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Authors After Dark was incredible and I wanted to share a few of the things I learned.

 

1) Pecan fried chicken is worth not eating for three days.
2) C.J. Ellison, Boone Brux, and Marianne Moria throw one heck of a party.
3) The best way to start an evening is with a marriage proposal. Right BA and Julia?
4) Being nominated for a Bookie is great. Winning kicks ass!!!!!
5) Sharing a ride to the airport with Kate Douglas was the fastest half hour cab ride ever.
6) Doing on interview with Simply Ali was so much fun. She was great to spend time with.
7) Stella throws an amazing three day party.
8) Savannah is a town I can’t wait to visit again
9) K. C. Wells is a complete and total dear heart.
10) If you want to get noticed, wear a white tail coat to dinner.

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Last October I was at a conference with a friend, Hope.  I had finished a novel and was looking for an idea.  At the conference I attended a seminar on storytelling and the leader quoted Henningway’s answer to the challenge to tell a story in as few words as possible.  His response was “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”  I was fascinated with the idea and after talking it over with Hope the entire ride home, I began this story.

Search of a Story MD

He’s searching for a story but finds so much more.

Brad Torrence is next on the chopping block at the newspaper where he works. Hungry for any source he can find, he runs across an ad in the classifieds: For Sale: Nursery Items, Never Used. It’s the lead he’s been looking for. Thinking a piece about the loss of a child will give him the edge he needs to keep his job, Brad follows up. He doesn’t expect a single man to answer.

Rather than being offended, Cory Wolfe finds sharing the story of his grief and pain liberating. He’s even surprised by the spark that strikes, and one story leads to another.

Brad digs into his stories and Cory’s life, eager to know everything about the man who’s caught his attention. But when a lead points him to the hospital where Cory works, he unearths a mystery that might have been safer left buried. Brad’s search for a story could prove deadly….

Purchase from Dreamspinner Press:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3825

Excerpt:

The man on his doorstep was as young as he’d sounded on the phone, with deer-in-the-headlights eyes and a nervous smile. “Hello, I’m Brad Torrence from the Crier,” he said and extended his hand. The kid looked a bit like an excited puppy.

“Cory Wolfe,” he said, and they shook hands. Cory stepped back so Brad could enter and then closed the door. He motioned toward the living room. He waited for Brad to take a seat and then he sat in his favorite leather chair.

“This is a great room,” Brad said with a touch of awe in his voice. Then he sat and waited. Cory got the impression he was waiting for something.

“You wanted to ask me some questions? I’m a little unsure why you’d want to interview me,” Cory said. “But I’ll try to help.”

“I probably should have been more clear: I was hoping to interview both you and your wife.”

Cory smiled. “Nope. It’s just me. No wife.” That simple statement sent a stab through his stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” Brad said.

“Wait, let’s back up. There’s never been a wife. I think we have a misunderstanding of some kind. I’m not married and never have been,” Cory clarified. Brad became jittery, and for a second Cory thought he might hyperventilate.

“But the ad…,” Brad said.

“Yes. Like I said, I never had a wife, but I was getting ready to have a baby,” Cory said. “I had a partner a few years ago, but he wasn’t interested in children, though I was. That and, well, other things, doomed the relationship….”

Brad smiled and opened the notebook he’d brought, appearing distinctly more relaxed.

“Aren’t you supposed to ask me questions?” Cory asked.

“I can,” Brad said. “Your ad caught my attention, and I thought there was a story behind it. I’ll admit that I was expecting to do a story about mothers recovering from grief after the loss of a child. My mother lost three babies after me.”

Cory nodded thoughtfully and then stood up. “Come on,” he said, and Brad stood up. Cory led him up the stairs, and at the small landing, he opened the door and turned on the light. He hated entering this room now. Brad stepped inside, but Cory remained in the hallway, physically unable to enter. “This was to be Adam’s room. I picked out the furniture, painted the walls. I spent days picking out just the right color blue. Then I asked a friend to paint the teddy bears on the walls, and we even added stars to the ceiling.” Cory didn’t look up. Unable to take any more, Cory stepped away from the door and waited for Brad to come out of the room. Then Cory turned off the bedroom light and closed the door. Without saying anything more, Cory led the way down the stairs and back to the living room, where he once again sat in his chair.

“Mothers aren’t the only ones to feel grief,” Cory said flatly.

Brad nodded slowly. “What happened?” he whispered.

