Byrd's Desire

Byrd's Desire
Available beginning February 28

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Devlin's Grace - releasing April 8 from Evernight Publishing


            Meet Devlin. He’s a flawed hero, with scars from his military service in Iraq and suffering from something not as easy to see – PTSD.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a specter haunting many men and women who have served our nation in armed conflict.  And it’s not limited to military people.  Anyone who suffers any type of extreme emotional trauma which included the possibility of injury or death can have PTSD.  Those who have read my recent blog post may be aware of my personal history with PTSD and why I’ve written about it.  In Devlin’s Grace, PTSD is part of what makes Devlin who he is and why he acts as he does.  Some readers may think the title sounds familiar and there’s a reason for that – an earlier edition came out from a former publisher a few years back but the new edition, out this Tuesday April 8 from Evernight Publishing, is stronger, enhanced, and intense.

            Here is the cover, one of the most amazing I’ve ever had provided for any of my works, courtesy of Sour Cherry Designs.  I’ve liked every cover they’ve created but this one is so evocative of Devlin and this story.  And paired with it, the blurb gives a hint of what to expect.
 
 

            Blurb: When Iraq war veteran Devlin rides his motorcycle into Gracie’s life, he’s everything she’s not, wild, wicked, and more than a little crazy.  Opposites attract because good girl, college student Gracie wants more of this bad boy.  She invades his personal space, takes liberties no other woman has dared, and although he struggles with PTSD, she sticks by her man.  He teaches her to live a little more and she helps him battle his demons.  If there’s any chance the shattered combat veteran can find his way back, Devlin’s Grace can help him find it.

                Devlin’s Grace debuts on the heels of a special promotion I held with my first indie title, a short story called Will’s Way.  Will’s Way also dealt with a damaged military veteran.  I offered it free for a few days and the response overwhelmed me.  I will donate one dollar for each download to a very worthy project for soldiers who suffer from PTSD, the Broken Soldier Ranch Project.  Readers downloaded it from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and other countries, enough to put it on the Amazon best seller lists each day of the promotion.  Reader reviews poured in as well and I’m humbled because apparently I did capture some of the emotions I hoped to portray.  I hope to figure out some type of way to give some of the proceeds from Devlin’s Grace to the Broken Soldiers Ranch Project again and also to Operation Paperback, another great organization who provides reading materials to military families and also to soldiers suffering PTSD in a Texas veteran’s hospital.

            Look for Devlin’s Grace beginning Tuesday April 8 from Evernight Publishing and as you wait, here’s a taste of the story….

           

Excerpt:

With a defiant glint in his eyes, he removed his t-shirt. “If you want to see the scars, you can see them all,” Dev said, voice harsh and hoarse. 

He revealed a torso dappled with terrible raised welts, both back and belly.  These scars were worse than the others.  Raised red ropes twined like vines over his flesh, fused and almost melted. 

The agony Dev must have endured was beyond anything she could imagine. Gracie’s eyes brimmed with tears.  They spilled over, down her cheeks with silent hurt.  One glance at his face, set hard and as stoic as a statue, intensified her empathy.  She laid her right hand on his back, his scarred flesh beneath her touch and with her left she touched the center of his chest.

Beneath her hand his heartbeat thumped, rapid but steady.  His eyes locked with hers and in them Gracie glimpsed flickers of his personal hell.   Confusion showed up, too, along with regret and maybe shame.

Whatever she did or said now would be pivotal, she sensed.  Based on her actions he’d either leave and be gone from her forever, something she didn’t want, or a new beginning would emerge, delicate and fragile.  If she took time to think, she’d be lost, so Gracie mined deep into her woman’s soul.  When words came, she spoke them, her voice soft and yet as constant as the evening stars.  “Oh, Dev, it must’ve hurt so much.”

“I don’t want your pity,” he said, a snarl transforming his face into something wolfish, alien.  “Don’t feel sorry for me, babe.  I don’t need charity, and I sure as hell don’t need you to tell me some dumb ass, feel-good bunch of shit.  So quit crying over me.  Maybe it makes you feel better, but it makes me mad.”

“It isn’t pity,” Gracie said. “I admire you.  It takes a lot of courage to overcome hurts like this.  I hurt for you, but I don’t feel sorry for you.  I hate you had to go through such pain, but I’m crying because I care.”

