Tag Archives: Czech Republic

Pit Stop…

30 Jan

Another release from Author of the Week Ben Larken.

Pit-Stop by Ben Larken

The last stop on the road to Hell…

Highway patrolman Scott Alders sits in a roadside diner along a desolate stretch of Arizona highway. He doesn’t remember how he arrived. Neither do the other patrons, although their waitress tells them a bus is coming. It will take them the rest of the way to a destination of unspeakable horrors. The group of strangers unite with a common goal—escape. Each of them feels the weight of their own dark secrets. But personal demons are no match for a crimson-eyed bus driver with a schedule to keep.

Larken’s first novel is still one of his most terrifying. Winner of the Epic Award for Best Horror, Pit-Stop now comes with a mini-sequel that spurs the story in a whole new direction. So sit back, have a cup of joe, and soak in the calming, deadly atmosphere of the Pit-Stop Grill—the last attraction on Route 66 you’ll ever want to visit.

“Pit Stop is a non-stop thrill ride. Right up there with King, Barker and Straub.”
               —John Parker, The Southern Horror Writers Association

“Good novels have a hook in the first few pages, but this premise of cheating the devil’s coachman is a fishing line with hooks all along to the last chapter.”
                                                                 —Compulsivereader.com

“I didn’t want to put the book down for fear of what might happen next.”
                                                               —Crystal’s Book Reviews

Excerpt:

“Can I refill your coffee?”

The question plucked Officer Scott Alders from his haphazard state of meditation, but only slightly. He had been gazing at the spoon next to his thumb, enjoying the gleam of sunlight off its silver. The glare created a crescent of light on his knuckle. He looked up from the spoon and saw a waitress uniform—a pea green dress with a crisp white apron. He scanned her front, pausing at her gnarled white fingers with fire engine red nail polish. He halted again at the throat of her dress, at the way the top button was undone, giving view of a corded neck that he associated with an elderly person. The face was a mental climax. The bony chin. The white little hairs on her upper lip. The lips themselves, also doused in that fire engine red. Her dully arched eyebrows, plucked around the edges. Gray hair with staggering streaks of white. And then the forced smile, revealing teeth the color of old paper.

In another place and time, he would have glanced at the woman in polite acknowledgment and turned away. But at the moment her face fascinated him. It was a landscape of unexplored and somewhat rugged valleys, ridges, and wrinkles. He smiled, noting the way his mustache bristled. He liked that feeling, too. So he smiled harder.

“Can I ask your name?” Scott said, sounding airy and silly and nothing like the man he knew himself to be. It sounded like a pick-up line—one he had used before, no less. Fifteen years ago that had been, the party after graduating the academy. Where he met Stephanie. Geez.

The waitress glanced down at her chest, her pupils lowering in the most intriguingly annoyed way. He followed her gaze and saw a nametag on her apron strap. HOLLY, the plastic tag proclaimed.

“Would you like a refill or not?” she asked, after he stared at the nametag for too long.

He perked up again and nodded, not comprehending the question. No—to anything—simply wasn’t in his vocabulary. Scott beamed as she lifted a coffee pot and poured black liquid into his cup. The smell, he thought, what a luscious smell. The trickling invigorated him even more than the spoon or Holly’s face. When it was over—all too soon, he felt—he looked up again, like a dog at its master. She smiled curtly and turned away.

“Holly?”

She slumped as she heard his voice, as if expecting this. When she glanced back, her eyes almost screamed, What, you idiot? Scott wasn’t offended by it. Offended wasn’t in the vocabulary today either.

“What, hun?”

He tried to remember his question, finding it hard amid the realization she had called him hun. But he sensed her growing impatience, so he struggled to reach his thought.

“How did I get here?”

She turned a little more, looking at him with weary eyes. She smacked her lips loudly.

“You wandered in, hun—just like the rest of them.”

“But I . . . I feel like I just woke from a dream.”

She snorted. “Yeah, that happens sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. Usually they stare at their coffee and never make a peep.” She looked at him pointedly. “I like those customers.”

“But—I . . .”

“Just keep staring at that spoon,” she said, already turning away. “Everything’ll feel better.” With that she continued down the row of booths, stopping three tables away to refill somebody else’s coffee. Scott watched her, his mind swirling with follow-up questions. Wandered in from where? How long have I been here? Why did your parents name you Holly? The questions dissipated as his gaze opened to the rest of the diner. It was a vaguely retro joint with cream-colored chrome-rimmed tabletops, checkered tile floors, and hanging Sputnik lamps. The place emitted a warm Norman Rockwell vibe with its basic streamlined architecture. A line of maroon leather booths adjoined a wall full of panoramic windows, while the center of the diner showcased a grand stainless steel bar flanked by metallic stools. He immersed himself in every detail, remembering a dozen classic movies where good guys sat in diners like this and sipped their cups of joe. The whole scene filled his heart with the best of Americana. How had he spent his whole life in places like this and not taken more notice?

Stephanie, no doubt, would say the same thing.

Scott scanned his table, with the standard formation of ketchup bottle, napkin dispenser, and salt and pepper shakers against the wall. He looked out the window next to him and saw a neon sign next to the highway. “The Pit-Stop Grill” blinked dully in the midday glare, its zigzag font designed to point directly at the diner. Beyond the sign was a brilliant reddish-white landscape. Arizona desert, the Painted Desert. Rugged hills gave way to sudden flatness, making everything look like a huge toasted tortilla. Only the gleaming gray of I-40 and the dark silhouettes of two old-fashioned gas pumps broke up the monotony. And cloud shadows. Scott couldn’t see the clouds, but their shadows slid across the desert floor like sharks beneath the surface of the water. Something about the view sent a chill into him, which he thought odd since it looked hot outside.

He turned and continued analyzing this fascinating-for-no-reason diner. There were other customers. Of course, there were. This was a great place to be. He scanned the faces, all as detailed and unique as his new best friend Holly. He counted eight, and they varied in just about every way. White, black, fat, thin, bald, hairy, male, female, young, and old—they all stared at their tables with the same pleasant dispositions.

According to Holly, they all wandered in. Scott smiled again. He was in the middle of something special. Here were all these strangers pulled into a group for this brief moment. Souls drawn together by the need to eat, the need to refuel, and whether they realized it or not, the need to feel other souls in their midst. How he wished Michael was here. Scott had never felt as wise and at one with himself as he did right now, and it seemed a shame not to pass it on to his son.

You can’t, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered. Michael’s not talking to you. And you’re not talking to him either.

