Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review of Midnight Kiss an Anthology

Midnight Kiss (Anthology)

Robyn Carr-Jean Brashear-Victoria Dahl


315 pages

Okay so it’s the week between Christmas and New Year and you’ve read all the new holiday releases as well as gotten through your personal library of tried and true Christmas favs and you’re looking for just the right read to get you through New Year, well look no farther.

We have assembled here three great authors in their own right and brought them together for a New Year’s Eve anthology “Midnight Kiss”.
Robyn Carr takes us to her beloved Virgin River and the ever popular Jack’s bar where two lonely hearts meet and while one is willing to take a chance the other has vowed never to fall again.
Jean Brashear gives us a tale about a good time girl who meets the quintessential good guy and this guy’s got a hint of blarney about him. Will he be able to convince her to give love and him a chance.
Victoria Dahl takes us on a FDIC bank takeover where the two in charge have been avoiding each other like the plague since that unfortunate kiss they shared two years ago, a kiss that neither of them have ever forgotten.

So if you’re like me and all you plan this New Year’s Eve is a couch plant for your rear and a pair of fuzzy slippers, don’t forget to pick up this really funny, heart warming and filled with at times pull your hair out frustrating characters and bring in the New Year the best possible way, with a great book.

To all my friends and fellow lovers of books have a safe and Happy New Year and may 2011 make all your wishes come true.

See you all next year!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top Twenty List for 2010

I can't believe that 2011 is only days away and in a reflective mood I'd like to share with you my top 20 novel picks for 2010.
My top choice for 2010 has to be The Passage, it was the most intense most original post apocalyptic novel I've ever read, also the best "un"Vampire, Vampire novel. I couldn't put it down, lost sleep over it and when the 784 pages were read the only thing on my mind was, why there wasn't more of it. If you haven't read it, do. Unlike Cormac McCarthy's The Road you'll find that there is still humanity in humans and hope for a uncertain future.

The next 19 choices are in no order of preference, but all great reads in any number of geres

I stumbled upon Jennifer Estep by accident and boy am I glad I did.
Gin is one of the most unlikely of heroines being an assassin and all, but she's genuine and funny and scary all at the same time. So if you're into Urban Fantasy, and by the book store shelves who isn't and you haven't given this series a try. Do. Spider's Bite is the first of the series and they are all worth your time.

Erin Hart is one of my go-to authors and I love her series featuring Nora Gavin and Cormac Maquire. This is the third in the series most of which is set in the bogs of Ireland, but this one will bring you to the US also.

Kristin Hannah is one of those authors who's novels always speak to your heart and this one is no different. It's an amazing family drama featuring the women and you will laugh and cry with them.

Sarah Blake I met through the First Look program at B& where B&N picks out pre-published novels and a large group of contributors read and discuss the novel. The Postmistress takes place pre-WWII in a picturesque small town in Massachusetts but it could be any small town in anywhere America. It's poignant and heartbreaking and heart warming. It stars an up and coming reporter Frankie Bard as she covers war torn Europe and the innumerable and unnamed faces it affects. It is a novel that you have to read.

Joseph Monninger was also introduced to me through First Look where we discussed this his debut novel. It's an amazing love story that will break your heart to read but in the reading you will learn to love the characters, the places and his unique storytelling ability.

What would a top 20 be without a Stieg Larsson novel but even with all the hype this series is all it's cracked up to be and in my opinion the third and final is the masterpiece. Maybe because it's taken my totally American mind two previous novels to get all the names right and all the streets and places straight in my head. But what ever the reason it's all that and more.

One of my favorite web-sites is AuthorBuzz where I have been introduced to so many wonderful new authors and has left my To Be Read Pile enormous. Julie Compton as I soon found out was a native St. Louisan just like me who now lives in Florida and this is her second novel. It's a must read tale about just how far we'd go for someone we love, the limits we put on ourselves and if and how those limits can effect us and those around us. I loved this novel so much I featured it at Fiction General Discussion the book club at B& that I moderate. But don't take my word for it, read it and find out for yourself.

Ms. Zoe Klein I also found through AuthorBuzz and was also a feature on my book club in 2010. The author is a practicing Jewish Rabbi in California who authored this amazing fictional tale about a Christian archeologist working in Israel, it's a love story, a political statement and a contemporary piece of literary fiction all in one. And it should be a must read for everyone, all religions, all nationalities. And maybe if we did, we'd learn something important about humanity.

Dori Ostermiller was introduced to me by Mira publishing who I review for. And I'm so glad I did. This is Dori's debut novel although she's been writing for years. It's sort of biographical and sort of fictional and a family drama that exceeded all my expectations. In fact this novel will be featured on my B&N book club in January of 2011, so if you're looking for something to do to in boring old January, join us for the fun and conversation. Dori will be joining us too.

