to when the plot drifts. Something like: Former CIA Agent risks everything to rescue the daughter he loves, and to get a second chance at being a dad. That way, you can ask yourself—DOES THIS FIT THE PLOT? If not, the scene has to go or be revised so it does. That means you wouldn’t add a scene showing the dad going out on a date or detouring for a dinner at a restaurant—every single scene should be one of him working toward that important goal of rescuing his daughter.

2. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE DETAILS: One of the keys to writing fast is to plow forward, and leave the research holes to fill in later. That keeps you from spending a day surfing the web looking up some obscure fact, and lets you keep moving on the book. I usually put something I need to know in caps. ADD DETAIL HERE or FIND NAME OF PART and then go back in revisions and add in those nuggets.

3. TALK IT OUT: When I get stuck on a plot element, I’ll talk it out with myself. Usually in the car, and on the road, LOL. I ask myself lots of “WHY” questions because that usually helps me get to the deeper motivations and conflicts for my characters. I also try to ask myself before I write a scene—what is the character’s goal for this scene? And at the end of the scene, I always ask myself—how did things get worse? Those few questions as you write can help you keep the plot moving forward and keep the stakes rising.

4. MAKE TIME FOR THE WRITING: You can’t write 50,000 words in a month if you aren’t making time for the writing. Get up earlier, stay up later, or use your lunch break to write those 1666 words per day (more or less). Keep a notepad with you to jot down ideas as they occur (look for other time saving tips in upcoming JumpStartWritingInstitute newsletters and daily prompts).

5. BUT MAKE TIME FOR A LIFE, TOO: NaNo occurs during the same month as Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and your kids’ soccer games and your friend’s birthday. So be sure to leave time for those things. When I set a writing schedule, I have learned to figure in at least one day off a week, sometimes two. One for a break, and one for a day when things go south for whatever reason, or I get sick, or my kids have an unexpected event, or my friends invite me to go shoe shopping ;-) So if I were planning Nano, I would divide 50,000 by 22 instead of 30 days, which only increases the daily word count by a little less than 600 (2273 words per day). That gives me breathing room, keeps me from panicking, and ensures my life doesn’t revolve around the book.
603203_554982267862432_1157681302_n 6. MAKE LIFE EASIER: Do crockpot dinners or quick dinners, or let the kids cook. Get a timer for your coffeepot, and take that one day off a week to get the laundry and housework done (or enlist the help of family members). By keeping the rest of your life easy and non-stress, you keep that stress from blocking you on the page.

7. CHECK IN WITH OTHERS: It’s important to have a community of other writers to fall back on. Post in the JSWI forums, post on the JSWI Facebook page, or join the NaNo forums to find like-minded writers. It is very helpful to have other people who understand the insanity you have embarked upon.

8. LET THE WORDS FLOW: There are a lot of “rules” to writing that can make it impossible to move forward. You’re worried about show, not tell, using active instead of passive voice, writing in the right POV, etc. What NaNo teaches you is to write regardless of rules, so you get “purer” writing. Yes, it can make for nightmarish revisions, but it can also allow you to unleash your creativity in new ways. I tend to write dialogue heavy first drafts, then go back in and layer everything else in revisions.

9. KEEP YOURSELF ACTIVE: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of also clearing your head through some kind of physical activity, whether it’s a daily workout at the gym or an afternoon walk. I find that getting moving helps my brain recharge, and sometimes my best plot thoughts come during a workout (or a long drive). 558921_10151425852865207_750815206_23128604_1400004228_n

10. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP: If you write 5000 words instead of 50000 or you get one chapter instead of ten done, or you finish next month, that is still further than you would have been if you had done nothing at all. Just like we don’t all run at the same pace, we don’t all write at the same pace, so don’t compare yourself to other writers.

11. Bonus Tip: When it comes time for the revisions in December, come back to JumpStart Writing Institute. We’re going to do a whole lot of tips and prompts on revision that month, helping you hone in on what to cut and what to keep. It’ll be a month of polishing and perfecting, and will get those words in shape!

Good luck! Tell me, are you doing NaNoWriMo next month?

Shirley

ABOUT SHIRLEY JUMP

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Look for her Sweet and Savory Romance series, including the USA Today bestselling book, THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE, on Amazon, and her Sweetheart Sisters series for Berkley, starting with THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN and continuing in September 2014 with THE SWEETHEART SECRET. Visit her website at www.shirleyjump.com or read recipes and life adventures at www.eating-my-words.com.

