Cider & Chill is a steamy romantic comedy novella and book two in the Holiday Valley series of standalone holiday romances. If you love a cozy small town atmosphere, hot apple cider and sizzling chemistry, you’ll love this story – available now on Amazon.
Read the first chapter below.
As busy as the cider stand is today, you’d think apples were going out of style.
It’s November first and my family’s seasonal business – a pumpkin patch and cider stand duo – usually starts to wind down after Halloween. We do a good gourd business in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, but as the air turns colder and the leaves begin to blanket the ground, people stop buying pumpkins in favor of more wintery fare.
That’s what happens most years, anyway. This year, it seems like the influx of tourists who have been coming to Holiday Valley in droves lately are determined to buy every last pumpkin in the patch.
That’s perfectly fine with me – the more profitable I can make my little piece of the Morton family’s seasonal business empire, the easier it will be to convince my parents that I’ve got what it takes to run the whole thing when they retire next year.
Right now, I’m not doing a particularly admirable job. I’m whipping up hot apple ciders as fast as I can, but there’s a line of at least two dozen people forming in front of the cider stand, and on the other side of the gravel parking lot, I can see another six or seven people lugging huge pumpkins over to the unattended check-out register at the edge of the pumpkin patch.
Today was a hell of a day to be shorthanded, but my only ‘employee’ is my sixteen-year-old cousin, Jenny, whose high school soccer games take priority over working for me on a volunteer basis. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.
“Here you go,” I say as I pass a hot apple cider across the counter to a waiting customer. “Enjoy!”
My next customer steps up and flips a strand of dark hair out of his eyes, giving me a slightly crooked smile. He’s tall, dressed in an expensive-looking jacket, and his rich brown eyes have a certain brooding quality about them that make me momentarily forget my line.
I’ve said it at least ten thousand times since I started working the cider stand in high school, and yet, the words elude me. Hi, what can I get for you? I’m not normally this flustered – especially not on the job – and when that little half-smile deepens into a smirk, I blame my muteness on the stress of the day.
It’s too much trying to manage two lines of customers with no help, and I’m clearly cracking up.
“Hi,” I finally manage, shaking the cobwebs off my brain. “How can I get you?”
Oh God. I see this handsome customer’s canines as he grins at me and I consider just melting right into the plywood floor of the cider stand. How can I help you had melded with what can I get for you and become something that just might be my downfall.
I grab a cup from the stack to my left and start preparing an apple cider before he can even place his order – it’s either that or die of embarrassment. “Hot apple cider?”
“Sounds great,” he says. He’s studying me carefully as I fill the cup from the big carafe on the counter.
Definitely a tourist – Holiday Valley is home to about 5,000 year-round residents and in my 25 years, I’ve come to think of most of them as my extended family. I can tell by the designer jacket that he’s no townie – I’m pretty sure that plaid lining is Burberry. What is that, a thousand-dollar coat? Damn.
“Whipped cream?” I ask.
“Please,” he answers. He’s got a neatly trimmed beard and when I bend down to retrieve the whipped cream from the mini-fridge below the counter, I catch a whiff of his aftershave – spicy and warm. Yummy.
While I carefully swirl whipped cream on top of his cider, I ask, “Are you on vacation?”
I make small talk with all of my customers. A lot of people think it’s a schtick – a gimmick to make the tourists feel welcome – but the truth is that I’m a little bit nosy. I’ve spent most of my life in this town and living vicariously through the tourists that come through here is the next-best thing to seeing the world for myself.
Plus, it really does help the business. People love talking about themselves and they’re usually more than happy to tell me where they’re from and what their lives back home are like. Apparently, working a cider stand is a family-friendly version of being a bartender. If you open up the lines of communication, people confide in you.
That’s why I’m not expecting the snort that Mr. Burberry gives me. “Vacation? Not exactly.”
I cock my head to the side. “Are you here to stay then?”
Be still, my heart.
“God, no,” he says. “I’m hoping to leave as soon as possible.”
Now I’m a little taken aback. I may have a slight case of travel envy, but I love this kitschy little town with all my heart.
“Are you not enjoying your stay in Holiday Valley?” I ask as I put the cup down on the counter and slide it across to him. I give it a little too much English and sticky, hot cider sloshes over the rim, hitting the counter and splashing in his direction.
He jumps back but it’s too late to avoid the spatter.
“Oh, shit,” I say. I look at him with horror – have I just made a powerful Yelp enemy? “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he says, grabbing a napkin from the dispenser on the counter.
“Here,” I say, taking another one and wetting it with a water bottle behind the counter. “Let me.”
I rush around the end of the cider stand and start blotting his jacket with the damp napkin while he protests that it’s not a big deal. Finally, he takes me by the hands to still my frantic cleaning attempts and I look up into his eyes.
His aftershave is even more potent now, when I’m just inches from him. I spend all day in a pumpkin patch where fallen leaves mix with sticky, fresh cider. It’s one of my favorite smells in the world – the scent of autumn – but the way his spicy aftershave mixes with the natural earthiness of his skin is quickly moving into the top of my mental charts.
My core grows warm as he looks me in the eyes and says, “Really, it’s fine.”
“Okay,” I breathe.
And then suddenly my mother materializes out of thin air and puts a hand on each of our shoulders. “Hannah!” she exclaims, “Are you spilling things on our customers?” Before I have a chance to answer, she adds, “You know the pumpkin patch line is getting out of control, right?”
I look across the parking lot, where the line has ballooned to about ten unhappy-looking people. Shit.
“Mom,” I say, giving Mr. Burberry an apologetic smile, then going back into the cider stand. “What are you doing here?”
“Your dad and I are on our way to the farmer’s market to pick up some fresh baked bread for dinner tonight,” she says. “We figured we’d make a pit stop and see how you’re doing. Busy today, huh?”
“Yeah,” I say, gritting my teeth slightly. Of course they couldn’t drop in on me on any other day – like when Jenny was here to help, or a day that wasn’t so unexpectedly swamped with customers. Mr. Burberry tries to hand me cash for the cider but I wave him off. “Free of charge. Sorry for the mess.”
My mom comes into the cider stand and squeezes into the small space behind the counter, jostling me and keeping me from getting lost in those brooding eyes again.
“It’s really not a big deal,” he insists. “I assume Holiday Valley has a dry cleaner?”
“Yes, of course,” I say. I’m about to offer to pick up the bill for that when my mom crouches down in front of me and I nearly lose my footing. I ask her, “What on earth are you doing?”
“I know it’s around here somewhere,” she mutters, mostly to herself.
I look at the line growing in front of me and the line at the pumpkin patch, then at my mother rummaging around in the storage space beneath the counter. And I look at the tall, dark and handsome man who smells like warm spices and apple cider. He’s smiling that slightly crooked smile, amused at the color rising into my cheeks along with my frustration.
I roll my eyes and snatch the five-dollar bill out of his hand, saying, “I hope you enjoy your time in Holiday Valley.”
“Maybe I will after all,” he says, and gives me a quick wink.
My belly floods with warmth again, but then he’s stepping aside and an impatient family of four steps up to the counter wanting the works – whipped cream, caramel drizzle, chocolate shavings, sprinkles. Load ‘em up!
I’m halfway through making the order, trying to work fast so I can whittle down the line, when my mom says, “A-ha!” and pops up, almost tipping an entire cup of piping hot cider onto herself.
“What are you looking for?” I ask, exasperated. I hear a little chuckle and look up – Mr. Burberry is standing a few feet away from the stand, sipping his cider and enjoying the spectacle. I shake my head at him, but I can’t help being at least a little amused – this must look like a Three Stooges skit to him.
Well, two Stooges, anyway.
“This!” my mom says, holding up the red and white Help Wanted sign that I’d taken the liberty of shoving beneath the counter two weeks ago. “I told you that you needed help. Your poor dad’s ringing people out on his day off.”
I look over at the pumpkin patch line and see that she’s right – at least he’s got the line moving, though. I slide the fully-loaded ciders across the counter to a pair of kids who will probably be bouncing off the walls for hours from all that sugar, and take a twenty from their dad. Then I tell my mom, “I’ve got Jenny.”
“She’s at her soccer game,” my mom points out. “We talked about this – you need real, paid help. Look at these lines, Hannah – business is booming and you can afford an assistant.”
I grumble as I take the next person’s order. My mom is right – I can afford it financially, but the last thing I want is an assistant. The last person I hired didn’t exactly work out and I’m not eager to go down that road again.
Besides, if I can’t even run a simple pick-your-own pumpkin patch and a little cider stand on my own, how will I prove I’m capable of running the whole Morton family empire? Besides the pumpkin patch, we’ve got a Christmas tree farm that’ll open up for business in a couple of weeks, a floral shop that does a mean Valentine’s and wedding season business, and a strawberry field that’s very popular in the summer.
I want to claim my birthright when my parents retire, but I’ve got a history of messing things up. If they don’t think I can handle it, they’re going to sell the whole company and let a stranger run it. I can think of nothing worse.
“I’ll think about it,” I tell my mom.
“What’s to think about?” she asks. “Just hire someone. Now, do you have some tape around here somewhere?”
She’s looking for a way to stick the sign to the front of the cider stand when Mr. Burberry steps forward and surprises us both.
“No need,” he says. He holds his hand out to me across the counter and gives me another one of those core-melting half-smiles as he says, “My name is Roman Laurentis and I’d love to make cider with you.”
My mouth drops open for the second time this afternoon.
For our October meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed TB Markinson’s novel, Reservations of the Heart. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.
A couple of notes on the transcript:
If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc
I usually just drink it when I have a headache, which only
perpetuates more headaches but
Anyway… it’s book club time. Thanks for joining us, TB
Thanks for the invite!
Book club time
Basically how it usually goes is just a ton of questions for
the next hour and you can either respond in-line or thread your responses,
whichever way is easier for you
What did everybody think of Reservations of the Heart?
I loved it couldn’t put it down… May have gotten in
trouble at work for reading
I hope not serious trouble. I used to listen to
audiobooks at my last desk job. Not sure they figured it out, though.
Audiobooks should definitely be allowed – multitasking
No was told to put my phone in the locker for the rest of
Absolutely adored it
My apologies for the reprimand.
It’s all good lol thanks for writing such an addictive book
Aw, thanks for saying that.
The older I get I can’t multitask as much. Oddly, I’ve
been more productive.
I’ve heard this in theory, now if I could only start
single-tasking to figure out if it’s true for me too
It’s takes time getting used to it.
Ok. Standard question out of the way. Did you plot this one
out scene by scene, or how did you write it?
A little bit of both. I used to never plot, but I’ve
started doing some plotting beforehand.
What made you want to switch?
What was your favorite part to write?
Which of the characters were your favorite to write
Oh, gosh, I really enjoyed the crazy office stuff. I used
to have Aurora’s job and crazy stuff happened.
Was Dr. Howie a “name changed to protect the innocent”
As for switching from pantsing to sorta plotting, I have
a crazy work schedule and I had to speed up the writing parts. It helps to know
sorta what’s going on.
Dr. Howie is a mixture of several doctors I encountered.
As for my favorite characters, I always like the stubborn
ones and both leading ladies fall into that category.
Yes they do lol
What was your biggest inspiration for this novel,
Originally, I started this novel thinking I would use a
penname since it’s different from my usual books. My inspiration was writing a
standalone, not a series. And, I just returned to Boston and a lot of memories
from my previous job came back.
What made you decide to stick with this name?
When I started thinking of all the work to build a new
newsletter, website, and social media, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I will
say, thinking it would be under a different name freed me some while writing.
Not having expectations. I really enjoyed that aspect.
Was it just the standalone aspect that had you thinking
about a different pen name? I thought it read pretty quintessentially TB
Is it? The standalone was part of it. Also, it’s in third
person with switching POV.
I think you have a particular style with your characters and
how they see the world. Not sure I could put my finger on exactly how, but I
could probably pick out one of your books by tone
Did you find it harder to write with those differences?
The switching POV takes some getting used to, but I liked
digging into both heads of the leading ladies. I like to know what makes them
Curious if everybody else feels that way, can you pick out
your favorite authors if you were just given the book with no name?
I feel like I would be able to but I’m unsure of my ability
Haha yeah, maybe like 75% certainty
It really depends …
I could pick out your books no matter the pen name…maybe a
I think with some authors I could pick them out. Like
Clare Lydon’s British Rom-Com wit.
