Friday, August 27, 2010

Free Book Friday Giveaway--Queen in Exile

What did our winner of Winning Mr. Wrong do to impress a guy?
Our winner, Tina, went on a marathon date (6 + hours) in an rusted out van with no air conditioning or water in 115 degree weather and she was sick most of the time. No wonder the date was a disaster.


Today's free book is Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch.



Entering is easy, but you must be done by MIDNIGHT MST THURSDAY, September 2nd. Winner will be announced September 3rd.

To enter, leave us a comment with the answer to the weekly question.
Make sure to include your email address if it isn't found on your blog profile.

The weekly question is
"Have you ever done something you never thought you'd do? What was it?"


Rumors of war hang over Princess Jeniah's peaceful country of Arden, a land that shuns both magic and warfare. Following a lifelong dream, Jeniah forms a telpathic bond with a revered creature called a chayim, who is prophesied to save her kingdom. But when a Darborian knight comes upon Jeniah with her chayim, he sees only a vicious monster about to devour a maiden, and he slays the beast.

Devastated by the loss of her chayim, and fearing that her own magic is evil, Jeniah doubts her destiny. When an enemy invades Arden City, they slaughter the people, storm the castle, and execute the entire royal family except the princess. Rescued by the knight who slew her chayim, Jeniah is now heir to the throne of Arden and the only hope for freeing her people from tyranny.

On the run and hunted by enemy soldiers, Jeniah must place her life and the fate of her kingdom in the hands of this trained killer. Torn between embracing her destiny as queen of Arden, and her love for a mere knight, she must ultimately rely on her magic to save herself and her people from death and tyranny.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Queen in Exile



The thundering hoof beats of her two guards’ mounts grew steadily louder behind her while Jeniah, on her own duocorn, fled Arden City as if a pack of wyrwolves pursued her. Jeniah glanced over her shoulder and willed her guards away, knowing such a wish was foolish. How she longed to truly escape Arden, her stifling role, and the terrifying new future she must soon accept. Jeniah could no more escape her destiny than she could escape her personal guards, but for a few blissful moments, she would be Jeniah. Not a princess, not a scholar, not a bride of some far-off, faceless prince. Just Jeniah.

Her duocorn, Egan, settled into a comfortable canter, his double-horned head nodding with each stride. Her guards matched her pace behind her, and she tried to forget they were there. Birds roosting in the trees scattered at their approach, fluttering deeper into the woods. Embracing the exhilaration of riding, Jeniah flung her arms out to each side, imagining how it might feel to soar unfettered into the great unknown, without a care.

Cantering over the cobblestones, Egan rounded a bend in the highway. Without warning a side path appeared, calling to Jeniah with irresistible force. She reined sharply. Egan danced against the reins, turning a full circle, and shook his head, making the bridle jingle. Jeniah’s pulse galloped and her stomach quivered. She stared down the path, irresistibly drawn, feeling the stirring whispers of destiny.

Breneg and Ciath halted their duocorns on either side and drew their swords, searching for signs of danger.

“Your Highness?” Breneg said in alarm.

Her gaze fixed on the path, Jeniah held up her hand. “Nothing’s amiss, Breneg. I wish to be alone.” Her voice sounded oddly distant, oddly hoarse.

“Alone? Your Highness, we cannot guard you if—”

“Only for a few moments, Breneg.” Without looking at him, Jeniah knew her sternness had surprised him.

Jeniah could not explain the urgent compulsion to traverse the path alone, but the power beckoned to her very soul. Her heart skittered, and she could no longer resist the lure. Without waiting for further response, she urged Egan forward. The path seemed ordinary. It led from the highway to a shallow hollow that appeared equally mundane, yet a shiver of anticipation raised bumps on Jeniah’s arms.

She dismounted, leaving Egan to graze, and walked deeper into the woods. She paused behind a tree, and the moment she knew her guards could no longer see her, she blurred. The familiar warm, tickling sensation spread over her, blending her with her surroundings. If Breneg and Ciath were to spot her now, she’d appear as nothing more than a sapling or a shrub.

A part of her feared her strange magic. Magic had been the cause of the Great Wars. In Arden, magic was shunned, feared. Not even her faithful lady-in-waiting knew Jeniah’s power.
In moments of irony, Jeniah wondered why she bothered blurring. Her family acted as if she were already invisible, unless they remembered their need to forge allies.

Breneg and Ciath moved away, their duocorns’ hooves rustling the dried leaves. No doubt they were following their usual pattern to sweep the area for danger, spiraling outward in opposite directions, and then tightening the spiral until they returned within visual distance of her. She would have a few minutes of solitude before they returned. Eventually, she’d have to stop blurring and reveal herself, or they’d grow frantic.

Jeniah stepped over a log peppered with mushrooms and walked deeper into the woods, following the irresistible call. Fallen leaves crunched under her riding boots. She hurried along the sun-dappled path, eager to discover the source of the compelling summons. At the rise of a hollow, she stopped. Chills of excitement tingled her spine. She held her breath.

An enormous golden-brown animal stood on four legs at the far edge of the hollow. Sunlight slanted down through the woodland trees, giving his thick pelt and mane an iridescent shimmer. Jeniah gasped. Truly, it could not be! She stared in disbelief at a sacred chayim.

He was magnificent. She felt as if she were in the presence of deity, ancient and wise beyond human comprehension. Her mouth went dry and she fell to her knees.

She’d heard the stories, of course. She’d listened, enraptured, as minstrels related accounts—legends, some said—of a chayim choosing a maiden of surpassing purity and courage, bonding with her, and guiding her as she led her people to a bright new future. In private moments of hope, Jeniah had dared to dream a chayim would choose her.

Jeniah’s heart pounded as if trying to escape her chest, and her breath came in gasps. Nearly overcome, she waited for the chayim to determine her worthiness. She stood and lowered the hood of her cloak, careful to make no sudden movements lest she frighten him away.

Moving with regal grace, the chayim padded down the slope into the hollow and stopped barely out of reach. His shoulders were level with her head, and he was even longer than he was tall.
Quivering in excitement, she held out a hand. The beast took another step toward her. His long neck curved and his head dipped down while a pair of dark, intelligent eyes probed hers. She waited, trembling in anticipation, as if poised at the summit of a mountain. A step to one side would mean death. A step to the other would bring limitless freedom.

He blew gently into her face, a sign of acceptance. Her heart soared and tears of joy streamed down her cheeks. Driven by a compulsion to touch him, she raised her hand higher. When the beast opened his mouth, revealing two rows of sharp teeth, she felt no fear, only wonder, peace, and light. Her heartbeat slowed and she felt a smile curve her mouth as she spoke softly to him.
After a brief pause, the chayim answered with a low growl others might have found fearsome. Jeniah continued to extend her hand until it finally touched the long, square muzzle, finding the golden fur softer than she expected. The chayim closed his mouth and uttered a noise much like a purr.

Acceptance and an all-consuming love flowed into her as the chayim’s mind gently touched hers. Through the images he sent her, she witnessed changes to the land the chayim had seen during his long life. He mentally deepened their connection, wrapping her in warmth and safety and truth.

For the first time, she saw herself as more than an annoyance, more than a pretty distraction, more than her father’s pawn to forge a political alliance. She saw herself as a young woman of much greater worth. That knowledge filled her with indescribable joy and a renewed dedication to her duty. And it gave her hope.

Using her powers for others now became paramount, a realization both humbling and liberating.
Through emotion and image, the chayim assured her that her ability to blur was not a power to fear, but merely a small part of a greater magic that would serve her, and serve her people.
Without warning, the connection shattered.

Jeniah staggered back, disoriented and empty from the sudden severance of their bond. Drained of energy, she collapsed. She raised a hand toward the chayim, desperate to renew their mental bond, but she could not reach him. His head turned toward something behind her, his tail swishing angrily. He growled.

Hoof beats approached. As she lay on her back looking up at her chayim, Jeniah’s thoughts cleared, and she swallowed a growl of her own. Apparently her overprotective guards had finished their guarding pattern and returned. She could blur to prevent them from finding her, but if they had already visually marked her, blurring would not deceive them. And at the moment, she wasn’t sure she had the strength.

Hoping her chayim would remain, she struggled to her feet to warn away the guards. Her weakened limbs failed her again and she crumpled.

The hoof beats grew nearer still, and an enormous silver duocorn pounded into view with a man astride him. Jeniah’s chayim stood over her defensively and let out a roar that shook the ground. She pressed her hands over her ears. If she hadn’t already bonded with him, she would have been terrified.

“Get back!” she tried to warn the stranger, but it came out as a weak gasp.

With a battle cry, the rider and his mount charged down the slope from the highway toward them in the hollow. Though he wore the chain mail of a knight, the rider was clearly not one of her guards.

Her chayim let out a roar more threatening than the first. He dropped to a crouch facing the intruder, and stood over her, his breath warm and moist on her face, his haunches quivering.
Drawing a sword, the stranger charged.

Jeniah gasped. Not only was the armed rider about to destroy her destined bonding with a chayim, but he planned to battle this magical beast! What brainless madman would attack a holy chayim?