 

 

12

The Real Spirit of Christmas

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Last week, my husband and I had dinner with two of his golfing buddies and their wives. The two couples knew each other. My husband knew the guys and their wives. So I was the odd person out. As they chit-chatted about things common to the five of them, I learned new stuff…about them as well as my husband’s relationship with them.

Then the table sort of got quiet. Dot, the older wife, caught my gaze across the table and asked, “Didn’t you just have your first grandchild?”

Pause here to realize that just opened the floodgates for ninety-nine hours of me gushing praise on the most beautiful baby in the world. LOL But before I went too far, somehow the conversation shifted and we were talking about Christmas, specifically, how grandkids change Christmas. And I told the story of how, a few years ago, when it was just adults and 2 cats in our family, we needed to do something or our holiday threatened to be just another day.

Picture a clean house, with pumpkin pies, a fantastic dinner, decorations…and no spirit. We’d experienced it the year before. It was awful. It was empty. It was meaningless. It was everything Christmas was not supposed to be.

And I knew I could not go through that emptiness again.

For months before the holiday, I struggled with ways to put meaning back in Christmas. And then my younger sister told me two stories. One was of a young mother who was dying of cancer. Her husband had to quit work to care for her so there would be no money for Christmas gifts for the two daughters she was leaving behind. The other was the story of a young family whose house burned to the ground. They had no idea where they would be spending Christmas.

I looked at the little bundle of money we’d earmarked to buy gifts for people who had everything they wanted (my husband and I and our kids…) and I knew, in that moment, that if we really wanted Christmas to have meaning, this year there should be no gifts for us. We should give that money to the people who needed it.

And we did.

That year we still had the pumpkin pie. We still bought small, trinket-like gifts. We decorated the house and sighed when the cats wouldn’t tear the wrapping off the catnip mice we’d bought them. But there was an undercurrent of joy again in everything we did. Not because we’d changed the world. Our offering of a few hundred dollars to both couples was nothing compared to their loss. But we knew we weren’t the only ones who’d given. And we hoped those family found at least of modicum of joy that year.

And THAT’S really the gift we gave ourselves that year. Hope. Hope that those two families would find joy. Hope that there would be peace for them.

Because hope and peace are more important than designer handbags and real whipped cream on your pumpkin pie.

So, why am I telling you this months before Christmas? Because if you want to give the gift of hope to someone, you have to start looking now. Churches will know which of their parishioners need a little help. Coat drives for desperately needed outerwear begin now. Now is when the fire company needs donations for the turkeys and hams they give to the underprivileged. Right now, youth groups need donations for the Christmas baskets they make to take to the old folks homes.

Right now is when you can make a difference in someone’s Christmas. :)

Happy Reading…

susan meier

16

My top 10 period dramas with Michelle Douglas

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I love a good period drama—the gorgeous clothes, the different time periods that seem so much more romantic than the present, the manners and etiquette, the gorgeous clothes, the amazing houses…the gorgeous clothes. You get the picture. ;-)

Now, as I’ve been indulging in some of my favourite TV mini-series lately, I thought I’d share my particular favourites with you.

[Note: to be eligible for this particular list the selections had to be mini-series length rather than movie length (I’m afraid movie length period dramas make up an entirely different list altogether). :-)]

10. Vanity Fair. I’m going with the 1998 mini-series starring Natasha Little as our notorious Becky Sharp. She’s such a minx! But I can’t help rooting for her. Say what you will, but when Becky is on screen one can’t turn away—she’s compulsive viewing…especially when one is faced with the insipidity that is Amelia Sedley. ;-) 

9. Bleak House. This has a typically complicated Dickens plot, but Gillian Armstrong’s Lady Dedlock kept me spellbound, and I adored the Jarndyce wards. And Charles Dance was chilling as Mr Tulkinghorn. In fact, the entire cast is stellar.

8. Emma. I’m talking about the 2009 Romola Garai series. What I love about this version is how it highlights both Emma’s youth and her joie de vivre. It makes her so much more likeable and empathetic.

7. Downton Abbey. I’ve been gobbling this series up. Love the post-Edwardian setting. Hmm…perhaps this should be higher up on my list.

Brideshead

6. Brideshead Revisited. I watched this again only a week or so ago…and it’s what prompted this list. Honestly, it really has stood the test of time. Plus there’s Jeremy Irons. Enough said.

