EXCERPT from SINBAD'S LAST VOYAGE (Double Dragon Publishing, released November, 2007 , e-book and paperback; also audio book from Books in Motion):

(When war breaks out between Terra and Albegensia, Navajo Andi Talltrees' husband Tran is arrested as a spy and taken to a secret government internment camp. At the suggestion of her godfather, George Windrider, Andi go to the Thieves' Quarter to hired Sinbad sh'en Singh, a halfbreed smuggler, to find out where Tran has been taken.)

...“Hosteen Sh’en Singh?”

“Who’s askin’?” questioned a gruff voice. It was hoarse and raspy, as if he were recovering from a bad chest cold. If he was surprised by her use of the Navajo word for mister, he didn't show it.

“My name’s Andrea Talltrees,” she began. “Al at the Blue Owl sent me-- “

“Yer a Milky, ain’tcha?”

She was too startled to be insulted by that belittling nickname--derived from the name of Terra's galaxy, the Milky Way.

“Well--yes, but what’s that--“
“Al knows I don’t like Earthers. Sorry, Sweets, ya won’t do!”
“I-I won’t?”

He leaned back in the chair, tilting it against the wall, so that his upper body was hidden in the shadows, one knee-high boot braced against the side of the other chair.

In the half light, she saw that he was wearing black leather trousers and a leather vest secured at the waist and neck with straps adorned with polished studs. His arms were bare, one hooked carelessly over the back of the chair, while the other rested against the tabletop, hands encased in short, black gloves. In the hollow of one shoulder, she could see a scarlet slash of a tattoo.

There was a generous amount of bare chest and curly, coppery hair showing in the open front of the vest and Andi quickly glanced away, studiously trying not to stare.

He reached into the pocket of the vest and produced a coin, flipping it across the table.

“Here’s an Eagle fer yer trouble.” It spun around and came to rest near the edge of the table as the other hand waved imperiously. “Now--go away!”

Andi stared at the coin. It was a gold piece, very old, with a flying bird engraved on one side. She’d never seen one like it.

“Go back to Al,” the deep voice went on, “an’ tell him I want an Androsan…”

Picking up the coin, she leaned forward and, taking one of his hands, very carefully placed the Eagle on his palm, and closed the gloved fingers around it.

“I don’t want your money. I came here to talk to you and I’d appreciate it if you’d listen to what I have to say.”

The hand opened. He looked at the coin, then at her, and returned it to his pocket.

“By all means. Go ahead.” There was a hint of laughter behind the roughness.

“I-- “ She looked around. “I-is there somewhere we can talk--in private?”

The hand gestured. “Step into m’office, li’l lady--”

“Talltrees,” she told him quietly. “Andrea Talltrees.”

“--Mistress Talltrees,” The shadowy head nodded, as if accepting her correction. “--an’ speak yer piece.”
Andi didn’t answer.

Suddenly it seemed very warm, the smoke from the fuel lamps on each table combining with the body heat of the customers to make the room an uncomfortable contrast to the coolness outside.

She tugged open the top two buttons of her jacket, and just stood there, uncertain how to begin.

“You said Al sent you…?” he prompted, leaning forward to take a slender black stick out of a holder on the table. He picked up the little petrocandle, a pseudo-relic of an earlier era serving as a centerpiece, and touched the tip of the stick to the tiny flame. For an instant, she had a brief glimpse of long tawny hair and thick copper brows. Then, the light faded as he replaced the lamp and settled back.

A thick cloud of smoke was blown in her direction.

She coughed slightly.

“I-Is that a cigar?” She couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. He took it out of his mouth and looked at it.

She could see the glowing tip reflected in his eyes and that made her uneasy.

“Why--so it is!” There was mock surprise in the rasp. “Chock full o’ nicotine, carcinogens, carbon particles, an’ God knows how many other nasty things!” He shook his head. “My, my!”

“But--but they’re illegal!” Tobacco was on the List of Unlawful Substances issued by the Surgeon General, was Number One, in fact.

She flapped at the smoke with one hand, trying to fan it away.

“Lady, I’m a smuggler!” The harsh voice was contemptuous. “I bring in about fifty cases o’ these a week, an’ at eight hundred credits a box, I can afford to let fifty real dollars-worth go up in smoke!”

‘But--they’re bad for your health!” It came out before she realized it.

“Don’t you worry about m’ health, li’l lady.” The voice was impatient. “You say ya got business with me? Then hurry up an’ state it! I came here t’ do some serious drinkin’ an’ yer interferin’ with m’ plans!”

She peered into the dimness, trying to see his face. It was like looking at a shadow.

“Can’t we have a little more light? I can hardly see you.”

That brought a short growl of amusement.

“So, you want t’ see me, do you? Jake!” The bartender looked in their direction. As did several others. “Bring a bigger lamp. Th’ li’l lady can’t see enough o’ me!”

There was a spout of laughter and a gabble of crude remarks as Jake, grinning broadly, hurried over with another lamp. He set it on the table, whisked away the smaller one, and Sinbad leaned forward, tilting the shade so that the brightness shone on his face like a spotlight.

“There! That better?”
Andi stared at him.

Oh, my God….

Sitting before her was a cat in human form. His hair, the wildest, curliest stuff she had ever seen, was past shoulder length, a lion’s mane tamed by a leather headband, falling around tapered ears tufted with auburn fur, like those of a lynx she had seen near the chicken pen one Spring. From one nearly non-existent lobe dangled a thick gold ring.

Heavy brows hung over jade-green eyes watching her with scornful amusement, slitted pupils widened because of the low light in the room. He had high cheekbones and a long straight nose, a coppery Mandarin mustache drooping over a mouth in which the smoking cigar now rested.

“I think ya stared long enough.” One of the gloved hands flicked at the shade. “Either shut yer mouth an’ quit gapin’ or open it an’ tell me whatcha want!”

“Please--can’t we go somewhere else to talk?”

With a hiss, he stood up, six feet, eight inches of irritated Felidan, picking up the mug setting upon the table.

“Hey, Jake!” Looking down at her, he took the cigar out of his mouth and called over his shoulder, “Can I borrow one o’ yer rooms fer a while?”

“Sure! Take Number Three!”

“Bring me a pitcher, then” and he stalked away from the table, leaving her to run to keep up with his long-legged stride while the men’s laughter burned her ears.

He pushed open the door and went in. Andi followed silently, closing it carefully behind her.

Sinbad promptly dropped into one of the chairs and motioned her toward the other. “All right--we’re private…Now talk!”

When she didn’t answer, he demanded, “Why did Al sent you?”

“I-- Well, he didn’t-- “ she began.

“Then who in th’ name o’ God did? Is this some kinda joke?” He pushed back his chair, putting both feet upon the table and stared at her, his scowl turning the heavy brows into a copper vee. “Listen, woman--I ain’t got much patience, an’ I’m fast losing what little I do have!”

With a deep breath, Andi said, in a rush, “George Windrider--he said you could help me!” and waited for his reaction.

