Chirp and Chatter Pages

Friday, November 17, 2017

Guest Author: Carole Brown

I'm Not Your Average Spy

Carole Brown


You wouldn't think romance would play a part in being a spy, but sometimes it does. Wives, girlfriends, and new friends that tie into a spy's life—all of these relationships allow romance to blossom...and increase the danger.
When you play with danger, you'd better have a backbone of steel, a fortitude that gets you through the best and worst of situations. Sometimes it can be routine actions, but at other times, danger is present. You're living in serious conditions, playing at being someone you're not, loving the thought that you're living on the edge and beating the chances.
Knowledge that you steal, that you know, when no one else does is your job description. Knowledge that you can share...or hide. Information that most times is important and for which is highly prized with monetary and other valuable items as rewards.
Secrets are sought after and then shared with the person desiring to know them. In the case of countries and agencies, it's important NOT to share them. In the case of spies, it's important to find them and share.
Living overseas and/or on home soil can be advantageous and profitable. It's alluring to many spies to live in beautiful countries and homes, enjoy social privileges, and to have the best when, if left in their home countries, life might never reach that plateau of pleasure.
Of course, being a spy includes the possibility of getting caught. Most times a prison sentence is issued, and at times, in some countries, death is used as a manner of punishment.
From Biblical Times until day's world, countries and groups have had their spies. Some on home soil and some serving overseas. Some spies are well known and some of whom may never be known. Many are successful for years, passing on information and secrets, receiving vast sums of money while others receive little or no pay. But the price if caught?
  •      Disgrace
  •      Prison
  •      Death, at times


A few real-life, famous spies:


Biblical Spy:
         In the book of Joshua, when Joshua sent two men to Jericho to spy out the land, they went to Rahab's house. She hid them on the rooftop among stalks of flax, and they escaped with both information and their lives.
U.S. Spies:
  • During WWII Martin Scofield Quigley, Jr., used his publishing position as a cover to gather intelligence in Ireland where many influential people favored the Axis, and in Italy on behalf of the US Office of Strategic Services. 
  • Claire Maybelle Snyder (December 2, 1907 – May 22, 1960), also known as Clara Fuentes, Clara Phillips, Dorathy Fuentes as well as High Pockets, was an American spy, entertainer, club owner, and author most noted for her exploits in the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

Foreign Spies who worked on American Soil:
  • Aldrich Ames: obtained work with the CIA and specialized in Russian Intelligence. It was estimated he received $2.5 million from Russia and was sentenced in the U.S. with life in prison.
  • David Boone: Served in the U.S. army as a Signals Intelligence Analyst. Offered to spy for Russia and received $20,000 a year. Caught, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In my WWII Spies series, I focus on spies serving the U.S. The first book, With Music in Their Hearts, has Tyrell Walker, enlisted as an unknown, civilian spy who's been asked to find the spy serving Germany and living in Cincinnati. Along with danger and romance, Tyrell finds that secrets and living on the edge is just as much a part of his current lifestyle as being a minister.
In the second book (coming this month) A Flute in the Willows, Jerry Patterson, is recruited to head to Germany. There he not only is able to fulfill the request from his government, but comes in contact with danger and an injury that almost takes his life. Only God and his wife are able to draw him back to himself after he returns to America.

Writing about spies opened my eyes to the extreme conditions and dangers that are a part of the lives of these—both bad and good—men and women. My hat's off to the good ones who use their highly developed senses and intelligences for the good of our country!

