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The Next Gen Season 1 Soundtrack!

In case you missed it, the SEASON FINALE of the first season of NEXT GEN is releasing in just a few days! (Need to catch up on Next Gen? Check out the sale and giveaway here—–> AWESOME OH)

Yesterday for #MusicMonday I decided to share my inspiration soundtrack for the book… but then technology defeated me! I upgraded my website and in the process lost the blog post. <face palm> So when I realized what happened today, I decided to repost it… because I LOVE all things music and wanted to share with you the fantastic tunes I’ve fallen in love with.

I’ve loved building this playlist since I started writing the Next Gen stories and I even used the first four songs as inspiration for the titles of each book. So, head over to Spotify and give it a listen… then comment or send me a message about which song you love most!

All I Want for Christmas – Chapter 5

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short Love & Found Story is a gift to YOU, my beloved reader. It hasn’t yet been formally edited yet, so please excuse any typos or errors. Happy reading and Happy Holidays, my friend!

Did you miss the beginning? Click HERE to start from Chapter 1

Chapter 5

Lacey

I hadn’t purchased a gift for Luke.  Aunt Betty had agreed to help me find something tomorrow, but now that things had changed I wouldn’t be keeping that date.  Instead, I managed to snag a very inexpensive ticket to Florida with the money I’d been holding on to for his present. 

My eyes were red and puffy from all the tears I’d shed as I packed up my things and left the cabin.  It was a miracle I managed to avoid Percy Davis who was just walking past the cabin as I was stuffing my bags into the car.  I didn’t have the heart to explain and didn’t have the wherewithal to make something up.

Now I was sitting in the terminal of the Jack Brooks Airport in Port Arthur, refusing to let myself cry anymore as I waited for a flight that wouldn’t leave for another three hours. 

“Damnit where the heck are you, Brody?” I hissed under my breath as I texted my brother for the umpteenth time.  I knew he and mom were near Orlando but I didn’t know where they were staying and I’d never be able to find them if I didn’t get through to him. 

My flight leaves in less than 3 hours.  I need to know where you are so I can find you when I land.

Mom’s phone wasn’t answering either which made no sense at all because she was never, ever away from that thing.  The pain from my broken heart was fraying my nerves and I was getting more and more irritated as the moments ticked by without a response. 

“Let me guess,” a little old woman sitting across from me spoke as she stood and shuffled over to the spot next to me, “Your gentleman isn’t answering your calls?”

I wrinkled up my face in a frown and shook my head, “No, that isn’t it at all.  I’m trying to reach my brother.”

“Oh, come now,” she patted my hand, “I know that look.  A brother can’t make you look so heart shorn.  Is he supposed to be meeting you here for a special trip?”

I turned in my seat and gave the woman my back.  It was incredibly rude and very out of character but I didn’t need some nosy old biddy dredging up the emotions I was working very hard to keep in check.

“I remember my Walter,” she mused, undeterred by my standoffish attitude, “When he was away in the service we made a vow to send letters to each other every week.  Of course it was easy for me to keep that bargain.  I was at home, not off in the middle of a war we weren’t even supposed to be in,” she whispered as she leaned close to my ear, “Korea you know.  The first week of missed letters annoyed me.  I just knew he’d forgotten to write and that I must not mean so much to him.  But then another week passed.  And another…” her voice trailed off.

My chest constricted and I took several breaths as I struggled to bottle up the sadness threatening to bubble up from my center. Finally, I found enough self-control to speak, “What happened?  Was he all right?”

“Oh,” she laughed, “Of course he was dear.  He’d been wounded, but not seriously.  He never did recover full use of that arm, but he went on to live a long, happy life.  We were married fifty-seven years before he went home to be with the Lord.”

“Fifty-seven.  That’s a long time,” I murmured, tears filling my eyes.

“Yes, I suppose it is.  But it doesn’t seem long enough to me you know.”

We were silent a few minutes and I fumbled around in my bag for some tissue.  I sniffed, sniffed again, then dabbed at my cheeks and blew my nose. 

“You know,” the old woman spoke again, “I’d swear that young man over there is staring at you.”

My head snapped up and I looked at the security area to see Luke.  His eyes focused on me, while he seemed to be arguing with the TSA agent at the security checkpoint.  I stood and started that direction before remembering my bags.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear.  I know it’s against the rules and all, but you just leave your bags right here and run check on things. I’ll keep an eye on them.”

I nodded, wiping my face again and thinking I must look a mess after all of the crying.  I hated the idea that Luke would know I’d been crying over him.

“I’m sorry, sir, but without a ticket, you can’t come through,” the agent was telling him.”

“I just need to talk to her…” turning to me, his expression imploring, “Lacey, can you just come out here and talk to me.”

“I don’t think we need to talk.  I know this wasn’t right for me to foist myself on you the way I did.”

“Please, Lacey,” he begged, trying to get through again and receiving a hard shove from the agent.

“Sir, I’ll have you arrested if you try that again.  Now if the young lady wants to speak with you she can step out and go back through when she’s finished.  Otherwise, you need to leave.”

“Lacey, I’m sorry I haven’t spent enough time with you.  Can’t we just talk about this?”

