Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Time for Sure - Chapter Two by Alison Henderson

Kate gaped at Robbie in disbelief. “You’re quitting now? The week before Christmas, when we’re up to our eyebrows in tourists?”
Her busboy/dishwasher shrugged and grinned. “My cousin’s driving out to Colorado tomorrow and offered me a lift. I’m gonna get a job in one of the restaurants and spend my free time on the slopes.” He mimed a slalom turn, complete with schussing sound effects. “I wanna live while I’m still young enough to enjoy it. You know how it is.”
No, I don’t know. Kate had always taken the safe, sane, and sensible path in life and never regretted it. Well, almost never.
“Anyway, I just stopped by to tell you and pick up my check.”
“You’re not even going to work today?” It was 6:00 a.m., and they opened for breakfast in an hour.
He shrugged again. “I got things to do before I leave.”
She bit her tongue and counted to ten. It wouldn’t do any good to yell at Robbie. He’d never been a model of responsibility, and this last-minute decision wasn’t a huge surprise. What she needed was a plan, and fast.
Her mind kicked into gear as she rifled through her desk drawer for the business checkbook. Maybe her sister Pam could get a sitter and help out for a few days until she found someone else.
She handed the check to Robbie, who grinned and bolted for the door. “Break a leg,” she called after him. Wait. Wasn’t that what you said to an actor about to go onstage, not a skier? Whatever.
She was about to pick up the phone to call Pam when Sylvia Richards bustled into the kitchen, unwinding her gray knit scarf from her head and neck.
“Robbie nearly knocked me down.” Sylvia was short and stocky, with thick ankles and tight curls the color of iron filings. She’d been a waitress at Katie’s Place for more than twenty years, and Kate loved her to death.
“He just quit.”
Sylvia stared at her. “You’re kidding.”
Kate shook her head. “Apparently, he’s decided to become a ski bum.”
Sylvia unbuttoned her shapeless brown wool coat and clucked under her breath. “And right before Christmas.” She hung her coat on one of the hooks by the back door. “Do you want me to put the Help Wanted sign in the front window?”
“I guess it couldn’t hurt.” Kate fished the hand-lettered sign out of a stack of papers on the floor beside the desk. “After the breakfast rush, I’ll call Harvey over at the Leader and get an ad in Saturday’s paper. I’m hoping Pam will be able to help out in the meantime.”
Sylvia took the sign and gave Kate’s shoulders a quick squeeze. “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. We always are.”
True. They would get by somehow, but Kate missed her mother’s cheery efficiency. Why did Grandma have to choose the week before Christmas to try to master the kickflip on a skateboard? She sighed, rolled up her sleeves and reached for an apron. She had less than an hour before the Geezers Breakfast Club (as the group of five retired farmers liked to call themselves) showed up, and the morning glory muffins weren’t going to bake themselves.
By the time she unlocked the front door on the stroke of seven, the Geezers—along with two other groups—stood chatting on the sidewalk, rubbing their hands and stomping their feet against the cold. They poured into the dining room, and she seated them before returning to the kitchen, leaving Sylvia to take their orders. She wondered if she had time to call Pam, but Sylvia popped in with the first round of orders before she had a chance to act on the thought.
Like a well-oiled machine, Sylvia handled coffee and juice while Kate cracked eggs, turned bacon, and flipped pancakes until the orders for the first three groups were ready to go to the dining room. However, by that time, two more groups had arrived. Thankful that Sylvia had taken over the hostess duties, Kate paused to push a few stray wisps out of her face with the back of her hand. She had pinned her hair up and tucked it under her usual white cap, but the potent combination of steam and perspiration was quickly turning her long, dark locks into a mass of errant waves and curls. It was a good thing no one could see her but Sylvia. She bent down and peered through the glass of the oven door to check the color of the second batch of muffins.