5. Sense and Sensibility. I love the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett movie-length version, but it doesn’t fit the parameters I’ve set. So in this instance we’ll go for the 2008 mini-series. Hattie Moran is wonderful as Elinor Dashwood and Dominic Cooper makes a delicious Willougby. The scenery in this one is spectacular too. 

4. North and South. Romance authors have long admired this particular series…not to mention the smoulder that is all Richard Armitage.

NorthSouth

3. Jane Eyre. I’m choosing the Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens version. The chemistry between this pair sizzles.

2. Our Mutual Friend. Bella Wilfour is one of my all-time favourite heroines. Again, this is another of  Dickens’ complicated plots, but it has a brilliant cast with characters to die for. (It also has some of the most dastardly villains ever!)

1. Pride and Prejudice. The BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I know that P&P can be interpreted in many different ways, but this is my absolute favourite version. To me, this one is perfect. It’s my desert-island DVD.

PridePrejudice

So, popcorn anyone? :-)

What would you add to the list?

 

25

A little love goes a long way with a rescued dog

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By Jackie Braun

The end of January will mark two years since my family adopted a little dog from a local shelter. Pip, then named Pascal, is a miniature poodle (with something else thrown in) who had been a stud in a puppy mill.

Pip the first day in our house. So lethargic it broke my heart.

Pip the first day in our house. So lethargic it broke my heart.

By the time he wound up at Adopt-A-Pet in Fenton, Michigan, he was deathly sick with a respiratory infection. He also had an ear infection, his fur was matted with feces and he had a hernia.

The little dog I brought to my house that cold January day weighed eight pounds, shivered uncontrollably even once he was inside and warm, and was so lethargic that he didn’t leave his bed to explore for the first few days.

Trust came slowly. About four months after we got him, he was willing to lay on his back and let me rub his belly.

Trust came slowly. About four months after we got him, he was willing to lay on his back and let me rub his belly.

Despite being between the ages of two and eight years old—our vet later narrowed it down to about four based on his eyes rather than the very poor condition of his teeth—he’d never been on a leash, wasn’t housebroken and was terrified of doors.

Pip didn’t bark. He didn’t make any sounds, in fact. He would grab a bite of food from his bowl in the kitchen and run away from us to eat it in a corner of the living room. He didn’t know how to play.

I remember the first time I pulled out a toy and tried to get him to tug at the other end of it. He just looked at me like I was insane. Ditto when I rolled a little ball across the floor. It wasn’t that he had no interest. He had no clue.

Well, he plays now, and not just with toys. He picks up pieces of his food and tosses them around, scampering after them.

Hanging out with the stuffed animals in my office.

Hanging out with the stuffed animals in my office.

He barks. Not a lot, but he knows how to express himself. This is especially true if I leave him home. It doesn’t matter whether I am gone five minutes or five hours, when I walk through the door again, he gives me a “lecture.”

He also “talks.” It’s this whiny mumbo jumbo that translates into “I want a treat.”

He still isn’t great on a leash. He wants to run, run, run. I indulge him when I can, because, hey, it’s good for me.

He’s mostly over his fear of doors, although every now and then I still have to pick him up and carry him over a threshold. I wish I knew what happened to make him so afraid. Scratch that. I have a feeling it’s something I don’t want to know.

He’s not keen on going to the groomer, but he loves for me to pamper him. All I have to do is hold up his brush and he flops down in front of me. Within a few strokes, his eyes begin to slide shut. I swear I hear him sigh.

Taking  a nap with me.  I woke up first. :-)

Taking a nap with me. I woke up first. :-)

Just this past spring he started to put his head out the window when we’re driving in the car. He used to be so scared when I opened the window while the car was moving that I thought he’d shake himself into a seizure.  Now, his head is out and he’s sniffing madly as his tail wags and his ears flap in the wind.

Who can resist that face?

Who can resist that face?

Pip has been a real member of our family since the day I brought him home, but it took a lot longer than that for him to become a real dog. It’s amazing what a little love can do.

 

Jackie Braun is the award-winning author of more than 30 books and novellas including Mine Tomorrow, a time travel that is out now. 

 

 

13

No Christmas Like The Present – Sierra Donovan

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First off, a big “Thank you” to the Chocolate Box Writers for giving me this guest blog spot!