 His hard face softened a little. “Why?”

In this raw moment, she could give him nothing but honesty. “I don’t know, but I do.”

Then Gracie leaned forward and bent just enough to touch her lips to one of the ugliest lesions, the worst of the scars.  He shuddered as she kissed his chest and when she lifted her tear-streaked face, Devlin grasped her arms.  He held her in place and kissed her back, full on the mouth, without remorse or mercy.  

Gracie gasped with surprise.  His lips burned hers as if she kissed a devil fresh from the pit, but she liked it.  Her body answered his call, and her arms moved to circle his neck as she gave him back the kiss.

No man had ever kissed her with such thorough savagery or such hungry need.  Shy by nature, Gracie dated young men with quiet demeanors, who were bookish and bashful.  None dared to take her mouth and claim it with potent fire.  Her body charged with wild electricity.  Gracie’s response scared her, but not enough to move away from the flame. 

Dev ran his big hands through her hair, gentle and yet insistent, his mouth hooked tight to hers like a bass caught with a spinner and skirt.  At first his motions were a little clumsy, but as he continued, Gracie could tell he knew exactly what he was doing.  Even with her limited experience she knew he kissed well.  Like a child told dessert was out of the question, she craved more regardless of the consequences.  She leaned hard against him, her hips moving against his body in a dance older than time.

Without warning, he pulled away, panting, and stared at her with wide eyes.  Dev outlined her bottom lip with his upturned thumb and shook his head. “I’ll be damned.”

Head cocked, she queried him. “Why?”

“You didn’t run and you liked it.”

 

Here’s where you can find out more about me:

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And here’s where you can learn more about the Broken Soldiers Ranch Project and Operation Paperback:




Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FREE Ebook download - and why I care about PTSD


            The summer before my grandmother died at the age of ninety-four, I returned to my hometown to visit her and other relatives, to touch the past and remind myself how it created a foundation for the future.  As we talked about my grandfather, she seemed glad I remembered him with loving fondness, even though she divorced him after a series of events that left her needing more.  “You got the best of him,” she said. “I’ve often thought so.”

          Perhaps I did.  Most of the time, I saw him at his best, the good times when he was smiling.  He loved me.  I remember the way he would grin down at me when he took me around the neighborhood where they lived, making stops at the dry cleaners below their apartment where he worked as a presser, the drug store on the corner, the bus barns, the grocery store and say, “I’ve got the kid today.” He meant it to sound like he was complaining but no one bought it.  His smile gave the truth away.  He taught me to pitch horse shoes and he was the best I’ve ever seen.  He made a ringer almost every time through sheer skill.  Sometimes he rolled up his shirt sleeves and filled my grandmother’s deep double sink in the kitchen full of water so we could play “boats” with several plastic toys he’d found somewhere.

          On Christmas, he and my other grandfather took turns helping me open gifts and using their pocket knives to cut the tight ribbons everyone seemed to wrap around each present.  He possessed a fine, dry wit and he used it with skill.  He loved to joke and he knew everyone or so it seemed to me.

          But he had served in the US Army, in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  He was on an island called Leyte in the Philippine Islands.  Unlike many of the soldiers who served in that war, he wasn’t a kid – he was in his early thirties and enlisted by choice.  The younger soldiers nicknamed him “Pop” and he did his damnest to look out for them.  In a strange coincidence, I called my other grandfather by the same nickname.  He saw plenty of action and for the remainder of his life, shrapnel would work its way out of deep in his body without warning.  It could be painful but he endured it.  When he talked about the war, like a lot of men who lived through hell, he said little but what he did, painted a terrible and vivid picture.

          He and my grandmother wrote to each other during the war.  She was a young widow and they never met until he came home.  In what always seemed like a very romantic story, an event that almost insured they would wed, when he got back, he arrived at her house in the middle of the night.  Rather than wake her up, he slept on the porch and she found him there when she came outside to bring in the milk.

          But he knew a darkness no one could touch.  Most of the time, he remained sober but sometimes, when the terrible memories bombarded him or something triggered what we now call PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), he drank hard.  When he was drunk, he changed and became almost another person.  The genial man I loved so much would become a ravaged monster or so it seemed to an impressionable child.  Then, he would talk about some of the things that happened in the Philippines or relive them.  He also suffered from nightmares and once woke my grandmother with his hands around her throat shouting, “Die, you Jap, die.”  He stopped when he awakened and was heartsick about it.  She forgave him but she didn’t forget.