Yes! Some authors have a certain feel.
Did you relate to Aurora or Stella more, or both equally?
(And that question to
everybody else, too – are you an Aurora or a Stella?)
Definitely a Stella
Combination of both
Oh gosh, that’s always hard for me to answer. I never
base a character on myself or on one particular person. They’re a mesh of
Given I’m closer in age to Stella, I probably relate to
What did you have the most fun with when writing this book?
I love writing dialogue. That’s always my favorite part.
Hey T.B I’m super late, just woke up couldn’t sleep last
night for nothing…..I absolutely loved this book and I felt I could relate a
lot to both Stella and Aurora!
Do you prefer to write with background noise or silence?
Music. I can’t write in cafes, but I always listen to
music in my office.
I do have to ask you….When writing Stella and Aurora was
it easy to switch the POV. How do you determine whose POV to write at which
I was gonna ask, when you did a little plotting for this
one, was it about who would talk when? Or was it planning specific things
within the novel ?
When I started, I knew each chapter would switch. And
usually the switch happened when I needed the other character to react. It’s
kinda fun to see both sides. How simple things are interpreted differently and
then cause problems. Everyone brings in their own experiences to all
situations. And that distorts their perceptions and actions.
Which is one of the reasons why I adore your novels. The way
your characters act and react to others is always fascinating and
captivating. I read Claudia Must Die
rapid fire (in 3 hours or so).
That’s the other book I’m dying to read! I might just have
to buy it too!
Read it!!! I loved it
buy it or It’s on KU.
I gave up KU at the moment…..
When I plotted, I knew the POV of each chapter and the
thing that had to happen. I didn’t plot out how to get to that one thing,
Do you have a favorite part of a book (or favorite part of
the romance) to write?
Oh geez. Each romance has an arc to it. And I like all
the parts. The Meet Cute. Falling in love. The black moment. And then the HEA.
It’s hard to pinpoint which one I like the most. Depends on my mood, I think.
What gave you the most trouble when doing research for this
When going to a Red Sox game to refresh my memory, the
weather was complete shite. Rain and so cold. I really didn’t enjoy that day.
As for the medical school aspect, I worked at one for
over 3 years.
Oh no. I’m late. The clocks have gone forward here and
didn’t figure that in. Hi TB. As a very low level manager, I could totally
relate to some of the ‘managing people’ issues Aurora has. You sound like you
have some experience in this area?! Any specifics that made it into the book?
Would you change anything from this novel (or another), if
Oh, I’m trying to remember the office shenanigans that I
included and the ones that ended up on the cutting room floor. I penned the
majority of ROH last January. The missing alcohol actually happened, but there
was a twist in real life, which I probably shouldn’t share. I wasn’t the
employee in charge of that snafu.
I’m sure when I proof the audio, I’ll cringe a lot.
There’s always a way to improve a story. Change word choices. Add a different
twist. But there’s no way to make a story perfect. I live by the mantra one of
my teachers told me: A story is never done. There are only deadlines.
As a wannabe author, I can completely understand this. As a
fan, I think you might be incorrect.
Yes love that saying!
Love that mantra
Do you have a release date for the audio yet?
I love that mantra
If Mackenzie could be a superheroine who fights villains
while riding dinosaurs, which dinosaur would she pick to ride?
I haven’t had time to work on the audio yet. I need to
contact some narrators to see who has time in their schedules. There’s always a
long to-do list for all projects.
Oh gotcha, thought you meant it was pending. Yes, those
to-do lists never end.
Could you talk a little about your Village Romance series?
What was it like collaborating with Harper Bliss and Clare Lydon?
The first dinosaur that came to mind was T-Rex, but I
don’t think Kenzie would limit herself with just one choice.
I would expect her to say, “All of them!”
Working with Harper and Clare was a blast. We started the
collab by taking a road trip through the Cotswolds last March. Harper’s Mrs
drove the minivan. We all worked closely to ensure we were staying as
consistent as possible, meaning we read first drafts and that always makes me
nervous. Although, when Harper and I cowrote Life in Bits, she read my first
draft as well. Sending Harper Bliss a sex scene nearly caused my heart to stop.
Haha I bet!
I love the writer road trip – sounds like a dream
It was fun and we popped into so many quaint pubs. I miss
living in the UK.
Sounds like a dream
Sounds perfect to me.
Was the Anne of green gables reference just a toss in or
were their last names chosen for that reason?
Did that make sense
The Anne of Green Gables came to me quite early. It was
my favorite TV series when I was a kid. It was my way of paying tribute.
I really loved that.
I thought it was really cool its my favorite book series of
all time so to see it was great
One of my faves too
Who’s your favorite author, either lesfic or in general?
That’s fair, it was a hardball question
Right it’s hard to limit greatness to just one
Any more collaborations in the pipeline?
So I’ve always wanted to see my name in a book…. So thank
you for that
Yes, a novel I cowrote with Miranda MacLeod is coming out
in November. Clare and I are planning to cowrite a book in 2020.
With Miranda MacLeod???
My answers for favorite authors always disappoints
Feel free to pass, although now I’m curious why it’s a
Yep. Miranda and I go way back. To the 6th grade.
6th grade??? THAT IS SO COOOOL
Just say them. Everyone has there own opinions who the
better authors are so no judgement
Charles Dickens. John Steinbeck. Ernest Hemmingway. F.
Scott Fitzgerald. Jane Austen–she’s the one people prefer.
I’m down with your choices very nice
I can dig most of that. There are almost no wrong answers
when it comes to that question.
Same, the classics are classics for a reason!
Alright yall wife is saying it’s bed time night yall
Night Reader 2!
And we’re at the top of the hour, any last-minute questions
Good night, Reader 2. Thanks for chatting.
Night Reader 2!
I’m a historian, so the classics speak to me on many
I love this. I am, too.
I always say history is the greatest story ever told.
…any chance of an historical fiction novel on the future??
I wouldn’t stop researching to write it.
I can understand that. I had a similar issue for my senior
Thanks for writing such an amazing story @TB Markinson
Aw, thanks for saying that.
What kinds of stories do you think you would never write?
Yes I really loved Reservations of the Heart!! It was
beautifully written. And the first book I’ve finished on over a month
I don’t know if there is a story I wouldn’t write if the
muse pulled me in a certain direction. I do avoid historical fiction, simply
because I love the research aspect too much.
Thanks so much, Reader 5!
Well, thank you so much for chatting with us, TB
Loved Reservations and definitely looking forward to all
those collabs on the horizon
Thanks for having me. I appreciate the support.
Thank you for joining us!!
And for writing it.
My pleasure, Peri.
You are welcome! Thank you for having amazing stories you
share to the world!!
Aw, thanks. I’m always so nervous when I release a new
For our September meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed G Benson’s novel, Who’d Have Thought. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.
A couple of notes on the transcript:
If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc
I just got in! Hi all!
Ah, shoot. Well, you’ve always got the transcript, Reader 1
Hello! Thanks for joining us!
Do we call you G?
Also please…no use of the Q word or Hayden won’t speak
to any of you
Gabby is fine!
A fellow Aussie nicknamed me Benno, if you’re so inclined
Hey Gabby! Nice to have you here!
I have read Who’d have thought so many times, it’s my joint
favourite book ever
hi @Reader 6 ! Thank you all for having me!
But….. One question, when did Sam start falling for
Hayden. Christmas Eve, visiting her mom?
My first question: Why is Sam so awesome?
This is the first time I’ve used slack so sorry if I’m a
And second question: Why did it take so long for Hayden to
realize how awesome Sam was?
@Reader 5 before I answer this, I would LOVE to know when
everyone else thinks Sam started to fall for Hayden and why in that moment
or is that a cheat answer from me?
@Reader 3 Sam is so awesome because she is Sam and is
never anyone else but Sam hehe
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
It’s not a cheat if you still give your answer in the end.
@Reader 3 it took Sam so long to realise because Hayden
is a bit if a stubborn fool
also my cat is trying to sit on my keyboard so all typos
are his fault
Also, I really loved the epilogue.
I think it was when she got hurt by her mom and Sam was
cleaning her lip
Very convenient excuse
Wait I meant it took Hayden so long to realise!
Lol I haven’t read the book all the way. I’ve been so busy
with work I haven’t read much lately but I love it so far and don’t want to
miss this conversation been trying to get you here for months lol
Can’t blame that one on me cat…
Oh no @Reader 6 you’ll get so many spoilers
So……. when was it??
I’m good. I don’t mind the spoilers
Reader 6, I’ll wipe your memory after this like they do in
men in black
What i love about fake relationships is seeing who breaks
first and admits feelings
@Reader 5 I promise an answer when I hear when others
thing it happened hehe
Thank you @Reader 5
Is the keyboard warrior who you based Frank on?
@Reader 1 that is a fantastic part of it all. As an
author sometimes it isn’t clear who’ll break first even to you
I wouldn’t be surprised if she liked her even before they arranged
the whole fake marriage.
Same Reader 1! I always bet my self how long each will break
Not a question but I wanted to say I thought you wrote very
movingly about dementia. It’s such an awful disease.
The keyboard warrior isn’t my Frank inspiration, he’s far
too social! My Frank inspiration is my lovely now 10 year old guy who was on
the street for 3 years before we adopted him. But since WHT was released he’s
softened into a complete lap cat so Frank lives on alone as the soul grumper
So you didn’t know until you wrote it?
Sam seems to have been aware of Hayden well before their
first meeting after connecting online.
@Reader 8 thank you for that feedback! That was a lot of
research and experience with my job, but also a lot of my own heart into that
story as my grandmother had alzheimers. I wanted it to ring true very much
I took away the fact that the older version of people is not
who they will be remembering. That’s not something I’d thought of. My auntie
has late stage alzheimers
@Reader 1 I’m a terrible pantser who knows nothing until
I write it. I often write myself into a wall and have to restart storylines
because of it
Lol same @G Benson
I’m here yall my bad I lost track of time
Don’t I know it Reader 1
Have we had enough answers yet @G Benson
2 of my grandparents had it. And my father will (in 30
years, I hope). It was definitely well researched and well written.
One thing I wonder is about Sam. I read her as very likely
on the autism spectrum. Was that in your mind as a possibility?
Thank you some one else saw that too I thought I was trippin
She’s very anal
I had wondered as well.
Oh we can thread! I need to learn slack
should I stop tagging and thread instead?
When I described the book to my wife, I made the same
observation (while telling her that it wasn’t explicitly stated in the
or maybe INTJ
Tagging is fine
I tried to twitter
you this question months and months ago….and here I am still waiting…..
I might have to catch the reread damn working a business is
hard and I have to take a call. But I just wanted to say I read flinging it
first and I absolutely loved it to pieces. Your writing is amazing !!!
So glad you liked Flinging It thank you!
I’m usually not one for affairs but you did it so well…and
the situation of pour Cora I can definitely relate to the abuse she was going
through. It sucks to feel powerless like she did. And to work with that person
is even worse. I was really impressed with the whole thing!!
I never thought I’d write an affair book but these things
are never black and white, and for poor Cora it was so far from it
@Reader 1 I’ve had this questions a lot and the answer is
definitively yes. I wrote Sam and Sam happened to be on the autism spectrum, it
wasn’t something I intentionally wrote. When I realised she was, it was when a
friend reading it over before publication pointed it out and it was too late to
have a sensitivity reader go over it, or even go through and put it in the book
in a way that meant people didn’t have to ask, and without having a sensitivity
read I was hesitant to slot it in at the end post edits. But yes, Sam is
definitely on the spectrum
A few of us are on the spectrum
I think it’s safe to own it
Just because it’s not explicitly stated doesn’t mean it
can’t be so
So true and totally agree! Just when it comes to
something involving a minority group, I like to have a sensitivity reader
involved as I would hate to unintentionally write something harmful, but yes,
even thought it’s not stated, it is true
Plus older women are rarely diagnosed
She might not have thought about it
Still waiting Gabby, be my bedtime soon here in the UK,,,
That’s true Reader 1, girls and women are often not
diagnosed, and sam is definitely on the spectrum
I want me a Sam, she was like my dream woman
So, when did Sam start to fall?
