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Spotlight – Snickety Dickety Doo

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About the Author

Danica-Lea Larcombe 2

Danica-Lea Larcombe has a B.Sc (Environmental Health), a Grad.Dip in Education and has taken courses in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Photography. She is currently undertaking a thesis in Biodiversity and Human Health, and lives with her Japanese Spitz Bella.

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About the Book

Snickety Dickety Doo

Title: SNICKETY DICKETY DOO
Author: Danica-Lea Larcombe
Publisher: Blurb
Pages: 90
Genre: Children’s Fiction

BOOK BLURB:

George, Fiona and Marni find a tin of bubbles, not just any ordinary bubbles but planets. The planets shrink the children and take them to faraway lands. The children have many exciting adventures and try not to let their secret be discovered.  They learn about different cultures, currencies and languages, and are inspired at school.

In Series Two, George, Marni and Fiona continue their adventures around the world in the planet bubbles. They narrowly escape being killed by some monks in Turkey, find a little companion in Paris and visit royalty in Monaco.

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Book Excerpt:

It wasn’t just a small piece of tin.  Curiosity got the better of her and Marni decided she better keep digging around.  She could see the edges now and it looked like it was a tin box of some sort. Marni suddenly forgot about her wish and dug frantically to get the box out.  It was quite a light box of about medium size. It was not painted and there was no writing on it.

“What on earth could be in it?” Marni wondered.

It had a small padlock but this was rusted and broke off easily.  She opened the lid carefully to find nine individually wrapped balls, or so she thought.  She unwrapped one of the balls to find it was not a ball. In her hand it shone like a bubble, and was soft and tender to touch.  It had little feet and hands and was the colour of the sun.

“Oh my”, Marni whispered, “It has got a face!”  

The bubble’s eyes were closed and the mouth still.  On the other side it had the shape of a door, but there was no door handle.  How odd.

Marni looked at her watch quickly. It was six o’clock which was tea time and her parents would be calling her any minute.  She hastily re-wrapped the ball and closed the tin. She put her secret wish down the hole and filled it up with the dark brown coloured soil.  

Somehow Marni made it back inside the house and into her bedroom without anyone seeing the box.  She could not wait to show it to George and Fiona but it would have to wait until after tea. Her hands and knees were filthy dirty now, and her father questioned her.  

“What have you been doing? You look like a gypsy”.  

“Oh, just helping Fiona in the garden” Marni lied.  

Dinner was always a silent occasion in the Dimond household, and you got your knuckles rapped if you spoke.  Which Fiona did quite often.

Marni wished tea time would hurry up and finish but she had to wait for the compulsory pudding first.  It would either be apple crumble or apple strudel with ice-cream. Her mother baked wonderfully, but never seemed to want to try new recipes.  Now they were all allowed to leave the table because everyone had finished but the dishes still had to be dried and put away after her mother had washed them.  It was the height of the summer and daylight savings time meant that sunset would not be until about 8.30pm.

“George, Fiona, come into my room.  I have something to show you” Marni said.  “Quickly then” grumbled George. “I want to finish my hut”.  

“Ooh what is it?” asked Fiona.  

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Spotlight – Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

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About the Author

Evy Journey

Evy Journey, SPR (Self Publishing Review) Independent Woman Author awardee, is a writer, a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse who, wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Her latest book is Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.

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About the Book

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

Title: SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THOSE LIES
Author: Evy Journey
Publisher: Sojourney Books
Pages: 200
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Crime

BOOK BLURB:

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Can the lessons Gina learned from her mother about cooking and life help her survive and thrive in this other world of privilege, pleasure, and menace?

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Praise:

By Lee Broom on December 24, 2017

Format: Kindle Edition

Powerful book! I feel like this story was one that I will have on my mind for a while. Gina is a gourmet chef, and her life is centered around her food and her dreams of owning her own restaurant. She recently got out of a relationship, not wanting to commit because of her passion for her job. Then a charming rich playboy notices her and won’t stop sending her roses. It’s an interesting story that has some crazy twists when jealous women come out of the woodwork. Gina doesn’t want to have a relationship so she ignores Leon’s attentions. Then she meets an intense homicide detective named Brent who catches her heart, but numerous events keep them apart. It’s a compelling story with quite a few ups and downs and sometimes I wanted to say to these people, “What is wrong with you people? Can’t you just admit you love each other and live your life happy already?!” I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.

 

Book Excerpt:

Prologue

I’m alive. I’m dead. I’m in-between. In that limbo where my vital signs hover just above death. I rise above my body and look down on it, lying on a gurney. Hospital staff are rushing me along the brightly-lit hallway to the operating room. One of them holds an oxygen mask on my face. Another, a bag of intravenous fluid connected to my veins by a tube.

I’m not ready to die yet. These good people anxious to rescue me don’t know that my resolve is the only thing that is keeping me alive. No, I’m not ready to die—I’ve only just begun to live. I have yet to prove to myself, to the world, that I have what it takes to prevail.

My family—now on their way to the hospital—doesn’t know yet exactly what happened to me. And except for one detective, neither do the police. I see him now by the foot of the gurney, keeping pace with the nurses. He’s scowling, his lips pressed into a grim line.

A tall, taut, and solitary man, he has deep-set gray eyes clouded by too many images of violent death and a lower lip that hangs perpetually open in disgust or despair. So much darkness he has already seen in his thirty odd years in this world. He needs to piece together the facts that constitute the attempt on my life, events that may have led to it, and various fragments of my past to understand what brought me to this point.

The first time I met him, I fell in love with him. There was something primal about him, some paternal, animalistic instinct to save hurt or fallen victims. Like me, maybe. It gave him power and it made him irresistible to me.

But fate is fickle. It teases. It entices. One day, something quite ordinary happens to you. Yet, you sense that that ordinary something can change your life. Not necessarily for something better, but for something new. Fate is dangling before you the promise of a world that, before then, was totally out of your reach. How can you not seize it?

Now, of course, I see the end of that promise. And it’s not where I want to be.

It’s tragic, don’t you think, that the end of that promise should be right here on a gurney, with me fighting for my life? It certainly is not what I hoped for.

How could it end this way? I embraced life, took chances, but half-dead on this gurney, I wonder: Am I paying with my life? But, like I said. I’m not ready to die yet.

 

Spotlight – Love Hack

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About the Author

Kimberly Dean

When taking the Myers-Briggs personality test in high school, Kimberly Dean was rated as an INFJ (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). This result sent her into a panic, because there were no career paths recommended for the personality type. Fortunately, it turned out to be well suited to a writing career. Since receiving that dismal outlook, Kimberly has become an award-winning author of romance and erotica. She enjoys the freedom and creativity allowed in writing romance, especially with all the interesting cross-genres that have been exploding on the scene.  When not writing, she enjoys movies, sports, traveling, music, and sunshine.

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About the Book

Love Hack

Title: LOVE HACK
Author: Kimberly Dean
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 180
Genre: Romantic Suspense

BOOK BLURB:

Security analyst Spencer Weiler is excited when he lands a job at Afire Industries. The responsibility is daunting, but nowhere near as exhilarating as working with Josie Johnson, the pretty program manager in charge. Spencer lusts after her, but knows that she only sees him as a work friend. He needs to make himself over if he’s going to have a shot with her.

Josie is all too aware of the cute computer geek watching over her. He was tempting before, but with his newfound muscles and sexy haircut, he’s suddenly an irresistible stud. She makes the first move and is stunned to learn that her hot IT guy is just as studious in the sack. Their affair turns hot and heavy, but Josie has broken her rule about dating coworkers once before. It didn’t end well. When her ex returns and posts scandalous pictures of her on the Internet, it’s not Spencer’s muscles that she needs. She needs a hacker.

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Book Excerpt:

Chapter One

As far as work settings went, Spencer supposed the place would do. Yeah, understatement of the year. He looked around the open bay of Afire Industries and tried not to drool. It was a developer’s dream: pods of desks for teams, comfy seating areas for private thinking, top-notch equipment, and cool technology on which to work. The downtown location in Seattle was prime, within walking distance of restaurants, bars, the waterfront, and even the Space Needle. Not that he was geeking out about the opportunity or anything…

Okay, he was geeking out, but it was only natural. He was a software geek. Hell, he was the King of Software Geeks.

“We’re glad to have you onboard,” his new boss, Luke McAllister, said. “Your background in software security is just what we need.”

No kidding. Afire was recovering from a major hack. It had been all over the news. From what Spencer knew about the situation, it hadn’t been a sophisticated attack. The hackers had come through the Internet of Things, which had been left unsecured. A total oversight and totally preventable. “I think I can help you guys out.”

A company this big and this advanced in the tech field? Heads had rolled as a result of the breach, but it had also opened up an opportunity for him to do what he did best. Security was Spencer’s game. What had impressed him most about the situation had been Afire’s response. Contrary to prevailing advice from government and law enforcement officials, Afire had not only closed the hole, they’d gone after their attackers—and they’d taken them down.