Antoinette van Heugten was also introduced to me through Mira publishing and her debut novel is about the love of a mother for her son, a son with Autism who's accused of a heinous crime. Antoinette has the unique experience of knowing Autism first hand as she's the mother of two Autistic children. Join the B& book club in February as we discuss this truly amazing novel.

Declan Hughes is one of my favorite Irish authors who's Ed Loy series is one of my favorite crime dramas. Ed is a little like an Irish Harry Bosch and this novel is the best so far in the series.

What list would be complete without a JR Ward and especially one of her bold and beautiful stars of her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This is the story of John Matthew and Xhexania and leaves off right after Lover Avenged ends. If you've been living under a rock, get out and read this amazing series, a new way to look at vampires.

Mary Sharratt was also an AuthorBuzz introduction an her novel was an incredible story based on the 1612 witch trial in Pendle England which is where she just happens to hang her hat. You get an up close and personal look at Reformation England and what happens to those who keep the old faith. Mary and her novel were our guest on the book club in October of course, when else is better to be discussing witches and sorcery. Those of you who love historical fiction, fiction based on real happenings or just a great piece of literary historical fiction will love this.

Laura Griffin, another author introduced to me by AuthorBuzz and her Tracers series. This novel is the love story of Mia Voss and Rick Santos, two very deserving people who go through hades to get their Happy Ever After. A very good romantic suspense series so give it a try.

Ken Scholes I met through the sibling of B&N's first look, sneak peek and so the entire Psalms of Isaak series which is the best Science Fiction/Fantasy series out there in my opinion. It's a love story, an apocalyptic tale, and an epic adventure. A must read for all lovers of this genre and any genre for that matter.

J T Ellison was introduced to me by Mira also and her latest in her Taylor Jackson romantic suspense with the emphasis on suspense series. It's a great read and takes place on Samhain, involves a number of murders of teens. It's intense and you will have bitten your nails to the quick when you're done. But it's so worth the read. A great series and a great protagonist.

Claire Delacroix is an author that I have followed for years, starting with her historical romance most of which I can still remember all of the characters and a voracious reader like me that's a feat.
This is her perception of fallen angels and what a perception it is. These bad boys aren't what you'd expect, but they're what you hope for. It's a futuristic, post apocalyptic, romance series and in my opinion it tops the charts.

Claire's real name is Deborah Cooke and she also has a series about shape-shifting dragons known as the PYR, who are sworn to protect the earth and her treasures including humans. These larger(really larger) than life heros are worth your read. And on a sub-note Deborah also has a new YA series coming out that's based on the PYR and their new spiritual leader the Wyvren who is the only female dragon.

We can't have a best list without my favorite heros who happen to be half brothers, Harry Bosch and Mikey Haller. And this novel will go down as one of Michael Connelly's best. We have our very irreverent Defense Attorney Mickey switching sides of the tables as he agrees to prosecute a case. I know, who'd a thunk.

So if you're looking for some good reading in 2011 and your not ready to embark on new releases, why not give some of the 2010's out there a try and why not start with these. My top 20.
Happy New Year everyone and may 2011 be fantastic.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Interview with Dori Ostermiller author of Outside the Ordinary World

Starting Monday January 10th the Fiction General Discussion book club at B& will be featuring Ms. Ostermiller's novel Outside the Ordinary World, please join us. And spend a few minutes now to get a little better acquainted with her right now.

Deb-Dori, I read that as a child in the hospital and bored is when you first discovered fiction by telling tall tales about your life to the nurses and you mentioned it’s “redemptive possibilities of stories”. Was it redemptive because they believed you or because it was your escape from your situation, or perhaps a combination.

Dori- I think what I meant by the “redemptive possibilities of stories” is the power that stories have to transport and transform us. Stories give us the ability to enter another’s skin, to explore the world from a completely different perspective. In the hospital, when I was bored, scared, and actually quite sick, my imagination allowed me to become someone else, and in doing so, to view my own circumstances through a new lens. So I guess it was a combination of the possibility of escape, combined with the ability to see myself and the world through a new lens. The sweet, gullible nurses helped me by providing an attentive audience, suspending my own disbelief!

Deb-You stated that you dropped out of pre-med to pursue writing. Did you have encouragement for that, or was it something you took a stand for?

Dori- A bit of both, I think. Everything in my background and in my family/social structure said that becoming a writer was not really a viable or worthwhile choice. People in my world were not artists! They were doctors, dentists, real estate tycoons… And my father really did want me to follow in his heart surgeon’s footsteps. So to become a writer was an enormous departure from expectation. But when push came to shove, my parents actually did support my choice: they wanted me to be happy. It took my nervous breakdown first, though. I think they had to see that it really was literally impossible for me not to follow my own path.