Sam had a soft spot for Hayden from the start
she all but says as much
I mean how quickly she warms to her quirkiness
So for Sam, it was less a moment of falling and more a
steady, soft descent until “thump” feelings
Yeah when she first looked back and saw her watching them
wheel, the trolley out
Would sam have ever talked to her without this arrangement?
Or is work too compartmentalized?
And Hayden hates her and says as much – ouch
And all the mentions of being aware of her for quite some
time. Noticing her in med school. Noting her when she first saw her working as
I don’t think Sam would ever have approached her about
the arrangement, work, to Sam, was 100% compartmentalised
I think she came close to a heart attack when someone she
knew walked into that coffee shop
@Reader 5 does that satisfy your question?
Probably even more so that it was Hayden.
@Reader 3 exactly! Oh no someone I know….oh no, someone
I think is very, very cute and not only that but very competent
Yours was the first non binary character book I’ve read.
On another note where did the inspiration come from for luce
to be non binary
Two important things on Sam’s checklist of “am I
interested in this person”
Satisfy my question……. welll…… I suppose so
@Reader 9 I have many enby friends and it felt so natural
to have Hayden’s bestie be enby! And Luce was just so fun to write, they just
flowed for me
That’s awesome I love luce as a character they are quite the
Luce is a star, she got nearly all the best lines
Haha if you want more specifics @Reader 5 I can say that
when they were at Hayden’s families Sam’s soft descent suffered a trip that was
very akin to a fall
argh my keyboard
Luce is an absolute crack up
I knew when she wiped her lip there were genuine feelings
I didn’t really understand much about what it meant to be
non-binary until recently. I kind of knew, but kind of didn’t.
I’m so ignorant I didn’t spot the they bit at first, ten
thought it was a typo…. then finally twigged
I have a much clearer picture now.
How did you come up with the inheritance idea and how Sam
planned to spend it? (That really helped me actually like the fake wedding idea
that I had only tolerated earlier)
I think that’s such a great thing about fiction, we can
introduce ourselves and each other to so many new and wonderful things and
learn so much compassion through it
If only Sam’s parents knew anything about compassion.
The way you wrote them I really wanted to reach thru the
page, grab their necks and throttle them
Took the words right out of my mouth
Same to be honest
I got angry when I was writing and had to take a break
They are just so.. Horrible
As a mother I have no comprehension of how they could act
like that. I know its a book but it’s real life too, I’d never heard of
conversion therapy and was horrified such a thing existed
I’m back, had to do a few things was scrolling through what has been said, i
don’t think it’s when Sam had feelings, i think more when Hayden did, because
@Reader 11 that’s a great question, because it took me a
while to figure out! I wrote WHT for Nano (national novel writing a month,
where writers live of coffee and try write an entire novel in four weeks) and
as I’m a pantser, I just went “right, okay, fake relationship, they can be
fun, two people who work together cause I love me that in a hospital setting,
and oooo, one doesn’t really like the other” and I got part way and was
like…but why the fake marriage? And the first thing I thought of was I wanted
it to be unusual, so I started from the angle of wanting to get back at
homophobic family, and how that could look…and then the only way a character
like Sam would go about it was the way she did. Just dating a woman to annoy
them wouldn’t be solid enough a reason for fake marriage. Plus, if I’d only
gone with that angle we would have had to see Sam interacting with her family
more and they were poo and I didn’t want to do that
When you’re not working on a NaNo project, how long does it
usually take you to get through a draft?
Not gonna be able to participate but just stopping in to say
Even with Nano, I don’t really get to finish as I’m
notorious for writing super long manuscripts…oops
My first took me about a year over all
My second something ridiculous like 6 weeks, I lived and
My third 6 months
And WHT 8 weeks
BUT that’s like, messy draft, then it’s going back and
revising every sentence and story line and looking at what beta readers have
said, then the editing starts (enter headache)
All while working full time?
No kidding, wow
I’m definitely no the norm! I can sit hyperfocused for
two hours and pump out words, but then not write anything for six months once
What do you do for work? I work 2 full time jobs while
trying to write so I understand that
The last I was part time but the others full time! It’s
why I work so well with Nano, i have to write every day
Is it weird that the most positive and healthy portrayals of
autistic characters I have found have been in lesfic?
At times there may be a detail or two missing from the
author’s portrayal of autistic characters, but their portrayals are fairly
accurate and genuine and don’t leave me feeling offended or upset in any way.
Unlike with other autistic characters outside of lesfic.
I teach English as a foreign language
That’s pretty cool
English is a foreign language within itself
I often struggle to speak it and to type it…. well there
is no hope
Its a horrendous language
my favourite joke is that English isn’t a language, it’s
three other languages wearing a trench coat
So you edit after the beta readers? Do they see first,
Gtg, Gabby it was a pleasure meeting you. Hopefully we can
have you back so I can actually converse with you
I tend to send every few chapters to beta readers, but
only two suffer that, as they know it’s the messy, not even up to being called
first draft version
The others I work with get the first draft
Reader 1, are you reading this? Can we do this?
Do you edit as you go then, take the betas’ comments into
account once they read those chapters?
What send out every few chapters? Of course
Send out after first draft
Like the first chapter because I’m lazy and don’t want to do
more work than is necessary
@Reader 2 I tend to take them into account as I go, as
I’m a pantser, their comments can catch me up before I write myself into a wall
Sounds like a good strategy!
So one of my favorite questions to ask is what’s your
favorite part of the romance to write?
@Reader 2 ooo this is a fun question and one I’ve never
I love writing flirty banter
At the start, before its a thing, and right after they’ve
had a first kiss/a moment that confirms their both interested, that flirty
banter then is such fun to write
In all your books, who is the character most like yourself?
What’s everyone’s favourite part of a romance to read?
I’m gonna have to go with the meet-cute – sets up all the
‘before’ personalities and issues and has the potential for a lot of different
My favorite part of romance to read is the falling in love
I love the flirty banter
I love the banter right before the first kiss
@Reader 5 oh wow thats a terrifying question best made to
one of my friends or my wife
The happy epilogue after all the angst is over and done
Go on then ask her for me please?
Haha she’s not here! Wait I’ll whattsapp her. if the
answer scares me I’ll pretend she’s not online
Ok, which would you most like to sleep with, who would you
least like to kiss
I like all the little moments that pull the characters
It looks like everyone loves flirty banter
And the angst
It’s so strange to think of my characters like that
because they’re all my little creations
What was the most fun thing to research for this book?
I also love banter and the resolution
The epilogue was great.
can I turn that question around and ask who everyone else
would least like to kiss? Haha
I like reading the banter but writing the arguments
I lvoe writing arguments, they’re so snappy
I’m having so much fun, I broke off writing one now to be
Then I feel honoured!
Lol, you haven’t seen my writing. You may just have saved
Don’t let her foul you!!! She’s amazing when it comes to
Aww Reader 6, thanks chick. We need you to read the
collaboration book to see what you think so far please
I’ll let you know when I have the time. I have the little
bit that Reader 1 sent me the last time you said and I still haven’t read it.
Plus my phone is still acting up and won’t let me in my docs. Been pissing me
off!! Ive just been so focused on my business it’s been nuts. But hey I made
$100 today in Pre-Claims doing nothing but sitting on my butt haha. I didn’t
even read Who’d have thought yet. I’m like on chapter too. Before they meet up.
And I’ve been waiting for this book forever! Lol I’m gonna stay up tonight and
read this though. I was even late to reading @Reader 2 new book she wrote as
Kaylin for its M/F and I’m excited for the series. Scary & Sweet was
amazing and just what I needed for that small break. Definitely check it out!
But I will find the time here when this month is over. I should be more
organized and on a schedule I’m hoping.
You need to chill a little. You’re super busy so don’t worry
about beta reading. It’s still only half way thru and there’s a lot to write
still. I need to finish Crash Dance as it’s changed loads since you read it.
Story is the same just more details. And I have first draft of my 2nd book
written which you’re welcome to look at some time in 2022 when you’re not so
It will slow down come October. Maybe, at least I’ll be more
organized I hope!!! That’s awesome I’m super excited for when you finally
Me too, it’s been nearly a year now lol
Yeah lol thats terribly long though mine will take longer
There’s no rush and when it’s fine it will be the best I can
do. Then if it’s rejected I’ll take the hint
It won’t be! Don’t doubt yourself it gets nowhere. I know
from experience. And I just got a bit busier. I officially have a team now!! I
signed my first team member last night
Proud of you!
Jae edited the first chapter of mine and Reader 1’s book. I
say edited it was more like ripped to pieces but I learnt some valuable stuff
Yeah I can imagine. Jae is perfect for that !!
She is very good at it lol
Haden is adorable
@Reader 3 most fun to research was marriage law
It was such a bizarre rabbit whole to fall down and it
was all US based and being Australian I got super confused, a lot
@Reader 1 an adorable fool (her words, I’m sure)
Shit we get confused too
Do you have a project you’re working on right now, Gabby?
Is Flinging It going to be on audiobook at anytime
I haven’t heard anything about that from my publisher
That’s too bad
@Reader 2 I actually can finally, after 2 years, say I
do! I have about half way into a new manuscript. This one has been like pulling
teeth, and will change the “how fast I write a manuscript” answer
Have you ever considered a follow up to WHT like Sam with a
baby and nappies to change
And where do you get your ideas in general?
My solution to not having ideas is to hang out with creative
and silly writers. I have more snippets from conversations here than anywhere.
@Reader 1 I used to write a lot of fanfic, so TV used to
inspire me a lot. Now it’s just more, things I want to see wlw getting to do in
@Reader 5 Sam would be such an organised mum
I havent thought of it at all but the image of Hayden,
Sam and Frank all coping with a newborn is delightful
I imagine a lot of willful discussions all the way around –
I love it
Hmmm, Have you got kids Gabby? Because an organised mum is only possible if
you leave it all to the nanny
There would be so many discussions. Those two will never
have a problem with communication
I think they’d be coping with things regarding Hayden’s mom
as well considering everything.
Yes please then, a sequel Called Who’d Have Them
Stopping by to say hi to a fellow Aussie
Haha Sam will try be organised, desperately clinging to
the schedule the baby, Hayden, and Frank all refuse to adhere too
WHo’d Have Them hahahaha
It be great!!
You have my permission to use that title
If it ever happens, I may take you up on that @Reader 5
You’re welcome, I only ask you send me a free book as I gave
you not only the title but the story too
That sounds like a fair trade
Bugger, maybe I have undersold myself??
And if you need future autism sensitivity readers you have a
Thank you Reader 1! That’s great of you to offer!
It’s my pleasure. Doing that now for a debut and it’s great
representation and story so far
Its fantastic to hear debuts are utilising sensitivity
Yes. It’s great that people are taking rep seriously
My wife said I’m most like Anna because of my humour
Alright yall it’s bed time for me gnight yall @G Benson it
has been a pleasure
Anna from all the little moments in case you havent read
I’ve read it
@Reader 9 Thanks for chatting! Hope you sleep well
Thanks @G Benson gnight yall
Anybody else have questions for Gabby? @Reader 3 I don’t
think you’ve asked your traditional oddball one yet have you?
My interest is piqued
I’m still thinking of one.
And now I put you on the spot, my bad!
I’ll pretend I didn’t read anything about an oddball
Have you any author mates that you drink wine with and come
up with great one liners for your books
Has your wife read all your books?
Hmmm… if you could be any part of a BLT sandwich, which
part would you be? The bacon, the lettuce, the tomato or the toasted bread?
Haha any author mates I drink with we end up talking
about other books we love
@Reader 1 she has!
Names or it’s never happened
@Reader 3 I’d be the lettuce, mostly made of water and I
Gabby, whose books have you read who are here talking to you
That’s an on the spot question
Ohh nooo I cheated in my answer because I mostly read
I talk about fanfic and they talk about books and I say
“Yeah but…Kara and Lena from Supergirl…in another 20000 word angsty
Favorite fanfic pairing?
Lena and Alex from Supergirl
Yes!! Love Kara &
Lena!! Can’t wait for october for the new season!!!
Clarke and Lexa too but also it hurts a lot to think
Eek no no no not okay Alex with Kelly
I love Alex and Kelly too
But I tend to love whats not on the screen as it has more
fic and angst potential, I am an angst love in fic. I don’t even need happy
What pairing would you like to see but have yet to see?
