Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas Coda 48


Christmas Coda 48

JEFFERSON BLYTHE, ESQUIRE: Jefferson and George

 

George had been definite. He could not make it make it back to the States for Christmas.

“You can’t ask for the holiday off?” I’d asked. Since George hadn’t been home in four years, I thought maybe he could reasonably make that request--and that it might even get a thumbs up from Corporate. Or whatever code name they used for CIA London. But nope. George declined to even ask.

Which sort of...hurt. We hadn’t seen each other since Merry Old E., and that had been five months ago.

Half a year. If we rounded up. Which is the rule in life as in math. Round up.

Was this more of George testing me, of me needing to prove I was really, honestly invested? Or was it George losing interest?

Coz it felt like George losing interest.

A couple of times I even thought I should ask him outright. Dude, are we through and you just don’t want to break my heart or something?

In my place, George would have asked outright. And if I asked outright, he’d tell me.

But I didn’t ask. I just kept hoping I was wrong. I needed something to hang onto, and poor George was it.

The deal I’d made with my parents was that I’d do a year’s apprenticeship with my dad in his architectural firm while I figured out where I was going to go to film school--assuming I could get in anywhere.

I could get in somewhere as it turned out. I could get in LFS. The London Film School. I’d applied for the following year. And I’d been accepted.

But was I going? I felt like it kind of depended on George. He hadn’t asked and I hadn’t told him.

My parents, of course, believed I’d change my mind about the whole film school thing. Also the whole being gay thing, which they attributed to ongoing upset over getting dumped by Amy and being confused and lost and generally…young. They figured I had turned to George because of timing and trauma.

It’s was the first time I ever heard that fighting bad guys could make you gay, but okay. Interesting take on law enforcement. Anyway, I had my stuff to work through and they had theirs.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought working for my dad. I didn’t hate architecture. Not at all. Architecture is a very cool gig, as a matter of fact. It just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life. But, as everyone I talked to pointed out, there were worse ways to spend your life, and not everybody got to do what they loved for a living. That was the point of having a hobby.

My dad said the only thing that would really disappoint him was if I deliberately chose something I didn’t want for my future because I was afraid to talk to him. Which was a pretty solid 9.9 on the Dad Scale, grading from 1 (deadbeat dad) to 10 (rescues-kid-who-is-not-even-his-own-from-burning-building dad). Very nearly heroic, given how long he’d been planning on me joining the family firm.

So the hold-up was not my parents. The hold-up was George.

And then very casually my mom mentioned that Mrs. Sorocco had said that George was coming home for Christmas.

News to me.

And that sort of hurt too. But was also exciting because…George. On the same continent at the same time. We might talk. We might do something besides talk.

“So you are coming home for Christmas?” I asked George the next time we talked.

He swore and my heart sank. But then he said gruffly, “Damn it. I wanted that to be a surprise.” 

“It is. I didn’t think there was a chance.”

“No. Well…it’s not like I don’t have a stake in this too.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but it was probably the most promising thing he’d said yet. About anything.

That was Christmas Eve.

I went to bed that night trying to maintain in the face of my excitement that Santa was bringing me George.

 

Or sort of. Because George literally arrived around two o’clock on Christmas day,  and was whisked away into the family fortress. There was no opportunity for even a brush pass or whatever the hell the spy term was for a chaste hug hello. George waved at my window on his way into Sorocco HQ, and I waved forlornly back.  The Berlin Wall couldn’t have seemed more insurmountable in those five minutes than Mr. Sorocco’s tidy boxwood hedge. The geometric squares of snow-covered lawn and shovelled driveway in front of our separate embassies could have been no fly zones.

So George had dinner at his house and I had dinner at my house.

Diplomacy? Détente? Defection? I was more confused than ever as I tried to choke down turkey and gravy and stuffing.

“More stuffing?” my mom asked when I’d finally cleared my plate.

I almost asked if she was being ironic, but the front doorbell rang, and I practically knocked my chair over answering it.

