Tomorrow we start our third month into 2012. How are those New Year’s resolutions working for you? Are you still motivated, or like me, have some of them fallen to the wayside? If so, no problem. Today is a new day filled with new possibilities. I don’t know who said that quote, but I try to remember it each day.

Staying focused is something we should strive to do on a daily basis. It’s not an automatic process. We have to work to develop it, but when doing so think baby steps.  Don’t sprint toward your goal. This often leads to burn out a few feet from the starting point.

  Let’s look at one of my forgotten resolutions.

  Resolution: Become an early riser so I am more productive during the day.

 I love to relax after everyone is tucked in bed for the night. It’s peaceful, and I don’t have to care for anyone. It’s my me time.

 How can I overcome this obstacle?

 1.     Identify what keeps me from achieving my resolution.
             The problem: I go to bed late and therefore struggle to get up early in the morning. And when I do rise early, I’m usually tired all day.

2.    Make a plan to overcome the obstacle.
           Begin by waking up fifteen minutes earlier each day. Of course, this means going to bed fifteen minutes earlier at night. Do this until you reach your optimum bedtime. Try to get in bed between nine and eleven each night.

I eliminated all distractions in the bedroom. I removed my television and exercise equipment.  Instead, before bed I now read, meditate, and take a long soothing bath.

I watch what I eat at night. Limit spicy foods. In fact, it’s a good idea to stop eating two to three hours before bed.

3.     Then work the plan.
After a few weeks of staying focused, I woke up early and was more productive during the day.

          Achieving my goals gave me a mental and physical boost, because when I’m see results I feel good about myself.

 Share your thoughts.

Bridge of my Dreams

Posted by Hildie McQueen | 5:00 AM | 9 comments »

I had a recurring dream.  I am driving over water, on a long bridge.  The bridge has no sides and it's flat.  Suddenly everything goes dark.  I have to keep moving, not sure why, but I know that any minute I'm going to plunge into the darkness.

Well I suppose it comes as no surprise that I have a fear of bridges, Gephyrophobia, yep that's it.

What others see as a beautiful picture, makes me sweat.  I force people to drive out of their way to avoid bridges, no matter how low or high.

Although I sometimes don't have a strong reaction, there are times when I get dizzy, lose my breath and break out in sweat.

I think phobias are boring, limiting and should be banned from our lives!

In my effort to overcome mine, I've purposely driving over low bridges lately.  I plan to work my way up until I can do a high bridge.  Of course, it would suck if I accidentally repeat what I did once.  I closed my eyes!  Thankfully I had a passenger along that told me to open my eyes.  I wonder if I can find a brave volunteer to come along in my therapy?

Do you have a fear you wish you could overcome?  I hope not.

I posted this earlier in February on my Wordpress blog, but not everyone in the world read it and I thought it worth reposting. :)

Recently my seven year old niece, Cailin, was in my care and coughing her head off with the latest respiratory ‘thing.’  So I took some flannel (formerly an infant burb cloth) slathered it with Vicks Vapor Rub, folded the cloth so it wouldn’t stick to her shirt, and laid it on her chest.  This way her skin is protected  in case she’s sensitive to the rub–I broke out in an itchy rash last year.  Then I laid a warming pack filled with rice that can be reheated in the microwave and is cushioned by fleece against her shirt/chest and wrapped her in a blanket, periodically reheating the pack.  After this, I got out the Olbas oil and anointed her temples, added a few drops to a basin of steaming water for her to inhale.  Although complaints of ‘it smells funny’ and ‘stings my eyes’ — ‘close them,’ I answered, and other arguments arose, her coughing eased.  I’d done the same thing I reminded her last week for her cousin, my seven year old grandson, and it greatly lessened his cough.

I told her she’d come to the ‘Granny Woman’ who used herbs and old-fashioned remedies to cure.  Her eyes widened at that. To emphasize my point, I went into the sun space and picked a handful of the ‘Vicks’ plant, Plectranthus purpuratus, a pungent mentholated herb given to me years ago by an old mountain woman who swore by its powers.  Easily rerooted, I’ve kept it going and used it myself–just smelling the leaves opens your head–but Cailin was a little put off by the powerful aroma and glad I wasn’t making a concoction from this, or the mustard plaster I’d told her about.   Later on, though, my sister said how vastly impressed Cailin was, declaring I knew lots of stuff about how to make you better.   Even prattled away to the doctor about her amazing Aunt Beth who now probably thinks I’m a quack.
Back to the Granny Women, historically, they were elderly women  from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities.  The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’  However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia.  We refer to the specific mountains.  But I digress.  In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway,  the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices  passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them.    Sure, a dollop of superstition, and at times, a little white magic, was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good.  In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable.   Some of my friends remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury.  Officially, these women are no longer with us.  Unofficially, they are.  And many know far more than I.

An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions.  For more on the real Vicks Plant click the above link.

*Cailin with kitty Pavel (a little sticky from something) image by daughter Elise
*Old mountain house in the Blue Ridge, image by my husband Dennis.

Since I forgot the blog I had planned to post today on my computer at work, I decided to invite a character from one of my books to say hello.  Lucien St. Albans is featured as a supporting actor in Tony-Paul Vissage's Night Man Cometh. which I am currently reading.  So here's Lucien:

My name is Lucien St. Albans, and I am a vampire.  In fact, I am Chief Councilor of the ruling council of our race, and I am the most powerful vampire in the world.  That said, I should introduce myself further.  I was born in Rome when Caesars ruled and Centurions marched.  I was in the crowd when Jesus was crucified.  Over centuries, I have been many things and am at the moment a lecturer in Medieval History at Oxford.  Evening classes of course.

What I haven’t been is the main character in one of Linda Nightingale’s books.  She and I are both in love with our handsome pianist Morgan D’Arcy, but he has his own novel, and he has been in love with his Isabeau since she screamed her first breath.  I am the villain in Sinners Opera.  I admit that I play the villain quite well.
 She gave me free rein in Black Swan , her—how does she describe it?—oh, yes, a spicy vampire story.  Ladies, I’m the spice.  I had Carol on go until Tristan returned from his hiatus in America.

 Do you know what Black Swans are?  Mortals who willingly submit to us to enjoy the euphoria of the Kiss.
Since mind-reading is one of our powers, I know that people have asked her to write my book.  Perhaps, if I charm you, she’ll be persuaded to do so.  She has the title for another Morgan novel.  I am a supporting actor in Morning of the Night.   Since people are so visual in today’s world, I have included a photo.