This was the kind of place where he wanted to work.

“We’re not ‘you guys’ anymore,” Luke said. “You’re one of us now, ‘a fireman.’ Come on. Let me show you around the place.”

Spencer hopped to his feet, automatically swiping up the MacBook he’d been assigned. He liked this guy, Luke. He wasn’t a normal software guy. In fact, he was pretty up-front about the fact that he was just learning the basics of coding. What McAllister did know, inside and out, was security in general: defensive measures, weakness analysis, perpetrator psychology… Rumor was that he’d worked for the Secret Service before turning to the private sector. What Spencer liked most, though, was that his new boss seemed to let people play to their strengths.

And he was cool as hell: tough, muscled, and badass.

“These three pods are where the security group is located.” Luke nodded, and the developers who weren’t heads-down coding nodded back.

Spencer recognized a few people from his interview and gave a wave.

“We have flexible hours, and you’re free to work from home when you feel the need. If things get hot, though, I’d prefer everyone be onsite so we can ‘war room’ the situation.”

“Not a problem,” Spencer said. That was pretty normal in the industry. He’d be working onsite until he got up to speed on everything.

He followed Luke when he turned down a hallway. The layout of the converted fish cannery was open and airy, but the security team was somewhat secluded around a corner. He was okay with that. Managers thought open-bay setups encouraged collaboration, but to Spencer, they just got loud. He preferred to work on his own when possible. As he’d often been told, he was a “deep thinker.”

“The restrooms are down there on the left. Here’s the grab ’n go area. Take whatever you want to eat or drink. The Green Team just prefers you use the recyclable bowl you were given. It should be on your desk.”

Recycled bowls for snacking, a T-shirt with the company fire emblem, plus a baseball hat, a mousepad, and a backpack to match. Afire didn’t skimp on the swag—although Spencer knew it was free advertising to have the company’s employees going around Seattle dressed like walking Afire billboards.

But shoot, they could dress him up and send him down the runway if this was what he got in return.

He tried not to smile too broadly as they continued their tour. He’d come from a company that specialized in security, but he felt like he’d just made it to the big leagues. It wasn’t just the perks. He was excited to get out on the front lines. The security firm’s customers had been other software companies. Here, he’d be protecting consumers directly. It was a challenge he looked forward to, because, honestly, he needed some new challenges. Things had been getting too easy for him at his old job. Easy and boring.

“Our customer success team is over there. They work with clients directly, helping them through any problems they might encounter. If you need someone who knows our applications inside and out, talk to them.” Luke kept moving until they were at the back of the building. “Down here is the gym.”

Spencer gave it a cursory glance. The assortment of workout machines looked shiny and top of the line, but what did he know? It wasn’t a perk he was likely to use.

“Towel service is provided. I can show you how to use the programmable locks on the lockers, if you’d like.”

“I think I can figure that out,” Spencer said dryly.

Luke sent him a sidelong look and laughed. “Yeah, I suppose you can.”

Clapping a heavy hand on his shoulder, Spencer’s boss turned him back in the direction they’d come. “The cafeteria is open for breakfast and lunch. The team is planning to eat as a group today to welcome you.”

“Cool,” Spencer said. He liked Christopher Chen, the guy who sat at the desk next to him, but he hadn’t gotten to spend much time with anyone else.

Not that he was a social butterfly, but those were his people. Luke was a bit intimidating. He was the kind of guy who probably knew all about working out in gyms, fishing, football, and women. Spencer suspected he’d have more things to talk about with Christopher and the other developers.

“Okay, this is really where I want to take you,” Luke said as he opened a door to a covered walkway leading out of the main Afire building. “This is the way to our small business accelerator. It’s managed by Afire, but space is rented by entrepreneurs trying to get new tech companies off the ground.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Spencer followed his boss to the smaller building next door, but stopped when Luke turned with his hand on the door’s push-bar.

“It’s also where the hack came in.”

Okay, now Spencer’s interest was piqued. “One of the entrepreneurs let them in?”

“No, we let them in. We own and manage the facilities and shared equipment. The small companies here just rent space. The hack came in through the Internet of Things, which we should have secured for everyone. The hacker was then able to breach the firewall between Start ’er Up and Afire’s networks. That’s top-secret info that nobody outside of our team needs to know.”

Spencer nodded. That little tidbit hadn’t been in any of the news reports. It also made it more understandable how such an infiltration had occurred.

Luke pushed open the glass door at the end of the walkway, and the hydraulic closer let out a whoosh. Soft chatter filtered through the air.

“Welcome to Start ’er Up,” Luke said.

Spencer looked around the place with interest. The tech world and startups went hand in hand, although he’d always worked in established businesses. Along with being a deep thinker, he was an old soul. The idea of going out on his own was tempting, but he knew the risks involved with that. Perks were one thing, but he wasn’t blinded by them. Company stability, health insurance, and a 401(k) match were more important to him.

Although this could be a cool way to keep tabs on cutting-edge stuff…

“I’m assigning this place to you,” Luke said.

What? Spencer stood a little straighter. Wow. Talk about a shot in the arm. “Okay.”

“I had a consultant go through everything. She assures me that everything is secure now, but I’d like a second opinion. I’d also like to bring the responsibility in house.”

“Yes, sir. I can do that.” Spencer nodded with confidence as he looked around the space. He spotted printers, routers, and even an old fax machine… all potential infiltration points if somebody wanted to get in via the Internet of Things, much less the Wi-Fi that all these companies no doubt shared.

His brain began churning. Damn, he was getting more and more excited about this job, but he didn’t want to come off like a goober.

Luke turned into one of the few offices in the smaller building. “First things first, I’d like to introduce you to Josie. She manages Start ’er Up. You two will be working closely.”

Spencer took one step in the room, and his brain jammed. Crumpled-paper-in-the-bowels-of-a-printer kind of jam. One moment his brain was firing on all cylinders, excited about the new assignment, and the next, it froze and his body went a little haywire. Girl. Beautiful girl. Strawberry blonde. Green eyes. Pretty smile. Pink lips… And a tight body. Oh, hell. Don’t look there.

“Josie, this is Spencer Weiler, our new security hire. He’s the one who’s going to take point on Start ’er Up’s security situation from here on out.”

The girl… woman… gorgeous woman looked at him and blinked those big green eyes. “Oh! Hi there. It’s nice to meet you.”

She looked at him expectantly, but that paper jam was in there good, gunking up any thought processes Spencer might have once had. “Hi-lo,” he said.

Oh, crap. That wasn’t right.

“Hell. I mean hell-o.” One of her eyebrows rose, and he thought he saw a dimple in her cheek deepen. Damn, this should not be that difficult. “Hi,” he said on a rough exhale.

“Hi, Spencer.” Okay, she was smiling at him. Laughing, really. No, not laughing. There was empathy there. “First days are tough, aren’t they?”

He nodded, his tongue feeling twice its size inside his mouth. Yeah, first day. They’d go with that. She did not need to know about the boner that he was suddenly sporting. She didn’t need to know that was why no blood or oxygen was making it to the head atop his neck.

She held out a hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Not as glad as he was. Not even close.

He took her hand and shifted the Mac he was still carrying so it hid the front of his jeans. Her skin felt like silk. Warm, smooth silk.

He couldn’t stop staring at her. Honest to God, she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

“I still feel so bad about the hack,” she said. “I didn’t even know you could hack equipment like that.”

“Josie,” Luke said. “We’ve talked about this.”

“I know,” she said, sighing heavily, “but I’m responsible for this place. I should have done something to stop it from happening.”

Spencer frowned. “You know how to change the password on a R-4200 router?”

“Uh… no,” she said with a blush. Her gaze went quickly to her desk, where he’d seen the piece of equipment. “But I should know that’s something that needs to be done.”

“It’s not even in the owner’s manual.” He shrugged, hoping the gesture showed reassurance.

Was it hot in here? He stuck his hand in his front jeans pocket to keep from fanning himself like a ninny, but winced. Tight. Jeans too tight. He pulled his hand back out quickly and wrapped his fingers around the shield of his Mac.

“Really?” The lines on the angel’s face smoothed. “Oh, that makes me feel better. I’m the program manager around here. There’s a lot to keep track of.”

“The rock star manager of all managers,” another female inserted.

Spencer glanced to the door. Okay, smoking-hot brunette at nine o’clock. Was there something in the water over here? His glance bounced off her right back to Josie.

“This the newb?” the visitor asked.

Luke nodded. “Spencer, this is Kylie Grant. Kylie, this is Spencer Weiler.”

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

The brunette looked at Luke. “I got this place locked down, you know.”