George stood on the stoop, framed in twinkling lights and the two potted, beribboned juniper shrubs. The Spy Who Wasn’t Sure if He Wanted to Come in From the Cold. He wore a dark overcoat and his most severe horn-rim specs. Flakes of snow melted into his neatly combed hair. He looked handsome and serious in a sorry-to-have-to-revoke-your-passport kind of way.

“Hello, Jeffer--”

I heard his oof as I knocked the wind out of him with my hello hug. Possibly more of a hello tackle.

“God, George. I can’t believe you’re here.” Not dignified, I know. But sincere.

“Hey,” he said in a very different tone of voice. His arms locked around me and he hugged me back. Hugged me the way you’d expect to be hugged after you return from deep space exploration. “Hey,” he said again.

“I didn’t think you were ever going to get here.” I wasn’t just talking about arriving for Christmas, and I think he knew it because when I raised my head, he kissed me.

He kissed me like he’d thought he was never going to get there either, and it made up for a lot.

When we broke for air, he drew me out onto the step, pulled shut the door, and led me around the house and out to the backyard and up into the tree house.

My teeth were chattering--I hadn’t had time to stop for my jacket--and George took off his coat and wrapped it around my shoulders, and then wrapped his arm around me for good measure.

“Poor old Jefferson. Has it been tough?” he asked sympathetically.

“It’s been h-hell,” I replied, snuggling closer. “But not because of my family or friends or anything. That’s been…weird, but mostly okay. A lot of it has been good. Better than I expected.”

He kissed the top of my head--like he was kissing my five year old self--and I said, “George, don’t.”

Behind the severe glasses, his eyes were guarded.

“You’ve got to listen to me,” I said. “Because this is unfair to both of us, and you’re going to wreck any chance we might have.”

That expression I knew well. The lordly George of my teens. The George who firmly believed he knew best. Knew everything.

Well, he didn’t. Not always.

I headed him off with a quick, “No, listen, George. I know you’re doing what you think is best for both of us. You don’t want to hurt me and you don’t want to get hurt again. I get all that. But there is no insurance policy for this. Maybe it’ll work out for us and maybe it won’t, but it sure as hell won’t work out if we don’t try.”

He opened his mouth again, but I kept talking.

“And this…cooling off period or whatever it’s supposed to be isn’t realistic anyway. If this is supposed to be for my sake, then it really doesn’t make sense because you’ve set up a scenario where I can’t move on. Because I’m still waiting for you.”

“You’re not supposed to be waiting for me!”

“But I am, George.” I couldn’t help the tears that sprang to my eyes. “Because I love you. You. And until I know for sure it won’t work, of course I’m waiting for you, of course I’m waiting for this stupid, ridiculous, fucking holding pattern to be over!”

Jefferson.” He sounded soft and regretful.

“If you know for sure it’s not going to work, that you don’t feel enough for me to really try, then tell me.”

“I don’t,” he broke in.

My heart stopped. I stared at him.

His face twisted and he said, “No, I mean I don’t think that. I would tell you if I thought that. I…want it to work. I want it to be right. But wanting it won’t make it true.”

“Yeah, but it’s a start.” I had to wipe my face. I was so cold, I hadn’t even felt the tears falling until I was tasting them. “I don’t know why I ever agreed to this because it’s the worst idea ever. It’s completely illogical. The only way we’re ever going to know if it might work out for us is if we actually try.”

He was silent.

“We’ve already put in half of the year you wanted.”


“Five months.”

“Close enough for government work.”

His head bobbed, acknowledging a point.

“I can’t take it, George.” I just didn’t have it in me to pretend anymore. No more of the cheerful, optimistic, adulting Jefferson of the last five months worth of phone calls. I could hear the weariness in my voice, and I think he could too. “If it’s a test, then I fail. I’m sorry. I just feel like you’re coming up with excuses not to be with me.”

“I didn’t know you felt like this,” he said finally.

I said a little bitterly, “You didn’t want to know.”

He seemed to be thinking that over. “That’s not true,” he said finally. Ever the intelligence analyst.

“I can’t guarantee anything,” I said. “Except that I’m done. And if anyone ought to understand that people aren’t predictable, it’s a spy, George.”