“I’ve come about the job.”
Kate jerked up, and her elbow knocked the handle of the saucepan holding melted butter for hollandaise sauce. When she grabbed it to keep it from falling, she burned her hand. Swearing, she stuck her two injured fingers in her mouth then shook them to cool the burn.
Who the…?
She spun and found herself staring up into a pair of brandy-colored eyes she knew all too well. “David.”
“Hi, Kate.”
Before she could say anything more, he held up the Help Wanted sign from the front window with a little grin. “You need help, and I’ve got some time on my hands.”
She stared at him, taking in the lean lines of his face, more sculpted than they’d been when she’d last seen him. He looked thin…and tired. She wondered idly why the television cameras hadn’t shown that. “It’s been ten years.”
He knows how long it’s been, dummy.
“Uh, huh.”
“Why are you here?” Kate frowned. The question hadn’t come out quite as she’d intended.
“I’m applying for a job.”
For some reason, his response irritated her. “That’s ridiculous. I run a cafĂ©. You’re a world-famous television journalist.”
The light in his eyes dimmed. “Was.”
“What happened?”
“We can talk about it later.” He tipped his chin toward the mountain of dirty dishes piled in the sink. “Right now, it looks like you could use a little help with those.”
She followed his glance. “My busboy and dishwasher quit this morning without notice.”
David shrugged out of his coat. “Hand me an apron, and I’ll get busy.” He rolled up his sleeves and headed for the sink.
She scurried after him. “Wait a minute. I didn’t say you were hired.”
“Do you have any other applicants?”
“Not yet, but—”
“Do you have more work than you and Sylvia can handle?”
“Yes, but—”
“I’m here now, and I’ve got nothing better to do.” He turned the hot water tap on full blast.
She shook off the swirl of conflicting emotions his presence evoked. She didn’t have time to deal with it now. “All right, but be sure to get the egg residue off those plates. It really sticks.”
His eyes twinkled, and he gave her a two-fingered salute. “Aye, aye.”
She shook her head and returned to the griddle just as Sylvia popped in with another round of orders. The older woman glanced at David’s back then raised her brows in question. Kate shot her a don’t-even-ask look.
Sylvia handed her the order tickets. “Orren Waxman just came in with a couple of cronies. He’s asking for you.”
Orren was the last person she wanted to see this morning. “I don’t have time.”
Sylvia shrugged. “I told him we were short staffed, but he kept insisting.”
Kate wished she could tell Orren to take his business to the IHOP out on the interstate, but Grandma would have a conniption. She wiped her hands on her apron. “I guess I’d better go talk to him.”
Orren greeted her with a wide grin the minute she stepped into the dining room. “Hey there, Katie girl!”
Kate’s back teeth ground together as she forced a smile. He always insisted on calling her Katie, even though she’d asked him not to dozens of times. She was sure he only did it because he knew he could get away with it. “What can I do for you, Orren?”
“Have you seen our commercial?”
Her brows knit. “The one you were filming yesterday? Is it on TV already?”
“The crew whipped it together in time for the ten o’clock news last night. Here, take a look.”
The man really was an egomaniac of the first order if he’d dragged her out of the kitchen to watch one of his cheesy commercials. “Orren, I really—”
“You did great, Katie. See?” He stuck his phone in her face.
Her stomach plummeted at the sight of herself in Orren’s arms with his plump lips plastered against hers.
Orren grinned and leaned back in his chair, waving his hand. “Hardison, come over here. You’re going to want to see this. Our Katie’s a star!”
Kate glanced up to see David loading dirty dishes from an empty table across the room onto a big tray. His brows formed a broad, dark “V”, and tight lines bracketed his mouth.

