As seen in the December issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
Uncaged: You have traveled in every state in the U.S. Do your travels influence your writing? Which places have inspired you the most?
We did! It took us forty-three years, but we visited every one, and we have lived in eight of them. Mr. Don (the Most Romantic Man in the World) is retired Air Force, and we got to see a bunch that way. My travels have definitely influenced the way I write, especially since I am determined to write a book/novella/short story set in every state. So far I’ve hit Virginia, Alaska, Ohio, Maine, Tennessee, Colorado, and the Dragon Realm. Okay, technically not a state except the human setting in that book is Utah, so . . . ::grin::
As for inspiration, Alaska wins, hands-down, followed by Texas which still owes me a story. I’ve lived in both, adore both, and when I’m in one, I miss the other.
Uncaged: This is our holiday issue – can you tell us of some of your holiday traditions and some things you love to do during the Christmas season?
Because we moved around a lot, Christmas was a solitary affair most years. With family on both sides scattered all over the place, it was tough to get away and celebrate any of the holiday season with this or that folk, though we did our best when we could take the time and find the money to travel. When the kids were little we kept as many standard traditions as we could: the music, the holiday movies, the decorations and the traditional meals and treats. Our local church always held a wonderful Christmas Eve candlelight service, and we never missed it.
Something I did almost every year was to make either a holiday wreath or table décor. Every few years or so I’d create a half-dozen or so homemade ornaments for the tree. I made lace fans, beribboned glass ornaments, crocheted baskets that held candy canes and decorative flora. One year my youngest daughter and I made fancy gold fans out of foil wrapping paper. It got to the point almost everything on the tree was handmade. I also made the tree topper: a Victorian angel dressed in velvet robes, with a porcelain face and hands. She’s over thirty years old now, and still as pretty as can be.
Uncaged: Your short story, I Know You is in the anthology, A Soulmate for Christmas. What inspired this story? How did the anthology process come together for this book?
Once I got the idea for an anthology featuring some of our Soul Mate authors, they volunteered fast. ::grin:: Many romance authors, sooner or later, find themselves writing a holiday story which is just so much fun. For ‘I Know You,’ I wanted something different, not your basic holiday story but something poignant and a bit eerie. Yet I didn’t want to delve into the paranormal, either. The idea of two souls, meant to be together for all time, is so appealing to the romantic in many of us, and breaking the story into four vignettes, each one revealing a bit more of the overall history of these two souls, worked marvelously well.
As each of our anthology authors started writing their contributions, I got hit with the usual questions about genre and story restrictions. But I wanted our authors to tell the tale in their favorite genre which is why we’ve got everything from reincarnation to women’s fiction, to vampires in this collection. And they all coalesce together for a delightful read.
Uncaged: As a reviewer, I’m always curious as to what authors can take away from the reviews, do you read them and what do you take away from the reviews?
I do read reviews. I find them helpful inasmuch as any critique is helpful. As an editor (the other side of my professional coin!), my authors worry about mediocre to poor reviews, which of course is completely normal. We authors want to put out the very best of our writing creativity that we can. What I try to do as an author and what I advise my authors to do is use the reviews they get as a learning tool. And to understand a few low reviews mixed in don’t really hinder at all.
Uncaged: Can you tell us what you have coming up next?
Sure! In addition to finishing up my latest, MADE FOR EACH OTHER, a contemporary romance set in Tennessee, I’m also working on a three-book Historical Western series with fellow author and BFF Cheryl Yeko. We write under the pen name of CiCi Cordelia, and together we’re responsible for that previously-mentioned Dragon Realm/Utah story: REALM OF THE DRAGON which is Book One of The Soul Mate Tree Project. We launched CiCi by writing a contemporary Western romance, RODEO KING. We had so much fun with it, we decided to try our hand at a paranormal, and now we’re setting our latest three-book series in late-19th century Colorado silver mining country. Cheryl and I have a blast writing together and our voices, while different on our own, meld perfectly together as CiCi. Our upcoming venture, ‘Brides of Little Creede,’ begins with THE SUBSTITUTE WIFE, releasing in May, 2018.
Uncaged: Where do you come up with your characters and their names? How much do you pull from people you know?
I have used a few family names now and then in my books, but for the most part I come up with names more as a sense of what feels right at the time. Also, because hubby Don is from West Virginia, I try to add in something unique to his home town in each of my solo books. Kind of as a nod to a place we both love. For example, in UNSAFE HAVEN (set in Southwest Alaska), I had one of my characters say, “I’ll be go-to-hell” which is similar to saying, “I’ll be damned” and something you most likely won’t hear anywhere in the world but Don’s home town. ::grin:: Of course, the character who said it was a displaced WV boy, living in the Last Frontier and trying to be a true Sourdough in spirit.