He gave a funny, wry little laugh. “Maybe you have a point.”

I sighed and rested my head on his shoulder. I could feel him thinking. I could practically hear the gears turning.

“Okay then,” he said finally. “How do you see this working?”

“I want to move to London and start LFS next year. Is that what you want?”

“Yes.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“If you don’t want to live together that’s okay, but I would like to--”

“I would like to try living together,” he said.

I raised my head to stare at him. “Well, George, if you were going to give in so easily what have we been waiting for all these months?”

He was smiling. A sort of silly, sort of self-conscious smile that looked an awful lot like the George I’d used to know once upon a time. Before he became a secret agent and learned to hide everything he felt. Maybe even from himself.

He said, “I think maybe…this. Maybe for you to see that I was always going to give in the first time you asked--and really meant it.”

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Coda 47


Christmas Coda 47


(This is actually a deleted scene)  

 

Well, baby, I've been here before.

I've seen this room, and I've walked this floor.

I used to live alone before I knew you.

But I've seen your flag on the marble arch,

And love is not a victory march,

It's a cold and it is a broken Hallelujah

 

I was humming along with Rufus Wainwright performing Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as I ran up the stairs to Jake’s office.

“Hey,” I said. “I didn’t think you were coming back this afternoon.”

I stopped in the doorway. Jake stood at the window that overlooked the alley behind the building. I couldn’t see his face, but the something about the set of his shoulders silenced me. Took my breath away, in fact.

It wasn’t defeat exactly. But I got a sense of…weariness that went beyond the physical.

“Jake?”

He tensed, as though he hadn’t heard me. As though his mind was a million miles away.

“Yep?”

That glimpse of his eyes froze my heart for a second or two.

He sounded brusque, but that was because…because guys like Jake did not cry. Not when they lost jobs they loved. Not when their marriages broke up. Not when their families wouldn’t talk to them.

Maybe he’d cried when Kate lost the baby. He’d never said.

I’d never ask.

He was not crying. His eyes were a little red. It could even be allergies. He probably was genuinely…weary.

Or it could be the result of meeting Kate today. Of course he would feel regret. Wish he’d made different choices. Maybe he was comparing the might-have-beens against the what-he-was-left-withs. 

“Everything okay?” I could hear the mix of wariness and worry in my voice.

His smile was twisted, but some of the bleakness in his eyes faded. “Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

He walked toward me, still smiling that crooked smile. I didn’t realize I had left the doorway until I met him halfway.

I slid my arms around his neck, he wrapped his arms around my waist.

He said softly, “I’m very sure.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 29

Another lovely, lovely offering from lovely, lovely Catherine Dair.

This one is from Lonestar, which is one of my top three personal favorite Christmas stories (that I wrote, I mean). ;-D

Cowboys and ballet dancers. It's a natural, right?


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 28


This morning we have another poem for you. This is by Margaret Avison, a new-to-me Canadian poet. For me this lovely work of imagery paints the gorgeous beginning of a mystery novel, but of course that was not Avison's intent. ;-)







New Year's Poem
  
By Margaret Avison


The Christmas twigs crispen and needles rattle

Along the window-ledge.

             A solitary pearl

Shed from the necklace spilled at last week’s party

Lies in the suety, snow-luminous plainness

Of morning, on the window-ledge beside them.  

And all the furniture that circled stately

And hospitable when these rooms were brimmed

With perfumes, furs, and black-and-silver

Crisscross of seasonal conversation, lapses

Into its previous largeness.

             I remember  

Anne’s rose-sweet gravity, and the stiff grave

Where cold so little can contain;

I mark the queer delightful skull and crossbones

Starlings and sparrows left, taking the crust,

And the long loop of winter wind

Smoothing its arc from dark Arcturus down

To the bricked corner of the drifted courtyard,

And the still window-ledge.

             Gentle and just pleasure

It is, being human, to have won from space

This unchill, habitable interior

Which mirrors quietly the light

Of the snow, and the new year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 27





So many warm and lovely holidays in this cold, cold month. I hope you've enjoyed at least one of them.


