L.L. Diamond

News, Blog, and Stories

Can you believe it’s August already? I hope everyone is having a great summer. I’m in the midst of editing my latest book (working title: Mr. Darcy’s Mirror (Not likely to keep that name 😉 ) ) and trying to keep up with the never-ending house repairs that we’ve been blessed with.

If you’re like me, you’re looking for a fun escape, especially for sitting at the pool or on the beach so I’ve discounted my first book of the Wedding Planners Series: It’s Always Been You to 99¢. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll give it a try or even send it as a gift to one of your friends. You can’t beat the price!

Just in case, I’ll put up the first chapter to whet your appetite 🙂

Chapter 1

When I first laid eyes on the expanse of pristine white beach, I slid off my sandals, stepped down from the dock to the water’s edge, and gave in to the urge to squish the damp sand between my toes. The warmth of the sun magically prickled my skin as I took a deep breath, inhaling the air kissed with the heavy, salt scent of the sea while brilliant aquamarine water stretched forever until it darkened when it met the cloudless azure-colored sky. A slight breeze wafted in from the sea along with the occasional whitecap that broke along the sand. I still couldn’t believe I stood there absorbing every last breathtaking bit. I’d saved up for years for this vacation, and I was finally here. Two weeks! Two weeks to snorkel, lay out on the beach, or maybe scuba dive if I felt like it. Whatever I wanted. I was servant to no one’s whims but my own.

My plane had landed mid-afternoon, so it was already too late to plan anything for today, but I would definitely have to decide what to do tomorrow. I’d never traveled on my own before but why should being alone be an issue? I wouldn’t have to check with someone else before I made plans, and I wouldn’t disappoint or frustrate someone if I wanted to be lazy and relax in my villa with room service and a chick flick—not that I had any intention of doing so. At least, not yet.

“Miss Barrett?” I tore my eyes away from the picturesque view in front of me to the uniformed porter ambling down the dock. “Your bags are in your villa, number ten, just down on the left. Are you sure you don’t need me to introduce you to the amenities we offer?”

I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’m certain I can figure it all out on my own. I am interested in snorkeling tomorrow. Could you recommend a guide perhaps? Someone who knows the best places and can take me there.”

“You’re welcome to snorkel off the deck of your villa, but the resort also offers tours. Your villa has a portfolio with all of our packages on the desk near the phone. Be sure to call as soon as you decide. You never know when the tours will fill quickly.”

I lifted one side of my lips. “Of course, I will. I suppose I would’ve known about the portfolio if I’d let you show me around. I apologize.”

“No worries, miss. If you require anything further, feel free to call our concierge desk. One of our staff will be happy to assist you.”

“Thank you.” I opened the small purse hanging at my side and pulled out a tip, which the young man accepted with a thank you before heading back toward the huge hut-like building that housed the lobby, the restaurants, and probably some sort of conference center.

A warm breeze rippled through the palms behind me, blowing the long curls back from my face and pressing my gauzy white skirt against my legs. The resort was paradise—no fussy clients, no work, no family, no one to please but myself. My sister Jena was right. I did need this. The biggest question now was what to do first?

That wasn’t a difficult question to answer. A shower to wash the stale airplane smell from my hair and skin was a must! By the time I dressed, the different restaurants at the resort would be open for dinner. I’d need to call and book a reservation, not to mention schedule that snorkeling tour for the earliest slot available tomorrow.

My footsteps made a steady cadence down the wooden planking of the dock until I reached my villa on the left, but before I could open the door, a loud voice from one of the huts nearby almost made me jump out of my skin.

“No, I just arrived yesterday. I have no intention of leaving so soon.” I lifted my eyebrows. Whoever he was, his voice held a low tone that did not sound happy. 

“No, I will not. I have some things I need to take care of and this is as good a place as any. I’ll see you when I return.” 

I took another step but stopped when the voice continued, “How would you come here? You don’t even know where I am. Really, this is ludicrous. I asked for some time, and I intend to take it. Please don’t call me again. I’ll contact you when I’m ready to talk. Goodbye.”

With a quick peek, I checked to see if anyone noticed me standing there. What if he came out of his villa and found me listening? Not that I could avoid overhearing his conversation with how loud he was speaking, but it had still been rude to listen. I should’ve gone inside and booked that tour for tomorrow instead of being unbearably nosy. Before someone could catch me up to no good, I hurried inside. I had no intention of getting on that man’s bad side! Whoever he was.

~ * ~

When I stepped back onto the dock a few hours later, the sky had morphed from that azure blue to an amazing sunset, awash with vibrant hues of red, orange, and purple and the water had become darker with the setting sun, looking more an inky black than the brilliant topaz of earlier. It was beautiful. 

I had no desire to rush, so I didn’t walk quickly. Instead, I took my time almost meandering down the walkway toward the main building of the resort, simply enjoying the sound of the waves breaking along the dock and the calls of a seagull from somewhere further down the beachfront. A gentle breeze still blew off the water, blowing my billowy sundress out from my legs. Unlike when I arrived, I stuck to the deck this time so I didn’t get sand in my favorite strappy sandals. I doubted the restaurant would appreciate it if I showed up barefoot—even if they didn’t have a sign that said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” it was still tacky.

The resort boasted a myriad of places to eat, but since it was my first evening, I planned on celebrating. I was on vacation, the one I’d dreamed of forever. Tonight was definitely a special occasion. I’d perused all the choices back in my room and chose a grill called Salt Water. Fine dining and an ocean view to enjoy while I ate—it sounded perfect.

As I approached the maître d’ podium, a man bumped my shoulder as he hurried around me. “Table for one, please.” I stopped and stared. What a prick!

The host glanced at me then back to him. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”

“No, I was tied up with business most of the day,” the man said with a huff as he shifted on his feet. “I didn’t get a chance to call.”

The maître d’ shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’re booked. Might I suggest the Thai restaurant? I know they have free tables this evening.” The host’s eyes returned to me. “Do you have a reservation, miss?”

With a careful step forward, I nodded. “Yes, Ellie Barrett.” I sneaked a peek at the man beside me. His eyes flickered to me before they returned to the host, whose finger trailed along the iPad he held tilted toward him.

“Ah, yes.” The host picked up a menu and held out his arm. “If you’ll follow me.”

That was when the man turned, his crystal blue eyes meeting mine, making me pause and swallow a gasp. Were those natural? I’d never seen a shade that clear and vibrant. I’d be willing to bet they’d probably match the shade of the water if it wasn’t so dark outside. I started to step past him, but something stopped me. Who knew what that something was, but I simply couldn’t leave him standing there. “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

His eyebrows drew down a little in the middle. “You wouldn’t mind?”

“I’m dining alone, and I’m sure the table will be large enough for two. If you don’t mind sharing with a stranger, I don’t mind either.”

I almost startled at how his face transformed when a small smile cracked the stern façade. I clenched my hands at my sides to keep from fanning myself. Good Lord, he was good looking! Two dimples peeked from his cheeks, his eyes crinkled a little at the edges, and most women would kill for those eyelashes. They were the longest I’d ever seen on a man. I even had eyelash envy! With his sculpted face, striking eyes, and dark brown hair, very few women would have had a dry chin in his presence.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’d be happy to join you.”

The maître d’ took one more menu from the stack and showed us to a table along the edge of the decking. I stopped and stared at the unencumbered view of the sand and sea until the maître d’ pulled out my chair and saw us seated and looking over the evening’s selections before hurrying away.