I crossed my arms over my chest and stood pat, “I don’t want to talk about it.  Just go away.  You can feel free to see all you want of that gorgeous red-head without me here.”

And then he started laughing.  That was just too much for me to handle.  I dropped my arms to my sides and fisted my hands as I stomped my way past the metal detectors to him.  With a hard swing of my arm, I punched him in the gut, pleased when I heard the air whoosh from his lungs.

“Jesus, Lacey.  What the hell is wrong with you?”

“That was for laughing at me.  This is for…”

“Whoaaa…” he backed away and put his hands up in surrender, “I wasn’t laughing at you.  Not really.  I was just laughing at how silly this is…”

“Silly!”

“She’s my aunt, Lacey.  My dad’s baby sister.  An ‘oops baby’ as they called it.  She’s just a few years older than me, but that gorgeous redhead is my aunt.”

“Your aunt?” I asked, one hand held suspended mid-punch, “That was your aunt?”

“Yes,” he rubbed his belly with a grimace. “Where the hell did you learn to hit like that?”

“But you lied about working.  You said you were so busy with work you couldn’t come help me with the apartment shopping.  And you insisted I look for a six-month lease.  It’s like you didn’t really want me here.  I’m not stupid, Luke.  I can tell this isn’t how you planned things.”

“You’re right,” he said seriously, “This isn’t how I planned things.  You threw a bit of a wrench into things.  I had to do a little bit of correcting, but,” then he reached into his back pocket before dropping down to one knee, “Even if this isn’t how or where I planned to ask you, I still want to marry you, Lacey Sinclair.”

The blood drained from my face and the air got stuck in my lungs.  I felt like I might pass out any minute if I didn’t exhale, but somehow I couldn’t. All I could do was stand there staring at the most beautiful engagement ring I’d ever seen, holding my breath in case this was all just a dream.

“Well, what are you going to say, dear?”

It was the little old lady’s voice, but I couldn’t turn to look at her.  Instead, my eyes rose to meet Luke’s blue ones and tears began to trail my face, “Yes!  I’m going to say yes.  I do say yes!”

His smile was magnificent as he took my hand and slipped the ring onto it.  Then he stood and his mouth captured mine in a deep, sweeping kiss.  His arms cradled me under my backside and lifted me high as his lips smothered mine. 

A collective applause finally caused us to come apart and with flaming cheeks I smiled at all of the airport staff and travelers who were gawking at us, beaming expressions of excitement on their faces.

“I knew it would be yes,” the old woman said, putting her hands to her cheeks with a sweet, satisfied smile.

As I took the bags she passed to me, I asked, “How did you know?”

“I just did.  There are always silly misunderstandings in a relationship.  I could tell by your face that you must have fallen into one.  Just like the one I fell into all those years ago when my Walter was injured.”

“That’s why he couldn’t write every week,” I nodded, clinging to Luke’s side as I admired the ring that had slid so perfectly onto my finger.

“Oh, he wrote every week.  Almost every day.  Well, he had someone else write to me.  He couldn’t with his arm, you see.  But somehow, the nurse got the address numbers transposed.  Finally all those letters made their way to my doorstep and that as they say is history.”

I watched her walk away, a mesmerized smile on my face, “They were married fifty-seven years,” I whispered as Luke nuzzled my neck.

“Fifty-seven years?  That’s a long time.”

I smiled and looked up at him, cupping his face with my hands, “It won’t be nearly long enough for me.  I want fifty-seven, then fifty-seven more.  That’s what I want for Christmas.”

“Well, I’ll do my damndest,” he kissed me again, “You know I can’t deny my pretty little thing anything.”

Are you enjoying this Love & Found Christmas short-short?  Stay tuned, the next chapter will appear in your inbox in just a few weeks.

All I Want for Christmas – Chapter 4

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short Love & Found Story is a gift to YOU, my beloved reader. It hasn’t yet been formally edited yet, so please excuse any typos or errors. Happy reading and Happy Holidays, my friend!

Did you miss the beginning? Click HERE to start from Chapter 1

Chapter 4

Luke

“Well, I’d do anything for you, Luke,” Lila said, putting a hand on my arm and leaning in a little closer to me. “You’ve always been my favorite.”

Lila was my Dad’s baby sister and although she was technically my aunt, we were so close in age that we’d always been more like cousins.  A few weeks ago she’d moved back to town after being overseas with her husband for the last year.  He was still in Germany at the moment but would arrive back after the holiday to rejoin his family in the states.

“This goes a little beyond favorites,” I told her, a little sheepish about calling her for help.  “Even though I know I’m the best nephew you’ve got,” then I winked at her and laughed.

“I don’t mind, Luke.  I trust you implicitly and I know you’ll pay me back.  Even though I knew we had the money, I just had to check with Jared first before I could agree for sure.”

“You don’t have to make any excuses,” I told her as she handed me the envelope, “Besides, I picked up another quick job this morning,” I pulled a few of the bills out and handed them back to her, “So I don’t need quite as much now.”

“Well just be sure you don’t work so hard you neglect the future Mrs. Luke Roden.  We women are funny about those things.”