He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. The guy’s forearms bulged like Popeye’s, and the woman took notice. Spencer caught the reaction and quickly let his gaze skim over Josie. She wasn’t eyeing his manly boss, so much as fighting a smile watching the other two people in the room squabble.

“Security over here is Afire’s responsibility,” Luke said.

“Uh huh.” Kylie pushed her hair over her shoulder and cocked her head.

“Now,” Luke said in resignation. “We’re watching it more closely now, and Spencer is in charge of that.”

Spencer felt the brunette’s gaze rake over him. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the way he was clutching his Mac. He forced his fingers to relax, but he didn’t move it. No way, no how.

“Where did you work before this?” she asked.

“Samson Security.”

“Nice.” She drummed her fingers against her thigh. “What do you think of facial-recognition authentication?”

“Not dependable enough.”

“Pattern recognition?”

He shook his head. “Better than alphanumeric, but still a pain. Fingerprints are the way to go for top-level security and ease of use.”

“Hm,” she muttered. She swung her hand out, gesturing like Vanna White. “What do you think of the place? From a developer’s point of view?”

“Good space, a little loud.” He squinted at the sunlight bouncing off Elliott Bay through the front windows. That was something to mark on the calendar. The sun was out in Seattle, and he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world. Whom he’d like to get back to… if he could communicate with her… Hell, why was his brain connecting to his mouth with this brunette bombshell but not the redhead?

“It’s nice, although a bit bright,” he said.

Kylie straightened as if he’d jabbed her with a stick. “He’ll do.”

“Nice to have your approval,” Luke said dryly.

She lifted an eyebrow. “You know you want it.”

Josie cleared her throat. “They date,” she said.

Good. That meant one less guy Spencer had to be concerned about. A scary thought hit him, and his gaze snapped to her desk. He was relieved when he didn’t see photographs of a husband or boyfriend.

“Are we still going to Ivar’s for dinner tonight?” Kylie asked.

“Yeah,” Luke said. “How late are you going to be?”

“I can go anytime. Just pick me up when you’re ready.”

Was that a gleam in his boss’s steely gaze? Spencer watched for hints, pointers even. The guy obviously had game, and he could use some help in that area. Like, pronto.

Spencer shot another glance at Josie. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. That paper jam in his head just wasn’t letting loose. Did he even have a shot? She seemed so normal—no, so outstanding—and he was a computer geek. His kind didn’t have the best track records with women. What was his next step? Was he going to make a play? How did one do that?

He didn’t even know what a play was, not with someone like her.

“Anyway,” Luke said. “Now that we have approval from the boss, I’d like you two to work together to map out a plan. Spencer, you know the security piece. Josie, you know how Start ’er Up works. We can’t lock it down too tightly, because we have a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs using this place. We’re here to help them, not shut them out.”

Spencer nodded. “Got it.”

“Josie can introduce you around and get you situated.”

Spencer nodded again. It was the one form of communication he had that seemed to be working. His brain was now stuck on the fact that he’d be spending a lot of time with her. It thrilled him and terrified him all at once.

“Any questions?” Luke said.

So, so many. Spencer shook his head.

Josie walked to her desk and opened a day planner the size of War and Peace. “When would you like to start, Spencer?”

Oh, God. He was even turned on by the way she said his name.

“Nuuhhhh.” He cleared his throat. “Now?”

She blinked. “Uh, okay.”

She moved some papers aside on her desk, but Luke stepped forward. “Whoa, boy. Slow ’er down.”

Josie giggled, and Spencer nearly died.

“I thought we were supposed to Start ’er Up,” she teased.

Spencer snorted. Literally, the most ungraceful sound in the world came out of his mouth, and Josie laughed harder.

Luke looked back and forth between the two of them. “Geek humor. Great.”

He tilted his head toward the door. “We’re not finished with his onboarding,” he said. “Put something on his calendar for tomorrow or later. Whatever works for you.”

“Okay.” Josie trailed her finger down the open page. “If you don’t need me now, I guess I’ll head down to the gym.”

Heat washed through Spencer when she turned toward him and laced her fingers together. “See you tomorrow.”

He nodded roughly. “Tmrro.”

Damn it.

“All right. Sounds like a plan.” Luke started out the door. “Let’s go back to my office.”

Spencer somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other to follow him. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Josie’s green gaze one last time. “Buh.”

Oh, hell and tarnation.

“Bye,” she said with a little wave that made his erection nearly burst right through the zipper of his jeans.

Spencer hoped to God he wasn’t walking funny as he followed Luke back through the walkway into Afire. Once the door closed behind them, some of his brain function returned. It was a proximity affliction, apparently.

This was a problem.

The woman put his brain on the fritz. He liked her. One step inside that door, and he’d wanted her. At the very least, he had to work with her, but she wasn’t a typical tech female. Luke’s girlfriend, Kylie, wasn’t either, but he could talk to her. But Josie?

Spencer narrowed his eyes on Luke as he sank down into the chair behind his desk. Wait a minute. Luke had somehow made the crossover from normal guy to geek girl—although Kylie was unlike any geek girl Spencer had ever met. Surely, he could take hints from their relationship and reverse-engineer it.

His brain started to whir; he was onto something here. He could hack this.

“So… that’s the gist of the job. Now, for your development plan.” Luke swiveled in his chair toward his laptop. “Everybody hates coming up with these, but Afire likes to keep its employees learning. You don’t have to come up with a full-blown plan now, but start thinking about an area where you’d like to develop more skills.”

“You mean in security?”

Luke shrugged, his heavy shoulders bunching. “Not necessarily. It can be pretty much anything. Rafi is taking some public-speaking courses to help with his presentations. Christopher is shadowing our customer success people to learn how our customers approach things. So think about it. What’s something you’re interested in learning more about?”

That was easy—the redhead next door.

Although when Luke said “anything,” Spencer doubted she was included.

He tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair. There was more than one way to hack a password.

“Stress can be a problem for me,” he said. It was the truth. “Sometimes I can get too deep in a problem and forget to take care of myself.”

Honesty there.

“Okay,” Luke said.

“And not to brag or anything, but I could teach most of the courses on security.”

Luke’s chair squeaked when he sat back. An evaluating look had settled onto his face. It was all jagged corners and tough-guy handsome. Spencer tried not to squirm as Luke looked him over. He could afford to put on some muscle like McAllister.

“The gym,” he said. It came to him like the flash of a light bulb. “I’d like to get more comfortable there, maybe establish a workout routine. You know, to get out of my head.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed, and Spencer rushed to make sense of the request before Luke made it to the truth. Although with the way his mouth started to tug at the corners, it might already be too late.

“Would you be open to training me?” Spencer asked.

Luke’s chin snapped up a fraction of an inch. Okay, he hadn’t been expecting that.

“Well, I am down there usually once a day,” Luke said, “and I wouldn’t mind a training partner. What’s your normal workout routine now?”

Routine? “I play a lot of disc golf in the summer. Does that count?”

The frown he got in return didn’t help.

“What’s that?” Luke asked.

Spencer ran a hand through his hair. “Frisbee golf.”

Damn, that didn’t sound tough at all.

But Luke nodded in approval. “There’s cardio with that.”

“Yeah, and I can run.” Spencer flexed. “I just need to… you know… beef up.”

Women were into that, from what he’d heard.

He flinched when Luke leaned forward and braced his elbows against the desk. “Let me get this straight. One of my security guys wants to enter… the gym.”

Spencer swallowed hard. He might as well have said the Twilight Zone. Did he want to become a gym rat? No. But did he want a shot with Josie? “Yes.”

He fought to hold his ground as Luke watched him. The guy could read the truth. He had eyes like lasers and a brain that was nearly as sharp.

“Okay, strength training it is.” Luke turned to his computer and filled out the development form. “We’ll start tomorrow morning before you go over to help Josie with Start ’er Up.”

“Tomorrow,” Spencer agreed. Before his brain went wonky again.

Man, he hoped this worked.

* * *

“So what did you think of him?”

Josie glanced up from her gym bag to the door. Shoot, Kylie was back. Josie returned her attention to her bag and zipped the compartment shut. She should have just run to the locker room and checked to see if she’d remembered to bring shampoo. “Who? Spencer?”

“No, Luke,” her friend said dryly.

Josie sighed. “I don’t know. He’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“That’s a ringing endorsement.”

Okay, that hadn’t been fair. The new guy was better than fine—and maybe he had the security chops, too. “If you and Luke feel he’s the right guy, I’m sure he is.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Giving up, Josie dropped the strap of the bag and slumped down into her chair. “I just can’t help feeling like it’s punishment for screwing up, like he’s being assigned to watch over my shoulder.”

“Screwing up?” Kylie closed the door behind her and walked over to settle her hip against the desk. “What did you do wrong?”

Oh, just about everything. Josie had gone over the whole cycle of events in her head so many times, it was like it was on constant replay. “I should have noticed the change in the lighting. I missed that completely. Even when you told me, I didn’t dig into it.”