Scott’s gaze reverted to the spoon with the magic sparkle. He didn’t like that voice’s tone. It was too critical, and it brought a moment of uncertainty to his serenity. At the same moment tires screeched outside, sounding very close. He turned to the window, but the highway was empty. There weren’t any cars or pickups or big rigs. He didn’t even see his police cruiser, which was unusual and caused him to frown. One thing a highway patrolman never forgot was where he parked his cruiser. You never knew when an emergency call would come in. But Scott had forgotten where he parked it. In fact, he wasn’t sure he remembered driving it here.

Maybe you didn’t, that same voice said, louder than last time. Maybe this isn’t the type of place you can drive to. That means you got here another way.

“I wandered,” he said aloud, though not loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Like Holly said. I wandered in like everyone else.”

Must’ve been a hot walk. As Scott’s gaze dropped from the window he noticed he was wearing his uniform and felt a surge of relief when he saw everything was there. His badge, his belt, his nightstick and his pistol were all where they were supposed to be. But not your radio, the voice pestered. You left it in the car apparently—the car you lost.

Scott grunted and shook his head, getting rid of that prissy little voice, getting rid of the uncertainty that came on the heels of everything it said. He probed the room for something to bring back that magic feeling again. It didn’t take long. Holly dumped another batch of ice into the soda dispenser and the crinkling sound washed over him like a symphony. He smiled, took a deep breath, and told himself he was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was beautiful, as Ray Stevens liked to sing.

Scott’s lazily drifting vision landed on something—eyes staring at him. His spine straightened. The eyes were cold and black and belonged to a young man sitting on a barstool. Or a young body, he thought. The eyes looked older. The man had dark hair, a pointy nose and striking eyes that refused to veer away. How come he doesn’t blink? Scott’s mind chuckled in response. Now that you mention it, Scott, how come you don’t blink? The young man’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing him harder.

Then he rose from his barstool and started toward Scott.

Fear tickled his gut as the young man approached. Maybe it was an after-effect of that critical inner voice, but something about this twenty-something seemed wrong. It wasn’t his clothes. They entranced Scott as much as everything else. The well-worn Adidas tennis shoes, blue jeans, a black T-shirt with the words Just do it laid out in white, and a red flannel button-up shirt with the arms ripped off. The young man frowned in a way that didn’t match the rest of the Pit-Stoppers’ satisfied smirks. Scott wondered if the young man was holding back a scream. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his blue jeans, and the pockets vibrated as if he had a couple cell phones in each one. Or his hands are shaking. That’s why he’s hiding them in his pockets, Scott reasoned. He can’t keep the tremble out of his hands.

The young man stopped when he reached the table’s edge. They studied each other, Scott looking at the young man in befuddled curiosity and the young man staring into his eyes, searching for something that didn’t seem to be there, which made the young man frown harder.

“You don’t remember, do you?” the young man asked, his voice scratchy and low, like someone coming out of a hangover.

Another tickle of fear ran through him, like fingers over piano keys. Scott swallowed, making his throat click, and knew without a doubt that he was about to have the most important conversation of his life.

“No,” Scott said, and the young man nodded, because that was the answer he had expected

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#PitExc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Pit-Stop-Special-Hollows-Ben-Larken-ebook/dp/B00FS04K3A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391109539&sr=8-1&keywords=pit+stop+ben+larken

 

 

Lucky Break….

15 Nov

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: Stephen DeBock.

Lucky Break by Stephen M. DeBock

His fraternity brothers had warned Brian not to surf alone, but the beach is empty, the Pacific is calm as a lake, and this overindulged son of privilege figures a couple hours’ dozing on his board won’t do any harm.

That is, until he wakes up enveloped in fog. Until he feels the sudden swirl of current beneath his board. Until he sees the triangular fin slicing the water, coming straight for him.

And as his guts turn to water, Brian realizes the last thing he’ll ever see will be a cavernous, jagged-toothed tunnel leading straight into hell.

Excerpt:

“The frat brothers were right,” Brian grumbled as he nosed his red ragtop into the deserted parking lot. “Calm as a lake, and not a wave in sight.” He hesitated a few seconds, contemplating the gray afternoon sky, the gray Pacific, the silence of the salt water as it whispered against the sand. “Oh well,” he said to himself, “won’t hurt to float around for awhile anyway.”

He reached across the console and unbuckled the seat belt that held his surfboard in place—the next time he buckled his own seat belt would be the first time—then opened his door and hopped out. Tucking the board under one arm, Brian walked across the sand, thinking that an afternoon on the ocean would be a reasonable consolation prize for his having phoned the airline too late to get a ticket home on this, the first day of spring break. That’s okay, he thought, the airport’ll be a zoo today anyway, what with every college kid in the area making tracks. One more day won’t make a difference.

Brian had never seen the beach so absolutely empty. He remembered his surfing buddies had warned him never to go into the ocean alone, but all his buddies were headed to their homes today, and besides, the waves were too small to threaten even a popsicle stick, much less a surfboard.

Brrr. It seems the Pacific Ocean never warms up, no matter the season. “Goose bumps on my goose bumps,” he complained, as he forced himself to wade deeper and finally to plunge into the gray-green sea. “At least the air’s warm,” he noted, as he attached the board’s leash to his leg and paddled well away from shore.

Calm couldn’t begin to describe the ocean today, Brian thought later as he lay on his stomach, arms and legs hanging over the sides of the board, his cheek resting against the slick fiberglass. For a few minutes he felt the sun on his back as it tried to burn its way through the clouds, and the warmth helped him drift into daydreams . . .

The dreams were of his palatial home in fashionable Chevy Chase, just outside the D.C. line; the prep school where he’d scraped by, thanks more or less to his father’s handsome endowment; his father’s being a power broker somewhere on K Street in D.C. Exactly what he did didn’t interest Brian in the least.

And of his mother, whose career consisted mostly of golf and tennis lessons, and who ran the most successful—what did she call them, soirees—for candidates for political office. She said once that it didn’t matter which party they belonged to, as long as they raised her own profile. Deep, Mom.

And mostly of his girlfriend, Kaytee (Kim Trang), whose immigrant parents ran a convenience store and spent every dime of profit on her tuition at the prep school where Brian had met her. “What’s the matter,” his father had asked once, “can’t you find a white girl?” Brian explained that she was Vietnamese, and Dad had just shaken his head and said, “Whatever.”

He found it hard to keep his eyes open. The sea was like a giant waterbed.

Brian never knew what had drawn Kaytee to him, but he knew what drew him to her: God, she was gorgeous. Deep brown almond eyes; a smile that could melt glaciers; long, really long black hair that framed her face like it was a painting by that artist, what was his name? Gauguin.