And where were Breneg and Ciath? They should be alerted to the presence of another rider. Jeniah’s chayim growled again, and her concern shifted to the rider. Her chayim would no doubt kill the foolish man before he could inflict any injury, yet she wished no harm upon any person. Even a fool.

“Stay away! You’re in danger!” Still weakened by the aborted connection, Jeniah tried to rise but failed again.

Teeth bared at the intruder, her chayim twitched as he prepared to spring. The rider continued his charge. As her chayim leaped, he extended claws the length of daggers from his paws. The armed man and her chayim came together in a terrible clash.

Horrified by the violence, Jeniah pushed her shaking limbs to a stand. “NO!” she shouted, finally recovering her voice.

Her chayim hesitated at the sound of her frantic cry. In that moment of distraction, the warrior attacked. His sword made a graceful arc and sliced into her chayim’s golden chest.

Jeniah screamed. Dread clutched at her heart, squeezing until she could barely draw a breath.
“No!” she sobbed. “No, don’t hurt him!”

Her chayim fell, rolled, and jumped to his feet. Amber blood streamed from the wound. Rearing up on his back two legs, he swiped at his opponent, his claws barely missing the man’s chest. The rider’s duocorn danced back and then lunged, bringing the warrior and his sword in close. Man and chayim lunged, struck and parried.

Desperate to stop them from killing one another, Jeniah picked up a rock to throw at them, but halted before she let it fly. The last time she’d interfered, she’d distracted her chayim and the man had wounded him. She ground her teeth in frustration at her helplessness.

Though bleeding from multiple wounds, her chayim raked the duocorn’s flank with his claws. The duocorn whinnied in pain and reared but continued circling the beast. Skillfully avoiding her chayim’s teeth and claws, the man struck again. Weakened, her chayim slowed until he could no longer evade the sword. The warrior thrust his blade deep. The chayim’s shriek filled Jeniah with cold dismay.

He flailed, howling in pain, his claws missing the duocorn by a breath. The swordsman severed one of her chayim’s massive paws, which only threw the beast into a greater frenzy. Roaring and thrashing, her chayim came at the swordsman. Again, the warrior’s blade found its mark.
Sickened and shaking, Jeniah sank to her knees.

This time, the magnificent animal collapsed. His breath labored twice, and after a spasm, he lay motionless. Amber blood flowed in a spreading stain on the leaves carpeting the woodland floor.
Silence rang out as if all nature’s creatures paused to mourn.

“No,” Jeniah whispered in disbelief. All strength left her limbs. Darkness drew around her, leaving her desolate and utterly lost. She felt as though she had lived all her life in darkness, then unexpectedly stepped out into the light to behold the beauty of the earth and sky, the majesty of color, the power and magnificence of the sea, only to be plunged back into darkness with naught but a taunting memory of what she had found and lost. All that remained was emptiness.

The warrior dismounted and approached the lifeless chayim. Jeniah gasped as he prodded the creature with the end of his sword. Then the swordsman turned toward Jeniah and ran to her without stirring a leaf, silent and graceful.

Through a haze of grief, it occurred to Jeniah that a man who would kill a revered creature might now harm her. At the moment, however, she was so overcome by loss that she hardly cared.
The warrior dropped to the ground in front of Jeniah. “Are you injured?”

He spoke in a foreign accent with rich, resonant tones belonging to a minstrel, not a warrior. But his violent act toward her chayim drove away any charm she might have found in his voice.
Bereft, unable to speak, she shook her head.

The warrior looked her directly in the eye as if searching for some truth he might only find there. His startlingly blue eyes burned with inner fire. Then, as if he found whatever he’d sought, he stood.

After he cleaned and put away his weapon, he removed a leather glove and held a hand toward her. “I’ll help you up.”

She eyed his hand, making no move. Despite his unkempt and unshaven appearance, something in his posture suggested authority. As her eyes traced his broad, muscular form, she realized no knight in the castle could match him in strength or size. While he dressed as a commoner, he had the confident, almost arrogant bearing that Jeniah associated with nobility. A simple cord held together his unadorned, travel-stained cloak instead of a metal clasp used by the wealthy. The breeches and heavily padded tunic visible underneath his chain mail had been cut from coarse fabric. That deadly sword, bane of her chayim, rested in a plain leather scabbard at his hip, almost touching worn boots caked with dirt.

His eyes fixed upon her with unnerving intensity. For an impoverished knight, this man possessed unabashed boldness. He waited, watching her, his hand extended.

“You have nothing to fear from me, my lady,” he said softly in his lilting foreign accent.

Her arm moved on its own volition. Against his large, calloused hand, hers looked small and fragile. He could easily crush her bones. Instead, as if he feared injuring her, he took her hand carefully. After pulling her to her feet, he remained motionless, his fingers closed around hers, his gaze disturbingly direct.

The stranger reached out with his other hand and gently brushed away a tear lingering on Jeniah’s cheek.

Shocked at the intimacy of his touch, and at the tingles that spiraled outward from it, she caught her breath. No man in Arden would touch her in such a manner. This man dared much. She snatched her hand back and stepped away to disguise the sudden awareness of her own vulnerability, and her elemental awareness of him as a man.

“You should not be out here all alone, my lady.”

As his words penetrated her stunned sorrow, she pressed her lips together. Amazed at the audacity of this killer to censure her, she found her tongue. “Your permission is not required.”
He blinked, clearly taken aback. His eyes narrowed. “There are many dangers to a lone girl. That beast alone—”

“I was perfectly safe. Didn’t you see that the chayim had accepted me?” Her eyes were drawn to the terrible sight of her chayim lying lifeless. She choked.

“Accepted you?”

“Yes, accepted—a symbiotic lifetime of protection, of friendship.” What oaf did not know the stories? “I’ve felt destined for this all my life.” Anger and sorrow roiled in her stomach.

The warrior eyed her as if he thought her a bit insane, and glanced back at the scene of the battle. “Your life was clearly in danger, my lady.”

Anger cut through her sadness. Only years of exercising forbearance prevented her from shouting at him. “I was in no danger. He saw you as a threat, not only to himself, but to me. He never would have attacked you if you hadn’t charged in brandishing your weapon. Perhaps I should be grateful you didn’t turn that sword upon me in your bloodlust.”

Her would-be rescuer clenched his jaw and pressed his lips into a thin line. “I would never slay an unarmed opponent, nor would I ever harm a lady. And if I had known—”

“It would behoove you to make certain of your enemies before you kill them.” Grief and fury competed for dominion over of her heart, and her self-restraint slipped. She dashed aside new tears, frustrated at her loss of control.

His hands fisted at his sides. “It would behoove you to take more caution in the forest. No lady should ever be without protection. And unless you are concealing a weapon, you appear ill-equipped to defend yourself against the many dangers out here.”

“How typical of a warrior, seeing danger where none exists, and leaping at any opportunity to kill.”

His words came out clipped. “I do not leap at opportunities to kill.”

“You did today!” She snapped her mouth closed and wiped her tears.

“By the moons,” he muttered, looking upward. He raked his fingers through his dark hair, slowly let out his breath, and visibly smothered an angry retort.

Incredible. A warrior with self-control.

“If I caused you grief or placed you in danger, I apologize, my lady.” His stiffly spoken words failed to bring her comfort. Then his expression softened, became earnest. “Truly, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you or cause undo harm.”

For some unaccountable reason, she found that she believed him. As her eyes locked with his, she realized that as a foreigner, he probably would not know of a sacred beast unique to Arden. Her tumult faded as a new understanding came over her. He must have happened along by accident, and when he saw her lying on the ground with the large and dangerous-looking animal standing over her, naturally assumed she’d been about to be devoured. Spurred by a sense of chivalry, he’d charged in to slay the beast and rescue the maiden.

Grappling with her desire to hate him for his unforgivable actions, and her realization that she couldn’t really blame him, she stared, unable to formulate a reply. Her shoulders slumped in resignation.

He grasped a crumpled leaf caught in her hair, his hands sliding down a long, dark ringlet before the leaf fell into his hand.

Startled by his familiarity, Jeniah took another step back from the stranger. Even more startling, she did not find the contact distasteful. More unsettled by her reaction to his touch than the touch itself, she began brushing leaves and bits of twigs off her gown and cloak, her actions stiff and jerky, and tried to fortify her self-control.

“Egan!”

Her duocorn came through the trees, but shied from the maimed body on the ground. The warrior’s silver duocorn nickered. To her surprise, Egan answered, approaching the unknown steed. After a few huffs and flicks of their tails, they touched noses in greeting as if old friends.
The war duocorn, as heavily muscled as his master, stood several hand spans taller than Egan, and his horns had been sharpened for use as weapons. Egan’s mane and featherings grew long and shinning from careful brushing, but the silver stallion’s hair was clipped ruthlessly short.
The stranger extended a hand to Egan and crooned softly. Her normally shy mount came to him and nuzzled his palm.

“Traitor,” Jeniah muttered.

After he stroked Egan’s head, the warrior moved soundlessly upon the dried leaves to his own beast. The swordsman examined his duocorn for injuries, but to Jeniah, the wound on his flank looked superficial. The warrior appeared to agree, and he patted his duocorn and turned back to her.