@Reader 3 I wanted Alex and Lena very badly because then
they could give us queer Lena, even thought they’d never give Lena/Kara, and
Alex could avoid the trap of having a relationship and that would be all her
story would become, or all her gfs would be, as Lena has a role in the show
that extends to connections and storylines with other characters
Lena with almost everyone. Katie McGrath is amazing.
Though I did think last season they were pushing Lena and
Alex…only for Alex didn’t know who Kara was lol … then in pops James’s
I am a season behind
@Reader 6 same!
@Reader 1 the last season was suuuuuper slow to start
I’m just too busy to catch up. I will though. I love alex
I want Alex haircut!!
Alex is the best, as is the relationship with Kara and
Definitely. They are great
It was super slow for sure but it was great besides the end
with stupid Lex!!
What are we discussing here? I’m too old for this convo,
might be my bedtime now.
HAha I do need to head off too, it’s late this side of
unless there’s any last WHT question?
My daughter loves supergirl too. Since she was 2.
I will probably think of some after i finish my reread
I could talk to you about WHT all night, i can practically
recite it I’ve read it that often
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Gabby! Especially
with the time difference
Feel free ask them when you have the Reader 1!
@Reader 5 that’s the highest praise I think one can get!
Thanks for having me @Reader 2 it’s been fun!
It was so great chatting with you, thanks so much
Yes thank you!! I’ve been trying months to get you here!!
It’s true, I even bought the paperback
Yes, thanks for joining us.
Thanks Gabby, it’s been amazing to talk to you
It’s been so much fun chatting to you all! Revisiting Sam
and Hayden is always such a good time
Don’t forget the sequel
Thanks for creating them
They pretty stubbornly created themselves, they popped
out fully formed
Then thanks for listening to them
Thanks again, and I hope you all have an awesome
afternoon/night/morning! This was fun, I hope to see you all again!
The Elimination Game is reduced to ashes but Daniel and Sasha can’t afford to celebrate. Every Watcher in the state is looking for them, so when a resistance group calling themselves the Destroyers offer a safe haven, they have no choice but to accept. The Destroyers don’t give out charity, though. They expect help in return and as they arm themselves to take down the Watchers, Daniel and Sasha must choose: fight or flee?
The scene in the motel room is chaotic when Sasha, Daniel and Levi return from the office, first aid kit in hand.
“Quick, open it up,” Aisha barks at them the moment they’re in the door. “Is there antiseptic? What about a hemostat?”
“I don’t know what that is!” Sasha says, panicked, as she comes over to the bed and pulls open the kit.
Aisha has Brody’s leg elevated with a stack of pillows and her hand is clamped over his thigh. Jane’s standing by with her arms full of what looks like every towel from the bathroom, and there’s blood everywhere. It’s on Aisha’s hands, on the comforter, and on the wash cloth she’s using to put pressure on the wound.
“Oh my God,” Levi says, his eyes as big as saucers. “Is he going to be okay?”
“Go sit over there,” Aisha barks at him. “You’re in my light.”
She nods to the front of the room, where Francie and Erica are huddled together beneath the window. They’re both just as pale as Brody, clinging to each other and looking sick with worry.
While Sasha frantically sifts through the first aid kit looking for anything that’ll help, Daniel takes Levi’s arm and guides him over to the window. The two of them sit down with Francie and Erica, and Daniel arranges his body so as to block their view.
“Don’t watch,” he says. “Aisha’s going to take care of Brody.”
“Are there Watchers out there?” Erica asks, her voice barely audible. She looks up and when she reaches for the curtains, Daniel sees her hand shaking.
He takes it before she can rustle the thin curtains, squeezing her hand in what he hopes is a comforting gesture. “No. Not right now, but we have to be careful.”
“They’ll be looking for us,” Levi says.
“We can’t worry about that right now,” Daniel answers.
“He’s bleeding out,” Aisha says, drawing everyone’s attention back to the bed. “Screw the antiseptic – I need that hemostat now. It looks like scissors, but with a gripping end. Any luck?”
Sasha riffles through the first aid kit, making a mess of bandages all over the stained comforter until finally, she fumbles something small and metal out of the box. “Is this it?”
Aisha doesn’t bother to confirm – she just snatches the hemostat out of Sasha’s hands and goes to work. When she lifts the towel from Brody’s thigh, blood comes bubbling out of the wound like baking soda from a science fair volcano and Erica makes a retching sound.
Daniel puts his hand over her eyes and then he closes his own. The darkness is only marginally better than watching Aisha dig into Brody’s thigh with the instrument.
“I have to get the bullet out,” Aisha says. “Or else the bleeding won’t stop.”
Brody regains consciousness as the thin metal pincer invades his already shredded thigh muscles. He wakes up with a scream of pure agony and Aisha motions to Jane.
“Keep him quiet or the Watchers will find us!”
Jane drops to her knees beside Brody’s head, taking his hand. “It’s going to be okay. Aisha’s fixing you up. Squeeze my hand as hard as you need to.”
“Okay,” Brody says weakly. Then Aisha twists the hemostat inside the bullet hole and this time Brody and Jane both scream as he clamps down on her hand.
“That’s not good enough,” Aisha warns. “Put a towel in his mouth.”
Jane gives her a shocked look for a split second, but she does as Aisha orders, letting Brody bite down on a clean hand towel.
“How many people are checked into the motel tonight?” Sasha asks Levi. He’s got his knees hugged to his chest and he doesn’t answer her right away. “Levi!”
“How many people are here?” she asks again. “Are they going to hear this and report us?”
“No,” Levi says, his voice shaky. “Even if they heard, the type of people who stay here aren’t the kind who can afford to report people.”
“Good,” Sasha says. “Are you okay?”
“Umm,” Levi says, losing his concentration again. “Yeah.” “Got it!” Aisha says, retracting the hemostat, a small-caliber bullet pinched between its prongs.
“Thank God,” Brody says after Jane removes the towel from his mouth. He lifts his head just long enough to see the proof before his head falls back on the bed and he’s unconscious again.
“Is he going to make it?” Jane asks. “I need to stitch him up,” Aisha says, “and he’ll need better antibiotics than that first aid kit is likely to contain. But getting the bullet out was a good first step – it bought us a little time. Sasha, is there a needle and thread in there?”
“Yeah, I found a sewing kit,” Sasha says, passing a little pack of thread to Aisha. “But I don’t think it’s for stitches.”
“It’ll have to do,” Aisha says.
They all sit in silence for a few minutes while she stitches and then bandages Brody’s leg. Some of them are watching her, cringing along with each poke of the needle, but most of them wouldn’t watch if a pair of lunatics on a sound stage offered them a million dollars.
When she’s done, Aisha stands and goes into the bathroom to wash her hands. She comes back into the room and takes a clean towel from Jane to dry off, and every single set of eyes is on her.
Levi is the only one who has the courage to speak. “Now what?”
“We should get him to the Destroyer compound as soon as possible,” Aisha says. “Without further intervention, he could go septic, and we all know we can’t risk taking him to a hospital. The Destroyers have all the medical equipment I need and-”
“I’m sorry, what?” Daniel interrupts. “The who?”
“The Destroyers,” Levi fills in enthusiastically. “Aisha’s one of them. She came to take down The Elimination Game.” “Well, actually,” Aisha says, “I came for you, Daniel.”
Daniel just narrows his eyes at her and Sasha stands, taking an instinctive step toward Daniel. “What does that mean?”
“I already told all this to Sasha and Levi,” Aisha says, her tone patient. “I’m part of a resistance group called the Destroyers. Our mission is to take down the Watcher system, and the first step in our plan was to dismantle The Elimination Game because it was the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the mentality of American citizens right now.”
“You didn’t take down The Elimination Game,” Jane objects. “We did. We fought our way out.”
“Yes, you did,” Aisha says. “But that’s only half the story. The reason you were able to fight your way out and those evil people didn’t just let you burn was because the Destroyers hacked into the network and made sure the viewers saw what was really going on there. I can tell you all about it and even show you what we did if you agree to come to the compound with me.”
“Agree,” Daniel snorts, looking at Sasha. “Well, at least she’s giving us the illusion of freedom, unlike Gary and the game.”
“You are free,” Aisha insists. “If you don’t want to go, that’s your decision to make – but the Watchers will be looking for you and the Destroyers can offer protection.”
“In exchange for what?” Daniel asks, narrowing his eyes at Aisha. He may have been a sheltered, naive person six months ago when he walked away from his father’s campaign, but now he knows better – nothing in life is free.
“We think you could be of service to the revolution,” Aisha says.
“Me?” Daniel asks.
“Yes,” Aisha answers, looking earnest. “With your growing online celebrity-”
Daniel looks to Sasha, confused. Sasha takes his hand and squeezes, saying, “It’s true – Levi showed me while you were gone. There are actually people out there who have been rooting for us.”
“Sure didn’t seem like it every time I went into that Elimination Room,” Daniel says.
“Look,” Aisha says, “we don’t have many options right now. Brody won’t survive unless he gets some proper medical care and none of us can stay in this motel room. I’d give the Watchers about six hours before they trace us, and that’s being generous. Come with me to the compound and hear our plan, and if you don’t like what you hear, you’re free to go.”
“Just like that,” Daniel says, skeptical.
“Just like that,” Aisha says. “But I’ll warn you in advance – I’m going to need to blindfold you at some point during the journey because if you choose to leave, you can’t know where the compound is.”
Under the window, Erica whimpers and Jane goes over to her, putting one arm around Erica and the other around Francie. Levi’s still wide-eyed, but his expression has changed from horror to fascination.
“I want to go,” he says.
“How far is it?” Daniel asks.
“About three hours,” Aisha says. “I’ll have to call my contact to pick us up, but we can be there before morning if we act fast.”
“How many people are there?” Sasha asks.
“Half a dozen right now,” Aisha says. “We’re small, but our supporters are growing in number every day.”
The idea turns Daniel’s stomach, but Levi’s clearly bought in. Sasha looks on the fence like he is, and Jane looks nervous, too, but Aisha’s right. They only have two choices. They can take their chances with the Watchers on the streets, who will certainly show them no mercy if they’re found, or they can take their chances with the Destroyers at an undisclosed location.
Brody groans, his hand going instinctively to his leg, but when he touches the bandage, he winces in pain. Aisha diverts her attention to him, inspecting his injury. Blood is already beginning to bloom on the fresh bandage and everyone knows that’s not good news.
“Look, I’m not going to sugar coat it,” Aisha says to everyone. “It’s going to be dangerous, and if a Watcher drone zeros in on us while we’re traveling, there’s a chance we won’t even be able to get to the Destroyer compound. But if we don’t try, Brody is going to die.”
Silence descends on the room and everyone looks from Aisha to Brody, and then to Daniel. They’re waiting on his call.
He takes a deep breath, trying to settle his nerves.
“Okay,” he says at last. “But if you try to imprison us when we get there, I’m going to be very disappointed. I’ve had about enough breaking out of places to last me a lifetime, but I’ll do it again if I have to.”
“I promise, you can leave whenever you want,” Aisha says.
After narrowly escaping America’s most deadly game show, Sasha and Daniel are on the run from bounty-hunting Watchers. When Daniel is recaptured and thrust back into The Elimination Game for an even more brutal round two, Sasha must recruit new allies to help her rescue Daniel – or better yet, burn the whole sadistic game to the ground.
The prison camera is poor quality, grainy and without color. The building itself is at least a hundred years old and its technology isn’t much newer. But it’s good enough to pick up the features of the woman being marched down the hall by a guard.
She’s wearing a baggy prison jumpsuit that drags on the floor beneath her thin-soled sneakers, and she’s holding a small pile of threadbare sheets. A flat thing that’s barely padded enough to qualify as a pillow is stacked on top, and that’s all she will possess for the next six months.
Her crime? Pointing a gun into a crowd on the street outside her apartment. Even the drones were insufficient to de-escalate that situation, and when the armed Tier 1 Watchers have to deploy, it’s a guarantee that somebody’s going to prison.
The inmates on this cell block are watching the new arrival with interest. It’s not that she’s particularly interesting, but there’s not much excitement in the women’s wing of the Philadelphia County Correctional Facility. Intake day is always a source of entertainment. The other prisoners leer at her and the surveillance camera picks up a few cat calls along the way.