“Indian George?” The harsh expression softened a little. “Well--what’s th’ problem George thinks I can fix?”

“I want you to find my husband. He’s-- “

“I’m no Tracer, lady! Ya need t’ go t’ th’ Federation’s Missing Persons Section fer that!”

“I can’t!” She leaned forward earnestly, hands on the table. “It’s the Federation who’s taken him. You see-- He’s an Albegensi….”

“You sure know how t’ pick winners!” The cigar had gone out. He relit it from the lamp on the table, and leaned back to regard her steadily, his green eyes speculative.

In the bright light of Number Three, his pupils were narrow black crescents.

“Don’t tell me--let me guess…since th’ whole world is afraid o’ th’ Big Bad Federation, an’ no one else’ll help, you want me t’ find out where they’re holdin’ him. Right?”

She was sweating now. She nodded and wiped her forehead with one hand.

“Can you help me?” she persisted, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice.

“Well, I could find out if he’s there. Is that all you want?” His tone indicated he considered her just short of insane even to want to know where her husband was.

“Yes,” she assured him. “Just find out where Tran is, and I’ll do the rest.”

“Tran. That his name?”

She nodded.

He fell silent and Andi stood there, gripping the back of the chair, squeezing the wood so hard her fingers hurt, waiting for him to go on.

The silence grew, longer and quieter, until she wanted to scream.

His nostrils crinkled suddenly as if he had scented something.

”Are you afraid o’ me?”

“Should I be?” She was, terribly, but she’d never tell him so.

“Maybe.” He fell quiet again but just when she was ready to grab her pack and stalout, he sat up, letting the legs of the chair strike the floor with a loud snap.

“All right, I’ll do it, but it’ll cost!” The cigar, held in the gloved hand, pointed at her like a small dagger, as the green eyes regarded her unwaveringly. “An’ I don’t think yer willin’ t’ pay th’ price!”

“How much?” she asked quickly. “Tell me! I’ll pay it-- I love my husband!”

“You might not love him that much!”

“I’ll do anything to free him!” She flung the words recklessly. “What do you want?”

The cigar stabbed at her again. “You.”

“What?” She hadn’t heard correctly. She couldn’t have. “W-what did you say?”

“Ya heard me--I want you as m’ payment." He blew a smoke ring into the air. “Yer good-looking’ fer a Milky. I like yer scent, even if ya have tried t’ hide it under that nauseatin’ perfume. Here’s m’ offer: stay with me tonight, an’ if I’m satisfied, I’ll find your mate fer ya.”

She stared at him, stunned into disbelief. This isn’t happening. This creature didn’t say that. He didn’t.

“Look on it as a business arrangement. Ya gimme me what I want, I give ya what ya want.” He spread his hands and shrugged. “What say?”

“Wait just a minute.“ She startled herself by saying exactly what she was thinking. “W-what’s to stop you from just kicking me out after you…get what you want?”

“Good point.” His look indicated he was surprised she had thought of it. “Okay, we do it, an’ good or bad, ya get th’ location o’ th’ camp. Fair?”

He leaned back again, studying the ash on the tip of his cigar before flicking it onto the floor. Waiting. Confident. Enjoying her indecision.

Andi’s thoughts were frantic. Was this what George was warning me about? Oh, God, Tran, I love you, but I can’t do that. Not even for you.

“Make up yer mind, Talltrees.” The raspy voice cut into her thoughts. “I ain’t got all day, an’ neither has yer mate.”

What am I going to do? He’s right. No one else is going to help me. They’re all too afraid. Besides, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Tran will never know. Her hands clenched into fists. I-I’ll just pretend it never happened. She forced her hands to relax, took a deep breath and tried to speak. She had to swallow twice before any sound would come out. Even then, it was a bare whisper.

“A-all right.”

“Good!” He stubbed the cigar into the ashtray on the table. “Well? Go ahead…strip.”

“What? Here? Now?”

He smiled, the light sparkling off long incisors, flashing a fanged leer. “Right. Here. Now. Th’ day ain‘t getting’ any younger, an’ there‘s an empty bed yonder just waitin’ t’ be used.”

Mouth set in a determined line, she took off her jacket and dropped it into the chair. The hand-knit sweater had four buttons at the neck. She got them open and pulled it over her head. Underneath, she wore a long-sleeved cotton shirt. As she began to open the dozen, tiny buttons down its front, frowning in concentration, he gave an exasperated growl.

“Good God! How many clothes’re ya wearin’? D’ ya think it’s winter?”

“It’s still cold in the Valley,” she answered defensively, watching her hands.

Don’t look at him. Don’t think about it. She got the shirt off and heard his groan as he saw the sleeveless undershirt. He was getting impatient, the gloved fingers tapping a loud tattoo on the tabletop. She was afraid he would walk out if she delayed any longer. Quickly, she pulled the tank top over her head and reached for the catch to her bandeau.

The door opened. Jake came in carrying a pitcher of beer, a blast of sound following him into the room. Gasping, Andi snatched at the undershirt and held it against her chest. Her chin quivered. Jake looked from her to Sinbad.

“Sorry, Sin. I-I didn’t think you’d be this far along.”

The smuggler tapped the table with one finger. “Put it there, Jake. Thanks. Now, get out.” There was barely controlled anger in the low voice. The bartender did as he was told and hurried toward the door. “An’ Jake--” He paused and looked back. “Make certain we’re not bothered again.”

“Right. I’ll put up the Do Not Disturb sign.” He went out, slamming the door.

With a shaky sigh, Andi dropped the undershirt. She was dizzy again, feeling the way she had the day her horse ran under a tree and she had hit her head on a limb: lightheaded…sick. There was a roaring in her ears.

“We’ve wasted enough time, woman.”

A gloved hand reached for her and Andi went limp, falling without a sound into a crumpled heap at the smuggler’s feet....

EXCERPT from SINBAD'S LAST VOYAGE (Double Dragon Publishing, released November, 2007 , e-book and paperback; also audio book from Books in Motion):

(When war breaks out between Terra and Albegensia, Navajo Andi Talltrees' husband Tran is arrested as a spy and taken to a secret government internment camp. At the suggestion of her godfather, George Windrider, Andi go to the Thieves' Quarter to hired Sinbad sh'en Singh, a halfbreed smuggler, to find out where Tran has been taken.)

...“Hosteen Sh’en Singh?”

“Who’s askin’?” questioned a gruff voice. It was hoarse and raspy, as if he were recovering from a bad chest cold. If he was surprised by her use of the Navajo word for mister, he didn't show it.

“My name’s Andrea Talltrees,” she began. “Al at the Blue Owl sent me-- “

“Yer a Milky, ain’tcha?”

She was too startled to be insulted by that belittling nickname--derived from the name of Terra's galaxy, the Milky Way.

“Well--yes, but what’s that--“
“Al knows I don’t like Earthers. Sorry, Sweets, ya won’t do!”
“I-I won’t?”