Cory wasn’t sure why he opened up, but he did. “About a year ago, I found out my best friend, Eileen, was pregnant. She wasn’t married and was barely able to take care of herself. Eileen was wonderful, but there wasn’t a maternal bone in her body. She’d decided that she wanted to put the baby up for adoption, and I asked if I could adopt the child.” Cory’s voice broke, and he yanked a tissue from the box on the lower shelf of the end table. He never thought he’d keep tissues in various rooms of his house, but for months now he’d needed them. “Eileen was thrilled. She would still get to be a part of her baby’s life, and that was all she wanted.”

“You said his name was Adam?” Brad prompted.

“After we found out she was having a boy, I came up with the name, and Eileen liked it, so we started referring to him as Adam. I bought the nursery things and fixed up the room upstairs. Everything was ready.” Cory paused and blew out his breath. He needed to get himself under control. What he wasn’t prepared for was Brad to reach over and touch his hand. Cory hadn’t been touched in quite a while, and he liked it. The gesture was probably a breach of journalistic integrity and objectivity or something like that, but it was what he desperately needed.

“Please, take your time,” Brad told him. “I’ll listen.” Cory thought he might have seen tears in Brad’s eyes, but it was hard to tell through his own.

“Eileen was about eight months pregnant, and she was at home. I hadn’t heard from her that day, so I stopped by after work. I found her on her kitchen floor, where she’d fallen.” Cory figured he might as well finish the story and get it over with. “The autopsy showed that she had a blood vessel burst in her brain. It was probably a defect she’d had since birth, and it burst. They said she died pretty quickly.”

Brad had taken notes throughout his story, and Cory waited for him to finish. “Did you get any help? With the grief, I mean.”

Cory shrugged. “Some. I actually found a group for people who lost children in Harrisburg—eleven women and me. The thing was, at the time I didn’t consider my grief as bad as theirs. I wasn’t the one who’d carried the child, but….”

“You still lost a child just the same,” Brad said.

Cory nodded. He does understand.

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Aaron_ad

 

As he answers the Skype call, Spencer’s face appears in the window. Grainy, but not freezing, his slow easy smile is shy and tentative, like he’s not sure what’s going to happen. The rapid tapping on the desktop betrays his nerves, but when JP’s corresponding picture comes up on his screen, he grins, ready for the interview.

Hi Spencer, how are you?
Hey, JP! I am good. My internet connection hates me, though. I did not think it would let me on!

Well, I’m glad it did! It’s been four years since we got to sit down and work on a book together. How’s school?
Almost over, thank God. I graduate in June. And seriously, I cannot tell you how excited I am. I want to start my life.

Have you decided what you’re going to do with your degree?
We have gotten a lot of interest on Spaaron. Companies are either looking to buy the software out right, or hire us to work for them. I keep trying to get Aaron to consider what he will do after college, but well…

How is he?
He is better than he was when we first met. Not as freaked out by things like cloudy days or train whistles. He can hold a conversation when he needs to and even joined an online therapy group. But, he still doesn’t like to be touched – doesn’t like to go out, or let people really see him. He is coping, but not really living.

And he’s still in school?
So far, though it is taking a toll on him. He likes the programming classes, but the other classes frustrate him.

Did he ever to go work for Dr. Mayer?
No.

(A moment passes – long and pregnant.)

Okay, let’s move to something else. Has the critical or popular success of Aaron changed anything for you?
(Spencer’s smile brightens the screen, then dims to a lopsided grin.)

Well, aside from people teasing me about dating Jake Bass. (He grins again). Spencer isn’t a very common name, and being deaf makes me more recognizable. There was a bit of fanfare at school when it first came out, but Aaron and I ignored it and went on about our business.
And how do you feel that the next novel will focus more on you?
Unnerved. But there’s another one in between, right? About Juliette’s brother?

Yes, Painting Fire on the Air is finished and will be released in September.

Painting Fire, that sounds ominous.

It is.

Let’s take some questions from readers.
I think I can do that.

Our first question comes from Rosie – What adaptation for the deaf do you wish was more widely available in society?
What an interesting question. I think if I had to pick one, it would be more closed captioning for movies in the theater. I would love to be able to take Aaron to the movies and actually know what was going on.

That’s something I’m sure most people take for granted. Her follow up question is – What one thing would you want people to know about you and how you see the world?
Most people may assume because of the deafness, that I see the world in black and white with no richness or depth. That is not true. I like so many of the same things everyone else likes, just from a different perspective.
For example – I love concerts – the excitement, the vibration of the music on my skin. Because I do not hear it, my focus is more on the band and the frenzy of the crowd, but it is just as much fun for me as anyone.

It would surprise most people that you’d go to a concert at all.
A lot of things about me surprise people.