“Hey, baby,” one of them says. “There’s room in my cell for that sugar.”
“Shut up, inmate!” snaps the guard.
He’s walking on the woman’s right, his hand around her plump forearm. She’ll lose plenty of that weight during her stay here – the cooks take great pleasure in making the food as awful as possible for newcomers.
As the woman and her escort walk closer to the ceiling-mounted camera that’s capturing all this, she keeps her jaw set and her eyes straight ahead. Her dark hair is greasy and unkempt, but she doesn’t look like the type who would wind up here. She definitely doesn’t look like the kind of person who would snap and start waving a gun around, but then again, they never do.
She and the guard walk beneath the surveillance camera and there’s a momentary pause as it continues to film an empty corridor. An inmate puts her hand out from between the bars of her cell, flicking off the guard behind his back. Then the view switches to another ceiling-mounted camera farther down the hall.
The guard squeezes his new charge’s arm, his fingers digging into her flesh, then brings her to a halt.
“Here it is – home sweet home,” he says, then shouts to another guard stationed out of view at the other end of the hall, “Open cell 145!”
A buzzer sounds and the woman flinches as the cell door slides open.
The guard releases her arm only to shove her head-long into the empty cell. The camera pivots, following the action as the woman careens into the edge of a steel bed frame and drops her pile of sheets on the floor.
The room is very small and the bed takes up the majority of the space. The cell is about six feet square, with a sink-toilet combo in the corner. There are no windows – no natural light at all. Her only view for the next six months will be the woman in the cell across from her and, of course, the surveillance camera mounted right outside her cell.
The guard smirks. When the woman regains her balance, he steps into the cell and slugs her. His meaty fist connects with her jaw and she stumbles backward. She hits the concrete block wall with a sickly thud, getting the wind knocked out of her, then slides down to the floor.
The guard takes another step toward her and she puts up her arms in self-defense, but the other guard hollers from his station at the end of the hall. “Evans! Everything okay in there?”
Evans’ back is to the camera but his clenched fist shows just how irritated he is by this interruption. He shouts over his shoulder, “Yeah, just helping her make the bed!”
He turns back to the woman still cowering on the floor. He rolls his shoulders back and makes a stomach-churning hawwwwk sound. When he steps to the side, the camera catches the glimmer of a massive loogie sliding down the woman’s nose. She’s doing her best not to react, not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her disgust.
“Traitor,” he growls. “I hope you get what you deserve in here.”
Then he marches out of the cell and gives the order to close the door. It slides shut and the camera captures a sly grin spreading across his face. He pulls a billy club from his utility belt and rattles it against the bars, then shouts at the top of his lungs, “Lookie what we got here – this one’s a Watcher!”
That gets the other inmates riled up good, and just in time for their mandatory exercise period in the yard. A lot of mumbling and discussion can be heard from all around the cell block. There’s a Watcher in their midst, one who’s not in a guard’s uniform and carrying a baton.
I’ve teamed up with five incredible lesfic authors to write a series about finding love, convention style.
Crowds, cosplay, chemistry – it’s all happening for these lucky ladies.
Twelve women – from tv stars to rabid fans – descend on Las Vegas for one weekend to attend the biggest mystery, thriller and suspense convention of the year.
Love connections are made, hearts are brown, and these romances are not going to stay in Vegas.
The books in this series are all interconnected – each one is a standalone and they can be read in any order, but you’ll find fun cameos, events and other ‘Easter eggs’ that we’ve hidden throughout all six books.
I had so much fun collaborating with Lily Craig, Hildred Billings, Anna Cove, Sienna Waters and Kate McLay on this series, and I hope you have fun exploring the convention! All six books are available on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited.
Check out the first chapter of my book, The Shark, below.
Sabrina Grace stood in front of her bookshelves, nibbling the edge
of her fingernail as she looked at the manuscripts in front of her.
There were at least a hundred of them arranged neatly on the
shelves, along with action figures and Pops for all her favorite TV shows. Her
manuscripts ranged from spec scripts for single episodes of existing shows to
entire seasons of things that only existed inside her own head. She’d been
adding to the collection since she was a teenager and there was nothing she
loved more than the satisfying feeling of seeing those shelves fill up with the
printed versions of all her hard work.
Of course, it’d be even more satisfying if she’d actually sold
some of them, but that was why she was going to ShudderCon, wasn’t it?
She eyed all her manuscripts. She’d only have the chance to pitch
one idea at the convention and it had to be her very best. That was a tricky
decision. The best spec script? The best characters? The fastest plot? The one
with the most world-building depth?
So many scripts to choose from and only fifteen more minutes
before Sabrina’s Uber driver arrived to take her to the airport. She’d been
agonizing over the choice for weeks already and when her dad called her from
down the hall, she welcomed one final, brief distraction.
“Sabrina? You haven’t left yet, have you?”
“No, Dad,” she called back. “Would I leave without saying
She walked down the hall to meet him. She and her dad lived in a
nice little Cape Cod in a decent suburb of Cleveland—a house Sabrina couldn’t
dream of affording all on her own. Not on a call center employee’s salary and
not when so much of her income went to her dad’s medical care. Every dollar she
had left after the bills went toward her unending quest to get the attention of
TV producers who could make her scripts into reality.
Well, the quest had been unending. It was coming to a very
definite end now, and much sooner than she’d like. Sabrina was attending one
last convention where she could pitch her ideas and chase her dreams. Then they
would come to a screeching halt on Monday morning.
She shook that thought from her mind and went into the kitchen,
rounding the corner with a smile. “Hey, Dad. Smells good in here—what’s for
“Cheesy grits,” he answered. “Carla makes them just how I like
“So, mostly cheese?” Sabrina teased, crossing the kitchen.
Her dad was in his wheelchair as always, clean-shaven thanks to
his homecare nurse and wearing his favorite Cavs jersey. Instead of sitting at
the dining table, Carla had pushed him over to the big picture window to enjoy
the late October sunshine while he ate.
“You got it,” Carla said, holding another spoonful up to his
mouth. “But they’re nothing special—just the instant type. The secret is to add
extra butter. Sabrina, do you want a bowl before you leave?”
“No time,” Sabrina said, glancing at her phone. “Ten minutes until
the Uber arrives.”
“Did you decide which show to pitch?” her dad asked. Sabrina gave
him a tortured look.
“No,” she said, covering her face. “I still can’t choose. Is that
“You’re worrying too much, honey-girl,” he said. “All of your
writing is fantastic. Besides, you know my vote.”
Sabrina smiled. “The apocalypse.”
“What?” Carla asked with a snort.
“She wrote it over the summer,” Sabrina’s dad said. “It’s
brilliant—her best script yet.”
“But will it be good enough?” Sabrina asked wistfully. She leaned
against the windowsill, changing the subject. “Are you two sure you’re going to
be okay for the weekend? I could shorten my trip, or—”
“No, you go,” her dad interrupted. “Enjoy your last hurrah before
your new job starts. You deserve it.”
Sabrina smiled, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. She
didn’t get to as many conventions and industry events as she’d like to, but she
still managed to make it to a couple each year. ShudderCon was the biggest in
the genre and Sabrina always looked forward to it, but it was hard to leave her
dad, even just for the weekend.
He’d been diagnosed with ALS three years ago and the fact that he
was still around was no small miracle. He still had pretty good control of his
voice, and although he’d been forced into the wheelchair full-time about two
months ago, he was still in good spirits. They were lucky the disease was
progressing slowly, but each trip Sabrina took got harder to justify.
Even though Carla always took good care of her dad when Sabrina
was gone, she could never quite shake the worry. What if something happened to
him while she was off chasing a pipe dream?
That was part of the reason why she’d applied for a promotion when
the opportunity came up at the insurance company where she worked. The hours
and pay in the communications department were far better than in the call
center, and it gave her dad some peace of mind. Come Monday, Sabrina would set
her childish Hollywood dreams aside to climb the corporate ladder in the name
of financial security.
It was just too bad she was already expecting her new job writing
policy manuals to be mind-numbingly boring.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said. “Do either of you need anything before I
“In the next few minutes before your car arrives?” her dad asked.
“No, honey-girl, Carla and I will be just fine. You enjoy your trip.”
“Okay,” Sabrina said. “I’ll try.”
She gave him a hug, then glanced at her phone again. Five minutes
to pick the best manuscript out of the bunch—the one that would make or break
her TV writing dreams.
Was the apocalypse a big enough idea to get the job done?
She hustled back down the hall and scanned her shelves one more
time to be sure. There was a lesbian detective agency, a small-town police
department chasing down a literally invisible killer, and a Sherlock-inspired
drama with an all-star dream cast of queer actors that Sabrina had spent many a
night developing… but the apocalypse was her most recent project. It was freshest
in her mind and her dad was right—it was good stuff.
She grabbed the script for the pilot episode and tucked it into
her carry-on bag, along with a zip drive containing all her writing on the
project, just as her phone chimed.
Your Uber driver, Gloria, is here.
Sabrina’s heart skipped a beat and she slung her bag over her
When she got outside, there was a red SUV waiting on the curb and
Sabrina jogged over to it. She worried about her dad when she left town, but
she also couldn’t deny the excited, eager feeling that filled her chest every
time she set out on a new adventure.
ShudderCon was the top mystery, thriller, and suspense convention
in the country and Sabrina had only missed it once in the last five years. It
was a four-day weekend filled to the brim with fans, writers, actors and every
other type of industry insider all fawning over their favorite shows and stars.
It was impossible not to get excited—mundane office job be damned.
As Sabrina slid into the back seat of the SUV, she resolved not to
give her real life worries another thought until her plane touched down in
Cleveland again on Sunday night.
“Going to the airport, huh?” the driver asked. Gloria turned out
to be a middle-aged woman with her hair pulled back in a wispy bun, and she had
no problem filling the silence on the twenty-minute drive to the airport.
“Business or pleasure?”
“A little of both,” Sabrina said. “But mostly pleasure.”
“Sounds like my kind of trip,” the woman said with a glance into
the rearview mirror. “Where are you headed?”
“Las Vegas,” Sabrina said. She was excited about the convention
and trying hard not to think of the actual flight. She wasn’t the biggest fan
of flying—or rather, she wasn’t a fan of take-off or touch-down.
“Oh, Sin City!” Gloria driver perked up, immediately more
interested in Sabrina’s trip. “What’s your business, if you don’t mind my
“TV writing,” Sabrina said, a smile creeping across her face as
she noticed a glimmer of awe in the woman’s eyes. Never mind the fact that
she’d never sold a single script—her Uber driver didn’t know that, and she
didn’t need to know that being a TV writer was nothing but a pipe dream
for Sabrina. She leaned forward as much as her seatbelt would allow and asked,
“Have you heard of ShudderCon?”
“No, what’s that?” Gloria asked, looking ready to be amazed no
matter what Sabrina’s answer was.
The excitement building in Sabrina’s chest grew, making her forget
about the plane for another minute. These were the moments she lived for—when
she got to unapologetically geek out about her passions. “It’s incredible. You
know ComicCon, right?”
“That’s the thing all the comic book nerds flock to, right?”
“Yeah. ShudderCon is just like that, only for mystery, thriller
and suspense nerds,” Sabrina explained. “It’s in a different city every year
and they rent a huge convention center where you can go to panels with your
favorite actors, get autographs, and see sneak peeks of new shows and movies.
Everyone who’s anyone in the industry will be there.”
“And you’re somebody?” Gloria asked. She was looking at Sabrina in
the mirror like she was one name-drop away from veering to the side of the road
to ask for an autograph.
“Not yet,” Sabrina had to admit. It would have been fun to
fantasize, to pretend she’d already sold her script and she was a famous TV
writer. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie to this woman, even if she would
probably never see Gloria again. “But I’ve got a script in my bag that I’m
hoping I can sell to one of the networks this weekend.”
“Ooh, use me for practice,” Gloria said, her eyes lighting up.
“Pitch me your show.”
