Monday, January 16, 2017

Spotlight Promo for FIT FOR A KING by Susan Fisher-Davis


FIT FOR A KING
is now available at


Wade King believes he’s worth nothing, especially in the eyes of the man who gave him a chance to be somebody. When Win’s beautiful teenage daughter kissed him on her eighteenth birthday, he refused her even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. He knew he was not the kind of man her father would want for her. Now she was back.

Hannah Winston has always loved Wade King, even while she was married to another man. No man could live up to the man who had claimed her heart as a teen. Now she’s returned to Win’s Circle ranch to claim her inheritance only to discover her father had other plans and it involves the one man she tries so hard to hate, but can’t forget—Wade King.

With no other choice but to work together, Wade and Hannah try to ignore the pull each has on the other, only to fall victim to their desires. Now Hannah wants more but Wade still refuses her. What must a woman in love do to make a hardheaded cowboy understand that he might think of her as duchess, but she’s only truly fit for a King? 


My thoughts—Wade is a real SOB but I suspect you’ll love him as much as I did while editing. Hope you’ll read FIT FOR A KING by Susan Fisher-Davis.

About the Author:

   Susan Fisher-Davis writes steamy, hot, sexy books that women love to read. Her stories always have a happily ever after and isn’t that what romance is about? After starting out with Secret Cravings Publishing, she decided to go indie when SCP closed their doors in August 2015. Now she writes and publishes with Blue Whiskey Publishing.
   Susan was born and raised in a small town in the western part of Maryland surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. She moved to Tennessee in 1996 with her husband and two children where she enjoys walks in the woods, fishing, and dreaming about hot men to share with us.
   She currently has two series out, The Men of Clifton, Montana and The Bad Boys of Dry River. Cowboys and bad boys...what more could any woman want? Her newest series, The Callahans, a series about four cousins, begins with A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS, a novella, which is now available but the following books in the series will be full-length.



Happy Reading Everyone!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Unwrapping a Review of SCORPIUS RISING, a Scorpius Syndrome novella by Rebecca Zanetti

Already a huge fan of the Scorpius Syndrome series by Rebecca Zanetti, I knew I had to read the novella that started it all—SCORPIUS RISING. I’m glad I did because it answers a lot of questions hanging at the edges of my imagination. I hope you’re going to give this series a chance, if you haven’t already but either way, I hope you read this one. My only real wish is that it was longer. And how about that cover? Makes me want to lick the screen.

***purchased for my own personal reading but sharing my honest and unscripted review.

Blurb for SCORPIUS RISING:

With a deadly disease spreading like wildfire across the country, microbiologist Nora Medina needs to focus all her energy on stopping the pandemic. Playing with dynamite—in the form of her way-too-hot ex—is the last thing she should be doing. But forced to work with Deacan McDougall against unexpected enemies with the seconds ticking by, she knows the explosion is coming...

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Once upon a time, Nora Medina was married to a sexy, stubborn Scot named Deacan McDougall. The last thing she expects when she is dragged away from a vacation in the sun is to find herself near him again. He hadn’t changed a bit; in fact, he might be even more sexy, and stubborn. He says he’s changed but she’d have to see proof of that herself. Aside from her need to ignore the man who she’s never stopped loving, she has something more pressing to worry about, such as trying to find a cure to stop an alien bug that is killing everyone infected or turning them into raging and dangerous lunatics. Her best friend, Lynn Harmony, is already working hard on the solution to the most devastating attack on the human species the world has ever encountered. When her own assistant becomes infected, she discovers just how dangerous the Scorpius bacterium is and just how dangerous her Scot can be when an obsessed maniac puts her in the crosshairs.

Rebecca Zanetti manages to pack more action, more thrills, more angst, and more sexual tension into her pages than I could ever imagine, and I love every minute of it. Since this is a novella, there was a lot more time spent on the relationship between Nora and Deacon but that didn’t mean we don’t get to experience the slow downward spiral as the Scorpius Syndrome begins to destroy human society, as we know it. Having read the first two books in the series, MERCURY STRIKING and SHADOW FALLING, I was intrigued to know what led up to the amazing post-apocalyptic world that Rebecca has created. SCORPIUS RISING is that missing part of the story. It’s engrossing, exciting, terrifying, and fulfilling. My only true wish is that it was a full-length novel because I’d like to know more…more about how Lynne Harmony ended up searching for her mercenary, Jax Mercury, and what happened to Nora and Deacan. My hope is that somewhere down the line, we will meet up with Nora and Deacan again....and get the rest of that story.

In the meantime, I highly recommend SCORPIUS RISING by Rebecca Zanetti to everyone. Even if you’re not normally a fan of apocalyptic story lines, try this one out…it might just surprise you and addict you the way it has me. I can’t wait for the release of JUSTICE ASCENDING, due out January 31st. I’ll be grabbing my copy as soon as it’s available.

Happy Reading Everyone!

SCORPIUS RISING, a Scorpius Syndrome novella by Rebecca Zanetti, Zebra/Kensington, available now in ebook formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobobooks.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Unwrapping a Review of ON THE PROWL, a Bad Things novel by Cynthia Eden

I know I’ve been away for a while but I’m reading again, and thoroughly enjoying every word. I started ON THE PROWL, book two in the Bad Things series by Cynthia Eden back in October and had to set it aside while I dealt with family obligations. I had only just started reading it but once I returned to it, I flew through it. I can’t wait for the next one. These are standalone reads but it’s best to read the series from the beginning.

