The Birth of A #Hero #mgtab #Inspiration @jacqbiggar

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Readers often ask where do writers come up with ideas for their characters? In my case, the birth of a hero comes from a variety of sources. News reports, television programs, books I’ve read; all are great resources.

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But my favorite characters grow organically from stories I’ve already written. For my new release, Missing: The Lady Said No, the idea for my hero, Augustus Grant, came to me from a previous book where the main character was a mystery writer suffering from writer’s block.

Gus is the character my hero, Joel Carpenter, (in the holiday romance novel Silver Bells) was writing about. I fell in love with the bumbling detective and decided then and there he needed his own story!

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Gus is smart, irreverent, a little bit clumsy (okay, a LOT clumsy!) and still in love with the girl he let get away.

Rebecca Hayes.

Here’s a short excerpt. Gus is investigating a murder at a horse ranch and runs into the one person he never thought he’d see again.

Becky stood at the top of the grand staircase and felt the world give way.

Augustus.

It had been too long.

And not long enough.

She couldn’t believe he was here. Or maybe she could. It had always been his dream to become a detective. After all, that was the reason they had split up, wasn’t it? He’d craved the excitement, and she’d needed stability. Safety.

Well, it was too late now, on many levels. The best thing she could do would be to put on a brave face and escape with her pride.

“Hello, Augustus,” she called. Careful not to let him see her trembling, she gripped the banister and reluctantly went to join the man who had stolen her heart. He was every bit as tall as she remembered. Still just as handsome, too. A few more lines around the eyes and mouth maybe. She shied away from his lips, focusing instead on the crooked tie and wrinkled shirt. A wry smile touched her mouth.

“I see you still haven’t figured out the right side of an iron,” she murmured.

He glanced down and ran a strong, tanned hand down his chest. Something fluttered to life in hers.

He met her gaze with a grin that slowly faded away. “I looked for you,” he said.

Oh, God.

This wasn’t what she expected. After leaving Bourbonville and moving here, to Balmoral, she’d second-guessed her decision often, but never realized maybe he did too, just a little.

“You’re the cop. You could have found me if you tried.”

As you can see, there are a lot of unresolved feelings between these two. The question is, can Gus make it right? You’ll have to read on to find out. 🙂

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This is part of a branded series set around the running of the famous Kentucky Derby. I hope you’ll enjoy my story and give the other books in the Chandler County series a try!

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Tourists Prayer (funny)

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Sharing a tourist prayer with those of you who are planing your next vacation:

Heavenly Father, look down on us your humble obedient tourist servants, who are doomed to travel this earth, taking photographs, mailing postcards, buying souvenirs and walking around in drip-dry underwear.

Give us this day divine guidance in the selection of our hotels, that we may find our reservations honored, our rooms made, and hot water running in the faucets.

We pray that the phones work and that the receptionists speak our tongue.

Lead us, dear Lord, to good, inexpensive restaurants where the food is superb, the waiters friendly and the wine included in the price.

Give us the wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we do not understand. Forgive us for undertipping out of ignorance or overtipping out of fear. Make the natives love us for what we are and nor what we can contribute to their worldly goods.

Grant us the strength to visit the museums, the cathedrals , the palaces and castles listed as ‘musts’ in the guidebooks.

And if perchance we skip a historic monument to take a nap after lunch, have mercy on us for our flesh is week.

For Husbands Only
Dear God, keep our wives from shopping sprees and protect them from ‘bargains’ they don’t need or can’t afford. Lead them not into temptation for they know not what they do.

For Wives Only
Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making fools of themselves in cafes and nightclubs. Above all do not forgive them their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.

Available at Amazon

The perfect fiancé is a cheater and the fabulous Christmas wedding is off. But the would-be honeymoon cruise may fulfill the dreams of Julia and her unexpected companion.

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Mona Risk published more than twenty books, some translated in German and French.
She received an Outstanding Achiever Award at Affaire de Coeur Magazine and is a
Best Romance Novel winner at Preditors & Editors Readers Poll;
Two-Time winner of Best Contemporary Romance Novel at Readers Favorite;
EPIC’s Ebook Award Finalist; and Kindle Top 100 Bestselling Author

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A Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk

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The holiday season has officially started. For Christians, it’s the Advent and the joyous preparations to celebrate Jesus’ Birth. For Jewish, it’s the Hanukkah and lighting of the Menorah. Both traditionally happy celebrations.

