Timeless Keepsakes: A Collection of Christmas Stories Ruth A. Casie, Lita Harris, Emma Kaye, Nicole S. Patrick, Julie ...
Book Spotlight: Timeless Keepsakes
A Collection of Christmas Stories
Ruth A. Casie, Lita Harris,
Emma Kaye, Nicole S. Patrick, Julie Rowe
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Time Travel,
Military, Medical Romances
Date of Publication: November 11, 2013
Number of pages: 270
Word Count: 65,000
Cover Artist: Alchemy Book Covers and Design
The magic of Christmas is in the memories we hold dear and those precious treasures that remind us of the past. Join us as our Timeless Keepsakes take us on five remarkable journeys that heal old wounds, remind us of days gone by, play matchmaker, sweep us back in time and prove that love can conquer all.
Mistletoe and Magick ~ Ruth A. Casie
She would give her last breath for him. He would give up everything to guard her well and love her more.
Christmas Spirits ~ Lita Harris
A widow's everlasting love is renewed by the memories of the holiday season.
Granting Her Wish ~ Emma Kaye
She doesn't belong in his time and he doesn't belong back home. Could they belong to each other?
Letter from St. Nick ~ Nicole S. Patrick
She’s trying to save her home and he’s never had one until now. Can an unexpected gift lead their hearts to the same place?
Secret Santa ~ Julie Rowe
A nurse grieving the death of her twin brother receives an usual gift at the staff secret Santa party: the bullet that killed him along with a message of hope and love.
Ruth A. Casie
She would give her last breath for him. He would give up everything to guard her well and love her more.
Excerpt Mistletoe and Magic:
Dead. Maximilian glared at the wilted mistletoe in disbelief. He poked and prodded the plant. It lay there tired and limp. He had cared for the sacred plant for a year. The Ancestors had trusted him to follow their orders. Find a wife—a soul mate. How difficult could it be? All he needed to do was visit the eligible women and choose one. He slammed his fist onto the rough oak table and bellowed his anger to the empty room. Dishes skidded and crashed to the floor. The lifeless shrub didn’t move. It didn’t change. It sat where he’d put it—robust and healthy—the night before. Now the crumpled brown leaves and withered white berries silently screamed his failure.
He could think of no reason why it hadn’t survived. He kept staring at the shriveled plant expecting—no, commanding—it to spring to life. It didn’t. He raked his hand through his hair. Everything he’d worked and trained for over the years was lost. He closed his eyes and traveled to that quiet place deep in his mind where he drew his inner strength. One deep breath, then another. His pounding heart took on a more natural rhythm. The reality of his situation hung on his shoulders like an oxen’s yoke.
“What’s happened? I heard a loud crash.” Doward rushed into the cottage and scanned the debris on the floor.
Max didn’t trust his voice. He shot the druid councilman a look and pointed to the plant on the table. He registered Doward’s unreadable expression and let out a quiet snort. Perhaps that was best. He was grateful his mentor didn’t show his disappointment. Doward, too, had warned him.
“One year.” Max tipped up his chin and struck a congenial tone. “I’ll wager no other Grand Master was forced to relinquish his position after only one year.” He turned away, not wanting to see his close friend’s disappointment.
“Well,” said Doward. “There was Elgon in the year sixty.”
Max’s head popped up. He hadn’t expected Doward to respond. The question had been rhetorical.
“You appear to have forgotten your elementary history lessons.” Doward stood shaking an old, crooked finger at him.
Max’s mouth opened and closed like a beached fish gasping for air. Only Doward had the nerve, the audacity, to reprimand him. Doward and the Ancestors. He couldn’t forget the Ancestors. They had the ultimate power over him.
“Yes, but the Roman invaders killed Elgon at Anglesey.” Max’s distraction was momentary. He leaned on the table and looked Doward in the eye. “They did not depose him because he couldn’t find his soul mate and give her the sacred mistletoe before it died.” He straightened, stepped to the cottage door, and stared out at the day but didn’t appreciate its sunshine or enjoy the invigorating coolness of the December morning. He turned to Doward. “It simply proves the council made the wrong choice.”
“Nonsense.” Doward picked up the stray crockery from the floor and set it back on the table. “The council did not make an error. You, my boy,” he strode over to Max and clapped him soundly on the back, “were by far the right choice.”
“It isn’t that I haven’t been searching for the woman.” He saw the compassion in Doward’s eyes. “Surely the Ancestors know I’ve done that.” Even he detected the pleading in his voice and groaned at his weakness.