Deb- You have been teaching for a long time and you’ve also founded a writing workshop where you live in Massachusetts where you work with local artists. Tell us a little about that, how did that come about and what part does it play in your community?

Dori- I started Writers in Progress in 1992, as a sort of antidote to my competitive and product-oriented MFA program. I wanted to offer workshops that offered real, nuts and bolts advice about the craft and business of writing but in a supportive, non-competitive environment. I also wanted to create a space where writers could gather in an informal way, give readings and trade ideas. We now have a space in a big arts & industry building—a refurbished factory in Northampton—and the workshops have become a prominent part of the local writing community.

Deb- You have former students who have gone on to become award winning authors in their own right like, Kris Holloway and Alison Smith do you feel any ownership in their success, how big a part do teachers play and how big a part is it natural talent.

Dori- I’m sure these writers would have found their way to success without me! But I love the fact that I was able to facilitate their process at a crucial point. I think finding the right support at the right time can make a big difference in a writer’s skill and confidence.

Deb- You’ve been a published author for a long time but Outside The Ordinary World is your first novel. Was authoring a novel something that just came to you suddenly or has it been a long time coming?

Dori- Honestly, the story started percolating in my mid-twenties and has gone through several different incarnations. In between drafts, I took long breaks, got married, had babies, started my business… so it’s certainly not like I was writing full-time for fifteen years. But it was, in fact, about fifteen years, in fits and starts!

Deb- As you know I loved your novel even though it was a hard book to read, it deals with very real and very emotional subjects. Does this novel stem from somewhere personal for you?

Dori- I started the book as an autobiographical exploration of my own family’s dissolution in the mid-70’s, and over time, the story became more and more fictionalized—it took on a life of it’s own. But yes, the seed of the book was from my very personal and somewhat painful childhood experience.

Deb- Dori, is it hard to balance your career as a teacher and an author with being a mom and wife? How does your family feel about having a celebrity in the family?

Dori- Yes, Deb, it’s the hardest thing for me, balancing a writing life with a family life. I’m always in awe of women who do it well. While I was writing OTOW, I literally had to get away in order to write: every six weeks or so, I’d go off to a writing retreat center in Ashfield, a nearby town, and spend three or four days. I did this for the two years that I was finally putting the current version of the book together. It was hard on my family, but without those weekends, I couldn’t have finished it. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’ve got kids playing on the floor beside me and my 12-year old coming in and asking for things… This is just how it is a lot of the time. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Deb- I see you’re working on your next novel, can you tell us what it will be about?

Dori- My next book is about a woman whose husband is shot by his favorite student—a boy whose mother the teacher’s widow once worked with in a battered women’s shelter; the tragedy propels the widow into a world that she never would have imagined having access to, and she discovers things about herself and her husband that she never understood before. The story is very loosely based on a case I read about in the news. It asks the question of whether or not we can ever really know the ‘other,’ and under what circumstances true forgiveness and compassion can exist. It’s due out in the fall of 2012.

Be sure and visit Dori at her website.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of Ride the Fire by Jo Davis

Ride the Fire the Firefighters of Station Five series

Jo Davis

Penguin Group

310 pages

Ride the Fire is the 5th in the Firefighters of Station Five series

Captain Sean Tanner has been fighting more demons than fires in the last two years since he watched his family die in a fiery accident, unfortunately the demons are winning. The only thing keeping him sane is his job and his family of firefighters of station five and one in particular who’s keeping him up at night for more reasons than he’d like to admit. Eve Marshall has been in love with Sean since before the accident that took his family, she didn’t know what to do with those feelings then and she sure doesn’t know what to do with them now. But someone sinister is out there harassing Sean and threatening to undo all the steps he’s taken to reclaim his life and Eve will do anything to help keep him on the right path even at the cost of a broken heart. But there’s more at steak than broken hearts, will Sean and Eve have what it takes to “Ride the Fire”.

Jo Davis has created a series of larger than life men and women who risk their lives everyday on and off the job. She’s done it with dialogue that presents the reader with vivid imagery as she takes us through the rough and ready lives of these characters. She does it with characters that are extraordinarily ordinary and over the top when it comes to sexuality and sensuality. Her hero and heroine for this novel are both firefighters have known each other for years and have held a candle for each other, so she brings familiarity into the romance which creates and at the same time solves many problems. Eve and Sean are both extremely in need of their Happy Ever After, they just need to stay alive to accomplish it. Her love scenes are as hot as any fire and as dangerous as any backdraft and at the same time as endearing as any romance you’ve ever read.