          He tried to curb his drinking problem, one he hadn’t possessed before the war.  Once, he checked into the veterans’ hospital at Wadsworth, Kansas, a huge, sprawling place dating back to the 1880’s.  We visited him there and one memory stands out in my mind, stark and tragic.

          We walked along a long corridor with many windows.  Sunlight danced on the tiles ahead of me.  Men lined those hallways, many of them in wheelchairs, missing limbs or other parts.  Before we advanced, he told our family not to engage any of them in conversation and to not pick up anything the men might drop.  As the bitter veterans cat-called our group, one tossed down a package of cigarettes. Forewarned, we walked around it.

          As a little girl, dressed in a frilly dress, skipping along, I had always been loved by the elders.  My grandparents adored me; so did the huge cast of our extended family.  But on that day, some of the men made remarks about and to me.  I never forgot.  On that day, my grandfather was not like them but Lord help us, he could be. 

          I seldom saw him at his worst. The adults shielded me from that and I’m sure he was glad that they did.  I was still very young when my grandmother went into the hospital for what should have been a routine operation.  The surgeon botched it and she almost died.  Her condition became critical and they didn’t offer much hope.  During the same time, my great-grandmother, her mother, suffered a fatal stroke after some relatives told them how ill my grandmother had become.

          Unable to deal with the possible loss of his wife, my grandfather went home and got very drunk.  And he didn’t return to the hospital for a few days, not until he sobered up but for my grandmother, it was the final straw.  She decided life was too short to live the way they had for so long and chose to divorce.  Caught in the middle hurt me – I loved them both. 

          PTSD wasn’t even a diagnosis at the time.  I’ve often thought if it had been better understood and my grandfather could have received the kind of help and helping he needed, things might have been different.  When my grandmother asked my mom to let him stay with us for awhile, she refused. I wish she had.  And now you know why I care about PTSD and why I sometimes write about it.

          By the time he died in 1974, my grandmother had remarried to a man I never could consider a grandpa in my heart.  My grandfather is buried with a veteran’s marker in a cemetery in the small town of Fillmore, Missouri.  He was born and raised near there.  He lies among a lot of other family members in that fat farmland, rich country where corn, soybeans, and other crops grow fine. 

          So PTSD shadowed my life.  I could list other family members and friends who also were affected by it but won’t because I’ve rambled on long enough.  I have written about many things, personal and often private, but this is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve written in a long time.

          And it’s meant as an introduction as to why some of my characters suffer from PTSD.  Right now, my story Will’s Way is available to download free on Amazon.com.  It will be through April 4.  For each download, I am donating one dollar to a very worthy project called Broken Soldiers Ranch Project.  It’s a place where veterans with PTSD can go to heal and to be understood but not judged. Look it up. 

          Next Tuesday, my novel Devlin’s Grace will be out from Evernight Publishing.  You may or may not have read an earlier publication of a first version from another publisher but this is enhanced, well-edited, and a poignant love story.  The hero, Devlin, also suffers from PTSD.

          Here are the links for the free download of Will’s Way:

           When Marine Will Nichols returned from Afghanistan with some serious scars, he retreated from almost everything and everyone.  His late night radio talk show is the one place no one can judge him by his appearance but he lives lonely.  One of his regular callers, however, Samantha Callahan, manages to catch both his fancy and affection.  No matter how he feels, though, he refuses to meet her because he fears she’ll reject him.   But stubborn Samantha doesn’t give up easily and cares enough to take a chance because where there’s Will, there’s a way.

 


And here is the blurb for the upcoming Devlin’s Grace as well:

 

When Iraq war veteran Devlin rides his motorcycle into Gracie’s life, he’s everything she’s not, wild, wicked, and more than a little crazy.  Opposites attract because good girl, college student Gracie wants more of this bad boy.  She invades his personal space, takes liberties no other woman has dared, and although he struggles with PTSD, she sticks by her man.  He teaches her to live a little more and she helps him battle his demons.  If there’s any chance the shattered combat veteran can find his way back, Devlin’s Grace can help him find it.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel, out April 8th, where ever eBooks are bought and sold:

. “If you want to see the scars, you can see them all,” Dev said, voice harsh and hoarse. 