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/StephenDeBock.html#LuckyExc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Break-Stephen-M-DeBock-ebook/dp/B007Z5SXJ8/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384540040&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=lucky+break+stephen+debrock

Author of the week…

12 Nov

Congratulations to GSP Author of the Week: Stephen DeBock

Stephen M. DeBock, Author of Morgen

Stephen DeBock writes on just about any topic but for fun concentrates on sci-fi/fantasy adventure and supernatural fiction.

As a teenager, Steve would entertain (and frighten) the neighborhood children by retelling them stories from E.C. horror comics like The Crypt of Terror. As a middle school teacher, he continued the tradition by reading his students a horror story to initiate the school year. Now retired, he has time to write his own stories.

His first writing success came as a high school senior, when a 25-word essay won him an all-expenses-paid vacation in Alaska. Upon his return he entered the Marines and was chosen to serve in the President’s Honor Guard. Vignettes from that venue have appeared in American Heritage magazine and in various newspapers. 

Upon leaving the Corps, Steve worked days, went to college at night, and spent weekends earning a private pilot’s certificate. A flying narrative he wrote was published in AOPA Pilot Online. 

During his teaching career, Steve garnered an award by the State of New Jersey for his work in consumer education. He served briefly as a consultant for Consumers Union and contributed to essays in Time magazine, ABC’s World News Tonight, and CNBC.

Having founded and later sold a video rental business, Steve and his wife also sold their home and lived for three years aboard a 42-foot sea-going trawler yacht. An article describing one of their summer cruises was sold to Living Aboard magazine.

Steve has written newsletters for both private and non-profit organizations; a flash fiction story for the children’s magazine Spider; and the text for a coffee-table book on one of America’s most-collected living artists: The Art of H. Hargrove.

He and his wife Joy live in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The Cat Lottery….

23 Apr

Today on the GSP Wee Folk Pomo we welcome John Des Fosses.

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John Des Fosses is a sixty-five years old retiree, living in Williamsburg, VA, with wife of 43 years, Sandra Anne.

John was raised in Holyoke, Massachusetts with one brother and three sisters and two loving parents. He graduated from Holyoke High School, where in his senior year he earned an All American High School swimmer title.

John attended one semester at Springfield College, Springfield, MA. A financial crisis forced him to leave college. From 1966—1970 he served with the US Navy aboard a submarine, the USS Salmon, SS573, stationed in San Diego, CA. He attained a rank and rate of E-5 torpedoman.

John returned to college, after a two-year stint with a property management company in San Diego. He attended a local college for two years after which, Sandi and he left San Diego for Manhattan, Kansas and Kansas State University. He graduated in 1976 with a BS degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry.

After college he worked for GE Medical Systems, Marquette Electronics, Decision Data, and Econocom. In 1987 John started he own computer company and he is now semi–retired after 22 years in business.

His book that we are highlighting today is The Cat Lottery.

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Camille has exhausted the last of her nine lives. Under strict cat law, she must depart this earth for the eternal tenth life. Pioline and Poulet, her eight-week-old kittens, are left behind. Willed by Camille’s departed spirit, Boots, her aging brother, finds the kittens under the deck of John and Sandi’s house. They are wired with fear and spirits so lost they might never be found.

Boots, a life long stray, confesses he is ill suited for the caring of kittens. He must devise a plan to convince the humans to take the kittens into their home. A more daunting task is to convince the kittens they should become house cats. Sandi becomes an unwitting partner in his plan. John becomes an unwitting foil. Learn the laws that govern a cat’s life and how they deal with death, fear, joy, humor and love.

Excerpt:

Camille’s kittens were born in early October when leaves fell from the tall trees in the yard, weaving colorful patterns of red, gold, and orange. As they landed, the once-green grass of summer gave way to the hues of fall. The warm breeze turned cool, signaling to all the coming of December’s wintry nights. Camille wished her two kittens had been born during the spring, but this hadn’t happened.

Mother and litter lived beneath a wooden deck attached to a house at the end of a dead-end street. The owners of the house, John and Sandi, built the large deck so they could enjoy the only comfortable seasons in Virginia Beach: spring and fall.

The deck had a rectangular shape and was eighteen inches off the ground. A forty-two inch railing followed the edges. At each end were two sets of wooden steps each with three planks: one leading to another set of stairs and the back door of the house, the other to a covered stack of firewood some thirty feet away and parallel to a cedar fence. John had cut a hole in the deck so a twenty-foot tall maple tree wouldn’t have to be cut down. The tree provided ample shade for the potted plants scattered about the deck.

The ground beneath the deck was covered with years of accumulated leaves, some put there by John, some blown there by the wind. Although the leaves had a musty smell, they made a soft bed on the hard clay soil and offered protection from the winter winds. The leaves also provided a hiding place from humans, and from animals that walked through the yard. It was a safe place to live and play, and it was the only world the kittens had ever known.

From time to time, Camille would leave her kittens while she hunted, but she had come to realize she couldn’t run or stalk her prey the way she once had. She remembered the days when to catch a bird at a feeder was mere kitten’s play. And when mice were just as easy.

Because winter was nearly upon them and food supplies were scarce, Camille often felt her kittens were being punished for the poor timing of their births. She also knew she’d used up all of her nine cat lives and her time on earth was limited.

The kittens were too young to know their mother was preparing for a journey—a journey traveled only by those cats who had used up their nine lives. Camille knew she was about to travel alone to a place where her ninth life would end and her eternal tenth life would begin. It would be a place where there were fields of catnip and pools of honey milk. It would be a place where peace and harmony were joined together. A place unlike anywhere she’d visited as an outdoor cat on earth. She had to take great care to keep this trip a secret from her kittens. They must not know anything about it, she thought. Not knowing was important for their survival.

With all her courage and determination, Camille put off her journey as long as the rules that govern a cat’s life would allow. But on this afternoon when colored leaves fell from the trees, she knew her time had come.

She was thankful her kittens were nine weeks old and fully weaned from her milk and could eat solid food. There had been few occasions lately, however, when she could make solid food available to them. One of those occasions was the previous night; it would be their last meal together.

Just before dawn, while the kittens had slept soundly and safely beneath the deck, Camille had seen an opossum snatch a half-chewed turkey leg from a tipped-over garbage can. The can more than likely had been turned over by Boris in the night. Boris was a three-year-old Doberman Pinscher who hated every living thing. Camille worried about her kittens when Boris was around. He often passed through the yard. She knew that had he seen her kittens he’d have tried to snatch them up. But why would Boris miss this morsel of food? Camille figured he had found something more alive and challenging to chase and catch.