I’ve always loved fall: the beautiful colors, the relief from the heat of summer and, I admit it, anticipation of the holiday season. So, I suppose it’s fitting that my first Christmas novel should launch in October.

Yep, I know. Early thoughts of the holidays make some people want to cover their eyes and ears. Others can’t wait. And that’s fitting, too, because my heroine in “No Christmas Like the Present” has one foot planted in each camp. She doesn’t hate Christmas … she just wishes she had more time to enjoy it. And, somehow, to get it “right.”

That’s where we find Lindsay at the beginning of Chapter One….

* * *

December sixteenth, and she’d barely started on her Christmas cards.

Lindsay Miller sat in the living room of her apartment, the TV tray in front of her stacked high with cards and envelopes. Every year she promised herself she’d get started early, and every year she ended up behind. The whole first paragraph of the notes in her cards used to be an apology for being late, apologies for not writing during the year, and pledges to do better next year. At twenty-nine, she’d given up on the annual litany of excuses. They’d heard it too many times before. But every year, she still vowed to herself that she’d surprise them all.

Next year.

Lindsay sighed and brushed a handful of light brown hair behind her ear again as she bent to her task. She flipped her worn vinyl address book to the G’s. Only the seventh letter of the alphabet.


Out of the corner of her eye, she sneaked another glance at the old black-and-white version of A Christmas Carol they were showing on television. It was her favorite scene, as Scrooge’s jolly nephew Fred once again explained the joys of Christmas to his uncle. And it was her favorite version of the film, because this Fred was exceptionally handsome. Elegant and dark-haired, with warm dark eyes and exquisite features, resplendent in his long, trim overcoat, top hat in hand.

“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time,” he said in his rich voice, with that cultured British accent. “The only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely….”

Right, Lindsay thought wryly. Just as soon as I finish these cards.

But she felt a pang. Another holiday season was passing by. She’d gotten her packages sent, at least, but she still had more shopping to do . . . more batches of fudge to make . . . and these cards . . . all to fit around eight hours a day at the office. To really do it right, she had a feeling Christmas would be a full-time job in itself.

She pulled her eyes away from Fred and brought her attention back to the next name in the address book. Ruth Gillespie. Her old college roommate. When was the last time they’d talked? She made the annual mental vow to call her in January, once the holiday rush had passed.

As Fred stubbornly wished Scrooge a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Lindsay’s doorbell rang. She checked the pendulum clock hanging on the living room wall. Almost seven P.M. During the summer, when it was still light outside, she wouldn’t have thought twice about someone coming to the door at this hour, but now that it was well after dark, it gave her pause.

Frowning, she approached the door and tried to peer out the peephole. No good. She’d decorated her door with gift wrap the first week of December, when she still had hopes of getting Christmas right this year. Reluctantly, Lindsay opened the door about twelve inches, her hand still clutching the knob, and peered out.

It was Fred.

The same Fred she’d just seen on television, from a movie made over fifty years ago.

Lindsay turned to check the TV screen, and there stood Fred, framed in the door of Scrooge’s counting house. She turned back to her visitor, framed in her own doorway, and blinked. Hard. The same long, slender overcoat. The same top hat. And the same handsome face, down to the ready smile and the glimmer in his eye. Except that this Fred was in living color.

He removed his hat, revealing a head of wavy dark hair that did nothing to lessen the resemblance.

“Miss Lindsay Miller?” he said, and his voice even held the same trace of a British accent. Not the kind of accent you heard every day here in Lakeside, Colorado.

Eyes didn’t twinkle in real life. And they certainly couldn’t dance. The very thought was corny beyond belief. Or at least Lindsay would have thought so. This man’s eyes appeared to be doing both, and while it made her stomach flip, it wasn’t from nausea. But what was with the nineteenth-century getup? He must be a walking advertisement for one of those chimney-sweeping services. Someone should tell him the fireplaces in this apartment complex were all the ornamental, natural-gas kind.

Somehow, he knew her name. Maybe it was a singing telegram. Who would send her a singing telegram?

She tightened her grip on the doorknob. “Yes? What can I do for you?”

“For me? Not a thing. I was sent here strictly for your benefit.”

It had to be a sales pitch, or worse. Lindsay steeled herself against the laughing eyes that gleamed at her under her porch light. “I’m sorry,” she said, and started to close the door. “I’m not interested in buying anything tonight—”

A smooth black walking stick jutted out, blocking the swing of the door. A walking stick?