“Egan, come.” Jeniah glanced back at her chayim’s motionless body. She hated to leave him there as food for carrion. It seemed too ignoble an end.

Approaching tentatively, she went to him, fearful of the sight. Even battered and lifeless, he exuded beauty, greatness, magic. Magic couldn’t all be bad if her chayim possessed it, could it?
Kneeling next to him, Jeniah stroked his fur and whispered, “Home and sweet meat to you, my friend.” She pulled a few hairs from the crown of her head, wincing slightly from the sting, and laid them over her chayim’s chest. “May the god of the moons welcome you.”

She ran her fingers through his mane until a few loose hairs fell into her hand. After twisting the hair into a knot, she tucked it into her bodice next to her heart. “May the god of the moons give me peace without you.” She bowed her head, her heart cold and empty.

The wind gusted, bringing in the late afternoon fog. Her guards would be returning any moment. Swallowing hard, she stood. Purposely refraining from looking at the warrior standing motionless next to his duocorn, she used a rock as a step to mount Egan and settled in the saddle.

“My lady, I must insist upon accompanying you to ensure your safety.” Somehow he managed to sound both deferential and condescending.

Despite his earlier plea for forgiveness and her insight into his motives, Jeniah’s anger returned and gave venom to her words. She lifted her head with all the regal haughtiness of the queen mother and looked down upon him. The effect was not as dramatic as she had hoped, since, even in the saddle, she sat only slightly above eye level with him.

“You are a stranger, and you have killed a revered animal. Two very good reasons not to trust you with both my virtue and my life.”

He winced. “My lady, I give you my word as a knight, I mean you no harm. I’m honor-bound to protect and defend the innocent.”

“Unless they come in the form of chayims, apparently.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Shame sent warmth up her neck to her face. Such petty viciousness should be beneath her, but she seemed to have lost control over her emotions.

His face grew tight and unyielding. “Be grateful I’m a man of honor, or you would already be my victim.”

Jeniah’s mouth dropped. “A true man of honor would not say such a thing.”

“I’m trying to protect you,” he ground out.

“I’ve but to return to the road where I left my guards and they will see me home, as they would have protected me had I been in any real danger.”

He glanced about, and she could almost hear him wondering where her guards were, and why they had not intervened.

Unwilling to enlighten him, Jeniah flicked the reins and headed toward the highway.

“My lady.”

Impatiently, she reined and glanced over her shoulder.

“Please, tell me your name.”

She clenched her teeth, loath to give him any favor he sought, and prayed she’d never be forced to see him again. Without replying, she urged Egan into a canter.

As she rode, the wind whipped her hair and brought the scent of growing things mingled with the smells of the ocean. The woodland trees thickened, reducing the sunlight to glimmering shafts streaming through the leaves, while the duocorn deftly bounded his way around trees, mossy rocks, and fallen logs.

Her mother did not approve of her riding at such a pace. She often said it wasn’t befitting a princess, especially since Jeniah would soon be of age and could no longer use youth as an excuse for a lack of decorum.

Heartache urged Jeniah to a reckless speed. She tightened her legs around Egan’s sleek body and bent over his neck. She felt rather than heard Breneg and Ciath fall in with her, but they remained respectfully behind. She wanted to rail against them for failing her when she needed them, but they were blameless, since she had blurred purposely to hide from them. No doubt they wanted to chastise her for losing them. Again.

After ducking under a branch that came threateningly close to her face, she broke through the trees and out onto the wide, sandy beach. She cantered along the shore, heading farther away from the castle of Arden. At a rock formation blocking her path on the beach, she reined and absently rubbed Egan’s long, curved horns. Her emotions alternated between sorrow, anger, and despair. No tutor had instructed her on how to deal with realizing, and then losing, a hope she’d nurtured all her days, or a friend she’d instantly loved above her own life. Desolation crept across her heart and settled in.

“Your Highness.”

Jeniah jumped. She’d been so tightly wrapped in her cocoon of grief that she hadn’t heard Breneg approach.

“Forgive me, Your Highness, but it grows late.”

Jeniah drew a deep breath and wiped tears she hadn’t realized she’d shed. The shadows had grown long, and darkness loomed. She pulled her cloak more tightly around her. One moon hung suspended, already high in the sky, its silvery glow dim next to the drowsy sun. The second moon hovered large and orange at the horizon.

Breneg sidled up to her, his face lined in concern as he took a long look at her. “Are you all right?”

Jeniah nodded, touched that he cared beyond his duty as her guard, and relieved that he did not demand an explanation for her absence. “Just thinking.”

He didn’t press her for answers, though he clearly knew she was troubled. She rode beside him, leaving the shore and climbing the rise to the highway. As they guided their mounts toward the castle, Ciath rode further ahead.

Jeniah breathed in the damp, salty air. In a long exhale, she released her turmoil, her anger, and her sadness. Fog drifted in slowly and sometimes in bursts as the wind gusted. Her heart resumed its normal rhythm and the tension in her shoulders eased. Her senses filled with the motion of riding, with Egan’s warm body, the rhythm of his hooves, the crashing of the waves, the chill wind, and the smells of the ocean.

As she walked Egan, with Breneg riding next to her, she again thought of the stranger. His clothing and his accent proved he was not Ardeene, and she suspected he’d come from Govia or Darbor.

If the man were the knight of honor he claimed to be, he surely would not have killed a revered animal if he had understood the chayim’s significance—unless she underestimated a warrior’s need to kill. She could not hope to understand the mind of a man who trained for the express purpose of making war.

She felt Breneg’s curious gaze upon her but did not meet it. With all her dreams shattered, she’d have to face her destiny. It was time to hold up her head and accept her fate. In two moon cycles, she’d be nineteen, and then she’d marry the man of her father’s choosing to forge an alliance for the benefit of Arden. Duty could be a heavy burden.

Perhaps she should stop using her magic. Her ability to blur had been her secret since she discovered the ability as a young adolescent. Her chayim had assured her that she would one day reveal her power, but now that she’d lost her chayim, that time might never come.

“We must make haste, Your Highness.”

Breneg was right, of course. Darkness brought danger.

They urged their mounts to a canter. The road darkened as it wound through the forest. Trees leaned across the road toward its opposite side like lovers longing for a forbidden touch. Insects sang as darkness grew. Night had nearly spread over the land when Jeniah heard a mournful howl that chilled her blood. Wyrwolves.

She had complete faith in Breneg and Ciath, but two knights against a full pack of wyrwolves would not be sufficient. If the wyrwolves attacked, blurring would only protect her from being seen; she doubted it would hide her scent from the carnivores.

Worse, her guards would pay for her carelessness. Fear coiled in her stomach. The three riders urged their mounts to a full run, their hooves clattering on the road in a cadence that kept time with Jeniah’s heartbeat. As they rounded the bend in the road, Arden City and the safety of its walls came into view.

Egan’s neck stretched out as he ran with all his strength. Her heart thundering in her ears, Jeniah glanced behind her. The shadowed road lay empty. Wyrwolves called again, so close that she expected to see them beside her.

Perspiration froze like droplets of ice on her face in the bitter wind. She leaned forward over Egan’s neck as he somehow ran even faster. Breneg remained close and Ciath fell back to ride protectively on her other side.

With the crashing of brush, the wyrwolves came at them from the trees. She dared a glance backward.

On the road behind them, terrifyingly close, raced the nightmarish carnivores. Their oddly humanlike faces turned toward her with hideous, hungry grins. Nearly as tall as a duocorn, their shaggy bodies loped toward her with alarming speed. Leaning low over Egan’s neck, Jeniah focused on Arden Castle ahead, but she feared they might not reach it in time.

Her breath came in sharp gasps. With throbbing pulse, she spoke to Egan, urging him to keep going, but he needed no more encouragement than the beasts at his heels. With the howling creatures only inches away, Egan and the other duocorns fairly flew toward the outer city gates.
The city gates opened, spitting out a full regiment of armed guards. Carrying torches, yelling and brandishing their weapons, the men charged at the hungry pursuers. A brief melee ensued while men’s steel clashed with beasts’ teeth. Three wyrwolves fell dead on the road. Snarling, the few remaining wyrwolves turned and slunk back into the darkness.

Safely inside the city walls with the gate firmly closed behind her, Jeniah sat frozen on her heaving duocorn. She struggled to breathe and to battle her tears. By staying out too late, she’d endangered her own life. Worse, she had endangered the lives of not only Breneg and Ciath, but the men who rushed to save her. Shame, sharper than fear, knifed through her. Afraid she might see wounded among the soldiers, she eyed them, but none appeared to be injured.

Breneg leaned over and pried her shaking hands from the reins. “Your Highness.”

She dared a look at him, expecting reproach on his face, but saw only concern.

“We’re safe now, Princess.”

She nodded, fighting her tears. “Thank you,” she said to all within hearing. “I’m sorry I put you all in danger.”

Murmurs of acknowledgement, and even words brushing off her self-recrimination, came in reply. The sentries put away their weapons and melted back into the shadows.