“Okay, so there’s this new strain of superbug infecting people all over the country,” Sabrina said, a grin forming on her lips. It really was a good script, which would make it all the more painful if she had to come home Monday morning empty-handed. She pushed the thought aside—no more worries until the weekend was over. “There’s an epidemic that’s getting really serious. People start thinking it could be the apocalypse, and the first episode opens with a group of scientists isolating themselves in a high-tech bunker, desperately looking for the cure…”
The computer screen switches from an old television test pattern to video of a shabbily dressed woman. A stretched-out rubber Elvis Presley mask obscures her face.
She is sitting in a small, dimly lit room with one corner of her desk visible in the frame. It is littered with soda bottles and wrinkled fast food bags, giving the impression that she does not leave this space very often. The only other thing that is visible in the shot is an Emoji Movie poster on the wall behind her.
The woman adjusts a microphone, moving it closer, and we hear a slightly muffled version of her voice through the mask. It is slightly atonal and lethargic as she begins the broadcast.
“Good evening everyone and welcome to another episode of Dystopia Today. I’m your host, Elvis Splorch, and I’ve got a special treat for you today.
We’ve been following Sasha and Daniel, our favorite couple in the Elimination Game house, for the last five weeks and y’all have been pestering me relentlessly to dig into their backgrounds. As you know, contestants don’t exactly audition and many of you have been asking for the story behind America’s favorite indentured lovers.
One of you even managed to deliver a letter to my house, which is impressive since we all know the United States Postal Service has not cared for snow or rain or heat or gloom of night for years now… but it was creepy as hell and I’d like to take this moment to kindly ask all of you to refrain from looking up dear old Uncle Elvis in real life.
Anyway, I heard your pleas. I spent days and days digging through old surveillance footage all over the city and I found that sweet, sweet background information you’ve been asking for.”
Elvis holds up a small external hard drive, waving it teasingly at the camera, then continues.
“There are eight hours of video here, all queued up and ready to go live at the push of a button. Are you ready? Are you hungry for it?”
The comments section below the video lights up with the barely literate ravings of people who have nothing more to look forward to than the life stories of a couple reality show contestants. They’ve already cleared their schedules from now until Kingdom Come and they want it.
Elvis sets down the hard drive and crosses her arms in front of her chest with a sigh.
“Here’s the thing. I can’t show you this video yet,” she says, genuine discomfort edging into her voice. “I can’t afford to show you this video and I think you all know where I’m going with this.
My donations page is currently sitting at $10. That $10 is what I have to live on this week, and it’s what keeps the lights on around here. Do you realize what the McDonald’s Dollar Menu costs these days? Let me tell you, it ain’t been a dollar in a long time.
So here’s what we’re going to do, and I want you to keep in mind that you’re forcing my hand.
I’ve got this footage all ready for you and I’m going to push that ‘play’ button just as soon as we get my donation page up to $100. That’s barely enough to keep the McDonald’s on the table and the Splorch lubricated, but I’m willing to make it happen because I love you guys. But until we reach the $100 mark, you guys are going to be watching a live stream I found of the day room at the Lower North Philadelphia Assisted Living Facility.”
The screen abruptly switches from the self-styled Elvis to a grainy black-and-white feed of a room in which five or six elderly people are sitting around, not doing much of anything. The comments section explodes with objections as a ticker appears in the bottom corner of the screen, showing Elvis’s ransom goal.
On screen, three wrinkled old women sit in recliners so plush they’re nearly swallowing their occupants. They stare blankly at a point just below the camera, and by the glaze of their eyes, it’s probably a television just out of frame.
Behind them, there are two hunchbacked old men sitting at a table with a checkerboard between them, but they both appear to have forgotten that there’s a game in progress. One is staring at the empty nurse’s station across the room and the other is picking at the hem of his shirt with a shaky hand.
It only takes a minute for the ticker in the corner to jump from $10 to $15 and Elvis says over the elderly live stream, “That’s more like it, folks. We’re not here to watch the relentless march of time – we’re here to forget about that. Keep the donations coming and we’ll be watching Daniel and Sasha in no time… and let me assure you, it’s juicy stuff!”
The ticker jumps again, this time from $15 to $23.
In this fierce rivalry, only one of us can end up on top, and Zach Holiday thinks he’s got me right where he wants me. He may be up to his old tricks but I’ve got a few of my own to teach him.
Scary & Sweet is the first novella in my steamy romantic comedy Holiday Valley series, available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
It’s a quarter to five and that means I’ve got exactly fifteen minutes to hustle up the steps of the Holiday Valley town hall and deliver my petition signatures with the intent to run for mayor.
I know it’s kind of crazy – especially considering the fact that my last name is not Holiday – but a girl with big political aspirations has to start somewhere, and I can’t think of a better place to begin my career. I’ve lived in Holiday Valley all my life, where everyone treats each other like family, and sometimes it feels like this silly, festive place is actually a part of me. What better way to honor my birthplace than to take a turn shaping it for future generations?
Yeah, I might be a little sappy, and a lot optimistic, but I’ve got big ideas and this little town is the perfect place for me to practice for the future.
That is, if rush hour traffic doesn’t bring my hopes and aspirations to a grinding halt.
The town’s having a bit of a moment right now. Some big shot reporter from Travel + Leisure came to our annual Halloween bash at the Holiday mansion last year, fell in love with the town just like everyone does, and wrote a glowing piece for the magazine. Ever since then, we’ve been inundated with tourists who can’t get enough of our kitsch.
When they found out we also do it up big for every other major holiday, well, they kind of lost their shit. Everyone from families looking to recapture that nostalgic holiday spirit to Instagrammers seeking the perfect seasonal backdrops started flooding into the town at every major holiday.
And the townies? We freaking love it – but of course, a bunch of weirdos who choose to populate a small town whose whole raison d’être is holiday cheer would say ‘the more, the merrier’.
The only thing that puts a damper on our newfound popularity is that Holiday Valley is a small town and we don’t quite have the infrastructure to handle this influx of visitors. The town’s about five miles square, with a quaint Main Street full of shops and restaurants, and houses branching off in all directions.
That’s one street that gets awfully congested around our newfound ‘rush hour,’ and which makes being a pedestrian way harder than it used to be.
As I basically sprint my way down the sidewalk, petition tucked into the crook of my arm, I actually wonder if I’ll make it to town hall before Barb, the town clerk, locks the doors. Would she accept my bid for mayor if I shoved my signature sheets under the door along with a pleading note to forgive the wrinkles?
When I left my house ten minutes ago, I knew it would be a close call, but when I walked into the kitchen to find my petition still sitting on the counter – right where I’d left it this morning – all I could do was run and silently pray. My little brother was supposed to drop it off on his way to school this morning. He promised me he’d remember. But who knows what goes on in the girl-addled mind of a teenaged boy?
I’m breaking a sweat even in the cool breeze that signals the beginning of my favorite time of year – sweater weather. And my long, dark hair, pulled back in a bun, is a wild, wind-blown mess.
Good thing Barb’s not the judging type, and the town hall should be pretty much empty by the time I arrive. The last thing I want is to run into Maggie Holiday, the town’s current mayor, with my cheeks red, wheezing from the effort of running.
I’m – gasp – here to run for mayor, I can just imagine myself saying as I hold out my petition for her to see all the signatures I’ve gathered, damp with palm sweat. Please take me seriously!
I know – and every single person who signed my petition knows – that if the exact circumstances that are currently conspiring did not exist, I would have a snowball’s chance of winning. That’s why I’m hauling ass to the town hall – if I miss this deadline, I’ll probably never get another chance to run for mayor of Holiday Valley.
The town’s been around for about 150 years, settled by Alexander Holiday himself, and it’s more or less stayed in the family ever since.
Every single member of the Holiday family has served at least one term as mayor, and Maggie Holiday has been in the position for the last sixteen years. She’s absolutely adored by the whole town, and the only reason I stand a chance is because I’m not running against her – she’s retiring once her term ends.
That leaves a narrow opening for me, right after Maggie retires and before her heir apparent son, Zach, is ready to take his turn in the mayor’s office. He’s still in college, one year younger than me, thank God.
I’m going to slide into the mayor’s office like my little brother slides into the cheerleaders’ DMs.
Right now, though, I’m looking for an opportunity to slide through the roundabout that is the last obstacle standing between me and town hall. Mayor Holiday put it in last spring after we’d just gotten through the gauntlet of winter holidays, promising it would alleviate the traffic bottlenecks that tend to happen on Main Street every day at nine and five. That, it did, but it also made pedestrian traffic feel like playing a game of Frogger.
Should I receive your vote, I promise to find a solution for both motorists and walkers alike, I practice in my head while I look for an opening.
The stream of cars is nothing like in big cities, but it’s pretty endless for a girl with a stack of papers in her arms and a time-sensitive deadline on her dreams fast approaching.
I step off the curb and no sooner does my heel touch the asphalt than a car horn blares in my ears, making my heart pound and panic rip through me.
A car whips around the roundabout, aiming for the exit where I’m standing. Am I about to be a little green splat on the road, game over?
Someone grabs my arm and yanks me back onto the sidewalk, loosening my grip on my petition in the process. Papers go flying, hell, my skirt goes flying momentarily over my hips, and the car speeds past.
Must be a tourist – a townie would never try to flatten me without so much as a friendly Holiday Valley Sorry, bud!
“Trying to get yourself killed, Abbi?”
I freeze as the owner of the hand that yanked me out of harm’s way speaks and I know that voice. I could never forget it. Zach Holiday, heir apparent and, it just so happens, my childhood bully.
I regain my composure and pull my arm out of his grasp, then turn to face him, ready to scowl and shoot a snappy comeback at him. But then my eyes lock with his smoldering hazel ones and any comeback I might have had – snappy or otherwise – fades from my tongue.
Damn it, I haven’t seen him in three years, ever since he went away to that fancy college I could only ever dream of, but the Ivy League has been good to him.
He’s always been good-looking, with a strong jaw and a tall, athletic build. But now he’s got a thin crop of scruff along that delicious jawline, and it’s obvious that he’s been spending even more time on the golf course than he did in high school. His biceps are bulging out of a sleek, sporty t-shirt and his skin is tanned and golden.
I’m pretty sure he notices the slack-jawed way that I’m appraising him, because a satisfied little smirk forms on his perfect lips.
“What are you doing back in town?” I snap at him while I bend down to start collecting the petition papers that have scattered all over the sidewalk. The breeze picks up and a second bolt of panic shoots through me as I picture all my hard-earned signatures scattering to the wind.
“You’re welcome for saving your life,” he says, deftly catching one of my blown papers before it has a chance to get away.
“The thank you card’s in the mail,” I grumble as he steps into the roundabout with utter, cocky confidence, holding his hand up to stop the traffic while he retrieves another piece of my petition.
When he comes back and holds it out for me, I snatch it away from him, trying not to look directly into those gorgeous hazel eyes. I catch a waft of cologne mixed with the smell of fresh-cut grass as his body comes nearer to mine, and my legs feel a little weak.
He really shouldn’t have the power to affect me this way – not after three years apart, and not after all the hell he put me through in school.
I can still vividly remember the milk snake he and that jackass best friend of his, Luke, slipped into my trick-or-treat bag one year when we were kids. I looked down to find it wriggling through the Milk Duds and screamed, and Zach damn near had an aneurysm laughing.
The snake turned out to be Luke’s pet and sure, it did turn out to be kind of cute when I was finally done having the vapors, but I never went trick-or treating again.
If everyone in Holiday Valley is like family, that would make Zach my cruel younger brother. And yet here I am, getting weak in the knees every time he looks at me. I must be a secret masochist.
Zach grabs the last loose piece of my petition, but instead of handing it back to me, he holds his arm out and says, “Here, allow me to escort a lady across my mother’s death trap.”
I don’t want to accept charity from Zach Holiday, of all people, but it’s now just five minutes til five and I have to admit defeat. Either he parts the sea of traffic for me, or I don’t get my petition filed on time to run for mayor.
“Thank you,” I say, surprised when he grabs my free hand and wraps it around his forearm like a true gentleman. It makes my cheeks burn and I hope he’s too distracted bending the traffic to his will to notice.
When we arrive safely on the other side of the roundabout – just about thirty more steps between me and Barb’s desk – I hold out my had for the last page of my petition, but Zach holds it out of my reach.
No – now is not the time for a schoolyard game of keep-away!
“Intent to run for mayor,” he reads, scanning his eyes over the signature.