He revealed a torso dappled with terrible raised welts, both back and belly.  These scars were worse than the others.  Raised red ropes twined like vines over his flesh, fused and almost melted.  The agony Dev endured was beyond anything she could imagine and Gracie’s eyes brimmed with tears.  They spilled over, down her cheeks with silent hurt.  One glance at his face, set hard and as stoic as a statue intensified her empathy.  She laid her right hand on his back, his scarred flesh beneath her touch and with her left she touched the center of his chest.

Beneath her hand his heartbeat thumped, rapid but steady.  His eyes locked with hers and in them Gracie glimpsed flickers of his personal hell.   Confusion showed up, too, along with regret and maybe shame.

                Whatever she did or said now would be pivotal, she sensed.  Based on her actions he’d either leave and be gone from her forever, something she didn’t want, or a new beginning would emerge, delicate and fragile.  If she took time to think, she’d be lost so Gracie mined deep into her woman’s soul.  When words came, she spoke them, her voice soft and yet as constant as the evening stars.  “Oh, Dev, it must’ve hurt so much.”

                “I don’t want your pity,” he said, a snarl transforming his face into something wolfish, alien.  “Don’t feel sorry for me, babe.  I don’t need charity and I sure as hell don’t need you to tell me some dumb ass feel good bunch of shit.  So quit crying over me.  Maybe it makes you feel better, but it makes me mad.”

                “It isn’t pity,” Gracie told him. “I admire you.  It takes a lot of courage to overcome hurts like this.  I hurt for you, but I don’t feel sorry for you.  I hate you had to go through such pain, but I’m crying because I care.”

                 His hard face softened a little. “Why?”

                In this raw moment, she could give him nothing but honesty. “I don’t know, but I do.”

                Then Gracie leaned forward and bent just enough to touch her lips to one of the ugliest lesions, the worst of the scars.  He shuddered as she kissed his chest and when she lifted her tear streaked face, Devlin grasped her arms.  He held her in place and kissed her back, full on the mouth, without remorse or mercy.   Gracie gasped with surprise.  His lips burned hers as if she kissed a devil fresh from the pit, but she liked it.  Her body answered his call and her arms moved to circle his neck as she gave him back the kiss.

 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Introducing Quinn Sullivan and Quinn's Deirdre....all part of the Kiss Me I'm Irish blog hop with giveaways and a a grand prize!!


 
 
 
Cead mile failte! A hundred thousand welcomes to my humble blog and my stop on the Kiss Me – I’m Irish Pot O’Books blog hop!  I’m wearing green today (of course) and cooking up Irish food galore with recipes handed down over the generations.  I’m also celebrating the release of my latest contemporary romance today from Evernight Publishing, Quinn’s Deirdre!   It’s available in all the usual places, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand, and at Evernight Publishing. The novel just happens to have a sexy Irishman as the hero, Quinn Sullivan, owner of an Irish style pub, County Tyrone, in Kansas City.  I’m giving away an Ebook copy….plus don’t go away…there are many other prices.  Be sure to leave a comment here for both my prize and the grand prize.  Visit all the blogs and stops for more chances to win!

Here’s the cover and blurb for my book then all the necessary details for the grand prize.  A list of all the participating blogs will follow and then at the last, check out an excerpt from Quinn’s Deirdre.  You can also watch the book trailer here:

 


Three years ago, television reporter Deirdre King witnessed an organized crime hit and testified against the perpetrator.  When he threatened her and the love of her life, Quinn Sullivan, she accepted the WITSEC offer for protection and allowed them to fake her death.  Now she’s cast aside her new persona and come back to Quinn.  Her resurrection is a surprise, to say the least, but once he realizes she’s alive, the lovers reunite.  Deirdre slips back into the life at Quinn’s Kansas City pub, County Tyrone, and works alongside him and his uncle Desmond.  Quinn’s sister and family arrive from Ireland to celebrate a holiday but when the threat hits close to home, they leave.  It’s up to Deirdre, Quinn, and Desmond to face the danger – and survive.

KISS ME - I'M IRISH POT O'BOOKS GRAND PRIZE

1 Grand Prize winner and 3 runners up

Winners will be chosen by Random.org at midnight, Pacific Time, March 17, 2014

To enter, Hob around the blogs and leave a comment at each blog you enter.  Also, leave an email address so we contact the winner.  The more blogs you visit and comment on, the more chances you have to win. 