Kylie frowned. “But you let me. And how would you have known that was evidence of a hack? I didn’t until I started poking around in the smart building control system, which you gave me access to, following proper protocol. Have I thanked you for that, by the way? If you hadn’t added me as an administrator, Luke never would have listened to me. I’d probably still be talking with lawyers today.”

“Yes, but that was a security violation, in and of itself. You weren’t officially associated with Afire. I should have been fired for that alone.”

“Hey, I’m a consultant. I’ve even got a badge to show it.”

Josie hit her friend with a look. “After the fact.”

“You just beat Luke to the paperwork.”

Josie fiddled with the pen holder on her desk. Afire liked to promote itself as a paperless company, but there was just something about pen and paper that made her feel more organized. She had pens in every color under the sun, and her day planner was jammed with Post-it notes to expand on the rainbow. That was her strength—organization and communication. She kept this place running as its program manager. She helped people network and find collaborators. She put together training sessions for new businesses on how to keep their books, market their products, and find venture capital. She kept metrics on their member companies’ progress, she reviewed startup applications for membership, and she even made the coffee.

But with all that she did, she knew that the Start ’er Up program was not key to Afire’s success. It didn’t make money. Every once in a while, a technology company might have something her bosses would be interested in licensing or even outright purchasing, but Start ’er Up’s mission was to support the entrepreneurship culture in Seattle. It was a community service.

Yet that community service had nearly brought Afire down.

She banged her pen holder against her desk, and two pens jumped out. “Why did that hack have to come through this place?”

Kylie frowned. “Did you ever stop to think how lucky we were that it did?”

“Excuse me?” Another pen, a purple one, fell out when Josie tried to shove the other two back in. She rarely got angry. She was an upbeat person, but she didn’t need coddling.

“Do you think something like that ever would have been noticed or investigated over in Afire? A lighting glitch? Especially with Steven Ayers at the security helm?”

Josie winced. She hadn’t realized how self-centered she was being. Steven Ayers had been the top security guy on Luke’s team. Smug, misogynistic, and highly overrated, he’d been fired for not detecting the hack of Afire’s network—and he’d come after Kylie for revenge.

Reaching past her growing pile of spilled pens, Josie caught her friend’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think of that.”

“Those hackers could have done a lot more damage if we hadn’t caught them when we did. Luke isn’t assigning Spencer to Start ’er Up because he doesn’t trust you. He’s giving you the support you’ve always needed.” Kylie pushed her hair back and gave a little sniff. “Even if I had it handled.”

Josie rolled her eyes. Okay, they both had some personal hang-ups with the new situation. “You’ve got enough on your plate with your web design company and… whatever else it is that you do.”

Her friend clammed up real quick at that.

Kylie leaned forward and changed the subject. “So, give me the truth. What did you think of Mr. Chatty Cat?”

Talk about turning the tables. The direct look in her friend’s eyes made Josie blush, but she pretended not to know what Kylie was talking about. “The two of you communicated just fine.”

“Yes, but I’m one of his kind. You aren’t.”

Josie busied herself with straightening up her pens. “I understood what he was trying to say.”

Kylie’s grin turned into a smile. “I bet you did.”

“We’ll know better tomorrow if we can work together.”

“Josie, the words he managed to get out around you weren’t even English.”

“So he’s a little shy.” Shy, observant, tall, and sexy, in an awkward sort of way. Those dark puppy-dog eyes had made Josie melt when she’d first locked gazes with him. She pointed a pen at the brunette interrogating her. Enough of this. “What did you think?”

Kylie shrugged. “He’s kinda cute, if you go for that type of thing.”

“I meant for the security job!”

She laughed. “He’s solid. Technically, he’s really good. I checked him out before Luke made the offer.”

Josie’s jaw dropped. “Then why are you asking me?”

“Because it’s what you think that matters. He can be a security genius, but if you don’t like working with him, just say the word.”

“Oh, come on. Give him a chance.”

“So you like him?”

Josie began fiddling with her gym bag again. Kylie just wasn’t going to let up on this. “He is kind of cute, I guess, with that shaggy hair and dark eyes.”

“Too wiry for my taste.”

“Lanky,” Josie said. In a Ramones T-shirt, he’d been like all the other tech guys walking around, but his backside had been rather nice as she’d watched him walk out the door. He was tall, too. She’d had to tilt her head back a little to talk to him. She’d kind of liked that. And he had shoulders to match, even if he didn’t fill out the T-shirt as well as the jeans.

“I guess he is at the opposite side of the spectrum from Nolan,” Kylie said. “That’s a plus.”

Nolan. At the mention of her ex-boyfriend, Josie’s stomach went from buoyant to a ball of lead. Okay, it was her turn to clam up. She looped the long strap of her gym bag over her shoulder and stood. “I just agreed that Spencer is cute. That doesn’t mean I’m going to date him.”

She wasn’t ready to get back into that scene yet.

The humor left Kylie’s eyes. “Is Nolan still giving you problems?”

“No. Just a late-night text here and there.” Josie rounded her desk. She really did need to get to the gym if she was going to get a workout in.

Kylie put her arm over the doorway. “What does he want?”

Josie ducked underneath the barrier and scooted through. “To get back together.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Kylie followed her down the hallway. “You’re not—”

“No.” Absolutely not.

“Good.” Kylie’s fists relaxed at her sides. “Cute and lanky might be a good thing after all.”

“Spencer’s just for work.” They were in the covered walkway now, leading over to Afire. Josie swiped her badge through the reader at the door to the main building. Kylie didn’t have her consultant’s badge on her, so this was where Josie could make her great escape. When the reader’s light turned green, she put her shoulder into the door and pushed it open. “I’m too busy for another boyfriend right now.”

Busy trying to make sure Afire was still invested in Start ’er Up and her job was secure.

The door clanked shut behind her, ending the conversation and making the lead ball inside Josie’s stomach heavier. Maybe Spencer could help her understand security better, but anything beyond that was out of the question. She needed to concentrate on her career while she still had it.

 

Book Spotlight – The ABCs of Living Green

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About the Author

Theresa A. McKeown

Theresa McKeown spent over two decades in the entertainment arena before embracing her true passion of writing children’s books. After producing hundreds of hours of television for a host of cable and network outlets, Theresa is now on the path of what she considers her highest calling.

Theresa and her sisters have created “The ABC’s of Everything, LLC”, a family endeavor solely focused on publishing several series of children’s books, digital content, and educational curriculums.  All will be written and produced with an awareness of the true possibilities that children of the 21st century can realize.  

As an author, Theresa is dedicated to estimating rather than underestimating the wisdom of children. Her philosophy is that kids are fully adept at understanding nuance and meaning and it’s not necessary to talk down to them.  She is dedicated to creating a new paradigm in the children’s book world by introducing work that fully embraces the insightfulness, perception and unlimited intellectual potential of today’s youth.

Her books are meant to plant the seeds of education and awareness early in a child’s development, knowing full well that children will ultimately blossom into the best versions of who they are meant to be.

In her role as producer, Theresa traveled worldwide, filming from locations as diverse as the White House, NORAD, the Pentagon, FBI headquarters, maximum-security prisons and from the top of the World Trade Center.  Along the way she “tail-hooked” onto an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, yachted through South America with jet setters and chased bad guys with the LAPD in a helicopter. She survived both OJ Simpson trials, shot live from heart of the LA Riots and drove through a wall of flames during the Laguna fires.  Yet, with a background like this, building a community to celebrate children promises to be the most exciting adventure of all.

As George Elliot once said, “It’s never too late to become who you might have been”.

…Words this author has taken to heart.

 

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About the Book

The ABCs of Living Green 2

Title: THE ABCS OF LIVING GREEN
Author: Theresa A McKeown
Publisher: The ABCs of Everything, LLC
Pages: 56
Genre: Picture/poetry book for children and tweens

BOOK BLURB:

“The ABCs of Living Green” completes the ABC trilogy of picture books focused on raising happy, healthy, conscious children in body, mind and spirit. Written from the voice of Mother Earth, every letter of the alphabet and corresponding word gives readers a multitude of fun ways to be mindful not only of the planet we all share, but of the people with whom we share it. A book that focuses on the beauty and fulfillment of stepping up and doing our part in taking care of the environment and each other, “The ABCs of Living Green” is truly a book for the enlightened child of the 21st century.