“Thank you again for sharing your table.”

I looked up from my menu and relaxed back into my seat. “I’m happy to do it. As I said, it’s just me, I have the room, and I don’t mind the company.”

He held his hand over the table. “William.”

“Ellie,” I said. I feigned shifting as I leaned forward so I could press my damp palm against the cushion of the chair. I would not shake his hand with sweaty palms! “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” He cleared his throat while he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m sorry for pushing ahead of you back there. It’s really nice of you to invite me to share your table considering how rude I was.”

“Do you always shove women out of the way when you’re hungry? Should I keep a look out for you in the future? Take a peek over my shoulder before I serve myself from the breakfast buffet?”

His deep chuckle traveled to the pit of my stomach where it caused a sudden flip. “Perhaps someone else might need to keep an eye out, but I’ll make sure I don’t bowl you over again. I promise.”

“I appreciate that,” I said with a laugh as I picked up the wine menu. “Would you like to share a bottle of wine? I thought I’d order some Prosecco.”

He lifted his eyebrows. “Are you celebrating?”

“Actually, yes. I’ve been saving up for this trip, and I’m finally here. I think it’s a good reason to break open some bubbly.”

“How long have you been planning this?”

“Since I graduated college. My sister, my best friend, and I started our own company, and when we started making a profit, I began to put a certain amount away from my earnings every month—so about six years. We’ve also been saving up for a better office space so it’s taken a little longer than it would otherwise.”

He opened his mouth to respond, but the waiter appeared seemingly from nowhere, took our drink order, and bustled off.

William leaned back in his chair. “What exactly do you do?”

Every muscle in my back stiffened. Most men liked to poke fun at my job. I was on vacation. I didn’t want to spend my first evening defending my profession. “I’m a wedding planner.”

“Really?” he said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table. “I’ve always wondered what type of degree someone needed to do that.”

“You don’t necessarily need a degree, but business, design, and public affairs are typically helpful. I studied design, my sister studied communications, and Charlie double-majored in business and finance.”

“I take it she handles the bottom line,” he said with a crooked grin.

“Pretty much. So, what is it you do?” He didn’t make a joke, comment that I planned occasions for lazy people or bash romance . . . yet. It was still a good time to change the subject, just in case.

The waiter returned and set to work serving our Prosecco. William glanced up at the movement but quickly returned to me.

“I own a construction company. We deal in new builds, custom floor plans, and such. The company originally belonged to my father. I earned my degree in architecture and took over when he wished to retire.” He sipped the wine set in front of him and gave a nod for the server to continue.

I snuck a peek at his left hand. I couldn’t help it! He was completely out of my league, but a girl could dream, couldn’t she? No ring and no tan line from one either, so he was unmarried. Why would someone who looked like that and was obviously successful still be single? “Are you here on your own as well?” It was a reasonable question. Hopefully, I didn’t sound like I was fishing for information on a potential girlfriend or even boyfriend somewhere out there.

“No, I needed to get away. My father’s filling in for me while I take some time for myself. He insisted.” He gave a light laugh. “I saw no reason to argue with him.”

“I know what you mean.” The bubbles from my wine tickled my tongue as I swallowed.

“So, let me ask you a very important question.” He gave me a sidelong glance with a slight upturn of his lips. It was all I could do to keep my knees from knocking together. “What do you think of books?”

I leaned against the arm of my chair and tilted my head. “That’s a serious question. I actually read more than I watch television.”

“But what do you prefer to read?” He relaxed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you read about sparkly vampires, thrillers, boy wizards, or romantic earls in whatever completely non-romantic era?”

A burst of a laugh escaped before I could prevent it. “I’ve never read anything with sparkly vampires, I’ve read a few thrillers, I love to read about boy wizards and their quests, and I will sometimes read about romantic earls. If it’s well-written, I’ll read it.”

“I can’t tell you how relieved I am you don’t care for sparkly vampires.”

I lifted my eyebrow. Yes, I was flirting and I didn’t care. What did I have to lose? “And what do you read, sir? Biographies, legal dramas, or maybe you enjoy those romantic earls.”

He grinned and shook his head. “I’ve never read a story with an earl or even a viscount.”

The waiter returned for our food order, but as soon as he was gone, we picked up where we left off. William wasn’t just easy on the eyes, but he was also easy to talk to. He read a lot and it definitely showed. Dinner with him proved to be more interesting than most of the dates I’d had in the last five years. Yes, I possessed a sad and pathetic love life. The best prospect I’d had in a long time was a stranger I’d met in the middle of paradise and probably would never see again. Yet, something about him tugged at me—not literally, of course. I couldn’t explain it another way if I tried.

When the meal came, the food was cooked to perfection, and we ordered another bottle of wine. Even with the interruptions, our conversation never faltered once. 

When the server brought the bill, I reached for it, but before I could so much as lay a finger on the edge, William scooped it up and signed it.

“How much do I owe you?” I edged forward in an attempt to see what was written, but he curled the paper toward him. I’d thought we’d split the tab. As much as I could wish it was, tonight wasn’t a date.

He smiled and shook his head. “It’s on me. You don’t know how much I appreciate your offer to share the table, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed having company for dinner. Thank you.”

“I had a great time, too, but I never expected you to pay.”

He held up the tray, which the server grabbed as he passed. “It’s done. Maybe we’ll be able to eat together again during our trip. You can pay then.”

“I’ll hold you to it.”

“Great!” He stretched his arms over his head. “I would love to stay and talk some more, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged from yesterday.”

If I was being honest, today’s travel was beginning to wear on me as well. The conversation had been amazing, but eventually, I would fall asleep on the table if we stayed so I followed his lead and stood. “I know what you mean. It took a couple of long plane rides to get here. Between that and the wine, I’m sure I could fall asleep in a matter of seconds.”

We didn’t talk as we strolled from the restaurant and down the dock in the direction of the villas, but the silence wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, it was relaxed and oddly like it was supposed to be that way. He stood tall while he walked casually with his hands in the pockets of his pants. We both gazed out over the water where the moon hung low at the horizon.

When I started to veer onto the path to my villa, I pointed. “I’m this way.”

He peered down the walkway with his brow furrowed. “Really? So am I.”

We turned and walked steadily until we reached my door. I faced him and sort of pointed toward my suite. “This is me.” At his nod, I held up my hand in a wave, instantly wanting the water under the dock to suck me in. I must’ve looked ridiculous. “Thank you for a lovely evening.”

He nodded and glanced down to his feet then back at me. “Good night, Ellie.”

I smiled and backed inside while I opened the door behind me. “Good night.”

Howdy y’all! It’s been a while, and I hope everyone is well and happy. I’ve been quite busy writing (something very new for me) and proofing my latest audiobook. Exciting things are on the way, and the That Perfect Someone audiobook will be first up. Every chapter has been checked for errors and it’s now up to ACX to approve the files. I even have a sample!!!

Sara Jo Elice was a lot of fun to work with and I think she did an incredible job. Once the audiobook is released, I’ll post again to let everyone know. 022

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had an amazing weekend. I thought I’d give you something fun to start your week off–a sale! From today throughs April 14th, Confined with Mr. Darcy is only 99¢. I’m going to post an excerpt below for you to enjoy. If you already own and love Confined with Mr. Darcy, don’t forget my new modern, That Perfect Someone.

