Title: Recklessly Ever After
Author: Heather Van Fleet
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: October 30th, 2018
Gavin St. James
After the hell I've been through in the Marinesâin lifeâthere's nothing I crave more than routine, stability, peace. Until McKenna Brewer walks into my life.
She's impulsive, fiery, tempting as hell, and everything I don't need. But when she offers me a night of no-strings-attached passion, I can't resist.
When our night together has unexpected consequences, I can't help but think this might be the perfect opportunity to show McKenna just how much I want her.
Contemporary romance author Heather Van Fleet is a stay-at-home-mom turned book boyfriend connoisseur. She's a wife to her high sch-ool sweetheart and a mom to three little girls. In her spare time, you can find her with her head buried in her Kindle, guzzling down copious amounts of coffee. Heather was born and raised in Moline, Illinois, where she lives with her wonderful family.
Barnes & Noble:
With a couple of nineties rom-coms tucked inside my purse, and a fresh carton of Ben & Jerryâs in a bag hanging off my forearm, buried in the bottom of my purse, I was determined to make up for lost time.
I knocked twice, like always. Once to make my presence known, and the next to make sure Max wasnât in there screwing one of his many flavorsâthough I didnât see his car either. Unlike every other time Iâd stopped by, nobody answeredâ¦at least at first. But then I heard itâa grunt, followed by a, fuck me and then an, Iâm coming, hold on.
âOh, God.â I took a step back, looking over my shoulder toward the driveway, more than ready to run.
No, no, no. I knew that voice.
There was no time to escape, though, because a second later he was there. And quite frankly, my legs werenât capable of moving, either. Because the moment that door whipped open and I saw him standing there, I was screwed with a capital S.
âMcKennaâ¦â He said my name on an exhale, while his hypnotic green eyes raked over me in one long, agonizing swoop. His cheeks grew bright redâmaking him look bashful and, adorable, not the tough- guy like his friends tried to be. When he bowed his head, I took a second to look him over too, frowning when I noted a clump of black sticky, gooey stuff clinging to the ends of his lashes, and a smearing of something shiny and red on the corners of his lips and clinging to his beard.
âH-hi.â I cleared my throat, attempting to remember why I was there in the first place. His The intensity emitting from this man tended to make me forget pretty much everything.
âWhat are you doing here?â He folded his arms over his massive chest. The same chest Iâd touchedâ¦ The same chest Iâd kissedâ¦
I blinked. âW-whereâs Addie?â
He frowned and that beard of his shifted, conforming with the movements of his jaw. âGrocery store. She asked me to watch Chloe for half an hour.â
âYou? Watch Chloe?â I snorted.
âYeah. Me.â His eyebrows drew together as he propped one hand against the door frame, a dare in his words that said, challenge Challenge me, and you will lose.
Except I highly doubted this man could ever beat me in a match of wits. Regardless, he did havehad me mesmerized, like as always. His hotness, his coyness, the vulnerability I knew he embodiedâ¦ Total. Human. Catnip.
I swallowed, watching his forearm flex. Gavin was humongous in every sense of the word. I may might have been a little tipsy when weâd had sex, but the delicious soreness between my legs the next morning proved that big was so very worth it.
My face grew hot at the memory, my mouth opening and closing like a dunceâs. Who was I? Where was I? And why the hell did I have an unexplainable urge to drop to my knees before him?
Because you like him.
I frowned and held my chin up high. âMind if I come in and make sure you didnât tie the tyke up?â Without waiting for a response, I ducked under his outstretched arm, holding my breath as I did. Unfortunately, the air in my lungs did little to block the heavenly, masculine smell he emitted. Spice, pine, soapâ¦ The combination made my lady parts tingle and my head spin in remembrance.
I didnât do men for more than a night. Not anymore. Not since Penis-head Head Paul. So, what was my issue? One and done, thatâs the way it was supposed to be. Not third timeâs a charm, damn it.
Ignoring his are-you-kidding-me- expression, I headed into the living room, finding the coffee table filled with all things princess. Crowns, feather boas, fake earrings, andâ¦ âIs that makeup?â
He cleared his throat. âYeah, um, give me a second, would ya?â
I grinned at him, watching, yet again, as he bowed his headâthis time rubbing at the clingy black goo on his eyes and, yes, the red lipstick on his beard.
Oh. My. God.
Heâd let the kid put it on him?
Be still, my beating heart.
âSure. Take your time.â My lips twitched as I watched him rush down the hall. The bathroom door shut a second later, followed by an explicit amount of cursing as the water began to run. I giggled, knowing exactly what he was doing. Washing it off.
Something tugged on the leg of my pants, forcing me to look down. I couldnât help but smile wider when I found the little lady that who had enamored my bestieâand maybe even myselfâstanding at my feet.
