The heroine in my romantic suspense novel, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!) survived trauma as a child through sheer wit, determination and courage. As a young girl, she was forced to adapt to the fluctuating moods of a severely ill parent who self-medicated rather than medicate properly. She had to endure the unpredictable rages of a parent who tried to drink his pain away. This left her fearful and perpetually on edge, always trying to appease, to hide, and to escape. She, as most children in unstable situations, carried the scars of that chaotic and frightening upbringing into adulthood.
As a survivor of a toxic prior relationship myself, I realize victims of abuse or other continuing trauma, whether child or adult, are often more focused on surviving each day than on anything else. They’re hopeful help is out there, but they’re often closed off from it, whether by their own fear or from the perilousness of their situation.
Once they’ve escaped, it’s often easier to pretend, on some level, that it never happened. Seeking help means looking back and facing the trauma, when in fact, the instinct is to keep going forward; taking with you all the survival techniques you had previously been forced to employ.
In a recent post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, I discussed the heroines of the past and present. It seems to me, a heroine abused or traumatized as a child or young adult in an old dime-story novel would see that abuse continue at the hands of the “hero”. Those heroes were all “alpha”, they commanded the world around them and gave pittance in return for loyalty and dedication. It wasn’t until the heroine soothed him, that we’d glimpse his more tender side. Yet, in the end, her past demons were never excised. Rather, she suddenly overcame the trauma once her bad boy was tamed. And they lived happily ever after. The pain of what brought that heroine to this point, of what created the person she now was in that story, forgotten, rather than addressed.
When things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past
As Surrender at Canyon Road opens, Dani is about to taste freedom and opportunity for the first time. She embraces the newness of it all with cautious glee. But she is fully aware of why she’s running; her wounds are still fresh. Despite that, she believes she’s distanced herself from it all enough to move forward. Naturally, she hasn’t.
Her past has colored the way she sees the world now. And when things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past, hoping, once modified and applied to fit new and escalating peril –not just for herself but for others in need of her help—she, and they, will somehow survive.
Have there been moments in your life so difficult you’re unsure how you came out of them whole? Do you try to ignore that they ever occurred, or have you dealt with the trauma of them in time? Perhaps you’ve gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. My hope is whatever the trauma from your past, in the present you’ve found inner peace, stability, and…one step beyond acceptance…happiness. Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.
In my new romantic suspense, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!), my heroine is faced with a harrowing choice. She must save herself or save her meager possessions.
Logically, we’d scream for her—for anyone—to save themselves. But in Dani’s case, giving up her possessions meant giving up everything she hoped to be, to achieve, and to escape. To her, those possessions were her life. They were the vehicle, literally and figuratively, to steer her away from her painful past and on to her hopeful future.
Given time to reassess, of course, Dani understands her possessions would be of no use to her if she were killed.
However, a few lines from the story’s back cover blurb offers the tiniest hint of Dani’s emotional battle, and some insight to her initial, instinctual reaction – to save her stuff, and risk her life.
Dani Moyer is only a few good photographs and some winding mountain roads away from winning a contest that will change her life–until a stranger kidnaps her. She doesn’t believe his story about a kidnapped sister and her child. And she’s not giving up her dreams without a fight.
To Dani, it’s not just a contest. It’s a new life – her life. Her dreams. Her way to avoid tumbling back into the life she’d endured. Of course, she doesn’t realize driving away from that life won’t erase it from her mind, from her past or from reality. But escape is her initial plan, and she’d risk all to achieve it.
It makes sense to me that my heroine, given her circumstances, would behave as she did. But I then wonder where the line is for the rest of us. What determines when you should defend your possessions and when you should abandon them to save yourself?