“Yes, yes.” Doward waved his hand as if swatting a fly. “Every eligible woman in the village has gone under your scrutiny.”
“Every eligible woman in the village treated me kindly but none were interested in getting close.” He rubbed the nape of his neck. “Even when speaking simple pleasantries they avoided looking at me and stepped away.” He tried to conceal his frustration but his throat tightened and his voice rose the more he spoke of the women’s reactions.
“Perhaps you should have cast a wider net.” Doward’s tone had turned serious.
Max seethed, having to explain his actions to Doward. “You of all people should know there were more important things that needed to be done.”
“But I don’t think—”
“Yes, I know,” Max interrupted. “You don’t think the woman is someone I know or is even amongst the villagers.” He glanced at his teacher and softened his voice. “What was I to do? Go from village to village and give every available maiden the mistletoe and see if it thrived?”
“And now? What now?” asked Doward in a gentle tone.
Max turned from the door and sat next to the warm hearth. He rested his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands as if he sought to overcome a night of too much drink. “I don’t know,” he whispered. He did know that while he found some of the women beautiful and even enticing, none was his soul mate.
“The ritual of Alban Arthan is tomorrow. You are the Grand Master.” Doward stood at Max’s shoulder. “It’s time for you to travel and meet with the Ancestors in the Otherworld. Only you can carry back their guidance and inspiration for the coming year. And you will have to tell them you haven’t found your mate.”
“I’m aware,” he snapped and regretted his outburst. “Yes,” he softened his tone. “I know what I must do.” Of course he did. He’d been responsible for the annual ritual for the past five years—four years when he was a high druid and this past year as the Grand Master. Every year was the same. Except last year, they’d presented him with the sacred mistletoe and charged him with finding his soul mate.
“I will go and gather what we need for our journey,” offered Doward. “We’ve delayed as long as we can. I’ve asked one of the families who set off yesterday to prepare our campsite. But we must leave today.”
Max lifted his head and flashed the man a weak smile. “Aye, you go on. I have a few more things to gather. I’ll join you shortly.”
Doward regarded him thoroughly. After a few seconds he squeezed Max’s shoulder. “We will get through this.” His mentor took his leave.
He glanced again at the shriveled plant. It had the power to heal everything but itself, it seemed. Doward was right, of course. He would get through this. But would he still be the Grand Master, or reduced to a druid councilman, a priest, or, worse—exiled? He had delayed in order to search his vast library to prepare himself for the consequences and realized he would have the distinction of being the only Grand Master to fail when tasked by the Ancestors. He shuddered inwardly at the idea of failure. It was something he had no practice in.
“Well.” He slapped his hands on his knees and rose. He must see this through. He doused the fire, grabbed his half-full pack, and filled it with provisions.
He picked up his warding stones. Perhaps the Ancestors would allow him to train his successor. His chest tightened at the thought. He held the warding stones over the opening of the pouch. But what if the Ancestors had been wrong? He threw the small bundle into his kit and stared at the plant. Somewhere deep inside, a different answer sought light. He turned the problem over in his mind until the solution finally burst through the haze. He smiled at its simplicity and truth. He would go to the Otherworld. Give the Ancestors the withered mistletoe. And tell them he passed their test. There was no soul mate for him.
About Ruth A. Casie:
Ruth started reading romance books while traveling the world for business. Traveling alone can be daunting but she found a book in hand could see her through long waits at the airport as well as being good company at dinner for one. For some of her longer treks, she pared down what she packed to make room for books. Her favorite genres are romance and adventure.
A seasoned professional with more than twenty-five years of writing experience in communications and marketing for a large financial institution, she gave way to her inner muse and began writing a series of historical fantasy romance novels. Ruth is published by Carina Press and Harlequin Books.
When not writing you can find her home in Teaneck, New Jersey, reading, cooking, doing Sudoku and counted cross-stitch. Together with her husband, Paul, they enjoy ballroom dancing and going to the theater. Ruth and Paul have three grown children and two grandchildren. They all thrive on spending time together. It’s certainly a lively dinner table and they wouldn’t change it for the world.
You can read more about Ruth online at www.RuthACasie.com , on Twitter at twitter.com/RuthACasie, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RuthACasie
A widow's everlasting love is renewed by the memories of the holiday season.
Excerpt Christmas Spirits:
“What’s this, Grams?”
Emily Chadwick watched Olivia’s tiny feet shuffle across the kitchen floor as she approached with a small globe nestled in her hands. She stood back from the stove and brushed a lock of frizzy bang away from her eyes. The beef stew was nearly ready as meat, carrots, onions, and potatoes simmered, a perfect winter meal. She flicked the back of her hand and Olivia stepped away from the stove.