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Book Spotlight – Eating From The Cherry Tree

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Title: Eating From The Cherry Tree
Author: Vivien Ella Walden

Pages: 290

About The Book

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EATING FROM THE CHERRY TREE is a dynamic, unique and totally revealing memoir of one of the most notorious and successful ‘madams’ the UK has seen in recent years. The book is inspired by Vivien Ella Walden’s unique life experiences that lead up to and behind her brothel doors. Within a short time she becomes famous for her skills and able to afford whatever she desires within a world of scandal and naughtiness, corruption and suffering, sadness and exhilarating happiness. Images of a complex girl emerge from this incredibly frank account. An account of a girl raised in a loving working class Jewish family who ran from her heritage, bared her perfectly formed derriere and partied with the elite and famous. She takes on many guises and titles, while mixing with gangsters, politicians, film stars, musicians and artists. Names of the rich and famous sprinkle this book. They all knew of her industry, it was not unlike theirs. This is an amazing book, telling a story of prostitution that has never been told in such explicit detail before. It will reach inside the heart of all those who admire absolute honesty on a subject many consider taboo.

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Blurb:

“Good sex is the ultimate life experience. An orgasm felt deep inside that can be held on to until your quivering body and brain explode is an art in itself. Does this ultimate pleasure have a price?  Of course, but doesn’t everyone in some way pay it?

There are lessons I have learnt that I have a need to share.  Of how it is possible to descend into the abyss of sexual exploitation and emerge smelling of roses.

Reliving the truth has proved harder than I had thought, the flood of imagery amazing. I am swamped by visions, swept away and catapulted backwards into memories of childlike innocence. Did I delve into things I shouldn’t have as a child?  Indeed I did.

Images of a complex girl have emerged, who ran from her heritage, bared her perfectly formed derriere and partied with the elite and famous.  Gangsters, politicians, film stars, musicians and artists, they all knew of her industry.  Being a stripper, call girl, hooker, or madam, you have to know how to dance to the music, be a good actress, stand up to the toughest, deal with the law and paint your own picture for all to see.

Entering into a life of ‘commercial sex’, be it on the stage, a brothel or bedroom, the most important skills are learning the art of negotiation, self esteem, and know how to seduce a man completely, keeping him intrigued, before and after the clothes come off.

Every woman has different roles to play in pleasuring a man. But the ‘working girl’ who is skilled in her art is the one to be held on a pedestal.  For she is the one who makes it possible to keep those home fires burning.”

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The theory of the Cherry Tree:

  • Dreaming that you see a cherry, indicates that you are to find love.
  • To dream that you eat cherries, predicts that you have damages ahead or that you will be involved in intrigue and competition.
  • To dream of unripe cherries, is a sign of problems ahead.
  • To dream that you picked cherries, predicts that you have profits ahead, joy and happiness in the family will also come.
  • A cherry blossom is a sign of hopes realized.
  • The cherry blossom symbolism is a very significant symbol of power, typically it represents a feminine beauty and sexuality and often holds an idea of power or feminine dominance.

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About The Author:

Vivien Ella Walden was born in Salford Manchester UK. Raised in a loving working class Jewish family she ran from her heritage, bared her perfectly formed derriere and partied with the elite and famous while taking on many guises and titles.

With the death of her first husband she took on his mantle and grew to become one of the UK’s most successful ‘madams’ within a world of scandal and naughtiness, corruption and suffering, sadness and exhilarating happiness.

‘After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life’.

Vivien Waxman.

Links:

Amazon.  MyBook.to/CherryTree
Visit Amazon’s Vivien Ella Walden Page.
Twitter. Vivien Ella Walden @vivienwalden
Goodreads Book Page
Goodreads Author Page

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VBT – Last Puffs

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About the Author

Harley Mazuk

Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.

Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

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About the Book

Last Puffs

Title: LAST PUFFS
Author: Harley Mazuk
Publisher: New Pulp Press
Pages: 293
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Private Eye

BOOK BLURB

Frank Swiver and his college pal, Max Rabinowitz, both fall in love with Amanda Zingaro, courageous Republican guerilla, in the Spanish civil war. But the local fascists murder her and her father.

Eleven years later in San Francisco in 1949, Frank, traumatized by the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living as a private eye. Max who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to Frank, has pledged Frank eternal loyalty. He’s a loyal communist party member and successful criminal attorney.

Frank takes on a case for Joan Spring, half-Chinese wife of a wealthy banker. Joan seduces Frank to ensure his loyalty. But Frank busts up a prostitution/white slavery ring at the Lotus House a brothel in Chinatown, where Joan was keeping refugees from Nanking prisoners.

Then Max sees a woman working in a Fresno cigar factory, who is a dead ringer for Amanda, and brings in Frank, who learns it is Amanda. She has tracked the fascists who killed her father and left her for dead from her village in Spain to California. Amanda wants Frank to help her take revenge. And by the way, she says the ten-year-old boy with her is Frank’s son.

Joan Spring turns out to be a Red Chinese secret agent, and she’s drawn a line through Max’s name with a pencil. Can Frank save Max again? Can he help Amanda avenge her father when he’s sworn off violence? Can he protect her from her target’s daughter, the sadistic Veronica Rios-Ortega? Join Frank Swiver in the swift-moving story, Last Puffs.

Praise

.5 out of 5 stars Wonderful Read – Easy and Fun

February 10, 2018

Format: Kindle Edition| Verified Purchase

Frank Swiver is a detective. Murder investigations are his specialty. He likes wine, loose women and fast cars. Not necessarily in that order. Swiver inhabits an earlier world that is archaic and, without doubt, politically incorrect by today’s standards. Harley Mazuk recreates in Swiver a character from another era whose story is fun and entertaining. Mazuk has an impressive knowledge of wines and cars which permeate his narrative. As to his knowledge of women, I am not competent to judge. I do know that the geography and time period portrayed is well researched. There are many twists and turns to the plot as well as an injection of espionage that keeps the reader guessing. Fans of old fashion detective novels will enjoy this book. I know, I did.

— Amazon Reviewer

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Book Excerpt:

Aragón, Spain, March 1938

There’d been a dusting of fresh snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad, which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games.

“I would like to see Hank Greenberg and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance.

“How about Ted Williams?” I said. “We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco with the Seals.”

“We saw Williams play with the Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max.

“Yeah, but the Red Sox signed him.” I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it around.  

“He’s only about 19. I think they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.”

“I would like to see Bob Feller pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max.

Smitty came up between us. “Feller throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.”

“They say,” said Max, “he walks almost one an inning,”

“Keeps ‘em loose up there,” said Smitty, who was from Cleveland. “Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.”

As the three of us stepped out of the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us. Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in the ground.

When we could look up, we saw that the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer.

A potato-masher grenade came flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping up and firing one round with his Springfield, then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio.

After a few minutes of this, I tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others.

“Comrades…anyone…sound off.” Nada.

“Frank, this is bad,” Max yelled to me.

“I’d rather be facing Feller’s fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of dirt flew towards us.

The scene faded to black, but for how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was gone.  The top of his head and the right side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive.

“Frank, Frank. I can’t see. I can’t see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there.

“Easy, Max.” I tried to rinse some of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face, man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a trot along the tree line.

Our lines were behind us to the east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and dropped Max.

“Frank, where are you? Am I dyin’?”

“I got you, Max. You caught some shrapnel in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.”

“I’m a Jew, you idiot.”

“Say it anyway.” I lifted the gauze off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his face and put his hand on it.  

I hoisted him over my shoulder again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast. We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I stopped twice, and opened our bota. I washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only half-conscious.

I carried Max down the hill and to the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been roommates and run around together at Berkeley. We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d slip back into the abyss.

Max was a red, even back in our student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up to fight in Spain. Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him.

When the sun dropped behind the hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro. It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into consciousness—and panic and pain.

“Morphine, Frank,” he moaned. “Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the Generalissimo had come down the hill waving his pistoles. We were down low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep.

 

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Blog Tour – Welcome Reluctant Stranger

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About the Author

Evy Journey

Evy Journey, SPR (Self Publishing Review) Independent Woman Author awardee, is a writer, a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse. Her pretensions to being a flâneuse means she wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. She’s lived in Paris few times as a transient.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her even though such preoccupations have gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen and spinning tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue and sets in various locales.

In a previous life, armed with a Ph.D. and fascinated by the psyche, she researched and shepherded  the development of mental health programs. And wrote like an academic. Not a good thing if you want to sound like a normal person. So, she began to write fiction (mostly happy fiction) as an antidote.

Her latest book is Welcome Reluctant Stranger.

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About the Book

Title: WELCOME RELUCTANT STRANGER
Author: Evy Journey
Publisher: Sojourner Books
Pages: 314
Genre: Multicultural Women’s Fiction

BOOK BLURB:

What happens when a brokenhearted computer nerd and culinary whiz gets rescued by a relationship phobic psychologist with a past that haunts her? For Leilani and Justin, it’s an attraction they can’t deny but which each is reluctant to pursue. More so for Leilani whose family had to flee their troubled country when she was only nine.

Leilani is focused on leaving the past behind, moving forward. But when she learns the truth behind her family’s flight—the shocking, shameful secret about her father’s role in a deadly political web—she is devastated.

Is her father a hero or a villain?  Can she deal with the truth?