From under a red-berry holly bush, Camille watched the opossum climb head-first into the trashcan and back out with his prize. He gripped the brown, meaty turkey leg like a fat cigar in his narrow, pointy mouth and headed toward the back of the house. Camille followed close behind.

Waddling as fast as he could, the opossum found a safe spot near a pile of leaves and twigs by a cedar shed. He sat down and prepared to eat.

Camille crept up without his noticing her. Quietly, she filled her lungs to their fullest capacity and let go a howl that broke the night’s silence like a fire truck’s siren.

The startled opossum jumped two feet in the air, fell hard to the ground, and played dead. Camille wasted no time worrying about whether the opossum was actually dead. She bit deeply into the turkey leg and dragged it to her hungry kittens. She’d been sneaking up on and scaring opossums all of her life, and she really enjoyed doing it. They fell dead before her scream every time.

Her kittens ate heartily until their stomachs were full and little was left. The bone remained near the nest of leaves like a trophy won by a great hunter.

The next morning, Camille watched her kittens play as the sun began to rise. The boy kitten, Pioline, stalked his sister, Poulet, who tried to ignore him. Pioline had long, jet-black fur. Camille thought this was odd because there had never been longhaired cats in the family. Black fur looked very good on him, she decided. Poulet had jet-black fur, too, but it was short like Camille’s. The true family resemblance was in their golden eyes and ink-black pupils. They have my eyes, Camille thought, smiling. Their day together was quiet, peaceful and happy.

It was a half-hour before the sun dropped behind the weathered fence when Camille left her kittens. She did not utter a sound. The kittens watched with surprised eyes as she passed the perimeter of the deck and headed toward the shed. She had never before left to hunt at this time of day. The kittens thought something was wrong, but didn’t say anything.

Links: http://www.gypsyshadow.com/JohnDesFosses.html#CatLotExc

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Cat-Lottery-ebook/dp/B008R19PBY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366738359&sr=8-1&keywords=the+cat+lottery+john+de+fosses

Fortunes Told….

5 Feb

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The GSP Romance Promo welcomes Julie Stahl.

Julie Stahl writes fiction, creative nonfiction, children’s books and poetry—just about anything, really. She has held (with varying degrees of fear and loathing) numerous jobs over the years, including, but not limited to, research assistant, waitress, secretary, college instructor, pre-school teacher, tutor and bartender. Somewhere along the way she managed to acquire some formal training in French and Experimental Psychology. She has come to the conclusion that Life is one big experiment, a concoction of perceptions we gather up as we go, shaped by chance and choice; trial and error. She takes refuge in laughter whenever possible. 

Her book that we are highlighting today is Fortunes Told.

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Ava Brooks is wrestling with the realization that her love for Frank Mazzini—the first deep and potentially meaningful relationship she’s had since college some 19 years ago—is quickly turning into a trite monologue. Despondent at first, then bordering on desperate, Ava seeks to ratchet up her desirability quotient in Frank’s eyes, turning to any number of sources, including (but not limited to) a prescription for Viagra; self-help books she peruses on her breaks at the bookstore where she works; her hair dresser who happens to be Frank’s sister incognito; hypnosis; Lasik surgery; and last but not least, her best friend, Trudy, whose own personal life seems to be falling apart even as she attempts to help Ava spice up hers. Chapter by chapter and fortune by fortune, Ava begins to realize that love, like luck, comes in many disguises.

 

Excerpt:

 

  As I approach the table with my cue stick, I ask myself which shot will set me up for another, rather than which shot I can make. This is a new way of thinking for me, a big picture perspective. Since I met Frank Mazzini I seem to have adopted this attitude not only toward my pool game, but my life in general.
    I look over at Frank for reassurance, like I always do when I’m in a tight spot. He’s in a corner and seated, but even in the shadows his presence is gripping, his bold good looks irresistible. Though not a tall man, Frank is sturdy and vibrant, with broad shoulders, a strong Roman nose, and a wide, slightly furrowed forehead. He’s the swarthy, Italian type, and at almost fifty years old, he radiates a kind of confidence that one can only accumulate with age and experience, encompassing everything from sexuality to professional expertise.
    He nods slightly, almost imperceptibly in my direction, as if to say, “You know what to do,” though we both know I don’t. I don’t have an intuitive understanding of the game the way Frank does. I chalk my stick and decide to wing it, my dilemma being the placement of the nine ball, in the way of the five just enough to make a nice, clean shot impossible.
    Frank, a pharmacist by day, is the team coach tonight. As I point to the five ball then the pocket with my stick, I feel his light touch on my arm. Momentarily I’m distracted by a warm tingling sensation deep inside my navel.
    “You’ll want to put some right English on that,” he says softly, and walks away. I do and make the shot, then two more before I scratch, giving my opponent a ball in hand.
    “Bad luck, Ava,” Frank says sympathetically. In a matter of minutes the game is over. My opponent, a wizened, grizzly-looking fellow who managed to mention by way of introduction that he started playing pool on his 63rd birthday, easily sinks the eight ball. I drop onto a bar stool to watch the other members of my team play. I’ve only been playing league pool for about six weeks. A year ago I never would have pictured myself doing this.
    The first time Frank and I played pool together, about a month after we started dating, Frank said, “You’re a natural.” He winked at me as he said it, an endearing trait that has grown on me since then.
    I laughed; sure he was either being facetious or had confused me with the blonde bombshell in tight jeans and low-cut sweater at the table next to ours who had just sunk three balls in a row effortlessly. But Frank had thus far displayed no talent for sarcasm, and a quick glance in the mirror over the bar removed all but the merest likelihood of anyone mistaking Anna Nicole over there for me. He said it again the next time we played and while I didn’t necessarily believe him, I did believe he meant it. That’s one of the things I like best about Frank: he’s probably the most honest person I’ve ever met. This has its pitfalls, as you might expect. For instance, if I wear a dress that I think is the hottest thing on the rack and I’m feeling all sexy and glam when he comes to pick me up, then he casually remarks that the bust line is off-centered, or the fabric too clingy around my ass (thereby accentuating the whole side-of-a-barn impression I’m forever attempting to eliminate), the dress comes off and the next day is hanging back on the rack at the store. He means no harm and actually, he’s doing me a favor. I mean, who wants to be seen in public wearing some dress that doesn’t flatter you, or a pair of shoes that cause your legs to look like Elmer Fudd’s, or worse yet, Bugs Bunny’s?
    Tonight I think how Frank has taught me everything I know about pool; that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. I imagine myself winning a BCA championship, making a speech to a cheering and adoring audience as I accept the trophy. “I don’t deserve this, really. Frank is the one who knows how to play; I just do what I know he would tell me to.” They would applaud my modesty and look admiringly over at Frank, as I do, and think what a good fit we must be.
    By the time we get back to Frank’s place we’re both exhausted. I fall asleep instantly and awaken toward dawn from a bizarre dream where I keep phoning Frank but he doesn’t answer. I want to believe he’s deathly ill, or lying paralyzed in a hospital bed as a result of road rage―someone else’s, naturally―but the nagging thought that he simply doesn’t want to talk to me keeps rearing its ugly head. Meanwhile, I’m being pursued myself; well, stalked would be more accurate, by Donald Trump. The man keeps hounding me, telling me to forget about Frank, that he’s nobody and can never give me the kind of life I deserve. He’s relentless and finally I agree to go out with him. On our first date he proposes, presenting me with an enormous, dazzling diamond that I’m sure I’d be afraid to ever even wear for fear of damaging the tendons in my ring finger. Courageously, I slip it on and hold my hand out in front of me, admiring the grandeur of the thing. Trump, on bended knee, is waiting for my reply, gazing adoringly up at me and holding his breath. I should feel lucky, I tell myself, and I open my mouth to say okay, “Sure, I’ll marry you, Donny,” but no words come out and all I can think about is Frank. Finally, on the brink of passing out, my suitor gasps for air, and when he can manage to speak again, asks me, “Why, Ava? Why do you love this man so much?” 