“What do you have there?” She pulled out a hand-carved chair from the kitchen table—always meaning to replace them with something lighter and modern—but she couldn’t bring herself to rid the house of any furniture Michael had made. She stretched out her arm as her granddaughter placed the piece of glass into her withered hands.
“Huh.” Emily caught her breath. “Where did you find this?”
“In the attic. I was looking for Cleo. She ran up there when I opened the door to let some cool air into the hallway upstairs.”
The heat was difficult to control in the house, built in 1850, and the attic door proved more efficient at controlling the heat than a thermostat.
Emily held the ornament to the light. Snow filled the globe as she twirled it between her fingers. “Your grandfather made this when we first met.”
“It’s pretty.” Olivia squinted her eyes. “Is that you and Grandpa on the lake?”
Emily nodded. “Yes it is. He was a stickler for detail. He didn’t make much blown glass so this is very special. He focused mainly on furniture.” She fought back a frown as she glanced at the silent guitar in the corner next to a chair by the kitchen fireplace.
Olivia stood back, away from the table, and clasped her hands behind her back. “I’m not touching it ever!”
“You’ll have to at some point because it’ll be yours.” She laughed.
“Nope, give it to Mom.”
Emily knew her granddaughter couldn’t appreciate the sentimental value the ornament possessed, but she could tell Olivia knew it would be a bad thing if the ornament broke.
“You look sad, Grams.”
She walked over to the sink and opened the window. Dust flitted through the room as the cool outside air merged with the heat from the kitchen fireplace. It was a constant battle to create a comfortable temperature in the old house. “Sit down, dear.”
She strolled over to the kitchen table and pushed a plate of fudge walnut brownies toward her granddaughter. Olivia poured them each a glass of milk. Emily wrinkled her nose in silent protest but couldn’t refuse the gesture. It was good for her, no matter how much she hated the taste and smell of milk.
Emily watched Olivia scoff down a brownie quicker than she could say the word. She enjoyed the time spent alone with her granddaughter. Soon, the day would come when Olivia wouldn’t want to spend time at her grandmother’s house to help bake Christmas cookies. Emily had seen it happen with her own daughter and she doubted that Olivia would be any different.
It had been years since she’d made a holiday dinner but every year she insisted on baking. It helped to keep her mind busy and not miss Michael so much.
“I wish you could have known your grandfather.” She turned the ornament to catch the light. Fake snow swirled about the skaters on the lake.
“Mom talks about Grandpa a lot. I know she misses him.” Olivia snatched another brownie.
Emily smiled. “I bet she does. All she ever had to do was ask for something and he jumped to help her.” She picked up a brownie and nibbled the edge of the crusty confection. “That was his way. Always eager to help someone.” And that’s how he died. She closed her eyes and remembered that day.
Michael just had to go out into the blizzard and pull his buddy out of a ditch. But that’s how he was. No one anticipated the cable line snapping and knocking him down the hill into a cluster of trees.
She couldn’t be mad even though she missed him. He was doing what had made her fall in love with him, being generous, kind, and giving. She pushed the memory aside and sighed a deep breath of relief.
“I would have liked to meet him.” Olivia took another brownie from the plate and shoved it into her mouth. “Tell me about him.”
Emily swept her hand through the air, then pointed about the room. “Your grandfather bought this house for me and restored it himself right after we got married. He made nearly every piece of wood furniture that fills the rooms of this old place.”
Emily picked up the ornament and cupped it in her hands. “But it was what he did before our wedding day that took my breath away and stole my heart forever.” Tears filled her eyes.
“What was that, Grams?” Olivia knelt on the kitchen chair and her ten-year-old face glowed with excitement.
“Well, it all started in the late ’60s…”
About Lita Harris:
Lita Harris spends her time between New Jersey and the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, where she writes most of her books. She also lived in Alaska for a short time just for fun. An avid crafter, unused supplies clutter her basement and attempts at making pottery, jewelry, and stained glass are proudly displayed in her house, usually behind a picture or holding a door open. She also makes candles and homemade soap. With enough books to stock a small library she may need to construct a building to store her literary obsessions.
She writes in multiple genres, including women’s fiction, contemporary romance, paranormal, and cozy mysteries. For more information about Lita, please visit her website at www.LitaHarris.com or at twitter.com/litaharris and facebook.com/litaharrisauthor.
Granting Her Wish
She doesn't belong in his time and he doesn't belong back home. Could they belong to each other?