Thank you to the talented Johanna Ollila for today's adorable picture of Jake and Adrien's Christmas stockings, which we've made available for you to download and color at the bottom of this page right here (we recommend colored pencils for best results).


You could probably use some mindless relaxation about now, right?


For a little background on what inspired Johanna Ollila to create this particular picture, you might want to read or reread the holiday themed interview Flying High.


















Monday, December 26, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 26

Happy Kwanzaa!


Now I must say I know very little of Kwanzaa, so I'll share with you the Wikipedia entry I read--as well as Seven Interesting Facts about Kwanzaa.




And the gift today is a couple of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou.


1 - “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.”


 2 - “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”



3 -  “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”


4 - “First best is falling in love. Second best is being in love. Least best is falling out of love. But any of it is better than never having been in love.”


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 25 - MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Today's stunning offering comes from the multi-talented Catherine Dair (you may know her as the creator of those adorable Pip and Skip Pride bunnies).

I hope that wherever you are today is exactly where you want to be -- and that you spend most of the day with people you love and who love you. I hope your heart is full of peace and contentment and the certainty that there is more right with the world than wrong.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 24


Happy Chanukah (Hanukkah)

A celebration of Light over Darkness





Notes on the Spring Holidays, III, [Hanukkah]
by Charles Reznikoff (1894 - 1976)

III
Hanukkah
In a world where each man must be of use
and each thing useful, the rebellious Jews
light not one light but eight—
not to see by but to look at.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 23























So. Close.


Can you smell that tinsel in the air? Ah, the taste of mistletoe!


Today for your moment of Christmas Zen I'm sharing a favorite Christmas song with you. This comes from the So This is Christmas playlist.


It's the Christmas song--and the version--that reminds me most of Adrien English. Who knows why? Even I'm not exactly sure.












And for those who would like the whole playlist:


Please Come Home for Christmas - the Eagles
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Sarah McLachlan and the Barenaked Ladies
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland
Hallelujah - Rufus Wainwright
The Coldest Night of the Year - She and Him
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Dean Martin
What are You Doing New Year's Eve - Ella Fitzgerald
My Dear Acquaintance - Peggy Lee
Auld Lang Syne - Celtic Woman

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 22

Day 22. The final hour approaches!

Well, that sounds a little grim, and in keeping with the shadowy side of Christmas, I'm sharing another vintage cartoon.

Not in an effort to bring anyone down, but to remind you -- and myself -- to stick to the light, to treasure those moments of brightness and warmth and love. To be an agent of brightness and warmth and love not just through the remainder of the holiday season, but in the coming year. And all the years that follow.







God Bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

advent calendar giveaway update

I want to make sure everyone who won a giveaway has a chance to collect their winnings. :-)

Here's what we've got so far:


HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY LIST


THE CURSE OF THE BLUE SCARAB in print
Debby of the Pisco Sour
Neil Atkinson of the several drinks (love that White Lady!)
Verena with her flavored teas
Nancy Andrews
Merrick with the gingery champagne cocktail



MURDER IN THE CLOSET
Jordan Lombard




TEN RANDOMLY SELECTED EBOOKS FROM MY BACKLIST


Natasha
booksandmore
Rin
Richelle
Hahn
Lee
Susan
Felice
Steve
Mr. Pinketon


FOUR SIGNED COPIES OF WHAT'S LEFT OF KISSES

Rachel Owens
Karan
Clary
Ruby2


TWENTY AUDIO CODES
goge
Terri
Grandma Tricia
rosy5000
CassieP
Paige Blair
Cynthia Lail
Zoey
Viv Goodreads
Melyna Drache
Paola T
El gato sobre el tejado
Matti Grove
Linda Eisel
Cheryll Athorp
Kelly James
thelastaerie
Spot
Cait Donnelly
Trio seven7

AND BECAUSE WE HAD SO MANY PEOPLE (AND A COUPLE OF EXTRA CODES)

SLB
CA Glesener
Leigh Lorentz
BennytheBC



LOVE POEMS BY PABLO NERUDA
Leigh Ann Wallace


SIGNED COPY OF IN FROM THE COLD

Judy Stone


Complete Set of the Adrien English audio books -- donated by the very generous Kim from Goodreads.