I am not trying to depress you, but being a realistic person, let me ask you, what if the coming days are not particularly happy? One of our dear friends lost her husband this week. I wonder how her holiday will turn. Another friend just had open-heart surgery and four by-passes. We hope he will recover soon. Oops, sorry if I’ve depressed you. Not my intention. Life is not always rosy.

In my story, Holly Jolly Christmas, the heroine’s father is very sick. He knows his days are numbered, and he fight hard to build as many happy memories for his family as he can. His Christmas must be a Holly Jolly Christmas. And it does. Even after he passes, he leaves a last letter to his wife Barbara, and his five daughters–a legacy of hope and clear encouragements.

Dear Family:
Life MUST continue. Claire and Tiffany, I count on you to ace your studies and go to college. Roxanne and Madelyn, do your best at work, but remember that a career is not enough to fill a heart. You need a loving partner. Heather and Jeff, take good care of your baby. Barbara, you need to learn to live again. Loneliness is not good.

HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS is my contribution to the USA Today bestseller anthology, LOVE, CHRISTMAS. You’ll love this heartwarming collection of 20 all-new Christmas stories from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Every title in the set is from a well-known Christmas carol and we hope while reading these delightful stories, they will put a song in your heart.14481843_10207545069410046_3314279722083324058_o

http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasUS
http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasKobo
http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasBN
http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasApple

HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS is the prequel to the Holiday Babies Series

With high moral values and a strong sense of unity, the Ramsay family counts five daughters—Madelyn, Roxanne, Heather, Claire, and Tiffany, and their mother Barbara. Later, stepdaughter Monica Roland joins the clan.
Christmas Babies: Can a career fill her life? (Madelyn and Dr. Nick Preston)
Valentine Babies: Can he love a woman expecting another man’s baby? (Roxanne and Dr. Greg Hayes)
Mother’s Day Babies: Never too late to find love and happiness. (Barbara and Lou Roland)
Wedding Surprise: Is it the worst or best wedding surprise? (Claire and David Wheeler)
Christmas Papa: Who’ s my papa, Mommy? (Monica and Michael Wheeler)
meme-2On Christmas Eve: We want a mommy for Christmas. (Tiffany and Dr. Matthew Alonso)

Free today: RIGHT NAME, WRONG MAN

 

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Holiday Traditional #Recipe from #USAToday Love, Christmas author @jacqbiggar @mimisgang1

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Holiday Traditional Recipe and Excerpt From Silver Bells

by Jacquie Biggar

 

The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. An air of festivity takes hold as stores bring out their holiday decorations and old time favorites play on the television.

One of my favorite Christmas recipes came from my grandmother, Waldorf salad. Every year I’d look forward to seeing that fancy glass bowl filled with chopped up apples taking pride of the place on our dining room table. It was Grandma’s donation to our holiday dinner.

We’ve kept the tradition going, even though she passed away a few years ago. Now, when I look upon that simple bowl of salad every year, I feel her presence among us and smile.

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WALDORF SALAD

6 Spartan or Mac Apples

3 Stalks Celery

1 cup Chopped Walnuts

1 cup Mayo, 2 tbs. sugar, 4 tbs. milk whipped together

Use lemon juice or citric acid to whiten apples.

Peel and chop apples and celery into bite-size pieces, sprinkle with lemon juice. Add walnuts. Stir in dressing and refrigerate until use. Enjoy.

Categories

Fruits, Nuts, Vegetables, Salads, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, No Cook, Quick

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 100.2g
Amount Per Serving

Calories

120

Calories from Fat

45
% Daily Value*

Total Fat

5.0g
8%

Saturated Fat

0.3g
1%

Trans Fat

0.0g

Cholesterol

0mg
0%

Sodium

89mg
4%

Potassium

262mg
7%

Total Carbohydrates

19.1g
6%

Dietary Fiber

2.5g
10%

Sugars

13.2g

Protein

2.6g
Vitamin A 3% Vitamin C 13%
Calcium 2% Iron 3%

* Based on a 2000 calorie diet

Nutritional details are an estimate and should only be used as a guide for approximation.