Chloe was dressed in jammies, yet she wore a fancy crown with and that the same red lipstick and black mascara as that Gavin had on his face, painted mostly on her chin and cheeks.
âHey, kiddo.â I crouched down in front of her, touching her shoulder. âAre you having fun with Uncle Gavin?â
She nodded wildly, her eyes bright and blue like her daddyâs. She pressed her tiny hands over her mouth a second later and giggled, looking over my shoulder. I stood and turned, finding Gavin shirtless, and using his T-shirt to dry his face, the abs of that gloriously, flat stomach making my throat run dry.
My knees grew weak at the image, and I plopped onto the edge of the chair, trying to curb the shaking in my hands. Jesus, I needed to get it myself together.
âBeaner. Grab your pretty princess stuff and put it back in the bag before Addie gets home, okay? Remember our secret? No telling her about the make-up .â She nodded quickly, hauling the stuff up into her arms.
With my bottom lip pulled between my teeth, I watched him sit on the coffee table in front of her, holding out the bag. As a team, they piled up all of the stuff and stowed it in the bag Gavin was holding. Seconds later, Chloe ran down the hall, her feet pattering against the floor.
I looked at his lap, briefly scanning his long legs tucked under a pair of mesh basketball shorts. They came just above the knee and were navy blue, the letters USMC were written along the edge. And like as if it called was calling to me, I saw the outline of his erection, growing harder with every blink of my eyes.
âYou wanna sit on my lap?â
âUmâ¦â Sweet Jesus, yes! Yes, please!
âYou keep staring at my shorts.â
âOh, uh, no. I was justâ¦â I looked away and nibbled on my lip, the temptation far tooâ¦tempting. If I sat on his lap, then I might not be able to get off so easily this time. Not just in the sexual sense eitherâthough Gavin was very skilled at making a lady comeâbut in the emotional sense too. Because, well, I wasnât as strong as I wanted to be, and being in his arms was something Iâd vowed not to do again. Mainly because Iâd liked it so much.
Title: Fighting for Someday
Series: The Someday Series | Book One
Author: M. M. Koenig
Genre: New Adult, Suspense Romance
Published: October 31, 2018
Page Count: 534 Pages
A creak of floorboards. Violet opened her eyes just in time to see a woman lunge. She was wearing a white lace nightie, offset slightly by the gaping wound in her stomach. Violet held out her arms, pushing back with all her strength. She barely had any left, but it was just enough to keep the zombie at bay. The woman’s eyes were almost white, and her teeth snapped in Violet’s face. Though she had no idea what caused this or why it was happening, she knew this thing wanted to kill her.
Her arms were hurting, but she continued to fight. The zombie moved her head suddenly, sinking her teeth into Violet’s left arm, just below the elbow. She screamed as teeth tore through her skin.
It was worse than any pain she’d ever experienced—sharp and brutal. She kicked out, catching the woman in the stomach and pushing her back. Violet ran, clutching her bleeding arm against her chest. She had no idea where the back door was, so she ran up the stairs. When she saw the bathroom up ahead, she threw herself inside.
The door slammed shut, and Violet saw a man click the lock into place as she dropped onto the floor by the sink. He was normal, not dead like the others. There was a hammering at the wood, rattling the frame. The man grabbed a towel, hurriedly wrapping Violet’s arm. She wanted to thank him, but her eyes felt heavy. Within seconds, everything was black.
This is my stop during the book blitz for Hex Marks The Spot by Ani Gonzalez. This book blitz is organized by Lola's Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 29 October till 4 November. See the tour schedule here.
Hex Marks The Spot (Drop Dead Witchy #1)
By Ani Gonzalez
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Age category: New Adult, Adult
Release Date: 21 October 2018
You can find Hex Marks The Spot on Goodreads
You can buy Hex Marks The Spot here on Amazon
About the Author:
I'm a USA Today bestselling author of paranormal romantic comedy and cozy mystery (whew, that's a mouthful!) set in Banshee Creek, Virginia, The Most Haunted Town in the USA. My books feature feisty, irrepressible heroines dealing with a host of paranormal critters (ghosts, cryptids, pagan gods...the sky's the limit) and mysteries. They find love and laughter (and sometimes corpses) along the way, and readers get to follow them every step of the way.
I love quirky towns with spooky stories, and, thanks to my books, I get to "live" in one year-around. In real life I live in a Virginia suburb (which is sadly lacking in ghosts) with my husband, three children, two cats, and one adorable dog.
You can find and contact Ani Gonzalez here:
No Ordinary Dukeby Sophie Barnes Publication Date: October 30, 2018 Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance
About Sophie BarnesBorn in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses. While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing. When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family. She currently lives on the East Coast.
