Sneak Peek: Trail Magic

They say love can move mountains. Kit’s a free spirit and Raven’s a lone wolf. When opposites attract on the Appalachian Trail, the result is magical. My latest novel, TRAIL MAGIC, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Raven Cross was standing alone in a Georgia hotel room.

On the twin bed in front of her, there was an array of expensive camping equipment – her one-man tent, a mummy-style sleeping bag, a camp stove and compact cooking pot, her trekking poles, a pair of pink Spandex pants and a loose-fitting tank top, a pair of expensive trail-running shoes, several pairs of socks, a couple pounds of food packed neatly in a waterproof, bear-proof bag, and the slim hiking pack that she’d use to carry it all on her back for the next six months.

Additionally, there were a few dozen cardboard boxes in her parents’ guest room back in Illinois – drop boxes containing all the food, section maps, clean socks and underwear Raven would need along the way, and there were a couple of maps spread across the hotel desk. She’d spent the last hour checking and re-checking her travel plans. Her family thought the idea was more than a little nuts, but Raven was ready for the journey.

She needed it.

She was just opening her food bag to double-check the meals that would sustain her during the first week of the trip when she heard a gentle knock on the door.

“Come in,” she called, and her sister, Annabel, entered. She was just a few years younger than Raven – her fortieth birthday was earlier in the month and the whole family had ordered slices of cake from the hotel restaurant tonight as a belated celebration – but she looked decades younger than Raven’s battle-worn, graying hair and premature wrinkles. “Hey, Anna.”

“Hi,” she said, coming in and closing the door again behind her. “What are you doing?”

“Just going over my supplies one last time,” Raven said. Her parents and sister had accompanied her on the eleven-hour drive from Chicago to Gainesville, Georgia, today, and Raven knew that Annabel was still anxious about the whole thing.

“So this is all you need for six months on the Appalachian Trail, huh?” she asked as she came over to the bed to inspect Raven’s equipment. She picked up a compact Swiss Army knife and flipped open the small blade with a frown.

Raven knew what she was thinking – that the trail was dangerous for a single woman to hike alone, and moreover, it was too much for a fragile cancer survivor like herself to handle. That was exactly why Raven needed to go on this journey, and she wasn’t in the mood to be coddled on the night before she set out. She ignored Annabel’s concerned look and pointed to the drop boxes stacked along the wall, saying, “This, and all the resupply boxes Mom and Dad are going to ship to me along the way.”

It had taken her two whole weeks to calculate how much food she’d need and when, and another week to shop for all her equipment and food. She’d labeled each drop box with her name and the address of a post office located at strategic points along the 2,190-mile trail. There was half a year’s worth of freeze-dried vegetables, dried fruit, trail mix, rice, and just-add-water pasta dishes in those boxes.

Raven had put sticky notes on the side of each box, telling her parents when to send each one to meet her at the right point on the trail, and all of it would require her to follow a finely orchestrated trail itinerary. That was not to mention the fact that she’d been lucky to take a semester-long sabbatical from her teaching job at the university, but she’d need to time her trip carefully to be back in time for the winter semester.

She took the Swiss Army knife out of Annabel’s hand, closing it and setting it carefully back down on the bed with the rest of her supplies. Everything that went into her pack had been intentionally chosen and Anna had a habit of picking things up in one place and then setting them down somewhere else – she’d done it since they were kids, and since they were kids it had driven Raven up the wall.

With her hands empty, Annabel plopped down on the other bed – hers for the night – and asked,

“Raven, are you sure this trip is a good idea?”

Here it comes – the concerned look. After three years of trying to come to terms with her new identity as a breast cancer survivor, Raven knew the signs when someone was about to express sympathy for her battle, or worry over her physical capability.

Sure enough, Annabel’s brow furrowed and she looked sick with worry.

Raven slumped down on the bed beside her, wrapping her arms around her sister’s shoulders. Annabel lived all the way across the country in Seattle, and Raven knew she felt bad that she wasn’t here when Raven and her parents were struggling through her treatment. Annabel still thought of Raven as sick and vulnerable, even though she’d been cancer-free for two years, because she’d been frozen in her mind at that ugly point in their lives.

That was one very big reason why she needed to conquer the Appalachian Trail – to prove that she could.

“It’s not as dangerous as most people think,” Raven said. “Did you know there have only been eleven murders on the Appalachian Trail since the 1970s? That’s an insanely low crime rate – I’d have better odds on the AT than I do staying in Chicago for the same time period.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about you out there all by yourself,” Annabel said, putting her head on Raven’s shoulder.

“I won’t be by myself,” Raven tried to comfort her. “Thousands of people hike the trail every year. A lot of them are solo hikers, and plenty of them are women. I’ll be running into other hikers all the time, and it’s not like I’m dropping off the face of the earth for the next six months. I’ll call you every time I get to a trail town to pick up one of my drop boxes.”

“Which you’re going to hitchhike into,” Annabel said. “Lord only knows what happens to female hitchhikers in the mountains…”

“Nothing happens to them,” Raven said. “Look, I promise I won’t hitchhike alone if you promise not to tell Mom that I’m planning to hitch rides.”

That was one detail that Raven had left out when she was telling her parents about the trip. They’d been

skeptical like Annabel at first, but when Raven explained why hiking the trail was so important to her, they made an effort to suppress their concerns and be supportive instead. Raven, in turn, had chosen to gloss over a couple of the more worrying details – she knew that she’d be fine, but after everything they’d gone through since her diagnosis just over three years ago, her mom had turned into a bit of a worrier.

“What about…” Annabel sighed and looked down at her lap, and Raven felt her dinner growing dense in her stomach. Here it comes. “What about your health?”

“No more of a concern than any other hiker’s,” Raven said confidently, straightening her posture for effect. “Tomorrow is my two-year anniversary and the perfect day to start a new adventure. Anna, I feel like I’ve been walking around with a flashing neon sign over my head that says Breast Cancer Survivor. That’s me, but it’s not all of me. I’m forty-five years old, in good health, I’ve got a good job and a wonderful, supportive family. I don’t want to be defined by that label anymore.”

“I know,” Annabel said. “I just worry about you.”

“And that’s exactly why I need to go,” Raven said. “Anna, listen to me. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” her sister said. She still looked worried, but she did her best to put on a brave face. “I’m going to go see what Mom and Dad are up to.”

“Probably raiding the mini-bar in their room,” Raven joked. “You know how wild they get on vacation.”

Annabel smirked, then said, “Come join us when you’re ready. I don’t get to visit very often and I’d like to hang out before you disappear for six months.”

“I’m not disappearing,” Raven reassured her. “But I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Bonus Scenes: Seeing Red

What if the Big Bad Wolf was family? Could you choose to save Little Red Riding Hood if it meant turning your back on blood?

My latest novel, SEEING RED, is available now on Amazon. Read the bonus scene below.

Piper tells hunter about a new con

Note: The following scenes are from an early draft of the novel, in which Piper is the Big Bad Wolf character and she has convinced Hunter to reluctantly participate in a couple of cons in the interest of protecting Josh and Aaron.

“We’re not doing it again,” Hunter insisted. It was all she had time to say before Josh came reluctantly into the kitchen, ready for his nightly insulin shot.

Piper said, “We’ll talk about it later.”

“Talk about what?” Josh asked. He was at an age where he needed to know everything about everything and they couldn’t have this conversation in front of him.

Hunter would’ve liked to respond no, we won’t talk about it later, but instead, she took their dinner over to the dining table while Piper administered the insulin. Hunter called Aaron into the kitchen and they all sat down to eat together, a rare opportunity.

When they were done eating and Piper ordered the boys to wash the dishes, she grabbed Hunter by the elbow of her flannel shirt and pulled her into the living room.

“Hey,” Hunter objected, taking her sleeve back but following Piper.

“it’s not like it’s going stretch out,” Piper said with a roll of her eyes. She led Hunter all way the front door and she thought for a moment that Piper was going to make her go all the way outside for this conversation, but instead they stood in the tiny foyer with the inner door shut. Then Piper said, “I have a solution that will allow us to get caught up on the mortgage and let Aaron play football.”

Hunter folded her arms over her chest and pressed her lips together, giving her sister an unimpressed look. She hoped the look alone would be enough to show Piper she had no interest in hearing about this. Unfortunately, when Piper set her mind to something, she wasn’t easily deterred.

“I found the perfect mark,” she said, keeping her voice low so the kids wouldn’t hear.


“It’s better than last year, I promise,” Piper said. She put her hand on Hunter’s arm again and this time

the touch was imploring. “This girl came through the line at the café this morning and it was like she dropped down from Heaven. You would not believe how right she is for this con.”

“No cons, Piper,” Hunter said.

She was outright scowling by now, trying to decide between shoving her sister out of the way so she could leave the foyer, or simply giving in to the frustrated tears building in her throat. “Look, I don’t blame you for getting swept up in Jed’s manipulations, but he’s in jail now. Scams are dangerous and we’re better than that. We don’t need to run cons to get by.”

“Look around,” Piper said, her voice raising with emotion as she gestured to the house at large. “Does this look like getting by?”

“We have a roof over our heads-”

“Not sure for how long,” Piper interjected.

“Josh is in good health-”

“Insulin prices are on the rise again,” Piper said.

“We’re only $200 away from funding Aaron’s football dreams-”

“Might as well be a million,” Piper said.