Excerpt Granting Her Wish:
Danielle Thiessen smiled like an idiot as she held open the door of the café. The place had been like a second home to her the past few weeks. Riding the PATH train back and forth to Manhattan for countless job interviews during the day while tending bar each night, she’d needed all the caffeine she could get.
She breathed in the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee and cinnamon rolls that wafted out the door along with a blast of warm air. The frigid wind of December in Hoboken made quick work of the warmth, but the cold couldn’t touch her today.
An elderly man in a fedora and thick, horn-rimmed glasses shuffled through the open door. He tipped his hat in thanks and her grin widened. He probably thought she was a lunatic, but she didn’t care. Nothing could bring her down. She undid the buttons on her knee-length, cherry-red wool coat. She struggled with the zipper underneath while she waited in line, only managing to yank it free when she arrived at the front.
“Merry Christmas, Wendy. Small coffee, please.”
“Merry Christmas! How’s the job search going, sweetie?” Wendy plucked a festive red-and-green paper cup from the stack and filled it with the strong Colombian brew she knew Dani preferred.
“Great.” Dani beamed. “I’m just coming back from my final interview. I got the job! I start right after New Year’s.”
Wendy stretched across the counter to give Dani a quick hug. “That’s wonderful news.” She pulled back and picked up a plate of sugar cookies decorated like ornaments. “How about a little treat to celebrate?”
Dani shook her head. “No, thanks. Coffee’s fine.” Treats would have to wait until her first paycheck. Her bank account was running on fumes. She’d have skipped the drink altogether if they would’ve allowed her to sit there without ordering something. Wendy wouldn’t mind, but her boss? Uh, no.
She passed her money to Wendy and dropped the change into the tip jar. It wasn’t much, but Wendy needed the help. Dani wasn’t the only one with shaky finances. She and Wendy worked nights together at the bar and often shared tips on how to make their meager incomes stretch as far as possible. Wendy knew just how much it pained Dani to be in debt.
Just a few weeks to get through before she could rest easy. She’d scraped enough together to pay January’s rent since that would be due before her first paycheck hit her account. Utilities would be late, but she’d worked out a payment plan with the utility company and she’d be only a few days behind.
A knot formed in her stomach just thinking about it. What choice did she have? Thank God those days were almost behind her.
Dani draped her purse over the back of a chair before pulling out her little notebook to jot down some figures. She stifled a groan as she sat, her feet aching from her pretty, but not exactly sensible, boots. She wasn’t looking forward to the walk home.
All she needed was a little break. A few moments to think things through. She wrote down the salary she’d been promised so she could figure out what her checks would look like.
The credit cards would take a while. They’d gotten out of hand once her mom’s medical bills started streaming in. But if she maintained her current spartan lifestyle a few extra months, she’d get a handle on it before too long.
She scrutinized her calculations and swore under her breath. She’d forgotten all about taxes. She reworked her numbers. The new figures made her stomach plummet.
Her head dropped into her hands. She was so screwed. At this rate, she wouldn’t be out of debt until her forties. She shivered from the cold seeping through the glass window at her side.
She swiveled in her chair to locate the source of the voice and found herself face-to-face with the old man in the fedora. She hadn’t realized they sat so close.
“Sure, I’m fine,” she lied.
His eyes narrowed and lips pursed in a thoughtful expression. He wasn’t buying it. “I understand. But, you know, sometimes it’s easier to tell your problems to a stranger.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” She grimaced. “Of course, it’s not like I have any friends to talk to anyway. I’m new in town.”
“I’ve been married almost fifty years. My wife tells me I’m a good listener.”
“Fifty years? Wow. The longest relationship I’ve had was a year.”
His lips quivered but he just watched her, a patient expression on his face, his head tilted slightly to one side.
The urge to spill all her secrets bubbled up. Her eyes burned with the heat of unshed tears.
She sniffed and dabbed at her nose with a crumpled napkin. The rough paper scratched her upper lip. She’d given her last tissue to a mother with a crying toddler on the train.
“I was going to have such a great life, you know? Get a great job. Make lots of money. The works. Completely independent, with no one to worry about but myself. Exactly what I wanted.” The lights in her home would go on when she flipped the switch. No worries. Not like when she was a kid. “So, I packed up my stuff and moved here from South Jersey. I had it all planned out. New York City was the place to be. So many opportunities. I made sure I saved enough money to tide me over while I landed the perfect job.”
“I take it you haven’t had any luck finding that job?”
She threw her crumpled napkin on the table. “Nope. Got it. I start in a few weeks. Great base pay plus commission when I pass a certain level of sales.”