Taking her emotions in hand, she locked them away and raised her chin. Flanked by Breneg and Ciath, she rode through Arden City toward the castle, her relief mingled with melancholy. Filled with the new self-awareness her chayim had given her, she drove away her hopelessness. She straightened her posture, lifted her chin, and rode forward to meet her destiny.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Giveaway Scout

Do you do giveaways on your site? I've come across a great new site, Giveaway Scout, that helps increase giveaway exposure.

Once you join, they scan your site for contests and then list them on multiple sites...all at no cost to you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Get to know you Monday--Donna Hatch


Today was are getting to know


1. What is your favorite food? Pasta. In particular, I love ravioli with Alfredo sauce.

2. Do you prefer Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream? The best of both worlds--Cookies and Cream

3. What was your favorite childhood picture book? I had two, both fairy tales: The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson

4. Is there a book that changed your life? Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson

5. Where would you go if you could go back in time? I would go to Regency England. Just to visit, though. Wouldn’t want to live there for the rest of my life. And I’d love to be there when the Savior descends from Heaven and visits America.

6. What is your favorite thing about yourself? I’m a wife and mommy.

7. Do you play a musical instrument? I play the harp…not great at it and I have a terrible case of performance anxiety, but I do enjoy playing it just for myself.

8. What are three adjectives best describe you? Snarky, determined, loving.

9. When you have an hour of free time, what do you like to do? Write! Taking a nap is a close second.

10. What is the strangest thing you ever did? Gave up my mission call to get married. Okay, maybe not strange, but it sure took a leap of faith.

11. What is your favorite adulthood event? Getting my first book published ranks way up there. Getting my brothers and their wives and children all together for the first time in twenty years was a great one, too.

12. What is your favorite childhood memory? Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s still one of my favorite places to visit whenever I get back to that area.

13. What countries have you visited? Mexico several times—Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mazatlan, PuertoVallarta, and Cancun. And Canada once, but just for a few hours so I could say I did.

14. Are you a 'morning' or 'night' person? Definitely a night person. Getting up to get my children off to school requires Herculean effort.

15. Are you a beach, country or city person? I totally love the beach. I’d move there and be a beach bum if I could…provided I could have my laptop and have internet service.

16. If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be? Hmmm. It’s a toss-up between England, France, New Zealand, and Victoria, British Columbia.

17. If you knew could you try anything and not fail, what dream would you attempt? Audition for American Idol.

18. What super-power would you most like to have, and why? Teleportation. I’d never be late and I could visit anyone, or any place, whenever I wanted without the hassle and expense of driving or flying.

19. Which do you prefer, sweet or salty foods? I love the mixture of sweet and salty, like peanut M&Ms, and white chocolate-covered pretzels.

20. Are you a collector of anything? Children. I have six. Oh, and carousel horses.

21. What's your favorite color? Pink. I’m totally girly.

22. What's your favorite thing to do on a Saturday night? Go dancing and then cuddle with my hubby.

23. If you could have 3 wishes granted, what would they be? That all of books would be instant NYT best-sellers, my children would stay active in the church, and for perfect health.

24. If you could only see black and white except for one color, what color would you choose to see? Blue. I wouldn’t want to give up the color of the sky or the ocean.



Donna as a child

Donna's senior picture

Hatch family

Friday, August 20, 2010

Free Book Friday Giveaway--Winning Mr. Wrong

If Melanie, the winner of Loyalty's Web, were to only take one modern
convenience to the middle ages, she would take her cell phone
because as she said her phone can do anything.

Today's free book is Winning Mr. Wrong by Marie Higgins.




Entering is easy, but you must be done by MIDNIGHT MST THURSDAY, AUGUST 26th. Winner will be announced August 27th.

To enter, leave us a comment with the answer to the weekly question.
Make sure to include your email address if it isn't found on your blog profile.

The weekly question is
"What is the craziest thing you've done to impress a guy."


Whoever said the quest for love wasn't comical never met Charlene Randall. Charley is looking for a man who wants to start a family, a man who will take her to the temple. Problem is, she has never dated a man for longer than three months. When she reads an internet article called "Ten Ways to Win Your Man," she decides to try it on her new coworker, Maxwell Harrington. Max was her crush in high school, but the superstar sports anchorman doesn't even remember her. Enter ladies' man Damien Giovianni, Charley's handsome neighbor, who agrees to help her win Max over. What follows is a hilarious tale of mishaps and misunderstandings where Charley learns that what she really needs may be right in front of her.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Winning Mr. Wrong


Can an internet list help Charley win her man?




Charlene Randall drove her fiery red Honda into the covered parking space, killed the engine, and yanked the keys out of the ignition.

Tonight would be the one-month anniversary of her breakup with Tim, and she wished she had forgotten about it. Never again would he come over after work with his purebred toy poodle, who always yapped in a high pitch and threatened to tear off her big toe.

Okay, so Charley wouldn’t really miss Jaws as much as she would miss the tangy scent of Tim’s aftershave. Too bad she liked his scent more than she liked him. Even now she couldn’t quite remember the shade of his eyes.

Yet thinking about having a man in her life weighed deeply in her heart, and she wished it didn’t. It was her fault loneliness invaded her life right now. That truth was hard to swallow.

She snagged her leather briefcase from the passenger’s seat, stuffed with material she’d have to look over before the next morning’s meeting with Sacramento’s Channel Nine directors, and climbed out of the car. Another evening keeping company with news reports rather than a man! She sighed. People had said, Charley, life will go on. But she had seen little evidence besides the fact that the sun still rose and set—and she was still very much alone.

Oh, she’d said her daily and nightly prayers, asking the Lord to make the ache in her heart disappear. It hadn’t. She still wanted someone to talk to, watch television with, or take her out to dinner once in a while.

She grabbed her purse and bumped the car door closed with her hip. Her two-inch heels clicked against the concrete as she hurried toward her townhouse. She fished around in her purse for the remote hooked to her keys. She’d just had the keys in her hand, and the same magical force that eats socks from the dryer had worked again, sucking the keys to the bottom of her Gucci bag. Finally, her fingers brushed over the key chain and she withdrew the remote, aimed it over her shoulder, and clicked the doors locked.

A gentle evening breeze teased the strands of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail and tickled her neck. In an automatic reaction, she flipped a stray lock. It was a good thing she didn’t wear her hair long. She already wasted enough time styling it.

Next to her townhouse, shadows danced under the streetlights and throaty giggles floated in the breeze. A movement from the Porsche parked in front of her neighbor’s townhouse caught her attention. She recognized the wave of the man’s raven hair and the shape of his muscular shoulders.

Damien Giovanni, her single, Italian neighbor who had turned romancing women into a career, was obviously doing what he did best—getting another woman to fall for his charms. Charley rolled her eyes.

On tiptoe, she sneaked toward her front door, not wanting to make her presence known. Damien’s deep laughter rang through the quiet night, and Charley paused before reaching her porch. Could his date be over so early in the evening? That man entertained women late into the night just about every night. She didn’t want to know what they did. In fact, she wouldn’t blame the Lord if He launched a lightning bolt down on Damien just to wake him up and put him on the straight and narrow.

The glow from the streetlight shone upon the figures leaning against each other beside the door of Damien’s sports car. Despite herself, Charley angled to get a better look. They looked like two worms in electric-shock therapy. How disgusting!
The woman in Damien’s arms was his usual five-foot eight, blonde Barbie doll. He laughed again, and the baritone ring sent warm shivers down Charley’s spine. She cursed her weakness, admitting she enjoyed hearing his laugh. It always sounded like he knew a secret. Regardless, she couldn’t stand men like him who never could settle on one woman.

The Barbie wannabe raked her extra-long, fake fingernails through his hair and linked her arms around his neck. Damien grabbed her closer and planted a kiss on her mouth. Charley grumbled under her breath. Couldn’t he do that in his house? It was bad enough to hear his voice, but to see him in action . . .

Before she could look away, Damien pushed the woman from him and grinned. “See you later.”
Barbie waggled her fingers. “Call me.”

“Why? You have my number.”

Charley pursed her lips. The arrogant man. It didn’t matter, though. Women still flocked to him like dieters to a chocolate factory, and they devoured his charm just as quickly.

She clutched the briefcase to her chest and tried to make it to her front door before he spotted her. Damien would certainly know she had witnessed the quaint scene a few seconds ago, and he would never let her live it down. Her neighbor always enjoyed making snide remarks just to rile her—and it worked.

Fumbling with her keys, Charley hurried to find the one that opened her front door. But the keys slipped from her fingers and hit the porch, clanging loudly enough to wake the dead. She scolded her clumsiness, knelt on one knee, and swept her hand over the concrete, searching for them in the dark. Why hadn’t she turned on the porch light before she left for work?

“Do you need any help, mi amore?”

She jumped and fell back on her rear. The beating of her heart thundered in her ears, and she placed a hand on her chest. “Damien Giovanni, why do you always sneak up on me like that?”
He bent and grasped her upper arm with one hand and her keys with the other. “Because I like the way you jump.”

She yanked her arm away. “One of these days you’re going to scare me so bad I’ll use my pepper spray on you.”

Damien’s chest shook with laughter. “Honey, if you’re as steady with the little can of pepper spray as you are with your keys, I don’t see that as a threat.”