“Will you stop?” Hunter asked, her voice raising to a shout. She caught herself and they both glanced through the glass foyer door toward the kitchen, but there was nothing but the sound of dishes being washed. Hunter lowered her voice again and looked into her sister’s eyes as she said, “I haven’t slept right in almost a year. Every time I close my eyes, I see that guy and the look on his face. We ruined his life, Piper.”

They were a few hundred bucks away from living in a women’s shelter back then and Josh’s blood sugar levels were out of control – they were desperate.

“We did no such thing,” Piper said coldly. “All we did was take some easily replaceable funds from his wallet to make sure that we didn’t end up on the street. We had to do it.”

Hunter could see that Piper believed that, and she knew those were the kinds of ideas Jed had spent years feeding into her. So far, Hunter had been unsuccessful in pulling them back out of her head. She didn’t expect it to happen overnight – Jed had literally taken Piper out of the gutter when they were teenagers and Hunter understood why Piper put him on a pedestal.

She had just hoped that after a year of incarceration, his hold on her would have started to weaken by now. The boys had begun to see through Jed’s manipulative façade even before he went to prison, but Piper still didn’t see him for who he really was.

Hunter just stared at her sternly, knowing that any argument she made right now would fall on deaf ears. Then Piper said, “It’s going to be different this time.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Hunter said.

“No, really,” Piper said. “It’s a victimless crime.”

“I thought you said there was a mark,” Hunter said. “Some girl in the café?”

“Not her, but her grandmother,” Piper said. “And I promise you we are not going to take a single dime out of her pocket.”

“How does that qualify as a con?” Hunter said, then she held her hand up before Piper could answer.

“Never mind, I don’t want to hear it because we’re not doing it.”

Then she did push her sister out of the way, going back into the kitchen where Piper couldn’t continue the conversation in front of the boys. But Piper followed her and grabbed a dishtowel, snapping it playfully at Aaron and saying, “Okay, you two have done your time. Go upstairs and start your homework. And I better not hear video games for at least an hour.”

She didn’t have to tell them twice.

They left the last few dirty dishes in the sink and scampered up the stairs, then Hunter went to the sink to finish the job. Piper leaned against the door frame, her arms crossed in front of her, and said, “I’m not asking you to do this for me. It’s for them. It’s always for them.”


Hunter and Piper went to the grocery store together on Thursday morning after the boys got on the bus. It was pretty uncommon for the two of them to have time in their schedules to do this chore together, and Hunter suspected that Piper had switched her shifts around at The Magic Bean on purpose so that she would have more time to wear Hunter down about the con she wanted to pull.

She hadn’t shut up about it ever since she first tried to pitch it, and every time she brought it up, Hunter found an excuse to leave the room. But now that they were walking together down the dairy aisle, Hunter was a captive audience.

“We don’t have to decide on anything right now,” Piper said, putting a gallon of WIC-approved milk in the cart. “All I’m asking is that you hear me out while I explain what I want to do.”

“What you want to do is illegal,” Hunter said. “And even if you’re not concerned with the laws of man, it’s also morally wrong.”

Piper picked up a carton of eggs and said, “That’s the beauty of this con. We’re not taking advantage of anyone and we’re not taking money out of anyone’s hand. All we’re going to do is take what the government rightfully owes us. We’re a family struggling to make ends meet and we have kids to support. Do you really think one measly gallon of milk a week is enough calcium for two growing boys?”

Hunter rolled her eyes at this. She’d been on and off of food stamps and the Women, Infants, and Children program for most of her life – no one needed to tell her just how inadequate the allowances were.

They rounded the corner and passed a woman pushing a shopping cart full to the brim with all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as impulse purchases like cookies and potato chips. Hunter looked down at their own shopping cart. It was utilitarian, filled mostly with things that the government would allow them to purchase.

As soon as the woman was out of sight, Piper whispered, “Just think how nice it would be come in here with our pockets full and load up on anything we want.”

“Fine-” Hunter started to say, and Piper immediately squealed in her ear.

“Thank you,” she said. “You’re going to like this idea.”

“I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t,” Hunter said.

The con Piper had in mind turned out to be some kind of Medicare fraud. Piper gave Hunter as many details as she could process, but Hunter never really had an eye for scams the way that Jed and Piper did. A lot of it went over her head, but it essentially boiled down to creating a shell company and using an elderly person as a pass-through to bill the government for medical services that had not actually been provided.

“I thought you said this had to do with a girl in The Magic Bean,” Hunter said.

“It does,” Piper said. “She’s wealthy, living with her grandmother, and she’s going to help us get to the old woman so we can gather the information we need to run the con.”

“This sounds complicated,” Hunter said, rubbing her forehead. “This is going to help us pay our mortgage before the bank gets fed up with us?”

“There are a lot of moving parts involved to get the con set up,” Piper admitted. “But the beauty of it is once all that legwork is done, we’ll be able to draw on this scam for months or maybe even years – without hurting anyone, I might add.”

“So no money comes out of the pocket of this old woman?”

“Not a dime,” Piper said.

“Or the girl?”

“Or the girl,” Piper agreed. “Uncle Sam will be the only one who’s funding this, and we wouldn’t even be in this position if he had better systems in place to take care of the people who are in need. We’re at a disadvantage, Hunter, and we have to take what belongs to us instead of waiting for a handout that’s never going to happen.”

Hunter rolled her eyes. She’d heard things like that before, words that came from Jed’s mouth.

“Why do you need me for this?” she asked.

Pipers eyes lit up, thinking that she was getting through to her sister, but Hunter really only wanted to know because it sounded like Piper already had her heart set on this idea. She didn’t know whether she would be able to persuade her against it, but maybe if Hunter was a crucial part of the plan, she could refuse to help.

“I need you to distract the girl so that I can get what I need from the grandmother,” Piper said. “And this is where scam gets really perfect. The girl is a lesbian.”

She raised her eyebrows as she said it as if this detail was supposed to change Hunter’s mind entirely – as if Hunter was so desperate to meet girls that the prospect of being complicit in fraud would be a good reason to get close to someone.

Hunter cocked her head and gave Piper a sharp look, asking, “Why exactly is that perfect?”

“You’re the right woman for the job,” Piper said. Then she smiled and added, “Besides, maybe you’ll like her.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life,” Hunter said as they rounded the end of the grocery aisle and she lowered her voice to avoid being heard. “I’m sure we’ll fall madly in love and get married as soon as she finds out that my sister is using her grandmother for some harebrained scam.

Why don’t you just pretend to be a lesbian and do it yourself?”

“I can’t be everywhere at once,” Piper said. “I’d be happy to do the fun part if you knew how to handle the rest. Do you know anything about how Medicare billing works?”

“No,” Hunter said.

“Well, I do,” Piper said. “Jed taught me this scam years ago and it’s a good one.”

Hunter rolled her eyes again – it was an involuntary reaction to hearing Jed’s name.

“The only reason – the only reason– I helped you last time was because Josh’s hospital bills were out of control and we were days away from living in a car. I did it for the kids’ safety, not because you have grocery cart envy. I know how much it sucks to work double shifts and still barely make it, but we’re not doing this. We’re not as desperate as we were last time.”


Hunter didn’t even know how it happened. One minute, she’d been putting her foot down with Piper, and the next they were strolling down the sidewalks at Grimm Falls College, looking for Piper’s potential mark.

“I just want you to see her,” she said, looking around.

“Why?” Hunter protested. This little field trip wasn’t going to change her mind. “And how do you even know she goes here?”

It was the top of the hour, the shift in classes underway and a lot of people were walking along the sidewalks that ran between all the academic buildings. Hunter felt conspicuous and out of place even though she was the same age as everyone else here. In another life, maybe she could’ve been one of those care-free students heading to class.

“I see her at The Magic Bean pretty regularly,” Piper said. “She always wears this ridiculous red hat so she’s not exactly hard to spot, and only college students have that much time during the day for coffee breaks.”

Hunter was skeptical that they would be able to find the girl – there must be a few hundred students walking all over campus at this very moment, and that was assuming that Piper’s assumption was right and the girl had a class right now. Hunter was about to say so when Piper grabbed her sleeve and yanked her up against the wall of an old brick academic building.

“Quit doing that,” Hunter said, pulling her arm back and smoothing the fabric.

“Shut up and look,” Piper said, pointing. Hunter rolled her eyes at this rudeness, but she followed her sister’s gaze and saw a red knit cap bobbing through the crowd and coming toward them.

“Are you sure that’s her?” she asked.

“Positive,” Piper said.

The girl had long, wavy dark hair that hung over her shoulders and her skin was a pale porcelain. She had large, pretty eyes and unlike all the other students caught up in their thoughts around her, she looked straight ahead and wore the most intriguing expression of contentment. This wasn’t a girl who was just going through the motions of life – Hunter could tell at a glance that she was actually happy.

How unusual.

Hunter looked side-long at Piper and asked, “Would it have killed you to mention that she looks like a freaking supermodel?”

Piper smiled mischievously and Hunter shook her head.

“Not going to happen,” she said. The girl was coming nearer to them, clearly angling for one of the two buildings that they had sandwiched themselves between, so Hunter asked, “What exactly are we trying to accomplish here today?”

“I want you to meet her,” Piper said and Hunter’s eyes went wide.

“You said you wanted me to see her,” she corrected.

“I lied,” Piper said. She started brushing Hunter’s shoulders and smoothing the wrinkles of her shirt, and Hunter batted her hand away when Piper tried to fix her hair. “Here she comes. Talk to her.”