 


 

Here are the links to visit all the stops on the hop – May the luck of the Irish be with you!

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Excerpt: 

  “Won’t ye come down? Uncle Des and I are going to sing a bit, later, but we can eat first if ye like.. It’ll be good craic.”

His expression became so wistful it touched a deep chord within. “I will.  I’ve missed the music almost as much as the food.”

“Good.  Are ye comin’ down now?”

Deirdre glanced down at her outfit. “I think I’d better change first.”

“Ye’re fine the way ye are.” Quinn’s gaze raked down her with such obvious approval she swore she felt the heat. “But if ye want to wear something else, ye can.”

She smiled at him. “I’m sure I can find something better than this outfit. I didn’t bring many clothes, though.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t like most of the things I had.  They were as drab and boring as a nun’s habit,” Deirdre said.  It sounded lame, but he’d understand it more after they talked. “I’m glad I had some clothes left here, but sometime, I’ll have to do a little shopping.”

“If ye’re goin’ to the mall, then I’ll go along,” he said with a growl, a fierce frown marring his darling face. “I won’t risk losing ye a second time.”

A volatile stew of emotions simmered within.  Her wild, strong love served as the base, but the ingredients included guilt, self-blame, resentment at his apparent lack of trust, and anxiety.  Once again, she’d tilted her world on its axis and had to scramble to gain her footing.  Coming back was easier than leaving, but it required more care than she’d expected.  “You can go with me anywhere and everywhere for the rest of our lives,” Deirdre said and meant it. “I’d like to dress up a little, though and fix my make-up.  Do you want to wait while I do?”

Quinn sighed. “Aye, I’d like to, but I can’t.  Woman, you’re an aggravation, but I love ye.  Don’t take half the night gettin’ ready, please.”

“I won’t.” Deirdre rested her hands on his shoulders and lifted her face toward his.  He took the hint and kissed her. The moment his mouth touched hers, she knew it wasn’t the kind of sweet, tender kiss he’d shared since her return.  His lips burned with heat as he shared a blazing passion.  Combined with wild desperation and overwhelming love, the kiss proved more potent than Jameson’s best and caught her in thrall as if Quinn possessed supernatural gifts.  His mouth devoured hers, seeking and taking with the frenzy of a starving man.  Deidre answered him back, lips locked with his, game for whatever he sought.

She inhaled his heady man scent, so familiar and long denied.  Quinn smelled of the same soap he’d always used, a hint of the men’s cologne he favored, and of the pub.  A rich, delicious hint of alcohol lingered about him combined with cooking aromas from Des’ kitchen and added another layer to the pleasant smell.  Deirdre recalled it well, and it kindled her desires into open flame.  She raked her fingers through his thick, dark curly hair and clung tight to him.

His hot mouth strayed from her lips to deliver kisses and nibbles on both sides of her throat.  Quinn paused at the base to drop a tender, sweet kiss then moved lower.  He thrust his hands beneath her sweatshirt and undid her bra with finesse, a particular talent he hadn’t lost.  Quinn fondled her breasts with his hands, his thumb tweaking the nipples until they awakened into taut, hard pink blossoms.  “Ah, yer roses are bloomin’, love,” he whispered, his breath ticklish against her skin.  He kissed each nipple, which sent erotic shivers through her body.  The pure pleasure became almost too much to stand, and she whimpered aloud.

 In response, Quinn took each, one at a time, into his mouth and suckled with slow tenderness.  Deirdre arched her back as every nerve ending in her body went on high alert.  She twined her fingers tighter in his hair until he undid her jeans.  “I think ‘tis time to hit the sack, mo ghra, mo chroide.”

She agreed and they managed to shuck their remaining clothing.  With hands fondling, fingers caressing, mouths connecting, they made their way to his bed and collapsed on it, face to face.  Quinn traced the edge of her face, then used his finger to trail down her body to her feet.  He tickled the bottoms and made his way upward as Deirdre sprawled back with legs spread wide in invitation.

Dear god, his hands are as hot as a demon’s straight from hell.  She gloried in the way his feverish fingers stroked her with appreciation and reverence.  “Ye’re so lovely,” he whispered. “God, I’d forgotten how much, though I dreamed of this near every night.”