From Black Swan:

Carol looked up, halted, gripping the rail. She’d never seen the godlike creature standing regally at the top of the stairs, one long, elegant hand resting on the head of a stone lion. He radiated power—and arrogance. Straight, thick hair, black and soft as the country night, washed over his shoulders. He was so intense, so handsome that the people greeting him faded to ghosts. Lisa captured her hand to pull her along. When they mounted the step beside him, black eyes captured Carol's and, in one fluttering heartbeat, the stranger had taken the measure of her soul. He didn’t smile or hold her gaze long enough to mesmerize, yet Carol felt wobbly on her feet—and enthralled. For a moment, she actually forgot Tristan.
 I shall leave you with one request.  Convince Linda to write my book. 

Most sincerely yours,


Welcome, Jill Jones. It's warm today for the fireplace, but we'll use the fake logs for atmosphere. What a yummy cover!

Jill's debut novel, Tempting Adam was released February 2011, from The Wild Rose Press. She Indie published Divorce, Interrupted, Book 1 of the Second Chances series. She is currently working on a sequel to Tempting Adam, Book 2 of the Second Chances series, along with a paranormal romance and several short stories.

Jill has been busy writing and blogging all over. I know she wants to answer questions about her journey, 'cause she is promising prizes for some some folks who comment. Ask her about her sales.

Blurb for Someone to Trust

Evie Grimes doesn’t trust men. She’s been lied to and deceived too many times before. Happily single, the last thing she needs is a man.

Brady Jackson is a former Marine. Now a carpenter, he is as honest as the day is long. What you see is what you get.

When Brady falls for Evie he will have to prove he can be trusted with her heart. When danger arrives at her door he will have to prove he can be trusted to protect her. When everyone turns against him, he will have to prove he is someone to trust.

Excerpt from Someone to Trust.

Chapter One

“Honey, it’s just a stupid business trip. You would be bored in Oregon.”

“Evie, sweetie. I love you, but you know you aren’t the smartest apple in the bunch.”

“Evie, where in the hell were you? You know you’re not allowed out after dark. Only women out after dark are whores and sluts.”

Blinking her eyes in the dark bedroom, Evie Grimes shuddered and took deep, cleansing breaths. Her ex-husband wasn’t here. He hadn’t been in her life for five, long, peaceful years now. Her heartbeat slowed, calmed, returned to a normal pace.

She turned on her side, hitting her pillow to relieve the residual tension in her shoulders.

Cold sweat pooled between her breasts. Sighing, Evie glanced at the bedside clock. She refused to get up at four in the morning just because her sadistic ex-husband had invaded her dreams again.

A car’s headlights traveled along the ceiling and she missed the lake even more than usual. Life in the little town wasn’t hectic. But the lake was so peaceful it made the town seem like a metropolis. She needed peace and quiet more and more as the nightmares returned.

It was only a matter of time before the calls started up again and she’d be forced to change phone numbers yet again. A step closer to needing to find a new town again, praying it would be the last time.

Tears filled her eyes, rolling down the sides of her face and wetting her hair. He always found her and she always had to move on. Her thoughts ran in circles like a merry-go-round.

She threw off the covers and swung her legs off the bed. Even at four in the morning, the mugginess the day would later carry already filled the air. She strode down the hallway in her T-shirt and panties, all she forced herself to wear in the dog days of August in the sweltering foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Her footsteps pitter-pattered down the oak flooring of the hallway. The beats of her still-racing heart pounded in her ears.

She flipped the switch on the wall and the kitchen flooded with light, banishing the not-yet dawn outside and the last dregs of her nightmare. Evie shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself.

Thoughts of Mark Trudeau still haunted her.

I’m giving away two copies of the first in the series Divorce, Interrupted.

Buy links:

Jill James
The Second Chances series @ Amazon,, and Smashwords
Divorce, Interrupted Book 1 ~ Someone To Trust Book 2
Tempting Adam @ The Wild Rose Press, Amazon,
Facebook Author Page @ Twitter @jill_james

Publishing Promo

Posted by Patrice Wilton | 8:22 AM | 7 comments »

Good morning everyone,

It's been an interesting month as an Indie writer. My sales were down this month and so I put one of my books, Champagne For Two, up as a free read over Valentine's Day. I had 24,000 downloads!! Woo-hoo. All those potential new readers. I also had 27 returns - lol. How can somebody return something that's free????

Anyway, it resulted in around 400 sales, so that's exciting, plus my other books picked up too.

Now, our dear Mona has had incredible success with this promotional tool. She's kicking serious butt - and I tip my glass of champagne to her! Has anyone else done something promotional that has paid off?

Here's a little excerpt from Champagne For Two - the first chapter. Enjoy!


“Christine, darling, a hairstylist that you know and trust is worth her weight in gold. Won’t you please reconsider?” Emily Perkins, a well respected Palm Beach socialite, had her red manicured claws on Christine’s arm and wouldn’t let go. “I will pay you handsomely to come to my house.” Her perfectly outlined bottom lip trembled. “The idea of some new person doing my hair is frightful. I shiver to think of it.” She shivered, as if to make a point. “I’ll make it worth your while, I promise.”

Christine Bradley shook her head and almost laughed. She’d been accepting small gifts and well wishes from her steady customers all day, but this “grand dame” was behaving as if Christine selling her salon was an act of treason.

“Of course you would,” Christine said, “but that is not the point. I can’t do that for you and not for my other regulars. If they heard I was still doing your hair, they’d all be asking me to do theirs, and then when would I have time to get my new business up and running?”

“The Merry Matchmakers?” Mrs. Perkins had a wrinkle free brow, but a sudden tightness indicated she might have frowned. “Don’t be silly. It’s a ridiculous idea, and I’m surprised a woman as bright as you would involve yourself in it. Besides, if you continued to do my hair I wouldn’t tell a soul. Not one soul.”

Christine laughed gently. “You’re a darling, but once again, I’m going to have to say no.” She walked the clinging woman to the door and held it open for her. “Good-bye, Mrs. Perkins. You will love Amy, I promise. She will take good care of you from now on, and if there are any problems, Amy has my number.”

“I hope this crazy dating service fails,” Emily Perkins snapped, then clamped a hand over her mouth in horror. “What a terrible thing for me to say. I’m sorry; my behavior has been quite appalling. It’s just that I’m so used to getting my own way.” She gave Christine one last desperate glance, then tossed her head as if suddenly remembering who she was and sashayed out the door.