The wrinkles in his forehead deepened as he tilted his head to consider her. “Then why the sad face?”
“It’s not enough. Right after I moved, I found out my mom has lung cancer.”
He patted her shoulder. “I’m sorry.” He’d rolled up his sleeves to the elbows despite the chill in the air, revealing the faded blue tattoo lines of an eagle clutching an American flag on his forearm.
She tucked her shaking hands under her thighs and hunched forward. “Thanks.” She shrugged. “She didn’t even call me. I found out when she ran out of money and couldn’t stand the only places she could afford. She moved in and now I’m paying for a part-time caregiver and sleeping on my lumpy sofa. It’s all piling up and in the end, I’m going to be left with a heap of unresolved mommy issues, not enough time to come to terms with her, and a whole stack of bills I won’t be able to climb out from under for the next twenty years.” She twisted her head until her neck gave a satisfying crack. It didn’t do much to ease the tension in her shoulders. “I swore to myself I’d never live like this again, yet here I am.”
“Sounds like you could use a little luck.”
She snorted. “No kidding. But I don’t believe in luck. At least, not today.”
He smiled. “Understandable. I was young once. Didn’t believe in luck much myself, though it has served me well through my many years.” He winked. “Even let me keep most of my hair, though my grandpa was balder than a cue ball.” He tossed his hat onto the table while patting his full head of silver-gray hair.
She laughed. Sweet of him to try to cheer me up.
“I’ve even shared my luck with others upon occasion.” He settled back in his chair.
Dani stifled a sigh. She sensed a story coming on. Her grandmother had been full of them and they all started with the settling back in a chair to get comfy. They usually ended with Dani asleep in her bed. Well, at least she had an excuse not to return home right away. It would be rude to cut him off.
“I was a soldier. Though not by choice. Dodging the draft didn’t seem right, so when my number came up, I reported for duty.”
Judging by his choice of words and a quick calculation in her head, she guessed, “Vietnam?”
He sighed. “It was a horrible time. I’m an artist. A sensitive soul, my mother used to say. My father figured the army would toughen me up. He wasn’t wrong.” He fell silent, his gaze fixed somewhere beyond the window.
She picked at her cup. Did she want to hear the rest of his story? He’d drawn her in, despite herself, but…
“My tour was finally over. One last mission. It went wrong, of course. Last missions always seemed to go wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
His eyes glinted with unshed tears. He patted her hand, the feel of his skin warm and paper-thin against her fingers.
“I was there for a reason and luck saw me through.” He paused. His eyes glazed over as if he no longer saw the café around him. “We were passing through a little hamlet when Charlie attacked. The villagers scattered, but this little girl just froze. Right in the middle of everything.
“I grabbed her, but we were pinned down. I couldn’t move for fear she’d get hit. I could feel the thud of the bullets all around us. See the little puffs of dirt fly up as the bullets struck.
“My luck saw me through. Or hers did. I don’t know. But we didn’t get a scratch. It ended in short order, though it seemed like forever before I handed that child back to her family.
“Her grandma was a witch, I suppose. Grabbed my hand and started mumbling. I couldn’t understand a word. She picked up one of my bullet casings, a handful of dirt, and shattered glass. She slashed her hand and squeezed blood onto the whole mess, muttering all the while and refusing to release me. When she finished, she filled a little canvas bag and passed it to me. Her daughter told me it was a bag of luck. That it would one day grant me what I needed most.”
Dani pressed a hand to her chest and leaned forward. “And did it?”
He shrugged. “I met my wife before I had the chance to use it. I never needed anything else once I had her.” He scanned the room, stopping at a spot somewhere behind her. A small smile lit his face.
“That’s lovely.” Fifty years and still so deeply in love he couldn’t talk about his wife without smiling.
He dragged a fabric shopping bag across his table, rooted around, and pulled out a small, black velvet bag. He held it in the palm of his hand. “I melted the casing, mixed in the rest and made it into this ornament. Perhaps it has some magic remaining?” He held it out to her. “Why don’t you give it a try?”
She waved him off. “Oh, no. I couldn’t.” She really couldn’t. Knowing what was in it turned her stomach. She did not want to touch that thing.
He slipped the ties open and tilted the bag. The meager sunlight streaming in through the heavily fogged window seemed to brighten and splashed off a delicate, heart-shaped ornament.
She gasped in delight. It was stunning. Intricate silver filigree worked through a beautiful mosaic of red-and-green stained glass. She extended a tentative finger toward it but pulled back. “It’s gorgeous.”
He nudged it toward her. “It’s Christmas. Anything is possible at Christmas. Besides, what could it hurt?”