Charley gasped and punched his arm, but a grin tugged at her mouth. “Just give me back my keys.”

He stepped away and folded his arms. “Say the magic words.” He raised his eyebrows in that self-assured, infuriating way of his.

“Emergency 9-1-1?”

He tilted his head and laughed harder. The half moon illuminated his handsome features—straight nose, strong chin, and lips that looked like they’d be heaven to kiss . . . for other women, of course.

“Oh, mi amore, you really know how to tickle my funny bone.” He dangled the keys in front of her.

“Yeah, well, you really know how to . . . um . . . irritate me.” She grabbed her keys and turned to unlock the door before he noticed the smile she couldn’t hold back.

He leaned against the doorframe. She didn’t dare meet his gaze directly, knowing what she’d witnessed between him and his date. There was no reason she should feel any kind of attraction toward him. He was not the kind of man who would attend church with her every Sunday, and she highly doubted his top priority was temple marriage.

If Damien were anything but the player she knew him to be, she might have given him a chance when, several months before, he’d first suggested they go on a date. But Charley didn’t want one-night stands, and she was tired of the love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guys. After enduring several broken relationships, she wanted something that lasted. Something better. At age thirty, it was time she got married and had a family.

“I’ve noticed Tim doesn’t come around anymore. Did you two break up?”

Charley lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Our timing was off, that’s all.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

She tightened her fingers around the handle of her briefcase. “I’m continuing with my life, just as he’s done. I don’t see why you’re so interested.”

Damien held up his hands. “Hey, no need to get upset. You know, one of these days you’re going to thank me for being such a nosey neighbor.”

She lifted her gaze to his and shook her head. “Only in your dreams, buddy.”

He grinned and then stroked her cheek with his finger. “My dear Charlene Randall, someday I will be in your dreams.” With a wink, he turned and walked away.

She pushed the door open and rushed inside her townhouse, breathing a sigh of relief. That man made her uncomfortable in more ways than one.

She walked to the bedroom, kicked off her heels, and slid each foot into a fuzzy purple slipper. On the nightstand, the picture of her latest flame captured her attention. Actually, slapped her face was more like it. Tim’s grin used to make her sigh, but now she wanted to spit at the silver-framed 4 by 6.

How dare that man sponge off her for three months, having her pay his bills, buy his groceries, and help him with rent, then leave her for a woman who made more money? And to top it off, he acted like the breakup was Charley’s fault. How dare he act like he didn’t have to find a job and like all he had to do was keep the sofa warm?

She grabbed the photo, flung it in the small wastebasket a few feet away, and brushed her hands together. There, that took care of one problem.

Charley entered the kitchen and took a TV dinner from the freezer—her usual gourmet meal on nights like this. After pulling the meal out of the box and setting it to cook in the microwave, she turned to yet another order of business: collecting information on the Internet for tomorrow’s news.

She made herself comfortable on the gray swivel chair and turned on the computer. Whistling a made-up tune, she tapped her fingers on the desktop and waited for the machine to boot. Within minutes, she’d logged onto the Internet. The homepage popped up and she scanned the headlines, searching for something of interest. In the top right of the screen, an article grabbed her attention: “Ten Ways to Win Your Man.”

Her explosive laugh disintegrated to a snort. Yeah, right. Win a man? And there is a certain way to do it? Ha!

She ignored the link and searched through several other articles, but her mind kept going back. What would it hurt to read it? She had a few minutes until dinner, and she needed a good laugh. She clicked on the hyperlink.

What do men find romantic? With the help of Jason Stewart, founder of guyswithemotions.com, we’ve uncovered just how women can win men’s hearts. Below, panelists answer women’s questions and bare their souls.

Charley leaned back in her chair, threading her fingers together over her stomach, eager to read more.

Dark Chocolates. “Milk chocolate is for kids. Dark chocolate is for falling in love.” The chemical Phenethylamine, found in dark chocolate, mimics the feeling you have when you’re in love.

She arched an eyebrow. Very interesting.
Hard-to-find gifts. A gift that requires effort is sure to be a big hit with the guys. Compliments. The quickest route to a man’s heart is through his ego.

Charley snickered and shook her head.

A night on the town. Take your man on an old-fashioned date. Fix him dinner or go dancing. While in his arms, stare into his eyes. Tall buildings. In general, guys like big things. Find a place with a good view. Kiss him under the stars. Funny movies. When you can laugh together, you’re really connecting. Offer to mend his clothes. Believe it or not, most men are old fashioned and love it when a woman can do domestic duties like this. Surprise intimacy. Men like it when women surprise them with spontaneous activities on a date. Great memories. When you’re together, make it memorable. Create memories by taking photos or writing in a journal. Tell him ‘I love you’ in a note. Leave little notes around the house, his office, in his car. Telling him you love him will strengthen the relationship.

With a sigh, Charley folded her arms across her chest. She’d never done any of those things for the men she’d dated. Could that be why she’d never kept them?

The beeping of the microwave jarred her from her thoughts. She pushed away from her computer desk and hurried into the kitchen.

Could this article be a sign? It wouldn’t hurt to try it, Charley decided. But who would be her target?

Damien’s face popped into her head. She scowled, wishing she hadn’t thought of him. He wasn’t the kind of man who would get involved in a serious relationship. The last thing she needed was to give her heart to him and have him trade her in for a newer version of Barbie. He would never live up to her moral standards anyway.

She rubbed her forehead and crossed her neighbor off her mental list. So who would be her guinea pig?

The aroma of fried chicken wafted through the air, making her stomach growl. For tonight, she’d put off her experiment and concentrate on filling her stomach.

Tomorrow she’d find a man, and with any luck, she’d make the relationship last.

******

Close your trap and wipe the drool off your chin.

Charley snapped her mouth shut, hoping she didn’t look like a wide-mouth bass as she eyed the handsome blond man walking beside her boss. Fred Murray, Channel Nine’s station director, escorted Tall, Brawny, and Gorgeous down the hall, making introductions as they passed offices and cubicles.

The new guy looked familiar, but Charley couldn’t recall where she’d seen him before. She jumped from her chair and hurried toward her supervisor’s cubicle. Just as she expected, Amanda’s curious eyes followed the pair. Charley said a silent prayer of thanks that Amanda was married or her flirty friend would have first dibs.

Charley stopped beside Amanda. “What’s so interesting?” Although Charley knew, she didn’t want Amanda to think she did.

A knowing smile stretched across Amanda’s face. “That’s the new guy, Maxwell Harrington. He’s taking Phillip’s place now that he’s retired.”

Charley’s heart raced. This couldn’t be happening, not to her. The dream walking with her boss was Charley’s high-school crush! Max was the super jock, the super stud, and he had the super personality all the girls flipped over. Especially her. Although he hadn’t been in her ward, they’d been in the same stake, and Charley had followed him around Church activities like a lost puppy . . . secretly, of course.

“Are you serious?” She looked at the two men slowly making their way toward Amanda’s desk. “He’s the new sports anchorman?”

“Sure is.”

“Maxwell Harrington,” Charley whispered almost reverently. But this man hardly resembled the boy she’d had a mad crush on for three years. Muscles rippled on his tall frame, and his hair seemed blonder than she remembered as it swept perfectly back from his face. The years had turned him into one looker, that’s for sure.

If she’d been the least bit forward, Charley would have hurried over to ask if he remembered her. But that wasn’t her style, not even back in high school. Wallpaper was more her style—especially the kind that hid behind furniture and potted plants.

Shyness had always been Charley’s biggest downfall with men, which was probably another reason her past four boyfriends had moved on to other women. With all of her failed relationships, she’d collected enough material to write a new best seller called Breaking Up for Dummies.

The closer Fred and Maxwell Harrington came, the harder her heart pounded, until she thought the organ would jump right out of her chest. Give it up, girl. He’s out of your league. And if he remembers you, it’ll be a miracle. Yet, with a man like that parading past her cubicle every day, she knew she would continue fantasizing about the unobtainable.

Amanda nudged Charley’s elbow, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Here he comes,” she muttered under her breath.

Fred, a potbellied older man with a head full of thick, gray hair, stopped in front of them. “Ladies,” he began, his smile so big it showed most of his pricey dentures. “This is our new sports anchorman, Maxwell Harrington.”

Amanda pushed her way to the front, her arm stretched out in greeting. “Hi, Maxwell. I’m Amanda Shepherd, executive producer.”

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “Please, call me Max.”

His deep voice made Charley want to sigh, and familiar tingles ran through her. She moved her gaze from his astonishing eyes to Amanda’s hand as he shook it, wishing her hand were touching Max’s instead of Amanda’s.

“So, Max, what brings you to Channel Nine?” her supervisor asked.

“I’ve been working at a Chicago station for the past six years, and I thought it was time I came back to my hometown.”

Max finally let go of Amanda’s hand and turned toward Charley. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue seemed to swell and her vocal chords froze. She swallowed and tried to begin again.

“Hello.” Her voice squeaked. “I’m Charley Randall.”

No spark of remembrance lit his eyes, but she didn’t give up hope.