Christine turned the key and took a couple of steadying breaths. All in all it had been quite a day. Emotionally exhausting, filled with highs and lows, and it wasn’t over yet. Behind her she could hear the women who worked for her laughing and chatting happily, and the loud pop of a champagne bottle.

Pushing her melancholy aside, she put on a happy face and returned to the rear of the salon where her former employees were waiting.

“Thank God, you got rid of that nasty woman,” Nora, the receptionist said, and handed her a fluted glass of sparkling champagne. “What was her problem anyway?”

“She’s afraid to let anyone else touch her hair. Amy, I told her you’d do it.”

“Oh, no. Not me,” Amy wailed in false horror. “I’m not good with people like her. They think because they have had money in their family for generations that they are better than everyone else. Give me nouveau rich anytime.”

Kelly laughed. “You prefer crass with no class?”

Both Kelly and Amy were in their mid-twenties, and two of the best stylists Christine had ever come across. They were attractive enough to turn any man’s head, and had way too much fun for any one person. Nora was a woman in her forties, nearly the same age as Christine, and divorced like her too. Jamie did the manicures and pedicures, and was a single mom, struggling to make ends meet. Her husband had left her with nothing but debts, and she’d been pretty desperate when Christine hired her. These women were her closest friends.

“Hey, aren’t we forgetting something here.” She lifted her untouched glass of champagne and waited.

“Oh, yeah. The toast.” Nora raised her glass to all the smiling faces. “We want to wish you luck with your dating service, and free dates all around!” The women laughed, and Nora put up her hand. “No, seriously. We hope your business is hugely successful, but we’re going to miss you around here.”

“Thank you. I’m going to miss you more.” They all sipped their champagne, and she noticed that she wasn’t the only person in the room looking sad.

A flood of emotions welled inside her, and to keep them at bay she focused her attention on the crystal Waterford glasses they were drinking from, which was their present to her. “This was a lovely, thoughtful present, and I’ll treasure them always.” She swallowed a sudden lump in her throat and lifted her head, intent not to cry. This was a celebration and she would not spoil it.

“It’s not going to be the same around here,” Jamie said. “We are so used to hearing about all your problems. They make ours look small.”

She laughed with the others. Three years ago she had had a messy divorce, and around that time her daughter had quit college to live with some artsy guy with a dead-end job, so yes, she had brought her complaints to work. But she knew all their problems too, as did most of their regular customers. While they washed or cut or colored, many secrets were shared at the Sass and Class, as both clients and stylists talked through their troubles. Now, who would she talk to? She would have no one to confide in.

Christine hadn’t realized until today that when she left this business, which she’d worked at and owned for fifteen years, she would be leaving a part of herself behind. It was no wonder she was a little emotional.

Still, she sipped her champagne and kept a smile firmly in place. After all, she had an exciting new business venture to sink her teeth into. Her mother and her friends had started the Merry Matchmakers, a dating service for seniors, and it had been an ill-conceived idea right from the start. They had lost money month after month, and her mother was in no position to throw good money away. Her father had not left her mother as well off as expected, and she needed to be frugal in order to maintain the life style she was accustomed to. Now, with the down economy, her investments were not doing well and she’d been advised by her bankers to restrict her spending or she’d outlive the little money she had. She refused to come live with Christine, not wanting to burden her, so Christine had pretended that the women would be doing her a favor by selling her the dating service. She’d insisted that she was tired of the hair salon and looked forward to a change.

Bailing her mother out of financial ruin was priority number one, but she really did think the business, if done right, could be a worth-while investment. As quickly as she could, she’d renamed it Champagne For Two, and it was her intention to make this the premier dating service on the south-east coast—given time.

“So, Christine,” Kelly said, “how exactly are you going to get people to sign up? I mean, people with money? People who are filthy rich certainly don’t have any trouble finding dates. And normal people can’t afford expensive fees.”

“I know, but I have a plan. I was thinking of a three tiered membership fee. Bronze, silver, and gold. For a thousand dollars anyone single can participate in the fun events I will plan each month. There’ll be nice dinners at different restaurants, single dances, even a cruise.”

“All that for a thousand dollars?” Kelly asked. “Heck, you can sign me up.”

“I would love to.” Christine smiled. “Seriously. But the costs for the events aren’t included in the thousand dollars, and they won’t be cheap.”

“No,” Amy said, “but it would be fun and if there was a chance to meet a really cool guy, I’m all for it. So what’s the silver?”

“Five thousand guarantees a thorough background check, and arranged meetings between interested parties.” Christine checked their expressions to see if they found this a reasonable fee. No one looked shocked, so she figured she was on target.

“And the gold?” Nora asked.

“The gold means I will turn heaven and earth to find that special someone for my client.”

“Uh, that might be a touch difficult.” Jamie hitched her butt onto a corner of the table. “You can’t possibly guarantee anyone that.”

“I aim to try.” Christine crossed her arms and spoke with her usual confidence, determination, stubbornness--call it what you will. “I can’t charge people a fortune and not guarantee results. This is a business. How would people like to buy a Ferrari and have the dealer say, ‘Well, we think it can break a hundred in ten seconds flat. But I wouldn’t guarantee it.’”

The women looked at each other with amused expressions.

“Okay, you may or may not have a point, but we get what you’re trying to do,” Jamie said. “This is going to be an interesting challenge.”

Christine couldn’t agree more. She knew it was going to take time to build a proper database for her clients, but Palm Beach was a great place to start. There really wasn’t any established service like hers in the area, and she expected to do well.

Her desire to succeed was two-fold. One, she didn’t like to fail, and two, she wanted to reimburse her mother and friends for their losses. If there was a deeper reason, like being an incurable romantic, she would take that with her to the grave. Just because she didn’t want to risk her heart, was no reason for others to feel the same. Besides, watching two people fall in love gave her an emotional thrill, without any of the downside.

Perhaps she could find a suitable man for her mother. She was one of those women who needed a good man taking care of her. Many women did. Thank God she was not one of them.

A loud banging at the door made her jump, and she nearly lost her glass of champagne. Who in the world could it be? No outsiders had been invited to this little farewell party. She’d asked her daughter, but Nicole had said she was working tonight.

The banging grew louder.

“Who the hell is that?” Nora asked, stepping into the main salon. The others followed out of curiosity.

“I have no idea. We’re not expecting anyone, are we?” Christine said.

Nora strode over and unlocked the door, opening it wide. When Christine saw a man standing there in a dirty, sweat-stained wife-beater, she raised her eyebrows and looked at the other women. “Girls? You didn’t do something stupid like hire me a stripper, did you?”

No one answered. They were too busy gawking.