I’ll bet. 😉 Our next question comes from Karin – If you could have one wish fulfilled, what would it be?
(Spencer takes a long time to think about this one – but finally starts to type.)
I have two and since it is my interview. I am going to use them both. First, I would want to go back in time and prevent the attack on Aaron.

But then you two would probably have never met.
I know.

And the other?
I would love to meet my mom.

You wouldn’t wish for your hearing?
Why miss something I have never had when there are more important things? Sure, it would be on the list somewhere, but not at the top.

That is a great attitude to have Spencer.

Okay, Karin would also like to know – What are you looking forward to most for your future?
Right now, I cannot wait to get a job and get out on my own. I love my dad, but watching him and his new girlfriend make googly eyes at each other makes me insane. I want Aaron and me to get our lives started together. Well, it is a dream anyway.

Chris has a different question – he would like to know about your coming to terms with being gay and about your internal and external conflicts.
Well, my dad and I were close, so coming out was not really a big deal. I am sure he already knew anyway by the time I got around to telling him. At school I got the shit kicked out of me anyway for being deaf, the topic of being gay never came up. My very few friends knew. A couple of the guys in the deaf program knew. We fucked around and experimented. But really, at least for me, it was not a big deal.

That’s great, because for a lot of guys, it is.
(Spencer nods).

Out last reader question comes from Lynn. She asks – Are you secretly worried Aaron won’t ever be able to have a sexual relationship?
I would love to say that I am not, but that is a lie. I love sex. I miss sex. I love the intimate moments that Aaron and I have together, but I will not cheat on him—ever. I love him more than I thought I could love anyone. But to never have sex again, I do not know what will happen with that.

Let’s stop there because that concerns Aaron’s privacy too. Are you excited about the new book?
Yeah, it’s going to be great. I cannot wait to get started on it!

Me either! In fact, why don’t we conclude the interview here and do just that?
Awesome!

Thank you for sitting down with me and my readers today, Spencer.
After what you’ve done for us, JP—I am happy to.

Blurb:

I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.

Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he’s assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe “normal” is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.

With his parents’ talk of institutionalizing him—of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers’ stability—Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?

Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.

Buy Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3263&cPath=55_395

JPBarnaby_authorImage

Award winning romance novelist, J. P. Barnaby has penned over a dozen books including the Forbidden Room series, the Little Boy Lost series, and Aaron. As a bisexual woman, J.P. is a proud member of the GLBT community both online and in her small town on the outskirts of Chicago. A member of Mensa, she is described as brilliant but troubled, sweet but introverted, and talented but deviant. She spends her days writing software and her nights writing erotica, which is, of course, far more interesting. The spare time that she carves out between her career and her novels is spent reading about the concept of love, which, like some of her characters, she has never quite figured out for herself.

Web site: http://www.JPBarnaby.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JPBarnaby

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JPBarnaby

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Justin Briggs can shout out directions all day on his job as a traffic cop, but put him in front of a hot guy, specifically firefighter Rock Sparks, and he clams up.

Rock finds Justin confusing. While saving a busload of children hanging off the edge of a highway overpass, the cute rookie is cool and confident. But when Rock tries to chat him up, he stutters and chokes. Frustrated, Rock teases Justin, and boy, is his temper hot.

Though Rock and Justin share a steamy kiss, Justin keeps his distance, still tongue-tied. Then, when Justin is injured on the job, Rock takes him to the hospital, and some of the barriers start to crumble. But getting his enigmatic sweetheart to open up brings up more questions about Justin’s past.

Purchase from Dreamspinner Press:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3675

Excerpt: 

About an hour later, a speeding car heading out of town caught Justin’s attention, and he flipped on his lights and pulled out to follow the car. He’d just gotten behind the driver and was about to radio in the call when a long screech, like nails on a blackboard, crawled up his spine. Justin looked up from the car in front of him and saw a school bus facing him on the freeway overpass. It took him a second to realize the bus was hanging over the edge of the overpass, and by then, he’d already disengaged from the speeder, who had sped up again and was heading up onto the freeway.

“Bus accident on I-81 South,” Justin radioed in. “Don’t know number of people involved. Need emergency services. Bus hanging over overpass, need South Hanover closed both ways. On my way to assist at the scene.” Traffic was already stopping on the surface streets. Justin needed to get up to the freeway, but the lane to the on-ramp was clogged, so he went up an off-ramp and turned so he went the wrong way down the freeway shoulder, siren and lights blaring so he could get to the bus.

It was teetering on the edge, and as soon as he stopped his car and got out, he could hear children on the bus, screaming. Cars on the highway were slowing, and Justin got the first cars to hold. He knew he was backing things up, but he needed to help those kids. “Stay there,” he told the drivers, and they held still, effectively closing the freeway. The bus screeched, and Justin saw it move slightly.