***

In my story, Silver Bells, part of the Love, Christmas Collection on sale now at your favorite vendor, my heroine, Christy, has a young daughter recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Their lives now revolve around carb counting, blood testing, and insulin needles. This is from the Canadian Diabetes Association:

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body to control the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. Without insulin, glucose builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy.

Your body produces glucose and also gets glucose from foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, milk and fruit.

The cause of type 1 diabetes remains unknown. It is not caused by eating too much sugar, and is not preventable. The current thought is that type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells that make insulin.

While children with type 1 have to be vigilant with their care, they can still enjoy active, healthy lifestyles. We’ve come a long way in treating this life-threatening illness, and with any luck sometime in the near future, a cure will be found.

Here’s an exclusive excerpt from Silver Bells:

“Mommy, Mommy,” Jill cried, skipping into the kitchen. “Guess what? We’ve been playing I Spy. It’s so fun, and I was winning too.” She came and wrapped her arms around Christy’s waist. “I’m hungry,” she announced.

Christy bent over and kissed the top of Jill’s head, then smiled at the elderly woman entering the room. “Was she good?”

Claire Michaels, her neighbor and good friend, snorted. “Do geese lay eggs?” she asked, and grinned at Jill’s giggles. “Of course she was good. That child is never a problem. How about you? Did you enjoy your run?”

Annoyance warmed her cheeks to a rosy hue. “I did until some idiot took offence to me drawing him and stole my work.”

Claire gasped. “Phone the police. He can’t get away with that.”

Christy grimaced. “He kind of can. I should have asked his permission first. I’ve just never had an issue before.” She shrugged and let go of Jill so she could open the fridge to withdraw the soup she’d made earlier.

“Want to stay for dinner? There’s plenty.” She waved a hand back and forth over the tricky gas burner until it lit, then set the pot of hamburger soup on to heat.

“Stay, Aunty Claire. Stay,” Jill begged.

Claire laughed. “How can I say no to an invitation like that?” She sat at the oval country style kitchen table with a relieved sigh and watched Jill dance around the island in the center of the room. “She never stops. It’s hard to imagine…”

Christy’s stomach rolled. She nodded and concentrated on cutting slices of fresh baked whole wheat bread to go with the meal. Yeah, it was hard to imagine her bright, cheerful little girl had developed the dangerous disease of Type 1 Diabetes. But it was true.

The shock had taken a while to overcome. To think a simple trip to the clinic over a weak set of kidneys ended in emergency at the hospital. Then came a week spent in the children’s ward learning just how threatening her sickness could be—and that there is no cure. It was a lot to take in and deal with. It broke her heart every time she had to poke her daughter’s fingers in order to take blood glucose readings, twelve or more times a day, twenty-four-seven. And then there were the needles for insulin injections. Some days it was hard to remember a life before carb counts and two-hour checks, but the worst were the nights. The fear was always there she’d be fast asleep and Jill would go low and need immediate care, or dangerously high requiring ketone checks and lots and lots of water to flush her system.

The stress had ended her marriage. Kevin was a good man, but not up to dealing with his less than perfect—in his eyes—little girl. And that was okay, Christy didn’t have the reserves to deal with his crisis of conscience anyway.

To read more, pick up your copy of love, Christmas today!

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Put a song in your heart with 20 all-new Christmas Romances from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Each brand-new title is inspired by a Christmas carol and will lift your spirits and bring on the holiday cheer. 

Amazon: http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasUS 

B&N: http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasBN

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/love-christmas-holiday-stories-that-will-put-a-song-in-your-heart

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/love-christmas-holiday-stories/id1158227218?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Add to your TBR pile: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32316229-love-christmas—holiday-stories-that-will-put-a-song-in-your-heart

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What Silver Bells means to me? Love, Christmas Collection #Traditions #HolidayRomance #mgtab @jacqbiggar

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What Silver Bells means to me?