He leaned back in the chair, tilting it against the wall, so that his upper body was hidden in the shadows, one knee-high boot braced against the side of the other chair.

In the half light, she saw that he was wearing black leather trousers and a leather vest secured at the waist and neck with straps adorned with polished studs. His arms were bare, one hooked carelessly over the back of the chair, while the other rested against the tabletop, hands encased in short, black gloves. In the hollow of one shoulder, she could see a scarlet slash of a tattoo.

There was a generous amount of bare chest and curly, coppery hair showing in the open front of the vest and Andi quickly glanced away, studiously trying not to stare.

He reached into the pocket of the vest and produced a coin, flipping it across the table.

“Here’s an Eagle fer yer trouble.” It spun around and came to rest near the edge of the table as the other hand waved imperiously. “Now--go away!”

Andi stared at the coin. It was a gold piece, very old, with a flying bird engraved on one side. She’d never seen one like it.

“Go back to Al,” the deep voice went on, “an’ tell him I want an Androsan…”

Picking up the coin, she leaned forward and, taking one of his hands, very carefully placed the Eagle on his palm, and closed the gloved fingers around it.

“I don’t want your money. I came here to talk to you and I’d appreciate it if you’d listen to what I have to say.”

The hand opened. He looked at the coin, then at her, and returned it to his pocket.

“By all means. Go ahead.” There was a hint of laughter behind the roughness.

“I-- “ She looked around. “I-is there somewhere we can talk--in private?”

The hand gestured. “Step into m’office, li’l lady--”

“Talltrees,” she told him quietly. “Andrea Talltrees.”

“--Mistress Talltrees,” The shadowy head nodded, as if accepting her correction. “--an’ speak yer piece.”
Andi didn’t answer.

Suddenly it seemed very warm, the smoke from the fuel lamps on each table combining with the body heat of the customers to make the room an uncomfortable contrast to the coolness outside.

She tugged open the top two buttons of her jacket, and just stood there, uncertain how to begin.

“You said Al sent you…?” he prompted, leaning forward to take a slender black stick out of a holder on the table. He picked up the little petrocandle, a pseudo-relic of an earlier era serving as a centerpiece, and touched the tip of the stick to the tiny flame. For an instant, she had a brief glimpse of long tawny hair and thick copper brows. Then, the light faded as he replaced the lamp and settled back.

A thick cloud of smoke was blown in her direction.

She coughed slightly.

“I-Is that a cigar?” She couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. He took it out of his mouth and looked at it.

She could see the glowing tip reflected in his eyes and that made her uneasy.

“Why--so it is!” There was mock surprise in the rasp. “Chock full o’ nicotine, carcinogens, carbon particles, an’ God knows how many other nasty things!” He shook his head. “My, my!”

“But--but they’re illegal!” Tobacco was on the List of Unlawful Substances issued by the Surgeon General, was Number One, in fact.

She flapped at the smoke with one hand, trying to fan it away.

“Lady, I’m a smuggler!” The harsh voice was contemptuous. “I bring in about fifty cases o’ these a week, an’ at eight hundred credits a box, I can afford to let fifty real dollars-worth go up in smoke!”

‘But--they’re bad for your health!” It came out before she realized it.

“Don’t you worry about m’ health, li’l lady.” The voice was impatient. “You say ya got business with me? Then hurry up an’ state it! I came here t’ do some serious drinkin’ an’ yer interferin’ with m’ plans!”

She peered into the dimness, trying to see his face. It was like looking at a shadow.

“Can’t we have a little more light? I can hardly see you.”

That brought a short growl of amusement.

“So, you want t’ see me, do you? Jake!” The bartender looked in their direction. As did several others. “Bring a bigger lamp. Th’ li’l lady can’t see enough o’ me!”

There was a spout of laughter and a gabble of crude remarks as Jake, grinning broadly, hurried over with another lamp. He set it on the table, whisked away the smaller one, and Sinbad leaned forward, tilting the shade so that the brightness shone on his face like a spotlight.

“There! That better?”
Andi stared at him.

Oh, my God….

Sitting before her was a cat in human form. His hair, the wildest, curliest stuff she had ever seen, was past shoulder length, a lion’s mane tamed by a leather headband, falling around tapered ears tufted with auburn fur, like those of a lynx she had seen near the chicken pen one Spring. From one nearly non-existent lobe dangled a thick gold ring.

Heavy brows hung over jade-green eyes watching her with scornful amusement, slitted pupils widened because of the low light in the room. He had high cheekbones and a long straight nose, a coppery Mandarin mustache drooping over a mouth in which the smoking cigar now rested.

“I think ya stared long enough.” One of the gloved hands flicked at the shade. “Either shut yer mouth an’ quit gapin’ or open it an’ tell me whatcha want!”

“Please--can’t we go somewhere else to talk?”

With a hiss, he stood up, six feet, eight inches of irritated Felidan, picking up the mug setting upon the table.

“Hey, Jake!” Looking down at her, he took the cigar out of his mouth and called over his shoulder, “Can I borrow one o’ yer rooms fer a while?”

“Sure! Take Number Three!”

“Bring me a pitcher, then” and he stalked away from the table, leaving her to run to keep up with his long-legged stride while the men’s laughter burned her ears.

He pushed open the door and went in. Andi followed silently, closing it carefully behind her.

Sinbad promptly dropped into one of the chairs and motioned her toward the other. “All right--we’re private…Now talk!”

When she didn’t answer, he demanded, “Why did Al sent you?”

“I-- Well, he didn’t-- “ she began.

“Then who in th’ name o’ God did? Is this some kinda joke?” He pushed back his chair, putting both feet upon the table and stared at her, his scowl turning the heavy brows into a copper vee. “Listen, woman--I ain’t got much patience, an’ I’m fast losing what little I do have!”

With a deep breath, Andi said, in a rush, “George Windrider--he said you could help me!” and waited for his reaction.

“Indian George?” The harsh expression softened a little. “Well--what’s th’ problem George thinks I can fix?”

“I want you to find my husband. He’s-- “

“I’m no Tracer, lady! Ya need t’ go t’ th’ Federation’s Missing Persons Section fer that!”

“I can’t!” She leaned forward earnestly, hands on the table. “It’s the Federation who’s taken him. You see-- He’s an Albegensi….”

“You sure know how t’ pick winners!” The cigar had gone out. He relit it from the lamp on the table, and leaned back to regard her steadily, his green eyes speculative.

In the bright light of Number Three, his pupils were narrow black crescents.

“Don’t tell me--let me guess…since th’ whole world is afraid o’ th’ Big Bad Federation, an’ no one else’ll help, you want me t’ find out where they’re holdin’ him. Right?”

She was sweating now. She nodded and wiped her forehead with one hand.

“Can you help me?” she persisted, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice.

“Well, I could find out if he’s there. Is that all you want?” His tone indicated he considered her just short of insane even to want to know where her husband was.

“Yes,” she assured him. “Just find out where Tran is, and I’ll do the rest.”