Friday, December 9, 2016

This Time for Sure - Chapter One by Alison Henderson

This was the absolute last time she kissed anyone under the mistletoe.
Kate Summers turned away from the video camera’s prying eye and surreptitiously wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. When she’d arrived at Waxman Motors that afternoon, all she’d wanted was Orren Waxman’s signature on the catering contract for the Morrisburg Chamber of Commerce Christmas party. She’d had no idea he’d be filming one of his goofy TV commercials.
Faster than he could bellow, “Ho, ho, ho,” the Santa suit-clad Orren had grabbed her, pulled her under the big ball of mistletoe dangling from the showroom ceiling,  and planted a big smooch right on her mouth with the camera rolling. Afterward, he’d grinned and carried on with his spiel as if her appearance were part of the script. The second the cameraman swiveled to pan the array of cars sporting big red bows, Kate extricated herself from Orren’s grasp. With luck, the video company would charge him double overtime to re-shoot the spot because of his impromptu ad lib.
She shrugged her bag off her shoulder. “I brought the contract for you to sign.”
Orren’s plump, glistening lips slid into a smile beneath his feeble excuse for a moustache. “There’s plenty of time for that. Hang around until we’re finished, and I’ll buy you a drink at Charley’s.”
Her mouth tightened. “You never give up, do you?”
His smile broadened, and he shook his head. “Never. You know my motto—persistence wins the day. Where would I be if I took my eyes off the prize?”
That was Orren—one big, walking slogan. Too bad he’d had a thing for her since ninth grade. In the past couple of years, his overtures had become more frequent and more boring. He’d been a smarmy weasel at fifteen and hadn’t improved with age. The fact that he’d grown his father’s sleepy little used car lot into the biggest dealership in the county didn’t increase his appeal one iota.
She pulled the contract and a pen from her bag. “I’m sorry, but I’m tied up this evening. I need you to sign this now. Please.”
“All right, all right.” He took the papers. When he finished, he flashed his brows a couple of times, as if he thought that made him look sexy.
Kate practically snatched the contract from his hands. Even a brief encounter with Orren made her skin crawl. Unfortunately, as president of the Chamber, his signature was required on all official documents, including her catering contract. At least she should be able to keep her distance from him at the party. If he tried to make a grab for her across a steaming tray of green bean casserole, she could always smack him with a serving spoon.
She turned and had almost reached the door when Orren called out, “Oh, Katie…I heard David Hardison’s back in town…and unemployed. Too bad.”
She froze, and her heart thudded in her chest at the mention of David’s name.
“Just thought you’d want to know.”
Of course you did, you worm.
Orren’s laughter trailed after her as she shoved her way through the heavy glass doors and escaped to her car in the parking lot next to the building. Her hand shaking, she struggled to fit the key into the ignition. Finally, it slid home and the engine turned over, but Kate made no move to switch the transmission to Reverse. She just sat there, trying to catch her breath and make sense of Orren’s words.
David was back. Was it possible? She hadn’t seen him in…what...ten years? Not since the summer after college graduation, when family responsibilities—along with the certainty that she wasn’t cut out to be a big city girl—had caused her to decline his invitation to move to New York with him. After being inseparable for the last two years of high school and struggling to make a long distance relationship work through college, they’d parted with recriminations and tears and moved on with their lives. At least he had. She’d come home to help run Katie’s Place, the restaurant her grandma had named after her when she was born.
To say she hadn’t seen David wasn’t strictly true. After high school, he’d parlayed excellent grades and stellar basketball skills into a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League college, while she attended the state university in the next county to save money. As soon as he graduated, an internship in New York had led to a newswriting job and ultimately to a position as lead foreign correspondent. For the past several years, she’d watched him on the television network news whenever a new hot spot flared up overseas. She hadn’t seen him on a broadcast in a couple of months, but that wasn’t unusual.
David might have made a name for himself and won a shelf full of awards, but every time she watched him, dressed in a khaki flak jacket and helmet, reporting from one war zone or another, Kate told herself she was glad they’d split up. Although they were no longer a couple, it was hard enough to tamp down her fears for his safety, even from the sanctuary of her living room sofa. If they’d gotten married, she might have lost her mind—all alone in New York City, watching and waiting anxiously for him to come home.
But now he was back and, if Orren was to be believed, jobless. She couldn’t imagine the network firing David. He was one of their rising stars. Whatever was going on, she would probably find out in the next few days, courtesy of the town grapevine. Unless she ran into him first.
The thought stopped her cold. Was she ready to see David again? Even though it had been ten years, the passage of time did nothing to calm the nervous butterflies in her stomach. Morrisburg, Illinois was a small town, and she and David knew the same people, hung out in the same places. When they inevitably crossed paths, what would he say? More importantly, how should she respond? She decided the only reasonable option was to smile and greet him like any other old high school friend.
Feeling more confident now that she had a plan, Kate put her car in gear and pulled out of the Waxman Motors lot without a backward glance. Various scenarios played out in her mind as she drove the couple of miles past darkened cornfields before the two lane highway turned into the main street of town.
It was after six o’clock, and most of the businesses in the quaint, Victorian downtown had closed. Multi-colored lights twinkled cheerfully from the garlands that hung between the old-fashioned lampposts that lined both sides of the street, illuminating clusters of tourists on their way to the restaurants that remained open for dinner. The holiday season always brought an influx of visitors to the historic Mississippi River town, and although many were day-trippers from Rockford, Cedar Rapids, or even Chicago, the town boasted a restored, nineteenth century hotel and a number of bed-and-breakfasts.
Many of those visitors ended up at Katie’s Place—some returning year after year. Kate’s grandma had opened the restaurant thirty years earlier, offering hearty, homestyle breakfast and lunch favorites. The past couple of years, Grandma had decided to spend winters in Florida, so Kate and her mother had taken over most of the responsibility for running Katie’s place. Not that Grandma had actually slowed down. Far from it. Kate was currently managing the restaurant on her own because Grandma had broken her hip last week skateboarding with the neighbor kids, and Mom had flown to Florida to take care of her.
As she cruised down Main Street toward home, a tall figure caught her attention. Even with his shoulders hunched against the cold, the man’s head bobbed inches above the others on the sidewalk as he passed the gift shop next to Katie’s Place. Kate slowed her car. Something about his gait jogged a memory deep inside her. He reminded her of David. Of course, after Orren’s comment, every tall man she saw was likely to remind her of David.
The man stopped in front of the restaurant, put his hands to the glass of the big front window, and leaned forward, peering into the darkened interior. What could he be doing?
A sudden honk jerked Kate’s attention back to the road. She glanced in the mirror at the impatient face of the driver riding her rear bumper. Five or six cars had piled up behind him. She pressed the gas pedal and surged forward, leaving the man behind. If only she’d been able to catch a glimpse of his face…

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Kiss for Ophelia--Part 2 by Vonnie Davis


Dalton was still in a state of shock. He’d found Mandy. For two months, he’d nearly gone insane hunting for her. And where had he found her? Standing under the mistletoe. What were the chances?

Once her time working the charity event was over and they saw his grandpa back to his room, he took his wife’s hand and led her to his truck. “Since you know this area better than I do, is there a quiet restaurant you can suggest where we can talk?” He opened the door for her.