A Heartbreaker Novel, Book 3
Published: October 16, 2018
Brent Keiser, a certified genius, and forensic accountant work for the FBI mostly because of their awesome retirement plan. Growing up homeless with a ditzy mother can make a guy be a little obsessive in the saving for the future department. But just once, he'd like to get out in the field, maybe actually fire a gun or chase after a bad guy like the other agents. Although, solving crimes with his calculator is statistically much safer, and he'd live to enjoy that house on the beach he saves for each payday.
Sara Chapman used to be a card-carrying member of the Hollywood rich kid pack, but after serving community service, she said goodbye to her spoiled friends. Seeing the plight of the homeless up close and personal gave her a new direction. But that doesn’t deter the annoying paparazzi. Her parents were the famous ones, not her. Sara’s only recent claim to fame was for having the most embarrassing public break up in the history of the entire world. Unfortunately, they don’t give Oscars for those, so she is trying to keep her head down and to stay as far away from single men as possible.
But then Sara becomes unknowingly tangled up in Brent’s money laundering case against her father. When it becomes hard to tell the good guys from the bad, she turns to Brent for help. While on the run for their lives, the built, nerdy accountant with magnificent abs, transforms into her personal superhero. Opposites in almost every way, will Brent see her as his Kryptonite or his Lois Lane?
Other Books in the Heartbreaker Series:
A Heartbreaker Novel, Book 1
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Published: August 2017
Dani Botelli has vowed to step out of her demanding movie star mother’s shadow and is determined to start a new chapter in her life. But two men vying for her attention are making for double the trouble. There’s Jake, her police detective almost-ex who wasn’t so hot as a husband but still has the hots for Dani. And as usual, he needs her intuition and visions to help him solve a crime. Then there’s her high school crush, Michael, a former NFL pro who’s now her mom’s hunky lawyer.
Working alongside Jake, while keeping her special gifts under wraps, is proving to be more dangerous than Dani realized. She needs to stay out of harm’s way—and out of Jake’s flirtatious path—long enough to find out if Michael is the one. But will her hard-to-explain hunches be the secret that comes between them?
A National Reader’s Choice Award finalist.
A Heartbreaker Novel, Book 2
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Published: February 2018
Falling in love can leave anyone feeling a little exposed…
Archaeologist Gabby Knight has been living under an assumed identity to steer clear of her mobster father’s enemies. But when she suspects her father of plotting to steal a priceless statue buried in New Mexico, she risks everything and sets out for the desert to beat him to it—and to save him from making a grave mistake. Breaking into a secluded cabin to wait out a blizzard, she’s not worried about visitors. It’s not like anyone would be traveling in this kind of weather…right?
Wrong. Detective Jake Morris has been ordered to take an overdue vacation, so he’s looking for some quiet time in the isolated retreat. But getting clobbered over the head by an auburn-haired firecracker wielding a cast-iron pan wasn’t the relaxing start he had in mind. Using a lot of charm and a little help from his prophetic ex-wife, Dani, he soon discovers who the sexy intruder really is.
Serving justice is in Jake’s blood, so he can’t help but join Gabby on her quest to protect the statue and catch a thief. To properly do his job, Jake knows he can flirt but better not fall. After all, what kind of future could a cop and a mobster’s daughter hope to have?
About the Author
Tamra Baumann is an award-winning author of light-hearted contemporary romance. A reality-show junkie, she justifies her addiction by telling others she’s scouting for potential character material. She adamantly denies she’s actually living vicariously in their closets. Tamra resides with her real-life characters—her husband, kids, and their allergy-ridden dog—in the sunny Southwest. Visit her online at www.tamrabaumann.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/author.tamra.baumann.
Title: He Loves You Not
Author: Tara Brown
Publication Date: October 23rd, 2018
How can a fidelity test possibly go wrong? In this sweet and sexy romance, international bestselling author Tara Brown counts the waysâ¦
Among her superrich friends, Lacey Winters never minded being the âpoor one.â That is, until her tuition money and big dreams vanish overnight. Now Lacey has a plan to make some extra cashâa devilishly brilliant plan. For a fee, sheâll test your boyfriend to find out if heâs faithful or a cheating jerk. Her next target: a slick and sexy trust-fund playboy. Unfortunately for Lacey, his charms arenât just legend. And before she knows it, sheâs under his spell.
It was bad enough that Jordan Somersbyâs father forced a spoiled âsociety princessâ on him. Then Jordan had to go and find his dream girlâthe beautiful, fun, and down-to-earth Lacey. And heâll do anything to prove heâs sincere. But pretty soon itâll be Laceyâs turn to prove that this is not just a game.