If you haven’t made a visit to the crew at station five, don’t worry you’ll get enough background information to have this novel stand on it’s own, but I would recommend reading the entire series in order because there’s a lot of history that you’ll miss if you don’t. If you like romance on the sizzle burner, you’ve come to the right read because this one will blow your socks off.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review of Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag

Deeper than the Dead

Tami Hoag

Penguin Group

532 pages (paperback)

The Queen of Thriller/Mystery hits another home run.

Set in 1985 three of Anne Navarre’s 5th grade students stumble, literally over a dead body of a woman in the woods. Sheriffs detective Tony Mendez and his mentor groundbreaking FBI profiler Vince Leone are thinking serial killer with two similar murder/tortures and one missing woman, they will have to ferret out the monster in this idyllic community with the help of Anne. Anne and Vince will also have to deal with the attraction they feel for each other while keeping safe.

Okay the first thing I have to admit is that I read this when it first came out a year ago, why, because I’m a huge Tami Hoag fan from way back when she wrote strictly romance all the way through to present and her darker and more meatier reads. So I thought I’d just skim through the pages until I remembered enough to write a review, well guess what. I couldn’t put it down, I just kept telling myself I’ll just read a little bit more and so on and so forth until I finished the 532 pages in the paperback edition. Why did I find my self re-reading it, me who never re-reads, well it’s my pleasure to tell you.

Tami Hoag has an incredible way with words they simply flow like melted butter so smooth that one page effortlessly merges with the next. The plot is very effective, in this 24/7 information overloaded society she takes us back to 1985 where disco is in and cell phones are the size of suitcases and DNA used in crime detection is still a while away. She takes us back to the infancy of FBI profiling and good old fashioned police work. Her characters really make the novel, her good guys will make you root for them and her bad boys will make you cringe and you won’t find out the identity of the monster until she wants you to. Her main protagonists Anne and Vince are an unlikely couple, she in her mid-twenties and he is his late forties but the romance works and works well and becomes an integrated part of the plot.

If you’ve loved Tami for years like me or if you’ve never given her a try either way you won’t be sorry you picked up this novel. If you love crime drama mixed with a great love story this is for you. If you’re the adrenaline junkie and need a novel that speeds up your pulse and makes your heart race look no farther. And when you’re done with this pick up the sequel due out in December 2010 Secrets to the Grave starring all the same people you got to know from Deeper than the Dead.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Silver and Gold by Becke Davis

As many of you know my good friend and fellow moderator at B& Becke Davis is a wonderful storyteller and it's not more evident than in her touching holiday tales. I posted one last week so be sure to search it out if you haven't and here's one she wrote last year called

“Silver and Gold”

by Becke Davis, writing as Becke Martin

“Please, Mommy – please!”

Aiden looked up from his bowl of spicy goulash. The new waitress knelt down, shushing the boy who must be her son. “I’m sorry, Joey. The mall will be closed before I get off work. I’ll get you a sheet of paper and a pen – you can write a letter to Santa instead.”

The boy chewed his lower lip. “Grandma would’ve taken me.”

Man, the kid was good. What mother could resist that soulful expression? Joey’s mother, apparently; she closed her eyes briefly, but she didn’t respond.

“But this is important,” the young boy whispered loudly, emphasizing almost every other word. “Santa gets millions of letters. What if he’s a slow reader, like me? I need to tell him in person.”

Aiden was always intrigued by human drama, but the boy’s mother was clearly distressed to have an audience. Fair Meadows, Ohio was such a small town, anyone new was bound to attract attention. He took another bite of goulash and pretended to ignore them.

His waitress moved as if to push back her dark blonde hair, then stopped as her hand met the lacy headband that was part of her uniform. Her fingers flailed for a second as if at a lost where to go next, then she reached into her apron pocket and tore a page from her order book. “Here, you can write the letter on this.”

“But Mom . . .”

“Hush, Joey – Santa won’t care that your letter’s not on fancy paper. And I happen to know he’s a speed reader.”

The boy, who looked to be six or seven, had big blue eyes like his mom’s and hair several shades lighter – baby-fine, flaxen and softly curling around his nape. He’d bet the boy was teased about it unmercifully at school.

Aiden pointedly opened the local paper and flipped to the sports section before returning to his dinner. The high school scores weren’t nearly as interesting as his waitress, though, and the realization came as a shock. It had been years since he’d noticed a woman – really noticed her, down to his gut. Why now, and why this woman?

Well, there was the kid. He was a sucker for kids. These days, if a man admitted that out loud people thought “pedophile,” but Aiden had always been fascinated with the intelligence and curiosity of children. He missed kids. He missed being a dad most of all.

Tears swam in front of his eyes, blurring the headlines he pretended to read. It was just Christmas, damn it. He wasn’t normally this maudlin. He’d had ten years to get over his son’s death, eight to adjust to the loneliness, abandonment and guilt after his wife killed herself. There was nothing wrong with him that getting past Christmas wouldn’t cure.