But the past is impossible to run away from. Together with Justin, she must get her father out of her former home. Can she forgive her father, accept him for what he is? And can she reconnect with her roots and be at peace with who she is?

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Welcome Reluctant Stranger

Book Excerpt:

PROLOGUE: ROOTS

If you could see heat, you would see it that day rising from the concrete paving in the schoolyard, colliding with rays plummeting from the sun. The light was blinding, the heat oppressive.

The schoolyard was unlike most others on this tiny island on the Pacific. A concrete wall, eight-feet high and topped with countless pieces of broken glass embedded into the concrete, surrounded both the school and the perimeter of the 30,000 square foot yard. A young woman fully covered—except for her face and hands—in the white habit of a Catholic novice, circled the yard, watching pupils play.

About a hundred girls, ages six to eleven, clad in dark blue skirts and white shirts with peter pan collars loosely tied with wide, dark blue bows, formed groups around three or four games. Despite the buzz of activity, no one shouted, shrieked, or raised a ruckus.

The girls ignored the heat as they played in the few minutes they had for recess. All, except one girl. She sat in the shade, smiling, content with observing everyone else, and enjoying the light breeze that blew now and then.

Younger girls hovered around rectangular hopscotch courses drawn with chalk on the cemented yard. Some older pupils ran games of tag but the majority, along with a few younger ones, waited in a long line to take their turn at jumping rope.

From a slatted wooden bench, Leilani watched the game with cool interest until her best friend, Myrna, ran into the arc of the spinning rope to join another girl from her class. Leilani leaned forward.

Two girls, each holding one end of the rope, swung vigorously down, sideways, up, and around over and over. The rope whirled so fast that all Leilani saw was an elliptical form pinched at its ends, like a sausage bulging in the middle. Inside, the girls jumped, as fast and as high as they could to evade the whirling rope. If they got their feet caught, they lost and had to get out. The player who lasted longest won.

Myrna was good at it, maybe the best. She skipped like a fawn and could outlast everyone else Leilani had seen. Before long, the other girl gave up and yielded her place to another. Leilani clapped hard for her friend, a wide smile wiping away the pout on her lips.

“Why aren’t you with the other girls, Leilani?”

Leilani turned as Sister Young sat on the bench next to her. Sister Young was the newest novice who alternated with another novice, Sister Mariano, in watching the children in the schoolyard. Leilani liked Sister Mariano better. She had a nicer smile and she spoke in a soft, sweet voice. Sister Young, tall, thin, light-skinned, and sharp-featured, looked like she disapproved of everyone. And she was too nosy.

Leilani shrugged, her pout returning, as she turned her attention back to the girls skipping rope.

“Is anything wrong, Leilani?”

“No. It’s too hot to play.”

“Your classmates don’t seem to think so. Myrna looks like she’s having fun.”

“Myrna likes to jump rope better than school.”

Sister Young chuckled. “I can understand that. When I was your age, I preferred running around with my brothers than playing with my dolls or reading. But what about you? What do you like to do best?”

“Watch people.”

“Is there much fun in that?” Sister Young sounded as if she believed the opposite.

Leilani shrugged again. The novice said nothing more for a few minutes.

Myrna jumped out of the spinning rope, yielding her place to a girl who had just joined her in it. Standing outside the arc of the rope, she swiped her arm across her face and wiped it on her shirt. She ambled to the side and dropped her butt down next to one of the girls swinging the rope.

“She must be tired,” Leilani mumbled to herself, sitting back on the bench and sticking her lower lip out farther.

Sister Young said, “What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“How’s your family doing, Leilani?”

“Fine.”

“Sister Mariano told me your father is a doctor who’s part of the team that takes care of the president. You must be very proud of him.”

“He’s no better than other doctors.”

“But he must be pretty good to be on the team. Do you see him much? I know doctors can’t keep regular working hours like others do.”

“I see him enough.”

“What about your mother?”

“Mamá is Mamá.”

“Does she work?”

Leilani scowled. “She paints her nails different colors every day and fills lots of vases with flowers.” She knew no one who worked, among the mothers of her classmates. She added, “We have maids who do the housework.”

“Like all the families of the other children here, I’m sure.”

Leilani turned toward Sister Young. “Didn’t you have maids when you lived at home?”

“No. I learned to clean and cook by the time I was your age.”

Leilani stared at the young novice. She wanted to say something nice to her, but what? Cooking and cleaning at her age—nine years old—seemed like punishment. How did a child tell someone older and able to order them around that she was sorry? She reached her hand out to touch Sister Young, but remembered that school rules did not allow touching between teachers and pupils. So, she regarded her in sympathy and the novice acknowledged it with gratitude in her eyes.

The bell rang, announcing the end of recess. Leilani jumped up from the bench. Although she felt close to Sister Young for a few moments, she was relieved to be free of her. She joined Myrna in the line for girls from her class.

“Oh, Myrna, you’re sweating into your white shirt. Your uniform has stains on it.”

“Yes, lucky our skirt is dark. I’m sure it’s dirtier than my white shirt.”

“Is that why you stopped skipping rope?”

“Yeah, but it’s too hot, anyway.”

“The stains—will your Mamá be angry with you?”

Myrna shrugged. “She doesn’t care. But Nana will give me a scolding. You’re lucky your parents didn’t get you a Nana.”

Leilani crinkled her nose. She had once asked her father for one. “No. Mamá thinks she and no else should take care of us. I’ll bet she’s stricter than your Nana.”

“Keep it down, girls,” Sister Young said as she led the line of girls back into the school.

Everyone stopped talking as they entered the classroom where Sister Lourdes, their math teacher, waited. A middle-aged nun with a thin face, whose smiling eyes had etched upward creases on the corners, she was kind but she inspired awe. Her pupils knew quite well what that set to her jaw meant: She was determined to make them as proficient, if not better, in math as boys. She followed up on her mission by rigorous training, starting each day with written exercises on lessons and homework of the previous day.

Leilani calculated that she spent more time studying math than other subjects, although literature was her favorite. She wanted to please Sister Lourdes.

A quarter of an hour later, only the scratching of pencils on paper and the swishing of the nun’s habit, as she paced between desks, could be heard in the room. The class was absorbed doing the written arithmetic exercise of the day. Every second pupil or so, Sister Lourdes peered discreetly down the girl’s back to gauge her progress.

Leilani sensed the nun’s presence behind her. She bent lower over her work. She had solved two-thirds of the problems halfway through the allotted time but she did not want her teacher to see her progress until she finished. A soft knock on the door saved her from the sister’s watchful eyes. The nun hurried to the front of the classroom. Leilani sighed in relief.

A low but excited buzz of voices broke the relative quiet of the room as Leilani and many other girls raised their heads from their work. Before Sister Lourdes reached the door, it swung open and the principal entered. Behind her, a visitor walked in, partly hidden by the principal’s layers of black and white habit.

The principal once said she was anxious not to disrupt lessons, so she rarely came to their classrooms. She had meant to reassure them of her unwavering interest in growing their minds. Instead, she aroused curiosity and anxiety when she did come—reactions that grew more acute when she brought a visitor along.

A visitor meant some pupil was going to be singled out, taken out of the classroom for some shameful or unhappy reason in her family. If she had a problem having to do with school, she usually had to go to the principal’s office. That was the rarest event of all, and it caused greater shame.

“Mamá,” Leilani muttered, when the visitor came out in full view from behind the principal. Her mother picked her and her sister, Carmen, up when school was over, but she never entered the school grounds. She waited in her car.

She was staring at her now, her lips pressed into a line, as if she was holding back an urge to cry or to shout. Deep creases on her brow cast shadows on her eyes. Something disturbed her. Something terribly wrong.

Leilani turned toward the huddled heads of the principal and Sister Lourdes who had been talking in hushed voices. She thought, they’re talking too long, as she put the stubby end of her pencil in her mouth, and bit on it so hard that the eraser broke off.

She spat the broken piece in her hand and looked around at her classmates, their faces animated with malicious delight. They were relishing the little drama unfolding before them, squirming with anticipation for what was to follow.

She knew what it was like, watching and waiting for trouble to fall on another. But the visitor was her mother and she looked much too worried.

Before long, the principal stepped back and Sister Lourdes faced the class. Leilani knew what was coming. She held her breath. Today was her turn—the unfortunate girl drawn into a familiar scenario, the butt of the week’s jokes for her often bored classmates. She had known it would come, and though she was sure it was impossible, she wished she could will it away.

Later that afternoon, they would gossip. Taunt arrogant, aloof Leilani, finally pulled down from her pedestal by the disgrace of being taken out of the class by her nervous mother.

Her teacher said, “Leilani, please gather all your things and give me your work. I’ll grade whatever you finish. You must go with your mother at once.”