“Nice to meet you, Charley.” Max’s smile widened, making his eyes twinkle.

Her heart fluttered. He paused as if waiting for her to say something else, but all she could do was stare into his brilliant, sea-blue eyes—eyes a girl could drift away in.

“What do you do at Channel Nine?” he asked.

She focused on the conversation instead of her girlish dreams. “I’m the presearch roducer.”
Beside her, Amanda laughed condescendingly. Charley’s cheeks grew hot, and the dread in her stomach sank lower than the Titanic.

She cleared her throat. “I mean, I’m the research producer. I’m Amanda’s assistant.”

Max’s lips twitched as if he held back a laugh. “Well, I hope we’ll work together soon.”

As Fred and Max continued down the hall, Charley released a mouthful of air. Why did she act so tongue-tied around good-looking men? After her mind returned to normal she realized he didn’t remember her at all, and a dull ache formed in her chest. Then again, why would he remember her? They’d never really talked in high school, and certainly not at Church youth activities. She was always the shy and clumsy girl who followed the jocks around like a rock-star groupie. Back then, boys like Max didn’t have time to look at unpopular girls like Charley.

When he turned down another hallway out of her view, deep disappointment washed over her. “Wow. He’s one fine-looking man.”

“Yeah.” Amanda squeezed her arm. “And you know all the available women at the station will be after him.”

Charley frowned. “So? What does that mean?”

“Well, I would hate for you to get your hopes up.”

Charley folded her arms. “Explain yourself.”

“You know your track record with men isn’t the best.” Amanda shrugged. “It’s common knowledge.”

“Common knowledge for whom?”

“The whole office knows you can’t keep a man longer than a couple of months, Charley. In fact, wasn’t Tim the longest?”

“Are you saying you don’t think I have a chance with Max?”

A sorrowful expression clouded Amanda’s eyes. “Well . . .”

Charley flipped her hand through the air. “Don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. The reason I haven’t been able to keep a man for longer than a couple of months is because I choose not to.” She lifted her chin. “I was bored with the others. Max is different.” Of course it helped that he didn’t remember her from school—and because he didn’t know about the other men and how she lost them.

Amanda patted her shoulder. “But wouldn’t you lose interest in him as you did the others?”

The shield Charley had tried to build around her heart crumbled, but she hid her distress behind a smile. “I don’t know, and I won’t know until I try.”

“Then I wish you all the luck in the world.” Amanda turned and sat behind her desk, a look of pity on her face.

Anger surged through Charley and she clamped her hands against her sides. How dare Amanda doubt her ability to hold onto a man! She supposed Amanda meant well. After all, her coworker had observed all of her failed relationships.

Charley turned and stormed back to her desk as her dreams of catching Max started to take shape. As much as she wanted to believe she’d been bored with the other men, the plain and simple truth was they had tired of her. Keeping a man for a long period of time wasn’t her forte, but this time she would prove she could catch Mr. Heartthrob. And keep him.

When the others had walked out of her life, they’d never really explained why. Wasn’t she adventurous enough, spontaneous enough? She had always given in and participated in the activities her dates enjoyed, even when she had no interest in them. Did men get annoyed with her clumsy ways as she tripped over herself to please them?

Max was different. He didn’t remember her from school, and he certainly didn’t know the woman she was now. She could show him a better side of her personality than she’d shown before. She’d prove to her coworkers she could keep a man.

That man would be the boy Charley had dreamed of for three years in school. The boy she wrote about in her journal every night, and cried over when he took another girl to the prom. The boy she wore black for when he left to go to college—the one she never thought she’d see again.
Was fate finally being kind to her?

She slid into her chair and swiveled back to the computer. With a long exhale, she pushed a lock of hair from her face and looked at the stack of papers on her desk. Ugh.

Just like most mornings, Charley checked her personal email first thing. After all, the small television on her desk wasn’t giving her any national news she didn’t already know. She adjusted her chair, then gripped her computer mouse and clicked the Internet icon.

Thoughts of the article she’d read the night before lifted her spirits. Should she make Max her target? She rolled her eyes. Her chance at winning him was about as good as her chance at winning ten million dollars from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

She clicked on her inbox. Thirty-one messages. Without even looking, she knew most of them were from her mother. Would she ever stop nagging Charley about finding a man and settling down? Couldn’t she at least give her daughter better encouragement than “There are other fish in the sea”? Her mCharlene Randall drove her fiery red Honda into the covered parking space, killed the engine, and yanked the keys out of the ignition.

Tonight would be the one-month anniversary of her breakup with Tim, and she wished she had forgotten about it. Never again would he come over after work with his purebred toy poodle, who always yapped in a high pitch and threatened to tear off her big toe.

Okay, so Charley wouldn’t really miss Jaws as much as she would miss the tangy scent of Tim’s aftershave. Too bad she liked his scent more than she liked him. Even now she couldn’t quite remember the shade of his eyes.

Yet thinking about having a man in her life weighed deeply in her heart, and she wished it didn’t. It was her fault loneliness invaded her life right now. That truth was hard to swallow.

She snagged her leather briefcase from the passenger’s seat, stuffed with material she’d have to look over before the next morning’s meeting with Sacramento’s Channel Nine directors, and climbed out of the car. Another evening keeping company with news reports rather than a man! She sighed. People had said, Charley, life will go on. But she had seen little evidence besides the fact that the sun still rose and set—and she was still very much alone.

Oh, she’d said her daily and nightly prayers, asking the Lord to make the ache in her heart disappear. It hadn’t. She still wanted someone to talk to, watch television with, or take her out to dinner once in a while.

She grabbed her purse and bumped the car door closed with her hip. Her two-inch heels clicked against the concrete as she hurried toward her townhouse. She fished around in her purse for the remote hooked to her keys. She’d just had the keys in her hand, and the same magical force that eats socks from the dryer had worked again, sucking the keys to the bottom of her Gucci bag. Finally, her fingers brushed over the key chain and she withdrew the remote, aimed it over her shoulder, and clicked the doors locked.

A gentle evening breeze teased the strands of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail and tickled her neck. In an automatic reaction, she flipped a stray lock. It was a good thing she didn’t wear her hair long. She already wasted enough time styling it.

Next to her townhouse, shadows danced under the streetlights and throaty giggles floated in the breeze. A movement from the Porsche parked in front of her neighbor’s townhouse caught her attention. She recognized the wave of the man’s raven hair and the shape of his muscular shoulders.

Damien Giovanni, her single, Italian neighbor who had turned romancing women into a career, was obviously doing what he did best—getting another woman to fall for his charms. Charley rolled her eyes.

On tiptoe, she sneaked toward her front door, not wanting to make her presence known. Damien’s deep laughter rang through the quiet night, and Charley paused before reaching her porch. Could his date be over so early in the evening? That man entertained women late into the night just about every night. She didn’t want to know what they did. In fact, she wouldn’t blame the Lord if He launched a lightning bolt down on Damien just to wake him up and put him on the straight and narrow.

The glow from the streetlight shone upon the figures leaning against each other beside the door of Damien’s sports car. Despite herself, Charley angled to get a better look. They looked like two worms in electric-shock therapy. How disgusting!

The woman in Damien’s arms was his usual five-foot eight, blonde Barbie doll. He laughed again, and the baritone ring sent warm shivers down Charley’s spine. She cursed her weakness, admitting she enjoyed hearing his laugh. It always sounded like he knew a secret. Regardless, she couldn’t stand men like him who never could settle on one woman.

The Barbie wannabe raked her extra-long, fake fingernails through his hair and linked her arms around his neck. Damien grabbed her closer and planted a kiss on her mouth. Charley grumbled under her breath. Couldn’t he do that in his house? It was bad enough to hear his voice, but to see him in action . . .

Before she could look away, Damien pushed the woman from him and grinned. “See you later.”

Barbie waggled her fingers. “Call me.”

“Why? You have my number.”

Charley pursed her lips. The arrogant man. It didn’t matter, though. Women still flocked to him like dieters to a chocolate factory, and they devoured his charm just as quickly.

She clutched the briefcase to her chest and tried to make it to her front door before he spotted her. Damien would certainly know she had witnessed the quaint scene a few seconds ago, and he would never let her live it down. Her neighbor always enjoyed making snide remarks just to rile her—and it worked.

Fumbling with her keys, Charley hurried to find the one that opened her front door. But the keys slipped from her fingers and hit the porch, clanging loudly enough to wake the dead. She scolded her clumsiness, knelt on one knee, and swept her hand over the concrete, searching for them in the dark. Why hadn’t she turned on the porch light before she left for work?

“Do you need any help, mi amore?”

She jumped and fell back on her rear. The beating of her heart thundered in her ears, and she placed a hand on her chest. “Damien Giovanni, why do you always sneak up on me like that?”
He bent and grasped her upper arm with one hand and her keys with the other. “Because I like the way you jump.”

She yanked her arm away. “One of these days you’re going to scare me so bad I’ll use my pepper spray on you.”

Damien’s chest shook with laughter. “Honey, if you’re as steady with the little can of pepper spray as you are with your keys, I don’t see that as a threat.”

Charley gasped and punched his arm, but a grin tugged at her mouth. “Just give me back my keys.”