He heard the rustle of paper as the boy slid into the booth in front of his, sniffling quietly and muttering to himself. “I’ll never get the book now.”

At the word “book,” Aiden’s attention was caught again. It could be any book, but he was willing to bet Joey was going to ask Santa for the next installment of The Adventures of Billy and Buster, an incredibly popular series about a smart six-year-old and his Golden Retriever. Buster was really an alien from the Dog Star who helped Billy solve mysteries and save their town from an evil villain in every volume. The series had a special place in Aiden’s heart.

Every book ended with the boy and dog strolling through the front door of their small suburban home, where smells of a hot dinner wafted out to greet them. Billy’s mother’s question – “What have you two been up to now?” – was such a popular catchphrase, it had been co-opted on every show from SNL to The Family Guy, as was Billy’s response: “Nuttin’, Mom. What’s for dinner? We’re staaaarving.”

As the owner of Chapters, the only book store town, Aiden was well aware of the popularity of the series, although he rarely ran out of stock. That might not be true for the next book, though. A television show based on The Adventures of Billy and Buster was in the making, and the two-hour pilot would be aired on Sunday evening, the night before Christmas Eve.

The television network had persuaded the publisher to hold back the next installment until the day after the show premiered. That move promised one day of overflowing cash registers for book sellers and some very frustrated parents if the books should sell out. Just tonight, the local news featured an opinion piece accusing the reclusive author, who went by the name Francis A. O’Hanlon, of caring more about money than his young audience. Most people seemed to agree.

Deep in thought, Aiden folded the newspaper and laid it on the seat next to him. He picked up the dessert menu and signaled the boy’s mother, who responded with a friendly, if exhausted, smile.

“Can I get you some Dutch apple pie? It’s fresh from the oven. How about coffee?”

“Coffee, please, and I can’t resist Frida’s pie. Would you join me?”

She looked flustered. “Join you?”

He sat back and smiled, doing his best to radiate seasonal good cheer. “I’m the last customer. Put your feet up – join me for a slice of apple pie, my treat. One for your boy, too, if it’s not too close to his bedtime.”

The pretty waitress held her order pad against her chest as if it were a shield. “Oh, thank you, but I couldn’t. It’s my first day – I don’t want to get fired.”

She jerked back as the kitchen door swung open. Frida, the diner’s owner and cook, gave them both a knowing glance as she bustled over to Aiden’s booth. “You want more goulash? I’m closing up the kitchen, but I can pack some up for you to take home.”

“You spoil me, Frida. I can’t eat another bite – I’m saving room for pie.”

“That’s my boy.” Short and wide with rosy cheeks and eyebrows like furry caterpillars, Frida was one of Aiden’s favorite people in Fair Meadows. For her part, Frida had always treated him like the son she never had, even though she was no more than ten years his senior. “So, you didn’t like the goulash? Too much pepper, right? I knew it. Could have used more carrots, I think.”

“It was perfect. No one makes goulash like you do.”

“How do you like my new waitress? A real looker, isn’t she? I knew she was coming today – saw it in my horoscope. She’s a good mother.” Frida’s highest praise – the new waitress didn’t know it yet, but she’d found herself a champion.

Frida urged the waitress forward. “This is Aiden. He works too hard, forgets to eat. He’s a good man, but he always has his head in a book. It’s not healthy – he needs to get out more.”

Aiden laughed at the waitress’s obvious discomfort. “Welcome to Frida’s matchmaking service. She’s a great cook, and a closet romantic. It’s her life’s goal to match up everyone in town. No one is safe.”

Frida turned beet red. “Oh, go on with you. What are you doing, keeping me from my work? I’ve got bread to bake for tomorrow. You’re off the clock, Ginny. Keep Aiden company while he has some pie. Don’t forget to have some yourself – might as well finish it off.” She turned to the little boy who was watching her with wide eyes. “Well? What are you looking at? Don’t just sit there – go get yourself some pie!”

Muttering to herself, Frida waddled back into the kitchen.

“Please join me?” Aiden raised his hands in mock surrender. “I promise I won’t bite. Here, let me pay you so you can go off duty.” He took a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet. “There, that should cover it. Keep the change.”

She took his money as if it burned her. Aiden watched the sway of her hips as she walked to the front of the diner. She glanced back at him and smiled nervously as she handed the twenty to Eddie, the teenager who was acting as cashier during winter break. Apparently that was all Eddie had been waiting for, because he flew out the door as soon as he handed the waitress a five dollar bill and some coins.

Aiden gave her a reassuring smile as she walked back to his booth. “Relax, have a seat.”