“It’s all right, kids,” Justin yelled, and the screaming subsided. “I want you all to slowly move to the back of the bus. Don’t move fast or suddenly, but slowly
walk to the back of the bus.” He saw the kids begin to move inside and heard sirens approaching from what seemed like all directions, but he kept his eyes on the kids. “That’s it. Keep walking slowly,” Justin encouraged as the back wheels of the bus settled back down onto the pavement. “Good, now all of you stay where you are. We’re going to get you out, but it will take a few minutes. No one move,” Justin said. “Is the driver with you?” he asked the kids through an open window.

“No,” a small kid about seven answered. “He’s in his seat with red stuff all over him.”

“That’s blood,” one of the other kids said, and a few of the kids began to cry.

“It’s okay, you’re going to be all right. We’re going to help you, and then we’ll get the driver out too. I promise,” Justin said, trying anything he could to calm them down. Other emergency vehicles arrived, and Justin continued working to keep the children calm. “Is anyone hurt besides the driver?” Justin asked.

“I hit my knee,” one little boy said.

“I hit my head.”

“My arm hurts.”

“Is anyone bleeding?” All the kids he could see shook their heads. “Is anyone else bleeding?”

“Timmy’s hiding under the seat,” one girl said.

“Make sure he’s okay,” Justin said, and he waited a few seconds as the girl’s ponytailed head disappeared.

“He’s just scared,” she reported. “He told me so.”

“Very good. Please don’t move around, and we’ll get you all out as fast as we can,” Justin said, then turned around to the gathering group of vehicles.

“How many are hurt?” Rockland Sparks asked him, and for a brief second Justin’s composure failed him. Damn, why did he have to be the one who responded? Every time the EMT was around, Justin got completely tongue-tied. Rock, as everyone called him, was just that: built solid, with arms that stretched his shirt sleeves. Justin swallowed and opened his mouth to respond, hoping like hell some sort of sound came out.

 

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Blurb:

Dante Rivers just lost the rodeo by two one hundredths of a point: he’s frustrated as hell, needs to get laid, and he knows just where to go. That night he meets Ryan Abbott and catches his eye—Ryan watched the rodeo and is still riding high on the rush. The chemistry between them ignites, but Dante, unable to deal with complications, leaves while Ryan’s asleep.

Ryan figures he’ll never see Dante again, but they’re fatefully reunited when Dante’s grandfather, Hy, hires Ryan to help straighten out some old investments. The attraction between Ryan and Dante still sizzles. Sex slowly turns to more, but obstacles abound: Hy’s failing health, Dante’s homophobic sponsor, an attack on Ryan, and Dante’s own struggle with his identity. Any one thing would be enough to separate them permanently… unless they both decide to hang on for the wild ride.

Purchase from Dreamspinner Press:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3696

Dante stepped out onto the arena floor, the sand crunching lightly beneath his boots. A murmur went through the small crowd gathered at the rail, and a bit of the excitement that had begun to slip away returned. He eyed the crowd and saw a group of kids—looked like a scout troop or something. He walked in their direction and was greeted by young, awed faces and even a few jumps.

“Did you like it?” Dante asked, and they answered yes as he took their programs and signed each one. “Hello, sweetheart,” Dante said as he crouched carefully in front of a little girl next to the boys. She had on a little cowgirl outfit and was holding her daddy’s hand. She looked at him shyly and then up at her daddy.

“She can’t talk,” he said, and Dante smiled at the little girl, taking the program from her hand.

“What’s her name?” Dante asked.

“Gabrielle,” her father answered. Dante usually just signed programs, but he signed Gabrielle’s to his “favorite little cowgirl” and handed it back, saying good-bye and getting a smile from the little girl before moving on.

Dante signed a number of programs and then stepped back, waving to everyone before turning to leave the arena floor. Some of the other riders were still signing, but he’d had more than enough. Just before he reached the tunnel, he saw the scoreboard, the numbers still displayed. Two one-hundredths of a point. The numbers seemed to mock him. Anger welled inside as the fatigue that had begun to take over subsided. Dante turned away and marched back toward the locker room.

“I’ve got to take off,” Harvey said outside the locker-room door. “Are you okay to drive?”

Was he? Dante took stock of his injuries. “I’m fine,” he answered. “I’ll see you soon.” Harvey nodded and then hurried away toward the exit, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he went. Dante went back into the locker room. He took off his vest with a sigh and set it aside before stripping off the chaps and the rest of the gear, packing it away before heading toward the exit.

“Tough luck about the score,” Bobby Varton said as they passed. Dante paused for a split second, trying to figure out if the sentiment was genuine or a rib. Knowing Bobby, it could go either way.