“I’ve heard The Fall’s Landing is nice, but I’ve never been there. I’ve passed it plenty of times on Main Street.”

He kissed her again and helped her into her seat. “Lead the way, baby.”

“You don’t mind the way I’m dressed?” She waved one of her sequined pointed elf shoes at him and its bell jangled. His heart beat lighter than it had in months. His Mandy could be so cute.

“Mandy Campbell, I’m so happy to see you, I could give a flying fig what the hell you’re wearing.” He closed the door and rounded the front of the truck. Once he’d settled behind the steering wheel he studied her. “Why didn’t you return my calls or answer my texts? Just two short texts about leaving you alone. That was all that gave me a clue you were still alive.”

“I’m sorry. I was too hurt and confused.” She clasped her fingers, something she’d always done when she was nervous.

“Yeah, well, I was pretty damned hurt and confused, too. We’d argued off and on during our marriage like all couples, but never once did you threaten to leave me much less throw your clothes in some suitcases and silently walk out as if I was invisible.”

Her hand touched his thigh. “I was wrong to do that. I hope you’ll forgive me. It was as if I’d lost control of the rational part of my thinking.” He covered her hand and pulled out of the parking space. Yeah, they had a lot of talking to do. He needed some damn specifics.

The Fall’s Landing was somewhat crowded, but they were seated in a booth without waiting. Everyone’s eyes followed his cute elf as her feet jingled on their way to their seats. There were a few who pointed and chuckled. Holiday music played softly and silver garland strung with twinkling white lights added to the atmosphere.

They both ordered hot chocolate to sip while they looked over their menus. Dalton hooked his index finger around hers because he couldn’t bear to lose contact with her. He still couldn’t believe his luck. He’d found her. She was talking to him. They’d kissed. There was hope.

He kept glancing at her over his menu. They’d started going steady in their senior year of high school. She’d always been the only one for him. His heart hadn’t beat a happy pulse since they’d argued over going on a romantic cruise. She wanted some excitement. He was working hard and saving every penny to remodel their house. Never once had she mentioned a cruise until her sister Callie bragged about the one she and her husband were going on. The two sisters were always in a competition, whether they wanted to admit it or not.

That childish rivalry had caused them two months of being together. He didn’t realize how much his life revolved around being with her, holding her at night, and kissing her awake every morning until after she’d packed in a huff and stormed out.

       "I see you're still wearing your wedding band." His thumb rubbed over the simple ring identical to his.

        She glanced at it and smiled. "I couldn't bear to take it off. You still have yours on." She sounded surprised. What was up with that?

     "I'm being buried with this ring on, Mandy. We made a promise for life."

When the waiter came, Dalton ordered trout and she ordered scallops and shrimp. In typical Mandy fashion, she ordered chocolate mud cake and asked it to be served first. His wife lived by the rule “life is short, eat dessert first.” He’d gotten in the habit of joining her, so he ordered key lime pie.

“Dessert first. I’m glad to see some things in your life never change.” He sipped his hot chocolate and licked the whipped cream from his lips. “I understand, now, your depression after losing the baby. I fell into one after you left.”

A spark of anger flashed across her face. Her features pinched. “Is that a fact?”

“Yeah, Spence called three days after you left. He could tell I was down about something and he pushed. You know how my older brother can be.”

“Yeah, like a dog with a bone. No wonder he’s such a good police detective. I’d hate to have him interrogate me.” She sat back when the server brought the desserts and cups of coffee.

“Spence and Zoey Beth drove over from Asheville that night. He had a case of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Zoey Beth made pasta while we guys talked and drank. She drank, too, and wasn’t able to get up to go golfing with us. Spence dragged my hung-over ass off the sofa and out onto the golf course at eight o’clock in the freaking morning. We were still pissy-assed drunk and laughed like fools. He got me through the darkest of the depression.”

Her forkful of chocolate mud cake had stilled halfway to her mouth. “Where…where did they sleep?”

Another piece of delicious key lime pie was swallowed. Man, this stuff is so good, I might need another slice. “In our bedroom. We’d never gotten around to making a guest bedroom, you know that. We’d started on the nursery and then stopped and decided to concentrate on the kitchen. Which is why your sudden demands to go on a seven-day cruise never made sense to me. For what we’d have spent plus my lost income, we could have bought top of the line appliances that would have lasted for years, not a week on the high seas.”

Mandy laid her fork on her plate without eating a bite. “So, Zoey Beth was in our bed? Our red-headed, sister-in-law, Zoey Beth?” Her green eyes widened and her lower jaw hung agape.

What was wrong with that? His brother’s wife was clean. “Yeah.”

Mandy dropped her face into her upturned hands and sobbed.

Dalton leaned across the table and wrapped his hands around her wrists. “What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?” Maybe she needed to go back on anti-depressants or counseling. Anything. He’d see she got anything to make her happy again.