To Leilani’s relief, instead of the whispered guessing and curious stares she had anticipated, her classmates hushed up. Maybe, like her, they sensed something terrible. Their teacher spoke in a tone they had never heard before, a tone so solemn that her usual calm demeanor seemed as troubled as her mother’s.

Leilani seized pencils, books, and notebooks off her desk and hastily stuffed them in her bag. Her arms were trembling and she could not zip up her bag. She picked it up, hugging it close to her chest.

Myrna, who sat behind her, leaned over and said, “Call me tonight.”

Leilani nodded without turning toward her friend. She marched, head straight and gaze forward, toward the waiting adults.

Sister Lourdes lightly tapped the top of her head. “Don’t worry. I’ll take the number of right answers you gave against the total number you finished. That’s fair, don’t you think?”

Leilani nodded.

“Thank you, Sister Lourdes,” her mother said. “Let’s hope she can come back to school tomorrow. She doesn’t like to miss any of her classes.”

“You’re welcome, Mrs. Torres. And don’t worry about Leilani’s progress. She catches up very quickly. I’ll give her extra exercises, but I don’t think she’ll need them. I hope things turn out all right for your family.”

Leilani felt her mother’s hand pushing her toward the door. She was impatient to be out of there.

*****

In the car, her older sister Carmen waited in the front passenger seat. They bobbed their heads in greeting.

Leilani threw her schoolbag on the back seat and climbed in. She was dying to know what was going on, but she knew better than to ask. They hardly ever talked in the car. Their mother insisted on silence while she was driving.

She and Carmen needed only one incident to learn that their mother meant what she said. One day, they continued their banter after she told them to stop. Without warning, she slammed on the brakes and Carmen, who always took the front seat, hit her head on the dashboard. Leilani fell on the floor. Carmen sported a bump on her head for days after that.

Leilani was impatient to be home, certain that her sister knew what was going on. Unlike her, Carmen could coax things out of their mother. She would not hold anything back, eager to show Leilani that their mother trusted her and liked her better. Leilani refused to believe her sister, but conceded that because Carmen was thirteen—nearly a young woman—their mother told her grown-up things.

For now, Leilani would play her waiting game.  She tried to calm down, but her resolve lasted only until her mother turned at a street. She could not hold her tongue then.

“This isn’t the way home. Where are we going?”

Neither her sister nor her mother answered and all she could do was wait to see where her mother was taking them. She scooted close to the window and watched all the buildings they were passing by.

A while later, she heard the drone of planes flying low above them and recognized the streets they were on. She knew it. They were off to a place away from home. She was not about to be dragged away, without knowing why.

“We’re near the airport. What’s going on? Are we going somewhere?”

Her sister said, “Just shut up, will you? You’re getting on my nerves.”

Carmen was quick to notice and use their mother’s expressions. “Getting on my nerves” was their mother’s way of telling her children to go away. Leilani heard it often enough that she could tell from the way she glared and parted her lips that her mother was about to say it. Leilani learned to walk away before she could utter those words.

But, trapped for the moment, she could only comply.

At the airport, Mrs. Torres parked the car in a ten-minute zone and said, “Get all your things. Don’t leave anything in the car and keep quiet until we’re out of here.”

She went to the back of the car and took two suitcases out, one large and the other small. She banged the trunk close but did not bother to lock the car, as she usually did.

“What about Papá and Rudy?” Leilani cried. Were they escaping? But where to and why? And from what?

Again, neither her mother nor her sister answered. Her mother handed Carmen the small suitcase. Carmen handed Leilani her schoolbag.

As she rushed alongside her mother and sister inside the airport building, she began to imagine stories about escaping and became excited at the idea of it. Her heart raced and her whole body tingled. They were off on an adventure. Any adventure was welcome. She had so little of it in school, and less at home.

Walking briskly, carrying two schoolbags heavy with books, she sweated profusely. Her arms ached and her legs groaned. The air conditioning helped, but that was over too soon. They passed through the building before she could cool down.

Out in the sun, their mother ran in front of them, toward a small plane waiting on the tarmac. She looked back at them and shouted, “Run, you two. You move like turtles.”

Her mother was actually laughing, as if she shared and enjoyed her fantasy that they were about to embark on a great adventure.

Leilani was bewildered. The fear in her mother’s eyes and her mouth had been palpable not only when she stared at her inside the classroom, but also when she drove towards the airport, gripping the steering wheel so tight that, from the back passenger seat, Leilani could see the muscles in her arms twitching.

Leilani and Carmen ran faster, laughing, infected by their mother’s mirth. Leilani felt light and carefree. Everything was going to be all right. But the feeling lasted only a few short minutes.

Before they reached the plane, she saw a man she remembered seeing with her father once. He was a big man with alert, suspicious eyes that Leilani found menacing. He waited for them at the foot of the steps to the plane.

He took the suitcase from her mother’s hand and said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Torres, I couldn’t get him out. Rudy is waiting for you inside the plane. He’s in the front row.”

The laughter died from her mother’s face and deep worry crept back on her brow. The man was clearly talking about her father. Something awful was going on and no one was telling them anything about it. She had to find out what it was.

Inside the plane, she spotted her brother sitting on an aisle seat. He stood to let her and Carmen pass to the seats next to him. As was Carmen’s habit on a bus, a train, or a plane, she claimed the window seat and Leilani had to content herself with the place wedged between her and Rudy. At least her brother, the oldest among them, liked her better than Carmen. He would tell her what was going on.

Her mother took the aisle seat across from Rudy. He helped her place the small luggage Carmen carried in the compartment above her.

Before she sat down, she reached out silently, reassuring each of them with a tender pat on their hands. But Leilani caught the sadness in her eyes.

Rudy sat down again and buckled himself in place.

Leilani said in a soft subdued voice, “Where’s Papá?”

“He couldn’t come. But he should follow us soon.”

“What’s going on, Rudy? Where are we going?”

“I don’t know any more than you do. The guy you saw by the steps? I know him. He picked me up at school, said he had a letter from Papá to me. But I wasn’t supposed to open it until after we get to where we’re going. It’s in my jacket pocket. Then, he brought me here without telling me anything more.”

“Are we escaping? Is Papá in trouble?”

“Why do you say that?”

Leilani pouted and scowled. “Because … Why doesn’t anyone say anything and why is everything so mysterious? Can’t you open the letter now?”

Rudy shook his head. “No! You’ll have to wait, like me.”

“Does Mamá know what’s going on?”

“She must, but you know Mamá. She thinks her main role is to protect Papá, at all costs.”

“But why does Papá need protecting? Did he do something wrong?”

“I’m as clueless as you about this,” Rudy said, scowling and getting irritated.

“What about my clothes? My dolls? I promised to call Myrna.”

“I think Mamá might have brought a few clothes in that big suitcase.”

“But where’s that suitcase?”

“The stewardess put it away on a luggage rack. Now, Lani, will you shut up until we get to wherever we’re headed?”

Leilani pouted again, leaned back against the seat, and closed her eyes. She was going to sleep if nobody wanted to talk to her. Still, she did not give up that easily. She would find out somehow.

Not long after, she felt her brother’s hand on her arm. He whispered in her ear.

“I’ll tell you this, though you won’t like it. Be prepared. For anything.”

“Why?” She tried to whisper but her shrill voice rose above the whirr of the plane.

“Shhh! I don’t know much, but I’ve seen and heard enough. We’re not going back home. Ever. No more Myrna. And you’ll have to make do with the few clothes Mamá packed for you until Papá comes.”

Book Spotlight – Up All Night

Up All Night lg cover

Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons From an Accidental Feminist.

About the Author

Rhonda Shear

Actress. Comedian. Award-winning entrepreneur. Builder of a $100 million apparel brand. Television star. Former Miss Louisiana. Candidate for elected office. Philanthropist. And now, author. There aren’t many hats that Rhonda Shear hasn’t tried on, and she’s worn them all with style, moxie, southern charm, and a persistent will to be the best.

A New Orleans native, Rhonda started her journey to the spotlight by dominating local, state, and national beauty pageants from the time she was sixteen—including three turns as Miss Louisiana. In 1976, in the wake of a Playboy modeling scandal that cost her a coveted crown, she became the youngest person ever to run for office in Louisiana, losing her fight for a New Orleans post by only 135 votes.

After that, Hollywood called, and she quickly moved from Bob Hope specials to guest appearances on hundreds of television shows, from Happy Days and Married With Children to appearing on classic Chuck Barris camp-fests like The Gong Show and the $1.98 Beauty Show. Rhonda’s big break came in 1991 when she became the sultry-smart hostess of late-night movie show USA: Up All Night, a gig that lasted until 1999 and made her nationally famous.

After Up All Night ended, Rhonda pursued her love of comedy and quickly became a headliner in Las Vegas and at top comedy clubs like The Laugh Factory and the Improv. At the same time, she reconnected with her childhood sweetheart, Van Fagan, who she hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. After a whirlwind, storybook courtship, they married in 2001.