Hunter glanced back to the sidewalk. The beautiful girl in the red had was coming closer at an alarming rate. Hunter swallowed a frog in her throat and asked, “About what? Piper, I don’t want to do this.”

She wondered if she had time to simply run up the sidewalk in the opposite direction. It wouldn’t be fun, but she could walk home from here. She was feeling ambushed and her heart was in her throat.

“Just relax and remember why you’re doing this. It’s all for Aaron and Josh,” Piper said. Then before Hunter had a chance to remind Piper that she hadn’t agreed to do anything, let alone this, Piper abruptly shoved her.

Hunter stumbled backward on her heels, pinwheeling her arms to catch her balance. Then she felt a pair of hands on her back, steadying her. When she turned around, it was none other than the girl in the red cap. If nothing else, Piper had incredible timing.

“Whoa,” the girl said, her lips turning into and absolutely heart-melting smile. “Are you okay?”

“Umm, yeah,” Hunter said, trying to find her words. “I guess I’m a bit clumsy today. Sorry.”

“It’s no problem,” the girl said. She was looking at Hunter in a way that was pretty rare for a stranger, like she really saw her. Hunter wondered if that meant the girl would take one look at her and see the duplicitous purpose for their meeting, but the girl just smiled and asked, “Are you a freshman? You look a little lost.”

“Yeah,” Hunter said, glancing around, but Piper was nowhere to be seen. “That’s exactly what I am. Lost.”

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: Seeing Red

What if the Big Bad Wolf was family? Could you choose to save Little Red Riding Hood if it meant turning your back on blood?

My latest novel, SEEING RED, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.

 “Come on, guys,” Hunter yelled toward the ceiling.

She was doing three different things at once, trying to shove her feet into a pair of worn nursing shoes, stirring a pot of lentil sausage soup, and preparing her nephew’s insulin shot, which she knew would be a battle to administer if he ever actually came downstairs.

She was also keeping an eye on the little clock above the back door.

It was thirty minutes to six and on a good night, it took her twenty minutes to walk to the nursing home where she worked. Hunter’s sister, Piper, was supposed to be home at five to relieve her from babysitting duties, but shift changes in this house were always chaotic. They never had any time to spare.

“Guys!” Hunter shouted again. “Dinner time – I’m serious!”

The boys were no doubt absorbed in a game of Madden. Aaron was eleven years old and completely obsessed with football. Josh was seven and didn’t care one way or the other about it, but he never passed up an opportunity to bask in his older brother’s attention.

In a perfect world, they’d both be doing their homework before dinner instead of playing video games, but that game console was one of the few luxuries they had – never mind the fact that Hunter was certain her degenerate brother-in-law Jed had stolen it for them. The boys didn’t know that and Hunter could never bring herself to be the hard-ass who took away their toys and made them do their homework instead.

Their mother could play that role when she got home.

Any minute now would be great, Hunter thought, glancing again at the clock as she stomped her foot to finish jamming her heel into her nursing shoe. She’d gotten them from a second-hand shop and they were ugly as hell but comfortable – that had to count for something.

Finally, the boys came downstairs in a racket of heavy steps and Hunter had to laugh – they sounded like a herd of cattle stampeding through the house, making more noise than she would have guessed two young boys were capable of. Aaron had his first growth spurt over the summer and he moved in a lanky, awkward way that showed he hadn’t quite adjusted to his new height yet. Josh followed in his shadow as they came into the kitchen and went over to the old dining table in the corner, plopping into a pair of creaky wooden chairs.

“Mom isn’t home yet?” Aaron asked.

“No,” Hunter said, “and if she doesn’t get here soon, you’re going to get your first babysitting gig.”

“Paid?” he asked, to which Hunter simply laughed.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Josh objected. “I can look after myself.”

“You want to give yourself this shot, then?” Hunter asked, nodding to the needle she had prepared. He kept his eyes off it – he still didn’t like needles even after two years of them – but he came obediently over to Hunter. She gave the soup one more stir and then asked, “Pick your poison – arm, leg or belly?”

“Leg,” Josh said.

Hunter hardly needed to ask – the shots made the muscle around the injection site sore and Josh’s doctor had instructed Hunter and Piper to alternate sites, but Josh had settled quickly into a pattern. Non-dominant arm in the mornings before school, leg in the evenings to keep his arm in tip-top shape for Madden, a game of catch, or whatever else Aaron had in store for him, and stomach never. It was the most painful option and Hunter didn’t blame him.

Josh put his foot up on the lowest rung of a kitchen stool and rolled his shorts up to his thigh, then Hunter cleaned the skin with an alcohol pad. She administered the injection and Josh surprised her by being tough. He hardly even winced – probably because Aaron was watching.

Hunter set the needle down and tousled Josh’s sandy blond hair, then said as he rolled his pant leg back down, “Good job, buddy. I told you it would get easier with time.”

He’d been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes right after Jed had gone to prison for a half-assed counterfeiting scam. Hunter had been in nursing school at the time and she’d dropped out to move in here and help Piper with the boys as well as the bills. Hunter got the only job she was qualified for – working overnight shifts as a nurse’s aide in a long-term care facility for dementia patients – and even though the pay wasn’t great, it seemed like after two years, she and Piper were finally beginning to hit their stride.

That is, if they could ever get their work schedules coordinated.

The boys weren’t quite old enough to be on their own yet, particularly with the complicating factor of Josh’s medical needs, so that left Hunter and Piper passing like ships in the night most of the time. At least one of them was perpetually running late for a shift. Piper worked at a café that served overpriced coffee to college kids at the nearby university and the tips were decent but the hours were irregular – what they really needed was for at least one of them to land a day job with reasonable wages so there would be someone at home to watch the boys every evening.

But that was a pipe dream and instead, Hunter was stuck tapping her foot impatiently as she glanced at the clock again and then took the pot of soup off the stove. It was twenty minutes to six and she would definitely be late again tonight.


The boys were slurping down the last of their soup when the back door finally opened and Piper walked in. Hunter was sitting at the table with Aaron and Josh and she crossed her arms over her chest as she frowned at her sister.

“It’s five minutes to six, Pipes,” she said. “I’m going to be really late.”

“I’m sorry,” Piper said. “I couldn’t help it.”

She sounded out of breath and as she took off her jacket and threw it over the back of a dining chair, Hunter noticed that her cheeks were splotchy red.

“What’s wrong?” Hunter asked.

She really did need to leave. She was fortunate to work for someone who was understanding when it came to her home situation, balancing two kids and a somewhat erratic sister. But over the last two years, Hunter had leaned on her boss’s good nature a lot and there would come a day when her kindness ran out. There were a lot of nurse’s aides in the city and it wouldn’t be hard to replace Hunter.

Piper and the boys had to come first, though. That was the whole reason Hunter was here, and that

meant not leaving her sister panting and flushed while Hunter went to work.

“Nothing,” Piper said. She tucked a tendril of her bleach-fried hair behind her ear, revealing sweat on her temples. “I had to go to the bank after my shift and I had a hard time getting there before they closed. I ran all the way from the bus stop back to the house so you could get to work.”

“Is everything okay at the bank?” Hunter asked, glancing at the boys.

In her life, things were very rarely okay when it came to money, but she and Piper did their best not to talk about that stuff in front of Aaron and Josh – especially Josh, who was the worrying type. Aaron was a bit older, used to seeing the adults in his life struggle, and he took for granted the fact that they always figured things out. The bills always got paid and he always had a roof over his head – which was more than Piper and Hunter could say for their own childhoods. That’s why it was all the more important that the boys should never need to worry about the state of their finances.

“It’s just that scumbag in the mortgage department,” Piper grumbled, trying to sound unfazed. “You know how he loves to make our lives difficult.”

“Are you still going to be able to buy my football equipment?” Aaron asked.

Piper and Hunter had been scrimping and saving for months to get him the jersey, shoes and endless other pieces of equipment he would need to join the middle school team. Aaron had mowed a lot of yards this summer to contribute to the cause and his coach had allowed him to borrow some equipment during practices, but the team’s first real game was fast approaching and he’d need his own stuff in order to play.

Hunter hated the idea of disappointing him – they’d all had to make so many sacrifices in the name of Josh’s health and she was really looking forward to being able to do something nice for Aaron just this once.

“We’ll figure it out,” Piper promised. “We always do.”

“Walk me to the door?” Hunter asked her. She gave Josh a kiss on the top of his head and then squeezed Aaron’s shoulder. Then she passed through the living room to the front door, Piper following behind her. They stepped into the tiny foyer, which was mostly just a three-foot-square coat storage space, and Piper pulled the door shut. Then Hunter asked, “Are we short on the mortgage?”

“Yes,” Piper admitted and Hunter felt the news sink heavily into her gut. She and her sister had never been more than a paycheck or two away from broke but it had been a while since they were in crisis mode. It was nice while it lasted, she thought. Then Piper added, “I asked for an extension but our favorite scumbag said he can’t do it anymore – the bank won’t give us any more time.”

“What happened?” Hunter asked.

“I don’t know,” Piper said with a sigh. “The usual, I guess – emptying bed pans and making coffee are not lucrative careers. Insulin prices go up every time we fill a prescription. Football helmets cost way more money than hard plastic and Styrofoam glued together ought to.”

“How much are we short?” Hunter asked. “I’ll ask Brenda if there are any extra hours I can pick up. Maybe I can work a couple of day shifts while the boys are in school.”

“How many hours a day are they going to let you work, Hunter?” Piper asked. “You already do twelve-hour shifts.”

