Grab a bowl of candy (come on, I know you bought extra for yourself), pull up a chair and read an excerpt from UNDERDEAD. Called "gloriously creative and funny", UNDERDEAD is a cozy vampire mystery about a science teacher who is bitten by an inept vampire and becomes underdead--all the problems of being a vampire, none of the perks. Today I'm posting the rest of chapter one. To read the previous four pages (not really four, but I fudged a little here since you can't just flip the page in the middle of a paragraph posted on a blog, can you?), find them archived here on the right, or got to my website http://www.lizjasper.com/ and read the first chapter in its entirety.



Here's UNDERDEAD, Chapter 1, Page 5:



Becky jiggled the empty margarita pitcher. “Now stop yer stalling and go get us another. And while you’re there, talk to the man. No, wait. You’ll chicken out. I'm going with you.”


“Oh, no, what are you doing?” I squeaked as she pulled me up from the table. Roger sent us an irritated frown and I responded with the look all females possess instinctively, the one that says “ladies’ room”. He cleared his throat and turned away. Unfortunately now I was committed, at least to a trip to the bathroom.


“If you think I’m going to just march up to him and talk to him, you’re wrong,” I said in Becky’s ear as she propelled me out of the alcove. Becky was more forward with men than I was. A lot more forward.


To my relief—and maybe just a tiny bit of disappointment—the man in black had disappeared. This didn’t stop Becky. She took an iron grip on my arm and steered us toward the bar through the dense band of people who sat five and six around tiny tables near the dance floor. When we reached the packed bar area, its wooden floor already tacky with spilled drinks, she paused and looked around. “Oh good, he’s right over there.”


My backbone deserted me. She gave my arm another tug, but I dug in my heels. “I don’t think so,” I said.


“Don’t worry.” She spoke soothingly, as to a nervous dog, “We’re just going to the bar for another pitcher. And when we get near him, I’ll just give you a little push into him.” “Becky, don’t you dare! That is so high school.”


“Shhh.” She dropped behind me and fastened her fingers lightly on my waist.I stopped and turned around to face her. “I mean it, Becky, don’t you dare.”


She gave a disappointed sigh. “Spoilsport. All right. Fine. Scout’s honor.” She held up her hands in a mixed gesture of supplication and Scout salute.


I sighed. “I will talk to him later, Becky. I promise. The second Roger’s gone, okay? I’m not that stupid.”


“All right, all right.”


“Now, can we go back to the table?”


Her dark eyebrows disappeared up under her spiky red bangs. “Of course not. We have to get that pitcher while we’re here, or Hot Man will think you came over just to get a closer look.”


“Oh, for crying out loud.”


“C’mon.” She pushed me in the direction of the bar, holding on to me as if I might do a bunk. Which I would have, had we not been boxed in by the crowd.


I ignored the man in black and fixed my attention on a random point behind the bar. It wasn’t any sort of flirtatious coyness—I was legitimately embarrassed. I mean he had caught us staring at him, and now we were heading in his direction like lovesick groupies. Well, to the bar, really, but he didn’t know that. As we were even with him, I felt Becky’s hand leave my waist to tug my arm. Furious, I ignored her and pushed forward. She gave my arm another, stronger tug. As I half turned to tell her to knock it off, I was pulled off balance and spun around.


But instead of frowning down into Becky’s mischievous brown eyes, I was glaring at a man’s chest. A very nicely built man’s chest. I tilted my head up and met blue eyes, the blue of the night sky just before the sun totally disappears.


The censure for Becky died on my lips as I got lost a second time staring at the hot man.


His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners, and he broke the fraught silence with a simple hello. His voice was low and gravelly with an accent I couldn’t quite place. It made my knees weak. I’ve always been a sucker for an accent. Oh, no. I was definitely in for some trouble with this one.



Underdead is available now from http://www.cerridwenpress.com/.


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!


--Liz

This bit of Halloween lore is from the Pumpkin Nook, an online souce of information for all your pumpkin needs:

The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O'Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O'Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree.

Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.
Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his "Jack O'Lantern".

On all Hallow's eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O'Lanterns. In the 1800's a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns.

Sinners Opera

Posted by Nightingale | 1:53 PM | 3 comments »




An excerpt: What do you think the narrator is? Just curious.

Chapter 1 – Sangreal
Charleston, South Carolina, May 29th


"Dear Lord," a woman called to heaven, "Such a young man. So near death. What could have happened to you?"



My body was one long ache, a hot core throbbing in my chest. Wet and shivering cold, I craved sleep. A heartbeat underscored the velvety texture and slow cadence of her voice, the pauses for breath filled by the hiss of rain. I drifted on the ebb and flow of pain until someone shook me gently.

Sirens wailed to a crash of thunder. Somewhere, someone was in trouble.

Reluctantly, I opened my eyes, blinking to focus as indistinct shapes materialized out of fog. Rainbow angels battled demons in a stained glass window. Marble statues leered at me from the shadows. An ornate crucifix threw its shadow on the ebony saint bent over me. Her countenance was round and full, no sharp angles, a broad nose and plump lips. The glistening black eyes studying me brimmed with pity.

"You’re awake.” A smile trembled on her lips. "Thank you, Jesus."

She seemed to be in close communication with the man on the cross. My upper body rested on her lap, my legs stretched out on a cold floor. Lush breasts cradled my head. I was tempted to turn my face into the warm softness but that might get a man slapped. Her red blouse smelled of baking bread, the tiny pearl buttons mesmerizing.

"I do declare you had me worried you been so still like.” Her thick dialect called to me from the past but I didn't know if it was yesterday or years ago.

I don’t know who I am. Frowning, I tried to remember, but she gave a tentative smile. I started to smile back at her but the scent of fear distracted me. My clothes reeked of fear.
Yet in the same instant, another fragrance—dusky red and delicious—sent a wonderful shiver through me. The rich aroma of her blood appealed to me on a level I didn’t understand. The sensation was raw hunger mingled with passion, yet more, much more. Beyond the blood-scent, the musk of old wood and incense, the perfume of religion, summoned a vision of a blonde boy in black velvet and white lace kneeling at an altar. As I grasped at memory, like a wave retreating from the shore, something important slipped away from me.

The woman gazed down at me with such compassion, I wanted to touch her, tell her how much...how very much...I ached to kiss her, but when I tried to lift my hand nothing happened. Terrified, I glanced at my hands. The bleached fingers curled into dead claws. The hands once considered magic and beautiful were horrible.

Panic drew my knees toward my chest. "Oh God, my hands can't be paralyzed."

The blow of that realization was physical, knocking the breath from me. If I'd been struck blind even deaf, I could still play but if my hands were paralyzed—I was lost. Music was my most beloved mistress. My piano alone stood between madness and me. Caressing her ivory breast had warmed the endless lonely nights.

My companion shook her head, refusing to meet my wild-eyed gaze. “Shush now, you going to be all right. Mother Superior’s gone to call for help.”

“Mother Superior? A nun? You’re not a nun.” My voice rose sharp, angry. “And don't lie to me. I’m not bloody well all right.”

“I come help the sisters out. I might be one some day.” She pouted her full lips.

Why didn’t she shut up? Didn’t she see the tears scalding my eyes? No one, since I'd been that boy in velvets and lace, had seen me cry. Swallowing convulsively, I closed my eyes tight against the shameful tears. Her pity mortified me. The other feelings she excited, I simply couldn't deal with now. She gave me a gentle shake, and I remembered to breathe but refused to open my eyes. I couldn’t bear the sight or the scent of her.

Like an internal map, an anatomical image of flesh, muscles and veins spread across my eyelids. Hours, days, years might have passed but it was probably only a moment or two. Tingling needled my numb arms, swept into my fingertips, relaxing the ugly claws. Breath held, afraid to hope, I willed my right hand to rise, felt the sensation of movement and opened my eyes. The hand lifted, hovered, flopped on my stomach. Dried blood crusted a jagged hole in my coat. Fresh blood warmed the center of the wound.