He stepped away and folded his arms. “Say the magic words.” He raised his eyebrows in that self-assured, infuriating way of his.

“Emergency 9-1-1?”

He tilted his head and laughed harder. The half moon illuminated his handsome features—straight nose, strong chin, and lips that looked like they’d be heaven to kiss . . . for other women, of course.

“Oh, mi amore, you really know how to tickle my funny bone.” He dangled the keys in front of her.

“Yeah, well, you really know how to . . . um . . . irritate me.” She grabbed her keys and turned to unlock the door before he noticed the smile she couldn’t hold back.

He leaned against the doorframe. She didn’t dare meet his gaze directly, knowing what she’d witnessed between him and his date. There was no reason she should feel any kind of attraction toward him. He was not the kind of man who would attend church with her every Sunday, and she highly doubted his top priority was temple marriage.

If Damien were anything but the player she knew him to be, she might have given him a chance when, several months before, he’d first suggested they go on a date. But Charley didn’t want one-night stands, and she was tired of the love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guys. After enduring several broken relationships, she wanted something that lasted. Something better. At age thirty, it was time she got married and had a family.

“I’ve noticed Tim doesn’t come around anymore. Did you two break up?”

Charley lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Our timing was off, that’s all.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

She tightened her fingers around the handle of her briefcase. “I’m continuing with my life, just as he’s done. I don’t see why you’re so interested.”

Damien held up his hands. “Hey, no need to get upset. You know, one of these days you’re going to thank me for being such a nosey neighbor.”

She lifted her gaze to his and shook her head. “Only in your dreams, buddy.”

He grinned and then stroked her cheek with his finger. “My dear Charlene Randall, someday I will be in your dreams.” With a wink, he turned and walked away.

She pushed the door open and rushed inside her townhouse, breathing a sigh of relief. That man made her uncomfortable in more ways than one.

She walked to the bedroom, kicked off her heels, and slid each foot into a fuzzy purple slipper. On the nightstand, the picture of her latest flame captured her attention. Actually, slapped her face was more like it. Tim’s grin used to make her sigh, but now she wanted to spit at the silver-framed 4 by 6.

How dare that man sponge off her for three months, having her pay his bills, buy his groceries, and help him with rent, then leave her for a woman who made more money? And to top it off, he acted like the breakup was Charley’s fault. How dare he act like he didn’t have to find a job and like all he had to do was keep the sofa warm?

She grabbed the photo, flung it in the small wastebasket a few feet away, and brushed her hands together. There, that took care of one problem.

Charley entered the kitchen and took a TV dinner from the freezer—her usual gourmet meal on nights like this. After pulling the meal out of the box and setting it to cook in the microwave, she turned to yet another order of business: collecting information on the Internet for tomorrow’s news.

She made herself comfortable on the gray swivel chair and turned on the computer. Whistling a made-up tune, she tapped her fingers on the desktop and waited for the machine to boot. Within minutes, she’d logged onto the Internet. The homepage popped up and she scanned the headlines, searching for something of interest. In the top right of the screen, an article grabbed her attention: “Ten Ways to Win Your Man.”

Her explosive laugh disintegrated to a snort. Yeah, right. Win a man? And there is a certain way to do it? Ha!

She ignored the link and searched through several other articles, but her mind kept going back. What would it hurt to read it? She had a few minutes until dinner, and she needed a good laugh. She clicked on the hyperlink.

What do men find romantic? With the help of Jason Stewart, founder of guyswithemotions.com, we’ve uncovered just how women can win men’s hearts. Below, panelists answer women’s questions and bare their souls.

Charley leaned back in her chair, threading her fingers together over her stomach, eager to read more.

Dark Chocolates. “Milk chocolate is for kids. Dark chocolate is for falling in love.” The chemical Phenethylamine, found in dark chocolate, mimics the feeling you have when you’re in love.

She arched an eyebrow. Very interesting.

Hard-to-find gifts. A gift that requires effort is sure to be a big hit with the guys.

Compliments. The quickest route to a man’s heart is through his ego.

Charley snickered and shook her head.

A night on the town. Take your man on an old-fashioned date. Fix him dinner or go dancing. While in his arms, stare into his eyes.

Tall buildings. In general, guys like big things. Find a place with a good view. Kiss him under the stars.

Funny movies. When you can laugh together, you’re really connecting.

Offer to mend his clothes. Believe it or not, most men are old fashioned and love it when a woman can do domestic duties like this.

Surprise intimacy. Men like it when women surprise them with spontaneous activities on a date.

Great memories. When you’re together, make it memorable. Create memories by taking photos or writing in a journal.

Tell him ‘I love you’ in a note. Leave little notes around the house, his office, in his car. Telling him you love him will strengthen the relationship.

With a sigh, Charley folded her arms across her chest. She’d never done any of those things for the men she’d dated. Could that be why she’d never kept them?

The beeping of the microwave jarred her from her thoughts. She pushed away from her computer desk and hurried into the kitchen.

Could this article be a sign? It wouldn’t hurt to try it, Charley decided. But who would be her target?

Damien’s face popped into her head. She scowled, wishing she hadn’t thought of him. He wasn’t the kind of man who would get involved in a serious relationship. The last thing she needed was to give her heart to him and have him trade her in for a newer version of Barbie. He would never live up to her moral standards anyway.

She rubbed her forehead and crossed her neighbor off her mental list. So who would be her guinea pig?

The aroma of fried chicken wafted through the air, making her stomach growl. For tonight, she’d put off her experiment and concentrate on filling her stomach.

Tomorrow she’d find a man, and with any luck, she’d make the relationship last.



Close your trap and wipe the drool off your chin.

Charley snapped her mouth shut, hoping she didn’t look like a wide-mouth bass as she eyed the handsome blond man walking beside her boss. Fred Murray, Channel Nine’s station director, escorted Tall, Brawny, and Gorgeous down the hall, making introductions as they passed offices and cubicles.

The new guy looked familiar, but Charley couldn’t recall where she’d seen him before. She jumped from her chair and hurried toward her supervisor’s cubicle. Just as she expected, Amanda’s curious eyes followed the pair. Charley said a silent prayer of thanks that Amanda was married or her flirty friend would have first dibs.

Charley stopped beside Amanda. “What’s so interesting?” Although Charley knew, she didn’t want Amanda to think she did.

A knowing smile stretched across Amanda’s face. “That’s the new guy, Maxwell Harrington. He’s taking Phillip’s place now that he’s retired.”

Charley’s heart raced. This couldn’t be happening, not to her. The dream walking with her boss was Charley’s high-school crush! Max was the super jock, the super stud, and he had the super personality all the girls flipped over. Especially her. Although he hadn’t been in her ward, they’d been in the same stake, and Charley had followed him around Church activities like a lost puppy . . . secretly, of course.

“Are you serious?” She looked at the two men slowly making their way toward Amanda’s desk. “He’s the new sports anchorman?”

“Sure is.”

“Maxwell Harrington,” Charley whispered almost reverently. But this man hardly resembled the boy she’d had a mad crush on for three years. Muscles rippled on his tall frame, and his hair seemed blonder than she remembered as it swept perfectly back from his face. The years had turned him into one looker, that’s for sure.

If she’d been the least bit forward, Charley would have hurried over to ask if he remembered her. But that wasn’t her style, not even back in high school. Wallpaper was more her style—especially the kind that hid behind furniture and potted plants.

Shyness had always been Charley’s biggest downfall with men, which was probably another reason her past four boyfriends had moved on to other women. With all of her failed relationships, she’d collected enough material to write a new best seller called Breaking Up for Dummies.

The closer Fred and Maxwell Harrington came, the harder her heart pounded, until she thought the organ would jump right out of her chest. Give it up, girl. He’s out of your league. And if he remembers you, it’ll be a miracle. Yet, with a man like that parading past her cubicle every day, she knew she would continue fantasizing about the unobtainable.

Amanda nudged Charley’s elbow, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Here he comes,” she muttered under her breath.

Fred, a potbellied older man with a head full of thick, gray hair, stopped in front of them. “Ladies,” he began, his smile so big it showed most of his pricey dentures. “This is our new sports anchorman, Maxwell Harrington.”

Amanda pushed her way to the front, her arm stretched out in greeting. “Hi, Maxwell. I’m Amanda Shepherd, executive producer.”

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “Please, call me Max.”

His deep voice made Charley want to sigh, and familiar tingles ran through her. She moved her gaze from his astonishing eyes to Amanda’s hand as he shook it, wishing her hand were touching Max’s instead of Amanda’s.

“So, Max, what brings you to Channel Nine?” her supervisor asked.

“I’ve been working at a Chicago station for the past six years, and I thought it was time I came back to my hometown.”

Max finally let go of Amanda’s hand and turned toward Charley. She opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue seemed to swell and her vocal chords froze. She swallowed and tried to begin again.

“Hello.” Her voice squeaked. “I’m Charley Randall.”

No spark of remembrance lit his eyes, but she didn’t give up hope.

“Nice to meet you, Charley.” Max’s smile widened, making his eyes twinkle.