Chapter 1

As soon as William Darcy’s foot hit the pavement, he paused. “What am I doing?” He shook his head and strode towards the front steps of the old Victorian home in London. Before his foot landed on the first step, he pivoted sharply on his heel and started back to his car, turning right back around before he stepped from the kerb. “Gah!” he growled, making a woman stare at him as though he had three heads and smoke coming from his ears. The woman pulled her little girl closer and quickly passed almost bumping into a ground floor window box, its daffodils and hyacinths basking in the March sun. The child continued to skip happily, oblivious to his ranting and raving. “Obviously, I’m going mental,” he muttered.

He’d told her sister Jane he’d do this, so he had to, right? He had an obligation. He’d tied himself into it. Who was he kidding? He was really doing this due to his not-so-stalkerish obsession with her sister. He’d turn back twenty times on his trip to Pemberley if he didn’t ensure Elizabeth was at least okay. He’d only been in love with her for a year or so. A painful, dragging hot needles across your skin year.

Darcy jogged up the steps and stopped at the door intercom system, reading down the list of names: Newnham . . . Oliver . . . Deaton . . . However, before he reached the name he searched for, a woman exited the door and he scooted inside, running up the flight of stairs to the first floor. He rounded the bannister and the flat stood directly in front of him. Music filtered into the corridor from her flat, so he knocked loudly in order to be heard and held his breath. The music softened and he knocked a little harder, as if the noise needed emphasis.

“Darcy?” She must’ve checked through the peephole first, her voice muffled by the door until it opened. When she appeared in the doorway, her dark eyes wide, he shifted on his feet. Lord, she was beautiful, even in that ratty, oversized hoodie and leggings. “Has something happened with Charles and Jane?”

He swallowed hard. Standing in front of the woman who’d owned a starring role in his every fantasy for the past year as well as every nightmare for the last month was hard enough without summoning the courage to speak. “No, they’re fine. Bingley managed to sort out two seats on the next flight home to England. They’ll land in Manchester in a few hours.” With the Greek sun, a seaside view, a pool, a hot tub, and the woman of his dreams, Darcy wouldn’t have been too keen to travel in a cramped airplane for the five- or six-hour trip, but Bingley and Jane had obviously had their reasons for wanting to return to the U.K.

“Thank goodness,” said Elizabeth, all breathy and pressing her hand to her chest. He could think of a million ways he’d love to hear that voice, but this wasn’t one of them.

He cleared his throat and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’ve offered Bingley and your sister the use of the old gamekeeper’s cottage at Pemberley to quarantine and to continue their honeymoon for the next few weeks. I’m leaving for Pemberley directly. Since you work from home already, I thought you might prefer to be in the country, and closer to Jane at the same time.”

The words had rushed out in one long, rambling mess. He couldn’t speak and behave normally around this woman! He shoved his hands further into his pockets, his shoulders hunching around his ears. Could he be any more awkward?

“You’re inviting me to Pemberley?” The words were slow and evenly spaced. If he couldn’t gather her disbelief at the way she spoke, her jaw hung slightly lax and her high eyebrows screamed volumes. “If this pandemic continues as some are predicting, I could be there indefinitely.”

“I understand that, but Pemberley is large enough that you can hide in your rooms for the duration if you want. When I spoke to Bingley, Jane said you couldn’t work at Longbourn because of your younger sisters. You’d have peace and quiet when you need it at Pemberley as well as the ability to walk outside whenever you want without running into half of the city.”

She glanced back over her shoulder before shaking her head. “What about my cat? I can’t just leave Tilney here by himself for all that time. I also can’t ask my neighbour to feed him for that long either.”

“So bring him with you. I’ll help you pack anything you want. He can wander the house, or if you’re more comfortable, you can have a suite of rooms to yourself so he’s easier to find.” They’d never had a cat in the house at Pemberley. Hopefully, he didn’t shed too badly else Mrs. Reynolds would have a right fit about cleaning up the hair.

Elizabeth opened and closed her mouth two or three times. After her scathing refusal of his invitation for a weekend in Paris during the Rosings Book Festival last month, he knew she didn’t think much of him, but he’d emailed her that evening to explain their misunderstandings. Perhaps his words had held more venom than he’d thought. Would she really prefer remaining in London? Boy, he felt like an arse right now.

“I apologise for bothering you,” he said quickly. “If you’d like to join us, you’re welcome at any time.” He ran a hand through his hair as he turned to make his escape.

“Wait!”

When he pivoted back around, she stood in the hallway. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. You surprised me is all. I’d prefer to be in the country and near Jane, but I need to pack. I also have food that could spoil from my last delivery. Since I can’t write at Longbourn, I’d planned to hunker down for as long as possible.”

“We can bag up your groceries and bring them with us, or you can give them to a neighbour.” Her teeth scraped her bottom lip, making him fist his hands at his sides. If she had any idea of how that tiny habit turned him on, she’d keep her teeth clenched together all of the time.

“I don’t know how we’re going to fit everything in your car.”

“I’m driving the Range Rover. Pack whatever you need.”

~ * ~

Elizabeth sat as rigid as a Maypole in the passenger seat of Darcy’s Range Rover while she watched the motorway in front of them. She’d agreed to spend however long this pandemic would take at Pemberley—at Pemberley with him. No, she hadn’t really wanted to be cooped up in her flat for a month or more while they “flattened the curve,” but did she really want to spend that time with Darcy?

Jane had insisted all along that he wasn’t as bad as Elizabeth thought, but the man knew how to press every button she possessed—no, strike that—punch the bloody hell out of every button she possessed. She glanced at him, studying his profile for a moment, until he started to turn and she whipped her gaze back in front of them.

“Are you cold?”

“Huh?” She jerked her head to face him. “Oh, no. I’m fine. Thank you.”

“I appreciate you helping me pack some clothes for Bingley and Jane.” When he learnt she had a key to the couple’s flat, they’d grabbed a few warmer clothes for the two of them. The shorts and bikinis Charles and Jane had packed for Santorini wouldn’t work very well for spring weather in Derbyshire.

“It was a good idea,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be chuffed to bits that you considered it.”

“We can stop by the cottage on the way up to the house and drop off the bags. I brought him a work laptop from the office as well.” His eyes turned back to the road.

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

“He wouldn’t be Bingley if he didn’t.”

She chuckled, but it came out as the tensest sound she’d ever heard. “He’s a very cheerful bloke.”

“He’s been that way for as long as I’ve known him.”

“He said the two of you met at Cambridge.” She rubbed her sweaty palms down her leggings.

Darcy checked his wing mirror. “We had a lot of our classes together.” Rather than watch his face, her gaze had migrated to his broad shoulders and further to where his biceps pulled his sleeve taut.

“Don’t you have a little sister?” she asked. She was going to hell. She was checking out his body and asking about his little sister. How depraved could she get?

“I do. Georgiana’s sixteen. You’ll meet her when we get there.”

Elizabeth trained her traitorous eyes on his face. “She’s not in school?”

“Her college is allowing her to take her classes online because of her asthma. Mrs. Reynolds is bringing her home as we speak.”

“I’m sorry, but who is Mrs. Reynolds?”

He smiled and took a quick peek at her. “She’s the Pemberley housekeeper, but she’s more like a mum to us most of the time. And don’t be sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

She dropped her head back against the seat and stared at the road ahead. She’d agreed to this so she could get out of London and have the ability to eventually see Jane. If only things weren’t so uncomfortable between her and Darcy! After all, she hadn’t seen him since the Rosings Book Festival. Ugh! She’d said such nasty things to him too. She wrapped her arms around herself. How was she ever going to apologise?