I chuckled again, my face pulled into a grin so big it hurt my face.  But I couldn’t help it.  I was so excited that it was hard not to smile, “Yes, ma’am, I’ll remember that.  Thanks again, Lila.  I’d better get in there before they sell it out from under me.  The guy behind the counter said he could only hold it until this afternoon.”

“Well, I’m coming with you,” she said as if I should have known, then curled her arm into mine and followed me into the store. “I mean, it’s bad enough you haven’t introduced me to the lucky lady yet.  The least you can do is show me this rock you picked out.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault you’re so busy getting that gigantic house you bought in order.  I tried to invite you to dinner a few weekends ago.”

She shoved herself into my side playfully as we approached the jewelry counter.

“You came back,” Allen Hogg, the associate I’d been working with said as he met us at the kiosk, “And is this the lucky lady?”

“Oh no!” Lila chortled, then held out her hand to show off her own wedding and engagement pair, “I’m already hitched.  I’m just here to approve of his choice.”

“Well, I think you’ll be very pleased,” Aaron beamed as he opened the shelves under the display case and pulled out a small box. 

“Oh, Luke,” Lila gasped when the salesman lifted the lid and held the box out for her to see.  She reached a hand out, though didn’t touch the ring. “This is perfect.”

White gold with one large diamond surrounded in a square halo of smaller diamonds, the ring was simple, yet charming.  He’d worried about finding something with more stones, more carats, a bigger price tag.  But deep down, when he’d seen this ring he knew it was Lacey’s.  His beautiful girl didn’t need extravagance to set her off. 

“And are you ready to make your purchase?” Aaron asked him, gently closing the top and putting the ring down on the glass.

“Yep,” I nodded, pulling out my wallet, “That I am.”

“Perfect.  Now, remember, if there’s any problem with the sizing, just bring the young lady back here and we’ll make sure it fits her finger just perfectly.”

“Thanks.  I think it will fit, though,” I’d been meticulous about the sizing, taking one of Lacey’s rings and tracing the inside and outside of it on a piece of paper at least a dozen times before bringing it back to this store for them to size it.  I wanted the pleasure of slipping it on her finger after she said yes without having to bring her back here to the store.

I counted out the cash Lila had loaned me, then wrote a check for the balance of the cost.  Aaron looked pleased and I knew he was making a commission on the sale.  A commission which hopefully made the weeks and weeks of harassment while I worked to save up the money worth his time.  As requested, he tied the box with a gold ribbon, then dropped it into a bag and handed it over to me.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Roden.”

Holding the bag tight in my hand, I walked with Lila to her car.

“So when are you going to pop the question?  Christmas morning?”

“Nope.  Definitely, don’t want to wait that long.  Even a few days is too much.  We’re having a party at the bayou tonight and I’m going to do it there.  I even got ahold of her brother and he’s going to be there with her mom as an extra surprise.”

“Man, Luke, I’m impressed.  You’re going all out for this girl.  She really must be the one.  There’s only one thing you’ve forgotten.”

My mind whirled and I wondered what I might have left out of my meticulous plans.  When Lila started giggling, I cut her a glare, “You’re messing with me.” “Me!” she shouted, “You forgot to invite me.  I have given my official seal of approval for that gorgeous rock there.  I deserve to see her face when she says yes.”

Are you enjoying this Love & Found Christmas short-short?  Stay tuned, the next chapter will appear in your inbox in just a few weeks.

All I Want for Christmas – Chapter 3

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short Love & Found Story is a gift to YOU, my beloved reader. It hasn’t yet been formally edited yet, so please excuse any typos or errors. Happy reading and Happy Holidays, my friend!

Did you miss the beginning? Click HERE to start from Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Lacey

“Well, what do you think?” Tatiana Lopez asked as she closed and locked the apartment behind her, then turned to give me a dazzling smile. 

I licked my lips and took a deep breath.  The apartment wasn’t bad, a little small but within the budget I’d set for myself.  I didn’t have much furniture anyway, so size wasn’t an issue.  Nothing was an issue, really, except the fact that I was apartment shopping by myself. 

“It’s nice.  Yeah, I think this one might work,” I nodded.

“Great!” Tatiana exclaimed. “Let’s go on over to the leasing office and we can start the paperwork…”

“I think it might work,” I interrupted, holding my purse in front of me like I carried a bag of priceless jewels inside it or something.  No jewels.  Just a checkbook with all the paltry savings I’d worked hard to amass for the last few years. Savings that would pay the deposit, first month’s rent and then a little left over for Christmas shopping, “But I want to double-check a few things before signing a lease.”

Tatiana’s grin didn’t falter.  She inclined her head in understanding, “Absolutely.  You need to be sure its right for you.  Like we discussed, they are offering a six-month lease instead of one year.  But there are only two apartments of this size available at this complex and we can’t hold one for you, so be sure you let me know as soon as you’re sure.”

“I will.  I’ll let you know by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”

“Perfect. We’ll go on down and grab some paperwork and information about this one so that you can go over that when you’re making your decision.  M’kay?”

“Sure.”

A few minutes later I tossed the folder of documents onto the passenger seat of my little car then dropped my forehead onto the steering wheel. I’d imagined what being here would be like for weeks as I waited to get word about the job that would allow me to move here closer to Luke.  But this certainly wasn’t what I’d thought it would be.  I expected him to shop for apartments with me as we worked towards the next step in our relationship.

