Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cold as Ice by M.K. Gilroy

Cold as Ice
Sydney Lane Press
M.K. Gilroy

Chapter 1

IT WAS FOUR in the morning in New York City, the city's quietest hour—perhaps only quiet hour. Francis "Frank" Nelson, Jr., stepped off the curb in front of the Dexter Arms on West 58th Street, and looked left and right. A cab was idling across the street, but still no driver behind the wheel. He had crossed the street a few minutes earlier to rap on the driver's window, but the car was empty then, too. That seemed odd, but what isn't odd at four in the morning in New York City? He looked left and right again, but still saw no sign of another cab. Preferably one with a driver.

Where is the driver?

He had been freezing his butt off for almost ten minutes now, and his impatience was beginning to ball up into a tight, throbbing knot in the base of his stomach. He wasn't a New Yorker, but he did enough business in the city to embrace the cynical and sometimes too true belief that the only time you can't find a taxi or a cop is when you need one.

Stage two hypertension. Doctor says I've got to manage stress better. If I don't get out of here I'm going to stroke out tonight.

He was tired and anxious to get back to the second floor of the brownstone on the east side of Central Park. Very nice but at twenty-five thousand dollars for the week it cost too much under the circumstances—his company was on the ropes financially. So was he. Everything he had was sunk in the company.

That is why I had to do what I did tonight.

Nelson was ready to scream with the tension. He was already irritated that no one was working the bell stand at the Dexter to make a cab appear right away. The young lady attending the registration desk, barely able to speak English and barely awake, he thought with a snort, assured him that she could get a cab in no time. Right. He paced inside the lobby and then paced outside on the street for as long as he could stand the cold. Not very long.

He had hired his own car and driver for the week, but he was cabbing it tonight because he didn't want his activities known. Nor did the people he was meeting with. The man in charge—not what he was expecting—said it would be much less conspicuous to catch a cab back to the brownstone at this time of night. He agreed. But where was the cab? Just how hard was it to get an open cab at four in the morning?

Okay, I know the cab across the street is open, but how about an open cab with a driver?

He was late to say the least, and if his wife, Justine, was awake or woke up with him coming back now, she would kill him. She would accuse him of cheating and drinking. Neither was true, of course. At least not tonight and not in the sense she would assume it.

But things could get bad, very bad, if she or anyone else began asking questions about why he was at the Dexter Arms throughout the night.

Nelson told her not to come this trip. That only made Justine more set on travelling with him.

She loves to disagree. I should have begged her to come.


"Kristen, what are you doing? Tell me you aren't going out in this weather."

"It's my last chance to run in Central Park."

"It's below zero."

"Don't exaggerate, Klarissa. The weather guy said it would be at least five degrees this morning."

I can't understand what my sister just mumbled from under the covers but I don't think it was very nice.

Her head pops into view. "Really, Kristen? Really?"

I'm tugging my leggings up. "We grew up in Chicago, Sis, this is child's play."

"It's not even four in the morning, Kristen. Go back to sleep. Or at least get out of here and let me sleep."

"I'm going. Give me a sec. I'm going."


"But not for real long. I've got to pack for my flight later this morning. Mom will be calling fairly soon to make sure I've given myself plenty of time to get to LaGuardia."

Klarissa finally sits up to glare at me. I stifle a smile. Her glorious mane of golden blonde hair looks as beautiful mussed as when it's done up for her television work. Women pay big bucks to have a stylist try to make their hair look like Klarissa's does with a simple toss of her head when she wakes up. My hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail for my run. Same as I wear it for work. Life's not fair.

"Okay, Kristen," she says. "You're right—like always. Far be it from me to argue. We grew up in a freezing cold city. So I guess that makes your obsessive . . . your obsessive stupidity toward physical activity understandable. Since you're crazy enough to run in this weather, at least be quiet about it so one of us gets some sleep," she finishes in disgust, rolling away from the nightstand light and putting a pillow over her head. "And stay warm!" she adds, muffled but loud enough to wake our wing of the Hilton.