“Tran. That his name?”

She nodded.

He fell silent and Andi stood there, gripping the back of the chair, squeezing the wood so hard her fingers hurt, waiting for him to go on.

The silence grew, longer and quieter, until she wanted to scream.

His nostrils crinkled suddenly as if he had scented something.

”Are you afraid o’ me?”

“Should I be?” She was, terribly, but she’d never tell him so.

“Maybe.” He fell quiet again but just when she was ready to grab her pack and stalout, he sat up, letting the legs of the chair strike the floor with a loud snap.

“All right, I’ll do it, but it’ll cost!” The cigar, held in the gloved hand, pointed at her like a small dagger, as the green eyes regarded her unwaveringly. “An’ I don’t think yer willin’ t’ pay th’ price!”

“How much?” she asked quickly. “Tell me! I’ll pay it-- I love my husband!”

“You might not love him that much!”

“I’ll do anything to free him!” She flung the words recklessly. “What do you want?”

The cigar stabbed at her again. “You.”

“What?” She hadn’t heard correctly. She couldn’t have. “W-what did you say?”

“Ya heard me--I want you as m’ payment." He blew a smoke ring into the air. “Yer good-looking’ fer a Milky. I like yer scent, even if ya have tried t’ hide it under that nauseatin’ perfume. Here’s m’ offer: stay with me tonight, an’ if I’m satisfied, I’ll find your mate fer ya.”

She stared at him, stunned into disbelief. This isn’t happening. This creature didn’t say that. He didn’t.

“Look on it as a business arrangement. Ya gimme me what I want, I give ya what ya want.” He spread his hands and shrugged. “What say?”

“Wait just a minute.“ She startled herself by saying exactly what she was thinking. “W-what’s to stop you from just kicking me out after you…get what you want?”

“Good point.” His look indicated he was surprised she had thought of it. “Okay, we do it, an’ good or bad, ya get th’ location o’ th’ camp. Fair?”

He leaned back again, studying the ash on the tip of his cigar before flicking it onto the floor. Waiting. Confident. Enjoying her indecision.

Andi’s thoughts were frantic. Was this what George was warning me about? Oh, God, Tran, I love you, but I can’t do that. Not even for you.

“Make up yer mind, Talltrees.” The raspy voice cut into her thoughts. “I ain’t got all day, an’ neither has yer mate.”

What am I going to do? He’s right. No one else is going to help me. They’re all too afraid. Besides, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Tran will never know. Her hands clenched into fists. I-I’ll just pretend it never happened. She forced her hands to relax, took a deep breath and tried to speak. She had to swallow twice before any sound would come out. Even then, it was a bare whisper.

“A-all right.”

“Good!” He stubbed the cigar into the ashtray on the table. “Well? Go ahead…strip.”

“What? Here? Now?”

He smiled, the light sparkling off long incisors, flashing a fanged leer. “Right. Here. Now. Th’ day ain‘t getting’ any younger, an’ there‘s an empty bed yonder just waitin’ t’ be used.”

Mouth set in a determined line, she took off her jacket and dropped it into the chair. The hand-knit sweater had four buttons at the neck. She got them open and pulled it over her head. Underneath, she wore a long-sleeved cotton shirt. As she began to open the dozen, tiny buttons down its front, frowning in concentration, he gave an exasperated growl.

“Good God! How many clothes’re ya wearin’? D’ ya think it’s winter?”

“It’s still cold in the Valley,” she answered defensively, watching her hands.

Don’t look at him. Don’t think about it. She got the shirt off and heard his groan as he saw the sleeveless undershirt. He was getting impatient, the gloved fingers tapping a loud tattoo on the tabletop. She was afraid he would walk out if she delayed any longer. Quickly, she pulled the tank top over her head and reached for the catch to her bandeau.

The door opened. Jake came in carrying a pitcher of beer, a blast of sound following him into the room. Gasping, Andi snatched at the undershirt and held it against her chest. Her chin quivered. Jake looked from her to Sinbad.

“Sorry, Sin. I-I didn’t think you’d be this far along.”

The smuggler tapped the table with one finger. “Put it there, Jake. Thanks. Now, get out.” There was barely controlled anger in the low voice. The bartender did as he was told and hurried toward the door. “An’ Jake--” He paused and looked back. “Make certain we’re not bothered again.”

“Right. I’ll put up the Do Not Disturb sign.” He went out, slamming the door.

With a shaky sigh, Andi dropped the undershirt. She was dizzy again, feeling the way she had the day her horse ran under a tree and she had hit her head on a limb: lightheaded…sick. There was a roaring in her ears.

“We’ve wasted enough time, woman.”

A gloved hand reached for her and Andi went limp, falling without a sound into a crumpled heap at the smuggler’s feet....

Time out of mind, herbs have figured prominently in mystery and romance. Shakespeare is probably the most famous author to incorporate the juice of monkshood as the deadly elixir in Hamlet. Mandrake, the screaming roots in Harry Potter, made up the sleeping potion that sent Juliette into a death-like slumber. Poor Romeo, if only he’d known before he drank belladonna, a member of the deadly nightshade family, or wolf’s bane. It seems no one is quite certain what the ill-fated lover knocked back.

Many whimsical fancies sprang up around the shape of plants. The bell-like flowers of foxglove were thought to be the minute gloves that fairies wore, especially as foxglove bloomed in shady woodlands where everyone knows the little folk dwell. Commonly called digitalis, this now-famous plant is widely used to treat heart disease. But too strong a dose and bang––you have a murder mystery.

In Pocketful of Rye, Agatha Christie favored a poisonous concoction made of yew disguised in marmalade. The author hid deadly hemlock in a bottle of cold beer in Five Little Pigs.
Many herbs also had romantic uses. The love potion in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been analyzed by a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in England. Doctor Sell thinks it was made up of heart’s ease (violas) blended with the sweetness of musk roses. In the play, Oberon drops the flowery decoction onto the eyelids of the sleeping Titinia, but the good doctor cautions against trying this at home. Rather, opt for the nape of the neck or the décolleté. Men just love the décolleté––breasts pushed up by a tightly drawn corset for those of you who didn’t realize.

Speaking of romance, it was thought that a young maiden could toss a sprig of St. John’s Wort over her shoulder and soon learn the name of the man she was to marry. Leafy branches of this herb were also hung in windows to ward off evil spirits and burnt to protect against devils, goblins and witches. Bear this in mind, if you’re troubled by them.
Legend has it that angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the bubonic plague. All parts of the plant were deemed of great value against enchantment. And don’t forget boughs of the sacred rowan tree to ward off evil spells.

Feeling timid? Anoint your feet with catnip tea to embolden yourself. Fennel seed is said to boost desire. Lavender is “of ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head.” For those of you who would be true, rosemary is the symbol of fidelity between lovers. Traditionally, a wreath of the aromatic herb was worn by brides. Rosemary is also the herb of remembrance left at the grave of loved ones.