***purchased for my own personal reading but sharing my honest and unscripted review.





Blurb for ON THE PROWL:

Time to embrace your inner evil.

Rose Kinley never intended to be one of the most feared creatures to walk the earth. Once upon a time, she was a human—one who fell in love with a mysterious stranger. But when she got caught in a paranormal war, she lost her humanity and died…only to wake later as a vampire.

Now Rose has a choice. She can continue to try and be the good girl she once was or she can let her darkness out to play. Maybe it’s finally time for her to step into the dark.

He’s the reason she’s undead.

Panther shifter Julian Craig has a mission—protect Rose at all costs. It’s his fault that she lost her human life, and he literally made a deal with the devil so that she would have a second chance as a vampire. And as part of that deal, he’s supposed to keep his hands off Rose. An impossible task considering the dangerous lust he feels for her.

When Rose is targeted by a paranormal collector, Julian knows that he will have to let his own beast out if he is to protect the only woman who ever touched his battered soul. Rose may be afraid of the darkness she carries, but Julian is more than ready to show the world just what kind of a monster he truly is. Julian isn’t afraid of the dark…but the monsters that wait in the shadows? They will bow to him.

He’ll show her just how good it can feel…to be bad.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Julian Craig is a killer. He works for the Devil himself, Luke Thorne, as a guard and assassin. He’s also a shifter—a panther shifter. Dangerous and sexy, a monster that kills monsters, he does have a soft spot—a vampire named Rose. Rose wasn’t always a vampire. Originally, she was Julian’s girl, a human girl who got in the way when someone tried to kill him. She died and Julian did what any man in love would do, he tried to save her. In doing so, he made a deal with Luke to bring her back. He hadn’t planned on her coming back as a vampire and she wasn’t happy about it at all.

Rose is on the run from a collector of paranormal beings and the only one who can keep her safe is the one man she’s tried to stay as far away from as possible—Julian. Now she must depend on him, even as she begins to learn more and more about the man who has claimed her heart from the beginning no matter how much she tries to deny that fact. When Luke’s twin brother, Leo, becomes involved, all hell breaks loose. Now Rose has to worry about Julian’s safety as well as her own.

I love a good paranormal story and Cynthia Eden knows just how to make us fall in love with all of her characters, not just the main ones. We met Julian and Rose in the first book, THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE, when Luke gives his devilish heart up to the beautiful Mina along with the devilishly endearing werewolf, and can’t wait for his story, Rayce Lovel. As always, Cynthia conjures the best characters and fleshes them out in such a thorough way that we easily connect with them…even Leo who isn’t turning out to be such a good guy, even if he is the Lord of Light to Luke’s Lord of Darkness.

Action-packed, character driven, and mysterious all at the same time, ON THE PROWL is clever, exciting, and makes the reader want more. Julian is a man, driven by the killer instinct of his animal, only one who tries to be as gentle as a kitten when it comes to loving Rose. Only she’s discovering her own dark side and might just prefer the roaring panther to a mewing kitten after all.

Whether you are a fan of paranormal romance or not, I highly recommend ON THE PROWL by Cynthia Eden as well as THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE, book one in the Bad Things series. The characters alone are worth the reading adventure and who knows…you might discover you like paranormal after all. I can’t wait to read Rayce and Lila’s story in BROKEN ANGEL. It’s already waiting for me on my reader. Then again, I say that anything Cynthia Eden writes is well-worth reading. She’s one of the best.

Happy Reading Everyone!

ON THE PROWL, a Bad Things novel by Cynthia Eden, indie published, available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobobooks.

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Eve Traditions...

This year wasn’t a very good one for me. I’ve had family situations to deal with and then in November, I lost my dad, which meant the holidays weren’t very jolly for me. As a result of all of this stress as well as trying to stay on track with work, my reading has suffered. However, I am already back reading and have finished one and am reading another. Reviews will return with the New Year. In thinking about the New Year and hoping it will bring better times, happier events, and I’m hoping less stress, I wondered about some of the traditions we associate with it. I’ll bet you wonder about them too.

December 31st is the last day of the year and as we know it, New Year’s Eve. It’s a night of celebration for some eager to see the old year go, sadness for others because it might be saying goodbye to memories of better times, or it might just be a continuation of the holiday happiness that December brings. I always try to think of it with optimism, that the New Year will bring more good times, good health, prosperity, and new adventures. I generally don’t celebrate it in any particular fashion but do see it as a new beginning.

For many, it’s a night to throw a party, attend a gathering, toast with champagne, and exchange good wishes for a Happy New Year. I’m all for that but never seem to do more than just watch the clock and say, “and so it goes.” How about you? How do you celebrate?

In England, when the clock strikes midnight (actually the New Year doesn’t officially begin until one second later and this year, we have an additional second added onto 2016 to correct for the rotation of the earth so it will actually be two seconds after the clock strikes midnight). Well, when it’s official, all across the UK folks cross their arms over their chests, link hands with all those nearby, and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I’ll bet you sing it every year but never knew what that song was about…did you?

“Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song first written down in 1780 by Robert Burns. Although, it was in existence many decades before that, his transcription got the most attention so it’s most commonly associated with him. “Auld Lang Syne” is from an old Scottish dialect and translated it means “Times Gone By.” This poem/song is about love and friendship in times gone by. When we sing about “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet”, we’re referring to sharing a drink symbolizing friendship.         