Friday, February 28, 2014

Stranger Danger - Meet Santiago Ruiz - he's on the run, he may be dangerous....and he loves Sara.







Sara English built a life for herself far from her native Los Angeles.  As a widow and proprietor of a florist shop in small town America, she lives a mundane life but she’s never forgotten her first love, Santiago Ruiz or the way he hurt her.  When he shows up at her door early one morning, he’s a stranger but the old attraction hasn’t died.  Last she knew, he was a cop but now he’s sporting a gang tattoo on his back and he’s on the run.  When she freaks out, Santiago swears he’s been in deep cover as Javier Morales for two years but his cover was blown and he’s in danger.  As their reunion heats up, the drama reaches a new level when her apartment windows are shattered in a burst of gunfire.  They go on the run, first to an isolated mobile home, then to a casino, and then to Tulsa, Oklahoma where a showdown with the gang’s leader is inevitable.  Unless Santiago can find a way to change things, he’s a dead man.  Sara’s committed to the long haul and hopes for a happy ending – if they can live long enough to find one.

                       
Sara English has come a long way in more than miles from her hometown of Los Angeles to the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas but she’s made a new life for herself, no matter how mundane.  But when her first love, the man who has still holds her heart, despite her marriage and loss of her husband, no matter how many years have passed….from Stranger Danger, here are the intro and the first chapter.  Buy links follow for those who want…the rest of the story!



First things first…..



Mottled clouds marred an early morning summer sky, one as blue as worn denim.  The drab brown façade of the apartment building, one of six units, loomed and seemed somehow ominous.  He counted the windows and came up with unlucky thirteen.  Was it an omen? He wondered and then rejected the notion. Santiago didn’t need a sign to remind him he’d run out of luck.  If his situation wasn’t dire, he wouldn’t be here or consider contacting her, but he had nowhere else to go.  He hated to involve her and wasn’t even sure she’d help.  Hell, he doubted she’d recognize him after fifteen years.  His immediate goal, however, was to keep breathing, and if he didn’t find a hiding place soon, his chances of staying alive would be zero.
When he came out of the trees behind the apartment complex and followed the sidewalk past the other buildings, he did his best to amble along as if he were just a guy going about his daily routine.  As far as he could tell, no one saw him as he ducked inside Building 2.  After a momentary pause and quick prayer to any deity who might be tuned in to listen, he hurried up the stairs and rapped on the first door on the second floor with more force than he intended.
Somewhere he heard the unmistakable sound of vintage country music, a baby bawling, a pair of voices rose in strife, and the dull drone of a news broadcast.  His heart thudded with heavy duty bass thumps.  If she didn’t hurry, he might be seen, then he couldn’t stay.
¡Ándale,” he whispered. “Hurry up!”
He steeled himself to smile as he waited, fidgeting, knees trembling, for her to open the door.
Chapter One