“Are you sure you’re not cold?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I promise.”

He adjusted the temperature anyway before he returned his attention to the road. That was when silence fell once more—awkward, painful silence. How long could making a vaccine possibly take?

And don’t forget…

Happy Monday! So, bit of a confession time! (Spoilers ahead! Read at your own peril! If you haven’t read That Perfect Someone, you can do so here. It’s on Kindle, KU, and paperback!) When I sent That Perfect Someone to my second beta who was also my LGBTQ+ sensitivity reader (aka my oldest daughter), she had a pacing complaint. I had too much after the climax of the book and not enough between D&E finally giving in and the climax. So, enter the Deputy Collins yuck factor and Condomgate, and a couple of chapters were cut from the end. The end was hard because I had to give enough of a recovery without giving you so much it slowed the book down. Because of that, I have deleted bits to share!! These are from later on in the book, so they will give parts of the story away and may contradict things that happened during Condomgate.

Let’s start with what was the original chapter 26. Lizzy was still in the hospital, William was refusing to leave her on her own, so enter Ana. 🙂

“Hey there!”

Lizzy smiled as Ana peered around the curtain before approaching the bed. “Thank you for this.”

“Don’t mention it. The thing is, I’m still not entirely sure why you need me to spend the day with you since I know William won’t leave. He’s too stubborn for his own good.”

“He may not want to, but he needs to. Daddy said he hasn’t left the hospital since I was brought into the E.R., and it’s been over a week. I want him to go home and take a real shower, and shave. Dear Lord, he needs to shave!”

A giggle burst from Ana. “You aren’t feeling the Darcy beard he’s got going on? Some women find beards hot.”

Lizzy shook her head. “Well, this woman isn’t one of them. I don’t mind stubble, but we’ve passed a sexy bit of stubble and are slowly sliding down a slippery slope, heading toward a full biker gang-looking monstrosity. He made a joke about waxing his mustache yesterday, Ana. Not just no, but heck no!”

Ana plopped down on the bed next to her, the very spot where William spent the night, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m so happy to see you feeling better. I probably shouldn’t say this, but you scared the bejeezus out of us. Chase was overwrought. The guy broke down the evening after you woke up and bawled like a baby—it was as if the enormity of what happened hit him all at once.”

“He’s always been good at keeping his cool when it’s necessary and reacting later.”

“Lizzy, what’s Silver Taps?”

She frowned and scooted back against the railing some so she could see Ana’s face better. “Why do you ask?”

“I doubt you remember, but we were there when they were loading you into the ambulance. For a moment, Chase panicked and told you that you couldn’t die and that he refused to attend Silver Taps for you. The deputy then told us about Skylla, so we went up to the stable, and he pulled it back together. He sort of went into this frantic work mode and concentrated on William’s horse until Mr. Bennet told him to leave. When he broke down two days later, he mumbled about Silver Taps several times. I’ve never heard of it and something felt wrong about Googling it. I’d rather know from you or Chase.”

Poor Chase! With a sigh, she wiped a tear that had fallen to her cheek. “Silver Taps is a ceremony at A&M, held on the first Tuesday of every month. It honors the Aggies who died the month before, graduates and undergraduates. It’s an entire day thing. They lower the flags to half-mast that morning and there are traditions that day before a ceremony in the evening when all of the lights on campus are extinguished. There’s a good bit to it, including hymns and a gun salute. At the end, they play “Taps” three times, once in every direction but east because the sun will never rise on the fallen Aggie again. I believe A&M is the only university with the tradition, and we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years. After one of Chase’s friends died in a car accident, he went for the first time. I remember he’d attend every month after unless something prevented him going. He was touched at the significance—what it meant for the family. He even went in February with a bad flu once.” She lifted her eyebrows. “You know, you could’ve asked him yourself.”

“I’ll talk to him about it eventually, but I didn’t want to stir everything up any more than necessary right now. He’s been better the past few days, but I think he needs some time before I go reminding him of what happened with my own questions added in.” Ana glanced around the room. “You know. I just realized my brother isn’t here. Where is he?”

“He’s downstairs getting coffee. The line must be long since he’s been gone for about fifteen minutes.”

“I’m glad he wasn’t up here when I arrived,” she said. “It would’ve made it hard to ask about the plan if he’d been in the room.”

“Let me ask you something. If I have today’s date correct, Will and you were supposed to be in New York signing paperwork.”

Ana scraped her teeth along her bottom lip. “I called my aunt and uncle who sent the paperwork to a mobile notary. We signed yesterday, and I overnighted the documents to New York.”

“The notary came here?” She couldn’t recall anyone showing up.

“You were sleeping pretty soundly. I sat with you for about fifteen minutes while Will signed the paperwork in the empty room next door. The nurses were kind enough to let him use it.”

Without warning, the door swung open, and William entered, taking a drink from his cup. “Ana? You didn’t mention you’d be here this morning.” He looked at his watch. “I didn’t even know you could rise before seven.” The slight shake of his shoulders, and his crooked smile made it obvious he was teasing.

“Ha ha. You can be a real dickhead. You know?”

“But you love me.”

“Yes, she does.” Lizzy straightened with a wince. Damned wound! “Which is why she’s here.”

His head hitched back a little. “I don’t understand.”

“I asked her to come so you could get out of the hospital for the day.”

“Lizzy, if you think I’m leaving—”

She held up her hand. “Don’t. I love you so much, but you need to have a day for you. Daddy made you an appointment for nine at a barber shop on Main Street so you can get a haircut and have that eyesore shaved off your face.” Ana snorted and covered her nose. “Then, I want you to go home and take a good, long nap. With the nurses coming in every hour for my vitals, not to mention being squeezed against the railing of the bed so I’m comfortable, I know you aren’t sleeping well. Besides, poor Evie has been on her own since this all happened.”

“Mary is taking care of her,” he said in a high-pitched voice.

“Yes, and Evie tears up the stairs when Mary lets herself in and doesn’t come down to eat until after my sister leaves. She’d grown accustomed to you being in the house. I feel like if you go home and take a nap, she may cuddle up to you. I don’t like the thought of her being so alone for so long. She’s not used to it, and I don’t want her to get depressed. Besides, I texted Mary and gave her the day off, told her you were going home and would take care of Evie today.” His shoulders slumped. Hah! Maybe, just maybe she’d gotten through to him or at least forced his hand. “I also messaged Ana yesterday, and she’s taken the entire day off from training so she can sit with me.”

“I’m sure my horses will be thrilled with the freedom. I also fed Skylla as well as the rest of your horses at the Longbourn stables before I came over, but you’ll need to feed them later today.”

“That’s another thing,” said Lizzy. “You haven’t seen Skylla since he was poisoned. Don’t you think you should check in on him?”

His eyes tore at her heart. “Your father and Lamonte have sent me pictures, and Chase sent me a video. He’s out of danger, and I’ll see him after you’re discharged.”

“William.” Her voice held a drawl, but she’d done that intentionally. He could be so obstinate!

“Are you sure that’s all there is to this? You aren’t mad because I hover too much or some other reason you aren’t telling me?”

Lizzy shook her head and reached out for his hand. “No, I promise we’re good. I arranged today because you need to take care of yourself too. How can we be there for each other if we’re both mentally and physically exhausted?”

