Friday, May 30, 2014

The Evolution of Book-kind - By My Side by Wendy Lou Jones

I'm thrilled to have Wendy Lou Jones visiting with us today, who is sharing her latest release, By My Side, available from HarperImpulse on June 5th! Take it away, Wendy!

After finishing The Songbird and the Soldier, I decided to write a medical romance. With a background working in hospitals, my knowledge base was pretty good and I had an incident I wanted to explore. The story evolved well and I enjoyed it, but I still felt it needed something more, so I put it in the hands of a character and let her take it from there. The story is based around a hospital, but although the setting is medical, its overriding themes are about letting go and learning to love again. And with that achieved, the story was finished… or so I thought.

I handed it in to my editor and went back to work on a book I had written years before.

But then at Christmas time, my story came back to me for revisions, and although essentially it is still the same, it developed down a route I had not expected. The whole pivot of the emotional impact changed and as I worked on it, I began to feel excited. This wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but maybe it was better. This is my story for you now and it’s called: By My Side.

And with this change, my heart was stirred by another character and I felt the need to tell his tale too. His voice kept plaguing me while I was working on the edits and as soon as they were done, I turned straight around and started again. Three months later it was written and I typed the word ‘End’.

I don’t know if the story will be the same by the time it gets to you, but for now he is quiet and a new blank page is calling me.

Betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend, Lena is left empty; trapped under a weight of guilt and loneliness. Then, at her lowest point and when she needs it most, a mysterious stranger comes into her life with a tale of friendship, family, and finding love in the most unexpected of places…

Katy Heath is definitely not thinking of love when she comes across consultant, Adam Elliott, berating some poor patient on the ward one day. In fact it is Dr Peter Florin who quickly has everyone’s hearts aflutter with his easy smiles and practised charm.

Yet Katy comes to realise that there’s more to Adam than his determination to push everyone away and it’s not long before she finds herself longing to reach out to touch the man within, healing the pain of his past.
As Lena is drawn into Katy’s story, she begins to learn – just as Katy does - that the course of true love never did run smooth.
My name is Wendy Lou Jones. I was born and raised in West Sussex, England and moved to Birmingham to study Medicine at University, where I was lucky enough to meet my husband. We now live in a little village in Herefordshire with our two grubby boys. I discovered a love of writing not long after my youngest son started school. And if you were to ask me what it was that made me make the switch, I’d tell you quite simply, that it started with a dream.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Welcome J.C. McKenzie and Shift Happens - WITH A GIVEAWAY!

Shift Happens by J.C. McKenzie

Andrea McNeilly's job as a government agent is not asking questions, but then a routine assignment turns into a botched assassination of a Master Vampire's human servant. Answers become a priority. Her search to discover the truth is riddled with obstacles, the largest being an oversized Werewolf who resembles a Norse god. Andy can't afford the distraction he offers, because if she fails, she faces eternal enslavement.
Wick's job is to monitor Andy, but he prefers more intimate activities, none of them G-Rated. His choices, however, are often not his own. His ability to help Andy is limited by his bond to the Master Vampire.
Facing many trials and challenges along her path to redemption, Andy learns the value of her freedom might be set too high.

~ * ~
A large black wolf trotted into the clearing to confront me. He had a white-tipped snout, white boots and mitts and would have looked cute had he not been the most intimidating Werewolf I’d ever seen. Standing tall and solid, power rolled off of his body. His eyes bore into mine. I sniffed the air. The strong Werewolf scent of rosemary swirled around me, strong and seductive, laced with sugar. A weird fuzzy sensation spread out from my chest. Whoa.
My other form growled low, demanding release, straining against my skin. The energy of the wolves built—layers upon layers of excitement and impatience. The air pulsated with anticipation. They could sense the imminent kill.
Let me out! My other form repeated, throwing her power against my built up walls, howling in defiance.
When the energy of the Werewolves surged, I finally released her. My wolf form flowed out fast, wiping out the feline in little more than a heartbeat. Smaller, weaker and the size of a natural wolf, a Shifter in this form was no match for a Werewolf, especially a dominant one. I had time to meet the eyes of the Alpha for only an instant before the pack leapt forward. My limbs shook. It went against every instinct ingrained within me, but I rolled onto my back—submissive.
Available in print and all other electronic formats on July 16th, 2014