Historical writers, especially, can incorporate the use of herbs to flavor their stories, as do I. But anyone can mix in a love potion or fatal elixir to spice up the usual suspects in a suspense or murder mystery.

Winter and Our Skin Care.

Posted by Mary Marvella | 2:18 AM | 3 comments »


I spoke with Mary K. Overby, Medical Skin Care Specialist,asking her to tell us the three most important things we should know about caring for our skin this winter Here are her three pieces of advice.

With winter upon us, many of us are experiencing dry patches on our skin. Several things contribute to this condition and some steps which you can take to combat this condition would include:

1. Drink more water. most of us are not getting drinking enough water daily and that can cause dry and dull skin.

2. Exfoliate twice weekly. The skin which is exposed on us is already dead skin, just waiting to come off. As time goes on, more skin cells are added up underneath the top dead skin cells and the top layer is dry, and no longer oblong in shape, If that skin stays on, the top layers become flatter and thinner. This creates dull, lifeless looking skin. Exfoliation removes the dull, dry cells on top of our skin and lets the rosy, fresher newer cells come to the top to start the process all over again.

3. Use sunscreen daily. Most people do not realize that over 90% of the UV light emitted from our sun is UVA rays. For years we have all been told about the tanning rays and burning, SPF factors. UVA rays will initially give you a little red color and then disappear. You don't tan or burn from UVA rays, yet they are the worst. UVA ages us, and it is just as strong in the winter as in the summer. UVA rays come through windows, so being indoors won't stop the damage. UVA are the long distance rays that travel all the way down into the dermis, causing damage.

If you post questions for Mary K Overby, Mary Marvella will send them to her and ask them for you. Look for a post with advice from another skin care specialist!








I admit I'm a Californian when it comes to the stereotype of eating habits--I like to eat twigs and hunker down with a nice plate of roots and berries. That is, I like fruits and vegetables, and cereals made from grains requiring a pronunciation key. But then the holidays come around and something odd happens. I find myself fighting like a wild beast over a bowl of sausage balls. I don't know why they are so good. Or why, at my sister's annual holiday party, I have to make a triple batch of these, and despite a lavish spread, half the party follows me into the kitchen, fighting and drooling like a pack of starving newfoundlands when I take yet another batch out of the oven.

It's almost embarrassing to admit how easy they are to make. The ingredient list would inspire a lip curl and double nostril flare in most cooks. And yet even the most finicky gourmet gets taken down by their seductive humble goodness.

So here they are. Give them a try. If only because there isn't a grain of turkey in them.

Sausage Balls--reg version, for purists (lower fat but just as good version follows. We tested them over the past few years and no one's noticed the difference. IMO, the lower fat version has a bit more flaky a pastry element.)

1 lb Bulk Sausage (Hot Or Mild) You know, those rolls of Jimmy Dean or Farmer John breakfast sausage over by the bacon.
2 c Sharp Cheddar Cheese Grated
3 c Bisquick
Mash together in a bowl with clean hands. Roll into balls (about an inch). Put on a cookie sheet (use Release non-stick foil as they can stick) and bake for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees. Or 15-20 at 375. Whatever you oven is at will work--just pull them out when they are lightly browned and the sausage is done.

You can make a double batch and freeze before cooking. Or after cooking-- nuke yourself up a bowlful when you need a happy fix.

LOWER FAT VERSION
1 lb REDUCED FAT Bulk Sausage (Hot Or Mild) --most stores carry the reduced fat breakfast sausage these days.
2 c Sharp Cheddar Cheese Grated --no change (you can use lower fat cheddar if your market carries one of the two or so decent brands: Kerrygold or...drat it, I forget the name of the other one. Something from Vermont.)
2-3/4 c REDUCED FAT Bisquick
milk--about a half cup to a cup.
Essentially, you use a little milk to compensate for the fact that you don't have tons of fat sticking these things together. Mash together in a bowl with clean hands--add milk until the mixture is just tacky enough that you can form it into balls. Roll into balls (about an inch). Put on a cookie sheet (cover with Release non-stick foil, way easier as they can stick) and bake for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees. Or 15-20 at 375. Whatever you oven is at will work--just pull them out when they are lightly browned and the sausage is done.

Enjoy!

--Liz

The Magic Knot-American Title Finalist

Posted by Helen Scott Taylor | 2:19 PM | 2 comments »


Here is the first page of my story that is currently in the final eight of the American Title final. Voting on this second round ends tomorrow, Sunday 25th.


Chapter One
Roughly translated, the slogan on Niall O’Connor’s family crest read: “We need all the help the gods can give us.”

Not that he wanted help from anyone, gods or otherwise. He’d learned early on to look out for himself. Unfortunately, every now and then he had no choice.

So here he was—cap in hand metaphorically speaking—on his way to ask for a favor from druid, Tristan Jago. Which unfortunately entailed getting past Tristan’s sidekick, a vampiric nightstalker with attitude problems called Nightshade.

Niall rode his motorcycle up the narrow drive to Tristan’s rambling granite manor house, stopped on the circle of gravel outside the front door, and cut the engine.

Trevelion Manor sat alone on top of the rocky Cornish cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. In the distance, purple storm clouds billowed across gunmetal-gray sea. A portent of trouble if ever he’d seen one. It looked like the gods definitely weren’t smiling on him today.

As he kicked down his bike stand, the front door opened. Nightshade stepped out of the shadowy interior, folded his arms over his glistening oiled pecs, and spread his wings to block entry. Quashing a sigh, Niall pulled off his helmet and rested it on the bike’s seat.

Niall flexed his hands to check the position of the two crystal knives strapped to his wrists. If he could avoid fighting Nightshade, he would. Not that he thought he’d lose. Quite the contrary, he was sure he’d win. But he’d fought enough hand-to-hand to last a lifetime. Now peace and quiet was all he desired.

“It’s a pleasure to see you, Irish!” Nightshade hooked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans and grinned, his teeth white against ebony skin. “I’ve a hankering for a taste of Tuatha Dé Danaan with a seasoning of leprechaun.”

“In your dreams, boyo.” Niall halted a safe distance away and patted the pocket of his flight jacket containing the check. “You going to let me in? I’ve a wee present here for your lord and master.”

Nightshade sneered exposing the glistening points of his fangs. “I’m no one’s servant. Taunt me again, Irish, and you’ll live to regret it.”


If you would like to vote for Magic Knot in the American Title contest, follow this link through to the voting page:



If you would like to discover more about Helen Scott Taylor visit the website:


Two for the price of one!

Here are two quotes by a master of the pen Arthur C. Clarke.

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture past them into the impossible.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The boys

Posted by Mary Marvella | 7:26 PM | 0 comments »


Hope I get the photo this time!

My granddogs

Posted by Mary Marvella | 7:12 PM | 1 comments »

Thanksgiving

Posted by Mary Marvella | 6:23 PM | 2 comments »

Are we truly thankful? Depends on which day and which minute for me.