Kathleen Schell

AND I'M THROWING IN A COPY OF THE COLLECTION TOO

LYNCHMOB5


Please contact me with your information (including your mailing address if the item is a signed book) either through my website contact page or my Facebook page.

Thank you all for entering! Happy Holidays!

Advent Calendar Day 21

Happy Winter Solstice to you and yours.


Today is the shortest day of the year. Make every minute count. :-)












A lovely picture for you by Cobalt Moon Design (licensed by Shutterstock)




And a poem by Sara Teasdale called "A Winter Night".


My window-pane is starred with frost,
The world is bitter cold to-night,
The moon is cruel, and the wind
Is like a two-edged sword to smite.

God pity all the homeless ones,
The beggars pacing to and fro.
God pity all the poor to-night
Who walk the lamp-lit streets of snow.

My room is like a bit of June,
Warm and close-curtained fold on fold,
But somewhere, like a homeless child,
My heart is crying in the cold.                         

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 20


Today we're giving away a complete set of the Adrien English audio books -- narrated by Christopher Patton -- to one lucky viewer. Er, listener.
This particular gift was donated by Kim in the Goodreads group, so thank you very, very much to Kim.

Share a thought on the Adrien English series in the comment section below to be eligible for the random selection process.

And in the meantime, here's a sneak peek at the new Adrien English novella, So This is Christmas.

If all goes according to plan, this will be out New Year's Day weekend.




 

“What the hell just happened?” I asked the universe.

“You’re talking to yourself again,” the universe replied, pushing open my office door.

Okay, it was Jake, but he was kind of my universe.

For a guy who’d had less sleep than me, he looked unfairly refreshed and vital on a damp and drizzly Monday morning. He wore boots, jeans, a tailored white shirt and a brown tweed blazer, which brought out the gold glints in his hazel eyes. His blond hair was silvering at the temples and just a fraction longer than he used to wear. He was still hard and fit, but he’d lost that gaunt, haggard look he’d had six months ago when we’d met up again after two years apart.

In fact, he looked healthy and relaxed. Like he’d really spent the last few days on vacation instead of the family holiday from hell.

Hey,” I said, by way of greeting. I won’t say I actually fell into his arms, but I was pretty happy to see him.

“Hey yourself,” Jake replied and kissed me, the warm pressure of his mouth firm against my own.

Hard to say—and it was a theory I planned on testing a lot over the next forty years—but I didn’t think I’d ever get tired of kissing Jake.

Even these quick perfunctory kisses—well, it had started out quick and perfunctory, but the taste of him: that weirdly erotic blend of coffee and breath mint; the smell of him: an even weirder erotic blend of suitcase and Le Male aftershave; and the warm weight of his hand on my shoulder, drawing me in close, closer…

Reluctantly, we parted lips.

“Jesus, I missed you.” He smiled into my eyes.

“Same here.”

“I got used to spending all day every day with you.”

I said regretfully, “If only it paid better.”

There was definitely a sparkle in his eyes. “Well, I might have some good news on that front. Are you ready for lunch?”

I laughed. “Lunch? It’s ten thirty in the morning.”

“Is it?” Jake glanced at the clock on my desk. His dark brows rose in surprise. “It feels a lot later.”

“It’s been a long morning,” I agreed.

“Everything okay?” He took a closer look at me. “Is Natalie okay?”

“I think so. I hope so. Actually, why don’t we get a coffee or something? I need to get out of here for a little while.”

True, I’d only been in there about five minutes.

His brows rose. He said, “Sure. You want to walk or you want to take a drive?”

I grabbed my black overcoat. “Let’s walk.”

When we stepped outside the bookstore, the rain had softened to a light, shimmering mist. More like holiday décor than actual wet. Christmas is the only holiday I can think of where it continues to feel like holiday-in-progress even the day after. Maybe because people were still bustling around with heavy shopping bags, and the Eagles were plea-bargaining from storefront speakers.