In all fairness, the man was worthy of gawking and then some. He had a broad chest and shoulders, toned muscles that looked like they came from hard work, not excruciating hours at a gym, and a face with regular features that was easy on the eyes.

Figuring it was a joke, Christine played along. “Hey, good looking. Are you for me?” She grinned cheekily at the fellow and stepped closer.

“I didn’t hire him. Did you?” Nora asked Kelly, who shook her head no.

Christine didn’t buy it. They were always doing crazy stuff like this, trying to get her to lighten up because they thought she was a workaholic who didn’t make time for fun.

She would show them that she could have as much fun as the next girl. “If you’re going to dance, go right ahead. I’m in the mood for a little dancing myself.” Christine put a hand on her hip, sipped her champagne, and smiled at the hunky guy.

The man looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Dancing. Stripping. Whatever.”

He took three big strides and was a hair’s breadth away from her. “You think I came here to dance?” He glared at her, which she didn’t think was very nice, but she kept her cool. Maybe this was all part of his act and he was going to do more than dance. Like drag her body up against his and ravage her mouth with hot kisses. He looked the sort who’d enjoy the caveman routine. If so, she would be a good sport and go along with it. To a point.

“Sure. We’re all waiting.” What was the matter with this guy? If they paid him to perform, then why didn’t he do something besides snarl--and look all hot and manly?

The other women were all looking at each other and shrugging as if they didn’t know who was responsible. That was odd. Normally they couldn’t keep a secret.

Christine noticed a small tick in the chiseled cheek of the man in front of her. The muscular shoulders seemed to flex too.

His lips curled up, but it was more of a sneer than a smile. “Are you the new owner of The Merry Matchmakers?”

What an odd question, she thought, but answered nonetheless. “Yes. But it’s now called Champagne for Two. Much better, don’t you think?”

“I don’t care what you call the damn thing. Least I know I’ve come to the right place.”

“Yes, you have.” Had she been wrong after all? Was he not here as a parting gift for her? “You’re not a stripper, are you?”

“Do I look like a stripper to you?”

She decided she’d better not answer that. Instead she said, “Well, if you’re not here to dance, what are you here for?”

He shoved a magazine in her face, pointing to an ad for Merry Matchmakers that featured a picture of him. “You used my photo without my consent.”

“I did no such thing.” The glossy picture showed him wearing pretty much the same thing as he had on right now, except the body hugging shirt was clean. He was grinning at something or someone, and he looked so at ease in his own skin, and so natural, that she wouldn’t have thought it was a commercial photograph. “But it is a nice picture.”

Christine smiled and decided to tease him a little, just for the hell of it. “You look so manly.” Her mother’s friends must have been responsible. Maybe this was their idea of helping her out after selling her a nearly bankrupt business, but boy, did they have it wrong. This man was not at all what she had in mind for an ad campaign for Champagne for Two.

“If you’re the owner, you must have known about the ad.” He was standing close enough that she could smell his body odor, and it should have been appalling but for some reason wasn’t.

“Do you need some help, Christine?” Jamie asked, stepping toward the two of them.

“No, but thanks.”

Jamie shrugged and grabbed a chair to watch the little drama going on. The other three women were all guzzling their champagne and ogling the guy.

“So, who are you exactly?” Christine inquired. “And how did they get your picture to use for advertisements without your approval?”

“Dammed if I know.” He rubbed a hand over his unshaven face. “Look, maybe we got off to a bad start here. I’m Derek Connors, Mary’s nephew. I guess it wasn’t too hard for her to get a picture of me.” He grimaced. “But why the hell did she use it for some damn fool ad?”

Now that Derek wasn’t shouting, Christine studied his face. He was very handsome, if you liked the scruffy, haven’t shaved today, dirty Harry type of guy. She didn’t, of course. At the sensible age of forty-five, she preferred gentlemen with collared shirts on their chests.

But still, her heart raced as she studied him.

She walked behind the reception desk to put a little space between the two of them. She didn’t want a racing heart to get in the way of her good judgment. She picked up a pen, tapping it against the palm of her hand. “I’m very sorry your aunt and my mother did this without your permission. I’ll speak to them about it the moment I get the chance. You see, they left today for Europe.”

He followed her around the desk and stood so close, his nose was only inches from hers. “Pull all future ads.”

“I can’t. I don’t know where they’ve been circulated, but I will be sure to find out all that I can. As a matter of fact, I’ll put that down as my number one concern. If you would like to leave me your name and number, I’ll call you once I have more information. That’s the best I can do.”

He took a step back, and she relaxed.

“I’m sorry for losing my temper, but this ad has made me a damn laughing stock. Everybody on the construction site thinks I had to resort to a dating service to get a date.” He puffed out his sizeable chest. “I’m not that hard up. I could find a woman if I wanted one. I don’t.” His flush deepened. “And I don’t want my face plastered all over town, like some prissy poster boy.”

“Why not? Most men would love it. Think of all the dates you’ll get.” She smiled, thinking fast. Perhaps he was exactly what she needed to generate business. She needed young flesh and here he was. Late thirties, possibly forty. Put him in a business suit and he would look very presentable. Sexy, even.

“You think this is funny?” He leaned in close again, and the smile slid off her face. “I don’t want to sue Aunt Mary, but I will if I have to. Let’s end this right now. Get on the phone and pull the ads.”

He shifted his feet, moving a fraction in her direction, crowding her space. Still, she didn’t budge. “Could you take care of this while I wait?” he said. “Like now?”

“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t know anything about these ads and will find out all that I can. That’s the best I can do.”

She took the magazine from him. It was the Palm Beach Illustrated, an upscale magazine that was circulated to doctors’ and dentists' offices, and high-end golf communities. Christine could tell it was an expensive ad, and knew that it had cost the women plenty.

“You must have records or files or something you can check.”

She shrugged. “I have everything in storage. You see I was having the office redone before my grand opening tomorrow and it will take me a few days to sort through everything and pull out the information you require.”

“How many days?”

“Oh, I’m not sure. It may be the first box I get to, or it could be the last.” She smiled beguilingly. “As a favor, maybe in payment, I could offer you a date or two. I have some very lovely women signed up.”

His face flushed to a dull burn. He crossed his arms over his chest, his biceps flexing.

“Date? You want me to date?”

She could see Amy and Kelly nodding eagerly. They were leaning sideways to check out his butt and other areas of his anatomy. She nearly burst into laughter, but bit the inside of her cheek to stop the giggles.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s the least I can do.” She added quickly, “We have many attractive ladies wanting to meet men like you.”