My last post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, touched on the way romance heroes and heroines were once portrayed versus how they’re portrayed now. I believe a heroine from past works would enter the story naïve, and cause us to shake our heads at her decision to remain with her belongings. But today’s heroine has a different mindset. A different attitude and expectation for life. She’s unafraid to fight for herself. But, would she still be considered TSTL (too stupid to live) for standing her ground, for instinctually defending her possessions? Or would she be considered brave? Or…would that depend on whether she survives? Would perception change if she were a he; hero not heroine? Have you ever done something that seemed irrational to others—or even to yourself looking back—but felt perfectly logical and necessary to you at the time? Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.
When I think of the Romantic Suspense genre from days gone by, the kind I once loved to read, I think of the innocent heroine, oblivious to the ways of the world, coddled and naïve, unaware of her own body and certainly oblivious about sex. Her role in the story wasn’t as much to follow her own dreams as to become the hero’s lover—by choice or by force. Of course, she’d eventually fall madly in love with the rogue, tame him then happily settle into her duties as wife and lady of the house. Naturally, some of the heroines did hold their own. As they tamed their hero, they absorbed some of his cunning, thus assuring us, the readers, things would be interesting for this couple beyond the confines of their book.
These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity.
The heroes who populated those works were strong silent alpha-males. Big and burly, they answered to no one but themselves. Everyone jumped or cowered at their barked commands. They were mysterious, angsty, and full of envious manly muscles. Everywhere. These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity. No matter the mess in which our heroine found herself, we always knew the hero would come to her rescue. It wouldn’t surprise us if the hero resented having to do so, nor would it surprise us if the heroine spent a good part of the following chapters ‘thanking’ him.
The villains of that period were rarely as dimensional, as cunning or powerful – or handsome – as the hero. As if all evil was flat, a prop that came out of a mist wrapped in a black cloak, face either hidden or hideous, with bad breath, bad intent, and no clear motivation beyond lust for power, revenge, or destruction.
I’d be surprised to find those kinds of characters in today’s romantic suspense novels. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find layered, even sympathetic villains, heroes who are extraordinarily ordinary men who learn as they go, who show fear and tenderness along with wit and determination, and heroines who not only outsmart, out maneuver, and out sex, but also kick ass.
Yesteryear’s romantic suspense still holds a special place in my heart. I devoured those books. I adored the adventure, the possibility of an innocent heroine being loved by a worldly man who’d never given his heart to another – or who had, and since vowed never to do so again.
Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
But today’s romantic suspense, the kind I now love to read and write, thrills me with a kind of intrigue of mind. A hero and heroine on equal footing is exciting to me. Their mental duels, and how they’re an integral part of the budding romance, are delicious.
Mostly, I enjoy discovering who the characters were prior to their being perilously thrust together. I especially love unraveling the intricacies of their pasts and seeing how those pasts stop them from forging ahead or spur them on; equally, because now, the heroine’s backstory is as rich and vital as the hero’s, with flaws, strengths and challenges.
The wounded sullen hero of today, whether alpha, beta or somewhere in between, is as layered as any man might be. He has his own flaws and strengths. He also has compassion. Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.
Do you look for a specific type of hero or heroine to populate your romantic suspense? Do you prefer heroes who appear on the page ready to take on the world or would you rather watch them come into their own as their story progresses? And your heroine…do you prefer her to be kickass, passive or somewhere in between? I’d love to know your thoughts. Share them with me on twitter, or Facebook.
Lord Voldemort is no Gellert Grindelwald.
Why? Because as a villain, a dark lord, Lord Voldemort was so extreme, so vile and hateful and cruel, that he was easier to see as fictional than the insidious Gellert Grindelwald who easily wins people over to the dark side with soft words, a gentle touch and a deceptively calm demeanor.
Anyone who has stopped by here knows my love for the Harry Potter stories, and how much I admire the way they shaped the reading habits of an entire generation. My own daughter grew up with the books – reading them numerous times in English and in Russian.