Ah, another shade of the dusky red fragrance. My blood possessed a wild bouquet, almost feral, and completely different from the woman's blood.

By Beth Trissel

CHAPTER ONE

August 1780, Low Country, South Carolina


Dreadful screeching, like the cries of an enraged cat, tore through the muggy night and into Meriwether’s chamber.


She sat bolt upright in bed. “Demented owl,” she muttered and pushed back the short lengths of hair clinging to her forehead. Her shift was also damp from tossing. An indefinable restlessness drove her as a ship before the wind.


The clock downstairs struck two.


Meriwether stiffened at the echo of hooves on the cobblestones in the yard beneath her window. What business could anyone possibly have to conduct at this unearthly hour? Perhaps it was a courier, and perhaps he’d come before. Images of phantom horses from past nights cantered through her mind. She had thought them dreams sprung from fever, but she was much better now and wide awake.


The sound of hooves stopped and the horse snorted.


She parted the muslin curtain around her canopied bed and slid her feet to the carpet. A great golden moon bathed the room in a pearly sheen. She crept to the partly open glass--gasping as the screech owl flew at her from the live oak outside the window. Round yellow eyes stared into hers for a split second before the bird veered off into the darkness.


Meriwether breathed in sharply. The sweetness of jasmine wafted from the trellised vine as she peered down through moss-draped branches. The milky light streamed over the two men standing in the yard, their heads bent in conversation.


One man in a dark coat and black tricorn held the reins of a bay horse. Neither he nor his mount was familiar, but she knew the other gentleman well. Several inches taller than the stranger, he was simply dressed in a white shirt tucked into breeches that molded to his long legs and met his riding boots. Shadows hid his face and the chestnut hair pulled back at his neck, but there was no mistaking Jeremiah Jordan, master of Pleasant Grove and Meriwether’s guardian these past few months. Elegance cloaked him like a mantle.


Her heart quickened at the sight of Jeremiah, rarer and rarer these days. What wouldn’t she give to have him all to herself for even one single hour? That seemed as impossible as an end to this confounded war. Chest fluttering, she knelt at the window to better overhear their low voices.


“Men are gathering,” floated up to her from the stranger.


Her stomach knotted in tight twists. Was this nocturnal visit prearranged? Worse--had Jeremiah joined the Patriots? Her Loyalist sympathies recoiled at the awful possibility.


He’d never voiced any open fervor for the rebel cause. The neighbors thought him still too distraught over his wife Rachel’s death to take an active role in the war, but doubts gnawed at Meriwether. She had seen the flash of anger in Jeremiah’s blue eyes whenever British Lieutenant Major Tarleton’s name was mentioned. Perhaps it was just the effect ‘Bloody Ban’ had on any decent person, but Meriwether suspected far more lay beneath Jeremiah’s outward reserve than he’d ever revealed.


Lacy white clouds feathered the moon as she leaned out the window for a better look at the two men. Jeremiah glanced around the yard then passed what looked like a leather pouch into the stranger’s hand. She glimpsed a flap in the center and a shoulder strap like the pouch that couriers used.


“The usual place,” reached her straining ears.


Jeremiah lifted his head and stared up at Meriwether’s chamber. She sprang to her feet stumbling back. What would he say if he knew she spied on him?


Her thoughts flew like quail flushed from cover. Were his frequent absences from home truly plantation business or far more dangerous errands? With Charles Town fallen to the British and the entire Southern Garrison captured, South Carolina was rapidly becoming a crown stronghold. If Jeremiah were mixed up in this rebellion, he courted disaster.


Remaining in her chamber wouldn’t answer any questions. If she slipped down the back stairs and edged closer to the yard, she might learn more. Eavesdropping on the man who’d graciously taken her in after her father’s death smacked of disloyalty, but how else was she to discover the truth?


She hesitated only for an instant. She wasn’t Captain Steele’s daughter for nothing. Mettle accompanied the name.


Arms outstretched, she felt her way in the darkness around the clothespress and washstand, and then opened the door and tiptoed from her room out into the hall. The eerie sensation of unseen eyes sent prickles down her spine as she stole along the dim corridor. Perhaps it was the portraits of Jeremiah’s ancestors watching from the walls or perhaps even someone else, someone gone, yet not gone. She’d had this uncanny feeling before. It made her want to run outside, away from this disturbing presence.


Meriwether sped past the room where Jeremiah’s elderly aunt, Miss Anna, slept--stubbing her bare foot on the low table crouched in the blackness like a jungle cat.

“Ouch!” she cried softly and rubbed her throbbing toe, expecting footfalls on the steps.


No one came. Miss Anna could slumber through howling wolves. One clumsy young woman would not disturb her.

Wishing she’d worn her shoes, Meriwether limped to the landing. Moonlight pouring through the recessed window at the top of the stairs lit the glassy gaze of the eight point buck mounted above her. She froze, her eyes riveted on the deer’s head. A snake--perhaps venomous--wound around the antlers. Meriwether was no coward, but she’d rather face a Legion dragoon with a bayonet than this serpent. It must have slithered in through the open window.


Strangling a cry, she bolted past the writhing mass and down the steps. Let the boards creak beneath her feet. She hit the ground floor at a run and flung open the door. She flew outside, nearly forgetting why she’d come in her haste. Breathing hard, she halted in the archway.


Calm yourself, she admonished, and quietly closed the door behind her. Flattened against it, she ran her eyes over the yard. Both men were conspicuous only by their absence. Not surprising. She’d unwittingly given them warning. They might have ducked into the stable or carriage house, or melted away into the night, spiriting the horse with them.

Locusts droned, and crickets chirped as she poised in the entryway. Horses nickered from the pasture. Nothing more.


What now? She couldn’t go back inside with that snake dangling there and had nowhere else to go except the kitchen, a short distance from the manor house. Keith Daws, Jeremiah’s right hand man, and his family slept inside its stone walls. Jeremiah and Keith Daws had been friends ever since she remembered, rare between an Englishman and a black man.


Meriwether didn’t want to risk waking any of the Daws. Keith’s oldest son, York, was a light sleeper and would be more than a little curious to discover her wandering shoeless in her nightdress. Better to remain as she was than to try and find her way to the front of the house in the dark.


She sank down in the doorway, knees drawn up, feet tucked under the hem. No serpent was sliding across her bare toes. It was childish, perhaps, but couldn’t be helped. She buried her head in her arms. What a farce she’d made of spying.


“Ah, Papa,” she whispered, imagining his hearty chuckle and badly wishing he were still alive. He’d been her compass. She couldn’t find her way without him and her twin brother, Bobby, off fighting for the crown.


“Are you staying the night out here, Miss Steele?”


Meriwether jerked up her head, her heart in her throat. Jeremiah stood at the base of the brick steps that led up to her perch.


“Mister Jordan! You move like a ghost.”


“You rather resemble one in that shift, dear heart.”


Moonbeams silvered his well-muscled figure in the full sleeved shirt and thigh hugging breeches. She drank in every glorious inch. The magical light hinted at his penetrating eyes and aristocratic, almost haughty nose softened by his sensuous mouth. It could be a hard mouth when he was angry, which wasn’t often and never with her; at least, not yet.


Brown whiskers roughened his chin when he didn’t shave. The stubble was there now, masking the thin white scar at his jaw. A narrow ribbon also coursed through his left eyebrow, both stemming from some disagreement involving swords. Meriwether wasn’t privy to the details. Jeremiah kept his own counsel in most matters, but she knew every line and contour of his face; if only she knew the inner workings of his heart.


“Whatever are you doing curled in the doorway?”


She gave the first excuse she could think of. It was partly true, at least. “A huge snake--


“Where?”


“Wrapped around the stag’s head.”


“And why were you keeping company with that old boy?” he asked, amusement hinting in his mellow voice.


“Lacked any better society, I suppose,” she said, calmer now and glad she hadn’t aroused his suspicion.