 

 

 

I first heard Silver Bells as a young girl. My mom and dad made it a tradition to take us out looking for the perfect Christmas tree. Sometimes we’d drive for hours before Dad found just the right area to search in. He’d park on the side of the country road and tell us to get ready, then go around to the back of the truck and haul out his axe and a rope so we could drag it out of the bush. The snow would be deep and fresh, with only a few animal tracks to guide us on our journey.

If the sun was still high enough, the snow would glisten like diamonds. If it was lower, the trees would cast shadows and we would hurry to stay close to our dad. The thing I remember most is the quiet. No cars. No people chattering. Just the crunch of our boots and the wind sighing through the spruce trees.

Being a townie, as we called the kids who always lived within town limits, this was a treat for us. It reminded me of church. And maybe that’s what it was meant to be, Nature’s cathedral.

 

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When we’d finally get back home, Mom would make us hot chocolate, place Bing Crosby’s Silver Bells on our stereo record player, and Dad would bring the tree into the house and find the best spot to set it up. Most of the time, he picked a tree that was miles too big for our living room and bare on one side. He would grin at Mom’s clucks and groans and wink at us.

I think it was a game they played. 🙂

When my dad passed away, we stopped going out on our Christmas tree quest, instead we bought an artificial that went up in any corner of the room and always looked perfect.

But it didn’t have the scent of pine, or the love of a family outing to make it into something special.

When Mimi Barbour came up with the idea for a box set of holiday stories titled with Christmas songs, it was easy to decide which one I’d like to do. I was delighted when one of the winners of this spring’s Fresh Fiction contest chose my song!

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It was fate. Thank you, Deb Philippon. 🙂

 

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What about you? Do you have family traditions, young or old, that makes the holidays that bit more special?

We’d love to hear about them.

 

I hope you’ll give the Love, Christmas Collection a try. It’s filled with twenty never-before-seen novellas from bestselling authors of romance.

I think you’re going to like it!

 

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Love, Christmas Collection

Put a song in your heart with 20 all-new Christmas Romances from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Each brand-new title is inspired by a Christmas carol and will lift your spirits and bring on the holiday cheer. 

Amazon: http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasUS 

B&N: http://bit.ly/LoveChristmasBN

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/love-christmas-holiday-stories-that-will-put-a-song-in-your-heart

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/love-christmas-holiday-stories/id1158227218?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

And don’t forget to enter our Rafflecopter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO A WRITER’S CONFERENCE…EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A WRITER

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malice-signings_11_-_webI’m throwing energy bars, running shoes, “author clothes,” sample books, and 3-oz. travel containers of shampoo, sun block, and mouth wash into a rolling suitcase. I really don’t have the time for this trip…and it won’t do my budget any good. “This is nonsense!” I tell myself. “I should be staying home and writing.” But I’ll drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. in order to get to the airport for my crack-of-dawn flight. And I’ll stay in a strange city for 5 days in spite of all of the arguments against making this trip.

Why?

Because there are a ton of really great reasons why writer’s conferences are worth the time, expense, and inevitable travel annoyances. Let me share ten of them with you…

1)      No matter how many writer’s conferences I attend, I always learn something new that will help me write better or further my publishing career. Plus! Conferences are about the only way to meet literary agents, face-to-face, and pitch your book. (Eeeek!)

2)      Attending a large, well-managed writer’s conference energizes me and my muse. We NEED this time away from our comfort zone to recharge our creativity. I know I’ll return home eager to plunge back into my WIP.

3)      The writing community is a shockingly small world. Even if 2,000 people attend your chosen conference, you’ll run into familiar faces and friends you met previous years. This social aspect is healthy and comforting when in a strange city. And besides, now you have a face to put to those emails you’ve been receiving from folks who love to read and write your kind of story.

4)      Most conference attendees—whether writers, readers, literary agents, or publisher’s acquiring editors—are friendly people. They come expecting to talk to others and share their knowledge. Now—how refreshing (and valuable) is that!