“I don’t know,” Hunter said, grabbing her jacket from the coat rack. It was a thick flannel one that had been a good find at the thrift store, a men’s cut that was plenty warm to get her through the winter months since she walked most places in Grimm Falls. “We have to get Aaron his equipment, though – I refuse to let him miss the first game of the season.”

Piper nodded and Hunter thought that since she was already late, she might as well stop by the café on her way to work and pick up something sweet and caffeinated for Brenda – as both a peace offering for her tardiness and a bribe to pick up more hours.

“Maybe…” Piper started to say, then trailed off.

“What, Pipes?”

“Maybe I can find a way to get some money on the side,” she said. “I was thinking it’s time to visit Jed anyway.”

No,” Hunter snarled. It had been almost six months since she last heard her sister utter that name and even though they were still legally married, Hunter had enjoyed the fantasy that Piper had finally – finally – broken the spell that he held over her. Hunter looked sternly at her big sister, staring pointedly into her eyes, and said, “Absolutely not. We’ll find a legitimate way to fix this.”

Bonus Scenes: The Rules of Parenthood

Despite challenges and struggles, these newlyweds almost have it all. There’s just one thing Max can’t give Ruby – a family. My latest novel, THE RULES OF PARENTHOOD, is available now on Amazon.

Read the bonus scenes below.

Max and Ruby try to make Aiden feel at home

“Okay,” Ruby said, taking a deep breath and looking at Max on the couch. “I think we should give him a few more minutes to acclimate, then we’ll go check on him. It’s almost noon so we can use lunchtime as an excuse.”

She got up and went into the kitchen, and Max followed. Ruby set three plates on the counter and made sandwiches, then put chips, baby carrots, and apple slices on each plate.

“Do you think he likes turkey?” Max asked and Ruby frowned.

“I hope so,” she said. “I was planning to go shopping after we find out what he likes, but this is all the lunch meat we have in the house right now.”

“My dad always tried to make me eat things that I didn’t like,” Max said.


“Yeah, Mom almost always made me a second meal if I didn’t like what we were having,” she admitted and Ruby laughed.

“Well, it’s Aiden’s first day here,” she said as she picked up his plate. “If he doesn’t like this, we’ll get him a Happy Meal or something. Can you fill a glass of water?”

“Sure,” Max said. They brought the plate and the water upstairs and Ruby knocked gently on Aiden’s door, then pushed it open. He was sitting on the bed, his knees tucked into his chest, and he watched Max and Ruby silently as they came into the room.

“Hey, bud,” Ruby said. “We figured you might be hungry so we brought you lunch. Interested?”

Aiden peeked over the edge of the plate and inspected the sandwich while Max said, “It’s turkey and cheddar. There are chips, carrots and apple slices, and water.”

“I like soda,” Aiden said.

“Me, too,” Ruby answered. “We can pick some up for you when we go to the grocery store.”

“Okay,” he said, and he reached for the plate.

“We’re going to eat, too,” Ruby said softly. “Do you want to join us downstairs?”

“Not really.”

“Okay,” Ruby said, and she handed him the plate while Max set the water on Aiden’s nightstand. “Do you want us to keep you company while you eat?”

Aiden shook his head, then popped a potato chip into his mouth.

“Alright,” Ruby said, reaching for Max’s hand. “Well, come out whenever you’re ready. We’ll be right downstairs.”

Ruby and Max get reassurance from Janet and Nick

The next weekend, Ruby and Max brought Aiden to Max’s parents’ house for their traditional Sunday dinner. It was all Ruby could do to keep her insecurities about her parenting abilities from bubbling over – she was so filled with worry that even Max noticed the change in her attitude.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as the three of them walked up the path to her parents’ house.

“Fine,” Ruby said, not wanting to talk about it in front of Aiden.

Luckily, Janet came to the rescue, throwing open the front door and crooning, “Hi, everybody! Nick, the gang’s all here.”

Ruby guided Aiden into the house and he dropped his backpack on the floor near the door – she wanted him to bring his homework in case he got bored of the grown-up conversation, and she knew that he’d snuck a comic book or two into the bag as well.

They all went into the dining room, where Janet had laid out the meal and Nick was waiting for them with a carving knife in his hands. There was a roast beef on the table in front of him, as well as heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and carrots. They were all foods that Ruby knew from experience Aiden would eat.

She and Max had more or less given up on their crusade to feed him healthy meals and his diet was too heavily comprised of carbs, but Janet didn’t know the struggles they’d had over dinner, or the number of times they’d given up and gone to McDonald’s for Aiden. Janet had been more than happy to spoil him and make all of his favorites. At least there wouldn’t be a fight over the meal tonight.

They sat down to eat and Aiden polished off a big serving of mashed potatoes with a side of macaroni while Janet and Nick asked him questions about school. Nick asked about how his studies were going while Janet wanted to hear about his friends.

Ruby noticed that as he answered their questions, Aiden omitted all of the things that Ms. Stone had told them about – that he was having trouble dealing with changes in his routine and he wasn’t paying attention in class.

After the meal was over, Aiden went into the living room to read his comic books and the rest of them stayed at the dining table. Janet brewed a pot of coffee, and then she asked, “So how’s everything really going?”

“It’s a challenge,” Max said diplomatically. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”

“He seems happy,” Janet said. “I think you two are doing a fine job.”

Now it was Ruby’s turn to be blunt. She lowered her voice so Aiden wouldn’t overhear, then said, “I don’t know about that.”

“Why’s that, dear?” Janet asked. She had raised an incredible person, with the challenges of the autism spectrum to boot, and Ruby suddenly wished she’d had the courage to have this conversation with her own parents instead of her in-laws. But she had to unburden her soul – she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“He doesn’t love us like I thought he would,” she said, and the word sounded even worse coming out of her mouth than they did when they rattled around in her head for the last few weeks. She glanced at Max, then at Janet and Nick, and not a single one of them had any judgment written on their faces.

They were all just looking at her with sympathy, and that was somehow worse. Then she said, “I just thought it would be easier, that he’d take a little time to adjust and then come to love us. That hasn’t happened and I feel like I’m not doing something I should.”

“He’s not a puppy,” Nick said gently. “It takes more than a few weeks to get used to living with a completely new set of guardians, and he’s got a lot on his mind about his mom.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Ruby asked, taking Max’s hand beneath the table. “I feel so out of control.”

“It’s not his job to love you,” Janet said. From anyone else’s lips, it would have sounded judgmental but Ruby knew she was just trying to help. “It’s your job to take care of him and make him feel safe. Give him everything he needs, but don’t let him walk all over you–he’s not going to love you just because you let him read comics or feed him chicken nuggets at every meal. Make sure he knows he can count on you. That’s all you need to do.”

Nick and Janet share a sweet moment

Ruby and Max talked with Max’s parents about work, all the usual stuff, and Nick told them he was getting ready to switch over from his warm weather landscaping business to leaf pick-up and then snow removal in just a few weeks’ time. He had his hands full lately, not only because his best helper and free laborer – Max – was no longer available, but also because he had won a contract for Granville’s public buildings last year and they were keeping him busy.

“Half the time, I don’t know what’s up and what’s down anymore,” Nick said good-naturedly. “I’m lucky your mother is good with scheduling and organizing, and that she was willing to come on board to help out, or else I’d really be toast.”

Nick had a crew to help him but Ruby had met with those guys a few times and while they were good at the work they did, she had to admit that none of them inspired confidence with an Outlook calendar or a spreadsheet.

“He really is lucky,” Janet said with a smirk, and Nick kissed her cheek.

“What would I do without you?” he asked.

Max talks about her Asperger’s

After Aiden’s first visit with his therapist, Dr. Graham talked to Max and Ruby alone for a few minutes.

He wanted to talk to Max about her Asperger’s syndrome and find out how it was affecting her ability to form a connection with Aiden, and he said that he might be able to help.

“Tell me what it was like to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and how your family supported you through it,” he said.

“I was eight years old at the time of my diagnosis,” Max said. “The first time I realized I was different from the other kids was when my teacher told me I couldn’t keep hanging out with her during recess.

She was teaching us about the solar system and she knew so much – I wasn’t content to only have her lessons in the classroom. I wanted more and more information about the planets and the constellations, so I would find her during lunch and recess and ask questions while the rest of the kids played. Finally, after about a week and a half of constant questions, she told me to go play with the other kids and she forbid me from talking to her at lunch or recess. I didn’t understand the problem – she was my teacher and I wanted to learn. But she said being with kids my age provided its own lessons.”

“And how did you get along with them?”

“I didn’t,” Max said. “After school that day, I told my mom I needed to go to the library. We checked out every astronomy book in the kids’ department and I started reading them during lunch and recess every day. That was when my teacher contacted my parents. She said I was exhibiting anti-social behavior and then I started seeing a therapist to figure out why.”

“How did that make you feel to be treated as if there were something wrong with you?” Dr. Graham asked, and Ruby ran her thumb up and down over the back of Max’s hand to soothe her.

“It was confusing because I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong,” Max said. “But then it started to make sense. That was when I started to notice that certain things are harder for me than for everyone else – small talk, sarcasm, eye contact. In the end it was helpful to know there was a reason for that disparity, and my parents did everything they could to give me tools to bridge the gap.”