Her gaze rolled over his flat belly, then back up to his ruggedly handsome face. He could generate some business, no doubt about it.

“Are you on drugs?”

“What? Of course not! Why would you ask such a ridiculous question?”

“I’m not here to get fixed up, that’s half the reason I’m here. I don’t date. I don’t want to get hooked up.”

“Well, why the hell not?” Christine had never met a straight guy who could turn down a pretty woman. Then she quickly realized she didn’t know a thing about him. “Oh, you’re married or you have someone in your life. Of course.” She felt a little punch of disappointment. Not for herself, but for all the other ladies out there.

“I’m not married.”

“Really? That’s wonderful. If we have to pull your ads, won’t you please at least be our first male client under eighty? On the house, of course.”

His eyes narrowed. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t want any part of this. Are you understanding me?”

“I think I am. You don’t want the ads circulated. You don’t want to date. I’m so sorry. I wish I could comply.” Oh, why had she said that? What was wrong with her? She could easily hire a young, handsome model to be the attraction, she didn’t need Derek. And yet, she was reluctant to give up on him.

Derek had something. She wasn’t sure what, but it was something. Besides, his insistence made it all the more amusing. She liked seeing him angry. Hot. Excited.


“If you don’t want to date, you don’t have to,” she said. “Although I think my assistants will be extremely disappointed, won’t you, girls?”

The other women laughed and nodded.

“We can certainly compensate you for the ads,” she went on, “and very handsomely too. I’ll make a few inquiries and figure out what most models make. Pay you the same. Is that okay with you?”

“No, this is not okay with me. I don’t want money. I don’t want dates. And I don’t want my face splashed all over the place.”

Dropping her gaze, she gave him the old up and down. “You’re an attractive guy. You should go for it.”

He picked up the phone on her desk. “I only have to call one person to make this go away. My attorney.”

She bit her lip, thinking fast. “Aw, come on. You wouldn’t want to do that. Sue your poor aunt Mary? The women have already lost their initial investment and a lot more. I’m stepping in to help. Won’t you?” Her eyes beseeched him. “Please, say you won’t do anything rash until your aunt and the others get back. It’s only three weeks. We need you. I need you.”

“You need me?” He stepped away and laughed. “I’m not getting you. What do you want with me?”

“I. . .I, uh, don’t have any male clients. How can I run a dating service without any men?”

“Good question. Maybe you should have thought about that before you got involved.”

“I did. Long and hard. I know I can make this work. All I’m asking is for a little cooperation.”

He eyed her. His lips curled up in a hint of a smile. “Okay, on second thought, I will accept a date as payment. But on one condition--that I get to choose.”

“That’s fair. You should.” She nodded in the direction of the beautiful young women who worked for her. “See anyone here who catches your eye?”

“The only date I’ll agree to is with you. If you want this so damn bad, put yourself on the line.”

A thrill of anticipation skipped along Christine’s body. What was that all about? She needed to nip that idea right in the bud. “No way. I’m not up for grabs. I don’t date.”

He smiled. “That makes two of us. Puts us on equal ground. One date and I won’t sue. Okay?”

“No, it’s not okay.” Her back stiffened. “Choose someone else. I’m recently divorced, and I’m not very pleasant company.” Hoping to put him off, she added, “Never was even at the best of times.”

“It’s you or nobody.” He leaned against the desk, legs crossed, staring her down. “Come on. Do it for the team.” He had the audacity to smile.

She put her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowed with defiance. It didn’t seem to faze him any.

Her shoulders slumped. How could she refuse if he didn’t? He had her and he knew it. “Shoot. I’ll do it. If you agree to let the ads run until the ladies come home.”

“Agreed. So where and when?”

“Tomorrow night. Seven o’clock. CafĂ© Chardonnay. And I’ll pick up the tab.”

My Brain Just Ain’t Big Enough

I admire people who can write a lot of books and even though they are prolific, their talent shines in every story they write. Some people, like me, however, take a while. It’s not that I don’t have time. I used to blame that on everything. Well, it was true when I was working. Now it’s life that holds me back.
I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying. My worry, gene came from my mother, who at 86 can still find more things to have angst over then any one I have ever known. So your cousin, who was a sweet, darling girl, is dating a meth addict she met on line after watching the TV show intervention. My cousin prefers women, not that she didn’t give men a try.  So far she hasn’t had much luck.
One of my sister’s has an autistic daughter who is incommunicative and keeps having seizures. The list is endless.  I find myself doing things that take my mind away rather then let me use it. Reading, is a great escape.
So I’d say maybe that takes up at least a quarter of my brain. Then there is the half of brain I use to run my body. You know, like breathing, blood flow, living. That leaves a measly one quarter to work with.
Now out of that quarter brain I have to at least use half to handle my husband. He is a job, let me tell you.
So I am left with one eighth of a brain for learning and writing. Which brings me to the point of this blog.  I have a lot to learn, still. I was so proud when I remembered the difference between an em-dash and an en-dash, and darn if I am not proud to remember what an ellipse is! And yes, I know when to use it.
But, I learned one the other day from an editor which kind of throws out all they say about using the word had. It’s called past plu-perfect tense. Yes, I kid you not, there is really such a thing. It kinda threw me. What?
You insist I use the word has to remember a past event that is kinda like earlier then another past event. Yeah, you heard me—(See!)
Wikopedia defines it as follows. The pluperfect (from Latin plus quam perfectum more than perfect), also called past perfect in English, is a grammatical combination of past tense with the perfect, itself a combination of tense and aspect, that exists in most Indo-European languages though there is not one in Irish. It is used to refer to an event that had continuing relevance to a past time.[dubious ] Comrie[1]:p.64 classifies the pluperfect as an absolute-relative tense because it absolutely (not by context) establishes a deixis (the past event) and places the action relative to the deixis (before it).
I am still gonna have to figure out when it’s correct to use it. I was told by a talented editor, especially if I am gonna write time travel stories. Uh Oh! I’ve been thinking of writing a shape-shifter story…

Good Tuesday morning, Cynthia! Coffee, hot tea, or hot chocolate? You have been one busy lady lately.

Cynthia Woolf stopped by to share the fireplace! She has published books in her Centuari series and now has book 3 ready for us. There won't be a test at the end of her blog, but she is giving away a free book. You will need to read to the end to learn the details. (evil grin)

What advice do you have for other authors wanting to self-publish?

I think you should go for it. But make sure you do it right. Get a good cover, get an editor or at least have someone who can edit well read it for you. I read each of my books through 3 times before I give it in full to my critique partners for beta reading. I also have other beta readers who read it before it gets published.