Born and raised on the Haida Gwaii, off the West Coast of Canada, J.C. McKenzie grew up in a pristine wilderness that inspired her to dream. She writes Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.
Find J.C. on the web:
Watch the Shift Happens Trailer and then scroll down for the May 9- 24 Giveaway!

Friday, May 2, 2014

How Planning My Wedding Affected My Book by Samantha Birch!

The High-Street Bride’s Guide author Samantha Birch
on how saying ‘I do’ affected getting to ‘The End’

I'm thrilled to have the beautiful and uber talented Samantha Birth visiting Tattered Pages today, with a blog post every bride to be should read! (And pretty much anyone who has ever gotten married or is planning to get married! LOL) Take it away, Sam!

Back in January 2013, a work colleague emailed me in a panic: “I’ve found my dream wedding dress!!” she said. “But I have NO idea who it’s by!!” Not long out of my job at You & Your Wedding, I recognised the picture straight away—I’d written about Alfred Angelo often enough. I pinged her a link back, and a few minutes later her reply came through: “Amazing, thanks Sam! You should write a book!”

I’d thought about writing a wedding book before, but I was well aware how hard it is to get published, and HarperImpulse—who would take it on a few months later—didn’t even exist at the time. But my friend had it all figured out: I could do it myself, she suggested. It was easy: just publish it on Amazon.

Do it myself! I liked that. But one glance at my phone calendar and it slowly dawned: we were in the middle of peak proposal time. I’d already missed the November to Christmas/New Year window. It was January, and I was going to have to get this out by Valentine’s Day. As if that wasn’t enough, at the same time, after three years of saving up, my now-husband and I were just on the cusp of having the money to start planning our own wedding. It was going to be a busy few weeks…

The Name of the Game
It was obvious what I wanted to write about from the start. When you’ve spent three years with a ring your finger and not so much as a set-date to show for it, you start to feel like something’s not right. Our budget was holding us back, and we couldn’t be the only ones.

We’d been saving up all this time on the proviso that we’d do our wedding on a budget, and I knew I had ways of making it happen from the time I’d spent at You & Your Wedding, writing for Cosmo Bride and subsequently Brides, and from the—did I mention this?—three years I’d had ruminating on how to do it.

So there it was: I knew I knew ways of doing a wedding on a budget, I knew a lot of the big wedding outlets didn’t talk about them, and I knew the £22,500 average that a lot of readers of the big, bi-monthly wedding magazines spent on their big days was a pipedream for a lot of us. So someone else out there must be baulking at the prices of everything from dresses to DJs and wondering if they were ever going to get married. And I knew I wanted to help them avoid putting it off and putting it off, to help them avoid spending a house deposit on one day of their lives, and to help them avoid what I’d seen one couple among our friends do: getting into five years’ worth of debt so they could finally do it. That night, I wrote five words on a Post-It note next to my bed: The High-Street Bride’s Guide.
Roughing It
I planned the book out first. That was different for me. When I write fiction I find planning restrictive, but this was a project that had more similarities to my article-writing for GLAMOUR and co. than any fiction I’d written. A good, solid plan was the way to go—especially if I was going to get this thing written inside a month.

I started big: I knew the big spend on our big day would be the wedding venue—between the venue hire, the food and the drink—and the same applied to everyone else. Start with the big savers, I thought, and be straight-up with people, and they’d know from the off whether my book was for them. Hopefully they’d think: ‘Hey, if that’s how much I’ve saved in the first two pages, imagine what I could save in the rest of the book!’