I told myself it was just my imagination that Luke wasn’t exactly ecstatic about my arrival.  Maybe it was what his Aunt Betty had joked, that he just didn’t like surprises.  But I couldn’t help but worry it was something more. 

I’d been here for three days, and I’d only seen him in the evenings, sometimes so late that I was already in bed at the little cabin Aunt Betty was renting to me.  He said that it was a busy time of year for him, but Betty was just as annoyed by his constant absence as I was becoming. 

Refusing to give in to despondency, I turned on the ignition and headed for the mall to get a bite to eat and do a little holiday shopping.  While I drove I decided to mentally go over the apartment selections I’d seen the last two days.

The final place was clearly the best.  It was clean, new and had a decent monthly rent.  Plus, I could lease for half a year instead of a full twelve months.  Luke had suggested that, saying that I shouldn’t tie myself into a long term unless I was sure. 

I had to confess that bothered me as much as anything.  Maybe he didn’t want me to be here close to him.  Maybe a long-distance relationship was good for him, the kind where he didn’t feel pinned down.  He hadn’t ever said that, in fact always seemed to hate to see me leave.  But maybe that was just an act for my sake.

“Stop being stupid,” I told myself as I rolled the dial to find something to listen to on the radio.  I was stuck choosing between Last Christmas and Feliz Navidad since Christmas music was hard to avoid with just three days to go before the big holiday. 

A holiday I was beginning to feel glum about.  Shaking my head as I pulled into the parking lot, I rolled my shoulders back to force some confidence.  I still needed to get my mom something for Christmas.  My brother was flying her to Florida for a few days so we wouldn’t celebrate as a family until the weekend after Christmas, so I had plenty of time, but I preferred to finish off my shopping list now so I could get out of the rush.

The rush, however, was already in full swing.  It was hard to find a parking spot in the crowded mall lot and when I finally did I had to walk a good distance to the nearest entrance.

Everyone was in a hurry, pushing and shoving past one another, each person focused on their own personal mission to find the best gift, the newest toy, the cleverest gadget.  Still, my mom had taught me a smile and politeness was the best way to spread the holiday spirit so I turned up my lips and murmured Merry Christmas to anyone passing close enough to hear.

My attitude started to brighten a bit as I made my way towards the electronics store where I thought I might find something for my technology-minded brother. 

“Happy holi…” I started to say to a little old man heading the opposite direction as me, but familiar laughter caught my attention behind me.

When I’d asked Luke to come with me this afternoon to look at the last set of apartments, he’d insisted he was too busy at work and would be on his current job all day if he had any hope of making it to the beach Christmas party that night. 

But there he was, standing outside a crowded mall store, a huge grin on his face and blue eyes sparkling… laughing at something a very beautiful red-head was saying.  I halted in my tracks, eyes open wide as I watched them.  I was too far away to hear the conversation, but the way the girl reached over and placed her hand on Luke’s arm in an incredibly intimate gesture sent a stabbing pain right through my chest. 

Suddenly it all became clear.  I now knew exactly why Luke hadn’t been around to spend time with me and why he seemed so stunned by my announcement that I was moving to Port Arthur.  He didn’t want to be tied down to me because he’d found someone else.I choked down the tears threatening to spill, turning on my heel and heading for the exit as quickly as I could get through the crowd.  My dignity was all I had at that moment and I wasn’t going to break down into a blubbering mess in front of God and everyone.  No, I’d hold my tears until I was back at my cabin in Simoneaux Bayou, so that I could pack up my things to leave.

Are you enjoying this Love & Found Christmas short-short?  Stay tuned, the next chapter will appear in your inbox in just a few weeks.

All I Want for Christmas – Chapter 2

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short Love & Found Story is a gift to YOU, my beloved reader. It hasn’t yet been formally edited yet, so please excuse any typos or errors. Happy reading and Happy Holidays, my friend!

Did you miss Chapter 1? Click HERE to start from the beginning.

Chapter 2

Luke

I had two screws between my lips, one more in my hand and I was lying flat on my back in the bed of Dennis Thompson’s pickup.  My phone started ringing in my back pocket, but I was determined to get the last of the fasteners set so that I could get the hell out of this damn truck before my back broke.  First ring… one screw set… second ring… next screw… third ring and I dropped the screw, but in between expletives I caught it before it fell into the bed and got lost.

As soon as I had the last screw tightened, I put the battery-operated driver aside and fished the phone out of my Dickies before it rolled into voice mail, “Yeah!”

“Lukey!  Lukey, where are you dear?”

I rolled my eyes and grimaced as I scooted to the tailgate of the truck and onto my feet.  The weather was starting to turn slightly cooler in the evenings, but I was still sweating like a pig, so I grabbed my rag from my pocket and rubbed at the back of my neck.

“I’m on a job, Aunt Betty.  I’ll try to get to the bayou before long.”

“Lukey, you’re working entirely too hard as it is.  Now shut down and come this way.  I refuse to let them serve until you…”

I shook my head, “I still have to tighten up the…”

“… no, no no, don’t you argue with me, young man.  I want you here within half an hour.”