 

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/JulieStahl.html#FortunesExc

 

http://www.amazon.com/Fortunes-Told-ebook/dp/B00440DP9K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1360079083&sr=1-1&keywords=Fortunes+Told

 

Lord Badger’s Adventures ….

9 Dec

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Today we welcome Gene Fehler on the GSP Christmas Promo.

Gene Fehler loves to write for kids of all ages. He also loves baseball, both playing it and writing about it. He still plays more than eighty baseball and softball games a year, and ten of his thirteen published books deal with baseball, the most recent being When Baseball Was Still King: Major League Players Remember the 1950s (McFarland, 2012), a collection of anecdotes gleaned from the interviews Gene did with more than one hundred former major league players. Gene’s poems have appeared in more than three hundred periodicals, anthologies, and textbooks. He’s also an avid book collector, with more than 6,000 titles in his personal library, about two-thirds of them sports books. Gene has two grown sons and three granddaughters. He lives with his wife Polly in Seneca, SC, where he loves to walk their two toy poodles. For more, visit his website.

WEBSITES: http://www.genefehler.com
                     http://www.baseballpoet.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/gene.fehler

His book we are highlighting today is Lord Badger’s Adventures
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Lord Badger is the wisest creature in the forest. He needs every bit of that wisdom to be able to solve the poem riddles that let him know his beloved nephews Melfryn and Bryndelf face a crisis, whether the crisis is in the form of a giant dragon that breathes green fire or in the form of someone who has stolen Santa’s magic dust and thus threatens the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve.

In these two delightful stories, “Lord Badger and the Gray Mice,” and “Lord Badger and the Magic Dust,” we see the wisdom and heroism of the ageless gentle badger.

Excerpt:

One: Lord Badger and the Gray Mice

Lord Badger smiled as he shut his front door. He walked to the window and watched Melfryn and Bryndelf Badger skip back toward their home in the woods. It had been quite a fun evening of games and music and storytelling.

Old Lord Badger lived by himself in a small cottage in a deep forest. At least three evenings a week, the children of many of his forest friends would stay with him. And he never accepted payment. “It keeps me young,” he told the parents. “I’m happy to do it.”

And happy he was. Those evenings were among his most wonderful and exciting times. Why, just this evening he’d been reading his paper while Melfryn and Bryndelf were in the kitchen, eating their dessert. A frantic shout from the kitchen brought him running. “Come quick, Lord Badger! We’ve had an accident!”

He’d bounced from his chair, letting the newspaper flutter to the floor behind him. Imagine his surprise to see Melfryn and Bryndelf sitting at the kitchen table, blood covering their faces. “We’re hurt! We’re hurt!” they called out.

What could have happened? He rushed to their side, praying they weren’t seriously injured.

Then they laughed and wiped their faces with their napkins. “It’s only strawberries,” Melfryn said. “We decided to dip our noses in it to see what it would look like.”

“Doesn’t it look real?” Bryndelf Badger asked. “Just as if we’re really bleeding.”

Lord Badger took a deep breath before he answered. He decided not to tell them he’d just aged another twenty years. “Quite real,” he said, and the stripes on his own face returned from a pale white to their normal shade of brown.

“Are you okay?” Melfryn Badger asked. “We’re sorry if we scared you. We didn’t mean for you to be worried.”

“Oh,” Lord Badger said, “I wasn’t worried. I was merely afraid for you. I was frightened that you had both suffered some terrible accident. I was terrified that two of my favorite nephews might be in pain and might be permanently disfigured. But worried? No, I wasn’t worried.”

Now, alone in the house, Lord Badger sat before his fireplace and smiled. They were good boys. They had apologized again and again for having played such a thoughtless practical joke.

Lord Badger had not fibbed to them. He had not been worried, merely terrified. Every time he started to worry, this poem automatically popped into his head:

Links:
http://www.gypsyshadow.com/GeneFehler.html#LordBadgerExc

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Badgers-Adventures-ebook/dp/B009WWEV2U/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1355069643&sr=1-1&keywords=lord+badger%27s+adventures

Brambles and Thorns….

8 Dec

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Today we once again we welcome Lisa Farrell on the GSP Christmas Promo.

Lisa Farrell has been writing for as long as she can remember. Much of what she writes is speculative fiction, but she tries other things from time to time. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.
          Lisa’s Blog: http://lisafarrell.blogspot.com/
         FACEBOOK:  http://www.facebook.com/lisafarrelluk
Her book that we are highlighting today is Brambles and Thorns.
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Moira’s mother is long gone and her father comes and goes, but she can look after herself. So when Riana appears, trying to get involved in her life, Moira resists. She doesn’t want a fairy godmother; she wants to make her own choices.

Adam doesn’t know who he is. He has grown up as the plaything of some very sinister fairies, and only the occasional kindness of the three sisters has kept him alive.

Moira and Adam must both get their destinies back on track, but Riana has been doing more than giving gifts and setting people up. And even the sisters cannot claim innocence.