In Scotland, this song is sung but the Scots celebrate the New Year with much more revelry and drinking, and usually for longer than one night. They celebrate Hogamany, which traditionally lasts for a day or more into the New Year. Sounds good to me…a bigger party. Since Christmas had been banned in Scotland for a very long time and they worked on through the days following the Winter Solstice, the Scots’ only time to truly celebrate was when the New Year rang in. So they would ensure their debts were paid, the house cleaned, and when the clock struck midnight, they’d sing Auld Lang Syne, and celebrate with drink and merriment…it was and still is one of the rowdiest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. I mean they get really rowdy. 

The Scots also practiced the tradition of the first footing. 
First Footing or the first foot in the house after midnight is still quite common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house and the family inhabiting it for the New Year, the first foot should be a dark male. He should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal to ensure the house be warm, salt and shortbread to ensure the family never go hungry, and a wee dram of whiskey…well, they are Scots. It’s possible the preference for a dark male harkens back to the times of the Vikings. After all, a big blonde stranger arriving at your door with a big axe meant huge trouble and probably not a very happy New Year.

The celebrations usually continue through the 2nd of January, which is an official holiday in Scotland. There are fireworks galore, more drinking, and merriment to ensure the New Year starts off right. I guess the Scots know how to do it up right! Happy Hogamany!

Here in the US, we usually watch the ball descend in Times Square…no matter where we are or what partying is happening, everyone seems to stop and watch. But where did that tradition come from? Well, it seems it might have been more about promoting newspapers than anything else.

Come Saturday night, millions will watch the most famous New Year's Eve celebration in the world—the ball drop in Times Square. Well, it seems it was all the idea of a man named Adolph Ochs, the son of Bavarian Jewish immigrants. After the European revolutions of the 1840’s, his parents, Julius and Bertha Levy Ochs, immigrated to the US and lived in Knoxville, Tennessee before the Civil War. As war approached, they moved to Cincinnati, where Adolph was born, and a few years later they moved back to Knoxville. At first, all was well, Adolph’s father prospered as a merchant. They lived in a large house, and Julius Ochs was a prominent citizen, a justice of the peace, and a leader of the Radical Republican Party. In fact, he helped found Knoxville's first synagogue, Temple Beth-El. Then came the economic collapse of 1867, and the Ochses had to move into a cheaper and much smaller home. The sons had to go to work. Adolph, being the oldest, got a job with the local Republican newspaper, the Knoxville Chronicle, which was then located on Market Square. He began as a paperboy, but eventually worked his way up to apprentice printer.

By the time Adolph was 19, he had done some writing as well as printing, and was now rather sure he could run a paper himself. At the time, Knoxville was overloaded with newspapermen but Adolph had heard about a struggling newspaper in Chattanooga called the Chattanooga Times. With the help of some investors, he bought it and hired several members of his own family to come help him run it, including his father. Adolph turned it into a very successful newspaper.

In 1896, Adolph got wind of another failing newspaper called the New York Times, and it was for sale so he bought that one too. Using his experience in Knoxville and Chattanooga, Adolph made it into a very successful newspaper and added features like the book review and the weekly magazine. He changed the newspaper, and he changed the map of Manhattan as well. He moved the Times to the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenues, which was a very busy place but not yet famous. He persuaded the city to give it its own subway stop, and in 1904, Adolph renamed it Times Square after his newspaper. (Before that, it was locally known as Longacre Square.)

Now Adolph Ochs liked the idea of celebrating a holiday in a big public way. He also liked to promote the Times, and New York so he decided he wanted to celebrate a holiday that was a holiday for everybody. He picked New Year’s Eve, and originally celebrated the arrival of midnight with fireworks only that drew complaints. So he came up with a quieter and more legal way since fireworks were also banned in New York. In 1907, based on a method of signaling ships in the harbor, they lowered a giant electrically lit ball along a rooftop mast on top of One Times Square. In an era when electric lights were still new to the public, seeing them move was a remarkable sight. Moreover, in the right mood and on a particular night in December, it still is…

Happy New Year Everyone! 


Friday, December 23, 2016

A JOYFUL MERRY LOVE, a Christmas Novella by Amy Valentini

Every child knows about sending a letter to Santa at the North Pole so to be imaginative, I thought I'd take a shot, only I sent mine to Mrs. Claus. I posed the question to her of how she met Santa Claus. I suppose Mrs. Claus thought me a little girl, but I don’t mind. I’m not sure if you will get the story included with your gifts from Santa but I already got mine. I thought I’d share it with everyone…just in case. My gift to you. ~*~

Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and God Bless us all.