Do you have critique partners?

I have the most amazing critique partners. They each have their strengths and the are all incredibly talented writers. All but one is currently published and that person will publish by the end of January.

What is your favorite dessert/food?

I love anything with chocolate, but my favorite dessert is carrot cake. My mother made the most amazing carrot cake with real cream cheese icing. It was to die for.

How likely are people you meet to end up in your next book?

It’s not really very likely unless they have something that makes them stand out from the crowd. Some character trait that I can see when I meet them.

What is most difficult for you to write? Characters, conflict or emotions? Why?

The hardest for me to write is conflict. I avoid conflict in my real like as though it was the plague. So I tend to try and do that with my characters as well. Thank goodness for my critique group who are like an enforcer and make me put in the conflict the story needs.

Was your road to publication fraught with peril or a walk in the park?

Well it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park. I’ve been writing seriously, with the goal of publication since 1990. It’s been a long hard process, that culminated with me publishing my books on my own. So I’d have to say it was fraught with peril.


Cynthia Woolf was born in Denver, Colorado and raised in the mountains west of Golden. She spent her early years running wild around the mountain side with her friends.

Their closest neighbor was one quarter of a mile away, so her little brother was her pl
aymate and her best friend. That fierce friendship lasted until his death in 2006.

Cynthia was and is an avid reader. Her mother was a librarian and brought new books home each week. This is where young Cynthia first got the storytelling bug. She wrote her first story at the age of ten. A romance about a little boy she liked at the time.

She worked her way through college and went to work full time straight after graduation and there was little time to write. Then in 1990 she and two friends started a round robin writing a story about pirates. She found that she missed the writing and kept on with other stories. In 1992 she joined Colorado Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America. Unfortunately, the loss of her job demanded the she not renew her memberships and her writing stagnated for many years.

In 2000, she saw an ad in the paper for a writers conference being put on by CRW and decided she'd attend. One of her favorite authors, Catherine Coulter, was the keynote speaker. Cynthia was lucky enough to have a seat at Ms. Coulter's table at the luncheon and after talking with her, decided she needed to get back to her writing. She rejoined both CRW and RWA that day and hasn't looked back.

Cynthia credits her wonderfully supportive husband Jim and the great friends she's made at CRW for saving her sanity and allowing her to explore her creativity.





“Audra, please. You’re my queen but you’re also my friend. You must grant me this last request. Let me go after him.” Tensign Kiti Dolana paced the beautiful sitting room. Bile rose in her throat threatened to strangle her. Finally, she collapsed into a chair it’s soft cushions swallowing her as she sat across the small, highly polished and gleaming, coffee table from the Queen of Centauri, her friend.

The Queen, pregnant with triplets, her beautifully distended tummy disallowing much frivolous movement, reclined on the couch. She sat up to pour the tea but had trouble reaching the tea pot in the middle of the coffee table. “Kiti would you pour our tea, I’m a bit like a beached whale right now.” Audra was anything but a beached whale. Kiti knew the colloquial term from her study of Earth.

Her queen was radiant. Her long, chestnut hair falling in waves to her waist was gathered on one side of her head. Her clear gray eyes shone bright in her pale face. She wore a beautiful royal purple empire waisted dress that highlighted her pale features. She was beautiful. Kiti remembered a time, on their way back to Centauri from Earth, when she’d not thought so, because she was jealous.

That was before Audra’s marriage to Darius and when she’d still be betrothed to Anton. Kiti had been in love with Anton, at least she thought she was, and was jealous of Audra. Some of the things she said were unkind, but Audra had seen them for what they were, jealousy and forgiven her the words. They were now the best of friends.

Kiti poured the tea and continued to beseech her queen. “Audra, you have to let me go after him. He killed my brother Joridan, his actions led to Anton being captured and tortured. I need to see they get justice, they deserve it.”

“And you are sure it is only justice you seek?” Audra softly asked.

“Damn it, Audra.” Kiti was up and pacing the room again. Her long black hair was tied in a high pony tail and swung back and forth with each step she took. The thick, plush carpet kept her boots from clicking on the floor. “I’m begging you to let me go with Garrick Marcus. It’s not just revenge I need. I need closure. I’m the one who should deliver Tybold to the authorities. Garrick Marcus is the best captain in the fleet and I know Darius is sending him after Tybold. Joridan needs us both to avenge his death. To bring his murderer back to Centauri for justice to be served.”

“Kiti, are you combat trained? We don’t know what to expect from the Proconians. By this time, Tybold could have convinced them we are conquerors and he’s their only salvation. We don’t know. It could be a suicide mission. I don’t want to lose my best friend.” She went on. “I know you’re grieving. Joridan’s loss and Lara’s return has been very hard on you.”

“Stop.” Kiti jumped up and started to pace again. “I know what my life has been like. I mourn the loss of Joridan life and Anton’s capture and torture by Slavarien. Joridan was my little brother. Even though he was a head taller than me he will always be my little brother. I still smell Joridan’s scent in his room. Sometimes it’s so fresh it’s like he just passed by.” Her eyes filled with tears, “I miss the closeness that Anton and I once shared but I do not bemoan him finding Lara. I’m very happy he found his lifemate. It was something he never thought to be able to do. After the torture that both Anton and Lara suffered at the hands of the Slavariens, it’s amazing that they found each other. I wish I had a lifemate out there somewhere.

“Audra, I’m a historian and anthropologist, but first I’m Dragonera. Of course, I am combat trained. All Dragonera are. We are the Royal Guard. We are the best.”

“Yes. You’re right, but I worry anyway. Must be my maternal instinct.” Audra patted her belly.

“You know that the people of Procon are centuries behind us technologically. I’m the only person who can go on this mission that knows anything about their culture.”

“I don’t know,” Audra hesitated.

“Admit it. Garrick needs me.”

“We don’t interfere in the development of other planets’ civilizations. You know that.”

“Tybold has already interfered. I say we’ll be evening the odds for the tribes involved. And it’s not as though Procon doesn’t know we exist. They already trade with other planets. Just because they’re not our technological equals doesn’t mean they aren’t advanced.”

Kiti saw Audra hesitate before she answered. “I must confer with Darius before I can give you my answer.”