 “Oh God, I am such an idiot. Such an immature idiot.” Her tear-stained face rose and she stared at him. “It only took me two days to realize leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life.” She rummaged in her purse and removed a pack of tissues. She blotted her eyes and blew her nose. “It took me another day to work up the courage to explain my behavior the past few weeks. I mean, I’d been acting all kinds of bitchy.”

He sipped his coffee to keep from talking. Even though she’d spoken the truth, he wasn’t dumb enough to agree. Hell, living with her those last few weeks was like walking on eggs in snowshoes.

“So, the day you and your brother went golfing, I moved back home.”

Dalton’s eyebrows shot skyward again. “You did?”

“Yes," she nodded, "but when I opened the door to our bedroom, all I could see was the red, curly part of Zoey Beth’s head and I thought it was the woman I’d imagined you’d been seeing. Instead of waking her up and asking her what the hell she was doing in my house, at which point I’d have seen who it was, I ran out. With my heart shredded and being sick, I missed a lot of work. I was fired and left Charlotte.”

“You thought my brother’s wife was some secret lover of mine?”

She shrugged and tore at her tissue.

“Baby, don’t you trust me at all? Do you think I’d cheat on you? Worse, do you think I’d bring another woman into your house…your bed?”

She finally took a bite of her dessert. “I need to grow up, don’t I?” She nodded in that charming way she had when she answered her own questions. “All I can say is I was sick. Well, not really sick. Just kind of. My hormones were all over the place and I’d finally learned why. That was one of the reasons I came home to try to get our marriage back on track.”

Well, color me mistletoe green, because I have no clue what she’s getting at.

Dalton sipped his coffee, trying to make sense of it all. She didn’t need to grow up. The woman was damn near perfect. Sure she’d fallen into a depression after losing the baby, but that was normal. It was only their last couple weeks together that she’d begun acting batshit crazy at the drop of a hat.

If their marriage had any chance of working, he had to know. “Can you tell me why your nerves and reactions so often went off the charts?”

“Oh, I can do better than that.” She reached into the outside pocket of her purse and pulled something out. A picture. She handed it to him. “Dalton, meet your daughter. She’s due in five months.”

Dalton’s lungs deflated as air whooshed out. Warmth flashed through his body like fireworks as he stared at the sonogram picture. “You’re pregnant?”

“We’re pregnant.”

This little being in the picture explained it all: Mandy’s erratic mood swings, her lack of appetite before she left, her long bouts of sleeping he’d feared was her depression coming back, and her fuller breasts he’d felt today. Pregnant. “Are…are you seeing a doctor regularly?” Dalton blinked away the tears and grinned like a fool at the same time. This was his little girl.

“Yes. I’m past the time miscarriages usually happen, according to my doctor. I still have to be careful. I don’t do much lifting on my job. She says our little one is developing on schedule.”

He had to get closer to his wife and moved to sit beside her in the booth. He wrapped his arm around her and she laid her head on his shoulder. How often had they sat like that over the years? “I love you, Mandy. I’ve loved you since chemistry class when you were my study partner.”

“I love you, too. I hope you can forgive me for all the pain and mess I made of our lives. My hormones had my emotions all over the place. I was beginning to suspect I was pregnant and scared I’d lose this baby, too.”

“But you didn’t.” He rested his hand over her abdomen. “We belong together. Not just because of the baby, but because it’s always been you and me. I’m worthless without you.”

“I need you, too. I’ve been miserable. I can be packed and ready to go in an hour.”

He laughed. “You know, you’ve been on your feet all day. What do you say about getting a motel room so you can be on your back for a while?” She waggled her eyebrows and nodded her agreement. He hadn’t felt this great in over two months. “You’re moving back home and telling me how you want the nursery finished. I’m guessing there will be some pink involved.” He kissed her hair, her forehead, her lips. With their heads touching, they both looked at the photo and oohed and awed over the beautiful baby. 

“I’ve been calling her Mia Rose.” Mandy glanced up at him.

“I like that…Mia Rose.” Dalton shifted in the booth so he could bend and press a kiss to their baby bump. A chuckle of pure joy burst forth. “Mia Rose Ophelia Campbell.”

I hope you enjoyed “A Kiss for Ophelia.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours.

Visit my website at

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Kiss for Ophelia by Vonnie Davis



This was the absolute last time she kissed anyone under the mistletoe. Mandy Campbell didn’t care what charity it was for. Her hand grabbed a cup of fruit punch from the table next to her “Kissing Station.” She pinched her eyes shut as she guzzled the juice to clear her mouth. A shudder racked her body so she snagged another cup.

Why hadn’t she just worn hospital scrubs to the party? No, she had to create an elf outfit—and it was cute, too. Or had been. She sipped at her second drink, taking inventory of her costume. Her green top with a wire sewn in the seam of the ruffle at the bottom still billowed away from her body like a cute Christmas tree. The tiny bulbs and garland she'd sewn on by hand still intact. She reached for a napkin and dabbed at two spots on it. Dampness from tobacco spit seeped through the bottoms of her red and white striped leggings. Was it any wonder?