Dante shrugged lightly, hoping like hell to avoid more pain. “What can you do?”

Bobby nodded. “Best ride I’ve seen in a long time, though.”

Dante nodded before moving on. He left the arena carrying his bag and walked to his truck, parked in the designated area. The lot was largely empty, most everyone already gone. Dante unlocked the door and threw his gear behind the seat before climbing in. He started the engine and willed the air-conditioning to cool the damned sauna down. When the cold air began to blow, Dante closed the door, but he didn’t pull out. Not yet.

His leg shook with excess energy. Tired as he was, he couldn’t stop his heart from pounding. “Two hundredths of a goddamned point,” Dante yelled, pounding his fist against the steering wheel. “I was that fucking close!” His entire body thrummed with energy that wasn’t going to go away. Adrenaline still coursed through him, and it would for a long time yet. As hyped up as he was, from his jittery legs to his cock throbbing in his jeans, it wasn’t going to dissipate soon.

He threw the truck in gear and tore out of the parking lot and onto the access road before getting on the freeway and heading toward the north end of Houston. There was no way he was going to waste all this energy. What he wanted, no, needed, was a hard, down-and-dirty fuck. And he knew just where to get it.

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Fight Within MD  GoodFightMD

The Fight Within was just released this past week. It’s the follow up to The Good Fight. Both of these stories are very close to my heart since both of them have a basis in fact. The Good Fight is Akecheta and Jerry’s story. It deals with how native American children can be caught in the South Dakota child welfare system. This story was inspired by a true story and something similar has played out many times. The Fight Within is Paytah and Bryce’s story and it attempts to demonstrate that the povery on reservations not only means that people don’t have enough to eat or that their lives are hard, but it also tries to show that with that poverty comes other forces that turn people into victims. These stories are poverful and I love them both very much. They truly come from my heart.

The Fight Within Excerpt:

Blurb:

Bryce Morton needs a change of scenery. Since his partner’s death a year ago, he’s become withdrawn and quiet, so his friends, Jerry Lincoln and Akecheta (John) Black Raven, convince him to go camping with them on a Sioux reservation. Though he’s not immediately sure he’s done the right thing, Bryce becomes more interested when he meets Paytah, the man who owns the reservation’s trading post.

Paytah Stillwater’s life is filled with hurt, and sometimes the only thing he has left is pride. After being abused as a child and disbelieved when he spoke up, he has withdrawn into himself—but he can never truly put his past behind him, because the source of his pain still lives on the reservation. Paytah is proud of his heritage and careful with his heart, but when Bryce commits a selfless act of kindness for one of the reservation’s children, the walls around Paytah’s heart begin to melt.

Bryce and Paytah each fight the pain within them. When Paytah’s abuser sets his sights on one of the reservation youngsters, Bryce and Payton must set their individual fights aside. Finding a way to stop the abuser unites them to fight their way forward—together.

Buy Link:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3639

Excerpt:

As promised, the camping place wasn’t far from Kiya’s, and it was beautiful, with a small stream running through a shallow but lush valley. They unloaded the stuff, and the guys put up the tents. Bryce wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, so he mainly carried things from the van in what seemed like a never-ending caravan of equipment. “That’s the last of it,” Bryce said as he set down the cooler on the grass. They had tents, chairs, a small fire pit, and not much else, but they all seemed pleased. The kids almost immediately took off their shoes and socks to wade in the shallows of the stream while John and Jerry took a moment to sit quietly. They offered Bryce a chair as well.

“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Jerry asked, and Bryce grudgingly admitted that the view and quiet were a balm that his spirit needed.

“But at the first clap of thunder or weird sound outside the tent, I’m making for the van,” Bryce quipped with a sarcastic smile.

“It’s supposed to be nice all weekend, and the bears will leave us alone if we leave them alone,” John said, and Bryce jumped to his feet, ready to head to the van.

“You said there weren’t any bears,” Bryce cried, knowing then he’d been had. “Fine, but I’m still keeping the van on reserve.”

The kids joined them, keeping their shoes off, while John built a small fire. As darkness fell, they roasted hot dogs, told stories, and simply talked. A coyote howled in the distance, and Bryce looked all around, but didn’t immediately race to the van. “It’s okay, Uncle Bryce,” Mato said. “They don’t like people and they won’t come near the fire.”

Bryce nodded and listened as the haunting call was picked up by another and then another. “The land has its own music. If you close your eyes and let go, you’ll really hear it,” John explained.