Dr. Graham asked Max more questions, ranging from her communication skills with other adults to how she felt about her coping skills, and Max tried to be as truthful and complete as possible in all of her responses. Through it all, Ruby sat quietly, stroking Max’s hand and offering silent moral support.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: A Cut Above

Ivy is determined to be the best neurosurgeon in the state. Friendships, hobbies and romance come second… or not at all. Chloe is smart, witty, and she makes friends with everyone she meets – she’s Ivy’s complete opposite. Then one unexpected kiss in the hospital locker room changes everything.

My latest novel, A CUT ABOVE, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.

 “I have sudden-onset abdominal pain,” Ivy Chan said as she took a sip of her soy caramel latte and looked across the small café table at Chloe. She was tapping the tip of her pen against her plump lower lip, thinking.

“Can you tell me where in the abdomen you feel pain, Miss Chan?” she asked.

“Great bedside manner as always, Dr. Barnes,” Ivy said, watching as the corners of Chloe’s mouth curled into a slight smile. Then she added, “Center mass, near the breastbone.”

“Hmm,” Chloe said, her eyes tracing over Ivy’s face and upper body as if doing so would actually give her insight into this case study. “Are you experiencing any other symptoms, Miss Chan?”

“Vomiting,” Ivy said. “And back pain.”

“Are you jaundiced?” Chloe asked, connecting the dots much faster than Ivy expected with the vague symptoms she’d given. Ivy smiled approvingly and nodded, so Chloe said, “We’ll need to run some tests to be sure, but I believe you have gallstones, Miss Chan. Don’t worry, the treatment is a minimally-invasive surgery and you’ll be feeling better in no time.”

She sipped on a smoothie that had mostly melted over the course of their study session, and when Ivy didn’t confirm the diagnosis fast enough, Chloe asked, “Is that it? Was I right?”

“Yes,” Ivy said. “Very good. Now give me one.”

They’d already run through at least a dozen case studies and Ivy could go all night. She was lucky to have Chloe as a study partner – a lot of their fellow medical students wouldn’t have been up for spending their break week running through practice scenarios for the medical licensing exam, especially since their breaks had become few and far between now that they were entering their fourth year of medical school.

Even Chloe had her limit, though. By the time they finished the next case (she was a teenage male presenting with poor balance and confusion, which Ivy correctly diagnosed as a concussion resulting from a sports-related injury), Chloe was tapped out. She finished off the last of her smoothie and sat back, putting her arms up in an exaggerated stretch. “What do you say? Have I fallen mysteriously ill enough times for you tonight?”

“Sure,” Ivy said. She reached for the notecards she had spread across the small table, beginning to sort them into neat stacks according to body system. “Thanks for your help.”

“Any time,” Chloe answered. She smiled at Ivy, her blue eyes catching the overhead lights in just the right way to make them sparkle, then she gathered her own notes and tucked them into her backpack. As she got up from the table, she said, “You’re going to go back to your apartment and keep studying, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” Ivy said and Chloe laughed.

“We still have four months before the exam, you know,” she said. They were both scheduled to take the medical licensing exam at the end of December, along with almost everyone else in their medical school class. That didn’t stop Ivy from studying for it as if it were tomorrow – she wanted to be as prepared as possible for one of the most important exams of her career, and that meant studying in every moment of free time that she got. Chloe added with a chuckle, “I’m already sure you’re going to pass it.”

“Don’t say that,” Ivy said, rapping her knuckles once on the wood tabletop.

She wasn’t a superstitious person, but when it came to her education she didn’t take chances of any kind. She got up and slung her heavy backpack over her shoulder, then followed Chloe out of the café, watching her blonde ponytail bounce with every step. They’d been studying together ever since their first year of medical school and Ivy was beginning to think of Chloe as her lucky totem.

“Same time next week?” she asked when they got to the door.

“Probably – hopefully the fact that we’re both going to be working in the Emergency Room means we’ll be on the same schedule for once,” Chloe said.

It had been a challenge to coordinate study times ever since they started their hospital rotations last year, but they’d managed to get together to review notes and run through cases about once a week through it all.

Chloe put her hand on Ivy’s shoulder and the contact surprised her. She told Ivy, “Try to get a little bit of rest this weekend.”

Ivy nodded, her tongue suddenly feeling fat and useless. Then Chloe took her hand away, her fingers brushing Ivy’s arm, and started walking up the sidewalk toward the apartment that she shared with Ivy’s academic nemesis, Megan. They’d chosen this café as their study headquarters because it was an equal distance for them both to walk – about six blocks – but it always felt like a longer walk on the way home.

Maybe it had something to do with the weight of Ivy’s backpack, or maybe it was something else.

She lingered on the sidewalk, watching Chloe go and filling her lungs with the last crisp night air of the summer. Then she turned in the opposite direction to go back to her uninspiring on-campus housing. It was just past eight-thirty when she reached her dormitory – a building full of tiny, one-bedroom apartments for graduate students – and because the caffeine from her latte was still going strong, she

sat down at her desk and pulled out her notes.

Sneak Peek: The Rules of Parenthood

Despite challenges and struggles, these newlyweds almost have it all. There’s just one thing Max can’t give Ruby – a family. My latest novel, THE RULES OF PARENTHOOD, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Max put her arm around her new wife and pulled her closer. They were sitting on a porch swing overlooking the lake and she and Ruby had been married for less than forty-eight hours. Max was already certain that her life could not be more perfect.

The ceremony had been intimate, just their families and a few friends watching as they bound their lives together in the beautiful flower garden behind Max’s parents’ house. Ruby had worn an antique lace dress that trailed gracefully on the ground behind her and Max had never seen her so beautiful. Her cheeks were rosy pink and her deep brown eyes turned the color of honey as they walked up the makeshift aisle together in the afternoon sun.

Max had worn a soft white linen vest that complimented Ruby’s lace and as they stood together amid the colorful flowers, their hands linked together while Max’s best friend, Mira, performed the ceremony, she never felt more certain that she and Ruby belonged together. Their vows were emotional and peppered with inside jokes – Ruby’s were full of anecdotes about the two of them and Max’s were full of quotes from movies they’d watched when they first started dating. And the kiss at the end of the ceremony… well, Max had been waiting two long years for that moment, and it lived up to every dream she had of it.

After the ceremony, there had been a feast prepared by Ruby’s mom, Lorna, and while everyone else danced, ate and made merry, Max and Ruby snuck away to make love for the first time as a married couple. Max didn’t mind the noise and chaos of the party so much after that because Ruby didn’t take her hand out of Max’s all night.

Max had everything she needed in the palm of her hand.

Now, she kissed Ruby’s fingers, giving her an amorous look. The sun was just beginning to set over the mountains on the other side of the lake and the sky was streaked with pink and purple. Ruby settled her head against Max’s shoulder and said, “I understand why you wanted to come here now. It’s beautiful.”

“It’s just you and me,” Max said, kissing the top of her head.

They could have gone anywhere for their honeymoon. Ruby’s parents had offered to pay for it as their wedding gift and Ruby had immediately begun dreaming of romantic places like Paris and Rome, but Max talked her into the Smoky Mountains. It wasn’t easy to convince her that solitude was better than busy streets and crowded tourist destinations, but she came around eventually.

“I want to crawl into bed with you and not leave for the next six days,” Max had said the moment they arrived in their secluded cabin in the mountains just twenty-four hours ago. She had dropped their bags just inside the door and wrapped her arms around Ruby’s slender waist, lifting her off her feet and carrying her the few steps to the king-sized bed waiting for them in the bedroom. She’d pounced on top of Ruby, pushing her thigh between her legs, and said, “I don’t want to see another person until we check out on Monday.”

Ruby had laughed and pulled Max’s shirt over her head, and despite their determination to stay in bed all week, they’d already ventured out a couple of times in search of food and adventure. This morning they drove into town to stock up on food and then spent most of the afternoon hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Then they came back to the cabin, took a shower together that ended in hot, soapy passion and a thoroughly fogged mirror, and Ruby promised to make her mother’s famous shepherd’s pie recipe for dinner.

First, though, they wanted to watch the sunset.

They didn’t even need to leave the cabin to do it – the porch swing that overlooked the lake provided the perfect vantage point. There were about a dozen other cabins lining the edge of the water, some visible and others obscured by trees or bends in the shoreline. As Max and Ruby sat together and watched the fiery orange sun dipping below the peak of the mountain, a few kids ran out and jumped into the water from a dock on the other side of the lake. They were barely visible from this far away, but their whoops and laughter carried across the water and Ruby snuggled tighter into Max’s side.

It was almost fully dark, the first stars beginning to shine in the night sky, when Ruby asked, “Have you ever thought about having kids, babe?”

The question startled Max. She’d been thinking of nothing more than shepherd’s pie and the peaceful sound of crickets, and of taking Ruby back to bed as soon as possible after dinner.

“No,” she said. “I never have.”

“Oh,” Ruby said, and then fell silent.

They watched the kids scramble back onto the dock – it was getting too dark to swim – and Max could tell that something more was required of her. She really hadn’t thought about kids before, in any context, and it was becoming clear to her that the same was not true for Ruby.

“Have you?” Max asked.

“Yeah,” Ruby said. She sat up and Max felt her absence immediately. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to her that Ruby might want kids? She was a children’s librarian after all, and family was a thing that most people wanted.

“I just never really thought about it,” Max tried to explain. “I’m an only child and I didn’t grow up around many kids-”

“It’s not a big deal,” Ruby said and Max had trouble reading the tone of her voice in the dark. Light from the living room came through a nearby window, but it only served to throw Ruby’s figure into silhouette and obscure her facial expressions. She put her hand in Max’s and said, “You don’t have to explain it to me, but do me a favor and think about it, okay?”