A blush pinked her cheeks and drew Aiden’s attention to the clear blue of her eyes. His stomach tightened at the surge of protectiveness that hit him.

“I . . . I guess that would be okay.” His waitress – what was her name? – cast a furtive glance toward the kitchen, where there was a loud bang as a pan dropped, followed by a no-doubt explicit Hungarian curse. “Is she always like this?”

“Frida?” He grinned. “She has a heart of gold and a mouth like a Hungarian sailor. You’re going to love working here. She’ll make sure you and your son are well fed, too.”

“It was really nice of her to hire me. It’s not like I had references or anything.” She flashed a quick look at her son as she walked to the counter and took out three plates.

Aiden smiled as the cute waitress cut three slices of pie – the one for him more than twice the size of the others. Her son was bent over the paper, his tongue pushing out between his lips as he concentrated on forming the words of his letter.

She slid a plate in front of Aiden along with a clean fork and a couple of paper napkins. He waited until she poured coffee for them both, then dug in as soon as she sat on the opposite side of his booth.

Aiden became uncomfortably aware of her nylon-clad legs nearly touching his under the table. He was stunned to feel a flutter of arousal – the subtle scent of woman mixed with apple and cinnamon was the most seductive perfume he’d ever known.

He polished off his pie before she’d taken her second bite. No wonder she was a tiny as a sparrow if this was how she ate. Or maybe he was making her nervous.

“You’re not from around here.”

She studied him cautiously as she swallowed a bite of her pie. “How’d you know that?”

He nodded toward the plate glass window. “I own the book store across the street. I eat most of my meals here. Never saw you or the boy before. And I know North Carolina when I hear it.”

“Oh.” She relaxed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump on you. I grew up in North Carolina, but Joey was born in New York. He thinks I talk funny.”

Aiden laid on the charm a bit. “So, you plan on staying? Fair Meadows is a nice place to raise a family. You and your husband looking for a house? I could show you around town, if you want.”

She dropped her fork onto the plate with a clatter. “You’re not going to try and sell me a house, are you?”

“What? Oh, for – ” Aiden could feel the flush rise from his neck to his face. It was second grade again, and snooty Wendy Wilcox had just put him in his place when he dared to sit next to her in the lunchroom. You’d think in forty-odd years he would have developed some of the smooth moves the Irish were famous for.

He shrugged and shifted awkwardly. “Let me start over. My name’s Aiden, as Frida said -- Aiden Flynn. I own Chapters, a new-and-used bookstore, and I’ve never sold real estate in my life.” Shaking hands seemed too formal, so he simply nodded and smiled.

Her quick grin pierced his armor and made his skin tighten. His friends had set him up with dates who looked like cover models and still left him cold. This woman, with her beautiful but careworn face, was bringing him almost painfully back to life.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Flynn.”

“Aiden, please. And what’s your name again? I didn’t quite catch it. Your uniform says Rosie, but I knew Rosie – she ran off with a Scottish tourist. It was the talk of the town.”

“Virginia.” She blinked. “Ginny, that is. Most people call me Ginny.”

The pencil scratching in the next booth came to an abrupt stop, and a minute later Ginny’s son approached Aiden, his back stiff and military-straight.

“I’m Joey.” The young boy stuck out his hand, man to man, a look of warning in his eyes. Good lad, keeping an eye on his mom. “My dad was a policeman. Bigger than you. He had a holster and a gun and a badge.”

Was? Aiden’s eyes flashed to her ring finger, still adorned by a plain gold band. A widow, at her age? God, that was rough. No wonder there were dark circles under her eyes.

“Aiden Flynn. Nice to meet you, Joey. Sounds like you’re proud of your dad. Bet he’s proud of you, too.”

“A bad guy shot him,” he mumbled. “He got killed.”

Virginia-Ginny didn’t speak, just pulled the boy into her lap and stroked his hair.

Aiden nodded. “A hero. Bet your dad’s proud of you for taking care of your mom.”

The small thumb moving toward Joey’s mouth suddenly halted. “Do you think so?”

Joey peeked at his mother, then climbed off her lap. “I’m writing a letter to Santa.” His chest puffed out with pride. “All by myself. I think I spelled the words right, mostly, but I’m not done yet.”

“Okay if I talk to your mom while you’re working on that letter?”

Joey’s eyes widened. “Um, sure.” There was a spring in his step as he walked back to his booth.

“You were good with him.” Ginny’s voice was soft and silvery, like church bells pealing on a cold, clear night.

“I had a son once. Will died of leukemia when he was about Joey’s age.” Damn, he’d known the woman two minutes and he was dumping his troubles on her. “Sorry – now you’ll be worrying about your son. Don’t know what made me bring that up.”

She reached across the table and laid her small hand across his. “I’m so sorry. Losing my husband was bad, but if anything happened to Joey . . . I don’t think I’d survive.”