Bryce wasn’t so sure, but he closed his eyes anyway and listened. At first, he heard the coyotes, then the crackle of the fire, followed by the overlapping chirp of grasshoppers. The stream joined with its soothing gurgle, with tiny animals scurrying through the grasses. A bullfrog croaked loudly, and Bryce jumped, nearly toppling his chair, and the children added their laughter to the chorus. He closed his eyes again, leaning back in his chair and listening. The sounds, no longer scary or confusing, worked their way into his mind. As he listened, he heard a rock tumble down from a nearby bluff. No one said anything, and Bryce breathed deeply and calmly.

“It’s beautiful,” Bryce said as he felt tears well in his eyes. He made no move to wipe them away. Percy would have loved it out here, and Bryce had never been interested in camping. I’m sorry, Bryce thought, and a tiny breeze came up, caressing his cheek. The tears started in earnest as he swore he heard Percy’s voice on the wind telling him it was all right and time for him to move on. I’ll always love you, but there’s another out there who will love you too, it seemed to say. The breeze caressed his cheek once more and then it was gone.

Bryce opened his eyes and saw Jerry and John staring back at him. “You fell asleep,” John said as he poked the fire.

“So it was a dream,” Bryce whispered as he looked around. He saw the kids through the screen of the tent, already asleep. “How long?”

“About an hour,” John answered in a whisper before lifting his gaze to meet his. “What did you see?”

“I didn’t see anything, but I heard Percy on the wind,” Bryce said and then waited, but there was no wind, the air still and rapidly cooling. “He told me he’d always love me, but it was time for me to move on.” Bryce swallowed back tears. “But it was just a dream.”

John shook his head slowly. “No. You were given a blessing. The spirits allowed him to come to you and give you a message. Don’t dismiss it or think it didn’t happen.” John placed his stick on the fire, stood up, and stretched his back in varying directions. Then he sat back down again, and no one talked for a while as Bryce sank deep into his own thoughts. Maybe it was time for him to stop grieving.

Bryce stood up and walked toward the van. He pulled out his suitcase and in the darkness changed into a pair of shorts and T-shirt before making his way to the tent he was sharing with the kids. They had insisted he sleep with them, so Bryce climbed into his sleeping bag on the air mattress and closed his eyes.

 

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Over the years I’ve written a number of Chrsitmas stories, so I thought in order to get ready for the holidays, I’d feature each of them here on my blog.  Last year’s story was A Present in Swaddling Clothes.  As I was looking for a story idea, my unmarried sister was regnant with her first child and she requested that if anything happened to her, that I raise her daughter.  The prospect was a bit daunting, so I decided to write about it.  The result was A Present in Swaddling Clothes.

PresentinSwaddlingClothesBlurb:

Josh held baby Vivien when she took her first breath in the world, and he has loved every breath she’s taken since. Now Vivien needs a home—a “for real” forever home, and Josh would love to be the one who takes her in. But Josh’s partner, Sammy, isn’t a fan of children of any size or stamp. Will Josh have to choose between being a lover or a parent, or will Josh’s niece work her baby magic on Sammy, giving them all the best Christmas present of all?

Purchase from Dreamspinner Press

Excerpt: 

“You have a girl,” the nurse said, and then she motioned for Josh to come over. “She’s beautiful and perfect.”

“Her eyes are closed,” Josh said as he looked down at the crying, openmouthed baby. The nurse turned down the light, and the tiniest baby Josh had ever seen opened her big blue eyes, and Josh felt his heart begin to melt. The nurse lifted the baby and handed her to Josh, who looked down into that beautiful little face, feeling a tear run down his cheek. Turning around, he showed Nicky her daughter. She couldn’t hold her because they had to finish the surgery, but Josh let Nicky look. “She’s gorgeous, Nicky.”

“She is that, and her name is Vivian.”

“Hello, Vivian,” Josh said softly, greeting his niece with a smile. He knew she couldn’t smile up at him, but she stopped crying and her eyes closed. “Is something wrong?” Josh asked.

“No,” the nurse said indulgently. “She’s falling asleep. She’s had a hard time of it too.”

Josh nodded and watched the precious child as he held her, waiting for the doctors and nurses to finish with Nicky. Josh sat on the stool he’d occupied earlier and let Nicky gaze at her daughter. “You did good, Nicky, really good.” Beyond that Josh didn’t know what to say, and his throat closed around his words. He was holding a new life in his hands. Josh had held babies before, but never like this, and the entire experience sent ripples up his spine when he thought about it. This was his niece, Nicky’s daughter, and as close to a child of his own as he was ever going to come. “Happy Thanksgiving,” Josh said to Nicky with a grin. “I can’t think of anything anyone could possibly be more thankful for than this little one.” Nicky didn’t answer, she simply smiled and stared at her baby.