She shrugged. “Well, I suppose a little extra money could come in handy.” She reached out, at the same time noticing the inscription. Always. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Her fingers traced the delicate lines of the ornament. Her heart sped up with longing. Moisture flooded her mouth and she swallowed. Her vision blurred. She blinked. Red and gold blended and swirled before her eyes until the swaying colors filled her sight.
“Are you okay, little lady?”
She stumbled to her feet, the old man’s voice an echo in her ears. “Um, yeah. I just…need a little air.” She staggered to the door, fingers pressed to her pounding temples. She fell out onto the frozen asphalt.
About Emma Kaye:
Emma Kaye is married to her high school sweetheart and has two beautiful kids that she spends an insane amount of time driving around central New Jersey. Before ballet classes and tennis entered her life, she decided to try writing one of those romances she loved to read and discovered a new passion. She has been writing ever since. Add in a playful puppy and an extremely patient cat and she’s living her own happily ever after while making her characters work hard to reach theirs.
For more information on Emma, please visit her online at www.emma-kaye.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/emmakayewrites, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/emmakayewrites.
Letter from St. Nick
Nicole S. Patrick
“Last call for flight one eighty-nine, nonstop service to Jacksonville, Florida. All seats boarding.”
Thad Sinclair groaned at the stiffness in his kneecap, the result of sitting too long. Twenty-four hours ago he’d left Afghanistan, flown to Istanbul, and was at the tail end of a six-hour layover in New York City. God, he was beat. Plus, he was a grubby, ripe mess in his cammies and combat boots. He grabbed his rucksack, following the other stragglers in line to the Jetway for the last leg of his journey home.
Wherever that was.
The gate agent smiled, thanking him for his service when she took his boarding pass. Many people had stopped him to say “Thank you” or “Welcome home” since he’d arrived at LaGuardia Airport. It was good to be back on US soil and see friendly faces instead of watching his back and fighting insurgents at every turn.
He stowed his bag in the overhead compartment, settled in his seat then took a creased and worn sheet of paper out of his shirt pocket.
Not two weeks ago, Lieutenant Grant had kidded, “Sinclair, here’s a bunch of mail for you. What’d you hit the jackpot, my man?”
He sighed and shook his head.
Thad unfolded the letter and a sharp sting hit the back of his throat. Aw, hell. He blew out an unsteady breath as wetness seeped behind his eyes. His gut clenched just thinking about the man who had been more “Dad” than his own ever was.
Thad, my laddie, if you are reading this letter it means that I’m gone. And it also means there are some things you need to be apprised of. My good friend and attorney Rupert Green has all the information for you about my estate.
It’s time, Thad. Stop the globe-trotting and fighting the bad guys, and come back. Plant some roots, son. I’m just sorry I won’t be here to greet you.
You are the son I never had. I’ve always been very proud of the path you took. To this day I think your father was a jackass for all the pain he caused you, rest his soul. I hate writing this sentimental drivel, but I figured your aunt Maeve would’ve wanted me to.
Not many people knew I was sick so don’t go beating yourself up or getting upset over things. There was nothing you could’ve done. No use in fighting the inevitable. I’m going to join my Maeve now, and I’m okay and ready for it.
Thad slid up the window cover to gaze at the planes parked side by side in the terminal.
It’d been more than three years since he’d last seen his uncle. Yes, three years ago at Dad’s debauchery of a funeral right here in New York. His parents’ decision to leave what remained of their fortune to charity had turned ugly at the reading of their will. The Sinclairs were not a forgiving bunch. That was a fact. No, the stuffy, upper-crust, uptown cousins he couldn’t stand looked down their noses at the soldier in the family. He’d given up years ago making the correction that he was, in fact, a Marine.
None in the Sinclair branch of the family tree had ever pardoned him for being the “disappointment” to his father, even after the old man passed away.
Uncle Nick and Aunt Maeve were the only family who’d accepted him despite all of his faults, shortcomings, and “unrealistic”—according to dear old Dad—aspirations. Thad never understood how unrealistic it was to want to serve and protect the country which helped shape the Sinclairs into their successes. Ironically, Nick had been a black sheep in the Sinclair clan too. Maybe that was why they’d become close before he’d shipped out to begin his stint in the Corps.
Thad racked his brain to recall any telltale signs in Uncle Nick’s appearance the last time they’d met. But the strapping giant had embraced him with the same spine-cracking hug, kidding him about making nice with the rest of the family.
Had Uncle Nick been sick back then? Understandably, he’d been sadder since losing Aunt Maeve, and not nearly as animated as he normally was during the Sinclair family get-togethers. More like battles. But nothing else had seemed different.