Naturally when Fantastic Beasts came out, we were eager to dig into that adventure as well. Though not as spellbinding as Harry’s story had been – with the newness of it all: Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme, wands, cloaks, magical spells and good against evil – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as The Crimes of Grindelwald, do have their own magic. Their own newness. Their own sense of foreboding.
As a charismatic and cunning villain, Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald confidently stood in the center of a crowded arena and told the people who had come to hear him speak of the evil that we, the ‘others’ – the muggles/no-majes – would inflict upon the world. He did not lie to them. He had no need to. Instead, in a blinding and vivid vision, Grindelwald showed them the coming horrors and destruction.
Horrors and destruction described in our own history books. Horrors and destruction we cannot ignore, forget or deny.
Yet Grindelwald’s plan to prevent it all – a plan willfully applauded by many in attendance – was darker, more horrific and destructive than what already seemed fated to come.
Sadly, he offered only one of two nightmare scenarios. And each was tainted by the lust for total dominion of one people over another ‘lesser’ kind.
The pitting of one people against another, the vilifying of whole groups, of blaming them for all the world’s ails…is as old as time. That’s why I find Johnny Depp’s spellblindingly understated portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald so terrifying. He’s refined. Beautiful. Charming. Yet beneath that compelling mystique are hints of a bubbling cauldron’s worth of power and emotion.
Warnings signs are all around us, in plain sight. They have always been. Yet while generation after generation adopts the slogan: “Never Again”, that same frightening and divisive call to arms is too often repeated. In film as in real life.
It’s the first day of school here in NYC. I can’t help feel sad for all the kids returning to the constant grind of early rising and carrying bookbags as big as themselves as they’re sent away from home and forced to work on command by strangers all day, only to then hurry home and have to work some more.
Perhaps it’s a true dislike of school or perhaps it’s PTSD, I’m not sure, but something about this time of year, the end of summer and beginning of an annual ten-month sentence, deeply saddens me.
I feel a sense of loss and grief as if the sunny days of playtime and dreaming – of childhood innocence and wonder – are cruelly snuffed out then forgotten as the rigorous months ahead take form and distract.
Summer memories fade no matter how we wish they would linger. And every year at this time, I feel the same sense of despair.
I’m always surprised when I speak to other people about their childhood experiences with school. Many loved going, enjoyed the social aspect of it, the newness of it all, the discovery. That forces me to dig deeper to understand what it is that bothered me so – then as now. It wasn’t studying or learning as my wonder and thirst for knowledge was as keen as everyone else’s – then as now. Rather, for me, it was the feeling of being ripped away from home, of being sent somewhere that I didn’t want to be without having any say in the matter.
I’m a free spirit at heart and school felt like prison to me – so much that I doubled up on classes in my senior year so I could graduate early and never look back. I didn’t even attend graduation. Once I was out, I was out and glad to be rid of it.
And now, as I look out my window and see a small army of children trudging along with their weighty bookbags on their backs, I feel sad for them, too. I don’t share the ‘joy’ we see on TV commercials where parents are celebrating their children’s back-to-school days.
When my own child turned school age, I dreaded sending her. I feared she might feel as I did – that she was being shipped off, sent away from home, forced to be someplace she didn’t want to be. I made sure to prepare her, to let her know it would be as happy a place as she made it and that I’d be waiting for her when she came home. We, my husband and I, became actively involved in her school, letting her know she was not alone while still giving her room to roam, and grow, and learn.
But as elementary school ended for her, so did the excitement of it all, the newness, the discovery. The friendships formed remained; however, the drudgery became burdensome and overwhelming.
Middle school teachers in our district treated the kids in their care like tyrants, insisting that the pre-teen years were the worst, that kids needed to know who was boss. That they needed to be kept busy lest they find themselves with free time and get into trouble.
It was then that we decided enough was enough.
As a child, I felt like school was a punishment for some unknown slight. As a parent, I refused to allow anyone to treat my child that way.
My daughter was one month into middle school when we began our homeschool adventure. With thousands of NYC children being homeschooled, finding programs, activities and social outings was easier than I could have hoped or imagined.