At that moment Darius came in accompanied by Garrick, Anton and Lara. The three men were in their Dragonera uniforms as was Kiti. The only differences being the color blocking. Darius and Garrick wore amethyst uniforms with cream colored sleeves, denoting their status as starship Captains. Darius’ uniform also had a cream colored stripe from the left shoulder to the waist, denoting that he was Captain of the Royal Guard. As a general in the Royal Army, Anton’s uniform was solid amethyst. Lara, Audra’s twin sister, still had the tanned skin from someone who’s spent too much time in the sun. She wore the House of Danexx royal colors like everyone else did. Hers were an amethyst jumpsuit and long cream colored duster. Kiti’s uniform was solid cream. Her rank as Tensign was denoted by a patch on her left arm.

“What do you need to discuss with me?” Darius asked as he took his wife’s arm and helped her to rise from the couch. She gave him a quick kiss. Darius rubbed her stomach then bent and said, “Hello, my children. Are you being nice to your mommy today?”

Kiti swore he expected an answer.

“If you don’t quit that people are going to think you’re crazy,” said Audra.

Darius laughed and kissed her belly.

“I am. Crazy in love with my wife.”

Lara made gagging sounds. ‘Will you two remember that you have an audience?”

“All right. But you and Anton are just as bad as we are.” Darius said to his soon to be twice over sister-in-law.”

“Never,” retorted Lara. “No one is as over the moons as you two.

“I don’t know, I’m pretty much over the moons about you,” said Anton waggling his eyebrows at her.

The banter was not aimed at Kiti. She didn’t think the two couples even remembered they were not alone. Kiti glanced at Garrick, who rolled his eyes at her. “Audra, the mission.” She reminded her queen tapping her wrist to hurry her.

“Oh yes. Darius, Kiti has requested to be assigned to go with Garrick to Procon, to apprehend Lord Tybold. I told her I would discuss it with you.”

“I don’t know if she will be needed,” Darius responded.

Garrick spoke for the first time since entering the room. “I think an anthropologist would be very useful on this particular mission. Tensign Dolana would be a definite asset to me in bringing in Tybold.”

“Thank you, Garrick. “ Kiti was warmed by his words and agreed with him one hundred percent. To her way of thinking, this mission would only succeed with her help. No one could understand the Proconians better than she could.

“Very well,” said Darius. “You will receive your orders tomorrow. In the mean time, can we eat dinner? I’m a starving man.”

Now that you made it to the end, you must ask a question or make a comment to be entered in a drawing for an ebook or a paperback copy of this book.

He’s the HERO, tall, drop-dead handsome, and a brave warrior to boot, the warrior in the kingdom if the truth be known, dedicated to fighting and nothing more. Perhaps he’s a womanizer par excellence, also, renowned for his prowess in that other battlefield, the boudoir, or maybe he’s kept celibate by his vows to the Goddess. Either way, he’s a Man among men. She’s the HEROINE, the royal female he’s hired to protect, lovely, delicate, and spoiled, already showing signs of an brave, iron will within the butterfly shell. She may be an untouched, innocent treasure, or a bit of a scold, but she's selective in her choice of men, until she beholds the Man in the flesh…and plenty of it…and then, she loses her heart…and no one but the hero can claim it...

Sound familiar? How many times and ways has this theme played out? My novel The King’s Swordswoman was to be written along similar lines, with one exception…my “hero” was the weak and sheltered one…

His name is Crispin du Lance, invalid son of the Lion of Purdha. Bedridden since birth, Crispin’s been seen by his subjects only once and has left his sickroom twice in all his seventeen years. His survival that long is a miracle. He isn’t expected to last past his coronation, and he certainly will never lead his armies into battle against the now-attacking Nords. He’s an innocent, shielded from the world, his universe bounded by the draperies of his bed, a helpless child-man not expected to live. He’s never seen a dog, never rough-housed with his brothers, never eaten anything stronger than unseasoned gruel.

My “heroine” is Janel Redhu, also seventeen, daughter of Jan Redhu the Mercenary and his warrior wife Mariah TruBlud, joint commanders of the king’s armies. She’s the best warrior in Sword Squad. She lives, bathes, and fights with her twenty-two brothers, and considers herself one of them though she remains chaste and dedicated to the Goddess, while they carouse and womanize. She’d brave, beautiful, and filled with pity for this lonely royal boy, in his feather-bed prison.

When King Leonelle dies, the odd laws of the kingdom give the throne to his youngest son, so Crispin is now the new sovereign. His older, more able brothers ask the Joint Commanders to send them their best swordsman to protect His Majesty. Thus these two so very opposite characters meet. Bodyguard and charge become friends, playmates, if you will, and confidants, and begin to have feelings for each other that even they--in their enforced chastity--don’t recognize. She becomes his gateway to the world outside his bedchamber.

Then, the unexpected happens. Janel overhears a partial conversation between Crispin’s brothers who are the ones really protecting the realm, and believes they’re plotting the king’s overthrow. She’s expected to stand aside while they do away with the helpless invalid, but they don’t count on her integrity.

Janel’s sworn to protect the king and that’s what she does. Though fearing to expose him to the outside world, she dares carry—quite literally—the sick young man to safety, to a neutral kingdom where they’ll wait out the war. But, as usual, Fate intervenes… Janel sees Crispin killed and she allows herself to be taken prisoner by the Nords, as punishment for allowing her charge, her sovereign, her friend, to die…

The King’s Swordswoman is the first of three novels set in the city of Leonesse. It’s told in three parts, the first by Janel, the second by Crispin, the third is an omniscient POV. Together, they mesh into a love story that I hope is unique enough to be called different, while still being entertaining.


At first, I thought we had walked into a library. There were books everywhere, the walls lined with shelves on which they were stacked. To our right, a door opened into another room. In front of the closest bookcase, a table held a chess board and pieces, other gameboards piled upon it. At the other end of the room, a high-arched, mullioned window let in bright sunlight.

On the opposite side of the room stood a large four-poster bedstead, its headboard against the wall. It was swathed so thickly in translucent draperies its occupant was little more than a faceless figure. Two people stood beside the bed, Prince Carel and the Queen Mother, both painted and draped in the heaviest of mourning.

“So you’ve finally arrived,” Carel greeted his brother brusquely. He flicked a glance at me. “And is this the Lady Comaunder’s choice?” He sounded as if he couldn’t believe it.

“Linus, who is this person?” Lady Mathilde didn’t give her next-to-youngest a chance to answer his brother. She was a small woman, even shorter than I, now plump with middle age— dumpy, to be truthful—and her voluminous gown with its flowing sleeves making her look even more squat and fat. I could see she’d probably been very comely when she was His Majesty’s bride, and that determined little chin and her bright eyes were probably two of the features catching his eye. Now, however, there was too much willfulness in her expression and her eyes appeared small and cruel. Perhaps king’s consorts become that way over time. All I know is I felt whatever she was thinking didn’t bode well for me.