A JOYFUL MERRY LOVE



The day began beautiful, bright, and cheery, as it always did in the small village nestled among the forests that lay just on the edge of the horizon to the north. The sky was a clear blue, and the wind warm on Merry Belle’s cheeks as she set out the baskets of pinecones she and her siblings had gathered the day before from the floor beneath the great pines that encircled the village. Laughter filled the air as some of the younger children, three of her siblings included, danced around the fountain that was the centerpiece of their sweet haven from the rest of the world.
“Be sure to set aside a basket for your Aunt Regina,” her mother called out to Merry from her seat in the wagon in which her father had driven her in from the forest.
Her father had already disappeared into his cobbler shop while Merry and three of her older brothers unloaded the baskets from the bed, and arranged them beneath the sign that read BELLE’S FINE PINECONES. There were only seven children, besides herself, left living at home with Lively and Queenie Belle now that the three eldest, Merry’s brother and two sisters had married. Her sisters, Gay and Livie, had married men from villages outside the magic so they had moved far away. Her brother, Reggie, married a local girl named Sprite and since he worked with their father, they remained nearby. They lived in a small house not far from the shop.
Merry sighed with sadness thinking of her sisters so far away. They would only be allowed to visit when the magic fell which was only once a year. She missed them very much even with more siblings still around her.
“Mama, do you want me to take Aunt Regina’s basket to her house?” It was her brother, Jasper, who called out the request to their mother.
Merry smiled slyly. She knew the real reason her brother was so eager to walk the mile into the forest to deliver the basket—Cecelia Claus, their cousin.
“No, don’t bother, Jasper. Nick is supposed to retrieve it for her. He should be along soon. Merry, keep an eye on the younglings, please,” Queenie Belle called out as she turned the reindeer, which pulled the colorful wagon, in the direction of home.
“Yes, Mama, I will,” Merry told her mother even as a smile teased the corners of her mouth and her heart fluttered in her chest. She had hoped that Nick would come into the village today.
It had been almost a month since she saw him last and even though she was not happy with his behavior of late, she was eager for him to see her new hairstyle. She had woven her long ebony locks into a long braid that nearly reached her hip and then twirled it around her head with bits of holly sprinkled throughout the weave. The green of the prickly leaves and red of the berries highlighted brilliantly against her black hair. She knew the leaves nearly matched her green eyes and the berries, the red of her lips. Wearing her best apron, the one embroidered with holly leaves, berries, and trimmed with red bows, over her dark green work dress, she knew she looked quite fetching and hoped Nicholas Claus thought so too. She hadn’t forgotten how he had been with that haughty Lavinia Woodhaus before he left for the outside.
“Perhaps CeCe will come to market with Nick,” Merry remarked over her shoulder as she piled more perfect pinecones into the display baskets. When Jasper glared at her, she giggled making him glower even more. “I hear she’s got a new beau.”
“She does not,” Jasper snapped in return. Then he stopped his work and looked at Merry, a shadowing cast of despair filling his blue eyes. “She doesn’t, does she?”
“Lacy told me that CeCe was worried that her father had picked out a husband for her, and then I heard from Maggie that a stranger was seen riding in the direction of the Claus farm.”
Jasper’s eyes darkened as Merry recounted the gossip that had circulated. She had no idea if any of it was true and seeing how she had not been to market in almost a week, the stranger could have been just that—a stranger. She had overheard her mother and father discussing the topic of Frederick Claus having consulted their mother about whether or not to arrange a marriage for his only daughter. Merry knew that her mother would never advise her cousin to arrange a marriage, as she didn’t believe in it. Even knowing this, Merry couldn’t resist teasing her brother who was head over heels in love with Cecelia Claus.
“She wouldn’t. She couldn’t,” Jasper muttered as he stacked the baskets neatly. Merry suddenly wished she hadn’t told him anything. She hoped CeCe wouldn’t accept some stranger either. She and Jasper belonged together.
A commotion beyond the fountain caught Merry’s attention. Glancing to where the children had been playing, she noticed they had all gathered on the far side of the fountain. Jasper noticed too, but quickly put his attention back on his work. Merry sighed knowing he would leave it to her to make sure their younger siblings stayed out of trouble.
Merry set down the handfuls of pinecones she was sorting. She wiped her hands on her apron and started around the display table to inquire as to what had drawn the children’s attention when she suddenly halted mid-step. Strolling into view as if he were a celebrity was Nicholas Claus. The children danced and giggled around him as several of the young women of the village hung on his arms or juggled to acquire his attention. One in particular, the supercilious Lavinia Woodhaus, clung to his right arm as if the earth would swallow her if she let go. Merry wished she would be.
Merry stepped back behind the display table and smoothed her skirt and apron. She tried not to look in the group’s direction but couldn’t resist sneaking a peek from under her dark lashes.
“Jasper, my good friend and cousin, my sister asked me to relay a message,” Nick called out as he approached.
Merry loved the sound of his voice. It was always happy and friendly as if the man was never in a foul mood. He’d always been that way. As a child found lost in the forest, he hadn’t shown anything but joy and was happy to find a new home as a foundling.
Jasper stepped close to Merry in anticipation of the message Nick had brought him, but Merry refused to look up. The last time she had seen Nick, he’d nearly completely ignored her, and then there was that incident. Her brows knitted together and her jawed tightened remembering what he had done.