We formed additional friendships with other homeschooling families while discovering a new and exciting way of learning.
We discovered learning through play, adventure and exploration, which incorporated the wonder of a child’s imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’.
I do miss the homeschooling days. They were a magical time that not only fed my child’s hunger for knowledge but also soothed the confused and angry child that lingered within me.
Now, as always, the summer has come to another close and children head back to school. And I feel the old familiar twinges of sadness for them as I did for myself all those years ago.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about your own school days or those of your children. Were they happy and exciting or burdensome and frustrating?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of creepy critters. Of course, I realize if they’re not in my home but rather somewhere outside, then they’re where they’re supposed to be, and I will, mostly, leave them alone.
However, about a week ago, I happened to look out my dining room window and noticed a nest of some sort in the city tree at the curb in front of my house. It was quite large – and quite active, with what I thought were bees or yellow jackets busily flying in and out of it non-stop.
Turns out, they weren’t bees or yellow jackets. They were hornets.
I would assume this would frighten most people. However, for someone like me, with allergic reactions to simple mosquito bites, this was an absolutely terrifying discovery.
I calmed myself, though, after realizing, again, that this nest was in a city tree. Naturally, I ASSumed, the city would be responsible for it. I figured they’d want to know about it right away so they could take care of the situation before someone got hurt.
NYC – and other cities, I’m sure – has a policy that hornets fall into the category of “beneficial pests”, which I find both oxymoronic and ridiculous. Yes, I get it. Hornets, as predators, rid us of other pesky flying insects. In fact, hornets are so adept at reducing the number of destructive garden pests that the agricultural industry voluntarily uses them as a natural weapon to protect crops.
Yes. You read that right; they voluntarily deploy hornets into their gardens/fields as a natural pesticide.
That’s all well and fine, I suppose, and I do feel a certain respect for them now that I’ve learned that they are, indeed, ‘beneficial pests’. But they can also kill someone like me –yes, KILL – if provoked, agitated or otherwise disturbed. And hornets attack as a group, each releasing a chemical to alert the others of a rumble, and the others will swarm with a ‘one-for-all-all-for-one’ focus. They will die for the hive. As if that isn’t enough to fuel nightmares for weeks to come, each one of those things can sting repeatedly so…
Not my idea of beneficial…not when they’re as close as this colony is to my front door, and not when their nest is sitting above a very busy street/walkway where kids ride their bikes and neighbors walk their dogs.
So back to my efforts to make some headway with City Hall…
I spent this past week on the phone hoping to find a way to get rid of this nest. While I now realize killing the colony isn’t the way to go, my first thought was just that. Destroy the damn thing. I truly believed the city would feel the same way and send someone to spray the nest with something that would completely destroy it and everything inside.
Upon calling the city, I was informed that to do anything with this nest, I would first need to apply for a “tree-work permit”. That permit would come from the city, and it would be free. However, I would then have to find someone, on my own, who would not destroy the nest but *relocate* it. And…all costs related to that would fall on me. Once I found someone who would indeed relocate the nest, I’d have to provide their name to the city…and hope for their approval. If they did approve, then I would have to wait for the permit to arrive before any work could be started.
Knowing how speedy the city can be, I figured all that might happen somewhere around the winter holidays. If I were lucky.
Well, after three days and several more phone calls to 311, I finally received the application for the permit that was supposed to have arrived in my inbox within 24 hours of my first call.
Step one – done.
Step two – ha. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find someone to relocate a hornet’s nest?
For me, it was impossible.
I called various city offices with no luck, and then I called the state. The state was surprisingly easy and pleasant to deal with, and they showed concern and interest regarding my plight. A lovely gentleman I managed to reach by phone even provided me with an email for a beekeepers association. Additionally, through the state’s website, I found emails for a local arborist and for the city’s Parks Department.