Her heart fluttered. He paused as if waiting for her to say something else, but all she could do was stare into his brilliant, sea-blue eyes—eyes a girl could drift away in.

“What do you do at Channel Nine?” he asked.

She focused on the conversation instead of her girlish dreams. “I’m the presearch roducer.”
Beside her, Amanda laughed condescendingly. Charley’s cheeks grew hot, and the dread in her stomach sank lower than the Titanic.

She cleared her throat. “I mean, I’m the research producer. I’m Amanda’s assistant.”

Max’s lips twitched as if he held back a laugh. “Well, I hope we’ll work together soon.”

As Fred and Max continued down the hall, Charley released a mouthful of air. Why did she act so tongue-tied around good-looking men? After her mind returned to normal she realized he didn’t remember her at all, and a dull ache formed in her chest. Then again, why would he remember her? They’d never really talked in high school, and certainly not at Church youth activities. She was always the shy and clumsy girl who followed the jocks around like a rock-star groupie. Back then, boys like Max didn’t have time to look at unpopular girls like Charley.

When he turned down another hallway out of her view, deep disappointment washed over her. “Wow. He’s one fine-looking man.”

“Yeah.” Amanda squeezed her arm. “And you know all the available women at the station will be after him.”

Charley frowned. “So? What does that mean?”

“Well, I would hate for you to get your hopes up.”

Charley folded her arms. “Explain yourself.”

“You know your track record with men isn’t the best.” Amanda shrugged. “It’s common knowledge.”

“Common knowledge for whom?”

“The whole office knows you can’t keep a man longer than a couple of months, Charley. In fact, wasn’t Tim the longest?”

“Are you saying you don’t think I have a chance with Max?”

A sorrowful expression clouded Amanda’s eyes. “Well . . .”

Charley flipped her hand through the air. “Don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. The reason I haven’t been able to keep a man for longer than a couple of months is because I choose not to.” She lifted her chin. “I was bored with the others. Max is different.” Of course it helped that he didn’t remember her from school—and because he didn’t know about the other men and how she lost them.

Amanda patted her shoulder. “But wouldn’t you lose interest in him as you did the others?”
The shield Charley had tried to build around her heart crumbled, but she hid her distress behind a smile. “I don’t know, and I won’t know until I try.”

“Then I wish you all the luck in the world.” Amanda turned and sat behind her desk, a look of pity on her face.

Anger surged through Charley and she clamped her hands against her sides. How dare Amanda doubt her ability to hold onto a man! She supposed Amanda meant well. After all, her coworker had observed all of her failed relationships.

Charley turned and stormed back to her desk as her dreams of catching Max started to take shape. As much as she wanted to believe she’d been bored with the other men, the plain and simple truth was they had tired of her. Keeping a man for a long period of time wasn’t her forte, but this time she would prove she could catch Mr. Heartthrob. And keep him.

When the others had walked out of her life, they’d never really explained why. Wasn’t she adventurous enough, spontaneous enough? She had always given in and participated in the activities her dates enjoyed, even when she had no interest in them. Did men get annoyed with her clumsy ways as she tripped over herself to please them?

Max was different. He didn’t remember her from school, and he certainly didn’t know the woman she was now. She could show him a better side of her personality than she’d shown before. She’d prove to her coworkers she could keep a man.

That man would be the boy Charley had dreamed of for three years in school. The boy she wrote about in her journal every night, and cried over when he took another girl to the prom. The boy she wore black for when he left to go to college—the one she never thought she’d see again.
Was fate finally being kind to her?

She slid into her chair and swiveled back to the computer. With a long exhale, she pushed a lock of hair from her face and looked at the stack of papers on her desk. Ugh.

Just like most mornings, Charley checked her personal email first thing. After all, the small television on her desk wasn’t giving her any national news she didn’t already know. She adjusted her chair, then gripped her computer mouse and clicked the Internet icon.

Thoughts of the article she’d read the night before lifted her spirits. Should she make Max her target? She rolled her eyes. Her chance at winning him was about as good as her chance at winning ten million dollars from Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

She clicked on her inbox. Thirty-one messages. Without even looking, she knew most of them were from her mother. Would she ever stop nagging Charley about finding a man and settling down? Couldn’t she at least give her daughter better encouragement than “There are other fish in the sea”? Her mother obviously hadn’t been fishing in a while.

Soon, Charley closed out of the email program. For some reason, all she could think about now was that ridiculous internet article.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Max stroll into the room that would be his office. Another coworker poked her head inside and made a comment that made him smile. Charley’s heart leapt. She’d do anything to see him smile at her that way.

She thought back to the article. Should she give it a try? She couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship, but with “Ten Ways to Win Your Man” to help her, what could go wrong?

Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of telling her to go for it.

Her decision made, Charley smiled wide. Give her a couple of days and she’d figure out something intelligent.

Watch out, Maxwell Harrington. Here I come!other obviously hadn’t been fishing in a while.
Soon, Charley closed out of the email program. For some reason, all she could think about now was that ridiculous internet article.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Max stroll into the room that would be his office. Another coworker poked her head inside and made a comment that made him smile. Charley’s heart leapt. She’d do anything to see him smile at her that way.


She thought back to the article. Should she give it a try? She couldn’t bear the thought of another failed relationship, but with “Ten Ways to Win Your Man” to help her, what could go wrong?
Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of telling her to go for it.

Her decision made, Charley smiled wide. Give her a couple of days and she’d figure out something intelligent.

Watch out, Maxwell Harrington. Here I come!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Get to know you Monday--Marie Higgins

Today we are meeting


Marie Higgins, author of Winning Mr. Wrong

1. Where did you grow up? I grew up in Clearfield, Utah, went to school there and graduated. It wasn’t until a year after I married when we moved to Brigham City, Utah, which is where I’ve lived for 23 years now.


2. Is there a book that changed your life? Yes! The very first romance I read was written by Kathleen E Woodiwiss – A Rose In Winter. Although this isn’t a Christian romance, I was still pulled right into the story and couldn’t put it down. I loved her descriptions, and I felt like I was right there in England 1792. I especially loved the twist in the story. From that point on, I wanted to write romance with a twist, and I wanted to put my readers in a historic era as well as Woodiwiss did with me.


3. If you go back in time, where would you go? England in the mid 1800’s. I love to escape to their world. I love the manners and the language…and I love thinking about a Duke for my hero! I love the beautiful gowns the women wore, and the tailored-fit clothes the men wore. I love the dressy look they had as if they were always attending a ball.


4. What is your favorite kind of music? I’m an 80’s girl…but I still love music from the 60’s and 70’s. I love some Classical music, and I will always love Inspirational music.


5. What is your favorite thing about yourself? That I’m a romance writer!!


6. Do you like to sing? Yes, but I’m not as good as I was ten or so years ago. It’s that old age thing…


7. Do you like to dance? Definitely, but my husband doesn’t. Dang! When I was a young girl, my mom taught my brother and sister and I how to dance those dances from the 60’s. Yeah, I can still jitterbug and waltz…just need to find someone to dance with now.


8. Do you play a musical instrument? In junior high and high school I played the clarinet. Then in high school I taught myself how to play the piano, so in my junior year, my parents bought one for us. I still play the piano today, especially in church.


9. Have you ever met a famous person? No, but I have a chance to. One of my favorite singers from the 60’s & 70’s is Engelbert Humperdinck. I’ve even titled some of my romances after his songs. Anyway, a good friend of mine is friends with Engelbert, and her brother can get me tickets to his show in Las Vegas. Well…with any luck my friend’s brother might take me backstage to meet Engelbert. How cool would that be? You know, I’ve always wondered why women cry when they see their favorite singer perform…and I think I just might bawl like a baby myself. It’s because one of my dreams is finally coming true.


10. What is your favorite color? PURPLE! Maybe it started when I was young and had a crush on Donny Osmond. Don’t know…


11. Do you have any celebrity crushes? Oh yes! Gerard Butler, Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Firth…to name a few.


12. Were you named after anyone? My first name, Phyllis, was from my father’s mother – a woman I have never met. My middle name, Marie, was also after a grandmother, but she was a ways back in the generation so I wouldn’t have met her anyway.


13. What are you favorite smells? Lilacs and roses. In fact…when my historical heroines have a scent, the heroes usually smell one of these two scents on them.


14. If you could have a dinner with three people (real of fictitious, dead or alive), who would you choose and why? Well, since I’m always in the fictitious world, the characters I would choose would be Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennett, and … Jane Austen (who wrote Pride & Prejudice). Why? Because this story was written in one of the eras I love to read and write about. And I will always be a fan of Jane Austen. Of course, when I have dinner with Mr. Darcy, he’d better look like Colin Firth!


15. What was the best decision you’ve ever made? To submit my stories to Walnut Spring Press!




Baby Marie

Marie as a toddler

Campbell family 1972
Marie is the cute girl in the green dress

Marie with her siblings

Homecoming dance

Marie and her husband, Scott, 1985

The Higgins' family on their sealing day

Marie with her daughters and grandchildren


WHY I WRITE

Because the characters in my head won't shut up! lol I write because I LOVE romance!!! I love all aspects of romance, and especially, the happily ever after!