About With Music in Their Hearts:


Angry at being rejected for military service, Minister Tyrell Walker accepts the call to serve as a civilian spy within his own country. Across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio, a spy working for a foreign country is stealing secret plans for newly developed ammunition to be used in the war. According to his FBI cousin, this spy favors pink stationery giving strong indications that a woman is involved.
He’s instructed to obtain a room in the Rayner Boarding House run by the lovely, spunky red-haired Emma Jaine Rayner. Sparks of jealousy and love fly between them immediately even as they battle suspicions that one or the other is not on the up and up.
While Tyrell searches for the murdering spy who reaches even into the boarding home, Emma Jaine struggles with an annoying renter, a worried father (who could be involved in this spy thing), and two younger sisters who are very different but just as strong willed as she is.
As Tyrell works to keep his double life a secret and locate the traitor, he refuses to believe that Emma Jaine could be involved even when he sees a red-haired woman in the arms of another man. Could the handsome and svelte banker who’s also determined to win Emma Jaine’s hand for marriage, be the dangerous man he’s looking for? Is the trouble-making renter who hassles Emma Jaine serving as a flunky? Worse, is Papa Rayner so worried about his finances and keeping his girls in the style they’re used to, that he’ll stoop to espionage?
Will their love survive the danger and personal issues that arise to hinder the path of true love?

About Carole Brown:


Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?

Personal blog                                      Facebook

Amazon Author Page                         Twitter

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Stitches in Time                                  Word Sharpeners

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Guest Author: Sara L. Foust


Building Blocks

Sara L. Foust


Psalm 34:22 (KJV)—The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.
I am not perfect. I think all of us would agree to that statement. It is amazing to me that a perfect God chooses to love an imperfect me. There are things in my past that I am ashamed of, but when He forgave me of those things I was able to release them to Him. At that point, I accepted that He loved me no matter what my past held.
A lot has changed in my life since I was saved at 19 years old. Marriage, three children, foster parenting, being led to homeschool, adopting our two foster children, beginning my career as an author, becoming published with my debut novel, and now being called to go on a mission trip to the Philippines in May 2018. Each of these building blocks serves to mold and change me into the person He has planned. Each of the new things He asks of me are uncomfortable and often terrifying, but I want to do them because He was kind enough, loving enough, generous enough to love me first and redeem my soul. I am joyfully indebted to Him and I trust Him above all other things in my life. I know that He is leading me somewhere amazing, and I hope I continue to have the faith to follow. I am humbled that He chose me to spread His amazing love into this world with my written words. I only hope they bring readers closer to Him. 

About Callum's Compass:

Kat Williams's brother died in a gruesome accident in the mountains of East Tennessee. She blames herself.
Ryan Jenkins's fiancée was murdered. He couldn’t protect her.
With the death of her brother, Kat believes she is unworthy of love from anyone—even God. When a good friend elicits a promise that she will stop living in the past and then leaves her clues to a real-life treasure hunt, Kat embarks on an adventure chock-full of danger. To find the treasure, Kat will have to survive wild animals—and even wilder men. Can she rely on Ryan, the handsome wildlife officer assigned to protect her...without falling in love?
Ryan swore off love when his fiancée was murdered, but feelings long-buried rise to the surface around Kat. He volunteers to help with her treasure hunt, vowing to keep her safe. Together they venture deep into caves and tunnels...and even deeper into the depths of their unplumbed hearts.

About the Author:
Sara writes Inspirational Romantic Suspense from a mini-farm in East Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and their five homeschooled children. Her debut novel Callum's Compass won second place in Deep River Books' 2017 Writer's Contest. She also has a story appearing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. To learn more about her, please visit www.saralfoust.com

Friday, November 10, 2017

Guest Author: Judythe Morgan

Judythe Morgan

Best Laid Plans


I plot and plan my books. But sometimes life interrupts those plans. Here’s the latest example.

This blog with Delia was scheduled at the beginning of 2017 when I fully planned to have the fourth (and final) book in the PROMISES Series published.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. Instead, I suffered from the prophetic words found in one of Robert Burns' poems. “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.

You probably recognize the quote better as “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

My writing timetable for the PROMISES series imploded with an unscheduled relocation last summer. Finding time to write slipped away replaced with house hunting, packing, unpacking, and resettling.

Hurricane Harvey further complicated our transition and added more delay to my scheduled book releases.

No matter how much or how carefully we prepare and plan, life does happen and disrupt plans. I believe that all things happen within God’s perfect plan for our lives, but that doesn’t make the disappointment or results of plans gone awry any less disappointing.