Unfortunately, after contacting each of these groups, showing pictures and explaining to them how large and active this (to-me) terrifying nest was, and how close it was to my house, they all said that it was too high for them to reach. It seems 25-30 feet – which is about the height of this nest – is the natural height for a hornet’s nest and, as such, is unlikely to be dangerous to passersby. Or so I was told. My personal jury is not buying that fact. I was also told, repeatedly, that I should realize – and be comforted by – how beneficial these insects are.
I do realize. I’m not comforted.
And yet, it seems, I will need to wait until November, by which time the colony should die out, leaving only the queen to hibernate through the winter. Come spring, she’ll go to a new nest somewhere far from my tree.
And that is the only plus I see in this whole frightening scenario – that a hornet’s nest is built for single use. Once the colony abandons this one, no hornet will ever come back to it.
Until they leave, however, everyone will know where to find me – cowering behind the curtains in my dining room, counting off the days until those killer stinging machines have gone.
By the way – while the sight of this nest has me breaking into a fear-filled sweat, it seems these nests are often seen as works of art. It’s true, I suppose, they are magnificent structures – the one in front of my home is the size of a football and the external layers are indeed compelling to gaze upon.
But, apparently, once abandoned, there are some people who have actually taken hornets’ nests down from their trees – or eaves or wherever they happen to be hanging – slice them in half and display them as wall art.
FYI – I will not be doing that.
One hundred and ten people in Somalia died of starvation within the last 48 hours. Starvation due to drought. Starvation. In 2017.
But it’s happening “over there”, so we don’t see it, we don’t feel it. It seems we don’t even know about it or… dare I say… care about it.
About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. – Associated Press
Is it because we’re overwhelmed? Is it because we feel we’re incapable of preventing such horror? Is it because we’ve grown immune to the suffering of our fellow human beings? Of the aged, the infants, the mothers watching their children die?
Have we grown that cold or have we always been that way?
I’m editing this here to add an update regarding the cold reality of our times as the Trump Administration just, heartlessly, announced cuts in aid to starving nations. A question was asked during the budget director’s conference: “Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer?” To which Director Mulvaney callously responded: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs. That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.”
You can watch the video here (please do look past the liberties the poster of this video has taken with graphics and other special effect and listen to what’s actually being said):
We have to demand our tax dollars leave a detailed trail from our hands to their destinations. I want to know my money – money I don’t really have but spend because I am obligated to do so as a citizen of the US, and because I want to be part of the betterment of my community, both local and global – is going to places where it can do good. Where it can provide shelter, food and clean water to those in need. Where it can provide roads and education. Where it can provide proper, unrestricted healthcare. Where it will help to see that everyone has at least a chance to thrive.
If we can’t muster some concern for our extended human family then maybe we need to look closer. What would you do if your family were suffering as these people are? I wonder what would I do if I had to leave whatever I had – everything I had – carry my famished children as I struggle to take my family where help might be. What would I do if I arrived there, after watching others take that trek with me – some making it the whole way, others dying en route – only to realize there are too many of us seeking aid – medicine, food, water. What if I were told there was no help in sight. The drought that devastated my community had spread. There simply is no water.
The death toll, which was announced Saturday, was the first Somalia’s government has made public since it declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. The United Nations estimates that 5 million people in this Horn of Africa nation need aid, amid warnings of a full-blown famine. – Associated Press
We can’t pretend it won’t happen here. Our climate is changing. Temperatures are rising – as are sea levels. Crops are failing. Droughts alternate with flooding, each wreaking havoc. Scientists warn us it will get worse… that means there will be more climate refugees as times goes on.
When we find ourselves in need because of this, who will help us? Who will feed our crying children? Who will provide a sip, a life-saving sip, of clean water?
And why should they? Especially if we turn our back on them, on the cause of their plight and on what we could have done to mitigate at least some of these destructive changes to our climate.