Jeremiah chuckled. “Poor girl. I didn’t realize you were in such want of company.”


“I’m not normally. Not at this hour, anyway.”


“I was just about to remark on the time.”


“Such a lovely moon,” she ventured.


“Any reason you chose this particular hour to view it?”


“Any particular reason you’re still up?” she parried, as though he would tell her the truth.


“To share this splendid orb with you, fair lady.”


She beckoned to him. “Then come, sir. Join me.”


“I’d be delighted.” He climbed the stairs. “Is this where you’re entertaining?”


“It is.”


“A fine choice.” He sat down, squeezing his solid warmth into the space between her and the door frame.


The palpable strength of this man seared through her. A cloud of butterflies fluttered in her chest, and it was impossible to breathe normally while pressed arm to arm and thigh to thigh against him. Even his scent intoxicated her, his unique masculinity, which mingled with the fragrance of French milled soap. Although he was fourteen years older than she, her feelings for him were not at all those of a little sister. She ached with the hope that his regard wasn’t that of an older brother.


“Are you quite comfortable, Miss Steele?”


She stammered, “Quite. Always the gentleman.”


“Not always. A gentleman wouldn’t be seated here with you like this.”


“Then he would miss the sky. So brilliant tonight.”


“Indeed he would, and a great deal more.”


Meriwether didn’t know how to reply to the wistfulness in his voice for fear she’d break the spell. She longed for some declaration of deeper affection from him, but he said nothing else. He was so near, and yet…night noises scented with the spiciness of herbs from the kitchen garden filled the silence as she waited, yearning to close the gap between them.


Finally, he spoke. “When you were a little girl, I used to lift you up to touch the stars.”


She envisioned the young man and the child upraised to dizzying heights. “I remember.”


“How you laughed and reached out your arms. You really thought I could raise you up to the heavens.”


“I’m still waiting, Mister Jordan,” she said softly.


He lifted his hand and smoothed her cheek. “Don’t.”


She trembled at this light touch. “I can’t help myself.”


Heaviness edged his reply. “Some things aren’t meant to be, Meriwether.”

****

Enemy of the King, my version of The Patriot, is coming to the Wild Rose Press later in 2008!

Enemy of the King has finaled in multiple contests including The Emily. For more on this and my other works, please visit me at www.bethtrissel.com

Oh, and the snake incident is true. It happened to me in our old Virginia family home.


By Beth Trissel

OCTOBER

A cold autumn wind blew as my younger daughter, Elise, and I scurried about the garden in the last of the light to gather in our treasures. She heaped great orange pumpkins into the wheelbarrow and picked the rest of her pink and blue Indian corn. Beams of sun touched the crimson cockscomb flowers just coming into full bloom, an antiquated variety that I seeded late and coaxed through our wet summer.
The vibrant color of the plumes stood out against the grayish black clouds like a king’s velvet robes. This wealth will quickly dwindle if the temperatures dip too low tonight. The weather is quite cool here today. Forecasters are calling for the chance of frost tonight, but only if the gray blanket covering the sky clears and bright cold stars come out. Then maybe Jack Frost’s chill breath will silver the hoary earth.
I must get myself to the garden and pick the last of the orange persimmon tomatoes--truly the most luscious variety in the world--and the heirloom lima beans, called Christmas limas. These beans are mottled a lovely wine color and very tasty. Perhaps I can get our dog, Mia, to help me. But I doubt it. She takes no interest in vacuuming or dusting either, just wants to know when its time to eat.
I have this wild hope in the back of my mind that maybe I will wake up one day and find the house ordered and gleaming, all put to rights while I slept. I suspect this delusion comes from my having read The Elves and the Shoemaker too often, and other fairy tales. I have also seen too many Disney movies.


Today is the final day of voting in the first round of Romantic Times and Dorchester Publishing's American Title Contest.

Here is a short excerpt from my story The Magic Knot, one of the ten finalists. If you like the excerpt, I'd love your vote!
Chapter One

Roughly translated, the slogan on Niall O’Connor’s family crest read: ‘We need all the help the gods can give us.’ As usual, he expected the gods would decide he could cope on his own.

He cut his motorcycle engine, then stared at the sky behind the druid’s rambling granite manor house that perched on the Cornish cliffs. The setting sun cast a fiery line along the horizon between the sky and steely Atlantic Ocean. Stacks of clouds rolled and billowed, bruised purple by the brewing storm.

The air elementals were disturbed. Niall gave a wry smile. Just for a change he could expect trouble.

While he removed his helmet, Trevelion Manor’s front door creaked open.

Tall and dark as a twilight shadow, Nightshade, the vampiric fairy that worked for the druid, emerged and spread his wings to block the doorway. The fading light gleamed off the soft sheen of oil varnishing his sculpted chest muscles. He hooked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans and grinned. “Hello, Irish. Wish I could say it’s a pleasure to see you.”

Clenching his fists as he walked, Niall felt the reassuring pressure of the crystal blades strapped to his wrists. Nightshade was usually all talk, but lately there had been a hint of desperation in the nightstalker’s eyes.

Niall halted a few feet from the door and patted the pocket of his leather flight jacket containing the check. “I’m after talking business with Tristan. You going to let me in?”

The vampiric fairy curled his top lip revealing needle sharp fangs, then leaned closer, his black hair slithering across Niall’s arm. “You smell good, Irish. I’ve a hankering for Tuatha Dé Danaan with a seasoning of leprechaun.”

For more information on my writing please visit:

Irish Soda Bread

Posted by Helen Scott Taylor | 2:06 PM | , , | 1 comments »

One of the traditional Irish foods I enjoy on my trips to Ireland is Soda Bread covered in lashings of Irish butter. I have to admit, I am not a very skilled or, dare I say, enthusiastic cook. My darling daughter is, lucky for me, both skilled in the kitchen and eager to help, so she prepares most of our family meals.

This recipe for Soda Bread is quick and simple. One even I can manage to prepare!

Ingredients:

500g wheat flour (mix white and whole-meal according to taste)
500ml buttermilk
1.5 teasp. salt
1.5 teasp. baking soda

Preparation:
1. Mix all the ingredients together.
2. Butter a rectangular bread-tin.
3. Place dough into the tin.
4. Bake at 180 C for 45-55 minutes. Check if done by piercing loaf with a clean dry knife. If it comes out dry, the bread is cooked.



Excerpt:

What would she call him? Doctor Beauchamp or Count de Marancourt? Maybe simply Olivier? Meredith Spaulding snorted. She had secretly called him mon amour for a whole year. The first French words she’d wanted to learn before she woke up to the cold reality—dreams never came true, at least not in her lonely life.
“This way, Dr. Spaulding.” The middle-aged nurse motioned her to follow through a maze of corridors. “Please, note the signs as we go by. Our hospital, L’ Hôpital de la Santé, is so big, one of the largest in France.” The nurse raised her head with pride.
Probably the oldest too. Meredith registered the fissures in the walls and the uneven tiles on the floor. As they reached a double door marked Operations, she swallowed, fingering the strap of her purse. This was the place where Olivier spent his days and often his nights. A place where she would face a new kind of challenge when she started sharing his busy schedule to train with the best surgeon while keeping her heart locked to his charismatic charm. Meredith fiddled with the clean scrubs in her hand, suddenly impatient to start her assignment. Her career was her only anchor now, a safe haven from emotional bruises and heartaches.
“The salle d’operation is through there.” The woman pointed to an exit on the other side of the room. Meredith changed into the scrubs, tucked her hair under a cap, and stood at the sink, scrubbing, her eyes fixed on the door of the surgical prep room she expected to burst open any time. Would he come to scrub next to her or was he already in the OR?
She bit her thumb nail and immediately pulled it out of her mouth. Cripes, she’d just scrubbed. Stifling a curse, she reached for a new kit and redid her washing. Would he kiss her three times the way he kissed the pretty nurses in Boston? Maybe he’d bow and brush the back of her hand with his luscious mouth as she’d seen him greet Dr. Burke, the pathology specialist he’d taken out to dinner.
Who cared? She wasn’t about to succumb to his charms again. Her advisor at Harvard had insisted Dr. Beauchamp offered his exchanged residents more hands-on experience than she’d ever find in any other hospital. She only wanted to share his technical expertise, and maybe…maybe prove to herself she didn’t give a fig about him anymore. Be honest. That was the secret reason that had compelled you to study his program and give it preference.
Meredith tortured her bottom lip. More importantly, would he recognize her?
When she felt a stream of water trickling down her thigh, she jerked back and patted her pants. Wet?
Cripes, she’d forgotten the faucet was on. It had flooded the countertop around the sink. A lousy way for a Harvard med school graduate to make a good impression. She opened the cabinet underneath the sink and searched for a big towel to dry the pond she’d created.
“On peut vous aider?”
Meredith jumped back at the sound of the baritone voice addressing her posterior and bumped her head. “Huh-oh. No.” This wasn’t her ideal scenario for her professional reunion with Olivier.
“Can I help you?” he translated after hearing her accent.
“It’s okay.” Without turning toward him, she straightened and mopped the countertop with a vengeance, her hands shaking.
“Are you one of my exchange residents?” She cringed at the laughing voice. Her heart beating like an out-of-control drum, she nodded. How could she face her new boss now? She dipped her head lower, wanting to drown in the pond. Too late. She’d already dried up every drop of water.
“You can stop shining the Formica.”
Her cheeks heating up, she heard his chuckle and felt his imposing presence just behind her stiffened back. She looked at her hands and realized she’d touched the cabinets. With a sigh of exasperation, she scrubbed for the third time. Determined not to contaminate them again before surgery, she held her forearms up, hands open. Why did she have to mess up their first meeting after rehearsing it a hundred times? She felt his fingers on her shoulders. He turned her toward him. “Tell me your name, please.” His voice radiated charisma and power.
Golden sparks danced in his green eyes as his gaze scanned her face, skimmed her cheeks and mouth, and bore into her soul. He shot an eyebrow up. Her heart plummeted to her toes. He was more stunning than she remembered, more handsome than in her dreams—or her nightmares. She noticed the dark, silky curls at his nape escaping from the billowy cap. Blinking, she averted her gaze.
He doesn’t recognize me.
Her throat constricted, she stood in front of him like a student in front of her teacher. At Harvard, the other students would have laughed at her audacity to toss her cap so high. Imagine, plain Meredith Rose Spaulding, the library nerd, trying to catch the gorgeous Dr. Beauchamp, the hot topic of delectable gossip. She’d been so used to coping with her classmates’ nastiness at the time.
Had he ever really looked at her?
And now I’ve changed. It had taken her forever to stop holing up away from prospective friends and as many months to lose her extra fat. She was different now. Slim and pretty. Even attractive, according to her colleagues. And definitely less gullible.
Maybe it was a good thing he didn’t recognize her as the frump from the past. She counted to three, trying to regulate her breathing, and raised her chin, pleased that she had a chance to start afresh with him. “I’m Meredith Spaulding. I’m sorry about the mess I made.”

Mona Risk

Belle

Posted by Sandra Cox | 10:22 PM | , | 1 comments »


I have six cats. It didn't start that way. I had one cat for years and he and I were happy with the status quo. Then I got into rescue and my numbers grew. I took Belle from a local shelter with every intention of adopting her out. And if she'd had interest shown in her soon enough, I would have done exactly that, but by the time the apps started coming in my goose was cooked. She had wormed her way into my heart and there was no going back.
Belle harasses the other cats mercilessly but she's smart enough to suck up to her human mom. She gives me kisses everyday by rubbing her face against mine and when she talks she chirps like a cricket. At night she curls up and sleeps in the curve of my arm. Belle has been with me for two years now and I'm looking forward to having her for many more.
Do you have a cat story you'd like to share? Either leave it in the comments or send it to sandracox1@gmail.com

Forever Love/ The Demon Cat

Posted by Mary Marvella | 11:16 PM | 1 comments »

A black cat for Halloween.The rest is on my website at www.MaryMarvella.com

Forever, Love

Prologue

Maybe Hell would have been better than this non-existence. Here there was neither dark nor light, neither cold nor heat, only gray, swirling fog. He had been excluded from life and death, exiled, without the human contact he needed to feel alive.

Here he knew neither Heaven, nor Hell. He did not deserve to be in Heaven. Nor had he earned eternal damnation. Almost anything would be better than two hundred years of frustration and nothingness with no end in sight.

Sorry, I didn’t mean it. Lord, I didn’t mean it. Hell is forever. This state of limbo would finally end someday, if he could only make people understand why he appeared as he did, what he was trying to do. He had to keep trying to reach Sabrina. She was his chance for salvation. He had no choice.





Chapter One

“Granny, I saw the Demon Cat last night.” Sabrina Louise Boyd paced the bright, spacious old kitchen. Flour sack print curtains stirred through open windows bringing fragrances of honeysuckle and wild flowers with the warm, late spring night air. She stopped to clear plates from the scarred plank table.

Granny Pearl rose to help. “Where’d you see him?“ The tiny woman patted Sabrina’s shoulder. Granny had moved in with Sabrina’s parents to tend the children, just as she had tended

Sabrina’s mother as a child. “Tell Granny everything.”

“I left the hospital after my shift, and stopped in the parking lot to look up at the stars. I was thinking about Mama and Daddy looking down at me. I still miss them so much it hurts.” Sabrina urged Granny back to her seat at the table and refilled her iced tea glass.

“I know Baby, I miss them, too.” Granny’s gnarled fingers stroked Sabrina’s hand. She lifted her glass, still looking into Sabrina’s eyes, sipping her tea.

It was eerie. “You know how you can feel someone watching you?” Sabrina rubbed her arms, shivering at the memory of slanted, fiery green eyes staring at her.

“And you just see’d that black devil? How did he look?”

Sabrina sat across from the old woman, watching the back and forth movement of the Butler Funeral Home paper fan on a stick. Granny didn’t pause, even for a second while she sipped.

“At first I saw nothing unusual, then he appeared from the shadows, this huge black cat. He strolled up to me, all silent, like he wanted something.“ She could barely breathe. “He didn’t look quite solid. Neither of us made a sound. He just stared at me. Then he vanished into the dark.”

“Did he touch you, baby?” Granny frowned, her agitation evident as the pace of her fan sped up.

“No, and I don’t think I could have touched him. He was almost like a ghost or a spirit, but he acted like he wanted to tell me something. I didn’t know what to do. What if I see him again? Should I try to talk to him.”

“Nothin’ you can do, child.” Granny Pearl shook her head, still stirring the air with her fanning. The red bandanna she favored had allowed wisps of stiff, gray hair to peek around its edges. “It ain’t up to you, honey lamb.” Her small hands touched Sabrina’s. “When that cat shows hisself somebody dies. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s been forever. Nobody gonna to change it.”

“I don’t believe there’s nothing we can do. I‘ll find a way to stop him.” Fear threatened to choke Sabrina, but she spoke around the ache in her throat.

Granny’s health was fair, but at her age she could be easy prey to the evil cat. “There’s got to be a way to find which of us he's targeted.”

She helped Granny Pearl from the kitchen to her favorite living room chair. Granny smoothed her gnarled hand over the crocheted doily on the faded chair arm. Like the plank table, it was old but treasured.

“I won’t let it happen.” Sabrina clinched her fists together so hard they ached. There was nothing scientific about the way fear griped her insides now. As a nurse, she realized there were things science couldn’t explain. Superstition influenced her life as much as it did anyone else’s around this part of south Georgia.

Then she leaned over to hug granny. She’d fight the devil himself to save this ancient woman. No one loved her more than Granny Pearl and there was no one Sabrina loved more.