Because, when it comes to mixing love and deception, nothing is what it seems. And Lacey and Jordan are about to face the ultimate test.
I believe growing up in a really small town gives a person a little advantage when it comes to the imagination. You need one or you go mad.
Needless to say, mine saved me. After it got me into trouble first, that is. That's the problem with a vivid imagination, all the lies you tell.
I am happily married with two daughters.
I have two giant dogs, two savage cats, and a penchant for a glass of red.
Also, I drag my bread through the sauce. I can't help myself, bread is life.
According to my age, I am meant to be a responsible adult, but it isn't going well at all. I would still head off to Hogwarts tomorrow and I suspect there isn't a single wardrobe I haven't crept into, hoping to find the door to Narnia. And don't even get me started on the King's Road, I get lost.
Fortunately, I am an international bestseller so I have wormed my way into a quirky or eccentric category.
Thank God for that.
I am represented by Natalie Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency and am published traditionally with Montlake Romance.
Author Links: Facebook:
Amazon: Twitter: Web:
He Loves You Not
by Paul D. Marks
October 30, 2018 Book Blast
While the storm rages over California’s notorious 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.” Private Detective Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack Riggs, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. Along the way we explore the fiery immigration issue from all sides and no one escapes unscathed.
Read an excerpt:
Broken Windows, the sequel to Paul D. Marks’ Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat hit the shelves 9/10/18. Publishers Weekly called White Heat a “taut crime yarn” and said of Broken Windows: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though thrillers and set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. Marks says “Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines, like the passionate immigration debate, through the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.” His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story Windward, has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and won the 2018 Macavity Award for Best Short Story and was also short-listed for a 2018 Shamus Award. Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea.
Tour Participants:Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Enter To Win!:
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Paul D. Marks. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on October 30, 2018 and runs through November 7, 2018. Void where prohibiteda Rafflecopter giveaway
Eight Steps to Alpha
It only took a few minutes before Fe was back and for Elliot to realize she had absolutely no clue how much he bench-pressed. She brought him the wrong size. In fact, she brought him shirts so small, he was pretty sure it would fit a juvenile boy. Elliot was a man, a six-foot-two, two-hundred-pound man, and there was no way these suckers were going to fit him. “Wrong size,” he said, throwing the shirts back over the door. “I need an extra-large.” He flexed his chest in front of the mirror to prove his point. Did she not see this? Did she not notice these weapons of mass destruction?
The shirt came flying back over the stall, the hanger barely missing his head by a fraction. “You wear a medium. Put it on.”
He opened the stall door, not caring he wore no shirt, and flashed her a free sample of the gun show. “Fe, come on? Are you serious?”
She smirked a little, her dimple taunting him. “Your clothes are too big, Elli. That’s part of the problem.”
He raised a brow. “This,” he argued, grabbing the shirt from its hanger, “won’t fit over my right bicep.”
She laughed, in a way too amused sort of way, then came forward, took hold of the door handle, and closed it. “Put. It. On.”
So, he did. And it wasn’t easy. It was sort of like squeezing a python into a hamster hole. But he put it on to appease her, opened the door, and found Fe, immediately covering her mouth to suppress laughter. She eyed him up and down, did the little twirl thing with her finger again, and he turned happily, because she was smiling again—and he’d do anything to make her smile.
The shirt was white, almost see through because the fabric was pulled so taught, and the sleeves were wrapped around his arms like the casing of a sausage. When he made it full circle, he found her eyes locked on the band of skin right above his waistline. The shirt was a good four inches too short, leaving his belly button, and happy trail completely exposed. He didn’t even know if she was aware what she was looking at, because she seemed as though she was in a trance. But there was no mistaking it—she was staring right there, her hazel-green eyes, like a wheat field hanging on to the barest amount of spring, stuck just a fraction of an inch above his zipper.
His mighty soldier inched toward a salute, and he turned toward the mirror. “I told you it wouldn’t fit,” he said gruffly, then closed his eyes and forcibly cleared his throat.
God damn it! Why did this happening to him? At the worst possible time? He began saying Hail Mary’s in his head and tried to calm himself down.
“I’ll go get you a large,” Fe whispered, closing the door quietly behind her.
Good. He thought. Good.
Romance, Women's Fiction
Date Published: November 2, 2018
Two years ago, Noelle North’s then-fiancé left her waiting at the church on Christmas—her wedding day and birthday. She knows she cannot endure another holiday season at home in Boston. At the urging of four women at the assisted-living community where she serves as health director, Noelle decides to rent Seashell Cottage on the Gulf Coast of Florida for the holidays. She meets Silas Bellingham, the cutest seven-year-old boy she’s ever seen, and his great-grandmother, Althea. Noelle discovers Althea’s caretaker has been abusing her and goes into action, ending up with the temporary care of both Althea and Silas. Becoming part of the Bellingham household has an entirely different series of challenges when it comes to Althea’s grandsons, Jake and Brett, who are having problems of their own with hotels to run and their parents missing in a plane crash. But after sparring with her, Silas’ father, Jake, realizes Noelle is just what he and his family need, and when she finds the perfect Christmas star for Silas, they both know he’s right.