5)      If you’re taking writing classes and/or actively writing and submitting your stories for publication, you are justified in using travel expenses and conference fees as business-related expenses when you do your taxes. You don’t even need to have sold your work, yet. You are preparing for a new career.

6)      Writer’s conferences usually take place in large, interesting cities. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the city where this year’s conference is being held, this is a wonderful chance. At least some of your expenses will be offset at tax time, and conference organizers often arrange for fun side-trips—like ghost tours, history lectures, or group walking tours.

7)      If you’re an avid reader of a particular genre, but not actually writing, you may get a chance to meet some of your fave authors. Many conferences aren’t just for authors. They’re for anyone who appreciates their kind of story—whether it’s mysteries, romances, thrillers, children’s literature, or…whatever.

8)      If you’re a novice writer, you’ll get to chat with others interested in what you’re working on while you encourage other writers. And these conversations around the banquet table, in panel sessions, or in the bar will help you learn the ins and outs of the publishing biz.

9)       Publishing is an ever-changing business. By attending conferences where the pros share their insight, authors have a better chance of keeping up with changes that could affect their careers. And readers get to enjoy being insiders!

10)   Conferences are just plain fun! They offer stimulating conversation, time spent with other people who share your interest in writing and reading, plus—auctions, raffles, games, and (sometimes) Dessert Parties that are a chocoholic’s paradise.dreamstimesmall_575330041

So next time you read in Writer’s Digest about a writer’s conference, or hear that a friend is attending one—give it serious thought. It may be just what you need to jump-start your writing, or introduce you to a new author you’d love to read. And if you’re attending Bouchercon: The World Mystery Conference, September 15-19 in New Orleans, stop me and say “Hey!” because I’ll be there, too. If I can just get this darn suitcase closed!

 

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Weeding Your (Word) Garden (aka De-Cluttering Your Writing)

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GardenEvery gardener knows that flowers and vegetables won’t thrive if you let weeds take over your garden plot. The same is true of writing. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, a short story or hefty book-length project, prose that’s littered with unnecessary verbiage loses its impact.

How do we know what to keep and what to toss out? A good gardener learns the difference between a baby plant they started from seed and an insidious intruder. Before the weeds threaten the desirable plants a good gardener will yank those suckers out of there, allowing vegetables and flowers the nourishment and light they need to survive.

Here are a few tips for weeding your literary garden:

1)      Trim back adjective lists. (The tall, slim, vivacious woman with bright red hair and matching lipstick walked up to him.) Leave one or, at most, two adjectives. Make them the most vivid and specific. Readers only retain one or two details per sentence.

2)      Avoid unnecessary adverbs. Best-selling horror author Stephen King advises cutting all adverbs, but sometimes these colorful words do add to a scene, if judiciously used.

3)      However, be particularly aware of the dreaded -ly form in dialogue tags. (…he said hopelessly; …she commented sulkily.) Instead of tacking on an adverb to label the speaker’s emotion, keep the emphasis on the spoken words, or the character’s actions.

4)      “Would” is often an overused word that clutters good prose. Some writers string together paragraphs full of “woulds”. Search on it and, if you find this particularly persistent weed, substitute the root verb form, which is often more direct and powerful. Instead of “he would often attend the opera,” write: “he often attended the opera.”

5)      Don’t be afraid to use the strategic incomplete sentence. Writers who insist on every sentence following the Subject/Verb/Direct Object pattern often end up creating a stilted, forced style. This is particularly true of dialogue. Real people don’t all talk like college professors, using perfect grammar.

6)      Even a word like “the” can become clutter. (Cluttered: He picked up the hammer, the nails, then the stack of boards and loaded them into the truck. Better: He picked up hammer, nails, and a stack of boards then loaded them into the truck.)

7)      Dig out your “pet” words. We all have them. If you think you might be relying too heavily on one or more words, particularly the sort of word that stands out for the reader, use your word processor to search for it throughout the manuscript. You may be shocked to see how many characters use that same word or phrase in their dialogue, or how frequently you use it as your catch-all word for description. (Frequent weeds: big, large, got/get, just, went, going to…, about to…, etc.)