I was ready to give up on the series, but my characters wouldn’t allow me to quit. They shouted in my head, how could you ignore your promise to tell our stories? A tough question considering the series theme is about keeping promises!

Not only were my characters protesting, everywhere I looked articles and announcements about the recovery of POW/MIA remains missing in military actions after years and years caught my attention. I viewed it as more confirmation that Shirley and David’s story need to be told.

With renewed determination, I started again with a new schedule to complete the series. Until He Returns, the book announced for last summer now releases this month and the last book in the series, the one I’d scheduled for this blog, will now release in 2018.

Best laid plans gone awry, but new plans in place. Perhaps others can relate.

Have you had any of your plans go awry?

Share your experience in the comments below along with your email address and be entered in a drawing for a free eReader copy of Until He Returns, Book 3 of the PROMISES series.


About Until He Returns:


Shirley Carlson’s husband has been MIA in Vietnam for decades. She’s filled her life with family, friends, her business, and David Sands’ companionship. Now David wants more. Only she wants her husband home and buried before she moves forward with another relationship.

David Sands has loved Shirley for years, patiently waiting for her to come to terms with her husband’s death. After one last assignment to the Middle East, he’s retiring from the Army. All he wants is Shirley at his side, as his wife. He proposes before he deploys.

Will Shirley make a commitment without closure to her past life, or will she watch her new love walk away?


About the Author:


Award-winning author Judythe Morgan juggles many hats. She’s an Air Force brat, an Army wife, one time-Department of Army Civilian, mother/grandmother, antiques dealer, schoolteacher, former mayor’s wife, and sometimes-church pianist.

Her diverse experiences bring life to her characters and her stories. Her belief in true love, second chances, and forgiveness means you’ll always find a happy ending.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of American.

You can connect with Judythe on

Her Website
                 
Her Blog
                             
Her Amazon Author Page

FB

Twitter                                

Goodreads

Friday, November 3, 2017

Guest Author: Shannon Taylor Vannatter

Shannon Taylor Vannatter

It’s always a challenge for me to come up with interesting occupations for my characters. When I first got a contract for what became A Texas Holiday Reunion, it was a Heartsong Presents title set in a jewelry store in Arkansas. After nine titles centered around the rodeo, I was ready to do something else. In the original version, the heroine owned the jewelry store and the hero was a gemologist. Boy was I dreading the research since most of my baubles come from the $1 Jewelry Galore store.

Before I could blink, Harlequin ended the Heartsong line as Barbour had before them. But my agent called with good news - the editor at Love Inspired was interested in continuing my contract, but she wanted cowboys. That I could do. As I reworked my story and moved it to a Texas ranch, I struggled for an occupation for my heroine.

Until we visited my husband’s Texas branch of his family in tiny Medina, near Bandera where I’d moved my story to. Since we’re avid flea marketers, we’d hit all the places in Bandera looking for bargains. And a cowhide rug. We found several, but none of them were exactly what we wanted for our rustic family room. On the way back to the family ranch, we noticed a log furniture store. Inside, we found our cowhide rug, along with dining tables, dressers, four poster beds, futons, and desks—all made of logs as smooth as glass.

Amazed by such craftsmanship, inspiration hit and I knew Resa would be a log furniture designer. Initially, Colson was a furniture crafter, but my new editor didn’t think he was cowboy enough. I changed it so that Colson had once been a crafter and worked with Resa, but this time he came to fill in as her ranch foreman. By moving her designing office to the barn, I kept them in close quarters.

Stumped on what to name the store, I asked my Facebook friends for help and they came up with several great ideas. I ended up going with Rustick’s and the suggester got a free book for their help.

Originally slated as a fall title, I was excited when asked if I’d like to do a Christmas book. Since it’s my favorite holiday, I jumped at the chance. I had lots of fun creating furniture for Resa to design, sending her and Colson on tree cutting adventures, and wagon rides in parades. Throw in a cute little girl and lots of tension to disrupt their Christmas and it’s the stuff romance is made of.