On the Gulf Coast of Florida, Noelle North walked along the white, sandy beach that lined the shore like the fur on her slippers back home. The sun’s heat washed over her, hugging her with its warmth on this early December morning. She unzipped her light jacket and lifted her arms to the blue sky, welcoming the day with an embrace. She had a whole six weeks of freedom from work and her dismal life back home.
Her family had wanted her to stay in Boston with them for the holidays, but Noelle knew she couldn’t endure another Christmas of everyone feeling sorry for her. Two years ago, on Christmas Day, her fiancé, Alexander Cabot, had left her waiting at the church on her wedding day, while he’d taken off with another woman, his best friend’s wife. She’d wanted to die of embarrassment. Even now, thinking of that humiliation, a shudder shook her shoulders, and her stomach filled with acid.
The one thing that had helped her keep going throughout the healing process was the conviction that she’d never fall for a glamour guy again. Besides, at thirty-two and with her grim track record with men, she was pretty sure she was destined to be single for the rest of her life. The thought didn’t bother her as much as it used to. Why should it? She had the freedom to come and go as she pleased, nobody was around to tell her what she could or couldn’t do, and evenings after a hard day of work at the New Life Assisted-Living Community were blissfully quiet.
Noelle stopped walking and gazed out over the water. Waves rolled toward her in a steady pattern, greeting the shore with a kiss and pulling away like a shy child. Above her, seagulls wheeled in circles, their cries shrill in the stillness of the early morning. She watched as a group of sandpipers darted toward the water’s edge, dipped their beaks into the sand for whatever little morsel they could catch, and continued on their way, leaving tiny footprints behind.
A flash of black caught her attention. She turned to see a big dog galloping toward her, yellow tennis ball in his mouth. She braced herself to greet him and then chuckled as the dog circled and ran right by her toward a small figure farther down the beach.
She walked on, watching with interest as the dog ran into the water and came out again carrying the wet ball in his mouth. As she came closer, she saw that the person throwing the ball was a boy whom she guessed was seven or eight.
The boy smiled at her as she approached.
“Your dog is a very good catcher,” Noelle said. “What’s his name?”
“Duke,” the boy said. The dog, hearing his name, came and sat by him.
“And what’s your name?” Noelle asked, thinking the boy with dark red hair, bright green eyes, and freckles was one of the cutest kids she’d ever seen.
“Silas. Silas Bellingham.” He studied her. “Who are you? And why aren’t you working?”
She grinned. “I’m Noelle North, and I’m not working because I’m on vacation for the next month or so.” She glanced around. “Are you here by the water on your own?”
“Naw. My great-grandmother’s over there. See?” He pointed to a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the porch of a sizeable house overlooking the beach.
Noelle smiled and lifted a hand in greeting, but the woman didn’t wave back.
“See you later,” the boy said and ran toward his great-grandmother.
Noelle watched him go, thinking of all her friends’ children back home. Of the four women who had stuck together through everything since college, she was the only one who was unmarried and without children. She’d always wanted a large family, but that didn’t seem possible now. At her age and with no prospects of a husband in sight, she would be lucky to have even one baby.
Trying to fight off depression, Noelle resumed walking. It was bad enough to have been dumped at the altar on Christmas, but that day was also her birthday. With a name like Noelle, she’d always felt the holiday season was something extra special, almost magical, in her life. Until two years ago, that is. Now, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, and especially Christmas music were nauseating to her.
She walked on wishing her grandmother was alive. From an early age, she and Gran had had a special relationship. In fact, Gran was the reason why, as a graduate of Boston College’s nursing program, Noelle decided to specialize in caring for the elderly. She now headed the health program at an exclusive, assisted-living community outside of Boston. Over the past several years, some of the more active residents had become dear friends. Without them, she would not be in Florida.
Noelle smiled at the memory of Edith Greenbaum confronting her with three of her closest elderly friends. “Now you listen here, young lady,” Edith had said with great earnestness, “it’s time for you to go somewhere, kick up your heels, and have a little fun. I was doing some research on the internet, and I’ve come up with the right place for you.”
Shocked and pleased, Noelle had played along. “And where might that be, boss?”
Edith and the other three women had tittered happily.
“I’ve printed it out for you.” Edith handed her a sheet of information on the Seashell Cottage just south of Clearwater Beach in Florida.