When I’m editing another writer’s work, one of the first things I do is de-clutter it. Think of it as putting your manuscript on a diet. A slimmed-down manuscript reads with more power, better pacing, and will more likely appeal to a literary agent or publisher. It’s just plain better writing—and that’s something we should all aim for.

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If you’d like to learn more tricks for perfecting your writing, you might want to check out The Extreme Novelist, my book based on the courses I teach in Washington, DC at The Writer’s Center, and for The Smithsonian Associates educational programs. Short story writers and memoirists will also find loads of information to them. You can order the book through any bookstore, or find it quickly here:  https://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Novelist-No-Time-Write-Drafting-ebook/dp/B00WA5FCVK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473169296&sr=8-1#nav-subnav

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Chapter One – 2016 Love Christmas Collection – So This is Christmas – by Denise Devine #mgtab

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So This is Christmas_Denise Devine

Chapter 1

Monday, December 10th

Winter in Minnesota didn’t rate high on my list of seasons, but I couldn’t imagine spending Christmas anywhere else. The pristine snow, the crisp, fresh air and the rainbow-colored lights decorating snow-covered roofs reminded me of a Hallmark movie. I loved shopping at the Mall of America for gifts and watching the Holidazzle electric light parade in downtown Minneapolis, but my favorite event always happened on the second weekend in December. That’s when I met up with my best friends for three days of good wine, more food than we could ever eat and lots and lots of laughter. We’d grown up in the same northeast Minneapolis neighborhood—Ellie, Jeanette, Ginny, Sarah and me—and through the years, were inseparable until our careers took us in different directions. Now that we’d hit our mid-thirties, it had become more difficult than ever to schedule a “girls only” weekend, but we’d made it a priority.

We always spent the weekend at Ellie Stone’s family cabin in Breezy Point, Minnesota. Frankly, I didn’t know why they called it a cabin. The multi-level monstrosity had six bedrooms, four baths, a den, two kitchens and two living rooms. In the lower kitchen, the Stone family cooked all their meals. The upper kitchen, the one with the beautiful view of Gull Lake, they used to stock all their booze.

I decided to drive up to Breezy Point a few days early this year. Ellie’s family had always considered me “one of the bunch” and had no problem with my coming up ahead of time. I needed to take a break from my photography business, something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for a long time. Lately, though, I’d begun to question the price of success. I had a thriving business, but the toll it placed on my life was slowly burning me out. The thought of spending four days alone in that big house with nothing to do but sip wine in front of a crackling fire would be good for me; it would also force me to give some serious thought to the dismal state of my love life.

I arrived at the house around noon. Driving up the snow-covered alley, I pulled into the back and parked in the driveway in front of the tuck-under garage. Thankfully, someone had cleared away the snow and shoveled the sidewalks. I slid out of the car and drew in a deep breath of fresh air, taking a much-needed stretch from the two-hour drive from Minneapolis. Even though the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky, the temperature hovered around twenty degrees. Anxious to get out of the cold, I grabbed my bag and the tote containing my four-week-old kitten and bounded up the cement stairway. The Stone family always hid a spare key under the planter next to the back door. I let myself in through the screen porch to the lower level kitchen and living room.

The tote with my sleeping kitten fit on the seat of the rocking chair. The rest of my gear landed on the sofa in front of the fireplace before I dumped my coat and made my way to the bathroom. I turned on the water in the tub and stripped down to my undergarments. A nice hot bath sounded like the perfect way to kick off my vacation.

Suddenly, a loud thumping noise echoed from inside a room across the hallway. My heart slammed into overdrive as a frightening thought raced through my head.

Is there someone else in this house?

No time to get dressed—I grabbed the fuzzy robe hanging on the back of the door and wrapped it around myself then peeked through a narrow crack in the opening. I didn’t see anyone in the living room but finding the immediate area empty didn’t bolster my courage. I needed to call 9-1-1 and my phone lay tucked in my purse across the room.

Now what do I do? No way can I lock myself in here and hope the intruder just goes away.

My brilliant, lightning fast mind said, “Get the phone. Run. Now.”