He squeezed her hand and leaned in for a sweet kiss to her lips. “I hate this, leaving you. You know that, right?”

“I’ll miss you too, but I think this is the best thing for both of us.”

He uttered a soft sort of growl and scratched his nasty, hairy cheek. “Okay, you win.”

“Good, text my father before you head down. He’s going to pick you up and drive you to the barber shop and make sure you are completely de-cave-manned. After, he’ll take you anywhere else you need to go before he drives you home. You can bring one of our cars back this evening. That’ll make things easier whenever I’m discharged.”

“Wait!” Ana hopped up and grabbed his bag of clothes and toiletries, shoving it into his free hand. “Take this with you. You can wash your clothes and pack clean ones for later. You have to be getting low, and I’d rather not have to dig through your underwear drawer again if I can help it.” Her nose crinkled, and she shuddered.

William nodded and took the bag but walked around the hospital bed one more time to kiss her. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Not before six,” she said with a slight dip of her chin. “I’ll kick you back out if you’re any earlier.”

As soon as he was out the door, Ana clasped her hands in front of her. “I can’t believe you pulled that off. He would’ve never given in with me so easily. He’s stubborn as heck, you know.”

“I agree, but I’m sure it’s different for a younger sister than it is for a girlfriend. I also think he’s simply too tired to argue, which is why he needs this. Did you get a good look at the dark circles under his eyes?” He would be asleep before his head hit the pillow.

Ana held up a finger before darting behind a curtain that separated her bed from the door. When she emerged, she held up a bag and a cup. “I looked up that diet William said the doctors had you on, and I know you have to be bored to tears. So, I stopped by Bear Creek Coffee Company and picked up a latte and a chocolate croissant for you.”

“You’re a goddess,” said Lizzy with a grin. “Do you know that?”

Ana smiled and flipped her hair. “If you insist, my dear. I do have one disclaimer, which is that I did get decaf since I worried about caffeine possibly upsetting your stomach. You were drinking decaf  before… Well, before—”

“It’s okay. I know what you mean.” Her heart hurt, and she swallowed hard. She didn’t want to cry right now. How she had any tears left after the past week was a mystery.

After Ana plonked the bag on the tray table and handed her the coffee, she sat back down beside her. “Should I have gotten two croissants?”

“I can’t eat much at a time, so one is perfect, thanks.”

“Chase is bringing you contraband for lunch and dinner too. We worked it out so your dad is covering at the clinic, and if the nurses give us a side-eye, I’ll flush whatever meals they bring you. So, before I give Chase the go-ahead, do you have any requests?”

She shook her head since she had a small bite of flaky, butter pastry in her mouth. “Just nothing too big.”

“Done. Now, I see you are watching the news. Why? Nothing good can come of that.”

Lizzy laughed, but pressed her hand to her stomach. “Don’t make me laugh. Please.”

“Oh, sorry.” Ana bit her lip then grabbed the remote that was wired to the bed. “Do you have any good channels or just the bare bones basics?

“I haven’t checked it out much since I’m still sleeping a good bit. William ran next door to that high-end electronics store and bought that monstrous laptop over there, loaded up several apps for watching TV and movies. The wi-fi is pretty good if you want to give that a try.”

“Sweet!”

She loved Ana to death. The girl was bubbly and kind and loved Chase enough to hold him while he cried, then discover what she needed to know to help him on her own so she wouldn’t upset him. Chase had needed someone like her for a long time. Who knew William’s little sister would solve that problem so easily? Now they just needed to persuade him to adopt a dog. Somehow, she didn’t think Ana would mind, and Chase adored dogs. He’d just always had one excuse after another—sort of like his love life. Perhaps it was just a matter of finding the right person, or in this case, the right canine.

“Hey, Ana, do you like dogs?”

Tomorrow is the day! If you haven’t read my previews for That Perfect Someone yet, make sure you check them out: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4. Or, you can bypass the preview and simply preorder the book so it’s on your Kindle first thing tomorrow. It will also be on KU and paperback, so you have those options as well. Don’t forget to stop by the release celebration at Austen Variations tomorrow and put in for a chance at a giveaway!

Happy Monday! Today, I’m giving a flashback post to a piece I wrote for Pride and Prejudice: Behind the Scenes. I hope you enjoy!

Elizabeth Bennet, as she prepares for a walk with her aunt and uncle, reflects upon everything that has happened since her arrival in Derbyshire, as well as her feelings about a certain gentleman.



Elizabeth sat before the dressing table, idly fingering the bristles of her hairbrush as the lush grounds of Pemberley and the estate’s master captivated her mind. 

Were her feelings so different than what they were at Hunsford? Yes, they were; but had she changed or was Mr. Darcy truly so different? Perhaps by knowing him better, she understood him more?

His housekeeper’s words echoed in her head. “He is the best landlord, and the best master that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men.”

Such a man of wealth and consequence had to be a good man indeed to be thought so well of by his servants. Even the gardener, who showed them the grounds, praised his master. In particular, how Mr. Darcy had paid for the apothecary when the loyal servant’s wife was ill.

Mrs. Reynolds and the gardener were not alone in their praise. Not one person she and the Gardiners had come across since arriving in Lambton had an ill word to say of Mr. Darcy.

How could she have misread him so upon their first acquaintance?

Mr. Darcy’s slight at the assembly had to be the culprit! He had wounded her pride and insulted her vanity, and she had never really forgiven him for it. She was accustomed to her mother disregarding her looks in comparison to Jane and Lydia, but not one of their neighbours had ever agreed or made a similar comment.

That evening at the assembly, the local gentlemen were all familiar, and held no interest. Mr. Bingley, while well-looking and amiable, did not stir her emotions in any manner other than friendship.

Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, had intrigued her, which was sure to be why she reacted as she did. Upon reflection, her first thought of him had been of his good looks and his appearance of intelligence. He did not seem a dullard or behave as one with little or no sense.

He himself had admitted, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.” Could that have played a role in his ill-humour?

Since they had happened upon one another on the grounds of Pemberley, he had been everything amiable and welcoming. The encounter had been awkward, and she had not expected him to make such a gallant attempt to put her at ease. His generous behaviour towards her aunt and uncle, and his enquiries as to the health of her family were a compassion he had never shown during their previous meetings.

After all, his manner and behaviour in Meryton had been so aloof. He often stood, not speaking with anyone, while watching their local society with apparent disdain. His looks had shown particular distaste upon watching the antics of Kitty and Lydia, but his response to her mother’s vulgarity was more pronounced—his entire body would stiffen when she spoke.

While Mr. Darcy’s behaviour had altered since their last meeting, Elizabeth had also grown in understanding of the gentleman’s character. Rather than merely thinking him handsome and learned, she had begun to consider him as one of the best men of her acquaintance.

He could have abused her abominably in the letter after their argument, but he did not. His explanation of the separation of Bingley and Jane rankled upon its first reading, but after further consideration, he had been justified in his concern. Charlotte herself had questioned Jane’s feelings, so why should those emotions be evident to Mr. Darcy.

His explanation of Mr. Wickham illustrated his good character as well. Mr. Darcy paid the man’s debts and honoured his father’s last wishes for his godson to the best of his ability when it was probable that Mr. Wickham did not deserve any sort of recompense for the living at all. Mr. Darcy could have claimed the sum for the debt Mr. Wickham owed him, but he did not.