It had occurred just before he left the village during the long day of fallen magic. This was the only time the villagers could leave or anyone visit their encapsulated world, and she knew once he was on the other side that it would be a long time for him whereas it was merely a day for her. Time moved faster within the magic so Nick would have a month on the outside—a wonderfully long month that allowed him to experience so much more than she could ever offer him. She had heard he’d returned days ago yet he made no effort to see her. She could only assume he was lost to her.
The children jumped and laughed around the display, and Merry heard Lavinia giggle. When one of the children bumped the table, Merry’s head snapped up to reprimand them and send them on their way, but a pair of laughing blue eyes caught her gaze. Her words suddenly caught tight in her throat.
“Good day, Merry,” Nick said in a low slow voice. Merry heard Lavinia snort disapprovingly but ignored her.
“Hello Nick.” Merry cleared her throat to speak those words. She tried to tear her gaze from his but he refused to look away, and she hadn’t the will to do it herself.
“So you have a message from CeCe?” Her brother reminded Nick.
“Ah yes,” Nick glanced at Jasper as he began, but then his eyes shifted back to Merry. “She wants you to come by the house for supper tonight. She says father wishes to speak with you.”
“Me?” Merry exclaimed with confusion.
Nick laughed. The sound was joyful, clear, and vibrant sending the women around him into sighs and giggles. The children, once more, began to dance and laugh. It was, as if his laugh cast a spell of joy over everyone who heard it.
Lavinia clung tighter to Nick’s arm and leaned in brushing her voluptuous body against his. Merry wished to rip the woman’s blond hair from her head. When Lavinia reached up and brushed dark red curls away from Nick’s forehead with long slender fingers, Merry nearly leaped across the display table to do just what she had been thinking.
“Goodness no, Merry…Jasper, she wants Jasper to come for supper,” Nick announced with a deep chuckle. “Although, if you’d like to come, I’m sure Mother would be delighted.”
“I’m sure Merry Belle is too busy to tear herself away from selling pinecones and bathing babies to attend supper, but I’m free,” Lavinia cooed in Nick’s ear.
Merry curled her hands into fists to keep from slapping the insipid girl.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Nick watched Merry closely as Lavinia taunted her. He had no want of the conceited blonde hanging on his arm or any of the other young women who seemed bent on attracting his attention. His heart belonged to Merry Belle, but he was lost as to why she had not come to see him off on his journey to the outside nor welcomed him home. Even yet, her greeting seemed cold and distant. They had been the closest of friends growing up. He was only a few years her senior, how many was unknown for he’d never know his exact age. His father had approximated that he was perhaps four or five years of age when Frederick Claus found him wandering the great pine forests surrounding the village. His adopted parents had surmised the fallen magic caught him inside while wandering the forest. Nick was happy with his life and his family here so never felt the need to search for his real family, if he even had one. As a young boy, he had eagerly awaited the day he might proclaim his desire to make Merry Belle his wife and now that he was a grown man, he was at a loss as to what to do.
Lavinia leaned against him, her soft breasts caressing his arm. He wanted to pull away but when he saw a crease form between Merry’s delicate brows and her hands clench into fists, he knew that Lavinia’s behavior bothered her. He smiled with a great happiness lifting his heart. Perhaps she did care. Was she jealous?
“I think it best you not attend, Lavinia. As I told Jasper, my father wishes to speak with him so it’s best it is only family in attendance,” Nick remarked casually to his companion not removing his gaze from Merry. He saw one of Merry’s sweet dimples appear in her cheek as she turned her head away. She was smiling. She was glad he had not invited Lavinia to supper. “Perhaps we’ll have supper another time, my dear beauty.”
Nick nearly burst out laughing when he saw Merry crush a pinecone in her hand as he added the provoking remark. She was jealous—yes indeed, she was.
“So how was your time outside the magic, Nick?” Jasper nudged Merry’s side as he kicked the crushed pieces of pinecone under the table. She glared at him as if she wished to crush him for asking such a question.
“It was very interesting, very interesting indeed,” Nick remarked as he watched Merry from the corner of his eye.
“Oh, do tell us, Nick darling! Did you meet a lot of fine ladies?” Lavinia’s voice was all sugary as if she was some delicate thing that needed someone to hold her up which Nick was beginning to think she might actually require.
His arm was beginning to go numb from the tight hold she had on it. He decided it was time to cut her loose. He unfurled her fingers from his arm and pushed away to sit on the display table inches from Merry. He could smell her scent, which was unique to her alone. She always smelled of sugar cookies and vanilla. Nick loved the way her scent seemed to surround him when he got close. He wanted to taste her all over to see if she tasted as good as she smelled.
He picked up a pinecone and tossed it casually as he leaned back on one elbow on the table. He glanced over his shoulder when Merry snatched the pinecone from the air and placed it on the top of a neatly stacked pile. He smiled at her, but received a frown in return.
“I did meet lots of fine ladies but none were as fine as those I know here,” Nick explained removing his gaze from Lavinia and her friends to the beautiful girl with shining black hair. The girl with bright green eyes that always reminded him of the rich fresh forest, pale creamy skin, round cheeks that always carried a hint of pink high on them and contained dimples that made his heart soar when she smiled. Her mouth was usually a pucker of pink like the softest petals of wildflowers but today, they were the color of delicious berries, and he dreamed of kissing those lips again. He’d kissed her once a few months ago, but not since. Was she perhaps angry with him over the stolen kiss? He’d thought she’d enjoyed it at the time for she had leaned into it and had definitely returned it, or had that been his imagination or wishful thought.
“I’m sure they wear much finer clothes than we do,” Lavinia said with moan pushing out her lower lip in a mock pout.