“Don’t know, baby, don’t ...” The small grizzled head nodded as Granny drifted off to sleep. She’d done that a lot lately. When evening came she was worn out. Granny's going to have to see Doctor Joseph soon. I'll make the appointment and I'll take her to his office, even if I have to drag her there.

For two weeks the flu epidemic had been running them ragged. The old and the young suffered the most. There were days when Joe was the only reason Sabrina could work so hard at the hospital. When she thought she would drop, Joe challenged her to work a little more. If he could work extra shifts, so could she.

Though they’d known each other forever, something changed after Sabrina became a nurse. Doctor Joe began to treat her as an adult instead of the bratty twelve-year old girl who'd followed him around in another lifetime, looking moon-eyed at the seventeen-year old jock.
Since he'd returned home from his residency in the Medical Center in Macon to work at their small community hospital, he’d teased her with his sexy smile since then.

Sabrina had suffered during her teen years as her crush on him had grown. She'd followed him around and fantasized about kissing him, believing one day he’d realize he loved her and they would be together forever.
Then he’d become engaged to her older cousin, Charlotte while they were in college, killing a young girl's hopes. For years since Charlotte’s death, Sabrina had comforted the man she'd once wanted for herself, the man she had loved once upon another lifetime.

Well, he’d finally asked her out today, but she hadn’t accepted his offhand invitation. He was probably just being nice inviting her to hospital Confederate Memorial Day picnic. She’d be there like everyone else in town.
Being in the room with him was paradise and torture. How could she compete with a ghost, especially one whose blond beauty had made her the town princess and the envy of a gawky teenager? What would Granny think about Joe’s interest?

Sabrina pulled a blue and yellow crocheted afghan over the tiny lady who had been her salvation since a boating accident had claimed the lives of her parents and her brothers and sisters. That fateful day she’d been sick and stayed home with Granny Pearl.

She stroked the wrinkled, caramel-skinned face, afraid she would lose her soon. No one knew Pearl Edwards’ birth date but she’d lived through a world war, losing her husband to pneumonia and her son in World War II. An aunt and uncle had provided food and shelter, and even a college education for Sabrina, the orphaned relative. Of course the money had come from her parents’ life insurance. Since then, Granny Pearl had given her love and devotion. No real grandmother could have loved her more. Nor could she have loved a grandmother by blood more than she loved this little black woman. ##

The black cat sat on the grass under an oak tree, watching Sabrina’s front porch. The tree had been there as long as he had been around. A smaller house had actually stood here when he’d lived.

He had not meant to frighten when he had appeared her earlier. At first he had not realized he had taken his cat form. He had just needed to be near her. But she had seen him. For a second she had seemed to know him and he had felt the excitement of her recognition. But that feeling had been so brief it had been more than he wanted to feel. He had heard her heart beat a painful tattoo and smelled her fear. That was not possible. He was not alive to hear or smell or feel anything.

Temptation urged him to follow her inside and watch her cooking, eating, sleeping. He could listen to her tonight without her knowledge. She would not see his spirit form. He wandered the streets instead, marveling at the changes he had seen over the centuries. Many he did not understand. A few structures from his lifetime had survived. Homesick for the world he had left behind so long ago, he missed what he could never have again.
##
Doctor Joe held a purple dinosaur tongue depressor toward the six-year old tracing the Barney figures on his lab coat. “If you open your mouth wide and say ah-h-h-h real loud I’ll tell ya mama to get you a big ole ice cream cone. Can you that for me, Caleb?”

“Two scoops?” The boy tilted his head at the doctor and bargained with his endearing lisp.

“Two scoops and dipped,” Doc countered.

“Double dipped?” The snaggle-tooth trader squinted. He stopped tracing and put his chubby finger on his lower lip.

“Yes, if you do it now.” Caleb opened wide and a-h-h-h-ed so loudly he gagged on the intruding stick. Joe swung the brave child from the examination table and settled him on his lap. With the patient on his knees Joe wheeled his rolling stool to face the waiting mother.

“Tonsils gotta come out so the sore throats will go away. I’ll schedule surgery for day after tomorrow,” he told the mother who had watched him charm her son.

Turning the child so they could see eye-to-eye Joe was all doctor. “I’m giving ya mama some medicine that tastes like grape gum. She needs to see you take it so she won’t be scared. Mama’s are sissies, like girls, when it comes to taking medicine.”

The brave soldier looked skeptical at his mother.

“That would make me feel so much better,” she said.

Joe loved to reel the kids in. He spent an hour explaining about the surgery in kid-talk, which included lots of promised ice cream for Caleb.

The kid was smart and all boy. “Dr. Joe, will Nurse Sabrina be at the hospital when I have my operation?“

“Nurse Sabrina works at the hospital and I’ll let her know you’ll be there.” Joe grinned. “I’m sure she’ll want to look after you.”

“She makes me feel better when I break stuff.” He held up the tiny arm to show off his orange cast. “Or when I get sick and go to the ‘mergency.” He handed Joe a green marker.

Joe took the marker and signed the cast. “She makes me feel better, too.”

By the time the last patient left the clinic Joe felt drained. He removed the blue lab coat he wore when treating adults and tossed it aside. He sat at his desk and sipped cold stale coffee. At times like this he missed having a doctors’ lounge with plenty of doctors, justifying fresh coffee made every hour.

He leaned back in his worn chair, rested his eyes and thought about the lovely Sabrina. He’d finally found the courage to ask her out, but she’d said no. He could tell she liked him. The attraction was still there with a vengeance.

Every night since he’d returned home he had dreamed about her. He had dreamed of doing things to her that were probably still illegal in most states. His dream Sabrina had lounged on his bed, covered by a rainbow of silk scarves that hid without really hiding in their sheerness.

In his dream he had removed each scarf, using his teeth. She’d moaned with each love bite. His body was at full sexual alert as it often was when he saw Sabrina. Her lush body had been designed by the goddess of love and lust. He could smell her arousal, or at least he wanted to believe he could. She knew he was available now, he had made that clear. She knew he was available now, he had made that clear by inviting her to a public function where everyone else would know about his romantic interest in her, like declaring his intentions. He’d ask her again soon since she hadn’t said she would go with someone else.

Could she have turned shy while he was away becoming a doctor? He missed the cute middle school girl who had dogged his footsteps and flirted with him through her glasses, flashing her braces at him with grins of adoration.

He’d make the grown up Sabrina comfortable with him, then he’d make her want him. Then he’d make her moan, using the scarves he’d buy so he could live out his fantasies. His imagination could be such a tease.
##

Day after day Devon followed Sabrina to the hospital where she tended the sick, watching the way her touch calmed children and grown up people. But today she took the path to the road which lead to the Faith Baptist Church. Tall pines towered overhead. Though there were bushes and wildflowers on both sides of the road, they were sparse compared to foliage of Devon's time.

Each time he came here nostalgia over whelmed him. Melancholy weighed him down. Parts of the wooden structure were old and familiar, like the small chapel and its steeple. It had survived so much. He had watched generations of local people enter this place of worship. Though the cat did not come here, Devon needed to be near Sabrina in spirit.

During two centuries he had spent hours hovering above the crude benches, sometimes listening to ministers preach to congregations about the love of God and damnation for sinners. Sometimes he listened only to his memories. He and his father had helped cut the trees and make those benches. Then they had sat in the back of the sanctuary with his mother, the squaw.

She wasn’t full-blooded Indian since her father had been of French descent. Devon had looked more like an Indian than his mother had, but that had not kept her from being shunned as that dirty Indian to the people of the community. His white father’s money had been able to buy much – land, a big house, and pretty tings, even a piano shipped hundreds of miles, but not respectability for the Indian squaw. Centuries later Devon still felt the shame of not belonging.

Sabrina and an older woman talked in a small room in a newer addition to the church building, one he remembered seeing built before Sabrina’s parents had married. Devon didn’t listen to the women's words. They moved to a lower level. In a large, shelf-lined room the woman pointed out a stack of books that looked like old journals with years printed on their spines. He had not come here before. He had no reason before now.