About A Texas Holiday Reunion


His Christmas Homecoming

With her foreman out of commission, Resa McCall needs horse trainer Colson Kincaid to run her family ranch through the holidays. But having the handsome single dad back in Bandera, Texas, is unsettling. Colson broke Resa's heart years ago, and she can't risk getting close again. Still, working with him and bonding with his sweet little girl is making the ranch feel merry and bright. Being at Resa's side stirs up emotions Colson thought were long gone. But he has a powerful secret that could keep them apart forever. Can Colson give Resa the one Christmas present that might finally bring them back together—the truth?

Get your copy now:

        

Giveaway details:

Comment to enter the drawing for a copy of A Texas Holiday Reunion. Six copies will be split among names drawn during the blog tour from Oct 18 – Dec 8. One winner will get to pick the theme for a custom made memory board personally crafted by the author. Deadline Dec. 8th. Winners will be revealed on the author’s blog on Dec 10th. Go to my website http://shannontaylorvannatter.com and sign up for my newsletter to enter more giveaways and get a free book download.

Follow my blog tour for more chances to win A Texas Holiday Reunion:

·         Oct 18 – https://allbettsareoff.wordpress.com/

·         Oct 19 - http://www.inspyromance.com/

·         Oct 24 - http://craftieladiesofromance.blogspot.com/

·         Oct 24 - http://brendaandersonbooks.com/blog/

·         Oct 24 & 27 - http://shannontaylorvannatter.com/inkslinger-blog/

·         Oct 26 - https://saralfoust.com/blog/


·         Nov 3 - http://chirpnchatter.blogspot.com/


·         Dec 1 - http://sarahruut.com/tag/author-interview/

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Upcoming Release: Winter Wonders (Paradise Pines, Book 4)

The fourth and final book in the Paradise Pines series, set in beautiful Cambria, California, releases November 10th. Woot, woot! (It's available for pre-order now.) I'm excited to introduce WINTER WONDERS, and the heroine, Kalani (Winter) Wonder in this final installment of the 4-book series. You'll all recognize Brady Merckle, our hero this time around, as the pastor of Cambria House of Praise in the previous three books. 

Here's what it's all about:

Kalani (Winter) Wonder has much bigger plans than being a local news anchor. National plans…maybe even international. She certainly won’t be stuck in Cornelius Cove, California for the rest of her life. She’s going places. Big places. Faraway places. Grand places she’s only dreamed of so far.

Then her brother’s little puddle-jumper plane crashes in the Cambria pines, leaving them both stuck in a lovely old fishing lodge with a strange-but-wonderful lady who has a knack for making Winter’s mind go places it doesn’t want to go. Places like Heaven, and God…and love.

Pastor Brady Merckle leads a quiet life, far from the one he led as a youth, and he likes things just the way they are. Then Winter Wonder lands in Cambria, and he enjoys the beautiful anchor woman’s company far too much. Brady doesn’t need an over-curious reporter digging into his past, and besides, Winter doesn’t know God. He’d best stay a whole village away from her.

But when he’s hired to spruce up Paradise Pines Lodge, he and Winter find themselves thrown unavoidably together.

Winter has landed, and a Miracle is about to happen.


Previously, in the Paradise Pines series...


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Release: Life in Chapel Springs (Ane Mulligan)



The Story Behind
Life in Chapel Springs

by Ane Mulligan


The most asked question I get is what prompted this story. Why Lacey? Why the accident and reconstruction? I’m a visual writer, so I need photos. When I start out with a new book (in this case the series), I find photos of people who look like the character I’m imagining. I use magazines and keep files of faces I’ve torn out of them. While looking for Lacey, I came across two photos appearing almost like a before and after of the same woman.
The resemblance was striking and sparked the “what if” that became Lacey’s story. Many women have life-altering surgery, whether elective, emergency, or life-saving. My research included interviewing a plastic surgeon and a psychologist, so I could be sure I had the psyche right and the surgery results correct. You see, often—more often than not—women have a difficult time with the results of these life-altering surgeries. A high percentage dislike the “new” self. It doesn’t match the image we women tend to carry inside us.
I still had one problem. The character Lacey was a shy, quiet young woman—so shy and quiet, she wasn’t even talking to me! I had to sit on her story for three years. Finally, after two more Chapel Springs books, Lacey “talked” to me. I understood her and could write her story. Maybe she was ready to tell it.