“Yeah,” I say, standing a little taller. “Your mom announced that she’s retiring right after I finished my political science degree. It seemed like a sign.”
Zach gives me a sympathetic look and I can’t figure out what that’s all about. Trying to psyche me out? Steal my confidence? He might have been the pigtail-pulling prankster type in school, but he was never that kind of cruel.
“Can I have that back?” I ask, getting antsy as I glance up the town hall steps. Time’s running out. “Today’s the last day to file.”
“Just a second,” Zach says, pulling a pen out of his pocket. I gawk as he adds his name to the bottom of the page, then hands it back to me with another one of those odd, slightly pitying looks. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I say, furrowing my brow and studying him as I take the page. I don’t have time to figure out what’s going on in that handsome head of his.
I turn and head for the steps, and my confusion only intensifies as he follows me. What game is he playing now?
An eccentric adult shop owner. An agoraphobic game collector. A romantic comedy about finding love and self-acceptance in the strangest places. Opposites attract when Theo offers to help Libby with her shop, but will they be brave enough to play the game of love?
My latest novel, Good Vibes, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
“Oh wow, did you know the expansion pack has blank cards you can fill in yourself?” Theo Kostas asked her roommate.
She was sitting on the couch with a ripped-open mailer envelope beside her and a brand new card game spread out on the coffee table in front of her. This one was called Escape From Moon Base 9 and it was all anyone in her online gaming circles were talking about. Of course, that didn’t mean it impressed her roommate.
Andie rolled her eyes on her way from her bedroom to the kitchen. “Nerd alert.”
“Shut up,” Theo teased. “Do you really think spending an entire Friday night waiting in line to get Nat Butler’s autograph is any less nerdy?”
That was what Andie had done last night. She’d gotten home around two a.m. and found Theo staring like a zombie at YouTube videos. She’d talked non-stop for at least thirty minutes about her spiritual connection with the rock star and how she was destined to become the future Mrs. Butler before finally pouring herself into bed around three.
Theo hadn’t heard a peep from her until she emerged from her bedroom, dyed blonde hair wild with sleep, apparently with the sole motivation of making fun of Theo’s hobbies.
Oh, and coffee.
“Make enough for me, will you?” Theo called into the kitchen. Andie grunted and Theo went back to inspecting her new deck of cards. Not enough people took advantage of the fill-in-the-blank cards – it took a certain amount of cockiness to think you knew a game better than the developers, but Theo took it as a personal challenge. Her mind was already turning with possibilities when Andie flopped onto the couch beside her, shoving the empty mailing envelope out of the way.
“Five-minute ETA on the coffee,” she said. “Did I tell you Nat’s eyes have this other-worldly quality to them? Like dark chocolate ganache infused with gold flecks…”
“Yeah,” Theo said, distracted. “About ten times last night.”
“Oh. Well, they’re amazing.”
“So I’ve heard.” Nat Butler was not unattractive, and Theo liked her music as much as anyone could like something their roommate played as if today was the last day it would exist. But Theo wasn’t a celebrity chaser, even though she and Andie lived in New York City and they’d bumped into a few. She wasn’t much of a woman chaser at all, in fact. All she needed lately was Moon Base 9 and her gamer friends online.
“Come on,” Andie said. “You would swoon if you met her.”
“You should have come last night,” she said, dragging herself off the couch as the coffee maker percolated. “I bet you would have had fun.”
Tight crowds in stadium seating. Long bathroom lines. An hour and a half subway ride in the sweltering July heat. Theo’s pulse jumped up and she shook her head. “I had fun at home.”
“You’re 32 years old,” Andie said on her way to the coffee maker. “Don’t you ever get tired of being 80?”
Maybe an attack card to mess with another player’s gravity field… Theo was just mentally filing the idea away for one of the blank cards when the apartment buzzer sounded. Andie was mid-pour so Theo went to the intercom. “Hello?”
“Buzz me up,” her sister said. “And make it snappy – this stuff is heavy.”
“You need help?”
“Nah, I got it.”
Theo buzzed her sister into the building and took the chain off the apartment door, then went into the kitchen to retrieve her coffee from Andie. She was just gathering her Moon Base 9 cards to put them away when Penny burst into the apartment and dropped her 20-pound wedding binder on the coffee table.
“Careful!” Theo said. “I just got those cards.”
“They’re fine,” Penny said with a roll of her eyes. “Thanks for the help, by the way.”
“You said you had it.”
“Now, girls,” Andie said. “Quit your bickering or I’ll have to send you to separate corners.”
“Love you, baby sis,” Penny said, pinching Theo’s cheek. Theo swatted at Penny’s hand, then went into the kitchen to get her a cup of coffee. When she came back, Penny had completely overtaken the coffee table.
“What is all this?” Theo asked.
“Wedding supplies, of course!” Penny said. She took a long sip of coffee, but by the looks of it, she didn’t need to be caffeinated. She’d been riding the wedding planning high for about three months already with no signs of slowing down – and the wedding wasn’t for another eleven months. “You two are my maids of honor – please tell me you did not forget your promise to help me pick out invitations today.”
“Oh Lord,” Theo said, inspecting some of the stuff spread across the table. Theo was no savant, but it looked like there were at least two hundred different sample invitations there. “Where did you even get this many samples?”
“It’s amazing what you can get if you’re willing to ask,” Penny said.
“Or if you want to spend an entire week talking to suppliers, from the looks of it,” Andie said. “Ooh, this one’s pretty.”
“Too floral,” Penny said, plucking the invitation out of Andie’s hand and starting a discard pile. “There – one down, just a few more to go.”
“You’re insane,” Theo said. “What does Chet think of all this?”
“Well, he did send me over here,” Penny said.
“Thanks a lot, Chet,” Theo said. “I’ll remember this at Christmas when I’m choosing his gift.”
Andie and Penny laughed, and Theo brought a chair from the dining room so her sister could take her seat on the couch. The way she saw it, it was her sisterly duty to give Penny a hard time about how impressive it was that she’d become a Bridezilla the instant Chet put that ring on her finger. But sifting through wedding invitations was actually not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. It wasn’t all that different from getting acquainted with the Moon Base 9 cards – only these were a lot more formal and, tragically, none of them made reference to space monsters.
“How about this one?” Theo asked, passing an elegant card with pretty calligraphy to her sister. “It’s simple but the font makes it feel modern.”
“I like it,” Penny said. “This’ll go in the maybe pile.”
The three of them sorted wedding invites for close to an hour before they could finally see the coffee table again beneath all that card stock. The discard pile was towering by the time they finished and Penny had narrowed it down to about ten maybe cards for Chet to weigh in on.
“Is that all for today?” Andie asked with a yawn. Obviously the coffee, followed by a rigorous invitation scavenger hunt, had done nothing to offset her Nat Butler-induced sleep deprivation.
“Maybe you’ve got a thousand first dance songs for us to listen to?” Theo suggested. “Or fifty different brands of Jordan almonds to taste for the wedding favors?”
“Don’t tempt me,” Penny said, tapping the overstuffed wedding binder, the weight of which was most definitely going to throw her back out before next June. “I do have one more wedding-related item to discuss with you two. The bachelorette party.”
“Planning that already?” Theo asked. A little nervous jitter worked its way through her stomach – wasn’t that something to worry about next spring?
“Yeah, isn’t that something you’re supposed to leave up to your maids of honor?” Andie asked.
“I would, but you know me – I don’t want to,” Penny said with a laugh. She turned to Theo. “And I know you don’t like taking trips…” The nervous jitter turned into a fist clenching Theo’s stomach. No, she very much did not like taking trips, and she didn’t like where this was going. “But this is my wedding and I only get to have one bachelorette party – I want it to be perfect.”
“Ooh, are we going somewhere fun?” Andie asked. She was always up for an adventure and Theo was already calculating Andie into her escape plan. She’d go in Theo’s stead, simple as that.
“Vegas,” Penny said and Theo’s stomach promptly dropped about five inches like a heavy stone had just materialized inside it.
“Las Vegas? Nevada?”
“Sin City, baby,” Penny said. Her big blue eyes were alight with excitement and she was obviously already married to the idea. Theo felt sick. Vegas was not just a quick day trip, which she might have been able to handle, or even a weekend trip to the family cabin in the Catskills. Las Vegas was a full-on trip and it was giving Theo hives just thinking about it.
The airport. The plane that was nothing more than a steel tube coasting through the air. The lights, the crowds, the distance from her safe little apartment with the shelves full of card games and her computer and everything else she needed just a few clicks away.
“I can’t,” Theo blurted.
She pulled Penny and Andie out of their reverie. They were already getting excited about hotel rooms and cocktails and exploring the Strip, and now they were both staring at Theo. Andie looked sympathetic but Penny had a hard look in her eyes that reminded Theo of their dad. He was the tough-love type, always telling her to ‘suck it up’ rather than let her weasel her way out of the things that scared her.
“You have to,” she said. “I’m sorry, but you’re my co-maid of honor and I need you at my bachelorette party.”
“You’ll have Andie-”
“I love Andie, but you’re my sister,” Penny said. “It’s just for a few days – Friday to Sunday – and it’s not happening for nine more months. I figured we’d go in April before the weather in Nevada gets too brutal.”
Theo’s whole body felt too hot, like someone had turned her internal thermostat way up. The trip could be in a week or eight years from now and she’d feel exactly the same way about it – Penny might as well be asking her to go to freaking Moon Base 9.
“I want to,” Theo said. Lie. “I’ll do my best.” Another lie. She was already brainstorming a dozen ways she could get out of it. Work obligations. Sudden illness. She’d pick a fight with Penny the day before the trip if she had to. It wasn’t that Theo was looking forward to disappointing her sister – after close to three decades of fighting the same exhausting battles over and over inside her own mind, she would love to just get on a plane and travel carefree across the country.
But Theo was barely capable of getting out of her chair right now, let alone taking all the steps required to go to Vegas and come back in one piece.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough,” Penny said, her hands on her hips.
Well, that was new. Theo’s pulse started racing again. Everyone in her family was used to Theo’s anxiety-related limitations and she’d trained them a long time ago to expect a certain failure rate when it came to following through on plans. She always meant well, but sometimes she’d be standing in the doorway of her apartment, all ready to show up and not be a disappointment for once. But then a little voice inside her head would whisper in her ear, It’s not safe out there. And she’d be frozen to the floor.
Her family might not understand it, but they accepted it.
Until now, apparently.
“I don’t ask much of you,” Penny said. “Do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to carry twenty pounds of wedding invitations across town on the subway? But I brought them to you because I know you’re more comfortable here. I do shit like that for you all the time, Theo, and I don’t mind. But this is my wedding. I want to go to Vegas with my best friends to celebrate and my sister will be there.”
Those blue eyes could turn icy when Penny was angry. Theo had seen it a few times, like when Andie told the entire middle school about Penny’s embarrassing crush on a teacher, or when Mom grounded Penny for a month over a dented bumper that had actually been a successful frame-job by Theo. She never got used to it when that icy stare was directed at her. Theo shivered and said, “Okay.”
Easier said than done – much easier said than done. But obviously Penny wasn’t messing around and Theo’s well of excuses had run dry. It didn’t matter if Theo had crippling agoraphobia, or if her boss needed her to work through the weekend, or if she was so sick she was actually dead. She was going to freaking Vegas in April.
For our August meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed Gerri Hill’s novel, Behind the Pine Curtain. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.
A couple of notes on the transcript:
If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc
So glad you could join us
Hi Gerri! I just started another of your books, Love Waits,
while in the car. Lol
Love Waits…another oldie!
Is this where I squee?
Welcome Gerri, thanks for joining us!
Hi Reader 4
While I’m too poor to buy everything I want, I’m using the
library and going through your back catalog
I hope you enjoy them!
So, let’s get this party started
What did you all think of Behind the Pine Curtain?
Really good. But I want to know what happens next
Loved it, as all her books so far!
I liked it as much as the first time that I read it, which
is to say a lot.
I had to remind myself that yeah, it’s very possible to be
that clueless while living in a small town.
I really enjoyed it, in some ways especially because it felt
like the town I grew up in (which had a big lumber heritage)
What I loved was how Kay went from, oh, wait, this is a
thing to, I’m taking control of this thing.