Lavinia Woodhaus was the daughter of the mayor. She wanted for nothing and always wore the newest fashions for her father journeyed to the other side of the magic every year to make sure she had only the best. Nick had traveled with the mayor to the other side this year. His hope was to find a way to allow others to travel through the magic even when it wasn’t fallen.
He had discovered that for him, it mattered not whether the magic was fallen or not. Nick was able to pass through at any time. He had suspected it a while, for about six months earlier, he had stumbled over a log and fell against the boundary. When he did, his arm had passed through it. He had been fearful to try passing through alone for fear that he might not be able to come back so when he passed through with Mayor Woodhaus and it was time to return, he grabbed the man’s arm and stepped back through to the outside world. He was able to do so without problem, and then was able to step back through into their magic bubble, even though the magic had returned.
“Oh, they are fine and they are beautiful but I prefer something more familiar, something sweet and familiar.” Nick glanced at Merry. She was staring at him with an odd expression. She cocked her head and the tip of her tongue appeared to wet her lips, but then quickly disappeared. Was she remembering the kiss? He’d told her she tasted sweet and familiar after he’d kissed her.
“I’m sweet and very familiar,” Lavinia said seductively as she stepped forward and ran her fingers through his hair.
“Lavinia Woodhaus, you’re acting so common!”
Nick was taken aback to hear such a chiding exclamation from Merry Belle. She never raised her voice at anyone, not even when the children needed reprimanding. She had been silent ever since he spoke to her about CeCe’s message and now suddenly, she was scolding the mayor’s daughter. Oh yes, she was jealous, he realized with happy joy. He repressed the smile that teased the corners of his mouth.
“How dare you, Merry Belle? You’ve no business speaking to me that way,” Lavinia snapped then whined as she stepped close to Nick. “Nick, darling, are you going to let this…this pinecone seller speak to me…your dearest…that way?”
Nick heard Merry expel a pained gasp. He saw her eyes sparkle with tears before she dipped her head. She didn’t really believe there was anything between him and Lavinia, did she? He watched her shoulders fall as she stepped away from the display table, her hands clenching her finely embroidered apron. Before he could speak, she murmured something to Jasper who was staring at him with the look of a brother who was about to defend his sister. Merry moved away and disappeared behind the screen that blocked out the back of the stall.
“Jasper?” Nick was truly confused. He hadn’t meant to hurt Merry by his flirtations with Lavinia, but it was obvious he had.
Jasper shook his head and looked away.
“Come to the tavern with us, Nick,” Lavinia cooed near his ear.
He looked at her. She cared not that she had insulted Merry or that she really was acting quite common. He never should have flirted with the woman. He’d made a grave mistake.
Nick pulled away and hopped off the table. Without looking directly at Lavinia, he pushed past her to round the table.
“Not right now, Lavinia,” Nick told her.
He needn’t look back at her to know she was staring after him with a shocked expression. No one refused Lavinia Woodhaus anything.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Tears streamed down Merry’s face like a heavy rain and she could do nothing to stop them. It was all she could do to swallow down the sobs that threatened to explode from her chest. She wiped at her face with her apron. Her heart was aching, her lungs burned with the pain of loss and sadness that overwhelmed her. Therefore, Lavinia Woodhaus was something special to Nick. The kiss that Merry had seen them exchange the night before he went outside, was more than a flirtation, it was affection.
“Merry?” The sound of Nick’s voice behind her caused her breath to catch and her back to tense. She wished the earth would open and swallow her quickly before she embarrassed herself more than she already had. She refused to turn to look at him.
“Go away.” The sound of her own voice was a shadow of the depth of despair she was feeling.
Strong hands gripped her shoulders and her immediate reaction was to shrug them off and move away, but Nick didn’t allow it. He spun her to face him but she lowered her head so as not to see his face or allow him to see hers.
“What is this all about, my sweet?” His voice was gentle and worried.
Merry felt a clutch in her gut as a sob boiled up, and out, before she could stop it. Her tears flowed once more. Nick pulled her close and she allowed him. He wrapped his strong arms around her as she pressed her wet face to his beautifully embroidered waistcoat. She loved the waistcoat he’d worn today. It was why she’d chosen the ensemble she had. He was dressed in his forest green embroidered with vines and edelweiss blooms. His black pants and polished black boots were the perfect accompaniments and the white linen blouse beneath the waistcoat was like snow in the forest against the dark green. He wore no cravat today but left his collar open, and now as she peeked out from under spiked lashes, she spied soft curls she knew were red like the curls on his head. His scent of pine and cherry wood tobacco filled her stuffy nose and calmed her sobs. When his hand stroked the curve of her skull, she sighed and inhaled trying to halt her tears. It wasn’t his fault, after all, that she was so desperately in love with him. If he chose another, she must resolve herself to it.
“Are you still angry with me over the kiss?”
Merry pushed away from Nick’s broad chest and looked up at him through wet eyes.
“So you knew I was there and kissed her anyway? Oh heavens, it’s true then. You love Lavinia Woodhaus over me!” She wrested herself from his embrace and pulled her apron up to her face to wipe her tears even as more replaced them.
“What? Me…love Lavinia? Merry, have you lost your senses?”
“If not, then why did you kiss her? I saw you—” Merry snuffed and wiped her tears. Why did Nick act as if her accusation was so incredulous? “You kissed her. She was in your lap, for goodness sake, that night in the tavern.” She drew in a deep breath to calm her shaking. “I came to plead with you not to go outside, and there you were with her on your lap. Her arms around your shoulders, and then you kissed her.”
Nick’s sudden deep chuckle sparked anger in Merry and she turned on him with a stern glare. He immediately stopped then raised his hand to stroke away the tears from her cheek.