What both Lacey and I both hope women will take away from her story in Life in Chapel Springs is that each of us is uniquely made by God, and as Great Aunt Lola used to say, “God don’t make no junk.”

About Life in Chapel Springs:


Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.
Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater with her eye on Broadway. Then, a freak accident results in traumatic injuries requiring facial reconstruction. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Will Chapel Springs rally behind its own … or will life unravel?
Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Neither is trying to buy a home pregnancy test without anyone finding out. Between her twins’ double wedding, the caterer cancelling, a looming nationwide art tour and her health, Claire’s life is upside down.
Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising. Then Mayor Riley discovers someone has bought the mineral rights to his land. A stranger and his nefarious investors set out to buy all the homes in Chapel Springs and mine the gold. Will life in Chapel Springs become the tailings of a gold mine?

About Ane Mulligan:

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), CEO of a Community Theatre group, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find her on her website, Amazon Author page, Novel Rocket, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New Release: Autumn Falls (Paradise Pines, #3)

I can't believe I forgot!


I had a book release on the 1st...and I've been so busy I didn't even think to raise a noise about it. My very bad! lol 

Anyway, AUTUMN FALLS is now available on Amazon. Yay! So excited. This is Book 3 in the 4-book Paradise Pines series. Just one more remaining...Winter Wonders, which will release November 10th, and is available for pre-order now.

I'll be giving a FREE electronic copy of Autumn Falls to someone who leaves a comment below. The winner will be chosen at random through random.org. Winner will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 10. Be sure to leave your email address in your comment, so I can send your book if you're the winner.



Autumn Warren and her friend Cecily determine to have one last hurrah before the crazy whirl of planning Ceci’s wedding. Autumn reluctantly agrees to lay off the barbed comments about her friend’s imminent move to Italy—for no better reason than that she fell in love!—and the girls rent an apartment at Cambria’s Paradise Pines Lodge for the entire fall season.

Autumn’s agreement to silence her outraged protests in no way indicates a change of heart about letting a man into her own life. She’s watched enough friends get married and divorced to sour her forever on the subject of love and the sanctity of marriage. If she ever does fall in love, it’ll be forever…and she's seen absolutely zero evidence of that kind of devotion even existing. Autumn doesn’t believe in divorce, and given the current statistics, why even risk it?

Then she meets Russ Amundsen and his adorable daughter, DeLyn, and finds herself in danger of losing her carefully guarded heart. And what is it about the mysterious Miss Angelina Love—who may or may not own Paradise Pines—that makes Autumn believe her heart never stood a chance once she set foot inside the lodge?

Purchase links:

Pelican Book Group

Here's a peek inside:

1

AUTUMN WARREN COVERED BOTH EARS with her hands and gave her head a vehement shake. Bright auburn hair went wild, wrapping long tendrils around her neck and over her face. She swept it out of her eyes with an impatient flick of one wrist.