It’s been a lot of years since I wrote this, but I think
Jackie was early 30s. So she grew up in the 70s/early 80s….and yes, a very
small, conservative town in East Texas.
Those places still exist today, sadly.
It’s very similar to when I was growing up. The only thing
that saved me was Ellen coming out, otherwise I had no clue.
That timing helps too.
Even in the 2000’s I would bet a lot of the residents didn’t
have high speed internet.
What was your favorite thing to write when writing this
Hi @Gerri Hill. Do you have any experience of working in a
business, managing people? I liked Jackie’s management skills!
Since it’s been so long, I’ll have to guess on favorite.
I enjoyed Rose. I enjoyed the scenes at the Blue Hole.
I did have a job managing people, yes. I think Jackie was
better at it than I was!
What is the favorite book you’ve written so far?
Personally mine is Keepers of the Cave
I have a few. Keepers of the Cave popped into my mind
first, so I’ll go with that one too! I love CJ and Paige. If you have a chance
to listen to the audio version, Abby Craden did a wonderful job with CJ.
Yes she did! Abby is one of my favorite narrators
I plan to listen to it this week
At Seventeen is a favorite too.
That series is truly amazing on audio.
The Secret Pond made me cry in places when I wrote it, so
it is special to me. I loved Jack.
My favorite SO far is The Killing Room or The Locket.
You’ve written quite a few “crime drama” romances, with KotC
being one of them. Is that a favorite trope of yours?
How do you choose what story to write? Since you span
genres, is it a matter of whatever idea is pulling at you?
Yes Jack is my favorite character overall so far. She was
I like both “murder mystery” and
“romance” so I don’t really have a favorite. Romance is much easier
Who are some of your favorite authors, lesfic and
After writing a crime novel, I usually go back to a romance,
so it’s normally every other book.
I feel quite smug that this is the second of your books I’ve
read, so I have plenty to look forward to. Recommendation for which to read
next? Secret Pond is the other.
How do you plot out your books? Is the villain at the
beginning always the villain in the end? Or does your story changes as it
grows? (Sorry for the delay. Been
driving and I don’t want to get yelled at for texting… lol)
I have several ideas that I’m bouncing around now so
that’s the hard part, trying to decide which one to focus on for the next book.
In regards to our club book, Behind the Pine Curtain, the
letter from Jackie’s father pulled at my heartstrings. Was there inspiration
for that or did it just come to you?
And now we have all three Texans in the room at once. Lord,
I rewrote the letter probably ten times before I had it
where I liked it.
No outside inspiration, really.
You did a very good job with it
What’s your favorite part of a romance to write?
@Reader 8 Had a good question. How do you plot your books,
and is the villain the same person from the moment you start to the moment you
The first kiss!
I love that Kay’s mother knew the whole time and was just
waiting for Kay to figure things out.
I normally will only use an outline on the murder mystery
type books. As far as plotting, I have several points I want to make but usually
several others will come up as I’m writing. The villain is not always the one I
started with no. The Killing Room, for example. I was more than halfway through
that book before I decided on who the killer would be.
Yes, Kay’s mother was so sweet at the end when she gave
Kay the push she needed.
Do you know what happened to them after the book? Was there
a lot of backlash? Or was Jackie all, fuck you, I own this town and you guys
can suck it.
Crazy…no wonder it was a good twist although it was my
first guess on the killer. I really loved The Killing Room
The Killing Room was amazing. I’ve read it a few times and
it’s just as good every time
I don’t like to tie up all my books at the end (as some
of you know if you’ve read a lot of mine)…so Pine Curtain was no different!
What do YOU think happened?
Pretty much like that lol
The Killing Room will be out on audio in a few weeks
(Abby Craden again) so I’m looking forward to that.
But do you have future in mind, even if you never write it?
You don’t have to share it, just curious. Or are you done
with a book, publish it, and start the next one.
I’m still trying to decide if Kay would move away to
California or if she would convince Jackie to come run the town with her, “like
when we were kids!”
No…I find it hard to leave characters behind.
This was the first of yours I had read and I remember being
simultaneously “that was a wonderful final scene” and also “but I really want
another chapter or two to find out what happens next”
I do have an idea of what happens next…I just don’t
always write it!
i can see a bunch of Gerri Hill fanfic being created now.
I like that, leaves it up to the readers. Especially with
Kay and Jackie since they do have two very different paths they could take
I’ll have to pick up that audio when it comes out
Artist’s Dream…I think I got more “but what
happens? The letters?”
Lol that’s my next book I plan on reading actually. Lol
Oh I forgot about that one! I have a hard copy in my
bookshelf. I’ll have to pick that one up again
If you could write a sequel to any of your books which would
Is there a favorite area you like to base your books in?
I also wanted to just compliment you, because I usually am
very impatient when things take a long time to happen after I’ve guessed
they’re going to happen. And while it took a long time in the book for Jackie
and Kay to get there, I didn’t have the feeling that any of the obstacles were
gratuitous or artificial: it all seemed like genuine bumps in the road to get
Sequel? I’d probably write one for Artist’s Dream because
there was a lot left hanging. And I adored Luke!
That is very true. This book was…almost painfully
realistic. I loved that about it
Favorite area? Got to be Colorado! or the Gulf Coast.
I’m still not entirely convinced I don’t know Rene
Thank you, Reader 5.
Which of your books would you most want to see turned into a
That’s tough. Hunter’s Way, I think.
Devil’s Rock, maybe.
I would love that as a movie!!
As a now coloradan, I approve of setting books here
The scene in the sewer drain pipe place was my favorite
It made me laugh SO hard
“Well shoot it!”
“I’m not gonna shoot it, this is it’s home!”
Thats basically how I would react
I could not have planned that any better lol
It’s the scene that practically brought them closer
Yes it is.
Have any of your books ever surprised you with the way they
I still need to read Both the sequels.
No. I usually have a clear ending in mind, at least as
the book goes along.
So the ending of The Killing Room didn’t surprise you fully
The ending where Jake leaves? Or the ending as to who the
Let’s go with both? Though I saw Jake leaving.
It only made sense she’d leave
Jake leaving, getting injured again was always in my
plans. I hadn’t really worked out how Nicole was going to leave though. Maybe
it was a little surprise as to the killer was!
Hm. I can see that. Nicole was a tough nut to crack
specially when she was going by what “society” thought. Rather then
her own feeling. I felt sad for her
Gerri, do you have a writing office? Do you need quiet or
Quiet. I have an office with lots of windows. I get
distracted by the bird feeders though!
Is there any part of writing or starting a new project that
The first chapter!
First chapters are hard to write.
Getting names right too
Tell me about it. I’ve been stuck for months lol
I’ll sometimes change names halfway through because the
one I’d picked just didn’t fit the character once I got going.
Is there a name you tend to use a lot without realizing it
until after you’ve done it?
For some reason, “A” names always pop into my
head for secondary characters.
Amy was Sam’s best friend. I used Amy in another
book…was well into the book, then I remembered and duh….
You’ve tackled a lot of hard hitting issues in your book,
everything from sexual assault to abandonment. Is there anything you absolutely
refuse to put a character through?
I’ve read Storms and One Summers Night whilst here on hols.
I also have The Rainbow Cedar, Coyote Sky and The Scorpion with me. Which
should be next? Or should it be Georgia Beers Mine?
Just keep binging.
I think I’ve put my characters through all the tough ones
The Rainbow Cedar is super cute
I’ve got loads of Gerri’s books. My fave is the gulf coast
one but I can’t remember the name
Any advice you would give to an aspiring author, either on
the creative side or the publishing end?
If all of your characters were to meet at a large party or
other kind of gathering what should we expect to happen?
Advice? Write what you know and write for yourself.
Who’s background was the hardest to write / put the
Party….wow, that would be fun!
Oh my gosh I would totally read a major mash up book
I found Cameron Ross’s background hard for some reason.
And of course CJ’s…..that was hard.
Without any spoilers, CJ’s was hard to read
But I felt it really made her a better character and a
Which is why I was extra happy when things worked out
Still bar none my favorite book and my favorite two
They are awesome
Can’t get an endorsement better than that!
I keep thinking I’ll do a third book with them….
I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
Besides, the guys are fun to read too.
Omg yes. The present. I cracked up laughing
I love that your characters are fully threshed out and
developed. How much research goes into the books before you begin?
(no spoilers, but yea… that was amazing)
Which book is CJ etc in please?
Keepers of the Cave is the first one
and weeping walls
Research depends on the subject matter, really. I’m
working on a book now that involves a psychic….tons of research!
and the audio is phenomenol
Do you have an eta?
Ahhh. That’s why I’m confused. I’m not that far into the
previous releases. Must catch up!
There is a lot.
Back to the names thing, are there any names that are a no
Those are from 2012 and 2013 Peri, but the audio is recent
I think I’ve only read about a third of what I see listed on
I stayed away from the crime ones but I think one of the
ones I said is one of them that I have with me??
Names? I don’t think there are any that are
“no” ….but picking names is one of the hard parts of writing…at
least to me!
@Reader 9 the Scorpion
I wasn’t sure about the crime ones (Keepers and weeping walls),
but I recommend them. They were a lot funnier than expected and the romance
aspect is really nice.
What authors do you admire?
(Cause I admire you. Always looking up lol)
Authors with longevity! Karin Kallmaker, for instance. I
now know how hard it is to write for many years and keep things fresh.
Honestly, I don’t get to read much, if at all.
Karin Kallmaker is the ultimate for me, too. She saved my
life with her early novels.
I don’t think I’ve ever read her
I have a shelf with books that I’ve purchased, waiting to
read. But there is little time between books for me.
Would you change anything from your previous novels? If you
could do them over again?
Gerri, do you ever wish you were in your books living the
life of a character?
Yeah! I thought I’d ventured out and been brave. Might make
that the next
As the only lesfic author I’ve met in person I can say Karin
is so sweet and awesome.
I would do One Summer Night over again!
That was my very first book and I think it’s awful!
What would you change?
Some of the dialogue for sure. The pace seems slow.
But it got you started
I wish I’d been in No Strings!
That’s on my tbr list for sure
Also a good one
Which character would you want to be in No Strings?
I think Morgan.
She’s feisty lol
How long does it usually take you from the time you start
typing to the time the book hits the shelf? Is there a specific process for
The writing part takes anywhere from 4 months to six, for
Publishing dates are set a year in advance, at least.
Do you work on just one book for that 4-6 month period or
are you a multi-project kind of writer?
Do you struggle with deadlines?
I try to write every day, but that’s not always the case.
I only work on one book at a time.
If writing wasn’t an option, what other type of work do you
think you’d do?
I’m usually ahead of my deadlines!
What would I do or what would I like to do? I’d love to
paint….I’m just not talented enough!
My internet keeps crashing so I’ll say goodnight (or
afternoon for you US dudes). Thanks Gerri, been very interesting reading all
What inspired you to be an author?
Or even to write in general?
I ran out of books to read one winter in Colorado!
So I started my own story.
But now I’m picturing this taking place at the Overlook
Hahahhaa. All work and no play makes Gerri a famous author?
It was a cold, snowy cabin at about 10k feet and I had no
No water?? Whoa.
I literally had this discusison with a client yesterday. She
rents out a tiny one room cabin in the foothills and it has no water once it
I call it “the time I was snowed in”
and was inspired to write Snow Falls?
I could see that happening so easily.
Dang it I was gonna ask that
Too slow bud
I need to reread that.
Maybe this winter
I had to remember the title. I’m bad with title names
That sounds like fun actually. Read every Gerri Hill book
set in Colorado this winter.
(I cheated and used goodreads haha)
That was my other choice for this month’s book club meeting.
I don’t remember if we’ve asked this, but do you have a
favorite character you’ve written?
I hate to keep bringing up CJ….
we love CJ too
Tori was kinda fun
Definitely my favorite, CJ
Any chance of a CJ/Tori crossover that’s NOT angel fire?
I don’t think so.
But another CJ book would work
We’ll help you promote the crap out of it.
Well….if you’re through with me….I need to get ready
for company popping over in about 45 min.
Thanks for chatting with us, Gerri!
I’ve enjoyed the chat!
It was a pleasure chatting with you!
Thank you for your time.
Thanks for putting up with us!
THANK YOU So much for being here!!
If you ever have questions or comments…shoot me an
email or FB message!