Slowly, I opened the door and crept out, hoping the rushing water from the bathtub faucet made enough noise to mask my footsteps. I scurried over to my purse and snatched the phone then made a beeline back to the bathroom. Got the door open and almost made it inside when a large hand gripped my shoulder.

“A-h-h-h-h-h!” The shrill scream shot out of me so fast I hardly knew I’d opened my mouth. My body shuddered and the phone went flying as the strong hand pivoted me, bringing me face to face with my aggressor.

My breath caught in my throat as the fear gripping me transformed into jaw-clenching anger.

Christopher Stone! You scared me half to death! What are you doing sneaking around the house?”

I hadn’t spoken to him since twelfth grade, but the gap in time did nothing to cool my foaming-at-the-mouth resentment of the kid who’d spent the entirety of his youth teasing me.

Ellie’s twin brother stood before me wearing nothing but a pair of skin-tight jeans, barely zipped with the top snap gaping open. I’d seen him wearing less at the beach, but even his favorite chino shorts had never looked this good on him. Before I knew it, my gaze quickly traveled from his slim waist to the width of his broad shoulders and smooth, muscular chest. Embarrassed by my obvious curiosity, I looked away. This body did not match the scrawny kid I used to wrangle with growing up. When did all this happen? I mean, I knew most ball players worked out to gain strength and boost their power to hit a baseball for a living. I’d watched Chris on television and on the big screen at the ballpark, but I never imagined him looking this good up close…

He didn’t seem to care about his half-naked appearance as he yawned and ran a hand through his tousled dark hair. “I wasn’t sneaking around,” he said in a smooth, deep voice. “I was sleeping. You woke me up.”

I glared at him to mask the sudden flutter in my stomach. “Are you—are you alone?”

“W-h-a-a-a…of course, I’m alone.”

I stared boldly into his deep blue eyes. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “What I always do when I need to get away from the crowds—I crash. What are you doing here?”

“This weekend is our annual Christmas get-together,” I said matter-of-factly and raised one brow to let him know he’d better crash somewhere else.

He frowned. “Aren’t you a little early? It’s only Monday.”

“No, I volunteered to do the housecleaning and put up the decorations so the place would look great when the girls arrive,” I said lying through my teeth. He didn’t need to know my real plans.

“Okay, great.” He sounded amused as he leaned over and picked up my phone. “I thought for a minute there you were trying to get rid of me.”

My patience wore thin. “Look, Chris, you’re going to be in the way. Don’t you have to get back to the cities to get ready for a hot date with your girlfriend or something?” Whoever she is this week…

He didn’t rise to the bait, but I noticed a muscle twitch in his cheek, as though the whole “date” situation didn’t set well with him. It didn’t surprise me considering the high-profile women he chased—Hollywood starlets, models and pop singers—Queen Bee Central. He changed girlfriends with the same frequency most men took their shirts to the laundry. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but just the same…

“Tell you what, I’ll stay in my room while you vacuum and do whatever it is you need to do.” His eyes flashed when I shook my head. “What’s your problem?”

“It’s not what, it’s who.” I took my phone from his hand. “I’m not in the mood to spend the next four days dodging a guy who likes to play practical jokes on me. You know, like throwing water balloons, unscrewing the top off the salt and pepper shakers, flipping my glass of soda upside down on the table, hiding a whoopee cushion under a blanket on my chair,” and his crowning achievement, “putting a live snake down my shirt?”

He burst out laughing. “Are you still mad about that? I did those things when we were kids.”

The fact that he still thought them funny still made me mad and I didn’t trust him one bit. “Yes,” I said in my snippiest voice, “and I’m soooo not in the mood for any of your antics this week.”

“I’ll be good.” He held up both hands. “I won’t cause an ounce of trouble. I promise.” His gaze suddenly dropped to the front of my body and his eyes widened. “Uh, but I can’t say the same for you.”

I looked down and found my robe gaping open, my pink with black polka dot Victoria’s Secret undies in full view. “A-h-h-h-h-h!” My scream this time had more to do with frustration than fright. I jerked my robe shut and stormed into the bathroom, determined not to give my childhood nemesis the satisfaction of seeing my face turn crimson like he had so often in the past.

His triumphant laughter propelled me all the way.

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