If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night…

Window displays were filled with fake snow and glittering lights and toy trains and anthropomorphic stuffed animals drinking coffee and showing off engagement rings. Who knew how much penguins relished that holiday bling?

Everyone who wasn’t trying to park or find their car was in a festive mood. And it was contagious. As in, I needed to remember to take my vitamin C when we got back.

“Funny how cities have their own smell,” Jake remarked. “London just didn’t smell like Pasadena.” He casually dropped his arm around my shoulders and I smiled at him.

It’s not like I needed the physical proof of PDAs, and frankly Jake’s willingness to put his arm around me or hold my hand in public meant as much to me as the actual act. But I can’t deny that warm weight on my shoulders felt good. Right.

“Thanks again for going with me,” I said.

“Not like it was a big sacrifice. I like being with you. I never figured on seeing London, so that was actually kind of nice.”

And kind of exhausting. Or maybe that was more my take than Jake’s. I’d been the one to push for coming home early.

“If we were to travel somewhere for a real vacation or…something, where would you want to go?”

The arm around my shoulders jumped as he shrugged. “Never thought about it. Kate always wanted to go to Italy.”

I glanced at him. His smile was a little wry, his expression distant. He almost never talked about Kate or their marriage, and I understood that this was out of loyalty to her. That loyalty was just one of the many things I liked about him.

 I said, “Ireland maybe? With a last name like Riordan.”

“Maybe. Anywhere you’re going works for me.”

I looked down, smiling, and his arm tightened in a quick squeeze.

 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Coda 46


Christmas Coda 46

A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT: Adam and Ross

 

 

“Tell the story about how you two got together again,” someone called from down the long, linen-covered table.

 Who?

Marta? Angelique? I couldn’t tell who. There were always so many people at this annual Christmas Eve luncheon. Over the years they had all started to look--and sound--alike.

 “It was twenty years ago,” Ross began, and our guests settled down to be once more amused and entertained by the master. Only Ross could make blackmail and attempted murder sound like the meet-cute opening of a rom-com.

They all sipped their wine and listened and laughed in the right places. Everybody loved the story. After all, the course of true love and all that.

No one had gone to jail. No one had gotten hurt.

Well, maybe Anne Cassidy. Hard to know how seriously she’d taken it. Still waters. Anyway, she was a decade under ground now.

Strange to think…

Ross had reached the climax of the story and was quoting me. “‘You could kill me,’ Adam said, ‘And it wouldn’t hurt as much as watching you marry someone you don’t love.’”

Awww, everyone said, as they always did.

 

 

“I wish you wouldn’t tell that story,” I said that night.

Ross, wearing his red silk dressing gown and slippers, was reading the New Yorker by the fireplace. He glanced up, and smiled.

“It’s a great story.”

“I hate it.”

He laughed. At sixty he was still handsome, still debonair, still charming…still the love of my life. And he always would be.

“Come here, you.” He laid aside the magazine, held out an arm, and I joined him beside the hearth, leaning against his chair--at forty-plus I was a bit old for curling up on his lap. I rested my head on his thigh. His fingers gently played with my hair.

He murmured, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  

I closed my eyes. “Hamlet. Act 2. Scene 2.”

“Very good.” There was a smile in his voice. His fingers, slim and dry and cool, sent little chills of pleasure over my scalp.

“We haven’t done so badly, have we? We’ve lasted longer than any other couple we know. We’re certainly happier than any other couple we know.”

I moved my head in assent. “Showfolk.”

He chuckled. “We’re showfolk.”

The fire snapped and crackled. Ross was silent, and I wondered if he was nodding off. When I turned my head, he was staring into the fireplace. The flames threw shadows across his face.

“Do you ever regret--” I started softly.

But he smiled again and shook his head. “No. I don’t. None of it.” His eyes shone in the firelight, studying me. “Do you?”

“I got everything I wanted.”

“So did I.”

I pulled a face. He said, “I didn’t know what I wanted until you.”

I turned my head so he couldn’t see the tears.