Uncaged: What is your favorite parts about being an author? What have you found to be the least favorite?
Just about everything about being an author is my favorite. I can’t find a downside at all. I get to do my job on the road which is great because that’s kind of the way we live these days. Have Portable Desk, Will Travel, and we do.
Things many authors find least appealing about writing—namely, their own revisions and editing of same—I actually love, because of that other-side-of-the-professional-coin I mentioned earlier. You can’t be an editor and dislike editing!
Uncaged: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I’m a voracious reader in my off-time. I read myself to sleep and I wake myself up the same way. Mr. Don exhibits endless patience with my reading addiction. I do love sightseeing, though, and beaching is an absolute must whenever there is one nearby and the weather cooperates.
Uncaged: I know that my favorites change as I read more and more books, but was the last book you loved? The last book you wanted to throw against a wall (good or bad)?
My favorites are so vast now, I can’t even keep track of them. I have a huge fondness for Lara Adrian and her Midnight Breed world, so I never miss a single release. Another favorite is the writing duo of Taryn Elliot and Cari Quinn. Both are RWA chapter-mates of mine and together or apart, they make book magic.
Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?
Well, firstly, a big, big, really big THANK YOU!!! for reading me, liking me on social media, and being so very kind to me in reviews. The romance writing biz is competitive, and reader support means the world to those of us who chose what can be a tough, solitary career choice. If you have read a book of mine and liked it, you couldn’t give me a greater gift, that’s for sure.
Promises To Keep
Annie Turner has lived in small-town Thompkin all of her life. Her family is poor, but she and her siblings have loving parents and a roof over their heads. As far as she’s concerned, she’s a lucky girl.
Travis Quincy’s ancestors founded Thompkin, deep in the Shenandoah Valley. He’s known immense wealth from birth, and for him that wealth is a part of his life that he’s never had to question.
While still in grade school, Annie and Travis meet and fall in love. Neither understands why they’re drawn to each other, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Like two halves of a whole, they’re only complete when they’re together. And nothing is more important than the vow they make to someday marry.
Growing up together, the rich, privileged boy and the girl from the wrong side of town find that when it comes to keeping their pledge, it’s easier said than done. Travis’s mother, Ruth, has plans for her son and they don’t include his marrying a Turner. Her painful and secret past gives her an unwanted connection to the Turner family and a reason to hate them all. With cold determination she sets out to destroy the bond between her son and Annie.
Love is magical at any age . . . and a promise is forever.
In the passenger seat, Annie sat with her hands folded together, staring down at them. Other than some details about her oldest brother’s recent engagement to Sissy Walker, the girl he’d dated through high school, she’d been quiet almost all the way into Charlottesville. Travis didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have a lot to think about, either.
He wanted a long, fun-filled day with Annie. The two of them, hand in hand as they strolled along the crowded streets like any other couple in love. Maybe a cup of coffee in a cute little cafe somewhere along Main Street and some holiday shopping, a late lunch, some more shopping. Maybe a stolen kiss, here and there throughout the afternoon. A leisurely drive home with another sweet kiss under the porch light.
Just some more normal time with his girl was all he wanted.
He reached for her and drew her close. She uttered a broken sigh as her arms curled around his neck. He breathed her in, his mouth against her temple, and brushed a caress over her cheek until he could reach her lips. He loved the way they parted for him, so responsive. When he pulled away, her face glowed, and he felt a thousand percent better.
She whispered to him as she pressed her cheek to his. “Are you okay now? Because we can stay here as long as you need to, Travis. We can go back if you’d rather do that, too.”
“And miss shopping with you? I don’t think so.” He mugged a goofy face at her and got her to giggle. The sound warmed his heart.
He played with a lock of her hair. “Let’s get something to eat first. What are you hungry for? Anything you want.” Travis knew exactly what she’d choose.
And sure enough, she answered, “Big Mac. And lots of fries. Maybe an apple pie?”
With a laugh, he gathered her closer, a final, tight hug, then let her go. As he helped her from the car, he commented, “I don’t think a little squirt like you can eat that much food.” He caught her hand as they walked down the busy sidewalk.
She swung their joined hands between them. “No? Then why stop at McDonald’s?”
“I knew you’d nag me if I didn’t.”