I look over at Klarissa, her hair cascading from underneath the pillow. So beautiful. Always the princess. I'll never understand my sister. I lift the pillow, give her a quick kiss on the top of her head, smile when she mumbles something else, nice or otherwise, and head for the door.

Hey, what did she say about me being obsessive and stupid? And what's with giving me the business on being noisy? I was being quiet. I think. And what's with her claiming I always have to be right?

I've got to run. I'll argue with her later.


After the door shuts behind Kristen, Klarissa sighs and gets up to go to the bathroom.

My sister. Is it possible one of us got put into our family by mis- take? Detective. Workout warrior. Fighter. Kristen isn't happy unless she's fighting or getting ready to fight. Or sweating. She doesn't have a clue how beautiful she is. I'll never understand my sister.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Once Upon a Summertime by Melody Carlson

Once Upon a Summertime
Revell (June 2, 2015)
Melody Carlson

Chapter 1

It had never been Anna Gordon's dream to work for a motel—certainly not the Value Lodge. And most definitely not in the same sleepy town she'd grown up in. But as her grandma had reminded her just that morning, "A job is a job, and I'm sure there are plenty of unemployed folks who would be grateful to trade places." Even so, as Anna walked the six blocks from her grandmother's apartment to her place of employment, she longed for something more.

As Anna came to Lou's Café, someone backed out the front door with a watering can in hand, nearly knocking Anna down. "Excuse me!" the careless woman cried as she slopped cold water onto Anna's good Nine West pumps.

As Anna caught her balance, she recognized the o ender. "Marley Ferris!" she cried out. "What on earth are you doing here in Springville?"

Marley blinked in surprise. "Anna?"

"I can't believe it's you." Anna stared at her old friend in wonder. Marley set aside the watering can and the two hugged—long and hard—exclaiming joyfully over this unexpected meeting.

"It's been so long," Marley said as they stepped apart. "Way too long." Anna slowly shook her head.

"And look at you." Marley studied Anna closely, from her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair to her shoes. "So professional in your stylish suit. And still looking way too much like Nicole Kidman's little sister."

Anna smiled. "Thanks."

"What're you doing in these parts anyway?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing." Anna adjusted her purse strap.

"I'm just home for a few days." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Helping out with my parents' café. My mom's laid up after back surgery."

"Oh dear. Is she okay?"

"Yeah. It was a ruptured disc, but sounds like they got it cleaned up. She just needs to take it easy for a few days." Marley pointed at Anna. "Seriously, what're you doing back in Springville, and looking all uptown too?"

Anna grimaced, wishing for a better answer. "I'm, uh, I'm managing the, uh, the motel," she mumbled.

"Oh?" Marley's brow creased. "A motel? In this town?" Anna tipped her head down the street with a somber expression.

"The Value Lodge?"

"Uh-huh." Anna glanced at her watch. "And I should probably get going."

"Oh yeah, sure." Marley looked doubtful, as if she was still processing this bit of news.

"It's great seeing you," Anna said. "You look fantastic."

"Hey, why don't you come back over here for lunch?" Marley said quickly. "Give us time to catch up. The Value

Lodge does give you a lunch break, doesn't it?"

"Absolutely." Anna nodded eagerly. "At 1:00."

"I'll be right here." Marley picked up the can and began to water the large terra-cotta pot by the front door, which was overflowing with colorful pansies and red geraniums. "I promised Mom I'd keep her plants alive until she gets back. Can you believe how hot it's been? And it's only May!" She plucked o a dried bloom, tossing it into the gutter.

"I adore your mom's flowers. So pretty and cheerful." Anna waved as she continued on her way. And it was true—she did love seeing the café's flowers. It was a bright spot in her day. The blooms reminded her of the small hotel she'd worked at during her college years. Some students in the hospitality management program had disparaged the old Pomonte Hotel by calling it the Podunk Hotel. But compared to the Value Lodge, the thirty-six-room Pomonte was quite chic, from its cast iron flowerpots by the door to the bubbling fountain in the lobby. It was true what they said: you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

Anna felt a familiar wave of disappointment wash over as her destination came into view. The boring two-story motel had been built in the early eighties, and most Springville residents agreed it was an eyesore. Some more motivated citizens had even gone to the city council demanding improvements. Anna couldn't blame them. When she'd accepted the managerial job, she had convinced herself that she could make a difference in the humdrum lodgings—or she could move on after a year. Unfortunately, she'd been wrong on both accounts.