I’d flicked through the odd wedding planning book before, for our own do, and generally woken up drooling with my head stuck to the pages. Lots of dry instructions and bullet points and panic-inducing timescales that beat you over the head with a kind of ‘What do you mean you haven’t sent out your save-the-dates, coaxed your hair into growing an extra five inches and toned your arms to within an inch of their life? You’ve only got TWO YEARS!’ approach. This with me would not wash.

No, I was going to have to try something else. Something relaxed, interesting, entertaining, maybe even something funny. Not in a this-book-is-secretly-my-memoirs-masquerading-as-being-helpful-to-you way that some call-themselves-wedding-guides do. Y’know the ones: where the writer spends 50 pages agonising over how they chose their perfect little dress with Mandy and Gillian and Louise in that little boutique where the 4,000-word anecdote happened that in no way helps you with your actual wedding dress dilemma.

And then it hit me: here I was, a relatively relaxed bride in the middle of helping my best friend step away from her terrifying wedding guide and plan her wedding without tearing her hair out. I needed to write this thing like I was talking to my best friend: it needed to be honest, open-minded, not boss people around but give them choices, and I needed to relax and write like me. Yes, even if that meant the odd occasional—short! And hopefully witty—reference to White Fang and Dylan Moran and the M&S adverts in a book that was mostly about flowers and dresses and wedding cakes. Because come on, brides aren’t only brides, they’re people, right?

Gowning Around
So I had the tone, and I had the ideas, and I was well away. And that’s when we did the maths and realised we were just a few months off me being able to finally buy my wedding dress! Texts went out and it was all arranged: after all those years of scrimping and waiting I’d soon be standing in a real bridal shop with my real mum and nearly-mother-in-law and bridesmaids. This was going to require research.

By now basically a veteran bride-to-be, research had featured heavily in maintaining my sanity over the years. My groom wasn’t interested in poring over wedding magazines and making mood boards for a wedding he knew was way, way off, so I satisfied my craving writing for bridal magazines and browsing over blogs and Pinterest and endless wedding dress designers’ websites.

I’d stuffed my aisle-addled mind with every nuptial detail known to man, but it was as I was racking my brain trying to think what that shop was on the corner next to Warehouse that I realised I needed a reference list. Something I could just glance at with the names of everywhere I could think of to get wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses and grooms’ outfits that didn’t cost the earth. And so did The High-Street Bride’s Guide.

Weeks later, the first version of the book was up on Amazon, and the orders started… trickling in. Strangely, my flawless marketing strategy of the occasional tweet and Facebook post and even a little piece on You & Your Wedding and only helped for the first couple of weeks. In the meantime, our wedding was powering ahead: we actually set the actual date at an actual venue that May, and our lives descended into Planning Mode for the big day in November. The book slipped onto the backburner.

Better Days
After ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I’m getting published… By HarperCollins!’, the first thing that occurred to me after I put the phone down to Charlotte at Impulse that August was that the book was going to need a rework—partly to bring it up to date, and partly to pack in all the extra stuff I’d already picked up planning our wedding.

Like negotiating. I’m not a big haggler in real life, but over email, where I can turn the bartering over to my typing fingers, I’d sussed out some strategies that were saving us some serious moolah. It was time to add a Negotiating section and help other people whose first instinct was to nod mutely at the off-the-leaflet quote they got from every supplier.

Photography was another biggie: most of the snappers we liked for our wedding were asking for about £1,600, but there was another way: we’d asked the few premium photographers who wouldn’t budge on their budget whether they knew anyone—especially their own supporting shooters—who could work for under our numbers. We ended up with the album of our dreams by a woman who cost a third of what her more experienced ex-boss had been quoting. That one had to go in.

But it wasn’t all one way, I realised, as November got closer: I didn’t only learn stuff as I went along that I added to The High-Street Bride’s Guide—I was also using the first draft to help us plan our wedding. When the name of that obscure little place I liked for style details was on the tip of my tongue, I flicked back through the book. When it came to picking our wedding rings, we went straight to one place—I’d already done all the research for the Rings chapter.