She huffed at him as he tugged her up the sidewalk, past the familiar golden arches. “I never nag.”
“Uh-huh.” Travis pushed her inside and up to the first line they came to. She stood in front of him, a slender slip of a girl with a huge smile on her face and boundless love in her heart, so real, so palpable, he swore he could taste it as he wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder.
Mine. She’s mine. I’ll never let her go. I’ll never lose her. Not for anyone or anything.
Three days from Christmas and with years and years of loving each other stretching ahead, it was easy to believe.
Ruth stood in the foyer and wrung her hands as she watched the emergency team take Ronald out the front door on a stretcher. An oxygen mask covered most of his face and what was visible around the mask appeared gray and drawn. She took three steps toward the open double front door, and froze.
Martha, behind her with Ruth’s coat in her hands, pushed at her none too gently. “Ruth, we have to go.” When she didn’t budge, Martha pushed again and grabbed one of Ruth’s arms, trying to force it into the coat. “I said, let’s go. Now. Your husband needs you.”
Ruth yanked her arm away and wrapped both of them around her body as one of the emergency team members strode partway up the steps. He called, “Ma’am, we need to get on the road. Are you coming or not?”
She didn’t answer, and the team member shook his head in exasperation and ran back down the steps. He shouted over his shoulder to Martha. “We’re taking him to Rockingham Memorial.” He jumped in the back of the ambulance, and they raced down the long driveway.
Martha cursed aloud, something she seldom allowed herself to do. She whirled from the open doorway and grabbed both of Ruth’s arms, then shook her. “You listen to me, missy. That’s your husband in the back of that ambulance. He needs you to be his wife right now, not some scared girly who can’t step out of her own damned house. Phoebe is pulling the car around, and you’re going to get into it with me, and we’re all driving to the hospital. Now.”
“No, I can’t. You know I can’t. The ladies will be here any minute. We have a luncheon to serve.” Ruth trembled in Martha’s grip. The distant stare of someone in deep shock might have been in her eyes, but her voice was eerily calm.
“Oh for God’s—I don’t have time for this. Jenny!” The young day maid came running as Martha hustled Ruth toward the doors. “Call everyone on the luncheon guest list and tell them it’s canceled. Do not tell them why, you understand?” In tears, Jenny nodded as Martha pushed and pulled Ruth down the porch steps. Ruth fought her every step of the way.
Wild-eyed now, she resisted, trying to dig in her heels. “No. I never leave the house. Ronald promised me I’d never have to leave the house. Let go of me!”
Relentless, Martha dragged her by both hands, yanking her up when she tripped on the slick concrete steps. The car waited at the bottom of the stairs, the rear door open with Phoebe nearby, ready to trap Ruth inside and slam the door before she could leap out. Martha muscled her onto the seat. She jumped into the front after Phoebe locked Ruth in the back and dashed around to the driver’s side. They roared down the driveway before Martha got her door latched.
Martha turned a grim face to the younger woman as she maneuvered the slippery road. “Phoebe, she’s losing it. What on earth are we going to do?”
Phoebe blinked away a sudden flood of tears. “We’ll take care of her. We’ll take care of them both.”
They sped toward Harrisonburg as Ruth sobbed in the back seat, demanding to be taken home.
She didn’t once mention her husband.
Annie peeked inside the brightly patterned bag for at least the twentieth time and sighed once more at the soft, pale yellow sweater nestled atop red tissue paper. Out of the corner of his eye, Travis saw her moon over the gift and had to stifle a grin at her excitement. It was only a sweater, but Annie reacted to it as if he’d given her a bag of pure gold. And there lay the difference between her and other girls he’d met over the years, both in Thompkin and at the exclusive all-girl boarding school adjacent to the Academy.
Annie didn’t know his impulsive gift was expensive cashmere. It was fluffy, soft and in her favorite color, and he’d thought to give it to her. That was enough to thrill her, and she’d jumped into his arms and kissed him.
Annie blushed when she looked up and caught Travis grinning at her. “You think I’m silly.” She wrinkled her nose at him as she fingered her new sweater, and leaned toward him to kiss him yet again. “I love it, Travis. I can’t wait to try it on.” He started to remind her she could try it on any time she chose, and she shook her head. “No way. You know how clumsy I am. I’d either rip it or spill something on it before I could even get it home.”
“Then I should go back and buy you the green one, too.” He started to rise from his chair, and she grabbed his arm in both hands.
“No! Travis, you can’t buy me another sweater. You’ve given me way too much already.” She pulled him back into his seat. “You don’t have to buy me things.”