Excerpt:

Moira cut across the field, her bike rattling beneath her. She went through a particularly large cow-pat and knew her jeans had been splattered. Anne’s mum would probably insist she change into a pair of Anne’s clean, expensive jeans. They would be too short and would show her ankles, which she’d not shaved since last week. That woman’s kindness always led to humiliation.

The sky was thick with clouds and a feather-light mist was rising, making everything dim and grey. By the time she came home she would need her lights, but the batteries were running low. Maybe she would leave them off and speed silently through the darkness, a creature of the night. Of course, if she ended up in the river, then it would be her fault.

She had not seen a soul since she had reached the river path, and usually it was busy. Maybe the cold was keeping people at home, or in their cars. Moira sniffed hard; the cold made her nose run. She didn’t want to slow down to dig a tissue from her pocket. It wasn’t much farther to the bridge, and the light—not that she was scared of the half-dark.

Someone was standing on the bridge, right in the middle, right in her way. Moira flicked at her bell a couple of times as she approached, but the figure just stood there, a dark form under the light. Moira was forced to stop, clenching her brakes, and found herself face to face with a woman who looked more than a little crazy. She had a huge hooded black shawl pulled around her, over a humpback. Her face and hair were white, shining out from the darkness under her hood. Her eyes doing the rabbit in headlights stare.

“Excuse me,” Moira said, dismounting.

The woman didn’t move so Moira pushed past her, and the woman let out a yelp of surprise. Moira fought the urge to apologise, or look back. She hopped back onto her bike and got away as fast as she could.

****

“Hey, Morra,” Anne’s mum said. “Come on in!”

If the jeans were noticed, they weren’t mentioned. Moira followed her into the house, gritting her teeth and politely refusing the many offers of food. She used to think Mrs. Harris pushed food on her because she thought she wasn’t fed properly at home. She had soon realised it was because Anne was too fussy to eat any of her cooking, so she had no other child to give it to.

“Is Anne upstairs, Mrs. Harris?”

“Call me Sally, please, Morra,” the woman said, her head bobbing up and down like a mother hen’s as she spoke. “Yes, she’s upstairs, but be sure to knock, I think Darren’s still with her.”

“Darren Marsters?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

Mrs. Harris’s eyes gleamed. He had obviously charmed her. She obviously didn’t know about his reputation.

“Maybe I’d better come another time.”

“Oh no, dear, she’s expecting you. Go on up.”

Moira suppressed a shudder. If Anne was expecting her she was probably in for a scene. Maybe she should stall a bit longer, let Darren call Anne’s bluff. How long could it take to undress, given how little Anne ever wore?

Moira climbed the stairs slowly, her socked feet treading quietly on the faded flowery carpet, her hand gripping the polished brass handrail. At the top she paused, listening for clues. She heard Anne’s patently cute giggle, but that didn’t tell her anything.

She stood in front of the door and examined the pretty, painted sign. Welcome to Annabelle’s Room had been done in swirly blue letters, tiny flowers curling from them. The door was white and plain, but there were sticky marks where Anne had taped posters to it in the past.

Moira held the doorknob in her palm. The brass was cold. She wondered how many hands had held it in the past. Had it been here before the Harrises moved in? Or had Mrs. Harris insisted on changing everything, so it was all clean and new?

She opened the door without knocking and found Anne and Darren on the bed, fumbling at each other, still mostly dressed. Darren was topless and he seemed genuinely embarrassed, tumbling from the bed and retrieving his shirt from the floor. Anne just giggled.

“Your dad didn’t let you fit that lock yet?” Moira asked, forcing a smile.

“Not until I’m sixteen,” Anne said, lying back against the pillows. Moira could see a red silk bra through her open blouse. She wasn’t known for wearing blouses, but buttons slowed boys down.

****

When Darren had gone they laughed about him, and Anne told her all the secrets he’d spilled. There was nothing too incriminating, but Anne loved gossip in all its forms and was enjoying herself so much that she made herself breathless with talking, her cheeks turning a delicate shade of pink.

Moira pretended to listen, until Anne paused long enough for Moira to bring up her idea. She hadn’t come just to talk about Darren.

“I found this,” Moira said, producing a crumpled page from her pocket. “I thought it might be fun to have a go.”
Anne was frowning as she took the page, which Moira had ripped from a magazine, but her brow smoothed as her eyes skimmed the words. She smiled, and her eyes lifted from the page and met Moira’s.

“Unlock the secrets of your destiny with candle magic,” Anne said. “A bit melodramatic isn’t it? And they’ve spelt magic wrong.”

“Since when do you know how to spell?” Moira teased, plucking the page from Anne’s hand. “You only do well in English because Mister Rangle fancies you.”

“Ew!” Anne shrieked, jumping to her feet and dancing about as though the thought of Mister Rangle was a bug to be shaken off.

“Maybe his initials will appear in the water, and I’ll know you like him too!” Moira said, laughing. Anne grabbed a pillow from the bed and began hitting her round the head with it. Moira collapsed, but pulled Anne down too. They ended up in a giggling heap on the floor.

“Whose initials would you like to see?” Anne asked her.

Moira pushed her off.

“Come on,” Moira said, “I can’t stay long. Let’s do this. Please?”

****

Moira lifted the candle slowly over the bowl. She knew that candlelight was supposed to be flattering, but she still felt self-conscious with Anne watching her. She tipped the candle and let three large drops of wax drip into the water. The wax solidified at once, and she waited for the pieces to stop spinning so she could interpret the shapes they made.

Then it would be Anne’s turn, and they would both know who Anne was destined to be with. Or so the magazine claimed. Moira took a breath to say the words, but before she spoke, something changed. The light of the candle dazzled her, the darkness beyond it made her feel suddenly alone. She was aware of Anne talking, but the girl sounded far away. Moira’s ears seemed full of water, the world was receding and all she could see were the wax drops, still spinning round and round. Candlelight flickered on the rippling water, streaking it red. The red faded to pink and Moira saw ribbons fluttering. There was a dark shadow in the middle of everything, the shape of a person, surrounded by tiny lights.

“You shall have him,” whispered a voice by her ear. “He shall be your handsome prince.”