In the end we paid £6,000 for our wedding plus £2,500 combined from our parents—less than a third of what those readers of the big bi-monthly wedding mags were forking out. And now I’ve got friends and acquaintances using it: one just used it to find some cute first-night undies, one to find her affordable boho wedding dress, and six couples are reading it to help plan their whole wedding, from ceremony to slow-dance!

It was exciting when the first version came out back in February last year, but it’s even more exciting this April: I know it works, because I used it, and our budget wedding in November was perfect.


Brides-to-be, this one’s for you!
You can say your vows in a catwalk gown so beautiful it reduces your mum to tears (and not because she paid for it).
You can style a reception so stunning your guests won’t believe you didn’t hire an A-list planner.
And you can sprinkle the day with personal touches that make everyone feel like you gave them special attention before they even got there. Without spending a house deposit on it. Honest.

Samantha Birch has written for GLAMOUR, Brides, You & Your Wedding and Cosmopolitan Bride. She knows a thing or two about planning a wedding on a budget, how much you can expect to pay for everything and where to go to get it for less. And she’s put it all down here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Third Time's the Charm, A Christmas by the Fire Blog Hop Story!

HarperImpulse and their Written Fireside Writers are on the cutting edge of publishing and, as such, we've hosted a fabulous blog hop during the month of August!

Fifteen authors, fifteen stories...
one shared, starting paragraph!

Read a taste of what's coming for ChristmasRead past Written Fireside storiesEnter our fabulous giveaway!

Schedule of participating authors:
Lori Connelly - Aug 1,2,3 
Erin Lawless - Aug 4,5
Mandy Baggot - Aug 6,7 
Aimee Duffy  - Aug 8,9
Teresa F. Morgan - Aug 10,11 
Angela Campbell - Aug 12,13  
Lisa Fox - Aug 14,15 
Lynn Marie Hulsman - Aug 16,17
Linn B. Halton - Aug 18,19 
Carmel Harrington - Aug 20,21 
Charlotte Phillips - Aug 22,23
Romy Sommer - Aug 24,25
Jane Lark - Aug 26,27 
Zara Stoneley - Aug 28,29 
AJ Nuest - Aug 30,31

Welcome to the final installment in the Christmas by the Fire Blog Hop -- Third Time's the Charm! It's been a whirlwind event, with fabulous prizes and giveaways, including print books, e-books and A $70 AMAZON GIFT CARD! Be sure to follow the links below to see each author's entry and don't forget to enter for your chance to WIN! 

All fifteen participating authors in this blog hop were given the same starting paragraph, written by the talented Georgia Beyers! These short stories will be published later this year as a Christmas e-book anthology by HarperImpulse, and it's been super exciting to be a part of this event! Both today and tomorrow, I'll be posting my short story in two installments for your reading pleasure. Be sure to check back to read the conclusion to Third Time's the Charm tomorrow!

Here's the winning entry as chosen by the fabulous team at HarperImpulse:  

‘Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniels heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.’

And here's the first installment in this continuing story, Third Times the Charm:

Snow whispered from the blank chalkboard sky to land on her red-and-white striped tights, coating her knees and the curled tips of her green elf boots in flakes of dusty white. She sighed and plucked at her stockings. The little jingle bells tacked to her toes tinkled a cheery song as she tapped the sides of her feet together.
Maybe she should have just listened to her mother and kept her big mouth shut. Lord knew she’d had dates with a long string of men that had been nowhere near as comfortable as the platonic, stuck-in-limbo relationship she’d shared with Daniel. If nothing else, biting her tongue would at least given her a shot at a date for New Year’s Eve.
So what if Daniel had gotten jealous over the kiss she’d exchanged with Walter from the mailroom during the employee Christmas party? Wasn’t a reaction from him what she’d been hoping for in the first place? Hadn’t her plan been to get Daniel’s attention and motivate him to make a decision about where they were headed?
Too bad life never worked out the way it did in the movies, and her mistake had rebounded like a swift kick in the pants. With his broad shoulders and the way his dark mop of wavy hair always seemed to fall at just the right angle across his blueberry eyes, Daniel’s arrival at Brigg’s Department store had turned the heads of every female associate in their employ. And when the first rumors had ground through the mill Brigg’s newest inventory manager had the hots for her, Charlotte had to admit, she’d been more than a little bit thrilled.
Unfortunately, that’s where things between her and Daniel had both started and ended. She picked a few stray cat hairs off her coat and tossed them aside. Sure, she’d been happily surprised the first time they’d run into each other at the movie theatre. Even more so when the following two months had lead them to a standing date every Friday to see the latest blockbuster. But since when did the sitting in a darkened theatre for two hours without exchanging a word of conversation constitute a relationship? For God’s sake, they hadn’t even held hands, much less kissed.
Apparently, none of those things mattered to Daniel, even though she’d yet to receive an explanation for his actions. The minute he’d spied her and Walter swapping some holiday cheer beneath the mistletoe, he’d cornered their co-worker and stated she was officially “off limits” before storming out of the employee lounge.
Shock had been her initial reaction and, though she was loath to admit it, maybe a smidgen of “serves him right” had kept her from chasing after him. Add a few hot toddies on an empty stomach and, half an hour later, anger had kicked her surprise to the curb. Not that Daniel’s claim would have necessarily ticked her off if his statement had been anywhere near true. She clenched her jaw, knees bouncing, pony tail whispering along the back of her shoulders as she shook her head. Yet, for him to insinuate they shared anything past friendship without even discussing it with her had crossed a line…and put her in a terrible spot where she’d been left no option but to set the record straight.
Marching directly back to the loading dock, she’d stormed up to where he’d been tinkering with a faux fireplace and promptly stomped out whatever sparks had been smoldering between them. Until she said otherwise, they were friends and nothing more. Acquaintances who worked at Brigg’s Department store, shared a love of action flicks and the occasional box of Raisinets. Whoever she dated and when was her business, not his, and if he’d gotten off his butt and made a move while he’d had the chance maybe he wouldn’t have been threatened by someone as harmless as Walter Stout from the mailroom. God!
The minute the words had left her mouth, hurt and confusion had slammed into Daniel’s beautiful blue eyes. He’d turned and disappeared between a row of metal shelves stacked with inventory in the loading dock. Ever since then, during the two-week countdown to Christmas Eve, a wall of tension had been building between them, brick by solid, square brick.
Yep, ‘naughty’ definitely defined her December. She’d be lucky to find a lump of coal in her stocking this year.