We are one world. One people. Oceans may separate us. Walls may hinder us. Ideology might spark contention…or, perhaps, conversation. But we are supposed to be our brother’s keeper, are we not? And we are taught that we should treat our brothers and sisters as we wish to be treated.
Well, I wish to be cared for in my time of need. I wish to be celebrated in my time of joy. I wish to be someone who cares for and celebrates others the same.
These people wish only for food and water so they might survive.
What is your wish?
Today would have been Freddie Mercury’s 70th birthday. As a life-long fan of the man, I know he wouldn’t have been on stage “prancing” about at this age, but I have no doubt he’d still be creating beautiful music. He might have even recorded a few songs himself – with that voice. That amazing, soaring voice.
No one knew it for sure, but he had less than a year of life left in him when he recorded this song. He was exhausted and in pain, yet he stuck with it, “downed some vodka” and, according to Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, he “lacerated the song” with his voice.
And that he did.
This one has always given me chills.
If you’re a Fred-aholic like I am, then you might also want to listen to this version of the same song – with Freddie’s vocals isolated:
My sincere thanks to QUEEN and to bart1997rinaz for posting these videos on Youtube.
My muse has been known to take wrong turns now and then, wandering as it does in a never-ending search for something dark and mysterious or sparkley and fun to play with. Because of that never-ending quest, it’s not uncommon for my wandering muse to wind up caught in some murky, quick-sandy bit of gray matter. How do I lure it out? Exercise, coffee, daydreaming… and writing prompts. Bits of story fodder lie everywhere but when the muse is otherwise occupied, they can be hard to find, or, once found, impossible to develop.
A story prompt sits right in front of your eyes, luring the muse from that darkened corner, tempting it with just what it’s been seeking. A dark and mysterious idea or a fun playful place in which to frolic.
Today, my muse has been lured by Jon Nathanial Corres and Willow Raven and my thanks go to them for providing a beautiful and magical writing prompt. You should see it full size – and can find it here – Willow Raven – BLUE SATIN SASHES.
Along with the prompt came a challenge which was, actually, posted in June even though I’ve just found it now. The challenge is to write a short piece inspired by the Blue Satin Sashes image… and, of course, a short piece has the potential to grow into a larger piece… unless the muse steps into quicksand again.
I’ve accepted the much-needed challenge, and I have titled my short piece: His Again. This was fun to write and I hope you find it fun to read.
Here’s a small version of Willow’s stunning visual prompt:
Snow filled the air like down from a pillow, softly floating in waves playful and billowy. White and innocent, it shimmered in the moonlight, unfazed by the cold and dark.
He held out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. It faded, wounded by his heat, writhing until only a single droplet remained. Cold, small. Gone.
A low rumble of hooves broke through the silence, and a golden light bobbed in the distance. Snow stirred from the ground as the carriage neared and falling flakes scattered as to clear a path far and wide.
With a small nod and a touch to the brim of his hat, he welcomed the bundled coachman. And then on he strode to the carriage door.
Through the small window, he saw her. Her white winter cloak, as innocent as snow. Her bonnet tied beneath her chin with a blue satin sash.
He met her gaze, and saw moisture there. It was from cold, he would believe, for despite the past, she had chosen to see him again.
She rose and he hesitated, not wishing to mar such exquisite beauty. She waited. Her eyes, blue as the satin, challenged.
He dared hold out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. And she laid her hand upon it. Cold. Small. It did not fade but remained. Solid and warming. His to hold once again.
What do you think? Did the image stir your muse? I loved writing this short and would love to read yours, too. If you write one, please let me know in the comments.
I have so enjoyed the interviews from this blog hop, and the ease with which it seemed each participating author managed to get their heroes and heroines talking. Patty Blount’s interview from last week, with the brainy and secretive Julie Murphy from her amazing Young Adult novel, SEND, was no different. In case you missed it, you can find that interview on Patty’s blog – HERE.