“I didn’t kiss Lavinia. She kissed me. Why did you wish me not to go?” Nick drew the pad of his thumb along her cheek and then her lower lip.
Merry narrowed her eyes at him but he refused to stop touching her. Had she been more like Lavinia, she might have struck his cheek for acting such the Lothario.
“She kissed you? What’s the difference?” Now it was her turn to stare at him incredulously.
Nick chuckled again, this time the sound was low in his chest and subtle as if only for her ears. “There’s a big difference. I did not ask for the kiss nor respond to it. Lavinia has made a show of blatant flirtations with me in your presence ever since I told her she held no interest for me, and that you were the only one I wished at my side.”
Merry sniffled and wished with all her desire to blow her nose. Had he really told Lavinia that it was she, he wanted? Her heart soared for a moment but suspicion still plagued her. “You told her that? When?”
“About a week before I went to the outside.” Nick pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his waistcoat and pressed it to her nose.
Merry took the cloth, turned to the side and blew her nose, embarrassingly. When she turned back, Nick was smiling at her. His eyes twinkled with delight as he tilted his head slightly at her.
“So you saw that, huh? I’m sorry, dearest, really I am. It meant nothing and Lavinia knows it. She must have seen you there and played her trump in hopes of warding you off which seems to have worked, for I was sorely disappointed you didn’t see me off or greet me upon my return.”
Merry nearly laughed aloud at Nick’s sudden feigned pout as he pushed his lower lip forward, furrowed his dark brows, and presented a dog-eared expression.
“I suppose I will have to forgive you for being such a ninny. You should have confronted me then, instead of stewing in your imaginings,” Nick murmured close to her ear, the scent of cherry tobacco in his soft curls filling her clearing nostrils. Before she could respond to his teasing retort, he posed a more disturbing query. “Now, tell me please why you had planned to beg me not to go to the outside?”
Abruptly, guilt and a sense of selfishness that she knew Nick would abhor filled her, and made her once more wish the earth would open and swallow her. With him standing so close, his lips so close to her cheek and his hand resting along her neck, she was barely able to breathe much less think, and now berated herself for mentioning it at all. She had no right to request him stay or leave. He was a free man with a will not easily bent to anyone’s way. He’d always been stubborn and headstrong since childhood.
“It doesn’t matter since you’ve already gone.” Merry refused to lift her gaze to meet his, even as he attempted to tilt her head using his fingers beneath her chin.
“Did you fear I wouldn’t come back?”
Merry’s gaze lifted without forethought. He was staring at her with a look that stole her breath. His bright blue eyes had darkened, not with anger, but with something else. Something wonderful that made her insides jumble and her skin tingle. The same kind of look he’d worn, that day in the forest, just before he kissed her. She recalled how she had wished for more, wanted more, and since, dreamed of more.
“I must admit I did fear you wouldn’t come back. I thought once you experienced the world outside the magic that you would want more, and seek it there. Perhaps some round-eared beauty,” Merry admitted blinking to keep back the tears that once more threatened to flow.
Nick chuckled deep in his chest. “You also believed I wanted Lavinia. I believe you should stop assuming and talk to me instead. Besides, you’ve got the most beautiful pointed ears of any elf I know.” He winked at her as he stroked her cheek gently then smoothed her hair back behind her ear. Merry couldn’t resist a smile. “I admit I enjoyed my time outside but there is much sadness in that world. Children who go without joy and who must work instead of play. I wish to do something more for the children of the world. It was something I hoped to speak about with you.”
“Me? Why me? Why not my father, or brothers instead?”
“Because you will be an important part of what I plan—I hope anyway,” Nick said in a low, deep voice that sent shivers over her skin. He leaned in close, pressing his forehead to Merry’s. She felt the silkiness of his curls against her skin and her heart skipped a beat. Before she could speak to his curious statement, Nick pressed a sweet kiss to her lips. “If you wish it that is, Merry Belle.”
Just then, the bell in the town square rang out. Nick stepped back and took hold of her hand.
“Come Merry, I’ve something to announce to everyone,” Nick exclaimed with excitement in his voice, and his eyes.
Merry followed along, her hand snug in Nick’s strong warm hand. She wiped at her face drying the tears that had flowed only a moment earlier and now hoped her eyes weren’t red and swollen.
“Ah, here he is! Come Nicholas,” Mayor Woodhaus called out from the platform where the bell holder stood.
This central place was where the villagers gathered to hear any, and all, announcements made in the village. As they reached the spot, Nick turned to Merry, raised her hand still clutched in his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. He smiled at her, released her hand, and stepped up alongside the Mayor.
Some of Merry’s girlfriends squeezed in alongside and whispered curiously about Nick’s public display but Merry ignored them, her eyes on Nick’s handsome face.
“My dear friends, as you know I traveled outside with the honorable Mayor Woodhaus during the last fall of the magic. I discovered there are low times in the outside world. Great sadness exists. There’s a general lack of joy, and the children of the world seemed to have lost their childhood. I also discovered something wonderful about myself. It seems that I am able to move back and forth through the magic with very little effort. I’ve spoken with the Mayor and several of the village leaders, and have devised a plan to spread some joy throughout the world while bringing out the child in all, but I will need your help.” Nick spoke to the group with strength and determination.
Pride filled Merry’s chest as she watched him command their attention. She had no idea what it was all about, but if he wanted her to be a part of it she was more than willing.