She stared at the pair of dentures on the floor in front of her green-sequined elf shoes. The toes with bells curled upward as if recoiling from the bizarre sight along with her stomach.

Her gaze slowly rose from the fake teeth, over the patched bib overalls and frayed flannel shirt to settle on the man’s whiskered face with gums damn near sunk back to his tonsils.

The elderly man’s one arm opened wide while his other grasped his hand-carved cane. His Santa hat slid back over his bald head. “Hows about a second kiss, Ophelia? That first one was a doozy!”

She looked at his tobacco slime covered dentures on the floor again and her gag reflex kicked in. He’d worn the false teeth for the first kiss. They’d fallen out when he’d smacked his lips and spat tobacco juice afterward. She supposed the man had never heard of denture adhesive or that women didn’t like a mouthful of chewing tobacco when being kissed. So, no, she didn’t want a repeat performance. Secondly, her name wasn’t Ophelia. The poor elderly soul was obviously confused.

“Grandpa! Grandpa, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Didn’t I tell you to stay close by?” A tall man in a navy sweater and jeans faded in all the right places hurried toward the kissing, toothless man.

The deep rumble of his familiar voice stilled Mandy’s heartbeat for a tense minute before it stuttered back to life. She recognized the sweater, a gift from last Christmas. Knew by heart the touch and strength of his broad shoulders. Recalled with bittersweet emotions how wonderful his calloused hands caused gooseflesh to rise along with her sighs as he caressed her body. Remembered with every overactive hormone how well his full lips could kiss.

“Mandy?” Dalton’s dark eyebrows rose to meet the swath of chocolate-colored hair that always fell over his forehead. “What are you doing here in Brevard?” He stepped toward her and teeth crunched beneath his feet. “What the hell?” A booted foot rose to reveal smashed plastic and cracked fake teeth. “Grandpa, are these yours?”

“Don’t need ‘em. Ophelia, here, likes my kisses without the dang things.”

“Ophelia?” Dalton’s questioning glare locked on her.

“He’s confused.” Mandy grabbed a few snowmen paper napkins from the punch table and handed them to Dalton. He stooped, cleaned up the mess, and strode to the trash can to toss it all away.

He was the type of man women loved watching. He had fluid, almost graceful moves even though he was a hardened mass of muscle. She knew all too intimately every inch of his body. When he returned and stood so close to her she could inhale his minty breath, he repeated his question, “What are you doing in a nursing home in Brevard, a hundred and twenty miles from Charlotte?”

She stared into the deep blue eyes of her soon-to-be ex-husband. “The hospital I work for is in Brevard. It sends a few employees to help with charity events at Mountain View Nursing Home. Since I’m a new employee, I was one of the lucky ones.” She jerked her chin to the older man. “Is this your grandpa Ed?” He’d really gone downhill since their wedding two years ago.

“Yes. He’s a new resident here. The family moved him in after he set fire to his kitchen last month. He’s becoming more and more forgetful.” Dalton reached to touch her cheek, his calloused fingertips so familiar as they trailed down her face. God help her, she wanted to lean into him. “Why aren’t you working at Dr. McGrath’s in Charlotte anymore?” Dalton eyes searched hers, no doubt for answers and to gage her reactions. He was always good at gaging her feelings, especially after the miscarriage last spring. She’d sunk into a deep depression for several weeks. “Where are you living?” his voice was pained, worried.

“With Callie. I missed a lot of time both after the miscarriage and our breakup and lost my job. I moved in with my sister until I could get on my feet more. I’ve been working at the hospital for a month, now.” Meanwhile Mandy’s heart kept pounding a slow pained beat over losing the only man she’d ever loved. To say nothing of all their hopes and dreams she thought they’d shared.

Dalton’s lips thinned. “No one asked you to move out. That was your decision. You know damn well I was working long hours to save up to remodel the kitchen. Where or how you came up with the idea I was seeing another woman, I’ll never understand. Then that crazy idea of a cruise coming out of the blue—”

She reared back. “Crazy?”

Grandpa Ed elbowed Dalton. “See here, young man, don’t you call Ophelia crazy.”

“Her name isn’t Ophelia, Grandpa. She’s my wife, Mandy.” His piercing gaze locked onto hers in condemnation and his fingers tucked into the front pockets of his jeans. “Why, baby? Why were you in such a rush to end our marriage? To move away? Did I ever mistreat you? Lay a hand on you in anger? Call you names? Did I stop showing you how special you were to me?”

A veil of tears blurred Mandy’s vision. She had to admit, he hadn’t. “No,” she forced out on a whisper, her palm somehow found itself on his heart, feeling the strong beat. She had so many regrets.

“Was that cruise we’d argued about worth so much? Worth more than our marriage? I mean you never mentioned going on one before. Our goals had always been fixing up the house and filling it with children. The doctor saw no reason why you couldn’t conceive again, you know that.”