Moira screamed and the light came on. Anne was standing with her hand on the switch, staring at her like she was on fire.
Link:
http://www.gypsyshadow.com/LisaFarrell.html#BramblesExc

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Brambles-and-Thorns-ebook/dp/B00A5W1NLI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354983401&sr=8-1&keywords=Brambles+and+thorns+lisa+farrell

Christmas Holly

5 Dec

Another welcome to SuttonFox at GSP Christmas Promo. 🙂
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An avid reader since childhood, Sutton was captured early by the written word. As a teenager she filled notebook upon notebook with angsty poetry, and spent many hours making up stories on long walks home from school.
     Life intruded before she could seek publication, and she willingly gave herself over to college, employment, marriage, motherhood, and all of the wonderful time consuming things we call life.
     Only as she’s gained experience and learned as we all do, to juggle schedules, activities and responsibilities, has she found the time to pursue her passion for writing.
     A native Coloradan, Sutton now calls the bluegrass state of Kentucky home. One she happily shares with the love of her life and two cats.
     Sutton loves to hear from readers. Please feel free to contact her and let her know if you enjoyed her stories!

To learn more about Sutton, check out her website at:
http://www.suttonfox.com

Her book we are highlighting today is Christmas Holly.
ChristmasHolly4
Young, beautiful, and certain of her future, Holly Clark fully expected to have a wonderful time attending her mother’s annual Christmas Eve bash. The one thing she didn’t expect—was her own untimely death.

Gallery owner and world renowned artist, Greg Marshall is desperate to relive his past. Until he receives a startling visit from a woman he believed to be the love of his life. Her sudden appearance has the power to change everything.

Love doesn’t mean what it used to. Can the past really affect the future, or can the future transform the past?

Excerpt:

Manners be damned. One more time would be way too many. Her temper came online just about the time her shoes became visible. Again.
     “How much longer do I have to do this?” Holly Clark really wanted to slap the woman standing behind the desk.
     “As long as it takes.” Zahara, the administrative assistant responded with a stellar you-are-a-pain-in-the-ass look.
     “I’ve been doing it for twelve years!” Impatient, she worked to tamp down the irritation which seemed to swamp her every Christmas Eve. Patience must be part of her penitence; she just had to do her best to ignore it. Along with being named Holly. Around the holidays, the jokes ran non-stop. Imbeciles. Like she hadn’t heard them all already?
     “I’m sorry, Holly,” the woman put emphasis on her name, like it wasn’t real or something. “Until you’ve saved ten souls, you can’t go on. Those are the rules.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t see what you’re so upset about. You’ve saved nine already. You only have one more to go.”
     “I’d like to talk to your supervisor.” Maybe intimidation would work. She narrowed her eyes, propped her fists on her hips, and gave the woman her strongest I’ll-kick-your-ass glare. “Now.”
     The bitch actually had the nerve to roll her eyes.
     “Puuuhlleeeeze.” Unfolding her arms, the surly assistant leaned forward, eyes intense. “He doesn’t want to talk to you.” She picked up the clipboard resting on the desk in front of her, along with a copy of Ghosting at Holidays. The official handbook of the only mostly dead. “Look, it’s not my fault you drove off that bridge into the water and drowned.” She held up one hand to forestall any interruption. “I know. You dropped your cell phone while trying to read texted directions to a Christmas party. And yes, that explains the snowberries and golden chains in your hair, the barely there red dress, and those four-inch heeled gladiator sandals which still look hot after all these years. We have the same conversation every Christmas Eve. The boss says you still haven’t quite learned what you need to know. By the time you save your tenth soul, you should understand and be able to move on.”
     “As the Ghost of Christmas Future, I can only show them their choices. I can’t choose for them,” she argued. “The last three weren’t even interested in changing their ways. They didn’t even care what became of them as long as they had plenty of money!”
     Stubborn could be her middle name. Just ask Mom. Frustration made her groan. Thoughts of her mother made her sad. They’d always had so much fun shopping and wrapping presents, preparing for her mother’s annual fête. A former model, happily married to high profile attorney, her mother held the soiree at a different club every year.
     And she hated being reminded of how she’d died. She should have just asked for directions to the party before she left, not been so certain she knew everything. It would have kept her from fumbling around with her phone, and she wouldn’t be here now. She’d be with her mother, and—the past was past. Going over and over it wouldn’t change things. In her world, that was fact.
     “That’s true. It’s a different world today.” Admin extraordinaire shrugged her shoulders. “So, it will take as long as it takes.” With a disdainful sniff, Zahara disappeared. “Good luck. And Merry Christmas, Holly.” Her voice echoed eerily through the room.
     “Merry frickin’ Christmas to you, too!” she grumbled. People appearing and disappearing in a puff of smoke still unnerved her after all these years. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to it. What was wrong with ordinary doors?
     With a puff of smoke, Tinsel Wilson appeared before her. “Hey, Holly.” He gave her the once over. “How’s my favorite brunette? Still lookin’ good after all these years.”
     He reached for her and thankfully, without substance she felt nothing save a brush of cool air. Although she did move away when his hands reached to cup her breasts. The Ghost of Christmas Present creeped her out. He had to be almost double her age, even though he’d only passed on two years ago. Well, the age she’d died at, anyway. No one had to know she was fast approaching forty. She didn’t look a day over twenty-seven. The age she’d been when she’d drowned. Thankfully, there were some benefits to this gig.
     “You’re up, pretty girl. I got him nice and worked up for ya.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
     “It’s a man this time?” she queried. Great. Once they got a good look at her, it took at least three visions to get them to focus on anything but sex. “Thanks, Tinsel.” With a snap of her fingers and a puff of smoke, she vanished.  

Links:
http://www.gypsyshadow.com/SuttonFox.html#CHollyExc

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Holly-ebook/dp/B0046A9O16/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354734483&sr=1-1&keywords=Christmas+Holly+sutton+fox

Toys, Lights and Trinkets…

2 Dec

JIM
Today it is our privilege to host a book from the collection of Jim Woods on the GSP Christmas Promo.

Jim Woods wrote novels and short stories, many of which stand alone, while others are assembled into collections, in worldwide milieus. He was a world traveler, having researched numerous exotic locales as settings for his stories. Much of his world travel was for big game hunting which, coupled with his background as editor with Petersen’s Hunting, Guns & Ammo and Guns magazines, frequently allowed him to bring firearms into play in his tales. Jim Woods passed away October 8, 2012; he lived and wrote in Tucson.

The seasonal release we are highlighting is Toys, Lights and Trinkets.

ToysLightsandTrinkets4
The stories in this eclectic trilogy are unrelated, except for their setting at the end of year holiday season. The first must be saddled with the based on true events disclaimer; the next is related just the way it really happened; and the last story is pure fantasy.
Excerpt:

     GHOST BREAKERS (third story in book)

The wizened old witchdoctor in Zimbabwe had been right all along. Although he obviously did not know us—my wife Anne and me—he was much too believable in his wisdom. He somehow knew things about us he had no need or right to know, but we solicited the interview. No one tricked or coerced us to consult him, so we listened to him. Anne and I were a lot younger then, and at the same age, and on one of our several safaris in southern Africa when the old Mashona gentleman consulted the bits of carefully arranged chips of mystic bone that spoke to him. One of his revelations predicted Anne would live ten years longer than me. He was right on; I crossed over a full decade before Anne joined me once again. And while it is true, there is a time to die, Anne’s family would take her passing especially hard, it coming so near Christmas—a time that should be reserved for happy memories.