When I thought about interviewing a heroine from one of my own stories, I hoped the process would be smooth for me as well. As smooth as a slice of creamy New York cheesecake. I would interview Eden Widow, the haunted yet graceful heroine from my second novel, SAFE IN HIS ARMS. Her story was originally a subplot in my first book but it grew into its own.
Eden is most comfortable in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side overlooking Central Park, so we meet there. I hear her buzzing me into the building seconds after I’ve already walked in behind a woman with two little white dogs wearing pink bows in their hair. We all ride the elevator together and as I watch the numbers climb, I’d swear the little dogs watch as well.
The moment I step into Eden’s apartment, I’m struck by a panoramic view she has of Central Park from her picture window. A desk sits before it, centered, with plenty of space to either side for a clear unobstructed view. A luxurious cream-colored sofa and club chair sit conversation style with enough room to walk around them to be spacious yet cozy. Besides the view, what strikes me most is the array of cheerful flowers in vases placed on every flat surface I see. The flowers are all the same – white daisies and yellow forsythia sprays. They’re in bud vases, bowls, urns, fluted vases… not overdone, just simply lovely. They’re everywhere I look and make me smile, like this space is a happy one because they make it so.
I follow Eden through the living room to a small breakfast nook where she has tea prepared for us. She moves across the rooms with a confident grace, as though her every movement is part of an intimate choreographed dance. She pours my tea and smiles as I thank her for having me. I take a seat across from her at the delicate round table.
“Please feel free to begin any time.”
Her voice is smoky, though not gruff. Her expressive eyes nearly as dark as her black hair.
I take out my pen and notepad and ask the first, rather blunt, question.
She continues to pour the tea, into her cup now. Then she gently sets the teapot down, not looking at me or answering and I wonder if she heard my question. And then she lifts her teacup and speaks again – with that intriguing voice of hers.
“My greatest fear is one which haunts me night and day. It’s the recurring nightmares and whatever truth they’re keeping from me. I want to know what it is as much as I fear knowing.
“I’ve told Luke about them, my brother. It would be impossible not to. We’re not twins, he and I, but we could be, it’s been only us for so long and we couldn’t be closer. Besides, he knows all about my dreams since I’ve had them from youth… from when I… from when our parents died… in a tragic fire…
“That fire started it all… I still smell it. I still feel the heat of it on my face. I still hear my own hoarse screams and pleas from when I fought to go back inside to save them and the fireman held me back. I had nightmares for the longest time after that. They were uncontrollable.”
She sips her tea and I can’t help but look around her apartment. There are candles placed here and there – floating candles, pillars, scented jars. All have blackened wicks. I’m no expert, but I’m a little surprised someone so traumatized by fire would have flame-lit, not battery-powered, candles around.
The light clink of her teacup on the saucer draws my attention back to her.
“Luke was there for me. He understood because he had gone through it, too. He held it together for my sake but when I finally realized how tormented he was by my pain, I found an outlet for it. I took all of the images from my dreams, all of the unanswered questions and disturbed emotions, and turned them into fiction. I adopted the pen name Gerard Blackwood, whose tales of murder and mayhem are depraved and gruesome… and… beloved by an insatiable and loyal audience. The more I wrote, the more time there was between nightmares, until they finally subsided.
But something happened recently…”
She looks at me without speaking, a small uncomfortable smile playing upon her full lips. I sense her apprehension and fear, and realize she’s struggling for composure. I cover her hand with mine and she closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them she seems stronger.
“I… was assaulted. Here in this very apartment. I… know this because I woke in the hospital with worried faces all around me. Everyone wanted to know what had happened, who I had let into my apartment, did I know the man… but I couldn’t remember. When I tried, panic blurred the memory, blended what happened before, with the fire, with what happened now and… it was all too much… and then the nightmares started again. They’re more violent now, more cryptic, and my writing has become darker because of it… I’m not sure my mind will ever unmuddle the memory of what really happened to me. I wish I could say I am in a state of blissful ignorance but I am not. The memory teases. My greatest fear is that the teasing will stop and the truth will become clear.”