“No, Aunt Betty, I can’t.  I promised Thompson I’d fix the steps…” my voice trailed off when I realized she’d hung up on me.  A string of foul words passed my lips and I grabbed a water from my cooler.  Chugging the entire thing in one long draw, I tossed the empty bottle into my trash bag.

“Getting dark out.  Tomorrow’s good enough to finish this job,” Dennis told me as he stepped out of his workshop and approached, walking around puddles to get to me.  It had been raining for a few hours and his yard looked like a swamp. 

“Nah,” I shook my head, “I have a flashlight if I need it.  Shouldn’t take me long to tighten up those steps for you.”

Dennis chuckled and folded his arms over his chest.  He had a belly that stuck out so far it looked like his arms were supported entirely by his stomach.  His girth was the reason he said he liked to hire me for jobs like these.  It was getting harder and harder for him to get around, much less lay down under a pickup truck.  Eyeing him, I realized he probably wouldn’t be able to fit under there even if he wanted to try it.

“Appreciate it, Luke.  I really do.  Especially when I know that was probably Miss Betty on the phone demanding you get on over to the beach.  I wouldn’t want to disappoint her, no sir-ee.”

I snorted a laugh as I crawled down beside the driver’s side of his truck and inspected the loose step.  The bolts had reamed out a little so I sat up and pulled the toolbox over to find a size larger.

“Well, Aunt Betty won’t like me being late, but I figure she’ll get glad in the same pants she got mad in.”

Mr. Thompson hooted a laugh, slapping his knee as he leaned against the truck to watch me work.  I listened to him blather about how he’d almost broken his leg when he fell out of his truck a few weeks ago and how that was when he decided to have me fix the steps and then how he’d found a great deal on the truck toolbox, so wanted to kill two birds by having me do both.

Finally, about an hour later, he counted out the agreed-upon bills, surprising me with an extra fifty.  “Everyone can use a little extra for Christmas,” was his excuse and I gladly took the offering.  I could use it.  I could use every penny I’d get my hands on.  I was still about a thousand dollars short of my goal and time was running out.

I was bone-tired when I jumped into my diesel and started for Simoneaux Bayou.  I’d been working virtually seven days a week for the last month or so, only taking time off for a quick trip to see my girl Lacey in Santa Fe.  I knew she was missing me and didn’t like the fact that I hadn’t been available for lunchtime calls and evening chats as often.  But for now I just couldn’t help that.

It was still a marvel to me how fast I’d fallen for that girl.  I’d been living on my own for years, enjoying my freedom and being able to come and go as I pleased.  I’d had month-long spates when some of my guy friends moved in and lived up the bachelor life.  But I was tired of that. 

My best times now were when Lacey could spend a long weekend with me.  Comfortable dinners at home and hours in bed together.  Beer and laughter with the bayou family while we exchanged glimpses at each other across the patio.  Hell, I even enjoyed the red splotches on her face when she got mad at me during our few arguments. 

I was so caught up in thoughts of her, that I almost didn’t recognize her vehicle parked beside all the others near Percy Davis’ patio.  My mouth twitched into a wide grin and I wiped a hand over my mouth.  I was scruffy, having not shaved in a few days.  Aunt Betty kidded that it made me look old. 

I briefly wondered if I should run over to her place and shave real quick, but I was too late for that.  I felt her eyes on me even when I looked over and saw Lacey glancing over towards me.  She looked unbelievably cute in matching pink top and bottom sweats, the cuffs of the legs and arms contrasting purple.  She reached up to put her hand on one of the cabin piers and when she did her top inched up and I got a delectable peek at her midriff. 

“Did I screw up?” I asked as I jumped out of the truck and started towards her.  She shook her head and met me halfway, looping a hand around my neck and reaching up to kiss me.  I pulled her in close, enjoying the easy way our bodies melted together.

“Surprise,” she said a hint of shyness in her expression, “I hope a good one.  Aunt Betty says you don’t like surprises.”

I laughed, nibbling her neck and enjoying the scent of her.  She squealed and I remembered too late my beard.  Her hand reached up to run the spot where I’d scratched her, but there was an amused smile on her face, “When did you decide to grow that?”

I shrugged, “Just been working too hard to worry about shaving.  I’ll cut it off in the morning.”

Her head quirked to the side and she studied me, “I don’t know.  I might like it.”

With a playful growl I bit at her neck and stroked my stubble down her tender flesh towards her chest and she giggled and pulled back but not entirely away.

“So how long do I have you for?  Leaving Monday?” that had been the norm.  She’d arrange to go into work later in the day on Monday so that we would have a full Saturday and Sunday together.

“Well… “ she hesitated to answer, slipping her fingers down to the pockets of my Dickies and looping them so that she could slink in closer to me, “The bigger surprise is… I’m here through Christmas.”

“Christmas?”

“Yep,” she laughed, “And then I have to go back home and finish up a few things for my replacement before… before I start my new job in Beaumont.”

“You’re moving here?”

“I am!  Can you believe it?”

My mouth dropped open, and I wasn’t sure what to say.  She looked so excited.  So hopeful.  So filled with happiness.