“You want kids,” Max said, rolling the idea over in her mind. “When?”

Ruby laughed and leaned forward, kissing Max as the swing moved gently beneath them, then said, “I don’t know. Not tomorrow or anything like that, but maybe in a few years after we’ve had time to enjoy being married, we might want to enjoy being parents, too.”

“I just-” Max started to object.

Her pulse was racing and she didn’t expect her body to react this way, but now that Ruby had opened the subject for discussion, a million different questions and concerns were racing through her mind. The foremost one was how she would stack up as a mom. After all, it had taken her more than twenty years to figure out how to love someone and she knew the only reason she’d been successful at that was because she’d found her soul mate. What if she couldn’t do the same for a child[js1] , or if she could but the kid never knew it because Max didn’t communicate her feelings in the same way as everyone else?

“Max,” Ruby said, a little louder this time to snap her out of the thoughts whirling in her head. Ruby

climbed into her lap, a feat easier said than done on a swaying porch swing. She put her hands on Max’s face and kissed her long and hard. Then she said, “Please don’t worry about this – I didn’t mean to freak you out. It was just an idea, okay?”

“Okay.” Max put her hands on Ruby’s hips and pulled her close. Now the light from the cabin was on her face, making her skin glow and her eyes sparkle, and Max tucked a strand of Ruby’s hair behind her ear. She whispered, “You’re perfect.”

“So are you,” Ruby said, her thumb brushing Max’s cheek.

Max snorted and said, “Yeah, right.”

“You are,” Ruby said. She leaned down and with her lips just grazing Max’s, she murmured, “Perfect for me.”

They kissed again, Max enjoying the feel of Ruby’s curves beneath her hands, but just as she was hooking her fingers under the hem of Ruby’s sun dress, she climbed off the swing. Ruby grabbed Max’s hand and pulled her toward the door.

“Come on,” she said. “I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Max said, although she had something other than the shepherd’s pie in mind as she followed Ruby into the cabin.

Sneak Peek: That Old Emerald Mountain Magic

A Scrooge meets her match in the Colorado mountains when their worlds collide, quite literally, on the slopes in this heartwarming holiday romance. My latest novel, THAT OLD EMERALD MOUNTAIN MAGIC, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Joy Turner could feel tears forming in the back of her throat. She wasn’t the crying type, though, so she swallowed hard and pressed her lips into a thin smile as she pulled her best friend, Danny, into a hug.

“You’re going to do great,” she said over his shoulder as she made sure the tears would stay at bay before releasing the embrace. “They’re gonna love you.”

“Yeah?” he asked with a nervous smile. “What makes you so sure?”

“You’ve been playing the guitar since you were twelve years old,” she said, then she rolled her eyes and teased him with, “and you make me listen to you practice every damn night so I know how good you are. Anyway, they wouldn’t have called you if they didn’t know exactly how awesome you are.”

Two nights ago, Joy had been in the middle of brushing her teeth for bed when Danny appeared in the bathroom doorway with the biggest grin on his face, telling her that the front man for The Hero’s Journey had just called and told him to get his butt to Memphis to fill an emergency vacancy. He’d auditioned to join the band six months earlier and been passed over, but they’d just had to fire a guitarist mid-tour and now they wanted Danny.

He hadn’t hesitated to quit his restaurant serving job in town and start packing his bags, and Joy knew that this could be Danny’s big break. Still, she felt a certain amount of foreboding as she saw him off.

Danny was her oldest friend, and one of the few that had remained in their little resort town of Emerald Hill after high school was over. Denver was less than an hour away and it had enough of a music scene to keep him satisfied for a while, but deep down, Joy always knew this moment was coming. If the holiday tour went well, The Hero’s Journey would probably offer Danny full membership in the band, and then the chances of him returning to Emerald Hill would be pretty slim.

She felt like she was saying goodbye to him forever.

“I better get in there,” he said, pulling a hastily-packed duffel bag and his guitar case out of the trunk of Joy’s car. “They’ll kill me if I miss my flight.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be a good first impression,” Joy agreed, her voice a little shaky. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t be emotional in this moment, and in fact she’d been subconsciously steeling herself for it for quite some time, but it was hard not to think about how much she’d miss her best friend while he was touring the south central United States and living his dream.

“Hey,” he said, picking up on her emotion. “I’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“Sure you will,” she said with a wry smile. She knew that The Hero’s Journey was based in Tennessee, and if he became a member he’d have to move there, too.

For now, Danny shrugged and said, “Hey, all my crap’s still in the apartment so you know I have to come back for it.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be separated from your framed Die Hard poster for too long,” Joy said with a snort. She’d teased him relentlessly about his choice of décor ever since they moved in together after high school, and in the intervening five years she started to think that he kept that particular relic of his teen years hanging over the living room couch just to spite her.

“That is an American classic,” Danny answered firmly, but he couldn’t keep a straight face. He pulled Joy in for one last hug, his guitar case thumping against her shin, and then he pulled away and said,

“Hey, I want the Emerald Hill gossip. Keep me posted on your resort guests’ crazy antics.”

“Of course,” Joy promised.

She’d been working at the Emerald Mountain Ski Resort ever since high school and Christmas time on the picturesque, snowy mountainside was always the busiest time of year. With a fully booked resort always came a few crazies, and Joy would come home from work at night and regale Danny with stories of the strange and extravagant requests they came up with. It wouldn’t be the same this year without him, but she’d find a way to get through it.

“And find yourself a girlfriend,” he said with a wink. “You work too hard.”

“Yeah, right,” Joy said with a roll of her eyes. She’d had a couple of short flings with resort guests over the years, but Danny himself knew how hard it was to find something permanent in a town built around seasonal tourism.

Then Danny turned and walked into the airport, and Joy climbed quickly back into her car. She didn’t want to linger on the sidewalk where her tears would begin to threaten again, and it was too cold to stand outside for long anyway. She could see her breath as she turned her keys in the ignition, rubbing her hands together and trying to get warm again. There were only ten days til Christmas, and that was good news – it meant that Joy would have plenty of work to do at the resort to keep her mind off the very real possibility of losing her best friend.

Her manager had told her at the beginning of the winter season that he saw management potential in her, and that he would have time to mentor her after the holiday rush died down. Of course, Danny’s response when she told him had been to snort and say, “Who wants that? We both need to get out of Emerald Hill and start living our lives.”

He was probably right, and if Joy needed any further kick in the pants to start looking for jobs in places that had a more permanent air then his departure provided that motivation. But change was hard, and she had the holiday rush to get through first.

Bonus Scenes: The Origins of Heartbreak

Alex’s world stood still the day her father passed. After more than a year of living frozen in that moment, she decides to take the first steps out of her grief by enrolling in a paramedic program. It’s in one of her first classes that she meets Megan, a pretty but aloof medical student who has a few skeletons of her own in the proverbial closet. Can they work together to mend their broken hearts?

My latest novel, THE ORIGINS OF HEARTBREAK, is available now on Amazon. Read the bonus scenes below.


She flopped down on the couch, intending to find something inane on television to distract her from her awful choices, but Chloe sat down next to her. Megan rolled her eyes – Chloe always took the seat directly next to her, never leaving an empty cushion, which everyone else on the planet realized was common courtesy.

“Well, study group wasn’t really a thrill a minute, either,” Chloe said, finishing her granola bar and setting the wrapper neatly on the coffee table. It would be less than five minutes before its presence there drove her to distraction and she had to get up and throw it away.

“No way,” Megan said, looking conspiratorially at her roommate. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you admit that you weren’t having the most amazing time ever all the time. Especially when it comes to studying.”

She was teasing Chloe, but it was true. She was so relentlessly optimistic all the time, this comment was truly out of character for her.

“Well, to be perfectly honest, Ivy gets under my skin sometimes too,” Chloe said, actually lowering her voice so that Ivy – who lived several blocks away in on-campus housing – wouldn’t hear this admission.

“Get out of town,” Megan said, shoving Chloe’s shoulder and sending her off balance for a moment.

“Tell me more!”

It was nice to focus on this instead of navel-gazing, and Megan wanted to stay in this moment for as long as possible to avoid thinking about Alex.

“She’s just a very negative person,” Chloe said, and then with a blush in her cheeks, she added, “Like you sometimes.”


“A lot of the time,” Chloe said. “But at least you’re usually negative in a joking way. Ivy can be sort of draining sometimes with her relentless pursuit of knowledge and good grades.”

“Oh, so you noticed,” Megan said, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah,” Chloe said, and it was fun to watch her get going after holding in these criticisms for almost a year and a half. “Like, did you notice that sometimes she contradicts the professors in the middle of lecture? It’s like, okay, we all get that you’re smart, but you don’t have to be an asshole, too.”

Megan let her mouth drop open and she said, “Chloe Peterson, did you just cuss?”

“I got carried away,” Chloe said, putting a hand over her mouth.

Megan pulled it away, her eyes lighting up as she joked with her. “You did. Say it again. Say asshole, because I need to commit this moment to memory.”

“You know who’s an… asshole?”


“You,” Chloe said, moving to punch Megan’s shoulder. Megan caught her by the wrist and Chloe leaned in and kissed her. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, her tongue just grazing Megan’s lips, and then Megan jerked away.

“Whoa,” she said, dropping Chloe’s wrist and jumping off the couch.

Chloe looked up at her with her brow knit together, confusion clouding her expression. “I’m sorry. Is it because I called you… that? I was joking.”