Now that she recognised Mr. Darcy’s worth, could she dare hope his feelings for her had remained constant? His gaze across the drawing room the night prior had left her heart pounding and her face burning. She now feared her heart might be touched. What if his intentions and wishes had altered since Hunsford?

She could not blame him after her intemperate refusal of his hand. His resentment of her would have been justified as well, yet his invitations to Pemberley and his recent generosity of spirit indicated no such feelings.

“Lizzy?” Her aunt placed a hand to her shoulder with an expression of concern upon her face. “Your uncle and I are to take our walk. Did you still wish to join us?”

“Oh! I apologise. You caught me wool-gathering.”

Her aunt’s smile bore a hint of mischief. “So I noticed, dear. Do go fetch your spencer and gloves, so we can depart.”

With a quick nod, she gathered her outdoor garments, but upon her return, her aunt held two letters. “They were just delivered a moment ago. They are from Jane.”

Happy Monday, all! I mentioned a while back that I would have a book ready this month, then things seemed to be going a little slow, so I kept quiet. As it turns out, I’m close to finishing my edits and my last read through. I will put up the preorder for That Perfect Someone as soon as I can. I just need a book file and a cover! I have plenty of possible images for a cover picked out. I just need to see what works.

If you missed my reading at the JAFF Reader/Writer Get Together and my preview at Austen Variations, Lizzy is a vet and Darcy is a horse owner in this modern AU variation. I had an idea for an interaction early on where Lizzy is examining Darcy’s horse and he’s being a complete douche. I was a vet tech once upon a time and rode horses from the time I was five. I even showed in Western Pleasure and English classes at open shows for five years when I was at college/university. I adore horses so this was a fun way to use some knowledge I already possessed, though I still had to research to make sure what I knew was still the current course.

In That Perfect Someone, Lizzy is a veterinarian in the Texas Hill Country. Since most people go to vet school in their state of residence (it’s extremely hard to be accepted outside of your home state!), Lizzy is a Texas A&M Aggie. I know some of you may not know what an Aggie is, so in simple terms, an Aggie is a farmer and refers to the school’s agricultural background. Texas A&M University is an agricultural and mechanical college well known for it’s engineering department, vet school, and its research (medical, agricultural, etc). Von Miller, a famous American football player, obtained a degree in Poultry Science from A&M before being drafted into the NFL. Texas A&M has the only veterinary medicine program in the state of Texas.

Texas A&M University is a school full of long-standing traditions and a lot of history. The Aggies are called the 12th Man, which dates back to 1922 and an Aggie named E. King Gill. On one occasion, Gill was a squad player for the team and was up in the press box identifying players during a game for the reporters. The team was losing players left and right due to injuries so the coach motioned to Gill, who then suited up in an injured teammate’s uniform and rushed to the sideline, where he stood ready to play for the rest of the game. Aggies pulled off an upset, winning 22-14 that day, and by the end, Gill was the only player still standing by the bench with eleven players still on the field, making him the “12th man.” That is why the student section stands during every football game and basketball game for the entire game. They represent what E. King Gill was that day, the 12th man willing to step up and play when his school and teammates needed him. “The power of the 12th Man is echoed in the unity, the loyalty, and the willingness of Aggies to serve when called to do so.” (Texas A&M’s website)

There are so many traditions, I could write multiple blog posts on them, but I thought to explain those most relevant to the story. Aggies have a ton of school spirit. You can’t miss it when you enter College Station. Most students wear Aggie shirts, hoodies, and whatever else they can find to show off their school spirit, and that spirit never goes away. They maintain their love for the school their entire lives. It’s an amazing thing. I think every time my own daughter Facetimes me, she’s wearing a different Aggie/Texas A&M shirt/hoodie/etc.

A big tradition with students is also an Aggie ring. Most of us here in the U.S. are familiar with class rings. Most of us buy them in high school, wear them for a couple of years, then they sit in a jewelry box for the rest of our lives. Aggie rings are considered a staple. The Aggie ring dates to 1889 Most Aggies buy a ring and receive it on “Ring Day.” Three times a year, Aggies come together in the alumni center where they get their rings then take part in other activities during the day, including a “Ring Dance.” Every engraving on an Aggie Ring is symbolic of something (eg. large star=seal of the state of Texas). They are considered a big deal, which is why Lizzy mentions hers at a rather important part of the story (you’ll see 😉 )

Another long-standing Aggie tradition is Silver Taps. Dating back to 1898, Silver Taps is a ceremony, held on the first Tuesday of the month, to honor any current graduate/undergraduate student who has died during the year. There are events that happen all day such as Aggies writing letters to the families of the fallen Aggies. Then at 10:15pm, all the lights on campus are turned off and hymns play from the bell tower while students and families gather. A volunteer part of the Corps fire a three volley salute then Taps is played three times: once to the north, once to the south, and once to the west, but not to the east “because it said the sun will never rise on that fallen Aggie again.” (A&M Website)

Tune in tomorrow at Austen Variations when I will start posting the preview of That Perfect Someone! Maybe you’ll find some of these traditions I’ve mentioned here when you read the story 🙂

That Perfect Someone releases March 29th!!

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! Can you believe it’s already here? Even with the tree and the decorations, it just doesn’t seem like it should be Christmas yet. Just a heads up and reminder that the Austen Variations book sale starts on Christmas day this year, so make sure you check out our website to see what goodies we have up! This is a scene from my Persuasion-based holiday romance. So, without further ado, here’s the chapter 🙂

I sat cross-legged in front of the door under the stairs with a flimsy open box in front of me. Last night, after I’d agreed to this insanity, Jensen had given me an old pair of his work jeans and a hoodie to wear so I didn’t ruin my clothes, then we’d plonked down on the floor and set to work.

He hadn’t lied, this was absolutely disgusting. Who knew how long some of these boxes had been under here? They weren’t just filthy but also a bit warped as though they’d once been damp and had dried. Silverfish occasionally darted out from underneath as the boxes were lifted carefully so the contents wouldn’t fall through to the floor below. We’d worn gloves and masks to keep from being swamped completely in dust, not to mention the remnants from mice that had apparently made a home under here until Jensen set traps a few months ago. 

“You’re up early?”

I jumped about a mile in the air, my gloved hand pressing to my chest. “Shit, Jensen. You scared the fuck out of me.”

“Sorry,” he said with a smile. Daphne rose from where she sat beside me and trotted until she stood before him, tapping around on the tile with her front paws. “Has she been outside?”

“I took her when I woke up an hour ago.” I shrugged and unwrapped whatever had been carefully packed in newspaper. “I couldn’t go back to sleep.”

Jensen had tried to give me his bedroom last night, but I’d insisted on the sofa. For my own sanity, I wasn’t setting one toe up there.

“Have you found anything interesting?” he asked, scratching the back of his head.

“Just a couple of boxes of paperwork that the mice must’ve turned into nests at some point or another. The documents inside were shredded to bits. I brought them all out to the porch.”

“I should’ve gone through everything before I remodeled, but I felt like I was taking advantage of your parents by living in their house for free. I quickly fixed up what I needed so I could move out.”

I pulled the mask away from my face. “I hadn’t realized you weren’t paying rent, but I understand why they would offer. I mean, you were at our house almost constantly when we were growing up. They’d help Ellie or Jena in the same way if either of them needed it.”

“Your parents are great.” 