She nodded and swiped away tears. “You’re right.”

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “Have dinner with me tonight. We need to have a long talk.”

Now that she’d had two months to think about her behavior the last couple weeks she and Dalton were together, she was ashamed over how she’d pushed him so hard for a cruise to the Caribbean. What she wasn’t sorry for were her allegations about another woman. Especially when she’d returned to their house, a few days after she’d left, to try to work things out.

To her pained surprise, she’d found a redhead snuggled in her and Dalton’s bed, the blankets Mandy had picked out to match their redecorated bedroom were pulled over part of the strange woman’s auburn hair. It sure hadn’t taken her husband long to replace her. Or had her accusations been right all along? She’d quietly stepped back into the hallway and closed the door. Then she’d snatched her suitcases off the floor, snuck down the steps, and stormed out of their dream house, fixer-up though it was.

A five-dollar bill waved in front of Mandy’s face jarring her from her thoughts. “How about a kiss for me, pretty lady with the cute ass.” Whoever the middle-aged man was, he reeked of eggnog—a lot of eggnog, heavy on the rum. He glanced over her shoulder and leered at her festive green and white striped elf tights. “That’s one fine sight back there.”

Dalton swore under his breath, stepped in front of her, and glared at the man.

Since she was determined to raise as much money as she could for a library at the nursing home, Mandy moved between them and pointed two fingers to her eyes. “Here, buster. Keep your eyes focused here.” She snatched his money and cupped his face in her hands to keep control as she laid a chaste kiss on him. “Merry Christmas and thanks for your heart’s goodness to donate to our cause.” She pivoted to shove his money into her kiss jar. His hand cupped her bottom and she shrieked in shock.

Grandpa Ed yelled, “Get your grubby hands off my sweet Ophelia. No one kisses Ophelia, but me.” He smacked his cane across the drunken Romeo’s shoulders.

Dalton grabbed the strange man’s shirt and lifted him off the floor. “You touch my wife again and you’ll have to suck your meals through a freaking straw.”

At that precise moment, Mandy didn’t know who she was more upset with. The man who’d had the audacity to cop a quick feel or her estranged husband who felt he could just strut in here and take charge of her life.

Dalton set the man’s feet on the floor and the wild-eyed male scampered off. Her husband whipped out a five. “I want a kiss, too. It’s a damn shame when a man, who’s been crazy with worry over his absent wife, has to pay to kiss her once he’s found her again.”

“I am not kissing you.” Oh, but she wanted to. Heck, she’d pay him for a kiss. She’d missed him so much. Still, there was the matter of his working such long hours in his construction business and the redhead in their bed mere days after Mandy had moved out after their big blowup.

He pulled out a twenty. “Twenty-five dollars.” He tucked the money in the neckline of her top, his knuckles brushing the fullness of her breasts. “You used to like my kisses. Let’s see if you still do.”

All her girly bits were singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” as Dalton’s fingers forked into her long hair and his head lowered. Once his soft lips covered hers, she moaned and wrapped her arms around his neck. Home. Silent words of hurt, loneliness, and need were spoken during the kiss. Once he pulled away, there was a sheen of moisture in his eyes. “Have dinner with me tonight. We need to talk and straighten this mess out. I want you back, Mandy, in the worst kind of way.”

Would that be a good idea? A long talk would require honesty. A lot of honesty.

 Thank goodness the lady in charge of the activities chose that moment to start the senior conga line to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Grandpa Ed hobbled over to grab some silver-haired lady’s ample swaying hips. “Ophelia, I’ve been looking for you!”

“It seems like Grandpa Ed can’t quite remember the color of Ophelia’s hair or the size of her hips,” Amanda said with a tinge of humor as the conga line slowly meandered through the activities room.

Dalton had moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her midriff, drawing her into the warmth of his firmly muscled body. “I hope I never forget the wheat color of your hair or the feel of your body.” He pressed a kiss to her neck and she worried about how good all of this felt. They had so much to work through. “Although I must say your boobs have gotten bigger. I don’t recall them being this large.”

She hoped he kept his arms banded under her chest and didn’t lower them. If he did, he’d feel her growing baby bump.

Read more about Vonnie Davis at

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All The Right Moves by Jannine Gallant