“Annie – my wife – didn’t. She killed herself two years after Will died. She’d been hoarding the sleeping pills the doctor had given her and took them all at once. By the time I realized what she’d done, it was too late.”

Aiden choked back half of the coffee in one gulp, just to shut himself up. He never talked about his wife, never talked about his son. Ever. It was the reason he avoided his parents, who couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. Something about Ginny was calm, peaceful. He felt as if he could talk to her all night, which was hardly fair – she looked worn out. When was the last time someone had taken care of her?

“When did your husband die?”

Now it was her turn to hide behind coffee. Before Ginny responded to his question, she brought the pot to the table and poured another cup for herself. He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she drank it, hot and black. “It’s been nearly three years. Joey talks about Joe a lot, but he doesn’t really remember him. How could he? He was practically a baby when Joe was killed.”

Aiden waited in silence as she took another deep gulp of the coffee. He sensed there was more to her story.

“We’ve been living with Joe’s mom, Carol. I don’t have any relatives of my own, and she missed Joe as much as we did. It helped her to have Joey around. And it helped financially, too.”

Aiden’s hackles rose. “Your husband was killed in the line of duty, and you’re hurting for money?”

Ginny played with her paper napkin, tearing it into shreds. “It wasn’t exactly in the line of duty.”

Her voice dropped and she flashed a furtive glance at her son, who was entirely focused on the last few bites of his pie. “Joe was at the local bar with some of the guys. He should never have had his gun with him, but he’d just gone off duty. He got in an argument when the bartender tried to cut him off. One thing led to another . . . I’ll tell Joey the truth when he’s old enough to understand. Anyway, what there was of Joe’s insurance went to a college fund for Joey. I’m not touching it.”

“What brought you to Fair Meadows?” Aiden reached out to grasp her hand in an instinctive urge to comfort her. He stopped himself abruptly when he realized how inappropriate that would be. He realized how much he missed the comfort of the casual human contact he’d enjoyed during his marriage.

“Carol died just before Thanksgiving. Children aren’t allowed in her building, but the landlord turned a blind eye while Carol was alive. After she died, there were complaints. We had to leave.”

“You’ve had it rough.” How could anyone put out a young mother and child? What was wrong with people? It was the holiday season, for God’s sake.

Ginny sat up straighter. “It’s not like we’re destitute. Carol left her condo to me, but her estate has to go through probate before I can put it on the market. The lawyer wouldn’t even let me take our things until they can sort out what belongs to who. I still had Joe’s old Ford, and I remembered Carol talking about Fair Meadows. She had visited here as a kid and liked it a lot. I filled the tank and here I am, talking a blue streak.”

Aiden played with his coffee cup, avoiding her eyes. “Where are you two staying?” He had a bad feeling they were living in her husband’s old Ford, a feeling confirmed by her silence.

“I’m not broke,” she said after a minute. “I’ve got today’s tips, and I’ll have a paycheck on Tuesday. We’ll be fine in a day or two.”

“Stay with me.” The words were out before he could come up with all the reasons why it was a bad idea. Only one thing mattered: they needed a place to stay. “You can’t really see it from here, but I live behind the bookstore. There’s plenty of room – three bedrooms, two baths. Sorry, I’m talking like a realtor again. Joey isn’t afraid of dogs, is he? I have an elderly retriever – Buster loves kids, wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Ginny laughed. “You named your dog after the puppy in the books. My son loves those stories.” Her lips thinned. “Why do people have to be so greedy? The new Billy and Buster book is all Joey wants for Christmas – he knows I can’t afford much. But even if I have the money, the books will all be gone by the time I finish my shift.”

Aiden felt his pulse throb at his temple as a headache threatened. “Sometimes it’s not up to the author. When a writer sells the rights to a book, it doesn’t belong to him anymore. Could be the author regrets selling the rights to that TV network.”

“Hmmph.” Ginny shrugged. “It’s still not right. Lots of kids are going to be sad when those books sell out.”

“C’mon, Joey’s falling asleep over there. Get your things together and come on over to my place.” Aiden stopped abruptly, unsure if he was being too forward. Wondering if he’d completely lost his mind – inviting a virtual stranger to stay at his house, where, if Ginny accepted his invitation, her son would sleep in Will’s old bed.

“I’m just offering you a place to stay, Ginny. No ulterior motive. You heard Frida; she’ll be expecting a report. If I don’t behave, she won’t feed me.” Aiden didn’t know why he had the urge to reassure her when he had doubts himself. Although he dated occasionally, he’d never brought a woman back to his home. It had never felt right before.

Ginny twisted her wedding ring as if she was having similar reservations. “You seem like a nice man, and if it was just me . . . but, there’s Joey, you see. I have to make sure he’s safe.”