“Whoo hoo!” A fur-festooned woman staggered toward the stop, flapping a gloved hand in the air. Her orthopedic shoes slid precariously over the ice-slicked sidewalk, the gift-wrapped bundles in her arms adding to the topsy-turvy pitch of her gait. “Give an old woman a hand, will you, dearie?”
Charlotte rolled her eyes, but left the bench to clasp the matron’s forearms and lead her safely toward the seat. Boxes tumbled and smacked the wet concrete, and she quickly rescued them before the snow could damage the paper or bows.
“That’s a love, dearie. I’m sorry I’m late. Christmas is always my busiest time of year.” The woman wiggled her fingers and sat, leaving Charlotte to rescue the last two gifts before they had the misfortune to slip into the street.
Fabulous. Why did she always attract the wackos? Late for what, exactly? The cocktails and hors d’oeuvres Charlotte was about to bust out of her purse? Not that the ridiculous elf costume she’d been ordered to wear in place of her white smock helped the case for reality. No doubt the woman thought Charlotte was one of Santa’s helpers instead of a single girl working a double to earn a little extra cash for some Christmas shopping of her own.
She stacked the sparkly red-and-green gifts beside the woman on the bench, carefully steadying them with her hands. Most of them were so light, they seemed to contain nothing but air. Then again, why would anyone wrap a bunch of empty boxes and decide to go gallivanting through downtown Chicago on Christmas Eve? Especially at five o’clock, the stores crowded with last-minute shoppers in their mad rush to finish their lists.
“Lovely weather we’re having, don’t you think?” The woman adjusted the holiday charms on her bracelet before folding her hands on her lap. Flakes wafted down to catch in her false eyelashes, melting to droplets on her bright red lipstick and the plastic glittery poinsettia pinned to her lapel. “I’ve decided to give you three.”
Charlotte darted a frown around the glass enclosure of the bus stop. Again, with the obscure references. Three what? Presents? Yep, the poor old goose definitely had a screw loose. Maybe she believed she was some sort of do-good Christmas fairy.
“Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure you have those gifts tagged for someone else.” A slight tip forward, and Charlotte checked the oncoming traffic down the street. Relief warmed her insides as she read the lighted marquee on the approaching bus. She pressed her ear muffs tighter to her head and smoothed back a few loose strands from her ponytail, crammed her hands between her thighs and shivered. Even though she’d only been waiting a few minutes, her feet were like two blocks of ice.
“Well, here’s my ride.” She stood and faced the lady as the bus whined to a halt at the corner, its diesel exhaust quickly whisked away by the bitter breeze streaming in off the lake. “Merry Christmas.”
The mysterious twinkle in the woman’s gray eyes put the white lights strung on the trees along the boulevard to shame. “Oh, I’ll be waiting here to find out.” 
Alarm jabbed the pit of Charlotte’s stomach and she stutter stepped forward, the bells ringing like reindeer games from her feet. Didn’t the old woman have anywhere to go? God, she couldn’t sit out in this weather. She’d be a brown, furry popsicle by morning. “Wait, are you sure you’re all right? Do you want me to call someone to pick you up?”
A clever chuckle bounced through her generous bosom. “No need to butter me up, dearie. I already told you, I’m only giving you three.” She jerked her chin toward the bus and her snow globe earrings swung back and forth above her collar. “Go along now. You’ve got work to do.”
“Okay…” The bus horn beeped the driver’s impatience and Charlotte backed toward the open door, tugging her transit pass from the slash pocket of her woolen pea coat. “If you’re sure you don’t need some help.”
“Help, indeed.” The woman shook her head. “Just try not to dally. I’ve several stops before midnight.”
Oh, good. Hopefully one of them was the nearest psychiatric ward to have her meds checked. Charlotte smiled with a nod, climbed aboard the bus and bumped down the packed aisle toward the back door. A small wave through the window, and she grabbed the hand rail as the bus lurched and chugged down the street. 