I pulled a white glass piece from the paper. Jensen crinkled his nose. “What is that?”

“Oh,” I said kind of softly. “It’s milk glass. I had a bride who collected pieces like this. Some of her close friends searched for really nice vintage pieces to buy for her. We’ll need to go online and see how to clean it.” When I glanced over my shoulder, his eyebrows were high on his forehead while his nose remained crinkled. “You’re not getting rid of it. You’ve got those shelves in the living room and the mantel with nothing on them. Besides, you can’t buy pieces like this anymore.”

I set the glass beside me and pulled out the next of the paper wrapped balls, revealing a boat-like dish on a pedestal, two candlesticks, and a cake plate. I shoved the paper back in the box before I dumped the box on the porch with the rest. “Don’t you have one of those big sinks in the laundry room? We can clean them in there instead of the kitchen.”

“How about some coffee? You put those in the laundry room and get cleaned up. I’ll brew some and get breakfast going.”

I padded into the laundry room and pulled Jensen’s too large jeans from over the boxers he gave me to sleep in as well as the hoodie I’d thrown on over that old Navy t-shirt I wore to bed. After I washed my hands and bare feet, I met him in the kitchen as the fresh smell of coffee began to fill the air.

“I checked the weather forecast,” he said as he put the milk back in the fridge. “We’re supposed to hover near freezing all day, and there’s a chance of snow again for tonight.”

“So, basically it’ll melt a bit this afternoon and then freeze back tonight anyway.”

“Pretty much. I left a message for Earl. Hopefully, he’ll tow your car in the first chance he gets.”

I blew out a breath as I took the cup he set on the island in front of me. “Thanks.” Don’t get me wrong. I appreciated having a warm place to stay, but things were uncomfortable—awkward. I wasn’t going to sleep with him again, especially after hearing Kimber-bimbo whining while ice skating, but it didn’t mean my feelings had disappeared overnight or that my body had forgotten what he could do.

I don’t think I was the only one feeling odd. At times, his eyes would venture to where Navy was emblazoned on my chest only to jerk back up to my face. He also scratched the back of his head and cleared his throat—a lot.

“How much is left in that closet?”

“A few boxes all the way to the back. Do you have a shop vac to clean it up?”

“I do. I’ll drag it out once we have everything removed. William’s guys are coming in next week and ripping that wall out. William suggested a bench and shelves. Sort of like a reading nook.”

“Oh, I like that.” I could see a long bench with a grey cushion to match the furniture in the living room and a few throw pillows scattered around. “He has some great ideas.”

Once Jensen had fixed his own coffee, he pulled out a cast iron skillet. “How about some eggs and whole grain toast?”

“Sounds good to me.”

We talked about oddly impersonal topics while we ate: movies, music, who would win the Superbowl. After we’d cleared up and loaded the dishwasher, we threw on our work clothes and started back to work on the storage area.

Unfortunately, no more milk glass lurked behind all of the rubbish we’d sorted, but when I unwrapped the first bit of yellowed newspaper, I gasped. “Jensen, look! Christmas ornaments!”

He took the pink glass bauble and held it up to the light. “I wonder if these were from when my mother was little.”

“Maybe they were on her grandparents’ tree. They look pretty old.” I rolled the next out of the paper. “It’s too bad you don’t have a tree. It would be fun to decorate one.”

He opened his box and laughed as he pulled out a jumble of ancient electrical cords. “I found the lights.” His head shook while he lifted them to one side. “Talk about a fire hazard.”

After we removed all of the ornaments, he shoved all of the old wrapping and the lights in the boxes and put them outside while I studied all of the colorful baubles, loving how the light caught the colors and the different designs.

“Do you really want to decorate a tree?” When I looked up, he stood in front of me with his hands shoved in his pockets. “I have some Christmas lights upstairs in a box and a young Scotch pine in the front that I’m going to have to cut down eventually.”

“Seriously?” My voice was high and sounded ridiculously excited even to my own ears. “Do you really want to go out in this weather and cut down a tree?”

“It’s cold and icy, but we can shake a lot of that off before we bring it inside. It’ll have to dry before we can put lights on it.” He held out his hand and helped me up. “I have a small chain saw in the shed out back.”

The frozen grass and leaves crunched under our feet. An inch or so of snow coated the ground and had frozen, but we made it to the shed then out to the overgrown front of the property. I saw the tree before he approached it. It was the perfect shape! It was a bit tall but the ceilings in the living room were high. It would probably fit well.

Most of the ice flew off when the tree hit the ground, and I giggled as I hurried around to the top, ready to help carry it into the house. Jensen shook his head and grinned. “That laugh reminds me of when we were kids.”

We hauled the tree into the mudroom and laid it out on some old sheets we’d set out before we ventured outside. I slapped my thighs to remove the water and sap after setting it down. “What do we do until it dries?”

“I have more things to go through in the dining room. Do you want to help?”

“Sure,” I said. He’d asked hesitantly like it was an imposition, but to tell the truth, it was kind of fun. It was dirty work, but each box held a potential treasure like the milk glass or the Christmas ornaments.

We spent the afternoon rummaging through more boxes, but whether Jensen thought we found treasure was another matter. More paperwork, this time water-damaged, boxes of old moldy clothes, and shoes were all moved to the porch for a trip to the dump. We did find an antique wooden mantel clock that had missed the water damage by being at the bottom of the pile. An odd box of mis-matched door knobs were also hidden under a box of old draperies. The draperies quickly found their way to the rubbish outside as well.

“Don’t throw the door knobs away,” I’d said, insistently. “I’ve seen hooks and curtain pull backs made from those on Pinterest. If you don’t want them, someone else will upcycle them.”

It wasn’t until almost four that we called it a day. While I stripped my filthy, dusty clothes into the washing machine, Jensen returned the chain saw to the shed. As soon as the last bit of my clothes made it into the wash, I turned to head upstairs right as Jensen walked back inside, stomped on the mat, and froze solid.

In my defense, I wasn’t completely naked. I’d left on my panties and my bra, but everything that could be dusty from cleaning was gone. “I was going to go up and take another shower.” I’d taken one last night before I changed to sleep.

“That’s probably a good idea,” he said, clenching his hands at his sides.

Turning my back on that crackling current that filled the air between us, I rushed upstairs and into Jensen’s bathroom. I let the water run a moment to warm up while I pulled off my bra and panties then stepped under the rainfall shower head, letting the hot water seep into my scalp and skin.

After I’d washed all of the grime from me, I dried off and went into Jensen’s bedroom where a clean pair of boxers and another Navy t-shirt were laid out on the bed. “I guess those are for me.”

My underthings went into the wash when I returned to the kitchen. After, Jensen followed me from the living room where he’d spread the Christmas ornaments out on the coffee table. “I wiped them all down, and I’ve turned over the tree to get more water out of it. The trunk is still slightly damp but the needles are pretty much dry. When I’m done with my shower, we’ll put it up.”

“Okay,” I said as he scratched the back of his head again before he shook himself and disappeared upstairs. Without anything to do, I rummaged through the kitchen, finding a pack of steaks in the fridge with some arugula salad mix. It took me a bit to find everything I needed, but I could at least make myself useful by cooking dinner. After all, Jensen had put me up last night, and at the rate the weather was going, I wouldn’t be able to go home until tomorrow. The least I could do was make him a meal.

I found a bottle of Malbec and poured a glass for while I cooked. When Jensen returned to the kitchen, I was pulling the steaks out of the broiler.