Some days I'm ready to bang my head against a wall. I want to whine about the cost of replacing my roof and the woodwork that has bowed or rotted, along with rusted out gutters. The job is costing way more than I expected it to and is taking longer than predicted. BUT I do have a house.

Age has added a few aches and pains I deal with. some friends have more pains and my daughter is dealing with severe arthritis pain. My sister has been in pain for more than twenty years. I can't really complain because I have relatively good health.

I have friends, see above. I thank God for them. Several have even battled cancer and won.

My parents are both gone and I miss them. However, I do have a brother and sister, and a sister-in-law who is a real keeper.

Back to my daughter. She has a wonderful husband who understands her problems and helps her. If I made a list of qualities I'd want in a son or a husband, he has all of them. She is a partner with her dad in their photography studio. She has worked hard since she turned fifteen and wanted a car and spending money. She worked through high school and college. At this point in her life she really couldn't hold down a nine-to-five job, but with the studio she can work around her problems. I'm thankful she has a good husband, good health insurance and me as her mother. ( Couldn't resist that one.)

I'm spending Thanksgiving at my daughter's house, dog-sitting my grand-dogs. such adorable boys they are, and they adore their granny, moi. Yesterday I had Thanksgiving dinner with my brother and sister and my treasure of a sister-in-law prepared dinner and sent us home with leftovers.

I've worked at writing to sell for many years but, hey, I'm using a laptop I bought. I'd never have finished the first novel if I'd had to depend on a typewriter.

I won't continue with my list tonight.

Are you thankful and for what?

I will do my health and beauty thing later.

Against The Odds

Posted by Helen Scott Taylor | 10:38 AM | , , , , | 2 comments »

At the bottom of our garden, unfortunately don’t have fairies. What we do have is a decent sized pond boasting a small island in the center, ideal for breeding water birds.

For a few years we’ve shared the garden with a family of Moorhens that nest on the island in the spring. The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is black with a white tail and red bill.

In mid April, my husband laid a ladder between the bank and the island, then crawled across to check out the nest. Seven smooth, glossy grayish-white eggs lay nestled in the twiggy nest among the iris stems on the edge of the island.

Incubation is between 19-22 days. We watched eagerly for the first signs of the young to hatch and venture out of the nest. Mid-May arrived with no sign of the chicks, so once again Hubby deployed the ladder and checked the island. He returned with a long face to report all seven eggs had been squashed in the nest by something, and he could see the half-developed babies dead in the mess.

We thought the adult birds might give up their breeding efforts for this year, but they built another nest and started again. We were afraid whatever attacked the nest first time around might strike again, but on June 16th Mom and Dad Moorhen appeared on the pond with seven black, fluffy chicks in tow.

Moorhens feed on water and land utilizing a mixed diet of leaves, seeds, berries, worms, snails and fish. Over the next month we enjoyed watching the chicks grow and regularly saw them on forays across the lawn in search of food. By the end of June, the chicks were bigger and stronger, but when the parents brought them out to feed, there were only three.

At this point in November, the Moorhen parents are still resident in the garden. Unfortunately, there is now only one youngster left. Sadly, the Moorhen parents laid fourteen eggs in total and raised one chick to maturity.

We can’t say for sure what happened to the young that dissapeared. Our garden is regularly visited by Badgers and Foxes, and we know there are Otters and Mink in the area. Any of these might have taken the small Moorhens.

No doubt, with the incredible persistence of all wild creatures, they will build a new nest next spring and try to raise another family—against the odds.


The stranger took a step forward.

“That’s far enough.” Hank said his gun still trained on him.

“Look, I’m sorry. I know you have your own problems. But every vet I’ve seen has given up on him. He doesn’t have much longer.” He looked at Maureen. “Please.”

She closed her eyes, concentrated and felt a wave of anguish roll off him. Her breath caught in her throat at the force of it. “Take him to the barn.”

“Marnie. . .”

“Sir, you’ve got a gun pointed at me and a wolf on my heels. I’m not a stupid man.”

Hank gave him a level look, his voice filled with warning, “I’ll be watching you.”

The stranger nodded and turned on his heel.

Not taking his eyes off the stranger, Hank said, “Sometimes, girl, you care too much.”

Saying nothing, she leaned back in the seat, causing the old cracked leather to squeak. Closing her eyes she drew into herself, wrapping her mind around the boji stones, feeling their strength and healing powers course through her body.

She took a deep breath in from her belly then exhaled until her lungs emptied out. Opening her eyes she laid her hand on Hank’s. “What would I do without you?”

“Get into a whole lot more trouble than you’re in now, I expect,” he said his expression wry.

They followed the SUV as it started toward the barn, its headlights bouncing when it hit a chug hole.

The brake lights shone for a moment, then went out as the truck stopped at the barn. The man got out and let down the trailer gate. He looked once at Wolf then backed the horse down the ramp.

Maureen’s eyes moved from the stranger to the horse. “What a beautiful animal.”

Hank grunted.

“Help me out will you, tough guy?”

He put the safety on the Glock and slipped it into his waistband then came around and opened her door. “You’re the hardest headed female I know,” he grumbled scooping her out. “Want me to carry you into the barn?”

“I can walk if you’ll let me use your arm as a cane. She leaned against him flinching as her left leg touched the ground. “Besides, I saw the look on your face when you saw that horse. You don’t want to lose him either.”

“That’s neither here nor there. You’re much more important to me than a dang blamed horse. And you know this will slow your healing time maybe even set you back.”

“Please don’t worry, Hank. I’ll be okay.” She leaned her weight against him letting him half-carry half-drag her to the barn feeling the heat of him permeating her arm and shirt. She drew in a deep breath and smelled fresh air and animals. Smells that comforted her since she was a little girl.

The stranger waited at the barn door watching their slow progress.

“I’m sorry. I know this is hard on you.” Something like remorse flashed in his eyes.

She bit back a grin. He’s concerned about me but not nearly as concerned as he is for his horse.


With us today is Australian bud, author Janet Davies, aka Amarinda Jones. Welcome Janet,tell us about your current project. I love this cover by the way.But then again what's there not to love?

Romance, sex and smart arse humour – the typical Amarinda Jones book where the heroine and the hero rub against each other and sparks fly.

What will I as a reader like best about your hero?

He will kick down the gates of hell to save his woman. He’s strong and accepts that the heroine is a match for him in so many ways. My hero is smart and he admires and respects the woman he loves. The man is caring and he loves that the heroine is independent - however he is not beyond telling her to get a grip when she needs it.

How will women identify with your heroine?

She’s average, flawed, maybe slightly overweight, possibly a pain in the butt. She can take care of herself but she’s not adverse to the love of her life going all he-man on her. She’s intelligent, she’s funny and she’s cranky. She is in essence everything every woman is. I believe women want to read about normal everyday women with cellulite and PMS who fall in love.

Is your muse currently sitting on your shoulder or is she illusive?