As she got closer to the building, her general dismay was replaced by some ironic gratitude—she was thankful that none of her college chums could see her now. It was bad enough having to confess her lackluster vocation to a childhood friend this morning. But if her college acquaintances knew—like her ex-roommate who now worked in Paris, or the ex-boyfriend who managed a Caribbean Ritz—Anna would feel thoroughly humiliated.

She wasn't a big fan of social networking, but she occasionally sneaked a peek at friends' Facebook pages—not for long, lest she feed any jealous green demons festering inside of her. Naturally, she never posted a single word about her own personal or professional life. Occasionally she was tempted to fake some exotic photos and falsify her whereabouts, just for fun, but really that wasn't her style. Better to remain honest and simply suffer in silence.

From across the street, she frowned at the garishly painted Value Lodge. Not for the first time, she wondered what idiot picked out those colors. The bright yellow and red stripes had always reminded her of a fast-food restaurant; they looked like mustard and ketchup, but much less appetizing. In Anna's opinion, almost everything about this motel was unappealing, from the "free continental breakfast," which consisted of small cardboard boxes of cereal and cartons of milk and juice, to the kidney-shaped swimming pool in its varying shades of blue and sometimes green, to the lumpy queen beds topped with bedspreads with a texture akin to fiberglass. For the life of her, she could not understand why anyone would stay here on purpose. Well, except that the Value Lodge boasted the "lowest rates in town." She would give the motel that much—it was definitely cheap.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon

Hope Harbor
Revell (July 7, 2015)
Irene Hannon

Chapter 1 - Excerpt

Closed until June 13

Michael Hunter stared at the hand-lettered sign on the Gull Motel office, expelled a breath, and raked his fingers through his hair.

Not the welcome he'd been expecting after a mind-numbing thirty-six-hour cross-country drive to the Oregon coast.

And where was he supposed to stay for the next three weeks, until the place opened again?

Reining in the urge to kick the door, he leaned close to the glass and peered into the dim, deserted office. Rattled the rigid knob. Scanned the small, empty parking lot.

The sign hadn't lied. This place was out of commission.

He swiveled toward the marina down the hill, where boats bobbed in the gentle swells. The motel might be a bust, but at least Hope Harbor was as picturesque as promised. Planters overflowing with colorful flowers served as a bu er between the sidewalk and the sloping pile of boulders that led to the water. Across the wide street from the marina, quaint storefronts faced the sea. A white gazebo occupied a small park where the two-block-long, crescent-shaped frontage road dead-ended at a river. More shops lined the next street back, many adorned with bright awnings and flower boxes.

The town was exactly what he'd expected.

But with the only motel closed, it didn't appear he'd be calling it home during his stay in the area.

A prick of anger penetrated his fatigue. Why had the clerk let him book a room if the motel was going to shut down for several weeks? And why hadn't someone corrected the mistake in the thirty days since he'd put down his deposit?

If shoddy business practices like this were indicative of the much-touted laid-back Pacific Northwest lifestyle, the locals could have it—especially since such sloppiness meant he was now going to have to find another place to rest his very weary head.

He reached for the phone on his belt, frowning when his fingers met air. Oh, right. He'd taken it o as he'd rolled out of Chicago two days ago—a very deliberate strategy to make a clean break from work. Wasn't that the point of a leave of absence, after all?

But the cell was close at hand.

Back at his car, he opened the trunk, rooted around in the

smaller of his two bags, and pulled it out.

Three messages popped up once he powered on, all from the Gull Motel.

He played the first one back, from a woman named Madeline who identified herself as the manager.

"Mr. Hunter, I'm afraid we've had an electrical fire and will be closing for about three weeks for repairs. Please call me at your earliest convenience so we can help you find other lodging." She recited her number.

The second and third messages were similar.

So the shutdown had been unexpected, and someone had tried to call him.