“You cooked?” he asked with a wide-eyed expression.

“Don’t act so surprised. I can cook. I just don’t do it often. Kind of silly for one person to make a full meal.” I held up my glass. “I found a couple of bottles in the rack. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, it’s fine.” He held up his dusty clothes. “I’m going to get the wash started.”

“I’ll have everything on the table when you get back.”

He disappeared into the laundry room while I plated the steaks with an arugula salad dressed with parmesan. When he reappeared, we sat down at the table. Jensen poured himself a glass of the wine before he topped off mine. “Thank you for all of your help. I appreciate it.” He held up his glass, and I clinked mine against it.

“You’re welcome. It’s actually been kind of fun—like a treasure hunt.”

His low chuckle vibrated down my spine and made parts of me hum. “I don’t know about that. More like sorting garbage.”

While we ate and chatted about the house, I probably relaxed for the first time since being in his home. We were sitting at his kitchen table, eating steak, drinking wine, dressed in the most casual clothes ever. I mean he was wearing a pair of cotton shorts and a t-shirt. The thing was that it was perfect. Being in that moment with him, dressed as I was, was perfect.

By the time I’d loaded the dishes in the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen, he had the tree standing in the living room. He’d also started a fire in the fireplace.

I handed him his glass of wine and set the bottle we’d opened during dinner on the coffee table. “How’d you get it straight without help?”

“The trunk wasn’t crooked.” His face remained even until he pointed to where a tool rested on the mantel above the fireplace. “I also used a small level.”

An unladylike snort escaped when I started laughing. “A little OCD of you, don’t you think?”

“Well, I could just hear you make fun of me all evening if it was crooked.”

I gasped, faking insult. “I would not!” I took sip of my wine, but he kept looking at me with a steady gaze. “Okay, maybe a little.”

After a roll of his eyes, he grabbed a box and opened it, pulling out a bundle of Christmas lights. “I found a surge protector in one of my boxes. It’s too old for a computer but it’ll work for this.”

“Is the tree dry enough?”

“The trunk feels pretty dry, and the rest is definitely not damp. The lights won’t be that far in anyway.”

I set my glass of wine next to his on the coffee table and stood on the opposite side of the tree from him. Once he’d plugged in the strand, we passed the bright multi-colored lights back and forth until we reached the end, Jensen opened another box, and we continued with the new strand. Even though a zing shot through my fingers whenever they touched his, I didn’t flinch, and soon enough, we had lights from bottom to top. 

All of the ornaments had old hooks or gold thread to hang them on the tree. The old baubles might have been a tad faded and the paint had crackled on some, but they were still beautiful and caught the colors from the Christmas lights just so. A finial was the last ornament on the table, so Jensen pulled out a step ladder.

“This was your idea, so you put it on.”

I bit my bottom lip as I picked it up. “Are you sure?”

He nodded while he opened the ladder. “Positive. Besides, we’ve both been drinking. It makes more sense for me to spot you than for you to spot me.”

He did have a point. I picked up the tall red and green spire of glass and carefully climbed the two steps to put me high enough to reach. After I’d slid it down the top, I put a hand on his shoulder to steady myself as I stepped down.

The view outside the window caught my eye. “Look, it’s snowing again.” I ran to the front door and rushed onto the porch as fat, white flakes lazily drifted down to the ground. With a grin, I tiptoed down the steps.

“Charlie, what in the blazes are you doing? You’re going to freeze.”

I spread my arms and held my face to the sky, letting the bits of cold land on me and melt. “It’s not like we get snow all of the time. Let me enjoy it.”

He crossed his arms over his chest while I stuck out my tongue and caught a few bits as they fell. Jensen’s eyebrows simply lifted. That was when my eye caught his squad car that boasted a solid cover of snow. I made a baseball sized snowball before I turned back to Jensen.

“Charlie, no.” One hand was now palm out and facing me.

“Why ever not?” I asked innocently. Before he could answer, I gave a quick wind up and let the snowball fly, hitting Jensen square in the face. His muscular body sprang from the porch, and I frantically began gathering more snow. His arms wrapped around my waist, throwing me over his shoulder as my hand with more snow found its way down the back of his shirt.

“Shit! I can’t believe you did that!”

The warmth of the house hit me like humidity hits you coming out of an air-conditioned building in the summer. In a blur, my back landed on the sofa and his fingers dug into my ribs, right at that spot where I’d always been ticklish. He pinned one of my hands over my head while I squirmed and laughed. It didn’t take long for him to pin the second over my head and continue what he’d started until I couldn’t breathe. 

“What do you say?”

“More?” Yeah, I knew what he wanted, but I’d never been one to give in easily. His fingers dug in harder while Daphne, now wide awake from the commotion, barked incessantly by my ear. “Okay! I give up. Please stop!”

As I panted, I realized my t-shirt had ridden up under my ribs, and Jensen was situated between my legs just so. Our eyes caught as his free hand landed on my bare thigh, sending a wave of heat through me, making me shiver.

There was no slow gradual dip of his head. Instead, his lips devoured mine as his tongue plunged to take possession. A whimper bubbled from my throat as I clenched his hips between my legs. He was already hot and hard and pressing against that place that already throbbed and insisted upon relief.

His hands released mine and cool air hit my breast as he released my lips. When he latched on to my breast, I shook myself. What was I doing? He lightly bit my nipple, and that ache jolted. I pushed Jensen’s shoulders.

“No.”

“What?” he said, panting.

I jerked my shirt down and crossed my arms over my chest. “I heard Kimberly at the ice rink the other night. The two of you might not be exclusive but it’s not fair to her. We also can’t just fuck whenever we feel like it. We aren’t together anymore.”

I scooted to the other side of the sectional and took a large gulp of wine. Not that it would help. I couldn’t look at him, so instead, I examined tonight’s handiwork while Daphne, disappointed the entertainment was over, plopped back down in her bed. “It’s interesting that you have Christmas lights but no artificial tree or ornaments?”

My eyes might have been glued to the tree, but his eyes were on me. I didn’t have to look at him to know, my body prickled under his steady gaze. “I have a couple of ornaments in a box upstairs, but no, I don’t have a tree.” Out of the corner of my eye, he did that awkward scratch thing he did to the back of his head. “When I got married, I thought we’d have one so I bought lights.”

I covered my mouth to keep from spitting my red wine all over his new furniture. “You were married?” I squeaked like an idiot.

If you haven’t read It’s Always Been You and Me, it’s available on Kindle, paperback, and KU!

Can you believe it’s December already? It seems like just yesterday we were taking down our stockings from last year’s celebration. We all could always use more Christmas spirit, so Cristy Hulsz has put together an anthology of Christmas short stories in English and Spanish for everyone this year because they’re FREE! Yup! Free! Just click on the link below and download your PDF of the anthology in your choice of language. If you want, you can email it to your Kindle email and read it on your Kindle. Easy peasy!

And after you’re finished reading Cristy’s anthology, don’t forget that I have three fun holiday offerings as well! All on Kindle, KU, paperback, and audiobook!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Hi there! I hope everyone in the US had an amazing Thanksgiving, and now we have some giveaway winners to make the holiday season even more special.

Congratulations to those who won on this website:

DarcyBennet and EvaE

And Congratulations to the three who won from the Austen Variations giveaway:

Bambi, Mary Gerlach, and Paige Hale

Congratulations again and Happy Listening!

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