“Take it back, Ceci!” She stomped one booted foot and crossed her arms like a pouty child.
Cecily Adams rolled a pair of stunning violet eyes. “Honey, you can be so dramatic sometimes.”
Autumn dropped backward into the cushy softness of her sofa. Her rear hit the cushion and sank in. She wished for an old-fashioned couch with springs. In moments like this, she needed to bounce when she landed.
With characteristic grace, Cecily sat down on a wingback chair.
Autumn’s best friend since kindergarten, partner in all manner of crime, her soul sister, with whom she’d made a solemn pact to never be suckered into the whole love-and-marriage fiasco. “You can’t be serious, Ceci! ’Fess up. You’re kidding, right?”
“Autumn. Why would I kid about this? I love Gabe. I’m going to marry him, and move to his family’s estate in Italy. I’m ecstatic, and I refuse to apologize for having found my soul mate. Honey, won’t you just try to be happy for us? Please?”
“But—" Autumn pounded the cushion with one fist. “Ceci, you and I, we’re…we’re not getting married. Ever. Love is a crock, remember? It isn’t real.”
Her friend got up, kicked off her expensive heels and joined Autumn on the sofa, where she pulled both bare feet up under her. Wrapping one arm around Autumn’s stiff shoulders, she tugged her closer and nestled their heads together, mixing shiny, coal-black strands with vibrant auburn ones.
“Life hasn’t been easy on us, has it, Autie? I don’t know what would have become of me if you hadn’t been there.”
Autumn relaxed against her friend and blinked back tears. She couldn’t decide whether those would-be tears were more angry or scared-to-bits, but whichever they were; she refused to let them fall.
Ceci’s two-hundred-dollar perfume tickled her senses, and Autumn breathed it in, relishing the soft hints of jasmine and lotus, completely forgetting to pull her usual gagging pretense. Gabe-The-Italian-Hunk was stealing Ceci away, taking her halfway around the world, where she’d become part of a whole new culture. Autumn might not enjoy teasing Ceci about her perfume for years and years…and years.
She choked back a giggle at her own over-the-top exaggeration. This was not a time for laughter. This was a time to make Ceci feel guilty. Maybe even guilty enough to change her mind and stay here in the good old USA, where she belonged.
Autumn enacted an elaborate mental eye roll.
What’s so great about living in stupid Italy, anyway? Italian food, Italian this and that and the other thing. And what’s the big deal about catching the attention of a disgustingly perfect man who treats the woman he loooooves like some kind of royalty? Hmph!
She and Ceci had been each other’s lifelines. How could her friend forget that?
Both sets of parents had gone through ugly divorces while the girls were in elementary school. Cecily’s dad married again the next year and left his new, younger wife just before their second anniversary—this time for a woman-child, barely out of high school. Autumn’s mother followed pretty much the same pattern through two more husbands. Thank goodness her dad kept his sanity. She’d have gone bonkers if both parents went over the edge.
Through it all, Cecily and Autumn, crushed and confused, leaned on each other. They processed their parents’ shenanigans through bright, active, developing little brains. And they learned.
Other than a brief attachment here and there, both girls made it through high school without a major broken heart. Few of the immature young males who tried and failed to gain their attention could compete with the bond that had developed by then—a bond of shared sorrows, joys, heartaches and happiness. An unwavering attachment created in the proverbial “school of hard knocks.”
During college, they were bridesmaids at the weddings of several mutual friends. Beautiful, showcase nuptials that cost thousands of dollars each. Despite the exorbitant monetary investment, not one of those unions lasted much longer than the elaborate ceremonies that never should have happened. Another friend’s marriage dissolved, leaving their college pal expecting a baby and drowning in tears and heartache.
Autumn and Cecily had met at a favorite restaurant, clinked their glasses together and vowed to never let themselves believe in love and never to allow that fickle emotion to break their hearts and ruin their futures. There’d be no little rug rats playing around their feet with no one to call “daddy.” They’d be smarter than their friends, wiser than their parents. Men, love, marriage, and heartbreak—they’d be fine without any of those things.
That was six years ago, and up until now they’d both stuck to their anti-matrimonial guns and kept themselves clear of the fallout that always followed emotional commitments.
But Autumn saw the writing on the wall the first time she laid eyes on Gabriel Brett—or rather, the first time he and Ceci laid eyes on each other.