The nurse took Vivian from Josh and carefully cleaned her up before placing her in a fresh blanket and handing her back to Josh. It was a good thing his partner, Sammy, wasn’t there; he hated the sight of blood. Eventually, once the incisions were closed, they checked Nicky over thoroughly before wheeling her to recovery and then into a room, where Josh was finally able to let his sister hold her baby. Once she was, Josh left them alone to get acquainted, and so Nicky could nurse Vivian.

In the hallway outside the room, Josh pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Sammy, it’s me.”

“Is everything okay? You’ve been gone such a long time. Nicky and the baby are okay, aren’t they?” The questions flew off Sammy’s nervously excited tongue.

“Yes. They’re both fine. She gave birth by Cesarean, but they’re both fine now. Nicky’s feeding the baby, and I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know what was happening. Both mother and baby are fine and healthy. It’s going to take Nicky some time before she’s 100 percent, but Mom is coming to stay with her.”

“She called a few minutes ago,” Sammy told him. “She said she’s on her way and she should be there in a few hours.”

Relief flowed through Josh. He knew Nicky was exhausted, but so was he. He had stayed up with Nicky through the long hours of her labor, and he hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. He hadn’t felt it until now, but with the adrenaline wearing off, he could barely keep his eyes open. After yawning, Josh told Sammy that he’d be home as soon as he could before hanging up the phone. Next, he called some friends of Nicky’s and gave them the good news. He had a whole list of people that he’d been given to call and dutifully made all the calls before pushing open the hospital-room door and peering inside. Nicky was resting back on the bed with Vivian in her arms, and both of them looked as though they were asleep. Josh motioned to one of the nurses, and she came inside and took Vivian to the nursery so Nicky could sleep.

Josh went in as well and leaned over the bed to kiss Nicky on the forehead.

“Are you leaving?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m going to try to get some sleep, and I’ll be back tomorrow morning. You get some sleep and take care of that beautiful niece of mine.”

“I will,” Nicky said with a smile. “You get some rest too.” Nicky took Josh’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you so much for being here. It meant the world to me.” Nicky began to cry, and Josh handed her a tissue from the bedside table.

“You know I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. I’m never going to have a child of my own, so I intend to spoil yours rotten.” Josh gave her his best grin, and Nicky smiled behind her tissue.

“You’re too good to me,” Nicky said, dabbing her eyes.

“No, I’m not. The world’s just too hard on you,” Josh said before kissing her again. She released his hand, and Josh walked toward the door. “Call if you need anything, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I will,” she promised, and as Josh left the room with a wave, he saw Nicky flash him a smile. Josh made it to his car and began to drive home. He stopped along the way for coffee more than once before pulling in front of his and Sammy’s home, a little more than an hour north from where his sister lived in Baltimore. Josh hadn’t been sure if Sammy would be home from visiting his family yet, and he smiled when he saw Sammy’s car parked in its usual spot. Getting out, Josh walked toward the front door, and it opened as soon as he stepped onto the porch. Once he stepped inside the house, Sammy closed the door and then pulled Josh into a hug. “I have soup for you, and Mom sent some Thanksgiving dinner home along with some of her fresh bread.” Sammy refused to let him go even while he talked, and Josh rested his head on his partner’s shoulder, already feeling the urge to sleep beginning to take over. “Come into the kitchen and eat, then we’ll get you up to bed.”

Josh was too tired to answer and simply let himself be led by the hand into the large and immaculately clean kitchen. Josh took a seat at the table, and Sammy moved around the space, opening drawers and cupboards. Josh had no real idea where anything was in this room of the house. He and Sammy had decorated the house together and done most of the work required to bring their century-old house back from near wreck and ruin. A warm bowl of turkey soup with a cream base was set in front of him, and Josh looked to Sammy with a grateful smile. “I love this,” he said and felt Sammy’s hand on his shoulder.

“I know you do. That’s why I made it.” Sammy smiled at him and sat at the next seat with a cup of tea. “How did it go?”

“It was rough,” Josh told him as he started to eat, the rich, creamy soup sliding down his throat, comforting from the inside. “The baby wasn’t coming, so they had to do a Cesarean. Nicky’s sore, but she’s doing okay. How was Thanksgiving at your mom and dad’s?”

“It was nice. They both said to say hello and to tell you that Nicky is in their prayers. Mom also sent lots of leftovers, and she baked you a special pumpkin pie.” Sammy took a sip from his cup, and Josh smiled. Mona always took care to make Josh’s favorites. He knew where Sammy got his love of food. In many ways, Sammy was the male version of his mother because, like Mona, he said love with food.