“No, no, Miss Miller, you misunderstand. I came because I was told you’ve been missing out on the spirit of Christmas—”

That did it. He was crazy. Lindsay shoved harder against the walking stick and slammed the door. The stick got stuck in the doorjamb, and she froze in alarm; then, mercifully, it slid back outside, and she shut the door the rest of the way. She leaned her shoulder against the door as she first bolted it, then turned the lock on the knob, then resolved to get one of those security chains. And never to answer her door again after dark.

She started toward the phone in the kitchen, ready to call the police if the strange man outside gave her any more trouble.

She got halfway to the kitchen before she nearly walked into him. He stood in the middle of her apartment, right where the living room led into the kitchen.

It couldn’t be. A scream tried to make its way out of her throat, but her breath stuck in her windpipe. How in the world had he gotten in?

He took a step back and held up his hands in front of him, as if to show he meant no harm. The walking stick dangled loosely between his fingers. Halfway down, it was slightly bent, as if it had been slammed in someone’s front door.

“Please,” he said, “give me just a moment. We’ve gotten off to a bad start.”

His dark eyes looked absolutely guileless, but that didn’t lessen her alarm. He stood between her and the kitchen phone, her lifeline to the sane world. Maybe she could get her hands on a weapon.

Lindsay cast her eyes furtively in search of a blunt instrument. “You’re breaking and entering.”

“Nonsense. I haven’t broken anything.” He held the walking stick out to her, still hanging it loosely from his fingertips. “Here. Take this, if it makes you feel better. All I ask is that you hear me out.”

She snatched the stick and thought about cracking him over the head with it, but his steady gaze was so far from menacing, somehow she couldn’t. Instead, she angled the walking stick toward him, reinforcing the distance between them. “Who gave you my name?” She started to sidle around him, toward the phone.

“That’s a little hard to explain. I was sent by my supervisors.” He maneuvered, too, always a safe distance away, but still keeping himself between her and the phone. His words came a little faster. “Miss Miller—may I call you Lindsay?”

She didn’t answer. They’d nearly reached the countertop where the phone rested, and he stood in front of it.

“You’re missing out on the most wonderful season life has to offer. And I’m here to help.”

She switched tactics, tentatively advancing toward him with the stick extended. He backed away. Whatever else he might be, he didn’t seem aggressive—or, at least, not physically violent. Although he was every bit as stubbornly persistent as Scrooge’s nephew.

He went on, “You spend every Christmas rushing to get things done, without ever stopping to enjoy it. You know there’s more to be gotten out of Christmas, and every year you try to find it. That’s why I’m here.”

With the help of the prodding stick, Lindsay reached the white-tile counter. She groped for the phone, never taking her eyes away from the stranger in front of her.

“Lindsay, you need my help.” Her searching hand knocked over the jar of pens next to the phone, and continued to fumble for the handset. He started to tick items off on long, slender fingers. “You’ve spent the past week making batch after batch of fudge to send to your aunts, uncles, and cousins. You spent the rest of that same week organizing the children’s choral performance at the community center—which I understand was lovely, by the way. You’re drowning in a hideous stack of cards for people who never hear from you the rest of the year. You have a carton of eggnog in your refrigerator that expires in two days, and you haven’t even opened it.”

She didn’t remember the date on the eggnog, but she knew she hadn’t opened it yet. Her skin crawled. He’d been in her apartment, had gone through her things, and he’d been watching her. That was the only explanation. Lindsay seized the phone.

“And when you were ten years old, you peeked at your biggest Christmas present, but you never did it again because it spoiled the surprise.”

She almost dropped the handset. No one knew that. Not even her parents.

He added, “A tape recorder, I believe.”

Impossible. He must have found out somehow.

Lindsay firmed her grip on the cordless handset and turned it on. But when she raised the phone to her ear, she didn’t hear a dial tone. Instead, soft strings played “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Lindsay squeezed the phone hard, and the room swam as if she were seeing it through a wet pane of glass.

She glanced up at her strange visitor. He regarded her quietly, still a safe distance away, although she’d forgotten to brandish the walking stick.

Lindsay switched the phone off, then back on. This time she heard “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

In addition to everything else, apparently, he knew her two favorite carols.

She stared at him numbly. “How did you do that?”

The swirling room darkened to black, and she barely felt the arms that caught her before she could hit the floor.