There were small windows and ceiling lights that had not existed when he had lived. The candles and lamps he had used gave out softer light, though less of it.

Sabrina dusted and opened the book labeled “In the Year of Our Lord 1790-1794.” He and Lou had died in the year of Our Lord 1786 but she didn’t take that book. He had not become the cat yet. Looking over her shoulder he read about births and deaths and baptisms of people he had known. He recognized some of the deaths.
His family members were not listed. One entry mentioned that his family had stopped attending services because some members of the congregation had made them feel unwelcome. Had they even felt too shamed to sit in the back anymore? Such a sad thing, since his mother had loved church. How many people had he and Lou hurt by giving in to their love? He was older and had known the white daughter of a plantation owner was forbidden to him. He had not been able to make her stay away from him. He would have left her untouched if he had used his head instead of his heart.

Sabrina turned pages quickly but carefully, running her finger down each yellowed page as though looking for something specific. What could she hope to learn? She opened and scanned book after book. When the light from the window faded Sabrina stopped and called the woman who had helped her. The woman and Sabrina performed some ritual that made no sense to him. They put the open book on a glass, then covered the book. A light moved under the book. How strange. What caused the light to pass under the book? There was no candle.

The woman took the cover off, then put the book away.

This they repeated until they took down the fifth book, marked “In the years of Our Lord 1810-1814.

Devon followed her up the stairs. He wanted her to see the car again, but not tonight.

Sabrina couldn't believe she had found the reference to a sighting of a large black cat no one recognized. Some church members at the monthly business meeting said the devil had sent one of his evil spirits but others had suggested there must be a witch nearby. According to the minutes there had been much gossip but it had multiplied when a death followed two days later. According to the page she had the secretary copy, there had been a special meeting to discuss how to deal with the gossip and fear it caused. The minister and deacons had made a point of putting a stop to the unofficial community witch-hunt.
##

Two nights later Sabrina curled in an over-sized chair in her home office. Rubbing a shaky hand over her eyes, she opened another journal from the trunks she’d discovered in the attic last year. Last night she had pulled them from the glass-doored bookcase where she now kept them.

She sensed the presence of someone she couldn’t see. The short hairs on the nape of her neck stirred but the journal beckoned.

The gold leaf binding showed signs of use and age, as had the other five she’d found. The spidery script was difficult to read, the language from a time long ago. The eerie sensation Sabrina felt as she read the inscription on the first fragile, yellowed page stunned her.

To Sabrina Louise McKeown on her eighteenth birthday, on this 19th day of May, in the year of Our Lord, 1785.

Sabrina Louise. There had been another Sabrina Louise those many years ago. She couldn’t explain why, but she knew information to help her find the answer to the riddle of the black cat and the deaths he caused lay with her namesake. Could she count on Sabrina Louise, a relative she had never known existed, to help her rid the world of the menace? After all, they were both of the clan McKeown, the American branch.

With each turned page the eerie feeling that she’d come home assailed Sabrina. The writer had ended each entry with a scribbled S. Louise or Lou.

If Sabrina guessed right, there would be no need to return to the volumes of church records or the public library to pour over histories of Yerby County or news articles for the past two hundred years.
I need to refresh my memory. Strange thought.

But she had grown up with the stories of Demon Cat, the curse on the Yerby County McKeowns. Maybe it wasn’t such a strange thought, after all. Maybe the demon cat really had been around forever.
##


Unseen, Devon watched the auburn haired beauty. He hated being a cat. He wanted to touch her. Her scent made him ache in places he hadn’t felt for scores of years. He knew her skin would feel like warm silk. It would smell of violets and rosewater. Frustration filled him as he fought his needs, carnal and frightening in their intensity. She was called Sabrina, unlike his Lou. It was difficult to separate the two women in his thoughts. He had been alone so long.

Devon had made love to her in his thoughts, as the man she could not see. He had to forget the needs he could not hope to appease. It would be wrong to use Sabrina just to make himself feel alive again. He had watched her disrobe. Her breasts beckoned in their innocence, their roundness enticed. Exquisite. This was no time to torture himself with desire he could not satisfy.

But he could not stay away from her. He had to warn her. Would she understand? Sabrina had to be tired. He’d watched her all day as she traipsed from the Salvation Presbyterian Church to the Haven Methodist Church to the Faith Baptist church. Reading over her shoulder he had relived years of McKeown family history. Today he had read of his own family. His parents and his brothers and sisters had outlived his shame. Somehow he must make her understand he was not a threat to hr or anyone else.
##
“Sabrina, it’s late. ” Granny Pearl whispered. “You need to get in bed and lie down for a while.” A gnarled, brown hand smoothed auburn curls from Sabrina’s cheek. God she loved the comforting feeling of affection. Many times that same motion had calmed her after nightmares or the upsets of youth.

“Yes, Ma’am, five more minutes. I’ll get up, I promise.” Sabrina stretched and winced at the stiffness in her neck and shoulders. She had fallen asleep reading, again.

“Purty darlin’,” Granny crooned. “just like ya’ mama was. Got her blue eyes, you do. She and that handsome daddy of yours would be right proud to hear you sing in church. Like a angel, you sings just like a angel.”

Sabrina grinned. Granny’s eyes were as bright as onyx, dark to the point of seeming black, sometimes bottomless in their ageless wisdom, always loving when they met Sabrina’s own blue eyes.
“I have to keep reading until I find out how to prevent other McKeown deaths. I'm sure Sabrina Louise has the answer. I just have to find it.” Sabrina worried her bottom lip with her teeth as she looked up at Granny. Please let the diaries give me some clue about the legend.

“Baby, you ought to take a nap, at least. You gonna make yourself sick if you don’t slow down. You can’t keep working a full day and reading all night. How you gonna stop what’s been goin’ on for as long as I heard tell? Doctor Joe needs to talk to you about taking better care of yourself.”

“I will, if you will,” Sabrina sing-songed.

“What you talking ‘bout, girl?” Granny asked.

“I’ll talk to Joe,” Sabrina pointed her finger at the older woman. “if you’ll go see him for a check-up.”

“That young pup? All I need’s a special Spring tonic from Spellcaster. He’ll fix me right up”.
Funny how Granny put respect in her tome when she wanted Sabrina to see the doctor but scoffed when Sabrina suggested Granny visit him.

“Now Granny, you need a real medical check-up.”

“We’ll get you a tonic and a sleeping potion, too, young lady.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Sabrina raised her brow.

Granny pointed a finger back at her charge. “I know you aren’t sleeping. What’s keeping you up so late, girl? You lovesick?” Granny grinned. “It’s about time you got together with Joe. He’s been grieving long enough.”
“I’m fine, Granny. I really want to finish reading these diaries.” Sabrina held open the leather bound book. "Let me read some of it to you." She adjusted her glasses. “This entry was written by Sabrina Louise on her nineteenth birthday. She sounds so young and in love. Listen."

He is the handsomest man I have ever seen. His eyes look right to the deepest part of me. I feel we were destined to be together. I dare not tell mama or papa. They would never approve of Devon. But he makes me warm all over when he looks at me with those black as sin eyes. His flowing straight raven hair begs for my touch. It would take little to make me forget that I am supposed to be a lady. Lou.”

Sabrina smiled at the private words of the young woman who had poured her heart onto the page, like so many girls had over the years. As a teenager Sabrina had written many pages about her crush on Joe.? Some things never change. She still thought the man was a hottie and a fantastic doctor. But Joe had loved her beautiful cousin and lost her to death. How could a living woman follow such an act?

“Sounds like she thought she was in love with that Devon fella, all right. It sho’ does.” Granny shook her head. “Young people, always fallin’ in love with a purty face.”