* * *

“Charlotte, a customer is asking for three of those Christmas tree candy dishes. Can you check with Daniel and see if we’ve got any more in stock?”
Oh, God no.
Charlotte jerked her head up from where she’d knelt beside an aisle kiosk to re-fold the holiday place mats, only to meet the wide-eyed blink of the housewares floor manager. Fiona crossed her arms, one of her finely-plucked eyebrows hiking toward her bouffant hairline. “Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem.” Charlotte offered a weak smile, while inside her stomach twisted in knots. She pushed to her feet and nodded. “Be right back.” …from a living nightmare. From facing Daniel for the first time in weeks.  
The door to the loading dock was the one barrier she’d not breached since the night of the Christmas party. In fact, going anywhere near it made her throat close and the edges of her vision flicker like she was about to faint. Avoiding Daniel had become an exercise she practiced with increasing dexterity, even lingering near the employee lockers long after her shift ended so she wouldn’t accidently run into him clocking out.
Her hand trembled as she pushed against the swinging door, but she filled her lungs and pressed on. There was no need to bring up a moment she was fairly certain they both regretted. Regardless of the way she missed his smile, the excitement in her belly each time she left her apartment for the theatre or her anticipation over finding him waiting outside, what was done, was done. She would act professional, get the candy dishes and vamoose…and then seriously consider finding a new job as soon as the holiday madness was over.
The mellow illumination of the emergency overhead lights seemed strange in comparison to the stark halogens that usually washed row after row of shelves in the loading dock to a brightness which rivaled the sun. Charlotte frowned at the closed bay door, glanced left and right at the abandoned forklifts and darkened window of Daniel’s office. An eerie silence tickled the little hairs on the back of her neck. Where was everyone? In the past, these last few hours before the store closed on Christmas Eve were usually as frantic as the North Pole.
A metallic clank was accompanied by a soft curse, and she followed the noise around the last grouping of metal shelves to the product assembly area. 
Her feet froze to the wooden floor…an exact match to the motionless air in her lungs.
Daniel knelt before a faux fireplace, a tool belt buckled around the navy Dockers stretched along his thighs, dark hair hanging in his eyes as he cranked a wrench near the grate. Not that his doing so was by any means bizarre. She’d found him putting all sorts of items together in the loading dock several times.
The angle of his shoulders is what put her off, the slouch of his open collar and the way he’d rolled the cuffs of his soft blue dress shirt to just above his elbows. Usually, Daniel was a worn jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. His job was too physical for much else.
There’d been only one other time she’d seen him wearing something so nice, kneeling before a fireplace like he was now. The night of the Christmas party, when she stormed out to the loading dock and ranted at him like a drunken lunatic.
She darted a glance around the huge, dimly lit space. In fact, everything was like the night of the Christmas party. Her brows shot heavenward and she slapped a hand to her chest. Her flirty red cocktail dress, her peep-toe heels… Even the life-sized Santa that had once waved a greeting to customers and spouted a mechanical “ho, ho, ho” was back in the corner, before she’d told Daniel how much it creeped her out and he’d stashed it somewhere out of sight.
Smoothing her hand down the back of her head, she brought the curled ends of her auburn hair around her cheek. What had happened to her pony tail?
“Hold up a second.” She slashed her hand across the space in front of her and tentatively advanced, her entire body buzzing like she’d been jolted by an exposed wire. “What’s going on?”
“I could just as easily ask you the same thing.” Daniel dropped the wrench and shoved his hand up inside the firebox. He frowned and placed a palm on the fake slate exterior beside the grizzled five o’clock shadow darkening his jaw. “’Cause I sure hell hope you’re not expecting me to ask if Walter’s a good kisser.”
What? She slumped, her jaw dropping the same distance as her shoulders. “Just wait a second.” She flapped her hands to cool off her warm cheeks, clamped them on top of her head and then flapped them again like she was preparing to take flight. This couldn’t be happening. Daniel acted as if he’d just left the party. Like they were back at the moment when she’d stormed onto the loading dock and read him the riot act.
“I don’t understand what’s happening. How’d I get here?” She pointed at the ground, stumbling forward a few more steps. “Have I already yelled at you? And, if so, what did I say?”
He sat back from the fireplace, his shirt sleeve pulling taut across one tightly toned bicep as he raked his heavy hair away from his brow, and scowled at her like she’d lost her damn mind. And maybe she had. “Exactly how many hot toddies did you drink? We were at the Christmas party, remember? Not thirty minutes ago? We planned to meet there and I walked in to find you kissing Walter…remember?”