The grandfather clock began to chime midnight. Soft, sonorous bell tones.

One.

Two.

“Make your Christmas wish,” Ross said. He sounded indulgent, as he so often did with me.

Over the past year he’d had two strokes. Very mild. You’d have to know him  well to ever tell.

I closed my eyes and wished. Twenty more years…

 

   

 

 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent Calendar Day18

Have you finished your holiday shopping? It's the 18th!


This morning's offering comes once again from the enormously talented and crazy-generous Catherine Dair.



We revisit Mark and Stephen from the I Spy series (the quote is from I Spy Something Christmas).





Today's giveaway is a signed copy of In From the Cold, the print collection of I Spy stories. I'll choose one random commenter from belooooow. Just share a heart-warming (or other part warming) memory or story with us! 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent Calendar - Day 17

Today's offering is a poem by one of my very favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. The poem is called "If You Forget Me," and it's scorchingly beautiful.

Our giveaway is a paperback copy of Love Poems by Pablo Neruda Donald D. Walsh . I'll choose one random commenter from the section below.














If You Forget Me

Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing. 

You know how this is: 
if I look 
at the crystal moon, at the red branch 
of the slow autumn at my window, 
if I touch 
near the fire 
the impalpable ash 
or the wrinkled body of the log, 
everything carries me to you, 
as if everything that exists, 
aromas, light, metals, 
were little boats 
that sail 
toward those isles of yours that wait for me. 

Well, now, 
if little by little you stop loving me 
I shall stop loving you little by little. 

If suddenly 
you forget me 
do not look for me, 
for I shall already have forgotten you. 

If you think it long and mad, 
the wind of banners 
that passes through my life, 
and you decide 
to leave me at the shore 
of the heart where I have roots, 
remember 
that on that day, 
at that hour, 
I shall lift my arms 
and my roots will set off 
to seek another land. 

But 
if each day, 
each hour, 
you feel that you are destined for me 
with implacable sweetness, 
if each day a flower 
climbs up to your lips to seek me, 
ah my love, ah my own, 
in me all that fire is repeated, 
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, 
my love feeds on your love, beloved, 
and as long as you live it will be in your arms 
without leaving mine. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Coda 45


Christmas Coda 45

MURDER BETWEEN THE PAGES: Felix and Leonard

 

The clocks were chiming when I landed on Felix’s doorstep.

I could hear them through the tall, white front door of the Colonial farmhouse. All fifty three of them. Ding-donging away. Chiming out the hour in ten long notes.

Maybe that’s what was taking him so long to come to the door. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the clocks. Or maybe it was the rain rattling on the windows and roof--and the ragged leaves of the little palm tree plant I cradled in my arms--that deafened him to my knock.

I knocked again and rang the doorbell for good measure. Where would he be on Christmas morning? Hopefully nobody had wrung his scrawny neck while I’d been away.

I was just starting to get nervous when the door suddenly flew open.

“Well?” Felix demanded. His thin face changed. Black eyes narrowing, lip curling. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Hell, yes, it’s me. Who were you expecting?”

“Not you.”

“I told you I’d be back.”

“Ha!”

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

His throat jumped as he swallowed. He said haughtily, unpleasantly, “Don’t you have somewhere more important to be?”

“No.”

His lashes swept down, then flicked up. He gave me a funny, crooked smile. “No?”

“You know I don’t.”

“I thought they loved you in Hollywood.”

“They do. But it’s not home, is it?”

“It could be. If you wanted it to be.”

“I guess so.”

He frowned. “You’re shivering, Leonard.”

“I’m freezing to death.”

“You’re not used to our weather anymore.”

“I could be. If you wanted me to be.”  

Felix studied my face. “Hm. Well, maybe you had better come in then.”

I came inside, handing over the little palm tree and the bags of oranges and almonds. “Anyway, Merry Christmas.” I took a deep appreciative sniff. “Something smells great.”

“It happens that I’m making ham and eggs for breakfast.”

“My favorite,” I said.

“Is it?” He started to turn toward the kitchen, and I caught his arm, pulling him toward me.