"Isn't that the truth." Sabrina muttered.
##

In spirit form, Devon had watched over Sabrina for days. She could see him only when he became the Demon Cat. It wasn’t how he wanted to be known, but everyone had called him that since he had first appeared in cat form.

Maybe I am a demon, but my Lou loved me. I just don’t know why she betrayed me. I would have loved her forever. I have loved her forever.

Devon needed to know whose life was in danger this time. He wished he had been able save Sabrina the pain caused by the deaths of her family years ago. No one had understood his mission then, either. The boating accident and fire could have been prevented. It wasn’t his doing. He hoped there would be no more pain in her life.


EGYPT—Land of the Pharaohs

When you think about Egypt, you immediately pictured the Pyramids and the Sphinx, the true landmarks of Egypt, sitting in the desert, south of Cairo, the capital. With a little more imagination you may see yourself riding through the desert on the back on a camel (a dromedary to be more accurate).

Let me be your guide for your first visit to Egypt. Of course day one will start with a visit to the South of Cairo to visit the Pyramids of Guizeh and those of Saqqarah. You will enter inside the two biggest Pyramids, Cheops (Khooufou) Pyramid and Kafran Pyramid, go up a multitude of steps, go down again, bend your back and maybe even crawl through narrow openings. While holding your breath in excitement you will reach the burial chamber where Pharaoh was laid to rest for eternity among his many treasures. Unfortunately both Pharaoh and his treasure had been stolen long ago by tombs desecrators. The third Pyramid, Mykerinos is closed.

Next to the Pyramids, you will have a peek at the two recently discovered boats of the after life. They were buried close to the Pyramids.

You can have a delicious lunch at the Pyramids Resthouse while enjoying the view of Cairo high-rises. I will order for you the lamb shish-kabab and let you savor a piece of baklawa and another of konafa for desert. At night we will linger in the area to attend the Sound and Light show, watch and hear Pharaoh and his troupes come back from a battle.

Next day I will take you to the Cairo museum cluttered with more antiquities than any other museum in the world. King Tut (Tout Ankhamon) mummy and treasures are worth visiting even if you have already seen them in New York or during their world tours. And then we will be driving to the fortress of Citadel (the Quala’a) that houses the Mosque of Mohamed Ali the Great. The Mosque hunkers on top of a mountain and offers you a magnificent view of Cairo at your feet.

A whole afternoon is needed to visit the old churches of Cairo. They are among the most beautiful in the world; particularly St. Marc Church in Old Cairo is a real jewel.

We will stroll on the boardwalk along the Nile River and stop at the Meridien Hotel for lunch before heading to the Mouski, the biggest bazaar in the world. I love to buy spices, leathers souvenirs, silver items, gold jewelry, clothes… And I always bargain although the dollar exchange rate is almost six Egyptian pounds.

No one goes to Egypt without flying to Upper Egypt to visit Luxor, Karnak, and their famous Temples, the Valley of the Kings, and the smaller Valley of the Queens, (a series of tombs that are richly decorated with colored hieroglyphs), the Alley of the Sphinxes, the Temple of Hatchepsout, the colossal statues of Ramses the Second. I went to Upper Egypt with my class when I was a senior in high school. We spent five days but I am still dreaming of cruising along the Nile River from Cairo to Luxor. Transportation in Upper Egypt includes riding on a donkey, cruising in a felucca, and of course the local taxis that completely ignore traffic regulations and make their own rules.

Back from Upper Egypt, I will join you for a few days of relaxation in Hirdagua on the Red Sea. We will squeeze in a small submarine to admire the incredible corals and flora of the Red Sea, and then we will ride on a donkey to climb Mount St. Catherine and pay a visit to the monks who live there. We will taste their delicious wine, give them a donation and ask them to pray for us.

No visit of Egypt is complete without a stop in Alexandria the city where I grew up. I will show you the bath of Cleopatra and we will tan and relax on the golden sands of the Mediterranean beaches. Of course, I will take you to have a five o’clock tea at Delice, the famous pastry shop, to savor the most delicious Napoleons and cream puffs in the world.

When are you joining me for the Nile Cruise of my dreams?

Mona Risk www.monarisk.com

Shopping

Posted by Sandra Cox | 7:09 PM | | 4 comments »

I approach shopping the way some folks do hunting--which I'm not that in favor of by the way:) But like hunters for me its the thrill of the hunt. Unless my back is against the wall I never buy clothes if they aren't on sale. The kind term for one such as myself is 'power shopper'. But in actuality I'm a bit of a bottom feeder. I try not to buy until a big sign is posted on the rack that says '50-75% off last marked down price' and then I move in for the kill, err, swoop in for the sale.
Like the hunter, after my purchases are 'bagged' I proudly carry my sacks around the mall like trophies, swept along on a shopper's high.
For those of you who are new to this type of hunting a few words of caution and suggestions:
There will always be sales. If you can't use it don't buy it.
Buy at the end of the season. You will get your clothes at a fraction of the cost and will have a brand new wardrobe to pull out of the closet in about six months.
Check the adds: Often time there's a 20% coupon that can be applied to the 50-75% clearance rack.
Pace yourself. Don't get so caught up in the thrill of the hunt that you spend more than you normally would have. I allow myself X amount of dollars per month. When its gone its gone and I sit tight until the beginning of the next month when my allowance kicks in again.
Okay ladies, are you ready? Take your vitamins, do some stretching exercises and wear comfortable clothes, this could be all day event. Its time to shop!

by Pamela Roller

For a lovely homemade gift, consider giving a liqueur or cordial. Below are recipes for various liqueurs. Click here for cordial recipes.
At the end I’ve listed hints for packaging ideas.

To sterilize glass bottles, wash in warm soapy water and then dip in water mixed with a little bleach. Rinse thoroughly.



Scotch Liqueur (Make one to two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. anise extract
1 pt. Scotch

Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise and Scotch. Swirl gently and place a tight fitting lid on it. Allow mixture to age in a cool, dark place for one to two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.


Galliano Liqueur (Make two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar 1 cup water
¼ cup anise extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 drops yellow food coloring
1 fifth vodka

Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise extract, vanilla and food coloring. Swirl gently and then add the vodka. Allow mixture to age for two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.


Crème de Menthe (Make ten days ahead)
4 tbs. fresh mint leaves
1 fifth vodka
4 cup sugar
2 cup water
10 drops peppermint oil
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)

Crush mint leaves in a mortar and pestle. Place in a glass jar and pour vodka over them. Cover and let sit for ten days. Strain, discard mint. Heat the water and sugar mixture on low heat in medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool. Add syrup to the mint-flavored vodka; add peppermint oil and food coloring; stir. If liqueur is not clear, filter a second time. Keeps for one year. Makes 48 ounces.


Chocolate Liqueur (From
Busy Cooks at About.com)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. chocolate extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup vodka
Combine sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in chocolate extract, vanilla and vodka. Pour into a sterilized glass bottle with tight fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place. This can be used as a substitute for Crème De Cacao. Makes 1 pint.


Packaging ideas: Include liqueur glasses in the gift package.· Packaging depends on the color and type of liqueur. Carefully arrange glasses with the bottle in a basket or flat box surrounded by fresh fruit and color-coordinated tissue or other filler. Tie with ribbon. Green and gold packaging works well with Crème de Menthe, as does either silver or gold with the chocolate liqueur. Tiny flowers such as dried baby’s breath complete the ensemble.

©Pamela Roller http://www.pamelaroller.com/

“Of course, you can interview me for your column,” “J” replied when I posed the question. “As a relative, I’m probably the only vampire you can safely get close to!”

(At this point, let me explain that “J” is my cousin--our fathers were brothers--but whatever eccentricities exist in my relative, such as that odd avoidance of sunlight, a strange yearning for midnight strolls, and a habit of dancing under the trees in the dead of night, come from the maternal side of the family--not mine. “J” resides in Alaska, an excellent choice, since it's semi-twilight there for six months of the year, so for half a year, at least, there’s no worry about that nasty problem with the sun!--and practices law by day, if “day” is the right term for that gray overcast that hangs over the city at this time of year. )

“It’s strange, but I meet many bloodsuckers in my profession... Most of them are ex-wives, however.”