Even though I left earlier, and fittingly, in the fall of the season and the autumn of my time, I couldn’t stay away. Our lifetime together was too strong in the physical world to be fractured, simply because I happened to be deceased. I hung around the house to keep Anne company. Admittedly, a few friends and even family tittered behind her back about her carrying on conversations with me. We tried to pay no attention, and really were not offended. In fact. it was amusing to us knowing what was going on and they only could guess, and speculate that Mom or Grandma, depending on which generation was the questioning source, was hanging on to the cusp of dementia. Anne and I held a lifetime of memories to recall between ourselves, and we untiringly relived and talked them over.

Anne and I stood together, hand-in-hand, at her funeral service. Being unseen, except to one another, made it easy for us to get a front row view. The Anne beside me was beautifully young, and she noted the same about me. Shucks, I don’t mean she said I was beautiful, just she thought me young and in my prime. We both agreed the body on display the day before at the funeral home was not Anne, but some wrinkled lady who still showed evidence of having been beautiful, and if we examined her closely, my red-haired Anne did show through. Everyone in attendance had nothing but kind words for my bride, as they did for me as well, ten years back. The difference was at my wake; everyone still talked respectfully about me, which was to be expected since Anne was present for all the comments and conversations. That condition changed somewhat drastically at the after-service gathering in remembrance of Anne. It was our granddaughter, Rochelle, whom we both loved, who opened the less than lovable exchange with her mother, Anne’s only child, Charlene, from her first marriage which went awry before I came into her life.

                                                                      <>
“What are you going to do with all of Grandmother’s crap?”

“I’m surprised you’d say something like that. Mom and Dad may have accumulated a lot of things over their lives and travels, but certainly no crap. They always bought quality.”
Good for you, daughter, Paxton telepathed. You tell her!

“Sorry, I didn’t really mean it that way. They just have so much stuff. How do you even start disposing of it all?”

“Let’s not rush into disposing of anything. I still have to locate the will, although Mom has told me everything goes to me and I’m listed as executor.”

What do you mean, have to locate the will? It’s right where I told you it would be, in the safe, and the safe combination is pasted behind that framed certificate in my library.

Links:
http://www.gypsyshadow.com/JimWoods.html#ToysLightsExc

http://www.amazon.com/Toys-Lights-and-Trinkets-ebook/dp/B00A9K869S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354477297&sr=1-1&keywords=Toys%2C+Lights+and+Trinkets

Shandy’s Gift…..

1 Dec

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Today on the GSP Christmas Promo we welcome Sara Dean.

About herself she says:

I live in West Virginia, with my husband and my two young children. I also have several picture e-books and one picture book in print available: Bobby Bunny And The Missing Tooth, published through AKW Books, The Puppy Who Found A Boy, published through Publish America and Clean Clothes For Bobby Bear, through Fairy Tales And Dreams Publishing.

Her book that we are highlighting today is Shandy’s Gift.
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In the sequel to Forgiving Jesse, Shandy decides to surprise Jesse by inviting his estranged dad to stay with them over the holidays. She hopes that their time together will start to rebuild their broken relationship. But is the resentment and anger too great to allow them to start over? Or will Jesse be willing to give him one more chance when he faces a crisis with his own son?

Excerpt:

The tree was decorated with every ounce of tinsel we could possibly find, our attempt to hide the fact that it looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Shandy stood in front of it, holding seven-month-old Jesse Jr., known as JJ, for short. He kept trying to pull the tinsel from the branches, while Shandy tried in vain to pry his chubby fingers off of it.

I snapped picture after picture of them, laughing the whole time.

In the corner, Shandy’s mom glared at me as she ate the hard-as-stone sugar cookies Shandy had baked that morning. If we had owned a dog, I would have fed them to it, but since we didn’t, I let her mom eat them. After all, there was no point in letting them go to waste.

I put the camera down and sat down across from her. She picked up a Santa Claus cookie, bit its head off and glared at me again. I knew she was thinking, If only I could do the same to you for knocking up my little girl.

“So, how’s your first Christmas as Grandma going?” I asked.

“Would have been better if you would have waited ten years.”

“No, by then you wouldn’t be able to get around without the help of a walker.”

She paused, the cookie halfway to her mouth. “I’m only forty-five.”

“Well, if you keep eating cookies like you’re doing now, you’ll be too fat to walk on your own.”

Shandy came over, still pulling tiny silver strings from JJ’s hands. “Will you two quit fighting? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“I’ll sign a temporary truce for JJ’s sake,” I said, smiling, since I got the last shot in before the truce began.

“Yeah, me, too,” she mumbled. “Now, give me the baby and you two go get his presents. I want to see him open them.”

I reached under the tree and pulled out the small silver package Shandy had carefully wrapped the night before.

We were only eighteen, newly married and extremely broke, so all we could afford was a rattle. Not that it mattered. He was too little to understand what all the fuss was about, and happy just to stare at the wrapping paper.

Shandy’s mom bought him a swing, and my grandma bought him a bouncy seat. The rattle seemed so small and stupid next to their presents.

I pulled Shandy to the side and handed her a small box.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Just open it,” I said.

Inside were two small silver earrings, shaped like hearts. I found them on clearance at a nearby store, but I didn’t tell her that.

Her eyes lit up. “Jesse, they’re beautiful!” she cried, wrapping me in a big bear hug.

She let go and tried them on. “Your present will be here any time,” she said, while checking out her appearance in a compact mirror.

“Did you order me something?” I asked.

“No,” she said hesitantly. “Not exactly.”

The baby started to fuss. She closed her compact and went to check on him.

I was still wondering what she was talking about, when there was a knock on the door.

I threw it open and came face-to-face with my dad for the first time in over a year.

“Merry Christmas, Jesse,” he said.

The snow was at least a foot deep and still falling heavily all around him. I knew he had to be cold, but I slammed the door in his face anyway.

“What are you doing?” Shandy cried. “That’s your present.”

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/SaraDean.html#ShandyExc

http://www.amazon.com/Shandys-Gift-Forgiving-Jesse-ebook/dp/B00A5WL31I/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354386624&sr=1-1&keywords=Shandy%27s+gift+sara+dean