“This is the soldier Comaunder Mariah sent to guard Crispin,” Carel answered for Linus.

“He seems young.” Standing, she bustled over to me, peering into my face. Shewas shortsighted also, it seemed. I forced myself not to back away. Abruptly, she recoiled. “Carel, this is a girl!”

“Astute of you to notice, Mother.” Carel’s didn’t attempt to keep his answer respectful. That made me frown. Truly, the Royal offspring weren’t acting as I thought they should. Certainly they weren’t deporting themselves as they did on the battlefield. There, they were calm and collected. At the moment, both seemed merely testy, spiteful children. Still, grief affected men in different ways. I hoped that was all it was.

Comaunder Mariah’s daughter, as a matter of fact,” he went on.

Lady Mathilde stared at her eldest, plainly upset, more than a little angry. Something was wrong, and it appeared to do with my gender.

“She can’t guard His Majesty,” she stated, in a don’t-argue-with-me tone.

“Why not?” Linus spoke up, doing just that. There was so much belligerence in those two words I hoped I wasn’t about to witness a family row.

“She’s a female—” Lady Mathilde began, giving him a glare saying much about a son daring to question his mother’s opinions.

“So?” Carel interrupted. Not letting his mother finish a sentence earned him a scowl.

“Crispin’s guard has to be with him every minute of the day and night. This girl can’t possibly sleep in the same room with His Majesty. It wouldn’t be proper.”

“Janel’s a devotee of the Goddess, Madame.” Carel’s reply was clipped as if attempting to control his anger. A faint rose fragrance hovered in the air. “DeOsse requires chastity of her followers. You needn’t worry about her climbing into bed with him.”

That earned him a shocked look. Both from Mathilde and myself. Linus stifled a chuckle.

“She’s too young, Carel. Your brother requires assistance in bathing and other…necessities. Perhaps if she were more mature… It’s common knowledge young women are susceptible to the sight of bare male bodies, even one as frail as your brother’s…”

At this point, I had to bit my lip to stifle my own laughter. Great DeOsse! She thinks I’ll have designs on the King? On that sickly creature? If I were going to break my vows, it’d certainly be for someone in better health than he. Carel or Linus or… Better end that thought right now.

“Stop this, Madame.” Carel’s snort said it all. “Janel Redhu’s no danger to anyone except those who might harm His Majesty. She’s a soldier first and a female second.”

Carel might be calm but I felt my own cheeks reddening. I studied the floor. Linus fixed an equally interested gaze on the ceiling.


“Nevertheless, nothing! I asked the Commander for her best soldier and Janel is her choice. She stays.”

There was a sigh and a creaking of the leather straps supporting the mattress. A sleepy murmur, sudden movement from the bed, a body straightening and rolling over.

“M-Mother?” The voice was so shaky and hollow it sounded like an old man rather than a seventeen-year-old boy.

“Yes, my angel.” Mathilde was distracted from further argument as she rushed back to the bedside. She leaned into the draperies, reaching toward the vague figure lying there, assisting His Majesty in sitting upright. Once he was settled and propped on several pillows, she straightened.

“W-we have a v-visitor?” It was asked breathlessly. Crispin sounded as if he’d run a race and couldn’t get his wind. Oh, Goddess, and he stutters, too. I felt my heart dip with pity. He leaned forward slightly. “Who are you, s-soldier?”

“The guard sent from Sword Squad—” Carel began.

I started to supply my name.

“—a female,” Mathilde didn’t let either of us finish. “I’ve told him she isn’t acceptable.”

Oh no. She’s going to talk him out of it. Now I understood Linus’ earlier remark. For some reason, the Queen Mother didn’t want her son to have a guard. I imagined she had enough influence with him to have me sent away. Well, that’d be no reflection on me or my abilities, but it would be an insult. To myself as well as to the Lady Commander my mother for her choice.

“Why not?” It was the whining query of a child being told he couldn’t do something.

“See? Even His Majesty sees there’s no problem,” Carel pointed out, not trying to hide how this pleased him.

Mathilde ignored him, turning back to the bed. “Because your guard must be here at all times. Think about that. You don’t want a female here while you’re being bathed, do you? Seeing you naked? Or watching you relieve yourself into a chamber?”

She emphasized those last words as if this were a crime of the highest order. Crispin cringed. There was no other way to describe the sudden movement the figure behind the draperies made.

“She wouldn’t look…” His voice went up so quickly it became a squeak. There was a loud gulp as he attempted to return it to a more kingly timbre. The shadowy head turned in his elder brother’s direction. “Carel, s-surely she wouldn’t…”

“Of course not.” Where Carel was short with his mother, his tone with his brother was quieter. Matter-of-fact, but slightly pacifying as if he were speaking to someone much, much younger. “Whenever you’re being bathed, Janel will turn her back. And she’ll never be in your company when you perform your other functions. Will you, Prive?” He directed this last question at me so suddenly I nearly jumped.

“C-certainly not, Sire.” It was the first time I’d been addressed directly since entering the room and I grimaced at that brief tremble in my voice. I hoped no one thought I was mocking my king’s stammer. “I swear His Majesty’ll have privacy.”

“Let me remind you, Madame,” Carel went on, pressing the point. “If Prive Redhu’s sent away, the Lady Commander’s next choice may be her son, Marius. You do remember Marius, Mother?”

At mention of my brother’s name, Lady Mathilde shuddered. There was no other way to describe the visible frisson going through that overweight little body. She muttered something. It sounded like “She wouldn’t dare.”

What the hell does that mean?

“Come closer, Prive.” A hand wavered through the draperies. It was waxen-pale, large but bony, almost as white as the lawn sleeve covering it. The arm shook slightly as it extended, beckoning. “What are your orders concerning us?”

Before Lady Mathilde could object, I stepped forward and seized Crispin’s hand. It was as chill as a piece of alabaster, not like a living thing at all. Dropping to one knee, I pressed the cold fingers to my forehead.

“I’m to protect you, Your Majesty, and keep your enemies at bay.”

The hand withdrew, pulling me to my feet as it disappeared back inside the sanctuary of the bed. “Then it’s all right. She can s-stay, Mother.”

“But—” Mathilde wasn’t going to give up so easily.

“His Majesty has spoken, Madame,” Carel pointed out, and the finality in his own voice also held triumph. Got another one past her, it seemed to say. I was beginning to wonder just how much filial devotion there actually was between Mathilde and her sons. Not much that I could see.

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