Slowly he inhaled a lungful of the fresh sea air, forcing the taut muscles in his shoulders to relax. Driving for fifteen hours two days in a row and getting up at the crack of dawn this morning to finish the trip must have done a number on his tolerance. Giving people the benefit of the doubt was much more his style. Besides, he was used to operating on the fly, finding creative solutions to problems. Glitches never phased him. His ability to roll with the punches was one of the things Julie had loved about him.


His view of the harbor blurred around the edges, and he clenched his teeth.

Let it go, Hunter. Self-pity won't change a thing. Move on. Get your life back.

It was the same advice he'd been giving himself for months— and he intended to follow it.

As soon as he figured out how.

Fighting o a wave of melancholy, he tapped in the number the woman had provided, his index finger less than steady on the keypad. For a moment he examined the tremors, then shoved his hand in his pocket. He was tired, that's all. He needed food and sleep, in that order. The sooner the better. Things would seem brighter tomorrow.

They had to.

If this trip didn't help him sort out his life, he was out of options.

While the phone rang, he looked toward the harbor again, past the long jetty on the left and the pair of rocky islands on the right that tamed the turbulent waves and protected the boats in the marina. His gaze skimmed across the placid surface of the sea, moving all the way to the horizon where cobalt water met deep blue sky. From his perch on the hill, the scene appeared to be picture perfect.

But it wasn't. Nothing was. Not up close. That was the illusion of distance. It softened edges, masked flaws, obscured messy detail.

It also changed perspective.

If he was lucky, this trip would do all those things for him—and more.

"Mr. Hunter? This is Madeline King. I've been trying to reach you."

He shifted away from the peaceful panorama and adjusted the phone against his ear. "I've been traveling cross-country and my cell was o . I'm at the motel now. What can you suggest as an alternative?"

"Unfortunately, there aren't many options in Hope Harbor. But there are a number of very nice places in Coos Bay or Bandon."

As she began to rattle o the names of hotels, he stifled a sigh. He hadn't driven all the way out here to stay in either of those towns. He'd come to spend time in Hope Harbor.

"Isn't there anything closer?"

At his abrupt interruption, the woman stopped speaking.

"Um . . . not anything I'd recommend. I could probably find you a B&B that's closer, but those are on the pricey side. Most people book them for a night or two at most, and I believe you intended to stay for several weeks. Plus, B&Bs tend to be geared to couples."

Good point. A cozy inn would only remind him how alone he was.

"Okay . . . why don't you line me up with someplace for a few nights while I decide what I want to do. Bandon would be my preference, since it's closer."

"I'll get right on it."

"Don't rush." He inspected the two-block-long business district, such as it was. "I'm going to wander around town for a while and grab a bite to eat."

"Sounds like a plan. And again, I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

Once they said their good-byes, he grabbed a jacket from the backseat and locked the car. The midday sun was warm, but the breeze was cool—by his standards, anyway. Perhaps a slight nip in the air was normal for Oregon in the third week of May, though.

Stomach growling, he started down the hill. If he weren't famished, he'd head the opposite direction and check out the big, empty beach at the base of the blu s on the outskirts of town that he'd spotted as he drove in. A walk on the sand past the sea stacks arrayed o shore would be far more enjoyable than wandering along—he glanced at the street sign as he arrived at the bottom of the hill—Dockside Drive.

The two-block waterfront street didn't take long to traverse, and by the time he was halfway down the second block it was clear his food options were limited to a bakery and a bait-and-tackle shop with a sign advertising takeout sandwiches for the fishing crowd.

All the real restaurants must be in the business district, one street removed from the marina.

Just as he was about to retrace his steps, a spicy, appetizing scent wafted his way. He squinted toward the end of the block, where a white truck with a serving window on one side was perched at the edge of the tiny waterside park with the gazebo. Charley's, according to the colorful lettering above the window where a couple of people were giving orders to a guy with a weathered face and long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Another whi of an enticing aroma set o a loud clamor in his stomach.

Sold. Whatever they were cooking, he was eating.

With a quick change of direction, he stepped o the sidewalk to cross the street.

"Hey! Watch it!"