The minute Noelle saw the picture, she knew it was a perfect idea, the perfect place. Sitting on the edge of a broad expanse of white beach, a small, pink cottage beckoned to her.
With its painted clapboards, wide front porch, and two palm trees spreading shade nearby, it was everything she’d imagined in a beach getaway.
“Thank you, Edith,” she’d said with meaning. “I’ll see if it is at all possible.”
“You know we’re right, Noelle,” Edith replied kindly. “It’s time for you to move on with your life. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for us. We’re stuck here. But you’re not.”
Tears stung Noelle’s eyes as she’d embraced each one. It was the perfect time of year for her to do as they suggested.
Thinking of those dear women, Noelle’s spirits lifted and she began to run.
For the second morning in a row, Noelle awoke and stretched, relieved to be away from home. She’d wanted to come to Florida in time for Thanksgiving, but her mother had put her foot down and insisted that Thanksgiving be spent with all four of her children at home. Noelle loved her parents and her three older brothers and their families. But being with them for Thanksgiving had convinced her it was right to come to Florida for the Christmas holidays. Chaos reigned when the whole family was together. Eight nieces and nephews between the ages of one and fourteen were enough to rattle anyone. Even her mother, Jen, went to bed as soon as she could after everyone else had gone, leaving Noelle to do the last-minute tidying.
Noelle put on her fuzzy pink robe, padded into the kitchen, and turned on the coffee maker. Through the kitchen window, she saw that the clouds the weatherman had predicted were marring the blue sky and hiding the sun. Still, with ice and snow back home, the day seemed full of promise.
She took her cup of coffee out to the front porch and gazed out at the water. A sense of peace washed over her. Edith had told her life was full of challenges, forcing people to grow and change. Thinking of the past two years, she realized she’d been stuck in a pattern of self-doubt and hurt. No man, she vowed, was worth it. Edith was right. It was time for a change.
With a fresh resolve to enjoy each day free from the past, she went inside, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and headed out to the beach. Though the air was cool, the sun felt warm on her face as she headed down the sand at a brisk pace.
Along the shore, egrets were dipping their beaks into the shallow water, retrieving small, silvery fish. Noelle loved their long legs and the orange beaks that accented their white feathers. How long has it been, she wondered, since she’d taken the time to stop and study the beauty around her.
A number of people, children included, were searching the sand at the water’s edge for seashells. Some of the more experienced searchers held net bags that sagged with the weight of their treasures. She understood how hooked some people could be on searching for the best and the most unusual shells they could find. Each shell was truly a gift from the sea.
As she got closer to the part of the beach where she’d met Silas, she slowed. But neither Silas nor the dog named Duke was in sight. Sorry to have missed them, she walked on.
When she reached the long, wooden pier that reached out into the water like a finger testing for coldness, she sat down on one of the benches at the end of it. For a while, she watched fishermen patiently waiting for a strike. She especially liked to watch the young boys and girls fishing. The hope on their faces was priceless.
Yawning softly, Noelle headed back to the cottage. The sea air, sun, and freedom from home were working their magic on her body, relaxing muscles that had been tight too long.
In the distance, she could see Silas and his dog playing on the sand. Picking up her speed, she headed toward them.
Duke bounded toward her. His black paws pounded the sand in steady, eager beats. Wagging his tail, he stopped in front of her, tongue hanging out. Laughing, she patted him on the head. “Hello, Duke.”
She looked up to see Silas running toward her, waving.
Her heart filled at the sight of him. She’d hoped for a little boy just like him one day.
“Hi,” said Silas, beaming at her. “You’re early today.”
“Yes, it was such a beautiful morning I decided not to stay in bed. How are you?”
He looked down, kicked at the sand, and looked up at her with a sour expression. “Mrs. Wicked is back.”
He nodded. “She’s my Nana’s nurse. I don’t like her. She’s mean. She was on her break. And now she’s back.”
“I see. Well, nursing can be difficult,” Noelle ventured to say, unsure what the real problem was in the house.
Silas took hold of her hand. “C’mon! I’ve got to hurry back. I’m supposed to stay right in front of Nana’s house. If I don’t, Mrs. Wicked will be mad.”
Noelle allowed herself to be hurried along.
Standing in front of Silas’s great-grandmother’s house, Noelle studied the old woman.
Even from a small distance, she seemed bowed in spirit and fragile as she sat in her wheelchair staring out at them. Others might not recognize these signs, but from her years of experience with the elderly, Noelle was used to seeing this. On a whim, she turned to Silas.
“Let’s go say hello to your grandmother.”
“She doesn’t talk much,” Silas said with a note of sadness in his voice.