Part Three

As they exited the tunnel and pulled into the overlook, Tyne drew in a sharp breath, awestruck by the incredible vista before them. Snow glazed every inch of Yosemite Valley in crystalline splendor as the last of the daylight glimmered through a temporary break in the clouds to shine on the trees below. From the towering bulk of El Capitan’s sheer face to the shimmering beauty of Bridalveil Falls, she could only stare in wonder.
“That view alone was worth the torturous drive.”
She tore her gaze away from the breathtaking panorama to face Aaron. “And it only took us ten hours to get here.”
“Not what we were expecting, that’s for sure.”
He disengaged the brake, and they wound slowly down into the valley on the slippery road. Every time the tires slid, he gently corrected, maneuvering with precision and confidence. Strangely, Tyne wasn’t the least bit nervous.
“Wow, that was crazy.” He let out a long breath when they reached the bottom of the treacherous descent. “I wasn’t sure we were going to make it.”
“You were nervous?”
“Hell yeah? Weren’t you?”
She frowned. “No, I trust you implicitly.”
“Maybe that’s the problem.”
Tyne stared at his profile in the lengthening shadows, all stark angles and tight lips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” He slowed a little as they approached a tight curve. “I’m just tense.”
“Pull over. There’s a turnout just ahead.”
He turned to stare. “Why?”
“Just do it.”
He stopped where she directed, parked the SUV, and turned off the engine. “We should be at the hotel shortly, but if you have to go that bad—”
Tyne grinned. “I don’t need to use the bushes. I thought we’d take a walk in the snow. You know, just chill for a bit.”
“We’ll chill, all right. It’s probably twenty degrees out. A far cry from winter temps in L.A.” He opened the door and stepped out. “But, I’m game.”
She reached into the back to grab their coats. After sliding off the seat to land in knee-deep powder, she handed him his down jacket and shrugged on her parka. “I sure hope I remembered to pack gloves.” She blew into her hands. “For now, my pockets will have to suffice.”
He took one of her hands in his warm palm and held it. “I’ll keep one hand warm for you. Let’s walk.”
They plowed through the snow, side-by-side, leaving a ragged trail behind them. When they were both out of breath, they stopped. Above them, fat snowflakes drifted lazily downward as the storm picked up strength again. Tyne dropped into the snow with a whoop and waved her arms and legs.
“You’re going to get soaked.”
“Probably, but I’m an angel.” When he reached down a hand, she grabbed it, then gave a hard tug to pull him to the snow beside her.
The air left him with a whoosh. “That does it.” Rolling over, he pinned her wrists while she squealed in protest, then straddled her. Bending near, he met her gaze. “You, Tyne Darling, are no angel.”
Her light-hearted laughter echoed through the trees. “Maybe not. What are you going to do to me?”
His eyes darkened. “I know what I should do, but instead…” He scooped up a handful of snow and slid it beneath the collar of her jacket into her sweater.
The shock of icy cold, wet snow on her warm skin stole her breath. “Oh, I’ll get you for that.” She jerked down the coat zipper and dug the melting clump out from under the soft knit fabric, but a trickle of ice water soaked into the waistband of her leggings. Her teeth chattered. “You’re mean.”
“Not always a sweet, trustworthy guy? Imagine that?”
Tyne stopped squirming and narrowed her eyes. “Okay, spit it out, Aaron. Something is bugging you.”
With a snort, he climbed to his feet and grabbed her wrist to pull her up. He brushed off the snow stuck to her hair, and his fingers lingered to wipe away a snowflake on her cheek. “Maybe I’m tired of always being the nice guy who finishes last. Did you ever think of that?”
Confusion swirled in her gut, twisting into a knot. His disappointment was clear enough, shadowing his eyes as he looked for something in her he couldn’t seem to find.
“You certainly don’t finish last. You’re so far ahead of the game in every way that matters, I can’t even begin to catch up. You have strength and integrity and kindness going for you.” She smiled, hoping to ease the tension tightening his lips. “And you’re ruggedly handsome to boot. Rarrrr…”
“A hug-worthy Teddy Bear.” He rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that special?”
“Maybe not a ferocious grizzly…”
“You could be wrong about that.” With a swift move, he scooped her off her feet and carried her toward the base of a massive pine tree.
“Aaron, what the heck?” She clung to his neck. “If you drop me—”
“I’m not going to drop you. I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now. I’m going to take a risk and just go for it.”
She stared into glittering green eyes as his warm breath touched her cheek. Her voice was slightly raspy when she spoke. “Tie me to a tree and leave me as a snack for the bears?”
“Not exactly. Look up.”
Leaning back with her head against his arm, she stared into the branches high overhead.
“See that big dark ball up there.”
She nodded. “Looks like some sort of strange growth.”
“It’s mistletoe, and you know what that means…”
He bent and kissed her…and kept kissing her, his firm lips exploring hers until her head spun and she gasped for breath. Her heart pounded out a frantic rhythm when he finally lifted his face a few inches.
Amazed delight filled her. “Wow, I guess you really do have all the right moves.”
“Nothing. Just me, realizing how wrong I was.” She touched his cheek. “Why’d you kiss me?”
“Because I don’t want to finish last. Not ever again.”
She smiled as she gazed into familiar eyes that held so much more than simple friendship. “Do you know what? I think we’re both finally going to be winners. Aaron?”
“Hmm?” He dropped another kiss on her upturned lips before letting her slide down to the ground.
“What took you so long?”

* * * *
I hope you enjoyed All The Right Moves! For information and buy links for my books, check out my WEBSITE. Up next is the incomparable Vonnie Davis. You won't want to miss her story beginning tomorrow. Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!