Rhonda’s latest chapter began when she appeared on the Home Shopping Network to sell women’s intimates. Her appearance was a sensation, and she and Van quickly started a company, Shear Enterprises, LLC, to design, manufacture and sell Rhonda’s own line of women’s intimate wear. Today, that company has grown to more than $100 million in annual sales, and Rhonda has won numerous entrepreneurship awards—though she still refers to herself as a “bimbopreneur.”

Today, Rhonda and Van live in a magnificent house in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she engages in many philanthropic projects, supports numerous charities for women, and works on new books.\

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | YOUTUBE CHANNEL

About the Book:

Title: UP ALL NIGHT
Author: Rhonda Shear
Publisher: Mascot Books
Pages: 275
Genre: Memoir/Women’s Self-Help
BOOK BLURB:

Up All Night combines memoir and self-help to follow Rhonda Shear’s incredible journey from modest New Orleans girl to bold, brassy, beautiful entrepreneur and owner of a $100 million Florida lingerie company.

Along the way, Rhonda has been a beauty queen, a groundbreaking candidate for office, a Playboy model, a working actress, a late-night TV star and sex symbol, a headlining standup comedian, an award-winning “bimbopreneur” and a philanthropist who uses her success to help women of all ages be their best and appreciate their true beauty.

Up All Night is also a love story. Rhonda reconnected with her first love, Van Fagan, after 25 years apart, and after a whirlwind romance in The Big Easy, they married in 2001. Now they share a fantasy life of luxury—but it hasn’t come easily. In this book, Rhonda shares the lessons she’s learned along the way: never let anyone else define you or tell you what you can’t do, make your own luck, and do what you love.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

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Book Excerpt:

New Orleans is the greatest show on Earth. Just ask anyone who has awakened on Bourbon Street covered in beads and with no idea how the hell they got there. Like the taste of chicory coffee, the flavor and spirit of New Orleans—the city where I was born, came of age, and met the love of my life—will never leave me. Why would I want it to? It’s part of my soul.

My family was not your typical American clan. We were yats, a term derived from the saying, “Where ya at?”, part of the patois and culture that define New Orleans. Our childhood drives around the Big Easy, for example, would have given most parents a heart attack. We would cruise down Rue du Bourbon in my father’s big Oldsmobile and past the French Quarter strip clubs. The doors and windows would be wide open, displaying the girls’ wares for everyone to see. Daddy would laugh and shout, “Look at the dancing girls!”

My brothers, Mel and Fred, and my sister, Nona, and I, we absolutely loved it. Go cups (the enlightened practice of giving bar patrons disposable cups to take their drinks into the street), lagniappe (pronounced “LAN-yap,” an indigenous/Creole word meaning “a little something extra”), Mardi Gras—it was all part of our normal. The New England Puritanism that shaped so much of the rest of the country never made it down the Mississippi to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Instead, you have a city that’s equal parts bawdy and genteel, American and  Creole, Southern conservative and surprisingly moral. N’awlins is a unique blend of sweet and spicy. Take off her Mardi Gras mask and you’ll find endless contradictions.

It was a marvelous, festive, magical place to grow up. The city has its own unique accent: a little Bronx, a little Boston, a little bayou. It has its signature food, gumbo, which describes the infusion of French, Acadian, Creole, African, and Native American cultures as much as the blend of onions, bell peppers, celery (often called the “holy trinity”), seafood, spices, and a good dark roux. It has its own soul: all-night bars and barkers in the French Quarter, voodoo, above-ground graveyards with moss-covered mausoleums, and jazz.

You can keep your safe, sanitized suburbs and the quiet life. New Orleans taught me and my siblings how to live.

Jennie and Wilbur

I guess it’s not surprising that I came from such a place. What might be surprising is that despite being born into such a sensual environment, I grew up terrified of sex. I was a shy, protected girl, and my mother, Jennie Weaker Shear, was determined to keep me that way. A first-generation New Orleanian, my mom was a great beauty with a drop-dead figure who adored Betty Grable and owned a swimsuit similar to the one Grable wore in her famous “over the shoulder” pinup shot.

(Later in life, I found out that Mom had posed for a series of gorgeous semi-nude boudoir photos for my amateur photographer father. Coincidentally—or not—some of the most successful pieces in my Rhonda Shear Intimates line are a Pin-Up Panty and bra that look a lot like what my mom wore in her pinup photos.)

Mom was raised by my widowed grandmother, the forgotten baby in a crowded household. She escaped the pressure of four overbearing older brothers by losing herself at the movies. Iconic beauties like Betty Grable, Esther Williams, and Rhonda Flemming (who I was named after) were her companions and inspiration, as one day, they would become mine. Mom ended up marrying at nineteen, in part because she dearly loved my dad, but also because she wanted to escape her brothers’ constant oppression.

Mom was a lot tougher than her beauty suggested; years later, I was shocked to find out that twice she’d had to fend off rape attempts. From Grandma Fanny to Mom, the Weaker women excelled both in their looks and in the brains department.

From the time she was a young girl, beauty was everything to my mother. She would wear red lipstick like the pinup girls she admired, reapplying it even after her brothers would wipe it off. Beauty was her way of escaping the austerity of her family life. Later, when she was about fifteen, she entered a local beauty contest. She didn’t even walk across the stage, but her beauty caught the eye of the judges and she won, and a lifelong lover of beauty pageants was born. But it really drove her brothers off the deep end when she eloped with a Reform Jew named Wilbur Shear.

Their meeting was like something from classic television. They were on a double date: she with my dad’s cousin Carl, he with a girl no one remembers. But from the moment Wilbur saw my mother he was smitten. He was driving, and he made sure to drop her off at home last. He got her number, wooed her, sang to her, and six months later they were married.

My father was also a New Orleans native, part of a barely-visible subculture of New Orleans Jews. After he married my mother, Dad worked for the government, the weather bureau, and eventually for her family’s auto parts business. But when he was fifty, he missed one week

of work to have surgery, and his brother-in-law fired him. Imagine being a fifty-year-old man with four kids to feed, a middle-class lifestyle to maintain, and no job. My parents wanted all their kids to graduate from college, but that takes money.

However, I get my dogged persistence from my father. He borrowed $10,000 from a family friend and started his own truck supply company, Fleet Parts and Equipment. It thrived, and with the money from that business, Dad put all of us through college; my two brothers even ran the business alongside him for many years. Unfortunately, while my father saw some of my successes, he died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 69. His untimely death—and my absence when he passed—still haunts me. But while I adored my father, I was and am my mother’s daughter.

Beauty Was My Religion

I was born Rhonda Honey Shear on November 12, 1954, when my mother was thirty-seven—at the time, late in life to be giving birth. I may have been born into a Jewish family, but beauty was my religion, and my mother’s love of all things beautiful and feminine made her my high priestess. I was a love child, a mistake, but my mother and father couldn’t have been more delighted to have a baby to dress up and pamper. And was I ever pampered, protected, and babied!

From the beginning Mom dressed me like a doll with long, corkscrew curls and later sent me to dancing and modeling classes. I began lessons at the Ann Maucele School of Dance at the age of two. Ballet, tap, jazz, and acrobatics filled my days with twirls and my nights with dreams of footlights. With all this, from the time I got out of diapers, I was a Southern belle. Mel and

Fred tried to make me a tomboy, even teaching me to throw a mean spiral with a football, but I threw it in heels and a mini-dress.

(Years later, when I auditioned to be a cheerleader in a Budweiser TV commercial, what impressed the director—and probably got me the job—was that I could throw that tight spiral.)

But my mother was really grooming me to marry a prince. For real. She wanted me to marry royalty. In the late ‘90s we both went on the Maury Povich Show for a special Mother’s Day show, and she told Maury, “I want my daughter to marry Prince Charles.” Maury replied, “But he’s married.” To the audience’s delight, Mom snapped, “Eh, small detail.” The crowd roared.

Mom badly wanted me to be a wealthy socialite in New York or California, someone who would only have the finest things. She never wanted me to suffer or go through what she did as a teen. Parents usually want their kids to do better in life than they did, but I wasn’t comfortable with that sort of lifestyle. I’ve dated some incredibly wealthy men in my life, including several billionaires, but I always found that I had more in common with their security guards or domestic help than I did with them.

Shear Honesty: It might seem like hypocrisy to live in a waterfront mansion (which I do), drive a Bentley (which I do, sometimes) and talk about relating better to working-class folks. But it’s really not. There’s a big difference between enjoying fine, expensive things and feeling like you’re entitled to them. I love my lifestyle; it’s the payoff for years of endless work and sacrifice. But none of it matters more than being a good person, being around other good people, helping others, or just sitting around drinking wine with dear friends. That’s wealth.

Don’t lose sight of what’s important: health, family, friends, laughter.

 

 

 

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