All I could feel was panic. 

Are you enjoying this Love & Found Christmas short-short?  Stay tuned, the next chapter will appear in your inbox in just a few weeks.

All I Want for Christmas – Chapter 1

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This short Love & Found Story is a gift to YOU, my beloved reader. It hasn’t yet been formally edited yet, so please excuse any typos or errors. Happy reading and Happy Holidays, my friend!

Chapter 1

Lacey

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

It was raining like cats and dogs and the last thing I really want to be doing was arguing with my mother.  Again.  But she was so upset by my sudden decision and I was feeling so guilty about making her cry, that I couldn’t bring myself to end the call.

“But this might not work out.  What if you don’t like it?  They might not be as gratuitous with their raises as you had at your old job.  And he’s nice, but there might be others out there…”

“Maaaaa,” I said it in a long, drawn-out whine, pausing to be sure she’d stopped talking and hadn’t just gone silent to get a breath of air, “Ma, I need you to trust me on this.  I don’t do crazy things.  I’ve thought this through and I believe, I know this is right for me.  Okay?”

“Baby…” she sniffed and my belly clenched when I realized she might be crying. Again, “I do trust you.  You’re a smart girl.  I’m so proud of you for that.  But moms worry, you know?”

A grin spread across my lips, partly because of her words and partly because I saw the Pleasure Island Bridge on the horizon. Thankfully it had all but stopped raining. In less than an hour I’d be back in Simoneaux Bayou.  I couldn’t wait to see the look on Luke’s face.

“I know you worry mom.  And I appreciate it.  But I got this, okay?”

We finally said our “I love yous” and I hit the button the hang up the phone, grateful I could devote all of my attention to getting across the enormous bridge on the rain-slicked streets. As soon as I got back onto the straight highway towards the bayou, I mentally replayed our conversation.

My confidence in my decision was mostly bravado.  I was secretly terrified I was making a horrible mistake.  There were so many reasons this could all go wrong.  It was entirely possible this new job I’d just taken with the Michener Brothers Grocery chain in Southeast Texas would be a disaster.  It was a step up, career-wise and the pay was better than I was making at Genevere’s Department Store.  But it was still frightening and intimidating to venture into a new career as the human resources manager of a very large corporation.

More than that was the move itself.  I was jubilant at the idea of being closer to Luke, but I was starting to regret the bright idea to make my transition a surprise.  We’d been dating for over six months and had said the I love yous and made the promises a committed couple would.  We’d worked through issues of the long- distance between us and I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life…

… but he’d never said a word about that.  Nothing about marriage.  About living together.  About so much as moving closer to each other. 

It was Sunday afternoon and the normal crowd was gathering for the weekly cook-out at Porpoise Beach.  Aunt Betty (she’d insisted I call her that the second time I came to the bayou for a weekend visit) recognized my vehicle and her face split into a humongous smile as she set her drink down and headed my direction. 

“What  surprise!” she announced as she grabbed me into a bear hug, “That nephew of mine didn’t even tell me you were coming.”

Hugging her back I laughed to cover my nerves, “Well, that’s because he didn’t know.  I thought I’d just do something spontaneous and pop in on him.”

“Oh, my dear, he’s not one for surprises, but I think he’ll like this one,” then she hooked her arm into mine and tugged me towards the center of activity.

“Hey, Lacey,” Mary waved at me as she reached into a cooler, “Want a drink?” her hand emerged with a beer and knowing she was too young to drink I wasn’t surprised when she placed it into Pas Bon’s waiting hands.

“I think I’ll wait,” I told her, “Thanks.”

“It’s a typical mild night on the beach,” Clara Broussard, Mary’s mother said, “But we’re pretending its cold and having hot chocolate with Kahlua.”

She motioned to the setup and I could tell it was an invitation, so I nodded, “Well in that case, sure.  I mean who can turn down spiked hot chocolate?”

The sea breeze made it chilly enough for light jackets, but not much more than that.  Still, the allure of chocolate was more than I could rebuff.  I hadn’t spotted his truck, but I still let my eyes scan the area just to be sure he wasn’t there.  My disappointment was palpable, as was my increasing nervousness.  He’s not one for surprises…  I was really starting to get concerned about my brash decision.

Clara handed me a mug and I blew a few times on the steaming, dark liquid to cool it while I found an empty chair and sat down beside her. 

Just as I was taking my first sip I heard Aunt Betty’s voice, “Lukey!  Lukey, where are you dear?”

My eyes widened and I coughed as the hot drink went down wrong, then I flew to my feet and waved at her as I whispered, “Aunt Betty, don’t…” she only put her hand to the receiver and shushed me.

“Lukey, you’re working entirely too hard as it is.  Now shut down and come this way.  I refuse to let them serve until you… no, no no, don’t you argue with me, young man.  I want you here within half an hour.”

She pressed the end button on the phone and winked at me.

Pas Bon shook his head and chuckled, “Dat boy dere in trouble fa sure now…”

Aunt Betty lovingly smacked her dear friend on the back of his head and as raucous laughter rose up from the rest of the crowd, she leaned down to kiss his scarred forehead.