“I’m sorry I missed it,” Josh said quietly. He knew everyone would understand.

“I know, but you had something more important to do. They’ll see you around Christmas, and they said they’ll be down for the Christmas party in a few weeks. Mom asked if she should bring some of her homemade caramel corn, and I told her to bring whatever she’d like.”

“Tomorrow I’m going to ask Nicky to come. She and the baby can spend the night in the guest room. She’ll be ready to get away by then, and I’ll have the chance to spend some time with Vivian.” An image of her precious blue eyes looking up at him in the delivery room flashed in his mind. Josh knew he would never forget that moment as long as he lived.

Taking another sip of soup, Josh gazed at Sammy and saw a touch of fear in his eyes. He knew what that meant and had been expecting it. “Just don’t expect me to… do… anything with the baby. I’m allergic to dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, children, and I like it that way.”

“Sammy. Vivian is adorable. You’re going to take one look at her, and she’ll have you wrapped around her little finger.”

Sammy shook his head stiffly. “Babies scare me, you know that. They’re so small, and I don’t know a thing about them.” He shook his head again. “I know you’ve talked about children a few times, but I never realized you were that serious. They scare me to death, and don’t get me started on the pooping, peeing, diapers. Oh, and let’s not forget the puke and projectile vomiting. No.” Sammy continued shaking his head the entire time.

“I didn’t say we needed to adopt or have a child of our own. You told me how you felt about children when I first met you, and I’d never try to make you do anything you really don’t want to do.” Josh took Sammy’s hand. “But you know Nicky is going to need help with Vivian.”

“I know. You’ll need to help, and I’ll help too. Just don’t expect me to actually hold or take care of her. Once she’s older, I’ll show her how to cook and we can bake cookies and cakes together, but while she’s at that spit-up stage, she’s all yours.” Sammy grinned, and Josh went back to his soup. Once the bowl was empty, Sammy placed a plate with a piece of pie in front of him, and Josh took a bite of Sammy’s mother’s pie and groaned softly as the creamy pumpkin slid down his throat. “By the way, before I forget, Terry called yesterday, and he said they just got in a lamp that he thought we’d like. There are pictures on the web. It looks really nice, and I asked him to hold it until you could take a look at it. It’s a newel-post lamp, and it’s never been electrified. It looks like it needs some work, but he says it’s nothing we can’t do. I thought it would look great in the parlor.”

“Can we look at the pictures tomorrow?” Josh said with a yawn as he finished his pie. Now that he’d eaten, his bed was really calling to him.

“Of course. Terry said he’d hold it until Monday for us,” Sammy said, and Josh pushed back from the table. “Do you want to go right up to bed?” Sammy asked as he took the dishes to the dishwasher.

Josh covered his mouth as he yawned. “I think so.”

“I’ll be up soon,” Sammy said from the sink as he finished cleaning up the kitchen. Josh walked up the stairs and into the room they used as a family room. He and Sammy entertained a lot, so the main floor included the formal living room, parlor, and dining room as well as their kitchen. They used the extra bedroom upstairs as their television and media room. After turning on the television, Josh lay down on the sofa and turned on the Food Network. It wasn’t long before his eyes began to drift closed, and soon he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Let’s get you to bed,” Sammy said softly as he reached over and turned off the television.

With a sigh, Josh forced his legs to work and walked into the bedroom, yawning almost the entire time. After cleaning up in their en suite bath, Josh stripped down and climbed into their bed with crisp, fresh sheets that Sammy must have changed just today.

Sammy took good care of him, there was no doubt about that. They both worked, but Josh’s days were much longer, and his job as a food-systems engineer involved a lot of travel. Sammy worked close to home, and early in their relationship, Sammy simply took over taking care of their home. With Sammy, everything had a place, and Josh could always find what he was looking for.

The bathroom light switched off, and Josh heard Sammy’s footsteps in the now dark room. The door to the closet where they kept the dirty-clothes basket opened and closed. Then Josh felt the bed dip, and Sammy joined him. They didn’t curl together like they used to. After almost fifteen years together, they rarely cuddled in bed anymore. Sammy usually complained that it made him hot and sweaty. Sammy did lean close to him, his warm hand stroking Josh’s cheek, and then Josh felt Sammy’s weight shift as he was kissed good night. “Love you,” Sammy said before kissing him again.

Josh returned the kiss. “I love you too.” He felt Sammy hug him for a few seconds, and then Sammy rolled over onto his side, and Josh did the same. They had a good life together. They were settled and very happy. Sammy took good care of him, and he took care of Sammy. Sure, some of the passion had gone out of their relationship after fifteen years, but that was to be expected.

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