Noelle smiled. “That won’t matter. I bet she’s curious about me and might like a visitor.”
As they walked toward the front porch, a figure emerged from the house. Noelle observed the big-boned, broad-chested woman and guessed that this was the person Silas called Mrs. Wicked.
“There she is,” whispered Silas.
Pretending not to have heard, Noelle lifted a hand in greeting. “Hello!”
The woman did not return Noelle’s greeting and, instead, went inside.
Noelle climbed onto the porch, walked up to Silas’s great-grandmother, and held out a hand. “I’m Noelle North, a new friend of Silas’s. I thought I’d come to say hello to you.”
From among the wrinkles and the downcast look on her face, her blue eyes lit and a smile emerged. “I’m Althea. Althea Bellingham.” Noelle could see how beautiful the woman must have been and wondered what kind of injuries kept Althea in a wheelchair when there seemed so much life to her.
“She’s Mrs. Bellingham to you,” said the woman emerging from the house to stand behind Althea. Dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt, she scowled at Silas and turned her disapproval on Noelle.
“And you are?” Noelle asked, curious about Silas’ name for her.
“Betty Wickstrom,” the woman said with a challenging expression.
Noelle held back a chuckle. Mrs. Wicked seemed such an appropriate name. She turned to Althea. “Maybe someday Silas and I can get you out in the sun for a bit. He and Duke play a mean game of catch.”
Althea nodded and then glanced at Betty.
“She’s doing very well right where she is. Right, Althea? And now it’s time for her medicine. So say goodbye to her.”
Althea’s expression changed to one of defeat.
“Silas, time for you to come into the house,” said Betty.
“No! I don’t want to go inside. I want to stay with Noelle. She lets me play with Duke.”
Noelle smiled at both women. “I’m happy to stay with him for a while longer. Will that is okay?”
“No!” said Betty.
As Althea reached up to touch Betty’s arm, her long-sleeved shirt revealed a bruise on her forearm. “Yes.”
“What happened to your arm?” Noelle asked as calmly as she could while suspicion rolled through her in a wave of unease.
Althea glanced at Betty.
“She’s fine, just a little clumsy, that’s all,” said Betty, waving away Noelle’s concern.
“You hit Nana there,” said Silas, moving closer to Noelle. “I saw you.”
“Why, you little … You know that didn’t happen. That’s where I helped her up from another fall.”
Silas clasped Noelle’s hand and shook his head. “Adults aren’t supposed to lie.”
Noelle knelt down in front of Althea’s wheelchair and spoke softly. “Althea, you can trust me. I’m a registered nurse who helps the elderly where I live in New England. Are you being hurt?”
Althea looked at Betty, turned back to Noelle, and nodded. Then she lifted her shirt. Bruises were everywhere.
Noelle scrambled to her feet and faced Betty, her hands fisted. The burning desire to attack the awful woman was almost overwhelming. Through gritted teeth, Noelle said, “I would suggest you pack up your things and leave now, Betty, or I’m calling the authorities.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” snarled Betty.
“I would, I can, and I will,” said Noelle, flexing her fists. The abuse of the elderly wasn’t new, but each time she saw an example, it made her sick to her stomach.
Noelle turned to Silas. “You stay here with your great-grandmother. I’m going inside to make sure Mrs. Wickstrom leaves.”
Mrs. Wickstrom placed her hands on her hips and glared at Noelle. “You can’t make me leave. You didn’t hire me.”
“If you don’t leave, I’m calling the police. I mean it. I’ve handled cases like this before,” Noelle said, well aware this really wasn’t her business. But she wouldn’t, she couldn’t let the abuse continue. The sight of those bruises felt like a punch to her gut.
“Okay then, I’m not leaving until I get paid,” said Betty.
“Write down what you’re owed, and I’ll see that you get the money. That’s the best I can do under the circumstances,” said Noelle. “It’s the nicest offer you’re going to get because if it were left up to me, you wouldn’t get a dime. You’d get a jail sentence.”
“You have no proof that I did anything wrong,” countered Betty.
Noelle’s smile was cold. “Oh, but I do. I have two very credible witnesses and, if necessary, I’ll take photographs to show the authorities. Now, get your things, and I’ll escort you to your car.”
Noelle followed Betty inside and to a bedroom off the kitchen in the back of the house. She watched carefully as Betty hastily threw her things into a small suitcase. When she’d zipped her suitcase closed, she turned to Noelle.
“What are you going to do about it now?”
Noelle drew a deep breath. “I’m taking your keys to the house and escorting you to your car.”
“And then what?” sneered Betty. “Althea isn’t an easy woman to deal with. Too stubborn, too demanding for her own good.”
“We’ll see about that. Come on, let’s go.”