On a weekend getaway to Napa Valley, Autumn and Ceci had stopped in at a wine-tasting room. Autumn wasn’t a wine lover, but Ceci had a genuine taste for “the good stuff.” In Ceci-speak, “good stuff” meant expensive.
The facility was hosting a celebrity vigneron—a man whose family owned the most lucrative vineyards and wineries in Italy. The Vineyard Room put on an impressive public shindig for their guest of honor.
Ceci sampled a couple of chardonnays, while Autumn enjoyed a nice white grape sparkling cider. They’d wandered through the gift shop and then carried their glasses to a small table in a back corner, where they could people-watch.
When Gabriel Brett entered the room, he made no attempt to showcase himself. The man possessed the kind of presence that demanded attention. He’d smiled and nodded to one wine-lover and then another as he strolled across the floor. And then his gaze locked on Ceci’s.
For Autumn, as an unwilling and decidedly antagonistic observer, it was like something out of those sappy old movies she hated—the ones where the hero and heroine gravitate toward one another, their hearts in their eyes and hopelessly lost in each other before a single word is spoken.
Unbelievable. Unrealistic. Unadvised and unwanted.
That Napa getaway was the beginning of the end for Autumn and Cecily’s pact to never marry. Ceci might be the princess of propriety and the goddess of grace, but she was also the sultana of stubborn. Once she decided to give Gabe a chance, nothing short of a tornado could’ve stopped her.
“We said we wouldn’t do this,” Autumn whined against her friend’s shoulder. “Love never lasts, remember? Ceci! He’s a man. He’ll break your heart.”
“Oh, Autie. He won’t. I know he will never hurt me. As much as I doubted it before, I believe it now. This is real, honey. I love Gabe with all my heart. I’m not even me when I’m not with him. And he loves me in that same crazy, makes-no-sense, unbelievable manner.” She gave Autumn’s hand a warm squeeze. “You’re my best friend in the whole world, sweetie. My sister—the best one I never had. Can’t you…please…try to be happy for us?”
Be happy for them? No. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
Gabe’s perfect good looks were lethal to any woman within a country mile, but Cecily was supposed to be smart enough to see through all that, and to withstand his all-too-potent Italian charisma.
“I can try,” she muttered. “But seriously, Ceci…Italy?”
Cecily laughed that soft, musical trill that always brought a smile to Autumn’s face.
“Come on, you had to know that if I ever fell, it would be for someone utterly sensational…and exotic…and perfect, right? Now where, around here, would I find someone like that?”
“You wouldn’t, and I wish you hadn’t.”
“Autumn! That’s just…mean.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” She hugged her friend, but couldn’t quite dredge up a real smile.
“Does that mean you’ll be my maid of honor?”
“Maybe.” Autumn pinned the other woman under a narrow-eyed gaze. “But you have to do something for me first.”
Ceci’s eyes widened, and Autumn grinned. Ahh, sweet revenge! “You just went a shade paler than usual.”
“Yeah, well, I know you. I’m almost afraid to ask, but I will. What’s your condition?”
“One last hurrah.”
“What does that mean?”
“Spend the summer with me, while Gabe is in Florence ‘tying up loose ends.’” She rolled her eyes, she couldn’t help it. “I’ve been checking out this place on the Central Coast, in Cambria—Paradise Pines. From what I’ve gathered, it used to be an old fishing lodge. Now it’s kind of a quasi-inn, I guess. Someone turned the upper floor into a large rental apartment. The owner or manager or—I don’t know, whoever runs the place, lives on the ground floor. They only have one guest or set of guests at a time, and they rent that upstairs apartment for the entire season or not at all.” She bit at her bottom lip and gave Cecily the puppy-dog look that always worked. “Let’s see if we can get it for the fall season. It’s our last chance before you run off to be Italian.”
Ceci shrugged. “Sounds like the place might be hard to get, especially last-minute like this. But sure, go ahead and try. If you can make it happen, we’ll go—but I have a condition too.”
“What’s that?” Autumn couldn’t stop bouncing up and down, grinning like a fool. She really had to incorporate a couch with springs somewhere in her place.
“If we go, you’ll leave all the snarky barbs—about Gabe, about love, about marriage—right here at home. I’m not going off on a season-long trip where I have to listen to your negativity all the time.”
“Oh, come on, Ceci, you’re being—“
Cecily raised one hand and both dark, wing-shaped eyebrows. “That’s the agreement. Take it or leave it.”
“Fine. I’ll play nice—if I can get that reservation.”