He sniffed and swiped his eyes, sinking against the cool leather of his upgraded first-class seat. Damn! Why hadn’t he reached out sooner? Why had he chosen to be gone for so long? Perhaps the day-to-day shit storm of war was what had held him back from at least sending e-mail? What a lame excuse. He could’ve found the time. The motives for staying away may have been valid at the time, but for some reason he couldn’t recall any of them.
Now he’d never get to say goodbye. Talk about feeling lower than a junkyard dog. He’d wasted so much time not keeping in touch with the family who actually cared about him. His parents, for certain, hadn’t given a flying… Stop it, Sinclair. No use thinking about them now.
He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard. Anger waned into the familiar ache of loneliness, as it always did when he thought of his parents. He tamped down the vise of pain surrounding his insides, just as he’d done eons ago when he was a young Marine.
He scrubbed a hand down his face and placed Uncle Nick’s letter on the vacant seat beside him. He closed his eyes as a headache crept up the base of his skull.
The thought of going back to active duty after this leave was over made him twitchy. He had to admit, the bum knee was shot, and someday he feared it just might get in the way of his survival. Maybe it was time to let the younger, gung-ho guys take over. Was he actually considering throwing in the towel?
Focus on the now, Sinclair. Once he arrived in Florida, it would be a quick trip to Jacksonville to get his truck from his buddy’s garage and retrieve what remained of his scant personal belongings from the storage unit.
“We’ll be taking off momentarily, folks.” The pilot’s voice cut through the speakers. The announcement, coupled with the engines firing up, jolted Thad out of his musings.
Two weeks ago he wondered about his next destination. Now he knew—Amelia Island, Florida.
About Nicole S. Patrick:
Nicole S. Patrick has always loved to read, and in her teenage years, she “borrowed” her mom’s books to sneak away and become lost in the world of romance. After more than ten years in the corporate world of tech recruiting and HR management, she decided to stay home and raise children. But with so many romantic stories and characters floating around in her head, when the kids napped, she was compelled to put those words on a page and pursue this crazy dream of becoming published. Nicole writes romantic suspense and her heroes are those alpha males in uniform. She lives in New Jersey with her real-life hero, her husband, and her two sons.
For more information about Nicole, please visit her website at www.nicolespatrick.com.
Excerpt Secret Santa
“I hate Secret Santa,” Kenzie Bowman muttered to herself. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall, as far away from the crowded hospital’s emergency department lunch room table as possible. The table was covered in wrapped boxes and gift bags. A bevy of nurses rummaged through them looking for their name on a tag, squeals of glee and laughter filling the remaining space in the room.
Anyone walking by would think it was Black Friday. They’d be lucky if they didn’t end up treating one of their own for a bloody nose.
She used to love Christmas. The decorations, buying just the right gift for a friend, singing carols, and spending time with the people she loved.
Until last year.
Until her twin brother, Kennon, was killed on Christmas Day.
Now, she just wanted the entire event to be over. She never wanted to see another Christmas tree, hear another Christmas song, or taste eggnog ever again.
Her friend Amy surfaced from the circling sharks with a gift in each hand. “I found yours, Kenzie,” she said with Christmas cheer that darn near dripped sugar.
Amy bounced up to Kenzie and thrust the gift into her hands, then proceeded to rip the paper off her own.
“Ohh,” she squealed, segueing into a victory dance as she hoisted her booty into the air. “A bottle of Baileys! Santa loves me, yes he does.” Amy paused mid-dance to lever her laser-sharp gaze at Kenzie. “Your turn, Ebenezer. Open it.”
“What’s the point? I don’t wear perfume, I don’t like scented candles, and I don’t drink alcohol. We know the likelihood of one of those three items being in this box is eighty-six-point-three percent.”
“You sound like a computer when you talk that way,” Amy said, enunciating each word individually.
“Better than having your eardrums blown out by indiscriminate screaming.”
Amy’s eyes narrowed to two slits. “Open the box.”
“Have I mentioned how much I hate Secret Santa?”
“The box, Kenzie. Now.”
“Fine.” Kenzie rolled her eyes and picked at the festive paper. “But if this gift sucks it’s going home with you.”
Amy’s fierce expression slowly turned into a frown. “You don’t just hate Secret Santa, you hate Christmas, don’t you?”
“Do you blame me?” Christmas was supposed to be a time of joy and love, spent with friends and family. All that was impossible for her now. She and Kennon had been all each other had for eight years now. A heart attack had taken Dad from them. Mom followed him to the grave four months later.