Feeling as washed out as her favorite faded blue jeans, Sara English poured a third cup of coffee. This was something she seldom did but today she needed the caffeine high to face another Monday.  Sometimes she wondered why she bothered to crawl out of bed and stumble through another mundane day.  It’d be easier to curl up and sleep.  Then she wouldn’t have to worry or think or go to her florist shop, Posies and Pretties.  Although she loved her place, business had never been what she’d expected and these days, she struggled to pay the overhead, let alone make a profit.  Maybe I’ll cheer up at the shop.  Despite everything else that had gone awry in her life, she loved bright blossoms and flowers.  Her stock included other beautiful items, collectibles, a bit of jewelry, and fine glassware.
She rejected a toasted English muffin for breakfast and reached for two Oreo cookies instead.  Sara took them apart and licked the white frosting between the chocolate halves the way she’d done as a kid.  Then she drank another cup of coffee and headed down the short hallway to brush her teeth. 
After pulling her hair back into a tight ponytail, she put on minimal make-upa touch of blush, and lipstick.  With a sigh, she picked up her purse and the folder with store accounts she’d brought home from the table and started toward the door.
Someone knocked on it with force.  Pounded, she thought, would be a better description.  “Hold on a minute,” she called.  The teenagers who lived three doors down sometimes bummed a ride from her in the morning.  No one else ever showed up this early, so she grabbed her keys and opened the door.  “What’s the rush?”
Her voice trailed into silence.  A man stood in the hallway instead of Shiloh and Shasta.  He was a stranger, no one she knew, with grungy clothes, long hair stringing across his shoulders, and a two or three day growth of stubble.  Sara blocked the half open door and put her things on the table beside it.
“I don’t know what you want or what you’re selling,” she said in a firm tone. “But I’m not interested.”
“Wait!” He lifted one hand and caught the edge of the door.  His body odor, sour and sweaty, filled her nose and she frowned.  Some homeless guy begging for a handout first thing in the morning was way too much to bear, but she wasn’t daunted or afraid.  Growing up in East LA had made her tough. “Beat it, hombre,” she said. “You’re not welcome here.”
The man lifted his face, and his eyes met hers, blacker than sin and darker than night.  Sara stared back, moved despite herself.  An odd sense of familiarity prickled, although she’d swear she’d never seen this man before.  He sighed and spoke. “La muñequita, por favor.”
She recognized his voice, would’ve known it blindfolded.  Stunned, Sara stared. She peeled away the layers of facial hair, erased the grime, and factored in the years.  She recognized him now and wondered why she hadn’t on first sight.  Once, he’d been as close to her as anyone.  Once, she’d known him better than her own soul, and now she spoke his name without thought. “Santiago!”
He answered in the Spanish of his youth, a tongue she knew too although she wasn’t Hispanic. “Si, la muñequita.”
Little doll.  No one but Santiago Ruiz had ever used the nickname. He belonged, however, to the old life, to East LA, to California, not her new life in Bentonville.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.
A door creaked open down the corridor and a burst of laughter echoed.  Before Sara could react, Santiago pushed through the half-open door, shut it, and locked it. He dropped a worn canvas backpack onto the floor.
Flabbergasted, she stared at him.  “What’re you doing?” she said, half angry. “You show up at my door looking like hell, stinking like some gnarly refuge from a homeless shelter and shove your way inside? What gives, Santiago?”
Until now, she hadn’t noticed the way he was panting or how agitated he seemed.  He pulled her against him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her, hard and deep.  His lips burned unholy fire against her mouth and against her will, every nerve ending in her body sang a rock and roll tune.  His tongue forced entry into her mouth and he French kissed her until she couldn’t breathe.  Heat erupted and spread all the way down to her toes.  A dizzy sweetness rushed her veins until his rank stench offended her nose so much she broke free.
“God, you smell.  What was that, anyway?”
“Adrenalin, mostly,” he said.  “I’m sorry, Sara.  I didn’t plan to kiss you.  It just happened.”
Her legs trembled, unsteady enough that she decided she should sit down.  Sara settled into an armchair with a sigh. “What’s going on? Why are you here? And what’s happened? Are you homeless or what?”
His eyes pierced her composure with the keen stare she remembered well. “I’m not homeless although I probably look and smell the part.  I’m in danger, Sara. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t serious, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t know anyone I can trust in Bentonville except you.”
Santiago’s presence rattled her ever fragile composure, and his story didn’t make any sense. “Okay,” she said after a few moments of thought. “I get that you’re in trouble, but I don’t understand. Why are you in danger?”
Without blinking, he said, “I can’t tell you that, la muñequita.  Or I shouldn’t.  It would just put you in danger, too.”
She’d forgotten many things, how sexy she’d always found him, how beautiful his eyes were, and how much he could infuriate her.  “You’re about to piss me off,” she told him. “C’mon, share or I’ll kick you out. Tell me what’s going on. Are you running from the law?”