Aiden respected her for taking her responsibility for her son so seriously. “You’re right to be cautious.” Oddly, the more Ginny hesitated, the more certain he became that this was the right thing to do. “You can check with the sheriff, if it makes you feel more comfortable.”

“I don’t know.” Ginny swayed. She rubbed her eyes as if she could barely keep her eyes open. When Joey shifted as if he were uncomfortable on the seat where he’d fallen asleep, his mother seemed to make a decision. “Joey needs to sleep in a real bed. If you’re sure it’s okay, I’ll let Frida know I’m leaving.”

While Ginny disappeared into the kitchen, Aiden whipped out his cell and punched speed dial. “Stephen. Any news?” He paused to listen. “Hell, yes, it’s a deal breaker. Fix this now, or I find a new agent. They might not have technically crossed the line, but they’ve certainly gone against the spirit of the deal, and time is running out. Contracts were made to be broken, Stephen, and that includes yours. Yeah, you do that.”

And if he couldn’t get the TV station to release the publisher from the ridiculous clause so they could sell the damn books, well, by God, he’d start a new series – another boy, another dog. Suddenly, he was bursting with ideas.

Frida bustled out of the kitchen with Ginny right behind her. “You’re taking them home? Good. Come by before opening tomorrow, if you’re awake – I’ll whip up some breakfast for the three of you. You two can’t work on an empty stomach, and that boy needs some meat on his bones. You’ll be safe with Aiden, Ginny. He’s one of the good guys. But you let me know if he tries to get fresh – if he wants to eat at my diner, he’ll behave himself or else.”

To hide his embarrassment, Aiden slipped out of his booth and bent over Joey’s sleeping form. He smelled of heat and little-boy-sweat, reminding him so much of Will he nearly doubled over in pain. But Joey was alive and well and in need of a warm bed. Luckily, Aiden had more than he could use. He lifted Joey over his shoulder, barely feeling the slight weight.

Aiden bid Frida goodnight and led Ginny across the street, their footsteps echoing in the silent night. The crystalline snow that had begun to fall made his house look like a Christmas card. It had been a happy house when Will was first born. It could be happy again.

Tonight, as the brightest star shone down on the three of them, he felt as if Will and Annie were watching. Buster would be joining them soon; some days the old guy could barely drag himself up from his favorite rug. Will had been four when they got the puppy for him, not long before he became ill. The loyal Golden Retriever had kept Aiden company through all the long, lonely years. Buster’s joints were stiff and painful, and his whiskers were turning white. It was going to break his heart when his dog died.

As he opened the front door, he could imagine Annie’s voice as clearly as if she were in the other room. “What have you two been up to now?” He and Will would exchange a secret grin, then Will would say, “Nuttin’, Mom. What’s for dinner? We’re staaaarving.”

What would his wife and son think about Ginny and Joey sleeping in their house, in their beds? He liked to think they’d be happy about it. For the first time in years, Aiden felt the tingle of hope. He felt as if Ginny and Joey had been led to him for a reason. Maybe they needed him as much as he needed them.

He’d written the first Billy and Buster after his son’s illness was diagnosed, and wrote the second book at Will’s request after a difficult round of chemo. After Will died, Aiden just kept writing, long after he’d lost the spark, because kids enjoyed the stories. He’d kept his anonymity because he missed Will too much to talk about the books and what they meant to him; they hit too close to home, Buster and not-Will.

Every boy should have a dog. Aiden wondered how Ginny would feel if he offered to get Joey a puppy for Christmas. He was making assumptions he had no right to make. He barely knew Ginny or her son. But he believed in a future with her the way he believed in Santa Claus. Aiden remembered the words of the famous editorial responding to another Virginia as if they were etched into his heart. He quoted softly to himself, “‘The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see’.”

As he laid the sleeping boy on his son’s old bed, Aiden felt a sense of rightness. When Ginny met his eyes with a shy smile, he reached for her hand and squeezed it lightly. Linking her fingers with his, he switched on the night light. Buster pushed past them and walked over to the bed, sniffing at Joey’s slight form. Aiden felt something uncoil in his chest when Buster curled up next to the bed, just like in the old days.

Ginny broke the silence. “Thank you. Those aren’t big enough words, but I don’t know what else to say. I hardly know you, but I feel as if Joey and I have come home.”

Aiden drew Ginny into his arms and held her. Just held her. It wasn’t a thunderbolt, wasn’t fireworks, but it was magic, all right. And he believed. Hell yes, he believed.

For the first time in years, he could hardly wait for Christmas.


This story is dedicated to two wonderful children who died too soon:

Chance Carr and Emily Paeltz

Copyright 2009 by Rebecca Martin Davis