Megan sighed and just said, “No, it’s not that. I’m sorry, Chloe, I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

Then she turned and went back into her room, forced once again to be alone with her thoughts. She was really on a roll tonight – first Alex, and then Chloe. She knew that Chloe had a crush on her – it was obvious from their first semester together – and if she’d been more aware of her surroundings instead of being so absorbed in avoiding her feelings, she would have seen that kiss coming from a mile away.

Megan kicked off her jeans again and climbed into bed, pulling the sheets all the way up to her ears. She probably shouldn’t leave her bed for the rest of the night, lest she find a third person to torment.


She couldn’t keep up the ruse any longer, and she thought if she tried to hold in her emotions any more she’d burst. She stepped forward and put her hand on the back of Megan’s neck, pulling her into a deep kiss.

She was relieved to find Megan’s body sinking into hers, her hands coming out of her pocket and her arms wrapping around Alex’s waist. The snowflakes continued to coat them both and Alex shivered unconsciously at the cold, all of her awareness focused on the way that Megan’s lips felt like home.

“Yeah,” Megan said, and Alex was surprised to see that tears had begun to form in her eyes. They were glossy and filled with emotion. “I know.”

“I want you,” Alex said.

Megan laughed, and Alex wiped one errant tear off of her cheek before the cold had a chance to freeze it there. Megan smiled and said, “Do you want to come inside? It’s too cold to keep talking out here.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “I would like that very much.”


Megan’s next lecture class with Dr. Morrow, still working their way through the respiratory system, was a particularly painful one. Chloe arrived early as usual, and she was sitting in the front row with her laptop on one desk and her textbook opened on the one adjacent. What wasn’t usual was the look that she shot Megan when she came into the room.

Usually she smiled and tried to wave her over to take the empty desk on the other side of her two-desk setup. Sometimes Megan did, and sometimes she preferred to slip into an inconspicuous spot at the back of the room. It all depended on how annoyingly cheerful Chloe had been that morning in the apartment and how far away Megan could get from her nemesis, Ivy. Today, though, Chloe was already gone by the time Megan got up and she didn’t acknowledge her when she came into the lecture hall.

Megan sighed and found an open seat in the middle of the room. They hadn’t spoken since their kiss and Megan wasn’t sure if Chloe was upset with her or just hurt, but either way Megan couldn’t shake the annoying feeling of guilt that had been hanging over her ever since.

She had no reason to feel bad about what happened—she kept telling herself that nothing had happened—but she also hadn’t spoken to Alex since the kiss. She pulled out her laptop and brought up her notes for this module, determined to push all of those thoughts out of her head for the next few hours and focus on medicine.

That was something she hadn’t been doing nearly enough of this semester, and it was beginning to take a toll on her. She’d barely even touched her research paper in the last few weeks, although she had spoken to Krys a few more times and knew that all of the swabs from the high school had come back clean. The kids completed their antibiotic courses and Paul Goulding remained the only casualty in what turned out to be a rather small and uneventful meningitis outbreak. Megan had to find time to write all of that up before the winter break, but every time she sat down to try, Alex popped into her mind. She had to stop thinking about her, even if seducing Chloe wasn’t the answer.

Ivy came into the room a few minutes later, giving a death stare to Megan and anyone else dumb enough to make eye contact with her. She always walked into class like she owned the place, her posture impossibly tall for her small stature as she sauntered to the front row. Megan had never seen Ivy sit anywhere else, and she’d also never gotten through a lecture without raising her hand to ask questions about ten times an hour.

Most of the time it was cocky stuff like, “According to my independent research, I found that lesions in the apneustic center are a frequent cause of apnea. Can you comment further?” and Megan was sure that in those moments, Dr. Morrow hated the little show-off just as much as Megan did.

Other times, though, her questions came in the form of fun little personal attacks that always caught her victim off-guard. Ivy would throw out things like, “Last week in her literature review, Megan said that alveolar ventilation is the volume of gas leaving the lungs, but actually she failed to account for the anatomic dead space, which does not encompass the alveoli.” Then Dr. Morrow would confirm that Ivy was correct—again—and Megan would roll her eyes and plot her takedown of the Witch of the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Fortunately, today Ivy couldn’t find any holes to poke in Megan’s previous statements and focused instead on Dr. Morrow’s incomplete coverage of the lecture material. It wasn’t until she released them for a twenty-minute break about halfway through the lecture that Ivy launched her daily personal attack.

Megan had gone outside and was sitting on a bench in the courtyard, sipping hot coffee from a cart nearby and enjoying the last few nice days before the fall really began to bluster onto campus. She was surprised when Chloe came over and asked to join her.

“Yeah,” Megan said, patting the bench seat beside her. Chloe sat down and Megan said, “Hey, are we okay?”

“Of course,” Chloe said, although her chipper tone was a little more forced than usual.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Megan said. “It’s just that we’re roommates and–”

“It’s fine,” Chloe said, cutting her off. “I get it. We see each other every day, and it would just be too awkward if it didn’t work out. Plus, you think I’m annoying.”

“Uh oh, incoming,” she said, watching Ivy come across the courtyard toward the coffee cart.

“Oh, she’s not that bad,” Chloe said, shrugging off Megan’s incredulous look. “She works really hard to be where she is, you know.”

“Sure,” Megan said. “Hard at work climbing up Dr. Morrow’s butt.”

Chloe laughed, but she gave Megan a disapproving look. Then to Megan’s chagrin, they watched Ivy walk over to their bench with her coffee in hand.

“What do you want?” Megan asked, and Chloe elbowed her hard in the ribs.

“Do you want to join us?” she asked, preparing to make room on the narrow bench.

“Hardly,” Ivy said. “I’m just doing a little observational research on how someone who has obviously cheated her way up to the head of the class spends her break time. When do you find time to study, Megan? Do you have someone who just slips you all the answers?”

“I can’t believe you have such great mobility despite that giant stick in your ass,” Megan said, not wanting to dignify her accusation with a response.

Ivy sneered and asked, “Does your little paramedic girlfriend help you study?”

Megan felt her heart in her throat as she glanced over at Chloe. Of course Ivy would have to bring out her knowledge of Megan’s relationship with Alex in this exact moment, right after she’d gotten done convincing Chloe that the reason they couldn’t be together was because she didn’t date. Great. Chloe looked like she’d just been kicked in the gut, and she looked at Megan with confusion.

“What does that mean?”

“You know the girl,” Ivy said. “She was the one Megan collapsed on when the autopsy was just too much for her.”

Chloe’s lower lip quivered for a moment, then she got up and marched back into the building. Megan stood up, clenching her jaw and not sure if she was angrier about the way that Ivy had just turned Chloe into collateral damage on her quest to destroy Megan, or at the presumption that she knew anything about Megan and Alex’s relationship.

“Asshole,” she said, then threw her half-drunk coffee in the trash and went back into the building. She tried to explain to Chloe that Alex was just a fling and Ivy had it all wrong, but she just kept saying that it was fine and Megan could do whatever she wanted. She didn’t seem to believe her.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: The Origins of Heartbreak

Alex’s world stood still the day her father passed. After more than a year of living frozen in that moment, she decides to take the first steps out of her grief by enrolling in a paramedic program. It’s in one of her first classes that she meets Megan, a pretty but aloof medical student who has a few skeletons of her own in the proverbial closet. Can they work together to mend their broken hearts?

My latest novel, THE ORIGINS OF HEARTBREAK, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.

Megan Callahan stood nervously on the side of a small stage at the front of an ornately decorated church, waiting for her name to be called. It was late September and she was standing in line with a hundred and fifty other people, all waiting to receive their white coats as they began their second year of medical school.

She had spent the morning going through all of the technical details of starting a new school year — figuring out her class schedule and purchasing her textbooks in the college store — and it had all seemed pretty anti-climactic. She’d been working toward becoming a doctor for as long as she could remember, and this felt like nothing more than a new semester at the same school she’d been attending for the past five years.

She’d already completed her first year of medical school, and now she was known as an M2 — one more year of classes and then she would finally be doing the hospital rotations that she’d been waiting so long for. It felt so far away still, and yet with a set of spotlights beating down on the stage and making Megan’s brow moist, the significance of the white coat ceremony felt more real than ever.

She was two people away from the front of the line now, and very soon she would be walking across the stage. One of her professors would be putting a white coat on her shoulders, and by the end of this year she would be one step closer to becoming a real doctor, seeing patients and holding lives in her hands.

Megan was doing her best to pretend she wasn’t having a small panic attack about that, particularly because the student standing directly behind her—Ivy Chan—was an alpha dog through and through and she’d love any opportunity to observe weakness in Megan.

They had met in line at the bookstore on their very first day of medical school, and Megan made the mistake of trying to talk to her once she noticed that they were buying a lot of the same books.

“Are you a first-year med student, too?” Megan had asked.

“No, I’m just a really dumb third year,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Looks like someone’s going to have trouble with evidence-based practice.”

Megan had opened her mouth to rebut, meaning to throw something out about her biology degree and how Northwestern had given her a solid understanding of the scientific method, thank you very much, but then the line moved forward and the girl marched away with her books. Megan had hoped that in a class of a hundred and fifty, their paths wouldn’t have to intersect again, but of course the universe couldn’t be that kind. Ivy had been a constant thorn in her side ever since.

“Megan Callahan.”