We were seated in the living room. Settling into a darkened corner of the sofa, “J” had wanted to draw the curtains against the ever-present dusk. I protested the closing-off of a view of the garden, with its beautiful foxglove, green nightshade decorated with white blossoms and tiny red berries, and yellow-flowered wolf’s-bane. They were all so colorful! I don’t know why more people don’t plant them.

At my request, “J” left the curtains open.

“Shall we get started?” She rubbed her hands together in anticipation, and announced with a flourish, “It’s Truth or Dare time!”

I made agreeable noises, extracting my pen and writing pad and leaning back against the soft cushions, nearly disappearing into the shadows at that end of the sofa.

“Well--” I began.

“Why don’t I just answer all the tired old questions first?” my cousin interrupted.

“All right,” I agreed, and cast about wildly for the first cliché, squinting at the words on the paper, a vague white shape in my lap. “Uh--Silver-- Is it true vampires are allergic to pure metals? Silver...gold...?”

“Yes,” came the response from the dark. “I am allergic to silver, as a matter of fact. It give me a rash, but--doesn’t kill me.”

“No?” I queried, raising my eyebrows in what I hoped was a reporter’s skeptical expression. It was totally lost in the deepening twilight.

“Surprised? Yes, I see you are!” I had forgotten how well “J” could see in the dark. I, with my nearsightedness--I almost would say I’m as blind as a bat--envied that ability. (Inherited from her mother, naturally!)

“ I expect a silver bullet would kill me, but then--” There was a slight chuckle. “I expect a regular one would do the same job just as efficiently!”

Well, so much for that! I drew a line through the word on my list, and studied the second one myopically.

“What about garlic? Surely you don’t deny that vampire can be repelled by garlic?” I demanded.

“'Fraid I do,” “J” answered with a long-suffering but apologetic sigh, “I’m not repelled by garlic. On the contrary, I love it!”

“But--” I protested, “everyone knows that--“

“Of course, they do!” This was said gently, as if placating a fractious child. “And why do they know? Who do you think started that rumor that a necklace of garlic would repel us? One guess!”

“You mean--?”

“Oh, the gullibility of the human race!”

My cousin was laughing out loud now. I could feel the sofa shaking with mirth. As a member of that “gullible race”, I could also feel my face getting just a little red.

“Doesn’t it bother you--even a little?” I suggested, feebly. “A slight cough, a stuffy nose, perhaps?”

“Quite the contrary-- It solved our dilemma of having to carry garlic with us if we wanted it with our meal. Those stupid peasants did it for us! Hanging it from the door frames and windowsills! Hah! Why, we'd break in, grab a garlic rope and a victim, and run, enjoying both at our leisure.”

These wasn’t quite the disclosures I had expected. I drew a line through the second word, and pressed onward.

“All right, then-- What about holy water?” I persevered. “Surely, you can’t deny that--”

“Holy water?” “J” interrupted, with a snicker. “Oh, come on! I take Communion regularly with the rest of the Episcopalians. (That’s a strange coincidence--there are an extraordinary number of Episcopalian vampires. Perhaps that should investigated. Hmmm?) I’ve even been sprinkled a time or two. That one dies hard!”

I was silent. After all, I was a good little Baptist and “J’s” defection to another religion had long been a bone of contention between us.

“Think about it,” my cousin urged, waving one hand. At least, I think that’s what happened. It was so dark that I only felt the movement.

“We were thought of as evil creatures back in the Dark Ages and believed to be cursed because of the ignorant practices of that time. We had to take our destiny in our hands, so to speak--a little Public Relations in the right places, a legend here, a rumor there...all to our advantage, of course. And, as you can see--”

I wanted to point out that one thing I didn’t do was “see”--not in any way, shape or form--and would really like to turn on at least one lamp, but I kept silent. When “J” gets on a talking jag, it’s generally so entertaining that one just naturally keeps silent to see what'll be said next!

“--nowadays, vampires are just plain folks!” my cousin continued. “It was a long haul, but we've evolved way beyond the storybook monsters Bram Stoker and his yellow-prosed ilk would have us be--now, there was a mean-mouthed bunch! Ought to sue 'em for libel or slander or something!--and are now no more evil than anyone else.”

There was another thoughtful low laugh as “”J” indicated the headlines of a newspaper lying on a nearby end table.

“Maybe a lot less. No more angry peasants storming the castle with pitchforks and torches-- No more hapless maidens waylaid by the roadside...” There was a slight shiver. “Oooh, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about the Good Old Days! Nowadays, a nice inch and a half thick Porterhouse grilled to perfection, outside seared, inside bright pink...Yum!--”

There was a slight smacking of lips. I felt my own mouth water just a little. It did sound delicious!

“--is the preferred feast... cooked on the patio grill...served with a little red wine, a nice Shiraz or Merlot, perhaps.”

There was a snort and a shifting of weight from the other end of the sofa.

“Whoever started that rumor that we don’t eat?”

“That wasn’t one of the little “legends” dropped here or there, I take it?” I asked, slightly amused for once.

“Of course not! Haven’t you seen how I chow down in a restaurant?” Her voice took on a Bela Lugosi cadence. “I neffer drink vine...nor eat hamburger.... How absurd!”

“J” fell silent.

I was silent.

We stayed that way a long, long time.

At last, my cousin spoke up.

“I think it'll be fun to have my views recorded for posterity. Of course,” this was murmured thoughtfully, “my identity must be protected. My career, you know. And remember--” one shadowy hand came up in admonition, “if you let it slip that we’re cousins, you'll be suspect, too!”

Me?“ I hadn’t thought of that. “T-that’s ridiculous!” I spluttered. “W-why no one would think I'm a vampire!”

“No? What about that sensitivity you have to the sun?” My cousin reminded me.

“I-I’m fair-skinned...and red-haired!” I defended myself. “Of course, I don’t like sunlight...”

“Uh-huh!” My cousin leaned close, peering at my nose. “And I supposed those aren’t burn marks?

My hand came up to stroke the little speckles on my nose and cheeks. While in Seattle the previous day, I'd ventured outside at noon minus sunblock and sunglasses.

“They-they’re freckles! Everyone knows I freckle easily!”

“Of course, they do,” came the answer, as if humoring me. “J” made a pitying clucking sound, enjoying my discomfort. “Tsk, tsk! Sure look like blisters to me! And you can’t deny that you don’t really come alive until the sun goes down!”

“Well-- “

“Yes?”

“I do seem to get going ‘round midnight,” I admitted, slowly.

Aha!” came the triumphant reply. A hand pulled the pen from my fingers and snatched up the notepad. “Tell me, how do you feel about garlic? And didn’t you stop wearing that silver bracelet because it kept making tarnishing on your arm?”

“Hey,” I protested, I’m supposed to be doing this interview!”

“Then let’s get on with it,” “J” ordered. “I’m flying to Chicago tomorrow and I want to get a little shut-eye after the sun comes up!”

Flying!” I seized on that word eagerly. “You mean--”

“No, I don’t!” came the quick retort. “I’m going United! Why tire myself out when I can have someone else do the flying? Take the plane and leave the flying to us--or words to that effect!”

We talked a while longer, shared a nice red wine (“AB negative 1942--a good year,” my cousin murmured, teasingly,) and then retired, scurrying to our own rooms to fall into bed and snooze away the day as the sun began to peep over the treetops, burning off (ooh--I hate that word) the evening dusk but never becoming truly daylight.

The next night, I reviewed my notes, wondering if I really had material for an article. “J” left a few hours later, armed with carry-on bag and a copy of The Bloody Red Baron to while away the miles between Juneau and Chicago, promising to give me a real interview upon returning.

So, here I sit, pen in hand, waiting....