He laughed without mirth, a dry, hollow sound. “No, not exactly.”
Something stirred in her memory. “Last I remember, you worked for LAPD, so you’re a cop.  You’re a long way out of your jurisdiction, Santiago.”
“Sara, please.  Don’t ask me things I can’t answer.”
She blew air from her nose to vent frustration. “What do you want from me?”
“I need to hole up for a few days.  I’d like a shower and some sleep.  I haven’t slept in days, and I’m dead on my feet.”
No wonder he looked haggard, she thought.  Under the dark bristles of his unshaven face, Santiago was pale, his features drawn.  Despite her irritation with his unexpected appearance and his reticence, Sara realized she still cared.  Blindsided by emotion, she stood and faced him.  “Do you feel all right?” she asked, her hand creeping up to touch his cheek. “You look terrible.”
Estoy muy consado,” he replied. “No mi siento bien. I’m not sick, though. Can I stay or are you kicking me out?”
Sara followed his bilingual answer and sighed. “Go take a shower, Santiago. Do you have any clean clothes so you can change?”
“In my backpack,” he said. A faint smile flickered across his lips, then vanished as rapidly as it came. “Gracias, la muñequita.”
De nada.” 
They stared at each other, wordless, for a few moments. What am I doing?  I must be certifiably crazy. More important, what has he done? What in the hell have I gotten myself into?  Sara had more questions than answers, but if Santiago said he was in danger, then he was.  She’d help for now and see what else came later.
As if he could read her mind, he said, “I appreciate this, Sarita, more than I can say.”
No one had called her anything but Sara in years.  Sara, she reflected, was sensible and responsible.  Sara English, widow, florist, and designer had carved out a place in the small Arkansas town and fit into the local landscape fairly well.  But Sarita, once Sara Straughn, lurked under the skin and retained a little wildness.  She could be unpredictable and impulsive.  Which one am I? Solid, dependable Sara or Sarita or neither one? I don’t begin to know anymore.
 “Are you hungry? I can fix you something before I leave.  I run a little shop.”
“I know - Posies and Pretties, just off the Bentonville Square. And, you own it, don’t you?”
He’d managed to surprise her. “Yes.  How do you know?”
In a very quiet voice, the kind she remembered could hold menace or emotion, Santiago said, “I’ve been here for six months.”
His answer settled into her brain. “Six months?” she said, the level of her voice just below a shout. “Are you telling me you’ve been in town for six months, half a year, and you don’t come by to say ‘hi’ until you’re in trouble? What the fuck?”
Santiago met her angry stare without blinking. “If I’d come before, you’d be in danger too.  Besides, I’ve been….”
“Busy?” she said in a mocking tone. “Tied up?”
“Undercover.” He dropped the single word between them, as weighted and heavy as a pebble dropped into a pond. “I shouldn’t tell you, but I’ve been in deep cover.”
Sara scrutinized his face, glared into his eyes, and decided he told the truth.  Some of her anger faded, but she remained irritated enough to ask, “How’d you know I lived here?”
“I didn’t when I came.” He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “I saw you one day, downtown.  Until then, I had no idea, although I remembered you came back here, to the University of Arkansas and got married, but I didn’t know where you settled down.”
When he swayed on his feet, unsteady, she grabbed his elbow. “Sit down before you fall down on the floor.  Last I heard you were still with LAPD.  What happened with that?”
“I still am, sort of, not exactly.  It’s a long story.” He collapsed onto the corner of the couch on the apparent verge of passing out. 
“You can tell me later.  Let me fix you something to eat, a sandwich or something.”  She’d always had trouble denying the urge to nurture anyone and anything in her path.
Gracias,” he said. “Later, maybe.  Right now I need to wash and sleep.”
He startled when her bird clock sang the hour in a series of chirps and trills.  Eight o’clock.  She should be at the shop, turning around the ‘open’ sign in the window and getting ready for her first customer.  “Do you want me to stay?” she asked.  Catie would be parked behind the shop, wondering where she was.
His brief grin appeared, then vanished. “If I did, it wouldn’t matter, but you can’t,” he said. “You need to make everything routine, business as usual so if anyone’s made the connection between us, nothing’s out of the ordinary.”
For the first time since his arrival, fear twisted a knot within. “How bad is it?” she asked.
“It’s worse than you could imagine, la muñequita. If you trust me, you’ll go and be the same as any other day.”
Did she trust him? Sara pondered it and realized she did.  Fifteen years made no difference, despite his odd arrival.  “I do, so I’ll try.  I’ll come home early, though—”
“Don’t.”
A frown tightened his mouth and put a line down his forehead.  His eyes darkened so she nodded. “Okay, I won’t.  I’ll get here around five thirty or six.  I’ll probably stop at the market to get some groceries.  But you’ll be here?”
“Si. Adios, amiga.”
“Adios, hombre.”
It was their old parting words, dredged up from deep within.  He evoked a past she’d buried, dug up ancient history, and when she answered with the familiar response, Sara realized she’d just told him how very much she still cared.
Somehow, though, she thought he already knew or he wouldn’t have come, no matter how great his need or terrible the danger.


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