She smiles and though it’s not a grand smile, I am taken in by the beauty of her eyes as it reaches them.
“That is an easy one. Scott Parker. He has been so patient with me. I have dated men before, not many, but enough. At one time I was even engaged to a man I adored and who adored me. Too much, perhaps. Dylan James. He is a beautiful man, strong. Solid. Sooty eyes and hair. He’s part of the family now because his sister married my brother. But he had a tendency to smother me. It wasn’t meant to be cruel, just attentive and… protective, I suppose. Especially when it came to my nightmares. The questions he would ask me about them… sometimes they frightened me more than the dreams.
“Scott is different. He doesn’t push or plead. He’s confident in his own skin. Confident enough for both of us, in fact. He loves me, I know it without question, and I love him, but he does not need to hear that from me at every meeting, during every conversation. He just knows. We can just be, and it’s enough. He trusts me to make my own choices, unlike Dylan, who tried to orchestrate my every move, as though he feared I might shatter…like spun glass.”
She offers more tea and I accept though she does not pour more for herself.
“As an author with deadlines, I have a lot of time to myself. Too much sometimes. I must say, I so look forward to time with Scott. His home upstate is lovely. His property ends where stunning and serene parkland begins, so it looks and feels like it goes on and on. A stroll in the gardens on his property is all it takes to unwind. Especially when he’s with me. I find my most peaceful and fulfilling moments are with him. There in his space…and even here. With him. In mine.
“I do have a secret. It’s one I wish to learn… the meaning behind my dreams. I know something happened to me. Something besides the fire. Something that frightened me so much I have been unable to see it. And so it haunts me. I do not feel the need to keep it secret… yet, there are times, moments, when the answer seems too close, and I turn away. When I awake… I am still unsure what my secret might be.”
Her phone rings and I wait, certain she’ll answer it, but she doesn’t.
“That would be Luke. He and his wife have invited me to dinner this evening. Along with Dylan. Please accept my apologies but I must get ready.”
I understand and say so I as I pack up my pen and notepad. And then a deep male voice comes over her answering machine.
“Hey E, it’s me. Kristen’s craving Mexican now, so no Italian tonight.
Unless she changes her mind again. She still wants the ice cream so
don’t forget to bring that. If you didn’t get it already, you might have
to head into Queens for it ’cause I’m sure I bought out all of Manhattan.
Don’t be late.”
Eden smiles as she walks me to the door. I tell her I hope she won’t have to drive to Queens for the ice cream and she laughs softly.
“Thank you but I won’t need to. I’ve been stocking ice cream for Kristen for months now.”
I step into the hall saying I have just one more question. She waits and I ask.
I see that same effort for composure as before and I wish I could withdraw the question, not wanting to leave her feeling low but rather with that sweet, content smile. She breathes softly.
“If I could ask for one thing, it would be to go back in time and unplug the potpourri pot that overheated, started a fire that destroyed our house… and killed our parents.”
She eases the door closed between us.
I have missed Eden and Scott, and all the other characters from this book. I cannot wait to revisit them and again watch Eden reach her much-deserved Happily Ever After.
Next week’s Character Interview will feature Elizabeth D. Spencer’s heroine, Rebecca Simmons from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You’ll find that interview on Elizabeth’s blog – HERE
Elizabeth D. Spencer lives on Long Island, New York with her husband, three children, and two energetic Sheltie puppies, Brinkley and Carson. (Named for the dog from You’ve Got Mail and Downton Abbey’s very own Carson, the butler.) She shares a love of history with her family and a love of books. Her days and nights are spent writing. When she is not writing Appellate briefs for the day job, she is busy writing historical romance novels. The greatest challenge has been learning to balance it all. Coffee has been a tremendous help!