Aunt Betty put her arm around me and hugged me painfully.   “Trouble, bah,” she muttered, “He’s never been in better trouble than Lacey.

I chuckled to cover the nerves churning back up in my belly.  I certainly hoped Luke wouldn’t see me as trouble and that my big news would be good news to him. 

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A brand new Bend-Bite-Shift Next Gen episode is coming soon. Are you ready for Black Blood? Whet your appetite with this #teasertuesday post:

Willoa huffed a breath, then turned on her heel and walked out of the room, her platinum hair sweeping in an arc behind her.  He immediately followed.

“So, you’re a hero and a prince,” she commented over her shoulder, not stopping.

“I’m not a hero.”

She chuckled. “So just a prince then.”

He moved in beside her and matched her steps. “Hardly that, either.”

Putting her hands on her hips again, she stopped and rotated to look at him. “Is there some place to get some water around here?”

Jet raised one side of his mouth into a lopsided smile, then led her towards the huge kitchen. “Do you know about this place?” he asked her.

“Of course, I do.  Everyone knows about Charlie’s Place.”

He shot her a glare. “Not so much in the faery realm, they don’t.”

“You’re the prince of the realm, so you would know.”

He grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge in the kitchen, handing her one then opening the other.  He drank about half of it before sitting down at one of several tables in the room.

“I’m not a prince. Since you know so much, I’m sure you know I’m adopted.  We all are,” he said, speaking of his sisters Lena and Nona. “And I’m certainly not in line for any throne, if there were one.” He paused for effect. “And there isn’t.”

That was true, there was no throne.  Centuries ago, sirens had been the royal class in the faery realm, but then the Women launched a campaign to kill all of their kind.  His mother was the missing link, the last of a line believed to be long extinct.  After the realm was freed from the tyranny of the Women during the fae revolution, she’d been elected as ruler of the realm. 

But she didn’t consider herself a queen, even if her people called her that.  She’d encouraged the people to devise a constitution and an elected counsel to help her to oversee the realm so that none of the control would ever again be held by only one or even a small group of fae.

“So, who is in line?”

“Not me.  Maybe my older sister, Lena, if the fae choose her.  Speaking of the fae, why don’t you know any of this?  You’re fae.”

She shrugged, sitting down and fingering the rim of her water bottle. “I didn’t grow up there.  I spent most of my time with my aunt Tedra in the human realm. It’s a long story.”

That made sense.  His mother knew almost of all of her people in the realm. She’d immediately recognized Cassie, referring to her parents by name, but she’d said nothing of Willoa. 

“We have time,” he said, eager to learn anything he could about her.

She lowered her eyes and frowned. “Do you think Cassie will be okay?”

He pursed his lips, waiting for her to look at him again.  After a few seconds, she raised her green eyes, and he was afraid if he wasn’t careful he could get lost in that gaze. “If Langston says she’ll recover, she will.”

“You trust him.”

“Everyone trusts him.  You can trust him.”

“So.” She took a drink, then leaned back in her seat. “You’re a vampire hunter? Or a vampire hunter trainee?”

“Ha! As of tonight, I’m hoping to graduate to full vampire hunter.”

“There aren’t many dhampir out there.  How did you become one?”

“There you two are,” Nicky interrupted, coming into the kitchen, his jacket removed now and draped over his arm. “I’m hitting the sack shortly.  Langston said Cassie should rest tonight, but you can come back tomorrow if you’d like to see her.”

“I, ummm . . .” She hesitated. “Sure.  I probably need to go check on Paul.  He’ll be freaking out about Cassie.  Not sure how I’ll explain it.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Nicky told her. “We’ve sent operatives in there to clean up the scene and wipe their memories.  They’ll probably just think she and her boyfriend slipped out during the party.”

Jet could see Willoa was surprised by that, but she stood and slipped her hands into her back pockets. “Oh, okay.”

He watched her start towards the door then she paused about midway. “Could you give us just a minute?”

“Not sure about that,” Nicky said with a serious expression. “I mean, I’m his teacher so I think I should hear what you have to say.”

Snorting a laugh, Jet got out of his chair. “I think I can handle this without you, O wise one.”

When Nicky was gone, his chuckles echoing down the hallway, Willoa pivoted on her toe and faced Jet.  “I have a favor to ask.”

“Anything.” He meant it.  He was so enamored with her that he thought there was nothing she might ask that he wouldn’t be willing to do.

“Teach me to fight with a blade.  And to hunt and kill vampires.”

“Is that all?” he said with a wry smile.

“Also… give me some of your blood.”

So be sure to get caught up on all of the Bend-Bite-Shift books before this next one releases… and if you haven’t started the series, you’re in luck! Book one is just #99cents! ——-> WITCH WAY BENDS

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Sometimes I’m still pissed…

So, my year of firsts is almost over… the last one will hit in just a few days: the first anniversary of my dad’s death. And it’s already hitting harder than I’d expected. Over this past year, I’ve sometimes told myself: It’s been {blank} months. It’s getting better. You’re getting better. You’ll get over the hump soon…. And then something slams into me and it washes over me again.