“We are a people of joy, laughter, love, and hard work.” A cheer went up in response to Nick’s remark and he paused with laughter on his lips. “We have toymakers a plenty and very few markets except when the magic falls.” The group groaned their agreement. “Ah, my friends, but the outside world has little in the way of amusement and so I wish to spread our joy, and our gifts to the world.”
“How do you plan to do that, Nick Claus?” one of the merchants called out from the crowd.
“As I said, I can move back and forth through the magic whenever I wish,” Nick explained as he moved to speak to one side of the group and then to the other, always stopping to stand before Merry. His gaze capturing hers each time he paused. “I plan to gather some of your goods and carry them through the magic and share them amidst the people of the outside. I feel that once they discover the joy that your beautiful wares bring to their lives that they will soon be clamoring for your merchandise.”
As if it took a moment, for the thought to sink in then suddenly become clear, silence filled the air before murmurs began to rise from the group followed by cheers and applause. Mayor Woodhaus stepped up beside Nick and patted him on the shoulder in approval.
Nick raised his hands to quiet the crowd.
“My hope is that with travel back and forth, eventually I’ll discover a means for everyone to travel without waiting for the magic to fall but in the meantime, we will make do.” Another cheer went up. “I have another announcement, if you will bear with me.”
The crowd quieted once more. Nick’s gaze shifted to Merry and he held out his hand toward her. Merry felt every eye in the crowd settle on her and she had the sudden urge to crawl away.
“Merry Belle, join me here, please.” Nick reached out his hand once more.
This time, Merry accepted it and stepped onto the platform. She was nervous and refused to look out over the crowd of friends and family who had gathered even though she knew every face by name. Nick took both of her hands in his and turned to face her.
“You think I want more. You think I want another or someone with rounded ears. I want only you, Merry Belle.” A unified gasp went up from every young female in the crowd. Merry was unable to resist a peek at Lavinia who was scowling with anger.
With great grandeur, Nick took a step back, dropped to one knee and gazed up at Merry. A cheer rose from the crowd watching. Heat rose in Merry’s cheeks and her hands shook in Nick’s fingers. She was excited and mortified at the same time that he was making such a public spectacle of them.
“My life is here, Merry Belle. My heart is here with you and I only want you, desire you, love only you, and know that my life is not complete without you,” Nick proclaimed in a voice that was not overly loud but with such a loud silence surrounding them, Merry was sure that even the fish in the river were able to hear his words. “Will you do me the great and joyful honor of becoming my wife, and partner in this grand adventure?”
Merry stared down into the brightest blue eyes currently twinkling with anticipation. Her heart soared, her breath seized in her chest, and her knees trembled. Unable to speak, she nodded her head, then released his hands and threw her arms around his shoulders and pressed her mouth to his in a powerful kiss. The crowd erupted in cheers of joy and congratulations. Nick gathered her in his arms and pulled himself to his feet. Merry was where she had always dreamed of being and wished to be nowhere else at that moment. Nick pulled his mouth away from hers and chuckled.
“You kissed me, Merry, my love,” Nick whispered near her lips. “Now do you see the difference?”
“Oh yes, Nick, I see...” Merry laughed happily, as he kissed the tip of her nose. “Only you kissed me in return.”
“Aye, I did.”
“As long as you always do, my dearest, for I love you so,” Merry exclaimed before pressing her mouth to his again.
Nick returned her kiss and took over. The noise of the crowd, the cheers and good wishes being showered on them faded away as the passion of the moment enclosed them in their own kind of magic.
Merry Belle and Nicholas Claus were married two weeks later in a wonderful celebration to which everyone attended including the very unhappy Lavinia Woodhaus. Three months later, Nick loaded up an ornate wagon filled with goods from the village and led by reindeer, passed through the magic and returned one day later with an empty wagon. When asked how it went, he recounted how no one seemed interested and refused to spend good money on toys for their children so Nick decided to make sure the youngsters enjoyed the fruits of the village’s labors. He left enough toys, dolls, and wreaths at each home in the surrounding villages to whet their appetites. Before he left, he had peeked in a few windows to see the joy on the children’s faces and befuddled expressions of the adults. He wasn’t sure if their enterprise would succeed but he glowed with the delight of bestowing the beautiful items upon the families, and seeing the children once more playing as children should.
The village leaders spoke among themselves and decided that what Nick had done was spectacular. They decided that rather than sell the items to the outside world, the village goods would forever be gifts to ensure joy and playfulness always exist in the world.
Nick eventually discovered a means of taking one or two of the villagers with him on his trips. As long as they were touching him, they could pass through just as the sleigh he had built to accommodate the many toys and goodies could, as well as the reindeer needed to pull it. Nick was able to broaden his expanse of delivering using the time movement differences between the two worlds but a strange thing happened after a few journeys through the magic. It began to snow in their magical world—a beautiful snow of pure white crystals that never melted nor increased. The air temperature stayed mild and comfortable but the entire village and surrounding forests stayed draped in beautiful sparkling white.
Merry believed it was a reflection of Nick’s purest intentions and his love for all—especially children. Nick knew it was because of the love he had for his Merry Claus, and her willingness to allow him to travel to the world outside the magic to bring joy and happiness to those less fortunate than he was. He knew it was also a result of his being blessed by the kindness and generosity of the magical villagers who shared their lives with a little lost round-eared boy found in the forest so long ago.


...and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Copyright 2016 ©Amy Valentini

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