“But I like buying you things. And you want to know why?” Travis cupped her face in his hands and brought her close. She nodded, her beautiful eyes locked on his. “I like it because you’ve never asked for anything in return. You give and give of yourself, and never think anyone is going to give you a thing back, and then when I do, you’re always so surprised. The day I fell in love with you was the day you gave me half your fish and all of your worms.” He watched her eyes fill up with tears.
She uttered a tremulous sigh. “Travis . . . oh, I want to marry you. I’d give anything if we didn’t have to wait.” In the middle of a food court in the mall, they leaned into each other and kissed, the gesture a pledge between them. At a nearby table, a few boys Travis’s age whooped and whistled as their girlfriends shushed them.
Ignoring the hooting, Travis held her closer. “I don’t want to wait, either. I love you so much.” He pulled away, to look into her eyes. “Will you wear my ring, Annie? Right now, today, will you let me put a ring on your finger and wear it, even in front of your folks and mine?”
Her bottom lip quivered as she nodded. “My folks love you, Travis. They’ll be happy.”
“Even Suze? You think she’ll be okay with this?” It was a feeble joke at best, but they both needed some humor before they drowned in the overload of emotion passing between them.
Annie rested her head on his shoulder and wiped the tears from her cheek. “Susan will want to kill me, but she’ll hug us both. She gave me the outfit I wore to your party. It was hers, but she said I could have it. And she said—um—never mind.” Annie pressed her lips together.
“What? Did she upset you? I’ll wring her neck if she upset you.”
She was quick to reassure. “No, honestly, she wasn’t mean at all. She just said you wouldn’t know what hit you, when you saw me in my new clothes.” Her blush was adorable. “She even asked if I needed any money.”
“Are you sure it was Susan? Maybe it was an alien or a clone.”
She pinched him. “Don’t make fun of my sister.”
When he took her hand and pulled her from her seat, she protested, “Now where are we going?”
He guided her into the first jewelry store he saw. “I’m getting you a ring. And then I’m going to ask you to marry me.” When he looked at her, Annie’s eyes had gone huge with emotion.
“Now? Right now? Before you say anything to your folks? Travis—”
“Right now, Annie.” He nudged her toward a display case loaded with diamonds and precious gems.
Travis clapped a playful palm over her mouth, shushing her, and grinned at the young salesclerk behind the glittering display case. “Hi. We just got engaged. Do you have anything that matches her eyes?”
The salesclerk returned his grin. “I have some deep smoky topaz. It’s not quite as dark as her eyes, but I think you’ll like it. A plain setting, or with baguettes?”
While Annie gulped, he settled her into a leather chair placed in front of the display case, and replied as if he’d been buying jewels all of his life. “A solitaire, preferably emerald-cut. Gold setting, diamond baguettes. Nothing too big,” he picked up her left hand and kissed the back of it, “since she has very delicate fingers.”
“I have something I think you’d like.” With a smile just for Annie, the salesclerk headed toward the rear of the store and disappeared behind a door. Annie sat there wide-eyed as Travis pressed her hand to his cheek.
“Travis, you can’t afford this. You need your money for school.”
“Yes, I can. What I can’t afford is to let another day go by without the world knowing you belong to me, Annie Turner.” When her eyes filled yet again, he groaned, “Not another tear! You’ll make me think I’m torturing you instead of getting engaged.”
Before she could respond, the salesclerk was back with a small tray lined in white velvet. She chose a seat across from Annie and placed the tray in front of her. Rings lay against the velvet, some plain and others fancy. Glints of pure light shot through many of the faceted gems, and every one was breathtaking.
She tore her gaze from them with a beseeching look at Travis. “I can’t choose. I don’t know—”
“I’ll help you.” His face suddenly sober, he selected a ring from the center of the tray. Deep and pure, the stone was not too small, but not so large that it would overpower her hand. Emerald-cut, as he’d requested, and in a simple, yet elegant, gold setting, framed on two sides with tiny, perfect diamonds. He took her left hand, slid the ring on her finger. It fit as if it had been waiting for her.
He lifted her hand until the ring was close to her eyes. The stone was just a few shades lighter. Against her skin, it glowed and pulsed, warm and pretty, just like its new owner. With his other hand he cupped her chin, brought her lips to his, and kissed her. For long seconds, he kissed his Annie. Slowly, he released her and gazed into her starry eyes.
“Marry me, Annie.”
Her lips trembled, then parted. She cleared her throat. Spoke through a dawning smile.