Noelle escorted Betty outside, wrote down the license number, and stood by as Betty threw her suitcase into the back of a small, blue sedan and climbed behind the wheel. After starting the engine, Betty gave her a middle-finger wave and took off with a roar.
Alone, Noelle stood in the driveway, breathing in and out in a calming pattern to slow her heartbeat. What in the hell had she done? She didn’t know Althea Bellingham. And now she was in charge of her until her family could find other help for her.
She went inside the house and out to the seaside porch. Silas was sitting next to the wheelchair, holding his great-grandmother’s hand. Althea was asleep in the chair. At the sweet sight of them, tears sprang to Noelle’s eyes.
“Hello,” she said softly to Silas. “Mrs. Wicked is gone. Come with me. I need your help.”
Silas followed her into the kitchen.
“Who do I need to call? Where are your parents?” Noelle asked.
Silas gave her a look that was so sad, Noelle’s heart clenched. “My dad is in New York. He’ll be back at the end of the week.”
“Do you have a phone number for him?”
Silas smiled and pointed to a printed list by the kitchen phone. “It’s the one on the top. His name is Jake.”
Noelle studied the mounted paper. Jake Bellingham’s phone number was listed at the top. She picked up the phone and dialed the number.
“The Bellingham Hotel New York. How may I help you today?” came a practiced, professional-sounding voice.
Noelle’s heart pounded with dismay. Bellingham Hotel? The family-owned hotels? “May I please speak to Jake Bellingham?”
“I’ll buzz his office for you.”
After a minute, a feminine voice came on the line. “Mr. Bellingham’s office. How may I help you?”
“Please, I need to speak to him. I’m a visiting neighbor calling from his grandmother’s house in Florida.” Noelle’s pulse sprinted at the idea of telling him what she’d done.
“Please hold, and I’ll see if he can take the call,” his secretary said.
A moment later, Noelle heard a deep voice say, “Jake Bellingham.”
Noelle swallowed hard. “Mr. Bellingham, you don’t know me, but I’m a new friend of Silas’s. My name is Noelle North, I’m a registered nurse visiting from Massachusetts, but not licensed in Florida, and I’m calling to tell you that I just escorted your grandmother’s caretaker out of the house for abusing her. I specialize in care for the elderly and recognize abuse when I see it. I did not call the police. I need to know what you want me to do next.”
“Let me get this straight. You don’t know me, my grandmother, or the woman who was taking care of her. Yet you had the balls to throw her out after, what, five or ten minutes in the house? Is that it?”
“Yes,” said Noelle with a confidence she didn’t feel. “That’s about it. As I said, I am a registered nurse, so I’ve seen too many cases of abuse like this before. She has bruises on her arms and torso that are very telling.”
“Abuse? Really? Put Silas on the phone,” growled his father.
Noelle handed Silas the phone. “Your father wants to speak to you.”
Silas’s eyes grew round. He took the phone and listened, then he spoke in a series of staccato sentences. “Yes! I told you Mrs. Wicked was mean! Yes, I like her! Her name is Noelle and she’s here on vacation. Nana showed Noelle her bruises. That’s why.”
After a pause, Silas said, “Love you too, Daddy,” and handed the phone back to Noelle.
“I had no idea this was happening to my grandmother,” said Jake. “I have you to thank for uncovering the situation. I’ve been mostly away for the last several weeks, and Althea never mentioned any problems with Mrs. Wickstrom. Nor did I notice anything like that. I’m sorry, but I can’t make it home for another few days due to some international legal problems. Can you stay with my grandmother and Silas until I can send someone else to take over for you? In the meantime, who can I call for references on you?”
“You can speak to anyone at the New Life Assisted-Care Community outside of Boston. I handle the health program there. I’m in Florida for a vacation, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m not licensed to practice in Florida, and won’t be able to stay with your family for any length of time, and then only as a caretaker, not a nurse.”
“Until just this weekend, I promise,” said Silas’ father. “And if I can find a better service than the one I used for Mrs. Wickstrom, it could be for only a few hours. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you well.”
Noelle bristled. “You may be used to paying people to do your bidding, but it’s not necessary for me. I’ve done this because I care about others. Not to get your money.”
“Whoa! I didn’t mean … Forget it! I’ll be in touch.”
Noelle hung up the phone, still steaming from the notion that she and her work were for sale when she was just voluntarily helping to resolve a very tough situation.
“You’re going to stay with me now?” Silas asked, giving her a wide smile. “Maybe for a long time.”
“Just until your father can find a replacement,” Noelle said, not wanting to get Silas’s hopes up for something that wasn’t going to happen. She already knew she didn’t like Jake Bellingham.
About the Author
Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston and Wally, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she's lived or visited and on the interesting people, she's met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.