Actually a muse sitting on my shoulder would explain any current weigh gain. Damn muse. You know, I just write. I don’t know if I have the typical writer’s muse. I rely on myself, my instinct and my experiences in life. I believe in write what you know and believe in as anything else is false.

Who is your favorite author?

There are so many. I love the subtle sensuality of Georgette Heyer, I laugh at Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels and I enjoy Robert Goddard books as I love a good mind game.

What books of yours are currently for sale and where can a reader buy them?

If you are looking for hot, romantica my alter ego Amarinda Jones writes for Ellora’s Cave and Total-E-Bound. For sweet, crazy romance take a look at Cerridwen Press nd look up Janet Davies. Or just wander over to www.freewebs.com/amarindajones/ and have a have a look. And by all means stop off at www.amarindajones.blogspot.com to see what the latest book it.

Thanks mate for the interview. The check’s in the mail.

(Wilhelm von Brandt, a naive German noble turned Nebraska rancher, is helped in his attempts to build a stud farm by Johnny Moon, a Pawnee halfbreed. As soon as he's able, Will intends to send for his fiancee, to bring her to America so they can be married.)

...Today was the Big Day.

Will had gone into town early, to withdraw the men’s wages from the bank and to wire Gretchen her fare. He was excited, almost nervous, knowing that, by performing this commonplace act, he was setting into motion the events that would at last bring his beloved liebchen to him.

Before buying the ticket, however, Will went to Painter’s General Store, which also served as the little town’s post office. Hoping there would be a letter from Gretchen, he thought how pleasant it would be to read it while he made the preparations to send her the fare.

There was.

Walking out onto the boardwalk, he opened the letter to read it, leaving Johnny, who was busy buying tobacco, inside. Will tore open the envelope, eagerly reading the first three lines.

It slid from his fingers, fluttering to the boards.

Johnny, stuffing his makin’s into his hip pocket, nearly ran into him. Seeing the fallen letter, he stooped and picked it up.

“Hey, Boss, you dropped--” At sight of Will’s stricken face, he asked, quickly, “Will, what’s the matter?”

To his horror, a tear slid down his friend’s cheek, and Will raised one hand, pressed it against his eyes and began to sob.

With a quick look around, Johnny caught his arm and pulled him down the steps and into the alley before anyone could see. “What the Hell’s happened?”

All Will’s English deserted him. He held out the letter, waving it helplessly.

“Gretchen…mein liebchen…oh, Gott in Himmel…Chonny…!”

Johnny took the letter, scowling at the foreign words written in a hand that was definitely not Gretchen‘s delicate feminine one. “I can’t read this. It’s in German!”

“S-she’s dead, Chonny…mein liebling is dead….” He stifled another sob.

“S-six months ago…!”

Johnny stared at the piece of paper crumpled in Will’s fist. All the wonderful letters Will had received--she had been dead before the last two arrived. While he was planting those sunflowers by the back door, someone else was placing flowers on Gretchen’s grave.

“How?”

“There…was an influenza epidemic…in E-Eisenstadt….” Will replied wearily. “Many people were stricken…Gretchen--“ He looked at Johnny with eyes bleached colorless by tears. “S-she called for me. Her Papa told her I vas coming back….”

Johnny’s fingers tightened around his arm. He took the letter from Will’s hand and stuffed it into his hip pocket. “Come on! You need a drink!”

Will pulled away. Nein. I do not vant to be around people right now.”

“Won’t be nobody there this time of mornin’,” Johnny answered, dragging him from the alley’s shelter and into the street. “Come on!”

***

Depositing Will at a table, he almost ran to the bar where Jessie and Jed, the Wagon Wheel’s bartender and bouncer, stood.

“A bottle an’ two glasses, Jed--big ones!” He leaned over to give Jessie a quick kiss before placing his mouth against her ear to whisper quickly.

Jessie turned a startled gaze on the slumped figure.

Johnny picked up bottle and glasses and returned to the table. He filled Will’s glass and his own, drinking his as Will sat there staring at the dark liquid.

“Will--I’m sorry.” Johnny’s voice was low. Only someone at the table could have heard him. “I never met the lady but from what you told me and from her letters, I think she was a fine woman.” He raised the glass, “To Miss Gretchen!” and tossed down the drink.

Will drank his also, choked, swallowed, and with stone-faced determination, emptied the glass, and Johnny filled it again almost before he could lower it. He drank that one, too, as if he barely realized what he was doing.

By the time Johnny gestured to Jessie to come over to the table, Will had consumed five glassfuls in rapid succession and--being unaccustomed to the strength of Western spirits--was now so sloppy-drunk, he was about to break into another crying jag.

Almost hesitantly, Jessie stopped beside Will’s chair, one hand resting on its back. The lilac-scent of her cologne seemed to float over the table like a cloud.

Blearily, Will looked up at her. Polite, even when snockered, he staggered to his feet. Fraulein Jessie!“ He wobbled, and nearly fell against her, mumbling.

“E-excuse me. I-I am not feeling so vell….”

“Yeah!” Johnny agreed quickly. “Say, Boss, you look purty tired. Maybe you ought to lie down!”

He nodded encouragingly at Jessie, touching her shoulder, and giving it a slight shake to prompt her.

“Yeah, Will--w-why don’t you come upstairs…a-and…rest?”

Understanding Will’s grief, Jessie wasn’t too happy with what Johnny wanted her to do.

“Oh…nein, I could not-- “

“Sure, you could!” Johnny disagreed. “Look--” he went on as Will reached for his glass, knocked it over and stared stupidly at the liquid running to the edge of the table and trickling onto the floor. “You're practic’ly asleep on your feet now! Here, Jessie--given ‘em a hand!”

“Well…perhaps….” Will didn’t get any further, as Jessie, looking at Johnny, interrupted, “Johnny…I don't think this is such a good--”

In answer, the halfbreed dug into his pocket, extracting the pay Will had given him only a short time earlier. “Here!” He thrust it at her, saying in a quick hiss, “Twenty dollars…a month’s wages--if you’ll just make him stop hurting!”

Jessie looked from the money to Will and back at Johnny’s dark worried face, without another word took the crumpled bills and stuffed them into the bosom of her dress. Stepping to Will’s side, she draped his arm over her slim shoulders.

“Come on, Will,” she whispered. “I’ll help you!”

Danke,” came the slurred mutter as she steered him away from the table and toward the stairs.

It took several minutes for them to maneuver the first two steps, but after that, Will managed to reach the top without stumbling. At the landing, however, he stopped, to look back.

“Chonny--”

Glass still in his hand, the halfbreed had followed them to the foot of the stairs in case Jessie needed assistance. “I’ll be right here, Boss,” he promised. “...when you wake up!”

Nodding, Will allowed Jessie to guide him down the narrow hallway....

It's about being good to your skin.

Posted by Mary Marvella | 9:51 PM | 2 comments »

Do you remember when soap and water were beauty products? I grew up using Dial soap because my parents bought it. I had good skin, too. Ponds Cold Cream was a luxury for some ladies who still swear by it. I know one of my relatives used it because my aunt and I played with the jars in our arbor playhouse in the country in Mississippi in the 1940's and '50's. I do know my mama and grandmama couldn't afford that lovely product.