A tinge of color pinked his cheeks. “Leonard, you’ll crush my palm tree.”

I laughed and kissed him. He closed his eyes and kissed me back, and the oranges and
almonds rained down around our feet.

 

 

I don’t think he believed I'd be back.

Nah. He had to know. Maybe he thought when I did come back, it would be pack my suitcase and grab my hat.

I don’t deny it crossed my mind as that train had clickity-clacked its way over deserts and cornfields, through small towns and mountain ranges, over the rivers and through the woods…

I liked California. I liked the palm trees and the orange trees and the Technicolor blue of those always-sunny skies. I liked the hustle and bustle of movie studios and doing business beside a swimming pool. I liked the money to be made in California.

I liked the fact that nothing shocked people in Hollywood. And that everybody but Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons minded their own business.

But what Hollywood and California didn’t have was Felix Day.

The one thing I couldn’t live without.

  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 15

Ah. Something verra, verra special for you today, my dears.

First the giveaway, because yes, there is one. We are giving away TWENTY audio codes today. Twenty randomly selected commenters will receive an audio download code so they can buy themselves a little holiday treat from my extensive (and still growing) audio backlist.

Oh! But that's not all.

Everybody gets a treat today because Coda 34 (you know the one) has been narrated by Chris Patton and it's available as a little free audio download.

Click here to listen -- and don't forget to comment below!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 14

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Actually, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA is probably more to the point. Today we have something absolutely INSANE for you. Insane in a totally brilliant way. This one is definitely for the fans of the Adrien English series. If you're not fully familiar with the series and the characters of Jean and Ted Finch, you're probably not going to appreciate the manic genius of Penguins_United (AKA authors Andy Slayde & Ali Wilde).

The rest of you, grab your eggnog and settle in--oh! It won't work on your phone.You have to do this the old-fashioned way. LIKE ADRIEN.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 13

Today's collaboration from Calathea and KC is doubly delightful (just like our contributors)!


Behold a snippet written from the viewpoint of Oscar the Ocelot in The Dickens with Love AND a page from the coloring book Love is a Many-Colored Thing inspired by the same story (Calathea says she used aquarelle pencils)




Cat and Mouse


 


Through a thick layer of fear and recent disappointment Oscar smelled the feral scent of the mouse. It had been taunting him since he and Mistress had arrived the day before and now sat somewhere in the wooden structure, laughing at him, no doubt, and he just couldn't get past the obnoxious human in front of him. If the silly man could just step aside to let him by, everything would go nicely. But, no! The fool got it into his head that he would be courageous and stand his ground.


 


Maybe if he swatted a little at the man's trousers he would move? No such luck. In a misguided effort at bravery (should be called stupidity, really; who had fangs and claws here?), the man grabbed a stool and raised it as if that could ward Oscar off. If he hadn't been focused on the hunt, Oscar would have been tempted to show him what's what.


 


The little rustle of fur and clicking of tiny claws on lacquered wood made him bunch his hind legs for a powerful jump onto the bar.


 


And that, of course, brought another man to the scene. This one smelled of valor, which was the worst case. They tended to do stupid things. What did he think he'd achieve with his jacket in his hands? Oscar growled in frustration. He was so close. He could almost taste the delicious mouse flavor. Such a sweet little morsel, tender and savoury…


 


With a mighty bang the side entrance door flew open.


 


“Oscar! Oscar! Oh, you bad, bad kitty.”


 
From her hiding place, the mouse watched as the big old kitty was dragged away. She snickered, grabbed the cake crumb she had come for, and hurried back home.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent Calendar Day 12

Another print book giveaway to go with Johanna Ollila's poignant and lovely coloring book page inspired by the 1940s story Snowball in Hell.


I'm giving away four signed copies of What's Left of Kisses, a collection of historical novellas to four randomly selected commenters. It's going to be tricky to get these to anybody (even in the States) before Christmas, so don't count on that!


To be eligible for this drawing, share a memory of your grandparents (or a great-aunt or a great-uncle) -- and if it's a holiday memory, so much the better!