Hearing her name called into a microphone made Megan’s heart give a little jump in her chest, and she ascended the stairs onto the stage. One of her favorite professors, Dr. Morrow, was holding out a white coat for her. As Megan turned around to put her arms through the sleeves, she scanned the audience, looking for her parents. They were out there, along with her younger brother, but the bright lights obscured them.

The twirling process of putting on the coat was a little awkward and disorienting, and then Dr. Morrow was guiding Megan on her way across the stage to shake hands with the dean.

“Ivy Chan,” the announcer called. Megan spared a glance backward and saw Ivy slipping gracefully into her coat.

Megan exited on the other side of the stage and went back to her place in the pews to wait for the rest of the class to finish getting their coats. Her nerves had dissipated the moment she felt the coat settling on her shoulders, and she couldn’t wait to go back to her apartment and check it out in the mirror, complete with a stethoscope looped around her neck. It was worth every bit of the last five years of work, staying up late and studying after everyone else went to sleep, burning the midnight oil to keep up on social events at her undergraduate sorority and still get her work done. There was still a lot of hard work left to do, but a little bit of recognition and a crisp white coat was nice, too.

After the ceremony finally drew to a close with Megan’s class reciting the Declaration of Geneva (I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity…), they were all released to greet their parents and take them over to the student union for a reception. Megan found her family lingering outside of the doors of the church, and her folks immediately made a huge deal out of the coat, hugging her and inspecting the material. Her mother straightened her collar while Megan blushed and tried to lead them across the courtyard.

“You look like such a grown woman,” her mother said, her eyes tearful from the ceremony.

“You look like a marshmallow,” Megan’s teenaged brother, Finn, said.

“A marshmallow that has the power to save—or end—your life,” Megan shot back, but he paid no attention to her reply. He was looking longingly toward the student union, where a lot of people were headed.

“There’s food at this thing, right?” he asked.

Megan watched Ivy come out of the church alone and march across the courtyard with the same pompous posture she’d had when she walked across the stage. She wondered if Ivy had anyone in the audience watching her, but it was impossible to feel too sorry for her when she wore that perpetual scowl on her face that said she had the world’s most uncomfortable stick up her butt. Megan stopped watching her and said, “Yeah, let’s go—I’m starving.”

The four of them headed over to the reception, where there were hors d’oeuvres galore, from finger sandwiches to mini quiches to a chocolate fountain surrounded by fresh fruit. Finn split off from the rest of the family instantly, making a bee line for the dessert table, and Megan picked up three champagne glasses for herself and her parents.

Before she’d even taken a sip, though, her roommate, Chloe, came bounding over, practically skipping across the room and throwing her arm around Megan’s shoulder.

“Hi Mr. and Mrs. Callahan,” she exclaimed, then turned to Megan and did a little impromptu fashion show with her white jacket, twirling around and then bumping her shoulder against Megan’s. “How excited are you? I don’t think I’m ever going to take my white coat off.”

“I’ll probably take mine off to go to the grocery store and stuff like that,” Megan said with a small laugh.

Chloe was the most enthusiastic, bubbly person Megan had ever met. Half the time, she felt compelled to put her hands on Chloe’s shoulders just to keep her from floating away, and the other half of the time she wanted to install a zipper on her mouth.

“Oh, I won’t,” Chloe said with a half-serious grin. “I want everyone to know I’m a doctor.”

Then she threw her arms around Megan again, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, and dashed off to mingle with more people. Megan watched Chloe go over to Ivy, who was stacking a plate high with finger sandwiches, and Chloe greeted her with the same enthusiastic energy. Megan always expected Ivy to sprout quills like a porcupine whenever people approached her, but for some reason she didn’t have the same prickly response to bubbly Chloe that she had to everyone else.

My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers, Megan thought, remembering another line from the Declaration of Geneva. Then she thought, This is medical school.

Bonus Scenes: The Rules of Engagement

Max and Ruby have fallen hard for each other after a bitter grad school rivalry turned first into lust, and then into love. When the school year comes to an end, they’re faced with a new challenge: a summer apart. My latest novel, THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, is available now on Amazon.

Read the bonus scene below.

Pot luck

Even though Max had become a member of the user experience design student organization after losing the presidency to Ruby, Max could still be cajoled into attending certain networking functions hosted by GLiSS.

One of these was the end-of-year pot luck that the organization hosted every November before the winter break. The event served two purposes – it was a time for socializing and commiserating over final exams, and it was also the time when Ruby would pass the torch to the next president. She knew Max wouldn’t be interested in the socializing aspect, even if she did try to convince her it was also networking, but Ruby thought that Max might like to be there for her last official act as GLiSS president.

On the afternoon of the event, Ruby stood in her tiny kitchenette mixing canned pineapple chunks and cranberries in a bowl to imitate her mother’s famous and secretly dead simple cranberry sauce. Max stood in the doorway watching her and trying to find reasons not to go.

“I don’t know any of these people,” Max objected. “This is your student organization, not mine.”

“You do too,” Ruby argued. “You see them in half of your classes.”

“But I don’t talk to them.”

“That’s exactly why this is an excellent networking opportunity,” Ruby said. “Who knows who will end up being the director of a library you want to work at ten years from now? It pays to be friendly and get your name out there.”

“That sounds like brown-nosing,” Max said, then she wrinkled her nose at the mixture in the bowl. “Are you sure that’s going to taste good?”

Ruby laughed and dipped a spoon into the mixture, holding it up for Max to taste. “It’s basically like chunky applesauce, but with a kick from the cranberries.”

Max took the bite and Ruby could tell from the look on her face that she was preparing to hate it. Her lip curled a little as she said, “Interesting.”

“Shut up,” Ruby said, making as if she was going to crack Max on the back of the hand with the spoon.

“Please come to the party. We only need to stay long enough for me to announce the new president – thirty minutes, maximum.”

So Max relented. She usually did – it was a task to convince her of anything, but most of the time she did what would make Ruby happy.

Max carried the bowl of cranberry sauce and they went into the snowy afternoon. This time instead of heading for the library, they walked across campus to the student union, where Ruby had reserved the ballroom for the party. It was a large room on the second floor above the dining hall, and it had tall windows with regal, floor-length curtains hanging from them. It was much fancier than necessary for a pot luck, but it gave an air of importance to the event.

Some of the group had already arrived by the time Ruby and Max climbed the stairs, and a few people came over to greet Ruby.

“Babe, could you put the cranberry sauce on the buffet with the rest of the food?” Ruby asked, pointing Max toward a long table full of crock pots, bowls and casserole dishes.

“Sure,” Max answered, walking away.

Ruby knew Max did better when she had a specific task to set her sights on, and even though this was a small one, it would give Ruby enough time to disperse the crowd before she came back. Then she could walk Max around the room and introduce her to everyone individually, and she’d be more comfortable that way. In the meantime, she turned on the charm and greeted everyone who came up to her.

Most of the early birds were GLiSS officers, the ones that had helped Ruby plan the event, and people who would be graduating alongside Max and Ruby. Then there was the new guard – students from the graduating class below them.

Some of them were nice, and some had been thorns in Ruby’s side since the beginning of the year, particularly the suck-ups who thought that getting close to her would help them win the presidency.

The president-elect – a guy named Craig – loved to corner Ruby and pick her brain about the position, as if it were something prestigious and not just a one-year term coordinating social events and running weekly meetings.

Ruby glanced around when Max didn’t return immediately, and she spotted her lingering near the buffet. She probably didn’t want to deal with the people that just kept coming up to Ruby, so she decided to make her way over to Max instead.

This was a task easier said than done, though. Getting through the crowd was like swimming through molasses. Every time she looked for Max, though, Max was in exactly the same spot. She didn’t budge from the end of the table, and she didn’t talk to anyone walking down the buffet line, filling their plates.

Ruby watched this with dismay, hoping that one of them would talk to her. She felt Mira’s absence more strongly than ever now, and Ruby figured that whatever loss she was feeling, Max must be experiencing it tenfold. Ruby just needed one person to take a chance and be friendly to Max.

That person ended up being none other than Craig.

Ruby had just managed to break away from a group of first-year grad students when she noticed that Max was talking to him, or rather, Craig was talking to her. A man after Ruby’s heart, it was clear that he couldn’t turn off the urge to campaign even after he had the presidency locked down, and he must have mistaken Max for a new member.

Ruby wasn’t about to interrupt Max while she was in the middle of making a new friend, so she ducked behind the coffee station and occupied herself with slowly pouring herself a cup. She didn’t want Max to notice her and lose interest in her new companion.

She didn’t intend to overhear their conversation – Ruby wasn’t the eavesdropping type – but the coffee station just so happened to be within earshot of the end of the buffet line where they were standing. Craig was trying to win Max over with conversation about the food.

“I brought that impressive bag of chips over there,” he said self-deprecatingly. “I’m not sure how I managed to get through twenty-three years of my life without learning how to cook, but there you have it. What about you?”

“I didn’t bring anything,” Max said. “My girlfriend made the cranberry sauce and I guess my contribution is that I carried it here.”

“The organization thanks you for your service,” Craig said, laughing heartily at his own joke before Max had a chance to respond.

“Don’t thank me before you taste it,” Max answered.

Ruby had to repress a little bit of irritation over this wise crack – her mother’s cranberry sauce was devoured enthusiastically by the whole family every year. But it was a small price to pay to see Max making a new connection, so she picked up her coffee cup and wandered back into the crowd to talk to some new people. Max would be okay for a little while on her own, and Ruby wanted to give her the space to make a new friend, even if it was Craig.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.