Some women my age are passionate about their Dove soap and Oil of Olay and have been forever, as have their mama's before them. Again, these would have been luxuries for our family.

And then there are ladies who swear by Preparation H and they aren't using it on their bottoms.

Today there are so many skin care products that we can become confused, if we don't already have our own favorites.

Though some ladies use Vaseline or olive oil to moisturize, it's not recommended by skincare experts.

A few suggestions.
Avoid products that contain alcohol because they are likely drying. If your skin is oily, you don't help matters by taking the oil your skin loves.

Avoid glopping heavy creams on your skin if it's dry. It will just become drier. Hydrate your skin with water. Splash it on your face and let it soak in, Then use a small amount of light moisturizer and let it soak into your skin. You may add thin coats, 2 0r 3, until your skin feels soft and smooth. If you put a dollop of lotion in the palms of your hands, it will warm and spread more evenly.

Washing your face in hot water or cold water will just bug your skin.

Read labels and watch for products your skin doesn't like. You should recognize some of them by now. Fragrances can be the worst offenders.

Take your vitamins and don't skimp on E and A and C. Drink lots of water.

What would you like to know about winterizing your skin?

By Beth Trissel

My youngest daughter, Elise, and I found a bedraggled black kitten in a murky corner of the old red barn huddled beside an ancient water trough. Hay was stuck to its fur and its head slick in places from a calf’s sympathetic tongue. We carried the mewing puff ball down to the house and gave it a bath. Being mostly fur, it shrank considerably in the water and nearly disappeared.

After drying this soggy specimen of catdom, we bundled it up in an old towel and fed it the formula concocted by a local vet for orphan kittens: one cup whole milk, one teaspoon of vegetable oil, one egg yolk, whisk well and warm. Sometimes I use a tiny bottle, but this baby is old enough to lap and downed the lot I had poured into a shallow lid. We filled a canning jar with hot water, screwed the lid on tightly and tucked our swaddled charge beside the improvised water bottle back in the small closet in the laundry room.

Assorted farm coats, jeans and shirts hang on hooks up above and brush our heads as we kneel to peer into this den-like place. There’s nothing dogs like better for a bed than a worn coat with that barn smell still clinging to it, cozily tucked back into this closet. Cats prefer sunbeams but will make do. I’ve spent many hours on my knees helping to birth puppies, fuss over their care and tend kittens. Countless kittens and puppies, tiny terriers that could fit in a shoe box, medium size dogs and dogs that have grown too big but are still attached, have called this comforting space home. The narrow walls are gnawed and deeply grooved from the many inhabitants over the years. Every household should have such a place.

Fortunately our rescue dog, Mia, also likes her bed in the dining room because she cannot be trusted to kitten-sit. The formula rapidly dwindles. Not only that, she’s afraid of kittens. Silly, silly Mia. The kitten does not yet have a name because if you name a creature that implies that it’s staying, which this one very well may be. Sometimes you just need a kitten.

Oddly, it would seem that Mia always wanted a kitten of her own after all. She follows the minute puff ball around the kitchen and hovers over it with a worried look. Actually, Mia generally looks worried. I suppose from earlier traumas before we took her in. She has never had a small furry friend though and even tries to play with the kitten as it bounds around the kitchen in great excitement over everything and anything.

My mother made the observation that kittens and other babies can utterly give themselves to play in a way that the rest of us can’t because we’ve had the play smacked out of us by life. Now and then, I think we should all play as unreservedly as possible.

Photograph of a rescue kitten and baby barnyard goose by my mother, Pat Churchman

Here is my book cover!!!!




Mark the date. It will be released on January 17.

Mona



“Chinese restaurant… Malaysian student… ”
Cheryl Stewart raised the volume on her cell phone and pushed it closer to her ear to decipher the intermittent mumbling. “What’s wrong, Doc?”
“Heart…stomach… ” A pause amplified the labored breathing of her mentor.
She connected the hardly audible words. “You’ve been to a Chinese restaurant with a Malaysian student when you felt sick?” Leaning forward, she tightened her grasp on the phone. “Where are you now?”
“Am…Amb… ” The strident wail of an ambulance siren interrupted his effort and Cheryl’s pulse raced at the sound.
“Which hospital are you going to?” God, she should have insisted he take better care of his health.
“ER… Cam…bridge Hos…pital… “
“I’m coming.” It made sense that the paramedics had rushed him to the closest medical center to Harvard School of Architecture.
“Don’t. I need… ” Doc’s voice suddenly forceful filled the line and then collapsed as if he’d lost his last shred of energy.
“Yes, what do you need?” Her throat constricted in anguish. She’d do anything to help the man she’d considered a surrogate father for the last eight years.
Her question must have triggered some awareness. “Go to France… My plane ticket in my office...left drawer... Take my laptop...password statue.” His voice shattered, then came back. She didn’t know if she’d missed something. “Go. Careful. Watch… ” His panting reached her across the line, louder than his words. “Tell François…tell… ”
“Yes?” She probed, her heart drumming in the deafening silence.
“Go…tomorrow.”
“What about you?”
“Maybe food poisoning… Better soon.” He grunted and gasped. “Go.” The connection was cut. Cheryl checked the calling phone number. His cell phone. Had Doc closed the line because a new surge of pain assailed him?
Professor Howard sick? He hadn’t missed a day of work since she’d sat in his class for the first time eight years ago. Should she disobey his orders and rush to the hospital to reassure herself he wasn’t in danger? She bit her lip, hesitating. No, she couldn’t do that. If he’d taken the trouble to call her on his cell phone while in the ambulance writhing in pain, she’d better do exactly as he said.
Her briefcase under her arm, she left the graduate students’ studio at Harvard School of Architecture and strode down the hallway to Professor Stanley Howard’s office. He’d given her a key two months ago when she worked with him on the statue’s project as part of her Ph.D. thesis. She unlocked his office, closed the door behind her and went straight to his desk.
In the first drawer she found a plane ticket and Doc’s passport. She took the ticket as instructed and left the passport. Now, the laptop, his most precious possession, where he saved his plans, research, and discoveries. She scanned the well-organized but cluttered office, the double rows of books in the bookcase, the paper-covered credenza and the big computer sitting on a cart.
Where had he hidden it? And why? She unlocked the closet and sighed with relief when she found it under a pile of journals. Sliding both the airfare ticket and the laptop in her briefcase, she left the sanctuary where Professor Howard spent his days and most of his nights. She locked the door behind her and strolled down the Friday-evening-deserted hallway to the graduate students’ studio where she had a desk.
An hour later, as she left the studio, she glanced down the hallway and gasped. A man just stepped out of Doc’s office. What the hell was he doing there? Except for Cheryl and security, no one else had a key to her mentor’s office.
“Hey, you,” she shouted, but the intruder had already disappeared around the corner.