* * *

Sierra Donovan is a wife, a mother of two and a writer, though not always in that order. Her job and greatest joy is helping people find true love on the printed page. She is a firm believer in old movies, Christmas, chocolate fudge and happy endings. Her holiday romance, “No Christmas Like the Present,” is now available from Kensington Publishing.

Website: http://www.sierradonovan.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sierra.donovan.165

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SierraDonovan1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1191291.Sierra_Donovan

Blog: http://sierradonovan.blogspot.com

Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/Sierra-Donovan/e/B001JS7V54

Kensington Publishing author page: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/author.aspx/30546

7

The Search for a Perfect Rice Pudding

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I need your help.

Last week I finished the first draft of my latest Harlequin Romance (to be released July 2015) It’s a complicated story with a tragic heroine, a brooding hero and a cat named Nigel.  But I digress.

Whenever I finish a manuscript, I celebrate with a nice big bowl of warm rice pudding.  In my opinion, rice pudding is one of those amazing comfort foods that makes every better, including post-manuscript hangovers.

Here’s my problem.  I used to have a fantastic rice pudding recipe that I pulled out of some cookbook I got for free at work.  About fifteen years ago, when my husband and I were redoing our kitchen, I decided to purge my cookbooks.  I   created two piles – the keeper pile and the give to the charity yard sale’ pile and promptly proceeded to mix up the piles.  My fantastic rice pudding recipe is now someone else’s rice pudding recipe.

My rice pudding fall-back recipe which has been discontinued

My rice pudding fall-back recipe which has been discontinued

I wasn’t too upset though, because Uncle Ben’s came out with  a terrific rice pudding mix.  All I needed to do was add milk, cook for fifteen minutes, and I had a pan of sweet rice goodness.

Last year, Uncle Ben’s took the mix off the market.  Apparently, I was the only one buying it.

So, now I’m back to square one.  I have tried all sorts of rice pudding recipes from the Web, but none seem to come out right.  Either the rice comes out harder than necessary, or it comes out too soupy or it just plain stinks.

Not having a decent rice pudding is making manuscript celebrating extremely difficult, people!  I need a great recipe.  Does anyone have one?  Please share it.  (By the way, share the kind of rice you use as well – that I think makes a difference).

My muse (and my tummy) thank you.

 

Barbara Wallace is away on her second honeymoon right now, hopefully enjoying rice pudding by candlelight.  Her latest book, THE UNEXPECTED HONEYMOON is out this month.

Larissa coverA holiday to remember… 

Widower Carlos Chavez manages La Joya del Mayan, the most romantic resort in Mexico. On good days, the romance passes unnoticed; on dark days, it only reminds him of his loss. 

But the honeymoon suite’s latest guest, Larissa Boyd, has rocked his steadfastness. Stunningly beautiful, she seems lost. And no wonder…she’s on a honeymoon for one!  

The chemistry is instant—and their similarities run deep. Could it be that the two loneliest hearts in Mexico have found love…in the most unexpected of places?

 

Amazon               Barnes & Noble                 Harlequin             Mills & Boon

Fall Foods, by Samantha Hunter

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butternut-kale-lasagna-ck-lJust a few short weeks ago, I was still in summer cooking mode, all salads, BLTs and grilled foods, but now that the days are getting shorter and cooler, the urge for fall foods has set in. The first return to those delicious goodies was a beer-based beef stew and apple-cranberry crisp, and tonight, I’ll be making a favorite we discovered last year, Cooking Light’s Butternut-Squash and Kale Lasagna (it may not sound like something you will end up craving, but believe me, you will).

Food is one of the saving graces of fall and winter, which I otherwise totally dislike (well, fall is very nice, but winter… yuck). As the year proceeds, we’ll end up making more ethnic, especially Indian and Thai dishes, which are so colorful and spicy — they are just what you need to add warmth and color to blah January days. There are also the Italian dishes we love, and Mexican, though getting the fresh tomatoes for good homemade salsa is harder, or at least more expensive.

51aZIy9JrXLBut cooking (and using my quilts and sweaters) is one of the few upsides of this time of year… that, and planning winter vacations. ;) Do you have recipes you find particularly comforting and fun to make in the cooler weather? Share, and I’ll pick one commenter to win a copy of my recent two-fer release with Leslie Kelly, White-Hot Reunion, which might also help warm up some cool evenings. :)

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