Right! Except that didn’t explain the missing two weeks, and it nowhere near explained where her elf costume had gone off to or all the hours she’d lain awake in bed wishing she could re-do this very moment. What…had all those sleepless nights been a dream? Or maybe the more obvious choice—exhaustion had finally caught up with her, she’d fallen asleep on the bus and this was the dream.
“Ah, okay.” She nodded. “I get it. I just need to wake up and this will all go away.”
Too bad, because she really would’ve appreciated this second chance. She would’ve more carefully considered her words before speaking. Given Daniel a chance to justify his actions.
Sadness shimmered through his eyes, at complete odds with the soft laugh that fell from his kissable lips. “Seems to me, I was the one who needed to wake up.”
Ouch. Charlotte bit her tongue against laying into him like she had in reality. Apparently, her subconscious was working overtime to deal with the remorse.
She smacked a hand against her cheek and waited, but the loading dock stayed firmly in focus. Dammit, why did that never work? A hard pinch of her arm and Daniel stood, propping his hands on his hips. “Um, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to wake myself up.” She lunged forward, executed a few quick jumping jacks and hopped around on one foot.
Nothing. God, she must be nearly catatonic. Bracing her hands on her knees, she leaned forward to catch her breath. Why couldn’t the bus just hit a nice, big pothole? That usually jarred her awake.
“Normally, I find your quirky sense of humor pretty funny.” He crossed his arms, and her insides melted as the curled tips of his thick lashes drew together in a squint. “But I gotta tell ya, these gymnastics of yours are a little freaky. Why don’t you go back to the party? I’m sure Walter is wondering where you are.”
Another nice zinger. Geesh, she really had to get a handle on her guilt. Still, the party did present an interesting idea. Maybe a change of scenery would do the trick.
She spun on her heel and headed for the exit, placed her hand on the door and turned to face Daniel one last time. Fantasy or reality, she could not resist the temptation to have the last word—another of her eccentricities no one seemed to appreciate but him. “I don’t want Walter, you big dummy. If that gorgeous head of yours contained one ounce of sense, you’d know exactly who it is that I want.”
She pushed through the doorway and cold air blasted against her cheeks. Tripping forward, feet slipping and sliding, she pin-wheeled her arms and face planted right against the glass shelter of the bus stop.
The old woman turned on the seat, smiled and waved her inside.
What. The. Hell! On stilted legs, Charlotte pushed away from the glass, rounded the shelter and sat. A glance over her shoulder and she blinked at the revolving door of her apartment building, slowly grinding to a halt. She ran a hand down the back of her head and tugged on her ponytail, tapped her feet together and the little bells on her toes jingled a happy tune. There was no way she’d fallen asleep while waiting for the bus. It was too cold outside to get comfortable.
“Well, that didn’t go as pleasant as expected.”
Charlotte slowly turned her head. Somehow, this strange woman had sent her back through time. Holy hell, maybe she was a Christmas fairy. “That was no dream, was it? I was really there with Daniel…in the loading dock.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself.” The bracelet on her wrist twinkled like starlight as the woman lifted her arm and plucked one of the little charms off the chain. She held it over the pile of gifts and offered it to Charlotte, though, to her, the stack of brightly wrapped gifts seemed to have shrunken somehow. Almost as if it had been reduced by half. “Compared to some, you did fairly well. On a scale of one to ten, I’ll give you a solid four for humor and originality.”
Yay! Go me for being below average. Charlotte opened her palm and the woman dropped the charm into her hand. She flipped the delicate snowflake back and forth with her fingertip, winced as it flared before a shimmering trail of dust floated skyward and the charm lost its luster. She closed her fingers and made a tight fist. If she was reading the situation correctly, she still had two more chances.
“You may want to consider Daniel’s feelings in this moment. What is the first thing you would’ve thought, walking into the Christmas party to find him kissing another girl?”
Charlotte grimaced. Her heart would have been crushed, regardless of his intentions or the vagueness of their relationship status.
The bus screeched to a stop at the corner and her bedazzled fairy nodded toward the street. “Remember, there are two sides to every story. Perhaps it’s time you ask Daniel for his.”
Her mind whirring the same speed as the glistening traffic rushing down the boulevard, Charlotte rose from the bench and climbed the steps like a robot, bouncing from one padded shoulder to the next toward the back of the bus. The old woman smiled and handed a wrapped box to a passerby as the gears lurched and the bus trundled down the street.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming tomorrow...

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