So yeah, the truth is I’m still sad sometimes…

… I still sometimes forget he’s gone and remembering takes my breath away…

… and sometimes I’m still pissed…

Because I really didn’t expect to lose my dad just yet. He was young. I’m young. We were supposed to have a lot more years of country music dancing, annoying phone calls, stupid jokes, and his big smile with those twinkling blue eyes. But that’s life, right?

You might be thinking, what does this have to do with OH’s books? Well, because even though I’m finding myself in a bit of a grey funk right now, I do have something to be thankful for and to be proud of, because this next release and the one before it are pretty big milestones for me.

For a while, I thought maybe I wouldn’t ever be able to write in the Love & Found Series. I was due to finish the second book in my beach romance in the months after Daddy died. But since that series is based in the locale where my family spent our weekends and summers, that wasn’t going to be easy. I confided to a friend a few weeks after trying to write, that the words felt hollow, empty like they were just going nowhere. Finally, I gave up, setting the manuscript aside to move on to other projects.

Then in September, I was invited to be a part of a romance anthology. I didn’t have any stories planned, but for some reasons Love & Found popped in my head and I decided maybe I could write a beach short. And when I mentally searched for a couple to write, Luke and Lacey from What I Wasn’t Looking For came to mine.

In the first Love & Found book, Luke and Lacey were already married with three little girls. Back in 2017 when I wrote that story, I set them up with little “bits and pieces” of my family, even making Luke a diesel mechanic who likes to cook the meals for the beach crew… just like my Daddy. It seemed crazy to write a story so intimately close to the pain I was still feeling, but somehow it turned out to be just the right decision. It was cathartic for me.

“You miss him. Your dad, I mean.”

I was startled not only by the sound of his voice invading my thoughts but also by the words. He’d made them as a statement, but there was a tenderness in his words that pierced me. I wondered how he could possibly have known my thoughts.

I inhaled a shaky breath, moving my head up then dropping it down in a quick jerk. “Yeah, I do. A lot. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing. How I should move on, you know?” I wasn’t sure he did know, but it didn’t matter. For some strange reason, it seemed okay to talk to him about it, maybe because it was pitch dark in the truck, and I felt safely ensconced in the black. “I know I’m supposed to. People lose their dads every day, right? But weird things catch me off guard. A scent. A song. Sometimes, I don’t even know what it is that sparks it. Yet even after over a year, it can still gut me.”

I felt stupid then. Like one of those people who just couldn’t get over something and were destined to let it ruin the rest of their entire existence. Sure, I was a functioning adult, working and carrying on my life. And I didn’t think of Daddy every moment of every day, but when his memory did start haunting me, it scared me. Like this would be the time I had a complete freakout and would totally lose control of myself. So, I just couldn’t afford to let that happen.

“I think . . .” He paused, and I sensed he was searching for his words. “People do lose their dads every day. But you don’t. You only had one dad to lose, and what it did to you is yours and no one else’s. You know?”

And, when I finished Luke and Lacey’s story, The Way You Drive Me Crazy, I found myself ready to dive right into Lost Along the Way. After almost two years, finally, Lizzie and Javi are ready to have their story shared with the world! And it’s kind of apropos because even though sometimes I feel like I get lost along the way in my journey of grief, finishing these two stories and getting my groove back holds the promise to me that there are always more days of love and happiness and joy to be found.

So, I hope if you haven’t already, you’ll head over to Simoneaux Bayou where the love can always be found.

Click ——–> HERE to order the book and enter the giveaway!

This hot beach romance is your cure for winter

There’s no better cure for the winter doldrums than a hot beach romance. My brand-new prequel to my small town beach romance series, Love & Found, just released as part of the Legacies of Love anthology… and it’s just 99 cents for six amazing stories!

Get it ——–> HERE


This is dedicated to…

This story is lovingly and cathartically dedicated to my Daddy… pick up your copy to find out why The Way You Drive Me Crazy is so near and dear to my heart.

 


About the book:

Can a simple drive lead to something as crazy as love?

Lacey: I’m not adventurous. I’m not a wild child. Crazy isn’t what I do. And I’m certainly not the kind of girl who gets into a car with a total stranger to go off on a wild goose chase. But losing my dad changed things and I’ve been on a mission to find out everything I can about our family heritage. So, if hitching a ride with a cute mechanic from Simoneaux Bayou is needed to track down the last mysterious piece of my genealogy… well, a girl’s gotta do at least one crazy thing in her life, right?

Luke: I’m just a grease-under-the¬-nails diesel mechanic. A mechanic who just happens to be the favorite nephew of one Betty Ruth… as in Betty Ruth’s Country Store. And if there’s one thing Betty Ruth loves, its to put her nephew to work. In her eyes I can fix just about anything, so its not that unusual to get a call from her about the “pretty little girl” who’s car is broken down out at Simoneaux Bayou. But this girl is all woman and its hard to keep my eyes off of her long enough to get a good look at her busted transmission. And when Aunt Betty tells me I have to drive the girl to Lafayette… well, I’m not gonna argue over getting to spend a few hours alone with the best-looking girl a mechanic like me has ever seen, am I?

GRAB YOUR COPY NOW! ——–> HERE



Plus, the authors of Legacies of Love are having a fun scavenger hunt with PRIZES!  Be sure to play for your chance to win.

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