Amy glanced away at the crowd of nurses and doctors for a second, then met Kenzie’s gaze. “I suppose not. But it’s not healthy for you to brood.” She watched Kenzie’s fingers as they slowly peeled the tape from the paper. “Come to my place Christmas Day,” Amy said, the words rushing out of her mouth like a five-year-old who’d had too much candy. “Don’t stay home alone. Please.”
“I won’t be good company.”
“That’s why you should come.”
The last of the tape came off the paper and Kenzie carefully folded it and threw it into the garbage can. The box in her hand was too small for a bottle of Baileys, so it was down to perfume or candles. She opened the top, pushed aside the tissue paper, and pulled out a glass ball about the size of her fist.
The glass was plain, no decoration or sparkles. Something hung inside it, tied up in some string. She turned the ball to see if she could get a better look—
A smashed, wrecked bullet.
Pain seized her diaphragm and brought her breathing to a screeching halt. The agony ricocheted through her body until even the tips of her hair hurt.
“What’s that?” Amy asked, staring at the ball, confusion furrowing her forehead. “It’s not very festive looking.”
It could only be one thing.
“The reason why I hate Christmas.” Her voice sounded strangely calm.
“This isn’t from staff, it’s from my brother’s best military buddy.”
Why? Why would he do this? Give her the one thing guaranteed to rip her heart out while it was only barely still beating.
“It’s the bullet that killed my brother.” The words came from far, far away. Almost an echo.
Amy’s gaze jerked up to meet her own. “Your brother? But I thought he… Shit,” she breathed out as a whisper. “How do you know it’s that bullet?”
“Because he tried to give it to me before.”
But Kenzie wasn’t listening anymore. She was drowning in sorrow. It clouded her mind, sight, and hearing, pulling her under into a dark and silent world. Somehow she walked from the lunch room to the waiting room, but she had no memory of doing it. This must be what teleportation was like. Going from location to location without the inconvenience of conventional travel.
People turned as she entered the waiting area, most of them likely hoping she’d call their name.
Except for one
One man stood slowly, staring at her face, his gaze apologetic. He was tall and fit, with a squared face that was strong rather than handsome. Every woman in the room turned to stare at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. His whole focus was on her.
She angled her head back sharply then turned and walked a little ways until she got to a large wheelchair-accessible washroom. She went inside. He followed her in and she shut and locked the door.
Kenzie glared at the man who had been trying to give her a damaged bullet for the past three months. A man she’d refused to see again after their first disastrous conversation. A man she’d told to go to hell.
A man she’d once thought she loved.
She held out the box to him. “I don’t want this. I never wanted to see it and to find it in a glass ball pretending to be a Christmas ornament—” For a moment she ran completely out of breath. “Take it.”
He made no effort to accept the box. “Damn it, Kenzie, he wanted you to have it.”
“My brother wanted me to have the bullet that killed him?”
“No. He wanted you to have a reminder of what you have to live for. ‘We’re all just a bullet or a breath away from oblivion; don’t waste yours’—wasn’t that the phrase you used to say goodbye with?” He took a step toward her. “He made me swear. It was the last thing he said to me before—”
She thrust a warning finger an inch from his nose. “Don’t say it.” She paced a step or two away, then back. “I never knew how stupid and childish it was to say the rhyme our grandfather taught us until the damn bullet showed up.” She shoved the box at him and spun, grabbing for the door handle, but he got there before she could get the door open.
He took her shoulders into his hands and turned her.
She didn’t want to see him, didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to face the reality of her life with her brother—her best friend—no longer in it.
She pounded on Gage’s chest and fought to get herself free.
He simply gathered her up and pulled her into his intractable embrace. Someone was crying deep, shuddering sobs that sounded like they were coming out of the throat of a tortured person.
That’s when she realized—she was the person crying.
About Julie Rowe:
Julie Rowe’s first career as a medical lab technologist in Canada took her to the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta, where she still resides. She loves to include medical details in her romance novels, but admits she’ll never be able to write about all her medical experiences because, “No one would believe them!” In addition to writing contemporary and historical medical romance, and fun romantic suspense for Entangled Publishing and Carina Press, Julie has a short story in The Mammoth Book of ER Romance (September 2013). Her book Saving the Rifleman (book one of the War Girls series) won the novella category of the 2013 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in several magazines such as Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest (Canada), Canadian Living, and Romantic Times Magazine.
For more information about Julie, please visit her online at www.julieroweauthor.com, on Twitter @julieroweauthor, or at her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JulieRoweAuthor.